Success of the division has been the result of a happy combination of
brave men commanded by bold leaders. Mutual confidence of the 101st is
exemplified by the remark of an Eagle soldier during the siege of
Bastogne: "They've got us surrounded - the poor bastards!" A British
Corps Commander near the end of the Holland campaign told Screaming
Eagle soldiers: "I have commanded four Corps during my army career, but
the 101st Airborne Division is the fightingest outfit I have ever had
under my command." Maj. Gen. Anthony C. McAuliffe (then Brig. Gen.)
voiced the opinion of division officers for their men when he said at
Bastogne: "With the type of soldier I had under my command, possessing
such fighting spirit, all that I had to do was to make a few basic
decisions -- my men did the rest." His words pay tribute to the gallant
fighting Eagle Division men, who kept their "rendezvous with destiny" in
Normandy, Holland and Belgium.
RENDEZVOUS WITH DESTINY JUNE 6, 1944:
the echoing rifle fire of a
101st A/B Div. "baggy pants" paratrooper heralded the greatest military
operation of its kind. The invasion of Europe for which an anxious world
waited had begun -- born in hedgerow-lined fields, in apple orchards and
in the country lanes of Normandy where paratroopers and glider fighters
of Maj. Gen. Maxwell D. Taylor's Eagle Division had dropped behind
German troops manning beach defenses. As daylight mellowed into dusk
June 5, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower circulated among 101st troops at
England's departure fields to wish them Godspeed, good luck. Cocky
fighters, armed to the hilt and assigned the mission of striking the
first blow at Hitler's Fortress Europe, wise-cracked as they boarded
C-47s. Less than four hours later in Normandy, these Airborne soldiers
wrote the first pages of their glorious story with blood and courage.
They penned the lines of a combat diary with a phrase in French and a
hand grenade at Pouppeville, with German dead stacked in roadside
ditches on the march to St. Come du Mont, with a blinding bayonet dash
across the swampy approaches to Carentan. From 0015 in the darkness of
June 6, 1944, when Capt. Frank L. Lillyman, Skaneateles, N.Y., leader of
the Pathfinder group, became the first Allied soldier to touch French
soil, and for 33 successive days 101st A/B carried the attack to the
enemy. This was the beginning of the Airborne trail leading through
Carentan in Normandy, to Eindhoven in Holland and into Bastogne.
Belgium. Gen. Taylor's sky-fighters had been assigned three missions:
secure causeways leading from Utah Beach for assault troops to storm
ashore from landing barges at dawn; destroy bridges across roads leading
into the key road and rail communication center Carentan; protect the
south flank of VII Corps.
Fighting its way through
hedge-lined fields, the division took every objective. When the "Battle
of the Beaches" was won, many 101st units were awarded the Presidential
Citation. Congratulating the division on its work. Lt Gen. Omar N.
Bradley told Eagle soldiers: "You have destroyed the myth of German
FLAK and fog -- nemesis of cloud-hopping troops.
German ack-ack and the weather joined forces to disperse the sky fleet
of troop carrier planes ferrying paratroopers over the Nazi-held
coastline. Methodical assembly by units was out of the question.
Commanders gathered roving bands of well-briefed, battle-hungry Airborne
soldiers, regardless of unit, then marched on division objectives. An
odd assortment of men was culled from thorn-thick hedges and ditches
along roads to storm Pouppeville. Division Commander, Chief of Staff,
clerks, MPs, artillerymen, signalmen, a sprinkling of infantry
parachutists -- all combined to form a task force against this village
that blocked the entrance of a causeway leading from Utah Beach. So
abundant were staff officers that Gen. Taylor remarked, "Never were so
few led by so many." It was near Pouppeville in early morning darkness
that a passing German patrol caught Maj. Larry Legere, Fitchburg, Mass.,
and thinking him a French native, asked him what he was doing out so
late. "I come from visiting my cousin," the major replied in French
while he pulled the pin on a grenade and let fly. Pouppeville fell to
this small band. Similar displays of adaptability and initiative by
other groups nullified enemy opposition at similar key points, and
causeways were secured for beach assault troops. Early in the day, the
4th Inf. Div. marched up causeways without opposition. The first
obstacle to the invasion had been overcome.
