Hitler had transformed the War in 1941. Hitler as a result of phenomenal successes in the firt 10 moinths of the War achieved a dominant in Western Europe facing only a bealgered but undefeated Britain. Within a 6-month period of 1941 he invaded first the Soviet Union (June 1941) and then after Pearl Harbor declared war on the United States (December 1941). The NAZis not only suffered a staggering defeat in front of Moscow (Devember 1941), but now faced an Allied colalition of staggering proportions and economic resources. Whole Axis armies were cut off and destroyed at Stalingrad (January 1943) and North Africa (May 1943). The invasion of Sicily and then succeeded in knocking Italy out of the War (September 1943). The Red Army dealt the Wehrmacht a desestating blow in the greatest tank battle in history at Kursk (July 1943). The D-Day invasion of France (June 1944) presented the badly weakened Wehrmacht with a two front war--the nightmare more feared by the Germans. The German army in France was mauled at Falaise. The last German offensive occurred again in the Ardenes (December 1944). Allied armies were penetrating into Germany from east and west (March 1945). The Allies encountered the unimagenable beastiality of the NAZIs as they over ran concentration camps in Poland and Germany. The Soviets took Berlin and Hitler shot himself (April 1945). Admiral Donnitz replacing Hitler finally ordered the military to surrender, ending the War in Europe (May 1945).
British and Italin/Germany armies launches offensives which swung back and forth between Egypt and Libya. It looked like Rommel's Africa Corps might reach Suez in 1942, but the British stopped him at El Alamein. Here the two armies prepared for a massive battle. The Africa Corps supply lines crossed the Mediterranan where with the help of Ultra, the British destroyed large quantities of supplies. The British in turn had longer supply lines, but their new American allies delivered vast quantities of weapons and supplies. This enabled Montgomery's 8th Army to smash the Africa Corps (October 1942). While this made headlines, thevmore decisive action occurred to the west in French North africa. Amercan and British landings in North Africa known as opperation Torch sealed the fate of the Axis desert campaign. Even if Rommel had broken through to Suez, he would have been forced to turn west to deal with the Allied landings in French North africa. The Allies driving east from their Moroccan nd Algerian beachheads linked up with the Brish advancing west (November 1942). While generally given less attention than other campigns, the Anglo American offensive, joined by the French French played an important role in assisting the hard-pressed Soviets on the Eastern Front. The Wehrmacht's strategic reserve had not yet been committed in November 1942. All rational calculations argued for it to be committed against the Soviets in the struggle over Stalingrad. Hitler instead used major components to hold Tunisia. The Luftwaffe was ordered to launch a massive operation to transport troops to Tunisia and support them. More than 1,000 Junkers transport planes were loss in the effort, planes and crews which could have been used to supply the 6th Army at Stalingrad. The Axis lost 200,000 soldiers at Stalingrad, but 250,000 in Tunisia--about Half Germans. These were losses of such magnitudes that the Germans could not replace them. [Atkinson] North Africa was also notable because the Anglo-American military operation was worked out and the Allied armies first learned the techniques of modern war needed to defeat the Blitkrieg tatctics of the German military machine. The American army obtained its first combat experience in North Africa.
Allied units on August 19, 1942 raided the French coastal port of Dieppe. The operation was called "Operation Jubilee". The raid proved to ba killing ground for the invasion force comprised primarily of Canadians with a smaller force of Ameriocan Rangers and British Comandos. The cliffs and high ground commanding landing zone provided perfect sites for German gun positions. The stony beach impeded the movement of tanks. The objectives of the raid was announced as to to gather intelligence, test the German defences, destroy German defenses, and demonstrate to the hard-pressed Russians on the Eastern front that the planning for a "second front" was making progress. The cost was high. About 3,000 of the 5,000 Canadians involved in the operation were killed or captured. About 120 mostly RAF pkanes were lost. While a sharp defeat, the lessons learned at Dieppe played a major role in the later Allied victory at Normandy. At Dieppe there had been no surprise and no softening of beach defenses by air strikes and naval gun fire. The Allies had not achieved air superority over yhe invasion beaches or the rear areas through which reinforcements flowed.
