The Battle for the Rhineland

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By mid-October, Montgomery had begun in earnest the task of clearing the Schelde estuary, giving the mission to the Canadian First Army. The Germans, fully realizing the importance of Antwerp to the Allies, began bombarding the city with V-l and V-2 rockets.

On the ground, the Wehrmacht fought tenaciously, particularly on the South Beveland Peninsula and Walcheren Island, holding out until 3 November. At the conclusion of the fight, the Allies had suffered nearly 13, casualties, while some 40, Germans became prisoners of war. Still, extensive mining of the approaches to Antwerp and attacks by German E-boats and submarines on Allied shipping prevented the port's use until 28 November, further inhibiting Allied efforts to improve their logistical situation.

To Montgomery's south, Bradley focused on taking Aachen and reducing the fortifications at Metz. On 29 September, the First Army began an offensive with the ultimate objective of taking Dueren and Cologne. Athwart the First Army axis lay the city of Aachen. Aachen, ordered the seizure of the city. Aachen held great symbolic importance in the Nazi ideology. Birthplace of Charlemagne, it evoked memories of the glories of the Holy Roman Empire and had captured Hitler's imagination. Charles H. Leland S. Hobbs' 30th Division. To the south, Maj.

Clarence R. The 1st Division's 18th Infantry, under the command of Col. George A. Smith, Jr.

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In the 18th Infantry's way loomed Crucifix Hill, a pillbox-studded position key to the defense of Aachen. When Capt. Bobbie E. Brown's Company C attempted to take the hill, it was quickly pinned down by heavy enemy small arms and artillery fire. Realizing that only the destruction of the German pillboxes would stop the slaughter of his company, Brown grabbed a pole charge and rushed the German bunkers, successively destroying three pillboxes by shoving explosives into their firing slits. Although wounded, he then led his company in throwing back two determined enemy counterattacks, refusing evacuation until convinced that his company's position on the hill was secure.

For his actions, Brown received the Medal of Honor. On 10 October Aachen's garrison received an ultimatum to surrender unconditionally in twenty-four hours or face absolute destruction. The Germans, ordered to make a "last stand" by Hitler himself, refused. The assault on the city proper began on 11 October with an aerial bombardment by some fighter bombers of the IX Tactical Air Command and a barrage by twelve artillery battalions. On 12 October, the 1st Division's 26th Infantry moved into the city and began the bitter "house to house and sewer to sewer" fighting that characterized the battle.

By 16 October elements of the 30th Division's ll9th Infantry and the 18th Infantry had encircled the city, but the remnants of the German garrison held out, surrendering only on 21 October. In the end, the German commander succumbed to the futility of further resistance, noting that, "When the Americans start using s as sniper weapons, it is time to give up.

Nevertheless, Hodges could now turn his full attention to the upcoming attack to the Rhine. While the First Army struggled to capture Aachen, Patton's Third Army grappled with the problem of reducing the Metz fortification system. Both the city and its surrounding defenses blocked his path to the Saar and could not be bypassed.

Observers in the fort could direct fire from artillery in the southern sector of the Metz area, while Driant's own and mm. Furthermore, the fort had an elaborate system of bunkers and observation posts, all connected by underground tunnels. Fort Driant lay in Maj. Walton H. Walker's XX Corps sector. Walker gave the mission of taking the fort to Maj. LeRoy Irwin's 5th Infantry Division. On 27 September, Irwin launched the 2d Battalion of the 11th Infantry, supported by a company from the th Tank Destroyer Battalion, against the fort. The attack failed in the face of determined opposition.

On 3 October, Irwin tried again, once more sending the 2d Battalion, 11th Infantry, against the fort. This time, the unit-reinforced by a rifle company from its regiment's 1st Battalion, twelve medium tanks from the th Tank Battalion, and a company of combat engineers-breached the defenses of the fort, but with heavy losses. Irwin quickly began feeding in companies and battalions from the 2d and 10th Infantry regiments in an attempt to overwhelm the Germans.

