25 January 1945

World War II: The Battle of the Bulge ends.

Battle of the Bulge
Part of the Western Front of World War II
117th Infantry North Carolina NG at St. Vith 1945.jpg
American soldiers of the 117th Infantry Regiment, Tennessee National Guard, part of the 30th Infantry Division, move past a destroyed American M5A1 "Stuart" tank on their march to recapture the town of St. Vith during the Battle of the Bulge, January 1945.
Date16 December 1944 – 25 January 1945
(1 month, 1 week and 2 days)

Allied victory

  • Western Allied offensive plans delayed by five to six weeks.[1]
  • German offensive exhausts their resources on the Western Front.
  • German collapse opens way for the Allies to ultimately break the Siegfried Line.
  • Soviet offensive in Poland launched on 12 January 1945, eight days earlier than originally intended.[2]
Commanders and leaders
Units involved

United States 12th Army Group:

United Kingdom 21st Army Group

United Kingdom United States Canada 1st Allied Airborne Army:

Nazi Germany Army Group B:

16 December
  • 228,741 men
  • 483 tanks
  • 499 tank destroyers and assault guns
  • 1,921 other armored fighting vehicles (AFVs)
  • 971 anti-tank and artillery pieces
  • 6 infantry divisions
  • 2 armored divisions

24 December

  • c. 541,000 men
  • 1,616 tanks
  • 1,713 tank destroyers and assault guns
  • 5,352 other AFVs
  • 2,408 anti-tank and artillery pieces
  • 15 infantry divisions
  • 6 armored divisions
  • 1 armored brigade

2 January

  • c. 705,000 men
  • 2,409 tanks
  • 1,970 tank destroyers and assault guns
  • 7,769 other AFVs
  • 3,305 anti-tank and artillery pieces
  • 22 infantry divisions
  • 8 armored divisions
  • 2 armored brigades

16 January

  • 700,520 men
  • 2,428 tanks
  • 1,912 tank destroyers and assault guns
  • 7,079 other AFVs
  • 3,181 anti-tank and artillery pieces
  • 22 infantry divisions
  • 8 armored divisions
  • 2 armored brigades[3]
16 December
  • 406,342 men
  • 557 tanks
  • 667 tank destroyers and assault guns
  • 1,261 other AFVs
  • 4,224 anti-tank and artillery pieces
  • 13 infantry divisions[a]
  • 7 armored divisions
  • 1 brigade[4]

24 December

  • c. 449,000 men
  • 423 tanks
  • 608 tank destroyers and assault guns
  • 1,496 other AFVs
  • 4,131 anti-tank and artillery pieces
  • 16 infantry divisions
  • 8 armored divisions
  • 1 armored brigade
  • 2 infantry brigades

2 January

  • c. 401,000 men
  • 287 tanks
  • 462 tank destroyers and assault guns
  • 1,090 other AFVs
  • 3,396 anti-tank and artillery pieces
  • 15 infantry divisions
  • 8 armored divisions
  • 1 armored brigade
  • 2 infantry brigades

16 January

  • 383,016 men
  • 216 tanks
  • 414 tank destroyers and assault guns
  • 907 other AFVs
  • 3,256 anti-tank and artillery pieces
  • 16 infantry divisions
  • 8 armored divisions
  • 2 infantry brigades[3]
Casualties and losses
United States American
  • 89,500[5][b]
    (includes killed, wounded, missing, captured)
  • 733 tanks and tank destroyers lost[6]
  • c. 1,000 aircraft lost, over 647 in December[7] and 353 during Operation Bodenplatte[8]

United Kingdom British

  • 1,408 (200 killed, 969 wounded, and 239 missing)[9]
Nazi Germany German
  • 63,222[10][11][c] – 98,000[12]
    (includes killed, wounded, missing, captured)
  • 554 tanks, tank destroyers and assault guns lost[13]
  • c. 800 aircraft lost, at least 500 in December and 280 during Operation Bodenplatte[8]
Approximately 3,000 civilians killed[14]
Map showing the swelling of "the Bulge" as the German offensive progressed creating the nose-like salient during 16–25 December 1944.
  Front line, 16 December
  Front line, 20 December
  Front line, 25 December
  Allied movements
  German movements

The Battle of the Bulge, also known as the Ardennes Counteroffensive, was a major German offensive campaign on the Western Front during World War II which took place from 16 December 1944 to 25 January 1945. It was launched through the densely forested Ardennes region between Belgium and Luxembourg towards the end of the war in Europe. The offensive was intended to stop Allied use of the Belgian port of Antwerp and to split the Allied lines, allowing the Germans to encircle and destroy the four Allied forces and cause the Allies to negotiate a peace treaty in the Axis powers' favor.

The Germans achieved a total surprise attack on the morning of 16 December 1944, due to a combination of Allied overconfidence, preoccupation with Allied offensive plans, and poor aerial reconnaissance due to bad weather. American forces bore the brunt of the attack and incurred their highest casualties of any operation during the war. The battle also severely depleted Germany's armored forces; they remained largely unreplaced throughout the war. German personnel, and, later, Luftwaffe aircraft (the concluding stages of the engagement) had also sustained heavy losses. The Germans had attacked a weakly defended section of the Allied line, taking advantage of heavily overcast weather conditions that grounded the Allies' superior air forces. Fierce resistance on the northern shoulder of the offensive, around Elsenborn Ridge, and in the south, around Bastogne, blocked German access to key roads to the northwest and west that they counted on for success. Columns of armor and infantry that were supposed to advance along parallel routes found themselves on the same roads. This, and terrain that favored the defenders, threw the German advance behind schedule and allowed the Allies to reinforce the thinly placed troops. The farthest west the offensive reached was the village of Foy-Nôtre-Dame, south east of Dinant, being stopped by the U.S. 2nd Armored Division on 24 December 1944.[15][16][17] Improved weather conditions from around 24 December permitted air attacks on German forces and supply lines, which sealed the failure of the offensive. On 26 December the lead element of Patton's U.S. Third Army reached Bastogne from the south, ending the siege. Although the offensive was effectively broken by 27 December, when the trapped units of 2nd Panzer Division made two break-out attempts with only partial success, the battle continued for another month before the front line was effectively restored to its position prior to the attack. In the wake of the defeat, many experienced German units were out of men and equipment, meanwhile survivors retreated to the Siegfried Line.

The Germans' initial attack involved 410,000 men; just over 1,400 tanks, tank destroyers, and assault guns; 2,600 artillery pieces; 1,600 anti-tank guns; and over 1,000 combat aircraft, as well as large numbers of other armored fighting vehicles (AFVs).[4] These were reinforced a couple of weeks later, bringing the offensive's total strength to around 450,000 troops, and 1,500 tanks and assault guns. Between 63,222 and 98,000 of these men were killed, missing, wounded in action, or captured. For the Americans, out of a peak of 610,000 troops,[18] 89,000[5] became casualties out of which some 19,000 were killed.[5][19] The "Bulge" was the largest and bloodiest single battle fought by the United States in World War II[20][21][22] and the third-deadliest campaign in American history.


After the breakout from Normandy at the end of July 1944 and the Allied landings in southern France on 15 August 1944, the Allies advanced towards Germany more quickly than anticipated.[d] The Allies faced several military logistics issues:

  • troops were fatigued by weeks of continuous combat
  • supply lines were stretched extremely thin
  • supplies were dangerously depleted.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower (the Supreme Allied Commander on the Western Front) and his staff chose to hold the Ardennes region which was occupied by the U.S. First Army. The Allies chose to defend the Ardennes with as few troops as possible due to the favorable terrain (a densely wooded highland with deep river valleys and a rather thin road network) and limited Allied operational objectives in the area. They also had intelligence that the Wehrmacht was using the area across the German border as a rest-and-refit area for its troops.[23]

Allied supply issues

The speed of the Allied advance coupled with an initial lack of deep-water ports presented the Allies with enormous supply problems.[24] Over-the-beach supply operations using the Normandy landing areas, and direct landing ships on the beaches, were unable to meet operational needs. The only deep-water port the Allies had captured was Cherbourg on the northern shore of the Cotentin peninsula and west of the original invasion beaches,[24] but the Germans had thoroughly wrecked and mined the harbor before it could be taken. It took many months to rebuild its cargo-handling capability. The Allies captured the port of Antwerp intact in the first days of September, but it was not operational until 28 November. The estuary of the Schelde river that controlled access to the port had to be cleared of both German troops and naval mines.[25] These limitations led to differences between General Eisenhower and Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, commander of the Anglo-Canadian 21st Army Group, over whether Montgomery or Lieutenant General Omar Bradley, commanding the U.S. 12th Army Group, in the south would get priority access to supplies.[26] German forces remained in control of several major ports on the English Channel coast into the autumn, while Dunkirk remained under siege until the end of the war in May 1945.[citation needed]

The Allies' efforts to destroy the French railway system prior to D-Day were successful. This destruction hampered the German response to the invasion, but it proved equally hampering to the Allies, as it took time to repair the rail network's tracks and bridges. A trucking system nicknamed the Red Ball Express brought supplies to front-line troops, but used up five times as much fuel to reach the front line near the Belgian border. By early October, the Allies had suspended major offensives to improve their supply lines and supply availability at the front.[24]

Montgomery and Bradley both pressed for priority delivery of supplies to their respective armies so they could continue their individual lines of advance and maintain pressure on the Germans, while Eisenhower preferred a broad-front strategy. He gave some priority to Montgomery's northern forces. This had the short-term goal of opening the urgently needed port of Antwerp and the long-term goal of capturing the Ruhr area, the biggest industrial area of Germany.[24] With the Allies stalled, German Generalfeldmarschall (Field Marshal) Gerd von Rundstedt was able to reorganize the disrupted German armies into a coherent defensive force.[24]

Field Marshal Montgomery's Operation Market Garden achieved only some of its objectives, while its territorial gains left the Allied supply situation stretched further than before. In October, the First Canadian Army fought the Battle of the Scheldt, opening the port of Antwerp to shipping. As a result, by the end of October, the supply situation had eased somewhat.[citation needed]

German plans

Despite a lull along the front after the Scheldt battles, the German situation remained dire. While operations continued in the autumn, notably the Lorraine Campaign, the Battle of Aachen and fighting in the Hürtgen Forest, the strategic situation in the west had changed little. The Allies were slowly pushing towards Germany, but no decisive breakthrough was achieved. The Western Allies already had 96 divisions at or near the front, with an estimated ten more divisions en route from the United Kingdom. Additional Allied airborne units remained in England. The Germans could field a total of 55 understrength divisions.[27]:1

Adolf Hitler first officially outlined his surprise counter-offensive to his astonished generals on 16 September 1944. The assault's ambitious goal was to pierce the thinly held lines of the U.S. First Army between Monschau and Wasserbillig with Army Group B (Model) by the end of the first day, get the armor through the Ardennes by the end of the second day, reach the Meuse between Liège and Dinant by the third day, and seize Antwerp and the western bank of the Scheldt estuary by the fourth day.[28]:1–64[29]

Hitler initially promised his generals a total of 18 infantry and 12 armored or mechanized divisions "for planning purposes." The plan was to pull 13 infantry divisions, two parachute divisions and six panzer-type divisions from the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht combined German military strategic reserve. On the Eastern Front, the Soviets' Operation Bagration during the summer had destroyed much of Germany's Army Group Center (Heeresgruppe Mitte). The extremely swift operation ended only when the advancing Soviet Red Army forces outran their supplies. By November, it was clear that Soviet forces were preparing for a winter offensive.[30]

Meanwhile, the Allied air offensive of early 1944 had effectively grounded the Luftwaffe, leaving the German Army with little battlefield intelligence and no way to interdict Allied supplies. The converse was equally damaging; daytime movement of German forces was rapidly noticed, and interdiction of supplies combined with the bombing of the Romanian oil fields starved Germany of oil and gasoline. This fuel shortage intensified after the Soviets overran those fields in the course of their August 1944 Jassy-Kishinev Offensive.

One of the few advantages held by the German forces in November 1944 was that they were no longer defending all of Western Europe. Their front lines in the west had been considerably shortened by the Allied offensive and were much closer to the German heartland. This drastically reduced their supply problems despite Allied control of the air. Additionally, their extensive telephone and telegraph network meant that radios were no longer necessary for communications, which lessened the effectiveness of Allied Ultra intercepts. Nevertheless, some 40–50 messages per day were decrypted by Ultra. They recorded the quadrupling of German fighter forces and a term used in an intercepted Luftwaffe message—Jägeraufmarsch (literally "Hunter Deployment")—implied preparation for an offensive operation. Ultra also picked up communiqués regarding extensive rail and road movements in the region, as well as orders that movements should be made on time.[31]

Drafting the offensive

Hitler felt that his mobile reserves allowed him to mount one major offensive. Although he realized nothing significant could be accomplished in the Eastern Front, he still believed an offensive against the Western Allies, whom he considered militarily inferior to the Red Army, would have some chances of success.[32] Hitler believed he could split the Allied forces and compel the Americans and British to settle for a separate peace, independent of the Soviet Union.[33] Success in the west would give the Germans time to design and produce more advanced weapons (such as jet aircraft, new U-boat designs and super-heavy tanks) and permit the concentration of forces in the east. After the war ended, this assessment was generally viewed as unrealistic, given Allied air superiority throughout Europe and their ability to continually disrupt German offensive operations.[34]

Hitler's plan called for a Blitzkrieg attack through the weakly defended Ardennes, mirroring the successful German offensive there during the Battle of France in 1940—aimed at splitting the armies along the U.S.—British lines and capturing Antwerp.[35] The plan banked on unfavorable weather, including heavy fog and low-lying clouds, which would minimize the Allied air advantage.[36] Hitler originally set the offensive for late November, before the anticipated start of the Russian winter offensive. The disputes between Montgomery and Bradley were well known, and Hitler hoped he could exploit this disunity. If the attack were to succeed in capturing Antwerp, four complete armies would be trapped without supplies behind German lines.[35]:19

Several senior German military officers, including Generalfeldmarschall Walter Model and Gerd von Rundstedt, expressed concern as to whether the goals of the offensive could be realized. Model and von Rundstedt both believed aiming for Antwerp was too ambitious, given Germany's scarce resources in late 1944. At the same time, they felt that maintaining a purely defensive posture (as had been the case since Normandy) would only delay defeat, not avert it. They thus developed alternative, less ambitious plans that did not aim to cross the Meuse River (in German and Dutch: Maas); Model's being Unternehmen Herbstnebel (Operation Autumn Mist) and von Rundstedt's Fall Martin ("Plan Martin"). The two field marshals combined their plans to present a joint "small solution" to Hitler.[e][f] When they offered their alternative plans, Hitler would not listen. Rundstedt later testified that while he recognized the merit of Hitler's operational plan, he saw from the very first that "all, absolutely all conditions for the possible success of such an offensive were lacking."[35]:24

Model, commander of German Army Group B (Heeresgruppe B), and von Rundstedt, overall commander of the German Army Command in the West (OB West), were put in charge of carrying out the operation.

In the west supply problems began significantly to impede Allied operations, even though the opening of the port of Antwerp in late November improved the situation somewhat. The positions of the Allied armies stretched from southern France all the way north to the Netherlands. German planning for the counteroffensive rested on the premise that a successful strike against thinly manned stretches of the line would halt Allied advances on the entire Western Front.[37]

Operation names

The Wehrmacht's code name for the offensive was Unternehmen Wacht am Rhein ("Operation Watch on the Rhine"), after the German patriotic hymn Die Wacht am Rhein, a name that deceptively implied the Germans would be adopting a defensive posture along the Western Front. The Germans also referred to it as Ardennenoffensive ("Ardennes Offensive") and Rundstedt-Offensive, both names being generally used nowadays in modern Germany.[citation needed] The French (and Belgian) name for the operation is Bataille des Ardennes (Battle of the Ardennes). The battle was militarily defined by the Allies as the Ardennes Counteroffensive, which included the German drive and the American effort to contain and later defeat it. The phrase Battle of the Bulge was coined by contemporary press to describe the way the Allied front line bulged inward on wartime news maps.[38][39]

While the Ardennes Counteroffensive is the correct term in Allied military language, the official Ardennes-Alsace campaign reached beyond the Ardennes battle region, and the most popular description in English speaking countries remains simply the Battle of the Bulge.


There is a popular impression that the chief trouble in the Ardennes is the lack of good roads. As anyone on the ground will agree, the Ardennes has a fairly good road system. It is not the lack of roads as much as the lack of almost anything else on which to move that matters.

