From Normandy, we hopped onto another train and headed to our next stop, Bastogne, Belgium. Bastogne is located near the border of Luxembourg, so we couldn’t resist getting this picture of the kids standing in the two different countries at the same time.
We traveled to Bastogne to learn about the Ardennes Offensive and its most famous battle, the Battle of the Bulge. The Ardennes Offensive was launched by the Germans towards the end of World War II. The attack was essentially Hitler’s last ditch effort to defeat the Allied Forces. The seven main roads of the Ardennes all converged at the tiny town of Bastogne. The 101st Airborne was sent there to prevent the Germans from seizing control of such vital infrastructure. It was here that the Battle of the Bulge was fiercely fought.
On December 21, 1944, the Germans succeeded in surrounding Bastogne, completely cutting off the 101st Airborne. These American soldiers were outnumbered 5-1 and lacked cold-weather gear, ammunition, food and much of its senior leadership.
We visited the site in the Ardennes forest where the 101st Airborne valiantly fought the Germans despite their lack of resources. You can still see some of the foxholes.
On December 22, the German commander sent a messenger to Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe with the following demand to surrender:
“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…There is only one possibility to save the encircled U.S.A. troops from total annihilation: that is the honourable 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 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.”
General McAuliffe’s famous response to this ultimatum was, “NUTS!” The messenger translated the terse response to the German commander as “Go to h*ll!”
That night the Germans pummeled the Americans, but the Americans stubbornly maintained their position. You can still see bullet pocks on the buildings from the fierce battle.
With the help of General Patton’s tanks, the 101st Airborne succeeded in repulsing the German assaults. On December 27, U.S. forces broke the encirclement of Bastogne.
Many believe General Patton and his tanks came to the rescue of the American forces at the Battle of the Bulge. The members of the 101st Airborne, however, vehemently deny that assertion and passionately maintain that they didn’t need any rescuing.