Crossing the Rhine.

Discussion in 'Home' started by Trux, Sep 13, 2018.

  1. alberk

    alberk Well-Known Member

    Hello Mike,
    I happen to have some information on that - this is based on US sources and describes arrangements to deal with US casualties of 17th Airborne Div. The arrangements for British casualties were separate from these and are an aspect I need to research further.

    So let's have a look at British DUKWS ferrying American casualties.

    Please take a look at this photo. To the left of digger Bridge you see a bay that was known as "Bislicher Hafen" ("Bislich harbour"). This was the starting point on the east bank for DUKWs ferrying casualties across the river.
    Luftbild Brücke_BU 2423.jpg
    The DUKWs are taking the casualties to an exit point on the far (western) bank to the left of the tree lined road (the only road leading to the river). This road was vital for other traffic going from the west bank to the east bank. So the DUKWs are driving through the meadows towards another major road (horizontal in this picture) in the background - one can see the tracks of their wheels leading to the top of the picture. This was the Reichsstrasse No. 57. One can also make out a wood in the top left corner of this photo. There, in the wood by the road, in a place named Birten, I know that the US Army's 499th Collecting Company operated a collecting point for US casualties of 17th Airborne Division. These were picked up from a US Army holding station on the east bank run by 643th Clearing Company - the clearing station was set up near Görzhof in a meadow on the edge of the village of Bislich. Starting at 1215 hrs on Sunday 25 March the DUKWs transported US casualties from there to the Rhine and across the river to the US collecting point described above. Each DUKW takes 10 stretchers - at 1345 hrs the first US casualties arrive at the collecting point - und are subjected to triage. On March 26th all US casualties fit for transport have been taken across the Rhine - a total of 959 US soldiers were taken across by the DUKWs. By mid-morning US ambulances are using the bridge for evacuations to the west bank, another 522 casualties are transported across the river by these vehicles. the DUKWs are put to a different use: At 1500 hrs on Monday, 26 March they support US efforts to take 210 German casualties to the US clearing station on the west bank at Birten.
    Last edited: Aug 9, 2021
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  2. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

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  3. alberk

    alberk Well-Known Member

    Stolpi, thank you ... not so much Varsity, but two rather good aerial pictures of Rees with bridges, which means later than March 24th, 1945
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  4. Trux

    Trux 21 AG

    Class 9 raft operations.
    Equipment for Class 9 rafts is carried forward and placed in camouflaged hides. As soon as the situation allowed the Commander Royal Engineers orders the equipment and field engineers forward to the planned Class 9 ferry site. The pontoon sections are mounted on skids and towed to the river bank by halftracks.

    The Close Support Raft was developed in to carry vehicle across water obstacles in the early stages of an assault river crossing. The design used the experience of a variety of earlier rafts which used a variety of components from other bridging systems. It was designed specifically as a raft and was not intended for use as a bridge. Its features were claimed to include:
    Light road way bearers which were easy to manhandle.
    Rapid construction using few personnel.
    Ease of operation with a small crew.
    Shore loading in that it had ramps and did not require landing stages or prepared landing sites.
    Free ranging in that it could be powered by propulsion units and was not limited to one crossing point.

    The Close Support Raft used MkV or MkV* pontoons with a specially designed saddle. The pontoons were mounted on wooden sledges with steel runners so that when unloaded from the pontoon lorries they could be towed across country by any armoured tracked or half tracked vehicle. Four road bearers were each assembled from two sections and fitted to the pontoons. Ramps were fitted at each end. The ramps were connected by cables so that when one ramp was lowered the other was raised. It was possible for the vehicle being carried to operate the ramps by driving slowly on to them but it was generally wiser to send a man. One mans weight was sufficient to operate the system.

    Although designed to be easily assembled it took some four hours to construct.

    Rafts were powered by standard propulsion units fitted to the pontoons. These consisted of a petrol engine which drove a propeller unit through a flexible drive. Steering was by turning the propeller unit using a hand wheel. Since the raft had two propulsion units steering required careful coordination since each unit was manned separately.

    The Close Support Raft was Class 9. This meant that it could normally take four wheeled vehicles up to 9 tons but could carry six wheeled vehicles and tracked vehicles of greater weight. This included all the tactical vehicles of an infantry battalion plus armoured cars, halftracks, D4 dozers and Quad tractors with 17pdr anti tank guns. Although two pontoon piers were normally used it was possible to add a third pontoon pier. This did not increase the capacity but did give a greater freeboard and allowed an extra propulsion unit to be fitted.

    The first rafts across the river carried a far bank party of engineers plus tools and logs to make a simple landing stage. It might also be necessary to make or improve a track for vehicles to use from the landing point to an assembly point.

    Typically a ferry site operated four rafts which could each make three trips an hour and thus carry a total of about twelve vehicles an hour. Until bridges are built this is the only way of carrying 15cwt trucks, halftracks and 3 ton lorries across the river. Individual rafts may be used to carry vehicles across the river before the ferry site is fully operational. This is usually at about H+4.

    Transport was by 3ton 6X4 pontoon bridging lorry from the RASC Corps Bridging Company. These were unloaded in the bridge assembly area before being moved forward on their sledges.

    There was concern that RE personnel would not be able to handle these rafts in the free running mode. The speed of the flow of water in the Rhine made such a clumsy raft very difficult to manage and demanded a high level of seamanship. A particular difficulty was that when approaching the far bank the raft had to be turned sideways to allow vehicles to disembark. The flow of water near the banks was often slower but there were eddies, often unpredictable.

