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Welcome to the official site of the 35th Infantry Division in Europe during World War II

The Crossing of the Rhine

In the middle of March, 1945, the 35th Division, having been relieved on the out skirts of Wesel, was now quartered in an area of scattered brick and stone buildings and houses about seven miles South of Venlo and just inside the German border, about 30 miles southwest of Wesel, and about 20 miles West of the nearest bend in the Rhine River, and next to the 8th Armored Division which was bivouacked between us and the river. We were part of the XVI Corps commanded by Gen. Anderson, along with the 8th Armored, and our old friends from Mortain, the 30th Infantry, the 79th Division, and the 75th Division. The 30th was on the left and the 79th on the right along the Rhine, and the 75th was northeast of us by the British Zone. While Ninth Army, of which we were a part, was re-equipping, being resupplied and munitioned, and awaiting orders, this two week period provided the G.I.s with their first R&R (Rest and Recuperation), clean uniforms and the opportunity to visit Brussels on one day passes. No passes were given for the neighboring German towns. The civilian population was being evacuated for several miles along the West Bank of the Rhine. We experienced some unneighborly visits from the Luftwaffe and watched flights of Allied bombers and fighters high above headed East, and occasionally V-1 robot bombs erratically directed to our rear echelon areas and Antwerp, and wherever.

Numerous of our sick and wounded had recuperated enough to be sent back to the front, along with some replacements and several officers. We still were not at full strength, but had more of a veteran feel, and found an excess in T/O of young officers. The buildup in the area was reminiscent of the June preparations for D-Day, with truck convoys bringing all kinds of supplies including bridge building equipment. 1,250,000 men made the West Bank seem like a huge staging area. Morale was high and the end of the war seemed finally in sight, together with milder weather and the first signs of Spring. Our spirits were even higher when we learned that the 30th and 79th Divisions would be making the first wave assaults across the Rhine. We had expected that our past history of river crossings might have qualified us to be selected to lead the way. The expanding beachhead East of the Rhine River at Remagen in the First Army area was tantalizing to watch, and one of many htmects of the war to discuss.

Hands off warning around 240 mm

Gen. Montgomery, British Commander of the 21st Army Group, and Gen. Simpson’s Commanding Officer, had been working on plans for the crossing of the Rhine since January. The Rhine River was the last great barrier protecting the heart of the German homeland against invasion from the West. Since the days of Caesar it had been the historic dividing line separating Germany from its enemies in the West, and was the classic river of Medieval song, mythology and fable, the subject of the stirring German march of the 1870's and of World War I, “The Watch On The Rhine”. East of the river for some 60 miles lay the great industrial powerhouse of Germany, the Pittsburgh of their country, known as the Ruhr. Huge factories, coal and iron mines, thousands of skilled workers, many working underground, were everywhere. This was the heart of Germany’s war making capacity and our next target.

By March 22nd, 1945, the Allies all along the Western front had closed to the Rhine with 90 divisions on line. The bulk of the German Armies which could have been used now in their defense of the Rhine were in cemeteries, or hospitals, or in P.O.W. camps, the result of the failed Hitler battles West of the Rhine and East of the Oder River along the bitterly contested Russian front. The Fuhrer’s mystique on the German people which had permitted Hitler to ignore the advice of his generals and to rely on his own intuitions was rapidly fading. Now, only the shattered remnants of the once invincible Wehrmacht and a few Volkstorm or Home Guard Units were scattered along the Eastern Banks of the Rhine. The embattled German Armies on the Eastern front could only try to save themselves and were unable to come to the support of the Rhine defenders. Across the river from Wesel and extending southward along the 18 mile front of our XVI Corps were two corps of the German Parachute Army, including their 180th Division, and a makeshift formation called the Hamburg Division, and the 2nd Parachute Division, estimated at some 70,000 men and backed by a number of field artillery units.

The Allied plan called for a general offensive all along the Rhine, code names Operation Plunder, timed for March 24th. The British, North and downstream of Wesel, and the American Ninth Army South of Wesel were to carry the main effort. Within Gen. Simpson’s Ninth Army were three corps, the XIIIth which was to be more of a holding and feinting operation, the XIXth Corps, which was to cross the river after bridgeheads had been secured and attack to the East toward a line of Minster-Hamm in the direction of Berlin. Our XVIth Corps was given the main effort in the Ninth Army to cross the river and secure bridgeheads and then push South and Southeastwardly into the Ruhr. 35th Division was one of five divisions within XVI Corps which included 54 field artillery battalions plus engineers and attachments totalling some 120,000 men. Crossings were to be in the Rheinberg area, and our part of the operation was called flashpoint, and concentrated in an 8 mile section of the river.

