Hitler’s last great offensive of the war took the Americans, who had become over-complacent, by surprise. The 80-mile (130-km) Ardennes front was held by just six US divisions. A formidable German force was assembled, in great secrecy, in the Eiffel Hills to the east of the Ardennes, in readiness for the offensive, codenamed ‘Autumn Mist’. The first onslaught, launched at 5.30 am on 16 December, caught the Allies off-guard, compounded by a widespread dispersal of paratroopers in the early hours of 17 December. Fierce Allied resistance around Elsenborn Ridge in the north and Bastogne in the south held off the German advance, allowing the Allies to reinforce and commence air attacks. The US troops besieged in Bastogne held out and on 23 December the US 2nd Armoured Division halted the 5th Panzer Army just short of the Meuse, where they were subjected to a relentless barrage. The tide had turned.
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