As our armies swept north through the Pas-deCalais and into Belgium and east toward the German border, the size of our forces and the extent of our front made it necessary for me to take direct control of the land forces operating on the Continent. Until 1 September the command system had functioned effectively, exactly as planned and in accordance with the developments of the tactical and strategic situation. Full credit for this was due to the Commanders-in-Chief, to all Senior Commanders, and to the higher staffs of all Services, who consistently worked together as an efficient Allied team. Change in the command set-up was necessary, however, due to the diverging lines of operation and the need for having a commander on each of the main fronts capable of handling, with a reasonable degree of independence, the day-to-day operations in each sector. These operations were to be guided by directives issued from my Headquarters.
Therefore, when on 1 September my operational Headquarters opened officially on the Continent and Field Marshal Montgomery's responsibility for arranging for coordination between 21 Army Group and General Bradley's forces terminated, Field Marshal Montgomery continued to command 21 Army Group which was also designated the Northern Group of Armies. As from this date General Bradley's command was known as the 12th or Central Group of Armies and consisted of the United States First Army under General Hodges, the United States Third Army under General Patton, and the United States Ninth Army under General Simpson.
The Franco-American forces coming from the south were not at this time under my control, but I planned, with the approval of the Combined Chiefs of Staff, to assume command of them on 15 September, when it was estimated that contact would have been securely established with the Central Group of Armies. Actually, first contact was reached prior to this on 11 September when troops of the French 1st Armored Division met troops of the French 2d Armored Division in the vicinity of Sombernon, but formal command did not pass to my Headquarters until the 15th. These forces, consisting of the French First Army under General de Lattre de Tassigny and the United States Seventh Army under Lieut. Gen. Alexander E. Patch, were designated the 6th or Southern Group of Armies, under command of General (then Lieut. Gen.) Jacob L. Devers.
Each of these three Groups of Armies was supported by its own Tactical Air Force. The Northern Group of Armies was accompanied by the Second Tactical Air Force under Air Marshal Sir Arthur Coningham and the Central Group of Armies by the Ninth Air Force under Lieut. Gen. (then Maj. Gen.) Vandenberg. The Southern Group of Armies had, in the advance from the south, been supported by one Fighter Group and auxiliary units of XII Tactical Air Command. When the Southern Group of Armies came under my control, this Air Command was augmented with units of the Ninth Air Force, bur later the air support of the Southern Group of Armies was to be constituted as the First Tactical Air Force.
The Tactical Air Forces in support of the Army Groups reported to my Headquarters through Air Chief Marshal Leigh-Mallory, while the remaining over-all air control exercised by me continued as it had originally been planned in April, the United States Strategic Air Forces and the RAF Bomber Command reporting independently. Air matters were, as already stated, coordinated through my Deputy, Air Chief Marshal Tedder. There was no change in the Naval Command system at this time, except that Admiral Ramsay's Headquarters were moved to France early in September. Later in September control of the Strategic Air Forces passed from me to the Commanding General of the USAAF and the Chief of the Air Staff jointly.
By 1 September also a new and important command unit had been formed within our Expeditionary Forces. All British and American Airborne Forces were placed under the single command of General Brereton on 8 August to form the First Allied Airborne Army. Chief components of this Army included the United States XVIII Corps (82d, 101st, and 17tl1 Airborne Divisions), the British Airborne Troops Command (6 and 1 Airborne Divisions), the United States IX Troop Carrier Command, and RAF 38 and 46 Groups. In view of the important roles that the airborne divisions were to play in the development of our campaign, and also in order to unify the highly specialized and integrated planning and training, I felt that an Army designation rightly belonged to General Brereton's Headquarters and to the troops, even though, in the strict sense of the word, the divisions did not operate as an independent army unit once they had been committed to action. Our first use of the airborne divisions under the newly constituted command set-up was to be on 17 September, to assist in seizing the Rhine crossings at Nijmegen and Arnhem after the rapid advance by our land armies.
Although it was originally intended to employ the airborne units to close the Paris-Orleans gap against the enemy retreating from Normandy, General Patton's advance bad been so rapid that the area was completely overrun by our land forces and an airborne operation was unnecessary. We had subsequently considered employing them to assist in seizing successively the crossings over the Seine and the Somme, and lastly in the Pas-de-Calais area to cut off the retreat of the German Fifteenth Army. All these areas were rapidly gained by our ground forces, a clear indication of the tremendous forward strides being made by our armor and infantry. By the time the Airborne Army was first employed in the Arnhem-Nijmegen area, enemy resistance had stiffened and we had begun 1he long and grueling grind, in part unexpected, which was ultimately to take us in force across the Rhine.
