Key point: The city had little military value but Berlin ordered for it to be defended anyway.
In their directive to General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) in northwestern Europe, the Allied Combined Chiefs of Staff ordered Allied forces to land in France in June 1944, break out of Normandy, and mount an offensive “aimed at the heart of Germany and the destruction of her armed forces.”
To this end, Allied planners designated the first major target inside the Reich to be the Ruhr industrial region, an area of vital economic importance. An offensive against the Ruhr would compel the Germans to commit their remaining forces so that the Allies might bring them to battle and destroy them.
There were four major approaches to the Ruhr from France: the Plain of Flanders, the Ardennes Forest, the Metz-Kaiserlauten Gap, and the Maubeuge-Leige-Aachen axis north of the Ardennes. On September 5, 1944, Eisenhower chose the route the American armies would follow through the German defensive line known as the Siegfried Line or West Wall directly to the north and south of the ancient city of Aachen. Once Aachen and its environs were captured, the Allied high command envisioned a rapid advance to the Rhine and then on to the Ruhr with the end of the war in Europe soon following.
Militarily, Aachen had little to recommend it. Lying in a saucer-like depression surrounded by hills, it was not a natural fortress. This was surprising since in October 1944 the town lay between the twin bands of the Siegfried Line that split north and south of the city. To the west was the relatively thin Scharnhorst Line, while to the east and behind Aachen stood the more heavily fortified Schill Line.
Aachen itself was defended by the 246th Volksgrenadier Infantry Division commanded by Colonel Gerhard Wilck. The 246th had taken responsibility for this sector in late September 1944 from the 116th Panzer Division. North of the city were the 183rd Volksgrenadier and 4th Infantry Divisions, while to the south lay the 12th Infantry Division, collectively designated the LXXI Corps under the command of Lt. Gen. Friedrich J. Kochling.