But if the French effort in response to the German invasion of Poland was pathetic, Britain's was worse. The Royal Navy did impose a naval blockade on Germany, but the effects of this were far different from those caused by a similar blockade in World War I. This blockade was nullified by Germany's nonaggression pact with the Soviet Union, the secret terms of which promised Germany strategic natural resources. Germany could also secure necessary supplies from Italy, and both countries acted as purchasing agents for Berlin abroad. Two weeks into the war, the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) had not even completed assembling, and London rejected pleas for the Royal Air Force (RAF) bombing raids against Germany that had been agreed to before the war.
Following the German victory over Poland and the rejection by Britain and France of his terms for peace on a "forgive and forget" basis, Adolf Hitler prepared to move west. In late November 1939, he informed his military chiefs that Germany could deal with the Soviet Union only when it was free in the west. He was determined to attack France and Britain "at the earliest moment."
All was then quiet in the west. This period of the war came to be known as the "Sitzkrieg," the "Phony War," or the "Bore War." France carried out a full mobilization, and its forces manned the Maginot Line, but Britain imposed only a partial conscription, and by mid-October, it had only four divisions in France. Hardly any air action took place, with both sides reluctant to unleash the bombing of cities. Bad weather and the pleas of his generals for additional time caused Hitler to postpone the German invasion of France.
The Allies had no intention to take the offensive themselves. The commander of the French army, General Maurice Gamelin, said, "The first one who comes out his shell will be in peril." Meanwhile, First Lord of the Admiralty Winston L. S. Churchill developed a scheme to mine the coastal waters of neutral Norway in order to deny Germany access to high-grade Swedish iron ore shipped from the port of Narvik. Allied Scandinavian plans, including discussions of sending troops to aid Finland in its war against the Soviet Union, were soon an open secret. Initially, Hitler had no intention of opening a new front in northern Europe, for in mid-December, he set 14 January 1940 as the start date for the western offensive, which was then postponed again. In February, however, Hitler concluded that the British intended to move against Norway and that Germany would have to move first. The German invasion of Norway began on 9 April 1940, catching the Allies by complete surprise.
The Germans took Denmark in only one day, but Norway proved more difficult to subdue. The Allies landed troops in the north and occupied Narvik, but mounting aircraft losses, the unsatisfactory situation elsewhere in Norway, and the German invasion of France brought evacuation in early June. The Norwegian Campaign badly hurt the German surface navy; it lost 3 cruisers and 10 destroyers, half of its total, but Hitler secured additional food production for the Reich and protection for his northern flank on the Baltic. Most important, the Kriegsmarine (German navy) secured locations for naval bases nearer to the Allied Atlantic convoy routes. Thus, it could now launch attacks into the North Atlantic and later strike Allied convoys bound for the Soviet Union. But Hitler also suffered the consequences of strategic overreach; by 1944, he had 365,000 of his best troops in Norway, a serious drain on his badly stretched resources.
Hitler's next stroke was the oft-delayed invasion of France and the Low Countries. On 10 January 1940, a German military aircraft was forced to land in Belgium. Its passenger was carrying the operational plans for the German attack in the west. Compromise of this plan led Hitler to abandon it and caused the German invasion to be delayed until May. The old plan would have seen the Germans encountering the best British and French divisions, but the new plan, sichelschnitt (meaning "the cut of the sickle"), shifted the major effort from central Belgium to just north of the Maginot Line. The northern effort would occur first, drawing the Allies into Belgium. Then the major blow would fall to the south, in the hilly and wooded Ardennes. The Germans planned to cross the Meuse River and crack the French lines at Sedan, then swing northwest to the Channel and cut off the best British and French divisions in Belgium.
The campaign for France and the Low Countries began on 10 May 1940. The Allies matched the German invading forces on the ground and outnumbered the Germans in tanks. Their problem lay in tactical employment. The first three French tank divisions did not assemble for training until January 1940, and the majority of French tanks along the eastern frontier were split into isolated packets as infantry support. The Germans dominated the air, a vital factor in their success, and the Allies were sadly deficient in antiaircraft weapons. Other important factors in the outcome of the campaign included appallingly inadequate senior French military leadership, catastrophic failures in French military intelligence, and the lack of adequate reserves to deal with the German breakthrough.
German airborne forces in the north secured vital bridges and also the Belgian bastion of Eben Emael. The Allies followed the German script by pouring their forces into Belgium. On 13 May, German forces to the south crossed the Meuse. For all intents and purposes, the struggle for France was over on 15 May when the Germans penetrated the Meuse defenses.
