After the Battle of the Bulge, Germany herself was the next target. It was clear to everyone but the most fanatical Nazis, including Hitler, that Germany was finished. The war was over except for the final body count.
Throughout February and March 1945, the Allies fought their way through the Siegfried Line, a series of antitank fortifications, pillboxes, and artillery that ran along the Western border with Germany. Manned by young boys and old men, the Siegfried Line was a tough line that held the Allies out of Germany since September. Patton’s Third Army had little gasoline to advance from their positions outside of Aachen, the first German town to be conquered.
The Allies advanced and captured Cologne, the first major German city, on March 5, 1945. United States Army General Dwight D. Eisenhower, commanding the Allied forces, realized that the capture of Berlin was secondary to destroying the German military industrial machine. He ordered the Allied Expeditionary Force to advance on the Ruhr.
Churchill, especially, wanted the Allies to capture Berlin, but Eisenhower had enough of long narrow advances in Holland. The Allies would cross the Rhine and advance on the Ruhr.
Hitler saw the Rhine as a symbol of German resolve. No invading army had crossed the Rhine in 140 years, since Napoleon in 1805. Any commander surrendering or retreating would be shot. Bridges were to be blown up.
Cologne’s bridges were thus destroyed before the city was captured. The United States First Army, planning to cross the Rhine without a bridge, found the Ludendorff Railway Bridge still standing on March 7 in Remagen, Germany.
The Allies rushed to cross the Rhine under air and artillery attack. By March 23 the Allies had a bridgehead thirty-five mile wide and twelve miles deep. Bridges were put up over the Rhine by special bridge units; many of them segregated black units. Often the crossings were under heavy German fire.
Allied airborne forces, in the last operation in Europe, dropped over the Rhine in Operation Varsity on March 24, 1945. German antiaircraft units were waiting and casualties were heavy in the United States Army’s 17th Airborne Division and the United Kingdom’s Royal Army 6th Airborne Division, but the paratroopers landed together and took the East bank of the Rhine to protect the bridgehead.
The Rhine had been cracked. Bridges went up all over the Rhine, more than sixty in total. Hitler was unable to stop the Allies in the west. The Red Army was advancing in the East; Berlin was their next and final target.