Hello everyone and welcome to my first “Nametag Defilade” blog post! My name is Owen and I work at the Collings Foundation and the American Heritage Museum as a historian. I’ve been studying military history, specifically mechanized and naval technology and warfare from the 19th century onward, for roughly 15 years, but my interest dates back much further. I’ve also provided historical advisory for the short film Cigarettes and Alcohol, released in June 2016.
It’s always difficult coming up with a name for a blog, especially when there are already so many fantastic and informative ones out there! For mine, I’ve decided to settle on “Nametag Defilade.” But what does it mean? Well, simply put, defilade is being behind a certain amount of cover, natural or artificial. A tank, for instance, parked behind a hill to the point only the turret is visible, is known as hull defilade, and if only the very top of the turret can be seen, if at all, it’s called turret defilade. Of course, this works for crew positions as well. Nametag defilade means, usually as a commander, your head and shoulders are out of the tank. If the going gets rough, you can drop your seat down to chinstrap defilade! Now, on to the reason you’re here!
Around 5:30 AM on December 16th, 1944, across 80 miles of the heavily forested Ardennes region in Belgium, approximately 1,600 German field guns started firing what would be a 90-minute long barrage, signaling the commencement of Operation Wacht Am Rhein. What started as what Allied commanders thought was an innocuous barrage in response to a smaller local attack along the Siegfried Line took on more and more terrifying proportions as 410,000 German troops, 1,400 tanks and other tracked vehicles, over 2,500 artillery pieces, and 1,000 aircraft began to mobilize along what was supposed to be a mostly quiet region in Belgium. The ensuing battle, which became one of the longest, hardest fought, and costliest in U.S. history, carried many names. The Ardennes Offensive, in Belgian, les Bataille des Ardennes, and so on, but the most popular that has stuck to the present day is The Battle of the Bulge.
In this coming series of posts, I’ll be going over the many facets of the battle, from the men, to the machines, to the plan of action, to what really happened in the icy forests of Belgium in 1944. Even on the day I’m writing this, 75 years ago on January 13th, 1945, the Battle was near its end as German forces were left to fight or surrender. Simply put, the Battle of the Bulge was one of the longest, hardest-fought battles of World War Two, with 82,000 German casualties and 77,000 U.S. troops killed in action. The battle holds a special place here in the American Heritage Museum as well. For me, the air always gets a little cooler when I walk past the glittering, snow-covered diorama landscape surrounding the vehicles that took part in the battle. I put myself in those soldier’s boots, with frostbitten fingers and toes, fighting for survival in a foxhole, or Sherman tank, in Belgium.
Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for my next post!