The 'Western Allied Invasion of Germany' was a grand offensive co-ordinated by the Western Allies against Germany during the final months of hostilities in the European theatre of World War II (22 March/8 May 1945).
In preparation for this grand offensive, targeting the German heartland to the east of the Rhine river, a series of offensives were designed and implemented to seize and capture the river’s western and eastern banks: 'Veritable' and 'Grenade' in February 1945, and 'Lumberjack' and 'Undertone' in March 1945. These were separate from the 'Western Allied Invasion of Germany'. The Allied invasion of Germany lying to the east of the Rhine river started with the Western Allies' crossing the river on 22 March 1945, after which the Allied forces fanned out and overran all of western Germany from the Baltic Sea in the north to the Alpine passes in the south, where they linked with troops of Lieutenant General Lucien K. Truscott’s US 5th Army in Italy. Moreover once Berchtesgaden had been captured, any hope that the Nazi leadership might have possessed of continuing to wage the war from a so-called 'national redoubt' or to escape through the Alps was crushed, and was shortly followed by Germany’s unconditional surrender on 8 May 1945.
By a time early in 1945, the progress of events favoured the Western Allied forces in Europe. On the Western Front, the Western Allies had been fighting in Germany with campaigns against the 'Siegfried-Linie' since the 'Battle of Aachen', the 'Battle of Metz' and the 'Battle of the Hürtgenwald' late in 1944, and by January 1945 had pushed the Germans back to their starting points for 'Wacht am Rhein', otherwise the 'Battle of the Bulge'. The failure of this offensive exhausted Germany’s strategic reserves, leaving it completely unprepared to resist the final Western Allied campaigns in Europe. Additional losses in the Rhineland further weakened the German army, which thus possessed only shattered remnants of formations and units with which to defend the eastern bank of the Rhine river. On 7 March, the Allies seized the semi-intact bridge across the Rhine river at Remagen, and were thus able to establish a large bridgehead on the river’s eastern bank. During 'Lumberjack', 'Plunder' and 'Undertone', the German casualties during February and March 1945 are estimated at 400,000 men, including 280,000 men taken prisoner.
On the Eastern Front, the Soviet forces (including the Polish Armed Forces in the East under Soviet command), had taken most of Poland, launched an offensive into East Prussia and begun their invasion of eastern Germany in February 1945, and by March were within striking distance of Berlin. The initial advance into Romania, the '1st Iassy-Kishinev Offensive Operation' of April and May 1944 was a failure, but the '2nd Iassy-Kishinev Offensive Operation' in August was a success. The Soviet forces also drove deep into Hungary (the 'Budapest Strategic Offensive Operation') and into eastern Czechoslovakia, and then came to a temporary halt along what is now the modern German/Polish border on the line of the Oder and Neisse rivers. These rapid advances on the Eastern Front destroyed large numbers of veteran German combat formations and units, and thus severely limited Adolf Hitler’s ability to reinforce his Rhine river defences. With the Soviets at the door of Berlin, the Western Allies decided any complementary attempt to push that far to the east would be too costly, so they concentrated their efforts on mopping up resistance in the the cities and towns of western Germany. Germany surrendered unconditionally on 8 May, leaving the Western Allies in control of most of western Germany.
At the very beginning of 1945, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force on the Western Front, had 73 divisions under his command in north-western Europe: of these, 49 were infantry divisions, 20 armoured divisions and four airborne divisions, and as far as national identities were concerned, 49 these divisions were American, 12 British, eight French, three Canadian and one Polish. Another seven US divisions arrived during February, along with the British 5th Division and the Canadian I Corps, both of which came from the fighting on the Italian front. As the invasion of Germany began, Eisenhower had a total of 90 full-strength divisions under his command, with the number of armoured divisions now 25. The Allied front along the Rhine river stretched some 450 miles (725 km) from the river’s mouth on the North Sea in the Netherlands to the Swiss border in the south.
The Allied forces along this line were organised into three army groups. In the north, from the North Sea to a point about 10 miles (16 km) to the north of Köln, was the Anglo-Canadian 21st Army Group commanded by Field Marshal Sir Bernard Montgomery. Within the 21st Army Group, General H. D. G. Crerar’s Canadian 1st Army held the left flank of the Allied line, Lieutenant General Sir Miles Dempsey’s British 2nd Army the centre and Lieutenant General William H. Simpson’s US 9th Army the south. Holding the middle of the Allied line from the US 9th Army’s right flank to a point about 15 miles (24 km) to the south of Mainz was the US 12th Army Group under the command of General Omar N. Bradley, whose three major formations were Lieutenant General Courtney H. Hodges’s US 1st Army on the left, Lieutenant General George S. Patton’s US 3rd Army on the right and Lieutenant General Leonard T. Gerow’s US 15th Army. Completing the Allied line to the Swiss border was the 6th Army Group commanded by General Jacob L. Devers, with Lieutenant General Alexander McC. Patch’s US 7th Army in the north and Général d’Armée Jean de Lattre de Tassigny’s French 1ère Armée on the Allied right, and southernmost, flank.
As these three army groups cleared the Germans from the area to the west of the Rhine river, Eisenhower began to rethink his plans for the final drive across this great waterway and into the heart of Germany. Originally, Eisenhower had planned to draw all his forces up to the western bank of the Rhine, using the river as a natural barrier to help cover the inactive sections of his line. The main thrust beyond the river was to be made in the north by Montgomery’s 21st Army Group, elements of which were to proceed eastward to a juncture with the US 1st Army as this made a secondary advance to the north-east from below the Ruhr river. If successful, this pincer movement would envelop the industrial Ruhr area, neutralising the largest concentration of industrial capacity left to Germany.
Facing the Allies were the German forces under the command of the Oberbefehlshaber 'West', Generalfeldmarschall Albert Kesselring, who had taken over from Generalfeldmarschall Gerd von Rundstedt on 10 March. Although Kesselring had an outstanding record as a defensive strategist, as evidenced in the Italian campaign, he now lacked the resources to plan and implement a coherent defence. During the fighting to the west of the Rhine river in the period up to March 1945, the German army on the Western Front had been reduced to a strength of a mere 26 divisions, organised from north to south into Generalfeldmarschall Ernst Busch’s Heeresgruppe 'H', Generalfeldmarschall Walter Model’s Heeresgruppe 'B' and SS-Oberstgruppenführer und General der Waffen-SS Paul Hausser’s Heeresgruppe 'G'. Little or no reinforcement was forthcoming as the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht continued to concentrate the bulk of the German forces against the Soviet thrusts from the east: it was estimated that the Germans had 214 divisions on the Eastern Front in April.
