Operation Cheerful

'Cheerful' was a French offensive by Général d’Armée Jean Joseph Marie Gabriel de Lattre de Tassigny’s 1ère Armée against General Siegfried Rasp’s 19th Army of Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler’s Oberkommando 'Oberrhein' (otherwise höheres Kommando 'Oberrhein') trapped in the Colmar pocket in central France (20 January/9 February 1945).

The Colmar pocket was the area held in central Alsace by Rasp’s 19th Army from November 1944 to February 1945 against Lieutenant General Jacob L. Devers’s US 6th Army Group. The pocket had been created when the 6th Army Group liberated southern and northern Alsace and adjacent eastern Lorraine, but could not clear central Alsace. In 'Nordwind' (iii), during December 1944, the 19th Army attacked to the north out of the pocket in support of other German forces attacking to the south from the Saar into the northern part of Alsace. Late in January and early in February 1945, the French 1st Army, reinforced by the US XXI Corps, cleared the pocket of German forces.

A German bridgehead on the western bank of the Rhine river, some 40 miles (65 km) long and 30 miles (48 km) deep, had been created on November 1944 when the German defences in the Vosges mountains collapsed under the pressure of an offensive by the 6th Army Group. de Lattre de Tassigny’s 1ère Armée forced the Belfort gap and destroyed General Erich Petersen’s IV Luftwaffe Feldkorps near the town of Burnhaupt in the southern part of the Vosges mountains. Soon after this, French forces reached the Rhine river between Mulhouse and Basel in the region to the north of the Swiss border, and in the north part of the Vosges mountains, Général de Division Philippe François Marie Jacques Leclerc de Hauteclocque’s 2ème Division Blindée spearheaded the advance of Lieutenant General Alexander McC. Patchs US 7th Army, forced the Saverne gap, and punched through to the Rhine, liberating Strasbourg on 23 November. The effect of these two advances was to collapse the German presence in the southern part of Alsace, to the west of the Rhine river, into a semi-circular bridgehead centred on the town of Colmar, and this became known as the Colmar pocket.

Apart from Normandy, the areas of France most bitterly defended by the Germans were Alsace and Lorraine. This was the result, in part, of the fact that the Allied eastward surge across France from Normandy between July and September 1944 had been slowed by logistical difficulties as the Allies reached the easternmost extent of France, but more significantly of the fact that the determined German defence of these regions (Alsace and Lorraine are known as Elsass and Lothringen in German) were claimed as part of Germany, which had occupied them between 1870 and 1918, and were therefore defended as stolidly as all other German soil. This perception drove Adolf Hitler’s decisions of 24 November and 27 November 1944 that the 19th Army was to hold the region round Colmar regardless of cost. On 26 November, the Germans created the Oberkommando 'Oberrhein' to defend the front between the Bienwald and the Swiss border. Of prime importance to the German defence round Colmar was the presence of the bridges over the Rhine river at Breisach and Chalampé, since it was over these bridges that all supplies would have to be delivered.

The logistical crisis and heavy combat of the autumn of 1944 had blunted the fighting capability of the Allied forces throughout North-Western Europe, and the 6th Army Group was no exception. Restricted logistical support imposed limits on the usage of artillery ammunition and the number of divisions the Allies could effectively employ in the front lines, and erroneous forecasts of infantry losses meant that there were insufficient replacements to keep US infantry units up to full strength.

The supply of French replacements was limited by the small size of the training infrastructure the French army had been able to re-establish since re-entering France in August 1944 during 'Dragoon', and had been further straitened by the controversial French decision to 'whiten' the French forces in Alsace by sending experienced Senegalese and other colonial troops, who had been effectively exhausted by the extent of the combat to which they had been committed in Italy, to the south and replacing them with men of the FFI (Forces Françaises de l’Intérieur, or French Forces of the Interior), who were of varying quality and experience. The FFI troops were capable of defensive operations, the required a steep learning curve of training to turn them into men capable of undertaking effective offensive operations, especially those involving complex combined-arms and similar undertakings.

