The Western Front In 1945
Allied forces invade and defeat Nazi Germany
March 1945 - 11 May 1945
author Paul Boșcu, February 2017
After the failed German Ardennes Offensive the Allied forces started pouring into Germany. When the Rhine, the last major natural barrier, was crossed German forces retreated deeper into Germany. From that point on, with the Russians also advancing towards Berlin, it was only a matter of time until German defeat was assured.

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The Western Allied invasion of Germany started in March 1945 with the crossing of the Rhine. It ended in May when Germany surrendered unconditionally. A few days before the surrender Hitler committed suicide in Berlin. After the war ended many nazis were arrested and tried at Nuremberg for war crimes. Germany was split into four occupation zones: American, French, British and Russian.

Just as the Red Army's offensive was coming to a halt on the Oder, and the Germans were getting ready for still another counter-attack in Hungary, the Allies in the West, having eliminated the bulge caused by the German December offensive, were getting ready to attack again.

Over 400,000 British and Canadian, 1.5 million American, and more than 100,000 French soldiers were poised for the assault on Germany.

Eisenhower was willing to allow Bradley and Patton considerable leeway. But he warned them that his main emphasis would lie on the British drive to the north of the Ruhr, which Simpson’s Ninth Army would support.

In the last months of World War 2 important German officials like Albert Speer, Alfred Jodl, Hermann Göring, Gerd von Rundstedt, Karl Dönitz, Wilhelm Keitel, Heinz Guderian and evan Hitler himself were well aware that the war had been lost. They nevertheless chose to continue fighting to the bitter end, especially in the east. There the prospect of Russian captivity was not acceptable to them. Many of them knew that they would be tried after the war for war crimes and most likely executed.

After a Führer-conference in February 1945 that Albert Speer tried to explain to Dönitz how the war was certainly lost, with the maps there showing ‘a catastrophic picture of innumerable breakthroughs and encirclements’, but Dönitz merely replied, ‘with unwonted curtness’, that he was only there to represent the Navy and ‘The rest is none of my business. The Führer must know what he is doing.’

Speer believed that had Göring, Keitel, Jodl, Dönitz, Guderian and himself presented the Führer with an ultimatum, and demanded to know his plans for ending the war, then ‘Hitler would have had to have declared himself.’ Yet that was never going to happen, because they suspected – half of that group correctly – that there was soon to be only a rope at the end of it.

Speer approached Göring soon after he had spoken to Dönitz. The Reichsmarschall readily admitted that the Reich was doomed, but said that he had ‘much closer ties with Hitler; many years of common experiences and struggles had bound them together – and he could no longer break loose’.

Hitler knew that the war was lost too: criticizing a proposal by Rundstedt to move men south from the sector occupied by the 21st Army Group, he perceptively pointed out: ‘It just means moving the catastrophe from one place to another.’

Churchill had proposed a triple proclamation from the Big Three ‘giving warning to Germany not to go on resisting. If [the Germans] carry on resistance past sowing time then [there] will be famine in Germany next winter… we take no responsibility for feeding Germany.’ As usual Churchill was advocating the most extreme measures. But like several others he put forward this was not adopte

Despite the Allies encountering some fierce resistance from fanatical units, but not the supposed kamikaze ‘Werewolf battalions’ that were threatened by Goebbels’ propaganda machine, the outcome of the war in the west was not in doubt in the minds of rational Germans.

After the failed German Ardennes offensive Eisenhower insisted on the clearing of the Colmar bulge west of the Rhine by the French and American troops of General Devers's 6th Army Group. The plan was to follow up on this by a series of operations, starting in the north with a British-Canadian attack southwestward toward Wesel, code-named "Veritable" . This would meet an American offensive northeastward called "Grenade." These operations would close the lower Rhine and prepare the way for the great follow-up: a major assault crossing of the Rhine under Montgomery's command into the German plain north of the industrial area of the Ruhr.

