This book looks at the campaign that saw Patton’s Third Army cross the Moselle then ‘bounce’ across the Rhine, getting across the river just before Montgomery’s large scale formal assault began further to the north.
In theory this book follows the standard Osprey Campaign structure, but the author has interpreted the chapter headings unusually loosely, and much of the material you would normally find in the Opposing Forces and Opposing Plans chapters actually appear in the following chapter instead.
We start with a brief historical introduction, looking at the fighting on both Eastern and Western Fronts to explain why Patton faced such limited opposition – Soviet attacks in the east had forced the Germans to strip the Western Front, and most of the remaining troops were posted in the north to protect the Ruhr.
The opposing commanders section is rather brief on the German side, only looking at Hauser, the army group commander and Felber, the army commander for the Germans. On the US side we get Patton, Eddy (XII Corps), Hoge (4th Armoured Division) and Irwin (5th Infantry Division).
The section on opposing forces is rather unusual as it starts with a section on the varying combat abilities of the American and German armies by early 1945, focusing on the nature of the ‘Operational’ art and examining why the Americans were so superior at it. We do get an order of battle, but its not as clear as is normally the case in Osprey books, instead focusing on how many changes were made to the forces facing Patton in the weeks before the attack.
We get a more detailed examination of the forces facing Patton in the Opposing Plans chapter, which actually focuses on the German retreat to the Moselle and Rhine and Patton’s advance to the Moselle, and the forces involved. Patton’s plans for an attack across the Rhine are introduced at the start of the Campaign chapter.
The account of the fighting itself begins with the successful attack across the Moselle, where the main German forces were positioned. The river crossing, and the clearing of the ‘Moselle’ triangle between that river and the Rhine, was the most important part of this campaign, and the account of the fighting is supported by two maps. As was so often the case Hitler’s refusal to allow any ground to be given up left the forces fighting on the Moselle very vulnerable, and within a couple of days of the attack starting one German division had collapsed, and two German armies were in danger.
This helps explain why Patton was able to ‘bounce’ across the Rhine. In the fighting west of the Rhine the German 7th Army was almost destroyed, with over 60,000 men taken prisoner. It also helped that Patton and his staff had been planning for the operation since at least August 1944, so potential crossing places had already been examined and river crossed materials gathered.
The crossing itself demonstrates the value of Patton’s fast moving approach to warfare (at least when facing a weakened opponent). At Nierstein his leading troops were actually able to cross the Rhine unopposed, and at Oppenheim there was some machine-gun and panzerfaust fire, but no German artillery for two hours! The Germans carried out the inevitable counterattacks, but Patton had moved so quickly that the incoming German reinforcements hadn’t arrived, so the counterattacks were very limited. The benefits of all of the advancing planning also become clear, as Patton’s men had built two bridges across the Rhine within 36 hours of the initial crossings! The aftermath also makes it clear that this wasn’t just an improvised attack, but was part of a long cherished plan – Patton quickly rushed his forces across the Rhine, and exploited north-east towards Frankfurt-am-Main, which fell only a few days after the initial river crossing.
This is a splendid study of Patton’s method of war – fast moving, flexible and daring, but also very carefully planned. Patton’s staff began detailed work on how to cross the Rhine way back in August 1944, equipment was carefully stockpiled including various boats, bridging equipment and floating DD tanks. Some though was even put into carrying out an ‘air mobile’ attack using small liaison aircraft to ferry troops across the river! This is one of few campaign histories I’ve read where it’s the Germans reacting too slowly to Allied moves.
Origins of the Campaign
The Battlefield Today
Author: Russ Rodgers