But whatever the period may lack in sweeping accomplishment it makes up in human drama and variety of combat actions. Here is more than fighting within a fortified line. Here is the Huertgen Forest, the Roer plain, Aachen, and the largest airborne attack of the war. The period also eventually may be regarded as one of the most instructive of the entire war in Europe. A company, battalion, or regiment fighting alone and often unaided was more the rule than the exception. In nuclear war or in so-called limited war in underdeveloped areas, of which we hear so much today, this may well be the form the fighting will assume.
As befits the nature of the fighting, this volume is focused upon tactical operations at army level and below. The story of command and decision in higher headquarters is told only when it had direct bearing on the conduct of operations in those sectors under consideration. The logistics of the campaign likewise has been subordinated to the tactical narrative. It is a ground story in the sense that air operations have been included only where they had direct influence upon the ground action.
It is also an American story. Although considerable attention has been paid British and Canadian operations where U. In the fullest sense of the term, this volume represents a co-operative enterprise. Reference in the footnotes and the bibliographical note can give only partial credit to the scores of officers and men who furnished information or unraveled questions of fact.
Nearly every officer who held the post of division commander or above during the campaign has read the manuscript of this volume, and at least one ranking officer from each division, corps, and army headquarters has read and commented upon the manuscript. An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. Ninth Army was fairly small during the Aachen campaign, with only a single corps for much of the time. The Wehrmacht. The collapse of the Wehrmacht after the disasters in Belgium in early September was partly averted by absorbing territorial and training units once its battered divisions reached Germany.
The Wehrmacht consisted of both a Field Army, which controlled tactical combat units, and a separate Replacement Army Ersatzheer within Germany itself. In desperation, the untrained units from the reserve training divisions and sometimes even the staffs of the training schools were thrown into combat. Each military district also had several Landesschutzen battalions, local home guard units made up of older men, and usually commanded by World War I veterans.
Another source of personnel for the army was the Luftwaffe, since many of its ground personnel were freed from their usual assignments by the growing fuel shortage that grounded many aircraft. While some men were absorbed directly into replacement units, others were organized into Luftwaffe fortress battalions. The Luftwaffe fortress battalions were not necessarily assigned to the Westwall bunkers.
They were so named because their troops had little infantry training and were poorly armed, and so were useful only for holding static defense positions. These units were not well regarded by the army due to their tendency to retreat on first contact with enemy forces. In subsequent months the army preferred to simply absorb excess Luftwaffe and navy personnel directly into army units. Reconstitution of the German 7th Army. The unification of command of these disparate units did not take place until early September, with the reconstitution of the 7th Army.
Following the encirclement in the Falaise pocket and the deeper envelopment on the Seine, the German 7th Army ceased to exist and its remnants were attached to the 5th Panzer Army. It was reconstructed under Gen Erich Brandenberger and assigned the task of defending the Westwall in the Maastricht-Aachen-Bitburg sector. Recognizing the weakness of the units assigned to the 81st Corps, the 7th Army attempted to reinforce the Aachen sector as soon as resources became available, and three divisions were assigned.
The two other divisions sent as reinforcements were the rd and th Volksgrenadier divisions VGD. The rd VGD was assigned to take over the Geilenkirchen sector from the th Infantry Division, which was then shifted to cover a gap on the corps' southern wing in the Hurtgen forest. The rd VGD was moved from Bohemia. Its arrival permitted the th Panzer Division to be gradually pulled out of the line for refitting and to serve as the corps reserve. The northern sector facing the US XIX Corps was held by two significantly under strength infantry divisions, the 49th and th.
The 49th Infantry Division had been trapped in the Mons pocket. By the time it reached the German frontier it had only about 1, men, mostly from the headquarters and support elements.
Catalog Record: The Siegfried Line Campaign | HathiTrust Digital Library
The th Infantry Division suffered terribly in Normandy and it was described as "practically destroyed. The th Panzer Division was the best-equipped unit in this sector. But, when it took control of the defense of Aachen, it had a combat strength of about 1, men, with its Panzergrenadier battalions about half-strength and only three PzKpfw IV tanks, two Panther tanks, and two StuG III assault guns. Reinforcements reestablished its combat strength in infantry, but it was down to only about 2, liters of fuel, leaving it immobilized.
