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Nazi Germany Wasted Many Lives Trying to Keep Aachen from the Allies

October 12, 2019 Topic: History Region: Europe Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: HitlerGermanyWorld War IIU.S. ArmyMilitaryHistoryAachen

Nazi Germany Wasted Many Lives Trying to Keep Aachen from the Allies

Foolish.

As Corley’s men stopped the German attack near Farwick Park, Huebner postponed any renewed advance in Aachen, even as Corley confidently proposed the opposite course of action. The reason for the division commander’s reticence was the punishing blows the 3rd Panzergrenadier Division had been administering to the U.S. 16th Infantry Regiment near Eilendorf. He ordered Colonel Seitz to hold in place until the situation along the division’s eastern wing was stabilized. As it turned out, Huebner’s stay of any offensive action in Aachen lasted only a day. By October 16, the 16th Infantry Regiment had repulsed the efforts of the 3rd Panzergrenadiers to break the American line. Further, the long-awaited juncture between the 1st and 30th Infantry Divisions, which finally closed the Wurselen gap north of Aachen, allayed the American general’s concern for the safety of his southeastern flank. Huebner still held back the 26th Infantry Regiment for another 24 hours while he awaited the arrival of reinforcements from VII Corps before continuing the fight for Aachen.

General Collins had decided to reinforce the two battalions—one of tanks and the other of armored infantry from the U.S. 3rd Armored Division—that had been readied to counterattack any enemy penetration at Eilendorf. Thanks to the stiff defense put up by the 16th Infantry Regiment, this force, called Task Force Hogan, was no longer needed at Eilendorf. As a result, it was sent to fight on the north flank of Corley’s unit, launching a right hook against the Lousberg. Part of Task Force Hogan’s armor was also to occupy the village of Luarensberg, a key to the West Wall defenses north and west of Aachen and still in the hands of the depleted German 49th Infantry Division. In addition, General Collins attached to the 1st Division a battalion of the 110th Infantry Regiment, 28th Infantry Division. Huebner was to use this battalion strictly defensively to cover the growing gap between Daniels’ unit and the 1106th Engineer Battalion located south of Aachen. On October 18, with all the American forces in place, the 1st Division’s commander ordered his men to renew their attack on Aachen. At that time the German garrison had only 4,392 combat effectives.

In Farwick Park, Colonel Corley’s formation set out to regain the ground it had lost three days before, pass onto Observatory Hill, and help Task Force Hogan’s drive on the rest of the Lousberg. One platoon quickly recaptured the Kurhaus. While the enemy sheltered from an American artillery barrage in the hotel basement, a platoon under 2nd Lt. William D. Ratchford stormed into the hotel lobby. Hand grenade duels erupted at every entrance to the basement. With the threat of machine-gun fire directed at them, the Germans surrendered. Twenty-five defenders had died in the fight for the hotel. A search of the building revealed large caches food and ammunition, as well as a 20mm antiaircraft gun sited on the second floor.

With Farwick Park and its buildings firmly in American hands, Daniels’ men set course on a methodical sweep through the center of the city. On the 19th Corley’s troops captured Observatory Hill against light opposition as Task Force Hogan overran the heights of the Lousberg. Because the 30th Division had already occupied the village of Laurenberg, Huebner directed Task Force Hogan to sever the Aachen-Laurensberg highway a short distance from the village. By nightfall on the 19th, part of the task force had taken a chateau 200 yards from the road.

Meanwhile, in a written proclamation Colonel Wilck exhorted his command to “fight to the last man.” However, exhortations would do little to alter the city’s fate. By the end of October 19, the German high command had decided to withdraw. The headquarters of the 1st SS Panzer Corps was ordered to suspend any offensive actions to relieve Aachen, and the 3rd Panzergrenadier Division, down to half its original strength, was instructed to prepare to leave the Aachen front.

On October 19-20, resistance in Aachen rapidly crumbled as Daniels’ battalion, along with elements of the 110th Infantry Regiment, eviscerated the town. Soon Daniels and company cut off the residential section of the city from its western environs. The next day Colonel Corley’s battalion reached a large air raid bunker near Lousberg Strasse. Unknown to the GIs, this was Colonel Wilck’s command post. As Corley called up his 155mm self-propelled gun and used it to pump a few shells into the shelter, Wilck decided to end the fight for Aachen.

Using 30 American prisoners as go-betweens, Wilck requested they arrange the surrender of his garrison. Two members of the 1106th Engineer Battalion, who had been taken captive by the Germans in the early fighting for Aachen, and two German officers dashed into Lousberg Strasse as small-arms fire cracked around them. When American soldiers entered the bunker, Wilck and his staff had already packed their bags and were ready to go. As the Germans left the bunker, Staff Sergeant Ewart M. Padget, one of the former prisoners from the 1106th Engineers, nabbed the prize souvenir of the occasion, Colonel Wilck’s service pistol.

At Corley’s headquarters, the 1st Division’s assistant commander, Brig. Gen. George A. Taylor, accepted the German surrender, and at 12:05 pm on October 21 it was all over. By nightfall the Americans had completed a sweep of the entire city, rounding up 1,600 German soldiers.

The end of the battle for Aachen witnessed a city, as one America observer later wrote, “as dead as a Roman ruin, but unlike a ruin it has none of the grace of gradual decay…. Burst sewers, broken gas mains and dead animals have raised an almost overpowering smell in many parts of the city. The streets are paved with shattered glass; telephone, electric light and trolley cables are dangling and netted together everywhere, and in many areas wrecked cars, trucks, armored vehicles and guns litter the streets….” Fully 80 percent of the city had been destroyed by a combination of RAF bombing and American shellfire.Although the Germans had failed to prevent Aachen’s encirclement and held out for only five days after it was surrounded by the Americans, the real measure of the fight from their standpoint was the telling cost to the Germans. The 30th Division took 6,000 German prisoners, the 1st Division another 5,637, including 3,473 captured within the city. The way the Wehrmacht units were squandered in the fight without any major achievement was indicated by the fact than an equivalent of 20 battalions had been used in counterattacks against the 30th Division. Yet in only a few instances had any of these involved more than two reinforced infantry battalions. A never ending compulsion to stave off possible future crises had sucked the defenders into the abyss of piecemeal commitment of their forces.

On the American side, the Old Hickory Division and its attached units had lost 3,100 men since the start of the West Wall Campaign on October 2, 1944. The Big Red One sustained 498 casualties from the two battalions of the 26th Infantry Regiment. Of these, 75 were killed and nine missing. With these divisions depleted and exhausted, Hodges and his boss, General Omar Bradley, commander of the American 12th Army Group, believed the U.S. First Army had to be reinforced before it could take offensive action again.

This was the achievement of the doomed German defense of Aachen.

Arnold Blumberg is an attorney with the Maryland state government and resides with his wife in Baltimore County, Maryland.

This article originally appeared on Warfare History Network. This first appeared in November 2017.

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