By the end of March General Eisenhower's armies had crossed the Rhine in force and were prepared to encircle the Ruhr and to open offensives toward the Elbe. Before undertaking these operations, however, the Supreme Commander made some changes in earlier plans both as to the direction of the main thrusts and the forces allocated for them.
The Battle for the Ruhr
Shortly before the attack at Arnhem in September 1944, General Eisenhower had studied the strategy for Allied forces to follow once they crossed the Rhine and had concluded that the main thrust should go from the Ruhr to Berlin. Supporting forces to accompany this thrust would move forward in "one coordinated, concerted operation." Recognizing that Berlin might be in the hands of the Russians before the Allies could reach the Elbe, he suggested that in such a case, instead of making a concentrated drive toward the German capital, the 21 Army Group might take the Hannover area and the ports near Hamburg, the 12th Army Group part or all of the Leipzig-Dresden area, and the 6th Army Group the Augsburg-Munich area.1
A Change of Plans
At the end of December when General Eisenhower assigned the Ninth Army to Field Marshal Montgomery for the drive to the Rhine in the area of the Ruhr, the spectacular Russian drives of the summer of 1944 had come to an end and there appeared to be a chance that some months might elapse before the Red armies reached Berlin. It is possible that at that time the Supreme Commander may have intended to let the British retain the Ninth Army for the main drive toward Berlin. By the end of March when the Allied forces had crossed the Rhine, the changed situation in both the east and the west prompted him to reconsider his earlier plans. Marshal Stalin's full-scale offensive, launched in mid-January, had driven the Germans back on the Oder. By 11 March, SHAEF intelligence sources indicated that Marshal Zhukov's spearheads were at Seelow, only twenty-eight miles from Berlin. Despite hurried German preparations to defend the city, there seemed to be little chance that it could hold out against a Russian attack.
Once Berlin was ruled out, there were strong reasons for making the main attack south and east of the Ruhr. There, with the Ruhr cleared, lay the remaining important industrial areas of western Germany. For a number of months, as the Ruhr took heavy poundings from Allied
bombers, the enemy had been moving important factories to other parts of the Reich. SHAEF intelligence experts who had suggested in October that the Ruhr was losing its industrial importance believed that, even with it in Allied hands, "Germany would still be in possession of the bulk of her engineering and armament manufacturing facilities--at least those sections engaged on processing . . . equipment." SHAEF also suggested that emphasis be placed on offensives to interfere with rumored enemy plans to build a National Redoubt in the mountainous area running from western Austria as far north as the lakes below Munich and as far south as the Italian lakes. While there was some feeling in Allied circles that the Redoubt existed more in propaganda than in fact, Washington was sufficiently impressed for General Marshall to suggest at the end of March that U.S. forces attack from Nuremberg toward Linz or from Karlsruhe toward Munich to prevent the enemy from organizing resistance in southern Germany.2
Although never made explicit, other factors undoubtedly played some part in influencing the Supreme Commander's final decision. The surprise crossings of the Rhine at Remagen and Oppenheim before the main assault in the north and the rapid exploitation of this advantage in the two areas had placed General Bradley's forces in a position to play a major role in the sweep through Germany. These unexpected strokes of fortune caught the public imagination, particularly in the United States, and reinforced the 12th Army Group commander's request for a larger part in the drive to the Elbe than he had played in reaching the Rhine. It seems probable that General Eisenhower also desired to let the 12th Army Group see what it could do. He knew that the Montgomery interview of January 1945 still "rankled" in General Bradley's mind, and that General Marshall felt that the work of commanders like General Bradley and General Hodges had been neglected by the press.
At the end of March, the Supreme Commander took special pains to underline the contributions of these two officers. Of General Bradley, he said:
He has never once held back in attempting any maneuver, no matter how bold in conception and never has he paused to regroup when there was opportunity lying on his front. His handling of his army commanders has been superb and his energy, common-sense, tactical skill and complete loyalty have made him a great lieutenant on whom I can always rely with the greatest confidence. I consider Bradley the greatest battle-line commander I have met in this war.
