Christmas “Nuts!” at Bastogne

Sixty-eight years ago at Christmas the American and German armies were fighting it out in the Battle of the Bulge, the last German offensive of the War.

Patton’s Third Army fought its way through to relieve the Americans desperately fighting to defeat the attacking German forces.  The weather was atrocious and Allied air power was useless.  Patton had a prayer written for good weather. The skies cleared after Patton prayed the weather prayer, and Allied air power was unleashed on the attacking Germans.

During the Battle of the Bulge, the 101st Airborne Division made a heroic stand at Bastogne from December 20-27 which helped turn the tide of the battle. Massively outnumbered, battle weary from already having done more than their share of fighting in Normandy and Operation Market Garden and short on food and ammo, they stopped the advancing Germans cold in their tracks.

On December 25, a packed midnight mass was held in Bastogne, with Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe, who commanded the 101st troops at Bastogne, in attendance.  Afterwards the General listened to German POWS singing Silent Night, and wished them a Merry Christmas.

General McAuliffe issued a memorable Christmas message to his troops:

Headquarters 101st Airborne Division Office of the Division Commander

24 December 1944

What’s Merry about all this, you ask? We’re fighting – it’s cold – we aren’t home. All true but what has the proud Eagle Division accomplished with its worthy comrades of the 10th Armored Division, the 705th Tank Destroyer Battalion and all the rest? just this: We have stopped cold everything that has been thrown at us from the North, East, South and West. We have identifications from four German Panzer Divisions, two German Infantry Divisions and one German Parachute Division. These units, spearheading the last desperate German lunge, were headed straight west for key points when the Eagle Division was hurriedly ordered to stem the advance. How effectively this was done will be written in history; not alone in our Division’s glorious history but in World history. The Germans actually did surround us. their radios blared our doom. Their Commander demanded our surrender in the following impudent arrogance.

December 22nd 1944 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 Ourthe near Ortheuville, have taken Marche and reached St. Hubert by passing through Hombres 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 honorable 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

The German Commander received the following reply:

22 December 1944 To the German Commander:

NUTS!

The American Commander

Allied Troops are counterattacking in force. We continue to hold Bastogne. By holding Bastogne we assure the success of the Allied Armies. We know that our Division Commander, General Taylor, will say: Well Done!

We are giving our country and our loved ones at home a worthy Christmas present and being privileged to take part in this gallant feat of arms are truly making for ourselves a Merry Christmas.

A. C. McAuliffe

Today we have troops serving in harm’s way.  From the bottom of a grateful heart I wish them and their families the Merriest of Christmases and the Happiest of New Years.

11 Responses to Christmas “Nuts!” at Bastogne

  • SCREAMING EAGLES, Devils in Baggy Pants, 101st, MERRY CHRISTMAS, St. Joan of Arc, pray for us.

  • Whenever I hear the song “White Christmas”, I think of those brave, hungry, tired men and of our men and women serving overseas even this Christmas.

    Similarly, in WWI a scratch US Infantry battalion became famous as the “Lost Battalion.”

    On 2 October 1918, various companies of the 77th Inf. Div. (mostly 308th Inf., two 308th and one 306th machine gun Batt.) attacked in the Argonne Forest with French and US units on the flanks. The Lost Battalion got farther ahead and fought surrounded for six days in the pocket it had cut in the German lines (which te Germans needed to eliminate).

    Years ago, I read Laurence Stallings’, The Doughboys, which detailed the war from the AEF viewpoint, and this action. His account has a similar surrender demand, in which the German commander included the sentence “We envy you.”

    The Lost Battalion held on until relieved.

    “Greet them ever with grateful hearts.” is taken from a chapter heading in The Doughboys.

  • There was a rather good tv movie made about the Lost Battalion T. Shaw:

  • Right, Donald. Very good film.

  • And let’s not forget the souls lost in the Malmedy Massacre, December 17, 1944, which was portrayed in the movie THE BATTLE OF THE BULGE.

  • My brother Bill earned a battlefield commission and other awards including a Purple Heart in Patton’s Third Army, He was sent to a hospital in Paris to recover from his wounds. After a military career that included combat in Korea, as well, he retired as a Lt. Col

  • I bet he had some stories to tell Robert!

  • The 101st is no longer a paratroop division. They are now helo assault. I remember watching interviews with some of the guys from Easy Co. They were saying they were down to one round of ammo per man. And they held off the German offensive, trees exploding from relentless artillery fire notwithstanding. Amazing!

  • My brother took Airborne training twice in the seventies. The first time out he was washed out because he broke his arm. The instructors thought he was crazy to come back a second time, although they admitted that being crazy was not necessarily a disqualifier for Airborne! He got his jump wings on the second go round. As for myself, a plane would have to be on fire before I would jump out of it!

  • As Gunny Highway (Clint Eastwood) said, “Jumping out of a perfectly good aircraft is not a natural act.” The closest I ever came to jumping out of a plane was being lowered down to the fantail of my second ship at sea from a helicopter. I wasn’t all that thrilled. I about had to be pushed out of the helo.

  • My late uncle, Pfc W. Lee Crowley of Baker Company of the 506th PIR was there. We have several letters he wrote to my grandmother during the siege. Interesting reading to say the least! I can imagine how he must have reacted to the cold and snow, after growing up in Mobile, Alabama. Uncle Lee passed away in 1982.

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