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THE HISTORY OF THE 2nd Bn
THE ROYAL ULSTER RIFLES
NORTH-WEST EUROPE 1944-45
& NEWSPAPER CLIPPINGS
|D DAY AND THE BATTLE OF CAMBES
THE ENTRY OF 2ND BATTALION THE ROYAL ULSTER RIFLES INTO CAEN
PRELUDE TO ATTACK
THE PASSAGE OF THE MEUSE - ESCAUT CANAL
AUTUMN - OVERLOON AND VENRAY
TWILIGHT - TOWARDS THE MEUSE
END OF THE YEAR
NEW YEAR - RESURGENCE
WATCH ON THE RHINE
ACROSS THE RHINE
FORCING OF THE RIVER AA
BATTLE IN LINGEN
APPROACH TO BREMEN
THE ASSAULT CROSSING OF THE OCHTUM FLOODS
D DAY AND THE BATTLE OF CAMBES
The Battalion was first introduced to combined operations in this war when it was sent for a period of training to The Combined Training Centre, Jnverary, in the Summer of 1942. In those early days the boating equipment was primitive, canvas and plywood craft with outboard engines; but on each successive visit to Scotland the equipment became better and the Battalion more efficient in Combined Operations. By the beginning of 1945, they were considered ready for this type of operation, and after another short period of hardening and Combined Operations training in Scotland, were almost sent to Sicily. At the very last moment, this movement was cancelled and Canadians were substituted. Then, and during the subsequent months, everyone felt intensely disappointed. However, information received towards the end of 1945 proved that the Division of which the Battalion was part, had been retained in England for an even greater and more dangerous job of work, the long awaited invasion of Europe.
For ten days prior to D Day the Battalion, with Lt-Colonel I. C. Harris in command, and with Major B. J. FitzG Donlea, MC, as Second in Command, was "sealed" in a camp which allowed of no entry or exit. There the problem of briefing had to be considered and preparations made. The sorting of operational maps started immediately. As these were of course highly secret they had to be made up into craft loads for each individual, and sealed only to be opened when the craft sailed. As an indication of the number of maps issued, each officer had fourteen, and each section leader seven maps. Each officer also had two folders of aerial photographs showing a 'wave-top view' of the coast, the Assembly area, the immediate area of the beachhead, the anti-tank ditch, and the town of Caen.
The problem of briefing, which had to be carried out prior to embarkation was solved by the issue of 'Bogus' maps. These were correct in every detail except that bogus names were substituted for the real names. Thus Caen was known as Poland and other places were concealed by such names as Japan, Mexico, Dublin, Belfast.
From an Intelligence point of view we had every possible aid to ensure a thorough briefing. It was carried out in special marquees which contained plentiful supplies of bogus maps, map enlargement scaled one foot to a mile, models, stereoscopic photos of the whole area and enlargement of all places of particular interest to us like Caen, the beaches, assembly and concentration areas and anti-tank ditches.
The Commanding Officer's Orders and briefing of all officers including supporting arms took the whole of the first day. The briefing marquees were then allotted on a Company and Platoon basis, and briefing continued for three days under the supervision of the I. O. and the Intelligence Section. The principle had been laid down that, despite the risk from the point of view of security, the fullest possible information was to be passed on to the men who had to do the fighting. It can safely be said that no army had ever before had such a wealth of information made available to help it to fight.
Officers and men were then split up into their various boat loads, and on D minus 2 started to embark on Landing Craft Infantry. One might have expected very high tension in face of such a mighty undertaking, but on the contrary, the feelings appeared to be calm as if yet another of the many exercises on similar lines was about to take place. Food on board was very satisfactory, fresh vegetables and bread being supplied to augment the 'Conpo' rations.
The journey across was uneventful, the sea being comparatively calm until approximately two hours before the landing, when it became rather choppy and made a number of people seasick, though tablets to prevent this had been issued which proved a great help to some. The huge convoy of which the Battalion was a part, and the enormous number of Allied aircraft seen making for the Continent kept spirits buoyant. Just before the convoy turned inwards to the shore, German coastal batteries opened fire and shells fell in the convoy; this delayed the landing slightly whilst the assault brigade put them out of action. Our first reaction on seeing the coast was how very familiar it all looked until we realized that it was the 'wave top' view that we had spent such a long time memorizing. It was rather a surprise to see so many of the houses still standing apparently undamaged as one had the impression that everything would have been flattened.
At 1000 hours on D Day, the 6th June 1944, the Landing Crafts Infantry containing the Battalion touched down on the beach of Normandy at a spot slightly west of Ouistreham, a pleasant French summer resort with a wide sandy beach fringed with sand dunes. Here the Battalion caught first sight of the enemy as batches of snipers with hands over their heads were being rounded up from the houses and sand dunes lining the beach. By this time the sea had developed a considerable swell. The Battalion was well used to wet landings when carrying out exercises, but this was without any doubt the wettest on record, most people landing in at least four feet of water and many in as much as five and a half feet. The majority became soaking wet from the top of their heads. Although the beaches had been almost cleared of the enemy, hostile shells and mortar bombs were falling in fair quantities. Consequently, even though the Battalion was part of the reserve brigade in the assault Division, the landing was made very difficult and uncomfortable. Many of the Riflemen being small in size were finding it difficult to get ashore, particularly in view of the fact that over and above their normal kit — heavy enough — they were carrying a bicycle! CSM Walsh of 'A' Company, and Rfn Ryan, MM, of 'B' Company did great work by getting a life line ashore from the Landing Crafts Infantry, and holding them in such a manner that others were able to beach themselves with greater ease. Few causalities only were experienced on the beach, those there were, being from shell and mortar fire.
The Battalion then quickly made its way from the beach to Lion-sur-Mer, a small village about half a mile inland which was the Assembly Area. Here they were met by OC 'HQ' Company, Captain M. D. G.C. Ryan and his party of guides who had landed an hour previously with one of the assault brigades to make a reconnaissance of the Assembly Area. Shelling and mortar fire was still coming down resulting in a further few casualties. The Brigade Commander, Brigadier J. C. Cunningham, M.C., was wounded and evacuated, Lt-Colonel Harris assuming temporary command of the Brigade. The loss of the Brigade Commander was a severe blow as his enthusiasm and charm during approximately two years with the brigade had made him particularly popular with all ranks of the Battalion. Another blow was the loss of Captain A. G. Sellers, the Mortar Platoon Commander, who whilst in the assembly area was wounded in the legs by small arms fire, probably from a sniper. Fortunately his No 1, Sjt McCutcheon, had been with the Platoon for many months, and assumed temporary command. During the move to the Assembly Area, the Battalion was greatly cheered by the sight of the Airborne Troops of which the 1st Battalion was part, flying over and landing some distance away.
Having assembled together and sorted itself out from the inevitable tangle which such a landing makes, the Battalion was ordered to occupy the high ground at a point slightly North East of Periers sur le Dan, where it dug in for the night in readiness for a quick move forward. On the way to this area, seven German snipers had been captured, and ten other prisoners of war, together with a fair quantity of weapons and equipment. Lt-Colonel Harris had returned to the Battalion, the Brigade having been taken over by Colonel A.D. G. Orr, DSO. who was not unknown to the Brigade, having acted as its Second in Command for a few months prior to D Day.
On the 7th June, the Battalion was ordered to move in a South Westerly direction to capture Cambes, a small village thickly wooded, and approximately six miles inland from the coast. The Battalion moved via Le Mesnil, with 'D' Company, commanded by Captain J. R. StL. Aldworth as vanguard. It was believed that Cambes was lightly held, but as the two woods surrounding it were themselves surrounded by walls some ten feet high, it was not possible to observe the enemy's actual dispositions. 'D' Company was therefore ordered to proceed forward and capture Cambes with the rest of the Battalion closely following in reserve.
About 1700 hours on the 7th June, 'D' Company moved forward supported by one squadron of tank (East Riding Yeomanry); the rest of the Battalion remained halted at the side of the wood. A short diversion was provided here as four enemy fighters suddenly appeared and machine gunned the rear companies, causing no casualties. Here too, the first French people were met, who outwardly showed many signs of goodwill. On reaching the wood — the approach having been somewhat costly due to enemy snipers on the forward edge of the wood, and accurate mortar fire dropping onto the approach — the company split into half, two platoons under the Company Commander attacking the village through the left side of the wood, and the other platoon and Company Headquarters, commanded by the company's second in command, Captain J. Montgomery, attacking through the right edge of the wood. Immediately the company had broken through into the wood, cross fire from machine guns opened up, resulting in many men becoming casualties. The Company Commander was killed on the left, and one Platoon Commander on the right, Lt H. Greene, was wounded and unable to carry on. Captain Montgomery, deciding that the opposition was too heavy for his depleted company to overcome, ordered a withdrawal from the wood. Owing to the high wall and the thickness of the wood, the supporting tanks had not been able to give any effective close support during the attack. The Company then withdrew to the Battalion, and the Commanding Officer on the information received decided that a battalion attack would be far too costly without much greater artillery support. During 'D' Company's attack, the reserve companies had suffered a few casualties from mortar fire, amongst whom were Captain H. M. Gaffikin, the Carrier Platoon Commander, who was wounded but not evacuated. The Battalion withdrew to Le Mesnil where it took up a defensive position. The attack had cost 'D' Company its Commander and fourteen Other Ranks killed, one Officer and eleven Other Ranks wounded and four Other Ranks missing, with two Stretcher Bearers from the Medical Section killed whilst tending the wounded. The loss of Captain Aldworth was a particularly heavy blow. He had commanded 'D' Company for close on two years and had become almost an institution both for 'D' Company and indeed the Battalion. Of the many 'regulars' of the Battalion that we were so soon to lose he was the first, and with his passing it seemed as though the Battalion had lost part of its identity and character.
On the 8th June, the Commanding Officer made a reconnaissance for a Battalion attack on Cambes, this time attacking from the village of Anisy, some 1200 yards to the west of Le Mesnil, and 1500 yards north of Cambes. This reconnaissance was carried out with Lt-Colonel Hussey, commanding 33 Field Artillery who was killed later in his tank, and Lieut Colonel Williamson, commanding East Riding Yeomanry, protected by the Battalion Snipers under command of Sjt F. Pancott. As a result, Company Commanders were given the plan in outline at Anisy at 1630 hours 8 June, after which they made their reconnaissance. The ground from Anisy to Cambes was very open, rising slightly from Anisy for about 400 yards, the remaining 1100 yards to Cambes being quite flat and open. Consequently the Company Commanders' reconnaissance was not carried out under very satisfactory conditions. Captain W. H. Baudains, MM, was detailed to make a reconnaissance of a route for a night patrol, and took with him the Platoon Commander and three Section Commanders of 11 Platoon. On the way he met an enemy patrol of one officer and ten men, of which five were killed and six taken prisoner without injury to our party of two officers and three NCO's.
During this time an enemy fighting patrol of about thirty men had attacked 'C' Company in its defensive position at Le Mesnil and had been driven off, the attack costing us one killed and five wounded. During the night, 8/9th June, 'C' Company retaliated with a nuisance raid on the enemy position at Cambes, and the Germans again attacked 'C' Company at Le Mesnil, both these actions causing no further loss to the Battalion. Sporadic mortar fire and machine gun fire was experienced during the night.
On the 9th June 1944 the Battalion attacked and captured Cambes. The attack was fiercely resisted by the Germans, and the Battalion, two thirds of which had not been in action before, conducted itself with great gallantry. The picture was as follows: Cambes and Galmanche (another small village some 800 yards south of Cambes), thought to be lightly held by the enemy, were defended strongly as outposts. Buron and St Contest, two villages a further 1000 yards or so south and south west of Galmanche were strongly held. On the east side, La Bijude, some 800 yards south east of Cambes, and Epron, some 500 yards south of La Bijude were held by the enemy with unknown strength.
The general idea was for 9th British Infantry Brigade (2nd Bn The Royal Ulster Rifles, 1st Bn Kings Own Scottish Borderers and 1st Bn The Suffolk Regiment) to capture the St Contest area, the attack hinging on whether Cambes was taken or not. The 9th Canadian Infantry Brigade were to give covering fire and anti-tank support during the attack from ground which they had captured some 2000 yards to the west.
The 2nd Bn The Royal Ulster Rifles had additional troops as follows: Under Command, one section Field Ambulance. In support, one 6" Cruiser, Royal Navy, the whole of the Divisional Artillery, two troops Anti-Tank (RA) — one ordinary and one self propelled. One company 4.2" mortars, one company Medium Machine Guns; one regiment of Sherman tanks (East Riding Yeomanry); and finally Royal Engineers in the shape of assault demolition and mine clearance teams, with five Armoured Vehicles Royal Engineers in support.
It will be recalled that the ground from Anisy to Cambes is open, its distance being approximately 1500 yards, and its width approximately 800 yards. A dusty track with no bordering or fence of any description runs straight from Anisy to Cambes.
The intention of the Commanding Officer was simple and direct; "2nd Bn The Royal Ulster Rifles will capture and consolidate Cambes". The plan was as follows: The advance from Anisy to Cambes over the open ground was to be carried out with 'B' Company on the right, 'A' Company on the left with their left on the track, 'D' Company supporting 'B' Company, and 'C' Company supporting 'A' Company, the advance to be carried out under cover of an artillery barrage. The advance was to be in open order, with 'A' and 'B' Companies clearing the front edge of the village and guarding the flanks, and with 'C and 'D' Companies passing through and capturing the far edges of the village, the whole operation requiring both wood and street fighting.
Prior to Zero Hour, the Naval Cruiser gave a five minute concentration onto the village, followed by the Fd Arty giving a series of concentration, behind which the Battalion were to advance. The anti-tank gunners were to protect the flanks, and the East Riding Yeomanry tanks were also to assist. The assault companies 'A' and "B', were each given a demolition and mine clearance team for use until their final objectives, when they were to pass these on to the supporting companies, 'C' and 'D'. The Armoured and Vehicles Royal Engineers were to move forward with the Battalion ready to deal with any strong points.
The 4.2" mortars were given two tasks of crumping onto 'A' Company's first objective, and then to transfer to 'C' Company's final objective. The Medium Machine Gun Company were (1) To cover the left flank, and (2) To consolidate on the final objectives in order to deal with counter attacks. The Battalion's own 3" Mortar Platoon were to be prepared to fire on call from the Assault Companies, and then from the two Supporting Companies. The Carrier Platoon under command of 'S' Company Commander, Major C. R. P. Sweeny, MC, were to remain at Anisy and be prepared to ferry up ammunition or any other requirements to the objectives. The anti-tank platoon were given protective tasks once the objective had been gained, and the Pioneer Platoon, whose Commander, Lt D. Greer, had left the Battalion on the 7th June to collect some stores from a dump and had not since returned, were to be ready should the Royal Engineers not be in a position to fulfil their commitments.
At 1515 hours 9th June, 'A' and 'B' Companies crossed the start line followed by the Battalion O Group behind 'A' Company. The men were well spaced out and advanced in good order, direction being steadied by the Commanding Officer from the left. As the Companies reached the ridge some 1100 yards from the objective, whence they could be permanently observed by the enemy they came under a heavy barrage of mortar and shell fire accompanied by machine gun fire. The Commanding Officer of the East Riding Yeomanry, who had fought with the Guards, observing the advance from the start line, said to himself "This is where they get to ground, and the attack is held up". To his astonishment however, the Battalion continued to advance in open order keeping perfect distance. Certainly there is no doubt that the Companies advanced through what appeared to be an impassable barrage with the same unconcern as that shown on a company field firing exercise.
Men were dropping all round, but still the advance continued. 'A' Company under Major W. D. Tighe-Wood were particularly unfortunate, losing all three of their Platoon Commanders, Lt R. S. Hall being killed, and the other two, Lt D. Walsh and Lt J. St. J. Cooper being wounded in such a way that they could not carry on. Further, one Platoon Serjeant was also knocked out. But Major Tighe-Wood, despite these difficulties, succeeded in establishing his Company upon the objective and inspired all ranks by his example of cool and determined leadership. Cpl O'Reilly finding himself the senior person left in his platoon, took command and did very good work during the difficult period of consolidation which followed. In the same Company, Rfn Miller finding his section leaderless, took over command and led his section with great initiative. L/Sjt McCann, 'A' Company, "was badly "wounded in the face, but refused to drop out of the fight until his Platoon's objective had been obtained. 'B' Company on the right, under the command of Major J. W. Hyde, came under heavy mortar and machine gun fire from the flank about 400 yards from the near edge of their first objective. With great presence of mind Sjt Kavanagh of 11 Platoon engaged the machine guns with his Bren groups and also directed the attention of a tank on to the trouble. Subsequent patrolling located several enemy dead in the target area. The first objective was quickly taken, 10 Platoon passing with great speed through the village to the church, their final objective. One German, an SS sniper was wounded and taken prisoner.
'A' and 'B' Companies readied their first objective by 1630 hours. In passing through 'A' Company, 'C' Company, who by this time had the Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers tanks under command, lost these to German 88 mm guns firing from La Bijude. These tanks manned by Royal Engineers had done great work, their crews having shown a strong desire to get to grips with the enemy, carrying out tasks which strictly they were not intended to do. However. 'C' Company Commander, Major J. C. S. G. de Longueuil, could not communicate with them during the battle, and they fought until their tanks were knocked out underneath them. When 'C' Company with great vigour and dash, had fought their way through the wood to their final objective, they were unfortunate in losing one of their Platoon Commanders, Lt R. C. Diserens, who regardless of his own safety, was running about in the open under fire, putting his platoon into position. This very enthusiastic young officer was severely wounded and died later from the effects, a great loss to his Company and to the Battalion.
'D' Company, which it will be remembered was sadly depleted, went through 'B' Company, and almost immediately, two of its remaining three officers were wounded. Captain J. Montgomery the acting Company Commander, though wounded twice in the leg, carried on throughout the battle, and Lt Lennox, after leading his Platoon with great determination was severely wounded and could not carry on. Had 'D' Company not secured its objective, it is possible that the enemy could have used this portion of the village and wood to make a very vigorous counter attack. In this battle 'D' Company lost a further two killed, fifteen wounded, and one missing.
Immediately the leading companies had reached their first objectives, the Anti-Tank Platoon under command of Captain C. R. Gray was ordered to move forward to assist in consolidation. All gun detachments moved forward in the face of an accurate 88 mm and mortar fire, and succeeded in being manhandled into position with the exception of one detachment. This was commanded by Cpl Boyd and received a direct hit from an 88 mm shell which besides knocking out the carrier, wounded Cpl Boyd and Rfn Heald and killed Rfn Bingham. Rfn Walton the remaining member of the crew escaped without injury. The gun itself was later recovered and manhandled into position.
Whilst consolidating against a probable counter attack, the, enemy subjected the position to a vicious attack of mortar and shell fire which lasted for five hours, so that the digging in was carried out under the greatest difficulties. During the consolidation, Captain M. D. G. C. Ryan, Headquarter Company Commander, was severely burnt in the hands by the explosion of a Phosphorous Smoke Bomb, and evacuated, and Major Brooks, MC, the very popular commander of the RA Battery which had supported the Battalion since 1959, was killed.
At the end of the day, the Battalion's total casualties were three Officers and forty one Other Ranks killed, seven Officers and one hundred and thirty one Other Ranks wounded and evacuated, three Officers and three Other Ranks wounded but not evacuated, one Officer and ten Other Ranks missing, making a total away from the Battalion of eleven Officers and one hundred and eighty two Other Ranks. Many of the wounded had been amazingly cheerful, joking in the face of the most frightful wounds. The Medical Officer, Captain C. R. Wright, RAMC, and his staff of medical orderlies and stretcher bearers had been a pillar of strength, dealing with patients with the same calmness and a good deal more humour than was normally shown, on the non operational sick parade.
Mention has already been made of Captain Aldworth and Lt Diserens. Lt Hall had not been with the Battalion for as long as them, having joined in January from the Coast Artillery, but he was already marked out for promotion by his ability and excellence as an officer, while to his many friends, his death meant the loss of one for whom loyalty and reliability were always paramount virtues and for whom gaiety and good humour were as essential as the breath of life.
Morale in the Battalion never faltered from the beginning. The Battalion took its victory and its wounds as if they were normal everyday occurrences. After consolidation, the Officers and Men soon learnt the advisability of digging deep, and the German's regular strafing was soon the cause of much laughter and singing of such songs as "Run Rabbit Run". Cambes was not liked, but it was looked upon as a stepping stone to bigger things, and in order that the Germans could know this too, strong fighting patrols soon took up the offensive. When the 2nd Battalion was ordered to move forward again, it was not weaker owing to Cambes but stronger, and the Germans soon learnt to recognise the strong fighting spirit of the Royal Ulster Rifles.
It was learnt later that as a result of this operation, Major W. D. Tighe-Wood, Captain J. Montgomery and Lt S. M. Lennox had been awarded the Military Cross, Cpl O'Reilly the Distinguished Conduct Medal, L/Sjt McCann, Rfn Long (who as a Signaller with 'C' Company had attended a wounded man under severe shell fire with complete disregard for his own safety) and Rfn McGlennon (who as 'D' Company's runner had maintained personal communication throughout the worst phase of the battle) the Military Medal.
We took Cambes Wood on June 9th 1944 and left it on July 3rd. During that period two Battalions of the Brigade were in Cambes Wood and the third was in reserve at Le Mesnil about half a mile away. A system of frequent Battalion reliefs was arranged but, by chance, we were only relieved once for four days, and so consider that we held the position for the whole period.
By July 3rd the geography of Cambes and its surroundings were firmly imprinted on our minds. The village itself must have held a population of some 300 before the war, but now, of course, there was none, the last civilians — four old ladies — being evacuated by ourselves on June 12th. The main road ran from North to South through the village from Villon Les Buissons on its way to Malon, and ultimately Caen, having Galmanche and St Contest on its right, and La Bijude and Epron on its left. North East and North of the village lay the wood, and through it into the village ran a track from Anisy, which was our main channel of supply and communication. This track was generously bordered with trenches and ditches, and many a visitor, trapped in a spell of Boche harassing fire, abandoned his vehicle for one of these.
Within the framework of these roads stood the Chateau, a large white impressive structure set in what a few years before must have been beautiful surroundings. The back windows looked down an avenue which connected La Bijude with Cambes, and the front looked across the Northern stretches of the wood which contained our own Mortar platoon and half the other Battalion that was holding this area with ourselves. Some 200 yards to the West of the Chateau stood the Church, the meeting point of all roads and tracks leading into and out of the village. It was a fine old Norman church and once it had dominated the village architecturally just as its preachers and doctrines influenced the lives of all that dwelt there. Now, penetrated again and again by shells and shrapnel, its grandeur was a mere shadow of its former self. The railway followed along the Southern edge of the wood, crossed the Avenue at a level crossing and then swung South to follow a tortuous path towards Caen. Just East of the level crossing was Cambes station or halt — a building which we would have described as a signal box. It revived memories of travelling on the French railways before the war -— nothing else need be said about it.
The Battalion was disposed on either side of this shell swept village. Two companies were on the right of the main road and of the two on the left, one was based on the station and the level-crossing, the other in the woods with Battalion Headquarters. It is difficult to say whether any one position was preferable to any other. The Company in the wood near Battalion Headquarters had the advantage of not being in direct contact with the enemy, but then everybody suffered equally from the Boche artillery. Probably the companies close to the village had the most acceptable lot. The houses themselves had little to offer because they had suffered irreparable damage from the attention of a Naval Cruiser and our Divisional Artillery in the attack upon the village, and they had been thoroughly looted by the German during his stay. But these companies, dug into vegetable gardens, acquired plentiful forage to supplement the Compo Ration, and for those who cared to look, the odd bottle of wine had in places escaped the attention of the Boche in his hasty retreat.
The enemy were extraordinarily close to us in this position, at the nearest point no more than 150 yards away. From half way down the avenue — some 200 yards forward of the level crossing — a system of entrenchments ran continuously round our positions to Galmanche and at no point was his line further away from our most forward troops than 250 yards. From our observation posts — two in houses on either side of the wood beyond the village and a third in the attic of the Chateau — we had a complete picture of these trenches, of the wire in front of them and of the Germans walking quite freely up and down them. This activity was carefully observed and chronicled by the observers but by itself would have been deceptive in estimating the strength of the position. We soon learnt that when the Boche chose to expose himself he did so with a purpose: it was to distract attention from the real strength with which he held the villages of La Bijude and Epron, Malon and Galmanche. Some picture of this strength could be gathered by scrupulous tireless observation which noticed the change in colour in foliage where some natural camouflage on a tank or SP gun died, or some suspicious shape which had obtruded itself where previously there had been nothing. But information about the enemy was amplified and confirmed as always by patrols. Three listening posts were found each night on different parts of the front; and sorties further forward brought our men to within yards of the Boche so that such activities as feeding, mining, wiring and digging could be studied at close range. Additionally the Battle Patrol operating first under Sjt Murphy both of the Carrier platoon, brought in a wealth of detailed information. The Battalion Battle Patrol, formed from volunteers trained and operated by Major Sweeny, MC, undertook the bulk of the reconnaissance patrols in this area. Sjt Martin, probing down the avenue one night towards La Bijude, walked into the path of a Spandau on fixed lines, and so the Battalion lost a cool and adventurous patrol commander. Sjt Murphy carried on this invaluable work, patrolling with great success until the end of our stay in Cambes. One other patrol deserves mention if only as an indication of the things that will go wrong under battle conditions. Lt Purcell, patrolling with a section in the direction of Galmanches bumped, on the outskirts of the village, a sentry who shouted "Halt". Lt Purcell pressed the trigger of his Sten. It jammed. Simultaneously the men on either side of him attempted to lire their Stens. Both guns jammed. Thereupon, without further delay, they made one of the swiftest withdrawals on record pursued by the shots and shouts of the Boche sentry.
Observation by day and patrolling by night was the policy decided upon by the Commanding Officer, Lt-Col I. C. Harris. Undue activity by the Boche was dealt with immediately and severely either by the Battalion's own 3" Mortars or by the Royal Artillery whose representative, Major Nicholson RA, was tireless in supporting our endeavours. However there was little scope for the snipers, because a fold of ground between the enemy lines and our own, caused the bulk of our positions to be in dead ground, so that the only good fire positions were the OPs from which alone the enemy could be seen; and it would have been foolhardy to compromise this valuable source of intelligence for the sake of shooting a few Germans. As it was, we were able to hand over to our successors a storehouse of information the worth of which was proven in the subsequent attack.
The governing factor in life at Cambes was, however, the intensity of the Boche shelling and mortaring; this was eternally imprinted upon the minds of those who survived until July 3rd, the day we left Cambes. During the period we lost between three to five men killed or wounded each day from shellfire. The Boche was adroit enough to select times when he could rely upon people leaving their slit trenches for one reason or another. He had the main road past the Church, the Chateau, and the area of Battalion Headquarters exactly ranged, while among the forward Companies it seems certain that he was able by some means to carry out observed shooting. At all events he obtained results, and casualties included Captain N. R. V. Watson second in command of C Company and Lt Lyndon-Adams the Mortar Platoon Commander, two officers whose excellence had made a long standing mark and whose loss was a great setback to the Battalion. Our Reinforcement Company under Captain K. G. Perona-Wright had been absorbed after the Battle of Cambes to bring the Battalion back to full strength, but now, as casualties mounted, so the gaps began once more to re-appear.
This period was one of intense strain for all ranks, for the feeling that we were pinned down by Boche fire was prevalent, but under the circumstances morale remained remarkably high. It was well known that for every one shell fired by the enemy, two hundred could be and were put down by our own gunners. Also it was realised that our role as part of the Division was to protect the bridgehead while supplies were built up and plans for thrust and expansion were matured. On our sector alone, we were faced by 12 SS Panzer Division — the Hitler Jugend Division — parts of which we had driven back in the battle for Cambes. Further East was 21 Panzer Division another potent armoured formation. On the other hand between ourselves and the beach there was nothing save the gun area and various beachgroups, so that retaining contact and yet holding these powerful formations required the maximum vigilance and effort. Appreciation of this delicate position by all ranks encouraged them to endure with determination this period of static defence.
As one means of strengthening our positions, mines were laid on an extensive scale. Long belts of anti-tank mines bridged the gap between ourselves, the Canadians on the right and 8th Brigade on our left. Additionally our own Pioneer platoon under Lt Shimmin covered our own front, working always by night, since they were within speaking distance of the Boche. Anti-personnel mines were laid around the level crossing as a precaution against infiltration by Boche patrols down the avenue. This field caused a tragedy, when the Commander of the platoon covering the minefield, Lt Frost, accidentally set off one of the mines and lost his life. This was a most expensive loss for the Battalion as Lt Frost had been with the Battalion for over a year, and had proved himself a very gallant platoon commander.
In the last fortnight of our stay in Cambes, small parties were sent off to 'A' Echelon at Gazelle for 48 hours rest. Gazelle was about a mile North East of Cambes. It was intermittently shelled and here like everywhere else on the advanced section of the bridgehead men lived at lead half below ground. But at least a bath, a change of clothing and a good long sleep could be obtained, and this did something to assuage the hardships of life in Cambes Wood.
We thought on various occasions that we might have to go forward from the wood to attack the positions in front of us that we had so carefully patrolled and observed. On one occasion an abortive attack on La Bijude was conceived wherein a squadron of tanks from the East Riding Yeomanry and one of our Companies were to move into La Bijude in concert with activities of the Brigade on our left. The attack developed to the extent that the tanks went forward first while B Company were waiting to debouch from the wood as soon as the armour had crossed the ridge and began to drive down into the village, but it was swiftly called off when six tanks were knocked out by 88s from the village as they crossed the ridge. The task was patently beyond the resources of a single squadron and a single company. On another occasion, it was thought that our Brigade should improve its positions by capturing Galmanches, Malon and St Contest but this plan was postponed at a comparatively early stage, as it was not thought that the time was ripe to go forward on this front. Nor can there be doubt that we should have suffered heavily in attacking this position, as did the Division who took over this sector from us. As it was, we were reserved for another role, which was to prove no less difficult but ultimately more congenial.
THE ENTRY OF 2ND BATTALION THE ROYAL ULSTER RIFLES INTO CAEN
The Battalion first heard that it was to have the honour of leading the Allied Armies into Caen on the afternoon of 7th July 1944. After three weeks in the line at Cambes, we had been pulled out for a rest at St Aubin d'Arquenay, but had only been there for a single day when we were ordered to move forward again to positions behind 185 Brigade at Bieville prior to passing through them into Caen.
The plan was as follows:— 185 Brigade was to capture Lebisey Wood, and, having consolidated, to seize the high ground above Caen on Ring Contour 60. The 2nd Battalion The Royal Ulster Rifles, supported by 1st Battalion The King's Own Scottish Borderers, was to move up to the heights and, from there, thrust down into Caen. The first half of this plan consisted of a deliberate attack, based upon information about the strength and dispositions of the enemy which had been accumulated since D Day. The second half, in which the Battalion was to be committed, depended entirely upon the progress and success of the first. Our task was to maintain the momentum of the first assault and to pursue the enemy to the far side of the river Orne.
185 Brigade launched their attack at 0400 hours 8th July. Shortly afterwards, our own Brigade moved forward into the positions from which 185 had gone forward. It was a clear night with a full moon, and as we moved forward, we could see the flashes and hear the rumble of the tremendous barrage which pounded the enemy for some hours before zero. By dawn, we were secure in Bieville, providing a firm base for the 185 attack.
By 1000 hours the objective Lebisey Wood was reported taken; but mopping up and consolidation took time and not until 1500 hours did the reserve battalion of 185 Brigade, the 2nd K. S. L. I., begin the advance towards Ring Contour 60. Meanwhile the Commanding Officer was making his reconnaissance and evolving a plan with the Commander of. the supporting tank unit, the 1st Northants Yeomanry, assisted by Major W. D. Tighe-Wood and Captain A. C. Bird, commanding the two forward companies. At 1430 hours the Battalion moved forward and debouched from Lebisey Wood towards Ring Contour 60 at 1730 hours.
At this time no news of the progress of the K. S. L. I. had reached us, nor had we heard anything of enemy dispositions behind Lebisey Wood.
However it was obvious from the viewpoint of Lebisey that the Boche was shelling intensively the whole area between the wood and Ring Contour 60, by using as O.Ps the chimneys of the factories at Colombelles lying on the south side of the Orne to the N. E. of Caen. These chimneys constituted too small a target for the RAF or for our own gunners, yet they dominated the battle field, and made the passage of our troops a difficult one.
'A' and 'D' Companies, however, moved forward according to plan. At first, while they were operating in close touch with the tanks, the enemy barrage was not troublesome; but later the range was closed and some damage was done. 'A' Company had just established itself on the objective when Company Headquarters received a direct hit which wounded Major W. D. Tighe-Wood and a number of his staff. Captain C. G. Alexander took over command. Meanwhile liaison had been made with the K. S. L. I. and with supporting tanks providing admirable cover and protection against a counter attack, everyone dug in with the utmost rapidity. Little small arms fire had been met and prisoners were few. but the position was. being continuously and accurately shelled. 'A' Company again suffered; this time its Stretcher Bearers "were all wounded, and great work was done by Cpl Reid, Rfn A. Cranston and Rfn Devaney in bringing in and tending the wounded. 'B' and 'C', the two reserve companies, who moved up to the position under heavy shellfire also suffered casualties.
By the time the whole Battalion was in position, it was getting late and the light was beginning to fail. We had about 80 casualties, mostly from shellfire, since such Germans as had been found on the objective were swiftly liquidated. Nevertheless, we were determined to make an effort to enter Caen that evening, and 'B' Company under Major J. W. Hyde, with two troops of tanks, set off to probe the enemy positions in the Northern approaches to the town. Some casualties on the start line were caused by an 88 mm gun, and opposition was encountered some 500 yards further on. The tanks were completely held up by the havoc and ruin wrought in bombing attacks by the RAF and our men themselves could only move forward with the utmost difficulty. Finally, mines were discovered on the track and its verges. It was considered unwise to continue this operation by night, and so 'B' Company, under orders from the Commanding Officer, returned to their original positions.
Early next morning, two more patrols were sent out. One platoon of 'A' Company, under Lt R. Wise "with a troop of tanks went down to Calix on the Eastern outskirts of Caen and, simultaneously, another platoon — also 'A' Company — under Lt B. R. Burges moved to Lt Julien in the North West of the town. The first patrol reached its objective and remained there until recalled later in the day. It had trouble with snipers and the Platoon Commander was himself wounded in the head. Lt Burges with his platoon reached Lt Julien, and then began an advance of his own accord into the heart of the town. Some light resistance was brushed aside but later on the defences stiffened and casualties were sustained. Lt Burges was himself wounded, though able to retain control of his platoon, and two of his N. C. Os. were killed outright. Thereupon this patrol returned to its position at St Julien and did not link up again with the Battalion until the following day. It may be said, however, that this platoon was the first into the heart of the town because the Canadians did not appear on the right until late in the afternoon and the forward elements of our own Battalion were not in Caen much before 1100 hours.
At 0930 hours 9th July the Battalion began their advance into Caen. 'B' Company led the way progressing slowly but surely, systematically clearing the ruins of enemy. Small groups of retreating Germans were dealt with, but no organised opposition was met and abandoned machine gun posts and rocket apparatus testified to the swiftness of his withdrawal. Owing to the rubble and devastation caused by the bombing, movement was slow and difficult. There was no question of vehicle movement here, and so throughout this advance the infantry relied solely and entirely upon their own resources.
By 1130 hours Major Hyde was astride the Boulevardes des Allies and the remainder of the Battalion was pressing forward. Some casualties were sustained by 'D' Company before moving off from Hill 60, where Lt Palmer and his Platoon Serjeant were both wounded and evacuated: but L/Sjt Bonass assumed command and led the Platoon calmly and efficiently for the rest of the action.
When the main body of the Battalion reached down into the town, the advance soon assumed the air of triumphant progress rather than a calculated operation of war; the people of Caen were determined to make it so. We discovered afterwards that they had suffered all the brutalities that had become commonplace in Europe. In addition they had seen their town laid waste in a series of RAF attacks, by their own friends, the British. If we were ever doubtful of a welcome reception, the first few hours in Caen put our minds at rest. Flags of Fighting France were draped out of windows, and the people poured out of their houses with greetings and glasses of wine.
On the Boulevardes we were met by the Captain of the Resistance Movement with several of his comrades who gave us "Liberte" as the password agreed upon by themselves and their Headquarters in London. One of their number guided 'C' Company along the Boulevardes and others proved themselves invaluable in disclosing hide-outs of German snipers and machine gunners. It may be said here that through the complete mastery of the language displayed by Major J. C. S. G. de Longueuil we were able to take full advantage of their assistance.
We met many other interesting people in Caen, two of whom may be mentioned here. One was Squadron Leader Sprawson, DFC, RAF whose Lancaster had been shot down near Caen on D Day and who had since then been sheltering with a patriot family in Caen itself. Having experienced RAF bombing at the receiving end, he was anxious to get back, and having paused for a brief moment at Brigade Headquarters to make a recording for the BBC, he hurried back to England. The second was a Frenchman "whom our men found to be widely travelled but who reached the peak of his popularity when he revealed himself an habitue of "Mooneys" in Belfast. Needless to say he was an old soldier.
The rest of the operation can be swiftly summarised. We pushed gradually down to. the line of the River Orne and then systematically mopped up such disorganised resistance as remained. Our most lasting impression and remembrance of Caen will be the magnificent spirit of friendship and co-operation displayed by its citizens. The men of The Royal Ulster Rifles will pay them lasting tribute and can hope to have done something towards forging a bond of mutual sympathy and friendship.
On July 10th we were relieved by a Battalion of the 3rd Canadian Division in Caen, which it had entered some two days before. We moved to the outskirts of La Deliverande and having been in the line with a break of but a single day since D Day, we made the most of a few days rest. Here it became known that we were to take part in a full scale offensive which was to be launched East of the River Orne.
We moved by night in transport to the Orne, crossed the river on foot and arrived in Amfreville in the early hours of the morning of 16th July. The weather was fine and the Battalion, dug in by first light, had two days rest in the new position.
In that time the plan for the attack became known. Three British Armoured Divisions 'were involved in a thrust which was to constitute the first powerful attempt to break out of the bridgehead. Their objective was Bretteville and finally Falaise and our Division had the task of covering the left flank of this advance by dominating the ground as far East as Troarn, 8th Brigade were to capture three villages — Trouffreville, Sanneville, and Banneville, and 9th Brigade were then to pass through, swing East and capture Troarn. 2 Rur were ordered, as part of 9th Brigade, to move on Troarn from the North East while 1st KOSB attacked from the East.
On the evening of July 17th, the Commanding Officer gave out his orders. Much valuable information was given by the officers of the 8th Parachute Battalion who had reached Troarn in the early stages of the campaign and patrolled the area constantly for three weeks after D Day. They had much to say about the nature of the country and gave detailed description of such features as the Brickworks, and the approaches to them. Air photographs had already revealed the close character of the country with its high banks and thick, almost impenetrable hedges, but this account of the battleground at first hand was most helpful and the Battalion was grateful to these officers for their assistance.
The plan itself was dictated by the nature of the ground. With tanks of the East Riding Yeomanry in close support the Battalion was confined to the roads and tracks since the hedges were thick enough to be impenetrable by Shermans. The thrust forward was then to be on a one company front, and led by an advance guard of 'B' Company, and supporting arms under Major Hyde.
On 18th July at 1000 hours the Battalion moved to an assembly area at Le Mesnil some l'/2 miles to the South and thence to a forming up position a mile East of Sanneville. The weather was extremely close and the heat and dust made this march a tiring one although in distance it was relatively short. Meanwhile 8th Brigade had reported their objectives taken and all was now ready for our own advance.
At 1730 hours Major Hyde moved from the start line towards the first objective, which was the Brickworks half a mile North East of Sanneville. Through the village, the bridge over a stream was reported destroyed and covered by fire. A scissors bridge was soon put down by the supporting tanks, and our men dealt swiftly with the rifle and machine gun fire on the other side.
The advance continued to the Brickworks where another group of enemy were encountered. After an exchange of fire, these withdrew, but straight away a concentration of mortar fire was put down. Cpl McCullough in charge of the leading section ordered his men into the cover of a building but remained himself in the open without concern for his own safety to tend one of his section who was badly wounded. He remained in the open until the stretcher bearers arrived when he assisted in bringing the wounded man into the building. During this skirmish Captain Baudains, MM, second in command 'B' Company, was wounded in the arm. He had organised the Company fire support and continued so to do after sustaining his wound until ordered to return to the RAP which he only did under protest.
'B' Company soon established themselves in the Brickworks, and when 'C' Company had come up to take over this objective, Major Hyde continued his advance along the track running North East to the junction with the main road South East into Troarn which was the second objective. This was soon made and consolidated and 'C' Company came up to strengthen the position oil the right hand side of the track from the Brickworks. Towards dusk, 'A' and 'D' Companies moved into position behind 'B' and 'C' so that the Battalion was well concentrated by darkness.
Meanwhile the forward platoon of 'B' Company had been troubled by two 7.5 cm German guns which opened fire on this platoon and caused casualties. Though out of his platoon area, Lt Lyttle at once gathered together a few available men and put in a flanking attack on the first gun. Under his orders L/Cpl Sharpe and two numbers of his Bren gun team, Rfn Charles and Rfn McNally, crossed the road under intense-fire and took up positions not 50 yards from the gun, to pour in a steady, deadly fire. Meanwhile Lt Lyttle himself put in the assault with two men, killing one German and capturing six others. Immediately he attacked the second gun, the crew of which fled. Lt Lyttle gave chase but came upon a strong dug in position from which he came under heavy fire which prevented him from capturing it. But the dash and determination of Lt Lyttle and his men had been rewarded for both guns fell into our hands.
By night, contact was established with the 5th Cameron Highlanders of the Highland Division who were operating further North on the Escoville — Troarn road. Patrols from both Divisions reconnoitred the buildings and church which lay about 600 yards to the East of the road. Our own patrol 'was from 'C' Company under the command of Lt Purcell and returned with the information that this area was held by the enemy.
Next morning at 0300 hours the Commanding Officer gave out orders for continuing the advance towards Troarn. 'D' Company under Captain Bird were primarily involved and they moved forward at about 0630 hours to the first objective — a small wood some half mile clown the road towards Troarn — with a troop of tanks in support. This was secured without difficulty or opposition and 'A' Company was about to, pass through to initiate the next stage of the attack when it became apparent that opposition from the area of the church was constituting a severe threat to our left flank.
Leading up to this church and its few surrounding houses from the Escoville — Troarn road were two avenues, one running Eastward, the other North Eastward, the two forming up at the church. 'C' Company-began to move on the church along the first of these but encountered bitter resistance a few hundred yards from the road. The leading section, under Cpl Brown, though under fire from two directions, pressed forward, using the bayonet and hand grenades, killed seven Germans and was largely responsible for capturing thirteen others. Four machine guns were also captured by this section. But resistance remained determined and Lt Rand the leading Platoon Commander was wounded. 'C' Company could make no further headway along this route.
'A' Company under Captain Alexander, then advanced up the more Southerly avenue towards the church. As the forward platoon advanced on both sides of the road a machine gun suddenly opened up at 50 yards range. The supporting tanks were unable to engage it, and four men of the leading section were wounded. Sjt Sharkey commanding the leading platoon, acted with great spirit and elan. Using a tank as cover he dashed to within 20 yards of the gun and then, darting out into the open, personally attacked the machine gun killing the crew with his Sten. This daring and courageous performance demoralised the enemy who withdrew, and 'A' Company with supporting tanks took the church. The enemy had been struck hard and many had been killed. Among these was a group of Germans with two Spandaus who were seen running for cover into a barn. This was set on fire by shots from the supporting tanks and no Germans were seen to emerge. The heat given out, by the burning barn was so great that the forward section of 'A' Company had to pull back about 50 yards. 'A' Company then withdrew, and as expected, the enemy infiltrated back into position in strength. When a tank officer returned towards the buildings on reconnaissance he was wounded, and an attempt to recover him cost 'A' Company Lt Burges killed, and six other ranks wounded.
Thanks to this troublesome diversion it was late before 'A' Company could be launched towards their original objective. This objective was a road junction about 800 yards out of Troarn, and 'A' Company fought their way forward and took it. An Anti-Tank gun on the objective opened up on one of our tanks and knocked it out. At the same time the leading platoon attempting to outflank it came under heavy machine gun fire. Once again, Sjt Sharkey, with a depleted platoon, was prominent. In cooperation with two tanks he pushed forward with great determination and captured the post of six men, dashing from slit trench to slit trench with tremendous enthusiasm and courage. A number of the enemy were killed and another ten captured by this platoon.
By now it was almost dark, and Lt Colonel Harris, committed to watching the opposition from the church, decided to withdraw 'A' Company about 200 yards so that by night the Battalion would be more closely concentrated. A standing patrol was posted on the road junction, but early next morning the enemy, strongly reinforced, returned and the patrol was compelled to give up its positions. 1 KOSB who had attacked Troarn from the East were held up 500 yards from the railway station.
On the morning of July 20th it became apparent that the enemy had rushed up reinforcements to hold this, a sector which was vital to him. In fact a German coast defence battalion had motored through the night to take up positions against us, and a contingent of tanks from 21 Panzer Division, some of which fired on our men during the day, had also moved towards us. These were engaged by our own six pounders and by SP antitank guns in support, and disappeared, thought to have been hit. But plainly an attack was not now within the scope of a Battalion, and there were other schemes afoot. Offensive action on this front was not resumed. Within the Battalion casualties had been 4 officers and 98 other ranks, and although the final objective had not been attained, it had throughout given an excellent account of itself. Later, good work was given official recognition in the award of the M. C. to Lt Lyttle, the D. C. M. to Sjt Sharkey and the M. M. to Rfn Charles and Cpl Reid.
We arrived in our positions before TROARN in the darkness, dug them during the night, and imagined that we should go forward from there at first light. We did not. Instead we sat in them for ten days — until the 31st July when we were relieved by another Division and despatched to the opposite end of the Second Army front.
These ten days were probably the most static that the Battalion had experienced. For the first three of them, we were pinned down by continuous rain, that same rain that checked the progress of the Armoured Divisions on our right. It made men loath to leave their slit trenches for any purpose, and yet reluctant to remain in them because they became so wet and damp. In most places the soil was strong and this prevented the water, once in the trenches, from draining away. The positions were of necessity in open fields, and consequently the days were passed in the most unpleasant conditions that the Battalion had had to endure. In many respects this period resembled the corresponding static period at Cambes Wood. Shelling and mortaring were both as intense, perhaps more so, because the Battalion position was more concentrated and when the Boche had found out where we were, he was able to shoot with accuracy and effect. He also produced for the first time in our experience, the multi-barrelled mortar called Reihenwerfer, Panzerwerfer or Nebelwerfer in official terms, but to one and all it was known as "Moaning Minnie". This instrument is so named because in firing it emits the noise of rending canvas, and during time of flight, up to 20 seconds, its missiles give voice to a wail or whine which becomes louder and more menacing as it comes nearer. All these infernal machines were accurately and frequently ranged onto our positions, but on the whole the casualties were lighter than at Cambes Wood because the troops had there learned the necessity for getting below ground and were here able to profit from this experience.
One of the principal dangers in this position came from the dust which rose so easily from the roads which led to our positions. After the rain, a fine spell of weather dried the road and soon the passage of vehicles throwing dust to the skies, became a menace to the troops: for although the country was very close and thick hedges and woods impeded observation of more than 200 yards at any point, the dust rose high above these obstacles and the Boche had little difficulty in spotting the approaches and destinations of traffic. The chief sufferers were the RAP, the mortar platoon, and F Echelon, all of which were sited in and around the houses some 200 yards North East of the Brickworks. Supplies were brought up to F Echelon from A Echelon at Amereville, and when the food had been cooked it was then taken forward to the companies by jeep. Necessarily it was a hive of activity, and in spite of the most outspoken warning signs, trucks continued to raise dust, however slowly they travelled. Consequently this area received more than its share of shells.
Patrolling at this position was not so ambitious as at Cambes Wood. Our Battalion Battle Patrol had been much reduced in strength by casualties and consequently our activities were confined to reconnaissance patrols of positions to our immediate front. These produced, however, a fund of information which was swelled by several deserters who trickled into our position at various times. The troops that faced us were German Air Force ground units whose morale was poor: their strength included many whose stock was not of purest German, and among the deserters were several Poles who disclosed the location of tanks, platoons, companies and HQs with the utmost nonchalance. We were able to hand over to our successors a fairly complete picture of the layout of the Boche defences in front of us.
The plan devised at Cambes for sending a limited number of men to A Echelon for 48 hours rest was resumed in this position. A Echelon was stationed at Amfreville, near Breville some two miles East of the Orne. From here men could visit the Divisional Club at Luc sur Mer by this time fast recovering from the original impact of the invasion. From here too, Sjt O'Reilly, Rfn Long and Rfn McGlennon, decorated for their bravery at the battle of Cambes, attended a parade at Gazelle when they received their decorations from the C in C. Field Marshal Sir Bernard L. Montgomery, KCB, DSO. Other parties went to the Corps Rest Camp at Aubin sur Mer a soldier's paradise where meals were served by the belles of the Normandy coast, and an early morning cup of tea was brought in at 0830 hours by a Serjeant-major.
These diversions helped us to carry through this period maintaining high spirits and looking forward with hope and confidence to whatever the future might bring.
After the stress and strain of the first two months of the campaign in France, the month of August was for 2 RUR, a month of peace and rest by comparison. The Battalion was relieved from its positions before Troarn on July 30th. Up to that date it had been in contact with the enemy, with only very brief intervals, since D Day.
On 30th July the Battalion was to move to a rest area at Gazelle for seven complete days rest, a rest to which officers and men alike had looked forward expectantly. At about this time the break through on the Allied right flank was achieved by the Americans, and the Second Army followed this with a spectacular advance on the Caumont sector. 3 Division from guarding the bridgehead across the Orne was now to become a follow up division in wake of the armour already deployed in action on the right.
With that end in view we began a period of movement which contrasted with our previous experience in France. Hitherto we had been static as a battalion for long spells which were broken by occasional intensive periods of activity. Now our role was changed, for we became a much more mobile force.
On July 30th the first of these moves was carried out. The Battalion left the Troarn positions for Bieville, already well known to most of the men who had spent the night there before the attack on Caen. Here we snatched two days rest, which consoled us a little for having to forego seven.
Then the first of longer moves began. It was the first journey by motor transport that the Battalion had undertaken in France. The distance was about 25 miles, and the destination Granville, a little village some 10 miles North East from Villers Bocage. Next day we moved another 30 miles West to a hamlet a mile beyond St Martin des Besaces. In this location, though still remote from the enemy on the ground, the Battalion had the misfortune to lose a rifleman from 'C' Company. An Anti-Aircraft truck was blown up on a mine, and although the driver was lucky enough to escape, the explosion killed a rifleman who happened to be standing nearby. This "was a grim reminder that even in a comparatively rear area, the utmost attention to these things had still to be maintained.
Next day we were on the move again, this time to a front much closer to the enemy. We were detailed to relieve the Norfolks in a position covering the arterial road running North East out of Vire. Our task was to obstruct any possible enemy counter attack from Vire and to remain firm in our positions while the other two Battalions of the Brigade passed through us to the high ground further South. This was carried out without mishap and the Battalion in this position had no sight nor sound of the enemy.
During the next few days, from the 7th onwards, the Battalion changed position several times, but remaining throughout in Brigade reserve, not in direct contact with the Boche, but often within striking distance of his shells. These bursts of shellfire fell unfortunately for the Battalion. One lasted only two minutes but in that time we lost CSM McCutcheon who had commanded the Mortar Platoon for the first six weeks after D Day, when the Mortar Officer was wounded. He was hit by shrapnel; so too was the Intelligence Sjt., Sjt. Hodgkinson, Sjt. Pancott, who had lead the snipers with great success since D Day, and several other Riflemen all of whom had to be evacuated. On another occasion the Provost Sjt, Sjt Brown, was slightly wounded, but he too had to be evacuated. Throughout the campaign Sjt. Brown's presence and steadiness in action had been of immense assistance and his departure was a great loss to the Battalion.
On 9th Aug the Battalion was given the task of capturing Vaudry, a little village to the East of Vire. The date was a significant one for the 2nd Battalion because on the 9th June we had fought and won at Cambes Wood, and on 9th July we had captured Hill 60 and entered Caen Vaudry was a different proposition. Careful reconnaissance of the ground was made by the Commanding Officer, Company and Platoon Commanders, and commanders of supporting arms, and orders were given to capture Vaudry, and consolidate beyond the village on the Vire — Vassy road. Simultaneously the 1 KOSB were to assault the high ground on the right of our objective.
On the night of the 8th, the Battalion moved to an assembly area at La Gallonerie, and after a short night moved off to attack Vaudry at 0600 hrs. It was soon obvious however that the enemy had abandoned his position and the only obstructions to our progress were a number of mines. Our advance was now lead by the Pioneer Platoon, under command o Lt Shimmin, who swept conscientiously with their detectors, and the objective was finally taken personally by O. C. "S" Company, Captain Gaffikin, and O. C. Anti-Tank Platoon, Captain Gray, who were together searching out a suitable path for the Pioneers.
By 0930 hrs the whole Battalion was in position on and beyond the objective, some time after the KOSB who had reached their objective without even the obstruction of mines. Casualties had been nil and the Battalion had completed the easiest operation it had ever, or was ever likely, to be called upon to undertake.
We remained in and near Vaudry for a week, constituting, as part of 9 Brigade, a divisional reserve through which the other two Brigades passed to attack the enemy South East of Vire. During this time "B ' Company came under the command of 1 KOSB, who had taken up an outlying position in Viessoix where earlier the Guards Armoured Division had fought a hard and bloody struggle with German Paratroops. Once again we suffered occasionally from enemy shelling, and one particularly damaging salvo killed Sjt. McVeigh the MT Sjt., and wounded RSM Fleming. Sjt. McVeigh was one of the veterans of the Battalion, and the RSM had been a pillar of strength throughout the campaign. He had always kept flowing the supply of ammunition in the most trying conditions and his power of command and devotion to duty in these times had won him the admiration of the Battalion. The seriousness of his loss was tempered only by the fact that we hoped soon to have him back with us.
The only contact made with the enemy in this position was a strange one. Soon after we reached our final positions in Vaudry a patrol from "D" Company comprising Sjt Lynch, Cpl McDaid and six men on reconnaissance, saw moving Southwards from the Vire-Vassy road, a group of men whom they thought were Americans. They called out a friendly greeting only to see the group spin round astonished, and disappear rapidly behind a hedge. The next thing they knew was that a shot from a Bazooka landed close by them, where upon they in turn took cover and returned the fire vigorously. They saw no more of these men who cleared out with the utmost speed and who can only have been a detached remnant of a Boche Platoon.
Not until the 17th was this Battalion called upon to take up the pursuit of the enemy, and by that time he was withdrawing swiftly into a fast contracting pocket. Two swift moves took us to Landisacq, about 4 miles West of Flers, without making contact, and by 20th it was clear that 3 Division had been squeezed out on the contracting front by the Americans on the right and the 11 Armoured Division on the left. We finished in Army reserve, having in that month travelled about 200 miles.
PRELUDE TO ATTACK.
We watched August drift slowly into September near Flers, but soon after we had orders to move forward again. During this period British and American armoured formations were rolling across France, traversing stupendous distances each day. In no time at all, the Battalion found itself two hundred miles behind the front line. Members of NAAFI and the ATS were further forward than ourselves.
Consequently we were glad on September 3rd to move to Hacqueville, a little village some eight miles East of Les Andelys-sur-Seine. The distance was about 150 miles and the journey was, for most people, an uncomfortable one. All available transport had been centralized by Second Army to supply the forward and follow up Divisions, so that, being in reserve, we could only procure three tonners and not Troop Carrying Vehicles. Additionally there was a scarcity of these, and the men, seated on Compo-Ration boxes, were bundled tightly together. The necessity for this was, however, fully understood by all ranks, and some of the hardship was mitigated by long halts and frequent libations of tea.
We were in Hacqueville by 1850 hrs having left Flers at 0400 hrs, and we were glad to find at the end of the journey an hospitable village in which all companies were able to live under cover. The journey had been an interesting one, and we passed through many historical towns like Laigle, Verneuil, Breteuil, Louviers and Les Andelys itself, in all of which the convoy received a great welcome from the civilians. We were also glad to see at first hand the extent of the damage inflicted on the Boche in the recent advance, for, although we bypassed the principle scene of destruction, the Falaise Gap, German equipment was liberally spread about our route and it was exhilarating to see these fruits of success.
