World War II: Allied Liberation of Western Europe

Figure 1.--This French boy reaches out his hand to General DeGualle as he marches down the Champ de Elise. He like many French people had listened to DeGualle's enspiring voice over the radio for 4 years of German occupation. Put your cursor on the image to see General de Gualle as he was passing by this group. Photographer Robert Capa put it simply, "The liberation of Paris was the most unforgettable day in the world." Photographer: Robert Capa.

The Allied D-Day invasion began the liberation of Western Europe. The Allied liberation of Paris was one of the most celebrated events of the War. It was, however, not only exilerating, it was a vital turning point of the War. France was the jewel in the NAZI Empire. No other country made such a vital contribution to the German war economy. Germany could simply not contibue the War with out France to pillage. As the Allies moved into German occupation areas of Western Europe, the policy was essentially one of liberation and relief because the Germans had devestated local economies. The Dutch north of the Rhine in particular were starving. The Allied policies in these countries was to turn over civil administration to local authorities as rapidly as possible. Here there were governments-in-exile located in London that could rapidly step in to take control. President Roosevelt did not get on with General DeGualle and there was some thought of directing the transition in France. DeGualle and the Free French, however, moved very rapidly to take control of the civil administration in liberated areas that the Americans quickly dropped the idea of interfering. Italy was a special case. Although Italy was one of the main Axis countries, the Allied invasion and drive north proved to be more of a liberation than an occupation. Greece was also different because the Communist resisrabce movement attempted to seize control of the country.

France (June-August 1944)

The Allied liberation of France began with the Normandy D-Day landings (June 1944). 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. Lô 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).

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.

Luxembourg (September 1944)

The Allied D-Day landings took place landed in Normandy (June 1944). The Wehrmact kept the Allies bottle up for several weeks. George S. Patton's Third Army launched an offensive (mid-July) and within weks reached Paris (August). The Wehrmact units surviving the allied offensive streamed back to the Reich. The Wehrmact largely withdrew from Luxembourg (early September 1944). The initial plan was to stage a final defense from behind the Seigfried Line. General Courtney Hodges’ American 1st Army reached the Grand Duchy (September 9). Prince Felix and Crown Prince Jean arrived with the initial Allied units. There was little resistance and Luxembourg City was liberated (September 10). American units reached the former border with the Reich at the Our and Sure Rivers (Sptember 11). The American advance at this stage was halted as a result of upply shortages. Availble supplies were directed at the British and Canadian forces who were attempting to open the crucial port of Antwerp to Allied shipping. As a result, The Ardennes (Luxembourg and eastern Belgium) became a forgotten part of the front. The Germans reoocupied Luxembourg as part of the Ardennes (Bulge) Offensive (December 1944).

Netherlands (September 1944-March 1945)

The Allied D-Day opened the way for the liberation of Western Europe (June 6, 1944). The Germans managed to bottle the Allies up in Normandy, but could not dislodge the beachhead or prevent an enormous build-up. The Allies found it difficult to fight in the Bockage country, but finally Operartion Cobra succeeded in breaking out led by Patton's 3rd Army (July). The German 7th Army was largely destroyed. The Allies liberated Paris and crossed the Seine. The Germans retreated to Germany and the Allies raced for the Rhine. Unfortunately for the Dutch, much of the country was orth of the Rhine and the NAZIs decided to use the Rhine as the major defensive line in the West. A reconnaissance-patrol of the U.S. 113th Cavalry Group Red Horse crossed the Dutch border near Maastricht (September 9). The American 30th Infantry Division "Old Hickory", entered the southern Netherlands in force at Zuid-Limburg (September 12). The British and Canadians entered the Netherlans further east. After the failure of Market Garden, the British launched Operation Pheasant (October 20). This was the beginning of the liberation of central and western Noord-Barbant Province. The first Canadian Army attacked from Belgium and the British Second Army attacked from the eastern Netherlands. The 51st Highland Division drove to Schijndel village (October 23). The British, Canadians, and Poles liberated souheastern Metherlands (Zeeuws-Vlaanderen, Walcheren and Noord– and Zuid-Beveland) (September through November). The 2nd British Army liberated northwestern Limburg (November-December). This largely completed the liberation of the Netherlands south of the Rhine. The final step was Canadian and American operations after the Buldge which succeeded in liberating northeast Limburg and the German Rhineland.

