As of right now, I’m enroute to Brussels, Belgium. Last fall, I was tasked with researching the role that students and alumni played during the Battle of the Bulge, one of the defining engagements of the Second World War. Over six months, I looked at a number of records and publications, gathering information on the students, then at the units that they were a part of, before examining where they all fit together into the actual battle. It was quite a bit of fun, and over the next week, I’m touring the battlefields on what’s called a Staff Ride, essentially consulting and providing information on how the university played a role in the battle. Over the next week, I’ve split up my paper into parts, and as I’ll be in the country, it seems fitting that I share the work (somewhat modified from the original paper, in places) while I’m there. I’ll have plenty of pictures to share when I return.
The Battle of the Bulge was the most intense and costly battle that the United States and its allies waged against the German military during the Second World War. Over a million soldiers on both sides involved in the clash that would last for 41 days, beginning on December 16th, 1944. This battle was the only time that the German military fought against the United States with the upper hand, due adverse weather conditions for the allies, limiting their abilities, and the overconfidence in the Axis’ ability to wage war.
Norwich University played its own role in this engagement, with around one hundred alumni at or potentially at the battlefield, based on the records examined at various sources from the university. The school undoubtedly played a role in the conduct and leadership abilities of the students who trained and shipped off to Europe, with soldiers with university credentials (or eventual university association) ranging from the rank of Private, First Class, on the front lines, to the rank of Major General, overseeing the operations on a divisional level, playing pivotal roles in the direction of the battle. Indeed, Norwich University alumni gave their blood and their lives in Belgium, making the ultimate sacrifice for their country in a time of grave need, helping the battle and their comrades through to the end.
Soldiers from Norwich were also present throughout the battle, from the first moments in the early morning of December 16th, 1944, to the last, on January 25th, 1945, 41 days later. They participated as airborne, infantry and armored units, instrumental in all major actions taken during the campaign to push back the German onslaught.
Setting the Stage
On June 6th, 1944, Allied forces came ashore in Normandy, France, where the fight into Europe began in earnest, pushing the German military further back over the course of the fall that year. Over the course of the fall, a number of Norwich University alumni arrived to fight for their country: On June 9th, elements of the 2nd Armored Division arrived on shore, under the command of Major General Brooks, a Norwich graduate, who would eventually hand over command to General Ernest Harmon, who would continue to push deeper into Europe.
From Normandy, US and Allied forces moved to liberate Paris and the rest of Europe.
In September 1944, the allies launched Operation Market-Garden against German positions in Holland, where allied forces looked to capture ground and allow for a quick march straight to Germany. Its eventual failure pushed back expectations that they would reach Berlin in a timely manner.
On October 13th, 1944, the 2nd Armored Division saw action at Wurselen, Germany, where Captain James Burt, of the 66th Armored Regiment B Company, earned the Medal of Honor for his actions against a German garrison, directing fire from an exposed position, and in the course of which he was wounded. Over following nine days, he continued to scout enemy positions, direct friendly fire towards enemy positions and to aid the wounded.
The 10th Armored Division likewise saw some action at this time, and on November 27th, Joseph Haines Clarke, with 10th Armored Division’s 3rd Cavalry, Troop D, was wounded in action.
As the German military was pushed back into Germany and out of lower Europe, German High Chancellor Adolf Hitler began to plan an offensive that would hit allied forces where they were the weakest, between the British and American militaries. Code-named Wacht am Rhein (Watch the Rhine), the planning began in September 1944, with the intention to move out towards Muese, and then to Antwerp.
On December 13th, just days before the German military stepped off their attack on the morning of the 16th, Major Wesley Goddard, ’33, of the 18th Field Artillery Group, was killed, after commanding units in France and Belgium.
Tomorrow, the start of the Battle: December 16th.