Consolidation On the Frontier

In part, the slow-down along the front facing Germany was due to my decision to employ our greatest strength in the north to attain flanking bridgeheads across the lower Rhine beyond the main fortifications of the Siegfried Line. In view of the fact, however, that the main highway to Berlin--the plains and level fields of northern Germany--lay beyond the Rhine in the north, and that the southern country was unsuitable for the desired rapid advance and continued exploitation by reason of its mountainous and forested terrain, my commanders and I were in full agreement as to the desirability of exerting our strongest pressure in the north. The attractive possibility of quickly turning the German north flank led me to approve the temporary delay in freeing the vital port of Antwerp, the seaward approached to which were still in German hands.

The operation to seize the bridges over the Rhine was made up of two parts. The airborne operation, known as MARKET, had as its purpose the capture of the vital bridges over the Maas, the Waal, and the lower Rhine at Grave, Nijmegen, and Arnhem. The forces employed in the airborne operation included the U.S. 82d Airborne Division, the 101st Airborne Division, the British 1 Airborne Division, and the Polish 1st Paratroop Brigade. The British 1 Airborne Division was to be dropped farthest north in the Arnhem area, the U.S. 82d Airborne Division in the Nijmegen area, and the U.S. 101st Division in the St. Oedenrode area north of Eindhoven. In rapid support of the airborne troops, armor and infantry of the British Second Army were to advance northward from the general line of the Albert and Escaut Canals. Passing over the bridges held by the airborne troops the armor was to push on to the Zuider Zee and thus, if successful, cut off the land exit fo enemy troops in western Holland. The land operation, known as GARDEN, was to take place on a very narrow front with only one road as a line of communication for a considerable part of the way. The axis of advance lay through Eindhoven, St. Oedenrode, Veghel, Uden, Grave, Nijmegen, Arnhem, and Apeldoorn.

The first landings of the main airborne forces were made on 17 September and follow-up troops and reinforcements continued to be flown in on succeeding days in spite of unfavorable weather on several occasions. Initial losses en route and at the dropping zones were very slight and bore out General Brereton's contention that heavy bomber effort on flak positions immediately preceding an airborne operation would greatly reduce casualties. These attacks had been undertaken by "heavies" of both the RAF Bomber Command and the U.S. Eighth Air Force, which neutralized enemy airfields in the vicinity of the dropping zones and flak positions en route. By the 19th, British Second Army ground forces, advancing from the south, had made contact with all of the airborne troops except those to the north of the lower Rhine in the Arnhem area. Here the British 1 Airborne Division was holding out heroically against greatly superior forces, including a quantity of armor, the presence of which in the area had been estimated by my intelligence staff. This, in the outcome, proved to be effective against the tactical power we could apply.

The British Guards Armoured Division had pushed north on 17 September, but met heavy resistance slowing its advance into Eindhoven, which had been taken by the 101st Airborne Division. Firm contact was established between the two fores on the 1`8th, and the Guards Armoured pushed rapidly north to Grave, which had fallen to the 82d Airborne Division. The area between Grave and Nijmegen was held by this latter division and the armored advance to the town was consequently rapid. Nijmegen itself, however, was held by the enemy as was also the extremely important road bridge crossing the Waal. This bridge, a modern 5-span structure of steel and concrete, some 6,000 feet in length, was a valuable prize, since, without it, the river would have been a formidable obstacle. An attempt by armor to get through to the bridge failed on the 19th in the face of heavy fire from antitank guns sited in houses near the approaches. On the following day, however, a regiment of the 82d Airborne Division crossed the river in assault boats upstream from the bridge and surprised and overcame the German forces holding the northern approaches. The British meanwhile had seized the southern end, and that evening, after mines had been removed, the armor crossed the bridge and advanced 2 miles to the north where it was held up by an antitank screen.


During the next few days there was confused and heavy fighting in the area between Nijmegen and Arnhem and it was not until the 24th that British infantry reached the lower Rhine in force and artillery began lending fire support to the beleaguered 1 Airborne Division on the northern bank of the river.