The fighting within Driant now became a melee. In the maze of underground passageways that crisscrossed the fort, American and German soldiers fought what became known as "the battle of the tunnels. Finally, on 9 October, the Third Army ordered the attack halted and during the night of October the last American soldiers slipped away. After the failure at Fort Driant, the Third Army paused and marshaled its strength. Although the 90th Division had fought a tough battle to capture Maizieres-les-Metz, six miles north of Metz, the Third Army's operations in the latter half of October centered mainly on "aggressive patrolling," while absorbing supplies and replacements for future efforts.

October proved a difficult month as well for Devers' 6th Army Group. Although Patch's Seventh Army seized the high ground in the St. Die area, supply shortages and increasingly harsh weather conspired to slow the advance as Devers' forces pushed deeper into the heavily wooded Vosges Mountains. Likewise, the First French Army had to abandon its advance toward Colmar and Belfort in the face of poor weather, limited supplies, and mountainous terrain that compartmentalized the battlefield. Writing after the war, he noted that "by continuing an unremitting offensive we would, in spite of hardship and privation, gain additional advantages over the enemy We were convinced that this policy would result in shortening the war and therefore in the saving of thousands of Allied lives.

Orders issued on 28 October and 2 November conformed to Eisenhower's broad-front strategy, with Allied forces closing up along the length of the Rhine and extending the enemy by hitting him at every possible point. The main effort would shift from the British 21 Army Group to the U. In the north, clearing the Schelde estuary remained Montgomery's focus. In the center, Hodges' First Army would make the main thrust for the 12th Army Group, with the mission of establishing a bridgehead across the Rhine south of Cologne.

Simpson's Ninth Army would protect the First Army's left flank between Sittard and Aachen until the Roer was crossed and then swing northeastward toward Krefeld. Bradley, leery that Eisenhower might give in to Montgomery's persistent requests for an American army to reinforce his Northern Group of Armies, had repositioned the Ninth between the First Army and the 21 Army Group on 22 October. In this way, Bradley sought to avoid the loss of the veteran First Army to Montgomery. On the First Army's right flank, Patton's Third Army would also support Hodges by advancing in a northeasterly direction.

In the south, the 6th Army Group clearly had a subsidiary role. Devers' forces would advance to the Rhine, secure crossing sites, and protect the 12th Army Group's flank by denying the area of Luneville to the Germans. Once all three army groups had established bridgeheads over the Rhine, the main attack would shift back to Montgomery's sector for the drive into Germany.

There was, however, one nettlesome problem.

Battlefield S2/E6 - The Battle for the Rhine

The uncleared Huertgen Forest, potentially an area where the Germans could secretly assemble a counterattack force, threatened Collins' right flank. Before launching his main attack, Hodges thus decided to secure the area from Monschau to Schmidt. Hodges gave the task of capturing Schmidt to Maj. Leonard T. Gerow's V Corps. Gerow, in turn, passed the mission to Maj. Norman D. Cota's 28th Division. The Huertgen Forest was a dense, primordial woods of tall fir trees, deep gorges, high ridges, and narrow trails: terrain ideally suited to the defense.

The Germans had carefully augmented its natural obstacles with extensive minefields and carefully prepared positions because they realized something the Allies had not yet fully grasped- losing Schmidt exposed the Roer River dams to attack. So long as the Germans controlled the dams, they could flood the Roer River Valley, thereby destroying Allied tactical bridging and trapping any units that had crossed the river.

These isolated forces could then be destroyed by German reserves. Consequently, the Germans were determined to hold Schmidt, knowing the almost impenetrable terrain of the Huertgen Forest would add depth to their defense and neutralize the American superiority in aircraft, tanks, and artillery. The soldiers of the First Army were no strangers to the Huertgen Forest. In late September, the 60th Infantry of Maj. Louis A. Craig's 9th Infantry Division had tried to attack directly through the forest to capture the Huertgen-Kleinhau road network. The regiment withdrew after a brief, but bloody, encounter with the German defenders.

