Having broken the resistance of the German divisions, the Allies reached the Rhine by February-March of 1945. This river could reach 500 meters in width and was the last serious barrier before the industrial regions of Germany and its capital, Berlin.
The objective of the 21st Army Group commanded by the British Field Marshal Montgomery was to encircle the Ruhr industrial area from the north. The commander concentrated over 700,000 men, over 5000 tanks and SPGs, over 4000 guns, and enormous amounts of fuel, ammunition, and other equipment on the western shore of the Rhine. The Allies had more than a tenfold advantage over the Germans in every respect, but Montgomery did not expect a walk in the park. The German army was a deadly wounded beast.
First Assault on Binnen
On the night from March 24th to 25th, after a powerful artillery barrage and series of bomb strikes, Montgomery gave the order to cross the Rhine. The Allies had plenty of boats and were well covered by artillery, so even the advance units crossed with minimal losses. The crossing was illuminated by special projectors set up on the west shore of the river and tanks with special lights. Bridgelayer tanks followed APCs full of infantry, which helped amphibious Sherman Duplex Drive tanks to climb on shore. Having captured several large footholds, the Allies began building bridges and cleaning up the remainder of the German resistance.
In the 1st Canadian Army sector, infantrymen of the 9th brigade and soldiers from the highland regiments came ashore: Highland Light Infantry, Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders, North Nova Scotia Highlanders, and the 7th Argyle Highlanders Regiment. A German stronghold in Binnen was in their way, defended by elements the 16th Fallschirmjager and 115th Panzergrenadier regiments, 600 troops in all with several AT guns, mortars, and StuG III SPGs are mobile reserves. The Canadians that assaulted the village numbered 800.
As the infantry drew closer to the village, the Germans recovered from the artillery strike. Resistance started to build up. By the morning of March 25th, the soldiers from the 7th regiment occupied several buildings near the village, but did not enter Binnen proper, covering the right flank of their neighbouring regiment.
The first attack on Binnen began on March 25th at 6:40 AM. The Canadian infantry was supported by Shermans from the Staffordshire Yeomanry regiments and 25-pdr (87.6 mm) howitzers. The Canadians that atacked from the south came under firs from machineguns, mortars, and hidden AT guns. Two tanks were knocked out. The Canadians managed to reach the closest embankment, climb up, and capture the German trenches, but they were suppressed by machinegun fire and could not advance to the village. The soldiers on the embankment had perfect positions to correct their artillery, but it would not fire: they were some 100 meters from highlanders that broke through and didn't want to risk friendly fire.
Two StuGs opened fire from the eastern side of the village. Three Shermans rushed to help. The lost this duel: one tank was knocked out, one bogged down, and the crew of the third fled. Lieutenant Colonel Forbes evaluated this frontal attack as unsatisfactory and ordered his soldiers to fall back.
From Two Sides
Forbes planned his next attack. Engineering teams would create a smokescreen to prevent German artillery and machineguns from aiming. The same units would attack under the cover of the smoke. Aside from the frontal attack, Forbes decided to attack Binnen from the left flank, using fresh forces. In order to make this possible, two platoons of highlanders (about 40 men) were sent to capture nearby Gritterbusch. The flanking groups would then clear the village from Germans.
In order to hide their presence, the soldiers gathered at the embankment. However, German mortar crews spotted this rotation and opened fire. The biggest danger to the attackers were German soldiers, hiding in the trenches with machineguns and grenade launchers.
Private J. Cameron performed an act of heroism. He came close to the enemy trench and threw in two grenades, killing four Germans. On the way back to his positions, he was shot in the back.
While the battle on the flank raged on, the rest of the forces gathered behind the smokescreen. With help from Wasp flamethrower carriers, they captured several buildings on the outskirts of Binnen. The Wasps could spit flame over 50 meters, killing Germans hiding in buildings or trenches. Thanks to their armour, the highlanders managed to deal with machinegun nests in two stone three-storey houses.
In the village, the Canadians were bogged down in urban combat against the Germans, who were set up in every house. Step by step, the highlanders were moving towards the center of Binnen, clearing out pockets of resistance, but taking heavy losses. Over 100 Germans were taken prisoner.
Counterattack and Capture
The commander of the German grenadiers decided to attack, ordering three SPGs and 150 infantrymen into battle. The counterattack began in the evening of March 25th around 7:00, starting at the Emmerich settlement. The grenadiers and StuGs were supported by artillery.
At first, the Germans managed to buckle the highlanders and destroy some vehicles. One Wasp was destroyed by a StuG, another by grenadiers. Then, the StuGs engaged the Shermans. The battle was at a short range, only 40 meters. Two Canadian tanks fired first, but their shells went too high. The experienced German crews calmly shot up the unlucky Shermans. Five Archer tank destroyers armed with powerful 17-pdr (76 mm) guns came to their aid.
A duel between German and Canadian SPGs began. One of the Archer commanders recalled: "The German tank was driving right at us, and could fire at any moment. I yell to my gunner: "Fire!" The first shot hit the gun mantlet and the SPG was engulfed in smoke." The second StuG was also knocked out, but likely by artillery called up from the opposite shore of the Rhine.
The Allies often used a fire control method called "time on target". This technique gathered fire from all batteries in the vicinities and, if possible, aircraft. This time, several dozen guns rained fire on the German defenders, including powerful 180 mm ones. Over seven minutes, Canadian artillerymen fired over 1400 rounds.
The artillery barrage suppressed the German counterattack and helped the Canadians fortify their new positions. Binnen was finally cleared in the middle of March 26th. The highlanders, aided by tanks and flamethrowers, cleared out the last of the German resistance, mostly snipers and machinegunners.
The Canadians lost 44 men dead and 68 wounded in the battle. The German losses were much higher: 230 dead and 200 captured, most of which were wounded by shrapnel or fire. The tank count was not in the Canadians' favour. Having destroyed two StuGs, they permanently lost five Shermans and two Wasps. Another few tanks and one Archer were repaired.
The fall of Binnen helped grow the Allied foothold by 48 km in width and 35 km in depth, and to later move into the heart of Germany. The Ruhr pocket soon formed, one of the largest encirclements of the Western front. After its surrender on April 18th, 1945, there was little resistance left in the path of the Allies. All possible German forces were trying to hold off the Red Army's rush for Berlin.
Original article available here.