At dawn of the second day, the 506th Parachute Inf. Regt., commanded by
Col. Robert F. Sink, Lexington, N.C., advanced southward. Germans
stubbornly defended previously fortified Vierville. The town was taken
after severe fighting, and the enemy grudgingly fell back to St. Come du
Mont. Angoville au Plain fell to the division by noon, and skyfighters
smashed through hedges and over roads to the outskirts of St. Come du
Mont. Resisting savagely, Germans blunted the thrust. The 2nd and 3rd
Bns., 501st Parachute Inf.; 1st Bn., 401st Glider and a battery of the
81st AA A/T Bn. moved in to form a second striking force. The Eagle was
ready. Ahead lay St. Come du Mont, defended by well dug-in German
Here, 101st A/B soldiers were committed in the first
large-scale attack launched by the division in the invasion campaign.
From hedgerow to hedgerow, through field after field,
onto the road into town, fierce fighting raged as Eagle troopers swept
into the streets of St. Come du Mont. Here the 101st Airborne first met
the German 6th Parachute Regt., later to be encountered again in the
Holland campaign. Twice this crack Nazi unit was to develop a healthy
respect for the fighting skill of the "Yankees with the Big Pockets." By
2000 June 7, all organized resistance ceased at St. Come du Mont.
Carentan loomed next on the list of vital Allied objectives. Its seizure
would provide the link necessary to coordinate the assault forces on
Utah and Omaha Beaches. If Germans retained the town, Allied power would
be divided during the campaign's most crucial phase. Carentan had to be
taken. The Screaming Eagles were assigned the job. But the path leading
to it wasn't easy.
Later described as "Purple Heart Lane," the route covered canals, swamp
lands and the Douve River, all guarded by Germans. The 327th Glider
Inf., commanded by Col. Joseph Harper, College Park, Ga., pushed off to
cross the Douve at 0100, June 9. Corps engineers brought up assault
boats by concealed routes. Under cover of heavy artillery, the regiment
crossed the river, seized the small village of Brevands, secured a
supply route to support the attack on Carentan from the east. The 326th
A/B Engr. Bn., laying aside weapons of destruction for tools of
construction, set up a temporary footbridge across the river on 502nd
Parachute Inf.'s front north of Carentan. One battalion attempted to
cross by infiltration but was discovered. The crossing temporarily was
abandoned. Later, 3rd Bn., commanded by Lt. Col. Robert G. Cole, San
Antonio, Tex., followed by 1st Bn. led by Lt. Col. Patrick F. Cassidy,
Seattle, succeeded in crossing the four consecutive bridges which span
Carentan waterways, established a precarious bridgehead north of the
Pinned down, Col. Cole's paratroopers flattened
into the marshy swamp for cover. After unceasing enemy fire prevented
any move for more than an hour. Col. Cole weighed two plans -- a
withdrawal or a bayonet attack. He ordered: "Strip for bayonet attack.
Let's get out of this damn swamp!" Word was whispered from man to man in
the marshy bed -- "The Old Man wants it done with steel." There, on the
last approach to Carentan occurred the first bayonet attack of World War
II. With bull-like charges through the soggy marsh, paratroopers rushed
forward to close with the Kraut defenders. Picking up a fallen man's
rifle and bayonet, Col. Cole led the battalion over the bullet-swept
Locked in hand-to-hand fighting, Eagle paratroopers
forced back the Germans, subdued the last defenders. For his heroic
action, Col. Cole won the Congressional Medal of Honor, posthumously
awarded. He was killed the second day of the Holland invasion. It was
with this spirit that the division, attacking Carentan from three
directions, achieved its objectives. Resistance ceased within the city
June 11. A defensive position was immediately organized. Later near
Cherbourg, Gen. Taylor stood high atop a captured pillbox and told his
battle-hardened veterans, "You hit the ground running toward the enemy.
You have proved the German soldier is no superman. You have beaten him
on his own ground, and you can beat him on any ground." Field Marshal
(then Gen.) Sir Bernard Law Montgomery pinned the British Distinguished
Service Order on Gen. Taylor's jacket. The Eagle Division was ordered to
its base in England, closing the first chapter in its combat record.
HOLLAND: SECOND D-DAY FOR SCREAMING EAGLES
Where next? This was the question in the mind of
every Eagle trooper. By August, 1944, tremendous Allied advances across
France and the fluid state of German defenses indicated the likelihood
of another Airborne mission.
