World War II: Allied Western Offensive Stalls (September 1944)


Figure 1.--The British reached Brussels (September 2). Here Britishh tanks have entered the city. Note the Boy Scout now able to wear his uniform.

There was hope in the Allied camp that with the German collapse in France that the NAZIs could be defeated in 1944. The Americans after liberating Paris pressed on north to Germany. 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. As the Allied armies moved further from the coast supply lined becamne streached. German destruction of ports delayed taking advantage of fixed port facilities. The major geographic obstacle to entering Germany was the Rhine River. Eisenhower acceeds to Montgomery's plan to seize the Rhine River bridge at Arnhem and cross the Rhine through the Netherlands. Available supplies were diverted toward this effort, Operation Market Garden (September 17-26). The effort achieved some success, but failed at Arnhem. This allowed the Germans to stabilized their Western front as Winter approached. Meanwhile 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). The supplies were, however, not available for a massive drive into Germany.

Liberation of France (August 1944)

he American capture of Cherbourg placed the first important French port in Allied control (June 27). While the Germans held in Normandy, a huge logistical enterprise was building up a huge army with emense capabilities. The Allies in the first 100 days after D-Day landed an incredible 2.2 million men, 450,000 vehicles, and 4 million tons of supplies. This was a force that the Germans could not begin to match and their situation was rendered untenable by the virtual complete lack of air support. The Allied offensive broke the badly streachedGermans in July. British and Canadian troops under Montgomery finally captured Caen (July 9). The major break through came further south. Patton's Third Army after a concentrated bombing pierced the German lines with armoured thrusts near St. Lô and rapidly fanned out behind German lines. While American Sherman tanks were inferior to the German tanks, they were faster and more numerous. Allied air power made it impossible for the Germans to contain the American offensive. German units were foirced to abandon their tanks and flee east. Efforts to surround an entire German army failed when SS units held an escape rour open at Falaise, allowing a substantial part of the Germany forces to escape. American airpower, however, wreked havoc on the retreating Germans. The Americans landed another force on the French Mediterranean coast between Marseilles and Nice (August 15). The German hold on France was broken. The Paris Ressistance rose up against the German occupation forces as Allied armour divisions raced toward the capital and crossed the Seine. French Forces of the Interior (FFI)attacked Germans retreating through the city. Hitler ordered the city to be destroyed. The German commander refused to carry out the orders. Allied forces entred the city (August 25).

Liberation of Belgium (September 1944)

The Allies after Paris pressed north into Belgium. The British reached d Brussels (September 2) and Antwerp (September 3). They were met by jubilant civilans realizing that the dark years of NAZIdom were finally over. There was hope in the Allied camp that with the German collapse in France that the NAZIs could be defeated in 1944. Antwep was the key to the Allied thrust on into Germany. The Allies reqired a deep water port in Belgium. Supplies were still being landed in Normandy and trucked through France via the Red Ball Express. This was creating enormous logistical problems and the Allies needed to shorten its supply lines. While the Allies after taking Brussels reached Antwerp the next day. Opening the port proved to be a much more difficult undertaking. The Germans had fortified islands in the Scheldt estuary. Montgomery did not initially grasp the importance. The Germans evem though cut off by the advancing Allies held out recognizing the importance of keeping the port closed. The Belgian Resistance played an important role in the costly effort to clear the Scheldt. [Moulton] Once in Allied hands, Antwerp and its harbor became a target for NAZI V-2 attacks.

Allied Supply Lines

As the Allied armies moved further from the coast supply lined became increasingly streached. German destruction of the Channel ports delayed taking advantage of fixed port facilities. The Germans held out in Cherbourg and forts in the Sheldt estuary which prevented the rapid exploitation of Antwerp even though the port fascilities were taken in relatively good condition. German planning for the defence of Germany were based on the Allies outrunning their supply lines as they moved through France. Hitler in particular counted on this. This is why German planning in the final months of the war focued so heavily on Antwerp. (Antwerp was the objective of the Bulge offenive and after Lonon a major targtof V-2 attacks.) Antwerp was a major port locted close to the Rhine. Eisenhower had hoped that the Siegfried Line and the Rhine could be breached before supply problems would necesitate a pause in the Allied offensive. The Allied problem was not a shortage of supplies. It was getting them from Chernourg, Normandy, and southern French ports to the rapidly moving front lines which by September were in Belgium and the border of the Reich. This meant in some instances truck routes of over 500 miles. There was no pause at the Seine as had been expected. Allied units were being supplied by a one-way truck route called the Red Ball Express. The Germans neer counted on this. Throughout the War they were dependent on rail lines and to alesser extent barges. The Red Ball drivers, however, were beung pushed to exhaustion. As early as late August, Allied units ground to a hault. The most serious problem was gasoline. American units used much greater quanties of supplies than comparable German units, in part because they were so extensively mechanized. An American dividsion required 600 to 700 tons of supplies daily.

