The 'Siegfried-Linie Campaign' was a major strategic phase of the Western European campaign of World War II, and involved Western Allied against German forces in large-scale operations near the 'Siegfried-Linie' defences of western Germany (25 August 1944/7 March 1945).
This phase occupied the period between the end of the 'Battle of Normandy' ('Overlord') on 25 August 1944 up to the time in the early months of 1945 that the Western Allies prepared to cross the Rhine river into the German heartland, and including the German 'Wacht am Rhein' winter counter-offensive through the Ardennes, commonly known as the 'Battle of the Bulge', and 'Nordwind' (iii) in Alsace and Lorraine.
The German forces had been routed during the Allied break-out from Normandy, which began with 'Cobra'. The Allies advanced rapidly against an opponent who was currently able to offer little more than token resistance. After their liberation of Paris late in August 1944, the Allies paused to re-group and reorganise before continuing their advance to the Rhine river, and the Germans were able to use this interval to solidify their line in a matter which had been impossible in the area to the west of Paris. By the middle of September 1944, there were three Western Allied army groups on the western front: Field Marshal Sir Bernard Montgomery’s Anglo-Canadian 21st Army Group in the north, Lieutenant General Omar N. Bradley’s US 12th Army group in he centre, and Lieutenant General Jacob L. Devers’s Franco-US 6th Army Group in the south. These formed a broad front under the overall direction of General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander, and his Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force.
While Montgomery and Bradley each favoured relatively direct narrow-front thrusts into Germany, Montgomery and Bradley each offering to be the spearhead of such an assault, Eisenhower disagreed and instead opted for a broad-front strategy, which allowed the Allies to gain ground from the beaten Germans in all sectors and made it possible for the advancing Allied forces to support each other.
The Allied forces' rapid advance through France had resulted in great logistical strain, exacerbated by the lack of any major port other than the relatively distant Cherbourg in western France. Although Antwerp was seen as the key to solving the Allied logistics problems, its port would not be open to Allied shipping until the Scheldt river estuary, downstream of the port, had been cleared of German forces. As the campaign continued, all the belligerents, both Allied and German, felt the effects of the lack of suitable replacements for front-line troops.
The Allies faced two major defensive obstacles: the first was the complex of natural barriers represented by the rivers of eastern France, and the second was the 'Siegfried-Linie', which fell under the command, along with all German forces in the west, of Generalfeldmarschall Gerd von Rundstedt, the Oberbefehlshaber 'West'.
Although the break-out from Normandy had taken longer than planned, the advances until September had far exceeded expectations in their speed and distance. By September, for instance, Bradley had four more divisions than had been planned and all of his forces were 150 miles (240 km) ahead of their expected position. One effect of the rate and extent of such progress was sufficient supplies could not be delivered to all of the the various fronts for the maintenance of the advance: demand now exceeded the needs for which the logistical back-up had been planned.
Much war matériel was still having to be brought ashore across the 'Neptune' (iii) invasion beaches and through the one remaining 'Mulberry' artificial harbour, the other having been destroyed in an English Channel storm. Although a number of small harbours, such as Isigny, Port en Bessin and Courcelles, were also being used, the major forward ports such as Le Havre, Dieppe, Boulogne and Calais either remained in German hands as 'fortresses', or had been systematically destroyed. The availability of Cherbourg had been valuable until the break-out, but then the shortage of transport to carry supplies to the rapidly advancing armies became the key limiting factor.
Although it was successfully pumped from England to Normandy via the 'Pluto' trans-Channel pipeline, fuel still had to reach the fronts, which were advancing faster than the pipelines could be extended. The railway system of north-eastern France had been largely destroyed by Allied air attacks in the period before the Normandy landings and needed much effort and time to repair and restore to service, so fleets of trucks and tankers were needed in the interim. In an attempt to address this acute transport shortage, three newly arrived US infantry formations (the 26th, 95th and 104th Divisions) were stripped of their trucks, which were thus available for addition to the logistical transport fleet. The advancing divisions of the US 12th Army Group left all their heavy artillery and half their medium artillery in the area to the west of the Seine river, freeing their trucks to move supplies for other units, and four British truck companies were loaned to the Americans. Unfortunately, 1,500 other British trucks were found to have critical engine faults and were unusable, limiting assistance from that quarter. The 'Red Ball Express' system of one-way truck routes was an attempt to expedite deliveries by truck, but capacity was nonetheless inadequate for the circumstances.