At the end of November 1944, therefore, the 1ère Armée comprised two kinds of units, namely highly experienced colonial units and inexperienced units which had recently received large influxes of FFI troops. In combination with a supporting arms structure (armour, artillery, engineers etc.) weaker than that of other Allied armies, the limited combat capability of the French 1st Army made it possible for the 19th Army to hold the Colmar pocket against a French initial offensive on 15/22 December.

On 1 January 1945 the Germans launched 'Nordwind' (iii), one of whose objectives was the recapture of Strasbourg in 'Sonnenwende' (iii). Men of Generalmajor Otto Schiel’s 198th Division and armour of Oberst Dr Franz Bäke’s (from 12 January Major Bernard von Schkopp’s) 106th Panzerbrigade 'Feldherrnhalle' attacked to the north out of the Colmar pocket between 7 and 13 January. Although their II Corps suffered some losses during this attack, the French held the front to the south of Strasbourg and frustrated the German attempts to recapture the city.

After 'Nordwind' (iii) had failed, the 6th Army Group was ordered to crush the Colmar pocket as part of General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s plan for all the Allied forces on the Western Front to close up to the Rhine as a necessary precursor to a series of Rhine river crossing and the invasion of the main part of Germany in the area to the east of the Rhine river. Given the fact that most of the Allied troops surrounding the Colmar pocket were French, the reduction of the pocket was assigned to the French 1st Army.

Major General John W. O’Daniel’s US 3rd Division had moved into the Vosges mountains during the middle of December to replace Brigadier General Robert I. Stack’s exhausted US 36th Infantry Division, and thus was available to support the 'Cheerful' reduction of the Colmar pocket. Appreciating that the French would need the assistance of additional US troops for the coming battle, Lieutenant General Jacob L. Devers, commander of the 6th Army Group, arranged for the transfer of another US division from a different part of the front. Very tired but deemed capable of limited offensive action, Major General Norman D. Cota’s US 28th Division duly arrived from the Ardennes front, where it had been involved in checking 'Wacht am Rhein', and took up position on the right right flank of the US 3rd Division. With the US 28th Division in the Kaysersberg valley, the US 3rd Division would be able to concentrate for an attack against two German divisions, Generalmajor Wilhelm Bleckwenn’s 708th Volksgrenadierdivision and Generalmajor Eduard Zorn’s 189th Division. Additionally, a US armoured formation, Major General Henry H. Morris’s 10th Armored Division, was scheduled to support the offensive, but as events developed, it was Major General Roderick R. Allen’s US 12th Armored Division that was eventually committed to the battle.

The winter of 1944/45 was uncommonly cold, windy and snowy in North-Western Europe, and this was exacerbated by the fact that the Alsatian plain is flat and offers little physical protection from the prevailing weather. The flat nature of the terrain also offered the attacker practically no cover other than occasional woods. The plain is also part of the drainage basin of the Rhine river, and is therefore cut by many streams and drainage canals with silted bottoms, making them treacherous for vehicles to ford. Dotting the plain were small villages comprising sturdy masonry houses whose multi-storey construction offered defending troops a commanding view of the surrounding fields.

With a total of seven infantry divisions (two of them US), one mountain division and three armoured divisions, the French 1st Army (Général de Corps d’Armée Marie Emil Antoine Béthouart’s I Corps d’Armée and Général de Corps d’Armée Joseph Jean de Goislard de Monsabert’s II Corps d’Armée) was tasked with the elimination of the Colmar pocket and the destruction of Generalleutnant Helmuth Thumm’s (from 21 January Generalleutnant Max Grimmeiss’s) LXIV Corps and Generalleutnant Erich Abraham’s LXIII Corps in 'Cheerful'.

Between them these German formations mustered eight poor-quality infantry divisions 1, which had all been effectively decimated.

With a length of 41.5 miles (67 km) from north to south and with a maximum width of 30 miles (50 km) from east to west, and with its eastern side on the western bank of the Rhine river, as noted above, the pocket had remained in German hands after 'Nordwind' (iii), the abortive German offensive in Alsace. This wholly misconceived operation had been an SS brainchild undertaken by Oberkommando 'Oberrhein' under the titular leadership of Himmler. However, the scapegoat for the failure was General Friedrich Wiese, who was replaced as commander of the 19th Army, holding the Colmar salient, by Rasp on 19 December 1944. On 28 January 1945 Himmler moved to the nominal command of Heeresgruppe 'Weichsel', and command of thec Oberkommando 'Oberrhein' then passed to SS-Oberstgruppenführer und Generaloberst der Waffen-SS Paul Hausser, who was still recuperating from wounds suffered in the fighting of the 'Falaise pocket'.

