Western Front (World War II)

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Western Front
Part of World War II
Western Front collab.png
Clockwise from top left: Rotterdam after the Blitz, German Heinkel He 111 planes during the Battle of Britain, Allied paratroopers during Operation Market Garden, American troops running through Wernberg, Germany, Siege of Bastogne, American troops landing at Omaha Beach during Operation Overlord
Date 1 September 1939 (1939-09-01) – 9 May 1945 (1945-05-09)
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Location North and Western Europe

1939–41: Decisive Axis victory

1944–45: Decisive Allied victory

  • Fall of Nazi Germany (concurrently with the Eastern Front)
  • Liberation of occupied countries in Western and Northern Europe
  • Beginning of the Iron Curtain and the Cold War.
Partition of Germany (1945)
 United States
 United Kingdom
France France
Poland Poland
 Free France
Czechoslovakia Czechoslovakia
 New Zealand
South Africa South Africa
Greece Greece

 Italy (1940–43)

 Vichy France[nb 1]
Commanders and leaders
France Maurice Gamelin
France Maxime Weygand
United Kingdom Lord Gort
United Kingdom Lord Cork
Netherlands Henri Winkelman
Belgium Leopold III
Norway Otto Ruge
United States Dwight D. Eisenhower
United Kingdom Arthur Tedder
United Kingdom Bernard Montgomery
United States Omar Bradley
United States Jacob L. Devers
United States George Patton
United States Courtney Hodges
United States William Simpson
United States Alexander Patch
United Kingdom Miles Dempsey
United Kingdom Trafford Leigh-Mallory
United Kingdom Bertram Ramsay
Canada Harry Crerar
Canada Guy Simonds
France Charles de Gaulle
France Jean de Tassigny
Nazi Germany Walter von Brauchitsch
Nazi Germany Gerd von Rundstedt
Nazi Germany Heinz Guderian
Nazi Germany Fedor von Bock
Nazi Germany Wilhelm von Leeb
Nazi Germany Nikolaus von Falkenhorst
Kingdom of Italy H.R.H. Umberto di Savoia
Nazi Germany Adolf Hitler
Nazi Germany Heinrich Himmler
Nazi Germany Hermann Göring
Nazi Germany Gerd von Rundstedt
Nazi Germany Günther von Kluge
Nazi Germany Walter Model
Nazi Germany Albert Kesselring
Nazi Germany Erwin Rommel
Nazi Germany Johannes Blaskowitz
Nazi Germany Hermann Balck
Nazi Germany Paul Hausser
Nazi Germany Friedrich Schulz
Nazi Germany Kurt Student
Nazi Germany Ernst Busch


  • 2,862,000 troops


  • 5,412,219 troops [1]


  • 3,350,000 troops


  • ~1,500,000 troops
Casualties and losses


  • 2,121,560[nb 2]–2,260,000 casualties
    [nb 3], including 143,400 killed


  • 707,180 KIA/WIA/MIA, including 164,590 killed[nb 4]
  • 78,680 captured


  • 2,905,420–3,043,860 casualties


  • 160,780[nb 5]–163,650 casualties[nb 6], including 43,110 killed


  • 836,606 KIA/WIA/MIA [nb 7], including 263,000 killed[9]
  • 4,209,840 captured[nb 8]


  • 5,207,226 casualties

The Western Front of the European theatre of World War II encompassed Denmark, Norway, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, and Western Germany.[10] World War II military engagements in Southern Europe and elsewhere are generally considered under separate headings. The Western Front was marked by two phases of large-scale combat operations. The first phase saw the capitulation of the Netherlands, Belgium and France during May and June 1940 after their defeat in the Low Countries and the northern half of France, and continued into an air war between Germany and Britain that climaxed with the Battle of Britain. The second phase consisted of large-scale ground combat, which began in June 1944 with the Allied landings in Normandy and continued until the defeat of Germany in May 1945.

Although the majority of German military deaths occurred on the Eastern Front, German losses on the Western Front were almost irreplaceable, because most of Germany's resources were being allocated to the Eastern Front. This meant that, while losses there could be replaced to some extent, very few replacements or reinforcements were being sent to the west to stop the advance of the Western Allies. The Normandy landings were a psychological blow to the German military and its leaders, who had feared a repetition of the two-front war of World War I.

1939–40: Axis victories

Phoney War

The Phoney War was an early phase of World War II marked by a few military operations in Continental Europe in the months following the German invasion of Poland and preceding the Battle of France. Although the great powers of Europe had declared war on one another, neither side had yet committed to launching a significant attack, and there was relatively little fighting on the ground. This was also the period in which The United Kingdom and France did not supply significant aid to Poland, despite their pledged alliance.

While most of the German Army was fighting against Poland, a much smaller German force manned the Siegfried Line, their fortified defensive line along the French border. At the Maginot Line on the other side of the border, French troops stood facing them, whilst the British Expeditionary Force and other elements of the French Army created a defensive line along the Belgian border. There were only some local, minor skirmishes. The British Royal Air Force dropped propaganda leaflets on Germany and the first Canadian troops stepped ashore in Britain, while Western Europe was in a strange calm for seven months.

In their hurry to re-arm, Britain and France had both begun to buy large numbers of weapons from manufacturers in the United States at the outbreak of hostilities, supplementing their own production. The non-belligerent United States, contributed to the Western Allies by discounted sales of military equipment and supplies. German efforts to interdict the Allies' trans-Atlantic trade at sea ignited the Battle of the Atlantic.


