A Dark and Bloody Ground: The Hurtgen Forest and the Roer River Dams, 1944-1945

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In late 1944, American forces advanced into the hilly, heavily wooded Hurtgen Forest southeast of Aachen, Germany. For weeks, without a clear-cut reason for attacking through the forest, U.S. commanders nevertheless ordered units of as many as seven divisions into the woods to be chewed up by German infantry and artillery. Small units, cut off by the rugged terrain and trees, unable to employ tanks or artillery effectively, fought entrenched and camouflaged Germans in the woods and villages of the region. The ...
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Overview

In late 1944, American forces advanced into the hilly, heavily wooded Hurtgen Forest southeast of Aachen, Germany. For weeks, without a clear-cut reason for attacking through the forest, U.S. commanders nevertheless ordered units of as many as seven divisions into the woods to be chewed up by German infantry and artillery. Small units, cut off by the rugged terrain and trees, unable to employ tanks or artillery effectively, fought entrenched and camouflaged Germans in the woods and villages of the region. The troops were exposed to rain, sleet, and freezing temperatures without proper winter clothing. Many companies suffered huge numbers of casualties. For many years after the war the full extent of the disaster was not well known outside army circles. Eventually the story of the campaign spread, but it remained overshadowed by the fame of the Bulge. Only in the last decade have military historians begun to look at the fighting in the Hurtgen Forest. The book examines uncertainty of command at the army, corps, and division levels and emphasizes the confusion and fear of ground combat at the level of company and battalion - "where they do the dying." Its gripping description of the battle is based on government records, a rich selection of first-person accounts from veterans of both sides, and author Edward G. Miller's visits to the battlefield. The result is a compelling and comprehensive account of small-unit action set against the background of the larger command levels. The book's foreword is by retired Maj. Gen. R. W. Hogan, who was a battalion commander in the forest.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This tale of the disaster suffered by U.S. forces in Germany near the end of WWII is based on government records, veterans' accounts and the author's visits to the battlefield. Assigned to clear Germany's Hrtgen Forest of enemy troops, the U.S. 7th Corps high command concentrated on terrain features, road junctions and towns, failing to realize that the more important objectives were the nearby dams controlling the level of the water obstacle standing between the Americans and the Rhine, i.e., the Roer. Miller vividly describes the bloody confrontation in the forest near Aachen from late 1944 into early '45, with the Germans conducting a well-executed delaying action that bought time for a buildup of forces for their last-ditch Ardennes campaign. The ferocity of the fighting was typified by the experience of the 22nd Infantry, which lost 108 officers and 2575 enlisted men in exchange for four miles of tactically useless woods. Miller's detailed account of the climactic assault on the Schwammenauel Dam by the 78th Division drives home the theme of this well-researched study: the overriding importance of defining a clear and logical objective at the beginning of a military campaign. Major Miller is on active duty with the U.S. Army in Germany as an ordnance officer. Illustrations. (Oct.)
David H. Hackworth
"A Dark and Bloody Ground is the best telling of the bloody Hürtgen Forest campaign I've read. It's gritty, hard-hitting, and explodes like a hand grenade. . . . This is a compelling and incredibly detailed account—a must read for professional soldiers, and a good, exciting read for anyone interested in one of the most costly blunders of World War II."—David H. Hackworth, author of About Face and Brave Men
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Product Details

Meet the Author

Maj. Edward G. Miller is a retired army ordnance officer stationed in Germany. His most recent assignment was to the army's Command and General Staff College, where he completed most of this study in his off-duty hours. He earned the B.A. and M.P.A. degrees from Western Kentucky University and has completed several military training programs. His previous publications include articles in Armor and Ordnance magazines concerning development of U.S. armor doctrine.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 10, 2002

    Been there with the author

    Haven't read the book yet, but will purchase. Went on this staff ride with LTC Miller in 2000, along with his German counterpart Klaus. Awesome and humbling experience. If he writes, which I'm sure he does, as good as he tour guides and gets you into the battles then this book is a must buy for history buffs and persons who want to preserve the sacrifices of fellow servicemen and women.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 8, 2000

    Huertgen Forest: Through 20/20 Hindsight.

    Miller has written what is probably the best recent account of the Huertgen Forest Campaign during the Fall of 1944 as Allied forces were trudging their way to the German frontier. His research and handling of the topic is worthy of placing this book along side many of the classic annals of military history. What's more, it reads like a novel. Miller's thesis, however, is not new. Miller argues, as prominant military historian Charles B. MacDonald had previously in the early 1960's, that the American High Command had failed to recognize the importance of the Roer River Dams as the prime strategic objective at the start of the Huertgen Forest Campaign in September 1944. Miller goes one step further and claims the American planners could have side-stepped the Huertgen Forest and captured the Dams, thus avoiding the terrible bloodshed the Campaign produced. Miller's book as a narrative is well worth the price, however, he does not argue his contention with enough force in spite of the benefits of 20/20 hindsight. As any experienced reader of military history can atest, there are many factors that determine the outcome of a battle and 'should haves' and 'could haves' must be theroughly weighed out before arm-chair strategist can change the course of history. I believe another of Miller's contentions, one in which he treats less favorably, stating the importance of the road-net contained within the Huertgen Forest in gaining the approaches to the Roer River is a much more practical arguement from a military point of view than attacking the Dams, which, if executed as Miller suggests in the book, could very well have trapped a large American force well behind enemy lines in an bloody encirclement battle reminiscent of the Eastern Front. In sum, Miller surely hasn't had the last word in the ongoing debate over the controversial handeling of the Huertgen Forest Battles. His narrative makes up for a somewhat lacking analysis.

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