This was a US offensive by Lieutenant General Omar N. Bradley’s 12th Army Group on the Rur (Roer in French and Dutch) river plain in western Germany as a staging point for a subsequent thrust over the river to the Rhine river and thus deeper into Germany (16 November/15 December 1944).
The offensive began with one of the heaviest Allied tactical bombing efforts of the war, but the US advance which followed was unexpectedly slow as it encountered heavy German resistance, especially in the Hürtgenwald through which the main thrust was effected. In was only in the middle of December that the US forces finally reached the Rur river and attempted to capture its important dams, which controlled the degree of flooding which the Germans could unleash against operations farther downsteam. At this point the Germans launched their own 'Wacht am Rhein', and the resulting 'Battle of the Bulge' led to the immediate cessation of Allied offensive efforts into Germany until February 1945.
In June 1944 the Allies had begun their 'Overlord' invasion of north-western France, thereby open a second front to complement the efforts of the Soviet forces driving toward Germany from the east. After the Allied break-out from Normandy following 'Cobra', the German forces were involved in a string of disastrous battles in July and August, most notably the fighting in the Falaise pocket, where most of SS-Oberstgruppenführer und Generalorbest der Waffen-SS Paul Hausser’s 7th Army had been effectively destroyed, though it was quickly re-established. After this, as the British, Canadian and US forces drove to the north-east and east across France, the German defences in northern and western France disintegrated, and the surviving German forces fell back to the east in considerable disorder that was brought under control once more only in September. Combined with the continuing progress of the Soviet forces from the east, the pace of the advance from France toward and into the Low Countries served to persuade the Western Allies' high command that the German forces were on the verge of collapse and there that the defeat of Germany could be brought about by the end of 1944. The Allies therefore launched a high-risk undertaking for a direct thrust through the Netherlands into Germany. The paired 'Market' and 'Garden' operations to take Arnhem and cross the Nederrijn (lower Rhine) river proved to be too ambitious and failed as the German army in the west was in the process of reorganising itself and consolidating its still considerable strength.
By the middle of September, the Allied advance had been brought to an abrupt halt in the face of increasing German resistance at a time when the Allied armies were becoming increasingly hampered by the logistic crisis occasioned by the fact that the speed and distance of their advances had outrun their lines of supply. This gave the Germans more time to prepare for the Allied offensives which would be inevitable once the logistic problem had been overcome. It was over this period, moreover, that the Germans manned their 'Westwall' (Siegfried Line) fortifications, although its old bunkers were more a symbolic than a real obstacle to the Allies.
In Belgium, toward the northern end of their front, the Allies were at this time still involved in the Battle of the Scheldt, while in France, at the southern end of the front, the campaign for Lorraine continued. In the centre, the Battle of Aachen was fought on the Belgian/German frontier between 2 and 21 October, and the strong German resistance in this fighting upset the Allies' plans for speedy resumption of their advance.
As preparation for 'Queen', a preliminary offensive into the Hürtgenwald was necessary to secure the 12th Army Group’s left flank against a possible German counter-offensive out of the forest. The object was thus to clear the way to the major road nexus at Düren and thereby win a good starting point for 'Queen'. Major General Louis A. Craig’s US 9th Division had been engaged in the forest since September, so only moderate German resistance was expected. On 2 November, three days before the anticipated start of 'Queen', the offensive against the town of Schmidt was launched by Major General Norman D. Cota’s US 28th Division against Generalleutnant Hans Schmidt’s 275th Division. The US division took the town, but the Germans reacted swiftly by redeploying infantry of Generalmajor Richard Bazing’s 89th Division and mobile forces of Generalmajor Siegfried von Waldenburg’s 116th Panzerdivision, which drove the US division out of the town, transforming the battle into a bloody stalemate.
The origins of the 'Queen' offensive can be found in an inter-Allied command conference on 18 October, which decided that despite the fact that Antwerp was still not available as a major supply port for the Allied forces in North-West Europe, there should be a major effort to take and hold a major bridgehead across the Rhine river before the arrival of winter. Field Marshal Sir Bernard Montgomery, commanding the Allied 21st Army Group, argued that operations to the south of the Ardennes region, especially those by Lieutenant General George S. Patton’s US 3rd Army directed at the Saar river area, should be halted until they could be supplied from Marseille, so that all available supplies and fuel could be used for a northward strike at the Rhine river.
General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander, refused to entertain any such notion but decided that the US 12th Army Group, with British support, could make a major effort toward the Rhine river. There thus appeared ‘Queen’, in which Bradley would supervise a major offensive by Lieutenant General Courtney H. Hodges’s US 1st Army and Lieutenant General William H. Simpson’s US 9th Army, the latter brought into the line to the north of the 1st Army after arriving from Brittany in September.
Supported on its northern flank by Lieutenant General Sir Miles Dempsey’s British 2nd Army, the 9th and 1st Armies were to drive forward to the Rur river and establish bridgeheads at Linnich, Jülich and Düren. Within this overall scheme, the major role was to be played by the 1st Army, which was already located in the area of the Hürtgenwald, as it advanced through the forest to the Rur river. The 9th Army was to advance past the northern edge of the forest through the western part of the Rur river plain. Lieutenant General B. G. Horrocks’s British XXX Corps, together with elements of Major General Alvan C. Gillem’s US XIII Corps, was to reduce the Geilenkirchen salient farther to the north in the different 'Clipper' operation. The Allies' longer-term target after the Rur river had been crossed was to reach the Rhine river and establish bridgeheads across it at Krefeld and Düsseldorf in order to open the way for deeper advances into Germany after the winter.
