The Battle of the Bulge is arguably the greatest battle in American military history. In 1944, the 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions along with other troops who straggled into town were tasked with defending the network of roads and surrounding area at Bastogne Belgium. Bastogne provided a road junction in rough terrain where few roads existed; it would open up a valuable pathway further north for German advances. The capture of Bastogne was the ultimate goal of the Battle of the Bulge, the German offensive through the Ardennes forest.
Food, medical supplies, and other resources eroded as bad weather and relentless German assaults threatened the Americans’ ability to hold out. On 18-DEC 1944, GEN George S. Patton, wheeled his 3rd Army in a counterthrust movement and headed North towards Bastogne. Many call this action, Patton’s finest hour. Up to the north, the 2nd U.S. Armored Division stopped enemy tanks short of the Meuse River on Christmas. Patton’s Third Army entered and relieved Bastogne on 26-DEC 1944.
Among Patton’s Third Army was a young combat MP, PVT Ralph Barrale the founder of the St. Charles County Veterans Museum. Another local St. Peters man, SGT Charlie Schlenke served in the 8th Armored Division, 80th Tank Battalion at the Battle of the Bulge. Charlie’s feet were so badly frozen they wanted to amputate. Charlie left the aid station, refusing to come off the line. He would suffer from the effects of the frost bite, his entire life. Charlie described Bastogne as, “a place that was such a hell, that the hands on his watch never moved.
Like many veterans of the Battle of the Bulge, Ralph and Charlie never forgot the cold at Bastogne. Many veterans of the battle employ their own standard of measure of how cold it can get comparing it to Bastogne. American troops had very little (if any) winter gear. Many Bastogne veterans remark, “it’s not as cold as Bastogne!”
We were fortunate the talk to Ralph about his time in the Army. We once asked Ralph if the beleaguered troops at Bastogne, in particular the 101st Airborne the “Screaming Eagles” needed rescuing. Ralph bristled and said, “damned right they did!”
The debate rages on today.
An admiring British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill stated, “This is undoubtedly the greatest American battle of the war and will, I believe, be regarded as an ever-famous American victory.”