7

Well documented during the Battle of the Bulge in late 1944 was McAuliffe's response to the German demand for surrender: Nuts!

Many years ago, an ex-101st Airborne trooper who said he was in the command post when the surrender demand came in, told me an interesting story about how this came to be. When the demand first came in, McAuliffe's initial response was something along the lines of telling the Germans to perform quaint anatomical impossibilities on themselves.

Surrender was out of the question - they were holding up a major offensive by blocking a critical crossroads. They had repulsed several attacks so far. They knew 4th Armored was racing towards them. And they had some idea that the bad weather would clear, which would bring in the tactical air P47's to wreak havoc on the German forces... which did happen a few days later.

Come the time to send some sort of response, someone suggested to McAuliffe - why not your original remark? Supposedly, that was vetoed on the grounds that this incident would probably make the history books, so they had to keep it a bit clean, and the alternate 'nuts' was sent instead.

Has anyone come across any valid documentation on this story? Just trying to figure out if that is true, or was the guy just embellishing, which has been known to happen with war stories.

8

Here is one version of the story as reported by the U.S. army.

The term "nuts" was not "cleaned up." It was an "expletive" that could be translated as "balls." Another meaning is "crazy;" if I had been translating for the Americans, I would have told the Germans "Sie sind verrückt."

It was a visceral reply, made by General McAuliffe in a moment of irritation. He thought better of it and asked his staff, "What should I say?" The general opinion was "Your first reaction is your best reaction." So the quasi-expletive was allowed to stand.

The Germans asked for an explanation/translation for the puzzling reply. The one given to them by Colonel Harper was "Go to Hell. On your way, Bud."

Swearing is more common today (among well educated people) than it was during World War II. In 1944, for a high-ranking officer to use such a "colloquial" expression in a formal, written communication (not an off the record oral session), was highly unusual, to say the least. This one did so for emphasis, after checking with his staff. "Nuts" was not a "cleaned up" version of anything; it was a "down and dirty" original (for its time). That's why it is history.

3

General Harry Kinnard, then Lt. Colonel, was present. According to his obituary in the New York Times, "Nuts!" was the original.

The message [to surrender] was passed on to Brig. Gen. Anthony C. McAuliffe, acting as division commander while Maj. Gen. Maxwell D. Taylor was in Washington.

General Kinnard, a lieutenant colonel at the time and the division’s operations officer, would recall that General McAuliffe “laughed and said: ‘Us surrender? Aw, nuts.’”

As General Kinnard related it long afterward in an interview with Patrick O’Donnell, a military historian: “He pondered for a few minutes and then told the staff, ‘Well, I don’t know what to tell them.’ He then asked the staff what they thought, and I spoke up, saying, ‘That first remark of yours would be hard to beat.’ McAuliffe said, ‘What do you mean?’ I answered, ‘Sir, you said, ‘Nuts.’ All members of the staff enthusiastically agreed. McAuliffe then wrote down: ‘To the German Commander, Nuts! The American Commander.’ ”

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.