On this day in 1944, remnants of the German army attacked the advancing Allies in the final German offensive of WWII. Codenamed Operation Nordwind by the OKH (High Command of the German Army), the operation was inspired largely by Hitler’s misguided belief that Nazi Germany was still capable of turning the war’s tide in Western Europe. As the German chancellor reminded his generals, “There is not a matter of prestige involved here. It is a matter of destroying and exterminating the enemy forces.”
Nordwind was essentially an extension of the Ardennes Offensive, a German attempt to push back Allied forces in Belgium and Western Germany that began in early December. The ensuing “Bulge” in Allied lines caused a serious delay in SHAEF (Allied Command’s) plans but ultimately failed. Operation Nordwind – comprising the few remaining German divisions – was launched in a last-ditch effort to flank the Allies from the south by assaulting American 7th Army positions near Alsace-Lorraine on the French-German border. German troops attacked viciously in the frigid winter conditions, but were repelled by French and American troops near the Maginot Line (a series of strong defenses on France’s border). Although Allied troops under General George S. Patton were surrounded on three sides, they managed to beat back the Nordwind counteroffensive – ironically, using the same French defenses that the Germans had smartly avoided in 1940 by invading through the northerly Ardennes forest.
For the Germans, Nordwind may have been one of their biggest blunders. All the offensive succeeded in accomplishing was delaying the Allied advance to Berlin; this enabled the Soviet Red Army to kick off their Polish offensive 8 days earlier and snatch up the German capital before the Western Allies could. Ultimately, the destruction wrought upon Germany was much greater due to the Soviets’ deeply ingrained hatred of the Germans and their (unofficial) policy of raping German women. The resulting Soviet advantage in Berlin also resulted in the prevailing European power balance going into the Cold War.