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Recovery of France

Even though military resources in Britain were meager after the withdrawal from France in 1940, British forces soon began to plan a return to the Continent. In September 1941, the British Chiefs of Staff charged Adm. Lord Louis Mountbatten (later 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma), who headed the Combined Operations Headquarters, with investigating the technical problems of amphibious operations. Not long afterward the British joint planners drew up the first formal plan for a cross-Channel attack. This plan, which was called Roundup, assumed a marked deterioration of German strength. Projecting the use of relatively small British forces, it was designed to disrupt German withdrawal to the homeland in the final phase of the war.

Though American military officers were in England as observers as early as October 1940, the World War II alliance between the English-speaking nations began to take definite shape only in January 1941. This was the month when American and British military officers met in Washington for conversations that became known as ABC-1. The agreements reached--that the two nations were to maintain joint planning staffs in Washington and London and that, if forced into war with both Japan and Germany, the United States would join Britain in defeating Germany first--started the chain of events that led to the eventual cross-Channel invasion and victory in Europe. It was two months later, in March, when Congress passed the Lend-Lease Act, which authorized the United States to provide war materials for nations under Axis attack. By June, with the American observers in London having become the Special Observer Group and the British having sent representatives to Washington, the two countries were in close liaison. Though the United States still was not at war, American troops replaced British troops in Iceland in July 1941, and later in the summer began to construct naval and air bases in the United Kingdom, ostensibly for British use.

Developing Alliance

Immediately after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the German declaration of war against the United States, as American and British military leaders met in Washington in a series of conferences known as Arcadia (December 1941-January 1942), they reaffirmed the ABC-1 decision to remain on the strategic defensive in the Pacific while defeating Germany first. They decided to wear down German resistance in 1942 by air bombardment, by assisting the USSR, and by trying to gain the entire North African coast, before initiating in 1943 a large-scale land offensive against Germany across either the Mediterranean Sea or the English channel. They also created the Combined Chiefs of Staff (CCS), consisting of the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff and the British Chiefs of Staff, as the body to assist and advise President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill on the direction and conduct of the war. The most prominent members of the CCS were Gen. (later General of the Army) George C. Marshall, United States Army chief of staff, and Gen. (later Field Marshal) Sir Alan F. Brooke (later 1st Viscount Alanbrooke), chief of the Imperial General Staff. Because the CCS met only periodically, the American and British members did the detailed work of planning separately. Those most concerned with planning a European invasion were the Operations Division (OPD) of the United States War Department and the British Combined Commanders (the senior ground, naval, and air officers, together with Lord Mountbatten).

Differences between the Allies in general strategic outlook soon became apparent. The British, acutely conscious of the difficulty of a Channel crossing, aware of the need for special boats and equipment, and impressed by the strength of the German Army, favored a peripheral strategy, including ground operations in the Mediterranean or in Scandinavia and such indirect methods of attack as blockade, air bombardment, and the encouragement of subversive activities in German-occupied countries. Only when the Germans had been weakened to the point where an invasion would be sure of success was a cross-Channel attack to be launched. The Americans, more conscious of the needs of the Pacific war, and therefore impatient for victory in Europe, rejected the peripheral areas for major operations, for they believed that only by a showdown in northwestern Europe could the Germans be beaten.

As the first American ground troops (34th Division) arrived in Northern Ireland in January 1942, the Special Observer Group was redesignated the United States Army Forces in the British Isles. Not long afterward, United States air force contingents began to arrive in England for eventual participation in the bombardment of German-held Europe, and in July American air crews in borrowed Royal Air Force (RAF) planes flew their first mission, a daylight attack against German airfields in the Netherlands. Then, in August, the Eighth Air Force, commanded by Maj. Gen. (later Gen.) Carl Spaatz, carried out the first bombing of Europe by American pilots flying American planes.

Because the Americans still were building up their strength and because British resources were hardly sufficient to carry out a cross-Channel attack alone, the British chiefs concluded that no cross-Channel operation was feasible in 1942 unless Germany showed unmistakable signs of collapse. Even 1943 remained doubtful. In March 1942, the OPD nevertheless began work on an outline plan for a full-scale invasion of Europe in 1943. The following month, General Marshall and Harry Hopkins, confidential adviser to President Roosevelt, went to London to try to gain British acceptance of the idea. The British agreed not only with the concept but also with a War Department proposal, code named Bolero, for a great buildup of American forces in Britain, with approximately 1 million men to be equipped and trained to carry out air operations in 1942 and a major invasion of the Continent in 1943. To implement the decision, Maj. Gen. (later Lt. Gen.) John C. H. Lee arrived in the United Kingdom in May to activate the Services of Supply. On June 24, Maj. Gen. (later General of the Army) Dwight D. Eisenhower arrived to take command of the European Theater of Operations, United States Army (ETOUSA).

Approval of the 1943 invasion--landings on a wide front between Boulogne and Le Havre, or Roundup, as it was called--did not solve the problem of what to do in 1942. That summer, President Roosevelt became increasingly convinced of the need for active operations in the European area before the end of the year. The commencement of a new German offensive in the USSR in June and British reverses in North Africa had their effects on his thinking. Fortunately, two decisive naval victories over the Japanese in May and June (Coral Sea and Midway) relieved the immediate threat to Australia and made it possible for the United States to divert greater resources to Europe. Despite the recommendations of General Marshall and Adm. (later Admiral of the Fleet) Ernest J. King, United States chief of naval operations (both of whom considered a North African venture a dispersal of strength), Roosevelt accepted a British proposal to invade North Africa that year (Operation Torch). The CCS appointed Eisenhower to assume immediate control of the planning. The decision to invade North Africa placed the Bolero-Roundup concept in jeopardy. Though planning for an eventual cross-Channel operation continued, Torch absorbed almost the entire effort and attention of the Allies in the European area. The invasion on Nov. 8, 1942, and the subsequent campaign through the winter and spring drained men, materiel, and supplies from the American buildup in the British Isles.

Meanwhile, the British had executed two daring raids against the German-held French coast. In March 1942, specially trained troops called Commandos launched a hit-and-run foray against St.-Nazaire and destroyed submarine pens and other naval facilities. In August, a joint British and Canadian command, with 5,000 Canadians, 1,000 British, and 50 United States Rangers, raided Dieppe in a miniature invasion to test amphibious tactics and techniques. Involving the full use of combined arms and the mass landings of infantry and armor to seize a beachhead, the Dieppe operation was designed not to hold a beachhead but rather to test the ability of the newly developed LCT (landing craft, tank) to land tanks across beaches, to see whether it was possible to capture a port in a frontal assault, to scrutinize the organization of air forces for overhead cover and support, and to test the naval management of a considerable invasion fleet. Of the 6,100 troops embarked for Dieppe, about 2,500 returned, including about 1,000 who never landed. The others were killed or captured.

Plans Developed

When the CCS met at Casablanca in January 1943, it was a time of optimism. The Germans had been decisively defeated in North Africa, though the campaign would continue until May. The Russians had taken the offensive after stopping the Germans at Stalingrad (now Volgograd), and Japanese expansion in the Pacific had definitely been checked. As a consequence, the greatest obstacle blocking offensive operations against the European continent that year was the relative paucity of Allied resources, particularly the shortage of shipping due to the effectiveness of German submarine warfare.

To make the Mediterranean safe for shipping, the Allies at Casablanca decided to invade Sicily after completing the conquest of the North African shore. By seizing Sicily, they hoped also to remove Italy from the war. To increase pressure on Germany, they agreed to initiate intensified air attacks from the United Kingdom, called the combined bomber offensive (Operation Point-blank). But for a major invasion across the Channel in 1943 the Allied leaders judged their resources insufficient. Though they set up a combined command and planning organization, it was designed to plan for small-scale raids and a return to the Continent in 1943 only if the Germans collapsed. A full-scale invasion was reserved for 1944.

Studying the Dieppe experience, the CCS planners concluded that the strength of the enemy defenses along the Channel coast required an immense concentration of power in the initial assault. Instead of dispersed landings, instead of many separate assaults by regimental and Commando units, it was better to make a single main landing. The beachhead initially secured should then be expanded and developed into a lodgment for the entire invasion force scheduled to follow. The area of initial assault and subsequent lodgment had various requirements. It had to be within range of fighter planes based in the United Kingdom; it had to provide airfields and sites suitable for constructing airfields soon after the invasion; it had to have at least one major port; and the landing beaches had to be sheltered from winds, suitable for prolonged maintenance operations, provided with adequate exits, and backed by good road nets. Furthermore, naval shelling, air bombardment, or airborne landings would have to be capable of reducing or crippling the beach defenses. The area most appropriate for initial landings, the planners decided, was the Channel coast of France between Caen and Cherbourg.

When the CCS approved this analysis on March 1, 1943, they transmitted it as the basic paper for cross-Channel planning to Lt. Gen. (later Sir) Frederick E. Morgan, a British officer appointed that month as chief of staff to the supreme Allied commander (COSSAC). In a subsequent directive issued on April 23, the CCS instructed Morgan to set up an Allied headquarters for the supreme commander, who had yet to be named, and to plan to invade northwestern Europe as early as possible in 1944. Meanwhile, in February 1943, General Eisenhower, the supreme Allied commander in the Mediterranean, had relinquished command of ETOUSA, with its headquarters in England, to Lt. Gen. Frank M. Andrews. In May, when Andrews died in an air accident, Lt. Gen. (later Gen.) Jacob L. Devers took his place.

In May 1943, at the Trident Conference in Washington, the CCs enlarged the Allied bomber offensive from the United Kingdom, decided to exploit the projected Sicily operation to ensure the elimination of Italy from the war, and set a target date for a cross-Channel operation on May 1, 1944. In the future, men, materiel, and supplies were not to be diverted from the Bolero buildup for Mediterranean operations; on the contrary, 7 Allied divisions were to return from the Mediterranean area to the United Kingdom. The Allies visualized 29 divisions available for the invasion of France by the spring of 1944.

The reason for this optimistic estimate was the success of Allied warships and planes in destroying a growing number of German submarines during the spring of 1943. The decrease in shipping losses, combined with an increase in shipyard production and the freezing of resources in the Mediterranean, made possible a tremendous buildup of American forces in the United Kingdom. It was predicted that 1,300,000 United States troops (400,000 air force and 900,000 ground combat and service troops, including more than 18 combat divisions) would be in the United Kingdom by May 1944.

During the summer of 1943, COSSAC formulated three plans: Cockade, essentially a deception operation designed to pin German forces down in the west by encouraging their expectations of an Allied invasion that year; Rankin, a blueprint for occupying the Continent in case of a sudden German collapse; and Overlord, an invasion in the Caen-Cotentin area with an initial assault of from 3 to 5 divisions. In reality a concept to be used as the basis for later detailed planning, Overlord accepted the risk of prolonged beach maintenance by depending on the development of two prefabricated ports (code named Mulberries) to be towed across the Channel during the invasion. Under Overlord the initial mission of the invasion forces was to gain a lodgment area between the Seine and Loire rivers in France. As increasing numbers of combat units entered the lodgment area, ports, airfields, and supply installations would be developed and organized to support a subsequent drive toward Germany.

The planners assumed that it would take three months to secure lodgment. They then expected a pause for logistical reasons before an advance could be made beyond the Seine. Because they anticipated that the Germans would destroy the facilities of Cherbourg and Brest, they thought of developing a major port of entry for United States forces on the south shore of Brittany at Quiberon Bay (Operation Chastity).

The Allied conquest of Sicily (July-August 1943), the fall of Benito Mussolini (July 25), negotiations for the surrender of Italy (eventually announced on September 8), and preparations for an Allied invasion of the Italian mainland (to be initiated on September 3), together with the Soviet seizure of initiative on the eastern front, provided a bright background for the CCS meeting at Quebec in August 1943. Though the CCS accepted COSSAC's Overlord concept, the debates between the Allies demonstrated divergent points of view. The British espoused a strategy essentially opportunistic, a view that reemphasized peripheral operations aimed at reducing German power by indirect attack (increased air and sea operations, plus intensified ground operations in the Mediterranean) in order to make the cross-Channel attack a success without question. They favored leaving the timing of Overlord somewhat indefinite. The Americans, wanting a power thrust to be made as quickly as possible, urged a definite commitment for Overlord, preferably May 1. The result was a compromise. Though May 1 remained the target date, it was not an altogether firm commitment. Yet the Allies agreed to give Overlord strict priority over operations in the Mediterranean. Accepting COSSAC's wish for a diversionary invasion of southern France, the CCS instructed General Eisenhower to draw plans for an operation to be executed from Mediterranean resources, timed to coincide with Overlord, and designed to gain lodgment in the Toulon-Marseille area, with a subsequent exploitation to the north and a juncture with the Overlord forces.

