encircling Aachen

source : ‘the Siegfried line 1944-45 – battles on the german frontier’ campaign 181, Osprey publishing

In less than a week, XIX corps had punched a considerable hole in the ‘westwall’ north of Aachen and threatened to link up with VII corps somewhere north of Stolberg. Kochling’s 81st corps at the time had four understrength divisions including the 49th and 183rd divisions that had been battered in the Palenberg-Rimburg fighting. The 246th VGD replaced the 116th panzer division in Aachen to permit its refitting, and the 12th infantry division was still in position southeast of Aachen to block any further advances by VII corps. The effective combat strength of these four divisions was in the order of 18,000 infantry. Although german effective strength had fallen due to the fighting, its artillery had continued to increase and totaled 239 weapons, including one hundred and forty 105mm, eighty-four 150mm, and 15 heavy guns. Armored support was very weak compared with american strength, with only 12 serviceable StuG III assault guns; schwere panzer abteilung (s.Pz.Abt.) 508 had four Kingtiger tanks and panzer brigade 106 was down to seven Panthers. The panzer units that had played such a central role in the fighting for the Stolberg corridor – the 9th and 116th panzer divisions and panzer brigade 105 were refitting. To preempt the link-up of the american XIX and VII corps, Model proposed launching a strong counteroffensive using the partly reequipped 116th panzer division and 3rd panzergrenadier division (PGD) through the open terrain northeast of Aachen towards Julich.

The US 1st army planned to close the gap around Aachen using the overstretched 1st infantry division. The division was already deployed in a cordon defense around the southern edges of Aachen with only one regiment free for the assault, the 18th Infantry. The attack started in predawn hours of October 8, using combined tank-infantry tactics to bust open the bunkers in the Schill line defenses. The initial objectives were a series of hills with commanding views of the area north of the city at Verlautenheide, Crucifix Hill and Ravels Hill. All three were captured by october 10. The main impediment to the american attack was the intense german artillery fire.

The XIX corps attack from the north was conducted by the 30th division aimed at Wurselen. Against this advance, Model committed mobile regiment von Fritzchen – slapped together from three infantry battalions, and supported by 11 tanks of panzer brigade 108, a few Kingtigers from s.pz.abt 506 and 22 StuG III assault guns from three assault gun battalions. This battlegroup was ordered to clear Alsdorf of the 30th division as a means of keeping open the corridor to Aachen. The initial advance by the 30th division on october 8 went smoothly, but in mid morning the lead elements of 117th infantry were struck on their eastern flank by elements of mobile regiment von Fritzchen from Mariadorf. This was only a part of the german attack, the other force attacking Alsdorf directly. The attack on Alsdorf found the town occupied by headquarters elements of the 117th infantry, who set up a hasty defense. They were soon supported by some tanks of the 743rd tank battalion, which knocked out the four panzers supporting the german infantry and helped to break the back of the attack. Although both attacks by mobile regiment von Fritzchen were beaten off with heavy german casualties, the 30th division attack towards Wurselen was halted for the day.

Mobile regiment von Fritzchen was then shifted into the gap between the US 30th and 1st infantry divisions in an attempt to prevent the link up. However, the german attacks on october 9 were frustrated by corresponding US attacks, and the 119th infantry managed to push into northern Wiirselen by nightfall, only 2.000 yards from the 18th infantry positions on Ravels hill. This spearhead was hit that night by an attack of 300 infantry and five tanks from panzer brigade 108 around Bardenburg, which threatened the 30th division advance. The capture of Birk the following morning by the 120th infantry trapped the german force, but a fruitless day of fighting ensued with heavy casualties on both sides. On october 11, the 30th division sent in its reserve, a single battalion of the 102nd infantry, to finally wrest control of the town after it had been pummeled by artillery. Panzer brigade 108’s defenses had been stiffened by a battalion of half-tracks with quad 20mm antiaircraft guns, but all six panzers and 16 half-tracks were knocked out or captured, most falling victim to close-range bazooka attack.

The next elements of Model’s counterattack force, arriving on october 11, included kampfgruppe Diefenthal, which had been scraped together from survivors of the 1st and 12th SS-panzer divisions, as well as panzergrenadier regiment (PGR) 60 of the 116th panzer division. In view of the gravity of the situation around Wiirselen, Model authorized Brandenberger to use the units as they became available instead of waiting for the whole force to arrive. As a result, the outlying positions of the 30th division were hit by a succession of german attacks on october 12, heavily supported by panzers. After days of overcast conditions, the weather that day was crystal clear, allowing Allied air power to intervene. The final push was reinforced by two battalions from the 116th infantry, 29th division, a battalion of tanks from the 2nd armored division, and an engineer battalion staging a direct frontal assault through the streets of Wiirselen. The attack was very slow going, since the town was occupied by the entire PGR 60, supported by dug-in panzers, and little progress was made in three days of fighting.

Having already committed bits of the arriving 116th panzer division, Brandenberger received permission from Model to commit the 3rd PGD against the other wing of the american advance, the 18th infantry positions on the hills around Verlautenheide. On the morning of october 14, PGR 29 supported by Kingtigers and captured M4 tanks of s.Pz.Abt. 506 attacked, but the opposing VII corps artillery was waiting.

When the attack formed up in the meadows in front of the US positions, it was hit by fire from six US artillery battalions, leading the divisional commander, gen maj Walter Dekert, to conclude that “it was obvious that an advance through this fire was impossible.” The artillery stripped away the panzergrenadiers, but a few Kingtiger tanks ploughed into the american lines and began shooting up the forward trenches. Panzergrenadier regiment 8 tried to attack later, but was pummeled by artillery and subsequently strafed by a squadron of P-47 fighter-bombers. The violent attacks finally petered out by evening, with the US infantry still in control of their defenses. The 3rd PGD returned to the attack in the pre-dawn hours of october 15, nearly overrunning an infantry company in the dark. The US infantry huddled in their foxholes while US mortar fire and artillery landed nearly on top of them. As dawn arrived, the german survivors retreated into the early morning haze. Fighting continued over the next few days, but on a much smaller scale. The 1st division suffered 540 casualties in the three days of fighting, but the 3rd PGD lost a third of its effective strength.

With the German counteroffensive petering out, Hodges put more and more pressure on the 30th division to finish the task by sealing the gap with the 1st division. Since Wiirselen had proven impossible to take, Hobbs redirected the focus of the october 16 attack by the 119th infantry west through Kohlscheid, while diversionary attacks were staged further east by the 117th and 120th infantry. The diversions were costly, but managed to distract german artillery enough for the 2/119th infantry to finally reach hill 194 by late afternoon, within a thousand yards of the 1st division positions. At 16.15 hours, patrols from both divisions linked up near Ravels hill, finally closing the Aachen gap.

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