Hell in Hurtgen Forest: The Ordeal and Triumph of an American Infantry Regimentby Robert Sterling Rush
Pub. Date: 09/28/2004
Publisher: University Press of Kansas
Some of the most brutally intense infantry combat in World War II occurred within Germany's Hrtgen Forest. Focusing on the bitterly fought battle between the American 22d Infantry Regiment and elements of the German LXXIV Korps around Grosshau, Rush chronicles small-unit combat at its most extreme and shows why, despite enormous losses, the Americans persevered in… See more details below
Some of the most brutally intense infantry combat in World War II occurred within Germany's Hrtgen Forest. Focusing on the bitterly fought battle between the American 22d Infantry Regiment and elements of the German LXXIV Korps around Grosshau, Rush chronicles small-unit combat at its most extreme and shows why, despite enormous losses, the Americans persevered in the Hurtgenwald "meat grinder," a battle similar to two punch-drunk fighters staggering to survive the round.
On 16 November 1944, the 22d Infantry entered the Hurtgen Forest as part of the U.S. Army's drive to cross the Roer River. During the next eighteen days, the 22d suffered more than 2,800 casualties—or about 86 percent of its normal strength of about 3,250 officers and men. After three days of fighting, the regiment had lost all three battalion commanders. After seven days, rifle company strengths stood at 50 percent and by battle's end each had suffered nearly 140 percent casualties.
Despite these horrendous losses, the 22d Regiment survived and fought on, due in part to army personnel policies that ensured that unit strengths remained high even during extreme combat. Previously wounded soldiers returned to their units and new replacements, "green" to battle, arrived to follow the remaining battle-hardened cadre. The attack halted only when no veterans remained to follow.
The German units in the Hurtgenwald suffered the same horrendous attrition, with one telling difference. German replacement policy detracted from rather than enhanced German combat effectiveness. Organizations had high paper strength but low manpower, and commanders consolidated decimated units time after time until these ever-dwindling bands of soldiers disappeared forever: killed, wounded, captured, or surrendered.
The performance of American and German forces during this harrowing eighteen days of combat was largely a product of their respective backgrounds, training, and organization. This pre-battle aspect, not normally seen in combat history, helps explain why the Americans were successful and the Germans were not.
Rush's work underscores both the horrors of combat and the resiliency of American organizations. While honoring the sacrifice and triumph of the common soldier, it also compels us to reexamine our views on the requisites for victory on the battlefield.
Table of Contents
List of Illustrations and Tables
Foreword, John F. Ruggles
Part I. The Environment
2. Terrain and Weather in Hurtgen Forest
3. The 4th Infantry Division and its 22d Infantry Regiment: An Organizational History
4. The LXXIV Korps and Its Subordinate Divisions: An Organizational History
5. The American Soldier: Induction, Training, and Leadership Within the 22d Infantry Regiment
6. The German Soldier: Induction Training and Leadership Within the LXXIV Korps
Part II. The Hurtenwald
7. Preliminaries to the Hurtgen Forest
8. Into the Forest: The First Days (16-19 November)
9. Into the Forest: Toward Grosshau (20-24 November)
10. Grosshau: Battle for a Village (25-19 November)
11 Gey: To the Edge of the Woods (30 November -4 December)
12 The Aftermath of Hurtgen
Part III. Analysis
13. Organizational Effectiveness
14. What Kept the Soldier Fighting?
Afterword, Earl W. Edwards
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Rush has been the 22nd Division historian, which possibly clouds his judgement on the book. First his maps are almost unreadable. The background is too dark and his symbols are confusing because they are simuliar. He gives a breakdown of the members of a division-companies, platoons and squads for the American Army and for the German army. He also gives the breakdown of a regiment and the types of men who entered which army in what year. He does this is because he is arguing against military scholars that the Germans had a superior system. Because of this, he often repeats himself to support his theory, while attacking the other scholars. The main points are: 1.) Did German Army units have better cohesiveness, because the members were from the same area-neighbors-friends? He blows that one up by citing the break down of the German system because of horrendous loses. Rush does not mention that the Germans were probably inspired to fight for their land and families. He shows other flaws in the German system, that helped the Allies to win. My worst complaint is that he has a detailed glossery of military terms- but this glossery shows common words, when he used an unfamiliar term, I couldn't find the term. He listed almost everybody's hometown, site of enlistment, age, etc. as a footnote, even when he talked about men in a truck, who waved at Col. Lanham, the division CO. But there was one person that Rush didn't give the background information on. I think that Pvt. Sparks was was my Uncle, who died in Europe. This is neither a paper nor a book, so it's muddled and repetitive.