22nd Infantry Regiment's Experience in the Hürtgen Forest
On 16 November 1944, the 4th Infantry
Division attacked into the Hürtgen Forest as one of ten divisions
participating in a combined offensive by First and Ninth U.S. Armies
to close to the Rhine River.
As one of the infantry regiments of the 4th
Division, the 22nd Infantry spent eighteen days in November and early
December 1944 in the Hürtgen Forest. In a battle many believed
mattered little in the big picture, the 22nd suffered 2773 casualties,
or 85 percent of its normal complement of 3257 soldiers to take one
village and 6000 yards of forest. Each rifle company went into the
action averaging 162 soldiers. Seven days later the rifle companies
averaged eighty-seven men, of whom 42 percent were replacements who
had arrived during the battle. By the end of the battle, losses in the
rifle companies reached an estimated average of 151 percent of their
original strength. Although the 22nd Infantry suffered these very
heavy casualties, the United States Army's practice of replacing
casualties while units were still in combat kept the unit from ever
falling below 75 percent strength. Total replacements amounted to 1988
The conditions of the battle negated the
impact of American superiority in aviation and armor and made the
battle an infantryman's fight from beginning to end. Although massive
amounts of artillery fire assisted the forward movement of the
regiment, the infantry still had to take the ground.
The 22nd was neither poorly trained nor
poorly led. Lieutenant General J. Lawton Collins, the VII Corps
Commander and later Chief of Staff of the Army, considered the 22nd
one of the premier infantry regiments in the ETO. By all accounts, the
regiment's commander, Colonel Charles T. Lanham, and his battalion
commanders were effective leaders. They did what they could to
influence the battle and their attempts to turn the German flanks
reflected tactical sophistication. When possible, they alternated
battalions and companies leading the attack.
The 22nd Infantry entered the Hürtgen
Forest expecting a low cost success. Instead the regiment fought its
way through the woods virtually unsupported in a battle of attrition
against three German divisions and elements of two others. Although
the 22nd suffered more casualties than any other regiment in the Hürtgen,
it lost no ground not immediately recovered. The last days of the
battle saw fresh German battalions breaking through decimated
companies of the 22nd, only to be cut off, killed or captured by other
equally attritted companies rushed into the breach. During the battle
the 22nd captured 764 Germans. There are no extant casualty figures
for the German units, outside those captured, but it must be assumed
the German casualties were at least as high if not higher than those
of the 22nd. German companies suffered the same fate as the 22nd's,
but they lacked the ability to regenerate and were burned in the flame
of the Hürtgen.
Although Colonel Lanham's 22nd Infantry
Regiment was above 75% in strength when it emerged from the Hürtgen,
he considered it fought out. The combat effectiveness of the regiment
crumbled when most of the unit's veterans became casualties. The
soldiers of the regiment did not quit, but at the end there was no
attack left in them.
The evidence suggests the regiment kept
fighting as long as it contained soldiers who had trained together in
the United States or who had significant previous combat experience
within the regiment. These veterans provided a pool of competent
soldiers to replace the junior officers and NCOs when they either
became casualties or were promoted to higher positions during the
battle. As long as there were veterans around whom the replacement
could coalesce, the regiment moved forward. The loss of these small
unit leaders quite possibly dealt a more deadly blow to the regiments
ability to attack than did the loss of the commanders of every rifle
company and battalion.
The backbone of the regiment were the
soldiers, officer and enlisted, who had trained together in the United
The 22nd Infantry Regiments
Experience in the Hürtgen Forest
commences, but falls short of initial objectives.
Unit is successful in seizing Rabenheck Ridge. A 1000 meter
hand carry of wounded and supplies is necessary because MSR is
not opened. Germans opposing 22nd are from the 275th
Battle Casualties 4 officers,
continues, but heavy artillery strikes disrupt it and
the 1st Battalion Commander is killed, and the 3rd Battalion
Commander wounded. Light tanks assigned to support the attack
are limited to the trail network and are ineffective. Supplies
and wounded continue to be hand carried 1000 yards. Both
flanks of the regiment are open.
