Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Mystique of Operation Veritable

The Mystique of Operation Veritable

By Furano Yukihira
The Daily Magi
September 23, 2059

Operation Veritable was the northern part of an Allied pincer movement conducted by Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery's 21st Army Group primarily consisting of the 1st Canadian Army under Harry Crerar and the British XXX Corps under Brian Horrocks. The operation took place between 8 February and 11 March 1945, with the objective to clear German forces from the area between the Rhine and Maas rivers, east of the German/Dutch frontier, in the Rhineland. It was part of General Dwight Eisenhower's "broad front" strategy to occupy the entire west bank of the Rhine before its crossing. Veritable (originally called Valediction) had been planned for execution in early January, 1945 when the ground had been frozen and thus more advantageous to the Allies. The Allied expectation was that the northern end of the Siegfried Line was less well defended than elsewhere and an outflanking movement around the line was possible and would allow an early assault against the industrial Ruhr region.

The operation had complications. First, the heavily forested terrain, squeezed between the Rhine and Maas rivers, reduced Anglo-Canadian advantages in manpower and armour and the situation was exacerbated by soft ground which had thawed after the winter and also by the deliberate flooding of the adjacent Rhine flood plain. Second, Veritable was the northern arm of a pincer movement. The southern pincer arm, Operation Grenade, by the United States 9th Army, had had to be postponed for two weeks when the Germans released the waters from the Roer dams and river levels rose. No military actions could proceed across the Roer until the water subsided.

Veritable started on schedule, with XXX Corps advancing through the forest and the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division, in amphibious vehicles, clearing enemy positions in the drowned Rhine flood plain. The Allied advance proceeded more slowly than expected and at greater cost. The delay to Grenade had allowed German forces to be concentrated against the Anglo-Canadian advance and the local German commander, Alfred Schlemm acting against the assessments of his superiors, had strengthened the Siegfried Line defences and had fresh elite troops readily available to him. The fighting was hard, but the Allied advance continued. On 22 February, once clear of the Reichswald (German, Imperial Forest), and with the towns of Kleve and Goch in their control, the offensive was renewed under as Blockbuster and linked up with the US 9th Army near Geldern on 4 March. Fighting continued as the Germans sought to retain a bridgehead on the west bank of the Rhine at Wesel and evacuate as many men and as much equipment as possible. 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 Group commander, wrote "the enemy parachute troops fought with a fanaticism un-excelled 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."

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 22 February 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.

By the time the waters from the Roer dams had subsided and the US 9th Army was able to cross the Roer on 23 February, 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 230,000 men were taken prisoner.

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

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