On 21 March, the headquarters of Heeresgruppe 'H' became the Oberbefehlshaber 'Nordwest' under the command of Busch, leaving the former army group commander, Generaloberst Johannes Blaskowitz, to lead the Oberbefelhshaber Niederlande' (centred on Blaskowitz’s own 25th Army) cut off in the Netherlands. Busch, whose main formation was Generaloberst Kurt Student’s 1st Fallschirmarmee, was to constitute the right wing of the German defences. In the centre of the front, defending the Ruhr, Kesselring had Model’s Heeresgruppe 'B' (General Gustav-Adolf von Zangen’s 15th Army and Generaloberst Josef Harpe’s 5th Panzerarmee) and in the south Hausser’s Heeresgruppe 'G' (General Hansvon Obstfelder’s 7th Army, General Hermann Foertsch’s 1st Army and General Erich Brandenberger’s 19th Army).
Eisenhower initially planned that after the Ruhr had been take, the 21st Army Group would continue its drive to the east across the plains of northern Germany to Berlin. The 12th Army Group and 6th Army Group would mount a subsidiary offensive to keep the Germans off balance and diminish their ability to stop the northern thrust. This secondary drive would also give Eisenhower a degree of flexibility in case the northern attack ran into difficulties. For several reasons, Eisenhower began to readjust these plans toward the end of March. First, his headquarters received reports that Soviet forces held a bridgehead over the Oder river, a mere 30 miles (48 km) from Berlin. As the Western Allies' armies on the Rhine river were currently more than 300 miles (485 km) from Berlin, with the Elbe river, 200 miles (320 km) ahead of them, still to be crossed, it seemed clear that the Soviets would capture Berlin long before the Western Allies could reach the German capital. Eisenhower thus turned his attention to other objectives, most notably a rapid link with the Soviet forces to cut the German army in two and prevent any possibility of a unified defence. Once this had been accomplished, the remaining German forces could be defeated in detail.
Additionally, there was the matter of the Ruhr. Although this area still contained a significant number of German troops and enough industry to retain its importance as a major objective, Allied intelligence reported that much of the region’s armament industry was in the process of being relocated to the south-east, deeper into Germany. This increased the importance of the southern offensives across the Rhine.
Also focussing Eisenhower’s attention on the southern drive was concern over the 'national redoubt'. According to rumour, Hitler’s most fanatically loyal troops were preparing to make a long last-ditch stand in the natural fortresses formed by the rugged alpine mountains of southern Germany and western Austria. If they held out for a year or more, these Germans believed, dissension between the USSR and the Western Allies might give them political leverage for the attainment of some kind of favourable peace settlement. In reality, by the time of the Western Allies' Rhine river crossings the German army had suffered defeats, on both the Eastern Front and the Western Front, so severe that it could scarcely manage to mount effective delaying actions, much less muster enough troops to establish a well-organised alpine resistance force. Still, Allied intelligence could not entirely discount the possibility that remnants of the German forces would attempt a suicidal last stand in the Alps. Denying this opportunity became another argument for rethinking the role of the southern drive through Germany.
Perhaps the most compelling reason for increasing the emphasis on this southern drive had more to do with the actions of the US forces than those of the Germans. While Montgomery was carefully and cautiously planning for his main thrust in the north, complete with massive artillery preparation and an airborne assault, the US forces in the south were displaying the kind of basic aggression that Eisenhower wanted to see: on 7 March, Hodges’s US 1st Army captured the last intact bridge over the Rhine river at Remagen and steadily expanded the bridgehead.
To the south, in the Saar-Palatinate region, Patton’s US 3rd Army had dealt a devastating blow to the 7th Army and, in conjunction with the US 7th Army, had nearly destroyed the 1st Army. Between 18 and 22 March, Patton’s forces took prisoner more than 68,000 Germans. These undertakings eliminated the last German positions to the west of the Rhine. Although Montgomery’s drive was still planned as the main effort, Eisenhower had now come to believe that the momentum of the US forces to the south should not be squandered by having them merely hold the line at the Rhine river or make only limited diversionary attacks beyond it. By the end of March, therefore, Eisenhower leaned increasingly toward a decision to place more responsibility on his southern forces. The events of the first few days of the final campaign would be enough to convince him that this had been the right course of action.
When Allied soldiers arrived in a town, the latter’s municipal leaders and remaining residents typically used white flags, bedsheets and tablecloths to signal their surrender. The officer commanding the unit capturing the area, typically a company or battalion, accepted responsibility over the town. Soldiers posted copies of Eisenhower’s Proclamation No. 1, which began with the words 'We come as a victorious army, not as oppressors.' The proclamation demanded compliance with all orders issued by the commanding officer, instituted a strict curfew, limited travel and confiscated all communications equipment and weapons. After a day or two, specialised Office of Military Government units took over. Soldiers requisitioned housing and office space as needed from residents. At first, this was done informally, with occupants evicted immediately and taking with them only few personal possessions, but the process then became standardised, with three hours' notice and US personnel providing receipts for buildings' contents. The displaced residents nonetheless had to find housing on their own.
On 19 March, Eisenhower told Bradley to prepare the 1st Army for a break-out from the Remagen bridgehead any time after 22 March. The same day, in response to the 3rd Army’s robust showing in the Saar-Palatinate region, and in order to have another strong force on the Rhine river’s eastern bank guarding the 1st Army’s flank, Bradley gave Patton the go-ahead for an assault crossing of the Rhine as soon as possible. These were exactly the orders Patton for which had hoped: he felt that if a sufficiently strong force could be thrown across the river and make significant gains, then Eisenhower might transfer responsibility for the main drive through Germany from Montgomery’s 21st Army Group to Bradley’s 12th Army Group. Patton also appreciated the opportunity he now had to beat Montgomery across the river and win for the 3rd Army the coveted distinction of making the first assault crossing of the Rhine river in modern history. To accomplish this, he had to move quickly. On 21 March, Patton ordered Major General Manton S. Eddy’s US XII Corps to prepare for an assault across the Rhine river on the following night, one day before Montgomery’s scheduled crossing. While this was short notice, it did not catch the XII Corps completely unaware. As soon as Patton had received the orders on 19 March to make a crossing, he had begun sending assault boats, bridging equipment and other supplies forward from depots in Lorraine, where they had been stockpiled since the autumn of 1944 in the expectation of just such an opportunity. Seeing this equipment moving up, Patton’s front-line soldiers did not need any orders from higher headquarters to tell them what wasunder way.