Battle Casualties 9 officers,
129 enlisted. Replacements 148 enlisted.
continues; heavy artillery strikes continue to disrupt
the attack. 2nd Battalion Commander is wounded. 1st and 2nd
Battalions cross Weisser Weh Road and Stream capturing two
intermediate objectives. The hand carry of wounded and
supplies extends to 1500 yards. Both flanks of regiment are
open and German counterattacks begin.
Battle Casualties 9 officers,
in attack called to reorganize, re-supply and open MSR.
Tanks still unable to get to front lines. Heavy artillery
bombardments continue. Regimental command post hit by bypassed
Germans but holds until a company arrives to help. The German
344th Volksgrenadier Division replaces the 275th in the line,
layering its units on top the 275th's remaining combat
Battle Casualties 14
officers, 72 enlisted, many of whom where killed or wounded
previously but not reported.
Continues. 1st Battalion in the north fights forward
against heavy opposition and takes high ground to east. German
armor supported counterattacks hit the battalion on its
northern flank, but the line holds. On the southern flank
German counterattacks, again supported by armor, hit 2nd
Battalion hard and limit its advance. Companies in 2nd
Battalion reduced to about 50 soldiers.
Battle Casualties 5 officers,
126 enlisted. Replacements 1 officer, 206 enlisted.
in attack again called to reorganize, re-supply and
open MSR. Vital bridge put in so supplies could be brought to
within 300 yards of front lines. Some tanks and tank
destroyers get forward into 2nd Battalion's area. Bypassed
resistance by Regimental Command post finally overcome. Heavy
artillery fire is received throughout the day.
Battle Casualties 306, most
of who had fallen earlier in the forest and not previously
been missed. T5 George Morgan said 'You can't get all the dead
because you can't find them, and they stay there to remind the
guys advancing as to what might hit them."
Continues. The 3rd Battalion sweeps up a draw north of
the 1st Battalion and then back to the southeast, cutting the
road leading from the west into the village of Grosshau. The
2nd Battalion is hit by two counterattacks, one in the north
and the other in the south, the southern attack being
supported by tanks. The American tanks can not get forward
through the thick woods and the infantry struggled forward
past the road leading into Kleinhau. The open southern flank
is so serious a threat that one company from the 1st Battalion
is sent to cover it, as well as 100 replacements put in as a
Battle Casualties 167
soldiers. Replacements 59 enlisted.
Day. Pause called in attack to reorganize, re-supply,
and allow the 12th Infantry to come up on the southern flank.
Limited attacks to gain crossroads carried out by 2nd and 3rd
Battle Casualties 3 officers,
165 enlisted, again many from previous days. Replacements 6
officers and 136 enlisted. Turkey sandwiches and lukewarm
coffee was carried up to the front lines, the only day hot
rations were served.
continues to regroup. The 12th Infantry's advance
relieves pressure in south. Engineers clear roads of mines and
armor gets forward to the 3rd Battalion. Planning continues
for attack on Grosshau on 25 November. Little artillery taken
during the night.
Replacements 25 officers, 326
enlisted. Within the regiment, the fighting condition of the
battalions varied dramatically. By 24 November every battalion
had lost its battalion commander and two of its three rifle
company commanders. The 1st Battalion contained about 50
percent replacements; the 2nd Battalion 70 to 80 percent newly
arrived replacements, and it remained considerably under strength.
