13th Battalion The Parachute Regiment: Luard's Own

by Major Ellis "Dixie" DEAN MBE, MC

 

Page 1, 2, 3

 

HOLLAND - JANUARY & FEBRUARY 1945

The Battalion was now in reserve, badly under strength, having lost the equivalent of one and a half Rifle Companies during the Bure fighting. Captain Desmond GETHIN was promoted to command "B" Company and Lieutenant Mattrice SEAL recalled from Brigade to be his 2nd in command with Captain Ben ALIEN replacing Captain Leslie GOLDING as Admin Captain. In Humain we held our own winter sports, improvising sleighs of timber taken from damaged buildings Not many teams completed the twisting downhill course without a spill or two and those who did were forced to abandon their ride or risk running into a knocked out "Panther" Tank.

 

The next move was to Wellin, a large village which had not suffered any damage. Dinant was only a few miles away and recreational transport ran daily. A large party of non parachutist reinforcements arrived, but a move to Holland came as a big surprise to everyone and by the end of the month, the Battalion was once again in contact with the enemy, at Kessel a small town on the river Maas. We held positions on the western bank with the Germans 200 yards away across the flooded river.

 

Back at Larkhill, reinforcements had already joined the Battalion.

 

Norman MOUNTNEY:

We completed our training on the Isle of Wight in late December and were told we would be posted to the 1st. Battalion and although I had no preference which Battalion I joined, coming so soon after Arnhem, we all thought it a great honour. Only days later a change of orders and a dozen or so of us were on our way to join the 13th. Arriving at Larkhill we were surprised to find the barracks almost deserted. We were offered the choice of training either as 3 inch Mortar men or Vickers machine gunners, Albert STEEPER and I chose the latter and training began under one of the N.C.O.'s., Corporal Tommy LATHOM.

 

Holland was riot so welcoming as Belgium had been. There were no sheltered valleys, only mile upon mile of snow covered fields and frozen dykes and the bitter cold seemed even more penetrating. The population too were not as friendly as their Belgian counterparts. Possibly with good reason, now in the fifth winter of German occupation, food and fuel were in short supply and the enemy were still in possession of a large part of their homeland and with the recent events still fresh in their memory the outcome of the war might be in doubt.

 

"B" and "C" Companies, together with the Mortars and Battalion H.Q. were in Kessel itself, with "A" Company 2000 yards south in the hamlet of Kesselijk. In a farm house (in 8th. Battalion area) another 2000 yards down river, the Vickers occupied an indirect fire position with an O.P. with "A" Company. Most of the daytime activity was confined to observation and engagement of targets by the mortars and machine gunners, but from evening stand to until morning stand down, every one was on full alert and all positions manned, with both sides engaged in offensive patrolling. David Robinson was a member of one such patrol, but he was left to look after the boat and consequently that is all he can remember. Keeping warm during the long nights of Inactivity was a major problem and the self-heating tins of soup and cocoa, were a gift from the gods during the seemingly never ending vigil.

 

EXCERPTS FROM THE WAR DIARY:

KESSEL, 2nd February 1945, 0040 hours. Enemy M.G. at 803478 engaged by own artillery. M.G. fire on unit positions also from 818983.

 

0740 hours. Enemy digging and building of earthworks continues at 831996.

 

1300 hours. Several bursts of M.G. fire on "A" Company positions from 8129834.

 

1310 hours. Enemy smoke screen laid from 830998 to 828997. Shelling by own artillery into smoke screen.

 

1345 hours. Slight enemy mortaring, area 825005.

 

1700 hours. Enemy mortar position 830996 engaged and probably destroyed by own artillery.

 

1720 hours. Digging and earthworks continue at 813987. Enemy make little effort at concealment.

 

2130 hours. Enemy M.G. fire on 830010 continues until 2230 hours. Fairly quiet day, Little enemy activity. There was little change from day to day.

 

KESSEL 7th February 1945. 0500 hours. Slight enemy shelling of X roads 822002.

 

0855 hours. Small arms fire on "C" Company from 832006.

 

0900 hours. Own M.M.G. carry out harassing fire on 824999.

 

1011 hours. Nebelwerfer firing to south east of KESSEL. Engaged by counter battery fire.

 

1135 hours. Active M.G. firing sporadically at "C" Company at 824995. Own mortars engaged this position and scored 25 hits.

 

1300 hours. M.G. firing on "A" Company from 812988.

 

1545 hours. "A" Company under slight shellfire, no casualties.

 

1725 hours. "A" Company under mortar fire, no casualties.

 

1905 hours. Noises heard from Veerhuis. Defence works being carried out.

 

Len COX was a member of a fighting patrol which crossed the Maas:

It was all rather eerie on the Maas, made more so by the heavy blanket of snow which covered everything. The river had flooded over the tow path and at night we kept a continual watch on the river from houses alongside the water. On the German side, the land was featureless and the only building was the boathouse at the ferry crossing site. The ground rose gradually for 300 to 400 yards to a low wooded ridge where the defences were sited.

 

I went over with a patrol hoping to nab a prisoner for identification purposes. It was quite a job holding the canvas assault boat steady against the current as we climbed in. In mid stream the current was even stronger, but we made land, more or less where we meant to. There was a problem caused by the river being at flood levels the German barbed wire was now under the water and the boat was caught on it. We had to get out and lift the boat over the wire, the water was freezing.

 

You felt very exposed crossing the wide expanse of snow, even when wearing white camouflage suits. All was quiet as we slowly moved up towards the ridge, at least we had avoided any enemy patrols oil the river bank. We reached the place where we expected to find "Jerry" but the positions were deserted, intelligence must have been faulty. On the way back to the boat we came under heavy machine gun fire but managed to get back to our side of the river without anyone being hit.

 

In addition to the reinforcements from 21 Army Group Pool, men from "R" Company also arrived in Holland:

 

Norman MOUNTNEY:

After only a few weeks in the 13th. I went home on 7 days leave but I had only been there two days, when the village policeman, who had pushed his bike through 3 miles of deep snow, delivered a telegram recalling me to Larkhill. We were flown out to Brussels and on to a transit camp, where we spent quite a period of time waiting for instructions. Eventually we boarded some trucks and were told at the last minute that we were off to Holland.

 

It was bitterly cold and the fields were all deep in snow. For the last part of the journey we travelled without lights, with the final few miles on foot to join the Battalion.

 

Main activity consisted of enemy and own artillery shooting harassing tasks. This party of reinforcements included Captain Fred SKEATE who joined "C" Company and Lieutenant Peter DOWNWARD who took over the Scout Platoon. Round about the same time, Major "Nobby" CLARKE was admitted to hospital affected by "snow blindness" and Major Clive PRIDAY arrived from the 7th. Battalion to replace him. Active Service in Holland that winter was every bit as boring as the weary months of the previous summer passed holding defensive positions up at the "brickworks". But for the men of the Machine Gun Platoon, it was the period of their greatest activity.

 

"Dixie" DEAN:

Following the Brigade Inspection of the Battalion, prior to the move to Belgium, I was criticised for training the Platoon in the use of the dial sight, but when the C.O. gave me the task for the Vickers in the defences of Kessel, I felt my foresight fully justified. I was told to occupy a position from which the fire power of the Platoon could be brought to fall in front of the Companies holding Kessel, in the unlikely event of a German assault across the River. From a study of the map and a recce on the ground, I informed the Colonel that the only way in which the Platoon could do this was from an indirect fire position and indicated on the map what I considered a suitable site for the guns. Although this area was part of the 3rd Brigades responsibility, I was given the "go ahead".

 

Once dug in, we fired a demonstration shoot into the middle of the river in front of "C" Company. The river was flat calm and the strike of the bullets clearly visible. As a result of this success, we now established an O.P. with "A" Company in Kesselijk, connected to the gun lines by telephone, an began engaging targets on the far side of the river. Ammunition was being stockpiled for the main offensive battles to come and we were rationed to two belts (500 rounds) per gun daily. Perhaps the target didn't always warrant the amount of ammunition expended, but it helped to keep us happy and for once we were able to put our training into practice on a regular basis

 

Norman MOUNTNEY:

Next day we joined the Machine Gunners in their own little farm house and realised from the start I was now part of a well trained team, who were very positive about everything they did and I never regretted my decision to be a Vickers gunner. We were kept busy maintaining the weapon pits, manning the guns and "stand to", night and morning. I once went with one of the N.C.O.'s before daylight to a farm building overlooking the river. In one of the out buildings, we removed some tiles in the roof and could now observe the enemy positions on the far bank of the Maas. There was a telephone line back to the gun site, through which we passed the information back to the guns whenever a target appeared. Later we were joined by a sniper who also found a target while we were there.

 

The enemy's attention was soon attracted elsewhere when as the thaw set in the Allied Armies opened their offensives to clear them from the narrow belt of land between the rivers Maas and Rhine. They were squeezed out from north and south and on the 20th. the Battalion handed over to the 3rd. Battalion, 290th. Infantry Regiment, U.S. ARMY.

