No doubt the Hurtgen Forest was a blood bath, but even with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, I do not believe it could have been by-passed so easily.
Recall that the US Army's "blitzkrieg" tactics that had worked so well during the Normandy breakout were becoming less effective as the border of Germany were reached.
Several problems including winter weather, terrain, which favored the defence, and over-extended supply lines brought the Allied advance practically to a halt.
Patton's 3rd Army was also bogged down in the Saar region. The days of a Falaise Gap type encirclement were over by the Fall of '44.
Looking at it from the top, Eisenhower's orders from the Joint Chiefs of Staff were to first defeat the German armed forces. Eisenhower set out to accomplish this by what he dubbed the "broad-front strategy".In short,
- advancing on a continuous front...
- each allied army protecting the flank of the one next to it, and
- do not by-pass any defended strong points that would put a strong enemy presence in the American's rear areas.
This last point played heavily in Eisenhower's thinking...take the port of Brest (another controversy) for example.
Flank protection was also crucial. Any attempt to envelope or by-pass the Hurtgen Forest, I believe, would have had grave consequences for the American units involved...again, think of weather, terrain and supply.
Many will disagree, but from a tactical standpoint, I believe the "broad front strategy" was sound and the Hurtgen Forest was just another difficult and unfortunately bloody obstacle that had to be overcome. Furthermore, the key objectives of Düren and Cologne could not have been reached until the key road net stretching from Simmerath to Düren, via the heavily defended villages of Germeter, Hürtgen, Kleinhau, Grosshau and the high ground of the Brandenburg Ridge beyond were secured first. The only way to do this was through the Hurtgen Forest.
This argument will probably never end but I am sticking to my guns on this one. I don't see a sound alternative given the weather, terrain, resources and the staunch German defense.
"People get the history they deserve."
General Charles de Gaulle, lecture to army cadets, St Cyr, 1920.