Op Plunder: Role of 5th Royal Berkshire Regiment

Discussion in 'NW Europe' started by alberk, Dec 4, 2022.

  1. alberk

    alberk Well-Known Member

    an entry in the war diary of a medical unit (11 Lt. Field Ambulance) pointed me to the fact that the 5th Royal Berkshire Regiment was involved in XII Corps crossing of the Rhine (Op Torchlight). This was new to me and I dug a little deeper on the internet to find out more. Here's what the war diary of the unit has to say about it:

    23 Mar 1945
    Xanten (area), Germany
    (D-1) Companies move to forward position, A and B to cross and establish dispersal communications, with wireless contact along the bank with all crossing points. 1700hrs. Large force of Allied bombers attacked Wesel area. 1800hrs. Artillery bombardment opened all along sector. Infantry moving into marshalling areas. A Coy moves to areas with assaults troops of 227 Bde, B Coy with 44 Bde. 2000hrs. Assault troops of 51(H) Div across Rhine in area of Rees. Opposition not reported strong. First waves went across in Storm Boats, and others followed in LVTs 2030hrs. Further air attack on Wesel. 2359hrs. 3 Cmdo Bde assault in Wesel area.

    24 Mar 1945
    Xanten (area)
    D Day. 0200hrs. H Hour 15 (S) Division. Storm boats take over assault wave of two Bdes. 0230hrs. 44 Bde report all LVTs over the River. 227 Bde report opposition. LVT's held up by heavy machine gun fire. A Coy forward elements unable to land at first attempt. The positions were held by the enemy, Arty was called for. A Coy landed, but had to clear bund of enemy before communications were established. 0830hrs. All Bank wireless communication established at crossing points, dispersal and concentration areas. Casualties: A Coy sector Killed: 5345451 Pte Handley M, 14800992 Pte Garnett P, Wounded: 60896941 L/Cpl Lacey J, 5780007 Pte Breeze E (Signaller), 6089705 Pte Penney R (Stretcher Bearer)), 5115115 Pte Vann R, 1449547 Pte Dubitt D. 1000hrs. Forward Control established. Airborne forces passing over to Dropping Zones. Ferries operating normally. Some shelling, and at night low level machine gunning attacks were made.

    25 Mar 1945
    Xanten (area)
    1000hrs. Class 9 Bridge Open 1600hrs. Class 40 Bridge Open. Men and supplies proceeding across normally.

    26 Mar 1945
    Xanten (area)
    0800hrs. Situation normal. Some machine gunning over bridges at night, but no casualties.

    27 Mar 1945
    Xanten (Area)
    0800hrs. Situation normal.

    28 Mar 1945
    Xanten (Area)
    0800hrs. Situation normal.

    29 Mar 1945
    Xanten (Area)
    0800hrs. Situation normal.

    30 Mar 1945
    Xanten (area)
    0800hrs. Situation Normal. Bank Group Command post closed during the day, and all sub units became detached. Battalion came under command of 115 (Indep) Inf Bde. Duty Guarding of Rhine Bridges.

    31 Mar 1945
    Xanten (area)
    0800hrs. Situation Normal. 2400hrs. All companies established at vital bridges. OBSERVATIONS METEOROLOGICAL The weather was unsettled during the first 14 days of the month, after which is become more settled and for the operation period the weather remained ideal. Towards the end of the month it became more unsettled, with rainy periods, and cloud lows, limiting visibility. Temperature was above normal for the time of the year. NOTES ON OPERATION Op "Plunder" in which the Battalion was engaged as a Bank Group, was one of a series of crossing of the Rhine on a broad front. The Bn was responsible for the crossing area of 15(S) Div, with two bridges up and one in reserve. Units attached for the operation were: Royal Corps of Signals, R.E., R.E.M.E. (Beach Recovery Sec), [?] Squadron, Royal Dragoons, and C.M.P. On the west bank crossing points were established before H hour, and marshalling areas and vehicle hides marked out. Two companies operated on this bank, and two companies crossed the river with the assault troops to establish exits and dispersal areas, while wireless communication was to be established at the crossing points and Dispersal Control. These were established as soon as possible after landing . B Company found the area fairly clear, but A Company had some sharp fighting with the enemy before the area was cleared. An account of this is attached. The main object of the Company landings was to control the crossing, and see that the serials were quickly directed to the right areas as they reached the bank. It was essential to maintain a steady flow of traffic over the bridges as soon as they were in position. "A" company found that in their area were still a number of unreduced positions which had been by passed by the assault troops. They had to be cleared quickly, and companies for similar operations in the future might well be equipped with more automatic weapons, and equipment for blasting strong points. Apart from these strong points snipers reduce and hinder movement and it is essential they should be quickly weeded out. The loss of special personnel through a sniper might easily hold up matters. As shell and mortar fire continues for some time all troops must dig in quickly. The enemy made low level machine gunning attacks on the bridges towards night fall, but these can effectively dealt with by well placed and controlled S.A. fire. It is obvious the planes have to fly the length of the bridge and correctly positioned S.A. positions can have devastating affect.

