On This Day: 23 March 1945

Operation Plunder was the combined British American and Canadian crossing of the Rhine planned to commence on the night of 23rd March 1945. The British 2nd Army and the American 9th Army, both operating under Sir Bernard Montgomery as part of his 21st Army Group, successfully landed, initially unopposed, in the areas around Rees, Wesel and south of the River Lippe.

Operation Plunder Intelligence ReportAt 9pm on the night of the 23rd parts of the 51st Highland Division, with 7th Black Watch as the lead Battalion, landed near Rees, under the cover of a four thousand gun bombardment along the whole front, and wide scale bombing operations. As Sir Bernard Fergusson recorded in The Black Watch and The King’s Enemies “It was a perfect moonlight night as they rolled towards the river in their ungainly vehicles, across the fields and over the floodbanks. There at last lay the Rhine, broad and silvery, with its far bank shrouded in smoke. The Buffaloes waddled down to the water’s edge and entered it; foam swirled on either side. In exactly twe and a half minutes they touched down. One Buffalo went up on a Teller mine, and there were some casualties on Schu-mines; but no shelling or small arms fire began until the whole shore was reached. The men pressed forward in the darkness; the whole objective was consolidated and occupied by dawn; and an enemy counter-attack which came in under cover of the morning mist was beaten off. The 7th Battalion had the satisfaction of knowing that their signal reporting that they were safely over the Rhine, was the first to be received; and Major Landale Rollo was the first officer across.”

The German defenders, the 1st Parachute Army, had been badly depleted by the Battle of the Reichswald (8th February-10th March 1945) and as a result was unable to contest the landings except in small, localised areas. Goebbels, well aware that a successful crossing of the Rhine would spell disaster for Germany, wrote in his diary on 24th March “The situation in the West has entered an extraordinarily critical, ostensibly almost deadly, phase.”

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