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A Brief History of WWII

Battles of Attrition

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There was to be no early end to the war. Despite its recent defeats, the German Army remained a dangerous foe, fighting for its life in prepared defenses. Furthermore, as the Allies approached the frontiers of the Reich, they encountered a series of formidable terrain obstacles -- major rivers, mountains, and forests -- and the worst weather in over thirty years. Yet Eisenhower, believing that unremitting pressure against the enemy would shorten the war, called for the offensive to continue. Battles of attrition followed throughout October and November, all along the front.

Canadian and British soldiers trudged through the frozen mud and water of the flooded tidal lowlands in the Netherlands to free the great Belgian port of Antwerp. The U.S. First Army took the German city of Aachen on 21 October. The drive of General Patton's Third Army toward the German border halted on 25 September due to shortages of gasoline and other critical supplies. Resuming the offensive in November, Patton's men fought for two bloody weeks around the fortress town of Metz, ultimately winning bridgeheads over the Saar River and probing the Siegfried Line. In the south the U.S. Seventh Army and the First French Army fought their way through the freezing rain and snow of the Vosges Mountains to break out onto the Alsatian plain around Strasbourg, becoming the only Allied armies to reach the Rhine in 1944. But there were no strategic objectives directly east of Strasbourg, and a pocket of tough German troops remained on the west bank, dug in around the old city of Colmar.

The attacks by the U.S. First and Ninth Armies toward the Roer River were extremely difficult. The Huertgen Forest through which they moved was thickly wooded, cut by steep defiles, fire breaks, and trails. The Germans built deep, artillery-proof log bunkers, surrounded by fighting positions. They placed thousands of mines in the forest. In addition, they felled trees across the roads and wired, mined, and booby-trapped them; and registered their artillery, mortars, and machine guns on the roadblocks. Tree-high artillery bursts, spewing thousands of lethal splinters, made movement on the forest floor difficult. Armor had no room to maneuver. Two months of bloody, close-quarters fighting in mud, snow, and cold was devastating to morale. Parts of at least three U.S. divisions, pushed beyond all human limits, experienced breakdowns of cohesion and discipline.

This text has been converted from "A Brief History of the U.S. Army in World War II" published by the U.S. Army Center for Military History.

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