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Christmas 1944: Battle of the Bulge

In 1944, seventy 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.  Patton prayed the prayer, the scene from the movie Patton depicting this may be viewed below.

 

The skies cleared after Patton prayed the weather prayer, and a personal prayer he said on December 23, 1944, and Allied air power was unleashed on the attacking Germans.

During the Battle of the Bulge, the 101rst Airborne Division made a heroic stand at Bastogne from December 20-27 which helped turn the tide of the battle.  On December 25, a packed midnight mass was held in Bastogne, with Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe, who commanded the 101rst 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.

 

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Donald R. McClarey

Cradle Catholic. Active in the pro-life movement since 1973. Father of three and happily married for 35 years. Small town lawyer and amateur historian. Former president of the board of directors of the local crisis pregnancy center for a decade.

5 Comments

  1. Our son is an infantry company commander in the 101. He’s in the states this Christmas. The September 2014 deployment was reduced to only one company per battalion – not his. The Warden and I will travel to visit him after 1 January.

    .
    That chaplian/sermon scene from the outstanding movie “Battle Ground” is one of the best, short explanations for why we fight.
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    Another fine 101 war movie is “Hamburger Hill.” A close friend fought with the 502 (not at HB Hill) in VN.
    .

    “Greet them ever with grateful hearts.” Chapter heading from The Doughboys by Laurence Stallings.

  2. One of the many interesting things about McAuliffe was that he abhorred profanity and never engaged in it. “Nuts” was about the strongest thing he could have exclaimed in that situation.

  3. And I’ve always gotten a kick out of the initial German bafflement at McAuliffe’s reply:

    “Was ist ‘Nuts’?”

  4. To Dale Price: The funniest moment (of a very grim few days) also had to have been the subsequent discomfort of the German staff officer who had to explain to Panzer Commander Heinrich Freiherr von Lüttwitz what “Nuts!” meant to the highly decorated, non-nonsense veteran of WWI & WWII. Of course Von Luttwitz was highly furious when he found out.

    Another typically sardonically funny American response was Army Armored Commander Col. William L. Roberts, unfazed by the disastrous rout of 8th Corps the previous day, who immediately rounded up several hundred of the surviving personnel and formed—what would you expect him to call it—Team SNAFU as a blocking force. “Situation Normal,..”

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