Twice the division was alerted and moved to departure
airdromes to await the battle signal. Twice the division trudged to
marshalling fields only to return to base camps. Swift-moving armor
eliminated the necessity for both operations. But the third operation
wasn't a dry run. Its second combat mission -- Holland! As part of the
newly-formed First Allied A/B Army, Eagle soldiers were sent skyward
toward German defenses in the land of wooden shoes and windmills. Again
it was a sky dash over the English Channel, over flak towers, and down
behind German lines. The mission was to secure bridges and the main
highway winding through the heart of Holland from Eindhoven to Arnhem to
facilitate the advance of Gen. Sir Miles C. Dempsey's Second British
Army over the flooded dike-controlled land.
Sept. 17 was the date for the 101st's second
Airborne D-Day. The greatest Airborne fleet ever massed for an operation
roared from U.K., spanned Channel waters. While the first planes spewed
forth parachutists and gliders crash-landed on lowlands, planes and
gliders transporting the division still were taking off from Britain air
fields. Flak met the invaders enroute, but the huge armada droned
steadily on. Troop Carrier formations held firm despite fire. Pilots of
burning planes struggled with controls as they flew to designated Drop
Zones, disgorged their valuable cargoes of fighting men, then plummeted
earthward. Pilot heroism was commonplace, proved inspirational to Eagle
sky fighters dropping well behind enemy lines. Surprise was complete.
There was little initial opposition from the Germans. Eagle veterans
assembled quickly, then marched on their objectives.
Division missions called for the capture of Eindhoven and the seizure of
bridges over canals and rivers at Vechel, St. Odenrode and Zon. To
attain these objectives the division had to seize and hold a portion of
the main highway extending over a 25 mile area. Commanders realized
units would be strung out on both sides of the main arterial highway
from Vechel to Eindhoven, that security in depth would be sacrificed.
Dropping near Vechel, the 501st Parachute Inf. Regt., commanded by Col.
Howard R. Johnson, Washington, D.C., later killed in the campaign,
pressed forward. Two hours later, Vechel was taken and bridges over the
Willems Vaart Canal and the Aa River seized intact. A sharp skirmish
marked the speedy liberation of St. Odenrode by the 502nd Parachute Inf.
under Col. John H. Michaelis, Lancaster, Pa. Co. H moved to take the
highway bridge leading from Best. This small force was successful in its
mission but driven back when Germans counter-attacked. The fight for
Best raged three days. At stake was a key communications route through
which Germans could pour reinforcements.
The enemy was deployed in strength at the Best bridge.
The 502nd attacked again the second day to retrieve the bridge but was
thrown back. The bridge finally fell at 1800 the third day after one of
the most bitter battles of the Netherlands campaign. The Airborne
attack, supported by British armor, resulted in the destruction of
fifteen 88s and the capture of 1056 Germans. More than 300 enemy dead
littered the battlefield.
After landing, Col. Sink's 506th troopers moved
toward Zon on the road to Eindhoven. Approaching Eagle soldiers saw
Germans blow the bridge over the Wilhelmina Canal. Several men swam the
Canal in the face of heavy German fire, established a bridgehead on the
south bank. This action enabled the remainder of the regiment to cross.
Troopers whipped back the Germans as they drove towards Eindhoven five
miles to the south. A flanking movement sealed the city's fate.
The first major Dutch city to be liberated, Eindhoven, was in Airborne
hands at 1300, Sept. 18. On Sept. 23, Germans severed the main highway
between Vechel and Uden. Simultaneously, they made a strong but
unsuccessful bid to recapture Vechel. With the highway cut, long
caravans of trucks were halted along the narrow road leading from
Eindhoven to Arnhem. All available division elements were rushed to the
vicinity of Vechel where they were formed into a task force under Gen.
McAuliffe. Enemy penetrations were deep. German tanks and infantry moved
within 500 yards of the vital bridges. Vicious fighting followed, but
the Eagle defense held firm. The enemy was forced to withdraw toward Erp,
and the highway was reopened. Next day, a fresh German thrust cut the
supply line between Vechel and St. Odenrode. Eagle soldiers combined
with British tanks to smash German defenses and again reopen the road.
Thereafter the thunderous roar of armor and supply trucks rolling up the
highway continued uninterrupted.
Meanwhile, Gen. Taylor shuttled troops up and down both
sides of the British Second Army's supply route to repulse German forces
determined to sever Gen. Dempsey's lifeline. Airborne troops, glidermen
and paratroopers plugged gaps in the line with courage and M-1 rifles.