Of Hodges, he wrote that from the end of February "his drive, clear-headed and tactical skill have shone even more brightly than they did in his great pursuit across France, in which First Army's part was the most difficult given to any United States formation but brilliantly and speedily executed, often against much resistance." General Eisenhower added that he had no desire to detract from the work of other commanders, all of whom had performed "in a splendid manner," but he felt that the First Army's work had been overlooked in the headlines and that others had received credit for things that Bradley and Hodges were primarily responsible for. In the light of this belief, it
is not surprising to find him giving the main offensive to them.3
On 28 March, after Field Marshal Montgomery had outlined plans for the 21 Army Group together with the Ninth U.S. Army to drive to the Elbe in the area north of Magdeburg, General Eisenhower announced that General Bradley's forces would make the main offensive east of the Rhine. The Supreme Commander approved existing arrangements, whereby the Ninth Army, while still under 21 Army Group command, and the First Army were to encircle the Ruhr. On completion of that mission, the Ninth Army was to revert to the 12th Army Group, which was to assume the tasks of mopping up and occupying the Ruhr, and making the major Allied thrust along the axis Erfurt-Leipzig-Dresden to link up with the Russians. Thus the decisive role, which Field Marshal Montgomery had planned for his forces, and to which he believed the Combined Chiefs of Staff had given general sanction, was changed.4 Instead, the lesser task of protecting General Bradley's northern flank during the offensive in central Germany was given to him, although he was to have the use of the Ninth Army if he needed it after the Allies had reached the Elbe. To the south of the 12th Army Group, General Devers was ordered to protect the right flank of the main advance and he prepared to move through the Danube valley to link up with the Russians.5
Undoubtedly disappointed at General Eisenhower's decision, Field Marshal Montgomery asked permission to keep the Ninth Army until his forces reached the Elbe, since he felt that a shift at the moment would delay the great movement which was developing. The Supreme Commander held firm to his decision, explaining that General Bradley would need elements of both the Ninth and First Armies to clear the Ruhr before starting his push to the Elbe. Further, since the 12th Army Group commander intended to bring up the Fifteenth U.S. Army to assume the occupation duties of the First and Ninth Armies in the Rhineland, he would need control of the three armies in order to co-ordinate their relief.6
The operation to encircle the Ruhr was basically unaffected by the changes announced by the Supreme Commander on 28 March, since the First Army attack
Encircling the Ruhr
Map No. 9: BATTLE OF THE RUHR
south of the area was already under way and making good progress, and little was needed except co-ordination between it and the Ninth Army offensive. On the 28th the 12th Army Group changed the First Army's planned advance northeast of Kassel to a drive almost directly north from positions already attained on the Siegen-Giessen line, and on the 29th General Simpson ordered his forces to establish contact with General Hodges' forces then attacking toward Paderborn. (Map 9)
Allied progress in the Ruhr area had been aided greatly by the enemy's miscal-
culations and by the general deterioration of his position east of the Rhine. Field Marshal Model, the Army Group B commander, had shifted his forces shortly before the crossings of 24 March to meet an anticipated drive to the north by U.S. forces from the Remagen bridgehead. He was thus out of position to meet any attack directed eastward. Model counterattacked to close gaps on his army group's front, and he attempted to bring up some reserves, but the First Army's armored attacks of 25 March began to break through his positions before any reinforcements could arrive. He failed in his efforts to halt the advance on a line of resistance between the Sieg and the Lahn and soon found that he was virtually out of touch with his disorganized forces. Worse still, his army group lost all connection with Army Group G to the south, and there was danger that the Allied advance in the north, which seemed to proceed "like a peacetime maneuver, executed with all technical means of modern warfare," would soon separate his forces from the army group in the north. On 27 March, when he suggested withdrawing part of his forces behind the Sieg while holding on the Rhine front, he was informed that Hitler, trying to organize a new army east of the Ruhr, had prohibited on pain of death any further withdrawals or loss of inhabited localities.
