Operation Veritable


Operation Veritable
Operation Veritable (Battle of the Reichswald)/Operation Blockbuster
Part of Western Front, World War II
Veritable grenade.png
Operations Veritable and Blockbuster (yellow) and Grenade (green)
Date February 8 – March 11, 1945
Location Reichswald Forest (Germany), and adjacent areas
Result Allied victory
Belligerents
United Kingdom United Kingdom
Canada Canada
Germany Germany
Commanders and leaders
Canada Harry Crerar
United Kingdom Brian Horrocks
Germany Alfred Schlemm
Strength
200,000 90,000
Casualties and losses
23,000 [1] 38,000 killed & wounded
52,000 captured (estimated) [2]

Operation Veritable was a Second World War pincer movement conducted by Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery's 21st Army Group to clear and occupy the land between the Rhine and Maas rivers. It took place between 8 February and 11 March 1945. It was a part of General Dwight Eisenhower's "broad front" strategy to occupy the west bank of the Rhine before attempting any crossing. Veritable was originally called Valediction and had been planned for execution in early January, 1945.

The operation had three primary complications. First, the heavily forested terrain, squeezed between the Rhine and Maas rivers, largely nullified Anglo-Canadian advantages in manpower and armour and the situation was exacerbated by soft ground of the glacial loam and deliberate flooding of the adjacent flood plains. The allied plan was, that this being the northern end of the Siegfried Line, albeit heavily fortified, a skirting movement around the line was possible here.

Second, Operation Veritable was the northern phase of a double pincer movement. The proposed southern pincer, by the United States 9th Army, had been postponed when the Germans released the waters from the Roer dams. No military actions could occur until the water subsided.

The delay allowed German forces to be concentrated against the Anglo-Canadian advance. The local German commander, Alfred Schlemm, fortified Siegfried Line against the allied advance and he had fresh elite troops at his disposal to strengthen his defence. The fighting was hard, but the allied advance continued, albeit more costly and more slowly than expected. On 22 February, once clear of the Reichswald (German, Imperial Forest), the offensive was renewed under the name Blockbuster and linked up with the US 9th Army near Geldern on 4 March.[3] Fighting continued as the Germans sought to retain a bridgehead on the west bank of the Rhine and evacuate as many men and as much equipment as possible before they destroyed the bridges. Finally, on 10 March, the German withdrawal ended and the last bridges were destroyed.

After the war, General Dwight Eisenhower, the Allied Supreme Commander, commented this "was some of the fiercest fighting of the whole war" and "a bitter slugging match in which the enemy had to be forced back yard by yard". Montgomery, the Army commander, wrote "the enemy parachute troops fought with a fanaticism unexcelled at any time in the war" and "the volume of fire from enemy weapons was the heaviest which had so far been met by British troops in the campaign."[4]

Contents

Context

General Dwight Eisenhower, the Allied Commander, had decided that the best route into Germany would be across the relatively flat lands of northern Europe, taking the industrial heartland of the Ruhr. This first required that Allied forces should close up to the Rhine along its whole length. Preparations for the operation - originally Valediction - had been delayed by the diversion of forces to stem the German attack through the Ardennes in December (Battle of the Bulge) and the advantages to the allies of hard, frozen ground were lost.

Assessments by the German High Command were that an allied advance through the Reichswald would be too difficult and the expected assault would be by the British 2nd Army from the Venlo area. Reserves were therefore placed to respond to this. Alfred Schlemm, the local German commander, strongly disagreed, believing, correctly, that the Reichswald was the more likely route. He therefore ensured that the area was well fortified and quietly moved some of his reserves to be nearer.

Order of battle

Allied

At this stage, 21st Army Group consisted of the British Second Army (Lieutenant General Miles Dempsey), First Canadian Army (General Harry Crerar) and the US Ninth Army (Lieutenant General William Simpson). While the Canadian First Army would attack along the northern flank, the British Second Army, reinforced, would advance through the Reichswald Forest, to the Rhine. The US Ninth Army was to execute Operation Grenade, the southern part of the pincer.