    The alternative to free running rafts would have been to have a hawser across the river. The raft would be attached to the cable by running gear. It still used its own propulsion units but the crew would not need to worry about being carried downstream by the current. Ideally each raft would need its own cable which meant a good deal of preparation and therefor more time before it could be operational. It was possible to run more than one raft on each cable by using a quick release attachment but operation would then be slower.

    Class 9 rafts were moved to the Waiting Area near the bank and the first were called forward at 0230 hours. On the right hand site rafts were down to the waters edge by 0330 hours and two rafts were operating by 0630 hours. The other two rafts had been brought down to the river but had been knocked out by enemy shelling. Reserves were called up and a third raft was operating by 1030 hours and the fourth later in the day. On the left hand site a bank reconnaissance party found the enemy dug in on the flood bank. Although the first raft was completed by 0315 hours enemy fire held up further construction and therefor to the start of ferrying. At 0900 hours work was resumed. Three boats had been damaged but a ferry service was started by 1215 hours although some loads had crossed earlier.

    By 2100 hours on D+2 the right hand ferry had carried 611 vehicles. On the left 435 had been carried by 1200 hours on D+2.

    See Post No 74. The video clip shows Class 9 rafts in operation from 1 minute 33 seconds. This makes handling the raft look easy but the censors would not allow a newsreel to be shown if it reflected badly on the armies efforts. One can see the flow of water, even near the bank. The number of personnel belies the claim that it was easy to operate with a small crew. There hardly seems room for any more men on the raft and there are shore parties as well. An interesting collection of vehicles being loaded. I cannot identify them all.

    Class 9 raft.jpg

    This photo is probably posed but shows some interesting details. The vehicle being loaded is a Morris self propelled 40mm Bofors LAA gun. On the pontoon one can see a man stationed at the propeller unit ready to turn it in order to steer. Behind him is the petrol engine which powers the propulsion unit. The raft is moored to the posts on the bank. The man at far right is holding the cable which operated the ramps. One can see the access ramp leading up the bank and on top of the bank are two pontoon lorries carrying the components for another raft. Actually three are needed.

    Class 9 raft 2.jpg

    A Bedford QL LAA tractor being landed from a Class 9 raft. The raft is being held against the flow of the river my men hauling on ropes with a turn taken round a post.

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  5. Trux

    Trux 21 AG

    Class 50/60 Raft Operations.
    The role of the heavy ferry was to ferry armour in support of assault river crossings. They would be the only means of getting armour across a river, apart from the assault DD amphibious tanks, until Class 40 Bailey Bridges could be built. Given the width and the current of the Rhine this would be some time. A first priority would be for self propelled guns, especially anti tank guns, followed by tanks and specialist armour.

    The pontoons for the Class 50/60 Raft were large (35 foot by 8 foot 6 inches), heavy and difficult to handle. Normal means of transport was on a special launching trailer towed by a Matador tractor. On this occasion the Matadors were borrowed from heavy anti aircraft units which were positioned around Antwerp and unlikely to move. Movement on congested roads was difficult and movement across country almost impossible. The Class 50/60 pontoons were placed in hides further back than those of the other ferry equipment. The final approach to the river was made by the pontoon launching trailers being towed by Churchill AVRE, which would also be used as anchors. Armoured Recovery Vehicles were standing by along the route to give assistance if needed.

    The Class 50/60 raft was shore loading, having its own ramps, and did not require a landing stage. For the Rhine crossing it was not practicable for it to be free ranging and it was operated by ferry cables between landing places. Five pontoons formed a Class 60 raft while four could form a Class 50 raft. A Royal Engineers troop could build one in 2 ½ hours. On this occasion all rafts were Class 50.

    Pontoons with superstructure already fitted were launched from their trailers. The trailer was parked on a slope on the bank and the winch brake released. Gravity did the rest. Pontoons were positioned alongside each other by ropes, poles and manpower, The side panels were lifted upright and stays erected to hold them in place. The pontoons could then be quickly fastened together and ramps assembled and fitted.

    The time consuming part of the operation was setting up the various cables which were needed. The Class 50/60 raft was too heavy to be used as a free ranging ferry and had to be tethered to restraining cables and towed by winches. H Wing of 79 Division devised a system of winching the rafts using RAF Wild balloon winches and 3 inch cable. The RAF loaned 36 winches complete with operators and other personnel. Twelve of the winches were mounted on Buffalo for operations on the far bank.

    The raft was operated by having ferry guide cables across the river and firmly anchored at each end. The length of cable and the flow of the river were such that the cable needed anchoring and tensioning. This was done by having an AVRE attached to it. The RAF winches could then haul the raft backwards and forwards.

    The rafts operated in pairs at four sites and were in continuous use for three days and nights. Since each ferry was operating continuously six ARRE squadrons plus a field company RE were required in order to provide relief crews.

    The raft could carry one Sherman, one Churchill, one M10 self propelled anti tank gun, two Kangaroos or two halftracks. It was often possible to carry a smaller armoured vehicle at the same time although this would slow down the operation. Rafting was slow. Each site of two rafts could handle nine major vehicles an hour, less at night.

    Armoured vehicles were called forward from the Marshalling Area along a tank track, which might in part be the LVT track, to an Armour Waiting Area. This was an area just off the tank track and handy to the Class 50/60 Ferry site into which armoured vehicles are fed. Its purpose is to provide a small cushion of vehicles which prevents the ferry from ever having to wait for a load and which also enables the maximum number of vehicles to be held back out of the congested forward zone in comparative security.

