At the End of March
"My dear General," . . . .telegraphed Charles de Gaulle to the commander of the First French Army on 29 March, "you must cross the Rhine, even if the Americans do not agree and even if you have to cross it in rowboats. It is a matter of the greatest national interest."1
To de Gaulle, the Allied governments' failure yet to designate any portion of Germany for occupation by France indicated an unwillingness to recognize French claims. To circumvent any attempt to freeze out the French, he was determined to seize a sector beyond the Rhine.2
The French field commander, General de Lattre, actually was a step ahead of his chief of state. Conscious that the French had been assigned no frontage along the Rhine not covered from the east bank by West Wall fortifications (the twelve miles obtained earlier north of the Lauter River faced an east-bank spur of the West Wall designed to protect the city of Karlsruhe), de Lattre two days before, on 27 March, had visited General Devers at headquarters of the 6th Army Group. Having noted that the American Seventh Army's Rhine crossing before daylight on the 26th had occurred at Worms, on the extreme northern edge of the Seventh Army's zone, de Lattre believed that the Americans would happily relinquish part of their zone in order to free units for the attack in the north. His talk with Devers confirmed it.
De Lattre left Devers's headquarters not only with expanded frontage along the Rhine--all the way north to Speyer, more than half the distance from Karlsruhe to Mannheim and well beyond the spur of the West Wall--but also with orders to prepare to cross the Rhine, seize Karlsruhe, and drive deep to the southeast to take Stuttgart.3 Yet Devers gave him no target date for the crossing. Concerned lest American columns driving south from the Worms bridgehead might overrun the French sites before Devers approved a crossing date, de Lattre told the commander of his II Corps, Maj. Gen. A. J. de Monsabert, to begin crossing before daylight on 31 March.
After receiving de Gaulle's telegram, de Lattre reiterated his order to de Monsabert. It was not a question, he said, of whether de Monsabert could be ready to cross on the 31st, it was a question of beating the Americans into the new sector beyond the Rhine. French national honor was at stake.
When General Devers on the 30th asked when the French could start crossing,
de Lattre proudly answered that he would begin before daylight the next morning. Devers promptly approved.
By 0230 on 31 March, infantrymen of the 3d Algerian Division at Speyer had found only a single rubber assault boat. Undaunted, the Algerians began to shuttle silently across the Rhine, ten men at a time. Shortly before daybreak when they had located four more rubber boats to speed the shuttle, the Germans awoke to the crossing and began to shell the site. The enemy was too late; already an entire infantry company was across. Having made even Patton's surprise crossing at Oppenheim look like a deliberate, set-piece assault, the French were on the east bank to stay.
A few miles upstream at Germersheim, a more conventional crossing fared less well. Because of confusion at hastily chosen embarkation points, the first wave of the 2d Moroccan Division pushed into the river only after daylight had come and the first impact of an artillery preparation had dissipated. In that wave, only three of some twenty storm boats equipped with outboard motors survived German small arms and mortar fire and made it to the east bank. While thirty men from the three boats hung on grimly, French artillery encased the minuscule bridgehead in fire until subsequent waves, still taking heavy losses, could build up. By nightfall the bulk of two battalions was across and a foothold assured.
The next day, 1 April--Easter Sunday--General Brooks of the neighboring VI Corps gave permission for French vehicles to cross an American bridge at Mannheim. Before the day was out, French reconnaissance units had pushed eighteen miles beyond the Rhine, in the process coming upon a column of the 10th U.S. Armored Division deep within the assigned French zone. It was an error on the part of the American armor--American commanders had entertained no idea of depriving the French of their opportunity for an assault crossing of the Rhine--but to General de Lattre the presence of the U.S. unit justified the haste of the French crossing. A 24-hour delay, he reckoned, would have condemned the French to a passive role in the invasion of Germany.4
To speed the taking of Karlsruhe, de Lattre would make a third Rhine crossing on 2 April midway between Germersheim and Karlsruhe and even a fourth some days later,5 but the main crossings at Germersheim and Speyer in effect marked the end of the passage of all three Allied army groups to the east bank of the Rhine.
An Awesome Power
By the end of March the great river barrier was a challenge only to bridge-building engineers. A tatterdemalion German Army on the brink of total defeat lay exposed to a mighty Allied force of almost four and a half million men, including ninety divisions, twenty-five of which were armored, five airborne.6 As
the multiple drives beyond the Rhine began, Montgomery's 21 Army Group controlled thirty divisions. Included were twelve U.S. divisions in the Ninth Army and a new Canadian corps with two Canadian divisions and an armored brigade. The Canadian corps had arrived during the month of March from Italy as a result of a decision made at the Malta Conference to reinforce British forces for the final thrust into Germany.7
Bradley's 12th Army Group had thirty-four divisions, including six in its new army, the Fifteenth, under General Gerow. Although the Fifteenth Army had become operational in early January, the headquarters heretofore had handled only rear echelon assignments, including control of the 66th Infantry Division, which was containing German holdouts in Brittany ports. The Fifteenth Army now was to move forward to assume a holding mission along the Rhine, facing the Ruhr, then later was to relieve the other armies of the 12th Army Group of occupation duties as they drove deep into Germany.
Devers's 6th Army Group had twelve U.S. and eleven French divisions, although two of the latter were unavailable for the drive beyond the Rhine, since one was holding the Alpine front facing Italy and another was containing Germans along the Gironde estuary in southwestern France. The remaining three divisions of the total of ninety were U.S. airborne divisions under control of the First Allied Airborne Army.
Allied air power, its declining losses readily replaceable, remained everywhere overwhelmingly dominant,
menaced only occasionally by the sporadic activity of German jet fighters. Antiaircraft fire from the flak-heavy Ruhr noticeably decreased, apparently indicating German ammunition shortages. Continuing a long-range program against oil supplies, American strategic bombers of the Eighth Air Force during March directed 36,000 tons of bombs against refineries and storage depots. Communications centers, railroads, factories, jet aircraft plants, and submarine pens also continued to take a pounding. Raids almost always involved more than a thousand bombers, with losses seldom exceeding five aircraft, though on 18 March, in one of the largest daylight raids of the war on Berlin, German jet planes shot down 24 bombers and 5 fighters, while flak damaged more than
half the 1,200 bombers, 16 of which had to crash-land behind Russian lines.
Heavies of the Royal Air Force also continued their destructive campaign; at one point, on 12 March, they established a new record for tonnage in a single strategic attack by dropping 4,899 tons from 1,107 aircraft on Dortmund. Close co-ordination was often achieved with heavy bombers of the Fifteenth Air Force in Italy. Despite occasional bad weather, the campaign in the air was so successful that by the end of March the strategic air forces were almost out of targets.8
The big raid on Berlin on 18 March was part of a program begun the preceding month after the Combined Chiefs of Staff at Malta decided to send the strategic air forces of Britain and the United States against major transportation centers in eastern Germany through which the Germans might funnel reinforcements for the Russian front. "There was also a hope that heavy air raids would increase the panic and confusion already prevalent in those cities, which were thoroughly frightened by the sudden Russian advance and full of refugees."9
The raids quickly produced charges, particularly in the American press, of terror bombing. Although American air officers pointed out that they were not bombing cities indiscriminately but attacking transportation facilities inside the cities, severe criticism would persist even into the postwar period. Of particular horror was a Royal Air Force raid on Dresden the night of 13 February, followed on the next two days by U.S. attacks. These raids created a firestorm like that which had gutted Hamburg in 1943, and may have caused as many as 135,000 civilian deaths.10
During the first two weeks of April, the Luftwaffe would make feeble efforts with thin remnants of conventional and jet fighter forces but would succeed in bringing down only eighteen American bombers. At the same time Allied air commanders would consider the strategic air war at an end. As early as 7 April the British would discontinue area strikes against German cities, and on 16 April the chief of the United States Strategic Air Forces in Europe, General Carl Spaatz, would declare the strategic air war won. The big bombers would still make a few raids aimed at rail junctions, marshaling yards, or other targets of direct concern to the ground armies.11
The Logistical Backbone
On the ground, as the prospect of unqualified pursuit warfare loomed, there stood behind the awesome power of Allied armies a logistical establishment geared to demands that, had they been made during the pursuit across France the preceding summer, would have been preposterous. For example, no longer did the Allied armies have to depend on makeshift facilities at the invasion beaches or on minor ports far behind the fighting lines. Antwerp, one of Europe's great ports, lying only a little over a hundred miles behind the front, alone handled 558,000 tons of supplies in March. In the south, Marseille and subsidiary
ports handled 575,500 tons in March, making the 6th Army Group virtually independent of the lines of communication serving the other Allied forces.12
While there were occasional delays in discharging ships in all the ports, moving the supplies to inland depots was the major problem, attributable in part to a perennial shortage of transportation but in the main to an inadequate system of depots echeloned in depth. The problem would be intensified as the pursuit east of the Rhine increased demands for transport close behind the front.
An extensive program of pipeline construction helped ease the burden on transport. By the end of March a line from Antwerp was operating as far as Wesel on the Rhine, another from Cherbourg as far as Thionville in Lorraine, and a third from Marseille almost to the Saar River. To relieve congestion on the Rhine bridges, pipelines were laid across the river at four points soon after the crossings, and gasoline delivered by railway tank cars was pumped across. Three of the pipelines were later tied in with the main arteries from the ports. At the time of the Rhine crossings, gasoline stocks in both the Communications Zone and the armies themselves were the highest they had ever been. Only in the last days of April would deliveries fall short of daily consumption, and never would gasoline exercise the tyranny over operations that it had in France and Belgium in 1944.
Rail reconstruction also proceeded swiftly. By the end of March a line was open to the Rhine at Wesel and another at Koblenz, while on the 1st of April engineers opened another as far as Mainz. On 7 April the 1056th Port Construction and Repair Group, having worked around the clock for ten days, would open a 1,753-foot rail bridge over the Rhine near Wesel. A second rail bridge over the Rhine at Mainz was opened six days later and others, at Mannheim and Karlsruhe, before the month of April was out. All single-tracked, the bridges were inevitable bottlenecks; their existence nevertheless would enable the railways by mid-April to equal the tonnage carried beyond the Rhine by truck transport and by the end of the war to handle three-fourths of the total tonnage. This record was accomplished despite shortages of locomotives and rolling stock and frustrating delays in unloading freight cars at their destinations.
Taking a cue from the Red Ball Express truck route that had sped highway traffic behind the armies the preceding year, the Transportation Corps in January had inaugurated an express rail service for high priority freight. A train of twenty cars, labeled the "Toot Sweet Express" (a play on the French phrase tout de suite), left Cherbourg each day, picked up additional cars and split into two sections at Paris, then ran to Verdun and Namur and later as far as Bad Kreuznach and Liège. Beginning in March a similar service, originating in Liège, delivered perishable foods to railheads close behind the First and Ninth Armies--the "Meat Ball Express."
Motor transport meanwhile increased to an unprecedented tempo. In contrast to the improvisation of the Red Ball and other express routes the preceding summer, the Communications Zone had prepared detailed plans to marshal three-fourths
THE RHINE RAILROAD BRIDGE AT WESEL
of the motor transport under its control for direct support of the pursuit beyond the Rhine. Under a three-phase plan called "XYZ," more than 4,000 trucks, most of them either 10-ton tractor-semitrailer combinations or 10-ton diesels, eventually were to deliver up to 15,000 tons a day to forward depots. Trucks received detailed maintenance before every run, and some of the convoys carried their own mechanics and packets of most commonly needed spare parts. On one route serving the Seventh Army, drivers could pause at rest stops called "GI Diners," where they might exchange cold rations for hot. In addition to these trucks, the armies themselves had about forty truck companies each, supplemented by provisional companies made up of the organic transportation from field artillery and antiaircraft units.
Building roads and bridges occupied thousands of engineers, whose numbers were augmented by civilians and prisoners of war and sometimes by men from uncommitted combat units. Engineers assigned to the armies did most of the work, constructing, for example, 52 of the 57 highway bridges built over the Rhine. Just over half of the bridges were
FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT MEMORIAL BRIDGE AT MAINZ. Construction proceeded day and night.
fixed wooden pile; of 26 treadway and heavy ponton bridges, most would be phased out by early May.