Selection of Commanders

Selecting a supreme commander for the cross-Channel invasion was no easy matter. When an invasion in 1943 had seemed possible and the bulk of the resources would have been British, Churchill had informed General Brooke that he was to command the invasion forces. Later, when the preponderance of American resources dictated the choice of an American commander, Roosevelt and the British as well inclined toward General Marshall. But because Roosevelt wished Marshall to remain in control of the over-all American effort (Marshall was invaluable in balancing the sometimes conflicting demands of the Pacific and European theaters), the president, in December 1943, appointed General Eisenhower supreme commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force. Eisenhower's chief of staff, Lt. Gen. (later Gen.) Walter Bedell Smith, transformed the COSSAC staff into the Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF), with General Morgan remaining as deputy chief of staff. Eisenhower assumed his new position on Jan. 16, 1944, and General Devers was transferred to North Africa as commander of United States forces in the Mediterranean.

Gen. (later Field Marshal) Sir Bernard Law Montgomery (later 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein), who had led the Eighth Army in North Africa, Sicily, and Italy, was at the same time named to command the Twenty-first Army Group, the supreme British headquarters for the invasion. Eisenhower directed Montgomery to act as ground force commander during the initial phase of the invasion but reserved for himself the eventual control of the Allied land forces. The major ground commanders were Lt. Gen. (later Gen.) Sir Miles C. Dempsey, who commanded the British Second Army; Lt. Gen. (later Gen.) Henry D. G. Crerar, in command of the Canadian First Army; and Lt. Gen. (later General of the Army) Omar N. Bradley, who took command of the United States First Army and of the United States First Army Group (later renamed the Twelfth Army Group). Lt. Gen. (later Gen.) George S. Patton, Jr., placed in command of the United States Third Army, was to head the immediate American follow-up force.

Eisenhower's deputy commander, Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur W. Tedder (later 1st Baron Tedder), acted as coordinator of the air forces: the tactical air forces organized under Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford L. Leigh-Mallory, who commanded the Allied Expeditionary Air Forces (AEAF); and the strategic air forces, composed of the RAF Bomber Command, under Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur T. Harris, and the United States Strategic Air Forces under General Spaatz. Adm. Sir Bertram H. Ramsay took command of the naval forces for the invasion, with Rear Adm. (later Admiral of the Fleet) Sir Philip Vian commanding the Eastern Naval Task Force, scheduled to transport British troops, and Rear Adm. (later Adm.) Alan G. Kirk the Western Naval Task Force, which was to carry the American assault forces.

Final Plans

After studying the Overlord concept, Generals Eisenhower and Montgomery concluded that the initial assault needed to be strengthened and yet made on a broadened front. This required additional landing craft, troops, and vehicles, and this in turn led to debate over whether the diversionary invasion on the Mediterranean coast of France, an operation code named Anvil, was really necessary. When the Anzio beachhead in Italy exerted its requirements for shipping, Eisenhower in March 1944 suggested canceling Anvil as an attack simultaneous with Overlord. In accepting the recommendation, the CCS assured SHAEF of the additional landing craft and other materiel needed for a stronger cross-Channel attack, but the complex requirements of assembling the means for the invasion of Europe had made it necessary to change the landing date from May to June. Meanwhile, on February 1, Montgomery, Ramsay, and Leigh-Mallory had drawn the initial joint plan (Neptune) for the invasion. A refinement of the Overlord concept, Neptune was at the same time a directive instructing the subordinate headquarters to plan the assault in greater detail.

As finally completed in the spring of 1944, the invasion plan called for assaults by the United States First and British Second armies. The First Army was to invade the Normandy shore in the Carentan-Isigny area with two corps. Northwest of Carentan the 82d and 101st Airborne divisions were to drop near Ste.-Mere-Eglise in order to assist the 4th Infantry Division of the 7th Corps to land on Utah Beach near Varreville. East of Isigny, in the 5th Corps zone, the 1st Infantry Division with part of the 29th Division was to land over Omaha Beach near Vierville-sur-Mer. Operating in the Bayeux-Caen area, the British were to send the 50th Division under the 30th Corps across Gold Beach near Arromanches-les-Bains, the Canadian 3d Division under the 1st Corps across Juno Beach near Courseulles, and the 3d Division, also under the 1st Corps, across Sword Beach near Lion-sur-Mer. The 6th Airborne Division was to drop northeast of Caen near the mouth of the Orne River to protect the British flank.

The troops making the amphibious landings were to be carried by naval transports to positions 11 miles offshore in the American zone and 7 miles offshore in the British zone. The troops then were to board LCVP's (landing craft, vehicle and personnel) and LCA's (landing craft, assault), each craft carrying about 30 men. The small craft were to go in abreast in waves and touch down at regular intervals along the length of the assault beaches. Following them were to be larger craft carrying heavy weapons, guns, tanks, and engineer equipment. Finally, LST's (landing ships, tank) were to nose onto the beaches and disgorge additional men, equipment, and supplies. Naval fire-support plans emphasized neutralizing enemy positions rather than destroying them. The air forces planned to maintain an umbrella of fighter planes to protect the ground and naval units from German air attacks and also to provide air bombardment to help the ground forces overcome obstacles impeding their progress ashore.

Long before the day of invasion, called D-day, the air forces had begun to play a significant preparatory role. Since 1942, British and American airmen had bombed military targets in German-occupied Europe, but no clear directive or over-all plan had existed before the combined bomber offensive directed by the CCS at Casablanca in January 1943. The targets of this offensive were the German industrial and economic systems and the morale of the German people. The Americans favored daylight precision bombing to destroy critical sectors of German industry. Believing daylight bombing too costly, the British favored night bombardment aimed at destroying entire industrial and military areas. Each operated according to its own doctrine, both concentrating on submarine construction yards, airplane factories, transportation systems, oil plants, and other war industries. In October 1943, attempts were first made to coordinate the bombings from North African and Italian bases with the combined bomber offensive from the United Kingdom.

In April 1944, Eisenhower took control of the strategic air forces and used them in support of Overlord. Though the over-all mission of destroying the German military and economic system remained, the particular mission was to deplete the German Air Force and destroy the facilities serving it, to destroy the German oil industry, and to disrupt rail communications, especially those that might serve the Germans in moving reinforcements to the Overlord lodgment area. Heavy air attacks in May 1944 shifted to bridges over the Seine, Oise, and Meuse rivers, and by June Allied air attacks had weakened the railroad transportation system in France to the point of collapse.

French Resistance

Contributing toward the disruption of the railroads and highways in France were the efforts of the French resistance, a movement that had sprung up spontaneously after the surrender of France in 1940. As early as that year a headquarters established by Gen. Charles de Gaulle in London formed a special staff which was charged with organizing, directing, and supplying resistance units. For more than two years this agency worked to amalgamate the autonomous resistance groups. The culmination of its efforts was the formation of a National Resistance Council, which met for the first time in Paris on May 27, 1943, under the presidency of Jean Moulin. Representing not only the main resistance groups but also the principal political parties, the council recognized de Gaulle and his London headquarters as trustees of the French nation, responsible for founding eventually a French government based on democratic principles. De Gaulle's personal representative, Moulin, became the political leader of the resistance, and the National Resistance Council created an underground army organized on a regional basis. In the following month the Gestapo smashed the organization by making wholesale arrests. Moulin died under torture, and the leadership was decimated. The result was the decentralization of the resistance and its concentration on sabotage and paramilitary action.

Beginning in November 1940, the Special Operations Executive (SOE), a British organization, encouraged, directed, and supplied the French resistance. Operating under the minister of economic warfare, the SOE eventually had the aim of developing the resistance into a strategic weapon that could be directed by Allied headquarters against military objectives in accordance with a master plan. The SOE therefore set up and maintained communications between London and resistance centers in France, parachuted agents into the country beginning in the spring of 1941, and dropped such supplies as explosives, small arms, flashlights, and radios. In 1942 the SOE parachuted 17 radio operators and 36 other agents into France.

At the beginning of 1943, when the Germans put into effect a forced labor draft in France, thousands of young Frenchmen, particularly in central and southern France, rebelled. To escape the draft, they formed maquis bands to conduct guerrilla warfare against the Germans and the collaborationist French Militia. The SOE assisted by increasing the amounts of supplies dropped into France. The American Office of Strategic Services (OSS) began to take part in the underground movement at this time by sending its own agents into France in cooperation with the SOE. The London headquarters of the OSS was fused with the British agency in January 1944, when American planes also began to fly supply missions to the resistance.

In the fall of 1943, COSSAC took responsibility for directing those aspects of the partisan and underground movements on the Continent insofar as they related to invasion plans. SOE and OSS operations came under the control of COSSAC and eventually under General Eisenhower's headquarters, SHAEF. Because it was hard to assess resistance strength, because German arrests could suddenly emasculate the movement, and because control of resistance activities was difficult and uncertain, the Allied planners decided to regard resistance help as a bonus rather than trying to use it to gain strategic objectives. Consequently, the underground army in France, numbering about 200,000 men, confined itself to gathering and transmitting intelligence information and performing sabotage in war industries, against railroads and canals, and against telephone and telegraph facilities. Accelerating its sabotage in 1944 against German troops and supply trains, the resistance cut tracks, destroyed bridges, and damaged locomotives in a campaign closely attuned to the Allied air offensive.

In late May and early June, in order to regularize the resistance activities, General de Gaulle, with the blessing of the Allied leaders, established a headquarters and staff in London for the French Forces of the Interior (FFI), with Gen. Joseph P. Koenig in command. The FFI then became a component of the Allied armies under Eisenhower, the supreme Allied commander. To link the resistance groups in France more closely to the Allied command, so-called Jedburgh teams (consisting of a French and an American or a British officer, plus a radio operator) were parachuted into France in uniform shortly before D-day. About 87 teams were operational in France at one time or another. Though it is difficult to evaluate the effectiveness of the resistance, there is no doubt that it was a moral as well as a material force that contributed to the eventual defeat of the Germans.

German Forces

On the German side, Adolf HITLER exercised direct control over military operations. He was the supreme commander in chief of the armed forces (Wehrmacht). His staff was the High Command of the Armed Forces (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht or OKW), headed by Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel. Under OKW, in theory, were the Air Force High Command (Oberkommando der Luftwaffe or OKL), headed by Reich Marshal Hermann Goering (Goring); the Navy High Command ( Oberkommando der Kriegsmarine or OKM), under Grand Admiral Karl Doenitz (Donitz); and the Army High Command (Oberkommando des Heeres or OKH), headed by Hitler. In actuality, OKH directed the Russian campaign, while OKW was responsible for western Europe.

Navy Group West and the Third Air Fleet controlled naval and air forces in western Europe. The ground force field command was the Oberbefehlshaber West (OB West), which acted somewhat like a theater headquarters under Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, the commander in chief in the west, who operated under Hitler's close supervision. The operations staff of OKW, the Wehrmachtfuhrungsstab (WFSt), under Col. Gen. Alfred Jodl, was the direct agent between OB West and Hitler. Rundstedt controlled two army groups: Army Group G under Col. Gen. Johannes Blaskowitz, responsible for the Mediterranean (Nineteenth Army) and Atlantic (First Army) coasts of France; and Army Group B under Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, charged with defending the Channel coast with the Seventh and Fifteenth armies.

The chain of command that operated at the time of the invasion was Hitler, who made his wishes known through the WFSt of OKW (Jodl), to OB West (Rundstedt), to Army Group B (Rommel), and then to the Seventh Army, which was responsible for defending the lodgment area designated by the Overlord plan as the objective of the invasion force.

The steady drain of the eastern front left the Germans in France with two kinds of units, old divisions that had lost many good men and much equipment, and new divisions that were either of excellent combat value or were only partially equipped and trained. In June 1944, Rundstedt had 58 combat divisions, of which 33 were static or reserve divisions classified for limited defensive employment, 24 were well trained and equipped, and 1 was still being equipped. All the infantry divisions were committed on or directly behind the coast under one of the four armies or the armed forces commander in the Netherlands. The Seventh Army controlled Brittany and most of Normandy; the Fifteenth Army, the Pas-de-Calais.

The command in western Europe had its peculiarities. Rundstedt, for example, had no command over the Third Air Fleet, which was directly subordinate to OKL. The aircraft in France were too few in number for decisive effect; of the 400 fighter planes based in France, only half were operational because of shortages of spare parts, fuel, and trained pilots. Nor did Rundstedt control Navy Group West, under OKM, even though the destroyers, torpedo boats, and smaller naval vessels were based in ports within his jurisdiction. The air force had administrative control over parachute troops and antiaircraft artillery units; the navy controlled most of the coastal artillery. In addition, two military governors, one in France and the other in northern France and Belgium, were under OKH, though their security troops could be appropriated by Rundstedt to repel an invasion. Rommel, the Army Group B commander, was under Rundstedt, but Rommel's dominant personality and his prerogative of direct communication with Hitler, a prerogative enjoyed by all field marshals, gave him an influence greater than that due his formal command authority.

Rundstedt favored maintaining a mobile reserve to be rushed to the invasion area when the main landings were recognized. Rommel, believing that Allied air superiority would prevent the movement of a mobile reserve to the landing beaches to repel the invaders, depended exclusively on fortifications near the water's edge. Thus Rommel directed much of his efforts to building coastal defenses. He favored a large number of simple, field-type defenses over a few complicated and massive fortifications. He emphasized the use of mines, underwater obstacles, stakes, Belgian gates, tetrahedra, and hedgehogs in the hope of entangling the Allied troops as they landed and making them vulnerable to those who waited at the shore to repel them. Rommel's construction and minelaying required considerable labor. Because Organization Todt, the construction agency of the German Army, was employed chiefly in major port fortress areas and on railroad maintenance, the troops themselves worked on the Atlantic Wall in 1944, in many cases to the detriment of their training programs.

By the time of the invasion a new weapon was ready to be put into operation. This was the air missile called the V-1, for Vergeltungswaffe (vengeance weapon). From the Pas-de-Calais area the Germans would begin on June 13 to launch these flying bombs against England and its civilian population as a reprisal for Allied air attacks on German cities. In September, the V-2, a deadlier supersonic rocket, would be introduced.

Deception Plan

One of the vital elements of the invasion was the erroneous German expectation of landings in the Pas-de-Calais. Believing that a number of Allied divisions in the United Kingdom belonged to "Army Group Patton, the Germans concentrated a strong Fifteenth Army in the Pas-de-Calais, the coastline nearest to England and the area in western Europe closest to the classic invasion routes into Germany. The Allies nourished this belief by a gigantic deception plan designed to convince the Germans that Overlord was only part of a larger invasion effort. Naval demonstrations off the Channel coast, false messages, dummy installations, and other signs of impending coastal assault kept the Germans in a continual state of alert and alarm and immobilized the considerable force of the Fifteenth Army.

The Allied hoax continued well beyond the Overlord invasion. Early in July, the designation of the United States First Army Group was changed to the Twelfth in order to retain in England a fictitious headquarters that the Germans might think capable of launching another invasion. Lt. Gen. Lesley J. McNair, commander of the Army Ground Forces, who was visiting the European theater, was placed in command of the fictitious army group. Later, when McNair was killed while observing the battle in Normandy, Lt. Gen. John L. De Witt was rushed to England in order to give continuing verisimilitude to the Allied deception measures. When the Third Army was committed on the Continent, Patton's name was at first kept secret for the same reason. Eminently successful, the deception maneuvers fooled the Germans for nearly five months. During the invasion and the subsequent battle for Normandy, when the Germans could well have used reinforcements from the Pas-de-Calais area, the Fifteenth Army remained untouched and immobile, awaiting an invasion that never came.



On May 8, General Eisenhower designated D-day as June 5, but because of bad weather he decided on June 4 to postpone the invasion to June 6. Though the weather remained poor, further delay would have necessitated waiting until June 19, when tidal conditions and the light of the moon would again have been propitious. In one of the most momentous decisions of the war he decided to proceed despite the unfavorable weather conditions. Meanwhile, the invasion troops had moved to concentration areas in the United Kingdom. There they received special equipment and waterproofed their vehicles. Then they marched to marshaling areas close to the embarkation points, where the troops received additional supplies, maps, and final briefings. About 60,000 men and 6,800 vehicles were scheduled to go ashore on D-day at Omaha Beach and equal numbers at Utah. On D plus 1 and 2, an additional total of 43,500 troops and 6,000 vehicles were scheduled to go ashore at both beaches. Roughly equal numbers were to land on the British beaches. Altogether in the United Kingdom, General Eisenhower had a force of 2,876,000 men, including 45 divisions.

Some 5,000 ships and craft made up the invasion fleet. During the night of June 5, despite a gusty wind blowing at a rate of 15 to 20 knots and churning up waves in mid-Channel as high as five and six feet, the invasion fleet took assigned places in the transport areas off the coast of France in the Seine Estuary. Minesweepers cleared and marked 10 lanes through minefields in the Channel. In the early minutes of June 6, RAF bombers ranged the entire invasion coast, striking at coastal batteries and other targets. In the second hour, paratroopers of the 82d and 101st Airborne divisions landed in the eastern part of the Cotentin Peninsula astride the Merderet River to facilitate the seaborne landings of the 7th Corps. The 101st Division secured its objectives with surprisingly light losses, but the 82d had to fight severely, taking heavy casualties, to secure Ste.-Mere-Eglise. At the same time the British 6th Airborne Division was securing the other Allied flank between the Orne and Dives rivers. As dawn approached, while fighter squadrons flying at from 3,000 to 5,000 feet maintained an aerial umbrella, the landing craft came toward shore through a heavy sea.

Because lack of planes in France denied adequate aerial reconnaissance, the Germans had no advance knowledge of the invasion. They also relied on the bad weather, considering it too inclement for the Allies to try an invasion at that time. Their first reaction occurred early in the morning of June 6, when several German torpedo boats left Le Havre to engage the invasion fleet. They were driven off by Allied naval fire and air attack. The German coastal batteries began to fire sporadically at the invasion fleet at 5:35 am At 5:50 pm, the Allied naval bombardment began. This fire not only detonated large mine fields, on which the Germans had counted heavily to block the invaders, but also knocked out many defensive installations.

At 6:30 am, H-hour for the United States beaches, American troops touched down on Omaha and Utah beaches. At Utah the 4th Division under the 7th Corps had little difficulty getting ashore against intermittent artillery shelling. The beach area was cleared in three hours, and the follow-up troops and supplies began to come ashore with little trouble. About 23,000 men landed that day. At Omaha, where the 1st Division of the 5th Corps assaulted with two regiments abreast, high seas, early morning mist, smoke, dust, and a lateral current scattered men and units badly. German fire was exceptionally strong, and many wounded Americans were drowned in the rising tide. In a daring operation two Ranger battalions took out large coastal guns at Pointe du Hoe after scaling cliffs with rope ladders, but after the first three hours of the invasion it appeared for a while that the Omaha invaders had been stopped on the beach. The presence of an elite German infantry division that for three months had escaped Allied intelligence accounted in large measure for the difficulties of the 5th Corps. Only through improvisation and courageous personal leadership were the troops at last able to get off the beach and onto the cliffs beyond. Even then the infantry had very few heavy weapons and no supporting artillery. The beach was congested with disabled and burning vehicles, and the beachhead was a strip of land less than 2 miles deep. Nevertheless, as night fell, 34,000 men were ashore.

Troops of the British Second Army meanwhile began to land at 7:20 am On Gold Beach the advance elements of the 50th Division were pinned down at first by German fire, but gradually they worked their way around the resistance and pushed rapidly inland. By the end of the day they had advanced about 5 miles. The Canadian 3d Division on Juno Beach met even stiffer resistance, but once clear of the beaches the Canadians moved rapidly and by the end of the day had reached the Caen-Bayeux highway. The British 3d Division on the left also met intense opposition on Sword Beach, but by the end of the day linked up with the 6th Airborne Division.

Despite the immense problems at Omaha Beach, the Allies by the end of D-day had established apparently solid footholds on the Continent. Casualties everywhere, including bloody Omaha, were lighter than expected. They were lightest of all at Utah Beach (less than 200), though the airborne divisions behind the beach lost 2,499 men, including 338 known dead and 1,257 missing. At Omaha the Americans lost approximately 2,000 men. British and Canadian casualties were about 4,000.

Though German opposition had been firm on all beaches except Utah and particularly disturbing at Omaha, D-day passed with a surprising lack of counterattacks. Only near Caen, where a panzer division in late afternoon struck the British 3d Division, was there more than passive resistance, and the 3d Division stopped this thrust with little loss of ground. The most significant German development was the ordering of a panzer corps to the Caen area, a harbinger of the fact that the Germans saw the British landings and their threat to open ground leading toward Paris as the Allied main effort.

By the end of D-day, the Americans had landed the equivalent of 8 regiments amphibiously. By the end of the following day, 5 divisions (including the 2 airborne divisions) were ashore and operational, though all were deficient in transportation facilities, tank support, artillery, and supplies. An ammunition shortage was serious, particularly on Omaha. The Americans had planned to have about 107,000 troops ashore by the end of the second day, but the total was approximately 20,000 short. Only about half the planned 14,000 vehicles had been disembarked, and only a fourth of the anticipated 14,500 tons of supplies were on the beaches.

Meanwhile, Eisenhower ordered Bradley's First Army to give priority to the task of linking the two American beachheads and of making contact with the British. In compliance with this order the 1st Division pushed eastward to gain contact with the British on June 8, the 29th Division took Isigny on June 9, and the 101st Airborne Division captured Carentan on June 12. With Carentan in hand and the beachheads joined, the 7th Corps turned its attention to Cherbourg. Halting further expansion inland of Maj. Gen. (later Gen.) Leonard T. Gerow's 5th Corps, which had taken Caumont and was near the road center and departmental capital of St.-Lo, Bradley on June 13 placed the bulk of the incoming resources at the disposal of Maj. Gen. (later Gen.) J. Lawton Collins' 7th Corps. During the night of June 17, the 7th Corps cut the Cotentin Peninsula and sealed off Cherbourg from German reinforcement. Two days later, Collins began to push northward toward the port city with 3 divisions. Organized resistance in Cherbourg ceased on June 27. Meanwhile, headquarters of the 19th Corps, commanded by Maj. Gen. Charles H. Corlett, had entered the line near St.-Lo on June 14. Maj. Gen. (later Lt. Gen.) Troy H. Middleton's 8th Corps also arrived and took control of the forces at the base of the Cotentin Peninsula on June 15. The British had meanwhile captured Bayeux and expanded and enlarged their beachhead, but Caen, a D-day objective, remained out of reach.

In these early days the Allies used two methods to get supplies ashore: direct discharge onto the beach from landing craft and unloading the cargo carried by larger vessels moored offshore into ferry craft and DUKW's (amphibious trucks) for transport either to the beach or to the artificial ports (Mulberries). Not until the destroyed facilities at Cherbourg were repaired in mid-July was this port to begin to take some of the logistical strain from the beaches. A great storm that raged between June 19 and June 22 wrecked scores of craft and smashed the artificial harbors. High winds demolished the American Mulberry beyond repair, but the British artificial quay was later restored to full use. Nearly 100 LCVP's and LCM's, plus many LCT's and larger craft, were lost and 19 of 20 rhino ferries were destroyed. Despite this calamity, which stopped unloading operations for several days, the Allies developed an ability to bring ashore over the open beaches surprisingly large amounts of tonnage.

By July 1, three weeks after the initial landings, the first phase of the invasion came to an end. Almost 1,000,000 men, more than 500,000 tons of supplies, and 177,000 vehicles had been landed in the American and British zones. A total of 27 Allied divisions had arrived on the Continent, and more were about to come. The German's golden opportunity to smash the invasion by decisive counterattack before the Allies were firmly established had passed. German failure to react in strength was attributable to the condition of the French railroads and to unrelenting air attacks that enabled German divisions to reach the battle zone only with utmost difficulty and after serious delays. Units arrived piecemeal, often lacking essential weapons and short of fuel and ammunition. Continuing pressure of Allied attacks then forced German commanders to commit the new divisions as they arrived so that a major counterattacking force could never be assembled. The two leading German commanders on the scene, Rundstedt and Rommel, both were convinced that they now had no chance to drive the Allies into the sea. Persuaded that Germany had lost the war, Rundstedt asked to be relieved from command. Granting the request, Hitler replaced him as commander in chief in the west with Field Marshal Hans Gunther von Kluge. Rommel, though discouraged, remained. The strategy enunciated by Hitler for the western front was essentially negative: hold fast until miracle weapons might turn the course of the war.

