Battle of Hürtgen Forest


Battle of Hürtgen Forest

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Battle of Hürtgen Forest
partof=World War II


caption=Willys MB US army jeep beside the Hürtgen Hotel.
date=September 19, 1944February 10, 1945
place=coord|50|42|31|N|6|21|46|E|type:landmark|display=inline,title German-Belgian border
result= American victory
combatant1=flag|United States|1912
combatant2=flag|Nazi Germany|name=Germany
commander1=flagicon|United States|1912 Courtney Hodges{First United States Army}
flagicon|United States|1912 Leonard T. Gerow
{V Corps (United States)}
flagicon|United States|1912 Joseph Lawton Collins
{VII Corps (United States)}
commander2=flagicon|Nazi Germany Walter Model
strength1=120,000
strength2=80,000
casualties1=ca 32,000
casualties2=ca 12,000 (est.; total casualties unknown)

The Battle of Hürtgen Forest ( _de. Schlacht im Hürtgenwald) is the name given to the series of fierce battles fought between U.S. and German forces during World War II in the Hürtgen Forest, which became the longest battle on German ground during World War II, and the longest single battle the U.S. Army has ever fought in its history.Regan, "More military blunders," p.178.] The battles took place between September 19, 1944, and February 10, 1945, over barely 50 square miles (129 km²), east of the BelgianGerman border.

The U.S. commanders’ initial goal was to pin down German forces in the area to keep them from reinforcing the front lines further north, between Aachen and the Rur (Roer) River, where the Allies were fighting a trench war between a network of fortified towns and villages connected with field fortifications, tank traps, and minefields. A secondary objective may have been to outflank the front line. The Americans' initial objectives were to take Schmidt, clear Monschau, and advance to the Rur. Walter Model intended to bring the Allied thrust to a standstill. While he interfered less in the day-to-day movements of units than at Arnhem, he still kept himself fully informed on the situation, slowing the Allies' progress, inflicting heavy casualties and taking full advantage of the fortifications of the Germans called the "Westwall", better known to the Allies as the Siegfried Line.

The Hürtgen Forest cost the U.S. First Army at least 33,000 killed and incapacitated, including both combat and noncombat losses; Germans casualties were between 12,000 and 16,000. Aachen eventually fell on 22 October, again at high cost to the U.S. Ninth Army. The Ninth Army's push to the Roer River fared no better, and did not manage to cross the river or wrest control of its dams from the Germans. Hürtgen was so costly that it has been called an Allied "defeat of the first magnitude", with specific credit being assigned to Model. [Whiting, "Battle of Hurtgen Forest," pp.xi–xiv, 271–274.] [MacDonald, "Siegfried Line campaign," p. 391.]

The Germans fiercely defended the area for two reasons: it served as a staging area for the Ardennes Offensive (what became the Battle of the Bulge) that was already in preparation, and the mountains commanded access to the Schwammenauel Dam [The Schwammenauel Dam holds back the Rurstausee and is the major structure in a network. Upstream are further, but smaller, structures: the Paulushof Dam holding the Obersee and the Urft Dam holding the Urfttalsperre.] at the head of the Rur Lake (Rurstausee) which, if opened, would flood low-lying areas downstream and deny any crossing of the river. The Allies only recognized this after several heavy setbacks, and the Germans were able to hold the region until they launched their final major, last-ditch offensive on the Western Front, into the Ardennes.

Background

By mid-September 1944, the Allied pursuit of the German army after the landings at Normandy was slowing down because of extended supply lines and German Army rebuilding. The next strategic objective was to move up to the Rhine River along its entire length and prepare to cross it. Courtney Hodges’ First Army experienced hard resistance pushing through the Aachen Gap and perceived a potential threat from enemy forces using the Hürtgen Forest as a base.

In early October, the U.S. 1st Infantry Division arrived, joining elements of the XIX Corps and VII Corps, which had encircled Aachen. Although the 1st Infantry Division called for the surrender of the German garrison in the city, German commander Colonel Gerhard Wilck refused to capitulate until October 21.

