Review of A Dark and Bloody Ground: the Hürtgen Forest and the Roer River Dams 1944-45

A Dark and Bloody Ground: the Hürtgen Forest and the Roer River Dams, 1944-45 by Edward C. Miller is a scholarly history of the battle which is well worth reading (4 Stars). The author served in the US Army, retiring several years ago, and has an outstanding grip on how the US Army functioned in World War Two. (It didn’t function very well.)

He shows clearly and methodically how US commanders made blunder after blunder and how they threw away the three key advantages the US Army had over the Germans: mobility, artillery, and air superiority.

While stationed in Germany in the mid 1980s, the author took the time to explore the actual battlefield. He writes: “I found out firsthand that it is one thing to sit in the comfort of one’s office or home and study a terrain map; it is quite another to walk through the hilly forest in a chilling autumn rain.” His research and footnotes are impeccable. This book will stand for many, many years as standard work on the subject.

A few quotes from this work:

“During an attack on the 2nd Battalion, 47th Infantry, a cook ‘discarded his meat cleaver for a bazooka’ and managed to knock out a German tank that had the entered the battalion trains area (supply area). ‘What a man!’ sighed members of the company. ‘If he could only cook.'”

“(German) Shells with fuses deigned to explode on contact hit the trees and burst above the infantrymen. To dive to the ground for cover, as the men had been trained to do, meant exposing much of the body to a rain of hot metal and wood splinters. The best way to survive, the Americans learned was to…literally hug a tree.” By adapting this technique the American GIs exposed only their heads, covered by their helmets, to the tree bursts. Sometimes the Germans fired for several hours. Imagine the terror a man must have felt.

Said an American GI, “The days were so terrible I would pray for darkness, and the nights were so bad I would pray for daylight.”

In the midst of one of the many German attacks, American wounded drifting back to an aid station set up in a dugout which eventually fell behind German lines. “…a German patrol stopped at the aid station and the patrol leader offered to share rations and any supplies the Americans might need. He told the American medical officer in charge that as long as the aidmen and assistants remained unarmed, the Germans would permit them to stay in the dugout.”

Another book on the subject, although focused just on one regiment, is Hell In Hürtgen Forest: The Ordeal And Triumph Of An American Infantry Regiment by Robert S. Rush. I haven’t read this book so I won’t rate it but I will point out that it is one of the many books in the series: Modern War Studies by the University Press of Kansas. They are the best and most outstanding university press in the US for books on World War Two. They only publish scholarly works. An author’s research and footnotes have to withstand their rigorous scrutiny because any book they print on World War Two usually becomes the history of record on that specific topic. When in doubt, you can’t go wrong by purchasing a book published by the University Press of Kansas.

[Image courtesy of Life.]

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: http://charlesmccain.com/

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