lf the Nazi leaders, in appointing Kesselring to the command of the German forces in the west, expected him to repeat his defensive successes of Italy, they were to be sadly disappointed. With the Rhine crossed, be had here no Gustav Line, no Monte Cassino, upon which to make a stand. So completely had the Germans relied upon their ability to hold out in the Siegfried Line that east of the Rhine there were no artificial barriers ready to halt our progress other than hastily constructed local defense works. Any other defenses on a larger scale existed only as plans, now never to be realized.
Nor had Kesselring the unified resolute forces which had withstood the Allied attacks in his former command. During March, an average of 10,000 prisoners had fallen into our bands every day, apart from the heavy losses in killed and wounded, and the divisions which had been weak when the Rhineland battles began were now reduced to mere skeletons. The total of enemy casualties from the opening of the Allied spring offensive on 8 February represented the destruction of a score of full divisions.
Within a week of the crossing of the Rhine, the Allied spearheads were thrusting eastward, isolating corps and divisions, and cutting off one army from another. Despair gripped the German forces as never before, and the disintegration of the entire Western Front developed rapidly. Already the task of exercising unified command over the German detachments was becoming almost an impossibility. Communications were breaking down, and reports filtered through so slowly that Kesselring could never be sure what the position at a given moment might be. By the time information had been received and instructions sent back to the armies, the Allied advance guards had probably pressed forward 50 miles and the entire situation had been transformed. Under such circumstances, the local commanders were increasingly compelled to make their own decisions, irrespective of what might be happening elsewhere, and to act independently of the higher command. ln consequence, Kesselring found himself increasingly unable to exercise any real control over the situation, and the organization of the Western Front collapsed completely. Only one thing was certain: By Hitler's order, the fight was to go on.
It thus seemed evident that the enemy had no hope of ever reestablishing a line in Germany capable of withstanding the Allied avalanche. His only chance of prolonging resistance for any length of time lay in retreating to the so-called "Nation al Redoubt" in the Alps, where he might be able to hold the immensely strong natural defenses against our attacks for a considerable period. At the same time, he would probably continue to resist in the "fortresses" of western France and Dunkirk, where his troops were still under siege, in the Channel Islands, in the Frisian Islands, in Norway, and behind the floods of Holland. Knowing the Nazi mentality, I had little expectation of an immediate allembracing collapse and an abrupt termination of the struggle through complete surrender while these outposts remained unsubdued.
The task which the Allies had now to undertake lay in so exploiting the success of the Rhine crossings as to effect, in the shortest possible time, the complete defeat of the broken armies immediately before us. We had to thrust forward our armored spearheads with the maximum speed that logistics would permit, and to divide and destroy the enemy before he could withdraw into such defensible positions as those afforded by the mountains of the Redoubt.
In order fully to carry out this policy of speed and violence, however, our attacking armies had, as far as possible, to be freed from the responsibility of holding down the ever-growing rear areas in Germany. There was a danger that the detachment of forces for security purposes in the overrun territory would so weaken the combat formations as seriously to limit their powers of rapid advance. For this reason, on 30 March the U. S. Fifteenth Army was activated, its function being to occupy, organize, and govern the parts of Germany already conquered and thus permit the other armies to concentrate on their task of bringing the war to the speediest possible conclusion. At first, the Fifteenth Army was responsible, under the 12th Army Group, for the administration of territory west of the Rhine between Bonn and Hornberg, together with command of the reinforced 66th Division containing the enemy garrisons in Loriet and St-Nazaire. Later it was to extend the area under its control as the other armies advanced eastward. The Allied military government organization was working smoothly and, apart from isolated outbreaks by individual Nazi fanatics, was experiencing little trouble with the population.
The Ruhr had been isolated by air action early in 1945. In addition to the direct damage to factories, the transportation system had been wrecked; and the coal and steel produced there, on which the German war economy largely depended, had been, for the time being, denied the enemy. Before operations deep into the German interior could safely be undertaken, however, the Allies had, following the Rhine crossings, to complete the encirclement of the Ruhr and the elimination of any danger from the pocket which would be thus created. With this vast armory in Allied hands, and the Russians in control of its Silesian counterpart, Germany's power of continuing to wage war would be destroyed even were her armies to be preserved intact. The essential weapons, ammunition, and fuel produced by the Ruhr, would be denied to them, and even the local factories dispersed about Germany to escape the Allied bombs would be brought to a standstill through lack of raw materials, for the bulk of which they were yet dependent upon the Ruhr and Silesian resources.
