March 25, 1945 – The Rhine Crossings Continue – The Race To Berlin – The Allied Push East
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March 25, 1945 – News reports for this day covered the continued Allied crossing of the Rhine River. It was the fourth such crossing – the first took place on the 22nd at Remagen. This one took place on the night of the 24th as part of the Allied plan to encircle the Ruhr, the industrial center of Western Germany.
The US Third Army carried out four river assaults in late March. The 5th Infantry Division undertook the first on March 22, 1945, crossing the Rhine at Oppenheim, south of Mainz. They crossed without the usual artillery preparation, a maneuver that caught German troops by surprise. Within 48 hours, four US divisions had crossed the Rhine at Oppenheim and positioned themselves to advance into Germany. Third Army troops soon also successfully assaulted the Rhine at three other locations: Boppard, St. Goar, and south of the city of Mainz. Two divisions of the US Seventh Army crossed the Rhine near the city of Worms on March 26, 1945. All of these operations were vital in facilitating the encirclement of the Ruhr and the conquest of Germany.
The planned Rhine crossing near Wesel, on the northern part of the Rhine, was the largest amphibious and airborne operation mounted since D-Day. Late on March 23, two British and two US divisions (from the US Ninth Army) began to cross the river near Wesel. Two airborne divisions, one British and one American, landed on the east bank of the Rhine on the following day to buttress the river assault.
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 Scottish 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 news, as it was unfolding via the BBC’s North America Service on March 25, 1945.