Operation Queen

Last updated

Operation Queen
Part of World War II
Date16 November – 16 December 1944
Location
Rur valley and environs, Germany
Result German defensive victory [1]
Belligerents
Flag of the United States (1912-1959).svg  United States
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg  United Kingdom
Flag of Germany (1935-1945).svg  Germany
Commanders and leaders
Omar Bradley
Courtney Hodges
William Hood Simpson
Gerd von Rundstedt
Gustav-Adolf von Zangen
Erich Brandenberger
Strength
Flag of the United States (1912-1959).svg 1st Army
Flag of the United States (1912-1959).svg 9th Army
War ensign of Germany (1938-1945).svg 7th Army
War ensign of Germany (1938-1945).svg 15th Army
Casualties and losses
38,500 casualties [a]
340 tanks lost [2] [3]
casualties equal to the Allies [1]

Operation Queen was an Anglo-American operation during World War II at the Western Front at the German Siegfried Line.

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.

Western Front (World War II) military theatre of World War II encompassing Denmark, Norway, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, and Germany

The Western Front was a military theatre of World War II encompassing Denmark, Norway, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, and Germany. World War II military engagements in Southern Europe and elsewhere are generally considered under separate headings. The Western Front was marked by two phases of large-scale combat operations. The first phase saw the capitulation of the Netherlands, Belgium, and France during May and June 1940 after their defeat in the Low Countries and the northern half of France, and continued into an air war between Germany and Britain that climaxed with the Battle of Britain. The second phase consisted of large-scale ground combat, which began in June 1944 with the Allied landings in Normandy and continued until the defeat of Germany in May 1945.

Siegfried Line German defensive line used in World War 2

The "Siegfried Line", known in German as the Westwall, was a German defensive line built during the 1930s opposite the French Maginot Line. It stretched more than 630 km (390 mi); from Kleve on the border with the Netherlands, along the western border of the old German Empire, to the town of Weil am Rhein on the border to Switzerland - and featured more than 18,000 bunkers, tunnels and tank traps.

Contents

The operation was aimed against the Rur River, as a staging point for a subsequent thrust over the river to the Rhine into Germany. It was conducted by the First and Ninth U.S. Armies.

Rhine river in Western Europe

The Rhine is one of the major European rivers, which has its sources in Switzerland and flows in an mostly northerly direction through Germany and The Netherlands to the North Sea. The river begins in the Swiss canton of Graubünden in the southeastern Swiss Alps, forms part of the Swiss-Liechtenstein, Swiss-Austrian, Swiss-German and then the Franco-German border, then flows through the German Rhineland and the Netherlands and eventually empties into the North Sea.

First United States Army field army of the United States Army

The First Army is the oldest and longest established field army of the United States Army, having seen service in both World War I and World War II, under some of the most famous and distinguished officers of the U.S. Army. It now serves as a mobilization, readiness and training command.

Ninth United States Army

The Ninth Army is a field army of the United States Army, garrisoned at Caserma Ederle, Vicenza, Italy. It is the United States Army Service Component Command of United States Africa Command.

The offensive commenced on 16 November 1944 with one of the heaviest Allied tactical bombings of the war. However, Allied advance was unexpectedly slow, against heavy German resistance, especially in the Hürtgen Forest through which the main thrust of the offensive was carried out. By mid-December, the Allies finally reached the Rur and tried to capture its important dams, when the Germans launched their own offensive dubbed Wacht am Rhein. The ensuing Battle of the Bulge led to the immediate cessation of the Allied offensive efforts into Germany until February 1945.

Tactical bombing military operation in which ground targets of immediate military value are bombed by aircraft

Tactical bombing is aerial bombing aimed at targets of immediate military value, such as combatants, military installations, or military equipment. This is in contrast to strategic bombing, or attacking enemy cities and factories to cripple future military production and enemy civilians' will to support the war effort, in order to debilitate the enemy's long-term capacity to wage war. A tactical bomber is a bomber aircraft with an intended primary role of tactical bombing.

Hürtgen Forest 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 50 square miles (130 km2) in area, the forest lies within a triangle outlined by the German towns of Aachen, Monschau, and Düren. The Rur River runs along the eastern edge of the forest.

Battle of the Bulge German offensive through the Ardennes forest on the Western Front towards the end of World War II

The Battle of the Bulge, also known as the Ardennes Counteroffensive, took place from 16 December 1944 to 25 January 1945, and was the last major German offensive campaign on the Western Front during World War II. It was launched through the densely forested Ardennes region of Wallonia in eastern Belgium, northeast France, and Luxembourg, towards the end of the war in Europe. The offensive was intended to stop Allied use of the Belgian port of Antwerp and to split the Allied lines, allowing the Germans to encircle and destroy four Allied armies and force the Western Allies to negotiate a peace treaty in the Axis powers' favor.

Background

In June 1944, the Allies conducted the invasion in Northern France and opened a second front. After the Allied breakout from Normandy, the German Wehrmacht was involved in a string of disastrous battles in July and August, most notably the Falaise pocket. Following those events, the German defense in northern and western France disintegrated, leading to a hasty retreat of the German forces. The rapid Allied advance together with the ongoing march of the Red Army in the east let the Allied High command believe that the Wehrmacht was about to collapse and total victory could be achieved by Christmas 1944. The Allies, therefore, launched a high-risk plan for a direct thrust through the Netherlands into Germany, called Operation Market Garden. This overly ambitious plan failed, as the Wehrmacht was able to reorganize itself and consolidate its strength. By mid-September, the Allied advance abruptly ended, as the Allies suffered from a logistics crisis, outrunning their supply lines. This gave the Germans further time to prepare for the upcoming Allied offensives. The Germans now could man the fortifications of the Westwall (Siegfried Line), although its old bunkers were mor e symbolic than a real obstacle for the Allies. [4]

Allies of World War II Grouping of the victorious countries of World War II

The Allies of World War II, called the United Nations from the 1 January 1942 declaration, were the countries that together opposed the Axis powers during the Second World War (1939–1945). The Allies promoted the alliance as a means to control German, Japanese and Italian aggression.

