The Myth of the Redoubt
Under General Eisenhower's plan to break out of the Rhine bridgeheads and encircle the Ruhr--the plan that had served as blueprint for the spectacular dash to the Elbe--the role assigned General Devers's 6th Army Group was to protect the 12th Army Group's right flank. With the Third Army swinging almost due north toward Kassel, General Patch's Seventh Army from its Rhine bridgehead near Worms would have to drive northeast with a left boundary anchored on the Hohe Rhoen, the wooded hills forming the southeastern wall of the Fulda Gap.
Despite the northeastward orientation, General Devers was aware that as the southernmost Allied force, his 6th Army Group also would be responsible eventually for clearing southern Germany and dealing with an alleged last-ditch hold-out position the Nazis might be planning in the Alpine region of southern Germany and western Austria. It was called variously the Alpine Redoubt or National Redoubt.
Most Allied intelligence officers discounted the likelihood of any formidable, self-contained fortress in the Alps, mainly because of limited agricultural and industrial resources in the region. Yet they did see the possibility of remnants of the German Army retiring to the Alps for a final suicidal stand. Future generations then might claim, noted General Eisenhower's chief of intelligence, Maj. Gen. Kenneth W. D. Strong, that National Socialism and the German nation had never surrendered.1
In late March the Seventh Army G-2, Col. William W. Quinn, gave some substance to various reports of German defense preparations in the Alps. Although Colonel Quinn thought many of the reports fanciful and exaggerated, enough hard evidence existed, he concluded, to indicate that Hitler was consciously planning a final stand there.2
Only six days later, on the last day of March, so rapidly did the Western Front crumble that the 6th Army Group G-2, Brig. Gen. Eugene L. Harrison, foresaw an end to any German hopes of a genuine redoubt. Denied any respite after falling back behind the Rhine in the wake of the staggering defeat in the Saar-Palatinate, General Hausser's Army Group G had proved incapable of containing any Allied bridgehead and had failed to close the corridor leading northeast to Kassel, thereby sealing the fate of neighboring Army Group B in the Ruhr. Since the greatest threat to German integrity was the thrust to encircle
the Ruhr, Army Group G could count on no priority for reinforcement.
Army Group G's foundering Seventh Army, General Harrison noted, had not enough strength to re-establish contact with Army Group B. In dire need of a thorough rebuilding, a First Army already threatened by Rhine crossings of the Seventh U.S. Army and First French Army had to take on the job of preventing further expansion of the Oppenheim bridgehead. Reduced almost to a training command after withdrawing from the Colmar pocket, the Nineteenth Army (responsible directly to OB WEST rather than to Army Group G) was holding some 100 miles of front along the Rhine covering the Black Forest and could only withdraw or await envelopment from flank or rear. The present commander of the Nineteenth Army was a former head of the Seventh Army, General Brandenberger, who had been summarily relieved in February for failing to hold in the Eifel.3
"The turn of military events," General Harrison concluded, "is effectively destroying the 'National Redoubt' for want of both territory and personnel. Any retreat into the mountains of southeastern Germany will hardly be voluntary on the part of the German leaders."4
Even though a formal National Redoubt might not exist, the Alps represented such a natural fortress that it would be well to launch an attack as soon as possible to prevent major German forces from retiring into the region. General Eisenhower held that view, though he accorded no immediate priority to the operation. Once the Ruhr was encircled, the 12th Army Group's drive toward Leipzig was to have full priority, and any operations of the 6th Army Group toward the southeast would be mounted only if they were possible without jeopardizing protection of the 12th Army Group's south flank. On the other hand, so near an end was the enemy's ability to resist that the Supreme Commander intended soon to expand operations everywhere, perhaps to include reinforcing the 6th Army Group with a southeastward drive by the Third Army "to prevent Nazi occupation of a mountain citadel."5
Looking ahead to the day when approval would be granted, General Devers contemplated a preliminary attack by the Seventh Army's right wing generally to the south and southeast to cut behind the bulk of the enemy's First Army and the entire Nineteenth Army in the Black Forest. Once the First French Army had enough troops on the east bank of the Rhine, the French were to drive south to eliminate the trapped enemy. Most of the Germans facing the army group thus dispatched, Devers presumed he could drive swiftly to the southeast to link with the Russians, possibly somewhere along the northwest frontier of Austria.6
Sending his G-3, Brig. Gen. Reuben E. Jenkins, to confer with SHAEF planners on 31 March, Devers learned that
Sixth Army Group Offensive
27 March-24 April 1945
SHAEF was thinking instead of a broad arclike sweep by the Seventh Army's left wing deep inside Germany to the vicinity of Nuremberg and Bayreuth, thereby continuing to protect the 12th Army Group's flank, thence southeast down the valley of the Danube to Linz in Austria. Two days later General Eisenhower directed General Devers to begin the thrust as soon as troops and supplies were available.7
The next day, 3 April, the SHAEF G-3, General Bull, read the special report on the redoubt prepared by the Seventh Army's Colonel Quinn. While referring it to the SHAEF G-2 for comment, Bull suggested expanding the 6th Army Group operations into the Alps of western Austria. When the commander of Allied forces approaching the Alps from the Italian side, Field Marshal Sir Harold R. L. G. Alexander, indicated he would welcome such a drive, General Eisenhower approved it.8
Although SHAEF intelligence a few days later concluded that no positive evidence existed of German strategy based on a National Redoubt, the possibility that the German armed forces would continue to resist unless Hitler died or was overthrown was real, in which case the Alps appeared the logical place for a final stand. Since troops from the Eastern, Western, and Italian fronts might converge there, the contemplated thrust into the Alps still might be needed.9
The First Phase Beyond the Rhine
As these plans gradually took shape, General Patch's Seventh Army was continuing the assignment of protecting the 12th Army Group flank. Having crossed the Rhine at Worms and established breakout conditions in the bridgehead by nightfall of 27 March, General Haislip's XV Corps was the logical choice for the main role on the left. (Map XV) The corps was to drive some fifty miles from the Main River northeast through the Spessart Mountains to the Hohe Rhoen. To protect Haislip's flank and to prepare a way for the expected turn to the southeast, General Patch planned to commit General Milburn's XXI Corps in the center to drive east through the Odenwald, General Brooks's VI Corps on the right to attack southeast across a plateau known as the Kraichgau Gate between the Odenwald and the Black Forest. With ten infantry and three armored divisions, the Seventh Army had enough strength for all three thrusts.
While the 3d and 45th Divisions passed through rear elements of the Third Army in the Oppenheim bridgehead to reach jump-off positions being vacated by Third Army units along the Main near Aschaffenburg, the 12th Armored Division on 28 March pushed into the Odenwald as a vanguard of the XXI Corps. To open a route for the VI Corps, the 44th Division drove south from the Worms bridgehead to reduce Mannheim. Although surrender negotiations
conducted with the city's acting burgomaster went awry when German troops shelled American parliamentaries with mortars, the Germans pulled out during the night of 28 March, and men of the 44th Division moved in the next day. Since Mannheim lies on both banks of the Neckar River, occupying the city provided a bonus of a bridgehead over the Neckar.
In the main thrust by the XV Corps, the 45th Division crossed the Main River on 28 March on the railroad bridge, just south of Aschaffenburg, that had been taken earlier by the 4th Armored Division--the place where Task Force Baum had begun its ill-fated foray to Hammelburg. In the three days since Task Force Baum had passed, General Hahm had sent one of the three divisions constituting his LXXXII Corps to contain the little bridgehead. The 45th Division thus had to fight hard to break out.
The firmest resistance was on the left, from the fringes of Aschaffenburg, where a combat commander took seriously orders from OKW to fight to the end. There occurred one of the few instances in Germany where civilians in large numbers joined actively in the fighting, sometimes lining rooftops to drop grenades on U.S. troops below. German ranks also were heavy with Hitler Youth, boys who had hardly begun to shave.
To spare his own men, the 45th Division commander, General Frederick, directed his 157th Infantry to clear Aschaffenburg systematically, making maximum use of artillery and aerial bombardment. For six days men of the 157th fought from house to house until at last, on the morning of 3 April, the combat commander, who had hanged several German soldiers and civilians for advocating surrender, gave himself up.
The rest of the 45th Division meanwhile had advanced twenty-five miles to the northeast of Aschaffenburg. The 3d Division, having crossed the Main upstream from Aschaffenburg early on 30 March without opposition, traversed the wooded ground lying in a great southward loop of the Main to reach the river a second time twenty miles to the northeast. Against neither division was resistance determined. Most delays were attributable to the densely wooded hill country and its winding roads, sometimes a defended town, and occasionally a roadblock. "Sixty-one minute roadblocks," some German civilians called them derisively--the American soldiers would laugh at them for sixty minutes, then tear them down in one.10
Committed on the 2d of April, generally along the boundary between the two infantry divisions, the 14th Armored Division also reached the Main for the second time, and on the 3d seized Lohr, where Task Force Baum earlier had shot up a column of German vehicles. The Germans fought all night in Lohr, but as elsewhere, it was no more than a last-ditch stand by conglomerate units often lacking communications with higher command.
As the gap between Army Group B and Army Group G facilitated the Third Army's drive on Kassel and the subsequent thrust across central Germany by the First and Third Armies, so it also markedly influenced the campaign of the American Seventh Army. Constant efforts to close the gap to the north had
"SIXTY-ONE MINUTE ROADBLOCK," typical of obstacles erected before many German towns.
the effect of pulling Army Group G's Seventh Army, including Hahm's LXXXII Corps on the south wing, gradually northward, in the process creating a gap within Army Group G between the First and Seventh Armies.11
To OKW's continuing insistence that the Seventh Army close the gap to the north, the army group commander, General Hausser, replied with a counterproposal. The only hope for establishing a cohesive defense, Hausser believed, was to relinquish control of the area north of the Main River, turning the Seventh Army over to direct control of the Commander in Chief West, with whom Hausser himself had lost communications; Army Group G with the First and Nineteenth Armies might then withdraw into southern Germany. For his trouble in arriving at this solution, Hausser paid with his job. On 2 April his replacement, General der Infanterie Friedrich Schulz, reported from the
Eastern Front to the Reich Chancellery for a personal briefing by Hitler.
It was imperative, Hitler told Schulz, to hold out another three or four weeks in the west, whereupon so many new jet-propelled aircraft would join the fight that the Germans would obtain "equilibrium, if not superiority" in the air. "This would at the same time," Hitler said, "entirely change the situation on the ground as well."12
The impact that German efforts to close the gap to Army Group B was having on the First and Seventh Armies had become strikingly apparent in the Odenwald, thickly wooded hill country lying between the great southward loop of the Main River and a northward hook of the Neckar River twenty miles to the south. Obviously gambling that the Germans had little for defending the Odenwald, General Patch had sent armor rather than infantry to lead the way through the rugged terrain.