Here, as elsewhere, the Germans would expend their defensive effort on the left bank of the Rhine. Then they would have little strength remaining to defend the line of the river itself. In bitter fighting, the Allies drove to the upper Rhine by February.

The Canadian 1st Army launched "Veritable" and drove forward slowly against bitter German resistance. The determined German defenders wanted to slow both the Canadian advance and the American 9th Army attack launched subsequently in operation "Grenade" to meet them.

At the same time, the Ninth Army launched Operation Grenade across the Roer to push north and link up with the Canadians. While the dams finally fell into American hands on 9 February, the Germans had destroyed the spillways and control machinery, thus unleashing a flood down river. Not until 23 February did the Roer drop sufficiently for Simpson to attack.

The effect of the combined offensive by the U.S. Ninth Army and the Canadian First Army put the German Fifteenth and First Parachute Armies in a desperate situation. Despite pleas from Rundstedt and Model, Hitler refused permission for withdrawal.

Although the fighting had been bitter, there were signs that some German units were becoming demoralized: over 50,000 prisoners fell into Allied hands. Montgomery now began enormous preparations for a crossing of the Rhine barrier. Even as he was engaged in this vast endeavor, the Americans further south were busy cutting through the German defenses west of the Rhine and crossing that river on the run.

Following on Veritable-Grenade, Bradley's forces would strike to the Rhine and Mosel rivers farther south (operation "Lumberjack"). They could then strike southeast across the Mosel into the rear of German forces in the Siegfried line along the old Franco-German border from Luxembourg to the Rhine (operation "Undertone"). During the Battle of Remagen General Hodge’s forces managed to capture intact the Ludendorff bridge over the Rhine. Thus the Americans were the first to cross the Rhine river.

The possibility of early crossings of the Rhine in these operations was left open, but it was assumed that subsidiary cross-Rhine operations would eventually be launched south of the Ruhr to envelop that region, and in the direction beyond Frankfurt. Montgomery's 21st Army Group was being reinforced by three Canadian and two British divisions from Italy, and the Americans sent the last available division from the United States.

General Hodges's 1st Army attacked southwestwards and pushed toward Cologne. They rapidly drove into the outskirts of the great city and headed south into the rear of German troops still on the German-Belgian border. As they reached the heights overlooking the railway bridge at Remagen, the 9th Armored Division advance guards saw the bridge still standing and rushed it while the Germans desperately tried to blow it up.

A task force of the American 9th Armored Division, led by several new Pershing tanks, advanced through the flotsam of escaping Germans. As the Americans approached the bridge from the west, a large explosion greeted them. An even larger explosion followed, clearly designed to drop the bridge into the Rhine. To the astonishment of Germans and Americans alike, when the smoke cleared, the bridge still stood. The charges had lifted the bridge straight up in the air instead of twisting it, and the bridge had come back down on its pillars.

The Americans reacted without orders. Infantrymen, supported by heavy machine gun and tank fire, rapidly crossed and drove the Germans back. By night the Americans had pushed a small force of tanks across the river—and within 24 hours they had 8,000 men across.

With the approval of Bradley and Eisenhower, Hodges quickly pushed American forces across the river, built up a perimeter on the other side against desperate German efforts, and had other bridges in place by the time German artillery and bombs caused the structure, weakened by the original demolition effort, to collapse. The last barrier into Germany from the west had been broken.

Over the course of the next ten days, Hodges pushed a substantial force across the Rhine River in the face of desperate German efforts to destroy the bridge. The bridge’s capture had delighted Eisenhower and Bradley, although neither showed much interest in exploiting the advantage. To Hodges’s fury, Eisenhower limited the First Army to a maximum of five divisions in the bridgehead. Bradley ordered the First Army to limit its advance and to hold in place once it reached the Frankfurt autobahn.

Patton's 3rd Army had driven the Germans back to the Mosel on 1st Army's right flank and, in the fashion Patton knew best. The American 3rd Army cut the German Army Group G into shreds, and captured huge numbers of prisoners. They reached the Rhine near Oppenheim and crossed the river.

