In this Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019 photo, World War II and Battle of the Bulge veteran Arthur Jacobson, from Port St. Lucie, Florida, speaks with a journalist during an interview with the The Associated Press at the Remember Museum 39-45 in Thimister-Clermont, Belgium. It was 75 years ago that Hitler launched his last desperate attack to turn the tide for Germany in World War II. At first, German forces drove so deep through the front line in Belgium and Luxembourg that the month-long fighting came to be known as The Battle of the Bulge. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

In this Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019 photo, World War II and Battle of the Bulge veteran Arthur Jacobson, from Port St. Lucie, Florida, speaks with a journalist during an interview with the The Associated Press at the Remember Museum 39-45 in Thimister-Clermont, Belgium. It was 75 years ago that Hitler launched his last desperate attack to turn the tide for Germany in World War II. At first, German forces drove so deep through the front line in Belgium and Luxembourg that the month-long fighting came to be known as The Battle of the Bulge. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

Nuts! 75 years since U.S. troops thwarted Hitler’s last gamble

The recollection of his worst day in the Battle of the Bulge still haunts Arthur Jacobson

Pvt. Arthur Jacobson was seeking cover in the snow behind a tank moving slowly through the wooded hills of Belgium’s Ardennes, German bullets whizzing by.

That was when he lost his best friend and Bazooka team partner to sniper fire. “They couldn’t hit him, he shouted,” Jacobson said wistfully. “Those were his last words.”

The recollection of his worst day in the Battle of the Bulge still haunts him, three quarters of a century later during the first return of the 95-year-old to the battlefield.

And at a time when U.S. President Donald Trump is fanning the flames of trans-Atlantic discord, the pristine-white rows of thousands of grave markers over the remains of U.S. soldiers in cemeteries on the former front line hark back to the days when Americans made the ultimate sacrifice for a cause across the ocean.

The fighting in the bitterly cold winter of 1944 was unforgiving to the extreme.

What Jacobson didn’t know then was that he was part of the battle to contain Nazi Germany’s desperate last offensive that Adolf Hitler hoped would become his version of the Allies’ D-Day: A momentous thrust that would change the course of World War II by forcing U.S. and British troops to sue for peace, thus freeing Germany to focus on rapidly advancing Soviet armies in the east.

“WE WERE THERE TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT”

The Battle of the Bulge “is arguably the greatest battle in American military history,” according to the U.S. army historical centre. Such perspective came only later to Jacobson, who was barely 20 at the time.

“They really didn’t tell us anything,” he said . “The Germans had attacked through Belgium, and we were there to do something about it.”

Out of the blue at dawn on Dec. 16, 1944, over 200,000 German troops counter-attacked across the front line in Belgium and Luxembourg, smashing into battle-weary US soldiers positioned in terrain as foreign to them as it was familiar to the Germans.

Yet somehow, the Americans blunted the advance and started turning back the enemy for good, setting allied troops on a roll that would end the war in Europe less than five months later.

This battle gained fame not so much for the commanders’ tactics as for the resilience of small units hampered by poor communications that stood shoulder to shoulder to deny Hitler the quick breakthrough he desperately needed. Even though the Americans were often pushed back, they were able to delay the German advance in its crucial initial stages. The tipping point was to come later.

All weekend, a handful of returning veterans like Jacobson will be feted by an ever grateful local population for their bravery. Royalty, dignitaries and some government leaders will gather in Bastogne, Belgium and Hamm, Luxembourg, on Monday to remember the battle itself. “It will be a great day,”” said Belgian Vice Premier Koen Geens. Remembering both the German forces, driven on by Hitler’s hated SS troops, and the allied soldiers, he said: “We are capable of the worst and of the best.”

ALSO READ: U.S. school official sorry for calling Hitler a ‘good leader’

“I DON’T NEED A NECKTIE”

Overall, deaths in the month-long battle are estimated in the five digits. The Americans suffered at least 80,000 casualties including more than 10,000 dead, while up to 12,000 were listed killed among some 100,000 German casualties.

Among the fallen was Albert W. Duffer, Jacobson’s Bazooka team partner, shot in the neck by a German sniper on Jan. 6, 1945. Last Tuesday Jacobson went to greet Duffer for the first time in 75 years — at the Henri Chapelle U.S. cemetery in the northern part of the battle zone, where 7,987 U.S. soldiers lie buried. At dusk, Jacobson watched the U.S. flag being lowered and was presented with it in recognition of his valour.

The Battle of the Bulge was one of the war’s least predictable campaigns. After D-Day and the draining Normandy drive, allied troops sweeping across the continent believed the worst was behind them.

Paris had been liberated, Gen. George Patton was moving eastwards toward Germany, and Hitler had to keep an increasingly bleary eye on Stalin’s Soviet armies advancing on the Eastern Front.

“The thought was that Germany was on its knees and could no longer raise a big army,”said Mathieu Billa, director of the Bastogne War Museum.

Still, Hitler believed Germany could turn the tide, and centred on regaining the northern Belgian port of Antwerp with a push through the sparsely populated Ardennes.

