13th Battalion The Parachute Regiment: Luard's Own
by Major Ellis "Dixie" DEAN MBE, MC
Page 1, 2, 3
Higher authority was well aware of the problem and efforts to provide a solution were made.
Captain Steven SYKES records in his memoirs "Deceivers Ever":
12th. July 1944 Make sniper hoods at Field Park (R.E.'s) in morning. To 5 Brigade and 13th Battalion afternoon. Try out sniper suit in most exposed positions. No response from Germans. Hard work was put into preparing and delivering sniper hoods and printing 70 yards of hessian for 13th Battalion screen.
While we contended with the problems of constant patrolling and enemy snipers and mortars, there had been yet another change in Len COX'S circumstances;
At midnight on 4th. July, together with C.S.M. Maurice BENNET of No.3 Command and Private BAKER of the Suffolks, I escaped by climbing out of a high attic and shinning down a drain pipe. Although our escape was noticed and we were chased throughout the night, we got away and met up with another Resistance group. They supplied us with weapons and over the next few weeks we took part in many of their activities.
The pattern for July remained the same, ten days in the line, followed by the same time in reserve and we always occupied the same positions at the brickworks. August brought a change of scenery, when on 7th. the Battalion took over from a Royal Marine Commando in the Sallenelles area. Here we were not in close contact with the enemy and indeed his defences were several hundred yards away. Between the two front lines stood "la grande ferme du Buisson" as its name implies, a large farm. The buildings were largely intact, but were surrounded by large craters, a result of the bombing of the Merville Battery position. A strong patrol occupied the buildings, enabling 24 hour observation of the German F.D.L.'s, but most of the Battalion had an easy time of it and a large proportion of us were able to enjoy a short performance by George Formby, when he visited us a few days later.
There were no E.N.S.A. concerts for Roy RITCHLEY:
We had to keep on the move all the time and as the days passed so the danger increased.
More and more German reinforcements were continually being moved up towards Caen and my luck finally ran out on the morning of 9th. August. Philippe was away and I was with the other two Frenchmen by the ruined abbey outside Troarn. We were trying to join up with the British forces in that area. By early morning we had worked our way forward and were only just behind the German front lines, when we were caught in a British barrage. The Germans started to pull back and we had to move. As we ran across a road, we were spotted and fired on. Both gypsies were killed and I was hit in the thigh and both lower legs. A German pulled me off the road into a ditch and then took me to one of their aid posts, from where I was moved to the rear on a stretcher, finally reaching the German Field Police H.Q. in Paris.
After the statutory ten days, the 13th. were again in reserve at Ranville. They were subjected to a Brigadier's inspection on the 16th., but overnight the Germans abandoned their defences on the ridge and pulled back behind the river Dives. 6th. Airborne were ordered to chase the retreating foe, inflicting the maximum possible damage to him, an agreeable prospect after months of standing in weapon slits, taking everything he had thrown at us and not being able to do much about it.
Serjeants Smith and STUBBS were still in hiding. Following their lucky escape from the barn, they moved northwards in the direction of Troarn and after three more days on the move, close to exhaustion, they decided to seek assistance from a French family. Fortunately the house they selected was occupied by Monsieur Louis DESFORGES, a fervent anti German and in his home in Druval they lived for the next eight weeks, until units of 6th. Airborne, during their drive to the Seine, liberated the Village.
All this time though, both they and their host were far from safe, the Frenchman facing torture and death if his pro British activities were discovered. A member of the German Security service visited the house. Dressed in a British Officer's battle dress, he posed as an Englishman on the run, he sought information about local families who might assist him. Monsieur Desforges supplied him with the name of friends in the locality and the "escaper" said he would call on them next day.
Warned in advance of the "stool pigeon's" activities, this loyal Frenchman, kept him talking while another member of the family slipped out of the back door and returned with a party of German soldiers, who promptly arrested the "Englishman".
Later, this German Officer, now wearing his correct uniform, called at the Desforge's house and sat down for a meal in the presence of the two Serjeants. He related the story of how he had been captured by his own troops, who had also beaten him up, before he could prove his proper identity.
Not all of those on the run, were able to evade capture. The men of "A" Company separated from C.S.M. McPARLAN were rounded up and made prisoner and suffered long months of misery and hardship. An exception was made of Private Frank CAVE, he was handed over to the Gestapo and taken to their H.Q. in Rouen for brutal interrogation. His family were never informed by the International Red Cross that he was a P.O.W. and consequently were unaware that he was still alive.
Frank, after suffering unbelievable horrors and privation, was found in one of the Nazi Concentration Camps he weighed only a few stones.
Len COX'S adventures were not yet over:
Arrangements had been made to fly me out with two Czech agents. working for the O.S.S., but they were betrayed to the Germans and captured, so the pick up by the R.A.F. was cancelled. In mid August the area was over run by American armour commanded by General Patton and I fought with them for 5 days, before they sent me back for interrogation. Mine was such an unlikely story that they treated me as a stool pigeon for the Germans until my identity was checked in London.
Roy RITCHLEY too had problems:
In Paris my interrogation began in earnest. I was beaten daily and wasn't always conscious.
They refused to believe my story that I had become separated from a patrol and the two civilians who were with me, had been trying to smuggle me back through the German lines. But I stuck to it and only gave my number, rank and name. Eventually the beatings and the questions stopped and I was sent to Stalag XII in Luxembourg.
THE BATTLE OF PUTOT - 19th. August 1944
It was late in the afternoon of 17th. when transport came to move the Battalion forward. We had waited most of the day on the field at Ranville crossroads for its arrival and the Colonel was in no mood for further delay in getting to grips with the enemy. Away he roared in his jeep and the rest of the column followed. Up to Le Mesnil once again and there turned right on the Troarn road. Now ahead was a level stretch for several miles with not another vehicle in sight. The Battalion raced forward in a huge cloud of dust and had almost reached the turn off for Troarn, when a jeep travelling even faster than the 13th. moved through the trucks, its horn repeatedly sounding. and eventually overtook the C.O. The occupant of the passenger seat was seen to be an obviously irate Brigadier POETT, signalling for a halt. By the time this happened, the Brigadier had regained his composure and gentleman as ever, was quick to praise the Battalion for their eagerness to meet their enemy, but he pointed out, "the high ground beyond the Dives was still in German hands and the vast cloud of dust we were raising must be clearly visible to them and was a good target for his guns".
The advance continued, albeit at a slower pace for only a little further. Deep in the Bois de Bavent, a halt was called, everyone de bussed and moved into the shelter of the trees. Darkness came and with the night arrived the mosquitoes. Their attacks were more annoying and persistent than any German artillery barrage, they at least had been of limited duration but from those flying pests, there was no let up. Without a doubt that night was the most uncomfortable one of the entire Normandy campaign.
A change of role for the Battalion, also brought a change of employment for Dave ROBINSON:
At the time of the break out, because of my ability to drive, I was given a 30 cwt. Ford truck on which we loaded the P.I.A.T.'s, their bombs and also the reserve mortar bombs.
No one was sorry when before. first light, the Battalion formed up on the road and started to move down in to the Dives valley. If there were any civilians in Troarn, they made no attempt to welcome their liberators and 13th. were clear of the town and approaching the river when a bulldozer moved through them. A halt was called and the bull dozer started to cross the newly erected Bailey bridge. Slowly the bridge started to sag in the middle and gradually the whole erection and the load crossing it, sank into the water. The Battalion were forced to scramble across at the site of the stone bridge, destroyed by 3 Brigade Sappers on 6th. June and never repaired.
We didn't have much further to march and hadn't reached Goustrainville when we were ordered off the road and spread themselves round the sides of a lush meadow. As the sun rose the temperature soared. The sky above was cloudless and the larks sang as they must have been doing for centuries, all was perfect peace and the war seemed very far away. And so it was until early evening, when the C.O. returned from Brigade with orders for a night attack to capture the dominating high hill beyond the hamlet of Putot.
It was a complicated plan involving both 7th and 12th. Battalions and something we had never done during training. Basically, the 7th. would exploit a crossing of the Dives canal seized by 3 Brigade. 12th. would pass through them and clear the village and finally 13th were to advance through both these units and capture the dominating high ground, some 1200 yards further ahead. All this was to be achieved during the night.
The plan started to fall apart very early on. Both the Mortar and Machine Gun Platoons moved up early in order to occupy supporting fire positions while it was still daylight. They shared a wireless link on Battalion net, but lost contact hours before their planned time for firing and despite all efforts, including a ground search for Battalion H.Q. were isolated from the attacking force before nightfall.
The Battalion had in fact moved off across the open fields towards the crossing point over the canal. This was a semi demolished railway bridge and had been used earlier by units of 3 Brigade, but when the 13th. arrived, the canal was shown to be tidal and the water was now too deep for wading.
Lieutenant Colonel LUARD reports:
Then started a most hazardous march. We had to make the journey at great speed and the only chance we had of doing it in the time was to move directly across the enemy front on a compass bearing. My 2nd in command, Major FORD and myself, both experienced yachtsmen, led the Battalion and on my orders the utmost silence was maintained. All went well, nothing was heard from the other side and at about five minutes to midnight we reached the main road. I knew we would get shelled along the road as soon as the 7th. Battalion made their attack, so I ordered the Battalion to run as fast as they could down the ditch. This we did for 200 yards, until we could move away from the road towards our new R.V. By the grace of God, we got away with it and as the first shells landed, the last man was off the road and safe.
We settled down to rest with our backs against a big bank which ran along the line of the canal. Gradually dawn broke and with it came a mist which slowly cleared and there was the German held high ground, immediately overlooking us. It was unpleasant but unavoidable and there was nothing we could do about it but stay there and hope for the best. The Germans, never fools, saw where we were and shelled us, but their bursts bit the bank, doing no harm and the shrapnel fell mainly away from us and as a result we suffered no casualties The shelling gradually slackened of but never completely stopped. Brigadier POETT came along and told me we were to cross to the other side of the canal, pass through the 12th. Battalion who were in the village (Putot) and attack the top of the hill.
Obviously speed was the only way to cross the open space and I called the Company Commanders and issued my orders. "B" Coy. to lead, followed by Battalion H.Q., then "A" and finally "C". I said in my opinion the Germans would not expect us to do anything so mad and by the time we had started and they had given the necessary orders to engage, we had a fool's chance, but a good one of getting away with it. In any case, we had no alternative since there was no cover. So off we went, the distance was about ¾ mile, with the middle 200 yards the most hazardous.
