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deserves to be told. i'm oliver north. good night. tonight on "war stories". >> an overlooked battle in a dark and bloody forest. >> the growth was so thick and mysterious. >> the first gis to assault the third reich. >> translator: do whatever it takes to drive the americans out. >> did american generals blunder? >> the upper command really did not understand. >> it's hell in the huertgen forest. that's next on "war stories."
this cold, dark and forbidding place is a scene of one of the fiercest, bloodiest and least known battles of world war ii. welcome to "war stories." i'm oliver north, coming to you from the huertgen forest in germany. these densely wooded hills are quiet now, but from september of 1944 until february of 1945, they thundered with artillery, mortar, machine gun, and tank fire. american generals that hoped for a quick push into germany's industrial heartland, but battle hardened troops were determined to hold their ground. for five months, tens of thousands of american and german soldiers battled each other and harsh terrain and bitter cold that claimed combatants on both sides. with shells bursting in these trees above, well prepared and tenacious german defenders turned the american offensive into a nightmare. for every yard gained, this was
the deadliest campaign in the european theater. stay with us and meet the men, both american and german, who fought to the death in this dark and frightening forest. >> it's still a haunted place. >> you didn't know where you were within the forest. >> it's dark and rainy and snowy and cold. >> ruins of bunkers, still weapons to be found, mines, hand grenades. >> you don't see sun light down there on the ground and it's wet and damp and horrible. >> there's still traces of world war ii in the air. you can almost imagine being back there november 1944. >> 6 june 1944, the liberation
of europe begins. after ferocious fights on the normandy beaches the alleys were bogged down for weeks before breaking out. >> the military progress, the armored drive of the allies and paris is the goal of the swift advance. >> there was plenty of heavy fighting to get through normandy. >> after barely surviving the cliffs, new jersey native lieutenant limbal and the second ranger battalion had months of fierce combat ahead. >> a lot of fighting in that 2 1/2 months as patton and those guys led us across europe through france and belgium. >> as the allies broke out from the normandy lodgement and the americans were sweeping towards the east and germany. >> the german defeat. >> the germanys fell back in total disarray. >> retired colonel edward miller
spent 18 years studying the battle the author of the book "a dark and bloody ground". >> by and large they were very ill equipped, ragged, something that clearly the allies could look at with a little bit of optimism. ♪ >> on 29 august american troops of the 28th infantry division, the keystone boys of the pennsylvania national guard, marched down the streets of a liberated paris. the division commander, general norman cota and generals omar bradley and courtney hodges reviewed the parade. >> the proceed across france and approach to germany led people to think there might be a chance that the war could be ended by the end of 1944. >> fighting beside lieutenant lamel and the 2nd ranger battalion was a 23-year-old son of a wisconsin farmer. >> do you remember anybody saying, you know, this war is going to be over by christmas? >> there were rumors. there were a lot of rumors like
that. >> private sunby was hearing more than scuttle butt. by september, u.s. troops had reached the german border and supreme allied commander dwight eisenhower's chief of staff boldly announced to the press from paris militarily the war is over. back in the states, the army even stopped sending packages to the boys in europe. >> and so the period of august through mid-september 1944 was really a race. could eisenhower get his armies through the border defenses and across the ryan river before the germans could set their defense. >> in berlin the german furor raged. with the enemy at his gates hitler called up one of his most effective and iron fisted generals walter mowdell. >> he was a nazi. he was not a yes man. he was one of the few germany generals to argue to prove a
point. >> douglas nash is a military historian and expert on the german army. >> model was blunt, gruff, profa profane. he would be ruthless and brought to the western front august 18th, 1944, to exert magic on the crumbling germany effort. >> known as hitler's fire man. >> and the fierce fire man wasted no time. >> the general has been handpicked by hitler for this job. what's his mission? >> he had one significant mission, that was to stop the allies. >> from crossing the rhine and entering the german industrial heart loonds. >> located across germany's western border, it was the manufacturing center of the nazi war machine. >> it was one of the key of germany's war making capability. >> and needed to be defended at all costs.