When the German commander in the West, von Rundstedt, wanted to withdraw the German units across the Rhine, Hitler replaced him with Field Marshal Albert Kesselring. Kesselring had been very successful in stalling the Allies in Italy but could not stop the Allied advance in Germany.

Patton was thinking of crossing the Rhine as soon as his troops had cleaned up the west bank. The Third Army secured two crossing points, and its engineers immediately went to work constructing pontoon bridges. Bradley informed the press that without any artillery bombardment, air support, or paratrooper drops, the Third Army had successfully crossed the Rhine—a sharp dig at Montgomery’s massive offensive. Four days later, troops of Patch’s Seventh Army had seized a bridgehead at Worms, soon to be followed by Lattre de Tassigny’s French First Army.

So tenuous had the German position become that the defenses collapsed on the first day. Within three days, the 4th Armored Division had advanced 70 km and reached the Rhine. Patton then turned south behind the German First and Seventh Armies, which were still holding in place along the Moselle and Westwall. Afterwards, Patton had a corps across the lower Moselle near Koblenz. The threat was real that Patton’s troops would roll down the Rhine and cut off the remainder of German troops on the west bank. The Third Army cleaned up the west bank of the Rhine all the way south to Worms and Speyer.

Hitler’s demand that German forces stand on the far side of the Rhine had played a major contributing role in the American successes. All told, Model and Rundstedt lost upwards of a quarter of a million prisoners and a third of their strength in defending the indefensible. The Germans were now back on the Rhine. They had nothing but badly battered units to hold the front.

American troops would swarm over the bridge into Germany. Patton telegraphed Bradley to say ‘For God’s sake tell the world we’re across… I want the world to know 3rd Army made it before Monty.’

The Allied operations had been assisted both by the massive deployment of tactical air support and by continued heavy attacks on German oil, transportation, and industrial targets. At the Yalta Conference, the Russians had asked for major attacks by the air forces of the Western Allies on cities behind the Eastern Front. This request coincided with British plans for massive bombing raids to disrupt German defenses in the East, to aid the next Soviet offensive. As a result, February and March of 1945 saw very large attacks on such German cities as Berlin and Dresden, with massive fires and destruction in the former and a firestorm in the latter.

By the end of March, Churchill, who had been a strong advocate of area bombing, began to change his views on this subject. By then enormous destruction had been caused by the fleets of British and American bombers which were now at their most numerous and, with their fighter escorts, simply overwhelmed any remaining defenders.

The US II Corps had reached the Rhine at Bonn and then turned south against Germans more interested in crossing the Rhine than in defending the Rhineland.

Hitler was, of course, standing by his no-retreat order, so that the units available in the Eifel remained in place with their northern flank increasingly vulnerable.

Montgomery's preparations for the Rhine crossing (operation "Plunder") were nearing completion. Although Montgomery was overly cautious the assault succeeded quickly and, except for the heavy casualties suffered by the British and American airborne divisions, fairly easily.

Having underestimated German resistance to "Veritable" and "Grenade," Montgomery appears not to have realized that the Germans had used up the bulk of their defensive resources in the West before the Allies reached the Rhine. Since early February the Allies had captured almost 300,000 men and had inflicted another 60,000 casualties.

Simpson’s troops were cleaning up the Rhine and searching for a bridge over the river that the Germans had yet to destroy. The Germans managed to blow up all the bridges. Nevertheless, Simpson requested permission to cross near Ürdingen. There the Germans had few troops and he thought the open terrain on the northern side of the Ruhr offered considerable potential for exploitation. Montgomery turned down Simpson.

Montgomery marshaled vast resources, prepared everything to the 9th degree, laid on massive artillery and air bombardments, and dropped a host of paratroopers against exhausted and weak German defenses.

