Bastogne, a Battle of the Bulge focal point
The barracks at Bastogne are built between 1935 and 1936 to billet the 2nd Regiment of Ardennes Chasseurs, a new unit created upon instigation of the then Minister of Defense Albert Devèze.
On 10 May 1940 the regiment takes up defensive positions on the outskirts of Bastogne to ward off German aggression. However, on 12 May 1940 the Wehrmacht occupies the town, and in 1941 the barracks are used as a training center for the Hitlerjugend and renamed H-Gerhold Kaserne.
After the German withdrawal, the U.S. VIIIth Army Corps, commanded by General Troy H. Middleton, establishes its headquarters on the site. It is still there on 16 December 1944, when Adolf Hitler launches his last major offensive of the Second World War. The battle goes down in history as the Battle of the Bulge.
Bastogne is a major objective that the Americans must defend whatever the cost. Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe, acting commander of the 101st Airborne Division, arrives at Bastogne with his men on 19 December 1944, and establishes his headquarters in the barracks.
On December 21, 1944 Anthony McAuliffe and his division are surrounded by German forces, and German commander Heinrich Freiherr von Lüttwitz sends the American headquarters an ultimatum: “There is only one possibility to save the surrounded American forces from complete destruction: the honorable surrender of the besieged city.”
General McAuliffe formulates a brief reply, “To the attention of the German commander. NUTS! The American commander”. This both negative and concise response to the German demand for surrender profoundly influences the course of the Battle of the Bulge.
The next few days indeed see fierce fighting, but General McAuliffe and his men hold out. They are liberated at 4:50 p.m. on 26 December. The Sherman Jumbo Cobra King, known as the First in Bastogne is the first to bring salvation.
The former military quarters of Bastogne, to the north-east of the city in the direction of La Roche-en-Ardenne, became an Interpretation Center for the Second World War known as Bastogne Barracks in 2010 and one of the War Heritage Institute sites in 2017. The various spaces house an array of track and wheel vehicles, artillery pieces and assorted equipment, both from the allied and axis forces.