Maps

The Western Front, 24th March 1945

The Western Front, 19th April 1945

The Advance to the Baltic

 

The 6th Airlanding Brigade, meanwhile, had followed on behind the two parachute brigades, and, on the 4th April, they began to cut their own path through enemy territory towards the River Weser. The 1st Royal Ulster Rifles and Grenadier Guards met only minor opposition during the morning, but after passing through Trigo at midday, the vanguard learned from prisoners taken that the crossroads ahead was occupied by two 88mm guns and two companies of infantry entrenched in the buildings thereabouts. An artillery concentration was therefore called down on the area whilst two companies of Ulsters made ready to attack. Helped in no small measure by a smokescreen laid by the Grenadiers and their subsequent support fire, the Ulsters edged forward against not inconsiderable resistance and eventually secured the crossroads. Precious little opposition was met during the remainder of the day and the Battalion made good progress.

 

During the following morning, the 2nd Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry moved off on the final bound to the River Weser. Shortly before noon, the leading elements ran into opposition around Kutenhausen and two Churchills were knocked-out by hand-held anti-tank weapons. "C" Company, riding with the tanks, attacked into the village and cleared the enemy away, only to come under swift and heavy artillery fire. Advancing on foot from this point, they continued to meet spirited resistance from small groups of "Bazooka Boys", and, despite assistance from the tanks and their own artillery support, progress was considerably slowed.

 

The 2nd Oxford and Bucks forced their way to the west bank of the Weser at 15:26, but came under renewed and heavy shell fire as they prepared to establish a bridgehead. The bombardment, largely consisting of air-bursts, did not inflict many casualties, but it prevented the Battalion from crossing for several hours. Finally that evening, under cover of smoke and supported by the fire of a field regiment, a medium battery and their own mortars, one of "B" Company's platoons was successfully ferried across the 200 yard wide and fast-flowing river, and was soon reinforced by the remainder. Meeting no opposition on the riverbank, "B" Company consolidated the bridgehead by attacking and capturing the village of Wietersheim.

 

The Battalion's Pioneer Platoon and sappers of the 591st Parachute Squadron began work on a raft to enable transport and anti-tank guns to cross, meanwhile "A" and "D" Companies crossed the river and made their way to Frille, two miles beyond the river. They found that the village was held by a determined and well-entrenched garrison, but after fierce fighting, they forced their way in and all opposition had been subdued after midnight.

 

The 2nd Oxford and Bucks continued to prepare for the rafting operation throughout the night, during which they were continually harassed by enemy artillery, including nebelwerfer rockets, and suffered further casualties to men and equipment. Nevertheless, all of the Battalion's mortars and two of its anti-tank guns were on the east bank by dawn. The majority of the shelling came from a flak train to the south-east of Frille; after first light, "A" Company, supported by mortars, attacked this position and captured a number of prisoners together with six 105mm heavy flak guns. Shelling of the crossing area nevertheless continued, but, despite sporadic interference from self-propelled guns, the 2nd Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry were little troubled by it. An exception came at dusk on the 6th April, when a degree of enemy movement gave rise to speculation that a counter-attack on Frille was imminent, but the Royal Artillery and the Battalion's mortars immediately retaliated and dissuaded any such effort.

 

 

The remainder of the 6th Airlanding Brigade arrived on the River Weser late on the previous day. The 1st Royal Ulster Rifles captured Petershagen without encountering opposition, and this allowed engineers to begin the construction of a Class 40 Bailey Bridge which was completed by mid-afternoon on the 6th April, allowing the remnants of the 2nd Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry to cross.

 

At 19:30 on the 5th April, "D" Company of the 12th Devons crossed the river and established another bridgehead. "B" Company were to have followed them, but a communications failure to their artillery support delayed their crossing until after midnight. They entered the western outskirts of Lahde, but, meeting considerable resistance, it was some hours before the defending Germans were evicted from the remainder of the village. "A" Company crossed the Weser before dawn, followed a piece at a time by the remainder of the Battalion, and the 12th Devons, with the 1st Royal Ulster Rifles arriving to relieve them in their present positions, began the process of enlarging the bridgehead.

 

At 15:50 on the 6th April, "D" Company suffered a disaster on the way to Masloh when they were ambushed by four Panther tanks. Taken completely unawares, and lacking the protection of their anti-tank guns, which had been unable to cross the river due to the strong current, 51 men of the Company, including three platoon commanders, had no option but to surrender. Major Palmer managed to evade the trap and, with his Headquarters and the remaining platoon, took refuge in two houses which the tanks proceeded to shell at point blank range. Private Meeks did good work with his PIAT and disabled one of them, but it was not until Major Palmer managed to call for artillery support that the tanks finally withdrew. The remnants of "D" Company then fell back to the firm base occupied by "A" and "B" Companies. Faced with this alarming development, every effort was made to rush the Anti-Tank Platoon across the river as quickly as possible, and the first detachment of two guns reached "C" Company at Bierde in time to help repel an attack by five tanks, three of which they knocked-out.

 

At 04:00 on the 7th April, the Royal Artillery shelled Masloh and Quetzen in advance of an attack by "A" and "B" Companies. The bombardment persuaded the defenders to abandon both places and the Devons occupied them without a fight, thus properly securing their foothold on the eastern bank.

 

On the 8th April, the 12th Devons and 2nd Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry advanced to the Baum Landwehr Forest to clear it of the enemy, however none were found. That afternoon, the Devons made good their losses with a draft of 82 reinforcements, two-thirds of them from their own Regiment.

 

 

Various outside elements entered the Divisional area at this stage. The 11th Armoured Division crossed the Weser at Petershagen after their own attempt to ford the river ended in failure with the destruction of their bridge. On the 4th April, the Reconnaissance Regiment of the 15th (Scottish) Division were briefly attached to the 6th Airborne to assist with scouting operations. Although casualties had, on the whole, not been so bad during the rapid advance through Germany, the vanguard units continued to suffer heavily especially in terms of tanks when resistance was met, and by this time the 6th Airborne Armoured Reconnaissance Regiment had lost so many vehicles that it could no longer scout effectively for the whole Division. Despite the difficulties that the Airborne troops faced in maintaining a rapid advance with very little transport to hand, the Scots were nevertheless extremely impressed with their speed in comparison to a standard infantry division, observing that the Division was able to move at an average speed of 15 m.p.h., including halts to deal with opposition.

 

It had been intended that the consolidation of the Weser bridgehead would be the final act of the 6th Airborne Division as a front line unit, at least for the next phase in the campaign. The 15th (Scottish) Division were to pass through them and take over the lead, giving the airborne troops a much-needed opportunity to rest and re-equip before following in their wake to mop up any pockets of resistance that the Scots had side-stepped. Delays, however, had prevented the 15th Division from arriving at the appointed time, and so the 5th Parachute Brigade received orders to press the advance towards, and over, the River Leine.