The Western Front, 24th March 1945

The Western Front, 19th April 1945

The Advance to the Baltic



The bridge at Bordenau


At 06:00 on the 7th April, the tanks of No.3 Squadron, 4th Grenadier Guards began to move off, with "C" Company of the 12th Parachute Battalion riding on their sides, and a squadron of the 15th (Scottish) Reconnaissance Regiment scouting ahead of them. Having crossed the Bailey Bridge at Petershagen and then passed through the positions of the 6th Airlanding Brigade, the Battalion ran into some opposition in the woodland to the west of Rosenhagen. "C" Company were quickly in action, and the tanks did excellent work in shelling any position of cover available to the enemy. After two hours, 26 prisoners had been taken and the advance continued, albeit on foot as fragmented pockets of resistance still prevented rapid movement.


Once this enemy had been cleared, however, the Battalion mounted its vehicles once again and pushed on. Arriving at Altenhagen, they found a large number of German troops in possession of the village, but their hearts did not appear to be in the fight, and a few shells shot into the houses by the 17-pounders of the 4th Airlanding Anti-Tank Battery duly dispersed them.


From here, two routes were available for the final bound to the bridge over the Leine at Bordenau. The northernmost passed through several villages, and it seemed likely that resistance would be met here that would delay them at a time when they wished to reach the bridge with all possible speed, lest it be demolished. With this in mind, Lieutenant-Colonel Darling opted for the southern route, which, brushing the airfield at Wunstorf, most probably speeded the advance.


Rapid progress was made for the first three miles, then "C" Company ran into some "Bazooka Boys" on the outskirts of the airfield. Their determination was evident, but their skill much less so, and they posed little difficulty to "C" Company. Quite a number of Germans were spotted on the airfield itself, and these were fired upon, but time was slipping away and it was vital that the 12th Battalion secure the bridge without delay. According, the attached Squadron of the 15th Reconnaissance Regiment remained behind to keep tabs on the enemy at the airfield, whilst "C" Company disentangled themselves from the fight and mounted the tanks once again. With only a further two miles to go, the Grenadiers drove them forward at quite an extreme pace. As they came to within sight of the bridge, a lorry and several Germans were seen on it, and as they were clearly up to some mischief the leading elements of the column fired on them with every weapon at their disposal. Thus chased away, the Grenadiers raced across the abandoned bridge whilst "C" Company set up a defensive position around it and hastily removed any demolition charges that they could find. So ended a very profitable half-day for the 12th Battalion, during which they had advanced 49 miles, captured a bridge, dealt very thoroughly with numerous pockets of enemy resistance, losing just one man killed and another wounded. Bordenau Bridge was subsequently named "Yorkshire Grenadier Bridge", denoting the 12th Battalion's roots with the Green Howards.



The 7th and 13th Battalions followed on behind. Whilst in Altenhagen, Lieutenant-Colonel Pine-Coffin received orders to advance the 7th Battalion to the bridge at Neustadt. As the country in which they were about to travel had not yet been properly cleared, the men, riding in lorries, were all told to be ready with their weapons in case of an ambush. Initially numerous groups of Germans were met on the roadside, but they had laid down their arms and offered themselves up for surrender. The Battalion, however, could not spare the time to deal with them, and so all they received for their efforts were gestures to keep moving west along the road.


The column passed through Wunstorf without incident, but the Germans were still in control of the airfield and resistance was met as they drew near. The fragmented nature of the fighting in Germany had made it important for the vanguard units to race through opposition with all speed rather than become delayed if not bogged down by these futile little skirmishes. Necessary though this manner of advance was, it could be extremely dangerous. As Lieutenant-Colonel Pine-Coffin led the column forward in his scout car, he saw some Germans ahead who were clearly nothing like the defeated groups that his men had overtaken earlier. His instinct was to fire on them, but as his party were only armed with pistols, he instead came to a halt and his party took cover in a ditch on the side of the road, moments before a Panzerfaust was fired at their vehicle and missed, exploding harmlessly behind them.


At this point the lorries carrying "B" Company arrived behind them halted, but they came under immediate fire from small-arms and a flak gun on both flanks; six men were killed and a further eleven wounded before they could dismount. Major Reid quickly organised "B" Company into battle order, and, under cover of smoke, they attacked to the right of the road, clearing some houses before moving into the woods where the enemy were located. As Lieutenant-Colonel Pine-Coffin ran back and forth to try and establish some control on this most untidy situation, he found that Brigadier Poett, further back in the column, had already ordered up tanks to assist. These fired into the woodland where "B" Company were presently fighting, unaware of their presence, but fortunately causing no harm to them and significantly helping their attack. "C" Company began to similarly clear the German positions along the left hand side of the road, and with the help of the tanks they overran the airfield, capturing 19 ME-109's and numerous other aircraft, with the 13th Battalion following behind them to mop-up any pockets of resistance that had been missed.


With the situation thus restored, the 7th Battalion turned its attention back to Neustadt. In the failing light, "A" Company moved through "B" and "C" Companies on foot and advanced to Moordorf. A short distance from the village there was a tremendous explosion when the enemy detonated a 200 kg bomb buried beneath the road surface. Most of "A" Company had been sheltering in ditches either side of the road at the time and only one man was killed as a result, a further two were stunned but rejoined their unit on the following day. The road, however, was badly cratered and it was impossible for the tanks to pass. It was later discovered that a further two such bombs had been laid at 50 yard intervals along the road, but by some miracle neither were detonated. If they had been, and the Battalion had been on the road at the time, the casualties in "A" Company, not to mention Battalion Headquarters and also to Brigadier Poett who was with them at the time, most likely would have been so severe that the attempt on Neustadt Bridge would have to be abandoned.


Moving forward, both "A" and "C" Companies entered Neustadt without incident, although a subsequent patrol from the former stumbled into a German counterpart, and in the confusion both sides claimed a prisoner.


"B" Company, meanwhile, were advancing towards the Bridge itself, but when they were just 400 yards from it they were compelled to make a considerable deviation as their path forward was blocked by a loop canal. Following the bank they arrived on the main road that ran through Neustadt, and were now faced with the task of capturing the canal bridge as well as the main objective. Major Reid questioned a civilian about the bridge and was informed that it had been prepared for demolition. At 00:15, Captain Woodman and two platoons rushed the main bridge, but just as the first troops had gained the opposite bank, it was blown behind them. Many casualties were suffered amongst those elements of "B" Company on either side of the explosion; in all, 25 men were killed and 19 injured.


Despite this severe loss, the small force that reached the far bank quickly dismissed the German garrison and established a small bridgehead. They also recovered Private Lloyd, who had earlier been captured in Neustadt during "A" Company's little skirmish. The 7th Battalion's medical personnel worked through the night to attend to the casualties, and in the morning, "A" Company crossed to relieve what remained of "B" Company on the far bank.