On 15 January 1945 de Lattre de Tassigny ordered the reduction of the Colmar salient in a manner which would inflict the least possible casualties on the French population trapped in it. The object of 'Cheerful' was therefore not direct assault on the formations of the 19th Army, but rather its strangulation by severing its links with German across the Rhine river by the capture of Brisach. de Lattre de Tassigny’s plan therefore mandated the driving of convergent wedges, that by the I Corps striking to the north to throw the Germans off balance and persuade them to commit their reserves, and then that by the II Corps, launched two days later to the south-east, to achieve the major breakthrough.

Between these two drives, the front in the high Vosges would initially remain inactive, The French moving to compress the German salient only after the arrival of the I and II Corps at their objectives on the Rhine river. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, commanding the Allied armies on the Western Front, and Lieutenant General Jacob L. Devers, commanding the Allied 6th Army Group including the French 1st Army, were at this time so concerned with the need to destroy the Colmar pocket as quickly as possible as the Allied armies closed up to the Rhine river that that they provided substantial reinforcements for the French 1st Army: O’Daniel’s US 3rd Division remained under command of the French army, which was also bolstered, with operational limitations, by Cota’s US 28th Division and Allen’s US 12th Armored Division, as well as Leclerc de Hauteclocque’s 2ème Division Blindée, which was transferred from the Strasbourg area specifically for this purpose. By 20 January, therefore, the 1ère Armée had some seven infantry, one mountain and three armoured divisions available to it, though not all the French strength was available for employment in 'Cheerful' as Général de Division Jean Louis Alain Touzet du Vigier’s 3ème Division d’Infanterie Algérienne was still engaged in and around Killstett, and Général de Division Pierre Armand Gaston Billotte’s newly created 10ème Division de Marche d’Infanterie was limited to a more modest role.

Facing these French and US forces along the 100-mile (160-km) front of this Alsatian bridgehead, the 19th Army deployed its LXIV and LXIII Corps in the north and south of the salient respectively. Including the reinforcements attached to them, the best-equipped formations were Barde’s 198th Division and Ewert’s 716th Volksgrenadierdivision, but these had only 4,546 and 6,891 men respectively. Moreover, while de Lattre de Tassigny complained about not receiving all the supplies he believed he needed, by the eighth day of battle Rasp had been compelled to limit his artillery to a mere 12 150-mm (5.91-in) and 15 105-mm (4.13-in) rounds per gun per day, compared with 90 155-mm (6.1-in) and 120 105-mm (4.13-in) rounds per gun per day for the artillery of the French 1st Army.

However, there were three factors which favoured the German defence and partially offset its inferiority in numbers and matériel: firstly the terrain, which was no more than 'a network of streams and rivers' interspersed with many woods and large numbers of villages together with the smaller number of manufacturing and industrial towns of the Mulhouse region; secondly the weather, which on the first day of 'Cheerful' included a snow storm blowing from the north-east and night temperatures falling to between -20 and -25° C (-4 and -13° F) but finally, just as the German resistance was starting to fail, an unexpected rise in the temperature which swelled the rivers and turned the roads into mud baths; and thirdly the small numbers of the technically superior PzKpfw V Panther medium tanks and Jagdpanther and Nashorn tank destroyers, whose 88-mm (3.465-in) high-velocity guns were altogether superior to the weapons carried by the 1ère Armée’s M4 Sherman medium tanks and M10 tank destroyers. The firepower superiority of the German armoured fighting vehicles was supplemented by the wider tracks of the German vehicles, which made them more manoeuvrable on the snow in weather conditions which their opponents could not handle.

