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  < Back to Table Of Contents  < Back to Topic: They Served

article number 664
article date 05-11-2017
copyright 2017 by Author else SaltOfAmerica
Cross the Rhine in Mass, Encircle the Ruhr, Crush the Germans, March, 1945
by General Dwight D. Eisenhower
   

From the book, Crusade in Europe.

* * *

WHILE MONTGOMERY, ON THE NORTH, WAS waging the first of the February and March battles for the destruction of the German forces before the Rhine, additional Canadian and British strength began transferring from the Mediterranean to the Twenty-first Army Group.

The move was called Operation Goldflake, and involved a Canadian corps from Italy and a British division from the Middle East. A large proportion of these troops landed at Marseille and cut across the entire network of Allied communications to reach their position on the northern flank.

The difficult move was handled smoothly and skillfully by the staffs. No interference with front-line supply and maintenance occurred.

Thus while Bradley and Devers, farther south, were delivering the blows that freed the west bank of the Rhine, Montgomery, in the north, could count on early reinforcement as he completed his preparations for forcing a crossing of the river.

Montgomery was always a master in the methodical preparation of forces for a formal, set-piece attack. In this case he made the most meticulous preparations because we knew that along the front just north of the Ruhr the enemy had his best remaining troops, including portions of the First Paratroop Army.

His assault was planned on a front of four divisions, two in the Twenty-first Army Group and two in the attached Ninth Army. Sup porting these divisions was an airborne attack by the American 17th Airborne Division and the British 6th Airborne Division.

Normal use of airborne forces was to send them into battle prior to the beginning of ground attack so as to achieve maximum surprise and create confusion among defending forces before the beginning of the ground assault.

In this instance Montgomery planned to reverse the usual sequence. He decided to make the river crossing under cover of darkness, to be followed the next morning by the airborne attack.

It was also normal to drop airborne forces at a considerable distance in rear of the enemy’s front lines, where their landing would presumably meet little immediate opposition and so give them time to organize themselves to overrun headquarters, block movement of reserves, and create general havoc.

But in this operation the two divisions were to drop close to the front lines, merely far enough back so that they would not be within the zone of our own artillery fire. From those positions they were to wreck the enemy’s artillery organization and participate directly in the tactical battle.

Elaborate arrangements were made for the use of smoke to provide artificial concealment for the river crossing and a great array of guns was assembled to support it.

The Rhine was a formidable military obstacle, particularly so in its northern stretches. It was not only wide but treacherous, and even the level of the river and the speed of its currents were subject to variation because the enemy could open dams along the great river’s eastern tributaries. Special reconnaissance and warning detachments were set up to guard against this threat.

Because of the nature of the obstacle the crossing resembled an assault against a beach, except that the troops, instead of attacking from ship to shore, were carried into the battle from shore to shore.

Study of conditions indicated the great desirability of naval participation in the attack. We needed vessels of sufficient size to transport tanks with the leading assault waves, and so the Navy began the transfer to the front of landing boats known as LCMs and LCV(P)s.

Part of these landing boats were brought up by waterways but many of them had to be hauled over the roads of northern Europe. Special trailers were constructed for the purpose and these small ships, some of them 45 feet in length and 14 feet wide, were successfully transported overland for participation in the attack.

   
Navy transfers Landing Craft to cross the Rhine.

The Twenty-first Army Group’s organic strength when the assault began was fifteen divisions. With the two airborne divisions and Simpson’s Ninth Army there were twenty-nine divisions and seven separate brigades under Montgomery’s operational command that day.

Not all of these divisions, however, could immediately be committed to the eastward thrust, since Montgomery had to protect his long left flank, stretching westward along the Rhine River to the North Sea. Additional Empire troops, from the Mediterranean, were on the way to join him.

The assault, on the night of March 23-24, was preceded by a violent artillery bombardment. On the front of the two American divisions, two thousand guns of all types participated.

General Simpson and I found a vantage point in an old church tower from which to witness the gunfire. Because the batteries were distributed on the flat plains on the western bank of the Rhine every flash could be seen. The din was incessant.

