The German Drive South
With American morale plummeting, President Dulles demanded of the Joint Chiefs to explain exactly how the Germans had wiped out two important American cities “in holy fire.” He was informed of Project Manhattan, a secret venture largely under Lyman Briggs that was created to pursue an atomic bomb. Poorly funded, made up of a series of desultory committees, and believing the materials required for a bomb were too great to be feasible, the project had been closed down by 1943 in order to pursue research in nuclear power and propulsion as well as to focus funds more productively towards the defense of the United States. When asked how long it would take to create an atomic weapon of their own, Dulles was told, in blunt terms, years. It was enough to drain the life from his already aged form.
“Can we expect British aid?” Dulles asked. He was told no. After two devastating wars over a three year period, a faltering economy dominated by Germany, an empire crumbling all around them, and fear of a German atomic attack, Atlee had decided to concede to German demands to allow the Wermacht in Canada. The Canadian Prime Minister, meanwhile, refused to surrender and vowed to fight on against German forces without British support.
Germany on the March
After two weeks of supply and reinforcement, the Wehrmacht sprung to action 3 February 1946. The Kriegsmarine, in control of the entire east coast of Canada, made brief forays into American waters while U-boats continued to prowl and prey on the US Navy and hapless merchant craft.
Field Marshal von Manstein, in command of the German effort and in virtual control of Canada east of the St. Lawrence River, ordered General Hoth to finish the conquest of the Gaspé Peninsula in preparation for the drive into New England. This was accomplished by 8 February with the fall of St. John with scant opposition, the majority of Canadian forces having withdrawn west of the St. Lawrence River.
The first true battle of the war between American and German forces would happen at Burnsville, just outside St. John. The US II Corps sighted the approaching Germans on February 9.
On February 10, Hoth launched an assault to probe the American line. The next day, he personally led the attack by the 10th Panzer Division, lent to him from von Arnim’s Fifth Panzer Army to the north, while the 21st Panzer Division, also detached from the Fifth Panzer Army, attacked from the west.
Within minutes, the U.S. lines were broken. Their light guns and tanks had no chance against the heavier German equipment, and they had little or no experience in armored warfare. The German Panzer Xs and Tiger tanks fended off all attacks with ease; the M3 Lee and M3 Stuart tanks they faced were inferior in firepower and their crews far less experienced. Under fierce armor attack, the American units broke south in full scale retreat. Meanwhile, U.S. commanders radioed higher command for permission to arrange a counterattack or artillery barrage, often receiving a go-ahead after the lines had already passed them. The 1st Armored Division found itself ordered into useless positions, and by the second day of the offensive, two of their three Combat Commands had been mauled while the third was generally out of action.
After taking the city, the German forces followed the coastline south in search of the retreating American forces. To combat this force, the remaining Combat Command B of the 1st Armored drove 20 miles (30 km) to face them on February 14 but found themselves unable to stop the advance the next day.
Morale among the U.S. troops started to fall precipitously, and by evening many troops had pulled back, leaving their equipment on the field. The road south was completely open, and it appeared Chatham was within reach. However, desperate resistance by isolated groups left behind in the action seriously slowed the German advance with mopping up operations underway for the next several days.
The remnants of II Corps streamed across the Maine border in late February with German forces not but two days behind them. It seemed little could stop them.
The Twin German Drives and an Atlantic Threat
Adolf Hitler flew to the Wehrmacht’s Canadian HQ on 20 February 1946 to meet with Field Marshal von Manstein and discuss the future of their American campaign. With US forces in disarray, Manstein was ordered by Hitler to split his forces for a drive west to capture Toronto and a drive south towards New York. Hitler believed that the Canadians were near breaking and losing their last vital eastern city would drive them from the war while the capture of New York state would serve a heavy blow to American morale and cut off Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island which the Kriegsmarine could then effectively blockade. A subsequent use for Toronto was an eventual drive south into Michigan aimed at Detroit. As to the future of the southern drive after New York, Hitler intended to first mop up American forces in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island and then push southwest toward Pittsburgh.
Manstein balked at splitting his forces when success was being achieved along the east coast. Instead, he wanted to focus on a drive south aimed at Pittsburgh and then west into Ohio, Indiana, and finally Michigan. Hitler retorted that Detroit was far too important to not capture early, its loss depriving America of one of its most important industrial and transportation hubs. Manstein would relent in the face of Hitler’s adamant views. Hoth would be tasked with the drive south aimed at New York and then Pittsburgh. The drive west was given to Guderian. Manstein did this despite the protests of the General Staff. He realized the talents of Guderian and was not going to have them squandered by sycophants.
