Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Siege of Bastogne ranks high on any list of American military triumphs. In late 1944 Nazi Germany was in retreat, pursued from the east by Stalin's Red Army and from the west by a coalition of American, British and minor allies. Out of desperation, Hitler launched what would prove to be the final German offensive of the war, in hope of securing a favorable settlement with the Western Allies before the Russians reached Berlin.

The German name for the operation, Unternehmen Wacht am Rhein, meant "Operation Watch on the Rhine." The Germans decided to attack along a lightly defended area of the Allied line in the Ardennes Forest in Belgium. Launched on December 16th, Germans armored columns plunged westwards in hope of recapturing the port city of Antwerp. 

The 101st Airborne Division, along with various other units, was stationed in a the small village of Bastogne. One look at the map tells everything one needs to know—all roads led to Bastogne. Heinrich Freiherr von L├╝ttwitz, commanding the 26th Volksgrenadier, 2nd Panzer, and Panzer-Lehr divisions was tasked with capturing the town before pushing onward. The attack caught the Americans off guard and the Germans succeeding in surrounding the village on the 20th.

The Americans held on tenaciously. Finally, on the 22nd the Germans sent forward a flag of truce to offer the Americans and ultimatum. Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe, acting officer since Major General Maxwell D. Taylor was at a conference in America, allegedly crumpled the German paper while saying "Ah, nuts!" The offhand remark became the basis for McAuliffe's reply: "To the German Commander, NUTS! The American Commander." 

Air-dropped supplies kept the Americans supplied until General George Patton's 3rd Army punched through the line. The 101st was ordered to go on the offensive, pushing the Germans back to their starting point by January 17, 1945. Patton received many of the headlines and much of the glory, but the 101st boys see it differently. They thought they were fine and that Patton was simply a late comer.