In the early years of World War Two, the German Army amply demonstrated its ability to exploit victory to the fullest. After the tide had turned against the Germans, it became apparent that they also possessed the more outstanding ability to quickly recover from a defeat before their opponents could thoroughly exploit their success. Less than a month after suffering an in-apparently decisive defeat in which it was crushed and battered beyond recognition, the German 7.Army (Branderberger) established a coherent front line from the Meuse River to the Schnee Eifel Range in September 1944. Committed in this wide arc and supported by a motley conglomeration of last-ditch reserves, the army’s remaining elements successfully defended the approaches to the Reich. During its withdrawal from Falaise to the West Wall, the 7.Army passed through three distinct phases.
The 7.Army rout following narrowly averted annihilation in the Falaise Pocket. The 7.Army ceased to exist as an independent organization. The 7.Army shattered remnants were attached to Manteufell’s 5.Panzer-Army until Sept 4, 1944, then was apparently reconstituted under the command of Gen Erich Brandenberger. The 7.Army then passed through the phase of delaying action while it reorganized its forces and re-established the semblance of a front line. Despite persistent orders from above to defend every foot of ground, Brandenberger realized that a fairly rapid withdrawal was called for if his forces were to reach the West Wall ahead of American spearheads. So, delaying action ended officially on Sept 9, 1944, when the 7.Army was charged with the defense of the West Wall in the Maastricht – Aachen – Bitburg sectors. Along with the fortifications the army took over all headquarters and troops stationed in this area. Of the 7.Army’s 3 Corps, the LXXXI Corps (Schack) was assigned the northern sector of the West Wall from Herzogenrath to Düren with position to Rollesbroich and the Huertgen Forest sector; the LXXIV Corps (Straube) was committed in the center from Roetgen to Ormont and the 1.SS-Panzer-Corps (Keppler) was to defend the West Wall in the Schnee Eifel sector from Ormont to the boundary with the 1.Army (von Knobelsdorff) at Diekirch, Luxembourg.
When the US VII Corps (Collins) launched its reconnaissance in force on September 12, the 7.Army was in the midst of this process of transition. While some of its elements had already occupied their assigned West Wall sectors, others were still fighting a delaying action well forward of the bunker line.
German Defenses – Aachen & Stolberg Corridor
On Sept 12, the forces of the LXXXI Corps (Schack) were committed from Breust on the Meuse River eastward to Hombourg and Moresnet thence south along the West Wall to the boundary with the LXXIV Corps (Straube) in Eupen – Roetgen – Zülpich – Bonn. Four badly mauled understrength divisions were committed in the LXXXI Corps front line. In the northwestern sector, between the Meuse River and the Aachen area, the 275.Infantry-Division and the 49.Infantry-Division held the line against the US XIX Corps.
In the southeastern half of the LXXXI Corps zone opposite the US VII Corps, the 116.Panzer-Division (von Waldenburg) and the 9.Panzer-Division (Mueller) faced the US 1-ID (Huebner) and the 3-AD (Rose). The sector of the 116.Panzer-Division was defined in the northwest by the boundary with the 49.Infantry-Division, Hombourg – Schneeberg Hill – along the West Wall to Bardenberg. In the southeast the boundary with the 9.Panzer-Division, Welkenraedt via Hauset and Brand to Stolberg. The organic strength of the 116.Panzer-Division, was organized in two armored regiments, the 60.Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment and the 156.Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment with the 116.Panzer-Aufklarung-Abteilung and the 116.Panzer-Artillerie-Regiment.
The 9.Panzer-Division had only arrived in the LXXXI Corps zone on Sept 11. Its sector extended from the boundary with the 116.Panzer-Division to the boundary with the LXXIV Corps. According to Brandenberger, its first wave had consisted of but 3 companies of panzer grenadiers (advance detachment of either the 10.Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment or the 11.Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment), 1 engineer company, and 2 batteries of artillery. Gen Schack amalgamated these elements with the remaining forces of the 105.Panzer-Brigade (Volker).