Loathed by the OKH for his independent streak and blunt language, Guderian had garnered few allies in the upper echelons of German military authority. But the man got results and that was enough to keep his detractors at bay though promotion was another problem. Guderian realized the opportunity Manstein had given him and seized it with great enthusiasm.
At the outset of his drive west, Guderian was surprised at the rapid progress he made. Canadian and American forces proved unable to counter his drive, their tanks poorly designed and their leadership amateurish. He would describe Allied battle techniques as blunt, savage, and simple using numbers to overwhelm and counter his forces when they could not outthink him. He also cited their lack of discipline, some units effectively crumbling at the thundering advance of his panzers. If not for supply problems, Guderian stated he could have taken Toronto in two days. Instead, he would reach the city by 6 March. Hitler heaped great praise and awards on Guderian for his successful drive. The Fuhrer’s lauding quickly turned to condemnation when PM King declared Canada would fight on from the west.
Hoth’s drive into the United States, meanwhile, initially met with the same success as Guderian. Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont fell in two weeks as he and his divisions stormed through New England. He entered New York via Granville on March 29. Meanwhile, there was a shake up of command in the American Army ranks.
Following the defeats of the U.S. II Corps by the Wehrmacht in the Canadian Campaign, General Dwight D. “Ike” Eisenhower wanted an assessment of the corps. After the losses of New Brunswick and the retreat into Maine, Eisenhower sent Major-General Omar Bradley to observe the conditions of the II Corps operationally.
On 16 March 1946, as a result of Bradley’s report, Patton replaced Major-General Lloyd Fredendall as commander of the II Corps. Patton was also promoted to Lieutenant-General. Soon thereafter, Patton had Bradley reassigned to his Corps Command as deputy commander.
Tough in his training, Patton was generally unpopular with his troops. However, they preferred to serve with him because they thought he was their best chance to get home alive. US officers had noted the “softness” and lack of discipline in the II Corps under Fredendall. Patton required all personnel to wear steel helmets, even physicians in the operating wards, and required his troops to wear the unpopular lace-up leggings and neckties. A system of fines was introduced to ensure all personnel shaved daily and observed other uniform requirements. While these measures did not make Patton popular, they did tend to restore a sense of discipline and unit pride that may have been missing earlier. In a play on his nickname, troops joked that it was “his guts and our blood”.
The discipline Patton required paid off quickly. Hoping to force the enemy to overextend themselves, Patton had his troops surrender ground in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont to stretch Hoth’s supply line, drawing him in and leaving him vulnerable on the flanks. By mid-April, the counter-offensive of the U.S. II Corps began. At the Battle of Troy, Hoth was surprised by American forces. Patton pressed from the northwest threatening his flank using prototype bazookas to help him even the odds against German panzers, sowing confusion among the Wehrmacht’s ranks. Only desperate action, personally led by Hoth himself, prevented him from being cut off. The use of the 88s withering fire barely forced American armor back, sometimes at a distance of only fifty yards in what amounted to virtual hand to hand fighting. Patton sent wave after wave against the German line threatening a breakthrough at several points. Patton’s success would be cut short. With total air supremacy, the Luftwaffe strafed II Corps mercilessly sending the American drive into disarray. Patton would become legendary for standing up in his jeep at the approach of a Me 262 and pulling his pistol in a showdown. Soldiers watched in awe as the plane missed, Patton firing and cursing the pilot as he soared away.
Reluctantly, Patton withdrew to reorganize and plan. Hoth gained a great deal of respect for the general who blunted his drive and the American troops who proved their willingness and ability to fight. The German commander would not underestimate American military strength again.
Over the next month, the generals would spar throughout New York until a decisive showdown in May at the Battle of New York, ten miles from the Bronx. Once more, air supremacy proved the deciding factor as Patton’s forces were battered from above and by Hoth’s forces across the field. II Corps would limp into New Jersey at only 50% strength. Patton became infamous for his missives demanding the USAAF develop something capable of “covering his ass” because he was tired of “Goering’s fairies whipping it while he was trying to win a war.”