Meanwhile infantry assault troops were marching up to the water’s edge to get into the boats. We joined some of them and found the troops remarkably eager to finish the job. There is no substitute for a succession of great victories in building morale. Nevertheless as we walked along I fell in with one young soldier who seemed silent and depressed.

‘How are you feeling, son?” I asked.

“General,” he said, “I’m awful nervous. I was wounded two months ago and just got back from the hospital yesterday. I don t feel so good!”

“Well,” I said to him, “you and I are a good pair then, because I’m nervous too. But we’ve planned this attack for a long time and we’ve got all the planes, the guns, and airborne troops we can use to smash the Germans. Maybe if we just walk along together to the river we’ll be good for each other.”

“Oh,” he said, “I meant I was nervous; I’m not any more. I guess it’s not so bad around here.” And I knew what he meant.

Our preparations for the crossing north of the Ruhr had been so deliberately and thoroughly made that the enemy knew what was coming. We anticipated strong resistance, since we would achieve surprise only by the timing and strength of the assault. In particular we thought that the enemy would have a great number of guns trained on the river and the eastern banks and would attempt to stop our troops at the water’s edge with gunfire.

This kind of resistance, however, was not encountered. The two American divisions making the assault on the Ninth Army front, the 30th and the 79th, suffered a total of only thirty-one casualties during the actual crossing. The divisions were under the command of General Anderson of the XVI Corps.

Throughout the remainder of the night we received a series of encouraging reports. Everywhere the landings appeared completely successful. We were encouraged to believe that we could very quickly achieve such an eastward advance that the communications leading into the Ruhr would be cut.

With the arrival of daylight I went to a convenient hill from which to witness the arrival of the airborne units, which were scheduled to begin their drop at ten o’clock. The airborne troops were carried to the assault in a total of 1572 planes and 1326 gliders; 889 fighter planes escorted them during the flight, and 2153 other fighters provided cover over the target area and established a defensive screen to the eastward.

   
Our airborne units in action.

Fog and the smoke of the battlefield prevented a complete view of the airborne operation but I was able to see some of the action.

A number of our planes were hit by anti-aircraft, generally, however, only after they had dropped their loads of paratroopers. As they swung away from the battle area they seemed to come over a spot where anti-aircraft fire was particularly accurate. Those that were struck fell inside our own lines, and in nearly every case the crews succeeded in saving themselves by taking to their parachutes.

Even so, our loss in planes was far lighter than we had calculated. Operation Varsity, the name given to the airborne phase of this attack, was the most successful airborne operation we carried out during the war.

During the morning I met the Prime Minister with Field Marshal Brooke.

Mr. Churchill always seemed to find it possible to be near the scene of action when any particularly important operation was to be launched. On that morning he was delighted, as indeed were all of us. He exclaimed over and over, “My dear General, the German is whipped. We’ve got him. He is all through.”

The Prime Minister was merely voicing what all of us felt and were telling each other. It was on that morning also that Field Marshal Brooke expressed his own tremendous pleasure that the operations of February and March had been carried through as planned by SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force.

About noon of March 24 it was necessary for me to rush down to Bradley’s headquarters to confer on important phases of his own operations. After I left, the Prime Minister persuaded the local commander to take him across the Rhine in an LCM.

Churchill undoubtedly derived an intense satisfaction from putting his foot on the eastern bank of Germany’s traditional barrier. Possibly he felt the act was symbolic of the final defeat of an enemy who had forced Britain’s back to the wall five years before. However, had I been present he would never have been permitted to cross the Rhine that day.

As was normal with us, the air force participated intensively in the attack. For a number of days preceding March 23 we placed a continuous air bombardment upon a wide variety of targets in the area.

Chief among these targets were enemy airfields, with particular attention given every field from which we believed the Germans could operate a jet plane. Starting on March 21, we constantly drenched all these fields with bombs. The runways were effectively cratered and planes were destroyed on the ground.

