The first, "Operation Veritable" would begin on 8 February as the Canadian 1st and British 2nd divisions would make a southeastern attack into the Rhineland, while 2 days later the US 9th Army (under General William Simpson) would attack in a northeastern direction, called "Operation Grenade." When the 2 teams met up, the German resistance would be cut off, but first they had to take control of the dams of the Roer river. The Germans could use them to flood the lowlands of the Rhineland and destroy any progress made by the Allies there. In "Operation Lumberjack," Bradley would hit the Germans there in the wooded Rhine region of Eifel on 23 February, then on 15 March the US 7th Army would pound the Saar in "Operation Undertone." But now in late January Hitler was faced with an overwhelming 155 Soviet divisions in the east, but still committed 7 new Panzer divisions there, including Dietrich’s 6th Panzer Army. Although Hitler had enough sense to realize he could not make a separate peace with the British and Americans, he wrongly assumed it would take them 2 months to recover from their losses in the Battle of the Bulge. "Operation Veritable" began, but the Allies were stuck in the flooded plains because the Germans had blown the dams as they retreated. Fortunately for them they were rescued the next day and quickly replaced, surprising the Germans. "Operation Grenade" was not as fortunate because the Germans let loose 300 million cubic feet of water along the Roer river, pushing their attack date back 2 weeks. Even so, the Allies were determined to cross it and constructed makeshift floating bridges under deadly German fire and swift water currents. In spite of the near impossibility of it all they had made over 20 bridges by the end of February, after repeated attempts.
Now that it was clear the Allies were about to storm into Germany, Hitler’s best option was to destroy the bridges on the Rhine (the Allies’ next natural obstacle) and assume a defensive position. The Allies, of course, knew this was inevitable so they planned to build their own bridge system, which would be a monumental task not unlike the Normandy invasion. They also had to chose a suitable site, which they decided on Wesel, a doubly important region because it was a German communication nest and a key coal route, which could deliver a serious blow if neutralized. First they had to break the last main defensive position west of the Rhine, the high ground of the Kalkar-Udem ridge. Montgomery lead the attack with the Canadian 1st Army in "Operation Blockbuster," but it turned out to be an utter disaster. It began on 26 February but within 24 hours the battle had erupted into a savage hand-to-hand melée, as the desperate Germans were willing to defend their homeland at any cost. The next day some of the ridge was taken, but the rest held out for a few more days. On 2 March the Americans tried their hand at deception like the Germans did in "the Bulge" to snare a key bridge over the Rhine. They camouflaged their tanks to look like Panzers and dressed their men as German soldiers and snuck right past the German outposts, and nearly made it to their objective before it was blown up by quick thinking Germans. Now it seemed inevitable the Americans would have to make their own bridge.
TURKEY LOSES ITS NEUTRALITY
The last remnant of the once powerful Ottoman Empire, Turkey stayed neutral because it did not want to get involved with Europe’s problems. In October 1939 the Turks signed a treaty with Britain and France, but held back on the conflict in Greece. They also signed a treaty with Germany on 18 June 1941 to keep them out of Turkey as they conquered the east. The Turks consistently turned down offers to join the Allies, and continued to trade freely with Germany. When the Allies threatened to blockade Turkish ports, they finally declared war on Germany on 23 February 1945, but by then the war was nearly over and not one Turkish soldier died.
FINALLY, ACROSS THE RHINE
Since the Allies were doing better than expected, they could start "Lumberjack" early on 1 March, and the US 1st Army, under General Hodges, entered Cologne on 6 March. They dropped 50,000 tons of bombs on the city, turning it into a wasteland of twisted metal and rubble. The next day the Ludendorff bridge (which spanned the Rhine river) was discovered and an immediate rush to seize it began. The Germans instinctively set off dynamite charges to blow the bridge, but the damage was only bad enough to prevent tanks from crossing. Still, the tanks could fire their “white phosphorus” shells, which shot out a spray of the chemical that burned through clothing and skin, throwing the Germans into a panic. They tried to blow the bridge again but the fuse failed so they tried to blow it manually. Another explosion rocked the bridge, but amazingly it remained intact and the Americans saw their opportunity to cross it. There was still enough bridge left for infantry to cross, so they sprinted across it under enemy fire. When news of an American team making it across the Rhine reached Bradley, he was euphoric and sent everything he could across it. Unfortunately, the structure was so weak it only held for 5 more days and collapsed on 17 March. When Hitler learned of the failure with the Ludendorff bridge, he gave Field Marshal von Rundstedt a medal and then fired him. He was replaced with Field Marshal Albert Kesselring as commander of the western forces.