The location of the river-crossing assault was critical. Patton knew that the most obvious location to jump the river was at Mainz or just downstream. The choice was obvious because the Main river, flowing northward 30 miles (48 km) to the east of and parallel with the Rhine river, turns west and empties into the Rhine river at Mainz and an advance to the south of the city would involve crossing two rivers rather than one. Patton also realised, however, that the Germans were aware of this difficulty and would expect his attack in the area to the north of Mainz. Thus, he decided to feint at Mainz while making his real effort at Nierstein and Oppenheim, 9 to 10 miles (14 to 16 km) south of the city. Following this primary assault, which XII Corps would undertake, Major General Troy H. Middleton’s US VIII Corps would execute supporting crossings at Boppard and St Goar, 25 to 30 miles (40 to 48 km) to the north-west of Mainz.
The terrain in the vicinity of Nierstein and Oppenheim was conducive to the use of artillery support, with high ground on the western bank overlooking relatively flat land to the east. However, the same flat eastern bank meant that the bridgehead would have to be rapidly and powerfully reinforced and expanded beyond the river since there was no high ground to aid a bridgehead defence. The importance of quickly obtaining a deep bridgehead was increased by the fact that the first access to a useful road network was more than 6 miles (9.7 km) inland at the town of Gross-Gerau.
On 22 March, under a bright moon, elements of the US XII Corps' 5th Division, commanded by Major General Stafford LeR. Irwin, began the 3rd Army’s crossing of the Rhine river. At Nierstein the assault troops met no resistance: as the first boats reached the river’s eastern bank, seven startled Germans surrendered and then paddled themselves unescorted across to the western bank to be placed in custody. Upstream at Oppenheim, however, the effort did not proceed so casually. The first wave of boats was only half way across the river when the Germans began pouring machine gun fire into their midst. An intense exchange of fire lasted for about 30 minutes as assault boats kept pushing across the river and those men who had already made it across mounted attacks against the scattered defensive strongpoints. Finally, the Germans surrendered, and by 00.00 units moved out laterally to consolidate the crossing sites and to attack the first villages beyond the river. German resistance everywhere was sporadic, and the hastily mounted counterattacks invariably ended quickly, causing few casualties. The Germans lacked both the manpower and the heavy equipment to make a more determined defence.
By the middle of the afternoon of 23 March, all three regiments of the 5th Division were in the bridgehead, and an attached regiment of Major General Lowell W. Rooks’s 90th Division was crossing. Tanks and tank destroyers had been ferried across all morning, and by the evening a treadway bridge was open to traffic. By 00.00, infantry units had pushed the perimeter of the bridgehead more than 5 miles (8 km) inland, ensuring the unqualified success of the first modern assault crossing of the Rhine river.
Two more 3rd Army crossings, both by the VIII Corps, quickly followed. In the early morning hours of 25 March, elements of Major General Frank L. Culin’s 87th Division crossed the Rhine river to the north at Boppard, and then some 24 hours later elements of Major General Thomas D. Finley’s 89th Division crossed 8 miles (13 km) to the south of Boppard at St Goar. Although the defence of these sites was somewhat more determined than that which the XII Corps had faced, the difficulties of the Boppard and St Goar crossings were compounded more by terrain than by German resistance. The VIII Corps' crossing sites were located along the Rhine river gorge, where the river had carved a deep chasm between two mountain ranges, creating precipitous canyon walls more than 300 ft (91 m) high on each side. In addition, the river flowed swiftly and with unpredictable currents along this part of its course. Despite the terrain and German machine gun and 20-mm anti-aircraft cannon fire, however, the VIII Corps' troops managed to gain control of the eastern bank’s heights, and by the fall of night on 26 March, with German resistance crumbling all along the Rhine river, the US troops were preparing to continue their drive on the following morning.
On the night of 23/24 March, after the US XII Corps' assault over the Rhine river, Bradley had announced his success: the 12th Army Group’s commander said that US troops could cross the Rhine river anywhere, without aerial bombardment or airborne troops, a direct jab at Montgomery, whose troops were at that very moment preparing to launch their own assault crossing of the Rhine river after an intense and elaborate aerial and artillery preparation and with the assistance of two airborne divisions, Major General William M. Miley’s US 17th Airborne Division and Major General R. N. Gale’s British 6th Airborne Division. Montgomery was exhibiting his now-legendary meticulous approach to such undertakings, a lesson he had learned early in the North African campaign. Thus, as his forces had approached the Rhine river’s eastern bank, Montgomery proceeded with one of the most intensive build-ups of matériel and manpower of the war. His detailed 'Plunder' plan was comparable with the 'Overlord' invasion of Normandy in terms of numbers of men and extent of equipment, supplies and ammunition to be used. The 21st Army Group had 30 full-strength divisions, 11 each in the British 2nd Army and US 9th Army and eight in the Canadian 1st Army, providing Montgomery with more than 1.25 million.
'Plunder' called for the 2nd Army to cross at three locations along the 21st Army Group’s front: at Rees, Xanten and Rheinberg. The crossings would be preceded by several weeks of aerial bombing and final massive artillery preparation. A heavy bombing campaign by USAAF and RAF forces, known as the 'Interdiction of North-West Germany, designed primarily to destroy the lines of communication and supply connecting the Ruhr with the rest of Germany, had been under way since February. The intention was to create a line from Bremen southward to Neuwied. The main targets were railway marshalling yards, bridges and communication centres, with a secondary focus on fuel processing and storage facilities and other important industrial sites. During the three days leading up to Montgomery’s attack, targets in front of the 21st Army Group zone and in the Ruhr area to the south-east were struck by about 11,000 sorties, effectively isolating the Ruhr while easing the burden on Montgomery’s assault forces.
Montgomery had initially planned to attach one corps of the US 9th Army to the British 2nd Army, which would use only two of the corps' divisions for the initial assault. The rest of the 9th Army would remain in reserve until the bridgehead was ready for exploitation. Simpson and Dempsey, the commanders of the 9th Army and 2nd Army respectively, took exception to this approach. Both believed that the plan squandered the great strength in men and equipment that the 9th Army had assembled and ignored the many logistical problems of placing the 9th Army’s crossing sites within the 2nd Army’s zone. Montgomery responded to these concerns by making a few small adjustments to the plan. Although he declined to increase the size of the US crossing force above two divisions, he agreed to keep it under the control of the 9th Army rather than the 2nd Army. To increase Simpson’s ability to bring his army’s strength to bear for the planned exploitation, Montgomery also agreed to allocate the bridges at Wesel, just to the north of the inter-army boundary, to the 9th Army once the bridgehead had been secured.
