The 12th Yorkshire Parachute Battalion in Germany, 24th March - 16th May 1945
by Lieutenant-Colonel K.T. Darling
Names of all ranks reported as killed or missing in action
Chapter I - Preparations for the Rhine Operation
Chapter II - Operation 'Varsity'
Chapter III - The Advance to Greven
Chapter IV - The Advance to Osnabruck
Chapter V - The Advance to Bordenau
Chapter VI - The Advance to the Baltic
Appendix I - Order of Battle for operation 'Varsity'
Appendix II - Route taken by the Battalion
Appendix III - Decorations awarded to the Battalion
Map - Battle of Erle
Map - Germany
They went with songs to the battle, they were young, Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow. They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted, They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning We shall remember them.
I have written this account as a tribute to the grand men whom I had the honour to command during those historic days in Germany.
It does not attempt to describe the actions of the 5th Parachute Brigade, commanded by Brigadier J. H. N. POETT, D.S.O. to which we were so proud to belong, or of our sister Battalions in that Brigade, the 7th Light Infantry Parachute Battalion commanded Lieutenant-Colonel R. G. PINE-COFFIN, D.S.O., M.C. and the 13th Lancashire Parachute Battalion commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel P. J. LUARD, D.S.O., alongside whom we have fought many a good battle.
I hope that a copy of this book will reach the relatives of all men who lost their lives serving with the battalion, and those who left the battalion on its return to England from Germany. I would be very grateful for any assistance in tracing the addresses of the men concerned.
K. T. DARLING, Lieut.-Col,
Commanding, 12th Yorkshire Battalion, The Parachute Regiment.
SINGAPORE, November, 1945.
List of all ranks killed in action or died of wounds received in action
3665431 Pte. ANDERSON, P
129413 T/Capt. KAUFFMANN, H. B. C.
97006513 Pte. BROOKS, J.
2763740 Sgt. KERR, R.
14421255 Pte. CHEESMOND, W.
5947521 Pte. LARGE, J. E.
14277662 Pte. CHESTERS, E.
14843357 Pte. MARTIN, A. J.
14434165 Pte. COCKBURN
14402280 Pte. MELVILLE, W.
4399600 Pte. COPELAND, H.
14984612 Pte. NEWMAN, E.
14608626 Pte. CUNNINGHAM, H.
14410866 L/Cpl. NIVEN, J.
4689756 Pte. CURREY, A.
3672502 Sgt. OTTMAN, E.
4748399 Pte. ELLIOTT, S.
14384570 Pte. POLLARD, N.
4386637 RQMS. Fox, G. A., M.B.E.
14984652 Pte. READ, F. V.
5192769 Sgt. GERRARD-SMITH
302550 Lieut. REED, T.
4397260 Pte. HARRISON, T.
14429728 L/Cpl. RICHARDS, M.
1445099 Pte. HILDER, A.
5620230 Pte. SAMPSON, H.
1506121 Pte. HILL, G.
14984732 Pte. SHAW, A.
6855412 Pte. HOMER, B.
14412318 Pte. SMITH, G.
14740274 Pte. HORTON, B.
77356 Cpl. STANLEY, A. J.
1623195 L/Cpl. HOSKINS, S. G.
3854439 Pte. TINGLE, W.
24434337 Pte. WEIGHILL, D.
The following were reported as missing, but it is hoped that by now some or all of these men have been traced.
5392062 Pte. BARTRUM, A. F.
14218011 Pte. HOWELLS, J.
6482255 Cpl. BENTLEY, J. W.
2065303 Pte. RIMES, F.
30650541 Pte. BOYD, A. O. S.
14806832 Pte. SHIRRA, W.
14667678 Pte. CATHCART, T.
5127479 Pte. TURRELL, S. A.
14443593 Pte. DEEMING, R.
14432396 Pte. VOSPER, W.
"He either fears his fate too much, Or his deserts are small, That dares not put it to the touch, To gain or lose it all."
Preparations for the Rhine Operation
The battalion returned from Holland to England by sea during the last week of February. Owing to a shortage of shipping, the move was spread over several days. An advance party of about 20 all ranks under the Commanding Officer was the first to return; the remainder of the battalion followed at intervals over a period of three days under Major F. M. BUCHER, the second in command. So it was not until 22nd February that the whole of the battalion was once again in Larkhill. A proportion of the battalion transport, which was not required in England remained in Belgium under the command of the technical Sgt., Sgt. OLDFIELD. For security reasons, the men were forbidden to wear berets and had to remove all Airborne signs, lest their presence on the Continent should disclose the fact that we were soon to return.
The battalion had about four days in barracks before going on a week's leave. During this period all fighting equipment was carefully inspected and checked and demands made for all deficiencies. All our requirements were made good during the leave period.
There were barely three weeks available for training before the date by which all preparations for our operation, which was to be known as "Varsity" had to be completed. The problem which had to be tackled was as follows. First, the battalion had done no parachute training since November, and there were many, who for one reason and another had not jumped for six months. Secondly, since our duties on the Maas in Holland were static, it was important to get all ranks physically fit. Finally it was necessary to ensure that the administrative machine was sound and that all men went into battle properly and efficiently equipped.
There was therefore no time to spare. Against this however there were certain solid advantages, which had been gained during our nine weeks in the Ardennes and Holland. Above all the battalion had been welded into a team and returned fully confident in itself. All ranks had had plenty of experience of night work; in fact on the River Maas we slept by day and worked by night. This experience was to prove, as will be seen, a great source of strength. Finally all ranks had learnt the value of good administration and what it implies.
The training programme was briefly as follows; the day commenced with a road run and walk in the dark at 0630 hours. Although this was not a particularly popular form of entertainment, it was certainly most beneficial. The remainder of the day was spent in trying out weapons on the 30 yards range; in synthetic parachute training under the expert tuition of Sgt. PASCOE of the R.A.F, assisted by the P.T. Staff, C.S.M.I. MCWHINNIE, S.S.Is. SHEDDON and WILLIAMS, and finally in further physical training and marching with full equipment.
During the second week of training, the whole battalion carried out a parachute exercise on the Divisional D.Z. at Netheravon. Each Company in turn did an exercise which was based on their job for the actual operation. During this period the weather was magnificent and not a single day was unsuitable for parachuting.
This training was most valuable, since as far as possible everyone jumped with their full equipment and in their correct stick order. So it was a good dress rehearsal.
All ranks tackled their training with zeal. On one occasion the Commanding Officer visited the 30 yards range where some men were trying out their weapons in their spare time. He was surprised to see them rushing around madly in circles on a hot afternoon and running up to the firing point, where they fired a few rounds from their Stens or rifles and then returning to their antics. On being asked to explain what they were doing, they replied "practicing getting out of breath and shooting Germans". Little did they know that during the next two months they would be chasing the Hun for 400 miles right through the heart of Germany.
On 19th March the vehicle party left for the Continent by sea and the following day the battalion moved by road to a Transit Camp at Wimbush in Essex. Previously, the night before our departure from Larkhill on operations had been a pretty riotous one, with Verey lights, 2" Mortar flares and smoke grenades producing a miniature firework display. However it rained heavily on this occasion, which damped any activities of this sort; this was probably just as well.
The battalion arrived at Wimbush in the evening complete with its fighting equipment and slightly above war establishment in men. There had been a certain number of minor injuries on the parachute exercise and up to the last moment it; looked as if the battalion might be slightly under strength. However a draft of some forty young soldiers, who had just completed their parachute training joined the battalion on the evening before the move. Although they were not experienced soldiers, they were certainly keen to be in the fray; it was not therefore very difficult to find the numbers required from the more experienced of those who volunteered, which was practically every man.