Air transport also contributed far more than it had the preceding summer, both because airfields were plentiful and because few planes were withdrawn for airborne training or operations. During the second week of April, more than 6,200 sorties were flown--a peak--and more than 15,000 tons of supplies (mostly gasoline) set down on forward fields. On return flights the big transport craft evacuated casualties or liberated prisoners of war. During April approximately 40,000 casualties were removed from the combat zone by air, and in the closing days of the war one sky train after another carried Recovered Allied Military Personnel (RAMPS) westward. The Third Army alone evacuated 135,000 men in the last month by air.
All these efforts added up to a supply situation in which the Communications Zone and the support services in the armies could take justifiable pride, and this done with a theaterwide division slice of only about 26,000 men, a figure
PONTON BRIDGE ACROSS THE RHINE SERVING SEVENTH ARMY
usually considered minimal. Some shortages persisted, particularly in spare parts for vehicles and weapons, and forward supply officers were sometimes reduced to nervous fretting and fuming, but minor shortages were fairly characteristic of supply in a highly mobile situation and rarely affected operations. Although fewer combat losses of tanks, vehicles, and equipment and reduced expenditure of ammunition--both features of pursuit warfare--helped, the credit in general belonged to a sound logistical apparatus expertly administered. The infantryman or the tanker might complain of a monotonous diet of emergency rations, but so fast was he moving that he would have had little time for more substantial fare in any case. What was more important, he always ate, and many a time he could relieve the monotony with "liberated" eggs or other produce from a farmyard.
Decisions at the Top
Meanwhile, a variety of decisions had been or were being made at both theater and intergovernmental levels that, while not affecting the actual conduct of tactical operations, nevertheless produced an
LIBERATED PRISONERS OF WAR waiting to board C-47 transport planes.
impact on the armies and the fighting men in them. These decisions ranged from President Franklin D. Roosevelt's "unconditional surrender" formula, enunciated long months before at the Casablanca Conference, to a so-called nonfraternization policy and SHAEF's definition of the difference between loot and legitimate booty, almost as difficult as the nonfraternization policy to administer.
The policy of unconditional surrender, some thought at the time and after, prolonged the war because it afforded the Germans no out. In view of the control over the armed forces and the populace exercised by the Nazi apparatus and of clarifying statements issued from time to time by the Allied governments, the opinion would appear to be more speculative than conclusive. It clearly was no barrier to the surrender of German soldiers, individually or sometimes en masse, nor to the nation as a whole when the Hitler mystique ceased to exist. More likely it was, as Winston Churchill, among others, once put it, that the German people continued to fight not out
of fear of Allied victory but out of fear of conquest by the Soviet Army.13
Imposed at the intergovernmental level, the nonfraternization policy had been proclaimed the previous September, the day after the first American patrols crossed the German frontier, but only with the rapid sweep through the Rhineland had it come to affect more than a few U.S. units. Under the terms of General Eisenhower's directive, all fraternization with the German population was forbidden. There was to be no "mingling with Germans upon terms of friendliness, familiarity, or intimacy, individually or in groups in official or unofficial dealings."14 It was, in the words of an official British historian, an attempt "to send the whole German people to Coventry largely in order to express disgust for the bestialities of Nazism."15
The policy soon broke down, perhaps inevitably, though it would remain officially in force for several months after the fighting ended. Given the generally friendly disposition of the young, healthy American--and Allied--soldier, strict enforcement of such a rule, particularly in regard to children and women, proved impossible.16 Nor was it practical when seeking to govern a conquered population by indirect means to carry out prohibitions against soldiers accompanying Germans in the street, conversing with them in public, or even shaking hands with them. Few Germans could have been unaware of the policy, but when it was enforced it probably caused more resentment than remorse.
The nonfraternization program may have served other objectives--security and protecting the lives of individual Allied soldiers, though the German population in any case provoked few major incidents. While some civilians on occasion took up arms beside their soldiers and in isolated instances sniped or engaged in other acts of violence against individual soldiers, the people for the most part were "passive, lethargic, negative, disciplined, docile, deferential, cooperative, obedient."17 They hung out white sheets from upper windows of their homes as the troops approached, then in general conformed to the dictates of the tactical commanders and later of the military government officials. German children quickly learned the trade that had long been an art in the liberated countries of begging for chewing gum and candy, and "frauleins" reacted to the shouts from passing columns--"schlafen mit?" either with haughty disdain or with a European woman's sly appreciation at masculine approval. There was one notable exception. The night of 24 March Nazis or Nazi sympathizers murdered the man appointed by the Allies to be burgomaster of Aachen.
On the first of April, Hitler issued a
proclamation calling on all Germans to become "werewolves" to prey on Allied troops, Jews, and those Germans who cooperated with Allied forces.18 Some incidents involving German youth could be traced to this appeal, but it attracted no broad support. The mass of the people continued to react with resigned relief that the war was nearing an end.
More a problem to security and discipline was the presence in Germany of several million displaced persons, usually impressed workers from countries earlier conquered by the Germans. Only some 50,000 of these were encountered in the Rhineland; but before the sweep across Germany was over, the American armies alone had liberated more than 2,300,000 displaced persons.19 The exuberance of these people upon liberation and sometimes their desire to wreak immediate vengeance on their oppressors led on occasion to violent, tragic excesses, which the soldiers were reluctant to deal with.20 That they did not fall under the nonfraternization policy contributed to the problem. Many a case of venereal disease incurred by an Allied soldier could be traced to a cantonment for displaced persons. Looting by these people, sometimes in organized bands, continued to be a problem until well after the German surrender when repatriation at last reduced their numbers to more manageable proportions. All armies had to detail at least small service and tactical units to assist military government officials with displaced persons, and the Ninth Army in mid-April assigned one division and later the entire XVI Corps to military government duties.
Looting by American soldiers was also a problem. To many a soldier this nation that had plunged the world into war seemed fair game. The plundering ranged from simple pilferage--appropriating china or glassware as a substitute for mess kits or taking some trinket as a souvenir (as likely as not to be discarded another day when something more appealing caught the eye)--to outright theft of objects of genuine value. Entire sets of silver and fine china, typewriters, cameras, or valuable objets d'art were packaged and sent home by way of the Army postal service. How much of this went on depended in large measure at first on the attitude of company, battalion, and regimental commanders; but the practice became so widespread that General Eisenhower's headquarters attempted to set up strict rules as to what constituted legitimate booty.
