Crossing the Rhine
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
ww2dbaseAs the Allied forces gathered on the west banks of the Rhine River, it was no longer a matter of surprise. The German troops knew that the Allied forces were only taking a short time to gather up strength before the invasion into Germany would commence. George Patton's US 5th Division crossed the Rhine River during the night of 22 Mar 1945, establishing a six-mile deep bridgehead after capturing 19,000 demoralized German troops. Patton, who actually did not have the orders to cross the river, did so under an extremely low profile: quietly, his troops crossed the river in boats without artillery barrage nor aerial bombardment. His commanding general Omar Bradley, who issued the order for him not to cross to avoid interfering with Bernard Montgomery's operations, did not know of the crossing until the next morning. Bradley did not announce this crossing until the night of 23 Mar; Patton had wished the Americans to announce that they had crossed the Rhine River before the British. This was the first crossing of the Rhine River by boat by an invading army since Napoleon Bonaparte. Within three days Patton's troops were rapidly approaching Frankfurt, Germany, capturing bridges in tact as the German defenses began to fall apart.
ww2dbaseDwight Eisenhower expected the German troops, some elite including soldiers of the First Paratroop Army, would be prepared for such an invasion in the northern Ruhr area. The crossing would be difficult with German mortar and artillery guns already trained at river crossings. However, such a strong resistance was not encountered as elements of the 21st Army Group and Ninth Army crossed the river in the north in the Ruhr River region. The crossing was led by a heavy artillery shelling and supplemented by an airborne operation (Operation Varsity) by the American 17th Airborne Division and the British 6th Airborne Division. This paratrooper operation was not a typical one where troops were dropped a distance behind enemy lines before the operation to disrupt communications; this time, Bernard Montgomery chose to drop the paratroopers immediately behind the enemy lines after the conventional infantry had already crossed the Rhine River under the cover of darkness. After suffering significant casualties from heavy anti-aircraft fire, the airborne infantry landed and participated in direct combat during daylight to attack the German defenders from both sides. This operation to cross the northern Rhine River launched in the night of 23 Mar 1945. This airborne operation was the largest of its kind during the entire war, utilizing 1,625 transports, 1,348 gliders, and 889 escort fighters to deliver over 22,000 airborne infantry into the contested territory. Another 2,153 fighters supported the ground operations. Throughout the night of 23 Mar and the next day, 80,000 British and Canadian troops crossed the 20-mile stretch of the river.
ww2dbaseTo Eisenhower's surprise, the crossing of the Rhine River north of the Ruhr was not met with fierce resistance, and he attributed it to the beginning of the destruction of German morale. "My dear General", Winston Churchill said to the American general as they met the next morning, "the German is whipped. We've got him. He is all through."
ww2dbaseAdditional Contribution by Alan Chanter
ww2dbaseThe river on XXX Corps' front was 500 yards across and defended on its eastern bank by the German 8th Parachute Division, in and around the town of Rees. This had elements of the 6th and 7th Parachute Divisions on their flanks and, to their rear in reserve, the 15th and 116th Panzer Divisions. Under extremely tough and experienced Parachute and Panzer officers and NCOs new replacements (many dedicated Nazis) had been moulded into a formidable fighting force. Lieutenant-General Brian Horrocks of XXX Corps commented later that, although they heard stories of German soldiers surrendering in their thousands at other places, the German troops encountered in XXX Corps' area were extremely fanatical in defence of their homeland.
ww2dbaseTo cross the Rhine presented the Royal Engineer with many highly technical problems, but experiments and preparations for just such a task had been carried out on the River Ouse, near Goole, since 1943, and orders for specialised equipment needed had been placed with the Ministry of Supply in good time. For the crossing 8,000 Royal Engineers came under command of the C.E. XXX Corps. Some 22,000 tons of assault bridging had to be brought forward, including 25,000 wooden pontoons, 2,000 assault boats, 650 Storm boats, 120 River tugs, 80 miles of balloon cable and 260 miles of steel wire rope.