At 07.00 on January 20 the reinforced I Corps advanced to break the German line between Thann and the Forêt de Nünenbruck, take Cernay and then push on without a pause in the direction of Ensisheim and Reguisheim on the Ill river. For this purpose, over a 14-mile (22.5-km) front, Béthouart had Général de Division Louis Constant Morlière’s 9ème Division d’Infanterie Coloniale around Mulhouse, Général de Division Marcel Maurice Carpentier’s 2ème Division d’Infanterie Marocaine in the centre, and Général de Division René de Hesdin’s 4ème Division Marocaine de Montagne around Thann. In spite of the support of the tanks of Général de Division Aimé Sudre’s 1ère Division Blindée, the attempt to break the German line on the axis toward Cernay was not very successful because of the determined German resistance by the 159th Division, well-sited German minefields, and snow storms which made artillery observation impossible.

On the other hand, the secondary attack, which had been entrusted to the 9ème Division d’Infanterie Coloniale against the 716th Division, took the villages of Burtzwiller, Illzach, Kingersheim, Pfastadt and Lutterbach, a remarkable success resulting from the dash with which Général de Brigade Raoul Albert Louis Salan led the infantry of this division.

The combination difficult weather and terrain with a German defence in depth proved difficult for the French divisions, and severely limited their success. The French attack was successful, however, in persuading the Germans to commit their mobile reserves (106th Panzerbrigade and 654th schwere Panzerjägerabteilung), as well as the infantry of the 2nd Gebirgsjägerdivision, in the south. However, even this limited French success was not without significant cost: one brigade of the 1ère Division Blindée (Combat Command 1) lost 36 of some 50 medium tanks to land mines. The losses in other tank units were not dissimilar.

On the following day the LXIII Corps counterattacked and, on January 22, with the storm blowing worse than ever, Béthouart expressed the opinion that the French should wait for the storm to blow itself out. But any let-up on the part of the I Corps d’Armée would have prejudiced the attack of the II Corps d’Armée , which was just finishing its preparations away to the north, and Béthouart was thus instructed to press his attack, and a fierce, bitter struggle was then waged close to Wittelsheim, in the Forêt de Nünenbruck, and for the factory towns of the area, which had to be cleared individually.

On 23 January, de Goislard de Monsabert’s II Corps d’Armée (3ème Division d’Infanterie Algérienne, 1ère Division de Marche d’Infanterie, 2ème Division Blindée, 5ème Division Blindée, US 3rd Division and US 28th Division) advanced to the south-east against the 708th Volskgrenadierdivision in the north-east and 189th Division in the south-west, and forced a second wedge into the German line. This was achieved with more ease than the first, even though Rasp had begun to appreciate the French plan.

To the south of the US 3rd Division, the US 28th Division remained on the defensive on its sector of the front, with the 10th Division d’Infanterie fulfilling a similar role on the I Corps d’Armée’s side of the corps boundary, where it was faced by the low-grade units of the 16th Volksgrenadierdivision and 338th Division. The II Corps d’Armée’s reserve was the 2ème Division Blindée.

O’Daniel’s US 3rd Division attacked to the south-east on 22 January with the task of crossing the Ill river, bypassing the city of Colmar to the north, and opening the way for the 5th Division Blindé, which was to drive on the railway bridge at Neuf-Brisach, which was essential to the supply of the Germans in the Colmar pocket. The division’s 7th Infantry pushed to the south, clearing the region between the Fecht and Ill rivers, and its 30th Infantry moved to the south-east, crossed the Ill river to the north of the timber bridge at the Maison Rouge farm, and moved south early on 23 January, capturing the Maison Rouge bridge. The 30th Infantry then moved to the south into the Bois de Riedwihr and toward the towns of Riedwihr and Holtzwihr.

The bridge at Maison Rouge was not strong enough to bear the weight of the US tanks (it collapsed under the weight one such vehicle), so the 30th Infantry had only minimal anti-tank capability (bazooka rocket-launchers and just three 57-mm towed anti-tank guns) when it was counterattacked late in the afternoon by German infantry and heavy tank destroyers of the 708th Volksgrenadierdivision and 280th Sturmgeschützabteilung. Lacking cover and unable to dig foxholes because of the frozen terrain, the 30th Infantry was forced to withdraw, taking heavy casualties when the withdrawal assumed the character of a rout. The regiment re-formed on the western bank of the Ill river, but was out of action for three days as it reorganised.