Large numbers of US and British heavy bombers, diverted from their primary strategic tasks, were to undertake a number of tactical attacks in the area behind the German forces opposing the 9th and 1st Armies in order to cut the lines of supply on which the German front-line forces were dependent and to destroy the German infrastructure, and the bombers were also to attack the German defenders inside their positions. The heavy bombers of Lieutenant General James H. Doolittle’s US 8th AAF was to bomb the fortifications around Eschweiler and Aldenhoven, while the medium bombers of Major General Hoyt S. Vandenburg’s US 9th AAF tackled the second line of the German defences in the area of Jülich and Langerwehe. At the same time the bombers of Air Chief Marshal Air Arthur Harris’s RAF Bomber Command were to strike the traffic centres of Jülich and Düren as their first priority, and the smaller towns of Heinsberg, Erkelenz and Hückelhoven as their second priority. The Allied air strength committed to 'Queen' was more than 4,500 aircraft.
The start date for 'Queen' was initially fixed as 5 November, later changed to 10 November, but was then delayed by adverse weather to 16 November. The ground offensive was to begin immediately after the end of the air attacks to allow the Germans no opportunity to re-establish their defences and their lines of communication and supply.
Over this same period, the planning of the Germans was based on entirely different thinking as, with few strategic options left to them, they schemed the huge 'Wacht am Rhein' all-out counter-offensive to the west. The initial outline had been completed during October, and envisaged as the 1944 successor to 'Sichelschnitt' of 1940, namely as punch through the Ardennes, though after that the axis of the 1944 undertaking differed from that of the 1940 operation. The plan required the best German divisions be reserved from the autumn fighting so that they could be rebuilt and, where possible, re-equipped for the planned offensive. For the successful execution of 'Wacht am Rhein', the retention of the Rur river line was deemed essential to deny the Allies the possibility of a counter-offensive on the northern flank of 'Wacht am Rhein'. The German plan for November and December, pending 'Wacht am Rhein' was thus to hold the line of the Rur river with the smallest feasible strength until 'Wacht am Rhein' could be launched.
The Germans also appreciated the fact that as long as they controlled the dams of the Rur river, they could release the retained water from them and flood the Rur river valley and all else downstream of it as far as the Rur river’s debouchment into the Maas river and the Netherlands. The release of the waters would cause major destruction and destroy any Allied bridges over the Rur river, thereby cutting off all the forces to the east of the river. The Allies did not initially recognise the strategic significance of the dams, and only a few days before the end of the offensive did they made their first specific moves toward them.
Planned for the beginning of November, ‘Queen’ called for a rapid advance to and across the Rur river, after which the 9th Army was to wheel to the north in the direction of Krefeld and the 1st Army was to strike to the east in the direction of Köln and Bonn. At much the same time Dempsey’s British 2nd Army was to advance from the Nijmegen area to clear the Reichswald area before moving to south between the Maas and Rhine rivers. The Germans would thus be expelled from the lower Rhineland, leaving the Allies with a 100-mile (160-km) front along the Rhine river between Bonn and Arnhem. When the weather permitted, the 1st and 9th Armies were then to cross the Rhine river, in the area to the south of Köln and north of Düsseldorf, with the object of encircling Germany’s vital Ruhr industrial region.
Patton was not to be deterred, however, and launched his 'Casanova' offensive in the Saar area on 3 November. The one positive hope for Bradley in these circumstances was that Generalfeldmarschall Gerd von Rundstedt, the Oberbefehlshaber ‘West’, would send his mobile reserves to the south to oppose Patton. This did not occur, for von Rundstedt appreciated that the Americans were planning an offensive to east from the Aachen area. Bradley’s forces had themselves been weakened, moreover, by the need to lend Montgomery two divisions which had not yet been returned, and this was the cause of the postponement of the offensive’s start to 11 November, when it was planned that the 1st and 9th Armies would each commit four divisions on a 25-mile (40-km) front between the Hürtgenwald and Geilenkirchen.
The 1st Army’s primary formations for 'Queen' were Major General Leonard T. Gerow’s V Corps and Major General J. Lawton Collins’s VII Corps: the latter was to deliver the main thrust through the Hürtgenwald with the former shielding its southern flank. For 'Queen', both armies were strongly reinforced: the strength of the 1st Army increased from about 250,000 men in September to about 320,000 men before the offensive, although only about 120,000 of these were to be involved in the main operation. The 1st Army’s armoured strength was based on about 700 tanks. The 9th Army was somewhat smaller, comprising mainly Major General Raymond S. McLain’s XIX Corps and some independent divisions, with Major General Emil F. Reinhardt’s (from 2 December Gillem’s) XIII Corps currently being reorganised.
The Allies expected that the German army, in the aftermath of its succession of disasters in the summer and autumn of 1944, would find it impossible to regain its strength, but in fact exactly the opposite was true. Although its manpower losses had been huge, especially on the Eastern Front, the army offset these by a programme of transferring men from the Ersatzheer (reserve army), Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine into front-line formations to rebuild their strength. With regard to matériel, he German situation was still better for, despite the increasing Allied bombing campaign and the loss of territories and factories, Germany reached its peak of wartime production in the autumn of 1944 after the reforms introduced by Albert Speer and the continued increase in the use of forced labour.
In preparation for in participation in the forthcoming 'Wacht am Rhein', General Hasso-Eccard von Manteuffel’s 5th Panzerarmee was pulled out of the line to an area behind the Rur river and given the cover designation Feldjägerkommando zbV. Within the same German deception effort, General Friedrich Christiansen’s 25th Army was given the cover designation 15th Army between 16 November and 16 December, and General Gustav-Adolf von Zangen’s 'real' 15th Army, which had transferred from the Netherlands and taken over the Aachen sector from the 5th Panzerarmee, was given the cover designation Armeegruppe 'von Manteuffel'.
