|Egypt-Libya||11 June 1942 - 12 February 1943|
|Air Offensive, Europe||4 July 1942 - 5 June 1944|
|Algeria-French Morocco||8 - 11 November 1942|
|Tunisia||17 November 1942 - 13 May 1943|
|Sicily||9 July - 17 August 1943|
|Naples-Foggia||9 September 1943 - 21 January 1944|
|Anzio||22 January - 24 May 1944|
|Rome-Arno||22 January - 9 September 1944|
|Normandy||6 June - 24 July 1944|
|Northern France||25 July - 14 September 1944|
|Southern France||15 August - 14 September 1944|
|North Apennines||10 September 1944 - 4 April 1945|
|Rhineland||15 September 1944 - 21 March 1945|
|Ardennes-Alsace||16 December 1944 - 25 January 1945|
|Central Europe||22 March - 11 May 1945|
|Po Valley||5 April - 8 May 1945|
The sections dealing with the Asiatic-Pacific and European-African-Middle Eastern Theaters of World War II were addressed differently than the other conflicts within this document. Many of the World War II campaigns extended over long periods of time, and overlapped other campaigns in the same theater. Consequently, the war in the Asiatic-Pacific Theater and that in the European-African-Middle Eastern Theater were treated as separate wars. Each war was described in a narrative style within a framework of broadly outlined operations. Within each operation there may have been more than one campaign covered. For example, the operation entitled Italy encompasses the Naples-Foggia, Anzio, Rome-Arno, North Apennines, and Po Valley campaigns.
North Africa and Europe. The successful effort to hold the line and protect a base in Australia dispersed available American strength, and rained a problem for military planners in the matter of massing military power to strike a decisive blow at Germany. The Army's solution was to begin immediately to concentrate Allied power in England and from there, as soon as possible, to launch a drive across the English Channel aimed at Germany. Early in 1942 plans were made for such a cross-Channel operation, to take place in April 1943, and possibly as early as September 1942 if either Germany or Russia showed signs of collapsing. The British, with some reluctance, agreed to the plan ''in principle" in April 1942, whereupon the Americans began to pour supplies and troops into the United Kingdom.
Token forces, sent to England soon after Pearl Harbor, were established as a commend entitled U.S. Army Forces in the British Isles (USAFBI) on 8 January 1942 with Maj. Gen. James E. Chaney as commanding general. This command was superseded by the European Theater of Operations, U.S. Army (ETOUSA, or ETO) on 8 June 1942. Maj. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower assumed command of ETO on 24 June 1942.
North African Invasion (Operation TORCH). When it became evident by mid-1942 that there could be no cross-Channel attack in September, American planners acceded to a plan the British had been urging. This was to use the means that would be accumulated in England by the fall of 1942, plus additional forces from the United States, to invade North Africa, where, it was hoped, French forces might lend support to the operation. The primary objective was to utilize ready Allied forces in an operation commensurate with current capabilities to relieve pressure on the Russians. Other objectives of the operation were to gain French Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia as a base for enlisting the French colonial empire in the war, to assist the British in destroying Axis forces threatening Egypt and Suez, to open the Mediterranean to Allied shipping, to shorten the route to the Far East, and to prepare the way for further operations against the European Axis. The Combined Chiefs of Staff ratified the plan and named General Eisenhower as commander in chief of the Allied Expeditionary Force that was to invade North Africa. Code name for this operation was TORCH.
To carry out TORCH a command named Allied Force Headquarters, North Africa (AFHQ), was established in London on 11 August 1942 with Eisenhower, by this time a lieutenant general, in command. The Advance Echelon, AFHQ, arrived in Algiers on 9 November 1942. AFHQ remained a combined administrative headquarters for the Allied commander in the Mediterranean after the establishment of the (Allied) Mediterranean Theater of Operations (MTO) on 10 December 1943.
The American command in the Mediterranean, co-existing with the Allied command, was the North African Theater of Operations, U.S. Army (NATOUSA) established on 4 February 1943, which was superseded by the Mediterranean Theater of Operations, U.S. Army (MTOUSA) on 1 November 1944. The various commands outlined above exercised control over all operations in the Mediterranean area during the war, including those in North Africa, Sicily, and Italy, and the invasion of southern France.
