Western Front (World War II)

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Western Front
Part of the European theatre 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
  • 3 September 1939 – 8 May 1945 (1939-09-03 1945-05-08)
  • (5 years, 8 months and 5 days)
North and Western Europe

1939–1940: Axis victory

1944–1945: Decisive Allied victory

Partition of Germany (1945)

Flag of the United States (1912-1959).svg  United States
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg  United Kingdom
Flag of France (1794-1958).svg  France

Canadian Red Ensign (1921-1957).svg  Canada
Flag of Poland (1928-1980).svg Poland
Flag of Belgium (civil).svg  Belgium
Flag of the Netherlands.svg  Netherlands
Flag of Norway.svg  Norway
Flag of the Czech Republic.svg Czechoslovakia
Flag of Luxembourg.svg  Luxembourg
Flag of Greece (1822-1978).svg Greece
Flag of the Soviet Union (1936-1955).svg  Soviet Union [nb 1]
Flag of Denmark.svg  Denmark

Flag of Germany (1935-1945).svg  Germany
Flag of Italy (1861-1946) crowned.svg  Italy
War flag of the Italian Social Republic.svg  Italian Social Republic
Flag of Hungary (1915-1918, 1919-1946).svg Hungary [1]


Flag of France (1794-1958).svg  Vichy France [nb 2]
Commanders and leaders
Flag of France (1794-1958).svg Maurice Gamelin
Flag of France (1794-1958).svg Maxime Weygand
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg John Vereker, Lord Gort
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg William Boyle, Lord Cork
Flag of Poland (1928-1980).svg Władysław Sikorski
Flag of the Netherlands.svg Henri Winkelman
Flag of Belgium (civil).svg Leopold III
Flag of Norway.svg Otto Ruge
Flag of Denmark.svg William Wain Prior
Flag of the United States (1912-1959).svg Franklin D. Roosevelt
Flag of the United States (1912-1959).svg Dwight D. Eisenhower
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Winston Churchill
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Bernard Montgomery
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Arthur Tedder
Flag of the United States (1912-1959).svg Omar Bradley
Flag of the United States (1912-1959).svg Jacob L. Devers
Flag of the United States (1912-1959).svg George Patton
Flag of the United States (1912-1959).svg Courtney Hodges
Flag of the United States (1912-1959).svg William Simpson
Flag of the United States (1912-1959).svg Alexander Patch
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Miles Dempsey
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Trafford Leigh-Mallory
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Bertram Ramsay
Canadian Red Ensign (1921-1957).svg Kenneth Stuart
Canadian Red Ensign (1921-1957).svg Harry Crerar
Flag of Free France (1940-1944).svg Charles de Gaulle
Flag of Free France (1940-1944).svg Henri Giraud
Flag of Free France (1940-1944).svg Jean de Tassigny
Flag of Poland (1928-1980).svg Kazimierz Sosnkowski
Flag of Germany (1935-1945).svg Walter von Brauchitsch
Flag of Germany (1935-1945).svg Gerd von Rundstedt
Flag of Germany (1935-1945).svg Erich von Manstein
Flag of Germany (1935-1945).svg Heinz Guderian
Flag of Germany (1935-1945).svg Fedor von Bock
Flag of Germany (1935-1945).svg Wilhelm von Leeb
Flag of Germany (1935-1945).svg Nikolaus von Falkenhorst
Flag of Italy (1861-1946) crowned.svg Umberto di Savoia
Flag of Germany (1935-1945).svg Adolf Hitler
Flag of Germany (1935-1945).svg Heinrich Himmler
Flag of Germany (1935-1945).svg Hermann Göring
Flag of Germany (1935-1945).svg Gerd von Rundstedt
Flag of Germany (1935-1945).svg Robert von Greim
Flag of Germany (1935-1945).svg Günther von Kluge
Flag of Germany (1935-1945).svg Walter Model
Flag of Germany (1935-1945).svg Albert Kesselring
Flag of Germany (1935-1945).svg Erwin Rommel
Flag of Germany (1935-1945).svg Johannes Blaskowitz
Flag of Germany (1935-1945).svg Hermann Balck
Flag of Germany (1935-1945).svg Paul Hausser


  • 7,650,000 troops (total) [2]


  • ~5,412,219 troops (total that served)
  • 4,500,000 troops (peak) [3]


  • 5,400,000 troops (total) [2]


  • ~8,000,000 troops (total that served) [4]
  • ~1,900,000 troops (peak) [5]
Casualties and losses


  • 2,121,560 [nb 3] –2,260,000 [nb 4] casualties, including 143,400 killed


  • 164,590–195,576 killed/missing
  • 537,590 wounded
  • 78,680 captured [8] [nb 5]

10,561 tanks destroyed [11] [12] [13]
909 tank destroyers destroyed [14] [12]

  • ~3,000,000 casualties


  • 160,780 [nb 6] –163,650 casualties [nb 7] , including 43,110 killed



  • 5,000,000–5,400,000+ casualties
1,650,000 civilians dead [nb 9]

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. [32] 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 (supported by a massive air war considered to be an additional front), which began in June 1944 with the Allied landings in Normandy and continued until the defeat of Germany in May 1945.

European theatre of World War II Huge area of heavy fighting across Europe

The European theatre of World War II, also known as the Second European War, was a huge area of heavy fighting across Europe, starting with Germany's invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939 and ending with the Soviet Union conquering most of Eastern Europe and Germany’s unconditional surrender on 8 May 1945. The Allied powers fought the Axis powers on two major fronts as well as in a massive air war and in the adjoining Mediterranean and Middle East theatre.

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 70 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.

Low Countries Historical coastal landscape in north western Europe

The Low Countries, the Low Lands, or historically also the Netherlands, is a coastal lowland region in northwestern Europe, forming the lower basin of the Rhine, Meuse, and Scheldt rivers, divided in the Middle Ages into numerous semi-independent principalities that consolidated in the countries of Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands, as well as today's French Flanders.

1939–1940: 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.

Continental Europe continent of Europe, excluding European islands

Continental or mainland Europe is the continuous continent of Europe, excluding its surrounding islands. It can also be referred to ambiguously as the European continent – which can conversely mean the whole of Europe – and by Europeans, simply the Continent.

Invasion of Poland invasion of Poland by Germany, the Soviet Union, and a small Slovak contingent

The invasion of Poland, known in Poland as the September campaign or the 1939 defensive war, and in Germany as the Poland campaign (Polenfeldzug), was an invasion of Poland by Germany that marked the beginning of World War II. The German invasion began on 1 September 1939, one week after the signing of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact between Germany and the Soviet Union. The Soviets invaded Poland on 17 September following the Molotov–Tōgō agreement that terminated the Soviet and Japanese Battles of Khalkhin Gol in the east on 16 September. The campaign ended on 6 October with Germany and the Soviet Union dividing and annexing the whole of Poland under the terms of the German–Soviet Frontier Treaty.

Battle of France Successful German invasion of France in 1940

The Battle of France, also known as the Fall of France, was the German invasion of France and the Low Countries during the Second World War. France had previously invaded Germany in 1939. In the six weeks from 10 May 1940, German forces defeated Allied forces by mobile operations and conquered France, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, bringing land operations on the Western Front to an end until the Normandy landings on 6 June 1944. Italy entered the war on 10 June 1940 and invaded France over the Alps.

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.

Siegfried Line German defensive line used in World War 2

The "Siegfried Line", known in German as the Westwall, was a German defensive line built during the 1930s opposite the French Maginot Line. It stretched more than 630 km (390 mi); from Kleve on the border with the Netherlands, along the western border of the old German Empire, to the town of Weil am Rhein on the border to Switzerland – and featured more than 18,000 bunkers, tunnels and tank traps.

Maginot Line Line of fortifications along the French/German border

The Maginot Line, named after the French Minister of War André Maginot, is a line of concrete fortifications, obstacles, and weapon installations built by France in the 1930s to deter invasion by Germany and force them to move around the fortifications. Constructed on the French side of its borders with Italy, Switzerland, Germany, and Luxembourg, the line did not extend to the English Channel due to French strategy that envisioned a move into Belgium to counter a German assault.

British Expeditionary Force (World War II) British Army in Western Europe from 1939 to 1940

The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) was the name of the British Army in Western Europe during the Second World War from 2 September 1939 when the BEF GHQ was formed until 31 May 1940, when GHQ closed down. Military forces in Britain were under Home Forces command. During the 1930s, the British government planned to deter war by rearming from the very low level of readiness of the early 30s and abolished the Ten Year Rule. The bulk of the extra money went to the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force but plans were made to re-equip a small number of Army and Territorial Army divisions for service overseas.

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.

A non-belligerent is a person, a state, or other organization that does not fight in a given conflict. The term is often used to describe a country that does not take part militarily in a war. The status does not exist in international law.

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.

Battle of the Atlantic longest continuous military campaign in World War II

The Battle of the Atlantic was the longest continuous military campaign in World War II, running from 1939 to the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945, and was a major part of the Naval history of World War II. At its core was the Allied naval blockade of Germany, announced the day after the declaration of war, and Germany's subsequent counter-blockade. It was at its height from mid-1940 through to the end of 1943.


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.

Operation Weserübung code name for Germanys assault on Denmark and Norway during the Second World War

Operation Weserübung was the code name for Germany's assault on Denmark and Norway during the Second World War and the opening operation of the Norwegian Campaign. The name comes from the German for "Operation Weser-Exercise", the Weser being a German river.

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.

Blitzkrieg German-style armoured warfare from WWII

Blitzkrieg is a method of warfare whereby an attacking force, spearheaded by a dense concentration of armoured and motorised or mechanised infantry formations with close air support, breaks through the opponent's line of defence by short, fast, powerful attacks and then dislocates the defenders, using speed and surprise to encircle them with the help of air superiority. Through the employment of combined arms in manoeuvre warfare, blitzkrieg attempts to unbalance the enemy by making it difficult for it to respond to the continuously changing front, then defeat it in a decisive Vernichtungsschlacht.

Battle of Dunkirk 1940 battle between the Allies and Germany in France

The Battle of Dunkirk was fought in Dunkirk (Dunkerque), France, during the Second World War, between the Allies and Nazi Germany. As the Allies were losing the Battle of France on the Western Front, the Battle of Dunkirk was the defence and evacuation to Britain of British and other Allied forces in Europe from 26 May to 4 June 1940.

<i>Kriegsmarine</i> 1935–1945 naval warfare branch of Germanys armed forces

The Kriegsmarine was the navy of Nazi Germany from 1935 to 1945. It superseded the Imperial German Navy of the German Empire (1871–1918) and the inter-war Reichsmarine (1919–1935) of the Weimar Republic. The Kriegsmarine was one of three official branches, along with the Heer (Army) and the Luftwaffe of the Wehrmacht, the German armed forces from 1933 to 1945.

1941–1944: 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 Dieppe pebble beach.jpg
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. The bulk of the Allied armies were occupied in the Mediterranean, seeking to clear the sea lanes to the Indian Ocean and capture the Foggia Airfield Complex.

Two early British raids for which battle honours were awarded were Operation Collar in Boulogne (24 June 1940) and Operation 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). [33] [34]

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 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.

1944–1945: The Second Front


Routes taken by the D-Day invasion. D-day allied assault routes.jpg
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, Operation Fortitude and Operation 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. [35] If the British had broken out of the Normandy bridgehead (or beachhead) 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 U.S. 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 the Supreme Allied Commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, and most of the American high command, it was soon adopted.

Liberation of France

Crowds of French people line the Champs Elysees following the Liberation of Paris, 26 August 1944 Crowds of French patriots line the Champs Elysees-edit2.jpg
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 Persuit to the West Wall.jpg
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).

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 Group'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). [36]

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.

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 allied 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 along with Operation Pheasant was a decisive victory for 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. Ww2 allied advance siegfried line.jpg
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. As it was the first major German city to face capture, Hitler ordered that the city be held at all costs. 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.

South of the Ardennes, American 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 American troops in the face of German reinforcements, supply shortages, and unfavorable weather. 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

Dutch civilians celebrate the liberation of Eindhoven. The British Army in North-west Europe 1944-45 BU938.jpg
Dutch civilians celebrate the liberation of Eindhoven.