Once settled in Hacqueville, the Battalion resumed training. Many reinforcements had been absorbed since the days of Caen and Troarn, and section, platoon and company training was badly needed to restore that standard of controlled teamwork that had been achieved by D Day, and had proved itself in the initial battles. An NCOs Cadre Course was begun, and some excellent counter mortar training, organised by the CRA, was carried out by our Intelligence Section and some NCOs from companies. We also had great pleasure in welcoming Brigadier C. H. L. Mole, DSO, MC, an old friend of the Battalion, who gave a lecture to our officers and the officers of the Lincolns on the assault crossing of the Seine, which had been carried out at VERNON. This was particularly valuable to the Battalion, because our specialised role within the Division was assault river crossing and much valuable experience and advice was gained from this lecture. Brigadier Mole had himself commanded the Assault Brigade and he brought "with him his supporting gunner. Lt/Colonel Bishel, since killed in Holland, and Lt/Colonel Lipscombe, who commanded 4th Bn The Somerset Light Infantry, the left hand forward Battalion, so that we were given the whole story at first hand. This is a good opportunity to thank these officers for the trouble they took to give us the benefit of their experiences.
Apart from training, life in Les Andelys had its lighter sides. Five Pipers under Pipe Major Doyle from King's Liverpool Irish had joined the Battalion at Flers, and now in Hacqueville we found ample occasion to use them. On 5th September, for the first time in the history of the Battalion, the pipers played while the Adjutant mounted the Guard. Later they performed at a football match between the local team and our own men, and they gave many exhibitions up and down the main street. The people were delighted and turned out in great numbers to watch and applaud Subsequently they played with spirit when the Commander of our Brigade, Brigadier G. D. Browne, inspected the Battalion and took the salute at a march past.
Recreation was abundant in this area, in spite of severe petrol restrictions, imposed by the necessity of supplying the forward troops. Parties went to ENSA and Cinema shows in Gisors, to the Divisional Club, beautifully sited on the banks of the Seine in Les Andelys, and some even to Rouen. Later trips to Paris were officially blessed and a small percentage of the Battalion was able to make one visit to this gay city before it was found necessary to discontinue them.
Such was the background to the crossing of the Escaut Canal towards which the Battalion began to move from Hacqueville on 16th September. We had been out of contact for nearly six weeks and although the prolonged rest at Flers and Les Andelys was most welcome, we were all glad to move again to new lands and fresh contacts. A period of static training in a theatre of war is a paradoxical state of affairs and most people found it an unsatisfactory one; so we started on 16th September well rested, looking forward to the future and glad to be able to close down on the past.
THE PASSAGE OF THE MEUSE - ESCAUT CANAL
On the night of 18/19 September, 2 RUR carried out an assault crossing of the Meuse—Escaut Canal. It was the Battalion's first river crossing in North-West Europe, though for this it was by no means untrained. In Scotland on schemes on the banks of the Tees, the Battalion had gathered a rich harvest of experience, and on a lake near Flers all ranks had the opportunity to remind themselves of the mechanics of river crossings. The Pioneers revised their knowledge of building a class V raft and drivers were practised in driving on and off a raft and motoring across different types of bridging both by day and by night. Finally, everyone learned about the capacity and performance of a storm boat which had been produced as a means of crossing large rivers. The Battalion therefore, was not unacquainted with the technique of river crossing when it embarked upon this enterprise.
We set out from the area of the Seine on 16th September knowing that we would soon be called upon to carry out an operation of this kind. The distance was about 230 miles and in that time the Battalion passed through many towns and villages that have become household words in the history of the Battalion. We passed by Amiens, and then a whole series of names: Albert, Bapaume, Flesquieres, Moeuvres, Cambrai, Valenciennes, Mons: which recalled the activities of the second Battalion in the last war. Later on we came to Louvain and older members of the Battalion were able to revive more personal memories of those days in France and Belgium before Dunkirk. Some of them even managed to slip off the main road and dally for an hour or two at a little place called Lezennes where the Battalion spent nine happy months in 1939/40. A tumultuous welcome was received.
The Battalion arrived at Petit Brogel on the South side of the Escaut Canal in the afternoon of 17th September. Here we heard that the task of the Brigade was to broaden the bridgehead over the canal made by 50 Division some four miles further west; and this was to be done in the next two or three days. Little could be done on that day, for the men were tired after a journey of about 220 miles in cramped conditions. Early next morning we heard that the crossing would be done on that night, 18/19 September. It was clear that the time factor in this operation would be the most pressing and that the whole thing would have to be organised with the utmost despatch.
In these circumstances it was cheerful to be able to welcome back Captain Montgomery who had been wounded at Caen, and Captain Baudains, MM at Troarn. In England on the 15th September, they were flown across to Brussels, and found themselves on the night of 18/19th in the throes of an assault river crossing — a startling commentary upon communications in modern war.
At 0900 hrs the Commanding Officer, Lt/Colonel I. C. Harris, held a conference with Company Commanders in which the salient problems were thrashed out. Within the Brigade the crossing was to be done on a two Battalion front with 2 Lincolns on the right and 2 RUR on the left, with as dividing line the main Petit Brogel — Lille St Hubert road incl to 2 RUR. 1 KOSB were in reserve with the task of passing through the bridgehead of the other two Battalions and of providing any assistance in the actual assault that the forward Battalions might require. Within our Battalion 'B' on the right, and 'C' on the left, were to be the assault companies, with 'A' and 'D' in reserve. The first two companies were to have very limited objectives, making a small bridgehead as tight as possible, and then, when these were securely held, the other two would pass through to expand the area to about one thousand yards. All this was largely speculative for the actual bounds and objective depended upon reconnaissance.
Reconnaissance was made during the morning and afternoon. A limited view of the canal and the Northern bank was obtained from the tower of a church in Lille St Hubert, but houses and trees made it impossible to see the bank of the canal. We could pick out the Germans moving about on the far side and were able to confirm from our own observation enemy positions discovered by previous reconnaissance. The Boche was well established in the little village opposite Lille St Hubert but one had the impression that his strength was more substantial on the right of the Battalion boundary, the Lincolns side, than our own. This was subsequent] y proved in fact.
More fruitful reconnaissance was achieved after lunch by patrols from the two leading companies. On the left, 'C' Company sent out a small patrol headed by 2/Lt H. Firth to discover routes down to the canal and if possible the structure of the canal bank itself He managed to crawl onto the tow path in order to ascertain the drop from the bank to the water. Much valuable information was obtained, particularly the revelation that there was a large ditch some 6 feet wide, 4 feet deep, and half full of water on the near side of the canal.
Meanwhile, further East, Captains Gaffikin and Baudains, Commander and Second in Command of 'B' Company, had obtained the information they required in a most daring manner. Dressed in borrowed civilian clothes they wandered nonchalantly through the fields and finally made their way down to the canal bank which was under observation by the Boche. When they returned, they had fixed a crossing place, decided upon routes to it, and gained a complete picture of the canal, its banks, and the gully which lay on the South side of it.
While this was going on, all platoon commanders had been up to the Observation Post and gained a rough idea of the ground on which they were to operate. Thus, although time was always the limiting factor, a crop of detailed facts about the canal had been brought in which did much to offset the short notice with which the operation was ordered. Moreover this was information which could be obtained in no other way because we had only 1/50,000 British maps of the area and they were devoid of detailed and accurate information; nor were aerial photographs were available for the operation.
At 1630 hrs the Commanding Officer gave out orders. Zero was to be Midnight and the Battalion was to cross the Meuse—Escaut Canal and make good a bridgehead bounded by the main Lille St Hubert — Achel Road to the right, the railway to the North and a prominent wood on the left: in all about 1,000 yards deep and 600 yards wide. The crossing itself was to be made in assault boats. Seven were allotted to each forward company with a reserve of two at each site and six more at the offloading point. One Class V Raft was to be built by the Pioneer Platoon, to transport Anti-Tank Guns and essential Jeeps. A Class 9 Bridge would transport carriers and trucks in accordance with a strictly laid down order of priority, and finally a Class 40 Bridge would be built for the tanks and heavy lorries of the 11 Armoured Division that were to pass through and exploit the bridgehead. The erection and operation of all bridges and rafts depended however, upon the liquidation of resistance from the Northern bank, because the sites selected for all three were directly covered by the Boche fire.
In support, the artillery of three divisions was to shoot selected targets from H — 15 to H + 15 and subsequently were to be available on call. A company of sappers was to be responsible for preparing the far bank for bridging, clearing it of mines, if any, building the Class 9 Bridge and assisting our own Pioneer Platoon in erecting the Class V Raft. Finally our friends the KOSB provided two officers and 48 Other Ranks to assist in erecting the boats, carrying them to the canal and rowing them to and fro.
By 2200 hrs the forward companies, having consumed a hot meal, were on their way down to the canal. It was a pitch dark night, made denser still by a thick .ground mist, though later mitigated by artificial moonlight which had been arranged for the attack. It was a night without rain or cold, morale was high, and all ranks confident in the success of the operation.
At 2100 hrs the Commanding Officer attended a co-ordinating conference at Brigade, where final details were settled between Commanders and Supporting Arms. Then he went down to the Command Post which had earlier been established in a house about 200 yards from the canal bank. Communication to Brigade was duplicated in that there was a 22 set in the Command Post and a 19 set some 200 yards away manned by the Adjutant, Captain K. G. Perona-Wright, who had a line direct to the Command Post. Within the Battalion the Command Post was in contact by 18 set with companies and additionally with each crossing place by line.
By 2315 hrs forward companies were in the assembly areas and anxiety was soon felt about the assault boats which had not arrived. It subsequently turned out that the sapper NCO in charge of the boats failed in the dark to make contact with the Officer Commanding 'S' Company, Major T. N. S. Wheeler, at the rendezvous. When they did finally arrive 'C' and 'B' Companies both supplied their own carrying parties, and valuable assistance was rendered also by the Pioneer Platoon in a great effort to get the boats launched without serious delay. This was the period when our guns opened up and the enemy was not slow to respond with accurate Mortar fire. Both companies continued the good work in these trying conditions and sustained casualties. At this stage Rifleman Greene one of the batman of 'B' Company, drew upon himself particular distinction. While forming up with the boats, mortar fire came once more from the other side, and the men went to ground. With great coolness and far surpassing his normal duties he continued to erect the assault boats and at the same time urged others to do likewise. This great example produced the necessary effect.
Both companies now pressed forward with great determination. In 'B' Company a compass bearing had been taken from the assembly point to the canal by Captain H. M. Gaffikin so that the problem of direction finding to the canal was solved. There remained the difficulty of the ground. After struggling across the first little stream, they had then to launch the boats into the canal. This involved hauling the craft up a steep bushy incline of 45 degrees for some 15 feet. This was extremely heavy and tiring work and, on the right, had it not been for the example and determination of the two leading Platoon Commanders, Lts H. D. D. O'Neil and E. G. Barker, and CSM Lutton, much valuable time might have been lost. On the left enemy mortar fire began to disorganise the boat loads, but Major J. C. S. G. de Longueuil swiftly reorganised and encouraged his men, urging them forward into the boats with great zeal and himself crossing with the first, flight though originally he had intended going with the second flight with his Headquarters.
The crossing itself was uneventful, though at one point a hail of bullets cut the water not far away from 'B' Company's boats. On the left the principal excitement occurred when one of the boats slipped away with one man in it, but some stout paddling soon restored this position.
'C' Company landed and moved forward towards their objectives without incident, and established a small bridgehead about 500 yards deep. They had hardly reported in position when a second message was received that a counter attack was being made from the left flank. Machine gun fire was coming from the tow path at about 100 yards range, a prelude to an attack with rifles and grenades. This danger to the open flank had been appreciated before the crossing and two dismounted sections of the Carrier Platoon had been attached to the company to strengthen the left flank. But even with this assistance the left flank remained an anxiety, and, in the dark, this attack penetrated the Carrier screen into Company Headquarters where Captain L. F. Laving, the Second in Command, was killed. The situation for the moment was serious, but Major de Longueuil quickly gathered together all available men and repelled this invasion with great determination. The Boche left two dead behind and many more were thought to be wounded. Immediately the Company Commander asked the Commanding Officer for further reinforcement for the left flank, whereupon the Commanding Officer ordered 'D' Company to cross, to safeguard this dangerous flank until daylight and then to advance to 'D's own objectives.
On the right, 'B' Company had quite a different story to tell. When the whole company was safely across the canal the advance to the first objective began. This was a pathway 200 yards inland which was readied safely. There was quite a lot of machine gun fire from the Boche firing across the front, and some 8 cm mortar bombs dropped close by but there were no casualties, and the advance continued on a compass bearing to the final objective, a point on the main road just North of the little village. This was made good without further trouble and a firm position established upon it.
Patrols were now sent out along the main road Northwards towards the railway and Southwards into the village. Both confirmed that the Boche had positions in the area of the level crossing, but was in strength in the village. It soon became clear however that 'B' Company's position was utterly un-known to the party in the village, for German Medical Orderlies evacuating some casualties fell into our hands and they were astounded at being taken.
At this point Captain Gaffikin spoke to the Commanding Officer on the wireless. He explained the situation and felt that in the dark he could not safely enter the village himself without someone taking over his position and constituting a firm base while he cleared the houses. Accordingly Lt Colonel Harris ordered 'A' Company to cross as soon as possible and then to join 'B' Company. Officer Commanding 'A' Company, Major Sweeny, MC, was then to decide in consultation with Captain Gaffikin, which company was best placed for clearing the village.
At 0345 hrs 'A' Company crossed the canal and on reaching the far bank was met by two guides from 'B' Company who led 'A' Company to their area. The crossing had been without incident, but on this move a curious event took place. At one of the halts an NCO sat down by a haystack, turned to speak to the soldier sitting beside him, and discovered that his neighbour was a German soldier. Both he and his weapon, which happened to be a machine gun, were put out of harms way. When the companies joined up it was decided that as 'B' Company was already in position, 'B' would therefore remain fast while 'A' Company cleared the village from the North.
Scarcely had this plan been set in motion when the sound of a scuffle was heard in the ditch and five Germans debouched from it to surrender to Lt M. Betty, Commander of the leading platoon. Then the first house was approached. Some resistance was offered but when machine gun and rifle fire were vigorously returned some 10 Germans gave up the struggle, came out and were made prisoners.
By this time it was getting light, though visibility was obscured for some time by a thick morning mist. Suddenly the noise of horse drawn transport was heard approaching from the village and then two farm carts emerged from the mist, loaded with Germans, a variety of machine guns, bazookas and small arms, and an assortment of looted food and drink. Our men engaged them at close range, taking advantage of having caught this little convoy entirely unawares. The Boche soon recovered and with great agility removed the guns from the trailers and brought them into action. The resistance was not, however, long sustained. A section of Lt Betty's platoon quickly slipped round to a flank and a well placed 36 grenade from Sjt Peel clinched the matter: the whole party surrendered.
More resistance was met in the next house, but again this was subdued by Bren Gun fire and five more prisoners taken. With this group there was a sapper of our own Division who had been captured whilst on a reconnaissance with his officer the night before. He had spent an exciting night with the Boche and told how bewildered they were on discovering that they were surrounded and cut off.
'A' Company from that point had no further difficulty in clearing down to the canal, so that now, bridging could begin 'immediately. 'A' Company returned to the North of the village and Major Sweeny was given fresh orders from the Commanding Officer. As the Lincolns, who had battled through the night against much heavier opposition than we had to face, had all companies across on the right, the Commanding Officer decided that our main danger remained the left flank. Consequently, 'D' Company having at first light gone forward to the railway crossing, some 700 yards beyond 'C' Company, 'A' was now brought over from the right flank to look after the left. Just before this, Major Sweeny, MC, had begun to advance towards his original objective, the railway crossing, but had been troubled by heavy machine gun fire from this position. One burst unfortunately killed 2/Lt J. Morgan, a young platoon commander who had recently joined us.
Bridging and rafting were now going ahead with great gusto and by 0900 hrs Anti Tank Guns and ancillary Jeeps were being shipped across. By 0930 hrs the Anti Tank Guns were positioned, a section being with each of 'C', 'B' and ',D' Companies. At about that time priority transport began to cross the sappers Class 9 Bridge, so that by 1000 hrs the Battalion can be said to have been firm, secure, and prepared for any eventuality.
In this attack we inflicted the following losses on the enemy: in men, 4 killed 44 taken prisoner, and a substantial number believed wounded; in material, one 22 mm gun, 12 machine guns, 8 x 8 mortars, bazookas, 5 cm mortars, and a host of rifles and other small arms with large quantities of ammunition for each weapon. As against that our losses were 2 Officers killed, 1 Other Rank killed, and 13 wounded.
There can be no doubt that much of this success can be attributed to the manner in which the intention of the Commanding Officer was carried out. The key to the defence of the canal was the small village opposite Lille St Hubert. The defences there controlled the only bridging site opposite the main Lille St Hubert - Achel Road, additionally they covered the ground to the east and could stop any threat to their left flank, in fact, at 0215 hrs the Lincolns operating on the right of the main road, in reporting three companies across the canal, stated that they were being held up by fire from these buildings and requested us to clear them with all speed. Nor can it be doubted that we should have sustained grievous losses had an attack been launched direct from the left. Many lives were saved by the prescient decision of Captain Gaffikin to strike Northwards through the dark to the road and then swing South to clear the village backwards.
The excellence of signal communication throughout the operation also deserves comment. Both the Commanding Officer and Brigade were kept fully informed of what was going on and at critical moments the Commanding Officer was always able to speak directly to Company Commanders concerned. It is a tribute to the signals that Battalion Headquarters was able to remain on the South bank until the completion of the operation, thus avoiding the interruption and possible loss of contact which a crossing during the battle might have entailed. In fact Battalion Headquarters was not set up on the other side until 0945 hrs, its constituents crossing soon after 0900 hrs.
In view of the short notice given for this operation, the lack of full preparation and the absence of detailed knowledge of the enemy and his dispositions, the Battalion had good reason to be satisfied with the part it played. Subsequently the MC was awarded to Major de Longueuil whose handling of 'C' Company had done much to ensure the success of the operation, and the MM to Rifleman Greene for outstanding devotion to duty.
After the action at Lille St Hubert, the Class 40 Bridge, built by the Royal Engineers of our Division, permitted the passage of 11 Armoured Division, and after this our Divisional role was to follow up the armour, taking over important points as these were overcome, and also ensuring the protection of their line of communication. German resistance in these circumstances became almost guerilla warfare, because the rapid advance of armour split up without destroying their forces and these operated independently until such time as they could link up again with their own forces. The quantity and extent of the woods in this part of Holland afforded ample cover for their activities and so the utmost vigilance had always to be maintained by our own troops.
Our first move of this kind was to Marheeze, which lay some 16 miles North East of the Escaut. During this march we crossed the frontier between Belgium and Holland and the reception in the villages and towns of both countries can only be described as riotous. Our pipers played us through to the delight of the civilians, and, when we reached Holland, it was a happy coincidence that the pipers' saffron kilts toned with the gay orange rosettes which were the national emblems of the Fighting Dutch. The streets were lined with these cheering folk, so that vehicles following the marching troops could with difficulty find a way through. The Dutch matched this great reception by their hospitality to us in Marheeze and subsequently in Deurne, where many members of the Battalion made friendships which they hoped to renew at an early date.
At Deurne, some 20 miles North of Marheeze, across the Helmond Canal, the German was at once closer to us and more organised. He was holding the line of the Deurne Canal about two miles East of the town and had outposts well forward across the water, and though we were not in constant touch with him in this position, fighting patrols of company strength went out on two successive days and had no difficulty in locating him. The country down to the canal was flat and open, with, however, enough trees and ditches to allow covered approaches. Moreover the Boche was watchful and handled vigorously with mortar and sniper fire any observed movement. Training of the previous months was now given the reality of battle conditions, for the utmost skill in observation and fieldcraft was demanded.
AUTUMN - OVERLOON AND VENRAY
We left Deurne at the end of September and moved up to the little village of Cuyk on the West bank of the Dutch Meuse. At this point we were no more than 5 miles from the German frontier though actually facing Boche on the opposite bank of the river. We thought at this time that our Division was to be employed in the attack across the frontier, and preparations had reached the stage of reconnaissance by Commanding Officers of the ground over which the battle was to be fought. But this attack was postponed by very high authority and soon we heard that 3 British Infantry Division was to deal with that pocket of enemy resistance that remained West of the Meuse and based on Overloon, Venray and Venlo.
The days of Cuyk were spent largely in rest, as we knew that we would soon be in battle in whichever direction it was decided to send us. Mortaring and shelling was very intensive when we first arrived and casualties were suffered by two companies - 'A' and 'D' - in the town, but gradually the Boche on the far bank of the Meuse was pushed further and further South until eventually their shells worried us little. We had to remain watchful, however, because being so close to the German boundary fifth column work became more of a probability. We had one positive piece of evidence of this. One morning at about 0500 hrs a volley of shells from a heavy German artillery piece landed without warning in the area of the Battalion Headquarters, one shell scoring a direct hit upon the Command Post, fortunately injuring nobody; but the position of Headquarters was changed with great speed.
On 12th October the Battalion moved some 10 miles South of Cuyk to St Anthonis and here we heard details of the plan, 8th Brigade was to begin by capturing Overloon, then 9th Brigade was to clear the woods to the West and South West of Overloon, and finally 185 Brigade were to pass through 8th Brigade and capture Venray.
On the evening of the first day — the day of the 8th Brigade attack on Overloon — the Brigadier and the Commanding Officer, Lt-Colonel Harris, went forward to see as much as possible of the woods that the Brigade was to attack. The attack had gone well and Overloon was reported taken, but on the right, pockets of enemy were still being snuffed out, and reconnaissance was hindered by mortar and machine gun fire, as well as by the fading light. Gradually, however, a plan was hammered out and, to initiate the operation, 2 RUR was to clear and consolidate the first of the two large woods South and South east of Overloon which, for convenience, we shall call Wood **(X) and Wood Y. An assembly area was fixed in a wood a mile North of Wood X and the start line for the attack was to be the Overloon — Oploo road. Zero was fixed provisionally for 0800 hrs, but routes from the assembly area that were passable and not mined had to be reconnoitred for both infantry and tanks and Zero was eventually put back to 0900 hrs.
** The X was omitted in the original text
In support we were glad to find two squadrons of Churchills of the Grenadier Guards, old friends with whom we had trained in FLERS. Flails were present to deal with mines reported to be on a considerable scale by 8th Brigade, and flamethrowers were also at our disposal. The Gunners were shooting a timed programme at the beginning of the attack and were thereafter available for immediate support. Typhoons could also be called upon when a suitable target presented itself.
Next morning Reveille for the Battalion was at 0300 hrs and at 0400 hrs the march to the assembly area began. Breakfast was then consumed and proved most welcome after marching four miles in the pitch darkness. Meanwhile at 0600 hrs the Commanding officer was at 8th Brigade Headquarters to learn the latest positions on the front. He heard that the South Lancashires now had a company in the Northorn (Northern) end of Wood X but detailed information about the move could only be gained at the South Lancashire's Headquarters. Here we found that this company had established itself without much trouble by first light. There were apparently few Boche on the ground, though mortaring and shelling — quiet by night — might prove difficult for troops moving in the open by day. With this information Company Commanders and the Tank troop leaders, who had all met the Commanding Officer, 'married up' as far as they could, and then all went off to find suitable routes towards the Wood.
At 0815 hrs the Commanding Officer hald (held) a final co-ordinating conference. 'A' Company were to lead on a one company front, as the Wood X was narrow to begin with and would only give cover to a single company at a time. Preliminary objectives were fixed within the woods and the final objective was the most Southerly edge of the wood. The tanks were to give as much assistance as they could shooting us into the wood and then covering the clearings up to the wood, as thay (they) could not enter the wood itself.
At 0900 hrs 'A' Company under Major Sweeny moved forward to its objective. Heavy mortaring and shelling was coming down though mainly along the line of the Overloon — Oploo road, well North East of Wood X. Major Sweeny was therefore able to avoid many casualties by keeping well to the North side of the road for as long as possible and only crossing it when the company was immediately North of the wood. Once in the wood he had no further trouble and though he failed to locate the Company of South Lancashires in the Northern edge of Wood X, the company went forward and occupied its objectives.
'D' Company under Major Bird followed 'A' Company and had no sooner passed through them than some of the difficulties of this battle became apparent. The wood was extremely variable; in some place(s) thick enough to be impenetrable, in others it did not exist at all. German positions and abandoned equipment testified to their recent occupation. Snipers were encountered almost at once necessitating thorough searching of every inch of the ground; mopping them up was inevitably a slow and laborious process. Sjt Schofield did excellent work here. He had hardly set off with his platoon in one direction when a burst of Sten fire and a few curt orders produced a German corporal out of the bushes doubling at the point of the Sten. Returning to the chase, Sjt Schofield's platoon rounded up three more in quick succession while others were seen, to be fleeing back through the woods. In the Southerly part it was more uniform, with pine trees of medium size, hedged about with foliage and undergrowth through which a way could be forced without great difficulty. Throughout the wood there were soft and sandy tracks which were treacherous for vehicles because of their nature and also because none of them had been cleared of mines. Neither these tracks nor the shape of the wood itself bore much relation to the map, even with a revised trace from an air photograph, so that one of the principal difficulties was finding the way.
All these factors combined to reduce the speed of the operation and it was some time before we heard 'D' Company report their objectives — half way through the wood — secure. Some mortar fire had troubled 'D' Company as they moved up to the -wood and Lt Curran was among the casualties to be wounded by shrapnel. Once in the wood, however, it slackened off and although 'D' Company lost Rifleman Guy in a almost direct hit from a mortar bomb, they could claim one German killed and six prisoners by the time they had reached their first objective. Since they had met no opposition the Commanding Officer directed them to continue forward to the final objective and sent 'C' Company, under Major de Longueuil to take over the ground that 'D' had covered. These moves were completed without incident and soon Major Bird reported his company installed in the left hand forward edge of the wood.
Shortly after 1400 hrs, Captain Gaffikin led 'B' Company forward to take over the right hand corner of the objective. He passed successively through 'A' and 'C' Companies and then liaised with Major Bird of 'D' Company before proceeding further. Soon after he resumed his advance, the leading platoon came to a clearing and was shot at by small arms and bazooka fire from the opposite side. No casualties were sustained, but by the time the platoon had deployed for action, the Boche had taken to his heels. 'B' Company pressed on but saw no further signs of enemy activity before reaching and consolidating their objectives. Suddenly two Mark IV German tanks were seen moving in a South Easterly direction across the front. They were, unfortunately out of Piat range, but Captain Baudains second in command of the company, engaged them with a rifle forcing the tank commanders to keep their heads down. Next morning our sentries saw Germans moving about in a little strip of wood opposite their position and others cycling away from it. Vigorous Bren fire and accurate sniping from Lt O'Neill and others killed at least two Germans and was thought to have wounded many more.
Battalion Headquarters moved up close to 'A' Company soon after 'B' Company had moved off towards the final objective. There after the evening and night were spent in dealing with problems of supply. No vehicle could be brought nearer than five hundred yards to Battalion Headquarters. Trucks had attempted it earlier but several had been bogged in the soft sandy tracks. The tracks were in such a state that no Jeep could get further than 'A' Company, the rear company, and in any case none of them had been swept for mines. Consequently all food had to be manhandled up to companies: so too did blankets and greatcoats later on. This entailed long and hard work by working parties who had begun the day at 0300 hrs that morning, and again most people had little sleep that night.
The next day 14th October was something of a respite, for we held firm in our positions while the Lincolns passed through us to attack Wood Y. Enemy mortaring and shelling troubled all companies and one volley from a Nebelwerfer struck the Headquarters of the Anti-Tank platoon severely wounding the second in command, Lt Rapkins, who subsequently died of wounds, and grazing the commander, Captain Gray. Under these conditions small parties from forward companies came back to eat their food behind Battalion Headquarters thus avoiding the business of manhandling it. The condition of the tracks had improved during the Bight. A Bulldozer had worked ceaselessly to clear a way to the Southern end of the wood and its path had been checked for mines and taped. But it was still not possible to reach 'D' or 'B' Companies with a vehicle and so all the requirements of these companies had still to be manhandled from the track to them.
