*** war and social upheaval: World War II drive into Germany converging Allied armies

Western Allies Drive into Germany: Converging Allied Armies (1945)

invasion of Germany
Figure 1.--After crossing the Rhine, Allid armored columns began driving into the heart of Germany. After trapping Army Group B in the Ruhr Pocket, resistance bgan to collapse. Here an American Sherman tank races through a village in Hesse (central Germany). The Sherman just fits through the narrow street. Major armored engagements were over. Diehards resisted in a few villages, but increasingly villages were taken without a fight. It was now a race east. The way was often to Berlin, but General Eisenhower decided to leave it to Stalin and the Red Army. So much American armor had apparently passed through this small village that the boy does not seen all that impressed. The tank looks to be an upgraded Sherman, perhaps a M4A2E8--known as the Easy Eight. It may have the new high-velocity 76 mm gun. Giving it real fire power gainst the better armored German tanks. Notice that the entire five-man crew have their heads out or even entirely out of the tank. This normally was done normally was done only in very safe rear areas or advancing towards a battle line. The tank commander and even the drivers are using the open hatch to drive and are not buttoned down expecting combat. Also notice the lack of battlefield modifications. (Many crews piled on sandbags or added metal plates hoping tp survive a German shell.) The press caption read, "Armor Awe: A German boy sits at the side of a road in Zwisten [probably Zwesten], Germany, as units of the Ninth Amored Division of the U.S. First Army move through the town. This photo was taken by William C. Allen, Assiciated Press photographer with the war time picture pool." The caption seems to ignore the German boy's nonchalant attitude, rather writing on the basis of how an Amercan boy would have reacted. The photograph was dated April 10, 1945. By this time, many Germans were less concerned about fighting the Western Allies, but terrified with the Red Army's push west.

Allied armies had reached the borders of the Reich by late-1944. Hitler concentratted the last few German reserves for the Bulge offenive in the West. His generals had varied opinions. Some wanted to use thise reserves to stop or aeast slow down the Soviet juggernaught in the East. The failure of the Bulge offensive meant that by 1945 therecwere no longer any reserves and arms production was plummeting becaise of the allied statehgic bombing campaign. With reserves gone, the remaining German forces were badly outmanned and outgunned an all fronts. The Allied air strength and the lack of petrol mean that the Germans also had no capabllity to maneuvr. The Soviets had approached the borders of East Prussia at the end of 1944. The Western allies drove to cross the Rhine in Operation Market, but the British were unable to hold the Arnem brudge over the Rhine. The Americans had reached the West Wall at about the same time, but supply problems meant that they were unable to mount a major offensive into the Reich. In the south the Germans stoped the Allies in the Po River Valley abd hrld them there during thge winter. With the new year the drives into the Reich befan in earest. In the East, the Soviets smashed into East Prussia and after taking Warsaw preoared for thge assault on Berlin. In the West, the Americans drove into the Rhineland in preparation for crossing the Rhine itself. In the south, the Americans and British finally crossed the Po and began the drive north toward Austria.