On 15 March "Undertone" began at 1 am, with 14 divisions and General Alexander Patch dedicated to fight through the Germans’ "western wall" of defenses. The Germans defended with anti-tank ditches, roadblocks and thousands of mines for each city. They fought with voracious tenacity because Hitler forced each soldier to sign an agreement that if any of them surrendered, they and their families would not receive any government support. Even so, the Germans could not stop the avalanche of Allied might and within a few days, Patton and Patch had punched through the German lines and were once again chasing the Germans. On 20 March the German 7th Army, under General Felber, began the retreat across the Rhine. Hitler then ordered any building, factory, naval ship, store or any thing that the Allies could capture was to be destroyed. In Hitler’s acceptance that his defeat was imminent, he wanted to bring everything else down with him. On 22 March an impatient Patton snuck across the Rhine with 500 small boats and surprised the Germans, who were then eager to surrender. Some even swam across the Rhine to meet the incoming Americans, and the US 7th Army put over 1000 vehicles across the Rhine. It also surprised the British because Patton went ahead of plan to let Montgomery know who was the better commander. Montgomery was unfazed by Patton’s actions and hatched a plan of his own to move 1.25 million troops and 300,000 tons of supplies across the Rhine. This build up was concealed with artificial fog (although the Germans knew something was afoot) and would be sent across 9 newly constructed bridges at Maas. The Allies bombed the Germans in preparation for Montgomery’s attack, called “Operation Plunder,” and seriously injured General Schlem, the important leader for Germany’s defense.
On the evening of 24 March the British crossed the Rhine west of Wesel and were assigned to take the city while the US 9th Army crossed south of Wesel and secured the area from a German counterattack. For once, everything went according to plan as an armada of boats, rafts, ferries and amphibious vehicles crossed the Rhine with their precious cargo of weapons, supplies, and men, including Winston Churchill, who came along to witness it first hand. This was followed by the last great airborne assault of WWII on 24 March with the US 17th and British 6th Airborne in 1600 planes, 1300 gliders and were protected by 3000 fighters. They dropped into a war zone near Wesel, but by mid-afternoon they had accomplished all their objectives and met up with the Americans near Wesel. Even though they had 500 killed and 1250 wounded they poured into enemy positions and captured POWs and important German maps.
DIVIDING AND CONQUERING
Bradley then went along with Eisenhower’s plan to reach the Elbe river and take the vital industrial Ruhr region, which produced 69% of Germany’s coal and 75% of their total industrial output. The US 1st and 9th Army would spring forward from their beachheads to the Elbe and meet together to circle the German Army Group B. The 2000 square mile region that had long been a target of Allied bombing runs was now a target for the 7 Allied Armies with their 85 divisions. Allied morale was skyrocketing as they knew victory was close at hand. German morale, on the other hand, was at an all time low among their 26 western divisions and the German people scorned their once beloved army. Even the top German Generals (like Model) knew it was hopeless, but they had to obey Hitler’s orders or face death and they also wanted to defend their homeland.
The actual assault began on 25 March and even though the Germans put up strong resistance, the Americans broke through German positions. Model sent in reinforcements and attempted to reposition them as General Gustav Hoehne’s request to retreat was denied by Field Marshal Kesselring. Hoehne retreated anyway, since his headquarters was under fire and his men were being slaughtered, so on 30 March his men fell back into Germany. The Americans pushed on, meeting up with a SS Panzer training school, so Model asked Kesselring to withdraw, but Kesselring told him to counterattack. It held the Americans at bay for a while and forced US General Collins to retreat to Lippstadt and meet with reinforcements from General Simpson in a modification of the original encirclement plan. Now that the Germans were caught in the "Rose Pocket" (named after the KIA General Rose), Bradley’s 12th Army Group would mop up the trapped Germans on 3 sides.
On 1 April Model learned of his encirclement and was told by Kesselring to fight to the last man, despite his officers’ pleas for surrender. Model did not want to end up like the disgraced and humiliated von Paulus, who surrendered at Stalingrad, so he threatened all Germans who helped either Wehrmacht deserters or the Americans. As a result the fighting continued on 4 April and the US 9th Army (again under Bradley) now walked through the 2400 guns of "Flak Alley," which the Allied bombers had dreaded just months before. The intrepid Americans forged ahead, pushing the German 15th Army out while the US 1st Army’s 99th division captured 10 miles, 18 towns and 2000 POWs in just 4 days. For the Germans, this was a time of both fierce resistance and surrendering at the first sight of Americans. Some towns even surrendered over the phone from German-speaking GIs threatening to wipe them out. In the northern industrial region, most civilians were either dead or fled the downpour of bombs that decimated their cities. The German soldiers still fought on, and snipers and anti-tank guns hid in the burnt out buildings as the Americans entered the towns. The Americans showed no mercy for these rebels and retaliated with full force if they were fired upon even once.