Medics take care of wounded

Tactical air activity preceded the crossings. On March 23, at 1800 hours, British guns opened the bombardment of German positions gradually increasing in intensity until 2300 hours when one of their divisions entered assault boats and crossed the river at Rees. They established a bridgehead and shortly after were hit by the counter-attacking 15th Panzer Division. At 2400 hours a British Commando Brigade stealthily slipped across the river 2 miles West of Wesel, waited for a 15 minute pounding of Wesel by 200 planes of the Royal Air Force Bomber Command, and then moved in to take Wesel. At 0100 hours on the 24th of March, another British Division to the North jumped off along with our 30th Division North of Rheinberg and followed at 0300 by our 79th Division crossing the river East of Rheinberg. A three quarters moon lightened the night and aided not only the troops but an appreciative audience in a church tower, Generals Eisenhower and Simpson, who watched the three regiments of the 30th Division enter assault boats following a full hour of artillery fire as the front erupted in a thunderstorm of sound, some 2,070 pieces in our sector alone. Every minute for sixty minutes more than a thousand shells ranging in weight from 25 to 325 pounds crashed on the East Bank on defensive positions, a total of 65,261 rounds! At the same time 1500 heavy bombers hit a dozen airfields within range of the crossing sites. Eachst assault battalion was organized into four waves with two minute intervals between waves. Each storm boat carried seven men, a crew of two, and powered by a 55 H.P. engine. Double assault boats carried 14 and a crew of3 with 22 H.P. motors. Engineers took long pontoons with them and bridge erection materials to immediately start construction. Machine guns fired tracers to guide the first wave and penetrate the fog and smoke. Colored landing lights showed the way for those who followed. The terrific bombardment and chemical smoke pouring over and blinding the Germans stunned the defenders, lifting just as the first wave hit the shore. Communication wires were destroyed by the fire and kept German forward observers from signaling fire missions. While some fire from mortars hit around the assault boats only one was struck, and it was daylight and after most waves had crossed before German shelling in appreciable amounts struck the crossing sites, and created severe problems for the engineers. As the infantry unloaded on the East side they quickly reached a nearby dike, and then a railroad track and established their beachhead, all at a cost of less than the 21 casualties that Gen. Patton had experienced 28 hours before in his Third Army crossing at Openheim.

The 79th Division crossed the Rhine n somewhat similar fashion at 2300 hours except that the fog and smoke generated in their area later in the night clung to the river affecting visibility. The extra hour of artillery fire had disabled most of the enemy guns but small arms fire laced through the landing area. Nevertheless the advanced planning in detail, rehearsal and training on sand tables and in rear area rivers, the deceptions, and close coordination with artillery, and the stunning and intense barrage had paid off with much lower casualties than expected. The crossing by both divisions had cost only 31 casualties.

Leading elements of both divisions swept past the railroad lines and advanced two miles eastward to the outskirts of Dinslaken, a city of 25,000 and the first of many Ruhr cities. On the way G.I.’s effectively used 200 German Panzerfausts (rockets which were good for one shot) against the defenders in buildings and expedited their evacuation. 30th Division took 1,500 prisoners and 79th added 700 more. Engineers worked feverishly to erect pontoon bridges which the Germans attacked with interdicting airburst fire. The engineers completed their bridge at 1600 hours, a treadway bridge, and then had to rebuild a part of it which was shortly thereafter damaged, but returned to service a little after midnight. This would be the same bridge the 35th Division would use during the next two days.

Gen. Montgomery had also planned for an airborne attack to hit the Germans behind their front lines North of Wesel and in the British Zone, for March 24th, and this turned out to be a massive operation. Shortly before 1000 hours, the first of 3,933 fighters, transport planes, and gliders swept in from the West and over Wesel as the great air armada brought 21,680 paratroopers and glidermen from the U.S. 17th Airborne Division and from the British 6th Airborne Division, the latter coming in from England, for an air drop just East of Wesel. For 2¼ hours the planes came, followed by 240 four engine liberator bombers of the U.S. Eighth Air Force dropping 582 tons of supplies. Another 2,153 fighter aircraft formed a protective umbrella over the target area and ranged over Germany in quest of challenging German planes. In addition, 2,596 heavy bombers (some 600 from the 15th Air Force in Italy) and 821 medium bombers attacked airfields, bridges, marshaling and other targets East of the Rhine. The air drop was watched by the British Prime Minister Churchill and Field Marshall Sir Alan Brooke, and by Airborne Commanders Gen. Ridgeway and British Gen. Brereton. A few of the 35th Division were also observers on the dim horizon some 30 miles away. Just before the arrival of the planes, the U.S. Ninth Air Force and British Second Tactical Air Force sent in medium and fighter bombers for 30 minutes of fragmentation bombing on anti-aircraft batteries in the drop and landing zones around Wesel.