ww2dbaseTo assist the Engineer the RAF's No.159 Wing was approached to furnish some of the men who operated the balloons to handle the winches that were to be used to haul the ferries and rafts across. To their credit, the RAF despatched fifty specialist within twelve hours and promised that a further 300 volunteers good be made available if required. In addition, the Royal Navy provided a team to construct an anti-mine boom upriver to prevent the Germans from floating demolitions down to destroy the bridges after they had been constructed.
ww2dbaseAll this, plus the assembly of vast amounts of troops, assault boats, Buffaloes, guns etc. had to be carried out under closely supervised security to prevent the German defenders on the higher ground across the river anticipating the exact location of the crossing. The comparatively light casualty rate experienced by the first troops across (153rd and 154th Brigades of 51st Highland Division) clearly demonstrated how thorough the preparations had been made.
Brian Horrocks, Corps Commander (Magnum Books, 1977)
ww2dbaseOn 24 Mar, Churchill crossed the Rhine River in an LCM (landing craft, mechanized), setting foot on the eastern bank of the river, symbolizing the crossing of the top British political leader over the traditional border of Germany that no foreign army had crossed in 140 years. He later went as far as the railway bridge at Wesel by Montgomery's staff car, a bridge that was still under enemy fire. This adventurous expedition, however, was later criticized by Eisenhower as far too daring, and noted that had Eisenhower been there he would never have permitted Churchill to cross the river at that time, just as Eisenhower had fought to stop Churchill from observing the Normandy landings in France.
ww2dbasePrior to crossing the Rhine, the Allied forces were already bombing German airfields to reduce the capability for the Luftwaffe to interfere with the plans. The bombing started on 21 Mar, and by 24 Mar the German air force were no longer able to put up much of a resistance against its Allied counterpart; 8,000 sorties were launched between 21 Mar and 24 Mar, and Allied airmen reported only about 100 enemy aircrafts sighted. By the end of 24 Mar 1945, the German airfields were so damaged that the Luftwaffe practically ceased to exist on this front. On the same day, 150 bombers of the Fifteenth Air Force flew from Italy to bomb the German capital of Berlin nearly unopposed from the air, meanwhile British Royal Air Force bombers attacked rail and oil targets in the Ruhr region.
ww2dbaseBetween Frankfort and the Ruhr River, the American First Army had breached the Rhine River barrier earlier in the month near Remagen. On 26 Mar 1945, these troops marched southward toward Patton's troops. Major General Clarence Huebner's V Corps made rapid advances with relative ease. Frankfort was captured by Allied troops on 29 Mar.
ww2dbaseFurther to the south, General Patch's Seventh Army crossed the Rhine River on the same day the Remagen contingent marched forward. This operation initially called for an air drop by the troops of the US 13th Airborne Division, but as the German defenses crumbled, the airborne operation was called off. The troops of the French First Army crossed the Rhine River near Philippsburg, Germany on 1 Apr.
ww2dbaseWith the German defenses along the Rhine River falling apart, the industrial region of Ruhr was enveloped, depriving Germany's war manufacturing capabilities. Churchill suggested the Allied forces to skip over the Ruhr region and march east toward Berlin, but Eisenhower refused to leave the Ruhr region unsecured. He believed that it would leave too long of a left flank vulnerable to German counter offensives.
Dwight Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe
Anthony Read and David Fisher, The Fall of Berlin
Last Major Update: Feb 2006
Crossing the Rhine Interactive Map
Crossing the Rhine Timeline
|19 Mar 1945||George Patton received permission from his superiors to take the US 3rd Army across the Rhine River.|
|22 Mar 1945||The US 3rd Army crossed the Rhine River west of Mainz and near Oppenheim just before midnight; the Americans had beaten the British in crossing the river. Opposition was negligible and within 24 hours the entire US 5th Division had crossed the river.|
|23 Mar 1945||As US Third Army made another Rhine River crossing near Worms, Germany, British Second Army and Canadian First Army launched their assaults across the Rhine River north of the Ruhr River. In Berlin, Adolf Hitler wanted to counterattack at the Allied bridgehead at Oppenheim, but he was told that no reserve forces were available to embark on such an operation.|
|24 Mar 1945||Operation Plunder landed over 16,000 British and American troops across the Rhine River region, allowing link ups with advancing British 21st Army Group's 4 bridgeheads. Meanwhile, US Third Army captured Ludwigshafen and Speyer, Germany.|
|25 Mar 1945||US First Army finally broke out of Remagen bridgehead in Germany. 140 kilometers to the north, British Second Army captured Wesel, Germany.|
|26 Mar 1945||In Germany, US Third Army captured Darmstadt and reached Main, allowing the linking up with US Seventh Army near Worms. On the banks of the Rhine River the British Royal Corps of Engineers completed the construction of a Class 9 bridge "Waterloo Bridge" at 0100 hours and a Class 15 bridge "Lambeth Bridge" at 0830 hours. Meanwhile the construction of an even larger Class 40 bridge "London Bridge" continued and was completed by midnight.|
|27 Mar 1945||A German counter attack from Frankfurt, Germany towards K√ľstrin barely got out of the city. Meanwhile, US Third Army captured Aschaffenburg, Germany, 40 kilometers to the southeast.|
|28 Mar 1945||In Germany, US 1st Army captured Marburg and US 3rd Army captured Limburg am Lahn. Meanwhile, British 2nd Army began an offensive towards the Elbe River. British sappers built another Rhine bridge, "Blackfriars", by noon. Behind the lines, Dwight Eisenhower transferred US 9th Army from Bernard Montgomery's army group to Omar Bradley's army group as Anglo-American objective shifted toward southern Germany and Czechoslovakia.|
|29 Mar 1945||In Germany, US Third Army captured Frankfurt and Wiesbaden and US Seventh Army captured Mannheim. British sappers built another Rhine bridge, "Westminster".|
|30 Mar 1945||US First Army attacked Paderborn, Germany. Beyond the German front lines, US aircraft harassed retreating German columns, destroying 246 trucks and 241 railway wagons.|
|31 Mar 1945||As the troops of the French First Army crossed the Rhine River near Speyer, Germany, they became the first French troops to attack across the river since Napoleon Bonaparte. Meanwhile, US Third Army reached Siegen, Germany.|
|1 Apr 1945||US First Army captured Paderborn and Hamm, Germany.|
|13 Apr 1945||Troops of the US Ninth Army finished clearing the Duisberg Pocket in Germany.|
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Visitor Submitted Comments
28 Oct 2009 06:28:44 AM
It was not the Rhine.All Rhine crossings, starting with the first at Remagen (between Coblenz and Bonn, were exploited immediately. It's likely you're referring to the Elbe.
24 Dec 2009 11:39:04 AM
My father-in law,Sgt. Arthur Cottrell,surviving member of the 90th Infantry,357th Regiment,M Company, machine gun, is here with us on Christmas Eve. He is the soldier standing in the background of Patton urinating in the Rhine. He tells of the 2 failed attempts as Germans failed their attempts and then the 3rd successful try. The original military photographer brought him a copy of the photo that he took some 20 years AFTER the historical event.
