When Mother Nature Decided to Get Involved in War

American infantrymen take cover in heavy snow during the 1944 Battle of the Bulge. US Army

2. The Battle of the Bulge began with a surprise attack in terrible weather

For several days preceding the launch of the 1944 German Winter Offensive in the Ardennes, bad weather prevailed. Poor visibility prevented Allied air reconnaissance. The buildup of supplies, artillery, tanks, and other vehicles had gone unnoticed by the Allied commanders, and when the attack was launched on December 16 it achieved complete surprise. The primary anti-tank weapons against the superior German tanks were airpower and artillery. Both were blunted by the weather, which was no accident. The Germans selected the time, date, and place of the assault with the weather in mind, knowing it gave them the advantage.

It was an advantage they retained for several days, as the Allies struggled to contain the German advance into Belgium. It was a struggle largely borne by American infantrymen and airborne troops (it was the largest battle ever fought by the US Army). As the weather cleared after Christmas, and Patton’s troops arrived in Bastogne to break the siege, anti-tank aircraft struck at the Germans’ armored columns. Airpower shielded the troops on the ground as they reduced the salient in Allied lines created by the weather-aided German assault. Had it not been for the weather, the German buildup prior to launching the attack would have likely been detected and destroyed from the air.