*** World War II Rhineland campaign

World War II: The Rhineland Campaign (September 1944-March 1945)

Rhineland campaign
Figure 1.--After the liberation of France and Belhium, the battle fir the Rhineland turned int a slow protracted fight in terrioble weather. Here aead German tanker lies on the ground where he was blown from his tank during the battle for Immendorf. (We are not sure just where in the Rhineland this is.) It looks to be a hard to kill Panzer Mark VII (Tiger II). The press caption read, "Panzer graveyard: A dead German lies on the ground where he was blown from the tankk behinf him, during the battkle fir Immendorf. His comrades' bodies are still in the vehicle, and other Nazi tanks, also full of dead, are in the background." The photograph was dated Novenber 28, 1944. Notice what look like branches on the top of the tank. At this stage of the War without air cover, the Germans attempted to camouflage their their armor.

The Rhineland is the area of Germany west of the Rhine. It is the site of Hitler's first aggressive moves, remiliarizing the Rhineland (1936). As it was the western-most extension of German territory, it is thus here that the Western Allies nearly 10 terrible years later entered the Reich--launching the Rhineland Campaign. The Rhineland was defended by the West Wall (Siegfried Line). Three Allied army groups advanced in a line from the North Sea to Switzerland prepared for the the final assault, this time on the NAZI Reich itself. There was optimism in SHAEF about a quick dash into the heart of the Reich to end the War. Much of the intelligence community, however, was proved wrong. The German retreating German soldiers when they reached the West Wall were regroued and rearmed. And the fixed positions of the West Wall meant that they were not as exposed to Allied air attack. And they were steeled by the belief that the very survival of the Fatherland was at atake. The Germans had deployed 0.2 million workers to strengthen the West Wall defenses, Th Allies would have to fight pitched battles in attrocious fall and winter weather at Aachen, the Hürtgen Forest, Metz, and in the the foothills of the Vosges Mountains.

Optimism in SHAEF

After a difficult fight in Normandy (June-July 1944), the Allied breakout and invasion of southern France made for the rapid liberation of most of France (August) and drive into Belgium and the Netherlands as wll as contact with the West Wall. The successes in August and ciollapse of German resistance in France brought an increasingly optimistic outlook at General Dwight D. Eisenhower's Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF). And The Red Army achieved great victories in the East as well. Some saw the NAZI regime as teetering on collapse. And freed from ground support priorties, the Air Commanders resummed the stratefgic bombing campaign with a vengene. Air raids pounded German cities as never before. The mood among Allied commanders has been described as euphoric. Victory seemed at hand. Intelligence reports were widely optimistic. General Eisenhower's intelligence officer predicted that the Allied victory was "within sight, almost within reach." And he was not the only optimistic intelligence officer. The First Army chief of intelligence was even more optimistic, concluding that that organized German resistance would probably beyond December. There was talk of a quick dash into the heart of the Reich to end the War. This conclusion was not, however, universal. Some believe that the Germans were very much capable of resisting. The Third Army intelligence officer, Col. Oscar W. Koch, concluded that the Wehrmacht was still very much in business and was preparing for a "last-ditch struggle in the field at all costs." 【Ballard】

Loraine Campaign (September 1-December 18, 1944)

