By Edward N. Bedessem, Center of Military History
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The fact that liberal use of artillery prevented the deaths of uncounted American infantrymen seemed to escape many Germans, perhaps because it cost so many German lives. In retrospect, very few questionable decisions were made concerning the execution of the campaign. Perhaps Patton could have made his initial Rhine crossing north of Mainz and avoided the losses incurred crossing the Main. Also, the airborne operation in support of the 21 Army Group’s Rhine crossing was probably not worth the risk.
A German holdout force of 70,000 in the Harz Mountains, 40 miles north of Erfurt, was neutralized in this way, as were the towns of Erfurt, Jena, and Leipzig. While the defenders attempted to slow the 12th Army Group’s drive, never was there any doubt about the ultimate outcome. The German nation was making its final efforts in the face of an opponent which had never been more potent, and in the end the sweep to the Elbe-Mulde line merely gave further testimony to the power and mobility of Eisenhower’s forces.
With these mobile forces making great thrusts to isolate pockets of German troops which were mopped up by additional infantry following close behind the Allies rapidly eroded Hitler’s remaining ability to resist. For their part, captured German soldiers often claimed to be most impressed not by American armor or infantry but by the artillery. They frequently remarked upon its accuracy, the swiftness with which it acquired targets, and especially the prodigality with which artillery ammunition was expended.