McManus tells untold story of battle against all odds

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On February 16, 2007

In his latest book, “ Alamo in the Ardennes: The Untold Story of the American Soldiers Who Made the Defense of Bastogne Possible,” historian John McManus provides a fresh insight into the legendary defense of Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge.

The familiar story of the 101st Airborne Division’s defense of the vital road junction during World War II fails to acknowledge the role that small groups of outnumbered American soldiers, in units like the 28th Infantry Division and 9th Armored Division, played in slowing the German advance. It’s a story that McManus himself learned when he worked as a tour guide and historian with Stephen Ambrose Tours, leading groups to various beaches in Normandy for the 60-year commemoration ceremony, then throughout Europe touring other battle sites.

“It’s an absolutely amazing story that some of the veterans told me about,” says McManus, assistant professor of history at the University of Missouri-Rolla. “The Americans put up such a fight. What was going on in these little towns was so chaotic. The whole thing literally could have gone either way.”

McManus combined numerous after-action reports, letters, interviews, memoirs, and diaries together to flesh out the 336–page book. The book, published by Wiley, will be available March 5.

The book gives an account of Dec. 16-20, 1944, before the 101st arrived, and describes small unit actions in detail. One of the vignettes McManus covers transpired in the little Belgium town of Noville, an outpost of Bastogne.

“What makes Noville important is that almost every road to Bastonge goes through Noville,” McManus explains. “Knowing this, the Germans tried to hit it with a whole armored division, and they believed the American forces would crumble at the massive onslaught. A few hundred American soldiers were spread out, fighting in the fog against all odds, under the command of a 26-year-old major who was only a few years out of Georgetown. After two brutal days, the Americans had put up such a fight that the Germans couldn’t use the town the way they had wanted.”

The Americans suffered nearly 50 percent casualties. In the end, the Americans hung onto Bastogne, which helped thwart the powerful German offensive.

McManus began his career at UMR as a history instructor in 2000 and was named assistant professor in 2003. He teaches courses on the Civil War, World War II, the Vietnam War, U.S. military history and the modern American combat experience. He received the department’s first Faculty Excellence Award, and two campus faculty excellence awards.

In addition to writing “Alamo in the Ardennes,” McManus has authored four other books — “The Americans at Normandy: The Summer of 1944–The American War from the Normandy Beaches to Falaise,” “The Americans at D-Day: The American Experience at the Normandy Invasion,” “The Deadly Brotherhood: The American Combat Soldier in World War II” and “Deadly Sky: The American Combat Airman in World War II.” All five books are available on

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On February 16, 2007. Posted in Research