President Dulles and his commanders had problems beyond Patton’s. The Kriegsmarine had become emboldened by Admiral King’s stretching of the American Atlantic Fleet along the East Coast. Grand Admiral Raeder was determined to seize control of the East Coast in order to both prevent the resurgence of American naval might, which was inevitable unless their ports and shipyards were either captured or destroyed, and to steal Hitler’s attention away from Goering’s posturing over the Luftwaffe’s importance in saving Hoth’s drive from defeat.
Raeder massed a strike force and made for New Jersey. Included in this group was the Graf Zeppelin, Peter Stasser, and Adolf Hitler as well as three Class H battleships. Raeder’s intent was to cut off King’s northern fleet and decimate it before moving south to Virginia where he intended to draw off more of the Atlantic Fleet. Confronting America‘s Atlantic Fleet head on and scoring a victory would not only shake American morale, it would also shut Goering up. He would then withdraw back to German controlled waters for a blockade of New England.
The first phase of Raeder’s plan went perfectly. May 28, 1946, outnumbered and caught off guard, American naval craft north of Cape May were completely decimated. Raeder made excellent use of his carriers’ aircraft for reconnaissance and attack as well as U-boats to confuse American forces. Two American destroyers were sunk before Raeder’s battleships even came within range. The sole survivor of the initial attack, the USS New York, was sunk as she fled south. Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut were essentially cut off for Hoth’s eventual invasion.
Shock traveled throughout America. No one had expected the Kriegsmarine to make a move south so soon. Admiral King immediately called all available ships north to guard American waters from Virginia to Florida. He also had all available aircraft put on alert.
Raeder, realizing the threat of American coastal aircraft, sought to draw the Atlantic Fleet away their ports. He shelled Dover, DE June 3 in order to draw King’s attention. American aircraft did little damage as the Kriegsmarine retreated to open waters shortly after the opening salvos. A few days later, Raeder shelled Georgetown, DE. Once more, American aircraft did little damage as the Kriegsmarine slipped away. This naval campaign would also see the first appearance of submarines capable of launching ballistic missiles, something that gravely terrorized the coastal cities. These hit and run missions would continue for the next two weeks sending citizens in the region into hysterics, as Raeder intended. He knew public pressure would eventually force the United States to respond.
By the end of June, Admiral King had gathered enough of the Atlantic Fleet together to push northward under Rear Admiral Arthur L. Bristol. He was given orders by King to find and, if possible, destroy the Kriegsmarine’s strike force in detail. Should such occur, Bristol was given permission to venture north to relieve Massachusetts and attempt to disrupt the German’s North Atlantic supply line. Only one aircraft carrier, USS Ranger, accompanied the American naval support force.
A picket line of U-boats off the coast of Delaware noticed the support force heading north and shadowed them, relaying information when possible to Raeder.
July 4, 1946, Raeder decided it was time to meet the enemy. He launched his entire complement of Arado Ar 195 torpedo bombers and Junkers Ju 87 dive bombers escorted by Me 262 fighters to seek out and destroy the USS Ranger as well as other parts of the Atlantic Fleet. The USS Ranger took priority.
The Raeder’s aircraft found the USS Ranger at 0714 hours. German aircraft caught the American force by surprise, hidden by the glare of the rising sun. A handful of American aircraft launched before the Kriegmarine’s bombers arrived. Within half an hour the Ranger was a smoking wreck, taking on water, her flight deck pitted and useless. The German aircraft would also score hits on several other ships before returning to rearm. They had suffered 2 Arado Ar 195 dive bombers as casualties. All American naval aircraft were lost. The sky was Raeder’s and he approached the support force for the kill.
What followed was the equivalent of a slugging match between the two forces. Though both fleets were roughly comparable, Raeder’s aircraft tilted the balance. After suffering the loss of two cruisers and a destroyer, the Atlantic Fleet was ordered to withdraw. Raeder pursued them, sinking the battleship USS Texas, until the threat of coastal aircraft forced him to retreat.
The Atlantic Fleet suffered a bloody nose and would not resume offensive operations. Raeder, meanwhile, received accolades from the Fuhrer who was more than willing to begin the building of new carriers after the demonstration Raeder had provided. Hitler also acceded to Raeder’s opinion that the naval arm of the Luftwaffe should come under the Kriegmarine’s command, citing difficulties had during the Atlantic campaign of trying to communicate with Luftwaffe commanders on the mainland. Goering fumed but had to accept it.