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HFC On Tour: Battle of the Bulge – Bastogne and the Ardennes II

Posted by Denny Koch on July 17, 2013

Bastogne: Mardassone Memorial

Bastogne: Mardassone Memorial

Last year, we toured the Eastern Ardennes in Luxembourg and Eastern Belgium, visiting famous locations like Clervaux, St Vith, Ettelbrück, and Diekirch.

This year, we set up base camp in one of the most important (and certainly the most famous) locations of the Battle of the Bulge: in Bastogne.

From there, we visited places like Foy with the Easy Company foxholes, Recogne, Houffalize, and La Roche-en-Ardenne, where the US troops joined forces with the Scottish Highland Division.

Bastogne: Place General McAuliffe with Sherman tank and McAuliffe bust

Bastogne: Place General McAuliffe with Sherman tank and McAuliffe bust

All over the area, you can find relics and reminders of the Battle of the Bulge – memorials, museums, and even traces of combat still visible on the battlefields. This combined with the impressive landscape of steep rocky valleys, soft rural hills, dense woods, and tiny villages, the Belgian Ardennes are well worth a trip!

Please check out our photo gallery for MANY MORE photos!!

Bastogne

Despite the fact that there are certainly more picturesque places in the Ardennes, we decided to stay in a hotel in the noisy and congested crossroads town of Bastogne, which is situated on a ridge at an altitude of 510 m.

The strategical importance of this small city (about 14,000 inhabitants) lies in the fact that all roads within the Ardennes lead to and through Bastogne. This was the main reason why both sides were fighting desperately to get control over the city – who controls Bastogne, controls the road network of the entire region.

The same is still true today – and this is the reason why Bastogne can certainly be considered to be the traffic capitol of the Ardennes. The layout of the city is simple: one main road (with shops, bars, church), one giant parking space in the central square, surrounded by bars and restaurants, and a central crossroads with numerous roads leading out in all directions, reminding us of a spider’s net. A never-ending stream of cars rushes through the streets all day long, so Bastogne is easily the noisiest and busiest places in the quite and peaceful Ardennes.

Bastogne: General "Nuts!" McAuliffe

Bastogne: General “Nuts!” McAuliffe

Bastogne then…

Bastogne was captured by US forces in December 1944 and a strong perimeter around the city was built.

On December 20th, 1944, German forces under the command of Lt. General Freiherr von Lüttwitz managed to bypass Bastogne and encircle it. The besieged city was held by the 101st Airborne Division under the command of Brigadier General McAuliffe and elements of the 10th Armor Division, which were outnumbered by surrounding German forces 5-1. The situation in the besieged city was rough because medical supplies, food, and ammunition were soon running low. In addition, winter 1944 was one of the coldest winters ever recorded with temperatures dropping as low as -28°C / -18.4 F and the soldiers where not properly equipped with cold-weather-gear. In the beginning, there was no hope for air support or supply by air because of the bad weather.

Over the following days, the weather cleared and the Allies eventually managed to supply the surrounded soldiers by air drops. The Germans attacked the town relentlessly, but didn’t manage to break the defense line. This was frustrating for German command, so finally German commander von Lüttwitz requested the surrender of the forces in Bastogne. McAuliffe’s response was simple – and consisted of only one word: “Nuts!” (which can be roughly translated into German with: “Ihr spinnt wohl!”).

On December 26th, two of the German besieging forces where commanded to press forward and leave Bastogne behind, so that the only attackers left where Panzer Lehr’s 901st regiment and the 26th Volksgrenadier Division. Since both of these units where ill supplied and near to exhaustion, they were not able to continue the attack on Bastogne from all sides, but were limited to small assaults on certain points here and there. This wasn’t very effective, so in the end, the US forces managed to destroy all enemy tanks. On December 26th, the city was liberated by General Patton’s 4th Armor Division and a corridor to the Allied controlled parts of the Ardennes was opened.

Crossroads town Bastogne is certainly the noisiest and busiest place in the Ardennes

Crossroads town Bastogne is certainly the noisiest and busiest place in the Ardennes

…and Bastogne now

As mentioned before, Bastogne is still a crossroads town. The central square “Place General McAuliffe” was transformed into a giant parking lot. There is a tourist information next to the main road which almost exclusively sells war souvenirs – you can get anything from mugs, key rings, t-shirts with a “Nuts!” logo, posters, caps, postcards related to Bastogne, the USA, the 101st Airborne, and the Battle of the Bulge.

At the edge of the parking lot is a Sherman tank (which is the main tourist attraction and very famous among kids who love climbing on top of the tank) and a bust of General McAuliffe. The parking lot is surrounded by bars and restaurants of mixed quality.

Bastogne is located in the francophone part of Belgium, in Wallonie, so the dominant language is French. We made the experience that many locals only speak rudimentary English (if at all), so knowing at least some basic French expressions is highly recommended (and much appreciated by the locals). Many information boards and signs are in French only, in rare cases with a Flemish and sometimes with an English translation. Luckily, at least some information boards regarding the Battle of the Bulge are multilingual.

