Ruhr Pocket

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Ruhr Pocket
Part of World War II
Remagen enclosure.jpg
An American soldier guards a massive crowd of German prisoners captured in the Ruhr Pocket.
Date1–18 April 1945
(2 weeks and 3 days)
Location
Result Allied victory
Belligerents
Flag of the United States (1912-1959).svg United States
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg United Kingdom
(German resistance)
Flag of Germany (1935-1945).svg  Germany
Commanders and leaders
Flag of the United States (1912-1959).svg Omar Bradley
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Bernard Montgomery
Flag of the United States (1912-1959).svg Courtney H. Hodges
Flag of the United States (1912-1959).svg William H. Simpson
Flag of the United States (1912-1959).svg Leonard T. Gerow
War ensign of Germany (1938-1945).svg Walter Model  
War ensign of Germany (1938-1945).svg Gustav-Adolf von Zangen   (POW)
War ensign of Germany (1938-1945).svg Josef Harpe   (POW)
Units involved

Flag of the United States (1912-1959).svg 12th Army Group

Flag of the United States (1912-1959).svg 1st Army
Flag of the United States (1912-1959).svg 15th Army

Flag of the United Kingdom.svg 21st Army Group

Flag of the United States (1912-1959).svg 9th Army

War ensign of Germany (1938-1945).svg Army Group B

War ensign of Germany (1938-1945).svg 5th Panzer Army
War ensign of Germany (1938-1945).svg 15th Army
War ensign of Germany (1938-1945).svg element of 1st Parachute Army
Strength
13 divisions, elements of 6 corps, c.400,000 men 370,000 men, of which 75,000 armed
Casualties and losses

c.10,000 men [1]

c.1,500 killed
c.8,000 wounded
c.500 missing
thousands killed [1]
317,000 captured [2]

The Ruhr Pocket was a battle of encirclement that took place in April 1945, on the Western Front near the end of World War II, in the Ruhr Area of Germany. Some 317,000 German troops, consisting mostly of unarmed Volksturm militia and Hitlerjugend units were taken prisoner along with 24 generals. The Americans suffered 10,000 casualties including 2,000 killed or missing.

Encirclement military term

Encirclement is a military term for the situation when a force or target is isolated and surrounded by enemy forces.

Western Front (World War II) military theatre of World War II encompassing Denmark, Norway, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, and Germany

The Western Front was a military theatre of World War II encompassing Denmark, Norway, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, and Germany. 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.

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.

Contents

Exploiting the capture of the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen on 7 March 1945, the U.S. 12th Army Group under General Omar Bradley advanced rapidly into German territory south of Field Marshal Walter Model's Army Group B. In the north, the Allied 21st Army Group under Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery crossed the Rhine in Operation Plunder on 23 March. The lead elements of the two Allied army groups linked up on 1 April 1945 east of the Ruhr Area to create a massive encirclement of 370,000 German troops to their west.

Ludendorff Bridge former bridge across the Rhine in Germany

The Ludendorff Bridge was in early March 1945 a critical remaining bridge across the river Rhine in Germany when it was captured during the Battle of Remagen by United States Army forces during the closing weeks of World War II. Built in World War I to help deliver reinforcements and supplies to the German troops on the Western Front, it connected Remagen on the west bank and the village of Erpel on the eastern side between two hills flanking the river.

Remagen Place in Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany

Remagen is a town in Germany in the Land Rhineland-Palatinate, in the district of Ahrweiler. It is about a one-hour drive from Cologne, just south of Bonn, the former West German capital. It is situated on the left (western) bank of the river Rhine. There is a ferry across the Rhine from Remagen every 10–15 minutes in the summer. Remagen has many beautiful and well-maintained buildings, churches, castles and monuments. It also has a sizeable pedestrian zone with plenty of shops.

Twelfth United States Army Group

The Twelfth United States Army Group was the largest and most powerful United States Army formation ever to take to the field, commanding four field armies at its peak in 1945: First United States Army, Third United States Army, Ninth United States Army and Fifteenth United States Army. Formed eight days after the Normandy landings, it initially controlled the First and the Third US Armies. Through various configurations in 1944 and 1945, the Twelfth US Army Group controlled the majority of American forces on the Western Front. It was commanded by General Omar Bradley with its headquarters established in London on 14 July 1944.

While the bulk of the U.S. forces advanced east towards the Elbe river, some 18 U.S. divisions remained behind to destroy the isolated forces of Army Group B. The reduction of the German pocket was begun right away on 1 April by the U.S. Ninth Army, with the forces of the U.S. First Army joining on 4 April. For 13 days the Germans delayed or resisted the U.S. advance. On 14 April, the First and Ninth Armies linked up, splitting the German pocket in half and German resistance began to crumble.

Elbe major river in Central Europe

The Elbe is one of the major rivers of Central Europe. It rises in the Krkonoše Mountains of the northern Czech Republic before traversing much of Bohemia, then Germany and flowing into the North Sea at Cuxhaven, 110 km (68 mi) northwest of Hamburg. Its total length is 1,094 kilometres (680 mi).

A pocket refers to combat forces that have been isolated by opposing forces from their logistical base and other friendly forces. In mobile warfare, such as the German Blitzkrieg, salients were more likely to be cut off into pockets, which became the focus of battles of annihilation.

Having lost contact with its units, the German 15th Army capitulated the same day. Model dissolved his army group on 15 April and ordered the Volksturm and non-combatant personnel to discard their uniforms and go home. On 16 April the bulk of the German forces surrendered en masse to the U.S. divisions. Organized resistance came to an end on 18 April. Unwilling to surrender with his rank of Field Marshal into Allied captivity, Model committed suicide on the afternoon of 21 April.

The 15th Army was a World War II field army.

Background

In March 1945, the Allies crossed the River Rhine. South of the Ruhr, General Omar Nelson Bradley's U.S. 12th Army Group's pursuit of the disintegrating German army resulted in the capture of the Ludendorff Bridge across the Rhine at Remagen by the 9th Armored Division of the U.S. First Army. Bradley and his subordinates quickly exploited the crossing made on March 7, 1945, and expanded the bridgehead until the bridge collapsed 10 days later.

Allies of World War II Grouping of the victorious countries of World War II

The Allies of World War II, called the United Nations from the 1 January 1942 declaration, were the countries that together opposed the Axis powers during the Second World War (1939–1945). The Allies promoted the alliance as a means to control German, Japanese and Italian aggression.

Rhine river in Western Europe

The Rhine is a European river that begins in the Swiss canton of Graubünden in the southeastern Swiss Alps, forms part of the Swiss-Liechtenstein, Swiss-Austrian, Swiss-German and then the Franco-German border, then flows through the German Rhineland and the Netherlands and eventually empties into the North Sea.

In the United States Army, United States Marine Corps, and United States Air Force, general is a four-star general officer rank, with the pay grade of O-10. General ranks above lieutenant general and below General of the Army or General of the Air Force; the Marine Corps does not have an established grade above general. General is equivalent to the rank of admiral in the other uniformed services. Since the grades of General of the Army and General of the Air Force are reserved for wartime use only, and since the Marine Corps has no five-star equivalent, the grade of general is currently considered to be the highest appointment an officer can achieve in these three services.

North of the Ruhr on March 23, 1945, Field Marshal Sir Bernard Montgomery's Anglo-Canadian 21st Army Group which incorporated the US Ninth Army launched Operation Plunder (with the airborne Operation Varsity in support) crossing the Rhine at Rees and Wesel.

Field Marshal has been the highest rank in the British Army since 1736. A five-star rank with NATO code OF-10, it is equivalent to an Admiral of the Fleet in the Royal Navy or a Marshal of the Royal Air Force in the Royal Air Force (RAF). A Field Marshal's insignia consists of two crossed batons surrounded by yellow leaves below St Edward's Crown. Like Marshals of the RAF and Admirals of the Fleet, Field Marshals traditionally remain officers for life, though on half-pay when not in an appointment. The rank has been used sporadically throughout its history and was vacant during parts of the 18th and 19th centuries. After the Second World War, it became standard practice to appoint the Chief of the Imperial General Staff to the rank on his last day in the post. Army officers occupying the post of Chief of the Defence Staff, the professional head of all the British Armed Forces, were usually promoted to the rank upon their appointment.

Bernard Montgomery British Army officer, Commander of Allied forces at the Battle of El Alamein

Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery, 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein,, nicknamed "Monty" and "The Spartan General", was a senior British Army officer who fought in both the First World War and the Second World War.

21st Army Group WWII United Kingdom military group

The 21st Army Group was a World War II British headquarters formation, in command of two field armies and other supporting units, consisting primarily of the British Second Army and the First Canadian Army. Established in London during July 1943, under the command of Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF), it was assigned to Operation Overlord, the Western Allied invasion of Europe, and was an important Allied force in the European Theatre. The 21st Army Group operated in Northern France, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany from June 1944 until the end of the war in Europe in May 1945, after which it was redesignated the British Army of the Rhine (BAOR).

Battle

Encirclement

Having crossed the Rhine, both Army groups fanned out into the German hinterland. In the south, while the Third Army headed east, the First Army headed northeast and formed the southern pincer of the Ruhr envelopment. In the north, the U.S. Ninth Army, which since the Battle of the Bulge had been assigned to Field Marshal Montgomery's 21st Army Group, headed southeast, forming the northern pincer, while the rest of the 21st Army Group went east and northeast. Even before the encirclement was complete, Allied activity against the Ruhr had a critical impact on Germany's economy -- on March 26 Joseph Goebbels noted in his diary that no more coal was coming from the Ruhr. [3]

Facing the Allied armies were the remnants of a shattered Wehrmacht , a few SS training units, and large numbers of Volkssturm (militia units for aging men, including some World War I veterans), Hitlerjugend (Hitler Youth) units, composed of boys as young as 12 as well as combat service support forces and Luftwaffe Flak crews. [4]

Encirclement of the Ruhr area (dd.mm.yyyy date format) Ruhrpocket.png
Encirclement of the Ruhr area (dd.mm.yyyy date format)

Lead elements of the two Allied pincers met on April 1, 1945, near Lippstadt. By April 4, the encirclement was completed and the Ninth Army reverted to the command of General Bradley's 12th Army Group. Within the Ruhr Pocket some 370,000 German soldiers, 14 divisions of Army Group B and two corps from First Parachute Army, altogether the remnants of 19 divisions, and millions of civilians were trapped in cities heavily damaged by numerous bombings. [5] Only 20% of the German soldiers or 75,000 had infantry weapons, with another 75,000 having pistols only and ammunition and fuel supplies were at critical levels. Model's requests for an airlift were dismissed out of hand by Hitler owing to Allied air supremacy. All of Model's requests to withdraw or break out before or after the creation of the pocket were denied by Hitler, who expected "Fortress Ruhr" to hold out for months and tie down hundreds of thousands of Allied troops. The staff of Army Group B knew they only had food supplies for three weeks owing to the millions of civilians that also had to be fed. [6] [4]

Reduction

While the main operations were directed eastwards to central and northern Germany, elements of three U.S. Armies concentrated on the pocket, taking it section by section. Model's troops put up a strong resistance along the Dortmund–Ems Canal and the Sieg river-line, holding their ground from 4 April to 9 April and launching a counterattack against U.S. 75th and 95th Divisions near Dortmund. For every German city or town that capitulated, another fought on for every building. Burgomasters of some German cities presented white flags to the invading U.S. troops, such as at Duisburg and Essen while German troops at Dortmund, Wuppertal and Hamm fought fanatically for days to the complete exhaustion of all available potential. The presence of SS troops was a common element in most instances of all-out resistance. [7]

In the south, the attack of the U.S. III Corps and XVIII Airborne Corps on 5 and 6 April was delayed by German troops, who skillfully used the rugged terrain of the 80% forested Sauerland district to force the Americans to fight for every stream, wood and town. The Germans fought strongly for the city of Siegen to prevent the Americans from gaining access to open ground. The heavily outnumbered and outgunned Germans could ultimately do nothing more than delay the advancing enemy, who covered approximately 10 kilometers per day. By 11 April German combat strength had weakened to the extent that they were only defending roadblocks and built-up areas along main roads, supported by a few tanks and assault guns or 2 cm flak guns. At one point, the Germans covered a valley in a thick smokescreen, delaying the 7th Armored Division for some time. [8] Throughout the battle, U.S. generals in the south failed to use their two armored divisions properly, attempting to unleash them on the Germans at every opportunity but failing due to poor command decisions which left them stuck behind the U.S. infantry divisions for most of the pocket's reduction. [9]

The performance of the U.S. 13th Armored Division was particularly disastrous. Two road marches totaling 400 kilometers sufficed for a Combat Command of the 13th Armored to decline to 50% of authorized strength for its Sherman tanks by the time it reached the battle area. [10] Completely worn out, the division was immediately thrown into action on 10 April by XVII Airborne Corps commander Matthew Ridgway, who, under pressure from army commander Courtney H. Hodges to speed up operations, ordered it to encircle and "destroy" the German forces. The division commander, John B. Wogan, and his subordinates took this order literally. Communications between its units rapidly broke down and the division was held up by a stream when it deployed to "destroy" the Germans. It failed to reach its objectives in time, and was overtaken by U.S. infantry divisions. Wogan was severely wounded by German rifle fire near a roadblock and replaced by John Millikin. [10]

On 7 April the skies cleared and the IX and XXIX Tactical Air Commands began to pound the remaining German defenders, strafing and bombing German troop concentrations and motorized and horse-drawn columns. The Allies were eager to get their hands on all German railway rolling stock and the U.S. pilots were banned from hitting this usual primary target, limiting the extent of Allied bombing operations. The rationing of U.S. artillery ammunition had been lifted and U.S. artillery in support of XVI Corps fired 259,061 rounds in 14 days. [8]

Capitulation

On 11 April the U.S. Ninth Army captured Essen. On 14 April the U.S. First and Ninth Armies linked up on the Ruhr river at Hattingen and split the pocket in two; the smaller, eastern part surrendered the next day. Model lost contact with most of his formations and commanders on 14 April. The German 15th Army under Gustav-Adolf von Zangen capitulated on 14 April, having lost all control over its subordinate formations. The Germans had continued the fight in the pocket despite no realistic hope of relief from the start, as they were tying down 18 U.S. divisions. [11] [12]

