The Western Front, 24th March 1945

The Advance to the Baltic



Major-General Bols and Brigadier Hill with Field Marshal Montgomery and General Dempsey


As a consequence of the 21st Army Group receiving fresh orders to advance to the Baltic coast instead of protecting the American left flank, the 6th Airborne Division was released from the command of the XVIII US Airborne Corps and instead placed under the 2nd British Army's VIII Corps. There was to be no pause in the advance. With the 5th Parachute Brigade in command of its objectives, the 3rd Brigade, having moved up during the night to the west of Erle, was ordered to push further eastwards.


The 8th Battalion, with the Reconnaissance Regiment scouting ahead, led the Brigade forward at 12:00 on the 28th March. Having swiftly dealt with some enemy resistance in the woods to the east of Erle, the Battalion pressed on to Rhade, beyond which much more serious opposition was encountered, and, having fought their way to the outskirts of Lembeck, it was clear that the enemy would not so easily melt away as they had done in previous days. Sensing this, Brigadier Hill detached the 9th Battalion from the column and ordered them to work their way to the rear of Lembeck to cut the main artery leading out of the town and so prevent the garrison from withdrawing. "A" Company encountered a battery of four 20mm guns on the way, which they proceeded to pin down whilst a detachment from "C" Company went forward and took the position in flank, capturing the guns and 40 prisoners. The Battalion continued its movement to the east of Lembeck, where they took up positions around the road and collected a further 33 prisoners during the night.


The 8th Battalion, at this time, continued to experience difficulties on the outskirts of the town, particularly "C" Company who had suffered several casualties when pinned down by 88mm and 20mm guns. The 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion was brought forward to hold this main axis, whilst the remainder of the 8th Battalion attempted to move around the right flank. In so doing, "B" Company encountered two companies of Germans in the woods, one of which they managed to overrun, but the other held them in a stalemate. As little progress was being made in this direction, Major Tilley, the Battalion Second-in-Command, led "A" Company deeper around the enemy flank.


As this move was taking place, Brigadier Hill decided to retire the 8th Battalion from Lembeck and ordered them to secure the high ground to the south. "C" Company, having managed to extricate themselves from under the enemy's fire, accompanied Battalion Headquarters to "B" Company's area, from where they took the high ground, only to be pushed off it with some casualties at 22:00 when they ran into a company of Germans supported by panzerfausts and an anti-tank gun.


"A" Company, meanwhile, who were out of touch with the remainder of the Battalion, had continued to by-pass the enemy positions in front of Lembeck. Having achieved this, they managed to work their way into the western suburbs of the town where they were joined some time later by the Canadians. The fighting continued nevertheless, but by midnight the 8th Battalion had mastered the situation and all of the enemy forces were accounted for. The Battle of Lembeck had cost the Battalion 7 dead and 28 wounded, but they had taken no less than 300 prisoners.