Operation Queen
The Americans stage an offensive along the Siegfried Line
16 November - 16 December 1944
author Paul Boșcu, January 2017
During Operation Queen the Anglo-American forces staged an offensive against the German forces in the Rur river area. The offensive was suspended when the Germans launched their own offensive in the Ardennes.

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Operation Queen was Omar Bradley's major autumn offensive on the Siegfried Line, but it was repeatedly delayed. The principal problem was the rainy and overcast weather that prevented the planned air strike, which was larger than any previous Allied air effort in the area. The Americans wanted to cross the Rur River, as a staging point to crossing the Rhine into Germany. When the Allies finally reached the Rur, they tried to capture its important dams. But the Germans launched their own offensive, Operation Watch on the Rhine. The resulting battle of the Bulge led to the immediate cessation of the Allied advance into Germany until the Wehrmacht’s attack was stopped.

Before the offensive began, heavy fighting had taken place around Aachen and Hurtgen forest all through the autumn of that year. Even though Aachen was captured by American forces, both sides suffered heavy casualties in the fighting. The fighting that took place in Hurtgen forest was just as bloody, and in that sector the Germans managed to stop the American offensive.

Bradley saw Operation Queen as a replay of Operation Cobra in Normandy: a massive air strike which would pave the way for a quick US Army breakthrough out of congested terrain into open tank country, leading to a deep envelopment of German defenses. The starring role was given to the First Army and especially Joseph Collins' VII Corps, which would push out of the Stolberg corridor towards the Roer. In the meantime, Leonard Gerow's V Corps would have the task of continuing to push back the German defenses along the edge of the Hurtgen forest towards Duren. William Simpson's neighboring Ninth Army had the mission of pushing its forces up to the Roer on the left flank.

The battleground for the First Army advance was constricted by the terrain, which was hilly and heavily urbanized in the VII Corps sector, whereas the Hurtgen in the V Corps sector was forested hell.

This time, two infantry divisions would be committed to the Hurtgen: the 1st to clear the northeastern fringes, and the 4th to attack straight into the forest to seize Hurtgen and the roads to Duren. By this stage the US Army had finally begun to appreciate the importance of the Roer dams in the forest. Operation Queen foresaw that the offensive would have to be halted along the Roer until the problem of the dams was resolved.

The terrain in the Ninth Army sector was in some respects more favorable for advance. It consisted of relatively flat farmland scattered with many villages. The greatest challenge was the town of Geilenkirchen. This town was positioned in the midst of a dense concentration of bunkers and sat on the border between the US 12th Army Group and the British-Canadian 21st Army Group.

The German defenses in the sector had gradually improved, but were still operating on a minimum of forces while the best units were pulled back for refitting prior to the Ardennes offensive. Hasso von Manteuffel's 5th Panzer Army had held control of the northwestern sector for three weeks. But, since it was an essential element of the Ardennes plans, the headquarters was pulled out and replaced by Gustav-Adolf von Zangen's 15th Army under the phoney name of ‘Gruppe von Manteuffel’ on the eve of the US offensive. Walter Model's operational objective was to keep the US Army bottled up west of the Roer.

During the lull in fighting, the emphasis in this sector was to strengthen the defenses with mines, entrenched anti-tank guns, and redoubts for the infantry to protect them against artillery.

If the situation with the German infantry and Panzer units in the area was not particularly good, German artillery in the sector was relatively ample. A one-time issue of artillery ammunition from the Fuhrer reserve was allotted to the 81st Corps, though this would be exhausted in a few days of heavy fighting. Like most of the industrialized areas of Germany, there were numerous heavy flak batteries, which made potent anti-tank weapons.

Collins' VII Corps faced three German divisions in the Stolberg corridor: the 3rd Panzergrenadier Division, 12th Volksgrenadier (VGD) and 246th VGD. Two of these divisions had been fighting in this sector for two months. The 12th VGD was renamed by Hitler to honor its earlier performance. The 246th VGD had been resurrected after the surrender of its previous namesake in Aachen. The 12th VGD was scheduled for replacement by the 47th VGD for refitting, and suffered the misfortune of carrying this out in the midst of the US attack.

The 47th VGD had been rebuilt recently with half its infantry coming from the Luftwaffe and navy, and the other half from fresh 17- and 18-year-old recruits with only six weeks' training.

The preliminary air bombardment was directed mainly against the towns along the Roer. The air attacks did not have a dramatic effect since they were not directed against the German frontline positions. The air attack was followed by a massive artillery preparation. The VII Corps attack was conducted by the 1st Infantry Division on the right and the 104th Division on the left. The American infantry divisions had tank support from the 3rd Armored Division. The initial American advance was slow.

Heavy bombers from the US Eighth Air Force delivered 4,120 tons and the RAF a further 5,640 tons of bombs. Air strikes by medium bombers and fighter-bombers were much more limited due to the lingering overcast. While the attacks certainly laid waste to several German towns, they caused very modest casualties among the Wehrmacht infantry. The main tactical effect was to severely disrupt German tactical communications. These relied heavily on wire and telephone networks that were shredded by the attack.

The only unit badly hit by the attack was the hapless 47th VGD, which happened to be coming off trains in stations along the line just as the bombers hit. One of its artillery battalions was annihilated in Julich. The headquarters and support battalions were smashed up in Duren, and a number of infantry battalions were in the bomb zone as well. A seasoned German NCO later recalled the effect on the recent recruits: ‘I never saw anything like it. These kids were still numb 45 minutes after the bombardment. It was lucky that [the Americans] didn't attack us until the next day. I could have done nothing with my boys that day.’

