The Western Front, 24th March 1945

The Advance to the Baltic



Divisional Headquarters on the 26th March


By dawn on the 26th March, the 6th Airlanding Brigade had been relieved in its positions around the River Issel by the 157th Brigade of the 52nd (Lowland) Division, and was preparing to lead the advance out of the bridgehead to secure an area of high ground five miles to the east of Hamminkeln. At 09:00, the 12th Devons, with "D" Company at the front supported by a troop of the 44th Royal Tank Regiment, moved off with the 1st Royal Ulster Rifles covering their left flank and the 2nd Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry following on behind in reserve.


After two miles, the Devons encountered two infantry companies of Kampfgruppe Karst with several self-propelled guns in support. The 6th Airlanding Brigade had met this formation before; its mounted SS soldiers had, to no great effect, raced across the Hamminkeln area as the landings were taking place, shooting up the gliders before the airborne troops were able to form-up. Now that the Devons were properly formed-up, they arranged for an artillery concentration to be brought down on their positions before putting in a swift attack, taking 57 prisoners without loss.


The Battalion pressed forward and reached the area of their objective, where, after coming under slight mortar and shell fire, it became clear that the high ground was well-held by infantry supported by self-propelled guns and mortars. The 1st Royal Ulster Rifles came up on the left flank of the Devons at this time, having taken 34 prisoners on the way, and at 13:20, both battalions attacked.


"B" Company of the 12th Devons was faced with the unenviable task of leading the assault across very open ground, yet their speed compensated for the lack of cover and by 15:00 they had taken the objective, allowing the remainder of the Battalion to move up behind to consolidate. There were several casualties amongst the leading company, including their commander, but under the circumstances these were slight indeed. The 1st Royal Ulster Rifles, meanwhile, had encountered similarly heavy opposition, but, assisted by RAF Typhoons attacking areas of resistance that had been pin-pointed with orange smoke fired by the 53rd Airlanding Light Regiment, this was overcome by 17:00. In all the 6th Airlanding Brigade had taken 180 prisoners during the day.


The failure of the Germans to counter-attack this important area of high ground was a clear sign of disorganisation within their ranks. The Brigade sent patrols into the nearby town of Brunen after dark and reported that the enemy had abandoned it, and so, faced with this absence of opposition, Major-General Bols ordered Brigadier Bellamy to continue advancing on the following day. This proved to be quite impossible, however, as the 7th Armoured Division, the famed "Desert Rats", arrived on the scene at this point and all roads in the vicinity were soon quite overwhelmed by their sheer volume of traffic. Until they passed through, the 6th Airlanding Brigade could not move at all.