Under terms of Eisenhower's directive, issued in April, the only booty that might be mailed home consisted of objects that were Nazi in origin--Nazi flags, armbands with swastika emblems, batons encrested with Nazi symbols--or those belonging to the German armed forces--uniforms, rifles, or other items found in military installations. A set of china, for example, might be legitimate booty if found in a German officers' mess. Before a package could be mailed, it had to bear an affidavit from an officer of the soldier's unit attesting to its legitimacy.
While the system sharply curtailed looting, it did nothing to ameliorate an old dispute over booty that long had raged between men in combat units and
those in support and service echelons. Combat soldiers complained that they moved too fast and had to travel too light to have any opportunity for mailing booty home, while soldiers behind the front protested that the combat troops had purloined the valuable prizes before others could get to them. Except for pistols (Lugers and P-38 Walthers, particularly, were premium prizes), which were more readily come upon by the infantryman or tank crewman, one argument probably canceled out the other.
Wine and schnapps in reasonable amounts continued to be ready prizes for anybody wherever found. They could be made to disappear, with not unpleasant results, before any overly conscientious investigating officer could check to see where they came from. German vehicles also continued to find their way into American hands, though some division commanders prohibited them or else insisted on rigid inspection of their serviceability lest they delay the columns. And there were few platoons that did not soon have a handsome civilian radio set, one that might be "traded up" as new towns were taken.
To locate and then prevent looting and destruction of important industrial facilities, research establishments, banks, museums, galleries, and German records, each Allied army carried special intelligence teams. In American armies, these included teams from the technical services, plus special groups known as "T-forces" designated to search for items of scientific value. The latter were especially alert for materials related to German research in rockets, which had led to the second of Hitler's V-weapons, the V-2 supersonic rocket that had begun to bombard England the preceding September. Another special force known as the ALSOS mission, seeking information on German developments in nuclear fission, had determined the preceding November from German scientists and documents taken in Strasbourg that the Germans still were a long way from producing an atomic bomb.21
As with looting, some American soldiers achieved personal gain in black market currency. Although the official exchange for all Allied troops was the Allied military mark, soldiers presumably could get regular German marks in legitimate dealings as change (though how this was possible under the nonfraternization policy, no one bothered to explain), and finance officers even made some official disbursements in German marks. Thus there was at first no regulation prohibiting a soldier from exchanging German marks for military marks of or below the 100-mark denomination (the largest bill disbursed in military marks) or from transmitting these or large amounts of military marks to his credit back home.
Only after it became obvious that black market dealings were imposing a heavy drain both on Army funds and on goods--food, cigarettes, PX rations, and other items--did the European theater's fiscal director, in April, order finance officers neither to receive nor to disburse German marks. By that time substantial amounts of Allied military marks had found their way into the economy, and this move alone would be insufficient to eliminate the black market.
Although another regulation prohibited a soldier from transmitting to the United States more than his normal pay and allowances unless the excess was certified by his personnel officer as legitimately obtained, that too would not halt all dealings. Since gambling was allowed, what personnel officer could question, unless the sum to be transmitted were extraordinarily high, that it came from lucky dice? The problem remained to be settled after the end of the fighting, and then only after the Russians had flooded the economy with Allied military marks, making the situation worse.22
The more serious crimes--desertion, misbehavior before the enemy, murder, rape, and assault with intent to commit rape--sharply increased in March and would continue to do so through the rapid drive across Germany. The upswing in cases of rape was particularly marked; 32 men were brought to trial in January and February, 128 in March, and 259 in April. The pattern duplicated the experience of the previous year during the race across France. In great measure it could be attributed to the larger number of troops in Germany, to lessened control and supervision by officers in mobile warfare, and possibly to the soldier's knowledge that he would be moving on rapidly and thus was less likely to be apprehended for the crime. Then too, the soldiers came as arms-bearing conquerors of a population that long had been propagandized to believe that Allied troops would rape, pillage, and kill. Although many Americans suspected that crying rape was a German woman's way of getting back at the conqueror and although some soldiers undoubtedly interpreted lack of resistance as seduction, the military courts generally held that even where physical force was not proved, the victim had submitted through fear.23
Although any incidence of crimes of violence or misbehavior before the enemy was serious, the total for the entire war in Europe represented only .53 of 1 percent of the total number of Americans who served in the theater. Seventy soldiers were executed, one for desertion, the others for murder, rape, or rape associated with murder.24
As March came to an end, the war was in many ways unrecognizable as the same war of those grim days of frozen, snow-drenched foxholes and yard-by-yard advances along the German frontier. Spring was finally more than a promise, while more often than not, the war revolved about villages, towns, or cities, so that most men had a roof over their heads at night. Companies vied with battalion and regimental headquarters for a town's choicest villa for a command post, whereupon interpreters might dispatch the inhabitants with an unceremonious "Alle Einwohner, 'raus!" Sometimes electricity and water still functioned, and many a grimy infantryman luxuriated in a tub of hot, soapy water while his comrades impatiently
awaited their turn. Farther to the rear, units had time to renovate shower facilities in clubs, schools, or factories. Short passes to Paris or the Riviera, begun the preceding fall, continued for a fortunate few, while for a magic smattering, those longest in combat, there was leave in the United States that would not end before the war did.
As in the old days, copies of the soldier newspaper, Stars & Stripes, and the weekly magazine, Yank, continued to reach the front, though often several days late, along with pocket-sized editions of U.S. magazines and paperback books. Blue-uniformed American girls who had smiled their way indefatigably through Britain, France, and Belgium, continued to dispense doughnuts and coffee from Red Cross clubmobiles. Reflecting the improvement in the logistical situation over the preceding summer, the supply of cigarettes--still issued free to front-line soldiers--was usually ample, though other post exchange rations reaching the combat troops were meager. The combat soldier would continue to complain, not without considerable justification, that successive echelons to the rear shortstopped the choicer items.
Some higher staff levels were already planning for redeployment to the United States or to the Pacific theater, while others continued to work on plans to be used in the event of German surrender. Begun before D-day in France and originally given the code name TALISMAN, these plans now were known, following a presumed compromise of security, as Operation ECLIPSE. Constantly altered and adjusted, the plans at first had been oriented toward the possibility of sudden German collapse, but more and more as the final campaign unfolded, they evolved primarily into guidelines for the occupation. While some dramatic features, such as a possible air-landing in Berlin, remained to the end, ECLIPSE dealt mainly with more prosaic matters such as armistice terms, disarmament, displaced persons, prisoners of war, and German courts.25 In conformity with the nature of the advance into Germany and the likelihood that final surrender would come only after the entire country was occupied, SHAEF decreed in April that no formal transition to ECLIPSE was to take place, but that ECLIPSE conditions were presumed to be in effect in those areas progressively overrun.