We were all very fit young men and there is no doubt that everyone realised that the speed they made was likely to save their lives. And they moved. The whole Battalion was across, all except the last section, before the Germans saw the danger and opened fire. Even then, there were only a couple of casualties, neither serious.
"B" Company went straight up the hill with "A" in support and they stormed into the German positions with the bayonet and advanced to the very top of the hill. Then suddenly they were counter attacked and a well sited machine gun opened up, seriously wounding Major TARRANT and Lieutenant BIBBY who were leading their men with the utmost gallantry. Most of the leading Platoons were either killed or wounded (Platoon strength by this stage was about 20) and the supporting Platoon fell back to join Battalion H.Q. on the intermediate ridge. A fresh German battalion had arrived to strengthen the hill defences and they caused the damage. Had we been just a little earlier and been able to organise ourselves on the hill top it would have been more difficult for the enemy.
The Germans counter attacked very well. I lay with the men of "A" Company on the reverse slope of the ridge hearing bullets singing through the grass all around us. There was no fear, we just felt that if the enemy came into view, he was welcome to everything we had in the form of fire power.
At that moment, I beard a voice behind me in a Bren carrier saying "We must have immediate fire we are being counter attacked". It was Colonel MITCHELL of the Gunners calling to his Regiment. He had crossed the open ground after us and there he was, cool and calm, calling for support. The Gunners response was marvellous the fire from them so accurate, that it stopped the Germans about 100 yards from us. Realising that the initiative might once again be with us, I sent "C" Company on a right flanking attack, but the re-entrant up which they had to go was well covered by the enemy and they made no progress.
I reported the situation to Brigade and was told to hold where we were. This was no difficulty, since on the intermediate ridge, we were in a commanding position and in any case the enemy counter attack had been repulsed. "B" Company had lost many men and casualties had occurred in the other Companies. The Battalion had been on the move and in action for 48 hours almost without let up and we were all very tired.
We dug in where we were. I called an "O" Group in a nearby farmhouse and in the middle of it, I fell asleep as I was actually talking. They left me sleeping and gave instructions I was not to be disturbed. Two hours later, I woke up and the meeting was resumed, with my apologies.
Padre FOY was an eye witness of the battle:
"B" Company led by Major TARRANT began the attack up the slope. In open formation, they moved steadily up the hill, weapons at the ready. I stood at a little house 200 yards away and watched intently. For some minutes there was no reaction from the hillside, then without warning, (in the shape of visible Germans), concealed machine guns cracked into action. A hail of bullets, fired by unseen assailants stormed into the advancing men. Major TARRANT was wounded in the stomach. After that it was bitter slaughter. Man after man went down, the remainder never faltered, but pushed steadily forward in spite of the vicious torrents of fire. But it was costly and it became apparent that the possibility of getting established at the top of the hill, was very remote. Some did reach the top, some actually fought in the enemy positions. Lieutenant Terry BIBBY did that with one section and failed to return. Meanwhile "C" Company which had been sent round to reinforce, was pinned down in a re-entrant and could offer no assistance.
Orders were given on the spot that the men were to take whatever cover was available. We were to reform for another go. I have very vivid impressions of what happened after the German machine guns opened up. I remember the R.S.M. doubling round, grabbing hold of any man with a rifle for the purpose of defending Battalion H.Q. in the event of the leading Companies being over run. I had the strange feeling then, what would happen if the enemy did break through not for the first time I thought that it would be nice at least to have a gun and be able to hit back.
Padre FOY continues with a heartfelt tribute to that remarkable body of men the Battalion's Medical Section, with which every man in the Battalion would agree. A large number of them were conscientious objectors, who would not even carry a pistol (as permitted under the terms of the Geneva Convention) for the protection of the wounded, but by their courage, skill and devotion to duty won the praise and admiration of all.
I can see the stretcher bearers sitting down for a brief moment, absolutely exhausted after carrying repeated loads a distance of several hundred yards in the hot Normandy sun and when men like Emie BARNS and John McCUTCHEON sat down it was because the only alternative was to fall down. They were the most willing and tireless of workers. Came the moment when I heard some one shout " The M.O.'s been hit and I knew, with a sickening feeling, this was the worst thing that could have happened. Going forward to a wounded man, Captain TIBBS had been sniped. Laying on the floor of the R.A.P. he went on giving instructions about the treatment of the casualties as they were brought in. But the wound was a nasty one and he gradually became weaker. By this time we were stripped to the waist, having used the top half of our clothing for pillows and covering. The water had run out completely, all water bottles had been emptied and the burning thirst of the wounded was having to be slaked with crude cider from the large vat in the farmhouse. Just then as I began to realise the seriousness of the situation, for the first time and the last. I used the wireless.
The scene at the R.A.P. was indescribably bad. The barns we were using were completely filled with the wounded, dying and the dead. Lying outside were the men we simply could not get under cover. There was absolutely no means of evacuation because there was trouble getting wheeled vehicles over the canal, two miles back. My wireless procedure would have sent a Catterick instructor to bed for a month. "Hello Padre here, I want to speak to the Colonel. Hello Sir, Padre here, can you shake Brigade up about transport for the evacuation of the casualties, We have dozens of them here and many of them will die on our hands, unless we can get them back to the Dressing Station. That's all".
About four in the afternoon the first Jeep arrived, followed closely by two others and we began to get the wounded away. In one of the barns we laid those who had fought for the last time.
The battle subsided, the enemy counter attack firmly held by the forward Companies. Came evening and all was still, we were not to attack again that night. And that strange after battle tranquility pervaded the area, a tranquility which one finds in no other place. The atmosphere is still charged with emotion for men who had thrilled to the excitement of the attack, but instinctively felt fear at the deadly fire they had met and grown hot with fury at the sight of their friends groaning with appalling wounds. And now they brooded deeply on the events of the day, their minds scared beyond imagination. On that lovely summers evening they thought chiefly of those men in the barn and how, but for some stroke of fortune it could have been them.
The next evening welcome reinforcements reached the Battalion. They were the first ones from the Reserve Company back in Larkhill and included some of those lightly wounded in the early days of the invasion. All previous reinforcements had come from 21 Army Group Pool and were non-parachutists.
Private Roly PILLING:
I landed on "Gold Beach" in the early hours of the seaborne attack on the morning of D Day. I was a member of the 8th. (lrish) Battalion, The King's (Liverpool) Regiment and our task was the security of that particular invasion beach. Once it was certain the landings were a success the battalion was broken up and I was posted to the 13th. as an infantry reinforcement, but I got no further than Brigade H.Q. where I became driver to Major LOUGH, the D.A.Q. I remained there in that job for the rest of the war in Europe and did not reach the 13th. until we were in the Far East.
The Battalion rested at Putot for another day and on the evening of 21st. moved forward in transport as far as "La Haie Tondu" with orders to lead the Divisional advance at first light the following morning, when their objective was to capture the high ground to the immediate west of Pont L'Eveque. This feature dominated the valley of the River Touques the next natural obstacle on 6th. Airborne's axis of advance.
Once London had confirmed that I was who I claimed to be, the Americans sent me on my way to rejoin the Battalion. I got as far as Brigade H.Q. near Pont L'Eveque but they must have had instructions to send me back to England for de briefing. I reported to M15 Intelligence in Baker Street, where I was questioned about the two Czech agents, because they had been executed by the Germans. Following that I was sent to a camp for escaped P.O.W.'s.
PONT L'Eveque 22nd. - 23rd. AUGUST 1944
As a result of the Putot battle, there was a need for a new O.C. in "Baker" Company, which was filled by the promotion of Captain Bill GRANTHAM and Lieutenant Malcolm TOWN combined the duties of R.S.O. with those of Adjutant. Lieutenant Ken WALTON who had brought out the draft of reinforcements from Larkhill took over the Mortars, thus freeing Freddie SKEATE to move to "B" Company as 2nd in command. Captain Leslie GOLDING was already O.C. Headquarters Company, in addition to his duties as Intelligence Officer.
Next day's advance was unopposed and by mid morning the Battalion were halted along a farm track leading up to their objective, while "A" Company made sure no enemy were lurking in several small copses on the summit. The Recce Group waited in a clearing and Brigadier POETT drove up in his Jeep. Again he was fulsome in his praise over the speed of the Battalion's move and instructed the C.O. to carry on into the town to try and seize a crossing over the river. Realising that the column needed to turn completely about before entering the town and that immediate action was called for, Colonel LUARD turned to "Dixie" DEAN, telling him to go on ahead and try to find out where exactly the German defences were sited.
I realised immediately, that the C.O. did not mean me to organise and lead a fully briefed Recce Patrol, so accompanied solely by Andy Fairhurst, I made my way back to the main road and moved down into the town. Unless the enemy opened fire on us I had no idea as to how I was to fulfil my task. I moved down the right hand side of the road, while Andy Fairhurst followed thirty or forty yards behind, on the opposite side. To begin with, we were out of the built up part of the town advancing between high banks on either side of the road and when we reached the houses on the outskirts, I was dismayed to notice that they rose directly from the edge of the pavement and realised there was no cover at all, should we come under fire. My problem was solved for me, when a hundred yards ahead a group of excited Frenchmen emerged from a side street, shouting and waving their arms about. They noticed our approach, spread across the road, looking our way. By now I could see they all wore tricolour armbands, denoting them as members of the Resistance and were all armed with Stens. Doubtless they had listened on their secret radios to the B.B.C. accounts of the advance of the Allies and of their impressive and overwhelming force of tanks and armour, but they were clearly not impressed with the British Army, or at least with its representatives, two scruffy, dusty foot sloggers, one armed with a Sten (as they all were) and the other with a rifle and made no attempt to greet us.
At least my school boy French was understood, since on asking if they knew where the Germans were, the two of us were surrounded by jabbering, gesticulating resistants. It was completely incomprehensible to me, so I selected the least excitable of them and asked him to show me the enemy positions. He took me first along the side road and there lying on our bellies and peering round the sides of a bridge, he pointed out M.M.G.'s on the railway embankment, covering the valley. Then we returned to the main road and now moved into the shopping area, but all the windows were shattered. The reason for this soon became apparent, when we reached the site of the first of the two bridges over the river. This had been blown up, but stepping from stone to stone we continued further. Ahead my guide informed me, the other bridge was also destroyed and on the far side was a "cannon". To emphasise the point, the German manning the weapon fired a burst across our front. The heavy "thump, thump thump" echoed from the high walls and the tracer raced between the buildings. I thought I was in possession of the relevant information regarding the enemy, so I thanked my guide and set off back to the Battalion, meeting them on the outskirts of the town.
