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Nuts Weekend: Bastogne commemorates the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge
The Ardennes town of Bastogne welcomed around 100,000 people this weekend to mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge in the presence of US veterans and dignitaries from around the world.
As the final major offensive by Nazi Germany, it was one of the bloodiest battles of the second world war and the sacrifice of soldiers and civilians is honoured every year by the town.
The annual Nuts weekend is named after Brigadier General Anthony Clement ‘Nuts’ McAuliffe. When the US army’s 101st Airborne Division was besieged in Bastogne, the Germans asked McAuliffe to surrender or be annihilated by massed artillery. His now-famous retort, “Nuts!”, stumped the Germans.
To mark the momentous anniversary, the town and region is staging a series of American- and historical-themed events and reenactments. While the exhibition Art Liberty at the town’s war museum honours both the liberation and the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall, the nearby village of Manhay echoes to the rumble of military vehicles and the sounds of the 1940s in a concert by The Manhattan Dolls from Tucson, Arizona. Manhay History 44 Museum serves as hub for the commemorations.
Military parades of wartime and modern vehicles are organised by the War Heritage Institute. The northern route from Mons to Leopoldsburg took place at the end of August; January sees the southern route pass through villages and towns in Liège and Luxembourg provinces. In the capital, the Museum of the Armed Forces recalls the course of the city’s liberation in a new permanent exhibition. Understanding the history of those dramatic days is key to appreciating the suffering of Belgians across the country.
Following the Allies’ dramatic landing in Normandy on 6 June 1944, by the end of August citizens were uncertain of their fate. After more than four years of occupation, German forces had begun to flee Brussels, heading east.
One of the deadliest battles of the war was yet to break out, however. In a desperate gamble to split the Allied armies by a surprise blitzkrieg through the Ardennes to Antwerp, Hitler ordered hastily assembled Panzer divisions to strike in the strategic border town of Bastogne. A series of battles in freezing temperatures followed between 16 December and 25 January, in which more than a million soldiers fought for control of this wooded, hilly area. The Ardennes Offensive became known as the Battle of the Bulge, referencing the shape of the Allied line.
About 85,000 Allied soldiers were killed, injured or reported missing during the battle, with the American army bearing the brunt. The equivalent figure for the German army is estimated at 100,000. Almost 3,000 civilians died, and the siege left an indelible legacy on the local community. It wasn’t until the end of January, after particularly bitter weather, that the Allies succeeded in smothering the German advance and effectively ending their European campaign.
The 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge will be marked by exhibitions, a sound-and-light show, military fair, Christmas market and 1940s concerts and re-enactment. Until 15 December, Bastogne
75th Anniversary of the Battle of the Ardennes
Weekend of commemorations in Manhay, with a gathering of military, re-enactments and live music. Until 15 December
Liberation Column South
Parade of historic and modern military vehicles through Houffalize, La-Roche-en-Ardenne, Hotton, Manhay, Vielsalm, Stavelot, Spa, Malmedy and Elsenborn. 17-21 January
New permanent exhibition of more than 1,000 collectors’ objects. Royal Museum of the Armed Forces & Military History, Brussels
Bastogne War Museum
Modern memorial centre to the Battle of the Bulge with interactive displays, personal stories and military memorabilia. Adjacent to the Mardasson Memorial, honouring fallen US soldiers.
Baugnez 44 Historical Center
This site just outside Malmedy saw the slaughter of American prisoners; today the museum presents the final operations and battles in the Ardennes.
101st Airborne Museum
The ‘shelter experience’ brings alive the experience of the town’s population during their besiegement.
Manhay History 44 Museum
New museum telling the story of the Battle of Manhay in the winter of 1944-45.
Mons Memorial Museum
A permanent exhibition on the city’s military history.
Photo: Battle of the Bulge anniversary in Bastogne on 13 December. Bernard Gillet/BELGA