Crossing the Rhine.

Discussion in 'Home' started by Trux, Sep 13, 2018.

  1. Trux

    Trux 21 AG Patron

    In my part of the world there is certainly more woodland, forest and plantations than 50 years ago. There are many reasons but few seem to apply to the lower Rhineland.

    Trees slow the flow of water down hillsides and prevent flash floods.
    Trees hold soil together and prevent erosion.
    Trees provide shade and prevent the soil from drying out.
    Trees provide shelter from the wind.
    There is still a market for timber.

    These may apply.
    Trees are good for the planet, reducing greenhouse gas and global warming.
    Trees are good for recreation areas. Formal gardens are giving way to woodland walks.
    Forests are good for tourism.

    In the past trees were prevented from growing because sheep and other grazing animals destroyed young growth.

    Mike
     
    Last edited: Sep 3, 2021
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  2. alberk

    alberk Well-Known Member

    Sheldrake - thank you. You're taking the the 18th century as a starting point for comparisons. I must say that I gave this question never much thought. But I am curious now... stolpi's point was that 80 years ago there were fewer trees and woods... And this is where I have my doubts. It is often said that after WW2 modern farming with bigger machines meant that many trees lining fields were felled, the same goes for for hedgerows. Many trees lining the streets were felled because they were considered a danger to motorists... I am talking about the 50s/60s now... as to woods: as early as the late 19th century many German woods were more or less "plantations", commercially growing timber was a business and whatever was cut down was replanted. Firs were considered ideal for such business - although they are not ideal for our climate. The tree that grew naturally in Germany for ages was beech...
     
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  3. alberk

    alberk Well-Known Member

    Ok - I found this:
    "Insgesamt änderte sich der Bewaldungsgrad Deutschlands seit dem 14. Jahrhundert kaum noch. 1900 waren – wie 1400 auch – rund 26 Prozent des Landes bewaldet, erst danach wuchs der Wald langsam wieder: 1950 hatte Deutschland drei Prozent mehr Waldfläche als 50 Jahre zuvor, im Jahr 2010 waren 31 Prozent unseres Landes bewaldet." From: "Die Zeit" (a well respected weekly newspaper)

    What it says is this: From the 14th century until 1900 there were no major changes with regard to wooded areas, 26 % of Germany was covered by woods, this increased by 3 % until 1950, a slight increase occurred until 2010, with 31 % of Germany now covered by woods.

    So, I'd say that the difference between 1945 and 2010 is not that great.
     
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  4. ltdan

    ltdan Nietenzähler

    For my research, I prefer to use old Ordnance Survey maps (Meßtischblaetter) from the period BEFORE 1945. Alternatively, the British WWII GSGS military maps are just as good, because they were created on the same basis.
    In terms of landscape and even more so in terms of traffic, the changes AFTER 1945 are in part dramatic: In order to reconstruct the movement profiles of German troops during the final phase in the former Reich, today's maps are almost useless.
    If you want to be very precise (like me), you can enter the partly cryptic coordinates at: The "Coordinates Translator" (Nord de Guerre grid!) and then transfer the entries from google maps to these maps
    At least for me, this has often triggered a clear "aha moment".
     
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  5. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake All over the place.... Patron

    redundant post
     
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  6. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake All over the place.... Patron

    I was looking at the woods around Hameln to recostruct the terrain of the battle of Hastenbeck 1757. The woods are still there, but C 18th maps sketches show the area as brushwood, which may have been harvested for kindling. Now they are a managed Forst with plantations at different stages of growth.

    Another factor might be that by 1945 the German population was sufficiently desperate for sources of fuel to harvest anything that could be used.
     
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  7. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Re trees (not woods): I simply look at the photographs ... for example a then and now of bridgehead near Rees. At the time you had an unobstructed view from Mooshovel right across the country side to Rees. The view nowadays is far less clear because of thickets and trees. (I know there is a new road in between, but even then).