Since its attachment to the LXXXI Corps on Sept 3, this Tank Brigade had lost most of its armored infantry battalion and all but ten of its tanks. Instead of committing the weak elements of the 9.Panzer-Division in the West Wall, the LXXXI Corps had found it necessary to send these forces into the front line. Badly mauled on their first day of action, as was to be expected, the remaining elements of the Kampfgruppe 9.Panzer had assembled in Eynatten during the night of Sept 11/12. They were to fight a delaying action back to their West Wall sector while all other elements of the division still en route from their assembly area at Kaiserslautern were to be committed immediately in the West Wall upon arrival. In addition to the units enumerated above, the LXXXI Corps also commanded the 353.Infantry-Division (Gen Paul Mahlmann). This division was exhausted and possessed very few organic contingents. Far too weak to be committed in a front line sector, its headquarters and remaining elements were moved to the assigned West Wall sectors of the 116.Panzer-Division and the 9.Panzer-Division to establish liaison with the various headquarters and local defense units in the rear of the LXXXI Corps.
On Sept 9, the 7.Army had attached to the LXXXI Corps the Wehrmachtbefehlshaber (Military Governor) for Belgium and northern France with his staff and troops, the Kampfkommandant of Aachen (von Osterroth), the 253.Grenadier-Training-Regiment of the 526.Reserve-Division, (the other two regiments of the 526.Reserve-Division, the 416.Grenadier-Training-Regiment and the 536.Grenadier-Training-Regiment, were attached to the LXXIV Corps while the division headquarters, at Euskirchen, remained directly subordinated to the 7.Army) and a strange assortment of independent battalions representing the proverbial bottom of the barrel. Some of these were Luftwaffe Fortress Battalions, Luftwaffe troops organized into infantry battalions usually without sufficient training and poorly armed; others were called Landesschuetzen Battalions a term vaguely equivalent to home guard and these Landesschuetzen Battalions were usually composed of men from fifty to sixty years old which were quite inadequately armed, without heavy weapons, and composed of men as old as the hills. The situation in the LXXXI Corps area was complicated further by the presence of the Nazi Police and Hitler Youth detachments who attempted to make themselves useful by doing such work on the West Wall as they saw fit but refused to cooperate with the military.
The various independent battalions described above were subordinated to the 353.Infantry-Division (Mahlmann) prior to their commitment to the front line divisions. By order of the Commander in Chief of the Army Group B (GFM Walter Model) the newly arrived 8., 12. and 19.Luftwaffe-Fortress-Battalions were attached to 353.Infantry-Division on condition that they would be employed only in defense of the West Wall. The division reported that by 1800 on Sept 12. So, the Schill Line, the eastern and more strongly fortified bunker belt of the West Wall, would be occupied by the 19.Luftwaffe-Fortress-Battalion committed in the area northwest of Würselen northeast of Aachen, the 3.Landesschuetz-Battalion in the area northwest of Stolberg, the 12.Luftwaffe-Fortress-Battalion also in the vicinity of Stolberg, and the 2.Landesschuetz-Battalion south of Stolberg. The 8.Luftwaffe-Fortress-Battalion was designated 353.Infantry-Division-Reserve. Gen Schack learned on Sept 12 that the first of three full-strength divisions, the 12.Infantry-Division (Engel), the 183.Volksgrenadier-Division (Lange) and the 246.Volksgrenadier-Division (Wilck), destined to reinforce the Aachen area during Sept 1944 would arrive in the LXXXI Corps sector in a few days. Hitler had ordered the 12.Infantry-Division, just rehabilitated in East Prussia after service on the Eastern Front, to begin training for the Aachen sector at 0001 on Sept 14. Southwest of Aachen the forces of the 116.Panzer-Division (von Waldenburg) enjoyed an uneventful night from Sept 11 to Sept 12. This enabled them at 0800 on Sept 12 to occupy positions in Belgium along the railroad from Hombourg to Moresnet and from Moresnet along the Gueule River Creek via Hergenrath to Hauset. The object was to establish a coherent defense line which, based on a railway tunnel and a creek, would facilitate AT defense. The division committed the 156.Panzergrenadier-Regiment on the right, between Hombourg and Moresnet, and the 60.Panzergrenadier-Regiment on the left along the Gueule River. The 116.Panzer-Recon-Battalion was disengaged and recommitted at daybreak north of the Gueule River with the mission to establish contact with the 9.Panzer-Division in Eynatten, Belgium.