The 104th Division was a recent arrival in the theater, commanded by Terry de la Mesa ‘Terrible Terry’ Allen. He had commanded the 1st Division in North Africa and Sicily. The 1st Division attack made slow but steady progress against the fresh but inexperienced 47th VGD around the village of Hamich on the edge of the Hurtgen forest.

A counterattack with support from the 116th Panzer Division was conducted against the US 104th Division. In the dark, two German battalions of the 47th VGD stumbled into US positions near Hamich. They were decimated by small-arms fire and artillery. Nevertheless, the wretched autumn weather and appalling forest conditions assisted the 47th VGD's defense. After four days of fighting, the 1st Division had penetrated only about 3 km into the forest at a cost of a thousand casualties.

Collins planned to use Combat Command A, 3rd Armored Division, to support the 104th Division. Meanwhile CCB would operate independently to take a series of villages along the northwestern fringe of the Hurtgen, defended by their old adversary, the 12th VGD. The CCB tank advance was hampered by the mud and by the skillful deployment of long-range flak guns on the heights around Eschweiler. The hilly terrain of the advance route gave the German defenders an excellent view of the approach routes of CCB. A heavy toll was taken on half-track infantry and tanks alike. Although the CCB secured its initial objectives in three days, the casualties were appalling.

The 1st Infantry Division committed its reserves to a renewed attack past the industrialized Langerwehe-Junkersdorf corridor. The 18th and the 26th Infantry remained engulfed in the fighting in the northwestern tip of the Hurtgen forest with predictably slow progress and painful casualties. The 18th Infantry battered its way past Heistern and approached Langerwehe through the woods. The 16th Infantry and the attached 47th Infantry fought to the west, in an area where the Hurtgen forest gradually gives way to the more open terrain of the Roer plain.

Once again, the landscape was dominated by hills that overlooked the approach routes of the 1st Division and made it possible for the Germans to use their artillery effectively to stymie the advance. The defenders on Hill 187 near Nothberg proved to be particularly nettlesome opponents. In sheer frustration, the VII Corps authorized the use of virtually all the corps artillery - some 20 battalions, including a 240mm howitzer battalion - to blast the crest for three minutes. When a US patrol made its way up the slope 12 hours later, they found nothing but the dead and 80 German soldiers too dazed to resist.

Collins began to realize that his hope for a quick breakthrough to the Roer had evaporated. He began to use his exploitation reserve, the 3rd Armored Division, to facilitate the breakthrough. Task Force Richardson from Combat Command A, 3rd Armored Division, was added to the 47th Infantry. It was positioned in the open ground near Nothberg for an advance along the 1st Division's left flank. In spite of the armored support, the attack was slow due to the mud, extensive minefields, and well-positioned German anti-tank guns. After a German counterattack, American infantry forces would start clearing villages one by one of German forces, until exhaustion.

Following the capture of the castle at Frenzerburg, the Germans staged a vigorous counterattack. What alarmed the 1st Division was that these troops were paratroopers from the 3rd Fallschirmjager Division. These were the first major injection of German reinforcements into this sector since the beginning of Operation Queen. Rundstedt had only consented to its transfer from Holland if two other divisions could be pulled back for refitting for the Ardennes attack. In this case, the 12th and 47th VGD had been bled white in the fighting over the previous two weeks, and so were finally pulled out.

In spite of its name, the parachute division consisted mainly of inexperienced troops, and the substitution of this raw division created temporary opportunities for the 1st Infantry Division. After pushing past Hill 203, the 16th and 18th Infantry finally exited the forest and fought their way into the ruins of Langerwehe, subduing Junkersdorf as well.

It proved to be far more difficult for the 26th Infantry when it tried to push out of the woods at Merode. There, two companies were surrounded and wiped out by a combined attack of the German paratroopers and Panzers.

By the beginning of December, the 1st Division was a spent force, having suffered 3,993 battle casualties, and more than 2,000 non battle casualties.

At the outset of Operation Queen, the 104th Division advanced into the River Inde valley aiming for the hill town of Donnerberg, which had resisted numerous previous attacks. The initial attacks against the 12th VGD positions made little progress for the first two days of fighting. Finally, three major bunkers were cleared, with the 414th Infantry gaining the heights. The other two regiments were kept idle until the heights were captured. The 413th Infantry aimed for the industrial town of Eschweiler, while the 415th Infantry was to clear the northern half of Stolberg. The towns along the River Inde fell in succession, but the advance was costly due to German artillery.

The 12th VGD put up a determined defense of Eschweiler, so General Allen decided to force them out by encircling the town. This worked, and Rundstedt authorized the 12th VGD to pull out of Eschweiler to more defensible positions, leaving the town open to the 104th Division.

General Allen had taken great pains to train the division in night operations, and this came in handy on several occasions. Night attacks proved successful in cases where day attacks had faltered. This was due to the fact that the German assault guns and direct fire artillery were unable to observe the attack.

The pressure against the depleted 3rd Panzergrenadier Division was so severe that the 246th VGD replaced them in the fighting for Inden. After five days of fighting, the town was finally taken, setting the stage for crossing the River Inde towards the Roer.

The main obstruction to the Inde crossing was the town of Lucherberg, which was secured after heavy fighting . The next day the 3rd Fallschirmjager Division executed a pre-dawn counterattack. Small arms fire and an intense artillery response crushed the attack. In the three-day fight for Lucherberg, the 3rd Fallschirmjager Division suffered about 850 casualties, compared to about 100 casualties in the 415th Infantry. The discrepancy was in no small measure due to the volume of artillery available to the 104th Division.

