|Crossing the Rhine|
After the Battle of the Bulge, the Germans have only 26 divisions on the Western Front; most are either far below strength or consist of old men and young boys. Facing them are 57 infantry, 23 armored, and five airborne divisions, all at full strength. Eisenhower’s three-phase plan calls for Montgomery’s forces to clear the lower Rhine valley, Bradley’s forces to clear the middle reaches of the Rhine, and finally encirclement of the German armies while other units race to link up with the Soviets near the Elbe.
Eisenhower’s plan goes forward as planned, with one unexpected change. On March 7, the U.S. First Army surprises the Germans at Remagen on the Rhine; the Americans capture the bridge before the Germans can destroy it. American troops pour over the bridge, creating a lodgment from which they launch an attack on March 25.
German units begin to surrender en masse. Army Group B surrenders on April 18. Less than a week later, American units meet Soviet units on the Elbe near Torgau. Eisenhower has already decided to let the Soviets take Berlin; he believes that casualties for British, Canadian, and American units will be too high if he tries to take the German capital.
After Hitler’s death and the fall of Berlin, the Third Reich collapses. The Germans sign an unconditional surrender at Rheims on May 7, but Army Group Center fights on. Surrounded by the Soviets near Prague, they ignore broadcast appeals to give up. Koniev orders a massive artillery barrage, followed by the advance of the 4th Guards Tank Army. This force reaches Prague to find the Germans have gone.
The Russians finally bring Army Group Center to bay on May 10. Over the next two days, the Soviets pound German positions with every available weapon; those Germans not killed begin to surrender. On May 12 it is official: Army Group Center surrenders, and the last major German fighting force is no more. The war in Europe is over.