When describing the 101st Airborne Division and the remnants of the 60th and 28th Divisions in Bastogne, many historians will tell you that the Americans were surrounded.
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DECEMBER 22, 1944: NUTS!
As a practical matter, the fight was over.
When describing the 101st Airborne Division and the remnants of the 60th and 28th Divisions in Bastogne, many historians will tell you that the Americans were surrounded.
That is accurate but it is insufficiently descriptive. "Surrounded" does not really come close to representing the odds stacked up against our Paratroopers by mid-day on Friday.
A group of 18,000 Paratroopers, including approximately 2,000 untrained replacement troops who had never seen combat, were facing 45,000 fighters from the Fifth Panzer Army’s XLVII Panzer Corps with the newest Tiger tanks.
The Paratroopers were led by an acting commander.
They were low on ammunition, and their medical detachment was destroyed earlier that morning.
The Tiger tanks severed the last open road south out of Bastogne, completing a full encirclement of our boys.
Shakespeare told us in “As You Like It" that misery makes some men beggars and other men kings.
In this misery, in this incredible adversity, in a muddy, snow-dusted godforsaken Belgian town, the Paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division emerged as kings.
Around 11:30 AM: Two German officers with two German enlisted troops waving a white flag approached the 101st's Staff Sergeant Carl Dickinson, Technical Sergeant Oswald Butler, and medic Private First Class Ernest Premetz.
One of the Germans, speaking English, told the Americans that he had a message for the commanding officer.
Carl Dickinson [pictured here] and Oswald Butler blindfolded the two officers and escorted them to their command post. Premetz remained with the two enlisted.
The German officers were escorted to the command post of F Company, 327th Glider Infantry Regiment [a subordinate unit of the 101st Airborne].
The command post was basically a large foxhole located in a wooded area about a quarter-mile away
At the command post, the German officers met the F Company Commander, Captain James Adams. The Germans handed Captain Adams this letter.
The letter, signed by this man, Heinrich Freiherr von Lüttwitz, commander of the XLVII Panzer Corps, offered the 101st a dignified exit from an impossible situation. The Americans had two hours to surrender, or the German tanks would close in and kill everyone.
Leaving the blindfolded German officers with his troops, Captain Adams set off to find General McAuliffe, the acting 101st Airborne Division commander.
It took 50 minutes for the note to reach McAuliffe.
By that time, the general had 70 minutes to surrender.
It took him about 9 seconds to make a decision. “Nuts!” he said. (In 1940’s America “Nuts” was an expression of anger, akin to “Go to hell!").
McAuliffe wrote that an 8-word answer on the bottom of the German note and directed that it be delivered back to the German officers.
He wrote 8 words: To the German Commander. Nuts!
-The American Commander
This man, Colonel Joseph Harper, the commander of the 327th Glider Regiment, carried the note back to the German officers and removed their blindfolds.
The German officers did not understand McAuliffe's note. They thought it may have been the start of some kind of surrender negotiation
Colonel Harper explained that they were mistaken; “Nuts!” meant that the Americans were absolutely not going to surrender.
The Germans were stunned. “We will kill many Americans. We will close in on you."
“Be on your way,” Harper politely told them to depart.
Everything described above is accurate. This account is confirmed by four first-hand reports (to include one written by one of the German officers) in original source documents on file at the Army Heritage Center in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
This exchange would grow to become one of the most legendary stories in American military history.
Due to this story, Tony McAuliffe has become a global symbol of the grit and pride of the 101st Airborne Division.
Pictured here is the general's bust in Place McAuliffe, a square near the center of Bastogne named in Tony’s honor.
More from XVIII Airborne Corps🐉
DECEMBER 20, 1944
BATTLE OF THE BULGE, DAY 5
At this point, the reserve forces (the 82nd and the 101st and the headquarters of the XVIII Airborne) are in sector and in their fighting positions. For the first time ever, the XVIII Airborne Corps is operating in combat.
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On this day 76 years ago, the 82nd Airborne establishes a defense against the 6th SS Panzer Army in the small Belgian town of Werbemont. This was the northern shoulder of the German bulge.