    Rhine 1.jpg

    Rhine 2.jpg

    Another example the Reeser Island to the east of Rees now is covered with foliage. The now-picture was taken from the Muhlenturm. Not so at the time (it seems):

    Rhine 3.jpg

    Rhine 4.jpg

    I also note that riparian forests in the floodplains are much more common than in the past, though there is now discussion as to remove them (at least in Holland), because they slow the flow of water.
     
    Last edited: Sep 3, 2021
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  8. alberk

    alberk Well-Known Member

    stolpi - I usually find photographic evidence helpful. And you may be right about this particular spot. So I looked at exactly the area you pointed us to. And I find that two big orchards that were still there in 1947 are gone today. I remember that in the 70s a lot of farmers cut down their apple and plum trees. So, we're even for the area that we're looking at:D.
    Moshövel.png
    Above: 1947 map with two orchards marked - and below the situation today:
    Moshövel heute Kopie.png
    Basically, what I am trying to say is: Yes, the scenery has changed over the decades since. But to say that it in the 40s it was more barren than today is in my view a bit too much of a generalization. In March our area looks very bleak - the youtube clip with the flight from Wesel to Rees that you posted was filmed in spring or summer when the area look lush and green...
     
    Last edited: Sep 4, 2021
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  9. alberk

    alberk Well-Known Member

    Sheldrake - it is worth noting that while the war was still on Germans were not starving and there wasn't an acute shortage of fuels for heating. The Nazis organized the supply chains quite efficiently despite the chaos caused by Allied bombing. And they were of course mercilessly exploiting the areas they still occupied - "let others starve so we can feed our own people" epitomizes Nazi ideology quite perfectly. All this changed after the defeat of the Reich - only then Germans began to starve and to freeze in the cold winters after the war...
     
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  10. Trux

    Trux 21 AG Patron

    Some snippets from that old standby 'Administration History of 21 Army Group'.

    Salvage.
    A salvage unit manned by the Pioneer Corps was sent to the area north of Wesel to recover parachutes and other material dropped during the airborne landing. Results were reported to be disappointing as most of the parachutes had disappeared in the three or four days before the unit arrived.

    Fire.
    The Army Fire Service provided platoons for the fire defence of bridges over the Rhine. The early bridges had flammable wooden pontoons and the later ones were build on sturdy timber piers. The standard Bedford QL fire lorry carried a light mobile pump which could be used on shore or on a DUKW or LCM.

    Medical.
    Each of the two assault corps was given one Light Field Ambulance to organise and control evacuation of casualties within the bank control group areas. Until bridges were constructed DUKWs, LVTs, Weasels and LCM were allocated to the task of casualty evacuation.

    Casualties were evacuated to Casualty Clearing Stations at Bedburg and Kapellen. US casualties were evacuated through joint British/US channels until reaching the CCS area when a platoon of a US Army field hospital at Kapellen assumed responsibility.

    Provost.
    One Traffic Control company was allotted to each of the assault corps bank control groups for duty in the bank control area. A company could only meet some 70% of the requirements for traffic control and so they were assisted by pioneer and infantry personnel.

    REME.
    A Beach Recovery Section and a Heavy Recovery Section were allocated to each bank control unit. The Beach Recovery Sections were sent from the Normandy beaches where they had been still working. They operated ARVs, D4 and D8 tractors and Scammel BD. After D+3 this provision was reduced to a watching brief on the bridges to assist with stalled vehicles.

    I hope to add to these as time and information allows. Any assistance is welcome.

    Mike
     
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  11. Trux

    Trux 21 AG Patron

    I have been browsing through copies of the long defunct Wheels and Tracks magazine and came across this snippet.

    It seems that there is evidence, although not official or documentry, that the searchlights used to provide 'artificial moonlight' for the Rhine crossing were carried on Ram Kangaroos. Operating in pairs one carried a 90cm light while the other carried a generator. Can any one confirm this, add to it, comment on it?