Invasion of Normandy Invasion and establishment of Western Allied forces in Normandy during WWII

The Western Allies of World War II launched the largest amphibious invasion in history when they assaulted Normandy, located on the northern coast of France, on 6 June 1944. The invaders were able to establish a beachhead as part of Operation Overlord after a successful "D-Day," the first day of the invasion.

<i>Wehrmacht</i> unified armed forces of Germany from 1935 to 1945

The Wehrmacht was the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany from 1935 to 1945. It consisted of the Heer (army), the Kriegsmarine (navy) and the Luftwaffe. The designation "Wehrmacht" replaced the previously used term Reichswehr, and was the manifestation of the Nazi regime's efforts to rearm Germany to a greater extent than the Treaty of Versailles permitted.

First thrust into the Hürtgen Forest

In the north in Belgium, the Allies were still involved in the Battle of the Scheldt, while in the south in France the Lorraine Campaign was still ongoing. In the center, the Battle of Aachen was fought from 2–21 October at the German border. The heavy German resistance upset Allied plans for a fast resumption of the rapid advance. As preparation for Operation Queen, a preliminary offensive into the Hürtgen Forest had to be carried out, to secure the flanks against a possible German counterattack out of the forest. The goal was to clear a pathway to the important road junction at Düren, to gain a respectable starting position for Queen. The 9th Infantry Division was already engaged in the forest since September, so only moderate German resistance was expected. On 2 November, three days before the anticipated start of Operation Queen, the offensive against the town of Schmidt was launched by the 28th Division against the German 275th Division. The town was captured, but the Germans reacted swiftly by reallocating forces of the 89th Infantry Division and mobile reserves from the 116th Panzer Division, which drove the Allies out of the town, transforming the battle into a bloody stalemate. [5]

Battle of the Scheldt battle in northern Belgium and southwestern Netherlands during World War II

The Battle of the Scheldt in World War II was a series of military operations by Canadian, British and Polish formations to open up the shipping route to Antwerp so that its port could be used to supply the Allies in north-west Europe. Led by Lieutenant-General Guy Simonds, the battle took place in northern Belgium and southwestern Netherlands from October 2 to November 8, 1944.

Lorraine Campaign

Lorraine Campaign is a term used by U.S. Army historians to describe operations of the U.S. Third Army in Lorraine during World War II from September 1 through December 18, 1944. Official U.S. Army campaign names for this period and location are Northern France and Rhineland. The term was popularized by the publication of a volume of the same name by the U.S. Army in 1950.

Battle of Aachen major conflict of World War II

The Battle of Aachen was a major combat action of World War II, fought by American and German forces in and around Aachen, Germany, between 2-21 October 1944. The city had been incorporated into the Siegfried Line, the main defensive network on Germany's western border; the Allies had hoped to capture it quickly and advance into the industrialized Ruhr Basin. Although most of Aachen's civilian population was evacuated before the battle began, much of the city was destroyed and both sides suffered heavy losses. It was one of the largest urban battles fought by U.S. forces in World War II, and the first city on German soil to be captured by the Allies. The battle ended with a German surrender, but their tenacious defense significantly disrupted Allied plans for the advance into Germany.

Planning

(from left to right) Bradley, Gerow, Eisenhower and Collins Bradley gerow eisenhower collins.jpg
(from left to right) Bradley, Gerow, Eisenhower and Collins

The Allied High Command planned a large offensive in the area of the Ninth U.S. Army together with the First U.S. Army and parts of the British 2nd Army against the Rur River, intending to establish bridgeheads at Linnich, Jülich and Düren. The First Army – already stationed near the Hürtgen Forest – had to carry out the main effort through the Hürtgen Forest toward the Rur River. The Ninth Army had to advance north of the forest through the Rur plains. The British XXX Corps – together with units from the U.S. XIII Corps – had to reduce the Geilenkirchen salient in the north in a different operation named Operation Clipper. The long term target after the Rur was crossed was to reach the Rhine and establish bridgeheads at Krefeld and Düsseldorf to secure further advances inside Germany after the winter. A great number of American and British strategic bombers were to conduct a series of tactical assaults in the area to cut supply lines and destroy enemy infrastructure, and also to attack the enemy defenders inside their positions. The entire operation was codenamed Queen. The 8th U.S. Air Force was to bomb the fortifications around Eschweiler and Aldenhoven, while the medium bombers of the 9th Air Force were assigned to the second line of defense around Jülich and Langerwehe. At the same time, the RAF Bomber Command was to hit the traffic centres of Jülich and Düren hard; the smaller towns of Heinsberg, Erkelenz and Hückelhoven were designated as secondary targets. [6]

Second Army (United Kingdom) 1914-1945 army-level field formation of the British Army

The British Second Army was a field army active during the First and Second World Wars. During the First World War the army was active on the Western Front throughout most of the war and later active in Italy. During the Second World War the army was the main British contribution to the Normandy landings on 6 June 1944 and advance across Europe.

