Book Review: Battle of the Bulge: Then and Now

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by Jean Paul Pallud

Barnsley, Eng. / Philadelphia: After the Battle / Pen & Sword, 2021; reissue of the 1984 edition. Pp. 544. Illus., maps, tables, index. $75.00. ISBN: 0900913401

Revisting the Bulge, 40 Years Later

This massive – almost six pound – volume is hard to describe, because it contains so much, yet is not what it claims to be, nor what many readers might expect. First of all, it has hundreds of black and white photos taken during or right after the Battle of the Bulge, showing almost every city, town and village in Belgium involved in the fighting. In addition, these are paired, about a third of the time, with photos taken in exactly the same place, by the author, 37 years after the battle. This is the “Then and Now” of the subtitle, but the “now” was 1981, when Jean Pallud drove his Renault around the battlefield to find matches for the photos taken in 1944. This is a reprint of a book published in 1984 by After the Battle magazine, which appeared from 1973 to 2021. So, almost forty years after it came out, what are we to make of it? For readers who want good photos of damaged or destroyed tanks and other vehicles, both American and German, this is a treasure-trove. Pallud collected hundreds of photos from the war, and he identifies each one carefully. You will not find a caption such as “A German Panther knocked out early in the battle.” He will tell you which Panther, if it had a tactical number, from which division, and the location of the wreck. If there is a building or landmark in the 1944 photo, he usually provides a photo of the same spot in 1981. Often, the combat that resulted in the Panther’s destruction will be described on the same page. No other book on this battle, not even Danny Parker’s heavily illustrated 1991 Battle of the Bulge, comes close to this one for photos of the fighting, especially of armored vehicles. In addition, the 533 pages include orders of battle and a fair number of maps. Pallud, along the way, provides a combat narrative beginning with the German preparations for the offensive, and ending with the escape of the last Wehrmacht units as the salient was eliminated.

Unusually, for a history of the Bulge in English, this book is German-centered. Unlike most narrative histories—such as Peter Caddick-Adams 2017 Snow and Steel—Pallud shapes his history around the progress of each Panzer Armee. This is a useful change of perspective from those by American historians, who see the battle as the story of how American soldiers and generals responded to the German assaults. He frequently includes long sections taken from German veterans’ accounts of the fighting. Then, however, there is Pallud’s nine-page section on atrocities and war crimes in the Battle of the Bulge. Most of this is taken up with the Malmedy Massacre, in which 84 American soldiers who had surrendered, and were standing in a snow-covered field, were shot down by SS members of Kampfgruppe Peiper. Pallud goes to great lengths to question whether so many Americans were, in fact, killed, or whether there was ever an order given to shoot them. He then explains how the German soldiers may have panicked, and how such things happen in war, fairly often and in every army. He goes on to cover the postwar trial of the Germans for the massacre—at Dachau—in a similarly tendentious manner. Readers should turn to Steven Remy’s The Malmedy Massacre: The War Crimes Trial Controversy, a 2017 account, for a very different perspective on this event. Beyond the killings at Malmedy, however, Pallud discusses the killing of civilians by both sides. After admitting that many Belgian civilians were killed by German soldiers in Stavelot, he comments that: “Ever since the fall of Western Europe, German forces had to wage an internal war against the underground movements and partisans.” (p. 190) Such exculpatory language is especially surprising because Pallud is French, and mentions early in this book that, while the battle took place, his father, a French POW, was working in Germany, presumably as a forced laborer.

All in all, this book is a very mixed bag. The quantity and quality of the photos cannot be denied, nor equaled. But it does not offer “then and now,” because Pallud’s “now” was 1981, and the streets, fields, memorials and museums do not look the same in 2022. It also falls short as a narrative of this complex battle. He does not pull back periodically, as most historians of the battle have, to offer an overview of the fighting on each front. And since he wrote this book forty years ago, he could not make use of the many overviews, unit histories, and other books that focus on technology, that have appeared during those decades.

 

Our Reviewer: Jonathan Beard is a retired freelance journalist who has devoted most of his life to reading military history. When he worked, he wrote and did research for British, American and Danish science magazines, and translated for an American news magazine. The first book he owned was Fletcher Pratt’s The Monitor and the Merrimac. Jonathan reviews regularly for the Michigan War Studies Review. His previous reviews for StrategyPage and NYMAS include Down the Warpath to the Cedars: Indians' First Battles in the Revolution, The Virtuous Wehrmacht: Crafting the Myth of the German Soldier on the Eastern Front, 1941-1944, Prevail Until the Bitter End: Germans in the Waning Days of World War II, and Enemies Among Us.

 

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StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium

www.nymas.org


Reviewer: Jonathan Beard   


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