Defending the Odenwald was the responsibility of General von Oriola's XIII Corps, which had absorbed a one-two punch from the Third Army's crossing of the Rhine at Oppenheim and the Seventh Army's crossing at Worms. Separated from its parent Seventh Army by the Third Army thrust, the XIII Corps had passed to control of the First Army even as U.S. troops began to exploit the bridgehead opposite Worms. Two divisions having been nearly annihilated in opposing the Rhine crossing and a third still committed farther south, General von Oriola had only a hodgepodge for holding the Odenwald and little
enough of that. To his knowledge he had not a single antitank gun, assault gun, or tank. Compounding an already desperate situation, Oriola's right flank was anchored on air.13
As a vanguard of General Milburn's XXI Corps, the 12th Armored Division went through the briar patch of the Odenwald as if its tanks were rabbits. An effort by Oriola's XIII Corps to build a new position along creek beds in the twenty-mile gap between the loops of the Main and the Neckar attracted scarcely any notice. Although the First Army commander, General Foertsch, committed the 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Division, which he had hoped to rehabilitate to form an army reserve, the panzer grenadiers hardly managed to get north of the Neckar before U.S. infantry
following close behind the armor forced them onto the defensive. By 30 March the armor had emerged from the Odenwald into relatively open country.
The next day, as General von Oriola visited the command post of one of his makeshift divisions, a staff officer rushed in with news that American tanks were approaching. They closed in before Oriola could get away. The general surrendered.
By nightfall of the 31st, the 12th Armored Division had reached the Tauber River, a tributary of the Main almost sixty miles beyond the Rhine and little more than a day's run at the pace the tanks had been traveling from the corps objective of Wuerzburg on a second big southward loop of the Main. Although some indications of stiffening resistance were apparent along the Tauber, they were nothing to excite concern.
The resistance reflected efforts by Army Group G to bring the headlong retreat of the First Army's right wing to an end, peg the front on fairly defensible river lines, and shore up the widening gap between the First and Seventh Armies. Assuming command of Wehrkreis XIII and its replacement and training troops, General Hausser in one of his last acts before his relief put them under command of headquarters of the XIII SS Corps, pulled that headquarters from the First Army's south wing, and charged the commander, General Simon, with building a new line along the Tauber and across a narrow land bridge between the Tauber and the Jagst River. Commanded now by Generalleutnant Max Bork, the troops that had comprised the south wing of the XIII Corps and thus had escaped the thrust of the 12th Armored Division were to extend the line southwest along the Jagst and south along the Neckar River to Heilbronn.14
With American armor on the east bank of the Tauber by nightfall of 31 March, the northern part of the new line was under immediate threat. Indeed, except at Koenigshofen, where 400 years earlier the Peasants' War had come to a bloody end, both the 12th Armored Division and the infantry of the XXI Corps (the 4th and 42d Divisions) took the Tauber in stride. At Koenigshofen an SS antiaircraft replacement regiment that included a battalion of mobile 88-mm. guns fought for the better part of two days against a contingent of the 12th Armored Division and two battalions of the 4th Division's 22d Infantry, but late on 2 April the town was cleared.
On the same day the bulk of all three divisions of the XXI Corps drew up to the Main River along the big loop embracing Wuerzburg, and a battalion of the 4th Division's 8th Infantry crossed the river nine miles southeast of Wuerzburg at the southern end of the loop. General Simon and the XIII SS Corps now tried desperately to establish a new line from Koenigshofen to the Main, but the odds against building a firm position were high. In addition to the shortages of troops and transport, so numerous and persistent were American planes that no German unit could move with impunity during daylight.
General Simon had, too, that continually nagging problem of an open flank. Although responsibility for defending the Main River lay with the Seventh
GENERAL BROOKS. (Photograph taken in 1949.)
Army to the north, so wide was the gap between the First and Seventh Armies that Simon had to figure on defending the river at least as far north as Wuerzburg. The next day, 3 April, as the 42d Division began to cross the Main at Wuerzburg, Army Group G formally handed responsibility for the city and the river line south of it to the First Army.
By 3 April both the south wing of the Seventh Army and the north wing of the First were in unmitigated trouble from the rampaging divisions of the U.S. XV and XXI Corps. At the same time similar problems had been building up for the other wing of the First Army as the U.S. VI Corps pressed its role in the breakout.
As with the XXI Corps, armor took the lead in General Brooks's VI Corps, in this case, the 10th Armored Division, while the 63d and 100th Infantry Divisions followed to mop up. Charged with maintaining contact with the XXI Corps to the north, one column of the armor had to advance through the southern reaches of the Odenwald, generally astride the snakelike Neckar River; but the main body of the armored division attacked southeastward toward Heilbronn over relatively open ground of the Kraichgau Gate.
Had it not been for the presence of the 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Division, which had remained in the southern fringe of the Odenwald following the unsuccessful effort to halt the XXI Corps, the men of the VI Corps probably would have advanced with the same ease as their neighbors to the north. Facing makeshift formations of the LXXX Corps (Beyer), the center and right columns of the 10th Armored Division roamed almost at will in the Kraichgau Gate. One overeager task force on 2 April penetrated several miles across the army boundary, an event that convinced General de Lattre that he had been wise to hurry his Rhine crossings lest the Americans deny the French the honor of a crossing.15
On the first day, 1 April, the American armor on the left also moved swiftly, more than two-thirds the distance from Heidelberg to confluence of the Jagst with the Neckar, but on the second day the panzer grenadiers barred the way. Conducting a fighting withdrawal, these troops on several occasions provoked sharp skirmishes. As the armor neared the Jagst River, the Germans called down occasionally heavy fire from assault guns
on the heights to the east. The center column too had to push back determined delaying detachments of panzer grenadiers when on 3 April its tanks drew up to the Neckar north of Heilbronn.
By nightfall of 3 April the Neckar from Heilbronn back to the Rhine nevertheless was clear, and just above the confluence with the Jagst armored infantrymen of the 10th Armored's left column forged a small bridgehead across the Jagst. Although the bridgehead appeared to afford a ready opportunity for getting on with the pursuit the next day, the Germans' failure to melt away before it and the volume of shelling emanating from various points along the crescent formed by the Jagst and the Neckar gave many in the VI Corps pause.
The Americans could not yet know that they had come up against the new line planned by General Foertsch's First Army. The panzer grenadiers now were a part of that line under the XIII Corps, while all that remained of the LXXX Corps extended the line behind the Neckar south beyond Heilbronn. Pushed southward by the French, the First Army's southernmost force, the XC Corps (Petersen), would be unable to extend the line farther, and would relinquish its units instead to the Nineteenth Army in the Black Forest; but by one stratagem or another, frantic German efforts had produced enough strength along the Jagst-Neckar crescent to give the war a brief, troublesome turn.16
The Struggle for Heilbronn and Crailsheim
Presence of the First Army's only remaining battleworthy division, the 17th SS Panzer Grenadier, plus imposing river obstacles, gave real substance to that part of the new German line along the Jagst-Neckar crescent. In addition, General Foertsch had managed through prodigious efforts to accumulate a sizable conglomeration of other troops--two battalions of an engineer school, several regular engineer battalions, replacement artillery and antiaircraft units, Volkssturm, a few tanks and assault guns, and a miscellany, including several hundred Hitler Youth, belonging to the combat commander of Heilbronn. These troops and remnants of four divisions, plus the panzer grenadiers, were all subordinated to General Bork's XIII Corps. Loose ends of two other divisions, including the 2d Mountain Division, were positioned on the north wing of Beyer's LXXX Corps and thus might be used to help defend Heilbronn.
Before daylight on 4 April, a battalion of the 100th Division's 398th Infantry slipped silently across the Neckar in assault boats a mile or so north of Heilbronn. As the men turned south toward the city after daybreak, a German battalion counterattacked sharply. The ensuing fight forced the American infantrymen back to within a few hundred feet of the river. There they held, but not until another battalion crossed under fire in late afternoon were they able to resume their advance. Even then they could penetrate no deeper than a thousand yards, scarcely enough to rid the crossing site of small arms fire. Until the
bridgehead could be expanded, engineers had no hope of building a bridge.
Impressed by the resistance there and against the minuscule bridgehead established the day before over the Jagst by armored infantrymen of the 10th Armored Division, the commander of the VI Corps, General Brooks, decided to employ a wide enveloping maneuver to erase the enemy's new position. Sending Combat Command B south along the Neckar in search of an intact bridge, he directed the rest of the armored division to move northeast to the land bridge between the Jagst and Tauber Rivers. While CCR blocked there to the east, CCA was to drive southeast twenty-five miles to the road center of Crailsheim. Leaving a task force behind to hold Crailsheim, the rest of CCA was to drive west and northwest and in conjunction with CCB, which was to cross the Neckar south of Heilbronn, take the enemy along the Jagst-Neckar crescent in rear.
It was a daring, imaginative maneuver, one apparently justified by the grand sweeps underway elsewhere in the U.S. Seventh Army. While CCB sought a way across the Neckar, the rest of the armored division moved swiftly across the Jagst-Tauber land bridge (already pierced by a regiment of the 63d Division). As darkness fell on 5 April, CCA had a leg on the drive to Crailsheim. Resistance was no more than that normally encountered in a breakthrough operation--demolished bridges, occasional roadblocks, small arms fire, antitank rockets. Before dark on the second day, 6 April, CCA had plunged all the way into Crailsheim.
On the third day, 7 April, trouble started. Although the bulk of CCA advanced twelve miles westward from Crailsheim to begin the second phase of enveloping the Jagst-Neckar crescent, resistance occasionally included fire from 88-mm. pieces and dug-in, determined infantry. At the same time a small task force of CCR, driving southeast toward Crailsheim to keep open CCA's line of communications, encountered stubborn clumps of German infantry supported by antitank guns. On occasion through the day German planes strafed the armored column and at Crailsheim subjected American troops to a rare bombing raid. The task force of CCR laagered for the night without getting through to Crailsheim.
To the Germans, CCA's deep penetration threatened to erase all hope of Army Group G's preventing an American drive into southern Germany to roll up the First and Nineteenth Armies. Almost in desperation, the First Army commander, General Foertsch, strove to accumulate troops to throw against it. He directed small contingents pulled from the line of the Jagst to move against CCA's communications while a battalion from an SS training school counterattacked at Crailsheim. As luck would have it, a so-called Alpine regiment, recently formed by a neighboring Wehrkreis, was on the way northward for commitment against the U.S. XXI Corps and had reached a point north of Crailsheim. Foertsch committed the Alpine regiment too against CCA's communications.
At Crailsheim the SS troops penetrated deep into thinly held American positions on 8 April, while northwest of the little city the Alpine regiment blocked roads so effectively that the task force of CCR got no place in its efforts to break through. Before the day was out, the 10th Armored Division commander, General Morris, called on CCB, which had failed
to find a bridge over the Neckar, to trace CCA's path to Crailsheim, while the Seventh Army commander, General Patch, released a regiment of the 44th Division (Maj. Gen. William F. Dean) from his reserve to help. The commander of the VI Corps, General Brooks, canceled the plan to drive west on Heilbronn, substituting a shallower envelopment to the northwest against the Jagst line.
A contingent of CCB finally got through with a few supply trucks early on the 9th, but to travel the road to Crailsheim remained a task for the fearless and the strong. Before night fell on the 9th, sixty C-47's of the IX Troop Carrier Command flew to a captured airfield just outside the city to deliver supplies and remove a growing number of wounded. While the C-47's were on the field, German planes bombed and strafed them, though with little effect. The strikes were part of some 100 sorties flown against the VI Corps on 9 April, most in the vicinity of Crailsheim. Only those few veterans of the corps who had fought long months ago in Italy could recall a day when German air had been so active.
On the 10th, as C-47's flew another resupply mission to Crailsheim, that part of CCA defending the city repulsed one more counterattack by a second Alpine regiment. Demolished bridges meanwhile frustrated the bulk of CCA in the effort to make a limited envelopment of the enemy's Jagst line. The armor had to settle for a route northwestward that before the end of the day provided contact with the 63d Division along upper reaches of the Jagst but no envelopment of enemy positions.
To American commanders, the embattled salient at Crailsheim was not worth the effort to hold it. As night fell on 11 April and as German commanders watched in relieved incredulity, the last of the armor pulled back.
Bitter from the first, the fighting for Heilbronn had continued heavy. Although three of the 100th Division's battalions eventually crossed into the little bridgehead north of the city to push south into a melange of factories on the northern outskirts, the going always was slow. Since the crossing site remained under German fire, engineers still had no hope of putting in a bridge. Without close fire support, the infantrymen depended upon artillery on the west bank of the Neckar, but fire was difficult to adjust in the confined factory district. Protected from shelling by sturdy buildings, the Germans seldom surrendered except at the point of a rifle, though many of the Hitler Youth had had enough after only a brief flurry of fanatic resistance. At one point, in response to intense mortar fire, a platoon of Hitler Youth soldiers ran screaming into American lines to surrender while their officers shot at them to make them stop.
During the night of 5 April, a battalion of the 397th Infantry crossed the Neckar south of Heilbronn and found resistance at that point just as determined. There engineers had nearly completed a bridge during the afternoon of the 7th when German artillery found the range. Although the engineers at last succeeded early the next morning, less than a company of tanks and two platoons of tank destroyers had crossed before German shells again knocked out the bridge. Two days later much the same thing happened to a heavy ponton
ferry after it had transported only a few more tanks and destroyers across.
Not until 12 April was the rubble of Heilbronn cleared of Germans and a bridge built across the Neckar. In nine days of fighting, the 100th Division lost 85 men killed and probably three times that number wounded. In the process, men of the 100th captured 1,500 Germans.17
The 63d Division, aided in later stages by tanks of the 10th Armored Division, had in the meantime kept up constant pressure against the enemy's line along the Jagst River, driving southwestward from the vicinity of the Jagst-Tauber land bridge in hope of trapping the 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Division near the confluence of the Jagst and the Neckar.18 Although a contingent of armor at last established contact with the 100th Division near Heilbronn on 14 April, the panzer grenadiers had left.
General Foertsch's hasty but surprisingly strong position along the Jagst-Neckar crescent had required eleven days of often heavy fighting to reduce. In view of the determined resistance, American casualties were relatively light, a daily average for the VI Corps of approximately 230. Yet that number was almost double the number of casualties the corps suffered in the pursuit up to the two rivers.
To the Hohe Rhoen and Schweinfurt
On the right wing of the First Army and the left of the Seventh Army, the Germans had been able to achieve no such reprieve from slashing strokes of other portions of the U.S. Seventh Army. General Hahm's LXXXII Corps was powerless to do more than delay General Haislip's XV Corps briefly at occasional towns and roadblocks as Haislip's armor and infantry marched side by side to clear the Hohe Rhoen and protect the 12th Army Group's south flank. Having come too late on the scene to build a firm position behind the Tauber River, General Simon's XIII SS Corps was also powerless to stop General Milburn's XXI Corps at the Main River near Wuerzburg.
In the XV Corps, CCB experienced the 14th Armored Division's only major fight, at Gemuenden, at the confluence of the Fraenkische Saale River and the Main. With the help of fighter-bombers
A TANK OF THE 14TH ARMORED DIVISION enters the prisoner-of-war camp at Hammelburg.
of the XII Tactical Air Command, which set many of the houses aflame, the armor cleared the town in an overnight attack. The next day, 6 April, CCB's tanks liberated some 4,000 Allied prisoners of war at Hammelburg. Only 75 Americans, most of them wounded--including General Patton's son-in-law, Colonel Waters--remained in the camp, the rest having been marched to the east as an aftermath of the raid by Task Force Baum.
"I have this?" asked an ecstatic Serb, clutching a shoulder patch of the armored division; "I frame it, for my children and grandchildren."19
On 7 April, the 14th Armored's CCA in conjunction with a regiment of the 3d Division took Bad Neustadt on the Fraenkische Saale only a few miles from the Thueringer Wald and the boundary with the Third Army, while the rest of the 3d Division and the 45th advanced almost unimpeded over narrow, winding
mountain roads to sweep the Hohe Rhoen. The next day the armor established contact with the Third Army.
In the XXI Corps, brief delays occurred. Although a battalion of the 4th Division on 2 April crossed into the last big southward loop of the Main River, a counterattack and then a stubborn defense by a Kampfgruppe built around a company of tanks of the XIII SS Corps delayed clearing the southern end of the Main loop. Only on 5 April did infantry of the 4th Division and tanks of the 12th Armored cross the ground lying within the loop and make another crossing of the meandering Main at Kitzingen, southeast of Wuerzburg.
At Wuerzburg men of the 42d Division gained their first foothold over the Main by using two canoes found along the bank. By the 4th, two regiments were inside the city. Because engineers quickly spanned a 100-foot gap in a highway bridge, no problems developed in getting tanks and tank destroyers into the fight, but clearing the city, which had been heavily bombed, was slow. A heterogeneous force under a combat commander, including police and firemen and some civilians, holed up in the rubble, and it took most of three days to root them out. The climax came on the 5th with defeat of a last-gasp company-size counterattack aimed at the bridge over the Main.
With the 42d Division delayed at Wuerzburg, the XXI Corps commander, General Milburn, sent the 12th Armored Division's CCA on toward the next objective, Schweinfurt, twenty-two miles to the northeast, oft-bombed hub of the German ball-bearing industry. Hardly had the armor begun to advance on 5 April when the tanks ran into a defensive position erected across the main highway to Schweinfurt by a regiment formed from students and staff of an infantry school. Attached to General Hahm's LXXXII Corps, these troops had hurriedly gone into position only the night before as impending collapse of the defense at Wuerzburg threatened to expose further Hahm's south flank.20
The German infantry was still holding CCA's tanks at bay when on 7 April men of the 42d Division arrived to help. As the Germans at last fell back, the 42d Division commander, General Collins, sent one regiment to seize high ground north of Schweinfurt, cutting escape routes in that direction, while CCA crossed the Main River and on 10 April cut a remaining major road to the southeast of the city. Medium bombers of the 9th Bombardment Division at the same time were giving the city a final working over. Infantry in one day, 11 April, cleared the bulk of resistance from the rubble that Schweinfurt had become.
A Shift to South and Southeast
These drives of the XV and XXI Corps to the northeast and the Third Army's change of direction to the east and southeast as it approached Kassel had created a converging attack. Both the XV Corps and the north wing of the XXI Corps were only a few miles from positions of the 11th Armored Division, right wing unit of the Third Army, which was driving along the southwestern slopes of the Thueringer Wald. Caught in the squeeze was Hahm's LXXXII Corps.
Soon after the new Army Group G commander, General Schulz, had reached the front, he had come to the same conclusion
for which his predecessor had been relieved--the army group should relinquish the Seventh Army to direct control of the Commander in Chief West and fall back to the south and southeast. Devoid of communications to Field Marshal Kesselring, Schulz recommended this step directly to OKW but received no reaction until 9 April, after the U.S. XV Corps had established contact with the Third Army, thus cutting off the LXXXII Corps from the rest of the Seventh Army. Ordering Schulz to make Hahm's corps a part of Foertsch's First Army, OKW tacitly approved Army Group G's relinquishing the Seventh Army.
Although OKW still granted no authority for Army Group G to withdraw to the south and southeast, the American thrusts already had forced the bulk of the First Army in those directions. Only Hahm's LXXXII Corps had a choice, and that was either to conform or be trapped against the Thueringer Wald.
Both General Haislip's XV Corps and General Milburn's XXI Corps had to turn south and southeast at this point or be pinched out at the Thueringer Wald by the Third Army's southeastward drive. They began their turns on 11 April, the XV Corps aiming toward Bamberg and Nuremberg, the XXI Corps toward Ansbach, southwest of Nuremberg. Two days later, the enemy's defense at Heilbronn and along the Jagst River having been broken, General Brooks's VI Corps turned south into the Loewenstein Hills southeast of Heilbronn.
Although these moves marked the end of the Seventh Army's northeastward thrust to protect the flank of the 12th Army Group, they represented no unrestricted shift to the drive into southern Germany. As early as 4 April, General Devers had placed broad though definite restrictions on any advances except for the northeastward drive of the XV and XXI Corps. Faced with increasing responsibilities for securing rear areas and performing occupation functions, Devers considered his strength too limited for an all-out thrust. The First French Army was particularly weak, still having to keep some troops on the west bank of the Rhine facing the Black Forest and others to contain the enemy along the French-Italian frontier and in ports along the French coast. This left to Patch's Seventh Army a disproportionate share of the 6th Army Group front, some 120 miles, more than double the width of army sectors in the 12th Army Group. The scattered but nonetheless troublesome resistance the Germans continued to muster, in contrast to a virtual collapse in front of parts of the 12th Army Group, gave substance to Devers's concern.21
Only with arrival of the Ninth Army at the Elbe and unqualified success of the 12th Army Group's drive assured did General Eisenhower act to bolster the 6th Army Group and reduce the width of its zone. On 15 April he issued a directive to govern remaining operations for the defeat of Germany. While Montgomery's 21 Army Group drove northeast to the Baltic Sea near Luebeck and cleared the German littoral and the Netherlands, the 12th Army Group was to hold with two armies along the Elbe-Mulde line and send the Third Army southeast down the valley of the Danube River into Austria to Salzburg for eventual linkup with the Russians. The
6th Army Group was to drive south and southeast into western Austria, making its main effort at first on the right wing of the Seventh Army to trap the enemy Nineteenth Army in the Black Forest.22
For the offensive into southern Germany and Austria, General Eisenhower shifted the boundary between the 6th and 12th Army Groups west to Wuerzburg. From there the boundary ran southeast, splitting the Austrian frontier midway between Munich and Salzburg and reducing by about fifty miles the width of the 6th Army Group zone. While the Third Army was to be brought up to 15 divisions, the 6th Army Group was to be afforded unrestricted use of 2 divisions that had been assigned for some weeks but had been earmarked as a SHAEF reserve. French and American divisions to be employed in southern Germany were to total 34. In addition Eisenhower offered use of the First Allied Airborne Army should Devers want it, and specifically reserved a new airborne division, the 13th, for a possible airborne assault to speed the main effort south of Stuttgart.
Flying to headquarters of the 12th Army Group on 16 April, General Devers conferred with Generals Bradley and Patton. Rather than effect a time-consuming relief of those Seventh Army divisions already engaged in what was to become the Third Army zone, Devers and Patton agreed that they should continue to attack but should shift their axes of advance to the southeast. The shift would carry them in time into the Seventh Army's altered zone. They later agreed that the 14th Armored Division, which was committed close to the former Third Army boundary, should become a part of the Third Army and that General Patch should receive a new armored division.
The Supreme Commander's instructions for the offensive were in line with General Devers's original plan, which the 6th Army Group commander had had to forgo in order to protect the 12th Army Group flank. The right wing of the Seventh Army (General Brooks's VI Corps) was to make the main effort up the valley of the Neckar River past Stuttgart to Huebingen, thence south to Lake Constance (Bodensee) and the Swiss frontier. The German Nineteenth Army thus trapped in the Black Forest, the VI Corps was to assist the First French Army in clearing the forest while the other two corps of the Seventh Army continued south and southeast across the Danube and into Austria.23
Nuremberg and the Drive to the Danube
Even as these plans and orders were being formulated, General Haislip's XV Corps had been making its turn from northeast to southeast, heading first for Bamberg at the meeting of the Main and Regnitz Rivers, then for Nuremberg, scene of annual rallies of the Nazi party and thus a shrine of National Socialism. Because what remained of General Hahm's LXXXII Corps was retreating precipitately to avoid entrapment, the first of the objectives, Bamberg, fell on 13 April to contingents of the 3d and 45th Divisions after only a day of fighting against local defense forces.
German commanders were acutely conscious of their lack of troops in this
sector.24 What was in effect a transfer of little more than a corps headquarters from Seventh Army to First would hardly eliminate a gap that the U.S. Third Army's right wing astride the Thueringer Wald and now the U.S. Seventh Army's left wing marching alongside were constantly recreating. Although Field Marshal Kesselring with headquarters of OB WEST arrived in the south on 10 April and ordered General Schulz to bring the German Seventh Army back under the aegis of Army Group G, that by itself would accomplish little more than to pin the onus for the whole problem on one man, Schulz.
General Schulz tried a desperate solution. Since an Allied breakthrough on the right soon would sever all communications, however roundabout, with German forces east of the Elbe River and with Berlin, Schulz decided to bolster his right even at the expense of a breakthrough on his left on the seam between the First and Nineteenth Armies, since those armies could withdraw in the face of heavy attack without dire results. Although aware that strong Allied attacks soon would hit that seam, Schulz pulled out the remains of the 2d Mountain and 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Divisions for transfer to the gap between the First and Seventh Armies. He would rob Peter to pay Paul, then face the consequences of the theft as best he could when the day of reckoning came.
Lack of gasoline delayed the transfer. After making a strong case for his needs, General Schulz finally obtained some gasoline from a Luftwaffe depot, but before he could bring much of it forward, the head of OKW, Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, forbade its use. Such was the dream world in which Hitler and OKW were living that Keitel was saving the fuel for the future strategic employment of jet fighters that presumably were to save the dying Third Reich.25
Because of this delay, the remnants of the two divisions arrived too late for fighting at Bamberg. They contributed instead to a stanch defense of Nuremberg, already almost obliterated by Allied bombs.
Like all major German cities, Nuremberg had a ring of fixed antiaircraft guns. These and their crews constituted the core of the defense. The commander and staff of an otherwise defunct 9th Volks Grenadier Division, operating under General Simon's XIII SS Corps, were in charge. To the northwest, blocking the U.S. XXI Corps, whence the Germans expected the main blow on Nuremberg to come, was the 2d Mountain Division. To the east of the city, trying to shore up the faltering LXXXII Corps, went the 17th SS Panzer Grenadiers, minus one regiment, which was committed inside the city. Within Nuremberg in addition were several Luftwaffe and Volkssturm battalions and a regiment provided by Wehrkreis XIII. Available a few miles northeast of the city was Gruppe Grafenwoehr, composed of two battalions of infantry and thirty-five tanks of various types gleaned from factories in Nuremberg and from a panzer training center whence the force drew its name.26
Under a buzzing canopy of aircraft of the XII Tactical Air Command, the 3d
A PATROL OF THE 3D DIVISION MAKES ITS WAY THROUGH THE RUBBLE OF NUREMBERG
and 45th Divisions in two days spanned the thirty miles from Bamberg to the outskirts of Nuremberg and began an assault on the city on 16 April. The 3d Division moved in from the north, the 45th from east and southeast. The 106th Cavalry Group at the same time swept around the city to block exits to the south, while the 42d Division of the neighboring XXI Corps advanced on the western suburb of Fuerth.
The Germans wasted their few available tanks on the 14th Armored Division northeast of Nuremberg. In a counterattack on the 15th, Gruppe Grafenwoehr struck the 94th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, but reinforcements rushed from the reserve combat command helped bring the strike to a standstill. Within two days Gruppe Grafenwoehr had ceased to exit.
It was a grueling fight for Nuremberg, made all the more difficult by deadly antiaircraft fire directed against the men on the ground. Once the ring of flak guns was broken, the fight developed into the slow, often costly, business of clearing one crumbling building after another,
one more heap of rubble, one more cellar, defeating one more futile though dangerous counterattack launched by a few men, a squad, a platoon.27 All the while fighter-bombers and artillery kept pounding an already ruined metropolis.
Late on 19 April the 3d Division's 30th Infantry penetrated medieval walls to enter the old town in the heart of the city. Before daylight the next morning, the Nazi gauleiter, who had vowed in a message to Hitler to fight to the death, directed a final, fanatic counterattack. Except for a few Germans who had to be rooted from the rubble, that ended the fight. The gauleiter himself was found dead in a cellar. The shrine of nazism fell, ironically, on 20 April, Hitler's birthday.
With the collapse of the defenses at Nuremberg, the First Army right wing gave way. In the same manner that one pushing against a closed door hurtles forward when the door suddenly opens, both Haislip's XV Corps and Milburn's XXI Corps plunged some fifty miles to the Danube. Launching a drive from Feuchtwangen, southwest of Nuremberg, on 20 April, the 12th Armored Division of the XXI Corps got there first, crossing the river two days later on a bridge seized intact at Dillingen. General Milburn's infantry divisions, the 4th and 63d, made it on the 25th. Relinquishing the 14th Armored Division to the Third Army, Haislip's XV Corps used two infantry divisions, the 42d (transferred from the XXI Corps during the fight for Nuremberg) and the 45th, also to reach the Danube on the 25th. In the process the two divisions moved southwestward from Nuremberg to get out of the zone that was to be transferred to the Third Army.
The Third Army too benefited from the collapse of the German First Army right wing; the collapse reopened a gap between the First and Seventh Armies into which the Third Army in its new drive to the southeast could plunge. Because of the regrouping maneuver that left the VIII Corps and five divisions in place along the Mulde River for transfer to the First Army and brought the III Corps and six divisions from completed assignments in the Ruhr, the Third Army was ready to exploit the gap with full force on 23 April, though the drive actually began as early as the 19th.
Before the new drive started the XII Corps commander, General Eddy, because of high blood pressure, relinquished command to the former commander of the 5th Division, General Irwin. Under the new leader, the XII Corps began on 19 April to edge southeastward from an earlier stopping point at Bayreuth, while the III and XX Corps continued shifting zones. Contingents of General Walker's XX Corps from new positions in the center of the Third Army began to advance the next day. Although General Van Fleet's III Corps was not to assume control of the 14th
Armored Division until 23 April, the fact that the division was continuing to attack as a part of the Seventh Army meant that the front on what would become the Third Army's right wing was also moving forward.
By the time the III Corps officially took over on the right wing the night of 22 April, forward troops of the III and XX Corps were south and southeast of Nuremberg, only forty miles from the Danube, while contingents of the XII Corps were well south of a highway that leads east from Nuremberg to Pilsen, Czechoslovakia. Although resistance to the heretofore measured advance had at some points been stanch, no question existed that all three corps could advance almost at will as they threw full strength into the fight.
When the attack began in earnest on 24 April, many of the units General Patton had received in exchange for the VIII Corps were relative newcomers to battle--the 13th Armored, 65th, 71st, 86th, and 97th Divisions--but in the pursuit warfare that the times demanded, their inexperience scarcely showed. As in the battle-tested divisions, infantrymen clung precariously to anything that moved by motor--tanks, tank destroyers, trailers, ready at the first sound of enemy fire to jump from their perches and assume the age-old mode of infantry attack. Corps artillery often was left far behind, its trucks mobilized to shuttle infantrymen forward. Everywhere captured German vehicles dotted the columns.
The countryside of the Fraenkische Highland was strikingly beautiful with spring. Here a cluster of daffodils, there a farmer turning a damp furrow, cows grazing in green fields. Only in the towns and cities did war seem to have any place. There the streets were dead, sometimes block after block of rubble, or else owed their survival to great white flags of surrender hanging from every building. Almost everywhere during late April, front lines had ceased to exist, so that nobody knew when or where the fighting might erupt--at the next hill, ridge, village, stream, wherever a group of Germans with a will to fight took a stand. Sometimes the Germans would let infantry and tanks pass unmolested, then turn sudden, unanticipated wrath on artillery and supply units bringing up the rear. Other times men who had dug in to fight would for some inexplicable reason throw away their weapons to raise hands high in surrender. Everybody knew that the war was over, yet somehow, at one isolated spot or another, the war still went on, real enough for the moment and sometimes deadly for those involved.
While awaiting arrival of an assigned armored division, General Walker's XX Corps in the Third Army center used the 3d Cavalry Group to reach the Danube first. Gaining the river southwest of Regensburg early in the afternoon of 24 April, the cavalry opened the way for assault crossings by the 65th and 71st Divisions the following night. On the army's right wing around Ingolstadt, three divisions of the III Corps--14th Armored, 86th, and 99th--reached the Danube in early afternoon on 26 April. Paced by the 11th Armored Division, the XII Corps meanwhile advanced down a narrow corridor between the Danube and the Czechoslovakian frontier. Guarding the corps right flank, the 26th Division reached the Danube on the 26th.
The Drive on Stuttgart
For the Allied main effort--a sweep by the VI Corps up the valley of the Neckar River, thence across the Danube to the Austrian frontier--General Patch in the meantime had been employing three infantry divisions and the 10th Armored Division in an attack that was supposed to be co-ordinated closely with a subsidiary thrust by the First French Army against Stuttgart. Under the 6th Army Group's plan, the French attack had to be timed carefully lest a premature advance prompt the German Nineteenth Army to pull out before the VI Corps could bypass Stuttgart and block major highways south of the city leading out of the Black Forest. Although the French were to capture Stuttgart, they were then to afford Seventh Army troops running rights on the main highways through the city to help speed the Seventh Army's continuing advance across the Danube into Austria. The 13th Airborne Division (Maj. Gen. Elbridge G. Chapman) was tentatively scheduled for an airdrop thirty miles south of Stuttgart to seize an airfield and create an airhead to block German escape routes.28
Another reason Devers wanted to put American forces east and south of Stuttgart before the French attacked was the presence in the 6th Army Group at the time of the special ALSOS intelligence mission, which sought data on German developments in nuclear fission. The ALSOS group was to accompany the VI Corps in the drive to cut roads south of Stuttgart and then make a dash for the town of Hechingen, fifty miles southwest of the city, where German scientists reportedly were conducting nuclear experiments. The ALSOS mission wanted to capture the scientists and their research data before they fell into French hands.29
As General Devers issued his instructions formally on 16 April, the VI Corps had completed a reorientation to the south following the unexpectedly sharp fight for Heilbronn and the Jagst-Neckar crescent. Although the Germans had pulled out the 2d Mountain and 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Divisions from this sector, a general collapse of remaining troops in Beyer's LXXX Corps and Bork's XIII Corps was yet to develop.
The French meanwhile had been making gains that to their commander, General de Lattre, appeared to warrant unilaterally superseding General Devers's instructions. Having quickly captured Karlsruhe (4 April) and Pforzheim (8 April) and having cleared a crescent formed by confluence of the Enz River with the Neckar just over 10 miles from Stuttgart, de Lattre had staged a dramatic maneuver. Once an armored division had swept quickly up the east bank of the Rhine to a point opposite Strasbourg, de Lattre on 15 April sent a corps across the Rhine there and launched an advance eastward along a highway splitting the Black Forest. Other French troops were at the same time driving south along roads in the eastern fringe of the forest. As General Devers issued his directive on 16 April, the citizens of Strasbourg were ringing their church bells to celebrate the city's relief from German artillery fire, and
the two French forces were within a few miles of linking up, thus writing off the northern half of the Black Forest and gaining the upper reaches of the Neckar close to the network of roads south of Stuttgart that constituted the Seventh Army's first objective.
To conform to General Devers's orders in the wake of these developments was, to de Lattre, to abandon all benefits accruing from the maneuvers. To delay further French advances while the Americans still were some twenty to twenty-five miles north and northwest of Stuttgart was to invite the Germans to escape from the city and the southern half of the Black Forest. Despite an explicit explanation of General Devers's plan, presented on 17 April, de Lattre ignored Devers's directive and ordered one corps to launch a double envelopment of the southern half of the Black Forest, the other to begin immediately to envelop Stuttgart from the south and east.30
The maneuver to envelop Stuttgart opened with signal success on 18 April. Crossing the interarmy boundary into the zone assigned the Seventh Army, the French seized the road center of Tuebingen, on the Neckar almost due south of Stuttgart. If they could repeat that success as they turned north toward Stuttgart the next day, they stood a chance of trapping sizable German forces. Although the thrust to Tuebingen had split the enemy's LXIV Corps (General der Artillerie Max Grimmeiss), the bulk of the corps, including commander and staff, were north of the penetration. In
GENERAL DE LATTRE. (Photograph taken in 1951.)
addition, the LXXX Corps (Beyer), recently transferred to the Nineteenth Army, was defending astride the Neckar north of Stuttgart and also might be trapped should the French envelop the city.31
Faced with encirclement, the Germans on 19 April stiffened, while the remnants of two divisions of the LXIV Corps tried to muster a counterattack southward to cut off the French penetration to Tuebingen. Although the counterattack never got under way, the Germans held their French adversaries to relatively minor gains all through the 19th and 20th.
A greater threat to the two German corps then arose from the Americans. After three days of short advances by the 63d and 100th Divisions through minefields and roadblocks in the Loewenstein Hills southeast of Heilbronn and at Schwaebisch Hall to the east, the 10th Armored Division on the 19th suddenly broke free. In rapid strides the armor swept southward more than thirty miles, passing to the east of Stuttgart, while men of the 44th Division followed closely to mop up and protect the flanks of the penetration. The next day the tank columns continued to Kirchheim, in the hill country of the Swabian Highland fourteen miles southeast of Stuttgart, there cutting the autobahn leading from Stuttgart to Ulm. Because of that thrust and the earlier drive by the French, the projected airborne assault south of Stuttgart was canceled.32
By this time the French had reached a point only ten miles southwest of Kirchheim, leaving to the Germans in and around Stuttgart only one main road as a route of escape. Although the commander of the LXXX Corps, General Beyer, tried to arrange with his opposite in the LXIV Corps, General Grimmeiss, for a combined breakout attempt, Grimmeiss's troops were too closely engaged. The bulk of Beyer's LXXX Corps the night of the 20th pulled out alone through the narrow gap, while General Grimmeiss and remnants of his LXIV Corps the next day tried to infiltrate southward through French positions. Few made it. After wandering for twelve days and nights, Grimmeiss himself at last fell captive to the French near the Swiss border.33
Faced with a fait accompli, General Devers on the 20th legitimatized the French foray into the Seventh Army's zone by a change in the interarmy boundary, whereupon a French column the next day pushed down the valley of the Neckar by way of Esslingen, enveloped Stuttgart, and broke into the northeastern fringe of the city early in the afternoon. Other columns entered a few hours later from south, west, and northwest. The following day, 22 April, Stuttgart was clear.
In an imaginative, aggressive maneuver, de Lattre's First French Army in twelve days had swept the northern half of the Black Forest, trapped the bulk of the LXIV Corps, and seized Stuttgart, in the process taking some 28,000 prisoners at a cost of 175 French troops killed, 510 wounded. Whether more Germans might have been captured had de Lattre conformed to General Dever's plan could only be surmised. Devers and his staff believed the bag would have been bigger.34
At the same time the French had seriously jeopardized the ALSOS mission's intended foray to seize German scientists and nuclear research data at Hechingen, southwest of Stuttgart. This the Americans had circumvented by directing the ALSOS group and an escort of motorized combat engineers to circle back to the northwest of Stuttgart and drive south into the French sector to Freudenstadt in order to come on Hechingen from the
west. With the ALSOS military commander, Col. Boris T. Pash, employing considerable bluff, the group made its way successfully through the French sector, then on 22 April pushed beyond forward French positions and moved swiftly to Hechingen, where it found the German research center hidden in a cave and captured the scientists in the town.35
A French Incursion to Ulm
Aside from Stuttgart, two other specific objectives in that part of Germany held special attraction for General de Lattre and the French. One was the town of Sigmaringen, on the Danube River not quite fifty miles south of Stuttgart. There Marshal Henri Philippe Pétain, Pierre Laval, and others of the collaborationist Vichy government had come after fleeing France the preceding August and had set up a government-in-exile. The other was the imperial city of Ulm, also on the Danube roughly the same distance southeast of Stuttgart, scene of Napoleon's triumph over the Austrians in 1805.
As General Devers had drawn the interarmy boundary in his original instructions for the offensive, neither of those objectives had fallen in the French zone. Running southwestward from the vicinity of Stuttgart to Rottweil on upper reaches of the Neckar, thence almost due south to the Swiss frontier west of Lake Constance, the boundary reflected Devers's view that the first task for the French was to dispense with the German Nineteenth Army in Stuttgart and the Black Forest. That accomplished, Devers's order made clear, the boundary was to be adjusted to swing to the southeast and give the French a role in entering Austria.36
General de Lattre also saw Stuttgart and the Black Forest as primary goals, as demonstrated on 17 April when he sent half his force against Stuttgart, half to clear the southern part of the Black Forest. Yet all along de Lattre had his eyes on a third goal: Ulm, and, in the process, Sigmaringen.
"The true maneuver," de Lattre had told one of his subordinates as early as 15 April, "is to march at full speed [tambour battant] in order to be in Ulm by 25 April."37
In terms of the original interarmy boundary, Ulm lay forty-four miles east of the French zone. While the 10th Armored Division bypassed the city to the west, the 44th Division was to capture it. Although the change in boundary ordered on the 20th extended the French zone southeastward from Rottweil to Sigmaringen, and by any logical extension provided the French some forty miles of the Austrian frontier east of Lake Constance, the adjustment still left Ulm fully forty miles outside the French zone.
De Lattre refused to be deterred. Late on 20 April he directed the commander of the corps that was attacking Stuttgart to divert an armored division southeastward toward Rottweil and the Danube with the aim of eventually swinging back to the northeast astride the Danube through Sigmaringen to Ulm.
General de Lattre would note later that there were other reasons for the French to drive on Ulm than reawakening the memory of past glory. The drive was, he would argue, a logical extension
of the envelopment of Stuttgart to trap those Germans who had escaped the encirclement there and thus deny them access to the National Redoubt. He also looked on the drive as a step in establishing French forces along the length of the Iller River, extending generally south from Ulm to the Austrian frontier, a line lying almost entirely within the Seventh Army's zone. That move, he believed, would force the American command to provide the French a zone for entering Austria rather than leave them impotently facing the Swiss border.38
These were less reasons than rationalizations. By the night of 20 April when de Lattre ordered the start of the thrust on Ulm, the U.S. 10th Armored Division was at Kirchheim, less than thirty miles from the Danube, and was fully capable of handling any German force that had escaped from Stuttgart. Similarly, the boundary adjustment that General Devers ordered on the 20th already had assured the French a forty-mile zone of entry into Austria.
On 21 April the French drive southward to clear the southern half of the Black Forest picked up momentum. French forces advancing along the eastern fringe of the forest crossed the Danube and gained the northwestern tip of Lake Constance, thereby sealing off the Nineteenth Army's XVIII SS Panzer Corps in the Black Forest. Another column attacking up the east bank of the Rhine turned to seize the city of Freiburg. An armored division achieved the first goal in the roundabout thrust on Ulm, reaching the Danube a few miles upstream from Sigmaringen.
De Lattre was ecstatic. "Bravo!" he cheered, then ordered the division to push "pleins gaz" via Sigmaringen to Ulm. "The Americans will perhaps dislodge us from it," he continued. "But the French flag will have flown there."39
Too late to catch Pétain and Laval at Sigmaringen, the French armor nevertheless made rapid strides along the Danube. So did the U.S. 10th Armored Division in its drive to the Danube. By nightfall of the 22d the Americans had reached the river at Ehingen and had seized a bridgehead. The French would thus have to pass directly through the American positions, raising the specter of a clash with American troops who were unaware of the French presence.
Fortunately, when the French armor encountered outposts of the 10th Armored Division near Ehingen early on 23 April, the Americans for all their surprise quickly identified the intruders. As de Lattre recalled it, the 10th Armored Division commander, General Morris, raised no objections, remarking that, "Among tankers, we always understand each other."40
When word of the incident reached General Devers at the 6th Army Group that afternoon, he was considerably less amenable. He sent a liaison officer to de Lattre's headquarters with orders to withdraw immediately.41 De Lattre paid him no heed.
The leading French platoon drew up outside Ulm at dusk on 23 April. Soon after the 44th Division's 324th Infantry arrived at dawn the next day, that regiment, the 10th Armored Division's CCR, and two French battalions attacked
the city from the southwest along the north bank of the Danube. By nightfall most resistance was at an end, and the French were free to unfurl their tricolor, as Napoleon had done, above the city's old fort.
Mission accomplished, General de Lattre at last promised to take his troops inside the French boundary.42
The "Stuttgart Incident"
In Stuttgart, in the meantime, General Devers's patience with the French had been undergoing an even more severe test. While according the French the honor of capturing Stuttgart, General Devers had planned from the first to use main roads through the city to support the Seventh Army. Disturbed by the presence of thousands of liberated, deliriously happy foreign laborers in Stuttgart, including 20,000 French deportees, he decided on 22 April that the Seventh Army's needs could be better served by placing the city in the U.S. zone. This he ordered, effective the next day.43
To a sensitive General de Lattre, removing his troops after their achievement in capturing Stuttgart was an affront. While protesting to General Devers, he reported the situation to the chief of the French Provisional Government, General de Gaulle. De Gaulle replied promptly and firmly. De Lattre was to maintain a French garrison in Stuttgart, institute a military government, and tell the Americans that the French intended to hold and administer all territory conquered by French troops until the interested governments had fixed a French zone of occupation.44
In passing the word to General Devers, de Lattre added that Stuttgart was available nonetheless to all needs of the 6th Army Group. To Devers, use of Stuttgart was no longer the issue; the issue was a direct violation of orders by a subordinate, a situation he found "intolerable."45 Tales emanating from the city of wanton rape and looting further strengthened his resolve. After reporting the matter to General Eisenhower on 26 April, Devers reiterated his order to relinquish the city and told the 100th Division to move in.
As American troops began to arrive, the local French commander treated them amicably but declined to evacuate the city. While informing de Gaulle of this development, de Lattre again notified General Devers that because of contrary instructions from his government, he was unable to comply with the 6th Army Group's order.46
General Devers himself went into Stuttgart on the 27th to check the tales of rape and looting. The reports, he found, had been exaggerated. Rather than 50,000 rape cases, as rumored, there had been fewer than 2,000; and most of those, as well as considerable looting and "misbehavior," were attributable to foreign
Into Austria and Czechoslovakia
28 April-8 May 1945
laborers and Germans themselves. Conditions were, in any event, markedly improved. Deciding that the city was too badly damaged to be of use to the 6th Army Group, Devers readjusted the interarmy boundary, giving Stuttgart--"and the conditions there," he noted wryly--back to the French.47
The Supreme Commander, for his part, protested officially to General de Gaulle. "Under the circumstances," General Eisenhower wrote, "I must of course accept the situation, as I myself am unwilling to take any action which would reduce the effectiveness of the military effort against Germany . . . ." He protested nevertheless that the issuance of direct orders to the First French Army counter to operational orders given through the military chain of command violated the understanding with the United States Government under which the United States had armed and equipped French divisions to serve under the Combined Chiefs of Staff. He had no choice, he concluded, but to refer the matter to the Combined Chiefs.48
In reply General de Gaulle put the blame on a lack of agreement and liaison between France and the Allied governments relating to war policy in general and the postwar occupation in particular. As for arms for French troops, he noted, those had been furnished under lend-lease, for which French services had been given in return.
When news of the incident reached Washington, President Truman was shocked. If the time had come, he wrote General de Gaulle, when the French Army was to carry out only the political wishes of the French Government, then the command structure would have to be rearranged. De Gaulle in reply expressed the wish that situations of this nature would not arise and suggested that they could be avoided if the Allies would consult the French on matters involving French interests.
There the matter rested. It would be finally settled early in May when the Allies at last agreed on a French zone of occupation and a French role in the control machinery for Germany.
From the Danube Into Austria
In reaching Lake Constance on 21 April, the First French Army had failed to snare the commander of the Nineteenth Army, General Brandenberger, and his staff. The French had nevertheless trapped most of Brandenberger's remaining troops, the entire XVIII SS Panzer Corps, in the southern half of the Black Forest. (Map XVI) Beginning the night of the 24th, the Germans tried to break out to the southeast, giving rise to violent combat, but when French air and artillery pummeled them mercilessly by day, the Germans quickly weakened. Only individuals and small groups escaped, leaving some 27,000 to wend their way into prisoner-of-war enclosures. By 27 April the Black Forest was calm.49
The demise of the XVIII SS Panzer Corps left the Nineteenth Army with the remnants of two corps, that part of the LXIV Corps that had avoided the French near Stuttgart (OB WEST assigned a new corps commander) and General Beyer's
LXXX Corps, the latter minus some 2,000 men trapped in the Swabian Highland by the 10th Armored Division's crossing of the Danube and left to the 103d Division to mop up. Also under the Nineteenth Army was a force of little more than division size deceptively called the "Twenty-fourth Army." These were mainly headquarters troops fleshed out with Volkssturm and frontier battalions that had manned posts along the Swiss border to discourage any Allied plan to enter Germany by way of neutral Switzerland. The Twenty-fourth Army had escaped the French trap by crossing Lake Constance by boat.50
As for General Foertsch's First Army, all corps headquarters and most divisional formations--such as they were--got across the Danube a step ahead of their pursuers, but all inevitably lost large numbers of men in the process. During the week ending 26 April, each of the U.S. Seventh Army's three corps averaged well over a thousand prisoners a day.
The Third Army's southeastward turn had created an unremediable rupture between the German First and Seventh Armies, throwing the Seventh Army back against the Czechoslovakian frontier where General von Obstfelder and his staff could do little but await eventual capitulation.51 Although Kesselring at OB WEST ordered a counterattack into the Third Army's eastern flank, the meager forces available for commitment had no fuel. When on the 26th Kesselring ordered the LXXXV Corps, which contained remains of the 11th Panzer Division, to move to the First Army to cover the gap by defending the Danube along the Austrian frontier near Passau, lack of gasoline again prevented compliance. Two days later Kesselring formally recognized the split between the First and Seventh Armies by removing the Seventh Army from Army Group G's control and placing it directly under his own command.52 So disorganized were the German defenders along the seam between the armies that the U.S. XII Corps in a week took from the sector more than 25,000 prisoners.
Forced behind the Danube and patently incapable of preventing Allied troops from crossing wherever they chose, the Germans in the south at last were as disorganized and impotent as those who had tried to stem the eastward surge of the 12th Army Group. They still might muster an occasional counterattack, sometimes in as much as battalion strength, and they might yet delay Allied advance at strategic points, particularly in cities, but the end was near. As someone at General Eisenhower's headquarters put it, the Allied forces now were engaged in "the disarming, by battle, of the German armies."53
One American crossing of the Danube after another quickly eliminated that river as a factor in the operation. The 12th Armored Division (XXI Corps) crossed over a captured bridge at Dillingen on the 22d; the 10th Armored and 44th Divisions (VI Corps) over three captured bridges near Ehingen on the 23d. After the 42d Division had captured Donauwoerth on the 25th, both the 42d and 45th Divisions (XV Corps) made
assault crossings near that old city before daylight on the 26th. At the same time, the 65th and 71st Divisions (XX Corps) crossed on either side of Regensburg, in the process prompting the combat commander of the old south-bank fortress city (Napoleon had known it as Ratisbon) to flee, leaving to a retired general the ignominy of surrender without fight. The 103d Division (VI Corps) crossed northeast of Ulm at daylight on the 26th; and finally, the 86th Division (III Corps), after capturing Ingolstadt, made an assault crossing the night of the 26th. (Advancing southeast between the Danube and the Czechoslovakian border, the XII Corps would face a crossing of the river only after reaching the Austrian frontier.)
Only one new component of appreciable size joined the German order of battle, a Division Nibelungen, originally intended but readied too late for General Wenck's Twelfth Army on the Elbe. Committed on 27 April in the path of the U.S. III Corps southeast of Ingolstadt, the division was almost at full strength in men, but some 40 percent lacked weapons. Aside from a few pre-World War II tanks, the heaviest weapon on hand was the Panzerfaust. In a matter of only three days, the division ceased to exist.54
As the drive toward the Austrian border began, the now familiar pattern of an armored division out front, followed by infantry divisions for the mop-up, quickly developed everywhere except in General Haislip's XV Corps. Having relinquished his armor to the incoming III Corps, Haislip would be able to commit the replacement, the inexperienced 20th Armored Division (Maj. Gen. Orlando Ward), only on 28 April.
The assault spread rapidly through the picturesque Bavarian villages and countryside. If the villagers displayed white flags and no one fired, the columns raced rapidly on. If the Germans made a stand, tanks, artillery, and planes tore the houses to bits. The message apparently got through, for time after time civilians prevailed upon the German soldiery to leave.
A pattern of no resistance in cities, too, began to emerge. Before attacking Memmingen, just east of the Iller River midway between Ulm and the Austrian frontier, the 10th Armored Division sent ahead burgomasters of towns already captured to warn that only white flags and absence of resistance could spare the city from destruction. The stratagem worked; on 26 April, nobody fought back in Memmingen.
At Landsberg, site of another of the incredibly bestial Nazi concentration camps, a garrison of almost a hundred Hungarian troops lined up in parade-ground formation to surrender. Men of the 103d Division, occupying the town in the wake of the tanks of the 10th Armored Division, claimed as a souvenir a bronze plaque on a building commemorating the spot where Hitler had been imprisoned following the abortive Munich Putsch in 1923 and where he had dictated the bible of the National Socialist movement, Mein Kampf.
In Augsburg, on the Lech River midway between Ulm and Munich, arose the first tangible evidence of an active German underground resistance organization. As the 3d Division approached the city on 27 April, word came from an adjacent unit that two civilians had arrived
to arrange surrender and avoid destruction. Despite shelling from antiaircraft batteries ringing the city, the division commander, General O'Daniel, put a moratorium on artillery fire pending further developments.
Within Augsburg the combat commander, Generalmajor Franz Fehn, intended to fight, but he refused to sanction demolishing bridges and overpasses. He also early began to evacuate German soldiers from the city's hospitals and distributed several hundred tons of military rations to the civilian population.
Small underground groups, none yet aware of the existence of others, meanwhile prepared to stage a coup. Members of one group calling itself the "Freedom Party of Augsburg" reached one of the American regiments by telephone with word that the city wanted to surrender. Others who counseled surrender spread the word that the authorities had already capitulated and that everybody should display white flags. A civilian patrol reached one of the American columns to lead a battalion commander and a small group to a bunker shared by General Fehn and civilian functionaries of the city. Given five minutes to surrender, General Fehn marched dutifully out to view a city already fluttering with white flags.55
Munich, capital of Bavaria, Germany's third city and another shrine of nazism, was next. En route, contingents of the 42d and 45th Divisions overpowered some 300 SS guards and unveiled another of Germany's most notorious concentration camps, Dachau. Delirious with joy, some of the pitiful survivors of the camp rushed the electrically charged wire enclosure and died in their moment of liberation. Others hunted down their wardens, many of whom had changed into prison garb to hide among the inmates, and beat them to death with stones, clubs, fists. More than 30,000 prisoners clinging precariously to life, and great piles of grotesque, starved cadavers crammed the camp. At the crematorium was the usual grim evidence of the efficiency of Nazi extermination methods.