Linnich Place in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany

Linnich is a town in the district of Düren in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. It is located on the River Rur, approx. 10 km north-west of Jülich.

Jülich Place in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany

Jülich is a town in the district of Düren, in the federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. As a border region between the competing powers in the Lower Rhine and Meuse areas, the town and the Duchy of Jülich played a historic role from the Middle Ages up to the 17th century.

Rundstedt (middle) and Model (left) planning the Ardennes Offensive Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1978-024-31, Model, v. Rundstedt und Krebs.jpg
Rundstedt (middle) and Model (left) planning the Ardennes Offensive

Initially, the starting date of the offensive was set for 5 November, later 10 November, but because of bad weather it was delayed until 16 November. The ground offensive was to begin immediately after the air raids, allowing the defenders no time to reestablish fortifications, supply routes and communications. [7] [8]

German planning was entirely different. Running out of strategic options, the Wehrmacht planned an all-out counteroffensive in the West, codenamed Wacht am Rhein. The first draft of the plan was already completed in secret in October 1944 and was aimed against the Ardennes, mirroring the successful campaign in 1940 against France. The plan required for the best divisions of the Wehrmacht to be held back from the autumn fighting, to gain time to build them up for the planned offensive. For the successful execution of the plan, the holding of the Rur River line was deemed as absolutely important, to prevent the Allies from a flanking attack. The German plan for the November–December Campaign was, therefore, to hold the Rur River line with a minimum of available forces until the Ardennes Offensive could be launched. [9]

The Germans also had a card up their sleeve. With control over the dams on the Rur, they could release the water from them and flood the Rur valley and everything else downstream of it as far as the Meuse and into the Netherlands. That would cause large scale destruction and destroy Allied bridges over the Rur, isolating all troops east of the river. The Allies did not fully recognize the strategic importance of the dams for some time, and only days before the end of the offensive they made their first specific moves towards them. [10]

Opposing forces

The Allied forces participating in the operation were the U.S. First and Ninth Armies, assigned to Omar Bradley's 12th Army Group. The First Army's units for the operation consisted of the V and VII Corps, that latter assigned for the main thrust through the Hürtgen Forest, with V Corps protecting its southern flank. For the upcoming offensive, both armies were heavily reinforced. Total strength of the First Army rose from about 250,000 in September to about 320,000 before the offensive, although only about 120,000 troops would participate in the main operation. The First Army's tank strength was about 700 tanks. In October the Allies suffered from major supply shortcomings, but by early November those had been mostly resolved. The Ninth Army was somewhat smaller, consisting mainly of the XIX Corps and some independent divisions, with the XIII Corps in reorganization. As support for the ground operations, the Allies planned their largest tactical bombing of the war, employing more than 4,500 planes. [11]

After the chain of disasters in the summer of 1944, the Allies expected the Wehrmacht to be unable to recover, but the opposite was true. Although manpower losses were enormous, the Wehrmacht compensated this with transferring of men from the Reserve Army, the Luftwaffe and the Kriegsmarine into frontline troops for rebuilding their forces. Regarding industrial production the situation was even better. 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 of Albert Speer and the increased use of forced labour. For the preparing of the Ardennes Offensive, the 5th Panzer Army was pulled out of the front and replaced by the 15th Army, although for deception purposes its name was changed to conceal this fact. The Allies, therefore, faced two armies: the 15th Army in the Hürtgen Forest; and the 7th Army in the north in the Rur plains. Although nominally an equal force to the Allies on paper, the Germans were heavily outnumbered. In some sectors, the ratio of attacker to defender was about 5 to 1. The reason for this was the acute manpower shortage that the Germans were experiencing. Most of the German units were seriously understrength, with some divisions consisting of only a few thousand men. However, heavy entrenchment and the availability of considerable tank and artillery support went some way to compensate for those problems. The German troops were commanded by OB West Generalfeldmarshall Gerd von Rundstedt and commander of Army Group B Generalfeldmarshall Walther Model, with the latter considered a skilled defense specialist. [12] [13]

Offensive

Preliminary air raids

On 16 November 1944 between 11:13 and 12:48, the Allied bombers conducted the preliminary bombings of Operation Queen. 1,204 heavy bombers of the U.S. 8th Air Force hit Eschweiler, Weisweiler and Langerwehe with 4,120 bombs, while 339 fighter bombers of the U.S. 9th Air Force attacked Hamich, Hürtgen and Gey with 200 short ton s (180  t ) of bombs. At the same time, 467 Handley Page Halifax and Avro Lancaster heavy bombers attacked Düren and Jülich; 180 British bombers hit Heinsberg. [14]

The result of the bombing was mixed. The German towns being hit suffered from severe destruction. German communications after the bombing were heavily impaired, and there was a considerable effect on the morale, especially on units consisting of more younger and inexperienced troops. However, the direct damage dealt to the German frontline troops was low, and casualties were few. Allied air commanders admitted that the bombing did not measure up to expectations. About 12 aircraft were shot down during the initial bombing by meager anti-aircraft fire. [15]

First Army's advance through the Hürtgen Forest

VII Corps November fighting

The offensive from November until 9 December Huertgenwald wk2.png
The offensive from November until 9 December

Together with the bombing raids, heavy artillery bombardments preceded the main thrust of J. Lawton Collins VII Corps. Opposed to his units, were the shattered forces of LXXXI Corps, commanded by Friedrich Köchling. The LXXXI Corps consisted of three divisions: the 3rd Panzergrenadier Division, the 246th Infantry Division and the 12th Volksgrenadier Division. Another unit, the 47th Volksgrenadier Division was in the process of being transferred to the front. It was mostly made up from 18–19 years old Luftwaffe personnel. All the German divisions were seriously understrength, but mobile artillery and tank reserves were available. [16]