In the southernmost sector of the 21st Army Group’s attack, the 9th Army’s assault divisions were to cross the Rhine river along an 11-mile (18-km) section of the front, to the south of Wesel and the Lippe river. This force would block any German counterattack from the Ruhr. Because of the poor road network on the eastern bank of this part of the Rhine river, a second corps of the 9th Army was to cross over the promised Wesel bridges through the British zone to the north of the Lippe river, where there were many good roads. After driving to the east nearly 100 miles (160 km), this corps was to meet elements of the 1st Army near Paderborn, completing the encirclement of the Ruhr.
Another important element of Montgomery’s plan was 'Varsity', in which two divisions of Major General Matthew B. Ridgway’s XVIII Airborne Corps were to make an airborne assault over the Rhine river. In a departure from current airborne doctrine, which called for a jump deep behind enemy lines several hours before an amphibious assault, the drop zones of 'Varsity' were close behind the German front, within Allied artillery range. Additionally, to avoid being caught in the artillery preparation, the paratroopers would jump only after the amphibious troops had reached the Rhine river’s eastern bank. The wisdom of putting lightly armed paratroopers so close to the main battlefield was debated, and the plan for amphibious forces to cross the Rhine river before the parachute drop raised questions as to the utility of making an airborne assault at all. However, Montgomery believed that the paratroopers would quickly link with the advancing river assault forces, placing the strongest force possible within the bridgehead as rapidly as possible. Once the bridgehead had been secured, the British 6th Airborne Division would be transferred to 2nd Army control, while the US 17th Airborne Division would revert to 9th Army control.
'Plunder' began on the evening of 23 March with the assault elements of the British 2nd Army massed against three main crossing sites: Rees in the north, Xanten in the centre and Wesel in the south. The two 9th Army divisions tasked for the assault concentrated in the Rheinberg area to the south of Wesel. At the northern crossing site, elements of Lieutenant General B. G. Horrocks’s British XXX Corps began its 'Turnscrew' assault at about 21.00, attempting to distract the Germans from the main crossings at Xanten in the centre and Rheinberg to the south. The initial assault waves crossed the river quickly, meeting only light opposition. Meanwhile, 'Widgeon' began 2 miles (3.2 km) to the north of Wesel as the 2nd Army’s 1st Commando Brigade, commanded by Brigadier D. Mills-Roberts, slipped across the river and waited within 1 mile (1.6 km) of the city while it was demolished by 1,000 tons of bombs delivered by Air Chief Marshal SirArthur Harris’s RAF Bomber Command. Entering in the night, the commandos secured the city late in the morning of 24 March, although scattered resistance continued until dawn of the following day. The 2nd Army’s XII Corps and the 9th Army’s XVI Corps, commanded by Lieutenant General Sir Neil Ritchie and Major General R. S. McClain respectively, began the main effort at about 02.00 on 24 March, following a massive artillery and air bombardment.
For the US crossing, Simpson had selected two of the XVI Corps' veteran formations, Major General Leland S. Hobbs’s 30th Division and Major General Ira T. Wyche’s 79th Division. The 30th Division was to cross between Wesel and Rheinberg while the 79th Division assaulted to the south of Rheinberg. In reserve were the XVI Corps' 8th Armored Division, and 35th and 75th Divisions, as well as the 9th Army’s XIII and XIX Corps, each with three divisions. Simpson planned to commit the XIX Corps as soon as possible after the bridgehead had been secured, using the XIII Corps to hold the the line of the Rhine river to the south of the crossing points.
After a one-hour artillery preparation if exceptional intensity, the 30th Division began its assault. The artillery fire had been so effective and so perfectly timed that the assault battalions merely motored their storm boats across the river and claimed the eastern bank against almost no resistance. As subsequent waves of troops crossed, units fanned out to take the first villages beyond the river, in the process meeting only the weakest of opposition. One hour later, at 03.00, the 79th Division began its crossing farther up the Rhine river, achieving much the same results. As heavier equipment was ferried across the Rhine river, both of the divisions started to drive to the east, penetrating 3 to 6 miles (4.8 to 9.7 km) into the German defensive line during this first day.
To the north, the British crossings had also gone well, with the ground and airborne troops linking by the fall of night. By then, the paratroopers had taken all their first day’s objectives in addition to 3,500 prisoners.
To the south, the discovery of a defensive gap in front of the 30th Division promoted the hope that a full-scale break-out would be possible on 25 March. When limited objective attacks provoked little response on that morning, Hobbs created two mobile task forces to make deeper thrusts with an eye toward punching through the defence altogether and breaking deep into the German rear. Hobbs had not taken fully into account the nearly non-existent road network in front of the XVI Corps' bridgehead, however, and in trying to advance rapidly through dense forest on rutted earth roads and muddy trails, which could be strongly defended by a few determined soldiers and well-placed roadblocks, the task forces advanced only about 2 miles (3.2 km) on 25 March. On the following day, the task forces gained some more ground, and one even seized its objective after an arduous advance of 6 miles (9.7 km), but the limited progress forced Hobbs to abandon the hope for a quick break-out.
On 25 March, after meeting Eisenhower, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Simpson, Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke (head of the British army) and Montgomery crossed to the eastern bank of the Rhine in a landing craft.
In addition to the poor roads, the 30th Division’s break-out attempts were also hampered by Generalmajor Siegfried von Waldenburg’s 116th Panzerdivision, an element of General Heinz Freiherr von Funck’s XLVII Panzerkorps in Gener Günther Blumentritt’s 1st Fallschirmarmee. The only potent unit left for commitment against the Allied forces' Rhine river crossings in the north, the 116th Panzerdivision began moving to the south from the Dutch/German border on 25 March against what the Germans considered their most dangerous threat, the US 9th Army. The German armoured formation began making its presence felt almost immediately, and by the end of 26 March, the combination of the Panzer division and the rough terrain had combined to limit the 30th Division’s forward progress. With the 79th Division meeting fierce resistance to the south, Simpson’s only recourse was to commit some of his forces waiting on the western bank of the Rhine river, and late on 26 March, Major General John M. Devine’s US 8th Armored Division began moving into the bridgehead. Although the armoured division bolstered his offensive capacity within the bridgehead, Simpson was more interested in sending the XIX Corps across the Wesel river bridges, as Montgomery had agreed, and exploiting the better roads to the north of the Lippe river to outflank the Germans in front of the 30th Division. Unfortunately, because of pressure from the Germans in the northern part of the 2nd Army’s bridgehead, the British were having trouble completing their bridges at Xanten and were, therefore, bringing most of their traffic across the river at Wesel. With Montgomery allowing use of the Wesel river bridges to the 9th Army for only five hours per day, and with the road network to the north of the Lippe river under 2nd Army control, Simpson was unable to commit or manoeuvre sufficient forces to make a rapid flanking drive.