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War Memorial at the Main Street

Despite the fact that there are lots of hotels in Bastogne as well as many restaurants, it isn’t the typical “tourist town” – we rarely saw any tourists at  all and in the evening, we were almost exclusively among Belgians. Most battlefield tourists probably stay in one of the many beautiful and idyllic Ardennes villages, which are much more catered to tourism, with higher quality restaurants and bars.

Since everything in the Ardennes is in close proximity to each other, it doesn’t really matter where you set up your base camp. Last year’s Clervaux was perfect because it is probably the most central town in the Ardennes with everything within a 30 km radius (including Bastogne). If we had known how beautiful La Roche is, we probably would have booked a hotel there. Wiltz is also a very nice town with many cultural highlights.

The Main Street

The Main Street

But so we had the chance to make the curious experience of spending several nights in Bastogne, which was at least interesting, if not very relaxing, due to the constant traffic and the ugly parking lot which comprises the city center. At least there’s no problem to find a place for your car, but we had a car-house rented for our Mercedes because we remembered our experience in Arnhem, where all places to park your car cost 2,50 € per hour and parking spaces were limited.

In addition to everything related to the Battle of the Bulge, other touristic sights include the annual bicycle race Liège – Bastogne, the museum en Piconrue (a museum about religious art and popular belief in the Ardennes) and Eglise St Pierre, a Gothic church with a Romanic bell tower. The three bells were donated by veterans of the 101st Airborne, German Fallschirmjäger Regiment, and the Anciens Combattants de Bastogne to commemorate the destruction of  Bastogne in 1944.

You can get a city map for free in the tourist information with the location of all relevant sites in and around Bastogne and the staff will gladly give you directions.

Church St Pierre

Church St Pierre

It’s difficult to get to Bastogne without car – the town had a railway station once, connected to Wiltz and St. Vith, but it was cut off from the railway net in 1984 because the route was unprofitable. So despite the fact that Bastogne is the central traffic hub of the Ardennes, it’s hard to reach with public transport. There is a central bus station and several bus routes lead to the city, but getting there by car is strongly recommended, or you will miss all important battlefield sites outside town, which are impossible to reach by public transport (if you are the sporting type, you could get there by bicycle, though, the area is very popular among bike and hiking tourists and the cycle and hiking path network is good and well signposted).

There are several museums in and around Bastogne dedicated to the Battle of the Bulge. Unfortunately, the largest one, “The Bastogne War Museum” is currently closed and under reconstruction. It will reopen in March 2014 as one of the largest and modern World War II museums in Europe.

Another large museum, the “Battle of the Bulge 44” museum (9 km outside of  Bastogne, close to the Luxembourg border), was (theoretically) open, but each time we got there, it was closed – despite the fact that we went there during the official opening hours, so we finally gave up on visiting it.

Unfortunately, many information boards are French-only

Unfortunately, many information boards are French-only

Bastogne: Patton Memorial

Bastogne: Patton Memorial

The 101st Airborne Museum in Bastogne

The 101st Airborne Museum in Bastogne

The 101st Airborne Museum Bastogne

The 101st Airborne Museum is located in the town center, close to the central bus station. It is located in a historical building, the former officers’ mess of the Belgian army, which was later used as a German “Unteroffiziersheim” during the occupation of Bastogne. After the war, it served as a Red Cross hospital. The building was carefully restored and is a perfect location for a museum (as is the Villa Hartenstein in Arnhem-Oosterbek). The museum is quite new, modern and nicely styled.

What distinguishes this museum from the many other Bulge museums we visited during our tours, is the fact that there are no common shop window mannequins used for the dioramas – but lifelike, very realistic figures with highly detailed faces and expressions, reminding us of wax figures in Madame Tussaud’s. Every soldier and person depicted has an individual, expressive face and conveys strong emotions. So all dioramas appear to be realistic and naturalistic.

Together with these excellent mannequins, decent faint and classic music from hidden speakers conveys an almost pious atmosphere, in contrast to many other loud, crowded and colorful War museums. Especially remarkable are the “re-enactments” of famous photographs with life-size figures.

The entrance fee is expensive – certainly among the highest fees for a war museum we paid so far – 8 Euros for adults. Still, the museum is a must when visiting Bastogne, and installing it was probably very expensive, due to the high quality of the exhibit items and figures. Taking photos is allowed, but without flash. It is closed on Mondays (as are most museums in Belgium).

Don’t forget to check out our photo gallery for MANY MORE photos!!