The battle of Stalingrad is generally seen as the turning point in the Second World War. The German summer 1942 offendive aimed south at the Ukraine, the Causeses, and reaching the Volga at Stalingrad. The massive winter losses had significantly reduced the capabilities of the Wehrmacht. They simply were unable to accomplish the assigned objectives. The Wehrmacht no longer had the strength to launch a massive offensive all along the Eastern Front. They decided to strike in the south toward Stalingrand and the Caucuses where Hitler was especially interested in the oil resources. The powefull, well equipped 6th Army was assigned the task. Initially they achieved startling successes. The shatered elements of the Red Army fell back accross the Don and were persued by the 6th Army. German inteligence, however, failed to appreciate the ability of the Russians to form and arm replcement armies. Hitler refused to even listen to estimates of Soviet strength. Hitler here made a deadly error. He dividing his forces, weakening 6th Army in an effort to seize the oil rich Caucusses. The Red Army withdrew accross the Volga when the 6th Army reached Stalingrad, but mainatined forces needed in the city to steadily bleed the Germans. By fighting in the city, the 6th Army's powerful mobil striking potential was negated by determined Red Army soldiers. The Soviet counter-offensive surrounding the 6th Army in Stalingd came as a complete suprise to the Germans. The result when Hitler refused to let the 6th Army break out was the complete loss of the Army, the most powerfull unit in the German order of battle (December 1942-January 1943). A HBC reader as a GI in Germany after the War met a youth named Hans who as a Hitler Youth boy flew a combat mission in the Luftwaffe Komet
rocket plane. His brother was killed flying supplies into Stalingrad where the 650,000 men of the 6th Army were trapped. Not many of those Germans trapped came back to Germany after the war nor did many of the Soviets captured by the Germans return home.
Kharkiv/Kharkov is the second-largest city in Ukraine, located in the northeast. It became the most fought over city of the Eastern Front. Four major battles were fought over Khsrkov before beung finally liberated by the Red Army (August 23, 1943). The city was captured and recaptured by by the Germans during Basrbasrossa (October 24, 1941). A disastrous Red Army offensive failed to liberate the city (May 1942), paving the way for Opertion Blue-the Stalingrad/Caucasus campaign. Khrushchev at the 20th Party Congress would blame Stalin for the disaster. [Khrushchev] The city after the Stalingrad victory was liberated by the Red Army (February 16, 1943). It was retaken a second time by the Germans in a masterful operation overseen by Manstein (March 15, 1943) before being finally liberasted for good after the Kursk victory where Mainstein failed (August 23, 1943. The city was in shambles with 70 percent destroyed and tens of thousands of the civilian populstion killed. Kharkov at time was the third largest city in the Soviet Union and the most populous city captured by the Germans. There was an important Jewish community in Kharkov. They worshiped in the second largest synagogue in Europe. After taking Kharkov the Germans set about metgodiucally murdering some 30,000 Jewish inhabitants (December 1941 and January 1942). About half were shot in a ravine outside of the city -- Drobytsky Yar. Kharkov had an important tank production complex, but the city was far enough east that the Soviets were able to successfuly evacuate it east of the Urals. It became the heart of Red Army's tank programs (producing the iconic T-34 tank). The tank enterprises returned to Kharkov after the war and continue to produce tanks. The city had a ore-War populsation of 700,000 inhabitnts. The Germans rounded up 120,000 people and transported then to the Reich as Ost-Arbeiter (slave labor) and murdered 30,000 (mostly Jews). Some 80,000 people starved to death because the Germans only issued ration cards to the people working for them. [Subtelny]
