Thanks not least to the Hollywood treatment, from The Battle of the Bulge in 1965 to the more recent Band of Brothers, the German offensive that began on 16 December 1944 is one of the actions of the Second World War that has penetrated more than most into the popular memory. Antony Beevor’s Ardennes 1944 is subtitled ‘Hitler’s Last Gamble’, which in most respects it was. The Germans were being driven back into the Fatherland, in both the east and the west. Anyone with any sense, which included most of the Wehrmacht’s senior generals, knew that whatever Hitler did Germany was beaten. Hitler did not know that; the offensive he launched was intended to push the Allies back into France and thence into the English Channel. So everything he had that was not engaged in fighting the Russians was thrown at the Allies in the west. If the gamble didn’t succeed, the game would be up – which was how things turned out.
Because the story is well known and has been told in varying degrees of detail in many other histories, it is challenging for an author to go over the battlefield again and find anything new to say. It is a challenge to which Beevor is not always equal, and this