Germany, Battle for
Germany, Battle for
As their armies recovered from the temporary reverses suffered in late 1944 during the liberation of France and the Battle of the Bulge, the American, British, Canadian, and other generals agreed upon certain key objectives of the forthcoming campaign for Germany. By late January 1945, the Anglo‐American armies had 4 million men, two‐thirds of them American; the Soviet armies numbered nearly 7 million. The Western Allies were preparing to seize the Ruhr, home of much of the German armaments industry. The North German plain with its Baltic ports was also a major target. The Allies further desired to strike at other points along the Rhenish front so as to envelop the Wehrmacht. After achieving their initial aims, they would then race through the heart of Germany, perhaps effecting a junction with the Soviet forces but certainly bringing about an end to the European War.
And yet considerable discord existed. British Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery expressed contempt for Supreme Allied Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower's deliberate, “broad front” tactics. Montgomery insisted that he should command not only the British and Canadian troops but two U.S. armies and make what he predicted would be a rapid, concentrated thrust through the Rhine Valley north of the Ruhr and eventually on to Berlin itself. He and fellow British generals—joined by some postwar British historians—believed “Ike” to have been vacillating and unreliable. But the American generals as well as their troops disliked Montgomery and did not want to serve under him. To them, “too‐tidy Monty” wasted too much time in campaign preparation and sometimes failed to carry through. And they resented his attitude toward Eisenhower.
As most historians have concluded, Eisenhower tactfully but decisively exercised a firm command. He resolved disputes among contentious generals while maintaining tight discipline. Throughout the battle for Germany, Ike listened to advice but made his own choices.
Although both American and British units had entered Germany as early as 12 September 1944, the first massive crossings of the Rhine occurred in March 1945. After capturing 250,000 prisoners and inflicting 60,000 German casualties while on the west bank, the Allies searched for bridgeheads over the river. On 7 March elements of the U.S. Ninth Army found a lightly defended span at Remagen, and within a day 8,000 Americans stood on the eastern shore of the Rhine. Within several more days, not only the Remagen bridgehead but also many others made possible the crossing of all 7 Allied armies, primarily because 62 bridges were constructed by 75,000 men of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. By 25 March the greatest aggregation of armor ever assembled in Western Europe was bearing down upon the Reich.
The double envelope of the Ruhr then proceeded with brilliant success. Courtney Hodges's First U.S. Army and William Simpson's Ninth caught the Reichswehr forces inside a circle of 80 miles diameter. With tremendous air, artillery, and naval support, the fast‐moving Allied armored columns forced 400,000 German troops to surrender. By early April 1945 German resistance was futile, and Adolf Hitler had neither the materiel nor the personnel to block the Allied armies from the West or the Soviets from the East.
While British and Canadian troops advanced through North Germany after sealing off Holland and Denmark, and French soldiers moved through the south, the Ninth U.S. Army stormed to within 63 miles of Berlin by 21 April. Further south, George S. Patton's Third Army achieved even more spectacular results, sometimes covering 100 miles a day, as it took Frankfurt on 27 March and raged through Czechoslovakia, Bavaria, and Austria during April. The U.S. Seventh Army headed south, and in early May, at the Brenner Pass, linked with American troops from the former Italian theater of war. On 25 April, the historic meeting of Soviet patrols with advance units of the American Ninth Army occurred at Torgau on the Elbe River, the prearranged meeting place.
Overwhelming power and logistic skill were primarily responsible for the American success. The U.S. Army had enormous numerical advantages in manpower, tanks, and artillery, and the supportive air forces commanding the skies could disrupt German industry, troop movements, and supplies. The Army Corps of Engineers used their bridging equipment effectively, and the Army Air Force—with more than 1,600 “flying boxcars” and other aircraft—transported 60,000 tons of supplies, including 10 million gallons of gasoline, to the rapidly advancing front during April 1945.
Unwilling to risk American and other Allied lives in an attack upon Berlin since the Soviets had been promised a postwar occupation zone, Eisenhower, under orders from Washington, restrained the Allied armies at the Elbe River, thus allowing the Red Army to seize Berlin, East Germany, and additional territory in Central Europe.
The invasion of Germany also led to the liberation of the German concentration and death camps. Generals Eisenhower and Omar N. Bradley personally visited Ohrdruf on 12 April, and soon Buchenwald, Dachau, and several others were liberated. To the world, the Americans exposed these ghastly horrors of Nazi cruelty, causing shock and revulsion.
For Germany, there was only complete and humiliating defeat. As the Red Army battled into Berlin, Hitler committed suicide there on 30 April 1945. At the command of his successor, Grand Admiral Karl Doenitz, Field Marshal Alfred Jodl went to Eisenhower's forward headquarters in Reims, France, and signed an unconditional surrender of 7 May. Josef Stalin demanded a second signing in Berlin on 8 May, which was hailed as V‐E Day—Victory in Europe Day—marking the formal end of the war in Europe. On 5 June 1945, Germany was placed under an Allied Control Council and divided into four occupation zones.
[See also Germany, U.S. Military Involvement in; Holocaust, U.S. War Effort and the; World War II: Military and Diplomatic Course; World War II: U.S. Air Operations in: The Air War in Europe.]
John Toland , The Last 100 Days: The Final Fighting in Europe, 1966.
Hubert Essame , The Battle for Germany, 1969.
Alfred D. Chandler, ed., The Papers of Dwight David Eisenhower, Vol. V: The War Years, 1970.
Russell F. Weigley , Eisenhower's Lieutenants: The Campaign for France and Germany, 1944–1945, 1981.
Stephen E. Ambrose , Eisenhower, 1983.
Gerhard L. Weinberg , A World at Arms, 1994.