Operation Torchlight

This was the British crossing of the Rhine river in the area of Xanten (24/25 March 1945).

The task was undertaken by Major General C. M. Barber’s 15th Division of Lieutenant General N. M. Ritchie’s XII Corps, a formation of Lieutenant General Sir Miles Dempsey’s 2nd Army within Field Marshal Sir Bernard Montgomery’s Allied 21st Army Group, and began at 02.00 on 24 March within the overall context of ‘Plunder’.

The assault in the Xanten sector was made by two brigades of the 15th Division, the four battalions used being carried across the river in Buffalo amphibious tracked carriers and in assault boats. On the right the two-battalion attack proceeded according to plan, the battalions’ first objectives being secured before first light. The German defence of this sector lay in the hands of Oberst Siegfried Kossack’s 84th Division, which was a depleted formation signally inferior to Generalleutnant Wolfgang Erdmann’s 7th Fallschirmjägerdivision opposing the two battalions of the left-hand brigade. The latter were also faced with an awkward ground hazard, for 1.5 miles (2.4 km) of the eastern bank of the Rhine river in that sector were stone-pitched and the Buffalo vehicles could not climb them. The battalion assaults were therefore widely separated and the men following in assault boats were more exposed to fire and suffered accordingly. Thus the left-hand brigade’s first objectives were still being contested at first light.

The brigade’s situation was then radically improved by a massive bombing attack on the forces the British battalions were facing, and by the general loosening of the German defence as the Rhine river front started to crumble as a result of other attacks to the north and south, and the success of the ‘Varsity’ airborne operation. Thus the brigade joined forces early in the afternoon with Major General E. L. Bols’s 6th Airborne Division, while Major General William M. Wiley’s US 17th Airborne Division and commandos also made contact.

The 15th Division’s left-hand forces fought hard all day and were firmly established only late in the day at the neighbouring villages of Haffen and Mehr as the result of an attack by the reserve brigade, helped by the Sherman DD amphibious tanks which crossed the river on the right and attacked from there. But the Germans held firmly at the stream to the east of Mehr. Work started on all three bridges over the Rhine river for the sector and the first light bridge had been completed before 24.00.