The Americans from Normandy to German Border

The Americans from Normandy to German Border

Brooke S Blades
ARRSE Rating
5 Mushroom Heads
This is the second in a trilogy of Images of War books by the author, takes up where The Americans on D-Day and in Normandy leaves off, and is certainly as good as the first. It explores the fast pace after the breakout from Normandy and the resultant lengthening of the lines of communication and the increasing German resistance.

In common with the first book this one starts each chapter with a concise but highly informative narrative, followed by plenty of well captioned photographs, many of which are rare having been in archives for years. There are also plenty of maps including those showing movements of the combatants and dates.

Chapter One – An Army in France - deals with the breakout from Avranches in Normandy to the Falaise Gap; it details the German SS Panzer Divisions which faced the US Army at Hills 317 and 285 onwards to Argentan and Chambois in their race eastwards. Blades is not content to deal with the battles on land but includes details of supply drops to the Americans as well as the support they received from bombers and fighters of the USAAF and RAF.

Chapter Two, entitled Inferno in Normandy, continues with the tremendous battles as the US Army continued on its quest towards the River Seine. Their cooperation with the British, Canadian, Polish and French forces is visited at length and includes important details of the savage battles at Mont Ormel, Argetan and the Falaise Pocket. As always, this Chapter benefits from a whole host of photographs showing not only the devastation of war but also plenty of views of equipment, uniforms and weapons.

Chapter Three – The Day the War Should Have Ended – is set towards the end of August 1944 and covers the eventual liberation of Paris and the extra burdens faced by the US Army in freeing this vast population centre. Of particular note were the necessary negotiations with the French Government in exile as well as quelling the Communist and Gaullist factions who were conducting their own wars within a war in the French capital. This is all dealt with by the expertise of the author and makes for excellent reading. The Chapter ends, as expected and fitting, with photographs of the Americans moving in precise formation along the Champs de Elysees with the Arc de Triomph in the background.

To the Border is the title of Chapter Four which describes the movement of the US Army from Paris to the Belgian border through the former battlefields of the Great War, with their target of the next border into Germany seemingly within their grasp. Most of the battles during this period were alongside the British and Canadians which resulted in the port of Antwerp being taken in early September.

Despite these rapid advances the Americans were, by now, stretching their lines of communication and supply over very long distances as well as being hampered by the amount of German prisoners of war that took up vital resources. Although the port of Antwerp was now in Allied hands - and would have been the solution to some of these problems - it is 60 miles from the sea via the Scheldt River estuary, most of which remained in the hands of the enemy. It is at this point in the war that the Allies had to make their choices over the eventual defeat of Germany and victory; the author describes the discussions of strategy very skilfully.

Chapter Five carries the title When in Doubt, Lash Out, which describes the plans for Operation Market Garden, intended to create a south-north corridor through Holland to enable the Allies to then strike generally eastwards into Germany. The considerations for this plan were centred on: the British and Canadians moving north through Belgium towards the border with Holland; the Americans further south moving east through France towards Luxembourg and Germany; the Germans still holding south western Holland around the Schelde estuary and using it to bring their troops into reserve there; the continuing use of V rockets being launched onto England by Germany from the Dutch coastal areas.

The plans, therefore, for Operation Market Garden were the use of Allied airborne troops (parachutes and gliders) to open new ground in occupied Holland thus enabling advances west to liberate the rest of Holland and east into Germany. The US 101 Airborne Division would land, north to south, between Grave and Eindhoven to enable a link-up with the advancing British Second Army about 15 miles to the south. The US 82 Airborne Division would land north of the 101 Airborne from, north to south, Nimegen to Grave. The British 1 Airborne Division would land north of the US 101 Airborne around Arnhem and would advance south to link-up with 101. The US and British Airborne forces would be the Market part of the operation and the British Second Army would be the Garden part.

The author describes in detail the battles in which the US Airborne forces were largely successful in their aims despite not being able to link up with the Armoured British Second Army in the south at the right time, or with the British Airborne Division in the north who were unable to take and secure their objectives Arnhem for a variety of reasons.

Chapter Six, Not One Shall be Forgotten, defines the Battle for Arnhem in which the First British Airborne Division were unable to take their objectives. The author, quite rightly, includes this chapter in a book about the US operations, to enable a complete perspective of the advance on Germany to be gained. He describes how the troops were air dropped six to eight miles from their targets and how a shortage of aircraft hampered the whole operation. He goes on to illustrate the lack of intelligence and the subsequent bitter fighting with two unexpected SS Panzer Divisions. The many problems confronting the high quality British troops are explained in detail. Despite this, the Chapter does conclude with particulars of how 82 Airborne Division had entered Germany around this time and, as usual, there are plenty of interesting historic photographs to accompany the text.

Chapter Seven, with its long title of We Need More Ammunition if we Are Going to Keep Fighting this War takes the story into early October 1944 and the advance of the US Army through the southern part of Holland and into Aachen in Germany notwithstanding the ever increasing supply lines and the onset of harsher weather conditions. The fierce fighting which resulted in Aachen being almost totally destroyed receives the majority of attention here although a description of how the supply lines were eased by the opening of Antwerp as an operational port in early November is included. This resulted in fuel, ammunition, rations and medical supplies being passed to the front line although warm clothing was not one of the priorities.

Chapter Eight, The Men in Town are Going to Take a Beating, concentrates the battles during the Siegfried Line (West Wall) campaign including that in the Hurtgen Forest, just inside Germany.
The US First Army launched a concerted assault east of Aachen through the densely wooded and irregular terrain of the Hurtgen Forest which resulted in a high number of casualties including about 10% suffering with trench foot due to lack of adequate footwear. Other non-battle causes included sickness, diarrhoea and exposure. Tree bursts, which were explosions of German mortar and artillery rounds in the tops of trees resulted in the vertical descent of shrapnel and timber onto the US troops. In addition, the enemy were well dug in and the steep, narrow and muddy forest tracks did not permit the movement of US armoured vehicles. This battle was the most costly in terms of casualties and deaths to the US in any theatre during the war. By early December the US ground troops had not reached the River Rhine as expected previously. In common with other chapters in this excellent book, this one includes many good photographs of the battles of late 1944.

Conclusion. This really is a first class book which has been well researched and is beautifully written. The last of the books in this trilogy covers the Battle of the Bulge, the crossing of the main rivers in western Germany and the advance to Berlin. I certainly look forward to another fine publication!
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