By 23 September the position of the 1 Airborne Division had become so precarious that the Second Army gave 30 Corps permission to withdraw the division if the situation did not improve. 30 Corps ordered every risk to be taken to relieve the division on the 24th, by which date the forces on the northern bank had been forced into a steadily contracting perimeter approximately 1,000 yards by 1,500 yards. The shelling, mortaring, and strafing of this area by the enemy was incessant, and on 25 September, Corps finally ordered the withdrawal of all forces across the lower Rhine. This was effected that night and 2,163 men of the Airborne Division withdrew under cover of darkness infiltrating in small groups through the enemy lines and across the river. Casualties had been heavy, the division losing in killed, wounded, and missing some 7,000 men.

While the crossing of the lower Rhine was not completed, the operation brought very positive and important advantages to our forces. Repeated enemy attacks against the thin line of communications had temporarily necessitated withdrawal of armor from Nijmegen to keep the single road open, but the line was ultimately held ad supplies went through even under consistent shelling. As the line was strengthened with the arrival of stronger infantry units, the corridor was gradually widened on both sides. British forces pushed east in conjunction with northward attacks by other British and Canadian forces to establish a firm line eventually running along the Waal and Maas. To the east the corridor was also widened to bring the Norther Group of Armies into line with the Central Group and within striking distance of Kleve. Bridgeheads had been firmly secured across the Maas and Waal and the watershed between the two was to serve as a valuable corridor for a later advance to the Rhine.

Operation MARKET had been the largest airborne operation undertaken by the Allied forces up to this time. Between 17-30 September, 20,190 troops had been dropped from aircraft by parachute, 13,781 had landed in gliders, and 905 were air-landed on a strip made ready by the preceding airborne troops. In addition to this total of 34,876 troops, 5,230 tons of equipment and supplies, 1,027 vehicles, and 568 artillery pieces were transported by air. In all, the supporting air forces, who showed great gallantry in continuing to fly supplies to the isolated forces, flew over 7,800 sorties.

My decision to concentrate our efforts in this attempt to thrust into the heart of Germany before the enemy could consolidate his defenses along the Rhine had resulted in a delay in opening Antwerp and in making the port available as our main supply base. I took the full responsibility for this, and I believe that the possible and actual results warranted the calculated risk involved. Had our forces not pushed north and east to hold the line of the Maas and Waal well north of Antwerp, the port itself would have been in constant danger not only from a blow possibly synchronized with the later breakthrough in the Eifel, but from independent attacks launched at close range from Holland.

With the completion of the MARKET-GARDEN operation the Northern Group of Armies was instructed to undertake the opening of Antwerp as a matter of the first priority. While the city and port installations had fallen virtually intact to 30 Corps on 4 September, the harbor had proved and was to continue to prove useless to us until the Scheldt Estuary had been cleared of mines and South Beveland and Walcheren Island, commanding the sea lane to the harbor, had been reduced. The operation to achieve this involved the employment of amphibious forces, and the joint naval, air, and ground force planning was immediately undertaken and worked out during the latter part of September and early October at the Headquarters of the Canadian First Army.

As an integral part of the operation, and in support of the amphibious elements, Canadian forces attacked north of Antwerp toward the South Beveland Isthmus in mid-October. On 24 October, having overcome resistance at Woensdrecht and thus insured their flank protection, the Canadian 2d Division turned west and advanced slowly across the narrow neck connecting South Beveland with the mainland. Progress here was particularly difficult, the troops often having to fight waist-deep in water while the Germans offered strong resistance.

The Canadian forces continued their advance, however, and by midday on 27 October had reached the line of the canal at the west end of the Isthmus. Crossing this at its southern extremity, the pressed forward to within 21/2 miles of troops of the British 52


Division who had been landed on the south shore of South Beveland on the night of 25-26 October, and by the 29th they effected a juncture with them. By the 30th the whole of South Beveland had been cleared and the British and Canadians continued their attack against the causeway connecting the Isthmus with Walcheren.

