Operation Plunder

Operation Plunder was a military operation to cross the Rhine on the night of 23 March 1945, launched by the 21st Army Group under Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery. The crossing of the river was at Rees, Wesel, and south of the river Lippe by the British Second Army under Lieutenant GeneralMiles Dempsey, and the United States Ninth Army under Lieutenant GeneralWilliam H. Simpson.

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Operation Plunder
Part of the Western Allied invasion of Germany in the Western Front of the European theatre of World War II

U.S. 89th Division crossing the Rhine under fire
Date 23–27 March 1945 (1945-03-23 1945-03-27)
Location
Result Allied victory
Belligerents
 Germany
Commanders and leaders
Units involved
Strength
  • 1,284,712 men
  • 5,481 artillery pieces[1]
  • 69,000 men
  • 45 tanks
Casualties and losses
  • United Kingdom
  • 3,968 casualties[2]
  • United States
  • 2,813 casualties[2]
  • 6,781 casualties total
16,000 captured[2]

The First Allied Airborne Army conducted Operation Varsity on the east bank of the Rhine in support of Operation Plunder, consisting of U.S. XVIII Airborne Corps, the British 6th and the U.S. 17th Airborne Divisions.

Preparations such as accumulation of supplies, road construction, and the transport of 36 Royal Navylanding craft, were hidden by a massive smoke screen from 16 March. The operation commenced on the night of 23 March 1945. It included the Varsity parachute and glider landings near Wesel, and Operation Archway, by the Special Air Service. The landing areas were flooded, deserted farmland rising to woodland.

. . . Operation Plunder . . .

Four thousand Allied guns fired for four hours during the opening bombardment. British bombers contributed with attacks on Wesel during the day and night of 23 March 1945.

On the night of 23 March, companies E and C of the 17th Armored Engineer Battalion, part of the U.S. 2nd Armored Division, constructed treadway rafts to prepare the crossing of the Rhine about five kilometers south of Wesel. Bridge construction started at 9:45am and by 4:00pm the first truck crossed the floating pontoon bridge. Over 1,152 feet (351 m) of M2 treadway and 93 pneumatic floats were laid in the six hours and fifteen minute construction project, a record setting for the size of the bridge. It took twenty-five 2-and-a-half ton GMC CCKW trucks to transport the bridge parts to the construction site, part of the Red Ball Express.[3][4]

Three Allied formations made the initial assault: the British XII Corps and XXX Corps and the U.S. XVI Corps. The British 79th Armoured Division—under Major GeneralPercy Hobart — had been at the front of the Normandy landings and provided invaluable help in subsequent operations with specially adapted armored vehicles (known as Hobart’s Funnies). One “funny” was the “Buffalo” operated by the 4th Royal Tank Regiment, under the command of Lieutenant ColonelAlan Jolly, an armed and armoured amphibious tracked personnel or cargo transporter, which was able to cross soft and flooded ground. These were the vehicles for the spearhead infantry.

The first part of Plunder was initiated by the 51st (Highland) Infantry Division, led by the 7th Battalion, Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) of 154th Brigade at 21:00 on 23 March, near Rees, followed by the 7th Battalion, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders (also of 154th Brigade). At 02:00 on 24 March, the 15th (Scottish) Infantry Division landed between Wesel and Rees. At first, there was no opposition, but later they ran into determined resistance from machine-gun nests. On the same day the 51st Division’s commander, Major-General Tom Rennie, was killed by mortar fire. The British 1st Commando Brigade entered Wesel.

The U.S. 30th Infantry Division landed south of Wesel. The local resistance had been broken by artillery and air bombardment. Subsequently, the U.S. 79th Infantry Division also landed. American casualties were minimal. German resistance to the British landings continued with some effect, and there were armored counter-attacks. Landings continued, however, including tanks and other heavy equipment. U.S. forces had a bridge across by the evening of 24 March.

Operation Varsity started at 10:00 on 24 March, to disrupt enemy communications. Despite heavy resistance to the airdrops and afterward, the airborne troops made progress and repelled counterattacks. The hard lessons of Operation Market Garden were applied. In the afternoon, the 15th (Scottish) Division linked up with both airborne divisions.

Fierce German resistance continued around Bienen, north of Rees, where the entire 9th Canadian Infantry Brigade was needed to relieve the Black Watch. The bridgehead was firmly established, however, and Allied advantages in numbers and equipment were applied. By 27 March, the bridgehead was 35 miles (56 km) wide and 20 miles (32 km) deep.

  • The city of Wesel lies in ruins after Allied bombardment, March 1945
  • British Commandos on the outskirts of Wesel
  • 3-inch mortar of the 8th Royal Scots under enemy fire during the Rhine crossing, 24 March 1945

. . . Operation Plunder . . .

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. . . Operation Plunder . . .

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