The Lincolns that afternoon launched a highly successful attack on Wood Y, losing a large number of casualties but acquitting themselves with great gallantry, and by 0530 hrs the whole Battalion was consolidated in Wood Y, the Eastern part of which they had completely cleared of Boche. They had suffered mostly from German defensive fire and at the beginning of their advance many of these shells landed among our own forward companies. Among the casualties was one of our Dutch Interpreters who was unfortunately killed when hit by a mortar bomb. In order to protect their rear and also their right, it was decided to send two of our companies to support them. Under over of darkness 'A' and 'C' Companies crossed the open ground between Wood X and Wood Y. Unluckily just as 'A' Company — the second — was entering Wood Y a vicious series of salvoes from a Nebelwerfer landed among them in a veritable hail of shells. Two men were killed and ten others injured. This was sheer bad luck, as it was now quite dark, and there was no question of observed fire having been brought to bear.
Next morning Battalion Headquarters moved forward of the area that 'C Company had vacated in Wood X. We were hardly dug into this new location when the Brigadier arrived with orders for renewed advanced 8th Brigade were now to attack Venray from the West debouching from Wood Y which the Lincolns were to hold as a firm base. Simultaneously 2 RUR were to advance from Wood Y to occupy Kleindorp, a hamlet about 600 yards to the South. Our attack was to be without gunner support because the whole Divisional Artillery was to support 8th Brigade's attack. It was therefore extremely important to slip companies forward into Kleindorp at certain moments only, selecting with care those periods when German defensive and harassing fire was not being directed at the 8th Brigade's assault.
That night 'D' and 'B' Companies, followed by Battalion Headquarters, moved across from Wood X to Wood Y in preparation for an advance at about 0900 hrs the following clay. It rained during the night and next day, 16th October, the weather was unsettled, producing heavy showers in the afternoon. None the less 'D' Company left Wood Y at 0930 hrs and advanced towards Kleindorp. It soon became apparent the Boche had withdrawn behind the line of the River Beek, some half a mile South of the village. Major Bird soon reported himself in position on the crossroads in Kleindorp and that he was patrolling forward to detect any Boche that might be in the vicinity. Meanwhile back in Wood Y the support for 8th Brigade's attack was building up, tanks, flails, flamethrowers and infantry all waiting to go forward as soon as the Beek had been bridged. Mortaring and shelling grew correspondingly intense and though it apparently did little or no damage, Lt-Colonel Harris decided not to bring 'B' Company out of their positions until 1450 hrs: then he sent them forward into Kleindorp during a lull in the shelling. Captain Gaffikin soon reported his Company in position on 'D's right without any casualties.
Soon fresh orders reached the Commanding Officer. 9th Brigade was now squeezed out by the advance of 8th Brigade on the left and the arrival of the 11 Armoured Division who were driving Eastwards across our front to the South of Kleindorp. So 9th Brigade were now to pull out and relieve a remaining unit of 11 Armoured Division North East of Overloon, with the role of preventing a counter attack towards Overloon, while our own attack was going into Venray. This relief meant a four mile march along tracks which had been ploughed up by carriers and tanks and then waterlogged by rain. But this mattered little when it was realised that we were at last out of the woods and back in a position where part of the Battalion were able to get under some sort of cover. By 2130 hrs that night the Battalion had reported in position.
Our position here was in reserve behind the KOSB who were in contact with the enemy opposite Smakt along the Boxmeer — Wanssum railway. Then we heard that we might have to resume the attack and clear the large wooded area about half a mile South of the position. Reconnaissances down to Company Commanders were made, but they were in vain. Once Venray was captured, the offensive on the front was halted in favour of a full scale attack elsewhere. So now 185 Brigade came out of the '"Pine" for a rest and we exchanged places with the KSLI who were in a position half a mile North East of Venray in the area of the Reservoirs. Our role here was to find out by offensive patrolling all we could about enemy dispositions and habits so that when the attack on this sector was resumed, all available information would be on hand.
We soon found, however, that the Boche on this front was comparatively quiet, content to sit and nurse the wounds he had recently sustained. Shelling and mortaring — little by day — generally rose to a crescendo between 1700 and 2100 hrs though casualties — including the death of our second Dutch Interpreter just attached to us — were very light. The whole Battalion was well dug in and most people had sufficient respect for the Nebelwerfer and its sister mortars to take no chances with it. Meanwhile by night patrols, mainly listening and reconnaissance patrols, we gradually built up a picture of the enemy dispositions and strength and our knowledge was amplified by deserters who came in by twos and threes within a few days of our taking over this position. Efforts were made after careful reconnaissance to capture a prisoner but these were frustrated by the increasing lightness of the nights, and by the fact that the German sentries located by a reconnaissance patrol one night, could not be spotted on the night when the fighting patrol went out.
Life in this position was quiet but it was also boring because double guards had to be maintained by night and section sentries by day: vigilance had to be thoroughly maintained. In order to permit of the maximum rest possible twelve men per company in turn spent 48 hours at 'A' Echelon at St Anthonis — some eight miles away — and in 'HQ' and 'S' Companies, specialist platoons were kept at minimum strength, commensurate with maximum security, while the balance lived at 'A' Echelon. Back in St Anthonis there were films and many were able to visit the Divisional Club in Helmond. A smaller number went to Brussels for 48 hours, priority in this scheme being given to those who had fought with the Battalion since D Day. By this means the discomfort and tedium of living for long periods in slit trenches was mitigated and by the end of October nearly every man had enjoyed some break from the monotonous routine of "Slitters".
TWILIGHT - TOWARDS THE MEUSE
Most of us would in retrospect agree with Andrew Marrell's description of Holland, even though we might not now subscribe to his opinion of its people. He called it "Vomit of the Sea, given to the Dutch by just propriety."
The weather was indeed the principal bogey of the month and for the first time we obtained an inkling of what a Dutch winter means. Holland is a damp country and the flooding of its multiplicity of rivers and streams, imposed a check upon operations in the field. So, taken as a whole, this period was for the Battalion one of comparative inertia. But as in music, the rest is often more significant than the chord that precedes it, so in the life of a fighting Battalion, relaxation and the pauses for rebuilding its structure are often more significant than the stress and strain of action, which is more spectacular and more memorable.
We spent the month of November holding and strengthening our grip upon the .ground which the Division had won in the battle for Venray. The first three days of it were spent in positions around the reservoirs which we had already held since the middle of October. In those three days, we had two strange contacts with the Boche. On the night of All Saints, one of his small patrols on an advanced reconnaissance, came upon an anti-tank gun which was sighted on 'A' Company's right flank. The sentry could see three men in the darkness, and not being satisfied with the reply to his challenge, opened fire with his Sten gun. The patrol withdrew but one of its number re-appeared a few minutes later along some of the company's slit trenches. He danced about the slitters crying "Tommy, come out" but all he evoked was a stream of small arms fire from the vigilant sentries. He was hit but was able to withdraw and seemed to make his escape into the darkness.
The company immediately stood to and a platoon went out to chase the intruders. No trace of them was seen that night but next morning the body of one of the patrol was found in a ditch in front of the company lines, proving the accuracy of our sentry's shooting.
Two nights later a party from 'D' Company, assisted by the Pioneer Platoon under Lt Shimmin, was laying a belt of mines across our front. Inevitably they made a noise and this must have attracted the attention of the Boche. It was a clear moonlit night and a small Boche patrol was able to infiltrate, under cover of a wood, between our covering party and those who were laying mines. In a matter of seconds they opened fire with a Bazooka, injuring two of our men, and, before counter action could be taken, the patrol had made off into the woods not to be seen or heard again.
This was almost our first direct experience of vigorous and offensive patrolling by the Boche and we saw something more of it in the next position about a mile East of Overloon. Here we were holding another part of the same line opposite Smakt and Maashees at the most Northerly end of the Boche bridgehead West of the Meuse. In many respects it was a position without undue appeal: living conditions were slit trenches which flooded all too easily and then gradually crumbled, while tactically it was insecure, for companies were spread out over a vast expanse of wooded country to such an extent indeed that it took the best part of two hours to walk round all the Battalion positions. In spite of this, however, the Boche was less concerned with our own front than with our neighbour; a Squadron of the Reconnaissance Regt who covered our left. While they were dealing nightly with patrols varying in strength from a few men to a platoon equipped with captured Brens and Stens and closely supported by artillery, we were left in comparative peace.
Never the less we were glad to leave this position after four days and move into reserve at St Anthem's. Most of the Battalion knew it well. I 'A' and 'B' Echelon had been there for almost a month and every man had had at least one spell of 48 hours resting there. Many friendships were now renewed. We also experienced the consequences of any rest period, complete checks of AF G 1098 stores, MT and clothing and equipment being carried out. But there was much to do besides these necessary acts of officialdom. Large parties visited cinema and ENSA shows in St Anthems, Deurne and Helmond. Others went to the Corps Rest Camp and to Brussels, though these parties had by now become part of the Battalion routine. At the same time Field Marshal Montgomery visited the Division and decorated, from the Battalion, Captain J. Montgomery, MC, C/Sjt W. Sharkey, DCM, Cpl W. Reid, MM and Rfn A. Charles, MM, all for distinguished conduct in the early battles. We were also visited by the Commander of the Wing of Typhoons that had supported us in recent operations and tokens of co-operation were duly exchanged. A Rifleman presented the Wing Commander with a captured Luger pistol and in return received a handsomely mounted RAF badge. This was an immensely successful occasion and a suitable concourse of press reporters wrote it up colourfully for the home press.
Finally, the Commanding Officer found this opportunity to speak to the Battalion as a whole. He had spoken in Hawick and again when we left Caen, on a few days rest before crossing the Orne to attack Troarn. Now, on this third occasion, he was able to review five months of the campaign and point out bow (how) favourably our casualties compared with those of other Battalions in proportion to the amount of fighting that we and they had done.
He forecast further fighting for the Battalion in the near future, and events soon proved him correct. Soon we heard that our Division was to take part in a renewed attack to eliminate the enemy bridgehead West of the Meuse. It was to be initiated from the South and launched in a North Easterly direction against the weakest flank of the Boche position. Within the Division our Brigade was to begin the attack and this necessitated a move to positions South of Venray so that we could then in our turn attack North Eastwards towards Wanssum on the Maas.
On 1st November the Battalion moved from Overloon to the village of Veulen, about a mile South of Venray. There we spent some days waiting upon the progress of the offensive further South and when it came our turn to attack, we found that the Boche had gone leaving behind hint a formidable series of minefields and roadblocks. These and the mud, which was universal, precluded the possibility of a swift chase, and though with the other two Battalions we kept leapfrogging forward, no further contact with the enemy was made. On 26th November, units of the 15th Scottish Division had driven up from Horst across our front through Tienray to Blitterswijk and on the 27th we were ordered to relieve them in the area Blitterswijk — Meerlo in order to reliase (release) them for mopping up operations further South.
Only on the night of the relief did we — or our Scottish friends — learn that, contrary to general belief, there remained a considerable pocket of enemy on this side of the canal, based on Wanssum — or that part of it which lay on the east bank of the canal. We were left with the task of eliminating this and so making good the whole line of the Meuse.
It is as well at the outset to gain a clear picture of the ground upon which this nucleus of resistance was based. Wanssum itself is a large village split in two by a broad canal which draws into the Meuse half a mile further North. The two parts are normally connected by a causeway which had, however, been thoroughly destroyed by the Germans during their retreat. British troops were already installed in the Western half but were cut off from the other side by this expanse of water. Blitterswijk is about 5000 yards due East oft Wanssum, and Helling, a mere hamlet, lies about 700 yards to the South. Good roads ran East to Blitterswijk and Southwards to Helling and to Meerlo where part of the Battalion was already in position. Along the axis of these two roads the country was extremely flat and open though between Helling and Blitterswijk was an area of undulating ground well covered with woods of varying density. North East of Wanssum lay the Meuse and another Macadam road ran down to the river at which point a ferry could then convey men and vehicles to Well on the right bank of the river.
The perimeter of the defensive positions which the Germans had taken up, was clearly defined by a length of single dannert wire which ran from the canal across the Helling—Meerlo road seven or eight hundred yards South of Helling and then swung away Nort East towards Blitterswijk — crossed the Wanssum — Blitterswijk road half a mile West of Blitterswijk and then carried on North to the Meuse. Though not a formidable obstacle in itself this wire was known to have mines and booby traps attached to it.
November 30th was fixed as the day for the attack. It was to be done by night, as preliminary reconnaissance had revealed the flat and coverless nature of the ground. We had no reason to suspect sustained opposition because since this offensive had begun, the tendency of the Boche was to cut and run, rather than face a set piece attack. It seemed improbable that he would continue to. hold this bridgehead for long because by November 30th he had undoubtedly withdrawn all his effectives behind the river, excepting the rearguard which was holding the pocket. Their task was done and it seemed logical that they too should go.
The Commanding Officer decided to attack with two companies with 'D' Company attacking westward from Blitterswijk and 'C' Company northwards from the outskirts of Meerlo. 'D' Company was to make good to the woods and houses about ]500 yards beyond the wire along the main road to Blitterswijk, and 'C' Company was to capture Helling and then push on into Wanssum. Zero hour was fixed at 0500 hrs; this would allow, it was hoped, time for 'C' Company to get into Wanssum and under cover before the Boche could bring down observed fire upon the town from the opposite. 'B' Company were to be held in reserve in Meerlo but were not expected to be committed.
Most of 29 November was spent in close and careful reconnaissance of the ground by Company and Platoon Commanders. It was a deliberate operation, and for once, time (for discussion of plan, study of air photographs and finally decision, was adequate for commanders at every level. Additionally 'C' Company sent out a small patrol under Sjt Barrett to ensure that the Boche had not disappeared in the night. Vigorous MG fire from the orchards at Helling revealed him in position and keenly hostile to any movement.
At 0500 hrs November 30th the attack began on the left. 'C' Company under Major Murphy, who had recently rejoined the Battalion from a staff appointment at Second Army HQ, moved forward to the line of the wire. Here a party of Pioneers under Lt Shimmin cut the wire and neutralised some mines that were attached to it. Once the breach was made the first platoon passed through and advanced up the main road towards Helling, closely followed by Lt Shimmin and his Pioneers.
The nature of the ground and the weather soon made it clear that this attack was to be no easy one. The night was clear and a brisk wind kept the sky free from clouds permitting the full moon to shine with unabated intensity. The ground was quite flat and with visibility of at least 150 yards, advance was fraught with difficulty and peril.
This was soon evident when having found the houses just South of Helling clear, the leading platoon came under vicious machine gun fire from two directions — half left from the orchard and directly to the front from the houses of Helling itself. The platoon was effectively pinned to the ground and attempts to get forward or manoeuvre only resulted in casualties. Back at the wire Major Murphy appreciating what had happened, began to work a second platoon up the left flank along the bank of the canal. This platoon had reached a point almost level with the right hand platoon when it too came under intensive fire from two spandaus in the Western edge of the orchard. The Germans had the ground thoroughly traversed by fire, and were taking full advantage of the moonlight and their own strong positions.
Major Murphy now decided to withdraw his two platoons to their original forming up positions in order to shoot this stubborn resistance with heavy mortar and artillery fire. 2" Mortar had been used by both the forward platoons but neither was successful in silencing the spandaus. Accordingly orders for withdrawal were given and transmitted to each platoon by Rifleman Beattie the Company Runner. On the right however, it was unfortunate that just after receiving this order to withdraw, Sjt Hammersley who was commanding the platoon, was wounded and evacuated and it seemed certain that the order to withdraw never reached the bulk of the platoon, or indeed the Pioneers under Lt Shimmin. At all events, only five men from the platoon and none of the Pioneers returned to the forming up place. Subsequently Major Murphy observed five rifleman being taken back under German escort, one carrying a Red Cross Flag, and another a stretcher. Later, Lt Shimmin and Sjt Raffaelli, the Platoon Serjeant, were also seen going back under escort and the same afternoon a civilian told us that he had witnessed the passage of 15 British soldiers through Wanssum on their way to the ferry. Six graves were afterwards discovered in the orchard at Helling where they had been buried by Dutchmen. Somehow it seems that the Boche must have advanced from his positions and surprised our men by a sudden appearance. The facts are that 'C' Company's casualties in this action were 6 killed, 4 wounded, and 12 missing, while the Pioneer Platoon lost Lt Shimmin and 7 CR's missing.
On the right 'D' Company under the command of Major Bird had been more successful. At 0415 the Company had moved out of Blitterswijk handing over its defensive commitments in the town to 'A' Company who were to remain there as a firm base. At 0500 the Company moved off towards the first obstacle — the wire — and soon the Pioneers under Cpl Genovese began a breaching operation. Here they found not mines but explosive charges attached to the wire, and not being able to reach and neutralise them, they had no alternative, but to cut the wire, pull it and set off the charges. This seemed to make a considerable report but the wind dispersed it and no harm resulted. The first MG did not open up until the second platoon had passed through the gap in the wire; it fired at close range but hit nobody, and Lt Campbell, commanding the platoon covering the advance to the first Company objective — a ruined mill — led his men in a charge upon the position. On gaining it he found no Boche but the spandau and a panzerfaust were left behind. The leading platoon under Lt Hancock experienced similar opposition. These men came under heavy fire from a wood between themselves and the objective, but getting into the wood they worked forward employing the tactics of throwing a grenade at a position and then rushing it. This was done with great initiative and dash by Lt Hancock in spite of two slight wounds, and his leading section commander Cpl Harrigan. The denseness of the wood made progress slower, and when the Boche positions were readied, again the bird had flown, though in great haste judging by the amount of equipment he left behind. The third platoon having survived without incurring any casualties, a severe spell of Boche DF fire along its line of approach, now came up and pressed on to the mill which was occupied without further difficulty. Nor was any more opposition encountered in gaining the second objective, the western edge of the wood some distance north west of the mill.
The final objective, a wood to the south of the second, was not easily won. Two or three Boche positions located in the approaches to it were treated with 2" Mortar and PIAT fire but not until they were charged by a platoon did the Boche finally give way, then abandoning arms and equipment. Altogether 'D' Company in gaining its three objectives, captured six spandaus and six bazookas. Under the leadership of Major Bird this attack had been extremely successful, and the Company now consolidated its objectives, digging in under the spur of shells fired from the Boche side of the Meuse.
It was soon clear however that although the enemy had given ground in face of the determination and spirit of 'D' Company's assault he retained a perimeter defence of East Wanssum albeit reduced, which he had no intention of giving up. 'D' Company were now established south of the Wanssum — Blitterswijk road, but two or three wooded areas north of the road were known to contain Boche. Between Wanssum and 'D' Company, the enemy, ejected from the woods, had reorganised his defence in a house some 500 yards from our men. Opposite 'C' Company there was still no evidence of withdrawal from Helling.
On our side nothing more could be done until nightfall as every approach to the Boche positions now involved traversing open and flat ground. Therefore Lt-Colonel Harris now planned to renew the attack by night, attacking with 'B' Company towards Wanssum from a point south west of 'D' Company's wood. Simultaneously 'D' Company were to cross the main road and clear the houses and wood on the north side of it. Meanwhile during the day we continued to be offensive, several "Mike" shoots were brought down on Helling. 'D' Company passed the afternoon sniping at the Boche; Rifleman Hopper killed or wounded six and Rifleman Roberts two more. During the afternoon under cover of a white flag a party of Germans came forward of their positions to bring in the wounded and dead.
Zero hour for the second attack on the Wanssum pocket was fixed at 0100 hrs December 1st. Once again brilliant moonlight proved the downfall of the operation; once again visibility was about 200 yards and any movement could be seen as if in daylight. The leading platoon in the event advanced about 300 yards and was then fired on by a Machine Gun from the direction of Wanssum. This fire was at once returned but then three more Machine Gums began firing and the platoon was pinned down. Two verey lights then winged upwards from the enemy lines and straight away down came his defensive fire. Our 2" Mortar was busily engaged trying to silence the Machine Guns but these kept firing as they were well dug in and at least one was firing from a house. The shooting continued low and accurate, prohibiting any attempt at manoeuvre. Two of the enemy Guns were Brens and some confusion was caused among our men.
Meanwhile the other two platoons were toeing the start line. Captain Gaffikin had intended sending one of them around the left flank but soon he realised that such a committal would involve very heavy casualties and without much greater support he would not feel justified in doing so. The first platoon had made another attempt to get forward but had suffered casualties and Captain Gaffikin now sent forward the order to disengage and to return and dig in with the rest of the Company. After a long and arduous crawl under low machine gun fire throughout, this platoon returned to the Start Point. Altogether the Company lost six killed and thirteen wounded.
'D' Company had a similar experience when its leading section crossed the Blitterswijk—Wanssum road to clear the wood on the far side. As our men dropped into the gully twin spandaus fired down it wounding the Section Commander Cpl Carroll one of his men, and forcing the remainder to lie flat. This evoked a most courageous action from L/Cpl Rossiter in another section of the same platoon. Volunteering to go to the assistance of the wounded he ran forward into the open, crossed the road and picked up Cpl Carroll. Placing him over his shoulder and calling to the others to follow him he ran back to the cover of the wood. Throughout the whole of this period he was under heavy and sustained fire from the Boche positions and only by the greatest good fortune did he escape injuries.
By now he Commanding Officer having heard from both 'B' and 'D' Companies had decided to call off the operation for the night. Difficulties however still remained. Flooding had made the southern approach to Blitterswijk passable only to a weasel, and evacuation of casualties on such restricted transport — only one was available for 'D' Company, at this stage — provided just one of the problems. Shelling and mortaring from the other side of the river was another, and casualties were inflicted upon several of those engaged in the passage of wounded back wards to the RAP and of food and ammunition forward to the Companies. Captain Montgomery, MC second in command of 'D' Company and L/Cpl Callanan, NCO i/c stretcher bearers, who was wounded by shrapnel, were both outstanding for their cheerful and tireless devotion to this vital work. So, too, was Captain Henry Taylor, the FOO attached to 'D' Company, who never ceased trying to silence the enemy's guns or to neutralise his ground defence. So too was the work of Major Nicholson our Battery Commander who had supported us since the far off days of Cambes Wood. Not since Caen had he fired such a quantity and throughout the action his advice and assistance was, as always, a constant source of strength to the Battalion.
By now it was clear that the liquidation of this pocket would demand tanks with probably greater infantry support. An attack was planned involving two squadrons of Churchill tanks and two battalions of infantry. But although planning and reconnaissance reached an advanced stage this operation proved unnecessary. On the morning of December 2nd a reliable civilian came into our Headquarters in Meerlo and announced that the Boche had withdrawn across the Meuse. This seemed doubtful because a German patrol had approached "D' Company's position in the small hours of the previous night. Rfn Irwin, the forward sentry, saw them coming and woke his section. Holding his fire until the best moment he machine gunned the oncoming patrol. The patrol replied and shortly afterwards shot off a verey light. This brought down the German Defensive Fire under cover of which the enemy withdrew. Later however the groans of a wounded man were heard, and Rfn Irwin went forward and brought him in. Then having "got his man" he had breakfast and went off to Brussels.
This all pointed to the enemy being able to hold his bridgehead as tenaciously as ever, but the civilian seemed quite certain of Boche had gone and Wanssum was occupied the same afternoon.
The elimination of this pocket had cost the Battalion some 70 casualties including almost a complete platoon of 'C' Company, and a large section of the Pioneer Platoon, headed by Lt Shimmin and the Pioneer Serjeant, Sjt. Taylor. Lt Shimmin was a particularly severe loss. He had joined the Battalion with the Reinforcement Company in the critical stages of the campaign. He had led the Pioneer Platoon throughout with efficiency and skill, particularly in laying mines around the positions at Cambes, and in building bridges during the passage of the Escault Canal. We lost two other officers, one before, the other after, this little battle. The first was Captain Sheane who died in hospital in Helmond. For some 18 months he had been Senior Liaison Officer at Brigade Headquarters and, landing with them on D Day, he remained with them until, at the beginning of November, he came bade to the Battalion as second in command of the Carrier Platoon. He was immensely popular and it was a grievous blow to everyone to hear of his death.
Soon after the occupation of Wanssum, Captain Sturgeon was reported missing. Apparently some Germans had contrived to lie up in the house which he had made his Headquarters and during the night they came down into the cellar in which he was sleeping, forced him and a signaller with him to accompany them, and then avoiding the platoon prowler guards, disappeared into the night. They must also have acted with great stealth because the Platoon Serjeant and a runner who were also asleep in a further partition of the cellar were undisturbed. At any rate the Battalion lost in Captain Sturgeon one of its rocks of strength. He had been a prominent member of the Battalion for not months but years and had landed with the Battalion on D Day as Adjutant. Before D Day he had reigned supreme in that essential sphere of assault scales and vehicle loads and had played a most distinguished part on the A and Q side in planning the initial operation. At Flers he had given up Adjutant to become commander of the Carrier Platoon and when on December 5th he was reported missing it was as if the Battalion had lost part of itself.
As a result of this action, the Military Cross was won by OC 'D' Company, Major Bird, and also by the FOO Captain Taylor, both awards that were heartily acclaimed throughout the Battalion.
END OF THE YEAR
During December many important changes took place in the Battalion. We were delighted to welcome back from England Major Tighe-Wood, MC, who had been wounded at Caen. He took over command of his old Company from Major Sweeny, MC, who had been summoned by the Commander in Chief to a post on his staff. Soon after this we heard that Major Donlea, MC, who had been Second in Command of this Battalion for nearly two years was leaving us to become Commandant of the Divisional Battle School. He was succeeded by Major Wheeler, who had joined us at Vaudry after the conclusion of his mission in Albania with Brigadier Davies. Finally as the year went out we learnt to our sorrow that we were to lose the Commanding Officer, Lt-Colonel Harris. It is difficult to say how much Colonel Harris signified to the Battalion. In the months before D Day he had trained and moulded it into a fine instrument of war and, during the battles, he had inspired in officers and men alike an admiration and respect for him and a trust and faith in his leadership. He genuinely loved the Battalion and was as tireless in his efforts to maintain and nurse its strength as he was loyal to the memory of those who had fallen. So it was with deep emotion on his side and sorrow on ours that he parted from the Battalion on the last day of 1944. We cannot think of a better summary of the Battalion feelings for both Lt-Colonel Harris and his successor, Lt-Colonel Drumond, (Drummond) who joined us from the 1st Battalion than to quote from "The Harp" of New Years Day.
"Today we say au revoir to our C.O. and friend Lt-Colonel I. C. Harris. Everyone of us feels with him, disappointment at his departure from the Battalion. He knitted us into a close fraternity. More so, perhaps, than any unit in any Army. Many of us do not spring from his beloved Ireland. Yet it is due to his team building spirit that we are "Stickies" to the core; our regard for the Battalion is second to none. As we listened to him saying "So long", a thought of Shakespeares "Partings is such sweet sorrow" came to our mind. It is so. Wherever Lieut Colonel Harris may be, the affinity between him and this Battalion will continue. We wish him great success in his new post".
"Welcome to Lt-Colonel J. Drummond, who is taking over the vacancy created. Many of us have previously served under him. We feel sure we will get along together in no uncertain fashion.
Before these changes took place we were fortunate in being able to celebrate altogether a Christmas which, considering the circumstances was magnificent. By happy chance Christmas coincided with the week, during which the Brigade was out of the line, and although the progress of the German offensive in the Ardennes coupled with the vast increase of activity on our own front meant that we must remain on the qui vive, we were able to relax and indulge in a manner which would have been impossible in the line. Christmas fare was on a princely scale and none could complain that in this respect he had suffered a little by spending Christmas away from home. Officers and Serjeants at last were able in communal messes to shake out of the company blocks into which they had been forced by the dictates of operations, and all the traditional rites such as the football match between Officers and Serjeants — by common consent in fancy dress — were observed with relish and delight. Dances and parties on a company basis were organised and thoroughly enjoyed and, of course, what seemed an infinite supply continental liquor was consumed with truly Irish revelry and abandon. It was essentially a friendly and light hearted Christmas, symbolic of the happy spirit which has remained the principal characteristic of the 2nd Battalion throughout all the changes which had come about. It also provided a fitting summary for "the end of a chapter" which, as the year drew to a close, everyone felt the Battalion to have reached.