While the Western Front remained quiet in April 1940, the fighting between the Allies and the Germans began in earnest with the Norwegian Campaign when the Germans launched Operation Weserübung, the German invasion of Denmark and Norway. In doing so, the Germans beat the Allies to the punch; the Allies had been planning an amphibious landing in which they could begin to surround Germany, cutting off her supply of raw materials from Sweden. However, when the Allies made a counter-landing in Norway following the German invasion, the Germans repulsed them and defeated the Norwegian armed forces, driving the latter into exile. The Kriegsmarine, nonetheless, suffered very heavy losses during the two-months of fighting required to seize all of mainland Norway.

Battles for Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Belgium and France

In May 1940, the Germans launched the Battle of France. The Western Allies (primarily the French, Belgian and British land forces) soon collapsed under the onslaught of the so-called "blitzkrieg" strategy. The majority of the British and elements of the French forces escaped at Dunkirk. With the fighting ended, the Germans began to consider ways of resolving the question of how to deal with Britain. If the British refused to agree to a peace treaty, one option was to invade. However, Nazi Germany's Kriegsmarine, had suffered serious losses in Norway, and in order to even consider an amphibious landing, Germany's Air Force (the Luftwaffe) had to first gain air superiority or air supremacy.

1941–44: Interlude

With the Luftwaffe unable to defeat the RAF in the Battle of Britain, the invasion of Great Britain could no longer be thought of as an option. While the majority of the German army was mustered for the invasion of the Soviet Union, construction began on the Atlantic Wall – a series of defensive fortifications along the French coast of the English Channel. These were built in anticipation of an Allied invasion of France.

Dieppe's pebble beach and cliff immediately following the raid on 19 August 1942. A scout car has been abandoned

Because of the massive logistical obstacles a cross-channel invasion would face, Allied high command decided to conduct a practice attack against the French coast. On 19 August 1942, the Allies began the Dieppe Raid, an attack on Dieppe, France. Most of the troops were Canadian, with some British contingents and a small American and Free French presence along with British and Polish naval support. The raid was a disaster, almost two-thirds of the attacking force became casualties. However, much was learned as a result of the operation – these lessons would be put to good use in the subsequent invasion.

For almost two years, there was no land-fighting on the Western Front with the exception of commando raids and the guerrilla actions of the resistance aided by the Special Operations Executive (SOE) and Office of Strategic Services (OSS). However, in the meantime, the Allies took the war to Germany, with a strategic bombing campaign the US Eighth Air Force bombing Germany by day and RAF Bomber Command bombing by night.

Two early British raids for which battle honours were awarded were Operations Collar in Boulogne (11 June 1940) and Ambassador in Guernsey (14–15 July 1940). The raids for which the British awarded the "North-West Europe Campaign of 1942" battle honour were: Operation Biting - Bruneval (27–28 February 1942), St Nazaire (27–28 March 1942), Operation Myrmidon - Bayonne (5 April 1942), Operation Abercrombie - Hardelot (21–22 April 1942), Dieppe (19 August 1942) and Operation - Frankton - Gironde (7–12 December 1942).[11][12]

A raid on Sark on the night of 3/4 October 1942 is notable because a few days after the incursion the Germans issued a propaganda communiqué implying at least one prisoner had escaped and two were shot while resisting having their hands tied. This instance of tying prisoner's hands contributed to Hitler's decision to issue his Commando Order instructing that all captured Commandos or Commando-type personnel were to be executed as a matter of procedure.

By the summer of 1944, when expectation of an Allied invasion was freely admitted by German commanders, the disposition of troops facing it came under the command of OB West (HQ in Paris). In turn it commanded three groups: the Wehrmacht Netherlands Command (Wehrmachtbefehlshaber#Niederlande) or WBN, covering the Dutch and Belgian coasts and Army Group B, covering the coast of northern France with the German 15th Army (HQ in Tourcoing), in the area north of the Seine; the 7th Army, (HQ in Le Mans), between the Seine and the Loire defending the English Channel and the Atlantic coast, and Army Group G with responsibility for the Bay of Biscay coast and Vichy France, with its 1st Army, (HQ in Bordeaux), responsible for the Atlantic coast between the Loire and the Spanish border and the 19th Army, (HQ in Avignon), responsible for the Mediterranean coast.

It was not possible to predict where the Allies might choose to launch their invasion. The chance of an amphibious landing necessitated the substantial dispersal of the German mobile reserves, which contained the majority of their panzer troops. Each army group was allocated its mobile reserves. Army Group B had the 2nd Panzer Division in northern France, 116th Panzer Division in the Paris area, and the 21st Panzer Division in Normandy. Army Group G, considering the possibility of an invasion on the Atlantic coast, had dispersed its mobile reserves, locating the 11th Panzer Division in Gironde, the 2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich refitting around the southern French town of Montauban, and the 9th Panzer Division stationed in the Rhone delta area.

The OKW retained a substantial reserve of such mobile divisions also, but these were dispersed over a large area: the 1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler was still forming and training in the Netherlands, the 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend and the Panzer-Lehr Division were located in the Paris-Orleans area, since the Normandy coastal defence sectors or (Küstenverteitigungsabschnitte - KVA) were considered the most likely areas for an invasion. The 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division Götz von Berlichingen was located just south of the Loire in the vicinity of Tours.

1944–45: The Second Front


Routes taken by the D-Day invasion

On 6 June 1944, The Allies began Operation Overlord (also known as "D-Day") – the long-awaited liberation of France. The deception plans, Operations Fortitude and Bodyguard, had the Germans convinced that the invasion would occur in the Pas-de-Calais, while the real target was Normandy. Following two months of slow fighting in hedgerow country, Operation Cobra' allowed the Americans to break out at the western end of the lodgement. Soon after, the Allies were racing across France. They encircled around 200,000 Germans in the Falaise pocket. As had so often happened on the Eastern Front Hitler refused to allow a strategic withdrawal until it was too late. Approximately 150,000 Germans were able to escape from the Falaise pocket, but they left behind most of their irreplaceable equipment and 50,000 Germans were killed or taken prisoner.

The Allies had been arguing about whether to advance on a broad-front or a narrow-front from before D-Day.[13] If the British had broken out of the Normandy bridge-head around Caen when they launched Operation Goodwood and pushed along the coast, facts on the ground might have turned the argument in favour of a narrow front. However, as the breakout took place during Operation Cobra at the western end of the bridge-head, the 21st Army Group that included the British and Canadian forces swung east and headed for Belgium, the Netherlands and Northern Germany, while the US Twelfth Army Group advanced to their south via eastern France, Luxembourg and the Ruhr Area, rapidly fanning out into a broad front. As this was the strategy favoured by supreme Allied commander Dwight D. Eisenhower and most of the rest of the American high command, it became the strategy which was adopted.

Liberation of France

Crowds of French people line the Champs Élysées following the Liberation of Paris, 26 August 1944

On 15 August the Allies launched Operation Dragoon – the invasion of Southern France between Toulon and Cannes. The US Seventh Army and the French First Army, making up the US 6th Army Group, rapidly consolidated this beachhead and liberated southern France in two weeks; they then moved north up the Rhone valley. Their advance only slowed down as they encountered regrouped and entrenched German troops in the Vosges Mountains.

The Germans in France were now faced by three powerful Allied army groups: in the north the British 21st Army Group commanded by Field Marshal Sir Bernard Montgomery, in the center the American 12th Army Group, commanded by General Omar Bradley and to the south the US 6th Army Group commanded by Lieutenant General Jacob L. Devers. By mid-September, the 6th Army Group, advancing from the south, came into contact with Bradley's formations advancing from the west and overall control of Devers' force passed from AFHQ in the Mediterranean so that all three army groups came under Eisenhower's central command at SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Forces).

Western Front in 1944

Under the onslaught in both the north and south of France, the German Army fell back. On 19 August, the French Resistance (FFI) organised a general uprising and the liberation of Paris took place on 25 August when general Dietrich von Choltitz accepted the French ultimatum and surrendered to general Philippe Leclerc de Hauteclocque, commander of the Free French 2nd Armored Division, ignoring orders from Hitler that Paris should be held to the last and destroyed.

The liberation of northern France and the Benelux countries was of special significance for the inhabitants of London and the southeast of England, because it denied the Germans launch sites for their mobile V-1 and V-2 Vergeltungswaffen (reprisal weapons).

Unfortunately for the Allies, the Germans took special care to thoroughly wreck all port facilities before they could be captured.[when?][citation needed] As the Allies advanced across France, their supply lines stretched to breaking point. The Red Ball Express, the Allied trucking effort, was simply unable to transport enough supplies from the port facilities in Normandy all the way to the front line, which by September, was close to the German border.

Major German units in the French southwest that had not been committed in Normandy withdrew, either eastwards towards Alsace (sometimes directly across the US 6th Army's advance) or into the ports with the intention of denying them to the Allies. These latter groups were not thought worth much effort and were left "to rot", with the exception of Bordeaux, which was liberated in May 1945 by French forces under General Edgard de Larminat (Operation Venerable).[14]

Allied advance from Paris to the Rhine

Fighting on the Western front seemed to stabilize, and the Allied advance stalled in front of the Siegfried Line (Westwall) and the southern reaches of the Rhine. Starting in early September, the Americans began slow and bloody fighting through the Hurtgen Forest ("Passchendaele with tree bursts"—Hemingway) to breach the Line.

Dutch civilians celebrate the liberation of Eindhoven

The port of Antwerp was liberated on 4 September by the British 11th Armoured Division. However, it lay at the end of the long Scheldt Estuary, and so it could not be used until its approaches were clear of heavily fortified German positions. The Breskens pocket on the southern bank of the Scheldt was cleared with heavy casualties by Canadian and Polish forces in Operation Switchback, during the Battle of the Scheldt. This was followed by a tedious campaign to clear a peninsula dominating the estuary, and finally, the amphibious assault on Walcheren Island in November. The campaign to clear the Scheldt Estuary was a decisive victory for the First Canadian Army and the rest of the Allies, as it allowed a greatly improved delivery of supplies directly from Antwerp, which was far closer to the front than the Normandy beaches.

American troops cross the Siegfried Line into Germany

In October the Americans decided that they could not just invest Aachen and let it fall in a slow siege, because it threatened the flanks of the U.S. Ninth Army.[citation needed] As it was the first major German city to face capture, Hitler ordered that the city be held at all costs.[citation needed] In the resulting battle, the city was taken, at a cost of 5,000 casualties on both sides, with an additional 5,600 German prisoners.[citation needed]

South of the Ardennes, US forces fought from September until mid-December to push the Germans out of Lorraine and from behind the Siegfried Line. The crossing of the Moselle River and the capture of the fortress of Metz proved difficult for the US troops in the face of German reinforcements, supply shortages, and unfavorable weather.[citation needed] During September and October, the Allied 6th Army Group (U.S. Seventh Army and French First Army) fought a difficult campaign through the Vosges Mountains that was marked by dogged German resistance and slow advances. In November, however, the German front snapped under the pressure, resulting in sudden Allied advances that liberated Belfort, Mulhouse, and Strasbourg, and placed Allied forces along the Rhine River. The Germans managed to hold a large bridgehead (the Colmar Pocket), on the western bank of the Rhine and centered around the city of Colmar. On 16 November the Allies started a large scale autumn offensive called Operation Queen. With its main thrust again through the Hürtgen Forest, the offensive drove the Allies to the Rur River, but failed in its core objectives to capture the Rur dams and pave the way towards the Rhine. The Allied operations were then succeeded by the German Ardennes offensive.

Operation Market Garden

American paratroopers of the First Allied Airborne Army, 17 September 1944

Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery, commanding the Anglo-Canadian 21st Army Group, persuaded the Allied High Command to launch a bold attack, Operation Market Garden, which he hoped would get the Allies across the Rhine and create the narrow-front he favoured. Airborne troops would fly in from the UK and take bridges over the main rivers of the German-occupied Netherlands in three main cities; Eindhoven, Nijmegen, and Arnhem. The British XXX Corps would punch through the German lines along the Maas-Schelde Kanal and link up with the airborne troops of the US 101st Airborne in Eindhoven, the US 82nd at Nijmegen and the British 1st at Arnhem. If all went well XXX Corps would advance into Germany without any remaining major obstacles. XXX Corps was able to advance beyond six of the seven airborne-held bridges, but was unable to link up with the troops near the bridge over the Rhine at Arnhem. The result was the near-destruction of the 1st Airborne Division during the Battle of Arnhem. The offensive ended with Arnhem remaining in German hands and the Allies holding an extended salient from the Belgian border to the area between Nijmegen and Arnhem.

Winter counter-offensives

American soldiers taking up defensive positions in the Ardennes during the Battle of the Bulge

The Germans had been preparing a massive counter-attack in the West since the Allied breakout from Normandy. The plan called Wacht am Rhein ("Watch on the Rhine") was to attack through the Ardennes and swing North to Antwerp, splitting the American and British armies. The attack started on 16 December in what became known as the Battle of the Bulge. Defending the Ardennes were troops of the US First Army. Initial successes in bad weather, which gave them cover from the Allied air forces, resulted in a German penetration of over 80 km (50 mi) to within less than 16 km (10 mi) of the Meuse. Having been taken by surprise, the Allies regrouped and the Germans were stopped by a combined air and land counter-attack which eventually pushed them back to their starting points by 25 January 1945.

The Germans launched a second, smaller offensive (Nordwind) into Alsace on New Year's Day, 1945. Aiming to recapture Strasbourg, the Germans attacked the 6th Army Group at multiple points. Because the Allied lines had become severely stretched in response to the crisis in the Ardennes, holding and throwing back the Nordwind offensive was a costly affair that lasted almost four weeks. The culmination of Allied counter-attacks restored the front line to the area of the German border and collapsed the Colmar Pocket.

Invasion of Germany

In January 1945 the German bridgehead over the river Roer between Heinsberg and Roermond was cleared during Operation Blackcock, followed by the pincer movement of the First Canadian Army in Operation Veritable advancing from the Nijmegen area of the Netherlands and the US Ninth Army crossing the Rur (Roer) in Operation Grenade was planned to start on 8 February 1945, but it was delayed by two weeks when the Germans flooded the river valley by destroying the dam gates upstream. Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt requested permission to withdraw east behind the Rhine, arguing that further resistance would only delay the inevitable, but was ordered by Hitler to fight where his forces stood.

By the time the water had subsided and the US Ninth Army was able to cross the Roer on 23 February, other Allied forces were also close to the Rhine's west bank. Von Rundstedt's divisions which had remained on the west bank, were cut to pieces in the 'battle of the Rhineland', - 280,000 men were taken prisoner. With a large number of men captured, the stubborn German resistance during the Allied campaign to reach the Rhine in February and March 1945 had been costly. Total losses reached an estimated 400,000 men.[15]

US soldiers cross the Rhine river in assault boats
  • The crossing of the Rhine was achieved at four points: One was an opportunity taken by US forces when the Germans failed to blow up the Ludendorff bridge at Remagen, one crossing was a hasty assault, and two crossings were planned. Bradley and his subordinates quickly exploited the Remagen crossing made on 7 March and expanded the bridgehead into a full scale crossing.
  • Bradley told General Patton whose U.S. Third Army had been fighting through the Palatinate, to "take the Rhine on the run".[16] The Third Army did just that on the night of 22 March, crossing the river with a hasty assault south of Mainz at Oppenheim.
  • In the North Operation Plunder was the name given to the assault crossing of the Rhine at Rees and Wesel by the British 21st Army Group on the night of 23 March. It included the largest airborne operation in history, which was codenamed Operation Varsity. At the point the British crossed the river, it is twice as wide, with a far higher volume of water, than the points where the Americans crossed and Montgomery decided it could only be crossed with a carefully planned operation.[citation needed]
  • In the Allied 6th Army Group area, the US Seventh Army assaulted across the Rhine in the area between Mannheim and Worms on 26 March.[17] A fifth crossing on a much smaller scale was later achieved by the French First Army at Speyer.[18]
US soldiers advance through the hazy ruins of Waldenburg, Germany, April 1945

Once the Allies had crossed the Rhine, the British fanned out northeast towards Hamburg crossing the river Elbe and on towards Denmark and the Baltic. British forces captured Bremen on 26 April after a week of combat.[19] British and Canadian paratroopers reached the Baltic city of Wismar just ahead of Soviet forces on 2 May. The US Ninth Army, which had remained under British command since the battle of the Bulge, went south as the northern pincer of the Ruhr encirclement as well as pushing elements east. XIX Corps of the Ninth Army captured Magdeburg on 18 April and the US XIII Corps to the north occupied Stendal.[20]

