Every once in a while I get asked to do a battlefield tour in Bastogne and usually I kindly excuse myself and refer them to one of the local experts. However when I was asked by a group of friends, which had been on an Arnhem tour last year, to do a two day tour I agreed.
We spent the better part of two days on the battlefield visiting different point around the perimeter, beginning at the Mardasson memorial where we discussed the strategic aims of the operation as well as a quick overview of what happened during the siege. The group also visited the excellent Bastogne War Museum which is currently in the process of expanding another 30% in size.
Then we were off to the Bois Jaques to look at the foxholes and tell the stories of the men of Easy Company / Band of Brothers who spent part of the siege in those woods.
Then it was time for lunch so we headed back to Bastogne before driving to the other side of the town to talk about the German surrender demand and the subsequent NUTS reply at Kessler farm on the southern part of the perimeter.
Then on to the Assenois road where General Patton’s 3rd Army linked up with the paratroopers on the afternoon of the December 26th, 1944 breaking the siege. The last time I visited this location was at least five years earlier and boy has it the area changed! Back then it was well outside Bastogne on the edge of a small wood. No longer! It is now located at the edge of an industrial area and will soon be in the middle of it.
The monument itself has undergone a complete metamorphosis, then it was just the bunker with a small sign, now it is a memorial park dedicated to the men of the 4th Armored Division who broke the siege.
We also took our time to look at some of the video material that I had prepared for this tour. This included listening to General McAuliffe talking about the NUTS reply supported by actual combat footage, very special to listen to that in Bastogne!
We then drove back to the north side of Bastogne to visit the German War cemetery at Recogne to reflect on the human cost of war. At the cemetery 6807 Germans are buried, most were killed during the battle of the Bulge but the cemetery also contains graves of those who died in May 1940.
We began the day in Foy, having watched the Band of Brothers episode “The Breaking Point” the previous evening. Originally this stop was planned after visiting the Bois Jacques on day one but very seldom does a plan survive first contact with reality.
From here on out I have to use pictures that I took over the years as I didn’t have time to take pictures during the tour.
Leaving the 506th PIR behind we drove to the western part of the perimeter, the area that the 502nd and 327th regiments defended. The paratroopers of Able company / 502 bore the brunt of the German Christmas day attack at Champs followed shortly after by a tank and infantry attack on the lines of the glider men from the 327th. The tanks broke through but the line held, stopping all German attempts to reinforce the tanks.
Unfortunately I didn’t take any pictures in Champs!
In front of Chateau Rolley, which was the headquarters of the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment a number of the broken through tanks were destroyed.
Then we drove on to Hemroulle where an artillery unit knocked out most of the remaining tanks ending any (by then vain) hope of breaking into Bastogne.
Our last stop of the tour was the Bastogne municipal cemetery where Renee Lemaire and Augusta Chiwy are buried.
Both were volunteered as nurses during the Siege of Bastogne, Renee was killed in on Christmas Eve in a German bombing attack. Her story was used in Band of Brothers and her story is now widely known. Far less known is the story of Augusta, she survived the war shunning all publicity until very late in her life when her deeds finally became known.