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A Brief History of WWII

The Final Offensive Against Germany

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With the elimination of the "bulge" and the repulse of NORDWIND, the campaign in the west moved into its final phases. The Allies paused only briefly before resuming the offensive. Eisenhower had earlier decided that his armies should advance to the Rhine all along its length before crossing; he wanted to shorten Allied lines, provide a defensible position in the event of further German counterattacks, and free troops to build up strong reserves. If Hitler persisted in defending every inch of German territory, most of the enemy's remaining forces would be destroyed west of the Rhine. Once across the river, American and British forces would be able to advance into Germany almost at will.

Harmonizing conflicting British and American views remained one of Eisenhower's major problems. Rejecting British proposals to concentrate on one thrust north of the Ruhr under Montgomery's leadership, Eisenhower planned concentric attacks from the north by the British 21 Army Group and the U.S. Ninth Army and from the south by the U.S. First Army. Meanwhile, the Third Army would drive straight across Germany, and the Seventh Army would turn southward into Bavaria. Because the United States now dominated the alliance, most of the significant tasks of the final campaign went to American commanders.

First, a pocket of German resistance at Colmar had to be eliminated. Eisenhower assigned five additional U.S. divisions and 10,000 service troops to the effort. The Franco-American attack against the pocket began on 20 January and was over by early February. Meantime, the Canadian First Army cleared the area between the Maas and Rhine Rivers. At the same time, the First Army advanced and finally seized the Roer River dams but found that the Germans had destroyed the controls. The resultant flooding delayed the Ninth Army's advance by two weeks. That attack finally began in late February and linked up with the Canadians, cutting off German forces facing the British. Meanwhile, the First Army's drive to the Rhine culminated in the capture of Cologne and on 7 March the seizure of an intact bridge at the town of Remagen.

As American divisions poured into the bridgehead, the Third and Seventh Armies launched coordinated attacks to the south. On the 22d and the 25th, Third Army troops made assault crossings of the Rhine. On 23 March the British Second Army and the U.S. Ninth Army staged massive crossings in the Rees-Wesel-Dinslaken area, supported by the largest airborne landings of the war, while the Seventh Army crossed on the 26th near Worms. Now Allied columns fanned out across Germany, overrunning isolated pockets of resistance. While Montgomery's forces drove northward toward the great German ports of Bremen, Hamburg, and Luebeck, the Ninth Army advanced along the axis Muenster-Magdeburg. Ninth and First Army troops met on 1 April, encircling the industrial region of the Ruhr and capturing 325,000 prisoners. The First Army continued eastward toward Kassel and Leipzig while the Third Army rolled through Frankfurt, Eisenach, and Erfurt toward Dresden, then southward toward Czechoslovakia and Austria. The Sixth Army Group advanced into Bavaria toward Munich and Salzburg, denying the Germans a last-ditch defense in the Bavarian or Austrian Alps. Germany was shattered.

Nevertheless, Eisenhower resisted British pressure to drive on to Berlin. He saw no point in taking casualties to capture ground that, in line with earlier agreements between Allied leaders, would have to be relinquished to the Soviets once hostilities ceased. His objective remained to capture or destroy the remnants of the German armed forces. The Soviets massed 1.2 million men and 22,000 pieces of artillery and on April 16 began their assault upon the city. As that battle raged, British, American, and Soviet forces neared previously negotiated stop lines along the Elbe and Mulde Rivers. The First Army made contact with Soviet troops on April 25 around Torgau. Meanwhile, as the Third Army entered Czechoslovakia and British troops reached the Baltic, the Russians moved through the streets of Berlin. On April 30, 1945, Hitler committed suicide in a bunker beneath the ruins of his capitol.

German forces in Italy surrendered effective May 2 and those in the Netherlands, northwestern Germany, and Denmark on May 4. Patrols of the U.S. Seventh Army driving eastward through Austria and the Fifth Army driving north from Italy met near the Brenner Pass. On 7 May the German High Command surrendered all its forces unconditionally, and 8 May was officially proclaimed V-E Day. Though peace had come to Europe, one of the most culturally and economically advanced areas of the globe lay in ruins. Germany, the industrial engine of the Continent, lay prostrate, occupied by British, French, American, and Soviet troops. Britain, exhausted by its contribution to the victory, tottered near economic collapse, while France was totally dependent on the United States. The Soviet Union had suffered in excess of 20 million casualties and untold devastation, but its armed forces remained powerful and its intentions obscure. To the victory in western Europe and Italy, the United States had contributed 68 divisions, 15,000 combat aircraft, well over 1 million tanks and motor vehicles, and 135,000 dead. The country now turned its focus to a war a half a world away and to the defeat of Japan in the Pacific.

This text has been converted from "A Brief History of the U.S. Army in World War II" published by the U.S. Army Center for Military History.

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