Adding to the Germans' woes, the US 6th Army Group made an assault across the Rhine river on 26 March. At Worms, about 25 miles (40 km) to the south of Mainz, the 7th Army’s XV Corps, under the command of Major General Wade H. Haislip, established a bridgehead, which it consolidated with the southern shoulder of the 3rd Army’s bridgehead early on the following day. After overcoming stiff initial resistance, the XV Corps also advanced beyond the Rhine river, opposed primarily by small German strongpoints sited in roadside villages.
By 28 March, the US 8th Armored Division had expanded the bridgehead by only about 3 miles (4.8 km) and had still to reach Dorsten, a town about 15 miles (24 km) to the east of the Rhine river and whose road junction promised to expand the XVI Corps' offensive options. On the same day, however, Montgomery announced that the road eastward of Wesel would be reallocated to the 9th Army on 30 March, and the Rhine river bridges leading into that city changing hands a day later. Also on 28 March, elements of the US 17th Airborne Division operating to the north of the Lippe river in conjunction with British armoured forces swept forward to a point some 30 miles (48 km) to the east of Wesel, opening a corridor for the US XIX Corps and handily outflanking Dorsten and the Germans to the south. Simpson now had both the opportunity and the means to unleash the power of the 9th Army and begin in earnest the northern drive to surrounding the Ruhr. Simpson began by moving elements of the XIX Corps' 2nd Armored Division into the XVI Corps' bridgehead on 28 March with orders to cross the Lippe river to the east of Wesel, thereby avoiding that city’s traffic jams. After passing to the north of the Lippe on 29 March, the 2nd Armored Division broke out late in that night from the forward position that the XVIII Airborne Corps had established around Haltern, 12 miles (19 km) to the north-east of Dorsten. On 30 and 31 March, the 2nd Armored Division made an uninterrupted 40-mile (64-km) drive eastward to Beckum, cutting two of the Ruhr’s three remaining railway lines and severing the [r]Autobahn to Berlin. As the rest of the XIX Corps flowed into the wake of this spectacular drive, the 1st Army was completing its equally remarkable thrust around the southern and eastern edges of the Ruhr.
The 1st Army’s drive from the Remagen bridgehead began with a break-out before dawn on 25 March. Model, whose Heeresgruppe 'B' was tasked with the defence of the Ruhr, had deployed his troops strongly along the east/west Sieg river to the south of Köln in the belief that the US forces would attack directly to the north from the Remagen bridgehead. Instead, the 1st Army struck to the east, heading for Giessen and the Lahn river, some 65 miles (105 km) beyond Remagen, before turning to the north toward Paderborn and a junction with the 9th Army. All three of the 1st Army’s corps were involved in the break-out, which on the first day employed five infantry and two armoured divisions. Collins’s US VII Corps, on the left, had the hardest going as it faced the German concentration to the north of the bridgehead, yet its armoured columns managed to advance 12 miles (19 km). Major General J. Van Fleet’s US III Corps, in the centre, did not commit its armour on the break-out’s first day, but nonetheless advanced 4 miles (6.4 km). Major General Clarence R. Huebner’s US V Corps on the right advanced 5 to 8 mi (8 to 12.9 km) with minimal losses.
From 26 March, the armoured divisions of all three corps turned these initial gains into a complete break-out, shattering all opposition and roaming throughout the Germans rear areas. By the end of 28 March, Hodges’s 1st Army had crossed the Lahn river, having driven at least 50 miles (80 km) beyond its start line, capturing thousands of German soldiers in the process. Nowhere, it seemed, were the Germans able to resist in strength. On 29 March, the 1st Army turned toward Paderborn, about 80 miles (130 km) to the north of Giessen, its right flank covered by the 3rd Army, which had broken out of its own bridgeheads and was driving to the north-east toward Kassel.
A task force of the VII Corps' 3rd Armored Division, commanded by Major General Maurice Rose and including some of the new M26 Pershing heavy tanks, spearheaded the drive for Paderborn on 29 March. By attaching an infantry regiment of Major General Terry de la M. Allen’s 104th Division to the armoured division and following the drive closely with the rest of the 104th Division, the VII Corps was well prepared to hold any territory gained. Pushing 45 miles (72 km) to the north without loss, the mobile force stopped for the night 15 miles (24 km) from its objective. Advancing once more on the following day, it immediately ran into stiff opposition from students of a Waffen-SS Panzer replacement training centre near Paderborn. Equipped with about 60 tanks, the students put up a very determined resistance, stalling the US armour all day. When the task force failed to advance on 31 March, Collins asked Simpson if his 9th Army, driving eastward in the area to the north of the Ruhr, could provide assistance. Simpson therefore ordered a combat command of the 2nd Armored Division, which had just reached Beckum, to make a 15-mile (24-km) advance to the south-east as far as Lippstadt, half way between Beckum and the stalled spearhead of the 3rd Armored Division. Early in the afternoon of 1 April, elements of the 2nd and 3rd Armored Divisions met at Lippstadt, linking the 9th and 1st Armies and sealing the Ruhr industrial region, together with what was left of Model’s Heeresgruppe 'B', in a US encirclement.
At the start of April, the offensive to the east of the Rhine river was proceeding in close accordance with Allied plans. All the armies assigned to cross the Rhine river now had elements to the east of the river, including in the north the Canadian 1st Army, which sent a division through the British bridgehead at Rees, and in the south the French 1ère Armée, which on 31 March established its own bridgehead by assault crossings at Germersheim and Speyer, about 50 miles (80 km) to the south of Mainz. With spectacular thrusts beyond the Rhine river nearly every day and the German capacity to resist disintegrating at an ever-faster rate, the campaign to finish Germany was rapidly becoming a general pursuit.
