Paris — The American Ninth Army captured the last four-mile section of the Siegfried Line before it today, and, with the British Second Army, closed up to the Roer River all the 40 miles from Holland to below Duren.
Strangely, the Germans had abandoned the Hitlerian fortifications and fled to the Cologne plain east of the Roer. The white-clad men of the Ninth closed to within 25 miles of Dusseldorf, 12 of Munchen Gladbach and 20 of Cologne in a limited attack which overran Brachelen and six nearby industrial villages of Rhenish Prussia.
The US Seventh Army and a third successive day of heavy snowfall had stopped the strongly armored seven German divisions attacking in Alsace, 16 miles north of Strasbourg.
The First and Third Armies drew close to the German frontier in the Ardennes section and in many long stretches were looking across the Our River into the Siegfried Line in the center of the Western Front.
The Roer banks provided Gen Eisenhower with a potential spring-board for a decisive lunge into the forests of chimneys of the German Ruhr and Rhineland.
The river is possibly frozen. Near zero weather has prevailed most of this week. The Germans repeated speculations of a new Allied offensive, and told of Americans massing west of Julich, 25 miles west of Cologne. Russian writers also said that an Allied drive was perhaps imminent.
With flame throwers ready but with field batteries saving their strictly rationed shells, the 102nd Ozark Division advanced up to four miles on the Ninth Army front. They seized 97 Siegfried pillboxes, some ten feet thick, in a sector from 10 to 18 miles inside Germany.
“British patrols just north reported they reached the Roer on a front of several miles without contacting the Germans,” AP correspondent Wes Gallagher reported from the NInth Army front. “This clears the Second Army sector west of the Roer and liberates the Sittard sector of Holland.”
On the opposite flank of the Western Front, seven or more German divisions, however, gained more than a mile toward Strasbourg in the biggest enemy offensive since the Ardennes breakthrough.
The American Seventh Army counterattacked last night and wiped out one crossing over the Moder River near beleaguered Haguenau, flattened another and whipped the Nazis momentarily to a standstill.
The First and Third Armies hammered the Ardennes bulge flatter
The 102nd infantry division dissolved the Siegfried Line strong points shielding Brachelen at better than one a minute.
The Rhenish Prussian town lies nine miles northwest of Julich, 14 below Munchen Gladbach and 29 west of Cologne. Coupled with quickening British advances, the Allies were either at or within cannon shot of the Roer for 40 airline miles from near Roermond to below Duren.
The river is the strongest natural and fortified barrier before the Cologne plain and the Rhine.
The Ninth Army had been relatively inactive for six weeks during which it took up positions of the Roer vacated by the US First Army which countered the German offensive farther south in the Ardennes.
The Allies captured at least 23 villages. The British took six, the French five, and the American First, Third and Ninth the rest.
The east capture of Brachelen marked the first time since Allied Armies invaded Germany that the Nazis have given up any considerable section of the Siegfried Line without a fight.
Although there was no inclination at Supreme Headquarters to minimize the force with which the Germans were striking, or the imminent threat to the political prize of Strasbourg, Lt Gen Alexander M Patch appeared to have his 7th Army set for the blow. He had plenty of space which he could conveniently yield if necessary to the three tank, one parachute, one mountain and at least two infantry divisions attacking.
At the opposite flank of the Western Front the British Second Army quickened its gains under the Siegfried Line guns hard by the Roer River, and pulled up to the Wurm River on a front of more than two miles.
The German southern flank before the British line between Roermond and Geilenkirchen was caving in. Grebben, one of the German towns taken, is 14 miles from Munchen Gladbach and 28 from Dusseldorf. General advances averaged more than a mile; the British were approaching the Roer River town of St Odilienberg. They were one to two miles from the Roer on virtually all their front.
The Ardennes bulge was pancaked back to the German border itself at places and within two or three miles of the frontier elsewhere.
Foul weather limited aerial punishment of the Germans who still were withdrawing eastward and northeastward from the Ardennes, possibly to bolster the fluid Russian front.
The German attack around Haguenau, 15 miles north of Strasbourg, gained a little more than a mile on both sides of the communications center yesterday. Schallensdorf, 12 miles west, was lost before the doughfeet struck back.
Heaviest fighting was against a three-mile wide foothold the Germans won across the river west of the town where the battleline extended within 12 miles of the Faverin Gap, the loss of which would make Strasbourg untenable.
By nightfall — the latest available report — part of the woodland into which the Germans had driven was cleared and the enemy was being pushed across the river in some places. General Eisenhower’s communique said initial gains has been “largely offset.”
The French First Army continued making gains on both the northern and southern flanks of the Colmar pocket below Strasbourg. American forces were operating under French command south of the Alsatian city. The French cleared five villages north of Mulhouse.