These measures were decisive: on the day of the attack the Allied air force flew about 8000 sorties and saw fewer than 100 enemy planes in the air. During all this time we were favored with excellent weather; visibility was perfect.

   
" . . . on the day of the attack the Allied air force flew about 8000 sorties . . ."

During March 24 we also conducted diversionary air operations in order to prevent the concentration of enemy fighters at the point of attack A hundred and fifty bombers of the Fifteenth Air Force, located in Italy, flew fifteen hundred miles to attack Berlin. Other air forces from Italy raided airfields in the south.

Long before this time the RAF Bomber Command, originally designed for night bombing only, had begun to participate regularly in daylight attacks. With the protection provided by our great array of fighters, it could operate safely during hours of daylight and its accuracy was vastly increased. On the twenty-fourth it came over to attack rail centers and oil targets in and near the Ruhr.

The March 24 operation sealed the fate of Germany. Already, of course, we had secured two bridgeheads farther to the south. But in each of those cases surprise and good fortune had favored us.

The northern operation was made in the teeth of the greatest resistance the enemy could provide anywhere along the long river. Moreover, it was launched directly on the edge of the Ruhr and the successful landing on the eastern bank placed strong forces in position to deny the enemy use of significant portions of that great industrial area.

In the meantime events farther south had been proceeding swiftly. Bradley’s first purpose was to secure a firm lodgment in the Frankfurt region from which an advance in strength would be undertaken toward Kassel. At this latter point we expected to join up with Montgomery’s attack on the north of the Ruhr and so complete the envelopment of that area.

From the moment that General Patton pushed the U. S. 5th Division across the Rhine on the night of March 22 he had continued steadily to build up his bridgehead. By the evening of March 24 it was nine miles long and six miles deep, and the attacking troops had taken 19,000 prisoners.

The entire XII Corps was now across the river and its 4th Armored Division pushed forward so rapidly that on March 25 it captured intact the bridges over the Main at Aschaffenburg.

The Remagen bridgehead, ever since its establishment, had continued to expand in spite of repeated piecemeal attacks by the German. General Hodges had thrown the III, V, and VII Corps into that area. By the twenty-sixth, German detachments on the northern flank of the bridgehead had been driven back across the Sieg, where they confidently expected to receive a major assault.

However, the German was to suffer still another great surprise in the Remagen area. As soon as American forces had begun to establish themselves firmly in the Remagen bridgehead, Bradley and I had started to develop our plans for deriving the greatest usefulness from this development.

We had always planned, on Bradley’s front, to make our main crossings in the region where Patton had seized his bridgeheads, since this was the most suitable area from which to launch the southern prong of the great double offensive that was expected to surround the Ruhr.

From Remagen we could of course turn the First Army to the north and northeast to assault the Ruhr directly. This would, however, involve frontal attack across the Sieg and would not accomplish the great and complete encirclement of that area which was an essential feature of our basic plan.

Consequently Bradley and I had early decided to launch the troops out of the Remagen bridge-head to the southeastward to join up with Patton near Giessen. Bradley would then have his force concentrated and we were certain that his further success would be swift and sure.

   
Eisenhower confers with Patton, Bradley and Hodges.

On the twenty-sixth of March the advance out of the Remagen bridgehead began. The V Corps, now under Major General Clarence R. Huebner, thrust rapidly to the southeast and overran Limburg. These great converging thrusts by Hodges and Patton completed the demoralization of the enemy in that region.

Middleton’s VIII Corps, of the Third Army, was still west of the Rhine, lying along a stretch north of Braubach where, because of the rugged banks, bridging operations against an enemy looked almost impossible.

Nevertheless, the VIII Corps made the attempt to cross the Rhine and, in spite of some sharp initial resistance, was successful. It was thus able to push forward directly and join in the great advance. Frankfurt was cleared by March 29 and armored spearheads were thrust forward in the direction of Kassel.

Still farther south, in the Sixth Army Group, Patch’s Seventh Army joined the attack. While that army had been engaged in the Saar operation, the Rhine defenses in its region were considered sufficiently strong to require the use of airborne troops in order to assure a successful river crossing.

