AP WAS THERE: Battle of the Bulge
In 2020, the world marked the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II. Sterling Publishing, in cooperation with The Associated Press, released an illustrated book called “Victory: World War II In Real Time,” filled with original AP dispatches from the time to mark the occasion and scores of original news photos.
One conflict that stood out was the six-week Battle of the Bulge, which took place in Europe and began 76 years ago this month, in December 1944. It was waged in harsh, wintry conditions — about 8 inches of snow on the ground and an average temperature of 20 degrees Fahrenheit (about minus 7 C.) U.S. forces and their allies spent that Christmas fighting the Nazis during a battle that would last until mid-January.
The following is an excerpt from “Victory”:
By December 1944, it seemed obvious that the German armies were defeated. And yet, on Dec. 16, a quarter million troops of the “defeated” Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS stormed through the Ardennes in the northern sector of the Allied front and surrounded American positions, beginning the six-week Battle of the Bulge. On Dec. 22, Brig. Gen. Anthony McAuliffe, acting commander of the beleaguered 101st Airborne, received a German surrender demand. His heroically colloquial reply was quickly transmitted worldwide: “Nuts!”
On Christmas, elements of Patton’s Third Army stopped the German advance and, the next day, broke through the enemy lines to link up with McAuliffe’s troops in Bastogne, Belgium.
NAZIS GET FIRST SERIOUS SETBACK; NEWS BAN HIDES DETAILS OF DRIVE
Push Halted, Early Tuesday Report States
By JAMES M. LONG
Of The Associated Press
PARIS, Dec. 27 — American troops have thrown back German armored columns that thrust within four miles of the Meuse River, and a front dispatch today declared doughboys were slowly regaining the initiative on flanks of the German drive into Belgium.
The German offensive — believed to be powered with some 250,000 troops — had sent light armored combat teams to Celles and Ciney in a bid to reach the Meuse. But doughboys in a Christmas Day battle rolled them back one to two miles, Supreme Headquarters disclosed.
A dispatch from the field today declared U.S. armor and infantry “slowly regaining the initiative, have locked in a series of sharp battles with probing Germans on both flanks of the 20-mile gap between the Hotton and Bastogne areas.” Fighting still is extremely fluid in this sector, it added.
TRYING TO RELIEVE BASTOGNE
Supreme Headquarters said Field Marshal Karl von Rundstedt had been held virtually without gains in the 24 hours up to Tuesday morning.
But the German southern flank at that same time stiffened against the American push to relieve the encircled garrison at Bastogne. The Yanks at last official reports still were 41/2 miles south of the city. Hundreds of tons of supplies were parachuted today to the Bastogne garrison.
Another front dispatch today said the front was comparatively, and almost ominously, quiet today with each side thrusting tentatively and ineffectually at opposing defenses . . .
BASTOGNE GARRISON HOLDS ON
The surrounded Bastogne garrison of several thousand doughboys still held out in an epic stand. ...
Field Marshal Karl von Rundstedt was pushing hard to the northwest—toward the Antwerp supply route — from his reinforced line along the Hotton-Marche road, but “our positions have been maintained,” said the Allied communiqué covering actions two days old.
It still was a grinding battle of huge cost in which von Rundstedt’s next moves yet were to shape up. The terrific American defense had slowed but not yet stopped the German armor.
Along the northern rim of their bulge, Germans captured Manhay, 10 miles southwest of Stavelot.
Von Rundstedt kept bloody Bastogne near the middle of the bulge under incessant day and night attack, hurling in tanks which the defenders methodically knocked out as fast as they came up.
There was no indication how much longer the Bastogne force, originally numbering several thousand men, could hold out, but neither was there any suggestion they were anywhere near the end of their power or determination to resist.
GEN. MCAULIFFE REPLIED ‘NUTS’
BASTOGNE, Dec. 29 (AP) — Fresh details of the Bastogne siege released today disclosed that Brig. Gen. A. C. McAuliffe, acting commander of the trapped 101st Airborne Division, gave the “nuts” reply to a German demand Dec. 22 for surrender.
McAuliffe took charge of all troops in the Bastogne pocket until the arrival of the 101st commanding officer, Maj. Gen. Maxwell D. Taylor, who left Washington Christmas Eve when he heard of his outfit’s predicament and flew the Atlantic.
Taylor arrived in Belgium Dec. 26, made his way through enemy lines and reached Bastogne early Dec. 27. Armored elements and stragglers from various infantry units were hemmed in the town along with the 101st.
The relief corridor from the south was opened by Lt. Gen. George S. Patton, Jr., waging a kind of war that is to his liking. Patton used the veteran 4th Armored Division and units of the 80th and 26th Infantry Divisions to smash the encirclement of Bastogne.
Other Third Army units which were trapped with the 101st Airborne Division in Bastogne were from the 9th and 10th Armored Divisions.
Two other Third Army divisions, the 4th and 5th Infantry Divisions, were disclosed to be fighting the Germans in the area northeast of the city of Luxembourg. Troops of the 101st “Screaming Eagle” Division had been rushed into Bastogne by trucks just before the German encirclement was completed. The hard-fighting youths, who participated in airborne operations in Normandy and Holland, were spoiling for action and they found it here.
“In Normandy and Holland I jumped out of a C-47; here I jumped out of the rear of a truck,” said a dismounted parachute trooper who started fighting less than an hour after arriving in Bastogne and kept on until he was carried off wounded.
Maj. Charles Fife of Los Angeles, member of an armored force headquarters staff, said “these parachute troopers were the best morale bucker-uppers we had.
“Those boys fought hard from the word go,” he said. “They know their stuff and they proceeded to show it.” . . .
McAuliffe, who was in command of the besieged forces, is 46 years old and one of the youngest generals in the army. He is a native of Washington, D.C. His wife and two children, Patricia and John, live in Washington.
“Victory: World War II in Real Time,” by The Associated Press and Alan Axelrod, foreword by David Eisenhower. Sterling Publishing, $27.95.