On 25 January, the US 15th Infantry followed the course of the 30th Infantry and recaptured the bridge at Maison Rouge. A German counterattack, again supported by heavy tank destroyers, overran an exposed company of the 15th Infantry at about 08.00 but was unable to drive on the bridge because of the weight and accuracy of the US defensive fire. Later in the same day, US engineers built a bridge over the Ill river to the north of Maison Rouge, and this made it possible for a battalion of the 15th Infantry, supported by tanks, to attack toward the south, finally securing the bridgehead. During the next two days, the 15th Infantry pushed farther to the south in the direction of the towns of Riedwihr and Holtzwihr, and entered the Bois de Riedwihr. The Germans made several counterattacks, but the US troops were able to halt these with the support of tanks and tank destroyers. Riedwihr fell to the 15th Infantry on 26 January, and the 30th Infantry took Holtzwihr on 27 January. The 30th Infantry continued toward the south, reaching the Colmar Canal on 29 January.

The capture of Jebsheim was needed to protect the northern flank of the advance of the US 3rd Division, which was moving ahead of the 1ère Division de Marche d’Infanterie on the US division’s northern flank, O’Daniel committed the 254th Infantry (part of Major General Louis E. Hibbs’s US 63rd Division but attached to the 3rd Division for the duration of operations in the Colmar pocket) to capture Jebsheim. On 26/27 January, men of the 136th Gebirgsjägerregiment defended Jebsheim against the advance of the 254th Infantry, which then took Jebsheim on 28/29 January in collaboration with the tanks of Combat Command 6 of the 5th Division Blindé and a battalion of the French 1st Régiment de Chasseurs Parachutistes. The 254th Infantry then continued to push to the east in the direction of the Rhône-Rhine Canal. Meanwhile, the 7th Infantry had moved forward and, together with the 15th Infantry and tanks of the 5ème Division Blindée, was positioned to drive on the fortified town of Neuf-Brisach, about 5 miles (8 km) distant from the 3rd Division’s advance elements.

On the left flank, and to the north of the 3rd Division, the 1ère Division de Marche d’Infanterie attacked to the south-east on 23 January with the Rhine river as its objective. Facing four battalions of the 708th Volksgrenadierdivision of Grimmeiss’s LXIV Corps supported by heavy tank destroyers and artillery, the 1ère Division de Marche d’Infanterie’s 1ère Brigade fought in conditions similar to that experienced by the US forces farther to the south. The Germans resisted with a defence in depth, using positions in the villages and forests to command the open ground to their front and laying mines in large numbers to slow and then to channel the French advance into pre-registered 'killing zones'. Two battalions of the 708th Volksgrenadierdivision counterattacked the French bridgeheads over the Ill river at about 17.00 on 23 January, but were driven back. Wishing to avoid dug-in German infantry and armour in the Bois d’Elsenheim, Garbay ordered the 1st Brigade to concentrate its advance along the road from Illhaeusern to Elsenheim. On 26/27 January, the 1ère Brigade embarked on the opening of this route and skirting the obstacle posed by the Bois d’Elsenheim, a significant attack into the woods being delivered by the 3/Régiment de Marche of the Légion Etrangère on 27 January. The village of Grussenheim was taken on 28 January, at heavy cost, by supporting tanks of the 2ème Division Blindée. Against crumbling German resistance, the French then accelerated their progress, taking Elsenheim and Marckolsheim on 31 January and reaching the Rhine river during the following day. In the course of its operations in the Colmar pocket, the 1ère Division de Marche d’Infanterie suffered casualties totalling 220 men killed, 1,240 wounded, 96 missing, and 550 evacuated with trench-foot cases.

Noting the difficulty all the Allied formations were encountering in their operations against German resistance in the Colmar pocket, de Lattre de Tassigny requested reinforcements from the 6th Army Group. Devers agreed to the French request and subordinated the headquarters of Major General Frank W. Milburn’s US XXI Corps to the 1ère Armée, and the US corps took up position between the two French corps on 28 January and assumed command of the US 3rd and 28th Divisions. Two additional US formations, Major General Ray E. Porter’s 75th Division and Major General Roderick R. Allen’s 12th Armored Division, were also assigned to the XXI Corps. Finally, the armour of the 5ème Division Blindée, the paratroopers of the 1er Régiment de Chasseurs Parachutistes, and the commandos of the 1er Battalion de Choc were placed under command of the XXI Corps. The corps was given the mission of capturing the city of Colmar and driving on the bridge at Breisach.