Two days were available for briefing which was just sufficient time. The Commanding Officer, who had been briefed some three weeks before, had given Company Commanders the outline of the plan just before leaving Larkhill. Final orders were issued after dinner on 20th March on an excellent large scale model, which had been made by the Intelligence Section under the Intelligence Officer Lieut. DEAKIN. Each platoon during the next two days was allotted two periods, each of three-quarters of an hour, during which the men were briefed by their commander on the large scale model and with excellent air photographs.
It is perhaps appropriate at this stage to explain the plan. The forces involved in the air operation were the American 17th Airborne Division and ourselves the 6th Airborne Division, which formed the XVIII Airborne Corps under the command of Major-General RIDGWAY, U.S. Army. The plan was to land the two divisions with the Americans on the right and ourselves on the left about eight miles ahead of our ground forces, and some eight hours after the latter had made their crossing of the Rhine. The area selected lay a few miles north of Wesel, and was fairly heavily wooded. For the preliminary softening up, the might of Bomber Command was concentrated on Wesel, which as we saw afterwards was literally flattened as a result of this attack. The areas of the D.Z's were subjected to one and a half hours bombardment by a very large number of guns of all calibres, firing air burst to deal with troops in the open and H.E. on known enemy artillery and flak positions.
The most detailed arrangements were made to ensure that we were re-supplied; no less than three separate forces of aircraft based on the U.K. and the Continent were organised so that, whatever the weather conditions, at least one of these forces would be able to operate. Finally a large number of fighters were employed in protecting the parachute and glider aircraft and giving close support to troops on the ground. The total air effort for the airborne operation must thus have involved thousands of aircraft - a great display of air power. So much for the larger picture of the operation.
The task allotted to the battalion was a simple and straight forward one. It had to seize an area just to the South of the D.Z.; the objective was about one thousand yards in length and included several groups of farm houses. The 7th Parachute Battalion looked after the eastern end of the D.Z., whilst the 13th Parachute Battalion had the task of seizing the western end of the D.Z. The Battalion rendezvous was a wood known as Newmarket, which initially was also to be the rendezvous for Brigade HQ. "A" Company, commanded by Major G. F. RITCHIE, was given the task of securing this wood and some farm houses to the east of it. Next "B" Company, commanded by Major F. J. CROKER, M.C., had as their objective an area containing several groups of farm houses which were named "Farm Square". The R.A.P. was to be located in this area. Finally "C" Company, commanded by Major C. W. STEPHENS, had the task of securing a road junction, which was called Epsom, on the right of the Battalion sector. Bn. HQ. was to be established in a large farm house between "B" and "C" Companies and the mortar and M.M.G. platoons were allotted areas near Newmarket wood with tasks in front of "A" and [?] Companies.
The order of drop was, Brigade HQ., 13th, 12th and 7th Parachute Battalions. The battalion was allotted 33 Dakota aircraft from the IX Troop Carrier Command, U.S.A.A.F., commanded by Colonel LYON. As is the usual American practice these aircraft flew in close formation in "nine ship elements", which meant that from front to rear there would be three lanes of aircraft; in each there would be four sections, each of three aircraft, flying in Vic formation, one behind the other. This enabled the whole battalion to drop simultaneously, thereby producing a big concentration of men in a small area in the minimum time.
The essence of the plan was rapid and decisive action before the enemy could recover from the initial surprise. The fact that the air landings were to take place after and not before the crossing of the Rhine in itself was a surprise for the enemy. The arrival of some 2,500 pugnacious soldiers in an area some 1,200 yards by 1,200 yards in a period of some 10 minutes would be another nasty shock. Companies were therefore ordered to capture their objectives with the first 20 men to arrive at their rendezvous regardless to what platoon these men belonged. In this manner it was hoped that a few men with surprise on their side could accomplish their task rapidly before the enemy knew what was happening.
The remainder of the Company was to follow as rapidly as possible and help in the consolidation. This was the essence of the battalion plan and above anything else was repeatedly emphasised to all ranks. Half an hour after the parachute landings the two gliders allotted to the battalion were to land on our D.Z. Each of these gliders contained a jeep and trailer driven by Ptes. WEIGHILL and BAINES, loaded with reserve weapons and ammunition under the command of R.Q.M.S. Fox, M.B.E.
All ranks were fully briefed by 22nd March and on 23rd March the whole battalion went by motor transport to Boreham airfield to draw 'chutes and fit containers on the aircraft. This gave us an opportunity to get to know the crews who were to fly us. The weather was perfect and it was delightful driving in our trucks through the English countryside, which somehow looked particularly attractive on that day. Just before we left the airfield, the Padre, the Rev. J. O. JENKINS who had been with the battalion in all its previous operations, conducted a short Service in one of the dispersal areas, after which the Commanding Officer said a few final words to all ranks. It was a most inspiring sight to see such a fine body of men, who were so evidently fit and full of confidence. Immediately on our return to camp, all ranks had their evening meal and by 1900 hours were in bed, knowing that reveille was at 0030 hours.
The battalion left by motor transport for the airfield at 0230 hours and arrived just as dawn was breaking. There was an hour and a half before take-off at 0730 hours, in which to complete final preparations and drink a cup of tea, which was distributed to each aircraft by the Quartermaster, Captain E. CLARKE. Then at 0700 hours all ranks emplaned just before all aircraft started up their engines with a mighty roar. Soon the aircraft formed up on the runway and took off punctually at 0730 hours. The weather was perfect with only a five-mile an hour wind forecast on the D.Z.
The jumping strength was close on 600 all ranks; most of the administrative staff joined us across the Rhine having travelled by motor transport, but three cooks Ptes. CLARK, JONES and Cpl. AMPHLETT, jumped with the battalion and were probably the only cooks in the Brigade to do so.
Operation 'Varsity' 24th March, 1945
The aircraft soon picked up their formation and set course for the South coast which was crossed just east of Folkestone; soon they were over France, passing over "bomb alley" just west of Calais. It seemed that in some places there was hardly room for another bomb crater. At this point we caught up with the glider train, which was flying above us at about 2,500 feet. From now on until we landed we gradually, with our superior speed, passed a continuous stream of gliders; the sky seemed full of them. Our course took us not far from where we had been in Holland on the River Maas, at which point we hooked up. It was then barely 20 minutes to the River Rhine. Then the red light went on and each stick stood up ready to jump. It was at once clear that we were over enemy territory, for not only could we see the 'chutes of the 3rd Parachute Brigade on the ground and hear the fighting, but also we could hear the sharp crack of flak, directed at our aircraft. It was now only a matter of minutes. Somehow in spite of the tension, these seemed very peaceful moments. All the hurry and scurry of planning, checking and inspecting was over and all that had now to be done was to jump when ordered. When the green light lit up, there was a shout "green on" from the stick and everyone piled out of the aircraft as fast as they could go.
The scene on the ground was amazing. The D.Z. was covered with a fairly thick haze, possibly the aftermath of the bombing of Wesel; hundreds of men were landing on the fields, in the fences and trees; as fast as they disentangled themselves from their 'chutes yet more parachutists dropped among them from succeeding waves of aircraft, adding to the general confusion. Above all this was the roar of passing aircraft, the sharp crack of small arms fire directed at the men on the D.Z. and the deeper thumps of heavy and light flak. The line of flight was slightly to the north of the D.Z. but otherwise it was a very accurate drop.
We received nothing but help from the American crews of our aircraft, and in spite of considerable flak they flew straight and level over the D.Z. There were certainly two instances of aircraft hit and on fire being flown on until the whole stick had jumped. With the reduced visibility there was greater difficulty than had been anticipated at our rendezvous; in fact the majority of the battalion assembled at a wood similar in shape to the correct one under Major BUCHER, and only a few about eighty, found their way independently to the correct rendezvous. Major BUCHER soon realised that the battalion was at the wrong place and proceeded to lead the battalion across the completely open D.Z. to its correct rendezvous.