As the date set for the crossing approached most of what few Germans reserves were left had been sent south to contain the American divisions that had been across the Rhine for two weeks at Remagen. But with enormous artillery preparatory fire, great naval support, a huge aerial bombardment, and a two-division airborne drop, the great operation went forward as planned on with both Churchill and Alan Brooke (as well as Eisenhower) watching in person.

German resistance was spotty: heavy at a few points but almost nonexistent at others. Pontoon bridges were built quickly, and within days the British 2nd and the American 9th Armies were across the river in great strength. Montgomery’s crossing of the Rhine established a 10 km deep bridgehead within forty-eight hours.

As Montgomery put it in his March 28 order for 21st Army Group, the enemy was effectively finished: "there are no fresh and complete divisions in rear and all the enemy will be able to do is to block roads and approaches from schools, bath units, pigeon lofts, and so on."

For the more optimistic of Hitler’s subjects propaganda about his so-called wonder weapons kept the faith alive. But six days after Montgomery’s Second Army and the US Ninth Army had crossed the Rhine, anti-aircraft gunners in Suffolk shot down the last of the V-1 flying bombs launched against Britain in the Second World War. Called the Vergeltungswaffe-Ein by the Germans, meaning Vengeance Weapon-1, they were nicknamed doodlebugs or buzz bombs by the Britons whom they were intended to kill, maim and terrify.

The V-1, for which Hitler announced high hopes on its inception on Christmas Eve 1943, was certainly an horrific weapon. ‘The English will only stop when their towns are destroyed,’ Hitler told a Führer-conference in July 1943, ‘nothing else will do it… He’ll stop when his towns are destroyed, that much is clear. I can only win the war by destroying more on the enemy’s side than he does on ours – by inflicting on his the horror of war. It has always been that way and it’s the same in the air.’ With the Luftwaffe unable to escort bombers over England due to British fighter protection, the V-1 was a sign of Hitler’s desperation rather than his strength.

As the V-1’s maximum range was 200 km, London and south-east England were its main targets, and they suffered heavily. Flown by autopilot from a preset compass, the flying bomb contained in its nose propeller a log which measured the distance flown. Once it reached the correct range, the elevators in the wings were fully deflected and it dived, cutting out the engine as it did so.

Part of the terror that V-1s inspired came from the sinister way that the noise of their propulsion suddenly stopped at this present moment, meaning that they were about to fall on the people below. To hear the noise continue meant that the V-1 would carry on flying overhead. To hear it stop brought the certainty of an imminent, devastating explosion. It is estimated that about 80 per cent of V-1s landed within an 12 km radius of their targets.

Between 13 June 1944 and 29 March 1945, no fewer than 13,000 V-1 bombs were launched against Britain. Their cruising altitude was too low for heavy anti-aircraft guns to be able to hit them very often, yet too high for light guns to reach them. It was often the RAF that had to deal with this grave new threat. Radar-guided fighter aircraft tried either to shoot them down or to tip them over by lightly tapping their wings. It took outstanding courage to fly so close to a ton of explosives. Yet that was the way it was often done. Barrage balloons were also employed to try to stop them with trailing metal chains.

In all, more than 24,000 Britons were casualties of the Führer’s vicious ‘secret weapon’, with 5,475 of them dying. One of the most nerve-wracking aspects of the campaign for Britons was the way that the attacks came round the clock, allowing for no respite. Whereas the Luftwaffe had long since confined its attacks to nighttime, when its bombers could be cloaked in darkness and hidden from RAF fighters, the pilotless bombs came all through the day and night.

The huge ground-space that the V-1 could devastate made it a particularly dangerous weapon, although the defenders quickly adapted. Between June and September 1944, for example, 3,912 were brought down by anti-aircraft fire, RAF fighters and barrage balloons.

