The Western Front, 24th March 1945

The Western Front, 19th April 1945

The Advance to the Baltic



Canadians arriving in Greven

Canadians in Greven

No.2 Troop, 3rd Parachute Squadron, prepare to cross the bridge at Grosse Reken, 30th March 1945


On the 29th March, the 6th Airlanding Brigade passed through Lembeck and continued the advance with the 1st Royal Ulster Rifles and the tanks of the 4th Grenadier Guards leading the way. Approaching their objective, the high-ground overlooking Coesfeld, "A" and "C" Companies came under fire from anti-tank and anti-aircraft guns, but the Grenadiers soon silenced these and the Battalion pushed on. Moving on the town itself, the 2nd Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry were similarly troubled by air-bursts as they left their woodland cover and proceeded to cross open fields. The Mortar and Medium Machine-Gun Platoons made ready to support an attack by "A" and "B" Companies, but the enemy withdrew before they could carry this out, allowing them to advance and occupy a very bomb-damaged Coesfeld.


The 3rd Parachute Brigade, 30 miles to their rear in Lembeck, leap-frogged them on the following morning with the intention of securing a crossing over the River Ems at Greven. Enjoying the luxury of motor transport, the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion moved off at 09:15 in tandem with the tanks of the 4th Grenadier Guards, but as they were about to enter unfriendly territory "A" and "B" Companies debussed and rode on the sides of the Churchills. Though they had never used this form of transport before, the Canadians nevertheless received high praise from the Grenadiers for the excellent infantry-armour co-operation that they provided. Several times en-route, small pockets of Germans fired on the tanks, whereupon "A" Company dismounted and quickly swept either side of the road, brushing the enemy aside and allowing the column to advance.


At 21:30, despite the falling gloom, the Canadians dismounted three miles from Greven and advanced towards it on foot. "A" Company entered the town and, cleared it in great style, capturing a bridge intact. Due to an error on their maps, which displayed only one bridge, it later transpired that there was another in the town and it was this one which was their actual objective. It was destroyed by the enemy shortly after, which was most unfortunate as the paratroopers could have taken it with ease had they known of its existence.


At about this time, a German troop train arrived in Greven, oblivious that the town had fallen, and all aboard were taken prisoner. The remainder of the night passed far from peacefully. The Canadians who were dug-in along the riverbank came under continual fire from the other side, and the drama increased when the enemy destroyed one of their own ammunition dumps on the eastern bank; explosions and flames from which continued for some time and caused much damage to the town.


The 9th Battalion arrived in Greven on the tails of the Canadians, intending to cross the bridge and secure the far bank, but finding that the main bridge had been blown they settled into the western suburbs for the night. In the early hours of the 31st March, however, "A" Company discovered a footbridge across the Ems, and by 06:00 they had put two platoons on the other side with the idea of the remainder of the Battalion following after them. The enemy responded angrily to this transgression and "C" Company were ordered across to reinforce the small bridgehead, in the process of which Lieutenant McGuffie was mortally wounded. Nevertheless, the 9th Battalion forced their way over and captured the remainder of Greven within a few hours.


As this was taking place, the 249th Field Company arrived and proceeded to strengthen the footbridge to take heavier traffic, whilst another company of Royal Engineers, on loan from VIII Corps, began to construct a Bailey Bridge over the Ems.


Their combined efforts enabled the 8th Battalion to cross and advance a further ten miles to the Dortmund-Ems Canal. Arriving to find that the two bridges here had been blown, they then came under considerable fire from 20mm and 88mm guns. The Battalion's mortars turned their attention on these, whilst "A" Company improvised a crossing of the Canal and established a small bridgehead.


The 591st Parachute Squadron came forward and made a study of the demolished bridges. Following consultation with the Commander Royal Engineers, it was decided to begin to repair the smaller of the two on the morning of the 1st April. By this time, the 8th Battalion had passed two companies across the Canal and had advanced a mile inland, but this was not enough to prevent the Germans from shelling the area of the bridges.


By degrees, the 6th Airlanding and the remainder of the 3rd Parachute Brigades crossed the Dortmund-Ems Canal on the 31st March and 1st April respectively. The most notable action that took place was the capture of Ladbergen by the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, who wiped out the platoon and the several 20 and 40mm anti-aircraft guns which comprised its garrison.