Battle of the Hedgerows

Despite Allied success in getting ashore in Normandy, the lodgment secured by the beginning of July was much smaller than had been anticipated. Because the British seemed stalled before Caen, Bradley's First Army initiated on July 3 the offensive that became known as the battle of the hedgerows. The hedgerows are walls, half earth and half hedge, that enclose the tiny fields in the Cotentin, the region south of Cherbourg. As each of four American corps launched an attack in turn, the Americans struck across a waterlogged and hedgerow-laced area that was perfectly suited to defense. Confined in a relatively small sector and confronted with difficult terrain and inadequate roads, the Americans fought an enemy favored by endless lines of natural fortifications (the hedgerows) and aided by daily rains which negated Allied tactical air support and reduced observation. Though inferior in numbers and deficient in supplies and equipment, the Germans inflicted 40,000 casualties on the First Army, which gained only a few miles of ground. The climax of the battle occurred on July 18, when the 19th Corps at last captured St.-Lo.

The British meanwhile had thwarted dangerous armored counterattacks at the end of June, and then secured half of Caen by launching a massive attack on July 8 supported by heavy bombers. This was an unusual use of aircraft normally employed against strategic targets far in the enemy rear. In this attack, 460 planes dropped 2,300 tons of high-explosive bombs in 40 minutes. Following the aerial attack, British and Canadian ground troops, though hampered by bomb craters and debris-clogged roads, reached the Orne River, which flows through Caen. Ten days later, on July 18, General Montgomery launched a similar attack, code named Goodwood. After 2,100 planes dropped more than 8,000 tons of high explosive, British and Canadian ground troops advanced from Caen toward Falaise. Despite high optimism for a decisive penetration of the enemy defense line, the attack carried for only 6 miles before bogging down.

Rommel had on July 17 been eliminated from the battle when an Allied plane strafed his staff car and forced it into a ditch. Suffering a brain concussion, he was taken to a hospital. Kluge assumed his place, commanding both the theater headquarters and Army Group B. Three days later, on July 20, a conspiracy among German officers almost succeeded in assassinating the fuhrer and gaining control of the government with the aim of ending the war. From this point on, Hitler became ever more suspicious of his subordinates. He eventually forced Rommel, who was implicated in the plot, to commit suicide. He took stronger control of battlefield operations. Though the plot had no visible effect on the campaign, the miracle of Hitler's survival impressed the German people and gave Hitler's unilateral direction of the war even greater strength.


To penetrate the German defenses and make a limited exploitation to the town of Coutances, General Bradley on July 13 drew an outline plan called Cobra. This plan projected a heavy attack on a narrow front just west of St.-Lo, the ground effort to be propelled forward by a mighty air attack. Bradley concentrated 6 divisions under Collins' 7th Corps and called for support by heavy bombers. Some planes in Operation Cobra were already under way when overcast skies forced a day's postponement. Failing to receive word of the delay, approximately 350 bombers already over the target dropped around 700 tons of bombs, some of which struck American troops. On July 25, the operation officially got under way as 2,500 planes dropped approximately 4,000 tons of bombs on a rectangular "carpet 7 miles long and 2 miles wide along the Periers-St.-Lo highway. Though some bombs again fell short and caused casualties among the American ground troops, 3 infantry divisions followed the bombardment closely and attempted to open a hole for exploiting forces. The Germans, though badly hurt, appeared to be holding, but commitment of 2 additional American divisions on the second day and a third on the next opened a tremendous breach. General Bradley had achieved his breakthrough. Modifying his plans, he broadened the scope of the operation, and all four corps of his First Army drove ahead. By the end of the month the 7th and 8th Corps in less than a week had advanced about 30 miles. Far beyond Coutances, Americans took Avranches and gained the base of the Cotentin. This made possible not only a swing to the west into Brittany but a swing to the east, around the German left flank, toward the Seine River and Paris.

The outstanding achievement of the last week in July was the result of many factors. The Americans had outmaneuvered the Germans. Hard fighting by the 19th Corps at Tessy-sur-Vire had blocked Kluge from sending two panzer divisions into the Cobra area to disrupt the breakthrough operation. Aggressive armored action, supported by tactical aircraft giving excellent close support, trapped considerable German forces near Coutances. Bradley's forces had, in effect, crushed the German left flank and thereby invalidated Hitler's tactic of standing fast until new developments in weapons might alter the situation. On August 1, Bradley turned over the command of the First Army to Lt. Gen. (later Gen.) Courtney H. Hodges. On the same day, General Patton's Third Army became operational. Both armies went under the command of Bradley, who became the commander of the Twelfth Army Group.

Breakout into Brittany

Middleton's 8th Corps, now under the Third Army, turned west from Avranches and entered Brittany. One armored division drove to Rennes and then to Lorient, another armored division drove to Brest, and an infantry division moved to St.-Malo. The entrance of American troops into Brittany chased the Germans into these port cities, as well as St.-Nazaire and Nantes, which Hitler had designated as fortresses to be held to the last man. While small American forces contained the Germans in the port cities, siege operations got under way at St.-Malo, which was finally captured on August 17. The 8th Corps then moved to Brest and initiated siege operations on August 25. A fierce battle at that city finally ended on September 18. Meanwhile, headquarters of the United States Ninth Army, under Lt. Gen. William H. Simpson, had been committed in Brittany in order to provide control over operations that were increasingly farther behind the main front.

Though operations in Brittany had been undertaken with the object of gaining the port cities as points of entry for additional troops and supplies coming directly from the United States, the strong German defenses at St.-Malo and Brest and the accompanying destruction of the port facilities prompted a change in Allied plans. Not only did the Allies decide not to rehabilitate the destroyed port cities; they also decided not to commence constructing the port complex at Quiberon Bay, the project code named Chastity, for by this time Brittany was far removed from the main stage of operations. Early in August, the main Allied armies had swept eastward from Avranches.

Breakout to the East

When the Third Army became operational on August 1, General Patton took control not only of the 8th Corps operations in Brittany but also of Maj. Gen. (later Gen.) Wade H. Haislip's 15th Corps, which turned southeastward toward Mayenne. Taking Mayenne on August 4, capturing Laval on August 5, and seizing Le Mans on August 8, the 15th Corps formed an enveloping pincer that extended more than 75 miles around the German left flank. Meanwhile, the First Army also swung southeastward toward the road centers of Vire and Mortain, thereby starting a swinging movement designed to carry the Allies to the Seine River and the periphery of the lodgment area envisioned by the Overlord planners. But the Germans turned and sprang. Hoping to regain Avranches and thereby to close the hole that Bradley had punched in their defenses, the Germans launched a counterattack at Mortain on August 7. They were motivated by the desire to reestablish the conditions of static warfare that had served them well during June and most of July. They struck the 30th Infantry Division of Collins' 7th Corps with full force. Quickly reinforced by Bradley, the 7th Corps fought a magnificent defensive battle to halt the German threat.

By attacking westward through Mortain toward Avranches, the Germans had placed their heads into a potential noose. Bradley saw the possibility of encircling the Germans and proposed this maneuver to Montgomery, who agreed. Bradley therefore directed Patton to turn the 15th Corps northward from Le Mans toward the successive objectives of Alencon and Argentan with the purpose of cutting behind the Germans at Mortain. If Montgomery's forces drove southward from the Caen area and reached Falaise, the Allies would form a pocket and threaten the enemy's Fifth Panzer and Seventh armies with encirclement and annihilation. General Crerar's Canadian First Army, which had become operational on the Continent on July 23, attacked southward toward Falaise on August 8, but gained little ground. In contrast, Haislip's 15th Corps took Alencon and was within sight of Argentan by August 13. Because the American troops had reached the boundary line separating American and British zones of operations, Bradley ordered Patton to halt further advance by Haislip's corps. This decision was dictated in part by the fact that Crerar was about to launch a heavy attack on the following day. On August 14, after 800 planes had dropped 3,700 tons of bombs to clear a path for the ground troops, the Canadians launched their attack. Two days later they reached Falaise. Allied forces were then only 15 miles apart, but the Germans were escaping eastward out of the pocket through this 15-mile sector, called the Argentan-Falaise gap.

Bradley had meanwhile approved Patton's plan to send part of the 15th Corps to the Seine. This movement got under way on August 14. Five days later the 79th Division was crossing the Seine River and establishing a bridgehead on the east bank. Other troops of the 15th Corps, soon joined by the First Army's 19th Corps under Corlett, were driving down the west bank of the Seine and pushing the Germans toward the mouth of the river, where escape crossings were harder to find. While this second encirclement at the Seine was in progress, the Allied troops holding the shoulders of the first encirclement at Argentan and Falaise were at last making contact at Chambois and Trun. They thus closed the pocket on August 20, trapping more than 50,000 German troops, destroying an additional 10,000, and sending the Fifth Panzer and Seventh armies reeling eastward across the Seine in defeat. Field Marshal Walter Model meanwhile had become commander in chief in the west, replacing Kluge, who committed suicide.

By this time two more American corps had come on the scene. Maj. Gen. (later Gen.) Walton H. Walker's 20th Corps, after taking Angers, turned to take Chartres. Maj. Gen. Gilbert R. Cook's 12th Corps drove toward Orleans. By August 20, when the First and Third armies pulled up to the Seine, Eisenhower had already decided to ignore the original limits of the lodgment area and cross the river in strength in pursuit of the disorganized enemy force. Meanwhile, as British and Canadian armies moved to the Seine, American and French troops liberated Paris.

Liberation of Paris

The climactic incident in the Normandy campaign was the liberation of Paris, which occurred almost by accident. In order to avoid a battle that would damage the French capital and inflict casualties on its inhabitants, General Eisenhower intended originally to bypass Paris. Hitler for his part wished to retain the city for the prestige involved, and he designated it a "fortress to be fought over until it was, as he put it, "a field of ruins. The French wanted Paris liberated not only because its capture would signify a crowning achievement for the resistance, but also because it would establish General de Gaulle in the seat of government. Thus a three-cornered struggle developed, with the Germans preparing to fight on the western outskirts and, if necessary, inside the city, with the French putting pressure on Eisenhower to send troops to liberate the capital, and with the Allies preparing to go around the city in the more important pursuit to the German border and in the hope that the capital would fall into Allied hands once it was isolated. A spontaneous uprising within the city on August 19 changed all plans.

Lacking the means to put down the uprising in the face of Allied advances near the city and unwilling to destroy the capital, the German commander concluded a truce with the resistance leaders. Erroneous reports that the Germans were about to destroy the city before withdrawing, as well as news of grave food shortages in Paris, prompted Eisenhower to change his mind. When he directed Bradley to take the city, Bradley sent a Franco-American force under Gerow's 5th Corps to perform the act. Gen. Jacques Philippe Leclerc's 2d Armored Division was given the honor of the first entry into the city. But the German defenses on the outskirts of Paris proved stronger than had been anticipated. Though a small French unit penetrated into the center of the city around midnight of August 24, the actual liberation had to await the next day, when both French and American troops entered Paris. The German defense quickly collapsed, and the German commander surrendered.


Invasion of Southern France

Even as Allied troops swept victoriously across Normandy, another Allied force staged a second amphibious invasion on August 15, this time on the south coast of France between Cannes and Toulon. This was the long-postponed Operation Anvil (also known as Operation Dragoon). Though Eisenhower in the spring of 1944 had recommended that this invasion not be launched at the same time as the landings in Normandy, he wished only to gain additional landing craft for the major invasion, and neither the Allied commander nor other American officials endorsed abandoning the operation altogether. Against British resistance, notably from Churchill, who continued to favor expanded operations in other parts of the Mediterranean, Eisenhower had continued to believe an invasion of southern France essential to the success of Overlord.

Allied entry into Rome two days before the Normandy invasion at last made it clear beyond doubt that some resources could be spared from the Mediterranean to assist Overlord. After considering various operations, including an invasion of the southwest coast of France, Allied planners finally decided to strike the south coast on August 15, though all British objections did not end until shortly before the target date. The invasion was designed to prevent German forces in the south from moving against Overload and to provide the Allies with a supplementary line of supply through the Mediterranean ports, particularly Marseille.

