This decision, one of the most painful by Eisenhower, was based on a
multitude of reasons, practical as well as tactical. All reasoning,
based on then-contemporary evidence, was military, and not
political. It had its beginnings before the final defeat of German
forces in the Ardennes during the previous winter, during Patton's
race across northern France and into Belgium in the summer and fall
of 1944. Eisenhower's reasoning included his desire to end the
European campaign as soon as possible. Bypassing Berlin, and its'
expected resistance, was an avenue to this goal. In the United
States, the war against Japan, in the Southwest Pacific Theater of
Operations (SWPTO) was the long term and considered goal.
Redeployment of troops committed to the European Theater of
Operations was being planned at high levels of the United States'
government and military commands. Even the most positive of
optimists believed that the spring of 1946 was the earliest possible
date for the defeat of Japan. The fanatical Japanese resistance,
among both the military forces and civilian populations, had been
grimly and continually demonstrated during amphibious assaults onto
Japanese-held territories as well as home islands. Eisenhower wanted
to ensure that all German resistance ceased to exist by war's end.
He did not want any pockets of enemy resistance, whether organized
or not, to prolong the operations in the European theater.
Eisenhower insisted that Model's army group, the most organized of
the remaining German armies, be cut off in the Ruhr Valley. Also,
Eisenhower was cognizant of the potential for accidental conflict
between Allied and Russian armies as they rushed towards each other.
There had been reports of incidents between the United States Army
Air Force and the Russian Air Force in eastern Germany. The language
barrier and lack of common communications equipment were factors
General Eisenhower took into account in determining his reasoning.
He was also concerned about possible misidentification by friendly
forces and any resultant casualties, as well as the political
fallout. Eisenhower wanted pre-set boundaries agreed to by
Anglo-American and Russian ground forces beforehand. The most
obvious answer to the boundary was geographical, and that
geographical feature was the Elbe River. The Elbe River,
approximately 720 miles long, flows north from northwest
Czechoslovakia, west of Berlin, and into the North Sea at Hamburg,
and was the most logical choice for Eisenhower's decision. It was,
and is still, a wide (1,000 feet in some places), gently flowing
river, used for commerce for centuries by European traders. The
Russians agreed to the Elbe River boundary on March 30, 1945. The
Elbe was the boundary, except in the north, where British forces
were to cross, and in the south, where American army units were to
utilize the Danube Valley into Austria. Red rockets for the
Russians, and green for the Anglo-American allies, were to be used
as recognition devices. Looking towards the future, plans had been
drawn up for the military government of a defeated Germany. The
Americans, British, French, and the Russians all had sectors for
occupation and control of Germany. The Elbe River was to be the
western boundary of the Russian-occupied zone, which included
Berlin. Foremost in Eisenhower's mind in his decision not to take
Berlin was a genuine concern for American casualties. In several
discussions with General Bradley, commander of U.S. 12th Army Group,
he learned that Bradley had anticipated over 100,000 American
casualties, as well as similar percentages by Canadian and British
forces, in taking Berlin. To Bradley, thought of as "the soldier's
General", and to Eisenhower, the thought of this many casualties,
especially after the near breakthrough by the Germans in the
Ardennes resulted in similar total casualties, was a valid reason
for not taking the capital. Eisenhower believed that figure too high
for the prestige of taking Berlin. Lieutenant General Patton, the
historical romanticist that he was, argued in vain with Eisenhower.
General Simpson, whose Ninth Army was in a direct path to Berlin,
was extremely disappointed. Field Marshal Montgomery, who had
strongly desired a singular, British attack on Berlin, was angered.
Montgomery believed that Eisenhower had made a political mistake in
allowing the Russians to take Berlin. He did not make clear what the
U.S. and England should have done with Berlin afterward. It is also
fair to state, with all the evidence of Montgomery's legendary
concern for the smallest of details, he might not have taken Berlin
for several months. General George A. Marshall, Eisenhower's chief
of staff, agreed with Eisenhower, "Personally and aside from all
logistical, tactical or strategical implications, I would loathe to
hazard American lives for purely political reasons." (2) What could
be termed "organized" German resistance was taking place solely
against Russian forces, somewhat based in the grim knowledge of
retribution for warfare on Russian territory.