THE NEW YEAR - RESURGENCE
Excitements in the New Year began early. The Germans were as weary as ourselves with the Watch on the Meuse, and were determined to break the monotony. Punctually at midnight on New Year's Eve, they opened up with a riot of small arms, mortar and artillery fire along the whole length of the front. Tracer soared aimlessly and abundantly into the air, and the roar of guns sounded for five minutes like the prelude to an assault. Next morning at about 1000 hrs, half a dozen German fighters, the first we had seen for some months, swooped low over our positions. They were part of a large force distributing a New Year greeting to British and Canadian airfields throughout Belgium and Holland. 1945 had certainly begun with a swing.
Thun (Then) again, the exhilaration of the prospect of leave to the United Kingdom greatly stimulated those who had been abroad since the inception of the campaign. The first party — only five men — left the Battalion on January 1st, were in the UK by January 3rd, and returned some ten days later. Subsequent parties were larger, and during January and February 13 Officers and 144 Other Ranks were sent on leave by this scheme. There can be no doubt of the benefits which this short period at home bestowed. It corrected a certain staleness wrought by six or seven months active service, and enabled the recipients to return and face their particular problems with a fresh mind and outlook.
Operationally our role remained static, holding the line of the Meuse. At the beginning of the year we were in the Swolgen-Broek-Huizervorst sector, some three miles South of the Blitterswijk—Wanssum country that the Battalion knew so well. Later, after a brief week in Brigade reserve at Horst, we held the stretch of the river above Lottum. All these villages were little known to the general public, but they are stamped indelibly upon the minds of those who lived in them. They were held more as a series of isolated strongpoints, than as mutually supporting bastions of defences, for with a Divisional front of some 25 miles, Companies were inevitably scattered, gaps between them were often immense, and consequently penetration by enemy patrols was all too easy.
Our own patrolling policy was in the main designed to destroy the enemy if he succeeded in landing on our shore. The Battalion area was in every case divided up between Companies, and each Company was responsible for dominating its area throughout the night. This involved a heavy patrolling programme, each Company generally finding two or three patrols, often of many hours duration, every night. As far as the individual rifleman was concerned, this meant that one night he was on guard, and the following night on patrol, and on the third night he was back again on guard, and this in conditions of extreme cold when snow was often thick on the ground. This was the policy throughout the time that we were on the Meuse — from 27th December to 7th January, and after a week's rest, again from the 17th January to 10th February, observation and sleep by day, intensive patrolling by night. By the final date it was a relief to hand over the position and escape from this exhausting routine.
Even this vigilance did not prevent the Germans crossing the Meuse in small parties and slipping through our defensive screen. One night we were informed by 1 K.O.S.B. on our right that a party of 40 Huns had been seen landing on the banks of the Meuse and were approaching our positions. A suitable welcome was prepared but nothing more was seen of them, and an offensive patrol failed to discover them. At times enemy patrols were seen and chased, but they often escaped into the darkness. Others fell foul of minefields, which had been laid with complete abandon by our predecessors. One morning a German patrol of three men were challenged by 2 Lincolns on our left and on taking to flight had been pursued into our area. Here both searcher and quarry fell foul of an anti-personnel minefield, and when day broke it revealed that 2 Lincolns patrol commander had been killed, and of the Germans, one was killed, one captured, and the third was sitting in the middle of the minefield, fearfully aware of the danger of his position. The area was well in observation from the far bank of the river and attempts to retrieve him, even under a red cross flag, evoked salvoes of shellfire from his fellow countrymen, upon whom he did not hesitate to vent his spleen. As a result he stayed out in the cold until darkness and was then brought in by our Infantry Engineer Platoon who had to neutralise mines which were actually lying within inches of his body. On another occasion a Corporal and two men came up against 'C' Company's forward platoon; the two men were both pinned down and captured, and the Corporal, although he escaped our clutches, was known by subsequent interrogation not to have got back to his unit.
On the whole, though, all the advantages lay with the offensive patrol, and for every one German party that we saw probably five or ten others came over, carried out their reconnaissance and returned without us knowing anything about it. One small party was definitely known to have passed through a front line Battalion and penetrated almost to Horst, some five miles back from the river: it was captured on the river bank in the act of returning, having only just failed to complete its mission.
But the initiative was not allowed to remain the monopoly of the Germans. In the last fortnight of our Watch on the Meuse, active patrols across the river were initiated along our entire Corps front. After the restoration of the situation in the Ardennes, the Allies had taken up the offensive again when the Second Army attacked North and East of Geilenkirchen to close up to the line of the River Roer. On the Eastern front the Russians were making striding advances across Poland into Germany, and it was soon obvious that great events were impending on our own front. It became of vital importance that the enemy's layout should be effectively pinpointed and identifications should be secured, and in fact that the slightest change in enemy dispositions was at once made known to the Higher Command.
With this background the first patrol was planned. It was to be led by Lt Hancock of 'D' Company assisted by Lt Hogan of 'A' Company and composed of the Battalion's Battle Patrol which had been reborn at the beginning of the year. Under Captain Baudains, MM, it had journeyed to Grave on the lower Meuse for training in the science of boating, and there had mastered the technique on a far broader and more stormy stretch of the river than that opposite Lottum. They came away from Grave proficient at probably the trickiest part of their task.
Nor was any effort spared on the side of reconnaissance and planning. The patrol commander spent a whole day in an excellent OP, surveying the ground he was to traverse from no greater distance than four hundred yards. The Commanding Officer obtained an aerial view of the objective from an afternoon's cruise in an air OP. Careful reconnaissance was made of this bank and a suitable creek discovered in which the boat could be concealed and ultimately launched. Simultaneously, careful study of the ground was made on sand models, panoramas, and air photographs; here we were much assisted by the timely arrival of the "snow sortie", flown four days before with the snow lying on the ground as it was to be on the night of the patrol. Also a considerable programme for the supporting arms was prepared, to cover the sound of the launching of the boat, rowing across, landing, and cutting the double apron fence which had been observed along the far bank of the river, and for seven nights before the night of the patrol, the Gunners, 4,2 and 3" Mortars, and the MMGs, shot altogether for a spell of ten minutes duration at various times, so that on the night in question, the enemy would suspect nothing unusual in such a barrage.
An extensive "escape" programme was prepared for the event of the patrol running into strength with which it could not deal. The Gunners were to fire a box barrage within which the patrol was to withdraw, and simultaneously Mortars were to harass Lomm and its environs. A considerable body of small arms fire on pre-selected targets was at the disposal of the patrol commander should he find himself in difficulties. This body remained on our bank under the guiding hand of Captain Baudains, MM, who could open fire on hearing a whistle from the patrol commander, and who was in contact by line with the Commanding Officer and Major Nicholson, RA, in the Gunner OP in Lottum. Everything possible was done to provide for an emergency, even though in the event it was not necessary.
The patrol's objective was a group of houses called Hoeken which lay between the hostile village of Lomm and the East bank of the river, that is opposite our own right hand Company in the village of Lottum. The intention was to discover whether Hoeken was held by night and if so in what strength. If possible the patrol was to take a prisoner.
On the night before the patrol was to cross, the boat was carried down to the small creek a few hundred yards up stream from Hoeken. At last at 2000 hrs 31 January, the boat was slipped down into the mainstream, and at the very moment of the crash of the opening salvo of the anti-sound programme, the paddles of the patrol hit the water. In five minutes the whole party, Lt Hancock, Lt Hogan, and seven men were on the other bank. Here they had the misfortune to land on a mud bank, and sink in almost to their waist in mud, extracting themselves only with utmost difficulty. This was a wretched start, but the patrol soon recovered itself, cut the wire, and when Lt Hogan and three Bren guns had been left to cover the boat on the bank, Lt Hancock and four men started forward.
Hoeken consists of five houses in a line some two hundred and fifty yards back from the river. What used to be the gardens of these houses stretch 75 yards down towards the river and are hedged off parallel to the river line forming an enclosure about 100 yards long. South of this enclosure is scraggy orchard, so thinly peopled with trees as hardly to deserve such a name. Between the orchard and the enclosure is a track leading up to the Southernmost house in Hoeken.
The patrol had almost reached this track when the excitements began. Sounds of footsteps were heard coming from the Southern end of the orchard and, throwing themselves flat, they saw three of four men pass within a few feet of them. Simultaneously they heard coughing in the direction of the point from which this party seemed to have come. This was subsequently confirmed by the boating party and the first enemy position was established. Moving Northwards after this tense moment, the patrol lay up next within view of the Southernmost house in Hoeken in which much activity was observed; light flared out as the door was opened and closed, sounds of occupation could be heard, and tracks in the snow could be observed heading away from the house in the direction of the position which had already been located. Clearly it was the platoon billet and headquarters. Now the party continued North to halfway up to the enclosure and then forced their way through the thick hedge and fence that bounded it. Scarcely had they done this when two more sentries walked past not two yards away from the patrol; who, baulked by the hedge, were badly placed to seize them quietly. When they had passed, the patrol moved back out of the enclosure hoping that they would return, but in this they were disappointed. Another piece of ill-fortune came later when Lt Hancock having laid up close to the Northern houses of Hoeken and heard nothing, returned to the track between enclosure and orchard just in time to see two more men walking from the HQ across the orchard to the located position. Once more the patrol was unfortunately placed for snatching a prisoner.
After moving about and lying up for four and a half hours, the patrol now returned to the bank, since Lt Hancock considered his men too cold profitably to continue. Recognition signals with the boating party were successfully made and the whole party re-embarked without further incident. Having left at 2000 hrs they were back again by 0030 hrs. No prisoner had been brought back, because being unfortunately placed on the two most promising occasions, the patrol found no opportunity in which silent success was certain to be the outcome; and Lt Hancock felt that with only four men at his disposal, any sound of struggle would place the whole enterprise in jeopardy. As it was the patrol was able to return with exact information about enemy dispositions and habits in Hoeken without the enemy even realising that anyone had been there. It was the perfect reconnaissance patrol.
This knowledge of the ground and the enemy was put to the fullest possible use in a second expedition which the Battalion was called upon to undertake some four nights later. The intention of the patrol was simple and direct — to bring back a prisoner from Hoeken. 'A' Company found the patrol: its leader was Lt Beavan, and he had no difficulty in finding sufficient volunteers from 'A' Company to go with him. The patrol itself was prepared and briefed far more rapidly than the first one: the order to carry it out on the night 4/5 February was received on the evening of the 3rd. But owing to the detailed topographical knowledge at Lt Beavan's disposal this, in the event, made no difference at all.
Conditions were on this occasion some what different. The night was pitch black, and Lt Beavan decided to put back the time of zero hour from 2000 to 2030 and to call for artificial moonlight. Thaw had set in since the first, and the Meuse was considerably swollen, so much so that, on the far bank, the boat fouled the wire which Lt Hancock had been able to cut at his ease after landing. However the whole party — Lt Beavan and 10 men — finally disembarked on firm ground and the screen of three Bren guns under Sjt Bonass were positioned in a small bridgehead defending the boat.
The patrolling party crawled forward to the edge of the orchard and soon began to see and hear activity. Coughing could be heard from the occupied slit trench to the South of the orchard, and, as if to assist us in pinpointing it, a few rounds of spandau were fired off at nothing in particular. From Hoeken itself sounds of occupation could be heard and the patrol witnessed the extraordinary sight of a man carrying shovels of blazing coal from one house to another. Moving to the orchard, they arrived just in time to see three men walking from the top of the enclosure to the located position South of the orchard. Lt Beavan now appreciated that others would return by the same route when these three had relieved them and immediately transferred his position to half way up the West side of the enclosure. His party had been there about two minutes when two more men walked straight into the ambush from the North. They were challenged, disarmed, and hurried away to the river. Once more recognition signals were made and by 2320 hrs the whole party was back on home ground with no casualties and two rather dejected additions.
The prisoners if they had been handpicked, could not have been more satisfactory or informative. The more valuable was a Company runner, who knew even more about his own and neighbouring positions than an intelligent runner might be expected to know. His identification was what had been anticipated, but luckily he knew that the troops on his right belonged to a different Division, and he was able to delineate the inter-Divisional boundary. It is also interesting that he knew very well that 3 British Division lay opposite his own formation along the Meuse.
This valuable patrol proved a fitting swan-song for the Battalion's Watch on the Meuse. Great events were impending. For the previous week 12 British Corps had been engaged upon an offensive designed to bring Allied forces along the river Roer for the whole of its length. It was a limited offensive, less significant in itself as in what it portended. Once the Roer was crossed — and it was a far less broad and temperamental stream than the Meuse — the Cologne plain lay open and prizes such as Krefeld, München-Gladbach, Bonn and Cologne itself lay within easy reach. As this operation was completed 3 Division were drawn out of the line into Army reserve, being relieved by 52 Division fresh from its successful part in the offensive. We were to withdraw from the fog of war for a short spell, to put our house in order in a peaceful area North of Louvain, and then to be committed anew at the discretion of the Army Group Commander.
BACKWARDS AND FORWARD AGAIN
On February 6th having handed over the position to a battalion of the H. L, I. we began to move. A few days previously we had been visited by 8 Corps Commander — Lt General Barker, CB, CBE, DSO, MC, and the acting Divisional Commander Major General Galloway, CBE, DSO, MC. Both had toured the Battalion area and wished us well during the coming period of rest and revival in the back areas. But neither can have guessed at the difficulty involved in drawing out. The sudden thaw and the heavy loads imposed upon them, had caused the roads to break up altogether. Overnight impassable craters appeared in the road and generally bogged two or three vehicles at once, effectively blocking the road for several hours. We spent most of 6th February dragging ourselves clear of the forward areas and not until 1930 hrs were we lined up in TCVs on the Horst—Venray road, with the whole Battalion transport complete, except for a few hopelessly bogged stragglers, and ready to move. Even then our troubles were not at an end. The Venray—Deurne road was now proclaimed impassable, and after being held up for three hours in Venray we then diverted ten miles before reaching Deurne to continue our journey. We finally reached our destination at 1300 hrs on 7th February.
The new Battalion area lay astride the main road from Louvain to Malines. 'A' 'B' and 'D' Companies were stretched out along the road itself, 'C' Company some half a mile from the main road on the West side, while Battalion Headquarters, 'S' Company and A and B Echelons were established in Thildonk, a peaceful little Belgian village about a mile to the East of the main road. Accommodation proved to be the best that the Battalion as a whole had found since the campaign began. Most of the men were in private billets, and, assisted by the overwhelming hospitality of the Belgian people, they were not slow to relax and enjoy it. Not since the days of Hacqueville near the Seine had we lived so remote from the battlefield, or been so delighted with the spectacle of a normal, happy, friendly community.
From most points of view, it was a vast improvement upon Haqueville. Billets were substituted for barns and farmhouses, and when the delights of the billet were temporarily exhausted, Brussels, Malines and Louvain all lay within twenty miles. Two most successful Regimental Dances were held at Malines at which it was a pleasure to see local units of WAAF and ATS well represented. Once more the Battalion Pipers, under Pipe Major Doyle were able to renew the success and popularity they had enjoyed previously in Belgium. Daily parties of sixty visited Brussels, while rest clubs, cinemas, and ENSA shows attracted many to Louvain. Perhaps the supreme pleasure was one that could be experienced on the spot — the facility to drop into a cafe at any time, and drink a pint of beer.
For the Battalion as a whole this rest was tremendously beneficial. A winter of static warfare had inevitably induced a staleness and blunted the keen edge of high morale and first class state of training. Thildonk was a complete answer to this state of affairs. Much valuable physical and weapon training was undertaken, cadre courses for Junior and Senior NCOs were put in hand, and although when the time came to move, by no means all training schemes had reached fruition, yet the Commanding Officer was satisfied that the best possible use had been made of the time at our disposal and that the Battalion when called upon to fight again would do so with renewed vigour and resolution.
Rumours of a move were circulating on the 21st February. By this time the offensive launched through the Reichwald by the Canadian First Army was making progress despite appalling weather conditions, and by the 20th, Goch and Cleve were both taken. On the 22nd we were ordered to send reconnaissance parties to Tilburg with a view to moving the Battalion on the following day. But whilst pondering upon the significance of that move we heard it was cancelled. Instead we had now to relieve a Brigade of 15 Scottish Division a few miles South East of Goch and continue the advance in its place.
So the instructional courses (broke up, training schemes were abruptly terminated, lorries and trucks were loaded and the journey began. Louvain, Diest, Bourg Leopold, Helmond, St Anthonis, over the engineering wonder constructed by the Sappers across the Meuse — to that date the second largest Bailey Bridge in the world — and finally across the frontier into Germany, marked by massed 25 pounders in action on either side of the road. This was the route which carried the Battalion across two countries and into a third on a single day. As darkness was falling, the ruins of Goch slid gradually into view and we saw for the first time the fate of a German town which had received the concentrated attention of the RAF.
The main body had left the Louvain area soon after 0900 hrs, preceded by the Commanding Officer and advance parties, and reached the final destination shortly before midnight straightaway taking over from a battalion of the Gordons. The area was dismal and unattractive, in a thick wood centred upon a monument of gloom called Schloss Calbeck. It was a rude and sudden change from our happy surroundings in Belgium, but at least we had the comfort of a shell-less night — the first that the Schloss had known for some time — and were able to become acclimatised to warlike conditions more gradually. During the night a patrol went out to establish contact with 1 KOSB on the left flank and another under Lt Beavan went forward and reported the wood directly to the front of the Battalion position clear of enemy; whereat 'C' Company moved up and dug positions in it. Early next morning the honour of drawing first blood on German soil fell to 'A' Company; ironically enough the victim was a pig.
Later the higher plan for the resumption of the offensive was disclosed. While on the left the Canadians attacked Udem, and on the right 53rd Division attacked Weeze, 3rd Division was to clear some five miles of wooded area stretching from the outskirts of Goch towards Kervenheim. 9 Brigade were allotted the stretch which extended as far as the Udem—Weeze road, the consolidation of which was to be final task of 2 RUR.
On the day before the attack 2 RUR was ordered to secure the Brigade start line and prevent enemy infiltration across it. The start line was a track running across the front and about 200 yards forward of our positions which constituted the Brigade axis of advance. A patrol from the Carrier Platoon under Captain Baudains, MM, was sent out to make a reconnaissance of the start line. Moving cautiously along the track he came upon the bodies of three men of a British tank unit lying on the track. He crawled forward to them, and looking up for a moment from examining them, he caught a glimpse of a German steel helmet peeping over the top of a bank not thirty yards away from him. Throwing himself flat and crawling back to his men, Captain Baudains immediately organised a attack on this position. Covered by 2" mortar fire, he put in a quick flanking movement and finally charging with three Bren groups firing from the hip, flushed out two very timid members of the Master Race. They proved to be most valuable because on being marched away down the track, they indicated with shaking fingers and terrified shouts of "Minen, Minen", that the track was mined.
Details of the number and depth of these mines were duly extracted by our Dutch Interpreter, Lt Daniels, and the information passed back. It was a difficult situation. By now it was dark, and clearing mines of unknown species by night was a highly undesirable occupation. But it was decided that since this track was the Brigade centre line, it must be cleared at all costs before the attack went in at dawn. Accordingly Lt Hogan and some sappers were despatched to clear it. When they reached the area and started to work on the field, heavy mortaring began and caused Lt Hogan to be badly wounded on a mine. Eventually the party was forced to abandon this impossible task and when the attack began next day, the forward troops had to bypass this place by going through the wood.
One other patrol was carried out that night. A sapper officer and a tank officer wanted to examine a bridge beyond the stretch of wood which was on the far side of the minefield. Cpl Wallace and three men of the Carrier Platoon conducted them, and the whole party had an adventurous patrol. To begin with Cpl Wallace mistook the route, and marched the party straight through the minefield without mishap. Soon after this the patrol came under a sudden burst of machine gun fire which forced them to "freeze" for some time. Working forward again a verey light was fired at them at point blank range, again the party was compelled to lie up. Notwithstanding this opposition, Cpl Wallace pushed forward reaching the bridge and a level crossing three hundred yards beyond, thus not only satisfying the sapper and tank officer but bringing back valuable information about the enemy.
Shelling and mortaring were severe that night and 'C' Company suffered most heavily. So low lying was the ground that all trenches of more than two feet deep filled up with water. Yet continuous shelling impelled the men to get themselves below ground. It was miserable indeed and 'C' Company lost at least 15 wounded. Casualties were such that 'C' Company had to be reorganised into two platoons. Finally Major Murphy asked the Commanding Officer for permission to move forward beyond the mined stretch of track and dig in at the furthest edge of the wood. It was given.
The attack began on 27th February. 2 Lincolns passed through us followed by the KOSB, both Battalions being directed onto objectives intermediate to the main one which was the Udem—Weeze road. Our own attack began at 1000 hrs with 'D' Company right and 'A' Company left. The support was magnificent: a barrage of colossal intensity crept forward in front of our advancing troops, and what that left uncompleted was well looked after by the Churchills of theScots Guards, whose support with Besas and tank guns was so close and effective that the German heads were kept down until we were right on them. The Germans were completely demoralised and many fell into our hands. Some were youngsters of sixteen who threw off their belts and equipment in disgust when taken, some were old men, and here and there were tough paratroopers. The advance went forward in impressive line — 'A' Company, then 'C' Company on the left, 'D' in the centre, and the KOSB on the right. 'D' Company alone claimed 80 prisoners, while in 'C' Company tremendous strides forward were made by Lt Purcell, who, at the head of his platoon, captured several posts with inspiring dash and enthusiasm, and took a large number of prisoners. One batch of them was ignominiously hauled from the cellar of a house and two further groups of ten each were taken as the platoon pressed forward to its final objective. The official count of prisoners for this action was 140, but this is only the figure for those who were passed back through our Intelligence Section. Many others, in the heat of the battle, were passed on to the nearest unit and were put down to ultra-Battalion sources.
There was a sudden alarm from 'D' Company whilst consolidation was taking place. OC 'D' Company, Major Bird, MC, had already seen two SP guns making off just as he arrived on the abjective. The Piat at once went into action but unfortunately the range was too great, and 'D' Company had the painful experience of looking on while the SPs faded away in their own time. Soon after this two enemy tanks counterattacked 'D' Company's positions, but a call for defensive fire produced a prompt and effective response from our excellent gunner Major Nicholson, RA, and henceforward nothing untoward occurred to interrupt digging and the brewing of tea.
The Battalion had not however escaped unscathed from this operation. Lt Hogan, the Infantry Engineer Platoon Commander, was severely wounded in the leg whilst making a reconnaissance of a schu minefield under shellfire before the attack. Major Murphy fell victim to a light shell wound after the attack, and though not seriously hurt he was evacuated. Command of 'C' Company then consisting of two Officers, one Sergeant and fifty Other Ranks, devolved upon Captain DM Barry. Altogether casualties for this operation — most of which were sustained in shelling before the attack began — were 2 Officer and 64 Other Ranks. On the more cheerful side, Lt Purcell was later awarded the M.C. for his part in this operation.
The battle was not without its unusual features. The weather was on the whole wet and miserable, and the tracks through the wood — at best poor — had for the most part been rendered impassable. No vehicle dared to move before a thorough reconnaissance had been made of the route, and so the more unusual vehicles of the military establishment began to make their appearance TAC Battalion HQ for instance contained two Kangaroos, two Weasels, and a light tank. With this motley collection it was frequently impossible to follow the Brigade axis, and attempts to find a route round the road were so successful that at one stage the group emerged well in front of the line of advance. Later came a second anomaly when on the objective the problem of evacuating prisoners became so acute that the Commanding Officer himself escorted a batch of fifteen back towards Battalion HQ.
This action rounded off the month and our part of the operation Veritable was concluded in the first few days of March. 185 Brigade passed through us on 1st March and attacked Kervenheim, and even before this was cleared 9 Brigade was ordered to thrust again, leaving Kervenheim on our left flank, towards some woods about two miles South of Kervenheim, and from there push forward to capture Winnekendonk, four miles South of Kervenheim. Early in the attack it became clear that with the exception of a few snipers the enemy had pulled back to a small perimeter defence of Winnekendonk. Thus only 2 Lincolns, who where charged with the capture of Winnekendonk, encountered organised resistance, and this they overcame with a determination and completeness that we were coming to recognise as characteristic of them.
2 RUR had two phases of this attack to undertake. Our first was to capture and clear the woods South of Kervenheim, and the second, after the Lincolns had taken Winnekendonk, to move up and consolidate the Winnekendonk—Wesel, road, thus finally clearing the way for the armour to pass through. In both these attacks we were again very fully and ably supported by the tanks of the Scots Guards, and by about seven Field Regiments. But apart from a few snipers beyond the objective of our first attack, the main opposition came, paradoxically, from our own troops. During the first attack, Typhoons gave us such uncomfortably close support that the Commanding Officer was forced to halt the leading Companies advancing towards the objective. Again, just before the second attack, a patrol sent forward to contact the forward Companies of 1 KOSB, through whom we had to pass, was shot up by an overzealous sentry, wounding two of our men. Finally during the last attack, a fully articulated gunner programme including some seven Field Regiments, produced not a few "shorts"; luckily they inflicted no casualties.
Beyond the final objectives of the first attack, some brisk skirmishes with the enemy were however reported. 'B' Company at once sent out patrols which quickly located enemy positions, albeit at some cost. One under Lt Phillips, pushed forward and found the enemy in a large house down the road. In front of this house Lt Phillips silenced a spandau which had opened fire on a second patrol under Sjt Cartwright. This patrol was less fortunate: it became pinned down by Machine Gun and rifle fire from several directions. Rfn Connor, a keen and excellent young soldier was wounded in the head by a bullet. He was carried back about a hundred yards to cover by Cpl Lawlor, but died before anything could be done about his wound. One other Rifleman was wounded in the leg but was brought in by Sjt Cartwright to cover afforded by a fold in the ground. It was a tricky position, and finally artillery and tanks were called up to extricate the patrol.
A third patrol from 'B' Company under Lt McCainor cleared a large house which overlooked the left flank of the Company position. One German was discovered and swiftly bolted: he was fired upon, but, though winged, made good his escape.
Some enemy shelling and mortaring had, as always, to be endured however in spite of the virtual absence of ground opposition. After consolidation of the woods South of Kervenheim, it was quite heavy. Lt Purcell and an officer who had joined us in Thildonk. 2/Lt Macintyre, both being lightly wounded and evacuated. But by comparison with the Lincolns we escaped lightly, and our second attack completed 9 Brigade's part in the advance towards the Rhine. Soon afterwards Guards Armoured Division, delayed some hours by demolitions, passed through us and in a few days all that was left to the Boche West of the River Rhine was the "Wesel'" pocket. During this period of January and February several noteworthy events have to be placed on record. In February we heard that Lt-Colonel Harris, who had left us at the end of the year to go to the Far East, had been awarded the D.S.O. It was fitting reward and recognition of the immense service he had rendered to the Battalion from D Day up to the end of the year. In the same list was the award of an M.C. to RSM Flaming, a tribute to his ubiquity and courage under shellfire, and devotion to duty under the most harassing conditions. We had hoped to see him back with us again, but the wound sustained at Troarn gave him a permanent 'B' grading. His place was taken by CSM Lutton, who came to Battalion Headquarters from 'B' Company to assume the rank. Finally the return of Major Cummins to the Battalion after an absence of two years must be mentioned. He was well known to the older members of the Battalion, and after a short period assumed command of 'B' Company with Captain Gaffikin as his second-in-command.
WATCH ON THE RHINE
At Winnekendonk we presided for several days over the liquidation of the Wesel pocket, being held for the most part at 12 hours notice to assist in clearing it up. Looking at a map it was not difficult to see the resemblance between the Wesel pocket and the Wanssum pocket. Both positions were comparatively easy to defend, each being surrounded on three sides by a great river and a broad tributary, and in both cases supporting artillery and anti-tank guns could be brought up close behind these water obstacles and employed with devastating effect. But times had changed, and the German now found himself unable to afford the luxury of a pocket; every available man was needed to hold the line of the Rhine itself. On the night of 8/9 March, he withdrew from the West bank.
3 British infantry Division's new role was now made known. It was to take up positions along the Rhine from Rees to Emmerich and hold them with two very definite purposes. First, no enemy was to be permitted to set foot upon our shore, and if any party succeeded momentarily in doing this it was to be wiped out. Secondly, everything possible was to be done by way of observation during the day to build up a clear picture of the enemy's dispositions on the far bank.