The US 6th Army Group advancing from southern France after 'Dragoon' were supplied adequately from the major ports of Toulon and Marseille because these latter had been captured intact and the local railway system had suffered less damage. This source supplied about 25% of the Allied needs.
At this time the main Allied supply lines still extended back to Normandy and presented serious logistical problems. The solution was clearly the opening of the port of Antwerp. This major port had been captured at 90% intact on 4 September, but the occupation of Antwerp was not enough as the 21st Army Group had failed to secure safe sea access by clearing the Scheldt river estuary. So the port could not be used until 29 November after a protracted campaign by General H. D. G. Crerar’s Canadian 1st Army: the estuary was initially held only weakly, but Allied delays had provided General Gustav-Adolf von Zangen’s 15th Army the time it needed to prepare sturdy defences.
The Allied delay in securing this area has been blamed on Eisenhower as Montgomery, the commander of the 21st Army Group, favoured the interlinked 'Market' and 'Garden' offensives in the Netherlands, and the opening the English Channel ports in north-eastern France over the clearance of the approaches to the port of Antwerp in the 'Battle of the Scheldt'. However, even if the Scheldt river estuary had been secured swiftly at the start of September, the possession of the port of Antwerp would not have solved the supply crisis in September, for the approaches had been mined by the Germans two months earlier, and when finally taken the approaches had to be cleared on mines, a task which it took one month.
The German armies had lost large numbers of troops in Normandy and the subsequent pursuit. To offset this deficiency, about 20,000 Luftwaffe personnel were reallocated to the army, invalided troops were redrafted into the front, line and Volkssturm units were formed using barely trained civilians.
British manpower resources were limited after five years of war and as a result of world-wide commitments. Replacements were no longer adequate to cover losses, and some formations were disbanded to maintain the strength of others. The Canadians were also short of manpower as a result of a reluctance to require conscripts to serve outside Canada or Canadian waters. This reluctance had arisen from Conscription Crisis of 1917 during World War I, and in order to avoid similar problems in World War II, the National Resources Mobilization Act of 1940 prohibited sending conscripts overseas. However, this provision of the act was later removed, leading to the Conscription Crisis of 1944.
US losses now called on replacements directly from the USA. These replacements were often inexperienced and unused to the harsh conditions of the latter part of the campaign in Europe. There were also complaints about the poor quality of troops released into the infantry from less-stressed parts of the US Army. At one point, after the 'Battle of the Bulge' had highlighted the shortage of infantry, the US Army relaxed its embargo on the use of black soldiers in combat formations: black volunteers performed well and prompted a permanent change in military policy.
Possession of the English Channel ports was urgently needed for the maintenance of the Allied armies. By the time that Brussels was liberated on 3/4 September, it had become difficult to supply the 21st Army Group adequately, and Lieutenant General Sir Richard O’Connor’s VIII Corps was withdrawn from active service to free its transport for general use. The Canadian 1st Army was tasked with the liberation of the ports during its advance to the north-east along the French coast. The ports involved were Le Havre, Dieppe, Boulogne, Calais and Dunkirk in France, and Ostend in Belgium. Adolf Hitler had appreciated these ports' strategic value, however, and issued a Führerweisung declaring them to be 'fortresses' that must receive adequate matériel to withstand a siege and be held to the last man.
Dieppe was evacuated by the Germans before Hitler’s order had been received and, consequently, the Canadians took it with little trouble in 'Fusilade' and with its port installations largely intact. Ostend had been omitted from the Führerweisung and was also undefended, although demolitions delayed its use. The other ports were defended to varying degrees against 'Wellhit' (Boulogne) and 'Undergo' (Calais), however, and after capture required substantial work to bring them back into service. Dunkirk which was sealed off to survive impotently in the rear of the Allied advance.
The first operations of the Rhineland campaign were 'Market' and 'Garden', which were commanded by Montgomery and designed a cure a bridgehead over the lower Rhine in the north, at Arnhem, whose possession would outflank the 'Siegfried-Linie'. 'Market' and 'Garden' had two distinct parts. 'Market' was to be the largest airborne operation in history, dropping 3.5 divisions of American, British and Polish paratroopers to capture key bridges and prevent their demolition by the Germans, and 'Garden' was a ground offensive by Lieutenant General Sir Miles Dempsey’s British 2nd Army to reach the airborne soldiers and cross the bridges. It was assumed that the German forces were still recovering from the French campaign and that opposition to each operation would not be very stiff.