Once the panzer divisions were free, the way was clear to drive to the English Channel and cut off the main Allied armies in Belgium. By 24 May, the Germans had captured Boulogne and isolated Calais, forcing the BEF to rely on Dunkerque (Dunkirk) for resupply. Allied forces in Belgium were now cut off from the bulk of the French forces to the south. As British forces withdrew northward to the coast, King Leopold III surrendered his armed forces on 28 May, despite promises that his nation would not undertake any such unilateral action. This action opened a gap between the BEF left flank and the sea, into which the Germans now poured, threatening to cut off the BEF entirely. At this point, Hitler, in his first major military blunder of the war, intervened. For five days, he kept the German armored thrust from the south in place, saving the BEF and probably enabling Britain to continue in the war.
During the period between 27 May and 4 June, the British carried out an epic evacuation at Dunkerque. In Operation dynamo, they evacuated some 365,000 troops, of whom about 225,000 were British. The BEF was forced to abandon virtually all its equipment in France, but it did extract almost all its remaining personnel. In Britain, the evacuation swept away the "phoniness" of the war, but many Britons were oblivious to the fact that, in May 1918, there had been 10 times the number of British divisions in France as in May 1940, that they had left the French in the lurch, or that the French First Army had held the Germans from the beaches and allowed the BEF to escape.
On 5 June, after having consolidated, the Germans struck south, cutting through French forces and reaching the Seine River west of Paris four days later. Stunned by these developments and unprepared for improvised action, much of the French army simply disintegrated. On 13 June, the government declared Paris an open city to spare it air attack, and the next day, German troops took peaceful possession of the French capital.
On 12 June, the new French army commander, General Maxime Weygand, had concluded that the situation was hopeless and so informed the cabinet. Two days earlier, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, convinced that the war was all but won, had brought his country into the conflict on the German side by invading southeastern France. Thirty-two Italian divisions attacked five French divisions along the Italian border but made little headway.
On 16 June, French Premier Paul Reynaud was forced to resign, and a majority of the cabinet voted to ask Hitler for terms. The new premier was 84-year-old Marshal Henri Philippe Pétain, a World War I hero who had been brought into the government as deputy premier in order to bolster French resolve but who now favored an immediate armistice. On 17 June, the Pétain government opened negotiations with the Germans. Fighting ceased on the battlefields of France on 25 June.
France was divided into occupied and unoccupied zones, and its army was reduced to 100,000 officers and men. The navy, almost entirely intact, remained under French control but was to be disarmed in French ports. France also had to pay for the German occupation of three-fifths of its territory.
Paris was included in the German occupation zone, so the new French government established itself at Vichy, in south-central France. The new Vichy France was frankly totalitarian and, to a considerable degree, collaborationist. Pétain and his advisers believed that Germany had won the war and that, at least for the foreseeable future, France would be under German control. It took something akin to clairvoyance in the dark days of June 1940 to foresee a possible Allied victory, but a small number of Frenchmen and Frenchwomen vowed to continue the fight and took the lead in forming resistance groups. In London, on 18 June, young Brigadier General Charles de Gaulle, who had been undersecretary of war only a few days before, announced over the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) the establishment of the Free French. He soon secured British military assistance and, ultimately, recognition of his government.
Winston Churchill, who had become British prime minister on 10 May, feared that the Germans would acquire the French fleet, although the French government had promised London that it would scuttle its ships rather than see them fall into German hands. This pledge was not sufficient for Churchill, who ordered Operation catapult. The British would offer French naval commanders a cruel choice between continuing the fight, disarming in neutral ports, or scuttling their ships. The British rather easily acquired some 130 French vessels of all types, but at Mers-el-Kébir in Algeria, there was fighting in which the British sank a number of French ships and killed nearly 1,300 French seamen. Despite this, the French government honored its pledge more than two years later. In November 1942, the Germans tried to seize the bulk of the French navy—80 ships assembled at Toulon—but the French scuttled 77 of them.
The Germans now dominated the Continent. They were emphatically the senior partner in the German-Italian combination, and they were on good terms with Francisco Franco in Spain, and the Soviet Union was benevolently neutral. History seemed to repeat itself, for the Germans now controlled almost exactly the same geographic area as had Napoleon, and in 1940, as in 1807, only Great Britain remained at war with the would-be conqueror.
