Nuts! Gen. McAuliffe and the Battle of the Bulge

In Hitler’s final push for victory, the Battle of the Bulge involved more than 610,000 American troops from December 1944 to January 1945, with more than 69,000 American casualties and 19,000 dead.

101st Commander, General Anthony McAuliffe played a pivotal role in the battle.The General joined the US Army graduating from West Point in 1918, just after the World War One Armistice. For the following 20 years, he worked his way up the army career ladder and took part in various peace time operations.

The General was stationed with the 101st and thousands of Allied forces to hold the northern and southern lines either side of the Ardennes Forest across France and Belgium, including the city of Bastogne,which was recognized as a central road hub by both sides.

The Germans tried to divide the two Allied strongholds in the north and south by going directly through the Forest in order to go on and invade Antwerp port in Belgium. It was the job of the 101st Division to hold Bastogne against the German onslaught.

The cold and severe December weather at the time meant that aircraft weren’t any help in the fight; instead it was left to the ground troops. This battle saw some of the largest losses in World War Two, particularly for the Americans.The locals of Bastogne provided troops with extra clothing and bedding so they could survive the winter, the McCooK Gazette reports.

On 22nd December, the Germans offered the Allies the opportunity to surrender, given that they were surrounded. But when it was taken to General McAuliffe, there was only one word that came to his mind, “nuts”! The message was passed onto the Germans, and helping them translate it, the messenger told them it meant “go to hell”!

The battle ensued and Allied troops held their ground for more than four days, until when the 4th Armored Division arrived, and helped to turn the battle in favour of the Allies.

General McAuliffe’s defiance of the Germans, and management and direction of his troops earned him the Distinguished Service Cross awarded by General Patton, and later the Distinguished Service Medal. The Division itself was honored with the first Division Army Distinguished Unit Citation.

After his success during World War Two, General McAuliffe stayed in the US Army and held senior ranking positions including Commander in Chief of the US Army in Europe.

Retiring in 1956, he continued to support the military as chairman of the Civil Defense Commission. He died in 1975 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE