An extremely rare set of plans depicting the day-by-day progress of the December 1944 Battle of Bastogne, remarkable for their fine-grained detail, mix of highly-technical and pictorial features, and compilation in theatre within weeks of the battle.
The story of the siege is well known: Bastogne was a major crossroads in the Ardennes, its capture vital to Operation Wacht am Rhein, Nazi Germany’s last-ditch attempt in December 1944 to punch through Allied lines, recapture Antwerp, and perhaps turn the tide of the Second World War. Units of Patton’s Third Army were surrounded in the town for more than a week, outnumbered and outgunned, with poor weather hindering resupply and negating the Allies’ enormous air superiority. The conditions were terrible and the odds were low, but the defenders in Bastogne managed to hold out until the weather cleared and the German Army ran out of fuel. The siege was lifted on the 26th and 27th, when units of the Third Army were able to open up a corridor into the town from the southeast.
Offered here is a complete set of nine maps of the battle and siege. All using the same base map, the first eight depict the daily progress of events from December 19th to the 26th, while the events of the 27th through 31st are compressed on a single sheet. The overall impression is of unrelenting violence, coming from all directions.
The design of the maps is striking: On the one hand they are minimalist in limiting geographic information to the tracks of roads and the locations of villages and towns; on the other, each sheet depicts the movements of dozens or hundreds of American (blue) and German (red) infantry, mechanized, and artillery units, with blocks of text describing events hour by hour, often involving very small units. One of the more interesting features is the use of symbols to represent combat units: the U.S. Army’s abstract and highly-standardized iconography is complemented throughout by the use of informal pictorial elements to represent bombardments, air drops, tanks and so on, particularly from December 23rd on, when the skies begin to fill with tiny blue American planes.
The maps were produced by 664 Engineer Topographic Corps, which was attached to Patton’s massive Third Army. They are dated January 1945, implying that somehow they were compiled within no more than five weeks of the battle, an amazing feat given the chaotic circumstances and the complexity of the events depicted. Unfortunately, I have been able to find only the most rudimentary information on the 664th, though OCLC does record a few maps bearing its imprint. The unit’s best-known output, however, was 250,000 copies of a Christmas greeting and prayer card from Patton, run off by pressmen working day and night and distributed throughout the Third Army on December 12-14, 1945.
This set of Bastogne maps is of the greatest rarity. I am aware of complete sets held only in the National Archives and Texas A&M (the latter acquired from this firm), and as of this writing no sheets are listed in OCLC or Library Hub Discover. Neither Rare Book Hub nor Antique Map Price Record list any sheets having been offered on the antiquarian market.
In all, a remarkable record of one of the most ferocious battles of the European Theatre of the Second World War.