Britain now awaited a German attack. In early June, there was only one properly equipped and trained division to defend the British Isles. BEF equipment abandoned in France included 600 tanks, 1,000 field guns, 500 antiaircraft guns, a vast number of small arms, and half a million tons of stores and ammunition. The fleet was far to the north, away from the Luftwaffe. If German forces could have landed in Britain in the weeks following Dunkerque, there would have been little means of stopping them. Hitler and his military chiefs, however, were caught off guard by the speed of the French defeat and had no plans for a follow-up invasion of Britain. Not until late July did they begin planning for a descent on England, code-named sea lion (seelöwe).
Following the defeat of France, Hitler had postponed any decision regarding Britain. He hoped and expected that the British people would recognize that Germany had won and agree to a negotiated peace. Some of his generals urged him to strike Britain before it could reorganize and consolidate its strength, but he refused. In early June, RAF Fighter Command had only about a sixth the number of aircraft that the Germans could send against Britain. Yet when formal orders were issued for sea lion, German preparations were half-hearted. In any case, command of the air was the necessary prerequisite for any invasion.
Official British dates for the Battle of Britain are 10 July to 31 October 1940. The Germans, however, never achieved their goal of driving the RAF from the skies. Ineffective German leadership, intelligence failures resulting in poor targeting decisions, radar and ultra in the hands of the British, the lack of a strategic bomber on the German side, superior British pilot and aircraft replacement, and the German concentration on London all contributed to the German defeat.
Finally, on 1 November, with the Luftwaffe sustaining prohibitive losses, the Germans shifted to night bombing—what Londoners called "the Blitz." Heavy bombing continued into May 1941. Although savage and relentless, night area bombing had no strategic result. The German air offensive had failed, in what was the first serious German military setback of the war. In mid-October 1940, Operation sea lion was officially shelved until the spring, when it was postponed indefinitely.
Hitler failed to recognize the need to maintain the pressure on Britain. He could have intensified aircraft and submarine attacks against shipping to the British Isles, which might have brought an eventual British collapse, but his attention was increasingly drawn eastward to the Soviet Union. The commander of the German navy, Grand Admiral Erich Raeder, and the commander of the air force, Hermann Göring, both believed that the defeat of Britain would leave Germany in a much stronger position vis-à-vis the Soviet Union. Hitler contended that the Soviet Union was preparing to attack Germany and that Britain was holding out only because its leaders hoped that Germany and the Soviet Union would go to war: if he could eliminate the Soviet Union, then Britain would capitulate. Hitler lacked patience and failed to understand the limitations of the blitzkrieg in terms of distance and resupply. He also did not appreciate interdiction or an indirect approach. Finally, Hitler was driven by ideological and political factors. In June 1941, after shoring up his Balkan flank, he sent his armies against the Soviet Union.
In December 1941, the United States joined the conflict as an active participant. Hitler and Mussolini then declared war on the United States, resolving a possible strategic dilemma for President Franklin D. Roosevelt concerning the Allied policy of concentrating first on Germany. Soviet leader Josef Stalin called for an immediate invasion of western Europe by British and U.S. ground forces, but it would take many months for the vast U.S. industrial base to shift to war production, for armed forces to be raised and trained, and for the Battle of the Atlantic to be won. In 1942, the U.S. contribution to the war in Europe came in the form of strategic bombing, and there was little of that.
The Americans preferred the earliest possible cross-Channel invasion of northern France. Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall was a strong supporter of an invasion of northwestern Europe in the fall of 1942. The British were leery, fearful that such a move would lead to a repeat of the situation in northeastern France in World War I. Proof that the Western Allies were not ready to undertake a cross-Channel invasion was provided in Operation jubilee, the raid on Dieppe on the coast of Normandy on 19 August 1942. The raid buried the myth that a cross-Channel invasion was feasible in 1942, and it cast grave doubts on the Allied plan for a cross-Channel invasion in 1943.
Roosevelt had promised Stalin that the Western Allies would undertake an invasion by the end of 1942, and he was determined to honor that pledge. He met that commitment with Operation torch, the Allied invasion of French North Africa in November 1942. With success there, U.S. military leaders, most notably General Marshall, attempted to secure British approval for a cross-Channel invasion in 1943. Churchill demurred and convinced Roosevelt to pursue operations in the Mediterranean against Italy. The British leader wanted an Allied concentration in the Mediterranean, which he termed the "soft underbelly of Europe." The Americans reluctantly agreed to invasions first of Sicily and then of Italy, but they insisted on the cross-Channel invasion of France for the spring of 1944.