 

Norman MOUNTNEY:

I celebrated my 19th. birthday while we were in Holland and shortly afterwards the Americans arrived to relieve us. One of them remarked "What's holding you guys back? That little drop of water?" On reflection I reckon I crossed the Rhine before he did.

 

Order of Battle - December 1944

 

    BATTALION HEADQUARTERS

Commanding Officer

Second In Command

Adjutant

Quartermaster

Intelligence Officer

Assistant Adjutant

Lieutenant Colonel P. J. LUARD

Major Roy LEYLAND

Captain "Claude" MILMAN

Lieutenant Fred TREMLETT

Lieutenant Harry POLLAK

Lieutenant Mauric SEAL

    ATTACHED OFFICERS

Captain David TIBBS M.C. R.A.M.C

Captain The Reverend. Whitfield FOY. R.A.Ch.D

R.S.M. (W.O.I) Bob DUXBERRY.

R.Q.M.S. Jimmy HENSTOCK

    HEADQUARTERS COMPANY

 

A.D.M. Platoon

Mortars

Machine Guns

Signals

Scouts

Transport

Major Andy McLOUGHLIN

Captain Leslie GOLDING

Lieutenant Vic WRAIGHT

Lieutenant "Dixie" DEAN

Lieutenant Malcolm TOWN

2nd Lieutenant Arthur PRESTT

Lieutenant Fred TIRAMANI

C.S.M. "Duggy" DUGDALE

C.Q.M.S. Charlie FORD

    "A" COMPANY

Major Jack WATSON

Captain "Joe" HODGSON M.C.

Lieutenant "Topper" BROWN

Lieutenant Eric BARLOW

Lieutant Pat KAVANAGH

C.S.M. Bert ALDER

C.Q.M.S. Harry WATKINS

    "B" COMPANY

Major Bill GRANTHAM

Captain "Baggy" ALLEN

Lieutenant Alf LAGREGAN

Lieutenant Tim WINSER

Lieutenant Steve HONNOR

C.S.M. Jack MOSS

C.Q.M.S. Eric COOKSON

    "C" COMPANY

Major "Nobby" CLARK M.C.

Captain "Dizzy" GETHIN

Lieutenant Bill DAVIDSON

Lieutenant Dick BURTON

Lieutenant Frank SUMMERFIELD

C.S.M. "Taffy" LAWLEY M.M.

C.Q.M.S. Charlie WRIGLEY

    "R" Company (IN U.K.)

Captain Fred SKEATE

Lieutenant Alan DABORN

Lieutenant Geoff OTWAY

Lieutenant Peter DOWNWARD

2nd Lieutenant "Jock" SIMPSON M.M.

 

    ATTACHED PERSONNEL

 

   ARMY PHYSICAL TRAINING CORPS

C.S.M.I. Roy PARRISH

    R.E.M.E.

Mortar Platoon

Armourer

Serjeant Bill WEBSTER

Serjeant McPHAIL

    A.C.C.

Serjeant Y. SHAW

 

Roll of Honour - Normandy 1944

 

3rd January 1945

Serjeant F. CHADWICK, Hotton

Lance Corporal A.P. CHARLES, Hotton

Lance Corporal F. CLARK, Hotton

Private J. CLOUGH, Hotton

Private T.B. DAVIES, Hotton

Private T. EVANS, Hotton

Private L.T. FISHER, Hotton

Private A. FITTON, Hotton

Private H.J. FORTEY, Hotton

Major G.K. GRANTHAM, Hotton

Serjeant W. GREENDALE, Hotton

Private J. HAGGERTY, Hotton

Private S. HAIGH, Hotton

Private W.E. HALL, Hotton

Serjeant R.E. HOLLIS, Hotton

Private T HOLT, Hotton

Corporal L.J. JOHNSON, Hotton

Private E.T. JONES, Hotton

Private D. KENNY, Hotton

Private V.P. KING, Hotton

Lieutenant A. LAGREGAN, Hotton

Serjeant A.H. McGRATH, Hotton

Private L. MORRIS, Hotton

Private W. C. MURRAY, Hotton

Private D. NICHOLL, Hotton

Private J. O'CONNELL, Hotton

Private R.S. ORME, Hotton

Private W. PELLING, Hotton

Private D. REGAN, Hotton

Lance Corporal W. ROBINSON, Hotton

Lance Serjeant D.R. SHALES, Hotton

Private A. SHINGLER, Hotton

Lance Corporal J. SIMPSON, Hotton

Private A. SNELHAM, Hotton

Private P.A.L. STREETER, Hotton

Private H. SUMRAY, Hotton

Private A WADDELL, Hotton

Private E.G. WESTON, Hotton

Private E. WHITE, Hotton

Lieutenant T. WINSER, Hotton

 

4th January 1945

Privatee J. ASPINALL, Hotton

Private J. BELLIS, Hotton

Private R.S. FORD, Hotton

Private D. HARDY, Hotton

Private M.P. HERMAN, Hotton

Private R.A. KING, Hotton

Private J. McANDREW, Leopoldsburg

Corporal G.C.V. McPHERSON, Hotton

Private T.M. MEYER, Hotton

Private J. MORRIS, Hotton

C.S.M. P.J. MOSS, Leopoldsburg

Private L. PEARCE, Hotton

Private D.R. POVEY, Hotton

Corporal W. RYAN, Hotton

Private N. SCOTT, Hotton

Private W.J. SEARS, Hotton

Private H. TAYLOR, Hotton

Corporal P.J. WOODS, Hotton

Private P. WOTTON, Hotton

 

5th January 1945

Private L.F. BEACH, Hotton

Private V. HAYWOOD, Hotton

Private R. LOVELL, Hotton

Private W.A. SARGEANT, Hotton

 

7th January 1945

Private H. HUGHES, Brussels Town Cemetery

 

16th January 1945

Private J.W. BUTLER, Hotton

 

1st February 1945

Private S.R. POWELL, Venray

 

15th February 1945

Private J.H. POWELL, Cheslyn Hay, Staffordshire, England

 

OPERATION VARSITY - 24th. MARCH 1945

 

Battalion War Diary:

LARKHILL 23rd February 1945. All U.K. details of unit assembled at Newcombe Lines. Normal administration and training resumed.

 

On 27th of the month we went on seven days leave. The morning following our return from leave Brigadier Poett addressed the complete Battalion in the Camp Hall and informed us (if we had not already guessed so), we had come back to England for the purpose of preparing for an airborne operation over the river Rhine. Of course, he continued, I can't tell you exactly when or where but you will have a little time to get yourselves fully fit again and toughen up your training.

 

Norman MOUNTNEY remembers one incident which I think we all observed:

One evening as we were crossing to the N.A.A.F.I., we noticed a Dakota flying round and round with a body trailing in the slip stream. Some one said it was a "red cap" and we all laughed. When we came out later, the plane was still flying round but eventually the R.A.F. despatcher floated a loaded kit bag out which the man was able to grasp tightly and he was then hauled back into the plane.

 

Before we moved to the transit camp I can remember men who were officially sick, declaring themselves fit. There was a terrific spirit in the Battalion and no one wanted to miss out.

 

Less than a fortnight later on the 19th. March in the middle of the morning the barrack square was filled by troop carrying T.C.V.'s and this meant the operation was not far off. The suddenness of this action took the rank and file by surprise. Even after all the members of "R" Company had been absorbed into the Companies, on account of the heavy casualties in Bure, the Battalion was still not up to strength in Private soldiers. Everyone (except key personnel where risk of injury had to be avoided) had carried out a clean fatigue jump, but rugby was banned when more than one senior member of the Brigade suffered injury on the hard ground.

 

During that afternoon (19th), a draft arrived from the Depot and they were quickly caught up in the frantic preparations for the move to the transit camp.

 

Private Fred BEDDOWS:

I did my jumps at Ringway at the beginning of March 1945 and then was sent home on 7 days leave, not the 14 days normally given and told when my leave was up to report to the R.T.O. at Waterloo station. This I did with about 150 other newly qualified parachutists and we were put on a train for Bulford. We arrived there mid afternoon, Monday 19th., where N.C.O.'s from the 7th., 12th. and 13th. Battalions were waiting. As your name was called out you reported to one of the Serjeants and that is how I came to join the Battalion.

 

At Larkhill we paraded outside Battalion H.Q. and were welcomed by Colonel LUARD three at a time in his office. I was posted to "B" Company, where Major GETHIN detailed me to join 6 Platoon.

 

In the Platoon barrack room, they were all busy checking their kit and weapons, so I asked the bloke in the bunk below me if the Platoon were going on a scheme or something? I'll never forget his reply, "Yes, a bloody big one". I asked what be meant by that, to which his reply was that I would soon find out. Next morning we were off to the Transit Camp.