In 'Queen', therefore, the US forces faced two German armies, namely the 15th Army in the Hürtgenwald, and General Erich Brandenberger’s 7th Army farther to the north on the Rur river plain.
Although nominally equal to the Allies, the German armies were in fact very considerably outnumbered, and in some sectors the attacker/defender ratio was as great as 5/1. The reason for this, despite the Germans efforts to rebuild their army formations, was the German manpower shortage. Most German formations and units were seriously below establishment strength, with some divisions numbering just a few thousand men. However, the occupation of well-sited and well-built prepared defences combined with useful armoured and significant artillery support to offset these problems. Under the theatre command of von Rundstedt, Heeresgruppe 'B' was commanded by Generalfeldmarshall Walther Model, who was considered to be a notably skilled exponent of defensive warfare. In all, the two German armies comprised some 14 divisions (reinforced to 17 divisions during the campaign) including two Panzer and two Panzergrenadier divisions.
The Germans knew that a US offensive was imminent, and had made a special effort to maximise the benefit they could derive from their exceptional fixed and field fortifications.
The Allies hoped to break through this front with a massive carpet bombing effort, but the need to wait for adequate weather led to further delay, pushing the start of ‘Queen’ back to 16 November. Between 11.13 and 12.48 on this date, the Allied bombers conducted their preliminary bombing effort: 1,204 heavy bombers of the US 8th AAF struck Eschweiler, Weisweiler and Langerwehe with 4,120 tons of bombs, and 339 fighter-bombers of the US 9th AAF attacked Hamich, Hürtgen and Gey with 178.5 tons of bombs. At the same time, 467 Handley Page Halifax and Avro Lancaster heavy bombers of RAF Bomber Command attacked Düren and Jülich, and another 180 British bombers hit Heinsberg. The overall bomb tonnage was 9,400.
The results were mixed. The German towns which were attacked suffered severe destruction. German communications after the bombing were heavily impaired. German morale, especially in units consisting of younger and less experienced troops, was also shaken. But the direct damage to the German front-line formations and units was small, and their casualties were few. Allied air commanders admitted that the bombing did not measure up to expectations, and about 12 aircraft succumbed during the initial bombing to anti-aircraft fire.
The German front-line formations and units thus emerged from their defences and bunkers relatively unscathed in the first part of what was in fact the second phase of the Battle of the Hürtgenwald, which had started on 19 September 1944 and did not end until 10 February 1945 in a strategically insignificant corridor of scarcely 50 sq miles (130 km²) just to east of the Belgian/German border. The battle’s first objectives, so far as the US forces were concerned, were the capture of Schmidt and Monschau, an advance to the Rur and Rhine rivers, and the seizure the dams located there. As the battle progressed, however, the US commanders steadily lost sight of these primary objectives.
At this time the US high command was riding high on the crest of a wave of self-belief following the ‘Cobra’ break-out from the ‘Overlord’ lodgement and the subsequent high-speed advance to the north-east and east through northern France, and believed that its forces could quickly break through the German frontier defences and drive deep into Germany. Thus many divisions were sent into the Hürtgenwald, where they encountered a combination of strong natural defences and a determined opposition, were decimated and replaced by still more divisions. The US forces had the advantages of superior armoured, artillery and air strengths, but these were negated by the inhospitable forest terrain of the Hürtgenwald, and despite their smaller numbers, the Germans were thus able to check the stronger US forces.
The Hürtgenwald was an ideal location for the type of defensive battle to which the Germans had by now been reduced: if defeated, the Germans could easily flood the entire Hürtgen valley from the surrounding dams, further delaying the US advance. The Germans were strongly prepared in the forest and inflicted heavy casualties in one of the longest single battles the US Army has ever fought, and during the battle inflicted more than 24,000 casualties on the US forces. The battle casualties were increased by some 9,000 non-combat casualties resulting from exhaustion, illness, and even friendly fire; the German casualties are a matter of conjecture rather than record, but probably totalled 12,000 men killed.
By the middle of September 1944 Hodges’s US 1st Army had found it unexpectedly hard to drive through the ‘Aachen gap’, and perceived a potential threat from German forces using the Hürtgenwald as a base. Early in October, Major General C. Ralph Huebner’s 1st Division joined elements of the XIX Corps, then commanded by Major General Charles H. Corlett, and Collins’s VII Corps which had encircled the town of Aachen. Although the 1st Division called for the surrender of the German garrison, Oberst Gerhard Wilck, its commander, refused to surrender until 21 October.
It was also necessary to remove the threat posed by the series of seven Roer dams, including the Roer and Erft dams: if they retained them, the Germans could release the huge volume of water held back by these dams and create a flood 25 ft (7.6 m) deep and 1.5 miles (2.4 km) wide near Düren, and the RAF had tried unsuccessfully to burst them with bombs. The direct route to these dams was through the Hürtgenwald, a forest area covering a notably rugged area between the Rur river and Aachen. In the later part of 1944 the dense conifer forest was broken by few roads and tracks and firebreaks, and all capability for motor transport was very limited. In the autumn and early winter of 1944, the weather was cold and wet, and often prevented air support. To add to the misery of the men who fought the battle, the condition of the ground varied between extremely wet and thick snow, always cold.
The Germans had prepared their defence of the region with pillboxes, minefields, barbed wire entanglements, and booby traps, the last often hidden by the snow. 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 permitted the Germans to locate and register their machine guns, mortars and artillery for optimum effect.
