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.

3 Answers 3


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.

  • I want to point out the scene in the 1970 movie Patton where the Germans are very confused by this response. "Nüße?"
    – Spencer
    Commented Dec 16, 2019 at 18:23

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.’ ”


Great Battle of the Bulge question for the 75 year anniversary of it's start.

  • Dec 16, 1944 - Battle of the Bulge begins
  • Dec 20, 1944 - Siege of Bastogne Begins with it's encirclement
  • Dec 22, 1944 - German Surrender Demand answered by General McAuliffe
  • Dec 27, 1944 - Siege of Bastogne is lifted by Patton.
  • Jan 25, 1945 - Battle of the Bulge ends

German Surrender Demand
To the U.S.A. Commander of the encircled town of Bastogne.

The fortune of war is changing. This time the U.S.A. forces in and near Bastogne have been encircled by strong German armored units. More German armored units have crossed the river Our near Ortheuville, have taken Marche and reached St. Hubert by passing through Hompre-Sibret-Tillet. Libramont is in German hands.

There is only one possibility to save the encircled U.S.A. troops from total annihilation: that is the honorable surrender of the encircled town. In order to think it over a term of two hours will be granted beginning with the presentation of this note.

If this proposal should be rejected one German Artillery Corps and six heavy A. A. Battalions are ready to annihilate the U.S.A. troops in and near Bastogne. The order for firing will be given immediately after this two hours term.

All the serious civilian losses caused by this artillery fire would not correspond with the well-known American humanity.

The German Commander. General von Lüttwitz

General McAuliffe Initially responds to this demand by Saying "NUTS" my first thought was in frustration out of reading for the first time of the German offenses successes contained in the demand. However; it's written in the US Military History McAuliffe never read the surrender demand, he reacted upon hearing what the communication from the Germans was. McAuliffe believed he had been soundly defeating the Germans up to that point in the siege and couldn't believe they were asking HIM for his surrender. Later after some discussion when reminded he hadn't answers the German surrender request and he sought wording for a reply it was suggested he go with his first response, NUT's which he did.

The response was then written on a piece of paper and personally delivered by Colonel Harper, commanding the 327th, to the two German officers at the front who were being held there to relay the reply still blind folded... The German officers on reading the reply asked if that was a negative response or an affirmative? To which Colonel Harper said "The reply is decidedly not affirmative."

US Military History:Bastogne
(Colonel Harper) then removed the blindfold and said to them, speaking through the German captain, "If you don't understand what 'Nuts' means, in plain English it is the same as 'Go to hell.' And I will tell you something else—if you continue to attack we will kill every goddam German that tries to break into this city."9

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.

Surrender was not out of the question. The 101st airborne were surrounded, outnumbered 5-1, without their senior leadership including their commanding general Major General Maxwell Taylor, and outgunned for seven days 20–27 December 1944. They were low on ammo, mortar shells, artillery, medical supplies, food and winter weather gear. There were gaps in the American defensive lines which were wide enough for the Germans to pass through with minimal opposition. Other parts of the line were so sparely defended the Americans could not hope to withstand a German offensive without re-reinforcements. Additionally the surrounded American forces could not be resupplied from the air, nor was tactical air power available to the defenders. The defenders of Bastion could easily could have surrendered on these grounds.

General McAuliffe's defensive strategy was basically to draw men weapons and ammunition from the line and create a rapid reaction force which would run to the location of any German offensive and respond. That strategy was effective but could have easily have been overwhelmed by the numerically superior attacking Germans. The Germans could have struck simultaneously at two or more locations at once and Bastogne would have been lost. It's frankly a miracle they weren't overrun. That's what made General Macaulif's response to the German surrender command so historic.


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