We follow a band of American soldiers as they engage the Germans in a snowy, foggy winter near Bastogne in World War II. They’re low on fuel, rations, and ammunition; the Germans are constantly encouraging their surrender via radio and leaflets, and most importantly, the pervasive thick fog makes movement and identification difficult and prevents their relief by Allied air support. This film focuses much more on the psychology and morale of the soldiers than on action footage and heroics.
Battleground is one of the first World War Two films that showed the US Infantry war in Europe through the lens of reality, and one of the first to have the cast include Veterans of the very battle this story portrays. The story involves the men of 2nd Squad, 3rd Platoon, Company I, 3rd Battalion, 327th Glider Infantry Regiment, which was under the Leadership of Staff Sergeant Kinne (James Whitmore).As the movie opens, on December 17, 1944, the 101st Airborne Division has returned to France for Training and R&R on November 25, 1944 after completing their share of the assault on Nijmegen-Arnhem in Holland on September 17, 1944. Two new Riflemen have arrived, fresh from a Replacement Depot, Privates Jim Layton (Marshall Thompson), and William J. Hooper (Scotty Beckett). Hooper is assigned to Company K, while Layton is assigned to Company I. Layton is further assigned to 2nd Squad, 3rd Platoon, apparently expected to replace PFC Holley who is in a Field Hospital at the time, convalescing from a wound he received in Holland. Thus it is that Private Layton is introduced to his Squad, and goes through a pecking order as he figures out which cot in the Squad Tent is his, only to be out-ranked by the returning Private First Class Holley (Van Johnson) who reclaims his cot, leaving Layton as an extra man in the Squads Table of Organization. Not much is done to settle the situation at the time because the Squad which has a 3-Day Pass for Paris figures rearrangement can wait for their return, although Layton is expected to remain in camp over the three days.Staff Sergeant Kinne wakes the Squad early the next morning, informing the men that the pass is cancelled because they have to return to the frontline because of an emergency. They are told that the Germans have broken through the lines, and the 101st is needed to help plug the breach. We see 3rd Platoon boarding Deuce and a Half Trucks, and they meet their Replacement Platoon Leader, 2LT Teiss (Brett King), as they do. With the trucks loaded, 3rd Platoon pulls out and heads East, following the rest of the 101st, the troops still not knowing exactly where they are heading. The convoy ends at Bastogne, where the troops are Bivouacked at local homes for the night. 3rd Platoon draws Guard Duty, and so is at the eastern end of Bastogne when a retreating Infantry Company passes west through their lines, telling of their experience with the advancing German 47th Corps. This is when 2nd Squad learns of the seriousness of the engagement they are about to enter.The next day, the 101st continues their advancement east, deploying around Bastogne to secure their positions. This is when they experience their first action in the Battle of the Bulge, being fired upon by German machine guns that are behind cover. Once the firing stops, the Squads are deployed to clear a heavily forested area, and to set up their line, including Fox Holes and Strong Points. Just as they finish, they are moved out to another location, where they have to repeat their earlier exercise. 2nd Squad draws Guard Duty overnight, with PFC Holley, PVT Layton and PVT Kipton (Douglas Fowley) manning the eastward road block. They are told to be extra watchful for Germans in American uniforms and speaking American English. As the three men man the road block, they are approached from the east by a squad led by a 2nd Lieutenant who correctly answer the daily challenge and password. The three men let them continue on, but Van Johnson has some suspicions of the Lieutenant since he is wearing his bars while on patrol.On the next day, the snow starts, and the action starts to heat up. The Three men find out that the patrol from the previous night were indeed German infiltrators they blew a bridge and as a result the 327th sends out more patrols to scout for more German infiltrators. This time Laytons visit to K Company pay dividends because the team runs into a squad led by another 2nd Lieutenant who claims to be from K Company. Layton acts like he is not suspicious, and turns his team around towards their camp, and they try to run from the infiltrators. They run into a German machinegun team, which they destroy with a hand grenade, and then they return to their camp to report the contact. Their report results in artillery fire being dropped on the location where the German infiltrators bringing success.The Bad weather continues, with chance encounters taking place between the Germans and the Americans, adding to the casualties. Finally, the famous Nuts incident takes place, with the Germans coming to the 3rd Platoons lines. They are blind folded and taken to the Division Headquarters, where MG Mc Auliffe answers their demand for the American surrender. The Germans return via the 3rd Platoons area, and we get to see their reaction to McAuliffes answer.On Christmas Day, a Chaplain (Leon Ames) holds a service in the field, using his Jeep as the Altar. He is interrupted by incoming artillery, so he ends with silent prayer.The German Artillery Barrage continues, until when the fog lifts the Tactical Air Command can come over and knock out the German Artillery and Tanks, and the Cargo planes can drop supplies to the 101st. This leads to the lifting of the Seige, and the capturing of the surviving Germans.With the lift of the siege, the 101st Airborne Division is relived, by the 4th Armored Division, and SSG Kinne is ordered to return the 3rd Platoon to France to prepare for further action. He has them fall in and march to cadence and Jodie calls. The movie ends with them marching Westward past advancing troops.