101st Airborne morale high as Bastogne is ‘relieved’

Typical conditions for the troops travelling up to Bastogne to break through.

Typical conditions for the troops travelling up to Bastogne to break through.

Infantrymen, attached to the 4th Armored Division, fire at German troops, in the American advance to relieve the pressure on surrounded airborne troops in Bastogne. December 27, 1944.

Infantrymen, attached to the 4th Armored Division, fire at German troops, in the American advance to relieve the pressure on surrounded airborne troops in Bastogne. December 27, 1944.

The German attempt to break through the Allied lines at Bastogne finally came to nothing. The besieged town had received air drops on the 25th and 26th. Late on the 26th outside units broke through and this relief line was consolidated on the 27th.

It had been a hard fought battle. The Germans knew that their whole offensive would come unstuck if they could not break through here. The defenders, almost all of them pushed into hastily prepared positions at short notice, many of them ill equipped for the winter conditions, had held off repeated attacks that grew ever more desperate as the Germans realised they were running out of time.

The 101st Airborne Division, and a large number of smaller units attached or incorporated within it, were awarded a Presidential Unit Citation:

These units distinguished themselves in combat against powerful and aggressive enemy forces composed of elements of 8 German divisions during the period from 18 December to 27 December 1944 by extraordinary heroism and gallantry in defense of the key communications center of Bastogne, Belgium.

Essential to a large scale exploitation of his break-through into Belgium and northern Luxembourg, the enemy attempted to seize Bastogne by attacking constantly and savagely with the best of his armor and infantry.

Without benefit of prepared defenses, facing almost overwhelming odds and with very limited and fast dwindling supplies, these units maintained a high combat morale and an impenetrable defense, despite extremely heavy bombing, intense artillery fire, and constant attacks from infantry and armor on all sides of their completely cut off and encircled position. This masterful and grimly determined defense denied the enemy even momentary success in an operation for which he paid dearly in men, material, and eventually morale.

The outstanding courage and resourcefulness and undaunted determination of this gallant force is in keeping with the highest traditions of the service.

U.S. troops pinned down in the Ardennes by German troops -  December 1944  U.S. Army

U.S. troops pinned down in the Ardennes by German troops – December 1944
U.S. Army

General Orders No. 17, War Department, 13 March 1945.

General McAuliffe, commanding the 101st, who had responded to the German invitation to surrender with the single word ‘NUTS’, had not seen the situation as nearly as desperate as others had:

It didn’t occur to us, until it was all over, that the eyes of the world were on the 101st Airborne Division and the attached armour during the defence of Bastogne.

The first thing we heard was that we’d been ‘rescued’ by the 4th Armoured Division. Now I, and everyone else in the 101st, resent the implication that we were rescued or that we needed to be rescued.

When General Taylor arrived on the 27th the first thing he asked me was what kind of shape we were in. I told him, ‘Why, we’re in fine shape: we’re ready to take the offensive.’ General Taylor said: ‘I should have known it, but all that stuff I read in the newspapers was beginning to worry me just a little.’

The fact is we were thinking about what a tough time the Kraut was having. We Weren’t alarmed about our own position at all. After all, we’d deliberately jumped into that kind of position in Normandy and Holland.

For the first three days we gave the Germans the licking of their lives . . . the Troop Carrier Command did a great job on the supply end too. They brought us all the ammunition, rations, and other equipment that we needed. Our morale was always tops.

Good morale is just as contagious as panic can be. We had several thousand reinforcements — attached troops — and they caught the infectious courage of the old men of the 101st right away.

Airborne Divisions always have good morale. We were fortunate enough to have been associated with the First and Sixth British Airborne Division up around Arnhem. They don’t come any better.

No one should be surprised at what the 101st Airborne Division did at Bastogne. That’s what should be expected any time of airborne troops. With that kind of troops I, as a commander, can do anything.

An aerial view of the town of Bastogne, December 1944.

An aerial view of the town of Bastogne, December 1944.

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