Behind a heavy air and naval bombardment three United States divisions (the 3d, 36th, and 45th) under the 6th Corps, commanded by Maj. Gen. (later Lt. Gen.) Lucian K. Truscott, and an attached French armored force began landing early on the morning of August 15 on either side of St.-Tropez. Meanwhile, a task force composed of American and British paratroopers landed behind the invasion beaches to cut roads and isolate the German defenders. The over-all commander was Maj. Gen. (later Lt. Gen.) Alexander M. Patch, commander of the United States Seventh Army. The German force responsible for defending southern France, Army Group G under General Blaskowitz, had only 11 divisions for the task. Though the German High Command had been considering the withdrawal of Army Group G to the north, no action had been taken when the invasion came. Their forces spread thin, the Germans could muster only spotty resistance on the beaches. Two days later, OKW ordered Blaskowitz to leave forces to hold the major ports and pull back toward the Vosges Mountains in northeastern France.

The success of the Allied invasion was spectacular. On the first day alone, 86,000 men, 12,000 vehicles, and 46,000 tons of supplies were put ashore. In only a few days the United States divisions were fanning out from the beaches and heading north up the Route Napoleon toward Grenoble. Under Gen. Jean de Lattre de Tassigny, a follow-up French force (later designated the French First Army) swung westward against Toulon and Marseille, where stubborn resistance ended on August 28. On the same day troops of the 6th Corps seized Montelimar, 75 miles up the valley of the Rhone River, but were too late to trap German columns withdrawing from southwestern France. In two weeks the Allies nevertheless had opened two major ports and had taken 57,000 prisoners at a cost of only 4,000 French and 2,700 American casualties. American and French columns soon were matching the sweeping advances in northern France. French resistance forces swarming from the mountains aided the drive materially. As Lyon fell on September 3, the Allied forces turned northeastward toward the Belfort gap. On September 11, patrols from the southern force met patrols of Eisenhower's northern force near Dijon. Four days later, the troops in the south, organized now as the Sixth Army Group under the command of General Devers and composed of the United States Seventh and French First armies, came under General Eisenhower's command.

The invasion of southern France and the subsequent drive north succeeded beyond all expectations. The Germans lost 80,000 men in prisoners alone, while Allied casualties totaled 7,200, about equally divided between Americans and French. On the other hand, the Germans by their timely withdrawal managed to extricate more than half of Army Group G from entrapment. Having reached the foothills of the Vosges, the Germans turned to fight back. Though the Allies continued their attacks, a shortened German defensive line and overstrained Allied supply resources brought the sweeping gains to an end.

Pursuit Toward the German Frontier

In the meantime, the main Allied armies in the north, having captured Paris and jumped the Seine on August 25, continued to pursue the Germans across northern France and Belgium toward the German border. In preinvasion planning, General Eisenhower had decided to advance against Germany on a broad front. He planned to make his main effort in the north through Belgium, passing Montgomery's Twenty-first Army Group to the north of the barrier of the forested Ardennes region of Belgium and Luxembourg along the most direct route to the Ruhr industrial area, the vast collection of coal mines and factories which was the main source of German industrial strength. Bradley's Twelfth Army Group was to advance south of the Ardennes through a lesser industrial area, the Saar. Yet as the extent of the German defeat became apparent, Eisenhower yielded to persistent demands from Montgomery to strengthen the forces in the north. Leaving Patton's Third Army to advance alone south of the Ardennes, he ordered Bradley to send Hodges' First Army north of the barrier alongside the British flank. This, Eisenhower reasoned, would speed Montgomery's capture of ports along the Channel, including the great port of Antwerp (Antwerpen). Another big port was essential to continued advance into Germany, for Brest, Cherbourg, and even Le Havre soon would be far behind the front. As General Crerar's Canadian First Army invested the minor Channel ports, Montgomery's troops dashed into Brussels (Bruxelles) on September 3 and the next day seized Antwerp. In the process, British and Canadians overran the V-1 launching sites which had been bombarding Britain since June. Though Antwerp fell with wharves and docks intact, the big port could not be used until the Germans were cleared from the banks of the Scheldt (Escaut, Schelde) Estuary, leading 60 miles to the sea. The British failed to turn a force immediately to this task.

The United States First Army meanwhile took Mons, Belgium, on September 3, trapping there 25,000 Germans who were trying to flee from the Channel coast, and then turned eastward toward Germany. Two days later, one corps was across the Meuse River. Liege fell on September 7, and the capital city of Luxembourg on September 10. As in France, resistance fighters materialized at many points, here preventing the retreating Germans from blowing a bridge, there dismantling a roadblock before the tank-led American columns arrived. On September 11, patrols of Gerow's 5th Corps crossed onto German soil. Patton's Third Army meanwhile captured Reims and Chalons on August 29, took Verdun, St.-Mihiel, and Commercy on August 31, and on September 7 established a bridgehead over the Moselle (Mosel) River south of Metz.

German Reorganization and Allied Supply Problems

As patrols of the First Army crossed the German frontier and the troops from the invasion of southern France linked with those of Overlord, an early end to the war appeared not only possible but probable. The ragged columns falling back to the German border seemed thoroughly beaten, and on the eastern front Soviet armies, having driven the Germans from Russian soil, had begun to press into Poland. In the three months since the Allies had landed in Normandy, the Germans on all fronts had incurred more than 1,210,000 casualties. Day and night, British and American heavy bombers hammered German cities, factories, and rail lines. To many it seemed incredible that the divisions in the west, reduced to no more than half the strength of the 49 divisions which General Eisenhower had arrayed against them, could be rebuilt fast enough to forestall total defeat. Even most German commanders saw the only hope to be quick withdrawal behind the historic moat of the Rhine River.

On the other hand, Hitler from his position as over-all commander recognized that his Third Reich still possessed considerable power. He still had, for example, more than 10 million men in uniform. Despite Allied bombings, German factories still had been able to maintain a high rate of production and had yet to reach their wartime peak. Recognizing early in the summer that Germany could not hope to match the numbers of Allied tanks, Hitler had concentrated instead on producing heavier tanks that he considered tactically superior. These he ordered to be used to equip panzer brigades that might halt or delay the Allied armies until the shattered panzer divisions could be refitted and reorganized. By reducing the numbers of service troops, by converting sailors and airmen into infantrymen, and by at once lowering and extending the ages for induction into the armed forces, he ordered the early formation of 25 new divisions, all to support the western front. He also ordered into the line along the frontier 100 so-called fortress infantry battalions, heretofore used only in rear areas. Though Hitler could not hope to produce enough new airplanes to redress the tremendous imbalance in the air, he continued to put his faith in the early appearance of new jet-propelled planes. He also put considerable faith in a series of fortifications along the western border known as the West Wall. Called by the Allies the Siegfried Line, the fortifications had been constructed before the war from Switzerland to the point where the Rhine enters the Netherlands. As much as 3 miles deep, the line consisted of hundreds of concrete pillboxes, observation posts, command posts, and troop shelters. Either such natural antitank obstacles as streams or concrete projections called dragon's teeth fronted the entire length.

Looking for a new commander who might rebuild the morale of the German soldier in the west, Hitler on September 5 recalled Field Marshal von Rundstedt as commander in chief. While Field Marshal Model remained as commander of Army Group B, Hitler charged Rundstedt with holding firm along the Dutch-Belgian border, in the West Wall, and along the Moselle River. As many as possible of the panzer divisions were to be regrouped quickly to counterattack into the south flank of the United States Third Army to cut off Patton's armored columns. The strength of the West Wall, when supplemented by the counterattack and the other emergency steps, would be sufficient, Hitler believed, to hold the Allies along the border until he could form a larger reserve force to strike back in a big counteroffensive. By means of the counteroffensive, he intended to force the Allies to settle for a negotiated peace, whereupon he might give his full attention to the Soviet Union.

A strong factor in Hitler's confidence was his belief that the Allies had outrun their supply lines. In this he was correct, though General Eisenhower and his subordinates hoped to get past the West Wall and establish bridgeheads over the Rhine before a pause became imperative. Eisenhower's problem was not a shortage of supplies on the Continent but a task of getting them to the forward troops, who in some cases were more than 500 miles from supply depots. The problem grew out of the explosive nature of the advance through France and the decision to forego a pause at the Seine, which had denied the supply services time to build an orderly logistical structure. Despite such extraordinary measures as the establishment of a one-way truck route called the Red Ball Express, the supply troops simply could not keep pace. For five days at the end of August, Patton's Third Army came to a complete halt at the Meuse for lack of gasoline, General Hodges of the First Army had to halt one corps for the same reason, and one British corps had to stop for more than a week to enable its trucks to supply the rest of the Second Army. Some idea of the immensity of the supply requirements is apparent from the fact that each division required 600 to 700 tons of supplies per day and that artillery and mortars expended ammunition at the rate of 8,000,000 rounds per month, almost as much as the entire American Expeditionary Force expended (10,000,000 rounds) in World War I.

Operations in the Netherlands and on the Franco-German Border

In the light of the supply problems, Eisenhower's continued determination to proceed into Germany on a broad front seemed to two of his subordinates a mistake. Montgomery insisted vehemently that Eisenhower should concentrate all his resources behind one part of the front, preferably in the north, and make one sustained drive all the way to Berlin. General Patton resisted the idea just as strongly and insisted instead that, if given proper support, his Third Army could gain the Rhine in a matter of days. Though Eisenhower rejected both arguments, he nevertheless sanctioned a plan put forward by Montgomery to use 3 airborne divisions to help the British Second Army across three major water obstacles in the Netherlands: the Maas (Meuse), Waal, and Lower Rhine (Neder Rijn) rivers. This accomplished, Montgomery might outflank the West Wall and gain a position from which he might drive into the North German plain to encircle the Ruhr from the north. In the meantime, the Sixth Army Group, using separate supply routes, was to continue through the Vosges to the upper Rhine, the Third Army was to drive into the Saar, and Hodges' First Army was to penetrate the West Wall at Aachen and gain a bridgehead over the Rhine near Cologne (Koln).

When Montgomery first proposed the airborne-assisted drive through the Netherlands, the Germans had almost no forces in a position to block it. Before the operation could be launched, however, Hitler rushed forward headquarters of the First Parachute Army under Col. Gen. Kurt Student to gather the fleeing troops and build a line along the Dutch canals. He also ordered into position several divisions from a 60,000-man force of the Fifteenth Army, which had escaped entrapment on the Channel coast by ferrying across the Scheldt Estuary after the fall of Antwerp.

The big airborne attack, labeled Operation Market, began on September 17. Under Lt. Gen. Lewis H. Brereton's First Allied Airborne Army, 3 divisions--the British 1st and the United States 82d and 101st--landed near Arnhem, Nijmegen, and Eindhoven in the largest airborne operation of the war. The airborne troops were to seize a narrow corridor 65 miles deep to enable the Second Army, in a companion ground attack called Operation Garden, to pass through and reach the IJsselmeer (Zuider Zee), thereby cutting off all German forces in the western Netherlands. Though the airborne drops were uniformly successful and achieved full surprise, the British ground column ran into stubborn resistance and blown bridges that created serious delays. Before the ground forces could break through to the British airborne division at Arnhem, the farthest unit from the original front line, the Germans threw in remnants of 2 panzer divisions that had been reorganizing nearby. As the Germans pinned the British airborne troops to a narrow bridgehead north of the Lower Rhine, Montgomery ordered the commitment of a Polish airborne brigade, but to no avail. On September 25-26, the battered survivors (2,000 men out of an original force of not quite 9,000) withdrew to the south bank of the river.

The outcome of Market-Garden in itself would have been enough to demonstrate that the big pursuit was over, but, in addition, all Allied armies had run into trouble. Facing the German Nineteenth Army, which was strengthened by the forested foothills of the Vosges, the Sixth Army Group could make only limited gains. Though the Hitler-ordered counterattack against Patton's south flank was doomed from the start by inadequate strength and hasty mounting, sizable advances by the Third Army were thwarted by a staunchly defended Moselle River line and by old but formidable forts around Metz. Both at Aachen and in the Ardennes the First Army pierced the West Wall in several places, but General Hodges' forces were too greatly extended to exploit the gains. As September passed into October, Allied armies everywhere had bogged down. While the logistical situation began to improve with time, the German hold on the banks of the Scheldt Estuary continued to deny the use of Antwerp as a port, and until Antwerp could be opened, no sustained offensive could be maintained. Though Montgomery chafed at the assignment of opening Antwerp, preferring instead to make a new attempt to reach the Ruhr from the corridor opened by Operation Market-Garden, he at last turned his full attention to the task in mid-October. Yet it would be a long time before the first Allied ship dropped anchor at Antwerp. Flooding much of the low lying countryside, the Germans fought tenaciously until November 8, inflicting nearly 13,000 casualties on the Canadian First Army. Because the Scheldt Estuary still had to be cleared of mines, Antwerp did not begin functioning as a port until November 28.