I determined, therefore, before launching any further offensive eastward into Germany, to carry out the policy originally envisaged of enveloping the Ruhr by converging thrusts from the two bridgeheads at Wesel and Frankfurt. The southern drive, thanks to the rapidity of the 12th Army Group build-up east of the Rhine which our position upon the river line had permitted, was now capable of being made in far greater strength than would otherwise have been possible. Accordingly the 21 Army Group and 12th Army Group were instructed to concentrate on achieving a junction in the Kassel-Paderborn area, while the 6th Army Group was to protect the right flank as far north as the Hohe-Rhon hill mass. The First Allied Airborne Army was to be prepared to assist the advances by carrying out a one-division air drop in the Kassel area to seize the airfields there and the Eder River Dam. The rapidity with which the ground forces progressed rendered this relatively small airborne operation unnecessary. Previously we had seriously considered the greatest airborne operation yet attempted. The outline plan was to employ about seven airborne and infantry divisions in seizing a large area in the Kassel region, where by blocking all roads and operating on remaining German units from the rear, all these could be destroyed in place. The rapidity and decisiveness of our air-ground operations made this operation completely unnecessary. Under the Ninth Army in the north, while XVI Corps probed southward into the industrial area, XIX Corps swung around its left flank and drove eastward. Meanwhile VII Corps of the First Army, spearheaded by the 3d Armored Division, struck north from Marburg, which had been taken on 28 March. On 1 April the two armies made contact near Lippstadt, and the encirclement of the Ruhr, which might be said to have begun with the air forces' interdiction program in February, was completed.
The operation constituted the largest double envelopment in history. Inside the pocket we had trapped the whole of the German Army Group B and two corps of Army Group H, including the picked troops who had been massed in March to defend the southern approaches of the Ruhr against the immediate offensive which the enemy had erroneously expected us to launch northward from the Remagen bridgehead.
The decision of the High Command to hold on in the Ruhr can be explained only by the German's innate insistence upon fighting where he stood in preference to carrying out a withdrawal, no matter what the odds against him; and coupled with this, perhaps, went some realization of the difficulties which any move would entail in the armies' present condition. The tactics of the battle of the Falaise pocket were therefore repeated on a far greater scale. Yet in the Ruhr there was no objective like the cutting of the Avranches corridor to justify the German obstinacy; here our armies were in strength all around the enemy, and there could be no question of a threat to our supply lines. As for the Ruhr resources, even though still in German hands these were obviously of no value to the bulk of the armies which were now cut off from them to the east.
The enemy may have entertained ideas of holding out in the Ruhr for some time and thus constituting a threat in our rear which would prevent our further progress while his remaining armies regrouped. If so, he had seriously miscalculated. Events were to show that the Ruhr could not support its defenders, despite its armament works and fuel production plants while the armies to the east were in no condition to regroup and reform any sort of effective line. Each of them was hard put to maintain its own position, and there was no hope of filling the gap in the center of the front created by the trapping of the 21 divisions of Army Groups B and H. Through that gap the Allied armies were shortly to pour eastward, since the German troops which would have been barring their path were, instead, on the march to Allied prison camps.
Immediately the encircling move had been completed, operation were instituted to render innocuous the force in the pocket. The densely built-up Ruhr area offered many advantages to the defense and it was my intention should the enemy continue to resist firmly to content myself with compressing him into a small area where only a few division would be needed to contain him, and there to starve him into surrender. Even if the Ruhr itself could supply its garrison with adequate mean of defense, it was clear that so populated an area, containing many hungry civilian mouth could not also feed indefinitely the huge armies which it suddenly found in its midst. Mean while the remainder of our forces would devote themselves to the more important tasks facing them farther east.
At first the trapped enemy showed spirit, and Field Marshal Model who was in command attempted to strike out from Hamm in the north and Siegen in the south. These attempts however, like the cooperating counterattacks by the enemy armies outside the pocket, were abortive and were forced back everywhere except along the bank of the Rhine. Mean while the ammunition factories ceased production, and what little was available could not be transported to the front. Fuel and food likewise could not be supplied where they were needed; the rail system was ineffective for this purpose since apart from the damage it had suffered the network was thinnest where the fighting was hottest, in the southern Sauerland. Shortage of weapons was as grave as elsewhere in the German armies; rear echelons were stripped to arm forward ones, but even then the latter often lacked ammunition of the correct caliber.
