Bastogne Barracks
by: Bill Cross

The Bastogne Barracks were built in the 1930s by the Belgian Army. After having their neutrality violated by Germany in 1914, the Belgians were in no mood to play the victim a second time, though when the Wehrmacht rolled through the Ardennes in 1940, they quickly overwhelmed the Belgian defenders. Four years of occupation followed.

During the Occupation, the barracks were used by the Germans, who then cleared out in the Fall of 1944 with the advance of the Allies into Belgium and nearby Luxemburg. With the war looking all but over, no one suspected what was about to unfold: the launch of Wacht am Rhein, Germany's attack known to history as "The Battle of the Bulge." Within a few days, the crucial intersection of Bastogne was surrounded and looking like it would fall as Germany tried to race its Panzers to Antwerp.

Having rushed to Bastogne to buy time for Allied reinforcements to stem the German advance, the most-famous defenders of Bastogne were the 101st Airborne, who set up their HQ inside the Barracks. There, on December 22, the Germans surrounding Bastogne asked for the American surrender. The 101st's temporary commander, Gen. Anthony McAuliffe, replied "Nuts," one of the most-famous and succinct retorts in military history since Leonidas answered Xerxes demands for the Greeks to lay down their arms at Thermopylae with the cheeky "come and take them."

After the war, the Barracks reverted to the Belgian Army, who still maintain it, now more as a museum and a facility for restoring armored vehicles. The 101st HQ has been brought back to its 1944 look, complete with small arms visitors can actually handle (see the photo of my delighted son). In addition, the museum has numerous dioramas and exhibits of all manner of equipment, as well a shed filled with tanks, AFVs and guns, including many of the superstars of the Second World War (almost all in running order). There are some delicious rarities, too: during our visit, a StuG IIIF was in the restoration shop, along with a monster Soviet JS-3.

Tours of the Bastogne Barracks are (get this): FREE! You just need to call ahead and get scheduled. The tours are in French, but the guides speak good English and will translate the presentation for you. The entire tour takes about two hours, and is an armor-lover's dream come true.

This article comes from Armorama