Home      Discussion      Topics      Dictionary      Almanac
Signup       Login
Battle of Aachen

Battle of Aachen

Overview
The Battle of Aachen was a battle in Aachen
Aachen
Aachen has historically been a spa town in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. Aachen was a favoured residence of Charlemagne, and the place of coronation of the Kings of Germany. Geographically, Aachen is the westernmost town of Germany, located along its borders with Belgium and the Netherlands, ...

, Germany, which occurred between 2–21 October 1944. By September 1944, the Wehrmacht
Wehrmacht
The Wehrmacht – from , to defend and , the might/power) were the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany from 1935 to 1945. It consisted of the Heer , the Kriegsmarine and the Luftwaffe .-Origin and use of the term:...

 had been pushed into Germany proper, after being defeated in France by the Western Allies
Western Allies
The Western Allies were a political and geographic grouping among the Allied Powers of the Second World War. It generally includes the United Kingdom and British Commonwealth, the United States, France and various other European and Latin American countries, but excludes China, the Soviet Union,...

. During the campaigning in France, German commanders estimated that their total strength only amounted to that of 25 full strength divisions; at the time, the Wehrmacht operated 74 divisions in France.
Discussion
Ask a question about 'Battle of Aachen'
Start a new discussion about 'Battle of Aachen'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
 
Recent Discussions
Encyclopedia
The Battle of Aachen was a battle in Aachen
Aachen
Aachen has historically been a spa town in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. Aachen was a favoured residence of Charlemagne, and the place of coronation of the Kings of Germany. Geographically, Aachen is the westernmost town of Germany, located along its borders with Belgium and the Netherlands, ...

, Germany, which occurred between 2–21 October 1944. By September 1944, the Wehrmacht
Wehrmacht
The Wehrmacht – from , to defend and , the might/power) were the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany from 1935 to 1945. It consisted of the Heer , the Kriegsmarine and the Luftwaffe .-Origin and use of the term:...

 had been pushed into Germany proper, after being defeated in France by the Western Allies
Western Allies
The Western Allies were a political and geographic grouping among the Allied Powers of the Second World War. It generally includes the United Kingdom and British Commonwealth, the United States, France and various other European and Latin American countries, but excludes China, the Soviet Union,...

. During the campaigning in France, German commanders estimated that their total strength only amounted to that of 25 full strength divisions; at the time, the Wehrmacht operated 74 divisions in France. Despite these losses, the Germans were able to retreat to the Siegfried Line
Siegfried Line
The original Siegfried line was a line of defensive forts and tank defences built by Germany as a section of the Hindenburg Line 1916–1917 in northern France during World War I...

 and partially rebuild their strength; they were able to bring the total number of combat personnel along the Western Front to roughly 230,000 troops. Although not necessarily well trained, nor well armed, these German defenders were substantially aided by the fortifications which composed the Siegfried Line. During the month of September the first fighting sprung up around Aachen and the city's commander offered to surrender it to the advancing Americans. However, his letter of surrender was discovered by the SS during a raid in Aachen while the civilians were evacuating. Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...

 ordered his immediate arrest and replaced him and his division with Gerhard Wilck
Gerhard Wilck
Colonel Gerhard Wilck was the German commander who defended the German city Aachen in the Battle of Aachen. He surrendered on 22 October 1944 against the orders of Hitler, after a stubborn defence and bitter urban warfare.-References:* Ambrose, S. E. . Citizen soldiers : the U.S...

's 246th Volksgrenadier Division. The United States' First Army would have to take the city by force.

American commanders decided to envelop the city using the 1st and 30th Infantry divisions, aided by elements of others, and then take the city when it was fully encircled. The city's defense was composed of the German LXXXI Corps, which included four infantry divisions and two understrength German tank formations. During the battle, German defenders would receive another 24,000 reinforcements in the form of a panzer division and a panzergrenadier division, as well as elements of the 1st SS Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler
1st SS Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler
The Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler was Adolf Hitler's personal bodyguard. Initially the size of a regiment, the LSSAH eventually grew into a divisional-sized unit...

. Although outnumbered by American forces, the defenders were able to make use of dozens of pillboxes and fortifications arrayed around the city.

The 30th Infantry Division's offensive began on 2 October and was immediately bogged down by the German defenses. The aerial and artillery bombardment previous to their attack had failed to inflict major damage on German defenses, and as a result the division's strike against German defenses in the north became bogged down. The 1st Infantry Division launched its own attack on 8 October and managed to take its primary objectives within 48 hours, although it would later be pinned down by continued German counterattacks. Meanwhile, the 30th Infantry Division continued its slow advance, although by 12 October it was still not able to link up with the 1st Infantry Division and complete the encirclement of Aachen. As a result, the 1st Infantry Division detached the 26th Infantry Regiment and prepared for a direct assault on the city before the link up occurred. Fighting for the city took place between 13–21 October and caused heavy loss of life. Despite fierce German resistance, German General Wilck surrendered Aachen to American troops on 21 October, ending the battle. Between 2–21 October the First Army suffered roughly 5,000 casualties in Aachen, while the Germans lost an estimated 5,000 soldiers as casualties and another 5,600 as prisoners of war.