The US 12th Army Group fanned out, the First Army went north as the southern pincer of the Ruhr encirclement. On 4  April the encirclement was completed and the Ninth Army reverted to the command of Bradley's 12th Army Group. The German Army Group B commanded by Field Marshal Walther Model was trapped in the Ruhr Pocket and 300,000 soldiers became POWs. The Ninth and First American armies then turned east and pushed to the Elbe river by mid-April. During the push east, the cities of Frankfurt am Main, Kassel, Magdeburg, Halle and Leipzig were strongly defended by ad hoc German garrisons made up of regular troops, Flak units, Volkssturm and armed Nazi Party auxiliaries. Generals Eisenhower and Bradley concluded that pushing beyond the Elbe made no sense since eastern Germany was destined in any case to be occupied by the Red Army. The First and Ninth Armies stopped along the Elbe and Mulde rivers, making contact with Soviet forces near the Elbe in late April. The US Third Army had fanned out to the east into western Czechoslovakia and southeast into eastern Bavaria and northern Austria. By V-E Day, the US 12th Army Group was a force of four armies (First, Third, Ninth and Fifteenth) that numbered over 1.3 million men.[21]

End of the Third Reich

People gathered in Whitehall to hear Winston Churchill's victory speech and celebrate Victory in Europe, 8 May 1945

The US 6th Army Group fanned out to the southwest, passing to the east of Switzerland through Bavaria and into Austria and northern Italy.[when?] The Black Forest and Baden were overrun by the French First Army.[when?] Determined stands were made in April by German forces at Heilbronn, Nuremberg, and Munich but were overcome after several days.[when?] Elements of the US 3rd Infantry Division were the first Allied troops to arrive at Berchtesgaden, which they secured, while the French 2nd Armoured Division seized the Berghof (Hitler's Alpine residence) on 4 May 1945. German Army Group G surrendered to US forces at Haar, in Bavaria, on 5 May. Field Marshal Montgomery took the German military surrender of all German forces in The Netherlands, northwest Germany and Denmark on Lüneburg Heath, an area between the cities of Hamburg, Hanover and Bremen, on 4 May 1945. As the operational commander of some of these forces[vague][clarification needed] was Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz, the new Reichspräsident (head of state) of the Third Reich this signaled that the European war was over.

On 7 May at his headquarters in Rheims, Eisenhower took the unconditional surrender of all German forces to the western Allies and the Soviet Union,[22] from the German Chief-of-Staff, General Alfred Jodl, who signed the first general instrument of surrender at 0241 hours. General Franz Böhme announced the unconditional surrender of German troops in Norway. Operations ceased at 2301 hours Central European time (CET) on 8 May. On that same day Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, as head of OKW and Jodl's superior, was brought to Marshal Georgy K. Zhukov in Karlshorst and signed another instrument of surrender that was essentially identical to that signed in Rheims with two minor additions requested by the Soviets.[23]

The 1944–45 campaign in hindsight

Canadian chaplain conducting a funeral service in the Normandy bridgehead, 16 July 1944

While the unconditional surrender of the German armed forces represented a resounding success for the Western Allies and the Soviet Union,[24] the path to this outcome was influenced by the strategic decisions of both sides. In retrospect, it is clear that particular factors and choices strongly affected the pace and course of the campaign on the Western Front.

British infantry aboard Sherman tanks wait for the order to advance, near Argentan, 21 August 1944
  • The Allied deception as to where the D-Day landings would take place was very successful, with the majority of the German command convinced the landings would take place in the Calais area. For their part, the Germans underestimated Allied willingness to risk an amphibious assault over a route longer than the shortest path across the English Channel. While the Allies meticulously planned the landings, they failed to assess the countryside immediately beyond the beaches,[25] which resulted in the Germans very successfully using the hedgerow country (Bocage) as a system of natural defensive works that took the Allies two months to clear at a staggering cost in infantry casualties.[26] Historians have also asserted that the US Army should have landed on the eastern end of the Normandy beaches and formed the northern wing of Allied forces in Northwest Europe.[27][28] The primary support for this argument was that the mobility of American forces could have been better used in the more open terrain and most direct route to Berlin that the northern approach offered. As it was, the pre-invasion basing of troops in Britain determined the arrangement of the landing forces.
  • While the Germans had reason to occasionally doubt Allied military proficiency,[29] it is clear they too often underestimated Allied competency. In its most damaging expression, this habit of underestimation led to the rejection of any notion that the Allies might have broken German military ciphers, most famously the Enigma code. The ability to monitor German military communications was an Allied strategic asset of the highest order. Less dramatically, the Germans often underestimated Allied troop proficiency, a habit that resulted in occasional sharp defeats for overconfident German units.[30][31]
  • Manpower strongly affected the course of the campaign. The German ability to form a cohesive defensive line (the so-called "Miracle in the West") after the disaster their forces endured in Normandy was due almost entirely to the ability of the Ersatzheer (Replacement Army) to deploy large numbers of new troops quickly. These inexperienced soldiers were paired with seasoned veterans who swiftly helped to transform the replacements into combat units deemed sufficiently competent to defend fortified positions. Thus, while the Allies took large numbers of German prisoners during their advance from Normandy to the German border, they underestimated the ability of the Germans to reconstitute their forces under very disadvantageous circumstances.[32] The Allies also seriously underestimated the infantry casualties their forces would suffer in northwest Europe and the number of divisions that would be required to win the campaign. The Allies lost 776,294 men dead or wounded in western Europe between 1944–45[1] and British manpower shortages became so grave that two infantry divisions had to be disbanded, while the Americans were forced to shake excess personnel out of their logistical and Army Air Force units in order to bring rifle units up to strength.[33][34] Shortages of American manpower were strongly aggravated by a tendency to attack head-on regardless of circumstances,[35] a habit that was particularly in evidence during the months of fighting in the Hürtgen Forest.[36][37] The Allied logistical crisis that dominated their operations between September and December 1944 had the further pernicious effect of limiting the number of divisions in Britain that could be moved onto the continent to reinforce the front, since the Allies were only able to supply a limited number of divisions east of the Seine. After the Allies mastered the logistical crisis, the Americans diverted divisions bound for the Pacific Theater in a belated realization that more divisions were needed for operations in Europe.
  • While the Germans achieved strategic surprise with their offensive in the Ardennes, the Panzer divisions that had been so painstakingly rebuilt could have been more profitably used to defend the Siegfried Line and the Rhineland, or perhaps, in the defense of Berlin against the Red Army.[38] The German thrust failed to shatter their enemies' alliance and cost Germany high casualties and equipment losses she could ill-afford. This folly was repeated in Alsace in January, but with the added disadvantage this time that the Allies were expecting the attack.
Winston Churchill and Bernard Montgomery observe destruction at Caen, France, 22 July 1944