In North Africa the Germans and their Italian allies controlled a narrow strip along the Mediterranean coast between Tunisia and Egypt with an army numbering some 100,000 men under Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. French forces in North Africa also numbered about 100,000 men plus considerable naval strength. Their position was enigmatic, since the loyalties of the French forces had become split among factions following their defeat in 1940. The need for secrecy in order to achieve strategic surprise hampered an Allied attempt to enlist French support before the landings.
The Allied plan for TORCH involved concentric attacks. Gen. Sir Harold R. L. Alexander, British Commander in Chief in the Middle East, was to strike west from Egypt with the British Eighth Army under Lt. Gen. Bernard L. Montgomery, while a combined Anglo-American force was to invade French North Africa and hit the enemy's rear. General Eisenhower was to command the invasion forces, and the British Eighth Army also was to come under his command when the two forces eventually converged on Tunisia. The Allies planned three simultaneous landings: one outside the Strait of Gibraltar near Casablanca, Morocco, and two inside the Strait in Algeria near Oran and Algiers. When these landings had been successfully accomplished, additional troops were to land near the eastern border of Algeria and move rapidly into Tunisia, presumably before the Germans could block the move.
The British Eighth Army opened an offensive at El Alamein on 23 October 1942, after having soundly defeated a prior Axis offensive. On 8 November 1942 the U.S. Navy put U.S. Army Forces ashore near Casablanca, while the British Navy put other United States forces and contingents of British troops ashore near Oran and Algiers. The total invasion force comprised more than 400 ships, 1,000 planes, and some 107,000 men. Troops landing at Casablanca consisted of the I Armored Corps of three divisions under Maj. Gen. George S. Patton, Jr., shipped directly from the United States, the only instance in World War II in which a force of more than division size was combat-loaded in United States ports for landing directly on a hostile beach. The forces landing near Oran and Algiers included the U.S. II Corps, Maj. Gen. Lloyd W. Fredendall commanding, with elements of three divisions. During this operation a battalion of paratroopers made the first U.S. combat jump of the war.
The Allies achieved strategic surprise, but the operation was delayed by the French forces, who fought back in every case but one. By 11 November negotiations had succeeded both in ending French resistance and winning French cooperation, and an Allied column headed for Tunisia. Meanwhile the Germans had moved into Tunisia in force by water from Sicily, and were able to stop the Allied drive short of the Tunisian capital (Tunis). Eventually the Axis brought in more than 150,000 troops from Sicily. Rommel's troops, falling back before the British Eighth Army's drive, established themselves behind the so-called Mareth Line in southeastern Tunisia in contact with the German reinforcements. Having consolidated a giant beachhead in Tunisia, Rommel assumed the offensive on 14 February 1943. Powerful German armored units moved out from passes in south central Tunisia on the front of the U.S. II Corps, in an attempt to turn the south flank of the British First Army, commanded by Lt. Gen. Kenneth N. A. Anderson, and capture an Allied base of operations around Tebessa. The Germans defeated the Allies in a series of sharp armored actions, forced a withdrawal of American troops through the Kasserine Pass and the valley beyond, and made a spectacular advance of almost a hundred miles before determined countermeasures by the Allies brought them to a halt, still short of their objectives, on 22 February. Upon the failure of this counteroffensive, the Germans withdrew to their original positions. During the first part of March the Germans attempted two lesser offensives-one against the British First Army and the other against the British Eighth Army-which also failed. At this point the Allies were able to resume their offensive. The U.S. II Corps, now under Patton, attacked toward the flank and rear of the Mareth Line, while elements of the British Eighth Army outflanked the Axis position and broke through into the eastern coastal region of central Tunisia. Within a month all Axis troops had been compressed into a small bridgehead covering the Cape Bon Peninsula. In the final phase of the operation, Maj. Gen. Omar N. Bradley assumed command of the U.S. II Corps so that Patton could prepare for the invasion of Sicily. A massive Allied attack pushed through Bizerte and Tunis, and the last of some 275,000 Germans and Italians surrendered on the Cape Bon Peninsula on 12 May 1943.