It soon became clear that Hitler, who had hoped that V-1s might destroy British morale and force the Government to sue for peace, was wrong about the weapon’s potential. He therefore placed hopes in the V-2, which comprised ground-breaking rocket technology. It was a supersonic ballistic missile, flying faster than the speed of sound, so the first thing its victims heard was the detonation. No air-raid sirens could be sounded or warnings given, which added to the terror. There was no possibility of interception because it flew ten times faster than the british Spitfire airplane. Both V-weapons can be seen today at the Imperial War Museum in Lambeth, London.

The V2 was originally intended to be loaded with poison gas, and only had its 1-ton high-explosive warhead attached later. Its astonishing speed came from a mixture of alcohol and liquid oxygen being pumped into the motor by two centrifugal pumps. It could fly at a maximum height of 30 km. The V-2 was by far the biggest weapon of its kind. The weapon was launched from an upright position from vehicles that simply drove off after firing. It did not even have launch-pad installations – as most V-1s needed – that the Allies could bomb and overrun.

With production at full capacity in the autumn of 1944, Hitler hoped that London could be bombed into submission before the Allies could reach Germany and destroy the Third Reich. Yet it was largely his own fault that the V-2 came on stream so late. If he had given high priority to it in 1942, its teething problems might have been sorted out in time to mass produce it in 1943 rather than 1944. There were a high proportion of misfires. Half the rockets built were defective. This might not have been the case if the Führer had supported the project much earlier and more emphatically.

Over the five months of the campaign, a total of 1,359 rockets were fired at England, killing 2,754 people and injuring 6,523. In reply to German propaganda claims that London was being ‘devastated’, Winston Churchill told the House of Commons that ‘The damage and casualties have not so far been heavy. There is no need to exaggerate the danger.’ Yet when a single rocket hit the Woolworth’s store in New Cross, south-east London 160 people were killed and a further 200 injured. Four rockets landing on Croydon, Surrey, had rendered as many as 2,000 houses uninhabitable.

‘Things were still falling out of the sky- recalled a young girl who survived the New Cross blast- bits of things and bits of people. A horse’s head was lying in the gutter. There was a pram hood all twisted and bent and there was a little baby’s hand still in its woolly sleeve. Outside the pub there was a crumpled bus, still with rows of people sitting inside, all covered in dust and dead. Where Woolworth’s had been, there was nothing, just an enormous gap covered by clouds of dust. No building, just piles of rubble and bricks, and underneath it all, people screaming.’

Antwerp was also heavily hit by V-2s, with more than 30,000 casualties inflicted there. The Germans even had a plan to launch V-2s against America, fired from converted U-boats.

The last V-2 rocket to land on Britain was fired from The Hague just like the first. It landed on a block of flats in Whitechapel at 7.21 p.m. on 27 March 1945, killing 134 people.

The V-weapon flying bombs and rockets caused thousands of casualties in Britain, and many more in Holland and Belgium. However, they could not have changed the balance of the struggle even if they had caused ten times that amount of devastation, because Hitler did not begin firing them until a week after D-Day. By that time the Americans, British and Canadians were ashore. There was no prospect of their coming to terms with Hitler, pretty much however successful the V-weapon campaign.

Eisenhower had decided with the approval of Washington to direct the main thrust eastwards toward Saxony, thus by-passing any opportunity to get to Berlin before the Russians. By this time the Allies had agreed on a zonal division of Germany which placed Berlin deep inside the Soviet zone ,a plan developed by the British. Eisenhower wanted to take advantage of the rapid successes of the American armies which had crossed the Rhine in force earlier. The British leaders were livid but could not budge Eisenhower. The extraordinary delays in Montgomery's subsequent advance would appear to justify the Supreme Commander's doubts.

With little faith in Montgomery's ability to exploit a breakthrough rapidly and drive to Berlin as the Field Marshal confidently expected, Eisenhower preferred to concentrate on crushing the remaining German forces in the West. He would let the Russians pay the price in blood for the zone assigned to them, and have the British get as quickly as possible to the north German ports and the Baltic to seal off Denmark.

