The Huertgen Forest was a dense, primordial woods of tall fir trees, deep gorges, high ridges, and narrow trails: terrain ideally suited to the defense. The Germans had carefully augmented its natural obstacles with extensive minefields and carefully prepared positions because they realized something the Allies had not yet fully grasped--losing Schmidt exposed the Roer River dams to attack. So long as the Germans controlled the dams, they could flood the Roer River Valley, thereby destroying Allied tactical bridging and trapping any units that had crossed the river. These isolated forces could then be destroyed by German reserves. Consequently, the Germans were determined to hold Schmidt, knowing the almost impenetrable terrain of the Huertgen Forest would add depth to their defense and neutralize the American superiority in aircraft, tanks, and artillery.
The soldiers of the First Army were no strangers to the Huertgen Forest. In late September, the 60th Infantry of Maj. Gen. Louis A. Craig's 9th Infantry Division had tried to attack directly through the forest to capture the Huertgen-Kleinhau road network. The regiment withdrew after a brief, but bloody, encounter with the German defenders. From 6-16 October, the 9th Division again entered the Huertgen with Schmidt its objective. The division's two attacking regiments pushed some 3,000 yards into the forest at a cost of 4,500 casualties. As the soldiers of the 28th replaced those of the 9th Division on 26 October, they were struck by the fact that the men they relieved were "tired, unshaven, dirty, and nervous" and "bore the telltale signs of a tough fight." In addition to the rigors of the forest, the 28th Division would also have to contend with miserable late autumn weather. Although strongly reinforced with tanks, tank destroyers, engineers, and artillery, Cota shared the foreboding of his men. He later recalled that he believed the 28th Division had only "a gamblers chance" at success. Rain, fog, and poor visibility postponed the attack from 31 October to 2 November. At 0800, artillery from V Corps, VII Corps, and the 28th Division shattered the morning calm with an hour-long preparation of over 11,000 rounds. At 0900, Lt. Col. Carl L. Peterson's 112th Infantry, the 28th's main effort, began its attack from Germeter to take Schmidt. But as soon as Peterson's lead companies crossed the line of departure, they began taking casualties from German artillery fire. The Germans had perfected the method of firing into the tops of the huge firs of the forest, hence combining deadly wood splinters with the fragments of their artillery shells. Nevertheless, the regiment continued to advance, and by the evening of 3 November a battalion of the 112th controlled Schmidt. Although the progress of the 28th's other regiments was behind schedule, Cota and his staff were pleased, if somewhat surprised, with the unexpectedly easy capture of the town.
The German response to the capture of Schmidt came on the morning of 4 November. Following an artillery barrage, German tanks and infantry pushed the U.S. soldiers out of the town with some 200 American survivors joining the 112th's other defenses in nearby Kommerscheidt. The Germans continued to press their attack. The tanks and tank destroyers attached to the 28th Division were no match for the German Mark IV and V tanks, while the American infantrymen's bazooka rounds merely bounced off the thick German armor. First Lt. Turney W. Leonard, a platoon leader with Company C, 893d Tank Destroyer Battalion, won the Medal of Honor in the desperate defense at Kommerscheidt, which saw Leonard's armored vehicles destroy six enemy tanks and the lieutenant rally several infantry units whose leaders had become casualties. Nevertheless, on 7 November, the 112th abandoned Kommerscheidt.Page 10 (The Rhineland)