Alsace 1945: Fallout Over Strasbourg
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
November 2015

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,
November 1944.

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 command.


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 worse.

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 and communications.”

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 rare occurrence.

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.