The East

The first anti-NAZI coalition force to reach the pre-War borders of the Reich was the Red Army and the first area was asaulted was East Prussia which extended further east than the rest of the Reich. The destruction of Army Group Center in Operation Bagration meant that the Whermacht was no longer able to effectivly defend the Reich's eastern borders. And unlike the West there was no easily defensible natural barrier. The Red Army had massive advantages in men and every category of armaments such as tanks and artillery. And if that was all not bad enough, Hitler defied his generals and threw the last remaining reserves into the Bulge offensive in the West (December 1944). And rather than withdrawing and concentrating the remaining forces for a last ditch defense of the Reich, Hitler duspersed his forces for two fruitless efforts. First he defended the Baltics and large numbers of men were cut off in the Courtland Pocket--esentially a large POW camp of Germany;s own making. And then tghe defene if Budapest. As a result, the eastern borders of the Reich were manned by badly outnumbered and poorly equipped divisions bolstered only by the Volksstrum. The defense of East Prussia was castastrophe for the Germans. Goebbels propagand machine meant that the Germans in East Prussia had no idea of the looming disaster or the massive Red Army force gathering on the border. One historian explains, "The civilian population behind the German front had no idea of the danger hanging over them. .... No one could imagine that within a few days this country town would be like East Prussia's coffin lid." [Kieser] The Red Army struck just as the Germans were beginning the withdrawl from the Bulge (January 12, 1945). The German front line was quickly decimated and Soviet armored columns poured into East Prussia. One historian writes, "All attempts to form a linec of resistabce were foiled by the Russian tanks pressing forward, often carrying infantry. The enenemy superority in fire power, mobility and manpower condemned the German troops to defeat and doubt. The Russian steamroller could no longer be stopped." [Kieser] The Soviets rapidly took Samland, West Prussia, Pompernia, Danzig, and K�nigsberg. The terrified and unprepared German population (because NAZI authorities refused tomorganize evacuatiins while there was still time) fled east as best they could in the middle of the Winter. Men and teenagers were expected to stand and fight. Unable to stop the Red Army, women, children, the elderly, and badly injured soldiers were evacuated by sea. Desperate NAZI authorities organized a massive sea rescue operation. Many got out, but many perished at sea when Soviet submarines and aircraft targeted the ships. Historians believec that nearly 2 million Germans were successfully evacuated. All of this took place in the midst of fiece land engagements, Soviet submarine attacks, chaos, freezing weather, and rampant Red Army rapes of women and girls. [Kieser]

The West

The Americans began approaching the West Wall (September 1944). The lack of an operational deepwaer port, however, limited the quantity of supplies being landed. The German situation at the time was chaotic as the decimated 7th Army streamed back to the Reich. The West Wall was a hallow shell and many of the German soldiers dispirited. If Patton have been given the supplies, most military historins believe that he could have driven into the Reich. Eisenhower had to make a decesion. There was not sufficent supplies for multiple offensives. He decided to bsupport Montgomery's plan to cross the Rhine River bridges in the north--Operation Market Garden (October 1944). It is not entirely clear why he chose Monty given sharp encounters the two had. It could have been coalition politics. Eliminating potential V-2 launch sites was certainly a factor. The failure of Market Garden meant that the invasion of Germany could not occur until the Spring. The Americans began driving into the Rhineland, but the German Buklge offensive temporarily delayed that (December 1944). . After the Bulge was reduced, the assaukt on the West Wall was renewed and the Rhineland occupied. The Americans and British began to cross the Rhine, a forbidable challenge, but made easier by the capture of the Remagen Bridge in tact (March 7, 1945). The Allies rushed accross the Rhine and a few weeks later at many other sites with landing craft and pontoon bridges. This was followed by Operation Varsity a massive paratroop drop on the German side of the Rhine (March 24). Within weeks the Ruhr, Germany's industrial heartland was surround and huge numbers of Germans soldiers surrendered in the Ruhr pocket. The Rhine was the last significant geographic barrier. Allied forces then began a race accross Germany toward the Russians pressing west.