The men moved in one long stream during which time they were under constant small arms fire and worst of all, fire from 88 mm guns, which somehow were very much alive on the D.Z. As shells fell among the column, some men fell and were picked up by the stretcher bearers, whilst the remainder moved as straight as a die for the objective. Although there was nothing to be gained by stopping on the D.Z. nevertheless it required considerable determination to keep moving in these circumstances.
The battalion rendezvous was at once under fire at very close range from the self same 88 mm guns and was a very unhealthy spot. Here magnificent work was done by many individuals in sorting out the battalion and directing men to their company rendezvous; Major BUCHER who walked about in a most nonchalant manner in his beret encouraging the men; Major D. M. FREEGARD, O.C. H.Q. Company, R.S.M. PARTRIDGE and Captain B.W. METCALF, who continued at his duties although a bit of shrapnel had removed most of his teeth; all of them and many others set a fine example.
'A' Company who were closest to the rendezvous were the first to secure their objective. No. 2 Platoon, under Lieutenant COOK, rapidly ejected some Germans from a group of farm buildings. Subsequently No. 1 Platoon, under Lieutenant BURKINSHAW, carried out a spirited attack against the 88 mm guns, which were still in action. Without any casualties they captured the guns and crews. With 'A' Company in position the battalion had a firm base from which to operate.
Meanwhile, 'C Company were well on the way towards their objective. Their o'minisli[?] and grab party with Lieutenant REED and Sergeant WILSON in the lead moving rapidly and resolutely, reached their objective and soon cleared all buildings with grenades and Stens. The remainder of the Company followed up rapidly and consolidated, whilst a patrol established contact with a Company of the 12th Devons who had landed by glider. Both 'A' and 'C' Companies had the assistance of some [ninety?] American parachutists who had been dropped rather wide. They were soon at home in our platoons and did good work.
'B' Company in the centre was having a harder fight for their objective. Quite a large party of Germans had collected in the several farm buildings, which had to be assaulted one by one. Lieutenant CATTELL was in charge of the party which was to try and rush the objective; he was slightly wounded but led his men which included Sgts. HOBSON and BAILEY and captured the building which was eventually to be the R.A.P. Some difficulty was experienced in clearing this building and during this phase Lieutenants DELANEY and CATTELL were both wounded; as a result the latter subsequently lost his leg. By now the remainder of No. 4 Platoon had arrived and led by Sgt. DOBSON, M.M. captured the remainder of the Company objective. Captain HOLMES, 2nd. in Command of the Company, who was controlling the rallying at the rendezvous then brought up the remainder of the Company. 'B' Company lost many of their leaders in this action; in addition to the two platoon commanders mentioned above, Lieutenant MUSTOE commanding No. 6 Platoon was dropped wide and captured, whilst C.S.M. WARCUP, D.C.M., B.E.M. was wounded on the D.Z. The Mortar platoon commanded by Sergeant WALKER, and the M.M.G. platoon, commanded by Lieutenant RUSSELL had meanwhile taken up their positions. They were in action within an hour with all their weapons, a most praiseworthy effort, when the heavy weight carried by each man is appreciated. The Signal platoon, commanded by Lieutenant ABSALOM rapidly established communications, and hardly a set was damaged on the drop, a very creditable performance.
With the capture of 'B' Company's objective, our position was secure. The task now was to hold what we had gained; this meant rapid digging and the co-ordination of the defensive lay-out. Whilst this was being done, battalion H.Q. moved from the wood to its final position. Here the immediate task was to collect all the prisoners who numbered about 200 and were rather an embarrassment.
Both the gliders allotted to the battalion were a total loss; as they landed on the D.Z. they were hit by shell fire and were blown up. R.Q.M.S. Fox, Ptes. SAMPSON and WEIGHILL were killed, Pte. RAINES wounded; Pte. STANFORD was the only survivor from the two gliders.
This description of the battle on the D.Z. would be incomplete without mentioning the sterling work of the battalion medical section. On the D.Z. they were tireless in their work of collecting the wounded under fire, in which Cpl. HOUGHTON set a fine example. A stretcher party was bringing in a casualty when a shell landed alongside, wounding one of the stretcher bearers. He at once picked up the stretcher and by his leadership made the party carry the casualty to safety, though still under fire. Captain T. M. WILSON was also outstanding in the manner in which he tended casualties under fire at the battalion rendezvous and subsequently at the Regimental Aid Post, through which some eighty casualties passed in three hours. Captain WILSON and Cpl. HOUGHTON were subsequently awarded the M.C. and M.M. respectively for their gallantry in this action. Our padre, the Rev. J. O. JENKINS who had been with us from our earliest days as a Parachute battalion, was tireless in his work at the Regimental Aid Post in helping to carry stretchers and succouring the wounded. Few men were held in higher esteem by all ranks than our padre whose devotion to his work was an inspiration to us all. The problem of evacuation to the main dressing station was a difficult one, as the battalion jeeps had been destroyed in our two gliders. However it was solved by using farm carts with German prisoners in the hafts.
The fortitude of the wounded was a feature of this stage of the battle. There was a case of a private soldier in 'A' Company who was lying in a ditch with a badly shattered arm; when a medical orderly attempted to give him morphia he said, "Don't bother, it will not be much good to me, go and attend to somebody else." Such was the spirit of these men.
This ended the battle on the D.Z. Such was the completeness of our victory that no counter attack came from the enemy, and by 1400 hours on 25th March, the leading tanks of the 15th Scottish Division appeared, shepherding a long crocodile of German prisoners. During this time, we fed very well on the excellent foodstuffs found in the farm houses; ham, eggs, butter, bottled fruits and suchlike delicacies abounded. The Germans in this area were certainly not short of food. The battalion's casualties during this phase were twenty-one killed, twenty-five missing and forty-five wounded; many of the missing subsequently turned up.
The Advance to Greven
During the morning of 26th March, the Commanding Officer received a warning order that the Brigade would be moving that afternoon. As yet little of our transport which was under the command of the Quartermaster had arrived. However various farm carts were improvised and for a short time the battalion was back in the good old days of horse transport. The battalion moved off at 1430 hours following the 7th Battalion, passed through Hamminkeln and eventually, after a march of some 8 [hours?], went into bivouac in what can best be described as a number of muddy fields two miles East of the River Issel, East of Hamminkeln. Our troops were very thick on the ground in this area and it was difficult to find cover for the night during which it rained heavily.
At this stage there was little news of what was happening elsewhere, except that there was a general movement forward. During the night orders had been issued for the battalion to move along some forest tracks and pass through the 3rd Parachute Brigade who were operating on our right. However on the morning of 27th March plans were changed. After a good deal of hanging about for the word "go", the advance was continued along the main road with the Brigade directed on Erle. We passed through Brunen which had been properly bombed by the R.A.F. and the streets blocked with rubble. After this the battalion left the main road and took to some forest tracks, where there was no sign of the enemy. However a report came from the Airborne Armoured Reconnaissance Regiment, who were operating some way ahead on the Brigade axis that they had bumped some anti-tank guns and infantry and had lost a couple of tanks. The Brigade closed up to this area and the 7th Battalion was given the task of clearing the enemy from their positions in the woods.
During the afternoon the Brigade Commander issued his outline plan to the Commanding Officer. After the 7th Battalion had cleared the road through the Woods, the 13th Battalion were to pass through and establish themselves on the high ground overlooking Erle. Then the battalion was to pass through and capture Erle, which, from the map, seemed to be commanded from some high ground lying to the north. It was therefore decided to seize this first and from there strike into Erle.
However it took longer than expected to dislodge the enemy from their position astride the road, and it was not until 2200 hours that the 7th Battalion after a most spirited attack had completely eliminated this position. The 13th Battalion then moved off across country to their objective. Wireless communications with this Battalion broke down, and the problem now was whether or not to wait for the 13th battalion to report that they had reached their objective before the battalion moved towards Erle. Meanwhile preparatory orders were issued to the battalion order group and the men were fed. By 0200 hours there was still no news and it was decided that the battalion must move if it was to reach Erle before daylight.