Loraine is a historic region like Alsace contested by France and Germany. The province at the time in northeastern France bordered on Belgium, Luxembourg, and Germany. It was thus the route into the German Rhineland. As the Normandy front began to collapse (late-July), Hitler finally began thinking about the unthinkable -- the need to orgnize a stand somewhere between the Seine and the West Wall. He ordered the construction of defensive field works, chosing the World War I battlefields, he was familiar with, the Somme and Marne Rivers. As a result of his psycological need to stand and fight and not permit timely withdrawls, the battered remnants of the 7th Army which managed to reach the Somme (late-August), were in no way capable of making a stand. The Germans retreating from Falaise had lost their heavy weaons, had no supplies left, and were exhausted, disorganized, and uterly demoralized. They were in no way capable of facing well organized Allied forces fielding mobil armored forces, superb artillery, and increasingly effective close air support. German forces in France soon cracked, leaving the make-shift defenses wide open and in a few days, the Allies reached the West Wall. The West Wall was an entirely different matter. It was a system of well-designed German fortifiucations that had faced the Maginot Line. It was much less formidable, but still well thoughout and a serious defensive line when manned by a competent military force. It was built along the old pe-War German frontier. After the 1940 victory in the West. Hitler had removed much of he artillery for use eleswhere, especially on the Atlantic Wall. At the same time the advancuing Allies, especilly the Americans were out-running their supplies. Without a functuioning port and with the French rail system in shambles, supplying the advaning forces was becoming increasingly difficult. The Red Ball Express kept the Allies going, but was inadequate. Fuel was already a special problem (early-September) when Patton's fuel allocation was cut to supply Montgomery for Market Garden. This marked the beginning of the Loraine Campaign (September 1-December 18). After the break-neck drive through France, Patton found his Third Army mired in a morass. The Americans struggled against fuel shortages, flooded rivers, and fresh German Panzer and ultimately the West Wall. One historian writes, "Having raced 400 miles from the hedgerows of Normandy to the forested banks of the Moselle River in less than one month’s time, Lt. Gen. George S. Patton’s troops had fought desperately to secure bridgeheads in the Lorraine region from an enemy that had at last turned like a cornered animal and bared its fangs. As blue skies gave way to rainy spells signaling autumn’s approach ...." 【Welsh】 By November, slowed by the Fall mud and fuel shortages, Patton's Third Army hit the West Wall. The conrete draggons teeth and bunkers were still there and the German had the time to move move in men and arms to make a stand. What was left of the 7th Army also was used to man the defenses. Then the Germans struck in the Ardennes (December 16). Patton shifted his fron nt (Devenber 18) and headed north, racing to the north to relieve Bastogne, a masterful piece of maneuver.

United Front Linkup

Two weeks after the breakout from Normandy began and before the battle at Falaise was over, the Allies struck in southern France. The Americans and British disagreed over the invsion of southern France, oiginally called Operation Anvil. It was renamed Dragoon--reportedly because the Americans dragooned Churchill into it. The final decession was made after the fall of Rome (June 4) and then the success of Opperation Cobra (July 25-26), the successful Allied breakout from the Normandy bridgehead. The American Seventh and the French First Armies moving up the Rhone Valley from southern France joined up with Patton's Third Army at Dijon (September 15) creating a united front. The supplies were, however, not available for a massive drive into Germany. The Dragoon force had an eveb longer supply bkline than rge firces breaking out from Niomandy. After linkn uop, American units like the First Infantry Division and the Third Armored Division began driving into Loraine toward the Siegfried Line (September).

The Rhineland

The Rhineland in historical terms is a variously defined term for the land on either bank of the River Rhine north of Switzerland. The Rhineland was the areas of Germany west of the Rhine. It was the area that Louis XIV coveted and fought endless wars to make the Rhine the French border with Germany. In more recent years it has become seen as the area populated by German-speaking people west of the middle and lower Rhine. The Rhineland was not affected by the World War I fighting. The war on the Western Front was fought in Belgiunm and northern France where there was trendous destruction. The Saarland was seen as a separate area, largely because the French had hope of annexing it.

The West Wall/Sigfried Line

The Americans after liberating Paris pressed on north to Germany. There have been two Siegfried lines, both were German defensive lines built west of the Rhine between France and Germany. The first was built by the Germans during World War I (1916-17). Much of this line was in Belgium and Alsace. The second was built during the 1930s, facing the much more extensive French Maginot Line. The Siegfried Line was a series of fortified positions and tank traps. The defensive line was constructed from Switzerland north to where the Rhine enters the Netherlands. It was up to 3-miles deep and consisted of concrete pillboxes, artillery positions, observation posts, command posts, and troop shelters. The dragon's teeth were covered by fire from overlooking heights where a complex networks of heavy, concrete pill-boxes, set into the ground and well camouflaged, included elaborate systems of trenches and wire obstacles. Both natural obstacles like streams or concrete projections called dragon's teeth were designed as anti-tank defenses along the length of the line. After building the line in the 1930s, little attention was given to it until the D-Day Invasion (June 1944) amd defeat of the Wehrmacht in France (July-August 1944). The Siegfriend Line consisted of fortified towns and several belts of permanent fortifications guarding the approaches to Germany. Goebbels began highligting the Siegfried Line which he called the West Wall in German propagada after the liberation ofFrance. The most striking feature of the Siegrid Line was endless rows of contrete "dragons teeth" designed to block the passge of Allied tanks. While neglected after the German success in the west during 1940, the Siegfried fortifications were still a formidable obstacle, especially in certain sectors.

