Just read this article on the Battle of Kasserine Pass

America's Most Humiliating Defeat

The author made the following statement regarding British help during the battle:

As at the Battle of the Bulge, it wouldn’t be the last time that the British helped “tidy up” an American disaster.

I seem to recall the 3rd Army riding to the rescue, not the British. He implies there might have been other times too. Any idea what this author is talking about? TIA

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    Reading "tidy up" as "bail out" is quite a bit of a stretch. The author merely credited FM Alexander with salvaging a disoragniased retreat under the command of the incompetent Fredendall (who got fired), but attributes the turning of the tide to joint Anglo-American reinforcements. Whatever analogy he intended with the Battle of the Bulge must be on the same level, so not a "bail out" or "rescue" like you're interpreting. In general, it's best to stick to the what a source actually says.
    – Semaphore
    Jan 24, 2019 at 10:57
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    Have you read much about the Battle of the Bulge? Jan 24, 2019 at 16:21
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    It's worth remembering that allies work together for a common goal. A great general uses what's best for the problem, not what's going to look best for his own country. The US bailed out Great Britain many times and Great Britain returned the favor many times, also. That's one of the reasons we won.
    – Mark Olson
    Jan 24, 2019 at 22:18
  • you may like this series of videos: youtube.com/watch?v=UoynTOzLD28 And, Patton took seriously Monty's warning (or read the situation himself) and pre-ordered a detailed plan for his northbound movement to relieve the Bulge, before the crisis. His logistic planning guy is highly regarded including by Patton himself. His quick move to relieve Bastogne was not luck or pure charisma
    – Luiz
    Apr 21, 2023 at 14:01

3 Answers 3


The origin to the idea that Montgomery claimed to have rescued an incompetent US command at the time of the Ardennes offensive, is almost entirely due to a cleverly produced piece of German propaganda that was put out in the guise of a BBC announcement. Designed, as it obviously had been, to drive a wedge between the two western Allies, it was clearly successful - as witnessed by the fact that writers such as the one quoted in the question are still, 78 years later, confused about the facts.

You can read all about it in this essay (2020) by staff of the National Archives in Britain.

Initially all concerned - including American forces all over Europe - fell for what appeared to be a BBC report. Unfortunately the matter was taken up by some of the more jingoistic press in Britain - notably the Daily Mail - for whom it wouldn't have taken its editor much to fall for such a piece of "fake news".

From what I have read elsewhere, there may be some evidence that Montgomery warned Eisenhower, a couple of weeks before the German offensive, that it was likely to happen due to the large gap in the Ardennes front, held only by troops that were "resting". And he may already have urged Eisenhower to move Patton's forces north at that time.

Remember the British commanders had had greater experience of battle - from WW1 - than their American colleagues had had. But I strongly suspect that Monty, having previously not withheld his contempt of some of the US's less-experienced commanders, ( especially in Italy) was not taken as seriously as he should have been on this occasion. This was surely an important lesson for both sides.

As for the Ardennes battle, the facts of the numbers killed, wounded and missing must leave in no doubt the question of who bore the brunt of the German offensive. American: killed 8,407, missing 20,905, wounded 46,170 British killed 200, wounded 969, missing 239 (Wikipedia, quoting SHAEF original numbers). But let's not overlook the larger number of Germans - killed 10,749; wounded 34,225, captured 22,483 - mostly, without doubt, ordinary decent chaps, but the victims of a frantic last gamble by the maniac who governed them.

