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Operation North Wind (Unternehmen Nordwind) was the last major German offensive of World War II on the Western Front. It began on 31 December 1944 in Alsace and Lorraine in northeastern France, and it ended on 25 January.
"This attack has a very clear objective, namely the destruction of the enemy forces. There is not a matter of prestige involved here. It is a matter of destroying and exterminating the enemy forces wherever we find them. The question of liberating all of Alsace at this time is not involved either. That would be very nice, the impression on the German people would be immeasurable, the impression on the world decisive, terrific psychologically, the impression on the French people would be depressing. But that is not important. It is more important, as I said before, to destroy his manpower."
The objective was simple. The offensive was to break through the lines of the U.S. 7th Army and French 1st Army in the Upper Vosges mountains and the Alsatian Plain, and destroy them. This would leave the way open for Operation Dentist (Unternehmen Zahnarzt), a planned major thrust into the rear of the U.S. 3rd Army which would lead to the destruction of that army.
On 31 December 1944, German Army Group G (Heeresgruppe G)—commanded by Generaloberst (Colonel General) Johannes Blaskowitz—and Army Group Upper Rhine (Heeresgruppe Oberrhein)—commanded by Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler—launched a major offensive against the thinly stretched, 110 kilometres (68 mi)-long front line held by the U.S. 7th Army. Operation Nordwind soon had the understrength U.S. 7th Army in dire straits. The 7th Army —at the orders of U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower— had sent troops, equipment, and supplies north to reinforce the American armies in the Ardennes involved in the Battle of the Bulge.
On the same day that the German Army launched Operation Nordwind, the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) committed almost 1,000 aircraft in support. This attempt to cripple the Allied air forces based in northwestern Europe was known as Operation Baseplate (Unternehmen Bodenplatte). Bodenplatte failed without having achieved any of its key objectives.
The initial attack was conducted by three Corps of the German 1st Army of Army Group G, and by 9 January, the XXXIX Panzer Corps was heavily engaged as well. By 15 January at least seventeen German divisions (including units in the Colmar Pocket)from Army Group G and Army Group Upper Rhine, including the 6th SS Mountain, 17th SS Panzergrenadier, 21st Panzer, and 25th Panzergrenadier Divisions were engaged in the fighting. Another, smaller, attack was made against the French positions south of Strasbourg, but it was finally stopped.
The U.S. VI Corps — which bore the brunt of the German attacks — was fighting on three sides by 15 January. With casualties mounting, and running severely short on reinforcements, tanks, ammunition, and supplies, Eisenhower, fearing the outright destruction of the U.S. 7th Army, rushed already battered divisions hurriedly relieved from the Ardennes, southeast over 100 km (62 mi), to reinforce the 7th Army. Their arrival was delayed, and the Americans were forced to withdraw to defensive positions on the south bank of the Moder River on 21 January. The German offensive finally drew to a close on 25 January, the same day that the reinforcements began to arrive from the Ardennes. Strasbourg was saved but the Colmar Pocket was a danger which had to be eliminated.
In the bitter, desperate fighting of Operation Nordwind, the VI Corps suffered a total of 14,716 casualties. The total number of casualties for the U.S. 7th Army as a whole remains unclear, but is estimated to amount to approximately 3,000 killed, 9,000 wounded, and 17,000 sick and injured.
Operation Nordwind, although costly for both sides, was ultimately unsuccessful, and the failure of the offensive allowed the U.S. 7th Army to contain the German push towards Strasbourg. Any gains attained by the offensive's gains were negated by the later Operation Undertone.
In February, with the assistance of the U.S. XXI Corps, the French 1st Army collapsed the Colmar Pocket and completely cleared the west bank of the Rhine River of German forces in the area south of Strasbourg.
- Smith and Clark, Riviera To The Rhine, p. 527.
- Engler, Richard. The Final Crisis: Combat in Northern Alsace, January 1945. Aberjona Press. 1999. ISBN 978-0-9666389-1-2
- Smith and Clarke, "Riviera To The Rhine," The official US Army History of the Seventh US Army.
- Nordwind & the US 44th Division *Battle History of the 44th I.D.
- 14th Armored Division Combat History
- Cirillo, Roger. The Ardennes-Alsace. The U.S. Army Campaigns of World War II. United States Army Center of Military History. CMH Pub 72-26.
- The NORDWIND Offensive (January 1945) on the website of the 100th Infantry Division Association contains a list of German primary sources on the operation.