— Theodore Draper,
84th Infantry Division in the Battle of the Ardennes, December 1944 - January 1945, 1945, p. 11 of 58

The OKW decided by mid-September, at Hitler's insistence, that the offensive would be mounted in the Ardennes, as was done in 1940. In 1940 German forces had passed through the Ardennes in three days before engaging the enemy, but the 1944 plan called for battle in the forest itself. The main forces were to advance westward to the Meuse River, then turn northwest for Antwerp and Brussels. The close terrain of the Ardennes would make rapid movement difficult, though open ground beyond the Meuse offered the prospect of a successful dash to the coast.

Four armies were selected for the operation. Adolf Hitler personally selected for the counter-offensive on the northern shoulder of the western front the best troops available and officers he trusted. The lead role in the attack was given to the 6th Panzer Army, commanded by SS-Oberstgruppenführer Sepp Dietrich. It included the most experienced formation of the Waffen-SS: the 1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler. It also contained the 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend. They were given priority for supply and equipment and assigned the shortest route to the primary objective of the offensive, Antwerp,[28]:1–64 starting from the northernmost point on the intended battlefront, nearest the important road network hub of Monschau.[40]

The Fifth Panzer Army under General Hasso von Manteuffel was assigned to the middle sector with the objective of capturing Brussels. The Seventh Army, under General Erich Brandenberger, was assigned to the southernmost sector, near the Luxembourgish city of Echternach, with the task of protecting the flank. This Army was made up of only four infantry divisions, with no large-scale armored formations to use as a spearhead unit. As a result, they made little progress throughout the battle.

The German plan

Also participating in a secondary role was the Fifteenth Army, under General Gustav-Adolf von Zangen. Recently brought back up to strength and re-equipped after heavy fighting during Operation Market Garden, it was located on the far north of the Ardennes battlefield and tasked with holding U.S. forces in place, with the possibility of launching its own attack given favorable conditions.

For the offensive to be successful, four criteria were deemed critical: the attack had to be a complete surprise; the weather conditions had to be poor to neutralize Allied air superiority and the damage it could inflict on the German offensive and its supply lines;[41] the progress had to be rapid—the Meuse River, halfway to Antwerp, had to be reached by day 4; and Allied fuel supplies would have to be captured intact along the way because the combined Wehrmacht forces were short on fuel. The General Staff estimated they only had enough fuel to cover one third to one half of the ground to Antwerp in heavy combat conditions.

The plan originally called for just under 45 divisions, including a dozen panzer and Panzergrenadier divisions forming the armored spearhead and various infantry units to form a defensive line as the battle unfolded. By this time the German Army suffered from an acute manpower shortage, and the force had been reduced to around 30 divisions. Although it retained most of its armor, there were not enough infantry units because of the defensive needs in the East. These 30 newly rebuilt divisions used some of the last reserves of the German Army. Among them were Volksgrenadier ("People's Grenadier") units formed from a mix of battle-hardened veterans and recruits formerly regarded as too young, too old or too frail to fight. Training time, equipment and supplies were inadequate during the preparations. German fuel supplies were precarious—those materials and supplies that could not be directly transported by rail had to be horse-drawn to conserve fuel, and the mechanized and panzer divisions would depend heavily on captured fuel. As a result, the start of the offensive was delayed from 27 November to 16 December.[citation needed]

Before the offensive the Allies were virtually blind to German troop movement. During the liberation of France, the extensive network of the French Resistance had provided valuable intelligence about German dispositions. Once they reached the German border, this source dried up. In France, orders had been relayed within the German army using radio messages enciphered by the Enigma machine, and these could be picked up and decrypted by Allied code-breakers headquartered at Bletchley Park, to give the intelligence known as Ultra. In Germany such orders were typically transmitted using telephone and teleprinter, and a special radio silence order was imposed on all matters concerning the upcoming offensive.[42] The major crackdown in the Wehrmacht after the 20 July plot to assassinate Hitler resulted in much tighter security and fewer leaks. The foggy autumn weather also prevented Allied reconnaissance aircraft from correctly assessing the ground situation. German units assembling in the area were even issued charcoal instead of wood for cooking fires to cut down on smoke and reduce chances of Allied observers deducing a troop buildup was underway.[43]

For these reasons Allied High Command considered the Ardennes a quiet sector, relying on assessments from their intelligence services that the Germans were unable to launch any major offensive operations this late in the war. What little intelligence they had led the Allies to believe precisely what the Germans wanted them to believe-–that preparations were being carried out only for defensive, not offensive, operations. The Allies relied too much on Ultra, not human reconnaissance. In fact, because of the Germans' efforts, the Allies were led to believe that a new defensive army was being formed around Düsseldorf in the northern Rhineland, possibly to defend against British attack. This was done by increasing the number of flak (Flugabwehrkanonen, i.e., anti-aircraft cannons) in the area and the artificial multiplication of radio transmissions in the area. The Allies at this point thought the information was of no importance. All of this meant that the attack, when it came, completely surprised the Allied forces. Remarkably, the U.S. Third Army intelligence chief, Colonel Oscar Koch, the U.S. First Army intelligence chief and the SHAEF intelligence officer Brigadier General Kenneth Strong all correctly predicted the German offensive capability and intention to strike the U.S. VIII Corps area. These predictions were largely dismissed by the U.S. 12th Army Group.[44] Strong had informed Bedell Smith in December of his suspicions. Bedell Smith sent Strong to warn Lieutenant General Omar Bradley, the commander of the 12th Army Group, of the danger. Bradley's response was succinct: "Let them come."[45]:362–366 Historian Patrick K. O'Donnell writes that on 8 December 1944 U.S. Rangers at great cost took Hill 400 during the Battle of the Hürtgen Forest. The next day GIs who relieved the Rangers reported a considerable movement of German troops inside the Ardennes in the enemy's rear, but that no one in the chain of command connected the dots.[46]

Because the Ardennes was considered a quiet sector, considerations of economy of force led it to be used as a training ground for new units and a rest area for units that had seen hard fighting. The U.S. units deployed in the Ardennes thus were a mixture of inexperienced troops (such as the raw U.S. 99th and 106th "Golden Lions" Divisions), and battle-hardened troops sent to that sector to recuperate (the 28th Infantry Division).

Two major special operations were planned for the offensive. By October it was decided that Otto Skorzeny, the German SS-commando who had rescued the former Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, was to lead a task force of English-speaking German soldiers in "Operation Greif". These soldiers were to be dressed in American and British uniforms and wear dog tags taken from corpses and prisoners of war. Their job was to go behind American lines and change signposts, misdirect traffic, generally cause disruption and seize bridges across the Meuse River. By late November another ambitious special operation was added: Col. Friedrich August von der Heydte was to lead a Fallschirmjäger-Kampfgruppe (paratrooper combat group) in Operation Stösser, a night-time paratroop drop behind the Allied lines aimed at capturing a vital road junction near Malmedy.[47][48]

German intelligence had set 20 December as the expected date for the start of the upcoming Soviet offensive, aimed at crushing what was left of German resistance on the Eastern Front and thereby opening the way to Berlin. It was hoped that Soviet leader Stalin would delay the start of the operation once the German assault in the Ardennes had begun and wait for the outcome before continuing.

After the 20 July attempt on Hitler's life, and the close advance of the Red Army which would seize the site on 27 January 1945, Hitler and his staff had been forced to abandon the Wolfsschanze headquarters in East Prussia, in which they had coordinated much of the fighting on the Eastern Front. After a brief visit to Berlin, Hitler traveled on his Führersonderzug ("Special Train of the Führer" (Leader)) to Giessen on 11 December, taking up residence in the Adlerhorst (eyrie) command complex, co-located with OB West's base at Kransberg Castle. Believing in omens and the successes of his early war campaigns that had been planned at Kransberg, Hitler had chosen the site from which he had overseen the successful 1940 campaign against France and the Low Countries.

Von Rundstedt set up his operational headquarters near Limburg, close enough for the generals and Panzer Corps commanders who were to lead the attack to visit Adlerhorst on 11 December, traveling there in an SS-operated bus convoy. With the castle acting as overflow accommodation, the main party was settled into the Adlerhorst's Haus 2 command bunker, including Gen. Alfred Jodl, Gen. Wilhelm Keitel, Gen. Blumentritt, von Manteuffel and Dietrich.

In a personal conversation on 13 December between Walter Model and Friedrich von der Heydte, who was put in charge of Operation Stösser, von der Heydte gave Operation Stösser less than a 10% chance of succeeding. Model told him it was necessary to make the attempt: "It must be done because this offensive is the last chance to conclude the war favorably."[49]

Initial German assault

Situation on the Western Front as of 15 December 1944

On 16 December 1944 at 05:30, the Germans began the assault with a massive, 90-minute artillery barrage using 1,600 artillery pieces[50] across a 130-kilometer (80 mi) front on the Allied troops facing the 6th Panzer Army. The Americans' initial impression was that this was the anticipated, localized counterattack resulting from the Allies' recent attack in the Wahlerscheid sector to the north, where the 2nd Division had knocked a sizable dent in the Siegfried Line. Heavy snowstorms engulfed parts of the Ardennes area. While having the effect of keeping the Allied aircraft grounded, the weather also proved troublesome for the Germans because poor road conditions hampered their advance. Poor traffic control led to massive traffic jams and fuel shortages in forward units. Nearly 10 hours into the assault, one of the German V-2 rockets destroyed the Cine Rex cinema in Antwerp, killing 567 people, the highest death toll from a single rocket attack during the war.[51]

In the center, von Manteuffel's Fifth Panzer Army attacked towards Bastogne and St. Vith, both road junctions of great strategic importance. In the south, Brandenberger's Seventh Army pushed towards Luxembourg in its efforts to secure the flank from Allied attacks.

Units involved in initial assault

Forces deployed North to South

Northern Sector: Monschau to Krewinkel

Central Sector: Roth to Gemünd

Southern Sector: Hochscheid to Mompach

Attack on the northern shoulder

While the Siege of Bastogne is often credited as the central point where the German offensive was stopped,[52] the battle for Elsenborn Ridge was actually the decisive component of the Battle of the Bulge, stopping the advance of the best equipped armored units of the German army and forcing them to reroute their troops to unfavorable alternative routes that considerably slowed their advance.[53][54]

Best German divisions assigned

The attack on Monschau, Höfen, Krinkelt-Rocherath, and then Elsenborn Ridge was led by the units personally selected by Adolf Hitler. The 6th Panzer Army was given priority for supply and equipment and was assigned the shortest route to the ultimate objective of the offensive, Antwerp.[54] The 6th Panzer Army included the elite of the Waffen-SS, including four Panzer divisions and five infantry divisions in three corps.[55][56] SS-Obersturmbannführer Joachim Peiper led Kampfgruppe Peiper, consisting of 4,800 men and 600 vehicles, which was charged with leading the main effort. Its newest and most powerful tank, the Tiger II heavy tank, consumed 7.6 liters (2 U.S. gal) of fuel to go 1,600 m (1 mi), and the Germans had less than half the fuel they needed to reach Antwerp.[27]:page needed

German forces held up

Sepp Dietrich led the Sixth Panzer Army in the northernmost attack route.

The attacks by the Sixth Panzer Army's infantry units in the north fared badly because of unexpectedly fierce resistance by the U.S. 2nd and 99th Infantry Divisions. Kampfgruppe Peiper, at the head of Sepp Dietrich's Sixth Panzer Army, had been designated to take the Losheim-Losheimergraben road, a key route through the Losheim Gap, but it was closed by two collapsed overpasses that German engineers failed to repair during the first day.[57] Peiper's forces were rerouted through Lanzerath.

To preserve the quantity of armor available, the infantry of the 9th Fallschirmjaeger Regiment, 3rd Fallschirmjaeger Division, had been ordered to clear the village first. A single 18-man Intelligence and Reconnaissance Platoon from the 99th Infantry Division along with four Forward Air Controllers held up the battalion of about 500 German paratroopers until sunset, about 16:00, causing 92 casualties among the Germans.

This created a bottleneck in the German advance. Kampfgruppe Peiper did not begin his advance until nearly 16:00, more than 16 hours behind schedule and didn't reach Bucholz Station until the early morning of 17 December. Their intention was to control the twin villages of Rocherath-Krinkelt which would clear a path to the high ground of Elsenborn Ridge. Occupation of this dominating terrain would allow control of the roads to the south and west and ensure supply to Kampfgruppe Peiper's armored task force.

Malmedy massacre

Scene of the Malmedy massacre

At 12:30 on 17 December, Kampfgruppe Peiper was near the hamlet of Baugnez, on the height halfway between the town of Malmedy and Ligneuville, when they encountered elements of the 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion, U.S. 7th Armored Division.[58][59] After a brief battle the lightly armed Americans surrendered. They were disarmed and, with some other Americans captured earlier (approximately 150 men), sent to stand in a field near the crossroads under light guard. About fifteen minutes after Peiper's advance guard passed through, the main body under the command of SS-Sturmbannführer Werner Pötschke arrived. The SS troopers suddenly opened fire on the prisoners. As soon as the firing began, the prisoners panicked. Most were shot where they stood, though some managed to flee. Accounts of the killing vary, but at least 84 of the POWs were murdered. A few survived, and news of the killings of prisoners of war spread through Allied lines.[59] Following the end of the war, soldiers and officers of Kampfgruppe Peiper, including Joachim Peiper and SS general Sepp Dietrich, were tried for the incident at the Malmedy massacre trial.[60]

Kampfgruppe Peiper deflected southeast

Driving to the south-east of Elsenborn, Kampfgruppe Peiper entered Honsfeld, where they encountered one of the 99th Division's rest centers, clogged with confused American troops. They quickly captured portions of the 3rd Battalion of the 394th Infantry Regiment. They destroyed a number of American armored units and vehicles, and took several dozen prisoners who were subsequently murdered.[61][58][62] Peiper also captured 50,000 US gallons (190,000 l; 42,000 imp gal) of fuel for his vehicles.[63]

Peiper advanced north-west towards Büllingen, keeping to the plan to move west, unaware that if he had turned north he had an opportunity to flank and trap the entire 2nd and 99th Divisions.[64] Instead, intent on driving west, Peiper turned south to detour around Hünningen, choosing a route designated Rollbahn D as he had been given latitude to choose the best route west.[50]

To the north, the 277th Volksgrenadier Division attempted to break through the defending line of the U.S. 99th and the 2nd Infantry Divisions. The 12th SS Panzer Division, reinforced by additional infantry (Panzergrenadier and Volksgrenadier) divisions, took the key road junction at Losheimergraben just north of Lanzerath and attacked the twin villages of Rocherath and Krinkelt.

Wereth 11

Another, smaller massacre was committed in Wereth, Belgium, approximately 6.5 miles (10.5 km) northeast of Saint-Vith on 17 December 1944. Eleven black American soldiers were tortured after surrendering and then shot by men of the 1st SS Panzer Division belonging to Schnellgruppe Knittel. Some of the injuries sustained before death included bayonet wounds to the head, broken legs, and their fingers cut off. The perpetrators were never punished for this crime.[65][66]In 2001, a group of people began working on a tribute to the eleven black American soldiers to remember their sacrifices.[67]

Germans advance west

American soldiers of the 3rd Battalion 119th Infantry Regiment are taken prisoner by members of Kampfgruppe Peiper in Stoumont, Belgium on 19 December 1944.

By the evening the spearhead had pushed north to engage the U.S. 99th Infantry Division and Kampfgruppe Peiper arrived in front of Stavelot. Peiper's forces were already behind his timetable because of the stiff American resistance and because when the Americans fell back, their engineers blew up bridges and emptied fuel dumps. Peiper's unit was delayed and his vehicles denied critically needed fuel. They took 36 hours to advance from the Eifel region to Stavelot, while the same advance required nine hours in 1940.[citation needed]

Kampfgruppe Peiper attacked Stavelot on 18 December but was unable to capture the town before the Americans evacuated a large fuel depot.[68] Three tanks attempted to take the bridge, but the lead vehicle was disabled by a mine. Following this, 60 grenadiers advanced forward but were stopped by concentrated American defensive fire. After a fierce tank battle the next day, the Germans finally entered the town when U.S. engineers failed to blow the bridge.

German troops advancing past abandoned American equipment

Capitalizing on his success and not wanting to lose more time, Peiper rushed an advance group toward the vital bridge at Trois-Ponts, leaving the bulk of his strength in Stavelot. When they reached it at 11:30 on 18 December, retreating U.S. engineers blew it up.[69][70] Peiper detoured north towards the villages of La Gleize and Cheneux. At Cheneux, the advance guard was attacked by American fighter-bombers, destroying two tanks and five halftracks, blocking the narrow road. The group began moving again at dusk at 16:00 and was able to return to its original route at around 18:00. Of the two bridges remaining between Kampfgruppe Peiper and the Meuse, the bridge over the Lienne was blown by the Americans as the Germans approached. Peiper turned north and halted his forces in the woods between La Gleize and Stoumont.[71] He learned that Stoumont was strongly held and that the Americans were bringing up strong reinforcements from Spa.