The Allies made serious errors and questionable uses of their forces several times during the course of operations in 1944–45.

  • Upon breaking out of Normandy in August, the Americans committed two armored divisions to operations in Brittany when they were badly needed for the pursuit of the German army across France. While the port of Brest was ultimately captured by the Americans, it required the services of an American corps for an entire month and ultimately did little for the Allied effort because the Germans so thoroughly damaged the port before it was captured.[39]
  • Out of fear that two wings of their forces might collide, the Allies failed to definitively close the Falaise Gap in August, allowing trapped German forces to escape to the east.[40] Although the operations around Falaise trapped a considerable number of Germans, experienced German units evaded Allied forces and were available to reconstitute a cohesive front along the Siegfried Line.
  • Although British forces conducted a brilliant pursuit across northern France that resulted in the liberation of the critically important port of Antwerp in early September, they failed to promptly clear the Scheldt Estuary.[41][42] The Germans immediately grasped the significance of the Scheldt Estuary and moved in troops to conduct a lengthy defense.[43][44] The Allied failure to swiftly clear the Scheldt Estuary meant that the port could not be used until 28 November, and strongly contributed to the lengthy logistical crisis that hamstrung Allied operations for four months. Operation Market-Garden was a double failure in the sense that the resources used for it would have been more profitably committed to clearing the Scheldt Estuary instead of carving out an extended salient that did nothing but stretch an already over-extended Allied front line.[45]
  • Despite a grave shortage of riflemen, American operations in front of the Siegfried Line, particularly in the US First Army's area, were characterized by bloody frontal assaults.[35] Stubbornness and misplaced notions that the US Army could not allow itself to abandon unprofitable operations[30][39] saw five infantry divisions decimated in the Hürtgen Forest fighting, with the attack being abandoned only in December after the German attack in the Ardennes. The concentration of divisions in the Hürtgen Forest–Aachen area also forced a corresponding lack of concentration along the Ardennes front, with the result that only four US divisions were initially available in the Ardennes to face a German offensive that was 26 divisions strong.
  • When, in November, the Allies enjoyed significant success in 6th Army Group's area, General Eisenhower refused to reinforce the success and even forbade his commanders in the south from attempting to assault across the Rhine in the area of Strasbourg while the German defenses were in disarray.[46] This lack of bold enterprise[47] was a by-product of Eisenhower's decision to conduct limited-objective attacks on a broad front even though the Allies lacked a sufficient number of divisions to both man a broad front and concentrate enough combat power in chosen areas to achieve breakthroughs.[48][49] And there were other instances of cautious Allied generalship.[50][51]
  • After crossing the Rhine, Allied force deployments were tainted by misplaced priorities,[52][53] a lack of firm direction from supreme political echelons,[54][55] and to some extent, by exaggerated fears of German capabilities.[56][57] When American troops reached the Elbe River in mid-April, Eisenhower unilaterally decided that Berlin was no longer a significant military objective.[58] The official US Army history has defended this decision by stating that Eisenhower knew that Berlin would be within the Soviet zone of post-war Germany and saw no reason to fight for land that would have to be given to the Soviets after the war.[59] Other histories of the campaign have been less generous, assessing that it was a political decision which sacrificed certain military advantages.[60][61] Eisenhower pointed out to George S. Patton, the third Army commander, that Berlin was of no military strategic value and would take up a lot of resources to occupy and asked Patton "Who would want it?" Patton replied "I think history will answer that question for you." Unswayed by Patton, Simpson (the commander of the US Ninth Army), or even Winston Churchill, Eisenhower ordered US forces to halt along the Elbe and Mulde rivers.[62] Thus, these spearheads were practically immobilized while the war continued for three more weeks. Simultaneously, General Bradley considered the Germans trapped in the Ruhr Pocket to be the most significant threat and committed surprisingly large numbers of US troops to collapse (as opposed to containing) the pocket, instead of reinforcing his troops at the Elbe River.[63] As a consequence of Eisenhower's decision, the British 21st Army Group was ordered to drive northeast towards Hamburg instead of proceeding due east in the direction of Berlin. Finally, the Allies proved curiously gullible about German propaganda, claiming the existence of a "National Redoubt" in the Alpine hinterlands of Bavaria and Austria.[64] Fearing a large-scale last stand by the Nazis in this so-called redoubt, General Eisenhower directed no less than three field armies to clear southern Germany at a time when the largest groups of German forces stood to the east, not the south, of General Eisenhower's troops. Fortunately for the Allies, the German Army of April 1945 was in no position to exploit troop concentrations and movements of questionable merit.

