The Crossing of the Rhine During this remarkable campaign farther south American armies had been closing upon the Rhine. On 7th March the First U.S. Army had the good fortune to take intact the railway bridge over the river at Remagen the bridgehead which they formed drew away a considerable number of surviving German formations and so aided other sectors. Still farther south the Third and Seventh U.S. Armies made steady progress in March and by the third week of the month the Allied armies stood on the Rhine throughout its long course. It was important that the German withdrawal behind the Rhine should be followed up as soon as possible and that a bridgehead should be gained from which operations to cutoff the industrial Ruhr and to enable an advance across northern Germany could be developed. The Rhineland battle was not completed until 10th March the date selected for the next major Allied operation was the 24th. The main attack across the Rhine was ordered on the front of the 21st Army Group the crossings were to be made between Rheinberg and Rees (covering the important communications centre of Wesel on the far bank) just north of the Ruhr industrial region. The U.S. Ninth Army was to be given the south sector and on the north under General C.M. Dempsey the attack was to be made by the British Second Army which had been outworking its method while the Canadian First Army fought the Battle of the Rhineland. In addition to the 8th 12th and 30th Corps the Second Army included for the opening of the operation the 2nd Canadian Corps and the 18th U.S. Airborne Corps which comprised the 6th British and 17th U.S. Airborne Divisions. On the evening of 23rd March more than 1300 British guns were inaction and the great battle began. At nine in the evening the 51st Division went to the attack across the Rhine on the British front and an hour later the 1st Commando Brigade attacked Wesel already almost laid flat by air bombing. Between midnight and two the next morning the 15th Division and the 9th Canadian Infantry Brigade (which came under the orders of the 51st Division) began to cross the river. The early assaults met with light opposition and quickly attained their objectives. While these ground forces were widening the territory which bridgeheads had controlled the airborne forces were forming up. The 17th U.S. Airborne Division came from France and the 6th British Airborne Division from bases in England. More than 1700 powered aircraft and 1300 gliders were employed to land these formations behind the bridgeheads the first parachute troops landed at ten in the morning of the 24th. Losses were relatively light in the early stages though anti-aircraft fire gave trouble later 55 transport aircraft and less than 4 percent of the gliders used were destroyed and the British Division lost 347 officers and men killed and about 700 wounded. Immediately after the initial phase 240 heavy bombers dropped 540 tons of petrol food and aivimunition—one days supply for the airborne divisions.
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