The longest battle of the Second World War on German soil
During the autumn and winter of 1944/45, the longest battle of the Second World War on German soil took place in the Huertgen Forest. With this battle, the war precipitated by the Nazi regime returned to Germany. The battle caused numerous casualties on both sides. For the American soldiers, it’s very name – with its first syllable ‘hurt’ – became a byword for injury and death.
With the landing in Normandy in June 1944, the Allies opened the second front against Germany, which Soviet leader Joseph Stalin had long demanded. The German troops suffered heavy losses, and gradually pulled out of France and Belgium, behind the fortifications on the border of the German Reich known as the ‘Westwall’, which the Allies, recalling a First World War structure, dubbed the ‘Siegfried Line’. On 12 September 1944, the first U.S. soldiers crossed the German border near the village of Roetgen outside of Aachen. But due to supply problems and the failure of the Allied ground-air offensive in the Netherlands known as Operation Market Garden, the Allied advance towards the Rhine was then halted.
The German forces which had to some extent fallen into disarray during the retreat, were able to regroup. The German ‘home front’ was mobilized and militarized, by means of terror and repression against the German population whenever necessary.
The Huertgen Forest consisted of thick woodland, bare hilltops and deep gorges. In the fall and winter, heavy rain and snowfall and a lack of roads made it extremely difficult to penetrate, either by foot or in vehicles. Nonetheless, the Allies pushed into the rough and unfamiliar terrain in order to secure their advance towards the Rhine. The battle proceeded from mid-September 1944 to mid-February 1945, and ended with an Allied victory which, however, cost numerous casualties on both sides. For the American G.I.s, the very name – with it’s first syllable, ‘hurt’ – became a byword for injury and death. To this day, hundreds of soldiers on both sides remain unaccounted for, and their remains continue to be found.
For the purpose of remembrance and warning Museum Huertgen Forest 1944 and in Peacetime (Museum Hürtgenwald 1944 und im Frieden) tells the story of the so-called Battle of Huertgen Forest – and its consequences for the local population. The museum is run by volunteers. Almost all objects in the exhibition were collected in the Huertgen Forest area after the war.
When, in November 1944, worn-out American units were forced to retreat from the village of Schmidt, they had to pass the Kall bridge under fire. In the midst of the bitter fighting, Dr. Stüttgen, a German medical officer, organized several short cease-fires. As a result, wounded soldiers from both sides could be treated by German doctors and paramedics.
The medical aid bunker Nr. 374 in Simonskall was built in 1938. Here four medics could give emergency treatment to about twenty to thirty wounded or sick soldiers. After the war the bunker first served as provisional housing for returning evacuees and later as a cellar for a private home. Access is very limited.
The Vossenack Cemetery was constructed on a strategic site, Hill 470, by the German War Graves Commission (Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge) during the years 1949 to 1952. Today the cemetery contains the graves of 2.347 war dead. Among those are 35 men who lost their lives during post-war operations as members of a ‘Ammunition Search and Removal Team’.
On 12 September 1944, the first U.S. troops crossed the German border near the ancient city of Aachen, with units pushing into the Huertgen Forest to secure their right flank. Underestimating the German defences and the difficulties of the terrain they suffered heavy losses during a bitter confrontation starting on 2 November, known as ‘The Battle for (the town of) Schmidt’.
He volunteered to save injured comrades, stepped on a mine and died. On 13 December 1944 Robert Cahow lost his life in the Hürtgen Forest. His comrades heard the detonation but couldn’t help him due to intense enemy fire. He was buried sometime later, most likely by German soldiers. Cahow’s remains were discovered in 2000. At the spot, a makeshift grave commemorates him to this day.