    Mike
     
  12. Trux

    Trux 21 AG Patron

    DDs and LVTs in the Rhine Crossing.

    An account by Lieutenant Colonel Reeves who had been involved in the development of tank design and in particular specialist armour and the DD tank. As Assistant Director of the Department of Tank Design he had participated in Operation Jubilee, the Dieppe Raid of 1942, as an observer. While many thought that the operation demonstrated that tanks could have no part in the early stages of an amphibious landing he disagreed. He pressed for the development of the Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers with its range of devices for crossing beaches etc. and then worked on the design of the DD tank with Straussler. He was present at the D Day landings as an observer. In 21 Army Group he was based at Rear Headquarters and gloried in the title of Assistant Director, Armoured Fighting Vehicles (Tank). He was present as an observer at the Rhine Crossing by XII Corps and wrote this account to assist the technical branches of the Ministry of Supply and help future design considerations.

    The following contains some interesting snippets from the document and the essential parts considering the operation of DDs and LVTs is given in full and verbatim.

    The original document contains 12 photographs which are referred to in the text but I have been unable to copy and post them.


    Some interesting snippets.
    The country in general is fairly heavily wooded with large numbers of small villages.

    The stretch of river crossed by the DD regiment to which the writer was attached was 450 yards wide and flowed at three plus knots.

    The west bank was revetted with masonry to prevent erosion.

    There are various inlets and a large lagoon caused by dredging/quarrying for gravel. The banks here were steep and impossible for DDs and LVTs.

    The country around Xanten was mostly flat and open but there was a large wood south of the town suitable for assembly areas.

    Roads were in good condition and due to a long spell of fine weather tracks were suitable for the passage of motor transport in large quantities.

    The DD regiment (44 RTR) to which the writer was attached had operated DD tanks for a considerable time and one squadron had operational experience at South Beveland.



    The Narrative.

    Reeves Map 2 (2).JPG

    Brussels was left at 1010 hours 0n 23 March and the following route was taken, Louvain-Tierlamont-St Trond-Tongres-Bilsen-Marsyck-Roermond-Venlo-Geldern-Sonsbeck-Xanten.The Regimental Headquarters of 44 RTR was reached at 1530 hours. There was remarkably little traffic on the roads during the journey forward and it was hard to conceive that a major operation was going to take place during the following two days. On arrival it was found that the Commanding Officer was in the process of briefing his tank commanders using maps, air photographs etc. During the briefing tank commanders were warned by the Commanding Officer that 6 Airborne Division would be using a small number of Locusts which would be landed from Hamilcars. This was done in order that they should not be engaged by the DD Shermans. It had previously been stated that D Day was on 25 March but it was soon evident that it had been put forward to 24 March, presumably on account of meteorological considerations connected with the drop of 6 Airborne and US 17 Airborne Divisions. It was also stated that H Hour for the Xanten crossing would be 0200 hours and reveille for the regiment would be at 0300 hours.

    At the conclusion of the conference the writer was asked by the Commanding Officer if he would agree to steer one of the Regimental Headquarters DDs across the river since its commander was sick and on account of the short time that had been devoted to this regiments DD training, no other officer or NCO of experience was available. This suggestion was agreed to.

    The artillery barrage began at 1800 hours and it was found that 5.5” guns were in the DD assembly area in considerable numbers. It speaks well of their camouflage since it was not until they opened fire that their presence was noticed. The Staatsforst Die Hees Xanten had been slightly shelled by the enemy in the night of 22/23 March but this was considered only to be because it was a likely location for allied assembly and not because the presence of our troops had been established. Two shells did in fact land in the lines of one of the DD squadrons but no casualties or damage was suffered to personnel or equipment.