The Allies developed precise and elaborate plans for the invasion in Normandy. Prior to the landing, Allied air forces would conduct a massive bombing campaign to isolate the region. The landing itself would be preceded by a night drop of three divisions of paratroops. The next morning, five infantry divisions would go ashore along the 50-mile stretch of coast. Some 10,000 aircraft would secure the skies, while hundreds of ships provided naval support.
Success was probable if the Allies could establish a bridgehead large enough to build up their strength. Once they broke through the German lines, the Allies would have the whole of France for maneuver because their armies were fully mechanized and the bulk of the defending German forces were not. Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, who had charge of the coastal defenses, well understood that the German defense was doomed unless it could destroy the invaders on the beaches. Hitler did not agree and indeed welcomed the invasion as an opportunity to destroy the British and U.S. forces. In Britain, the Allied armies were immune to attack; in France, they could be destroyed. Let them come, he said: "They will get the thrashing of their lives."
The only possibility of German success was to introduce panzer reserves rapidly, but this step was fatally delayed by Allied air superiority and Hitler's failure immediately to commit resources available elsewhere. Operation fortitude, the Allied deception plan, convinced Hitler that the Normandy Invasion was a feint and that the main thrust would come in the Pas de Calais sector.
The Allies put ashore a million men within a month following D day, but a great storm severely damaged one of two artificial harbors that had been towed across the Channel. The Germans then turned the French ports into forts, destroying them when they had to surrender. Supply became a major problem and remained so until near the end of the war. The Normandy countryside also proved ideal defensive terrain, and not until the end of July were the Allies able to break out in Operation cobra (25–31 July), when Lieutenant General Omar Bradley's U.S. First Army forced the German line west of Saint-Lô, with Major General J. Lawton Collins's VII Corps making the main effort. Lieutenant General George S. Patton Jr. arrived in France on 6 July, and two days after the start of cobra, Bradley ordered him to take command of VIII Corps.
On 1 August, the U.S. command was reorganized. Bradley moved up to command 12th Army Group, Lieutenant General Courtney Hodges assumed command of the First Army, and Patton's Third Army was activated. In the British zone of operations, General Bernard Montgomery's mostly British Commonwealth 21st Army Group comprised Lieutenant General D. G. Crerar's Canadian First Army and Lieutenant General Miles C. Dempsey's Second British Army. Patton's Third Army scored the greatest success, although the general was fortunate to arrive in command when the static warfare of the previous two months had finally passed into the mobile warfare at which he excelled. The weather was also dry, and the flat terrain of northern France was ideal tank country. Patton took full advantage of the circumstances. He was certainly the outstanding general of the campaign for France. Third Army displayed instant efficiency and soon had parlayed the local breakthrough of cobra into a theater-wide breakout. After the breakout, Patton's Third Army turned west to clear out the Brittany peninsula, then turned to the east after taking Brest. In a single month, the Third Army liberated most of France north of the Loire River.
Meanwhile, the Allies launched Operation dragoon on the Côte d'Azur near Cannes in southern France. The operation had been planned largely to secure the large French Mediterranean ports for a rapid Allied buildup in France. Originally code-named anvil and planned to coincide with D day, this effort had to be postponed because of a shortage of landing craft as a consequence of overlord priorities and the British reluctance to divert assets from Italy. On 15 August, some 86,000 men went ashore on a 30-mile front 20 miles east of the French naval base of Toulon. German ground forces were thinly spread and inadequate in numbers and resources. Lieutenant General Alexander Patch's Seventh Army ultimately consisted of 10 divisions: 7 U.S. and 3 French. The invaders then pushed up the Rhône River valley. By the time of the linkup with Bradley's 12th Army Group near the Swiss border in the fall of 1944, the southern Allied force had grown into the 6th Army Group of 23 divisions under Lieutenant General Jacob Devers. dragoon provided him two large, intact French ports that could be used to help supply the expanding Allied buildup in France.
The Allies now squandered a golden opportunity. Montgomery was making little progress, while Patton and his Third Army swung wide in an enormous enveloping movement that prevented German forces from consolidating along the Seine. Patton's rapid drive made it possible to trap large numbers of two German field armies, including seven panzer divisions, in the so-called Falaise pocket. The destruction of these German forces was within Allied reach, but Eisenhower and Bradley did not grasp the significance of the situation and refused to authorize Patton to span a 15-mile-wide gap between Argentan and Falaise, the former having been assigned as a British objective.