For this purpose the U. S. 13th Airborne Division was directed to plan an attack. However, so great was the confusion of the enemy following his collapse in the Saar that the airborne assault was found unnecessary.

General Haislip’s XV Corps, of the Seventh Army, forced a crossing of the river near Worms on March 26. Enemy detachments at the water’s edge presented stubborn opposition but it was quickly overcome and the XV Corps completed the crossing on the twenty-seventh.

The Seventh Army immediately took up the advance and after linking up with the Third Army pushed on quickly to capture Mannheim.

The final crossing of the Rhine against resistance was made by the French Army at Philippsburg April 1 . From there the French were subsequently to strike southeastward in the direction of Stuttgart and clear the eastern bank of the Rhine all the way to the Swiss border.

We now had crossings over the Rhine in every main channel we had selected for invasion.

The ease with which these were accomplished and the light losses that we suffered incident to them were in great contrast to what certainly would have happened had the Germans, during the winter, withdrawn from the west bank and made their decisive stand along the river. It is a formidable obstacle and the terrain all along the eastern bank affords strong defensive positions. Frontal assaults against the German Army, even at the decreased strength and efficiency available to it in early 1945, would have been a costly business.

   
MAP: The Rhine Barrier Breached. Actions across the Rhine, March 22 through April 1, 1945.
   
Our men cross the Rhine.

We owed much to Hitler. There is no question that his General Staff, had it possessed a free hand in the field of military operations, would have foreseen certain disaster on the western bank and would have pulled back the defending forces, probably no later than the beginning of January.

At that time the abortive attack in the Ardennes was a proven failure and the participating German troops were being driven back in defeat. Moreover, on January 12 the Russians began a great offensive that was to carry them all the way from the Vistula to the Oder, within thirty miles of Berlin.

Militarily, the wise thing for the German to do at that moment would have been to surrender. His position was hopeless and even if he could have saved nothing on the political front he could have prevented the loss of thousands on the field of battle and avoided further destruction of his cities and industries.

So long as he chose to continue the fight, possibly in the desperate hope that the Allies would fall out among themselves and consequently fail to complete the conquest, be should instantly have taken up in the west his strongest possible defensive line, the Rhine River, and gathered up everything he could to use as a central reserve.

Even that procedure could have offered him no hope of eventual success, if for no other reason than the fact that our tremendous air force was flow daily pulverizing the resources in his dwindling territory on an almost unendurable scale.

But it was the only method that would have given him a chance to prolong hostilities and it now became clear that there could be no other reason to continue the war.

Even Hitler, fanatic that he was, must have had lucid moments in which he could not have failed to see that the end was in sight. He was writing an ending to a drama that would far exceed in tragic climax anything that his beloved Wagner ever conceived.

So far as the Allies were concerned the situation was somewhat like the one that followed upon the breakout in Normandy eight months earlier.

There were, however, important differences. We now had present a ground and air strength satisfactorily disposed to brush aside any resistance that we would encounter and there was no Siegfried Line off in the distance for the enemy to man.

Far more important was the health and strength of our logistical organization. Lying just behind the Rhine were stocks of equipment and supplies. Close by were the service organizations so necessary to provide for the rapid advance of troops and their constant maintenance.

As quickly as we crossed the Rhine we installed floating bridges and they were soon supplemented with fixed types. The first semi-permanent railway bridge was built at Wesel, in the northern sector. There, on one of the widest stretches of the river, American engineers constructed a bridge over which ran our first railroad train, less than eleven days after the capture of the site.

   
"As quickly as we crossed the Rhine we installed floating bridges and they were soon supplemented with fixed types."

With our forces everywhere crossing the Rhine and with so much of the German strength lost in the wreckage of the Siegfried Line, the second great phase of our spring campaign was completed. It was then necessary to review the situation and prescribe the movement of forces to accomplish the third phase, the final destruction of German military power and the overrunning of German territory.

The first step in this movement remained the encirclement of the Ruhr. This had always been a major feature of our plans and there was nothing in the situation now facing us to indicate any advantage in abandoning the purpose.

