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BATTLE OF GERMANY: To the Siegfried Line

5 minute read

The headlong pursuit by the Allied armies had all but wiped the Germans from the soil of France. They still held out desperately in the ports, determined to hamstring Allied supply to the bitter end. In tattered remnants of once-proud divisions they still fought bitter pocket skirmishes.

But by this week the Allies had smashed deep into the Low Countries and U.S. forces probed at the outer hedgehogs of the Siegfried Line. This week battles would boil on German soil.

Somewhere along the line the dazzling Allied advance might still have to slow up. U.S. advance elements had long outstripped their ground supply units, were moving and living, in part at least, on gasoline and other supplies dropped from aircraft. But the Germans could not be sure that there would be any stop. U.S. supply officers had already performed miracles.*

By all the old rules, the dash to Germany should have slowed up days ago, to consolidate and regroup units, let the quartermasters catch up. But this was an extraordinary operation: in the long history of wars the world had seen nothing like it before.

General Eisenhower, whose troops far to the rear fought and battered with redoubled fury to get more ports, seemed more concerned with the supply problem than with his next tactical effort: the Siegfried Line.

The West Wall was still an unknown quantity, but there were known factors:

¶ The Allies had weapons not contemplated in Corporal Hitler’s 1939 conception of a West Wall. The Allies had new and proved techniques: multiplane bombardments, vastly developed artillery, flame-squirting tanks.

¶ The Allies had a formidable waiting army — the airborne legions of Lieut. Gen eral Lewis H. Brereton — for landings be hind any stubborn German defense line.

¶ There was evidence that the Germans, preoccupied with their strategy of holding Allied invasion to France’s coastal areas, had stripped the West Wall of big guns to arm the Atlantic Wall.

Victories. The Allied landslide in France had engulfed almost everything, including the German strategy. The crack troops upon which the Germans had relied for orderly withdrawal to a hard line lay buried in the wreckage of the Normandy and Seine traps where the Battle of France had been won. What was left of the armored army guarding the robomb coast was cut off.

If the Germans had contemplated using at least the natural barriers of France’s toothless, unreversed Maginot Line, that notion had been blown away by the advances of Lieut. General Omar Bradley’s light-footed armies. Wherever the enemy might have planned to form at least a delaying line — the Meuse, the Somme, the Aisne, the Moselle—the barriers had been swept over before he could organize any defense in strength.

There was the possibility, perhaps too optimistic, that Allied speed alone might have frustrated the German plans for a stand on the Siegfried Line itself. The Allies thought of that barrier in terms of a few weeks. The Germans hoped in terms of months—until autumn rains and winter could slow the slashing tanks.

Memories. In 78 hours last week units of General Patton’s Third Army swept over the Marne near Paris, zipped through to Verdun and a minor battle. Within another 48 hours they were in Alsace, at Metz; then they were reported stabbing into the Reich’s rich industrial Saar Basin.

In four days they had covered an area that, in World War I, had been fought over for four years.

Lieut. General Courtney H. Hodges’ First Army trod a route rich in U.S. battle memories 26 years after another historic offensive — through Chateau-Thierry, Belleau Wood, Soissons, Reims. His tanks were in Sedan on the 74th anniversary of Napoleon III’s capture and surrender there. They were well into Belgium before many of his tankmen knew it.

Both Patton and Hodges were 24 to 48 hours ahead of SHAEF communiques. General Eisenhower again had put a security blanket over their most advanced plunges. Front reports had Patton patrols near Strasbourg, near Saarbrücken ; placed Hodges’ spearheads close to the Belgian-German border.

Graves. To the west, the British and Canadians were on traditional ground. There was only a skirmish near the graves of Canadians who had stormed the beach at Dieppe in August 1942. British tanks clanked over the Somme where in September, 28 years before, the first tank had straddled a German trench. Five years to the day after Britain’s declaration of war on Nazi Germany, Tommies were greeted at Arras by the carillon of the 16th-Century Hotel de Ville. The bells rang out God Save the King. Brussels was liberated well ahead of schedule. Dunkirk, of proud and awful memory, was on the Canadians’ list.

There were flurries of frenzied fighting in this swift parade. Skirmishes, small-size battles sputtered 100 miles behind the advanced forces. The enemy did insane things in his panicky attempts to escape. He tried, with small forces, to spear through long columns. He savagely bombed Verdun after it had been taken, as if in blind spite for two historic defeats. At Mons he fought viciously to break out eastward to the Reich. But other Americans were already two days ahead on his escape route. In the Compiegne forest (where two armistices were signed) Germans hopelessly held out, were passed by.

Ike Eisenhower could look ahead confidently to new phases. He named Major General Ivan Gerard to direct Belgian patriots. He rallied the Netherlanders’ resistance under Prince Bernhard’s leadership, urged them to block damage to Rotterdam and other ports. To Germany he said again: its war will be over in 1944. Unless the Wehrmacht could show more than it had in France, no snow would fall on the Battle of Germany.

*One minor one: dropping eight tons of maps ofGermany to Lieut. General George S. Fatten Jr.’stroops last week as they approached the Reich.

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