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Bridge Over the Elbe River

It was late April, 1945. From the west, American, British, and Canadian armies were closing in on the heart of a collapsing Germany, with Russian troops crushing opposition from the east. Berlin was slowly being battered into oblivion. Entire German armies were surrendering to Anglo-American ground forces, and fleeing the Russians in panic. Along the Western Front, a three-pronged assault into Germany was led by two American army groups and a British army group. To the north of the American armies, British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery's 21st Army Group, consisting of the British 2nd Army and Canadian 1st Army, was heading northeasterly from Munster towards Hamburg. Montgomery was to protect the American 12th Army Group's left, and head towards the Baltic Sea, starving the Germans out of Norway, and simultaneously cutting off the Russians from Denmark. British General Sir Miles Dempsey's Second Army spearheaded Montgomery's advance. The Canadian 1st Army, led by Lieutenant General Henry D. G. Crerar, was northwest of the British Second Army, clearing Holland and northwestern Germany, and providing safe ports at Wilhemshaven and Bremerhaven on the North Sea. In the center, commanded by General Omar N. Bradley's 12th Army Group, three American armies were driving east, northeast, and southeast of Berlin. Each army advanced with speed, racing across the German countryside, sometimes running off their maps. Prior to the Rhine crossings, the average area assigned to one group had been 12 by 18 miles. During the race to the Elbe, areas were as large as 40 by 70 miles. (1)

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General overview of forces meeting in northern Germany

The Ninth Army, led by General William S. Simpson, led the northernmost American corridor, with General Courtney Hodge's First Army moving south and east of Ninth Army, from the rugged Harz Mountains. Lieutenant General George S. Patton's Third Army had the southernmost corridor, an assault through Frankfurt. Lieutenant General Jacob S. Dever's 6th U.S. Army Group had the objective of negating the so-called "German National Redoubt", in the extreme south of Germany. The British Second Army, had in fact, been working closely with the U.S. Ninth Army since October, 1944. Both armies had cooperatively exchanged information, discussed approaches, tactics, and logistics. One of the underlying reasons for this partnership was due to the lack of British equipment at this stage during the war. Many American engineer troops and related equipment were actually used at bridge sites contemplated and utilized for British army crossings. Also, from October, 1944, until March, 1945, both the U.S. Ninth Army, and Canadian First Army, had been under direct command of British 21st Army Group. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Commander of Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF), had given Field Marshal Montgomery the Ninth Army to insure success in the north, following the Allied failure at Arnhem. In the west, the geography of Germany was playing a major part in Allied planning. Successful river crossings over the Rhine, Roer, and other waterways were practical experience for the last objective-crossing the Elbe River. This final phase of the central European campaign offered a planned final opportunity to demonstrate Allied military tactics and logistical superiority. For the most part, the geography, as well as the weather, were favorable to all land-based objectives. U.S. Ninth Army plans called for advances through hilly and heavily wooded areas, into the industrial north. Several northern-flowing rivers, as well as the numerous canals, presented serious considerations as to the Ninth Army's route of advance. The larger cities, such as Hanover and Bremen, were targeted as possible areas of organized resistance. At this point in the war, Germany was barely able to defend itself. The Allies had complete air superiority, and even if the weather for air operations did not prove favorable, Germany lacked the fuel necessary to move units around. Germany was low on ammunition, medical supplies, and practically everything else. What little industry Germany had left was isolated in the north, above the Ruhr Valley. There was an ability to defend along a static front, but Germany was not in a static situation. Tattered remnants of Wehrmacht armies were disorganized, without coherent or continuous communication from Berlin or each other. Military "units" (Volksturm), consisting of 13-16 year old boys, as well as those men 50-65 years old, had been hastily raised and trained. General Eisenhower had made one of the toughest decisions of his entire military career in March, 1945, and one that was to have a post-war impact of tremendous proportions, unknown at the time. The decision, which proved to be equally unpopular and disheartening to many American and British staff officers, was subsequently ignored by many American ground forces. It was Eisenhower's decision that Allied troops were to stop at the Elbe River, not proceeding eastward - and the capture of Berlin. Continued



2005 David Kaufman
All Rights Reserved
Updated: 09 July, 2013

2005-2013 David Kaufman
All Rights Reserved
Updated: 09 July, 2013
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