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First to the Rhine: The 6th Army Group in World War II


This is the story of the Allied forces—the U.S. 6th Army Group and French 1st Army—that landed in southern France on August 15th, 1944. The book follows the action from the French beaches to the Vosges Mountains, where the first Allied penetration along the entire Western front reached the Rhine River. First to the Rhine covers the vicious fighting during the German Nordwind counteroffensive in January 1945 and the French-American offensive to clear the Colmar Pocket. It then pursues the forces of the Third Reich...

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This is the story of the Allied forces—the U.S. 6th Army Group and French 1st Army—that landed in southern France on August 15th, 1944. The book follows the action from the French beaches to the Vosges Mountains, where the first Allied penetration along the entire Western front reached the Rhine River. First to the Rhine covers the vicious fighting during the German Nordwind counteroffensive in January 1945 and the French-American offensive to clear the Colmar Pocket. It then pursues the forces of the Third Reich across the Rhine to their ultimate destruction.

Unlike the forces landing in Normandy, these American divisions were hard-bitten veterans of the war in Italy, and, in the case of the 3d Infantry Division, North Africa. The French units included many veterans of the Italian campaign and comprised Frenchmen and Africans in almost equal numbers. As the campaign went on, the French ranks were swelled by tens of thousands of Free French Forces of the Interior, the famous maquis.

The German forces arrayed against the Allies included the famed 11th Panzer Division, an Eastern front veteran known as the "Ghost Division," which would hit the Allied advance time and again only to slip away before it could be pinned and destroyed. This is the harrowing story First to the Rhine tells, from the strategic plane-down through the corps, division, and regimental levels to the personal experience of the men in combat, including the likes of Audie Murphy, Americas most decorated infantryman of the war.

The book features little-known battles, including one at Montelimar, when an ad hoc American armored command and the 36th Infantry Division came within a hairs breadth and several days of hard fighting of cutting off the entire German 19th Army. This is the first popular work in English to explore the French role in the fighting and the relationship between the U.S. Army and the French forces fighting under American command.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780760331460
  • Publisher: Zenith Press
  • Publication date: 9/15/2007
  • Edition description: First
  • Pages: 416
  • Product dimensions: 6.31 (w) x 9.31 (h) x 1.37 (d)

Meet the Author

Harry Yeide is an international affairs analyst with the federal government. He has worked primarily with political and security/military issues, writing assessments for the president of the United States and other senior policymakers. He is the author of The Longest Battle, The Tank Killers, Steel Victory, and Weapons of the Tankers. Yeide lives with his wife Nancy and three cats in Hyattsville, Maryland.

Mark Stout worked for the federal government for fifteen years on a variety of military issues before joining the research staff of a defense think-tank. He and his wife, Pam, live in Arlington, Virginia, with their gray cat, Rommel. This is his first book.

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Table of Contents




Chapter 1: An Uneasy Alliance

Chapter 2: Invasion Chapter 3: Breakout and the Battle at Montélimar

Chapter 4: Battle for the Ports

Chapter 5: French Pursuit Up the Rhône

Chapter 6: End of the Race

Chapter 7: Into the Vosges Chapter 8: First to the Rhine

Chapter 9: Stopped Again Chapter 10: Operation Nordwind

Chapter 11: Crushing the Colmar Pocket

Chapter 12: Across the Rhine


Appendix A: Divisional Order of Battle, Key Units

Appendix B: Table of Equivalent Ranks




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British historian Charles Whiting termed the U.S. Seventh Army "America's forgotten army." The Franco-American 6th Army Group, of which it was a part, has languished in even deeper obscurity. The war in southern France is often rather dismissively recalled as the "champagne campaign." The fighting in the Vosges hides in a historical mist as baffling as the one that often blanketed those mountains. The shorthand description of the war generally runs "after the Battle of the Bulge, the Allies overran Germany"; and the French receive hardly any attention at all in American texts. The truth is that the landings near St. Tropez in August 1944 were more vigorously contested than those in North Africa or at Anzio. Fierce and costly battles raged in the coastal ports and at Montélimar. The Allies first smashed the Germans west of the Rhine in the 6th Army Group's zone; the battles in Alsace in January 1945 nearly destroyed two American armored divisions; the last month of fighting inside Germany cost Seventh Army as many casualties as it suffered during the German Nordwind offensive; and the French, for all their problems, carried off many of the dashing successes in southern France and bled just as profusely as their American allies.

Writing history entails innumerable big and little decisions about what to include and what to exclude. We intend this work to be the story of the U.S. Seventh and French First armies and the men who fought in their ranks. As such, it focuses on the Allied side of the conflict and does not attempt to provide equal treatment to the German perspective. The details of the nearly static fighting in the Vosges during October 1944 do not lend themselvesto extensive division-by-division discussion in a work such as this. The main actors were often at the battalion and company levels. Readers who wish to explore a more detailed account of the bloody fighting during the period can turn to works such as Franz Steidl's Lost Battalions (Presidio Press, 1997) and Keith Bonn's When the Odds Were Even (Presidio Press, 1994). For similar reasons, we have also chosen not to dwell on the lengthy period of French pressure on the Colmar Pocket before the final offensive that crushed it, and various other smaller incidents.

It may not be apparent to the casual reader, but it is difficult to tell exactly what happened so many years ago. Indeed, historians sometimes say that the past is gone, never to be recovered, and a "history" is merely a story we tell about that vanished past. This book exemplifies that principle. Contemporary reports written by separate participants in any given incident are likely to differ, sometimes substantially. This is true in any field of human endeavor, but it is particularly true in the intrinsically confusing domain of warfare. On top of this, later accounts introduce additional flaws of memory or self-justification.

The reader may note that we have relied on substantially different source bases to relate the American and French parts of the story. American military records on the period are fulsome, whereas those of the French available to us-essentially the material reported up the chain of command, such as a few G-3 (operations staff) reports and a virtually complete set of G-2 (intelligence staff) reports-generally are lacking in detail. We have relied more heavily on personal accounts, including those of key commanders, as the basis for the French actions described. Likewise, German military records for key commands are not available to the authors (the collection of captured records at the National Archives is excellent for some formations and completely lacking for others). We have relied heavily on post-war accounts written by German commanders for the U.S. Army's historical division.

We have elected to use acronyms to identify French divisions and regiments (for example, 2d DB for 2d Division Blindée, or Armored Division), a practice followed by American forces at the time. We hope that this approach makes it easier for readers to keep track of formations that, because of the large number of colonial troops involved, often bear unusual designators to the eye of the English speaker accustomed to simple American and German formulations such as "1st Infantry Division." A glossary at the end of the book will help readers refresh their memory on the meaning of French acronyms. We have also adopted the U.S. Army's Center of Military History practice of italicizing German formation designators to improve clarity for the reader.

One note on photographs: Seventh Army was badly served by its Signal Corps photographers. Unfortunately, the moving pictures division at the National Archives refused to convert key Signal Corps film to video, so we could not fill in the pictorial record with frame captures.

We have taken small liberties with texts drawn from the military records and personal accounts to correct grammatical errors and spelling mistakes, and to introduce consistency in references to unit designators, equipment, dates, and so on. Translations from French and German are our own, and we alone are responsible for any errors that may have crept into the text as a result of this process.

Finally, we recognize that British forces reached the Rhine delta at Arnheim, which sits above the Nederrijn in Holland below the point where the Rhine gives way to multiple smaller streams, during Operation Market-Garden in September 1944. We are discussing the real thing.

Harry Yeide & Mark Stout
September 2005
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