If successful in 'Market' and 'Garden', the Allies would have a direct route into Germany that bypassed the main German defences and also seize territory from which the Germans were launching V-1 flying bombs and V-2 ballistic rockets against London, Antwerp and other target area.
Eisenhower approved 'Market' and 'Garden', on 10 September gave supply priority to the 21st Army Group, and decided to divert Lieutenant General Courtney H. Hodges’s US 1st Army to the north of the Ardennes to stage limited attacks designed to draw German defenders to the south, away from the target areas.
The twinned operations were launched on 17 September, and initially fared well. Major General Maxwell D. Taylor’s US 101st Airborne Division and Major General James M. Gavin’s 82nd Airborne Division took their objectives at Eindhoven, Veghel and Nijmegen, but failed to capture its main objectives, the Nijmegen bridges, and Gavin instead focused on the Groesbeek heights. Although their landings outside Arnhem were on target, the landing zones of Major General Roy E. Urquhart’s British 1st Airborne Division were some distance from Arnhem bridge and only on the northern side of the river. Problems also arose when the British division lost vital equipment, mostly Jeeps and heavy anti-tank guns, when their transport gliders crashed. The German strength in the area had also been severely underestimated, and to make matters worse, poor weather prevented aerial delivery of reinforcements and drastically reduced resupply. German resistance to the forces driving to Arnhem was highly effective, and a copy of the Allied battle plan had been captured.
In the end, 'Market' and 'Garden' were unsuccessful. Arnhem bridge could not be held and the British paratroopers had suffered something in the order of 77% losses by 25 September. The failure of the 82nd Airborne Division to capture the Nijmegen bridges by coup-de-main meant that the British ground forces meant to relieve the 1st Airborne Division at Arnhem were delayed for 36 hours as Major General A. H. Adair’s Guards Armoured Division, which had reached Nijmegen ahead of schedule, was forced to commit its forces to the capture of the bridges rather than simply advancing over them as had been planned. Early in October, the Allies managed to hold the salient they had created by repelling a German counter-offensive.
By this time the Allied logistical situation was becoming critical, so the opening of the port of Antwerp was now a high priority. On 12 September, the Canadian 1st Army was given the task of clearing the Scheldt river estuary of the German forces which barred the maritime approaches to Antwerp. The 1st Army comprised Lieutenant General G. G. Simonds’s Canadian II Corps, which included General brygady Stanisław Maczek’s Polish 1st Armoured Division, Major General E. H. Barker’s (from November Major General G. H. A. MacMillan’s) British 49th Division and Major General E. Hakewill-Smith’s British 52nd Division, and Lieutenant General J. T. Crocker’s British I Corps.
The task involved four main operations: the first was the clearance of the area to the north of Antwerp and securing access to Zuid-Beveland; the second was the clearance of the Breskens pocket to the north of the Leopold Canal ('Switchback'); the third was the capture of Zuid-Beveland ('Vitality')' and the fourth was the capture of Walcheren island, which the Germans had fortified into a powerful stronghold.
The advance began on 21 September. Major General H. W. Foster’s (from 1 December Major General C. Vokes’s) Canadian 4th Armoured Division, moving north toward the southern shore of the Scheldt river estuary around the Dutch town of Breskens, were the first Allied troops to face the formidable obstacle of the double line of the Leopold and Dérivation de la Lys Canals. The canals were crossed and a bridgehead established, but fierce German counterattacks forced the Canadians to withdraw with heavy casualties. The Polish 1st Armoured Division had greater success, moving north-eastward to the coast, occupying Terneuzen and clearing the southern bank of the Scheldt river estuary eastward to Antwerp. By this time it was clear, however, that any further advances could be achieved only at very high cost.
Major General C. Foulkes’s (from 10 November Major General A. B. Matthews’s) Canadian 2nd Division began its advance to the north from Antwerp on 2 October. The Canadian casualties were heavy, and included the almost total destruction of one battalion of The Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) of Canada from Brigadier W. J. Megill’s Canadian 5th Brigade on 13 October. However, on 16 October Woensdrecht was taken, following an immense artillery barrage which forced the Germans back. This cut off Zuid-Beveland and Walcheren from the mainland, and achieved the objective of the first operation.