The defeat in North Africa was punishing, but it was on the Eastern Front against the Soviets that the great bulk of the Wehrmacht was deployed. The Germans after Stalingrad fell back, but began amassing their forces for a third summer offensive of the Russian campaign. The offensive this time was even more limited than in 1942. The target was a buldge in the Soviet line, the Kursk salient. The effort was code named Citidel. The fighting on the huge Eastern Front involved vast armies in some of the most savage fighting ever recorded and Kursk may well have been the most vicious fighting of the War. Hitler delayed the offensive until the Wehrmacht could be equipped with the new Panzer Mark IV tanks. The Mark IV could take on the Soviet T-34, but it was a mich more complicated tanl. Not only could it not be produced in the numbers of T-34s, but it required much more intensive maintenance than the T-34. The Offensive was overseen by von Manstein. Guderian objected to the plan for the battle approved by Hitler. It was to be a set piece battle. Guderian argued that the battle plan deprived the Panzers from the mobility which was their greatest advantage. The Soviet defense was planned by Zukov. The delays in the Germany preparations gave the Soviets the time to lean of the German plans and to prepare both defenses and to reinforce the forces around Kursk. The result was the largest tank battle in history. Although D-Day was a year in the future, the estern Allies played a major role in the battle. Not only was American Lend Lease playing a majopr role in supplying Soviet armies, but the Allied strategic bombing campaign had forced the Luftwaffe to concentrate in strength to defend German cities. Thus Luftwaffe support for the German offensive was limited. Although not yet on the Continent, the Allied invasion of Soicily caused Hitler to pull our of the oiffensive two key SS armoured divisions (Das Reich and Yoten Kompf). While quickly returned to the battkle when the offensive bogged down, the loss of position and tctical advantage was considerable. At Kursk, the Wehrmacht suffered losses from which they never recovered. It was their last important offensive on the Eastern Front. Without the Soviet defeat of the Wehrmacht, the Western Allies would have been hard pressed to contain the Germans or cross the Channel. A victorious Russian ally, however, meant that peace following the War would be far from ideal and leave the peoples of Eastern Europe locked into a new totalitarian dictatorship for a half a century.
The Allied invasion of Sicily, Operation Huskey, was the next step in the Mediterranean campaign after the Axis surrender in Tunisia. Control of sicily would mean Allied control of most of the Mediterranean. The Allies had two other goals. Sicily would provide critical bases for an invasion of Italy. An Allied invasion of Italy in turm would maintain pressure on Germany and force it to divert forces from the Atlantic Wall in France and the Eastern Front in Russia. The invasion was Operation Husky and involved risks. Unlike the Torch invasions, the Axis had strong forces on Sicily that could be expected to vigorous contest the landings. The landing flotilla had to brought from England exposing it to U-boats nd Luftwaffe attacks. The island was defended by the Italian 6th Army, with over 200,000 men, and two German divisions, the 15th an 90th Panzer Grenadiers. The Italians had performed poorly in North Africa. It was unclear how they would fight on actual Italian ground.