    The site chosen for the Class 50/60 ferry was still under observed enemy fire at dawn and the CRE 42 Assault Regiment was unable to start the necessary detailed reconnaissance until mid morning. The equipment was then called forward and began to arrive at the site at 1300 hours. Rafting began that evening and then continued for 45 hours. A total of 311 tanks and self propelled guns were carried across. One raft was damaged in a low level bombing raid on the night of 24 to 25 March.

    Class 50.jpg

    A Class 50/60 pontoon being moved forward. It is being towed by an AVRE which will be used as an anchor for the ferry cable. Note that the ferry superstructure is already erected and one can see the raft connectors on the top girder. An Armoured Recovery Vehicle is standing by to give assistance.

    Class 50 2.jpg

    A good view of a raft being loaded. In the left foreground is the RAF Wild barrage balloon winch. The operator is protected by a metal mesh cage in case the cable breaks. The whiplash would be serious. In the right foreground is the AVRE anchor vehicle. The ferry cable can be seen running through the rollers on the front right hand corner of the raft. An Archer self propelled 17pdr anti tank gun is being loaded.

    See the video clip in Post 74. At 3 minutes and 50 seconds we can see a balloon winch in operation. An armoured D7 dozer is standing by. Presumable this has been used to create the ramp and access track and is waiting in case repairs/improvements are needed. At 5 minutes we can see a raft setting off. Note the large crew, several of which are wearing life jackets. Elsewhere we can see lines of vehicles waiting to cross on the ferry, including a line of flame thrower Churchills.


    Class 50 60 raft.jpg

    I Googled Class 50/60 Raft and this picture came up. This is my very own model of the raft and it is still sitting safely in my model cupboard.
    Last edited: Aug 11, 2021
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  6. Trux

    Trux 21 AG

    Class 9 Folding Boat Equipment Operations.
    ‘Draghunt Bridge’.

    The Folding Boat Equipment provided a means of rapidly providing a bridge which would carry most of the vehicles in an infantry division. Rated at Class 9 it could carry a loaded 3ton lorry. The basic bridging unit was a raft composed of two folding boats with 19foot 9inch of roadway. These rafts could be joined together to form a bridge officially up to 240 foot long but the one built over the Rhine was more than 1,300 foot long.

    Construction of ‘Draghunt Bridge’ started at 1300 hours on 24 March, having being delayed by enemy action. It was completed in ten hours because the component rafts had been assembled earlier. This was the first bridge to open, at 2300 hours but after only three hours it was damaged and put out of action for 13 hours. Even so it provided a means of passing traffic over the river long before the sturdier Bailey Bridges were ready.

    It was realised that such a long FBE bridge would need a great deal of maintenance. It was planned that it should be closed for eight hours out of twenty four for maintenance. A considerable amount of extra equipment was available and a number of spare rafts were kept ready assembled.

    Folding Boat Equipment was carried on specially designed 6 X 4 lorries. Each such lorry carried sufficient equipment for one raft. Three platoons from a Canadian Bridging Company RCASC, with a total of ninety lorries were held in the Marshalling Area before being called forward along the vehicle track to a Class 9 FBE Bridge Marshalling Area. From there sections of six vehicles were called forward to the bridge site. The sites on each bank, and the access roads, had been prepared by engineers and marked by Bank Control.

    The folding boat was constructed of three pieces of half inch plywood. There was a bottom piece and two side pieces attached with canvas. When folded the sides lay flat along the bottom. When erected with the sides vertical the bottom curved upwards at each end. The boat is then flat bottomed with a pointed bow and stern. In the bottom of the boat were bollards for securing ropes and there were fairleads on the bow and stern. These were needed for towing, mooring, anchoring and positioning the boat or raft. There are detachable rowlocks to be used with oars for rowing or steering. These were nor suitable in strong currents.

    Lorries were unloaded by hand and the boats opened out and carried to the assembly site. Other components were also carried by hand to the site. As each section of lorries was unloaded it returned to the Marshalling Area until it could be cleared to move to the rear.

    At least twelve men were required to open a boat. Five men stood on each side, avoiding the vulnerable ends of the boat. They should pull the gunwales steadily upward and outward. Two men standing in the boat ease the two spreaders into the clamps on the gunwale. The spreaders were folding V shaped tubes which were fastened to the floor of the boat and when raised the outer ends fitted firmly into the clamps. Twelve men were also required to carry the boat. For short distances the rope carrying handles were used.

    Once at the site the boats and stores were laid out in the order in which they would be needed. This should be on the downstream side of the actual bridge position. The two boats were laid near the bank and with bows towards the water. Four I section girders were laid out pointing towards the bank. Decking sections were laid out behind the girders. On each side of the above arrangement were the boat stores. Each boat having five oars, a boathook, a mop, a bailing can, an anchor, ropes, a buoy, mooring pickets and a maul for hammering them into the ground. All ropes and lines should be made up and ready for use. Canvas dodgers may also be available to prevent water washing over the upstream end of the boat.

    Boat stores were placed in the boats and all men assist in launching the boats into the water. It may be necessary for some men to enter the water to assist but they will have rubber waders which come up to the chest. The first lesson of boatmanship is to never let go of the mooring lines. The boats should be secured parallel to the bank using pickets placed ten foot upstream and downstream from the boats.

    The I section bearers will now be placed in position starting with the upstream one. They fit into sockets on the boat gunwales. The inner boat will be held stationary while the outer boat will be pushed further out into the water until the ends of the bearer are correctly located. The other bearers will now be fitted, starting with the downstream one to keep the raft rigid. The wooden decking sections can now be fitted between the I section bearers.