Owing to the changed conditions, a new plan was made. It seemed that under cover of darkness the battalion had a good chance of moving across country and establishing itself by dawn in the rear of Erle, astride the enemy's communications leading from it to the East.
The first stage was a night advance of five miles to the area where the 13th Battalion should be in position. By 0400 hours this area was reached and sounds of digging could be heard. This was a tricky situation; it was not certain whether it was the Hun or the 13th battalion who were digging; whilst the 13th Battalion was unaware of the battalion's position. There was therefore quite a good chance of a battle developing in the dark between the two battalions. So a halt of forty-five minutes was made whilst a patrol under Sergeant WILSON established that the 13th Battalion was in fact in this area.
Time was short; there was about one and a half hours of darkness in which to move about 2 miles across country to the battalion's objective. 'HQ' Company under Major FREEGARD was left in the vicinity of the 13th Battalion's position with the battalion transport and the Mortar and M.M.G. platoons. This was done as transport obviously could not move across country and these platoons with their heavy loads would slow up movement. The order of march was 'C' Company with 8 platoon leading, advanced battalion H.Q., 'B' and 'A' Companies. At this point it began to rain which reduced visibility and so the original plan of firing artillery concentrations on Erle during the move across country was abandoned, so that complete surprise could be attained.
The battalion marched on the compass and hit the road leading out of Erle within a hundred yards of where planned. By now dawn was breaking and the objective was still about half a mile away. The battalion then wheeled right moving parallel to the road towards Erle. 'C' Company were just reaching their objective when a German lorry drove at speed down the road towards Erle. A well place grenade sent this lorry, which was loaded with stick grenades up in flames. This fairly put the cat among the pigeons; the Hun positions in this area started firing wildly at the battalion which was moving in very close formation. There was no alternative but to rush the objective before the enemy had time to wake up and gather his wits. Companies surged forward, the men shouting and firing from the hip as they advanced. This certainly nonplussed the Hun and within fifteen minutes each company had reached its objective. Three S.P. guns which had bedded down for the night in the rear of the village woke up with a start and unfortunately managed to make a quick get away down the road without even stopping to fire a shot. 'B' Company and rear battalion HQ led by Major BUCHER and the Regimental Sergeant Major cleared the village of Erle working from rear to front. Within an hour the village was clear and some hundred prisoners had been taken.
So far the Hun had not retaliated; in fact the chief form of amusement at this stage was ambushing Hun vehicles and despatch riders who continued to blissfully motor into Erle from all directions. Some half dozen vehicles were destroyed in this manner. All ranks dug like moles and by the time that the inevitable shelling started were well under ground with good head cover. This was just as well since during the next thirty minutes a heavy concentration of shells and mortar bombs fell mainly on battalion HQ, 'A' and 'B' Companies. But because the men were well dug in, casualties which might have been heavy were light. Four men were wounded, of whom Privates HILL, and MELVILLE subsequently died of their wounds. The enemy's activities were eventually stopped by the counter battery work of the 25th Field Regiment directed by Major OSWALD, M.C. This Regiment had supported the battalion in Holland, and had always met all requirements for fire in a most efficient manner.
During this shelling, the Brigade Commander arrived with some anti-tank guns and medical jeeps, which enabled casualties to be evacuated. He stated that the remainder of the Brigade was moving up to Erle and the battalion was responsible for the northern exits. This meant digging new positions and so there was little rest for anyone during that afternoon.
This was the conclusion of the highly successful battle of Erle, in which the Battalion had marched some twenty miles including a five mile night advance and had captured its objective at the cost of very few casualties. This action showed the value first of cutting the enemy's communications from the rear; secondly in conditions of half light when surprise is lost the importance of speed and dash if the enemy is to be overrun before he can recover his senses; and finally the importance of digging quickly and deeply. Just after dark a draft of one officer and thirty other ranks joined the battalion to replace casualties. The officer was Captain KAUFFMANN who had been the Commanding Officer's Adjutant in the Royal Fusiliers; he went to 'B' Company as second in command to replace Captain HOLMES, who had been slightly wounded. The majority of the men came from Scottish Regiments and proved to be good material.
A Brigade order group was held at 2230 hours and orders were completed soon after midnight. The plan was for the battalion to act as advanced guard to the Brigade; the objective was Coesfield, quite a sizeable town some thirty-five miles North-east of Erle. The route lay for the most part along forest tracks and minor roads. For the advance the battalion had in support No. 3 Squadron, Grenadier Guards, commanded by Major IVOR CROSTHWAITE. The squadron was equipped with Churchill tanks and certainly gave everyone a great feeling of security. This commenced a most fruitful and happy partnership; the battalion's admiration for these men of the Grenadier Guards was only matched by their high opinion of the fighting qualities of the men of the battalion. After a discussion it was decided that the marching portion of the battalion should be lifted by the Squadron, one troop (three tanks) being allotted to each company, which made the battalion completely mobile.
Owing to the lateness of the hour, the Commanding Officer decided to issue orders at 0530 hours, about two hours before the move from Erle. On 29th March the battalion left Erle at 0730 hours with 'A' Company leading and marched about four miles to the rendezvous where the tanks were to be met. The battalion finally moved off at 0900 hours and started to advance along the axis allotted. The first part of the journey was really an excellent exercise in map reading; the maps were not very accurate, the tracks were poor and the country extremely thick. In fact the battalion was operating almost under jungle conditions. After the battalion had covered about twenty miles, the country opened out and in parts was very boggy. Some of the tanks got stuck and so it was decided that they should make a detour by a good road, whilst the battalion moved on foot across country. The remainder of the advance was completed in this manner and by 1700 hours the battalion had reached the outskirts of Coesfield and was ordered to dig in, covering the approaches to the town.
The advance had really been completely uneventful, not a Hun was seen, though dumps of ammunition, which had been recently blown up were passed. Whenever the battalion passed through a village the column was invariably cheered on by the many ''slave" workers, mainly French, working on the farms. By dark the battalion was dug in and there was an opportunity to have a good meal; neighbouring farms producing the delicacies in the shape of hams, eggs, sugar and butter. The Brigade Commander issued orders at 2200 hours for the next day's work The battalion was again to be advanced guard with the Churchills; owing to routes through Coesfield being completely blocked by our bombing, a considerable detour had to be made through some very close country before the proper axis for the Brigade could be used. There was little news of the enemy, but plenty of rumours of S.S. men and Hitler youth lurking in the woods bordering our route. Before the battalion moved off on 30th March (Good Friday), Lieutenant DEAKIN was sent in a jeep to reconnoitre the first part of the route. He returned saying that there appeared to be some road blocks and a few Boche about. A slightly different order of march was now adopted. In order to have fewer men on a tank and thereby not to interfere with its fighting efficiency, only one company was to travel on the tanks whilst the remainder of the battalion moved in troop carrying vehicles. Starting at the head the battalion moved as follows: first a troop of tanks carrying no infantry; then the squadron leader's tank followed by the remainder of the squadron, which carried the leading company. In this way each tank only carried about ten men. The Commanding Officer normally travelled with his command group close to the squadron leader, riding on a scout car provided by the squadron. In this manner close touch was maintained with what was happening in front and at the same time wireless touch was kept with the Brigade Commander, the artillery in support of the battalion and the remainder of the battalion, which moved in bounds as directed under the second in command.
'C' Company who were the leading company moved off at 0930 hours. It was not long before road blocks formed by felled trees were met; these were booby trapped generally in rather an amateur fashion. There were quite a few Boche about, so whilst the road blocks were being moved, various sections of 'C Company searched the neighbouring coverts and flushed quite a few of the enemy out of farm buildings and ditches. Progress was slow as it was not possible owing to the woods to circumvent the road blocks by getting off the road. To save time Lieutenant REED with a section of his platoon was sent ahead with orders to report whether there were any further road blocks. Lieutenant REED moved off and saw a party of Boche retiring down the road. On his own initiative he decided to follow up and became involved with considerably larger forces of the enemy in a hutted camp. During this action he was killed and Pte. ORMISTON wounded, but the remainder of the patrol brought back accurate information regarding the situation.
'C' Company were deployed to clear the woods astride the track, supported by Besa fire from the tanks. This they did rapidly and so at last the column emerged from the woods onto the main road. During this action one of the Honey tanks of the squadron was hit by a bazooka and two of the crew killed.
Our troubles were not however completely over as there was yet another road block consisting of huge concrete squares on the road; this was demolished by fire from a Churchill's six pounder and at last movement was possible along a good road. A halt was called, just as darkness came, at Osterwick, a pleasant, undamaged village; the inhabitants were ordered to remove all road blocks and by 2200 hours the battalion was concentrated and billetted in the village.
At this stage wireless communication with Brigade broke down. However there was only one thing to do - to push on. So the battalion moved off at 0730 hours on 31st March and by midday reached the outskirts of Greven which lay on the River Ems. The enemy seemed much more active here and was firing quite a lot of air burst. After a meal the battalion was ordered to cross the river and occupy Greven.
There was considerable delay before this could be done as the only bridge, which was pretty rickety, was blocked by an armoured car, which had gone through the planking. This took some two hours to clear. Although the 3rd Parachute Brigade had been in Greven for several hours, there were still some Boche who kept on sniping; however no one took much notice of them as they seemed very bad shots. By dark the battalion was in occupation of Greven and each company was fairly well housed, battalion HQ was in the house of the local doctor who from his taste in books was obviously an ardent Nazi. The battalion had now been in Germany exactly a week and had advanced more than one hundred miles. The only day of rest had been the day after the drop on the D.Z; since then it had been continuously on the move without a break. The daily sequence of events was reveille at 0500 hours or so, the whole of the day was spent in moving and fighting and it was not until after dark, when the battalion had dug in and been fed that it was possible to get any rest. In fact between 27th March (the battle of Erle) and the battalion's arrival at Greven on 31st March, it is no exaggeration to say that on an average no one had more than four hours sleep a day, and company and platoon commanders and men on patrol certainly had less.
The fact that the Boche was being beaten, and that the battalion at every step was moving in the right direction alone made it possible to overcome the great fatigue of this period. Never was there a truer saying than that nothing succeeds like success.
The Advance to Osnabruck
The battalion spent 1st April (Easter Sunday) and 2nd at Greven. This gave everyone a rest and a chance to overhaul equipment, On Easter Sunday the Padre went round companies and held short Services for men of platoons in their positions. On 2nd April orders were issued for the advance; on the next day the battalion again had the honour of leading the brigade as advanced guard, with the squadron of Churchills in support. The battalion's first move was up to the Dortmund Ems Canal, where there was a delay of some two hours, whilst various difficulties in connection with the route were settled. However by midday the advance was resumed and within two hours Lengerich was reached. This is quite a large town standing at the foot of a massive ridge, which had been captured by the 6th Air Landing Brigade on the previous day. 'C Company was the van guard travelling on the tanks.
The remainder of the battalion in lorries were debussed at Lengerich as it was rather a bottle neck and being shelled. Once over the ridge the van guard reached the forward positions of the Ulster Rifles, who reported that one of the Churchills operating with them had been knocked out by a gun at the end of the road to their front. After a close inspection, it seemed that there was some object hidden at the end of a straight stretch of road some 800 yards ahead. One of No 3, Squadron's Churchill tanks moved up very cautiously to some cover with the object of knocking out the gun. Unfortunately the gun got its shot in first and disabled the tank though none of crew were casualties.
Another plan had to be made as the situation could now only be dealt with by infantry 'C' and 'A' Companies were detailed for the task. The plan was to move round the left flank with 'C Company leading, whilst the tanks neutralised the objective with Besa fire. In order to mislead the enemy as to the axis of advance the tanks also put down smoke on the right flank. The remainder of the battalion remained behind in reserve under the second in command.
'C' Company moved rapidly through the fields and woods using their own weapons with great effect as they went, until they were within assaulting distance of the 88 m.m. gun. Then No. 8. platoon led by Sergeant WILSON attacked and accounted for the entire gun detachment. 'C Company then pushed up the road to some high ground where they consolidated, collecting some thirty prisoners.
'A' Company had followed up and took up a position in the area where the 88 m.m. gun had been, whilst the remainder of the battalion came up under Major BUCHER. By now darkness was falling and this meant that the tanks could not operate. They were therefore left in harbour to refuel, whilst the battalion continued the advance. For this 'A' Company took the lead as van guard company. There was no alternative but to push on down the road until the enemy was met.
After an advance of about one mile, No. 1 platoon commanded by Lieutenant BURKINSHAW, who were leading reported that sounds of digging could be heard. Shortly after two Boche sentries were met and despatched. By now No. 1 platoon were very close to the enemy who opened fire at point blank range, probably not more than thirty yards. 'A' Company finely led by Major RITCHIE went straight for the Hun positions which were in a small village called Natrup. No. 1 platoon; took the left, No. 2 platoon went straight through the village, whilst No. 3 platoon swung right handed. Lieutenant ADAMS, Private MENZIES and Sergeant TORRIE were all wounded by the same grenade, but Sergeant TORRIE squared the account by killing the Hun concerned with his knife, whilst Lieutenant ADAMS continued to command No. 3 platoon and led it to its objective. It was during this phase that Private WESTERMAN, who took over command of his section did some very good work in clearing some houses on his own initiative; for this action he was subsequently awarded the Military Medal. Some thirty Boche were accounted for including two staff cars which as at Erle blissfully motored through the village after its capture.
In this manner 'A' Company captured Natrup. It was an interesting action as contact was made with the enemy already in position in the dark; the fact that the Boche were ejected from the village at the point of the bayonet was entirely due to the determined manner in which Major RITCHIE and his junior commanders acted.
By now it was close on midnight; since the men had not had a proper meal since 0600 hours, permission was obtained by wireless from the Brigade Commander for a two hour halt for food. 'A' Company were fortunate enough to eat their meal in houses of the village which were lighted by electricity very obligingly provided by the Boche. It was now 'B' Company's turn to take the lead and at 0230 hours the battalion continued the advance. After about an hour, 'B' Company ran into the next enemy position astride the road, and almost immediately Sgt. GERRARD-SMITH was killed on the road. The enemy's position lay at the foot of a dominating feature which was heavily wooded. From the volume of fire, it seemed that it was held fairly strongly; the ground was certainly ideal for a rear guard position.
The Commanding Officer therefore decided that it was not feasible to advance up the axis of the road as had been done at Natrup. From the map, it could be seen that a village called Hasbergen lay on the high ground behind the ridge; at its furthest end there was a road junction, and one of these roads led to the important and well-known town of Osnabruck, some five miles away. The best line of attack seemed to be to establish a force on this road junction and in this way both cut the line of retreat of the enemy from the Hasbergen feature and gain a footing on the high ground. The only way to reach this objective, which was about one and a half miles away, was to move across country. The approach round the right was not favourable, because the enemy appeared to be in greater strength on that flank and because it was thickly wooded. The only alternative was therefore to move round the left. A further advantage of this course lay in the fact that there was a definite break in the line of trees on the ridge, which would both facilitate movement through the woods and be an aid to keeping direction. Whilst this plan was being made, the Brigade Commander arrived at battalion H.Q. and stated that the battalion must seize by dawn this dominating feature, which was the last natural defensive position before Osnabruck.
