Wednesday, December 23, 2020


 Reference is made to yesterday's blog post to set the stage for where we are. 

By Christmas eve, 1944, the American artillery in Bastogne was out of ammo. The Germans could move their tanks without fear of an artillery strike.  The skies were cloudy and snowy, limiting the ability of the U.S. Army Air Corps to resupply Bastogne, which was completely surrounded by the German Wehrmacht. The sun did not rise until 8 am. The sun set at 4pm. There were sixteen hours of cold darkness. And still the Germans came with their tanks. And still the 10st held. 

On Christmas eve day, the Germans attacked the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment outside of Bastogne. This was Easy Company, made famous by Stephen Ambrose's great book Band Of Brothers. When the battle ended, the Germans having been thrown back by a combination of rifle, machine gun and mortar fire, one member of Easy Company counted thirty-eight German bodies. In his book Band Of Brothers Ambrose writes " The men of Easy Company, 506th PIR, 101st Airborne Division came together in 1942... Some were desperately poor, others from middle class. One came from Harvard, one from Yale, and a couple from UCLA...They were citizens soldiers... By the spring of 1944 they were an elite company of airborne light infantry...at the peak of its effectiveness...it was as good a rifle company as there was in the world." 

All of that would be needed and more as Christmas came to the Ardennes forest. And on that Christmas eve, 76 years ago,  here was the gift the 101st gave America and the world. General McAuliffe issued his Christmas message to the 101st. It is worth reading in its entirety. It explains what American exceptionalism really is. It is what we are made of. This is what we, this Christmas, huddled in our homes, fearful of an unseen enemy should be thankful for and remember. That in 1944, in weather below zero, a few thousand American men, dug some holes in a forest and said to their buddies "We stop them here". And they did.  It may just be the greatest Christmas gift one group of American men gave their nation. 


Office of the Division Commander

24 December 1944

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 Division’s 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 imprudent 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 Hompres-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 the 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 hour’s term.

All the serious civilian losses caused by this Artillery fire would not correspond with the well known American humanity.

The German Commander”

The German Commander received the following reply:

22 December 1944

“To the German Commander:

N U T S !

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.


It does not get better than this. Think about those men, all gone now, Cold, far from home, dug in a forest, when you sit down with your family for Christmas. Think about them dropping from the sky into Normandy, France, to lead the liberation of Europe. And think about those same men, holding a line, in a small town during the worst winter in Europe in over 100 years. Fearsome German Panzer tanks bearing down on them. No artillery. No air cover. A little ammunition. Short on everything but courage. This is the Christmas present they gave us. For the rest of our days, it is what we will  think about every Christmas. 

Merry Christmas and G-d bless the United States of America that we can produce citizens like that. 

Post Script: On December 26, 1944,  elements of General George S Patton's Third Army broke through the German lines and "liberated" Bastogne and then pushed the Germans back across the Rhine River. Portrayed in the movie Patton, what Patton did was much more ingenious and a testament to his abilities as a commander. Beginning in November, Patton began planning for a massive German counter-offensive. Ten days before the German assault began, Patton's intelligence officers began to see a pattern. German panzer divisions had "disappeared". By December 14, Patton had contingency plans to counterattack a German attack to the North of the areas he was attacking. This included the area of Bastogne.  He directed his staff to prepare plans for his Army to disengage, turn ninety degrees and prepare to counterattack. Prior to December 18, Patton had already sent his 10th Armored Division to the north of his position to counter the German attack. On December 18 he met with his superior- General Omar Bradley, who told him he needed to attack to the North. Patton was prepared. The 4th Armored Division, the 26th and 80th Infantry divisions had already disengaged and headed towards Bastogne. Within three days Patton's divisions were engaging the Germans and pushing them back. In another three days his troops entered Bastogne. 

To their dying day the men of the 101st Airborne division would never admit to being "liberated" by elements of Patton's Third Army. Many a late night bar fight in the US broke out when members of the Screaming Eagles would cross paths with one of Patton's men. While what Patton did was almost unique in the annals of modern warfare, to the 101st,  it was not needed- they never forgot what one of their own said when the situation was at its darkest- "they have us surrounded, the poor bastards.


Anonymous said...

Good stuff, Rumpole.

Rumpole said...

The greatest of all these American men were. I never forget what they did. It brings tears to my eyes.

Anonymous said...

My Dad was in 3rd Army, 80th Infantry Division when Gen. Patton entered Bastogne. He never talked about it, except to remember when the skies cleared and the P-47's began to smash German armor and the C-47's began dropping supplies. He called me on the 50th Anniversary of the skies clearing and remembered the event and how it helped turn the tide of battle. He's been dead many years now, but I am so proud of him, our troops, the Greatest Generation and the American exceptionalism that helped save the world during those dark days of December, 1944.