It was our plan to attack northeastward in the greatest strength possible. This direction had been chosen for a variety of reasons. First, the great bulk of the German Army was located there. Secondly, there was the great desirability of capturing the flying bomb area, not only to remove this menace to England, but also to deny to the enemy the propaganda value which he enjoyed on the home front and in the army from the attacks on London and talk of new weapons which would "decide the war." A third reason for the north eastward attack was our imperative need for the large: port of Antwerp, absolutely essential to us logistically before any deep penetration in strength could be made into Germany. Fourthly, we wanted the airfields in Belgium. Finally, and most important, I felt that during the late summer and early autumn months the lower Rhine offered the best avenue of advance into Germany, and it seemed probable that through rapidity of exploitation both the Siegfried Line and the Rhine River might be crossed and strong bridgeheads established before the enemy could recover sufficiently to make a definite stand in the Arnhem area. In furtherance of this plan strong United States forces marched abreast of the Northern Group of Armies to the northeast, while three United States divisions were completely immobilized in order to supply additional logistical support for the Northern Group. At the same time the entire airborne forces were made available to Field Marshal Montgomery.
Secondary to this main effort in the north was the desirability of pushing eastward with some force in order to link up with the French and American forces advancing from the south, so as to clear all Southwest France as the cheapest way of protecting our flanks and rear. In addition, a drive along the Verdun-Metz axis would enhance the opportunity for surprise and maneuver, thus requiring the enemy to extend his forces, and leaving him in doubt as to the direction of the Allied main thrust.
From the time when our armies first crossed the Seine in force to the employment of the airborne army in Holland on 17 September, our ground forces made prodigious strides. Along the Channel coast the Canadian First Army began advancing on 30 August from the Elbeuf bridgehead above Rouen on the Seine and from bridgeheads below the city. On 1 September both Rouen and Dieppe were taken, the forces first entering Dieppe consisting of battalions of the Essex, Scottish, Royal, and Hamilton Light Infantry and the Royal Regiment of Canada which had fought there on 19 August 1942.
Le Havre was cut off, but the garrison rejected an ultimatum to surrender on 4 September and the city was invested. Attacks against it were supported by heavy aerial bombing during which more than 11,000 tons were dropped on the city, half this total being dropped on the 10th. On 10 September also the final ground attack was launched by the British 49 Infantry Division operating with the Canadian First Army. This attack was supported by naval forces including the battleship Warspite and the monitor Erebus, which bombarded enemy installations with 300 rounds of 15-inch shell. By noon on the 11th the northern and eastern outskirts of Le Havre had been reached and at 11:30 hours on the 12th the city surrendered with its garrison of 7,000 troops.
Meanwhile other forces of the Canadian First Army had swept northeastward along the coast, taking, in addition to Dieppe, the small ports of Fecamp, St Valery-en-Caux, Le Treport, and Abbeville. Etaples fell on 4 September and the Somme River, which we had anticipated as a possible barrier, was crossed in force. Calais was surrounded and the outskirts of Boulogne reached on the 6th. On the 8th the Canadians overran Ostend and after capturing the port turned east toward Bruges which was entered by patrols on the 9th. In the meantime other troops of Canadian 2 Corps had driven toward Dunkirk, investing that city by the 11th. On the 11th also Blankenberghe, between Ostend and Zeebrugge, was taken. by the Canadian 4 Armored Division.
Thus, within two weeks of the Seine crossings the Canadians had driven north, clearing large sections of the "flying bomb coast," and northeast toward the Scheldt Estuary. Along the coast they had forced the enemy to bole up in a few ports which he was to defend tenaciously. Boulogne, with its garrison of 10,000, did not fall until 23 September and Calais until the 30th, both to the Canadian 2 Corps, after heavy bombardment by Bomber Command. Dunkirk was surrounded, but since the use of the small harbor as a port was not essential, I did not feel that a strong effort should be made to take it. As in the case of the Brittany ports, I decided that it would be preferable to contain the enemy, estimated at 12,000 troops, with the minimum forces necessary rather than to attempt an all-out attack. In the northeast, the Canadian advance toward the Scheldt Estuary formed the lower jaw of a trap closing on the Germans, the other jaw consisting of British forces which had captured Antwerp.
