Alsace 1945: Fallout Over Strasbourg
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
When French troops rolled into the border city of Strasbourg
on 23 November 1944, the Free French movement achieved one
of its prime goals. Strasbourg, re-acquired by the Germans
in 1940, had taken on a mystical importance to Charles de
Gaulle’s movement. Far more than simply the capital
of Alsace, the city came to symbolize the thousand-year-old
cultural struggle between Teuton and Gaul.
A French Sherman in Strasbourg,
The German attempt to re-take Strasbourg, and its nearly
fatal effects on the Franco-American alliance, are the focus
of our game Alsace
1945. The game plays quickly, and at $29.99
it’s got the right price.
French troops had been returning to the front throughout
late 1944, and by the end of the year the French claimed to
have one million men under arms. Though this is likely an
inflated figure, nevertheless the First French Army had three
armored and six infantry divisions (four of them made up of
soldiers from France’s African colonies). This army
was fighting as part of the U.S. Sixth Army Group on the southern
flank of the Allied forces facing Germany, between Strasbourg
and the Swiss border.
The Germans caught the Americans by surprise with their
16 December counterattack in the Ardennes region, northwest
of Strasbourg, as shown in our America
Triumphant game, now sadly out of print. Reinforcements would have to be
garnered from other sectors. The American troops posted north
of Strasbourg, part of the Sixth Army Group’s Seventh
Army, received orders to prepare to fall back.
Hoping to interfere with these plans, the Germans designed
their bizarrely named Operation Dentist to strike toward Strasbourg.
Later given the more warlike name “Northwind,”
the German attack would begin on New Year’s Eve 1944.
Believing such a spoiling attack imminent, the Allied supreme
commander, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, on 26 December ordered
Sixth Army Group to prepare to pull back beyond Strasbourg.
Gen. Jacob Devers, the army group commander, discounted Eisenhower’s
fears. He and the Seventh Army commander, Gen. Alexander Patch,
believed their troops could hold the line just as well in their
current positions without the danger of an opposed retreat.
Devers ordered Patch to prepare three fall-back positions,
but not to actually retreat unless his men came under heavy
attack. To make up for an armored division Devers expected
to lose momentarily to the Ardennes, the army group commander
transferred the French 2nd Armored Division northward to Patch’s
The transfer tipped off DeGaulle to American plans, and the
French leader reacted violently. The withdrawal represented
“a terrible wound inflicted on the honor of our country
and its soldiers,” he raged. Bypassing the Allied command
structure, DeGaulle sent direct orders to the First French
Army. “In case the Allied forces retire from their present
positions north of the First French Army lines,” De
Gaulle wrote, “I order you to take matters into your
own hands and to assure the defense of Strasbourg.”
Next, the French leader informed Eisenhower that “Whatever
happens, the French will defend Strasbourg.”
Gen. Jean de Lattre de Tassigny of First French Army received
orders to transfer the 3rd Algerian Division to Strasbourg
to hold the city in case of an American withdrawal, while
the French waited to see if the Americans would actually pull
back. On 2 January 1945, the third day of Northwind, De Gaulle
sent his chief of staff, Gen. Alphonse-Pierre Juin, to see
Eisenhower and reiterate French determination. Juin, who as
commander of Vichy forces in North Africa had ordered his
troops to resist the American landings in 1942, had never
had a warm relationship with his new allies. Things soon got
A Marshal of France.
Juin receives his baton, May 1952.
“They like us a lot,” Juin had written of the
Americans, “but they are also imbued with a sense of
omnipotence and with a touchiness you can hardly imagine.”
Juin soon became involved in a shouting match with Eisenhower’s
chief of staff, Gen. Walter Bedell Smith. Told of De Gaulle’s
order to De Lattre, Bedell Smith grew angry.
“If that is so,” he shouted, “it is bordering
on insubordination and the French First Army will not get
a single further round of ammunition or a gallon of petrol.”
“In that case,” Juin fired back, “General
de Gaulle will forbid American forces the use of French railways
Calming slightly, the two chiefs of staff agreed that their
bosses should meet the next day. At a lunch with De Gaulle
and Winston Churchill, Eisenhower laid out the military reasons
for the retreat.
“If this were a wargame,”
De Gaulle allowed, “I would say you are right. ...
In the realm of strategy this would be only a maneuver. But
for France it would be a national disaster.”
Prodded gently by Churchill, Eisenhower gave in. Seventh Army
would fight for Strasbourg, and the alliance would be saved
for another 20 years. De Gaulle would eventually break it,
but not until 1965.
For our purposes, of course, Alsace 1945 is a wargame. Both the 2nd Armored Division and 3rd Algerian
Division are present, and under special restrictions. The
infantry division is under orders of II French Corps and can
only act to defend Strasbourg. The armored division, meanwhile,
is under American orders and is not allowed to take orders
from the French corps headquarters. The Allied player actually
is allowed to activate American units with the French HQ,
but since it can’t leave Strasbourg this will be a very
There’s also an “Eisenhower Attitude”
track. As American losses mount, Eisenhower will become more
and more likely to order a retreat. Once he does, American
units must pull back and the Allied player receives fewer
supplies. But DeGaulle can try to use his dubious charm on
the supreme commander; if successful (a 1-in-3 chance), the
Americans decide to stand fast and Allied supplies are assured.
Click here to order Alsace 1945 right now.
Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and award-winning journalist, he has published over 100 books, games and articles on historical subjects.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold.