Skip to comments.Christmas 1944: When U.S. Troops Said ‘Nuts!’ to the Enemy
Posted on 12/24/2010 11:13:13 AM PST by jazusamo
(CNSNews.com) - Christmas 1944 66 years ago -- was a difficult time for U.S. troops holding Bastogne, Belgium.
It came in the midst of the famous Battle of the Bulge, the last-ditch major German offensive in which the German High Command threw thousands of tanks and troops into what was perceived to be the weak point in the Allied lines, deep in the Ardennes region of northeastern France.
It turned out to be one of our finest moments.
Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, in an attempt to hold the critical road intersection at Bastogne, Belgium, had rushed in the famous "Screaming Eagles" of the 101st Airborne Division to reinforce previously ploaced armored units.
The tanks and soldiers of the German Army, however, completely surrounded the U.S. forces in Bastogne and laid siege to the town. It was one of the coldest winters on record.
On Dec. 22, three days before Christmas, the Germans sent a party of four -- a major, a captain and two enlisted men -- up the road to Bastogne carrying a large white flag, bringing a demand from the Nazi commander for the Allied troops to surrender. They were met on the road by U.S. troops, were blindfolded, and taken to one of the U.S. command posts.
The acting U.S. commander, Gen. Anthony McAuliffe, replied to the demand with just one word: Nuts.
Two days later, on Christmas Eve, McAuliffe issued this message to his men:
Headquarters 101st Airborne Division
Office of the Division Commander
24 December 1944
Whats merry about all this, you ask? Were fighting, its cold, we arent home. All true, but what has the proud Eagle Division accomplished with its worthy comrades of the 10th Armored Division, the 705th Tank Destroyer Battalion and all the rest? Just this: We have stopped cold everything that has been thrown at us from the North, East, South and West. We have identifications from four German Panzer Divisions, two German Infantry Divisions and one German Parachute Division. These units, spearheading the last desperate German lunge, were headed straight west for key points when the Eagle Division was hurriedly ordered to stem the advance. How effectively this was done will be written in history; not alone in our Divisions glorious history but in World history. The Germans actually did surround us. Their radios blared our doom. Their Commander demanded our surrender in the following impudent arrogance:
December 22nd 1944
To the U.S. A. Commander of the encircled town of Bastogne.
The fortune of war is changing. This time the U.S.A. forces in and near Bastogne have been encircled by strong German armored units. More German armored units have crossed the river Ourthe near Ortheuville, have taken Marche and reached St. Hubert by passing through Hombres Sibret-Tillet. Libramont is in German hands.
There is only one possibility to save the encircled U.S.A. troops from total annihilation: that is the honorable surrender of the encircled town. In order to think it over a term of two hours will be granted beginning with the presentation of this note.
If this proposal should be rejected one German Artillery Corps and six heavy A.A. Battalions are ready to annihilate the U.S.A. Troops in and near Bastogne. The order for firing will be given immediately after this two hours term.
All the serious civilian losses caused by this Artillery fire would not correspond with the well known American humanity.
(signed) The German Commander
The German Commander received the following reply:
22 December 1944
To the German Commander:
(signed) The American Commander
Allied Troops are counterattacking in force. We continue to hold Bastogne. By holding Bastogne we assure the success of the Allied Armies. We know that our Division Commander, General Taylor, will say: Well Done!
We are giving our country and our loved ones at home a worthy Christmas present and being privileged to take part in this gallant feat of arms are truly making for ourselves a Merry Christmas. A.C. McAuliffe
* * *
The United States Army in World War II, the official history published by the U.S. Army Center of Military History on the U.S. Army Heritage Web site, reports what happened at Bastogne on Dec. 22 this way:
Major Alvin Jones took the terms to General McAuliffe and Lieutenant Colonel Ned D. Moore, who was acting Chief of Staff. The paper called for the surrender of the Bastogne garrison and threatened its complete destruction otherwise.
It appealed to the Well known American humanity to save the people of Bastogne from further suffering. The Americans were to have two hours in which to consider. The two enemy officers would have to be released by 1400 but another hour would pass before the Germans would resume their attack.
Colonel Harper, commanding the 327th, went with Jones to Division Headquarters. The two German officers were left with Captain Adams. Members of the staff were grouped around General McAuliffe when Harper and Jones arrived. McAuliffe asked someone what the paper contained and was told that it requested a surrender.
He laughed and said, Aw, nuts! It really seemed funny to him at the time. He figured he was giving the Germans one hell of a beating and that all of his men knew it. The demand was all out of line with the existing situation.
But McAuliffe realized that some kind of reply had to be made and he sat down to think it over. Pencil in hand, he sat there pondering for a few minutes and then he remarked, Well, I don't know what to tell them. He asked the staff what they thought and Colonel Kinnard, his G-3 [third in command] replied, "That first remark of yours would be hard to beat."
General McAuliffe didn't understand immediately what Kinnard was referring to. Kinnard reminded him, You said 'Nuts! That drew applause all around. All members of the staff agreed with much enthusiasm and because of their approval McAuliffe decided to send that message back to the Germans.
Then he called Colonel Harper in and asked him how he would reply to the message. Harper thought for a minute but before he could compose anything General McAuliffe gave him the paper on which he had written his one-word reply and asked, Will you see that it's delivered? I will deliver it myself, answered Harper. It will be a lot of fun. McAuliffe told him not to go into the German lines.
Colonel Harper returned to the command post of Company F. The two Germans were standing in the wood blindfolded and under guard. Harper said, I have the American commander's reply.
