Taking Back France
In August 1944, Allied troops arrived in Paris. They had successfully invaded France and were now marching on the capital. Even as Hitler ordered the German commanders in charge of occupying the city to destroy the capital's monuments and burn all the buildings, the German troops surrendered. Paris celebrated tremendously. After years of brutal occupation, the Germans had finally been kicked out. French commander Charles de Gaulle, leader of the free French forces, declared its liberation. Meanwhile, the Allies continued fighting and moved east towards Germany. As they did so, the Germans were retreating in confusion. One of the reasons the Germans were doing so poorly on the western front was because the vast majority of their troops were in the east trying to take on the impossible task of defending Germany from the Soviet Union. Now Germany was fighting on three fronts. The Allies were moving east from France and north from Italy while the Soviet Union moved west to eliminate all of Adolf Hitler's forces in their homeland and then take the fight to the Germans. Despite this, the Allies were starting to run into trouble.
The Allies were running into logistical problems. As the Germans retreated, they destroyed French ports in order to deny the Allies possibility of getting a closer port to bring up their supplies to the frontline. This meant that the supply lines were getting incredibly long as the Allies could only rely on supplies from Cherbourg, which they captured after Operation Overlord. While the Allies had tons of supplies from the might of American industry, it took time to ship them across the Atlantic Ocean. Then those supplies, as well as ones from Britain, would cross the English Channel to Cherbourg and then supply trucks would have to travel hundreds of miles to the front line. US armored divisions took up 25,000 gallons of fuel per day and it was hard to get this fuel all the way the frontline.
As the Allied advance slowed due to supply problems, Hitler was planning to fight back. His plan was to hopefully destroy Allied morale by attacking civilian towns, London being the main target. While the Luftwaffe could not hope to mount many bombing runs by now, his scientists came up with a new and better weapon. It was a flying bomb. Known as the V-2 rocket, it basically was the first long-range combat ballistic missile. They traveled at 3,500 miles per hour and carried a 1 ton warhead. For six months Britain had no response as V-2 rockets hit British cities. They only stopped when the Allied advance forced the launch sites back and out of range of Britain. Yet, despite the horror and damage of the V-2 rockets, British morale remained unbroken.
A Bridge too Far
Even with supply problems, the Allies pushed on and reached the Belgian capital of Brussels on September 3, 1944. The next day, British forces took the first key port that was found intact: the Belgian port of Antwerp. However, they still could not bring supply ships into this port. Antwerp is 14 miles from the sea up the Scheldt River. While the Germans retreated out of the city, they built defenses on the east bank. If any supply ships came they would be attacked by German artillery. The river also had mines in it. This meant the port was unreachable from the sea. The Allied advance, now incredibly low of supplies, was grinding to a complete halt. They needed a new plan to move forward and they did receive a risky answer.
It was now that the ultra-cautious British general Bernard Montgomery, the hero who had defeated the Germans in Africa, came up with a bold and rather reckless plan. His plan was to instead of having large amounts of troops race across a large front, have a small force travel to punch a hole through the German defensive lines. It would be faster and more economical. The plan was to have his British forces move north through Belgium along a single road into the Netherlands to the Dutch town of Arnhem. If this was achieved, the Allies could bypass the German Siegfried Line, which was made up of major fortifications protecting the German border from invasion. This line did not extend all the way up to the Netherlands. Montgomery's commander, the American supreme leader of the Allies, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, had approved of the steady, broad advance the Allies had been making, but he agreed to this plan. Montgomery prepared his forces and was ready to cross along a route that included a mass of rivers. This meant that there were bridges that needed to be taken to cross so the Allies made the decision to send in airborne troops to seize these five bridges.
