Discussion in 'Home' started by Trux, Sep 13, 2018.
OPERATION PLUNDER. Crossing the Rhine by XII Corps.
I have posted a link to Operation Plunder from the Warfare History Network site for you-is this helpful?
Operation Plunder: Crossing the Rhine
Oops. Sorry. I don't know how I did that, This entire section should be locked. I have never accessed it. Adam uploaded all the contents from the old Trux website. I was looking to see if my section on the Seine and Rhine crossings were uploaded at that time.
Thanks anyway Lesley. Very kind.
After the above false start I have decided to post my own writing on Operation Plunder. I will concentrate on the planning and assault by XII Corps and draw heavily on official reports, handbooks and the BAOR Battlefield Tour produced for staff training.
I have consulted Stolpi who has already contributed a magnificent work on the assault by XXX Corps. He assures me that he has no plans to study XII Corps. My work anyway is very differentto his, concentrating on planning, unit organisation and equipment.
The following study has had a long period of gestation. It started as a series of notes when Trux Models was producing models of bridging equipment and bridging vehicles. I have returned to it several times since then and may well do so again. The Rhine crossing was the largest operation of its kind and a study of it includes not only bridging but all tactical units and supply units.
21 ARMY GROUP.
THE RHINE CROSSING.
Being a study of the planning, organisation and execution of the Rhine Crossing in March 1945, with particular reference to 15 Division.
XII Corps Plan.
15 Division Plan.
The Cover Plan.
The Royal Artillery Plan.
Counter Battery Units.
The Air Plan.
The Crossing Control Plan.
The Royal Engineer Plan.
LVTs and Stormboats.
1 Commando Brigade.
4 Armoured Brigade.
Preparation for an assault crossing of the Rhine started many months in advance since it was clear that eventually this major obstacle would have to be tackled. Of course there was the possibility that Germany would surrender before the Rhine was reached.
Twice it seemed that it might be possible to avoid an assault crossing by seizing bridges. The bold airborne action to seize bridges, including the major Rhine crossing at Arnhem, nearly succeeded. Later US forced did seize the bridge at Remagen when the Germans failed to demolish it, but it collapsed soon afterwards.
Eisenhower as Supreme Allied Commander decided that there should be assault crossings all along the Allied front and then an advance into Germany on a broad front. The British assault threatened to be the most difficult both because the river was wider in this sector and because the enemy would make a determined defence of the approaches to the vital Ruhr industrial area.
Montgomery was determined that this crossing was to be a text book set piece assault, planned in the greatest detail. This was what he was best at. The assault would take place along a 15 mile stretch of the lower Rhine. This area was a wide, level flood plain and the river had high dykes to prevent flooding. The main advantage was that the river was relatively slow moving at this point.
The right wing of the assault was entrusted to the US 9th Army, which was placed under command of 21 Army Group for the operation. The British assault was to be carried out by XII Corps on the right and XXX Corps on the left. II Canadian Corps was holding the left flank but would not take part in the assault, although 3 Canadian Division would do so under command of XXX Corps.
The assault divisions were 15 Division of XII Corps and 51 Division of XXX Corps (making it almost entirely a Scottish operation) plus 1 Commando Brigade on the right. The Commandos would hold the town of Wesel, with its important road junctions, until relieved by airborne forces.
H Hour was 2200 on 23rd March.
I see three experts are already following this thread. I feel nervous.
I am no expert on this subject but very interested and grateful for the posts of others. By the way in the R A F we had an alternate definition for expert an ex is a has been. And a spert is a drip under pressure. Look forward to your writings. Best wishes Ted.
Make that 4! Ha ha joking! Always interested in anything Rhine Crossing!
Mike, I am always keen to learn and I am curious to find out what your perspective on this topic is.
Looking forward to it!
There were several plans. First there were the various plans prepared by different tiers of command:
21 Army Group Plan
2 Army Plan
XII Corps Plan
XXX Corps Plan
15 Division Plan
51 Division Plan
4 Commando Brigade Plan.
Then there were the various arms and services plans:
The Royal Artillery Plan
The Royal Engineer Plan
The Air Support Plan
The Movement Control Plan
The Bank Control Plan
21 Army Group staff early 1945.
Many famous faces . Relevant to this study are:
Field Marshal Montgomery. 21 Army Group.
General Dempsey. 2 Army.
General Crerar. 1 Canadian Army.