It was also thought necessary to remove the threat posed by the Rur dam. In German hands, the stored water could be released, swamping any forces operating downstream. In the view of the American commanders, Bradley, Hodges and Collins, the direct route to the dam was through the forest. [cite book
last = Neillands
first = Robin
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = The Battle for the Rhine 1945
publisher = Orion Publishing Group
year = 2005
location = London
pages = p.239
url =
doi =
id = ISBN 0-297-84617-5
]

In hindsight, military historians are no longer convinced by these arguments. Charles B. MacDonald, a US Army historian and former company commander who served in the Hürtgen battle, has described it as “a misconceived and basically fruitless battle that should have been avoided.” [cite book
last = Neillands
first = Robin
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = The Battle for the Rhine 1945
publisher = Orion Publishing Group
year = 2005
location = London
pages = p.253
url =
doi =
id = ISBN 0-297-84617-5
]

Geography

The Hürtgen Forest occupies a rugged area between the Rur river and Aachen. The dense conifer forest is broken by few roads and tracks and firebreaks; vehicular movement is restricted. In the autumn and early winter of 1944, the weather was cold and wet and often prevented air support. Ground conditions varied from wet to snow cover.

The German defenders had prepared the area with blockhouses, minefields, barbed wire, and booby-traps, hidden by the snow. Also there were numerous bunkers in the area, mostly belonging to the deep defenses of the Siegfried Line, which were also centers of resistance. The dense forest allowed infiltration and flanking attacks and it was sometimes difficult to establish a front line or to be confident that an area had been cleared of the enemy. The small numbers of routes and clearings had also allowed German machine-gun, mortar and artillery teams to pre-range their weapons and fire accurately. Apart from the bad weather, the dense forest and rough terrain also prevented proper use of the Allied air superiority which had great difficulties in spotting any targets.

The American advantage in numbers (as high as 5:1), armor, mobility, and air support was greatly reduced by weather and terrain. In the forest, relatively small numbers of determined and prepared defenders could be highly effective. As the American divisions took casualties, inexperienced recruits were brought up to the front as replacements. [MacDonald, "Siegfried Line campaign," pp. 454, 468–469.]

The impenetrable forest also limited the use of tanks and hid anti-tank teams equipped with panzerfausts. Later in the battle, it proved necessary to blast tank routes through the forest. Transport was similarly limited by the lack of routes: at critical times it proved difficult to reinforce or supply front-line units or to evacuate their wounded. The Germans were hampered by much the same difficulties, of course — their divisions had taken heavy losses on the retreat through France and were hastily filled up with untrained boys, men unfit for service, and old men. Transport was also a problem because of the difficult roads and the lack of trucks and fuel. Most supplies had to be manhandled to the front line. But the German defenders had the advantage in that their commanders and many of their soldiers had been fighting for a few years and had learned the necessary tactics for fighting efficiently in winter and forested areas, whereas the Americans were often well-trained but inexperienced.

The tall forest canopy also favored the defenders. Artillery fire was fused to detonate as tree bursts. While defenders were protected from shell fragments (and wooden splinters from the trees) by their dug-in defensive positions, attackers in the open were much more vulnerable.“Tree bursts” refers to a technique using air bursts by timing artillery shells set to go off in the treetops. This causes hot metal shrapnel and wood fragments to rain down. Since American soldiers had been trained to react to incoming artillery fire by hitting the ground, the technique proved particularly deadly until American GIs learned to “hug a tree” instead, during bombardment.] Conversely, U.S. mortar platoons needed clearings in which to work — these were few and dangerous, being preranged by German troops, so mortar support was often unavailable to rifle platoons.

Opposing armies

The Hürtgen Forest lay within the area of Courtney HodgesU.S. First Army. Responsibility fluctuated between the V Corps and VII Corps.

At the start, the forest was defended by the German 275th and 353rd Infantry Divisions; understrength but well prepared — 5,000 men (1,000 in reserve) — and commanded by General Hans Schmidt, [cite book
last = Neillands
first = Robin
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = The Battle for the Rhine 1945
publisher = Orion Publishing Group
year = 2005
location = London
pages = p.241
url =
doi =
id = ISBN 0-297-84617-5
] they had little artillery and no tanks. As the battle progressed, German reinforcements were added. American expectations that these troops were weak and ready to withdraw were not matched by events.

