Today is the 70th Anniversary of the most intriguing series of correspondence in military history. On December 22nd, 1944 the 101st Airborne Division, under the acting command of Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe, found itself in defense of Bastogne, Belgium and encircled by a greatly superior German force after the German surprise attack known as the Battle of the Bulge. The enemy commander sent the BG McAuliffe the following:
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 Our 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.
According to the accounts from those present when McAuliffe was given the German message, he read it, crumpled it into a ball and threw it in the trash while exclaiming, “Aw, nuts”. After a short deliberation on what the official response should be, McAuliffe and his staff accepted the suggestion of Lieutenant Colonel Harry Kinnard that BG McAuliffe’s first response summed up the situation pretty well.
To the German Commander.
The American Commander
Of course, the German’s being Germans…didn’t understand the message and asked the American officer delivering the message what it meant…”In plain English? Go to hell.” was the response.
The day after Christmas the U.S. 4th Armored Division reinforced the 101st Airborne and drove the Germans back. To this day the anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge is celebrated in Belgium by the gift of nuts. May you never have to fight a desperate battle against incredible odds…but if you do, think of BG McAuliffe, a liberated Belgium, the 101st Airborne Division and…Nuts.