We were ordered to advance on Pont L'Eveque with all speed and capture and hold the high ground west of the town. This we did with no trouble at all and I set up my Company H.Q. in a farm, where the lady of the house offered to cook us an omelette. I thanked her and said "Yes please", but before she could serve us, orders came to get down into the town and grab a crossing over the river.
There was no problem crossing the first stream, the bridge had been destroyed but we were able to scramble across. A hundred yards further on, all that remained of the main bridge was a single girder, with a multi barrelled 20mm. flak gun covering the river bank. The leading Platoon, established themselves upstairs in a house overlooking the river. When they first moved in, in the square on the far bank a German officer was conducting on "O" Group. They quickly dispersed as we opened fire, leaving several casualties behind.
The plan called for "A" Company to lead the way, moving down the backs of the houses fronting the main street, with the occupants pressing glasses of cider and small cakes into the hands of the advancing troops. Once over the minor waterway, the leading Platoon dashed up the main street towards the second crossing with the "cannon" advertising its presence every half minute or so. Nobody was foolish enough to offer themselves as a target and the position of the German 20mm. gun was almost impregnable. On the right hand side of the far river bank was a large open square, in the far corner of which, stood the typical French urinal of metal construction. And it was behind this cover, the "cannon" was sited. Nevertheless, "Joe" HODGSON and one of his Platoons Bren gunners swarm the river, but could make no further progress and were forced to return
Lance Corporal Fred SMITH "A" Company:
I was No. 1 on the Bren and swam the river with Mr. HODGSON, but on the far bank we could not find a suitable position for the gun and so had to swim back again. Of course we were soaked to the skin and Mr. HODGSON told me to help myself to a pair of dry trousers from one of the nearby shops. Later, after we were forced to pull back because of the fires, Major FORD, the Battalion 2nd in command saw me wearing a pair of civvy trousers and said he was putting me on a charge for looting civilian property. Mr. HODGSON heard all this, came over and said "Then you'd better put me on a charge as well, because I've done the same and in any case, I told Corporal SMITH to help himself to some dry clothes". I didn't hear anything more about it and carried on in my "civvies".
Shortly after "A" Company were concentrated in this central part of the town, several buildings along the street, erupted in flames. As a deliberate act of wanton destruction and also a means of trapping the Battalion, incendiary devices had been planted by the retreating Germans. Most of the buildings were several hundred years old and a lot of timber was incorporated in their construction, so it wasn't long before the centre of Pont L'Eveque was engulfed in an uncontrollable fire.
Armour support to deal with the "urinal" had been requested and now arrived in the form of 3 Cromwell tanks of the Divisional Armoured Recce Regiment. Accompanying them was a bull dozer which pushed the rubble of the first bridge into the stream, enabling the tanks to cross. They now entered the blazing inferno of the main street and clearly their commander didn't like the look of what lay ahead and they only nosed forward as far as the church square, still some forty yards short of being able to see their target. The buildings affected by the fire were, by now, becoming unsafe and starting to collapse. Burning timbers cascaded onto the leading vehicle and set on fire the crew's sleeping bags, strapped around the turret. That decided matters, the armour withdrew without firing a shot. And it was stalemate for the Battalion also.
I followed behind the Battalion on the road to Pont L'Eveque, where all the weapons and ammunition were unloaded before the run down into the town. The Battalion disappeared into the built up area and lacking further orders I waited, but eventually decided to drive forward to see what was happening. This was a mistake, as soon as I started to drive down the open road, "Jerry" started shelling and the truck was blown off the road into a field, leaving it a complete wreck. I got away with a slightly cut leg, which didn't bother me until we were on leave in mid September. Then my local doctor removed a small piece of shrapnel.
During the night, the fires slowly burnt themselves out and before dawn, Captain Freddy SKEATE of "B" Company took a patrol over the single girder, which was all that remained of the second bridge. The fires had raged here also, driving the enemy back from the river. In no time at all the three Rifle Companies charged over the girder and started to work their way forward, house by house.
But the Germans had been reinforced overnight and were considerably stronger in number and progress was slow and costly in terms of killed and wounded. By early afternoon, the enemy were starting to infiltrate the leading positions and the Brigadier decided the Battalion was not strong enough even to hold their present hard won gains. He therefore instructed the Battalion to withdraw behind the river obstacle. This movement would be a stem test of the Battalion's discipline, courage and strength and they were to respond magnificently to the challenge.
Company) "Nobby" and I were the last two members of the 13th to wade the river to safety. We were not able to cross the girder until the early hours of the morning and spent the best part of the day fighting our way slowly forward, but casualties were mounting. Orders came that the Battalion were to break off contact with the enemy and withdraw. A really tricky operation but we pulled it off.
Lieutenant Colonel P.J. LUARD:
This most difficult operation was carried out under fire with absolute steadiness, no wounded being left on the far bank. The Battalion's casualties in two days fighting were 10 killed and 33 wounded.
In the final phase of the withdrawal a man was wounded and his evacuation on a door across the river, a most difficult operation. Major 'Nobby" CLARK, gave covering fire with his 9mm pistol, standing up to his shoulders in water, laughing as he returned the fire of a German machine gun and as the bullets splashed all around him. He was not hit and the wounded man was got safely across. That night, while he was asleep, a man stumbled over him, stamping on his ankle, spraining it so badly, he was unable to walk and he had to be evacuated to hospital. Such are the fortunes of war.
It was Private Bert ROE, one of the Medical Orderlies, who was once more to demonstrate the skill, bravery and devotion to duty of these remarkable men, when he improvised a raft using a door on which the stretcher cases were floated to safety.
Dave ROBINSON remembers that after the Pout L'Eveque fighting, he drove Padre FOY to a chateau in the area and there collected Corporal John MESKI and Privates Doug SHARPE and John WHITTAKER. A little later Serjeants Arthur STUBBS and Tommy SMITH also rejoined us. They were all members of Stick No. 325 dropped near Lisieux, 40 miles from the D.Z. and who had successfully evaded capture.
FINAL DAYS NORMANDY
And that was virtually the end of the campaign in Normandy, as far as the 13th were concerned. Other Battalions now led the advance and the Goal move towards the Seine occurred on 26th. when in a desperate attempt to reach Pont Audemer before the bridge over the river Risle was destroyed, the Battalion set off on an early morning "road walk - run". To no avail the bridge was blown and as a farewell gesture perhaps, the retreating enemy fired a last salvo, killing a member of the Mortar Platoon.
"A" Company were holding the town centre in Pont Audemer when word reached us that once the advance guard from 38 Infantry Division arrived in the town, we were to hand over to them and we would be going back into Corps reserve. Imagine my surprise, the relieving unit was my old battalion, the 2nd. Essex.
The information that the Battalion (the complete Division in fact) were now in Corps Reserve, reached them later in the morning and by nightfall we had moved back to the tiny village of Gennueville. That night for the first time since we had landed in Normandy, almost three months previously, we slept secure in the knowledge that our rest would be undisturbed, we were now out of range of the German guns. Later in the week came the news that 6th. Airborne were to return to their home base on Salisbury Plain.
The night prior to their move home the Battalion organised a party to thank the Villagers for their hospitality.
The party was a terrific success. For several days the Battalion saved some of its food, chocolate, sweets and cigarette ration and when the great day arrived the whole village joined in. Everyone appeared from babes in arms only a few weeks old, to old men over 80 who hadn't left the house for years, but who insisted in being trundled in bath chairs to celebrate the return of freedom.
There was one little disagreement during the celebrations. John CRAMPHORN:
For the party, members of the Battalion dance band had managed to beg, borrow or steal instruments and after the speeches provided music for dancing. This proved very popular until the band started to Play "Lili. Marlene", whereupon the mayor called "Stop I won't have any German tunes played in my village".
On Saturday 2nd. September, we said good bye to Genneville and made the long trip by road across Normandy to Arromanches, where the now famous floating harbour (Mulberry) had been installed. We spent a wet and cramped night in the Transit Camp. On the Sunday morning, while waiting for instructions to go aboard, we held our last service in France. When we sang (neither for the first nor last time) "Now thank we all our God, everyone meant it". At 1600 hours the loudspeaker called us to embark. We staggered with all our kit along the floating gangway onto a tank landing craft which took us out to a troop ship waiting in the artificial harbour. We made a perilous climb aboard by scramble net, found our sleeping quarters, had an evening meal and then retired for the night. By the time we were awake and dressed next morning the ship had begun to move and the coast of France was slipping into the morning mist.
Yes, there was a band to welcome us on the Southampton, but the highlight was provided by the ladies of the W.V.S. who had "char" ready for us and a small bag of rations to eat on the train. In the bag were, a sausage roll, a tomato and an apple we had lived in apple orchards for nearly three months. But they were very kind.
When we steamed through the English countryside the population were alarmed at the sight of a train plastered from window to window with large German Swastika flags, but when they saw the red berets behind them, they were reassured.
Before the Division left for home, General GALE issued an "Order of the Day". Among the points he made were in the fighting we have lost many good friends. We have, all of us, at times been tired out and weary. I congratulate you on your great achievements, on your stamina, on your skill and on your grand, grim determination. The motto of the 6th. Airborne Division is "GO TO IT". You have gone to it and tight splendidly you have done so.
But at what cost, in terms of human sacrifice.
The Battalion emplaned on the evening of 5th. June, 568 strong.
Of that total, 359 were to become casualties in three short months of war.
Order of Battle - 6th. June 1944
Second In Command
Lieutenant Colonel P. J. LUARD
Major Bill HARRIS. M.C.
Captain Bill GRANTHAM
Captain "George" DAISLEY
Lieutenant Leslie GOLDING
Lieutenant Bernard METCALF
Regimental Serjeant Major
Captain Neil WHITLEY
Captain The Rev. Whitfield FOY
W.O. I. Bob DUXBERRY
Serjeant Jimmy HENSTOCK
Major Reggie TARRANT
Captain. F.A.N. ELLISON
Lieutenant Fred SKEATE
Lieutenant Alf LAGREGAN
Lieutenant "Dixie" DEAN
Lieutenant Malcolm TOWN
C.Q.M.S. Ray MEACHIM
Major John CRAMPHORN
Captain Harry AINSWORTH
Lieutenant Jack WATSON
Lieutenant "Joe" HODGSON
Lieutenant Gordon O'BRIEN-HITCHING
C.S.M. J. McPARLAN
C.Q.M.S. Harry WATKINS
Major George BRISTOW
Captain Mike KERR
Lieutenant Bert ARNOLD
Lieutenant Stan JEAVONS
Lieutenant "Terry" BIBBY
C.S.M. Jack MOSS
C.Q.M.S. Eric COOKSON
Major Gerald FORD
Captain "Nobby" CLARK
Lieutenant Harry POLLAK
Lieutenant Jack SHARPLES
Lieutenant George LEE
C.S.M. Micky MAGUIRE
C.Q.M.S. "Duggy" DUGDALE
"R" Company (IN U.K.)