so much so that hitler sent joseph gurgles to confer with general model and construct factories. the footage shows how the propaganda whipped these workers into a frenzy. [ speaking foreign language ] >> there was the idea on the american side, particularly eisenhower's supreme commander he had to make the decision on exactly how his armies would enter germany. >> with patton's armor tied up further south generals eisenhower and bradley gave courtney hodges the mission to break into hitler's third reich. >> courtney hodges looked like a rum. ed small town banker. opposite of the patton type personality. >> between the rur valley and hodges army was 70 square miles of heavily wooded terrain the
germans called the hurtgenwald. he was ordered to drive straight through the forest to the valley. >> this put the first army on a collision course with the huertgen forest. >> one of the participants likened it to the forest out of hansel and gretel. almost a prime evil feel to it. >> just in a big pool of replacements. >> joining the battle hardened troops that fought from normandy were thousands of green replacements like 20-year-old dale wiley. he joined the 47th regiment of the 9th infantry division, the old reliables. along with the third armored division he and his fellow men were among the first americans into the forest. >> we got on a truck, went up to a point. we started hearing guns. there was a lieutenant colonel who met us and told us in a nice
when the german commanders saw the american forces come into the huertgen forest it was almost like a miracle because it was the last thing they expected the americans to do. >> in fact, the german high command called it miracle of the west. field marshal model knew here, like nowhere else on the border, they could hold its positions. the americans were walking into a nightmare in the forest. >> the germans constructed
concrete obstacles the americans called dragon's teeth. >> the siegfried line was constructed in the late 1930s. the idea was to set up a series of strong points and reinforced pillboxes. >> the americans called it the siegfried line. what did you call it? >> we called it the west wall because it was the wall against the west. >> some six decades after the war, berlin native klaus schultz retraced his steps. in 1944 he was a 17-year-old serving with the 353rd infantry division on the german side of the siegfried line. in september of 1944, what german troops were defending this position? >> this position was defended by the 89th infantry division. they had 11 bunkers over here, one or two heavy tank gun bunkers and troop quarters was in the position for mg-42s and six firing points for two
machine guns. >> we were the first there. we were the most advanced into germany of any unit and then we discovered we're on top of the siegfried line and we went in. it was unbelievable structure. >> there was a secondary belt a few miles behind that one so that although we were able to go through the first one fairly quickly in some spots, the second line had been completely occupied by german forces. initially it seemed like it was going to be a cakewalk but it didn't turn out to be that way. >> september 1944, general hojs orders two regiments to the ninth id to penetrate the second siegfried belt. dale wiley attacked with the 47th infantry regiment. >> the combat really was fire fights. your squad or your platoon would be moving up and suddenly you would get fire from the germans. >> in the forests we had our foxholes.
the trees were narrow trees out there, so we just stayed at the fringe of the forest. >> does it make any sense to you, as a german soldier, that they would come through here? >> it doesn't make any sense because it's -- this is a wooded area. this is not infantry country. >> the huertgen forest has been compared to a jungle because the growth was so thick, so mysterious, because of the nature of the battlefield, because of the way ar little herry shells went off in tree tops. >> you could hear them coming in and they would hit the top of the trees. you never knew what was going to come down. >> the artillery shells were few so they would detonate when they came in contact with any object, ground, tree top or a branch, enough to send a cascade red hot metal fragments down upon any soldier who happened to be unlucky enough to be directly underneath that. >> if you hugged a tree when it was coming, it would probably hit the top of the tree and fall
off to the side rather than coming down the trunk. >> field marshal model issued an order to the 11 die victims of his army group b, hold the forest or die. >> to increase their defensive capability heavy use of mines, blowing trees to block paths. some anti-tank ditches. >> in effect the defense is controlling the whole battle. >> the germans set the pace of the battle and the germans controlled the pace. >> model has worked his magic. the forests were impen trable. despite no gains, they were determined to break through to hitler's factories in the ruhr valley. on 6th october the 9th id ordered to renew the attack against german troops holding the village of schmidt. >> general hodges 7th corps tried in the first week between 6 and 16 october to break through the forest. >> some days no distance at all.