The pocket was finally closed, and 60,000 Germans were killed or captured in the pocket, with substantial amounts of arms and equipment seized; yet some 100,000 Germans escaped. Without Bradley's imposition of a delay, which gave the Germans from 13 to 18 August to extract their forces, the Allies might have captured them all and brought the war to an end in 1944. German forces in France now fought their way homeward under Allied pursuit. Paris was liberated on 25 August, a task wisely left to the French. By 31 August, Patton's Third Army reached the Meuse at Verdun, and the following day, it gained the Moselle River. In the north, Montgomery drove into Belgium, all the while complaining of shortages of supplies and fuel and pressing for a single thrust under his command into Germany itself.
Between the two Allied spearheads, there was virtually little resistance. Facing Patton's six strong divisions were five weak German divisions with few tanks or antitank guns. Facing the British was the hastily assembled German First Parachute Army, a scratch force of some 18,000 men, boys, and walking wounded. In the sector between Aachen and Metz, the Germans had only eight infantry battalions. On the whole front, the Germans fielded some 100 tanks and 570 aircraft. In tanks and in aircraft, the Allies had a 20-to-1 advantage.
Yet the Allied advance stalled. The supply lines of the Allies were lengthening even as those of the Germans were contracting. The original Allied plan had been to consolidate on the Seine while opening the Brittany ports and establishing a sound logistical base, but that plan had been nullified by their unanticipated rapid advance after the Saint-Lô breakout. Much of the French railroad system had been destroyed by Allied air strikes, and the bulk of the supplies had to move from the Normandy beaches by road to the front. Despite the best efforts of the Allies, supplies were simply insufficient for the broad-front strategy on which Eisenhower insisted. The supply situation was made even worse by the need of essential services for liberated French cities and towns, and there were natural obstacles in the Vosges Mountains, the Ardennes, and the Hürtgen Forest.
By the end of August, the German army had suffered more casualties than at Stalingrad—losing roughly 500,000 soldiers and 1,600 tanks in what was one of the greatest defeats in the history of warfare. One daring thrust through the north, south, or center might have proved decisive. There were two competing schools of Allied operational strategy: the narrow front and the broad front. Montgomery and Patton were the two leading proponents of the narrow front, provided it was for their own forces; Eisenhower wanted the broad front. Eisenhower controlled the flow of supplies and made the ultimate decision. Arguing that there were only sufficient resources for one major thrust, Montgomery pressed Eisenhower to halt Patton's Third Army and concentrate resources behind his troops. He believed he could make a quick end to the war, and he wanted the British to lead the charge and take Berlin. Patton wanted, above all else, to beat Montgomery to that prize.
While this discussion was in progress, Montgomery missed a chance to shorten the war. British tanks took Brussels on 3 September and Antwerp the next day, so rapidly that the Germans were unable to destroy its port facilities. Only the opening of the 45-mile-long Scheldt estuary stood between the Allies and relief of their growing supply difficulties. But Montgomery preferred to concentrate his troops for a thrust across the Rhine into northern Germany and overlooked the enormous logistical implications of Antwerp. The British were well positioned to take the German Fifteenth Army fleeing northeastward up the coast. An advance of less than 10 miles beyond Antwerp would have sealed off the Walcheren and South Beveland peninsula. But Montgomery halted at Antwerp. Consequently, the Fifteenth Army escaped across the Scheldt at night and then went back into Holland.
Eisenhower now had to decide between concentrating on a narrow front or launching a broad-based attack in which the Allies would attack, regroup, and then attack again. Although Allied headquarters had always known that no major thrust could be made into Germany until Antwerp had been secured as a supply base, Eisenhower allowed Montgomery to ignore opening Antwerp in favor of securing a bridgehead across the Rhine and perhaps ending the war in one bold stroke. Also affecting the plan was pressure to use the airborne divisions that had participated in the Normandy Invasion and were now recuperating in Britain. Unfortunately, Montgomery failed to carry out the detailed staff planning of his earlier campaigns to make the plan work.
The operation was code-named market-garden. market, the airborne segment, involved three paratroop divisions; garden, the ground portion, was centered in the British Second Army. The airborne forces were to secure key bridges over the Maas (Meuse), Waal, and Lek (lower Rhine) Rivers, then Second Army would race up a corridor from Belgium along a 60-mile-long narrow causeway, cross the rivers, and secure Arnhem on the lower Rhine. The plan involved a high degree of risk, but the prize of outflanking the Siegfried Line (called the West Wall by the Germans) and gaining entry into northern Germany seemed worth it.
