The Battle of the Bulge has become one of the most well-known battles of World War Two, since it was the Germans’ final attempt at gaining ground against the Western Allies before they ultimately gave up and surrendered.
The Western Allied advance eastwards across Europe had been gaining ground ever since the D-Day invasion on the French north coast in the summer of 1944. Now, as the troops hit winter head-on, the Americans were making good advances in the east of France and in Belgium.
At the time, Neil French was 22 years old and had just been recruited to the US Army. Neil was assigned to be a tank gunner for the US Fourth Armored Division, commanded by General Patton. Neil joined his squadron just after the D-Day landings and the invasion of Normandy. He remembers having to pass through a temporary cemetery that the Allies had constructed at the top of Omaha Beach.
Neil was travelling in a Sherman M4―the most widely-used tank by the US Army during the war.
At 22, Neil had never seen combat before so as he hit the European mainland it came as quite a shock to him. He remembers how General Patton maintained their momentum and motivation by keeping the troops moving; they were always advancing or negotiating around and through enemy positions.
Neil and his squadron traveled through France and on to Belgium, where they made it to Bastogne, just inside the perimeter of the town. As history dictated, in mid-December the Germans launched their surprise attack, the Fox 29 News reports.
Neil recalls how it was like hell breaking loose. The town was under heavy constant fire and everything was in flames with nowhere for the US troops to hide.
Inside Neil’s tank he remembered how it was so cold that if bare skin touched the metal of the tank it would stick to it like a freezer. The soldiers would have to pour water on themselves to get free.
The Battle of the Bulge lasted for five weeks as the Germans made their effort to get through the Allied advance and take hold of Antwerp port in Belgium’s north.
The Germans believed that if they could take the port it could potentially give them more negotiating power when it came to compromises with the Western Allies.
To this day, Neil still helps US military officers to provide them with his real life experience of the war and particularly the Battle of the Bulge.