 

It was a long journey to Shudy in Suffolk and took up most of the day light hours. But it was a pleasant place to spend, what for some would be their last hours on earth. The Nissen huts were spread around a wooded park and the ground beneath the trees was carpeted with primroses and violets. For the few days we were there the sun shone from morning till night, the English spring put on a special show for our benefit.

 

Just how little time we bad became known next day when the first parade was to travel to Wethersfield, the take off airfield, to draw and fit chutes. Half an hours drive along deserted country lanes brought us to our destination where the Dakotas awaited us at dispersal. The chutes were delivered to individual air craft and after fitting would be marked and placed inside the planes.

 

During fitting the air crews arrived and introduced themselves. To most, this was our first opportunity to meet an American crew and they certainly were different from their British counterparts. They were brash and very cocksure of themselves, promising to deliver the Battalion onto the DEE ZEE, at 600 feet and with engines throttled back to stalling speed. Once chutes had been fitted to the satisfaction of "stick commanders" they were placed in the aircraft on individual seats.

 

On the return to Shudy, we all sat on the grass in front of a large representation of the operational area east of the Rhine and the Colonel gave the Battalion a general briefing of the plan, explaining the operation was unusual on three accounts. First the water borne crossing of the river would precede the drop, secondly we would be jumping in broad daylight and thirdly we were to land right on top of our objectives. He then proceeded to explain the plan in more detail, emphasising that the two Airborne Divisions (ourselves and the 17th. American Airborne) would be landing in the middle of known artillery positions, but these would be subjected to two hours of counter bombardment, by the massed guns of 2nd. Army which would also be able to provide artillery support once we landed.

 

Next the C.O. briefed his "O" Group in full detail and over the next two days each Platoon in turn had the use of all the briefing facilities in the model room for half an hour. Compared with the Normandy operation, it appeared simplicity itself, jump, land, seize the objective and dig in. That was all there was to it.

 

Fred Beddows:

We had three briefings. Firstly the full Battalion was briefed by the C.O., next was the Company Commander's turn and finally the really detailed one by my Platoon Officer, Lieutenant Selwyn. I was puzzled by frequent mention of S.P.'s and when the time came for "any questions", being a keen young soldier I asked in all innocence "What's an S.P.". This was a great joke for the old hands but I was made fully aware of the threat that these weapons posed.

 

Colonel LUARD also briefed the Americans who were to fly us on the operation and he made quite an impression on them, as Michael N. Ingrisano Jr. reports. in "Valour Without Arms".

 

We were to drop over the Rhine and effect an airborne landing in an area about 6 miles east of the Rhine. The course is an excellent one and the close ground support seems to be the best we have ever had. That and the fighter cover makes this mission seem a "snap" a "milk run". As a rule the men are a bit leery of the optimism of Group Briefing Officers, this time it is different.

 

A Lieutenant Colonel LUARD, C.O. of the British 13th. Battalion, whom we are to drop, was the guest briefing officer. This was the first time our Squadron hauled the British Troopers into combat, we were a bit anxious. Well, Colonel LUARD who is a rather tall chap and rugged as they come, proved with his contagious good humour, that we had nothing to be afraid of. He explained the immediate task of his own Battalion and its secondary task in coordination with the other Battalions of the 5th. Brigade. This Colonel was confident of success and full of courage, a good humoured man, a hard taskmaster, a man a fellow would want to follow. He was convinced the mission was to be a fox hunting do he intended to catch the German fox.

 

When the meeting broke up the Squadron felt convinced they were going fox hunting too and the enthusiasm and pace of the "chase" reassured all that the "humour" of the Colonel's "Tally Ho" would be felt shortly by the enemy. He showed us his hunting horn, a little bronze horn which he will use to rally his Battalion. The last time the Battalion jumped, they made a record assembly, taking only nine minutes. Quite a chap this "Red Devil and quite a show to come.

 

The author goes on to state; "we are to drop at 662ft., indicated at 110 miles per hour", no comment and later states "we are also carrying Brigadier POETT, C.O. of the 5th. Brigade, who is also witty and confident. Must be a fox hunter too, keeps saying "By Jove" and "Tally Ho"".

 

The last time the Battalion were all together was for an open air church service in the early evening of 23rd. It had been another day of clear blue skies and warm spring sunshine and we all gathered before a makeshift altar as the sun was sinking low in the west. The Brigade Commander and the members of his Staff who shared the camp, attended too. We all realised the significance of the occasion and Padre FOY, who never failed to satisfy our spiritual requirements, again rose to the occasion. He took as the text for his sermon "In my Father's house are many mansions", as he prepared us for the dangers and possible death we would all be facing the next morning.

 

Some of us knew only too well what these dangers might be, but the young soldiers who had joined the Battalion only 4 days ago must have felt terribly innocent and ignorant. Private Fred BEDDOWS of 6 Platoon had asked at briefing, what an S.P. was and just before the service, Private COLQUHUON approached his Platoon Officer and said "This is only an exercise we're going on isn't it Sir".

 

After the service there was a Frank Sinatra musical in the main dining hall for these who could be packed in, but for most it was early to bed in the hope of some sleep, for it was a very early "Reveille" in the morning. Breakfast for the record, was porridge, bacon and fried potatoes, bread, marmalade and the inevitable hot sweet tea. Then into the transport for the drive to Wethersfield, where 33 Dakotas awaited us or to Boreham Wood for the two glider loads, one the Quartermasters, the other for the Mortars.

 

OVER THE RHINE

Wethersfield was deserted when we drove onto the perimeter track and as we moved along the tarmac, groups of three tonners peeled off to drop their loads at the various dispersal sites. These too were deserted, no welcoming air crew just the Dakotas sitting there like great birds about to take flight. There was still some time before the need to hand the chutes down from the planes and fit them on. Every one stood around and watched as a vast armada of "Flying Fortresses" assembled overhead, prior to setting course for targets in the German Reich. They will at least draw off any Luftwaffe fighters, was the fervent prayer.

 

"Dixie" DEAN:

It was as if the fitting of chutes started us on a course of action from which there was no drawing back and the inevitable was put off until it could be delayed no longer. There was still no sign of the crew, so Serjeant Frank Kenny our Stick Commander was given a leg up into the fuselage so the steps could be reached and fitted in position. We were all at the door waiting for him to hand out our chutes. Four shapeless bundles on the fuselage floor stirred into life and out of their sleeping bags emerged the crew. They were still half asleep but sprung into life when one of them said "Gee fellahs, what about chow?" At great speed they pulled on trousers and jackets before they disappeared across the airfield in search of their breakfast.

 

We fitted chutes and emplaned. All around us we could hear engines being started and run up, but still no pilot and I knew the time scheduled for take off was fast approaching. A Jeep screeched to a halt, out jumped the crew, they climbed aboard, pulled up the steps and disappeared into the cabin. Within seconds the engines coughed and spluttered into life and hardly were they running, but we moved from dispersal onto the perimeter track and joined the stream rolling towards the runway.

 

The Dakotas approached the runway from both directions and then turned along it, aircraft slightly staggered on either side. Slowly they edged forward until the full Battalion group were formed up. A signal or an order and all engines were being run at maximum revs, for a moment it was if they were dogs straining at the leash. Then brakes were released and the fleet roared down the run way as one. Slowly to begin with, the under carriage wheels left the ground and the planes started to climb as they gathered into formation for the long flight to Germany.

 

"P" Hour was 1000 hours, but now it was only just after 0630 hours. The flight seemed longer than three and a half hours. It was even longer for those who flew in the gliders, for somewhere over Belgium, we flew under the glider train for several minutes, since their flying speed was slower than the parachute aircraft. All together there were over 300 tug and glider combinations in the 6th. Airborne armada.

 

Fred BEDDOWS:

Take off was at 0700 hours and jumping No.4, I was in a position to look out of the door and watch as the other Dakotas flew around as they gathered into formation for the flight.

 

After a time we started to fly over water and there was some argument as to whether it was the Channel or the North Sea. The planes banked a little and I recognised Southend pier and so I was able to settle the matter by announcing the fact and stating that I had lived in Southend for the greater part of 18 years. Someone then suggested I should jump out and take some extra leave.

 

In some aircraft the jumpmasters offered cigarettes or candy, otherwise the flight was free of incident. Jump masters came from the cockpits to announce "20 minutes to go". and collected the crews flak suits from the fuselage. We were not wearing any body armour but the provision of protection for the airmen aroused comment, not favourable to our Allies. This was always the time, when things started to happen:

 

"Dixie" DEAN:

We were all jumping with kit bags so we fitted these, hooked up and went through the usual procedure of checking and reporting. While we were busy with these actions our Jump Master moved to the rear of the plane and we could hear him fussing around, but ignored him while we got ready to jump. When all was ready I looked to the rear where he had pulled the inflatable rubber dinghies across the door of the "Elsan" closet. He was behind them and you could just see his head over them, "O.K. you guys" he said, "I'll dispatch you from here".

