The Ruhr Pocket was a battle of encirclement that took place in April 1945, on the Western Front near the end of the second World War, in the Ruhr Area of Germany. Some 317,000 German troops were taken prisoner along with 24 generals. The Americans suffered 10,000 casualties including 2,000 killed or missing.
Exploiting the capture of the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen on 7 March 1945, the U.S. 12th Army Group under General Omar Bradley advanced rapidly into German territory south of Generalfeldmarschall (Field Marshal) Walter Model's Army Group B. In the north, the Allied 21st Army Group (Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery) crossed the Rhine in Operation Plunder on 23 March. The lead elements of the two Allied army groups linked up on 1 April 1945 east of the Ruhr to create a massive encirclement of 317,000 German troops to their west.
While the bulk of the U.S. forces advanced east towards the Elbe river, some 18 U.S. divisions remained behind to destroy the isolated forces of Army Group B. The reduction of the German pocket was begun on 1 April by the U.S. Ninth Army, with the forces of the U.S. First Army joining on 4 April. For 13 days the Germans delayed or resisted the U.S. advance. On 14 April, the First and Ninth Armies met, splitting the German pocket in half and German resistance began to crumble.
Having lost contact with its units, the German 15th Army capitulated the same day. Model dissolved his army group on 15 April and ordered the Volksturm and non-combatant personnel to discard their uniforms and go home. On 16 April the bulk of the German forces surrendered en masse to the U.S. divisions. Organized resistance came to an end on 18 April. Unwilling to surrender with his rank of Field Marshal into Allied captivity, Model committed suicide on the afternoon of 21 April.
After D-Day in June 1944, the Allies began pushing east toward Germany. In March 1945, the Allies crossed the River Rhine. South of the Ruhr, General Omar Nelson Bradley's U.S. 12th Army Group's pursuit of the disintegrating German army resulted in the capture of the Ludendorff Bridge across the Rhine at Remagen by the 9th Armored Division of the U.S. First Army. Bradley and his subordinates quickly exploited the crossing made on March 7, 1945, and expanded the bridgehead until the bridge collapsed 10 days later.
North of the Ruhr on March 23, 1945, the Anglo-Canadian 21st Army Group (Field Marshal Sir Bernard Montgomery) which incorporated the US Ninth Army launched Operation Plunder (with the airborne Operation Varsity in support) crossing the Rhine at Rees and Wesel.
Having crossed the Rhine, both Army groups fanned out into the German hinterland. In the south, while the Third Army headed east, the First Army headed northeast and formed the southern pincer of the Ruhr envelopment. In the north, the U.S. Ninth Army, which since the Battle of the Bulge had been assigned to the 21st Army Group, headed southeast, forming the northern pincer, while the rest of the 21st Army Group went east and northeast. Even before the encirclement was complete, Allied activity against the Ruhr had a critical impact on Germany's economy—on March 26 Joseph Goebbels noted in his diary that no more coal was coming from the Ruhr.
Facing the Allied armies were the remnants of a shattered Wehrmacht, a few SS training units, and large numbers of Volkssturm (militia units for aging men, including some World War I veterans), Hitlerjugend (Hitler Youth) units, composed of boys as young as 12 as well as combat service support forces and Luftwaffe Flak crews.
Encirclement of the Ruhr area
Lead elements of the two Allied pincers met on April 1, 1945, near Lippstadt. By April 4, the encirclement was completed and the Ninth Army reverted to the command of General Bradley's 12th Army Group. Within the Ruhr Pocket some 370,000 German soldiers, 14 divisions of Army Group B and two corps from First Parachute Army, altogether the remnants of 19 divisions, and millions of civilians were trapped in cities heavily damaged by numerous bombings. Only 20% of the German soldiers or 75,000 had infantry weapons, with another 75,000 having pistols only and ammunition and fuel supplies were at critical levels. Model's requests for an airlift were dismissed out of hand by Hitler owing to Allied air supremacy. All of Model's requests to withdraw or break out before or after the creation of the pocket were denied by Hitler, who expected "Fortress Ruhr" to hold out for months and tie down hundreds of thousands of Allied troops. The staff of Army Group B knew they only had food supplies for three weeks owing to the millions of civilians that also had to be fed.
While the main operations were directed eastwards to central and northern Germany, elements of three U.S. Armies concentrated on the pocket, taking it section by section. Model's troops put up a strong resistance along the Dortmund–Ems Canal and the Sieg river-line, holding their ground from 4 April to 9 April and launching a counterattack against U.S. 75th and 95th Divisions near Dortmund. For every German city or town that capitulated, another fought on for every building. Bürgermeisters of some German cities presented white flags to the invading U.S. troops, such as at Duisburg and Essen while German troops at Dortmund, Wuppertal and Hamm fought fanatically for days to the complete exhaustion of all available potential. The presence of SS troops was a common element in most instances of all-out resistance.
In the south, the attack of the U.S. III Corps and XVIII Airborne Corps on 5 and 6 April was delayed by German troops, who skillfully used the rugged terrain of the 80% forested Sauerland district to force the Americans to fight for every stream, wood and town. The Germans fought strongly for the city of Siegen to prevent the Americans from gaining access to open ground. The heavily outnumbered and outgunned Germans could ultimately do nothing more than delay the advancing enemy, who covered approximately 10 kilometers per day. By 11 April German combat strength had weakened to the extent that they were only defending roadblocks and built-up areas along main roads, supported by a few tanks and assault guns or 2 cm flak guns. At one point, the Germans covered a valley in a thick smokescreen, delaying the 7th Armored Division for some time. Throughout the battle, U.S. generals in the south failed to use their two armored divisions properly, attempting to unleash them on the Germans at every opportunity but failing due to poor command decisions which left them stuck behind the U.S. infantry divisions for most of the pocket's reduction.