Greece (October 1944)

The Italian withdrawl from the Axis and surrender to the Allies greatly complicated the German occupation of Greece. Most of the occupation force in the Balkans was Italian. Not only did this weaken the occupation force, but the Resistance forces received large quantities of arms and supplies from the Italians. The Germans rushed additional forces into the Balkans, but they were not capable of supressing the guerilla forces. The situation worsened when Bulgaria switched sides as the Red Army approached. The Germans in September 1944 finally evacuated the Greek mainland so that they would not be cut off in the Balkans by the Red Army which was pushing into Bulgaria and Hungary. The Germans succeeded in airlifting some combat units off Crete, but British aircraft carriers moving into the eastern Meditteranean mean that German garisons were isolated. The Germans in May 1945 surendered the last of the Greek islands under their control. Liberation in Greece, however, did not bring peace. Conflict developed between the Communist Resistance forces EAM/ELAS and the British-backed conservative Papandreou government. Athens was liberated on October 12, 1944. The struggle for control of liberated Greece resulted in conflict between EAM/ELAS and the British-backed conservative government. There was considerable concern about a possible Communist seizure of power. The British, as a result, toughened their position against ELAS and their soldiers--the andartes. In some cases the British even made common cause with rightest elements that had collaborated with the NAZIs. [Manzower] These differences made it difficult for the Greek resistance and the Btitish who landed to persue the Germans as they left Athens and moved north.

Denmark (May 1945)

Denmark along with Norway were the last NAZI-occupied countries to be liberated. Forces commanded by General Montgomery reached Denmark just as the NAZI's surrendered (May 1945). When the Germanforces in Denmark surrendered (May 5, 1945), a new government was formed with both representatives of the DFC and major political parties. The Danes voted (Fall 1945), electing a left-of-center government led by Knud Kristensen .

Norway (May 1945)

A substantial German army was garrisioned in Norway. They were bypassed by the Allies and played no role in the defense of the Reich. German troops in Netherlands, Denmark and Norway surrendered (May 4). This was a few days before before the overall German surrender to the Allies (May 8, 1945). The 1st British Airborne Division was still recovering from the heavy losses at Arnhem when it was ordered to Norway. Parts of the division had been detached to oversee the German surrender in Denmark. Advanced units flew into Oslo (May 9). They were assigned to oversee the surrender of the German troops. The main part of the division was delayed by bad weather. Their responsibility was to maintain law and order, secure the needed airfields, and oversee the German surrender. The division consisted of 6,000 men to duisarm the 350,000 Germans in Norway. The Division proceeded to repatriate POWs hrld by the Germans, find and arrest war criminals. The Germans were assigned to disable their extensive minefields. Crown Prince Olav and five government ministers returned to a liberated Norway (May 13). King Haakon, Crown Princess Märtha. and the children returned (June 7). The day of course was especially chosen. It was exactly 5 years to the day that the King and Crown Prince had been forced to flee leave the country with departing Allied firce.

Italy (1943-47)

Italy was a special case. Although Italy was one of the Axis countries, The Allied invasionn of Italy seemed more like a liberation than occupation. (This was not the case in Germany and Japan.) The Allied Military Government (AMG) was first established in Sicily after the invasion (July 1943). The same basic system was used in Italy after the Armistace and Allied invasion (September 1943). The AMG attempted to cooperate with civilian authorities as much as possible. Article 37 of the Instrument of Surrender (September 29) gave the Allies the authority to establish a military government. The Allies created a Control Commission to administer the AMG (November 10, 1943). As in the rest of war-torn Europe, the economic conditions were very difficult. Italy was treated differently by the Allies than Germany and Japan. It is difficult to say if Italy was liberated or occupied. Before the War, Mussolini's Fascist seems to have had a firm grip on the population. This seems to have disappeared by the time the Allies arrived. Most Italians seem to have seen the Allies as liberators, in part because the Germans had occupied the country. Many Itlalians were also glad to see the allies arrive because as the front moved north it mean essentilly that the war was over. This was somewhat complicated because while the Communists cooperated with the Allies to fight the Germans, they wanted to create a Communist-controlled government after the War. Although there was no real Resistance movement in Italy before the Resistance, the Communists played a role in the resistance fighting after the Armistice. The guilt for the War was laid on Mussolini and the Fascists and not on the new government established after Mussolini and the Fascist fell from power. There was no elaborate proheam in Italy similar to the De-Nazification effort in Germany. After the War there was a referendum over the monarchy which resulted it its abolisment. The AMG Control Council was closed down after the finalization of the Italian Peace Treaty (1947).


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Created: 7:23 PM 4/18/2011
Last updated: 7:23 PM 4/18/2011