The attack of VII Corps commenced with a two-pronged attack with 1st Infantry Division on the right and the 104th Infantry Division on the left. In its initial attack 1st Division was only able to make ground slowly against the 47th VGD around Hamich. Casualties were heavy, especially after reinforced counterattacks by the still present mobile reserves from the 116th Panzer Division. After four days of fighting, Hamich was taken, but 1st Division had only advanced about 3.2 km (2.0 mi) with casualties being already over 1,000 men. [17]

Meanwhile, Collins ordered the American 3rd Armored Division to divide its constituent combat commands, CCA was assigned to assist the 104th Division, while CCB would act independently to take four villages (Werth, Koettenich, Scherpenseel, and Hastenrath) in the northwestern fringes of the Hürtgen Forest, defended by the 12th VGD. This small corridor between the 1st and the 104th Division was one of the few places suitable for an armored thrust. Although CCB was able to accomplish its task in three days, the heavy mud had hindered its movement and tank casualties were heavy; CCB lost 49 out of 69 tanks. [18]

1st Division's advance continued to be slow. The German defenders were in a favorable heightened position, in which they could overlook the approach routes of the Allied forces. The German tactic was to fight mainly in the thick woods, where American artillery and aerial support was ineffective and a state of bloody trench warfare emerged. The Americans had to take hill after hill in heavy fighting, while casualties were mounting. Numerous German counterattacks slowed the advance down even more, often taking ground back which had been just captured in a bloody fight. In an act of desperation, Collins moved in virtually all of his available artillery to blast a way for the 1st Division on 21 November. With the Allied advance flagging already in the first phase of the offensive, CCA of the 3rd Armored Division was assigned to the northern part of the 1st Division's left flank. The armored attack was able to capture the castle at Frenzerburg (near Inden). This fight lasted until 28 November. Meanwhile, GFM Rundstedt decided to inject some reinforcements to the battle, but only if simultaneously 2 divisions were pulled out from the front for the Ardennes Offensive preparation. Therefore, the 3rd Parachute Division was transferred to the front, while the bled out 12th and 47th VGD were withdrawn. The logistical difficulties and the inexperience of the new opponent aided 1st Division and it was finally able to push out of the forest, taking Langerwehe, Jüngersdorf and Merode until 28 November. Nevertheless, the dire situation did not change, and a violent counterattack by 3rd Parachute Division at Merode led to the destruction of 2 companies. At the beginning of December, 1st Division was worn out and had already suffered about 6,000 casualties. [19] [20]

German artillery in the Hurtgen Forest Bundesarchiv Bild 183-J28303, Hurtgenwald, schweres Infanteriegeschutz.jpg
German artillery in the Hürtgen Forest

The advance of the 104th Division went somewhat better. The unit secured the left flank of VII Corps between the First and the Ninth US Army. The target of the unit was the industrial triangle at Eschweiler-Weisweiler and the Eschweiler woods at Stolberg. This part of the front was dominated by the Donnerberg near the identically named village. The division faced the German 12th VGD as well as the 3rd Panzergrenadier Division. During the first days heavy fighting ensued at the Donnerberg, but by 19 November the important hill was in American hands. After that, the division renewed its drive and headed for Stolberg and Eschweiler simultaneously. Stolberg was taken on the same day, but German resistance at Eschweiler was heavy, so the Americans attempted to encircle the town. This worked and the German command decided to withdraw from the town, abandoning it to the 104th Division. The division then advanced alongside the western bank of the Inde River. Heavy fighting ensued, and the 12th VGD fought to its near destruction until it was replaced by the incoming 3rd Parachute Division. By 26 November Weisweiler was taken after the Germans chose to retreat from the town. Inden fell on 30 November, bringing the industrial triangle into American hands. The 104th Division now held the western bank of the Inde and was ready to cross the river to push to the Rur. [21] The crossing of the river at Lamersdorf commenced on 2 December. It was initially successful and in a swift advance the real objective, Lucherberg was taken. The division was still conducting mop-up operations when the Germans mounted a counterattack assisted by heavy tanks against the town. The intense fighting raged only for hours and on 5 December the town was finally secured, when Collins ordered a pause due to the slow advance of the other divisions of the corps. [22]

Aside from the double thrust conducted by the 1st and 104th Division, the American command had determined that another attack route should be taken towards Düren. This task was passed to the 4th Infantry Division, which was positioned at VII Corps southern wing to take a route between Hürtgen and Schevenhütte, also capturing the villages of Kleinhau and Grosshau. Here the division would take over positions of the depleted 28th Infantry Division, which had been badly mauled during the preliminary fighting of Operation Queen at Schmidt. This position was still held by the weakened but experienced German 275th Infantry Division. The thinned out German lines could not offer as much resistance as in early November, but the difficult terrain, as well as the mines, caused heavy casualties to the Americans. After five days of fighting, the division had only advanced about 2.5 km (1.6 mi), but had already suffered 1,500 casualties. At the same time, the German command again made changes to the order of battle. The 116th Panzer Division, which had helped to mount several counterattacks during the early fighting, was withdrawn on 21 November from the area to be refitted for the upcoming Ardennes Offensive. The same was for the understrength 275th Division. As compensation, the inexperienced 344th Volksgrenadier Division was released and rushed to the front, while the 353rd Volksgrenadier Division was placed behind it as a reserve force. [23] [24]