24 Feb 2010 08:57:11 AM
The first INFANTRY troops to cross the Rhine was the 310th Regiment of the 78th Division. It was attached to the 9th Armored Division. The first Regient to cross the Rhine at Remagan was the 311th of the 78th Infantry Diivision The first Battalion to cross at Remagen was the first battalion of the 311th Regimnent, and they were across within 24 hours of the capture. The first battalionled by "C" Company, fought it's way into Erple, then Unkle. then Heuster, but didn't stop there at nightfall. It was PITCH BLACK. under cover of darkeness the entire battalion crept along the Rhine Roverbank, with each man cautioned to MAKE NO NOISE. They had to PHYSICASLLY hold onto the guy in front. 20 mm cannon fire went over their heads as the men were protected by being below the bank, and RIOGHT NEXT TO THE RIVER. By the morning of the 9th of March, 1945, the battalion attacked Honnef, five miles North of the bridge. House-to house fighting commenced. There was a news blackout by Allied media, but the Nazi dispatches reported that "SHOCK TROOPS HAD CROSSED THE RIVER IN ASSAULT BOATS, which was NOT TRUE. The troops were told to
hold up", as the 9th Infantry Diivision was absorbing counter attacks by the Germans due East of the bridge. They were told to be ready to withdraw if the 9th Division couldn't hold the line. But the 9th held. By the 17th of March (a WEEK BEFORE PATTON AND MONTGOMERY CROSSED), the 78th had fought it's way into Buel, a city on the East Bank of the Rhine opposite Bonn. The bridge at Remagen fell into the river on the 17th.
I as with the 1st Battalion of the 311th Regiment of the 78th Infantry Division, and was happy to know that the Germans regarded us as "SHOCK TROOPS". The only thing about this is that we were "shocked" at wondering how the dickens the 8th Armored Diiviision, with the help of the 310th Regiment of the 78th Division captured the bridge INTACT !!.. Good thin, too, because I'm not too good a swimmer.
25 May 2010 09:59:17 AM
My father was in Pattons army and his papers list him in Co A 281 engr comb bn. I'm trying to trace my dad's whereabouts during pattons crossing of the Rhine. He was a tank destroyer and had a armoured infantry ribbon on his hat. help. thanks so much.
14 Aug 2010 06:17:07 PM
On 24 Feb 2010 Ed Malouf stated that the first INFANTRY troops across the Rhine were part of the 319th Regiment of the 78th Divison. This is an erronous statment made with some frequency by former members of the 78th. In fact, the first troops across were indeed Infantry troops, but they were from "A" Company of the 27th Armored Infantry Batallion of the 9th Armored Divsion.
9 May 2011 06:55:33 PM
My late Uncle Raymond De Nomie served with Pattons 3rd Army, he didn't say much about his experience, but from time to time he would start to talk, and stop, get up and go outside.
When I was going to Vietnam in 1967 he asked
what I was trained in, I told him Artillery
he said "Thank God your not in Tanks".
A LOVING FATHER:
My Father told me if he could take my place
he would. It wasn't until I was in Vietnam,
that I understood what he meant.
I LOVE YOU DAD:
Henry W. De Nomie Jr.
November 1919-November 2007
Thank you ww2bd
11 Aug 2011 01:55:58 PM
My father told me the 537th Engr light Pon Co Which he was member Told me built they
did alot of the work getting Patton tanks across the river
I have found about what the 537th did
13 Dec 2011 12:50:02 PM
I'm a producer for History Detectives on PBS. We're hoping to get in touch with "Chris" in regards to his "24 Dec 2009" comment about his father-in-law, Sgt. Arthur Cottrell. We're investigating that very same Gen. Patton photograph for a segment on PBS.
At that, we're happy to talk to anyone about the famous Patton-Rhine snapshot.
Tom McNamara, PBS History Detectives
30 Jul 2012 02:15:03 PM
I sent a comment a few minutes ago, but I didn't mention our group left from Plymouth, England. I read with interest the history crossing the Rhine by LCDR William Leide from the Navy Dept. Library. He mentioned 15 LCM's left Toul Francce for the crossing, but that wasn't our group. Since the history of the crossing goes from 19 March to 31 March 1945 with the first crossing on 22 March perhaps our group didn't make a crossing until later in the month. Could you please inform me when our unit crossed lthe Rhine?
10 Feb 2014 03:42:13 PM
need to know how many photos were taken of Patton crossing the rhine river and peeing into the river...a friend of my husband has one and would like to know how many exist and possibly the value. could anyone help me out????