Air Marshal Coningham. 2 Tactical Air Force.
Lieutenant General Ritchie. XII Corps.
Lieutenant General Horrocks XXX Corps.
Lieutenant General Simmonds. Canadian II Corps.
Major General Hobart. 79 Armoured Division. (Funnies)
Also a couple of US officers.
A well timed air attack at this moment would have been very inconvenient.
All the plans depend on the topography. The ideal schematic plan seldom works in practice as a number of geographic and topographic factors require it to be modified and compromises to be made. VII Corps planners acknowledged this and said that the selection of bridging and ferry points would be decided by topographical rather than tactical factors.
The River Rhine in 2 Army sector flows through a wide flat plain some five to ten miles wide. There are water meadows on either side and the land is liable to flood. The river itself is between four hundred and five hundred yards wide. This width would put a strain on bridging resources and cause problems for ferries. The flow in spring is some four miles an hour, sufficient to cause problems for rafting and bridging. There would need to be relatively sheltered places for assembling bridge sections and positioning sections would need great care, and some powerful tugs. The flow would also cause navigational problems for ferry craft. The river bed however was generally firm sand and gravel and therefor suitable for amphibious vehicles and bridging trestles. The trestle sections at each end of a bridge are a potential weak point. If the trestles slip then they can cause the shore sections to collapse and the bridging sections to break free and drift away.
At one time it was feared that the enemy might cause problems by blowing dams on the upper reaches of the Rhine or in the Ruhr. This would cause a sudden increase in the flow of water and the height of the river at the bridging and crossing points. However it was calculated that even if this extreme action was taken it would not cause serious problems. Blowing dams on the upper reaches would have little effect so far down the river and blowing the Ruhr dams would at worst raise the water level by a foot. This was well within the limits of the bridges.
As is common on flood plains the river meanders and has changed its course over the years. In places the old river course remains and is an obstacle, sometimes full of water. This was much more extensive on the far side and limited the forward routes from the crossing points.
Dykes have been constructed to prevent flooding. For most of the course of the river there are low dykes close to the banks. These are high enough to contain normal flooding but are not generally a serious obstacle. Further away from the river more substantial dykes, or bunds, have been built to protect against the higher flood which sometimes occur in winter and spring. These bunds are some twenty yards wide at the base and between two and five yards high. In places they are paved with stone slabs. These bunds present a considerable obstacle and must be gapped to allow LVTs and other vehicles to pass. The winter of 1944/45 was unusually wet and the areas between the dykes were flooded. Much of the area remained waterlogged in March.
The only bridges in the sector were the road and rail bridges at Wesel. These had been destroyed by the enemy. There was rumoured to be a secret tunnel under the river near Wesel. If so it has remained secret.
A number of good ferry sites had been identified but the approaches to them would need improvement.
There was a good lateral road running more or less north to south and at a distance of a mile to three miles from the river bank. This road was twenty two foot wide, metalled and capable of carrying heavy vehicles and continuous two way traffic. It was considered essential to have such a lateral road for a river crossing operation since units and equipment often had to be diverted from one crossing point to another as plans changed due to unforeseen circumstances. There was however a lack of routes from the lateral road to the river bank. Such roads, tracks and paths as existed were really only to allow farmers to reach their fields. Since there were no means of crossing the river and no settlements on the flood plain there was no need for such routes in normal times. On the plus side the ‘going’ was good. Usually there was a layer of soil over a base of sand and gravel. Except in very wet weather this drained well and was passable to tracked vehicles and generally passable also for wheeled vehicles. If the weather was very wet the operation would be postponed anyway.
This in 15 Divisions area. The signs are for 52 Division which was holding the line while 15 Division prepared for their assault.
Here’s a modest contribution to the Rhine Crossing story from my history of 92nd LAA.
Between the 15th and 22nd of March, as the weather again turned icy and roads froze, planning and reconnaissance went ahead for Operation Pepperpot, the 3rd Division bombardment to support 51st Highland Division in Operation Plunder – Montgomery’s massive setpiece crossing of the Rhine.
Preliminary operations, dumping ammunition between Wissel and Honnepel, were carried out in great secrecy – under cover of early morning mists, at dusk, or beneath the swirling 20-mile smokescreen that blanketed the west bank of the river. ‘We grew to respect it for its complete cover, but hate it for its pungency,’ wrote Captain Bill Almond.
On March 23, 92nd LAA added its weight to the greatest artillery barrage of the war in the West, involving more than 5,500 guns of all types. 318 deployed its Bofors 1,200 yards from the Rhine, west of Rees, aiming on the Emmerich and Vrasselt area – also the target for 317. 319 was based in a disused factory near Wissel.
Between 7pm and 8.55pm that night, the skies erupted in flame as each 92nd battery fired between 4,500 and 6,500 rounds across the river, helping pave the way for the assault troops. As the Bofors pounded away remorselessly, several overheated and suffered damage to recoil mechanisms and barrel wear. Parts had to be cannibalised to keep up the rate of fire.
There was a pause on the 24th to allow 21,000 airborne troops to land on the far shore. Then the regiment redeployed north of Wissel to pour fire on the sector of the Rhine between Praest and Emmerich.
Over the four days from March 23 to 27, the 92nd fired a total of 32,000 rounds. D Troop of 318 also sent across 46 rounds from a captured German 88mm gun. ‘Everything that could fire was fired during that barrage,’ recalled Len Harvey. ‘The only time we stopped was when the gun barrels became red hot and had to be replaced.’
As the Bofors of the 92nd blasted the Germans, Driver-Op Bill Wills and a comrade were out in front of the guns trying to repair phone cables, some of which had been severed by ‘prematures’ – shells which exploded too early on leaving the barrel. It produced a hair-raising moment for the two. ‘We came crawling back only to see all the gun crews with their weapons at the ready and aiming at us,’ said Bill. ‘They thought it was a German counter-attack – by two of us!’
On the 28th, with 319 leading, the regiment crossed the Rhine, Germany’s last major geographical barrier, and moved to Neder Mormter before concentrating at Rees next day.
THE SHAEF PLAN.
Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force and its commander General Eisenhower decided that it would be very difficult and expensive in resources, including manpower, to try and occupy the Ruhr industrial area. However it was thought highly desirable that the German armed forces should be denied the products of the Ruhr industries. The solution was to by pass and surround the Ruhr. 21 Army Group was to cross the Rhine to the west of the Ruhr and then circle round the north of the area. At the same time US forces would cross the Rhine to the east. Sufficient forces were to be deployed to contain any enemy forces while the main Allied forces moved to take Berlin, a move that it was thought would end the war.
THE 21 ARMY GROUP PLAN.
On been given the task of crossing the Rhine to the east of the Ruhr and then advancing across the North German Plain, isolating the Ruhr in the process, HQ 21 Army Group and its commander Field Marshal Montgomery decided that 2 Army should be given the task of an assault crossing of the Rhine. The reason given was that both 1 Canadian Army and US 9 Army, which was attached to 21 Army Group, had been heavily engaged in the advance to the Rhine.
THE 2 ARMY PLAN.
In early February, when the planning for the Rhine crossing began, Headquarters 2 Army was in reserve in the area of the River Maas and was well placed to plan the operation. General Dempsey, commanding 2 Army was Montgomery’s first choice since they had a very good working relationship. Dempsey was Montgomery’s protégé and been with him since the days in North Africa. He fully understood, and agreed with, Montgomery’s methods and had followed him both in location and promotion.
Headquarters 2 Army was given the task of planning what were in effect three different operations involving XII Corps (15 Division), the main subject of this study, XXX Corps (51 Division) and 1 Commando Brigade. The headquarters was also to give assistance to US 9 Army in planning its operations in the Rhine crossing.
THE XII CORPS PLAN.
Headquarters XII Corps began planning for Operation Plunder at the beginning of February. At that time it was withdrawn to the River Maas where it was thought the terrain and river were sufficiently similar to those to be found on the Rhine to be helpful in planning and training.
The final Operation Order for XII Corps gave its task as ‘In conjunction with XVIII US Corps (Airborne) to force a crossing over the River Rhine, to establish bridges across this river and operate eastwards.
At 1200 hours on 20 March Headquarters XII Corps took over from Headquarters VIII Corps responsibility for the front along the assault sector. At that time XII Corps also assumed operational command of 52 Division which was holding the line. XII Corps then had the following:
7 Armoured Division
4 Armoured Brigade
34 Armoured Brigade
1 Commando Brigade
115 Infantry Brigade
Elements of 79 Armoured Division
This study concentrates on 15 Division of XII Corps. The 51 Division of XXX Corps plan is similar in all respects to that of 15 Division of XII Corps with adjustments for differing terrain and objectives.
From 5 February Headquarters XII Corps was withdrawn to concentrate on the detailed preparations. Headquarters VIII Corps remained responsible for holding the front until 20 March.
On 14 and 15 February an indoor exercise was held to solve some of the problems of an opposed crossing. An exhibition was staged to demonstrate the available equipment. The exercise considered the following:
a) Allotment of craft, infantry and supporting arms to each wave.
b) Assembly areas for assault wave, ferry wave, follow up troops, build up troops, supply dumps, engineer dumps and gun positions.
c) Marshalling tasks including off loading points for LVTs, Bank Group responsibilities, routes for tracked and wheeled vehicles, Forming up Points, Transit Areas and Forward Assembly Areas.
d) Bank Groups responsibilities and relationships with other controls and headquarters, assigning priorities, re allotting returned craft and calling forward echelons.
e) River Control responsibilities and relationships with other controls and headquarters, selecting, allotting and marking crossing sites.
f) The Assault Phase including near and far bank reconnaissance, preparation and marking of near and far bank and approaches.
g) The Ferry Phase including timing of rafting, vehicle control, smoke screens and casualty evacuation.
h) The Follow Up Phase including timings, control and rafting.
i) The Build Up Phase including the timings for the completion of bridges and the technique for passing Reserve Divisions through.
On 2 March a full scale trial by a brigade group was carried out by day and by night. This took place on the River Maas. The results of the exercise and trials formed the basis of training instructions for all formations and units taking part in the assault.
On 8 March the Commanders of 15 Division and 1 Commando Brigade attended a conference at XII Corps Headquarters. On 10th March preliminary planning instructions were issued and planning at lower levels could then proceed.
Factors affecting the plan.
- 21 Army Group and 2 Army plans laid down that a key task was the capture of the communication centre of Wesel so that the river could be bridged and a supply route over the Rhine be opened.
- XII Corps plan called for the earliest possible capture of Wesel but the river at that point did not allow a large scale assault. A river meander on the near bank and a tributary river and a canal on the far bank restricted the frontage. It was decided to use 1 Commando Brigade here.
- It was decided that airborne forces would land comparatively close to the start line of the assault in order to widen and extend the bridgehead as quickly as possible. Following from this it was decided that the airborne forces would land after the ground assault. The alternative would have meant that the artillery and air bombardments would be interfered with by the presence of airborne troops on the far bank.
Timing was dictated by the need to land airborne forces in daylight while making an assault crossing in darkness.
- Given the importance of the early capture of Wesel by the Commando Brigade it was decided that this assault should take place at 2200 hours. This gave time for final assembly and preparation to take place in darkness.
- Since the Commando assault would require the full effort of the artillery bombardment the assault by 15 Division could not take place before 0200 and it was desirable that the assault units be established on the far bank by first light at 0600. This assault was timed for 0200 hours.
- The Airborne assault could not take place before 1000 hours given that some formations were flying from UK.
- It was decided that DD tanks would not cross until first light at 0600 hours. To cross in darkness would have been hazardous and all other river traffic would have had to be halted. The tanks could not anyway be used until they could see well enough to shoot.
1 Commando Brigade (Operation Widgeon) was ordered to cross the Rhine, to seize Wesel and the bridges over the River Lippe, to hold the eastern and southern exits to the town and subsequently come under the command of 17th US Airborne Division.
15 Division (Operation Torchlight) was ordered to cross the Rhine and seize a number of objectives, clear the river bank, relieve 6 Airborne Division, take over holding the bridges over the Issel, establish and maintain a number of bridges and ferries and to organise an Armoured Mobile Striking Force to carry out limited exploitation.
52 Division was ordered to hold the near bank of the Rhine until 15 Division was established across the river, carry out active patrolling across the river up to the time of the assault, provide troops to assist 1 Commando Brigade, to control staging areas and main routes, to unload and carry stormboats. In addition they were to provide an infantry brigade group from 1200 hours to cross the river on a jeep and carrier basis under the operational command of 15 Division.
53 Division was ordered to hold on infantry brigade ready to move on a jeep and carrier basis from 1200 hours. The division was to be prepared to cross the river by ferries and bridges, pass through 15 Division bridgehead and operate towards Bocholt.
7 Armoured Division was ordered to concentrate on the 25 March and be prepared to cross the river as soon as the class 40 bridge was ready, pass through 15 Division bridgehead and operate towards Borken.
