America's Greatest Maverick Leader
After the assembled company dithered, they turned to Patton and asked what he could do. His response was that he could attack with three divisions in 72 hours. It would mean disengaging 250,000 men from a pitched battle, turning them 90 degrees for a march through frigid, nasty weather and, in an exhausted state, attack a superior enemy force.
Bradley, Eisenhower and the others did not take him seriously, assuming it was typical Patton bravado. What the generals didn't realize was that prior to the Verdun conference, Patton had foreseen the problem and ordered his commanders to have plans in place for a march on Bastogne. If that were to be the decision, he would call them with a coded message just as soon as the meeting broke up.
Patton finally got the okay and made the coded phone call. The plan was being executed even before Patton arrived back at his headquarters and the rest is history. Patton's biographer, Martin Blumenson, described it as "the sublime moment of his career."
The Ardennes campaign—popularly called the Battle of the Bulge because of the geography—morphed into one of the biggest, bloodiest battles in history. Taking part were 500,000 Germans vs. 600,000 Americans and 55,000 British. When it was over on January 25, 1945, 100,000 Germans had been killed, wounded or captured and the Americans suffered 19,000 killed, 40,000 wounded and 20,000 taken prisoner. The British casualties totaled 1,400 including 200 killed. In addition, each side lost 800 tanks and 1,000 German aircraft were destroyed.
The term "take no prisoners" took on special poignancy, because it was at Malmédy that 86 captured GIs were lined up and shot in what was the worst atrocity of the European War. The Japanese were more cruel in the Bataan Death March, where 10,000 of 75,000 American POWs died of beatings, executions and starvation.