In the centre of the Allied line, Eisenhower now inserted Gerow’s new US 15th Army, under 12th Army Group control to hold the western edge of the Ruhr pocket along the Rhine river while the 9th Army and 1st Army squeezed the pocket’s remaining German defenders from the north, east and south. Following the reduction of the Ruhr, the 15th Army was to assume occupation duties in the region as the 9th Army, 1st Army and 3rd Army drove deeper into Germany.
On 28 March, as these developments unfolded, Eisenhower announced his decision to adjust his plans for the future course of the offensive. Once the Ruhr had been surrounded, he wanted the 9th Army transferred from the Anglo-Canadian 21st Army Group to the US 12th Army Group. After the reduction of the Ruhr pocket, the main thrust to the east would now be made by Bradley’s 12th Army Group in the centre, rather than by Montgomery’s 21st Army Group in the north as had originally been planned. Montgomery’s forces were to secure Bradley’s northern flank while Devers’s US 6th Army Group covered Bradley’s southern shoulder. Furthermore, the main objective was no longer Berlin, but Leipzig where a juncture with the Soviet forces would split the remaining German forces in two. Once this had been done, the 21st Army Group would take Lübeck and Wismar on the coast of the Baltic Sea, cutting off the Germans remaining in the Jutland peninsula of Denmark, while the US 6th Army Group and the 3rd Army drove south-eastward into Austria.
Churchill and the chiefs-of-staff were strongly opposed the new plan. Despite the Soviet proximity to Berlin, they argued that the city was still a critical political, if not military, objective. Eisenhower, supported by the US chiefs-of-staff, disagreed. His overriding objective was the most rapid military victory possible. Should the US political leadership direct him to take Berlin, or should a situation arise in which it became militarily advisable to seize the German capital, Eisenhower would do so. Otherwise, he would pursue the objectives which would end the war at the earliest possible time. In addition, since Berlin and the rest of Germany had already been divided into occupation zones by representatives of the Allied governments at the 'Argonaut' conference in Yalta, Eisenhower saw no political advantage in a race for Berlin. Any ground the Western Allies gained in the future Soviet zone would merely be relinquished to the Soviets after the war. Ultimately, therefore, the campaign proceeded as Eisenhower had planned it.
The first stage in the realisation of Eisenhower’s plan was the eradication of the Ruhr pocket. Even before the encirclement had been completed, the Germans in the Ruhr had begun attempting to break out to the east, but all such efforts had been repulsed decisively by the vastly superior Allied forces. Meanwhile, the 9th Army and 1st Army began preparing converging attacks using the east/west Ruhr river as a boundary line. The 9th Army’s XVI Corps, which had taken up position north of the Ruhr area after crossing the Rhine, would be assisted in its southward drive by two divisions of the XIX Corps, the rest of which would continue to press eastward along with the XIII Corps. South of the Ruhr river, the 1st Army’s northward attack was to be executed by the XVIII Airborne Corps, which had been transferred to Hodges after 'Varsity', and the III Corps, with the 1st Army’s V and VII Corps continuing the offensive to the east. The 9th Army’s sector of the Ruhr pocket, although only about one-third of the size of the 1st Army’s sector to the south of the river, contained the majority of the densely urbanised industrial area within the encirclement. The 1st Army’s area, on the other hand, was composed of rough, heavily forested terrain with a poor road network.
By 1 April, when the trap closed around them in the Ruhr, the Germans' fate was sealed. In a matter of days, they would all be killed or captured. On 4 April, the day it shifted to Bradley’s control, the 9th Army began its attack to the south toward the Ruhr river. In the south, the 1st Army’s III Corps launched its strike on 5 April, and the XVIII Airborne Corps joined on the following day, both pushing generally to the north. German resistance, initially quite determined, dwindled rapidly. By 13 April, the 9th Army had cleared the northern part of the pocket, while elements of the XVIII Airborne Corps' 8th Division had reached the southern bank of the Ruhr river5, splitting the southern section of the pocket in two. Thousands of prisoners were being taken every day: between 16 and 18 April, when all opposition ended and the remnants of Heeresgruppe 'B' formally surrendered, German troops had been surrendering in droves throughout the region. Model committed suicide on 21 April.
The final tally of prisoners taken in the Ruhr reached 325,000, far beyond anything the US forces had anticipated. Tactical commanders hastily enclosed huge open fields with barbed wire to create makeshift prisoner of war camps in which the inmates awaited the end of the war. Also looking forward to going home, tens of thousands of liberated forced labourers and Allied prisoners of war further strained the US logistical system.
Meanwhile, the remaining Allied forces to the north, south and east of the Ruhr had been adjusting their lines in preparation for the final advance through Germany. Under the new concept, Bradley’s 12th Army Group was to be responsible for the primary effort. Hodges’s 1st Army in the centre was to drive to the east for about 130 miles (210 km) toward Leipzig and the Elbe river. to the north, the 9th Army’s XIX and XIII Corps would also drive for the Elbe river, toward Magdeburg, about 65 miles (105 km) to the north of Leipzig, although Simpson, the army commander, hoped that he would be allowed to go all the way to Berlin. To the south, Patton’s 3rd Army was to drive to the east toward Chemnitz, about 40 miles (64 km) to the south-east of Leipzig, but well short of the Elbe river, and then turn to the south-east into Austria. At the same time, Devers’s 6th Army Group would move to the south through Bavaria and the Black Forest to Austria and the Alps, ending the threat of any Nazi last-ditch stand in that area.
On 4 April, as it paused to allow the rest of the 12th Army Group to catch up, the 3rd Army made two notable discoveries. Near the town of Merkers, elements of the 90th Division found a sealed salt mine containing a large portion of the German national treasure. The hoard included vast quantities of German paper currency, stacks of priceless paintings, piles of looted gold and silver jewellery and household objects, and gold bars and coins of varius nations worth an estimated US$250 million. But the other discovery by the 3rd Army on 4 April horrified and angered all those who saw it: when the 4th Armored Division and elements of the 89th Division captured the small town of Ohrdruf, a few miles to the south of Gotha, they found the first concentration camp taken by the Western Allies.
The pause of 4 April in the 3rd Army’s advance allowed the other armies under Bradley’s command to reach the Leine river, about 50 miles (80 km) to the east of Paderborn. Thus all three armies of the 12th Army Group were in a fairly even north/south line, enabling them to advance abreast of each other to the Elbe river. By 9 April, both the 9th Army and the 1st Army had seized bridgeheads over the Leine river, prompting Bradley to order an unrestricted eastward advance. On the morning of 10 April, the 12th Army Group’s drive to the Elbe river began in earnest.