During the campaign in the canal-divided lowlands, hard-hitting Eagle
paratroopers and glidermen again met a reorganized Normandy foe, the
German 6th Parachute Regt. This crack German unit fared no better than
before, sustaining heavy casualties which forced its early removal from
the 101st sector. Following this behind-the-enemy-lines "Airborne
phase," the 101st moved to an area which soon became known to troops as
the "Island." This strip of land was located between the Nederijn and
Waal Rivers with Arnhem to the north, Nijmegen to the south.
Arrival of the Screaming Eagle on the Island
marked the beginning of the end for Germany's 383rd Volksgrenadier Div.
Taking over a quiet sector of the Island, the 101st prepared defensive
positions. Within 24 hours Germans struck from the west, slamming their
957th Regt. hard against the Airborne wall. Told it was opposing a
handful of isolated Allied parachutists, hungry and without adequate
weapons, the Nazi regiment attacked, confidently and swiftly. The
assault was absorbed by the depth of the 101st defense. The enemy was
stunned at the savage reception accorded him by the "handful of Allied
parachutists, hungry and without adequate weapons." Doggedly, the
Germans drove -- into destruction. Soon, the 957th Regt. ceased to exist
as a fighting tactical unit. But the savage warfare wasn't over. Germans
reorganized battered elements and the 958th Regt. arrived the next day
to join its faltering fellow regiment.
artillery and armor supported a fresh attack. By nightfall, the Eagle
battalion occupying Opheusden, focal point of the German effort for
three days of fanatical fighting, withdrew to a defensive line east of
the town. Opheusden changed hands several times. Either attacking or
withdrawing, skillful Eagle sky-fighters inflicted tremendous losses on
the 363rd Div., now completely assembled with the 959th Inf. Regt.,
363rd Arty. Regt. and its engineer and fusilier battalions in the fold.
Airborne soldiers eventually captured the town, blasted retreating and
thoroughly beaten Germans completely out of the Airborne sector. Order
of Battle records of enemy killed, wounded and captured provide mute
testimony to the destruction of the German division. In its reorganized
Volksgrenadier status, the once-proud 363rd Inf. Div. lasted exactly 10
days in the claws of the Screaming Eagles.
From then on, activity in Holland was limited to
patrols. Highlighting the action was the work of an intelligence section
patrol of the 501st Parachute Inf., led by Capt. Hugo S. Sims,
Orangeburg. N.C., Regimental S-2. The patrol crossed the Rhine in a
rubber boat at night, and following a number of narrow escapes, reached
an observation point on the Arnhem-Utrecht highway, eight miles behind
enemy lines. After relaying information back to the division by radio,
the patrol captured a number of German prisoners who gave additional
data on units, emplacements and movement in the area. Moving out next
day, the six-man team nabbed a German truckload of SS troops, including
a battalion commander. When the truck bogged down, patrol and PWs, now
numbering 31, walked to the river, then crossed over to the
American-held bank. Early in November, the division was relieved in
Holland and once again returned to a base camp, this time in France.
Screaming Eagles paused for a breather. But it was brief because Eagle
troops are not accustomed to resting. Since their activation they have
been continually training, maneuvering -- and now fighting.
The 101st A/B Div. was activated Aug. 16, 1942,
at Camp Claiborne, La. The 82nd Inf. Div. had been split to form the
nucleus for the Army's first two Airborne divisions, the 101st and 82nd.
The division trained at Fort Bragg, N.C., participated in Tennessee
maneuvers. Overseas movement began Sept. 5, 1943. After arrival in
England, Eagle troops continued ground and Airborne training in
preparation for its combat missions. Maj. Gen. William Carey Lee,
"Father of Airborne Troops," was the first Commanding General of the
Screaming Eagles. After guiding the division through the difficult
training period, a heart ailment a few months prior to the Normandy
D-Day prevented him from realizing his ambition to lead the unit into
combat. Maj. Gen. Maxwell D. Taylor, Chief of Staff, then Artillery
Commander of the 82nd A/B Div. with which he fought the Mediterranean
campaign in 1943, succeeded Gen. Lee. Brig. Gen. Don F. Pratt was Asst.
Division Commander until June 6, 1944, when he was killed while leading
the glider echelon into Normandy. Brig. Gen. Gerald J. Higgins, current
Asst. Division Commander, at 34, is the youngest ground force general in
the Army. Gen. Higgins, who entered West Point from the ranks, has been
the Asst. Chief of Staff G-3 and Chief of Staff in the division. Col.
