Monday, June 04, 2007

Bastogne, Belgium

Sometimes referred to as "Nuts!" City, Bastogne is a small town of about 13,000 in the Ardenne Forest region of Belgium. As WWII was coming to an end, Bastogne played a pivotal role in the infamous Battle of the Bulge.
On June 6th, 1944, the Allies landed in Normandy France and, within 5 days, had put 16 divisions ashore commencing the liberation of Europe. With France and Belgium freed from their occupiers by the end of September, the Allies moved briefly into Germany where they were initially repulsed by fierce German resistance. The battle line quickly stabilized
at the Belgian border - the famous Siegfried line.
There next followed a deplorable period of indecisiveness and inaction with Patton wanting to go south, Montgomery urging a march on Berlin, Roosevelt temporarily distracted by the upcoming election in the US and Eisenhower tearing his hair out waiting for policy decisions. The Germans seized on this tactical hiatus and planned the recapture of Belgium, particularly the port of Antwerp. By this means they would sever Allied supply lines and maroon the entire English and American liberation armies in Belgium and Holland. Having amassed an army of 250,000 men, the Germans launched their furious counter-offensive on December 16th, 1944.
Bastogne was an early German objective in this onslaught and proved to be a formidable
obstacle. After more than a week of merciless bombardment, the Germans demanded that the city be surrendered to them. US forces were actually garrisoned in the town and the area was under the control of US General Anthony McAuliffe. Apparently, McAuliffe's response to the surrender demand was "Nuts!", giving rise to the town's irreverent nickname. For another month, the town remained under siege, successfully stalling the entire German advance while being effectively leveled. By January 28th 1945, with 7,500 Americans and 10,700 Germans dead, 46,000 Americans and 34,000 Germans wounded, a further 21,000 Americans and 32,000 Germans missing or imprisoned, the Battle of the Bulge was over and the liberation of Europe was assured. Bastogne was subsequently rebuilt and the main square is now named McAuliffe Square in honor of the American general. A Sherman tank sits on one side of the square as a symbol of the victory and, a couple of miles outside of town, stands the Mardasson Memorial, another tribute to the heroic sacrifices made by the fallen.

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