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The Battle of the Reichswald (Hardback)

Rhineland February 1945

Military Photographic Books WWII

By Tim Saunders
Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
Pages: 224
Illustrations: 80 black and white illustrations & 30 maps
ISBN: 9781399010863
Published: 3rd February 2023

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During winter 1944/45 few German officers believed that the Allies would attack the wooded Reichswald Plug on the narrow neck of land between the rivers Rhine and Maas. Consequently, relying on the natural defences of the forest, the vaunted Siegfried Line had been allowed to peter out. The 84th Infantry Division held field defences that had been worked on all autumn, but the defenders were thinly spread, and most German soldiers now faced the certainty of defeat.

Originally hoping to use the frozen winter ground for a speedy assault, days before Operation VERITABLE began a thaw set in and the Allies faced attacking in the worst possible ground conditions. On the morning of 8 February, after protracted bombardment, delays multiplied as vehicles became bogged in saturated fields and shell holes, and roads broke up under heavy armour. However, just enough assault engineer equipment reached the outer German defences, where they found the enemy infantry largely stunned by the bombardment.

It took all of the first day to break through the mud and defences into the Reichswald, while to the north, Canadians and Scots struggled across equally sodden open country with the Rhine floods rising fast. Despite the conditions, overnight the Canadians took to the flood waters to seize what were now island villages and the Scots dashed to capture the vital Materborn, which overlooked Kleve.

With heavy rain compounding difficulties, mud and flood waters made movement of men and supplies increasingly difficult. Despite this and the arrival of German reinforcements, the Allies fought their way forward, forcing the Reichswald Plug and opening the way into the Rhineland and the final phases of the war.

4 out of 5

In hia autobiography 'A Full Life' Sir Brian Horrocks described the Battle of the Reichswald as 'unquestionably the grimmest battle in which I took part in during the last war'. He goes on to quote Eisenhower who observed that 'probably no assault in this war has been conducted in more appalling conditions than this one'. It seems strange therefore, that so little has been written about it - particular as it was a critical element as far as the Allied drive across the Rhine and into the heart of the German Reich was concerned.

In this excellent book, the author, Tim Saunders, covers the first stage of the assault on the Reichswald (Operation Veritable) by the 51st Highland Division and the 53rd Welsh Division, both part of Horrocks' XXX Corps. in doing so, he blends four main sources of information to build a highly readable narrative. Extracts from war diaries, operational plans and other official sources are interposed between first hand accounts. The latter are rich in detail and really bring to life the ferocity of the fighting. To aid understanding the author has included a large number of maps and, in addition, the book is packed full of superb images - all carefully chosen and labelled so as to supplement the text. Also, there are side-panel explanations to help the lay reader understand the order of battle, tactical nuances and the logistics.

In reading this book, aside from gaining a better understanding of Operation Veritable, a few things struck me. First, the fact that although the end of the war was in sight, the German defence was resolute and effective, exacting a heavy toll on the attackers (over 15,000 Killed in action according to Horrocks). Second, the crucial role played by the Churchill tanks which were operating in very challenging ground conditions. Finally, the achievement of the Allied forces involved - who played a critical role in preparing the ground for a war winning thrust into the Rhineland. In summary, I would commend this book to anyone with an interest in the battle for North West Europe. It is easy to forget that the final year of the war in the West was not just about D-Day, Arnhem and the Ardennes.

GoodReads, Phil Curme

The book would be of great value to anyone planning a battlefield study or tour or staff ride.

Army Rumour Service (ARRSE)

I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in the detailed history of World War II.

Read the Full Review Here

The History Fella

About Tim Saunders

TIM SAUNDERS served as an infantry officer with the British Army for thirty years, during which time he took the opportunity to visit campaigns far and wide, from ancient to modern. Since leaving the Army he has become a full time military historian and has made nearly fifty full documentary films with Battlefield History and Pen & Sword. He is an active guide and accredited member of the Guild of Battlefield Guides.

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