The Moselle (September 1944)

The American First Army was the first to reach Germany. A few German cities were located west of the Rhine River. The First Army crossed the German frontier near Eupen, and American armored forces entered Germany north of Trier (September 12). German resistance stiffened as the Americans entered the Fatherland. A major obstacle was the Moselle River. The Moselle rises in the Voges mountains of northern France and then flows through Germany and Luxembourg before joining the Rhine at Koblenz. The Moselle is the principal river in Loraine. The NAZIs annexed the area after their stumming victory (1940). As a result of the German annexation, anti-German sentiment continued in Loraine well after it had abated in other areas of France. As the American armor units approached the Moselle, the Germany blew the bridges. This stopped the advance for a while, especially because fuel ran out. The supply was at the time limited and Eisenhower made the decession to give priority to Mobntgomery because of the V-1 and V-2 sites along the Channel coast and the chance to cross the Rhine--Operation Market Garden. Even so, The U.S. Army's 8th Tank Battalion managed to cross the Moselle (September 11) and had a functional bridge in place (September 12). This set in motion the campaign for the Rhineland.

The Hürtgen Forest (September 1944-January 1945)

One of the most serious mistakes made by the U.S. Army in World War II was plunging into the Hürtgen Forest (late-September). It was an objective of only minor importance. It negated the major strengths of the U.S. Army (firepower and mobility) and made air support difficult. And it gave the Germans the terraine needed for the digged defense at which they excelled. The Army units like the 28th Infantry Division committed to the Hürtgen Forest faced more experienced and often better armed German units. One participant reports that he and his comrads lived in freezing foxholes armed with only rifles and a few machine guns. The Germans had tanks and were well supported by artillery. 【Meller】 The Hürtgen proved to be the longest single battle ever fought by the U.S. Army. Units were pulled out to fight in the Battle of the Bulge.

Aachen (October 1944)

The Americans and Germans fought a protracted battle over Aachen in the northern Rhineland (October 2-21). The city was designated a fortress city. It was incorporated into the West Wall. The Americans after the heady advances through Franc abd into the the Lowlands had thought that Aachen could be quickly taken opening the way across the Rhine and into the Ruhr--the industrial heartland of Germay. The Germans had already evacuated most of the civilians. The city was already danaged by air raids. And the rest was mpstly destroyed by the fighting over the city. There were heavy losses on both sides in the door to dor fighting that insued. The fighting in Aachen was a smaller scale version of the Red Army reduction of Berlin. The Red Army fought many such urban battles, but this was a relatively rare experience for the Americas. Aachen was the first German city captured by the Western Allies. The Germans surrendered (October 21), bit the stiff fight delayed the Allied time table.

Vosges Mountains (October 1944-January 1945)

The Vosges Mountains during World War I was the scene of severe and almost continuous fighting between the French and Germans. This was south of the Rhineland. South of the Rhineland, the Rhine constituted the pre-War border between France and Germany. As the Allies liberated France (August), the retreating Germans made a stand in the Vosges Mountains, a natural barrier that could be used to keep Allies away from the Rhine. It was toughest terrain the Allies faced in the West. The Vosges looked like an impregnable fortress, manned by well-armed and determined German troops. And unlike other fronts, The Germans and Americans fairly evenly matched troop levels, weapons, supplies, and support. The U.S. Seventh Army and the French First Army drove into the Vosges. The French used the Free French forces as a nucleus for a reconstituted French Army--The French First Army. Meanwhile the French with American aid were rapidly equipping and building a sizeable force. They joined joined the fight on the right or southern flank of the Allied advance. What followed was 3 months of savage fighting. The U.S. Seventh Army and the French would prove to be the only army in modern history that defeated an enemy force defending the Vosges. 【Bonn】 The Americans attacked through thousands of pillboxes, acres of barbed wire and mines, hundreds of roadblocks, and miles of German obstacles. And the fighting occurred in nearly constant rain, snow, ice, and mud. The final big battle was Operation Nordwind, the German offensive launched on New Years Eve (December 31).

