Dignitaries gather in Belgium to mark 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge and the out-gunned US soldiers who fought on after declaring ‘Nuts!’ to the Nazis’ call for a surrender
- Nazi Germany launched the offensive against the Allies on December 16, 1944
- US troops eventually resisted but thousands of people including civilians died
- King of Belgium and president of Germany will be among the dignitaries today
Dignitaries and World War II veterans are gathering in Belgium today to mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge and remember the thousands who died in the last German offensive of the war.
Hitler’s forces launched the attack on December 16, 1944, taking Allied troops in Belgium and Luxembourg by surprise.
The Allies eventually recovered, mounting a heroic defence in the Siege of Bastogne after a US commander had responded ‘Nuts!’ to a German demand of surrender, but up to 40,000 people including thousands of civilians were killed in the fighting.
Today the king of Belgium, president of Germany and US defense secretary Mark Esper will lead the ceremonies to honour those who died.
Battle in the snow: American soldiers in a snowy ditch in Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge, which was Nazi Germany’s last offensive of World War II. The goal of Hitler’s forces was to seize the port of Antwerp to deny it to Allied resupply ships
Defence: An American M10 tank destroyer advances with its turret reversed in the Ardennes forest during the Battle of the Bulge, which began 75 years ago today. The M10s were produced in 1942 and 1943 after the US entry into the war
Winter battle: Soldiers move through the snow during the Battle of the Bulge which killed thousand of troops on both sides as well as Belgian civilians who died in artillery bombardments or in massacres carried out by the Waffen-SS in villages like Houffalize
Ahead of the anniversary, veterans and military enthusiasts re-enacted the close-quarters fighting in the wooded hills of the Ardennes.
On Monday, Belgium’s King Philippe and prime minister Sophie Wilmes will be joined at the Mardasson Memorial by Esper and German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
Poland’s President Andrzej Duda will also be there, along with envoys from Britain, Canada and France.
In the afternoon, the convoy will cross the border to the Luxembourg Military Cemetery and Memorial in Hamm, Patton’s last resting place.
There they will be received by Luxembourg’s Grand Duke Henri and Prime Minister Xavier Bettel.
The Belgian town of Bastogne, which is close to the Luxembourg border, is the focus of today’s commemoration.
Bastogne’s legendary rescue by US paratroopers has since been celebrated in the TV series Band of Brothers.
The siege helped seal General George Patton’s reputation as a US military giant and his granddaughter Helen Patton has spent been greeting veterans on battlefield visits in recent days.
March: Soldiers of the US 101st Division march out of Bastogne, Belgium on a snowy street shortly after the siege laid on the town by Hitler’s forces. Bastogne’s legendary rescue by US paratroopers has since been celebrated in the TV series Band of Brothers
Emergency: American medics tend to an injured comrade in a forest during the German offensive which began on December 16, 1944. Some 18,000 encircled men fought bravely against enormous odds in Bastogne, but risked being overrun by the Germans
Patrol: American troops stand by a tank in La Gleize, Belgium. The offensive began six months after D-Day, with German forces falling back after the Allied advance from France
The German counter-attack began on December 16, 1944, with Hitler’s forces falling back ever since June’s D-Day landings.
The Wehrmacht’s goal was to seize the port of Antwerp to deny it to Allied resupply ships, and five of their roads north converged on the small Belgian town.
By December 20, the battle-hardened but lightly armed US paratroopers were surrounded and a German Panzer general demanded their surrender.
‘Nuts!’ was the one-word reply from the US commander, Anthony McAuliffe, and the ensuing week-long siege lasted until Patton’s Third Army came to the rescue.
Mathieu Billa, historian director of the Bastogne War Museum, told AFP that the then 59-year-old Patton reached the summit of his glory when he relieved Bastogne.
The general died in a road accident during the 1945 occupation of a defeated Germany, but was buried in the Ardennes with comrades from his famous victory.
Shelter: US infantrymen take cover from enemy artillery fire in a snow-blanketed Luxembourg wood. After the German offensive began, Allied supreme commander Dwight Eisenhower rushed reinforcements to the Ardennes to hold off the attack
On standby: American soldiers manning a light anti aircraft gun in a snowy churchyard somewhere in Belgium. Between 15,000 and 20,000 German troops died, against between 10,000 and 19,000 Americans
Operation: American infantrymen of the 87th Division enter the town of St-Hubert
The 18,000 encircled men had fought bravely against enormous odds, but risked being overrun.
The overall Battle of the Bulge would rage across the Ardennes for six weeks – drawing in 600,000 American and 25,000 British troops against 400,000 Germans – until the Allies prevailed in January 1945.
Between 15,000 and 20,000 German troops died, against between 10,000 and 19,000 Americans.
And 3,000 Belgian civilians perished under artillery bombardments or in massacres carried out by the Waffen-SS in villages like Houffalize.
Seventy-five years on, the number of former combatants and witnesses who can attend ceremonies is declining, and Belgium’s War Heritage Institute has invited as many as they still can.
On Sunday, 10 serving members of the 101st read accounts of the fighting in the Jacques Wood, where their predecessors dug foxholes in the icy mud.
‘Our gratitude to the young Americans who fell on Ardennes soil is eternal. We owe them our freedom,’ Bastogne’s Mayor Benoit Lutgen said.
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