Background


By 18 September the Western Allies
Western Allies
The Western Allies were a political and geographic grouping among the Allied Powers of the Second World War. It generally includes the United Kingdom and British Commonwealth, the United States, France and various other European and Latin American countries, but excludes China, the Soviet Union,...

 had reached the German border, which was protected by the extensive Siegfried Line
Siegfried Line
The original Siegfried line was a line of defensive forts and tank defences built by Germany as a section of the Hindenburg Line 1916–1917 in northern France during World War I...

. On 17 September 1944, in a bid to open the Belgian port of Antwerp to facilitate the shipment of supplies to Allied armies in France and cross the Lower Rhine
Lower Rhine
The Lower Rhine flows from Bonn, Germany, to the North Sea at Hoek van Holland, Netherlands.Almost immediately after entering the Netherlands, the Rhine splits into many branches. The main branch is called the Waal which flows from Nijmegen to meet the river Meuse; after which it is called Merwede...

 river, American, British and Polish forces launched Operation Market Garden
Operation Market Garden
Operation Market Garden was an unsuccessful Allied military operation, fought in the Netherlands and Germany in the Second World War. It was the largest airborne operation up to that time....

. The failure of Operation Market Garden and an acute supply problem brought about by the long distances involved in the quick Allied advance through France brought to an end the advance towards the city of Berlin. German casualties in France had been high; Field Marshal Walter Model
Walter Model
Otto Moritz Walter Model was a German general and later field marshal during World War II. He is noted for his defensive battles in the latter half of the war, mostly on the Eastern Front but also in the west, and for his close association with Adolf Hitler and Nazism...

 estimated that his 74 divisions had an actual strength of that of 25. However, the end of the Western Allied advance due to logistical problems allowed the Germans to begin rebuilding their strength in the West. During September, Wehrmacht
Wehrmacht
The Wehrmacht – from , to defend and , the might/power) were the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany from 1935 to 1945. It consisted of the Heer , the Kriegsmarine and the Luftwaffe .-Origin and use of the term:...

 high command
Oberkommando der Wehrmacht
The Oberkommando der Wehrmacht was part of the command structure of the armed forces of Nazi Germany during World War II.- Genesis :...

 reinforced the Siegfried Line and brought total troop strength to an estimated 230,000 soldiers, including 100,000 fresh personnel. In early September the Germans could count on approximately 100 tanks in the West, while by the end of the month this had increased to roughly 500. German defenses along the Siegfried Line continued to increase, and were able to establish a defensive depth of an average of 4.8 kilometres (3 mi).

Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force
Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force
Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force , was the headquarters of the Commander of Allied forces in north west Europe, from late 1943 until the end of World War II. U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower was in command of SHAEF throughout its existence...

 (SHAEF) commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Dwight David "Ike" Eisenhower was the 34th President of the United States, from 1953 until 1961. He was a five-star general in the United States Army...

 decided that their next target would be the occupation of the Ruhr
Ruhr
The Ruhr is a medium-size river in western Germany , a right tributary of the Rhine.-Description:The source of the Ruhr is near the town of Winterberg in the mountainous Sauerland region, at an elevation of approximately 2,200 feet...

, the heartland of Germany's industrial capabilities. General George S. Patton
George S. Patton
George Smith Patton, Jr. was a United States Army officer best known for his leadership while commanding corps and armies as a general during World War II. He was also well known for his eccentricity and controversial outspokenness.Patton was commissioned in the U.S. Army after his graduation from...

's Third Army was given the task of occupying the French region of Lorraine
Lorraine (région)
Lorraine is one of the 27 régions of France. The administrative region has two cities of equal importance, Metz and Nancy. Metz is considered to be the official capital since that is where the regional parliament is situated...

. General Courtney Hodges
Courtney Hodges
General Courtney Hicks Hodges was an American military officer, most prominent for his role in World War II, in which he commanded the First United States Army in Northwest Europe.-Early life and military career:...

's First Army was ordered to breakthrough the front near the German city of Aachen
Aachen
Aachen has historically been a spa town in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. Aachen was a favoured residence of Charlemagne, and the place of coronation of the Kings of Germany. Geographically, Aachen is the westernmost town of Germany, located along its borders with Belgium and the Netherlands, ...

.

