January 20, 2020 @ 11:30AM — 12:00PM
A brief ceremony to mark the 75th anniversary of a significant strategic moment, securing a defensive line along the Rhine.
On Monday, January 20th at 11:30 a.m., the Friends of the National World War II Memorial will hold a brief ceremony and wreath presentation at the National World War II Memorial to mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Colmar Pocket, a significant strategic moment that secured a defensive line along the Rhine.
On January 20, 1945, Allied forces began to reduce the Colmar Pocket, a menacing German stronghold in Alsace that threatened Allied gains in the region. After over two weeks of combat under severe winter weather, American and French troops reduced the pocket, finally ejecting the last German forces from Alsace and allowing the Allies to push into Germany at last.
In November 1944, the American 6th Army Group broke through German defenses in the Vosges Mountains of Alsace, the region in France most fiercely defended by German forces. Across the region, German troops were driven back by the Allied advance to the Rhine. However, in the center of the region, German forces held onto a bridgehead to the west of the Rhine roughly 45 miles wide and 25 miles deep, which was centered around the wine-rich city of Colmar. After six months of hard fighting, and as their advances stretched logistical lines thin, the battered and weary Allied forces lacked the fresh troops and adequate supplies needed to reduce the protrusion in their lines. The onset of a harsh winter complete with feet of snow and frigid temperatures, paired with German defensive positions in the area’s villages of sturdy stone structures, complicated the Allies’ ability to reduce this stronghold. Before long, this worrisome bulge became known as the Colmar Pocket. Through December and January, the Colmar Pocket threatened the integrity of Allied progress in Alsace, and an advance originating from this pocket during Operation Nordwind demonstrated this liability. On January 20, 1945, as German resistance elsewhere in the Ardennes and Alsace was dying down, the Allies began their focused efforts to reduce the Colmar Pocket. In the midst of a harsh snowstorm, the French I Corps, consisting largely of colonial troops from Morocco, attacked the Pocket to its south. While German counterattacks limited their advance, the Allied action drew the defending German forces to the south. Two days later, the French II Corps, led by the US 3rdInfantry Division that was reinforced by a regiment from the US 63rd Infantry Division, began the main attack on the pocket’s north. Before long, this northern force cleared the first of several waterways, captured the Colmar Forest, and finally crossed the Colmar Canal. Despite mounting resistance, deepening snow, and worsening weather, the Allies continued to push eastward through the pocket, spearheaded by the French 5th Armored Division. As the French armor advanced, American infantry reinforced the charge, with the US 28th and 75th Infantry Divisions following closely behind. On January 25, the American XXI Corps entered the fray with the 12th Armored Division, and the American and French forces worked together to clear the remainder of the German defenders in the Colmar Pocket. By February 3, the town of Colmar was liberated, and by the 5th, the northern and southern attacking forces linked up near the town of Rouffach, splitting the pocket in half. For the next several days, Allied forces fought to cover German routes of retreat and hammer out the remaining strongholds of resistance. On February 9, when Allied forces defeated the German rear positions in Chalampé and the remaining German troops retreated back across the Rhine, the Colmar Pocket was finally cleared, effectively eliminating German military presence in Alsace.
For weeks, the Colmar Pocket endured as an ugly “sore” in Allied lines that had to somehow be reduced, but doing so surely did not prove an easy task. Only after weeks of rough fighting was this aggravating pocket erased, at the cost of roughly 20,000 Allied casualties. Harsh weather paired with numerous water crossings also caused huge numbers of cases of trench foot and frostbite along Allied lines. Yet the Allied victory was more costly for German forces, of whom over 16,000 troops were taken prisoner, and many thousands more became casualties. With the Colmar Pocket finally reduced, the Allies reinforced their defensive lines along the Rhine River, solidifying Allied gains in Alsace. With this objective completed at long last, the Allies could launch towards their final objective: Germany itself.
During the January 20th ceremony at the World War II Memorial, WWII veterans and Allied representatives will present wreaths at the Atlantic Arch of the Memorial in remembrance of the more than 21,000 killed or wounded during the Battle of the Colmar Pocket.
If you are a World War II veteran, or know of one, who would like to participate in the Colmar Pocket 75th Anniversary Commemoration at the Memorial, please email firstname.lastname@example.org!
We hope you'll join us on January 20th at the WWII Memorial!
The Friends of the National World War II Memorial's WWII 75th Anniversary Commemoration is generously sponsored by AT&T.
Generous support has also been provided by the Albert and Ethel Herzstein Charitable Foundation and Worthington Industries.