We know that, after the successful Normandy landings, the units of 21st Army Group crossed the river Rhine near the Germany city of Wesel on 23 March 1945. After an advance which was thoroughly resisted, the British formations, along with the Canadians and Americans advanced into the German counties of Nordrhein-Westfalen, Niedersachsen and Schleswig-Holstein. This established the British Army occupying the north of the country.
The British advance towards Hamburg was spearheaded by the 7th Armoured Division, attacking Harburg and advancing to the River Elbe across from Hamburg, with the 15th (Scottish) Infantry Division assaulting the town of Uelzen to the south of the city. Elements of the XII Corps attacked Hamburg itself from the northwest. On their way to Harburg, the 7th Division captured Welle and Tostedt on 18 April and advanced into Hollenstedt the next day. By this time, the Germans had built up defences in Harburg as the British moved closer. On 20 April, the division captured Daerstorf, eight miles west of the city. The RHA Forward Observation Officers (FOOs), reached the Elbe and began to direct artillery fire upon troops and trains on the other side of the river. On the same day, the 131st Infantry Brigade took Vahrendorf just two miles south of Harburg. The Division halted the advance for five days just short of Hamburg; it set up a perimeter and prepared for its assault on the city. However, on 26 April, the 12th SS Regiment, supported by troops of the Hitler Youth, sailors and policemen, counter attacked at Vahrendorf. They were supported by 88mm guns and 75mm howitzers and reached the town centre but were pushed back once British tanks arrived. The battle continued until the next day, when the Germans retreated to Harburg, leaving 60 dead and losing 70 men as prisoners.
On 28 April the British began their assault on the city. The 5th Royal Tank Regiment, 9th Durham Light Infantry and 1st Rifle Brigade captured Jesteburg and Hittfeld, where the autobahn was. Nevertheless, the Germans blew up parts of the autobahn at Hittfeld, slowing the British advance. As the British advanced towards the city, it was clear that the Germans would still not give up. The troops of the 1st Parachute Army were now a mix of a few SS, paratroopers, Volkssturm, along with regular Wehrmacht soldiers, supported by sailors, police, firemen, and Hitler Youth. They were supported by 88 mm guns, which were no longer needed for air defence.
Many German units, including a tank destroyer battalion, a Hungarian SS unit and many Panzerfaust anti-tank troops were also still located in the woods south of Hamburg, as the British had bypassed the area and were now mopping it up. The 53rd Division, supported by the 1st Royal Tank Regiment assaulted the woods and captured all remaining German troops, a total of 2,000 men.
On 28 April, the 3rd Regiment Royal Horse Artillery began shelling the Phoenix Rubber Works in Hamburg, which brought about a white flag delegation. On 29 April, a deputation from the city came out to discuss surrender. On 1 May, General Alwin Wolz's staff car, under a white flag, approached D Company of the 9th Durham Light Infantry. On 30 April, Adolf Hitler had committed suicide in Berlin and Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz, who was commanding the forces in the north, had ordered Wolz to discuss surrendering the city to the British. Wolz, along with a small German delegation, arrived at Division HQ on 2 May and formally surrendered Hamburg on the 3rd May. That same afternoon, the 11th Hussars led the 7th Armoured Division into the ruined city.
We know that, on 25 August 1945, Field Marshal Montgomery's 21st Army Group was renamed the British Army of the Rhine (BAOR). It was made responsible for the occupation and administration of the British Zone in north-west Germany. In this task, it was assisted by the Control Commission Germany (CCG). This consisted of British civil servants and military personnel. It took over aspects of local government, policing, housing and transport. The BAOR’s headquarters were established in Bad Oeynhausen in North Rhine- Westphalia. Both here and elsewhere, it requisitioned German buildings for military administration and accommodation, exacerbating the housing shortage. Indeed, with around 800,000 Commonwealth soldiers in Germany by the end of 1945, finding barracks and camps for them all in a ruined country was major headache.