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After 19 days of heavy fighting, American troops captured on October 20, 1944 the German city of Aachen. The fall of the German city was for the Allies the turning point in the war and a new blow to the German army.
First German town captured
After the Normandy landings, the Allied troops successfully advanced into Germany. In the fall of 1944, they finally entered the heart of Nazi Germany. In the run-up to the Battle of Aachen, many soldiers were concerned about the heavy fighting that might follow. But initially there seemed to be little resistance. The first German town that the Allies reached on September 12, 1944 was Roetgen. Here the Americans were even welcomed by German citizens with roses and coffee.
The ruthless defense of Aachen
The battle for the city of Aachen, about 30 km away, had a symbolic meaning. German war propaganda called for a ruthless defense of the city. The American troops started their advance from the beginning of October 1944. Although the priority was to advance to the Rhine, Aachen also had to be coptured. The fighting lasted until October 21, 1944. The advance by the American 1st Infantry Division was slow, as the Germans repeatedly offered fierce resistance. The German soldiers were not allowed to surrender and there was massive destruction in the city. Aachen was the first major city in the German Reich to end the National Socialist dictatorship and begin the period of occupation.
During the battle, BBC journalist George Mucha reported: “The Americans were advancing methodically from street to street. Ahead of us, a few yards ahead, a Sherman tank sprayed the buildings with machine-gun fire. Suddenly stopped. There was a German machine-gun nest. We squeezed against the wall until the tank had dealt with this by firing its gun at point-blank range into the house. The street was shaking with the thunder of reports. Above our heads mortar bombs were whining through the air. It was raining… Every ten yards a new house had to be searched from top to bottom for snipers; doors broken in, grenades thrown into suspect rooms.”
The battle had been fierce and both sides suffered more than 5,000 casualties. The Germans’ stubborn defense had significantly disrupted the Allied plans for the eastward advance into Germany, but now the door to Germany was open and the Siegfried Line had been breached. The battle for Germany would be long and tough – followed by the Battle of the Hürtgen Forest, where the Germans would also defend themselves tenaciously.
In this photo in front of the Landgericht on the Adalbertsteinweg, American soldiers (2d Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division) can be seen with an M1919 Browning machine gun. Aachen was one of the largest and toughest urban battles fought by American forces in World War II.
This photo shows how American soldiers fire a 57mm Anti-Tank Gun during the street fighting in the German city. The Battle of Aachen was one of the largest urban battles fought by the U.S. Army during the war. The fervor of the German defenders, along with the bitter characteristics of the urban fighting, made this battle one of the bloodiest, and the Americans were forced to reduce much of the city to rubble to achieve victory.
During the battle of Aachen an American reporter describes the fighting on October 13, 1944 and the start of the attack by the 2nd Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment; “Only the brisk rattle of machine guns and quick bark of rifles met the doughboys this morning when they climbed out of foxholes and cellars in the outskirts of Aachen, crossed the railroad tracks, and filled down empty streets between rows of shattered houses… Over the city hung a nauseating smell of death, stagnation and fire. It was slow and difficult fighting. Knots of German infantrymen, holding out in cellars and concrete houses, had to be knocked out at point-blank range.”
Amazing then and now photo of the M4 medium Sherman tank of C-Company, 745th Tank Battalion named “Cataline kid” that makes its way through the main entrance of the Aachen – Rothe Erde railroad station during the fighting around the city viaduct in October 1944.
Traces of the heavy fighting can still be seen at the cemetery in front of the Courthouse at the Adalbertsteinweg. After the Battle of Aachen, the city, which had already been heavily bombed earlier in the war, was 85 percent destroyed.