Setting: Rhine River, Wesel, Germany; 23/24 March 1945
The Crossing of the Rhine on 23/24 March 1945 consisted of three related operations
- ‘Operation Plunder’ – the overall amphibious crossing by British troops
- ‘Operation Widgeon’ – a subordinate operation by 1st Commando Brigade to capture and hold Wesel
- ‘Operation Varsity’ – the subordinate airborne operation involving the 17th US and 6th Airborne Divisions. .
Operation Plunder started at 1800 hours on 23 March with a barrage of 5,500 guns along the 35 km front, and bomber raid on the city of Wesel (250 Lancaster and Mosquito bombers dropped over 2,000 tons of HE on the 23rd, let alone the the raid the previous day).
The 51st Highland Division led the river crossing at 2100 hours with Canadians crossing later 6.5 km south of Rees. General Patton had earlier put the US Infantry across the Ludendorff railway bridge at Remagen – a day earlier than planned – thus drawing off German reinforcements and reducing the opposition to the main British landings.
The 1st Commando Brigade kicked off Operation Widgeon 1.5 km north of Wesel. Their objective was to take and hold a compact area of Wesel including the large “Wire” factory in the north of the town; the intention being to deny the Germans the routes through the town hence disrupt any counter-attacks on the bridgehead. To this end the Commandos were to abandon their initial landing point and make directly for the town. Only in the morning were they emerge again to clear a route back to the Rhine thus allowing the follow up force – the Cheshire Regiment – to reinforce them.
The preliminary of Widgeon was a bomber raid on Wesel at 1730 hours by Boston medium bombers of the RAF. At 2200 hours the guns of British XII Corps opened up on the Commando’s landing point in the mud flats at Grav Insel. The Brigade comprised No 3 and No 6 (Army) Commandos and No 45 and No 46 Royal Marine Commandos. Sappers were responsible for the Storm boats, mine clearing, and establishing routes on the eastern bank. The Brigade Tactical HQ along with B and Y Troop of No 46 RM Commando led the way in the four Buffalos available – their task to seize a bridgehead at Grav Insel. With the initial wave unloaded the Buffalos returned for the second wave of No 46. Off the River bank the first main obstacles were two Watermen’s houses about 500 metres inland across the flooded plain where some German batteries were sheltered. B Troop of No 46 RM Commando successfully took the left hand house whilst A and Z Troops overran the second house a few hundred metres toward Wesel.
Meanwhile No 6 Commando launched a diversion in Storm boats from a point 1.5 km to the north (downstream); several outboard motors on the noisy Storm boats packed up and the Dories whalers were used to rescue the occupants and those from boats sunk by German artillery fire. None-the-less No 6 Commando stormed ashore and within 20 minutes were sending back their first German prisoners before heading along the river bank to join the main force at Grav Insel.
While No 3 and No 45 Commandos were crossed to Grav Insel in their own Buffalos, No 6 pushed on toward Wesel with a tape laying party marking the route. They reached the outskirts of Wesel at 2230 hours just in time to see the RAF’s second raid of the day, this time by Lancaster Heavies. Despite the devastation this caused – most of the houses were destroyed – the surviving Fallschirmjaeger (from 2 Fallschirmjaeger Division) were determined to fight it out. After an hour or so of heavy fighting ensued as the Commandos fought their way into the suburbs of the town.
By midnight No 3 and No 45 Commandos were across and headed for Wesel so No 46 RM Commando followed them. This meant they narrowly missed a heavy concentration of enemy artillery as the German high command finally realised the Commando attack was not a feint.
By 0100 hours on the 24th the entire Brigade was in the centre of Wesel and had started to dig in. At 0200 hours No 45 RM Commando’s reached their final objective for the night – the large “Wire” factory in the north of the town. Much to their amusement they discovered the “Wire” factory actually produced toilet seats! Their amusement didn’t last long as they came under sporadic fire from a German self-propelled gun located in a cemetery. Later further engine noise was heard in a copse where several roads met near the same cemetery. The artillery of XII Corps plastered this area and relative quite – broken only by occasional fighting patrols of either side – lasted until morning.
Because Wesel blocked German routes into the British bridgeheads, at 0500 hours the German high command ordered all available Panzers to attack the town at dawn. As it happens the attack didn’t go into until 0900 hours. Waves of grenadiers backed by Panzer IVs and StuGs attacked the dug in commandos. The German infantry assaults were stopped by Bren and Sten fire, however the attack really failed because the Panzers were overly cautious – not being sure of the level of artillery support the commandos could bring to bear. The commandos were still successfully holding out at 1000 hours when the paratroopers appeared overhead.
Operation Varsity – launched at 1000 hours on 24 March – was the largest and last single day airborne action of the war. 17,000 airborne troops were landed and required 1,572 aircraft, 1,326 gliders and 900 fighter to transport them. The troops dropped in the Wesel area were from the US 17th Airborne Division. They were link up with the Commandos in Wesel and together hold the town until 1400 hours. .
This scenario simulates the landing of the 1st Command Brigade, the defense of Wesel by the Fallschirmjaeger, and the Commandos efforts to hold Wesel against counter attacking Panzer Grenadiers.
Key features are:
- Long western side of the table represents the bank of the Rhine.