The German high command misread the Allied objectives, believing the Allied assault to be a general pressure along the front designed to produce a German collapse at some point for rapid exploitation. Hitler had agreed to a partial withdrawal in the north from the Erstein salient during the night of 28/29 January, but forbade a general withdrawal over the Rhine. German outposts in the Vosges mountains, now well to the west of the main German line, were drawn back, but the combination of confusion during the withdrawal and the battlefield pressure led to many units becoming mixed with one another. This did not affect the numbers available for combat, but did reduce the defensive cohesion of the German units involved. On 29 January Oberkommando 'Oberrhein' was disestablished, and the formations and units in the Colmar pocket passed into the command of Heeresgruppe 'G', which was commanded of SS-Obergruppenführer und Generaloberst Paul Hausser.

But the LXIV Corps stiffened its resistance and counterattacked, thereby preventing de Goislard de Monsabert from any swift exploitation of his success toward Neuf-Brisach. The LXIII Corps was likewise preventing Béthouart from further advance. Hidden in the woods, or even inside houses, the German armour exacted a heavy price from the men and vehicles of the 2ème and 5ème Divisions Blindées, supporting the infantry. However, on January 27, the US 3rd Division reached the Colmar Canal, while the 1ère Division Française Libre, reinforced by a paratroop force under Faure, took the villages of Jebsheim and Grussenheim. Seeing how serious the situation had become, the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht authorised Rasp to pull the 198th Division back across the Rhine, so yielding all the ground won between Rhinau and Erstein by the 'Nordwind' (iii) attack.

To speed the Allied advance, de Lattre de Tassigny asked Devers to place Milburn’s US XXI Corps under command of the 1ère Armée, as well as Major General Ray E. Porter’s US 75th Division. Devers agreed, and Milburn, who from this time on commanded all the US forces involved in the offensive as well as the 5ème Division Blindée, was ordered to position his forces between de Goislard de Monsabert’s II Corps d’Armée and Billotte’s 10ème Division de Marche d’Infanterie, and then to push toward Neuf-Brisach and also to the south in the direction of Ensisheim, where they would link with Béthouart’s I Corps d’Armée.

The US 3rd Division continued its advance to the south and east, and during the evening of 29 January the divisional artillery fired 16,000 105- and 155-mm (4.13- and 6.1-in) projectiles in the course of a three-hour preparation for the assault of the 7th and 15th Infantry Regiments to the south across the Colmar Canal. The infantry crossed between 21.00 and 24.00. After the crossings had been secured, engineers began the construction of three Bailey bridges over the canal to make it possible for armour to cross. On the following day, the French Combat Commands 4 and 5, both of the 5ème Division Blindée, crossed the canal, with Combat Command 4 supporting the US 7th Infantry and Combat Command 5 the US 15th Infantry. Soon after this, the 15th Infantry and Combat Command 5 took Urschenheim in a brisk action, while the 7th Infantry was held up in front of Horbourg. On the same day, the 254th Infantry attacked to the east in the direction of Artzenheim with support by the armour of Combat Command 6, but the Germans employed artillery support and dug-in Jagdpanther tank destroyers to parry the thrust, destroying six French tanks and four half-tracked vehicles. Artzenheim was taken by the II Corps d’Armée on 1 February.

Fighting in the zone of the 3rd Division, the French 1st Parachute Regiment attacked and seized Widensolen early on 31 January. By 17.00 patrols of the US 3rd Division had reached the Rhône-Rhine Canal about 5 miles (8 km) to the south-east of the divisional crossing points over the Colmar Canal. On the same day, Combat Command 6 was detached from the US 3rd Division after suffering severe losses and having only 13 tanks still operational in its tank battalion and 30 effectives in its Légion Etrangère infantry company. Combat Command 6 was replaced by a combat command of the 2ème Division Blindée. On 1 February, the 15th Infantry and 30th Infantry moved to the south along the Rhône-Rhine Canal, and reached the area just to the north of Neuf-Brisach. On 2/3 February the 7th Infantry drove south along the same canal, passing through Artzenheim and taking Biesheim after a day-long battle.