    The source for the above was "The Rifles Berkshire and Wiltshire Museum" webpage:
    Search :: The Wardrobe

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  2. alberk

    alberk Well-Known Member

    While looking for info the 5 Royal Berkshires I also came across the following description of "Operation Torchlight":
    Operation TORCHLIGHT 15th (Scottish) Division - Operation Plunder and Varsity: The British and Canadian Rhine Crossing

    In this piece many pictures are taken from other contexts - however, the one below struck me as "new" and probably related to the actions of 15th Scottish Division on 24/25 March. The dyke looks right for the area and there were dugouts such as this one. Does anyone know the picture and its context?
  3. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian Patron

    Interesting. It's not clear to me whether they were operating as an independent battalion before this, or what - just from poking at their war diary through the website. I noticed mention of the 15th Div practice operation on March 13 and of a visit on March 7:

    March 7: 1200hrs. Visit of Army Commander (Lieut-General Sir Miles C. Dempsey, D.S.O., M.C.). He visited Battalion as it was the senior Battalion of the Regiment, with which he served, in the European theatre of operations, and they were coming under his command in a highly specialised role in the Rhine operating. He inspected the men training.

    March 13: Ex Buffalo to practise 15(S) Inf Div and other units in assault river crossing. Two Brigade crossing in areas 6176 and 610633, and the establishing of marshalling and waiting area. (Ref Maps GSGS 4040 1/50,000 Sheet No 26, 36, 27, 37, 47 48.
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  4. alberk

    alberk Well-Known Member

    They were apparently trained as a "beach battalion" before Normandy and after that as a "bank group".

    Quote below from:
    Royal Berkshire Regiment - Regiment History, War & Military Records & Archives

    "August 1943: Moved to Gailes Camp in Scotland for training in preparation for the invasion of Normandy. (No 8 Beach Group)
    September 1943: Moved down to Bournemouth for specialized training.
    Early 1944: Still training and preparing for their role as a beach Battalion.
    June 1944: The Battalion landed with the Canadians 3rd Division at Juno Beach, Normandy and remained there as part of a beach group with the responsibility for the landing ground.
    August 1944: The Battalion had been reduced to 16 Officers and 136 men.
    December 1944: Still designated as a Beach Group Unit even though were reinforced by 370 or so men not up to physical fitness.
    25 December 1944: Moved into Lille.
    February 1945: Moved into Waterscheide, eastern Belgium. The battalion was rebuilt and they were re-designated as a ‘Bank Group’ and later moved to Xanten on the Rhine.
    24 March 1945: They assisted the 15th Scottish Division across the river. The Battalion remained in Xanten until peace was declared and for the rest of the year carried out garrison duties.
    June 1945: Disbanded at Hildesheim, Germany."
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  5. alberk

    alberk Well-Known Member

    Two scenes from a British Pathé film. Probably showing Royal Berks at work?
    Scene on Rhine.png

    Class 9 FBE in the XII Corps area named "Draghunt Bridge"
    Draghunt bridge.png
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  6. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian Patron

    Any chance of a link to the film?
  7. alberk

    alberk Well-Known Member

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