Operation North Wind (German: 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 ended on 25 January.
In a briefing at his military command complex at Adlerhorst, Adolf Hitler declared in his speech to his division commanders on 28 December 1944 (three days prior to the launch of Operation Nordwind): "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." :499
The goal of the offensive was to break through the lines of the U.S. Seventh 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. Third Army which would lead to the destruction of that army.:494
On 31 December 1944, German Army Group G—commanded by Generaloberst Johannes Blaskowitz—and Army Group Oberrhein ("Upper Rhein")—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 Bodenplatte, which 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 Oberrhein, 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.
The 125th Regiment of the 21st Panzer Division under Col. Hans von Luck aimed to sever the American supply line to Strasbourg, by cutting across the eastern foothills of the Vosges at the northwest base of a natural salient in a bend of the River Rhine. Here the Maginot Line ran east-west, and now showed what a superb fortification it was. On January 7 Luck approached the Line south of Wissembourg at the villages of Rittershoffen and Hatten. Heavy American fire came from the 79th Infantry Division, the 14th Armoured Division, plus elements of the 42nd Infantry Division. On January 10 Luck reached the villages. Two weeks of heavy fighting followed. Germans and Americans each occupying parts of the villages while civilians sheltered in cellars. Luck later said that the fighting around Rittershoffen had been one of the hardest and most costly battles that ever raged.
Eisenhower, fearing the outright destruction of the U.S. 7th Army, had rushed already battered divisions hurriedly relieved from the Ardennes, southeast over 100 km (62 mi), to reinforce the 7th Army. But their arrival was delayed, and on 21 January with supplies and ammunition short, Seventh Army ordered the much depleted 79th and 14th Divisions to retreat from Rittershoffen and fall back on new positions on the south bank the Moder River.
On 25 January the German offensive finally drew to a close, after the US 222nd Infantry Regiment stopped their advance near Haguenau, and earning the Presidential Unit Citation in the process. This was 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.
The German offensive was a failure as they never got near Strasbourg or cut American supply lines. German losses were about 23,000 killed, wounded or missing. The Seventh Army captured some 5,985 German POWs, but suffered 11,609 battle casualties and 2,836 cases of trench foot in January.
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- Engler, Richard. The Final Crisis: Combat in Northern Alsace, January 1945. Aberjona Press. 1999. ISBN 978-0-9666389-1-2
- Clarke, Jeffrey J. and Smith, Robert Ross. Riviera to the Rhine (CMH Pub 7-10, GPO S/N: 008-029-00213-2). Center of Military History, United States Army: Washington, DC, 1993.
- Nordwind & the US 44th Division *Battle History of the 44th I.D.
- Whiting, Charles (1992). The Other Battle of the Bulge: Operation Northwind. Avon Books. ISBN 0380716283. OCLC 211992045.
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- The NORDWIND Offensive (January 1945) on the website of the 100th Infantry Division Association contains a list of German primary sources on the operation.