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It was freezing cold in Werbemont, as temperatures dropped to around 10 degrees Fahrenheit. Light snow covered most of the ground.
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Meanwhile, the 82nd's sister Airborne division, the 101st, is now assigned to the VIII Corps. The Screaming Eagles are deployed to a crossroads town named Bastogne, trying to push back the southern shoulder of the German Bulge against the 5th Panzer Army.
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So, the XVIII Airborne Corps starts the day with the 82nd Airborne as its only unit. But, General Ridgway was looking for units to pick up (remember, back then a corps was a loosely organized HQ that picked up units as needed).
One of the most moving and relevant stories of the Battle of the Bulge, or any American Soldier in any war, is that of Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds, a Knoxville, Tennessee native, who served with the 106th Infantry.
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Roddie was captured early on in the Battle of the Bulge, on December 19th, when Panzer forces plowed through his unit.
He, along with almost his entire regiment, was forced to surrender.
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The men were transported to the Stalag IX-A POW camp in Ziegenhain, Germany.
Roddie was the senior enlisted American Soldier at the site. As such, he was the conduit between all American Soldiers and their German captors.
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In late January, the camp’s commandant, Major Siegmann [pictured here], ordered Roddie, a Christian, to identify all Jewish Soldiers and order them to stand in formation by themselves the next day.
[Jewish Soldiers were a minority within American units]
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Throughout WWII, captured Jewish Soldiers were often tortured and then killed by their German captors.
In fact, Jewish Soldiers had been told to bury their dog tags before capture. The dog tag identified Jews with the letter “H” for Hebrew.
Back to the Battle of the Bulge.
Thursday, December 28, 1944, ~ 2:30 PM.
Delayed by fog and snowbanks, Eisenhower's command train pulls into a rail siding in the Belgian town of Hasselt three hours behind schedule.
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Ike is there to meet with Monty.
Ike needs to get the bellicose Brit on board with this plan [we're calling it the "middle option" plan] we showed you yesterday.
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Monty is good with the plan, but he believes it's too early to counterattack.
Monty makes his case: intel suggests another (final) impending German attack, so we should build up our defenses & wait rather than attack.
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Monty recommends a strategy of patience. He wants more divisions, he wants to set conditions before a strike. Wait for the moment to present itself, then pour it on.
[if you get the point of this GIF, we appreciate you]
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Ike counters: If we remain stagnant, we may lose our gains. If we lose momentum, we allow the Panzers to slink back over the West Wall and this war might go on for years.
By Jan 13, 1945, the Allies entered the final (and most historically overlooked) phase of the Battle of the Bulge
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By midday 75 years ago, all final Allied offensive actions were in motion.
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So, to set the table, let's remember who is who here.
CAST OF CHARACTERS
In the South, Patton's 3rd Army is still slowly making its way northeast to Houffalize (remember, they've been making progress that way since Jan 3rd).
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In the North, you've got
Robert Hasbrouck (commander of 7th Armored Division)
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In the North, you've also got Leland Hobbs who commanded the 30th Infantry Division. Hobbs and Hasbrouck reported to...
BATTLE OF THE BULGE DAY 3: DECEMBER 18, 1944
Battling Bastards of Bastogne
~2:15 AM, Major General Matthew Ridgway, unaware of the fighting in Ardennes, and sleeping in his HQ, is awakened by a call from Lieutenant General Courtney Hodges, commander of First Army.
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Hodges, calling from the town of Spa in Belgium, tells Ridgway that the Germans are smashing through the Ardennes & the XVIII Airborne Corps had been released from theater reserve and assigned to First Army to help push back the offensive.
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Until just recently, with the creation of the 18th Airborne Corps, there was no traditional "reserve" in the European Theater. Now, the 18th was the reserve.
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Ridgway sends the 101st and 82nd into the teeth of the ferocious German attack.
Here’s Jim Gavin, 82nd commander, who would push east to Werbomont, Belgium.
The 101st would drive into the wood chipper outside of Bastogne, Belgium.
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The 101st, in particular, was in no shape to go back into the fight.
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Me, for @NatGeo + thread!
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