From October, the 9th Division again entered the Huertgen with Schmidt its objective. The division's two attacking regiments pushed some 3, yards into the forest at a cost of 4, casualties. As the soldiers of the 28th replaced those of the 9th Division on 26 October, they were struck by the fact that the men they relieved were "tired, unshaven, dirty, and nervous" and "bore the telltale signs of a tough fight. Although strongly reinforced with tanks, tank destroyers, engineers, and artillery, Cota shared the foreboding of his men.

He later recalled that he believed the 28th Division had only "a gamblers chance" at success. Rain, fog, and poor visibility postponed the attack from 31 October to 2 November. At , artillery from V Corps, VII Corps, and the 28th Division shattered the morning calm with an hour-long preparation of over 11, rounds.

At , Lt. Carl L. Peterson's th Infantry, the 28th's main effort, began its attack from Germeter to take Schmidt. But as soon as Peterson's lead companies crossed the line of departure, they began taking casualties from German artillery fire. Nevertheless, the regiment continued to advance, and by the evening of 3 November a battalion of the th controlled Schmidt. Although the progress of the 28th's other regiments was behind schedule, Cota and his staff were pleased, if somewhat surprised, with the unexpectedly easy capture of the town.

The German response to the capture of Schmidt came on the morning of 4 November. Following an artillery barrage, German tanks and infantry pushed the U. The Germans continued to press their attack. The tanks and tank destroyers attached to the 28th Division were no match for the German Mark IV and V tanks, while the American infantrymen's bazooka rounds merely bounced off the thick German armor. First Lt. Turney W.

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Leonard, a platoon leader with Company C, d Tank Destroyer Battalion, won the Medal of Honor in the desperate defense at Kommerscheidt, which saw Leonard's armored vehicles destroy six enemy tanks and the lieutenant rally several infantry units whose leaders had become casualties. Nevertheless, on 7 November, the th abandoned Kommerscheidt. The determined German attacks at Schmidt and Kommerscheidt marked only the first phase of their counterattack.

Hodges had postponed the 5 November start of his offensive because of inclement weather. The delay allowed the Germans to commit three divisions, one a panzer unit, against Cota's 28th, since Allied activity elsewhere in the First or Ninth Army sectors remained negligible. The carnage in the Huertgen thus continued until 13 November, when Hodges finally came to the realization that the battered division could not secure the right flank of the VII Corps and replaced it six days later with the fresh 8th Infantry Division.

The 28th's attack had been one of the most costly actions by any U. Over 6, men were casualties. Materiel losses were also high; sixteen M10 tank destroyers, thirty-one Sherman tanks, and vast numbers of trucks, antitank guns, machine guns, mortars, individual weapons, and personal equipment littered the Huertgen.

In the aftermath of the battle, many members of the 28th Division would sardonically rechristen their red keystone shoulder patch the "bloody bucket. Tragically, the division's new positions, in the Ardennes, would place it squarely in the path of the German counteroffensive in the coming Battle of the Bulge. Weather was a key factor in launching the 12th Army Group's main November offensive.

On 16 November, however, the skies finally cleared sufficiently and some 4, Allied airplanes, including more than 2, heavy bombers, dropped over 10, tons of bombs on German positions and towns. Unfortunately, the attacking First Army soldiers had been withdrawn some two miles from the German positions as a safety measure. By the time the American forces closed back on the German lines, the defenders had recovered from the shock of the bombing and fought stubbornly. In the north the Ninth Army's progress, good during the first few days of the offensive, slowed in the face of stiff German resistance.

It took the rest of November, and some 10, casualties, before Simpson closed to the Roer River in most of his sector. It was tougher in the First Army area. In the north lay the Eschweiler-Weisweiler industrial area, in the center the Hamich ridge, and in the south the killing ground of the Huertgen Forest. By 22 November, Collins had pushed past Eschweiler and Hamich but still had made little progress in the Huertgen.