The city and its sector of the front was protected by the German Siegfried Line, consisting of several belts of inter-connected pillboxes, forts and bunkers. In several areas, German defenses were over 10 miles (16.1 km) deep. The defensive line was protected by extensive minefields, dragon's teeth
Dragon's teeth (fortification)
Dragon's teeth are square-pyramidal fortifications of reinforced concrete first used during the Second World War to impede the movement of tanks and mechanised infantry...

 and barbed wire, making the Siegfried Line "undoubtedly the most formidable man-made defense ever contrived." Learning from their experiences on the Eastern Front, the Germans ran their main line of resistance down the center of towns located in the defensive wall, taking advantage of the small streets to limit the mobility of Allied mechanization. Despite the low quality of German defenders, the fortifications protecting Aachen and the Ruhr were a significant obstacle to the progress of American forces in the sector. A breakthrough in this sector was crucial, however, as the terrain behind Aachen was flat and favored the Western Allies.

Fighting around Aachen actually began as early as September, during a period known to the Germans as the "First Battle of Aachen". In September, the city of Aachen was defended by the 116th Panzer Division
116th Panzer Division (Germany)
The 116th Panzer Division, also known as the "Greyhound 'Windhund' Division", was a German panzer division that saw combat during World War II. It was reconstituted in the Rhineland and Westphalia areas of western Germany in March 1944 from the remnants of the 16th Panzergrenadier Division, and...

, under the command of General Gerhard von Schwerin
Gerhard von Schwerin
Gerhard Helmuth Detloff Graf von Schwerin was a German army General in World War II. As General der Panzertruppe, he was tasked with defending the city of Aachen while in command of the 116th Panzer Division "Windhund" .By the time the 3rd US Armored Division reached Aachen on 13 September 1944,...

. The proximity of Allied forces had caused the majority of the city's government to flee before the evacuation of its citizens was complete. (For these actions, Hitler had all Nazi officials who evacuated stripped of all rank, and sent to the Eastern front as privates.) Instead of continuing the evacuation, von Schwerin instead decided to surrender the city to Allied forces. Despite the attempt to surrender the city, on 13 September von Schwerin was ordered to counterattack against penetrating American forces southwest of Aachen, and he did so with elements of his panzergrenadier
Panzergrenadier
is a German term for motorised or mechanized infantry, as introduced during World War II. It is used in the armies of Austria, Chile, Germany and Switzerland.-Forerunners:...

 forces. The German general's attempt to surrender the city would soon become irrelevant, as his letter had never been delivered; instead, it fell into the hands of Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...

, who ordered the general's immediate arrest and replaced him with General Gerhard Wilck
Gerhard Wilck
Colonel Gerhard Wilck was the German commander who defended the German city Aachen in the Battle of Aachen. He surrendered on 22 October 1944 against the orders of Hitler, after a stubborn defence and bitter urban warfare.-References:* Ambrose, S. E. . Citizen soldiers : the U.S...

. The United States' VII Corps continued to probe German defenses, despite the resistance encountered on 12–13 September. Between 14–16 September the American 1st Infantry Division continued its advance in the face of repeated German counterattacks and heavy defenses ultimately creating a half-moon arc around the city. The slow advance came to a halt in late September due to the lack of fuel and ammunition created by the supply problem and by the diversion of resources in favor of Operation Market Garden in the Netherlands.

Comparison of forces


The city of Aachen had little military value, as it was not a major site of war production; nor had it been heavily bombed by the Western Allies during the war. However, it lay in the center of the United States First Army's path towards the Ruhr. For the German Nazi regime it was also a symbol; not only was it the first German city threatened by an enemy during the Second World War, but it was also the capital of Charlemagne
Charlemagne
Charlemagne was King of the Franks from 768 and Emperor of the Romans from 800 to his death in 814. He expanded the Frankish kingdom into an empire that incorporated much of Western and Central Europe. During his reign, he conquered Italy and was crowned by Pope Leo III on 25 December 800...

, founder of the "First Reich". As a result, it was of immense psychological value to the Germans. The mindset of the city's defenders was further altered considering the difference in reaction between the population of Aachen and the population of cities in France; one German officer commented, "Suddenly we were no longer the Nazis, we were German soldiers."

German defenders in Aachen



The Wehrmacht took advantage of the brief respite on the front by pulling the 1st
1st SS Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler
The Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler was Adolf Hitler's personal bodyguard. Initially the size of a regiment, the LSSAH eventually grew into a divisional-sized unit...

, 2nd and 12th
12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend
The 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend was a German Waffen SS armoured division during World War II. The Hitlerjugend was unique because the majority of its junior enlisted men were drawn from members of the Hitler Youth, while the senior NCOs and officers were generally veterans of the Eastern...

 SS Panzer Divisions, as well as the 9th and 116th
116th Panzer Division (Germany)
The 116th Panzer Division, also known as the "Greyhound 'Windhund' Division", was a German panzer division that saw combat during World War II. It was reconstituted in the Rhineland and Westphalia areas of western Germany in March 1944 from the remnants of the 16th Panzergrenadier Division, and...

