Operation Plunder

During the final days of World War II, the Allies began their thrust into Germany. As part of General Dwight Eisenhower’s plan for a broad assault, he ordered crossings of the Rhine at various points along the Allied front. In the northern sector of the Allied line, Field Marshall Bernard L. Montgomery conceived an operational plan for crossing the Rhine in the area controlled by his 21st Army Group, Operation Plunder. Montgomery’s plan called for elements of the 21st to conduct a river crossing of the Rhine at numerous points, while two airborne divisions dropped behind the German defenses to isolate the area, seize the high ground east of the river, and eliminate the threat posed by German artillery in the area.

To cover their preparations for the assault, as the Germans knew it was coming, the Allies engaged in substantial activity to deceive the enemy about their crossing sites. This activity included such things as artillery and aerial bombardment of targets not key to the operation, smoke screens, and increased patrols along the Rhine. On the evening of March 23, 1945, the river crossings by the British XXX Corps, commenced with supporting artillery fires and aerial bombardments of the objectives. In the hours following the XXX Corp’s crossing, other 21st Army Group units began crossing the Rhine at their designated locations. The airborne landings took place at 1000 hours on March 24, 1945. Significantly, the Allies capitalized on the insights they gained as a result of the airborne landings in support of Operation Overlord (D-Day) and Operation Market Garden. The American 17th and British 6th Airborne Divisions were dropped approximately one mile behind the forces who were crossing the river and establishing bridge heads, ensuring that they would be in mutual supporting distance of the crossing operation.

Historians have noted the many successes of this operation, despite the fact that things did not work perfectly. In a combined arms sense, however, fires were perfectly coordinated which not only confused the Germans as to the location of the Allied main effort but also prevented reinforcement of the area. More importantly, the perfect timing of these fires allowed the assaulting infantry to reach the east side of the Rhine just as the fires shifted farther to the east. Such effective use of combined arms hindered the German ability to mount a successful defense and destroyed their already low morale. The success of the operation, however, was not easy. Operation Plunder represented the cumulative combined experience learned throughout World War II, but the Allies used it to good effect.

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