At this stage an unfortunate incident occurred which taught a good lesson. A message was sent back for the Regimental Aid Post Truck to deal with some casualties. In the dark it drove down the road and straight through our forward positions until it was halted by a German sentry and captured. The lesson was that at night all approaches should be blocked to prevent those ignorant of the situation from passing through our forward positions. This meant that we lost the Padre, Sergeant LOCKE the medical sergeant, Corporal HOUGHTON the medical corporal, Privates FAUNCH and ROBINSON. Fortunately everything turned out all right in the end. Private ROBINSON escaped and rejoined the battalion by dawn; Private FAUNCH was wounded by one of our own shells whilst a prisoner, and was found in a cellar in Hasbergen when it was captured; whilst the Padre and the two N.C.O.'s a couple of days later scragged their guard and rejoined the battalion; finally the truck complete with medical stores was found intact in Hasbergen next morning.
By now it was raining and the time 0430 hours, with dawn at 0630 hours. There was therefore no time to be lost; orders had to be brief and the intention was summed up by saying "we would have a bigger and better battle of Erle." 'A' and 'C' Companies led by advanced battalion H.Q. was to move off at 0510 hours round the left flank with the road junction at the far end of Hasbergen as their objective direction was to be kept by compass. 'B' and 'H.Q.' Companies under Major BUCHER were to remain in their present positions and cover the axis of advance. Owing to the time factor, it was not possible to make a wide detour, which meant that the flank movement must pass very close to the enemy. To make this possible 'B' Company were instructed to make as much noise as possible by fire during the initial stages.
The first phase of the operation would be complete when 'A' and 'C Companies had attained their objective. The second phase would then start; 'A' and 'C Companies were to clear Hasbergen working from rear to front, whilst Major BUCHER's force would advance under its own resources towards Hasbergen along the road. This would have the effect so to speak of grinding the enemy between two mill stones. The flanking force with 'A' Company leading moved off in the rain at 0520 hours covered by suitable noises by 'B' Company. Progress was slow as the route lay through a series of small fields surrounded by wire fences which were cut by parties specially detailed. For one awful moment it seemed that the enemy had spotted 'A' and 'C' Companies as the head of the column came under fire, but this was only temporary and must have been due to indiscriminate firing. Nevertheless the route must have been within [?] yards of the enemy flank positions. The break in the trees was clearly visible as a sign post, and just short of the crest there was a halt to enable the two companies to close up. This took ten minutes and now it was a race against time as there were only twenty minutes of darkness left. The two companies pushed on as fast as possible, struck a road behind Hasbergen where planned, wheeled right and reached the objective unseen and without firing a shot just as dawn broke. 'A' and 'C' Companies occupied the exits from the village astride the main road running through it.
It was now light and whilst all ranks were digging in, each company detailed a platoon to clear the village. This was done within an hour and more than a hundred prisoners were captured. The enemy retaliated with a certain amount of ineffective shelling. Communications with the remainder of the battalion were difficult as the wireless sets had been soaked by the rain.
Meanwhile Major BUCHER'S party had started the second phase of the operation. Between 'B' Company and the forward edge of the wooded ridge there was, on the right of the road, a small row of houses stretching to within two hundred yards of the ridge. On the left was some two hundred yards of open country, a small rectangular wood bordering the road and two hundred yards of open ground before the ridge. 'B' Company were straddling the road on our side of the row of houses in the order Nos. 4, 5 and 6 platoons. The plan had two distinct phases. First 'B' Company were to clear the row of houses on the right of the road. While this was going on, the M.M.G, platoon was to move up the road into a straggling brushwood copse some two hundred yards to the right of the road and just short of the row of houses, to give covering fire to 'B' Company during the second phase, The Mortar platoon was also to move off the road to the right in the cover of a farmhouse with the same object. A mobile fire controller with a thirty-eight set was to move with 'B' Company.
The first phase went well, No. 4 platoon cleared the first three houses of the row and a section of No. 6 platoon under Corporal TIGHE worked their way forward into the most forward house. Unfortunately during No. 4 platoon's initial move Captain KAUFFMANN, commanding No. 5 platoon, who was detailed to lead No. 4 platoon, was killed by a German rifleman at point blank range from the first house.
At first light at 0620 hours the M.M.G. platoon went into action, their task being to neutralise any fire coming from the ridge to the right of 'B' Company, and to engage any enemy who might disclose their presence in the area of another group of buildings some six hundred yards to the right and forward of their position.
Under cover of this and their own covering fire, No. 4 platoon under Sergeant DOBSON crossed the open ground to occupy a row of houses at the forward edge of the ridge, where a track led off to the right and incidentally to the main German positions. The M.M.G.'s as soon as they opened up were engaged by two seventy-five m.m. guns firing from their right front. In spite of intense fire from both 75 m.m. guns and snipers, Sergeant DENNISON fired his guns with extreme coolness throughout and was himself the last man out of the position when ordered to withdraw at 0700 hours. During this part of the action the right flank of the platoon was held by Sergeant JOHNSON and two policemen, the only riflemen available, as all spare men of the platoon were engaged in carrying ammunition. The mortar platoon was unfortunate in that their mobile fire controller could not establish wireless touch and the target area was too close to 'B' Company for a map shoot. They were only able to fire some three to four rounds before Lieutenant MCGUIRE decided that any further firing was likely to cause more casualties to 'B' Company than to the enemy. At 0700 hours it was light; Major CROKER was with Nos. 4 and 6 platoons in the houses under the ridge and No. 5 platoon under Sergeant CLIFFORD was still at the forward edge of the row of houses. Major BUCHER then decided to lead rear battalion H.Q. and No. 5 platoon forward to join Major CROKER who was out of touch, as he had left his wireless set with Company H.Q. This party was pinned by fire after advancing some forty yards and had some difficulty in extricating itself suffering two casualties wounded in the process.
Major BUCHER then called up a troop of Churchills to neutralise the fire, now coming from both sides of the road. As the leading tank which Major BUCHER mounted came forward of the row of houses, a shell from another 75 m.m. concealed in the same area as those which had harassed the M.M.G, platoon, struck the turret and blew Major BUCHER onto the road. Quite unperturbed Major BUCHER returned to the second tank, and ordered the troop commander to send it off to the right of the road in an attempt to outflank the gun positions. Unfortunately this tank was put out of action by slipping a track. During this phase a shell from a 75 m.m. gun struck the house in which battalion H.Q. was situated and killed Private LARGE of the protective section.
The Brigade Commander had visited the forward positions at 0730 hours and to speed up the attack had ordered the 13th Battalion to move up and mount a battalion attack on the position. Fortunately this proved unnecessary. Major BUCHER brought forward the third tank to engage the guns from the road with its Besa. As it opened fire 'B' Company, led by Major CROKER, emerged from the cover of the houses and advanced on the gun position. The Germans had by this time had enough and a white flag was raised. The company which had from its forward positions been sniping the gun crews accounted for five 75 m.m. guns and Germans killed, apart from other casualties inflicted on the enemy in the woods. 'B' Company supported by 'H.Q.' Company had good reason to be proud of this action which was so ably directed by Major F. M. BUCHER. When Major BUCHER'S party had successfully completed their task, the way was now clear for another battalion to continue the advance. At about 1100 hours the 13th Parachute Battalion supported by No. 3 Squadron, 4th Grenadier Guards passed through Hasbergen; it was a most heartening sight for the men of 'A' and 'C' Companies to see this happening.
When the Commanding Officer went round various platoons after the action, he found all ranks in high spirits but very tired. The battalion had been operating for thirty hours continuously; it had led the advance for some twenty-five miles and fought four separate engagements mainly in the dark, in which some three hundred Boche had been killed, captured or wounded; during these operations there had been little time for food, and none for rest; finally during the latter stages of the advance the men had been soaked to the skin at a time when their natural vitality was at its lowest. This action emphasised the lessons of the battle of Erle; it also showed the value of night operations when carried out by highly trained infantry. There is no doubt that the enemy's positions would have been a very tough nut to crack with a daylight assault. As it was, with very few casualties to ourselves the road to Osnabruck was opened. This was the solid achievement of the battalion and one of which all ranks had every reason to be proud. After a few hours rest the battalion moved off and marched to Osnabruck. After some delay owing to the uncertain situation, it passed through the 13th Parachute Battalion and by midnight on 4th April had occupied some modern houses where a comfortable and undisturbed night was spent.