 Panzer Divisions, off the line. In October, the responsibility of the Aachen sector's frontier's defense was given to General Friedrich Köchling
Friedrich Köchling
Friedrich Köchling was a highly decorated General der Infanterie in the Wehrmacht during World War II who held commands at the division and corps levels. He was also a recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross...

's LXXXI Corps, which included the 183rd and 246th Volksgrenadier
246th Volksgrenadier Division (Germany)
The 246th Infantry Division was a Third Wave division of the Wehrmacht formed in Trier and initially stationed on the Saar Line, later in South-western France from August 1941 until January 1942....

 Divisions, as well as the 12th and 49th Infantry Divisions. These forces, along with the attached 506th Tank Battalion and 108th Tank Brigade, numbered roughly 20,000 men and 11 tanks. Köchling was also promised a reformed 116th Panzer Division and the 3rd Panzergrenadier Division, numbering a total of some 24,000 personnel. The 246th Volksgrenadier Division replaced the 116th Panzer Division in Aachen proper, while the 183rd Volksgrenadier Division and 49th Infantry Division defended the northern approaches and the 12th Infantry Division was positioned in the south. On 7 October, elements of the I SS Panzer Division were released to reinforce the defense of Aachen.

Although the reinforcements had made the German defense stronger than it had been since 1 September, LXXXI Corps' units had also suffered heavily; the 12th Infantry Division lost half its combat strength between 16–23 September. While German infantry divisions generally had a strength of 15,000–17,000 soldiers at the start of World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, by 1945 this had been reduced to an official (table of organization) size of 12,500 personnel, and by November 1944, the average actual strength of Heer divisions was only 8,761. In light of this, the Volksgrenadier
Volksgrenadier
Volksgrenadier was the name given to a type of German Army division formed in the Autumn of 1944 after the double loss of Army Group Center to the Soviets in Operation Bagration and the Fifth Panzer Army to the Allies in Normandy. The name itself was intended to build morale, appealing at once to...

 division was created to cope with the manpower shortages which plagued the Wehrmacht during 1944; the average total manpower per division was just over 10,000 men. Although about a quarter of each division's soldiers were experienced veterans, two-quarters were composed of fresh conscripts and convalescents, while the fourth quarter was made-up of soldiers transferred from the Luftwaffe
Luftwaffe
Luftwaffe is a generic German term for an air force. It is also the official name for two of the four historic German air forces, the Wehrmacht air arm founded in 1935 and disbanded in 1946; and the current Bundeswehr air arm founded in 1956....

 and Kriegsmarine
Kriegsmarine
The Kriegsmarine was the name of the German Navy during the Nazi regime . It superseded the Kaiserliche Marine of World War I and the post-war Reichsmarine. The Kriegsmarine was one of three official branches of the Wehrmacht, the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany.The Kriegsmarine grew rapidly...

. Although these divisions oftentimes received the newest small-arms, they were deficient in artillery and motorization, hindering the divisions' tactical mobility. In the case of LXXXI Corps, the 183rd Volksgrenadier Division had only been activated in September, meaning that the division did not have time to train as a unit; despite this, it was overstrength by 643 personnel. The 246th Volksgrenadier Division was largely in the same state, as many personnel had fewer than ten days of infantry training, and the 49th Infantry Division had been allowed to recuperate its composure and accept fresh reinforcements. LXXXI Corps also commanded the 275th Infantry Division, but this had been pulled off the line after suffering heavy casualties. However, what the Germans lacked in quality they regained through the defensive positions provided to them by the fortifications surrounding Aachen.

American forces


The task of taking Aachen fell on General Charles H. Corlett
Charles H. Corlett
Charles H. Corlett , nicknamed “Cowboy Pete,” was a major general in the U.S. Army who commanded troops in both the Pacific and European Theaters during World War II. He led the attack on Kiska in 1943 and commanded the 7th Infantry Division in the taking of Kwajalein in 1944...

's XIX Corps' 30th Infantry Division and Joseph Collins
J. Lawton Collins
Joseph "Lightning Joe" Lawton Collins was a General in the United States Army. During World War II, he served in both the Pacific and European Theaters of Operations. His elder brother, James Lawton Collins, was also in the army as a Major General...

' VII Corps' 1st Infantry Division. General Leland Hobbs' 30th Infantry Division would be assisted by the 2nd Armored Division, which would exploit the 30th Division's penetration of the Siegfried Line, while their flanks were protected by the 29th Infantry Division. In the south, 1st Infantry Division was supported by the 9th Infantry Division and the 3rd Armored Division. These divisions had used the brief respite in the fighting during the last two weeks of September to rest and refit, accepting a large number of replacements. For example, over 70% of the 1st Infantry Division's men by 1 October were replacements, and the last two weeks of September were used to train these men on village fighting and weapons training. The impending offensive's plan called for both infantry divisions to avoid city fighting in Aachen; instead, the two divisions would link up and encircle the city, allowing a relatively small force to capture it while the bulk of the forces continued pushing east.