- Town of Wesel in the east-centre of the table. Has about 40 building sectors.
- The “Wire” factory in the northern edge of Wesel – a 6 sector building complex.
- Two Waterman’s houses in the west-centre of the table, with about 2 feet between.
Capture Wesel and hold Wesel until 1000 hours on 24 Mar.
Before the game starts the British Brigade Commander (either a nominated player or a committee of players) must choose:
- Two sections of the western table edge as the Brigade Landing Zones (LZ). Each LZ is 18″ long. All British forces will appear at one or other of these LZ. The LZ are revealed to the German player only when the first stands appear.
- The in which order the troops arrive and at which LZ they arrive at.
- The timing of the Lancaster raid on Wesel, e.g. 2230 hours.
- The targets for all PPB of the Lancaster raid on Wesel
The British player initially has three troops of the 1st Commando Brigade on table. These can be any combination of HQ, Support or Commando troops.
1st Commando Brigade
1 x RC (+2)
1 x SMG Squad
2 x FO for off table Corps Heavy Artillery (8 FM each)
4 x Commandos (No 3, No 6, No 45 RM, No 46 RM)
1 x BC (+2)
1 x SMG Squad
1 x FO for off table Corps Medium Artillery (12 FM)
1 x on-table 2″ mortar
1 x FO and on-table 3″ mortar
2 x HMG
5 x Commando Troops
1 x CC (+2)
2 x Rifle Platoons
1 x PC (+2)
2 x Rifle Squads (1 squad / platoon has a Piat)
Command and Control: as Germans
Begins scenario with initiative. The three on-table Troops all appear at one or other of the LZ.
Only Three troops of 1st Commando Brigade are on table at the start of the game and the remaining elements the Brigade arrive at a rate of three Troops each friendly initiative. The troops may be of any type i.e. HQ, Support and/or Commando. It is up to the British Brigade Commander in which order the troops arrive and at which LZ they arrive at. Arrival time and location must be determined before the game starts.
Hold Wesel at the end of the game.
- The target locations of the PPB. All must be within 1′ of the western table edge.
Elements of 180th Infantry Division: including attached Fallschirmjaeger (presumably the 20th Jaeger Regiment).
1 x Fallschirmjaeger Company (Veteran)
1 x Grenadier Battalion (Green) with …
1 x IG company
1 x PC (+1)
3 x FO and on-table 7.0cm IG (optional truck or horse limber)
1 x FO and on-table 15.0cm IG (optional truck or horse limber)
24 x Wire sections
2 x Bunker (2 Squad)
4 x Minefield
As many entrenchments as required (up to number of stands)
All German squads – including any reinforcements – have early Panzerfausts. One squad per Platoon (the red dot guy) has a late Panzerfaust.
Deploys first. The Fallschirmjager must deploy within Wesel and the Grenadiers outside. All wire and bunkers are deployed visible as are any entrenchments in the open. Troops are hidden. Mines can be hidden or visible at the discretion of the German player .
Wesel blocked the route of any German reinforcements headed for the British bridgeheads, so was the focus of considerable German attention building up to a massed Panzer attack in the morning. The German player checks for reinforcements at the start of their initiative immediately after the moving clock advances, but only after 0700 hours. At that time throw twice to determine what arrives, i.e. two lots of reinforcements might arrive at the same time. Each type of reinforcement has a maximum associated; if the maximum is reach and that type is rolled for again, then nothing arrives.
|3-4||1 x Grenadier Rifle Company||6|
|5||Support Company / Battery||1d6||Specialisation||Max|
2 x Wespe
1 x FO for Wespes
1 x FO for off-table 15.0mm IG (4 FM)
1 x FO for off-table 7.5cm IG (12 FM)
3 x HMG
1 x FO for off-table 81mm mortar
|6||Tank or Assault Gun||1d6||Specialisation||Max|
|1-3||2 x StuG III G||2|
|4-5||2 x Panzer IV G||2|
|6||1 x Panther||2|
All reinforcements are Regular.
The reinforcements arrive at a random location. If two lots of reinforcements arrive at the same time, then they arrive at the same location:
|1||Northern table edge|
|2||North half of long eastern table edge|
|3-4||South half of long eastern table edge|
|5-6||Southern table edge|
Use Terrain objectives.
Allied player wins if they have more fighting stands (i.e. not PC or FO) in Wesel than the Germans do. Otherwise it is a German victory. .
Scenario Special Rules
- Special Rule: Turns is in use. The clock advances one turn (30 min) on a 5+ at the end of each German initiative.
- The Fallschirmjaeger cannot leave Wesel until either they are attacked by Commandos or until the Lancaster raid has occurred.
- The Lancaster raid on Wesel is represented by 60 PPB on targets designated at the start of the game. .
- German artillery only opened up in this sector when the German command were convinced the commando landing was not a feint. This is represented by 20 PPB on features within 1′ of western table edge.
- Use Planned Operational Zones for multi-player.
This scenario is based on the following material:
Allen, P. (1980). One More River: The Rhine Crossings of 1945. London: J. M. Dent and Sons.
British Commandos at this period of the war would have looked much like their standard infantry compatriots with tin hats and battle dress. The cap comforter was long gone, but some guys would have worn the Green Beret.