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on 15 April 2017
What can I say. This book was outstanding to read and well worth the money. Gripping from start to finish. Quite a lot of spelling mistakes but you soon forget any of that as this book draws you into its pages. It's just amazing to me that no one person was brought to book over the many thousands that were slaughtered there. I can't recommend this book enough.
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on 8 June 2016
This is an interesting read on a battle which most of us will not have heard of before. It's a story which, at times, beggars belief. I didn't always like the prose style, in particular the second guessing of what soldiers were thinking or feeling. It's fine to do this when there is personal testimony to support the text, but often that is not the case here.
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on 18 July 2017
A story that does need telling, one that does seem to have been forgotten. The narrative gets rather confusing at times ( not just the fog of war) and it would have been useful to have some map details to explain unit movements relative to each other and the local geography.
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on 12 March 2016
So very well written, heart breaking, maddening, depressing. What the human race has done to one another is just sinful. Horrid, true story.
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on 18 July 2017
Very happy with this book, I found it very interesting.
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on 16 April 2016
Would highly recommend this and all of Charles Whiting books if you are into WW2 history.
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on 3 October 2015
The late Charles Whiting (died 2007) was a prolific writer of military history and fiction (e.g. as Leo Kessler). This book published in 1989 describes the battle US forces fought in the autumn/winter of 1944/45 on the western borders of Germany in forested and hilly terrain where the advantage was with the defender.

Whiting's argument is that this was an unnecessary battle that was continued for reasons of prestige as senior officers did not want to lose face and continued to feed in new units and replacements to take ground that had little strategic value and which the advantages that the US forces had e.g. close air support and ample artillery were nullified by the terrain so it became an infantry slugfest with severe casualties among the front-line infantry battalions and support troops (tank and engineer) who were rotated into the battle.

I first read this book shortly after publication and without the ease of research that is now available on-line and my own limited reading at the time I tended to accept his rationale. On re-reading his book today, however I find that I am far less trusting given my ability to read alternative accounts of the battle on-line and have acquired a more critical outlook.

For example, Whiting uses few primary sources e.g. no official documents to support his case although there are references to interviews and letters. His footnotes refer mainly to memoirs and secondary works but are incomplete as there are no page numbers for works cited and no separate bibliography either.

In his Introduction on page x, Whiting quotes Charles B. MacDonald the author of the US Official History 'The Siegfried Line', accusing him of glossing over the US "defeat" by stating "[the Americans] had conquered a formidable forest barrier by frontal assault.". Whiting does not explain that this is a selective quotation from the work (p. 493) as MacDonald goes on to say "... the fight in the forest had achieved little in the way of positive advantages-no German industry, limited roads. The basic truth was that the fight for the Huertgen Forest was predicated on the purely negative reason of denying the Germans use of the forest as a base for thwarting an American drive to the Rhine." MacDonald does ask the question why the campaign was continued for so long given the lack of success even if one is not necessarily convinced by the answers. Part V of his book (pp. 377-493) is concerned wholly with the battle - so hardly being "...neatly swept under the carpet and forgotten." as Whiting would have it.

Whiting is best when he describes the unique horrors of combat in the forest and trails; the shell bursts at height and the fate of the wounded, the feelings of helplessness, battle fatigue and self-harm. He is at his worst when he alleges conspiracy and fails to contextualise. Given the example of his selective quotation above I am now far less trusting of his unsupported allegations and would advise readers interested in an academic study of the battle to read Edward G Miller's 'A Dark and Bloody Ground' (1995).
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on 9 April 2016
unbelievable destruction of men, makes you think about the cost to the survivors and their mental state
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on 14 September 2002
What a book, my friends pestered for years to read this and boy do I wish I had read it sooner. The information in this book shows the utter waste of war and poor judgment of the commanding generals. The Germans showed how poorly the allied division were able to cope with being at the 'sharp end' without aircover and in a harsh environment without proper supplies. The book shows the allies doing what they do best 'sheer brute force' to achieve there aims in taking the forest and the aims set by those in rear; who had no idea and did not wish to know how the 'poor bloody infantry' lived and died. A meat grinder of book is what the book shows, not for the faint hearted.
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on 4 January 2009
Mr Howells has provided a very detailed synopsis of the battle, so I won't labour that point. I have to say, I was blissfully unaware of this particular battle until I fell on the book here on the Amazon web site. I finally read it and I did find the book quite absorbing. The descriptions of the horrors experienced by the poor bloody infantry (and the tank crews, artillery men, etc) are well-represented. That the battle was largely pointless, leading to casualties numbering in the tens of thousands for the US army (and, indeed for the Germans) to try and take 50 square miles of forest is well made by the author, Charles Whiting (noms de plume: Leo Kessler, Duncan Harding and John Kerrigan, and writer of some 250 books, many of which were novels.) It's a hard read, as chapter after chapter describes further unsuccessful attempts to overrun the German positions - inevitably with the same result - massive casualty numbers for little gain. Huertgen was unarguably a bitterly fought battle.

So, this is an important, but little known, battle, if only to demonstrate that the rush from Brittany to Germany was not without its difficulties and that the Germans fought a hard campaign of attrition on the Allies.

What I had more difficulty with is Mr Whiting's style. It struck me right from the start with his constant references to the commanders (general level) as the 'Top Brass', an expression you don't hear frequently these days. Mr Whiting served during the war (52nd Armoured Reconnaissance Regiment in NW Europe) and I don't know if he had some bad experiences with generals, but he certainly has little time for them. Again, I can live with that - the generals commanding the divisions, corps and armies involved in the Huertgen did not cover themselves in glory - but it becomes a constant theme, like a stuck gramophone record grinding away. Additionally, he makes references to what appear to be very private conversations between senior generals (eg Hughes - referred to several times in the book as a hard-drinking womaniser; once gets the message across - and Eisenhower), but does not give any source - how does he know what was said, or is it largely Whiting's vivid imagination?

There's a degree of cynicism that threads through the book which, for me, detracted from what, otherwise, might be a fair analysis of the campaign. There is the story of black American soldiers being called forward to fight; and the execution of the deserter, PFC Eddie Slovik. These provide useful background, but the constant bitching about the 'Top Brass' gets wearing (only Gavin, commander of the 82nd Airborne seems worth a damn) - it's like listening to rather dim soldiers and airmen who maintain that 'all officers are rubbish'.

Finally, the book is rounded off, sadly, with a short section linking the attritional campaign of Vietnam to that of the Huertgen and making the point that some of the same officers were involved - Joe Westmoreland who commanded US forces in 'Nam was in the Huertgen. It's a dubious leap of logic and does nothing to improve the tone of the book. Like many wars, Vietnam is complex and no reasonable arguments over the nature of the military strategy can be made in a few pages. It does no justice to Mr Whiting's presumable qualities as an author and a historian.

So, in summary, I think the book is worth reading, if you're a student of WWII history - there really is no other book on the subject that I can find (and I would like to.) However, you may wish to be wary of Mr Whiting's cynical tone and his dubious links to other issues; I don't think they are helpful!

CORRECTION - as you will see in a comment from 'lefty', I got Westmoreland's forenames wrong. His name was actually William C Westmoreland (where did I get 'Joe' from?!). Nonetheless, he was in the Huertgen (as Chief of Staff to 9th Div), having fought through Africa, Sicily and France and he did go onto command US forces in Vietnam. Sorry for the confusion.
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