 

In every plane by now, Number Ones were standing in the door way taking in the spectacle, for it was an unforgettable sight to see all 33 Dakotas in close formation. Whatever other criticisms there were of American air crew on Operation "Varsity", the airmanship of the pilots could not be faulted. Nine abreast in three "Vics" of three they flew, with only yards separating individual air craft which constantly rose and fell a few feet as the pilots worked hard to maintain position.

 

The river Rhine was passed, with not a sign of battle on either bank but soon burning buildings indicated we were approaching the time for action. Through the starboard windows were seen the homeward bound Dakotas which had dropped 3 Brigade. From the engine of one of them, streamed a long tongue of orange red flame. Suddenly the ground below was littered with discarded parachutes the 8th., 9th. and Canadian Battalions were already in their rendezvous. Flying over their deserted drop zone, meant we were on course for D.Z. "Baker", with a little over one minutes flying time to go.

 

Two questions the Number Ones were asking themselves, when are the pilots going to descend to 600 feet and when are they going to reduce speed?. Normally the wing flaps were half lowered, as was the under carriage and the pilot flew at just above stalling speed, but this was not happening. The height was nearer 1000 feet and there was no slackening in the pace of the run in.

 

But now we were all at "action stations" and the open farmland of the drop zone clearly visible ahead. Butterflies were fluttering in all tummies as we awaited the green light.

 

24th. MARCH 1945 - WAR DIARY

24th. March 1945. 0630 hours. Unit took off in 33 Dakotas and 2 Horsas from Wethersfield and Boreharn Wood airfields respectively.

 

1010 hours. "H" hour. 5 Para Brigade landed successfully on D.Z. "B"".

 

Opposition encountered was slight and the majority of casualties suffered by the unit was due to rather heavy enemy A.A. fire and airbursts brought down on D.Z.. In view of bad visibility the majority landed slightly east of the actual D.Z. thereby causing a certain amount of delay in forming up. One Horsa glider containing one Mortar section failed to arrive and is considered lost.

 

Conditions could not have been better for parachuting as the Battalion made their exits, there was hardly a breath of wind and as yet the Germans in the vicinity had not become aware of what was happening. The 13th. were the first to drop of 5 Brigade and the big problem was attempting to control the violent oscillations caused by the speed at which exits were made. We were down and on the ground and unloading weapons valises and kit bags, while the 12th. were touching down all around us and the 7th. were making their exits. In minutes the entire Brigade were on German soil and ready for action.

 

Lieutenant Colonel LUARD reports:

In spite of anti aircraft fire being so intense only one man of the Battalion was hit while still in the air craft. Nevertheless he jumped even though his knee cap was shattered.

 

Fred BEDDOWS:

While we were standing up waiting for "Action Stations", I saw black puffs of smoke appear among the planes, this was the German welcoming committee. The day we went to draw and fit chutes I had spoken to the pilot who said he would drop us bang on target.

 

The American jump master was standing beyond the open door, wearing a flak suit and steel helmet and smoking a big cigar. "O.K. you guys, lets go" were his instructions and we all shuffled forward. I watched as the light turned from red to green and out we all went. I was a long time coming down. By the end of the day, I had learnt what an S.P. was.

 

The trouble on the ground was to find the R.V. Smoke or early morning mist reduced ground level visibility to little more than 100 yards and very few men picked up the land marks of the planned rendezvous. Everyone had painted on the back of his jumping jacket a black rectangle surrounded by a white strip. We all turned to face the line of fly in, as instructed and moved back in that direction. Consequently the Battalion funnelled towards a dog leg bend in the road bordered by woodland. At last the enemy woke up and machine guns opened up on the right flank. No particular targets were being engaged but the bullets were whistling overhead. Some of the young soldiers who had not been in action before, threw themselves down when the first bursts were fired, but were quickly on their feet again at the urging of the experienced soldiers.

 

Prisoners were already being rounded up, clearly they had no stomach for a fight and took the first opportunity to surrender their weapons. There must have been a considerable number of Germans in the copse towards which the Battalion were streaming, with an excellent field of fire, but Serjeant Arthur HIGGINS and others disarmed them very quickly and offered later arrivals Lugers and Schmeissers if they wanted extra fire power.

 

To begin with, all was rather chaotic at the impromptu rendezvous with a couple of hundred bodies milling around as Officers and N.C.O.'s endeavoured to sort out Companies and Platoons. Some alert individual must have kept a look out for suddenly, in the midst of all the disorder came the cry "There's a jeep coming". This had to be an enemy vehicle since the gliders had not yet landed. Every one dived for cover in ditches and hollows and behind trees, with weapons cocked and covering the road. The sound of the approaching jeep grew louder and louder and we were all geared up to give it a hostile reception when the call came, "Don't shoot, it's Serjeant WEBSTER". And indeed it was. A beaming Serjeant reported to the C.O. with a recaptured American Army Jeep.

 

Private Tom BACKSHELL. R.A.M.C. recalls this incident:

While many of the Medics dropped off the mark and had colourful times hiding in woods, fighting for their lives or being taken prisoner, others like my self had a very ordinary time with the crowd. My first memory is of my neighbour in the plane stuffing an orange into my kit bag as we stood in the door. My next of hovering over a pylon, but finally landing a considerable distance away. As I emptied my kit bag I wasted no time groping for the orange.

 

I was another one who, unable to locate my position, followed the herd into the woods. There, catching sight of our Red Cross armbands, some one delivered into our hands a batch of Jerry Medics, complete with M.O. and Padre. Our feeling of importance was short lived however as with the next event we forgot our prisoners.

 

This was the approach of a Jeep up the road and the turning out of an indignant Jerry doctor by our tough, little R.E.M.E. Serjeant and taking it over for casualties. Some how we found the way to the R.V. where we arrived with nothing more than one sprained ankle. We found a handful of our chaps showing concern over the question of reinforcements as they stood guard over 60 prisoners and civilians.

 

Bill WEBSTER tell his own story:

I made sure the plane had stopped flying over the forest before I jumped as No.1, with tile Yankee Jump master yelling "Go, Go, Go" all the time.

 

I landed close to a cottage alongside the road and standing outside watching the drop were all elderly couple. I could hear a vehicle approaching so I motioned with my Sten for them to get inside in case there was going to be any shooting. Hearing the vehicle stop, I swung round with my weapon pointing towards it. "You can't shoot me" the officer standing up in the front scat of a Jeep called, "I'm a doctor". The others with him must have been medics too because they made no attempt to fight. Despite the angry protests of the doctor, I commandeered the vehicle and drove on along the road until I came to the wood where the Battalion were gathering. Later I drove the C.O. and Captain SKEATE, who was wounded, to where we had been briefed to dig in.

 

R.S.M. Bob DUXBERRY had now arrived and he took charge of organising the R.V. while the C.O. and his "O" Group moved into a nearby cottage where orders for move to and capturing the objective were issued.

 

Not all the members of the Battalion were in a position even to reach the temporary R.V. and it soon became apparent that some of the pilots, in addition to flying high and fast, had also given the signal to jump before they reached the drop zone. Consequently not a few men landed in the woods along the line of fly in, some of them to be shot dead, hanging helplessly still in their parachute harness.

 

The American report states:

VARSITY mission was the toughest one yet most of the planes were hit by small arms fire, light and heavy flak.

 

Dave ROBINSON:

I landed off site in some woods, with my chute in one tree, my kit bag in another and me hanging in between. Two men pulled me down. I had a hole in my cheek, three teeth missing, a swollen face and a black eye, resulting from shrapnel as I jumped. No permanent damage so I did not get ant treatment until two weeks later, when an Army dentist took out what was left of the three teeth, hurting me more in the process than the shrapnel.

 

C.S.M. "Taffy" LAWLEY, who had parachuted on the very first operation carried out by British parachutists, now jumped on the last one:

 

I took up my place in the door. There was much flak bursting around and while I was watching intently for the signal to go, a burst exploded a short distance from me. But for the fact my hands were griping the outside of the door, I would, most probably have been blown across the fuselage. The next second the green light came on and I was away. It seemed a long time before I landed but I was quickly out of my chute harness and made for some buildings, where I found some members of the Company. My Company 2nd in command Captain Fred SKEATE was wounded. I took his hunting horn and blew the Company call, mustering most of them. While this was happening a truck load of "Jerries" drove round the corner of a wood, no more than 200 yards away and we soon dealt with them. Taking the Company to the R.V. we met the O.C. Major PRIDAY. Soon the whole area was cleared of the enemy, large numbers of prisoners being taken, some of whom we made dig our slit trenches. They thought they were digging their own graves.

 

There were sonic nasty sights burnt out gliders, complete with their passengers. Paratroops shot as they hung in the trees. It was sad for me to find the body of our young Colour Serjeant Charlie WRIGLEY, a great friend of mine. He had landed in a wood and been shot in the back.

 

Norman MOUNTNEY:

It was a very early "Reveille" on the 24th March. I was jumping with a kit bag carrying 2 liners of ammunition (500 rounds of Mark VIIIZ). Before take off the pilot said he was going to drop us as low as possible and as slow as possible. But his god intentions were forgotten when waiting for the "green", we were hit by flak and he climbed increasing speed as he did so.