On Walcheren the enemy consisted of the remnants of a division, forced back with severe losses from South Beveland, and elements of the German FIfteenth Army which had made their escape by sea across the Scheldt from the trap in which they had been caught with the seizure of Antwerp. Against Walcheren the Canadians attacked from the wet, while amphibious fores, landed on 1 November at both Westkapelle and Vlissingen, moved east and north, converging on the strongpoints of the island. These forces, consisting of the Royal Marine 4 SS Brigade (Commandos) and two battalions of the 52 Infantry Division, had been successfully landed from naval assault craft under heavy fire. Great credit for the success of the amphibious operation is due the support craft of the British Navy, which unhesitatingly and in the highest traditions of the service attracted to themselves the point-blank fire of the land batteries, thus permitting the commandos and assault troops to gain the shore with much lighter casualties than otherwise would have been the case. The air forces also, operating in great strength despite appallingly difficult weather conditions, lent invaluable support throughout the operation, a feature of this support being the accurate bombing by aircraft of the Bomber Command which succeeded in breeching the dikes.

The three converging ground forces, attacking over terrain made extremely difficult by flooding, and suffering heavy casualties, advanced with great gallantry against stiff enemy resistance to capture the strongpoints of Veere and Middelburg and wipe out enemy opposition. By 9 November all resistance had ceased and some 10,000 troops had been captured, including a division commander.

With the capture of South Beveland and Walcheren the land approaches to Antwerp were now freed, but the Scheldt Estuary had still to be swept of mines before the port could become useful. This work was at once undertaken by the Navy, and Antwerp became a port of supply for our fores with the unloading of the first ships on 26 November. The enemy, however, recognizing the importance of the harbor to us as a supply base, began at this time the launching in considerable strength of V-1 and V-2 weapons against the dock and town area. While the weapons were erratic in about the same degree as those launched against the London area, they nevertheless caused considerable damage in the district, killing both civilian and military personnel as well as disrupting communications and supply work for brief periods. Great credit is due the citizens of Antwerp for sustaining the attacks as London had done and for unflinchingly going about their tasks which were of assistance to us in forwarding the war effort. In addition to attacks from the V-weapons against docks and shore installations, the enemy also employed large numbers of E-boats and midget submarines against our naval craft and shipping, but all these attempts at disrupting our flow of supplies were successfully countered by vigorous naval and air measures.

While the Arnhem-Nijmegen operation and the attack upon the approaches to Antwerp were the more spectacular successes during the latter part of September, the months of October and early November, the slugging matches along the rest of the front facing north and east were equally important for the general development of the campaign. Our two immediate objectives during this period were, first, to advance east to the Rhine and north to the Maas and, second, to use the space between our front and the Rhine as a "killing ground" in which to engage the enemy either in a large decisive battle or so to maul him that when the Rhine had been reached he would have little left with which to resist our crossings and prevent a breakthrough leading to mobile warfare.

Although we were not to reach the Rhine as quickly as we had hoped, or yet to engage the enemy in a decisive battle except as he himself created it in his December counteroffensive, the continued daily losses which he suffered in both personnel and equipment contributed to weakening him so that when our main blows ultimately fell victory was inevitable. By the end of September total enemy casualties, including killed, wounded, and prisoners, totaled approximately 1,000,000 men, including those swept into our net with the rapid advance of General Devers' forces from the south and their junction with General Bradley's troops west of the Belfort Gap. The isolated remnants of the German First Army in Southwest France gave themselves up in piecemeal groups to the French Forces of the interior and to our own fores, the largest


Map 7: Consolidation on the Frontier
Map 7: Consolidation on the Frontier


single body consisting of 20,000 troops who surrendered without even attempting resistance after being trapped south of the Loire. Our continued hard-fought battles during the next three months were to increase this total by mid-January to 1,500,000, a figure indicative of the steady attrition being inflicted on the enemy. In spite of these losses, however, German troops continued to put up strong resistance, battling with a stubbornness and Teutonic fury born of the desperate knowledge that they were fighting on their own "holy soil." Our logistical situation coupled with the fact that the terrain was suitable to the defense, aided the enemy. Additionally, during this period we experienced weather conditions which admirably suited him. The rains which fell in November were the worst known on the Continent in many years and created flood conditions along our whole front, reducing the lesser roads to quagmires and impeding tank operations and vehicular movement. All these factors made it more easily possible for the enemy, exploiting a comparatively static situation, to mine and booby-trap the areas ahead of us, contributing further to our problems.