The plan known as Operation Market Garden began on September 17, 1944. Some 30,000 British and American paratroopers landed around all these bridges. Meanwhile, British troops and tanks started moving up the road to get to Arnhem. Immediately the paratroopers ran into trouble. German troops gave hard resistance and the Allies had a hard time securing some of the bridges which meant that the British tanks and infantry could not cross. One bridge was even blown up by the Germans. British paratroopers encountered two German panzer divisions. More British paratroopers and supplies were dropped down, but several were shot down by the Germans. Operation Market Garden was in trouble. The next day the main British force reached the destroyed bridge. A makeshift one was made and the force crossed. By the third day they had crossed four of the five bridges, but the advance was held up again. Finally after 4 days, the British were ready to take Arnhem, but it was too late. The British paratroopers at the town or Arnhem could not take the final bridge. Spirits were raised when free Polish paratroopers landed and tried to cross the river to rescue the British at Arnhem, but every attempt made by them failed. The British paratroopers surrendered. Arnhem was a bridge too far. While Operation Market Garden seemed like a good plan, it was defeated by misinformation. The Allied advance was at another standstill. Finally, Canadian troops took four weeks to clear the Germans away from the port of Antwerp. Supplies could come into Antwerp. However, just as the supplies began to flow, the weather changed. Winter came and by late 1944 the Allies had to stop again.
The Last Blitzkrieg
The final defeat of Germany would have to wait until Spring. The Allies formed defensive lines and waited for Winter to end. Even as the Allies waited, Hitler had other plans. Montgomery had his gamble, Hitler would now have his own. To the Allies, it seemed Germany's situation was helpless, but they were not aware that Germany could still throw some hard punches. By December 1944, Hitler was planning a new offensive. He wanted to bring back the blitzkrieg attacks which had done Germany so well in the early years of the war. His plan was to organize a massive German force near the Belgian Ardennes region, filled with mainly forests that were blanketed with snow. The Allies had believed the Germans would never attack through there due to the narrow roads, so they placed some 80,000 US troops and 250 Sherman tanks in the Ardennes, unaware of the German attack. However, the German generals were skeptical. They believed that it would be incredibly wrong to launch a risky Winter offensive. Nevertheless, Hitler ordered it and the attack would take place.
The Germans would be commanded by Field Marshal Walter Model, who had fought in the Battle of Kursk and near the Siege of Leningrad on the eastern front. His force was made up of 250,000 troops and 1,000 tanks. These were mainly made up of the heavy Tiger 1 models and the medium Panther models, but they would be joined by two new armored vehicles. The Tiger 2 or King Tiger was an upgrade from the Tiger 1. The tank was incredibly formidable. The other was a tank destroyer (armored vehicles specifically used to destroy tanks) called the Jagdtiger or Hunting Tiger. This tank destroyer was the heaviest armored vehicle used in World War 2. The offensive began on December 16, 1944. The plan was for the Germans to race across the Ardennes region and head for Antwerp. If they could retake the port, the Allies would lose their main supply station. Hitler was calling on what was his last remaining strategic reserve.
The attack began with a huge artillery bombardment and then German the troops and tanks raced in. Despite complete problems, they immediately had problems. The large German Panthers, Tigers, and Jagdtigers were having trouble moving on the tiny roads in the region. As a result the offensive started very slowly. Still, the Allies were having trouble fighting back. In fact their commander, US general Omar Bradley, even refused to believe a major German assault was underway. The Americans on the battlefield were also in confusion as German troops dressed as American soldiers caused sabotage and disorder behind the frontline. Any Germans captured wearing US uniforms were shot. The Germans pressed on and created a large bulge in the frontline, but the Americans were fighting back. Even better, British and American reinforcements were moving in too. The Allies also destroyed bridges forcing the Germans to move further causing them to waste critical supplies of oil.
On the northern end of the bulge, German troops committed one of the worst atrocities of the war. German SS colonel Joachim Piper captured some troops from a US battalion. When US forces retook the village, they found 85 bodies. The prisoners had been shot by their SS guards. American resistance increased, particularly at the Belgian town of Bastogne where the Germans encircled the town, but could not break into it because of American valor. The German advance slowed and the Allies poured in more troops and tanks. As the weather cleared up, the German Luftwaffe launched a risky assault on New Year's Eve. Both sides lost many planes. The Allies struck back with their own planes. The Germans lost many planes that they could not be able to replace. Despite Field Marshal Model's best efforts, the Battle of the Bulge ended with the Germans in retreat on January 25, 1945. Hitler's gamble had failed. This would be the last blitzkrieg of the war.