Part I: The Third Battle of Aachen
The deployment of 47th VGD in the Third Battle of Aachen is a typical example for a nonsensical decision, one not at all justified by the situation. Unfortunately, it was done quite often. Newly raised units that had not been sufficiently trained, either due to the lack of time or equipment or a combination of both, were deployed despite their clear lack of experience. This division, however, proved later in the war that it was quite capable of fulfilling its tasks – from a leadership angle as well as from a combat and a materiel perspective – after the lack of training had been made up for and crucial experience had been gained. This worked out despite all the time-induced difficulties and the extremely heavy losses in the first deployment, 104 officers, and 4260 men.
Part II: Origins of the division:
The division was raised in late September 1944 on the training ground in Wildflecken. Half of the troops came from the Luftwaffe and the navy, one third were newly drafted men age 17 and 18, one third were older men, soldiers with experience on the eastern front. The personnel division of the High Command of the Army (OKH) that was specifically created for Volks GrenDivs., P 7, had selected the officer corps. All commanders and half of the junior officers had experience in the east, the others were trainees from the army and Luftwaffe (radio troops, AAA troops, bureaucrats). Unfortunately, this unit had no tradition and no local ties, i.e. the men came from all parts of the Reich.
Weapons and equipment were modern but arrived only in trickles so that most of the training had to be done with an emphasis on theory despite the great advantages that a training ground has to offer. Heavy equipment, guns of all sorts, tank chasers (Panzer-Hetzer) had at this point not even been assigned on paper. Added to the mix was the poor transport situation in all of Germany. Just as the divisional commander had managed to get the missing equipment to Wildflecken, largely due to his persona acquaintances, the division was moved to northern Denmark, beginning 10/6/44.There the division was spread out over 200 km, company for company and this killed all chances of further training. Valuable time was lost in efforts to find out about training possibilities and in arguments with the authorities. Much worse was the time in the effort to redirect the equipment transports. The bulk of guns of the artillery regiment only arrived 8 days before the deployment for instance, the radio for the command post of the artillery only during the battle of Aachen, the horses to pull the guns of the heavy artillery and the complete horse equipment of the division arrived only when we were ready to move again, and the tank chaser company not before 20 November. It is obvious what that meant for the combat efficiency of the division! Our weakness was artillery and defense against tanks right from the start and that while we were facing the foe in the West with all his tanks.
It was only to the will and extreme capability of the leaders that enabled training of the division to continue until early November, even down to details such as sharp-shooting with combined arms of the reserve regiment. Had the division actually received more time, 14 days had been requested for additional training, the greatest gaps would have been plugged if the missing field-reserve battalion were raised and the divisional combat school were established. As it was the transport to the western front began on 11/9/44 after only six weeks of training. We were taken all the way to stations near the front-line despite enemy control of the air. This meant losses while embarking; an artillery unit was lost in Jülich and parts of the command apparatus were lost in the air raid on Düren, 11/16/44. The divisional commander had requested a deployment of the division in the Westwall due to the mix of inexperienced troops and poor equipment. This had initially been granted but the orders were changed during the transport and the division was thrown into the battle of Aachen, battalion by battalion as they disembarked from the trains. Appendix 1 shows the order of battle of the division.
2. The course of the battle:
11/16/44: All officers were assigned their positions:
The division had to relief the bulk of 12th VGD and parts of 275th InfDiv in the sector Scherpenseel-Schevenhütte. Enemy air forces had their main attack day, focusing on exactly that area. Despite its magnitude and violence, 5500 planes, the air attack did not cause heavy losses in the troops but unfortunately we did lose our first lead officers and the losses of the III./ArtReg 147, that was caught in the train station, were painful.
In the night from the 16th to the 17th the bulk of the division was in position. The troops that had held the area so far had been in heavy combat on the 16th. Gressenich had been lost to the 1st American Division (26th InfReg), Werth and Köttenich had been lost to the 3rd American Armored Division. The units of 12th and 275th were still in disarray from that attack. Hence the newly arrived regiments of 47th VGD did not in all cases find the troops in their expected positions despite the clear orders we had received. A regular change of troops was impossible at times. Therefore 47th found itself in unknown terrain in the morning of the 17th, facing the difficulties of fighting in the woods that had not been practiced at all in wood-free Denmark. The woods and the constant barrage made it difficult to arrange the troops in the positions and the radio and telephone connection was unsafe and shaky to begin with. This situation was exploited by an American attack along the whole front, conducted by 1st Division and 3rd tank division.
11/17: Despite fierce resistance from GrenReg 103 the enemy managed to penetrate into the southern part of Hastenrath and Scherpenseel in the evening. GrenReg 104 repelled two tank attacks on Hamich. GrenReg 115 easily repelled attacks by the 26th InfReg in Wenau Forest, reestablished the connection through thick underbrush, and established a strong defensive position in the woods. To build a continuous front we lacked men and materiel. Therefore we had to rely on bases, which was quite unsuited for combat in a forest. Since the enemy already held the heights east of Grevenich, this regiment lacked suitable b-positions of all sorts so that combat translated into a struggle for each and every isolated base.
11/18: Despite having hot 49 enemy tanks, Scherpenseel and Hastenrath were lost. GrenReg 103 managed to reassemble on the heights northwest of the villages and to hold off the pursuing 3rd American ArmDiv. While a new attack on the northern part of Hamich could be defeated, the crucial Hill 232 with its central artillery b-position was lost. About 250 casualties of GrenReg 104 were suffered in this position. In the evening a counterattack by I./104 to recapture the heights, supported by a combat group of 116th tank division – 5 tanks and a CE company – faltered after initial success. Now the troops in Hamich were isolated and had lost their artillery support. A request from the division to the LXXXI Army Corps to retreat from Hamich during the night and to set up a new defensive position with Reg 104 on height 225 was denied, just as it happened much too often! Thus the fate of GrenReg 104 in Hamich was sealed.
Hamich fell to the enemy at about 12 noon after a concentric attack and despite a desperate defensive stand. The remainders of the defensive force tried to fight their way through to Wenau but ran into the American InfReg 26, that was advancing in the woods east of Hamich, and were subsequently wiped out. A complete regiment ceased to exist! In the section of Reg 104 there was now only one battalion left and it had been used as part of the defense force of Heistern and Wenau. The CE Bat of the division was fully emerged in the barrage that defended the forest but now, due to the new circumstances, it had to be moved up into the area of Point 203 (southwest of Langerwehe) as the divisional reserve because a breakthrough to Langerwehe was now lurking after the enemy had brought up support in the evening of the 19th. Such a breakthrough would have dislodged the complete front of the LXXXI Army Corps all the way to Eschweiler. Things were especially ominous because the combat group of 116th tank division was ordered at the Corps's disposal while it had before been under the command of the division. After losing this group the anti-tank forces of the division consisted of 12 guns of I./ArtilleryReg 147 that had to be moved up and consequently was lost for artillery purposes. The artillery of the division now consisted of only one light and one heavy unit and the auxiliary artillery of three additional light batteries and one heavy battery. Thus, 18 light and nine heavy barrels were in use, a number that barely entered any equation given the decisive and difficult task of the division.
Meanwhile the bulk of 3rd Armored Division had penetrated the southern part of Bovenberg Forest and attacked in the late afternoon at the new front-line of GrenReg 103 from the heights 2 km south of Bovenberg to the woods just 2 km east of that. The attack was repelled. Even there, however, an enemy breakthrough was only a matter of days and this would endanger Hücheln and with it the southern flank of 12th VGD (Abbr. used in original). The last infantry reserve of 47th Div, Fusilier Reg 147, now had to be deployed in the defense of the base at Hücheln. A report on the 19th to the LXXXI Army Corps thus requested necessary reinforcements of infantry and especially of anti-tank units – it was denied.
11/19-11/22: The enemy attacks increased in Wenau Forest (northeast of Schevenhütte) but could be kept under control until the 22nd by Reg 115. Here as in other places the casualties increased because of the uniqueness of the terrain and the lack of experienced troops in forest combat. Additionally, the constant threat to the southern wing of the regiment, caused by the neglect of the neighboring division to occupy the boundaries could only be resolved through the deployment of a rear-guard west of the Hardt Farm near the rural road Gürzenich-Schevenhütte. This measure should have been responsibility of the southern neighbor but as it was it meant an unnecessary weakening of Reg 115.
11/20: Enemy advances against the area defended by Grenadier Regiment 103 (GrenReg 103) were repelled but the enemy deployed an increasing number of tanks in that area. Artillery fire as well as fighter-bomber attacks focused on the ridge south of Bovenberg and the casualties that the regiment suffered that day alone amounted to almost 200. Local defensive retreats, called for by the situation, were strictly prohibited – as always!
Since the early morning hours the battle had raged with increased fury in section 104. In the morning Wenau fell to the enemy and its newly deployed Infantry Regiment 18. In the evening the enemy, supported by 25 tanks, penetrated the defense in the southern part of Heistern. Our division had to try to drive the enemy back because holding Heistern meant having a good view all the way to Langerwehe. All available units of GrenReg 104, two companies, one combat engineer company, and three remaining tanks, were led into the counterattack by the commanding officer (CO) of 104; after initial success the attack bogged down. After the CO had been severely wounded and taken prisoner by the enemy, and after the bulk of our line soldiers had been shattered under fire – 250 died – the enemy attacked and occupied all of Heistern by the morning of the 21st.
11/21: With hastily assembled units and parts thereof Reg 104, now led by the adjutant of the division, held a line from the forest north of Heistern to Schönthal, but did so only with severe difficulty. It had become clear by then that the next days would see a struggle for the last defensible hill, "Kammerbusch." Hence, on the evening of the 21st, the division sent a new commander for the base who should lead combat engineer battalion (CE BAT) 147 and the fresh parts of tank company Hetzer, which had finally arrived, as well as the anti-tank unit 147.
The barrage of the valley road Wenau-Langerwehe was tightened with trees and the deployment of the division's last mines. The enemy (II./18) was repelled with heavy losses on the 21st and 22nd and did not attack again before the 27th. Instead, enemy support arrived in the forest east of Schönthal where we had only a rear-guard from Reg 115 to hold the boundary; its strength: only one platoon. After repeated and urgent requests from the division, and generally speaking much too late, LXXXI Army Corps finally sent a battle-hardened battalion from its reserves. This unit managed to create a secure connection between the GrenRegs 104 and 115 by means of a spirited attack into the woods.
In section 103 the defensive position at the Bovenberg Heights fell into the enemy's hands in the evening after three hours of concentrated artillery fire from about 60 batteries. The enemy found 172 dead soldiers in the position. The second battalion commander had died, the regiment's CO reported sick on the battlefield and both could not be replaced. The regiment had only two officers and 228 men left who were ready for use in combat, this even included the divisional Fusilier Company. These troops were gathered at two bases, the Bovenberg farm and east of Hücheln. No longer did there exist a radio connection to 103 and 104 due to the heavy losses of equipment; the motorized messenger unit had lost half of its machines to the heavy artillery fire that was concentrated on the few remaining roads. The officers of the divisional staff were the only remaining means to keep contact.
11/22-11/26: Daily attacks could repeatedly be repelled at Kammerbusch. The strong defense of that position by CE BAT 147 worked quite well. The enemy shelled this base almost constantly with artillery fire and the use of fighter-bombers. Daily doses of 8000 artillery shells and 1000 bombs were not exceptional.
Meanwhile Nothberg, in the sector of the neighboring division to the right, had fallen to the enemy and subsequently an attack against Hücheln had been initiated from the west. On the 24th, Reg 103 succumbed to this attack, which was coupled with another offensive from the south against Hücheln through Bovenberg, conducted by 3rd American arm. (abbreviation used in original, probably armored division). Survivors gathered in Frenzerburg and were transferred to 12th VGD. Since this division was unable to plug the gap that had been opened near Hücheln, it must have been due to poor enemy intelligence that the enemy did not move against Langerwehe on the 25th, in order to conquer the Kammerbusch base.
GrenReg 115 was still tied down in combat in the woods. Two enemy companies that had been able to surprisingly fight their way into Merode Castle were cut off and destroyed. The line in the woods was held, by and large, from Point 245 (1 km west of Merode) to Point 278 (2 km west of the Hardt farm), in seesaw combat that brought heavy losses to both sides.
11/27: A massive early morning attack overran Kammerbusch after the base commander, CO of CEBat 147, had been severely wounded and was unable to stay on his post. The Americans pursued in two columns . The western wing penetrated the southernmost parts of Langerwehe by noon, the eastern wing penetrated Jüngersdorf. The advance battalion of 3rd ParaDiv, brought in to relieve 47th VGD, got caught in the tank attack and was wiped out.
With hindsight one can see that the heavy losses of the Americans in the Kammerbusch sector – 1st US InfDiv alone reported 581 casualties on the 26th and 27th – had taken such a strain on the enemy that no further advance all the way to Düren was possible at that day. This made it possible for 3rd ParaDiv to plug the gap during the night 27th-28th.
Groggy but battle-hardened from 11 days of heavy combat in the woods, 47th VGD was eventually relieved that very same night and transferred by LXXXI. Army Corps to the Wollersheim-Sinzenich-Vlatten area to get some rest. The new divisional command post was in Bürvenich. All hinged on how fast the relieving troops could brought up and get their tasks assigned and then the new troops had to improve their poor state of training that had gotten increasingly worse at that time.
11/29-12/11: This absolutely necessary rest was denied by the immediate deployment of all units of the division that could still fight, ordered by LXXXI Army Corps, to a new base Kreuzau-Obermeubach across the Roer river, and secondly by the delay of the arrival of the reinforcements. In order to get the requested three battalions into that new position, every officer, NCO, and grenadier who could still fight had to be assigned to one of these battalions. The cadre of II. Bat of the regiment did no longer exist after that shuffle. But when the expected arrival 3000 men reinforcements were announced, the order was given to refurbish that battalion and to bring it back to the front, unfortunately this did not work. The reinforcements that in fact did arrive on 12/8 thus could only be assigned to units for the time being in a patchwork fashion. Nobody knew anybody in these reinforced companies, there had been absolutely no corpse spirit developed through training. These were just a bunch of men without any ties. It is almost too much to waste any criticism on that system.
This was the situation when new orders arrived. Back to the sector Düren, into the heat of battle, where 3rd ParaDiv had been as worn-out by 11 days of battle as 47th VGD in November. All protest, with regard to the bad shape of the division, were sharply rejected. To top things off, the orders had been wrongly transmitted by LXXXI Army Corps. This led to a time-intensive investigation of the CO of the division by corps and army and furthermore it led to the deployment of the division in a various positions. At first there was only one InfReg on base, in a sector that seemed to be imprecisely defined. Only at the time reinforcements arrived to relieve the regiment that had been under heavy enemy attacks we were able to clearly define the boundaries of our sector.
12/12: In the night 12/11-12/12 we relieved GrenReg 104 in the sector Hoven-Mariaweiler. Here the regiment was hit in the morning by the attack of two enemy InfRegs and one Combat Command (English title used in the original). Hoven was lost to the initial wave of attack, the fight for Mariaweiler raged into the evening hours. The enemy had penetrated here in the afternoon but then could be repelled by counterattacks from II./104 and held only the eastern part of the village. The battalion, however, did no longer have the strength to fully regain possession of Mariaweiler because the anti-tank formations were no longer sufficient. This was the result of the premature destruction of the guns of the heavy Heeres-Panzer Abwehr Abteilung (anti-tank unit of the army) that was under direct orders of the corps.
12/13 and 12/14: The continuous enemy attacks on the 13th drove the remainders of GrenReg 104 back out of Mariaweiler because the regiment was inferior in house-to-house combat. At least it was possible to hold on to the Grünthal factory and to cover the troops that destroyed the railroad-bridge over the Roer.
Reg 115, just south of there, that had relieved (there seems to be an error in the original) in the night of the 13th now stood in heavy defensive combat in and near Gürzenich against the 83rd American InfDiv with support of a CC (Combat Command?), which attacked from the direction of the Hardt farm. In that area the anti-tank guns had also been blown up but the regiment managed to hold its ground until noon of the 15th despite being assaulted from three sides.
But when the enemy penetrated Birgel, defended by the southern neighbors, the Reserve Battalion of 47th Div was ordered by LXXXI Corps to counterattack from Rölsdorf. This was an eccentric order because there would be no tank support and the attack, planned for late afternoon of the 14th, had to be carried-out across nearly open field. The goal was to recapture the village. To leave the battalion under command of 47th division was a mistake because the division itself could not support the attack since we could not get close to the regiment. Despite all that the attack looked like a success but then the battalion was cut off in Birgel, held its ground until the 15th while destroying four enemy tanks with anti-tank grenade launchers, but then was wiped-out. One-sixth of the division was once again lost and the southern flank was wide open.
12/15 and 12/16: The seesaw battle for Gürzenich, attacks and counterattacks inside the quite long and convoluted village, was terminated in the evening of the 15th, when a new front was built around Rölsdorf which in turn held up until the 16th. But even this clinging to an unnecessary bridgehead that had repeatedly been ordered from the top of the command was made impossible when Reg 104 had to withdraw beyond the Roer on the 16th. Now the defenders of Rölsdorf were in a hopeless situation.
12/17: Only now, in the evening of this day, the authorization arrived to change banks, to cross the Roer. The division regrouped on the other bank of the river, the right wing near the blown-up Autobahnbridge, the left wing in Krauthausen Süd. The bases that had been prepared, or so we had been told, were actually completely useless. The so-called first line of trenches still stood under water, a consequence of the damming up of the Roer.
The division now had to prepare an attack across the Rur, a task that was related to the Ardennen offensive (Battle of the Bulge). This was done within the demanded time frame despite the bad shape the division was in thanks to our energy and improvisational skills. But it only could be completed because the enemy did not pursue across the river. Even now that the remaining forces of the division were too weak to tie up the enemy for long, every soldier of the division believed in the significance of his contribution to this last, great German offensive despite the fact that the tactical situation was unfortunate due to the small sector we could use for the attack and the danger of encirclement.
The days before the attack were filled with constant reconnaissance work across the river that now had a high-water mark, with the construction of additional equipment, with mock-river-crossings at night, and with the fine-tuning of the artillery and heavy guns.
12/19: On 12/19 the division fell in line under fog cover on both sides of the Düren road and railroad bridge across the river. The crossing went smoothly. The enemy defensive fire was aiming too high and the battle advanced into the villages of Roerfeld and Rölsdorf. The small corridors for the attack, a consequence of the extreme high-water mark channeled the spearheads into narrow and deep spaces. It was clear by afternoon already that the lofty goals set by the High Command could never be achieved. At least the division made prisoner, shot and disable a few enemy tanks, and captured materiel. But in the evening the division had reached the limits of its strength and stood in a line Grünthal-Gürzenich Nord-Rölsdorf Süd. Seven of the nine tank chasers were out of order but at least we had been able to recover all but one.
12/20/44-1/5-45: The division held its ground against numerous enemy attacks on the 20th. In the night of the 20th-21th we were thrown back into our initial position. Here the division could repel enemy reconnaissance attacks over the next days and now finally had a chance to integrate the reinforcements, which had been impossible in early December. This meant training in the trenches, but most of all the assignment of capable NCOs that had been trained by the field reserve battalion, which in the mean time had been created with unspeakable difficulty during combat. Spirit and attitude of the officers improved significantly within the next days, not the least because of newly arrived officers who finally allowed us to close the gaps among the commanders and platoon leaders. Despite its tremendous bloodletting, the division was ready for combat again on 1/5 when she was taken out of the order of battle and marched across the Rhine for new deployment. With that we left 15th Army.
The division has fought in the Third Battle of Aachen in the most dangerous positions against an enemy that was superior in numbers by far and she had suffered casualties that were unusually high even at that time. The reasons have been presented clearly and irrefutably. Despite these losses, the weak remainders have always gathered around their regimental commanders as combat groups and kept on fighting in a hopeless battle. This helped to avoid enemy breakthroughs and it also made it possible to keep the troops designated for the Ardennes offensive out of the defensive battles. The division gained the experience, attitude, and fighting spirit – even if only with severe losses – that enabled it to be one of the few German divisions in the West to do its duty until the day of the cease-fire.
Signed Max Bork