Sicily (Operation HUSKY). A decision to invade Sicily was made at an Allied conference at Casablanca which took place from 14 to 23 January 1943. By that tome it had become apparent that a cross-Channel invasion (an operation earnestly desired by the Russians) would be impossible during 1943. On the other hand, the immense military resources accumulated in the Mediterranean Theater could be used to knock Italy out of the war, to divert some German strength from the Russian front, and to reopen the Mediterranean as a thoroughfare to the East, while the buildup for the eventual cross-Channel attack continued in Great Britain and the Allied air forces mounted a systematic bombing of Germany.
Ground forces assembled to conduct the Sicilian Campaign (10 July - 17 August 1943) constituted the 15th Army Group under the command of General Alexander. This command included the British Eighth Army under General Montgomery and the newly established U.S. Seventh Army under General Patton. Among the American forces was the 82d Airborne Division, which was scheduled to drop behind the invasion beaches to forestall enemy reaction to the landings. The total invasion force numbered some 160,000 men.
For weeks before the invasion, Allied planes raided western Sicily in order to deceive the defenders regarding the Allied intention, which was to make landings on the southern and eastern coasts of the island. These raids succeeded in dispersing German armor, which made it difficult for them to mount quick, concentrated counterattacks. The invasion took place on 10 July 1943. Winds of near gale proportions made the landings difficult, but the weather conditions threw the defenders off guard and made possible a tactical surprise. After landing, the Allies intended to strike for dominating ground in the east-central part of the island and then to take Messina on the strait between Sicily and Italy. After recovering from their initial surprise, the German forces in Sicily succeeded in blocking the most direct route to Messina by concentrating against the British Eighth Army in the vicinity of Catania.
Thereupon Patton sent a mobile provisional corps under Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Keyes to the northwest, which cut the island in two, captured Palermo by 22 July, and broke the morale of the Italian garrison of 275,000 men on the island. The American forces were now in a position to attack from the west to break the deadlock opposite the British. When the Seventh Army drove eastward across the island, the Germans began to withdraw across the Strait of Messina to Italy. Despite attacks by Allied aircraft, they were able to evacuate some 60,000 troops. On 17 August 1943 American patrols pushed into Messina, and the campaign reached a successful conclusion. Axis losses in the campaign were around 167,000 killed, wounded, and captured, including some 10,000 German casualties. Allied losses were 31,158.
Italy. Allied victory in Sicily had resulted in the overthrow of Mussolini's government, and the capitulation of Italy was only a matter of negotiation and time. An armistice was announced on 8 September. The Italian surrender resulted in German evacuation of the islands of Sardinia and Corsica, gave the Allies the Italian Navy, and, in effect, made Italy a co-belligerent with the Allies. Nevertheless, the Germans still had a firm hold on the Italian boot.
The Italian Campaign (3 September 1943 - 2 May 1945) placed Allied troops on the European mainland for the first time, but it was never intended as a substitute for an attack aimed at Germany by way of the more open and more remunerative route through northern France. The invasion of Italy had a number of lesser objectives: to capitalize on the collapse of Italian resistance; to make immediate use of ready Allied strength; to engage German forces which might otherwise be used in Russia and northern France; to secure airfields from which to intensify the bombing of Germany and the Balkans; and to gain complete control of the Mediterranean.
On 3 September 1943 elements of the British Eighth Army landed on the toe of the Italian boot. Six days later, on 9 September, the U.S. Fifth Army, under Lt. Gen. Mark W. Clark landed on beaches along the Gulf of Salerno, and a British fleet placed a division of troops at Taranto in the arch of the boot. Heavy fighting quickly developed at Salerno, where German armored counterattacks jeopardized the entire Allied position. It was six days before the Americans were able to surmount the crisis and secure the beachhead. On 16 September the British Eighth and the U.S. Fifth Armies united their fronts southeast of Salerno. On 7 October the British took Naples with its fine port. Meanwhile the British had captured the airfields of Foggia near the Adriatic coast on 27 September, and by mid-October had moved north to a line extending from Larino west to Campobasso, where they were abreast of the Americans on their left. The Allies were in Italy to stay.
