OUR INHERITANCE Past, Present and Future Part 12
by Loretta Leonard
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DEVASTATION OF AACHEN
Overview: October 24, 1944 the Allies fight valiantly to capture the center of Hitlerís rule and gain a military advantage over the Axis powers in Europe. The victory at Aachen enabled the Allies to push the Germans further inland and aided their progress into the industrialized are near the Rhine River.
Numerous rumors had been circulated about the ingenuity of the Germans and the areas where they would most likely be seen. This new mission was direct and to the point: move steadily towards Aachen, gain entrance into the city and destroy Germany at the very center of Hitlerís Third Reich. The Allies anticipated heavy intense fighting along the way and knew that overpowering Hitlerís forces in Aachen would not come easily. Tucked away near the border of Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands a victory here would initiate a momentum for the Allied troops and help turn the war in favor of the Allies. Completing that mission would take five long and arduous months. The military skirmishes left many cities devastated by the heavy pummeling of the tanks and their massive mortar shells. Fatalities mounted daily as more and more soldiers literally gave their life for their country.
In the early morning hours the bright sun streamed through the branches of the hardwood trees in the forest. The orange, red, and yellow colors of fall provided a palette of hues that would motivate any artist to capture the serene beauty on canvas. It seemed like an ordinary day yet deep inside the wooded area a group of soldiers prepared for their greatest mission. Under the careful supervision of the commanding officer, the group banded in the center of camp and intently listened to the specific directions and precautions for the obvious battle ahead.
ďThe plan is for all of us to move around the perimeter of Aachen and surround the city keeping the Germans from leaving the area. Keep in close communication with one another and expect plenty of unyielding resistance,Ē ordered Sergeant Matthews.
The men nodded in agreement. There was not a man in the regiment that did not understand the complexity of the struggle for power. They knew that Hitler would doggedly fight harder here than at any other battle they had already struggled to win.
Packing up their gear and slinging rifles over their shoulders, the men one by one prepared for the turmoil that would be ahead. From the small town of Liege it was only a short distance to Aachen, the center of Hitlerís reign. Everyone knew that Hitler would not surrender at Aachen without a long exhaustive and tiring struggle.
Deep within the mind of each soldier laid the grim reality of the day ahead. An encounter against Germany could obviously mean instant death. The Germans had a real advantage over the Allies since they knew the layout of the area. Every building, every twist and turn on the streets, and every vantage point which would give them an advantage over the infantry was etched in the mind of each German that lived in the city. 165,000 soldiers occupied the city and only a few civilians had learned to coexist with the Nazi troops. It would be a strenuous and tough confrontation but they needed to stop the German advancement. It was time to stop all the atrocities that demeaned so many people and left them at the mercy of Hitler. More than anyone else the Jews had suffered by being rounded up like cattle and taken to concentration camps where death was a reality. There was way too much killing, too many unrealistic demands and too great a risk to allow the Nazi party to invade even more countries. It was time to put an immediate stop to the German encroachment into surrounding areas..
Just outside the city the divisions panned out in different directions. The offensive started with a rapid shelling of the city from all directions. Most of the infantry approached the area from the north and south. As the men surrounded the city they noticed that the area was surprisingly quiet, almost like it was unoccupied. No matter how the city looked or sounded, everyone suspected that a large number of German soldiers waited inside. Blocking any exit from the city, The Allies fought valiantly. Carefully calibrated rifles were loaded with ammunition, heavily manned tanks with scopes, and hand grenades were all part of the ground movement into the city. Large formations of airplanes dotted the sky and pummeled the city from above. The combined Allied Army and Air Force cooperated in a full scale maneuver to hammer the city non-stop.
The infamous German pillbox protected the city from invasion and also provided protection from the air raids. Soldiers quickly took their own assigned positions as an effort to counterattack the Allies who threatened to enter the city. Aachen would not fall easily due to its importance as a historical city. Rich in Roman heritage that dated as far back to Charlemagne in 768 AD, Aachen was important in the history of western Europe. Hitler would continue to place soldier after soldier on positions throughout the city in an attempt to maintain his command center.
Inside Aachen some Germans immediately returned fire but more of the troops chose to stay hidden deep within the city where they would have a distinct advantage over the Allies. They remained hidden behind doorways, lurking beneath broken windows, or crouching down near street corners where they were not easily visible to the Allies. In the taller buildings the Germans looked down from above on the Allied advancement. They had a perfect view of the street below and could quickly shoot GIís with accuracy. Sometimes the city remained chillingly quiet and at other times the barrage of gunfire rang out with such noise that it was almost deafening to the ears of the soldiers. No one could chance to lose his concentration. Communication and caution had to be used every step of the way. The risk of forgetting, even for one second, the military training each man had received could be fatal.
Fires burned throughout the city and smoke disguised easy visibility of as the artillery mercilessly engaged the city. Military planes dropped bomb after bomb and as one group left the area another team of planes took position and bombarded the area again. Access to the railroad tracks gave an entry point for entering the city. Although the original plan was to circle the city and prevent the enemy from leaving it soon became apparent that there was no other way to finish off the take-over of Aachen. The city would have to be entered and operations inside would require meticulous searching through every part of the city.
Determinedly and without hesitation the Allied soldiers moved into other parts of the city. By the time the Allies decided to change battle tactics, the town lay in ruins. Huge piles of brick rubble blocked the streets in many areas. The central park area which once held great social events was leveled. Debris from earlier attacks and areas where grenades had found their target made the city difficult to capture. Heavy tanks working their way into the city would run over shards of glass which punctured the huge tires. At every window, every door, every floor of each building and every street corner there was the possibility of German entrapment. Conniving German snipers who knew exactly where they could hide and best attack the Allies knew the best locations for counterattack.
One block at a time, one street at a time, and one building at a time the men merged into the city to determine if that sector of Aachen was occupied. Filled with fatigue and muddy from the rain that dampened the day, GIís tensed their bodies and moved their eyes quickly from side to side to be certain that they could not detect any movement. Binoculars were used to scan down the street to observe any movement or a possible dead end street. Communication was essential to relay information back to the other troops. It was a long and difficult conflict that tested the endurance of each soldier.
It took approximately ten days to completely overtake the city but with the downfall of Aachen the Allies could move further into Germany. Access into other major industrialized cities along the Rhine River would thwart German manufacturing and stop shipment of supplies into critical areas. It was a starting point and the slow downslide of German occupation. Slowly over the next few months the Allies would gain access to the Rhine River and shortly afterward the war would end. All because of a victory at Aachen.
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