101st Airborne – Bastogne – The Shell that Didn’t Explode

Troops of the 101st Airborne Division watch C-47s drop supplies to them during the siege.
Troops of the 101st Airborne Division watch C-47s drop supplies to them during the siege.

The Ardennes Offensive was a last ditch attempt by the German army to halt the Allied advance across western Europe. The plan called for a surprise attack and a swiftly moving advance encompassing mechanized forces that would brush aside enemy resistance and which had, as its end goal, the harbor city of Antwerp in Belgium.

The town of Bastogne, straddling as it did the point of convergence of all the main roads upon which the advance of the German armor depended on, was to become the scene of one of the most heroically endured sieges of modern times.

During the Battle of Bastogne, 40 civilians were removed from Foy and took shelter in the house of Jules Koeune. That house and the people seeking refuge in it were miraculously unharmed when a German artillery shell entered through a tiny basement window and into a pile of produce without exploding.

One of those civilians, Maguy Marenne, tells the story of that misty morning:

“. . . the fighting was going on right outside the house . . . While looking through one of the slit windows facing the main street, I saw an American soldier fall to the ground. One of the men sheltering with us in the cellar ran out into the open to see if he could help the wounded paratrooper. In the time it took for him to reach the stricken soldier, the Germans had already removed the man’s boots. Soon afterward the enemy began shooting into the basement windows from the Gaspard house across the street . . . a German AP tank shell fired from the direction of Noville penetrated the cellar, and passed through two rooms before coming to rest in a pile of fruit!”

The video below tells more of the story where it happened and shows evidence that survives to this day.

Jinny McCormick

Jinny McCormick is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE