Rhineland (Rheinland in German) today is the general name for areas
along the river Rhine between
Bingen and the Dutch border.
west the area stretches to the borders with Luxemburg, Belgium and the
Netherlands; on the eastern side it only encompasses the towns
and cities along the river.
Between the two world wars the
term "Rhineland" covered the whole de-militarized zone to the west
of the Rhine including the brigde-heads on the eastern banks.
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
territory in 1936, as part of a diplomatic test of will, three
years before the outbreak of the Second
southern and eastern parts are mainly hill country (Westerwald, Hunsrück,Taunus and Eifel), cut by river valleys, principally the Rhine
takes in the Ruhr
the larger cities in the Rhineland include Aachen, Bonn, Cologne, Duisburg, Düsseldorf, Koblenz, Krefeld, Leverkusen, Trier.
The Rhineland 1919 - 1930
Province was created
in 1824 by joining the provinces of
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
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.
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
) and water transport. In
Rhineland-Palatinate agriculture is more important, including the
vineyards in the Ahr
Following World War I
French troops leaving Mainz
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
Republic's policy of
reconciliation in the era of Gustav
Stresemann and the Locarno
Sections of the Rhineland were annexed by Belgium in the Treaty of Versailles
. The cantons of
Eupen, Malmedy and Sankt
Vith though entirely German in culture and language
became the East Cantons of Belgium against the
will of the population.
is the third official language, along
During the occupation [1919 - 1930) the French encouraged the
establishment of an independent Rhenish
, banking on traditional anti-Prussian resentments
(see: history of Palatinate
). In the end,
the separatists failed to gain any decisive support among 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
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
, Nazi Germany remilitarized the
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
As a result of this, the governments were
inclined to see the remilitarization as a fait
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
that "the Germans are after all only going into their
own back garden", but rejected the Nazi manner of accomplishing the
act. Winston Churchill
advocated military action through cooperation by the British and
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
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.
1944–1945 military campaigns
Two different military campaigns were fought in the Rhineland.
The first operation of the campaign was the Allied Operation Market Garden
to allow the Second British
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
General Henry Crerar
reinforced by elements of the British Second Army
, drove through the
Rhineland beginning in the first week of February 1945.
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
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.
'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
the British Second Army
Field Marshal Montgomery
in the third week of March 1945.
Varsity was a massive airborne operation in
conjunction with Operation Plunder, the amphibious
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.