The 9th Panzer Division was still withdrawing through Belgium and was a mere skeleton. Its two Panzergrenadier regiments were down to about three companies. The division was so weak that the 7th Army reinforced it with the remnants of Panzer Brigade , which had lost most of its Panzergrenadiers and was down to five Panther tanks and three assault guns. After the surviving battle group withdrew across the frontier, the division was rebuilt with a hodgepodge of territorial and Luftwaffe units in its sector.
The first reinforcements to arrive was the 12th Infantry Division, which had been reconstituted in East Prussia in the late summer after heavy combat on the Russian Front. Its arrival in the Aachen sector was a major morale boost for the locale civilian population, as the division was fully equipped with young, new soldiers. The Siegfried line. The Westwall program began in , but the role of the Westwall was fundamentally different from the much more elaborate Maginot Line nearby in France.
It was intended as a defensive fortified zone facilitating offensive action. The initial construction program ignored the Aachen area, since it faced neutral Belgium. Once the section facing central France was complete, Hitler decided to extend the Westwall along the Belgian frontier due to concerns that the French could deploy their mobile forces through Belgium.
By the line was largely abandoned and the German defenders had to hastily reinforce it. In , Hitler was already planning military actions against Czechoslovakia and Poland, and fortifications played a vital part in these plans. The Westwall could be held by a modest number of second-rate troops while the bulk of the Wehrmacht was deployed in combat to the east.
There was never any expectation that the Westwall alone could hold out against a determined enemy, but after the experiences of trench warfare in World War I, there was a clear appreciation that modest fortifications could amplify the defensive capabilities of the infantry. The Westwall began with a barrier of antitank ditches and concrete dragon's teeth anti tank obstacles.
The layout and density of the subsequent bunkers depended on the geography and were designed to exploit local terrain features. The Westwall in the Aachen area, called the Duren Fortification Sector Festungsdienststelle Duren was one of only two sectors with a double set of defensive lines. The other was in the Saar, which like the Aachen corridor was one of the traditional invasion routes between France and Germany.
The initial defensive line was called the Scharnhorst Line and was located about a kilometer behind the German border. A second defensive belt, called the Schill Line, was created to the east of Aachen.
Machine-gun bunkers were placed to cover all key roads and approaches as well as to prevent the antitank obstacles from being breached. Anti tank bunkers were equipped with the 37mm antitank gun - adequate in but obsolete in The Westwall was a far less elaborate defensive system than the Maginot Line.
With few exceptions, the fortifications were relatively small infantry bunkers with machine-gun armament, and few of the elaborate artillery bunkers that characterized the French defenses. Another characteristic type of bunker was a forward observation post for artillery spotters, connected to the rear to take maximum advantage of artillery firepower in defending the frontier. In the Aachen area, the Westwall had a linear density of about 60 bunkers per 10 km stretch.
The Westwall was stripped of anything removable such as wire obstructions, armored doors, gun mounts and armored fittings to equip the Atlantic Wall against the impending Allied invasion. As a result, when the Wehrmacht retreated into Germany the Westwall was overgrown and largely abandoned. There was a hasty effort to refurbish the defenses.
The US Army. The US Army by the time of the Siegfried Line campaign had moved beyond its growing pains and had become an experienced and highly capable force. Combat leaders were experienced and battle hardened. The US Army had not yet begun to suffer the serious shortages in infantrymen caused by the autumn and winter fighting, so infantry divisions tended to operate near full strength. The US Army continued to feed replacements into the divisions in combat, and, while rifle companies were often under strength during intense battles, they seldom became as depleted as German rifle companies.
The Hurtgen forest fighting proved to be especially costly and frustrating for the infantry. In many respects, the forest fighting was an aberration due to the lack of tactical flexibility at the lower levels forced on the infantry divisions by the orders of higher headquarters. The divisions fought on extended frontages in difficult weather and terrain conditions with little or no tank support, poor logistical support, and little opportunity to maneuver. The US infantry divisions had adapted well to the changing terrain and tactical demands, from the hedgerow country of Normandy the pursuit operations of August, and the fortification and urban fighting of September-October.
Artillery was the main killer on both sides, and the US infantry was at a distinct disadvantage due to its offensive posture. Advancing American infantrymen were far more vulnerable to artillery air-bursting in the trees overhead than the defending German infantry in log-protected dugouts. As a corollary, the usual US advantage in divisional field artillery did not apply in the Hurtgen forest because of the decreased lethality of US artillery when used against protected German infantry dugouts in heavily wooded areas.
