Bastogne 1944, 101st Airborne Division

Bastogne is an often talked about topic with regards to World War 2. This offensive started December 16th 1944 and ended January 25th 1945. The Ardennes Offensive is often referred to as ‘The Battle of Bulge’. This first part covers the 101st Airborne. Although other units are mentioned, the main focus of this article is the 101st.

What Happened there?

On December 16t 1944, the Germans launched a major counter offensive. It’s objectives were to split the British and American lines in half and to seize the Port of Antwerp. To be able to achieve this, the Germans needed to seize all major highways. One of the most important parts was Bastogne because it’s a central part with 7 roads centralizing in the small town.

The attack came as a complete surprise for the Americans. The 28th Division was hit hard and near collapse. The 10th Armored Division was ordered in as immediate reinforcements. General Eisenhower ordered the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions in as reinforcements as well. Both divisions were stationed in Reims, which is approximately 180km away. The weather was unfit for a parachute drop so the 82nd Airborne first moved out in trucks. The 101st Airborne left a day later by train. First elements of the 101st Airborne (501 PIR) arrived in Bastogne at December 19th and by 9.00 the entire division has arrived.

By December 21th, the Germans had surrounded Bastogne, which was defended by the 101st Airborne and the 10th Armored Division. The 10th Armored was severely weakened but it formed ‘fire brigade’ with survivors from the 9th Armored Division and eight unassigned tanks found in Bastogne. The 101st commandeered the all black 969th Field Artillery Battalion as an Airborne unit doesn’t have any firepower. The surrounded troops were resupplied (mainly ammunition) by air for the next four out of five days.

Despite several attacks by the Germans, the perimeter held. The German commander, Generalleutnant Heinrich Freiherr von L├╝ttwitz requested Bastogne’s surrender. When General Anthony McAuliffe, now acting commander of the 101st, was told, the frustrated McAuliffe responded, “Nuts!” After turning to other pressing issues, his staff reminded him that they should reply to the German demand. One officer recommended that McAuliffe’s initial reply should be “tough to beat”. Thus McAuliffe wrote on the paper delivered to the Germans: “NUTS!”

Left and right: replica letter form the Germans commander. Middle: McAuliffe’s response.

The Germans performed several counterattacks on particular locations in the line with their Panzers. Some units penetrated the line but all the German armor was defeated with virtually all armor destroyed. The next day, 26 December, the spearhead of General George S. Patton’s U.S. Third Army relief force, the 4th Armored Division, broke through the German lines and opened a corridor to Bastogne, ending the siege. The division got the nickname “The Battered Bastards of the Bastion of Bastogne”.

101st Airborne foxhole near Bastogne overlooking the village Foy

With the encirclement broken, the 101st expected to be relieved but were given orders to resume the offensive. The 506th attacked north and recaptured Recogne on 9 January 1945, the Bois des Corbeaux (Corbeaux Wood), to the right of Easy Company, on 10 January, and Foy on 13 January. The 327th (an infantry regiment of the 101st Airborne) attacked towards Bourcy, northeast of Bastogne, on 13 January and encountered stubborn resistance. The 101st Airborne Division faced the elite of the German military which included such units as 1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler, F├╝hrerbegleitbrigade, 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend, and the 9th SS Panzer Division Hohenstaufen. The 506th retook Noville on 15 January and Rachamps the next day. The 502nd reinforced the 327th, and the two regiments captured Bourcy on 17 January, pushing the Germans back to their point of advance on the day the division had arrived in Bastogne. The next day the 101st Airborne Division was relieved.

The 101st Airborne Museum

A must-see for everyone visiting Bastogne. The quality of this museum is enormous. It gives a very good impression on the hardships endured during the winter of 1944 especially the US troops, lacking window clothing.Find out more about the museum here

 

Bastogne Barracks

This was an unbelievable experience. You can only visit this with guided tours and only on specific times. The Bastogne Barracks is an army base still in use. The guide who gave us the tour is a paratrooper in the Belgian Army and does these guides on a voluntary bases .These barracks are the actual barracks used by the 101st Airborne during World War 2. They also have an enormous collection of tanks and vehicles from various time ares. Find out more about the museum here

Bastogne War Museum

In comparison to the previous museums, I find this one the least impressive. It’s all too new, too much glass and not enough scenery. There’s a lot of stuff there that has nothing to do with the Siege of Bastogne. Find out more about the museum here

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