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65 years ago: Operation Veritable

Reichswald War Cemetery, Germany

Reichswald War Cemetery, Germany

65 years ago this month British and Canadian troops were fighting hard in Operation Veritable, the battle of the Reichswald Forest.

The battle of the Reichswald was brought about by the legacies of Operation Market Garden and the Ardennes offensive. After the failure at Arnhem the allies were only left with the option of crossing the Rhine east of the Reichswald forest. This entailed taking the area between the Rhine and Maas rivers. Veritable had originally been planned to take place in January 1945, but had to be delayed due to the German Ardennes offensive. Allied forces earmarked for the battle had to be redeployed to stem the German attack.

The Battle was fought by the Canadian 1st Army, along with significant reinforcement by British Divisions. The operation started on 8 February 1945 with large aerial and artillery bombardments, including one of the biggest artillery barrages of the war, by over 1,000 guns and lasting 5 hours, and a large smokescreen. On the night of 7-8 February 1945 a force of 285 Lancasters led by 10 Mosquito Pathfinders ‘took out’ the German town of Kleve, close behind the German lines.

The battle was largely a hard, infantry slog through dense woodland, in the depths of a particularly cold winter and was finally over by 10 March, with the Allies firmly on the Rhine.

Local men who fell in the battle of the Reichswald include:

Private Edward Searle was serving with the 7th Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment, in the 43rd (Wessex) Division. 21 and from Stamshaw, he was killed on 15 February 1945 and is buried in Reichswald War Cemetery, Germany.

Fusilier William Moore, 18 and from Milton, was killed on 26 February 1945. He was serving in the 7th Battalion, Royal Welsh Fusiliers, 53rd (Welsh) Division. He is buried in Jonkerbos War Cemetery, Holland.

Lieutenant Robert Milne was serving with 151 Field Regiment, a Territorial Royal Artilley unit that provided artillery support to the 11th Armoured Division. 20 and from Southsea, he was killed on 1 March 1945. He is buried in Groesbeek War Cemetery, Holland. The 11th Armoured Division had been transferred across the Maas to reinforce XXX Corps as the battle progressed.

Some years ago I went on a coach tour of the countryside between the Maas and the Rhine, leading up from the German city of Duisburg to the Dutch border near the Reichswald, taking in town of Xanten, Kleve, Goch and Kevelaer. Although it seemed very nice in June, I can imagine it seemed very different in a cold February.

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