The advantages which the US forces possessed were a major superiority in numbers, armour, mobility and air support, but these were in many cases reduced in capability if not actually negated by the terrain and the weather. In the forest, relatively small numbers of determined and prepared defenders could be highly effective. Moreover, as the US divisions took casualties, the dead and wounded were replaced not by comparable veterans but by inexperienced newcomers to the war. The impenetrability of the forest also limited the use of tanks and hid anti-tank teams equipped with short-range Panzerfaust anti-armour weapons. 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 high canopy of the forest also favoured the defence: artillery rounds were often primed to detonate as air bursts, and while defenders were protected from shell fragments and splinters of wood from shattered trees in their dug-in defensive positions, the attackers were in the open and much more vulnerable.
Conversely, US mortar platoons needed clearings in which to work: these were few and also obvious targets for counter-fire, so short-range fire support was often unavailable to infantry platoons.
The Hürtgenwald lay within the area of Hodges’s 1st Army, the responsibility for the area varying between Gerow’s V Corps and Collins’s VII Corps. At the start of the battle, the forest was defended by Schmidt’s 275th Division and Generalleutnant Paul Mahlmann’s 353rd Division, which were both under strength with an average of 6,000 men each (5,000 in the line and 1,000 in reserve), but occupied excellent defensive positions. However, they had only little artillery and no armoured support. As the battle continued, reinforcements were added to the defence, but US expectations that these troops were weak and ready to withdraw proved unfounded.
The first phase of the battle, starting on 19 September, was concentrated on the town of Schmidt astride an important German supply route, and the southern part of the forest. The fighting began with a probe by the 60th Infantry, which entered the Hürtgenwald but was driven back by the terrain and the defence. On 5 October Craig’s 9th Division attacked the town of Schmidt with its 60th and 39th Infantry, the 47th Infantry being reserved in a defensive position. The road linking Monschau and Düren road was quickly cut, but both regiments were slowed by the defence and suffered major casualties: the 2/60th Infantry had been reduced to a third of its establishment strength by the end of the first day. The 39th Infantry was halted at the Weiser Weh stream, and by this time there had already emerged problems as a result of the narrow paths, air bursts in trees, and fire breaks blocked or enfiladed. Evacuation and supply were difficult or impossible. The fighting continued with a painful and costly lack of speed, and by 16 October the US forces had advanced 3,000 yards (2750 m) had been gained at the cost of 4,500 casualties.
On this date the battered 9th Division was replaced by Cota’s 28th Division. This fresh formation was reinforced with armour, Weasel tracked transports 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 was characterised by appallingly difficult terrain, especially where the Kall trail extended along a deep river ravine. The infantry desperately need armoured support, but this just was not ‘tank country’.
The 28th Division’s offensive began on 2 November, and the German defence was fully ready for it. The 109th Infantry was checked after a mere 300 yards (275 m) by a minefield which had not been anticipated, was then pinned by mortar and artillery fire, and harassed by counterattacks. After two days the regiment had advanced 1 mile (1.6 km), and then the 109th Infantry dug in. The 112th Infantry attacked Vossenack and the neighbouring ridge, which were captured on 2 November, but was then checked on the Kall river by the combination of an efficient German defence and very demanding terrain. The 110th Infantry had to clear the woods next to the Kall river, capture Simonskall and maintain a supply route for the advance on Schmidt, all of them very demanding tasks in the face of adverse weather, difficult terrain, carefully prepared defences, and above all a determined foe.
Throughout this period the Americans were without tactical air support until 5 November as a result of the adverse weather.
The 112th Infantry captured Schmidt on 3 November, cutting the German line of communication to Monschau, but the Americans were also without supply, reinforcement and evacuation as the Kall track had been cut. A strong German counterattack by armour of von Waldenburg’s 116th Panzerdivision and the infantry of Oberst Karl Rösler’s 89th Division, which drove the Americans from Schmidt and prevented any US counterattack. For two days, the 112th Infantry was very had-pressed to retain its positions outside Schmidt.
On 6 November, the 12th Infantry was detached from Major General Harold W. Blakely’s 4th Division and sent to reinforce the 28th Division. At Vossenack, the 2/112th Infantry disintegrated after constant shelling and fled from a German attack. Following the providential arrival of two platoons of tanks and M10 Wolverine tank destroyers, aided by the remnants of the 2/112th Infantry and two companies of the 146th Engineers fighting as infantry, the fighting for Schmidt continued until 10 November.
In the second phase of the Battle of the Hürtgenwald, which fell within the scope of the ‘Queen’ operation, the 4th Division was tasked with the clearance of the northern half of the forest between Schevenheutte and Hürtgen, the capture of Hürtgen and an advance to the Roer river south of Düren. From 10 November this would be the responsibility of the VII Corps and included in the corps’ primary objective of reaching the Rur river. The 4th Division was now fully committed to the Hürtgenwald battle, although its 12th Infantry was already much depleted by its action at Schmidt, leaving the division with just two fully effective regiments to achieve the divisional objectives.
Collins’s VII Corps was opposed mainly by General Friedrich Köchling’s LXXXI Corps, comprising three divisions excluding, in the Hürtgenwald, Schmidt’s 275th Division of General Erich Straube’s LXXIV Corps totalling only 6,500 men but able to call on the support of up to 150 pieces of artillery and occupying good defensive positions. The other three formations were Generalleutnant Walter Denkert’s 3rd Panzergrenadierdivision, Generalleutnant Gerhard Engel’s 12th Volksgrenadierdivision and Generalmajor Peter Körte’s 246th Volksgrenadierdivision; another formation, Generalleutnant Max Bork’s 47th Volksgrenadierdivision, comprising young men transferred from the Luftwaffe, was in the process of being deployed to the front. As noted above, all of the German divisions were seriously below establishment strength, but were well supported by armour and mobile artillery.