Marshall Bodaglio arrested Musollini (July 25). Bodgalio and the King tried to convince Hitler that they were committed to the War. Hitler did not belireve them for one minute and 12 divisions, despite the deteriorating conditions on the Eastern Front, were rushed south into Italy. With the Italian surrender, the Germans occupied Italy (September 1943). Several months of very diffifult fighting followed the Allied landinfs at Salerno. Kesserling very effectiently organized the German defenses. The Germans while in control of Rome seized more than 1,000 Jews who were deported to Auuschwitz. American intrcepts recently released reveal that Hitler himself overrode his local commanders on arresting the Jews. These intercepots also make it clear that Pope Pius XII's policy of silaence primarily stemed from a cponcern to protect the physical integrity of the Vatican. [Katz] Rome was liberated by the Americans on June 4, but the Allied failed to trap sizeable German units. The world's focus turned on July 6 to the coast of France and the D-Day invasion. The final NAZI defensive line in northern Italy, the Gothic Line in the Apennine Mountains was assaulted by the American 10th Mountain Division (February 1945). [Jenkins]
Kursk was the last major German offensive on the East Front. After Kursk, the ininitiative passed to the Red Army. This was a very different Red Army than the Germans encountered at the onset of Barbarossa. It was a young army, but the junior officers that joined the Army after Barbarossa now had considerable experience. They had learned from the Germans. Their T-34 Tanks provided considerable punch and their artillery had grown considerably in size. Lend Lease in addition to the Soviet arms industry was providing arms to the Red Army in quantities that the Whermact could only dream about. And the Red Air Force was increasingly masteing the Luftwaffe which was bding drained by the conflict with the Americans and British in the air battles over northern Europe. The game changer on the Eastern Front in many ways were the Stidabaker trucks supplied in huge quantity under Lend Lease. These trucks provided the Red Army a mobility that the Wehrmacht did not have even in the heady days of 1939-41. The result was a series of spectacularly successful Red Army offensives that destroyed Army Group Sout and liberated the rest of the Ukraine and the Crima. The Wehrmacht became skilled at defensive warfare, but the skill of local commanders was undercut by several fctors. First, the rapidly expanding size and skill of Soviet formations. Second, Hitler's unwillingness to fall back to defensible lines. Three, OKW's failure to appreciate just how mobile the Red Army had become.
Stalin concluded that the Chechens were sympahetic to the NAZIs. We are not sure just how valid this charge us. It is likely that many Chechens were ant-Communist because of their Islamic religion and Stalin's suppression of all religions. We do not know to what exten the Chechens supported the NAZIs wen the Wehrmacy moved into the Caucuses (1942). (Many Soviet citizens in the Baltics, the Ukraine, and other areas of the Soviet Union looked on the Germans as lineraors until their genocidal racial policies toward Slavs became apparent.) We do know that many Chechens served loyally in the Red Army. Stalin ordered that the entire Chechen people be exiled to Siberia. The action was coordinated by he NKVD and launched February 23, 1944. The 1 million Chenchens were brutally packed into box cars in the middle of the winter and deported east to Central Asia Siberia. Little provision was made for them either on the transports or in the camps to where they were deported. Accounts of the transports are harrowing. Chechen women in particular were mortified to being packed together in boxcars with men for the extended trasport. Some women were ashamed to relieve themselve in front of men and held their urine until their bladders burst. Anuyone who resisted was shot or executed n other ways. It is estimated that about one-third of the Chechen people were killed or died in the roundups and transport box cars, although no precise statistics are known to exist. Many more Chechens perished in the harsh conditions of their exile. .
The 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. L� and rapidly fanned out behind German lines. While American Sherman tanks were inferior to the German tanks, they were fastr 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. I 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). The Allies pressed north into Belgium and liberated Brussels (September 2).
The attention of the Western Allies was on Normany in June 1944. As a result, the greatest defeat of a Germany army in the field is virtually unknown in the West. Unlike the Axis, the Allies attempted to coordinate their strategy. Thus the Soviets launched their major 1944 effort in coordination with the D-Day landings to
prevent the Wehrmach from transferring forces west to smash the Normandy bridgehead. Operation Bagration was timed to begin on the same day the NAZIs invaded the Soviet Union (June 22) 3 years earlier. The NAZIs had launced offensives in Spring or early Summer 1941, 42, and 43). The Wehrmacht no longer was capable of a major offensive in the East. It was the Red Army's turn in 1944. The target was the Wehrmcht's Army Group Central in Byelorussia. Bagration in many ways was a replay of Barbarossa, only in reverse. The Red Army in a massive 5 weeks campaigm suuceeded in moving the front line west to Warsaw, liberating much of Poland. Army Group Center was shatered. The Red Army completely destroyed 17 Wehrmacht divisions and heavily damaged the combat effectivness of more than 50 other German divisions. Army Group Central was shattered. It was the single greatest defeat suffered by the Wehrmacht in the
War--worse them the disaster at Stalingrad. The Wehrmact sffered greater casualties than at Stalingrad. [Zaloga] Bagration not only smashed Army Group Central, but drove the Germans back into Poland.
