World Battlefronts: Bitter Ends

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In the industrial hedgehog of the Ruhr, the watery flatlands of The Netherlands and the stream-scalloped woods and plains of northwestern Germany, the fighting last week was a sample of what the Allies may expect in many a pocket. It was several kinds of warfare: hard battling against solid centers of resistance, Indian-stalking of night-raiding guerrillas, bashing down of villages where civilians, even boys less than ten years old, sniped and fired Panzerfaust rocket charges at tanks.

The battles of the bitter-end pockets were going well enough this week, but the going was also hard and the Allies paid with soldiers' lives for German ground that now had only nuisance value.

In the Ruhr, Wehrmacht resistance was collapsing swiftly. U.S. Ninth and First Army units, driving from the north and the south, bisected the pocket at Hagen. Ruhr civilians had learned by the examples of ruined Dortmund and flattened Paderborn that to resist was to be destroyed. Essen (pop. 659,871) gave up with little struggle; the Yanks found hundreds of drunken civilians reeling in the streets.

The Last Ditches. But in other towns there had been last-ditch fighting. After the first few days, the Germans seemed to have lost heart and direction; Field Marshal Walther Model was said to have flown out. The Americans had a large-scale victory of annihilation: 176,000 prisoners had been taken; only about 30,000 German troops remained in the severed pocket.

In The Netherlands, the Canadian First Army found nothing easy. In Arnhem, infantrymen had to battle for every house. But in the Canadians' sweep to the North Sea, resistance virtually ended with the fall of Groningen.

Polish troops were almost within sight of Emden. At the bottom of the sack, west of Bremen, the British Second Army ran into what Allied airmen had once called "Flak Alley." Now the massive concentration of antiaircraft guns was leveled to sweep the roads. Few gun crews gave up until all their shells were fired.

This week the Allies gave the Germans a sample of what will happen eventually to all pockets. French armor, backed by U.S. artillery and aircraft, began the flattening of German-held positions on both sides of the Gironde estuary, which had blocked the use of Bordeaux as a port. In three days the Allies captured Royan, main strongpoint on the north side of the Gironde. The hopeless Germans continued to battle bitterly.