By 13 April signs of disintegration were evident resistance becoming scattered and the enemy giving themselves up in such numbers that the disposal of the prisoners constituted a difficulty. It was clear now that there would be no question of starving a stubborn remnant into submission. The main industrial towns in the north were cleared and on 14 April the pocket was split in two at Hagen. The eastern hall collapsed on 16 April, when 80,000 prisoners were taken in the 24 hours and on 18 April the pocket was finally liquidated. The total bag of prisoners reached the immense figure of 325,000 including 30 general officers. Originally we had estimated that only 150,000 could be taken. Twenty-one divisions were destroyed, including three panzer, one panzer grenadier and three parachute divisions, and enormous quantities of booty fell into our hands. What Hitler may have expected to prove a fortress to hold us back from central Germany had given way after 18 days, and by now the main front was over 100 miles distant to the east.
Once the process eliminating the enemy forces in the Ruhr had reached a stage when they presented no potential threat to our security three main avenues by which we could thrust deeper into Germany lay before us.
In the north, a route lay across the North German Plain toward the Baltic and Berlin. Berlin was the symbol of victory before the eye of every Allied soldier from the day we set foot in Normandy; but other gains would spring from an advance to the northern sector, gains which were at least as important as those to be derived from capture of the German capital. By a thrust to the Baltic we should cut off from the main enemy armies those elements which were located in Denmark , Norway, northwest Germany and Holland at once depriving them of supplies and preventing their coming to the assistance of the force in the center of Germany. Furthermore, we should gain the north German ports and thus deny the enemy use of his naval bases and shipbuilding yards bringing to an end the activities of the submarines and other craft which had for so long prey upon our supply routes. Finally, we should link hands with the Russian forces sweeping across Pomerania to the north of Berlin.
In central Germany, a route was open to us through the gap in the enemy's line created by the trapping of Army Group B in the Ruhr. an easy advance was thus offered from Kassel through Erfurt and Leipzig, to Dresden. This would again bring our forces to an important industrial area, the richest still left to the German after their loss of the Ruhr and Silesia . There also we would be able to meet the advancing Red Army, and in so doing we should cut in half what remained of Hitler's Reich.
In the south an axis of advance was available through Nurnberg and Regensburg by the Danube Valley into Austria, where the Russians were already threatening Vienna. A thrust on this axis would also enable us to isolate, and then penetrate, the Redoubt in western Austria into which we now knew the enemy intended eventually to withdraw as many of his forces as possible. The prevention of such a withdrawal was a major objective in any operations which we might execute in the south.
Weighing the relative advantages which would accrue from an advance in strength in either north, center, or south, I decided that an offensive first in the center would prove the most effective. With Germany once cut in two, the enemy remaining in each portion could then more economically be eliminated. Such a central thrust, moreover, would afford us the maximum degree of flexibility for future operations, as we could subsequently switch forces rapidly to the north or to the south as the situation should indicate.
General Bradley was accordingly instructed to launch an offensive with the Central Group of Armies from the Kassel area, where he now stood, toward Leipzig, establishing the right flank of his advance on the line Bayreuth-Erzgebirge. He was to seize any opportunity of capturing a bridgehead over the Elbe River and to be prepared for operations farther east, but it was anticipated that these would be unnecessary as the speed of the Russian advance would probably lead to a junction with them on the Elbe, if not west of the river. To assist the First and Third Armies in executing this thrust, Ninth Army reverted from the 21 Army Group to the operational command of 12th Army Group on 4 April.
While General Bradley's forces were thus engaged in the center, the operations of the Allied army groups in the north and south were to be of a limited nature, designed primarily to support the principal offensive. Field Marshal Montgomery's 21 Army Group, after completing its present operations to the Leine River and Bremen, was to strike toward the Elbe on the northern flank of the 12th Army Group. It was also to be prepared to establish bridgeheads over the river. General Devers' 6th Army Group was to protect the southern flank of the central advance west of Bayreuth, and meanwhile to prepare for a later thrust of its own along the axis Nurnberg-Regensburg-Linz to prevent any concentration of German resistance in the south.
When the central thrust had achieved its object, the principal cask was to be an advance to the Baltic and the cleaning out of the whole northern area from Kiel and Lubeck westward by the 21 Army Group. The Ninth Army would, if necessary, again be used to assist Field Marshal Montgomery in this work. After the requirements for these northern operations had been met, we should be able to direct the 6th Army Group, with perhaps the Third Army, southeastward down the Danube Valley and into the Redoubt.
It will have been observed that in all the possible lines of advance into Germany following the Ruhr encirclement the question arose of effecting a junction with the Russians. In fact, with the approach of our respective forces from east and west, it was now essential that operations on the two fronts should be coordinated, and necessary to learn something of the Russians' intentions in order to know best how to exploit such success as our own plan of campaign might achieve. I therefore informed Marshal Stalin of my general plan to strike first in the center and subsequently to effect a linkup with his forces in the Regensburg-Linz area with a view to neutralizing the Redoubt. Marshal Stalin replied that this scheme coincided entirely with the Russian plans in respect to both the central and southern sectors.
The decision to concentrate first upon a major thrust in the center nevertheless gave rise to some misgivings. The desirability of bringing the U-boat war to an end, of opening up supply lines through the north German ports, of acquiring the use of Swedish shipping, of relieving the Dutch, and of occupying Denmark and Norway, and the political and psychological effects of an early entry into Berlin were all advanced as reasons in favor of early operations in the 21 Army Group sector.
Our reply pointed out that we had not forgotten the important advantages to be gained by the conquest of north Germany. It was merely a question of timing that was at issue. Our plan for an advance in the center was itself intended to facilitate such a conquest which, I was convinced, could more easily be achieved once Germany was cut in two. It was vital that we should concentrate for each effort in turn rather than allow our power to be dispersed by attempting to undertake too many projects at once.
Despite appearances on the map, the North German Plain does not in reality afford such favorable terrain for a rapid advance as does the central sector at this time of year. Between Kassel and Leipzig we should be moving over a plateau with no major river obstacles, whereas the northern area is intersected with waterways and the ground was in a condition to make heavy going. Previous experience of the Germans' thoroughness in bridge destruction also served to indicate the advisability of advancing across headwaters rather than the lower reaches of rivers when speed was an essential factor.
Berlin, I was now certain, no longer represented a military objective of major importance. The Russian advance and the Allied bombing had largely destroyed its usefulness, and even the governmental departments were understood to be in process of evacuation. Military factors, when the enemy was on the brink of final defeat, were more important in my eyes than the political considerations involved in an Allied capture of the capital. The function of our forces must be to crush the German armies rather than to dissipate our own strength in the occupation of empty and ruined cities. Moreover, the Russians were practically on its outskirts (30 miles away) and it was a matter of serious concern to avoid entangling of forces in areas where, due to difficulties of communication and difficulties in language, unfortunate incidents might occur.
Kassel was cleared on 4 April, and within the following week the main Allied advances to the east were begun. On the southern flank, the Third Army, headed by XX Corps, encountered only scattered opposition, with little more than road blocks to bar its progress in the country north of the Thuringian Forest. Weimar was reached on 11 April and Erfurt cleared the next clay. By the 13th, Jena had been cleared and the 4th Armored Division was at the outskirts of Chemnitz. The enemy retired southeast into the Erzgebirge along the frontier of Czechoslovakia, although he still clung to the town of Chemnitz as a pivot to the north, where the south Saxon cities were putting up a stiff resistance to the First Army. At the same time that XX Corps was advancing to the north of Czechoslovakia, XII and VIII Corps of the Third Army, farther south, pushed through Bayreuth and Neustadt toward the mountains of the Bohemian Forest forming the southwestern border of the country. On 18 April the Allied armies set foot in Czechoslovakia.
On the left flank of the First Army, the Ninth Army continued the advance to the northeast which it had commenced under the 21 Army Group following its successful envelopment of the north of the Ruhr. XIX Corps established a bridgehead over the Weser at Hameln on 6 April and pushed rapidly ahead, south of Brunswick, to reach the Elbe south of Magdeburg on 11 April. On the next day, Brunswick fell and the first bridgehead was gained on the east bank of the Elbe by the 2d Armored Division. A second bridgehead, south of Wittenberge, was achieved by the 5th Armored Division of XIII Corps on 13 April.
