NUTS! December 22, 1944
December 16th, 1944 was a cold, dreary day in Bastogne. The Germans began planning the offensive as a last ditch stand in September, 1944. They were already losing the war, which was apparent to everyone perhaps except Hitler. Field Marshall Alfred Jodel was given the task of coming up with a counter-attack in the Aachan - Southern Luxemburg/France area as the Allies had only a single tank division and four infantry divisions in that area. The ultimate goal was Antwerp Belgium and cutting the Allies in half.
This set the stage for the largest land battle of WWII in which the United states participated. In all, 19,000 Americans were killed in action, 200 British troops and the Germans lost over 100,000 soldiers killed, wounded or captured.
The Ardennes Offensive on the web is a well written article which you need to read it in full. On December 22, 1944 60 years ago today, the German commander, General der Panzertruppe von Luttwitz Commander of XLVII Panzerhops sent a note to General McAuliffe demanding surrender of Bastogne. Col. H.W.O. Kinnard (101st Airborne) picks up the story from there.
My recollection of the German surrender ultimatum, and the "Nuts" reply by McAuliffe goes like this. On the 22nd of December, when the division was and had been totally surrounded by the Germans, the intelligence officer and I decided that we had to take this to General McAuliffe. We first took it to the chief of staff, and the three of us, and Colonel Harper then went in, woke up General McAuliffe who was taking a bit of a nap, and told him that we had a surrender ultimatum. And that Tony McAuliffe had first thought that the Germans were trying to surrender to us. But, we told him no, not so. That they want us to surrender to them, and they go on to say all the bad things that they're going to do if we don't do this. And he said, Tony McAuliffe then said, "I surrender, ah nuts!" And then he sort of pondered about whether he should answer or should it be in writing, and so forth. And everybody agreed that there should be a written answer. And Tony McAuliffe then said, "Well, I don't know what to tell them." And I spoke up and said, "Well, what you first said would be hard to beat." And Tony said, "What do you mean?" And I said, "You said nuts!" And all of us in the room sort of thought that was a good answer. So Tony sat down and wrote out with a pencil, "To the German Commander, Nuts! A.C. McAuliffe, Commanding." Had his secretary type it out. Gave the message to Colonel Harper, who took it back to his headquarters and gave it to the German Armistice party. The Germans were allowed to take off their blindfold and read the message, and they were puzzled by it. And they were trying to translate nuts. And they said, "Nuets, Nuets, Nuts... Vas ist das?" They didn't get it at all. And Colonel Harper said, "If you don't understand it, it means go to hell!"
In all, US forces suffered over 76,000 casualties during the Bulge. With 19,000 killed, that means that in a single month of fighting, we had some 57,000 wounded to contend with. Ronald N. McArthur describes being wounded in battle during the battle:
At the beginning of the Battle of the Bulge, our outfit was a good many miles southeast of the breakthrough point. I was the first gunner in our section of water-cooled 30 caliber machine guns. We were a Heavy Weapons Company of the 45th Division, part of General Patch's 7th Army. We were ordered out between Christmas and New Year's to help close the gap in the line. We traveled nearly a day and a night in a northwesterly direction to our assigned area. We were attached to a rifle company to replace their light 30 caliber machine guns that had been knocked out in the attack.
We set our guns up on the high ground on each side of a trail in the woods. There were several tanks with us in the attack. It was all quiet nearly all afternoon, only a few small arms fired at us during the day. Then, all of a sudden at about four o' clock, we were hit with a terrific artillery barrage. The shells were coming in hitting the trees and exploding. We were exposed to vicious tree burst shrapnel coming down on us. After some time, I told my assistant gunner to man the gun as I was going out to cut some large branch logs that had been knocked down from the shelling. This was afternoon, January 11, 1945. The logs were to be placed over our foxhole to protect from further shell bursts. I left the gun and went about 100 yards toward the lead tank that had been knocked out during the battle. I got about four logs cut when WHAM, I was shot through the face by a German sniper. He had been left behind as we drove Germans off the hill. He was out in front of the knocked out tank.
I fell flat on my face in about 15" of snow. My only thought was, "When will he let me have it again?" The bullet must have been a soft-nosed one as X-rays later revealed that I had pieces of shrapnel in my cheek and the roof of my mouth. The bullet had gone through my left cheek just below the jaw bone and exited out my right cheek, taking nearly all of upper teeth and gums as well as most of the lowers. I remember feeling numbness in my mouth. I thought my tongue was gone. I put my hand in the opening and was relieved to find it intact. The opening of the right cheek was up to under my eye and back nearly to my right ear.
Our medic was nearby. He came and patched the wounds with sulphadiazine powder. In short order, our jeep was there (each section of machine guns had its own jeep). They took me and another GI out to be evacuated to an aid station and several hospitals on my way finally to England and later home, the good old USA.
Women too were at the Bulge, from Viola Milloy:
The Fifty-Sixth General - Viola Molloy, U.S. Army - In July, the Fifty-sixth General shipped over from England to France to set up a tent hospital. One of the hard things about working in a tent hospital was that cots were so low we had to kneel by each one to keep from bending over all the time. Liege, Belgium was our next destination, and we were glad it was a building instead of tents.
During the Battle of the Bulge, in December we were so close to the fighting the patients had to be evacuated. They were just about to evacuate us nurses when the Germans retreated, and we stayed. The casualties came in so fast, nurses had to start blood transfusions, which only doctors had done before. Whatever needed to be done was done by everyone. There was no limit. I'll never forget those young patients, hurt so badly. I felt worse when I saw they were wearing a wedding ring.
One of the treasures left to me by my dad is a complete set of Bill Mauldins Cartoons. Mauldin was only 21 when he shipped out to North Africa. Here is a link to both pictures of our troops during the Battle of the Bulge and within you will find also a link to a sampling of Mauldins cartoons. You'll never regret looking at each one of them.
The courage of the American Soldier under the most difficult of times is admirable. Yet, these hero's are a quiet lot. My late dad was with the 102nd Infantry Division on the edge of the battle, I believe he got his Bronze Star there. Yet, he was modest only when talking about his efforts and effusive about the efforts of others. Growing up in the Army, I remember meeting many veterans of the Bulge, each was the same...modest about self, effusive about his buddies.
These hero's are dying off today, the youngest in the battle are pushing 80. We owe them all a debt of gratitude. They stopped the worst the Germans could throw and still went on to destroy the Third Reich and help save the world. As Tom Brokaw said, they truly are The Greatest Generation.
Lt. Lewis Plush, Fighter Pilot in the First World War possibly said it best: ""Men fought to kill, to maim, to destroy. Some return home, others remain behind forever on the fields of their greatest sacrifice. There was a war, a great war, and now it is over."
That we are free today is a tribute to these brave and wonderful soldiers. The next time you see an old veteran, thank him or her.