Another factor no longer disturbing the staffs and commanders was a formerly critical shortage of infantry replacements, or reinforcements, as by decree for morale purposes they had come to be known. Various methods adopted during the preceding winter when the problem had become acute during the Ardennes fighting had by March produced creditable results, including an extensive retraining program for troops culled from U.S. Army Air Forces and service units, though the Air Forces, in particular, was accused of channeling into this program only its misfits.
One aspect of the program was the appearance in March of fifty-three platoons of Negro troops, men who had volunteered, often taking reductions in grade in the process, to leave their service units for the front. In the 12th Army Group the platoons were attached to a number of veteran divisions, usually one to a regiment, to serve under a white
lieutenant and platoon sergeant as a fifth platoon in a rifle company. In the 6th Army Group they were employed as provisional companies. In both cases, particularly when used as platoons, the men performed so creditably that eventually the experience had an impact on the Army's traditional policy of employing Negroes only in segregated units.26 This and the other retraining measures, as well as the sharp decline in casualties in mobile warfare against a disintegrating foe, had by mid-March spelled an end to the replacement problem.27
The matter of occupation zones in Germany, still troubling France's provisional head of state in late March, had already been fairly well settled before the Yalta Conference in February. Except for Berlin, which was to be administered on a tripartite basis, the Russians were to occupy the region from the Oder River westward to the Weser, the British that part of northern Germany west of the Weser and north of a line from Koblenz through Kassel, and the Americans the rest of the Rhineland and southern Germany. It was at Yalta that the question of French participation had arisen. Although the conferees had agreed to create a French zone from parts of the British and U.S. zones, the actual boundaries would not be finally assigned until 2 May. Drawn mostly from the U.S. zone, the French zone resembled an hourglass, the top encompassing the Saar-Palatinate and the bottom a portion of southern Germany next to the Rhine.28
The Plight of the Germans
By the end of March, Germany was as nearly prostrate as any nation in history had ever been while still continuing to fight. As early as the end of January, the Reich Minister for Armament and War Production, Albert Speer, had reached the conclusion that the war was lost; at that time he could supply only a quarter of the coal and a sixth of the steel that Germany had been using in 1944.29 By the 1st of April some small cities were as much as 90 percent destroyed, the capital 75 percent; the housing situation was nearly desperate, the food supply only relatively less so. As Russian armies drove deep into eastern Germany, an already acute refugee problem became ever more serious with ten million refugees on the move. In the west the Rhineland was completely lost and the Rhine as a line of defense irretrievably compromised. In the east Russian armies had overrun almost all of East Prussia and Poland, had reached the Baltic coast east of Danzig, had conquered part of Czechoslovakia, all of Rumania and Bulgaria, and much of Yugoslavia and Hungary, and had crossed the Oder River to reach a point some thirty miles from Berlin.
Yet the war went on.
There were many Germans, some in high places, who, like Speer, accepted the futility of fighting longer, yet in their ideas of how to end the war persisted in trying to bargain at a time when Germany had nothing left to barter. As early as mid-January the Reich Foreign Minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop, without
DESTRUCTION IN THE HEART OF WUERZBURG
Hitler's knowledge had sent emissaries to Sweden and Switzerland to make contact with Allied representatives and discuss a negotiated peace, but neither had been able to establish fruitful connections. On 25 January the Chief of the Army General Staff, Generaloberst Heinz Guderian, had urged peace in the west so that what was left of the German armies could be concentrated against the Russians; it earned him only an accusation of "high treason" from his Fuehrer.30 In early April representatives of the German command in Italy made contact with Allied agents in Switzerland, but negotiations led nowhere until the last week of the war.31
Either in the bomb-damaged Reich Chancellery or, increasingly, in the Fuehrerbunker fifty feet under the garden of the chancellery, Adolf Hitler trod a narrow path between acknowledging defeat and believing in a miracle, between sanity and insanity. In February only with difficulty had subordinates
talked him out of denouncing the Geneva Convention, ordering all captured airmen shot, and resorting to gas warfare. While his nation fell apart, he spent long, tedious hours arguing trivial details (promotion policy for officers, whether to cut down trees in the Tiergarten to make an aircraft landing strip) or, without regard for realities, lecturing and raging at the presumed perversities of his underlings ("I am lied to on all sides. I can rely on no one. They all betray me.") On 19 March, seeming at last to accept the inevitability of defeat and having determined to bring the entire temple crashing down with him, he directed a scorched earth policy designed to turn Germany into a wasteland, an order circumvented only by the subterfuge of Albert Speer. Yet in the curious little world of delusion he had constructed about himself, the Fuehrer only a few days later could share the enthusiastic belief of his propaganda chief, Josef Goebbels, that in the same way the death of the Czarina had saved Frederick the Great in 1762, some miracle would happen to set the tenpins of the Third Reich upright again. Somehow the Grand Alliance between east and west was going to fall apart and the Western Allies would come obsequiously begging to long-suffering Germany to be allowed to join the holy war against bolshevism.32
The fighting in the west was now almost devoid of central direction from Berlin. The old order to stand fast, nowhere to give any ground even in quest of reinforcements for other sectors, was still in effect--the only "strategy." Such decisions as Hitler did make were usually based on colored daily briefings by Generaloberst Alfred Jodl, chief of the Armed Forces Operations Staff (Wehrmachtfuehrungsstab), who by this time had learned how to phrase his remarks to avoid inciting the Fuehrer to rage. In any case, the once powerful high command was reduced to the spectacle of pondering tactical and administrative trivialities--when, for example, five tank destroyers, the only available reserve, might be readied for commitment against the Oppenheim bridgehead, or whether to send liaison officers to some part of the front or another to get the facts on the situation.