30 Oct 2014 08:57:17 PM
My grandfather was a srgt for 250th 44-46 built the bridges over rhine and a few other spots.. We have hundreds of pictures and he is still able to answer any questions via facebook or email 313-269-2014 NEED TO FIND OTHER WW2 VETS THAT ARE STILL LIVING PLEASE
16 Jan 2015 06:14:58 PM
My grandfather (John Ewell Williams) was in this battle. He passed before I was born and the history through the family has been lost since. Supposedly he has numerous medals and achievements. I have also been told that after this battle he transferred to the army air corp. I would love and appreciate some advise on how I could find out about himself and his experiences surving our country.
1 Mar 2015 06:07:01 AM
The airborne assault by Montgomery as they crossed the Rhine was a foolish, disastrous move that gained little and lost many valuable lives. It was a risky move that risked the lives of troops. This was similar to the Operation Market Garden fiasco.
4 Mar 2015 06:09:12 AM
I am a little mystified as to why 'David (comment 14)' should think that Field Marshal Montgomery was responsible for the Rhine Airborne Operations. I am open to correction here but surely 1st Allied Airborne Army was under the command of Lieutenant-General Lewis Brereton reporting directly to SHAEF (General Eisenhower) and, although for Operation Varsity XVIII Corps was attached to 21st Army Group (1st Canadian, 2nd British and 9th US Armies), the actual planning for the Airborne element of the crossing is known to have been made by Major General Ridgeway's own Headquarters. Might I suggest that David do a little more homework before making misleading statements about subjects which, it is obvious, he has no clear knowledge.
4 Mar 2015 01:54:11 PM
I was with Gen. Patton. This entire story is false. He captured the Remagen Bridge but DID not cross, as he had no orders to.
Clifford B. Sherman
16 Mar 2015 07:30:25 AM
In reading my father's account of the 73rd Engineer Company Light Pontoon crossing of the Rhine near Alpin, he did not give a date. "We were in the middle of the whole thing, big guns firing over us, each side of us, in front of us..." "88 barrage" I would appreciate knowing the date of this assult.
19 Feb 2016 12:11:33 PM
My uncle, Albert Russell Mibb, from Chandlerville Illinois enlisted 09-08-1942, released date 12-13-1945 per Department of veterans AffairsBIRLS Death File. He was at the Battle of the Bulge & crossing of the Rhine. He was a member of the 84th Railspliters. I remember him talking about Patton, & nothing was good, how bad the weather was, conditions they were under, etc. No where do I find anything mentioned about the 84th Railspliters, were they part on another group?
3 Mar 2016 09:08:42 PM
Excuse me, but the Remagen bridgehead, beginning March 7th. Ring any bells?
21 Jun 2016 07:34:43 AM
Was the 5th infantry division, Red Diamonds ever in Berchlegaden, Germany where Hitlers Eagles Next is located near the Austrian border? According to my uncle, my dad was wounded there. My mom thought he was wounded in Frankfurt
22 Jun 2016 03:43:39 PM
My dad was in the 3rd Army 5th Infantry Div. Red Diamonds. He was wounded and lost his leg. His friend Leon Holderbaugh carried him to medic. Dad died in 1987 at the age of 66. Dad's brother, who was in Germany in 1944 & 1945. told me dad was wounded by a sniper with a 50 cal. in Berchlegaden near Hitlers Eagles nest a few miles from the Austria border approx 10 days before the war endedin 1945. Does anyone have any info about that area of Germany during the last days of the war.