V Corps joins the offensive

Army engineers repairing a muddy road in the Hurtgen Forest ENGINEERS REPAIR A ROAD in the Huertgen Forest, 25 November.jpg
Army engineers repairing a muddy road in the Hürtgen Forest

The initial planning did not see a deployment of General Gerow's V Corps until VII Corps had achieved a major breakthrough. V Corps then would have to make a close drive together with VII Corps towards Bonn. However, after the first days the American senior command realized that VII Corps would need extra assistance to achieve a breakthrough. Therefore, V Corps was ordered to join the fighting. The Corps was situated south of VII Corps. Gerow's first action was to relieve the 28th Division with the 8th Infantry Division, to assist the drive of the already fighting 4th Division. The division was assisted by a CCR from the 5th Armored Division. The corps took over Hürtgen and Kleinhau as objectives from the 4th Division and started its attack on 21 November. [25]

The advance of the 8th Division was steady but very slow. 4th Division reached Grosshau on 25 November, but could not capture it due to heavy resistance and coordination problems with the supporting armored units. At the same time, the tanks of CCR tried a direct assault on Hürtgen, which ended in complete failure against German anti-tank positions. In a renewed attack conducted by infantry only, Hürtgen was taken on 28 November. The 4th and 8th divisions simultaneously attacked Grosshau and Kleinhau on 29 November, and both towns were captured the same day. This success spurred the American efforts. The 8th Division together with the CCR continued its advance for the next days eastwards towards the Brandenberg-Bergstein ridge. Brandenberg was taken on 2 December. The same day a rare massive Luftwaffe raid occurred with about 60 planes, but did only minor damage. On 5 December Bergstein fell. Facing the Allied advance, the Germans mounted a massive counterattack into the town. During the night and over the next day heavy fighting ensued until the German forces were repulsed, and Castle Hill, an important hill beyond Bergstein overseeing the town, was taken. V Corps was now in striking distance of the Rur and reached the river a day later. [26] [27]

In the meantime, 4th Division also had made some progress. After the capture of Grosshau, the division was aided by the armored forces of the CCR. The division now headed for Gey, which was reached on 30 November, but heavily defended. Two days later the Germans mounted a counterattack out from Gey, which caused heavy casualties. The attack was only stopped by intense artillery fire. Since the beginning of the offensive, 4th Division had already lost about 6,000 men and was now unable to conduct further offensive operations. Subsequently, Collins decided to halt its offensive operations and pulled the division out to replace it with the 83rd Infantry Division on 3 December. [28]

At the beginning of December, First Army had fought its way through most of the Hürtgen Forest. Although V Corps had reached the Rur at the very southern wing, VII Corps was still short of its objective of reaching the Rur. Casualties for this campaign were tremendous. The fighting for the Hürtgen Forest, which lasted already since September, had cost the Americans about 32,000 men. [29]

Ninth Army's advance through the Rur plains

Parallel to First Army's advance through the Hürtgen Forest, Ninth Army had to advance through the Rur plains. This terrain was fundamentally different from the dense forest, consisting of flat farmland with small villages. Planning for this area for both sides was different, as the Germans expected the Allied main thrust through this area, while it was actually through the Hürtgen Forest. One of the reasons for this decision was the dangerous Geilenkirchen-Salient at Ninth Army's northern flank, which would have threatened the American advance. This salient was reduced and rendered harmless in Operation Clipper, by a combined US-British attack until 22 November. The 84th Division of XIII Corps of the Ninth Army played a major role in this operation. [30]

Ninth Army's drive was conducted mainly by XIX Corps under General Gillem and was opposed by Köchling's LXXXI Corps as well as the reserve forces of the XLVII Panzer Corps. The plan called for a swift advance to Jülich with its 3 divisions. The 2nd Armored Division had to advance in a narrow line towards Linnich and from there towards the Rur. In the center 29th Infantry Division had to take the direct path towards Jülich and in the south the 30th Infantry Division had to take Würselen and then continue to the Rur. [31]

As in the First Army's sector, Operation Queen began with a massive aerial bombardment against German towns and positions on 16 November. After the air strike was over, the American offensive was launched. 30th Division started a frontal attack against its first objective – Würselen. After four days of slow advance, the town was taken. The German resistance from the 3rd Panzergrenadier Division was hampered due to the large area it had to cover. In the center, 29th Division also commenced with its attack. The plan called to advance in between the towns to deal with the fortified strongpoints after they were encircled. This plan, however, was flawed and 29th Division soon was pinned down making no further progress. With assistance from the 2nd Armored Division, on 18 November its drive was renewed against the opposing German 246th VGD, taking Setterich, Bettendorf and the surroundings of Siersdorf. The understrength 246th VGD was heavily reduced, and by 21 November the Americans were just 2 km (1.2 mi) ahead of the Rur. [30]

Captured Tiger II with improvised Allied markings Captured Tiger II with American markings.jpg
Captured Tiger II with improvised Allied markings