Nor was there much more direction at the level of the Commander in Chief West, Field Marshal Kesselring, for what could he do? New to his post, the field marshal "felt like a concert pianist who is asked to play a Beethoven sonata . . . on an ancient, rickety, and out-of-tune instrument."33 Kesselring, who four times during the first six weeks of his command spoke frankly with Hitler about the situation in the west, apparently was one of the few military men who retained the Fuehrer's trust. Each time he found Hitler "understanding," appreciative of the fact "that the situation in the west had deteriorated too far to be effectively remedied." At a meeting on 15 March Hitler promised an infantry division to be transferred from Denmark, but that was all except for a nebulous
plan to find enough men somehow to create new units. Kesselring's lasting impression was that Hitler "was literally obsessed with the idea of some miraculous salvation) that he clung to it like a drowning man to a straw."34
Probably not even Kesselring knew the true strength of the German forces remaining in the west, but something of their condition could be gleaned from the fact that the Allied armies, since the February beginning of the battle for the Rhineland, had taken more than 250,000 prisoners. These, together with killed and wounded, the SHAEF intelligence staff estimated, amounted to the strength of more than 20 full divisions. Although the German order of battle showed over 60 divisions in the west, some were little more than divisional staffs, others only Kampfgruppen, and probably none at anywhere near full strength. They represented, according to Allied estimates, the equivalent of only 26 complete divisions, in marked contrast to Eisenhower's 90 full-strength divisions.35
Partly because German units in the north had been afforded a brief respite behind the Rhine before the Allies crossed and partly because the Twenty-fifth Army in the Netherlands had yet to be directly engaged, Army Group H under General Blaskowitz was in better shape than the other two army groups. Yet Blaskowitz saw no hope of stemming the 21 Army Group's drive from the bridgeheads. Noting developments opposite Remagen in the adjacent sector of Field Marshal Model's Army Group B, Blaskowitz thought it only a matter of a day or so before American forces from that bridgehead would be east of the Ruhr, in a position to swing against his rear. Goaded by General Blumentritt, who on 28 March arrived from the Twenty-fifth Army to take the badly wounded General Schlemm's place in command of the First Parachute Army, Blaskowitz went over Field Marshal Kesselring's head with what the Commander in Chief West called a "supererogatory account" of the situation.
As a result of Army Group B's problems, Blaskowitz indicated, the situation in Army Group H would soon become critical. He wanted authority to withdraw his entire force behind the Weser River, some 125 miles east of the Rhine. Abandoning his two southernmost corps (Luettwitz's XLVII Panzer Corps and Abraham's LXIII Corps) to fight on in the Ruhr with Army Group B, Blumentritt would withdraw the rest of the First Parachute Army across some fifty miles of generally flat terrain to the first logical delaying position, the Teutoburger Wald, a range of low hills extending northwest from the eastern fringe of the Ruhr, there to cover withdrawal of the Twenty-fifth Army from the Netherlands.36
This report and request angered both Hitler and Kesselring, the former not only because of its inherent defeatism but because it contained none of the psychological niceties to which he had become accustomed. Although Kesselring wanted Blaskowitz replaced, Hitler settled instead for sending a former commander of Army Group H, General
Student, to "assist" Blaskowitz, a calculated rebuke to an officer of Blaskowitz's high standing in the command structure. Blaskowitz was to hold firm while giving Student command of a provisional army to counterattack southward into the developing British-American breakthrough in the sector of the First Parachute Army.
As Kesselring himself recognized, that assignment was impossible. Under the continuing attacks of the British Second and U.S. Ninth Armies, the degeneration in Army Group H had progressed too far to be reversed with the means at hand. Disapproved or not, the withdrawal to the Teutoburger Wald was soon to get under way.37
Field Marshal Model's Army Group B was, as Blaskowitz noted, in grievous trouble. Its Fifth Panzer Army, commanded now by Generaloberst Josef Harpe (General von Manteuffel left on 8 March for an emergency assignment on the Eastern Front), was tied down with the task of defending the east bank of the Rhine along the face of the Ruhr; the stronger elements of Zangen's Fifteenth Army had been grouped along the northern periphery of the Remagen bridgehead to counter an anticipated American drive north from the bridgehead. Thus Field Marshal Model would have little with which to oppose the actual American breakout when it came, not to the north but to the east and southeast. Nor did he have any forces with which to strengthen the connection between his Army Group B and General Hausser's Army Group G to the south, a tenuous link that would be quickly severed by a combination of the U.S. First Army's breakout from Remagen and a rapid expansion of the U.S. Third Army's Rhine bridgeheads. Army Group G was in the worst condition of all. Rent asunder by the U.S. Third Army's multiple Rhine crossings, the German Seventh Army had been hurt anew by the American Seventh Army's crossing, which also virtually isolated the German First Army on the army group's south wing.
It was a somber picture, one in which few other than a megalomaniac like Adolf Hitler could have seen any hint of light. Yet see it Hitler did--or so he professed. The battle then developing in the east against the Russians along the line of the Oder and Neisse Rivers, the Germans would win, Hitler insisted, if only the Allied armies from the west could be held at arm's length for a few more weeks. If Kesselring's forces could delay long enough, Hitler could form a reserve, mustered from all able-bodied manpower still uncommitted to the fight, to be assembled in the Harz Mountains of central Germany. That force, to be known as the Twelfth Army, then was to come to Kesselring's rescue by counterattacking through Army Group B's sector to split the Allied armies.38
A Decision on Berlin
In the Allied camp, a number of events occurring during the month of March prompted the Supreme Commander, General Eisenhower, to revise his plan
for the coup de grâce against Germany. For the more immediate task, encircling the Ruhr, the long-approved stratagem of cutting off the industrial region by converging thrusts of the First and Ninth Armies remained unchanged; but for the final thrust beyond the Ruhr, Eisenhower signaled a major change in plan that for a time ruffled British-American command relations and raised the issue of the extent that military decision should be influenced by political considerations.39
As early as September 1944, General Eisenhower had outlined his intention to proceed from the Ruhr to the German capital, Berlin, long considered--perhaps theoretically or symbolically--the final objective in the war against Germany. The 21 Army Group, assisted by an American army, was to make the main effort. Yet at the same time, General Eisenhower introduced a reservation. Recognizing that the Russians might already have taken Berlin by the time Allied armies fanned out across Germany, he suggested that the 21 Army Group might take Hannover and the north German ports, the 12th Army Group the Leipzig-Dresden industrial complex of central Germany, and the 6th Army Group the industrial cities of southern Germany.
