The Rhineland: Operation Market Garden
3d Armored Division tanks entrenched outside Breining, Germany. (National Archives)
Weather was a key factor in launching the 12th Army Group's main November offensive. Bradley had planned a huge aerial bombardment, dubbed Operation QUEEN, to precede the ground attack, but overcast skies caused several postponements. On 16 November, however, the skies finally cleared sufficiently and some 4,000 Allied airplanes, including more than 2,400 heavy bombers, dropped over 10,000 tons of bombs on German positions and towns. Unfortunately, the attacking First Army soldiers had been withdrawn some two miles from the German positions as a safety measure. By the time the American forces closed back on the German lines, the defenders had recovered from the shock of the bombing and fought stubbornly.
In the north the Ninth Army's progress, good during the first few days of the offensive, slowed in the face of stiff German resistance. It took the rest of November, and some 10,000 casualties, before Simpson closed to the Roer River in most of his sector. It was tougher in the First Army area. Hodges' main effort, the VII Corps, had to cross difficult terrain before it could reach the Roer. In the north lay the Eschweiler-Weisweiler industrial area, in the center the Hamich ridge, and in the south the killing ground of the Huertgen Forest. By 22 November, Collins had pushed past Eschweiler and Hamich but still had made little progress in the Huertgen.
Hodges was resolved to take the Huertgen Forest and throughout late November and early December threw units from the VII and V Corps into its bloody maw. The 1st Infantry Division, the 4th InfantryDivision, the 8th Infantry Division, the 47th Infantry of the 9th Infantry Division, the 2d Ranger Battalion, the 5th Armored Division's 46th Armored Infantry Battalion and Combat Command Reserve, and numerous supporting units all spent time in the hell that was the Huertgen. After months of fighting, the forest floor had taken on an aspect reminiscent of the ravaged 'no-man's-land' of World War I. Wasted machines and shattered equipment were strewn throughout the forest and the stench, from bodies left in the open, was almost unbearable. The dead had to wait for some future graves registration teams to move them from the forest as the many wounded swamped the overtaxed evacuation system.