Meanwhile in the north 2nd Armored Division also had commenced its attack on Gereonsweiler and Linnich. The advance was very steady, and already on the next day the towns Puffendorf and Immendorf were taken. This alarmed the German command and Rundstedt authorized the release of the 9th Panzer Division for a heavy armored counterattack against the two towns. Attached to this unit was the schwere Panzerabteilung 506 (506th Heavy Tank Battalion) with about 36 King Tiger tanks. At Immersdorf, the Germans were able to break into the town, but were soon repelled in close quarter fighting at dawn. The main fighting, however, was at Puffendorf. Since 2nd Armored Division also wanted to continue its advance towards Gereonsweiler, the division was caught in the open when about 30 German tanks approached it. In the ensuing battle, the Americans were pushed back into Puffendorf with heavy losses. Fighting continued then around the towns. German losses for this day were 11 tanks, while the 2nd Armored Division lost about 57 tanks in the fighting. However, the stalemate did not last long, as the Americans were able to push slowly forward through combined heavy artillery and aerial support. On 20/21 November, heavy fighting occurred at and in Gereonsweiler, until the Germans retreated and the town was finally in American hands. [32] [33]

As of 22 November, all 3 divisions of XIX Corps were in striking range of the Rur. At this point, the German command decided to release another division, the 340th Volksgrenadier Division, to the front, as the threat to Jülich came apparent. The 340th Division moved in to take over positions of the badly mauled 246th VGD. Due to this reinforcement, the advance of the 29th and 30th Infantry Division stalled after they were ejected from Bourheim. The last German defense ring before Jülich was now between Bourheim, Koslar and Kirchberg (Jülich). The same happened to the 2nd Armored Division which was repelled from Merzenhausen. During the next days, fighting at the defense line was very intense, mostly leading to the exchange of heavy artillery barrages. Bourheim was taken on 23 November but remained under constant shelling from German forces. 2 days later American troops entered Koslar. A subsequent German counterattack managed to break into Bourheim and Koslar, but was soon afterwards repelled. On 26 November a general offensive was started to finally push to the Rur. Koslar, Kirchberg and Merzenburg were taken on 27 November. By 28 November, XIX Corps had reached the Rur on a broad front with only two German bridgeheads on the western side of the river remaining, which were not taken until 9 December. [34]

North of XIX Corps, Geilenkirchen had been captured during Operation Clipper, but the Allied advance had stalled at Wurm some kilometers short of the Rur, rendering the Allied advance in this sector a stalemate. Ninth Army's casualties for Operation Queen were 1,133 killed, 6,864 wounded, and 2,059 missing. [35]

VII Corps pushes to the Rur

While Ninth Army's advance was successful, at the beginning of December VII Corps had just left the Hürtgen Forest, was still short of the Rur and had taken heavy casualties. For the upcoming conclusion of the offensive, 1st Infantry Division was replaced by 9th Infantry Division and 4th Infantry Division by the 83rd Infantry Division. After a deliberate break for reorganisation, the attack was resumed on 10 December towards the Rur and the key city of Düren. German manpower at this point was very low with the defense relying mostly on artillery support. In the north 104th and 9th Division, assisted by the 3rd Armored Division, didn't face much resistance. The 3rd Parachute Division and especially the worn out 246th VGD were not able to offer serious resistance. After four days 104th Division was at the Rur. The same was for the 9th Division. During the fighting, 3rd Parachute Division was replaced by the hastily assembled 47th Volksgrenadier Division. [36]

In the south 83rd Division faced larger problems. It had to advance through the towns of Strass and Gey, the latter had just been the location of a heavy battle which practically had rendered 4th Division unable for further offensive operations. Nevertheless, the fresh 83rd Division assisted by the 5th Armored Division was able to take most of Strass and reach Gey the same day against the worn out 353rd VGD. However, the muddy road and mines prevented the Americans from bringing their tanks into both towns to support the infantry. As a result, after some determined German counterattacks on Schafberg, the American units in Strass were effectively cut off and had to be supplied by aircraft, while the Germans started several attacks on the town. Schafberg was retaken on 12 December and tanks reached Gey and Strass, easing the situations. Casualties nevertheless had been heavy, with about 1,000 men for the division in just 3 days. [37]

In the north of Gey the division's advance fared better and the division took the towns Gürzenich and Birgel. On 14 December a renewed drive conducted by tanks was launched. After meeting initial heavy resistance east of Strass, the advance at other parts of the frontline forced the Germans to retreat. By 16 December VII Corps finally had reached the Rur, with only a few small bridgeheads west of the river remaining. Casualties for this campaign were tremendous, as VII Corps had about 27,000 casualties in one month. [38]

The Rur dams

The Schwammenauel dam at the Rur Schwammenauel dam.jpg
The Schwammenauel dam at the Rur

During the Allied approach towards the Rur, the issue of the Rur dams took on a new urgency. The dams were a strategically important target, as they would allow the Germans to flood the Rur valley and everything else downstream of it as far as the Meuse and into the Netherlands. This would delay to the Allied offensive effort into Germany, possibly causing major casualties as well as trapping Allied units east of the flooding. It took a long time until the Allied high command recognized its importance and until the first specific actions were implemented towards them. The first approach was made by the RAF which was tasked to breach them, with bombing starting in early December. In continuous attack waves, hundreds of aircraft were thrown against the dams, but the damage was only negligible. On 13 December V Corps, already at the Rur, was tasked to start an offensive to seize the dams from various directions including the Ardennes sector. The offensive took the Germans by surprise, but as the Allies ran directly into the Germans being near ready for the Ardennes Offensive, resistance soon stiffened. On 16 December the Germans launched their final all-out offensive on their western front, Wacht am Rhein, which led to an immediate end of all Allied offensive efforts in this sector. [39] [40]