This tremendous spectacle was awe-inspiring as one of the mightiest artillery and aerial shows of the war and to Sante Fe men, each bomb dropped, each shell fired, could lighten our approaching commitment by that much, and perhaps reduce the defenders when we hit the German lines in the next 24 to 48 hours. Casualties among the Airborne were much heavier than those to our ground troops in our corps. In the 17th Airborne, 159 were killed, 522 wounded, and 840 missing, of whom 600 were later returned to duty as they found their way back. The air drop was deemed successful as all objectives were reached, 3500 prisoners taken, the German 84th division overrun and eliminated, with all of their staff officers, many tanks and artillery units destroyed, and an opening for the British troops to break out to the northeast.

In the Ninth Army Zone, March 25th saw the continuing expansion of the bridgeheads to the East and southeast, but a stiffening of German resistance in front of the 30th Division who reported units of the German 116th Panzer Division on their front. This was the same tank outfit that had tangled with the 30th Division so viciously in the hedgerows of Normandy. The 79th Division was changing the direction of its attack to the southeast toward the Rhine-Herne Canal and into this developing breach between those American divisions was sent one of our regiments, the 134th Infantry, fighting as a task force “Miltonberger” were the first 35th Divisionnaires to enter the battle. The resistance in front of 30th Division continued to intensify as veteran German soldiers began to arrive in the front lines to block what the Germans perceived to be a threatened American breakout from the extending beachheads.

In the afternoon of March 25th, Task Force Miltonberger, containing in addition to the 134th Infantry, a tank company, a T.D. company, and the 127th Field Artillery Battalion, leaving gas masks behind, moved by trucks to the Rheinberg area, dismounted and moved on foot and with equipment to cross the Rhine River on Love Bridge, a floating treadway, at 8 p.m. after dark, and experiencing some aerial strafing while crossing the bridge, and taking our first casualties. Our 35th Division artillery had participated in the artillery barrage the night before but had taken no casualties. Now the task force continued to march for five hours through the night by the light of burning buildings, covering 12 miles to an assembly area just East of Dinslaken, and moved into the front line beside and to the left of the 79th Division, and receiving its attack orders for 0800.

The Sante Fe men looked out over gently rolling ground, soggy fields, small villages and a woods toward an uncompleted section of the first of the super highways, the Reichsautobahn. Following a field rationed breakfast, the infantry moved out in attack formation as scheduled and quickly attracted artillery fire, 88's and 20mm cannon which contested their 3,000 yard advance as ordered. Sherman tanks in support, while handicapped by the muddy ground, helped drive the enemy back and some 41 prisoners were taken representing an odd assortment of soldiers from the 146th infantry, and 116th Panzer Divisions, flak battalion men, former Luftwaffe pilots and tankers and even some Navy men, evidence of the deterioration of the Wehrmacht defense. Still the defense was stubborn and we took casualties, although in military terms they were considered “light”. By evening the rest of the 35th Division came up, having followed the same route, and entered the front line, relieving a part of the 79th Division which shifted further to our right. The orders to the 35th Division were to enter the fight for the Ruhr and specifically to peel off to the southeast to block toward the Ruhr. Task Force Miltonberger was relieved of its temporary attachment to the 79th Division and the full 35th Division prepared for its attack southward the next morning at 0600 hours, March 27th.

The Ninth Army bridgehead extended to eleven miles wide and thirteen miles deep, four bridges were in operation over the Rhine, and two were being built by the Americans in the Wesel area. The XVI Corps had most of its troops across the river, with the arrival of a regiment of the 75th Division attached to the 30th Division, and most of the 8th Armored Division in an assembly area just five miles behind the 30th Division. Nightly aerial attacks by the Germans on the floating bridges had been frustrated by the heavy anti-aircraft defense battalions and barrage balloons, and by fighter planes from the Air Force. Gen. Patton’s troops had moved 40 miles out of their bridgehead in the south and were spreading out. 17th Airborne was moving steadily toward Munster and the XIX Corps was preparing to break out behind the XVI Corps and head eastward. Spirits of the troops were rising and the air of optimism increasing. Yet some of the hardest fighting still lay ahead, three weeks of it, and we were still two hundred miles from Berlin. And could there be a Russian problem?

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By Maj. Norman C. Carey, Company A-320th Inf. Regt.

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