The port of Antwerp was liberated on 4 September by the British 11th Armoured Division. Field Marshal Sir Bernard 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 United Kingdom 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 canal and link up with the airborne troops of the U.S. 101st Airborne Division in Eindhoven, the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division at Nijmegen and the British 1st Airborne Division 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 British 1st Airborne Division during the Battle of Arnhem, which sustained almost 8,000 casualties. 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 Battle of the Bulge.jpg
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 1 January 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. This was followed by a 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 Roer in Operation Grenade. Veritable and Grenade were planned to start on 8 February 1945, but Grenade was delayed by two weeks when the Germans flooded the Roer valley by destroying the gates of the Rur Dam 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. [37] By the time they prepared to cross the Rhine in late March, the Western Allies had taken 1,300,000 German soldiers prisoner in western Europe. [38]

US soldiers cross the Rhine river in assault boats Crossingtherhine.jpg
US soldiers cross the Rhine river in assault boats
US soldiers advance through the hazy ruins of Waldenburg, Germany, April 1945 Waldenburg1945edit.jpg
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. [42] 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. [43]

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. [44]

End of the Third Reich

People gathered in Whitehall to hear Winston Churchill's victory speech and celebrate Victory in Europe, 8 May 1945 Ve Day Celebrations in London, England, UK, 8 May 1945 D24587.jpg
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, [45] 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 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. [46]