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    Good find! Upvoted, and one could make a good argument that this ought to be the accepted answer, since it alone talks to the history behind the misapprehensions in the question.
    – T.E.D.
    Apr 12, 2023 at 13:27
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    This is a good post, and I upvoted it, but it needs to be remembered that Montgomery -- though certainly a great general -- had by that time developed a reputation as being ultra-cautious, and any warning from him would be so some extent disregarded. The near-disaster of Market Garden was his big operation of the war in Europe and -- as one writer put it -- "The best thing that you can say about Operation Market Garden is that it was a bold plan enacted cautiously."
    – Mark Olson
    Apr 12, 2023 at 14:56
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    @MarkOlson It never seems to me that Market Garden was the idea of anyone "cautious" - so many things would have had to have gone right for it to have worked. And notwithstanding Britain's excellence throughout WW2 in intelligence - having cracked the Enigma code early in the war - on that occasion it appears we were let down by poor intelligence. Perhaps there is nothing more vulnerable than a cautious mind which is trying to cast off its reputation.
    – WS2
    Apr 12, 2023 at 19:51
  • @MarkOlson Market Garden was a grand plan rushed into with little regard for intelligence or logistics. It was typical Monty. He did very similar during his landings in Zeeland, which very nearly ended in disaster as well.
    – jwenting
    Apr 14, 2023 at 12:40
  • @MarkOlson The plan had too many moving parts - and there was insufficient time for adrquate preparation across several different army groups US and GB. The battle was lost in Nijmegen. The ground forces were held up for 36 hours. Had it not been for that they would have been in Arnhem while Frost was still in command of the bridge.
    – WS2
    Apr 14, 2023 at 19:31

There was no disaster to tidy up

From purely military perspective, Battle of the Bulge was failed German offensive, and subsequent mostly US counteroffensive. Reasons why German offensive failed are quite simple: at that point of time they were inferior in number of men, number of AFV, number or aircraft and had relative shortage of fuel. It is actually surprising they managed to gather their forces (hard pressed on all fronts) to achieve slight advantage in sector selected for attack. With favorable weather that grounded Allied air support, and an advantage in quality of AFV (arguably in the quality of some units too) , they achieved certain penetration, but their offensive quickly stalled when US reinforcements started coming in and weather improved.

What makes this battle a "disaster" is not things that really happened, but what could have been. This was first and only time in the war that American forces faced large scale German offensive somewhat reminiscent to early war Blitzkrieg victories. Germans had equal or slightly bigger numbers, air advantage was temporarily gone, and some US units suddenly got in the state of shock and paralysis, all too familiar to British, French or Soviets. This didn't last long, it was late 1944, not 1940 or 1941, but it sufficiently shook Us military establishment to understand that US military machine is not invulnerable. What-if scenarios appeared, questioning what could have been if German forces were slightly more numerous and better protected from air . This become even more interesting as Cold War approached, and Soviet armored doctrine was very similar to German.

As for British participation in the battle (especially during German offensive), it was relatively marginal and certainly not decisive. British forces were holding a section of front north from German penetration. Had the German offensive been more successful, they would have to retreat in order to avoid being cut off and left without supplies (Germans were aiming for Antwerp, only major port in that area). Since that didn't happen, British forces simply participated in the counteroffensive with the goal of reducing the bulge created by German offensive.

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    Totally. Not to take anything away from the tremendous courage and sacrifices by US troops (and not to erase any blame from Allied high command being caught unaware), there was little chance that the German offensive was going to move the needle very much. At best it would have been a massive operational setback and would have compromised the Allied offensive. But it wouldn't have won anything long term for the Germans - they had nothing left to exploit it with. Only Hitler's level of delusions by that time motivated this. Jan 24, 2019 at 20:45
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    @ItalianPhilosopher In defense of this operation, it must be said that Germans didn't have much choice. Purely defensive German stance would prolong the war for few months, but only desperate gamble could somehow reverse the course of the war.
    – rs.29
    Jan 25, 2019 at 6:17
  • I agree, and it's true that Hitler and his clique had little to lose. a normal government engaging in normal warfare would have called it quits by then though. Hitler's gang didn't have that option because they were sure to get the death penalty. but it's still useful to keep that battle's prospects in perspective. Jan 25, 2019 at 18:13
  • @Italian Philosophers 4 Monica: Ironically, the greatest success possible for the Germans (without Divine intervention or aliens) with this offensive would have been to delay the Allied armies long enough that the Soviets would have taken even more of their country...
    – Mark Olson
    Apr 13, 2023 at 0:11

During the battle of the bulge, north side of the german salient was given to Montgomery command, because for a while Eisenhower thought it would be easier to organize the battle in that way. Because american 12 group army (1st and 3rd american armies) headquarters was in the south of the salient, while 21 group army (1st canadian, 2nd british and 9th american armies) was in the north of it.
Therefore, Montgomery had to take command of 1st american army for a while, but not to help United States to control a retreat or a desperate situation, but instead it was just a tactical decision.

Source: 21st Army Group

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