The 120-mile (170 kilometre) dash seemed so fanciful that few of Hitler’s own generals believed in it, let alone the allied command. Allied intelligence heard something might be afoot, but even on the eve of the attack the U.S. VIII Corps daily note said that “There is nothing to report.”

For days to follow, the only reports would be bad for U.S. troops retreating amid word that SS troops were executing their prisoners — like at Malmedy, where 80 surrendered soldiers were murdered in a frozen field.

When Jacobson moved into the Ardennes, night temperatures outdoors dropped as low as -20 Celsius (-4 Fahrenheit). “”You had to dance around not to freeze to death,” he said. Daytime saw the constant fear of sniper fire.

Back home in the States, some were oblivious to the soldiers’ plight. “My family sent me a necktie,” Jacobson chuckled. “I sent a letter back: ‘I don’t need a necktie’.”

“NUTS!”

Soon though, the German effort pushed its limits as Antwerp remained well out of reach and troops ran out of ammunition, morale and, crucially, fuel. Even the weather turned against the Germans, as the skies finally cleared, allowing the all-powerful allied air force to pound the enemy.

Nowhere was that tipping point more visible than in the southern Ardennes town of Bastogne, where surrounded U.S. troops were cut off for days with little ammunition or food.

When Brig. Gen. Anthony C. McAuliffe of the 101st Airborne received a Dec. 22 ultimatum to surrender or face total destruction, he offered one of the most famous — and brief — replies in military history: “”Nuts.”“

Four days later, Patton’s troops broke the encirclement. And so it went with the Battle of the Bulge too, with the U.S. troops gaining momentum after Christmas.

After the fighting ended on 28 January 1945, Allied forces invaded Germany, eventually leading to the Nazi surrender and the end of the war in Europe.

Jacobson, who lives in Port St. Lucie, Florida, also entered Germany. But his war was ended by a March 2 mortar blast, which seriously injured his leg and killed three other soldiers.

After eight months of front-line horror, hospital offered him a kind of deliverance despite the pain.

“I used to wake up at night in the hospital. I’d dream about having to move out at night,” he said. “Orders would come down, ‘let’s move out to another position.’ And I’d wake up,” he said, “and look around and see where I was and then smile to myself and go back to sleep.”

Raf Casert, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

MBSS visual art students helped make the Cottage Restaurant’s protective barrier stand out for the summer. (Barry Coulter photo)
Artists give Cottage patio blocks a blast of colour

Mount Baker Secondary School visual art students gave the protective barrier at… Continue reading

Stuart Ashley Jones, 56, was at Grand Forks provincial court for sentencing on May 5, 2021. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Grand Forks man shot by police during massive flood sentenced to house arrest

Stuart Ashley Jones was shot by a Grand Forks Mountie after ramming two police cruisers in May 2018

SD5 and SD6 have added electric school buses to their transportation fleets. Photo courtesy B.C. Government.
East Kootenay school districts add electric buses to fleets

Two school districts in the East Kootenay are adding an electric school… Continue reading

Two Pileated Woodpeckers sharing the bounty! Kathleen Opal photo
Urban wildlife Part XI: The East Kootenay birds (and others) of 2021

The work of local photographers in the Advertiser throughout 2021. Part XI. With links to Parts I-X

A woman wears a face mask and shield to curb the spread of COVID-19 while walking in North Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday, January 6, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
57 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health region

Thirty people in the region are in hospital, 16 of whom are in intensive care

Protesters attempt to stop clear-cutting of old-growth trees in Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew. (Will O’Connell photo)
VIDEO: Workers, activists clash at site of Vancouver Island logging operation

Forest license holders asking for independent investigation into incident

Victoria police say the photo they circulated of an alleged cat thief was actually a woman taking her own cat to the vet. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Victoria police photo of suspected cat thief was just a woman with her own cat

Police learned the she didn’t steal Penelope the cat, and was actually taking her cat to the vet

The Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Louis S. St-Laurent sails past a iceberg in Lancaster Sound, Friday, July 11, 2008. The federal government is expected to end nearly two years of mystery today and reveal its plan to build a new, long overdue heavy icebreaker for the Canadian Coast Guard. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Vancouver, Quebec shipyards to each get new heavy icebreaker, cost remains a mystery

Vancouver’s Seaspan Shipyards and Quebec-based Chantier Davie will each build an icebreaker for the coast guard

Findings indicate a culture of racism, misogyny and bullying has gripped the game with 64 per cent of people involved saying players bully others outside of the rink. (Pixabay)
Misogyny, racism and bullying prevalent across Canadian youth hockey, survey finds

56% of youth hockey players and coaches say disrespect to women is a problem in Canada’s sport

People line up outside an immunization clinic to get their Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in Edmonton, Tuesday, April 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Hospital investigating whether Alberta woman who died after AstraZeneca shot was turned away

Woman was taken off life support 12 days after getting vaccine

People line up for COVID-19 vaccination at a drop-in clinic at Cloverdale Recreation Centre on Wednesday, April 27, 2021. Public health officials have focused efforts on the Fraser Health region. (Aaron Hinks/Peace Arch News)
B.C. reports first vaccine-induced blood clot; 684 new COVID cases Thursday

Two million vaccine doses reached, hospital cases down

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Most Read