Thus, while the Allies enjoyed a great victory, on occasion their prosecution of the campaign afforded their German adversaries opportunities that prolonged the fighting unnecessarily.[65][66]

See also


  1. Vichy officially pursued a policy of armed neutrality and conducted military actions against armed incursions from both Axis and Allied belligerents. The cease fire and pledging of allegiance to the Allies of the Vichy troops in French North Africa during operation Torch convinced the Axis that Vichy could no longer be trusted to continue this policy, so they invaded and occupied the French rump state in November 1942.
  2. Ellis provides no figure for Danish casualties, he places Norwegian losses at 2,000 killed or missing with no information provided on those wounded or captured. Dutch casualties are placed at 2,890 killed or missing, 6,900 wounded, with no information provided on those captured. Belgian casualties are placed at 7,500 killed or missing, 15,850 wounded, and 200,000 captured. French casualties amounted to 120,000 killed or missing, 250,000 wounded, and 1,450,000 taken prison. British losses totalled to 11,010 killed or missing, 14,070 wounded (only those who were evacuated have been counted), and 41,340 taken prisoner.[2] Losses in 1940, according to Ellis' information, thus amount to 2,121,560.
  3. 360,000 dead or wounded, and 1,900,000 captured[3]
  4. American: 109,820 killed or missing, 356,660 wounded, and 56,630 captured; British: 30,280 killed or missing, 96,670 wounded, 14,700 captured; Canadian: 10,740 killed or missing, 30,910 wounded, 2,250 captured; French: 12,590 killed or missing, 49,510 wounded, 4,730 captured; Pole: 1,160 killed or missing, 3,840 wounded, 370 captured.[4]
    Thus according to Ellis' information, the Western Allies incurred 783,860 casualties.
  5. 43,110 Germans killed or missing, 111,640 wounded, no information is provided on any who were captured. Italian losses amounted to 1,250 killed or missing, 4,780 wounded, and no information is provided on any who were captured.[2]
  6. Germany: 157,621 casualties (27,074 dead (The final count of the German dead is possibly as high as 49,000 men when including the losses suffered by the Kriegsmarine, because of additional non-combat causes, the wounded who died of their injuries, and the missing who were confirmed as dead.[5] However this higher figure has not been used in the overall casualty figure), 111,034 wounded, 18,384 missing,[5][6][7] as well as 1,129 aircrew killed.[8] Italy: 6,029 casualties (1,247 dead or missing, 2,631 wounded, and 2,151 hospitalised due to frostbite[citation needed]; Italian forces were involved in fighting in the French Alps, where severe sub-zero temperatures is common even during the summer.)
  7. German losses between June 1941 and 10 April 1945, on the Western Front for the army only, amounted to 80,820 killed, 490,260 missing, and 265,526 wounded.[4]
  8. Total German casualties between September 1939 to 31 December 1944, on the Western Front for both the army, Waffen SS, and foreign volunteers amounts to 128,030 killed, 399,860 wounded. 7,614,790 were held in POW camps by early June of 1945 (including 3,404,950 who were disarmed following the surrender of Germany)[4] See also: Disarmed Enemy Forces
  1. 1.0 1.1 MacDonald, C (2005), The Last Offensive: The European Theater of Operations. University Press of the Pacific, p.478
  2. 2.0 2.1 Ellis, p.255
  3. Hooton 2007, p. 90.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Ellis, p. 256
  5. 5.0 5.1 Frieser (1995), p. 400
  6. L'Histoire, No. 352, April 2010 France 1940: Autopsie d'une défaite, p. 59.
  7. Shepperd (1990), p. 88
  8. Hooton 2010, p. 73.
  9. Biennial Reports of the Chief of Staff of the United States Army July 1, 1943, to June 30, 1945 to the Secretary of War (1945) p. 202
  10. German deployments to the Western Front (including North Africa and Italy) reached levels as high as approximately 40% of their ground forces, and 75% of the Luftwaffe. During 1944, there were approximately 69 German divisions in France, in Italy there were around 19. (Approximate data is given because the number of units changed over time as a result of troop transfers and the arrival of new units.) Keegan, John. The Second World War. Source-Axis History Factbook.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> According to David Glantz PDF[dead link], In January 1945 the Axis fielded over 2.3 million men, including 60 percent of the Wehrmacht's forces and the forces of virtually all of its remaining allies, against the Red Army. In the course of the ensuing winter campaign, the Wehrmacht suffered 510,000 losses in the East against 325,000 in the West. By April 1945, 1,960,000 German troops faced the 6.4 million Red Army troops at the gates of Berlin, in Czechoslovakia, and in numerous isolated pockets to the east, while four million Allied forces in western Germany faced under one million Wehrmacht soldiers. In May 1945 the Soviets accepted the surrender of almost 1.5 million men, while almost one million Germans soldiers surrendered to the British and Americans, including many who fled west to escape the dreaded Red Army.
  11. North West Europe 1942 regiments.org Archived 4 May 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  12. Dieppe, www.canadiansoldiers.com Archived 17 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  13. Murray, pp. 434–436
  14. Burrough, Admiral Sir Harold (1948). "The final stages of the naval war in north-west Europe". London Gazette. Retrieved 9 June 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Zaloga, Dennis p. 88
  16. Life Magazine issue of 30 April 1951, p. 66. Books.google.com. 30 April 1951. Retrieved 7 February 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. "THE RHINE CROSSINGS". Ushmm.org. Retrieved 7 February 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. Willis, p. 17
  19. "Central Europe, p. 32". History.army.mil. Retrieved 7 February 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. "12th Army Group Situation Map for 18 April 1945". Wwii-photos-maps.com. Retrieved 7 February 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. John C. Frederiksen, American Military Leaders, p.76, Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 1999, ISBN 1-57607-001-8
  22. Germans played for time in Reims. Original emissaries had no authority to surrender to any of the Allies. New York Times, 9 May 1945
  23. Keitel is defiant at Berlin ritual. The New York Times. 10 May 1945
  24. For further reading, see R. Overy's Russia's War, Penguin Press, 1999, ISBN 978-0-14-027169-0, and Glantz and House's When Titans Clashed – How the Red Army stopped Hitler, ISBN 978-0-7006-0717-4.
  25. Weigley, Russell F., Eisenhower's Lieutenants, pp. 52–53.
  26. Weigley, p. 370.
  27. Weigley, pp. 350, 355, and 687–688.
  28. Hastings, Max: Armageddon, p. 422.
  29. Hastings, pp. 58–59, 67, 69, 78–79, and 80–81.
  30. 30.0 30.1 Hastings, p. 68.
  31. Weigley, pp. 337–343.
  32. Hastings, pp. 15–16, 22, 32, 57, and 61.
  33. Hastings, pp. 33, 152, and 185–186.
  34. Weigley, pp. 350–351, 354–355, 373, 659, and 663.
  35. 35.0 35.1 Weigley, pp. 368–369 and 728–729.
  36. Weigley, pp. 368–369, 370, 415–416, and 420.
  37. Hastings, pp. 179, 189, and 193.
  38. Hastings, p. 236.
  39. 39.0 39.1 Weigley, p. 285.
  40. Weigley, pp. 201–209.
  41. Weigley, pp. 293, and 350–354.
  42. Hastings, p. 19.
  43. Weigley, pp. 293, and 351.
  44. Hastings, p. 19–20.
  45. Hastings, pp. 61 and 134.
  46. Clarke, Jeffrey J., and Smith, Robert Ross: Riviera to the Rhine, pp. 437–445.
  47. Hastings, pp. 29–30, 65, 93, and 193.
  48. Hastings, pp. 148–149.
  49. Weigley, pp. 375 and 659.
  50. Hastings, pp. 71–72, 235, 366, and 423.
  51. Weigley, pp. 286, 668–669, and 729.
  52. Hastings, pp. 24 and 418.
  53. Weigley, pp. 673–674, 677–678, 680, 688, 699, and 716.
  54. Hastings, pp. 420–421, and 424.
  55. Weigley, p. 687.
  56. Hastings, pp. 340 and 425.
  57. Weigley, pp. 698–699 and 716.
  58. Weigley, pp. 684–685.
  59. MacDonald, p. 406.
  60. Weigley, p. 685.
  61. In The Russo-German War, historian Albert Seaton noted "The remarkable aspect of this sudden change of strategic aim is that Roosevelt and the United States Chiefs of Staff should have left this final stage of the war to the discretion of a single individual who, although a soldier of distinction, may at that time have been lacking in political acumen and an understanding of the aims and methods of the Soviet Union." (Page 563).
  62. Beevor, Antony, Berlin—The Downfall 1945, Author's Cuts: Chapter 12: "Waiting for the Onslaught".
  63. Weigley, p. 674.
  64. Weigley, p. 716.
  65. Hastings, pp. 63, 65, and 72.
  66. Weigley, pp. 729–730.