    The AFV penthouse was pitched, the evening meal eaten and preparations made for attempts to sleep. It seemed unlikely however that these would be successful since the 5.5” guns were to continue firing artillery programmes throughout the night. The nearest gun was probably no more than 200 yards distant. In actual fact it was found possible to sleep during the barrage but that one was awakened on the occasions when the guns stopped firing. There were not a great number of these. The bombing of Wesel by the RAF heavies produced incredible convulsions of the earth and this bombardment was a prelude to the attacking of Wesel by the Commandos who were operation on the right of 15 Division and whose H Hour was 2000 hours 23 March.

    Enemy reaction to the barrage and aerial bombardment was not great, some shells being heard to fall in the distance but none in Staatsforst Die Hees Xanten.

    Rum was issued to RHQ personnel at 0345 hours and the tanks moved off down the track leading south from RHQ at 0350 hours. Shortly after this either a wrong turn was taken or the selected route was impassable and the DDs had to turn round on a narrow track bounded by a steep bank on one side and closely positioned trees on the other. This took a considerable time and during it the tank on which Lieutenant Colonel Reeves was travelling developed clutch trouble. He thus changed to another of the RHQ vehicles, which turned out to be the armoured Air Support Signals Unit (ASSU).

    The well marked DD route was easily followed to the inflation area, enemy shelling of likely crossroads etc being sporadic during this time. Part of Xanten was on fire but enemy artillery activity could still be considered light. On arrival at the inflation area small arms fire on the far bank could be heard and enemy mortars and guns were being directed at the CDL tanks, which seemed to be positioned uncomfortably close to the inflation area, since here the tank crews had to be outside their vehicles in order to carry out their screen raiding drill. No casualties to personnel or vehicles however resulted.

    At about 0530 hours the leading tanks moved to the waters edge at the chosen points. They entered the Rhine and crossed it but from the conversation that could be heard over the wireless it seemed that they were experiencing difficulty in getting out on the far side. On this account it appeared that the following tanks did not get into the water as quickly as they might have done and tended to expose themselves on the west bank for considerable periods. In view of the ease of exit of later tanks the cause of this delay is not even now understood by the writer.

    During the entry one tank received a direct hit from a mortar on its false prow. The entry bank was very steep and the vehicle went straight to the bottom. The crew got out unhurt but shaken, wet and cold.

    RHQ used the upper entry point and became waterborne at 0655 hours. The lower exit was used since this appeared to be a good one and there were at that time a number of tanks at the higher landing point. The crossing took about ten minutes and all RHQ tanks landed safely at 0705 hours. The exit was steep and the substance of he ground was favourable being a mixture of sand and shingle and not mud. The reconnaissance troop had actually laid their mats within a few yards of the point at which the ASSU left the water, and the resulting trackway had in fact been used by three tanks. The laying of the mats was thus perhaps unnecessary, but the Recce Troop had fulfilled their task if only in confirming that the exit points chosen were suitable. They had casualties caused by mortar fire, one killed and four wounded, while performing their task. The mat had become quite badly buckled and it would appear that perhaps a heavier type should be used for future operations. The recce troop had also been troubled by Spandau fire when waterborne and they found their modified exhaust system an embarrassment to them.

    Photo 5 is taken from the position where RHQ landed and shows DDs still on the west bank. At the time this was taken they were about to enter the water at entry point B. For some reason, however, possibly because entry point B was uncomfortably steep they turned south and eventually the majority of hem crossed from point A to C. One appeared to have some sort of difficulty with the propulsion gear and drifted down the river but the drive became operative again and it initially tried to make the landing north of the spit o land on which exit D was located. Photo 6 shows this tank in that position and since it is fully afloat serves to give a good impression of the steepness of the banks at points other than those chosen as exit points. Photo 7 was taken from exit D and shows it emerging from the river at exit C and also other DDs leaving the spit on which exit C was located.

    As previously stated the river in this area was said to be 450 yards wide and to flow at 3 knots plus. The latter was thought to be accurate but the width did not appear to be of that magnitude. This was possibly the case however since the west bank was high and would naturally tend to make it look narrower, see photograph numbers 4 and 5.