William N. Gillmore, Ft. Knox, Ky., succeeded Gen. McAuliffe as Division
Artillery commander when the latter took over the 103rd Inf. Div.
BASTOGNE: "THE HOLE IN THE DOUGHNUT"
Less than two weeks after fighting in Holland,
the 101st was alerted for another mission. At 2400, Dec. 17, unit
commanders were told that Germans had broken through Allied lines, were
rolling westward across Luxembourg and Belgium. The situation was tense.
Many American units had been overrun, others were staggering under the
unexpected power of the Wehrmacht blow, The 101st was ordered to move
within 12 hours. Clerks, draftsmen and typists hurriedly were awakened.
In the dim early morning hours, division, regiment and battalion
headquarters personnel raced to ready maps and vital information needed
by the first groups before departure.
Gen. Taylor was in Washington on urgent War Department
business. Gen. McAuliffe was in command. Fighting men awoke at dawn. In
some cases it was "Be ready to leave in four hours!" Others had more
time. It was incredible yet true. The well-deserved rest of the 101st
was short. Men were needed. All fighting equipment had been turned in,
so Division supply room doors now swung open: "Take what you need and be
sure you have enough. No forms to sign -- no red tape -- help yourself!"
Every man quickly found equipment to transform him from a "resting"
soldier back to a veteran ready for combat. German objectives were
Liege, Namur, across the Meuse to Antwerp. The plan which sent speeding
Panzer columns westward along Belgium's highways called for capture of
Bastogne, vital hub of a communication network of seven highways, three
railroads. Seizure of Bastogne was imperative to insure development of
the German attack. Without the city, Germans could hardly hope to
succeed. The 101st rolled to Bastogne in huge carrier trucks. Re-routing
sometimes was necessary, but by 2100 a considerable number of men
already had arrived at temporary Division Headquarters near the town. As
they made their "jump" from the carrier trucks, an Airborne man told a
driver: "Wait outside. We'll finish this thing off in a hurry and be
right back." With that spirit, Screaming Eagles entered Bastogne at dawn
the following morning.
Moving into the city, Airborne troopers met
isolated groups of soldiers, passed long vehicular columns, all
retreating westward from the breakthrough area. Civilians, pointing
ahead of the Eagle soldiers, warned, "Germans are coming that way!" The
Airborne answer was. "We know it -- we're the welcoming committee."
Gen. McAuliffe's order to Lt. Col. Julian Ewell, Ft. Benning, Ga., 501st
Parachute Inf. CO, was, "Attack to the east and develop the situation."
Shortly after 0900, Dec. 18, contact was made near a small town east of
Bastogne, and leading German elements met their first organized
resistance, took a bad mauling. During these first confused hours the
Medical Company and attached surgical teams were captured west of
Bastogne by German armor. Loss of these units was a severe blow to the
division. By noon of the following day, 36 hours after the alert, the
division established its headquarters in Bastogne and units set up a
circular defense of the town. For 24 hours swift-moving German armor and
infantry slammed against Bastogne defenses from the east. Each time they
were repulsed with heavy losses. Nazis suffered additional grief
everywhere they contacted Airborne units. German commanders maneuvered,
deciding on a double envelopment from north and south. They had had
enough of attacking from the east.
To consolidate lines, the 506th withdrew from Noville on
the north while the 502nd occupied Recogne with the support of four TDs.
CC R of the 9th and CC B of the 10th Armd. Div., attached to the 101st,
repulsed all enemy attempts to break through. Although foggy weather and
poor visibility helped them, Germans still were unable to crack the
vital road junction town of Bastogne.
Early Wednesday, German panzer, infantry and parachute
divisions swelled around Bastogne like a tidal wave, slashed the last remaining
road leading into the city, completely surrounded the 101st. That day when Corps
called by radio telephone to ask the Eagle situation, Lt. Col. H.W.O. Kinnard,
Division G-3, replied: "Visualize the hole in the doughnut. That's us." Everyone
was excited about the American hole in the doughnut -- everyone except the
101st. Its fighting men were accustomed to such a situation, expected in any Airborne
The Germans knowing that continuance of their offensive depended on
seizure of Bastogne, attacked the complete circle to find a breakthrough
point. Field artillery units fought head-on tank advances with point
blank artillery and small arms fire. Fog continued to aid German
infiltrating attempts. The 705th TD, a crack outfit in any man's army,
tore out of its central position time after time to destroy attacking
armor. German artillery concentrated on trying to rid Bastogne of the
tenacious 101st. On Friday, a new technique was employed. Under cover of
a white flag, two German officers entered Allied lines and offered a
"Surrender or be annihilated in two hours" ultimatum. Gen. McAuliffe
wasted neither time nor words. He sent back the famous answer, with
which every soldier was in accord: "Nuts." The German officer receiving
the reply was confused -- "I do not understand 'Nuts'." Col. Harper, who
handed him the General's reply, quickly explained... "It means to go to
Refusal to surrender meant the enemy might carry out its
threat to throw in every available artillery piece. As Gen. McAuliffe
said: "They can't have much more than they have already thrown at us.
