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The story of the NUTS! reply

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On December 22, 1944, at about 11:30 in the morning, a group of four German soldiers, waving two white flags, 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, Lt. Hellmuth Henke of the Panzer Lehr Operations Section, was carrying a briefcase under his arm. The two enlisted men had been selected from the 901st Panzer Grenadier Regiment.

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 PFC Leo Palma, a B.A.R. gunner. Palma described the officers as wearing long overcoats and shiny black boots. 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. In fact, they had brought blindfolds with them. Henke blindfolded Wagner and Dickinson blindfolded Henke. 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. However no interpreter was needed.

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 327th Regimental 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 and was given the message. The two blindfolded officers were kept in the woods adjacent to the foxhole Command Post.

Upon receiving Major Jones' phone call at Division Headquarters, the Acting Chief of Staff, Lt. Col. Ned Moore entered Tony's sleeping quarters adjacent to the Communications Center. Moore wakened Tony and told him, "The Germans have sent some people forward to take our surrender." Moore recalled that General McAuliffe, still half asleep, said "Nuts!" and started to climb out of his sleeping bag.

Moore then went back out into the Communications Center where he briefed the rest of the Division staff of the on-going situation, including telling them of Tony's remark of "Nuts!"

When Major Jones arrived with the message, the staff looked at it before taking it in to Tony.

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
hours' term.
All the serious civilian losses caused by this
artillery fire would not correspond with the wellknown
American humanity.

The German Commander."

The Division Operations Officer, Lt. Col. Harry Kinnard recalled that Tony initially asked, "They want to surrender?" Moore told him, "No sir, they want us to surrender." Tony arose and erupted in anger, which shocked those looking on. He took the paper, looked at it, said "Us surrender, aw nuts!" and dropped it on the floor. Major Jones was dismissed. Tony then left the Headquarters to go congratulate a unit on the Western perimeter that had successfully taken out a German road block earlier that morning.

When Jones left the Headquarters, he went back to the F Company Command Post and spoke with the two German officers. When he returned to his Regimental Headquarters, he phoned the Division Headquarters.

Upon returning to the Division Headquarters, Tony was informed that Major Jones 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.

Tony asked that Colonel Harper be summoned to the Division Headquarters. Harper, who was still inspecting his units' positions, was contacted by radio.

When Harper arrived at the Headquarters, he was asked to wait outside of the closed door to Tony's quarters. Inside, in the presence of his staff, Tony wondered aloud, "Well, I don't know what to tell them." At that point, 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, centered on a full sheet of paper. It read:

"December 22, 1944

To the German Commander,

N U T S !

The American Commander"

Tony dismissed the staff and asked that Harper come in. Tony initially toyed with him by having him stand in front of Higgins and himself. Tony showed him the surrender demand and asked if he had already seen it. Harper said no. Tony asked him to read it and suggest how it should be answered. Harper was surprised by the request and quickly tried to draft a reply in his head. At that moment, a clerk-typist entered the room and handed Tony a sheet of paper. Tony looked at it and then showed Harper the typed "NUTS" reply, asking him if he thought that was a proper reply. Harper read it and started laughing. Tony asked Harper to personally deliver the reply to the Germans, cautioning him not to go into the German lines.

Harper 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 Major nodded.

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 to explain it. Harper suggested, "Tell them to take a flying s**t!" Premetz thought about it, then straightened up, faced the Germans 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." After Henke translated, the Major acknowledged. 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 stormed off. As he passed Palma's position, he threw his blindfold and Palma caught it. Palma wrote that he didn't realize the historical importance of that blindfold. He later used it to clean his B.A.R. and threw it away!

The German party returned to their lines. Captain Adams recorded the time as 1400 hours.

While watching the Germans leaving, Harper began to regret losing his temper, fearing that his attitude may increase the intensity of the attack on his positions. Fortunately, the threatened artillery barrage never happened. Instead, the German Luftwaffe was added to the attack, bombing the town at night.

According to a narrative written by Hellmuth Henke, when the German officers returned to their vehicle, while they were putting their pistol belts back on, Major Wagner removed his pistol from his trouser pocket and placed it in its holster, stating that he wasn't going to get caught without protection.

The two German officers then drove to the 901st Panzer Grenadier Regimental headquarters in Lutrebois. After reporting in, they left to go to the Panzer Lehr Division headquarters located about a mile further south. Just before reaching the Panzer Lehr Headquarters, they saw the car of General von Manteuffel parked by a thicket of trees. Major Wagner stopped and reported to the General. They then proceeded to the Panzer Lehr headquarters. General von Luettwitz, the Corps Commander, happened to be there. They presented the "NUTS" reply.11 Upon hearing the negative reply, General Bayerlein, said it was time to start striking out with the heavy artillery located behind the hill. He was interrupted by General von Luettwitz who stated that the heavy artillery was no longer located there, it had been moved to forward positions past Bastogne. Bayerlein then started to explain how he would attack Bastogne without the heavy artillery, but was again interrupted by von Luettwitz. Von Luettwitz reminded Bayerlein that Bastogne was not his objective and ordered the Panzer Lehr Division to proceed around Bastogne to Rochefort and leave Bastogne to the 26th Volksgrenadier Division.