The museum is located in a historical building

The museum is located in a historical building

042_Bastogne_101 Airborne Museum

The exhibition is well-sorted and well arranged

101st Airborne Museum

101st Airborne Museum

The dioramas are of an especially high quality due to the lifelike mannequins

The dioramas are of an especially high quality due to the lifelike mannequins

Some dioramas depict historical scenes from photos (see the photo in front of the figures)

Some dioramas depict historical scenes from photos

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The life-sized scene from the photo

Another photo diorama

Another photo diorama (see the photo in front of the figures)

The museum extends over several levels

The museum extends over several levels

101st Airborne Museum

101st Airborne Museum

The medics of the 101st Airborne play an important role in the museum

The medics of the 101st Airborne play an important role in the museum

Celebrating the liberation in a Belgian pub

Celebrating the liberation in a Belgian pub

A German MG nest

A German MG nest

101st Airborne Museum

Exhausted men of the 101st Airborne

The museum extends over several levels. It is well sorted and allots much space to veterans of the 101st Airborne, who donated many of their memorabilia, photos, and other items. Another focus of the museum is on the medics of the 101st Airborne and their working conditions during the siege.

Mardassone Memorial

Mardassone Memorial

Mardassone Memorial

Certainly the most famous memorial of Bastogne (and the entire Ardennes) is the impressive Mardassone Memorial, located on a hill a few kilometers outside and above Bastogne. The Memorial honors the 76,890 US soldiers killed or wounded during the Battle of the Bulge and is designed as a pentagram, 12 meters (39 ft) high and 31 meters (102 ft) long. It is located next to the (currently closed) Bastogne Historical Center and was built in 1950.

The Memorial is located in a small, peaceful park with grass, trees, and benches to sit on. In contrast to noisy Bastogne, the only sound you hear here is the constant mooing of the many cows in the rural hills around the town. Getting there from the city center is no problem, the memorial is well-signposted all over the area.

All 50 states are engraved into the inner and outer ring of the Memorial

All 50 states are engraved into the inner and outer ring of the Memorial

The outside of the Memorial is engraved with the names of all US states and the insignia of many participating battalions. In the inner circle of the Memorial, large stone tablets tell the history of the Battle of the Bulge in a very lively and interesting manner.

You can also climb on top of the Memorial, where you have a great view over the surroundings and the city Bastogne. Each of the five spikes of the pentagram contains a small stone display where you can get a tactical overview over the direction the spike is pointing at – locations, villages, roads, former roadblocks.

Below the Memorial is a small crypt (which was locked when we got there, so we had to peer through the wrought iron gate). It contains three altars, one each for Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish service. The mosaic above the altars is quite modern and designed by a famous French artist.

The size of the Memorial is really impressive, it is certainly one of the largest World War II monuments in Western Europe.

Giant stone tablets tell the story of the Battle of the Bulge

Giant stone tablets tell the story of the Battle of the Bulge

Size comparison

Size comparison

You can get a strategical overview on top of the Monument

You can get a strategical overview on top of the Monument

The view from the monument is great. Here: Bastogne

The view from the monument is great. Here: Bastogne

Mardassone

Mardassone

Foy

Easy Company Memorial near Foy at Jack's Wood

Easy Company Memorial near Foy at Jack’s Wood

Foy is a small village, located between Bastogne and Houffalize. The village itself was occupied by Germans during the Battle of the Bulge, but Easy Company of the 101st Airborne Division held the wood outside of the town, named Bois Jacques (Jack’s Wood). After General Patton relieved the forces in the wood, the village was retaken. This site became especially famous because Easy Company’s battle in the forest near Foy and the retaking of the village were depicted in HBO’s mini TV series “Band of Brothers“.

Close to Jack’s Wood is the Memorial for the Easy Company (which was partly sponsored by HBO and Steven Spielberg).

At the Memorial, across the small country road, is a little parking space where you should park your car if you want to visit Jack’s Wood (otherwise, you will miss the Easy Company’s foxholes, which can only be discovered by foot).

Bois Jacques / Jack's Wood

Bois Jacques / Jack’s Wood

We followed the road from the Memorial towards Foy for a few hundred meters until we reached a dense coniferous forest. Here, the foxholes dug by Easy Company are still visible and accessible today – you can freely enter the forest and walk around, take photos and examine the foxholes as you wish, there is no entrance fee or anything. Everything is in good shape and well maintained and you will most likely meet other battlefield tourists here.

You have to know where to look, though – the forest isn’t marked with a sign and you can’t see the foxholes from the road if you drive by. Fortunately, the location is also printed on the free Bastogne map available from the tourist information, and it’s really easy to find from the Memorial, just follow the road towards Foy and then turn to the left when you have reached the forest. There are so many foxholes scattered all over the area that you cannot miss them, some are deeper, some are shallow, but you get a very good impression of how it was like to lie in the dense wood while artillery bursts hit the trees all around you.