After spending a day in the consolidation of its positions, the 3rd Division moved to the south once more on 5 February, taking Vogelgrun on the following day. The fortified town of Neuf-Brisach was swiftly entered and taken, on 6 February, by the 30th Infantry with the help of two French children and another civilian, who showed the Americans undefended passages into the town. After evacuating what survived of their men and equipment, destroyed the bridge over the Rhine at Breisach. The taking of Neuf-Brisach marked the end of the 3rd Division’s involvement in the reduction of the Colmar pocket.

Meanwhile, the 75th Division had entered the line on 31 January between the US 3rd and 28th Divisions. Attacking on 1 February, the 289th Infantry cleared Horbourg and the 290th Infantry advanced on Andolsheim, which it occupied at 14.00 on 2 February. During the same day, the 75th Division made diversionary attacks to cover the Allied drive on the city of Colmar, adjacent to the division’s western sector. On 3 February the 75th Division cleared the Forêt Domaniale, and on the following day consolidated its gains. Moving again on 5 February, the division overran Appenwihr, Hettenschlag and Wolfgantzen. On 6 February, the 75th Division reached the Rhône-Rhine Canal to the south of Neuf-Brisach, and this ended the division’s involvement in operations round the Colmar pocket.

Having remained on the defensive up to this time, Cota’s 28th Division was teamed with the French Combat Command 4 for the capture of Colmar. With the 109th Infantry leading, on 2 February the division’s infantry crossed an anti-tank ditch to the north of the city, while the French armour located a crossing point over the obstacle. This accomplished, the French armour drive into Colmar itself, reaching the Place Rapp at 11.30. On 2/3 February the 109th Infantry, Combat Command 4, 1er Régiment de Chasseurs Parachutistes and 1st Battalion de Choc cleared the city of Germans. Pushing to the south on 3 February, the 112th Infantry entered Turckheim and cleared Ingersheim to the west of Colmar. Others of the 28th Division’s elements joined the French in blocking the German exit routes from the Vosges mountains, and on 6 February the 28th Division moved eastward to the Rhône-Rhine Canal on the southern flank of the XXI Corps, thereby ending the 28th Division involvement in the battle.

On 3 February, the 12th Armored Division moved to the south through 28th Division with the object of linking with the I Corps d’Armée and thereby dividing the Colmar pocket into eastern and western segments. Combat Command B seized a bridgehead near Sundhoffen and Combat Command R advanced on the road between Colmar and Rouffach. On the next day, Combat Command A captured Hattstatt on the road linking Colmar and Rouffach, but Combat Command R found its way blocked by German defences. On 5 February, Combat Command A entered Rouffach and made contact with the 4ème Division Marocaine de Montagne of the I Corps d’Armée, some 17 days after the French corps had begun 'Cheerful'. On the same day Combat Command R entered the village of Herrlisheim-près-Colmar, and thus the 12th Armored Division attacked, for a second time, a town named Herrlisheim in Alsace: the battles of the 12th Armored Division in mid-January 1945, at Herrlisheim to the north of Strasbourg had seen several battalions of the division manhandled by German troops in the Gambsheim bridgehead. Thereafter, during the battle, the 12th Armored Division screened German exit routes from the Vosges mountains and supported the 28th Division with artillery fire.

During the evening of 30 January, after an intense artillery bombardment in which 16,438 105-mm and 155-mm (4.13- and 6.1-in) shells were fired, the US 3rd Division had got across the Colmar Canal, so opening the way for the US 28th Division to advance as far as the suburbs of Colmar. The division did not enter Colmar itself, for at the gates of the city, which had been left intact, Cota was courteous enough to give that honour to Général de Brigade Guy Schlesser, commanding the 4th Combat Command of the 5ème Division Blindée.

At the start of February, the I Corps d’Armée was still clearing scattered German resistance in the area to the south of the Thur river between Cernay and Ensisheim, both of which were still in German hands, and the Allied clearance of this area was not completed until 3 February. On 4 February, the I Corps d’Armée attacked to the north across the Thur river and, meeting only limited German resistance, the 4ème Division Marocaine de Montagne was able to advance to the southern outskirts of Rouffach. Abandoned by the Germans, Cernay was occupied on the same day.

