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The Unknown Dead

The Unknown Dead: Civilians in the Battle of the Bulge

Peter Schrijvers
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 464
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    The Unknown Dead
    Book Description:

    Traditional histories of the hard-fought Battle of the Bulge routinely include detailed lists of the casualties suffered by American, British, and German troops. Conspicuously lacking in most accounts, however, are references to the civilians in Belgium and Luxembourg who lost their lives in the same battle. Yet the most reliable current estimates calculate at approximately three thousand. the number of civilians who perished during the six weeks of fighting. Telling the stories of ordinary people caught up in the maelstrom of war, The Unknown Dead surveys this crucial battle and its consequences from an entirely new perspective. Renowned historian Peter Schrijvers, a native Belgian, describes in vivid detail the horrific war crimes committed by German military units on the front lines and by Nazi security services behind the battle lines, as well as the devastating effects of Allied responses to the enemy threat, including massive bombings of small towns. During the offensive, inhabitants of the villages of this region of Belgium lived in a state of chaos. Countless men, women, and children were killed in cold blood for aiding American soldiers, and the GIs themselves were often highly suspicious of German-speaking Belgians. Local services ground to a halt, and citizens formed volunteer groups to obtain water and meet other basic needs. Even after the violence had ended and the postwar reconstruction had begun, the small communities remained in turmoil. The countryside was dotted with abandoned land mines and explosives, and the emotional tension between civilians and battle hardened veterans often took years to dissipate. Based on recently discovered sources including numerous personal testimonies, municipal and parish records, and findings of the Belgian War Crimes Commission, The Unknown Dead vividly recounts the experiences of innocents in the violence of one of World War II's seminal battles.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-7208-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-ix)
  3. List of Maps
    (pp. x-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  6. Part I: Deluge

    • Chapter 1 The Northern Shoulder
      (pp. 3-32)

      TheSS-Obergruppenführerwas short, burly, and fat-faced. He looked the stereotypical butcher. In fact, Sepp Dietrich had been one in a previous life. But that was before he had met Adolf Hitler. Dietrich, discharged from the army as a sergeant at the end of the Great War, had become part of Hitlerʹs inner circle when the former corporal was still no more than an aspiring politician. Throughout those uncertain years he had served Hitler loyally, first as his chauffeur, then as his bodyguard. When Hitler finally managed to seize total power in 1933, Dietrich was rewarded with a stellar career...

    • Chapter 2 The Peiper Breakthrough
      (pp. 33-68)

      The Sixth Panzer Armyʹs offensive on the northern flank of the salient was not a total failure. In the morning of Sunday, December 17, Dietrich could report to Hitler that at least one combat group had succeeded in penetrating deep behind American lines and was fast gaining momentum. Kampfgruppe Peiper was a powerful force. It was made up of about 4,000 soldiers and 130 tanks, assault guns, and self-propelled tank destroyers from the elite 1st SS Panzer Division, known also as the Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler.

      Joachim Peiper, the combat groupʹs commander, was barely twenty-nine. Yet he brought with him from...

    • Chapter 3 Closing in on St. Vith
      (pp. 69-92)

      If the Sixth Panzer Army constituted the Schwerpunkt in Hitlerʹs sweeping counteroffensive, the Fifth Panzer Army on Sepp Dietrichʹs left was to offer vital support for the main effort. Half of its eight divisions were panzer outfits; some of them—like thePanzer LehrandWindhund—were veteran divisions of great renown. The man who was to take armor and infantry across the Meuse near Namur, past the Belgian capital of Brussels, and all the way to the Scheldt River that fed the Antwerp harbor, was a general of even greater fame. Hasso Eccard von Manteuffel was born into one...

    • Chapter 4 The Race for Bastogne
      (pp. 93-118)

      At five thirty on Saturday morning, December 16, 554 artillery pieces and Nebelwerfers from behind the Our River all at once spewed their deadly charges into the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. They continued to belch fire for about an hour and a half, churning some eight miles of front lines between Fischbach in the north and Wahlhousen in the south. The barrage accurately pummeled American positions from as far as six miles away. By late afternoon intrepid engineers had thrown bridges over the swollen Our River at Dasburg and Gemünd, and armor poured across in support of the Volksgrenadiers who...

    • Chapter 5 The Houffalize Corridor
      (pp. 119-146)

      1 On Monday, December 18, Rettigny woke to biting cold weather. The tiny village lay tucked in the forests midway between Houffalize to the southwest and Gouvy to the northeast. Henri Collette had risen long before the feeble sun. As dawn gathered its courage, it found the teenager, his boss, and other farmers on the village fringes, busily gathering bundles of twigs. The heavy logs that made fireplaces crackle and roar had been sawn and stocked in dry places weeks earlier. The twigs were meant to stoke the ovens that would transform carefully kneaded balls of dough into the large,...