While the Elbe river was the official eastward objective, many US commanders still had their eyes on Berlin. By the evening of 11 April, elements of the 9th Army’s 2nd Armored Division, seemingly intent on demonstrating how easily their army could take that coveted prize, had surged 73 miles (117 km) forward to reach the Elbe river in the area to the south-east of Magdeburg, just 50 miles (80 km) short of the German capital. On 12 April, additional 9th Army elements attained the Elbe river, and by the next day were on the opposite bank in hope of receiving permission to drive on Berlin. Two days later, on 15 April, they had to abandon these hopes. Eisenhower sent Bradley his final word on the matter: the 9th Army was to stay put, and there was to be no effort to take Berlin. Simpson subsequently turned his troops' attention to mopping up pockets of local resistance.
In the centre of the 12th Army Group, Hodges’s 1st Army faced somewhat stiffer opposition, though this scarcely slowed the pace of the army’s advance. As its forces approached Leipzig, about 60 miles (97 km) to the south of Magdeburg and 15 miles (24 km) short of the Mulde river, the 1st Army ran into one of the few remaining centres of organised resistance. Here the Germans turned a thick defence belt of anti-aircraft guns on the US ground troops to devastating effect. Through a combination of flanking movements and night attacks, 1st Army troops were able to destroy or bypass the guns, moving finally into Leipzig, which formally surrendered on the morning of 20 April. By the end of the day, the units that had taken Leipzig joined the rest of the 1st Army on the Mulde river, on which it had been ordered to halt.
On the 12th Army Group’s southern flank, meanwhile, the 3rd Army had advanced apace, moving 30 miles (48 km) to the east and taking Erfurt and Weimar, and then, by 12 April, another 30 miles (48 km) through Jena. On that day, Eisenhower instructed Patton to halt the 3rd Army on the Mulde river, about 10 mi (16 km) short of Chemnitz, its original objective. This change resulted from an agreement between the US Soviet military leadership based on the need to establish a readily identifiable geographical line to avoid accidental clashes between their converging forces. However, as the 3rd Army began to arrive on the Mulde river on 13 April, the XII Corps, which was Patton’s southernmost formation, continued moving to the south-east alongside the 6th Army Group in order to clear southern Germany and move into Austria. After taking Coburg, about 50 miles (80 km) to the south of Erfurt, on 11 April, men of the XII Corps captured Bayreuth, 35 miles (56 km) farther to the south-east, on 14 April.
As was the case throughout the campaign, the German ability to fight was sporadic and unpredictable during the US drive to the line of the Elbe and Mulde rivers. Some areas were strongly defended, but in others the Germans surrendered after little more than token resistance. By sending armoured spearheads around hotly contested areas, isolating them for reduction by subsequent waves of infantry, Eisenhower’s forces maintained their eastward momentum. A German hold-out force of 70,000 in the Harz mountains, some 40 miles (64 km) to the north of Erfurt, was neutralised in this way, as were Erfurt, Jena and Leipzig.
Every US formation and unit along the line of the Elbe and Mulde river was anxious to be the first to greet the Soviets. By the last week of April, it was well known that the Soviets were close, and dozens of US patrols were probing beyond the eastern bank of the Mulde river, hoping to meet them. It was elements of the 1st Army’s V Corps which established the first contact: at 11.30 on 25 April, a small patrol of the 69th Division met a lone Soviet horseman in the village of Leckwitz. Several other patrols from the 69th Division had similar encounters later on the same day, and on 26 April the division commander, Major General Emil F. Reinhardt, met General Major Vladimir V. Rusakov, commander of the Soviet 58th Guards Division, at Torgau in the first official link-up ceremony.
While the 12th Army Group was making its thrust to the east, Devers’s 6th Army Group to the south had the dual mission of protecting the 12th Army Group’s right flank and eliminating any German attempt to make a last stand in the Alps of southern Germany and western Austria. To accomplish both objectives, Patch’s 7th Army on Devers’s left was to advance in a great arc, first driving to the north-east alongside Bradley’s flank, then turning south with the 3rd Army to take Nuremberg and Munich, ultimately continuing into Austria. de Lattre de Tassiny’s 1ère Armée was to attack to the south and south-east, taking Stuttgart before moving to the Swiss border and into Austria.
Initially, the opposition in the 6th Army Group’s sector was stiffer than that facing the 12th Army Group. The German forces there were simply in less disarray than those to the north. Nevertheless, the 7th Army broke out of its Rhine river bridgehead, just to the south of Frankfurt, on 28 March, employing elements of three corps (the XV Corps to the north, the XXI Corps in the centre and the VI Corps to the south). The XV Corps' 45th Division fought for six days before taking the city of Aschaffenburg, 35 miles (56 km) to the east of the Rhine river, on 3 April. To the south, elements of the VI Corps met unexpectedly fierce resistance at Heilbronn, 40 miles (64 km) into the German rear. Despite a wide armoured thrust to envelop the German defences, it took nine days of intense fighting to bring Heilbronn fully under US control. Still, by 11 April the 7th Army had penetrated the German defences to some depth, especially in the north, and was ready to begin its wheeling movement to the south-east and south. Thus on 15 April, when Eisenhower ordered Patton’s entire 3rd Army to drive to the south-east down the Danube river valley to Linz, and south to Salzburg and central Austria, he also instructed the 6th Army Group to make a similar turn into southern Germany and western Austria.
Advancing along this new axis, the 7th Army’s left rapidly overran Bamberg, more than100 miles (160 km) to the east of the Rhine river, on its way to Nürnberg, about 30 miles (48 km) to the south. As its forces reached Nünberg on 16 April, the 7th Army ran into the same type of anti-aircraft gun defence that the 1st Army was facing at Leipzig. Only on 20 April, after breaching the ring of anti-aircraft guns and fighting house-to-house for the city, did its forces take Nürnberg.
After its capture of Nürnberg, the 7th Army discovered little resistance as the XXI Corps' 12th Armored Division dashed 50 miles (80 km) to the Danube river, crossing it on 22 April, followed several days later by the rest of the corps and the XV Corps.
Meanwhile, on the 7th Army’s right, the VI Corps had moved to the south-east alongside the 1ère Armée. In a double envelopment, the French captured Stuttgart on 21 April, and by the next day, both the French and the VI Corps had elements on the Danube. Similarly, the 3rd Army on the 6th Army Group’s left flank had advanced rapidly against very little resistance, its leading elements reaching the river on 24 April.