In spite of these difficulties we achieved much. The First Army troops had entered Germany in the Trier region on 11 September and in the Aachen area east of Eupen on the 12th. At Aachen the enemy resisted bitterly but by the 20th the city was under attack from three sides and subject to heavy shelling. On the north side, which was still open, the First Army launched an attack across the German border on 2 October and in the first two days breached the Siegfried Line on a 3-mile front, the southern point of the breakthrough being about 8 miles north of Aachen. Within the next few days the two remaining main roads into Aachen from the north were cut and the defenders isolated. Concurrently with these attacks the First Army attacked eastward against Stolberg, where heavy house-to-house fighting took place. On 13 October the First Army troops entered Aachen from the east and by the 19th, in spite of resistance from fortified cellars and buildings, had cleared half the city, which was now in ruins as a result of our bombing and shelling. Following the success of our assault, enemy resistance gradually weakened and the final surrender of the first large German city to Allied forces took place on 21 October when the garrison gave in to troops of the 1st Infantry Division of VII Corps. After the fall of Aachen the First Army's offensive operations were curtailed until the November offensives which were mounted along the entire front.

On the Third Army's front Nancy had fallen on 15 September, but Metz strongly defended by its outer ring of forts, was to remain in enemy hands until our offensive ultimately reduced it on 22 November. South of Metz, along the line of the Moselle, the Third Army pushed eastward slowly until its line extended roughly parallel with the river to a depth of 20 to 25 miles. Farther south, the Seventh Army and the French First Army, proving slowly into the area of the High Vosges across the Moselle from Epinal and against the Belfort Gap area, brought their line up to conform with that of the Third Army.

The relatively static warfare of October had thus brought us into position for the limited offensives which we were counting for November.

During the month of October and administrative change had been placed in effect which was to bring the Tactical Air Forces more closely under the control of my Headquarters. Prior to 15 October the Allied Expeditionary Air Force, under Air Chief Marshal Leigh-Mallory, had maintained its separate Headquarters, reporting to me through my deputy, Air Chief Marshal Tedder. In October, however, we were informed that the Air Ministry desired to transfer Air Chief Marshal Leigh-Mallory to a post of greater responsibility in the China-Burma-India Theater, where, because of his long experience, his presence could be best employed to further the ends of the war. It was with great reluctance that I agreed to this change, but once it had been made I felt that the AEAF, without Air Chief Marshal Leigh-Mallory, might better function as an integral part of my own Headquarters. SHAEF Air Staff thus came into being on 15 October and the planning and operational staff became part of my Headquarters. Shortly after this, on 14 November, Air Chief Marshal Leigh-Mallory, en route to his new command, was reported missing. His loss to the common war effort came as a keen personal blow to me and to the members of my staff.

With the opening of Antwerp our supply problem was considerably eased, but the Germans had profited by our earlier logistical handicap to reinforce their Siegfried defenses with hurriedly formed Volksgrenadier divisions. These divisions initially had very low combat value, but both General Bradley and I felt that, unless the Siegfried positions could be speedily attacked, the relative strength of the opposing forces would gradually become more favorable to the enemy.


My plan of campaign at this period included an advance on the fronts of the Northern and Central Groups of Armies to the Rhine, which it was necessary to hold from its mouth to Düsseldorf at least, if not to Bonn or Frankfurt, before a large-scale penetration beyond the river into Germany could be attempted. With the strong defensive barrier which the Rhine would afford our armies, it would become more easily possible to concentrate power at one point for the breakthrough, leaving relatively thinly-held positions along the rest of the front.