To Peiper's south, the advance of Kampfgruppe Hansen had stalled. SS-Oberführer Mohnke ordered Schnellgruppe Knittel, which had been designated to follow Hansen, to instead move forward to support Peiper. SS-Sturmbannführer Knittel crossed the bridge at Stavelot around 19:00 against American forces trying to retake the town. Knittel pressed forward towards La Gleize, and shortly afterward the Americans recaptured Stavelot. Peiper and Knittel both faced the prospect of being cut off.[71]

German advance halted

M3 90mm gun-armed American M36 tank destroyers of the 703rd TD, attached to the 82nd Airborne Division, move forward during heavy fog to stem German spearhead near Werbomont, Belgium, 20 December 1944.

At dawn on 19 December, Peiper surprised the American defenders of Stoumont by sending infantry from the 2nd SS Panzergrenadier Regiment in an attack and a company of Fallschirmjäger to infiltrate their lines. He followed this with a Panzer attack, gaining the eastern edge of the town. An American tank battalion arrived but, after a two-hour tank battle, Peiper finally captured Stoumont at 10:30. Knittel joined up with Peiper and reported the Americans had recaptured Stavelot to their east.[72] Peiper ordered Knittel to retake Stavelot. Assessing his own situation, he determined that his Kampfgruppe did not have sufficient fuel to cross the bridge west of Stoumont and continue his advance. He maintained his lines west of Stoumont for a while, until the evening of 19 December when he withdrew them to the village edge. On the same evening the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division under Maj. Gen. James Gavin arrived and deployed at La Gleize and along Peiper's planned route of advance.[72]

German efforts to reinforce Peiper were unsuccessful. Kampfgruppe Hansen was still struggling against bad road conditions and stiff American resistance on the southern route. Schnellgruppe Knittel was forced to disengage from the heights around Stavelot. Kampfgruppe Sandig, which had been ordered to take Stavelot, launched another attack without success. Sixth Panzer Army commander Sepp Dietrich ordered Hermann Priess, commanding officer of the I SS Panzer Corps, to increase its efforts to back Peiper's battle group, but Prieß was unable to break through.[73]

Froidcourt castle near Stoumont in 2011

Small units of the U.S. 2nd Battalion, 119th Infantry Regiment, 30th Infantry Division, attacked the dispersed units of Kampfgruppe Peiper on the morning of 21 December. They failed and were forced to withdraw, and a number were captured, including battalion commander Maj. Hal D. McCown. Peiper learned that his reinforcements had been directed to gather in La Gleize to his east, and he withdrew, leaving wounded Americans and Germans in the  [fr]. As he withdrew from Cheneux, American paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division engaged the Germans in fierce house-to-house fighting. The Americans shelled Kampfgruppe Peiper on 22 December, and although the Germans had run out of food and had virtually no fuel, they continued to fight. A Luftwaffe resupply mission went badly when SS-Brigadeführer Wilhelm Mohnke insisted the grid coordinates supplied by Peiper were wrong, parachuting supplies into American hands in Stoumont.[74]

In La Gleize, Peiper set up defenses waiting for German relief. When the relief force was unable to penetrate the Allied lines, he decided to break through the Allied lines and return to the German lines on 23 December. The men of the Kampfgruppe were forced to abandon their vehicles and heavy equipment, although most of the 800 remaining troops were able to escape.[75]


An American soldier escorts a German crewman from his wrecked Panther tank during the Battle of Elsenborn Ridge.

The U.S. 99th Infantry Division, outnumbered five to one, inflicted casualties in the ratio of 18 to one. The division lost about 20% of its effective strength, including 465 killed and 2,524 evacuated due to wounds, injuries, fatigue, or trench foot. German losses were much higher. In the northern sector opposite the 99th, this included more than 4,000 deaths and the destruction of 60 tanks and big guns.[76] Historian John S. D. Eisenhower wrote, "... the action of the 2nd and 99th Divisions on the northern shoulder could be considered the most decisive of the Ardennes campaign."[77][78]

The stiff American defense prevented the Germans from reaching the vast array of supplies near the Belgian cities of Liège and Spa and the road network west of the Elsenborn Ridge leading to the Meuse River.[79] After more than 10 days of intense battle, they pushed the Americans out of the villages, but were unable to dislodge them from the ridge, where elements of the V Corps of the First U.S. Army prevented the German forces from reaching the road network to their west.

Operation Stösser

Operation Stösser was a paratroop drop into the American rear in the High Fens (French: Hautes Fagnes; German: Hohes Venn; Dutch: Hoge Venen) area. The objective was the "Baraque Michel" crossroads. It was led by Oberst Friedrich August Freiherr von der Heydte, considered by Germans to be a hero of the Battle of Crete.[80]

It was the German paratroopers' only night time drop during World War II. Von der Heydte was given only eight days to prepare prior to the assault. He was not allowed to use his own regiment because their movement might alert the Allies to the impending counterattack. Instead, he was provided with a Kampfgruppe of 800 men. The II Parachute Corps was tasked with contributing 100 men from each of its regiments. In loyalty to their commander, 150 men from von der Heydte's own unit, the 6th Parachute Regiment, went against orders and joined him.[81] They had little time to establish any unit cohesion or train together.

The parachute drop was a complete failure. Von der Heydte ended up with a total of around 300 troops. Too small and too weak to counter the Allies, they abandoned plans to take the crossroads and instead converted the mission to reconnaissance. With only enough ammunition for a single fight, they withdrew towards Germany and attacked the rear of the American lines. Only about 100 of his weary men finally reached the German rear.[82]

Chenogne massacre

Following the Malmedy massacre, on New Year's Day 1945, after having previously received orders to take no prisoners,[83] American soldiers murdered approximately sixty German prisoners of war near the Belgian village of Chenogne (8 km from Bastogne).[84]

Attack in the center

Hasso von Manteuffel led the Fifth Panzer Army in the middle attack route.

The Germans fared better in the center (the 32 km (20 mi) Schnee Eifel sector) as the Fifth Panzer Army attacked positions held by the U.S. 28th and 106th Infantry Divisions. The Germans lacked the overwhelming strength that had been deployed in the north, but still possessed a marked numerical and material superiority over the very thinly spread 28th and 106th divisions. They succeeded in surrounding two largely intact regiments (422nd and 423rd) of the 106th Division in a pincer movement and forced their surrender, a tribute to the way Manteuffel's new tactics had been applied.[85] The official U.S. Army history states: "At least seven thousand [men] were lost here and the figure probably is closer to eight or nine thousand. The amount lost in arms and equipment, of course, was very substantial. The Schnee Eifel battle, therefore, represents the most serious reverse suffered by American arms during the operations of 1944–45 in the European theater."[27]:170

Battle for St. Vith

In the center, the town of St. Vith, a vital road junction, presented the main challenge for both von Manteuffel's and Dietrich's forces. The defenders, led by the 7th Armored Division, included the remaining regiment of the 106th U.S. Infantry Division, with elements of the 9th Armored Division and 28th U.S. Infantry Division. These units, which operated under the command of Generals Robert W. Hasbrouck (7th Armored) and Alan W. Jones (106th Infantry), successfully resisted the German attacks, significantly slowing the German advance. At Montgomery's orders, St. Vith was evacuated on 21 December; U.S. troops fell back to entrenched positions in the area, presenting an imposing obstacle to a successful German advance. By 23 December, as the Germans shattered their flanks, the defenders' position became untenable and U.S. troops were ordered to retreat west of the Salm River. Since the German plan called for the capture of St. Vith by 18:00 on 17 December, the prolonged action in and around it dealt a major setback to their timetable.[27]:407

Meuse River bridges

British Sherman "Firefly" tank in Namur on the Meuse River, December 1944

To protect the river crossings on the Meuse at Givet, Dinant and Namur, Montgomery ordered those few units available to hold the bridges on 19 December. This led to a hastily assembled force including rear-echelon troops, military police and Army Air Force personnel. The British 29th Armoured Brigade of British 11th Armoured Division, which had turned in its tanks for re-equipping, was told to take back their tanks and head to the area. British XXX Corps was significantly reinforced for this effort. Units of the corps which fought in the Ardennes were the 51st (Highland) and 53rd (Welsh) Infantry Divisions, the British 6th Airborne Division, the 29th and 33rd Armoured Brigades, and the 34th Tank Brigade.[86]

Unlike the German forces on the northern and southern shoulders who were experiencing great difficulties, the German advance in the center gained considerable ground. The Fifth Panzer Army was spearheaded by the 2nd Panzer Division while the Panzer Lehr Division (Armored Training Division) came up from the south, leaving Bastogne to other units. The Ourthe River was passed at Ourtheville on 21 December. Lack of fuel held up the advance for one day, but on 23 December the offensive was resumed towards the two small towns of and Marche-en-Famenne. Hargimont was captured the same day, but Marche-en-Famenne was strongly defended by the American 84th Division. Gen. von Lüttwitz, commander of the XXXXVII Panzer-Korps, ordered the division to turn westwards towards Dinant and the Meuse, leaving only a blocking force at Marche-en-Famenne. Although advancing only in a narrow corridor, 2nd Panzer Division was still making rapid headway, leading to jubilation in Berlin. Headquarters now freed up the 9th Panzer Division for Fifth Panzer Army, which was deployed at Marche.[87]

On 22/23 December German forces reached the woods of , only a few kilometers ahead of Dinant. The narrow corridor caused considerable difficulties, as constant flanking attacks threatened the division. On 24 December, German forces made their furthest penetration west. The Panzer Lehr Division took the town of Celles, while a bit farther north, parts of 2nd Panzer Division were in sight of the Meuse near Dinant at Foy-Nôtre-Dame. A hastily assembled British blocking force on the east side of the river prevented the German Battlegroup Böhm from approaching the Dinant bridge. The 29th Armoured Brigade ambushed the Germans knocking out three Panthers and a number of vehicles in and around Foy Notre Dame.[88] By late Christmas Eve the advance in this sector was stopped, as Allied forces threatened the narrow corridor held by the 2nd Panzer Division.[87]

Operation Greif and Operation Währung

For Operation Greif ("Griffin"), Otto Skorzeny successfully infiltrated a small part of his battalion of English-speaking Germans disguised in American uniforms behind the Allied lines. Although they failed to take the vital bridges over the Meuse, their presence caused confusion out of all proportion to their military activities, and rumors spread quickly.[34] Even General George Patton was alarmed and, on 17 December, described the situation to General Dwight Eisenhower as "Krauts ... speaking perfect English ... raising hell, cutting wires, turning road signs around, spooking whole divisions, and shoving a bulge into our defenses."

Checkpoints were set up all over the Allied rear, greatly slowing the movement of soldiers and equipment. American MPs at these checkpoints grilled troops on things that every American was expected to know, like the identity of Mickey Mouse's girlfriend, baseball scores, or the capital of a particular U.S. state—though many could not remember or did not know. General Omar Bradley was briefly detained when he correctly identified Springfield as the capital of Illinois because the American MP who questioned him mistakenly believed the capital was Chicago.[34][89]

The tightened security nonetheless made things very hard for the German infiltrators, and a number of them were captured. Even during interrogation, they continued their goal of spreading disinformation; when asked about their mission, some of them claimed they had been told to go to Paris to either kill or capture General Dwight Eisenhower.[36] Security around the general was greatly increased, and Eisenhower was confined to his headquarters. Because Skorzeny's men were captured in American uniforms, they were executed as spies.[34][90] This was the standard practice of every army at the time, as many belligerents considered it necessary to protect their territory against the grave dangers of enemy spying.[91] Skorzeny said that he was told by German legal experts that as long he did not order his men to fight in combat while wearing American uniforms, such a tactic was a legitimate ruse of war.[92] Skorzeny and his men were fully aware of their likely fate, and most wore their German uniforms underneath their American ones in case of capture. Skorzeny was tried by an American military tribunal in 1947 at the Dachau Trials for allegedly violating the laws of war stemming from his leadership of Operation Greif, but was acquitted. He later moved to Spain and South America.[34]

Operation Währung was carried out by a small number of German agents who infiltrated Allied lines in American uniforms. These agents were tasked with using an existing Nazi intelligence network to bribe rail and port workers to disrupt Allied supply operations. The operation was a failure.[93]

Attack in the south

Erich Brandenberger led Seventh Army in the southernmost attack route.

Further south on Manteuffel's front, the main thrust was delivered by all attacking divisions crossing the River Our, then increasing the pressure on the key road centers of St. Vith and Bastogne. The more experienced U.S. 28th Infantry Division put up a much more dogged defense than the inexperienced soldiers of the 106th Infantry Division. The 112th Infantry Regiment (the most northerly of the 28th Division's regiments), holding a continuous front east of the Our, kept German troops from seizing and using the Our River bridges around Ouren for two days, before withdrawing progressively westwards.

Belgian civilians killed by German units during the offensive

The 109th and 110th Regiments of the 28th Division fared worse, as they were spread so thinly that their positions were easily bypassed. Both offered stubborn resistance in the face of superior forces and threw the German schedule off by several days. The 110th's situation was by far the worst, as it was responsible for an 18-kilometer (11 mi) front while its 2nd Battalion was withheld as the divisional reserve. Panzer columns took the outlying villages and widely separated strong points in bitter fighting, and advanced to points near Bastogne within four days. The struggle for the villages and American strong points, plus transport confusion on the German side, slowed the attack sufficiently to allow the 101st Airborne Division (reinforced by elements from the 9th and 10th Armored Divisions) to reach Bastogne by truck on the morning of 19 December. The fierce defense of Bastogne, in which American paratroopers particularly distinguished themselves, made it impossible for the Germans to take the town with its important road junctions. The panzer columns swung past on either side, cutting off Bastogne on 20 December but failing to secure the vital crossroads.

In the extreme south, Brandenberger's three infantry divisions were checked by divisions of the U.S. VIII Corps after an advance of 6.4 km (4 mi); that front was then firmly held. Only the 5th Parachute Division of Brandenberger's command was able to thrust forward 19 km (12 mi) on the inner flank to partially fulfill its assigned role. Eisenhower and his principal commanders realized by 17 December that the fighting in the Ardennes was a major offensive and not a local counterattack, and they ordered vast reinforcements to the area. Within a week 250,000 troops had been sent. General Gavin of the 82nd Airborne Division arrived on the scene first and ordered the 101st to hold Bastogne while the 82nd would take the more difficult task of facing the SS Panzer Divisions; it was also thrown into the battle north of the bulge, near Elsenborn Ridge.[citation needed]

Siege of Bastogne

U.S. POWs on 22 December 1944
Letter to 101st soldiers, containing Gen. McAuliffe's "Nuts!" response to the Germans

Senior Allied commanders met in a bunker in Verdun on 19 December. By this time, the town of Bastogne and its network of 11 hard-topped roads leading through the widely forested mountainous terrain with deep river valleys and boggy mud of the Ardennes region was under severe threat. Bastogne had previously been the site of the VIII Corps headquarters. Two separate westbound German columns that were to have bypassed the town to the south and north, the 2nd Panzer Division and Panzer-Lehr-Division of XLVII Panzer Corps, as well as the Corps' infantry (26th Volksgrenadier Division), coming due west had been engaged and much slowed and frustrated in outlying battles at defensive positions up to 16 kilometers (10 mi) from the town proper, but these defensive positions were gradually being forced back onto and into the hasty defenses built within the municipality. Moreover, the sole corridor that was open (to the southeast) was threatened and it had been sporadically closed as the front shifted, and there was expectation that it would be completely closed sooner than later, given the strong likelihood that the town would soon be surrounded.[citation needed]

Gen. Eisenhower, realizing that the Allies could destroy German forces much more easily when they were out in the open and on the offensive than if they were on the defensive, told his generals, "The present situation is to be regarded as one of opportunity for us and not of disaster. There will be only cheerful faces at this table." Patton, realizing what Eisenhower implied, responded, "Hell, let's have the guts to let the bastards go all the way to Paris. Then, we'll really cut 'em off and chew 'em up." Eisenhower, after saying he was not that optimistic, asked Patton how long it would take to turn his Third Army, located in northeastern France, north to counterattack. To the disbelief of the other generals present, Patton replied that he could attack with two divisions within 48 hours. Unknown to the other officers present, before he left Patton had ordered his staff to prepare three contingency plans for a northward turn in at least corps strength. By the time Eisenhower asked him how long it would take, the movement was already underway.[94] On 20 December, Eisenhower removed the First and Ninth U.S. Armies from Gen. Bradley's 12th Army Group and placed them under Montgomery's 21st Army Group.[95]

A German machine gunner marching through the Ardennes in December 1944

By 21 December the Germans had surrounded Bastogne, which was defended by the 101st Airborne Division, the all African American 969th Artillery Battalion, and Combat Command B of the 10th Armored Division. Conditions inside the perimeter were tough—most of the medical supplies and medical personnel had been captured. Food was scarce, and by 22 December artillery ammunition was restricted to 10 rounds per gun per day. The weather cleared the next day and supplies (primarily ammunition) were dropped over four of the next five days.[96]

Despite determined German attacks, the perimeter held. The German commander, Generalleutnant (Lt. Gen.) Heinrich Freiherr von Lüttwitz,[97] requested Bastogne's surrender.[98] When Brig. Gen. Anthony McAuliffe, acting commander of the 101st, was told of the Nazi demand to surrender, in frustration he responded, "Nuts!" After turning to other pressing issues, his staff reminded him that they should reply to the German demand. One officer, Lt. Col. Harry Kinnard, noted that McAuliffe's initial reply would be "tough to beat." Thus McAuliffe wrote on the paper, which was typed up and delivered to the Germans, the line he made famous and a morale booster to his troops: "NUTS!"[99] That reply had to be explained, both to the Germans and to non-American Allies.[k]

Both 2nd Panzer and Panzer-Lehr division moved forward from Bastogne after 21 December, leaving only Panzer-Lehr division's 901st Regiment to assist the 26th Volksgrenadier-Division in attempting to capture the crossroads. The 26th VG received one Panzergrenadier Regiment from the 15th Panzergrenadier Division on Christmas Eve for its main assault the next day. Because it lacked sufficient troops and those of the 26th VG Division were near exhaustion, the XLVII Panzerkorps concentrated its assault on several individual locations on the west side of the perimeter in sequence rather than launching one simultaneous attack on all sides. The assault, despite initial success by its tanks in penetrating the American line, was defeated and all the tanks destroyed. On the following day of 26 December the spearhead of Gen. Patton's 4th Armored Division, supplemented by the 26th (Yankee) Infantry Division, broke through and opened a corridor to Bastogne.[96]

Allied counteroffensive

The original objectives are outlined in red dashed lines. The orange line indicates their furthest advance.