Captain "Claude" MILMAN
Lieutenant "Baggy" ALLEN
Lieutenant Ken WALTON
Lieutenant Cyril BAILEY
Lieutenant Steve HONNOR
Lieutenant Dick BURTON
Lieutenant "Topper" BROWN
2nd Lieutenant Geoff OTWAY
Two Officers reported in the War Diary as members of the Battalion in Normandy, but of whom I personally have no recollection are:
Lieutenant J. BERCOT
ARMY PHYSICAL TRAINING CORPS
C.S.M.I. Roy PARRISH
Serjeant Bill WEBSTER
Captain TIBBS (R.A.M.C.)
Serjeant SMITH, T.R.
No. of Troops
Sub Unit Containers
M.M.G. Platoon 6
M.M.G. Platoon 6
Battalion H.Q. "A" Party
225 Field Ambulance
Battalion H.Q. "B" Party
P minus 6 hrs. 18 mins.
P minus 6 hrs. 01 mins.
P minus 5 hrs. 51 mins.
P minus 5 hrs. 38 mins.
P minus 5 hrs.
P minus 4 hrs. 17 mins.
P minus 4 hrs. 24 mins.
P minus 4 hrs. 20 mins.
Emplaning ½ hour before take off.
Chutes: C 47's. To be drawn "D" minus 2. 10 00 hrs. and placed in aircraft.
Albermarles and Stirlings: To be drawn "D" minus 2. 1000 hrs. and redrawn "D" minus 1. 1½ hrs. before take off.
All container lights and chutes will be blue.
Containers will be painted with a blue circle for identification purposes.
Contents of container will be written on this band in clear.
All containers will be jettisoned at the end of the D.Z.
Containers dropping from A/C No's. 8, 9 and 10 will hold Battalion Reserve Ammunition. They will not be salvaged from D.Z. until orders are received from Battalion H.Q.
Roll of Honour - Normandy 1944
6th June 1944
Private J. ALDRED, St. Vaast Churchyard
Captain (Q.M) W.S. DAISLEY, St. Vaast Churchyard
Lance Serjeant J. DAY, M.I.A
Private R.K. FARMER, M.I.A.
Corporal J. HALLAS, M.I.A.
Private D.J. McKENZIE, M.I.A.
Private G.R. MIDDLETON, M.I.A.
Corporal R. PIDDLESDEN, M.I.A.
Private C.R. SHEPHERD, M.I.A.
Private H.L. SUCKLEY, M.I.A
Private R.S. WAIN, M.I.A.
Private A. HARGREAVES, Ranville
Private T.H. JOHNSON, Ranville
Private E.E. POTTER, Ranville
7th June 1944
Private C.V. DARBY, Ranville
Corporal J.W. PARKER, Ranville
8th June 1944
Captain F.A.N. ELLISON, Ranville
Private S. HARBERT, Ranville
9th June 1944
Private W. CLOUSTON, Ranville
Private R.E. SWINDELL, Ranville
10th June 1944
Private J.M. BANKS, Ranville
Lance Corporal A. BROWN, Ranville
Private K.F. BULL, Ranville
Private P. CLYNE, Ranville
Serjeant W.C. COLLIER, Ranville
Private A. ORRELL, Ranville
12th June 1944
Private W. PRINCE, Hermanville
Private F. WHITEHEAD, Ranville
14th June 1944
Private A.E. COX, Hermanville
Private J.T. RAINE, Hermanville
16th June 1944
Corporal H. GREEN, Ranville
Private A. MELBOURNE, Ranville
19th June 1944
Private P.C. DENBY-DREYFUS, Ranville
Serjeant J. MUIR, Ranville
Private R.H. STANTON, Ranville
23rd June 1944
Serjeant S. OSBOURNE, Ranville
25th June 1944
Lance Corporal A. LIGHTFOOT, Ranville
Private E.R.G. PREW, Ranville
Private C. SMITH, Ranville
Lance Corporal S.L. WARE, La Délivrande
28th June 1944
Private L. BARKER, Holy Trinity, Luton, England
5th July 1944
Private R D. RICHARDS, Ranville
7th July 1944
Private J.N. ARMITAGE, Ranville
10th July 1944
Serjeant G.H. DIXON, Hermanville
Private D.A. LORD, Ranville
12th July 1944
Private H.F. BRITLAND, Bazenville
Lieutenant G. O'BRIEN-HITCHING, M.I.A.
Private G. SMITH, Ranville
15th July 1944
Lance Serjeant T.J. DONNELLY, Ranville
18th July 1944
Corporal J.J. LYSAGHT, Ranville
23rd July 1944
Private R.E. JOHNS, Ranville
7th August 1944
Private T. MEARS, Ranville
8th August 1944
Private J.E. CRATES, Ranville
19th August 1944
Lance Corporal H. ASHFORD, Putot Churchyard
Private G.A. ATTRIDGE, Putot Churchyard
Corporal F.D. BARTON, Putot Churchyard
Corporal F. BOTT, Putot Churchyard
Corporal R. BRASSINGTON, Putot Churchyard
Private T.H. CRUTCHLEY, Putot Churchyard
Private F. DUGGAN, Putot Churchyard
Private E.W. FUNNELL, Putot Churchyard
Private C.E. GLOVER, Putot Churchyard
Private A.V.HELLER, Putot Churchyard
Private W.G. HEWITT, Putot Churchyard
Corporal W.A. HUNTER, Putot Churchyard
Private S. JENKINSON, Putot Churchyard
Lance Corporal C.W. KNOWLES, Putot Churchyard
Corporal A. LYONS, Putot Churchyard
Private W.P. McCRUDDEN, Ranville
Private W. McNALLY, Putot Churchyard
Private T.W. MOLLOY, Putot Churchyard
Private R. MORRIS, Putot Churchyard
Lance Corporal J. PHILLIPS, Putot Churchyard
Private A. PROWSE, Putot Churchyard
Private A.W.E. PYATT, Putot Churchyard
Private R.G. RENYARD, Putot Churchyard
Private B.V. RODWELL, Putot Churchyard
Private C.R. RUSDALE, Putot Churchyard
Private H. SANDS, Putot Churchyard
Private H. TONGUE, Putot Churchyard
Private H. SEDDON, Putot Churchyard
Lieutenant E.M. BIBBY, M.I.A.
21st August 1944
Lance Corporal W.M. FREUDE, Ranville
22nd August 1944
Private L.P. BEST, Ranville
Private A F. GREGORY, Ranville
Serjeant G. KELLY, Ranville
Lance Corporal H.F. TURNIER, Ranville
23rd August 1944
Private F. BINNS, Ranville
Corporal C.A.J. ECKERT, Ranville
Serjeant E. HUGHES, Ranville
Lance Corporal J. LOWTHER, Ranville
Serjeant D. McKIRDY, Ranville
Lance Corporal T.W. MEDLICOTT, Ranville
Private J E.S. MISSING, Ranville
Private G. HINCHCLIFFE, Pont Leveque
26th August 1944
Private W.T. WOOLBOUSE, St Desir Liseux
28th August 1944
Major R.M. TARRANT, La Delivrande
Private N. WHITLEY, R.A.M.C., Died Of Wounds In Hospital In England and is Buried in his Village Churchyard.
ARDENNES AND HOLLAND WINTER 1944 - 1945
After fourteen days leave the Battalion returned to Larkhill and by early October were once more up to strength and ready to begin their retraining. Most of the new members of the 13th. were young soldiers with little more than their three months basic Infantry training, followed by the Parachute Course, as the limit of their military experience. But there were also a fair number of regular soldiers who had recently returned to the U.K. at the end of their overseas tour of duty. Some of these men were veterans of the first "Chindit" operation. In addition to these newcomers were others, slightly wounded in Normandy and now fit again to take their places in the Battalion organisation.
I was held in this camp for escaped P.O.W.'s and knew the Division was back training for further operations, so I wrote to Colonel LUARD, asking if I could rejoin the Battalion. This was quickly arranged arid I reported back to "C" Company, now commanded by Major CLARKE, who made me up to Serjeant. I went back to 9 Platoon as a Section Leader.
For the next two months, the Battalion trained as hard as ever, but never once was there the rumour of any further Airborne operations. There was not much parachuting, but now every jump was a mass descent by at least a full Battalion and the only type of aircraft involved was the Dakota, flown by either a British or an American crew. This was a big step forward, containers were a thing of the past. All members of Support Weapons Platoons now dropped with either 3 inch Mortar, Vickers Gun part or ammunition in their kit bags. Likewise the men of the Signal Platoon, parachuted with the 38 sets attached to their leg.
While the Battalion had been "winning its spurs" in the Normandy campaign, others, future members of the 13th. were only beginning their army service.
Private Norman MOUNTNEY:
In the summer of 1944 after completing my basic Infantry training at Bury St. Edmunds, I joined the Lincolnshire Regiment. We paraded in the gym of the barracks at Lincoln, to be addressed by an Officer from Royal Marine Commando and afterwards volunteers were called for. Three of us, including Albert STEEPER and myself did so. A few days later, an Officer from the Parachute Regiment did exactly the same and we all three changed our minds and volunteered for parachuting.
Hardwick, I found physically tough and we were left in no doubt that from day one we were under continual assessment. There was plenty of forced marching, rock climbing and overhead rope work, also a written test and an interview. We were at the Depot for two weeks, at the end of which many of the recruits were R.T.Ud, but 50 or so of us moved on to Ringway. Here discipline was much more relaxed. Course No. 138 lasted from the 14th to 28th. October and we did the normal 8 jumps, 2 balloon, 2 Whitley, a night balloon and finally 3 from the Dakota. There were no refusals on the course but 4 men failed to finish the course because of injury.
From Ringway we went on to Albany Barracks on the Isle of Wight for further advanced training, which included plenty of field firing with live ammunition.
The big test of the reconstructed 6th. Airborne came early in December with the advance warning for Exercise "Mush". Even the news that a move to a Transit Camp in Essex, prior to the exercise, aroused no suspicions. And we were correct in our assumptions. But the sight of the complete Division (for the first time in its history) flying round Southern England for a couple of hours, must have been a cause of speculation for the population down below.