    The raft is now ready to be towed into position. As each raft was completed it was moved to the end of the bridge and connected to it. Normally small motor boats or spare folding boats with outboard motors were used but on the Rhine Royal Navy landing craft were used. Landing Craft Vehicle and Personnel were used to tow FBE rafts. They could also be used to carry equipment and personnel to the far bank and to lay out anchor cables.

    The raft was towed upstream. Attempting to tow downstream is a big ‘no no’ as many amateur boaters can attest. Since there are no brakes any attempt to stop towing when going downstream will only result in the craft continuing at the speed of the flow and having lost steerage way it will career out of control. Before the raft reaches its correct position a motorboat should have laid an anchor upstream. The raft will be towed upstream of its position in the bridge and be either passed a line from the anchor, or pick up the anchor line from a previously positioned buoy. The crew will gradually pay out the anchor line and thus be carried slowly downstream. Further lines, boathooks etc will now move the craft to its connection with a previously positioned raft and raft connectors fitted. These connectors join the rafts firmly while allowing some flexibility.

    The FBE bridge required a trestle stage at each end to link the rafts with the shore. The trestle consisted of two legs which had holes four inches apart. A sturdy transom was supported on the legs and the height could be adjusted by moving supports which fitted into the holes in the legs. A saddle was fixed on top of the transom. This had sockets to accept standard FBE bearers and roadway. The legs needed to be firmly resting on the river bed which had to be firm, level and free from obstructions. A circular shoe was fitted to the bottom of the leg. Finally the legs were braced with adjustable struts which ran from the top of the leg to anchoring spikes on the bank. To support the water end of the trestle stage and connect with the bridge rafts a single FBE boat was used.

    Once complete the bridge was controlled by the Bank Control organisation. There was a Control Post on each bank. Vehicles were called forward from the Marshalling Area to a Vehicle Waiting Area where officers and military police checked that no vehicle was over Class 9. In fact they turned away vehicles which looked as though they might be approaching Class 9. Despite all warnings and instructions there were always those who thought a few extra items would not matter, or who did not particularly care.

    The FBE bridge was always somewhat fragile. Many of its parts were liable to be damaged if subjected to the stress of an overweight vehicle. The spreaders were one weak point since they were liable to bend when subjected to stress. They were quite easily replaced but this could only be done by closing the bridge to traffic. More serious damage usually meant removing a complete raft and replacing it with a reserve unit.

    The shore trestles were a particularly vulnerable point. At 0200 hours on 25 March, only three hours after construction had been completed and the bridge opened, traffic congestion led to too many vehicles being on the bridge and exceeding its weight limits. Trestles near the bank collapsed and 22 floating bays of bridge, more than 400 foot, broke away. Some bays sank and others dragged their moorings. Restoring the bridge took some time since although there were some replacement bays standing by ready assembled there were not sufficient. More equipment had to be brought forward and assembled. The collapsed trestles had to be removed and replaced and new moorings laid out. Repair work took longer than the original construction and the bridge was out of action for much of the day, reopening at 1515 hours.


    Last edited: Aug 17, 2021
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  7. twinotterpilot

    twinotterpilot Active Member

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  8. Trux

    Trux 21 AG

    I was about to ask if anyone had good photos of the actual FBE bridge, especially under construction. That is a gap in my collection.

    Last edited: Aug 17, 2021
  9. Trux

    Trux 21 AG

    Bailey Bridges.

    Xanten on XII Corps front was an ideal bridging point for access and exit. The first bridges were completed here since the site was comparatively safe from enemy interference. It was largely protected by the airborne troops in front, XXX Corps on the left and Commandos and US forces on the right.

    The following bridges were constructed in XII Corps area.

    Draghunt Bridge.
    This was a Class 9 Folding Boat Equipment Bridge built by XIII Corps Troops Engineers.

    Sussex Bridge.
    A Class 12 tactical Bailey Pontoon Bridge built by XII Corps Troops Engineers.

    Digger Bridge.
    A Class 40 tactical Bailey Pontoon Bridge built by 7 Army Troops Engineers.

    Sparrow Bridge.
    A Class 40 all weather Bailey Pontoon Bridge built by 15 GHQ Troops Engineers. It was 1,713 foot long. Construction started on the morning of 27 March and took six days to complete. It was a more permanent bridge which replaced the previous two. It was later extended by an approach bridge and approach road to speed the passage of traffic. Although still Class 40 vehicles were not so restricted by speed and spacing as on the tactical bridges. It would be able to continue in use if the water level rose and the river flooded. This bridge is outside the scope of this study.

    British troops also had the use of bridges built by 9 US Army at Wesel.

    Bailey Pontoon Bridge Operations.

    There were initially two Bailey Pontoon Bridges planned for 15 Division’s front. They would later be replaced by a sturdier Class 40 Bailey Pontoon Bridge.

    Sussex Bridge.
    A Class 12 tactical Bailey Pontoon Bridge built by XII Corps Troops Engineers. The site for this was not ideal since the river was wide and the there was an ox bow in the way. It was planned in two sections totalling 1,940 feet long. The section crossing the Rhine itself was 1,580 foot long and a 360 foot section crossing the secondary obstacle. This bridge was to carry support troops and then wheeled transport. Construction started at 0800 hours on 24 March but shelling of the site and mishaps during construction meant that completion was delayed until 0900 hours on 26 March, nearly a day late.

    The site for this was not ideal since the river was wide and the there was an ox bow in the way. The bridge was planned in two sections, a 1,580 section over the Rhine and a 360 foot section over the ox bow. It was planned that the bridge would be open by H+53. Class 12 could carry most vehicles except tanks and heavy artillery.