On the strategic level, Eisenhower decided that capturing Berlin was simply not worth the candle. He was right. The Soviets were far too close to the German capital, while Allied politicians had already decided the postwar occupation zones. Thus, there seemed no reason to conquer territory at great cost, merely to have that territory turned over to the Soviets.

In accordance with earlier plans, the Canadian 1st Army on the northern flank drove into northern Holland and the adjacent portion of Germany, in the process cutting off a German garrison in western Holland. That garrison was left alone militarily because of their threat to flood the whole area.

The Dutch population was already starving. A whole variety of efforts was undertaken to arrange for them to be fed. Since this involved contacts with Germans who had no intention of surrendering, a Soviet representative was involved in the talks. The suffering in the cut-off area was reduced somewhat. Only the final surrender of the German forces in May ended the ordeal of the Dutch.

Montgomery’s Twenty-First Army Group received the task of advancing to the Elbe and Baltic. The aim was to position Allied forces for a possible campaign into Scandinavia, should German troops in Denmark and Norway refuse to surrender. To the south and east of the Canadians, the 2nd British Army headed for Bremen and Hamburg. This advance did not go as rapidly as both Churchill and Eisenhower wanted. Kicked and pushed from above, Montgomery's army took the important port city of Bremen, drew up to the Elbe river and then crossed it, dashing to the city of Lübeck. American divisions moved toward the Baltic on the right flank of the advance.

Churchill wrote : "When the cease-fire sounds in Germany, I hope Field Marshal Montgomery will be shaking hands with the Russians as far as possible East of the Elbe. Our zone is marked out and after salutations, which may be marked, we shall retire to its limits."

It took considerable prodding from Eisenhower to push Montgomery into closing on the Baltic despite the German collapse on his front.

In spite of repeated urgings from Churchill as well as Eisenhower, Montgomery found ever new reasons for not advancing rapidly. He eventually came to think of crossing the Elbe south of Hamburg in a huge operation similar to a crossing of the Rhine. Thus he asked for and received additional American divisions to reach the Baltic and enter Wismar just ahead of the Russians.

The American 9th Army, in addition to providing the northern pincer to cut off the Ruhr, also advanced across the Weser toward the Elbe. Those of its forces assigned to the containment and then the splitting and destruction of the Ruhr pocket combined with that portion of the 1st Army assigned to the task from the south in one of the great encirclements of history. The drive of the American armies was met with strong resistance, especially near Paderborn.The commander of the German forces, Walter Model committed suicide.

Having finally received permission to exploit its bridgehead, the First Army began its drive to encircle the Ruhr from the south. Hodges’s orders were to drive around the Ruhr to meet up with Simpson’s Ninth Army northeast of Paderborn.

Unlike the British, U.S. commanders were willing to take heavy casualties in fighting their way through German villages to keep the drive going. Just short of Paderborn—a major tank training center for the Wehrmacht and the Waffen SS—one of 3rd Armored Division’s lead columns ran into a force of Tigers and Panthers manned by students and instructors. The encounter turned into a chilling repeat of Villers-Bocage. The Germans shot up the front and rear of the column. Then they proceeded to destroy everything in between. The maintenance crews later counted 1 M36 tank destroyer, 2 jeeps, 3 trucks, 17 Shermans, and 17 half-tracks destroyed.

In two days Hodges’s lead division, the 3rd Armored, had reached 70 km around the southern outline of the Ruhr. The First Army’s race to Paderborn picked up even greater speed the 3rd Armored Division advanced some 70 km in a single day. Yet, for all the rapidity of advance, countless small and medium encounters with German troops left hundreds of Americans and even more Germans dead. The American advance turned entire villages and towns into smoking ruins.

The heavy fighting around Paderborn raises the larger question of when German resistance actually finally collapsed. Certainly the long sharp arrows covering all of western and central Germany in late March and early April would assign the date of the collapse to mid-March. That would be an incorrect assumption. Robbed of its fuel and much of its ammunition, the German Army still conducted a fierce defense with little control or order. The Germans had no reply to the fluidity and mobility that had returned to the battlefield after six long months. But they did stand in innumerable locations and fight to the last.