The Drop Zones were near the Ordnance Base, Didcot. Both 3 and 5 Parachute Brigades dropped simultaneously onto adjacent D.Z.'s and this surely was one of the biggest mass descents in the story of the Parachute Regiment. After rallying, the Battalion moved to the outskirts of Sutton Courtney, and their dug positions to extend a bridge head seized by a water born assault force over the river Thames.
With our knowledge of exercises before Normandy, it was assumed that the next task for the 13th, would be to parachute over the barrier of the Rhine, possibly into Germany itself. That had to be some time in the future, because the Allied ground forces, were not yet in possession of the west bank of the river, so it was thought that Christmas would be spent in England.
Even the totally unexpected German counter attack in the Ardennes, which followed shortly afterwards, wouldn't alter our plans for Christmas, was the universal opinion. Hence the news announced to the Battalion concentrated in the Camp Hall at 0700 hours on the morning of 21st. came as a complete surprise. The C.O. informed the Battalion that it had to be ready to move to the Continent at 1200 hours the following day, with the Advance Party leaving that very evening.
A very hectic day was followed by a different sort of hectic evening, as an early Christmas was celebrated in the Messes and Canteens. In the Officers Mess no one noticed that at dinner that night they were served rum sauce instead of soup. But come the deadline the Battalion were ready to move. The 12th Battalion who shared the barracks with us marched away in the afternoon and then the Battalion were stood down until next morning.
It was an uncomfortable march to Amesbury station. A warning of cold weather on the Continent (Winter in England was still mild) and so everyone wore battle dress, denison smocks with belt and pouches and over this greatcoats were worn. A day's train journey carried us to Dover and an even earlier "Reveille" on Christmas Eve found us dis embarking at Calais from the Liverpool to Isle of Man ferry boat the "Ben my Chree". Dawn was just breaking and in the half light it was clear that warning about the weather was justified, it was freezing hard and snow covered the quayside. After a second breakfast in one Transit Camp we were driven through Calais to an ex German Naval Barracks (still with a concrete Swastika over the arched gate way) and there waited for the rest of the day.
Christmas Day dawned bright and cold and after breakfast, the Battalion formed up on the road outside the barracks, since transport was expected to carry us into Belgium. As the trucks had not arrived, "fall out" was ordered and shortly afterwards a convoy of three tonners drove up and halted. Clearly they were not for troop carrying since all the canopies had been taken off leaving only the tubular steel superstructures. The R.A.S.C. Lieutenant in charge was in the dark concerning his task. For the past month his Platoon had been employed moving coal from Boulogne docks and he assumed that was what they would be doing at Calais. An urgent call was made to some H.Q. and confirmation received, that these open "coal trucks" were in fact the Battalion's transport for the day's journey. That unfortunate Service Corps Officer's ears must still be ringing with the fury of the C.O.'s anger.
Now the wisdom of wearing over coats was appreciated to the full. No one sat down the floors were too dirty for that and so a long cold journey to the battle area started. At least it was sunny and dry and the occupants of the towns and villages cheered as the convoy passed. Under happier circumstances it would have been a most interesting route, since it passed through many of the battle grounds of the First World War. Mons, Ypres, Menin Gate, Virny Ridge, names immortal to our fathers. An overnight stay in Dottignes, where everyone was accommodated in one of the village houses, was followed by another day's ride, this time in covered trucks and early in the evening of Boxing Day, the Battalion reached its destination Namur.
26th. DECEMBER to 2nd. JANUARY.
Only days before the Battalion were ordered to the continent again, Major FORD M.C. had been promoted and moved to Divisional Headquarters as Lieutenant Colonel "A.Q." and Major Roy LEYLAND who had joined the 13th. on our return from Normandy became 2nd in command. To fill the vacancy of O.C. H.Q. Company, Major Andy McLOUGHLIN came from the staff of the Divisional Battle School.
Namur was of vital strategic importance to the Allied Armies, for here was one of the bridges over the river Nleuse and this crossing was clearly a target of the German attack. There was an air raid that night and the ack ack guns at the bridge rattled away for half an hour, but no bombs were heard to explode. Next morning the C.O. and his "O" Group were called to a meeting a few miles east of the river. Here in a school room, a Brigadier, wearing a black beret, introduced himself as the Commander of 29 Armoured Brigade, to which formation the 13th. were now attached. He went on to say, according to the latest information, VON RUNDSTEDT'S Panzers were halted by shortage of fuel, thirty kilometres away. There were no Allied troops between Namur and the enemy. 13th. Battalion were to deny the river crossing to the enemy.
One feature dominated the landscape for miles around, a large outcrop of rock on the west bank and on which, for centuries, had stood a fortress. This the Battalion occupied but for only one uneventful day, before we were relieved by a unit of the 53rd (Welsh) Division. The German offensive had run out of steam, come to a halt and the next task of the Battalion, was to provide protection for a Sapper unit, while they constructed a Bailey bridge at Beauraign. The original one had been destroyed as a German armoured column was only a hundred yards away, and this same enemy force had then been attacked by Allied air forces. Shattered armoured cars and half track armoured personnel carriers littered a woodland track running down towards the river. On their move to Beauraign, the Battalion had already passed the scene of a tank engagement where clearly the Americans had suffered many losses, judging by the number of "brewed up" Shermans lying around.
The R.E.'s finished the bridge without interference and on New Years Day, the Battalion were ordered to move to Dinant for a rest. January 2nd. dawned bright and clear, and the Battalion formed up along the main road for the march, which can't have been far since no haversack rations were issued at breakfast. Greatcoats had been collected into store soon after arriving in Belgium and although there had been continuous frost, there had been no further snow, which lay up to a foot deep in places.
It was an ideal day for marching. Despite the sun, there was a distinct nip in the air, but everyone was glad of the exercise. Since there was the threat of hostile aircraft, the Battalion moved in single file, sections staggered on either side of the road, which was deserted except for us. Hence the appearance of a Humber staff car approaching from the direction of Dinant caused a stir. The car halted in the middle of the Battalion and the newly appointed Divisional Commander Major General E.L. BOLS alighted and joined the marchers. After a short distance, the General reentered his vehicle, the Colonel followed him and off they drove. A few miles further on, the Battalion left the main road. No explanation was given until mid day, when on entering a small village, we found the C.Q.M.S.'s ready to serve haversack rations.
Now we learnt of the change of plan instead of living it up in the bars and estaiminets of Dinant, we were to be part of the Allied counter offensive now ready to be launched. The march continued for the remainder of the daylight hours and just as darkness began to fail, the large village of Pondrome was reached. Here, billets had been arranged but the Battalion bedded themselves down, ignorant what of lay in store for us on the morrow.
BURE 3rd. JANUARY
The members of the Battalion "O" Group were called from their beds around mid night and assembled in the kitchen of the large farm house of their Headquarters and were fully briefed on the attack to capture the bridge at Grupont, clearing the road through Bure on their advance. However orders for the battle were not to be given to the troops until after breakfast.
The information concerning the German troops occupying Bure was very scanty believed to be held in about Platoon strength, equipped with the normal weapons. No mention was made of tanks or other armoured vehicles. But the reports of the villagers provide a different picture. The first Germans tanks reached the village in the afternoon of 23rd. December, hot on the heels of the retreating Americans, several of whom did not get away in time. Some of the locals risked their lives leading these evaders to safety during the night. Reports speak of 2 Tigers and several smaller tanks and of between 100 and 200 men laying mines on all roads leading into Bure.
On 31st. December a Belgian S.A.S. patrol jeep was destroyed on Chapel Hill (code name "Orange") and all three occupants killed. Afterwards the village was subjected to spasmodic shelling, increasing in ferocity day to day.
Transport carried us as far as Resteigne, from where a further two hours approach march was made. The road was deserted until the village of Tellin was entered and here men of the 10th Battalion, King's Royal Rifles, were gathered around "biscuit tin" stoves as they endeavoured to keep themselves warm. (Simultaneous with the 13th's attack on Bure they, with armoured support, would assault twin features code named "Gin" and "Orange" which dominated the area). Instead of the usual good humoured banter and trading of light hearted insults which was the usual practice when passing through another unit of 6th. Airborne, we were met by a stony silence. Before the eastern end of the village was reached, the Battalion turned off along a side road and started to climb up into the low hills and shortly afterwards left the road, moving across the open fields towards the woods. These woods provided a covered route to the start line for the attack, some 400 yards from the village. This last part of the move, proved a problem for the Support Weapons Platoons.
Even after we left the road and moved across the fields, the Machine Gunners with their guns and ammunition on the trolleys could still keep their place in the column, immediately behind "B" Company. The first stretch of woods was no difficulty either, but after crossing a shallow gully, the planting of the trees was much closer and the trolleys would not pass between the trees. So a halt was called, while everything was unloaded and individual loads sorted out for a long carry. The "start line" was reached on time and without enemy interference.
Lieutenant Colonel P.L. LUARD:
"A" Company encountered heavy registered artillery and mortar fire on the start line and had many casualties, but Major Jack Watson, with magnificent leadership, led them in the assault into the village, against German infantry and armour. At the same time "B" Company were advancing along the high ground on the right flank, where it came under very heavy fire from artillery, self propelled guns, tanks and infantry, suffering heavy casualties. Major Bill GRANTHAM and Lieutenant Tim WINSER were killed immediately and C.S.M. MOSS severely wounded.
Jack WATSON who had dropped into Normandy as Platoon Officer of 3 Platoon "A" Company, was now O.C. of that Company and provides this account:
We reached the start line and looked down into the village, which was silent. As soon as the first Platoon broke cover, we came under heavy fire I looked up and saw the branches of the trees being shattered by machine gun bullets and mortar bomb fragments. Machine guns on fixed lines had us pinned down, even before we crossed the start line. This was the first time I had led a Company in battle. We were held up by the dead and wounded among us but we had to get away.
The village was some 400 yards away and as quickly as I could, I got a grip on the Company and ordered the advance to continue. Whatever happened, we had to get into the village as quickly as possible but we suffered more casualties on the way.
Private Dennis BOARDMAN, signaller attached to "A" Company:
I had taken part in the D Day landing and had seen some pretty bloody fighting. It was bitterly cold when we eventually debussed some six miles from our objective. The going was heavy as we moved across country towards Bure where the plan of attack was for "A" Company (to which I was attached) to go in on tile left flank.
"Zero" hour was 1330 hours and we crouched in the thick pine wood of the start line, looking down on the picture post card scene below. All was peaceful and quiet, not a sign of an angry German. We moved out of the woods, into the fields, the 38 wireless set beginning to weigh heavily on my back and prepared to double across the fields to the road and the first group of houses.
