With the Allies at a standstill and forced to bide their time, the Germans prepared a large scale counter-offensive, later known as the ‘Battle of the Bulge’ in December 1944. The 6th Airborne Division recovering in England after Normandy was suddenly moved to the Ardennes forest area between Belgium and France to help repel the unexpected German counter-attack.
After the Allied landings in Normandy and subsequent advance through France and Belgium, the German Army had succeeded in stalling the Allied offensive along their line of defence at the German border - the ‘Siegfried Line’.
The German objective was to push through the Belgian Ardennes, cross the River Meuse, retaking Antwerp and its harbour facilities. From here the Germans would thrust to the North and the sea, cutting off the Allied troops in Holland and Belgium by making withdrawal impossible. The German attack began on 16 December 1944 spearheaded by 6th Panzer Division, who aimed to cross the Meuse between Huy and Liege, supported by 5th Panzer Division which would cross between Dinant and Namur. By 22 December the Germans had captured St Vith and cut off all road access to Bastogne.
The 6th Airborne Division was put in the line between Dinant and Namur under command of the British 30th Corps to assist in the forthcoming Allied counter-offensive, and was ordered to advance against the tip of the German salient.
The 5th Parachute Brigade tasked 13 Para (Lancs) to attack the village of Bure as part of this advance and breakthrough to Grupant, assisted by Sherman tanks from the Fife and Forfar Yeomanry.
Severe casualties resulted from the break-in to the village, which began on 3rd January 1945. Bitter fighting raged for three days with little sleep conducted in atrocious winter conditions. German infantry and tank attacks were repeatedly beaten back until with reinforcements from C Company 2nd Ox and Bucks and additional tanks from the 23rd Hussars, the whole village was taken on 6 January 1945. 13 Para suffered heavy casualties, the Ox and Bucks also lost nearly two dozen men whilst 16 Sherman tanks were destroyed.
When Gen Hodge’s 1st US Army had joined up with Gen Patton’s 3rd US Army on 16 January 1945 after the late-December US counter-attacks of 2nd, 9th and 99th Infantry Divisions, this heralded an all-out Allied counter-offensive towards the East and the German border.
The German ‘Bulge’ offensive, the final German attack in the West, was defeated on 28 January 1945 and the 6th British Airborne Division withdrawn back to the UK to prepare for the final assault on Germany. During the offensive, the Americans had suffered 75,522 losses, the Germans 67,675 and 30th British Corps lost over 1,400 men. Over 20,000 were killed on all sides. In addition 2,500 civilians were either killed in bombardments or massacred by German troops.
A memorial dedicated to 13 Para stands in the centre of Bure and in the church there is a Memorial Book to the men of the 6th British Airborne Division killed fighting in the Ardennes.