The 3rd Battalion's casualties were still relatively few,
although a heavy toll in leaders had been taken. This
battalion was almost at full strength with only about 20
percent replacements in its ranks.
against Grosshau. For its attack on 25 November, the
22nd is supported by the equivalent of an armor battalion, two
battalions of artillery, a chemical mortar company, and an
engineer company. The 3rd Battalion again maneuvers north and
finds its initial move easy. Problems arise when it takes 3
hours for the tanks to get forward. The German defenders in
Grosshau are waiting when the attack finally begins. Six tanks
are destroyed and the infantry is driven back into the trees
by a tremendous artillery barrage. In the 2nd Battalion area,
the tanks do not arrive as scheduled. The infantry advances to
the wood line south of Grosshau, but not without heavy losses.
A 500 meter gap exists between the 2nd and 3rd Battalions.
Major General Barton, CG 4ID, commits to the reduction of
Grosshau nine artillery battalions, ranging from 105mm to
240mm. The German 353rd Volksgrenadier Division begins
arriving, replacing the 344th and layering on top the
remaining 344th VGs combat formations.
Battle Casualties 235, most
from the 3rd Battalion. More leaders fall on 25 November than
any other day of the battle, 11 officers, and 46 NCOs.
regimental attack, but one company of 1st Battalion
attacks to close gap between 2nd and 3rd Battalions. Attack
gets up to copse of trees near Grosshau, but is thrown back by
a tank supported infantry attack. All battalions continue to
receive very heavy German shelling, to include a railroad gun.
Battle Casualties 6 officers,
132 enlisted. Non battle casualties begin rising.
regimental attack, but another company of 1st Battalion
attacks to close gap between 2nd and 3rd Battalions. Sergeant
Marcario Garcia awarded Medal of Honor for his part in attack.
One company of 2nd Battalion rushes to its assistance and the
two companies are reduced to a total of 70 soldiers, less than
two full strength platoons. After finding the road clear, two
tanks arrive to support position. 12th Infantry Regiment
inserted north of the 22nd when it appears it would be pinched
out in the south by the CCA 5th Armored Division and the 8th
Infantry Division attacking from the south.
Battle Casualties 152.
Replacement 220 enlisted. By 27 November, more than half the
soldiers in the regiment had fallen; in fact almost as many
replacements (1640) had arrived as there were soldiers in all
the rifle companies at full strength (1737)
attack, Battalions send patrols into and to the north
of Grosshau. Hill 90, northeast of Grosshau was taken by
elements of 3rd Battalion.
Battle Casualties 117.
Replacements 9. Division commander gives authorization to make
NCOs officers on the spot.
against Grosshau. Colonel Lanham had planned to bypass
and isolate Grosshau to the north. The 3rd Battalion again
swings north and cuts the road leading from Grosshau to the
town of Gey on the Roer plain. While the 3rd Battalion moves,
General Barton orders Grosshau taken by direct assault after
CCA, 5th Armored Division reported taking fire from Grosshau
while it cleared the village of Kleinhau to the south. One
company of the 2nd Battalion is the only unit in place to make
the attack. This company starts its attack but is pinned down
in the open for 3 hours until a tank task force from the south
appears. The town is then cleared during the night in house to
house fighting. Another company arrives to help secure the
town during the night. Engineers clear the town of mines to
get supplies up to the 3rd Battalion holding the high ground
northeast of Grosshau. Elements of 3 regimental-sized units -
a combat command of 5th Armored Division in the south, the
22nd in the middle, and the 12th Infantry in the north - are
situated within 1500 yards of one another. CCA reports
Kleinhau and a hill to its north east taken at the end of the
Casualties 162. Replacements
78. The 2nd Battalion stripped its headquarters and weapons
companies of soldiers to fill the rifle companies.
Attack Continues. 46th Armored Infantry Battalion (AIB),
5th Armored Division, is attached to the 22nd to clear the
area south of the 2nd Battalion and seize a line of departure
for the CCA. This battalion and the 2nd Battalion meet
extremely heavy fire from Kleinhau and the hill reported taken
earlier. One of the 2nd Battalion's companies advances to
within 200 yards of the far wood line but has to pull back
because there are not enough men remaining to hold the line.