In the meantime, encouraged by a steady though unspectacular improvement in the supply situation, Eisenhower had ordered a new offensive to begin in early November, with the main effort to be made by the First Army around Aachen. General Simpson's Ninth Army, which had been moved forward from Brittany, made a supporting attack on the left, while the Third Army launched a similar thrust from the vicinity of Metz. On November 16, the heaviest air bombardment in direct support of troops on the ground to be launched during the war began east of Aachen in support of the First and Ninth armies (Operation Queen). More than 4,000 planes, including 2,400 heavy bombers, dropped over 10,000 tons of bombs on German defenses and communications centers in an effort to repeat the success of the breakout from Normandy. Unfortunately for the success of the attack, Allied commanders had attempted to cover too broad a target area and, in an effort to avoid repeating the costly errors of bombs' falling short in Normandy, had allowed too great an interval between the attacking troops and the bomb line. By the time the ground troops could cross this interval, the Germans had recovered sufficiently to reman their posts.

It took all the rest of November and part of December for the First and Ninth armies to build up their forces along the Roer (Rur) River, in places only 7 miles beyond the line from which the offensive began. Even then the armies were powerless to cross the Roer, for a series of dams on its upper reaches remained in German hands and might be blown to flood the valley and trap any force which had moved east of the river.

Farther south the French First Army and the United States Third and Seventh armies had made greater gains, though the Germans still yielded ground only grudgingly. By the end of the first week in December, the two armies of the Sixth Army Group had compressed the Germans into a large bridgehead west of the Rhine based on the city of Colmar (the so-called Colmar pocket), and the Third Army had reached the West Wall along the face of the Saar. The British and Canadians meanwhile had cleared all of the Netherlands south and west of the Maas.


Battle of the Bulge

This was the situation when, on December 16, Hitler struck back with his long-planned counteroffensive. From the bulge created in Allied lines it came to be known as the Battle of the Bulge. Assisted by the West Wall, excellent defensive terrain along the frontier, and the Allied supply problems, the Germans through the fall had succeeded not only in holding Eisenhower's armies to relatively minor gains; they had at the same time massed behind the front a strong reserve centered around 11 panzer divisions. Hitler intended to strike with this force through the forested Ardennes, cross the Meuse River, and recapture Antwerp, thereby trapping four Allied armies in the north. Though his field commanders deemed the plan too ambitious for the available resources, Hitler would sanction no alterations. After the manner of the German armies in World War I, he took extraordinary precautions to maintain secrecy. Only a handful of commanders knew of the plan until a short while before the target date. Though Allied intelligence early noted the assembling of strong armored forces near Cologne, most intelligence officers assumed that these were intended to counterattack once the First and Ninth armies had crossed the Roer. Fog and snow in the wooded Eifel region opposite the Ardennes successfully cloaked final moves to attack positions. A small force of English-speaking Germans in Allied uniforms early began to infiltrate the lines, later to cause confusion out of proportion to the size of the group. Then, before dawn on December 16, three German armies totaling 25 divisions struck along 70 miles of Ardennes front thinly manned by 6 American divisions.

Making the main effort to seize vital roads in the north, the Sixth Panzer Army under Gen. Sepp Dietrich almost immediately ran into unyielding resistance from the 2d and 99th divisions of Gerow's 5th Corps. For three crucial days these divisions denied the high ground of Elsenborn Ridge and control of the roads Dietrich needed. Only an armored task force called Kampfgruppe Peiper from its commander, Lt. Col. Joachim Peiper, broke through. Committing terrible atrocities against civilians and soldiers, including the murder of close to 100 American prisoners near Malmedy, this force drove more than 15 miles before American reserves bottled it up and clearing weather enabled fighter bombers to wreak havoc on its tanks.

Progress was better in the center, where the Fifth Panzer Army under Gen. Hasso von Manteuffel struck the 8th Corps. Here the American lines were particularly thin, manned by a division seriously understrength from hard fighting in the November offensive and by an inexperienced division only recently arrived from the United States. Everywhere the Germans broke through but at terrible cost. Rallying from early surprise, the Americans threw in small units at critical points to deny the Germans villages, defiles, bridges, and road junctions. Local commanders committed engineer units, quartermaster troops, and even cooks and bakers to the firing line. Though the Germans encircled and captured two thirds of the inexperienced 106th Division in front of the road center of St.-Vith, the division had held its ground long enough for the Twelfth Army Group commander, General Bradley, to rush the 7th Armored Division from a reserve position to hold the town.

The most notable German success occurred south of St.-Vith, where by nightfall of the second day two panzer corps of the Fifth Panzer Army had broken into Luxembourg and headed toward the Meuse River by way of the Belgian road center of Bastogne. In the meantime, however, General Eisenhower had alerted the only American divisions immediately available as theater reserves, the 82d and 101st Airborne divisions under Maj. Gen. (later Gen.) Matthew B. Ridgway's 18th Airborne Corps. He ordered the divisions to Bastogne, there to be used as the First Army commander, General Hodges, directed. Thus, unknown to either adversary, a race was on for Bastogne.

Eisenhower directed also that Patton call off his offensive against the West Wall in the Saar and turn to strike the south shoulder of the German penetration. Here the German Seventh Army under Gen. Erich Brandenberger, charged with holding the south flank, lacked sizable armored components and had failed to keep pace with the Fifth Panzer Army's advance. As the armored penetration deepened, Eisenhower put all forces north of the bulge under Field Marshal Montgomery, while Bradley retained command of the forces to the south. Montgomery hurried troops of his own 30th Corps to reserve positions west of the Meuse to forestall a German crossing of the river.

As the 82d Airborne Division neared Bastogne, General Hodges ordered the division and headquarters of the 18th Airborne Corps to continue northward to help support the north flank of the penetration west of Elsenborn Ridge. The 101st Airborne Division, arriving later, was to defend Bastogne. As night came on December 18, the advance guard of the Fifth Panzer Army's panzer columns approached Bastogne, where remnants of American units were holding outposts until the airborne division arrived. By the next morning, American positions were strong enough to discourage the Germans from assaulting the town immediately. Surrounding Bastogne, the bulk of the panzer units continued toward the Meuse, but at critical points they continued to meet small American delaying detachments that demanded a high price in casualties and time before the Germans might pass. The panzer divisions still were a long way from the Meuse when, on December 23, the winter skies cleared, and waves of Allied fighter bombers roared to the attack.

On Christmas Eve an armored spearhead got within 3 miles of the Meuse at Celles but there encountered the United States 2d Armored Division, which had hurried down from the north. In a pitched battle on Christmas Day, the American armor annihilated one German regiment and threw back what proved to be the high-water mark of the counteroffensive. The 2d Armored Division was part of General Collins' 7th Corps which, along with the 18th Airborne Corps, General Hodges had committed to hold the north flank of the German bulge. There Dietrich's Sixth Panzer Army, finally despairing of taking Elsenborn Ridge, had followed the path of Kampfgruppe Peiper and then tried again to swing northwestward to get across the Meuse. When continued German attacks at St.-Vith at last forced the 7th Armored Division to abandon that town on December 21, additional roads were opened to reinforce Dietrich's thrust. Nevertheless, by December 25 Hodges had formed an unyielding line north of the Ambleve River with 8 divisions reinforcing the 2 divisions that still held Elsenborn Ridge. The use here for the first time of a newly developed proximity fuze for artillery shells that exploded them in the air before contact materially aided Hodges' defense. At Bastogne, meanwhile, the Germans had launched an all-out effort to take the town. On December 22, when German emissaries entered the American perimeter with a surrender ultimatum, the American commander, Brig. Gen. (later Gen.) Anthony C. McAuliffe, gave his famous response, "Nuts!

It was the next day, December 23, that the skies cleared and waves of cargo planes began to resupply the beleaguered troops in Bastogne. The fighting all around the perimeter was fierce, but morale remained high. Then, on the day after Christmas, the 4th Armored Division of Patton's Third Army, having begun to attack four days earlier, broke through to Bastogne from the south. Hard fighting remained before the narrow corridor into the town could be expanded, and the Germans continued through Jan. 3, 1945, to try to take Bastogne, but without success. Having relieved Bastogne, Patton's 3d Corps continued to attack northeastward from the town toward Houffalize in the center of the bulge. Collins' 7th Corps of the First Army began a similar attack toward Houffalize from the north on January 3. The object was to rejoin the First and Third armies and to trap any German units still remaining in the western tip of the bulge. Through intense cold and deep, crippling drifts of snow the American troops fought slowly toward a juncture. At last, on January 16, patrols of the two armies linked at Houffalize. Hitler in the meantime had reluctantly concluded that his bold counteroffensive had failed. On January 8, he ordered Dietrich's Sixth Panzer Army to fall back to a line close to the German frontier and the rest of his forces to evacuate the tip of the bulge. Thus the American pincers which closed on January 16 failed to trap sizable numbers of German troops.

Meanwhile, the 5th Corps of the First Army and the 12th Corps of the Third Army had broadened the Allied offensive to the east and headed toward St.-Vith. At almost the same time, on January 12, the Russians began a new offensive on the eastern front that ripped great holes in the German line. On January 22, Hitler ordered the depleted Sixth Panzer Army to begin moving from the western front to reinforce the east. By the end of January, the American First and Third armies had reached the German frontier to reestablish the line that had existed before Hitler's armies came out of the mists of the Eifel. The net effect of the counteroffensive was to delay Allied attacks about six weeks at a cost to the Germans of more than 100,000 casualties, 600 tanks and assault guns, and about 1,600 planes. The Americans incurred approximately 76,000 casualties.

In launching the counteroffensive, Hitler had counted on surprise and overwhelming initial strength to pierce the thinly manned American positions swiftly and gain the Meuse by the third day. He had failed to reckon on the tenacity of the American troops. Though broken into small, disorganized units, the Americans had continued to fight with elan and determination. Hitler had failed to reckon also on the swiftness with which the Allies could move to counter the early blows. The First Army alone in the first week of the attack moved 248,000 troops and 48,711 vehicles. In one day, December 17, 60,000 men were moved into the Ardennes. Speedy American removal or steadfast defense of major supply depots also hurt the Germans, for in the effort to maintain secrecy most German supplies had been held far back behind the Rhine. After the skies cleared, Allied aircraft scored telling blows on supply convoys treading the icy, winding roads of the Eifel. Though the Luftwaffe mustered surprising strength (as many as 600 sorties a day during the first two weeks), the German planes were overwhelmed by Allied fighter strength. On New Year's Day, in a major attack, approximately 800 German planes caught Allied aircraft on the ground on airfields in Belgium and the Netherlands, but even though they destroyed or damaged 260 planes, the Germans themselves lost 200. These losses the depleted Luftwaffe could ill afford.

The Battle of the Bulge was the greatest pitched battle on the western front in World War II. A total of 29 German and 33 Allied divisions (mainly American) participated. The Germans had created a short-lived bulge in American lines 70 miles wide and 50 miles deep at its westernmost point. They had paid for it with the loss of priceless reserves that left the German Army brittle, ready prey for annihilation once the Allies resumed their offensive in earnest.

Operation Nordwind

In planning for a winter counteroffensive, Hitler at one point had considered striking not in the Ardennes but in Alsace. When the Ardennes counteroffensive began to go badly and it became obvious that Eisenhower was moving divisions from the south into the Ardennes, he looked again toward Alsace. As the plan was finally determined, the German First Army was to attack southward from the West Wall through Bitche and the Wissembourg gap (the latter the site of first German success in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870), while the Nineteenth Army launched a subsidiary thrust northward from the bridgehead around Colmar. The two attacks, under the code name Nordwind, were to link east of the Saverne gap, trapping that part of the United States Seventh Army in northern Alsace and recapturing Strasbourg, a city politically important to the French.

The attacks began just before midnight on December 31, but this time Allied intelligence had determined what was in the offing. The thrust from the Colmar bridgehead gained little ground, and the attack through Bitche was stopped after two days of fighting. But the main force moving through the Wissembourg gap made such gains that General Eisenhower seriously contemplated falling back to a stronger line in the foothills of the Vosges, abandoning Strasbourg. To this the French commanders and the French government reacted with such vehemence that Eisenhower reconsidered. By January 25, the Germans had been stopped with the loss only of the northeastern corner of Alsace as far south as the Moder River, at the closest point still 12 miles from Strasbourg.

