December 22, 1944, Besieged American commander at Bastogne informs Nazis he will not surrender
62 years ago on this day in 1944, amid a massive counter-attack against the western Allies by three German armies, Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe of the 101st Airborne Division replies to the German plea for the besieged paratroopers' surrender with a single word.
The port city of Antwerp on the Belgian coast was the kraut objective. They theorized that making it there would split the allies in half and somehow they could then defeat the resulting northern and southern halves in detail later. The German planners had obviously been hitting the Christmas schnapps...but I digress.
The German counterattack out of the densely wooded Ardennes region of Belgium took the Allies entirely by surprise, and the experienced German troops wrought havoc on the American line, creating a triangular "bulge" 60 miles deep and 50 miles wide along the Allied front.
Conditions of fog and mist prevented the unleashing of Allied air superiority, and for several days Hitler's desperate gamble seemed to be paying off. However, unlike the French surrender monkeys in 1940 who clearly suffer from some deep-seated national character flaw, the embattled Americans kept up a fierce resistance even after their lines of communication had been broken, buying time for a three-point counteroffensive led by British General Bernard Montgomery and American generals Omar Bradley and George Patton.
Christmas dinner in the Ardennes forest while holding out against the Hun onslaught.
Fighting was particularly fierce at the town of Bastogne, where the 101st Airborne Division and part of the 10th Armored Division were completely encircled by German forces within the bulge. On December 22, the German commander besieging the town demanded that the Americans surrender or face annihilation. The acting commanding general of the "Screaming Eagles," U.S. Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe prepared a typed reply that read simply:
To the German Commander:
From the American Commander
This excerpt is from a period account by an officer assigned to the 101st divisional headquarters who observed McAuliffe's single word reply to the German surrender demand being delivered by Col Harper, commander of the 327th Glider Infantry Regt on behalf of BG McAuliffe:
Heavy fighting continued at Bastogne, but the 101st held on and the Screaming Eagles killed a buttload of Germans.The German major who received McAuliffe's response from Col Harper then asked him, "Is the reply negative or affirmative? If it is the latter I will negotiate further."
At this time the Germans were acting in an arrogant and patronizing manner and Harper, who was starting to lose his temper, responded, "The reply is decidedly not affirmative." He then added that, "If you continue your foolish attack your losses will be tremendous."
Harper then put the German officers in a jeep and took them back to where the German enlisted men of their party were detained. He then said to the German officers, "If you don't know what 'Nuts' means, in plain English it is the same as 'Go to Hell'. And I'll tell you something else, if you continue to attack we will kill every goddam German that tries to break into this city."
The German major and captain saluted very stiffly. The captain said, "We will kill many Americans. This is war." Harper then responded, "On your way Bud," he then said, "and good luck to you." Harper later told me he always regretted wishing them good luck.
The guys fighting back on the ground were some happy campers indeed when the skies finally cleared allowing Allied airpower to be brought to bear. Those things in the sky are contrails from the almost non-stop hammering they gave the krauts.
On December 23, the skies finally cleared over the battle areas. That spelled doom for the kraut armies because Allied air forces were now able to inflict heavy damage on German tanks and transport, which were jammed solidly along the main roads. All over the battle area, Allied aircrews began to score "highways of death" leaving smoking hulks of German vehicles and crispy Nazi's smoldering in the snow.
Amid now clear skies, 101st troopers celebrate Christmas. They're smiling beacuse they know allied airpower will break the backs of the Germans who still surround them.
Dead German tank, killed by Allied airpower after the skies cleared.
On December 26, Bastogne was relieved by elements of General Patton's 3rd Army. A major Allied counteroffensive began at the end of December, and by January 21 the Germans had been pushed back to their original line having gained absolutely nothing for their trouble.
Germany's last major offensive of the war had cost them 120,000 men, 1,600 planes, and 700 tanks. The Allies suffered some 80,000 killed, wounded, or missing in action, with 75,000 of these casualties being American. It was the heaviest single battle toll in U.S. history.
Best movie ever done about it IMHO? "Battleground"
Note: You correspondent's paternal grandfather was at "The Bulge" but alas, he died of natural causes in 1997. There are still Bulge vets alive all over America. Especially this week, if you know one, tell him "Thanks bub!"
US "Battle of the Bulge" monument near Bastogne, Belgium.