Hurtgen Forest

map from Time 1944/09

"Following the American breakout at St. Lo, the crushing defeat of the German Seventh Army in the Falaise pocket and the race across France, it seemed that the mighty German Wehrmacht was in a state of final collapse. There was even talk of the war being over by Christmas. But as Allied forces closed on Germany's western border, the tyranny of logistics started to impose the weight of its inflexible laws on operations. The German army, too, now acted differently. Instead of fighting in occupied France, the Landseren were now defending their home soil. The headlong drive of Lt. Gen. George S. Patton, Jr.'s Third Army started to bog down in the Lorraine region of western France. To his north, Lt. Gen. Courtney H. Hodges' First Army hit the West Wall defenses, which the Allies (but not the Germans) called the Siegfried Line. South of Aachen, Hodges' VII and V corps ran up against the toughest section of the West Wall as they entered the dark and foreboding Hurtgen Forest. . .

"The battle began on September 19, 1944 when the 3rd Armored Division and the 9th Infantry Division moved into the forest. The lieutenants and captains quickly learned that control of formations larger than platoons was nearly impossible. Troops more that a few feet apart couldn't see each other. There were no clearings, only narrow firebreaks and trails. Maps were almost useless. When the Germans, secure in their bunkers, saw the GIs coming forward, they called down pre sighted artillery fire, using shells with fuses designed to explode on contact with the treetops. When men dove to the ground for cover, as they had been trained to do, they exposed themselves to a rain of hot metal and fragmented wood. They learned that the only way to survive a shelling in the Hurtgen was to hug a tree. This way they exposed only their steel helmets to steel and fragments coming straight down from the top of the trees. With air support and artillery almost useless, the GIs were committed to a fight of mud and mines, carried out by infantry skirmish lines plunging ever deeper into the forest, with machine guns and light mortars their only support. For the GIs, it was a calamity . In the September action, the 9th and 2nd Armored Divisions lost up to 80 percent of their front-line troops, and gained almost nothing." (quote from Ernie Herr)

Aachen from Rhineland Campaign

"Throughout most of October, Hodges' forces battered away at Aachen, finally capturing the city on the 21st. After punching through the West Wall at Aachen, Hodges intended to break out of the high ground east of the city, cross the Rhine River plain and advance to the river itself at the city of Cologne. As part of this plan, Hodges wanted his forces to clear the Hurtgen to secure his southern flank. Even before the start of Operation Market-Garden, the veteran 9th Infantry Division attacked on September 14, advancing into the southern reaches of the forest to secure the town of Lammersdorf and the high ground around it. Lammersdorf, and especially Hill 554, dominated a natural axis of advance through the forest known as the Monschau Corridor. After 15 days of fierce fighting, the 39th Infantry Regiment finally took Hill 554. On October 6, the 9th resumed its attack to secure the Monschau Corridor. Its objective was Schmidt, a small town on the far side of the Kall River valley that sat astride the major road junctions in that part of the forest. After 10 more days of bloody fighting, the 9th Division had managed to push only about three kilometers into the woods. The 9th suffered some 4,500 casualties in little more than 30 days of fighting. In late October the "Old Reliables" were relieved by the 28th Infantry Division, commanded by Maj. Gen. Norman "Dutch" Cota. The division, originally a Pennsylvania National Guard unit, wore a shoulder patch in the form of a red keystone, the symbol of Pennsylvania. The Germans had their own name for the patch. They called it der blutige Eimer--the Bloody Bucket.

The First Army prepared to renew the attack to secure the Hurtgen Forest in November. The new plan called for Maj. Gen. J. Lawton Collins' VII Corps to make the main effort in the northern part of the Hurtgen through the Stolberg Corridor, the other major route through the forest. The main attack was scheduled to begin on November 5. To the south of VII Corps, Maj. Gen. Leonard T. Gerow's V Corps would mount a supporting attack with the 28th Division, starting on November 2. The 28th's objective was to secure Schmidt and draw off German reserves from Collins' advance." (quote from "Tank Battle in Kommerscheidt.")




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