Omar Bradley and the rest of the senior leadership were finally aware of the threat posed by the Roer dams. They were determined to gain control of them as well as to obtain another route to Duren. The difficulties of forest fighting had still not been fully realized by the senior leadership in spite of the horrible costs inflicted on the 9th and 28th Divisions in previous fighting. There was hope that German defenses in the forest would be weakened by the demands elsewhere on the Roer front. The main onus fell on the 4th Infantry Division, positioned further north than the hapless 28th Division. The American thought that German forces in the area were weak. However this was not the case.

The 4th Infantry Division's commander, General Raymond ‘Tubby’ Barton, deployed the 8th Infantry on the left to cover the flank with the neighboring 1st Infantry Division from VII Corps. The 22nd Infantry was given the central task of pushing out of the forest to Grosshau on the Hurtgen ridgeline. The 12th Infantry would maintain the right flank opposite Hurtgen in the sector formerly held by the northernmost of the 28th Division units.

The intelligence assessment suggested that the German forces facing them were very weak - a necessary prerequisite, since the 22nd Infantry was allotted a grossly overextended attack frontage three miles wide. In fact, this sector was defended by the 275th Infantry Division with about 6,500 troops, 106 artillery pieces, 23 anti-tank guns, and 21 assault guns.

The initial attempt by the 8th Infantry to advance through the woods was an ominous repeat of the situation facing the 109th Infantry a month before. The Germans had mined the forward defense line and built up another set of wire entanglements. After failing to penetrate it the first day, a second attempt resulted in 200 casualties in one battalion alone.

As other units had learned from previous forest fighting, tank support - no matter how difficult it was to implement - was critical.

In spite of the difficulties facing both the 8th and 22nd Infantry Regiments, they managed to move forward. The advance appeared to be progressing steadily if slowly.

The 8th Infantry was supported by two platoons of light and medium tanks, which finally managed to blast away the German obstructions. With armored support, the 8th Infantry was able to reach one of the few roads in the area.

The 22nd Infantry's zone of advance was far from ideal. There were no roads in the sector and the only hope of keeping the unit supplied would be to improve one of the firebreaks running through the forest. This was hardly an ideal situation in hilly, forested terrain already inundated with autumn rain. The regiment had to move through the ravine of the Weisser Weh then surmount the Rabenheck ridge.

The regiment struggled for three days through the rugged terrain while encountering only an occasional German outpost. Casualties came from the numerous mines, which were especially thick along the firebreak trails, and from German artillery which already had most of the key firebreaks and crossing points zeroed in. In the first three days of the advance, the 22nd Infantry lost all three battalion commanders, half its company commanders and many other combat leaders.

The German 7th Army reacted by dispatching the 344th VGD and reinforcing the 275th Infantry Division positions around Grosshau. These new troops slowed the advance of the US 8th and 22nd Infantry regiments to a crawl.

In the first five days of combat, both American regiments had penetrated the forest to a depth of about 2 km but had suffered 1,500 casualties, with losses in combat leaders being especially grievous.

Recognizing that the division could advance little further unless reinforced, the First Army ordered the V Corps to take over the entire Hurtgen sector and to commit the 8th Infantry Division, moving it from from the positions being held by the 12th Infantry, with the aim of taking the town of Hurtgen. In the meantime, the German 7th Army completed the relief of the battered 275th Infantry Division with the 344th VGD.

The commitment of the 8th Infantry Division complicated the 7th Army's defense of the Hurtgen plateau, but the advance of the 4th Infantry Division remained slow. The 8th and 22nd Infantry finally reached the woods' edge near Grosshau after employing deception. After heavy fighting and two attacks, the city fell into American hands.

Two American battalions pretended to stage an attack with gunfire, smoke and artillery support while safely ensconced in their log bunkers. This attracted the German artillery in abundance while three other battalions executed the actual attack. In spite of this small success, the first attempt by the 22nd Infantry to seize the town of Grosshau failed due to the usual problems of co-ordinating infantry and armor support in the wretched forest conditions. The division ordered another lull to bring up elements of the 12th Infantry and to narrow the attack sectors of the two lead regiments.

During the month, the 4th Infantry Division had needed 4,924 replacements - more than double the number of riflemen in the two attacking regiments. In the two weeks of fighting, some companies had gone through three or four company commanders. Platoons were now commanded by sergeants and squads by privates. In spite of the appalling level of losses, the division continued to fight on. A renewed attack on Grosshau was forced on the division, ready or not, when the neighboring 8th Division to the south attacked Kleinhau.

The second attack faced the usual problems with tank support. The two tanks that did emerge out of the woods were knocked out by assault guns, two more were lost to mines, and the rest got stuck in the forest bogs or blocked by uncleared minefields. Shortly before dark, the situation abruptly changed as a flanking maneuver placed troops to the northeast of the town just as a group of tanks from the 70th Tank Battalion finally made their way out of the woods. Illuminated by the burning buildings, the town was cleared in house-to-house fighting.

The capture of Grosshau fundamentally altered the momentum of the attack since now the 4th Infantry Division could call on the support of the 5th Armored Division to assist in the drive north along the open portions of the plateau. The timing was opportune as the Germans launched a major counterattack from Gey, which was beaten back at the last minute by heavy artillery concentrations. The 4th Infantry Division was transferred to a quiet sector of the front for rebuilding - the Ardennes - where it lay directly in the path of the upcoming German offensive.

At this stage in the fighting, the 4th Infantry Division commander, General Raymond Barton, turned to the VII Corps commander and acknowledged that his division was in no shape to continue the offensive. In two weeks of combat, the division had suffered 4,053 battle casualties and over 2,000 non-battle casualties - more than twice the division's allotted strength in riflemen. Collins ordered the division to stand down, and the 83rd Division began arriving to finish the fighting in the forest.

