World War II veterans mark 75 years since the Battle of the Ardennes
Dignitaries and World War II veterans gather today in Belgium to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Ardennes and to remember the thousands who died in the last German offensive of the war.
Hitler & # 39; s forces launched the attack on December 16, 1944 and surprised Allied forces in Belgium and Luxembourg.
The Allies eventually recovered and set up a heroic defense in the siege of Bastogne after an American commander responded with & # 39; Nuts! & # 39; to a German surrender demand, but up to 40,000 people including thousands of civilians were killed in the fighting.
Today the king of Belgium, president of Germany and the US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper will lead the ceremonies in honor of those who perished.
Battle in the snow: American soldiers in a snowy ditch in Belgium during the Battle of the Ardennes, the last offensive of Nazi Germany in World War II. The aim of Hitler's troops was to capture the port of Antwerp and refuse it to allied supply ships
Defense: An American M10 tank destroyer emerges with its turret inverted in the forest of the Ardennes during the Battle of the Ardennes, which began 75 years ago today. The M10 & # 39; s were produced in 1942 and 1943 after the American entry into the war
Winter battle: soldiers move through the snow during the Battle of the Ardennes, killing thousands of troops on both sides, as well as Belgian civilians who died in artillery bombardments or in massacres carried out by the Waffen-SS in villages such as Houffalize
Before the anniversary, veterans and military enthusiasts carried out the fight from close by in the wooded hills of the Ardennes.
On Monday, Belgian king Philippe and Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes will join the Mardasson Memorial by Esper and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
The Polish president Andrzej Duda will also be there, along with envoys from Great Britain, Canada and France.
& # 39; In the afternoon, the convoy crosses the border to the Luxembourg military cemetery and the monument in Hamm, Patton's final resting place.
There they are received by Luxembourg's Grand Duke Henri and Prime Minister Xavier Bettel.
The Belgian city of Bastogne, close to the border with Luxembourg, is central today.
The legendary rescue of Bastogne by American paratroopers has since been celebrated in the TV series Band of Brothers.
The siege helped seal General George Patton's reputation as an American military giant, and his granddaughter Helen Patton has greeted veterans on field visits in recent days.
March: Soldiers of the American 101st Division march from Bastogne, Belgium, in a snow-covered street shortly after the siege of Hitler's forces. The legendary rescue of Bastogne by American paratroopers has since been celebrated in the TV series Band of Brothers.
Emergency: American doctors tend to a wounded comrade in a forest during the German offensive that started on December 16, 1944. About 18,000 men encircled bravely fought huge opportunities in Bastogne, but were at risk of being run over by the Germans
Patrol: American troops are standing at a tank in La Gleize, Belgium. The offensive began six months after D-Day, with German troops falling back after the Allied advance from France
The German counterattack began on December 16, 1944, with Hitler's forces falling back since the D-Day landings in June.
The purpose of the Wehrmacht was to conquer the port of Antwerp to refuse it to allied supply ships, and five of their roads to the north came together in the small Belgian city.
By December 20, American paratroopers hardened but slightly armed by war were surrounded and a German Panzer General demanded their surrender.
& # 39; Nuts! & # 39; was the reply of one word from the American commander, Anthony McAuliffe, and the ensuing siege of a week lasted until Patton's third army came to the rescue.
Mathieu Billa, historian director of the Bastogne War Museum, told AFP that the then 59-year-old Patton reached the peak of his glory when he redeemed Bastogne.
The general died in a traffic accident during the occupation of a defeated Germany in 1945, but was buried in the Ardennes with comrades of his famous victory.
Shelter: American infantrymen seek cover against enemy artillery fire in a snow-covered Luxembourg forest. After the German offensive began, the Allied Commander-in-Chief Dwight Eisenhower rushed reinforcements to the Ardennes to ward off the attack
Stand-by: American soldiers man a light anti-aircraft gun in a snowy graveyard somewhere in Belgium. Between 15,000 and 20,000 German troops died, against between 10,000 and 19,000 Americans
Operation: American infantrymen of the 87th Division enter the city of St-Hubert
The 18,000 surrounded men had fought bravely against enormous opportunities, but were at risk of being conquered.
The overall Battle of the Ardennes would run through the Ardennes for six weeks – with 600,000 American and 25,000 British troops against 400,000 Germans – until the Allies prevailed in January 1945.
Between 15,000 and 20,000 German troops died, against between 10,000 and 19,000 Americans.
And 3,000 Belgian civilians were killed in artillery bombing or in massacres by the Waffen-SS in villages such as Houffalize.
Seventy-five years later, the number of former fighters and witnesses who can attend the ceremonies is declining, and the Belgian Institute for War Heritage has invited as much as possible.
On Sunday, 10 serving members of the 101st read the accounts of the fighting in the Jacques forest, where their predecessors dug foxes in the icy mud.
& # 39; Our thanks to the young Americans who fell on the Ardennes are eternal. "We owe them our freedom," said Mayor Benoit Lutgen of Bastogne.
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