The 46th AIB seizes the hill but at a cost of about 50 percent
of the attacking force. The 3rd Battalion attacks with armor
and clears the wood line south of Gey. A 500 meter gap
develops between the 3rd and 2nd Battalions.
Battle Casualties 178, most
from the 2nd Battalion's attack across the open field.
Replacements 7. Battalion commanders begin maneuvering their
decimated companies like platoons and the remaining veterans
lead the replacements from the front, increasing the leaders'
risk of being killed or wounded.
Attack Continues. 46th Armored Infantry Battalion
attacks into the woods and advances about 400 yards, but is
soon pulled back to more tenable positions. There are so many
casualties, most of the unwounded soldiers are used to carry
them back, leaving just a small rear guard. The 2nd Battalion
attacks into the woods under a tremendous artillery barrage.
One of its companies is struck by a counterattack and pushed
back to an old German trench line. The reserve company is
rushed forward to hold the line. The fighting strength of the
2nd Battalion drops to 124 soldiers in its three rifle
companies, 64 percent of a full strength company.
The 1st Battalion attacks between the 2nd and 3rd
Battalions and closes up to the eastern wood line facing the
Roer Valley. The 3rd Battalion takes a small copse of trees
overlooking Gey. Because of the strengths in his battalions,
Colonel Lanham organizes a last reserve of headquarters,
service and anti-tank company soldiers, which totals about
Battle Casualties 132. Only
11 tanks and 45 tank destroyers remain operational of the 34
tanks and 12 tank destroyers attached to the 22nd.
Counterattack. Before the 22nd could continue its
attack to close all its units to the edge of the wood line
facing the Roer Valley, one of the companies in the 3rd
Battalion is struck by a newly committed battalion sized unit
of the 353rd Volksgrenadier Division. The company is overrun
and some Germans penetrate up to the command posts of the 1st
and 3rd Battalions and seize the hill northeast of Grosshau.
The 3rd Battalion closes the breach with one of its companies,
faces the other company around and with the help of the
regimental reserve and a company from the 2nd Battalion wipes
out the penetration. General Barton when told of the
counterattack, requests that General Collins, the VII Corps
Commander, relieve the 22nd Infantry, explaining that,
He felt that with the number of replacements
and the condition of the men in the 22nd Infantry that
there was no further attack left in the 22nd; that the
noncoms and junior leadership had been completely milked
out of them over the long period they had been in the
fight; they had attacked until there was no attack left in
them; replacements are not lacking in 'guts' but they are
not trained soldiers as we had before.
The 22nd is notified it would be relieved on 3
December. Later Colonel Lanham notified a German Panzer
Division appeared to be heading into his sector. He orders all
the roads mined and the positions held.
Casualties 149. Replacements
Counterattack and Relief of the 22nd. Early in the
morning before the relief begins one of the 1st Battalion
companies is hit by a newly committed German battalion of the
272nd Volksgrenadier Division. Only 25 Germans penetrate the
line, and these are rounded up by headquarters elements of the
three rifle companies and the weapons company. The 2nd
Battalion is told to be prepared to rush its 100 soldiers
south to the hill northeast of Kleinhau if it is captured. The
German Luftwaffe sorties and about thirty aircraft strafe and
bomb the regiment's positions, but cause few casualties. The
relief continues into the night and the regiment pulls out
towards its next assignment in Luxembourg on 4 December.
Casualties 76. Another 80
casualties were reported on 4 December after headcounts were
made at the new location. After 18 days the battle in the Hürtgen
Forest was over for the 22nd. During the battle, every rifle
battalion and company commander was lost, with two companies
losing four commanders and another six. At the roll call in
Luxembourg, each rifle company had fewer than ten soldiers who
had begun the battle on 16 November.
information above is extracted from: Paschendale
with Treebursts, a history and analysis of the
22nd Infantry Regiment during the battle of the Hürtgen Forest, 16
November through 03 December 1944.
By Robert S. Rush