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Bastogne and the Battle of the Bulge
We drove about 76km from Luxembourg directly to Bastogne, located in the south of Belgium.
Bastogne is a city that was integral in the Battle of the Bulge, a battle fought towards the end of World War Two. It had been raging since 1939 and by the summer of 1944, it finally appeared to the Allies as though the Nazi forces were failing. The Allies had been able to take possession of Brussels and Luxembourg away from the Germans.
Hitler however had other plans, and not one to ever consider defeat, he made one last play for control. The objective of his mission “Defense on the Rhine”, was to break through the Ardennes. The Ardennes, an impressive mountain range extending into France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg, was left largely undefended by the Allies during World War Two. This area was considered low risk given it’s difficult terrrain. Hitler, always looking for an advantage, saw this as an opportunity to penetrate without raising too much suspicion.
On December 16, 1944, Hitler launched his offensive and took the Allies by surprise. Fortunately, there were some Americans deployed in these areas, so they were able to offer a form of defence against the Germans.
Over the coming days, fighting continued and the Germans mission was to procure the river and bridges on the River Meuse, a little further north. When they ultimately failed at this attack, the city of Bastogne became their principal focus.
The city was subjected to fierce fighting with many of the buildings that exist today replicas of their originals. Many were destroyed twice over during the two World Wars.
Eventually, the American military, through one of the coldest, fiercest winters on record, were victorious in pushing the Germans back.
The Battle of the Bulge ended on 25 January 1945 but it came at an enormous cost. Described as one of the largest and bloodiest battles ever fought by the US, approximately 19,000 were killed and many more injured.
But, this was not the end of the war. Whilst this battle raged it enabled the Allies to progress with their tactics on the western front and continue to push the Germans back until eventually, the war ended in September 1945.
Bastogne War Museum – a must see museum in Belgium
One day President Roosevelt told me that he was asking publicly for suggestions about what the war should be called. I said at once, “The Unnecessary War”. There never was a war more easy to stop than that which has just wrecked what was left of the world from the previous struggle. Winston Churchill – Memoirs of the Second World War
The Bastogne War Museum offers an integrated way to learn about our world war history. Specifically, this museum provides special coverage on World War Two and the Battle of the Bulge.
- Located just out of Bastogne’s centre
- Free parking – even for a motorhome
- €12 for adults, €8 children and students (6-18)
- 400 exhibits, audio guide, access to Mardasson Memorial
- €1 discount for payment with a Mastercard
- Open daily except Mondays (open Mondays during school holidays/public holidays on Monday)
- Hours of opening vary depending on season
- For further detail visit website link above
- Gift shop and cafe are also on-site
We loved the museum, which isn’t usual as we usually steer clear of most museums. Our exception to this rule though is war museums. We’ve visited quite a few now in Europe, all of them telling their own story in their own way, about the battles that affected their people.
Whilst the exhibits, and the three interactive, stage presentations were fantastic, the organisation of the museum failed, in my opinion. Perhaps I am unusual, but when I am following a war event, it makes the most sense to me to be explained in chronological order. The physical display of all exhibits made it difficult to follow in this manner, so there were times when I was reading something about 1945 when I should have been in 1941.
Also confusing is the audio guide. It works automatically when you move within range of a specific exhibit. However, as is often the case with technology, it can be your best friend or your worst enemy. In this situation, I felt I was often lurching in front of others, in an attempt to get closer to the “number” which indicated it was a listening point. Or, pacing back and forth like a madman, trying to get the voice to start talking. To add to this, the audio guide talked about something entirely different to the exhibit you were actually looking at. In the end, the frustration got the better of me and the audio guide earphones became an unused fashion accessory around my neck.
The entire audio tour takes about two hours. We were there about three hours as we also wanted to take in the Mardasson Memorial, the five pointed star monument nearby.
Those criticisms aside, we really enjoyed the overall story that was told and the professionalism and content of the displays was excellent.
This memorial, built in 1950, honours the American soldiers who were wounded or killed in the Battle of the Bulge. Engraving over the entire monument tell the story of the battle. On one side, a narrow two-way spiral staircase leads up to the roof and provides a 360 degree panoramic view of the surrounding countryside.
Having been to the top of several other war memorials, with similar majestic views, it is never lost on me just how peaceful the area is. It is simply difficult to even comprehend that only such a short time ago, so many were engaged in a fierce and bloody battle.
Nearby, the Crypt, with a stunning French mosaic, contains an area for quiet reflection and prayer.
The city that was finally left alone
Once we had filled out heads with an overload of information, we drove back into the city to walk around. It’s a small but charming place, hanging onto it’s history that they so closely share with the Americans.
It’s not uncommon to see an American built Jeep driving the streets, and there are plenty of references to people or battles in the shops, cafes and bars. It’s where the American Stars and Stripes move slowly in the breeze along side the Belgian flag. This is a town where the two nationalities sit very comfortably, and respectfully, together.
At the main crossroads of the town, a Sherman tank sits, forever reminding those who live and those who visit here of the devastation that occurred not so long ago.
We think it’s only right to stop at Leo’s Bistro, a restaurant/cafe, proudly bearing the name of the Belgian King Leopold, who ruled during the second World War. So with a cold glass of the local Maes and Chouffeleir in our hands, we said “cheers” to a great day of learning, and “cheers” to all those who served in some way in this horrendous war.
On the way back to the motorhome, we were rewarded with a special march down the main street to a memorial, where the Last Post was played and wreaths were laid at the memorial.
Visiting war museums always inspires me to read more. If you do here, why not check out this additional reading.
Any trip to Bastogne should include the Bastogne War Museum – a must see museum in Belgium ! You only need a day here to take in the museum and the rest of the town.