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The French First Army Crossing the Black Forest, 17 April 1945

The French First Army crossed the Rhine River on 31 March 1945, with the dual objectives of taking Stuttgart and driving southeast to the Austrian border. A 17 April RAF reconnaissance sortie captured the Army's progress through the Black Forest. French units had advanced as far as Herrenberg, 45 km southwest of Stuttgart and to the southeast had arrived at the village of Hallwangen on the way to Horb-am-Neckar. Vehicle concentrations and convoys could be seen be at several locations in towns and along roads to the west to the Rhine (map and list). A mortar battery using possible M28 tracked vehicles was positioned at Jettingen covering the advance into Herrenberg as a convoy passed by (Graphic 1).

mortar battery and convoy

Horb, with a possible Hitler Youth barracks and recently constructed defenses, was entered on the 20th. Two French light observation aircraft, likely being used for route reconnaissance, were parked at a barn near Obermusbach (Graphic 2). In the rear, along the Rhine, convoys were traveling north and south near the towns of Stollhoffen and Buhl, respectively. Except for the defenses at Horb, only a few sites along the routes showed signs of resistance or a German military presence. The town center of Wenden had been destroyed.

route across the black forest map
spotter aircraft

The French advance complicated the plans of U.S. ALSOS Mission seeking to capture Nazi atomic scientists, including Werner Heisenberg, who had relocated to Hechingen, 23 km southeast of Horb. Heisenberg’s laboratory was in a woolen mill in Hechingen and his test reactor was in nearby Haigerloch. Heisenberg was captured later, but ALSOS did find other scientists, the reactor and nuclear material before the French arrived. On 17 April, probable artistic and historical artifacts were hastily being removed from the Villa Eugenia, a Hohenzolleren residence Other trucks were parked in front of a school being used as a hospital (Graphic 3).

Alsos mission Heisenberg Laboratory Hechingen
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