General Simpson had enough of this guerrilla fighting so he ordered a clearing attack on 7 April. They chewed up German resistance until 14 April when the Rose Pocket was divided in 2 and the following day a request for Model’s surrender was issued. Model rejected it, but sensing inevitable defeat he dismissed the old and young soldiers and gave the remaining troops permission to surrender if they wanted. On 18 April the last German resistance in the Rose Pocket ceased and a flood of German POWs came in--317,000 Germans, including 22 Generals at the cost of roughly 7000 American casualties. Field Marshal Model escaped, adhering to the German tradition of "a Field Marshal never surrenders or becomes a prisoner." He wandered the woods in a daze, searching for a way out from the wrath of the Americans and Soviets that were closing in. Sadly, the only way out he found was a single shot from his own pistol.
THE GERMANS' LAST FIGHT FOR ITALY
Following a harsh winter and a nasty stalemate, the Allies were ready to go on the offensive in Italy in the spring of 1945. They would attack General Vietinghoff’s Army Group C by putting the 8th Army (under General Richard McCreery) to take Lake Comacchio then move across the Senio and Santerno rivers. These were to be flooded by the Germans so there would only be 1 safe route up Italy, the "Argenta Gap." A massive attack would then be launched in Bologna and Modena under the command of General Lucien Truscott and his US 5th Army. They were to take the Po river, but the Germans planned to delay the Allies there and then retreat to the Alps. The new offensive began on April 1 when the British took the coast of Lake Comacchio, which allowed them to carry out an amphibious landing. The landing was timed with the bulk of the new Italian assault on 9 April, which forced the Germans into a quick retreat. The end of a Nazi-infested Italy was near.
WORKING WITH THE SOVIETS
By 28 March "Operation Plunder" was a success and established a beachhead on the Rhine with 12 bridges at their disposal, with another 80 elsewhere. Montgomery now looked to breakout across northern Germany by sending the US 9th and 2nd Army 250 miles east to the Elbe river while the 1st Canadian Army cleaned up the German 25th Army in Holland. First, Eisenhower had to work in conjunction with Stalin as he heard the Red Army was nearing Berlin and it would be wiser to deploy American forces to the southern pockets of German resistance instead. The truth was the Soviets were not anywhere near Berlin in March 1945, but Eisenhower did not know this and had given Berlin to Stalin in February at the Yalta conference anyway. He was afraid any attempt to undermine the Soviet victory there could result in the Allies fighting each other, as well as costing hundreds of thousands of American lives in Berlin. Instead, Eisenhower sought to establish the division of Germany beforehand. Stalin lied and said Berlin was not important to him but agreed the idea of linking up Soviet and American forces and dividing Germany. The British were appalled at giving part of Germany to Stalin and Churchill pleaded with Roosevelt to change Eisenhower’s mind, but at this point Roosevelt was too sick to interfere.
Whereas Eisenhower wanted a military victory, Stalin wanted a political victory and to seize eastern European countries to turn them into Communist satellites. Eisenhower felt it was best to link up with the Red Army near Dresden and divide Germany in 2, and that any resistance left would be south of Berlin. Stalin was paranoid and distrusted the Allies, believing they were as devious as he was. Since he thought the Allies were secretly plotting to take Berlin, he told his top 2 Field Marshals (Georgi Zhukov and Ivan Koniev) to devise a plan within 2 days. Zhukov was 50 miles east of Berlin on the 1st Belorussian front and planned to open the attack with 10,000 guns then blind the Germans with 140 searchlights as he threw 750,000 men (including 2 tank armies) at Hitler. Koniev was 75 miles southeast of Berlin on the 1st Ukrainian front and wanted to open with 7500 guns then use a smokescreen to put his 500,000 men (also including 2 tank armies) through German defenses. Both Field Marshals were tired from years of constant battles and hoped to take a month off to let their men recuperate until May. But Stalin liked their plans and gave Zhukov top priority into Berlin, yet encouraged competition to speed up their mission. They were only given 13 days to reach Berlin by 16 April.