The simple truth was that the real German collapse did not come until the last week of April. As long as the Germans had guns and ammunition, they died for their homeland and took many American, British, and Soviet soldiers with them.

At noon on Easter Sunday, 1 April 1945, the Ninth Army’s 2nd Armored Division linked up with First Army’s 3rd Armored Division. Between the encircling arms of those two armies lay the remnants of Army Group B, Fifteenth Army, Fifth Panzer Army, and First Parachute Army.

When 325,000 men of Army Group B were caught in the Ruhr pocket and forced to surrender, Field Marshal Walther Model dissolved his army group and escaped into a forest. Having recently learnt that he was to be indicted for war crimes involving the deaths of 577,000 people in Latvian concentration camps he shot himself.

Even before the Ruhr was surrounded, Hitler had issued strict orders that all industrial centers, transportation lines and other facilities inside Germany be destroyed lest they fall into Allied hands. Albert Speer began to undermine the sabotage orders. Many German commanders fled rather than implement the orders to destroy everything that might support life in territory occupied by the Allies. In addition to this, some German civilians actively discouraged soldiers from defending certain towns, in order to spare them from destruction. From the east, a vast wave of refugees was flooding in, fleeing the Russian advance.

Such orders had automatically accompanied all other retreats forced on the Germans. In most cases German commanders had carried them out ruthlessly to the greatest extent possible. That attitude started to change once the fighting moved inside Germany.

As Allied forces advanced rapidly, they even encountered cases where the local German population tried to discourage the military from defending a particular community in order to keep it from being destroyed. Soldiers, for obvious reasons, do not want to die, but they particularly do not want to be the last person killed in a war. A common pattern, therefore, was that when an American unit came to a seriously defended island of resistance, it would simply draw back slightly, call for the artillery and air force to pound it to bits, and then move through.

Many Germans, now losing confidence in the possibility of victory or even stalemate, preferred to spare their communities the fate which the war Germany began had brought to so many other towns. The white sheets of surrender appeared more and more frequently even as in some locations fierce resistance still flared up.

Vast numbers of German refugees from the East, fleeing before the Soviet advance, poured westwards. Increasing numbers of German soldiers found ways to absent themselves from units righting on the Eastern Front in hopes of substituting American for Russian prisoner of war camps.

Of the first two bridgeheads quickly thrown across the Elbe near Magdeburg by Simpson's 9th Army, one was driven back by the Germans even as other American divisions battled fanatical German resistance in the Harz mountains. Miscellaneous units, put together by the Germans at Hitler's orders into the new 12th Army under General Walther Wenck, were forming up for a counter-offensive westwards. They were to open up a corridor to Model's Army Group B, of which remnants were still fighting in the Ruhr pocket. This action only delayed the American advance for a few days.

In the Führer's imagination, this bold move with an army made up of fanatical youngsters and battle-wise veterans would split the whole American front open in the middle. What it really did was to slow the Americans down for a few days and convince them that it was silly to try to drive for Berlin in the face of real resistance. At the time the Russians, who were just breaking open the German defenses on the Oder, were far closer. By the time Hitler turned most of Wenck's recoiling army around to head east instead of west and to halt the Russians rather than the Americans, the offensive power of that German force had already been spent.

Simpson, Hodges, and Patton were soon free to continue advancing deeper into central Germany. The Ninth Army quickly gobbled up Hanover, Brunswick, and Magdeburg. By mid-April, it held a bridgehead across the Elbe. But poised to advance on Berlin and Potsdam, Simpson was told by Bradley and Eisenhower to stand down.

To Simpson’s south, First Army bypassed the Harz mountains and reached Nordhausen. Third Army was soon close to the Czech frontier. On Marshall’s orders, Patton remained on the German side of the frontier. The Soviets gained the task of liberating Prague.

