The Untold Story of the Secret Mission to Seize Nazi Map Data
by Greg Miller/Smithsonian Magazine November 2019
The fighting for Aachen was fierce. American planes and artillery pounded the Nazi defenses for days. Tanks then rolled into the narrow streets of the ancient city, the imperial seat of Charlemagne, which Hitler had ordered defended at all costs. Bloody building-to-building combat ensued until, finally, on October 21, 1944, Aachen became the first German city to fall into Allied hands.
Rubble still clogged the streets when U.S. Army Maj. Floyd W. Hough and two of his men arrived in early November. “The city appears to be 98% destroyed,” Hough wrote in a memo to Washington. A short, serious man of 46 with receding red hair and wire-rimmed glasses, Hough had a degree in civil engineering from Cornell, and before the war he led surveying expeditions in the American West for the U.S. government and charted the rainforests of South America for oil companies. Now he was the leader of a military intelligence team wielding special blue passes, issued by Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force, that allowed Hough and his team to move freely in the combat zone. Their mission was such a closely guarded secret that one member later recalled he was told not to open the envelope containing his orders until two hours after his plane departed for Europe.
In Aachen, their target was a library.