Blog 12/22/2020 - Battle of the Bulge – Bastogne, Belgium

MHT Blog December 22, 2020 - Battle of the Bulge – Bastogne, Belgium

“Bastogne Surrounded”

Bastogne, Belgium was a transportation hub where seven main roads converged plus a railroad ran SW to NE and was an essential objective of the 5th Panzer Army during the Battle of the Bulge. Taking Bastogne was crucial for the swift movement of Field Marshal Rundstedt's panzers to reach Hitler’s final objective of Antwerp.  On 21 December 1944, the 101st Airborne Division, with the tanks of Combat Command B from the 10th Armored Division, four Field Artillery Battalions, two Combat Engineer Battalions and a Battalion of Tank Destroyers were surrounded by the XLVII Panzerkorps.

Conditions inside the perimeter were worsening as food was becoming scarce as was medical supplies for the medical personnel treating 1,300 casualties. On the 22nd, artillery ammunition was restricted to 10 rounds per gun per day but despite determined German attacks by both the 2nd Panzer and Panzer-Lehr Divisions, the perimeter held.

Today in 1944, Generalleutnant (LtGen) Heinrich Freiherr von Lüttwitz, Commander of XLVII Panzerkorps requested Bastogne's surrender with this note: “To the U.S.A. Commander of the encircled town of Bastogne. 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

When BGen Anthony McAuliffe, acting commander of the 101st, was told of the Nazi demand for surrender, in frustration he responded the vulgar remark, "Nuts!" After dealing with some pressing issues, his staff reminded him that he should reply to the German commander’s demand. One officer, LtCol Harry Kinnard, noted that McAuliffe's initial reply would be, "tough to beat." Thus, McAuliffe had the reply sent, To the German Commander: "N U T S!" The American Commander. The line made him famous and a huge morale booster to his surrounded troops: The slang reply had to be explained, both to the Germans and to non-American Allies. He included it in his Christmas Letter to the “Screaming Eagles” to have them hold on.

Both the 2nd Panzer and bulk of the Panzer-Lehr Divisions bypassed Bastogne to continue the advance after 21 December, leaving only the 901st Panzer Regiment of the Panzer-Lehr Division to assist the 26th Volksgrenadier Division in attempting to capture the Bastogne crossroads. The 26th Volksgrenadier (VG) Division would exhaust itself attacking against the 101st perimeter and was reinforced by a Panzergrenadier (PG) Regiment from the 15th PG Division on Christmas Eve for another assault the following 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 coordinated attack on all sides. The assault, despite initial success by its tanks in penetrating the American lines, was defeated and most of the panzers were destroyed. MHT will dine at “Le Nuts” twice in 2021, join MHT for an “Airborne Beer” in Bastogne.