Christmas At Bastogne

Christmas, 1944: “To a certain extent, Hitler, the plunger with the greatest risk, had gambled on the still usual relaxing pre-Christmas spirit in that “Dark December,” when he started his last offensive from behind and through the snow-tufted fir trees of the Ardennes. Many of them were cut down before the attempt was over, and none for the Christmas market, and some Yule trees had moved with men behind them as if Dunsinane had been besieged in the holiday season, before thev were felled—”Nazi Yule trees walk but soon lose motion,” as the epics of the headlines put it.

It was for the Allies, not yet victory, but the advent of it. After days of fighting, while the struggle went on elsewhere in the Ardennes, it was quiet outwardly, on Christmas Eve, in and around besieged Bastogne, though there was a general expectation that the Germans, turned down with their demand that the Americans surrender, would attack once more and make an end of it, making the night from the twenty-fourth to the twenty-fifth the last the men of the 101st Division would spend together in freedom.

General McAuliffe sent out his Christmas message, telling his men about the German demands for surrender and his own drastic answer:

What is 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 of 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 heading 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. Allied troops are counter-attacking. 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.

More privately, the commander would express his view that the finest Christmas present for his division “would be a relief tomorrow.” It did not come. Instead the Germans came once more, nearer the traditional hour of Christ’s birth, on “Christmas Day in the morning.” They were intent, overmuch, on getting Bastogne, much like a present that had been withheld from them.

And well might the conclusion of the After-Action Reports for December 1944 that “preoccupation with the key position of Bastogne dominated enemy strategy to such an extent that it cost him the advantage of the initiative,” be expressed in terms like “childlike obsession with a specific present,” meanwhile “forgetting the best,” due to this very fascination with Bastogne which the attackers proved unable to hang on Hitler’s Christmas tree.”–Infantry Journal; Volumes. 60-61, 1947.

The Ultimate Sacrifice:

More information: “The “Battle of the Bulge” (16 December 1944 – 25 January 1945) was the largest and bloodiest single battle fought by the United States in World War II. As a result of this counteroffensive, 19,276 American soldiers lost their lives. “The Siege of Bastogne was an engagement in December 1944 between American and German forces at the Belgian town of Bastogne, as part of the larger Battle of the Bulge. Because all seven main roads in the densely wooded Ardennes highlands converged on Bastogne, just a few miles away from the border with neighboring Luxembourg, control of its crossroads was vital to the German attack. The siege was from 20 to 27 December, until the besieged American forces were relieved by elements of General George Patton‘s Third Army.”

Headquarters
Third United States Army

“To each officer and soldier in the Third United States Army I wish a Merry Christmas. I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty, and skill in battle. We march in our might to complete victory. May God’s blessing rest upon each of you on this Christmas Day.

G. S. Patton Jr.
Lieutenant General
Commanding, Third United States Army

On the other side of the card was the following, which he had instructed his chaplain to write:

Prayer

Almighty and most merciful Father we humbly beseech Thee, of Thy great goodness, to restrain these immoderate rains with which we have to contend. Grant us fair weather for battle. Graciously hearken to us as soldiers who call upon Thee that armed with Thy power, we may advance from victory to victory, crush the oppression and wickedness of our enemies, and establish Thy justice among men and nations. Amen.”–Army; Vol. 23; 1973.

Please remember to pray for God’s blessings and protection for all our service men and women (and their families)—wherever they may be this Christmas.