The Battalion was alloted (allotted) a front of approximately 3,000 yards. North East of Calcar and South West of Rees. Rees stands at the head of a right angular bend in the river, and downstream past the town, the river runs due West for about 4,000 yards and then swings sharply North again towards Emmerich. This Westerly stretch along which the Battalion took its stand was obviously to be of immense importance. Although the utmost security about forthcoming operations was maintained, it did not require excessive imagination to realise that this was the ideal site for a assault crossing of the river, and the perfect springboard for the capture of Rees which was the focal point of four first class reads.(?) On our own side the roads leading towards the river from the main Calcar—Xanten lateral were in excellent condition, and there were useful tracks which led down from a tarmac lateral road some five hundred yards back from and parallel with the river, to the river itself. Finally, limiting the German's view of our own side of the river was a bund or bank which ran the whole way along the river and represented the high water mark of the river in flood; although there were breaches in it at various points, it was well suited to conceal large scale movement of troops and supplies.
The scope and extent of the preparations that soon began left no doubt in the minds of all ranks that this was definitely one of the sites for the assault, and spurred them on to carry out the Battalion's commitments to the utmost of their ability. Tremendous effort was demanded and found. By night on the river bank five standing patrols at four hundred yard intervals along the water's edge were found by the Battalion, and behind them, three Companies were forward, alert and prepared for any emergency. During the day five O.Ps were manned from dawn to dusk so that every part of the Battalion front was covered from several angles, every detail of enemy movement on the far bank was religiously catalogued, and by the end of our residence, we had obtained a shrewd idea of how the enemy was disposed on the far bank.
On only one occasion did the Hun tread upon the soil of our Battalion area, and then not for long. The night of 21 March was as black as Erebus: visibility was nil. At about 0200 hours one of the river bank patrols from 'A' Company, under Lt P. Haley, heard sounds of splashing and attempts to disembark from a boat. They moved at once towards the place and opened a withering fire in the direction of the sounds. It was returned by the NCO in charge of the German patrol, but only for a short time. Coming upon the patrol, Lt Haley took prisoner one of the Germans, and later a search revealed the body of the NCO riddled with bullets. The third member, for the prisoner revealed that there were three, was presumed by our own men, and by the prisoner himself, to have been drowned when he attempted to climb back into the beat. (boat) He could not swim and the craft had capsized in the course of the fight.
There was little recreation for most of the Battalion in these circumstances of a 24 hours day's vigil. Yet in spite of it we still managed to honour and venerate St Patrick, if not with traditional ceremony, at least with festive good fare. Geese, curkey, (turkey) and pigs alike bowed their heads passively in observation of this perennially great occasion, and a moderate supply of beer and wines did something to compensate for the onbroken (unbroken) watch which the tactical situation impelled us to maintain.
Each day, the plan for the crossing of the Rhine became more clear to us as we watched the preparations that were being made, and throughout, we found it interesting to speculate upon how close we had come to carrying out the assault crossing ourselves. When the Division was resting between Malines and Louvain, it had been earmarked for the crossing at the point where 15 Scottish Division eventually crossed. At that time the great assault through the Reichwald Forest had been launched, and it was designed to coincide with a similar attack by the Ninth U.S. Army across the River Roer towards Cologne. But on the eve of this attack the Germans shattered the Roer dams, and held up the American thrust for 18 days, and so were able to switch extra divisions to the Reichwald front against the Second Army. 3 British Infantry Division which had to that date been husbanded for the crossing of the Rhine, was now committed near Goch and Weeze, relieving 15 Scottish Division who had borne the brunt of these German reinforcements, and who were now with drawn to Tilburg for refitting and training to force the Rhine.
The "build up" for the operation conveyed the impression that no effort or expense was being spared to make this operation a success. Overnight, the whole Battalion area became carpetted with guns and rocket of every known calibre, and extensive ammunition dumps everywhere sprang into existence. The roads became heavily signed with notices showing points of embarkation, beach assembly areas, tank tracks, PW cages, and a host of other things, so that it soon bore a strong resemblance to the Normandy beachhead. At the same time reconnaissances of the river bank were being made nightly by Sappers, frequently under the escort of our patrols, and daily from our O.Ps by practically every officer from Lieut-General Sir Miles Dempsey, KCB, DSO, MC, himself to the most insignificant subaltern in the assaulting Division — many specialist RA, RE, RASC, RAOC, R.EME, each with his own problem to solve — all visited the O.Ps in unbroken succession. Much of the visibility was obscured during the day by an artificial smoke screen which veiled the enormity of the preparations that were being made. It hovered over the forward companies the whole day long, and its sickly, choking smell made living conditions almost impossible The assault came, above all as a tremendous relief to the afflicted troops.
The night of the 24/25 was the opening of the attack, and that afternoon all companies were fully informed of the plan, and a message from Field Marshal Montgomery was read out. Soon after this, the much heralded barrage began. From 1700 to 2100 hours the roar of gunfire continued without a break, and at 2100 hours, the moment of assault, it was stepped up to a veritable furore. Thousands of guns, from British Naval pieces to 4.2 Mortars and 25 pounders, drummed out an inspiring challenge which must have struck fear into the heart of the most steely foe. Most impressive of all were the multi-barrelled rockets or "mattresses", terrifying machines, each of which in half a minute unleashed 360 rockets, every one burning its way through the air with a screech that was frightening to hear. All through the night, the pace was kept up, and although preparations had been made for enemy counter-battery, little was seen or heard of it and we were thankful to report next morning that no casualties had been sustained.
ACROSS THE RHINE
For two days after the crossing by 51 Highland Division, we remained in our positions, though now of course we were relieved of our operational commitments. We basked peacefully in the sun, and the hardier spirits bathed in the river. But on the 27th. this rest was rudely disturbed, for at 1600 hrs. the Battalion was ordered to cross the river by the bridge at Rees immediately, to relieve a Battalion of 51 Highland Division that night. This caused some concern at first because some days before the assault the bulk of the Battalion transport had been ordered back to St Anthonis, on the West side of the Meuse, in order to clear the roads for the assaulting troops, and it had not yet rejoined us. We moved however, without further ado, although the transport did not join us until much later.
We crossed the Rhine on the class 40 bridge into Rees, and once over, spent some time in sorting ourselves out of the shambles of destruction and traffic that we found there. Eventually we came to Groin, a little village two miles North East of Rees, where we relieved the 5th. Seaforths, releasing them to continue the advance further North next day. Groin lay on the right flank of the 51st. Highland Division, whose main thrust had been directly North from Rees, and none knew what effect this threat had had upon any enemy in Haldern — opposite Groin. Equally, no one knew now (how) far forward 15 Scottish Division had reached from their crossing of the Rhine South of Rees, or what effect if any, their thrust had had upon Haldern. Next morning two patrols set out to find out the answers to these problems. Capt. Baudains with a patrol from his Carrier platoon probed well into the town, while further North a patrol from "B" Company under Lt McCart pushed almost to the main road running North out of Haldern. These two excellent patrols reported the town clear and Lt McCart brought back three straggling paratroopers who confirmed that their unit had pulled out of Haldern the previous night. They also said that extensive mine laying had (been undertaken by the Germans before their departure.
Meanwhile a massive two battalion night attack on Haldern, supported by six field regiments had been planned, but it was swiftly abandoned when the information of the patrols was known. 9 British Infantry Brigade, with 2 RUR leading, was now to move forward as fast as it could along the axis Haldern—Werth — high ground just west of Bocholt. We started at 1700 hrs. and by 2000 hrs. the same evening were on our objectives, five miles higher up the axis. No contact had been made with the enemy, but Reigel mines had been extensively laid in the road, so that essential vehicles were compelled to make detours into the fields, and finally had to be left behind until a way could be cleared. The Infantry Engineer Platoon under Sjt Genovese pulled at least 200 mines from the road that night, and the Sappers, later, were to pull many more.
Off the road great work was done by Capt. Baudains with members of the Carrier and Anti-tank platoons in constructing a class IX bridge over a little stream which was preventing the passage of vehicles over the cross country route. Our losses in men and vehicles were nil that night, though next morning a carrier and a 15 cwt. were blown up on two mines concealed in the verges.
FORCING OF THE RIVER AA
During that night 1 KOSB passed through the Battalion and occupied Werth, and early next day 2 Lincolns took up the running towards the high ground East of Bocholt. Hard by a stream named on the map River Aa, their forward elements came under fire from the further bank, and subsequent probing gave the impression that the Aa was held and would need to be forced.
Of all the many actions that this Battalion has fought, none can have been so bleak in prospect and yet so succesful (successful) in outcome as the forcing of the River Aa. At 1700 hrs. on the evening of 29th. March, the Commanding Officer was ordered to carry out an assault river crossing five miles away, with midnight as zero hour. We were to cross on the left hand side of the Main Brigade Axis, and no one had yet set foot on our own side of the river, for the Lincolns had come under fire from enemy on the right hand side. Thus not only was nothing known about the enemy on the far bank but it was by no means certain that the ground on this side of the river was clear of them. Finally, complete ignorance prevailed about the Aa itself. None could say whether it was a fluent river or a babbling brook, and whilst one man suggested storm boats, another was fearful that assault boats would be grounded as soon as they hit the water.
"C" Company under Capt. Beavan, was immediately despatched to clear the area and secure the startline. An exhaustive search of houses and farms produced four prisoners, who, tired of war and all the irritations of retreat, had decided to wait behind for our arrival. Most valuable was the discovery of two civilians who spoke English, and who gave us details of the River Aa. It was about 10 metres wide und knee deep, with steep banks which would take assault boats without difficulty. This was much needed information, and it was confirmed in far greater detail by an excellent patrol under Lt Harris, who actually paddled across River Aa in his determination to procure a complete picture of the river. At no time did he hear a sound of enemy movement on the other bank.
Soon, representatives from the Carrier and Infantry Engineer Platoons, supervised by Capt. Baudains, were down by the river searching out routes and clearing them of mines, and at the same time members of the Intelligence section taped out a startline some 200 yards back from the river.
Between 2200 and 2300 hours the assault boats were brought down on carriers along the tracks that had been cleared, and laid down against the tape. This arduous labour was undertaken by the Anti-tank Platoon and a Platoon of "C" Company, under the control of Capt. Gray.
Zero Hour had been put forward from midnight to 0100 hrs. to allow one more vital hour for preparations. The plan was now for "A" and "D" Companies to initiate the assault, with "A" Company on the right going straight through to objectives just this side of the second stream about 700 yards beyond the first — while "D" Company consolidated a limited brigehead which could pay particular attention to the exposed left flank. "B" Company was then to cross on the left flank and pass through "D" Company to an area some 400 yards beyond, and in the third flight "C" Company with Tactical Bn. HQ. protected by Carrier Platoon, would cross to fill the gap behind "A" Company.
Excitement soon began. "A" Company crossed without incident and formed up on the river side of a steep embankment. Then, advancing across it, they discovered to their amazement that the Hun was dug into the further side of the embankment, and several prisoners were straight away "winkled out". Swift progress was then made — swift enough to catch two horse drawn trucks of a German support company slinking away to more peaceful surroundings. They were at once engaged, two of the crew falling into our hands wounded, and two others captured intact with their cargo of three mortars and a considerable quantity of ammunition.
On the left "D" Company crossed and established themselves quickly into a tight brigehead. Soon, however, shooting began on the left flank when a sizeable patrol — interpreted at first as a counter attack — came scurrying into our positions. It was "seen off" with remarkable spirit and "elan" by Sjt Cochrane who, with his men, succeeded in capturing the entire patrol. Sniping from isolated enemy posts went on after. This, and two of our men, including a Sergeant, were hit while still on the home side of the river. One of these snipers was swiftly and effectively dealt with by Capt. Baudains, MM, whose Carrier Platoon was providing protection for the Battalion's left flank with six Bren Guns. Grabbing a 2" Mortar he put down six bombs all around the sniper, so demoralising him that he fell an easy prey to "D" Company on the farther bank.
Strangest of all, perhaps, were the adventures of "B" Company. The forward platoon, under Sjt Tipper, reached its objective without difficulty, and immediately cleared some houses of 12 to 15 Germans. The platoon then dug in. Suddenly a German CSM emerged from the lee of a building, approached one of the riflemen who was digging in and began to march him off covering him with a pistol. Two shadowy figures were espied by the opposite end of the platoon and Rfn. Hayes, dissatisfied with the answer given to his challenge by the German, opened fire and killed him with a Bren. The other rifleman was thus saved from captivity and, though wounded, fortunately was not too seriously so.
Later on, still in darkness, another patrol bumped into this same platoon, and lost one wounded and one PW. No further effective pursuit could be carried out since at this time one of our own patrols was expected in from examining some foot bridges on a further stream.
The prisoners produced were extraordinary, both in themselves and the way they were captured. Perhaps the most distinguished was a tall, fair haired youth, who claimed to have lunched with the Fuhrer in Bocholt on the previous day! Prisoners tumbled out of the oddest places. Major Bird MC, going round the platoons ventured to criticise one of the slit trenches dug into the river bank. On being informed that it was a German dug-out he examined it more closely, and found it contained two German soldiers, whom he promptly flushed out. Other prisoners were taken by OC "A" Company, the RAP Serjeant, and the Commanding Officer himself.
The final count was 55 PW; four wounded PW; two killed, and a substantial amount of equipment captured. As against this total, our own casualties were six wounded not an unsatisfactory balance. Afterwards — as if to round off the success of the attack — we heard that Sjt Cochrane had won a Military Medal for this part in the attack.
We rested for some little time near Bocholt, while armour broke out of the Rhine bridgeheads. Each day red arrows leapt further and faster across the map, and our own surroundings became more and more peaceful. Information was somewhat clouded by security blackout, but between the lines of official communiqués we could detect the beginnings of the thrusts towards the Weser along its entire length, and the encirclement of the Ruhr. More immediately, our own Corps was now driving along a centre line which was ambitiously directed at Bremen and Hamburg, and at that time it was difficult to see why these two ports should not be carried on the crest of the wave. We did not expect, did not want, to be left behind this forward surge, for it looked like the end, and no one was more anxious to speed its coming than ourselves.
We were summoned to move again on April 3rd. and for two days we followed along the axis of the Guards Armoured Division. The Corps role was to secure the left flank of Second Army's advance from the threat of any German forces in Northern Holland. So we found ourselves defending strategic points on the Corps axis, for a few hours here, and a day there. The route took us back into Holland for about thirty miles, and we gazed here upon country, the fresh and fertile character of which did much to restore our faith in Holland after months spent along the more desolate and dreary stretches of the Meuse. It was indeed springtime, and while by day we could enjoy the lushness of a beautiful countryside, at the end of the day our contact with a newly liberated people could be renewed without the fetters of fraternisation decrees which life in Germany imposed. Groenlo, then Enschede, received us with wild enthusiasm, and it was with some feelings of regret that the Battalion finally left this country behind, and crossed the border once again on the road to Lingen.
3 British Infantry Division had been warned that if at any point the advance of the armour was seriously held up it would have to attack and clear the way for the advance to be resumed. Lingen was geographically the obvious place for such a stand. It lay on the East side, not only of the River Ems, but of the canal which linked the Ruhr industries with the North sea port of Emden, so that both river obstacles had to be crossed before the town itself could be reached. The Guards, after being thwarted at one bridge by a matter of seconds captured another across the first obstacle, about one mile north of Lingen, and on 4th. April 2 KSLI of our own division forced a crossing of the second obstacle against light opposition. The other two Battalions of 185 Infantry Brigade now swung Southwards and entered the town.
But Lingen, later proved to be a bastion of Nazi doctrine, was not to give in so easily. There were several Officer Cadet Training Units in the District, and these contributed a fanatical type towards, the defence of the town. Gradually resistance crystallized and concentrated, so that soon every street, every house, had to be thoroughly combed and cleansed. Not a single Brigade, but the complete Division, had to be deployed to clear the town.
2 RUR's first part in this attack was to relieve 2 KSLI of their bridgehead over the Ems canal, releasing them to be employed in clearing part of the town. It was not a comfortable assignment for the Class 40 bridge was under constant shellfire, and approaching it was, at best, a chancy business. Several vehicles were destroyed, including a Jeep and a 15 cwt. belonging to the Battalion. But we had not to stay there for long. Plans were being changed rapidly and a 1800 hrs. the Battalion was ordered to move down into the heart of Lingen, and prepare to launch an attack through the foremost position of 185 Infantry Brigade at first light the following day. By 2130 hrs the Battalion was concentrated around the main square of Lingen, and before the light failed the Commanding Officer, and commanders of the leading companies had been able to obtain a swift and not very enlightening glimpse of the ground that was to be traversed next day.
BATTLE IN LINGEN
On April 6th., 2 RUR was given the task of passing through 2 Warwick at first light in Lingen to clear a sector of the town which lay astride one of the main routes out of it. The intention was to consolidate a vital crossroads on the outskirts of the town. This would allow the Guards Armoured Division, scheduled to cross the bridge over the canal at 0800 hrs, the same morning, to pass through and exploit our success.
In all, the distance to be traversed was about 1500 yards, 2 Warwicks were based upon the line of the Lingen railway, with one company forward of it across a subsidiary road which was to be the start line. The main road ran East from the railway out of Lingen, and at this crossroads met a subsidiary road running out of South Lingen in a North Easterly direction. This road was to be the scene of bitter fighting when the attack began.
Little was known about the enemy as, after a counter attack by German infantry and SP guns had been made against 2 Warwick on the day before our attack, contact had been virtually lost. The Boche was known, however, not to have quitted the town, and was expected to defend all main routes out of it. A patrol from 2 Warwick knew that a house only a short distance from their forward troops, along the main axis, was occupied by the enemy.
The plan was as follows. "C" Company was to capture the vital crossroads by pushing, not down the main road, but in a right flanking direction, coming up to the road junction along the secondary road. The chief opposition was expected on the main axis, and it was hoped by this bold plan to cut their line of withdrawal. Once "C" Company was established, "A" Company were to advance straight up the main road, clearing the houses and driving the enemy against the firm bed of resistance provided by "C" Company on the road junction. Subsequently "D" Company was to pass through "C" Company to consolidate forward and right, and "B" Company was to clear any houses that "C" Company had left unsearched in their advance to the crossroads.
The Commanding Officer's orders to Capt. Barry, in command of "C" Company, were simple and direct. It was to get on to the crossroads by a circuitous route, straightaway, without clearing more houses than was the forward platoon to get acquainted with what had happened, he then turned back to Company Headquarters to unleash the Crocodiles against these fanatically defended buildings. But bad luck was to play its part. In attempting to manoeuvre into position, the flamethrowers left the road and immediately sank into a soft and boggy stretch of ground and were unable to move. Undeterred by this disaster, Capt. Alexander formed up his second platoon, under Lt Fairman, for an attack on the house under cover of an AP shoot from one Sherman 17 pdr. Here again, bad luck appeared to dog his efforts. The first shots from the Sherman, unknown to the gunner, touched upon the branches of a tree which overhung the bank, and burst amongst the platoon causing casualties and some demoralisation. This platoon quickly reorganised and moved forward, but it too was pinned down by fire from a house close by the other.
Notwithstanding these reverses, Capt. Alexander determined to reach his objective. He now pushed his third platoon Northwards to the main road, ordering it to work along towards the crossroads on the right hand side, clearing all the houses up to the Company objective. Covering fire was provided by the Shermans and the other two platoons, and this time Capt. Alexander's plan was blessed with success. Houses were cleared, some 25 prisoners taken, and this third platoon under Lt Harris was able to establish itself well beyond the company objective.
"A" Company, who had already begun the advance along the main axis, now proceeded merrily on their way. The success of their house clearing was now ensured due to the stop which "C" Company had built across the German's line of withdrawal. Prisoners began to dribble back to Battalion HQ. The objectives were soon made and consolidated. Then a patrol under Lt Songest was sent forward to contact "C" Company. Working his way forward about 200 yards he suddenly came under fire from a party of Germans in some houses close to those which had been troubling "C" Company. In taking cover some casualties were sustained, so without further hesitation Lt Songest decided to attack. Under cover of a smoke grenade and covering fire from the patrol, he advanced with a small party under intense small arms fire, threw a grenade through a small aperture and, forcing open the door, compelled the enemy to surrender. Casualties were sustained and Lt Songest, was himself grazed in the neck by a bullet. But 60 prisoners were tumbled out of these houses, and this finally cleared the way through to "C" Company.
While this was going on, "D" Company was passing through "C" Company to reach their objective without opposition. The Commanding Officer was now ordered to send one Company to occupy a triangle of roads on the Battalion's right flank, some 600 yards due south of "D" Company's new position.
"B" Company under Major Cummins with one troop of Shermans, was accordingly directed to this task. The position was quickly reached and consolidated, and only when a small patrol was sent to investigate a house in front of the forward position did the trouble begin. As the patrol approached the house, a spandau opened fire from the edge of a large wood which extended a great distance behind the house. This caused casualties, among whom was L/Cpl. Glover, the patrol commander, but in spite of his wounds he retained control, extricated his men, and explained coherently and accurately on his return the position of the gun before being evacuated. The reserve platoon was now brought up with two Shermans, and while these gave covering fire, an assault was put in with great dash by Lt McCrainor's platoon killing one, wounding two and capturing one German, putting two others to flight.
Patrolling forward a little further, this platoon was fired on, and two more spandaus were encountered, though fortunately the wood now hindered their field of fire. Just as an attack on these positions was being prepared, information was received from Brigade that the wood was probably held in considerable strength; a substantial part of 7 Para Division was believed to be in it. The Commanding Officer gave orders that the engagement would be broken off and the company would pull back to its original position. Subsequent information from PsW (PWs) revealed that when the tanks moved up to begin the attack on the two spandaus the enemy, who were indeed in fair strength, withdrew, although it seems probable that they returned some time later before finally evacuating during the night. At any rate they took no further action against our troops.
This phase of Lingen had produced bitter, lethal fighting. These fanatical Germans asked no quarter and received none. Hand to hand fighting in which our men — stimulated by unexpected resistance — got to close grips with the enemy, took place and the bodies of the Germans lying within a few yards of our own wounded and dead grimly testified to the fierceness and severity of the fighting. We lost a brave leader in Captain Barry, and several soldiers that day. But "C" Company could be proud of the fighting spirit it had displayed and none was later surprised to hear that Capt. Alexander, who had led them to success, received the immediate award of the military Cross for his part in the operation.
The Guards Armoured Division were by now streaming through our positions along both the main roads which ran away from "C" Company's crossroads. But a few miles further down they were held up by the usual chain of mines, demolitions and craters. 185 Brigade were now brought forward again to take over the perimeter defence of East Lingen releasing 9 Brigade to initiate a second attack South from Lingen in order to open up a second axis running East to west across the River Ems and canal five miles further South.
2 RUR was relieved at 1800 hrs. by 2 Warwick, and by 2000 had returned once more to the centre of the town for a night in concentration. At 0700 hrs. we had been ordered to pass through th (?) Lincolns who were covering the Southern approaches to Lingen, and secure some high ground 1500 yards further on the South side of an excavated canal.
The day had begun for most people at 0400 hrs. and had been occupied with a tiring battle which had lasted several hours with a move at the end of it. Now it was well past midnight before orders and preparations for the next day were complete, and at approximately 0400 hrs. people were required to be up in readiness for the day's work. It was indeed a testing routine.
The latest information about the enemy was disclosed at a Brigade O Group held at the forbidding hour of 0400 hrs. 7 April. Patrols from the Lincolns had closely investigated the wood in which it was thought that large numbers of 7 Para Division were lurking, and had found nothing but abandoned equipment; they heard absolutely no sound of foreign occupation. Later a civilian was brought in who said that during the night the enemy had pulled back from these positions an an Easterly direction. The advance of 53 Welsh Division North East from Rheine had made this move probable, and it seemed likely that 7 Para Div. had now been switched from the South to cover the Eastern exits from Lingen.
This was later proved to be the case. The Battalion moved forward on to its objective without meeting any opposition whatever. Seeing the position as the Germans must have held it one could not but be grateful that they had decided to withdraw. The forcing of the dried up canal against determined opposition would have been a formidable and costly operation. But the five stragglers who were picked up proved that their commanders had weighed threat to their rear against the strength of the position and found the latter wanting. So the chase was handed over to 1 KOSB, who during the rest of the day dealt voraciously with a few hundred Flak troops who had remained behind.
GUERILLA WARFARE (GUERRILLA)
After being engaged in such bitter fighting while everywhere else the enemy had crumbled before momentous advances, it was a relief to experience -a change ourselves. While we had been battling, the Third American Army had pushed deep into the Thüringian Hills, the Ninth American Army had reached Magdeburg, and British troops were well on their way to the Elbe. To the West of the Weser 7 Armoured Division had made a complete breakthrough towards Bremen from the South, and it seemed once more that nothing could prevent the fall of the town. 3 British Infantry Division, whose presence in Lingen had been rendered superfluous by the advance of 55 Division from Rheine, was now despatched along the axis of 7 Armoured Division with orders to take over the ground won, and hold it against infiltration by the large number of German Troops whose line of escape Eastwards across the Wreser was rapidly being cut off.
Overnight our horizons were broadened and orientations were transformed. On the evening of 7th April the Battalion had expected an order to press forward the attack South of Lingen. On the morning of the 8th. advance parties had set off in the opposite direction, and after a long journey had come to rest in Diepholz, nearly 100 miles distant by road. Here we took over from a Battalion of 52 Division who were about to leave Diepholz to move nearer the Weser. The Battalion arrived at 0400 hrs. on 8th. April, having travelled in convoy through the best part of the night.
Diepholz was a splendid reward for the labour of Lingen. Vigilance had to be maintained as rigorously as before, but accomodation (accommodation) was excellent, and the town itself was clean and cheerful. Advance parties, who had travelled by day, had already seen the quality of this beautiful Westphalian countryside, with its hills and valleys and great rolling stretches of green, florescent country, and Diepholz itself was quite in sympathy with it. Indeed the BBC and the Press had already established their forward Headquarters in its heart.
The whole Battalion was positioned in Diepholz except "B" Company, which was holding a little village called Jakobskrubber, some 3 miles further up the axis. The threat to either place from the ground was never very substantial, but from the air it was considerable. In the evening the Luftwaffe used to appear with marked regularity, and on one occasion its bombs completely demolished the houses adjacent to Bn. HQ. But the battle was by no means one-sided. Small arms were shot off with great spirit whenever this skeleton air force appeared, and "B" Company were able to signal a kill before we left Diepholz. It was the first German aircraft which the Battalion had directly shot down in this campaign.
There were other moments of interest in Diepholz. Several successful patrols were undertaken by a force of arms from "S" Company under Capt. Gray. One of these was towards Löhne when 17 prisoners were taken without o shot being fired, Lt Daniels, our Dutch Interpreter, rang up the doctor in Löhne, asking him to come to visit his ailing child, and gained the information that the Germans had withdrawn from Löhne. Next day, when "D" Company had moved out of Diepholz to positions around this farm, the German doctor in charge of a military hospital in Löhne presented himself to "D" Company Commander, Major Bird MC, and stated that if we didn't shoot he would "Surrender Löhne 'fightless' ". The reply he got was "Surrender Löhne 'fightless' and we won't shoot'." This was done,' and the town was later donated to 52 Division Recce, who had been fighting their way towards Löhne from the South.
While we were in Diepholz we heard that our doctor, Capt. Wright, was to be promoted Company Commander of a Field Ambulance, and was to leave us for a post in 43 Division. "Doc" Wright had been in France with the Battalion in 1940, and had remained with it until this date without a break, throughout this long period he had been a pillar of strength, and a model medical officer, for it mattered little to him wheter (whether) he dispensed his cures in the peace and stability of his RAP. in England, or beneath a continuous rain of shells in action. The Battalion rejoiced at his promotion, but it was with heavy hearts that we watched him take his leave. His place was taken by Capt. Williams, who joined us from 9th. Field Ambulance.
On April 12 we moved on forty miles to Harpstedt. Again we were holding ground which had been overrun by the armour, but here the enemy was more serious and purposeful. The Battalion was in position in Harpstedt by 1330 hrs. 13 April, and straightaway was ordered to send forward patrols along the three main roads running North East, North, and North west out of Harpstedt with the object of making contact and discovering the whereabouts of the enemy. These patrols were remarkable, both for the distance they covered and the information they brought back. On the right, a patrol from "D" Company under Lt Campbell, reached a road junction some 5000 yards North East of Harpstedt, just outside the village of Kirchseelte. At this point they captured a small enemy standing patrol who were responsible for covering the approaches to Kirchseelte. They discovered the information that their unit was two Companies strong in Kirchseelte.