U.S. divisions

*1st Infantry Division
*4th Infantry Division
*8th Infantry Division
*9th Infantry Division
*17th Airborne Division
*28th Infantry Division
*78th Infantry Division
*82nd Airborne Division
*83rd Infantry Division
*104th Infantry Division
*3rd Armored Division
*5th Armored Division
*7th Armored Division
*366th Fighter Group

German divisions

*85th Infantry Division
*89th Infantry Division
*275th Infantry Division
*344th Infantry Division
*347th Infantry Division
*353rd Infantry Division
*3rd Fallschirmjäger Division
*3rd Panzer Grenadier Division
*116th Panzer Division
*12th Volksgrenadier Division
*47th Volksgrenadier Division
*246th Volksgrenadier Division
*272nd Volksgrenadier Division
*326th Volksgrenadier Division

Battle

First phase

This phase concentrated on the town of Schmidt, astride an important German supply route, within the southern part of the forest.

The engagement began on September 19, 1944, with a probe by the U.S. 60th Infantry Regiment that entered the Hürtgen Forest but was beaten back by the terrain and opposition.

On October 5, the U.S. 9th Infantry Division attacked the town of Schmidt using the 60th and 39th Infantry Regiments while the 47th held a defensive position. The Monschau–Düren road was quickly cut, but both regiments were slowed by defenses and suffered significant casualties: the 60th’s 2nd battalion was reduced to a third after the first day. The 39th was halted at the Weisser Weh Creek; there were problems with narrow paths, air bursts in trees, and fire breaks which were blocked or enfiladed. Evacuation and supply was difficult or impossible.

The slogging match continued. By October 16, 3,000 yards had been gained at the cost of 4,500 casualties. The U.S. 28th Infantry Division, a Pennsylvania National Guard unit, arrived on October 16 to relieve the battered 9th.

The 28th Division was reinforced with armor, tracked transport Weasels and air support. Of its three regiments, one was deployed to protect the northern flank, another to attack Germeter, and the third to capture Schmidt, the main objective. The area had terrible terrain with the Kall Trail running along a deep river ravine. This was not tank country, despite the need for armor to support the infantry.

.

The 112th captured Schmidt on November 3, cutting the German supply route to Monschau, but no American supply, reinforcement or evacuation was possible, as the Kall Trail was blocked. A strong German counterattack by tanks of 116th Panzer Division and infantry from 89th Division rapidly expelled the Americans from Schmidt, and they were unable to counterattack. For two days, the 112th remained hard pressed to hold its positions outside Schmidt.

On November 6, the U.S. 12th Infantry Regiment was detached from the U.S. 4th Division and sent to reinforce the 28th Division

Across the Kall Bridge the troops of the 28th US Infantry Division pushed forward at the beginning of November 1944 to capture the village of Schmidt. After a few days, the so-called "Allerseelenschlacht" (All Souls Battle) resulted in a disaster for the Americans. As American troops tried to retreat across this bridge to Vossenack, great parts of the Kall Valley were already cut off by the Germans. A German regimental doctor, Captain Guenther Stuettgen, managed to negotiate an unofficial ceasefire with the Americans at the Kall Bridge from November 7 to 12, in order to attend to the wounded of both sides. The lives of many American soldiers were saved by German paramedics [ [http://www.konejung-stiftung.de/ATimeForHealing.htm Konejung Stiftung: Kultur ] ] .

At Vossenack, the 2nd battalion of the 112th disintegrated after constant shelling and fled a German attack. Following the providential arrival of two U.S. armored platoons of tanks and M10 Wolverine tank destroyers, supported by those 2nd battalion men who had held tight, and two companies of 146th Engineers operating as infantry, the Americans held on and the fighting for Schmidt continued until November 10.

econd phase

In this phase, the U.S. 4th Division was to clear the northern half of the forest between Schevenhütte and Hürtgen, capture Hürtgen and advance to the Rur (Roer) River south of Düren. From November 10, this would be VII Corps' responsibility and it was part of the main VII Corps effort to reach the Rur. The 4th Division was now fully committed to the Hürtgen, although its 12th Infantry Regiment was already mauled from its action at Schmidt, leaving just two fully effective regiments to achieve the divisional objectives. U.S. VII Corps was opposed by German forces, mainly from the 81st Corps, consisting of three understrength divisions. In the Hürtgen, there was the 275th Division — 6,500 men with 150 artillery pieces. They were well dug-in and prepared.