    Digger Bridge.
    A Class 40 tactical Bailey Pontoon Bridge built by 7 Army Troops Engineers. It 1,091 foot long. Construction started at 0930 hours on 24 March and it was completed at 1600 hours on 25 March. 44 Brigade’s rapid advance allowed work to start here earlier than expected and the bridge was open nearly 36 hours before the time forecast. Tanks which should have crossed the river on Class 50/60 rafts were in the event able to use the bridge instead.

    The Bailey Bridge became almost a universal bridge equipment, capable of being used in a wide variety of roles and replacing all other equipment except the FBE in forward areas. It could be built in an infinite variety of lengths and load classes. It could be built by almost any engineer unit and could be built without machinery. It could be carried in standard 3ton GS lorries.

    Bailey diagram.jpg

    This diagram is intended to show the various components of the Bailey Bridge. The end posts, transom seats, base plate, bearings, outer row of panels and bracing frames are only used for the shore spans, connecting the floating bays to the shore.

    The basic unit of the Bailey Bridge was a 10 foot length using the following components:

    A steel panel 10 foot by 5 foot 1 and fastened together with standard panel pins. Panel pins were hammered by the hammerman into the holes in adjoining panels. The pin was then secured with a clip.

    A steel I Girder transom which was clamped to the panels using transom clamps. Usually two transoms were used for each panel but four could be used where extra strength was needed. Transoms had five sets of lugs on the top surface to locate the roadway stringers.

    Five stringers, each consisting of three connected girders, were laid across the transoms. The two outside stringers had buttons along the outside edge to locate the roadway chesses.

    Chesses were of wood and were 12 foot long and 8 ¾ inches wide. These were laid across the stringers and located by the buttons on the button stringers.

    Ribands, 6 inches by 6 inches and 10 foot long held the chesses in place.

    Rakers, not shown on the diagram but fixed near the end of the transoms and to the side panel, stiffened the whole structure. Sway braces could be fitted under the roadway but thee were not needed on the floating sections.

    Footwalks could be fitted either side of the bridge. Bearers 3 foot long were fitted to each end of the transom. Footwalks were 10 foot long by 3 foot wide and made up of 6 inch wide strips of wood 3 inches apart and fasten by four battens. Handrails could also be fitted.

    Bailey parts.jpg

    Ramps were used at either end of the bridge. These were 10 foot long but two could be fitted together and rested on a transom.

    A key part of the pontoon Bailey bridge was the centre pontoon section. This was specially designed for the Bailey bridge. Of similar design to the end pontoon sections it had strengthened gunwales with slots to accommodate the side panels of the bridge. Of course it also provided extra flotation.

    The end pontoon sections could be the MkV which was fully decked or the MkVI which was of simpler construction with largely open deck.

    The tripartite floating pier with a MkV section, a Bailey centre section and a MkVI section. Total length was 60 foot. All sections were constructed of plywood on a steel frame.


    Bailey pontoon bridges needed a landing bay at each end to connect the floating bays to the bank. This was a length of ordinary Bailey bridge as described above but it was constructed on the shore, resting on rollers. Ten foot lengths were added to the end and the whole bay gradually pushed towards the river. The river end of the bay will rest on a landing bay transom. The shore raft will be of four pontoons connected by a distributing girder to spread the load. The landing bay will need to be of double single construction, having a second girder of panels outside the first girder. This is because there is no other support.

    Bailey 2.jpg

    Work on the far bank started at the same time as that on the near bank, the stores and materials being carried across on RN landing craft.

    Bridging equipment was transported by a Bridging Company RCASC. Pontoons were carried on a special body mounted on a 6 X 4 3ton lorry. Mobile cranes were available to unload the pontoons, which otherwise required a considerable amount of manpower. At this date the pontoon body had folding towers to make unloading by crane easier. The older pattern had four fixed towers which were used to lift the uppermost of the two pontoon sections carried so that the lower one could be unloaded by manpower. The upper pontoon was then lowered to be unloaded. This was slow and expensive in manpower. Vehicles carried either two end pontoons or two Bailey centre pontoons. Usually a section of six lorries carried eight end pontoons and four centre pontoons. Most loads were calculated on the basis of a 40 foot length of bridge.

    Other components were carried in standard 3ton GS Lorries. Each lorry could carry twelve panels. A section had lorries loaded with standard loads of panels, other heavy items, decking, trackway for approaches etc.

    Lorries were called forward as required to Bridge Vehicle Marshalling Areas from where they were fed forward to Bridge Marshalling Harbours near the bridge sites. Equipment was unloaded by Royal Engineer personnel and laid out in a set pattern for assembly. Pioneers might be used for laying out and carrying components.

    Assembling Bailey raft sections for a Class 40 bridge.
    A Class 12 bridge used the same method but the rafts were much longer and the extra length in a fast flowing river could cause problems.

    Two tripartite pontoons were lowered into the river by mobile crane or launched down ramps. They were moored parallel to the bank, one outside the other. Sappers carried side girder panels and placed them on the centre section of each of the pontoons. Positioning them on the innermost of the two grooves. The panels were held upright while transoms were fitted. When each pontoon had a section of bridge in place and fastened together the outer pontoon was pushed out from the bank. A third section of bridge was then constructed on the inner pontoon. When this was complete the outer pontoon was pushed out until the side panels were correctly located for securing with the anchorage blocks. Decking and raft connectors were fitted then the complete raft was towed into position by a RN landing craft.

    Normally a small motor tug based on a pontoon design was used for towing but in this case they were not sufficiently powerful. These tugs were useful for laying anchors and other support tasks.

    Bank seating and approach roads were prepared by Royal Engineers.