One the left, (?) a patrol from "A" Company, under Lt Songest, readied a point about 1000 yards South of Horstedt, a little village 5000 yards North west of Harpstedt. From civilian soorces (sources) he obtained the information that Horstedt was held by a company, and that there were mines along the road leading to the place. Just as he was questioning the civilians, six SP guns opened fire on Harpstedt from only 400 yards away, and he was able to pinpoint them accurately. Later the same day these were taken on by a battery of medium guns.
The third patrol, driving Northwards along the main Harpstedt— Delmenhorst road, was not so fortunate. Accompanied by a detachment, of carriers and infantry engineers, the patrol of 14 men, under Lt Harris, reached a point half a mile South of the village of Gr. Ippener, and some 5000 yards north of Harpstedt. Here they had a brisk skirmish with a few Germans who fired at them from the edge of a wood. One of the enemy was shot dead, and another was wounded but escaped through the wood. Not satisfied with this achievement, Lt Harris decided to move further forward on foot, leaving the carriers at the edge of the wood. Two hundred yards further on a disastrous explosion obscured the patrol from the carriers, and it was at once apparent that some form of prepared charge had been activated. The patrol commander was killed with seven of his men, three were missing, one of whom was subsequently discovered to have been taken prisoner. Two others were wounded but managed to get back to the waiting carriers. The situation was now grave, for the explosion was the signal for intense machine gun and Mortar fire from the enemy straight down the road, so that approach to the scene of the explosion was virtually impossible. The carriers waited for some time, and then withdrew with some difficulty.
This disaster, falling so suddenly and so unexpectedly upon the Battalion, was a severe blow. The loss of virtually a complete patrol, and a gallant leader, was not easy to accept. But the value of its work must not be forgotten. It had located definitely a number of positions which had added up to company strength defending Gr. Ippener, and this information, when added to the other two patrols contributed much to a sound appreciation of the dispositions of the enemy covering Delmenhorst. It did a lot to modify the exuberance of the plans for the capture of the town, which if executed without this information might have involved heavy losses.
APPROACH TO BREMEN
Bremen was to be defended; of that there could be no doubt. The civilian element, headed by the Burgomaster who desired to play with surrender to the British was summarily dealt with by SS troops, and General Becker, a reliable non-collaborator, was made garrison commander. Henceforth progress towards the town could only be made after serious fighting. Not until British troops entered the heart of the town did resistance collapse, and then it became merged in the mass surrenders which became the mode across the whole of 21 Army Group front.
From Harpstedt, we had originally been cast for an attack upon Delmenhorst. But on the evening before it was due to be carried out, we were suddenly switched further East to attack the approaches to Bremen from a more Southerly direction. On the 17 April we moved to a concentration area just North of Barrien. On 18th. 2 Lincolns opened the Brigade attack by clearing the village of Stuhr. They fought long and well, starting at first light, battling throughout the day, and not completing their task until the first few hours of daylight the next day.
On the evening of 18th. 2 RUR was ordered to move up behind the Lincolns for the night, prior to passing through them at first light the following day to capture Moordyke 1500 yards further Northwest. One rather unexpected incident took place as "B" Company reached its company locality. The ground had been traversed but not apparently searched by the Lincolns for when a section under Cpl. Holt approached some burnt out houses in the locality, it found altogether 15 Germans under an Officer shuffling around the buildings and in the ditches. Almost without firing a shot, Cpl. Holt rounded them up and brought them in as PW. SS troops, they had been lying up quietly for British troops had been passing and repassing the buildings for two or three hours, and they might have been proposing to cause havoc under cover of darkness. Careful searching and prompt action, however, prevented this from taking place.
The attack began at 0700 hrs. the next morning, after the Battalion had consumed an early breakfast at 0545. "D" Company under Major Bird MC with two troops of tanks, an FOO, a section of MGs and an RE recce party, comprised the advance guard. Initially, progress was unhindered, but as the built up area was reached, sniping began, battle was joined, and casualties were inflicted on both sides. Progress was slowed up to the speed at which each separate house could be cleared. SS troops were encountered both in the houses and dug into the bank of the railway which ran across "D" Company's front. In a manoeuvre to drive them out Sjt. Cochrane, commanding a platoon, was hit, and so was a stretcher bearer who went forward to assist him.
It was a strong position, for SS troops were lining a long communication trench which was also covered by a building occupied by their comrades. Finally to break it, Major Bird MC organised a frontal assault by Lt McCarthy's platoon, while the other two platoons, held up on either flank of this position, covered the attack by fire which was intensified by the BESA and solid shot of two troops of tanks. At a given signal their fire suddenly stopped and the assaulting troops went in. A dozen Germans were killed or wounded, and the rest surrendered, through not before their officer had continued to fire a spandau in spite of everything, and he had to be liquidated by a final rush from Lt McCarthy's platoon.
Prisoners began to flow in at a steady rate, and when the main crossroads of Moordyke — "D" Company's objective — was readied, Major Bird had already sent back 50. "A" Company now passed through along the road which branched off left towards a crosstracks 300 yards further on. On reaching it, the leading platoon came under fire from immediately to their front. They at once returned the fire, and Major Tighe-Wood MC, commanding "A" Company, worked a second platoon with a troop of tanks round the right flank. The Germans were now discovered to be lining a bank facing "A" Company's left, so that this latest move caught them in the rear, and the flanking platoon began to roll them up systematically. The clearing operation took the Company well forward of its original objective, and actually traversed the second bound of the attack that 1 KOSB were to put in that evening.
By 1300 hrs. the Battalion was firmly on all its objectives. 94 PW had been taken, and 3 x 20 mm flak guns, and the usual host of LMGs, Bazookas, Schmeissers and Lugers captured or destroyed.
We remained in our positions while the rest of the Brigade passed through us to complete this phase by the capture of Huchting. On 21st. the Battalion was relieved by a Battalion of 51 Highland Division, and came back to Barrien to prepare for the direct assault upon Bremen in Buffaloes.
THE ASSAULT CROSSING OF THE OCHTUM FLOODS
This was the first occasion on which 2 RUR had been called upon to go into battle in Buffaloes. As part of a Division which had planned and carried out the initial assault on the Continent, and later had specialised in assault river crossings, we had battle experience of every other type of amphibious craft. Some of us had attended a demonstration of the Buffaloes in February, and obtained some idea of its potentialities. None had actually used it, or assisted in its use.
This lack of knowledge and experience was, however, fully made good by the skill and co-operation of the officers and men of 4 RTR, who manned and controlled the Buffaloes. From them we learned all about the craft. It could carry either 28 men, or a carrier, or a jeep, or an anti-tank gun, but not a 15 cwt. truck, or any of the more bulky forms of transport. It mounted a 20 mm gun and so, if necessary, it could defend itself effectively. On the other hand, the armour basis was small, and the craft was reckoned to stop small arms fire and nothing else. The whole construction had been subordinated to the one purpose of producing a vehicle which could swim in deep water and heave its way across waterlogged and boggy ground.
The task which the Buffaloes were now set was well calculated to test them. Bremen, south of the Weser, was protected from attack by the line of the Ochtum canal, the last line of defence before the town. In itself, it was not a formidable obstacle; but artificial flooding of its banks had submerged the land on either side — particularly the south side of it — to a total distance of about 2000 yards. The water varied in depth from about four inches to the maximum depth of the Ochtum Canal; so that from the Buffaloes point of view, the pitch was likely to be at the best, uneven, and at the worst sufficiently boggy to bring them to a standstill. Part of the course selected for the Buffaloes ran across a dummy airfield — now completely waterlogged — which had been bombed by the RAF, and it was felt that immense bomb craters might present some difficulty. Finally all the flooded fields were intersected with cattle fences, and it was feared that if too much wire became caught up in the sprockets of the Buffaloes they might be unable to continue.
The uncertain conditions of the ground was one of the problems set to Captain Harris, the Buffalo Squadron Leader, and his men. The question of navigation was another. The task of leaving a start line, crossing 2000 yards of water and arriving at a pre-arranged "debuffing" point was no mean one. They were fortunate in having as landmarks, half way across the course, the large square buildings of the dummy airfields which on a light night could be picked out from seven or sight (eight) hundred yards distant. But even then the canal itself had to be crossed, and the "debuffing point", though considerably closer had still to be found. It was not surprising that 4 RTR, who had driven the Highland Division across the Rhine, and the Canadians across the Ijssel, reckoned this to be the most difficult task that they had yet been called upon to undertake.
The axis for the Brigade attack was the main road running North from Brinkum, crossing the Ochtum by the bridge at Kattenturm, and so on into Bremen. The village of Kattenturm lay astride, though mainly to the East, of the main road, and its Southern side was demarcated by the tortuous line of an embankment or bund, which also marked the Northern extent of the floods. The bund ran away Eastwards from the bridge along the Canal as far as the most Eastern extremity of Kattenturm, finally reached Arsten, 2000 yards East of Kattenturm, while the canal trickled away towards the South East.
The water was however, right up against the bund even at the right angular hook in the bund which had been selected as the "debuffing" point, so that the Buffaloes had to drive to the bund and then back up against it in order that men and vehicles could both land dry.
Information about the enemy was extremely scanty, and was based more upon supposition and deduction than on reliable evidence. The vital thing was that the Bosche had not yet blown the Kattenturm bridge, though it was supposed to be prepared for demolition with a charge consisting of two heavy bombs. Therefore it was probable that he would have something deployed on the South side of the bridge, even though patrols from 8 Brigade had been to within 200 yards of the Bridge without discovering anyone. On the bank itself air photographs revealed diggings, and the strength of the garrison was reckoned at a company. Most of it was thought to be covering the main axis, which, thanks to the flood, was literally the only roadway into Bremen in that sector and would inevitably be the focal defensive point. Of German artillery nothing was known, except that it was not thought to be very considerable.
With this background, preparations for the battle began in earnest. The night 24/25 April was fixed for the attack, and as we first heard that we were to carry it out on the morning of the 22nd, there was, for a change, sufficient time allowed for every preparation to be conceived and organised. In the afternoon 22nd. April the Commanding Officer and Second-in-Command visited an observation post in Leeste — a mile South East of Brinkum — and Brinkum itself. An excellent view of the expanse of floods, of the main road, and of the dummy airfield, was obtained, but Kattenturm and the bridge was obscured by trees, and even the "debuffing point'' — the crook in the bund — was difficult to pick out. Next morning, company and platoon commanders set off from Barien and completed the same tour. Meanwhile the Commanding Officer and Second-in-Command were evolving, with Capt. Harris the Buffalo Squadron Leader, a loading schedule for men and vehicles into the Buffaloes. A squadron of 47 Buffaloes was available for us, and this absorbed the whole fighting strength of the Battalion at a stroke. All that would remain to be taken across after the first run would be some carriers and a few jeeps.
The craft were allotted to companies, and the same afternoon each company practised loading on to its own craft, its men, its carrier, and its jeep. Each Buffalo had its number printed in large figures upon the front, back, and sides, and by the end of the practice every man knew exactly the number of his craft, its position in the column, and in most cases he had not been slow to meet the crew that was to motor him across the floods. On the same day, the GOC 3rd. British Infantry Division spoke to all officers of the Brigade Group in Barrien, and outlined the higher plan or the capture of Bremen. On the right 52 Lowland Division was to attack Bremen North of the Weser at the same time as 3 British Infantry Division was attacking on the South side. On our immediate right, 185 Infantry Brigade was attacking simultaneously along the axis Dreye — Arsten — Habenhausen. 2 KSLI was to attack Dreye at 2300 hrs. followed by 2 Warwicks attacking Arsten in Buffaloes at 0200 hrs — some two hours after our own attack had begun — along a track which in its initial stages, ran almost parallel to our own. On the left, 51 Highland Division were launching a "Chinese Attack" on the railway North of Huchting, in the direction of Bremen. Sounds of tanks and gun preparations were to make it appear that the advance which had cut the railway line some three or four days earlier was now being resumed.
On 24 April, at 1000 hrs, the Commanding Officer gave out his orders in the backyard of Bn. HQ. It was a glorious day and the weather, fine for three successive days, seemed to augur well for the night's operation. It was to be an imposing operation and the machinery for orders was on an appropriate scale. 'O Group' in this case consisted of 28 different people, while the operation order produced by the Adjutant, Capt. Hatton, ran to some sixteen pages.
The intention was clear; 2 RUR would, capture Kattenturm and seize the bridge. Zero hour was to be midnight, and companies were to lead exactly as practised, and be ready to move up to a forward assembly area by 2130 hrs. From that point it was the responsibility of the Buffaloes to put us down at the "debuffing point" on the bund. On landing "C" Company was to clear the bund and establish a firm bridgehead to cover subsequent landings. "A" Company clearing the bund, "D" the main axis for about six or seven hundred yards; and then "B" Company was to pass through and seize the bridge. Finally "C" Company was to leave its bridgehead advance up the main road for some five hundred yards and consolidate. If the bridge was secured, the main road would be thrown open, our transport would join us, and the whole operation would immeasurably be speeded up.
An impressive number of guns were deployed for this operation. They had started to wage a private war with the Germans for some nights previously, and it was hoped that a normal barrage on this night would efface the sound of the Buffaloes plodding across the floods. Artillery support could not be as close as usual on account of the infirm timings imposed by the Buffaloes. They were, however, on call, and a preliminary canter by the mediums early in the evening did much to demoralise our foe. Beside the normal gunner support, a 'pepper pot' had been arranged. This consisted of a hotch-potch of 4,2 Mortars, Machine Guns, and Bofors firing in a ground role, operating against known enemy positions and probable areas of defence. It was to continue incessantly from about 2200 hrs. onwards, and Bosche prisoners were later to remark how disconcerting they had found it. Finally, a single Bofors gun was detailed to fire three rounds at one minute intervals along the line of the Buffalo route in order to assist them in maintaining direction.
Morning and afternoon were spent in briefing the whole Battalion, and then most people snatched a few hours rest before the rigours of the night, which was certain to be a sleepless one. At last preparations were complete, and at 2100 hrs. the companies marched down to the waiting Buffaloes and climbed aboard. It was a warm, yet fresh, Spring evening, with a glorious sunset, and the men were whistling and singing in great spirits as this strange convoy moved forward. At a forward assembly area just South of Leeste, we paused for an hour to drink hot tea and a tot of rum before settling down to the business of the night. Again the note of cheerfulness among all ranks was predominant. Everyone knew that this advance would be the longest that the Buffaloes had ever made, and appreciated the difficulties that faced them. As zero hour approached an air of rising excitement was visible and tangible in every member of this attack. Never had morale been higher, or the Battalion more certain of its ability to defeat the Bosche and achieve its purpose.
At last the word was passed down the line. Everybody clambered aboard, and a great roar rose up as 47 Buffaloes sprang into life. Just as the convoy was moving off the Brigade Commander, with a clutch of press reporters, arrived, and wished the Battalion good luck and bon voyage.
The barrage had already begun, but now there was a marked crescendo and it seemed certain that the sounds of the Buffaloes were effectively muffled. On our left the "pepper pot" could be seen in action as hundreds and thousands of tracer bullets and young shells winged through the air, lighting the sky in a veritable galaxy of colour and sound. Overhead the three guiding rounds of Bofors tracer sailed perodically (periodically) by. They looked mysterious, almost ghostly, and so evidently fired for a specific purpose that we thought that the Bosche might tumble to it, until we realised that the trace was in the base of the round, and so would not be seen by the other side. The sound of the gun firing would have been impossible to pick out among all the noise that was going on.
The convoy moved on past the point just North of Leeste where the Second-in-Command, Major Wheeler, had established his control point for vehicles that were to be ferried over later, and where the Adjutant was in position with the rear link wireless set to Brigade Headquarters. The column was a memorable sight. The moonlight was so vivid, and the night so luminous that the ugly silhouettes of these monstrous amphibians could be seen at six or seven hundred yards distant. Somehow one could not help but think of H. G. Wells' fantastic conceptions in "Shape of things to come". Yet here were machines, at once more strange and more practical than anything he devised, being used in the year of grace 1945. The water seemed to emphasise the line of these silhouettes, and the first companies were quite prepared to expect a warm reception as their craft drifted into view.
"C" Company crossed the startline at midnight, "A" and "D" Coys in two parallel, snake like columns at 0020 hrs. The route was expertly taped and lit to the startline, and subsequently the leading Buffaloes dropped off buoy lamps to guide those who followed. Not a single Buffalo was either lost or permanently bogged, even though all of them were severely tested by the almost perpendicular slopes of the Canal. One of the Buffaloes had to tranship its load in midstream, and in Tactical Battalion Headquarters the 22 set wireless link to the Adjutant and to Brigade was for some time marooned 50 yards from the shore. But both were soon recovered and set on their way, thenks (thanks) to the inspired recovery drill and co-operation of the Buffalo Commanders.
When "C" Company were still 50 yards from the crook of the bund which they were to consolidate as a bridgehead, two reel verey lights went up from behind it, and immediately small arms and bazooka fire began to come at the Buffaloes. They pushed on unflinchingly however, and landed each of the three platoons exactly on the parts of the bank which had been prearranged as the platoon objectives. This was not done without incident. The left hand platoon under Sjt McAleavy, cleared its objective after an exchange of rifle shots, and collected six prisoners. On the right, the leading section, under Cpl. McMullan, rushed from their Buffaloes to find two 3.7 flak guns just being brought into action against the Buffaloes. This section promptly disposed of the crew by killing one, wounding five, and and capturing eleven others. It was a great start, and a vital one, for if the guns had been allowed to fire, it might have been disastrous for the oncoming Buffaloes. As it was, two guns were now turned and fired against Arsten until the ammunition ran out.
Quite a lot of resistance remained to be mopped up even after "A" and "D" Companies had come into land, and "C" Company in a thorough search of this part of the bund, found many Boche skulking in their slit trenches. Not all of them however. As the first troops of "A" Company ran ashore, they were greeted by a fusilade (fusillade) of panzerfauste, which burst all round them, wounding several of them, including Sjt. Bonass. This was disconcerting but was not allowed to hinder the advance; a quick rush, a few shots, and the Company's first prisoners were brought in.
"A" Company's advance along the bund now began, and it swiftly became clear that theirs was to be a difficult passage. The enemy was dug in all along the bund, which was only about four yards wide, and he was defending his positions stubbornly with unsparing use of panzerfausts and small arms. The leading Platoon of "A" Company fought its way along the bund, literally "winkling" the enemy from every position. It was precarious fun, for the Boche kept popping up from the backside of the bund, appearing and firing usually at point blank range. Rfn Loughran was sniped as he crawled across the bund to deal with one of these posts, but straightaway Rfn. Mellon crawled across and brought him back with bullets whistling all round. Casualties were sustained in twos and threes but the advance went on.
The opposition was particularly stiff round a large house set back about twenty yards from the bund. It was defended obstinately with spandaus and many panzerfausts, and a fierce fight waged between this knot of opposition and a platoon of "A" Company under Lt Songest. Several NCOs and men, and Lt Songest, were hit, though he was able to retain control until the action ended. A second platoon was brought forward by the Company Commander, Major Tighe-Wood MC, who was continually forward giving encouragement, and keeping his men cool and steady in these difficult conditions. But this platoon was in fact never deployed, because a gallant rush by Cpl. Lambourne and his section — from Lt Songest's platoon — had carried the position. The reason for the opposition now became apparent. In the garden of the house was a well concealed 88 mm gun, in perfect working order. Fortunately it had been unable to traverse sufficiently far to the left to trouble the Buffaloes. It was a great success and Cpl Lambourne was subsequently awarded the MM for his supremely courageous performance.
This splendid action of "A" Company broke the back of resistance of Kattenturm. The Company fought magnificently, displaying throughout a determination to crush the enemy and gain their objectives. Typical of this fighting spirit was the behaviour of Rfn Wilkes, the company runner, who, though hit in the face by the explosion of a panzerfaust, refused to be evacuated until the action was complete; or again that of L/Cpl. Dalton. who, when all other NCOs in his platoon had been wounded, took over the duties of platoon serjeant and carried on in a most able manner. "A" Company took some 40 prisoners, and besides this, killed and wounded an appreciable number. Booty included the 88 mm gun, three lighter flak guns, and a host of small arms. As against this, their own casualties were one officer and 24 wounded, and most of these were fortunately not serious. "A" Company has much cause to be proud of this achievement.
Meanwhile "C" Company's bridgehead was now the scene of furious activity. Vehicles, anti-tank guns, and men poured out of the Buffaloes and were directed onwards by Capt. Gray who, as Battalion Landing Officer, had come in with "C" Company to search out a landing ground and routes forward for vehicles.
"D" Company had pressed on, simultaneously with "A" Company, but the German defences were without depth, and apart from a few snipers which were cleared without much trouble, "D" Company's advance was unopposed. Tactical Battalion Headquarters moved up close behind "D" Company and established itself at the Eastern end of the village for the duration of the attack.
"B" Company had landed without incident, and as soon as "D" Company reported their objectives gained, "B" Company was slipped through towards the greatest prize of all, the Kattenturm bridge. Almost at once they came under fire from the road and a large house to the left. The leading section, under Cpl. Holt, rushed the position and eliminated it, whilst another section dealth (dealt) swiftly with the house, and soon the advance was resumed. Lt McCrainor, the leading platoon commander, had been given orders by Major Cummins to push on as fast as he could towards the bridge and to bypass any opposition which was not sufficiently serious to detain him. At the crossroads near the bridge they encountered opposition, and were able to do this; and by slipping round the enemy, they seized the bridge before it could be blown, quickly establishing themselves on both sides of it. Subsequently the enemy on the crossroads and along the bund, where it went towards the bridge, were liquidated at leisure. Altogether 4 Officers and 20 or 30 other ranks and one camp follower were discovered in the Company locality; so that had the position been assaulted frontally, serious opposition might have been met. As it was the Sapper reconnaissance party, following close up behind the leading platoon, quickly rendered innocuous the two bombs which were found sunk into the side of the road as a demolition charge; and soon a bulldozer arrived to assist in the clearance of a formidable road block which the retreating Germans had left behind on the bridge.
"B" Company had begun their advance soon after 0330 hrs., and it was just after first light when the great news passed through that the bridge had been won intact. Now "C" Company left the bridgehead area — for the attack on Arsten which 2 Warwicks were launching, had eliminated any threat to it now — moved up to the main road and completed the consolidation of the area and rounded off the Battalion's part of the attack.
5 Officers and 128 other ranks was the final total of prisoners, while an 88 mm and five other smaller flak guns were captured, above all the bridge had been seized intact. There can be no doubt but that complete surprise had been achived. (achieved) One of the German officer prisoners said afterwards that so certain was the Bremen garrison commander that the attack would come up the line of the Brinkum road that the 88 mm gun had been taken off its wheels and given an are of traverse which was limited to a particularly vulnerable part of the main road. He thought that the turning manoeuvre which the Battalion had carried out was the finest thing tactically that he had seen done by British troops in the whole campaign, and with the rest of the prisoners, he gazed goggle-eyed at the "Schwim-Panzer" which had traversed what was considered to be impassable country.
The award of the Distinguished Service Order to Lt-Colonel Drummond was a fitting conclusion to such an enterprise. Seince (Since) he had taken command, the Battalion's chain of successes had been unbroken, and now the campaign had been wound up in really superb style. This last operation had been at once the most spectacular and the most difficult that the Battalion had undertaken, and, without doubt, the completeness of the triumph was due largely to his bold plan and resolute leadership.
During the rest of the day, 1 KOSB and 2 Lincolns passed through to capture a vital crossroads and a factory without much opposition, and later 1 KOSB resumed the advance, pushing through Bremen, pausing during the hours of darkness and resuming at first light, to reach the main railway line. In order to release them to begin this advance we were moved up to the area af (at) the crossroads for the night, and next morning at 0800 hrs, assisted by a squadron of tanks from 22 Dragoons, we cleared a built up area on the far side of the railway, and completed 9 Brigade's part in the attack on Bremen. There was virtually no opposition, but again the PW total was well over 100. The battle for Bremen was thenceforward in the hands of 8 Brigade, part of which began to pass through us at about 1300 hrs.
One disaster clouded the completeness of triumph in Bremen. When "D" Company had readied their objective, Major Bird MC, Lt. Hancock, and a section set off in the company carrier to contact the 51 Highland Division in Huchting. Not far from the Company Headquarters there was a fearful explosion, and it soon became apparent that the carrier had activated the most diabolical of all German mines — the magnetic mine. There were no survivors. This was the second accident of its kind within the month, and in each case a high percentage of the casualties had been fatal. Major Bird, a gallant leader, who had brought his Company triumphantly through many actions; Lt Hancock, whose unassuming bravery and steadfastness in action had won universal admiration; and L/C pi McCoy, Rfn McGlennon MM, Rfn Stevens, and others who constituted the very core of "D" Company. The loss of these men in this cruelly wasteful manner stunned and shocked the whole Battalion.
One last tragedy was reported, and all the more tragic because it occurred on May 9th., the day after the oficial (official) cessation of hostilities. Major C. R. P. Sweeny, MC, on his way back to Field Marshal Montgomery's headquarters was killed in a motor accident. Major Sweeny had left the Battalion at Meerlo, in January, to become one of the Field Marshal's liaison officers; but although this was five months ago, the memory of him had remained vividly dear to those who know and had fought with him. The tribute of Field Marshal Montgomery himself is appended elsewhere, and nothing need be added to it. No death could bring more forcefully the truth that war takes away the finest and the best of mankind.
On 13 May, at the special request of the Field Marshal, a burial party of four officers — all of whom had known Major Sweeny personally — twelve men and four buglers, journeyed to Tactical Headquarters, 21 Army Group to assist at the funeral. He was laid at rest on Lüneburg Heath near Hamburg.
The great events of early May 1945 found the Battalion resting quietly in Delmenhorst after the exertions of the final battles. The main direction of Second Army was now across the Elbe towards Wismar and Lübeck on the one hand, and Hamburg, Kiel and Copenhagen on the other. Then came the great news of the surrender of the German Armies in the North to 21 Army Group, and three days later the sgnature (signature) of general surrender at Rheims. We listened slightly dazed to the announcement of these great events — for they happened too swiftly for their significance to be fully realised or understood.
Already we had begun duties of an Army of Occupation. First at Delmenhorst, then at Mettingen near Osnabrück and finally at Gelsenkirchen in the heart of the Ruhr we wrestled with a few of the vast problems with which the Allies have been called upon to deal. These were new problems which could be faced against a background of triumph for the war was over, and the Battalion felt satisfied with the part it had played in winning it.
But in enjoying the laurels of victory, the sacrifice of those who fell must never be forgotten. The Battalion's total casualties in killed, wounded and missing, were 49 Officers and 755 other ranks, which is virtually the complete turnover of a single Battalion. Fortunately this grim total was spread fairly evenly over the entire campaign and so reinforcements could be absorbed and moulded without the spirit and stamp of the Regiment being lost. It can be truly said that in spite of all, the Battalion maintained unimpaired fighting spirit and its tradition of good cheer.
This story has been mainly concerned with the deeds of the more glamorous part of an Infantry Battalion, the fighting soldiers of the Rifle Companies. It would be unbalanced, however, to close the narrative without reference to the members of Headquarter Company, the Signals, Intelligence, Orderly Room Staff, Regimental Police, and those at "A", "B" and "F" Echelons. Their work though not spectacular, was vital to the continuity of the Battalion's life and without their high standard of efficiency and service, which was maintained and enhanced as the campaign wore on, many of the Battalion's successes would have been jeopardised. Typical of this standard and spirit was our Quartermaster, Capt. Henniker MBE, who, rich in experience, guided the Battalion tirelessly and faithfully through the tortuous paths of supply under the conditions of active service. He finished the campaign as the only Quartermaster in the Brigade who had seen the campaign from D day to VE day, and as the only officer in the Battalion who had seen both campaigns in North West Europe from beginning to end. Another character who must be mentioned here is the "Fighting Padre" Fr. J. O'Brien, who landed with the Battalion on D Day and saw the campaign to its close. From the earliest days, he made himself peculiarly a part of the Battalion, and his perennial cheerfulness was the salvation of many a drooping spirit in the difficult days which confronted us.
Soon after VE Day celebrations were complete, it was announced that 3 British Infantry Division would represent the United Nations in Berlin as the British element of the Garrison troops in the capital. It would indead (indeed) have been a fitting "end of the road" for a division which had alone in the Second Army, fought as an entity from D day to VE day. But it was not to be. The scheme was cancelled and the final journey from Recklinghausen to Berlin depicted at Appendix D did not in fact take place.