The forces of the 116.Panzer-Division found their mobility greatly restricted by the work of overeager German demolition engineers who had destroyed all the Gueule Creek crossings from Moresnet to the north of Eynatten and had blocked all roads leading to the West Wall with the exception of the Moresnet – Gemmenich – Aachen road. These obstacles seriously interfered with Gen von Schwerin’s intention to withdraw to the West Wall on September 12. But during the morning Gen Schack ordered von Schwerin not to occupy his West Wall sector before receiving special orders from the LXXXI Corps, and to hold out in front of the West Wall generally as long as possible. The lull enjoyed by the 116.Panzer-Division was shattered at noon on September 12 when American tanks probed German defenses north of Montzen and Hombourg, Belgium.
Shortly thereafter the storm broke over the heads of the Germans. The American recon was followed up by a tank attack toward Hombourg. At the same time, American armor crossed the railway between Hombourg and Moresnet. American infantry pushed up the road from Hombourg to Voelkerich and Bleyberg. While the 156.Panzergrenadier-Regiment fell back before these attacks, American troops crossed the Gueule River Creek between Moresnet and Hergenrath in the early afternoon and infiltrated the lines of the 60.Panzergrenadier-Regiment. Gen von Schwerin was forced to withdraw at about 1530 in a northwesterly direction from Moresnet along the Gueule River Creek. The peculiar direction of this withdrawal was probably necessitated by the fact that German engineers had blocked the roads leading northeast.
While the 1-ID launched its drive on Aachen and broke through the lines of 116.Panzer-Division, the 3-AD jumped off from Eupen toward Eynatten and crossed the German border at Roetgen in the sector of 9.Panzer-Division. West of the Eupen – Aachen road the Americans took Lontzen and Walhorn; east of the road they pushed into Raeren. From Walhorn they launched a tank attack toward Eynatten, which fell into American hands at 1345. Elements of the 9.Panzer-Division there withdrew northeastward. These elements and the local defense units under the command of 353.Infantry-Division were unable to interfere seriously with American operations.
Later in the afternoon, Gen Schack was disturbed by a civilian report that American forces had occupied Rott at 1800, conveying the impression that they had broken through the West Wall south of Rott. The rumor that the Americans were just south of Rott caused panic among the men of a Luftwaffe AAA unit committed at Rott. The 3.Battery, 889.Light-Flak-Battalion of the 7.Flak-Division smashed the optical equipment of their three 20-MM AAA guns, abandoned their positions, guns, equipment, and belongings, and fled. The cause of the false alarm seems to have been an American armored recon patrol on the Aachen – Monschau road.
In the evening of Sept 12, the 353.Infantry-Division reported American armor converging on Roetgen from the west. Elements of the 253.Grenadier-Traning-Regiment observed American tanks and jeeps followed by strong infantry detachments on personnel carriers moving along the Raeren – Roetgen road. Two American tanks and four armored cars accompanied by infantry pushed into Roetgen. One platoon of the security company in Roetgen (the 328.Reserve-Training-Battalion of the 253.Grenadier-Training-Battalion) was pushed into the southern part of the town.
Intensive infantry fighting developed as American armor advanced to the northern periphery of Roetgen. Keeping out of the range of German AT weapons, the tanks fired into the West Wall bunker embrasures, while American infantry guns laid down a heavy barrage in front of the obstacle wall. Low-flying aircraft attacked the obstacles and defense positions. By 1900 the volume of American artillery and tank fire began to dwindle. The Germans remained in possession of all the West Wall fortifications. An hour later German recon found that the Americans had left Roetgen.
At 2000 Sept 12, American tanks and infantry advancing between the Hergenrath – Aachen road and the Eupen – Aachen road toward the Scharnhorst Line (the first western band of West Wall fortifications) captured Bunker 161 on the Brandenberg Hill, two miles north of Hauset. Forces under the Kampfkommandant of Aachen were immediately committed to a counter-attack to wipe out this American penetration of the West Wall. They failed in this endeavor but were able to stop the American attack temporarily. At the same time, American armored cars and a few tanks also reached the West Wall about half a mile southeast of Schmidthof and apparently decided to lager there for the night.