The abstract of a [http://www.dtic.mil/ Defense Technical Information Center] report describes what happened:cite web|url=http://stinet.dtic.mil/oai/oai?&verb=getRecord&metadataPrefix=html&identifier=ADA151627
title=Huertgen Forest: Offensive, Deliberate Attack, Forest, 16 November 1944
publisher=http://www.dtic.mil/
year=1984
accessdate=2007-02-03
]

The VII (U.S.) Corps, 1st Army attacked 16 November 1944 with 1st Inf Div, 4th Inf Div, 104th Inf Div, and CCR 5th AD to clear Huertgen Forest and the path of 1st Army to the Roer River. After heavy fighting, primarily by the 4th Infantry Division, VII Corps' attack ground to a halt. V Corps was committed on 21 November 1944. Attacking with 8th Inf Div, and CCR 5th AD, the V Corps managed to capture Huertgen after stiff fighting on 28 November 1944.

The attack started on November 16. The two infantry regiments attacked in parallel columns: the 8th along the northern edge of the forest towards Düren, the 22nd further south in parallel. The open flanks invited infiltration. Similar tactics elsewhere in Hürtgen had “invited disaster.”

Attacks by the 8th Infantry Regiment on Rother Weh Creek hit heavy resistance and were repulsed with heavy losses. The 22nd failed to take Raven’s Hedge ("Rabenheck"), beaten back by heavy machine-gun and artillery fire along the firebreaks. After three days there were 300 losses, including officers and NCOs.

By November 18 tanks were deemed essential, so engineers blasted tank routes through the forest. Communications and logistics remained a problem, so on November 19 the attack paused to allow re-supply and evacuation of the wounded. German reinforcements arrived from 344th and 353rd Divisions and resistance stiffened further. On November 20, Russell J. York, a medic with the 4th Engineer Battalion, earned a Silver Star in the Weisser Weh battle when heavy shelling hampered efforts to install a bridge.Fact|date=September 2008

Responsibility was returned to V Corps and, on November 21, 8th Division attacked the Weisser Weh valley, continuing towards Hürtgen. The 121st Infantry Regiment hit heavy defenses immediately. Despite armored support from the 10th Tank Battalion, daily advances were less than 600 yards. Hürtgen was taken on November 29 and the battle continued to Kleinhau, one mile north.

The final action in the Hürtgen Forest was at Merode, on the northeastern edge of the forest. Two American companies took the village but they were later destroyed in a German counterattack.

Elements of the 8th and the 28th Infantry Divisions then advanced on Brandenberg. The 28th Division, just like the 9th before it (and the 4th Infantry Division, which would relieve the 28th), also took heavy casualties during its stay in the Hürtgen Forest. On November 14, the 2nd Ranger Battalion arrived to relieve elements of the 112th Infantry Regiment. On December 6, the Rangers moved on Bergstein and subsequently took the strategic position of Hill 400 from defending troops from Grenadier Regiment 980 of the 272nd Volksgrenadier Division. Shortly thereafter, on December 12, the towns of Gey and Strass were taken by American Forces.

Military actions at the "Westwall" up to December 15, 1944 alone brought death, injury, or captivity to over more than a quarter million soldiers from both sides.The 1st and 9th US Army--57,039 battle casualties (dead, wounded, captured, missing in action); 71,654 non-battle casualties, i.e. accidents, diseases such as pneumonia, trench foot, frostbite, and traumata. German Armed Forces presumably 12,000 dead, 95,000 captured (documented), and an unknown number of wounded. [MacDonald, "Siegfried Line campaign," pp. 616–617.]

Aftermath

, in one of the most important battles of the war and the largest in U.S. history.

The Ardennes Offensive was completely halted by mid-January, and in early February, American forces attacked through the Hürtgen Forest for the final time. On February 10, the Schwammenauel dam was taken by American forces, although the Germans had opened the floodgates of the dam the day before and thus the Rur Valley was flooded, halting the U.S. push for the Rhine across the river for two further weeks, until the attackers finally managed to cross the river on February 23rd when the waters had receded.

