5 - 25 January
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In early 1945, as Operation WACHT AM RHEIN in the Ardennes started to collapse, Operation NORDWIND in the Alsace was revived. On 5 January, after NORDWIND's main effort had failed, Himmler's Army Group Oberrhein finally began its supporting thrusts against the southern flank of Brooks' VI Corps, with the XIV SS Corps launching a cross-Rhine attack north of Strasbourg. Two days later, south of the city, the Nineteenth Army launched Operation SONNENWENDE ('WINTER SOLSTICE'), attacking north, astride the Rhone-Rhine Canal on the northern edge of the German-held Colmar Pocket. These actions opened a three-week battle, whose ferocity rivaled the Ardennes fighting in viciousness if not in scope and threatened the survival of the VI Corps. SONNENWENDE sparked a new crisis for the 6th Army Group, which had too few divisions to defend every threatened area. With Brooks' VI Corps now engaged on both flanks, along the Rhine at Gambsheim and to the northeast along the Low Vosges mountain exits, Devers transferred responsibility for Strasbourg to the French First Army, and de Lattre stretched his forces to cover both the city and the Belfort Gap 75 miles to the south.
But the real danger was just northeast of Strasbourg. There, the XIV SS Corps had punched out a 10-mile bridgehead around the town of Gambsheim, brushing off small counterattacks from Task Force Linden. Patch's Seventh Army, reinforced with the newly arrived 12th Armored Division, tried to drive the Germans from the Gambsheim area, a region laced with canals, streams, and lesser watercourses. To the south de Lattre's 3d Algerian Division defended Strasbourg, while the rest of the French First Army kept the Colmar Pocket tightly ringed. But the fate of Strasbourg and the northern Alsace hinged on the ability of the American VI Corps to secure its besieged flanks.
Having driven several wedges into the Seventh Army, the Germans launched another attack on 7 January. The German XXXIX Panzer Corps, with the 21st Panzer and the 25th Panzergrenadier Divisions, attacked the greatly weakened VI Corps center between the Vosges and Lauterbourg. Quickly gaining ground to the edge of the Haguenau Forest 20 miles north of Strasbourg, the German offensive rolled along the same routes used during the successful attacks of August 1870 under Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke. Moltke's successors, however, made no breakthrough. In the two Alsatian towns of Hatten and Rittershoffen, Patch and Brooks threw in the Seventh Army's last reserve, the 14th Armored Division. Assisted by a mixture of other combat, combat support, and service troops, the division halted the Germans.
While the VI Corps fought for its life in the Haguenau Forest, the enemy renewed attacks on both flanks. During an intense battle between units of the 45th Division and the 6th SS Mountain Division in the Low Vosges, the Germans surrounded an American battalion that had refused to give ground. After a week's fighting by units attempting its relief, only two soldiers managed to escape to friendly lines.