Although American forces were able to replenish their casualties in a matter of weeks, they did not go through sufficient tactical training; as a result, many junior officers were oftentimes short on tactical and leadership abilities. Some tankers were shipped to Europe without having driven a car before, and some tank commanders were forced to teach how to load and fire their tank guns in the field prior to missions. The American replacement system, which focused on quantity over quality, ensured that the majority of the replacements which reached the front line were not properly trained for combat. It was not unusual for half of a unit's replacements to become casualties on the first days of combat. The tremendous frontline losses also demanded more troops to be fed into the fighting; for instance, a freshly reinforced battalion of the US 28th Infantry Division also participated in direct assaults against Aachen to buttress the depleted US 1st Infantry Division during the final stages of the battle 18–21 October 1944.

These forces were supported by the Ninth Air Force
Ninth Air Force
The Ninth Air Force is a numbered air force of the United States Air Force's Air Combat Command . It is headquartered at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina....

, which had pin-pointed 75% of the pillboxes along the frontlines and planned an opening bombardment including 360 bombers and 72 fighters; fresh aircraft would be used for a second aerial wave, which included the use of napalm
Napalm
Napalm is a thickening/gelling agent generally mixed with gasoline or a similar fuel for use in an incendiary device, primarily as an anti-personnel weapon...

. The German Luftwaffe
Luftwaffe
Luftwaffe is a generic German term for an air force. It is also the official name for two of the four historic German air forces, the Wehrmacht air arm founded in 1935 and disbanded in 1946; and the current Bundeswehr air arm founded in 1956....

 lacked a presence during the battle, and German defenders on the ground had insufficient anti-aircraft batteries to defend themselves from the opening bombardment.

Battle



For six days prior to the beginning of the American offensive allied heavy artillery targeted German defenses around Aachen. Although the heavy bombardment forced the German LXXXI Corps to halt all daylight personnel and supply movements, it had little effect on the pillboxes and strongpoints. The opening bombardment on 2 October also caused little damage on German defensive positions; the 450 aircraft which took part in the first wave failed to register a single direct hit on any German pillbox. The aircraft's capabilities had been partially obscured by allied artillery, which had targeted German anti-aircraft batteries, creating a large amount of black smoke. As the aircraft finished their bombardment, the artillery switched back to bombarding the front lines, firing 18,696 shells from 372 gun tubes within a couple of hours.

Advance from the north: 2–8 October


The 30th Infantry Division began its advance on 2 October, using divisional heavy artillery to target German pillboxes to force their defenders to keep their heads down; even then, it took on average thirty minutes to capture a single pillbox and the Americans found out that if they failed to immediately press on to the next pillbox the Germans were soon to counterattack. German resistance had not been expected, and one company lost 87 combatants in an hour. Another company lost 93 out of 120 soldiers to a German artillery strike. The attackers were slowly able to cross the Wurm River
Wurm
The Wurm is a river in Germany , a left tributary of the Rur. The source of the Wurm are several brooks in the forests southwest of Aachen, which form the Wurm after the Diepenbenden reservoir. From there the Wurm nowadays flows through canals through the city of Aachen, until it resurfaces at the...

 and engage German pillboxes with flamethrowers and explosive charges. In the afternoon of 2 October, elements of the 30th Infantry Division had breached German defenses and reached the town of Palenberg. Here, American GIs advanced house-to-house and fought a number of gruesome hand grenade duels. Private Harold G. Kiner
Harold G. Kiner
Harold G. Kiner was a United States Army soldier and a recipient of the United States military's highest decoration—the Medal of Honor—for his actions in World War II.-Biography:...

 was awarded a Medal of Honor
Medal of Honor
The Medal of Honor is the highest military decoration awarded by the United States government. It is bestowed by the President, in the name of Congress, upon members of the United States Armed Forces who distinguish themselves through "conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his or her...

 for absorbing the blast of a German grenade with his body by jumping on it and saving the lives of two fellow soldiers. Fighting in the town of Rimburg was just as bad, as American armor had not been able to cross the Wurm River yet and therefore could not provide fire support to infantrymen attempting to storm a medieval castle being used by the Germans as a fort. The 30th Infantry Division subdued roughly 50 German pillboxes on the first day of the advance, oftentimes having to envelop the structure and attack from the rear. The division's effort was also aided by the 29th Infantry Division's diversionary attacks on the left flank of the 30th Infantry Division, leading the Germans to believe that that was the American's main attack. On the night of 2 October, the German 902nd Assault Gun Battalion was ordered to counterattack against the 30th Infantry Division, but allied artillery delayed the beginning of the raid and ultimately the German attempt to push back American soldiers failed.

