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WW II 'Battle of the Bulge' museum opens in Belgium

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American troops held off a wekk-long siege at Bastogne. Photo courtesy of the Belgian Tourist Office.

It’s late 1944, and after landing on the French beaches at Normandy the Allied forces are pressing forward to Germany. Hitler’s army, thought to be on the run, surprises the Allies by mounting a huge counterattack. Their objective is to drive across Belgium’s Ardennes Forest to recapture the port of Antwerp – the vital supply center for the British and American armies. There’s only one big hurdle in their way: the city of Bastogne, about 115 miles inland from Antwerp and where the region’s seven main roads come together on their way to the port.

Greatly outnumbered and cut off from the rest of the Allied forces, American troops defending the city withstood a week-long siege by the Germans until Gen. George Patton’s reinforcements were able to punch through the attackers' lines. Unable to take Bastogne, the German’s whole counterattack failed, setting the stage for their final surrender four months later.

Fast-forward to today, and visitors to Belgium are invited to explore a new museum designed to honor the 76,890 American soldiers killed, wounded or missing in what was to go down in the history books as “The Battle of the Bulge.”

Built in the form of an American five-pointed star, the museum tells the story of the battle from the perspectives of two soldiers (one American, one German) as well as from a local teacher and a teenager who lived through the onslaught that devastated their town. In one recreated scene, visitors will enter a dimly lit tavern to experience the heavy bombing of Bastogne over Christmas 1944.

The exhibits feature high-tech, interactive displays and 3D projections backed up by artifacts from the battle including several tanks.

Set to open March 22, the museum is located next to the Mardasson Memorial near Bastogne.

More info: Visit the Belgian Tourist Office and the museum’s site.