The main attack of the VII Corps was preceded by bombing raids, as noted above, and also by a heavy artillery bombardment. The VII Corps began its offensive with a two-pronged attack using Major General Clarence R. Huebner’s 1st Division on the right and Major General Terry de la M. Allen’s 104th Division on the left. In its initial attack 1st Division was able to advance only slowly against the 47th Volksgrenadierdivision in the area around Hamich. Casualties were heavy, especially after reinforced counterattacks by the mobile reserves of the 116th Panzerdivision. Hamich was taken after four days of fighting, but the 1st Division had advanced only some 2 miles (3.2 km) and already suffered more than 1,000 casualties.
Meanwhile Collins ordered Major General Maurice Rose’s 3rd Armored Division to divide its combat commands, Combat Command A being assigned to assist the 104th Division and Combat Command B being entrusted with an independent operation to take the villages of Werth, Koettenich, Scherpenseel and Hastenrath in the north-western edges of the Hürtgenwald in the area held by the 12th Volksgrenadierdivision. This small corridor between the 1st Division and the 104th Division was one of the few places in this forested area suitable for an armoured thrust. Although Combat Command B was able to accomplish its task in three days, the heavy mud had hindered its movement and, at 49 out of 60 vehicles, its tank casualties were heavy.
The 1st Division’s advance continued only slowly. The German defenders occupied the tactically advantageous higher ground from which they could overlook the US formations' and units' approach routes. The standard German tactic was to remain largely in the thick woods, where US artillery and air support was ineffective, and there followed what was in essence trench warfare. The Americans had to take a succession of hills in heavy fighting, and all the while their casualties grew. Numerous German counterattacks slowed the advance still further, often retaking ground which the US forces had only just captured in bloody fighting. In an act almost of desperation, Collins moved in nearly all of the artillery available to him in order to blast a path for the 1st Division on 21 November.
With the US advance flagging even though this was still only the first phase of the offensive, Combat Command A of the 3rd Armored Division was assigned to the northern part of the 1st Division’s left flank. The armoured attack was able to capture the castle at Frenzerburg near Inde in fighting which lasted until 28 November.
Meanwhile von Rundstedt decided to commit German reinforcements, though only if at the same time two divisions were withdrawn from the front in preparation for 'Wacht am Rhein'. Thus Generalmajor Walter Wadehn’s 3rd Fallschirmjägerdivision was transferred to the front, while the hard-hit 12th Volksgrenadierdivision and 47th Volksgrenadierdivision were withdrawn. The logistical difficulties and the inexperience of its new opponent aided the 1st Division, which was finally able to push out of the forest and to take Langerwehe, Jüngersdorf and Merode until 28 November. Nevertheless the acute nature of the tactical situation was not changed, and a counterattack by 3rd Fallschirmjägerdivision at Merode led to the destruction of two US infantry companies. At the beginning of December, therefore, the 1st Division was exhausted and had already suffered about 6,000 casualties.
The 104th Division’s advance fared somewhat better. This formation secured the left flank of the VII Corps between the 1st Army and the 9th Army. The division’s objective was the industrial triangle at Eschweiler-Weisweiler and the Eschweiler woods at Stolberg. This part of the front was dominated by the Donnerberg hill near the village of the same name, and here the 104th Division faced the 12th Volksgrenadierdivision and 3rd Panzergrenadierdivision.
During the first days of the 104th Division’s attack there was heavy fighting at the Donnerberg, but by 19 November this tactically significant hill was in US hands. After that, the division renewed its drive and headed simultaneously toward Stolberg and Eschweiler. The former was taken on the same day, but German resistance at the latter was determined, so the US forces tried to encircle the town rather than take it by frontal assault. The ploy worked and the German command decided to withdraw from the town, abandoning it to the 104th Division. The division then advanced along the western bank of the Inde river. further heavy fighting followed, and the 12th Volksgrenadierdivision fought to its near-total destruction before its remnants were replaced by the 3rd Fallschirmjägerdivision. By 26 November Weisweiler was occupied after the Germans had opted to retreat from the town. Inden fell on 30 November, bringing the industrial triangle into US hands. The 104th Division now held the western bank of the Inde river and was ready to cross this waterway and push forward to the Rur river.
The crossing of the river at Lamersdorf began on 2 December. It was initially successful and in a swift advance took Lucherberg, the real objective. The division was still conducting mop-up operations, however, when the Germans began a counterattack, supported by heavy tanks, against the town. The fighting raged only for a few hours, and on 5 December the town was finally secured, and at this point Collins ordered a pause to allow his corps' other divisions, which had been advancing only slowly, to catch up.
Aside from the double thrust conducted by the 1st and 104th Divisions, the US command had decided that another axis of attack should be directed toward Düren. This task was allocated to Major General Raymond O. Barton’s 4th Division, which was deployed on the VII Corps' southern flank to take a route between Hürtgen and Schevenhütte, also capturing the villages of Kleinhau and Grosshau. Here the division would take over positions of Cota’s depleted 28th Division, which had been badly mauled during the preliminary fighting of 'Queen' at Schmidt. This position was still held by the weak but experienced 275th Division. Now somewhat thinned, the Germans could not offer as much resistance as they had early in November, but the difficult terrain and the presence of large minefields caused heavy US losses.