While the 4th Infantry Division was conducting its final fight for Grosshau, the newly arrived 8th Infantry Division deployed two of its regiments in the Vossenack area. The burden of the task fell on the 121st Infantry, which was allotted the mission of pushing up the road to Hurtgen. The only difference this time, compared with the previous debacles of the 109th and 12th Infantry, was that the 121st Infantry was allotted a combat command from the 5th Armored Division to reinforce the attack once it penetrated the initial forward German defense lines.

The attack by the 121st Infantry was immediately stopped in the Wilde Sau minefield, which had been continually refreshed by German engineers. At the time, the 7th Army was able to concentrate about eight artillery battalions against the 121st Infantry, firing on average some 3,500 rounds a day. The regimental commander tried to prod the battalions along, relieving three company commanders in a few days. But after three bloody days, the 121st Infantry had failed to reach its objective.

An attempt by tanks of the 5th Armored Division was quickly halted by mines and anti-tank guns, and the division withdrew until the road was cleared.

The 8th Division attack was renewed after the 121st Infantry was reinforced. While the US infantry had taken heavy casualties, US artillery had inflicted substantial losses on the German infantry as well. Within a day, the 121st Infantry had advanced to the woods on the western and southern side of Hurtgen. The town was taken by US forces, but the Germans put up a determined resistance.

US infantry began attacking into the town of Hurtgen while the German Fortress Machine-gun Battalion 31 continued to defend from the rubble. Finally, a company of infantry rushed the town, riding M4 tanks of the 709th Tank Battalion. House-to-house fighting ensued, but by the end of the day the town was finally in the hands of the 121st Infantry and 200 prisoners were rounded up.

With the road through Hurtgen finally clear, the 5th Armored Division was ordered to try its hand against Kleinhau, the next town on the plateau, to coincide with the 4th Infantry Division attack on Grosshau. The weather permitted air strikes to supplement artillery bombardment of the town and the pilots reported that Kleinhau had been ‘practically destroyed by flames’. The attack succeeded, and the town fell into American hands.

Although the shoulders of the road were mined, the Germans had not had time to mine the road itself. Task Force Hamberg pushed into the town. German artillery was much less active than usual, as the clear weather allowed US fighter-bombers to operate and attack any active batteries.

By the end of the day, the 10th Tank Battalion had established roadblocks on the other side of Kleinhau facing Grosshau. The cost to the 121st Infantry and attached units in nine days of fighting had been 1,247 casualties. The Germans had lost 882 prisoners alone and had suffered substantial additional casualties.

The importance of the capture of Kleinhau was that it opened up a route towards the Roer dams across the top of the plateau instead of through the woods beyond Vossenack. Rather than push north towards Duren, V Corps was ordered to proceed eastward to seize the Brandenberg-Bergstein ridge, which provided a good road network that cut across the northern neck of the Hurtgen forest. The Americans were successful and the town of Brandenberg was captured.

Task Force Hamberg set off down the road, but was quickly stopped by a minefield covered by German guns from the Kommerscheidt - Schmidt ridge above. The weather the next day intervened in favor of the Americans and so fighter-bombers were able to keep the German artillery suppressed. Brandenberg was captured before noon. After the American P-47s left, the Luftwaffe made a rare appearance and about 60 Bf-109 fighters tried to strafe the town, but with little effect.

After Bergstein fell, the German 7th Army shifted two regiments of the 272nd VGD to counterattack. About 250 infantry supported by five Panzers attacked Bergstein, and a vicious close-range battle ensued, with the German infantry hunting down US tanks with Panzerfaust anti-tank rockets. As daylight arrived, the US tanks made quick work of the supporting German Panzers, and the German infantry withdrew. Afterwards the American Rangers captured ‘Castle Hill’’, a prominent rise beyond Bergstein where German artillery observers were directing fire against the town. They succeeded, and the Brandenberg-Bergstein ridge was in American hands.

In spite of their losses, the Germans tried two more counterattacks after the initial one, which were bloodily repulsed. V Corps dispatched one of its last reserves, the 2nd Ranger Battalion, to assist in the final push.

A surprise attack by two companies quickly captured the crest of the hill but the Rangers were subjected to punishing artillery fire and numerous counterattacks. By noon, the two Ranger companies had been reduced to only 32 men. Fortunately for the Rangers, they had an artillery forward observer in their midst who was able to turn the tide with accurate artillery fire. The capture of the Brandenberg-Bergstein ridge cost the 8th Infantry Division and its attachments some 4,000 casualties, including 1,200 non-battle casualties. The Rangers lost a quarter of their men in two days of fighting.

The First Army had fought its way through the Hurtgen forest, but at a terrible cost. General G. von Gersdorff, chief of staff of the German 7th Army and a veteran of the Russian front, called the Hurtgen fighting the heaviest of the entire war.

Combat casualties in the four most heavily involved divisions totaled 23,000 dead, wounded, captured and missing, plus an additional 8,000 men incapacitated by trench foot, combat fatigue, and disease.

During the reorganization of the front after the Aachen fighting, the XIX Corps became the principal element of the newly arrived US Ninth Army. The terrain in this sector was fundamentally different than in the First Army sector, consisting of relatively flat farmland interspersed with small farm villages. Indeed, Walter Model had expected the main US effort to be in this sector precisely because of the better terrain. However, Bradley decided to entrust the main thrust to VII Corps due to its greater experience, in spite of the congestion and terrain difficulties in the Stolberg corridor. Meanwhile XIX was to attack the German flanks at Würselen and Geilenkirchen.

The XIX Corps commander decided that to take best advantage of the terrain opportunities, the focus of the corps attack would be in the center and away from the strongest German defenses around Geilenkirchen on the left flank and Wurselen on the right flank. The corps had three experienced divisions, the 2nd Armored, and 29th and 30th Infantry divisions, and could expect the support of the 84th Division of the neighboring XIII Corps to deal with the problem of Geilenkirchen.

