World War II River Assault Tactics Osprey Elite 195
By Gordon L. Rottman, illustrated by Peter Dennis
Paperback, 64 pages
Published by Osprey Publishing September 2013
Dimensions: 6.6 x 9.3 x 0.2 inches
This volume follows the established format for Osprey’s popular Elite series. In it, author Rottman explores the often-neglected topic of specialized Engineering troops, which often provide a decisive capability on the battlefield. Rivers and their banks, along with established crossings and their associated road networks, provide natural obstacles and focus the assaulting forces into choke points ideal for the defenders.
During the Second World War the major powers formed dedicated Engineering units along remarkably similar lines. These were organized into battalions, the companies of which were equipped with a mix of boats or rafts which could be used in the assault or formed into pontoons and modularized bridging materials. Specialized vehicles provided the means to transport and deploy this equipment, and construction vehicles prepared the banks and roads for the ensuing traffic. Each crossing posed unique challenges so the equipment was designed to be versatile, adaptable, and easy to deploy quickly. Rivers were often crossed at multiple points, each bridgehead being provided with multiple spans to increase traffic flow and provide redundancy in case of damage. A bridge which was erected in only a few hours might be in place indefinitely, and many of these “temporary” bridges remained in service for years after the war, testaments to their design and construction.
The author also gives insights into defensive considerations in preventing river crossings. The last several pages of the book are devoted to a case study of the failed American attempts to cross the Rapido River in Italy in January 1944. While the Rapido could not be considered a major river, any river presents a formidable obstacle when properly defended.
I found this book interesting not only from a military perspective, but also for the ingenuity and versatility of the bridging and pontoon systems employed. This is a good primer for anyone interested in an overview of the topic.