Endnotes:

1. This is a revision of the NUTS! story that appears in NUTS! The Life of Anthony Clement McAuliffe. It has been revised based on material that appeared after the book was printed.

2. This description of the events is slightly different from all others that have been previously published. This is a compilation of the best material available, including six new sources, indicated by *.

This account uses information from:
A. The Bitter Woods: The Battle of the Bulge by John S.D. Eisenhower. The author utilized the description written in 1946 by S.L.A. Marshall for Bastogne: The First Eight Days. He modified it as a result of an interview with Gen. McAuliffe in 1966 and a letter from General Harper also in 1966.
B. Battle by John Toland.
C. Battle of the Bulge: Hitler's Ardennes Offensive, 1944-1945 by Danny S. Parker.
D. Sky Riders: History of the 327/401 Glider Infantry by James Lee McDonough and Richard S. Gardner. The manuscript was reviewed by Gen. Harper prior to publication.
E. Men of Bastogne by Fred Mackenzie.
F. *Bayerlein: From Afrikakorps to Panzer Lehr by P. A. Spayd. It contains quotes from a manuscript written by Hellmuth Henke in the 1960's.
G. General McAuliffe's Personal Oral History.
H. A von Luettwitz newspaper intervie from 1964.
I. A narrative written by Captain James F. Adams in 1946-7.
J. *A narrative written by Leo Palma, approximately 1990.
K. A narrative written by the sons of Major Alvin Jones in 2007 recalling their father's recounting of that day.
L. *A narrative written by Carl Dickinson in 2008 summarizing his experiences with the 101st Airborne Division.
M. *A newspaper interview by Ernest Premetz in the St. Petersburg Times, May 27, 2002.
N. *A conversation of an unnamed veteran friend of Ned Moore with Reg Jans in Bastogne.
O. The personal recollections of Gen. Harry W. O. Kinnard (Ret).
P. The Battered Bastards of Bastogne by G. Koskimaki
It contains material from a phone conversation between Gen. Ned Moore (Ret.) and the author.
Q. *A draft of a letter written by Gen. Bud Harper (Ret.) in 1974 that explained his role in the delivery of the NUTS! response to the Germans and affirmed that the accounts of his actions as included in both Mackenzie's Men of Bastogne and Marshall's Bastogne: The First Eight Days were correct.

Placed side-by-side, these references don't agree on every point; however they allow for the reconstruction of the most likely sequence of events.

3. Dickinson wrote that the senior officer was a Colonel and that there were three enlisted men with three white flags. Adams and Eisenhower both wrote that the officers were a Major and a Captain.

4. Dickinson wrote that they walked. Henke wrote that they rode in a jeep.

5. Henke wrote that after they returned to the Panzer Lehr headquarters, they were quizzed as to the rank of the American Commander. They replied that a result of being blindfolded they had no idea who they were addressing. They said they asked to hand a personal message to the American Commander. The American they were addressing told them he was the Commander, so they gave the message to him.

6. Tony kept the original documents. He initially kept them in an envelope in the scrapbook he maintained during the war. A 1964 newspaper article mentioned that Tony retrieved them from a lock box for the reporter to view. He eventually donated both of the original documents to the U.S. Archives. He kept a photo copy of the original English version.

7. Nuts is a word Tony used frequently to indicate his disagreement. In late December 1944, when the newspapers first reported the "NUTS!" reply, they did not include the name of either the unit or the person. His family felt that Tony had to be the person involved because of the use of that word - nuts.

8. The men he congratulated were most likely members of the 401st Glider Infantry Regiment. In his book, Fighting with the Screaming Eagles, Robert Bowen states that about noon on December 22nd, General McAuliffe arrived in the vicinity of Mande Saint-Etienne in a jeep to congratulate those men.

9. Quoted from the Premetz interview.

10. The departure of the German officers from the Kessler farm has been immortalized in a drawing by Olin Dows, the Army artist. The picture, which is currently in the Army Art Collection in Washington, D.C., shows two American soldiers and two German soldiers saluting near a jeep in front of the Kessler farmhouse.

11. The original typed "NUTS" reply that the Germans took back has never been found. During his 1964 interview, von Luettwitz stated that the emissaries returned without their white flag, carrying a white piece of cardboard 10 by 10 inches with the "NUTS" reply written on it. Historians suspect that the original "NUTS" reply is held by someone in the von Luettwitz family.

Editors Note:
This story retraces the events of December 22nd, 1944 at Bastogne, Belgium; the day we received German surrender ultimatum and issued the subsequent "Nuts!" reply.

Its author, Kenneth J. McAuliffe, Jr., is the nephew of Brig. Gen. Anthony 'Tony' McAuliffe who commanded the Division during the defense of Bastogne. This has been verified to be100% accurate.

Article by Kenneth J. McAuliffe, Jr., Army.mil