Researching the Battle of the Bulge

This month marks the 72nd anniversary of the end of the Battle of the Bulge, which was fought during World War II from 16 December 1944 – 25 January 1945, in the Ardennes in Europe. It was in this battle, that my cousin James Privoznik of the 90th Infantry Division, lost his life on 11 January 1945 near Bras, Belgium.

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.

Many units participated in this big push to move the German Army back and end the war. The most well-known unit was the 101st Airborne in Bastogne. Stories from veterans who dealt with frostbite and trenchfoot, not enough warm clothing, dry socks, or boots, and low supplies are numerous. The Battle was held during one of the worst winters in European history where temperatures ranged near zero degrees Fahrenheit, ice covered the landscape before the snow fell, rising up to men’s knees in some places, making movement, fighting, and survival difficult.

With this backdrop and brief introduction to the Battle of the Bulge, how does one begin researching a soldier’s experience in this battle? We begin by writing down everything we know and documenting that information in our Ancestry family tree, to build a timeline of service. Next, using James Privoznik as an example, we will explore some online and offline resources that will tell us more about his service and death during the Battle of the Bulge.

At the beginning of the Battle of the Bulge, James was in the 790th Ordnance, 90th Infantry Division. When General Patton needed replacement riflemen, men were pulled from the rear echelons. On 27 December 1944, James was transferred from the 790th Ordnance to F Company 358th Infantry Regiment 90th Infantry Division. He was hit by a high explosive shell on 11 January 1945. His service as an infantry soldier lasted 15-16 days. James is buried in Luxembourg Cemetery.

Offline Research

Start your offline research, and some online research, by using my World War II Research Guide, which is a collection of articles on this blog. This information will put you on a path to learning more about your soldier through offline records, creating a timeline of service, and working with online resources.

The Individual Deceased Personnel File (IDPF)

James Privoznik died in service and the Graves Registration Service created a filed called the Individual Deceased Personnel File, or IDPF. Each soldier who died in service or is still considered Missing In Action, has a file. This is a file you must have for your research. You can read James’ full IDPF on my website. Requesting the IDPF has become more complicated. You can read more about requesting this information in my article, WWII Education – Requesting the Individual Deceased Personnel File (IDPF).

Once you have compiled a timeline of service and learned more about your soldier’s participation in the Battle of the Bulge through offline records, using additional resources, we can move forward in learning more about the battle.

Ancestry Research

There are no specific Battle of the Bulge databases or histories on Ancestry, but you can use the military and genealogy databases to fill in gaps of your soldier and family’s life. Then update your online family tree with this information so you have a clearer picture of what happened.

Fold3 Research

While there are no specific Battle of the Bulge databases on Fold3, there are numerous record sets which contain information about units, towns and areas of the battle, and soldier pages which may provide additional details. Search within the following databases to learn more about your soldier’s participation in the battle. Remember, unless he was an officer, he may not be named. These record sets provide more historical context information to help you understand more fully what your soldier’s role was in the battle.

Do you need help attaching information you find on Fold3 to your Ancestry tree? Read my article Combining World War II Research on Fold3 with Your Ancestry Family Tree. This article contains a lot of search tips that apply to all areas of WWII research.

Newspapers.com Research

Search newspapers.com or other sites to learn more about your soldier or the battle in which he participated. Try these search techniques to find articles and information.

Important! OCR does not capture 100% of all scanned materials. You may have to do some page by page searching of newspapers when you know there should be an article about your soldier. OCR can be affected by the quality of the text and condition of materials which were scanned.

Important! Remember to verify what you find in the newspaper about your soldier or a battle with military records and histories written after the war. The newspapers at the time did not always report the full story of what was taking place. Military leaders often left out important details until time had passed or they were forced to report them.

Next Steps

Once you have exhausted (at this moment) the resources on Ancestry, Fold3, and Newspapers.com, search the World War II Reunion Association websites for histories and military records that may be digitized. On the 90th Division Association website you will find many digitized materials to help put the Battle of the Bulge into context. James Privoznik is also listed in the 790th Ordnance history.

http://www.90thdivisionassociation.org/History/index.html

Finally, please write the story of your soldier as you research. If you would like to add the story and information to your Ancestry tree, please read my article, Preserving a World War II Service Member’s Lifestory on Ancestry Member Trees.

Good luck with your Battle of the Bulge research. I’d love to hear from you what you discovered about your soldier and his service!