Two soldiers of the U.S. 4th Infantry Division were awarded Medals of Honor for action in the battle. One was Lieutenant Colonel George Mabry [http://www.homeofheroes.com/moh/citations_1940_wwii/mabry.html] , the second-most highly decorated U.S. soldier of World War II. The other was Pfc Francis X. McGraw, whose medal was awarded posthumously. [MacDonald, "Siegfried Line campaign," p. 457n; pp. 419–420.]

Private Edward Donald Slovik, assigned to the 28th Division, chose a court martial rather than fight in the Hürtgen Forest. On January 31, 1945, he became the first American soldier to be executed for desertion since the American Civil War.Fact|date=September 2008

Casualties

The U.S. Army's Center of Military History has estimated that 120,000 troops, plus replacements, were committed to Hürtgen; by the end there had been 23,000 battle casualties plus 9,000 non-battle. Two divisions, the U.S. 4th Infantry Division and the U.S. 9th Infantry Division, were so badly mauled that they were withdrawn from the line to recuperate. [MacDonald, "Siegfried Line campaign," p. 493.]

The battle for Schmidt cost 6,184 U.S. casualties — compared with about 4,000 losses by the two divisions at Omaha Beach. German casualties were fewer than 3,000. [MacDonald and Mathews, "Three battles," p. 415.]

In the second phase, the U.S. 4th Division had advanced 1½ miles by November 20, having suffered 1,500 battle casualties plus non-battle casualties numbering in the several hundreds due to trench foot, frostbite, and exhaustion. After two weeks, three miles had been gained for 4,053 battle and 2,000 non-battle casualties, bringing the November totals to 170 officers and 4,754 men.

Some units fighting in this operation also fought at Omaha Beach; comparing the two, veterans said the Battle of Hürtgen Forest was a much bloodier fight than Omaha. Ernest Hemingway, who was there, described the battle as "Passchendaele with tree bursts", [Martin Herzog. [http://www.atlantic-times.com/archive_detail.php?recordID=13 Don’t Fraternize! Post-war American-German relations began 60 years ago] , [http://www.atlantic-times.com The Atlantic Times] , October 2004. Paragraph 10] an appropriate epitaph.

Erstwhile enemy remembered

There is a stone monument with a bronze plaque at the Hürtgen military cemetery dedicated by veterans of the U.S. 4th Infantry Division to the memory of Friedrich Lengfeld (September 29, 1921 – November 12, 1944), a German lieutenant. Lengfeld died on November 12, 1944, of severe wounds sustained while trying to help a wounded American soldier out of the “Wild Sow ("Wilde Sau")” minefield. It is the only such memorial for a German soldier placed by his erstwhile opponents in a German military cemetery. [http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bild:Lengfeld_memorial.jpg]

The memorial sculpture "A Time for Healing"

A memorial sculpture on Kall Bridge recalls that moment of humanity amidst the horrors of war. It was officially dedicated on the 60th anniversary of the ceasefire on the Kall Bridge, November 7, 2004. It was created by Michael Pohlmann, who commented, "I didn't want to create a monument to heroes, no theatrical representation, no pathos, but wanted to appear more unassumingly with a frugal shape, hewn in stone, dignifying the actual place of the incident. A place perhaps, at which once everything may have started rationally, then however, became more and more irrational and totally out of control until a return to sanity—or was it still emotion?—made a humanitarian encounter come true."The plaque was created by the sculptor Tilman Schmitten, Eupen. The memorial sculpture and plaque were endowed by the Konejung Foundation: Culture [ [http://www.konejung-stiftung.de/ATimeForHealing.htm Konejung Stiftung: Kultur ] ]