    1. Soviet offensive in Norway
    2. 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. Collaborationist units, such as the Milice, continued to fight alongside German troops against French Resistance fighters until the liberation of France in 1944.
    3. 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 prisoner. 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. [6] Losses in 1940, according to Ellis's information, thus amount to 2,121,560.
    4. 360,000 dead or wounded, and 1,900,000 captured [7]
    5. Ellis's numbers: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. [9]
      Thus according to Ellis' information, the Western Allies incurred 783,860 casualties.
      US Army/Air Forces breakdown: According to a post-war US Army study using war records, the army and army air forces of the United States suffered 586,628 casualties in western Europe, including 116,991 killed in action and 381,350 wounded, of whom 16,264 later died of their wounds. [10] Total US casualties come to 133,255 killed, 365,086 wounded, 73,759 captured, and 14,528 missing, two thousand of whom were later declared dead.
    6. 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. [6]
    7. 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. [15] However this higher figure has not been used in the overall casualty figure), 111,034 wounded, 18,384 missing, [15] [16] [17] as well as 1,129 aircrew killed. [18] 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.)
    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) [9] See also: Disarmed Enemy Forces
    9. All totals listed only include direct deaths due to military activity and crimes against humanity, including the Holocaust. [22]
      Germany: 910,000. 410,000 in Allied strategic bombing, 300,000 in the Holocaust not including Austrian civilian deaths or deaths from the Nazi T4 program. [23] Counting the Aktion T4 program adds 200,000+ deaths to the total. [24]
      France: 390,000. Includes 77,000 French Jews in the Holocaust. [25]
      Netherlands: 187,300. Includes 100,000 Dutch Jews in the Holocaust. [26]
      Belgium: 76,000. Includes 27,000 Belgian Jews in the Holocaust. [27]
      United Kingdom: 67,200. Mostly died in German bombing. [28]
      Norway: 8,200. [29] Includes 800 Norwegian Jews in the Holocaust.
      Denmark: 6,000. [30]
      Luxembourg: 5,000. Includes 2,000 Luxembourgish Jews. [31]
    1. Szélinger & Tóth 2010, p. 94.
    2. 1 2 Frieser, Karl-Heinz (2013)The Blitzkrieg Legend. Naval Institute Press
    3. MacDonald, C (2005), The Last Offensive: The European Theater of Operations. University Press of the Pacific, p.478
    4. The World War II Databook, by John Ellis, 1993 p. 256. Total German soldiers who surrendered in the West, including 3,404,950 who surrendered after the end of the war, is given as 7,614,790. To this must be added the 263,000–655,000 who died, giving a rough total of 8 million German soldiers having served on the Western Front in 1944–1945.
    5. Horst Boog; Gerhard Krebs; Detlef Vogel (2006). Germany and the Second World War: Volume VII: The Strategic Air War in Europe and the War in the West and East Asia, 1943-1944/5. Clarendon Press. p. 522. ISBN   978-0-19-822889-9. Quoting Alfred Jodl's "Strategic situation in spring 1944" presentation. The total given for German forces in the west in May 1944, prior to a slight upgrade of forces in the west in preparation for Operation Overlord, was 1,873,000 personnel.
    6. 1 2 Ellis, p.255
    7. Hooton 2007, p. 90
    8. MacDonald, C (2005), The Last Offensive: The European Theater of Operations. Page 478. "Allied casualties from D-day to V–E totaled 766,294. American losses were 586,628, including 135,576 dead. The British, Canadians, French, and other allies in the west lost slightly over 60,000 dead".
    9. 1 2 Ellis, p. 256
    10. US Army Battle Casualties and Non-battle Deaths in World War 2: Final Report. Combined Arms Research Library, Department of the Army. 25 June 1953.
    11. Zaloga 2015, p. 239, 6,084 U.S. Army tanks destroyed, including 4,399 M4 Sherman tanks, 178 M4 (105) and 1,507 M5A1 Stuart tanks..
    12. 1 2 Zaloga 2015, p. 276.
    13. Zaloga 2015, p. 277, 4,477 British Commonwealth tanks destroyed, including 2,712 M4 Sherman tanks, 656 Churchill tanks, 609 Cromwell tanks, 433 M3 Stuart tanks, 39 Cruiser Mk VIII Challenger tanks, 26 Comet tanks, 2 M24 Chaffee tanks..
    14. Zaloga 2015, p. 239, 909 U.S. Army tank destroyers destroyed, including 540 M10 tank destroyers, 217 M18 Hellcat tank destroyers and 152 M36 tank destroyers..
    15. 1 2 Frieser 1995, p. 400
    16. L'Histoire , No. 352, April 2010 France 1940: Autopsie d'une défaite, p. 59.
    17. Shepperd 1990, p. 88
    18. Hooton 2010, p. 73
    19. George C Marshall, Biennial reports of the Chief of Staff of the United States Army to the Secretary of War : 1 July 1939–30 June 1945. Washington, DC : Center of Military History, 1996. Page 202. US Army historian Charles B. MacDonald (The European Theater of Operations: The Last Offensive, Center of Military History, United States Army, Washington D.C., 1993, page 478) holds that "exclusive of prisoners of war, all German casualties in the west from D-day to V–E Day probably equaled or slightly exceeded Allied losses". In the related footnote he writes the following: "The only specific figures available are from OB WEST for the period 2 June 1941 – 10 April 1945 as follows: Dead, 80,819; wounded, 265,526; missing, 490,624; total, 836,969. (Of the total, 4,548 casualties were incurred prior to D-day.) See Rpts, Der Heeresarzt im Oberkommando des Heeres Gen St d H/Gen Qu, Az.: 1335 c/d (IIb) Nr.: H.A./263/45 g. Kdos. of 14 Apr 45 and 1335 c/d (Ilb) (no date, but before 1945). The former is in OCMH X 313, a photostat of a document contained in German armament folder H 17/207; the latter in folder 0KW/1561 (OKW Wehrmacht Verluste). These figures are for the field army only, and do not include the Luftwaffe and Waffen-SS. Since the Germans seldom remained in control of the battlefield in a position to verify the status of those missing, a considerable percentage of the missing probably were killed. Time lag in reporting probably precludes these figures’ reflecting the heavy losses during the Allied drive to the Rhine in March, and the cut-off date precludes inclusion of the losses in the Ruhr Pocket and in other stages of the fight in central Germany."