Leaving to medics the task of trying to save the typhus-infested inmates, the 42d and 45th Divisions pushed on to join a four-division assault against Munich stage-managed by General Haislip's XV Corps. With the 20th Armored and 42d and 45th Divisions approaching the city from the northwest and north, the Seventh Army's General Patch altered corps boundaries to put the 3d Division, which was approaching from Augsburg in a position to swing to the south of Munich, temporarily under Haislip's command. Anxious to have a hand in seizing the prize, the 12th Armored Division of the neighboring XXI Corps sent its reconnaissance troops on an unauthorized foray toward the city from the southwest.
As at Augsburg, a delegation of civilians bought word that residents of Munich were trying to prevail on military leaders to spare the city. During the night of 27 April, a variety of groups ranging from sincere anti-Nazi underground workers to war-weary burghers and common opportunists rose in a series of unconnected revolts. At the center of the uprising were three platoons of troops from Wehrkreis VII, reinforced
by contingents from a panzer replacement battalion stationed in a nearby town and little groups of dissident infantrymen. As street fighting broke out, the insurgents captured the Nazi gauleiter of Bavaria and the Munich radio station, but they failed to seize military and Nazi party headquarters.
Bolstered by SS troops from a caserne in the northern fringe of the city, troops loyal to the Nazis fought back. They failed to squelch the rebellion in Munich entirely, for the insurgents managed to save the city's bridges and to provide considerable assistance when the Americans arrived forty-eight hours later. Neither could the insurgents claim victory. Although some units of the 3d and 42d Divisions reached the center of the city before midday on 30 April to the welcome of small groups of civilians waving both white flags of surrender and Bavarian flags of celebration, other contingents had to clear stubborn nests of resistance, and the 45th Division faced a determined fight for the SS caserne. For most of the day it was a question of pouring in heavy artillery fire, attacking behind smoke screens across city streets, dodging deadly fire from antiaircraft guns or persistent machine guns--all the usual accouterments the men had come to expect in clearing rubble-strewn German cities. Even as a big white streamer flew from the highest building in Munich, troops of the 45th Division were fighting from room to room in the SS caserne to dislodge die-hard defenders. By nightfall of 30 April, it was finally over.
Those two corps of the Third Army that had crossed the Danube meanwhile were running a day or so behind the Seventh Army, primarily because of the late commitment of the III Corps. Before armor could begin to exploit from the bridgeheads, heavy rains set in. The 13th Armored Division of the XX Corps nevertheless crossed the Isar River near Landau on the 29th, then two days later reached the Inn River where it forms the Austrian border around Braunau. The 14th Armored Division of the III Corps took Landshut on the Isar on 30 April, then caught up with its neighbor to reach the Inn the next day. Advancing down the corridor between the Danube and Czechoslovakia, the 11th Armored Division of the XII Corps put patrols across the Austrian frontier near Passau as early as the 26th.
Both here and in the zone of the Seventh Army a feature of the advance was the liberation of thousands of American and Allied prisoners of war. At long last the Germans had abandoned all efforts to march the prisoners out of reach of the rampaging Allied columns.
While these thrusts were getting under way, the Supreme Commander, General Eisenhower, reaffirmed final objectives for the Third Army and the 6th Army Group.56 As before, the goal of the Third Army was to link with the Russians inside Austria, in the process seizing Salzburg and thus blocking passes leading from Salzburg into the Austrian Tirol. The 6th Army Group was to capture all other routes into the Alps--that at Bregenz at the eastern end of Lake Constance leading into the Vorarlberg, others in the vicinity of Fuessen and Garmisch-Partenkirchen leading to Landeck and Innsbruck, and that at Kufstein, in the valley of the Inn River,
leading to Kitzbuehel--then to push on to the passes on the Italian frontier.
As General Devers transmitted these instructions to his army commanders, it appeared likely that the French would beat the Seventh Army to the Austrian border and thus might advance not only beyond Bregenz but also to Landeck. Although Devers did not yet assign Landeck to the French, he did alert de Lattre to "be prepared to continue the advance to capture Landeck."57 This was clearly but a warning order, for the interarmy boundary remained at the town of Hoefen, south of Fuessen, according the main Alpine highway leading via the Fern Pass to Landeck to the Seventh Army. While the nearby Oberjoch Pass fell within the French zone, it afforded, without recourse to the main road that belonged to the Seventh Army, only roundabout passage to Landeck.
To de Lattre the warning order was license enough; he directed one of his armored divisions to head immediately for Landeck. De Lattre was anxious to have the town in order "to seal the victory at the Italian frontier" with a linkup with Allied forces in Italy. Only through Landeck to the Resia Pass was there any route by which the French might reach the Italian border.58
The desperate attempt by the German XVIII SS Panzer Corps to break its entrapment in the Black Forest interfered with de Lattre's plan. By the time he could spare troops to head for Landeck, the U.S. VI Corps had broken free, on 27 April dashing into Kempten, a little over twenty miles from Fuessen and less than that from the Austrian frontier. The next day, as de Lattre urged his troops to advance with "vigor and speed," the U.S. 10th Armored Division with help from the 44th Division captured Fuessen and crossed into Austria. On the 29th the armor got almost to the Fern Pass before German-induced landslides blocking a precipitous Alpine highway forced a halt.
With the XVIII SS Panzer Corps contained, the French on the 30th cleared Immenstadt and got within eight miles of the Oberjoch Pass. Then came what was to de Lattre distressing news. American troops, word had it, were already beyond the Fern Pass, little more than a stone's throw from Landeck.
General de Lattre promptly fired off a message to the Seventh Army's General Patch:
". . . I expect to reach Landeck, my objective, the evening of 30 April and there make contact with your elements. In the event your troops arrive first in the area of Landeck, I request that just as I withdrew from Ulm to leave you free passage in your sector . . . , so you in return take necessary measures to leave in my control the Road Junction at Landeck and the road leading to the Resia Pass."59
Although de Lattre's information on the location of American troops was erroneous--they had yet to clear the Fern Pass--a message from headquarters of the 6th Army Group, received by General Patch only two hours before de Lattre's, just as effectively denied what de Lattre wanted. By that message, General Devers extended the interarmy boundary beyond Hoefen to the Resia
Pass and specifically assigned Landeck and the pass to the Seventh Army. In an ill-disguised artifice not lost on General de Lattre, the 6th Army Group directed a change in the map co-ordinates given in earlier communications to designate the town of Hoefen. The new co-ordinates referred not to the town called Hoefen that was located south of Fuessen but instead to another, smaller town by the same name not quite seven miles to the northwest. The effect was to deny the French not only the Fern Pass but the Oberjoch Pass as well.60
Since American troops already blocked the limited roadnet, General de Lattre had no choice but to accede to Devers's order and abandon the cherished goal of linking with the Allied troops in Italy. He had begun to reconcile himself to the inevitable when word came that the Americans were having trouble getting through the Fern Pass. At the suggestion of the corps commander, de Lattre seized upon the idea of a raid south from Immenstadt over a snow-blocked back road leading up the imposing massif of the Arlberg to the Arlberg Pass and the town of St. Anton. If the Americans still had not made it to Landeck, he intended to beat them to it by the back door, going from St. Anton to Landeck and the Resia Pass.
Hastily equipped with skis, a reinforced platoon began an arduous twenty-mile trek through the snow on 5 May. Reaching the Arlberg Pass during the afternoon of the 6th, the commander placed a telephone call over the civilian network to Landeck. To the French officer's chagrin, an American voice answered. Men of the 44th Division had reached the town late the day before.61
Unconcerned with this kind of internecine rivalry, tanks of the 10th Armored Division on the left wing of the VI Corps during the last days of April had cleared Oberammergau, site in less troubled days of the world-renowned Passion Play, and entered the twin resort towns of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Heading up winding roads dominated by towering white peaks, one column of armor on the 30th crossed the Austrian border to the southwest and established contact with troops of the 44th Division. Aiming for the Isar River and the Mittenwald Pass leading to Innsbruck, another column could make no such headway because of one obstacle after another--a deep crater in the road, a demolished bridge over a gorge, two minefields, 250 officer candidates defending a defile with machine guns and Panzerfausts, another blown bridge over a cascading mountain stream. The job of the final drive into Austria at this point would pass to infantry of the 103d Division as it did at the Fern Pass to the 44th Division.
The Seventh Army's other two corps meanwhile ran several days behind in their drive to reach the frontier because they had to make wider swings to the southeast than did the VI Corps. The presence of towering mountains short of the border between the Isar and Inn Rivers, denying the XXI Corps ready access to the objective of the Inn valley, further complicated the thrust.
Seeking a natural approach into the Inn valley, the XXI Corps commander,
TANKS OF THE 20TH ARMORED DIVISION FORD THE INN RIVER en route to Salzburg.
General Milburn, sent his 12th Armored Division down the Munich-Salzburg autobahn toward the Inn near Rosenheim, thirty miles southeast of Munich. That threw Milburn's armor into the natural line of advance of General Haislip's XV Corps, conqueror of Munich. Without some adjustment in boundaries and objectives, converging drives of the XXI Corps into the southeastern tip of Germany and of the right wing of the Third Army on Salzburg soon would pinch out the XV Corps.
At the same time, from General Eisenhower's headquarters came pressure to speed the closing of all Alpine passes to eliminate even a remote possibility of the Germans' forming a National Redoubt. With concurrence of the Third Army's General Patton, who needed to bring more infantry divisions forward before he could begin a push on Salzburg, General Devers on the first day of May asked General Eisenhower to alter the interarmy group boundary to give Salzburg to the 6th Army Group. Displaying a measure of disdain for normal security precautions, Devers negotiated the change by radio, telephone, and liaison plane in a day, then ordered Haislip's
PARATROOPERS OF THE 101ST AIRBORNE DIVISION APPROACH BERCHTESGADEN
XV Corps to drive swiftly for Salzburg.62
If any chance still existed for the Germans remaining in southeastern Germany to enter the Alps for a final stand, Eisenhower's decision killed it, so swiftly did both the XV and XXI Corps advance. Bavaria seemed to be one endless array of white flags, and those towns and villages that failed to conform usually fell in line after only a few bursts of machine gun fire. In many cases, so rapid was the advance that artillery and even tanks were left behind. Rubber-tired reconnaissance cars and jeeps, capable of greater speed than tanks, often took the lead.
