The Final Crisis: Combat in Northern Alsace January 1945
Richard Engler

Usually relegated to a footnote, the campaign in the Alsace was actually more important than most people realize. Several factors combined to prevent a German victory, but it was still a very near thing for the Allies. Had the Germans broken through with Operation Nordwind, the course of the war would indeed have been very different.

The Nordwind Challenge to Freedom chapter opens the story, with background answering questions about why the operation was launched, and why it began when it did. There is information provided that sets the tone for the rest of the book, explaining national attitude in America, manpower situations, and how some units came to be placed in the American lines in the Vosges. This is followed by a chapter entitled The Setting, describes the “neighborhood.” The reader is introduced to some of the villagers who inhabited the region, as well as a little of the socio-economic impact of the area. The significance of the Maginot Line fortifications is mentioned, along with an overview of the fighting during the 1940 campaign.

The third chapter is a discussion of the US Army, from prior to its involvement in the war. The US strategic views are presented, explaining the “Germany First” strategy. The author has done a good job of explaining how the Americans built there army, where the men came from, and where they went. Quite frankly, I was amazed at how short the numbers were toward the end of the war, and how Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP) was stripped of men who were supposed to be trained as specialists, but who were badly needed in infantry units.

Hopes and Illusions of Summer 1944, the fourth chapter, introduces the reader to a group of men who will surface throughout the narrative. Though names are given, and their unit is only referred to as “The Company,” their story will provide a fox-hole view of this campaign. Although not specifically mentioned, the author is an assistant BAR gunner in this outfit. It is here that the trials and tribulations of moving from the Air Corps to the Infantry begin to emerge. Of course, this is all minor compared to the difficulties of moving from Stateside to the front lines, especially with minimal training.

Misfortunes of the Fall gives the reader more information regarding the Allied situation after the Arnhem incident, leading up to Nordwind. Here again, the home front is visited, letting the reader see where the nations thoughts were. Those thoughts were far from the southern corner of France. Still, the Allies were pushing the German lines back. The next chapter refreshes the reader on what is going on in Germany, the faith the German people still had in Hitler, even while Himmler is creating the Volks Armee, essentially a Party Army. Still, we follow Seventh Army, and “The Company,” as they draw closer to NORDWIND.

Vistas of Nordwind is a short chapter, consisting of a discussion of German plans, American deployment, and the terrain they would be fighting on. It is Chapter 8 that the campaign really begins. The German attacks are described, as are the units that are hit by these attacks. An interesting part of this campaign is the political battle fought with General De Gaulle over Strasbourg. Militarily, it was looking as if evacuating was a sound idea. Politically, De Gaulle would not countenance such an action. Had the order been given to pull back from that city, there may well have been a small mutiny within the French forces, whom De Gaulle was prepared to order into the city on their own.

The fighting in the Vosges region was fierce. The following chapters have a well-balanced way of showing what went on at different levels during the campaign. Decisions made at SHAEF are just as important to this book as Corps or Division level decisions. “The Company” provides insight into the ground level action, allowing the reader to dig in, and see the enemy across a field. The battle was certainly not one-sided, as seen when the Americans lose six battalions to the Germans near Reipertswiller. Still another pasting the Americans suffered was near Herrlisheim, when a tank battalion suffered the loss of 23 of 52 tanks in a day.

Still, the issue was close. Although the Americans held, it wasn’t always a sure bet. Tenacity and pure stubbornness, with a little luck, allowed the Americans to hold their lines. With a breakout prevented, the Germans could do nothing now but attempt to hold back the Allied onslaught. In this, they ultimately failed.

A lesson had hit home, though. More units were shipped from the States to Europe. Rear area units were combed through, and non-essential personnel were handed rifles and sent to the front lines. Although the German was retreating, he wasn’t beaten yet. He was still a formidable foe.

There are no photographs in this book. There are a number of sketches, as well as maps. The book is well footnoted, showing the research that allows the author to literally tell the story from the ground up.

This book is an important read. Still, it is my duty to point out that although I am objective as possible, I am associated with this publisher, even though I had no involvement in the production of this book.

(Reviewed by Tom Houlihan)

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