Ruhr Pocket, Northwestern Germany April 14, 1945

In the spring of 1945 senior leaders of the Third Reich were on edge. On Germany’s Eastern Front, the tracks of Soviet mech­a­nized armor and the boots of their infan­try could be heard approaching the out­skirts of the epi­center of Nazism, Berlin. On the Western Front, ele­ments of the U.S. First Army under the ove­rall com­mand of Gen. Omar Brad­ley’s U.S. 12th Army Group had suc­ceeded in estab­lishing a bridge­head on the east bank of the Rhine River after cap­turing the Luden­dorff Bridge at Remagen, 35 miles south of the cathe­dral city Cologne, on March 7, 1945. First Army soldiers got busy advancing north­ward into the enemy’s heavily popu­lated mili­tary-indus­trial heart­land, the Ruhr, defended by German Field Marshal Walter Model’s Army Group B. Their advance formed the southern pincer of the Ruhr envelop­ment (see map below). The northern pincer was formed by the U.S. Ninth Army, since the Battle of the Bulge (Decem­ber 16, 1944, to Janu­ary 25, 1945) assigned to British Field Marshal Ber­nard Law Mont­gom­ery’s 21st Army Group. Days before, on March 23–27, 1945, Monty’s British-Canadian-American forces had crossed the Lower Rhine in the Wesel area in Oper­a­tions Plunder and Varsity. Thus the lead elements of two U.S. armies, First and Ninth, stood ready on March 28, 1945, to begin a massive envelop­ment of upwards of 400,000 German troops in the so-called Ruhr Pocket.

The reduction of the encircled enemy by the U.S. Ninth Army, reattached to Brad­ley’s 12th Army Group, began at the top of April when lead ele­ments of the two U.S. pincers con­verged near Lipp­stadt in the eastern Ruhr. Troops from the U.S. First Army, 90 miles/­145 km to the south, solid­i­fied the ring around Army Group B some 4 days later. Out­manned, out­gunned, low on ammu­ni­tion and fuel, the Germans skill­fully delayed or resisted the Amer­i­can advances for days. But on this date, April 14, 1945, the U.S. First and Ninth Armies managed to split the Ruhr Pocket into an east part and a tinier west part.

The turning point in combat came the same day. Having lost contact with its units, the German 15th Army, the larger of the two armies that com­prised Model’s Army Group B, capitulated. Model dissolved the whole of his army group the next day, April 15. Then he ordered non­com­batant person­nel, Hitler Youth units, and the Volks­sturm, a rag­tag home guard consisting of 16- to 60-year-olds who had escaped being swept up by under­strength units of the Wehr­macht (German armed forces), to discard their uni­forms and make­shift arm­bands and head home as best they could.

On April 16 the remnants of 2 armies, 5 corps, and 19 mostly weapon­less Wehr­macht divi­sions surrendered en masse to U.S. forces after Germany’s leader for the past 15 years, Adolf Hitler, denied Model’s request for either an air­lift of wea­pons and other supplies (too risky) or permis­sion to break out of “Festung Ruhr,” For­tress Ruhr (stay put). Organized mili­tary resis­tance in the Ruhr Pocket ceased on April 18. Two days later Hitler asso­ci­ate Joseph Goeb­bels denounced Army Group B as traitors. Unwilling to submit to German or Allied arrest—the United Nations Com­mis­sion for the Investi­ga­tion of War Crimes was busy at the time iden­tifying Nazi war crimi­nals—Model, the monocled model of a proud Prus­sian field marshal, died by his own hand on the after­noon of April 21, 1945, nine days before his commander-in-chief did the same in the Fuehrer­bunker under the rubble of his diabolical Thousand Year Reich.

Climactic Battle of the Ruhr Pocket, March 28 to April 18, 1945

Map of Ruhr Pocket, April 1945

Above: Map of the Ruhr Pocket. By April 4, 1945, the encircle­ment was com­plete. Among the millions of desper­ate, dis­placed, and desti­tute Ruhr civil­ians trapped inside the pocket were the German 15th Army in the east and, in the west, the 5th Panzer Army, both armies under the over­all com­mand of Field Marshal Walter Model, head of Army Group B. Half of Model’s sol­diers fielded infan­try wea­pons, the other half pistols only. The sol­diers had food provi­sions for 3 weeks, not­with­standing Hitler’s expec­ta­tion that Model’s armies would hold out for months in their forti­fied strong­hold and tie up hun­dreds of thou­sands of Allied sol­diers with pro­mised help from the German 12th Army, which was never avail­able, tied up at the moment in trying to break the Soviet siege of the Reich capital. By April 11 the egg-shape pocket, ori­ginally 35 by 75 miles/­56 by 121 km wide, had fractured in the east, shriveling a third or more. It was half that size 3 days later when U.S. First and Ninth Armies bisected the egg in the Hagen-Witten area, which lay between Essen and Dort­mund. On April 16 the rem­nants of mostly weapon­less fighters surren­dered to U.S. forces, encouraged by Amer­i­can loud­speakers calling on German sol­diers to give up the last-ditch fight of a war long lost. Some of the younger and older men trekked home. The bulk of the fighting men, between 317,000 and 325,000, were herded into temporary POW enclosures near Remagen.

Battle of the Ruhr Pocket, German POWs, April 17, 1945Battle of the Ruhr Pocket, German POWs, May 4, 1945

Left: Part of an estimated group of 82,00 German soldiers captured in the Ruhr Pocket clean­up by the U.S. XVIII Air­borne Corps, near Gummers­bach, Germany, April 17, 1945. Gummers­bach is 20 miles/­47 km south of Luedens­heid and 20 miles/­47 km west of Leven­kusen on the map. The XVIII Air­borne Corps had planned and exe­cuted Oper­a­tion Var­sity the month before as part of Field Marshal Mont­gomery’s amphib­ious and air­borne dash to the east bank of the Lower Rhine.

Right: Thousands of German prisoners of war march between lanes of a German auto­bahn to a POW camp while their Allied captors speed past in tanks, trucks, and jeeps, May 4, 1945. The num­ber of cap­tives, over 300,000 men including 30 gen­erals, was twice what U.S. Army intel­li­gence had esti­mated. It was a huge achieve­ment. In the Battle of the Ruhr Pocket the U.S. Army had ripped out the heart and guts of the Wehr­macht in the West. Coming so closely on the uncon­di­tional surren­der of the German mili­tary on May 7 and 8, 1945, that achieve­ment, which cost 10,000 U.S. casualties, unfortunately dwells in the shadows of VE Day.

Battle of the Ruhr Pocket: Conquest of “Hitler’s Armory.” (Skip first 45 seconds)

Continue Reading