The eastward drive by 21 Army Group began on 15 November, but progress was slow over ground made extremely difficult by the severe weather and it was not until 4 December that the last enemy pocket on the west bank of the Maas was cleared. A direct advance across the Maas to the Rhine was judged impracticable and extensive regrouping would have been necessary for a drive southeast from the Nijmegen area along the relatively dry watershed separating the two rivers. To accomplish this latter penetration it would have been necessary to reduce the frontage of the Northern Group of Armies in order to gather strength at the point of attack. Due to limitations in strength, 21 Army Group itself was incapable of holding the whole of its frontage and attacking at the same time, and 12th Army Group would have had to take over a portion of the line. This could only have been done by 12th Army Group at the expense of weakening the Aachen attack, a course which was not acceptable to me. I therefore decided to postpone further major operations by 21 Army Group until the drive toward Cologne had made adequate progress in the central sector.

In the Aachen sector the offensive by the First and Ninth Armies was launched on 16 November after an hour and a half of intensive air and artillery bombardment. Over 1,200 United States heavy bombers dropped bombs on fortified positions north of Eschweiler and west of Düren. Later in the day, RAF bombers also attacked Düren itself and Jülich, practically obliterating these towns. The offensive was launched in two main directions, eastward from Aachen toward Eschweiler and northeastward toward Geilenkirchen. East of Aachen the enemy was driven entirely out of Stolberg, which he had partially held for some 6 weeks while our own forces were entrenched in the remainder of the town. By the 21st our troops had penetrated into Eschweiler, which fell after heavy fighting on the following day. Meanwhile the fighting had moved farther along the right flank into the Hürtgen Forest, southeast of Aachen, and gains in this sector placed our troops within attacking range of Düren.

To the north Geilenkirchen had fallen on the 19th and the Ninth Army continued advancing slowly until by 3 December it had reached the Roer River. The First Army was conforming to the south more slowly still. Fourteen at first, and eventually seventeen, divisions were employed in the Aachen sector by the First and Ninth Armies, and at the height of the offensive no fewer than ten divisions were in the line together on a 24-mile front, this being the maximum which it was practicable to deploy. In spite of this concentration and the very large-scale strategic and tactical air attacks, the progress had been slow and the fighting bitter. The delay imposed on our advance here was a testimony to the improved defense works which the enemy had constructed following our breakthrough of the Siegfried Line in September.

While the Ninth Army had reached the Roer by 3 December, General Bradley considered it imprudent to cross the river while the Schmidt Dams, which controlled the flooding of the Roer Valley, remained intact in enemy hands. The German Sixth Panzer Army had moved west of the Rhine by this time, and had the American forces crossed the Roer the enemy, releasing the flood waters, would have been in a position to trap the attackers. Sir attacks on the dams were called for at short notice and accurately executed; direct hits were secured on the structures. These attacks, however, failed to destroy the dams, partly because bad weather precluded the concentration of the necessary weight of bombs and also because of the enemy's ability to adjust the water level General Bradley therefore ordered the First Army to maneuver to capture them. The First Army began the attack for the dams on 13 December and the attack was still in progress when the subsequent enemy counteroffensive was launched in the Eifel.

Meanwhile, south of the Ardennes, the Third Army offensive toward the Saar which started on 8 November made excellent progress. North of Metz several bridgeheads established across the moselle in the Thionville area were linked together by the 14th, and four days later troops operating from the bridgehead cross the German frontier in several places. To the south Metz was surrounded and cut off, but, while the city itself fell on 22 November, seven of the forts continued to resist and the difficult task of mopping them up was not accomplished until 13 December. By


5 December, also, the Third Army's right flank had pushed eastward from the Metz-Nancy area to the Saar in conformity with the advance from Thionville, closing a stretch of the river over 16 miles in length. Three bridgeheads were secured in the Saarlauten area and contact was made with the main Siegfried defenses. These defenses at the Third Army's front of attack south of Merzig on the Saar River were the strongest sections of the Line, guarding the triangle between the Moselle and the Rhine. The forward line, continuous but of no very great depth, closely followed the east bank of the Saar. The rear line, of greater strength, consisted of a zone of forts about 2½ miles deep, passing in front of Lebach and continuing through the Saarbrücken Forest to rejoin the forward line 10 miles east of Saarbrücken itself. Following the Third Army's rapid advance, these defenses slowed the attack so that some regrouping and additional logistical support was necessary prior to reassuming the offensive. While I had hoped that the Third Army would have been able to achieve complete victory in the Saar, I had nevertheless set a time limit for the operation. The Third Army's final attack was to begin on 19 December, after which, regardless of results, divisions were to be transferred to the north to assist in the main effort against the Rhine and into Germany. The German counteroffensive through the Ardennes on 16 December upset these plans, and made the final offensive on the 19th an impossibility in view of the need for the Third Army to contain and subsequently counterattack on the southern flank of the breakthrough.

