National Archives Remembers Battle of the Bulge with Featured Document Display
Press Release · Monday, December 1, 2014
Marks 70th Anniversary of Battle and presents unique “NUTS” Christmas message to the troops
To mark the upcoming 70th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge, the National Archives Museum shares an unusual original holiday message from General Anthony McAuliffe, commander of the 101st Airborne Division, to his troops. On Christmas Eve, 1944, the 101st Airborne was besieged by German forces in the small Belgium town of Bastogne. General McAuliffe used this message to rally his troops by recounting his now famous “NUTS!” reply to a German surrender demand.
Free and open to the public, the display is located in the East Rotunda Gallery of the National Archives Museum and runs through January 5, 2015. The Museum is on the National Mall at Constitution and 9th St., NW.
By December 1944, Allied generals felt confident that victory over Nazi Germany was near. Their armies had raced across France and were now approaching the Rhine River. No one thought the German Army could launch such a large-scale winter offensive.
The generals were spectacularly wrong. On December 16, more than 200,000 German troops and 1,000 tanks attacked along a 75-mile front through Belgium’s snowy Ardennes forest. As the Germans advanced, they created a “bulge” in the American lines. American soldiers resisted fiercely, but failed to stop the Germans. They did, however, delay them at several key road junctions. The most celebrated of these defensive actions came at the town of Bastogne where troops from the 101st Airborne Division and elements of other units were besieged.
On December 22, German officers under a flag of truce approached the American lines demanding Bastogne’s surrender. After reading the demand, Gen. Anthony McAuliffe, the American commander in Bastogne, remarked, “Aw, nuts!” Further discussion failed to improve on his first reaction, and “NUTS!” became his famous one-word response. When the Germans failed to understand, an American officer explained, “in plain English it is the same as 'Go to hell!’”
General McAuliffe’s December 24th “Christmas Message” to the men of the 101st recounts the German surrender demand, McAuliffe’s reply, and informs them of an American counterattack. And help was on the way. On December 26, after moving over 100 miles in five days, the 4th Armored Division’s 37th Tank Battalion relieved Bastogne. By mid-January 1945, Allied troops eliminated the “bulge,” but at a high cost. The U.S. Army had suffered over 75,000 casualties.
The display includes the following records:
- Original “Merry Christmas” message to the 101st Airborne Division from Gen. Anthony C. McAuliffe, December 24, 1944. National Archives, Records of the Adjutant General’s Office
- A photo captioned: “While enemy shells scream overhead outside, Christmas carols are sung by members of the 101st Airborne Division, under siege in Bastogne, Belgium, during 1944 midnight Christmas service. Shortly after this photo was taken enemy bombers broke up the service.” December 24, 1944, National Archives, Records of the Chief Signal Officer
- A map titled: “Situation 1200 hours 25 December 1944 Twelfth Army Group” that illustrates the bulge caused by the German advance. National Archives, Records of Allied Operational and Occupation Headquarters, World War II
Related film program: The Battle of the Bulge
Tuesday, December 16, at noon, William G. McGowan Theater
The National Archives will present the film The Battle of the Bulge a compelling chronicle of this bloody battle that includes newsreel footage and film from German and American archives. (2004; 90 mins.)
- See image of General McAuliffe unveiling the German Surrender Documents in the Rotunda of the National Archives, June 6, 1945.
- Learn of Dr. Seuss’s connection to the Battle of the Bulge
- Read how Hitler’s dental appointment was delayed by the Battle
- Discover the National Archives’ extensive World War II holdings
- Explore personal participation in World War II
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For press information contact the National Archives Public Affairs staff at 202-357-5300.
This page was last reviewed on December 19, 2018.
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