Easy Company foxholes in Jack's Wood

Easy Company foxholes in Jack’s Wood

Jack's Wood

Jack’s Wood

Exploring the foxholes in the wood

Exploring the foxholes in the wood

Recogne 

The US Memorial in Recogne

The US Memorial in Recogne

Next to the village of Foy is the small village of Recogne. Here is the location of a large German war cemetery, containing the graves of 6,807 German soldiers. In the early years, German and US soldiers were buried here together (in two separate fields), but since then, the fallen US soldiers were relocated to the US or other war cemeteries in the Ardennes, for example to Hamm near Luxembourg (where you can also visit General Patton’s grave).

Now only the German soldiers remain, but a Memorial on the road to Recogne reminds of the dead US soldiers and their former burial site as well.

The Recogne War Cemetery is close to the local village cemetery, which is also worth a visit. It shows typical Wallonian graves with very uncommon decorations, especially on the graves of people who died very young.

German war cemetery in Recogne

German war cemetery in Recogne

In front of the War Cemetery is a parking space which was astonishingly full with cars from Germany when we got there. One large German family, consisting of several generations, from an old grandma up to small children, apparently used the great weather to visit a relative’s grave and having a picnic here.

The cemetery perfectly adapts to the landscape. At the entrance is a small chapel, made of red sandstone from the Eifel region, with an altar and a garland placed by the 1st British Armored Division which is based in Paderborn, Germany. A guest book can be signed (which we did as we always do) and we found many (very respectful) entries by visitors from all over the world, especially the US, Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands.

German War cemetery

German War cemetery

The cemetery is quite peaceful and the gravestones are the typical dark basalt or limestone crosses of German war cemeteries which are maintained by the “Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge”, the humanitarian organization which maintains many German war cemeteries in Western and Eastern Europe in addition to registering the dead, helping in identifying unknown soldiers, and providing information about the location of the graves of dead relatives. The organization is also very active in projects for international understanding, organizing international youth workcamps and is active in promoting their concept of “Remembrance and Peace”. The Recogne war cemetery is one of the typical Volksbund cemeteries and therefore well maintained. Each grave houses the remains of up to three soldiers and the graveyard, including the design of the tombstones, is very similar to those you find near Arnhem, in Luxembourg and in the Hürtgen Forest.

German War Cemetery

German War Cemetery

In front of the cemetery is a multilingual information board about Foy and Recogne. Here, we also found an information about another Battle of the Bulge curiosity in Recogne: a Memorial for the Native Americans who fought in the Battle of the Bulge. Unfortunately, the board didn’t give any directions and we just didn’t find it – even the locals couldn’t give us directions. If you have any information about the exact location of this Memorial, please leave us a comment!

Besides the German War Cemetery, Recogne is famous for another (entirely different) tourist attraction: a Bison farm. When we passed by, an Indian Festival was in preparation and everywhere were Indian tents and re-enactors from the entire region (Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Germany), dressed as Indians, Cowboys, or in Civil War uniforms. The festival appeared to be a large event, huge tents with benches, barbecue stalls, music stages, bull riding were being built up, while more and more Indians arrived to erect their tipis. On the pastures around the festival area, a Bison herd was grassing. The Bisons are there all year long (and are also bred for their meat which can be bought and eaten at the Bison farm), but the Indian Festival is only once a year and appears to be a great Show.

Preparations for the Indian festival

Preparations for the Indian festival

Bisons in the Ardennes!

Bisons in the Ardennes!

We were curious and went for a short walk over the festival area, but since the festival would only start next day, there wasn’t anything interesting to do, so we left and continued our Battle of the Bulge tour.

Houffalize

The British forces met the US forces in Houffalize

The British forces met the US forces in Houffalize

Our next stop was the small town Houffalize, which was a strategic location during the Battle of the Bulge. It is located in the Ourthe valley, surrounded by forests and bedrock. It is an old village, dating back to the 12th century, and was almost completely destroyed by Allied bombardment in December 1944. After successfully counter-attacking and expelling the German forces, Generals Montgomery and Patton met here, the British coming from the North and the Americans coming from the South.

The village is quite small with a little tourist center next to the church, with some restaurants and the typical Belgian Friteries (fast food restaurants where you can eat the Belgian national dish, Pommes Frites or French Fries). The town is mostly frequented by bikers, hikers, and cyclists, and there is a large outdoor playground for children (which provides for a very dominant ambient noise…).

Hidden behind the church is a small memorial with several boards honoring the units which took part in the liberation of Houffalize.

There isn’t a museum or anything in Houffalize, but at the entrance to the town on the Place Roi Albert you can find a rare tourist attraction: a German Panther tank. Tanks are not too rare in the Ardennes, almost every town at least showcases one Sherman tank in their central square, but a German tank is a novelty. An information board next to the tank informs about the history of Houffalize with some pictures of the destroyed town and lists the technical data of the Panther tank.

The "center" of the village with some of the typical Belgian French Fries fast food restaurants

The “center” of the village with some of the typical Belgian French Fries fast food restaurants

This Memorial is hidden behind the church

This Memorial is hidden behind the church

Houffalize could be a relaxing place... if it wasn't for the large outdoor playground and its dominant ambient sound!