Factors involved in the failure of the operation included the refusal to modify the hastily developed plan, the lack of coordination with the Dutch underground, and the ignoring of Dutch warnings as well as ultra intercepts and late photographic evidence of the presence of two battle-hardened panzer divisions transferred from the Eastern Front and reconstituting around Arnhem. The operation also suffered from insufficient men and logistical support. But the greatest tactical mistake was to drop the British 1st Airborne Division 7 to 8 miles from Arnhem, allowing German panzers to isolate it. market-garden began on 17 September and ended on 26 September. The operation, which Montgomery later termed "90 percent successful," was, in fact, a total failure.
By mid-September, the Allied opportunity had been lost and the Germans had recovered sufficiently to slow the advance almost to a standstill. The task of forcing the Germans from the Scheldt fell chiefly to Lieutenant General Guy Simonds's First Canadian Army. This effort consumed two months of hard fighting. Patton was also held up in a month of bloody fighting before the fortress of Metz. With the onset of bad weather, any chance for the Allies to win the war in 1944 was gone. The Germans not only managed to rebuild their shattered divisions but also transferred new units into the battle, so that they actually enjoyed a manpower advantage over the Allied Expeditionary Forces, although they were numerically inferior in tanks, artillery, and, above all, airpower. Between September and December 1944, the U.S. Army suffered one of its worst defeats in the Battle of the Hürtgen Forest, ideal defensive terrain. The Germans, who were now defending their own homeland, resisted with great tenacity.
Hitler now proposed a final offensive in the west. In September 1944, with the Eastern Front static for several months and the Allied offensive in the west gaining ground, he conceived of a sudden offensive to take the Allies by surprise, break their front, and recapture Antwerp. He hoped at the least to buy three to four months to deal with the advancing Soviets. Western Front commander Field Marshal Karl Gerd von Rundstedt thought the plan was unrealistic, as did other high-ranking officers. But Hitler refused to change his mind, and substantial German forces were transferred from the Eastern Front to the west for what would be the biggest battle fought on the Western Front in World War II and the largest engagement ever fought by the U.S. Army.
On 16 December, the Germans launched their Ardennes Offensive. It caught the Western Allies completely by surprise, and bad weather restricted the use of Allied airpower. The German force of 24 divisions pushing against 3 divisions of Hodges's First Army drove a "bulge" 50 miles deep and 70 miles wide into the American defenses, which gave the Battle of the Bulge its name.
Allied resources diverted to the battle and clearing skies that permitted the intervention of Allied aircraft turned the tide. The battle dragged on to mid-January, but before the Germans could switch resources to the east, the Soviets launched their last great offensive. In effect, the Ardennes Offensive hastened the end of the war. Both sides suffered heavily, but the Western Allies quickly made up their losses, whereas the Germans could not. Deaf to all reason, Hitler categorically forbade retreat. Everything that could be of use to the enemy had to be destroyed. The fate of his people was irrelevant, for he concluded that if the Germans were unable to win, then they did not deserve to survive.
On 7 March 1945, U.S. forces captured intact a German bridge across the Rhine at Remagen and immediately put forces across. In the west, the Germans now had fewer than 60 understrength and poorly equipped divisions to oppose 85 well-equipped Allied divisions. With both Patton and Hodges making solid progress, Eisenhower ordered Bradley's 12th Army Group to make the main thrust, pushing through central Germany and ignoring Berlin, on which the Soviets were advancing. Ninth Army would encircle the Ruhr while the remainder of Montgomery's 21st Army Group covered Bradley's drive by moving northeast, cutting off German forces in Denmark and Norway. Lieutenant General Jacob Devers's 6th Army Group, meanwhile, provided right-flank security for Bradley, advancing down the Danube to secure the so-called Alpenfestung, or National Redoubt. The Ruhr was encircled on 1 April. Seventh Army, in the meantime, took Nuremberg, crossed the Danube, and moved into Austria, joining up in the Brenner Pass with elements of the Fifth Army from Italy. On 11 April, the Ninth Army reached the Elbe near Magdeburg. German resistance now rapidly collapsed. Soviet forces took Berlin, and on 8 May, Admiral Karl Dönitz, Hitler's successor, surrendered German forces unconditionally. The war in Europe was over.