At the Battle of the Hürtgen Forest, over 4,500 American troops were killed and wounded — and for the cost, very little ground was gained.
Many have never heard of the Hürtgen Forest, much less the bloody battle that took place there 71 years ago. Located in western Germany between the Ruhr River and the city of Aachen, the Hürtgen was the scene of some of the grittiest combat of World War II, and the battle still holds the record as the longest land engagement in U.S. Army history. The Hürtgen Forest itself is also known for its near-impenetrable terrain, consisting of deep ravines, steep gorges, and narrow roads. During the battle, it was this topography that restricted the use of armor and air power, and virtually negated the almost 5-to-1 numerical advantage held by American forces.
By September 1944, the Allies were flying high on the wings of victory. The landings on the beaches in Normandy were successful, Paris had been liberated, and the word on the street was that Berlin was within reach and American fighting men would be home by Christmas. The Nazi Wehrmacht had other ideas, however.
Originally intended to put pressure on German forces to keep them from reinforcing Aachen to the north, the Allied assault into the Hürtgen Forest was also dubiously intended to enable the Army to zero in on the industrial centers of the Ruhr Valley. Initial American thrusts during the first phase in late September and early October centered on the village of Schmidt, which U.S. forces attempted to access via the narrow and treacherous Kall Trail. Terrain in the area was incredibly rough, however, and resupply and armor support severely restricted. Dotted with German minefields, snipers, and rocked by intense artillery bombardments, the forest was also a deathtrap for the advancing troops. Within the first three weeks of fighting, casualties were appalling at over 4,500 American troops killed and wounded — and for the cost, very little ground was gained.
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