From Magdeburg to Wittenberge, the enemy showed himself ready to evacuate the west bank of the river, but he fought hard to deny us possession of Magdeburg itself, which only fell to XIX Corps on 18 April. Very strong counterattacks were also launched against the bridgeheads, and these were so severe as to compel the Ninth Army, on 14 April, to abandon the two footholds originally obtained. But a third, at Barby, held firm, as enemy attempts to destroy the bridges by floating mines down the river proved abortive. So rapid had been the thrust to reach the Elbe that a number of German pockets had been bypassed on the way. The forces in these, before being mopped up, attempted to harass the Allied lines of communication, but with little success.
The First Army offensive, south of the Harz Mountains, got under way by 11 April, and rapid progress was made against generally disorganized resistance. On 14 April the 3d Armored Division of VII Corps reached Dessau, just south of the confluence of the Elbe and Mulde Rivers. In the course of this thrust, the Harz Mountains, containing some 10,000 enemy troops, were almost encircled, but attempts to reduce this pocket met with strong resistance. The garrison succeeded for some time, with the aid of the difficult terrain, in holding the Allied inroads to a minimum, while striving to keep open a corridor to the east near Bernburg. The encirclement was nevertheless completed when this corridor was severed on 18 April. A desperate attempt by the von Clausewitz Panzer Division to relieve the garrison by a dash across some 50 miles of Allied-held territory was foiled, and opposition within the pocket soon weakened. The last organized resistance in the Harz ceased on 21 April.
Meanwhile, although the Allies had penetrated to the southeast of Leipzig, the enemy fought back strongly to its west and southwest. After 2 days of bitter struggle the 69th Division of V Corps cleared the city on 19 April. The enemy salient which had extended westward from the line of the Mulde to the Leipzig-Halle area had now disappeared and Allied elements cleared to the river.
On 25 April patrols of the 273d Regiment, 69th Division, under V Corps, which had probed eastward from the Mulde, met elements of the Russian 58th Guards Division in the Torgau area, on the Elbe. The junction of the Eastern and Western Fronts had been effected, and Germany was cut in two. The object of the central thrust had been achieved.
The problem of liaison with the Russians had grown more pressing during the advance across central Germany, strategical questions being replaced by tactical ones as the time of junction approached; but solutions were not forthcoming until the last minute. One of our principal anxieties concerned the mutual identification of our respective forces, both in the air and on the ground. Already, at the beginning of April, our tactical air forces had come into contact and shots had been mistakenly exchanged, and we considered it of the utmost importance that all possible arrangements should be made to insure proper recognition in order to prevent errors and possibly tragic incidents which might result in later recriminations. Following recommendations by the Army Group commanders, a system of recognition signs and signals was eventually arranged by 20 April.
In regard to the territorial questions affecting the junction of the fronts it did not seem to me practicable to restrict our operations to a demarcation line prepared in advance, either on the basis of the subsequent occupational zones or otherwise. Both fronts should be free to advance until contact was imminent, after which an agreement should be reached between the local commanders concerned as to any readjustment of lines which operational considerations might render desirable. This policy met with the approval of the Combined Chiefs of Staff and of the Soviet High Command, and instructions accordingly were issued to the armies under my command. The arrangement worked smoothly and, in accordance with an agreement reached with the Soviet High Command when the contact was imminent, the boundary was temporarily fixed in the central sector along the easily identified line of the Elbe and Mulde Rivers. The subsequent readjustments to the zonal boundaries for occupational purposes was carried through without incident after the cessation of hostilities.
While the Central Group of Armies had been pushing eastward to divide Germany, the Northern and Southern Groups had each in their respective sectors been carrying out the operations assigned to them during this period.
Under the 21 Army Group, the Second Army was, by my instructions, to advance toward Bremen and Hamburg, thereafter thrusting to the Elbe (gaining a bridgehead if the opportunity offered) and thereby protecting the northern flank of the Ninth Army in the 12th Army Group. Meanwhile the Canadian Army was to open up a supply route to the north through Arnhem and then to operate to clear northeast Holland, the coastal belt eastward to the Elbe, and west Holland, in that order of priority. The operations were, in many respects, similar to those carried out in France by the same Army Group in the preceding summer, when the Second Army drove across the rear of the Pas-de-Calais while the Canadian Army mopped up the enemy along the coast.