The performance of the U.S. 13th Armored Division was particularly disastrous. Two road marches totaling 400 kilometers sufficed for a Combat Command of the 13th Armored to decline to 50% of authorized strength for its Sherman tanks by the time it reached the battle area. Completely worn out, the division was immediately thrown into action on 10 April by XVII Airborne Corps commander Matthew Ridgway, who, under pressure from army commander Courtney H. Hodges to speed up operations, ordered it to encircle and "destroy" the German forces. The division commander, John B. Wogan, and his subordinates took this order literally. Communications between its units rapidly broke down and the division was held up by a stream when it deployed to "destroy" the Germans. It failed to reach its objectives in time, and was overtaken by U.S. infantry divisions. Wogan was severely wounded by German rifle fire near a roadblock and replaced by John Millikin.
On 7 April the skies cleared and the IX and XXIX Tactical Air Commands began to pound the remaining German defenders, strafing and bombing German troop concentrations and motorized and horse-drawn columns. The Allies were eager to get their hands on all German railway rolling stock and the U.S. pilots were banned from hitting this usual primary target, limiting the extent of Allied bombing operations. The rationing of U.S. artillery ammunition had been lifted and U.S. artillery in support of XVI Corps fired 259,061 rounds in 14 days.
On 10 April the U.S. Ninth Army captured Essen. On 14 April the U.S. First and Ninth Armies linked up on the Ruhr river at Hattingen and split the pocket in two; the smaller, eastern part surrendered the next day. Model lost contact with most of his formations and commanders on 14 April. The German 15th Army under Gustav-Adolf von Zangen capitulated on 14 April, having lost all control over its subordinate formations. The Germans had continued the fight in the pocket despite no realistic hope of relief from the start, as they were tying down 18 U.S. divisions.
Rather than surrender his command, Field Marshal Walter Model dissolved Army Group B on 15 April. Already on 7 April the extent of the American advance to Central Germany had made any breakout impossible. Model's chief of staff Karl Wagener urged him to save the lives of German soldiers and civilians by capitulating. Model refused, as he knew Hitler would not authorize it. In addition, he could not reconcile surrender with the demands he placed on his officers and men throughout the war and his career. But he also wanted to save as many lives as possible for the post-war rebuilding. He decreed the discharging of all youths and older men from the army. By 17 April ammunition supplies would be exhausted, so the non-combatant troops would be allowed to surrender on that day. All combat troops were to either break out in organized formations or drop their weapons and go home, an implicit authority to surrender.
Even before this order was fully transmitted, German resistance began to completely collapse on 16 April as the remnants of German divisions and corps surrendered en masse. 5th Panzer Army commander Josef Harpe was captured by paratroopers of the 17th Airborne Division on 17 April while trying to cross the Rhine to German forces in the Netherlands. The commander of the Allied XVIII Airborne Corps, Matthew Ridgway sent an aide bearing a white flag to Army Group B's headquarters, calling on Model to surrender but the Field Marshal refused, citing his oath to Hitler. When asked for instructions by the squad leader of a German unit that was still armed, Model told them to go home as their fight was over. He then shook their hands and wished them luck.
The western part of the pocket continued a weak resistance until 18 April. Model tried to get to the Harz mountains through the American lines in a small column, but could not make it. Rather than surrender and face trial for war crimes, he committed suicide.
German anti-Nazi resistance groups in Düsseldorf attempted to surrender the city to the Allied armies in the so-called "Aktion Rheinland" in order to spare Düsseldorf from further destruction. However, SS units were able to crush the resistance, and executed a number of those involved. Executions of foreign labourers and political prisoners by the Gestapo had already been occurring since February. The act of resistance did accomplish a cancellation of further bombings on the city by another 800 bombers, through contact with the Americans. Düsseldorf was captured by Americans on 17 April without any notable fighting.
The 317,000 German soldiers from the Ruhr Pocket, and some civilians, were imprisoned in the Rheinwiesenlager (in English, "Rhine meadow camp") near Remagen, a temporary prison enclosure.
The Americans suffered c.10,000 casualties while reducing the pocket. The Ninth Army lost 341 killed, 121 missing and just under 2,000 wounded. The First Army lost three times more, which would bring the U.S. casualties to 10,000. The divisions of III Corps lost 291 killed, 88 missing and 1,356 wounded, while the 8th Division of the XVIII Airborne Corps lost 198 killed, 101 missing and 1,238 wounded. Casualty totals for the 15th Army units on the western edge of the pocket are not listed in the official U.S. history.
The Americans liberated hundreds of thousands of hungry, diseased and weakened prisoners-of-war and slave laborers, the former consisting mainly of Red Army soldiers who were very happy at their liberation. The liberated slaves also had a tendency to loot and terrorize the German population once released and to clog up the roads in front of the U.S. columns. The German civilians were incredulous at Germany's defeat. The Americans also witnessed the destruction inflicted on Ruhr cities and towns by the Allied bombing campaign. Most of the German industrial machinery was situated in protected or decentralized locations, had survived the onslaught unharmed or requiring only minor repairs and were quickly operational after their capture.