Montgomery issued a directive that made the opening of the Scheldt river estuary the top priority. To the east, the British 2nd Army attacked westward to clear that part of the Netherlands to the south of the Maas river, and this aided in securing the Scheldt river region from counterattack.
In 'Switchback', Major General D. C. Spry’s Canadian 3rd Division mounted a two-pronged attack, with Brigadier H. W. Foster’s Canadian 7th Brigade crossing the Leopold Canal and Brigadier N. E. Rodger’s Canadian 9th Brigade launching an amphibious assault from the coastal side of the pocket. In the face of fierce German resistance, the Canadian 10th Brigade crossed the Leopold Canal and Brigadier P. C. Klaehn’s Canadian 8th Brigade moved to the south and opened a supply route into the pocket.
'Vitality' was the third major phase of the 'Battle of the Scheldt', and began on 24 October. The Canadian 2nd Division began its advance toward Zuid-Beveland, but was slowed by mines, mud and strong German defences. The British 52nd Division made an amphibious attack to land behind the Germans' Beveland Canal defensive positions. This formidable defence was thereby outflanked, and the Canadian 6th Brigade began a frontal attack in assault boats. The engineers were able to bridge the canal on the main road and, with the canal line gone, the German defence crumbled and Zuid-Beveland was cleared. The third phase of the 'Battle of the Scheldt' was complete.
The final phase was 'Infatuate' was the attack on the heavily fortified island of Walcheren at the mouth of the West Scheldt river. The island’s dikes were breached by attacks from Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris’s RAF Bomber Command on 3, 7 and 11 October. This flooded the central part of the island, forcing the German defenders onto the high ground and allowing the Allied forces to use amphibious vehicles. Units of the Canadian 2nd Division attacked the causeway on 31 October, and after a bloody struggle, established a precarious foothold, in which it was relieved by a battalion of the British 52nd Division. In conjunction with the waterborne attacks, the 52nd continued the advance. The amphibious landings began on 1 November, when units of Brigadier J. F. S. MacLaren’s British 155th Infantry Brigade landed on a beach in the south-eastern area of Vlissingen. During the next few days, the British brigade engaged in heavy street fighting against the German defenders. Also on 1 November, after a heavy naval bombardment by warships of the Royal Navy, men of troops of Brigadier B. W. Leicester’s British 4th Commando Brigade (with units of the 10th Inter-Allied Commando comprising mainly Belgian and Norwegian troops), supported by specialised armoured vehicles of Major General Sir Percy Hobart’s British 79th Armoured Division, were landed on both sides of the gap in the sea dike, and was swiftly embroiled in heavy fighting. A smaller force moved to the south-east, toward Vlissingen (Flushing), while the main force advanced to the north-east to clear the northern half of Walcheren and link with the Canadians, who had established a bridgehead on the eastern part of the island. Fierce resistance was again offered by German troops defending the area, and fighting continued until 7 November. However, the action ended on 8 November after a force of amphibious vehicles entered Middelburg, the capital of Walcheren.
Meanwhile, 'Pheasant' had been launched in on 20 October 20 as a major operation to clear German troops from the province of Nord-Brabant in conjunction with the 'Battle of the Scheldt'. After overcoming some resistance, the offensive liberated most of region, including the cities of Tilburg, 's-Hertogenbosch, Willemstad and Roosendaal taken by British forces. Bergen-op-Zoom was taken by the Canadians and the Polish 1st Armoured Division liberated the city of Breda. As a result, the German positions which had defended the region along its canals and rivers had been broken. The operation was also a success in that civilian casualties were relatively light.
Meanwhile, the Canadian 4th Armoured Division had pushed eastward past Bergen-op-Zoom to Sint Philipsland, where it sank several German vessels in Zijpe harbour. With the approaches to Antwerp free, the fourth phase of the 'Battle of the Scheldt' was complete, and on 28 November the first Allied convoy entered the port.