On the contrary, it now appeared that this double envelopment would not only finally and completely sever the industrial Ruhr from the remainder of Germany but would result in the destruction of one of the major forces still remaining to the enemy.

When the enemy failed to eliminate the Remagen bridgehead in the early days of March he began frantically to build up the southern defenses of the Ruhr along the Sieg River. In the same way, when Montgomery catapulted across the Rhine in the northern sector on March 24, the Germans hurriedly began to establish a line along the northern flank of the Ruhr region.

The double envelopment would therefore surround these defending forces, tear a wide gap in the center, and open a path across the country to the eastward.

I already knew of the Allied political agreements that divided Germany into post-hostilities occupational zones. The north-south line allotted by that decision to the British and American nations ran from the vicinity of Lübeck, at the eastern base of the Danish peninsula, generally southward to the town of Eisenach and on southward to the Austrian border.

This future division of Germany did not influence our military plans for the final conquest of the country. Military plans, I believed, should be devised with the single aim of speeding victory; by later adjustment troops of the several nations could be concentrated into their own national sectors.

A natural objective beyond the Ruhr was Berlin. It was politically and psychologically important as the symbol of remaining German power. I decided, however, that it was not the logical or the most desirable objective for the forces of the Western Allies.

When we stood on the Rhine in the last week of March we were three hundred miles from Berlin, with the obstacle of the Elbe still two hundred miles to our front.

The Russian forces were firmly established on the Oder with a bridgehead on its western bank only thirty miles from Berlin. Our logistic strength, which included an ability to deliver to forward elements some 2000 tons of supplies by air transport every day, would sustain our spearheads thrusting across Germany.

But if we should plan for a power crossing of the Elbe, with the single purpose of attempting to invest Berlin, two things would happen. The first of these was that in all probability the Russian forces would be around the city long before we could reach there. The second was that to sustain a strong force at such a distance from our major bases along the Rhine would have meant the practical immobilization of units along the remainder of the front.

This I felt to be more than unwise; it was stupid. There were several other major purposes, beyond the encirclement of the Ruhr, to be accomplished quickly.

   
A tank is loaded on a small barge to cross the Rhine.

It was desirable to thrust our spearheads rapidly across Germany to a junction with the Red forces, thus to divide the country and effectually prevent any possibility of German forces acting as a unit.

It was important also to seize the town of Lübeck in the far north as quickly as possible. By so doing we would cut off all German troops remaining in the Danish peninsula as well as those still in Norway. Such a thrust would also gain us northern ports in Germany through the capture of either Bremen or Hamburg, or both. This would again shorten our line of communications.

Equally important was the desirability of penetrating and destroy in the so-called “National Redoubt.”

For many weeks we had been receiving reports that the Nazi intention, in extremity, was to withdraw the cream of the SS, Gestapo, and other organizations fanatically de vote to Hitler, into the mountains of southern Bavaria, western Austria and northern Italy.

There they expected to block the tortuous mountain passes and to hold out indefinitely against the Allies. Such a stronghold could always be reduced, by eventual starvation if in no other way.

But if the German was permitted to establish the Redoubt he might possibly force us to engage in a long-drawn-out guerrilla type of warfare, or a costly siege. Thus he could keep alive his desperate hope that through disagreement among the Allies he might yet be able to secure terms more favorable than those of unconditional surrender.

The evidence was clear that the Nazi intended to make the attempt and I decided to give him no opportunity to carry it out.

Another Nazi purpose, somewhat akin to that of establishing a mountain fortress, was the organization of an underground army, to which he gave the significant name of “Werewolves.”

The purpose of the Werewolf organization, which was to be composed only of loyal followers of Hitler, was murder and terrorism. Boys and girls as well as adults were to be absorbed into the secret organization with the hope of so terrifying the countryside and making so difficult the problem of occupation that the conquering forces would presumably be glad to get out.

The way to stop this project—and such a development was always a possibility because of the passionate devotion to their Führer of so many young Germans—was to overrun the entire national territory before its organization could be effected.