On 23 December the weather conditions started improving, allowing the Allied air forces to attack. They launched devastating bombing raids on the German supply points in their rear, and P-47 Thunderbolts started attacking the German troops on the roads. Allied air forces also helped the defenders of Bastogne, dropping much-needed supplies—medicine, food, blankets, and ammunition. A team of volunteer surgeons flew in by military glider and began operating in a tool room.[100]

By 24 December the German advance was effectively stalled short of the Meuse. Units of the British XXX Corps were holding the bridges at Dinant, Givet, and Namur and U.S. units were about to take over. The Germans had outrun their supply lines, and shortages of fuel and ammunition were becoming critical. Up to this point the German losses had been light, notably in armor, with the exception of Peiper's losses. On the evening of 24 December, General Hasso von Manteuffel recommended to Hitler's Military Adjutant a halt to all offensive operations and a withdrawal back to the Westwall (literally Western Rampart). Hitler rejected this.

Disagreement and confusion at the Allied command prevented a strong response, throwing away the opportunity for a decisive action. In the center, on Christmas Eve, the 2nd Armored Division attempted to attack and cut off the spearheads of the 2nd Panzer Division at the Meuse, while the units from the 4th Cavalry Group kept the 9th Panzer Division at Marche busy. As a result, parts of the 2nd Panzer Division were cut off. The Panzer-Lehr division tried to relieve them, but was only partially successful, as the perimeter held. For the next two days the perimeter was strengthened. On 26 and 27 December the trapped units of 2nd Panzer Division made two break-out attempts, again only with partial success, as major quantities of equipment fell into Allied hands. Further Allied pressure out of Marche finally led the German command to the conclusion that no further offensive action towards the Meuse was possible.[101]

In the south, Patton's Third Army was battling to relieve Bastogne. At 16:50 on 26 December, the lead element, Company D, 37th Tank Battalion of the 4th Armored Division, reached Bastogne, ending the siege.

German counterattack

P-47s destroyed at Y-34 Metz-Frescaty airfield during Operation Bodenplatte

On 1 January, in an attempt to keep the offensive going, the Germans launched two new operations. At 09:15, the Luftwaffe launched Unternehmen Bodenplatte (Operation Baseplate), a major campaign against Allied airfields in the Low Countries. Hundreds of planes attacked Allied airfields, destroying or severely damaging some 465 aircraft. The Luftwaffe lost 277 planes, 62 to Allied fighters and 172 mostly because of an unexpectedly high number of Allied flak guns, set up to protect against German V-1 flying bomb/missile attacks and using proximity fused shells, but also by friendly fire from the German flak guns that were uninformed of the pending large-scale German air operation. The Germans suffered heavy losses at an airfield named Y-29, losing 40 of their own planes while damaging only four American planes. While the Allies recovered from their losses within days, the operation left the Luftwaffe ineffective for the remainder of the war.[102]

On the same day, German Army Group G (Heeresgruppe G) and Army Group Upper Rhine (Heeresgruppe Oberrhein) launched a major offensive against the thinly-stretched, 110 kilometers (70 mi) line of the Seventh U.S. Army. This offensive, known as Unternehmen Nordwind (Operation North Wind), was the last major German offensive of the war on the Western Front. The weakened Seventh Army had, at Eisenhower's orders, sent troops, equipment, and supplies north to reinforce the American armies in the Ardennes, and the offensive left it in dire straits.

By 15 January Seventh Army's VI Corps was fighting on three sides in Alsace. With casualties mounting, and running short on replacements, tanks, ammunition, and supplies, Seventh Army was forced to withdraw to defensive positions on the south bank of the Moder River on 21 January. The German offensive drew to a close on 25 January. In the bitter, desperate fighting of Operation Nordwind, VI Corps, which had borne the brunt of the fighting, suffered a total of 14,716 casualties. The total for Seventh Army for January was 11,609.[18] Total casualties included at least 9,000 wounded.[103] First, Third, and Seventh Armies suffered a total of 17,000 hospitalized from the cold.[18][l]

Allies prevail

Erasing the Bulge—The Allied counterattack, 26 December – 25 January

While the German offensive had ground to a halt during January 1945, they still controlled a dangerous salient in the Allied line. Patton's Third Army in the south, centered around Bastogne, would attack north, Montgomery's forces in the north would strike south, and the two forces planned to meet at Houffalize.

The temperature during that January was extremely low, which required weapons to be maintained and truck engines run every half-hour to prevent their oil from congealing. The offensive went forward regardless.

Eisenhower wanted Montgomery to go on the counter offensive on 1 January, with the aim of meeting up with Patton's advancing Third Army and cutting off most of the attacking Germans, trapping them in a pocket. Montgomery, refusing to risk underprepared infantry in a snowstorm for a strategically unimportant area, did not launch the attack until 3 January, by which time substantial numbers of German troops had already managed to fall back successfully, but at the cost of losing most of their heavy equipment.

At the start of the offensive, the First and Third U.S. Armies were separated by about 40 km (25 mi). American progress in the south was also restricted to about a kilometre or a little over half a mile per day. On 2 January, the Tiger IIs of German Heavy Tank Battalion 506 supported an attack by the 12th SS Hitlerjugend division against U.S. positions near Wardin and knocked out 15 Sherman tanks.[104] The majority of the German force executed a successful fighting withdrawal and escaped the battle area, although the fuel situation had become so dire that most of the German armor had to be abandoned.

On 7 January 1945 Hitler agreed to withdraw all forces from the Ardennes, including the SS-Panzer divisions, thus ending all offensive operations. On 14 January, Hitler granted Gerd von Rundstedt permission to carry out a fairly drastic retreat in the Ardennes region. Houffalize and the Bastogne front would be abandoned.[105] Considerable fighting went on for another 3 weeks; St. Vith was recaptured by the Americans on 23 January, and the last German units participating in the offensive did not return to their start line until 25 January.

Winston Churchill, addressing the House of Commons following the Battle of the Bulge said, "This is undoubtedly the greatest American battle of the war and will, I believe, be regarded as an ever-famous American victory."[106]

Force comparisons by date

Force Allied[3] Axis[4]
Month December January December January
Date 16th 24th 2nd 16th 16th 24th 2nd 16th
Men 228,741 ~541,000 ~705,000 700,520 406,342 ~449,000 ~401,000 383,016
Tanks 483 1,616 2,409 2,428 557 423 287 216
Tank destroyers
and assault guns
499 1,713 1,970 1,912 667 608 462 414
Other AFVs 1,921 5,352 7,769 7,079 1,261 1,496 1,090 907
Anti-tank and
artillery pieces
971 2,408 3,305 3,181 4,224 4,131 3,396 3,256
Armored divisions 2 6 8 8 7 8 8 8
Armored brigades 1 2 2 1 1 1
Infantry divisions 6 15 22 22 13 16 15 16
Infantry brigades 2 2 2
Initial and Final manpower commitments for all units in Ardennes Campaign[108][n]
American British German
Initial 687,498 111,904 498,622
Final 680,706 111,100 425,941

Strategy and leadership

Hitler's chosen few

The plan and timing for the Ardennes attack sprang from the mind of Adolf Hitler. He believed a critical fault line existed between the British and American military commands, and that a heavy blow on the Western Front would shatter this alliance. Planning for the "Watch on the Rhine" offensive emphasized secrecy and the commitment of overwhelming force. Due to the use of landline communications within Germany, motorized runners carrying orders, and draconian threats from Hitler, the timing and mass of the attack was not detected by Ultra codebreakers and achieved complete surprise.[109]

German field commanders plan the advance

After officers of the regular German Army attempted to assassinate him, Hitler had increasingly trusted only the Nazi Party SS and its armed branch, the Waffen-SS. He entrusted them with carrying out his decisive counterattack.[110] But following the Allied Normandy invasion, the SS armored units had suffered significant leadership casualties. This included SS-Gruppenführer (Major General) Kurt Meyer, commander of the 12th SS Panzer (Armor) Division, captured by Belgian partisans on 6 September 1944.[111]:10[112]:308 Thus Hitler gave responsibility for the key right flank of the assault to the best SS troops and a few Volksgrenadier units under the command of "Sepp" (Joseph) Dietrich, a fanatical political disciple of Hitler, and a loyal follower from the early days of the rise of National Socialism in Germany. The leadership composition of the Sixth Panzer Division had a distinctly political nature.[54]

Despite their loyalty, none of the German field commanders entrusted with planning and executing the offensive believed it was possible to capture Antwerp. Even Dietrich believed the Ardennes was a poor area for armored warfare and that the inexperienced and badly equipped Volksgrenadier soldiers would clog the roads the tanks needed for their rapid advance. In fact, their horse-drawn artillery and rocket units became a significant obstacle to the armored units.[113]:113 Other than making futile objections to Hitler in private, Dietrich generally stayed out of planning the offensive. Model and Manteuffel, technical experts from the eastern front, told Hitler that a limited offensive with the goal of surrounding and crushing the American 1st Army would be the best goal their offensive could hope to achieve. Their ideas shared the same fate as Dietrich's objections.[77]

The German staff planning and organization of the attack was well done. Most of the units committed to the offensive reached their jump off points undetected. They were for the most part well organized and supplied for the attack, although they were counting on capturing American gasoline dumps to fuel their vehicles. As the battle ensued, on the northern shoulder of the offensive, Dietrich stopped the armored assault on the twin villages after two days and changed the axis of their advance southward through the hamlet of Domäne Bütgenbach. The headlong drive on Elsenborn Ridge lacked needed support from German units that had already bypassed the ridge.[77] Dietrich's decision unknowingly played into American hands, as Robertson had already decided to abandon the villages.

Allied high-command controversy

Field Marshal Montgomery
General Bradley

One of the fault lines between the British and American high commands was General Dwight D. Eisenhower's commitment to a broad front advance. This view was opposed by the British Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Field Marshal Alan Brooke, as well as Field Marshal Montgomery, who promoted a rapid advance on a narrow front, with the other allied armies in reserve.[114]

Montgomery's actions

British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery differed from the U.S. command in how to respond to the German attack and his public statements to that effect caused tension in the American high command. Major-General Freddie de Guingand, Chief of Staff of Montgomery's 21st Army Group, rose to the occasion, and personally smoothed over the disagreements on 30 December.[115]:489–90

As the Ardennes crisis developed, the U.S. First Army (Hodges) and U.S. Ninth Army (Simpson) on the northern shoulder of the German penetration lost communications with adjacent armies, as well as with Bradley's headquarters in Luxembourg City to the south of the "bulge".[116] Consequently, at 10:30 a.m. on 20 December, Eisenhower transferred the command of the U.S. First and Ninth Armies temporarily from Bradley to Montgomery.[117] Command of the U.S. First Army reverted to the U.S. 12th Army Group on 17 January 1945,[118] and command of the U.S. Ninth Army reverted to the U.S. 12th Army Group on 4 April 1945.

Montgomery wrote about the situation he found on 20 December:

The First Army was fighting desperately. Having given orders to Dempsey and Crerar, who arrived for a conference at 11 am, I left at noon for the H.Q. of the First Army, where I had instructed Simpson to meet me. I found the northern flank of the bulge was very disorganized. Ninth Army had two corps and three divisions; First Army had three corps and fifteen divisions. Neither Army Commander had seen Bradley or any senior member of his staff since the battle began, and they had no directive on which to work. The first thing to do was to see the battle on the northern flank as one whole, to ensure the vital areas were held securely, and to create reserves for counter-attack. I embarked on these measures: I put British troops under command of the Ninth Army to fight alongside American soldiers, and made that Army take over some of the First Army Front. I positioned British troops as reserves behind the First and Ninth Armies until such time as American reserves could be created. Slowly but surely the situation was held, and then finally restored. Similar action was taken on the southern flank of the bulge by Bradley, with the Third Army.[117]

Due to the news blackout imposed on the 16th, the change of leadership to Montgomery did not become public information until SHAEF announced that the change in command had "absolutely nothing to do with failure on the part of the three American generals".[119]:198 The announcement resulted in headlines in British newspapers and Stars and Stripes, which for the first time mentioned British contributions to the fighting.

Montgomery requested permission from Churchill to give a press conference to explain the situation. Though some of his staff were concerned at how the press conference would affect Montgomery's image, it was cleared by CIGS Alan Brooke, who was possibly the only person from whom Montgomery would accept advice.

On the same day as Hitler's withdrawal order of 7 January, Montgomery held his press conference at Zonhoven.[120] Montgomery started with giving credit to the "courage and good fighting quality" of the American troops, characterizing a typical American as a "very brave fighting man who has that tenacity in battle which makes a great soldier", and went on to talk about the necessity of Allied teamwork, and praised Eisenhower, stating, "Teamwork wins battles and battle victories win wars. On our team, the captain is General Ike."

Then Montgomery described the course of the battle for a half-hour. Coming to the end of his speech he said he had "employed the whole available power of the British Group of Armies; this power was brought into play very gradually ... Finally it was put into battle with a bang ... you thus have the picture of British troops fighting on both sides of the Americans who have suffered a hard blow." He stated that he (i.e., the German) was "headed off ... seen off ... and ... written off... The battle has been the most interesting, I think possibly one of the most interesting and tricky battles I have ever handled."[121][122][123]

Despite his positive remarks about American soldiers, the overall impression given by Montgomery, at least in the ears of the American military leadership, was that he had taken the lion's share of credit for the success of the campaign, and had been responsible for rescuing the besieged Americans.[124]

His comments were interpreted as self-promoting, particularly his claim that when the situation "began to deteriorate," Eisenhower had placed him in command in the north. Patton and Eisenhower both felt this was a misrepresentation of the relative share of the fighting played by the British and Americans in the Ardennes (for every British soldier there were thirty to forty Americans in the fight), and that it belittled the part played by Bradley, Patton and other American commanders. In the context of Patton's and Montgomery's well-known antipathy, Montgomery's failure to mention the contribution of any American general besides Eisenhower was seen as insulting. Indeed, General Bradley and his American commanders were already starting their counterattack by the time Montgomery was given command of 1st and 9th U.S. Armies.[125] Focusing exclusively on his own generalship, Montgomery continued to say he thought the counteroffensive had gone very well but did not explain the reason for his delayed attack on 3 January. He later attributed this to needing more time for preparation on the northern front. According to Winston Churchill, the attack from the south under Patton was steady but slow and involved heavy losses, and Montgomery was trying to avoid this situation.