Houffalize could be a relaxing place… if it wasn’t for the large outdoor playground and its dominant ambient sound!

The German tank "Panther G"

The German tank “Panther G”

La Roche-en-Ardenne

The "Museé de la Bataille des Ardennes" has many exhibit items about the British  forces in the Battle of the Bulge

The “Museé de la Bataille des Ardennes” has many exhibit items about the British forces in the Battle of the Bulge

166_La Roche_Musee de la Bataille

The museum in La Roche-en-Ardenne

One of the most beautiful towns in the Ardennes is La Roche-en-Ardenne, located at the Ourthe river, which is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Ardennes. The town is busy with tourists who are kayaking, mountain biking, hiking, or shopping. The town is surrounded by impressive bedrock and located on a small peninsula within the meandering river. Above the town are the prominent ruins of a Medieval castle.

Despite the fact that the town was almost completely destroyed by an Allied bombing raid in December 1944, it has been rebuilt with great care (in contrast to many other destroyed towns in Western Europe and especially Germany, which became ugly modern eyesores).

The town is clean, offers high quality restaurants and souvenir shops, and has a very lively and relaxing atmosphere with people sitting in street cafes and enjoying their time on the several bridges over the Ourthe or in the castle ruin. This is also the best place to buy the most popular Ardennes souvenir – the famous Ardennes ham, which is offered by several butcher’s shops.

The Battle of the Bulge tourist can find another special attraction here: the only Ardennes museum which dedicates a large part of its exhibition space to the British forces. La Roche was liberated by the Scottish Highland Division, so the British forces play a prominent role all over the city – there are British flags, a British tank (in addition to the mandatory Sherman tank, of course), and even a memorial for the Scottish Highlanders.

The Museum is located in the city center, so it cannot be missed. The entrance fee is 6 Euros for an adult. Taking photos is allowed, but without flash.

La Roche was liberated by Scottish and US troops

La Roche was liberated by Scottish and US troops

Especially remarkable is the veterans’ corner, a part of the museum exclusively dedicated to British and US veterans, and showing their memorabilia, photos, and signed exhibit items. Pictures from Battle of the Bulge anniversary meetings, photos from then and today, are prominently displayed as well as letters from veterans. This area extends over several rooms!

There is also a television which shows short documentaries about the Battle of the Bulge, but unfortunately, they are only in French and even parts in English language have a French voice-over. The exhibition area extends over several levels and besides German and Allied propaganda posters, British (especially Scottish and even Welsh) units and items are displayed. The museum is well organized and definitely worth a visit.

The town is quite old, dating back to the Neolithic era, with Celtic and Roman excavation sites nearby (historically, this was Gaul country). The typical Sherman tank is located close to the river, near one of the several Ourthe bridges.

Scottish, English, and even Welsh troops play an important role in this museum

Scottish, English, and even Welsh troops play an important role in this museum

Another large section is the "Veterans' corner"

Another large section is the “Veterans’ corner”

Always present: The 101st Airborne

Always present: The 101st Airborne

This is how findings in the Ardennes look today

This is how findings in the Ardennes look today

The museum displays many propaganda posters from all factions

The museum displays many propaganda posters from all factions

La Roche Chateau

La Roche Chateau

Another must see is the medieval castle, which was built in the 10th century. The entrance fee is 5 Euros. Inside the ruin, you can try out your talent in archery, and watch a falconry show. From the highest point of the castle, you have a great overview over town and the surrounding hills and forests.

The falconry show is several times a day during July and August, showcasing falcons, owls, and even vultures. It is in French and Flemish and there are tables and benches near a small bar from where you can enjoy the show. The birds are tame and sometimes even land on the table right in front of you. Everything is done is a touristic pseudo-medieval style and quite enjoyable. Prices in the bar are moderate, you can buy soft-drinks like Coca Cola for 2 Euros. The castle itself is impressive and we spent some time climbing through the various levels and rooms of the ruin.

There are other summer activities as well; each night is a “Spook” show where the ghost of the ruin comes to live and the city is illuminated. There are also fireworks, a historic weekend (17th century festival) and other activities, so if you want to visit La Roche (and stay there overnight), July and August are the best months. In contrast to Bastogne, La Roche has a railway station and can be reached by train and bus from Liège.

The castle offers a great view over the valley and the town

The castle offers a great view over the valley and the town

The highest point of the castle!

The highest point of the castle!

Bonjour Belgique!

Bonjour Belgique!

The falconry show is in French and Flemish

The falconry show is in French and Flemish

HFC attacking the town with ancient machinery!

HFC attacking the town with ancient machinery!