THE END OF THE NIGHTMARE
The Soviets were the first outsiders to witness a concentration camp on 23 July 1944 near Lublin. The camp was hastily abandoned by the Germans, leaving only 1000 survivors and enough evidence to shock the world about the truth. As the Soviets pressed eastward, the Germans knew the other camps would be discovered so they made great attempts to destroy the camps and any evidence of their atrocities. They still needed slave labor, however, so they marched the workers west and if anyone lagged behind, he was shot. Still, the Soviets found many more camps and a London newspaper publicized the story. It was so unreal that many refused to believe it since it came from the Soviets. However, when the Americans entered Buchenwald on 11 April 1945, all doubts were silenced. They found thousands of survivors, several thousand of which died over the next few days amidst countless corpses stacked high. Over the next month they discovered many more camps and Eisenhower personally went to Ohrdruf and ordered journalists to document the holocaust. The Allies brought the local German people into the camps to witness the atrocities their Nazi leaders had committed. Captured German soldiers were forced to load bodies on trucks and properly bury them in a conspicuous field. In many occasions though, the Nazis who actually ran the camps had already fled, and the only ones left were new troops who had little or nothing to do with any abuse. Regardless, the survivors harassed and yelled at anyone in a German uniform and some who were strong enough beat or even killed them.
COULD SOMETHING HAVE BEEN DONE TO END THE HOLOCAUST EARLIER?
HITLER ON THE EDGE OF DEFEAT
When the Soviets were planning their attack on Berlin, Hitler was swimming in dementia and as the Allies closed in, he lost more and more men to continuous surrender. Furious at their treachery he began firing his staff: he dismissed his longtime friend and ally, Heinrich Himmler, as head of Army Group Vistula to replace him with the competent General Gotthard Heinrici, who had 3 armies. General von Manteuffel had his 3rd Panzer Army to defend Berlin’s north, General Theodor Busse had the 9th Army to defend Berlin’s east and Field Marshal Ferdinand Schörner was to defend Berlin’s south and west. He also dismissed Chief of General Staff Heinz Guderian on 28 March after he asked for a surrender. Hitler’s health was deteriorating from the stresses of war and his insanity worsened. He was now holed up in the Führerbunker in the last 2 levels of the Chancellery air raid shelter. It was 50 feet underground and protected by thick concrete, with the only way in being a steel door with a strict security check. Even though it was a luxurious place, it was full of depression. When President Franklin D. Roosevelt died on 12 April, Hitler was sure that it would save Germany just as the death of the Russian Czar saved Fredrick the Great in the days of Prussia. Goebbels even read the History of Fredrick the Great to him to comfort him as the Soviets drew near. He spent his last days holding his dog and moving non-existent Wehrmacht units around on a map, still convinced the Soviets could not take Berlin.
The Germans were nearly out of every possible supply, especially manpower, and when the Soviets began nearing Berlin, Heinrici could only draw on 30 divisions to save his capital. Still, he was a brilliant tactician and positioned his men away from the firestorm of Soviet artillery, which lasted for 35 minutes, and put the 9th Army in front of the road to Berlin. The Germans, desperate to save their homeland, inflicted terrible casualties but the Soviets’ overwhelming numbers pushed over the initial German defenses on 17 April. German General Karl Weidling brought in Busse’s last reserves (the 56th Panzer Corps) which actually slowed down the Soviets enough to make Stalin change his tanks’ directions northward. On 20 April, Hitler’s 56th birthday, Von Manteuffel was attacked by Rokossovsky as Zhukov pelted Berlin with artillery shells from 22 miles away. That same day in the west, General Lucht was cut off in the Rose Pocket and began moving around town to town, setting up camp anywhere he could. The Americans swarmed over them, taking towns left and right and cut off all roads leading out, leaving no chance for escape. US Colonel Edwin Burba demanded a surrender, but Lucht was too proud to give up that easily. He would surrender, but only if Burba "attacked" him with a token display of 50 tanks, which he did as Lucht formally surrendered.
Meanwhile, Berlin was surrounded and on 22 April, Göring (Hitler’s legal successor) asked for a surrender and was promptly fired. The next day Hitler begged General Wenck to pull his 12th Army out of Magdeburg to come to the aid of Berlin. He agreed but the US and Soviets linked up for the first time on 25 April at Torgau, effectively dividing Germany in half, and the next day the Soviets were within 1 mile of Hitler’s bunker. On 28 April Wenck made it to Postdam, a suburb of Berlin, but the Red Army prevented him from reaching the desperate Germans. He did, however, manage to link up with the disintegrated 9th Army but they fled west to surrender to the Americans. That same day Heinrich Himmler was discovered to have made peace talks with the west and this act of treason convinced Hitler to kill himself. On 29 April he married his mistress, Eva Braun, and made out his will, making Admiral Karl Dönitz his successor.