A series of "plops" came from the far side of the village and seconds later down came the mortar bombs, followed by more "plops" and heavy machine gun fire. I threw myself down my head buried in the snow. The noise was deafening. Despite the cold, I was sweating profusely and my bare hands gripped the grass beneath the snow. At first I only heard one groan, but it was quickly followed by others and cries of "Medics" filled the below zero atmosphere.
Major WATSON conferred with his 2nd in command Captain "Joe" HODGSON and next minute I was following them across the field, over the fence and onto the road, closely followed by all the remaining unwounded members of the Company. We leapt over laid in the road and ditches, trying to warn the rest of the danger. Breathless we rushed the first houses, passing several dead Germans who had been manning a heavy machine gun.
Sherman tanks of the Fife and Forfar Yeomanry arrived to support us but the Germans had observed their advance and two Tiger tanks drove up to the cross roads. Four of the Shermans were quickly knocked out, two of them going up in flames with their ammunition exploding all around. The other two made a hurried departure.
The close planting of the pines on the final leg of the move to the start line so delayed the Machine Gun Platoon that they were unable to accompany "B" Company, who by now were on their way (according to the orders of the attack) to take up positions overlooking Grupont from where they would support "C" Company's planned assault on the bridge.
Although they were only a few minutes behind schedule the C.O. was already aware that all was not well with "B" Company on the right flank, telling the "gunners" not to move forward until he had more information about the situation there. As if to answer his ignorance, a group of walking wounded led by 2nd Lieutenant Arthur PRESTT of the "Scouts" came down the slope and into the shelter of the wood. The C.O. was given a full account of the disaster which had befallen the unlucky Company.
The Scout Platoon were part of the "B" Company Group tasked with the establishment of a "fire base" to support the attack of "C" Company onto the bridge at Grupont.
Lieutenant Arthur PRESTT:
We moved out of the wood onto the snow covered hillside adopting an open formation as we did so. I was moving slightly to the rear of Major GRANTHAM and his Command Group. After we had advanced about 100 yards, he must have seen something suspicious and moved down the hill to the shelter of a hedge. He appeared to speak to his signaller who already was in contact with one of the other stations. There was a single shot and the O.C. fell dead at our feet. Then the shelling and the mortaring started. The hedge gave us no protection at all and very quickly the casualties mounted. I was one of the lucky ones, I was only wounded, but there were quite a number killed outright in the first salvoes. Too many for the three Company Medics to deal with but they went about their task fearlessly and devotedly; laying us down in hollows in the ground. Alf (Lieutenant LAGREGAN) came forward and took charge, ordering all those capable of movement to run for shelter in the village and he led the rush to the nearest houses. From time to time a German tank appeared to our front, but never fired. We lay there for the best part of an hour and then Corporal Chailie BRYANT (R.A.M.C.) had run out of dressings, so he collected the walking wounded and moved us back to the start line, where I was able to give the C.O. an account of what had happened.
Private Bill HOLDING:
I was a sniper with the Scout Platoon and moved out with "B" Company onto that snow covered hillside. When the bombs and shells started to land among us we got a bit mixed up. Serjeant Tommy Hindle of "B" Company took a 2 inch mortar off one of the casualties, shoved it in my hand with some bombs and told me to put smoke down across the front. Once it was thick enough, we all ran as fast as we could for the houses on the right of the village.
Knowing the scale of the casualties in "B" Company, Harry POLLAK, the Intelligence Officer, went off to discover how "A" Company were faring. The party of walking wounded were accompanied to the rear by Charlie BRYANT, who was seeking extra assistance and supplies, since the number of wounded was so numerous.
The Colonel on learning of the fierce house to house fighting taking place in Bure and realising the daylight hours were diminishing, decided to send in "C" Company in a desperate effort to clear the village before dark. An artillery concentration was fired on the high ground beyond Bure and under the cover of this bombardment, "C" Company charged over the start line, dashed into the village and linked up with their gallant comrades already there. They managed to fight their way forward as far as the cross roads in the centre of Bure, but a counter attack, supported by one of the Tigers, forced them to give some ground.
Serjeant Len COX:
Along with the rest of "C" Company I waited in the woods while the other two Companies cleared the village and high ground so that we could pass through and attack the bridge at Grupont. We could see the flashes of the German guns away to our left as they were firing and the shells were landing in the trees. After a time orders came that we were to make a run for the houses and assist "A" Company in evicting the Germans.
We moved to the front edge of the wood and on a signal we raced across the open fields as fast as we could, crossed the road and started to work our way along the backs of the houses. There was a German tank firing down the main street. The first few houses had been cleared but after that it was grenade and Sten all the way, with no one daring to use the road because of the tank. Progress was slow and we had many casualties. The final orders were to clear the area around the church and then hold as it was getting dark. We finished up in the house next but one to the church, clearing "Jerry" out with grenades and then found four civilians in the cellar. Wireless contact with Company H.Q. had been lost earlier and we didn't know where any one else was. All that was left of 9 Platoon was Lieutenant Dick BURTON, Serjeant Bill RAILTON myself and 12 others were marooned in that house for 36 hours.
Celestin Limet of Bure:
When the shelling of the village started on the lst. January we all took shelter in the cellars at the "Chateau" (the locals name for the large building housing a religious organisation) but used to return each day to look after our cattle. (His house on the right hand side of the main street was used by Major Andy McLOUGHLIN as his Company H.Q.) On the 3rd. I was on the street when the shooting started and took refuge in a cellar near the cross roads and witnessed the fighting through the cellar's ventilator.
Within days of his landing in Normandy, Serjeant "Taffy" LAWLEY M.M. was promoted to Company Serjeant Major to fill tile vacancy in "C" Company, as a result of C.S.M. Micky MAGUIRE being wounded.
We got through to the centre of the village. It was getting dusk by now and then things started to happen. Everything became mixed up something like that can easily happen in street fighting. Two Platoons had been sent forward and we lost touch with them through their 38 Sets. It was very difficult in the dark to discern friend from foe. Sometimes we were in one house and the Germans in the one next door. We were helped by a Squadron of Sherman tanks, but they were of little use against the two Tigers that "Jerry" had.
We were suffering many casualties from the heavy shelling and machine gun fire, but the order was to hold our footing at all costs. All that evening we tried to contact our two lost Platoons, but to no avail. There were many dead and wounded lying around and among them moved Padre Foy administering morphine and first aid, at great danger to himself
British soldiers moved into the village along the hedges at the back of the houses. A German tank behind the house where I was sheltering, at the bend in the road, controls the road from Tellin, with the British advancing on the cross roads through the gardens.
The only sub units of the Battalion riot yet committed to the battle in the built up area were the C.O. with his command group, plus the Mortar and Machine Gun Platoons, both of which are not much use in close quarter fighting. Before nightfall, they all moved well back into the trees and formed up into a long "snake" and undid the tail of their smock. Once total darkness set in and total darkness it really was in the close planted confine of the trees, each man grasped the tail of the man in front and foot by foot, the treacherous downward journey to the road began.
Speed was of no consequence, keeping together was the most important factor. Once clear of the pines, the snow covered slippery slope was still a hazard, but finally the road was reached without mishap and the move into Bure began. The first two houses became the R.A.P. and Battalion Headquarters respectively, while the Support Weapons pushed on until they bumped the rear of the two Companies already occupying houses along the main street.
BATTALION WAR DIARY:
BURE 3 Jan. 2015 hours. Tiger tank advanced beyond cross roads to support infantry counter attack, which was broken up by "A" and "C" Companies. Four counter attacks were broken up during the night. Fife and Forfar Yeomanry report 6 enemy S.P. guns disabled during the day.
When night finally came, Major CLARKE decided we would move forward and if possible find out what had happened to our two lost Platoons. After we had gone some distance (down the back of the houses) Major CLARKE decided we would enter the house we were immediately behind and try to make contact on the wireless, but we soon found that all the doors and windows were bolted. I saw a passage along the side, so we went along it, with the intention of getting in at the front. I tried to open the door, but found it locked, then I beard voices in a strange language which I knew to be German. I tip toed back and reported to Major CLARKE. We both went back up the passage and listened they were Germans all right and a large number too. They had a tracked vehicle with them and were busily loading it with documents from the building opposite. We went back to the others to formulate a plan of attack when suddenly we heard footsteps coming down the side of the house. We were only six in number, so we had to think quickly. We all stood still and waited until the footsteps came very close. Major CLARKE shone his torch in their direction and we all opened fire. When the torch went out I dashed back across the opening to the next house and gave covering fire while the others got across. We then returned to our original position. All that night we were heavily shelled, but our two lost Platoons eventually got back to us.
BURE 4th. JANUARY.
It was a long time coining light that morning and when day dawned, heavy swirling snow accompanied it and also the resident Tiger tank. Before daylight Lieutenant Fred TIRAMANI (M.T.O.) drove into Bure with the Battalion's breakfast and was stopped by tile M.M.G. Platoon, otherwise he might have delivered it to the Germans. Major "Dixie" DEAN was standing in a bedroom of the house forming his Platoon H.Q. and was having his first view of the battle scene. Outside the house across the road (now the H.Q. of Headquarters Company), stood an abandoned farm cart loaded with hay which to the Tiger's Commander must have appeared a British tank, only vaguely visible in the half light and failing snow. He must have thought it shell proof also, for lie fired at least five rounds, all of which went completely through his adversary, seemingly causing no damage. "Rommel" (Private RODDEN M.M.G.'s) was crossing the road at the time. He dived under the hay cart, crawled to the front and engaged the tank with a full magazine of 9mm. Honour satisfied, he rejoined his Vickers in the small chamber under the flight of steps running up to one of the houses.
A British machine gun had been sited between my house and the barn which separates it from Dufong's farm, from where they can sweep the street with fire as far as Defaux Goffinet's house, where I am watching. (The M.M.G. Platoons new task was to cover the main street). But the tank has seen them and opens fire with his cannon, killing two men (Privates Norman SCOTT and KING of the M.M.G.'s) After firing four or five rounds, the tank withdraws but is replaced by another. The members of 9 Platoon, isolated in their house near the church, had spent an anxious, sleepless night, expecting relief or reinforcement, but neither had arrived.
As soon as it was light the shelling started and the massive German Tiger tank took direct aim at the house and put several rounds into the upstairs rooms. Some of the lads were wounded, but could not be evacuated. When the Tiger got within range, Doug SHARPE and I got a couple of P.I.A.T. bombs off, hitting it on the side. Later I heard from "A" Company that it had to be towed away. All day long the area was bombed and shelled and there were more casualties, mostly as a result of blast, but Corporal RYAN was severely wounded and later died. All that day and the night that followed we remained cut off from the rest of the Battalion.