Allied Strategy

With the liberation of France, a split emerged in the Allied high command over the best trategy to push on into Germany. Montgomery wanted the available fuel and supplies concentrated for one massive push to Berlin on a narrow front. Montgomery's intemperence on the issue almost led to his removal. Surprisingly Patton agreed with Monty's concept. They both believed that given the resources they could drive into Germany and end the War in 1944. Of course the two disagreed over who would lead that push. Eisenhower favored a broad front strategy. In the end Montogomery was put in charge of just such a narrow push (Market Garden), primarily because of the V-1 and V-2 attacks. But his drive was stopped at Arnem which proved to be onr bridge to far (October 1944). The Allies in October 1944 did not have have the fuel and supplies for another focused drive. Eisenhower from the beginning had favored a broad front campaign which was the strategy persued to drive into Gerany. Military historians still debate the two strategies. Allied success was strongly influenced by air superority. Close ground support wold have been difficult to provide a fast moving narrow front driving into Germany. Without heavy air support German panzers may have wreeked havoc with Allied armor. I'm not sure Eisenhower ever explained in detail his commitment to a broad front. One important impct of the broad front was the impact on Germany. With Aliied units moving through German towns and cities the width and breath of Germany there would be no repear of the November criminal myth of World war I. With Allies collumns moving through Germany and their cities in ruins, there was no one in Germany who believed that their county was defeated. This was important in the post-War era. There was no NAZI resistance movement that developed in occupied Germany. This had been one of Eisenhower's gratest concerns. One important reason for this was the broad front straegy which brought Germany's defeat every community in the country. The other major factor was the fear of the Red Army across the Elbe.

German Retreat (August 1944)

After Falise, the Germans began a dramatic retreat across France, accelerated by the Operation Dragoon landings in the south. Unlike Normandy, the Dragoon landings were barely resusted. This saved most of France from the destructive battke of attrition waged in Normandy. The Allies pushed rapidly up the Rhone Valley. TheGermans managed o gey some 185,000 mnnoutv of France. They used whatever vehicles tht were available as well as foced marches on foot. The guiding foce behind the retreat was Gen. Johannes Blaskowitz who Hitler had placed in charge of defending southern France. He simply ugnored Hitler's orders and got as many men as possible out of southern France. They headed for a temprary bridgehed built outside Dijon, southeast of Paris. Blaskowitz fended off atempts by SS Reicherführer SS Heinrich Himmler to interfere. He absolutely refused to launch futile counter-attacks to seize positions he could not hope to hold. The dramatic German retreat was possible in part because the French Resistance was not as active as they had feared. Here a factor was the savage German reprisals for Resistance attacks, [Ludewig]

Allied Optimism

The Allied liberation of France (August 25) was a tgime of great celebration. And at the same time, the Germans lost their few remining allies (Romania, Bulgaria, and Finland. The British dash north reavhed Brussels (September 3). The Americans neared the West Wall, trapping 25,000 Germans around Mons and Maubeuge. TheBritish 11th Armoured Division seized the all-important port of Antwerp before the Germans could destroy it. Hitler fumed, "They just about came rcing at us .... What impudence!" Eisenhower's assessment was thst the Germany Army was cracking. Montgomer's focus was on crossing the Rhine and leading a war-winning advance across the north German plain.

