IN COMMEMORATION OF THE ANNIVERSARY OF THE BATTLE OF THE BULGE
Vladimir Badmaev, MD PhD
The 76 years ago at Christmas time, Europe and the World was in a grip of most devastating event in human history, World War II, with one of the critical battles of the war unfolding, the “Battle of the Bulge”.
Towards the end of 1944 with the Allies closing in on Germany from East, West, North and South, Hitler ordered a massive counterattack in the mountainous region of Belgian Ardennes. After losing to Allied forces strategic cities of coastal France, Netherlands and Belgium, Germany, in a desperate attempt to change the course of war aimed at splitting American and British forces all the way to the Belgian coast, driving western Allies into disarray; recapturing the liberated by Allies strategic Belgian port of Antwerp, cutting off the key Allied supply line by sea, and allowing time and resources to focus on fighting the Russians on the Eastern front.
The offensive was to start in the least anticipated by Allies place. On a cold and foggy early morning of December 16, 1944, German artillery and Armored divisions launched a surprise attack on unprepared American troops deployed around city of Bastogne in the Belgian Ardennes – the heavily wooded region of rough terrain formed by the mountain range. This region with only few roads and small cities, like Eupen and Bastogne, liberated just few months ago by Allied forces, was considered militarily impenetrable and unsuitable for a large-scale German attack by the motorize armor and for that reason was protected by a relatively few American troops. Further, the strategic weakness was that the American troops consisted mostly of battle-worn 28th Infantry Division as well as the troops with no battle experience. The German attack took Americans by surprise and drove them back nearly sixty miles from the initial positions, creating a dent or a “bulge” in the battle line, giving the name to the “Battle of the Bulge”. In the first few days Germans advanced rapidly, with fog covering their operation and preventing Allies utilizing their air power superiority.
The counterattack came from the American famed 101st Airborne Division nick-named “Screaming Eagles”, along with the 10th Armored Division and the 82nd Airborne Division, under the command of Brigadier General Anthony C. McAuliffe. The heavy fighting ensued with Germans under the command of General Heinrich von Luttwitz encircling Americans, outnumbered by 1:5, in the city of Bastogne. On the December 22, Luttwitz sent emissaries to deliver an ultimatum to besieged Americans: surrender or the artillery fire will resume in the next two hours. When General McAuliffe received the German message, he crumpled the paper and threw it in a wastepaper basket, muttering "Aw, nuts". The “nuts” message was then typed and sent as a reply to the German general. However, the German messenger was confused and asked Americans what the message “nuts” meant. They said "In plain English? Go to hell”. See below picture of Gen. Anthony “Nuts” McAuliffe and his staff in the command room in Bastogne during the Christmas Day dinner on December 25, 1944.
The day after Christmas, on December 26, the Third U.S. Army, under the command of Gneral George Scott Patton Jr. arrived and broke the siege of Bastogne. The “Old Blood and Guts” General Patton (the nick name earned for lusting battle at all costs) devised a brilliant and quick-witted strategy to attack the enemy lines from the southwest direction of the village of Assenois (few kilometers from Bastogne), driving his 3rd Army through the German lines into Bastogne and relieving the defenders. The 3rd Army’s spearhead reached the lines of the besieged Americans on the day after the Christmas, at approximately 16:50. The 101st's ground communications with the American supply dump were restored on December 27 and the wounded were evacuated to the field hospital. The official end of the Battle of the Bastogne occurred three weeks later, when all fighting in the area ceased, and Allies claimed victory on January 25, 1945. According to the U.S. Department of Defense, the Battle of the Bulge was the largest land operation involving American troops in the WWII with approximately 19,000 soldiers killed in action and 47,500 wounded. About 100,000 Germans were killed, wounded or captured. The path of Allied forces, and of the Third Army that liberated Bastogne has been named the Liberty Road.
Patton died in Germany on December 21, 1945, due to injuries in an automobile accident. Patton was buried at the American Cemetery and Memorial in the Hamm district of Luxembourg City (the region of the Battle of the Bulge), alongside the Third Army fallen soldiers, per his request to "be buried with [his] men". McAuliffe was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross by General Patton on January 14, 1945 and was promoted to the rank of Major General and given command of the103rd Infantry Division on January 15, 1945. McAuliffe died on August 11, 1975 at age 77, and is buried in Washington D.C. at Arlington National Cemetery.
To honor the memory of American soldiers wounded or killed during the Battle of the Bulge, the Mardasson Monument was erected near Bastogne in 1950, with monuments to General Patton and Brigadier General "Nuts" McAuliffe found around city of Bastogne.