Battle of the Bulge

Bastogne Travel Blog

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Main Square - with the Sherman tank of the 11th Armored Division, ‘Thunderbolt’, destroyed on 30 December ’44 in heavy fighting around the hamlet of Renuamont.

Today for many people Bastogne is mostly related to Spring Biking Classic called Liège-Bastogne-Liège, or often called La Doyenne ("the oldest"). The bicycle race is one of the five 'Monuments' of the European professional road cycling calendar, and one of 24 races in which points can be gained towards the UCI World Ranking.

The first edition was run in 1892 for amateurs, the first race for professionals taking place in 1894 when Leon Houa (who won the 1892 race as an amateur) triumphed. It is run from Liège to Bastogne and back.

 

Even though today the city is a nice cozy city Bastogne has as many others Belgian sites been a battlefield for centuries.

The Saint Peter’s church
At the time of the Roman conquest the region of Bastogne was inhabited by the Treveri, a tribe of Gauls.

A form of the name Bastogne was first mentioned only much later, in 634, when the local lord ceded these territories to the St Maximin's Abbey, near Trier.

A century later, the Bastogne area went to the nearby Prüm Abbey. The town of Bastogne and its marketplace are again mentioned in an 887 document. By the 13th century, Henry VII, Holy Roman Emperor and Count of Luxemburg, was minting coins in Bastogne. In 1332, John the Blind, his son, granted the city its charter and had it encircled by defensive walls, part of which, the current Porte de Trèves, still exists. In 1451, the lands of the county of Luxemburg were absorbed into the Duchy of Burgundy and as a result, Bastogne became part of the lands of the Spanish Crown when the Burgundian heir Charles became King of Spain in 1516.

The city’s walls were quite effective at protecting it during the troubled times that followed.

The Saint Peter’s church
The city’s economy actually flourished thanks to the renown of its agricultural and cattle fairs. The grain and cattle fairs of Bastogne were so famous that the Italian traveller Guichardini nicknamed the town "Paris in Ardenne".

The walls repelled a Dutch attack successfully in 1602. In 1688, they were dismantled by order of King Louis XIV when the town was occupied by French forces during the Nine Years War.

The 19th century and Belgium's independence were favourable to Bastogne as its forest products and cattle fairs became better known abroad. Several railway lines were built to link it to the neighbouring towns. This all came to an end with the German occupation during World War I.

Battle of Bastogne

Sunday, December the 16th 1944.

Nice taverna
Everything is quiet and the people of the Ardennes have their mind set on the first Christmas since the liberation of Belgium. Suddenly hell breaks loose.

Hundreds of German artillery weapons try to take with an unseen destructive power the American positions in the Belgian Ardennes. A total of 250.000 soldiers, accompanied by a 1.000 tanks try to march through the Ardennes. Their goal: first take Bastogne, head for the Meuse river and then push to the north of Belgium to take Antwerp and its strategic harbour.

Bastogne was bombed by the German troops from the 18th December onwards and encircled since the 20th of December. The town was defended by the 101st Airborn Division under the command of General A.C. McAuliffe. During a total of six days Bastogne underwent a terrible siege. In the neighbouring villages of Neffe, Marvie and Champs terrible battles took place during which numerous soldiers from both armies fell in the cold snowed-under hills of the Ardennes. At 11.30 am on December the 22nd, the Germans ask Bastogne to surrender.

Main street towards town square
The answer of General McAuliffe is short: Nuts! 

On December the 23th the Germans take the Kessler farmhouse on the way to Arlon, just 2 Km outside of Bastogne. The city was heavily bombed on Christmas eve, the 24th of December. During the following days the 5th Panzerdivision under General H.E. von Manteuffel unsuccessfully tries to take the city. In the meantime help was on the way. General Patton sent more troops to set Bastogne free and on the 27th of December the 101st Airborn Division in Bastogne receives its first reinforcements. However, on the 29th the Germans launch a new attack on the city. Thousands of soldiers hold man-to-man fights in the woods around the city.

Finally, the Germans, weakened, have to abandon their plan to take Belgium via the Ardennes. On January the 14th 1945 they retreat from Foy, a village 5 Km outside of Bastogne, leaving behind thousands of dead and a completely destroyed city.

The toll of the Battle of Ardennes is impressive:

·        Americans: 10,733 dead; 42,316 injured; 22,636 missing in action; 733 tanks, 1,300 vehicles and 592 planes lost

·        Germans: 12,652 dead; 38,600 injured; 30,582 missing in action; 324 tanks, 5,000 vehicles and 320 planes lost

·        Belgians: 2,500 dead; 11,000 houses destroyed; one quarter of cattle lost.

The city

One of the more domination building in the city centre is the church of Saint Peter.

The Saint Peter’s church carries the markings of different eras. The first altar, the remarkable baptismal fonts made from chalk from the river Meuse and the massive tower are products of Roman art. The remains of the building can be identified with the flourishing Gothic period. Saint Peter’s church is worthy of note for its admirable multi-coloured ceiling rafters, which is presumed to have been painted by a local artist in 1536.

The church was restored on many occasions, notably after the 1940-1945 war. Another point to note is that the building has a very beautiful “crown of light” (16th century) and an impressive pulpit, work of Jean-Georges Scholtus, a local born in Bastogne, who was the greatest sculptor of Luxembourg in the 18th century

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Main Square - with the Sherman tan…
Main Square - with the Sherman ta…
The Saint Peter’s church
The Saint Peter’s church
The Saint Peter’s church
The Saint Peter’s church
Nice taverna
Nice taverna
Main street towards town square
Main street towards town square
Bastogne
photo by: Andy99