The US attack started on 16 November. The two infantry regiments attacked in parallel columns: the 8th Infantry advanced along the northern edge of the forest toward Düren, and the 28th Infantry moved along a parallel but more southern axis. Despite the fact that the tactic had previously resulted in severe reverses, the two regiments moved forward with unprotected flanks, offering the Germans the opportunity to infiltrate these flanks. The move of the 8th Infantry against the Weh stream encountered very strong resistance and was driven back with substantial losses. The 22nd Infantry also failed in its task, being beaten back by heavy machine gun and artillery fire along the firebreaks which provided the Germans with ideal enfilading positions. After three days the two US regiments had lost 300 men, including notably high losses among their officers and non-commissioned officers.
By 18 November it had been decided that armoured support for the infantry was now totally essential, and engineers therefore blasted tank routes through the forest. There were still major problems on communication and logistics, though, and on 19 November the attack was suspended to allow resupply and the evacuation of the wounded. During this period the 275th Division was strengthened by the arrival of reinforcements from Generalmajor Georg Kossmala’s 344th Division and Generalleutnant Paul Mahlmann’s 353rd Division, and the resistance stiffened further.
After five days of fighting, the 4th Division had advanced only some 1.6 miles (2.5 km) at a cost which had already reached 1,500 casualties.
At the same time the Germans again made changes to their order of battle. The 116th Panzerdivision, which had contributed to several counterattacks during the fighting’s early stages, was withdrawn on 21 November to be refitted for 'Wacht am Rhein', and the 275th Division was also pulled out of the line. As compensation, Generalmajor Eugen König’s inexperienced 344th Division was rushed to the front, while Mahlmann’s 353rd Division was placed behind it as a reserve formation.
The initial planning had not envisaged the deployment of Gerow’s V Corps until Collins’s VII Corps had achieved a significant breakthrough, and then the V Corps was to have co-operated closely with the VII Corps in the planned advance toward Bonn. After the first days of 'Queen', however, the US high command came to appreciate that the VII Corps would need support in achieving the desired breakthrough. The V Corps was therefore ordered to join the fighting. The V Corps was situated to the south of the VII Corps, and Gerow’s first action was to relieve the 28th Division with Major General Donald A. Stroh’s 8th Division for the support of the drive which the 4th Division was already making. The division was assisted by Combat Command R of Major General Lunsford E. Oliver’s 5th Armored Division. The corps took over Hürtgen and Kleinhau as objectives from the 4th Division, and began its offensive attack on 21 November.
On this date Stroh’s 8th Division attacked the Weisser Weh valley, continuing to Hürtgen. The 121st Infantry immediately ran into a strong defence and, despite armoured support from the 10th Tank Battalion, managed to advance an average of only 600 yards (550 m) per day. Hürtgen was taken on 28/29 November and the battle continued to Kleinhau, 1 mile (1.6 km) to the north. The final action in the Hürtgenwald was at Merode, on the forest’s north-eastern edge: two US infantry companies took the village, but were later destroyed in a German counterattack. Elements of the 8th and 28th Divisions then advanced on Brandenberg.
The 4th Division approached Grosshau on 25 November but could not take as a result of the strong German resistance and its own problems of co-ordination with the armour. At the same time, the tanks of the Combat Command R attempted a direct assault on Hürtgen, but this was a complete failure in the face of German anti-tank positions.
The 4th and 8th Divisions attacked Grosshau and Kleinhau simultaneously on 29 November, and took both towns on this same day. This success spurred the US effort. The 8th Division and Combat Command R continued its advance to the east over the following few days, driving toward the Brandenberg-Bergstein ridge, and took Brandenberg on 2 December. On this date there took place a large, and therefore notably rare, attack by German aircraft, but these 60 aircraft inflicted only minor damage. On 5 December Bergstein fell.
In the face of this US advance, the Germans attempted a major counterattack into the town, and in the course of the night and the following day there was heavy fighting until the German forces had been driven back and 'Castle Hill', a feature which overlooked the town from the east, was taken. The V Corps was now within striking distance of the Rur river, which it reached one day later.
During this period the 4th Division also had made progress. After it had taken Grosshau, the division was aided by the armour of Combat Command R, and now headed for Gey, which was found to be strongly defended as the division approached it on 30 November. Two days later the Germans began a counterattack from Gey, and this caused heavy casualties before it was halted by intense artillery fire. Since the beginning of the offensive, the 4th Division had suffered some 6,000 casualties and was now deemed incapable of continued offensive operations. Collins then decided to halt the division and pull it back for replacement by Major General Robert C. Macon’s 83rd Division on 3 December.
Like the 9th Division before it and the 4th Division which would replace it, the 28th Division suffered grievously in the Hürtgenwald. On 14 November the 2nd Ranger Battalion arrived to relieve elements of the 112th Infantry, and on 6 December the Rangers advanced on Bergstein and subsequently took the strategic position of Hill 400. Shortly thereafter, on 12 December, Gey and Strass were taken by the US forces and the Battle of the Hürtgenwald was effectively over for the time being.
Some 120,000 US troops, plus replacements, had been committed to the battle, and by its end there had been 24,000 casualties plus 9,000 non-combat casualties. The 4th and 9th Divisions had been so severely savaged that they were withdrawn from the line to recuperate. The battle for Schmidt cost the US forces 6,184 casualties: the two US infantry divisions which had landed on Omaha Beach in ‘Overlord’ had suffered some 4,000 casualties. The German casualties were fewer than 3,000. In the second phase of the battle, the 4th Division had advanced some 2,650 yards (2415 m) by 20 November, and in the process suffered 1,500 battle casualties as well as several hundreds of non-combat casualties to things such as trench foot, frost bite and exhaustion. After two weeks the division had advanced some 5,300 yards (4830 m) and suffered 4,053 battle casualties as well as 2,000 non-combat casualties. During November the division’s casualty list included 170 officers and 4,754 other ranks. The 22nd Infantry had suffered 2,500 casualties after entering the battle with 2,500 men, so the regiment was virtually a new unit at the end of the battle.
