World Battlefronts: Crossings Ahead

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As usual when victory is in the air. Winston Churchill was as jolly and prankish as a boy on a picnic. Touring the conquered Siegfried Line, the Prime Minister gaily flicked ashes on the futile, grey-green, concrete dragon's teeth which Hitler had set up to keep tanks out of the German heartland. There were hints—decently obscured by censorship—that Mr. Churchill may have expressed his contempt in even more emphatic manner.

It was official, however, that the doughty old Briton had chalked "For Hitler—Personal" on a 360-lb. shell, then yanked a howitzer's lanyard to fire it over the lines. He had vainly tried to persuade a U.S. commander to let him ride a tank up to the Rhine across from enemy-held Dusseldorf. And he had observed that "one good strong heave" by all the Allies might bring an end to the war.

The Toughest Fight. When he got back to London last week and lunched with George VI, the Prime Minister was able to tell his King with pride that British and Canadian troops were beating down the bitterest German resistance of the entire western front. This action was in the Wesel area, where German paratroops, under victory-or-death orders from Hitler himself, were holding a shrinking bridgehead on the Rhine's west bank.

The paratroopers were covering the last withdrawals of Nazi armor and infantry across the river. Germans poured across the two bridges at Wesel, and some took to ferries, barges, even rowboats. Canadian and British troops fighting with Henry Crerar's Canadian First Army slowly pressed the bridgehead back. At its northwest corner, they captured the town of Xanten, whose name comes from the Latin ad sanctos ("to the holy ones"), and which all good Germans believe is the birthplace of Siegfried of the Nibelungen legend.

After the U.S. Ninth Army joined the fight, the jittery Germans blew up the two bridges, one of them carrying down with it a few straggling German tanks. The final bag of German prisoners was only 600. It was the most skillful German defensive effort since the withdrawal from the Ardennes bulge.

The Sacred River. The wiping out of the Wesel bridgehead brought Eisenhower's armies up to a practically unbroken 150-mile front on the Rhine, from Nijmegen to Coblenz. The amazing U.S. crossing at Remagen was a great credit, not only to the local heroes, but to the Supreme Commander himself, who had passed word down the chain of command to be alert for any opportunity and aggressive to seize it.

To hear that the Rhine had been crossed must have been a shattering blow to the remnants of German morale. The Rhine, the sacred river that winds through German song & story, had not been crossed by hostile armies since Napoleon passed over it at Strasbourg in 1805. * As a military factor, the Remagen bridgehead offered the chance of a drive to the northeast, outflanking the Ruhr; or a push to the southeast, forcing a German withdrawal from the Saar and the rest of the Rhineland south of the Moselle.

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