  • Clarke, Jeffrey J. & Smith, Robert Ross (1993). Riviera to the Rhine. United States Army in World War II., European theater of operations. Washington D.C.: Center of Military History. ISBN 978-0-16-025966-1. CMH Pub. 7-10.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Ellis, John (1993). The World War II Databook: The Essential Facts and Figures for all the combatants. BCA. ISBN 978-1-85410-254-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Gootzen, Har and Connor, Kevin (2006). "Battle for the Roer Triangle" ISBN 978-90-90-21455-9.See [1]
  • Hastings, Max. (2004). Armageddon: The Battle for Germany, 1944–1945. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 0-375-41433-9.
  • MacDonald, Charles B. (1993) [1973]. The Last Offensive. United States Army in World War II., European theater of operations (Special commemorative ed.). Washington D.C.: Center of Military History. OCLC 41111259. CMH pub. 7-9-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Seaton, Albert (1971). The Russo-German War. New York: Praeger Publishers.
  • Weigley, Russell F. (1981). Eisenhower's Lieutenants. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-13333-5.
  • Willis, Frank Roy (1962). The French in Germany, 1945–1949. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
  • Zaloga, Steve, and Dennis, Peter (2006). Remagen 1945: endgame against the Third Reich. Oxford: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 1-84603-249-0.
  • Murray, Williamson and Millett, Alan R. (2000). A War to be Won: Fighting the Second World War. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-00680-1.

Further reading

  • Ellis, L. F. (1968). Victory in the West (Volume II). London: HMSO.
  • Kurowski, Franz. (2005). Endkampf um das Reich 1944–1945. Erlangen: Karl Müller Verlag. ISBN 3-86070-855-4.
  • Young, Peter, editor. World Almanac of World War II. St. Martin's Press.

External links