Montgomery’s 21st Army Group had been tasked with clearing the western bank of the Rhine river downstream from the Krefeld area. The approach was for the Canadian 1st Army, strengthened by Lieutenant General B. G. Horrocks’s British XXX Corps, to advance to the south-east between the Rhine and Maas rivers while Lieutenant General William H. Simpson’s US 9th Army advanced to the north-east from the Roer river. The two armies were to link in the Geldern area. The British 2nd Army remained to the west of the Maas river, apart from two divisions which reinforced the Anglo-Canadian advance, but the German high command was initially convinced that these were the principal threat and deployed their reserves in anticipation of an assault from Venlo.
The two operations were delayed by the 'Battle of the Bulge', but they were rescheduled for 8 February 1945. Although the Anglo-Canadian 'Veritable' offensive started on time, the US 'Grenade' assault was delayed by the threat and then the danger of flooding by water released from the Roer river dams. This delay allowed the Germans to concentrate their defence on the Anglo-Canadian assaults, but they were unable to do much more than to slow it down in some small areas. When the Americans were able to advance, some two weeks later, there were few reserves left to face them and the Americans thus made swift progress until they encountered the German rearguard near the Rhine river.
The two Allied prongs met at Geldern, then pushed toward Rees, from which the Germans were finally expelled on 21 March.
In the central sector of the Western Front, for which Bradley’s US 12th Army Group was responsible, the US 1st Army advanced rapidly through northern France and Belgium during late August and early September with its primary object being to reach the Rhine river before the Germans could establish defensive positions there. During the 'Battle of the Mons Pocket', the Allies encircled approximately 70,000 German troops near Mons in Belgium, and took around 25,000 prisoners.
The US 1st Army’s focus was centred on the seizure of the city of Aachen, which had to be taken before the army advanced to assault the 'Siegfried-Linie' proper. Initially, Aachen was to have been bypassed and cut off in an attempt by the Allies to imitate the Blitzkrieg tactics the Germans had developed and used so effectively earlier in World War II, but the city was the first to be assaulted on German soil and so had huge historical and cultural significance for the German people. Hitler personally ordered that the garrison there be reinforced and the city held regardless of cost, and this persuaded the Allied commanders to rethink their strategy.
Some historians have suggested that the 'Battle of Aachen' was a mistake, for it slowed the Allied forces' eastward advance and cost about 5,000 Allied casualties. The fighting was an urban struggle of brutal street-by-street and house-by-house fighting, and used al the available resources of the advancing Allied armies. It has been suggested that a more effective strategy would have been to isolate and bypass Aachen and continue the advance eastward into the heart of Germany: this might have eliminated the ability of the German garrison to operate as a fighting force by severing its supply lines, forcing a surrender or an attempt to break out of the city in an attempt to re-establish the supply lines. In the case of the latter, a confrontation in a more neutral setting would probably have resulted in fewer military and civilian casualties.
Late in August, Lieutenant General George S. Patton’s US 3rd Army started to run short of fuel, a result of the rapid Allied advance through France and the shift of logistical priority to the northern forces seeking to secure Antwerp. By 1 September, with the last of its fuel, the 3rd Army managed one final push to capture key bridges over the Meuse river at Verdun and Commercy. Five days later, however, the critical supply situation effectively brought the 3rd Army to a halt, allowing previously routed German forces to regroup and to reinforce their strongholds in the area. Soon after this, the 3rd Army came up against Metz, part of the 'Ligne Maginot' and one of the most heavily fortified cities in western Europe. The city could not be bypassed, as several of its forts had guns which could rain fire on crossing sites on the Moselle river and on the area’s main roads. Metz could also be used as a stronghold for the creation of a German counterattack into the 3rd Army’s rear. In the following 'Battle of Metz' the 3rd Army was victorious but sustained heavy casualties.
Following its victory at Metz, the 3rd Army continued eastward to the Saar river and soon began its assault on the 'Siegfried-Linie'.
The Hürtgenwald was seen by the Germans as a possible location from which to launch incursions into the US flank, and the river dams in the area were a threat to the Allied advance downstream, so an assault to clear the area was started on 19 September. The German defence was more stubborn than expected in terrain that favoured the defence, largely negating the US advantages of numbers and quality of troops. Expected to last a few weeks, the 'Battle of the Hürtgen Forest' in fact continued into February 1945 and cost 33,000 casualties.
The value of the battle has been somewhat disputed, and several historians have argued that the battle’s outcome was not worth the foreseeable losses and, in any event, the US tactics played into German hands.