Let it come." It came. But the 101st stuck. Bastogne held firm. Here and
there outer lines sagged. German tanks were allowed to infiltrate,
infantry following behind were cut to ribbons by Eagle soldiers. Tanks
also were given a rousing reception by Airborne doughs and their
bazookas, by anti-tank gunners and by tank destroyers. During the siege,
148 tanks and 26 half-tracks were knocked out -- positive indication of
the importance Germans attached to the taking of Bastogne. Nazis throw
both book and bookcase at Bastogne: armor, infantry, parachutists,
Luftwaffe. Night after night, bombers searched out Airborne troopers.
Hospitals and troop quarters were hit.
Low-flying dive bombers and heavy artillery were unpleasant and damaging
but not unbearable. The 101st stayed on. Complete encirclement of
Bastogne placed the division squarely behind the eight-ball for
supplies. Airborne artillery long had been accustomed to giving more
than it took. Shells now had to be rationed. Artillery waited "to see
the whites of plenty of eyes" before letting go. Food became scarce.
Screaming Eagles sought clear skies -- flying weather not only for air
re-supply, but for planes to keep the Luftwaffe down. Evacuation of
wounded became a pressing problem. But they had to wait -- there was no
way out of the doughnut. Reports circulated daily that the 4th Armd.
Div. was on its way to open a road. Mutual confidence characterized the
vicious battle preceding the junction of the 4th and the 101st. Airborne
troopers hoped that armor would crack open a path for movement of
supplies and evacuation of wounded: the 4th knew that sky-fighters would
still be there, killing Germans. It was cold -- freezing cold. Blankets
were draped about the wounded. Somewhere, somehow, medicine was found to
ease their pain. Hospitals were jammed, floors covered with casualties.
Then, the weather began to clear.
To 101st A/B troopers, re-supply is nothing new.
It was done on all previous operations. Never before was it so
appreciated as on Saturday, Dec. 23, when the first group of C-47s,
fuselages jam-packed with supplies, dipped low and roared in. Supply
bundles floating to the ground were the prettiest sight Eagle soldiers
had seen in many days.
As planes droned overhead, shouts and cheers went up
from the men below. Trucks, jeeps, trailers and men crowded the fields a
few hundred yards from Division Headquarters in the race to reach the
bundles. Every man knew that the arrival of these first planes had
broken the German back. Now 101st troopers could go on, supplied by
their comrades of the Airborne Troop Carrier forces of the First Allied
Airborne Army. Germans attacked again in force the day before Christmas.
But it was different now. Throughout the day, hundreds of P-47s roared
overhead. In fours and fives, fighter-planes sought out enemy tank and
infantry positions. They left burning vehicles and equipment about the
Radio-phone reports "tanks knocked out" weren't necessary. The 101st had
front-row seats. Christmas Eve, Gen. McAuliffe sent the following
message to the fighting men of the 101st:
What's merry about all this, you ask? We're fighting
-- it's cold -- we aren't home. All true, but what has the proud
Eagle Division accomplished with its worthy comrades of the 10th
Armored Division, the 705th Tank Destroyer Battalion and all the
rest? Just this: we have stopped cold everything that has been
thrown at us from the north, east, southwest. We have
identifications from four German Panzer Divisions, two German
Infantry Divisions and one German Parachute Division. These units,
spearheading the last desperate German lunge, were headed straight
west for key points when the Eagle Division was hurriedly ordered to
stem the advance. How effectively this was done will be written in
history; not alone in our division's glorious history but in world
history. The Germans actually did surround us, their radios blared
our doom. Their Commander demanded our surrender in the following
impudent arrogance: "The fortune of war is changing. This time the
U.S.A. forces near Bastogne have been encircled by strong German
armored units. More German armored units have crossed the River
Ourthe near Ortheuville, have taken Marche and reached St. Hubert by
passing through Homores-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 hour's term. "All the serious civilian losses caused by
this artillery fire would not correspond with the well-known
American humanity." The German Commander received the following
reply: NUTS! Allied Troops are counter-attacking in force. We
continue to hold Bastogne. By holding Bastogne we assure the success
of the Allied Armies. We know that our Division Commander, General
Taylor, will say: "Well done!" We are giving our country and our
loved ones at home a worthy Christmas present and being privileged
to take part in this gallant feat of arms are truly making for
ourselves a Merry Christmas.
