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The Battle of the Bulge has been the subject of numerous films and an even greater number of books. Nuts Castle at Isle La Hesse near Bastogne, a very comfortable stopover situated in a magnificent section of the Ardennes forest, is the witness par excellence of the confrontations which took place in the area. The camera crew and actors in the Band of Brothers series spent several relaxing days there in December 2016 ( fifteen years after producing the cult series). In quite another vein for the chateau, its inhabitants and the village, 1944 was the theatre of a series of events that no one could possibly have predicted.
The US 101st Airborne Division magnificently resisted the German assault before General Patton’s troops managed to break the stranglehold around Bastogne ©
« On 29th November 1943, my husband was told by the Oberfeldkommandantur in Brussels to hand over his responsibility as governor of the Province of Luxembourg, leave the province and take up residence elsewhere. This measure was the natural result of an organised resistance which he had been leading since August 1940 against the Occupiers”, his wife recounted in a slim volume entitled « Noël 1944 à Isle La Hesse » (Christmas 1944 at Isle La Hesse)… She was never to see again the father of her twelve children, who was arrested during a routine check, deported to Buchenwald, assassinated in January 1945 and posthumously honoured by his country for his numerous acts of bravery and loyalty.
René and Anne Marie Greindl acquired the Isle La Hesse property in 1930 from the Kuborn family. The main part of the house in local stone, flanked by two square turrets and altered in the 18th and 19th centuries to become a very pleasant place of residence, had served since its construction at the beginning of the 17th century as a Justice Court. The historical value of this site lies not so much in its heritage, which is certainly of interest, as in the events which took place around it are the source of its name Nuts Castle.
Part of Nuts Castle was severely damaged during the war©
Soon after the liberation of the country in Autumn 1944, the chateau was occupied by the American army, initially by passing guests, then the anti-aircraft artillery regiment of the 635th battalion, which was defending the Bastogne region. It was on her return from a rare excursion with her children, that Anne Marie Greindl noted in her diary, not without stupefaction: “The Germans have launched a violent counter-attack from the direction of Vianden. Vianden, is not far from Bastogne as the crow flies. Operation “Wacht am Rhein” had been launched, concentrating on the Ardennes and targeting the Port of Antwerp. The aim was to assert the military capacities of the Reich and precipitate conditions for peace negotiations in Western Europe.
Up to 300 soldiers shared mattresses with the family in the cellars of the chateau © Philippe Jarbinet
From 20th December, German panzers surrounded the town of Bastogne and its 18,000 allied soldiers. Isle La Hesse found itself at the heart of a major confrontation of the Second World War in Europe, with the front line two kilometres from the property, detachments from the famous 101st Airborne Division sharing mattresses with the Greindl family and a number of children and refugees picked up nearby, down in the chateau cellars.
It must have been on the 27th December that the staff of the 101st Division with General McAuliffe, who had sent the famous reply « Nuts! » to the Germans when the latter enjoined him to surrender the town of Bastogne, that he was joined by General Taylor on his return in a panic from Washington. As for General Patton, he was in the neighbourhood having come to attend a meeting of the General Staff.
Generals McAuliffe and Taylor lived for about a month at Nuts Castle
“For bravery and gallantry” . This picture has been taken from the film CombatsReels
The 101st Division left Nuts Castle around 17 January. “An emotional ceremony took place two days prior to their departure. In the area in front of the house, they built a rostrum and covered it with a parachute. In front, a group from the Airborne Division and some fighters from different services, who had participated in the encirclement, formed a square.
The general soon appeared with his general staff, and one by one, an officer read the citations of these brave men who then received a medal ‘For Bravery and Gallantry” from Taylor. The ceremony was repeated in Bastogne the following day but Isle la Hesse considers it an honour to have received it first”.
In the park, a tomb of two American soldiers © Stephan de Callataÿ
As you walk round the chateau grounds, you will notice some traces and vestiges of this pivotal episode to which the domain and its inhabitants were rudely subjected.
In a tomb, which continues to receive flowers from an unknown source, two soldiers lie buried. On the edge of the wood, look out for the foxholes which served as combat positions during those winter weeks, to safeguard the Bastogne crossroads and consequently the target of fierce fighting.
Bastogne wanted to honour General McAuliffe by awarding him the title of honorary citizen of the town. A statue of the general, who died in 1975, can be seen on the Place du Carré. Much more imposing is the Mardasson Memorial built by the Belgo-American Association to the north of the town. On the hillside, the Bastogne War Museum awaits your visit. Still further north, the cimetière de Recogne (Recogne cemetery) is the last resting place of 7,000 German soldiers who died during the “Wacht am Rhein” operation.
The Mardasson Memorial and the Bastogne War Museum lie to the north of the town© Jeroen Fossaert
Antony Beevor’s book, ‘Ardennes 1944: Hitler’s Last Gamble‘, gives an excellent exposé of the reasons which prompted Hitler, against the advice of his generals, to insist upon an offensive which he deemed necessary to break the stronghold between the East and Western fronts, a time-saving manoeuvre while awaiting the development of arms of mass destruction or, failing that, forcing the issue, creating conditions whereby acceptable negotiations with the Allies could be undertaken.
In his book ‘The End – Hitler’s Germany 1944-45‘, Ian Kershaw attempts to explain the murderous folly which engulfed the Nazi regime back in 1944.
Battle of the Bulge, Ken Annakin, 1965
Band of Brothers, part 6 and 7, Steven Spielberg et Tom Hanks, 2002
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Vanessa and Stephan de Callataÿ
Isle La Hesse
+32 478 70 44 01
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