MISERY IN HOLLAND
After the British failure at Arnhem, the Germans continued their brutality on the 4.5 million Dutch they still had control over. Out of revenge they destroyed the ports of Rotterdam and Amsterdam, put 120,000 men in slave labor camps and hoarded all the food, leaving the Dutch starving. Fuel supplies, electricity, food and water were withheld as the agonizingly cold winter of 1944-1945 set in. To stay alive, many Dutch were forced to steal, prostitute themselves, or roam the countryside in search of a scrap of food. For the rest, the only way to eat was waiting in long lines for ration coupons, of which each person was allotted only 900 calories a day. By spring it had fallen to 230 daily calories and the Dutch were faced with starvation as the bodies of the dead piled up. Fortunately salvation came in the form of the RAF, who dropped tons of supplies on 29 April in "Operation Manna," which saved the lives of millions of starving Dutch.
ITALY IS FREED
On 17 April the British 8th Army took Argenta, which allowed entrance to the Ferrara and Po rivers. 3 days later Truscott let loose an attack on Bologna, which was a success even though the terrain was extremely difficult. Now that Italy was just days away from expelling the Germans, Mussolini tried to reach a peace agreement just as SS General Karl Wolff tried to make an armistice for the Italian campaign. By then it was too late because on 21 April the Italian partisans took control of the Italian towns out of reach of the Allies, and ordered the execution of all Fascist leaders, especially Mussolini. He fled to Switzerland and the last remnants of Italian Fascism dissolved. A German roadblock stopped his car and he tried to disguise himself with a German military uniform, but it was hopeless. He and his mistress Clara were thrown in jail. On 22 April, Polish troops took Bologna as Vietinghoff hastily withdrew across the Po river by 23 April and even left his big weapons behind as Truscott followed him to capture Modena. Vietinghoff met up with Wolff to decide their future, and against the strong wishes of Hitler decided on surrender. Mussolini and Clara were shot and hung up by their feet in Milan on 28 April, until mobs of angry Italians cut them down beat their bodies to a bloody pulp. By 2 May the Allis had nearly all of Italy and 2 days later the Allied forces in Italy met up with General Patch in Germany.
THE END OF WAR
On 30 April the Moltke bridge was taken by the Red Army, then the Gestapo headquarters. General Perevertkin tried to take the Reichstag, the symbol of Nazi government, twice in the morning but the Germans fought them back using small arms. It was heavily defended with steel, concrete, mines and barricades, but nothing could stop the determined Soviets. At 3 pm on 30 April 1945, Adolf Hitler took a cyanide pellet and shot himself, not taking any chances with survival. His new wife Eva Braun then took a cyanide pellet and their bodies were cremated and buried in the Chancellery garden. That night Zhukov’s men gallantly raised the Sickle and Hammer high above the Reichstag, which infuriated Koniev, who was told not to reach the Reichstag before Zhukov. The next day, Goebbels sent a vague telegraph of Hitler's death to Admiral Dönitz, Hitler's successor. Not knowing about the suicide, Dönitz announced to Germany that Hitler had died gloriously in battle. German radio played Bruckner’s 7th Symphony, which was written for the death of the legendary German composer Wagner. On 2 May the surrender of German forces in Italy went into effect as Weidling surrendered to Chuikov.
A whirlwind of pillaging, destruction, rape and murder ensued in brutal, yet ironic, justice for the years of horrific cruelty the Nazis put on the Slavic people. The casualties for the Berlin campaign are inconclusive, but it is estimated that 200,000 Germans died, 150,000 Soviets died, and countless were wounded. Only 2500 Germans survived the defense of Berlin and were shipped to Siberia-- nearly all perished there. On 4 May the surrender of the entire German Army in northern Germany, Denmark, and Holland was accepted by Montgomery. Dönitz stalled for time to let his soldiers escape the wrath of the vengeful Soviets and surrender to the more friendly Americans. All captured Axis soldiers and Nazi members were subject to Soviet imprisonment, torture, slave labor, and execution, much of which was kept hidden from the western world. With this in mind, Eisenhower then let Dönitz know if he did not immediately surrender unconditionally he would cut them off from any escape to the west. On 7 May, the head of the OKW, General Hans Jodl, signed the treaty in Eisenhower’s headquarters at Reims. The following day it was ratified by Soviet headquarters in Berlin, effectively ending the Second World War in Europe.