Double Victory: Minorities and Women During World War II
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Alsace Campaign (November 1944–January 1945)

Allied campaign to capture Alsace from German forces. Formidable barriers to the east and west protected the plains of Alsace from invasion; to the east was the Rhine River and to the west the Vosges Mountains. The two primary gaps in the Vosges were the Belfort Gap and the Saverne Gap, with the former defying capture by the German army both in 1870 and 1914. The vaunted Wehrmacht did what past German armies failed to do when Panzer Group Guderian penetrated the Belfort Gap in the French Campaign of 1940. German forces occupied Alsace until the Allied campaign of winter 1944–1945.

The Alsace Campaign was a joint American-French campaign to capture Alsace and reach the Rhine River. Lieutenant General Jacob Devers, commander of the Allied 6th Army Group, exercised overall control of the campaign. His forces consisted of the U.S. Seventh Army under Lieutenant General Alexander Patch and the First French Army under General Jean de Lattre de Tassigny. The VI and XV Corps made up the Seventh Army, and the First French Army consisted of the I and II Corps. Opposing was the German Nineteenth Army under General der Infanterie (U.S. equiv. lieutenant general) Freidrich Wiese. His army consisted of eight infantry divisions, six of which would be nearly destroyed in the campaign. Wiese's most reliable unit was the 11th Panzer Division (known as the Ghost Division for its fighting on the Eastern Front against the Soviet Union).

Ultimate control of the German forces, however, was in the hands of Army Group G Commander General der Panzertruppen (U.S. equiv. lieutenant general) Hermann Balck. Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Forces (SHAEF) had low expectations for the campaign in Alsace; its attention was more clearly focused on the battles to the north involving the 12th and 21st Army Groups. General Devers was to clear the Germans from his front and secure crossings over the Rhine River. In the 6th Army Group zone, General Patch's XV Corps, commanded by Major General Wade Haislip, held the left, or northern, flank and was linked up with Lieutenant General George S. Patton's Third Army of the 12th Army Group. Next in line was the VI Corps under Major General Edward Brooks, who took over when Lieutenant General Lucian Truscott was reassigned. Holding the southern flank was the First French Army; this was also the southern flank of the entire Allied line.

The campaign in Alsace was to begin in coordination with the fighting to the north. The XV Corps was to jump off on 13 November 1944 and capture Sarrebourg and the Saverne Gap, then exploit its gains eastward while at the same time protecting Patton's flank. (Patton's offensive started on 8 November.) The VI Corps was scheduled to begin its campaign two days after the XV Corps started, or 15 November. It would attack in a northeasterly direction, break out onto the Alsatian plains, capture Strasbourg, and secure the west bank of the Rhine. Farther south, the First French Army was to commence operations on 13 November. The I and II Corps would force the Belfort Gap, capture the city of Belfort, and exploit its success. There was ample opportunity for spectacular success.

The XV Corps attacked in a snowstorm on 13 November with the 79th and 44th Divisions and the French 2nd Armored Division. The 79th Division captured Sarrebourg on 21 November and advanced so quickly that General Patch directed XV Corps to capture Strasbourg if it could get there before VI Corps. On 23 November, elements of the French 2nd Armored Division liberated Strasbourg, capital of Alsace. The VI Corps began its attack on 15 November with the 3rd, 36th, 100th, and 103rd Divisions and achieved similar success. Crossing the Meurthe River, the 100th Division penetrated the German "Winter Line" on 19 November, a position that quickly crumbled. The attack in the First French Army sector began on 13 November. The French troops successfully breached the Belfort Gap, and elements of the 1st Armored Division of I Corps reached the Rhine on 19 November, the first Allied troops in the 6th Army Group zone to do so.

In the midst of this success in the 6th Army Group zone, Generals Dwight D. Eisenhower and Omar N. Bradley met with Devers and Patch on 24 November. The result was an order for the Seventh Army to turn northward and attack the West Wall (the series of fortifications protecting Germany's western frontier) along with Patton's Third Army. The XV and VI Corps, minus two divisions, were subsequently turned northward while the First French Army and the 3rd and 36th Divisions focused their attention on German troops around the city of Colmar.

The attack northward began on 5 December, with the XV Corps on the left and the VI Corps on the right. After 10 days of heavy fighting, elements of the VI Corps entered Germany on 15 December. The 100th Division's effort around the French city Bitche was so fierce that it was given the sobriquet "Sons of Bitche." The Seventh Army offensive was halted on 20 December to enable it to cooperate with the Allied defense in the Ardennes.

The German troops in the 6th Army Group front planned an offensive for late December 1944, known as Operation nordwind. Just before midnight on New Year's Eve, the onslaught commenced. Through much of January 1945, the attack forced Allied troops to give ground. Eisenhower even toyed with the idea of abandoning Strasbourg, but General Charles de Gaulle vehemently opposed such a plan. The city was held, and by 25 January, the German offensive petered out and the German forces withdrew.

With the German attack defeated, the only Wehrmacht troops remaining in Alsace were located around Colmar. The First French Army was assigned the responsibility of reducing the Colmar pocket, and it began this task on 20 January 1945. The I Corps attacked the southern flank of the pocket, while the II Corps assaulted the northern flank. The plan was for the two forces to meet at the Rhine, enveloping the pocket. On 2 February, the city of Colmar was captured, and by 5 February, German resistance ended. The campaign in Alsace was over. Although overshadowed by the 12th and 21st Army Groups to the north, General Devers's 6th Army Group had contributed an important accomplishment.

Christopher C. Meyers


Further Reading
Bonn, Keith E. When the Odds Were Even: The Vosges Mountains Campaign, October 1944–January 1945. Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1994.; Clarke, Jeffrey J., and Robert R. Smith. United States Army in World War II: European Theater of Operations: Riviera to the Rhine. Washington, DC: Center of Military History, 1993.; Lattre de Tassigny, Jean M. G. de. The History of the First French Army. Trans. Malcolm Barnes. London: Allen and Unwin, 1952.; Weigley, Russell. Eisenhower's Lieutenants: The Campaign of France and Germany, 1944–1945. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1981.; Wyant, William. Sandy Patch: A Biography of Lt. Gen. Alexander M. Patch. New York: Praeger, 1991.
 

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