The story of an Infantry Battalion can afford to finish on a note of eulogy for the Infantry. What better than a passage from Lord Wavell's famous article: "The Infantry man always bears the brunt. His casualties are heavier, and he suffers greater extremes of discomfort and fatigue than the other arms ... So let us write Infantry with a Capital I; and think of them with the deep admiration they deserve. And let us Infantrymen wear our battledress like our rue, with a difference, and throw a chest in it, for we are the men who win battles and war."
MAJOR J. ST. L. ALDWORTH Killed at Cambes Wood 7th. June 1944.
John Aldworth joined the Battalion as a 2nd. Lieutenant when it was re-formed in Wincanton in June 1940. The son of such a famous Co. Cork family might be expected to possess more than his share of natural talents, but nature was especially liberal when equipping John Aldworth. In addition to a very fine brain, and a personality of great charm, he possessed a brilliant wit, which found expression in many forms, particularly in a satirical review of his Army career and a professed abhorrence of all things military. However, there is no disguising talent, and after a period as Battalion Intelligence Officer, he took over command of "D" Company in October 1942. He quickly impressed the stamp of his personality upon the Company, and under him "D" Company rose to great heights.
During the summer of 1943 he contracted an illness which troubled him for several months, and afterwards proved to be infantile paralysis. It was not until after Christmas that he was able to return to duty. During the period of his illness and convalescence, his great fear was that he might be posted away from the Battalion. Lt-Colonel Harris, however, was determined not to lose such a fine officer, and by a judicious arrangement of discharges and re-admissions to hospital it was possible to keep John on the strength. His left leg never recovered from the illness, the muscles were weakened and he walked with a slight limp. Only a word would have been sufficient to have himself down-graded, but such a thought was farthest from his mind.
John led his Company on to the Normandy beaches on "D" day, and on D plus 1 he was in command of a force of all arms acting as vanguard to the Battalion with orders to push on in the direction of Caen. A stiff fight was waged for Cambes wood, and when the Company was forced to withdraw with heavy casualties, John did not return with them. When the Battalion attacked and captured the wood two days later, John was found lying at the head of his men having penetrated deeper into the wood than anyone else. Within a yard or two of him there were a number of SS Storm-troopers lying dead. A fitting end for a brave soldier and a fine companion, but a great loss to the Battalion and the many friends he left behind.
LIEUTENANT R. S. HALL Killed at Cambes Wood 9th. June 1944.
Ronnie Hall joined the Battalion early in January 1944 having been posted to the Infantry from the Royal Regiment. He took over command of No. 8 Platoon in "A" Company and very soon proved himself to be both an efficient and popular officer. He was a fine rugger player, and the try he scored in the semi-final of the Divisional Cup at Hawick will be remembered by many.
Ronnie led his platoon into action on "D" day, and two days later when the Battalion attacked Cambes Wood his platoon suffered very heavily. Ronnie was killed by a shell during the advance across the open, and it is due to the fine spirit with which he inspired his men that they carried on under a Corporal despite the loss of both their Platoon Commander and Serjeant, and then captured their objective.
He was buried in the wood for which he had fought so hard together with the lads who fell beside him, and although the greatest sympathy is felt for his young widow we know that it will be with a feeling of great pride that their son whom Ronnie never saw, will hear from her of his father.
LIEUTENANT R. C. DISERENS Killed at Cambes Wood 9th. June 1944.
Bobbie Diserens joined the Battalion in March 1943 and took over 14 Platoon of "C" Company. From that date all his tremendous energy was devoted to training and moulding that Platoon into a fine fighting body. A year later, when that training was almost over, and we waited to go into action those thirty men were indeed Bobbie's men, for his spirit breathed through them, and his example inspired them.
During those months of strenuous training, Bobbie was always a prominent figure in the life of the Battalion. His cheerfulness and constant high spirits endeared him to everyone, and his warm hearted generosity was a byword among his friends. He worked hard and played hard. Many a slogging game he played at forward for the Battalion Rugby side. Another great enthusiasm was for horses. We had two in the Battalion, and they were under his care. He was often to be seen exercising them amongst the Scottish Hills.
When at last "D" day came Bobbie led his platoon into battle with that courage and high devotion to duty we had all expected of him. In the battle of Cambes Wood he led his platoon on to their objective with great dash, and it was amidst the hell of fire that greeted us there that he was killed. How typical of Bobbie was his death. He was moving about completely oblivious of his own safety, encouraging his men.
We had precious little time to mourn our friend, but it is a proud memory we have of him.
Sufficient tribute is it to say that the spirit that Bobbie Diserens had created in his platoon remained to inspire them through the subsequent battles.
LIEUTENANT C. LYNDON-ADAMS Killed near Cazelle 21st. June 1944.
I first met Clifford Lyndon-Adams in the 30th. Bn. RUR., when he commanded the 3" Mortar Platoon, and we became great friends. He was a quiet type of young man, but one of the most earnest and efficient officers one could meet. He had great determination and perseverance. I never knew him to become over excited or unduly depressed about anything. He was always so confident and capable. He inspired confidence. He joined the 2nd. Battalion just after the successful attack on Cambes Wood, and became Mortar Officer. Shortly he was wounded, and it was while he was being evacuated that he was killed by a direct shell hit. In his passing, the Mortar Platoon and the Battalion lost a really first class officer, and those who knew him a real friend.
LIEUTENANT S. E. FROST Killed in Cambes Wood 27th. June 1944.
Sidney Frost joined the Battalion when we were at Hythe, and in the arduous training that followed at Rushven and Inverary, soon infected 10 Platoon with his own enthusiasm and keenness. When the Battalion moved back to Hawick, he took part in all sports, and in particular I remember him in "B" Company's cricket team and his regular appearance every week of the winter as a wing forward in the Battalion Rugby team, where his speed and initiative were of great value. Both in the arduous exercises that took place in bitter weather in Scotland, and under the more serious strain of active service, he was always able to pull out that extra bit of physical endurance and determination of spirit, that brought him and his men through many tough times. He landed with the Battalion in Normandy on "D" day, and took part in the assault on Cambes Wood. His cheerfulness, leadership and courage were outstanding, even amongst the many fine examples of such that were seen during those trying early days. It was a great shock and a grievous loss when the news that he had been killed by a mine, was announced; but the spirit of cheerful comradeship, determination, and disciplined initiative that he had passed from himself to 10 Platoon, during the 16 months he was their leader survived his death as the finest tribute to his memory his men were able to pay.
CAPTAIN N. R. V. WATSON Killed in Cambes Wood 30th. June 1944.
It was in June 1940 that Norman Watson joined the Battalion. First of all he was a Platoon Commander in "A" Company, and then spent many months as Battalion Intelligence Officer. He became Second-in-Command of "C" Company during our stay in Hawick, and his thoroughness and sense of responsibility was of great assistance in the administration of the Company. Each season he played full back for the Battalion Rugby Team, showing a fine sporting spirit and terrific keenness. He also performed the duties of Battalion swimming officer and Battalion cross-country running officer, arranging many enjoyable competitions. He landed as Second-in-Command of "C" Company in Normandy on "D" day and took part in the assault on Cambes Wood. It came as a great shock to me when I heard that Norman had been buried in his slit trench and later died. He was always so cheerful and light hearted, taking part in the sports and life in the Battalion where his gay boyish, laughter will always be missed. His cheerful, enthusiastic manner and high devotion to duty made him an officer whose death was a great loss to the whole Battalion.
LIEUTENANT B. BURGES Killed at Troarn 19th. July 1944.
Brian Burges joined the Battalion in January 1944 in Hawick. He was only eighteen at that time, and when he was killed in action months later, he was little more than nineteen. But Brian had not wasted his few years. He had a positive zest for living. He loved the good things of life and always took care to keep himself surrounded with them; even in his trench in Cambes wood, which was palatially dug and decorated, he maintained a cellar of choice wines which he gladly dispensed to anyone who cared to visit him.
But besides this fresh and exuberant joie de vivre, which he concealed beneath a casual and wholly delightful manner, Bryan possessed more solid and durable qualities. In action they were shown in utter indifference amounting almost to contempt for anything the enemy could do. Hardened veterans have often revealed to me the astonishing coolness with which Brian behaved under shell and machine gun fire. He thought as little of himself as of the bullets or shells falling around in the determination to complete any task assigned to him.
Two incidents must be remembered here. Just before the Battalion went down into Caen, Brian led his platoon deep into the town — they were the first British Troops to enter it — on patrol. Towards the end of his little operation, he was shot through the shoulder by a sniper. In spite of this he brought his platoon out of Caen, and then rather than be evacuated from the theatre of war, he rejoined the Battalion a week later, having only allowed himself a brief rest at "A" echelon.
Later he was killed in the hard fought battle for Troarn, when attempting to recover a wounded brother officer who had become stranded in the open, he was shot in the back. Bryan died as he lived, for in that last act he displayed the same self sacrifice and cheerful generosity which had infused his whole life.
CAPTAIN L. F. LAVING Killed at the Escaut Canal 19 September 1944.
George Laving was Second-in-Command of the Anti-tank Platoon from its formation, and never did anyone know his job better than he. He was an ideal officer. He had a wonderful personality and everyone who knew him loved him. It was in very great measure due to his untiring efforts and keenness that the Anti-tank Platoon was such a well trained and well disciplined unit when he landed with it in Normandy on "D" day. Times were hard in those days, but George was always on top. He was always in the thick of things with ever-ready wit, unceasing encouragement, and quiet confidence. His men were always his first thought. They knew it and loved him for it.
The whole platoon was sorry to see him go to a Rifle Company, but rejoiced in his promotion. Soon after, George was killed in the crossing of the Escaut Canal. How we all grieved his passing. There could never be another George Laving. He was a soldier and a very gallant gentleman.
LIEUTENANT J. J. MORGAN Killed at the Escaut Canal 19 September 1944.
Mike Morgan arrived in "A" Company at the end of August 1944 during the rout of the Germans in the Falaise pocket. He was a quiet young-officer with a charming Irish brogue, and a great sense of humour. He took command of 7 Platoon "A" Company during the rest and training period, north of the Seine where by his enthusiasm and personal charm he soon became the youthful leader of a Platoon of battle tried men. His first action was the crossing of the Escaut Canal where he inspired his Platoon by his coolness under fire, splendid leadership and personal courage. It came as a great blow to all his platoon, and everyone who knew him, when we learned that he had been killed by a German machine gun.
No finer tribute to his memory could be paid than the fact that after many months of action the surviving members of his Platoon still talk of this charming youthful leader, who showed such great enthusiasm, keenness and devotion to duty.
LIEUTENANT E. RAPKINS Died of wounds sustained at Overloon 14th. October 1944.
Eddie Rapkins first joined the 2nd. Bn. while we were stationed at Hawick, and soon endeared himself to us all by his sense of fun and merriment. He became Second-in-Command of the Anti-tank Platoon in Troarn, a rather unpleasant place in Normandy and at once showed his worth as a soldier. He took part in many attacks and covered many weary miles with his platoon from that area to the Overloon region in Holland, and never failed to see the bright side of things, or to infuse a ray of happiness wherever he went. He died from Shrapnel wounds at Overloon. Even while he was being evacuated to hospital, the only comment he would make in reference to his injuries was ''I'm feeling fine", — still with a smile on his face. I shall never forget the signs of sober grief in the Anti-tank Platoon when the sad news of his death was received. There was a fine young man, an inspiration to all who knew him.
CAPTAIN H. SHEANE Died in Hospital 27th. November 1944.
Hugh Sheane joined the Battalion in 1943 and latterly had been Senior Liaison Officer at Brigade Headquarters for a long period. He only returned to the Battalion a few weeks before his death.
In spite of this Hugh could always claim a vast friendship among the officers and men of the Battalion. The sight of him motor cycling into the Battalion area with his green forage cap perched dangerously upon his head was a much known and well loved one. Then, his sense of humour, his tolerance and forbearance made him one of the most popular officers that the Battalion and the Brigade had the good fortune to possess. His keen legal brain and his unlimited resources of patience and sympathy many times contributed towards the solution of problems and troubles of the men under his command.
As Senior Liaison Officer, Hugh was called upon to go out at all hours of the day and night, and in a Dutch winter to essay through mud, rain and sleet. Equally, nothing that the enemy could throw around him depressed Hugh nor affected his cheerful and imperturbable temperament.
The news of his death came as a great shock to large numbers of people, for Hugh, by virtue of his personality and his position was one of the best known characters in the Division. But, though the fortunes of war have removed him from our midst, nobody who had any contact with him will lose the thought and the memory of Hugh Sheane, a gallant soldier, and truly one of nature's gentlemen.
CAPTAIN M. BARRY Killed at Lingen 6th. April 1945.
Mike Barry was a fellow who had a genius for living, and although his life was cut tragically short, it can be certainly said that he enjoyed it to the full. Mike joined us in July 1944 and it didn't take us long to appreciate his personal charm. His tremendous sense of humour made him a grand companion always. Whether it was a Mess party, or a front line slit trench his high spirits were unfailing. Nor should Mike's devotion to his religion be forgotten. It meant much to him, and he was unfailing in his observance of it.
Mike took over 12 Platoon of "B" Company when he joined us and led them with great success, first of all over the Escaut Canal, and then all through the miserable battles around Venray.
It was in January 1945 that he came to "C" Company as Second-in-Command, and it was not long before he was called upon to take over command of the Company under most trying conditions. It was during the battles west of the Rhine that the Company Commander was wounded, and Mike stepped into the breach. It was a very depleted Company at this time, being reduced indeed to two platoons. By his fine personal example and by constant encouragement, Mike Barry rallied his weary men and led them with complete success through the remaining battles.
Having built up "C" Company again and imbued them with a fine spirit he led them into battle, this time East of the Rhine. It was here, during the battle for Lingen that Mike was lost to us. He was killed in bitter hand-to-hand fighting in the streets, while, regardless of his personal safety, he was encouraging his Company on to success.
His devotion to duty, and his personal gallantry made him a sad loss to the Battalion; but we, his friends, feel still deeper the loss of that good companion, that delightful personality — Mike Barry.
LIEUTENANT L. HARRIS Killed near Harpstedt on 13th. April 1945.
Leslie Harris came to "C" Company on the 7th. March 1945. Into the task of rebuilding from a few battle tried soldiers and many inexperienced reinforcements, Leslie threw all his enthusiasm and personal charm, and it was not long before 14 Platoon showed the influence of his leadership, developing into a team that worked as such, and not as individuals. I always wondered how a new arrival would react under fire; but, when, on the Rhine, Leslie coolly and slightly apologetically 'phoned' "I'm sorry I've withdrawn the OP without orders, but we're being shelled and one came through the roof", I ceased to wonder. It was two days later when I discovered from a member of his Platoon, that he had been in the OP at the time. Similarly, when, after a patrol to get information about the River Aa, he gave a full description, not only of the near bank, but of the enemy side as well, only under pressure did he reveal that, leaving the patrol under cover, he had waded alone across the river within a few yards of enemy machine gun posts. Such modesty, coolness and determination to fulfil orders were typical of him. He gave all he could to make a success of whatever he undertook. It was a great tragedy that at Harpstedt he did not return from another patrol. He had shown that he possessed great courage and splendid leadership, and promised to add to the reputation he had, his enthusiasm and high sense of duty made him an officer whose loss was a great blow to all who knew him.
LIEUTENANT A. S. HANCOCK Killed at Bremen 26th. April 1945.
Tony Hancock joined my Company in September 1944 and was immediately posted to 16 Platoon commander.
His quiet manner and scholarly appearance demanded respect and before long his was the best platoon in the Company. The men in that platoon, and in the Company loved him, both for the excellence of his leadership and for his profound understanding regarding all personal matters.
In action he was outstanding, a fearless leader always cool and unafraid no matter how trying the circumstances or how fierce the battle. Typical of him was a remark which he passed when a bullet narrowly missed its mark in the course of the action at Blitterswijk. He appeared at Company Headquarters bleeding from the throat saying that he'd got a slight scratch. On examination I discovered that the enemy bullet had passed underneath his chin and had dented his "Adam's Apple"!
Although wounded twice in battle he always refused to be evacuated and remained with his platoon until the end of the day.
His untimely death, right at the end of the campaign was a cruel blow. His carrier ran over a mine on a road on the outskirts of Bremen, and all the occupants were instantly killed. But we shall long remember his quiet unassuming personality, and in recalling his worth as a friend we can offer with feeling our deepest sympathies to his bereaved relations.
MAJOR A. C. BIRD, MC Killed at Bremen 26 April 1945.
The death of Major A. C. Bird, MC at Bremen on the 26th. April came at a time when it seemed that the period of danger was rapidly passing, and the prospect of peace might be looked forward to almost daily.
"Dicky" Bird was commissioned in the Regiment from the Artists' Rifles in October 1959, and he joined the 2nd Battalion at Lezennes in March 1940, being posted to 'D' Company as a platoon commander. He fought throughout the dark days in France and Belgium, gaining the complete confidence and support of his platoon to a man, and making for himself the reputation of a very determined and brave leader.
Dicky landed in Normandy on 'D' Day as Second-in-Command of 'A' Company, and his great spirit did much to create confidence and cheerfulness during those hard days. On the death of Major Aldworth he was posted to command 'D' Company, and it was as a leader, with a command of his own in the field, that the great qualities of Dicky became apparent. He commanded "D' Company throughout the remainder of the campaign, and in the many attacks and actions he seemed to bear a charmed life. Wherever danger threatened or he was most needed, Dicky was always to be found, cheering and encouraging his men with no thought to spare himself. At the fierce action in Blitterswijk, where 'D' Company fought a great battle in very difficult conditions, Dicky particularly distinguished himself, and he was awarded the MC for his fine work.
After the fighting in the early spring in the Reichswald Forest area and the crossing of the Rhine, came the assault on Bremen, the last battle in the campaign to be fought by the Battalion. After the town had been cleared, and the last shot fired, Dicky was killed by a sea mine, planted in the road by Germans who had already retreated or surrendered. He was buried the same evening together with the lads of his Company who had died with him, their graves making a neat row in a meadow by a German Inn, a strip of ground, one felt, very personal and sacred to 'D' Company. Dicky had seen the thing through from beginning to end. He had died in the hour of triumph, and has probably missed the disillusionment of post war years. To his friends he will be a memory of a well known figure, pipe in mouth, up with the leading platoon working his Company forward, or the centre of a party, seated at the piano, playing the old tunes he loved so much.
MAJOR CHARLES SWEENY, MC. Killed on 9 May 1945
(An appreciation from Field Marshal Sir Bernard Montgomery, KCB, DSO.)
It is with a heavy heart that I record the death of another member of my team of liaison officers, who was also a former A. D. C. - Charles Sweeny of the Royal Ulster Rifles. It is a tragedy that of that team of gallant young L.Os whose photograph appeared in the Illustrated London News of 5 May, two are now dead (John Poston and Charles Sweeny) and one is lying wounded in hospital in Germany (Peter Earle). The photograph was taken on 12 April.
The loss of Charles Sweeny is hard to bear. I first got to know him in Palestine in the troublesome days of the winter of 1938/39 when the 2nd Bn RUR was serving in that country; later his battalion was in the 3rd Division which I took to France in September 1939, and it was in those days that I began my close association with him. He became my A. D. C. early in 1940 and was with me in the Dunkirk days.
Charles was an orphan and possibly it was that fact which drew us close together; he knew the depth of my devotion to him because I had told him of it; he knew that he could call on me for anything he needed, as if I was his father.
He was an Irish boy with a delightful brogue. There was nothing he liked more than a good argument; he would "trail his coat" with great skill and, when discussion was started, he would take whichever side was likely to lead to the most heated argument; nothing would shake him from his adopted 'line of country'.
He had a very strong character and was utterly incapable of any mean or underhand action; his sense of duty was highly developed, and his personal bravery very great.
His death is the more tragic in that the road accident which lead to it occurred after the German surrender on the north flank had taken place; he was escorting a German Admiral back to Kiel and the car left the road and crashed into a tree.
I loved this gallant Irish boy and his memory will remain with me for all time.
HONOURS AND AWARDS
The Distinguished Service Order
Lt.-Col. J. C. Harris
Member of the British Empire
W/Capt. (QM) C. H. D. Henniker
The Military Cross
T/Major W. D. Tighe-Wood
The Distinguished Conduct Medal
7010920 Sjt Sharkey, W.
The Military Medal
6986230 Rfn Charles, A.
Croix de Guerre with Gilt Star
T/Capt W. H. Baudains, MM
Croix de Guerre with Bronze Star
7012385 Cpl Ince, J.
Mentioned in Despatches
T/Capt W. H. Baudains, MM
Commander-in-Chief's Certificates for Gallantry
T/Capt C. R. Wright (RAMC)
For Good Service
T/Capt W. H. Baudains MM
Major W. D. Tighe-Wood MC
ROLL OF HONOUR
The following is a list of the Officers and Other Ranks who gave their lives while serving with the Battalion from June 6th 1944 to May 8th 1945
Capt, J. R. St. L. Aldworth
Major A. C. Bird, MC
Capt. D. M. G. Barry
2/Lt. B. R. Burges
Lieut. R. C. Diserens
Lieut. S. E. Frost
Lieut. R. S. Hall
Lieut. L. C. Harris
Lieut. A. S. Hancock
Lieut. C. Lyndon-Adams
Capt. L. F. Laving
2/Lt. J. Morgan
Lieut. E. C. Rapkins
Lieut. H. M. Sheane
Capt. N. R. V. Watson
6985634 Rfn Abberley S.
14810311 Rfn Allwood R.
14691427 Rfn Anderson G.
14220974 Rfn Armstrong B.
14203241 Rfn Arrowsmith L.
14730889 Rfn Aubne J.
7016406 Rfn Bailey E.
7016387 Cpl Baker T.
7044397 Rfn Ball G.
7016624 Rfn Ball J.
14706469 Rfn Banton H.
7022747 Rfn Beattie J.
7019095 Rfn Beck J.
7044554 Rfn Bingham S.
7022530 Rfn Bowen W.
7021619 Cpl Boyd E.
7014121 L/C Bradley G.
7017126 Rfn Bradley A.
7021600 Rfn Bradley A.
14672025 Rfn Browning D.
1607298 Rfn Burgess W.
6215937 Rfn Bushell V.
6921567 Rfn Capell K.
997514 Rfn Carruthers T.
7016415 Sjt Close C.
7010230 Rfn Connolly J.
14746215 Rfn Connor A.
14665226 Rfn Cope A.
11426530 Rfn Coxon J.
7018782 Rfn Crangle H.
7015952 Rfn Creasy B.
6405699 Rfn Crompton W.
7016464 Rfn Cronin J.
14548677 Rfn Crumbie E.
3774020 Rfn Curry V.
14730903 Rfn Dick J.
7018002 Sjt Dickens F.
14409550 Rfn Dysart R.
7010000 Rfn Eastwood F.
7020024 Rfn Erskine K.
14200443 Cpl Fitzgeorge G.
5884174 L/C Ford W.
3781053 Rfn Gale J.
14431679 Rfn Gallagher J.
13065047 Rfn Giddings J.
7011740 Rfn Gordon J.
14787301 Rfn Gough W.
7012043 Rfn Gracey W.
7018906 Rfn Graham T.
7022557 Rfn Green W.
14200468 Rfn Greenwood H.
3778633 Rfn Grindrod W.
14691055 Rfn Guy M.
7015482 Rfn Halfpenny J.
7044009 Rfn Hall K.
14334018 Rfn Hall C.
7022436 L/C Hamstead W.
3654396 Rfn Hartley P.
3782973 Rfn Holden S.
7045707 L/C Holmes W.
7012021 L/C Hooper F.
14219374 Rfn Horrocks R.
1492783 Rfn Howard W.
14655340 Rfn Howson O.
7018479 Rfn Hursey J.
14436258 Rfn Irish H.
1647367 Rfn Irvine J.
14688543 Rfn Irvine J.
14423673 Rfn Johnson A.
7011474 L/C Kane T.
7018769 Rfn Kane W.
7043667 Rfn Kane D.
6711786 Cpl Kealy D.
7011506 L/C Keenan W.
7023165 Rfn Kelly H.
7015487 Rfn Kelso S.
14431912 Rfn Keyes T.
841864 Rfn King T.
14729153 Rfn King N.
7016376 Cpl Kohler A.
14714023 Rfn Ledger A.
5726309 Rfn Lewis W.
14437673 Rfn Lewis J.
14206465 Rfn Lillicrap J.
7012223 Rfn Lindsay H.
14757021 Rfn Lovatt R.
14655604 Rfn Macarthy J.
6985604 Rfn Martin H.
1475975 Rfn Martin E.
7021483 Rfn Martin G.
7021559 L/C Martin H.
7019794 Rfn Maynard C.
7016381 L/C McClean A.
7022576 L/C. Merry K.
7020577 Rfn Michaelides M.
7011756 Cpl Millar W.
7014297 Cpl Millar H.
7019263 Rfn Milligan J.
14380800 Rfn Mills E.
7022454 Rfn Morgan G.
7011150 Sjt Morris W.
7021305 Rfn Mullan R.
7043313 Rfn Mullen P.
14778403 Rfn Mullen J.
7009594 Rfn McAllister G.
7015463 Rfn McAllister R.
7012157 L/S McBride J.
14407007 Rfn McCabe J.
14424619 Rfn McCool J.
7017351 L/C McCoy W.
7013828 Rfn McCracken G.
7012171 Rfn McGlennon H. MM.
14424793 Rfn McGrory P.
7009901 L/S McMichael D.
7045462 Rfn McQuillan J.
7011222 Cpl McSperrin F.
7013567 Sjt McVeigh C.
7015520 Rfn Noble W.
7015663 Rfn Norman E.
7019276 Cpl O'Beirne M.
6975889 Cpl O'Callaghan P.
7014265 L/C O'Hagan P.
7018690 Cpl O'Reilly E.
7022204 L/C Orr R.
1465534 Rfn Parkin C.
7020205 Rfn Patterson J.
6979411 Rfn Patton R.
7017199 L/S Payne F.
7019311 Cpl Payne E.
7046400 Rfn Perkins G.
7016338 Rfn Phillips R.
7044475 Rfn Plant G.
7015875 Cpl Pratt V.
5189229 Rfn Priest R.
14227586 Rfn Reynolds F.
7011646 Rfn Rice W.
5187582 Rfn Richardson R.
1772964 Rfn Robinson J.
11005766 Rfn Robinson T.
14428300 Rfn Robinson G.
14714043 Rfn Robinson A.
7017531 Cpl Rogers E.
7013785 L/S Rooney H.
7021446 L/C Rowley O.
6197005 Rfn Ryan M. MM.
7011515 Sjt. Schofield G.
7011203 Rfn Scott W.
7021372 Rfn Scott R.
7019849 Rfn Sewell N.
7014036 Rfn Shaw A.
14216344 Rfn Shore R.
5053293 Rfn Simmonds J.
3392759 Rfn Slater W.
7013455 Rfn Smith W.
14203182 Rfn Smith H.
7601237 Rfn Spears J.
5341308 Cpl Steadman H.
7017250 Rfn Stevens T.
7011810 Sjt. Stevenson J.
7010811 Cpl Stewart A.
7020434 L/C Stewart R.
7012091 L/C Stewart A.
7016953 Rfn Stock C.
14202691 Rfn Sunman R.
1628989 L/C Sutton P.
14655361 L/C Swindall H.
7022487 Rfn Tanner B.
14429341 Rfn Thompson K.
14804107 Rfn Threfall R.
14655365 Rfn Tuohy A.
14428101 Rfn Tweedy S.
7016349 Rfn Valentine H.
5391622 Rfn Varnham C.
14410588 Rfn Vaughan D.
7019368 Rfn Waller J.
7019327 Cpl Wallis F.
6410418 L/C Walsh S.
7020380 Rfn Walton J.
7022463 Cpl Watkin A.
7019878 L/C White H.
4758984 Rfn White T.
7016683 Rfn Whitehorn, E.
6979048 L/C Whiteley S.
14655367 Rfn Whiteley S.
7018176 Rfn Williamson J.
7019939 Rfn Williamson T.
7022501 Rfn Williamson G
14552116 Rfn Wilson D.
14414731 Rfn Wilson C.
6409448 Rfn Wolfe G.
14613429 Rfn Wright D.
REME 2122409 Rfn Goodrick A.
ACC 7011777 Pte O'Hare R.
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R.U.R. NEWSPAPER CLIPPINGS
Advertiser 22nd April 1955