    20. Rüdiger Overmans, Deutsche militärische Verluste im Zweiten Weltkrieg, Oldenbourg 2000. pp. 265, 266, 275 and 279. Based on extrapolations from a statistical sample (see German casualties in World War II), Overmans claims that losses on the Western Front amounted to 244,891 deaths (fallen, deaths from other causes or missing) in 1944 (Table 53, p. 266). As for 1945, Overmans claims that the German armed forces suffered 1,230,045 deaths in the "Final Battles" on the Eastern and Western Fronts from January to May 1945. This figure is broken down as follows (p. 272): 401,660 fallen, 131,066 dead from other causes, 697,319 missing. The number of missing obviously includes soldiers who fell into captivity and died there, possibly months or years later. (The number of deaths in captivity calculated by Overmans is about 459,000, thereof 363,000 in Soviet captivity (p. 286). Overmans’ figure of deaths in Soviet captivity is about 700,000 lower than the number (ca. 1,094,000) established between 1962 and 1974 by a German government commission, the Maschke Commission. Overmans (p. 288f.) considers it "plausible, though not provable" that these additional 700,000 perished in Soviet captivity.) Nevertheless, Overmans claims (pp. 275, 279) that all 1,230,045 deaths occurred during the period from January to May 1945. He states that about 2/3 of these deaths occurred on the Eastern Front, without explaining how he arrived at this proportion (according to Table 59 on p. 277, there were 883,130 deaths on the Eastern Front between June and December 1944, and according to Table 53 on p. 266 there were 244,891 deaths on the Western Front in the whole of 1944; the relation between these two figures is 78.29% in the East vs. 21.71% in the West). This would leave 410,000 deaths attributable to the Western Allied invasion of Germany between January and May 1945. Overall Overmans estimates deaths on the Eastern Fronts (by all causes, including POW deaths) as 4 million, and deaths on all other fronts (including POW deaths and deaths attributable to bombing) as 1.3 million (p. 265). He believes the men reported as missing on the Eastern Front died either from combat or in captivity. On page 286, he estimates ~80,000 German troops died in Allied POW camps after the war: 34,000 in French camps, 22,000 in American camps, 21,000 in UK camps, and several thousand more in Belgian and Dutch camps.
    21. Percy Schramm Kriegstagebuch des Oberkommandos der Wehrmacht: 1940 – 1945: 8 Bde. 1961 ( ISBN   9783881990738) Pages 1508–1511. Only includes those wounded who were not captured after, and only records wounded up to January 31, 1945. Likely to be drastically underestimated considering the corresponding figures for the Eastern Front on the same document.
    22. Niewyk, Donald L. The Columbia Guide to the Holocaust, Columbia University Press, 2000; ISBN   0-231-11200-9, p. 421.
    23. Statistisches Jahrbuch für die Bundesrepublik Deutschland 1960 Bonn 1961 p. 78
    24. Bundesarchiv Euthanasie" im Nationalsozialismus, bundesarchiv.de; accessed March 5, 2016.(German)
    25. Gregory Frumkin. Population Changes in Europe Since 1939, Geneva 1951. pp. 58–59
    26. "Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) Netherlands" (PDF). Retrieved March 4, 2016.
    27. Frumkin, p.44–45
    28. Commonwealth War Graves Commission Annual Report 2013–2014, page 44.
    29. Frumkin, p. 144
    30. "Hvor mange dræbte danskere?". Danish Ministry of Education. Retrieved March 4, 2016.
    31. Frumkin, p. 59
    32. 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. According to David Glantz PDF Archived 9 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine , 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. "The Soviet-German War 1941–1945: Myths and Realities: A Survey Essay" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 11 September 2008. Retrieved 9 July 2011.
    33. North West Europe 1942 Archived 13 January 2008 at the Wayback Machine regiments.org
    34. Dieppe Archived 17 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine , www.canadiansoldiers.com
    35. Murray , pp. 434–436
    36. Burrough, Admiral Sir Harold (1948). "The final stages of the naval war in north-west Europe". London Gazette . Retrieved 9 June 2011.
    37. Zaloga, Dennis p. 88
    38. 2,055,575 German soldiers surrendered between D-Day and April 16, 1945, The Times, April 19 p 4; 755,573 German soldiers surrendered between April 1 and 16, The Times, April 18 p 4, which means that 1,300,002 German soldiers surrendered to the Western Allies between D-Day and the end of March 1945.
    39. Time Inc (30 April 1951). LIFE. Time Inc. p. 66.
    40. "THE RHINE CROSSINGS". Ushmm.org. Retrieved 7 February 2013.
    41. Willis , p. 17
    42. "Central Europe, p. 32". History.army.mil. Retrieved 7 February 2013.
    43. "12th Army Group Situation Map for 18 April 1945". Wwii-photos-maps.com. Retrieved 7 February 2013.
    44. John C. Frederiksen, American Military Leaders, p.76, Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 1999, ISBN   1-57607-001-8
    45. Germans played for time in Reims. Original emissaries had no authority to surrender to any of the Allies. New York Times, 9 May 1945
    46. Keitel is defiant at Berlin ritual. The New York Times. 10 May 1945

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