As in the First Army sector, Operation Queen began with a massive air strike that mainly hit the towns along the Roer. The 30th Division began its assault with all three regiments in line, with the expectation that the northernmost regiment, the 117th, would advance the quickest. The southernmost, the 119th Infantry, would move the slowest due to the need to clear the remainder of Wurselen and its associated Westwall bunkers. The intention was to swing the division around Wurselen. The attack was slow going, but the Americans managed to capture Wurselen.

The opposition was the 3rd Panzer Division, with a strength of 11,000 troops. Mines hampered the initial attacks, and, as was expected, the advance through Wurselen was painfully slow compared to the other two regimental objectives.

The 3rd Panzer Division defense was undermined by the corps decision to shift boundaries northward to deal with the threat of the US VII Corps attack. It took the 30th Division four days to clear the Wurselen area. As the division shifted its orientation towards the Roer, German defenses stiffened. After capturing the town of Bourheim, the advance ground to a halt.

The attacks resumed with the 30th Division being ordered to take Altdorf. The division wanted to stage a night attack due to the prevalence of German machine-gun nests and the absence of tank support due to the mud. The corps headquarters ordered a daylight attack coinciding with the neighboring 29th Division push for Kirchberg. Initially the attack was repulsed, but during the night American forces managed to take the town from the defending Germans.

As predicted, the heavy German machine-gun fire halted the daylight attack, but a night attack the next evening succeeded in capturing the town. The division's toll in Operation Queen was light compared with other divisions.

The advance in the center by the 29th Division did not go as smoothly. General Gerhardt believed that tactics developed in Normandy would work best - attacking through the ‘weak spots’ between the towns, and then reducing the towns afterwards. This proved to be fundamentally flawed, as was evident on the first day when battalions of the 115th and 175th Infantry quickly became pinned down by small arms fire from the village strong points. The division finally began to make broad progress along its front against the 246th VGD, finally taking Steerich, Bettendorf and the coal mine at Siersdorf, the initial layer of the Julich defenses.

Gerhardt was reluctant to deploy his supporting tank battalion into the ‘sea of mud’, and thus lacked means to quickly overcome the German defenses. The 29th Division was rapidly falling behind its neighbors on either side, and after another day with little progress, Gerhardt was forced to admit that his tactics had failed. He accepted an offer from the neighboring 2nd Armored Division for tank support and planned a more vigorous use of the attached 747th Tank Battalion.

With so few German reserves available in this sector, counterattacks were weak. The 81st Corps provided an assault gun battalion for a counterattack, but they were forced by fighter-bomber strikes to withdraw. The 29th Division finally picked up steam and was within two kilometers of the Roer.

The German 15th Army was very reluctant to commit its reserves, but the threat to the River Roer line was so great that Model freed up the 340th VGD, which had been sequestered for the Ardennes offensive. The insertion of fresh infantry from the 340th VGD temporarily halted the 29th Division's advance.

By this stage the 246th VGD had been reduced to only about 820 men in its three infantry regiments, and so it was pulled out.

Unlike its neighboring divisions, which consolidated their positions, the 29th Division kept up a steady series of attacks towards Julich. The division managed to drive onward, taking the towns along its path. The 29th Division had cleared the western bank of the Roer up to the city of Julich.

Bourheim was captured, but the 175th Infantry there was subjected to three days of counterattacks and artillery shelling, averaging over 2,000 rounds per day. The neighboring 116th Infantry captured Koslar and was hit by the same pattern of repeated artillery strikes and counterattacks. The German 81st Corps staged a coordinated counterattack by the 340th VGD on both villages, supported by 28 tanks and assault guns. The attacks broke into both villages. A sudden change in the weather allowed Allied fighter-bombers to intervene, smothering the German attacks. Nevertheless, two companies of the 116th Infantry were surrounded in Koslar. They had to be resupplied by air.

While the Germans were distracted by the fighting in Bourheim and Koslar, the 29th Division launched its third regiment, the 115th, against the last of the major towns in the Julich defensive belt, securing Kirchberg. After a pause, the division pushed up to the edge of the River Roer. This final action was impeded by the extensive mining of the flat ground along the edge of the Roer. Swept by machine-gun fire, the advance over the exposed fields proved very costly, and after six days of fighting, the 116th Infantry was too battered to proceed. The 115th Infantry followed, finally pushing across the beaten ground northwest of Julich and taking the city's Sportplatz after a very stiff fight.

The 2nd Armored Division formed the left wing of the XIX Corps assault, aimed at Gereonsweiler and Linnich. Its sector was so narrow that the attacking force was limited initially to the Combat Command B. The advance proceeded well in spite of the mud. Anti-tank defenses around around Apweiler proved to be especially intense, but CCB made good progress. In Puffendorf the Americans suffered heavy loses when they had to react to a German counterattack. Nevertheless the American tanks made good progress.

The rapid loss of Puffendorf so alarmed German commanders that Rundstedt consented to the release of the only mechanized theater reserves available - the 9th Panzer Division and the 15th Panzergrenadier Division, supported by the 506th Panzer Battalion with 36 King Tiger tanks. This force immediately counterattacked, hitting Task Force 1 near Puffendorf. Caught out in the open, and outranged by the Panther's 75mm gun, TFI was forced to pull back into Puffendorf. The tank fighting led to the loss of about 11 Panzers, but US losses were heavier.