By late March 1945 the Red Army had yet to reach Berlin. In the bridgehead across the Oder River some thirty miles from the capital, the Russians had paused, presumably to regroup and bring up supplies. There seemed little doubt that they would renew the drive momentarily and take the city. Since the closest Allied troops were still 275 miles from Berlin, the Red Army apparently would get there first.
Once Berlin ceased to be an objective, it was relatively easy to find justification for shifting the Allied main effort from the north to the center, from Montgomery's 21 Army Group to Bradley's 12th. With the addition of the Fifteenth Army to handle mop-up and occupation duties, the 12th Army Group was the stronger force and could be strengthened even more by transferring the Ninth Army back to Bradley's command once the Ruhr was encircled. The 12th Army Group was also in a position to capitalize quickly on the surprise bonus of the Rhine crossings at Remagen and Oppenheim, and, by its location in the center, was the logical candidate both for linking with the Russians to split Germany in two and for seizing the Leipzig-Dresden area, one of the last major industrial complexes that would be left to the Germans after loss of the Ruhr and Silesia.
As further justification for a shift in main effort, some members of the SHAEF staff pointed to the possibility of a last-ditch Nazi hold-out position rumored to be under construction in the Alps--a National Redoubt. The rumors had gained substance the preceding fall and of late had been fed by planted information from the Nazi propaganda chief, Dr. Goebbels. Although some influential Germans had earnestly espoused the idea of a redoubt, it did not, in fact, exist; and although many in Allied--particularly British--command and intelligence circles discounted it entirely, the possibility of some form of last-ditch resistance in the Alps was a factor--though
in no sense decisive--in Eisenhower's decision to shift his main effort.40
General Eisenhower announced his new plan on 28 March. Once the Ruhr was encircled, Eisenhower stipulated, the Ninth Army was to revert to the 12th Army Group, whereupon Bradley's armies were to make the main offensive eastward to link with the Russians. If he needed it, Montgomery might have the Ninth Army once Bradley reached the Elbe; but until that time Montgomery's basic assignment was to protect Bradley's northern flank while Devers's 6th Army Group guarded the southern flank.
Undoubtedly disappointed, Field Marshal Montgomery asked permission to use the Ninth Army up to the Elbe rather than beyond. Eisenhower refused, pointing out that Bradley needed control of the Ninth Army to complete operations in the Ruhr and accomplish relief by the Fifteenth Army. There the matter might have rested had the issue been nothing more than a shift in main effort, but it was more. The real issue was Berlin.
Learning of Eisenhower's decision and the fact that the Supreme Commander had asked the Allied military missions in Moscow to tell the Soviet head of state, Marshal Josef Stalin, of the change in plan, the British Chiefs of Staff protested both the decision and Eisenhower's communicating directly with the Soviet chief. They asked that Eisenhower's message be withheld from Stalin until the Combined Chiefs of Staff could discuss the matter.
The U.S. Chiefs replied that to hold up General Eisenhower's message would be to discredit or at least to lower the prestige of a highly successful field commander. The Supreme Commander was, after all, they would rationalize later, within his rights in communicating with Stalin since the Soviet head of state was also the head of the Soviet armed forces. As for the decision on Berlin, they would be willing to ask General Eisenhower for amplification of his plan, but the battle for Germany, they believed, had reached a point "where the commander in the field is the best judge of the measures which offer the earliest prospects of destroying the German armies or their power to resist."41
Dismayed at this reaction, Prime Minister Churchill appealed to both Eisenhower and President Roosevelt to reconsider. Aside from what he felt was an affront to the British forces, he deplored the decision not to go to Berlin:
I say quite frankly that Berlin remains of high strategic importance. Nothing will exert a psychological effect of despair upon all German forces of resistance equal to that of the fall of Berlin. It will be the supreme signal of defeat to the German people.
The Russians, Churchill continued, were about to overrun the capital of Austria; if they also could claim credit for capturing Berlin, might they not gain an undue impression of the extent of their contribution to victory, leading them into a mood that would raise "grave and formidable difficulties" for the future?42
Both Mr. Roosevelt and General Eisenhower assured Mr. Churchill that
they had no intent to disparage British contributions to the campaign against Germany. Eisenhower went on to explain that once Allied forces reached the Elbe, he thought it probable that U.S. forces would be shifted to the 21 Army Group for a drive beyond the Elbe at least far enough to seal off the Jutland peninsula; but until the nature of the opposition in central Germany fully unfolded, he deemed it important to keep his forces concentrated near the center. As for Berlin, if it could be captured, he intended to share honors equally between British and U.S. forces; but to him Berlin had lost too much of its importance as a strictly military objective to warrant mounting a major effort to seize it.
Disturbed by the alacrity with which Marshal Stalin agreed to General Eisenhower's decision to drive for Leipzig instead of Berlin, the British Chiefs of Staff a few days later again asked that the decision on Berlin be reconsidered. Again the U.S. Chiefs declined. At a time when it appeared that Allied troops could not possibly beat the Russians to the capital, when it was known that any ground taken beyond the Elbe would have to be relinquished to the Russians for the occupation, and when the Allies still apparently faced a strong fight in the Pacific for which they desired Russian assistance, the U.S. Chiefs showed no disposition to insist on taking Berlin. Clearly brushing aside the political implications, they noted that "Only Eisenhower is in a position to know how to fight this battle, and to exploit to the full the changing situation."43
To the Combined Chiefs of Staff Eisenhower explained that he considered it much more important to divide the Germans by a thrust to Leipzig than to concentrate against an objective like Berlin, which had lost so much of its military importance. "But," he added,
. . . I am the first to admit that a war is waged in pursuance of political aims, and if the Combined Chiefs of Staff should decide that the Allied effort to take Berlin outweighs purely military considerations in this theater, I would cheerfully readjust my plans and my thinking so as to carry out such an operation.44
Although seemingly settled, the issue arose again. On 8 April Field Marshal Montgomery asked to borrow ten U.S. divisions for a major thrust by the 21 Army Group to cut off the Jutland peninsula by driving to the Baltic coast near Luebeck and to take Berlin. In one of his sharper ripostes as Supreme Commander, Eisenhower responded: "You must not lose sight of the fact that during the advance to Leipzig you have the role of protecting Bradley's northern flank. It is not his role to protect your southern flank." As for Berlin, he went on, "I am quite ready to admit that it has political and psychological significance but of far greater importance will be the location of the remaining German forces in relation to Berlin. It is on them that I am going to concentrate my attention. Naturally, if I get an opportunity to capture Berlin cheaply, I will take it."45
The change in plan, as enunciated on 28 March, would stand. It was under this plan--to encircle the Ruhr and then
make a main effort with the 12th Army Group through central Germany to link with the Russians--that the Allied armies, in the meantime, had launched the breakout drives from their bridgeheads over the Rhine.
