Summary of Operations in Northwest Europe
The broad strategy behind our main effort against the German war machine included as a highly desirable preliminary the successful conclusion of operations in North Africa and their extension across Sicily to the Italian mainland. With these accomplished, with the Mediterranean "flank" freed for Allied shipping, and with the necessary special equipment built or in sight, we were at last in a position to prepare for the final cross-Channel assault which had been agreed upon since April I942 as our main operation against Germany. It was correctly believed that only on tlle historic battlefields of France and the Low Countries could Germany's armies in the west be decisively engaged and defeated.
America and England-the Western Allies, could not be sufficiently strong to undertake the assault against France until June I944, but the broad tactical plans for the operation were completed and approved by the Combined Chiefs of Staff in August I943, prior to my assumption of command of the European Theater in February I944.
As part of our basic strategy, and in accordance with the task given to the Strategic Air Force under tlle Casablanca Directive in January I943, the bombing of Germany, begun early in the war by the British Bomber Command, was intensified in May I943 and continued with mounting strength to the end of the campaign. Neither the contemplated invasion of Europe nor the direct attack on the German industrial and economic system would be feasible until we had achieved supremacy over the German Air Force. This struggle for air supremacy, which had been going on throughout tlle war, was given added impetus by a new directive (known as POINTBLANK.) in January I943 which aimed at subjugating the enemy air force by the spring of I944. In the event, German air might was thoroughly dominated by D-day and we were free to apply the immense strength of the Allied air forces in tlle manner we wished and to launch the invasion confident that our plans could not be seriously upset by the German air force. In addition, air bombardment had disrupted the German communications system, immeasurably aiding our ground forces by impeding enemy movements.
Our main strategy in the conduct of the ground campaign was to land amphibious and airborne forces on the Normandy coast between Le Havre and the Cotentin Peninsula and, with the successful establishment of a beachhead with adequate ports, to drive along the lines of the Loire and the Seine Rivers into the heart of France, destroying the German strength and freeing France. We anticipated that the enemy would resist strongly on the line of the Seine and later on the Somme, but once our forces had broken through the relatively static lines of the beachhead at St-Lo and inflicted on him the heavy casualties in the Falaise pocket, his ability to resist in France was negligible. Thereafter our armies swept east and north in an unimpeded advance which brought them to the German frontier and the defenses of the Siegfried Line.
Here enemy resistance stiffened, due primarily to the fact that he had fallen back on long-prepared defenses. At the same time our own offensive capabilities were lessened because our forces had, in their extremely rapid advance, outdistanced supply lines which had been maintained only by herculean efforts. By mid-September our armies in the north and center were committed to relatively static warfare and faced the threat of stabilization. This was true also on our southern flank, where forces landed from the Mediterranean against the south of France in mid-August had swept north through the Rhone Valley to link with the Central Group of Armies and close the Belfort Gap.
At this time we planned to attack quickly on the northern front in an effort to establish a bridgehead over the lower Rhine while the German armies were still reeling from our blows, but the airborne operation launched at Arnhem was not altogether successful in this respect, although considerable ground was gained and our positions in this area improved. Coincidentally with approving the Arnhem operation, it was directed that operations be undertaken to clear Antwerp as a supply port on the north, essential to our continued offensive action. This was accomplished in November.
While our forces moved slowly in attacks launched at selected points on the front to close to the Rhine, the enemy on 16 December launched a desperate and last counterattack designed to throw our campaign into disorder and to delay our planned advance deep into Germany. The attack was not without its immediate effect upon us, but the sturdy defense by our forces followed by our rapid and continuous counterattacks brought home clearly to Germany's military leaders that this last effort had failed completely and that the Nazi war machine faced inevitable disaster.
My plan was to destroy the German forces west of the Rhine along the entire length of the front in a series of heavy blows beginning in the north, and it was my expectation that the enemy would, as he had done in Normandy, stand without giving ground in a futile attempt to "fight it out" west of the Rhine. Moreover, the air forces were used intensively to destroy his mobility. By March, when our forces crossed the river north of the Ruhr, at Remagen, and at various points to the south, resistance on the eastern bank was again reduced to resemble that in France following the breakthrough, particularly because the enemy, mistaking our intentions, crowded a great part of his remaining forces into the Ruhr area.
Our attack to isolate the Ruhr had been planned so that the main effort would take place on the front of the Northern Group of Armies with a secondary effort on the Central Group of Armies' front. This secondary effort was to be exploited to the full if success seemed imminent. Clearing the left bank of the Rhine throughout its length released the means required to strengthen this secondary effort. With the capture of the Remagen bridgehead and the destruction of enemy forces west of the Rhine, the anticipated opportunity became almost a certainty.
Our forces were now able to bridge the Rhine in all sectors and they fanned out in great mobile spearheads through western Germany, disrupting communications, isolating one unit from another, and in the area of the Ruhr completing perhaps the largest double envelopment in history, rendering that great industrial area useless to support what was left of the Nazi armies.
As our forces moved rapidly eastward with the main effort in the center, to establish contact with the advancing Russian armies at the Etbe, and in turn to swing swiftly north and south to cut off any remaining refuge, the German High Command reluctantly recognized defeat and belatedly initiated negotiations which terminated with unconditional surrender on 7 May 1945.
In these campaigns the United States of America and Great Britain worked as one nation, pooling their resources of men and material. To the Combined Chiefs of Staff, through whom the directives of the two governments were expressed, we constantly accorded our admiration for their well-devised system of command by which they applied the concerted national efforts. Their political leaders, the President of the United States and the Prime Minister, also contributed immeasurably to the success of our armies in the field; once they had committed themselves to a course of action they never failed to give us unstinted support.
D-Day Planning and Preparation: The COSSAC Plan