Operation Plunder

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Operation Plunder
Part of the Western Allied invasion of Germany
Crossingtherhine.jpg
U.S. 89th Division crossing the Rhine under fire
Date23–27 March 1945 (1945-03-23 1945-03-27)
Location Lower Rhine region, Germany
Result Allied victory
Belligerents
Flag of German Reich (1935-1945).svg  Germany
Commanders and leaders
Units involved
Strength
  • 1,284,712 men
  • 5,481 artillery pieces [1]
  • 69,000 men
  • 45 tanks
Casualties and losses
  • United Kingdom
  • 3,968 casualties [2]
  • United States
  • 2,813 casualties [2]
  • 6,781 casualties total
16,000 captured [2]

Operation Plunder was a military operation to cross the Rhine on the night of 23 March 1945, launched by the 21st Army Group under Field Marshal  Bernard Montgomery. The crossing of the river was at Rees, Wesel, and south of the river Lippe by the British Second Army under Lieutenant General Sir Miles Dempsey, and the United States Ninth Army under Lieutenant General William H. Simpson.

Rhine river in Western Europe

The Rhine is one of the major European rivers, which has its sources in Switzerland and flows in an mostly northerly direction through Germany and The Netherlands, emptying into the North Sea. The river begins in the Swiss canton of Graubünden in the southeastern Swiss Alps, forms part of the Swiss-Liechtenstein, Swiss-Austrian, Swiss-German and then the Franco-German border, then flows through the German Rhineland and the Netherlands and eventually empties into the North Sea.

21st Army Group WWII United Kingdom military group

The 21st Army Group was a World War II British headquarters formation, in command of two field armies and other supporting units, consisting primarily of the British Second Army and the First Canadian Army. Established in London during July 1943, under the command of Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF), it was assigned to Operation Overlord, the Western Allied invasion of Europe, and was an important Allied force in the European Theatre. At various times during its existence, the 21st Army Group had additional British, Canadian, American and Polish field armies or corps attached to it. The 21st Army Group operated in Northern France, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany from June 1944 until the end of the war in Europe in May 1945, after which it was redesignated the British Army of the Rhine (BAOR).

Bernard Montgomery Senior British Army officer

Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery, 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein,, nicknamed "Monty" and "The Spartan General", was a senior British Army officer who fought in both the First World War and the Second World War.

Contents

The First Allied Airborne Army conducted Operation Varsity on the east bank of the Rhine in support of Operation Plunder, consisting of U.S. XVIII Airborne Corps, the British 6th and the U.S. 17th Airborne Divisions.

First Allied Airborne Army

The First Allied Airborne Army was an Allied formation formed on 2 August 1944 by the order of General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force. The formation was part of the Allied Expeditionary Force and controlled all Allied airborne forces in Western Europe from August 1944 to May 1945. These included the U.S. IX Troop Carrier Command, the U.S. XVIII Airborne Corps, which controlled the 17th, 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions and a number of independent airborne units, all British airborne forces including the 1st and 6th Airborne Divisions plus the Polish 1st Parachute Brigade.

Operation Varsity airborne forces operation launched by Allied troops toward the end of World War II

Operation Varsity was a successful airborne forces operation launched by Allied troops that took place toward the end of World War II. Involving more than 16,000 paratroopers and several thousand aircraft, it was the largest airborne operation in history to be conducted on a single day and in one location.

XVIII Airborne Corps corps of the United States Army

The XVIII Airborne Corps is a corps of the United States Army that has been in existence since 1942 and saw extensive service during World War II. The corps is designed for rapid deployment anywhere in the world and is referred to as "America's Contingency Corps". Its headquarters are at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Background

Preparations such as accumulation of supplies, road construction, and the transport of 36 Royal Navy landing craft, were hidden by a massive smoke screen from 16 March. The operation commenced on the night of 23 March 1945. It included the Varsity parachute and glider landings near Wesel, and Operation Archway, by the Special Air Service. The landing areas were flooded, deserted farmland rising to woodland.

Royal Navy Maritime warfare branch of the United Kingdoms military

The Royal Navy (RN) is the United Kingdom's naval warfare force. Although warships were used by the English kings from the early medieval period, the first major maritime engagements were fought in the Hundred Years War against the Kingdom of France. The modern Royal Navy traces its origins to the early 16th century; the oldest of the UK's armed services, it is known as the Senior Service.

Landing craft small and medium seagoing vessel used to convey a landing force

Landing craft are small and medium seagoing watercraft such as boats, and barges, used to convey a landing force from the sea to the shore during an amphibious assault. The term excludes landing ships, which are larger. Production of landing craft peaked during World War II, with a significant number of different designs produced in large quantities by the United Kingdom and United States.

Operation Archway

Operation Archway was the codename for one of the largest and most diverse operations carried out by the Special Air Service during the Second World War.

Battle

British Commandos on the outskirts of Wesel British commandos in the shattered outskirts of Wesel.jpg
British Commandos on the outskirts of Wesel

Four thousand Allied guns fired for four hours during the opening bombardment. British bombers contributed with attacks on Wesel during the day and night of 23 March 1945.

Bombing of Wesel in World War II

The German town of Wesel was heavily bombed in Allied air raids during World War II. Between this and the attacks in support of the crossing of the Rhine, the town was devastated.

On the night of 23 March, companies E and C of the 17th Armored Engineer Battalion, part of the U.S. 2nd Armored Division, constructed treadway rafts to prepare the crossing of the Rhine about five kilometers south of Wesel. Bridge construction started at 9:45am and by 4:00pm the first truck crossed the floating pontoon bridge. Over 1,152 feet (351 m) of M2 treadway and 93 pneumatic floats were laid in just six hours and fifteen minute construction project, record setting for the size of the bridge. It took twenty-five 2-and-a-half ton GMC CCKW trucks to transport the bridge parts to the construction site, part of the Red Ball Express. [3] [4]

17th Armored Engineer Battalion

17th Armored Engineer Battalion are part of the 2nd Armored Division "Hell on Wheels". During World War II, they were active in North African Campaign, and Western Europe Campaign. 17th Armored Engineer Battalion was founded on 1 October 1933 as part of the USS Army. First called 17th Engineer Battalion, Motorized. It was renamed on 10 July 1940 to 17th Engineer Battalion (Armored) and assigned to the 2d Armored Division. The unit became active and started training 15 July 1940 at Fort Benning, Georgia. Renamed again on 8 January 1942 as the 17th Armored Engineer Battalion. The Battalion is now based at Fort Hood, Texas. Battalion motto is We pave the way. Task of the 17 include construction and demolition tasks under combat conditions, like constructing and breaching trenches, tank traps and other fortifications, bunker construction, bridge and road construction. Along with building destruction bridges and other physical work in the battlefield are needed. They also lay or clear land mines. The 17th facilitates the movement and support of friendly forces while slowing the enemy's forces.

2nd Armored Division (United States) 1940-1995 combat division of the United States Army

The 2nd Armored Division was an armored division of the United States Army. The division played an important role during World War II in the invasions of North Africa and Sicily and the liberation of France, Belgium, and the Netherlands and the invasion of Germany. During the Cold War, the division was primarily based at Fort Hood, Texas, and had a reinforced brigade forward stationed in Garstedt, West Germany. After participation in the Persian Gulf War, the division was inactivated in 1995. Its units were later transferred to the 4th Infantry Division.

Pontoon bridge Type of bridge

A pontoon bridge, also known as a floating bridge, uses floats or shallow-draft boats to support a continuous deck for pedestrian and vehicle travel. The buoyancy of the supports limits the maximum load they can carry.

Three Allied formations made the initial assault: the British XXX and XII Corps and the U.S. XVI Corps. The British 79th Armoured Division—under Major General Percy Hobart—had been at the front of the Normandy landings and provided invaluable help in subsequent operations with specially adapted armored vehicles (known as Hobart's Funnies). One "funny" was the "Buffalo" operated by the 4th Royal Tank Regiment, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Alan Jolly, an armed and armoured amphibious tracked personnel or cargo transporter able to cross soft and flooded ground. These were the transports for the spearhead infantry.

XXX Corps (United Kingdom) corps of the British Army during the Second World War

XXX Corps was a corps of the British Army during the Second World War. The Corps provided extensive service in the North African Campaign at the Second Battle of El Alamein in late 1942, and in the Tunisia Campaign and the Allied invasion of Sicily in 1943, after which it returned briefly to the United Kingdom; the Corps served in the reclamation of France from June 1944 in the Allied Invasion of Normandy, and then served in Operation Market Garden, in the Netherlands, and finally in Operation Veritable in Germany until May 1945.

XII Corps (United Kingdom)

XII Corps was an army corps of the British Army that fought in the First and Second World Wars. In the First World War, it formed part of the British Salonika Force on the Macedonian front. In the Second World War, it formed part of the British Second Army during Operation Overlord and the subsequent North-West Europe Campaign of 1944-45.

XVI Corps (United States)

The XVI Corps was a corps-sized formation of the United States Army.

3-inch mortar of the 8th Royal Scots under enemy fire during the Rhine crossing, 24 March 1945 8th Royal Scots mortar under fire 24-03-1945.jpg
3-inch mortar of the 8th Royal Scots under enemy fire during the Rhine crossing, 24 March 1945

The first part of Plunder was initiated by the 51st (Highland) Infantry Division, led by the 7th Battalion, Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) of 154th Brigade at 21:00 on 23 March, near Rees, followed by the 7th Battalion, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders (also of 154th Brigade). At 02:00 on 24 March, the 15th (Scottish) Infantry Division landed between Wesel and Rees. At first, there was no opposition, but later they ran into determined resistance from machine-gun nests. On the same day the 51st Division's commander, Major General Tom Rennie, was killed by mortar fire. The British 1st Commando Brigade entered Wesel.

The U.S. 30th Infantry Division landed south of Wesel. The local resistance had been broken by artillery and air bombardment. Subsequently, the U.S. 79th Infantry Division also landed. American casualties were minimal. German resistance to the Scottish landings continued with some effect, and there were armored counter-attacks. Landings continued, however, including tanks and other heavy equipment. U.S. forces had a bridge across by the evening of 24 March.

Operation Varsity started at 10:00 on 24 March, to disrupt enemy communications. Despite heavy resistance to the airdrops and afterward, the airborne troops made progress and repelled counterattacks. The hard lessons of Operation Market Garden were applied. In the afternoon, the 15th (Scottish) Division linked up with both airborne divisions.

Fierce German resistance continued around Bienen, north of Rees, where the entire 9th Canadian Infantry Brigade was needed to relieve the Black Watch. The bridgehead was firmly established, however, and Allied advantages in numbers and equipment were applied. By 27 March, the bridgehead was 35 miles (56 km) wide and 20 miles (32 km) deep.

Aftermath

Impact on German forces and command

The city of Wesel lies in ruins after Allied bombardment, March 1945 Wesel 1945.jpg
The city of Wesel lies in ruins after Allied bombardment, March 1945

The Allied operation was opposed by the German 1st Parachute Army, commanded by General Alfred Schlemm, a part of Army Group H. Although this formation was considered to be the most effective German force in the area, it was severely depleted from its previous action in the Battle of the Reichswald. Unable to withstand Allied pressure, the 1st Parachute Army withdrew northeast toward Hamburg and Bremen, leaving a gap between it and the German 15th Army in the Ruhr.

Joseph Goebbels was well aware of Plunder′s potential impact from the beginning. On 24 March, he began his diary entry with, "The situation in the West has entered an extraordinarily critical, ostensibly almost deadly, phase." He went on to note the crossing of the Rhine on a broad front, and foresaw Allied attempts to encircle the Ruhr industrial heartland.

On 27 March, command of the 1st Parachute Army was passed to General Günther Blumentritt, because Schlemm had been wounded. Blumentritt and his superior, Generaloberst Johannes Blaskowitz, both recognised that the situation was lost. The army′s front was incomplete, there were no reserves, weak artillery, no air support and few tanks. Communications were weak, indeed, one corps was never contacted. The reinforcements were so poor that the generals decided against using them, to avoid needless casualties.

Although Blumentritt had strict orders from Supreme Command to hold and fight, from 1 April, he managed a withdrawal with minimal casualties, eventually withdrawing beyond the Dortmund-Ems Canal to the Teutoburg Forest. Within a week of the start of Plunder, the Allies had taken 30,000 prisoners of war north of the Ruhr.

Winston Churchill

Churchill, Brooke, and Montgomery on the German-held east bank of the Rhine, 25 March 1945 Churchill on the east bank of the Rhine.jpg
Churchill, Brooke, and Montgomery on the German-held east bank of the Rhine, 25 March 1945

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was present at Field Marshal Montgomery′s headquarters near Venlo on the eve of Plunder. Subsequently, Churchill and Montgomery watched the Varsity air landings on 24 March.

The next day, 25 March, Churchill and Montgomery visited General Dwight D. Eisenhower′s headquarters. After lunch and a briefing, the party went to a sandbagged house overlooking the Rhine and a quiet, undefended stretch of the German-held riverbank. After Eisenhower′s departure, Churchill, Montgomery, and a party of U.S. commanders and armed guards commandeered a river launch and landed for 30 minutes in enemy territory, without challenge. They next visited the destroyed railway bridge at Wesel, departing when German artillery appeared to target them.

Military rivalries

The Plunder crossings in the third week of March were planned as the primary assault across the Rhine, but at the Malta Conference in early February 1945, it was decided to add another crossing to the south of the Ruhr. The additional crossing was intended to draw off any concentration of forces in opposition to Plunder.

On 7 March, U.S. troops unexpectedly captured the Ludendorff Bridge across the Rhine during the Battle of Remagen. Within the next 10 days six divisions and 25,000 troops established a bridgehead on the eastern side of the Rhine.

On 22 March, General George S. Patton sent his Third Army across the Rhine, at Nierstein, to form another bridgehead. His superior, General Bradley, released news of this crossing to the press "at a time calculated to take some of the luster from the news of Montgomery′s crossing." [5] Bradley later remembered that Patton had strongly urged the announcement saying "I want the world to know that Third Army made it before Monty starts across". [6]

In culture

See also

Notes

  1. MacDonald p. 297
  2. 1 2 3 Ford 2007, p. 91.
  3. They Remember War
  4. 2nd Armored WW2 facesbeyondthegraves.com
  5. MacDonald, Charles B (1973), "Chapter XIII The Rhine Crossings in the South", The Last offensive, United States Army in World War II European Theater of Operations, Office of the Chief of Military History, Department of the Army, p. 273, retrieved 9 February 2011
  6. Saunders, Tim (2006). Operation Plunder. Battleground Europe. Barnsley, UK: Pen & Sword. p. 15. ISBN   1-84415-221-9.

Bibliography

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