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315 CHAPTER 10 The Rhine and Victory Sweeping over the open plains From the forest frontier line. Down from Duren’s ruins came Our winning troops to the Rhine. Remagen’s bridge still stood intact! With heads bowed low to flying lead Our troopers seized the happy chance; Across the precious bridge they sped.1 On to the Rhine, Eagle TAC, Namur, Belgium, 4 February 1945 If bad weather had been the enemy’s friend during the Bulge, the first hint of spring brought no advantage to the Allies as they prepared for the battle west of the Rhine. “With February came a break in the long cold spell and the ground which had been covered with snow and frozen deeply for nearly two months began to thaw.”2 Heavy traffic and the runoff from the Eifel broke up the roads and the rain, and poor visibility limited troop movements to a crawl.3 Just before the buildup for the Rhine operations, Eagle TAC moved to Namur, which shortened Major Bigland’s commute to 21 TAC, even with the traffic jams, but the pressure on the transportation system increased when SHAEF issued Letter of Instruction number 15 (7 February 1945). The 12th Army Group halted its attack east, transferred divisions to the Ninth US Army (still under Montgomery), and moved up to the Rhine north of Düsseldorf , preparatory to the main crossing in the north. The 21st Army Group would cross the river in early-­ to-­ mid March and envelop the Ruhr with a converging attack between the Meuse and Rhine Rivers. Bradley would protect 316 Part II The Liberation of Europe Montgomery’s right and go on the defensive while the 6th Army Group closed the Colmar Pocket. The US First Army would reenter the Hürtgen Forest, capture the Roer Dams, cross the Roer, and close to the Rhine.4 By this time, relations among the officers at the two main Allied army groups were so bad that real-­ time information was limited to official reports from SHAEF and Bigland’s daily face-­ to-­ face sessions with the top commanders. As he put it: “Neither Bradley nor Montgomery knew much about what the other was doing and both had lost the confidence they once had in Ike.” The lasting rancor aroused by Montgomery’s January Bulge press conference spread from Eagle TAC to LUCKY, Patton’s forward headquarters. More effective as a team than ever, animated by renewed hostility to Montgomery, the odd couple opposed a main attack in the north, pointing to the superior terrain for mobile operations of the crossings near Düsseldorf. The struggle over eventual control of the US Ninth Army, which Ike kept intentionally vague, remained unsettled well into February, in spite of previous and conflicting assurances given by Bedell Smith to Bradley. If the top command sometimes looked more than unsettled , Bigland had no doubt who held the endeavor together after the Bulge and the serious internal strains. “Credit must be given to Ike for keeping the show going.”5 As Bradley turned his attention to the Rhine, intelligence finally had some modestly encouraging information. Pressure from the renewed Russian offensive in the east ensured that German Army Group B would remain on the defense . With the US First and Third Armies pressing all along the line, Bradley called it “an aggressive defense,” and despite desperate efforts von Rundstedt was unable to withdraw any Panzer units from the line to rest and refit, even though the Abwehr knew the Rhine offensive was fast approaching. ULTRA documented the slow erosion of the western defenses as OKW stripped away its divisions for Russia, telling von Rundstedt to expect no reinforcements to replace the hundred thousand men lost in the Ardennes.6 That did not mean it would be easy for the Allies. The battle for the Hürtgen Forest, interrupted by the Ardennes counteroffensive , began anew on 8 February 1945, in the same wretched terrain and under the same weather conditions that had added to the earlier misery. It went much better this time. Two days after attacking, the V Corps captured the Roer Dams—­ but not before the Germans blew up the control gates and flooded the valley. What had been feared was made worse by nature, as the river, already swollen from the heavy runoff of melting snow and rain, quickly immobilized Chapter 10 The Rhine and Victory 317 all US First Army efforts to advance, delaying the Rhine operation for...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780826273925
Related ISBN
9780826221360
MARC Record
OCLC
1002300081
Pages
490
Launched on MUSE
2017-09-02
Language
English
Open Access
No
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