With first Wesurubing (April 1940) and then Barbarossa (June 1941), the Baltic becanme a German lake with the Red Navy bottked up in Lenningrad. This was vital for the German war effort. It gave the Germans unimpeded access to vital Swedish iron ore without which the Germans could not have waged the War. It served other useful puposes such as staging areas for the critical German U0-boat campaign in the North Atlantic. IThe Baltic was also useful in supplying Army Group North because of the primitive transport system. The Red Army Bagration Offensive smashed Army Group Center (June-July 1944). OKW was left with a difficult decission. Should Army Group North be used to hold the Baltics or retreat east abd bolster the Reich's depleted defenses. Hitler ordered OKW to defend the Baltics. Swedish iron ore and U-boat facilities were both on his mind. And he bekieved this would tie down Red army units. It proved, however, to be one of his many disasterous mistakes and one that would affect him personally in a direct way. The Baltics, especially the Curzon Pocket were essentially Hilers Festung defensive strategy writ large. The result was that four experienced and well armed formations were left cornered in the Baltic. As it worked out, the Red Army isolated Army Group North which had lost most of its mobility. Holding forces were left in the rear while the major Red Army forces moved west to the Oder where they faced very weak German opposition. Hitler had denied the Reich of its strongest remaining formations which could have been used to defend the Oder. [Lunde] And when the Germans reached Berlin, the defense of the capital and Hitler's own bunker had to rely to a large extent on old men and teenagers--the Volksstrum and the Hitler Youth.
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 advantag of fixed port facilities. The major geographic obstacle to entering Germany was the Rhine River. Eisenhower 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 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.
After the Allied breakout from Normandy, the German collpse was so sudden that there was really so sudden that there was no real strategy other than a relentless push forward against an ememny that had no real interest, but to to get back to the Reich and the presumed safety of the West Wall as soon as possible. Overlord planners predicated that the Germans would attempt make successive stands on the major water barriers across France and Belgium. A major stand was forseen at the Seine River. None of this occurred. The German West Wall or Siegfried Line had, however, been stripped of its armment to build the Atlantic Wall. As the Allied armies moved through France, the Germans moved to build up the West Wall defenses. The Normandy and southern France invasions forces joined up and headed toward the Reich. The French began buiding a new army. The failure of Market Garden and supply shortages bought the Germans the time that they needed to harden the West Wall. Gen. Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander, was thus faced with devising a strategy to invade the Reich and destroy the German armies. Some commanders, most notably Montgomery and Patton, argued for powerful, bold narrow thrust, of course commanded by them, deep into the Reich defeat the Germans by seizing Berlin. Gen. Eisenhower decided on a broad-front approach (September 1944). Montgomery in particular was so sure of his own brillince and openly critical that Eisehower came very closely to firing him. (Only an abject apology saved him.) The only diversion from the Broad-Front decision was Market Garden which was prompted in part by the German V-2 attackson London. Montgomery's failure only cemented Eisenhower's commitment to broad-front strategy. In this regard, Montgomery's fixation on Market Garden led to him overlooking the Scheldt Estuary, and as a result the Allies were unable to use the ceitical port of Antwerp for several months. Eisenhower began building up the Allied forces and moving toward the Rhine through the whole length of the Western Front, from the North Sea to Switzerland in preparation for the final drive into the Reich. The debate over the different approches continues to this day. Often neglected in the debate are two salient issues--logistics and the effectiveness of the Allied soldiers. First, logistics was a factor and as is often the case not adequately assed by World war II historians. . The Germans had efficently destroyed French ports and as a result the Aliies were still usung the Normndy beaches. And thanks to Montgomery, the port of Antwerp which was recovered in tact was unusable because the Germans in the Scheldt Estuary were bipassed. Supply shortages would limit Allied opertions for several months. Eisenhower's decision was in large measure based on logistic factors. [Ruppenthal1] Second is the quality of the Allies soldiers. This is an issue most Western historians do not want to address, because it is seen as demeaning to the brave men who defeated the NAZI tyranny, but it is was a factor in Eisenhower's thinking. The Allied armies simply weren't proficient enough to justify the risks associated with a narrow thrust into Germany's vitals. The Germans were experinced and battle hardened and they had infantry weponry which except for the M-1 Garand, was superior to those of the Allied infantry. The German soldier was also more ideolgically steekled than Allied soldiers, especially the Americns. Most of the Americn oldiers had no military experience and often only a few months of training. This German superiority was especually strong in armor. To present the battle-hardened Wehrmacht with an exposed Allied flank was to invite trouble. The Germans could not stop a relentless Broad Front drive. A narrow front drive, on the other hand, while offering the prospect for spectacular sucess lso presented the Germans with the possibility of some success.
