Eisenhower's plans

After capturing the Ruhr, Eisenhower planned to have British 21st Army Group continue its drive east across the plains of northern Germany to Berlin. The 12th and 6th U.S. Army Groups were to mount a subsidiary offensive to keep the Germans off balance and diminish their ability to stop the northern thrust. This secondary drive would also give Eisenhower a degree of flexibility in case the northern attack ran into difficulties.[6] For several reasons, Eisenhower began to readjust these plans toward the end of March. First, his headquarters received reports that Soviet forces held a bridgehead over the Oder River, 30 mi (48 km) from Berlin. Since the Allied armies on the Rhine were more than 300 mi (480 km) from Berlin, with the Elbe River still to be crossed 200 mi (320 km) ahead, it seemed clear that the Soviets would capture Berlin long before the western Allies could reach it. Eisenhower thus turned his attention to other objectives, most notably a rapid junction with the Soviets to cut the German Army in two and prevent any possibility of a unified Nazi defense effort. Once this was accomplished the remaining German forces could be defeated in detail.[6] In addition, there was the matter of the Ruhr. Although the Ruhr area still contained a significant number of Axis troops and enough industry to retain its importance as a major objective, Allied intelligence reported that much of the region's armament industry was moving southeast, deeper into Germany. This increased the importance of the southern offensives across the Rhine.[6] Also focusing Eisenhower's attention on the southern drive was concern over the "National Redoubt." According to rumor, Hitler's most fanatically loyal troops were preparing to make a lengthy, last-ditch stand in the natural fortresses formed by the rugged alpine mountains of southern Germany and western Austria. If they held out for a year or more, dissension between the Soviet Union and the western Allies might give them political leverage for some kind of favorable peace settlement. In realit , by the time of the Allied Rhine crossings the Wehrmacht had suffered such severe defeats on both the Eastern and Western Fronts that it could barely manage to mount effective delaying actions, much less muster enough troops to establish a well organized alpine resistance force. Still, Allied intelligence could not entirely discount the possibility that remnants of the German Army would attempt a suicidal last stand in the Alps. Denying Hitler's forces this opportunity became another argument for rethinking the role of the southern drive through Germany.[9] Perhaps the most compelling reason, though, for increasing the emphasis on this southern drive had more to do with the actions of Americans than those of Germans. While Montgomery was carefully and cautiously planning for the main thrust in the north, complete with massive artillery preparation and an airborne assault, American forces in the south were displaying the kind of basic aggressiveness that Eisenhower wanted to see. On 7 March, elements of Lt. Gen. Courtney H. Hodges's 1st Army had captured a bridge over the Rhine at Remagen and had been steadily expanding the bridgehead.[9] To the south in the Saar-Palatinate region, Lt. Gen. George S. Patton's 3rd Army had dealt a devastating blow to the German 7th Army and, in conjunction with the U.S. 7th Army, had nearly destroyed the German 1st Army. In five days of battle, from 18–22 March, Patton's forces captured over 68,000 Germans. These bold actions eliminated the last German positions west of the Rhine. Although Montgomery's drive was still planned as the main effort, Eisenhower believed that the momentum of the American forces to the south should not be squandered by having them merely hold the line at the Rhine or make only limited diversionary attacks beyond it. By the end of March, the Supreme Commander thus leaned toward a decision to place more responsibility on his southern forces. The events of the first few days of the final campaign would be enough to convince him that this was the proper course of action.