In the past many different versions of this story were published in magazines and historical books. Often the details of the story differ. I was honored to provide the McAuliffe family with some details I had. The version on this page is not hundred percent correct but I am convinced this version comes the closest to what actually happened in Bastogne on 22 December 1944, based on the info currently available.
This was researched and written by Mr. Kenneth McAuliffe, nephew of the late General.
On December 22, 1944, at about 11:30 in the morning, a group of four German soldiers, waving a flag and a bedspread taken from a farm down the Arlon Road, approached the American lines using the Arlon Road from the direction of Remoifosse, south of Bastogne. The group consisted of two officers and two enlisted men. The senior officer was a Major Wagner of the 47th Panzer Corps. The junior officer was Lieutenant Hellmuth Henke of the Panzer Lehr Operations Section.
The Americans defending in that location were members of F Company of the 327th Glider Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division. The Germans walked past a bazooka team in a foxhole in front of the Kessler farm and stopped in front of the foxhole of Private First Class Leo Palma, a B.A.R. gunner. Lieutenant Henke, who spoke English said, “I want to see the commanding officer of this section.” Palma was at a loss for words, but Staff Sergeant Carl E. Dickinson who had been manning a position nearby walked out to the road and called the group over to him. The Germans explained that they had a written message to be presented to the American Commander in Bastogne.
Henke said they would consent to being blindfolded and taken to the American Commanding Officer. As the blindfolds were being applied, Dickinson was joined by PFC Ernest Premetz, a German speaking medic of his platoon who offered to serve as an interpreter.
Dickinson and Premetz left the two German enlisted men there and took the two German officers to the Kessler farmhouse.
Tech. Sgt. Oswald Y. Butler, Acting Platoon Leader of the 1st Platoon, and Lt. Leslie E. Smith, Platoon Leader of the Weapons Platoon, told them to take the blindfolded officers to the F Company Command Post.
They took the two German officers on a roundabout route to the Command Post of F Company, 327th GIR, which was a large foxhole located in a wooded area about a quarter mile away. Shortly after arriving at the command post, they were joined by Captain James F. Adams, the F Company Commander, who had been at a forward observation post when he was notified of the arrival of the Germans. When Adams arrived, 1st Sgt. Constantine A. Pappas informed him that the German Major had already presented a written message.
The F Company Executive Officer, Lt. William J. Herzke, was on the phone, reading the message to their Battalion Command Post in Marvie . The 2nd Battalion Command Post then notified the 327th Regimental Headquarters in Bastogne. Colonel Bud Harper, the 327thRegimental Commander, was not there; he was out inspecting his unit’s positions. The senior officer present was the Regimental Operations Officer, Major Alvin Jones. Major Jones notified the Division Headquarters in Bastogne and asked for instructions. He was told to retrieve the message and bring it to the Division Headquarters. He drove to the F Company Command Post, got the German message and took it to the Division Headquarters. The two blindfolded officers were kept in the woods adjacent to the foxhole Command Post.
The German surrender demand was typewritten on two sheets. One was in English, the other in German. They had been typed on an English typewriter as indicated by the fact that the diacritical marks required on the German copy had been entered by hand. This is the English version of the message:
“December 22nd 1944
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 Ourthe 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
All the serious civilian losses caused by this artillery fire would not correspond with the wellknown American humanity.
The German Commander.”
Major Jones and the Acting Chief of Staff, Lt. Col. Ned Moore, took the message into General McAuliffe who was trying to get some sleep. Jones said, “The Germans are here. They want to talk about surrender.” Tony lifted his head and replied, “They want to surrender?” Jones told him, “No sir, they want us to surrender.” Tony arose and erupted in anger, which shocked those looking on. He took the message, looked at it, said “Us surrender, aw nuts!” and dropped it on the floor. He then left the Headquarters to go congratulate a unit on the Western perimeter.
When Jones returned to the 327th Regiment Headquarters, he briefed Colonel Harper on the situation. Jones and Harper then went to the F Company Command Post and spoke with the two German officers, after which they returned to their Regimental Headquarters and phoned the Division Headquarters.
When Tony returned to the Division Headquarters, he was informed that Colonel Harper had phoned to say that the two German officers were still waiting at the F Company Command Post. Since they brought a formal demand they felt they were entitled to a formal reply and they were to return to the German lines two hours after delivering their message.
In the presence of his staff, Tony wondered aloud, “Well, I don’t know what to tell them.” At that point, the Division Operations Officer, Lt. Col. Harry Kinnard said, “What you said initially would be hard to beat.” Tony asked “What do you mean?” Kinnard, said, “Sir, you said nuts.” All members of the staff enthusiastically agreed, so Tony wrote it down on a message pad and said, “Have it typed up.” The reply was typed up by Sgt Tom Bruff, centered on a full sheet of paper. It read:
December 22 1944
To the German Commander
The American Commander
Tony requested that Harper come to the Division Headquarters. When Harper and Jones arrived, Tony initially toyed with them by sitting them down, showing them the surrender demand and asking them how they would reply. Much to Harper’s relief, Tony quickly produced the typed NUTS reply, setting off a round of laughter. Tony asked Harper to personally deliver the reply to the Germans, cautioning him not to go into the German lines.
Harper and Jones took the reply and drove to the F Company Command Post. Harper told Henke that he had the American Commander’s reply. Henke asked if it was written or verbal. Harper answered it was written and he put it in the hand of the blindfolded German Major. Henke asked about the contents of the reply because if it was affirmative, they were authorized to negotiate further. Harper said, “The reply consists of a single word, NUTS!” Henke, not understanding, asked, “Is that reply negative or affirmative?” Harper said, “The reply is decidedly not affirmative”, adding, “If you continue this foolish attack, your losses will be tremendous.” Henke translated for the Major.
The two blindfolded German officers were then driven, again by a roundabout route, back to their entry point at the Kessler farm. At the farm, the group was rejoined by PFC Premetz. The blindfolds were removed and the Germans opened and looked at the reply. They asked, “What does this mean?” They obviously didn’t understand the American slang. Harper and Premetz discussed how else to explain it. Premetz thought about it and said, “Du kannst zum Teufel gehen.” He told Harper it meant “You can go to Hell.” Then Harper said, “If you continue to attack, we will kill every goddamn German that tries to break into this city.” Henke replied, “We will kill many Americans. This is war.” Harper then said, “On your way Bud, and good luck to you.” They saluted and the Germans started to walk away. Harper angrily called out to them, “If you don’t know what I am talking about, simply go back to your commanding officer and tell him to just plain ‘Go to Hell’.” After Henke translated, the Major got angry and stalked off.
The German party returned to their lines. Captain Adams recorded the time as 1400 hours.