Operation Plunder

On the night of 23/24 March, after the XII Corps? assault of the Rhine, Bradley had announced his success. The 12th U.S. Army Group commander said that American troops could cross the Rhine anywhere, without aerial bombardment or airborne troops, a direct jab at Montgomery whose troops were at that very moment preparing to launch their own Rhine assault following an intense and elaborate aerial and artillery preparation and with the assistance of two airborne divisions.[16] Field Marshal Montgomery was exhibiting his now legendary meticulous and circumspect approach to such enterprises, a lesson he had learned early in his North African duels with Rommel and one he could not easily forget. Thus, as his forces had approached the east bank of the river, Montgomery proceeded with one of the most intensive buildups of material and manpower of the war. His detailed plans, code-named Operation Plunder, were comparable to the Normandy invasion in terms of numbers of men and extent of equipment, supplies, and ammunition to be used. The 21st Army Group had 30 full-strength divisions, 11 each in the British 2nd and U.S. 9th Armies and eight in the Canadian 1st Army, providing Montgomery with more than 1,250,000 men.[16] Plunder called for the 2nd Army to cross at three locations along the 21st Army Group front—at Rees, Xanten, and Rheinberg. The crossings would be preceded by several weeks of aerial bombing and a final massive artillery preparation. The heavy bombing campaign, known as the Interdiction of Northwest Germany, was designed primarily to destroy the lines of communication and supply connecting the Ruhr to the rest of Germany. The main targets were rail yards, bridges, and communication centers, with a secondary focus on fuel-processing and storage facilities and other important industrial sites. During the three days leading up to Montgomery's attack, targets in front of the 21st Army Group zone and in the Ruhr area to the southeast were pummeled by about 11,000 sorties, effectively sealing off the Ruhr while easing the burden on Montgomery's assault forces.[17] Montgomery had originally planned to attach one corps of the U.S. 9th Army to the British 2nd Army, which would use only two of the corps? divisions for the initial assault. The rest of the 9th Army would remain in reserve until the bridgehead was ready for exploitation. The 9th Army's commander—Lt. Gen. William H. Simpson—and the 2nd Army's Lt. Gen. Sir Miles C. Dempsey took exception to this approach. Both believed that the pla squandered the great strength in men and equipment that the 9th Army had assembled and ignored the many logistical problems of placing the Ninth Army's crossing sites within the Second Army's zone.[17] Montgomery responded to these concerns by making a few small adjustments to the plan. Although he declined to increase the size of the American crossing force beyond two divisions, he agreed to keep it under 9th Army rather than 2nd Army control. In order to increase Simpson's ability to bring his army's strength to bear for exploitation, Montgomery also agreed to turn the bridges at Wesel, just north of the inter-army boundary, over to the 9th Army once the bridgehead had been secured.[17] In the southernmost sector of the 21st Army Group's attack, the 9th Army's assault divisions were to cross the Rhine along an 11 mi (18 km) section of the front, south of Wesel and the Lippe River. This force would block any German counterattack from the Ruhr. Because of the poor road network on the east bank of this part of the Rhine, a second 9th Army corps was to cross over the promised Wesel bridges through the British zone north of the Lippe River, which had an abundance of good roads. After driving east nearly 100 mi (160 km), this corps was to meet elements of the 1st Army near Paderborn, completing the encirclement of the Ruhr.[17] Another important aspect of Montgomery's plan was Operation Varsity, in which two divisions of the XVIII Airborne Corps were to make an airborne assault over the Rhine. In a departure from standard airborne doctrine, which called for a jump deep behind enemy lines several hours prior to an amphibious assault, Varsity?S drop zones were close behind the German front, within Allied artillery range. Additionally, in order to avoid being caught in the artillery preparation, the paratroopers would jump only after the amphibious troops had reached the Rhine's east bank. The wisdom of putting lightly armed paratroopers so close to the main battlefield was debated, and the plan for amphibious forces to cross the Rhine prior to the parachute drop raised questions as to the utility of making an airborne assault at all. However, Montgomery believed that the paratroopers would quickly link up with the advancing river assault forces, placing the strongest force within the bridgehead as rapidly as possible. Once the bridgehead was secured the British 6th Airborne Division would be transferred to 2nd Army control, while the U.S. 17th Airborne Division would revert to 9th Army control.