Operation Veritable: The Battle for the Rhine at the Close of World War Two

Peter Curry

4 mins

12 Nov 2018

Operation Veritable was one of the last battles of the Western front of World War Two. It was part of a pincer movement, designed to cut into Germany and to push towards Berlin, occurring a couple of months after the Battle of the Bulge.

Veritable represented the northern thrust of this pincer movement, spearheaded by British and Canadian forces.

It was designed to destroy German positions between the River Maas and the River Rhine and to break through between these two rivers, allowing the formation of a front along the Rhine with the 21st Army Group.

This was part of General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s “broad front” strategy to occupy the entirety of the Rhine’s west bank before bridging over.

Churchill tanks of 34th Tank Brigade towing ammunition sledges at the start of Operation ‘Veritable’, 8 February 1945. Credit: Imperial War Museums / Commons.

Poor weather and delays

German forces managed to flood the River Roer to such an extent that the U.S. forces in the south, carrying out Operation Grenade which was the southern half of the pincer, had to postpone their assault.

The fighting was slow and difficult. Poor weather meant that the allies could not use their air force effectively. The Reichswald ridge is a remnant from a glacier, and consequently when it becomes wet, it easily turned to mud.

While Operation Veritable was ongoing, the ground was thawing and thus largely unsuitable for wheeled or tracked vehicles. Tanks frequently broke down in these conditions, and there was a distinct lack of suitable roads that the Allies could use for armour and troop supply.

Churchill tanks of 34th Tank Brigade in the Reichswald during Operation ‘Veritable’, 8 February 1945. Credit: Imperial War Museums / Commons.

The lack of useful roads was exacerbated by soft ground, which armour could not roll across easily without sinking, and deliberate flooding of fields by German forces. Roads that were usable were quickly torn up and broken up by the excessive traffic that had to carry during Allied assaults.

A note from one Allied report reads:

“The state of the ground caused great problems… The Churchill Tanks and the bridge layers managed to keep up with the infantry but the Flails and Crocodiles were immediately bogged down after crossing the start line.”

General Dwight Eisenhower remarked that “Operation Veritable was some of the fiercest fighting of the whole war, a bitter slugging match” between Allied and German forces.

When the Germans noticed the inhibited Allied mobility, they quickly set-up strongpoints on the roads that could be used, making advances even more difficult.

Attempts to use armour in isolation during Operation Veritable generally saw heavy casualties, which meant that armour had to be combined with and preceded by infantry at all times.

One commander noted much of the advance was dictated by fighting between infantry units, stating, “it was Spandau versus Bren the whole way through.”

A column of Churchill tanks and other vehicles at the start of Operation ‘Veritable’, NW Europe, 8 February 1945. Credit: Imperial War Museums / Commons.

Tactical changes

One way the issue of flooding was circumvented was by using Buffalo amphibious vehicles to move through the flooded areas.

Water had rendered minefields and field defences ineffective, and isolated German forces on artificial fortified islands, where they could be picked off without counter-attack.

Another adaptation was the use of flamethrowers attached to Churchill ‘Crocodile’ tanks. Tanks equipped with Wasp flamethrowers found that the weapon was extremely effective at forcing German soldiers out of their strongpoints.

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According to Steven Zaloga, the mechanical flamethrowers, which were not exceedingly impressive in their own right, scared the German infantry, who feared them more than any other weapon.

In contrast to flamethrowers carried by infantry, which were exposed to bullets and shrapnel that threatened to explode their tanks of liquid fuel at any point, flame tanks were difficult to destroy.

The Churchill ‘Crocodile’ stored the liquid container behind the actual tank, making it no riskier than a standard tank.

The container could be easily attacked, but the crew remained secure inside the tank itself.

German soldiers perceived flame tanks as inhumane contraptions, and were liable to treat captured flame tank crews with far less clemency than they might other crews.

A Churchill tank and a Valentine Mk XI Royal Artillery OP tank (left) in Goch, 21 February 1945. Credit: Imperial War Museum / Commons.

The execution of ‘flametankers’ was frequent, and this reached an extent where British troops received sixpence a day on top of their salary as ‘danger money’ due to this threat.

Operation Veritable was ultimately successful, capturing the towns of Kleve and Goch.

Canadian and British forces faced fierce resistance and suffered 15,634 casualties during Operation Veritable.

German troops incurred 44,239 casualties during the same period and were commended for their ferocity and fanaticism by Generals Eisenhower and Montgomery, respectively.

Header image credit: Infantry and armour in action at the start of Operation ‘Veritable’, 8 February 1945. Imperial War Museum / Commons.