With these several considerations in mind I determined that as soon as the Twelfth and Twenty-first Army Groups could complete the Ruhr envelopment our next major advances would comprise three essential parts.

   
A glider is loaded for a drop behind enemy lines.

The first would be a powerful thrust by Bradley directly across the center of Germany. By following this route his armies would traverse the central plateau of the country. Thus he would cross the rivers near their headwaters where they do not constitute the serious obstacles that they do in the northern German plain near the sea.

To assure Bradley of enough strength to drive uninterruptedly across the country, the U. S. Ninth Army was to be returned to his command.

Additionally we organized for Bradley’s group a new army, the Fifteenth, under the command of General Gerow, which was to have two principal functions. It was to take over matters of military government in rear of advancing troops. It would also provide the necessary Allied strength on the western bank of the Rhine facing the Ruhr to prevent any of the Germans in that region from raiding important points on our supply lines west of the river.

Gerow was furthermore charged with the command of the U. S. 66th Division, which, hundreds of miles to the westward, was still containing the German garrisons in the Biscay ports of St. Nazaire and Lorient.

Bradley’s advance with his three armies was to begin as soon as he had made sure that the German forces in the Ruhr could not interfere with his communications.

I had no intention of conducting a bitter, house-to-house battle for the destruction of the Ruhr garrison. It was a thickly populated region with no indigenous sources of food supply. Hunger alone could certainly bring about eventual capitulation and spare the Allies great numbers of casualties.

The second and third parts of the general plan visualized, following upon Bradley’s junction with the Russians somewhere along the Elbe, a rapid advance on each of our flanks. The northern thrust would cut off Denmark; the southern one would push into Austria and overrun the mountains west and south of that country.

In the early stages of Bradley’s advance the Sixth Army Group on the south and the Twenty-first Army Group on the left would advance generally in support of Bradley’s main thrust, making as much progress as possible in the direction of their final objectives.

In turn, once Bradley had achieved his mission in the center, he would support Montgomery on the north and Devers on the south, as they undertook the final advances planned for them.

   
Our troops advance in the encirclement of the Ruhr.

This general plan was presented to Generalissimo Stalin.

Under the arrangement made in January and approved by the Combined Chiefs of Staff, I thought that I was completely within the scope of my own authority and responsibility in communicating this plan to the Generalissimo.

However, we quickly found that Prime Minister Churchill seriously objected to my action. He disagreed with the plan and held that, because the campaign was now approaching its end, troop maneuvers had acquired a political significance that demanded the intervention of political leaders in the development of broad operational plans.

Churchill apparently believed that my message to the Generalissimo had exceeded my authority to communicate with Moscow only on purely military matters. He was greatly disappointed and disturbed because my plan did not first throw Montgomery forward with all the strength I could give him from the American forces, in the desperate attempt to capture Berlin before the Russians could do so. He sent his views to Washington.

The Prime Minister knew, of course, that, regardless of the distance the Allies might advance to the eastward, he and the President had already agreed that the British and American occupation zones would be limited on the east by a line two hundred miles west of Berlin. Consequently his great insistence upon using all our resources in the hope of assuring the arrival of the Western Allies in Berlin ahead of the Russians must have been based on the conviction that great prestige and influence for the Western Allies would later derive from this achievement.

I had no means of knowing what his true reasons were but the protest immediately initiated an exchange of a series of telegrams, beginning with a message from General Marshall on March 29. In that message he informed me that the British Chiefs of Staff were concerned both as regarded the procedure which I had adopted in communicating with the Generalissimo and with what they called my change of plan.

   
Prime Minister Churchill crosses the Rhine . . . "After I left, the Prime Minister persuaded the local commander to take him across the Rhine in an LCM. . . . had I been present he would never have been permitted to cross the Rhine that day.

The British Chiefs informed Marshall that my main thrust should cross the plains of north Germany because by this means we could open German ports in the west and north. They pointed out that this would also to a great extent annul the U-boat war, and we should be free to move into Denmark, open a line of communication with Sweden, and liberate for our use nearly 2,000,000 tons of Swedish and Norwegian shipping.