25 Jan 2017 11:51:46 AM
the ordinary soldier was not allowed to go up hill at berchesgarden.because the officers wanted to loot the place themselves.off limits.the soldiers were very tired but happy because they were going to live.the reason the third division was there was because we thought the best german troops were going to make a stand in area,some crack ss troops
30 Mar 2017 04:21:05 AM
the brits cost the rine using Canadian troops north shore reg my 2 uncles would talk of this as the alied artillery were firing over them as they cross my uncle lost his hearing from the concision of the shells going over them the crack he sead was defining but a inspiring thought as thay took fire from the germin solders . but i cant pinpoint the crossing point
28 May 2017 04:58:58 PM
My great grandmother was just telling me that her husbands brother was killed during while holding the bridge in March of 1945, she isn't sure what day but his name was Robert Fulghum and I'm looking for any information on him I can find.
13 Aug 2017 03:35:36 PM
First, to Nate Bishop's note: if you got in touch with Bob Barrett at
he might be able to give you some feedback on 'Robert Fulghum' or put you in a good direction to get some information
I was interested in knowing if anyone on this blog knows about the French fight in Oppenheim. I am writing a book, and need the information.
Many thanks to all
6 Sep 2017 06:50:00 AM
The 150th engineer battalion was making the bridge as patton did commended them
11 Sep 2017 03:39:33 PM
My ex-husband's father's twin brother, Harry Hooper Mitchell, was killed in this push to the Rhine River, on March 15, 1945, as a part of the 3rd Army in the Saar Basin of the Rhine River. I would love to know who was serving in this area at this time.
13 Oct 2017 02:16:34 AM
History the first to cross the Rhine was not the Yanks it was the Brits at Arnhem by the back door retreat Spin doctor Dunkirk Spin doctor never admit defeat we are still doing it just a thought Respect to them all
23 Oct 2017 04:15:54 PM
Edsel Elmer Jones, Searcy Ar. Was one of a number who swam the river toestablish a beach head, was wounded that night when crossed back to retrieve his gear!
2 Feb 2018 02:55:51 PM
Karie Mitchell, My grandfather Andrew Jackson Collins was in a group of 10 that was hit hard by the Germans on March 15th, 1945 crossing the Rhine. We're trying to find more info as well.
8 Jul 2018 02:37:10 AM
my father akways said ( as a westminster dragoon tank driver) tht they were the 2nd across the rhine - is that true ?
2 Mar 2019 03:51:44 AM
The 2nd City of London Yeomanry (Westminster Dragoons) formed part of the 30th Armoured Brigade (Brigadier N.W. Duncan) in Hobart‚Äôs 79th Armoured Division. During the Northwest Europe campaign the Brigade was equipped with Sherman Crab mine-clearing tanks and so, is extremely likely to have been among the leading elements during the crossing of the Rhine, in order to clear routes through the enemy‚Äôs minefields on the far shore.
20 Mar 2020 12:21:07 PM
my brother was kia on March 26, 1945 crossing the Rhine at Worms, Germany. I have tried to find any information about that battle.
25 May 2020 02:11:52 PM
My Dad William H Hallowell served under Patton during War World II
Many years ago I saw a news paper rticle stating that some General had offered a cash award to first American Solider to cross the Rhine River The article said my dad William H Hallowell won that award I have since misplaced that article i wonder if anyone knows about this award of cash for being first American Solider fir crossing the Rhine River If you are aware of this please let me know since i have lost the article Thanks for your help John Hallowell
17 Dec 2021 05:40:55 PM
My dad Sanford Ernest Houser told us he delivered Patton his oars to cross the Rhine River. He was a truck driver. Birthday. Sept 23, 1916
29 Dec 2021 12:56:58 PM
My Uncle was John Mast. KIA March 31 1945. He was 2nd Armored Division, 67th Regiment, B Company. From the research I have done, I'm told he died in a Sherman Tank when a hand grenade was thrown into the tank while attacking the rail yard in Hamm Germany. He was over 6' tall and couldn't get out. He is buried in the US Military Cemetery in Margraten Netherlands. My email is attached if anyone has any other information. Thank You.
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Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, 16 Mar 1945
18 Sep 2008 08:47:33 PM
is it true that Gen.Patton was told to stop at the Rhine and let the Russians take Berlin first? need to know for my research...thank you...please answer