The German captain asked, Is it written or verbal?
It is written, said Harper. And then he said to the German major, I will stick it in your hand.
The German captain translated the message. The major then asked, Is the reply negative or affirmative? If it is the latter I will negotiate further.
All of this time the Germans were acting in an upstage and patronizing manner. Colonel Harper was beginning to lose his temper. He said, The reply is decidedly not affirmative. Then he added, "If you continue this foolish attack your losses will be tremendous." The major nodded his head.
Harper put the two officers in the jeep and took them back to the main road where the German privates were waiting with the white flag.
He then removed the blindfold and said to them, speaking through the German captain, If you don't understand what Nuts means, in plain English it is the same as Go to hell. And I will tell you something else -- if you continue to attack we will kill every goddam German that tries to break into this city.
The German major and captain saluted very stiffly. The captain said, We will kill many Americans. This is war. It was then 1350.10
On your way, Bud, said Colonel Harper, and good luck to you.
The four Germans walked on down the road. Harper returned to the house, regretting that his tongue had slipped and that he had wished them good luck.
This was the delaying action fought by a handful of US divisions spread thinly along the "Western Wall", and the massed formations of krau - uh, German armor and infantry at the soft spot of their choosing - a place on the map where France, Belgium, and Luxembourg meet just to the east of Bastogne.
These guys suffered and witnessed horrible casualties, but they delayed the k-k-German advance long enough that Bastogne could be occupied by the 101st Airborne and elements of (I believe) the 10th Armored division.
In particular, the commanding General of the 110th Regiment / 28th Division (Pennsylvania National Guard), received orders from higher up that "No one comes back." And in fact the entire 28th Division was written off as "destroyed in action" before the Christmas day this story refers to.
Other US divisions fared little better under the concentrated attack in the first 3 days. Ordinary American soldiers, most of them conscripts and every one of whom had been minding their own business on the day the war started, held the (*ahem*) enemy up for three days.
To paraphrase Bob Dole, far too many of them died within the first 3 days, and not enough of them who came home were willing to talk about it.
This is what caused the crossroads at Bastogne to not be occupied by the enemy when the 101st arrived and began setting up position. Same for St. Vith to the north, which some say was equally important.
To Save Bastogne, by Robert Phillips
Alamo in the Ardennes, subtitled "The Untold Story of the American Soldiers Who Made the Defense of Bastogne Possible", By John C. McManus:
Well done, dad.
Merry Christmas Troops! General George Patton and the Third Army with the relief of Bastogne on the day after Christmas 1944!
“Merry Christmas to all our military’’. Yes indeed. And to my Uncle Fred,335th. Infantry Regiment; 84th. Infantry Division; 3rd. Battalion,I Company(Marche-Soy, Belgium, Dec.’44/Jan.’45) Thanks Unc!
I also read an article, again by Germans who fought in the Battle of the Bulge.
They said they were ultimately stopped by American Combat Engineers blowing bridges just as the got to them. No one ever hears about them but the enemy gave them credit.
I believe McManus mentions some particulars about that in “Alamo in the Ardennes”.
Thanks for your post!
You’re welcome, and thanks for your original post. Everyone involved in that moment in our history deserves credit. They were literally doing God’s work.
I was privileged to tour the military compound in Bastogne where General McAuliffe penned those famous words. In his office, Pvt. Ed Mauser, a “Toccoa Man,” an original member of Easy Company (”Band of Brothers”) received a medal from the citizens of Bastogne.
Afterward, the Mayor’s representative told me that the ultimatum by the German general was written on a farm owned by the Kessler family.
No relation of which I am aware...
There was a moment in the Battle of the Bulge that would be of interest to fans of Murphy. A decision was made to widen out the flanks of one ten mile (or so) section of the line by moving the unit on the far left 100 yards to its left, and moving the unit on the other end a similalr distance to the right. When the coordinates were sent out, they got reversed, resulting in both units pulling out of the line and passing each other going in opposite directions down a road behind the lines . Fortunately, the Germans didn’t notice.
My cousin was there, with Patton, he’s taps was about 60 days ago!!!
I read something a few years ago which seems so unlikely that I am not sure if it is true.
Anyway it said we suffered more casualties in the “Battle of the Bulge” than we did in the entire Pacific Theater from Pearl Harbor to VJ Day.
Does anyone know if that is true?
Remember the scene from “Band of Brothers”
“How do I feel about being rescued by Patton? I’d feel real peachy about it except for one thing. We didn’t didn’t need to be f——— rescued by Patton, you got that?”
German spearheads had already bypassed Bastogne, driving for the Meuse [the initial objective].
Bastogne should never have been bypassed. It was a road hub for something like five roads. And the Germans were pretty much roadbound because they needed to attack in bad weather. Whoever held Bastogne controlled the central Ardennes.
LOL, I remember those comments, but they sure were happy when the planes flew!!!
Blowing the fuel dumps was as critical. Kampfgruppe Peiper literally ran out of gas. and that unit was the breakthrough spearhead of the 1st SS.
At least two regiments of the 106th [?] were surrounded on the Schnee Eiffel and surrendedered. And that’s just one division.
The same 28th Division had just been mauled at the Heurtgen and was sent to the Ardennes to refit and ‘rest’ then found itself again in a savage fight...this time to buy time for reinforcements (the 101st) to come up. They traded time for their lives.
Twice, the dead, and the survivors of the ‘Bloody Bucket’ deserved much better senior leadership (Corps and above) than they received.
Merry Christmas, Keystone Division bump...