Eleven months ago today I was sailing out of N.Y. harbor. At this time we were 15 minutes out but the Statue of Liberty was still plainly visible. We had boarded the ship the night before under complete black-out – no one allowed on deck until we were one hour out to sea – but I was out when we took off.
I guess we were all pretty green in those days, darling. We all wondered what it was all about, our chief concern being the problem of attack on the sea. We had one scare and that’s about all – although we were a bit apprehensive because we made a dash across – entirely alone. Well – we came a long way since then, dear – but not quite far enough. I won’t be satisfied until we’ve turned around and headed home. Things have been so darned slow of late – that I’m a little bit discouraged at this point – although the news last night from our front was encouraging. Just a blue day, sweetheart – and I’ll be O.K. this p.m. I’m sure. Maybe it’s because I haven’t heard from you in a few days – although I did get a letter from Mother B last night. All in all I’m not complaining, dear, just wishing I could be home with you again – and I guess you can’t blame me for that, can you? All for now, darling, I’ve got some things to do. Love to the folks and
Located on the western border of Germany, the city of Aix-la-Chapelle, later Aachen, had been the capital of the Holy Roman Empire; Charlemagne was crowned emperor there in the year 800. Since German dictator Adolf Hitler considered Charlemagne to be the founder of the first German Reich, the city held special status for him. Aachen was the first major German city encountered by U.S. troops, and the five-week-long battle for it gave notice to U.S. forces that the war against the Third Reich was far from over. Lieutenant General Courtney Hodges, commander of the American First Army, had hoped to bypass Aachen from the south, quickly break through the German defenses of the West Wall (Siegfried Line), and reach the Rhine River.
The Battle of Aachen occurred between 2–21 October 1944. By September 1944, the Wehrmacht had been pushed into Germany proper, after being defeated in France by the Western Allies. During the campaigning in France, German commanders estimated that their total strength only amounted to that of 25 full strength divisions; at the time, the Wehrmacht operated 74 divisions in France. Despite these losses, the Germans were able to retreat to the Siegfried Line and partially rebuild their strength; they were able to bring the total number of combat personnel along the Western Front to roughly 230,000 troops. Although not necessarily well trained, nor well armed, these German defenders were substantially aided by the fortifications which composed the Siegfried Line. During the month of September the first fighting sprung up around Aachen and the city's commander offered to surrender it to the advancing Americans. However, his letter of surrender was discovered by the SS during a raid in Aachen while the civilians were evacuating. Adolf Hitler ordered his immediate arrest and replaced him and his division with Gerhard Wilck's 246th Volksgrenadier Division. The United States' First Army would have to take the city by force.
The task of taking Aachen fell on General Charles H. Corlett's XIX Corps' 30th Infantry Division and Joseph Collins' VII Corps' 1st Infantry Division. General Leland Hobbs' 30th Infantry Division would be assisted by the 2nd Armored Division, which would exploit the 30th Division's penetration of the Siegfried Line, while their flanks were protected by the 29th Infantry Division. In the south, 1st Infantry Division was supported by the 9th Infantry Division and the 3rd Armored Division. These divisions had used the brief respite in the fighting during the last two weeks of September to rest and refit, accepting a large number of replacements. For example, over 70% of the 1st Infantry Division's men by 1 October were replacements, and the last two weeks of September were used to train these men on village fighting and weapons training. The impending offensive's plan called for both infantry divisions to avoid city fighting in Aachen; instead, the two divisions would link up and encircle the city, allowing a relatively small force to capture it while the bulk of the forces continued pushing east. Unfortunately, The American replacement system, which focused on quantity over quality, ensured that the majority of the replacements which reached the front line were not properly trained for combat. It was not unusual for half of a unit's replacements to become casualties on the first days of combat. The tremendous front line losses also demanded more troops to be fed into the fighting
These forces were supported by the Ninth Air Force, which had pin-pointed 75% of the pillboxes along the front lines and planned an opening bombardment including 360 bombers and 72 fighters; fresh aircraft would be used for a second aerial wave, which included the use of napalm. The German Luftwaffe lacked a presence during the battle, and German defenders on the ground had insufficient anti-aircraft batteries to defend themselves from the opening bombardment.
The 30th Infantry Division's offensive began on 2 October and was immediately bogged down by the German defenses. The aerial and artillery bombardment previous to their attack had failed to inflict major damage on German defenses, and as a result the division's strike against German defenses in the north became bogged down. The 1st Infantry Division launched its own attack on 8 October and managed to take its primary objectives within 48 hours, although it would later be pinned down by continued German counterattacks. Meanwhile, the 30th Infantry Division continued its slow advance, although by 12 October it was still not able to link up with the 1st Infantry Division and complete the encirclement of Aachen. As a result, the 1st Infantry Division detached the 26th Infantry Regiment and prepared for a direct assault on the city before the link up occurred.
The following news photos (with descriptions) taken between 15 and 17 October 1944 in Aachen belong to Through the Camera's Eye: The Allison Collection of World War II Photographs.