The Red Army Bagration with Operation Bagration destroyed the German Army Group Center, this was the strongest remnaining Grman formation. This opened up the Eastern Front in the North. After Stalingtad (November 1942-January 1943), the Red Army had primarily focused on the Ukraine in the south. The Red Atmy victory at Kursk (July 1943) opened up the liberation of the western Ukraine and a drive toward the Balkans. The northern lines remained relatively stable. Bagration changed this. Before Bagration the Red Army faced a still very potent military force. Although outnumbered, the Germans were well dug in. American Lend Lease trucks, however, gave the Red Army unprecedented mobility. Finlnd was knocked out of the War. The destruction of Army Group Center opened up the Baltic, East Prussia, and Poland. And these were areas with large numbers of German civilians, especiall East Prussia and western Poland. Thus for the first time in the War we begin to see German civilians fleeing advancing armies. They joined the retreating columns of Wehnrmacht soldiers. The withdrawl was very poorly handeled. Hitler resisted issuing withdrawl orders until the situation had deteriorted and a retreat to prepared positions wrre no longer posssible. A major force was cut off in Latvia--the Courland Pocket. Civilians faced similar problems. Local NAZI officals to demonstrate their support of the war effort often did not authorize evacuation until the Red Army was close and thus the refugee colunns were often overtaken. Without gas the civilians were force to fleet on foot or in horse-drawn carys. Evacution orders were rarely issued in time for the rails to be used. Both soldiers abd civilans were terrified of being captured by the Soviets. Goebbels propaganda stoked this fear to stiffen resistance. Stalin ordered the Red army to stop at the Vistula. leaving the Germns to supress the Polish Home Army in Warsaw. When East Prussi was cut off, civilian except for military age men were evacuated by sea. Hitler's decesion the stile at the Western Allies with his remainin offensice capability ment that few resources were availabke to bolster the Reich's eastern defenses.
The Germans forced Bulgaria and Roimania into the Axis and then coquetred the rest of the Balkans (Yugoslavia and Greece) in a lighting campaign (April 1941). The captured the Balkans even with British interbention with minimal casualties except for the tough fighting over Crete. Unfortunatel for the Germans, the Balkans not only delayed the Operation Barbarossa invasion of the Soviet Union, but spawned an on going and growing insurgency in both Greece and Yugoslavia. Yigoslavia anbd the Soviet Union were the only areas of NAZI-controlled Europe that the resistance took on an extended military character. German reverses in the East, North Africa, and Italy, and finally the Normandy landings end and then reversed the German the strategic situation. As Allied and Soviet armies approached the borders of the eich, OKW attempted to withdraw for a final offensive. Hitler refused to withdraw from Norway, Latvia, and Hungary, but even he could see a withdral from the Balkans was necessary. OKW began the withdrawl from Greece in secret (September 1944) and the withdrawl from Yugoslavia was soon in motion (October 1944). After the withdrawl of the Germans from Greece, liberation was accompanied by British landings which helped support the royal government. Libertion of Yugoslavia was achieved by the Yugosalv Partisans with some Red Army assistance.
