• The Battle of Hürtgen Forest

  • The History of the Longest Battle Fought in Germany During World War II
  • By: Charles River Editors
  • Narrated by: Colin Fluxman
  • Length: 1 hr and 30 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History, Europe
  • 3.0 out of 5 stars (1 rating)
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Publisher's Summary

After the successful amphibious invasion on D-Day in June 1944, the Allies began racing east toward Germany and liberating France along the way. The Allies had landed along a 50 mile stretch of French coast, and despite suffering 8,000 casualties on D-Day, over 100,000 still began the march across the western portion of the continent. By the end of August 1944, the German army in France was shattered, with 200,000 killed or wounded and a further 200,000 captured. However, Adolf Hitler reacted to the news of invasion with glee, figuring it would give the Germans a chance to destroy the Allied armies that had water to their backs. As he put it, “The news couldn’t be better. We have them where we can destroy them.” While that sounds delusional in retrospect, it was Hitler’s belief that by splitting the Allied march across Europe in their drive toward Germany, he could cause the collapse of the enemy armies and cut off their supply lines. Part of Hitler’s confidence came as a result of underestimating American resolve, but with the Soviets racing toward Berlin from the east, this final offensive would truly be the last gasp of the German war machine.

While the Battle of the Bulge is the most famous fighting in that theater after D-Day, the Battle of Hürtgen Forest cost American forces almost 60,000 battle casualties, and over 70,000 non-battle casualties from illness and accidents. Countless soldiers suffered from what was then known as “combat fatigue”, leaving them psychologically broken and no longer capable of fighting. British and Canadian forces, who became involved in the latter stages of the battle, suffered an additional 16,000 casualties.

In exchange for these casualties, little ground was gained and no tactical or strategic advantage was achieved. Indeed, the battle was a resounding defeat for the Allies, which explains why it was barely reported in contemporary newspapers. Few reporters were allowed into the “Green Hell” that the forest became and, while thousands of Allied soldiers became casualties, newspaper reports at home claimed that the front was generally quiet.

It wasn’t until much later that historians revealed the extent and horror of the fighting in this relatively small forest on the border between Belgium and Germany. It took almost 50 years for the first major book to be published about the battle, despite the fact it was the longest single battle ever fought by the US Army. When it became known, the story of the Battle of Hürtgen Forest was horrifying. Nowhere else in World War II were so many Allied lives lost over such a long period and for so little ground gained. Many US Army units suffered 50 percent casualty rates during the battle, and a few units suffered 100 percent casualties during the battle. Some commanders refused to order their men forward, and at one point, the advance was measured in terms of one dead or wounded U.S. soldier for every square yard of ground gained. The 50 square miles of the Hürtgen forest became known to the soldiers of the US Army simply as the “Death Factory”.

For the men involved on both sides, the battle was unforgettable. One US Army Major was so traumatized by the slaughter of his unit on Thanksgiving Day in 1944 that he was never again able to celebrate the holiday. On Thanksgiving Day each year, he said that he “would get up and go to the back yard and cry like a baby. I passed up a helluva lot of turkey dinners that way”. Similarly, many other soldiers, both American and German, would remember this battle as their worst experience during the war. General James Gavin of the 82nd Airborne Division explained, “For us, the Hürtgen was one of the most costly, most unproductive, and most ill-advised battles that our army has ever fought.”

©2021 Charles River Editors (P)2021 Charles River Editors

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