MARK R. HENRY, MIKE CHAPPELLTHE
Hitler gambled his reconstituted divisions in an all-out offensive to split the US and British armies apart and seize Antwerp. There was little warning of the Wehrmacht's renewed strength until US forces resting in the thinly-held Ardennes sector found themselves under massive attack on 16 December.
Winter weather grounded the Air Corps, leaving three US divisions to face the onslaught; the green 106th, the 28th (recovering from the Hürtgen battles), and parts of the untried 9th Armored held the line for two days under attack by three German armies. The north (2nd and 99th Infantry Divisions) and south (4th Infantry Division) shoulders of the penetration held firm. The shocked 106th Infantry Division ultimately surrendered two of its three regiments; the 28th, fighting stubborn rearguard actions, found its units scattered. US engineer units plagued German spearheads throughout the battle with blown bridges, which caused major delays in the difficult hill country. A 40-mile breach seemed to open, but the two-day stand allowed the highly mobile US Army to rush units into the 'Bulge'.
The Germans had to capture the road junctions at St Vith and Bastogne. With elements of three divisions. Gen Clarke (CCB, 7th Armored Division) held St Vith until 20 December, completely disrupting the German timetable in the northern Ardennes. When it fell, outflanked by the crack Führer Begleit Brigade, the 7th and nearby 9th Armored Division combat commands managed to break out to fight another day. Bastogne was held by the 101st Airborne and elements of three other divisions. The deepest enemy penetrations, by 1st SS Panzer and 2nd Panzer divisions, were both stopped cold short of the River Meuse. By the end of December encircled Bastogne had been relieved by Patton's 4th Armored Division, and the clearing skies were full of Allied aircraft. Though the German offensive had severely shocked the Allies, Hitler had expended his last reserves for nothing.
Hürtgen Forest, October/November 1944: a BAR team from the 4th Division struggle through the muddy pine woods. During weeks of murderous fighting GIs from the 4th, 8th and 28th Divisions were among those who paid very dearly for the 1st Army's slow advance.
Spring 1945 saw the US armies careering into the heartland of Germany. In late March the Rhine was jumped at several locations and the 9th Armored Division seized an intact bridge at Remagen. Rapid advances were punctuated by many bitter local battles, however, as US columns encountered blocking positions held with fanatical determination by ad hoc German battle groups - always a strength of the German forces: a few tanks and Flak guns, the scraped-together remnants of retreating units, the staffs of officer and NCO training schools, banding together under some junior commander to sell their lives dearly. Nevertheless, by 18 April nearly 400,000 enemy troops were cut off and forced to capitulate in the Ruhr valley, the bombed-out industrial heart of Germany. While fighting doggedly against the vengeful Red Army advancing from the east, most Wehrmacht troops were now happy to surrender to the Western Allies.
By VE-Day the US had 60 divisions operational in the ETO; they were advancing into Austria and Czechoslovakia, and in Germany they were a day's march from Berlin. On 2 May, American, British and Russian troops linked up at Lübeck on the Baltic. On the 7th, the unconditional surrender of Germany from midnight on 8 May 1945 was signed at Cien Eisenhower's HQ at Rheims.
The GI of World War II has accurately been described as the 'citizen soldier'; and when the war ended he couldn't wait to get home. Conscious of the US Army's unhappy experience with delays in sending the 'doughboys' of 1918 back to the States, the authorities took surveys among the GIs as to the fairest way to handle the problem. A point system was devised to award the longer-serving veterans higher scores which would enable them to go home first: five points for each campaign star, one for every six months in service, one for every six months overseas, five for each wound, five for each decoration, and twelve points for each child (to a maximum of three). The total points required for release started at 85, but by December 1945 only 50 were needed.
After VE-Day priority was given to transferring the newer ETO divisions to the Pacific to continue the war. As VJ-Day in August 1945 caught the Army in mid-transit, many GIs with minimal service found themselves in the US and were discharged. High-point veterans in the ETO were soon first on the list homeward, but it all seemed to the GIs to take entirely too much time. The US Army demobilised at a rapid rate, however, and by 1946 the wartime force of 8.3 million was down to 2 million.
Note: The following divisions which served in both Italy and NW Europe are covered on page 39 of MAA 347, The US Army in World War II (2). The Mediterranean: 1st, 3rd, 9th, 36th & 45th Infantry, 82nd Airborne.
2nd Armored Division ('Hell on Wheels'), N.Africa, Sicily, Normandy, France, Ardennes, Germany. All armored divisions wore the Armored Force triangular patch divided yellow (top), blue (left) and red, with black tracks-and-lightning motif below divisional numeral.
3rd Armored Division 'Spearhead'). Normandy. France. Ardennes, Germany.
4th Armored Division ('Breakthrough'). Normandy. France, Ardennes. Germany.
5th Armored Division ('Victory') Normandy, France. Germany.
6th Armored Division ('Super Sixth'). Normandy, France Ardennes, Germany.
7th Armored Division ('Lucky Seventh'). Normandy. France, Ardennes, Germany.
8th Armored Division ('Thundering Herd). France, Ardennes, Germany.
9th Armored Division ('Phantom'). Ardennes. Germany, Czechoslovakian border.
10th Armored Division ('Tiger') France. Ardennes, Germany.
11th Armored Division ('Thunderbolt'). France, Ardennes. Germany.
12th Armored Division ('Hellcat'). Germany.
13th Armored Division ('Black Cat'). Ardennes, Germany.
14th Armored Division ('Liberator'). France, Germany.
16th Armored Division Germany.
20th Armored Division Germany.
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