Table of Contents ** Previous Chapter (14) * Next Chapter (16)
1. De Lattre, Histoire de la Première Armée Française, pp. 487-90. Unless otherwise noted, the story of the French crossings of the Rhine is from this source, pp. 485-99.
2. Pogue, The Supreme Command, p. 432.
3. 6th AGp Ltr of Instrs 12, 27 Mar 45, 6th AGp AAR, Mar 45.
4. De Lattre, Histoire de la Première Armée Française, p. 449. See also below, ch. XVIII.
5. The third crossing was at Leimersheim, the fourth at Strasbourg. For details of the fourth crossing, see below, ch. XVIII.
6. Of the divisions, 61 were American, 12 British, 11 French, 5 Canadian, and 1 Polish. One British division would arrive from Italy before V-E Day to bring the total force under General Eisenhower to 91 divisions, plus several independent brigades. See SHAEF G-3 War Room Daily Sums, 2 Apr and 9 May 45.
7. Stacey, The Victory Campaign, p. 529; Montgomery, Normandy to the Baltic, p. 247.
8. Craven and Cate, AAF III, 736-55.
9. Ibid., p. 725.
10. This figure is higher than that of the combined total of deaths (110,000) in the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Craven and Cate, AAF III, 724-31; David Irving, The Destruction of Dresden (London: William Kimber, 1963).
11. Craven and Cate, AAF III, 753-54.
12. The section on logistics is based on Ruppenthal, Logistical Support of the Armies II.
13. For a detailed discussion of the subject as it related to SHAEF, see Pogue, The Supreme Command, pp. 339-43.
14. Ltr, SHAEF, 12 Sep 44, sub: Policy, Relationship Between Allied Occupation Troops and Inhabitants of Germany.
15. F. S. V. Donnison, C.B.E., Civil Affairs and Military Government, North-West Europe 1944-1946 (London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1961), p. 374.
16. Oliver J. Fredericksen, The American Military Occupation of Germany 1945-1953 (Germany: The Stars and Stripes, 1953), for the Historical Division, Headquarters, U.S. Army, Europe; Historical Division, European Command, Fraternization with the Germans in World War II, in a multivolume MS series, Occupation Forces in Europe, 1945-46.
17. Historical Division, European Command, Operations From Late March to Mid-July 1945, in a multivolume MS series, United States Military Government in Germany, p. 20.
18. For a summary of the proclamation, see XIII Corps G-2 Periodic Rpt 146, 3 Apr 45.
19. Fredericksen, The American Military Occupation, p. 73.
20. See, for example, Toland, The Last 100 Days, pp. 443-46.
21. Boris T. Pash, The Alsos Mission (New York: Award House, 1969); Samuel A. Goudsmit, ALSOS (New York: William Morrow & Co., 1964); Conquer: The Story of the Ninth Army, pp. 284-85.
22. Walter Rundell, Jr., Black Market Money (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1964), provides an authoritative account of these activites, based on official Army records.
23. Fraternization with the Germans in World War II, pp. 80-82.
24. Office of the Judge Advocate General, U.S. Forces, European Theater, History Branch Office of the Judge Advocate General With the United States Forces European Theater 18 July 1942-1 November 1945, MS in OCMH.
25. For details, see the SHAEF file on Operation ECLIPSE. For a convenient summary see Fredericksen, The American Military Occupation, pp. 2-5.
26. Ulysses Lee, The Employment of Negro Troops, UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II (Washington, 1966), ch. XXI.
27. Ruppenthal, Logistical Support of the Armies II, ch. XVII.
28. Pogue, The Supreme Command, pp. 463-65.
29. William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1960), p. 1097.
30. Heinz Guderian, Panzer Leader (New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc. 1952), pp. 401-02, 404-05.
31. For this story, see Ernest F. Fisher, Cassino to the Alps, a volume in preparation for the series UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II.
32. Hitler's last days have been adequately documented in a number of works, all of which have drawn on the surviving fragments of the Fuehrer Conferences. See, for example, Pogue, The Supreme Command; Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich; Alan Bullock, Hitler: A Study in Tyranny (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1947); and Felix Gilbert, Hitler Directs His War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1950). See also Toland, The Last 100 Days, and Cornelius Ryan, The Last Battle (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1966).
33. Kesselring, A Soldier's Record, p. 305.
34. Ibid., pp. 311-12.
35. SHAEF Intelligence Sum 53, week ending 25 Mar 45.
36. Kesselring, A Soldier's Record, pp. 302-03; MSS # B-414 (Geyer); # B-354, Battles Fought by the First Parachute Army Between 28 March and 9 April 1945 (General der Infanterie Guenther Blumentritt).
38. Kesselring, A Soldier's Record, p. 314; MS # B-606, The Last Rally--Battles Fought by the German Twelfth Army in the Heart of Germany, Between East and West, 13 April-7 May 1945 (Oberst Guenther Reichhelm).
39. This section is based on the annotated account of these events in Pogue, The Supreme Command, pp. 434-36, 441-47.
40. On this subject, see a detailed survey by Rodney G. Minott, The Fortress That Never Was (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1964). See also below, ch. XVIII.
41. Memo by JCS, CCS 805/2, 30 Mar 45, cited in Pogue, The Supreme Command, p. 442.
42. Msg, Churchill to Roosevelt, 931, 1 Apr 45, cited in Pogue, The Supreme Command, p, 443.
43. Memo by JCS, CCS 805/5, 6 Apr 45, cited in Pogue, The Supreme Command, p. 444.
44. Eisenhower to Marshall, FWD 18710, 7 Apr 45, cited in Pogue, The Supreme Command, p. 446.
45. Eisenhower to Montgomery, 8 Apr 45, cited in Pogue, The Supreme Command, p. 446.