Pursuit Toward the German Frontier
In the meantime, the main Allied armies in the north, having captured Paris and jumped the Seine on August 25, continued to pursue the Germans across northern France and Belgium toward the German border. In pre-invasion planning, General Eisenhower had decided to advance against Germany on a broad front. He planned to make his main effort in the north through Belgium, passing Montgomery’s Twenty-first Army Group to the north of the barrier of the forested Ardennes region of Belgium and Luxembourg along the most direct route to the Ruhr industrial area, the vast collection of coal mines and factories which was the main source of German industrial strength. Bradley’s Twelfth Army Group was to advance south of the Ardennes through a lesser industrial area, the Saar. Yet as the extent of the German defeat became apparent, Eisenhower yielded to persistent demands from Montgomery to strengthen the forces in the north. Leaving Patton’s Third Army to advance alone south of the Ardennes, he ordered Bradley to send Hodges’ First Army north of the barrier alongside the British flank. This, Eisenhower reasoned, would speed Montgomery’s capture of ports along the Channel, including the great port of Antwerp (Antwerpen). Another big port was essential to continued advance into Germany, for Brest, Cherbourg, and even Le Havre soon would be far behind the front. As General Crerar’s Canadian First Army invested the minor Channel ports, Montgomery’s troops dashed into Brussels (Bruxelles) on September 3 and the next day seized Antwerp. In the process, British and Canadians overran the V-1 launching sites which had been bombarding Britain since June. Though Antwerp fell with wharves and docks intact, the big port could not be used until the Germans were cleared from the banks of the Scheldt (Escaut; Schelde) Estuary, leading 60 miles to the sea. The British failed to turn a force immediately to this task.
The United States First Army meanwhile took Mons, Belgium, on September 3, trapping there 25,000 Germans who were trying to flee from the Channel coast, and then turned eastward toward Germany. Two days later, one corps was across the Meuse River. Liege fell on September 7, and the capital city of Luxembourg on September 10. As in France, resistance fighters materialized at many points, here preventing the retreating Germans from blowing a bridge, there dismantling a roadblock before the tank-led American columns arrived. On September 11, patrols of Gerow’s 5th Corps crossed onto German soil. Patton’s Third Army meanwhile captured Reims and Chalons on August 29, took Verdun, St.-Mihiel, and Commercy on August 31, and on September 7 established a bridgehead over the Moselle (Mosel) River south of Metz.