Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Battered (and Beery) Bastard of Bastogne

December 1944 was a horrific experience for American troops in the Ardennes forest of Belgium.

In a last ditch effort to reach the port city of Antwerp, the German army mounted on all out effort to punch a hole in the Allied lines along the German border. By Christmas they had pushed a nearly 60 mile “bulge” into American held territory. On December 19th, the U.S.’s 101st Airborne Infantry Division and elements of the 10th Armored Division were sent in to fortify the village of Bastogne where seven main roads converged, making it a critical point in the German advance. By December 21st the town and its beleaguered defenders were completely surrounded, and outnumbered five to one.

But the line held.

German artillery pounded the U.S lines for days. When hit, the tall pine trees of the Ardennes exploded. The “tree bursts” hurled splinters and heavy branches, killing or wounding many more of the of the G.Is than the shells actually did. U.S patrols that wandered too far from their positions were easily captured or killed. The temperature dropped well below freezing, and the frozen ground made entrenching nearly impossible. Fires along the front lines were forbidden. The troopers and tankers were woefully under equipped, some wearing the same uniforms they wore when they dropped into France in June. Trench foot and frostbite were rampant. Snow kept supplies lines bogged down, and a persistent fog made airdrops nearly impossible, keeping ammunition, food and warm clothing from reaching the encircled soldiers.

But again, the line held.

Two days after Christmas, elements of the Third Army broke the German stronghold around Bastogne. The 101st, however would not be relieved until the 17th of January.

For one trooper, machine gunner Private Vincent Sperenza, of H Company, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, a brief respite from the grueling events of the Battle of the Bulge—involving a wounded buddy and an M1 helmet full of beer—would result a pretty amazing immortalization—which came as a surprise to him 70 years later.

But, Mr Sperenza tells it better than I can…

Airborne, a 7.5% dark ale, is brewed by Brasserie de Bouillon, in Bouillon Belgium, and is the house beer at Brasserie Lamborelle, a beer-centric pub in Bastogne—a five minute drive from where Private Sperenza'a fox hole was.

It's always served in a miniature ceramic, M1 helmet.

1 comment:

  1. Great post. He's a natural storyteller and a great American.

    Gary Gillman