The US 12th Armoured Division had meanwhile swept south to exploit its earlier success, with the intention of linking with the I Corps d’Armée, which had taken Ensisheim, Soultz and Guebwiller on 4 February and then pushed forward its 1er Division Blindée and 4ème Division Marocaine de Montagne. On the following day, the 4ème Division Marocaine de Montagne linked with the US 12th Armored Division in Rouffach and Ste Croix en Plaine, and the 9ème Division d’Infanterie Coloniale attacked Ensisheim, which was the corps' original objective. The 2ème Division d’Infanterie Marocaine took Hirtzfelden on 6 February and the 9ème Division d’Infanterie Coloniale completed the capture of Ensisheim and also drove east into the Bois de Harth. On 7 February both the 9ème Division d’Infanterie Coloniale and 1ère Division Blindée reached the Rhône-Rhine Canal to the east of Ensisheim. A Spahi cavalry brigade and the 151st Infantry cleared the Bois de Harth on 8 February while the 1ère Division Blindée advanced to the south toward the German bridgehead at Chalampé, and also linked with elements of the 2ème Division Blindée at Fessenheim.

During this period, the steadily more compressed German presence on the western side of the Rhine river was subjected to heavy artillery fire and also to air attacks by US and French warplanes. Finally, on 9 February, the I Corps d’Armée eliminated the German rearguard at Chalampé, and with no major elements of their forces left on the western bank of the Rhine river in the Colmar area, at 08.00 the Germans blew the bridge over the Rhine river at Chalampé, on the road linking Mulhouse and Freiburg, as they fell back across the upper reaches of the Rhine river. This signalled the end of the Allied 'Cheerful' operation in the Colmar pocket, and also the end of any significant German military presence in Alsace.

And so, at dawn on the 20th day of the 'Cheerful' offensive, the battle of the Colmar pocket ended. Rasp left 22,010 prisoners, 80 guns and 70 armoured fighting vehicles in Allied hands, but succeeded in bringing back over the Rhine some 50,000 men, 7,000 motor vehicles, 1,500 guns, and 60 armoured fighting vehicles. The Allied losses, out of some 420,000 men involved (295,000 French and 125,000 American), were 2,137 dead (1,595 French and 542 American), 11,253 wounded (8,583 French and 2,670 American), 7,115 sick (3,887 French and 3,228 American) for overall totals of 14,065 French and 6,440 US casualties.

Thus Eisenhower’s order to eliminate the Colmar pocket had been fulfilled, and the 6th Army Group now stood on the western side of the Rhine river between the border with Switzerland in the south to a region well to the north of Strasbourg. Although not completely destroyed, the 19th Army had lost most of its experienced troops (the 708th Volksgrenadierdivision being the only formation to escape largely intact) and was forced to re-form in Baden with major infusions of inexperienced Volkssturm troops to replace its very heavy losses on the Alsatian plain. Here the Germans had left 55 armoured fighting vehicles and 66 pieces of artillery. The elimination of the Colmar pocket left the 6th Army Group to concentrate on 'Undertone', its assault operation designed to penetrate the 'Siegfried-Linie], and to invade Germany in March 1945. 'Cheerful' meant that for the fourth time in 75 years, the province of Alsace changed hands between France and Germany, in this instance to the benefit of France.

back to text
Generalmajor Alexander Möckel’s 16th Volksgrenadierdivision, Generalmajor Heinrich Bürcky’s 159th Division, Zorn’s 189th Division, 198th Division now commanded by Generalmajor Konrad Barde, Generalmajor Wolf Ewert’s 338th Division, Bleckwenn’s 708th Volksgrenadierdivision, 716th Division also commanded by Ewert) and Generalleutnant Hans Degen’s 2nd Gebirgsjägerdivision, together with Major Bernhard von Schkopp’s (from 24 January Oberleutnant Sommer’s and from 3 February Oberstleutnant Heinrich Drewes’s) 106th Panzerbrigade 'Feldherrnhalle'