On January 29, the Allied armies in Alsace swung over to the offensive. A week later, United States and French units linked in the center of the Colmar pocket. As the Germans began withdrawing to the east bank of the Rhine, French and United States forces finished clearing the pocket on February 9. The Seventh Army began a drive just over a week later to clear northeastern Alsace and at month's end established a foothold on German soil beyond the Saar River. Though troublesome, Operation Nordwind had failed either to divert any American troops from the Ardennes or to forestall the movement of any units earmarked for that area. The Germans incurred 25,000 casualties; the Americans, 16,000.

Drive to the Rhine

As the First and Third armies eliminated the last of the bulge in the Ardennes at the end of December, General Bradley wanted to continue the attack through the Eifel south of the dams on the upper Roer River, which were still in German hands. Field Marshall Montgomery, on the other hand, demanded that the main effort continue to be made in the north and that Bradley's forces be halted to provide strength there. Though Eisenhower declined to stop Bradley's drive altogether, he too believed the main effort should continue in the north along the most direct route to the Ruhr industrial area. Leaving the Ninth Army under Montgomery's command, he moved divisions from Bradley's First and Third armies to strengthen the Ninth along the Roer River, northeast of Aachen, and told Bradley to mount an attack to take the Roer dams to prevent the Germans from flooding the river.

In the main offensive the Canadian First Army attacked on February 8 (Operation Veritable) from positions near Nijmegen gained in the airborne attack in September. While the Canadians drove southeastward up the west bank of the Rhine, Simpson's Ninth Army on February 12 was to jump the Roer (Operation Grenade) and gain the Rhine near Dusseldorf, and then turn northwestward to link with the Canadians. The Second British Army meanwhile was to push eastward between the other two armies. As the Canadians attacked, they ran into the strongest force left to the Germans in the west. This was Army Group H, organized in the fall under General Student with the First Parachute and Twenty-fifth armies. They also encountered mud, age-old enemy of armies, and low-lying ground flooded by an early thaw. Because the First Army failed to take the Roer dams until the Germans demolished one dam and flooded the river, the Ninth Army could not cross the Roer until February 23. Thus the Germans were able to concentrate additional strength against the Canadians. Gains were short and casualties high.

On the other hand, the shift of German strength to the north meant eventual easier going for the Ninth Army. On the eight day of attack the army gained the Rhine near Dusseldorf and turned to meet the Canadians. In 11 days the Ninth Army drove 50 miles with fewer than 7,300 casualties, while killing approximately 6,000 Germans and taking 30,000 prisoners. The Canadian First Army had incurred 16,000 casualties. Attacking at the same time as the Ninth Army, a corps of Hodges' First Army also jumped the Roer. Designed originally to protect the Ninth Army's flank, the attack was expanded on March 1, and swept rapidly toward the Rhine against disintegrating resistance. Troops of the 7th Corps entered Cologne on March 5. Over the protests of his field commanders, Hitler steadfastly refused to order a strategic withdrawal behind the Rhine.

Chafing to get into the fight in force, Patton had managed to continue limited offensives in the Eifel that took Trier (March 1) and pushed 15 miles inside the German border. On March 3, the Third Army began a major attack to gain the Rhine north of Coblenz (Koblenz) and link with the First Army along the Ahr River south of Remagen.

As a combat command of the First Army's 9th Armored Division approached Remagen on the afternoon of March 7, the men were astonished to see the Ludendorff railroad bridge across the Rhine still standing. Confused by overlapping command channels and by the recent transfer of the general who had been in over-all charge, the Germans at the bridge had delayed too long in demolishing it. As a United States platoon rushed toward the bridge, the Germans set off demolition charges, but they failed to do more than damage it. In the face of small-arms fire from the east bank, the American riflemen charged across the bridge. In a matter of minutes the Allies had a bridgehead beyond the Rhine. Though General Eisenhower had intended no crossing in the Remagen area, he acted quickly to exploit the coup. Three days after the first crossing, the First Army had 1 armored and 3 infantry divisions across the river. Denuding other parts of the Rhine front, the Germans launched savage attacks against the bridgehead, but to no avail. Though the Luftwaffe tried time after time to destroy the bridge from the air, it stood until March 17. Weakened by hits from long-range artillery, the Ludendorff bridge collapsed that day, but by then engineers had spanned the river in other places.

Patton's Third Army meanwhile had pierced the Eifel with swift armored thrusts that trapped thousands of Germans and cleared the entire region north of the Moselle by March 11. Patton turned then to jump the Moselle and assist Patch's Seventh Army in sweeping the Saar and the Palatinate. This was accomplished by March 25 at a cost to the Germans of 100,000 prisoners. In the entire battle of the Rhineland, the Germans lost more than 250,000 men. Even before the Saar region was clear, Patton launched a surprise thrust across the Rhine. Shortly before midnight on March 22, the 5th Division sneaked across near Oppenheim against only scattered small-arms fire. Before daylight of March 23, 6 infantry battalions were on the east bank at a cost of only 28 casualties.

With the clearing of the Saar and the Palatinate, Allied armies held the west bank of the Rhine from Arnhem to the Swiss border. Except for fortifications on the east bank from Karlsruhe to Switzerland, the West Wall lay behind. Gone too were the days of painfully slow advances through mud, ice, and snow. And through it all the mammoth aerial campaign continued, turning German cities to rubble. In one day in March, Allied planes flew 11,000 sorties. Though on the German side jet-propelled fighters at last began to take to the skies in impressive numbers, they were too late to change the course of the war. By the end of March, after dropping a record 245,000 tons of bombs during the month, Allied strategic bombers were almost out of targets. The German units that managed to escape to the east bank of the Rhine made an impressive array on paper, but in reality they equaled only about 26 complete divisions. General Eisenhower's forces meanwhile had increased to 85 divisions, 5 of them airborne and 23 of them armored. His total command now numbered 4,000,000 men.

On March 10, soon after loss of the Remagen bridge, Hitler relieved Field Marshal von Rundstedt as commander in chief in the west. In his place he installed Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, former German commander in Italy. But it would take more than a new commander to bring any order out of the chaos that now enveloped the German armies in the west. Army Group G in the south was weakest of all. Army Group B in the center, preoccupied with the Remagen bridgehead, was in no position to stop a major attack to break out of the bridgehead. Only Army Group H in the north with the First Parachute and Twenty-fifth armies had any real strength left. Committed to protect the vital Ruhr industrial area, even this group was thinly spread.

In contrast to American commanders, Field Marshal Montgomery left nothing to chance in his preparations to put his Twenty-first Army Group across the Rhine (Operation Plunder). Air attacks to isolate the battlefield began two weeks before the target date for the crossing, and the First Allied Airborne Army was assigned to drop 2 airborne divisions in support of the operation. A smoke screen 50 miles long covered the preparations. Behind heavy artillery fires the British Second Army started crossing the Rhine between Xanten and Rees soon after nightfall on March 23. Before daylight the next morning, the Ninth Army also began to cross the river south of Wesel. The Ninth Army in particular met limited opposition. The army's casualties for the first day were 41 killed, 450 wounded, and 7 missing, surprisingly low for an attack against a defended river line. The airborne divisions--1 United States and 1 British--began landing in midmorning of March 24, and by nightfall both were in contact with British ground troops. By the end of the day the two Allied armies had established a firm bridgehead as deep as 6 miles in places.


Drive to the Elbe

The unqualified success in the north was the signal for all Allied armies to begin the victory sweep through Germany. While approving a plan for the Ninth and First armies to encircle the Ruhr, with the former remaining under Montgomery's command, General Eisenhower directed that as soon as the Ruhr was secured, the Ninth Army was to revert to Bradley's Twelfth Army Group. Bradley's armies then were to make the main Allied effort along the Erfurt-Leipzig-Dresden axis to link up with the Russians.

The Third Army began to exploit its Rhine crossing on March 25, and the next day seized a bridge across the Main River near Frankfurt and entered the outskirts of the city. On March 29, the First and Third armies linked their bridgeheads near Wiesbaden. The Seventh Army in the meantime made an assault crossing of the Rhine on either side of Worms before daylight on March 26. Other troops of the army crossed near Mannheim, and on April 1 entered Heidelberg. Alarmed lest the French be denied a major role in the push through Germany, General de Lattre speeded the attack preparations of his First Army, crossed the Rhine before daylight on March 31 near Speyer, and turned southeastward toward Stuttgart.

The reaction of the German High Command to the advances of the Sixth Army Group was typical of that all along the front. Hitler and his entourage in OKW seemed incapable of comprehending the extent of German losses and reverses. Unable to make additional troops available, OKW insisted nevertheless that Army Group G counterattack northward to cut off the Sixth Army Group columns. When this proved impossible, OKW relieved the group commander. Hitler had already tried to form a Volksturm (People's Army), but in almost every case these untrained, ill-armed, poorly equipped troops put up little fight. He called now for the formation of an underground army of "Werewolves to fight the invading armies by any and all methods. It was a dramatic appeal, but it produced few tangible results.

In the north, Simpson's Ninth Army and Hodges' First Army swept rapidly toward a juncture on the east face of the Ruhr industrial area near Paderborn. The drive gained speed from the fact that the Army Group B commander, Field Marshal Model, had disposed his remaining defenses facing southward against the Remagen bridgehead and thus was ill prepared for the First Army's push to the east. What was more, the First Army drive severed all contact between the forces of Army Group B and Army Group G. Similarly, Army Group H north of the Ruhr was powerless to stop the eastward push of the Ninth Army. Though the commander, General Student, begged permission to fall back behind the Weser River and to withdraw forces from the Netherlands to help build a new line, Hitler and OKW rejected the requests. Armored spearheads of the two American armies met at Lippstadt, 17 miles west of Paderborn, on April 1 to complete what General Eisenhower called "the largest double envelopment in history. Caught in the Ruhr pocket was all of Army Group B with its Fifth Panzer and Fifteenth armies and part of Army Group H's First Parachute Army.

After attempting without success to break out of the pocket, first to the north and then to the south, Field Marshal Model settled down to fight to the end, hoping thereby to tie up as many Allied troops as possible. But the end was not long in coming. On April 14, the Americans cut the pocket in two. Two days later the eastern half collapsed, and on April 18 all the remaining garrison surrendered. The final count of prisoners exceeded 325,000. Model himself was reputedly a suicide. A new United States army headquarters, the Fifteenth under General Gerow, former 5th Corps commander, came forward to supervise the final mopping up, while the First and Ninth armies continued to the east.

As all Allied armies spread out over Germany, their advances exceeded even those of the great pursuit across France. Drives of 35 to 50 miles a day were not uncommon. Armored divisions usually led the way, but infantry units too, the men mounted on attached tanks or tank destroyers or riding trucks normally used to tow artillery, made rapid dashes. Many towns and villages lay undefended. All that stood in the way of capturing others were roadblocks hastily constructed of heavy logs. Demolished bridges caused the greatest delays, but with the Germans able to form no solid line even behind sprawling streams like the Weser, infantrymen quickly paddled across in assault boats to form a bridgehead while engineers often in less than half a day constructed pontoon bridges that tanks and other vehicles might use. White flags raised by an apathetic and supine citizenry flew from every building. In most cases the Germans put up a half-hearted resistance and then merely waited for the Allied flood to roll over them. In others some local commander might instill his troops with special bravado and bring on a fierce little engagement in the midst of an otherwise unimpeded advance. This happened at Kassel and left the city in ruins. It happened also at Heilbronn on the Neckar River, where the Seventh Army required a week to reduce the city. It happened too in the Harz Mountains, where contingents of the First Army also found themselves involved for a full week in a real war again.

On the Reichsautobahnen, the superhighways with which Hitler had laced the country for moving his military forces, Allied columns roared up all four lanes, while crowds of dejected German prisoners or ragged but exuberant slave laborers of almost every nationality in Europe marched westward down the median strip. Some units overran vast caches of money and works of art looted by the Nazis from all corners of occupied Europe. Others came across walking skeletons who somehow had survived the Nazi concentration camps and mute but grim evidence of human extermination factories. Supplying the far-ranging motorized columns was a tremendous, fantastic task. The most critically needed supplies--gasoline, rations, and ammunition--usually came in by cargo planes to newly captured airfields. Heavily laden trucks with headlights ablaze in disdain for whatever might remain of the Luftwaffe roared through the night on the autobahns. Trucks often had to make 700-mile round trips to railheads along the Rhine. The first two rail bridges built across the river were opened on April 8 at Wesel and on April 14 at Mainz.