The Advance to Bordenau 6th-7th April, 1945
The battalion spent a couple of nights at Osnabruck which enabled the administrative machine - the butt end of the fishing rod as it was known in the battalion - to be overhauled and moved on 5th April by motor transport to Fried Walde. Osnabruck was impassable owing to the streets being blocked by our bombing, and so the battalion had to make a big detour doubling back on its tracks as far as Natrup, which made the total distance travelled some fifty miles. It was at first rumoured that the Brigade would remain at Fried Walde for some days whilst the 15th Division passed through and took up the chase. However this division could not apparently move up in time and so on 7th April, much to everybody's delight, the Brigade Commander issued orders for the advance to be continued on the next day with the battalion once again acting as advanced guard. The objective for the Brigade was to seize two bridge heads over the River Leine at Neustadt and Bordenau respectively, an advance of some thirty five miles. The orders for the battalion were that the advance was to be made along the route Petershagen, which lay on the River Weser and where bridge heads had already been secured by the 6th Air Landing Brigade, Rosenhagen, Bergkircher Altenhagen to some high ground just North of Wunstorf, some two miles short of the River Leine. From this feature, if conditions seemed favourable, the battalion was to attempt to seize the bridge at Bordenau and form a bridge head. The 7th Battalion was then to seize a bridge at Neustadt which lay about three miles North of Bordenau. The following troops were put in support of the battalion; No. 3 Squadron 4th Grenadier Guards, Reconnaissance Regiment 15th Scottish Division, one troop 4th Air Landing Anti-tank Battery Royal Artillery, one field and one medium battery Royal Artillery. The battalion group was therefore a powerful force.
The Reconnaissance Regiment was given the task of reconnoitring the axis advance and flanks moving about an hour in front of the advanced guard; in fact owing to the speed at which the latter moved, they could never maintain this distance and by the time that the objective was reached, the advanced guard had moved us into the lead. Following the Reconnaissance Regiment came the van guard consisting of the Churchill Squadron and 'C' Company, who by now had brought the business of working with the tanks to a fine art. The two artillery batteries moved by bounds in the gap between the van and main guards so that there was always one battery in action, which enabled all calls for artillery fire to be answered instantly. Finally the remainder of the battalion in troop carrying vehicles under the second in command moved by bounds as directed by the Commanding Officer.
If the objective was to be reached by the evening it was clear that the advanced Guards could not afford to be delayed by small pockets of resistance. So orders were issued that whenever the enemy was encountered, the full resources of fire power available were to be used in a ruthless manner; this meant that any cover such as woods or buildings suspected of holding Boche were immediately engaged by Besas firing tracer and set on fire. This was more than the Boche could stand and he generally either fled or surrendered without further ado.
Reveille was at 0300 hours and 'C' Company joined their tanks on the outskirts Fried Walde at 0530 hours before moving across the River Weser at Petershagen. Here some delay was caused through bridge difficulties, as the tanks had to make a detour owing to a bridge being considered not strong enough to carry their weight. However by 1000 hours the advanced guard was on the move and soon 'C' Company encountered the enemy at Rosenhagen in some woods and buildings. As it seemed that considerable opposition had been met, the main guard consisting of the battalion less 'C' Company were debussed from their troop carrying vehicles and ordered to continue their advance on foot.
Meanwhile the van guard set about the enemy and using the tactics already described, cleared away the opposition after an hour's fighting. The advance then continued on foot for two or three miles and when it seemed that the way was once more clear, 'C' Company remounted their tanks and continued to move at their best speed. After an advance of some twelve miles the Brigade axis passed over a commanding ridge somewhat similar in shape to the Hogs Back; from where a magnificent view was obtained over the plains of Hanover; to the North lay the Steinhuder Lake and to the south, as far as eye could see, there was a magnificent panorama of cultivated country which seemed very fertile. This view recalled the words of Field Marshal Montgomery in his message to all troops before the Rhine inflation in which he said that we would "crack about the plains of Germany chasing the hun from pillar to post"; his directions were being fully carried out.
Soon after leaving this ridge, 'C Company reached the village of Altenhagen which seemed to hold quite a few Boche. Shock tactics were again adopted and after some shells from the seventeen pounder anti-tank guns had been sent bouncing down the street, the Hun either fled into the woods or surrendered. The van guard was now some five miles short of the River Leine and it was necessary to make a decision as to which of the two routes which led to the objective should be taken. The route to the north ran through a series of small villages and eventually led onto the high ground North of Wunstorf which turned out to be an airfield. It seemed that there might be considerable delay in clearing these houses, particularly since the Boche was obviously in this area in some strength. It was therefore decided to take the route to the south which ran through apparently open country, and thereby by-pass the area to the North suspected of holding the bulk of the enemy. The Brigade Commander who at this moment came up to the van guard with the Divisional Commander, Major-General E. L. BOLS, D.S.O. confirmed this decision. It now seemed that there was a good chance of capturing the Bordenau bridge intact if the van guard moved rapidly; the van guard was therefore instructed to "bash on" for the bridge. Since then this phrase which is very expressive has been adopted as the battalion's battle cry and is used to this day.
All went well for three miles and after the van guard had passed through the outskirts of Wunstorf, where some French slave workers gave it a cheer, resistance was met on the perimeter of Wunstorf airfield. The leading tanks were engaged by bazooka men in dug outs at very close range and a certain amount of small arms fire from the airfield.
The former were dealt with by the men of 'C' Company travelling on the tank: whilst many of the infantry in this area came forward and surrendered. Some of the Boche were a curious collection of soldiers as they had one, and in some cases, two wooden legs which amused our men no end. They must have belonged to those battalions formed of men of low medical category who had similar disabilities. Much amusement was caused by one Hun who tried to crawl away through a very young corn field; the poor fellow had never attended a course at the battle school or its German equivalent, and so what the interested spectators of this performance saw was a enormous posterior moving slowly through the cornfield. A few well directed shots brought this ridiculous act to a stop.
This fighting on the edge of the airfield, however, was causing delay, and so it was decided to leave elements of the Reconnaissance Regiment to watch the enemy, while the van guard by-passed the airfield and moved to Bordenau by an alternative route. The bridge was two miles away and the van guard was told to "bash on" and seize the bridge at all costs. This had the makings of an interesting race since the enemy by now must have known that there was trouble brewing, and he might have time to blow the bridge before it could be captured. The Squadron of the Grenadiers had very definite ideas on the subject and covered those two miles at record speed. As the leading tank rounded the last bend, the bridge could be seen intact but on it there was a German lorry with a couple of men moving about, obviously up to no good. So as the column roared along the road parallel to the river a hail of fire from every weapon - Besas, stens, rifles, brens - that could be brought to bear was directed at the lorry. This had the desired effect and the Hun decamped at speed. In a twinkling of an eye the leading tanks were on and over the bridge, men of 'C' Company leapt off the tanks cut the leads to the charges which had been laid to blow up the bridge, and the bridge was ours. This was an exciting finish to the day's advance and the final burst down the straight to the bridge was most dramatic and just like Derby day, with the men shouting and waving their berets urging the tanks on to greater speed, not that this was necessary. A bridge head was rapidly made by the van guard, and shortly after the remainder of the battalion arrived after marching some twenty miles and then being ferried forward in M. T. for the final stage to the bridge. The bridge itself was a fine stone arched affair up to all the weight in the world; at one moment it certainly carried three Churchill tanks. It had been prepared for demolition with aerial bombs; these were now removed by Boche prisoners and dumped in the river.