The Rhineland Campaign

After months of fighting, the forest floor had taken on an aspect reminiscent of the ravaged "no-man's-land" of World War I. Wasted machines and shattered equipment were strewn throughout the forest and the stench, from bodies left in the open, was almost unbearable. The dead had to wait for some future graves registration teams to move them from the forest as the many wounded swamped the overtaxed evacuation system.

A few examples from Medal of Honor citations won in the Huertgen illustrate the desperate kind of heroism fighting in the forest inspired. Bernard J. Ray, Company F. Ray stuffed blasting caps in his pockets, wrapped primer cord around his body, and grabbed several bangalore torpedoes.

He made it to the wire but was severely wounded as he set his charges. Apparently, realizing his wounds would disable him before he could complete his task, Ray connected a bangalore to the caps in his pocket and the primer cord around his body and set off the explosion. Francis X. McGraw, Company H.

Battle of the Bulge

Running out of ammunition, he hurriedly replenished his stocks and continued firing until he had again exhausted his ammunition. Grabbing a carbine, McGraw continued to engage the advancing Germans until he was finally killed. John W. Minick, Company I, st Infantry, 8th Infantry Division, single-handedly assaulted and neutralized an enemy machine gun. Continuing forward, he encountered a German company and again attacked, killing twenty Germans and capturing twenty more.

Minick continued his one-man advance, knocking out another enemy machine gun position. Once more moving ahead of his unit, the young sergeant stepped on one of the many mines planted in the Huertgen and died. Although the eastern section of the forest and the town of Schmidt remained in German hands, First Army forces had finally closed on the west bank of the Roer. Initially, the Allies tried to breach the dams by bombing, but they proved too strong. Hodges then decided to take them by ground attack and gave the mission to Gerow's V Corps.

Gerow planned an envelopment of the dams. Edwin P. Parker, Jr. After seizing Schmidt, the division would attack the dams from the north. Walter M. Robertson's veteran 2d Infantry Division would attack northward into the Monschau Forest from the villages of Krinkelt and Rocherath, approaching the dams from the southeast. A regiment of the 99th Infantry Division would secure Robertson's right flank. The attack began on 13 December but halted three days later when the Germans began their counteroffensive in the Ardennes.

The Germans still controlled part of the Huertgen Forest, Schmidt, and the dams. It had been a rough month for the First Army; from 16 November to 15 December it had suffered some 21, casualties with few gains to show for its losses. Manton S. Eddy's XII Corps attacked to the northeast to seize Faulquemont, the first objective in the drive to the German border. But not until 8 December did the troublesome Fort Driant finally capitulate, while the last stronghold in the Metz system, Fort Jeanne d'Arc, held out until 13 December.

Patton then paused to build up the supplies and ammunition necessary to assault the West Wall. In the far north, Montgomery's 21 Army Group had also found the going tough. Although enemy resistance was not heavy, mud and mines bogged down the advance. Nevertheless, by 22 November, the British had cleared the west bank of the Maas opposite Roermond. Mid-December found the 21 Army Group generally situated along the river, except for their foothold across the Waal River, north of Nijmegen. Within hours, the city was cleared with the Allied forces pushing north and south opposite the Rhine.

By 27 November, after repulsing a German counterattack, the Seventh Army had secured a widening and dangerous salient into the German defensive line. From November, de Lattre's forces drove the Nazis before them, liberating Belfort; Altkirch, and Mulhouse and reaching the upper Rhine. Stiffening German resistance, however, stopped the continuing French offensive short of Colmar on 28 November, and de Lattre opted to consolidate his gains in the area of Belfort.

Opposite Devers, the German Nineteenth Army still controlled a large area west of the Rhine between Colmar and Mulhouse, which the Allies soon called the Colmar pocket. But Devers was not particularly worried by the last-ditch German defense of the High Vosges, believing it could be eventually eliminated. Eisenhower, however, was more concerned by the Colmar pocket than Devers.