 

I made a good exit there were chutes all round and I noticed two Dakotas on fire but I couldn't see the ground for smoke or dust. I hit it hard and rolled into a hollow as a mortar bomb exploded nearby. There was also sporadic machine gun fire. A short distance away I saw some men hung up in the trees, but when I got closer, I could see they had all been shot, still in their harness. I linked up with my Platoon Commander Lieutenant DEAN and as we neared the R.V. a glider still trailing the tow rope nearly caught us.

 

Dave BEADHAM was another who was dropped from a greater height than planned:

Our plane must have been flying 1000 feet up, rather than the 500 we were supposed to drop from, because I was a long time in the air and there were those 20mm flak guns blazing away at us. There was a small wood near where I landed and some of the lads were hung up in the trees. I dropped in the open in an area of post and wire fences just like in England, but it was quite a job having to keep climbing over them before I could reach any cover. The first thing I can remember seeing was a German farmer standing in a two wheeled cart lashing the horse with a whip to get away from us.

 

As things turned out, there was no need to put the C.O.'s plan into operation, since the objective had already been captured by men of the Battalion who had landed close by and led by Lieutenants Harry POLLAK and "Topper" BROWN attacked the position. The Germans here also surrendered and 70 of the enemy, including the Major commanding that sector were put in the bag. They looked very disconsolate, sitting in a line on the roadside as the Battalion passed.

 

There was a new hazard now, the gliders as they came in to land, for their pilots too were troubled by the bad visibility after they cast off and started their downwards glide. The German flak guns, many of which had not been put out of action by the artillery bombardment, had the easiest of targets, while the cumbersome gliders were in flight. Corporal Jack CARR and Lance Corporal Tommy HOWELL of the M.M.G.'s landed close to the objective and set up the Vickers alongside the road and watched the gliders as they were landing in front of them. They realised that a giant Hamilcar was bearing down upon them and ran clear as the glider caught the gun, knocking off the traversing handles. Yards to their rear the Hamilcar buried itself in a wooden farm building which collapsed about it. But even before the roof tiles had stopped falling out drove a Bren Carrier, apparently undamaged.

 

Full use was made of the German prisoners in the digging of weapon slits but it was easy soil to dig and the work was soon completed. Before it was we were to witness yet another display of Allied air superiority, this time by American "Liberators". In its own way, it was every bit as spectacular as the mass gliders on the evening of "D" Day and the heavy daylight bombing raid on Caen. This show only lasted a minute from the first whisper of the fast approaching aircraft to the dropping of the Division's resupply. In a mighty crescendo of over 100 engines the Squadron of heavy bombers swept overhead only a few hundred feet up. No sooner had they passed, when the sky in front was filled with blossoming parachutes of all colours, drifting slowly to earth. The noise of the planes drowned the sound of the still active flak, one of the left hand planes reared almost vertically skywards, turned and dived steeply, exploding in a vast ball of flames as it hit the ground. Then all that could be seen of the resupply was the huge cloud of ugly grey smoke drifting up into the heavens.

 

Throughout the afternoon parties of men who had dropped in the woods, fortunate enough to avoid being shot whilst still suspended, continued to fight their way into the Battalion perimeter. But resistance on the ground was virtually over. Norman MOUNTNEY remembers the Battalion Medics using a horse and cart to collect wounded off the D.Z.

 

Bill WEBSTER:

We were dug in around Battalion H.Q. and I heard them talking about some members of the Battalion who were still missing after the drop. I went and reported that while standing in the door, I had seen some of the planes dropping men short of the D.Z. and while we were still flying over the woods. The C.O. questioned me and then I was sent back along the line of the fly in to see it I could find any of them.

 

We drove off in the jeep and soon were able to see chutes hanging in the trees. When we got closer we saw dead bodies on the ground too, they were all still in their harnesses. They never had a chance, they had come down right on top of a well prepared and camouflaged German Command Post. The bunkers and dug outs were some of the best constructed I ever saw and clearly the enemy had been expected to fight it out but there was no sign of them. To make sure, we dropped grenades inside before we entered they were empty.

 

BATTALION WAR DIARY: HAMMINKELN.

24th. March 1945. 1500 hours. "A" Company outpost counter attacked, strength one company. 35 enemy killed and attack beaten off.

 

By last light the situation was quiet and apart from spasmodic shelling enemy made no attempt to counter attack during the night. Total P.O.W. captured during day 353. Generally speaking once the defensive slits had been dug there was nothing to do except stand and wait and as usual every effort was made by all to make the most of the situation.

 

Dave BEADHAM:

We finally dug in as briefed, close to a farm which the Germans must also have used because "Flash" Walker found one of their horse drawn cooking stoves. There were also chickens about and he caught, killed, plucked and dressed enough of them to fill the big copper boiler of the stove. There was more than enough for the whole Platoon and we all got a big mess tin full of really tasty chicken broth it beat the meat cubes of the 24 hour ration pack, I can tell you.

 

At Battalion Headquarters one member of the orderly room staff was also well looked after.

 

Corporal Doug KELLY:

At 1600 hours everything was quiet in our sector. I had taken off my equipment and put it down in the barn. Being but a humble clerk with nothing to do I was approached by the Provost Serjeant and the next thing I knew I was guarding some 40 prisoners. I was relieved about 2000 hours and my first thought was for 40 winks. After stumbling about in the dark I eventually found my equipment and got my head down.

 

A few moments later I felt a gentle touch on my shoulder and a kindly voice asked me if I was warm enough. I replied in the positive but he insisted in putting more straw on me to keep me warm. I thanked him and thought to myself, "By Jove, he's a decent chap". Next morning I awoke, to find myself surrounded by wounded comrades and only then did I realise that they had made the Headquarter's barn into the sick bay.

 

Night fall brought renewed activity and Dave BEADHAM his flagging energies revived by the big helping of chicken stew, was sent on patrol. That night in brilliant moonlight our section led by Serjeant ROUGHEAD were sent out onto the D.Z. as a listening patrol. We moved forward among the gliders and went to ground under the wing of a Hamilcar, because we could see German patrols moving about just ahead of us. We lay watching them all tensed up, because they were stronger in numbers than us, eventually they moved away and we were then able to continue to the wood where we had to wait and listen. However, short of our objective we could bear the Germans exchanging whistle signals from inside the wood, a better method than our 38 sets which were often useless. We had one on the patrol and the operator was next to me and all he could get was the American Forces Network.

 

"Operation Varsity" involved the largest single landing of airborne troops, both parachute and air landed, in the war. Two complete Divisions were put down in under half an hour saturating the German defences, which were overwhelmed in a very short time. Most of the casualties were from the 6th. Airlanding Brigade, since the ack. ack defences had not been fully destroyed by the preliminary artillery bombardment. 

 

The Americans also counted the cost of the operation. Of the 40 Dakotas which flew in the Battalion group 14 had been damaged or destroyed.

 

The fate of one of them was witnessed by 1st. Lieutenant Merril J. JACKSON.

1st. Lieutenant Colvin T. SMITH was flying No. 3 position in "B" element and I was flying No.2 in the same element. When we dropped our troops I fell behind as my troops were very long in leaving the plane. The element leader and Lieutenant SMITH were diving and turning before I had dropped my troops. I was 50 to 75 yards behind as we headed into the 180 degree turn to get out. I was flying right behind my element leader but lower and Lieutenant Smith was ahead of me and about 100 feet above me. I was on the deck. As we straightened out my element leader and Lieutenant Smith climbed up to about 6oo feet and I stayed on the deck. I flew right over the gun which I think was firing at Lieutenant Smith.

 

Lieutenant SMITH'S ship burst into flames and one parachute came out immediately. I received hits and turned to see if I was on fire. As I turned my head another parachute came out at 600 to 700 feet. The plane flew along level and then nosed down in a gentle glide into the ground, exploding on contact just short of the river. I only saw two men bail out of the plane but there could have been more while I was looking my plane over.

 

There were in fact only two survivors. The second man to jump was Staff Serjeant. Wilbur L. SWARTZ, the radio operator who on 9th. April wrote to his squadron: "I imagine you will have a hard job reading this but I wanted to write to let you know that I am still alive just, but pretty much of a wreck. I am in hospital here, on my back. My hands are all bandaged up, I burnt my hands and face and broke my back".

 

As late as May 1st. 1945 the other 3 crew members were still listed as missing in action. The aircraft was carrying the following 19 members of the British 6th. Airborne Division who all jumped before the plane was critically hit.

Serjeant W. WEBSTER

Captain D. TIBBS

Lieutenant R.M. TOWN

Lance Corporal W.J. FORDHAM

Private J.D. DODSWORTH

Private W.J. McPHEE

Lance Corporal R. KIRBY

Private J. GRIFFITHS

Private G.K. CARVELL

Private A.C. TAYLOR

Private H. BOLT

Private H. MORETON

Private J. WRAY

Private T. HIND

Private D. NEATH

Corporal H.E. STEPHENSON

Company Serjeant E. HEWITT

Corporal J. RAWCLIFFE

Serjeant J. M. McPHAIL

 

RACE TO THE BALTIC

The strategy of landing two complete airborne divisions slap on top of the enemy artillery positions proved a deciding factor in the battle to gain a firm foot hold on the east bank of the Rhine. The initial cost in killed and wounded among the parachute and glider troops was high, but once the German artillery, both field and anti aircraft was silenced, the progress of the formations crossing by assault craft was speeded up appreciably. By mid afternoon on the 25th. friendly armour had already passed through the Battalion area and disappeared in the direction of Hamminkeln. As part of the briefing we had been told that we would not return to U.K., but would remain in Germany and take part in any future land fighting. But it still came as a surprise when later in the day we too started to advance along the same road. Before we moved off we handed in our steel helmets. It was a move of tremendous morale boosting value, Red Berets would not only be leading the advance across Germany but would be seen doing so. The officer casualties had been slight Lieutenant Chris SELWYN killed, Captain Fred SKEATE wounded and Captain "Joe" HODGSON wounded and captured. As a consequence Captain "Claude" MILLMAN became 2nd in command of "A" Company and Lieutenant Bill DAVIDSON was promoted to the post of Adjutant.

 

On either side of us, as we advanced, was ample evidence of the price the 6th. Airlanding Brigade and all the other units of the Division who landed by glider had paid for their part in the operation. Gliders littered the fields, hardly a one had escaped damage and far too many were total wrecks. Some of the multi barrelled light flak guns too were visible in the fields alongside the road. The station yard itself was the most harrowing sight, here several Horsas had been reduced to huge piles of fire wood and the casualties must have been horrendous. Over the river Issel a German "Panther" tank lay on its side in a ditch, but there was no sight or sound of the enemy.

 

The advance didn't really get under way until the 27th, 7th. Battalion were in the lead, with 13th in close support. For a change it was a dull, damp sort of day with an intermittent drizzle and on more than one occasion that day we lay at the side of the road as the men of 7th. Battalion fought a minor skirmish and then resumed the advance. However as nightfall approached it was evident from the sounds of battle reaching us front ahead that this time a more serious attempt was being made to obstruct us. The fighting continued in the early hours of the night and the Brigadier ordered the Battalion to carry out a night infiltration attack round the enemy's left flank and cut off his retreat.

 

Lieutenant Peter DOWNWARD and the Scout Platoon would be the route finders and lead the way. All went well for several hundred yards, as we moved silently along a series of hedgerows, always with the sounds of battle not too far away. "Halt everybody down", there was trouble ahead. The leading scouts had come to a farm track which had to be crossed and not more than twenty yards from this stood a gate and a sentry was clearly visible. Two men were sent to remove him as silently as possible.

 

The rest waited anxiously and then one of the would be assassins came scuttling back. All was well, they had crawled within yards of the sentry, when he started singing quietly to himself "Jumping through the hole". The ploy was successfully accomplished. Once we were firmly established on the high ground east of Erle, the 12th Battalion followed and then at first light next morning assaulted the enemy positions from the rear and as a result a considerable number of prisoners taken.

 

We now seemed to have fought our way through the enemy defences guarding the Rhine and were in flat open country, devoid of any dominating geographical features and ideal for marching, or so the Corps Commander must have decided, because for the next three days that was all we did. After Erle the 13th. were never in the lead and moved for the most part along minor country lanes and what habitations we saw were farms and small villages. The inhabitants kept out of sight, but in the woods through which we passed, were groups of Eastern European slave workers. Later they would be a common sight as Germany collapsed, but these early appearances were our first glimpses of the obscene brutality of the Nazi regime. Close on starvation they had just been turned loose to wander the countryside, living on what they could scavenge. They were pitiful creatures, clad only in their thin, striped suits, hung over almost skeleton frames.

 

On 29th. we were part of a 5 Brigade drive on the small town of Coesfeld and made an excellent impression on the supporting armour.

 

THE GRENADIER GUARDS 1939 - 1945

March 29th. No. 3 Squadron was allocated to 5 Para Brigade for an attack on Coesfeld by 12 Para. En route they helped a Company of 13 Para. mop up a small pocket of enemy slightly to the north and were witnesses of the fitness of the Battalion. Although they had already marched 25 miles that day the Company jumped the barbed wire and vaulted fences, without showing the slightest signs of fatigue.

 

By the end of the month, 7 days after dropping, we were already over 100 kilometres from our jumping off point and the Easter week end was spent resting in Greven where Colour Serjeants were beard complaining that few men were turning up to collect their meals. We were "living off the land", ham and fried eggs whenever we wanted them and for afters, bottled strawberries were the favourite.

 

There was even time for some to make social calls as Len COX recalls:

After a week of almost non stop marching the advance was held up at Greven, where we had to wait for the Sappers to bridge the river. Number 3 Commando were also in the vicinity and I got permission from the C.O. to visit them. I was re united with C.S.M. Maurice BENNET who had escaped with me in Normandy. The Commandos had liberated a barrel of beer, so we had a good booze up together.

 

Luxury in the shape of troop carrying transport now appeared and was used to shuttle rear formations forward to the scene of the fighting. There were several delays, caused by demolished bridges and long traffic jams of nose to tail vehicles built up. Fortunately the Luftwaffe rarely put in an appearance, so we just sat in our trucks until a Bailey bridge was constructed and then the advance continued.

 

On the 2nd. April the name of a German city appeared on our maps for the first time, Osnabruck. The final approach on foot did not start until just before dark with 12th. Battalion in the lead and we were the supporting unit. Shortly after dark 12th. encountered the enemy along the main road and we halted. We were moving through the fields at the side of the road which were wet after recent rain and the dampness began to penetrate our clothing. This happened not once, but several times and eventually we became wet through and very miserable. Finally in the early hours of the 3rd. the Brigadier called a halt to the night's advance, urging the 13th. to make sure of a good night's rest and to pass through the 12th. at first light. A good night's rest would be all of 3 hours.

 

We were on the move again as dawn was breaking and it was fortunate that the 12th. had cleared the first mile or so, since many men walked along mess tins in hand, eating breakfast as they did so.

 

Lieutenant Colonel P.J. LUARD:

Then a short M.T. move followed by the wonderful sight of the 13th. supported by an armoured Squadron of the Grenadier Guards (Churchill tanks), advancing two companies up and refusing to pause, no matter what the enemy might do, over running all opposition for 8 miles on the road to Osnabruck. Success was due to the vigorous attacks put in by the leading companies each supported by a troop of tanks.

 

WAR DIARY:

3rd. April. Advance continued with "C" on left., "B" on right and "A" in reserve. One troop of churchills supported each forward Company and one troop and S.P. anti tank remained in position. The terrain was well suited to defence and "B" Company soon came up against strong dug in positions in the hilly and wooded features. After a determined attack by the Company the enemy was over run and 70 P.O.W. taken.

 

1100 hours. A further strong enemy pocket of resistance was encountered on the left of the road in area of the railway. For the loss of 6 men "C" Coy. captured and killed 48 enemy.

 

Len COX was still in the thick of things:

After a couple of hours sleep we were on the move again, passing through the 12th. and were soon joined by "Churchills" of the Guards Armoured. Several small villages were cleared with the help of the tanks without any slowing of the advance. We crossed a railway line and could see a low ridge some distance ahead. When we were right out in the open the Company were caught in heavy machine gun fire, suffering a number of casualties. We took what cover we could until an artillery barrage was brought down on the enemy positions and we could move forward once again with the tanks in support. The action ended with the a platoon bayonet charge into the woods, led by Lieutenant Basil DISLEY and where we took quite a bag of prisoners.

 

And the final entry in the War Diary:

"B" Company reached the outskirts of Ostiabruck followed by "C" and "A" Companies and Battalion H.Q. An enemy counter attack by L.M.G. fire was disposed of by fire from S.P. anti tank guns. Enemy sniping continued throughout the rest of the day and was successfully dealt with by the Scout Platoon who killed 8 enemy snipers. The success of the day was mainly due to the vigorous attacks put in by the forward Companies and the excellent support given by 4 "GRENS". Total P.O.W. taken 143.

 

For some this was the end of the road. Bill WEBSTER:

I know I should not have been there but I was up with Battalion H.Q. when word came that the leading Platoon of "C" Company were held up by machine guns on the right. I collected a couple of the lads and we started to work our way forward on the left through some rough ground near the graveyard so we could get within grenade throwing range.

 

We were not spotted until we flushed out a single German soldier from behind a bush. He jumped up and started to run away. We opened fire, hitting him and he fell to the ground yelling blue murder. Then we crawled forward to where he was lying and he screamed louder than ever, thinking we were going to kill him. I knelt up on one knee to treat his wounds, when another M.G. on the other flank, which up to now had not fired, opened up and I caught a burst in the neck and side which threw me over backwards. I couldn't move but was able to speak and I told the other lads to go and fetch the Medics. As I waited for them to come two German civilians waving a white flag and carrying a stretcher appeared. The woman could speak English and she said they would take the wounded German and then come back for me. Which they did and I think it must have been their own house they carried me to and where I waited until four stretcher bearers arrived to carry me to their first aid post.

 

From here I was moved to a convent at Haste outside Osnabruck to the east, where I was prepared for an operation. They came to put the mask over my face and I tried to stop them, so a young nun said "Don't worry we will not harm you".

 

Doctor SCHMIDT a German civilian doctor operated on me and although I was completely paralysed at the time, he assured me I would eventually be all right. Doc. TIBBS and the Padre came through the German positions to visit me and agreed with Doctor SCHMIDT that I should not be moved for the time being. The Germans even provided me with a Yankee orderly he had spent most of his life since early childhood in the States, but was visiting his parents in Germany in 1939 and since he had not become an American citizen was called up for military service.

 

This was the most exhilarating and rewarding day in the Battalion's history. The miseries of the previous night and the shortness of the rest were forgotten and the men of the Rifle Companies fought alongside their Grenadier manned Churchills as though they had spent months training together. But in fact we had never carried out a single day's work together on infantry tank cooperation. Something clicked that day and as our Colonel so rightly said, nothing would have stopped us, so determined were we to get at the enemy.

 

Further moves by transport followed and on 7th. April 5 Brigade were ordered to capture crossings over the river Leine, which involved 13th. in several minor skirmishes. The Germans only putting up token resistance, for once they realised what determined opponents they faced, out came. the white flags, quickly followed by the surrendering enemy. By the end of the day another 344 prisoners had been added to the Battalion's score.

 

There were minor actions being fought and "B" Company were committed to capturing Wunstorf Luftwaffe base.

 

Dave BEADHAM:

The Company advanced in extended order cross the open stretches of the airfield with those dreaded 4 barrelled 20mm. flak guns firing directly at us, but we held out line and when close enough charged with fixed bayonets. They didn't like that and they just packed in. We look a lot of prisoners but lost another very brave man when the Medic. Serjeant SCOTT was killed he had already been awarded both the D.C.M. and M.M.

 

We occupied the modern barrack block on the base and there was talk of a brothel in the camp, provided for the Luftwaffe air crews. If there was we in 5 Platoon didn't even see it, never mind enjoy its delights.

 

"C" Company too were involved in the capture of the airfield and Dave ROBINSON remembers assaulting one of the 20mm. Flak positions. As they charged, John McDERMOTT alongside him fired his rifle, forgetting he had a German pull through stuck in the barrel. The explosion split the barrel but the pull through flew out and hit one of the defenders, almost removing his hand.

 

That, although we didn't know it at the time, was virtually the end of the war as far as we were concerned. True, there still remained a vast area of Germany unoccupied by Allied Forces but 6th. Airborne now passed into Corps reserve and 15th. (Scottish) Division took over the advance.

 

The Battalion rested on Wunstorf airfield, a modern Luftwaffe station, which was not damaged in any way although every building had a large bomb standing in front of it. After a few days of inactivity (militarywise) we moved forward to the town of Celle, where the day after our arrival on the 14th we received a warning order for our next stage of the war.

 

OPERATION ENTERPRISE

The 2nd. Army were now closing up to the west bank of the river Elbe and although not as wide as the Rhine, still formed a considerable barrier to the army's advance. The task of making the crossing was given to 15 Division, with 5 Parachute Brigade under command. While the planning for the proposed airborne operation went ahead, we continued to move forward, although it was obvious we were being "kept out of trouble" as far as possible. We operated on the extreme right flank of the British forces with a broad stretch of open country between us and the nearest troops of our American Allies. In this gap, we were warned, a "rogue" Panzer force was active. They would lie up during the daylight hours, but just before nightfall, would come charging in, hoping to catch us off guard. And indeed in two villages through which we passed was ample evidence of these tactics, with brewed up tanks littering the streets.

 

An early morning move on the 17th carried us to Wieren, where we dug in to hold the village. 6 Platoon, "B" Company were responsible for the one road leading east out of the village. During the course of the day, it became apparent that the nearby village of Konav still held an unknown number of Germans. It was mortared and a recce patrol confirmed the presence of approximately 60 of the enemy.

 

"Dixie" DEAN in preparation for "Enterprise" had moved to "B" Company:

Before evening "stand to" 6 Platoon pulled two large farm carts across the road, out side grenade throwing range and also making it impossible for any vehicle to be driven straight through. Only a little while after "stand down" the section manning the forward post reported to me that something was approaching Wieren along the road. I put the Platoon on full alert and went forward to see what was happening. Whatever the vehicle was it had stopped at our road block. Leaving one section to give covering fire, I look the other two down a dry ditch and with cries of "Hande Hoch" (and also "Hands Up", because we had heard English being spoken), we quickly surrounded a horse and cart and close on twenty men. Still with their hands up the party were escorted into the yard behind the farmhouse, which was Platoon H.Q.

 

I thought it might be a ruse to put us off our guard, so the Platoon remained on alert and I arranged to see our prisoners one at a time. We had liberated an oil lamp, so I was able to have a good look at the first of our captives. He was wearing shabby, mud stained battledress and in response to my question, stood smartly to attention and reeled off number, rank and name, followed by the title of a distinguished Scottish Regiment. Further enquiries revealed that he had been captured during the retreat in 1940 and for the past four years had worked as a farm labourer. Their guards had disappeared, so he and his comrades had decided to try and reach the advancing British Army. No German, I thought could have imitated the broad Scotch accent, in which this was divulged, but I had to be sure. The next two I interrogated told exactly the same story the only difference being the Scottish Regiment in which they had served. Satisfied that all was well and as I had riot received any instructions from Company H.Q. I had them all brought indoors. I chatted to them informally about their experiences and they of course were eager to learn of the progress of the war. But not one of them would look me in the eye they seemed far more interested in my head. Then, I suddenly realised what interested them so much. They were all members of the original 51st. (Highland) Division, forced into surrender at St. Valery in 1940, possibly never learning of the existence of the Parachute Regiment and very clearly had never seen a British soldier wearing a red beret before.

 

Next morning, supported by a troop of armoured cars, Lieutenant "Nobby" PRIOR and his "B" Company Platoon formed a fighting patrol to Konav, but found the place deserted.

 

For the next week, we continued to edge slowly forward, as 15th (Scottish) reached the Elbe and cleared the enemy from the west bank. On 25th. the Battalion Advance Party left for Rheine, which was to be the take off airfield for the operation. The following afternoon came the disappointing news that the drop was cancelled, patrols had crossed the river, only to find the enemy forces were virtually nonexistent

 

A successful assault crossing of the Elbe was made by 15th. (Scottish) and by 1st. May a floating Bailey bridge was in position near Lauenberg. 6th. Airborne were now back under command of XVIII American Corps, with orders to exploit the situation. The final approach to the crossing site took us close to Luneberg airfield and what appeared on the maps as a minor road through the woods, had been converted into an aircraft dispersal area, with sand bagged emplacements along its entire length. In each one stood a Luftwaffe fighter immobilised by the Allied Air forces. A German horse drawn supply convoy had also been caught in the same attack, but all that remained of the animals were bare skeletons. Every scrap of flesh had been cut off by the roving gangs of slave labourers, now a daily sight, as they sought to satisfy their hunger. It took a couple of days for the Division to concentrate on the east bank, but early on 3rd May we set off on the last lap of the race to the Baltic. To begin with the roads were empty except for our convoys and good speed was made. Then we began to meet the German forces who had been fighting on the Russian front. Mile after mile we moved through the retreating Wehrmacht. We were on one side of the road, the Germans oil the other, over flowing into the fields also. At one stage, four German generals were queuing up at Battalion H.Q. to surrender. In one small town through which we passed the population turned out to watch the show. Children, excited as ever by the military, the old men stood in sullen silence, perhaps remembering an earlier defeat in 1918. But the solid "haus fraus" wept openly at the sight of the once all conquering Wehrmacht, now fleeing in terror from the avenging Russians. Undoubtedly we would have been annihilated had the Germans chosen to fight. Enough armour; tanks, S.P.'s and personnel carriers for more than a Division rolled past in the fields on either side of the road. There was only one thought on all their minds, to save their skins and reach the safety with the British before the Russians caught up with them from behind.

 

It really was the most memorable and satisfying experience to be "in at the kill". I don't suppose a single one of us bad given any thought as to how the war might end, but what we witnessed that day was proof enough, that the Germans had had enough. By early afternoon, the leading elements of the Division drove into Wismar and on to the shores of the Baltic, thus preventing any further drive westwards of the Red Army and although it was to be a few more days before the campaign in Western Europe officially came to an end we had no doubt at all that it was over and somehow we had survived it all.