Although American armor became available to support the advance on 3 October, the attacking forces were brought to an abrupt halt after a number of German counterattacks. The town of Rimburg was taken on the second day of the offensive, but the fighting through German defenses remained slow — American M4 Sherman
M4 Sherman
The M4 Sherman, formally Medium Tank, M4, was the primary tank used by the United States during World War II. Thousands were also distributed to the Allies, including the British Commonwealth and Soviet armies, via lend-lease...

 and 155 millimetres (6.1 in) artillery guns fired at point blank range
Point-blank range
In external ballistics, point-blank range is the distance between a firearm and a target of a given size such that the bullet in flight is expected to strike the target without adjusting the elevation of the firearm. The point-blank range will vary with the firearm and its particular ballistic...

 in order to knock out pillboxes. Fighting had also began to develop for the town of Übach, where Sherman tanks rushed in attempting to take the town, only to be pinned down by German artillery and counterattacked by German soldiers before the end of the day; American artillery support prevented the Germans from dislodging the occupation of Übach. By the end of the day the forcing of the Wurm River and the creation of a bridgehead had cost the 30th Infantry Division around 300 dead and wounded.

German forces continued to counterattack against Übach, suffering heavy casualties to American artillery and infantry; although the inability to retake Übach persuaded German commanders that they had insufficient forces to properly defend the approaches to Aachen, the counterattacks did tie down American troops which could have otherwise continued the advance. On 4 October, the Allied advance had been limited, with only the towns of Hoverdor and Beggendorf occupied, while losing roughly 1,800 soldiers in the past three days of combat. Progress increased on 5 October, as the 119th Regiment of the 30th Infantry Division captured Merkstein-Herbach. As fighting continued, the Germans attempted another counterattack against Übach on 6 October, but failed to dislodge American personnel from the town. German armor was unable to cope with the overwhelming numerical superiority from American tanks, and as a last ditch effort to halt the advance the Germans began to shell American positions with their artillery and any available aircraft. The Germans found themselves severely hamstrung by the lack of reserves, although German General Koechling was able to deploy a Tiger detachment to the town of Alsdorf in an attempt to plug the American exploitation of Aachen's northern defenses.

A counterattack developed on 8 October, composed of an infantry regiment, the 1st Assault Battalion, a battle group of the 108th Panzer Brigade, and another 40 armored fighting vehicles scavenged from available units. Although the counterattack was hindered by American artillery, the left wing of the attack managed to cut off an entire American platoon, while the right wing reached a road junction north of the town of Alsdorf. At the time, a platoon of Shermans was supporting an attack on the town of Mariadorf when the Germans engaged it from the rear; after heavy fighting the Shermans were able to push back the Germans. Two German Sturmgeschütz IV
Sturmgeschütz IV
The Sturmgeschütz IV , was a German assault gun of the Second World War.-Development:The Sturmgeschütz IV resulted from Krupp's effort to supply an assault gun...

 assault guns and a squadron of infantry entered Alsdorf, but were counterattacked, although the armored vehicles elusively avoided American armor; the assault guns were finally engaged by American infantrymen, and by the end of the day the Germans were forced to withdraw back to their starting points. In order to cope with increasing casualties and the inability to push the American forces back, German high command soon transferred the 3rd Panzergrenadier Division to Aachen, in a bid to reinforce the city's defenses. This division was followed by the I SS Panzer Corps
I SS Panzer Corps
The I SS Panzer Corps Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler or I SS Panzer Corps was a German Waffen-SS panzer corps which saw action on both the Western and Eastern Fronts during World War II.-Formation and training:...

, which included the 116th Panzer Division and the SS Heavy Panzer Battalion 101, an element of the 1st SS Panzer Division.

Advance from the south: 8–11 October



In the south, the 1st Infantry Division began its offensive on 8 October, aiming to capture the town of Verlautenheide and Hill 231 (dubbed "Crucifix Hill") near the town of Ravelsberg. The 1st Infantry Division's attack was preceded by a large artillery bombardment, allowing them to capture Verlautenheide by surprise, and then Hill 231 only an hour later and finally storm Ravels Hill without a shot being fired—in less than 48 hours. Crucifix Hill
Battle of Crucifix Hill
The Battle of Crucifix Hill was a World War II battle that took place on 8 October 1944, on Crucifix Hill , next to the village of Haaren in Germany and was a part of the U.S. 1st Division's campaign to seize Aachen, Germany. The Battle of Aachen was part of the Drive to the Siegfried Line. The...

 had been taken by Captain Bobbie E. Brown
Bobbie E. Brown
Robert "Bobbie" Evan Brown Jr. was a recipient of the Medal of Honor for his actions at the Battle of Crucifix Hill, near Aachen, Germany, on October 8, 1944. He left home and joined the army in 1922, lying about his age. At the start of World War II, he was the first sergeant of the Headquarters...

