Operation Plunder: How 1 Hellish Battle Slowed The Allies' Capture Of Nazi Germany
Key point: A true turning point in the war against the Nazis.
January 1945—with World War II in its sixth year—found the Allied armies going on the offensive after the Battle of the Bulge, but they were still west of the Rhine and six weeks behind schedule in their advance toward Germany.
Closing to the Rhine was not easy. Although U.S. and French units of Lt. Gen. Jacob L. Devers’ Sixth Army Group had reached the western bank around Strasbourg in late 1944, the river proved too difficult to cross. Even if an assault could have been mounted, the Allied forces would have been too far away from the heart of Germany to pose any meaningful threat. The key to eventual victory lay in the central and northern Rhineland, but three factors delayed an advance: the failure of Operation Market Garden, the British-American airborne invasion of Holland, the onset of an extremely wet autumn and harsh winter, and the unexpectedly rapid recovery of the German Army in the wake of recent Allied advances.
A coordinated Allied campaign proved difficult to achieve. General Omar N. Bradley’s U.S. 12th Army Group was licking its wounds after the almost disastrous Ardennes counteroffensive, and it was clear to Field Marshal Bernard L. Montgomery, commander of the British 21st Army Group, that the Americans would not be ready to undertake a major offensive for some time. Despite its vast reserve of manpower, unlike the critically depleted British Army, the U.S. Army had become seriously deficient of infantry replacements. Monty made the first move.
Meanwhile, on January 12, the Soviet Army launched a long-awaited, massive offensive from Warsaw toward the River Oder—and Berlin. This was just in time, thought Montgomery and General Dwight D. “Ike” Eisenhower, the Allied supreme commander. By the end of the month, the Russians were only 50 miles from the German capital. While the Americans were recovering, it devolved on the 21st Army Group, still supported by Lt. Gen. William H. “Texas Bill” Simpson’s U.S. Ninth Army, to take over the battle as soon as winter loosened its grip.
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