 

The Battalion occupied farms and houses around Moltow, only a few miles from Wismar and then "B" Company were detailed to be the protecting force for the Military Mission which was to receive the surrender of enemy forces in Denmark and were flown by Dakota to Copenhagen and received a rapturous welcome from the Danes.

 

Norman MEUNTNEY:

We seemed to march most of the way after the drop, several times moving by night across country in order to get behind the German defences. Then came the final days march after crossing the Elbe when we took more than our share of prisoners, there were fields full of disarmed German soldiers. The Battalion had advanced too far and we had to pull back. A time had been agreed with the Russians but they arrived two hours early and by the time we left the farm had been stripped completely. There was a German farmer who passed through our position each morning with a horse and cart and he always left us milk. That morning he came on his own the Russians had taken all his cows, also his horse and cart.

 

The Germans had been using large numbers of dogs and Corporal Ken BAILEY received orders to round them up before handing them over to the Army Veterinary Corps. But he made sure one particularly fine Alsation bitch became his private property.

 

Dave BEADHAM:

After crossing the river Elbe we advanced towards the Baltic sea and met the Russians on the outskirts of Wismar. They were encamped in the woods and had their own women camp followers. I went with the Company 2nd in command into a village looking for billets. There was a terrible shouting and screaming coming from one of the houses and we ran across the road and into the room from where the noise was coining. On the floor in the middle of the room, a big Russian was raping a little girl of no more than 12 years old, while her mother stood helpless, yelling her head off. The Russian jumped up leaving the little girl in a nasty, bloody mess. Without any hesitation, Captain SEAL lowered his Schmeisser and shot the man dead.

 

Next night I was on guard outside Company H.Q., the war was over and lights were oil inside.

 

I saw Colonel LUARD approaching and stood to attention. The C.O. stopped in front of me, grabbed hold of me and lifted me off the ground, but I won't tell you what he called me for not challenging him. But that was the end of the matter and I wasn't put on a charge.

 

We were only in the village a day or two, before the Company were detailed to fly to Copenhagen to protect an American General Dewing, who was going to take the surrender of all the German forces in Denmark. There was no knowing what the situation might be when we landed so we went prepared to fight, but as soon as we climbed out of the Dakotas we were mobbed by the Danes who carried us off to their homes to celebrate and it was two days before the full company were rounded up and then were billeted in a girls school.

 

Roy RITCHLEY too was still having an adventurous life:

Soon after I reached the Luxembourg P.O.W. camp I escaped and covered about 8 miles and was then recaptured and sent further back into Germany to Stalag 1VB 1VD. From there I went on working parties to different places including Dresden, but never at any time after I dropped did I see any other member of the stick.

 

The end of the war found me in Prague, a guest of the Russian Army, who kept me for three weeks before sending me on my way home. I travelled overland to Calais and finally landed in Dover on the 9th. September 1945. (Note: On this date the reformed Battalion were on board ship sailing for Morib and the assault beaches in Malaya).

 

Shortly after we occupied this part of Germany, rumours started to spread that we had no right to be there and that it had been agreed that the territory where we stood, should after the Armistice, be garrisoned by the Russians. And so it turned out, but the information concerning our next move was the surprise of all time. We were to return home, go on extended leave and then depart for India. The wags, who in the early days in Normandy, translated the B.L.A. address, as "Burma Looms Ahead", had been right all along. But that is another story.

 

Order of Battle - 24th March 1945

 

    BATTALION HEADQUARTERS

Commanding Officer

Second In Command

Adjutant

Quartermaster

Intelligence Officer

Assistant Adjutant

Lieutenant Colonel P. J. LUARD

Major Roy LEYLAND

Captain "Claude" MILMAN

Lieutenant Fred TREMLETT

Lieutenant Harry POLLAK

Lieutenant Bill DAVIDSON

    ATTACHED OFFICERS

Captain David TIBBS M.C. R.A.M.C

Captain The Reverend. Whitfield FOY. R.A.Ch.D

R.S.M. (W.O.I) Bob DUXBERRY.

R.Q.M.S. Jimmy HENSTOCK

    HEADQUARTERS COMPANY

 

A.D.M. Platoon

Mortars

Machine Guns

Signals

Scouts

Transport

Major Andy McLOUGHLIN

Captain Leslie GOLDING

Lieutenant Vic WRAIGHT

Lieutenant "Dixie" DEAN

Lieutenant Malcolm TOWN

2nd Lieutenant Arthur PRESTT

Lieutenant Fred TIRAMANI

C.S.M. Charlie FORD

C.Q.M.S. Ted HEWITT

    "A" COMPANY

Major Jack WATSON M.C.

Captain "Joe" HODGSON M.C.

Lieutenant "Topper" BROWN

Lieutenant Eric BARLOW

Lieutenant Geoff OTWAY

C.S.M. Bert ALDER

C.Q.M.S. Harry WATKINS

    "B" COMPANY

Major "Dizzy" GETHIN

Captain Maurice SEAL

Lieutenant "Nobby" PRIOR

Lieutenant Chris SELWYN

Lieutenant Roy RUDD

C.S.M. "Duggy" DUGDALE

C.Q.M.S. Eric COOKSON

    "C" COMPANY

Major Clive PRIDAY

Captain Fred SKEATE

Lieutenant Frank SUMMERFIELD

Lieutenant Basil DISLEY

Lieutenant Alan DABORN

C.S.M. "Taffy" LAWLEY M.M.

C.Q.M.S. Charlie WRIGLEY

    "R" Company (IN U.K.)

Captain Leslie GOLDING

Lieutenant "Jock" GRIEVE

Lieutenant Dick BURTON

 

    ATTACHED PERSONNEL

 

   ARMY PHYSICAL TRAINING CORPS

C.S.M.I. Roy PARRISH

    R.E.M.E.

Mortar Platoon

Armourer

Serjeant Bill WEBSTER

Serjeant McPHAIL

    A.C.C.

Serjeant SHAW

 

Roll of Honour - Germany

 

24th March 1945

Private J.R. BOLTON, Reichwald

Private G.A. BOOTH

Private L.T. BOWERS, M.I.A.

Private H.W. BOYES, M.I.A.

Corporal A.W.J. CABRERA, Reichwald

Private W. COLQUHOUN

Serjeant F.A. DREW

Private S. GRAVES

Private T. HALLIGAN

Private D.J. HILLS

Lance Corporal B. LANGTON

Private T. NICOLAS

Corporal J.D. NEWTON

Private W. PORRIL

Private W.J. POULTER

Private J.H. PRICE

Private E. SELL, M.I.A.

Lieutenant C.A. SELWYN, Reichwald

Private A.T.J. SMIRKE

Private M.B. SMITH

Lance Corporal T.STRACHAN

Private H.R. THOMPSON

Private K. THORNBARROW

Private G.E. WALKER

Private E.J. WARD

Company Serjeant C.A. WRIGLEY

 

31st March 1945

Private W. GARDNER

 

3rd April 1945

Private J. BROADBENT

Private L. CLISSOLD

Private G.D. GRIFFITHS

Private T. HAMER

Private R. IRVINE

Private W.C. MORSE

Private L. RODGERS, Rheinberg

Private L. WHITLOCK, Reichwald

 

4th May 1945

Lance Corporal S. FELL, Berlin

 

14th May 1945

Private A. BLAKE, Missing Believed Drowned

 

24th March 1945

Lieutenant Colonel. G.D.H. FORD. M.C., Formerly of the Battalion, was killed whilst serving on the staff at H.Q. 6th Airborne Division.

 

Awards for Gallantry - Normandy

 

Military Cross

Major "Nobby" CLARK

Major Gerald FORD

Major Reggie TARRANT (D.O.W.)

Lieutenant "Joe" HODGSON

Captain David TIBBS, R.A.M.C.

 

Distinguished Conduct Medal

C.S.M. J. McPARLAN B.E.M.

 

Military Medal

Lance Serjeant Bill BATHO

Serjeant S. HUGHES

Segeant J. GOODALL

 

Mentioned in Despatches

Major John CRAMPHORN

 

Ardennes

 

Distinguished Service Order

Lieutenant Colonel P.J. LUARD

 

Military Cross

Major Jack WATSON

Captain The Rev. Whitfield FOY R.A.Ch.D.

 

Military Medal

Private J. HAND

Lance Corpcral R. HAWTHORNE

Private E.J. TOOGOOD

Serjant R. SCOTT D.C.M., R.A.M.C.

Corporal Charlie BRYANT, R.A.M.C.

 

Mentioned in Despatches

Lance Serjeant Len COX

 

Germany

 

Military Cross

Lieutenant "Dixie" DEAN

Lieutenant Harry POLLAK

 

Military Medal

Private S. HARRIS

 

Mentioned in Despatches

Captain "Claude" MILMAN

Lieutenant Malcolm TOWN

C.S.M. "Taffy" LAWLEY M.M.

Lance Serjeant Ben SHELTON

 

Java 1946

 

Officer of the Order of the British Empire

Lieutenant Colonel P.J LUARD