's C Company, 18th Infantry, where Captain Brown personally threw a satchel charge into a pillbox, then crawled to a second fortification and destroyed it as well. He continued, silencing a third pillbox, and despite being wounded he refused medical aid and continued to lead his men into the attack, earning him the Medal of Honor. By 10 October, the 1st Infantry Division was at the designated link-up position, where it was supposed to meet with the 30th Infantry Division. The success was met with a German counterattack, aimed towards Hill 231 which was the scene of an intense firefight; the battle ended with the Germans leaving over 40 dead and 35 prisoners. Despite repeated German counterattacks, bogging down the division's advance, the 1st Infantry Division was able to capture the high ground surrounding the city of Aachen.

On 10 October, the 1st Infantry Division delivered an ultimatum to German forces in Aachen, threatening to bomb the city into submission if the garrison didn't surrender. The German commander categorically refused. In response, American artillery began to target the city on 11 October, firing an estimated 5,000 shells, or over 153 metric tons (168.7 ST) of explosives; the city also became the subject of an intense bombardment by American aircraft.

Link up: 11–16 October


American casualties were climbing, both from frequent German counter-attacks and from the cost of storming pillboxes. German defenders, for example, had spent the night of 10 October turning house cellars into fortified pillboxes in the town of Bardenberg; American attackers were forced to withdraw, and instead shell the town into submission. On 12 October, the Germans launched a major counterattack against the American 30th Infantry Division. The German attack was disrupted due to an incessant Allied artillery barrage and by well placed American anti-tank defenses and armored assets. At the village of Birk, a three hour fight broke out between German tanks and a single American Sherman; the Sherman managed to knock out an enemy Panzer IV
Panzer IV
The Panzerkampfwagen IV , commonly known as the Panzer IV, was a medium tank developed in Nazi Germany in the late 1930s and used extensively during the Second World War. Its ordnance inventory designation was Sd.Kfz...

 and force another one to withdraw, but was soon attacked by even more enemy tanks. The single Allied tank was soon reinforced by the 2nd Armored Division, and they managed to push the German attackers from the town. The 30th Infantry Division soon found itself in a defensive position all along its front, and despite its appeal for aid in repelling the German counterattack, the division was ordered to instead continue pushing south in an attempt to link up with the 1st Infantry Division. In order to accomplish this, two infantry battalions from the 29th Infantry Division were attached to the 30th Infantry Division.

Two German infantry regiments counterattacked, that same day, against the 1st Infantry Division, aiming to retake Crucifix Hill 231; the fighting was fierce and the two regiments temporarily took control of the hill, although they were dislodged by the end of the day and largely destroyed. Between 11–13 October the 1st Infantry Division and Allied aircraft bombarded Aachen, selecting targets closest to American lines; on 14 October, the 26th Infantry Regiment was ordered to clear an industrial zone on the edge of Aachen to prepare for the eventual attack on the city itself. On 15 October, the Germans again counterattacked against the 1st Infantry Division, in an effort to widen the gap between the two American pincers; the bulk of the German forces were destroyed by artillery and air support, although a number of heavy tanks managed to break through American lines and were only stopped after continued air support. On the next day, the Germans attempted to mount local counterattacks with the 3rd Panzergrenadier Division, but after sustaining heavy losses were forced to suspend further offensive action.

The 30th Infantry Division, with elements of the 29th Infantry and 2nd Armored divisions, continued its push southwards between 13–16 October, in the sector of the village of Würselen; despite heavy air support, however, these units were unsuccessful in breaking through German defenses and linking up with allied forces to the south. The Germans took advantage of the narrow front to pound advancing attackers with artillery, and progress remained slow as German tanks used houses as bunkers to surprise and overwhelm American foot soldiers. General Hobbs, commander of the 30th Infantry Division, then decided to attempt to outflank the German defenses by attacking along another sector with two infantry battalions. The attack was a success, allowing the 30th and 1st Infantry Divisions to link up on that day, 16 October. The fighting so far had cost the entirety of the American XIX Corps over 400 dead and 2,000 wounded, with 72% of those from the 30th Infantry Division. The Germans had not fared any better, as up to 14 October around 630 and 4,400 soldiers were killed or wounded, respectively; The 3rd Panzergrenadier Division lost another 600 soldiers during their counterattack against the American 1st Infantry Division on 16 October.

