The Crossing of the Rhine (code-named Operation Plunder) began on the evening of 23 March 1945; and the situation was described, the following day, by Joseph Goebbels (the German Minister of Propaganda) as having entered an “extraordinarily critical, ostensibly almost deadly, phase.”
Both antecedent regiments, The Royal Scots Fusiliers and The Highland Light Infantry participated in the Crossing; however, it is possibly the 10th Battalion, The Highland Light Infantry, that is remembered for the rousing pipe tune; “The 10th HLI Crossing the Rhine”. This was written by Pipe Major Donald Shaw Ramsay (1919-98), who was born in Torphichen, who, at the age of 20, became the youngest Pipe Major in the British Army.
This was the first crossing of the Rhine River by boat by an invading army since Napoleon Bonaparte.
Within three days, the Allied troops were advancing into Germany, seizing further river crossings as the German defences crumbled and were rapidly approaching Frankfurt. Indeed, Winston Churchill and Field Marshall Montgomery were able to commandeer a river launch, cross the Rhine and land in enemy territory without challenge on 25 March – they visited troops at Wesel and left only when targeted by enemy artillery.
The assault had begun with glider and parachute landings by The Special Air Service into enemy territory, a four-hour bombardment of 4,000 Allied guns, while in the air, Allied bombers attacked the River Wesel.
This was the largest operation of its kind during the entire war.
During the evening of 23 March and throughout 24 March, some 80,000 British and Canadian troops crossed the 20 mile stretch of the Rhine, along with 22,000 airborne forces. Troops crossed the river by all types of amphibious vehicles, including the famous “buffaloes”; and 1,152 ft (351 m) of M2 treadway and 93 pneumatic floats were used in just six hours and fifteen minute construction project, record setting for the size of the bridge.
Perhaps the final word should go to Winston Churchill, who told ” My dear General” Eisenhower: “the German is whipped. We got him. He is through.”