The US armored divisions fought as combined-arms formations, amalgamating their tank, armored infantry, and armored field artillery battalions into three battle groups called combat commands. The standard US tank of this period was the M4 "Sherman" medium tank, mostly with a 75mm dual-purpose gun but with an increasing number of 76mm guns optimized for the antitank role. The M4 was the best tank in combat in in North Africa, but by its time had passed and it was inferior to the better German tanks, such as the Panther, in terms of firepower and armor protection.
The disparity between American and German tanks was not especially significant in the Siegfried Line fighting, since there were so few German tanks present. However, the M4 had only moderate armor, which did not offer adequate protection against the most common German antitank gun, the 75mm PaK 40, or against infantry Panzerfaust antitank rockets, which were the main tank killers in the autumn fighting.
The summer campaign had been costly to the US armored divisions. Tank losses during the August pursuit were the highest experienced by the US Army in Europe up to that time and were only surpassed during the Battle of the Bulge. The US Army had underestimated the likely loss rate of tanks in combat based on the experience in North Africa and Italy and so had only allotted a monthly attrition reserve of 7 percent compared to the British reserve of 50 percent.
US plans. Allied planning for the defeat of Germany intended to "rapidly starve Germany of the means to continue the war," with an emphasis on the capture of the two industrial concentrations in western Germany, the Ruhr and the Saar basin. Of the two, the Ruhr industrial region was the more significant, and the loss of the Ruhr combined with the loss of the Low Countries would eliminate 65 percent of German steel production and 56 percent of its coal production. Four traditional invasion routes into Germany were considered: the Flanders plains, the Maubeuge-Liege-Aachen corridor to the north of the Ardennes, the Ardennes-Eifel, and the Metz-Kaiserslautern gap.
The Flanders plains were far from ideal for mechanized warfare due to the numerous rivers and water obstacles. The Ardennes was also ruled out due to the hilly, forested terrain, and its equally forbidding terrain on the German and Luxembourg side, the forested Eifel region in Germany, and the mountainous terrain around Vianden in Luxembourg. Of the two remaining access routes, the Aachen corridor was a traditional invasion route and the most practical.
Although the terrain had some significant congestion points due to its high degree of industrialization, it offered the most direct route to the Ruhr. The Kaiserslautern gap was also attractive, especially for access to the Saar; however, its access to the Ruhr was more difficult up along the narrow Rhine Valley.
As a result of these assessments, the Aachen corridor was expected to be the preferred route for the Allied advance. This did not occur due to other developments. The V-weapons campaign against Britain prompted Churchill to urge Eisenhower to push forces further north along the coast to capture German launch sites, and this task fell to the 21st Army Group.
Siegfried Line –45 - Osprey Publishing
Montgomery insisted that Eisenhower cover his flank with at least one US army. As a result the First Army was directed further north than might otherwise have been the case, leaving Patton's Third Army the task of assaulting the Metz-Kaiserslautern gap on its own. The failure of Market Garden had several implications for Allied operations. In the short term, it drained the Allied forces of their limited reserve of supplies and precipitated a temporary logistics crisis.
The long-term consequence of the Market Garden operation was that it distorted original Allied strategic planning for the campaign into Germany. Bradley's 12th Army Group was bifurcated by the Ardennes, with Hodges' First Army covering Montgomery's southern flank whilst being aimed at the Aachen corridor. As a result, the US First and newly arrived Ninth armies fought a campaign completely disconnected from Patton's operations in the Saar, and the northern element of Bradley's 12th Army Group now faced the Aachen corridor. One of Eisenhower's options was to conduct relatively modest operations along the German frontier until the logistics caught up.
Eisenhower was not keen on this option, fearing it would permit the Germans to rebuild the Wehrmacht in relative peace, and result in a more formidable opponent when the offensive resumed. Instead, Eisenhower decided to conduct limited offensive operations, which would drain the Wehrmacht by attrition. Some senior US commanders, such as Bradley, believed that it might be possible to reach the Rhine in the autumn. This viewpoint gradually succumbed to reality in the face of determined German defenses along the Westwall. German plans.
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