Anonymous said...

I salute these brave men every day. Without them, there would be no tax cuts for the wealthy, Federalist Society judges, or pardons for murderers.

Anonymous said...


Can you please give us an end of the year stock market review and your annual recommendations?

We rely upon your picks. Yes?

Phil Maniatty said...

Most people have forgotten that at the outset of WWII, the U.S. was the underdog. There had been quite a strong isolationist sentiment in the U.S. and Congress since the end of WWI and our military was not in great shape. The conversion of our manufacturing facilities from peacetime to wartime production was an amazing feat.

Rumpole said...

Mr. Maniatty I recommend "An Army at Dawn" By Rick Atkinson which fully explains just how behind we were at the start of WWII. But the smart money was always on the USA because of 1) our manufacturing ability and 2) our physical isolation from Europe and Japan. Admiral Yamamoto knew his country could not defeat America because no matter how long it took we would out manufacture them in war equipment. Although they came close. The loss of another carrier could have swung the war in the Pacific another way. The west coast would have been defenseless to a Japanese invasion force as bizarre as that seems. At the start of the war we had I think the 14th or 15th largest army in the world. But as I mentioned in the post, the citizen soldier answered the call and when facing off with the best most professional German solider- widely considered to be the best solider in the world- our best beat them every time. What those men did in Airborne is just unmatched in military history. They were motivated to be the best. They were hungry. And they made a decision that if they had to go into battle then they wanted a highly trained man to their left and to their right and they were willing to make that personal sacrifice to be as good. They were mostly smart and athletic and natural competitors. The training made them better and more competitive. Ambrose was right when he said Easy Co of the 506 PIR may well have been the best rifle company in the world at that time. Easy or any of the other PIRs in the 101st could have been given that title. It was just remarkable what they did.

Anonymous said...

"Admiral Yamamoto knew his country could not defeat America because no matter how long it took we would out manufacture them in war equipment."

Yamamoto was not optimistic or sanguine about Japan's prospects going to war against America, and it certainly wasn't his decision. However, he may have harbored some small hope that if Japan hit the US fast and hard enough with blitzkrieg naval strikes early in the war (before we could reach full wartime production capacity), then maybe it would force America to come to the table and negotiate. Of course, that didn't happen.

But was America's victory in the Pacific always assured? People talk about Midway as the decisive turning point. Going into Midway, the US was outnumbered and outgunned in the water and air. Some of the battle came down to chance and luck. It's conceivable the "turning point" battle could have gone the other way and Japan could have make a significant advance in the Pacific. Of course, even if the Japanese won Midway, it doesn't mean the US would have ultimately lost the whole war. However, the US may have ended up fighting a ten year war instead of a four year one.

Anonymous said...

It makes me so angry when I think about the sacrifices of all of these great people and then I think about the pissant 22 year olds out there today who are upset that in a life or death pandemic they cant go without partying at the club. And the idiotic people who are pissed because they're forced to wear a face covering. Put those people in the situations our troops were in and let them see what real sacrifice is like.

Anonymous said...

Yamamoto was a Harvard man. He realized that his, brilliantly executed, early strike had fallen way short of what was needed to give the empire sufficient time to consolidate the empires advances. It was said that he strategized on the assumption that all other countries approached war as a game of chess except the Americans who approached it as a game of poker. Unlike WW1, the Second World War produced a number of excellent generals on both sides.

Myles Raucher said...

My uncle Jack Bornkind was in the 274th Infantry Regiment Company B. He was captured at the Battle of the Bulge and sent to Stalag 9B.

In January 1945 the SS paid a visit to starleg 9B to search out the Jewish prisoners so they could send them to work and death camps. Jack was one of those Jewish servicemen. He was sent to a camp called Berga, a sub camp in the Buchenwald Administrative District.

My family was always told that he died in a POW camp of spinal meningitis. One day I was reading a long article in the New York Times magazine section written by Roger Cohen called The Lost soldiers of Stalag 9B.

In the article a pow who survived named Jerry Daub was interviewed. He spoke about his friend Jack and was with him on the day he died. He described the circumstances of Berga and the circumstances of Jack's death.

When reading this I felt many emotions. Roger Cohen expanded his research and wrote a book called Soldiers and Slaves. The story is also documented in a PBS documentary called Soldiers of Another War.

I spoke personally to Jerry Daub before his death and learned a lot about Berga. He told me that the army made him and others signed secrecy agreements and not to reveal what had happened to them.