    • Chapter 6 The Southern Shoulder
      (pp. 147-164)

      Of the three armies that Hitler lined up for his surprise offensive, the Seventh Army was in every regard by far the weakest. Closer scrutiny of its troops and equipment in fact revealed it to be ʺmore a reinforced corps than a field army.ʺ Its commander, Gen. Erich Brandenberger—a potbellied, balding man wearing glasses—could count on no more than one parachute division and three Volksgrenadier divisions. Compared to the two panzer armies to his north, he had a meager 427 artillery pieces and rocket launchers at his disposal, some 30 assault guns, and no tanks. His army relied...

  7. Part II: Islands and Dams

    • Chapter 7 The Fall of St. Vith
      (pp. 167-188)

      So many soldiers of the 18th Volksgrenadier Division converged on Wallerode for the final push against St. Vith that the villagers themselves threatened to be squeezed out. Josef Theissen, the fifteen-year-old who had seen the Germans arrive on Sunday, December 17, watched the soldiersʹ every move with the fascination for things military characteristic of boys his age. He was brusquely torn from his reveries, however, when German soldiers suddenly ordered him and his family out into the street: their home had been chosen to serve as a command post. Only the vehement protests and emotional pleas by Josefʹs father made...

    • Chapter 8 The Siege of Bastogne
      (pp. 189-212)

      1 German troops lost the race for Bastogne to the 101st Airborne Division. Before they managed to surround the greater Bastogne area on December 21, some ten thousand paratroopers of the veteran American outfit had poured into the town and nearby villages. These men formed the main core of the defensive force, shoring up a battered combat command of the 10th Armored Division and one from the 9th Armored Division that had been whittled down almost completely. Stragglers, many from the 28th Infantry Division, were organized into a makeshift team. With eleven artillery battalions—about 130 pieces—the Americans were...

    • Photographs
      (pp. None)
    • Chapter 9 Between the Salm and the Ourthe
      (pp. 213-238)

      1 On Wednesday, December 20, around 7:30 in the morning, the church bells of Bérismenil, a village four miles east of La Roche, suddenly started chiming wildly without apparent reason. By the time the puzzled village priest arrived at his church to find out what was going on, the bells were silent again and nobody could be seen. The priest firmly locked the doors and made a brief note of the mysterious occurrence in the parish records.¹

      While German troops were being held up at Bastogne and St. Vith, the gap between both vital crossroads had remained wide open. More...

    • Chapter 10 Between the Ourthe and the Meuse
      (pp. 239-270)

      1 Having hit a brick wall at Hotton in its attempt to seize the townʹs bridge over the Ourthe, corps commander General Krüger ordered the Windhund division to pull back once again and this time to try its luck at La Roche. The 116th Panzer Division on December 23 slowly wound its way through the small, crooked streets of La Roche and over a single bridge that the Americans had damaged in retreat. As soon as the division reached the other side, the armored columns swung northwest toward the highway connecting Hotton with Marche-en-Famenne. They were under orders to cut...

  8. Part III: The Tide Turns

    • Chapter 11 Counterattack from the South
      (pp. 273-288)

      They approached from the south like thunder. The inhabitants of Luxembourg City instantly knew whose troops they were. Soiled trucks, menacing cannons, and tanks like primal beasts made streets vibrate and houses tremble. A chilling wind swept the capital beneath gray skies. But the civilians could not be kept inside. ʺPatton! Patton!ʺ they yelled as they strained their necks to catch a glimpse of the famous generalʹs hardened soldiers.

      While American and British troops were bracing themselves for a clash with German spearheads in front of the Meuse, Patton was rushing forward two armored and three infantry divisions from his...

    • Chapter 12 Lifting the Siege of Bastogne
      (pp. 289-312)

      1 Like moths to a flame, GIs in the icy night of December 22 were drawn to a house near a demolished bridge in the town of Martelange. The house, pockmarked by bullets and shells, had only two good rooms left. In the upstairs room, half a dozen men with rifles and packs slumped on the double bed and floor. Close to seventy Americans packed the downstairs room. The elderly Belgians who owned the house had a good fire going. They were feverishly brewing coffee in a vain attempt to keep canteen cups full and the soldiersʹ bodies thawed. The...

    • Chapter 13 Eliminating the Bulge
      (pp. 313-358)

      The attack that Pattonʹs troops set in motion from the south on January 9, dragging child-soldier Gaëtan Delecaut along, was part of a much broader, carefully coordinated action against the enemy bulge in American lines. If until early January the battle in the Ardennes was the German offensive phase, the Allied offensive phase started in earnest on Wednesday, January 3, with simultaneous attacks from the north and the west launched first. The reduction of the German salient would take the better part of that frigid month, official Allied histories not declaring the Battle of the Bulge over until January 28,...

  9. Epilogue
    (pp. 359-374)

    Rebuilding Elisabeth Becker was just one of an estimated 2,500 civilians killed in Belgium as a direct or indirect result of the Battle of the Bulge. To that number another 500 noncombatants have to be added who perished in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. An early survey in 1945 spoke of at least 600 seriously injured civilians in Belgium alone. The total number of wounded for both countries certainly ran much higher, though it is impossible to establish with precision sixty years after the facts. Ironically, roughly one-third of the civilian dead in Belgium were caused by Allied air raids,...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 375-404)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 405-420)
  12. Index
    (pp. 421-428)
  13. Index of Military Units
    (pp. 428-430)