Many American officers had already grown to dislike Montgomery, who was seen by them as an overly cautious commander, arrogant, and all too willing to say uncharitable things about the Americans. The British Prime Minister Winston Churchill found it necessary in a speech to Parliament to explicitly state that the Battle of the Bulge was purely an American victory.

Montgomery subsequently recognized his error and later wrote: "Not only was it probably a mistake to have held this conference at all in the sensitive state of feeling at the time, but what I said was skilfully distorted by the enemy. Chester Wilmot[126] explained that his dispatch to the BBC about it was intercepted by the German wireless, re-written to give it an anti-American bias, and then broadcast by Arnhem Radio, which was then in Goebbels' hands. Monitored at Bradley's HQ, this broadcast was mistaken for a BBC transmission and it was this twisted text that started the uproar."[123]

Montgomery later said, "Distorted or not, I think now that I should never have held that press conference. So great were the feelings against me on the part of the American generals that whatever I said was bound to be wrong. I should therefore have said nothing." Eisenhower commented in his own memoirs: "I doubt if Montgomery ever came to realize how resentful some American commanders were. They believed he had belittled them—and they were not slow to voice reciprocal scorn and contempt."[127]

Bradley and Patton both threatened to resign unless Montgomery's command was changed. Eisenhower, encouraged by his British deputy Arthur Tedder, had decided to sack Montgomery. Intervention by Montgomery's and Eisenhower's Chiefs of Staff, Maj. Gen. Freddie de Guingand, and Lt. Gen. Walter Bedell Smith, moved Eisenhower to reconsider and allowed Montgomery to apologize.[citation needed]

Speaking subsequently to a British writer while himself a prisoner in Britain, the former German commander of the 5th Panzer Army, Hasso von Manteuffel said of Montgomery's leadership:

The operations of the American 1st Army had developed into a series of individual holding actions. Montgomery's contribution to restoring the situation was that he turned a series of isolated actions into a coherent battle fought according to a clear and definite plan. It was his refusal to engage in premature and piecemeal counter-attacks which enabled the Americans to gather their reserves and frustrate the German attempts to extend their breakthrough.[128]

However, Ambrose, writing in 1997, maintained that "Putting Monty in command of the northern flank had no effect on the battle".[129]


The Mardasson Memorial near Bastogne, Belgium

Casualty estimates for the battle vary widely. According to the U.S. Department of Defense, American forces suffered 89,500 casualties including 19,000 killed, 47,500 wounded and 23,000 missing.[5] An official report by the United States Department of the Army lists 105,102 casualties, including 19,246 killed, 62,489 wounded, and 26,612 captured or missing, though this incorporates losses suffered during the German offensive in Alsace, Operation "Nordwind."[130]:92 A preliminary Army report restricted to the First and Third U.S. Armies listed 75,000 casualties (8,400 killed, 46,000 wounded and 21,000 missing).[45] The Battle of the Bulge was the bloodiest battle for U.S. forces in World War II. British casualties totaled 1,400 with 200 deaths. The German High Command estimated that they lost between 81,834 and 98,024 men in the Bulge between 16 December 1944 and 28 January 1945; the accepted figure was 81,834, of which 12,652 were killed, 38,600 were wounded, and 30,582 were missing.[12] Allied estimates on German casualties range from 81,000 to 103,000.[131] Some authors have estimated German casualties as high as 125,000.[132]

  • German historian Hermann Jung lists 67,675 casualties from 16 December 1944 to late January 1945 for the three German armies that participated in the offensive.[133]
  • The German casualty reports for the involved armies count 63,222 losses from 10 December 1944 to 31 January 1945.[134][135]
  • The United States Army Center of Military History's official numbers are 75,000 American casualties and 100,000 German casualties.[136]

German armored losses to all causes were between 527 and 554, with 324 tanks being lost in combat.[137] Of the German write-offs, 16–20 were Tigers, 191–194 Panthers, 141–158 Panzer IVs, and 179–182 were tank destroyers and assault guns.[137] The Germans lost an additional 5,000 soft-skinned and armored vehicles.[137] U.S. losses alone over the same period were similarly heavy, totaling 733 tanks and tank destroyers.[138] The outcome of the Ardennes Offensive demonstrated that the Allied armored forces were capable of taking on the Panzerwaffe on equal terms.[139]


Although the Germans managed to begin their offensive with complete surprise and enjoyed some initial successes, they were not able to seize the initiative on the Western Front. While the German command did not reach its goals, the Ardennes operation inflicted heavy losses and set back the Allied invasion of Germany by several weeks. The High Command of the Allied forces had planned to resume the offensive by early January 1945, after the wet season rains and severe frosts, but those plans had to be postponed until 29 January 1945 in connection with the unexpected changes in the front.[citation needed]

The Allies pressed their advantage following the battle. By the beginning of February 1945, the lines were roughly where they had been in December 1944. In early February, the Allies launched an attack all along the Western front: in the north under Montgomery they fought Operation Veritable (also known as the Battle of the Reichswald); east of Aachen they fought the second phase of the Battle of Hürtgen Forest; in the center, under Hodges; and in the south, under Patton.

The German losses in the battle were especially critical: their last reserves were now gone, the Luftwaffe had been shattered, and remaining forces throughout the West were being pushed back to defend the Siegfried Line.[citation needed]

In response to the early success of the offensive, on 6 January Churchill contacted Stalin to request that the Soviets put pressure on the Germans on the Eastern Front.[140] On 12 January, the Soviets began the massive Vistula–Oder Offensive, originally planned for 20 January.[141]:39 It had been brought forward from 20 January to 12 January because meteorological reports warned of a thaw later in the month, and the tanks needed hard ground for the offensive (and the advance of the Red Army was assisted by two Panzer Armies (5th and 6th) being redeployed for the Ardennes attack).[142]

Churchill was elated at Stalin's offer of help,[143] thanking Stalin for the thrilling news.[144]

During World War II, most U.S. black soldiers still served only in maintenance or service positions, or in segregated units. Because of troop shortages during the Battle of the Bulge, Eisenhower decided to integrate the service for the first time.[145]:127 This was an important step toward a desegregated United States military. More than 2,000 black soldiers had volunteered to go to the front.[146]:534 A total of 708 black Americans were killed in combat during World War II.[147]

The Germans officially referred to the offensive as Unternehmen Wacht am Rhein ("Operation Watch on the Rhine"), while the Allies designated it the Ardennes Counteroffensive. The phrase "Battle of the Bulge" was coined by contemporary press to describe the bulge in German front lines on wartime news maps,[38][o][39] and it became the most widely used name for the battle. The offensive was planned by the German forces with utmost secrecy, with minimal radio traffic and movements of troops and equipment under cover of darkness. Intercepted German communications indicating a substantial German offensive preparation were not acted upon by the Allies.[148][149]

Media attention

The Battle of the Bulge diorama at the Audie Murphy American Cotton Museum

The battle around Bastogne received a great deal of media attention because in early December 1944 it was a rest and recreation area for many war correspondents. The rapid advance by the German forces who surrounded the town, the spectacular resupply operations via parachute and glider, along with the fast action of General Patton's Third U.S. Army, all were featured in newspaper articles and on radio and captured the public's imagination; there were no correspondents in the area of Saint-Vith, Elsenborn, or Monschau-Höfen.[150]

Bletchley Park post-mortem

Missed indicators

At Bletchley Park, F. L. Lucas and Peter Calvocoressi of Hut 3 were tasked by General Nye (as part of the enquiry set up by the Chiefs of Staff) with writing a report on the lessons to be learned from the handling of pre-battle Ultra.[151] The report concluded that "the costly reverse might have been avoided if Ultra had been more carefully considered".[152][153] "Ultra intelligence was plentiful and informative" though "not wholly free from ambiguity", "but it was misread and misused".[154] Lucas and Calvocoressi noted that "intelligence staffs had been too apt to assume that Ultra would tell them everything".[151] Among the signs misread were the formation of the new 6th Panzer Army in the build-up area (west bank of the Rhine about Cologne); the new 'Star' (signals control-network) noted by the 'Fusion Room' traffic-analysts, linking "all the armoured divisions [assembling in the build-up area], including some transferred from the Russian front";[153][155] the daily aerial reconnaissance of the lightly defended target area by new Arado Ar 234 jets "as a matter of greatest urgency"; the marked increase in railway traffic in the build-up area; the movement of 1,000 trucks from the Italian front to the build-up area; disproportionate anxiety about tiny hitches in troop movements, suggesting a tight timetable;[154] the quadrupling of Luftwaffe fighter forces in the West;[154] and decrypts of Japanese diplomatic signals from Berlin to Tokyo, mentioning "the coming offensive".[156]

SHAEF failures

For its part, Hut 3 had grown "shy of going beyond its job of amending and explaining German messages. Drawing broad conclusions was for the intelligence staff at SHAEF, who had information from all sources," including aerial reconnaissance.[157] Lucas and Calvocoressi added that "it would be interesting to know how much reconnaissance was flown over the Eiffel sector on the U.S. First Army Front".[151] E. J. N. Rose, head Air Adviser in Hut 3, read the paper at the time and described it in 1998 as "an extremely good report" that "showed the failure of intelligence at SHAEF and at the Air Ministry".[156][158] Lucas and Calvocoressi "expected heads to roll at Eisenhower's HQ, but they did no more than wobble".[159]

Five copies of a report by "C" (Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service), Indications of the German Offensive of December 1944, derived from ULTRA material, submitted to DMI, were issued on 28 December 1944. Copy No. 2 is held by the UK National Archives as file HW 13/45.[160] It sets out the various indications of an impending offensive that were received, then offers conclusions about the wisdom conferred by hindsight; the dangers of becoming wedded to a fixed view of the enemy's likely intentions; over-reliance on "Source" (i.e. ULTRA); and improvements in German security. "C" also stresses the role played by poor Allied security: "The Germans have this time prevented us from knowing enough about them; but we have not prevented them knowing far too much about us".[161][citation needed]

Battle credit

After the war ended, the U.S. Army issued battle credit in the form of the Ardennes-Alsace campaign citation to units and individuals that took part in operations in northwest Europe.[162] The citation covered troops in the Ardennes sector where the main battle took place, as well as units further south in the Alsace sector, including those in the northern Alsace who filled in the vacuum created by the U.S. Third Army racing north, engaged in the concurrent Operation Nordwind diversion in central and southern Alsace launched to weaken Allied response in the Ardennes, and provided reinforcements to units fighting in the Ardennes.

In popular culture

Over 70 board wargames have been created about the battle, the earliest in 1965.[163] As of 2014,[needs update] the battle has been the scene for about 30 video games, mostly strategy games, beginning with Tigers in the Snow (1981).[164]

See also


  1. ^ Includes two parachute divisions
  2. ^ 19,000 killed, 47,500 wounded and 23,000 missing/captured
  3. ^ 10,749 dead; 34,225 wounded; 22,487 captured[7]
  4. ^ Operation Overlord planned for an advance to the line of the Seine by D+90 (i.e., the 90th day following D-Day) and an advance to the German frontier sometime after D+120.
  5. ^ The Ardennes offensive was also named Rundstedt-Offensive, but von Rundstedt strongly objected "to the fact that this stupid operation in the Ardennes is sometimes called the 'Rundstedt-Offensive'. This is a complete misnomer. I had nothing to do with it. It came to me as an order complete to the last detail. Hitler had even written on the plan in his own handwriting 'not to be altered'". (Jablonsky, David (1994), Churchill and Hitler: Essays on the Political-Military Direction of Total War, Taylor & Francis, p. 194, ISBN 978-0-7146-4119-5).
  6. ^ Wacht am Rhein was renamed Herbstnebel after the operation was given the go-ahead in early December, although its original name remains much better known (Parker 1991, pp. 95–100; Mitcham 2006, p. 38 harvnb error: multiple targets (2×): CITEREFMitcham2006 (help); Newton 2006, pp. 329–334).
  7. ^ Only two battalions
  8. ^ Hitler Jugend
  9. ^ Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler
  10. ^ Private Kurt Vonnegut, later a noted author, was captured while serving in this unit. Beevor, p. 186.
  11. ^ Nuts can mean several things in American English slang. In this case it signified rejection, and was explained to the Germans as meaning "Go to Hell!"
  12. ^ A footnote to the U.S. Army's official history volume "Riviera to the Rhine" makes the following note on U.S. Seventh Army casualties: "As elsewhere, casualty figures are only rough estimates, and the figures presented are based on the postwar 'Seventh Army Operational Report, Alsace Campaign and Battle Participation, 1 June 1945' (copy CMH), which notes 11,609 Seventh Army battle casualties for the period, plus 2,836 cases of trench foot and 380 cases of frostbite, and estimates about 17,000 Germans killed or wounded with 5,985 processed prisoners of war. But the VI Corps AAR for January 1945 puts its total losses at 14,716 (773 killed, 4,838 wounded, 3,657 missing, and 5,448 nonbattle casualties); and Albert E. Cowdrey and Graham A. Cosmas, The Medical Department: The War Against Germany, draft CMH MS (1988), pp. 54–55, a forthcoming volume in the United States Army in World War II series, reports Seventh Army hospitals processing about 9,000 wounded and 17,000 'sick and injured' during the period. Many of these may have been returned to their units, and others may have come from American units operating in the Colmar area but still supported by Seventh Army medical services."
  13. ^ "U.S. infantrymen fire at German troops in the advance to relieve the surrounded paratroopers in Bastogne. In foreground a platoon leader indicates the target to a rifleman by actually firing on the target. In Bastogne the defenders were badly in need of relief, they were attacked nightly by German aircraft, supplies were critically low in spite of the airdrops, and the wounded could not be given proper attention because of the shortage of medical supplies. After an advance which had been slow, U. S. relief troops entered Bastogne at 1645 on 26 December 1944."[107]
  14. ^ "Initial" is the sum total of all unit rosters of the respective combatants at the point at which those units entered the battle, while "Final" reflects the state of those units on 16 January 1945. For the strength of the opposing sides at any one time, see table above.
  15. ^ Eggenberger 1985 cites the official name as Ardennes-Alsace campaign; David Eggenberger describes this battle as the "Second Battle of the Ardennes".

Coordinates: 50°0′15″N 5°43′12″E / 50.00417°N 5.72000°E / 50.00417; 5.72000


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Further reading

External links

27 December 1945

The International Monetary Fund is created with the signing of an agreement by 29 nations.

International Monetary Fund
International Monetary Fund logo.svg
Formation27 December 1945; 75 years ago (1945-12-27)
TypeInternational financial institution
PurposePromote international monetary co-operation, facilitate international trade, foster sustainable economic growth, reduce poverty around the world, make resources available to members experiencing balance of payments difficulties, prevent and assist with recovery from international financial crises[1]
HeadquartersWashington, D.C., U.S.
Coordinates38°53′56″N 77°2′39″W / 38.89889°N 77.04417°W / 38.89889; -77.04417Coordinates: 38°53′56″N 77°2′39″W / 38.89889°N 77.04417°W / 38.89889; -77.04417
190 countries (189 UN countries and Kosovo)[2]
Official language
Managing Director
Kristalina Georgieva
Chief Economist
Gita Gopinath[4]
Main organ
Board of Governors
Parent organization
 United Nations[5][6]

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is an international financial institution, headquartered in Washington, D.C., consisting of 190 countries working to foster global monetary cooperation, secure financial stability, facilitate international trade, promote high employment and sustainable economic growth, and reduce poverty around the world while periodically depending on the World Bank for its resources.[1] Formed in 1944, started in 27 December 1945,[7] at the Bretton Woods Conference primarily by the ideas of Harry Dexter White and John Maynard Keynes,[8] it came into formal existence in 1945 with 29 member countries and the goal of reconstructing the international monetary system. It now plays a central role in the management of balance of payments difficulties and international financial crises.[9] Countries contribute funds to a pool through a quota system from which countries experiencing balance of payments problems can borrow money. As of 2016, the fund had XDR 477 billion (about US$667 billion).[10]

Through the fund and other activities such as the gathering of statistics and analysis, surveillance of its members' economies, and the demand for particular policies,[11] the IMF works to improve the economies of its member countries.[12] The organization's objectives stated in the Articles of Agreement are:[13] to promote international monetary co-operation, international trade, high employment, exchange-rate stability, sustainable economic growth, and making resources available to member countries in financial difficulty.[14] IMF funds come from two major sources: quotas and loans. Quotas, which are pooled funds of member nations, generate most IMF funds. The size of a member's quota depends on its economic and financial importance in the world. Nations with greater economic significance have larger quotas. The quotas are increased periodically as a means of boosting the IMF's resources in the form of special drawing rights.[15]

The current Managing Director (MD) and Chairwoman of the IMF is Bulgarian economist Kristalina Georgieva, who has held the post since October 1, 2019.[16] Gita Gopinath was appointed as Chief Economist of IMF from 1 October 2018. Prior to her appointment at the IMF, Gopinath served as the economic adviser to the Chief Minister of Kerala, India.[17]


Board of Governors International Monetary Fund (1999)

According to the IMF itself, it works to foster global growth and economic stability by providing policy advice and financing the members by working with developing countries to help them achieve macroeconomic stability and reduce poverty.[18] The rationale for this is that private international capital markets function imperfectly and many countries have limited access to financial markets. Such market imperfections, together with balance-of-payments financing, provide the justification for official financing, without which many countries could only correct large external payment imbalances through measures with adverse economic consequences.[19] The IMF provides alternate sources of financing such as the Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility.