Late in the evening of Sept 12, Gen Schack issued an order to his divisions which defined their assigned West Wall sectors and outlined the further conduct of the operations. The 116.Panzer-Division was charged with defending the city of Aachen. The Kampfkommandant of Aachen with attached troops were subordinated to the 116.Panzer-Division as were all elements of the 353.Infantry-Division and the 526.Reserve-Division in the sector. The 8.Luftwaffe, the 12.Luftwaffe and the 19.Luftwaffe Battalions as well as the 453.Grenadier-Training-Battalion (253.Grenadier-Training-Regiment). The armored elements of the 116.Panzer-Division were to fall back to the West Wall only in the face of superior American pressure while the attached forces would move into the fortifications ahead of the main body in order to complete the improvement of the positions.
The 9.Panzer-Division, with attached remaining elements of the 105.Panzer-Brigade, was assigned to the defense of the sector between the 116.Panzer-Division and the boundary with the LXXIV Corps (Stolberg Corridor and northern the Wenau Forest). All elements of the 353.Infantry-Division and the 526.Reserve-Division in this sector of the West Wall were attached to the 9.Panzer-Division. These were the HQs of the 253.Grenadier-Training-Regiment (Col Feind), the 328.Reserve-Training-Battalion and the 473.Reserve-Training-Battalion. The division was authorized to withdraw its organic elements to the West Wall only in the face of overwhelming American attacks.
In the West Wall, the main effort of resistance would center around the roads leading toward the fortifications from the south and southeast. The divisions were ordered to station strong outposts forward of the MLR (Main Line of Resistance), equipped with heavy infantry weapons and antitank guns, who were to do all in their power to delay the American advance.
The geographic location of the 9.Panzer-Division sector fated this division to bear the brunt of the Battle of the Stolberg Corridor. Never possessed of organic elements sufficient for an adequate defense, the division also sustained very heavy losses in this action Thus it had to be shored up regularly by all kinds of reinforcements, sometimes of a very dubious value. The designation 9.Panzer-Division became a collective term for a veritable hodgepodge of unrelated armor, antitank, infantry, and artillery units.
In the sectors of the 116.Panzer-Division and the 9.Panzer-Division this outpost line was to extend from west of Gemmenich – west of Hauset – east of Raeren to west of Roetgen. The 353.Infantry-Division received orders to relinquish control of the Scharnhorst Line and all elements committed there to the 116.Panzer-Division and the 9.Panzer-Division. Three Land Battalions, the 1/9, the 2/6, and the 3/6, remained temporarily attached to 353.Infantry-Division for special assignments. (Land Battalions 1/9 and 3/6 were attached to the 9.Panzer-Division two days later).
Following its arrival in the LXXXI Corps zone the anxiously awaited 394.Assault-Gun-Brigade (six or seven assault guns) was to assemble in the vicinity of Brand. In corps reserve, this assault gun brigade would be ready to participate on short notice in counter-attacks with both, the 116. and the 9.Panzer-Divisions. The Artillery Group Aachen, composed of the artillery regiments of the 116.PD and the 353.ID and the Flak Group Aachen was placed under the command of Col Pean, CO of the 116.Panzer-Artillery-Regiment, and received orders to collaborate closely with the 49.ID, the 116.PD and the 9.PD in coordinating its fire with the main effort of defense.
The night from Sept 12 to Sept 13 passed quietly. During the small hours of the morning the 8., the 12., and the 19.Luftwaffe-Fortress-Battalions were attached to the Kampfkommandant of Aachen in order to be committed at daybreak in a counterattack against the American penetration of the Scharnhorst Line on the Brandenberg Hill south of Aachen.
At 0600, Sept 13, the 116.Panzer-Division and the 9.Panzer-Division assumed command of their new West Wall sectors. With some local defense units in the front line, Gen von Schwerin disengaged the organic forces of the 116.Panzer-Division badly in need of regrouping and some rest in order to assemble them in the Richterich – Wurselen area northeast of Aachen. That move made it impossible to commit these forces against the penetration on the Brandenberg Hill before the afternoon. In addition, if the enemy continued to advance and exploit his success, which had to be expected in any event, he could not be prevented from entering the town [Aachen] from the south by noon.