The British advance on the right of the Canadians to Antwerp and the Dutch border had been spectacular during this period. From their bridgehead at Vernon their armor swept to Antwerp, a distance of some 195 miles as the crow flies, in less than four days. The advance began on 30 August and Antwerp, with its port installations virtually intact, was occupied on 4 Septernber by the II Armoured Division of 30 Corps. By 29 August the British bridgehead at Vernon had extended, at its deepest penetration, 12 miles north of the Seine. On the 30th they made an advance of 25 miles from this point, taking Beauvais, while another column of the II Armoured Division reached a point only 25 miles south of Amiens after a 30-mile advance. On the following day they raced on to Amiens, took the town, established bridgeheads across the Somme, and pushed farther to the northeast. At the same time other British units turned northwest and attacked toward the Channel. On the morning of I September, British armor took Albert, about 12 miles northeast of Amiens, and Bapaume, 28 miles northeast of Amiens, while later in the day Arras was captured by the Guards Armoured Division of 30 Corps. Meanwhile Amiens was turned over to the infantry, which had come up from the south, and another armored column of the Guards Armoured Division moved north to take Doullens, about 23 miles east of Abbeville.
A part of the armoured column which took Arras turned east on the next morning and captured Douai, while the main force continued to the north. On the morning of 2 September it made slow progress, but during that afternoon and the following day it gathered speed and advanced 6o miles in 36 hours, crossing the Belgian border east of Lille, taking Tournai, where the Lille-Brussels road was cut, and then turning east along this road. At noon on the 3d this column was 28 miles from Brussels, and late on that same day it reached the capital, which had been hastily evacuated by the enemy. On 4 September part of this column turned east and reached Louvain, the rest continuing north and entering Antwerp with the II Armoured Division, which had moved rapidly north from the Arras area, taking Lille on the way. By evening the dock area was being cleared, and on the 5th, with Antwerp firmly in their hands, the British spread out to the west and reached the outskirts of Ghent, which fell the following day.
Still further west another armoured division which had begun an attack northwest from d1e Amiens area on the morning of 2 September made rapid progress in the direction of Calais and Dunkirk and on the 3d reached Aire, 27 miles south of the latter town. This area was subsequently taken over by the Canadians moving up from the south.
As the British forces approached closer to the German homeland, resistance stiffened and the rapid advances which had made the capture of Antwerp possible came to an end. However, by attacking northeast from Louvain on 7 September, 30 Corps was able to establish a deep bridgehead over the Albert Canal, seize Bourg Leopold after a bitter and fluctuating battle, and by the 12th cross the Dutch border to reach a point seven miles from Eindlhoven. Driving east from Bourg Leopold, elements of 30 Corps advanced almost to the Meuse.
While the Canadians and British thus moved northeastward in a great sweeping drive which stretched inland from the Channel coast to Vernon, and northward to Antwerp and Eindhoven, the American First Army under General Hodges poured across the Seine bridgeheads between Mantes-Gassicourt and Melun to the east, beginning an equally spectacular drive on a three-corps front toward Namur, Liege and the German frontier. On the right, VII Corps crossed the Aisne on 29 August, and Soissons was cleared of enemy forces by the 3d Armored Division, which also liberated Laon the next day after stiff fighting. This division continued its rapid advance, while infantry supported it and protected its flank, and on 1 September reached a point 30 miles northeast of Laon. In the next two days the column advanced 40 miles, crossing the Belgian border in the Hirson area and reaching Charleroi and Mons.
On the First Army's left, a similar drive northward from the Mantes bridgehead area had been accomplished by a rapidly moving column of XIX Corps, spearheaded by the 2d Armored Division. Gaining momentum, on 30 August this force advanced 13 miles, and the next day another spurt of 20 miles carried it close to Montdidier. By 2 September XIX Corps had reached the Belgian border south of Tournai, registering an advance of more than 60 miles in 2 days.
As a result of these operations, VII and XIX Corps cut off a large German force in the pocket that lay between their advancing columns. This pocket extended from Mons to the forest of Compiegne, where German infantry resisted stubbornly the advance of V Corps. The latter unit, forming the center of the First Army's drive northward, nevertheless made good progress on the axis Compiegne-St-Quentin, reaching a line east of Cambrai on the 2d. During the next three days some 25,000 prisoners were captured at the top of the pocket in the Mons area.
