The Battle of Aachen - Part Two
The Battle of Aachen (7-21 October 1944) – Part Two:
There are two elements in the Battle of Aachen that have received less attention than others. The first was the tactical air operations, and the second concerned the breach - the break into the city.
USAAF IX Tactical Air Force
In strategic bombing participation, the USAAF bombed Aachen three times. Each raid either involved testing equipment, like bombsights, or the initiation into bombing techniques over Germany. Tactical air operations however, took a major part supporting the allied armies in Western Europe and made a significant impact in the combined operations against Aachen. The US IX Tactical Air Force carried out fighter-bomber sorties from 8-20 October under direction from US VII Corps air liaison officers. The Ninth assigned 367th Group (P38), 373rd Group (P47) and the 404th Group (P47’s) - more than 300 aircraft assigned to support the ground operations.
The official history recorded only a select few of the operations. Until the 10 October, air operations were directed at supporting the breach or suppressing German counter attacks. They were redirected to dropping heavier ordnances loads on defensive positions. On 11 October, the air force delivered 62 tonnes of high explosive bombs and then 99 tonnes the next day. On 13th, 1st US Infantry Division reported: ‘allied air was active in the vicinity of Aachen’. The air support dropped only 11.5 tons of bombs, which marked the switch to field artillery, which was reported to be delivering 28.5 tons of high explosives per day. On 14th, a squadron of P.38 Lightnings was assigned to ‘top cover’ from 5.30pm until fifty minutes after darkness. Afterwards, the Luftwaffe conducted night raids on American positions. On 15 October, P-47s from 48th Fighter Group dispersed a German counterattack nearby Aachen. They ‘strafed the enemy around 25 feet from our own front lines and “did a beautiful job”. On 16th, at 7.45pm the troops reported: ‘Strafing mission by our planes was terrific. We laid out yellow smoke and they came right down on the Germans.’ On 20 October, the 404th Fighter Bomber Group was assigned to support operations. At 9.15pm the Air Support Party Officer announced: ‘Air situation has changed completely. No more air alert missions for us. They are going back to old system of request missions and most of the planes will be put on armed reconnaissance, railroad cutting east and west of the Rhine River and finding targets of their own.’
The break into the city by US troops was under reported. Events on the ground in the period 8-14 October are not entirely clear cut. The US ultimatum to the German commander was rejected on 10 October. The US 26th Infantry Regiment was assigned the task to clear the city and two battalions were deployed – the 2nd under Lt.Col. Derrill M. Daniel directed at the centre of the city; and 3rd under Lt.Col. John T. Corley directed toward the northern area of industry and Haaren. Daniel’s post-battle report indicates the troops spent two days prior to the ultimatum making good the preparations for the breach in the event it was refused. While Daniel’s battalion consolidated its positions behind the railway embankment at Rothe Erde, Corley’s battalion moved into Eilendorf. The breach commenced on 11 October, with both battalions surging forward under constant artillery barrage and air support.
A wall poster marking the 75th anniversary of the battle. The city placed a banner commemorating the the breakthrough the railway station. The interesting feature of the picture, is the remains of the door frame piled against the wall to the right where the 2 GI's were working. Picture from 14 October.
however, an official history of the division identifies the railway entrance still largely intact after the breach.. Picture from before 14 October.
The scale of devastation around the breach points was enormous.
The view of the embankment the Americans faced prior to making the breach.
Looking down from the platform at the drop to the far side.
Looking up towards the American positions.
A photograph taken near to the breach, with the camera pointing towards the city centre, but also showing how corners of buildings were destroyed with direct fire. (copyright US Army Signals Corps).
The corner building today, not renovated indicated the destruction was severe.
Looking towards the breach and this reveals why they went over the bridge which had been destroyed to form a road block.
To the left of the breach the buildings were completely flattened, which provides an indication of the amount of ordinance used to smash all resistance.
Further down the street the houses were less damaged.
To the right. the shells of former buildings are ghosts of the past, but seriously damaged in fighting.
We now know the full extent of the destruction and heavy fighting in the first few hours at the two breach points. The clearances were only achieved when heavy SP artillery were deployed after the initial assault and used to removed resistance points through fire. The Signals Corps and the press were eventually allowed into the city on 14 October, and much of the action we include in the history was staged.
Tank destroyer driving toward the city centre a week after the breach.