By 1100 hours, infantry and tanks of the elite Panzer S.S. were moving in on us and the fields and gardens behind our positions seemed to have enemy in every ditch and hedge row. Major WATSON came down the cellar steps to where I was sitting next to the radio and in a grim voice ordered an artillery barrage on our positions and the surrounding area. Runners went out warning every one to get under cover.
We looked at our watches as the appointed time approached, the whine of the shells reached our ears and although we knew they were going to fall on us, as well as the enemy, we felt strangely elated. For fifteen minutes the shells tore into our positions and the barrage had hardly ceased before every one in the houses were firing from windows and holes in the walls. We watched the Germans pull back, dragging their wounded with them. "A" Company had suffered two wore wounded from our own shells, yet it seemed worth it.
We had worked our way towards the cross roads and I was with Lieutenant LAGREGAN and several others in a barn. The Germans were advancing towards us supported by a tank, which put a round through the barn door, killing three men and I got splinters in my thigh. Now the Germans were only yards away, Lieutenant LAGREGAN threw the door back, stood in the open firing either a Bren or Sten, while the rest of us scrambled out the back through a low opening into a pig sty. We reached safety but we never saw Lieutenant LAGREGAN again.
Private Dave BEADHAM was one of the few men of "B" Company who survived the slaughter on the bare hillside above Bure and he along with other members of 5 Platoon took up positions covering the street.
We had to keep dashing front house to house, because there was this German Tiger tank which was roaming up and down the street. It would drive right up to a building we were using, poke its big 88mm gun through the window and then blast away, we had to nip smartly out of the back, all very disturbing. After we reached safety I looked out of a bedroom window and there was Billy ROPER, one of the Company Medics, walking calmly tip the street, looking into the now half demolished houses to see if there were any wounded. Sometimes he was no more than twenty yards away from the Tiger, but the crew respected his Red Cross armband and didn't try to stop him. He was the real hero he was completely unarmed and wouldn't even carry a pistol which lie was entitled to do.
Lieutenant Colonel P.J. LUARD:
Perhaps the most romantic episode in a battle packed with incident was when the ambulance under Serjeant SCOTT D.C.M. of the R.A.M.C., went forward to our front line in order to pick tip casualties. A German "Jag Tiger" tank which had been fighting us all day, rolled forward along side the ambulance and the German commander seeing the Serjeant unafraid, said "Take away the casualties this time, but don't come forward again, it is not safe". Even Serjeant SCOTT, who would bandage a wounded man with bullets cutting his own hands as he did so, knew when to take a hint.
We couldn't believe our eyes when we saw the ambulance coming up the road completely ignoring the Tiger, which was less than 20 yards from our front door. The ambulance stopped and out got Serjeant Scott of the Medics.
Padre FOY was with him:
Hardly had the ambulance stopped however, when the tank rumbled forward, halting with its 88mm gun almost poking through the driver's window. By now several men were standing outside the door, greeting the two from the ambulance and ignoring the tank. To our surprise the turret was thrown open and a German officer appeared. The conversation was brief. in perfect English, he agreed that the wounded could be collected, but the ambulance must not return.
There was good natured banter between ourselves as we helped the wounded aboard, under the watchful eye of the German Tank Commander. Padre FOY took the wheel a final wave and the ambulance turned and disappeared down the street. A signal to the tank and the Commander disappeared inside his steel shell. We grabbed our weapons and melted away into the battle scarred houses. Seconds later, the battle was resumed with renewed ferocity.
In the afternoon the Battalion Medical Serjeant drove up in the ambulance and stopped outside Company H.Q. The first couple of cases had been put on board when there was a sudden burst of machine gun fire. Then I heard the rumble of a tank and the next thing I saw was a "Jag Tiger" (88mm Assault Gun) outside Company H.Q. with the 88 trained on us. The commander was standing up in the turret, telling our Serjeant he was breaking the rules of war by his action and should wait until the battle was over before trying to evacuate the wounded, and that if he did it again, they would shoot the ambulance up. The "Tiger" then withdrew; which I thought was very sporting of him, especially as I was then practically looking down the barrel of the 88.
Dave ROBINSON was another witness of this incident:
After Normandy the P.I.A.T.'s were attached three per Company and I was a Lance Corporal in charge of one of "C" Company's team of three. During the second day in Bure, we went out whenever the shelling stopped to try and get a shot at the German tanks, but were always spotted and fired on before we could get within range. In the afternoon I had just taken a chap called Lord over to the Company Medics at H.Q. and was on my way back to the barn we were occupying. I was in the passage way between the two buildings and the tank blocked my exit, I cowered there until it withdrew.
Elsewhere in the village emergency surgery was carried out, as "Dixie" DEAN reports:
In mid afternoon I was with a Vicker's team in the back bedroom as we watched a group of Germans crawl along a hedge not 200 yards away. They halted and started to set pair of machine guns. Our gun was laid on the target and quickly opened fire but then a Number 1 Position stoppage caused the gun to stop. This was immediately remedied and we had only just recommenced firing when several ear splitting explosions occurred in the roof above us. The force of the blast threw us all to the floor and reduced the room to a shambles. The ceiling was down, roofing timbers and broken slates everywhere and we were all covered in dust from the plaster, but only one man was wounded. The gun had not been damaged and I instructed the Number 1 to set it up in another room and to carry on firing. I then turned to have a look at Private O'BRIEN'S hand which was bleeding quite badly. One of his fingers was almost severed his hand, with only a thin strip of flesh holding it. I tried several times to get a field dressing over the wound but the finger would not slay in place and kept flopping down. I led him to a chest of drawers, cleared the top with my elbow and told him to look away. I then pulled out my filleting knife, removed the offending digit and was then able to tie the dressing and send him on to the R.A.P.
Celestin LIMET had kept watch all day and in late afternoon came a lull in the firing:
A German tank drew up outside and an Officer appeared in the turret. One of the other refugees who is finding these parts too dangerous goes out to speak to him and asks permission to move to the "Chateau". The German was already aware of our presence and allows us to leave, telling us to move quickly as the fighting is about to start again.
What a sight around the church where several tanks are halted and everything has been destroyed. We remained in the "Chateau" until after the fighting was over.
BATTALION WAR DIARY
BURE 4th. January 1400 hours. Situation a little more quiet. Enemy still infiltrating, positions however held without giving any ground. Any enemy movement of infantry or armour, subjected to heavy artillery fire.
1700 hours. Own losses 16 Shermans, enemy tanks still operating in village. Fighting throughout the day extremely hard and costly. Throughout hours of daylight "A" and "C" Companies sent fighting patrols into unoccupied part of the village, without, however managing to hold on to ground gained outside Battalion perimeter. Company of 2nd. Battalion Ox and Bucks joined unit as reinforcements.
A plan had also been drawn up to continue the advance towards Grupont, at first light on 5th. January. This time the 12th Battalion would be the attacking formation. The start line for this new attack was the road running in an easterly direction from the crossroads in the centre of the village and only yards forward of where "B" Company had almost been annihilated on the afternoon of the 3rd. The Machine Gun Platoon were ordered to this location, there to dig in and assist one Company of the 12th. to hold the position, while the remainder passed through them. The presence of enemy armour seemed to have been completely ignored in the formulation of the new plan. It was hard work breaking through the frozen crust below the snow covered grass and by midnight the digging of the weapon pits was half completed, when to the great relief of the "Gunners", the attack is called off and they were able to return to the comparative safety of the houses.
Bure January 5th.
January 5th. was another day of attack and counter attack, but gradually as the day wore on the enemy was systematically cleared from the village, one house at a time. Finally at around 2100 hours the last German outpost was eliminated and "A" Company were able to report, that all enemy resistance in Bure bad ceased. They were now occupying the south of the village, with "C" Company in the north and Company of Ox. and Bucks in the east. What little was left of "B" Company were in reserve.
Another day and we were still isolated. The mortaring and shelling was as bad as ever so we decided that since the rest of the Company hadn't come for us we would have to go looking for them. We had no idea at all where they were, nor if it was safe to move outside. Gammon bombs were used to hole the walls and that was the method we used to get us back to Company H.Q. They gave us a hot meal, the first for nearly three days and then sent us back the same way to reoccupy our old position.
Later in the day, I went out with a patrol to a crossroads on the outskirts of the village, where some Belgian civilians reported a party of Germans waiting to surrender. They guided us to the spot and then rail off only seconds before a mortar stonk landed around us. We sheltered against a high bank close to where "B" Company had been caught in the open on the first day of the battle. The dead bodies were lying there, now covered in snow. Our patrol returned without any casualties but neither did we have any prisoners.
While we had been away, fresh orders to clear the other half of Bure had been given with 9 Platoon made responsible for the road running to the right away from the church. We systematically checked every house and ended up in an isolated farmhouse, in quite a commanding position, which we were ordered to hold. The German infantry made several attempts to eject us but we held out.
Just before midnight, we were in the far end of the village when the Company Commander was called to an "O" Group. He wasn't gone long, but the news he brought shook us rigid. We were to withdraw as silently as possible, for the enemy must not know we were pulling out. Bure was now all but in our hands and at that moment, the sacrifice of all the men we had lost and with our best friends killed, seemed to have been for nothing. In consequence there were bitter thoughts and some hard words were spoken as we pulled out. But this I suppose is expected in war.
Elsewhere in the village there was a further reason to regret the hurried call to move out. For the last hour Serjeant Arthur HIGGINS of the M.M.G. Platoon, had been cooking a chicken stew, now it was almost ready for serving but it had to be left for who ever occupied the house next. In most sub units there was only a five minute interval between receiving the order and actually having to move. Standing patrols had to be recalled, heavy weapons dismantled and stores to he collected, for the orders were, that anything which could he of use to the enemy and which could not be carried for some distance was to be left by the last house on the way out. Here a party under the R.S.M. would collect the same and later destroy it.
By 0015 hours the Battalion had left Bure behind without the enemy realising what was happening and were now on the road to safety. The next two hours were to be a different sort of nightmare than the one we had endured for the past three days. No one knew their destination, hence had no idea as to how long the march was to last and the surface of the road was very treacherous. The frequent passage of both tracked and wheeled vehicles had packed the snow hard, making it more suited for skating than for marching. Those men carrying the heavy weapons and wireless sets were the ones most effected and had the utmost difficulty in remaining upright. The standard British Army boot stud provided no grip whatsoever on the glazed surface and every few yards someone lost their footing and ended up flat on their back and were then hauled cursing and swearing back to their feet again. And so it went on, it could not be called marching it was an awkward shuffling motion that carried us forward through the empty void of the night. For over two hours without a break we moved slowly back to Brigade Headquarters where we found a floor to sleep on for the remainder of the night.