Under strategic priorities decided upon by the CCS (Quebec Conference, August 1943) the forces non in the Mediterranean were not to be strengthened further; in fact, seven of the best Allied divisions (four U.S. and three British) were withdrawn to the United Kingdom for the cross-Channel operation. Shipping limitations, in any case, forbade any large-scale reinforcement of the Mediterranean except at the expense of the buildup of American forces in the United Kingdom. By October 1943 the U.S. Fifth and British Eighth Armies together had only 11 divisions, but this force was able to tie down some 20-odd German divisions throughout the long campaign. The mountainous terrain and the restrictions on maneuver imposed by the narrowness of the peninsula favored the German defenders, but the Allied force continued to press northward until the end of the war.
Having paused a few days after taking Naples and Foggia, the Allied force in Italy renewed its offensive late in October 1943. This drive broke a strong German position at the Volturno River and carried the Allies as far as the so-called Winter Line (or Gustav Line), anchored on Cassino, which the Germans had been preparing about 75 miles south of Rome. Here the Allies were brought to a halt for the remainder of the winter.
In December 1943 the Allied line was reinforced by a French corps equipped with American arms. With this added strength at his disposal, General Clark used the U.S. VI Corps, with British and American troops, in an attempt to envelop the western flank of the German line, while he simultaneously tried to break through the Gustav Line. The VI Corps made an amphibious tending at Anzio, behind the German line about 30 miles south of Rome, on 22 January 1944. The landing was initially successful and additional forces came in while the landing force pushed inland against growing enemy resistance. After the first week, the Germans reacted with a strong counterattack that reached a peak of intensity on 17 February and threatened to wipe out the beachhead. But the VI Corps' magnificent defense of the perimeter, supported by artillery, tanks, planes, and naval gunfire, brought the last of the major counterattacks to a halt on 2 March. While the Anzio maneuver failed either to turn the German defenses in the south around Cassino or to open a breakthrough north to Rome, the Anzio beachhead remained a thorn in the German side, engaging his tactical reserves.
In May 1944 the Allied forces made a carefully planned assault on the Winter Line, synchronizing their thrusts with an attack from the Anzio beachhead. The drive carried all the way to Rome, which fell to the Allies on 4 June 1944, two days before the cross-Channel attack.
The Germans made their next stand along the so-called Gothic Line in the north Apennine Mountains. The Allied force, although reduced in strength by the necessity to relinquish some divisions for use in France, initiated a drive in September that broke the Gothic Line after a three-month campaign. In the spring of 1945 the Allies pushed across the Po Valley and, when German resistance began to crumble, made spectacular advances which ended with the surrender of the German forces in Italy on 2 May 1945.
The Italian Campaign Involved some of the hardest fighting in the war and cost the United States forces some 114,000 casualties. But the campaign played an important part in determining the eventual outcome of the war, since the Allies, with a minimum of strength, engaged German forces that could possibly have upset the balance in France.
Europe - June 1944. June 1944 was a major turning point of World War II, particularly in Europe. Although the initiative had been seized from the Germans some months before, so far the western Allies had been unable to mass sufficient men and material to risk an attack in northern Europe. But by mid-1944 early mobilization of manpower and resources in America was beginning to pay off. Millions of American men had been trained, equipped, and welded into fighting and service units. American industrial production had reached its wartime peak late in 1943. While there were still critical shortages-in landing craft, for instance-production problems were largely solved, and the Battle of the Atlantic had been won. Ever increasing streams of supplies from the United States were reaching anti-Axis fighting forces throughout the world.
By the beginning of June 1944, the United States and Great Britain had accumulated in the British Isles the largest number of men and the greatest amount of materiel ever assembled to launch and sustain an amphibious attack. Strategic bombing of Germany was reaching its peak. In May 1943 the Combined Chiefs of Staff had given high priority to a Combined Bomber Offensive to be waged by the Royal Air Force and the U.S. Army Air Forces. By late summer 1943 Allied bombers were conducting round-the-clock bombardment of German industry and communications. In general, British planes bombed by night and American planes bombed by day. Whereas an air raid by 200 planes had been considered large in June 1943, the average strike a year later was undertaken by 1,000 heavy bombers.
After considerable study strategists determined to make the cross-Channel attack on the beaches of Normandy east of the Cherbourg Peninsula. Early objectives of the operation were the deep-water ports at Cherbourg and at Brest in Brittany.
