Forests are natural treasures to be enjoyed for hiking camping and other outdoor activities, but in the military sense they are a mixture of benefit and liability.  On the one hand, a forest is create concealment for units moving through them as aerial reconnaissance can have a very hard time seeing through the canopy of leaves above them.  They can also be a nightmare as the terrain is difficult to move tanks through or place your artillery in.  Troops lose their bearings and get lost, visibility is greatly reduced, and entrenched enemies are hard to get a clear sight picture on. If you are the entrenched enemy in the forest you might not see the enemy coming until he is right on top of you and, their artillery rounds set to burst above ground will shower you with wooden splinters and falling trees.

To illustrate the point, one of the longest battles fought by the Americans on German soil, was at the Battle of Hurtgen Forest which lasted from September 19, 1944, to February 10, 1945, according to C. Peter Chen’s article for the World War Database website. There were more than 4,000 casualties recorded in this battle from the Ivy Division alone. So for the name where it took place, you can understand why some became so creative in thinking that there were so many who got ‘hurt’ during the Battle of Hurtgen Forest.

Was It Worth Fighting For?

War is very much about the study of terrain, the army that picks the best ground to fight on is often the victor in a fight.  During the Napoleanic period of warfare, most of the casualties were caused by artillery, not muskets.  The art of generalship then was to pick a good piece of ground to set your cannons on that forced the other guy to maneuver his army into range so you could really turn the hose loose on them. If you ever wondered about battles where the armies maneuvered around each other for weeks before a fight, this was the most likely reason, a smart general would refuse a battle on ground that was disadvantageous to winning. Napolean’s greatest gift(as an artillery officer by training) was the ability to pick a good battlefield to fight on.

As we speak of picking good ground, forests favor the defense much more than the offense and a good general knows that attacking into a forest is a very difficult thing to do.