Operation Widgeon - 46 & 45 Cdo RM Crossing the Rhine
Unit/ Formation: 45 Cdo RM Location: Wesel Period/ Conflict: World War II Year: 1945 Date/s: Friday, March 23, 1945
Operation Widgeon utilised 1st Commando Brigade in a crossing of the River Rhine opposite Wesel, twelve hours before the American 17th Airborne and the British 6th Airborne Divisions landed on higher ground to the north of the town.
Wesel had to be captured as it was a German communications centre and a strong point that unless seized could jeopardize the British 2nd Army and American 9th Army crossings of the Rhine on either side of the town.
Widgeon was a success, primarily because of the prior detailed planning and intensive training performed by the Commandos and the aggressive tactics used by them as soon as the river was crossed.
Brigadier Mills-Roberts summarised his plan: 'I decided to send 46 Commando over first in the Buffaloes and go with them with a small Brigade Headquarters. No. 46 had to capture the bank of the river and 6 Commando – which would be next ashore from the storm boats – had to sweep up the river bank and enter Wesel. The other two commandos would be brought across the river by the Buffalo ferry.'
As can be seen by the citations for the eight gallantry awards made to Commandos, leaders at all levels anticipated contact with the enemy and dominated the battlefield before many German soldiers knew what was happening.
45 Commando, under ‘Lieutenant Colonel Gray, who was following up rapidly behind the leading unit who had broken into the city, he passed through and debouched into the streets’. The commandos fought their way through the rubble towards the factory on the northern edge of the city.
Lieutenant Bryan Samain of E Troop 45 Commando RM describes the scene:
We advanced in single file along both sides of a main street running north, which we hoped would bring us to our final positions. There were a lot of supposedly dead Germans lying about here, and just as Colonel Gray and his headquarters party neared the corner of the street to turn north for the wire factory – our final position – a ′dead′ German (we later identified him as belonging to the SS) suddenly rose to his feet and fired a Panzerfaust at point-blank range.
The result of this sudden onslaught was that two of the headquarters’ men were killed, Colonel Gray wounded in the arm, and nearly everyone in the immediate vicinity knocked off their feet by the force of the explosion. Feeling very angry, we emptied a magazine of Tommy gun bullets into the German soldier, and into every subsequent ′corpse’, we saw lying around. Moving up to the wire factory 45RM Commando took over the lead and led the Brigade to the northern edge of the city.
Navigation was not easy because of the rubble from wrecked buildings that often filled the streets. Despite the heavy bombing many partially dazed German defenders bravely fought back. The Brigade was not large enough to control all the city so a defensive strip was located in the northern and north-western suburbs with the aim of preventing enemy movement in or out of Wesel.
45 Commando occupied a large wire factory and the other Commandos came into line on the left (west) in the order 46, 3 and 6. Behind No. 6 Commando, in the order of march were the Royal Marines of 45 Commando, under ‘Lieutenant Colonel Gray, who was following up rapidly behind the leading unit who had broken into the city, he passed through and debouched into the streets’. The commandos fought their way through the rubble towards the factory on the northern edge of the city.