The 9th Infantry Division’s first day into the Hürtgen Forest
Lieutenant-Colonel Oscar H. Thompson (1941)
The incessant rain of the last few days has turned into a fine, persistent mist. The roads and paths are soggy. Heavy vehicles start to get bogged down as soon as they leave the proper roads. The day before, the division had launched its regiments in a final offensive against the Reich. On the morning of 14 September, the 47th Infantry Regiment moved towards Stolberg. The 39th Infantry Regiment prepared to advance on Düren and the 60th Infantry Regiment locked the right flank between Elsenborn and Monschau.
For Colonel Van H. Bond and his 39th Infantry Regiment, the plan was to launch one battalion northwards on the road to Düren, while another battalion was to secure the dam to the east, between Schleiden and Schmidt. The 1st Battalion and 2nd Battalion were in Roetgen and the 3rd Battalion woke up in Konzen, a hamlet four kilometres north of Monschau.
Lieutenant-Colonel Oscar H. Thompson commanded the 1st Battalion. At dawn, he gathered his company commanders to explain his plans. On a relatively accurate map, he pointed out the town of Düren and the four villages they would have to capture to secure the only road through the Hürtgen forest, namely Lammersdorf, Vossenack, Hürtgen and Kleinhau.
U.S. Army map of the Eifel area on which you can locate the main road crossing the Hürtgen Forest starting in Lammersdorf and going up North, and the village along the main way: Vossenack, Hürtgen, Kleinhau, Grosshau, all these places sadly known for the fierce battles which happened throughout the Battle of Hûrtgen Forest. Konzen and Monschau are also visible on this abstract.
Charley Company was designated to lead the advancing battalion. Its commander, Captain Charles Scheffel, recalls this particular moment:
– « Is this grey area what I have in mind? » he asked the senior officer.
– « Yes« , Thompson replied, « the Siegfried Line. »
– « It’s just as I feared. It’s going to be a long day« , Charles concludes.
It was about 10 in the morning when the battalion set off eastwards. The leading elements arrived in the center of the village. The infantry was accompanied by four Sherman tanks from Charley Company, 746th Tank Battalion. The morning went smoothly, but the atmosphere was tense. There was not a living soul in the village. The advance resumed, this time to the north. Scheffel’s company was marching on the road to Düren.
Suddenly, the heavy silence of the Sherman’s idling engines was broken by gunfire. In a few moments, the leading and trailing tanks burst into flames. The GI’s jumped into the ditches while the two remaining Shermans tried to get out of the way, without success. These steel monsters were all destroyed in a few minutes.
The road leading to Lammersdorf which Charley Company and the 746th Tank Battalion’s Sherman Tanks followed in the morning of 14 September 1944
Charley Company was trapped. The infantrymen were the helpless victims of machine-gun and mortar fire. They are trapped. The screams of the wounded drown out the sound of the explosions. In the rear, Baker Company reacted and tried to move around to their left. It took them the afternoon and the result was not convincing: the platoons were stopped by a German defense line in the woods. It was not until the end of the evening and the intervention of Able Company that the situation improved. The action of the two companies on the right flank of the German resistance allowed the pressure on the soldiers of Charley Company to be relieved, and the German soldiers retreated in the evening to take over other defense pillboxes further east.
Overlay drawn by the 39th Infantry Regiment S-3 (Operations Officer) which describes the movements of the 1st Battalion’s rifle companies on the 14 September 1944 to flank the German stronghold located north of Lammersdorf.
Unfortunately, it was too late for the Charley Company, trapped in the ditches and unable to defend themselves, Charles and his men were cut to pieces. They were scattered and had no contact with the upper echelon. Mortar shells rained down around them, lifeless bodies littered the dangerous road, swept by machine gun fire. Scheffel recalls:
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« Suddenly my world became black and silent. I saw nothing coming. I didn’t feel anything. I don’t know how long I was unconscious, and then I noticed that I couldn’t see anything. I try to move my right arm, but it’s impossible. For a moment I think I am dead. Then I wipe my face with my left arm. From my left eye I see blood on my hand. My radio operator is a few centimetres away from me, his legs are shredded. He is dead. On my other side, along my legs, my dispatcher lies lifeless, his head cut off, resting on his chest. »
SCHEFFEL C. & BASDEN B., Crack! and Thump: With a Combat Infantry Officer in World War II, Llano, Texas, Camroc Press, LLC, 2007.
Charles Scheffel is finally rescued at the end of the day. For him the war ended in a wet ditch on the Siegfried Line. He was right, it was a long day.
Captain Charles Scheffel (1941)
Charles Scheffel was the Company Commander of Charley Company, 39th Infantry Regiment. He was one of the very first members of the division to deploy to Europe in order to prepare the landings in North Africa, and took part to all the major battles and campaigns of the division ever since. But for him, the War ended in a drak, cold and bloody ditch on the first day he walked into Germany.
The 1st Battalion was not the only one to encounter difficulties. The 3rd Battalion, which left at dawn, did not manage to advance towards the north-east. Vehicles got bogged down or ran out of fuel, while infantrymen were slowed down by improvised roadblocks, harassed by snipers or slowed down by minefields. The situation forces Lieutenant-Colonel Stumpf to change his plans. He redirected his column to the north-west to join the route taken by the 1st Battalion earlier in the day.
Fearing a counter-attack from Rollesbroich, a fortified village on the Siegfried Line located five kilometres east of Lammersdorf, Stumpf nevertheless sent a company – the King Company led by Captain Edward B. Bailey – to reconnoiter the village and assess the German defenses. As soon as they left the village, the GI’s were fired upon by heavy weapons from the fortifications. The Item Company was sent in support later in the day.
At Roetgen, Colonel Bond decided to divide the regiment’s operations into two efforts: one to the north where his 1st Battalion tried to control the crossroads at the entrance to the forest; and the other to the east of Lammersdorf to force a passage through the dragon’s teeth and blockhouses of the Westwall. Night fell on the evening of this first day of fighting in Germany and already the American maneuvers were dictated by the fierce defense of the German soldiers. Bond lost the initiative. Thus began the Battle of Hürtgen Forest.