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ACCESS TO CARE
THE FIGHT FOR THE HÜRTGEN FOREST
When American forces reached the German border in September 1944, they ran into miles of steel-reinforced, concrete anti-tank defenses, for obvious reasons called "dragon's teeth," that formed part of the German fortifications of Adolf Hitler's West Wall, better known to Allied soldiers as "the Siegfried Line."
THE FIGHT FOR THE HÜRTGEN FOREST:
11 SEPTEMBER TO 15 DECEMBER 1944
Medical Service, European Theater of Operations, September-December 1944
By the time that American forces reached the German border in the First U.S. Army's area of operations in September 1944, the Medical Service of the European Theater of Operations (ETOUSA) and the 6th and 12th U.S. Army Groups (First, Third, Seventh, and Ninth U.S. Armies) was functioning smoothly and daily handling thousands of sick and wounded soldiers. Front line medical support in the airborne, armored, and infantry divisions was providing life-saving medical care under fire, while the chain of evacuation operated efficiently to move the casualties from the divisions to rear area hospitals in the Communications Zone for care. "Hard Fighting at the West Wall," an excerpt from the official history of the U.S. Army Medical Department in World War II, The Medical Service in the European Theater, covers the period of stalemate along the German border from mid-September through the onset of the German Ardennes offensive in mid-December and provides the Medical Service context for combat operations from Holland to the Swiss border.
The Hürtgen Forest
The U.S. Army's fight to take the Hürtgen Forest stretched from September into December 1944 when the German Ardennes offensive disrupted the entire Allied front. During these months, the battles of the V and VII Corps of the First U.S. Army became one of the most costly and controversial American operations of the entire European war. Eventually, the 1st, 4th, 8th, 9th, and 28th Infantry Divisions, 2d Ranger Battalion, and 46th Armored Infantry Battalion and Combat Command R, 5th Armored Division, were all heavily engaged in the fighting. The 9th Infantry Division was involved twice, once in September and then again in October, and its 47th Infantry Regiment was actually engaged three separate times. During its operations in early November in the area of Vossenack, Kommerscheidt, and Schmidt, known collectively as the battle of Schmidt, the 28th Infantry Division lost more men in the forest than any of the other divisions. The divisions suffered over 30,000 casualties in killed, wounded, missing in action, combat exhaustion, and to various disease and non-battle injuries.
1st Infantry Division
4th Infantry Division
12th Infantry Regiment
4th Medical Battalion
8th Infantry Division
8th Medical Battalion
9th Infantry Division
9th Medical Battalion
28th Infantry Division
103d Medical Battalion
The fighting in the Hürtgen Forest was but one part of the overall Siegfried Line campaign during which the U.S. Army suffered very significant battle casualties, missing in action and captured, and disease and nonbattle losses. First and Ninth U.S. Armies incurred 57,095 battle casualties alone during the entire Siegfried Line Campaign. First U.S. Army combat losses totaled 47,039.
The Ninth U.S. Army's battle losses totaled approximately 10,056.
As for nonbattle casualties, the First U.S. Army had 50,867 and the Ninth U.S. Army had 20,787, for a total of 71,654. So, a total of 128,749 U.S. soldiers were lost as battle and nonbattle casualties during the campaign. More detailed information on the American casualties of the divisions engaged in the fighting in the Hürtgen Forest will be added to this section in the near future.
John Greenwood, Ph.D.