Just as Wallonia staged the last military engagements of the First World War, it took centre stage again towards the end of the Second World War, when the Germans, apparently on the brink of defeat on the Western Front, mounted a daring counter-attack in the Ardennes shortly before Christmas 1944 and briefly created a salient between the American and British armies. The so-called ‘Battle of the Bulge’ was fought in dreadful, wintry conditions, claimed a staggering number of lives, and ended in late January with the Germans in full retreat. It was the final act of war on Belgian soil.
But the outcome might have been very different. The Germans took advantage of a lull in the fighting to sweep through the Ardennes towards the River Meuse. The plan, reportedly conceived by Hitler himself, was to continue to the coast, retake Antwerp and cut off the Allied line of supply. It worked, up to a point. The American line was breached in several places, and a counter-offensive had to be hastily organised, with British troops arriving from the Netherlands to assist.