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Dignitaries gather in Belgium to mark 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge and the out-gunned US soldiers who fought on after declaring 'Nuts!' to the Nazis' call for a surrender

Dignitaries gather in Belgium to mark 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge and the out-gunned US soldiers who fought on after declaring 'Nuts!' to the Nazis' call for a surrender
Dignitaries have gathered in Belgium today to mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge and remember the thousands who died in the last German offensive of World War II. 
Hitler's forces launched the attack on December 16, 1944, taking Allied troops in Belgium and Luxembourg by surprise. 
The Allies eventually recovered, mounting a heroic defence in the Siege of Bastogne after a US commander had responded 'Nuts!' to a German demand of surrender, but up to 40,000 people including thousands of civilians were killed in the fighting. 
Today the king and queen of Belgium, president of Germany and top US officials are leading the ceremonies to honour those who died.   
Commemoration: Dignitaries including the king and queen of Belgium and president of Germany watch a re-enactment of the Battle of the Bulge with actors covered in fake snow
Commemoration: Dignitaries including the king and queen of Belgium and president of Germany watch a re-enactment of the Battle of the Bulge with actors covered in fake snow 
Dignitaries: Polish president Andrzej Duda (left), Queen Mathilde of Belgium (centre) and her husband King Philippe (right) stand in the front row at the ceremony today
Dignitaries: Polish president Andrzej Duda (left), Queen Mathilde of Belgium (centre) and her husband King Philippe (right) stand in the front row at the ceremony today 
Battle in the snow: American soldiers in a snowy ditch in Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge, which was Nazi Germany's last offensive of World War II. The goal of Hitler's forces was to seize the port of Antwerp to deny it to Allied resupply ships
Battle in the snow: American soldiers in a snowy ditch in Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge, which was Nazi Germany's last offensive of World War II. The goal of Hitler's forces was to seize the port of Antwerp to deny it to Allied resupply ships
Defence: An American M10 tank destroyer advances with its turret reversed in the Ardennes forest during the Battle of the Bulge, which began 75 years ago today. The M10s were produced in 1942 and 1943 after the US entry into the war
Defence: An American M10 tank destroyer advances with its turret reversed in the Ardennes forest during the Battle of the Bulge, which began 75 years ago today. The M10s were produced in 1942 and 1943 after the US entry into the war 
Ahead of the anniversary, veterans and military enthusiasts re-enacted the close-quarters fighting in the wooded hills of the Ardennes. 
Today the dignitaries watched a further display at the Mardasson Memorial, where actors representing the troops were covered in fake snow. 
Belgium's King Philippe and Queen Mathilde sat at the front of the rows of guests while German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier declared that 'the spirit of Europe is alive'. 
Poland's President Andrzej Duda was also there, along with envoys from Britain, Canada and France. 
US defense secretary Mark Esper and House speaker Nancy Pelosi represented Washington. 
Bastogne, which is close to the Luxembourg border, is the focus of today's commemoration.
The Belgian town's legendary rescue by US paratroopers has since been celebrated in the TV series Band of Brothers. 
The siege helped seal General George Patton's reputation as a US military giant and his granddaughter Helen has been greeting veterans on battlefield visits in recent days.  
Later, the convoy will cross the border to the Luxembourg Military Cemetery and Memorial in Hamm, Patton's final resting place.
There they will be received by Luxembourg's Grand Duke Henri and Prime Minister Xavier Bettel.  