    Once open the tactical Bailey Bridges could be used continuously unless there were accidents or damage caused by enemy action. Spare rafts were held in readiness to effect immediate repairs.

    Once complete the bridge was controlled by the Bank Control organisation. There was a Control Post on each bank. Vehicles were called forward from the Marshalling Area to a Vehicle Waiting Area from where vehicles were fed over the bridge in a continuous and uninterrupted flow. Engineer personnel, unit officers and Military Police ensured that weight limits, speed limits and vehicle spacing were adhered to. REME detachments stood by to remove any broken down vehicles.

    After D+4 The Bank Control organisation was replaced by normal Movement Control and Military Police Traffic Control units. By this time all ferries had ceased operating and the bridges handled all movement.

    Bailey A.jpg

    Unloading pontoons from the 3 ton 6 X 4 pontoon lorries. Officer on the left is Lieutenant General Ritchie, Commanding XII Corps. Note the officer wearing a hussar side cap. (This photo has been printed the wrong way round).

    Class 12.jpg

    Class 12 Bailey bridge.


    Photos follow.
    Last edited: Aug 21, 2021
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  10. alberk

    alberk Well-Known Member

    Unfortuntaly, I do not know of any pictures that show Draghunt Bridge under construction. I have not seen one yet.
    All I have is this picture of an FBE9 constructed at Rees. You probably will know this one...
    One does hope they are watching their fingers...
    Last edited: Aug 20, 2021
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  11. alberk

    alberk Well-Known Member

    That same bridge at Rees ("Waterloo Brigde") on a Canadian photo:
    Brücke mit Fahrzeugen.jpg
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  12. Trux

    Trux 21 AG

    Thank you Alberk. Nice photos that illustrate the components.

    Would you like to add a link to your thread. It is complimentary, covering the same events in the same area but with a different slant.. My computer skills are not good enough to do it.

    Last edited: Aug 20, 2021
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  13. alberk

    alberk Well-Known Member

  14. Trux

    Trux 21 AG

    Good close up photos of bridges in XII Corps area seem to be difficult to find. Even the BOAR study of XII Corps in Plunder uses a photo of a bridge in XXX Corps area.

    I seem to have covered all the items that I promised in Post 5 on June 19th. In fact one remains, 1 Commando Brigade and Operation Widgeon. This will be posted soon. I hope to give brief details of 1 Commando Brigade on the right flank, XXX Corp on the left flank and the airborne landings in front of 15 Division.

    There are also some bits and pieces gathered since I began this thread, including those kindly sent to me by forum

    Perhaps Stolpi would like to add a link to his monumental work on XXX Corps.


    Nearly time to return to my study of the full dress uniforms of the Britsh Army (including the Indian Army) circa 1900. I may even have time to paint some more toy soldiers (sorry- military miniatures). A change is as good as a rest as my old Grandma used to say.
  15. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Last edited: Aug 21, 2021
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  16. Trux

    Trux 21 AG

    Thank you all.

    I hope the moderators are noting this fine example of friendly co operation and willingness, even eagerness, to share resources.

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  17. alberk

    alberk Well-Known Member

    stolpi - who created the excellent map you posted above?
  18. Trux

    Trux 21 AG

    1 Commando Brigade Assault.
    Operation Widgeon.

    1 Commando Brigade consisted of;
    3 Commando
    6 Commando
    45 Royal Marine Commando
    46 Royal Marine Commando
    Plus under command:
    1 Cheshire Regiment from 115 Brigade.
    84 Field Company RE. Stormboats.
    One squadron, less one troop, 52 Reconnaissance Regiment. For Bank Control.
    One anti tank troop 52 Reconnaissance Regiment.
    One anti tank platoon 4 Northamptonshire Regiment from 115 Brigade..
    One Machine Gun Company 7 Manchester Regiment (MMG).
    Plus in support:
    77 Assault Squadron RE. LVT Buffalos.

    Commandos were originally formed as raiding troops and were not capable of holding positions for long periods unaided. They were well equipped with automatic weapons and light mortars but lacked any heavy weapons. For this operation the brigade was given some anti tank protection in the form of 6pdr guns, one troop from 52 Reconnaissance Regiment and one troop from 4 Northamptonshire Regiment. The Commandos own medium machine guns were supplemented by one company from 7 Manchester Regiment (MMG). 1 Cheshire Regiment were under command as a reserve and would have their own anti tank guns and mortars. 84 Field Company was under command, to man the stormboats. There were also the usual Forward Observation Officers RA who could call on a substantial amount of artillery support. After the initial bombardment 1 Commando Brigade could call on two Field Regiments, one Mountain Regiment, two Medium Regiments and one Heavy Battery of 7.2” guns.

    Commando organisation was always flexible. Although the War Establishment is clear it is known that not all personnel and weapons were used in any particular operation and when used as infantry the commando was issued with vehicles well above the establishment.

    An Army Commando consisted of a Headquarters with an administrative section, a transport section and an intelligence section, five troops each of two sections, a heavy troop with a 3” mortar section and a K gun section. Total strength was 24 officers and 440 NCOs and other ranks. Vehicle establishment was thirty five bicycles, twenty two jeeps, eight 15cwt GS, a 15cwt water and three 3ton GS.

    Headquarters contained 7 officers and 85 men. The Commanding Officer was a Major.

    The Heavy Troop had a headquarters of 2 Officers and 4 men, a 3” Mortar Section with 17 men and 3 3” mortars, and a Machine Gun Section with 16 men and 3 Medium Machine Gun. Jeeps and drivers were attached from headquarters to carry weapons and ammunition.

