Discussion in 'NW Europe' started by alberk, Aug 16, 2020.
Uncle Stanley's bridge revisited - Canadians building "Blackfriars Bridge" at Rees
I read a lot of references to the 50th (Northumbrian) Division at the time of Operation Plunder and thereafter, and have seen actual film footage of troops in action during those months wearing the 50 Div arm patch; per my avatar. However, whereas some ex-50 Div units may have been given permission to continue wearing their 50 Div identification and others did so regardless (there were some who did), it cannot be correct that 50 Div was involved in Operation Plunder or thereafter.
50 Div was broken-up and the long war service officers and men, sent home as a Training Cadre, in early December 1944. Monty thought it had done enough; fighting with the BEF - 1940, Western Desert incl. the Gazala gallop, El-Alamein, Mareth, Wadi Akarit - 1941 to 1943, Sicily first wave assault Division and right through - 1943, D-Day first wave assault Division, fighting in Normandy, the pursuit towards the Netherlands, Operation Market Garden and subsequent fighting on The Island (north of Nijmegen) - 1944.
So, I was but wasn’t surprised to see your reference to 50 Div, as quoted.
Although I have not yet thoroughly researched which ex-50 Div engineers were employed during Operation Plunder and thereafter, I understand that when 50 Div was broken-up, the divisional engineers continued as 50th GHQ Troops RE (GHQTRE).
Ex-50 Div engineers may have included or elements thereof:
233rd (Northumbrian) Field Coy
295th Field Coy
505th Field Coy
235th (Northumbrian) Field Park Coy
15th Bridging Platoon
I hope that this information is helpful.
It should be noted that Blackfriars Bridge at Rees was not the only one built by Canadian sappers. After the city of Emmerich, downstream from Rees on the east bank, was captured by Canadian troops on March 31st, two bridges were constructed to support the advance of the Canadian forces into Holland.
The first one was ready for traffic on April 1st - it was a low-level class 40 bridge and was named "Melville Bridge" (below).
The other one was a class 40 "high-level bridge" which could be operated safely in case of a rise of the water level in the spring. It was finished by April 5th and named "MacLean Bridge" (below).
Thank you for this information, Steve.
Indeed, in my 1945 book the engineers in charge of building "Tyne and Tees Bridges" are labeled as:
50 (Northumberland) GHQ Troops Engineers.
It was the 3rd British Infantry Division that held the west bank of the Rhine near Rees and, apart from protecting it from the enemy, also played a major role in the setting-up the 30 Corps sector this side of the Rhine for the upcoming river assault.
After the assault divisions had crossed the Rhine, the 3rd British Division started to move into the bridgehead on the opposite bank late on 27 March 45. The 3rd British Division took over the right flank of the Highland Division, starting in the south with the relief of 153 Bde at Rees and then the 152 at Groin. Covering the right flank of the 30 Corps, the 3rd Division then pushed on to Haldern and Werth on the River Issel.
Norman Scarfe: "Assault Division, a history of the 3rd Division from the Invasion of Normandy to the Surrender of Germany" (pp. 161 and following are instructive)
Apparently, somebody else found the "Tyne and Tees Bridges" at Rees just as interesting as I did. I was hoping for a few snippets of moving images but this presentation uses photographs - still, well made!
Well, I switched off the music… but that's just me...
To round off the chapter on Allied supply lines in the northernmost stretch of the Rhine in Germany we also need to take a look at a railway bridge built at Spyck, downstram from Emmerich and located immediately next to the Dutch-German border.
IWM BU 6436
Here are some pictures of this bridge built by the Royal Engineers in the spring of 1945. This bridge – as opposed to all others – did not seem to have a particular name. It was considered important, though, and sappers were temporarily moved from the bridge building site at Rees to support the effort at the railway bridge at Spyck. Priority was given to a railway connection across the Rhine because trains could carry larger amounts of supplies and were regarded as more efficient than convoys of lorries. Of course, it was the combination of both trains and lorries that eventually helped to supply the British forces east of the Rhine – or as they were also called, the British Liberation Army.
IWM BU 6432
These are views from the east bank - visible on the western bank is a refinery for vegetable oil.
The page below comes from the book "Bridging Normandy to Berlin", published by BAOR, Moenchengladbach 1945
The bridge under construction - a prefabricated segment is moved into position.
An existing railway line was used – but there had never been a bridge at this site, as is explained in the following passages taken from Wikipedia: „The Spyck–Welle train ferry was a train ferry on the Rhine between Spyck on the left (southern) bank and Welle on the right bank in the lower Rhine region of the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia. It was established in 1865 by the Rhenish Railway Company on the Lower Left Rhine line from Cologne to Neuss, Krefeld, Cleves, Elten, Zevenaar and the Dutch North Sea ports… Although preliminary talks in Berlin on a route near the border had indicated that an agreement could be reached, the Prussian military was opposed to a fixed bridge over the Rhine and only agreed to a ferry. In 1865, the RhE extended its line from Kleve to Griethausen, where it built a 100-meter-long truss bridge (the Griethausen railway bridge) over an old course of the Rhine, which still stands today. This was followed by a 314 m-long approach structure with 20 spans. The line then ran across the Rhine island of Salmorth to the Rhine in Spyck. ...
At the end of 1912 the train ferry service was closed and the ramps on both sides were dismantled. Passengers were instead transferred by steamboat. During World War I the line was reduced to two pairs of trains per day. After the war, the Dutch railways (later formally amalgamated as Nederlandse Spoorwegen, NS) and the German State Railways signed an agreement in relation to the operation of rail and ferry services up to 31 August 1926. Around 1930 the tracks between Welle and Elten on the right (northern) bank were dismantled. In contrast, on the left bank passenger services continued until 1960 and freight ran directly to a vegetable oil mill on the Rhine in Spyck until 1987.“
(Source: Spyck–Welle train ferry - Wikipedia)
Amazingly, the wikipedia article does not acknowledge that the railway was reactivated by British Engineers in 1945.
IWM BU 6433
IWM BU 6434
Judging from the pictures this bridge was built of timber - I cannot see whether any Bailey components were used.
Leading to the riverbank on the western side near Kleve the railroad crossed an old course of the Rhine. The bridge spanning this natural obstacle at Griethausen still exists today. Of course, the photos below show old civilian structures that were appreciated and incorporated when plans for the location of the British military Railway bridge were made.
And the old approach is still there...
The floating bridges built by the Allies all along the German Rhine in the spring of 1945 were essential to enable their forces to advance deep into Germany and to eventually defeat the Wehrmacht. In April it became clear that this was a matter of weeks rather than of months. That is why a post-war concept for traffic and the flow of supplies and goods to and from Germany had to be put into place. The Rhine as a shipping route had always been a major link between German cities, industial areas and sea ports such as Rotterdam and Antwerp. In 1945 the rail network in Germany was more heavily damaged by Allied bombing than the industrial plants. Furthermore, the rolling stock was in an even worse shape than the actual railways - these could be repaired in a relatively short time. Thus transport by rail could not to be counted on for the time being. To ensure that barge traffic on the river Rhine (and thus on tributaries and canals) was to be made possible again it became necessary to replace the many pontoon bridges by so called "semi-permanent" bridges. This is what both US Army Engineers and Royal Engineers did as early as April 1945. At the time the Ruhr was Germany’s most important industrial area - and it was projected that the coal mining industry was to resume it’s production in the not too distant future. The stretch of the Rhine between the Ruhr industrial area at Duisburg and the Dutch border at Emmerich is rather short - and downstream from Wesel the British army was in charge. So it was at Xanten and at Rees that major semi-permanent bridges such as „Dempsey Bridge“ at Xanten and „Tyne and Rees Bridges“ at Rees were constructed. Further upstream, at Wesel and Duisburg, the US Army Corps of Engineers did the same - they, too, replaced pontoon bridges by more elaborate constructions that had navigable spans. The railway bridge at Spyck - which only recently aroused my curiosity - still puzzles me: Did its layout allow shipping underneath? Or was it dismantled so soon after the war that it was no longer an obstacle for shipping? Does anyone have any information on this?
I am going to introduce the semi-permanent bridges at Xanten (12th Corps sector) and Wesel (US 9th Army sector) in seperate threads. As you may have noticed, I am extremely impressed by the achievements of the British Royal engineers in my region in Germany in 1945. The planning, the engineering and the logistical effort behind those bridges was outstanding! But without the thousands of sappers at work on these bridges and at the material dumps none of this would have been possible.
Gillingham, home of the RE Museum and Archives - on a rainy day in 2012...
Fantastic thread, thank you for sharing; Will you be covering the various bridges in the 15 Div sector at Xanten and near Xanten , I have discovered there was a SPARROW bridge there I had not previously heard of ? TED.
thanks for the praise. Yes, indeed, there was a "Sparrow Bridge" in the 15th Div sector. It was the second bridge that lead from Xanten to Bislich and designed as a high-level class 40 bridge - the construction was started on March 28th, it was operational on April 3rd. It was named after Sapper C.V. Sparrow who was killed while working on the first bridge, which was built on March 24th.
The high-level class 40 bridge in the 12th Corps sector at Xanten was named after Sapper Cyril Victor Sparrow of 584 Army Field Coy. He was 26 years old and came from Amblecote, Stourbridge, Worcestershire. I recall to have read somewhere that he drowned.
Here's a view of "Sparrow Bridge" at Xanten - in the background, just visible, is "Digger Bridge", a class 40 pontoon bridge - Sapper Sparrow died while working on "Digger Bridge".
Alberk thank you; I believe this view of Sparrow and Digger is from the west bank ? I will have seen Spr Sparrows grave : in 1988 & 89 I was RAF Laarbruch's Commanding Officer's wreath bearer on The Remembrance Sunday service at the Reichswald cemetery along with USAF and Luftwaffe contingents. After I walked with my family and paid our respects to every individual. I also carried out the same duties at the German cemetery at Weeze. Sorry to digress but this area means much to me I believe my father would have crossed Digger on the 25th . Thank you Ted.
it is indeed the view from the west bank, the village of Bislich is visible on the far bank. Thank you for the personal background information - which branch/unit did your father serve in?
The area means a lot to me, too, for different reasons, though. I grew up there, my parents both were Teenagers in 1945 and expienced the war in villages nearby.
With best regards
Hi Alex, for many years I thought he was 279 Fd Coy- but I now know he was in 20th Fd Coy . he was a driver mechanic so could have been with one of the platoons or Company HQ. He visited me twice in Germany and enjoyed each visit, I had previously found what I believed to be the west entrance to Digger Bridge , I believe it used the ramp of the Rhine ferry crossing . ( maybe you could confirm this ) We visited the Rhine area at Xanten and we spent some time at the concrete ramp, he walked along the bank on his own for a while - then home for a whisky.
Yes, for Digger Bridge" they used the existing roads leading to and from the river. And the routes are still the same today.
"Digger Bridge" is on the left - between the bridges and to the right of the trees at the river bank there are some (white) buildings. These still exist today and house a restaurant/pub. It was probably also there in your days. From the buildings a cobbled way leads to the left and down to the river. Today there is a ferry crossing here in the summer on weekends - which makes this a popular destination for cyclists.
After a brief excursion upstream to „Sparrow Bridge“ and „Digger Bridge“ at Xanten we’re now going back to a construction site downstream from Emmerich, where the Rhine leaves German territory and enters the Netherlands. On the German side of the border Royal Engineers built the railway bridge at Spyck, mentioned before in this thread. As stated above, I had several questions regarding this bridge - and I found some answers.
This photo I discovered in the IWM collection answered one of these questions:
I had been under the impression that this timber bridge did not have a proper name - which would have been odd, as all other British Rhine bridges had been named more or less imaginatively. Now I know that it received quite a hat a fitting name on May 8th, 1945, the day it was opened: It was called "Victory Bridge"!
This name might lead to some confusion: US Engineers had built another railroad bridge across the Rhine at Duisburg, one of the major industrial cities of the Ruhr - and the Americans, too, opened their bridge on or just after VE-Day and named it "Victory Bridge". Well, apparently in those days there was enough victory to go around...
Under the supervision of No. 2 Railway Construction Unit, RE, work on this bridge started on April 7th,1945. It took just under five weeks to finish it - the sappers worked day and night shifts.
Timber for the construction came from trees felled in the Reichswald Forest - this was only a few weeks after the ferocious fighting for a passage through these woods during Operation Veritable. The felling was carried out by Canadian woodcutters of The Canadian Forestry Corps.
Apparently no chain saws were in use in the 1940s...
These pictures are contact sheets taken from Army Numerical Album No. 89 (Library and Archives of Canada).
The soldiers in the Canadian Forestry Corps were - according to Wikipedia - nicknamed the "Sawdust Fusiliers".
Thank you Alex, yes I remember the buildings but not their purpose, regards TED.
Separate names with a comma.