Ardennen-Poteau ’44 Museum
The rolling green, fir and pine-forested Ardennes Mountains in Belgium and Luxembourg are a military enthusiast’s dream with a high concentration of World War II museums sprinkled throughout. Clusters of stone walled farmhouses form rural hamlets, many boasting their own museum, because in December 1944 they were the sites of desperate last-ditch battles from the dying Third Reich. Known as the Battle of the Ardennes or, the Battle of the Bulge, over 200,000 German and Allied troops were killed, wounded or captured in bitter fighting.
One of the most exciting museums is the ARDENNEN-POTEAU ’44 MUSEUM, located in a very rural area of the Ardennes. The museum is at a crossroads between St. Vith and Vielsalm, where the American 14th Cavalry Group ambushed the German Kampfgruppe Hansen on 18 December 1944. The ambush resulted in significant damage to the German vehicles and heavy losses of troops, stalling the German advance even longer. Foxhole trenches, dug by Americans, are still visible on the banks of the nearby river.
The museum is partly located in a former Prussian custom house and packed with equipment, uniformed models and well-presented dioramas, weapons, cannon, photographs and even loop films about the battle. It is well known for its large number of working U.S. and German military vehicles that stand in and around the museum, lovingly restored and maintained by museum owners Rob and Jacqueline de Ruyter from Arnhem, the Netherlands. Their expanding collection of WWII equipment and vehicles, started in the 1970s, has meant extending the museum twice since it opened in 1998. A monument to the two soldiers in the 14th Cavalry Group who were killed in the ambush is located on the grounds.
The vehicles are displayed inside and out. For a private museum, the motorcycle collection is impressive: a Harley-Davidson WLA, a BMW R75 with Stein sidecar, a BSA M20 with sidecar, and a rare U.S. Airborne Cushman motor scooter.
Most U.S. automakers are represented with soft- and hard-skinned vehicles including the ubiquitous Willy’s MB, a Ford M8 Greyhound light armored car, a Cadillac M5A1 Stuart light tank, two IHC M5 halftracks, a Dodge WC51 ¾-ton truck, a Studebaker M29 Weasel full-tracked vehicle and two White halftracks (M2A1 and M4A1) and of course, the proverbial Chrysler M4 Sherman medium tank.
German vehicles exhibited are the Sd.Kfz. 251 halftrack and an Opel Blitz 1½-ton truck. During summer months, visitors can take a 20-minute tour of the original battlefield where the ambush took place in either a German halftrack (actually a Czech OT-810 taken into service by the Wermacht), or a U.S. M5 halftrack. A Sherman Firefly also adds some interest — take a look at the tank turret; it looks like Swiss cheese. It’s sitting on the ground outside the museum, absolutely punctured and gouged with anti-tank rounds.
ARDENNEN-POTEAU ’44 MUSEUM (Poteauer Strasse 22, 4780 Poteau [near St. Vith], Belgium; phone +32 080 21 74 25, www.museum-poteau44.be). You’ll need your own car to get to this museum; it is in a rural area. Visit nearby St. Vith to go on a sign-posted walking tour of the town to learn about the battle that largely destroyed it.
Open from 1 April-14 June and 16 September-31 October, Saturday-Sunday, 1-5 p.m.; 15 June-15 Sept, daily 1-5. Also open by appointment. Admission, adults €6; children 4-14 years €3, and groups €5 per person.