Resistance Stiffens (September 1944)

Field Marshal Walter Model reorganized the German defenses on the West Wall. Almost miraculously German resistance stiffened as the retreating Germans neared the borders of the Reich. The key factor in restablishing a defensive line ws the failure of the Allies to destroy The German Seventh Army and Fifth Pazer Army west of the Seine at Falise. The Allies also made a major mistake at Antwerp. Some 85,000 men escaped across the Scheldt. There they reinforced the northern side. And this prevented the use of the desperately needed port of Antwerp. The Canadians would be forced into the costly operation of clearing the Schedldt which would take almost 3 months. Hitler finally accepted the need to pull back to the West Wall, but only so he could begin to plan another massive offensive in the Ardennes. Model and his commanders had only benn able to prevent a collapse through improvisation. They fotce stragglers into scratch units. They achieved a victory at Metz where a replacement division formed from officer and non-commisdioned officer candidates was rushed to the front and inflicted painful losses on the U.S. 5th Infantry Division (mid-September). Model and Blaskowitz had to fight off interference from the Führer and OKW as they struggled to defend the West Wall. [Ludwwig]

The Rhineland Campaign (September 1944-March 1945)

The Rhineland is the area of Germany west of the Rhine. It is thus here that the Western Allies first entered the Reich--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 Arnhem, Aachen, the Huertgen Forest, Metz, and in the the foothills of the Vosges Mountains.

V-2 Attacks (September 6, 1944)

German researchers led by the brilliant Wener Von braun who was later to play an important role in the American space program developed the revolutionary new weapn, the V-2 balistic missle in great secrecy at Penemunde along the Baltic coast. Reports from aerial recognisance and the Polish underground alerted the Allies to this new weapon. A British air rade delayed, but did not stop development of the weapon. The V-2 along with the V-1 and jet aircraft were the most innovative German weapns development. The German ME-262 could have had a major impact on the War if Hitler had not meddled in the program. The balistic missle was later to become a key military weapon. In World War II, the limited war head and imprecission in targeting meant that it no matter how innovative was not a weapon of great military significance. It was, however, a terrifying weapn that could be use to kill civilians. The Allies, after the break-out from Normandy (July) rapidly seized the German coastal facilities from which the V-1 buzz bombs were launched. The Allies liberated Belgium with its key port of Antwerp (September). This left the Netherlands as the only place that even V-2 rockets could be launched on London. The German began their V-2 offensive by firing two missiles at Paris (September 6). Hitler was, however, still fixated on London. The first launches targeting London followed 2 days later (September 8).

Market Garden (September 17-26, 1944)

Montgomery had been pressuring Eisenhower to order one big push into Germany which of course he thought he should direct rather than Patton. Eisenhower kept insisting on a broad front advance. At this stage of the campaign. Most of the Allied supplies were still coming in over the Normandy beaches. Ports like Brest, Boulogne and Calais were still in German hands. The German V-2 attacks while not a real military threat, were terrifying civilians and it was Montgomery who was best placed to seize the launching sites in the Netherlands which could still be used to hit London. Eisenhower as a result, acceeded to Montgomery's plan to seize the Rhine River bridge at Arnhem and cross the Rhine through the Netherlands. Available supplies were diverted toward this effort, Operation Markt Garden (September 17-26). While more attention is given to airborn opertions on D-Day, Market Garden was the largest airborn operation of World War II. Over 30.000 allied paratroopers were employed in the operation. Eisenhower was a proponent of a broad-front offensive against Germany. His field commnanders, especially Montgomery and Patton, wanted to focus the offensive on specific sectors (their own) to pierce the enemy defenses. Available supply lines in September 1944 were inadequate for a general broad-front offensive against the Germans. If there was to be an offensive in Septmber against the Germans, Eisenhower had to chose a specific sector. He chose Montgomery in the Netherlands. Eisenhower has never fully explained this decission. Seceral factors were certasinly involved. The route through the Netherlands was the most direct and shortest into the industrial heart of Germany. The Germans were launching V-1 rockets from the Netherlands which were causing civilian casualties in London and other British cities. Montgomery's plan offered a key objective, the seizure of the Rhine River bridge at Arnhem. In addition, the liberation of Belgium had brought with it the port of Antwerp which meant that if Montgomery was successful, supplies to exploit the crossing of the Rhine could be brought in through Antwerp, instead of the long truck routres through France. The effort achieved some success, but failed at Arnhem. This allowed the Germans to stabilized their Western front as Winter approached.

