THE SIEGFRIED LINE CAMPAIGN. By Charles B. MacDonald. (1963,1984, 1990; 670 pages, 19 maps, 81 illustrations, 4 appendixes, bibliographical note, glossaries, index, CMH Pub 7-7.)
Optimism ran high when the first American patrols crossed the German frontier on 11 September 1944. With the enemy defeated in Normandy and pursued across northern France, Belgium, and Luxembourg, who could doubt that the war in Europe would soon be over? As events were to prove, and as this volume relates, buoyant spirits were premature. Aided by the concrete of the Siegfried Line (the so-called West Wall) and the forbidding terrain along the frontier, the Germans were able to stabilize the front against an Allied force weakened by the excesses of a long pursuit.
The Siegfried Line Campaign is primarily a history of tactical operations in northwestern Europe from early September to mid-December 1944. It covers in detail the campaigns of the U.S. First and Ninth Armies and the First Allied Airborne Army and in sketchy outline the concurrent operations of the Second British and First Canadian Armies. Organized into chapters at the corps level, the story is told primarily at division level with numerous descents to regiment and battalion and even at times to lower units. Logistics and high-level planning (for example, the controversy over single thrust versus broad front strategy) are treated where they affected the campaign. Discussion of staff operations at army or corps level is limited to the development of tactical plans and operations.
Although the First Army's V and VII Corps both penetrated the Siegfried Line in September, ragtail German formations were able to blunt these spearheads. They did the same when the Allies sought to outflank the West Wall by crossing three major water barriers. The last of these, an assault on the lower Rhine, was a major coalition operation that combined the First Allied Airborne Army attack in southeastern Netherlands (Operation MARKET) with a ground attack (Operation GARDEN) by
the Second British Army. From this point (late September) stiff in-fighting developed. Into November the Allies in Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands conducted a series of small-scale operations to tidy the front in preparation for another major attempt to break through to the Rhine River and encircle the Ruhr industrial area. They focused on several specific missions: capture of Aachen, which sits astride the invasion route to the Ruhr; a drive on the Huertgen Forest southeast of Aachen to protect the forces before Aachen and to capture the dams on the upper Roer threatened by the retreating Germans; and reduction of the German bridgehead west of the Maas River in southeastern Netherlands. The Allies also sought to clear the seaward approaches to Antwerp, whose port remained the key to the logistical problems that had plagued them since the Normandy breakout.
By mid-November Allied commanders could report considerable success in these missions. Greater strength had been added with the introduction of the Ninth Army into the line between the First Army and the British. The logistical situation was gradually improving, and in conjunction with the Third Army to the south, the First and Ninth Armies were preparing a new offensive designed to carry all three to the Rhine.
Operation QUEEN was launched on 16 November, but by taking advantage of their strong artillery reserves, the inclement weather, and rough terrain, the Germans slowed the advance significantly. By mid-December some Allied troops had not traversed the seven miles to the intermediate objective of the Roer River, and the threat of the Roer Dams still existed. Coincidentally, the Germans used the time to mobilize behind the front an army group that would launch a counteroffensive in the Ardennes, bringing a halt to the Siegfried Line campaign.
1. Attack and defense of a fortified line (Chs. III, IV, VIII).
2. Forest, city, and village fighting (Chs. IV, XIII, XIV, XV).
3. American units under foreign command (Ch. IX).
4. Armor operations (Chs. XI, XXII).
5. Airborne operations (Chs. VI, VII, VIII).
6. Air support of ground troops (Chs. IX, XII, XVII, XVIII, XIX).
7. Success and failure in intelligence estimates (Chs. XI, XXIII).
8. Fighting in inclement weather (Chs. II, III, VIII, XVII).
9. Comparison of American and German tanks (Ch. III).
10. Use of smoke, searchlights, flail and flamethrowing tanks, M-29 cargo carriers, tank track, and connectors (grousers) (Chs. XXIV, XXVI).
Return to the Table of Contents