** war and social upheaval: World War II drive into Germany Elbe River

Western Allies Drive into Germany: The Elbe (1945)

Figure 1.--Captain J. McMahon of the U.S. Ninth Army here carrying a little German girl over a destroyed bridge over the Elbe Rhine at Tangermünde (May 1, 1945). Notice the mny refugees in the background trying to escape the Red Army over the destroyed bridger. Tangermünde has a thousand-year-long history beginning as German border area. The medieval chronicler Bishop Thietmar of Merseburg describes a lowland castle, which dated to the early-10th century during the rule of King Henry the Fowler. It was on the border with the lands of the Polabian Slavs incorporated into the Saxon Marca Geronis.

Three rivers are espcially important in German history. Surely the most impotngt is the Rhine which became th border betweem the German tribes and the Roman Legions in Gaul. The Danube became anothrer border between the Germans and Roman Empire. The Elbe is the third River, perhaps not as storied as the Rhine and Danube, but important none the less. Ostsiedlung (East settling) is the term for the Medieval migration of ethnic Germans into and beyond the territories at the eastern periphery of the Holy Roman Empire. The Emperor Charlemagne united much of Western and Central Europe (8th and 9th centuries). He created numerous border territories called marches (Marken) where a substantial portion of the Ostsiedlung would occur. Many were locted est of the Elbe. Over time the Elbe became more of a river in central Germany. Today it is best rembered as part of the Iron Curtain border between the democracies of Western Europe and the puppet states of the post World War II Soviet Empire. The Americans began crossing the Rhine at Remaagen (March 8 1945). A month later, the Americans reached the Elbe (April 12). The Germans began blowing the bridges s they had doine the Rhine bridges. This was the same day President Roosevelt died. The Ninth U.S. Army probed crossed the Elbe River near Magdeburg, located some 50 miles from Berlin. They also probed a little further south (April 13). The Germans nustered enough strength to force the Americns from the northern bridgehead (April 14). Only week Americn units had crossed. Gen. Eisenhower had already mde the decision not to cross in force. He had authorization to cross if probing forces did not encounter serious opposition. Eisenhower was not prepored to fight a major battle for territory that was to be turned over to the Soviets. And his concern was further south where he was afraid that the NAZIs were preparing an Alpine redoubt and ajusted U.S. troop movements. As a result, the Third U.S. Army pushed spearheads inside the Czechoslovak frontier the day the war ended. The occupation sectors had alredy outlined and the Elbe was to be an importabnt part of the boundaries of the Soviet sector. The United States and Britain had agreed on the main proposals at the Quebec Conference (September 1944) and agreement with the Soviets had been schieved at Yalta (February 1945). While the Germans had blown the Elbe bridges, shortly after their comcern was less stopping the Americans than escaping the Soviets. The Americans and Soviets would soon link up long the Elbe to the south at Torgau (April 25).


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Created: 3:40 PM 1/17/2022
Last updated: 3:40 PM 1/17/2022