Not all the isolated out posts received the order to withdraw. Len COX:
The farm house we now occupied was some distance from the village and once again we lost wireless contact with H.Q., so we never received the news that Bure was to be evacuated. It was only when the Company were on the move and clear of the built up area that miraculously, contact was made and we were told to make our way back on out own. We moved cautiously back into the village, which was now deserted and then out on the road back to Tellin. The surface was like a skating rink but finally about 0300. hours we reached the safety of our own lines.
The Battalion were still under Command of 29 Armoured Brigade of 11th. Armoured Division. Their official story "The Black Bull", carries this report on the fighting:
A near Division attack was now planned with 7th. and 13th. Parachute Battalions under command, the objectives were initially the villages of Bure and Wavreille and then eastwards to Grupont and Forrieres. The attack started on the 3rd. advancing towards Bure, 6 miles to the east which as dominated by the 2,000 feet high "Chapel Hill" code name "Orange". For the next three days here was a savage battle around Chapel Hill and Bure the 6th Airborne men fighting as infantry suffered 200 casualties, mainly in the 13th.
The battle in Bure raged furiously with a Tiger Tank reported unassailable in the village. Having taken Chapel Hill, Bure proved to be even more difficult with the tanks knocked out by "Bazookas".
The night of the 3rd. was cold and dangerous and the next day in Bure a further three tanks were "brewed". The battle for Bure continued until the 5th. with heavy fighting. The 23rd. Hussars were now due to relieve the 2nd. Fife and Forfar Yeomanry. When they reached Bure four more tank crews were killed.
The parallel attack, north east to Wavreille, was more successful and 8th. Battalion, Rifle Brigade, occupied it. Having so painfully and brutally taken Bure, a planned withdrawal took place on the night of the 5th.
J. ILLINGWORTH wrote in the Liverpool Daily Post under the headline
"NO QUARTER WAS GIVEN IN THE BATTLE OF BURE"
Lancashire Men used knives In house to house struggle.
Lancashire and Yorkshire men of the 6th. Airborne Division who drenched in snow and ice, fought for nearly 60 hours at Bure on the tip of the German salient in one of the wildest and bloodiest battles of the war. During the battle German tanks ground their way up to the windows of houses where our men were fighting back. Sometimes British and German troops were on different floors of the same house. For three days, four men lay hiding in a loft with the enemy fighting from the windows of the lower floors. The story of the battle which lasted from 1330 hours on Wednesday until midnight on Friday can now be told:
Bure has the look of one of our own North country villages. The houses are of old grey stone, one main street and lies in a valley dominated by three heights, one known as Chapel Hill. Originally it was intended that another formation should subdue the enemy on the hill and then the unit of 6th. Airborne should take Bure.
Their start line was a wood 400 yards front the village they had to man handle all their heavy equipment all the way, for no vehicles could get through in the bitter wintry conditions we were experiencing, they walled. Zero hour was mid day. They waited until 1330 hours and although the enemy still held Chapel Hill they attacked the village. It was a tough task, the enemy knew they were there, all element of surprise had gone.
When the first Company. went in they were met with the fire of artillery, self propelled guns and mortars, but though their casualties were not light, they succeeded in forcing their way to the first houses. They fought with Sten guns, grenades arid P.I.A.T.'s and at close quarters with knives. The Germans added to this bell by bringing in Tiger Tanks, five times the Germans tried to throw our men out of Bure, the battle went on all night.
Thursday was the bitterest and bloodiest of the three days, the Germans again and again put in I counter attacks with "Tigers" and self propelled guns. It was a fantastic situation, whole 63 a platoons were cut off in houses, with enemy tanks roaring outside. Repeated attacks relieved their positions.
The battle for Bure went on all day Friday, one mail crossing the street was hit by machine gun fire and the phosphorous grenade in his pouch ignited. Two Serjeants in a house nearby threw smoke grenades near him and under their cover dragged him to safety. It was a struggle of life and death few prisoners were taken. And finally the report concluded with the highest possible compliment. It was the spirit of Arnhem all over again.
AFTER THE BATTLE:
In 1995 to commemorate the 50th. Anniversary of the battle a local report on the fighting in the village and its neighbourhood was prepared and here are extracts from their story.
2nd. Panzer Division commanded by Colonel Meinrad von Lauchett, forming part of the 5th. Panzer Army, operated in our area, having by passed Bastogne where the fighting still continued. On 23rd. December Bure was occupied and on 24th. Battle Group von Cochenhausen reached Celles, 8 kilometres from Dinant. The Germans got no further, they were short of fuel and the skies cleared, allowing the Allied Air Force, to operate in strength. 2nd. Panzer were stuck. To cover their retreat the Germans must delay the Allied ground forces. They must hold on to La l'Homme and also Grupont. That is why the action in Bure began, so Bastogne could he relieved and the Battle of the Ardennes end in defeat for the Germans.
German soldiers, along with those of the Allies, froze, bled and died in Bure. It is difficult to say exactly how many Germans were killed in Bure. Fifteen bodies were recovered from the snow after the battle and were interred in a temporary burial ground in the village.
Account of L'Abbe Hubert, Cure of Bure:
We waited anxiously. Panic broke out when fighters flew overhead and fired towards Dinant. All the members of the Resistance departed. A bus load of refugees from Clairxaux increasing our unease. During Saturday morning, 23rd. December, we heard that the enemy were at Jemelle. At midday an American convoy arrived, causing confusion among the villagers.
1430 hours, artillery and machine gun fire is heard and everyone takes to the cellars, chiefly the cellars of "L'Alumnat", (a substantial building in Bure occupied by members of a religious order). By 1530 hours the Americans have left and the Germans enter the village. I saw two "Tiger" tanks and several smaller ones. That evening there are four of the smaller tanks in the village and between 100 and 200 German soldiers are laying mines on the approaches to Bure. I saw nothing more of interest on that last evening.
Sunday 24th. several Jeeps carried out a reconnaissance from the direction of Tellin.
31st December 1944, a Jeep carrying three Belgian members of the S.A.S. is shot up, killing all three occupants.
Monday 1st. January, shelling begins. The British are in Haut and Tellin. A shell falls on Robert Crosier's house.
Tuesday 2nd., I bury a British soldier near the church. The Germans left his body in front of the Presbytery, telling me to bury him.
Wednesday 3rd., very heavy shelling. A number of British soldiers infiltrate into the village, as far as Monsieur Bourtembourg's house.
Thursday 4th., a violent battle. The British are holding Tiran Rue. German reinforcements arrive from Awenne.
Friday 5th., the British advance towards le Pauche, houses burning, the Presbytery is full of British soldiers.
Saturday morning 6th., there is a German counter attack during the night. The British have pulled back towards Tellin, with the Germans as far as the "gendarmerie", near the burial ground. The village is in "no mans land". I return to the Presbytery which has been ransacked and is in ruins. I go as far as the end of Tiran Rue and then as far as the "Henroz" house. I see dead lying in the streets and in the houses also burnt out tanks. The shelling and the machine gun fire, fade away. Patrols from both armies operate around the village.
Tuesday 9th., The Germans leave the district and about 1700 hours a British patrol arrives.
Wednesday morning, 10th., the British arrive in numbers there is no fighting. The inhabitants of the village have lived for the last fortnight in the cellars, chiefly those of "L'Alumnat", where there have been two births, Ginette Petit and Marie Jeanne Rondeau.
Of 165 homes, 13 are burnt out, 4 completely destroyed, 42 badly damaged, 47 have suffered considerable damage and only 45 were slightly damaged. 2 civilians were killed Lucieti Bodart and Louis Laffineur. Many farm animals were killed and the village devastated. 15 German and 80 British soldiers buried. Around Bure, 15 British tanks have been knocked out.
11th. January, Claude Devaux is blown up by a mine and is killed.
February 4th, R.P. Charles blown up by a mine and one of his legs has to be amputated.
June 5th, Marcel Petit blown up by a mine and is killed.
Another account of the suffering of the Belgian civilian population, comes from P. Jean Marie Dearle, Superior L'Alumnat:
Commencing 1st. January, the fighting becomes increasingly violent leading up to the 4th. A German S.P., hidden behind our garden wall, draws a lot of fire directed onto "L'Alumnat". Shells fall all around us and the building suffers 30 direct hits, damaging the roof and shattering the windows, but the walls are solid and shells make little impact. After a fearful night, when every house was the scene of fierce hand to hand to hand combat the British arrive. We give thanks to Our Lady of Bure, kissing each other and weeping. A British Captain advises caution and orders us to stay in doors. Every one obeys, except one brave man who goes to feed his cattle and finds that some have suffered wounds.
A British tank is burning just outside and the houses in the nearby cul-de-sac are engulfed in flames. The glare of the fire lights up the building and our crowd of refugees panic and make for the way out, screaming "The place is on fire". It requires all my rough strength to stem the mad rush for the doors and to restrain these poor frightened creatures.
At last 9th. January and deliverance from the long incarceration, the Germans have finally left the district and the British have re-entered the village. A British Captain asks for me and greets me courteously and explains he has a load of books to distribute among the refugees. And on that misty morning a golden haze hovering over the village, reveals a scene of dreadful desolation and draws expressions of sympathy for the British soldiers. "Poor Souls", we say and some express a desire to avenge the sacrifices which have been made on our behalf.
The last word is from Celestin Limet:
About the 10th. January we were allowed to return home and found the windows all boarded up with timber from our barn. My cattle had been turned loose. I Don't know who by but I recovered them later from the vicinity of Tellin. One was suffering from frostbite and another wounded by shrapnel. Some one had tethered the goat and left it a bucket of water and some fodder beet.
Clearing up the rubble from outside the house, buried under the snow where the two British machine gunners had been, I made the grisly find of a pair of boots, the feet were still in them. My brother helped recover the bodies. On the hillside there were 117 of them, lying in single file, all killed by the one burst of firing.
After the German withdrawal, this message was found by a local schoolmaster, chalked on the blackboard.
Never again in this the world endure such a Christmas.
To die in battle at such a time, far from home, from children,
wife and mother nothing is more cruel.
Separated, a son from his mother, a husband from his wife,
a father from his children. Is any man deserving of this?
Life must be for giving and receiving, for loving and respecting.