Operation Undertone, the codename for the Seventh Army offensive, commenced on March 15, 1945. The “Fighting 44th” along with 13 other divisions formed the Seventh Army, commanded by Lt. General Alexander Patch. The battle-weary 44th, after a record 144 consecutive days in the line, was taken out of the line and into Seventh Army reserve for a well deserved rest at the start of the offensive. The 44th was back in line after 10 day’s rest (and some were entertained by Mickey Rooney and Marlene Dietrich) at Worms on March 25.
Despite the desperate state of the enemy, Operation Undertone was not without serious risks. Difficulties included punching through the strongest section of Germany’s West Wall defenses. These stout defensive works defended the German and French battlegrounds of Alsace Lorraine. After storming the Siegfried Line, another risk involved traversing a significant distance to reach and cross the Rhine River. For many divisions this meant covering 60 miles ground through enemy held territory to reach the Rhine River. Then force a crossing.
Undertone was militarily sound. Control of the Saar Palatinate region meant the loss of Germany’s premier sources of raw materiel for its war machine. Critical commodities of coal, iron and synthetic fuel came from this region. Its armament factories and chemical works continued to supply the Reich, in spite of the Allied ’round the clock’ air campaign. Once the Allied forces reach the Rhine, they were in a magnificent situation. This stretch of the river, especially between the cities of Mainz and Mannheim, held numerous flat and low banked fording sites. Once bridged, the Reich lay defenseless. From this time forward the 44th I.D. entered a war of rapid maneuver, an environment well suited for the highly mechanized and at last well supplied American Army of 1945.
Once launched and despite overwhelming success, Allied command altered strategy ‘mid- steam.’ The existence of the Nazi National Redoubt or Alpenfestung (the Alpine fortress) moved from the realm of rumor to reality as incorrectly reported by various Allied intelligence services. A Nazi final stand, under the command of Hitler, staffed by large and well armed Waffen SS Armies from an alpine bastion was treated with the utmost seriousness. The Allies could not dismiss it as a hoax. Eisenhower acted. On April 13, Eisenhower informed Devers to change course and pivot the 7th Army almost due south. The 44th new axis of advance became the line of Mannheim – Heidelberg- Ulm – Fern Pass. Control of the Alpine passes cut-off the potential of reinforcement of the ‘Alpenfestung’ with German troops from Italy.
By war’s end the existence of a National Redoubt was proven a hoax. By default, the Soviets won the race to capture Berlin.
Allied victory in Europe was inevitable. Germany lay exposed in the spring of 1945. Hitler gambled and lost his future ability to defend Germany at the failed winter of 1944 Ardennes and Nordwindoffenses. Germany had no real strength left to stop the Allied and Soviet armies. Tragically, the Germans would fight and fight bitterly at times. Only Hitler’s death could break the German will to resist and end this ultimate tragedy.
The 1945 American army adapted remarkably. In Operation Undertone mechanized infantry units were linked tightly to armored units and tactical air power. The result: The Yanks imposed their will by maneuver and on occassion through blunt brute force. With logistical support finally equal to the task of supply, the Americans advanced rapidly and eliminated any remaining German military ability in southern Europe.