Three months before D-day, a strategic air campaign was inaugurated to pave the way for invasion by restricting the enemy's ability to shift reserves. French and Belgian railways were crippled, bridges demolished in northwestern France, and enemy airfields within a 130-mile radius of the landing beaches put under heavy attack. Special attention was given to isolating the part of northwestern France bounded roughly by the Seine and Loire Rivers. The Allies also put into effect a deception plan to lead the Germans to believe that landings would take place farther north along the Pas de Calais.
Opposed to the Allies was the so-called Army Group B of the German Army, consisting of the Seventh Army in Normandy and Brittany, the Fifteenth Army in the Pas de Calais and Flanders, and the LXXXVIII Corps in Holland-all under command of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. Commander of all German forces in western Europe was Field Marshal von Rundstedt who, in addition to Group B. also had at his disposal Group G composed of the First and Nineteenth Armies. In all, Von Rundstedt commanded approximately fifty infantry and ten Panzer divisions in France and the Low Countries.
The Invasion of Normandy (Operation OVERLORD). Despite unfavorable weather forecasts, General Eisenhower made the decision to attack on 6 June 1944. At 0200 that morning one British and two American airborne divisions were dropped behind the beaches in order to secure routes of egress from the beaches for the seaborne forces. After an intensive air and naval bombardment, assault waves of troops began landing at 0630. More than 5,000 ships and 4,000 ship-to-shore craft were employed in the landings. British forces on the left flank and U.S. forces on the right had comparatively easy going, but U.S. forces in the center (OMAHA Beach) met determined opposition. Nevertheless, by nightfall of the first day, large contingents of three British, one Canadian, and three American infantry divisions, plus three airborne divisions, had a firm foothold on Hitler's "fortress Europe."
During the weeks that followed the landings, the Germans fiercely resisted Allied advances in the hedgerows of Normandy. Cherbourg fell three weeks after the landings, but the port had been destroyed and time-consuming repairs were required before it could be used to relieve the Allied supply problem. Meanwhile, Allied forces had been deepening the beachhead. By the end of June the most forward positions were about 20 miles inland. The buildup of Allied forces was swift, despite the lack of ports, and by 1 July almost a million men, more than a half-million tons of supplies, and 177,000 vehicles had been landed. By this time General Bradley's U.S. First Army comprised 4 corps with 11 infantry and 2 armored divisions. British strength was about the same.
At the end of June, British forces made an attempt to break into the open country near Caen. Heavy bombers were used in close support to facilitate this breakout, but the destruction they wrought served to impede rather than to assist the British ground forces and German armored units blocked an advance in that sector. General Montgomery now adopted the strategy of attracting German armor to the British sector while American units continued to attack in the vicinity of St. Lo. On 25 July a massive air bombardment was coordinated with an attack by ground troops that achieved a distinct penetration of German lines. General Patton's U.S. Third Army poured through this breach in the direction of Brittany with the object of securing the much-needed ports in that area.
The Allied strategic plan was to take over Breton ports and then to secure a lodgment area as far east as the Seine River, to provide ample room for air and supply bases. It was then intended to advance into Germany on a broad front. The principal thrust east was to be north of the Ardennes Forest in Belgium with General Montgomery's British 21st Army Group. A subsidiary thrust by General Bradley's newly formed U.S. 12th Army Group, comprising the U.S. First and Third Armies, was to be made south of the Ardennes. This northern route was chosen because it led directly into the Ruhr area where Germany's industrial power was concentrated.
The Allied strategic plan underwent considerable modification early in August to seize upon the advantages of the breakout and exploit the principle of maneuver. When the Germans counterattacked with the intention of restoring a stable front and cutting off U.S. forces moving toward Brittany, they unwittingly offered the Allies an opportunity to encircle them. British forces on the left moved toward Falaise and U.S. troops to the right executed a wide circling maneuver toward Argentan, roughly halfway between St. Lo and Paris. Caught in a giant pocket, the Germans nevertheless extricated many troops before the Argentan-Falaise gap was closed on 20 August, though losing more than 70,000. Meanwhile, General Patton's Third Army drove eastward across the Seine and eliminated it as a German defensive line, encircling and destroying Germans who had escaped the Argentan-Falaise pocket. The Germans lost almost all of two field armies in Normandy.