On Model's north, Army Group H was hard hit by the 21 Army Group crossings, and its collapse appeared to be a matter of days. In that event, an Allied thrust eastward into central Germany and northward in the direction of Bremen and Hamburg seemed possible. Seeking to restore its position, Army Group H suggested that it be allowed to withdraw from the areas threatened by encirclement. It asked permission to stop the First Army's break-through of Army Group B, which was endangering its southern flank, to establish a Weser River defense position, and to withdraw troops and supplies from most of the Netherlands in order to use them in building up a new defense front in the northeast tip of the country. OKW rejected these requests, ordering all forces to hold in place with the means available. Except for the promise of some training units from Denmark, there appeared to be little prospect for reinforcements.7
Forbidden to withdraw to new positions, and unable to build up tenable positions when they were forced to fall back, the Germans could neither stop nor escape the relentless advance of Allied forces. Armored elements of the First and Ninth Armies, intent on a link-up, made contact on 1 April at Lippstadt,just west of the agreed-on junction point of Paderborn, to complete what General Eisenhower has described as "the largest double envelopment in history."8 Caught in the Ruhr Pocket were Army Group B, with most of the forces in its Fifth Panzer and Fifteenth Armies, and elements of Army Group H's First Parachute Army. Seven corps and the major elements of nineteen divisions plus some 100,000 antiaircraft personnel were included in an enemy force which totaled nearly one third of a million men. The pocket comprised nearly 4,000 square miles between the Sieg River in the south and the Lippe River in the north, measuring some fifty-five miles from north to south and seventy miles from east to west.9
The Supreme Commander returned the Ninth Army to the 12th Army Group on 4 April. In anticipation of the move, representatives of First and Ninth Armies had already set an interarmy boundary along the line of the Ruhr River-NuttlarRuethen-Paderborn and agreed that General Simpson's forces were to clear the industrial area north of the Ruhr River, while the First Army took the rugged terrain to the south.
The Ruhr Pocket
Inside the pocket, Field Marshal Model dismissed the possibility of surrender so long as he could pin down Allied forces that might be used elsewhere, but he discounted the possibility of getting large groups out of the area in the face of Allied air and armored attacks. As for the chances of holding the pocket for any length of time, he found that rations were estimated to be sufficient to supply the troops and civil population in the area for three or four weeks and that there was ammunition for two to three weeks if a major battle could be avoided. Some fuel was available for vehicles. The area was fairly well suited for defense, protected as it was on three sides by the Lippe, Rhine, and Sieg Rivers. The army group commander attempted initially to reinforce the eastern sector of the pocket in the hope that aid could be brought into that area from the east or that his forces might break out in small groups, but these hopes diminished steadily after the fall of Muenster and Gotha in the first week of April. For the most part, the troops of Army Group B offered little resistance and pulled back when faced by a strong attack. Fears that they might adopt a scorched earth policy as they withdrew brought pleas from German industrialists that the remaining resources of the area be spared. There is evidence that OKW orders for widespread destruction of plants and communications were read and not passed on by Model in this period.10
At the beginning of April, Secretary of War Stimson made efforts to spare the Ruhr industrial facilities any further loss, expressing fears about the economic future of Europe if more damage was inflicted on the Ruhr. He wondered if it was necessary for military purposes to destroy the remaining industry in the area. Admirals Leahy and King questioned whether General Eisenhower should be bothered with that problem in the midst of his battle, but General Marshall decided to seek an unofficial opinion. In so doing he avoided any effort to limit the Supreme Commander's future action and said that it was assumed that he would proceed in "the manner best adapted to the security and rapidity of the thrusts into Germany." The U.S. Army Chief of Staff added that he had no views on the subject "except that I think the fat is probably in the fire and whatever the political conclusions it is too late, too impracticable to take any action for such reason." General Eisenhower, who regarded "the substantial elimination of the enemy forces in the Ruhr as a military necessity" was nonetheless preparing to bypass the built-up areas as much as possible and to avoid useless or unnecessary damage to existing industrial facilities. Great damage had already been done by heavy bombers, but he realized that the remaining assets should be preserved. He noted that, save for support of tactical operations, air attacks had virtually ceased.11
In preparation for the final offensive to destroy the German armies in the pocket, the Fifteenth U.S. Army on 1 April took over the occupation duties of the First and Ninth Armies on the west bank of the Rhine from Bonn to Neuss. It was directed to extend its defensive sector on the west bank to Homberg by 5 April and be prepared to occupy, organize, and govern the Rheinprovinz, Saarland, Pfalz, and Rheinhessen as the eastward advance of the Allied forces uncovered these areas.12
Two corps of the First Army and one corps and part of another of the Ninth Army on 6 April undertook the task of reducing the Ruhr Pocket, while the remainder of the two armies drove toward the Elbe. Two days later, advance elements of the two armies driving from the north and south of the pocket linked up. Pressing from the north, east, and south, the Allied divisions by mid-April had reduced the territory held by the enemy to an area with a twenty-eight mile diameter. Available ammunition and food had now decreased to an estimated three days' supply, but Field Marshal Model still rejected suggestions by members of his staff that he capitulate. Despite this resolution, he could not stop the U.S. armies. On 14 April, General Simpson's forces ended all German resistance north of the Ruhr River and General Hodges' units divided the forces remaining south of the river into two main pockets.