Montgomery was a very keen advocate of training, and more training. By 1945 the days of drill and soldiers doing as they ere told were over. Each man would often have to think for himself and it was too late to try and work out a problem when you are heavily engaged and under fire.
XII Corps made a syllabus for a seven day training course for the assault brigades. Training for 15 Division started on 9 March on the River Maas.
Explanation on a cloth model of the operation including marshalling, assembly and functions of Bank Control.
Demonstration by LVT regiments to units including loading 6pdr anti tank gun, carrier, jeep and infantry platoon.
Practice of drivers in driving vehicles on and off LVT, Class 9 raft and Class 50/60 raft. This was done dry shod.
Infantry loading and dismounting from LVT and stormboat. This was done both in and out of the water.
Loading 17pdr anti tank guns onto modified LVT II.
Practice of drivers in driving vehicles on and off LVT, Class 9 raft and Class 50/60 raft in the water.
Starting of Stormboats.
Reconnaissance to be carried out for the following rehearsals as if being done for the real operation including Marshalling Area, Routes forward from Marshalling Area, Vehicle Waiting Area and LVT Loading Area.
Explanation and practice in the use of special equipment including Wireless Set 46, Wireless Set 68, Tabby, Indicator Loops and Lifejackets.
Waterproofing of wireless sets and other signal equipment.
Reconnaissance to be carried out for the following rehearsals as if being done for the real operation including Marshalling Area, Routes forward from Marshalling Area, Vehicle Waiting Area and LVT Loading Area. As Day 3 but on a river.
Revision of any subject which requires further practice.
Full Scale Rehearsal in daylight and with Bank Unit. Particular attention to be paid to communications.
Conference and discussion on the first rehearsal.
Further training in weak points.
Second Full Scale Rehearsal after dark.
The rehearsals involved all the units and supporting arms being grouped as they would be for the actual assault. Each infantryman embarked in the very LVT in which he would cross the Rhine. In this was the closest possible liaison was established between the men who would go into battle together.
The Bank Unit had been selected very early in the planning process and took part in the exercises exactly as it would in the crossing.
Royal Engineer training was varied. In some cases units and equipment had been trained and developed for the task months ahead of the crossing date. Other units could not be spared from other essential tasks and could only be given one or two days training almost at the last moment.
Several units had to be rapidly converted to new equipment. This was particularly true of some LVT units and 44 Royal Tank Regiment retraining on DD tanks.
Reconnaissance of the actual assault area was difficult. The river was wide and for security reasons large numbers of officers could not be allowed too far forward. The low lying nature of the land made the selection of view points difficult. This lack was compensated for by providing accurate models down to brigade level and a generous allocation of good quality air photos to all levels.
I was interested to see what how the preparations for the assault might have been reflected in 15the Division's anti-tank regiment's war diary. (102nd) Does your "Day 1" above refer to March 9th or 10th?
This is what I have:
March 10(?!): CO, CO2, and battery commanders attend a briefing conference at 12 Corps HQ. Subject - forthcoming operations
March 12: 289 Battery practice boating drill on the Meuse with M14s and 17-pounders.
March 13: Boating practice on the Meuse. Regiment supplies a composite troop of three 17-pounders towed by M14s and three SP Valentines. The detachments are made up by personnel from all Batteries so as to spread the knowledge.
March 14: Boating exercise continues and regimental composite troops under command OC 289 Battery get on board Class 50/60 rafts and are ferried over the Meuse
And possibly amusing:
March 18: (Some notes about the forthcoming operation...) The operation is to be carried out according to "12 Corps Assault Crossing Technique" which is no doubt an excellent and bulky volume.
No date available since this programme was run several times.
That is an interesting point. At first sight it seems a bit excessive. Or was this standard practice? Maybe it reflects the fact that there were LVTs that did not have a back hatch that could be lowered. So getting on and off involved a bit of clambering. Or were all the LVTs with a back door reserved for wheeled loads?
I just looked it up ... Wikipedia informs me that the bulk of British Buffalos were LVT 4, so they had the back ramp...
The XII Corps manual would almost certainly be based on the Military Training Pamphlet , No 23, Part VIII ' Infantry and Armoured Divisions in the opposed crossing 0f water obstacles.'
I have this and a short version I made many years ago. I will post it.
Separate names with a comma.