La Roche Chateau as seen from one of the bridges

La Roche Chateau as seen from one of the bridges

La Roche Memorial next to the bridge

La Roche Memorial next to the bridge

A local specialty: Ardennes ham

A local specialty: Ardennes ham

The main road of La Roche offers nice restaurants, pubs, and shops

The main road of La Roche offers nice restaurants, pubs, and shops

Another speciality: Belgian French Fries ("Frites")

Another speciality: Belgian French Fries (“Frites”)

This bridge was destroyed by the Germans in September 44

This bridge was destroyed by the Germans in September 44

There is another Memorial right at the crossroads where the British and American forces met on January 11th, 1945.

The famous crossroads where the 51st Highland Division and 84th US Infantry Division met during the liberation of the town

The famous crossroads where the 51st Highland Division and 84th US Infantry Division met during the liberation of the town

The Memorial at the crossroads

The Memorial at the crossroads

Tank Destroyer "Achilles"

Tank Destroyer “Achilles”

On a hill above La Roche is a British tank destroyer “Achilles“, and the Memorial for the Scottish Highland Division. The Achilles is displayed at a great lookout with a small parking lot, where you have a good overview over the village and the castle – the perfect location for taking impressive photos.

The Memorial is located on a small spot next to mighty bedrock and can easily be recognized by the British and Scottish flags marking the place.

Since it is located in a turn in the road, you should park your car at the Achilles tank destroyer and then walk to the Memorial because if you drive on the road coming from the town, you can easily miss it (drivers from the other direction will see it though when approaching the town, but even then it’s better to drive by and park at the mentioned Achilles, there’s no real parking space at the Memorial location).

The view from the hill is great - La Roche and its famous castle

The view from the hill is great – La Roche and its famous castle

Tank destroyer Achilles

Tank destroyer Achilles

Achilles

Achilles

Memorial of the Scottish Highland Division

Memorial of the Scottish Highland Division

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Bastogne Night Life

Bastogne central square at night

Bastogne central square at night

Since our hotel Leo 2 (there are two hotels with the name ‘Leo’, Leo At Home right in front of the central parking lot and Leo 2 on the other side of the restaurant Wagon Leo) was located in Bastogne, we had the chance to try out the Bastogne cuisine and night life. Unfortunately, both is not too impressive (the breakfast in the hotel, though, was absolutely fine, the breakfast area in Leo 2 is a very comfortable large room over two levels with a colonial atmosphere, lots of wood and brass and every morning there’s a new bottle of Champagne waiting for the guests).

In the evening, the restaurants and bars around the Place du General McAuliffe become illuminated by neon lights. The bars in the smaller streets are exclusively frequented by the local youth, while some of the restaurants around the central parking lot aim at unsuspecting tourists.

Enjoying Luxembourgian Diekirch beer

Enjoying Luxembourgian Diekirch beer

Despite the fact that Belgium is the land of the thousand different beers (second after Germany, I think), most locations serve (the very good) Luxembourgian Diekirch beer. In many locations you can also try out one of the various Belgian beers, some of which are outright perverse (like 12% strong beer with strange fruits), others are very good (like Trappist beer from various monasteries).

We ate at a (very good!) Italian restaurant (fair prices, large dishes, a very attentive staff), and at a not so good grill (small dishes, high prices, bored staff). In addition, there are Friteries everywhere, where you can get your Pommes Frites-to-go.

We always love tasting local beers, so after eating, we sought out a beer bar “Taverne Pub Au Carré” which attracted us because of the extensive beer card and the “Wall of Memory” which was decorated with photos and stuff from the 101st Airborne, pictures of Patton, greetings from veterans and other devotionals. There was French music playing, and the atmosphere was relaxing. In Belgium, smoking inside bars and restaurants is prohibited (as indicated by a non-smoking-sign at the door), but outside in the open-air part of the pubs and cafes, people are smoking like crazy.

A bar with WWII memorabilia

A bar with WWII memorabilia

After trying out some beers (Scottish ales and Belgian beers), suddenly the lights went out, a grim looking bouncer appeared next to the door, and then disco lights were turned on and we were surrounded by cheering Belgians dancing the Gungnam Style while a DJ was playing music in a deafening volume. This sudden mutation from French War pub to local disco was too much for us to bear, so we called it a day and enjoyed the French and Flemish TV program and free internet in our hotel room (no English or German TV programs, though).

All in all, we were not too convinced of the Bastogne night life (in contrast to Arnhem, where night life is great!), but we were exhausted from our program anyway, so we were quite content with the beers we had tasted.

Enjoying various British and Belgian beers

Enjoying various British and Belgian beers

Belgian letterbox

Belgian letterbox

Clervaux

The Sherman tank at Clervaux castle

The Sherman tank at Clervaux castle

On our last day, on our way home, we again moved through Luxembourg and the town of Clervaux, which we already knew from our last Ardennes tour.

Since we missed the Ardennes museum in Clervaux Castle last time (it was closed when we got there), we wanted catch up on this now.

After enjoying a visit in the Abbey Saint-Maurice and Saint Maur, a benedictine monastery on a hill above Clervaux, where we attended the mass which apparently had started when we walked into the church (all in French, of course, but the Gregorian chants of the monks are really beautiful and it’s quite different from the typical catholic mass in your local church and a much more moving experience) we went to the Clervaux Chateau in the heart of the town.

In front of the castle is a Sherman tank of the 9th Armored Division, which is the only known surviving unit of the Division. It was put out of action on December 17th, 1944, while defending the gates of Castle Clervaux during the Battle of Clervaux (known as the Luxembourg Alamo).

Next to the tank is a PAK 88 anti tank cannon.

Tank and PAK 88 at Clervaux Castle

Tank and PAK 88 at Clervaux Castle

The museum is located inside the old castle, together with the very famous photo exhibition “The Family of Man“, which was added to the UNESCO Memory of the World Register.

The Battle of the Bulge museum (Musée de La Bataille des Ardennes) is somewhat rustic and original. The entrance fee is cheap – 1.50 Euro for students, 2 Euro for adults – and the ticket is a postcard you can keep (or send) afterwards.

Since the space in the old castle is quite confined, the museum is extremely crowded, each millimeter is used for storing things, for displaying photos, posters, or other information. The overview table over the Ardennes offensive is hand-drawn, but everything is done with commitment and dedication.

Clervaux Sherman

Clervaux Sherman

PAK88

PAK88

Musée de la Battaille des Ardennes in Clervaux Castle

Musée de la Bataille des Ardennes in Clervaux Castle

The space inside the castle is confined, but densely packed with exhibit items

The space inside the castle is confined, but densely packed with exhibit items

Museum Clervaux

Museum Clervaux

Clervaux Castle, the "Luxembourg Alamo"

Clervaux Castle, the “Luxembourg Alamo”

Clervaux Castle

Clervaux Castle

Photos play an important role in the museum

Photos play an important role in the museum

Clervaux museum

Clervaux museum

Aircraft parts

Aircraft parts

Clervaux museum

Clervaux museum

German Sentinel winter boots

German Sentinel winter boots

The maps are hand-drawn but do their job perfectly

The maps are hand-drawn but do their job perfectly

Clervaux museum

Clervaux museum

A carrier pigeon of the 101st Airborne

A carrier pigeon of the 101st Airborne

Propaganda posters

Propaganda posters

Clervaux museum

Clervaux museum

Interesting mannequins

Interesting mannequins

Not an inch wasted!

Not an inch wasted!

Here, a focus lies on the Battle for Clervaux, Clervaux castle, and the oppression of the Luxembourgian people, who were turned into Germans against their will (by declaring that Luxembourgian is just a German dialect, close to the dialects spoken by the Franks in the Moselle region). This is one of the main reasons why French became the dominant language, but most people are bilingual and speak also Luxembourgish (which is actually quite hard to understand for non-Frankish Germans).

Clervaux castle is a nice little museum, not very large, but with much to discover in the small and crowded historical building. Certainly an interesting experience and recommended!

Weiswampach

Lancaster Memorial near Weiswampach

Lancaster Memorial near Weiswampach

Our last station on this Ardennes tour was the small village of  Weiswampach.

The border village is famous among Belgians, Dutch, and Germans for its gazillions of gas stations and a large supermarket – Luxembourg has the cheapest gas prices in the area, while refueling your car in one of the other countries is incredibly expensive (especially in the eyes of Americans, because gas in the US is unbelievably cheap to the average European).

But we did not only refuel our car, but visited the Lancaster Memorial, located on a rural plateau outside Weiswampach. A small road riddled with road holes and signposted with a “No thru traffic” sign leads to the Memorial on the hill, where 2 British Lancaster bombers where shot down on the 12th of August 1944.

A modern Memorial in the abstract shape of a Lancaster wing, together with crosses in the grass, marks the spot. In addition, there is an information tablet as well as a small chapel and a Memorial stone, listing the names of the Airmen. One crew was from New Zealand, so their Maori motto is also displayed on the stone.

Lancaster Memorial

Lancaster Memorial

Lancaster Memorial

Lancaster Memorial

The Chapel at the Lancaster Memorial

The Chapel at the Lancaster Memorial

Luxembourgians are quite relaxed... even in religious matters

Luxembourgians are quite relaxed… even in religious matters

Shopping in the border supermarket

Shopping in the border supermarket

Conclusion

 HFC on tour!

HFC on tour!

We had a great time in the Belgian Ardennes and our visit was as informative, impressive, and many-sided as our last trip to the Eastern Ardennes.

Bastogne is certainly a “must see” (not necessarily a “must-stay-overnight” however), and the 101st Airborne Museum with the realistic dioramas and the solemn atmosphere is a very special museum, which should not be missed.

The Mardassone is certainly a must for every Ardennes battlefield tourist. We will certainly return there once the Bastogne Historical Center has reopened.

In the Bastogne vicinity are many interesting locations, which are all close to each other. The Easy Company Memorial near Foy and the Foxholes are very impressive and another highlight of a battlefield tour through the Ardennes.