Rather than surrender his command, Field Marshal Walter Model dissolved Army Group B on 15 April. Already on 7 April the extent of the American advance to Central Germany had made any breakout impossible. Model's chief of staff Karl Wagener urged him to save the lives of German soldiers and civilians by capitulating. Model refused, as he knew Hitler would not authorize it. In addition, he could not reconcile surrender with the demands he placed on his officers and men throughout the war and his career. But he also wanted the save as many lives as possible for the post-war rebuilding. [13] He decreed the discharging of all youths and older men from the army. By 17 April ammunition supplies would be exhausted, so the non-combatant troops would be allowed to surrender on that day. All combat troops were to either break out in organized formations or drop their weapons and go home, an implicit authority to surrender. [13]

Even before this order was fully transmitted, German resistance began to completely collapse on 16 April as the remnants of German divisions and corps surrendered en masse. 5th Panzer Army commander Josef Harpe was captured by paratroopers of the 17th Airborne Division on 17 April while trying to cross the Rhine to German forces in the Netherlands. [14] The commander of the Allied XVIII Airborne Corps, Matthew Ridgway sent an aide bearing a white flag to Army Group B's headquarters, calling on Model to surrender but the Field Marshal refused, citing his oath to Hitler. When asked for instructions by the squad leader of a German unit that was still armed, Model told them to go home as their fight was over. He then shook their hands and wished them luck. [12]

The western part of the pocket continued a weak resistance until 18 April. Model tried to get to the Harz mountains through the American lines in a small column, but could not make it. Rather than surrender and face trial for war crimes, he committed suicide. [15]

German anti-Nazi resistance groups in Düsseldorf attempted to surrender the city to the Allied armies in the so-called "Aktion Rheinland" in order to spare Düsseldorf from further destruction. However, SS units were able to crush the resistance, and executed a number of those involved. Executions of foreign labourers and political prisoners by the Gestapo had already been occurring since February. The act of resistance did accomplish a cancellation of further bombings on the city by another 800 bombers, through contact with the Americans. Düsseldorf was captured by Americans on 17 April without any notable fighting.

Aftermath

Casualties

The 317,000 German soldiers from the Ruhr Pocket, and some civilians, were imprisoned in the Rheinwiesenlager (in English, "Rhine meadow camp") near Remagen, a temporary prison enclosure. Thousands of German soldiers were killed by the Americans during the battle. [1]

The Americans suffered c.10,000 casualties while reducing the pocket. The Ninth Army lost 341 killed, 121 missing and just under 2,000 wounded. The First Army lost three times more, which would bring the U.S. casualties to 10,000. The divisions of III Corps lost 291 killed, 88 missing and 1,356 wounded, while the 8th Division of the XVIII Airborne Corps lost 198 killed, 101 missing and 1,238 wounded. Casualty totals for the 15th Army units on the western edge of the pocket are not listed in the official U.S. history. [1]

The Americans liberated hundreds of thousands of hungry, diseased and weakened prisoners-of-war and slave laborers, the former consisting mainly of Red Army soldiers who were very happy at their liberation. The liberated slaves also had a tendency to loot and terrorize the German population once released and to clog up the roads in front of the U.S. columns. [9] The German civilians were incredulous at Germany's defeat. [14] The Americans also witnessed the destruction inflicted on Ruhr cities and towns by the Allied bombing campaign. Most of the German industrial machinery was situated in protected or decentralized locations, had survived the onslaught unharmed or requiring only minor repairs and were quickly operational after their capture. [9]

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References

Citations

  1. 1 2 3 4 MacDonald 1973, p. 372.
  2. Zaloga, Steve, and Dennis, Peter (2006). Remagen 1945: endgame against the Third Reich. Oxford: Osprey Publishing. ISBN   1-84603-249-0. Page 87.
  3. Trevor-Roper, Hugh (1978). Final Entries 1945 The Diaries of Joseph Goebbels
  4. 1 2 Zaloga 2016, p. 42.
  5. MacDonald 1973, p. 359.
  6. Forczyk 2011, p. 55.
  7. MacDonald 1973, p. 364.
  8. 1 2 MacDonald 1973, p. 365.
  9. 1 2 3 MacDonald 1973, p. 366.
  10. 1 2 MacDonald 1973, p. 367.
  11. MacDonald 1973, pp. 368–369.
  12. 1 2 Forczyk 2011, p. 56.
  13. 1 2 MacDonald 1973, p. 369.
  14. 1 2 MacDonald 1973, p. 370.
  15. D'Este 1989, p. 329.

Bibliography