Strategic Bombing Campaign (1944-45)

NAZI propaganda hailed the defeat of Market Garden as a great victory. I did stop the Allies from enteing the Reich in 1944. But it only postponed the inevitable. And it ptoved a disaster for the German people. The major consequences of staving off defeat in the West was the continuation of the Allied strategic bombing campaign. The Allies had wrecked considerable damage to German industry and cities, but the German war economy was still in tact and German cities, with a few exceptions, had not yet been devestated. Eisenhowe had taken over contril of the the 8th Air Force and Bomber Command to focus on D-Day (March 1945). He finally released both forces back to the air commanders (September 1944). By this time the Luftwaffe despite the ME-262 jet had largely been reduced to impotence. Germany now only had the FLAK-batteries to fend off the Allies and it was inadequate to the task. It was the time from Market Garden (September 1944) to the crossing of the Rhine that the Allies totally destroyed the German war economy and in the process left German cities in rubble.

The Dutch (October 1944-March 1945)

The failure of Market Garden was a disaster for the Dutch people. The Netherlands south of the Rhine was liberated, but the Germans still held the north bank. A Dutch reader writes, "the part of Holland that could not be liberated at that time became a German fortress. It sadly was the most populous part of the Netherlandswith the cities Utrecht, Amsterdam, Haarlem, Rotterdam and The Hague, where the majority of the Dutch population. The River Rhine flows through the Netherlands east to west. Nobody could leave or get in anymore. That meant that the people were starving and had to eat the food that was locally available. That was very little. We had to line up every day (only once a day!) to receive a bowl of soup at the Central Kitchens that were opened everywhere. It always was thin cabbage soup without meat. We received a food package from Sweden (February 1945). Also clothes were scarce. We got textile coupons, but the stores were empty. My father made me a pair of 'sandals' from an old rubber tire. We wore the same clothes for months. Fortunately I still had a pair of indestructable brown corduroy Scout shorts and a woollen pullover my grandma had knitted for me, although it was tight, since I kept growing in spite of the bad nourishment. We were near starvation when finally liberated by the Canadians."

The Bulge (December 1944)

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 Allied thought the Wehrmacht was esentially defeated and incapable of mounting a major offensive. The Germans were also careful to avoid sending messages bout the offensive electronically. Thus Ultra did not have a clear picture, although Allied commanders were given some warnings. The Germans forced the U.S. 28th Division to retreat from Wiltz (December 19). Eisenhower ordered the 101st Airborne Division to defend the vital crossroads town of Bastonge in Belgium. The German panzers pushed west. German Panther and Tiger tanks in many ways were superior to the American panzers, but they were slower and the Tigers could not cross many Belgian bridges, limited possible crosings. They also guzzled huge quantities of fuel and fuel ws the principal limiting facor to the Germand offensive. he German plans were contingent on capturing American fuel depots. When the German offensive began, George S. Patton's 3rd Army to the south was about to launch an invasion into the German Saar. In a brilliant movement, within 2 days, he turned the offensive on a 90° axis and struck northward into the German flank to relieve the 101st Airborne in Bastogne. The 3rd Army liberated Ettlebruck on Christmas Eve and broke through the German lines to relieve Bastogne (December 26). The U.S. 5th Armored Division conducted a surprise night crossing of the River Sure and liberated Diekirch (January 18, 1945). The Germans were pushed back to the positions they held at the start of the battle (January 28).

Breaching the Siegfried Line (January-February 1945)

Patton turned two of his three corps of the Third Army north to deal with the souther flank of the German Bulge and relieve the 101 Airborn in Bastogne. This left only one corps, the XX, to hold a front previously held by three. The XX didn't maintain a defensive posture, but instead attacked the German Siegfried Line (January 1945). [Prefer] The American offensive was not widely reported at the time because press attention was focused on the reduction of the German forces in the Bulge to the north. The Siegfried Line had to be penetrated to reach the Rhine and invade Germany.

Sources

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

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

Meller, William F. Bloody Roads to Germany.: At Huertgen Forest and the Bulge--An Ameriocan Soldier's Courageous Story of World War II (2012). Days into the battle for the Huertgen Forest. SEargeant Meller was promoted to platoon leader when the officers in the rifle companies were killed or wounded.

Moulton, J L. Battle for Antwerp: The Liberation of the City and the Opening of the Scheldt, 1944 (BCA: London, 1978).

Prefer, Nathan. Patton's Ghost Corps : Cracking the Siegfried Line.







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Created: December 29, 2003
Last updated: 9:36 PM 3/8/2013