Aftermath

Operation Queen was not able to meet its sophisticated goals. At the beginning of the offensive, Allied planners envisioned for the offensive to be just a staging point for a deep penetration over the Rur into Germany to the Rhine. After one month of heavy fighting the Americans had barely made it to the Rur. No bridgehead over the river had been made, the Germans still held some portions west of the river and the important Rur dams were still in German hands, threatening any further offensive operations. Even without knowing the upcoming German offensive, Allied planners estimated the earliest date for a large thrust into Germany for mid-January. [41]

The Wehrmacht was successfully able to delay the American advance towards the Rur. The Rur River line, whose holding was deemed necessary for the successful implementation of the Ardennes Offensive, was held. The preparation of the final Ardennes Offensive was mostly successful with Germany being able to build up enough troops in secrecy for a sufficient blow. On 16 December the Allies were taken by complete surprise and the Germans were quickly able to achieve a breakthrough. Later (14 until 26 January 1945), the Roer triangle was cleared during Operation Blackcock and only in February 1945 were the Allies finally able to cross the Rur, by then the road to the Rhine was clear. [41]

However, the Ardennes offensive also showed the lack of any long-term strategic perspective for Germany. The superiority of the Allies in numbers of men and equipment could not be overcome by Germany. The successful holding of the Rur River line would only lead to a lengthened war, causing additional destruction and loss of life. [42]

Notes

See also

Related Research Articles

Battle of Hürtgen Forest series of battles fought between US and German forces during World War II in the Hürtgen Forest of Germany

The Battle of Hürtgen Forest 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.

Operation Dragoon Allied invasion of southern France on 15 August 1944

Operation Dragoon was the code name for the Allied invasion of the French Riviera. Originally planned to coincide with D-Day, it had been postponed due to insufficient landing-craft. In August, it was revived, as the zone had become a low priority for the Germans, and conditions looked favourable for the liberation of Southern France with its key ports of Marseille and Toulon.

Battle of Kasserine Pass Battle of the Tunisia Campaign of World War II

The Battle of Kasserine Pass was a battle of the Tunisia Campaign of World War II that took place in February 1943. Kasserine Pass is a 2-mile-wide (3.2 km) gap in the Grand Dorsal chain of the Atlas Mountains in west central Tunisia.

Operation Cobra conflict

Operation Cobra was the codename for an offensive launched by the First United States Army seven weeks after the D-Day landings, during the Normandy Campaign of World War II. The intention was to take advantage of the distraction of the Germans by the British and Canadian attacks around Caen, in Operation Goodwood and break through the German defenses that were penning in his troops, while the Germans were unbalanced. Once a corridor had been created, the First Army would then be able to advance into Brittany, rolling up the German flanks once free of the constraints of the bocage country. After a slow start the offensive gathered momentum and German resistance collapsed as scattered remnants of broken units fought to escape to the Seine. Lacking the resources to cope with the situation, the German response was ineffectual and the entire Normandy front soon collapsed. Operation Cobra, together with concurrent offensives by the British Second Army and the Canadian First Army, was decisive in securing an Allied victory in the Normandy Campaign.

Italian Campaign (World War II) military campaign of World War II

The Italian Campaign of World War II consisted of Allied operations in and around Italy, from 1943 to 1945. The Joint Allied Forces Headquarters (AFHQ) was operationally responsible for all Allied land forces in the Mediterranean theatre and it planned and led the invasion of Sicily in July 1943, followed in September by the invasion of the Italian mainland and the campaign in Italy until the surrender of the German Armed Forces in Italy in May 1945.

Operation Plunder part of a coordinated set of Rhine crossings during WWII

Operation Plunder was a military operation to cross the Rhine on the night of 23 March 1945, launched by the 21st Army Group under Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery. The crossing of the river was at Rees, Wesel, and south of the river Lippe by the British Second Army under Lieutenant General Sir Miles Dempsey, and the United States Ninth Army under Lieutenant General William H. Simpson.

Burma Campaign series of battles fought in the British colony of Burma, South-East Asian theatre of World War II

The Burma Campaign was a series of battles fought in the British colony of Burma, South-East Asian theatre of World War II, primarily involving the forces of the British Empire and China, with support from the United States, against the invading forces of Imperial Japan, Thailand, and the Indian National Army. British Empire forces peaked at around 1,000,000 land and air forces, and were drawn primarily from British India, with British Army forces, 100,000 East and West African colonial troops, and smaller numbers of land and air forces from several other Dominions and Colonies. The Burma Independence Army was trained by the Japanese and spearheaded the initial attacks against British Empire forces.

Allied advance from Paris to the Rhine conflict

The Allied advance from Paris to the Rhine, also known as the Siegfried Line Campaign, was a phase in the Western European Campaign of World War II.

Ruhr Pocket conflict

The Ruhr Pocket was a battle of encirclement that took place in April 1945, on the Western Front near the end of World War II, in the Ruhr Area of Germany. Some 317,000 German troops, consisting mostly of unarmed Volksturm militia and Hitlerjugend units were taken prisoner along with 24 generals. The Americans suffered 10,000 casualties including 2,000 killed or missing.

Panzer Lehr Division division

The Panzer-Lehr-Division was an elite German armoured division during World War II. It was formed in 1943 onwards from training and demonstration troops stationed in Germany, to provide additional armored strength for the anticipated Allied invasion of western Europe. It was the only Wehrmacht Panzer division to be fully equipped with tanks and with halftracks to transport its mechanized infantry. On several occasions it fought almost to destruction, in particular during Operation Cobra, and by the end of the war in Europe bore little resemblance to the unit that had originally been activated.