The Canadian First Army had had a severe time clearing the approaches to Antwerp during the previous autumn. It was, numerically, the smallest of the allied armies in northern Europe and, despite its name, contained significant British units as part of its structure. For Veritable, it was further strengthened by XXX Corps (Lieutenant General Brian Horrocks). At the start of the operation allied deployment was, from left to right across the allied front:

Further divisions were committed as the operation progressed:

  • 43rd (Wessex) Infantry Division (Lieutenant-General Gwilym Ivor Thomas) - Part of XXX Corps' reserve at the start of the operation.
  • Guards Armoured Division(Temporary Major-General Allan Adair) - Part of XXX Corps' reserve at the start of the operation.
  • 11th Armoured Division (Temporary Major-General George Roberts) - transferred from across the Maas from the British 2nd Army as the operation progressed.

German[5]

  • 84th Infantry Division (Major-General Heinz Fiebig)
This was an inexperienced and under-equipped division re-formed after its destruction at Falaise in Normandy. It was augmented by the well-equipped Luftwaffe 2nd Parachute Regiment, which was placed between the western tip of the Reichswald and the Maas. Two regiments, 1062nd Grenadier Regiment and 1051st Grenadier Regiment, covered the edge of the forest facing the allies and the 1052nd Grenadier Regiment defended the Rhine flood plain on the German right. Two more, ineffective, units were held in the rear area: the Sicherungs Battalion Münster (a small unit of elderly men used to guard static installations) and the 276th Magen ("Stomach") Battalion, whose personnel had chronic digestive ailments that made them unsuited for any active part in the defence.
  • 655th Heavy Anti-Tank Battalion
Around 36 self propelled assault guns, the only German armour immediately available in the Reichswald.
  • 180th Infantry Division (Klosterkemper)
Guarding the Maas river bank, facing the British 2nd Army.
  • 7th Parachute Division (Erdmann)
Elements in reserve at Geldern, as a result of Schlemm's expectation of an offensive through the Reichswald.
  • 15th Panzer Grenadier Division (Maucke)
A possible reserve formation, according to allied assessments, that might be in place within six hours of the assault.
Army Group H's armoured reserve, at Dülken, south-east of Venlo. After the fighting in the Ardennes, its two divisions, the 116th Panzer and the 15th Panzer Grenadier, were at just over 50 per cent strength with no more than 90 tanks between them.
  • 346th Division (Steinmueller)

Panzer Division

Terrain

The allied advance was from Groesbeek (captured during Operation Market Garden) eastwards to Kleve and Goch, turning south eastwards along the Rhine to Xanten and the US advance. The whole battle area was between the Rhine and Maas rivers, initially through the Reichswald and then across rolling agricultural country.

The Reichswald is a forested area close to the Dutch-German border. To the north there is a flood plain, two or three miles wide, bordering the Rhine (which, at the time of the operation, had been allowed to flood after a wet winter) and to the south another plain bordering the Maas. The Reichswald ridge is a glacial remnant which, when wet, easily turns to mud and at the time of the operation, the ground had thawed and was largely unsuitable for wheeled or tracked vehicles.

Routes through the forest were a problem for the allies, during their advance through the forest and for later supply and reinforcements. The only main roads passed to the north (Nijmegen to Kleve) and south (Mook to Goch) of the forest and no east-west metalled route passed through it. There were two north-south routes: Kranenburg to Hekkens (between two and five kilometres behind the German frontline) and Kleve to Goch, along the eastern edge of the Reichswald. The lack of suitable roads was made worse by the wet ground conditions and the deliberate flooding of the flood plains, which necessitated the use of amphibious vehicles. The few good roads were rapidly damaged and broken up by the constant heavy traffic that they had to carry during the assaults.

The Germans had built three defence lines. The first was from Wyler to the Maas along the western edge of the Reichswald, manned by the 84th Division and the 1st Parachute Regiment. The second, beyond the forest, was Rees, Kleve, Goch and the third ran from Rees, through the Hochwald to Geldern.

Operation Veritable (Battle of the Reichswald)

Operation Veritable was planned in three separate phases:

"Phase 1 The clearing of the Reichswald and the securing of the line Gennep-Asperden-Cleve. "Phase 2 The breaching of the enemy's second defensive system east and south-east of the Reichswald, the capture of the localities Weeze-Üdem-Calcar-Emmerieh and the securing of the communications between them. "Phase 3 The 'break-through' of the Hochwald 'lay-back' defence lines and the advance to secure the general line Geldern-Xanten."[5]

The operation was to start as an infantry frontal assault against prepared positions in terrain that favoured the defenders. In order to reduce the defenders' advantages, large scale aerial and artillery bombardments were undertaken, among the largest of the war. It was hoped that this would not only destroy the German defences throughout the Reichswald but also destroy the defenders' morale and their will to fight. Air raids were also undertaken to isolate the battle area from further reinforcement.[5]

Operation Veritable began on February 8, 1945 and the next day the Germans blew the gates out of the largest Roer dam, sending water surging down the valley. The next day they added to the flooding by doing the same to dams further up stream on the Roer and the Urft. The river rose at two feet an hour and the valley downstream to the Meuse stayed flooded for about two weeks.

The British Second and the Canadian First Armies were able to continue their advance with heavy fighting along the narrow neck of land between the Meuse and the Waal east of Nijmegen, but the U.S. Ninth was unable to advance until the waters subsided during the third week.

During the two weeks that the river was flooded Hitler would not allow Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt to withdraw East behind the Rhine arguing that it would only delay the inevitable fight. He ordered him to fight where his forces stood.

Operation Blockbuster

Once the Reichswald had been taken, the allied forces paused to regroup before continuing their advance towards the Hochwald forested ridge, plus Xanten to the east of it, and the US 9th Army. This stage was Operation Blockbuster. As planned, it would start on February 22 when the 15th (Scottish) Division would attack woods north-east of Weeze, to be followed two days later on the 24th when the 53rd (Welsh) Division would advance southwards from Goch, take Weeze and continue south-westward. Finally, the 2nd Canadian Corps would launch, on 26 February, the operation intended to overcome the German defences based on the Hochwald and then exploit to Xanten.[6]

By the time the waters from the Roer dams had subsided and the Ninth Army was able to cross the Roer on February 23, other Allied forces were also close to the Rhine's west bank. Rundstedt's divisions which had remained on the west bank of the Rhine were cut to pieces in the Rhineland and 290,000 men were taken prisoner.

After the battle, 34 Armoured Brigade conducted a review of its part in the phase of the battle in the forest itself, in order to highlight the experiences of the armoured units and learn lessons.[7]

See also

References

  1. ^ Fowler, T. Robert (1995). "Operation Veritable". The 3rd Canadian Infantry Division in the Rhineland. General Store Publishing House. http://www.ncf.ca/~em575/rhine.htm. Retrieved 2007-12-28. 
  2. ^ "Battle of the Rhineland". The Canadian Encyclopedia. http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/index.cfm?PgNm=TCE&Params=A1ARTA0006804. Retrieved 15 July 2009. 
  3. ^ "Geilenkirchen to the Rhine". A Short History of the 8th Armoured Brigade. 2000. http://www.warlinks.com/armour/8th_armoured/chapter_5.html. Retrieved May 26, 2009. 
  4. ^ Thacker, Toby (2006). The End of the Third Reich. Stroud: Tempus Publishing. pp. 92–93. ISBN 0-7524-3939-1. 
  5. ^ a b c Stacey, Colonel C.P.. "The Battle of the Rhineland: Part I: Operation "VERITABLE", 8–21 February 1945". Official History of the Canadian Army. Department of National Defence. http://ibiblio.org/hyperwar/UN/Canada/CA/Victory/Victory-18.html. Retrieved May 26, 2009. 
  6. ^ "The Battle of the Rhineland; Part II: Operation "BLOCKBUSTER"". The Official History of the Canadian Army. Department of National Defence. http://www.ibiblio.net/hyperwar/UN/Canada/CA/Victory/Victory-19.html. Retrieved May 28, 2009. 
  7. ^ Lt-Col P.N. Veale, MC. "REPORT ON 34 ARMOURED BRIGADE OPERATIONS: The Reichswald Forest Phase, 8 to 17 February 1945". Archived from the original on 2007-12-20. http://web.archive.org/web/20071220010646/http://www.royaltankregiment.com/9th_RTR/tech/reichswald/Reichswald+Report.htm. Retrieved 2007-12-28. 

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