GI machine gun
crew in action against German defenders in the streets of Aachen
on 15 October 1944
The Battle of Aachen was a battle in Aachen, Germany, which occurred between 2–21 October 1944. By September 1944, the Wehrmacht had been pushed into Germany proper, after being defeated in France by the Western Allies. During the campaigning in France, German commanders estimated that their total strength only amounted to that of 25 full strength divisions; at the time, the Wehrmacht operated 74 divisions in France. Despite these losses, the Germans were able to retreat to the Siegfried Line and partially rebuild their strength; they were able to bring the total number of combat personnel along the Western Front to roughly 230,000 troops. Although not necessarily well trained, nor well armed, these German defenders were substantially aided by the fortifications which composed the Siegfried Line. During the month of September the first fighting sprung up around Aachen and the city's commander offered to surrender it to the advancing Americans. However, his letter of surrender was discovered by the SS during a raid in Aachen while the civilians were evacuating. Adolf Hitler ordered his immediate arrest and replaced him and his division with Gerhard Wilck's 246th Volksgrenadier Division. The United States' First Army would have to take the city by force.
American commanders decided to envelop the city using the 1st and 30th Infantry divisions, aided by elements of others, and then take the city when it was fully encircled. The city's defense was composed of the German LXXXI Corps, which included four infantry divisions and two understrength German tank formations. During the battle, German defenders would receive another 24,000 reinforcements in the form of a panzer division and a panzergrenadier division, as well as elements of the 1st SS Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler. Although outnumbered by American forces, the defenders were able to make use of dozens of pillboxes and fortifications arrayed around the city.
The 30th Infantry Division's offensive began on 2 October and was immediately bogged down by the German defenses. The aerial and artillery bombardment previous to their attack had failed to inflict major damage on German defenses, and as a result the division's strike against German defenses in the north became bogged down. The 1st Infantry Division launched its own attack on 8 October and managed to take its primary objectives within 48 hours, although it would later be pinned down by continued German counterattacks. Meanwhile, the 30th Infantry Division continued its slow advance, although by 12 October it was still not able to link up with the 1st Infantry Division and complete the encirclement of Aachen. As a result, the 1st Infantry Division detached the 26th Infantry Regiment and prepared for a direct assault on the city before the link up occurred. Fighting for the city took place between 13–21 October and caused heavy loss of life. Despite fierce German resistance, German General Wilck surrendered Aachen to American troops on 21 October, ending the battle. Between 2–21 October the First Army suffered roughly 5,000 casualties in Aachen, while the Germans lost an estimated 5,000 soldiers as casualties and another 5,600 as prisoners of war. (Read more)
Werner Mölders (18 March 1913 – 22 November 1941) was a World War II German Luftwaffe pilot and the leading German fighter ace in the Spanish Civil War. Mölders became the first pilot in aviation history to claim 100 aerial victories—that is, 100 aerial combat encounters resulting in the destruction of the enemy aircraft, and was highly decorated for his achievements. He was instrumental in the development of new fighter tactics which led to the finger-four formation. He died in an air crash in which he was a passenger.
Mölders joined the Luftwaffe in 1934 at age 21. In 1938, he volunteered for service in the Condor Legion, which supported General Francisco Franco's Nationalist side in the Spanish Civil War, and shot down 15 aircraft. In World War II, he lost two wingmen in the Battle of France and the Battle of Britain, but shot down 53 enemy aircraft. With his tally standing at 68 victories, Mölders and his unit, the Jagdgeschwader 51 (JG 51), were transferred to the Eastern Front in June 1941 for the opening of Operation Barbarossa. By the end of 22 June 1941, the first day of Barbarossa, he had added another four victories to his tally and a week later, Mölders surpassed Manfred von Richthofen's 1918 record of 80 victories. By mid-July, he had 100.
Prevented from flying further combat missions for propaganda reasons, at the age of 28 Mölders was promoted to Oberst, and appointed Inspector General of Fighters. He was inspecting the Luftwaffe units in the Crimea when he was ordered to Berlin to attend the state funeral of Ernst Udet, the World War I flying ace. On the flight to Berlin, the Heinkel He 111 in which he was travelling as a passenger encountered a heavy thunderstorm during which one of the aircraft's engines failed. While attempting to land, the Heinkel crashed at Breslau, killing Mölders and two others. The German Wehrmacht of the Third Reich and the Bundeswehr of the Federal Republic of Germany both honoured him by naming two fighter wings, a destroyer and barracks after him.