Maps

Axis occupied territory, June 1944

 

The Normandy campaign had been an outstanding victory for the Allies. Having slowly worn down and broken Army Group B, they now broke-out into the rest of France and pursued the rapidly retreating Germans. Although many ports, such as Dieppe and Calais, were violently defended and held out against the Allies, inland the Germans appeared to be falling back in complete disarray. The speed at which they were free to advance came as a great surprise to the Allies, so much so that they outran their supply lines and had to come to a halt.

 

This respite allowed the Germans to recover and hastily assemble a defensive line that, in the north, blocked the British and Canadians just short of the Dutch border, and the Americans, in the east, on the Siegfried Line, on the French-German frontier. The Allies had become convinced that the German front line was only paper thin and that their resolve would be shattered once the advance was resumed.

 

It was felt that the War could be over before Christmas 1944, and to accomplish this Field Marshal Montgomery, with General Eisenhower's approval, planned to pass the 2nd British Army over a series of rivers in Holland and, once over them, head east and strike at the Ruhr, Germany's industrial heartland. The plan, codenamed Operation Market Garden, was the largest assault by Airborne troops ever attempted. However, Market Garden failed, partly due to reckless planning and Allied over-optimism, but largely because German determination was found to be as unyielding as ever it was.

 

The War was not to be over by the end of 1944. The winter break in hostilities not only allowed the Germans to regroup, but also to launch a desperate offensive at the Americans through the Ardennes forest. The unexpected ferocity of their attack forced the Allies to throw all of their resources into halting the Germans, and so it was that the 6th Airborne Division returned to the continent, although for the most part, their actions were mostly confined to patrolling. The German offensive failed, and although losses in the Ardennes had been severe for both sides, Germany could not afford such high casualties, and in the Spring of 1945 the scene was set for the final conquest of Germany. At the front of this advance, securing the initial crossing over the River Rhine and then leading the British push towards the Baltic Sea, was the 6th Airborne Division.