The Hürtgen Forest, 1944
The Battle of Hürtgen Forest (Hürtgenwald, in German) was a series of fierce battles fought between U. S. and German forces in the Hürtgen Forest. The battles took place from September 19, 1944 to February 10, 1945, in an area of barely 50 square miles, east of the Belgian–German border and southeast of Aachen.
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 in the Battle of Aachen, where the Allies were fighting in urban combat between a network of fortified towns and villages connected with field fortifications, tank traps and minefields. The Americans′ initial objectives were to take the villages of Schmidt and clear Monschau. In a second phase, the Allies wanted to advance to the Rur River as part of “Operation Queen.” Generalfeldmarschall Walter Model intended to bring the Allied thrust to a standstill, inflicting heavy casualties and taking full advantage of the fortifications of the German Westwall fortifications, 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; German casualties were 28,000. In the interest of full disclosure, one of the soldiers was my father; he received the Silver Star for actions on January 30, 1945 that left him wounded and a prisoner of war.
“After the Battle” is invaluable, as is Edward G. Miller’s A Dark and Bloody Ground. October is a good time of year to visit. Stay at one of the wonderful hotels in Monschau; Cologne is the largest big city – in fact, from part of the Hürtgen, with binoculars, you can see the spires of the Cologne Cathedral. You will also see bunkers and “dragon’s teeth” obstacles in the clearings between the massive amounts of forest area. Make sure you travel to the village of Merode and see the restored castle there from the outside (the owner is not big on visitors.) The U. S. 39th Infantry Regiment of the Ninth Infantry Division charged the castle in December 1944 and captured it from German paratroopers in a bloody fight.
This battlefield emphasizes better than any other one does what it is like to be an infantry enlisted man in combat. I think I’ve visited here at least twenty times. The Hürtgen is extremely close to the northern route of the Battle of the Bulge, so visiting both is easily achievable in one trip to Europe. You can see Field Marshal Model’s gravestone, but supposedly ten years ago, someone dug up and stole his remains!