On December 22, 1944, in Bastogne, Belgium, the U.S. 101st Airborne was besieged by a much larger force of Germans under the command of German General Heinrich Freiherr von Lüttwitz. The General dispatched a party, consisting of a major, a lieutenant, and two enlisted men under a flag of truce to deliver an ultimatum. Entering the American lines southeast of Bastogne, the German party delivered the following to U.S. General Anthony C. McAuliffe:
To the U.S.A. Commander of the encircled town of Bastogne.
The fortune of war is changing. This time the U.S.A. forces in and near Bastogne have been encircled by strong German armored units. More German armored units have crossed the river Our near Ortheuville, have taken Marche and reached St. Hubert by passing through Hompre-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 hours term.
All the serious civilian losses caused by this artillery fire would not correspond with the well-known American humanity.
The German Commander.
According to those present when General McAuliffe received the German message, he read it, crumpled it into a ball, threw it in a wastepaper basket, and muttered, “Aw, nuts.” The officers in McAuliffe’s command post were trying to find suitable language for an official reply when Lieutenant Colonel Harry Kinnard suggested that McAuliffe’s first response summed up the situation pretty well, and the others agreed. The official reply was typed and delivered by Colonel Joseph Harper to the German delegation. It was as follows:
To the German Commander.
The American Commander
The German major appeared confused and asked Harper what the message meant. Harper said, “In plain English? Go to hell.”
The 101st Airborne held off the Germans until American reinforcements arrived on December 26, 1944. The battle was won, and eventually the war was won by allied forces on May 8, 1945.
Nuts! is remembered in Bastogne even today. One tribute to the defiant WWII message is a restaurant called Le Nut’s. It’s located in the center of the city, and I highly recommend it!