By the beginning of December, the 1st Army had fought its way through most of the Hürtgenwald. Although the V Corps had reached the Rur river at the southern end of its sector, the VII Corps was still short of its objectives on the same river. The US casualties in the campaign were very great: the fighting for the Hürtgenwald, which had started in September, had cost the Americans about 32,000 men.
In parallel with the 1st Army’s advance through the Hürtgenwald, the 9th Army had been tasked to advance through the Rur river plain. Here the terrain was fundamentally different from that of the dense forest through which the formations of the 1st Army had been compelled to fight their way, for it comprised flat farmland dotted with small villages. The US and Germans planning for the campaign in this area differed in a major way as the Germans had expected the US forces to deliver their main thrust through this easier terrain, while the US main effort had in fact developed through the Hürtgenwald. One of the reasons for this decision by Bradley’s 12th Army Group was the presence on the 9th Army’s northern flank of the dangerous Geilenkirchen salient, which would have threatened the US advance on the plain. This salient had been reduced and rendered innocuous in the Anglo-US 'Clipper' by 22 November. Major General Alexander R. Bolling’s 84th Division of the 9th Army’s XIII Corps played a major part in this operation.
The 9th Army’s offensive was undertaken primarily by Gillem’s XIX Corps, and was opposed by Köchling’s LXXXI Corps as well as the reserve forces of General Heinrich Freiherr von Lüttwitz’s XLVII Panzerkorps.
The US plan called for a swift advance to Jülich by the three divisions of the XIX Corps: in the north, Major General Ernest N. Harmon’s 2nd Armored Division was to advance in on a narrow axis toward Linnich and thence toward the Rur river. In the centre, Major General Charles H. Gerhardt’s 29th Infantry Division was to take the direct path towards Jülich. In the south, Major General Leland S. Hobbs’s 30th Division was to take Würselen and then press forward to the Rur river.
As in the 1st Army’s sector, 'Queen' began with a massive aerial bombardment of German towns and positions on 16 November, and immediately after the end of the bombing the US ground offensive began. The 30th Division started a frontal attack against Würselen, its first objective , and took this town after four days of slow advance despite the fact that the resistance of the 3rd Panzergrenadierdivision was hampered by the considerable size of the area it had to hold. In the centre, the 29th Division also launched its attack intending to advance between the towns and then tackle the German fortified strongpoints after they had been outflanked and then encircled. This plan was conceptually flawed, however, and 29th Division soon was pinned down and unable to making further progress. With the aid of Harmon’s 2nd Armored Division, the drive was renewed on 18 November against Generalmajor Peter Körte’s 246th Volsgrenadierdivision, and now took Steerich, Bettendorf and the surroundings of Siersdorf. The understrength 246th Volksgrenadierdivision suffered heavy losses, and by 21 November the Americans were just 1.25 miles (2 km) from the Rur river.
In the north, meanwhile, the 2nd Armored Division also had launched its attack on Gereonsweiler and Linnich. The advance of the armoured division was steady, and by the following day had taken the towns of Puffendorf and Immendorf. Alarmed by thus US armoured advance, the German command and von Rundstedt authorised the release of Generalleutnant Harald Freiherr von Elverfeldt’s 9th Panzerdivision for an armoured counterattack against the two towns. Attached to this formation was the 506th schwere Panzerabteilung with about 36 Tiger II heavy tanks. The German force was able to break into the town of Immersdorf, but was quickly driven back in close-quarter fighting. The main fighting was at Puffendorf, however. As it also wished to continue its advance towards Gereonsweiler, the 2nd Armored Division was caught in the open when about 30 German tanks approached it, and in the fighting which followed the Americans were pushed back into Puffendorf with heavy losses. Fighting then continued round the two towns. The German losses for this day included 11 tanks, while the 2nd Armored Division lost about 57 tanks in the fighting. The stalemate did not last long, though, as the Americans were able to push slowly forward with the aid of substantial artillery and air support. On 20/21 November, there was heavy fighting occurred around and within Gereonsweiler before the Germans retreated and the town was finally in US hands.
As of 22 November, all of the XIX Corps' three divisions were within striking distance of the Rur river. At this juncture the German command decided to release another formation, Generalleutnant Theodor Tolsdorff’s 340th Volksgrenadierdivision, to the front as the threat to Jülich became more evident. The 340th Volksgrenadierdivision now took over the positions of the badly mauled 246th Volksgrenadierdivision, and this strengthening of the German front stalled the advance of the 29th Division and 30th Division after they had been driven out of Bourheim. The last German defence line to the west of Jülich was now that between Bourheim, Koslar and Kirchberg (Jülich).
Much the same also happened to the 2nd Armored Division, which was repelled from Merzenhausen.
During the next days, the fighting was very intense, and heavy artillery bombardments were exchanged. The US forces retook Bourheim on 23 November, but remained under constant shelling from German forces. Two days later US troops entered Koslar. A German counterattack then succeeded in breaking into Bourheim and Koslar, but was soon defeated.
On 26 November the US forces began a general offensive designed to complete the advance to the Rur river. Koslar, Kirchberg and Merzenburg were taken on 27 November, and on the following day the XIX Corps reached the Rur river on a broad front, the Germans retaining only two bridgeheads on the western side of the river. These were taken only on 9 December.
