Battle of Rethem 1945 (Aller river crossing)

Discussion in 'NW Europe' started by Willem, Jun 10, 2019.

  1. Willem

    Willem Member

    [​IMG]
    The bridge at Rethem in the 1930s.

    Hey folks. I'm a local here in lower saxony and searching for more informations/details (war diaries, photos, maps) of the battle at Rethem/Aller in April 1945. This battle with all its smaller fightings at several villages in the surrounding area of this river is not very well known, but it is remembered as a decisive battle on the way to Hamburg by its leading officers.

    Background

    The small town of Rethem was a strategic hot spot for both sides (Germans and British) as there was a bridge over the huge Aller river. It was the last chance to stop and delay the advance of the British 53rd Welsh Division on their way into northern Germany. After the Weser river was crossed at Hoya, the Aller river and Leine river meant a remarkable geological obstacle for the british forces. So the town of Rethem was declared a fortification, which meant "hold at all costs". About 1.000 men from the 2nd Marine Infantry supported by a group of "Eisenbahn-Flak" with 4x 128mm canons and a smaller unit of SS troops took defending positions at the 7th and 8th of April.

    [​IMG]
    Flak at the railway station which was used in ground combat

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    Strategic overview

    Fighting for the town took place from 9th - 11th of April and resulted in heavy losses on both sides. The british commanders ran into surprisingly strong defence. Two assaults of the british failed, who then crossed the Aller with infantry at Westen and headed towards the eastern flank of Rethem.

    [​IMG]
    The bailey bridge at Rethem in 1945

    Rethem was left by the Germans in the night from 11th - 12th April, who retreated silently over the river with boats heading east to Altenwahlingen-Kirchboitzen-Walsrode. The town was captured afterwards by the british who then built a bailey-bridge and attacked the line Altenwahlingen-Kirchboitzen-Walsrode-Soltau heading through the Lüneburg heath to the outskirts of Hamburg.

    I have some more infos and could post some photos of the town or surrounding villages today. You can still see a lot of splash-marks at the existing buildings from that time. A lot of hits by small arms fire and even 20mm hits from the typhoon bombers, who attacked the positions of the flak-cannons at the railway-station in Rethem.

    I'm looking forward to receive some more infos on that battle.

    Regards, Willem
     

    Attached Files:

  2. Giberville

    Giberville Junior Member

    Do you have the book 'No Triumphant Procession' The Forgotten Battles of April 1945 by John Russell? It covers these interesting battles very well.
     
  3. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

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  4. JimHerriot

    JimHerriot Ready for Anything

    Willem,

    The attached files will give you a SAS perspective on the fighting taking place within the vicinity at the time (SAS Operation Archway).

    The report style is as it was then, very matter of fact with no embellishment (these chaps were not writing their memoires).

    Be warned still, the casualty reports in file number 4 are no less distressing today, seventy-four years on. I thought long and hard about including it and came to the conclusion that to not keep it included would be a disservice to all who made the ultimate sacrifice, and therefore I hope the inclusion does not give offence, as non is intended, sincerely.

    Jim.
     

    Attached Files:

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  5. Willem

    Willem Member

    Thx so far! The SAS report is very interesting, as i didn't knew the recon units (from Schwarmstedt/Essel i guess) already made it so far to the north and reached Ahlden on the 10th. Same time Rethem (10 km west) was attacked. So they might have encircled them from the east...but seems they stopped the advance at Büchten. Any info why? And some locations are unclear. Maybe you can add the regarding map?

    The book seems worth a read! But as to now it does not give further info, cause it's not available ;)

    I am really interested in the progress of the first attack on the 10th. The british units made it deep into the town, nearly reaching the bridge but had to withdraw as to the extreme losses. Must have been a very devastating fight. From a witness of this time it is described the roads where full of dead and wounded lying around on the 12th.

    Maybe some map of the british advance are avaliable somewhere?
     
  6. Willem

    Willem Member

    [​IMG]
    Situation on the 10th from the Book of Ulrich Saft. Can't be true, as other reports say the british pushed deep into the town, which is supported by the small arms splash-marks on the walls on buildings near the bridge. Any info on that?
     
  7. Willem

    Willem Member

  8. Willem

    Willem Member

    Correction: The Flak was 105mm, not 128.
     
  9. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    Last edited: Jun 14, 2019
  10. HA96

    HA96 Member


    Guten Morgen Willem und Willkommen to the Forum.
    I lived in Hannover from 1948 until early 1966
    If you send me a PM, we could meet in Hannover, Langenhagen or Barsinghausen sometimes in the future.
    Stefan.
     
  11. Hoover

    Hoover Junior Member

    Hi,

    am from Verden (20km north of Rethem) and working on the Battle for Rethem and the 2. MID since the late 90´s.
    The 53dr history only a very rough overview. Even Saft only scratches on the surface of the battle.
    [​IMG]
    That are items I found around Rethem, found without a detector, just on the surface of the woods and fields.

    [​IMG]
    The helmet is maybe from the 53rd Reconnaisance. I found it in a meadow in Wittlohe (few kilometers north of Rethem near the Aller river). It hang on a wooden bar and the farmer collected screws in it. There is no liner inside, but interesting is the camouflage paint outside. That´s why I am keeping it.

    Bye
    Frank
     
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  12. Hoover

    Hoover Junior Member

    Hi,

    to the attack of 10th April: The Halftracks and the Wasp were stopped near the small bridge across the Alpe. Now there is one of the big mysteries of the Battle: Daft wrote, that all vehicles made it back to the British lines. But I have reports that one Halftrack was lost in Rethem, took the wrong way and were stopped behind the railway station. I have 3 reports of German veterans that the Halftrack stood there until the Germans left the town. Also, I have one account where a veteran said that some soldiers looted the Halftrack and took the weapons. But I don´t know what happend to the British soldiers. The towns histrian has pictures on nearly all guns and vehicles, but not from that Halftrack. So I assum that the Halftrack was not destroyed and was put into action again after the capture of Rethem. One of the big mysteries for me.

    The next enigmy is the story of the Wasp flamethrower. It lead the column into Rethem and was stopped in front of the road block across the Alpe bridge. The Wasp blew an oil jet into the left house entrance near the road block and hit a Geman sailor, but the oil failed to ignite. One German veteran wrote me that a German shot an SMG burst into the crew compartment but the WASP reversed a few meters, turned 180 degrees and drove away. I am looking for British confirmation of that little part of the story, but in no account is it mentioned.

    So still a lot of to do in future. In my book (in work for 10 years now) I hope to publish a true story.

    Bye
    Frank

    P.S. There are a lot of small arms damage in whole Rethem, even there, were no British or German ever fired a shot. On 11th April the British set up 4 Vickers heavy machine guns and fired a few thousands shots indirect fire. But I still have to find this confirmed. In the newsreel stills you can see one Vickers near the road crossing behind Elfriede strongpoint, but the distance (400 m) is too near to fire indirect shots. So there must be other positions I have to identify yet. I have found the positions of the Sextron Battery and the Mortars which fired into Rethem for 2 days.
     
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  13. Hoover

    Hoover Junior Member

    Rethem 4 Punkte.jpg
    Arial view of Rethem, early 50´s.
    1: Position of the 10,5cm Flak at the station
    2: approximately position of the British Halftrack (regarding some accounts, but unclear)
    3: Aller Bridge
    4: Position of the road block at the small Alpe Bridge
     
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  14. Hoover

    Hoover Junior Member

    Luftbild 60er.jpg
    This a arial view of Rethem, made in the mid 60´s (you see all the new houses in the center. During the battle there were only meadows.)
    Point 1: strongpoint "Elfriede" (the infamous barn is already demolished)
    Point 2: Strongpoint "Schumanns Mühle" (a mill)
    Point 3: Strongpoint "von der Kammer" (named after the owner of the house)
    Point 4: Railway station with the 10,5 cm Flak
    Point 5: Aller Bridge

    I think this picture gives a good impression of the quite small battle ground
     
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  15. Hoover

    Hoover Junior Member

    Luftbild Zentrum.jpg
    Last post for today.
    This arial view is from the ealry 50´s.
    Point 1: Aller Bridge
    Point 2: road Block at Alpe Bridge
    Green A: road to the railway station
    Green B: Road to the stronpoints Von der Kammer/Schweinebarth and in the distance to Eystrup and Hoya
    Green C: Road to Walsrode (straight on ) and Verden (after 2 kilometers to the left)

    Tomorrow I will show a general map with all positions of the 2. MID at Weser and Aller.
     
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  16. Willem

    Willem Member

    Hey Hoover...Thanks a lot! Tomorrow i will meet with a historian, who collected much information about this battle. Hope to gather some fresh info.
     
  17. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Hoover/Willem this might be of interest to you. Map of 52 Lowland Div advance on Bremen from the history of the 52nd Lowland Div "Mountain and Flood":
    52nd Lowland Bremen 000.jpg

    I have the pertinent chapter of this book and could forward it to you. Just PM me.
     
    Last edited: Aug 15, 2019 at 6:47 AM
  18. SDP

    SDP Incurable Cometoholic Patron

    I've just had a message from John Russell - sends his apologies but he's involved in a couple of projects at the moment which are taking up a lot of his time - and he's confirmed that his new book, being published by Helion and Co with an anticipated release date of summer 2020 and which will contain lots of more details concerning these battles, will be titled 'Theirs the Strife' with a subtitle of 'The Forgotten Battles of British Second Army and Armeegruppe Blumentritt'.
     
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  19. Hoover

    Hoover Junior Member

    Stolpi. oh, you have an original of that map. I only have a copy. Nice to see taht is in colour :D

    SDP, I am very curious for John Russels new book. My book about the 2. MID needs still some times, I tried beeing ready in 2021 but due to personal changes I have not the time to work on it.
     
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  20. JDKR

    JDKR Member

    The reason why there is nothing recorded about the half-track is because there was not one present. 1/5 Welch (the battalion attacking Rethem on 10 April) as an infantry battalion within an infantry division did not have half-tracks on its establishment table. I believe the only infantry battalions to hold half-tracks were the motor battalions within armoured divisions. The nearest such battalion would have been 2nd Battalion The King's Royal Rifle Corps (of 4th Armoured Brigade) but this battalion did not join the battle in the Rethem area until 14 April and, when it did, it was on the Aller's right back in the Altenwahlingen area and not in Rethem as the town had already been captured by then. The attack on 10 April was mounted by a section (3 x Universal carriers) of the 1/5 Welch carrier platoon supported by two Wasp flame-throwing carriers. Hope this solves the mystery for you! Best wishes. John
     

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