On the 6thy Army Group front the November offensive of the French First Army was launched on the 14th. Within a week the Belfort Gap had been breached and our troops had reached the Rhine. Belfort was cleared of all resistance by the 22d. The breakthrough, accomplished on the 18th, turned the flank of the German positions in the Vosges and forced a general withdrawal in front of the Seventh Army sector to the north, where Seventh Army troops, after launching their attack simultaneously with that of French First Army, had been struggling slowly forward along the roads leading through the Vosges passes. The towns of Blâmont, Racon-l'Etape, Gérard-mer, and St. Dié, with other lesser villages which controlled the passes through the hills, had been stubbornly defended by the enemy, for as long as they remained in his hands the High Vosges stood as an impassable wall protecting the Rhine plain to the east. With the outflanking movement to the south these towns fell to advancing Seventh Army troops, and the 44th Infantry Division, rapidly exploiting the strategic possibilities, advanced to Saarebourg, which fell on the 21at. Meanwhile, the French 2d Armored Division, operating on the right of the 4th Infantry, bypassed Saarebourg and penetrated the defenses in front of the Saverne Gap, capturing the town itself the following day. Also on the 22d, columns probed both north and east of the town and broke out into the Rhine plain. On the 23d, the French 2nd Armored Division reached Strasbourg, but, while the city was rapidly and easily cleared, some of the outer ring of forts continued to offer resistance until the 27th.

On the 24 the enemy launched a counterattack from the northeast, directed against Saarebourg, with the seeming expectation of being able to cut the corridor which Seventh Army had rapidly extended to the Rhine. Initially some ground was lost, but the 4th Infantry Division fought the enemy to a standstill and regained earlier positions. To the east the 79th Division, which had been mopping up in the rear of the French 2d Armored Division, resumed a northward advance and, with the 44th, made rapid progress toward Haguenau, which was taken on 12 December.

On the right flank the French First Army's advance down the Rhine plain was slowed by enemy counterattacks across its line of communication. After reaching the Rhine on the 20th, French armor turned north and b the 22d cleared Mullhouse in an advance so rapid that part of the staff of the German Nineteenth Army was captured as it fled from the city. The German counterattacks against the advancing columns; line of communication forced a temporary withdrawal from positions gained along the Rhine east of Mullhouse, but by the 27th this ground was recaptured.

Between the northern columns of the Seventh Army which had reached the Rhine in the Strasbourg area and the southern columns of the French First Army which had approached the river near Mullhouse, troops of both armies advanced steadily through the Vosges to tighten the ring around German forces stubbornly defending their positions in the area about Colmar.

On 27 November, in view of the strategic opportunity afforded our armies to attack into the Saar Basin, I directed the Seventh Army, after rapid regrouping,


to attack northward to breach the Siegfried Line west of the Rhine, launching the attack west of the Pfalzerwald in conjunction with the southern flank of the Central Group of Armies. This advance from the south and southwest directly aided the Third Army's operations against the Saar. By mid-December the Seventh Army had crossed the German frontier on a 22-mile front and penetrated well into the Siegfried defenses northeast of Wissembourg. Our progress i the Saar and Wissembourg sectors contained 14 enemy divisions, and had it been possible to continue the advance, the enemy would have been compelled to divert forces from the north, thus directly aiding our main effort in that sector. Meantime, the enemy forces driven from the Vosges maintained their bridgehead west of the Rhine in the Colmar area, which the French First Army, weakened by their recent offensive operations and short of trained infantry replacements, were unable to liquidate. This bridgehead area, which was to become known as the "Colmar Pocket," later exerted a profound and adverse effect on our operations until it was finally eliminated.


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