Bastogne, Belgium is a city that holds a special place in American history. Bastogne was the site of a major military engagement in December, 1944 between American and German forces during WWII, in what has become known as the Battle of the Bulge.
By this time in the war, the Germans were on the defensive. But that didn’t stop Adolf Hitler and the Nazis from planning one last major counter-offensive. Their goal was to break thru the American lines on the German-Belgian border, and make a break to Antwerp. If they could capture the port of Antwerp, it would buy the German forces a lot more time and possibly force the the allies to negotiate.
In order to get to Antwerp, the Germans needed to seize control of the roadways in Eastern Belgium. Because all seven major roadways thru the dense Ardennes forest ran thru Bastogne, the city became a major military objective of the German forces.
In the initial attack American forces were pushed back with heavy losses, which created a big bulge in the American lines. This is how the battle became known as the Battle of the Bulge. In an effort to prevent a collapse of their lines, and to hold the strategic town of Bastogne, Allied commanders rushed the 101st Airborne Division to Bastogne on December 20th with commands to hold the city at all costs.
The Americans were quickly surrounded. Outnumbered and without re-supply because of bad weather, the Americans took heavy losses while defending the city. Yet, they never surrendered. The 101st Airborne and the Armored units in the area, thru sheer bravery and determination, held the city until General George Patton’s 3rd Armored Division broke thru the German lines and relieved them on December 27th. They had held the city for a week against all odds.
A Day in Bastogne
In order to give you a better perspective of what Bastogne is like, and how moving these memorials and this museum are, we have provided a short video for you below. We were very moved during our visit, and hopefully this video will help show you just how moving this place can be.
Bastogne Memorials Today
Even though the Battle of the Bulge was over 60 years ago, the town of Bastogne still remembers the courage and the sacrifice of the American forces who liberated their city. Within the city, they have built a number of wonderful memorials to honor and thank those American forces.
Most prominent of all is the Mardasson Memorial. This beautiful memorial displays the names of all fifty US states, as well as every American combat unit that participated in the war in Belgium. It’s a very humbling experience to view the memorial in person.
The city of Bastone is also the home of the Bastogne War Museum, which is a fantastic museum that is dedicated to maintaining the memory of the gallant soldiers who fought to protect freedom back in 1944. It really is a wonderful museum, which includes a lot of really interesting memorabilia from the war. They also have an animated show that tells the story of the Battle of the Bulge. It is an absolute must see if you visit Bastogne.
In the heart of downtown there is a damaged American Sherman tank, which sits next to a statue of General Anthony McAuliffe, who was the acting commander of the 101st Airborne Division in Bastogne. The tank is a poignant reminder of what the cost was during that battle, and the statue of McAuliffe is a nice reminder of how steadfast the Americans were in holding Bastogne despite that cost.
Not to be forgotten, there is also a large memorial to General George Patton, who was able to rush his armored division to Bastogne and relieve the American forces, on display in the city as well. Without Patton’s forces, who knows how much longer the Americans could have held out. Though Patton would later die in Europe in a freak automobile accident, his contributions to win the war will live on in places like Bastogne.
If you are ever in Belgium, we would highly recommend that you visit Bastogne. It isn’t very often that you get to see such a big piece of American history outside of the United States. The fact that the city of Bastogne, and Belgium in general, have embraced the memory of the soldiers who sacrificed so much so nobly, makes a visit even more moving. We were certainly glad we took the time to visit.