The battlefield then & now

Battle of the Bulge battlefield tours

Anchored at the south eastern fHohes Vennringe of Belgium, the Ardennes form a large triangle extending north to Monschau, Germany, south to northern Luxembourg, and west to a high ground overlooking the Meuse River valley. The region is heavily wooded in portions. These forests have a fairytale quality — dense, foggy, and filled with ghosts and legends. Streams and rivers have cut deep ravines at some spots, and, upon entering, you want to drop bread crumbs to mark your path. In the south, beautiful scenery, spring-water spas, and rolling hills make this area a frequent tourist destination.

Bastogne Square

        McAuliffe square, Bastogne.

Wherever you travel in the Ardennes, it is almost impossible to forget that you stand on hallowed ground. Markers and monuments remind visitors that thousands of young men — Americans, Germans, Belgians, and British– suffered and sacrificed under terrible winter conditions during the Battle of the Bulge. Nowhere is this more apparent than at Bastogne. Its present-day notoriety mainly rests on the wartime accomplishments of its American defenders, including the 101st Airborne Division.

For knowledgeable visitors, however, history ran its course at many other places like the “Northern Shoulder”. This area attracted little attention for decades after the war. Despite ferocious engagements, many units, including the 99th Infantry Division, received little credit. That eventually changed as books and articles revealed the Northern Shoulder and its strategic importance. It was the place where the battle turned against the Germans. This late recognition has generated interest in many hitherto forgotten events and locations:

Forest– The Monschau Forest, today magnificent and serene, retains foxholes and other entrenchments on its floor. It still holds most of its original shape and shows traces of its tumultuous past. This is untrue in many other battle areas in Northwest Europe.

Elsenborn Ridge offers a panorama of grasslands, hilly pastures, and spruce forests. The ridge reaches an altitude of 2,000 feet, its eastern slope descending to the densely wooded Belgian-German border. At Kalterherberg, Germany, on its north end, the ridge extends eight miles south to Büllingen, Belgium. Between these two towns sits Elsenborn village and Lake Bütgenbach. As a natural rampart, Elsenborn Ridge became “The Little Round Top” of the Bulge.

Krinkelt-Rocherath, nestled between the forest and Elsenborn Ridge, was the scene of brutal tank-and-infantry combat during the first three days of the Bulge. Almost levelled by American artillery, the twin villages still have several original stone houses with battle damage.

dragon teeth

       Dragon teeth in Hollerath, Germany.

The Westwall, which Nazi propaganda touted as impregnable, included a 400-mile belt of 12,000 concrete bunkers, 19,000 miles of barbed wire, 700 miles of trenches, and 150 miles of dragon’s teeth. Some 300,000 mines protected the approaches. This defensive belt also known as the “Siegfried Line” became mythic over time, Siegfried being the famous dragon killer from German mythology. Concrete structures and trenches have survived in many locations despite the ravages of mankind and Mother Nature.

-Camp Elsenborn, built at the end of the 19th Century by the Germans, hosted the Prussian Army which found the area ideal for troop training. Originally a tent encampment, it evolved to corrugated-metal barracks and concrete buildings at the turn of the century. Occupied by the Belgian Army after World War I, the Germans again in 1940, and then by the U.S. Army in 1944, the camp acted as a rear base during the Bulge. Re-occupied by the Belgians after hostilities ended, the camp is today one of the most active training facilities for the Belgian Army, hosting foreign armies from NATO as they prepare for future missions around the world.

Kampfgruppe Peiper, led by a fearless and coldblooded 29-year-old commander, was a formidable German battle group that left a bloody trail across the battleground. The battle group passed through famous historical places like Lanzerath, Honsfeld, Büllingen, Malmedy, Stavelot, and La Gleize.

Henri Chapelle Cemetery

         Henri Chapelle US military cemetery

-American and German cemeteries are located on the battlefield. They serve as guardians of memory. The Henri-Chapelle, Neuville-en-Condroz (Ardennes) and Luxemburg American Cemeteries have 7,995, 5,383 and 5076 white-marble headstones, respectively. They memorialize in a dazzling brightness the sacrifice that one generation made for future generations. By contrast, the German cemetery at Recogne has 6,807 burials marked with dark headstones that recall wasted human life and the bleak years of Nazi hegemony.

JP Speder and JL Seel live in the area and a have twenty year experience guiding veterans from the 99th Division and other units. Seel and Speder will introduce you to the battlefield at its heart. You will see places few people know and even fewer visit.

If you wish to follow in the boot steps of a relative, or to trace a specific unit, or to have an overview of the whole battlefield, we can accommodate almost any request. We offer custom itineraries for every budget, typically one to four persons. Larger groups are also possible. Tours may also include the Hürtgen forest and the Bastogne area. Feel free to contact us for more information at info@miaproject.net.

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