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Attack on the Rhine and the defeat of Germany

Attack on the Rhine

The first attempt to get across the Rhine was made by the British. Operation Market Garden was a combined ground and airborne operation that planned to use three airborne divisions made up of the US 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions and the British 1st Airborne. Its aim was to capture bridges across major rivers and canals, ending in capturing the bridge over the Rhine at Arnhem. However, despite heavy fighting, the British 1st Airborne Division was destroyed by German armoured divisions before the ground forces could reach them.

Before another attempt was made on the Rhine it was necessary to reduce the logistical burden of the Allies by bringing the port of Antwerp into use as a supply base. In December the Germans struck back and launched a massive surprise attack out of the Ardennes forest, effectively destroying the US 1st Army and panicking American high command. The German attack was contained in the Battle of the Bulge, and in the north the British and Canadians cleared much of Southern Holland in their move up to the Rhine.

Meanwhile, since June 1944 the Red Army had been pushing the Germans back across Poland and Eastern Europe. In the autumn of 1944 the Allies reached German border regions to find the Red Army camped along the Vistula River, rebuilding its supply lines and gathering strength.

On 7 March in the south, a reformed US 1st Army captured a bridge over the Rhine at Remagen. On 21 March under General Patton the US 3rd Army reached the Rhine near Oppenheim, crossing it the next day. Between 23 and 24 March the British 2nd Army and US 9th Army attacked the Rhine.

Collapse and surrender of Germany

Fast-moving armoured spearheads probed deeply into Germany. German reserves and war fighting potential had been exhausted in the Battle of the Bulge or were used to try to hold off the Red Army in the east. The US 1st and 9th Armies encircled the Ruhr and captured 300,000 German soldiers. On 25 April 1945, elements of the US 1st Army linked up with the Red Army at Torgau. Nuremburg fell to the Americans on 20 April, and the British captured Hamburg on 3 May. The US 7th Army linked up with the US 5th Army, moving up from Italy in the vicinity of the Brenner Pass on 4 May.

Hitler committed suicide on 30 April and the German army rapidly disintegrated. It was clear now that surrender was not far off. On 7 and 9 May 1945 the unconditional surrender agreements were signed in Rheims and Berlin respectively. The war in Europe was over.

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