In 11 Days In December, master historian and biographer Stanley Weintraub tells the remarkable story of the Battle of the Bulge as it has never been told before, from frozen foxholes to barn shelters to boxcars packed with wretched prisoners of war.
In late December 1944, as the Battle of the Bulge neared its climax, a German loudspeaker challenge was blared across GI lines in the Ardennes: "How would you like to die for Christmas?" In the inhospitable forest straddling Belgium, France, and Luxembourg, only the dense, snow-laden evergreens recalled the season. Most troops hardly knew the calendar day they were trying to live through, or that it was Hitler's last, desperate effort to alter the war's outcome.
Yet the final Christmas season of World War II matched desperation with inspiration. When he was offered an ultimatum to surrender the besieged Belgian town of Bastogne, Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe defied the Germans with the memorable one-word response, "Nuts!" And as General Patton prayed for clear skies to allow vital airborne reinforcements to reach his trapped men, he stood in a medieval chapel in Luxembourg and spoke to God as if to a commanding general: "Sir, whose side are you on?" His prayer was answered. The skies cleared, the tide of battle turned, and Allied victory in World War II was assured.
Christmas 1944 proved to be one of the most fateful days in world history. Many men did extraordinary things, and extraordinary things happened to ordinary men. "A clear cold Christmas," Patton told his diary, "lovely weather for killing Germans, which seems a bit queer, seeing whose birthday it is." Peace on earth and good will toward men would have to wait.
11 Days in December is unforgettable.
The Battle of the Bulge doesn't quite fit the epic mold it's often cast in bloody, yes, but lacking in strategic consequence, with no one but Hitler doubting the Allied victory. That the carnage spoiled Christmas time is the slender irony anchoring this aimless retelling by military historian Weintraub (Silent Night: The Story of the 1914 Christmas Truce). Noting American complacency about the German buildup, and strategic and personal squabbles among the Allied commanders, he trumps up Patton's prayer for good killing weather into a dramatic turning point. Mainly, though, the book is a kaleidoscope of anecdotes, combat scenes alternating incoherently with foxhole doldrums and frontline picaresque. There's pluck and defiance " 'They've got us surrounded, the poor bastards,' " quips a jaunty GI and death and despair. There are celebrity cameos: correspondent Ernest Hemingway drinks and growls and shoots a few Germans; Marlene Dietrich, on a USO tour, allows a soldier to dust her body with delousing powder. And there are many Christmas celebrations, everywhere from POW camps and Belgian orphanages to Hitler's headquarters. Unfortunately, the reader gleans neither a clear battle narrative nor a sense of pathos only a period-authentic impatience to get the war over with. 8 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW.
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This is all stuff from other books author wrote + stuff that ended up on cutting room floor. Mercifully short. Poorly edited.