Operation Lumberjack conflict

Operation Lumberjack was a military operation with the goal of capturing the west bank of the Rhine River and seizing key German cities, near the end of World War II. The First United States Army launched the operation in March 1945 to capture strategic cities in Nazi Germany and to give the Allies a foothold along the Rhine.

Western Allied invasion of Germany Offensive by the Western Allies during the final months of hostilities in the European theatre of World War III

The Western Allied invasion of Germany was coordinated by the Western Allies during the final months of hostilities in the European theatre of World War II. In preparation for the Allied invasion of Germany, a series of offensive operations were designed to seize and capture the east and west bank of the Rhine River. Operation Veritable and Operation Grenade in February 1945, and Operation Lumberjack and Operation Undertone in March 1945. Allied invasion of Germany started with the Western Allies crossing the Rhine River on 22 March 1945 before fanning out and overrunning all of western Germany from the Baltic in the north to Austria in the south before the Germans surrendered on 8 May 1945. This is known as the "Central Europe Campaign" in United States military histories.

Spring 1945 offensive in Italy Allied attack into the Lombardy Plain during WWII

The spring 1945 offensive in Italy, codenamed Operation Grapeshot, was the final Allied attack during the Italian Campaign in the final stages of the Second World War. The attack into the Lombardy Plain by the 15th Allied Army Group started on 6 April 1945, ending on 2 May with the formal surrender of German forces in Italy.

Battle of Arracourt major clash between US and German armored forces near the French town of Arracourt

The Battle of Arracourt took place between U.S. and German armoured forces near the town of Arracourt, Lorraine, France between 18 and 29 September 1944, during World War II. As part of a counteroffensive against recent U.S. advances in France, the German 5th Panzer Army had as its objective the recapture of Lunéville and the elimination of the XII Corps bridgehead over the Moselle River at Dieulouard.

116th Panzer Division (Wehrmacht) German panzer division during World War II

The 116th Panzer Division, also known as the "Windhund (Greyhound) Division", was a German armoured formation that saw combat during World War II.

The Wehrmacht forces for the Ardennes Offensive were the product of a German recruitment effort targeting German males between the ages of 16 and 60, to replace troops lost during the past five months of fighting the Western Allies on the Western Front. Although the Wehrmacht was keeping the Allied forces contained along the Siegfried Line, the campaign had cost the Wehrmacht nearly 750,000 casualties, mostly irreplaceable. However, the rapid advance of the Allied armies in August and September after Operation Overlord had created a supply problem for the Allies. By October, the progress of the Western Allies' three army groups had slowed considerably, allowing the Germans to partly rebuild their strength and prepare for the defense of Germany itself. Adolf Hitler, the German leader, decided that the only way to reverse his fortunes would be to launch a counter-offensive on the Western Front, forcing both the United States and Great Britain to an early peace, and allowing the Wehrmacht to shift its forces to the Eastern Front, where it could defeat the much larger Soviet Red Army.

John Francis Regis "Jeff" Seitz was a career United States Army officer who retired as Deputy Commander of the First United States Army in 1966 at the grade of major general. Seitz graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, in 1929. He served in several assignments before commanding a battalion at Schofield Barracks at Oahu, Hawaii on December 7, 1941 during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. After the United States entered the Second World War, Seitz served in important staff positions from early 1942 to late 1943. He was highly decorated for his service as colonel commanding the 26th United States Infantry Regiment in combat in the European Theater of World War II for most of the remainder of the war, which was especially distinguished.

References

  1. 1 2 MacDonald (1993), p. 594
  2. Zaloga (2007), pp. 84, 89
  3. MacDonald (1993), pp. 577–578, 593
  4. Zaloga (2007), pp. 9–12
  5. Zaloga (2007), 48–61
  6. MacDonald (1993), pp. 390–392, 397–406, 546–547
  7. MacDonald (1993), pp. 406–407
  8. Zaloga (2007), p. 61
  9. Zaloga (2007), pp. 28–30
  10. MacDonald (1993), pp. 323–328
  11. MacDonald (1993), pp. 397–404, 593–594
  12. MacDonald (1993), pp. 392–397, 409–411
  13. Zaloga (2007), pp. 16–18
  14. MacDonald (1993), pp. 411–412
  15. MacDonald (1993), pp. 413–414
  16. MacDonald (1993), pp. 409–411
  17. Zaloga (2007), p. 64
  18. MacDonald (1993), pp. 421–424
  19. MacDonald (1993), pp. 492–488;476–477; 481
  20. Zaloga (2007), p. 65
  21. MacDonald (1993), pp. 506–510; 424–428
  22. MacDonald (1993), pp. 510–515
  23. Zaloga (2007), p. 67-69
  24. MacDonald (1993), pp. 428–429
  25. MacDonald (1993), p. 440
  26. MacDonald (1993), pp. 444–448; 463
  27. Zaloga (2007), pp. 69–76
  28. MacDonald (1993), pp. 473–474
  29. Zaloga (2007), p. 76
  30. 1 2 Zaloga (2007), pp. 76–77
  31. MacDonald (1993), pp. 516–518
  32. Zaloga (2007), pp. 82–83
  33. Mayo (1968), p. 324
  34. MacDonald (1993), pp. 558–565
  35. MacDonald (1993), p. 577
  36. Zaloga (2007), pp. 86–88
  37. MacDonald (1993), pp. 587–591
  38. Zaloga (2007), pp. 88–89
  39. Zaloga (2007), pp. 89–90
  40. MacDonald (1993), pp. 597–602
  41. 1 2 MacDonald (1993), pp. 594–595
  42. Zaloga (2007), pp. 91–92

Bibliography