As the 6th Army Group and the 3rd Army finished clearing southern Germany and approached Austria, it was clear to most observers, Allied and German alike, that the war was nearly over. Many towns flew white flags of surrender to spare themselves the otherwise inevitable destruction suffered by those that resisted, while German troops surrendered by the tens of thousands, sometimes as entire units.
On 30 April, elements of 7th Army’s XV Corps and XXI Corps captured Munich, 30 miles (48 km) to the south of the Danube river, while the first elements of its VI Corps had already entered Austria two days earlier. On 4 May, the 3rd Army’s V Corps and XII Corps advanced into Czechoslovakia, and units of the VI Corps met elements of Lieutenant General Lucian K. Truscott’s US 5th Army on the Italian frontier, this linking the European and Mediterranean theatres. Also on 4 May, after a shift in inter-army boundaries that placed Salzburg in the 7th Army’s sector, that city surrendered to elements of the XV Corps. The XV Corps also captured Berchtesgaden, the town that would have been Hitler’s command post in the 'national redoubt'. With all passes to the Alps now sealed, however, there would be no final redoubt in Austria or anywhere else.
While the Allied armies in the south marched to the Alps, in the north the 21st Army Group drove to the north and north-east. The right wing of the British 2nd Army reached the Elbe river to the south-east of Hamburg on 19 April. Its left wing fought for a week to capture Bremen, which fell on 26 April. On 29 April, the British made an assault crossing of the Elbe river, supported on the following day by the recently reattached XVIII Airborne Corps. The bridgehead expanded rapidly, and by 2 May Lübeck and Wismar, 40 to 50 miles (64 to 80 km) beyond the river, were in Allied hands, sealing off the Germans in the Jutland peninsula.
On the 21st Army Group’s left, one corps of the Canadian 1st Army reached the coast of the North Sea near the Dutch/German border on 16 April, while another drove through the central Netherlands, trapping the German forces remaining in that country. However, concerned that the bypassed Germans would flood much of the nation and cause complete famine among a Dutch population already near starvation, Eisenhower approved an agreement with the local German commanders to allow the Allies to air-drop food into the country in return for a local ceasefire on the battlefield. The resulting 'Manna' and 'Chowhound' British and US airdrops, which began on 29 April, marked the beginning of what was to become a colossal effort to put war-torn Europe back together again.
On 6 May, the Polish 1st Armoured Division seized the German naval base in Wilhelmshaven, where the Polish commander accepted the capitulation of the fortress, naval base, locally based warships and more than 10 infantry divisions.
Eisenhower’s armies faced resistance that varied from almost non-existent to fanatical as they advanced toward Berlin, which was located some 125 miles (200 km) from their positions early in April 1945. Churchill urged Eisenhower to authorise the advance of the 21st Army Group toward Berlin, and even Patton agreed with Churchill that he should order the attack on the city since Montgomery’s troops could reach Berlin within three days. The British and US leaderships contemplated an airborne operation before the attack: in 'Eclipse', the 17th Airborne Division, 82nd Airborne Division, 101st Airborne Division and a British airborne brigade would seize the Tempelhof, Rangsdorf, Gatow, Staaken and Oranienburg airfields. In Berlin, the Reichsbanner resistance organisation identified possible drop zones for Allied paratroopers and planned to guide them past German defences into the city. After Bradley had warned that capturing a city located in a region that the Soviets had already been allocated at the Yalta conference might cost 100,000 casualties, however, by 15 April Eisenhower had ordered all of the armies under his command to halt when they reached the Elbe and Mulde rivers, thus immobilising these spearheads while the war continued for three more weeks. The 21st Army Group was then ordered to move to the north-east toward Bremen and Hamburg. While the US 9th Army and 1st Army held their ground from Magdeburg through Leipzig to western Czechoslovakia, Eisenhower ordered three Allied armies (1ère Armée, US 7th Army and US 3rd Army) into south-eastern Germany and Austria. Advancing from northern Italy, Lieutenant General Sir Richard McCreery’s British 8th Army pushed to the borders of Yugoslavia to defeat the last German forces in that area. This later caused some friction with the Yugoslav forces, notably around Trieste.
By the end of April, the rump of the Third Reich was in tatters. Of the areas still under Nazi control, almost none was actually in Germany. With his escape route to the south severed by the 12th Army Group’s eastward drive and Berlin surrounded by the Soviets, Hitler committed suicide on 30 April, leaving to his successor, Grossadmiral Karl Dönitz, the task of supervising the German capitulation. After attempting to strike a deal whereby he would surrender only to the Western Allies, a proposal that was summarily rejected on 7 May, Dönitz granted his representative, Generaloberst Alfred Jodl, permission to effect a complete surrender on all fronts. The appropriate documents were signed on the same day and became effective on 8 May. Despite scattered resistance from a few isolated units, the war in Europe was over.
By the beginning of 1945, Allied victory in Europe was inevitable. Having gambled his future ability to defend Germany on the 'Wacht am Rhein' offensive and lost, Hitler had no real strength left to stop the powerful Allied armies. Even so, the Western Allies still had to fight, often bitterly, for victory, and yet despite the hopelessness of the German situation obvious to his most loyal subordinates, Hitler refused to admit defeat. Only when Soviet artillery was falling around his Berlin headquarters bunker did he begin to perceive the final outcome.
The crossing of the Rhine river, the encirclement and reduction of the Ruhr, and the sweep to the line of the Elbe and Mulde rivers and the Alps all established the final campaign on the Western Front as a showcase for Western Allied superiority over the Germans in manoeuvre warfare. Drawing on the experience gained during the campaign in Normandy and the Allied advance from Paris to the Rhine river, the Western Allies demonstrated in western Germany and Austria their capability of absorbing the lessons of the past. By the attachment of mechanised infantry units to armoured divisions, they created a hybrid of strength and mobility that served them well in the pursuit of warfare through Germany. Key to the effort was the logistical support that kept these forces fuelled, and the determination to maintain the forward momentum at all costs. These mobile forces made great thrusts to isolate pockets of German troops, which were mopped up by additional infantry following close behind. The Western Allies rapidly eroded any remaining ability to resist.
Captured German soldiers often claimed to be most impressed not by the US armour or infantry but by the artillery. They frequently remarked on its accuracy, the swiftness of its target acquisition and especially the prodigious quantities of ammunition expended.