Saturday, December 17, 2011

America's Story (part 4) - Christmas 1944, when we said NUTS to the enemy

Anthony McAuliffe

December 1944

World War Two was in overdrive. The major powers were slugging it out about the world - in Europe, Africa, and in the Pacific for 5 long years already- since 1939.

The United States had entered the fray when the US Congress had declared war on Japan (December 8, 1941) for attacking Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941).

Then on December 11, 1941, Germany and Italy had declared war on the United States. We were in the war for the long haul. 

Early December 1944, we had thought the war, at least in Europe, would be over in a few weeks and we'd be home for Christmas. 

But Adolf Hitler  had other plans and fought back with everything he got.

The European Theater - the Battle of the Bulge

The German offensive,
December 16-25, 1944
Starting in December 16, 1944, Hitler had launched a surprise counter-offensive, the largest one in the war, against the Western Front. Its purpose was to drive a wedge between British and American armies and capture the Port of Antwerp to get the Allies to negotiate a peace.

It would be known as the Battle of the Bulge (December 16, 1944 - January 25, 1945). And the legendary General George S. Patton was key to frustrate the Germans in this offensive.

In December, 1944, Major General Maxwell D. Taylor, commander of the 101th Airborne, was attending a conference in the United States when the German army attacked. Acting in command was Brigadier General McAuliffe - who had showed his mettle when he parachuted in Normandy on D-Day.

During the German counter-attack, the 101th Airborne was called to defend the critical road junction at Bastogne, Belgium at all costs. Here the Germans surrounded the 101th in what would be known as the Seige of Bastogne.

This scene from Band of Brothers (2001) in the forest near Foy, a village near Bastogne, gives a glimpse of what the Allies were up against:

On December 22, 1944, the German commander, General Heinrich Freiherr von L├╝ttwitz sent the following ultimatum for immediate surrender to General McAuliffe at Bastogne.

That morning, General McAuliffe delivered his written answer -

To the German Commander,


The American Commander.

The verbal exchange is shown in the clip below from Battleground (1949) :

(For a longer clip  - check out: The Siege of Bastogne.  And for the text of the German ultimatum and American response: "NUTS!" Revisited)

Help was on the way!

Enter General George S. Patton and the Third Army.

Though caught by surprise, General Eisenhower saw an opportunity in the German counter-attack. It was easier to defeat the Germans when they were on the offensive. General Patton made the claim that he could have two divisions to counterattack in Bastogne in 48 hours.

At the time, Patton's army was in the northeast of France. And the troops made good on that claim as the Third Army turned 90 degrees left and in 48 hours had linked with the defenders of Bastogne - a move that surprised General Eisenhower. (Reference: Battle of the Bulge)

And here is Patton's famous weather prayer that Christmas 1944, shown in this clip from Patton (1970), requested that December of 1944.  (For the rest of the story, Patton's Weather Prayer.)

That December 26, 1944, Patton's Third Army broke through the German lines and entered Bastogne, relieving the valiant defenders and ultimately pushing the Germans east across the Rhine.

Against overwhelming odds, the Americans held Bastonge and prevailed that Christmas of 1944 and after.

And General McAuliffe's - NUTS - at Bastonge and General Patton's gutsy leadership during the Battle of the Bulge in World War Two are part of America's Story

which is to be continued ...

Previous posts in this series:

America's Story (part 3) - Over There - 1917, 1941 (2011)

America's Story (part 2) - Savages! (2011)

America's Story (part 1) - The Speech that redefined us, November 19, 1863 (2011)


Previous posts on the World War 2:

A kiss immortalized in August 14, 1945 (2010)

Remembering D-Day - June 6, 1944 (2010)

Pearl Harbor Day, 1941 - World War Two Soldiers Remembered (2009)


Previous Christmas posts:

The King James Bible: 1611 - 2011 (2011)

Random Acts of Christmas (2010)

Remember Ebenezer Scrooge? (2010)

Christmas 1776 - the gift of freedom (2009)


Photo from Wikipedia Commons: Anthony McAuliffe, map of the Battle of the Bulge

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