A renewed attack on Apweiler by Task Force 2 also encountered the Panzer reinforcements and forced the attack back to the start line. The 2nd Armored Division commander, General Ernest Harmon, decided to commit part of CCA to the fray. The presence of anti-tank ditches and a heavy concentration of fire from German tanks sitting on the hills around Gereonsweiler made it impossible for CCA to move forward. By the end of the day, the division had lost 18 M4 tanks with a further 16 damaged, along with 19 light tanks destroyed or damaged. The following day was spent supporting the neighboring 29th Division in the hope of securing the road network around Setterich.

Although the 9th Panzer Division tried to counterattack, the good flying weather filled the air with US fighter-bombers, which discouraged any large Panzer attacks. Harmon was an experienced tank commander who realized that sending his tanks across the muddy fields in direct view of the German tanks and antitank guns was suicidal. Instead, he decided to try to force the Germans out of Apweiler using the attached 406th Infantry from the 102nd Division. The town was hit by a short but sharp artillery barrage followed very closely by the 406th infantry, which quickly took the town. The Germans responded with a pre-dawn counterattack, but it was crushed.

After another day of fruitless skirmishes, the 2nd Armored Division launched its major attack on Gereonsweiler. The town was pummeled by artillery, then quickly overwhelmed by three task forces in the early afternoon. The predictable German counterattack was delayed until the next day. The Germans hit a company of the 406th Infantry very hard before finally being pushed back from the north side of the town.

The 2nd Armored Division's six-day battle to push out to the Roer was one of the few clear successes of Operation Queen. In spite of the miserable weather and exposed terrain, Harmon's skillful use of tanks and infantry succeeded even in the face of strong counterattacks by the only major German Panzer reserves in this sector. For the rest of the XIX Corps, Operation Queen ended after three weeks, with hopes for an easy breakthrough over the Roer dashed by stiff German resistance and the miserable weather.

The attached 406th Infantry suffered 600 of the 1,300 casualties incurred, but played a major role in securing several of the heavily defended strong points. Tank losses in the 2nd Armored Division were heavy, with about 75 knocked out or seriously damaged, but the division claimed 86 AFVs from the 9th Panzer Division and 15th Panzergrenadier Division.

As in the case of the 29th Division sector, German resistance stiffened due to the arrival of reinforcements. As a result, the 2nd Armored Division halted major attacks to consolidate its gains and rebuild its strength before a final push to the Roer. The attack was renewed along with the rest of the XIX Corps and reached the Roer.

The corps suffered about 10,000 casualties, including 1,133 killed and 6,864 wounded. German casualties were significantly higher, with 8,321 prisoners and over 6,000 killed. Nevertheless, the Germans managed to stymie a major American advance using a hodgepodge of battered divisions stiffened with occasional reinforcements.

Probably the most fearsome German defensive position in the Aachen sector apart from the Hurtgen forest was the town of Geilenkirchen, sitting on the River Wurm within a belt of Westwall bunkers. The town was in an awkward position for Allied planning too, as it sat astride the boundary between Bradley's 12th Army Group and Montgomery's 21st Army Group. As a result, the attack on Geilenkirchen was a combined British-US affair dubbed Operation Clipper, with the British 43rd Division assaulting the German positions north of Geilenkirchen, while the US 84th Division attacked from the south.

The operation started two days later than Operation Queen, in the hope that the fighting elsewhere would draw off German reserves.

German defenses around the town were significant, including the 176th Infantry Division north of the town and the 183rd VGD defending the town and the area towards the south. The attack of the 84th Division began with British searchlights bouncing off the low clouds to provide illumination for British flail tanks to sweep the minefields. The novice 334th Infantry received the support of British tanks for the remainder of the day and reached their objectives against moderate opposition. That night, a small but sharp German counterattack supported by tanks hit the regiment near Prummern. The bunkers around Prummern were finally cleared the next day.

The attacks were greatly impeded by the heavy rains. The Crocodile flame tanks proved very useful in clearing bunkers but eventually became bogged down in the mud. The slow pace of the advance was also the result of the commitment of the 15th Panzergrenadier Division directly in the path of the 84th Division. Since the division was short one regiment, which was fighting alongside the 30th Division to the south, a regiment from the 102nd Division was added to the attack. Nevertheless, the attacks stalled against the reinforced German positions. Further attacks were suspended after the 84th Division suffered 2,000 casualties.

The success of the neighboring 2nd Armored Division in taking Gereonweiler helped clear the Roer plains in front of Linnich. As a result, the long-planned insertion of General Alvan Gillem's new VIII Corps was undertaken between the left flank of the XIX Corps and Geilenkirchen. It was hardly a full-strength corps at the time with only the 84th and 102nd divisions, both of which had detached regiments fighting on the XIX Corps front.

During the lull in the fighting in the third week of November, Rundstedt correctly assessed that the British front in Holland was likely to remain dormant. German units in that sector including the 10th SS-Panzer Division were shifted southward to the contested Roer sector. The new VIII Corps initiative was to push northward to the Roer by taking the heights in front of Lindern. After a few days of fighting the Allied forces managed to take the town. The new VIII Corps had not quite reached the Roer except at Linnich, but had pushed beyond the Siegfried Line.

The plan was to use surprise rather than artillery to break open the front. A special detachment of troops from the 335th Infantry led the attack by infiltrating the German defenses along the Gereonsweiler-Lindern road. Only about 100 soldiers made it through the defensive perimeter before the Germans opened fire. The small band reached the outskirts of Lindern and held back several counterattacks during the day before reinforcements arrived late in the day.

The Germans were so surprised by the lunge for Lindern that they only managed to cobble together a Kampfgruppe the next day using elements of the 9th and 10th SS-Panzer divisions, and King Tiger tanks of the 506th Panzer Battalion. Although the US penetration into Lindern was remarkably narrow, attacks along other portions of the VIII Corps front prevented the Germans from overwhelming the salient.