    Each of the five troops had a headquarters with a Captain, Troop Serjeant Major, medical orderly, runner with wireless set No38, a 2” mortar with two crew and a PIAT with 3 crew.

    Each troop had two sections each commanded by a Lieutenant and consisting of two assault sub sections and one support sub section. Each Assault Sub Section had a serjeant and a corporal, a five man rifle group and a four man Bren group. The Support Sub Section had a corporal, a sniper and a three man 2” mortar team.

    The anti tank troop from 52 Reconnaissance Regiment had four 6pdr antitank guns. The anti tank platoon from 4 Northamptonshire Regiment had six 6pdr anti tank guns. These guns were towed by Universal Carriers. Guns and Carriers could be carried in LVT IV.


    A map showing the area in which 1 Commando Brigade crossed the Rhine and advanced towards Wesel. Wesel is just off the map to the right.

    21 Army Group and 2 Army plans laid down that a key task was the capture of the communication centre of Wesel so that the river could be bridged by 9 US Army and a supply route over the Rhine be opened. The road bridge over the Rhine had been destroyed but the good road links on either side of the river remained. Following from this the Commander XII Corps considered that the whole corps operation depended on the assault on Wesel being successful. The plan called for the earliest possible capture of Wesel, which was likely to be strongly defended but the river at that point did not allow a large scale assault. A river meander of the Alter Rhine on the near bank and a tributary river, the Lippe, and a canal on the far bank restricted the frontage. It was decided to use 1 Commando Brigade and thus leave the available divisions intact.

    It was decided that airborne forces would land comparatively close to the start line of the assault in order to widen and extend the bridgehead as quickly as possible. Following from this it was decided that the airborne forces would land after the ground assault. 1 Commando Brigade was to secure Wesel and the bridges over the River Lippe and then hold the eastern and southern exits to the town until relieved by US 17 Airborne Division. At this point 1 Commando Brigade came under the command of US 17 Airborne Division.

    Given the importance of the early capture of Wesel by the Commando Brigade it was decided that this assault should take place at 2200 hours. This gave time for final assembly and preparation to take place in darkness. The Commando Brigade would have the full effort of the artillery bombardment.

  19. Trux

    Trux 21 AG

    The Assault.
    The Commando Brigade launched their assault at the opposite end of the British front at the same time as 51 Division launched theirs. 46 Royal Marine Commando crossed in Buffaloes of 77 Assault Squadron RE, followed by 6 Commando in stormboats. As soon as possible the Buffaloes returned to ferry 45 Royal Marine Commando and 3 Commando.

    The brigade moved to its concentration area on the night of 20/21 March.

    6 Commando followed in stormboats and the LVTs ferried 3 Commando and 45 Commando across as soon as possible. The leading troops of the brigade were on their start line for the attack on Wesel when at 2230 the town was attacked by 200 heavy bombers of Bomber Command. This lasted some 15 minutes during which most of the town was destroyed. Most civilians had been moved out since it was obvious that an attack would be launched, although exact time and place were unknown. The start line was 1000 yards from the area to be bombed. This was the standard distance which was kept between forward troops and air bombardments or ground support sorties to avoid causing casualties to own troops.

    By first light 24 March the Commandos were in the town and had taken 400 prisoners. There remained considerable mopping up to do but Wesel was secure. When it was light 1 Cheshire Regiment crossed the river in LVTs and joined the Commando Brigade. In the afternoon a ferry operation was started and the vehicles of 1 Cheshire crossed.

    46 RM Commando.
    It was hoped that the LVTs of 77 Assault Squadron RE could carry 46 RM Commando directly across the river, taking the shortest route and taking the enemy by surprise. On the evening of 23 March 1 Commando Brigade Headquarters and 46 RM Commando boarded the Buffalo LVTs of 77 Assault Squadron RE in Ginderich. At 2200 hours 46 Commando in the LVTs moved forward, climbed the bund and entered the water. The crossing took place under cover of a heavy artillery barrage and the commandos established themselves on the far bank with very little opposition.

    Ten minutes before the LVTs were scheduled to set off the supporting artillery laid down an intense barrage on the far shore to soften up the enemy and prevent them from interfering with the four minute crossing. This was largely successful but there was some return fire and one Buffalo was hit and all but four of its occupants lost. The remainder reached the far shore and climbed out using their machine guns to further deter the dazed defenders.

    The two leading troops, ‘B’ and ‘Y’, advanced towards their objectives. There was some resistance but the strongest was at two watermen’s cottages which had been fortified. One was located some 600 yards from the river and was taken with light casualties. The second was some 400 yards further east and was only taken when men from the follow up troops, ‘A’ and ‘Z’, joined the attack. A flak position was also taken and the area between the river and the Alter Rhine was cleared.

    6 Commando.
    6 Commando had a much more difficult time. The stormboats were difficult to handle. Ideally they should be loaded in sheltered water and then allowed to drift from the shore before the outboard motors were started to avoid the propeller either hitting the river bed or tangling in weed. The engines were anyway somewhat difficult to start and required careful handling. Normally they would be handed to infantry crews but here they were manned by sappers from 84 Field Company. It was decided that they should not be launched and started in the river but in a small backwater some 2000 yards downstream from the landing place. The boats started their engines and made their way down the creek towards the river. Unfortunately outboard motors are very noisy and they attracted enemy fire. The boats pulled into the side of the inlet near the river and loaded the Commandos under fire. At 2200 hours the boats set off on the long oblique crossing. Many boats were sunk by enemy fire and several suffered engine failure. Fortunately rescue boats had been provided but these were small dorries from the bridging column. However most of 6 Commando reached the far bank and reached their assembly point. They then headed eastwards, crossing behind 46 RM Commando, to be in position to enter Wesel after the heavy bomber raid. On the way they and accompanying engineers cleared mines and marked the clear route with tapes.

