Battle of Hürtgen Forest, The: The History of the Longest Battle Fought in Germany during World War II

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While the Battle of the Bulge is the most famous fighting in that theater after D-Day, the Battle of Hürtgen Forest cost American forces almost 60,000 battle casualties, and over 70,000 non-battle casualties from illness and accidents. Countless soldiers suffered from what was then known as “combat fatigue,” leaving them psychologically broken and no longer capable of fighting. British and Canadian forces, who became involved in the latter stages of the battle, suffered an additional 16,000 casualties.

In exchange for these casualties, little ground was gained and no tactical or strategic advantage was achieved. Indeed, the battle was a resounding defeat for the Allies, which explains why it was barely reported in contemporary newspapers. Few reporters were allowed into the “Green Hell” that the forest became and, while thousands of Allied soldiers became casualties, newspaper reports at home claimed that the front was generally quiet.

It wasn’t until much later that historians revealed the extent and horror of the fighting in this relatively small forest on the border between Belgium and Germany. It took almost 50 years for the first major book to be published about the battle, despite the fact it was the longest single battle ever fought by the U.S. Army. When it became known, the story of the Battle of Hürtgen Forest was horrifying. Nowhere else in World War II were so many Allied lives lost over such a long period and for so little ground gained. Many U.S. Army units suffered 50% casualty rates during the battle, and a few units suffered 100% casualties during the battle. Some commanders refused to order their men forward, and at one point, the advance was measured in terms of one dead or wounded U.S. soldier for every square yard of ground gained. The 50 square miles of the Hürtgen forest became known to the soldiers of the U.S. Army simply as the “Death Factory.”