Historical analysis

Historical discussion revolves around whether the American battle plan made any strategic or tactical sense. One analysis [cite book
last = Neillands
first = Robin
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = The Battle for the Rhine 1945
publisher = Orion Publishing Group
year = 2005
location = London
pages = pp.240-241
url =
doi =
id = ISBN 0-297-84617-5
] is that U.S. strategy underestimated the strength and determination remaining in the psyche of the German soldier, believing his fighting spirit to have totally collapsed under the stress of the Normandy breakout and the reduction of the Falaise Pocket. American commanders in particular misunderstood the impassability of the dense Hürtgen Forest and its effects of reducing artillery accuracy and making air support impracticable. In addition, American forces were concentrated in the village of Schmidt and neither tried to conquer the strategic Ruhr Dams nor recognized the importance of Hill 400 until an advanced stage of the battle. [ [http://www.historynet.com/wwii/blkommerscheidt/ “Hopes Dashed in the Hürtgen”] by Edward G. Miller and David T. Zabecki August 16, 2005, originally an article in "World War II" magazine]

Today tourists can visit a museum in Vossenack, look at a few of the surviving Siegfried Line bunkers, and take a walk along the infamous Kall Trail.

ee also

* Battle of Crucifix Hill

References

Notes

Bibliography

* Regan, G. "More Military Blunders". Carlton Books, 1993.

Further reading

* Whiting, Charles, "The Battle of Hurtgen Forest". Orion Books, New York, 1989.
* [http://www.amazon.com/Dark-Bloody-Ground-Hurtgen-1944-1945/dp/1585442585/ref=pd_bbs_sr_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1210693828&sr=1-2 Miller, Edward, "A Dark and Bloody Ground: The Hürtgen Forest and the Roer River Dams, 1944 - 1945." College Station, TX: Texas A & M University Press, 1995.]
* [http://aberjonapress.com/catalog/vwbtg/index.html Nash, Douglas, "Victory was Beyond Their Grasp: with the 272nd Volks-Grenadier Division from the Hürtgen Forest to the Heart of the Reich." Bedford: The Aberjona Press, 2008.]
* Astor, Gerald. "The Bloody Forest: Battle for Huertgen September 1944—January 1945". Presidio Press, 2000.
* An article by the son of an American soldier who died in the Battle of Hurtgen Forest: [http://www.healthcare.com/profile/claude-mack-hobbs/ Hobbs, Claude Mack.] “ [http://nl.newsbank.com/nl-search/we/Archives?p_product=MBRB&p_theme=mbrb&p_action=search&p_maxdocs=200&p_text_search-0=%22His%20Dad,%20The%20WWII%20Soldier%22&s_dispstring=His%20Dad,%20The%20WWII%20Soldier%20AND%20date(2004)&p_field_date-0=YMD_date&p_params_date-0=date:B,E&p_text_date-0=2004&p_perpage=10&p_sort=YMD_date:D&xcal_useweights=no His Dad, The WWII Soldier, Is Resting in Flanders Fields".] [http://www.mobileregister.com/indexmain.html "Mobile Register."] 16 Oct. 2004: A19.
* Rush, Robert Sterling, "Hell in Hürtgen Forest: The Ordeal and Triumph of an American Infantry Regiment". University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS (2001) [http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0700611282/qid=1006204376/sr=8-1/ref=sr_8_3_1/102-4859635-9997736]
* MacDonald, Charles B., "The Siegfried Line campaign." Center of Military History, United States Army, 1984.
* MacDonald, Charles B., and Sidney T. Mathews, "Three battles: Arneville, Altuzzo, and Schmidt." Center of Military History, United States Army, 1993.

External links

* [http://www.winter-offensive.be/friedrich%20lengfeld.htm Friedrich Lengfeld]
* [http://www.armyhistory.org/armyhistorical.aspx?pgID=868&id=108&exCompID=32 The 22d Infantry Regiment in the Battle of Hürtgen Forest]
* [http://www.5ad.org/hurtgen.htm 5th Armored Division]
* [http://www.hurtgen1944.homestead.com/Index.html The Battle of Hürtgen Forest]
* [http://home.scarlet.be/~cv920172/index.htm The Battle of the Hürtgen Forest]
* [http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0135706/ When Trumpets Fade - movie (1998)]
* [http://www.5ad.org/hurtgen.htm Battle of Hurtgen Forrest]
* [http://www.konejung-stiftung.de/You_Enter_Germany_EN.htm YOU ENTER GERMANY: Bloody Huertgen and the Siegfried Line - movie (2007)]


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