    At 2015 Bomber Command Pathfinders flew over Wesel and dropped marker flares. The main bomber force arrived at 2230 and dropped 1,100 tons of high explosive. As the last bomber left 6 Commando moved forward to complete a safe route into the town for the other Commandos. Some sources say 97 per cent of Wesel was destroyed but the defenders had survived and were ready to defend the town.

    The LVTs which had carried 46 RM Commando across the river had returned and carried 3 Commando and 45 RM Commando. These followed the route marked by 6 Commando and joined in the clearing of the town. In the meantime the enemy had ordered an artillery concentration to be fired on the far bank. By that time most of the Commandos had already passed to the east and onto Wesel. The barrage disrupted supply lines etc. but had no effect on the assault on the town.

    By midnight the whole of 1 Command Brigade was involved in clearing Wesel. By 0100 they had reached the centre of the town and set up defences. There were some enemy troops trapped between the town and the River Lippe to the south but these were to weak to mount a serious counter attack. The main threat was from the north and 45 RM Commando was sent to capture a wire factory on the north east outskirts of the town This was a known resistance point but was taken by 0200 and then 45 RM Commando set up defensive positions which were strengthened by anti tank guns and machine guns.

    During the night there were two counter attacks. The first was made by infantry supported by a self propelled gun. This attack was halted but the gun continued shelling throughout the rest of the night. Later a small armoured force assembled in a wood north of the town but was heard and located by the Commandos who called for artillery support. This was quickly delivered and there were no more counter attacks that night.

    While 45 RM Commando held the northern perimeter the other three Commandos cleared the remainder of the town and swept any remaining enemy into a pocket against the River Lippe in the south.

    1 Cheshire Regiment.
    At daybreak on the 24th Cheshire Regiment were carried across the river in LVTs. This was a normal infantry battalion, larger and better equipped with weapons and vehicles than were the Commandos. They were ferried across the river near the destroyed railway bridge. This was nearer to Wesel than was the original across crossing point. In the afternoon a LVT ferry service was started and the vehicles of 1 Commando Brigade and 1 Cheshire Regiment began to cross.

    In the early hours of 25 March the enemy again launched a strong counter attack against the north east sector of Wesel, supported by self propelled guns. This was repulsed by 45 RM Commando with artillery support. Heavy shelling was delaying the LVT ferry service and thus delaying the arrival of heavy weapons. By this time the LVTs had been operating continuously for more than 24 hours and the crews needed rest and the machines needed maintenance.

    On 24 March the US 17 Airborne Division had landed as planned but not without difficulties. They had taken over the defence to the north of Wesel. Now the US 507 Parachute Infantry Regiment was ordered to make firm contact with 1 Commando Brigade and this link up happened at 1330 and at 1400 command of 1 Commando Brigade passed to XVIII Airborne Corps.

    46 RM Commando in the south of Wesel made contact with US troops south of the River Lippe. These had crossed further down the Rhine and worked their way downstream. At 2100 Wesel was declared cleared of the enemy. Some 800 prisoners had been taken.

    Work now started on clearing a route through Wesel. This would be used when the US Army built their bridge over the Rhine to Wesel, using the approach road for he destroyed road bridge. Initially this bridge would be used mainly by 2 Army, with the US Army having the use of it for six hours a day.

    52 Reconnaissance Regiment. Bank Control.
    Reconnaissance regiments were often used for traffic control and crossing control on rivers. In the early stages of a river crossing they were not required in their primary reconnaissance role and so were available. They had several attributes which made them ideal, they were mobile, they were accustomed to working in small detachments under NCOs, they were accustomed to taking responsibility and showing initiative, they were skilled in the use of wireless and well provided with wireless sets and they were skilled in map reading and route finding. Some would add they were more intelligent than the average.

    Under 1 Command Brigade they had the tasks of controlling traffic on the near bank, controlling the crossings and controlling traffic on the far bank. Assault troops crossed in formed units under their own officers. After the initial assault Bank Control were responsible for calling personnel and vehicles forward to crossing points. As part of this role they had to be in contact with the units operating ferries etc. and call forward serials so that there was never congestion but never a delay. Near Bank Control had to maintain contact with Far Bank Control since there was no point in despatching serials for which there was no room on the far bank and far bank needed to know what serials were about to cross so they could guide them on their way.


    Troops of the Cheshire Regiment landing from LVTs. This is being done 'by the book'. The LVTs are on the waters edge and the men disembark over the front of the vehicle.


    Commandos in the ruins of Wesel. Presumably posed. American photographers were known to take action shots in the front line but the British were more sensible.

    Last edited: Aug 24, 2021
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  20. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Commando Widgeon.jpg

    Commandos Wesel.jpg
    An artist's impression of the Commandos crossing the Rhine at Wesel: 10 p.m., March 23rd, The 46 Royal Marine Commandos cross the Rhine on Buffaloes and capture Wesel; the Rhine 1945 (courtesy: Commandos Crossing the Rhine at Wesel; Second World War)

    I also found this link useful: Wesel - Operation Widgeon | ͏

    I often consider the Rhine Crossing as a 'D-Day' on the Rhine. Except for the size, Operation Plunder and Overlord, both look remarkably similar. A major crossing with four 'beaches' (Rees, Xanten and two American south of Wesel), a 'Point-du-Hoc' (the commando attack on the town of Wesel) and Airborne landings, not on the flanks as was the case in Normandy, but in the center.
    Last edited: Aug 24, 2021
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