To the north of the XIX Corps, Geilenkirchen had been captured in 'Clipper', but the Allied advance had stalled along the Wurm river, a left-bank tributary of the Rur river, thereby stalemating the US advance in this sector. The 9th Army’s casualties in 'Queen' had amounted to 1,133 men killed, 6,864 men wounded, and 2,059 men missing.
While the 9th Army’s advance had been largely successful, at the beginning of December the VII Corps was only just emerging from the Hürtgenwald, was still short of the Rur river, and had sustained heavy casualties. For the final stage of the corps' offensive, the 1st Division was replaced by Craig’s 9th Division and the 4th Division by Macon’s 83rd Division. After a respite for reorganisation, the US attack was resumed on 10 December toward the Rur river and the key city of Düren. The German strength had reached a low ebb by this time, and the defence was dependent mostly on artillery support. In the north the 104th and 9th Divisions, aided by the 3rd Armored Division, faced little resistance as the 3rd Fallschirmjägerdivision and more especially the 246th Volksgrenadierdivision were unable to offer meaningful resistance. After four days the 104th Division and 9th Division reached the Rur river. During the fighting, the 3rd Fallschirmjägerdivision was replaced by Bork’s hastily assembled 47th Volksgrenadierdivision.
In the south, the 83rd Division faced greater difficulties inasmuch as it had to advance through the towns of Strass and Gey, the latter the location of a battle which effectively left the 4th Division unfit for further offensive operations. Nevertheless, assisted by the 5th Armored Division, the fresh 83rd Division was able to take most of Strass and reach Gey on the same day against Mahlmann’s exhausted 353rd Division. However, the muddiness of the roads and the presence of mines prevented the Americans from bringing their armour into both towns to support the infantry. As a result, after some determined German counterattacks on Schafberg, the US units in Strass were effectively cut off and had to be supplied by air, while the Germans started several attacks on the town. Schafberg was retaken on 12 December, and US armour reached Gey and Strass, easing the situation in each town. The US casualties had been heavy, the 83rd Division losing about 1,000 men in just three days.
To the north of Gey the division’s advance fared better and took the towns Gürzenich and Birgel. On 14 December a renewed armoured drive began: this met initial heavy resistance in the area to the east of Strass, but progressed with less difficulty in other sectors of the front and compelled the Germans to retreat. By 16 December the VII Corps had finally reached the Rur river, on whose western bank the Germans kept only a few small bridgeheads. The US casualties during this campaign were very high, the VII Corps taking about 27,000 casualties in one month.
During the Allied approach toward the Rur river, the matter of the Rur river dams acquired a new urgency. The dams were a strategically important target, as their opening would allow the Germans to flood the Rur river valley and all else downstream as far as the Meuse (Maas) river and into the Netherlands. This would seriously delay the Allied offensive effort into Germany, possibly causing major casualties as well as trapping Allied units to the east of any flooding. It had taken the Allied high command some time to appreciate the magnitude of the problem and start to consider and implicate possible solutions.
The first effort was made by the RAF, which was asked to breach the dams in a programme of bombing from a time early in December. On 5 December 56 Avro Lancaster heavy bombers were despatched against the Schwammenauel dam, but only two of them were able to bomb, with negligible results, as a result of cloud; three days later 205 Lancaster bombers were despatched against the Urft dam, but cloud one again intervened; and on 11 December 233 Lancaster heavy bombers and five de Havilland Mosquito light bombers revisited the Urft dam, and while bombs hit the dam they caused no discernible damage
On 13 December the V Corps, already on the Rur river, was instructed to take the offensive once in an effort to seize the dams from various directions including that of the Ardennes. The offensive took the Germans by surprise, but as the US formations ran straight into German formations being readied for 'Wacht am Rhein', the resistance very quickly stiffened. On 16 December the Germans launched 'Wacht am Rhein', and this led to the immediate termination of all Allied offensive efforts in this sector.
In overall terms, therefore, 'Queen' was unable to meet all it objectives. At the start of the offensive, Allied planners envisaged that 'Queen' would be the starting point for a deep penetration across the Rur river deep into Germany to reach the Rhine river, but after a month of heavy fighting the US forces had barely reached the Rur river, across which they had yet to secure bridgeheads, and the Germans still held some areas to the west of the river and also the important Rur river dams, which threatened further offensive operations. Even without knowing of the imminent 'Wacht am Rhein', the Allied planners estimated that the middle of January 1945 was the earliest that a major thrust into Germany could be made.
The Germans had been successful in their efforts to delay the US advance toward the Rur river, and the line of the Rur river, whose retention was deemed vital to the implementation of 'Wacht am Rhein', had been held. Thus the preparation of 'Wacht am Rhein' was mostly successful, the Germans being able to complete the secret concentration of enough strength for the delivery of what they hoped would be a decisive strategic blow. On 16 December the German offensive took Allies by complete surprise and quickly achieved a breakthrough.
The Roer triangle was later cleared in 'Blackcock' between 14 and 26 January 1945, and only in February 1945 were the Allies finally able to cross the Rur river, but by then their approach to the Rhine river was clear. Thus it was at a time early in February that th4e US forces attacked through the Hürtgenwald for the final time. On 10 February the Americans took the Schwammenauel dam, finally removing the threat of a German flooding of the forest, and this marked the end of the Battle of the Hürtgenwald.
However, 'Wacht am Rhein' also showed that Germany had now lost all long-term strategic perspective, and that Germany could not hope to overcome the Allied superiority in manpower and matériel. Thus the Germans' success in holding of the Rur river line led only to a lengthening of the war, together with greater physical destruction and loss of life.