Hitler abandons Rastenburg headquarters
Battle of the Bulge; Germans begin counteroffensive in Ardennes
Germans surround Americans at Bastogne
U.S. forces freed from Bastogne
Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin meet at Yalta Conference
Roosevelt dies; Truman becomes U.S. president
Soviets begin offensive on Berlin
U.S. and Soviet advances meet for first time
Partisans execute Mussolini
Hitler commits suicide
Germany signs formal surrender
Western Allies declare V-E Day
USSR declares Victory Day
German chancellor; committed suicide on April 30, 1945, with fall of Berlin imminent
32nd U.S. president; met with Churchill and Stalin at Yalta Conference but died in April 1945
33rd U.S. president; took office upon Roosevelt’s death
British prime minister; met with Roosevelt and Stalin at February 1945 Yalta Conference
Soviet premier; began to assert USSR’s dominance over Eastern Europe in final days of the war, which led to Cold War tensions
During the second half of 1944, the Nazi empire gradually imploded as its enemies invaded from east, west, and south. Supplies and manufacturing dwindled on a daily basis. The once-mighty Luftwaffe had some of the best military aircraft in the world but lacked fuel to fly them and parts to maintain them. Evidence suggests that Chancellor Adolf Hitler himself became addicted to a variety of drugs and that he may also have suffered from syphilis, Parkinson’s disease, or both.
Far separated from reality, Hitler placed his last hope of winning the war on the latest developments of German technology. These developments were both impressive and real but were too late and too poorly executed to change the outcome of the war or even delay it by much. Among Germany’s most fearsome new weapons were two missiles, the V1 and the V2. The V1 was the world’s first cruise missile, the V2 the world’s first weaponized ballistic missile. Other German innovations included both jet- and rocket-propelled aircraft. However, nearly all of these innovations were still experimental in nature and not truly ready for effective use in combat. German scientists were also busily working on the development of an atomic bomb, but the war ended before they could succeed.
On December 16, 1944, the Germans began their last major counteroffensive of the war, as three German armies surged into the Ardennes Forest, dividing the Allied front with the ultimate goal of retaking the Belgian city of Antwerp. This time, Allied intelligence failed to intercept the German plans, and the action was a complete surprise.
The Germans launched the attack during a heavy snowstorm that grounded all aircraft, making it difficult for the Allies to evaluate the extent of the attack. Furthermore, the Germans deployed a group of about thirty English-speaking soldiers behind Allied lines, dressed in American uniforms and driving captured American vehicles. These special troops succeeded in creating chaos among the Allied troops by reversing road signs, cutting communications wires, and inciting a panic among Allied troops once they realized that they had been infiltrated.
By December 24, the Germans had penetrated deep into French territory, making a distinct bulge in the front line that lent the Battle of the Bulge its name. German forces surrounded a large contingent of U.S forces in the town of Bastogne and attempted to intimidate them with an invitation of surrender. The offer was refused.
As the weather cleared and Allied aircraft could fly again, the Germans were pushed back, and supplies were airdropped to the trapped American troops. In the meantime, other Allied armies were diverted from other areas of France to help. By early January 1945, the Germans were once again in retreat, and on January 16, the soldiers trapped at Bastogne were free, and the “bulge” was no more.