During the same night of Sept 12 to Sept 13, the city of Aachen had been in the grip of chaos. Since Gen von Schwerin was to assume control on Sept 13, he drove into Aachen the evening before on the way to his command post at Laurensberg. He found the population in panic. It was the picture Hitler had made all too familiar in Europe, but now for the first time, the shoe was on the other foot. Women, with small children and babies, had loaded their last possessions on small hand carts and prams and walked into the night without having any idea where to go; they were driven only by fear and the threats of the Party that every person who did not leave the town would be shot as a traitor. Stirred by humane motivations and worried about the effect of the panic and the jammed roads on the morale and mobility of his troops, von Schwerin decided to put an immediate stop to the disorganized flight. When he sent his officers out to contact the police with orders to halt the evacuation, they returned to him with the shocking news that the cowards of the entire police force and all government and Party officials had left Aachen; not one police station was occupied.
Thereupon Gen von Schwerin took matters into his own hands. He sent his officers out once more to persuade the frantic populace to return to their homes. In so doing he exposed himself to the grave charge of having countermanded a Fuehrer order commanding the evacuation of Aachen. On the morning of Sept 13, the city was nearly calm again for the time being all signs of panic had disappeared. All buildings housing the Party and municipal administration were deserted. South of the city Kampfkommandant Col von Osterroth launched another counter-attack against the American penetration at Brandenberg. Osterroth’s attempt of the night before to restore the situation had failed. The Americans were now in possession of the Bunkers 160 and 161 and were feeding additional forces into their salient. All morning attempts by the weak forces under the command of Col von Osterroth to seal off the penetration remained inconclusive.
As mentioned above, Gen von Schwerin’s organic forces were executing a maneuver which prevented them from participating in the fighting southwest of Aachen before late afternoon. He believed that the American penetration at the Brandenberg Hill would develop into a main effort attack against the city, and he knew that the Luftwaffe battalions would be no match for their opponents. Convinced that the Americans would have Aachen occupied in a matter of hours, von Schwerin privately thought this the best solution for the old city. After much searching through empty public buildings, von Schwerin finally found one man still at his post, an official of the telephone service. To him, Gen Schwerin entrusted a letter, written in English, which the official promised to take to the commanding officer of the American forces as soon as they had occupied Aachen. The letter read as follows: (Schwerin); I stopped the absurd evacuation of this town; therefore, I am responsible for the fate of its inhabitants and I ask you, in the case of the occupation by your troops, to take care of the unfortunate population in a humane way. I am the last German Commanding Officer in the sector of Aachen.
In desiring to spare Aachen the terrors of becoming a battleground, von Schwerin deviated sharply from Hitler’s avowed determination to turn the city of Charlemagne into a fortified stronghold where each house would be fanatically defended to give the Allies a foretaste of what to expect inside Germany.
Meanwhile, however, the tactical situation had changed. Gradually it dawned on the Germans that the Americans were not going to exploit their opportunity to walk into Aachen but that they intended, rather, to envelop the city by driving up the Stolberg Corridor in the direction of Eschweiler. By noon on Sept 13, von Osterroth’s men had finally succeeded in sealing off the American salient south of Aachen.
Col von Osterroth thought he could hold the line against the American tanks if the assault guns of 394.Assuault-Gun-Brigage just detrained at the Aachen-Nord RR Station could be committed against them the LXXXI Corps ordered the 116.Panzer-Division to wipe out the American penetration at the Brandenberg Hill at all costs. Unwillingly von Schwerin ordered his division, which had just arrived in the Richterich – Wurselen assembly area, to turn around, march back to the other end of Aachen and assemble there for the counterattack. Although some replacements had arrived in the morning, and the battalions had an average strength of about three hundred men, the fighting power of the division was still low. Only about thirty tanks and assault guns were operationally fit, and the troops were tired and battle weary.
Von Schwerin ordered the 156.Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment to march through the city while the 60.Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment bypassed Aachen on its southern periphery. At 1600, the division jumped off against the American salient at the Brandenberg Hill.
It made some headway against American armored recon which had advanced to the outskirts of the city. The armor withdrew to the break in the German Main Line of Resistance, and the 116.Panzer-Division was able to close the gap, without attempting to recapture the American-held pillboxes after darkness had set in.
September 13/14/15 1944
Rad; (116. Pz Div to LXXXI Corps) 2235 13 Sep 44
LXXXI Corps KTB, Meldungen der Div. ApB, 0100 on 14 Sep 44, A Gp B KTB, Anlagen, Tagesmeldungen, 1.IX. 15.X.44. Referred to hereafter as A Gp B KTB, Tagesmeldungen