Tuesday, December 15, 2009

December 16, 1944 - Battle of the Bulge

Tomorrow is the 65th Anniversary of the first day of the Battle of the Bulge - WWII's bloodiest battle. It took place in Belgium's Ardennes region. During one of the coldest winters recorded. The battle lasted straight through Christmas and the New Year holiday. No rest. No remembrance. Just strategic fighting over our Lord's birthday.

Today in Brussels there is a crisp blue sky and I am blogging while Connor naps. I hear the joyful shrieks of schoolchildren outside our apartment - they are visiting the Christmas Market on the street below.

And I am ever thankful and increasingly mindful of the history of yesterday which makes the simplicity of today possible...

This is the time of year when we remember the sacrifices and struggles during the fighting of the Battle of the Bulge, in World War II. On December 16, 1944, the Germans attacked the Allied lines in the Ardennes in a final attempt to wrest a decisive victory from the Allies.

Hitler was aiming to control Antwerp, the Allies' supply port in Belgium. 250,000 soldiers and 1000 tanks moved towards Bastogne, strategically located at the center of the road network in the Ardennes. It was a must-win for the Germans, and a must-keep for the Allies.

The attack took the Allies by surprise, and although they delayed the Germans' initial advance, they lost many positions in the first two days. Reinforcements from the other fronts were sent as quickly as possible, but the fighting was slow and it was not until January 25th, 1945, that the battle was won.
The Allies had reclaimed all the positions lost to the Germans early in the battle, but at a horrible cost: 19,000 American soldiers and 1600 British soldiers died.

The Battle of the Bulge, so named because of the bulge in the front lines caused by the German advance, is considered to be the greatest land battle fought in US history, and certainly the most bloody of World War II. It was fought during the coldest winter in 50 years, in wooded countryside and small towns. The rain and snow were relentless, and the Germans merciless. The Allies held fast in Bastogne, while surrounded by German troops. On December 22nd, the commander of the surrounding German Army sent a party to General McAuliffe to demand his surrender, causing the General to reply "Us surrender? Aw, nuts!"

The Allies were finally able to fight through the surrounding army to relieve General McAuliffe‘s troops on December 26 th, and when the weather cleared on the 29th, they were at the town located in the center of the battle, Bastogne.

Bastogne has several monuments to the fallen soldiers, as well as a Historical Center devoted to documenting the battle with film footage, uniforms, vehicles and reconstructed scenes depicting episodes of the battle. The center square of the town is called Place McAuliffe.

Ideally when you visit you should wait for a cold, wet, foggy morning to chill your bones just like it did the young soldiers some 50 years ago. Start early. Don‘t just drive through the countryside to the north and east of Bastogne, but park the car and walk through the small villages and farms where green or tired American troops were looking for any dry or warm place to regroup and prepare for the anticipated drive into Germany.

When arriving at Bastogne, make your first stop at Le Mardasson memorial. This large stone monument in the form of a five pointed star honors the American soldiers who died in the Battle of the Bulge. Climb to the top of the memorial and look out over the panorama that has changed little ... Entering the town you will see tank turret monuments, which indicate just how close German forces came to overrunning Bastogne during the battle… The only fitting end to your familiarization with the Battle of the Bulge is to visit the Ardennes American cemetery at Neuville-en-Condroz. This is the final resting place for 5,310 Americans, most of whom died in the Battle of the Bulge. Take a long look – close your eyes – and always remember.

An exerpt from an article by Tom Kuennig.
Revised and Reprinted from Dana Smith‘s original article.

I had planned to visit Bastogne today to honor this 65th anniversary. But the seduction of cutting paper snowflakes with Connor in our pajamas was too powerful. No doubt we will visit later this winter with Kirk.

And I will remember this day just 65 short years ago.

December 22nd 1944

To the U. S. A. Commander of the encircled town of Bastogne:

The fortune of war is changing. This time the U.S. A. forces in and near Bastogne have been encircled by strong German armored units. More German armored units have crossed the river Ourthe near Ortheuville, have taken Marche and reached St. Hubert by passing through Hombres Sibret-Tillet. Libramont is in German hands.

There is only one possibility to save the encircled U. S. A. Troops from total annihilation: that is the honorable surrender of the encircled town. In order to think it over a term of two hours will be granted beginning with the presentation of this note.

If this proposal should be rejected one German Artillery Corps and six heavy A. A. Battalions are ready to annihilate the U.S.A. Troops in and near Bastogne. The order for firing will be given immediately after this two hours term.

All the serious civilian losses caused by this Artillery fire would not correspond with the well known American humanity.

The German Commander


The German Commander received the following reply:


22 December 1944

To the German Commander:


The American Commander

Allied Troops are counterattacking in force. We continue to hold Bastogne. By holding Bastogne we assure the success of the Allied Armies. We know that our Division Commander, General Taylor, will say: Well Done!

We are giving our country and our loved ones at home a worthy Christmas present and being privileged to take part in this gallant feat of arms are truly making for ourselves a Merry Christmas.

A.C. McAufiffe,



Jen said...

Beautiful post, Reid!

Sues said...

I am a complete WWII buff, so I'd be thrilled to visit there, as well!