Metz (November-December 1944)

Metz was a city in Alsace contested by both France and Germany for years. At the time of World War II it was part of France and annxed to tge Reich after the German invasion (1940). Metz had been the primary French position blocking the German advance into France (1870 and 1940). It now blocked the American Third Army's advance into the Rhineland. The city was heavily fortified and the The Germans resisted the advance in force. Hitler designated a fortress city (March 1944). The commanders were instructed not to withdraw if the Americans approached, but to hold the cuity even after being surrounded. Surreb\nder was not authorized unless approved by the Führer. After Normandy, it became clear that Metzould have to fight just such a battle. The U.S. Third Army reached Verdun and was preparing to attack into the the Sarre region. The defense of Metz was intended to buy time for strengthening of the West Wall and the prepare for the Bulge offensive. The defense was fought by the German First Army, commanded by General Otto von Knobelsdorff who had at his disposal an assortment of units amounting to four and a half divisions. Both sides suffered heavy casuaklties befor the Americas finally secured the city (November 22). This ended the fight for enbattled the city itself, but not the battle. Germans in isolated forts around the city continued to hold out. The Allied commandrs wre not allowed to directly assault the forts still holding out. There were still supply problems and the Americahns wwerwe preserving their e artillery ammunition for the XX Corps' advance to the Sarre River. This was especially important because artillery was a major part of the U.S. Army's battle doctrine. Surrounded and cut off, the isolated Germans subsequently surrendered one by one after Fort Verdun surrendered (November 26). The last of the forts protecting Metz, Fort Jeanne d'Arc, surrendered (December 13). the Americas finally had Metz and the way into the cebtral Rhineland, but at a stiff price. And it had taken 3 months. Retreating German forces to make an organized withdrawal to the Sarre river and to organize their defenses as part of the West Wall. But more importantly the Third Army was kept busy while fuirther north von Rhundstet prepared the last ditch Bulge Offensive which was launched 3 days after fighting ended at Metz.

The Bulge (December 1944)

The Germans fed men and supplies into the Rhinelnd hust sufficent to hold up the Allied advance while they husbbed their dwindling resources for one last final offensive. Hitler chose to strike again in the Ardenees-the scene of his greates victory in 1940. This Germans formed up in northern Rhineland, still securely in German hands. New deliverie of tanks and supplies of men nd material were massed here. Allied air attacks on the German sythetic fuel plants had caused sever shortages of fuel. The German plan thus entailed American fuel depos in tact. General Patton pulled major units of the Third Army out of the fighing in the Rhineland to support the southern shoulder of the Bulge and releave the 101st Airborn surrounded in Basatogne. The goal was to divide the Western Allies and seize the all-important port of Antwerp. The Wehrmacht launched a carefully planned attack against weak Anerican units in the Ardennes (December 16, 1944). The offensive was commanded by Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt. The NAZI panzers stormed westward along a 60-mile front stretching from Saint Vith in Belgium south to Echternach in Luxembourg. The German goal was to break through the American lines, sweep through the Ardennes, and seize Antwerp. The port of Antwerp was essential to the Allied offensive. The major limiting factor to the Allie was supplies and the Allies were beginning to repair the Antwerp port facilities. With Antwerp the British and Canadians in northern Belgium could be cut off and encircled.

The Rhine

With the Bulge finally reduced (January 1945), the full force of the Allied ground effort could return to the Rhineland campaign and the push to the great river. And the Allies by this point were getting a handel on their supply problems. The last major geographic obstacle to entering Germany was the Rhine River. The Rhine was a frontier of almost mistical significance to the Germans. The "Watch on the Rhine!" or "Die Wacht am Rhein!" is one of the most famous patriotic songs in German history. Max Schneckenburger wrote "The Watch on The Rhine" in 1840. The last phase of the Rhineland campaign as completed by the 21st Army Group (February and March 1945). It was essebtially a pincer movement by the Canadian 1st Army driving southeast from Nijmegen and the US 9th Army driving east from the Roer. The Canadian effort was carried out in two phases, Operations Veritable and Blockbuster each of which was met with stiff resistance from the Germans. The American operation Grenade was delayed when the Germans emptied dam reservoirs. The Americans once the water receeded encounter much less opposition than the Canadians. The two Allied prongs met at Xanten which cleared the northern Rhineland. As the Allies finally cleared the Rhineland and approached the fabeled river. The primary hope was to seize the Rhineland Bridges. The Germans began blowing the bridges and the Allied consumers assumed that they would not be able to seize an in-tact bridge and thus the final assault on NAZI Germany would be an amphibious operation.


Ballard, Ted. Rhineland: 15 September 1944-21 March 1945 (U.S. Army Center of Military History).

Bonn, Keith. When the Odds Were Even: The Vosges Mountains Campaign, October 1944-January 1945 (Mass Market Paperback).

Ludewig, Joachim. Rückzug: The German Retreat from France (2012).

Welsh, William E. "Patton in Lorraine: Breaking the Moselle Line," Warfare History (Spring 2011 ).

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Last updated: 9:57 PM 4/22/2023