Originally it had been intended to bypass Paris in order to spare the city from heavy fighting, but, with the crossing of the Seine, fighting broke out in the city between French patriots and Germans stationed there. Lest the uprising be defeated, a column of U.S. and Free French troops were deflected toward Paris, entering the city on 25 August 1944.
General Eisenhower now altered his original plan, abandoning the idea of stopping at the Seine and instituting instead a determined pursuit of the enemy toward Germany. Because the ports of Cherbourg and Brest no were too far west to support the accelerated movement, the new plans involved capture of Channel parts and especially of Antwerp, the best port in Europe. Exploiting the new situation, General Eisenhower now reinforced the British by sending the U.S. First Army close alongside the 21st Army Group toward Aachen in a drive toward Antwerp. Only the U.S. Third Army continued east on the subsidiary axis south of the Ardennes.
Cherbourg remained the only major port supplying Allied forces in northern France, and advances to the east had been so rapid that the supply services simply could not keep up. The drive eastward began to grind to a halt for lack of supplies, chiefly gasoline. The British took Le Havre and several Channel ports and on 4 September 1944 they captured Antwerp, its port intact. But Antwerp could not yet be used to relieve a growing logistical crisis because the Germans denied access to the sea by retaining control of the Schelde Estuary. The newly activated U.S. Ninth Army (Lt. Gen. William H. Simpson commending) in Brittany took Brest late in September, but the port had been completely destroyed, and in any event its location so far from the scene of action precluded its usefulness in solving logistical problems.
Invasion of Southern France (Operation DRAGOON). With the release of shipping and landing craft from OVERLORD, it became possible to stage the long-planned invasion of southern France, the so-called Operation DRAGOON. While the battle of Argentan-Falaise pocket was still raging, on 15 August 1944, Lt. Gen. Alexander Patch's U.S. Seventh Army invaded the Mediterranean shores of France southwest of Cannes. The attacking force comprised contingents of three U.S. infantry divisions plus an airborne task force and French commandos, and it was assisted by Free French forces after the landing had been made. Basic objectives were to prevent the reinforcement of German forces in Normandy with troops from southern France and to provide the Allies a supplementary line of communications through Mediterranean ports. Resistance was comparatively light. Advances north were rapid, and by 11 September patrols from the southern and northern Allied forces met near Dijon. On 15 September the U.S. 6th Army Group became operational under command of Lt. Gen. Jacob L. Devers and, with the U.S. Seventh Army and the First French Army, passed from control of Allied Force Headquarters to the control of Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF). Thereafter forces from the south continued toward Germany in contact with the U.S. Third Army.
On the western front logistical problems had become acute by the autumn of 1944. Although the U.S. First Army under Lt. Gen. Courtney H. Hodges had penetrated the so-called West Wall in several places, lack of supplies prevented exploitation of the breaks. Bad weather, terrain that restricted maneuver, and the dense fortifications along the German border combined to create obstacles of major proportions.
To two of General Eisenhower's subordinate commanders, Montgomery and Patton, Eisenhower's decision to advance into Germany on a broad front seemed like a mistake in light of the logistical limitations. Each wanted all resources put behind his part of the front to support one major drive into Germany, in the hope that German disorganization could be exploited to produce capitulation. The debate continued through the late summer and much of the fall of 1944, but General Eisenhower, backed by the advice of his logisticians, stuck to his original plan of advancing with all armies abreast, though with greater emphasis in the north.
Autumn (1944) Campaign in the West. Because of the logistical crisis, General Eisenhower assigned first priority in the autumn of 1944 to clearing the seaward approaches to Antwerp. At the same time he decided to make a bold stroke in an effort to exploit German disorganization before logistical problems brought the Allied offensive to a full stop. Eisenhower authorized the employment of the First Allied Airborne Army (one British, two U.S. airborne divisions under Lt. Gen. Lewis H. Brereton) in support of the British Second Army. They were to attempt to get across the three major water obstacles in the Netherlands (the Maas, Waal, and Lower Rhine), to outflank the West Wall, and to put the British in position for a subsequent drive into Germany along the relatively open north German plain. The airborne attack was called Operation MARKET; the corollary ground attack, Operation GARDEN. Complete surprise was achieved by the airdrop, which took place on 17 September 1944, but the Germans were not as disorganized as had been hoped. Unexpectedly strong resistance limited the gains to a 50-mile salient into Holland-far short of the objective of securing a workable bridgehead across the Rhine
Following Operation MARKET-GARDEN, British forces concentrated on opening the approaches to Antwerp, but it was November before the way was cleared for the first Allied ship to enter the port.