In the face of these disasters, OKW ordered Army Group B to break out of the pocket. The message was read and simply filed, for the events of the day had made action useless. On 15 April, the First Army broadened the point of contact with the Ninth Army at the Ruhr and turned both to the west and east to crush the remaining opposition. With defeat obviously a few days or hours away, the Germans adopted a novel procedure to avoid formal capitulation. On the morning of 17 April, they announced the dissolution of Army Group B. The extremely young and the very old soldiers were dismissed from the service and told to return home. The remaining officers and men were told they could stay to be overrun and then surrender, could try to make their way home in uniform or civilian clothes and without weapons, or try to break through to another front. Field Marshal Model thus did not have to take responsibility for a surrender. He disappeared from the scene shortly thereafter and no trace of him was subsequently found, although members of his staff testified that he committed suicide.13
Organized resistance in the Ruhr district ended on the morning of 18 April. In the approximately three weeks since they had encircled the area, Allied forces had taken more than 317,000 German prisoners, including twenty-four generals and an admiral. The enemy's token resistance had not interfered effectively with the Allied sweep to the east. Although parts of four corps had to be left to deal with the pocket, General Bradley's forces raced on without major difficulty to the Elbe.14
Table of Contents ** Previous Chapter (21) * Next Chapter (23)
1. Eisenhower to Bradley, Montgomery, and Devers, 15 Sep 44, SHAEF SGS 381 Post OVERLORD Planning, I.
2. SHAEF Weekly Intel Summary 51, 11 Mar 45, SHAEF G-2 file. Marshall to Eisenhower, W-59315, 27 Mar 45; Eisenhower to Marshall, FWD 18273, 28 Mar 45. Both in Eisenhower personal file.
3. Marshall to Eisenhower, WX-57751, 23 Mar 45; Eisenhower to Marshall, FWD 18341, 30 Mar 45. Both in Eisenhower personal file. Field Marshal Montgomery in Normandy to the Baltic, p. 210, suggests that the change was made "as a result of the general enemy situation, and particularly in view of the rapid American success following the seizure of the Remagen bridge. . . ."
4. See preceding chapter for the discussion by the Combined Chiefs of Staff at Malta. It appears that General Eisenhowerís explanatory statement relative to his future operations applies to the field marshalís thrust across the Rhine north of the Ruhr and not to the advance after the encirclement of the Ruhr.
5. Eisenhower to CCS, 27 Mar 45; Montgomery to Eisenhower, M-562, 27 Mar 45; Eisenhower to Montgomery, FWD 18272, 28 Mar 45; Eisenhower to Devers, 26 Mar 45. All in Eisenhower personal file. 21 A Gp Ltr of Intentions, M-563, 28 Mar 45, SHAEF SGS 381 Post OVERLORD Planning, III.
6. Montgomery to Eisenhower, M-562/1, 27 Mar 45; Eisenhower to Montgomery, FWD 18389, 31 Mar 45. Both in Eisenhower personal file. The Fifteenth Army, headed by Lt. Gen. Leonard T. Gerow, had become operational on 6 January 1945. Its main purpose was to handle occupation duties for the other American armies. Among the other duties which it held at various times in 1945 were controlling the SHAEF reserve, surveying the line of the Meuse with a view to assuming responsibility for its defense, planning the occupation of the Bremen - Bremerhaven enclave, planning the organization of the Berlin District headquarters, and assuming on 31 March 1945 from the 12th Army Group the responsibility for containing enemy forces in Lorient and St. Nazaire. History of the Fifteenth Army.
7. MS # B-593 (Wagener); MS # B-414 (Geyer); MS # C-020 (Schramm).
8. Report by the Supreme Commander, p. 104.
9. FUSA Rpt of Opns, 23 Feb-8 May 45, Vol. I; Conquer: The Story of Ninth Army, p. 269.
10. MS # B-593 (Wagener); MS # C-020 (Schramm).
11. Marshall to Eisenhower, W-64236, 6 Apr 45; Eisenhower to Marshall, FWD 18697, 7 Apr 45. Both in SHAEF cbl log.
12. FUSA Rpt of Opns, 23 Feb-8 May 45; History of the Fifteenth Army, pp. 39-50.
13. MS # B-593 (Wagener); MS # C-020 (Schramm); Dailey Sitrep West, 16 Apr 45. OKH Operations Abteilung, KTB (Draft) 16-24.IV. 45, 17 Apr 45.
14. FUSA Rpt of Opns, 23 Feb-8 May 45; Conquer: The Story of Ninth Army, Ch. VII.