The Second Army advance was made with the 30 Corps on the left flank, the 12 Corps in the center, and the 8 Corps on the right. Resistance at first was slight and good progress was made. North of Munster, the German First Parachute Army troops were scattered, Rheine was taken on 3 April, and enemy hopes of a stand on the Weser-Ems canal were frustrated. On 6 April, the 8 Corps established a bridgehead over the Weser on the southern flank, and continued the advance to the Elbe, which the II Armoured Division reached at Lauenburg on 19 April. Farther north, the 12 Corps, against stiffer resistance, reached Harburg, on the south bank of the Elbe opposite Hamburg, on 20 April. South of Bremen, the advance of the 30 Corps was stoutly contested. The Allies were at the outskirts of the city by 22 April, but very bitter fighting took place before the 3 and 52 Divisions finally crushed all opposition on the 26th.
Meanwhile the Canadian Army was probing into Holland. In a thrust northward, the Canadian 2 Corps, conforming with the Second Army on its right, initially met heavy opposition from the First Parachute Army, but broke out on 6 April and, while some elements turned northwest, others advanced northeast toward Oldenburg. Resistance in north Holland collapsed and the sea was reached on 15 April. By the 21st, the whole area, apart from a small tip in the northeast, was cleared as far south as Harderwijk on the eastern shore of the Ijssel Meer. To the west, the Ijssel River line was stubbornly defended at Deventer and Zutphen, but the former town fell on 10 April and a bridgehead was established over the river. In the southern sector of the army zone, the Canadian I Corps attacked from Nijmegen, clearing to the lower Rhine by 5 April, and Arnhem was captured on the 15th. The enemy now withdrew into "Fortress Holland" behind the Grebbe and New Water lines, protected by the floods, beyond which no further Allied advance was made in this sector. It was rightly felt by Field Marshal Montgomery that an advance into Holland would occasion great additional suffering for that unhappy country and that the quickest and most economical way to free the country was to complete the destruction of the enemy forces elsewhere.
The principal task of the 6th Army Group during the first half of April was, as previously indicated, the protection of the right flank of the 12th Army Group thrust as far east as Bayreuth. To accomplish this, the Seventh Army was ordered to advance with all speed to a line Ludwigsburg-Crailsheim-Nurnberg-Bayreuth, linking with the Third Army in the Bayreuth area. The Bayreuth-Nurnberg autobahn was to be cut and Nurnberg itself captured, after which the army was to be prepared to attack toward Regensburg and Linz. The French First Army was to advance its Rhine bridgehead force to the line Lichtenau-Pforzheim-Ludwigsburg, capturing Karlsruhe and Pforzheim. When the principal bridgehead had been adequately built up, the area east of the Rhine was to be cleared far enough south to enable a new bridgehead to be established at Strasbourg. The troops there would then cross the Rhine, after which the main effort would be an advance on Stuttgart from the Pforzheim-Ludwigsburg areas.
In the execution of these plans the opposition encountered was generally steady, despite the losses incurred by the enemy. While XXI Corps, in the Seventh Army sector, penetrated to Schweinfurt by 11 April, stiff resistance met the Allied thrusts at Wurzburg and Heilbronn. At the latter place the enemy defended the Neckar River line against VI Corps for some days and then fought in the town for a week before it was cleared on 12 April. A salient thrust as far as Crailsheim by the 10th Armored Division on 7 April had to be temporarily abandoned in the face of the enemy pressure. By 16 April XV Corps reached Nurnberg, but again several days' hard fighting was required before the city was cleared.
In the French Army sector, resistance in the Rhine Valley was initially stiff, but soon weakened. Karlsruhe fell on 4 April and Baden-Baden on the 12th. The enemy defenses to the south now collapsed before the French I Corps. By 15 April, Kehl was taken and the way cleared for bridging to be started at Strasbourg. As the withdrawal to the south up the right bank of the Rhine continued, the enemy was forced to conform by retiring in the Black Forest to the east, and the situation was prepared for the capture of Stuttgart by Allied pincers converging from northeast and southwest.
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