One word spoken in Bastogne in the winter of 1944 sums up the last great battle fought in Western Europe. General Anthony McAuliffe of the United States army was responding to a German ultimatum to surrender the besieged Belgian town of Bastogne. His laconic reply was eagerly reported by the American press. And the modest town of Bastogne became famous as the site of the single most important battle in American history as well as perhaps the single most defiant word ever spoken.
Deep in the Ardennes, Bastogne lay at the heart of the Battle of the Bulge. Fought in freezing temperatures from 16 December 1944 to 25 January 1945, the epic battle raged across a small area of Belgium known as ‘The Bulge’ where the German army tried to break through American lines. It ended with the German army finally defeated in Belgium at a cost of 19,000 American soldiers and 2,500 Belgian civilians.
A huge American monument on a hill above Bastogne commemorates the soldiers who fought in the battle. The dark forests around the town are dotted with war cemeteries, monuments and abandoned tanks.
You might welcome the warmth of a typical Belgian cafe in freezing December temperatures. The café Le Nuts on Place General McAuliffe is a friendly spot with live bands some nights and a Sherman tank parked outside. The walls are covered with historic wartime photographs and odd souvenirs. The house beer is called Airborne.
Bastogne is organising a Nuts Weekend on 9-11 December to mark the 78th anniversary of the battle. The programme includes three American veterans talking about their experiences.
Derek Blyth’s hidden secret of the day: Derek Blyth is the author of the bestselling “The 500 Hidden Secrets of Belgium”. He picks out one of his favourite hidden secrets for The Brussels Times every day.