'Queen' was an Allied combined air and ground offensive against the German forces on the 'Siegfried-Linie' undertaken mainly by the US 9th Army and US 1st Army. The operation’s primary goal was to advance to the Roer river and to establish bridgeheads over it in preparation for a thrust into Germany as far as the Rhine river. Parts of this operation also included more fighting in the Hürtgenwald. The offensive started on 16 November with one of the Western Allies' heaviest tactical air bombardments of the war. Although the German forces were heavily outnumbered, the Allied advance was very slow. After four weeks of intensive fighting, the Allied armies reached the Roer river, but were unable to establish any bridgeheads across it. Fighting in the Hürtgenwald also became bogged down. The exhaustive fighting during 'Queen' inflicted heavy losses on the Allied forces, and eventually the Germans launched their own counter-offensive as 'Wacht am Rhein' on 16 December, thereby triggering what became known as the 'Battle of the Bulge'.
The Germans had been preparing a massive counter-offensive on the Western Front since the Allied break-out from Normandy. The 'Wacht am Rhein' plan was to attack through the Ardennes and then to swing to the north and take Antwerp, thereby dividing the US and British armies. The attack started on 16 December, and defending the Ardennes were formations of the US 1st Army. After initial successes in bad weather, which gave them cover from the Allied air forces, the Germans were driven back by an Allied counterattack that cleared them from the Ardennes. The Germans had been driven back to their starting points by 25 January 1945.
The Germans launched a second bu smaller 'Nordwind' (iii) offensive into Alsace on 1 January 1945. Aiming to recapture Strasbourg, the Germans attacked the US 6th Army Group at several points. As the Allied lines had become severely stretched in response to the crisis in the Ardennes, holding and throwing back the 'Nordwind' (iii) offensive was a costly undertaking that lasted almost four weeks. Allied counterattacks restored the front line to the area of the German border and collapsed the Colmar pocket.
The start of the pincer movement of the Canadian 1st Army, advancing from the Nijmegen area in 'Veritable', and the US 9th Army, crossing the Roer river in 'Grenade', was planned for 8 February, but it was delayed by two weeks when the Germans flooded the Roer river valley by destroying the floodgates of the Rur and Urft dams on the upper part of the Roer river. During the two weeks that the little river was flooded, Hitler did not allow von Rundstedt to withdraw German forces behind the Rhine river, arguing that it would only delay the inevitable fight: Hitler ordered von Rundstedt to fight where his forces stood.
By the time the water had subsided and the US 9th Army was able to cross the Roer river on 23 February, other Allied forces were also close to the Rhine river’s western bank. The German divisions that had remained on the river’s western bank were cut to pieces, and 280,000 men were taken prisoner. The stubborn German resistance had been costly: their total losses were estimated at 400,000 men.
The Allies crossed the Rhine river at four points. One crossing was an opportunity taken by US forces when the Germans failed to blow up the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen; another was a hasty assault; and two crossings were planned. The first of these events occurred after the US 1st Army had pursued the disintegrating German forces, and on 7 March unexpectedly captured the Ludendorff Bridge across the Rhine river at Remagen, whereupon the US 9th Armored Division quickly expanded the bridgehead into a full-scale crossing. In the second, Bradley told Patton, whose US 3rd Army had been fighting through the Palatinate, to 'take the Rhine on the run', and the 3rd Army did just that on the night of 22/23 March, crossing the river with a hasty assault to the south of Mainz at Oppenheim. The third took place in the north, where the Rhine river is twice as wide, with a far higher volume of water than where the US forces made their crossings. Montgomery decided that the river could be crossed safely only with a carefully prepared attack, and in 'Plunder' crossed the Rhine river at Rees and Wesel on the night of 23/24 March in an undertaking that included 'Varsity', the largest single-drop airborne operation in history. The fourth crossing took place on the US 6th Army Group’s area, when the US 7th Army assaulted across the Rhine river in the area between Mannheim and Worms on 26 March. A fifth crossing, albeit on a smaller scale, was later achieved by the French 1ère Armée at Speyer.
After crossing the Rhine river, the Allied armies advanced rapidly into Germany’s heartland, and the end of World War II in Europe followed soon afterward with the surrender of Germany on May 7.