Upon the founding of the IMF, its three primary functions were: to oversee the fixed exchange rate arrangements between countries,[20] thus helping national governments manage their exchange rates and allowing these governments to prioritize economic growth,[21] and to provide short-term capital to aid the balance of payments.[20] This assistance was meant to prevent the spread of international economic crises. The IMF was also intended to help mend the pieces of the international economy after the Great Depression and World War II[21] as well as to provide capital investments for economic growth and projects such as infrastructure.

The IMF's role was fundamentally altered by the floating exchange rates post-1971. It shifted to examining the economic policies of countries with IMF loan agreements to determine if a shortage of capital was due to economic fluctuations or economic policy. The IMF also researched what types of government policy would ensure economic recovery.[20] A particular concern of the IMF was to prevent financial crises such as those in Mexico in 1982, Brazil in 1987, East Asia in 1997–98, and Russia in 1998, from spreading and threatening the entire global financial and currency system. The challenge was to promote and implement policy that reduced the frequency of crises among the emerging market countries, especially the middle-income countries which are vulnerable to massive capital outflows.[22] Rather than maintaining a position of oversight of only exchange rates, their function became one of surveillance of the overall macroeconomic performance of member countries. Their role became a lot more active because the IMF now manages economic policy rather than just exchange rates.

In addition, the IMF negotiates conditions on lending and loans under their policy of conditionality,[20] which was established in the 1950s.[21] Low-income countries can borrow on concessional terms, which means there is a period of time with no interest rates, through the Extended Credit Facility (ECF), the Standby Credit Facility (SCF) and the Rapid Credit Facility (RCF). Nonconcessional loans, which include interest rates, are provided mainly through the Stand-By Arrangements (SBA), the Flexible Credit Line (FCL), the Precautionary and Liquidity Line (PLL), and the Extended Fund Facility. The IMF provides emergency assistance via the Rapid Financing Instrument (RFI) to members facing urgent balance-of-payments needs.[23]

Surveillance of the global economy

The IMF is mandated to oversee the international monetary and financial system and monitor the economic and financial policies of its member countries.[24] This activity is known as surveillance and facilitates international co-operation.[25] Since the demise of the Bretton Woods system of fixed exchange rates in the early 1970s, surveillance has evolved largely by way of changes in procedures rather than through the adoption of new obligations.[24] The responsibilities changed from those of guardian to those of overseer of members' policies.

The Fund typically analyses the appropriateness of each member country's economic and financial policies for achieving orderly economic growth, and assesses the consequences of these policies for other countries and for the global economy.[24] The maximum sustainable debt level of a polity, which is watched closely by the IMF, was defined in 2011 by IMF economists to be 120%.[26] Indeed, it was at this number that the Greek economy melted down in 2010.[27]

IMF Data Dissemination Systems participants:
  IMF member using SDDS
  IMF member using GDDS
  IMF member, not using any of the DDSystems
  non-IMF entity using SDDS
  non-IMF entity using GDDS
  no interaction with the IMF

In 1995 the International Monetary Fund began to work on data dissemination standards with the view of guiding IMF member countries to disseminate their economic and financial data to the public. The International Monetary and Financial Committee (IMFC) endorsed the guidelines for the dissemination standards and they were split into two tiers: (GDDS) and the Special Data Dissemination Standard (SDDS).

The executive board approved the SDDS and GDDS in 1996 and 1997 respectively, and subsequent amendments were published in a revised Guide to the General Data Dissemination System. The system is aimed primarily at statisticians and aims to improve many aspects of statistical systems in a country. It is also part of the World Bank Millennium Development Goals and Poverty Reduction Strategic Papers.

The primary objective of the GDDS is to encourage member countries to build a framework to improve data quality and statistical capacity building to evaluate statistical needs, set priorities in improving the timeliness, transparency, reliability and accessibility of financial and economic data. Some countries initially used the GDDS, but later upgraded to SDDS.

Some entities that are not themselves IMF members also contribute statistical data to the systems:

Conditionality of loans

IMF conditionality is a set of policies or conditions that the IMF requires in exchange for financial resources.[20] The IMF does require collateral from countries for loans but also requires the government seeking assistance to correct its macroeconomic imbalances in the form of policy reform.[29] If the conditions are not met, the funds are withheld.[20][30] The concept of conditionality was introduced in a 1952 Executive Board decision and later incorporated into the Articles of Agreement.

Conditionality is associated with economic theory as well as an enforcement mechanism for repayment. Stemming primarily from the work of Jacques Polak, the theoretical underpinning of conditionality was the "monetary approach to the balance of payments".[21]

Structural adjustment

Some of the conditions for structural adjustment can include:

These conditions are known as the Washington Consensus.


These loan conditions ensure that the borrowing country will be able to repay the IMF and that the country will not attempt to solve their balance-of-payment problems in a way that would negatively impact the international economy.[31][32] The incentive problem of moral hazard—when economic agents maximise their own utility to the detriment of others because they do not bear the full consequences of their actions—is mitigated through conditions rather than providing collateral; countries in need of IMF loans do not generally possess internationally valuable collateral anyway.[32]

Conditionality also reassures the IMF that the funds lent to them will be used for the purposes defined by the Articles of Agreement and provides safeguards that country will be able to rectify its macroeconomic and structural imbalances.[32] In the judgment of the IMF, the adoption by the member of certain corrective measures or policies will allow it to repay the IMF, thereby ensuring that the resources will be available to support other members.[30]

As of 2004, borrowing countries have had a good track record for repaying credit extended under the IMF's regular lending facilities with full interest over the duration of the loan. This indicates that IMF lending does not impose a burden on creditor countries, as lending countries receive market-rate interest on most of their quota subscription, plus any of their own-currency subscriptions that are loaned out by the IMF, plus all of the reserve assets that they provide the IMF.[19]


20th century

Plaque Commemorating the Formation of the IMF in July 1944 at the Bretton Woods Conference
IMF "Headquarters 1" in Washington, D.C., designed by Moshe Safdie
The Gold Room within the Mount Washington Hotel where the Bretton Woods Conference attendees signed the agreements creating the IMF and World Bank
First page of the Articles of Agreement of the International Monetary Fund, 1 March 1946. Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs archives

The IMF was originally laid out as a part of the Bretton Woods system exchange agreement in 1944.[33] During the Great Depression, countries sharply raised barriers to trade in an attempt to improve their failing economies. This led to the devaluation of national currencies and a decline in world trade.[34]

This breakdown in international monetary co-operation created a need for oversight. The representatives of 45 governments met at the Bretton Woods Conference in the Mount Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, in the United States, to discuss a framework for postwar international economic co-operation and how to rebuild Europe.

There were two views on the role the IMF should assume as a global economic institution. American delegate Harry Dexter White foresaw an IMF that functioned more like a bank, making sure that borrowing states could repay their debts on time.[35] Most of White's plan was incorporated into the final acts adopted at Bretton Woods. British economist John Maynard Keynes, on the other hand, imagined that the IMF would be a cooperative fund upon which member states could draw to maintain economic activity and employment through periodic crises. This view suggested an IMF that helped governments and to act as the United States government had during the New Deal to the great recession of the 1930s.[35]

The IMF formally came into existence on 27 December 1945, when the first 29 countries ratified its Articles of Agreement.[36] By the end of 1946 the IMF had grown to 39 members.[37] On 1 March 1947, the IMF began its financial operations,[38] and on 8 May France became the first country to borrow from it.[37]

The IMF was one of the key organizations of the international economic system; its design allowed the system to balance the rebuilding of international capitalism with the maximisation of national economic sovereignty and human welfare, also known as embedded liberalism.[21] The IMF's influence in the global economy steadily increased as it accumulated more members. The increase reflected in particular the attainment of political independence by many African countries and more recently the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union because most countries in the Soviet sphere of influence did not join the IMF.[34]

The Bretton Woods exchange rate system prevailed until 1971, when the United States government suspended the convertibility of the US$ (and dollar reserves held by other governments) into gold. This is known as the Nixon Shock.[34] The changes to the IMF articles of agreement reflecting these changes were ratified by the 1976 Jamaica Accords. Later in the 1970s, large commercial banks began lending to states because they were awash in cash deposited by oil exporters. The lending of the so-called money center banks led to the IMF changing its role in the 1980s after a world recession provoked a crisis that brought the IMF back into global financial governance.[39]

21st century

The IMF provided two major lending packages in the early 2000s to Argentina (during the 1998–2002 Argentine great depression) and Uruguay (after the 2002 Uruguay banking crisis).[40] However, by the mid-2000s, IMF lending was at its lowest share of world GDP since the 1970s.[41]

In May 2010, the IMF participated, in 3:11 proportion, in the first Greek bailout that totalled €110 billion, to address the great accumulation of public debt, caused by continuing large public sector deficits. As part of the bailout, the Greek government agreed to adopt austerity measures that would reduce the deficit from 11% in 2009 to "well below 3%" in 2014.[42] The bailout did not include debt restructuring measures such as a haircut, to the chagrin of the Swiss, Brazilian, Indian, Russian, and Argentinian Directors of the IMF, with the Greek authorities themselves (at the time, PM George Papandreou and Finance Minister Giorgos Papakonstantinou) ruling out a haircut.[43]

A second bailout package of more than €100 billion was agreed over the course of a few months from October 2011, during which time Papandreou was forced from office. The so-called Troika, of which the IMF is part, are joint managers of this programme, which was approved by the Executive Directors of the IMF on 15 March 2012 for XDR 23.8 billion[44] and saw private bondholders take a haircut of upwards of 50%. In the interval between May 2010 and February 2012 the private banks of Holland, France and Germany reduced exposure to Greek debt from €122 billion to €66 billion.[43][45]

As of January 2012, the largest borrowers from the IMF in order were Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Romania, and Ukraine.[46]

On 25 March 2013, a €10 billion international bailout of Cyprus was agreed by the Troika, at the cost to the Cypriots of its agreement: to close the country's second-largest bank; to impose a one-time bank deposit levy on Bank of Cyprus uninsured deposits.[47][48] No insured deposit of €100k or less were to be affected under the terms of a novel bail-in scheme.[49][50]

The topic of sovereign debt restructuring was taken up by the IMF in April 2013 for the first time since 2005, in a report entitled "Sovereign Debt Restructuring: Recent Developments and Implications for the Fund's Legal and Policy Framework".[51] The paper, which was discussed by the board on 20 May,[52] summarised the recent experiences in Greece, St Kitts and Nevis, Belize, and Jamaica. An explanatory interview with Deputy Director Hugh Bredenkamp was published a few days later,[53] as was a deconstruction by of the Wall Street Journal.[54]

In the October 2013 Fiscal Monitor publication, the IMF suggested that a capital levy capable of reducing Euro-area government debt ratios to "end-2007 levels" would require a very high tax rate of about 10%.[55]

The Fiscal Affairs department of the IMF, headed at the time by Acting Director Sanjeev Gupta, produced a January 2014 report entitled "Fiscal Policy and Income Inequality" that stated that "Some taxes levied on wealth, especially on immovable property, are also an option for economies seeking more progressive taxation ... Property taxes are equitable and efficient, but underutilized in many economies ... There is considerable scope to exploit this tax more fully, both as a revenue source and as a redistributive instrument."[56]

At the end of March 2014, the IMF secured an $18 billion bailout fund for the provisional government of Ukraine in the aftermath of the 2014 Ukrainian revolution.[57][58]

Response and analysis of coronavirus

In late 2019, the IMF estimated global growth in 2020 to reach 3.4%, but due to the coronavirus, in November 2020, it expected the global economy to shrink by 4.4%.[59][60]

In March 2020, Kristalina Georgieva announced that the IMF stood ready to mobilize $1 trillion as its response to the COVID-19 pandemic.[61] This was in addition to the $50 billion fund it had announced two weeks earlier,[62] of which $5 billion had already been requested by Iran.[63] One day earlier on 11 March, the UK called to pledge £150 billion to the IMF catastrophe relief fund.[64] It came to light on 27 March that "more than 80 poor and middle-income countries" had sought a bailout due to the coronavirus.[65]

On 13 April 2020, the IMF said that it "would provide immediate debt relief to 25 member countries under its Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust (CCRT)" programme.[66]

In November 2020, the Fund warned the economic recovery may be losing momentum as COVID-19 infections rise again and that more economic help would be needed.[60]

Member countries

  IMF member states
  IMF member states not accepting the obligations of Article VIII, Sections 2, 3, and 4[67]

Not all member countries of the IMF are sovereign states, and therefore not all "member countries" of the IMF are members of the United Nations.[68] Amidst "member countries" of the IMF that are not member states of the UN are non-sovereign areas with special jurisdictions that are officially under the sovereignty of full UN member states, such as Aruba, Curaçao, Hong Kong, and Macau, as well as Kosovo.[69][70] The corporate members appoint ex-officio voting members, who are listed below. All members of the IMF are also International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) members and vice versa.[71]

Former members are Cuba (which left in 1964),[72] and the Republic of China (Taiwan), which was ejected from the IMF[73] in 1980 after losing the support of then United States President Jimmy Carter and was replaced by the People's Republic of China.[74] However, "Taiwan Province of China" is still listed in the official IMF indices.[75]

Apart from Cuba, the other UN states that do not belong to the IMF are Liechtenstein, Monaco and North Korea. However, Andorra became the 190th member on 16 October 2020.[76][77]

The former Czechoslovakia was expelled in 1954 for "failing to provide required data" and was readmitted in 1990, after the Velvet Revolution. Poland withdrew in 1950—allegedly pressured by the Soviet Union—but returned in 1986.[78]


Any country may apply to be a part of the IMF. Post-IMF formation, in the early postwar period, rules for IMF membership were left relatively loose. Members needed to make periodic membership payments towards their quota, to refrain from currency restrictions unless granted IMF permission, to abide by the Code of Conduct in the IMF Articles of Agreement, and to provide national economic information. However, stricter rules were imposed on governments that applied to the IMF for funding.[21]

The countries that joined the IMF between 1945 and 1971 agreed to keep their exchange rates secured at rates that could be adjusted only to correct a "fundamental disequilibrium" in the balance of payments, and only with the IMF's agreement.[79]


Member countries of the IMF have access to information on the economic policies of all member countries, the opportunity to influence other members' economic policies, technical assistance in banking, fiscal affairs, and exchange matters, financial support in times of payment difficulties, and increased opportunities for trade and investment.[80]


Board of Governors

The Board of Governors consists of one governor and one alternate governor for each member country. Each member country appoints its two governors. The Board normally meets once a year and is responsible for electing or appointing executive director to the Executive Board. While the Board of Governors is officially responsible for approving quota increases, special drawing right allocations, the admittance of new members, compulsory withdrawal of members, and amendments to the Articles of Agreement and By-Laws, in practice it has delegated most of its powers to the IMF's Executive Board.[81]

The Board of Governors is advised by the International Monetary and Financial Committee and the Development Committee. The International Monetary and Financial Committee has 24 members and monitors developments in global liquidity and the transfer of resources to developing countries.[82] The Development Committee has 25 members and advises on critical development issues and on financial resources required to promote economic development in developing countries. They also advise on trade and environmental issues.

