Battle of Aachen: Forgotten Battle of WWII

Posted on October 30, 2014

Rodney Cress

♦ The Battle of Aachen took place between October 2nd and October 21st, 1944 and was considered a major battle and the first city on German soil to be captured by the Allies. In this battle the Americans, 100,000 strong, were the only Allied force to battle the Germans 13,000 soldiers and the 5,000 national militia. The battle was one of the largest urban battles of the entire war and destroyed the city of Aachen. German defenses extended 10 miles in some areas and protected with extensive minefields, bunkers and pillboxes and defended early on by the 116th Panzer Division, which was later replaced by the 1st SS Panzer Division and the 12th Infantry Division. American forces commanded by LTG Courtney Hodges, consisted of the 30th Infantry Division, the 1st Infantry Division, the 9th Infantry Division and the 2nd and 3rd Armored Divisions, along with air support by the Ninth Air Force. Aachen controlled most of the major roadways and both the Americans and Germans needed it for supply routes. In addition it was the historic capital of Charlemagne, founder of the “First Reich” and the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, hence Hitler declared the rule of the Nazis as the Third Reich. To strike the historic city was a strike against the Nazi faith. Hitler was determined not to let Aachen fall to the Americans.

Aachen 1

Since most of the 165,000 citizens, mostly Catholics, had moved out as the Germans moved in, but it was later estimated that 40,000 may have remained, seeing the Americans as liberators. The Allied strategy was to encircle the city and pound it with air and artillery strikes, then move in the ground forces. As the American divisions moved into place, German command General Friedrich Koechling took charge of their LXXXI Corps, sending in the German 12th Infantry as reinforcements from the German Seventh Army. Soon the two great armies would clash, pounding each other with all the weapons at their disposal. Americans organized special pillbox assault teams equipped with flame throwers, bangalore torpedoes, beehive munitions and demo charges. Flamethrower tanks destroyed the pillboxes and Bulldozer tanks buried them.

As American air power and artillery delivered over 300 tons of explosives on Aachen on October 11th and 12th German 116th Panzer Division arrived to reinforce strategic areas of the city. This move lead the 2nd Battalion to begin street and door to door fighting, followed by tanks to take out buildings firing on the soldiers. Urban battles became the focal point for success as each building taken over by the Americans would be one step closer to winning the battle. The Germans however defended their positions admirably as they used basements and sewers to counter attack, destroying American tanks with German anti-tank guns and holding the 30th Division to a standstill. It wasn’t until the after linking with the 1st Division that Aachen was finally surrounded.

On October 18 the final assault began against the SS Panzer Corps with the use of 155mm howitzers to blast the Germans into submission. Finally on October 21st, 1944 at 1205 hours, there was a total surrender by the Germans. American casualties were high with 3,000 from the 30th Division, 1350 from the 1st Infantry Divisions and 498 from the 26th Infantry. German losses included 5000 causalities and 5600 prisoners, losing the entire 246th Grenadier Division and the SS Panzer Corps lost half of its combat power.

It took 6 weeks for the Americans to surround the city in strategic locations but only 10 days to wipe out the Germans. Aachen, once a beautiful historic city, lost 80 percent of buildings. Because of the victory at Aachen, General Omar Bradley was able to move the 9th U.S. Army into the command that would then assist for the next bigger battle, the Battle of Hurtgen Forest.

Without question, American leadership, infantry valor and superior show of strength made haste of the Germans at Aachen. The Allies were now one step closer to the ultimate ending of the war in Europe in May 1945.


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