other days, i guess the most you would advance would probably be maybe a hundred yards. very rarely did you go more than that. >> a soldier had been killed or wounded especially in a night attack would probably never be found by his comrades. >> there was a demoralizing effect because of the conditions. i had three hot meals in 73 days. two showers. you became very dirty, very filthy. >> you tank. >> the young german soldiers didn't feel comfortable in this type of forest and this type of weather. your enemies were the actual enemy, the weather, and the terrain. >> the upper command really did not understand what the soldier was going through. >> after ten days, 3,000 plus casualties in three miles of advance about 1,000 casualties
per mile we weren't through the forest. you can see the battle developing into almost a slow slogging stalemate. >> by the end of october american gis and german soldiers were killing each other at a ghastly rate in the miserable forest. the americans called it the meat grinder. despite horrific losses, eisenhower and hodges wouldn't or couldn't give up. >> as a staff officer said later in the campaign it seemed like we had a tiger by the tail and we couldn't let go of it. >> locked in a fierce forest fight the americans are reinforced by the 28th division, a pennsylvania national guard unit when the
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. by the end of october general hodges' first army broke through the german border and forest north of the huertgen forest elements of the 1st infantry division captured aachen. >> the first german city to be captured by the allies they raise the stars and stripes. >> but in the forest the bloody stalemate continued. undeterred eisenhower and hodges decided to reinforce failure. >> the 28th division entered the forest area in late october. >> the american generals sent in the keystones boys, the same soldiers who barely two months earlier had marched triumphantly through the streets of paris. >> the division entered the huertgen, they saw the evidence of the preceding battles, september and october, shredded tree, blocked fire breaks, torn up personnel equipment, helmets littering the ground. >> when we moved into the area we saw the 9th infantry division soldiers coming out. >> joining with the 28th id in
october ray flag of the 707 tank battalion was on the continent only two months. he would get to see combat when he and his fellow soldiers moved into the huertgen, replacing the 9th id. >> they were a desolate looking group, saddest human beings i saw in my life. they were slouched and uniforms dirty and i couldn't imagine people of the american army looking that dejected. i had no idea what could cause such a thing. >> but general cota commanding general of the 28th id had to have known when hodges gave him the battle plan to take control of schmidt and other key towns, he was less than enthusiastic. >> when he saw the plan he didn't think he had a gambler's chance of succeeding. >> 2 november, three regiments of the 28th id attack into the forest. 112th was tasked with the mission of taking schmidt. >> schmidt itself sat across the
kall river gorge from the initial jump off positions of the 28th division. >> that night the 112th took control of the village. the commanders of old reliables was cautiously optimistic. but field marshal model would ensure the success was short lived. >> one of those coincidences of military history that occurs only maybe once 100 years. >> that was a command post exercise a few miles away attended by every senior german commander from model down. >> with the sole purpose of gaining what would be a proper response should the americans conduct an attack through huertgen and the town of schmidt. >> and as the attack jumped off the germans were exercising a map scenario. >> they used real reports coming in from the battle and were able to conduct it like a war game, except this time it was real. >> model wasted no time, sent the 116th panzer division. led an anti-tank company.
>> we were told to move to the huertgen forest to the village of schmidt and do whatever it takes to drive the americans out. >> the battalion commanders involved knew they had to have armored support that night. they were exposed on three sides to german counter attacks. the only armored unit available to reinforce that was a company 707. ray flag was a platoon leader. >> my company commander ordered me to move out. >> under heavy german fire ray's tank platoon narrowed down a trail. war stories return to the scene in the kall river gorge. what all comes down this forest path? >> well, initially only myself. and then so i started down the trail and i suppose i had gone 100, 150 yards when my tank struck a mine and it blew the track off and that blocked the
trail. >> artillery hit that area. one of his nco's were killed. tanks were damaged. the tanks would go a matter of a few meters on this slippery, muddy slope. >> what's this track look like at that point? >> it's a mess. >> fog, mist, rain. artillery fire. they couldn't see anything. they didn't know how bad the trail was. >> we were being outgunned and outshot. >> and what are you thinking? >> what the hell am i doing here? >> ray flag's platoon of sherman tanks has to fight their way down this narrow forest trail and things go downhill from there. stay with us. financial news.