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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.