|The Aachen Front|
1 November 1944
By October 1944, the First United States Army in Western Europe had ripped two big holes in the Siegfried Line, at Aachen and east of Roetgen. Having captured Aachen, the army was next scheduled to cross the Roer River and reach the Rhine. It planned to make its main effort toward Duren in the zone of VII Corps south and east of Aachen and thence toward Bonn on the Rhine. But east of Roetgen, where the 9th Infantry Division had breached the Siegfried Line and parts of the Huertgen Forest, V Corps was first to launch a limited flank operation. The 28th Infantry Division, under the command of Major General Norman D. Cota, was ordered to make the V Corps attack; its initial objective was to be the crossroads town of Schmidt, close to the center of the above map.
Schmidt was an important objective. Lying on a ridge overlooking the upper Roer River, it also afforded a view of the Schwammenauel Dam, an important link in a series of Roer dams which the Germans might blow at any time. The rush of flood waters thus unleashed would isolate any attack which had crossed the Roer in the Aachen vicinity. Located in the rear of the main Siegfried Line defenses in the area, Schmidt was an important road center for supply of enemy forces. The capture of Schmidt would enable the 28th Division to advance to the southwest and attack the enemy's fortified line facing Monschau from the rear, while a combat command of the 5th Armored Division hit the line frontally. Thus V Corps could complete the mission assigned by First Army - clearing the enemy from its area south to the Roer River on a line with the Monschau-Roer River dams. In enemy hands the Roer dams remained a constant threat to any major drive across the Roer downstream to the north.
The Schmidt operation was expected to accomplish four things: gain maneuver space and additional supply routes for the VII Corps attack to the north; protect VII Corps' right flank from counter-attack; prepare the ground for a later attack to seize the Roer River dams; and attract reserves from Germany's VII Corps, thus preventing their employment against First Army's main effort.
28th Division Objectives
2 November 1944
[Note: Hahn, where Greg's HQ was located, is in the upper left corner]
Two important considerations influenced the planners of the Schmidt operation. First, air support could isolate the battlefield from large-scale intervention of enemy reserves, especially armored reserves. Thus the Schmidt action would remain an infantry action since crossing tanks over the Kall River was a doubtful possibility. The air task, extremely formidable because it involved neutralization of a number of Roer River bridges - and bridges are a difficult target for air - was assigned to the IX Tactical Air Command of the Ninth Air Force. Second, artillery support could deny the enemy the advantages of the dominating Brandenberg-Bergstein ridge. While the planners displayed great concern about enemy observation from this ridge, V Corps had too few troops to assign the ridge as a ground objective. Neutralization of the ridge by artillery would require almost constant smoking of approximately five miles and still could not be expected to eliminate the most forward enemy observation. But neutralization by artillery was apparently the only available solution.
The artillery plan called for conventional fires on known and suspected enemy locations, installations, and sensitive points, the bulk of them in the Huertgen area to the north. The preparation was to begin at H minus 60 minutes all along the V Corps front and the southern portion of the VII Corps front to conceal as long as possible the specific location of the attack. At H minus 15 minutes, fires were to shift to local preparation, and after H Hour fires were to be supporting, chiefly prepared fires on call from the infantry. Since weather limited air observation before the attack, counter-battery fires were based primarily on sound and flash recordings, which could not be considered accurate because of unfavorable weather and wooded, compartmented terrain. Ammunition was limited but considered adequate, and antitank defense was also included in the artillery plan. Artillery units were located in the general area of Zweifall-Roett-Roetgen, from which all expected targets would be within effective range.
When the 28th Division moved into the area on 26 October, the men found themselves in a dank, dense forest of the type immortalized in old German folk tales. All about them they saw emergency rations containers, artillery-destroyed trees, loose mines along poor, muddy roads and trails, and shell and mine craters by the hundreds, from the first attempt at Schmidt. The troops relieved by the 28th Division were tired, unshaven, dirty, and nervous. They bore the telltale signs of a tough fight--signs that made a strong impression on the incoming soldiers and their commanders. After the operation, the 28th Division commander himself, General Cota, recalled that at the time he felt that the 28th's attack had only "a gambler's chance" of succeeding.
The 28th Division G-2 estimated that to the immediate front the enemy had approximately 3,350 men, to the north 1,940, and to the south 1,850, all of whom were fighting as infantry. Enemy reserves capable of rapid intervention were estimated at 2,000 not yet committed and 3,000 capable of moving quickly from less active fronts. The G-2 estimate did not mention that holding Schmidt and the Roer River dams was an important fundamental in the German scheme for preventing an Allied break-through to the Rhine.
Although the 28th's attack was originally scheduled to be launched on 31 October, rain, fog, and poor visibility necessitated postponement. Despite continued bad weather, the attack was ordered for 2 November to avoid the possibility of delaying the subsequent VII Corps attack. The 109th Infantry was to initiate the action by launching its northerly thrust at 0900. While the 110th Infantry and two battalions of the 112th were not to attack until H plus 3 hours (1200), the 2d Battalion, 112th, was to join the 109th in the H Hour jump-off--0900, 2 November.
Facing the planned American attack was an enemy determined to hold the Huertgen-Vossenack area for several reasons now apparent: the threat to the Roer dams; the dominating terrain of the ridges in the area; the importance of Duren as a road and communications center; the threat to plans already made for an Ardennes counter-offensive; and the neutralizing effect of the Huertgen Forest against American superiority in air, tanks, and artillery. The German unit charged with the defense was the 275th Infantry Division of the LXXIV Corps of the Seventh Army of Army Group B.