While a portion of Patton’s army remained at Chemnitz, other units sliced southward along the Sudetenland’s frontier to finally end the war at Linz.

Eisenhower ordered the 1st Army with the 3rd Army on its right flank into Saxony deep into what had been agreed upon as the Soviet zone of occupation. The Americans wanted to both close down the industrial production of arms there and to engage the German forces which could otherwise interfere with the big push into southern Germany. He had notified the Russians of his intention to do so, much to the annoyance of the British government and Chiefs of Staff but with full support from Washington. At Torgau American and Russian forces met for the first time, while crossing the river Elbe.

The big issue on this portion of the front was the land equivalent of the earlier debates over the air force aspect of coordination with the Soviet Union in practical day-to-day operations to preclude, or at least minimize, possible mistakes. As the forces of the Allies rushed toward each other in Central Europe, there was the great danger of incidents and clashes. A whole series of efforts was made by the Western Allies in order to try to cope with this, but the Russians were most reluctant to cooperate.

The Red Army, like the Red Air Force, would give out practically no information so the operation could be coordinated. In the end the arrangement generally applied was notification by the British and Americans of their intentions, followed by implementation if the Russians did not make a fuss.

Eisenhower for good geographic reasons picked the Mulde as the most likely tributary of the Elbe at which to stop. Patrols across this smaller stream met advance formations of the Red Army at Torgau. In the same day Berlin was completely surrounded by the Red Army and the United Nation Conference opened in San Francisco.

To the south of the 1st Army, the 3rd Army, which had crossed the Rhine near Oppenheim, first headed east and then northeast into Thuringia, then southeast into Bavaria and Czechoslovakia. Its rapid advance was designed to preclude a new development of resistance in the south. There was some concern that in the mountains of south Germany and adjacent parts of Austria the Germans would try to hold out in an Alpine redoubt. The Americans quickly advanced taking Nuremberg and Munich.

Although intelligence reports on this project varied, the extent to which the Germans held on fanatically in Italy and even tried to launch new offensives in Hungary in the last months of the war suggested that there could be more nasty surprises awaiting the Allies in the mountains.

The American 7th Army on Patton's right flank also turned southeast after crossing the Rhine and battered its way into Nürnberg, on Hitler's birthday. The city was the old site of Nazi Party rallies. Patton's army continued into Austria in order to meet the Red Army there. Patch's 7th headed south with the aim of meeting Allied forces striking north in Italy.

In Munich a local uprising, one of the very few in those months, tried to topple Nazi control of the city but was suppressed. Soon after the Americans came in and then headed for the Brenner Pass to join advance units of the American 5th Army near the Austrian-Italian border. The meeting of the American 7th and 5th Armies at the Brenner Pass in the Alps marked an extraordinary conclusion of the long campaign in Italy.

In Bavaria, at times against fanatical resistance, Patch’s Seventh Army searched for the mythical Nazi Alpine redoubt. What they found instead was the same patchwork of surrender and fanatical resistance. But the collapse of command, the rapidity of the American advance, and a lack of fuel prevented the Germans from putting up a coherent defense. Adolf Hitler had purchased a home in the area. In addition many other Nazi officials had residences in the area such as Hermann Göring, Joseph Goebbels, and Albert Speer. The American 101st airborne had the honor of being the first to reach Hitler’s Alpine residence, Berghof.

The 101st Airborne ended the war in Berchtesgaden with more liquor from Göring’s private cellar than any American soldier could have considered possible in his wildest dreams.

On the right flank the French 1st Army headed into the southeast corner of Germany and the mountainous western end of Austria. This process led to friction with de Gaulle. He insisted on his forces holding the German city of Stuttgart until the borders of the French zone of occupation were settled. This maneuver further soured his relations with the Americans.

DeGaulle’s relationship with the U.S. had hardly been improved by his refusal to meet with President Roosevelt on the latter's return from the Yalta conference.