Receipt of this information inspired the following:

From Eisenhower to Marshall, dated March 30:

"Frankly the charge that I have changed plans has no possible basis in fact. The principal effort north of the Ruhr was always adhered to with the object of isolating that valuable area.

"Now that I can foresee the time that my forces can be concentrated in the Kassel area I am still adhering to my old plan of launching from there one main attack calculated to accomplish, in conjunction with the Russians, the destruction of the enemy armed forces.

"My plan will get the ports and all the other things on the north coast more speedily and decisively than will the dispersion now urged upon me by Wilson’s message to you."

After sending this preliminary message we drew up, for General Marshall’s information, a complete digest of our plan and dispatched it by following radio:

From Eisenhower to Marshall, dated March 30:

"This is in reply to your radio."

"The same protests except as to ’procedure’ contained in that telegram were communicated to me by the Prime Minister over telephone last night.

"I am completely in the dark as to what the protests concerning ’procedure’ involve. I have been instructed to deal directly with the Russians concerning military co-ordination. There is no change in basic strategy.

"The British Chiefs of Staff last summer protested against my determination to open up the Frankfurt route because they said it would be futile and would draw strength away from a northern attack.

"I have always insisted that the northern attack would be the principal effort in that phase of our operations that involved the isolation of the Ruhr, but from the very beginning, extending back before D-day, my plan, explained to my staff and senior officers, has been to link up the primary and secondary efforts in the Kassel area and then make one great thrust to the eastward.

"Even cursory examination of the decisive direction for this thrust, after the link-up in the Kassel area is complete, shows that the principal effort should under existing circumstances be toward the Leipzig region, where is concentrated the greater part of the remaining German industrial capacity, and to which area the German ministries are believed to be moving.

"My plan does not draw Montgomery’s British and Canadian forces to the southward. You will note that his right flank will push forward along the general line Hanover-Wittenberge.

"Merely following the principle that Field Marshal Brooke has always emphasized, I am determined to concentrate on one major thrust and all that my plan does is to place the U. S. Ninth Army back under Bradley for that phase of operations involving the advance of the center from Kassel to the Leipzig region, unless, of course, the Russian forces should be met on this side of that area.

"Thereafter, that position will be consolidated while the plan clearly shows that Ninth Army may again have to move up to assist the British and Canadian armies in clearing the whole coast line to the westward of Lübeck.

"After strength for this operation has been provided, it is considered that we can launch a movement to the southeastward to prevent Nazi occupation of a mountain citadel.

"I have thoroughly considered the naval aspects of this situation and clearly recognize the advantages of gaining the northern coast line at an early date. It is for this reason that I have made that objective the next one to be achieved after the primary thrust has placed us in a decisive position.

"The opening of Bremen, Hamburg, and Kiel involves operations against the Frisian Islands and Heligoland and extensive mine sweeping. All this and operations into Denmark and Norway form part of a later phase.

"May I point out that Berlin itself is no longer a particularly important objective. Its usefulness to the German has been largely destroyed and even his government is preparing to move to another area. What is now important is to gather up our forces for a single drive and this will more quickly bring about the fall of Berlin, the relief of Norway, and the acquisition of the shipping and the Swedish ports than will the scattering around of our effort.

   
The city of Berlin, Spring 1945. "May I point out that Berlin itself is no longer a particularly important objective. Its usefulness to the German has been largely destroyed and even his government is preparing to move to another area. What is now important is to gather up our forces for a single drive . . ."

"As another point I should like to point out that the so-called “good ground” in northern Germany is not really good at this time of year. That region is not only badly cut up with waterways, but in it the ground during this part of the year is very wet and not so favorable for rapid movement as is the higher plateau over which I am preparing to launch the main effort.

"To sum up:

"I propose, at the earliest possible moment, in conjunction with the Soviets to divide and destroy the German forces by launching my main attack from the Kassel area straight eastward toward the heart of what remains of the German industrial power until that thrust has attained the general area of Leipzig and including that city, unless the Russian advance meets us west of that point.

