Double Victory: Minorities and Women During World War II
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Ruhr Campaign (25 March–18 April 1945)

By March 1945, the Western Allies had defeated all German opposition west of the Rhine River and had crossed Germany's last defensive stronghold at several points. British Field Marshal Sir Bernard Montgomery, commander of 21st Army Group, advocated that the next Allied advance should take place in his own northern zone, where the Allies could push through the north German plain and begin the final assault on Berlin. This route, however, was heavily defended, and the supreme commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces, General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower, favored a broad-front approach in which his main thrust would be concentrated in the center, against the Ruhr River valley.

The Ruhr industrial complex was Germany's industrial heartland and the most important Allied military objective after Berlin. Concentrated within a 2,000-square-mile area were 18 manufacturing cities and coal deposits supplying 69 percent of Germany's requirements. Between 1942 and 1945, the Allied air campaign had diminished the Ruhr's productive capacity and forced a 25 to 30 percent drop in steel production. Allied air forces also enforced some measure of isolation on the Ruhr by crippling 11 of 17 critical rail centers that connected it with the rest of Germany. Still, the Allies recognized that the only way to eliminate totally the Ruhr's contribution to the German war effort was to occupy it.

Sixty-five German divisions defended the Ruhr. These units were largely concentrated in the west to defend against a direct assault from the Rhine. Although understrength, these divisions presented a formidable obstacle to any direct American offensive. General Omar N. Bradley, the commander of the 12th Army Group, chose to envelop the Ruhr in a classic pincer movement. Lieutenant General Courtney H. Hodges's First Army would advance along the Ruhr's southern boundary while Lieutenant General William H. Simpson's Ninth Army enveloped the Ruhr from the north. The two armies planned to link up at Paderborn.

The Ruhr Campaign began on 25 March when the First Army broke out of the Remagen bridgehead over the Rhine and advanced eastward. The forward armored elements moved rapidly through the Germans' thinly dispersed flank defenses. The 3rd Armored Division reached Marburg and turned north on 28 March, the same day that the Ninth Army, led by its 2nd Armored Division, moved out from its bridgehead. The 3rd Armored Division encountered stiff German resistance on the approach to the Paderborn rendezvous. Students and instructors from a local Waffen-SS panzer training camp blocked the U.S. advance with their Tiger and Panther tanks. The 2nd and 3rd Armored Divisions then bypassed this resistance. At noon on Easter Sunday, 1 April, forward armored elements of the First and Ninth Armies linked up in the Lippstadt area west of Paderborn, completing the Ruhr envelopment.

The Ruhr pocket ( Ruhr Kessel) measured some 30 by 80 miles. Trapped within were Field Marshal Walther Model's Army Group B headquarters, Generaloberst (U.S. equiv. full general) Josef Harpe's Fifth Panzer Army, most of General der Infanterie (U.S. equiv. lieutenant general) Gustav von Zangen's Fifteenth Army, and two corps of the First Parachute Army. In all, German forces caught in the pocket included remnants of 18 divisions and 7 corps commands. The encircled German forces were unable to muster sufficient strength to break through the U.S. perimeter and could not count on a rescue from outside the pocket. Characteristically, Adolf Hitler ordered Model to defend "Fortress Ruhr" to the last man.

Initially, the Americans deployed 13 divisions for the Ruhr battle. Later, with progress slower than expected, 4 additional divisions were committed. Major General John B. Anderson's XVI Corps of Ninth Army cleared the densely populated industrial area north of the Ruhr River. To the south, Major General James A. Van Fleet's III Corps, Major General J. Lawton Collins's VII Corps, and Major General Clarence R. Huebner's V Corps of First Army cleared the rugged and forested Sauerland. Meanwhile, three divisions of Lieutenant General Leonard T. Gerow's Fifteenth Army were to keep the Germans occupied along the Rhine River.

German resistance proved spotty and unpredictable. The Americans adopted an effective technique for clearing the pocket. Once a town was captured, they would call ahead by telephone to inform the next town that they were coming soon and demand its surrender.

American forces reduced the Ruhr pocket quickly. Essen, home of the Krupp industrial combine, was taken on 11 April, and by 14 April, they had effectively cut the area in two when troops from the First and Ninth Armies met up along the Ruhr River. Major General Matthew B. Ridgway, XVIII Airborne Corps commander, wrote Model and demanded his surrender, but the German general refused to disobey Hitler's order. Instead, he disbanded his army, and on 21 April, he committed suicide. All organized resistance in the Ruhr pocket ceased on 18 April. During the two-week campaign, the Americans captured 317,000 German soldiers, including 30 generals and an admiral—more than the Allies had captured at Tunisia or the Soviets had at Stalingrad. The Western Allies also liberated 200,000 forced laborers and 5,639 prisoners of war.

Thomas Nester


Further Reading
Kessler, Leo. The Battle of the Ruhr Pocket, April 1945. Chelsea, MI: Scarborough House, 1990.; MacDonald, Charles B. The Last Offensive. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1973.; Weigley, Russell F. Eisenhower's Lieutenants: The Campaign of France and Germany, 1944–1945. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1981.; Whiting, Charles. The Battle of the Ruhr Pocket. New York: Balantine Books, 1970.
 

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