The Rhineland (Rheinland in German) today is the general name for areas of Germany along the river Rhine between Bingen and the Dutch border. To the west the area stretches to the borders with Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands; on the eastern side it only encompasses the towns and cities along the river. Except for the Saar this area more or less corresponds with the modern use of the term.
Between the two world wars the term "Rhineland" covered the whole occupied and de-militarized zone to the west of the Rhine including the bridge-heads on the eastern banks (see map below). After the collapse of the French Empire in the early 19th century, the German and Dutch (Province of Jülich-Cleves-Berg) speaking regions at the middle and lower course of the Rhine were annexed to the kingdom of Prussia. The Prussian administration reorganized the territory as the Rhine Province (also known as Rhenish Prussia), a term continuing in the names of the German states of Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia. Following the First World War of the early 20th century, the western part of Rhineland was occupied by Entente forces, then demilitarized under the Treaty of Versailles. German forces remilitarized the territory in 1936, as part of a diplomatic test of will, three years before the outbreak of the Second World War.
The Rhine Province was created in 1824 by joining the provinces of Lower Rhine and Jülich-Cleves-Berg. Its capital was Koblenz; it had 8.0 million inhabitants by 1939. In 1920, the Saar was separated from the Rhine Province and administered by the League of Nations until a plebiscite in 1935, when the region was returned to Germany. At the same time, in 1920, the districts of Eupen and Malmedy were transferred to Belgium (see German-Speaking Community of Belgium). In 1946, the Rhine Province was divided up between the newly-founded states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate. The town of Wetzlar became part of Hesse.
Today, the region of Rhineland is shared among the states of North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate and Hessen. North Rhine-Westphalia is one of the prime German industrial areas, containing significant mineral deposits, (coal, lead, lignite, magnesium, oil and uranium) and water transport. In Rhineland-Palatinate agriculture is more important, including the vineyards in the Ahr, Mittelrhein and Mosel regions.
Following World War IEdit
Following the Armistice of 1918, Allied forces occupied the Rhineland as far east as the river with some small bridgeheads on the east bank at places like Cologne. Under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles of 1919 the occupation was continued. The treaty specified three occupation Zones, which were due to be evacuated by Allied troops five, ten and finally 15 years after the formal ratification of the treaty, which took place in 1920, thus the occupation was intended to last until 1935. In fact, the last Allied troops left Germany five years prior to that date in 1930 in a good-will reaction to the Weimar Republic's policy of reconciliation in the era of Gustav Stresemann and the Locarno Pact.
Sections of the Rhineland, that had once belonged to the Habsburg Netherlands Duchy of Limburg, were annexed by Belgium in the Treaty of Versailles. The cantons of Eupen, Malmedy and Sankt Vith though, with the exception of Malmedy, German in culture and language became the East Cantons of Belgium against the will of the population. Today German is the third official language, along with French and Dutch.
During the occupation (1919 - 1930) the French encouraged the establishment of an independent Rhenish Republic, banking on traditional anti-Prussian resentments (see: history of Palatinate). In the end, the separatists failed to gain any decisive support among the population.
The Treaty of Versailles also specified the de-militarization of the entire area to provide a buffer between Germany on one side and France, Belgium and Luxembourg (and to a lesser extent, the Netherlands) on the other side, which meant that no German forces were allowed there after the Allied forces had withdrawn. Furthermore (and quite unbearably from the German perspective) the treaty entitled the Allies to reoccupy the Rhineland at their will, if the Allies unilaterally found the German side responsible for any violation of the treaty.
In violation of the Treaty of Versailles and the spirit of the Locarno Pact, Nazi Germany remilitarized the Rhineland on Saturday, March 7, 1936. The occupation was done with very little military force, the troops entering on bicycles, and no effort was made to stop it (see Appeasement of Hitler). France could not act due to political instability at the time, and, since the remilitarization occurred at a weekend, the British Government could not find out or discuss actions to be taken until the following Monday. As a result of this, the governments were inclined to see the remilitarization as a fait accompli.
Hitler took a risk when he sent his troops to the Rhineland. He told them to "turn back and not to resist" if they were stopped by the French Army. The French, however, did not try to stop them because they were currently holding elections and the president did not want to start a war with Germany.
The British government did not oppose the act in principle, feeling with Lord Lothian that "the Germans are after all only going into their own back garden", but rejected the Nazi manner of accomplishing the act. Winston Churchill, however, advocated military action through cooperation by the British and French. The remilitarization of the Rhineland was favoured by some of the local population, because of a resurgence of German nationalism and harboured bitterness over the Allied occupation of the Rhineland until 1930 (Saarland until 1935).
A side-effect of the French occupations was the offspring of French soldiers and German woman. These children, who were seen as the continuing French pollution of German culture, were shunned by the broader German society and were known as Rhineland Bastards. Children fathered by French colonial troops of African ancestry were especially despised and became targets of Nazi sterilisation programmes in the 1930s. The American poet Charles Bukowski was born in 1920 in Andernach as the son of a German mother and a Polish-American U.S. soldier, serving among the occupation troops and soldiers.
1944–1945 military campaignsEdit
Two different military campaigns were fought in the Rhineland.
The first operation of the campaign was the Allied Operation Market Garden that sought to allow the Second British Army to advance past the northern flank of the Siegfried Line and enter the Ruhr industrial area. After the failure of that operation for five months, from September 1944 until February 1945, the First United States Army fought a costly battle to capture the Hürtgen Forest. The heavily forested and ravined terrain of the Hürtgen negated Allied combined arms advantages (close air support, armor, artillery) and favoured German defenders. The U.S. Army lost 24,000 troops. The military necessity of their sacrifice has been debated by military historians.
In early 1945, after a long winter stalemate, military operations by most Allied armies in Northwest Europe resumed with the goal of reaching the Rhine. From their winter positions in The Netherlands, the First Canadian Army under General Henry Crerar reinforced by elements of the British Second Army under General Miles Dempsey, drove through the Rhineland beginning in the first week of February 1945.
Operation Veritable lasted several weeks, with the end result of clearing all German forces from the west side of the Rhine river. The supporting operation by the First US Army, Operation Grenade, was planned to coincide from the River Roer, in the south. This was delayed for two weeks however, by German flooding of the Roer valley.
On March 7, 1945 a company of armoured infantry of the U.S. 9th Armored Division captured the last intact bridge over the Rhine at Remagen. General George Patton's Third US Army also made a crossing of the river the day before the much anticipated Rhine crossings by the 21st Army Group (First Canadian Army and the British Second Army) under Field Marshal Montgomery in the third week of March 1945.
Operation Varsity was a massive airborne operation in conjunction with Operation Plunder, the amphibious crossings. By early April, the Rhine had been crossed by all the Allied armies operating west of the river, and the battles for the Rhineland were over.
In the official histories of the British and Canadian armies, the term Rhineland refers only to fighting west of the river in February and March 1945, with subsequent operations on the river and to the east known as "Rhine Crossing". Both terms are official Battle Honours in the Commonwealth forces.
- Walter Marsden: The Rhineland. Hastingshouse/Daytrips Publ., ISBN 0-8038-2070-4 (online version (Google Books)
- Ken Ford, Tony Brian: The Rhineland 1945: The Last Killing Ground in the West. Osprey Publishing 2000, ISBN 1-85532-999-9
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