The Wehrmacht launched a carefully planned attack against weak Anerican ynits 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 amajor 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). The Whrmacht offensive in the Ardennes delayed the Allied offensive toward the Rhine by about 6 weeks. The llies i the campaign, however, destroyed virtually all of the Wehrmacht reserves and important panzer units as well as futher depleting the Luftwffe. This meant that the ability of the Germans to defend the Rhine and Berlin was significantly reduced.
Hitler with massive Allied armies poised on the German eastern and western frontiers authorized Himler to form the Volkssturm (November 1944). Boys and old men were inducted to shore up Germany's crumbling defenses. The Soviets in the east gathered their forces for an all out attack on Berlin. The Western Allies had reducded the Bulge and solved their supply contraints (February 1945). Hitler prepared for the Allied on-slaught by issuing the "Nero Order" (March 19). For Germans that were still under the illusion that Hitler had any real interest in the the welfare of the German people, these actions make clear his total lack of concern. Hitler issued a series of orders designed to destroy the infrasture of Germany, creating a virtual wasteland. 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). 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. Tghe Rhine was the last significant geographic barrier. Allied forces then began a race accross Germany toward the Russians pressing west. The horrendous crimes of the NAZI party were revealed to an incredulous world.
The battle for Berlin fought in April 1945 was one of the most horific engagements of World War II. Stalin ordered the Red Army to take Berlin. After the Americans seized the Remagen Bridge and crossed the Rhine, Stalin ordered the time tble speeded up and at the same time lied to Eisenhowser that he was preparing to take the German capital. Losses on both the German and Russian side were enormous. Russian losses were in part due to the fact that Stalin had ordered that Berlin be seized bfore the Americans could reach it. Stalin's ordered resulted in a race to Berlin by Marshal Zukov and Koniev, both wanting the victor' laurels. It has always been wonderd why Stalin was so obsessed with Berlin and was willining to sacrifice so many Red Army soldiers to get to Berlin before the Americans. It has always been felt that it was primarily for the political value, to demonstrate the role of the Red Army in defeating the NAZIs. A British histoian argues that there was another important reason. Beria had learned of the American Manhattan Project to build an atomic bomb. Stalin as a rsult ordered a top secret Soviet atomic bomb project--Project Boradino. Located at Berlin was the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute, the center of the German atomic project. While the Germans were fa behind the Americans, the Russins obrained agreat deal of valuable information an 3 tons of uranium oxide. [Beavers] The Soviet conquest of Berlin proved to be a nightmare for the surviving women, almost all of whom were raped. It is estimated that 2 million German women were raped by Russians at the end of the War. Perhaps 0.2 million of those rapes took place in Berlin. The rapes included children, nuns, old ladies, and even Russian women brought to Germany to work as slave laborers. The Soviets denied the German civilian reports, but Soviet archieves leave no doubt as to what occurred. [Beavers]
After Hitler's suiside (April 30) Admiral Doenitz's (Hitler's successor) takes command (Mazy 1). His primary concern was to buy time to allow as much of the Wehrmacht to surrender to the British and Americans pushinbg east. Doenitz and the German High Command were quite aware of what Germany had done in the East and were
under no allusion as to the fate that awaitted them in Soviet hands. Finally Eisenhower set a deadline, threatening to stop accepting German surrenders. This forced the Germans to acceed to the terms of unconditional surrender set by President Roosevelt ar Casablanca (1943). Keitel representing the German Highcommand signed unconditional surrender terms at Rheims in France to the Western Allies (May 7). Allies declare V-E Day (May 8). The Soviets require them to repeat the surrender in Berlin (May 9).
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Subtelny, Orest. Ukraine: A History 4th Edition (University of Toronto Press: 2009)
Zaloga, Steven J. Bagration 1944: The Destruction of Army Group Center (Praeger Illustrated Military History: Praeger Publishers, 2004), 96p.
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