The Longest Winter
Alex Kershaw
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Buy *The Longest Winter: The Battle of the Bulge and the Epic Story of WWII's Most Decorated Platoon* online

The Longest Winter: The Battle of the Bulge and the Epic Story of WWII's Most Decorated Platoon
Alex Kershaw
Da Capo Press
288 pages
November 2004
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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"This battle will decide whether Germany is to live or die. Your soldiers must fight hard and ruthlessly. There must be no pity. Thus will live our Germany."
&      nbsp;Adolph Hitler December, 1944, as quoted in The Longest Winter.
On July 20, 1944 there was an unsuccessful assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler by a conspiracy of senior German officers. All of the German high command knew that Germany had lost the war. The Allied high command knew that the Third Reich was finished.

Only Hitler believed that he could salvage an intact Germany from the wreckage of war. After surviving the assassination attempt, Hitler believed more strongly that fate was on his side. He devised a plan for one last attempt, a push in the Western front, by hitting the Allies with a twentieth-century version of shock and awe. He hoped to divide the Allies and negotiate a separate peace with America and the British which would leave him a free hand to deal the Soviets a military defeat. This push was what we now refer to as "The Battle of the Bulge."

In 1944, by the Allied perspective, the war was winding down. They believed that Germany was incapable of mounting any kind of offensive action. They knew that the Germans would fight ferociously defending the homeland, perhaps even to the last man. They had demanded unconditional surrender which precluded any kind of negotiations. They were amassing troops for the invasion of Germany to bring the war to a close. All German military codes had been broken, and they were assured of their intelligence capabilities. All of this led to a sense of overconfidence and complacence. This, in turn, led to the greatest intelligence failure since Pearl Harbor.

The Longest Winter relates the experiences of Lieutenant Lyle Bouck and the eighteen other men of the Intelligence and Reconnaissance Platoon of the 394th Infantry, 99th Infantry Division. The I&R Platoon were handpicked and trained to operate behind enemy lines gathering battlefield intelligence for the main body. They were lightly equipped with rifles and sidearms. They arrived in Europe in 1944 as part of the final push into Germany and assigned to temporarily hold a strategically located hill overlooking the Belgian town of Lanzareth. Though ill-equipped for infantry duty, they dug in and waited for promised relief by the infantry in a few days.

Lanzareth, a crossroads village, was part of Germany until the Versailles Treaty at the end of World War I awarded it to Belgium. As such, the few remaining locals had undetermined loyalties. The village was located on a main road in the Ardennes Forest where the trees were so thick that one could easily be lost without a compass. It was imperative to deny the Germans access to the road.

At 5:30 a.m. on December 16, 1944, the shelling began. After ninety minutes, the shelling stopped and the German troops moved in. Reinforcements and artillery support were requested but none was available. They were told to hold on at all costs - in military parlance, the unit was being sacrificed for the greater good. The I&R platoon withstood three successive German assaults before running out of ammunition. In doing so, they killed more than five hundred enemy troops. Amazingly, none of the platoon were killed. Most, however, were captured. Then the dramatic story of their survival as POWs begins. About half of this book details their lives in captivity.

This is a well-written book detailing the individual exploits of both American and German combatants. I required a second reading to better grasp the details of the individual experiences. I think that perhaps a third or fourth reading will be necessary to fully appreciate the impact of this incredible true story.

© 2004 by Donald Allan Scott for

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