Fight for the city: 13–21 October



Because of continued efforts to stave off German counterattacks and to close the encirclement of Aachen, the 1st Infantry Division could only afford to give the task of taking the city to its 26th Infantry Regiment, which only had two of three battalions on hand. The 26th Infantry Regiment would make use of its 2nd and 3rd Infantry Battalions, armed with machine guns and flamethrowers, aided by elements of a tank detachment and a single 155 millimetres (6.1 in) howitzer. The city was defended by roughly 5,000 German troops, including converted navy, air force and city police personnel. For the most part, these soldiers were inexperienced and untrained, and were only supported by a handful of tanks and assault guns. However, Aachen's defenders could make use of dozens of streets which occupied its historical center.

The 26th Infantry's attack on 13 October had provided important insight on the face of the fighting; American infantry had been ambushed by German defenders using sewers and cellars, forcing the advancing American infantry to clear every single opening before continuing down streets, while Sherman tanks found it impossible to maneuver to suppress enemy fire. German civilians were cleared as the 26th Infantry advanced; no Germans were allowed to remain in the American's rear. Success in Aachen was measured by the number of houses captured, as the advance proved to be sluggish; in order to cope with the thick walls of the older buildings in the city, the 26th Infantry Regiment used the howitzer at point blank range to destroy German fortifications. The howitzer allowed infantrymen to advance from building to building without having to enter the city's streets, where they could be pinned down by enemy fire. Sherman tanks were ambushed, as they entered intersections, by concealed German anti-tank guns. Soon thereafter, American tanks and other armored vehicles would advance cautiously, oftentimes shooting buildings ahead of the accompanying infantry to clear them of possible defenders. Pinned on the surface by Allied aircraft, German infantrymen would use sewers to deploy behind American formations to attack them from the rear. German resistance was fierce, as they launched small counterattacks and used armor to halt American movements.

On 18 October, the 3rd Battalion of the 26th Infantry Regiment prepared to assault the Hotel Quellenhof, which was one of the last areas of resistance in the city. American tanks and other guns were firing on the hotel, which was the city's defense headquarters, at point blank range. That night, 300 soldiers of the 1st SS Battalion were able to reinforce the hotel and defeat several attacks into the building. A violent German counterattack managed to overrun a number of American infantry companies outside of the hotel, and temporarily released pressure off the Hotel Quellenhof before being beat off by concerted American mortar fire.

Two events then aided the final advance. First, to lessen frontline infantry casualties, it was decided to barrage remaining German strongpoints with the heavy-artillery firepower of 155 millimetres (6.1 in) guns. Secondly, to assist the 1st Infantry Division, a battalion of the 110th Infantry Regiment, US 28th Infantry Division, had been moved up from the V Corps sector on 18 October to close a gap between forward 26th Infantry Regiment elements within the city. The defensive mission of this new battalion was changed 19–20 October to closely support the urban assault, participating as the depleted regiment's missing third battalion. On 21 October, soldiers of the 26th Infantry Regiment, supported by the reinforced battalion of the 110th Infantry Regiment finally conquered central Aachen; that day also marked the surrender of the last German garrison, in the Hotel Quellenhof, ending the battle for the city.

Aftermath


The Battle of Aachen had cost both the Americans and Germans dearly; the former suffered over 5,000 casualties, while the latter lost over 5,000 casualties and 5,600 taken prisoner. Since 2 October 1944, the 30th Infantry Division suffered roughly 3,000 men killed and wounded, while the 1st Infantry Division took at least 1,350 casualties (150 killed and 1,200 wounded). The Germans lost another 5,100 casualties during the fighting in Aachen itself, including 3,473 prisoners. In the process of the battle, the Wehrmacht lost two complete divisions and had another eight severely depleted, including three fresh infantry divisions and a single refitted armored division; this was largely attributed to how they fought, as although an equivalent of 20 infantry battalions had been used during various counterattacks against the 30th Infantry Division alone, on average each separate attack only involved two infantry regiments. During the conflict the Germans also developed a respect for the fighting ability of American forces, noting their capability to fire indiscriminately with overwhelming amounts of artillery fire support and armored forces. Both the 30th Infantry and 1st Infantry divisions received distinguished unit citations for their actions at Aachen.

However, German resistance in Aachen upset Allied plans to continue their eastward advance. Following the end of fighting in Aachen, the Western Allies' First Army was tasked with the capture of a series of dams behind the Hürtgen Forest
Hurtgen Forest
The Hürtgen forest is located along the border between Belgium and Germany in the southwest corner of the German federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia. Scarcely in area, the forest lies within a triangle outlined by Aachen, Monschau, and Düren...

, which could be used by the Germans to flood the valleys which opened the road to Berlin. This would lead to the Battle of Hürtgen Forest
Battle of Hurtgen Forest
The Battle of Hürtgen Forest 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...

, which was to prove more difficult than the Battle of Aachen.

Further reading