The Battle for the Rhineland by Reginald W. Thompson | Boffins Books

Furthermore, the supreme commander clearly believed that the Allied priority of effort still belonged in the north. Hence, he ordered Devers to abandon his plans to move across the Rhine and to reorient his force to attack north, well west of the river. From there south to Switzerland, Devers' forces were snugged up against the Rhine with the exception of the Colmar pocket. The tough going of Allied operations from September-December clearly showed that the Germans had recovered from their defeats of the past summer.

Nevertheless, Eisenhower determined to keep pressure on the enemy throughout the winter and deny the Wehrmacht the freedom to further strengthen its defenses. On 7 December Eisenhower met in Maastricht with Montgomery and Bradley to plan an all-out offensive for the early weeks of Eisenhower decided that the main effort would again shift to the 21 Army Group, with secondary attacks in the south. He argued again for a concentrated thrust across the Rhine north of the Ruhr by his army group, while other Allied forces reverted to containing actions.

Eisenhower disagreed and, having control of the ever increasing American resources critical to Montgomery's plan, made his views prevail. Before the Allies could fully implement the decisions reached at Maastricht, the Germans attacked in the Ardennes. Soldiers soon called it the Battle of the Bulge, after the salient the Germans made in the Allied lines. Although surprised, the Allies contained the German offensive, but only after much bitter fighting in freezing temperatures the story of which is related in a companion campaign brochure.

As his offensive in the Ardennes ground to a halt, Hitler looked southward for victory. At that time, when ordered to surrender Bastogne, Brig. General Anthony C. McAuliffe famously replied: "Nuts. Eisenhower , were surprised by the force of the German attack. Much of the battle was affected by the weather. Great snowstorms were a big problem. Trucks had to be run every half hour to keep the oil in them from freezing. Weapons froze, so men urinated on them to thaw them.

The temperature during January was the coldest on record, and casualties from exposure to the cold grew as large as the losses from fighting.

  1. The last killing ground in the West.
  2. Hitler reoccupies the Rhineland, Violating the Treaty of Versailles.
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  5. The Germans attacked in white uniforms to blend in with the snow. The Malmedy Massacre. On December 17, , halfway between the town of Malmedy and Ligneuville in Belgium, an American battalion was captured by an SS force. About POWs were disarmed and sent to stand in a field. About 80 men were killed by gunfire, and their bodies were left where they fell. Many prisoners escaped into nearby woods. News spread quickly among Allied soldiers, and an order went out that all SS officers and paratroopers should be shot on sight. The Malmedy Massacre is regarded as the worst atrocity committed against American troops during the course of the war in Europe.

    On December 23, American forces began their first counterattack on the southern flank of the "Bulge. The Luftwaffe German air force launched a major campaign against Allied airfields and succeeded in destroying or severely damaging more than aircraft. While the Allies recovered quickly from their losses, the operation left the Luftwaffe weaker than ever. On January 7, , Hitler agreed with his staff to pull back most of his forces from the Ardennes, thus ending all offensive operations. On January 8, German troops withdrew from the tip of the "bulge.

    The last of the German reserves were gone, the Luftwaffe had been broken, and the German army in the west was being pushed back. Most importantly, the Eastern Front was now ripe for the taking by the Soviets. With the majority of its air power and men lost, Germany had few forces left to defend the Third Reich.

    Germany's final defeat loomed just a few months away. Casualty estimates from the battle vary widely. American casualties are listed as 70, to 81,, British as 1,, and German casualties at between 60, and , More than , German soldiers were taken prisoner. In addition, tanks were lost on each side, and 1, German aircraft were destroyed. Quotes regarding Battle of the Bulge.

    By George S. Patton Jr. Almighty and most merciful Father, we humbly beseech Thee, of Thy great goodness, to restrain these immoderate rains with which we have had to contend.

    Chapter 19: The Battle of the Rhineland, Part II: Operation BLOCKBUSTER, 22 February–10 March 1945

    Grant us fair weather for Battle. Graciously hearken to us as soldiers who call upon Thee that, armed with Thy power, we may advance from victory to victory, and crush the oppression and wickedness of our enemies and establish Thy justice among men and nations. Actually written by his chief chaplain, James H.