It was not even pursuit warfare any more; it was more a motor march under tactical conditions. Unseasonable cold and heavy rain, often mixed with snow, gave more concern than did the enemy. Even had the weather made tactical air support possible, nobody needed it any more. The main roads were clogged with Germans--entire units--trying to surrender. The 106th Cavalry Group in a
hasty ceremony accepted surrender of an entire Hungarian division, 8,000 strong.
At the music shrine of Salzburg, a delegation of military and civilian functionaries offered surrender to the same cavalry group. No sooner had that happened early on 4 May than General Patch authorized General Haislip's XV Corps to turn to the southwest and come on Hitler's mountain retreat at Berchtesgaden from the rear. The order failed to halt units of the XXI Corps, in whose sector the town lay; and while the 3d Division of the XV Corps approached from the rear, grounded paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division and recently attached men of the 2d French Armored Division, old allies of the Seventh Army, sped toward the objective from the northwest.
It was congestion, not resistance, that slowed entry into Berchtesgaden. "Everybody and his brother," said one message, "are trying to get into the town."63 Motorized troops of the 3d Division got there first, in late afternoon of 4 May. The last temple of nazism still standing in an area of American responsibility had fallen.
Capture of Salzburg and Berchtesgaden, sealing the last passes leading into the Austrian Alps, spelled an absolute end to any possibility of a National Redoubt. To the men of the 6th Army Group and the Third Army, the feat was hardly necessary to convince them that the end of the war was near. Even if there was to be no formal surrender of the German nation, or even if the forces of Army Group G made no formal surrender, the time was at hand when every square inch of territory in which the remains of the Wehrmacht might hide would be overrun in a matter of days, perhaps even in hours.
Table of Contents ** Previous Chapter (17) * Next Chapter (19)
1. JIC (Joint Intelligence Committee) Report, Ability of the German Army in the West to Continue the War, 10 Mar 45, SHAEF JIC Rpts.
2. SUSA G-2 Rpt, Study of the German National Redoubt, 25 Mar 45.
3. See above, ch. VI.
4. 6th AGp Weekly Intell Sum No. 28, 31 Mar 45.
5. Eisenhower to AGp CG's, SCAF 224, 8 Mar 45, and SCAF 247, 25 Mar 45, in SHAEF SGS Post-OVERLORD Planning file, III; Ltr, SHAEF to AGp CG's in GCT/370-62/Plans, 18 Mar 45; Eisenhower to CCS, SCAF 224, 24 Mar 45, and SCAF 260, 31 Mar 45, in SHAEF SCAF Cable files. Quotation from last source.
6. See Hq, 6th AGp, History, ch IX.
7. Ibid. See also, Eisenhower to AGp CG's, SCAF 261, 2 Apr 45, in SHAEF SCAF Cable files.
8. Memo, Operations in Austria, 4 Apr 45, GCT/370-68/Plans, SHAEF SGS Post-OVERLORD Planning, IV; Memo re Evaluation of SUSA Study of German National Redoubt, 3 Apr 45, SHAEF G-3, Ops file 175; Eisenhower to SACMED, SCAF 267, 6 Apr 45, in SHAEF SCAF Cable files: SACMED to Eisenhower, NAF 915, 9 Apr 45, OPD IN files, 1-30 Apr 45.
9. See JIC SHAEF (45) 13 (Final), The National Redoubt, 10 Apr 45, in SHAEF JIC Rpts.
10. Taggert, History of the Third Infantry Division, p. 346.
11. See MS # B-703, The Final Battle in Central and Southern Germany Until Capitulation, 22 Mar 45-6 May 45 (Oberst Horst Wilutzky, CofS, AGp G).
12. MS # B-583, Report on the Position, Mission, and General Measures of Heeresgruppe 'G' in April 1945 (General der Infanterie Friedrich Schulz).
13. For German operations in this period, see MSS # B-173, XIII Corps, 21 March-2 May 1945 (Major W. Gaebelin); # B-392 (Oriola); # B-348 (Wolf Hauser).
14. In addition to sources previously cited, see MS # B-737, Employment of the XIII SS Army Corps Between the Rhine and the Alps (SS Obersturmbannfuehrer Ekkehard Albert, CofS, XIII SS Corps).
15. See above, ch. XV.
16. German material is from MS # B-320, The Final Combat of the LXXX Army Corps From the Marne to the Danube (General der Infanterie Dr. Franz Beyer), and MS # B-307, The Fighting From 20 March-6 May 1945 (General der Infanterie Erich Petersen).
17. Within a company of the 100th Division's 398th Infantry, sent north to reinforce the little bridgehead established by contingents of the 10th Armored Division near the juncture of the Jagst and Neckar, Pfc. Mike Colalillo on 7 April displayed extraordinary courage in the face of heavy German fire. His company pinned down, Colalillo climbed on a supporting tank and opened fire with a machine gun mounted on the turret; when ammunition was exhausted, he grabbed a submachine gun and continued forward on foot. He alone killed or wounded twenty-five Germans. He was awarded the Medal of Honor.
18. In fighting along the Jagst River on 6 April, a forward observer of the 63d Division's 861st Field Artillery Battalion, 1st Lt. James E. Robinson, Jr., took charge when the commander of the infantry company he was supporting was killed. Despite a serious wound in the throat from a shell fragment, he led twenty-three surviving members of the company to capture a defended town. Only then, when the wound had so weakened him that he could no longer speak, did Lieutenant Robinson turn from the attack and walk almost two miles to an aid station; there he collapsed and died from his wound. On the same day, S. Sgt. John R. Crews of the same division's 253d Infantry charged alone against a German machine gun that poured flanking fire on his company. In hand-to-hand fighting, he eliminated the machine gun and a supporting automatic rifle. Both Sergeant Crews and Lieutenant Robinson were awarded the Medal of Honor, the latter posthumously.
19. Capt. Joseph Carter, The History of the 14th Armored Division (privately printed, no pagination).
20. MS # B-183 (Ingelheim).
21. See entries in Devers and Seventh Army Diaries for this period.
22. SCAF 281, FWD 19226, in SHAEF SGS Post-OVERLORD Planning file, 381, IV.
23. 6th AGp Ltr of Instrs 14, 16 Apr 45, in SHAEF SGS Post-OVERLORD Planning file, 381, IV.
24. See MS # B-703 (Wilutzky).
25. MS # B-703 (Wilutzky).
26. German material is from MSS # B-703 (Wilutzky); # B-348 (Wolf Hauser) and # B-737 (Albert).
27. For gallantry in singlehandedly defeating one of these counterattacks on 17 April, 1st Lt. Frank Burke of the 3d Division's 15th Infantry received the Medal of Honor. The next day, 18 April, Capt. Michael J. Daly of the same regiment fought alone in four separate engagements, killing fifteen Germans, knocking out three machine guns, and inspiring his company to advance. He also was awarded the Medal of Honor. On the same day, Pvt. Joseph F. Merrell of the same regiment launched a one-man assault against two German machine gun positions, eliminated them despite a serious wound in the stomach, then fell before a burst from a German machine pistol. Private Merrell was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.
28. See 6th AGp Ltr of Instrs 14, 16 Apr 45, and Warren, Airborne Operations in World War II, European Theater, p. 201.
29. Pash, The ALSOS Mission, ch. XXI.
30. De Lattre, Histoire de la Première Armée Française, pp. 529-31; for French operations in early April, pp. 506-28. See also Hq, 6th AGp, History, p. 273.
31. See MS # B-598, The Combat Actions of the LXIV Corps East of the Rhine, Part II, 4-22 Apr 45 (General der Artillerie Max Grimmeiss) and MS # B-320, The Final Combat of the LXXX Army Corps From the Marne to the Danube, Part III, 8 Feb-30 Apr 45 (Beyer).
32. USA Diary, entry of 20 Apr 45; Warren, Airborne Operations in World War II, p. 201.
33. MS # 5-595 (Grimmeiss); MS # 5-320 (Beyer) see also de Lattre, Histoire de la Première Armée Française, p. 557n.
34. De Lattre, Histoire de la Première Armée Française, p. 539; Hq 6th AGp, History, p. 273.
35. Pash, The ALSOS Mission, ch. XXI.
36. See 6th AGp Ltr of Instrs No. 14, 16 Apr 45.
37. De Lattre, Histoire de la Première Armée Française, p. 544.
38. Ibid., pp. 558-60.
39. Ibid., p. 560.
40. Ibid., p. 563.
41. Hq, 6th AGp, History, pp. 281-82.
42. SUSA Diary, entry of 24 Apr 45. See also Brief of Events Having to Do With the Advance on Ulm by First French Army, 26 Apr 45, in SHAEF SGS Post-OVERLORD Planning file, 381, IV, and comments by General Morris on the draft MS for this volume.
43. 6th AGp Msg BX 13260, 22 Apr 45, as found in Hq, 6th AGp, History, p. 269; 6th AGp TWX, 23 Apr 45, in SHAEF SGS Post-OVERLORD Planning file, 381, IV; Seventh Army Report, pp. 803-04.
44. De Lattre, Histoire de la Première Armée Française, pp. 569-70.
45. Devers to Eisenhower, B-13494, 26 Apr 45, in SHAEF SGS Post-0VERLORD Planning file, 381, IV.
46. De Lattre, Histoire de la Première Armée Française, p. 570.
47. Devers Diary, 27 Apr 45. See also SUSA Diary, entry of 25 Apr 45.
48. Aspects of the incident at higher levels are discussed and annotated in Pogue, The Supreme Command, pp. 459-61.
49. See de Lattre, Histoire de la Première Armée Française, pp. 561-67.
50. MSS # B-102 and # B-103, Twenty-fourth Army, 17 Oct 1944-5 May 1945 (General der Infanterie Hans Schmidt). See also MS # B-191, The LXIV Army Corps in the Time from 21.IV.45 to 5.V.45 (Generalleutnant Helmuth Friebe).
51. MS # A-893 (Gersdorff).
52. MS # B-703 (Wilutzky).
53. As quoted in Seventh Army Report, p. 805.
54. MS # B-348 (Wolf Hauser); III Corps AAR, Apr 45.
55. Seventh Army Report, pp. 828-30; MS # B186, Report by 407 Replacement Division About the Construction and Organization of the Donau-Iller Defense (Generalmajor Franz Fehn).
56. See SCAF 316, 27 Apr 45, as reproduced in Hq, 6th AGp, History, pp. 286-87. The 6th Army Group received the instructions orally on the 25th.
57. 6th AGp Msg, BX 13351, 24 Apr 45, in Hq, 6th AGp, History, p. 270.
58. De Lattre, Histoire de la Première Armée Française, pp. 572-73; Quotation is from page 575.
59. SUSA Diary, entry of 30 Sep 45. Italics supplied.
60. Hq, 6th AGp, History, p. 272 de Lattre, Histoire de la Première Armée Française, p. 576.
61. De Lattre, Histoire de la Première Armée Française, pp. 580-81, 44th Div AAR, 1-10 May 45. The 44th Division's action is covered in Chapter XIX below.
62. Hq, 6th AGp, History, p. 318; Seventh Army Report, p. 852.
63. Seventh Army Report, p. 855.