The Ardennes offensive, with more than a million men involved, became the greatest battle of the war in Western Europe. American troops, taken by surprise, found themselves fighting two panzer armies. Belgian civilians fled, justifiably afraid of German revenge. Panic spread even to Paris. While many American soldiers fled or surrendered, others held on heroically, creating breakwaters which slowed the German advance.
Refugees evacuating the Belgian town of Bastogne
Hitler's idea was to regain control of the Ardennes, splitting British from American forces, then advance to and reoccupy the strategic port of Antwerp and cut off the key Allied supply line. On December 16, taking advantage of cold and fog, German artillery initiated the so-called Battle of the Bulge attacking the American divisions deployed sparsely around Bastogne. A few days later, Brigadier General McAuliffe and the 101st Airborne Division along with elements of the 10th Armored Division (United States) and the 82nd Airborne Division, arrived to counter-attack but, after heavy fighting, became encircled within the town.
General Eisenhower stated in his order, Dec. 22, 1944: “By rushing out from his fixed defenses the enemy may give us the chance to turn his great gamble into his worst defeat. So I call upon every man, of all the Allies, to rise now to new heights of courage … with unshakable faith in the cause for which we fight, we will, with God’s help, go forward to our greatest victory.”
On Dec. 22, 1944, German commander Heinrich Freiherr von Luttwitz demanded surrender: “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 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.
On Dec. 22, 1944 the 2nd Bn, 504 Parachute Infantry Reg. is crossing the village of Rahier as to relieve the 1st Bn in Cheneux after the battle
“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 Dec. 22, 1944, U.S. Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe answered: “To the German Commander. NUTS! – The American Commander.”
U.S. Major General Anthony McAuliffe
The next day the skies cleared, allowing Allied air forces to retaliate and to drop much needed food, medicine, and weaponry to ground forces. On December 26, the Third U.S. Army under the command of General Patton arrived and broke the deadlock. The official end of the Battle of Bastogne occurred three weeks later, when all fighting in the area ceased.