The wind howled and blew with the strength of a train. The path we walked was freshly coated with a new layer of rain. As we crested the top of the hill, the valley below opened up for our viewing. On this cold, windy, rainy, German day this place seemed so peaceful and relaxed. It's extremely difficult to picture the hillsides erupting with artillery fire, Sherman tanks rolling down the paths to the valley, and troops pushing forwarder to claim ground. That's just what this beautiful place was 75 years ago.
Last weekend the unit I am currently working for hosted a "Staff Ride". A Staff Ride is an event where members of the command and soldiers are offered an opportunity to view historic sites, often with a guide from local armed forces, in our case our guide was a German Army Lieutenant Colonel.
This adventure took us to the Hürtgen Forest, a historic World War II battle site. This site is not as well known due to the Battle Of the Bulge occurring not long after. However, the Battle of Hürtgen Forest is, to date, the U.S. Armies longest battle in its history. If you're any sort of history nerd like myself, I'd hope you'll stay and enjoy this adventure.
The Assault on Hill 400
Having had a few Rangers in our group, we decided to follow the footsteps of the 2nd Ranger Battalion as well as the path of the 28th Infantry Regiment. I'll leave most of the story telling to the captions of the photos.
The open field quickly turned to wooded forest, the map below shows the entrance of the path shown in the below photos.
This path was used by American Tanks to funnel into the valley below. Nazi troops where well dug in and managed to destroy many tanks, and in some parts the path.
It was said that American troops started rigging chains up the side of the hill around trees and would attach these chains to the side of tanks to prevent them from sliding down the hill.
The Kall Bridge was a center point for American troops to capture. It would allow them to get tanks across the river.
It was said that after the day of fighting, Both Nazi and American troops would bring wounded soldiers to the bridge to be given to the proper side and render care for.
Church and Museum
The church was actually a battlefield in and of itself. It was used by both Nazi and American troops, who both battled it out inside of the church. We where told that American troops took the bottom floor of the church and Nazi troops help the 2nd floor.
After exploring the church we headed back to the museum to talk to the local mayor and museum staff. The museum is closed in winter time and officially opens on the day of the anniversary of the battle.
Link to the museum's website.
German War Cemetery
This war cemetery is quite uniquie. Normally reserved for military members, there are a couple families and soldiers of different nationalities burried here.
Our last stop was the bunker and artillery outpost that sat on top of Hill 400. The lower bunker sat down the hill (this is the bunker photoed), while you can still walk around it, the inside has been gated off.
In the map below, the lower bunker can be walked to by following a small path to the right of the parking lot. It will feel like you are walking through someone's yard, yet you will discover the bunker around 100m down the path.
The observation tower is located atop the hill. The path is steep but paved the entire way, so anyone can walk up.
Below are some views from on top of the observation tower. You can see the advantage of placing a artillery battery on top of this hill. Each corner has a information "map" with cities and points of interest in that direction as well as the distance from the tower.
I hope that you enjoy reading and following along on this unique history adventure. This was a humbling experience and truly helps give you scale and meaning to these battles. I could, for a moment, slightly experience what it would have been like to be a soldier then. With the cold wind, rain, and muddy ground, it was no easy place to navigate. Add being shot at and having to do a mission on top of that. I've gained a new insight for those that are on the front fighting our battles to say the least.
While I'm still out in Germany, we wont have any usual truck guides or posts, but I plan on blogging about any other historic trips we go on.