The liberation of Lorraine and Alsace


Operation Nordwind



The entree of concentration camp Natzwiller-Struthof

Introduction


In 2005, we spent our holidays in Lorraine. We saw a lot of the liberation and the followed the German operation Nordwind at north of Lorraine and Alsace. Also some pictures from Haguenau where an episode of the mini series Band of Brothers happened. This is the exact place where Easy Company crossed the river and the houses where Easy Company stayed.
In 2006, we spent our holidays in the south of Alsace. There we visited the Colmar pocket, which is the last part of Alsace that was liberated.

We cut the liberation of Lorraine and Alsace in three parts: a part about the liberation, a part about operation Nordwind and a part about the Colmar pocket.

Lorraine and Alsace

In 1870, Germany annexed Lorraine and Alsace until the end of World War I. Then, Lorraine and Alsace became part of France again. Both countries thought Lorraine and Alsace should be by their country, so relations remained strained. France started to build the Maginot Line so they could defend against a German attack. In answer, the Germans build the Siegfried Line.
In 1940, Germany conquered France, but they came via The Netherlands and Belgium instead of the Maginot Line. So, Lorraine and Alsace became German again. Men from the area were forced to enlist in the German Army.

Advance planning

Grave of an American soldier decorated with a Medal of Honor The British 21st Army Group under command of Fieldmarshal Bernard L. Montgomery was on the front above the Ardennes. South of the 21st Army Group was the 12th Army Group under command of lieutenant general Omar N. Bradley. The 12th Army Group exists of the 1st US Army, helping the British 21st Army Group, and the 3rd US Army under command of general Patton. More south was the 6th Army Group under command of general lieutenant Jacob L. Devers. The 6th exists the 7th US  army under command of general Patch and the 1ère Armée Française under command of general Jean de Lattre de Tassigny

While the English Army went northwards in the direction of Belgium and The Netherlands, the American Army went eastwards to the Rhine. In September 1944, the American Army and the French Army were in front of the Vosges, to liberate the Alsace. The Alsace bordered the Rhine River. The Army stayed there for two months to add North African troops to the French Army.
The Germans had moved their troops from Lorraine and Alsace to the Ruhr area in Germany. They had no fresh troops left to send to Lorraine and Alsace, so they had to defend the same area with less soldiers. The Germans made two lines of defense, one at the foot of the Vosges and the other at the top.

In North Lorraine and Alsace fought the 3rd US Army. In the middle, across the Vosges fought the 7th US Army and in South Alsace fought the 1ère Armée Française.
The 1ère Armée Française went along the bottom of the Vosges to the Alsace. Their advance went so easily that they arrived at the Rhine on November the 19th. After that, a shortage of soldiers and materials brought about a big delay for further advancement.
Bridge type 'Arromanches' General Leclerc (real name: Philip de Hauteclocque) ordered 2ème Division Blindée (2nd armour division), part of the 7th US Army, to take the small roads through the northern outlets of the Vosges. He did so in spite of the bad weather and the hairpin turns. To take this way, the 2ème Division Blindée would arrive at the other side quicker than taking the highway that had several barricades.
In less a month, the Allies arrived at two places near the Rhine and liberated the most important places of Metz, Belfort, Mulhouse and Strasbourg.

The Germans collected their strength in an area around Colmar. From there, they were set to conquer Alsace again. The French and American soldiers had less ammunition and were very tired, so they could not liberate the last piece of the Alsace. At this time the Battle of the Bulge was taking place, so the deliveries of supplies went to the Ardennes instead.
On the 20th of January, the offensive to conquer the Colmar pocket started with hopes of few Germans escaping. There were two attacks, one from the north and the other from the south near the Rhine. This was so the Germans could not cross the Rhine to withdraw. On the 27th of January, the Germans finally received permission to withdraw across the Rhine and they left the complete area to the Allies.
On the 9th of February, the Germans blew up the last bridge across the Rhine in the Alsace, near Chalampé. 16,000 Germans were held prisoners of war, 20,000 were killed and 50,000 escaped.

The defense of the bunker from the Maginot line Because of the Battle of the Bulge, general Patton and his 3rd US Army went northwards to relieve the Ardennes. The 7th US Army had to stretch out and defend a long drawn front. This action caused the defense line to become very thin.
After the failed Battle of the Bulge, Hitler thought he had another chance and planned operation Nordwind. The Germans attacked North Lorraine and North Alsace. The 7th US Army had to withdraw to the river Moder.
On March 15, the American troops started an offensive to liberate the northern area again.

Click on the links on top of the page and you are at the battlefields of Lorraine and Alsace.