In St. Goar American troops set over the Rhine in a landing boat, 24.3.1945 (National Archives, College Park)
On 7 March 1945 troops of the First US Army captured the Ludendorff bridge at Remagen nearly undamaged. The immediate crossing of the Rhine and the establishment of a bridgehead at Remagen created the starting position for the US Army’s following operations against the German hinterland. The conquest of the "armory of the German Reich", as the Ruhr area was called both on the German and the Allied side, thus came within reach.
In connection with the allied airborne and ground operations "Plunder" and "Varsity", British-Canadian and American troops then crossed the Rhine on a broad front in the Wesel-Dinslaken area between 23 and 25 March 1945. After the Rhine crossing the British troops marched toward Elbe and Northern Germany. The Ninth US Army penetrated at the northern part of the Ruhr district. At the same time the First US Army advanced from the south out of the Remagen bridgehead over the Sieger - and Sauerland regions in the direction of the Ruhr area.
Training of "Volkssturm" members in Lüdenscheid, November 1944 (W. Nies, StadtA Lippstadt)
According to the Allied planning decided upon by General Eisenhower on 25 March 1945, the Ruhr area was to be enveloped in a pincers movement and the units of the German Wehrmacht remaining there were to be encircled. The Americans at first counted on heavy street fighting in the ruins of the Ruhr’s cities.
The defense efforts of the German military, however, turned out to be in vain. Beside regular troops numerous units of the "Volkssturm" und "Freikorps Sauerland" were present. It consisted of provisional trained men and young people. The "final victory" - slogans of leading National Socialists turned out to be hollow phrases in the last weeks of the war, more than ever before.
"Death Zone" of the Ruhr
Allied leatfleat WG 47, dropped on the Ruhr district in March 1945
Between 20 and 28 March 1945 there occurred for the last time especially heavy air attacks on northern Germany as well as on the Ruhr area and its surroundings. In leaflets the Allied high command warned the population against staying in the rubble of destroyed big cities that the Allied leatfleats called the "Death Zone of the Ruhr".
German anti-aircraft guns and fighter planes the Allied bomber units hardly needed to fear in the last weeks of the war. The heavy four engine bombers flew in as if on parade and dropped their bomb carpets with a hitherto barely imaginable precision.
The military value of these attacks was doubtful at this time, however, actually equal to zero. This is clearly shown by the example of the old bishop city of Paderborn, the medieval old town of which had until then made it through the war relatively undamaged.
A heavy British area bombing on 27 March 1945 turned the medieval inner city into ashes and rubble. More than 330 inhabitants lost their lives in this last area bombing of a target in the Ruhr region. The actual target had been the railway installations, but at this time the railway traffic in this region was already completely paralyzed.
Collapse of the defense in the Ruhr
The war is over! A German soldier smashes its rifle, Mislpe near Hagen, 16 April 1945 (National Archives, College Park)
On 1. April 1945 the Ruhr area was encircled by American troops at Lippstadt. In the North of this region British-Canadian troops and in the south American units penetrated further into the hinterland. Inside the “Ruhr pocket” about 320.000 German soldiers of Army Group B as well as 4 million civilians had been encircled.
While the main battle events of the “Western Front” gradually became transferred to northern and central Germany ("... on the way to Berlin"), American troops compressed the Ruhr pocket to a few kilometers. On 12. April 1945 there finally began an operation for the splitting of the combat area.
From the south, coming out of the Sieger- and Sauerland regions, strong forces of the US Army split the Ruhr pocket into two parts in the Hagen-Witten area. The smaller easterly part in the area of Iserlohn had to capitulate on 15 April 1945. In Hagen and Limburg the fights lasted until 17 April 1945.
Surrender of the 1 Kompanie Panzerjäger-Abteilung 512 mit "Jagdtiger" in Iserlohn at the 15.4.1945 (StadtA Iserlohn; National Archives, College Park)
The partial pocket in the area of Düsseldorf only stopped fighting on 21 April 1945 because General Field Marshal Model had until the last (his suicide) stuck to Hitler’s orders. In the face of obvious defeat, he thus still sacrificed numerous German soldiers and civilians to the mad orders to hold out issued by his “Führer” and to his own “officer’s honor”.