    Photographs 8and 9 are included to give an indication of the soil at the edge of the water, respectively at exit points C and D. The latter actually shows the marks made by the ASSU while landing.

    Two tanks became bogged near the exit from the spit of land on which exit D was situated. Photograph No 10 shows one of these and the fact that the soil was dry but soft and sandy. It appeared surprising that they had not got through, particularly in view of the fact that others did not appear to have any great trouble at this point. A third tank was bogged down at exit C but while partially in the water. The nearside track was shed from the idler, but it could not be ascertained what caused this on account of the water level. It is thought, however, that all three of these DDs would probably have gone into action had they been fitted with grousers.

    Photograph 11 was taken looking north eastwards from an LVT while it was being driven from exit D to exit C. It shows the entrance to the lagoon in square 1342 and is included to give an impression of the east bank of the Rhine as it appeared to the assault troops.

    From 0700 hours to 0800 hours there was practically no shelling or mortaring of the crossing by the enemy, but from 0800 hours, the time when the barrage lifted to the flak area, to 1000 hours, the time when the airborne troops arrived, this tended to increase. In particular odd mortar bombs appeared to land fairly frequently at and near the LVT ferry entry point. During the whole time a slight haze covered the river which must have prevented direct observation from the Diersfordter Wald and since the remainder of the country was free it was thought that this must have been produced artificially. It is thought possible that the enemy fire slackened from 0700 to 0800 hours as the infantry brigade, who were operating in the Bislich-Mars area, overcame local enemy troops or forced them to move. The enemy shelling again practically ceased with the arrival of the airborne troops, though odd mortar bombs continued to land even as late as 1030 hours on and around the LVT ferry entry point.

    The arrival of the airborne troops was a most impressive sight and the fleets of aircraft flying at an altitude of about 500 feet covered square miles of sky. In spite of the very intense British barrage which had been directed against the flak area for two hours the leading Dakotas appeared to run into a considerable amount of fire. A number were seen to be shot down, though in the case of a number of these their crews managed to turn them round, bring them back over the British lines and bale out before they became unmanageable.

    The writer left the east bank of the Rhine at 1020 hours by LVT and was driven to the LVT assembly area around point MR 123416. Airborne troops in gliders were now arriving and photograph No 12 taken from this location shows these. The spire of the Xanten church is seen in the background and the pillar of smoke through which the aircraft were approaching is from a crashed and burning Dakota. The remainder of the distance from the LVT assembly point to RHQ in Staatsforst Die Hees Xanten was covered on foot.

    The presence of cattle seen grazing in photograph No 12 may be remarked upon by readers of this paper. On this account it may be of interest to state that such scenes of agricultural life are the rule rather than the exception in the parts of Germany seen by the writer – roughly the area east of the line Xanten-Munchen Gladbach-Aachen. Chickens and their eggs are also plentiful. One is given the impression that to date the German living in rural districts has had a ‘good war’ in that he has not been unduly inconvenienced by food rationing.

    One point that possibly is worth mentioning is the number of prematures which appear to occur with the 5.5” ammunition. A quantity of these burst over the heads of our own troops particularly during the counter flak programme and though they caused no great discomfort fragments did on occasions fall uncomfortably near.

    Since the operation the following facts have been heard:
    a) That Staffordshire Yeomanry (XXX Corps) had their inflation area positioned close to Grant CDLs which were to protect their sector of the river from enemy attack by water. They were not so fortunate as 44 RTR and it is understood that a number (12?) of their machines had their flotation equipment damaged to such an extent that they could not undertake the crossing.
    b) The Grant CDL tanks engaged seven floating objects on the night 24/25 March and that at any rate some of those were enemy weapons. It is rumoured that two of them exploded on being hit.


