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The Rhineland: Operation Market Garden

First Army plans for taking Aachen called for an encirclement of the city by Maj. Gen. Charles H. Corlett's XIX Corps and Maj. Gen. J. Lawton Collins' VII Corps. The XIX Corps attacked the West Wall north of the city on 2 October, leading with Maj. Gen. Leland S. Hobbs' 30th Division. To the south, Maj. Gen. Clarence R. Huebner's veteran 1st Infantry Division spearheaded the VII Corps assault on 8 October.

The 1st Division's 18th Infantry, under the command of Col. George A. Smith, Jr., had the mission of sweeping to the north of Aachen to link up with the 30th Division and close the trap around the city. In the 18th Infantry's way loomed Crucifix Hill, a pillbox-studded position key to the defense of Aachen. When Capt. Bobbie E. Brown's Company C attempted to take the hill, it was quickly pinned down by heavy enemy small arms and artillery fire. Realizing that only the destruction of the German pillboxes would stop the slaughter of his company, Brown grabbed a pole charge and rushed the German bunkers, successively destroying three pillboxes by shoving explosives into their firing slits. Although wounded, he then led his company in throwing back two determined enemy counterattacks, refusing evacuation until convinced that his company's position on the hill was secure. For his actions, Brown received the Medal of Honor.

On 10 October Aachen's garrison received an ultimatum to surrender unconditionally in twenty-four hours or face absolute destruction. The Germans, ordered to make a 'last stand' by Hitler himself, refused. The assault on the city proper began on 11 October with an aerial bombardment by some 300 fighter bombers of the IX Tactical Air Command and a barrage by twelve artillery battalions. On 12 October, the 1st Division's 26th Infantry moved into the city and began the bitter 'house to house and sewer to sewer' fighting that characterized the battle. By 16 October elements of the 30th Division's ll9th Infantry and the 18th Infantry had encircled the city, but the remnants of the German garrison held out, surrendering only on 21 October. In the end, the German commander succumbed to the futility of further resistance, noting that, 'When the Americans start using 155s as sniper weapons, it is time to give up.' The First Army paid a heavy price for its operations from 2-21 October, sustaining nearly 10,000 casualties. Nevertheless, Hodges could now turn his full attention to the upcoming attack to the Rhine. While the First Army struggled to capture Aachen, Patton's Third Army grappled with the problem of reducing the Metz fortification system. Both the city and its surrounding defenses blocked his path to the Saar and could not be bypassed. The key to 'Fortress Metz' was Fort Driant, a formidable bastion located atop a 360-meter-high hill on the west bank of the Moselle River. Observers in the fort could direct fire from artillery in the southern sector of the Metz area, while Driant's own 100- and 150-mm. batteries, hidden in casemates with seven-foot-thick reinforced concrete walls, covered the approaches along the Moselle. Furthermore, the fort had an elaborate system of bunkers and observation posts, all connected by underground tunnels.


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