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Battle of Hürtgen Forest

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The Battle of Hürtgen Forest (German: Schlacht im Hürtgenwald) was a series of fierce battles fought from 19 September to 16 December 1944, between American and German forces on the Western Front during World War II, in the Hürtgen Forest, a 140 km2 (54 sq mi) area about 5 km (3.1 mi) east of the Belgian–German border. It was the longest battle on German ground during World War II and is the longest single battle the U.S. Army has ever fought.

The U.S. commanders' initial goal was to pin down German forces in the area to keep them from reinforcing the front lines farther north in the Battle of Aachen, where the US forces were fighting against the Siegfried Line network of fortified industrial towns and villages speckled with pillboxes, tank traps, and minefields. A secondary objective may have been to outflank the front line. The Americans' initial tactical objectives were to take 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. While he interfered less in the day-to-day movements of units than at the Battle of Arnhem, he still kept himself fully informed on the situation, slowing the Allies' progress, inflicting heavy casualties, and taking full advantage of the fortifications 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 wounded, including both combat and non-combat losses, with upper estimate at 55,000; German casualties were 28,000. The city of Aachen in the north eventually fell on 22 October at high cost to the U.S. Ninth Army, but they failed to cross the Rur or wrest control of its dams from the Germans. The battle was so costly that it has been described as an Allied "defeat of the first magnitude," with specific credit given to Model.

The Germans fiercely defended the area because it served as a staging area for the 1944 winter offensive Wacht am Rhein (known in English-speaking countries as the Battle of the Bulge), and because the mountains commanded access to the Rur Dam[notes 3] at the head of the Rur Reservoir (Rurstausee). The Allies failed to capture the area after several heavy setbacks, and the Germans successfully held the region until they launched their last-ditch offensive into the Ardennes. This was launched on 16 December and ended the Hürtgen offensive. The Battle of the Bulge gained widespread press and public attention, leaving the battle of Hürtgen Forest less well remembered.

The battle of the Hurtgen ended in a German defensive victory and the whole offensive was a dismal failure for the Allies. The Americans suffered 33,000 casualties during the course of the battle which ranged up to 55,000 casualties, included 9,000 non-combat losses and represented a 25 percent casualty rate. The Germans had also suffered heavy losses with 28,000 casualties — many of these were non combat and prisoners of war.

The surprise German Ardennes offensive caught Allied forces off guard. The Germans attacked with nearly 30 divisions; including the 1st SS, 2nd SS, and the 12th SS Panzer Divisions, with the northernmost point of the battlefront centered on Monschau. They forced a large salient in the American lines almost sixty miles (100 km) deep at its maximum extent. However, the Germans never came close to their primary objective, the capture of Antwerp. The Ardennes Offensive came to a complete halt in early January, when German forces in the northern shoulder of the bulge were blocked by a strong American defence, the destruction of bridges by American engineers, and a lack of fuel.

In early February, American forces attacked through the Hürtgen Forest for the final time. On 10 February 1945, the Rur Dam was taken by American forces and the Forest itself was not cleared until the 17th when the 82nd Airborne Division reached the Roer River.

Wikipedia