On 4 September the First Army began a wheel to the east, V Corps moving to the right flank and crossing the Meuse north of Sedan on 5-6 September. That town fell to the 5th Armored Division on 6 September, and in the next few days advance was rapid across Belgium and Luxembourg, on a 65-mile front. The same division liberated the city of Luxembourg on 10 September, and by the 11th, V Corps had reached the German frontier and the Siegfried defenses. Farther north, VII Corps units captured Namur and the Meuse crossings near Dinant on 4-5 September, then continued to advance down both banks of the river toward Liege. Stiff resistance in this area was broken; Liege fell on 8 September, and by noon on the 9th our forces reached Limbourg, 13 miles southwest of Aachen. Here resistance increased, and extensive mining and numerous road blocks with antitank guns were encountered. Nevertheless, on 10 September further advances were made, and at 1723 hours VII Corps artillery for the first time shelled German territory. On the 11th both Eupen and Malmedy were captured. XIX Corps had paralleled this advance; by 11 September it was at the edge of Maastricht, and farmer south bad crossed the Meuse.
In less than 2 weeks, then, the First Army had crossed the Seine in force, swept across France, Belgium, and Luxembourg, and brought the war to the threshold of Germany. The bitter struggle for Aachen and the Roer bridgeheads was to follow.
In the Third Army zone of advance, on the right of our forces, General Patton's troops had crossed the upper Marne in the vicinity of Vitry-le-Francois on 29 August. On the 30th, 4th Armored Division of XII Corps moved on to St-Dizier, 17 miles to the east, while to the north the 80th Infantry Division captured Chalons-sur-Marne and advanced 8 miles northward. On the 31st the column which took St-Dizier pushed on to Commercy on the Meuse, while the XX Corps turned east on the axis Rheims-Verdun-Metz. The following morning units of the XX Corps entered Verdun, and crossed the Meuse to reach a point 6 miles to the east on the road to Metz. On the 2d this column pushed on another 7 miles to Etain, while the XII Corps advanced to the vicinity of Nancy. Meanwhile, between these two columns, other crossings of the Meuse were effected, and on 2 September St-Mihiel was taken. On the 4th patrols operating up to me Moselle failed to find the enemy in any strength, except at Pont-a-Mousson, about 13 miles south of Metz. Here, after patrol clashes in the morning, the Germans withdrew to the right bank of the river and shelled the town as we moved up to it. On the 5th we reached the important communications center of Nancy, on the left bank 28 miles above Metz.
Crossings of the Moselle were made against enemy opposition beginning on 7 September. By the 11th we had established ourselves in strength on the east bank of the river between Metz and Nancy. While some of General Patton's forces moved southward from Toul for a distance of 30 miles to compress the Belfort area through which the German Nineteenth Army was withdrawing, other forces crossed the Moselle on the 12th and began the turning movement northeast of Nancy which was to result in the fall of the city to the XII Corps on 15 September.
In the Metz area General Patton's forces had captured Aumetz on the 11th and driven to Thionville, 12 miles north of Metz, by the 13th. The city itself was stubbornly defended and the siege was to be long and arduous.
The Third Army's advance involved herculean tasks in the matter of supply. At the Moselle enemy resistance had stiffened and the problem of supply became increasingly acute, to the extent that General Patton's forces were partially immobilized and physically incapable of mounting assaults on a large scale or of continuing a pursuit had the opportunity offered. This was in a measure also true of the whole front facing east against Germany and our positions here became relatively stable on a line running from the First Army's sector in the Aachen area south along the German border to Metz, Nancy, and Epinal.
On 11 September patrols from General Patch's Seventh Army had established contact with patrols of General Patton's Third Army west of Dijon, but contact in force was not finally established until a Seventh Army column, driving north against enemy opposition, joined forces with the right wing of the Third Army west of Epinal on 21 September. This action reduce the size of the pocket west of the Belfort Gap and straightened the line which as a result now extended almost due south from Epinal to the Swiss frontier. In spite of the fact that use of the Belfort Gap as an escape route was now prevented, the enemy continued to hold on stubbornly in this whole area, evidently pursuing his usual policy of not yielding an inch except under pressure. This policy reacted to our advantage since it kept the enemy fully engaged and unable to withdraw forces to aid in the north, where the airborne operation against the lower Rhine was taking place. Along the whole line the war was to resolve itself into slow, hard fighting (with the few exceptions which I shall now consider) until after the German counterattack in December and the opening of our own offensive in February.
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