The 102nd Division kept up a determined attack towards Linnich, finally breaking into the town. The 340th VGD holding this sector was finally pulled back for quick refitting after having been bloodied in the fighting for Julich and Linnich. It was replaced by the 363rd VGD from Holland.

The needs for the upcoming Ardennes offensive again intervened, with Army Group B swapping infantry divisions for Panzer divisions. This process weakened the defenses facing the 84th Division, which finally pushed beyond Lindern.

Of the four corps taking part in Operation Queen, three had reached most of their objectives along the River Roer. Curiously enough, it was the main push by Collins' VII Corps that had failed to meet its objective, due in no small measure to the intractability of the Hurtgen defenses. As a result, Collins called a halt to the VII Corps operations to permit reorganization. The aim of this final series of actions was to push the VII Corps conclusively out of the Hurtgen up to the edge of the Roer and the key city of Duren. Within a few days, American forces managed to take a few towns west of Duren.

Two of the four divisions committed to the Hurtgen, the 1st and 4th Infantry divisions, were burnt out and badly in need of rehabilitation away from the line. The 4th Infantry Division was replaced by the 83rd Division, while the 1st was replaced by the veteran 9th Division, which had been rebuilt after its own previous struggle in the Hurtgen.

To the south, the 83rd Division was tasked with the final push out of the Hurtgen through Gey. To the north the 9th Division was tasked with pushing beyond the corner of the Hurtgen near Langerwehe on to the Roer plains beyond.

The forces opposing the VII Corps were primarily Kochling's 81st Corps with the 246th VGD north of Duren, the 3rd Fallschirmjager Division defending Duren and its approaches, and the 353rd VGD to the south of the city. The German strength lay more in its potent artillery than in its battered infantry.

In the north, the 104th Division continued its assault out of the River Inde area, and within four days pushed the 246th VGD back to the Roer. The attack in the center by the 9th Infantry Division was supported by armor from the 3rd Armored Division and made slow progress at first. The division attacked with all three regiments: the 47th Infantry to the north, the 60th Infantry in the center, and the 39th making the turn southward to clear out the towns along the eastern edge of the Hurtgen.

By this stage, the 3rd Fallschirmjager Division was in no position to resist. Attempts to replace it with the weakly rebuilt 47th VGD did not provide enough strength to hold on to the towns west of Duren. Within four days, the 9th Division reached its objectives.

The 83rd Division had the unenviable task of pushing through the final portion of the Hurtgen forest to reach the towns of Gey and Strass. In the end, the VII Corps reached the Roer the same day the German offensive in the Ardennes struck the neighboring V Corps.

The division decided to conduct a night advance through the woods to minimize the risk of German artillery. Despite the usual assortment of minefields and obstacles, two infantry battalions reached the outskirts of Gey and Strass.

The main push by the division came when the road situation had improved to the point that the 83rd Division could be supported by two combat commands of the 5th Armored Division. The 329th Infantry pushed out of the woods and took Gurzenich, while the 331st Infantry overcame a battalion of the 47th VGD in Birgel.

The towns were stubbornly defended by the 353rd VGD, and attempts to move up tanks to assist in the attack on Gey floundered due to the mud and minefields. In contrast, the arrival of a platoon of tanks at Strass helped ensure its fall before dusk. The German infantry infiltrated into the village of Schafberg that night, essentially cutting off the US infantry battalion in Strass and setting the stage for several counterattacks against Strass.

Although the CCB, 5th Armored Division, had a hard time moving beyond Strass, a rapid advance by CGA on Kufferath forced the defenses in the CCB sector to fold.

With US forces approaching the Roer, the issue of the Roer dams took on a new urgency. The ferocity of the fighting in the Hurtgen raised the possibility that the dams would not be taken in time. Eisenhower's headquarters raised the issue with the RAF. Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris was not optimistic: the big Schwammenauel dam was an earthen dam, and thus not easily breached. In spite of this, attacks began by the RAF without any perceptible effect. They were halted afterwards by bad weather and the start of the German Ardennes offensive. The Allies had failed to reach the dams in time, and the Germans flooded them, delaying the Allied advance into Germany.

Hodges began to take steps to renew the ground attack towards the dams, giving the task to Gerow's V Corps. Four divisions were to take part: the 8th Infantry Division from its perch on the Brandenberg-Bergstein ridge, the fresh 78th Division through the Monschau forest, and the 2nd Infantry Division and elements of the new 99th Division in the forested area where the Ardennes and Eifel begin to blend into the Monschau forest. Facing them were stretches of the Westwall bunkers defended by the 272nd and 277th VG divisions.

The German defenses were in a state of flux, since these two divisions were scheduled to be replaced in order to participate in the Ardennes offensive. Although the initial attacks caught the Germans by surprise, resistance stiffened immediately, especially facing the 2nd Infantry Division around Wahlerscheid. Unknown to V Corps, they had stumbled into the reinforced divisions preparing to launch their own attacks as part of the German Ardennes offensive.

The launch of Operation Wacht am Rhein in the Ardennes put a quick end to the Roer fighting. The Wehrmacht struck with two armies against the V Corps' five divisions in the Ardennes. The attack focused around Dietrich's 6th Panzer Army's drive towards the Losheim gap, which contained the bulk of the Waffen-SS Panzer divisions. It was poorly led and quickly became bogged down when faced by a tenacious defense around Krinkelt-Rocherath by elements of the 99th Division and 2nd Infantry Division, and that at St Vith by elements of the 7th Armored Division.