If you are a fan of Sherman tanks, you won’t be disappointed, since you will find them all over the place. In addition, there are the German and British tanks, which are a welcome change. The museums are all well worth a visit, as are the historical locations like La Roche Castle.

Following the Voie de la Liberte

Following the Voie de la Liberte

In contrast to the East Ardennes in Luxembourg, language is an issue in Belgium. While Luxembourgians are extremely relaxed and tend to switch between various languages even among themselves, Wallonie is a francophone country where people are not as fluent in other languages. English is spoken in tourist centers and rudimentary in bars and restaurants, but outside of the centers, you are lost without at least basic knowledge of French (similar to the situation in France).

Bastogne: The Werewolf of Neffe

Bastogne: The Werewolf of Neffe

Breakfast is also very French, and people are a little bit more reserved than the very open Luxembourgians. But nevertheless, most people were friendly and helpful and we always felt safe and comfortable while driving around through the towns and through the countryside.

The Belgian Ardennes are somewhat different from the Eastern Ardennes – the area around Bastogne is plain, compared with the rocky and steep valleys of Luxembourg and the area around La Roche. Bastogne is surrounded by soft, woodless hills, farmland, millions of cows, and small farms everywhere, while there are almost no dramatic or spectacular sights like the bedrock, dense woods, and wild rivers in Luxembourg. Nevertheless, the rural surroundings are nice and idyllic (something which cannot be said about noisy Bastogne itself), and we greatly enjoyed our visit to this part of the Ardennes.

All in all, you have to see both countries to get a complete overview over the region where the Battle of the Bulge was fought.  Both countries – Luxembourg and Belgium – are definitely worth a visit and a great experience!

Don’t forget to check out our photo gallery for MANY MORE photos!!

 

If you are interested in more impressions from our Ardennes trips, check out these travel reports:

 

More battlefield reports and tour logs on our HFC on Tour main page (for example Arnhem – Market Garden, Huertgen Forst, Remagen Bridge…)

7 Responses to “HFC On Tour: Battle of the Bulge – Bastogne and the Ardennes II”

  1. jsantana2 said

    Great post, very well described. Great history! Me and my family are booking a visit to this sites soon, we will use your series of posts as a guide. Thanks.

    J.S.
    Brazil.

  2. stink2129 said

    Loved reading this post. A friend and I will be in Bastogne for a couple of days in June and are really hoping to do a tour of some of the museums, memorials and battle sites (particularly some of the Easy Company sites). This will be our first time in the area (renting a house just north of Foy). In your opinion, is it relatively painless to find your way around to the sites mentioned above on your own, or would we be wise to pay a guide? We prefer to explore on our own when possible, but being solely English-speaking first-timers, I don’t want to make the assumption we can find our way around easy of that’s not the case.

    Any tips or suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks,
    John Wurm
    St. Paul, MN

    • Denny Koch said

      Hi John, thank you for your comment! It’s great that you like our battlefield report and we are sure you will have a great time at Bastogne.

      If you have a good travel guide (book, map), finding your way around wouldn’t be much of a problem. People in the Bastogne area are French native speakers, but we got along quite painlessly with English (many Belgians speak English). Some French words will help, though, and break the ice 😉

      In the Bastogne central square (close to the US armor) is the tourist information with English speaking personnel; they can provide you with directions and material.

      We didn’t hire a local guide but did extensive research before traveling (noting addresses of places, museums and sites for the navigation system). Many places are well signposted and since Bastogne is the local traffic hub (the reason why it was such a key location during the Battle of the Bulge), you will always find your way from and to there.
      You definitely need a car to reach most of the locations, but if you prepare yourself before traveling by gathering as much information as you can get, you won’t need a local guide. It’s not too complicated to navigate around the area and the people at the museums and in the area are friendly and helpful and will also show you the way to more obscure places if you are lost (like the forest at Foy).

      We wish you a great trip to a very interesting area! 🙂

  3. Anonymous said

    Hau, my dad Garfield T Brown went back to Bastogne for the 50th anniversary of The Battle of The Bulge along with 4 other Oglala Sioux who fought there. My dad gave a hat with the Big Red One patch to a young boy 12-15yrs old at the time 1994. I would like to get in contact with him but don’t know who can help me locate. Can anyone help me find this boy my address is.
    Richard D Brown
    PO Box 727
    Pine Ridge,SD USA
    57770
    ph.(605)867-1626
    cell (605)454-6367
    Thank You Very Much !!!!!!!!

  4. Richard Brown said

    hau, my dad Garfield Brown fought at the Battle of The Bulge in The First Infantry Division, he is An Oglala Lakota Sioux from Pine Ridge Reservation South Dakota and was a Code Talker

  5. maurice Danielse said

    this is a very nice site. please can you telle me on what date this years walk is of the battle of the Bulge ?
    i know its in December but wich date and wich route we gonna walk.

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