Maps

The Western Front, 24th March 1945

The Western Front, 19th April 1945

The Advance to the Baltic

 

Pictures

The 6th Airborne's motor transport in Osnabruck, early April

Canadians making "friends" in Minden

 

With the 12th Battalion and No.3 Squadron of the 4th Grenadier Guards at the front, the 5th Parachute Brigade crossed the Dortmund-Ems Canal on the 2nd April, and entered Lengerich during the afternoon, a few hours after the 6th Airlanding Brigade had captured it. They found that the enemy were still offering resistance in the surrounding area, and the way forward was blocked by an 88mm gun which had already knocked-out one of the tanks supporting the 1st Royal Ulster Rifles. No.3 Squadron sent one of their Churchills forward to deal with this gun, but it was hit first and disabled.

 

The remaining tanks then put down heavy fire on the enemy positions and laid a smokescreen to the right of them, to create the impression that an infantry attack from this direction was imminent, but it was a feint. Instead "A" and "C" Companies moved around to the opposite flank, and, making good use of cover, the latter quickly cleared several houses in this area, then their No.8 Platoon attacked the main position and overwhelmed its defences, suffering two wounded for six enemy dead, ten wounded and thirty captured, together with an 88mm and a 20mm gun.

 

Darkness was fast approaching and, as the tanks were unable to move at night, the 12th Battalion went forward on foot. "A" Company, approaching Natrup, spotted two German sentries and silently dispatched them with knives. No.1 Platoon came under fire on the outskirts of the village, but with No.2 Platoon advancing down the centre with No.3 on their right, "A" Company made very short work of the enemy and, despite the gloom, managed to clear all the houses in the village within 20 minutes.

 

After a two-hour pause to rest and eat a meal, "B" Company resumed the advance at 02:30 but were stopped at an enemy road block outside the village of Hasbergen. The outlying positions were swiftly overcome, but the paratroopers struggled to make progress against the main mass of the enemy, who were clearly determined to fight. Rather than battering away at such a position from the front, Brigadier Poett perceived that the heavily wooded ridge to the left was of greater tactical importance, and so he ordered the 12th Battalion to seize it. While "B" Company remained in situ opposite the enemy road block, supported by the Mortar and Medium Machine Gun Platoons, "A" and "C" Companies with Advanced Battalion Headquarters smuggled themselves around the left flank in the darkness, and by first light were in occupation of the ridge, thereby preventing the Hasbergen garrison from withdrawing to Osnabruck. Each of the two companies sent a platoon into the village and began to clear the enemy positions from the rear. Enveloped in this fashion, Hasbergen and 100 prisoners fell into the hands of this half of the 12th Battalion without loss.

 

The other half, in the form of "B" Company at the road block, had a rougher time of it as they applied pressure to the enemy to drive them into the Battalion's trap. Despite coming under considerable fire in a rather exposed spot, the Mortar and particularly the Machine Gun platoons gave excellent support by firing at any suspected enemy positions on the wooded ridge, enabling No.4 Platoon to quickly negotiate a perilous stretch of open ground and capture some buildings at the foot of it. A shortage of ammunition, however, led to the support fire waning, and the attacking platoons found subsequent progress difficult. Wireless communications to these platoons broke down, and so the Major Bucher, the Battalion Second-in-Command, attempted to regain contact by leading the reserve force up to them. In the process, however, they came under heavy fire and were pinned down.

 

Three tanks of the Grenadier Guards came forward to assist. Major Bucher was on top of one, giving instructions to its commander, when it was knocked-out by a 75mm gun and the blast blew him off. Fire was returned on the enemy gun and a smokescreen laid down around it. Bucher recovered and gave his orders to the second tank, but it lost one of its tracks and so immobilised itself as it attempted a flanking attack. Brigadier Poett arrived on the scene at this point and was preparing to order the 13th Battalion to attack through the area en masse. This proved unnecessary, however, as increased pressure from "B" Company, who had now cleared the woodland, and the action of the remaining tank forced the remaining enemy to surrender. Having lost 4 men killed and 5 wounded, "B" Company accounted for 27 enemy dead and took a further 28 prisoner. So ended an extremely tiring but most productive 24 hours for the 12th Parachute Battalion, who had advanced 24 miles, largely on foot, fought three major actions and had accounted for 361 of the enemy.

 

The 13th Battalion then took the lead to complete the final bound of the general advance to Osnabruck. They fought two brisk actions on the way; "B" Company first attacking a well-defended wooded area of high ground, taking 70 prisoners in the process, and, at 11:00, "C" Company, having suffered six casualties, fell upon a strong pocket of enemy blocking the road, killing or capturing 48 Germans. Osnabruck fell to the Battalion during the afternoon. Resistance was largely confined to intermittent sniping; the Reconnaissance Platoon was sent out to hunt the perpetrators down, and eight were duly eliminated.

 

 

Earlier that day, the 3rd April, the 3rd Parachute Brigade began their advance on Minden, mounted throughout on tanks and motorised vehicles of all kinds. Despite the miserable, rainy conditions, this first day passed without much incident. The 9th Battalion's spearhead was briefly stalled in the mid-afternoon by a road block manned by tanks, but their own supporting Cromwell's pushed their way through these, and after several infantry skirmishes, the Battalion arrived in Wissingen in the late evening.

 

The Brigade had advanced some 40 miles during the day; with German resistance crumbling, such rapid progress became increasingly common in April. To keep the enemy on the run, units advanced with little regard for their flanks and proper consolidation of their rear. This could, at times, make life very dangerous, not just for the troops pushing incautiously forward along unknown roads, but also for those who had need to retrace their steps. As an example, the Transport Officer of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion was ambushed on the 4th April as he ran an errand and drove back over ground that his Battalion had covered on the previous day; he and a fellow Canadian managed to escape, but his driver was killed.

 

On the morning of the 4th April, "B" Company of the 8th Battalion, mounted on the Churchills of the 4th Grenadier Guards, resumed the advance. Having secured a crossing over a canal to the east of Lubbecke, "B" Company was left behind to guard the bridge and the prisoners who had been taken, whilst the remainder of the Battalion captured the town itself.

 

"A" Company then climbed aboard the tanks and set a course for Minden. The column was halted on the outskirts by a combination of shelling from enemy artillery, tanks and armoured cars, but the Churchills retaliated and persuaded the latter to withdraw, allowing the 8th Battalion to attack into the town. Here, with the leading tank knocked-out, "A" Company found their path blocked by two self-propelled guns and a body of infantry, and so, accompanied by "C" Company and Battalion Headquarters, they attempted to work their way around the right flank towards the rear of this position. During this manoeuvre, they came under considerable machine-gun fire from the woodland on the outskirts of the town. Held fast, and with no artillery support available to help clear the blockage, the Battalion could make no further headway.

 

When it was discovered that the Minden garrison had precious few reserves to commit to its defence, the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, in tandem with the Grenadier Guards, entered the town at 23:45 and occupied its centre without much ado. There was, nevertheless, a struggle to clear the enemy from the suburbs, but Minden was declared safe by 02:30. It soon transpired that the 3rd Parachute Brigade had beaten the 9th US Army to Minden, one of whose units had been detailed to seize it. As a precursor to their planned attack, they had intended to order 350 B-17 Flying Fortresses to bomb it if it did not surrender. When they arrived and found that the British were already in possession, this bombardment, needless to say, was hastily cancelled.