Monday, December 22, 2014

Nuts! A very brief reply to a surrender demand

Today is the 70th anniversary of a very brief military communication during the Battle of the Bulge. On December 19, 1944 the 101st Airborne Division of the U. S. Army hastily took up defensive positions in Bastogne, Belgium. On December 22nd their commander received the following written demand from some German emissaries:

"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 Hompre-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.

The German Commander."

Brig. Gen. Anthony 'Tony' McAuliffe commanded the 101st Division during the defense of Bastogne. His famous terse reply was typed and centered on a full sheet of paper. It simply read:

"December 22, 1944

To the German Commander,

N U T S !

The American Commander"

The German officers who had delivered that demand were very confused by the reply. Reportedly an American who was escorting them back, PFC Premetz, elaborated that it really meant:

"Du kannst zum Teufel gehen. (You can go to the Devil)."

The 101st held on, and December 24th General McAuliffe included both the German demand and his reply in a Christmas message to his troops that opened with:

“What's Merry about all this, you ask? We're fighting  it's cold  we aren't home. All true but what has the proud Eagle Division accomplished with its worthy comrades 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....

....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”

On December 26th the 4th Armored Division broke through and began the relief of Bastogne. The heading from that Christmas message is shown at the top of this blog post. 

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