15 September 1944-21 March 1945
In September 1944, the long-awaited final victory over Nazi Germany seemed close at hand for the Allies. In the East, the Red Army moved inexorably towards the German frontier. In the skies over the Third Reich and the occupied countries, Allied air power wreaked havoc on the Wehrmacht, German industry, and lines of communication. In the West, three Allied army groups stretched from the North Sea to Switzerland, poised for the final assault against the Nazi homeland.
The mood in General Dwight D. Eisenhower's Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF), was almost euphoric. General Eisenhower's intelligence officer predicted that victory in Europe was 'within sight, almost within reach.' The First Army chief of intelligence was even more optimistic, declaring that it was unlikely that organized German resistance would continue beyond 1 December 1944. Others, however, believed that the Germans remained unbeaten. Col. Oscar W. Koch, the Third Army intelligence officer, was convinced that the German Army, far from being routed, was playing for time and preparing for a 'last-ditch struggle in the field at all costs.'
Events soon proved Koch correct. Instead of a quick dash into the heart of Germany, what awaited General Eisenhower's armies was an exhausting campaign in horrid weather against a foe whose determination was steeled by the belief that he was fighting for the very survival of his homeland. As SHAEF plotted its next moves, 200,000 workers frantically labored to strengthen the German West Wall defenses, and the Wehrmacht prepared to contest the Allied advance in places like Arnhem, Aachen, the Huertgen Forest, Metz, and the foothills of the Vosges Mountains. The Rhineland Campaign was about to begin.
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