Re-enactment: Dignitaries watch as actors representing the World War II soldiers are covered with fake snow during the commemoration in Bastogne, Belgium, on Monday
Re-enactment: Dignitaries watch as actors representing the World War II soldiers are covered with fake snow during the commemoration in Bastogne, Belgium, on Monday 
Ceremony: Dignitaries including the Belgian king and queen, Luxembourg's Grand Duke Henri (second right) and German head of state Frank-Walter Steinmeier (right) at today's event
Ceremony: Dignitaries including the Belgian king and queen, Luxembourg's Grand Duke Henri (second right) and German head of state Frank-Walter Steinmeier (right) at today's event 
Guests: The King and Queen of Belgium sit in the front row today. The guests behind them include US House speaker Nancy Pelosi (left) and new European Council chief Charles Michel (centre)
Guests: The King and Queen of Belgium sit in the front row today. The guests behind them include US House speaker Nancy Pelosi (left) and new European Council chief Charles Michel (centre)
Memorial: Heads of state and government applaud as they gather to remember the Battle of the Bulge, 75 years after Nazi Germany's failed last offensive
Memorial: Heads of state and government applaud as they gather to remember the Battle of the Bulge, 75 years after Nazi Germany's failed last offensive 
Representation: US House speaker Nancy Pelosi and French foreign minister Yves Le Drian sit behind Belgian royalty and the Polish head of state at today's event
Representation: US House speaker Nancy Pelosi and French foreign minister Yves Le Drian sit behind Belgian royalty and the Polish head of state at today's event 
Winter battle: Soldiers move through the snow during the Battle of the Bulge which killed thousand of troops on both sides as well as Belgian civilians who died in artillery bombardments or in massacres carried out by the Waffen-SS in villages like Houffalize
Winter battle: Soldiers move through the snow during the Battle of the Bulge which killed thousand of troops on both sides as well as Belgian civilians who died in artillery bombardments or in massacres carried out by the Waffen-SS in villages like Houffalize
March: Soldiers of the US 101st Division march out of Bastogne, Belgium on a snowy street shortly after the siege laid on the town by Hitler's forces. Bastogne's legendary rescue by US paratroopers has since been celebrated in the TV series Band of Brothers
March: Soldiers of the US 101st Division march out of Bastogne, Belgium on a snowy street shortly after the siege laid on the town by Hitler's forces. Bastogne's legendary rescue by US paratroopers has since been celebrated in the TV series Band of Brothers
Emergency: American medics tend to an injured comrade in a forest during the German offensive which began on December 16, 1944. Some 18,000 encircled men fought bravely against enormous odds in Bastogne, but risked being overrun by the Germans
Emergency: American medics tend to an injured comrade in a forest during the German offensive which began on December 16, 1944. Some 18,000 encircled men fought bravely against enormous odds in Bastogne, but risked being overrun by the Germans 
The German counter-attack began on December 16, 1944, with Hitler's forces falling back ever since June's D-Day landings.   
The Wehrmacht's goal was to seize the port of Antwerp to deny it to Allied resupply ships, and five of their roads north converged on the small Belgian town.
By December 20, the battle-hardened but lightly armed US paratroopers were surrounded and a German Panzer general demanded their surrender.
'Nuts!' was the one-word reply from the US commander, Anthony McAuliffe, and the ensuing week-long siege lasted until Patton's Third Army came to the rescue. 
Mathieu Billa, historian director of the Bastogne War Museum, told AFP that the then 59-year-old Patton reached the summit of his glory when he relieved Bastogne.
The general died in a road accident during the 1945 occupation of a defeated Germany, but was buried in the Ardennes with comrades from his famous victory. 
Patrol: American troops stand by a tank in La Gleize, Belgium. The offensive began six months after D-Day, with German forces falling back after the Allied advance from France
Patrol: American troops stand by a tank in La Gleize, Belgium. The offensive began six months after D-Day, with German forces falling back after the Allied advance from France 
Shelter: US infantrymen take cover from enemy artillery fire in a snow-blanketed Luxembourg wood. After the German offensive began, Allied supreme commander Dwight Eisenhower rushed reinforcements to the Ardennes to hold off the attack
Shelter: US infantrymen take cover from enemy artillery fire in a snow-blanketed Luxembourg wood. After the German offensive began, Allied supreme commander Dwight Eisenhower rushed reinforcements to the Ardennes to hold off the attack 
On standby: American soldiers manning a light anti aircraft gun in a snowy churchyard somewhere in Belgium. Between 15,000 and 20,000 German troops died, against between 10,000 and 19,000 Americans
On standby: American soldiers manning a light anti aircraft gun in a snowy churchyard somewhere in Belgium. Between 15,000 and 20,000 German troops died, against between 10,000 and 19,000 Americans
Operation: American infantrymen of the 87th Division enter the town of St-Hubert
Operation: American infantrymen of the 87th Division enter the town of St-Hubert
The 18,000 encircled men had fought bravely against enormous odds, but risked being overrun.
The overall Battle of the Bulge would rage across the Ardennes for six weeks - drawing in 600,000 American and 25,000 British troops against 400,000 Germans - until the Allies prevailed in January 1945.
Between 15,000 and 20,000 German troops died, against between 10,000 and 19,000 Americans.
And 3,000 Belgian civilians perished under artillery bombardments or in massacres carried out by the Waffen-SS in villages like Houffalize. 
Seventy-five years on, the number of former combatants and witnesses who can attend ceremonies is declining, and Belgium's War Heritage Institute has invited as many as they still can.
On Sunday, 10 serving members of the 101st read accounts of the fighting in the Jacques Wood, where their predecessors dug foxholes in the icy mud.
'Our gratitude to the young Americans who fell on Ardennes soil is eternal. We owe them our freedom,' Bastogne's Mayor Benoit Lutgen said. 

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