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Bastogne & La Roche

The Battle of the Bulge

overcast 18 °C

As we head up through Belgium we inevitably cover the ground that was fought over tenaciously during two world wars despite Belgium's neutrality being ratified prior to both conflicts. The south east corner was particularly vulnerable and the population was overrun and occupied for the duration of both conflicts. As in all battles terrible atrocities occurred leaving towns destroyed, civilians killed and livelihoods ruined. With the success of the D-Day landings and the gradual liberation of France and then Belgium through the summer and Autumn of 1944, previously occupied towns celebrated liberation. In September it was the turn of Bastogne who had endured a harsh occupation but their freedom was short lived. Hitler was planning one final assault that would ' put a stop to' the rout that was happening. Despite contrary advice from the majority of his generals he decided to launch a major assault through the Ardennes to the port of Antwerp to stop the allies from supplying their forces moving that were eastward. For this he enlisted German males aged from 16 to 60 (there were no others left).
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So the towns which had so recently celebrated liberation were, 3 months later subject to overwhelming bombardment as the panzer tanks rolled on through. Bastogne was at a critical junction, with winter fast approaching Americans set up a perimeter round the town in an effort to halt the attack. The weather was appalling, they had limited supplies as the poor weather would not allow for any additional supplies be dropped from the air and they were surrounded on the ground. The towns people were hiding out in freezing cellars with very limited supplies so the soldiers dug 'fox holes' around a perimeter to try to defend the position and the town.
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This battle became known as 'The Battle of the Bulge' and was notorious for its ferocity and 'no holds barred' tactics which included Germans dressing as American soldiers to infiltrate their defenses. Driving through Bastogne which has been rebuilt many of the the streets are named for the significant generals and there is a statue of General Patton. We were drawn to the museum which focused on the lead up to, the actual conflict and its aftermath. The museum was opened in 2014 and employs a wide range of 'high-tech' processes to tell its story. You are supplied with a headset which activates at specific points in the exhibition and there are 3 interactive displays you can enter using 3D glasses and the headset which tells the story in the language of the listener. In the one that told about the experience in the forest among the trees the temperature drops, although not to the freezing points that the soldiers experienced, another takes you into the cellar under a café in Bastogne where the locals where seeking protection from the bombardment, they were there for about 6 weeks. The technology certainly gave the experience a new dimension and brought it very much alive.
Also as a part of our ticket we could drive on another 6km to a battle field site and using a downloaded app you could walk through the forest, see the 'foxholes' and engage the app at specific points to hear more of the story of the group of American soldiers positioned there.
The relevance of the history was brought into focus when passing the nearby farmhouse to see it flying the Ukrainian flag.

We travelled the next day to La Roche another town caught in the pathway of the German onslaught it is a beautiful town on the banks of the Ourthe River , but it had been completely destroyed, there were only 4 structure left standing in the whole town after the Germans eventually retreated.

Posted by Seniorcitizens 14:45 Archived in Belgium

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