It’s a long march from St. Tropez on the Mediterranean, across the length of France, over into Germany, down to Munich, and into Austria, a semicircle well over eight hundred miles. The 6th Army Group, comprised of the U.S. Seventh and French First armies, fought its way along that route, a route often defined by the rivers and mountains that needed to be crossed: the Rhône River, the Vosges Mountains, the Rhine River, the Danube.
While some called it the “champagne campaign,” the landings near St. Tropez on 15 August 1944 were more vigorously defended than those in North Africa or even Anzio. Fortunately, the American divisions that came ashore were hard-bitten veterans of the war in Italy and, in the case of the 3d Infantry Division, North Africa. The French units also included many veterans of the Italian campaign and comprised Frenchmen and Africans in almost equal numbers. As the Allies battled on, the French ranks were swelled by tens of thousands of Free French Forces of the Interior, the famous maquis. German forces arrayed against the Allies included the famed 11th Panzer Division, an Eastern front veteran known as the “Ghost Division,” which would hit the Allied advance time and again only to slip away before it could be pinned and destroyed. But the Allies pushed on, northward into and over the Vosges Mountains.
First to the Rhine tells the story of that nine-month campaign from the strategic plane down through the corps, division, and regimental levels to the personal experience of the men in combat, including the likes of Audie Murphy, America’s most decorated infantryman of the war. It features little-known battles, including one at Montélimar, when an ad hoc American armored command and the 36th Infantry Division came within a hair’s breadth (and several days of hard fighting) of cutting off the entire German Nineteenth Army. Also covered is the vicious fighting during the German Nordwind counteroffensive in January 1945 and the French-American offensive to clear the Colmar Pocket between the Vosges and the Rhine.
Authors Harry Yeide and Mark Stout draw heavily on official American and French after-action reports, other contemporary combat records such as highly detailed S-3 and G-3 operations journals, and interviews conducted by the U.S. Army with soldiers shortly after the actions occurred. Also used are personal recollections written by key commanders in American, French, and German ranks. Illustrations come from official U.S. Army photographs and film. The result is the first popular English-language history that explores the French role in the fighting and the relationship between the U.S. Army and the French forces that fought under American command—and at times also controlled American divisions.
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