    Points of Technical Interest.
    A) Turning amphibians in confined spaces.
    It is thought that such incidents as this will always be likely to occur and that they should influence design matters. In this case:
    1) A DD tank with floats fitted to it could not possibly have turned around in the space available, and it is not thought that DD floats could have been taken to the inflation area for fitting at that point. It would probably not have been permissible for security reasons since they would have undoubtably have been seen by the enemy and the location of the crossing point given away. In any case they are vulnerable and would have become an artillery and mortar target.
    2) The DD Shermans of course do not incorporate skid steering. Had they had this feature the time taken to turn around would have been very much reduced.

    B) Type of mat used by LVTs.
    The type of mat used, coir matting with 2” steel tubing interspersed with chestnut paling, was a compromise to give the greatest possible length with the longest life, expressed in terms of the number of tanks to use it, within the carrying capacity of the LVT. The obvious improvement to overcome the apparent fragility of the one used would be to incorporate more tubular steel members. This, however, on account of the increased weight per foot run, would necessitate a shorter length per craft.

    C) LVT II Modified exhaust exit.
    When it was decided in 79 Armoured Division to use stern laying for the LVT mats of the Reconnaissance Troops, it was realised that the craft would become ‘down by the stern’. Exhaust pipe extensions were thus fitted to prevent the ingress of water into the exhaust system. Crews of these vehicles stated that on account of these whenever the engine was allowed to over run sheets of flame were projected vertically into the air. This invariably produced a burst of aimed Spandau fire from the enemy.

    D) Use of grousers with DDs.
    It was initially the intention of 79 Armoured Division to use grousers for all DD tanks. On trials however one or two vehicles were sunk on account of driftwood etc. being caught in the tracks and being carried round to their top run. The clearance between the top of the grouser and the bottom of the sponson was small and the objects concerned caught between the tracks and the plate which is bolted beneath the petrol cock on the underside of the latter. The plate was removed and serious leak causing the sinking of the tank resulted. It was realised that this would not always happen but the risk was not thought to be acceptable.


    General Conclusions.
    A) DDs.
    The DDs performed their function well. By their flotation equipment 44 RTR was carried across the Rhine probably 12 hours before this would have been possible by other means. If enemy resistance had been great these 12 hours may well have been vital to the infantry and airborne troops already on the east bank.

    As far as is known only one vehicle became a casualty during the crossing and only three became bogged down on the east bank. It is thus thought that only four of the regimental tank strength did not go into battle.

    B) LVTs
    These also performed their numerous functions well and their existence must have rendered the Rhine crossing a far simpler operation than it would have been without them.

    C) Preparation of the exits.
    It is thought that, had extensive preparations of these exits been necessary the arrangements made might not have proved fully effective. The airborne bulldozers would probably have completed their task but the mats would not have borne many tanks over them before they would have disintegrated. The laying of a fully effective mat thus appears to remain an unsolved problem in connection with DD river crossing.

    The weakness in the type, it would become of mat used lies in the fact that it does not incorporate longitudinal members. It has no beam strength. Further, if the present type were strengthened to increase its life, it would become so heavy as to render a problem its carriage by amphibious vehicles. The solution to this seems to be the use of longitudinally rigid panels say 20 feet in length. Their laying presents a more complex problem, but the difficulties involved are certainly not insuperable.

    G.C. Reeves.
    Lt. Col.
    ADAFV(T)

    AFV(T)
    Rear HQ 21 AG
    BLA
    April 1945.
     
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  13. Trux

    Trux 21 AG Patron

    I have been busy reading material sent to me by generous forum members. Some of this has been incorporated in the various posts above but I have most recently been studying the Reeves document (Post 132).

    I shall no doubt continue to add to this thread but this is a good time to thank all who have contributed material or otherwise supported me in this. They are too numerous to list but I must mention Tollbooth, ChrisC, Twinotterpilot, and of course Alberk and Stolpi.

    Mike
     

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