The Board of Governors reports directly to the Managing Director of the IMF, Kristalina Georgieva.[82]

Executive Board

24 Executive Directors make up the Executive Board. The Executive Directors represent all 189 member countries in a geographically based roster.[83] Countries with large economies have their own Executive Director, but most countries are grouped in constituencies representing four or more countries.[81]

Following the 2008 Amendment on Voice and Participation which came into effect in March 2011,[84] seven countries each appoint an Executive Director: the United States, Japan, China, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and Saudi Arabia.[83] The remaining 17 Directors represent constituencies consisting of 2 to 23 countries. This Board usually meets several times each week.[85] The Board membership and constituency is scheduled for periodic review every eight years.[86]

List of Executive Directors of the IMF, as of February 2019
Country Region Number of Member(s) Represented Director Country with Most Votes
United States United States 1 Mark Rosen United States
Japan Japan 1 Japan
China China 1 China
Belgium Benelux, Israel, and Eastern Europe 15 Netherlands
Germany Germany 1 Germany
Colombia Spain and Central America 8 Leonardo Villar Spain
Indonesia Southeast Asia 13 Indonesia
Italy Mediterranean Europe 6 Italy
France France 1 France
United Kingdom United Kingdom 1 United Kingdom
Australia Far East 15 South Korea
Canada North Atlantic and the Caribbean 12 Canada
Sweden Northern Europe 8 Thomas Östros Sweden
Turkey Central Europe 8 Turkey
Brazil Northern South America 11 Alexandre Tombini Brazil
India Indian subcontinent 4 Surjit Bhalla India
South Africa Africa 1 23 South Africa
Switzerland Switzerland, Poland, and the Near East 9 Switzerland
Russia Russia 2 Russia
Iran Iran and the Middle East 8 Iran
Egypt North Africa and the Middle East 11 United Arab Emirates
Saudi Arabia Saudi Arabia 1 Saudi Arabia
Mauritania Africa 2 23 Democratic Republic of the Congo
Argentina Southern South America 6 Argentina

Managing Director

The IMF is led by a managing director, who is head of the staff and serves as Chairman of the Executive Board. Historically, the IMF's managing director has been a European citizen and the president of the World Bank has been an American citizen. However, this standard is increasingly being questioned and competition for these two posts may soon open up to include other qualified candidates from any part of the world.[87][88] In August 2019, the International Monetary Fund has removed the age limit which is 65 or over for its managing director position.[89]

In 2011, the world's largest developing countries, the BRIC states, issued a statement declaring that the tradition of appointing a European as managing director undermined the legitimacy of the IMF and called for the appointment to be merit-based.[87][90]

List of Managing Directors

Term Dates Name Citizenship Background
1 6 May 1946 – 5 May 1951 Dr. Camille Gutt  Belgium Politician, Economist, Lawyer, Economics Minister, Finance Minister
2 3 August 1951 – 3 October 1956 Ivar Rooth  Sweden Economist, Lawyer, Central Banker
3 21 November 1956 – 5 May 1963 Per Jacobsson  Sweden Economist, Lawyer, Academic, League of Nations, BIS
4 1 September 1963 – 31 August 1973 Pierre-Paul Schweitzer  France Lawyer, Businessman, Civil Servant, Central Banker
5 1 September 1973 – 18 June 1978 Dr. Johan Witteveen  Netherlands Politician, Economist, Academic, Finance Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, CPB
6 18 June 1978 – 15 January 1987 Jacques de Larosière  France Businessman, Civil Servant, Central Banker
7 16 January 1987 – 14 February 2000 Dr. Michel Camdessus  France European Union Economist, Civil Servant, Central Banker
8 1 May 2000 – 4 March 2004 Horst Köhler  Germany European Union Politician, Economist, Civil Servant, EBRD, President
9 7 June 2004 – 31 October 2007 Rodrigo Rato  Spain European Union Politician, Businessman, Economics Minister, Finance Minister, Deputy Prime Minister
10 1 November 2007 – 18 May 2011 Dr. Dominique Strauss-Kahn  France European Union Politician, Economist, Lawyer, Businessman, Economics Minister, Finance Minister
11 5 July 2011 – 12 September 2019 Christine Lagarde  France European Union Politician, Lawyer, Finance Minister
12 1 October 2019 – present Dr. Kristalina Georgieva  Bulgaria European Union Politician, Economist
A three-quarter portrait of an elegantly dressed Christine Lagarde, perhaps in her early 60s sitting in a chair behind a microphone. She looks fit and tanned. Her overall mien is alert, pleasant, and intelligent.
On 28 June 2011, Christine Lagarde was named managing director of the IMF, replacing Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

Former managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn was arrested in connection with charges of sexually assaulting a New York hotel room attendant and resigned on 18 May. The charges were later dropped.[91] On 28 June 2011 Christine Lagarde was confirmed as managing director of the IMF for a five-year term starting on 5 July 2011.[92][93] She was re-elected by consensus for a second five-year term, starting 5 July 2016, being the only candidate nominated for the post of Managing Director.[94]

First Deputy Managing Director

The managing director is assisted by a First Deputy managing director who, by convention, has always been a citizen of the United States.[95] Together, the Managing Director and his/her First Deputy lead the senior management of the IMF. Like the Managing Director, the First Deputy traditionally serves a five-year term.

List of First Deputy Managing Directors

Term Dates Name Citizenship Background
1 9 February 1949 – 24 January 1952 Andrew N. Overby  United States Banker, Senior U.S. Treasury Official
2 16 March 1953 – 31 October 1962 H. Merle Cochran  United States U.S. Foreign Service Officer
3 1 November 1962 – 28 February 1974 Frank A. Southard, Jr.  United States Economist, Civil Servant
4 1 March 1974 – 31 May 1984 William B. Dale  United States Civil Servant
5 1 June 1984 – 31 August 1994 Richard D. Erb  United States Economist, White House Official
6 1 September 1994 – 31 August 2001 Stanley Fischer  United States Israel Economist, Central Banker, Banker
7 1 September 2001 – 31 August 2006 Anne O. Kreuger  United States Economist
8 17 July 2006 – 11 November 2011 John P. Lipsky  United States Economist
9 1 September 2011 – 28 February 2020 David Lipton  United States Economist, Senior U.S. Treasury Official
10 20 March 2020 – Present Geoffrey W. S. Okamoto  United States Senior U.S. Treasury Official, Bank Consultant

Chief Economist

The chief economist leads the research division of the IMF.

List of Chief Economists

Term Dates Name Citizenship
1 1946 – 1958 Edward M. Bernstein[96]  United States
2 1958 – 1980 Jacques (J.J.) Polak  Netherlands
3 1980 – 1987 William C. Hood[97][98]  Canada
4 1987 – 1991 Jacob Frenkel[99]  Israel
5 August 1991 – 29 June 2001 Michael Mussa[100]  United States
6 August 2001 – September 2003 Kenneth Rogoff[101]  United States
7 September 2003 – January 2007 Raghuram Rajan[102]  India
8 March 2007 – 31 August 2008 Simon Johnson[103]  United States United Kingdom

 European Union

9 1 September 2008 – 8 September 2015 Olivier Blanchard[104]  France European Union
10 8 September 2015 – 31 December 2018 Maurice Obstfeld[105]  United States
11 1 January 2019 – Gita Gopinath[106]  United States

Voting power

Voting power in the IMF is based on a quota system. Each member has a number of basic votes (each member's number of basic votes equals 5.502% of the total votes),[107] plus one additional vote for each special drawing right (SDR) of 100,000 of a member country's quota.[108] The special drawing right is the unit of account of the IMF and represents a claim to currency. It is based on a basket of key international currencies. The basic votes generate a slight bias in favour of small countries, but the additional votes determined by SDR outweigh this bias.[108] Changes in the voting shares require approval by a super-majority of 85% of voting power.[9]

The table below shows quota and voting shares for the largest IMF members[2]
Rank IMF Member country Quota: millions of XDR Quota: percentage of the total Governor Alternate Number of votes Percentage out of total votes
1  United States 82,994.2 17.46 Janet Yellen Jerome Powell 831,407 16.52
2  Japan 30,820.5 6.48 Taro Aso Haruhiko Kuroda 309,670 6.15
3  China 30,482.9 6.41 Zhou Xiaochuan Yi Gang 306,294 6.09
4  Germany 26,634.4 5.60 Jens Weidmann Olaf Scholz 267,809 5.32
=5  France 20,155.1 4.24 Bruno Le Maire François Villeroy de Galhau 203,016 4.03
=5  United Kingdom 20,155.1 4.24 Rishi Sunak Andrew Bailey 203,016 4.03
7  Italy 15,070.0 3.17 Daniele Franco Ignazio Visco 152,165 3.02
8  India 13,114.4 2.76 Nirmala Sitharaman Shaktikanta Das 132,609 2.64
9  Russia 12,903.7 2.71 Anton Siluanov Elvira S. Nabiullina 130,502 2.59
10  Brazil 11,042.0 2.32 Paulo Guedes Roberto Campos Neto 111,885 2.22
11  Canada 11,023.9 2.32 Chrystia Freeland Tiff Macklem 111,704 2.22
12  Saudi Arabia 9,992.6 2.10 Ibrahim A. Al-Assaf Fahad Almubarak 101,391 2.02
13  Spain 9,535.5 2.01 Nadia Calviño Pablo Hernández de Cos 96,820 1.92
14  Mexico 8,912.7 1.87 Arturo Herrera Gutiérrez 90,592 1.80
15  Netherlands 8,736.5 1.84 Klaas Knot Hans Vijlbrief 88,830 1.77
16  South Korea 8,582.7 1.81 Kim Dong-yeon Lee Ju-yeol 87,292 1.73
17  Australia 6,572.4 1.38 Josh Frydenberg Philip Gaetjens 67,189 1.34
18  Belgium 6,410.7 1.35 Jan Smets 65,572 1.30
19   Switzerland 5,771.1 1.21 Thomas Jordan Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf 59,176 1.18
20  Indonesia 4,648.4 0.98 Perry Warjiyo Mahendra Siregar 47,949 0.95

In December 2015, the United States Congress adopted a legislation authorising the 2010 Quota and Governance Reforms. As a result,

  • all 190 members' quotas will increase from a total of about XDR 238.5 billion to about XDR 477 billion, while the quota shares and voting power of the IMF's poorest member countries will be protected.
  • more than 6 percent of quota shares will shift to dynamic emerging market and developing countries and also from over-represented to under-represented members.
  • four emerging market countries (Brazil, China, India, and Russia) will be among the ten largest members of the IMF. Other top 10 members are the United States, Japan, Germany, France, the United Kingdom and Italy.[109]

Effects of the quota system

The IMF's quota system was created to raise funds for loans.[21] Each IMF member country is assigned a quota, or contribution, that reflects the country's relative size in the global economy. Each member's quota also determines its relative voting power. Thus, financial contributions from member governments are linked to voting power in the organization.[108]

This system follows the logic of a shareholder-controlled organization: wealthy countries have more say in the making and revision of rules.[21] Since decision making at the IMF reflects each member's relative economic position in the world, wealthier countries that provide more money to the IMF have more influence than poorer members that contribute less; nonetheless, the IMF focuses on redistribution.[108]

Inflexibility of voting power

Quotas are normally reviewed every five years and can be increased when deemed necessary by the Board of Governors. IMF voting shares are relatively inflexible: countries that grow economically have tended to become under-represented as their voting power lags behind.[9] Currently, reforming the representation of developing countries within the IMF has been suggested.[108] These countries' economies represent a large portion of the global economic system but this is not reflected in the IMF's decision making process through the nature of the quota system. Joseph Stiglitz argues, "There is a need to provide more effective voice and representation for developing countries, which now represent a much larger portion of world economic activity since 1944, when the IMF was created."[110] In 2008, a number of quota reforms were passed including shifting 6% of quota shares to dynamic emerging markets and developing countries.[111]

Overcoming borrower/creditor divide

The IMF's membership is divided along income lines: certain countries provide financial resources while others use these resources. Both developed country "creditors" and developing country "borrowers" are members of the IMF. The developed countries provide the financial resources but rarely enter into IMF loan agreements; they are the creditors. Conversely, the developing countries use the lending services but contribute little to the pool of money available to lend because their quotas are smaller; they are the borrowers. Thus, tension is created around governance issues because these two groups, creditors and borrowers, have fundamentally different interests.[108]

The criticism is that the system of voting power distribution through a quota system institutionalizes borrower subordination and creditor dominance. The resulting division of the IMF's membership into borrowers and non-borrowers has increased the controversy around conditionality because the borrowers are interested in increasing loan access while creditors want to maintain reassurance that the loans will be repaid.[112]


A recent[when?] source revealed that the average overall use of IMF credit per decade increased, in real terms, by 21% between the 1970s and 1980s, and increased again by just over 22% from the 1980s to the 1991–2005 period. Another study has suggested that since 1950 the continent of Africa alone has received $300 billion from the IMF, the World Bank, and affiliate institutions.[113]

A study by Bumba Mukherjee found that developing democratic countries benefit more from IMF programs than developing autocratic countries because policy-making, and the process of deciding where loaned money is used, is more transparent within a democracy.[113] One study done by Randall Stone found that although earlier studies found little impact of IMF programs on balance of payments, more recent studies using more sophisticated methods and larger samples "usually found IMF programs improved the balance of payments".[33]

Exceptional Access Framework – sovereign debt

The Exceptional Access Framework was created in 2003 when John B. Taylor was Under Secretary of the US Treasury for International Affairs. The new Framework became fully operational in February 2003 and it was applied in the subsequent decisions on Argentina and Brazil.[114] Its purpose was to place some sensible rules and limits on the way the IMF makes loans to support governments with debt problem—especially in emerging markets—and thereby move away from the bailout mentality of the 1990s. Such a reform was essential for ending the crisis atmosphere that then existed in emerging markets. The reform was closely related to and put in place nearly simultaneously with the actions of several emerging market countries to place collective action clauses in their bond contracts.

In 2010, the framework was abandoned so the IMF could make loans to Greece in an unsustainable and political situation.[115][116]

The topic of sovereign debt restructuring was taken up by IMF staff in April 2013 for the first time since 2005, in a report entitled "Sovereign Debt Restructuring: Recent Developments and Implications for the Fund's Legal and Policy Framework".[51] The paper, which was discussed by the board on 20 May,[52] summarised the recent experiences in Greece, St Kitts and Nevis, Belize and Jamaica. An explanatory interview with Deputy Director Hugh Bredenkamp was published a few days later,[53] as was a deconstruction by Matina Stevis of the Wall Street Journal.[54]

The staff was directed to formulate an updated policy, which was accomplished on 22 May 2014 with a report entitled "The Fund's Lending Framework and Sovereign Debt: Preliminary Considerations", and taken up by the Executive Board on 13 June.[117] The staff proposed that "in circumstances where a (Sovereign) member has lost market access and debt is considered sustainable ... the IMF would be able to provide Exceptional Access on the basis of a debt operation that involves an extension of maturities", which was labeled a "reprofiling operation". These reprofiling operations would "generally be less costly to the debtor and creditors—and thus to the system overall—relative to either an upfront debt reduction operation or a bail-out that is followed by debt reduction ... (and) would be envisaged only when both (a) a member has lost market access and (b) debt is assessed to be sustainable, but not with high probability ... Creditors will only agree if they understand that such an amendment is necessary to avoid a worse outcome: namely, a default and/or an operation involving debt reduction ... Collective action clauses, which now exist in most—but not all—bonds would be relied upon to address collective action problems."[117]


According to a 2002 study by Randall W. Stone, the academic literature on the IMF shows "no consensus on the long-term effects of IMF programs on growth.[118]

Some research has found that IMF loans can reduce the chance of a future banking crisis,[119] while other studies have found that they can increase the risk of political crises.[120] IMF programs can reduce the effects of a currency crisis.[121]

Some research has found that IMF programs are less effective in countries which possess a developed-country patron (be it by foreign aid, membership of postcolonial institutions or UN voting patterns), seemingly due to this patron allowing countries to flaunt IMF program rules as these rules are not consistently enforced.[122] Some research has found that IMF loans reduce economic growth due to creating an economic moral hazard, reducing public investment, reducing incentives to create a robust domestic policies and reducing private investor confidence.[123] Other research has indicated that IMF loans can have a positive impact on economic growth and that their effects are highly nuanced.[124]


Anarchist protest against the IMF and corporate bailout

Overseas Development Institute (ODI) research undertaken in 1980 included criticisms of the IMF which support the analysis that it is a pillar of what activist Titus Alexander calls global apartheid.[125]

  • Developed countries were seen to have a more dominant role and control over less developed countries (LDCs).
  • The Fund worked on the incorrect assumption that all payments disequilibria were caused domestically. The Group of 24 (G-24), on behalf of LDC members, and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) complained that the IMF did not distinguish sufficiently between disequilibria with predominantly external as opposed to internal causes. This criticism was voiced in the aftermath of the 1973 oil crisis. Then LDCs found themselves with payment deficits due to adverse changes in their terms of trade, with the Fund prescribing stabilization programmes similar to those suggested for deficits caused by government over-spending. Faced with long-term, externally generated disequilibria, the G-24 argued for more time for LDCs to adjust their economies.
  • Some IMF policies may be anti-developmental; the report said that deflationary effects of IMF programmes quickly led to losses of output and employment in economies where incomes were low and unemployment was high. Moreover, the burden of the deflation is disproportionately borne by the poor.
  • The IMF's initial policies were based in theory and influenced by differing opinions and departmental rivalries. Critics suggest that its intentions to implement these policies in countries with widely varying economic circumstances were misinformed and lacked economic rationale.

ODI conclusions were that the IMF's very nature of promoting market-oriented approaches attracted unavoidable criticism. On the other hand, the IMF could serve as a scapegoat while allowing governments to blame international bankers. The ODI conceded that the IMF was insensitive to political aspirations of LDCs while its policy conditions were inflexible.[126]

Argentina, which had been considered by the IMF to be a model country in its compliance to policy proposals by the Bretton Woods institutions, experienced a catastrophic economic crisis in 2001,[127] which some believe to have been caused by IMF-induced budget restrictions—which undercut the government's ability to sustain national infrastructure even in crucial areas such as health, education, and security—and privatisation of strategically vital national resources.[128] Others attribute the crisis to Argentina's misdesigned fiscal federalism, which caused subnational spending to increase rapidly.[129] The crisis added to widespread hatred of this institution in Argentina and other South American countries, with many blaming the IMF for the region's economic problems. The current—as of early 2006—trend toward moderate left-wing governments in the region and a growing concern with the development of a regional economic policy largely independent of big business pressures has been ascribed to this crisis.

In 2006, a senior ActionAid policy analyst Akanksha Marphatia stated that IMF policies in Africa undermine any possibility of meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) due to imposed restrictions that prevent spending on important sectors, such as education and health.[130]

In an interview (2008-05-19), the former Romanian Prime Minister Călin Popescu-Tăriceanu claimed that "Since 2005, IMF is constantly making mistakes when it appreciates the country's economic performances".[131] Former Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere, who claimed that debt-ridden African states were ceding sovereignty to the IMF and the World Bank, famously asked, "Who elected the IMF to be the ministry of finance for every country in the world?"[132][133]

Former chief economist of IMF and former Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Governor Raghuram Rajan who predicted the Financial crisis of 2007–08 criticised the IMF for remaining a sideline player to the developed world. He criticised the IMF for praising the monetary policies of the US, which he believed were wreaking havoc in emerging markets.[134] He had been critical of the ultra-loose money policies of the Western nations and IMF.[135][136]

Countries such as Zambia have not received proper aid with long-lasting effects, leading to concern from economists. Since 2005, Zambia (as well as 29 other African countries) did receive debt write-offs, which helped with the country's medical and education funds. However, Zambia returned to a debt of over half its GDP in less than a decade. American economist William Easterly, sceptical of the IMF's methods, had initially warned that "debt relief would simply encourage more reckless borrowing by crooked governments unless it was accompanied by reforms to speed up economic growth and improve governance," according to The Economist.[137]


The IMF has been criticised for being "out of touch" with local economic conditions, cultures, and environments in the countries they are requiring policy reform.[20] The economic advice the IMF gives might not always take into consideration the difference between what spending means on paper and how it is felt by citizens.[138] Countries charge that with excessive conditionality, they do not "own" the programs and the links are broken between a recipient country's people, its government, and the goals being pursued by the IMF.[139]

Jeffrey Sachs argues that the IMF's "usual prescription is 'budgetary belt tightening to countries who are much too poor to own belts'".[138] Sachs wrote that the IMF's role as a generalist institution specialising in macroeconomic issues needs reform. Conditionality has also been criticised because a country can pledge collateral of "acceptable assets" to obtain waivers—if one assumes that all countries are able to provide "acceptable collateral".[32]

One view is that conditionality undermines domestic political institutions.[140] The recipient governments are sacrificing policy autonomy in exchange for funds, which can lead to public resentment of the local leadership for accepting and enforcing the IMF conditions. Political instability can result from more leadership turnover as political leaders are replaced in electoral backlashes.[20] IMF conditions are often criticised for reducing government services, thus increasing unemployment.[21]

Another criticism is that IMF programs are only designed to address poor governance, excessive government spending, excessive government intervention in markets, and too much state ownership.[138] This assumes that this narrow range of issues represents the only possible problems; everything is standardised and differing contexts are ignored.[138] A country may also be compelled to accept conditions it would not normally accept had they not been in a financial crisis in need of assistance.[30]

On top of that, regardless of what methodologies and data sets used, it comes to same the conclusion of exacerbating income inequality. With Gini coefficient, it became clear that countries with IMF programs face increased income inequality.[141]

It is claimed that conditionalities retard social stability and hence inhibit the stated goals of the IMF, while Structural Adjustment Programs lead to an increase in poverty in recipient countries.[142] The IMF sometimes advocates "austerity programmes", cutting public spending and increasing taxes even when the economy is weak, to bring budgets closer to a balance, thus reducing budget deficits. Countries are often advised to lower their corporate tax rate. In Globalization and Its Discontents, Joseph E. Stiglitz, former chief economist and senior vice-president at the World Bank, criticises these policies.[143] He argues that by converting to a more monetarist approach, the purpose of the fund is no longer valid, as it was designed to provide funds for countries to carry out Keynesian reflations, and that the IMF "was not participating in a conspiracy, but it was reflecting the interests and ideology of the Western financial community."[144]

Stiglitz concludes, "Modern high-tech warfare is designed to remove physical contact: dropping bombs from 50,000 feet ensures that one does not 'feel' what one does. Modern economic management is similar: from one's luxury hotel, one can callously impose policies about which one would think twice if one knew the people whose lives one was destroying."[143]

The researchers Eric Toussaint and Damien Millet argue that the IMF's policies amount to a new form of colonization that does not need a military presence:

"Following the exigencies of the governments of the richest companies, the IMF, permitted countries in crisis to borrow in order to avoid default on their repayments. Caught in the debt's downward spiral, developing countries soon had no other recourse than to take on new debt in order to repay the old debt. Before providing them with new loans, at higher interest rates, future leaders asked the IMF, to intervene with the guarantee of ulterior reimbursement, asking for a signed agreement with the said countries. The IMF thus agreed to restart the flow of the 'finance pump' on condition that the concerned countries first use this money to reimburse banks and other private lenders, while restructuring their economy at the IMF's discretion: these were the famous conditionalities, detailed in the Structural Adjustment Programs. The IMF and its ultra-liberal experts took control of the borrowing countries' economic policies. A new form of colonization was thus instituted. It was not even necessary to establish an administrative or military presence; the debt alone maintained this new form of submission."[145]

International politics play an important role in IMF decision making. The clout of member states is roughly proportional to its contribution to IMF finances. The United States has the greatest number of votes and therefore wields the most influence. Domestic politics often come into play, with politicians in developing countries using conditionality to gain leverage over the opposition to influence policy.[146]


Function and policies

The IMF is only one of many international organisations, and it is a generalist institution that deals only with macroeconomic issues; its core areas of concern in developing countries are very narrow. One proposed reform is a movement towards close partnership with other specialist agencies such as UNICEF, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).[138]

Jeffrey Sachs argues in The End of Poverty that the IMF and the World Bank have "the brightest economists and the lead in advising poor countries on how to break out of poverty, but the problem is development economics".[138] Development economics needs the reform, not the IMF. He also notes that IMF loan conditions should be paired with other reforms—e.g., trade reform in developed nations, debt cancellation, and increased financial assistance for investments in basic infrastructure.[138] IMF loan conditions cannot stand alone and produce change; they need to be partnered with other reforms or other conditions as applicable.[147]

US influence and voting reform

The scholarly consensus is that IMF decision-making is not simply technocratic, but also guided by political and economic concerns.[148] The United States is the IMF's most powerful member, and its influence reaches even into decision-making concerning individual loan agreements.[149] The United States has historically been openly opposed to losing what Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew described in 2015 as its "leadership role" at the IMF, and the United States' "ability to shape international norms and practices".[150]

Emerging markets were not well-represented for most of the IMF's history: Despite being the most populous country, China's vote share was the sixth largest; Brazil's vote share was smaller than Belgium's.[151] Reforms to give more powers to emerging economies were agreed by the G20 in 2010. The reforms could not pass, however, until they were ratified by the US Congress,[152][153][154] since 85% of the Fund's voting power was required for the reforms to take effect,[155] and the Americans held more than 16% of voting power at the time.[2] After repeated criticism,[156][157] the United States finally ratified the voting reforms at the end of 2015.[158] The OECD countries maintained their overwhelming majority of voting share, and the United States in particular retained its share at over 16%.[159]

The criticism of the American-and-European dominated IMF has led to what some consider 'disenfranchising the world' from the governance of the IMF. Raúl Prebisch, the founding secretary-general of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), wrote that one of "the conspicuous deficiencies of the general economic theory, from the point of view of the periphery, is its false sense of universality."[160]

Support of dictatorships

The role of the Bretton Woods institutions has been controversial since the late Cold War, because of claims that the IMF policy makers supported military dictatorships friendly to American and European corporations, but also other anti-communist and Communist regimes (such as Mobutu's Zaire and Ceaușescu's Romania, respectively). Critics also claim that the IMF is generally apathetic or hostile to human rights, and labour rights. The controversy has helped spark the anti-globalization movement.

An example of IMF's support for a dictatorship was its ongoing support for Mobutu's rule in Zaire, although its own envoy, , provided a sobering report about the entrenched corruption and embezzlement and the inability of the country to pay back any loans.[161]

Arguments in favour of the IMF say that economic stability is a precursor to democracy; however, critics highlight various examples in which democratised countries fell after receiving IMF loans.[162]

A 2017 study found no evidence of IMF lending programs undermining democracy in borrowing countries.[163] To the contrary, it found "evidence for modest but definitively positive conditional differences in the democracy scores of participating and non-participating countries."[163]

Impact on access to food

A number of civil society organisations[164] have criticised the IMF's policies for their impact on access to food, particularly in developing countries. In October 2008, former United States president Bill Clinton delivered a speech to the United Nations on World Food Day, criticising the World Bank and IMF for their policies on food and agriculture:

We need the World Bank, the IMF, all the big foundations, and all the governments to admit that, for 30 years, we all blew it, including me when I was president. We were wrong to believe that food was like some other product in international trade, and we all have to go back to a more responsible and sustainable form of agriculture.

— Former U.S. president Bill Clinton, Speech at United Nations World Food Day, October 16, 2008[165]

The FPIF remarked that there is a recurring pattern: "the destabilization of peasant producers by a one-two punch of IMF-World Bank structural adjustment programs that gutted government investment in the countryside followed by the massive influx of subsidized U.S. and European Union agricultural imports after the WTO's Agreement on Agriculture pried open markets."[166]

Impact on public health

A 2009 study concluded that the strict conditions resulted in thousands of deaths in Eastern Europe by tuberculosis as public health care had to be weakened. In the 21 countries to which the IMF had given loans, tuberculosis deaths rose by 16.6%.[167] A 2017 systematic review on studies conducted on the impact that Structural adjustment programs have on child and maternal health found that these programs have a detrimental effect on maternal and child health among other adverse effects.[168]

In 2009, a book by Rick Rowden titled The Deadly Ideas of Neoliberalism: How the IMF has Undermined Public Health and the Fight Against AIDS, claimed that the IMF's monetarist approach towards prioritising price stability (low inflation) and fiscal restraint (low budget deficits) was unnecessarily restrictive and has prevented developing countries from scaling up long-term investment in public health infrastructure. The book claimed the consequences have been chronically underfunded public health systems, leading to demoralising working conditions that have fuelled a "brain drain" of medical personnel, all of which has undermined public health and the fight against HIV/AIDS in developing countries.[169]

In 2016, the IMF's research department published a report titled "Neoliberalism: Oversold?" which, while praising some aspects of the "neoliberal agenda," claims that the organisation has been "overselling" fiscal austerity policies and financial deregulation, which they claim has exacerbated both financial crises and economic inequality around the world.[170][171][172]

Impact on environment

IMF policies have been repeatedly criticised for making it difficult for indebted countries to say no to environmentally harmful projects that nevertheless generate revenues such as oil, coal, and forest-destroying lumber and agriculture projects. Ecuador, for example, had to defy IMF advice repeatedly to pursue the protection of its rainforests, though paradoxically this need was cited in the IMF argument to provide support to Ecuador. The IMF acknowledged this paradox in the 2010 report that proposed the IMF Green Fund, a mechanism to issue special drawing rights directly to pay for climate harm prevention and potentially other ecological protection as pursued generally by other environmental finance.[173]

While the response to these moves was generally positive[174] possibly because ecological protection and energy and infrastructure transformation are more politically neutral than pressures to change social policy, some experts[who?] voiced concern that the IMF was not representative, and that the IMF proposals to generate only US$200 billion a year by 2020 with the SDRs as seed funds, did not go far enough to undo the general incentive to pursue destructive projects inherent in the world commodity trading and banking systems—criticisms often levelled at the World Trade Organization and large global banking institutions.

In the context of the European debt crisis, some observers[who?] noted that[when?] Spain and California, two troubled economies[citation needed] within respectively the European Union and the United States, and also Germany, the primary and politically most fragile supporter of a euro currency bailout would benefit from IMF recognition of their leadership in green technology, and directly from Green Fund-generated demand for their exports, which could also improve their credit ratings.[citation needed]

IMF and globalization

Globalization encompasses three institutions: global financial markets and transnational companies, national governments linked to each other in economic and military alliances led by the United States, and rising "global governments" such as World Trade Organization (WTO), IMF, and World Bank.[175] Charles Derber argues in his book People Before Profit, "These interacting institutions create a new global power system where sovereignty is globalized, taking power and constitutional authority away from nations and giving it to global markets and international bodies".[175] Titus Alexander argues that this system institutionalises global inequality between western countries and the Majority World in a form of global apartheid, in which the IMF is a key pillar.[176]

The establishment of globalised economic institutions has been both a symptom of and a stimulus for globalisation. The development of the World Bank, the IMF, regional development banks such as the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), and multilateral trade institutions such as the WTO signals a move away from the dominance of the state as the primary actor analysed in international affairs. Globalization has thus been transformative in terms of a reconceptualising of state sovereignty.[177]

Following United States President Bill Clinton's administration's aggressive financial deregulation campaign in the 1990s, globalisation leaders overturned long standing restrictions by governments that limited foreign ownership of their banks, deregulated currency exchange, and eliminated restrictions on how quickly money could be withdrawn by foreign investors.[175]

Impact on gender equality

The IMF supports women's empowerment and tries to promotes their rights in countries with a significant gender gap.[178]


Managing Director Lagarde (2011-2019) was convicted of giving preferential treatment to businessman-turned-politician Bernard Tapie as he pursued a legal challenge against the French government. At the time, Lagarde was the French economic minister.[179] Within hours of her conviction, in which she escaped any punishment, the fund's 24-member executive board put to rest any speculation that she might have to resign, praising her "outstanding leadership" and the "wide respect" she commands around the world.[180]

Former IMF Managing Director Rodrigo Rato was arrested on 16 April 2015 for alleged fraud, embezzlement and money laundering.[181][182] On 23 February 2017, the Audiencia Nacional found Rato guilty of embezzlement and sentenced to 412 years' imprisonment.[183] In September 2018, the sentence was confirmed by the Supreme Court of Spain.[184]


In March 2011, the Ministers of Economy and Finance of the African Union proposed to establish an African Monetary Fund.[185]

At the 6th BRICS summit in July 2014 the BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) announced the BRICS Contingent Reserve Arrangement (CRA) with an initial size of US$100 billion, a framework to provide liquidity through currency swaps in response to actual or potential short-term balance-of-payments pressures.[186]

In 2014, the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank was established.[150]

In the media

Life and Debt, a documentary film, deals with the IMF's policies' influence on Jamaica and its economy from a critical point of view. Debtocracy, a 2011 independent Greek documentary film, also criticises the IMF. Portuguese musician José Mário Branco's 1982 album FMI is inspired by the IMF's intervention in Portugal through monitored stabilisation programs in 1977–78. In the 2015 film, Our Brand Is Crisis, the IMF is mentioned as a point of political contention, where the Bolivian population fears its electoral interference.[187]

See also


a. ^ There is no worldwide consensus on the status of the Republic of Kosovo: it is recognised as independent by 98 countries, while others consider it an autonomous province of Serbia. See: International recognition of Kosovo.



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Further reading

External links