Shells continued to pour into the "hole in the doughnut." Early Christmas
Day, Germans began one of their major attacks. Tanks and infantry broke
through in the area of the 502nd and 327th to make it anything but a
Merry Christmas. After hours of bitter fighting, the enemy was driven
off or wiped out. Eagle lines still held. Close fighter-bomber support
helped to erase a large number of German tanks as pyres marked the trail
of diving planes. Christmas night, additional attempts were made to bomb
Division Headquarters. Constant shelling and bombings reduced the town
The rumble of tank fire heralded the approach of the 4th Armd.
Div. At 1715, Dec. 26, first elements of the division contacted outposts
of the 101st. Minutes later, the gallant Bastogne wounded were evacuated
in a long convoy of trucks and ambulances. The 101st maintained contact
with the enemy and held firm the same territory it had taken on arriving
in the area. Gen. Taylor, having flown back to the battle zone from
Washington, resumed command with Gen. McAuliffe's assurance that the
101st was "ready for offensive action." One of many congratulatory
messages arriving at headquarters read:
All ranks first Canadian Army
have watched with admiration the magnificent manner in which their
friends of the 101st U. S. Airborne Division have fought it out with the
enemy around Bastogne. Our high regards and congratulations.
Maj. Gen. Troy H. Middleton. commanding VIII Corps:
Dear General Taylor:
While this office has recommended that the 101st Airborne Division be
cited in official War Department orders for its magnificent stand at
Bastogne, Belgium, I feel that I would be remiss in my duty and
appreciation without further words on the subject. I desire to take this
means of expressing to you and all members of your splendid command my
personal appreciation for the superior manner in which the division
conducted itself in the action at Bastogne. Without the will and
determination of the 101st Airborne Division to stop the superior forces
of the German Army thrown against it, there would be a chapter written
in history different from the one which will appear...
For 22 additional
days, Screaming Eagles held Bastogne as Third Army troops fought their
way abreast of the "doughnut." Germans made their last and greatest
effort to break the defenses in an all-out attack against the sectors of
the 502nd and 327th. These regiments, formed into a task force under
Brig. Gen, G.J. Higgins, beat off the assault, inflicting heavy losses.
The division passed to the offensive Jan. 9 and took Noville and Bourcy
as its contribution to the advance on Houffalize and final liquidation
of the German salient. At ceremonies in Bastogne's bomb and artillery
battered town square Jan. 18, five members of the division were awarded
Silver Stars, and the mayor presented Gen. Taylor the flag of Bastogne.
Reviewing troops after the ceremony, Gen. Middleton, Gen. Taylor and
assembled staff officers stood beneath a sign high on the wall of a
shell-scarred building. The sign, posted at the junction of four main
roads leading into Bastogne, tells the story of the siege in a few
simple words. It reads: This is Bastogne, Bastion of the Battered
Bastards of the 101st Airborne Division.
March 15, 1945: "Never before
has a full division been cited by the War Department, in the name of the
President, for gallantry in action. This day marks the beginning of a
new tradition in the American Army." These were the words of Gen. Dwight
D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander, in awarding the Presidential Citation
to the heroes of Bastogne, the 101st A/B Division. This is what the
"The 101st Airborne Division and attached units
distinguished themselves in combat against powerful and aggressive enemy
forces composed of elements of eight German divisions during the period
from Dec. 18 to Dec. 27, 1944, by extraordinary heroism and gallantry in
defense of the key communications center of Bastogne, Belgium... "
masterful and grimly determined defense denied the enemy even momentary
success in an operation for which he paid dearly in men, material and
eventually morale. The outstanding courage and resourcefulness and
undaunted determination of this gallant force are in keeping with the
highest traditions of the service."