Bastogne, Belgium

Bastogne may have a history going back 1,400 years and is set in the heart of the Ardennes but the main reason for visiting it is because of the siege that took place there in 1944 - that is the reason why I visited in January 2017.

The siege produced one of the best know responses to a surrender request in history.  The Battle of the Bulge started on 16 December 1944 and Bastogne was surrounded by 20 December.  It was very hastily reinforced as the Americans realised the importance of the town for communications through the Ardennes, something the attackers realised too - it was not possible to leave the town in American hands as supplies needed to be brought up quickly.

On the 22 December 1944 General von Lüttwitz submitted the following demand for surrender to his American counterpart commanding the American forces in Bastogne, Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe:

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 Our near Ortheuville, have taken Marche and reached St. Hubert by passing through Hompre-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 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 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.

On receiving this message McAuliffe asked how he should respond.  Someone said, why not say what you always say - nuts.  McAuliffe complied :

To the German Commander.

NUTS!

The American Commander

The irony is that there was a battle for Bastogne but the town survived almost intact.  That cannot be said for La Roche en Ardenne, St Vith and Houffalize which were pounded into destruction by the Allied air forces in order to disrupt German communications.

 

To see:

As might be expected, the town literally 'lives' the siege every day.  There are monuments throughout the town including reminders of Generals McAuliffe and Patton and several museums.

The Bastogne War Museum is very large and is a very modern museum in the process of being updated in January 2017.  Nearby is the the Mardasson Memorial, was erected near Bastogne in 1950 to honor the memory of American soldiers wounded or killed during the Battle of the Bulge.

The 101st Airborne Museum  includes dioramas and more about the experiences of soldiers and civilians during the siege of the city during World War II.
The Bastogne Barracks museum is free and operated by the Belgian Army. It is located in the barracks used as the headquarters of the U.S. 101st Airborne during the Siege of Bastogne. It features an extensive collection of restored tanks and military vehicles as well as a guided tour of the underground barracks and artifacts from U.S., German and British forces. The base ("caserne") is about 5 blocks from the Place de St. Pierre. The museum includes the basement office where General McAuliffe issued the famous "Nuts!" response to the German demand for surrender. Other rooms display artillery, small arms, radio and medical equipment. Belgian Army specialists guide visitors through the base.

Recogne German war cemetery, 6 km to the North. Contains the graves of 6,807 German soldiers.(see film)

Just for completeness, a couple of things not related to WW2 :

The Porte de Trèves, part of the defensive walls erected in the 14th century by John the Blind
The Romanesque tower of St Pierre church and its baptismal fonts date from the Middle Ages.

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