Manteuffel's 5th Panzer Army showed considerably more skill, even if not endowed with the resources of the 6th Panzer Army. This force included units bloodied in the Siegfried Line fighting, the refreshed 9th and 116th Panzer divisions. The 5th Panzer Army crushed the newly arrived 106th Division, and battered the 28th Division, which was still recuperating from the Hurtgen fighting.

The stalwart defense by the 28th Division on the approaches to Bastogne slowed the German advance long enough for the 12th Army Group to rush in reinforcements. The 82nd and 101st Airborne divisions were hastily dispatched to Belgium. The First Army rushed the 2nd and 3rd Armored divisions to stop the spearheads of the 5th Panzer Army before they reached the River Meuse. Patton's Third Army, on the verge of staging Operation Tink aimed at Frankfurt, quickly reoriented their attack northward and reinforced Bastogne by Christmas. The US Army gradually pushed the Wehrmacht from the Ardennes back to their starting points in the Eifel.

Some of the Roer dams were opened by the Wehrmacht, which delayed operations along the Roer during the middle of February. Once the water receded, the US Army advance rapidly picked up momentum.

The Battle of the Bulge crippled the Wehrmacht in the west. In January 1945, the Red Army launched its main offensive over the River Oder, rumbling towards Berlin. Priority for troops and equipment shifted back to the Russian Front, and the Wehrmacht in the west made do with the leftovers. With the Bulge cleared, the Allied offensive in western Germany was renewed, and the Third Reich’s days were numbered.

The Roer was crossed on a broad front by the end of February. Hodges' First Army was the first across the Rhine at Remagen in March, followed by Patton's Third Army a week later.

The Siegfried Line campaign was one of the most costly fought by the US Army during World War II. The rationale for the bloody push into the Hurtgen was confused, and the conduct of the campaign was clumsy. As an attritional campaign, it mauled six German divisions and hampered German efforts to rebuild its forces prior to the Ardennes offensive. From a tactical perspective the Hurtgen operation was a failure: at its conclusion the Americans did not have enough operational strength to push on to the Roer dams. Operations in the Aachen corridor were more successful. The Germans committed their reserves for a offensive in the west which failed.

The Americans suffered about 48,000 battle casualties including at least 8,250 killed in action. About half these casualties were incurred in the Hurtgen forest. The Wehrmacht lost over 12,000 killed in the forest fighting and many more prisoners and wounded.

The slow, deliberate retreat of the Wehrmacht only served to ensure the desolation of German cities and towns by the superior firepower of the Allies. The final year of the war would be far more costly to the German civilian population than the previous four years of the war combined. It would leave Germany in ruins. The cruel paradox of war was that in defending Germany, the Wehrmacht merely served to ensure its devastation.

The forest fighting favored the defender, and the Germans were able to hold the First Army at bay with an assortment of second- and third-rate units. German commanders later argued that Hodges' concern over the threat posed by the Hurtgen to the right flank of VII Corps was unfounded as they lacked the strength to attack through the forest.

General von Gersdorf, chief of staff of the German 7th Army, believed that the Hurtgen fighting had profound and seldom recognized effects in undermining the later German offensive in the neighboring Ardennes. He stated that in his opinion the Hurtgenwald fighting ‘was one of the primary reasons for the failure of the (Ardennes) offensive by the German right wing. The Hurtgenwald clear of (American) forces and under German control would have enabled us to start the offensive with quite a different impetus. Since the (right wing) was the center of gravity in the Ardennes offensive, the Hurtgenwald evidently was one of the decisive factors leading to the failure of this operation.’

From a narrower tactical perspective, the Hurtgen portion of Operation Queen was a failure. The First Army was unable to exit the forest with enough strength to push on to Duren, and the offensive failed to solve the problem posed by the Roer dams.

In the Aachen area, territorial gains were not particularly impressive. The deepest penetration into Germany by the First and Ninth armies after crossing the German frontier was only 35 km. Yet Eisenhower's limited objective - to tie down the Wehrmacht in an attritional battle until logistics were ready for a renewed offensive in 1945 - was accomplished.

The ability of the Wehrmacht to rebuild after the defeats of late August and early September 1944 was rightly dubbed the ‘miracle of the west’. Rundstedt's and Model's skill in delaying the American advance with an absolute minimum of reinforcements was a testament to their tactical skills. On the other hand, the Siegfried Line campaign hinted at the continued lack of strategic perspective of the Wehrmacht since its abdication of decision-making to Hitler.

Germany has had little reason to memorialize the terrible battles of the autumn of 1944. Few monuments or museums exist to commemorate the bitter fighting. There is a small museum at Vossenack. There are quite a few military cemeteries in the area. The one at Vossenack contains the grave of Walter Model. He committed suicide rather than surrender in the spring of 1945. The concrete fortifications of the Westwall are one of the few durable reminders of the war. Even in this case, they have been much more thoroughly obliterated than the German fortifications along the Atlantic coast.

There is a small museum to the Hurtgen fighting in Vossenack and a small memorial to the 116th Panzer Division in neighboring Simonskall. There are at least six German military cemeteries in the Hurtgen and the Soldatenfriedhof Vossenack also includes the grave of Walter Model. He committed suicide rather than surrender after the encirclement of Army Group B in the Ruhr pocket in April 1945.

An archeological survey of the Westwall in the Aachen area found that fewer than 10 percent of the fortifications still survive. Most of these bunkers are relatively small and overgrown, so locating them can be a challenge without a guidebook.

Some larger structures connected with the Aachen fighting survive; for example, the air-raid shelter (Zivilschutzbunker) on Lutticher Straße. The Hurtgenwald has returned to peace as a state nature sanctuary. The German government expended a considerable amount of time and effort in the late 1940s and early 1950s to clean up the remaining mines and war debris. The dirt road through the Kall ravine is little changed since the war.