"The second main feature of the battle is to bring Montgomery’s forces along on the left and as quickly as the above has been accomplished to turn Ninth Army to the left to assist him in cleaning out the whole area from Kiel and Lübeck westward.

"After the requirements of these two moves have been met, I will thrust columns southeastward in an attempt to join up with the Russians in the Danube Valley and prevent the establishment of a Nazi fortress in southern Germany.

"Naturally, my plans are flexible and I must retain freedom of action to meet changing situations. Maximum flexibility will result from a concentration of maximum force in the center.

An interesting sidelight on the foregoing telegram is that it was originally drafted, in my headquarters, by one of my British assistants.

From Marshall to Eisenhower, dated March 31:

British Chiefs of Staff sent from London to Combined Chiefs today their views on your plan.

"They deny any desire to fetter the hand of the Supreme Commander in the field but mention wider issues outside the purvue of SCAEF (U-boat war, Swedish shipping, political importance of saving thousands of Dutchmen from starvation, importance of move into Denmark and liberating Norway) and request delay in the submission of further details to Deane [head of the Military Mission in Moscow] until you hear from the CCS (Combined Chiefs of Staff).

"The U. S. Chiefs replied today in substance as follows: SCAEF’s (Supreme Commander Allied Expeditionary Force) procedure in communicating with the Russians appears to have been an operational necessity. Any modification of this communication should be made by Eisenhower and not by the CCS.

"The course of action outlined in SCAEF plan appears to be in accord with agreed strategy and SCAEF’s directive, particularly in light of present developments. Eisenhower is deploying across the Rhine in the north the maximum number of forces which can be employed.

   
Churchill across the Rhine. "Churchill undoubtedly derived an intense satisfaction from putting his foot on the eastern bank of Germany’s traditional barrier. Possibly he felt the act was symbolic of the final defeat of an enemy who had forced Britain’s back to the wall five years before. "

"The secondary effort in the south is achieving an outstanding success and is being exploited to the extent of logistic capabilities.

"The U. S. Chiefs are confident that SCAEF’s course of action will secure the ports and everything else mentioned by the British more quickly and more decisively than the course of action urged by them.

The battle of Germany is now at a point where it is up to the Field Commander to judge the measures which should be taken.

"To deliberately turn away from the exploitation of the enemy’s weakness does not appear sound.

"The single objective should be quick and complete victory.

"While recognizing there are factors not of direct concern to SCAEF, the U. S. Chiefs consider his strategic concept is sound and should receive full support.

"He should continue to communicate freely with the Commander in Chief of the Soviet Army."

Later, on April 7, I included the following in my final radio on the subject to General Marshall:

"The message I sent to Stalin was a purely military move taken in accordance with ample authorizations and instructions previously issued by the Combined Chiefs of Staff.

"Frankly, it did not cross my mind to confer in advance with the Combined Chiefs of Staff because I have assumed that I am held responsible for the effectiveness of military operations in this theater and it was a natural question to the head of the Russian forces to inquire as to the direction and timing of their next major thrust, and to outline my own intentions.

"We are now holding up a message to the mission in Russia, the purpose of which is to establish some concrete arrangement for mutual identification of air and ground troops and to suggest a procedure to be followed in the event our forces should meet the Russians in any part of Germany, each with an offensive mission. It is critically important that this question be settled quickly on a practical basis."

The outcome of all this was that we went ahead with our own plan. So earnestly did I believe in the military soundness of what we were doing that my intimates on the staff knew I was prepared to make an issue of it.

The only other result of this particular argument was that we thereafter felt somewhat restricted in communicating with the Generalissimo and were careful to confine all our communications to matters of solely tactical importance.

This situation I did not regard as too serious, particularly because the United States Chiefs of Staff had staunchly reaffirmed my freedom of action in the execution of plans that in my judgment would bring about the earliest possible cessation of hostilities.

   
Encirclement of the Ruhr . . . the German is thoroughly beaten. Cameraman frames the shot with a dead German soldier in the foreground.
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