Eisenhower's Thorn on the Rhine - The Battle for the Colmar Pocket, 1944-45, Nathan N. Prefer

Eisenhower's Thorn on the Rhine - The Battle for the Colmar Pocket, 1944-45, Nathan N. Prefer

The Colmar Pocket was one of the last German footholds in French territory, occupying most of central Alsace. The pocket was formed towards the end of the Allied advance from the south of France towards the Rhine, as the Germans managed to hold up the Allied advance in the southern Vosges. This book covers the formation of the pocket, the various Allied attempts to destroy it, the German offensives launched from the pocket and its eventual destruction early in 1945.

At first I found this book a little too detailed, sometimes losing the overall story in too much fine detail of individual small scale battles (something that is often difficult to achieve in the large scale battles of the Second World War), but that changes as the book goes on, and the story begins to develop (and possibly as the main characters become more familiar). The campaign is also more interesting than just a series of repetitive small scale Allied attacks – the southern part of the last major German attack on the Western Front, Operation Nordwind, was launched from the pocket.

This area was seen as something of a backwater by the Allied high command. A look at the map quickly explains why – both banks of the Rhine are backed by mountains – the Vosges on the French side and the Black Forest on the German side. If the Allies could get across the river and the mountains, they would be able to advance towards Munich and Austria, but their main targets – the industrial Ruhr and Berlin – were much further to the north. The only gap in the mountains was the famous Belfort Gap, a heavily fortified pass between the Vosges and the Jura. Partly as a result of this the Allied forces in the area suffered from a lack of reinforcements, with the main battles seen as going on further to the north. The situation was also complicated by the presence of a large French army on this front, which was also short of reinforcements, and by Eisenhower’s lack of trust of General Devers, commander of the 6th Army Group. On the German side reinforcements were also lacking, and the local commanders were hampered by Hitler’s orders not to retreat.

This develops into an interesting account of an unfamiliar battle, looking at how the Americans and French managed to overcome difficult terrain, a shortage of men and a low overall priority to eventually eliminate one of the last German footholds in eastern France although only after a battle that lasted for several months.

1 - The Sixth Army Group
2 - The French October Offensive
3 - Seventh Army's October Offensive
4 - St. Dié
5 - Forming the Colmar Pocket
6 - The Belfort Gap
7 - Stalled on the Rhine
8 - December 1944
9 - Operation Nordwind
10 - Strasbourg, Again
11 - Operation Cheerful
12 - Colmar
13 - February 1945
14 - Conclusion

Author: Nathan N. Prefer
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 336
Publisher: Casemate
Year: 2015

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