The South

The Allies in Italy attacked the new German defensive line--the Gothic Line (Massa-Rimini fortifications). It was constructed by Kesselring in the Northern Appenines (August 1944). The new German line held. It took several more months to penetrate the German defenses. The German line held during the winter of 1944-45. The Gothic Line was finally broken in an assault headed by the American 10th Mountain Division (February 1945). [Jenkins] This allowed the Allies to enter the Po valley. The break through at the Adriatic end of the line. The Americans breaking through at the western end entered (April 20). The Germans retreated across the Po and abandoned their heavy armor. The goal of German commanders became to get as much as possible of the surviving force back to Germany. With the Allies crossing the Po, the German position in northern Italy was no longer tenable. Italians celebrate April 25 as the day of liberation from the NAZIs. The National Liberation Committee rose in insurrection in Milan as well as other large cities in the northern Italy. The Germans on that date withdrew from Milan. Jubilant crowds celebrated the liberation of the city. Milan was the largest city in northern Italy. It was also a considerable distance from the bordrs of the Reich. Milan was closer to France than the Reich. German convoys wound over narrow mountain roads in an effort to get back to Germany. The German withdrawl meant there was no longer any safe place for Mussolini in Italy. The Germans were not being hard pressed by the Allies at the time, but faced increasingly serious attacks from the Resistance. Attacks were occuring both in the cities and the mountains as German military convoys tried to get back to Germany. Genoa fell to the Allies (April 27). With The Resistance stopped many of the convoys to make sure that Itlalian Fascists did not escape with the Germans. It was in one of these convoys that a partisan group found Mussolini trying to flee with the Germans. They took him from the Germans who did not resist and shot him the next day. The partisans hanged him up-side-down at a gas station together with his mistress, Clara Petacci. Their bodies displayed for the Milanese crowds to deride and curse. Hitler in his Berlin bunker learned of this and was apauled. He resolved not to let this happen to him. The Allies in a 3-month campaign during the Spring of 1945 drove across the Po Valley. As German resistance crumbled, the Allies made spectacular advances. Hitler as the Red Army troops neared his Berlin bunker, finally committed suiside (April 30, 1945). With Hitler's death, the way was clear for NAZI Germany to finally surrender. Hitler designated his successors. Karl D�nitz as the new Reichspr�sident ("President of Germany") and Joseph Goebbels as the new Reichskanzler (Chancellor of Germany). However Goebbels committed suicide (May 1). This left it to D�nitz to arrange the surrender of the Third Reich. The first surrender came in Italy. SS General Karl Wolff had already been engaged in prolonged and unauthorised negotiations with the Allies. Wolff and the Commander-in-Chief of the German 10th Army, General Heinrich von Vietinghoff, ordered all German armed forces in Italy to cease hostilities (May 1). They signed a surrender document which provided that all German forces in Italy would surrender unconditionally to the Allies (May 2). Austria had been incorporated into the Reich by the Anchluss (1938). Eisenhower gave considerable attention to Bavaria and Austria, concerned about reports of a potential NAZI redoubtb in the Alps. The Germans in northern were doing theirbest to get as much of the army as posible back to the Reich. The Germans in Italy finally surrendered (May 2). Advanced units of the U.S. Seventh Army moving eastward through Austria encountered advanced units of the Fifth Army driving north from Italy near the Brenner Pass.

The North

Btitish Commando raids hit German positiins in Norway. This infuriated Hitler as was one reason so many Germans troops were posted there. The inly real problem in the north for the Germans came when the Soviets forced Finland out of the War. One of the provisions the Soviets demanded for an Armitice was that the Finnish Army would eject the Germans from Finnish territory. With this exception, there was limited Allied pressure from the North. The Allies were focused on the cross0Channelminvasion. The primary Allied interest was thus for the Germans to maintain as many men as possible in Norway where they would not be able to oppose the Normandy landings and subsequet drive on to the Reich. The Allies as part of the D-Day mis-information campaign tried to convince the Germans that while the main landings would occur at the Pas-de-Calais tht there wre also be a small landing in Norway. Partly as a result of this deception, the Gernmans kept very lrge formations in Norway even when men were desperately needed to defend the Reich. The Generals might have drawn dfown the Grman contingent in Norway. Hitler in particular seems to be bought into the ruse and thus 0.5 million German ttoops remained out of the fight in Norway as the war was decided to the south by hugely outnumbred German troops.


Kieser, Egbert. Tony Le Tissier, trans. Prussian Apocalypse: The Fall of Danzig (2011), 240p.


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Created: 11:01 PM 1/30/2012
Last updated: 5:44 PM 12/16/2013