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A Tour of WWII Ardennes Museums & Monuments

WW2 Bastogne McAuliffe Nuts photoIts been 70 years since the events of the Battle of the Bulge. It was one of the complete surprises of WWII. After the Invasion of Normandy, perhaps the most recognized and idolized battles of the 2nd World War where during the two months of winter in 1944-45 German Panzer divisions broke through the weakly defended allied lines in the Ardennes Forest of eastern Belgium. Most of the German command officers had already decided that the war was over and wanted to prepare for a defense of the homeland along the Siegfried Line. Hitler and the German High Command envisioned one last lightning push across the River Meuse to Antwerp to cut off the the allied supply lines. At 5:30 am on December 16, 1944 the “Battle of the Ardennes” began with a heavy artillery barrage from German “88s” pounding American forward positions. Tanks and support troops of German Panzer and Grenadier divisions rushed a rapid advance across the Luxembourg gap in what would become known as the “Battle of the Bulge”.

Northhamptonshire batlle tank photoThe WW2 historic sites of the Battle of the Bulge lie in a relatively narrow area between the Belgium city of Liege and Luxembourg, roughly following the modern E25 autoroute. A drive along the small country roads which crisscross this part of eastern Wallonia Belgium through rolling tree packed hillsides of the Ardennes Forest, you can encounter at nearly every crossroads a monument to a battle, a tank turret, an artillery piece or memorial marker. It’s a relatively small area which can be visited in a week, a few days, or just passing through.

American, British, German Military Cemeteries

British Scottish Irish Australian Canadian Commonwealth Cemetery Hotton photoAmerican Military Cemeteries are located in the northern and southern ends of the area. The Henri-Chapelle Cemetery in the tiny village of Hombourg near Liege is one of the largest of American Military cemeteries in Europe, with nearly 8,000 soldier and airmen graves from the fighting in the Ardennes and northern Germany. The cemetery at Neuville-en-Condroz to the southwest of Liege has 5,000 more war dead, many from the capture of Aachen before the Ardennes battles. The American Cemetery in Luxembourg, just a mile from the Luxembourg Airport in the tiny country between Belgium, France and Germany holds another 5,000. It is at Luxembourg where General George Patton rests, still facing his troops (see General Patton Luxembourg). The British Commonwealth Cemetery is just south of the village of Hotton, take the road just past the tank turret. The German Military Cemetery is at Recogne, just outside Bastogne near the fateful village of Foy (Soldaten Graves Recogne).

Malmedy and Baugnez Massacre Memorial

Baugnez World War II museum photoBetween them a trail of museums, monuments and battleground sites can be easily visited. A new museum commemorating the battles has opened at the site of the American massacre at Baugnez, just outside of the heavily shelled town of Malmedy. On December 17, 1944 an American convoy was caught by Lt. Colonel Pieper’s Kampfgruppe at a crossroads. After a brief fight, most of the Americans were taken prisoner. The impatient panzer leader Pieper moved on, but German units that followed shot the captured Americans in a meadow. A memorial now stands at the crossroads and the Baugnez ’44 Historical Museum is nearby at the edge of the meadow. The museum is two floors of artifacts, with a recorded history of the battle of the bulge events. There is a café next door. The town of Malmedy was heavily fought over, but now is a peaceful Belgium vacation town, with a plaza of outdoor cafes, popular with motorcyclists and tour groups. Baugnez 44 Historical Center

Sankt Vith, Vielsalm and Poteau Battlefield Museum

Half-Track Raides at Poteau photoSankt Vith and Vielsalm were crucial battle points, heavily bombed, defended, taken and recaptured. Between them, at a crossroads of Poteau, German divisions of the 1st and 9th SS Panzers met units of the American US 14th Cavalry. The crossroads was nicknamed “Dante’s Inferno” ultimately taken by the advancing Germans and featured in German propaganda film footage. At the Poteau 44 Museum, located in a former customs building turned into a museum, German fighting film footage can be watched, then take a tour of the actual battle site in the film in a rebuilt American or German Half-Track. The museum features weapons, uniforms, documents and realistic dioramas of American and German units. This museum is the one in the area most focused on vehicles, many of them restored to running condition. Poteau '44 Museum

La Roche-En-Ardenne - Battle of Ardennes Museum

Roche En Ardennes Scots Black Watch photoLocated in a steep mountain valley, watched over by the ruins of an ancient medieval fortress, La Roche-en-Ardenne (see Castle La Roche) was liberated in January of 1945 by units of the 1st Battalion of Scottish Black Watch and Northhamptonshire Yeomen Regiment, who met up with American units at a street corner in the small town. A half block from the corner is the Battle of the Ardennes Museum with a collection of weapons, uniforms and artifacts. The Battle of the Ardennes Museum is the only museum in the area with a full British section, also featuring one of the few remaining “Enigma” decoding machines and a memorial room with gifts and memorabilia of veterans who have returned to visit. La Roche-en-Ardennes was a very popular tourist resort town in Belgium before the war and remains one today.

Bastogne - Historical Center Memorial

Bastogne Historic Center Memorial photoPerhaps best known from the "Battle of the Bulge", due to the one word response to a German demand to surrender, Bastogne has the most monuments to the war in area. The town square is dominated by a Sherman tank next to a bust statue of General Anthony McAuliffe whose invective “Nuts” is probably the best known and most decisive one-word communication in military history. The town square is now named for General McAuliffe. The roads leading into Bastogne are marked with tank turrets marking the town's defensive perimeter, along with red, white and blue concrete markers of the Voie de Liberte (Liberty Way). A few kilometers outside Bastogne is the massive Battle of Ardennes Memorial monument of Madasson, erected by the people of Belgium to honor the liberation of their country by the American defenders. The monument names all 50 states, even though only 48 were official at the time of the war. A wide view of the area can be had climbing to the roof. Next to the monument is the newly refurbished Bastogne Historical Center.

101st Airborne ECompany - Band of Brothers

E Company Band of Brothers Memorial photoProbably the most affecting site you can visit in the Bastogne area is a few kilometers from the official monument and historic center, you come to a small recent monument to the men of E-Company of the 101st, whose exploits were made most familiar through the HBO television series “Band of Brothers”. Anyone familiar with the program will recognize names on the marker. But a few hundred yards away, you can walk into the thick Ardennes forest trees to find the very fox holes from which E-Company faced the German advance from the tiny village of Foy (see Bastogne 101st Foxholes). They remain much as they were, slowing filling in with dirt and debris over the years. The trees destroyed by German armored shelling have been cut to stumps. It’s possible to find this site on your own, but it is unmarked and may be best to get a tour guide through the visitors center in downtown Bastogne. On the other side of the village of Foy is Recogne where nearly 7,000 German soldiers are buried in Belgian soil, reminding one that war is never one-sided.

Pieper's Tiger Tank La Gleize Stoumont photoA monument to the “Big Red One” 1st Infantry Division can be found in the village of Eupen. A 69-ton German Royal Tiger Tank abandoned by Lt. Colonel Peiper remains at a crossroad at La Glieze. The December ’44 Museum at La Glieze offers dioramas, photographs and maps of the German tank advance stopped at there. Other towns like Baraque-La-Frature, Manhay, Rochefort, Dinant and Celles have monuments marked by plaques or remaining pieces of armor or artillery. December 44

A map of all the Battle of the Bulge sites and a brochure “The Battle of the Ardennes: Down Memory Lane” can be obtained at many of the museums in the area or can be gotten by contacting the Belgium Tourism offices for the region of Wallonia or download a pdf here. © Bargain Travel Europe

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