In the north the British Second Army bridged the Weser on April 5 and reached the Elbe by April 24. Despite stiff resistance along the Dortmund-Ems Canal, a column on the British left advanced to Bremen by April 20, there to fight a week-long battle against a group of diehard defenders. The columns on the right jumped the lower Elbe on the last two days of April, and on May 2 took Lubeck without opposition, thereby cutting off the peninsula of Schleswig-Holstein and Denmark. The great port of Hamburg surrendered the next day, also without a fight.

The Canadian First Army, driving to cut off the Germans in the Netherlands, engaged in some of the heaviest fighting of all during the first few days of April. From a Rhine bridgehead near Emmerich one column established a bridgehead over the Ems River on April 8, and then ran into one sharp fight after another en route to the naval bases at Emden and Wilhelmshaven. To the west another column driving due north from Emmerich quickly reached the North Sea, cutting what remained of German forces in the northeastern Netherlands into ineffective pockets. Still a third force farther west jumped the Lower Rhine on April 12, cleared Arnhem two days later, and reached the IJsselmeer on April 18. Four days later, Allied commanders, all too aware of the misery already besetting the Dutch people for lack of food, suspended attacks on the promise of the German high commissioner for the Netherlands, Arthur Seyss-Inquart, that he would avoid wholesale flooding of the low-lying country. After a meeting between Seyss-Inquart and Eisenhower's chief of staff on April 30, the Allies began a program to deliver food and supplies to the hard-pressed Dutch, but the Germans in the Netherlands refused to surrender so long as the German government had not capitulated.

In the Allied center troops of the First and Ninth armies were already on their way to the Elbe even before the final capitulation in the Ruhr pocket. Armored spearheads of the Ninth Army reached the river near Magdeburg on April 11, and the next day established a bridgehead less than 75 miles from Berlin. The Germans reacted stiffly, even calling in the almost defunct Luftwaffe in troublesome numbers, and forced abandonment of the bridgehead on April 14, but a second bridgehead established the preceding day held fast. This bridgehead constituted no more than a threat, for by this time General Eisenhower had abandoned any idea of driving on Berlin. Since mid-March, Soviet forces had stood on the Oder River, only 28 miles east of the capital, with the apparent ability to take it whenever they chose. In view of this situation, Eisenhower decided to concentrate instead on defeating the German forces in central Germany and on driving into the south where rumors picked up by Allied intelligence seemed to indicate that the Germans were creating a last-ditch defensive position in the Alps, the so-called National Redoubt. The Ninth Army was to halt at the Elbe, Eisenhower directed, and the First Army at the Mulde, a tributary of the Elbe, there to await contact with Soviet armies from the east. The First Army took Leipzig on April 18. Already an armored division had bypassed the city to reach the Mulde River. Patrols sent out by both the First an the Ninth armies made contact with forward Soviet units on April 25, while the first formal meeting between United States and Soviet divisional commanders took place near Torgau on the following day.

Meanwhile, the Third Army had pressed on to the Czechoslovakian border. With the First and Ninth armies established on their final objectives, Eisenhower directed the Third Army to sideslip southward for drives into Czechoslovakia, Bavaria, and Austria close beside the Seventh Army. The attack picked up momentum on April 22 and began to make the usual rapid gains at extremely low costs in men. One day, for example, the entire Third Army lost only 3 men killed, 37 wounded, and 5 missing while taking 9,000 German prisoners. Breaking through hastily improvised defenses on the Isar and Inn rivers, contingents of the Third Army on May 4 seized Linz, Austria. Others pushed into Plzen (Pilsen), already in the hands of Czech partisans.

The two armies of General Devers' Sixth Army Group meanwhile had swung southeastward from their Rhine bridgeheads to sweep to the Swiss border and eventually to enter Austria and link with Allied forces in northern Italy. In addition to a hard fight at the Neckar, troops of the Seventh Army had to battle three days for Nurnberg but took the city on April 20. The French swept through the Black Forest on the east bank of the Rhine, and on April 22 took Stuttgart. As the Seventh Army headed into southern Bavaria and the Austrian Tirol to forestall any establishment there of a National Redoubt, both armies crossed the Danube on April 22. Munich (Munchen) fell on April 30 and Salzburg on May 4, and with the aid of Austrian partisan guides a column pushed to the Brenner Pass on the same day. Berchtesgaden, site of Hitler's mountain retreat, also fell on May 4. The myth of a National Redoubt exploded. Nowhere was there evidence that the Nazis had made preparations for a last-ditch stand.

End of Hitler

The precise time when Hitler realized that the end was near is hard to place, but by mid-April it was clearly apparent to him that Allied and Soviet armies soon would split Germany in two. Reserving for himself the right to command in whichever part of Germany he happened to find himself when the split came, he designated Admiral Doenitz, head of the German Navy, to command in the north should the fuhrer be in the south. Similarly, he designated Field Marshal Kesselring to command in the south should he himself be in the north.

By April 22, with Berlin under direct attack from the Soviet Army since April 16, Doenitz, Goering (heir designate to Hitler's post), and most other ranking officials had left Berlin for either the south or the north. Hitler and his military staffs were about all that remained. The fuhrer apparently had high hopes of prolonging the war indefinitely until April 22, when a counterattack which he had ordered to strike the Russians at Berlin from the north failed to materialize. From this point he vowed to stay in the capital, eventually to kill himself rather than to fall into the hands of his enemies.

Learning the next day of Hitler's decision to stay in Berlin, Goering assumed that it was time he took control of the government. When he radioed for instructions, saying that if he received no answer during the day of April 23, he would take charge, Hitler considered the act treasonable. He promptly had Goering arrested. By the end of April, all concerned had to admit that every effort to relieve Berlin had failed, and that the city was facing its final fight. Hitler himself, having composed a will designating Doenitz his successor as head of the German state and supreme commander of the armed forces, committed suicide.

German Surrender

The possibility of large-scale but piecemeal surrender had been growing since mid-April, but because the Russians were suspicious lest the Germans make peace with the Allies while continuing to fight the Soviet armies, the Allies rejected most overtures. As early as April 23, Heinrich Himmler , head of the Waffen-SS, an elite ancillary force of the German Army, offered to arrange a surrender on the entire western front, but the heads of Allied governments replied that unconditional surrender on all fronts, made in agreement with the Allies and the Soviet Union, was the only acceptable course.

Aware of the agreement between the Western Allies and the Soviets, Admiral Doenitz nevertheless hoped to save as many German troops as possible from falling into the hands of the Soviet Army. When the Allies on April 29 accepted the surrender of German forces in Italy to become effective on May 2, he began to explore the possibility of other piecemeal surrenders. This led on May 4 to the surrender of all forces in the north, including Denmark and the Netherlands, to Montgomery and the Twenty-first Army Group, though the terms stipulated that the capitulation would be superseded by any general instrument of surrender later to be signed. The next day, a similar surrender occurred in the south, where Army Group G capitulated to the Sixth Army Group.

A German representative authorized to open negotiations for all remaining forces in the west arrived at General Eisenhower's headquarters in Reims on May 5. Recognizing that the German scheme was to gain time in which to bring troops facing the Russians into the western zone, Eisenhower informed Moscow that he had no intention of accepting surrender unless it included simultaneous surrender to the Soviets. The Russians in turn authorized Maj. Gen. Ivan Susloparov, already at Eisenhower's headquarters, to act for them. The negotiations began in the late afternoon of May 5. When General Eisenhower made it known that unconditional simultaneous surrender on all fronts was the requirement, the head of the German delegation wired Doenitz for approval. The admiral and those around him were shocked. Doenitz hastily sent General Jodl, head of the OKW operations staff and a strong opponent of surrender in the east, to continue the negotiations at Reims.

When Jodl arrived, he found Eisenhower unyielding. Unless the Germans agreed quickly to surrender, Eisenhower said, he would break off all negotiations and seal the western front to prevent the further westward movement of German troops and civilians. Even Jodl, steadfast opponent of over-all surrender though he was, was impressed. He telegraphed Doenitz for permission to sign. The Germans signed at 2:41 am on May 7. The next day, May 8, the Allied chiefs of staff designated as V-E (Victory in Europe) Day. A second surrender ceremony, with ranking Russians in attendance, took place in Berlin on May 9.

Accomplishments and Cost

As hostilities came to an end, the German war machine and the German nation were crushed to a degree never before experienced in modern times. With the prior surrender of Army Groups B, G, and H and with the steamroller advance of the Soviet armies, no organized military units remained at the time of the over-all surrender except in Norway and in Czechoslovakia and the Balkans. These were incapable of more than a week or two of resistance even had they chosen to prolong the fight. Though some jet fighter aircraft remained, the Luftwaffe was too demoralized even to make a final suicidal effort. What was left of the German Navy lay helpless in the captured northern ports. Hitler's Germany was prostrate, beaten by powerful Soviet armies and by an Allied force that at war's end totaled 4,581,000 men in a balanced air-ground military machine. Under Eisenhower's command on V-E Day were nine armies, 23 corps, and 93 divisions and air strength totaling 17,192 planes. Since D-day in Normandy the Germans in the west alone had lost 263,000 dead, 49,000 permanently disabled, and 8,109,000 captured. Allied casualties were 186,900 dead, 545,700 wounded, and 109,600 missing (some later declared dead and others later repatriated as prisoners of war).

Any analysis of the victory must begin with the stubborn refusal of Britain and the Soviet Union to yield early in the war when the odds against them appeared overwhelming, and it must include the vast contribution by the United States both in manpower and as the arsenal of democracy. United States troops comprised more than two thirds of Eisenhower's command at the end of the war. During the last two years alone, American factories produced for the British 185,000 vehicles, 12,000 tanks, and enough planes to equip four tactical air forces; for the Russians, 247,000 vehicles, 4,000 tanks, and enough planes to equip two tactical air forces; and for the French, all weapons and equipment for 13 divisions and their logistical and air support. Thus, unlike the situation in World War I, when the American contribution was relatively small and merely provided the tilt in the balance of power, the reconquest of western Europe in World War II saw a predominant American contribution.

Though airpower failed to prove the decisive instrument that its more outspoken prewar advocates had predicted, it was a major factor in the Allied victory. The naval role was vital as well, for without control of the sea lanes, Allied power could not have been concentrated in England, and without the landing craft, amphibious doctrine, and fire support provided by Allied navies, the assaults against the beaches of Normandy and southern France could not have been staged. But it was not until Allied ground troops fought their way to a juncture with the Russians that Germany's will was broken.

Throughout the war, Hitler and much of the German nation put their faith in miracle weapons that never came. Postwar revelations have shown that the Germans had not advanced as far toward an atomic bomb as Allied intelligence had feared. The only spectacular accomplishments in miracle weapons were the V-1 (flying bomb) and the V-2 (supersonic rocket). Between June 1944 and March 1945, when the last of the launching sites were overrun, the Germans fired 18,300 V-1's and 3,000 V-2's, about equally divided between England and targets on the Continent, notably Antwerp. They inflicted 33,400 casualties in England and about 13,000 on the Continent, but never seriously affected the military campaign other than to divert antiaircraft troops and radar equipment to the defense of London and Antwerp.

In quality of weapons and equipment the greatest Allied advantage over the Germans was in heavy bombers and long-range fighters, an achievement never seriously challenged by the Luftwaffe despite the German development of the first supersonic rocket and the first jet-propelled aircraft. In all cases these came too late to affect the outcome of the war. In artillery, mortars, and machine guns both sides were relatively equal, though a technique of massed artillery fire used by the British and Americans was a noteworthy achievement. The Americans enjoyed some firepower advantage with a semi-automatic rifle, but a German machine pistol widely used in rifle battalions drew the respect of all Allied troops. German tanks throughout the war were superior to the Allied mainstay, the United States Sherman, both in armor and armament, and the German 88-mm. gun, effective against tanks, aircraft, and personnel, was the World War II equivalent of the French 75. American motor vehicles, particularly the highly serviceable two-and-one-half-ton truck, made the Allies markedly superior in the field of motor transport and were in a large measure responsible for fantastic Allied achievements in the field of logistics. The combined staff system of the United States and Britain provided a unity of command and purpose never approached on the Axis side.

Charles B. MacDonald
Chief World War II Branch, Office of the Chief of Military History
Department of the Army

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