Meanwhile, a supreme effort on the part of the supply services had improved the logistical situation, and in early November United States forces launched a major offensive in an attempt to reach the Rhine. Bad weather, natural and artificial defenses along the German border, and a resourceful defense on the part of German troops limited gains. By mid-December, the U.S. First and Ninth Armies had reached the Roer River east of Aachen, some 22 miles inside Germany, and the U.S. Third and Seventh Armies had reached the West Wall along the Saar River northeast of Metz. But except in the Seventh Army section, they were still a long way from the Rhine.
German Counteroffensive (Battle of the Bulge). In December 1944 Adolph Hitler directed an ambitious counteroffensive with the object of regaining the initiative in the west and compelling the Allies to settle for a negotiated peace. Hitler's generals were opposed to the plan, but the Fuhrer's will prevailed and the counteroffensive was launched on 16 December by some 30 German divisions against Allied lines in the Ardennes region. Allied defenses there had been thinned to provide troops for the autumn defensive. Hitler's intention was to drive through Antwerp and cut off and annihilate the British 21st Army Group and the U.S. First and Ninth Armies north of the Ardennes.
Aided by stormy weather which grounded Allied planes and restricted observation, the Germane achieved surprise and made rapid gains at first, but firm resistance by various isolated units provided time for the U.S. First and Ninth Armies to shift against the northern flank of the penetration, for the British to send reserves to secure the line to the Meuse, and for Patton's Third Army to hit the salient from the south. Denied vital roads and hampered by air attack when the weather cleared, the German attack resulted only in a large bulge in the Allied lines which did not even extend to the Meuse River, the Germans' first objective. The Americans suffered some 75,000 casualties in the Battle of the Bulge, but the Germans lost 80,000 to l00,000. German strength had been irredeemably impaired. By the end of January 1945, American units had retaken all ground they had lost, and the defeat of Germany was clearly only a matter of time. In the east the Red Army had opened a winter offensive that was to carry, eventually, to and beyond Berlin.
Breakthrough into Germany. Exhausted by the over-ambitious counteroffensive and further weakened by transfers of troops to meet the new Soviet threat in the east, German forces in the west could no longer halt a new Allied drive to the Rhine on a broad front. On 7 March 1945 elements of the U.S. 9th Armored Division seized an opportunity to cross a bridge at Remagen which the Germans had inadvertently left undestroyed, and Allied forces gained a firm foothold at last on the eastern bank of the Rhine. Two weeks later troops of the U.S. Third Army to the south of Remagen staged a surprise crossing of the Rhine in assault boats. At the same time, in the north, British and American troops crossed the Rhine in an operation involving an airborne assault almost as large as Operation MARKET. During the last week of March both the U.S. Seventh and First French Armies crossed the Rhine. The stage was set for the final act.
Final Offensive in Europe. In the west, following the Rhine crossings in March 1945, the Allies fanned out with massive columns of armor and motor-borne infantry and soon were making spectacular advances. Resistance was staunch at some points, but Allied strength was by this time overwhelming. The U.S. Ninth and First Armies, with the help of the new U.S. Fifteenth Army, encircled the Ruhr and took more than 325,000 prisoners. Allied forces in the north and center made rapid advances against slight opposition, and by mid-April had reached the Elbe and Mulde Rivers where they waited for the approaching Red Army. In the south other Allied columns penetrated into Czechoslovakia and Austria. The German military machine became completely disorganized and wholesale surrenders took place.
In the east the Soviets began their final drive on Berlin on 17 April. By 25 April the Red Army had completely encircled Berlin, and on the same day advance elements of the Soviet forces came in contact with American troops at Torgau on the Elbe River. Fierce street fighting broke out in Berlin. Hitler committed suicide on 30 April, and what remained of the German garrison in Berlin surrendered two days later. Mussolini had been killed by Italian partisans on 28 April 1945 while attempting to escape into Switzerland. The European partners of the Tripartite Pact had been defeated.