This brought to a close a very successful day's work; the battalion had moved forty-four miles between 0400 hours and 1700 hours and had captured a class forty bridge intact at the cost of only two casualties, Lieutenant JENKINS and Private CUNNINGHAM both of 'C' Company; many Boche had been killed and hundreds more taken prisoner but these owing to speed of advance had to be left behind on the route. Finally the battalion had the satisfaction of learning that it was the furthest into Germany of any troops in 21 Army Group at the end of that day. Success was due to the fine co-operation between the men of 'C Company and the Grenadier's tanks; it was entirely due to the latter's magnificent support and bold handling that all resistance was rapidly crushed with so few casualties to our own troops. The fine work of this Squadron was later recognised by the award of the Distinguished Service Order to its commander Major IVOR CROSTHWAITE. This brought to an end the happy partnership between the battalion and No. 3 Squadron of the 4th Grenadier Guards which left for operations elsewhere with another formation. However, their share in the day's work was put on record by erecting a large sign on the bridge which bore the inscription "Yorkshire Grenadier Bridge". To complete the picture, the Provost Sergeant - Sgt. JOHNSON - produced a large flag pole and hoisted on it the battalion flag, which had been made and presented to the battalion by the Ladies of Scarborough during a tour in Yorkshire in November, 1944. It is worth noting that this flag accompanied the battalion wherever it went and was generally carried in Sergeant JOHNSON'S pack.
The Advance to the Baltic
The battalion spent some five days at Bordenau on the banks of the River Leine; the first two nights were quite eventful in one way and another. Various parties of Roche, who had been cut off on the wrong side of the river tried to filter over the bridge during the night in small parties. But the sentry groups of 'B' Company which had been well schooled in their duties whilst on the River Maas in Holland were ready for them. Two sentry groups of No. 4 platoon commanded by Sergeant DOBSON, M. M. and No. 5 platoon commanded by Sergeant CLIFFORD bagged two parties of Boche, killing or capturing them all. During one of these incidents Major CROKER M.C., commanding 'B' Company, hearing a commotion, went outside the rickety house which was his HQ only to be met by a burst of Schmiesser fire from a straggler; he was wounded in three places but luckily not very seriously. Owing to this casualty Major FREEGARD took over command of 'B' Company and Major FOSTER went to command HQ Company. On the second night the Boche brought up some self propelled guns and shelled the battalion area very heavily for half an hour; however the battalion was well dug in with head cover over all slit trenches and no casualties were suffered, although two Gunner Battery Commanders were seriously wounded when battalion HQ received two direct hits. This was yet again a good lesson that it pays to dig. Most evenings a single M.E. 109 would fly over the bridge presumably on reconnaissance, for it never took any offensive action; this gave the Bofors gunners who were deployed round the bridge some good practice. On one night the visitor was shot down, but it is believed that Brigade HQ claimed this bird. It was while the battalion was at Bordenau that news was received that the ambulance, which had been evacuating Lieutenant JENKINS and Private CUNNINGHAM, had been ambushed on its way back and Lieutenant JENKINS wounded and captured and Private CUNNINGHAM killed. This was cruel luck. Before leaving Bordenau a draft of twenty-five reinforcements joined the battalion and like the first batch of reinforcements soon proved themselves valuable members of the battalion.
On 12th April the battalion moved by motor transport to Celle, a large town on Luneburg Heath which had been the centre of the German Chemical Warfare units. The billets here were very good. By now the battle for Uelzen was being fought by the 15th Scottish Division and the battalion had a chance to rest. However to fill in the time, the battalion went out one day Boche hunting, beating the neighbouring woods where there were the usual reports of SS men lurking. The hunt however drew a complete blank except for one Boche straggler who was shot.
From Celle the battalion moved on by stages through a series of smelly villages to Wellendorf which lay just to the East of Uelzen. Based on an inaccurate report from the Reconnaissance Regiment, an abortive attack was carried out on this village which was reputed to hold some three hundred Boche; in fact there was not a sign of the enemy in the place. It was about this period that various plans were made for the battalion to take part in a parachute operation over the River Elbe, which was the last great obstacle in our path. There were many uncertain factors in the plan, not the least of which were how many aircraft would be available and what airfields could be used. At one time the battalion had one advance party sitting on Rheine airfield two hundred miles to the West, whilst another advance party was reconnoitring billets in the vicinity of Kuneburg airfield. Eventually the battalion moved to a third place and the operation was cancelled. Whilst at Wellendorf, Major-General R. N. GALE, D.S.O., O.B.E., M.C. who commanded the Division in Normandy visited the battalion and addressed all ranks; he praised the men for the sterling work they had done both in these operations and in Normandy, and said that by their deeds they had won for the battalion a name second to none among parachute battalions, which made all ranks very proud of the battalion to which they were lucky enough to belong.
From Wellendorf the battalion moved on 27th April to some villages nearer to Luneburg and after a couple of days marched some thirty-five miles to cross the River Elbe at Lauenburg, where the 15th Scottish Division had secured bridge heads two days previously. It was clear that the end of the war was in sight and soon after bivouacing in a wood over the River Elbe, the Commanding Officer received orders for what was to prove the final advance on 1st May. The objective was given as the town of Wismar on the Baltic some fifty miles away. Appropriately enough the battalion supported by Cromwell tanks of the Airborne Armoured Reconnaissance Regiment again had the task of acting as advanced guard to the Brigade; much of the route lay along inferior roads and so it seemed that movement would have to be fast, if the objective was to be reached before dark. A few pockets of resistance were met during the first part of the advance, but they were of little account. One of the villages which the battalion passed through was full of our prisoners, many of them from Airborne units. The arrival of our men was greeted with tremendous enthusiasm; one prisoner was heard to say "You have been a long time coming but thank God you have arrived at last". The prisoners did not seem to be in too good a physical condition and our men threw out such rations as they had as they passed. Just before reaching Gadebusch the battalion had the unpleasant experience of being attacked in error by our own rocket firing Typhoons. The aircraft realised their mistake before much damage was done, though two casualties were caused among the crew of a carrier of the Airborne Armoured Reconnaissance Regiment.
At Gadebusch the axis of advance joined that of the 3rd Parachute Brigade; the square of the town was a seething mass of transport, German soldiers trying to surrender and German civilians. As the 3rd Parachute Brigade was already on its way to Wismar, the battalion's objective was altered to a village called Mecklenburg which lay some three miles to the South of Wismar. The object of the exercise was now no longer to fight the Germans who were surrendering in thousands, but to reach Mecklenburg before the Russian forces; in short it was a case of "bashing on". It was evident that the latter were not very far away from the speed at which the German troops were moving towards us. This was the difficulty, as the continuous stream of vehicles, horse drawn transport and refugees completely blocked the roads, and it was only by taking firm action in turning all such transport off the road that it was possible to make any headway. By 1600 hours the battalion reached Mecklenburg and after the approaches to the village had been secured, the battalion was fully occupied in receiving the surrender of hundreds of prisoners who marched in under their own commanders to give themselves up. By night there were some four thousand prisoners in the battalion cage. Another problem was the refugees who poured in riding on every form of transport; to prevent them cluttering up the routes, which were required for our own maintenance, they were turned off the road at Mecklenburg and told to camp in a field where the local burgomaster was made responsible for feeding them. Within two days the prisoners had all been evacuated, the litter in the village cleared up and normal life resumed. Contact was made with the Russian forces who had by now moved up to the so called "frontier" between the two armies. Conversations generally had to be conducted through the medium of two interpreters, which was a slow and laborious business.
Two events stand out during these last days in Germany. First was VE Day on 8th May when a special programme was arranged. In the morning the Padre conducted a Service of Thanksgiving for our victory and remembrance for all those who had laid down their lives fighting with the battalion. After this Service the inhabitants were assembled and told in plain language that Germany had been defeated; Private YOUNG acted as interpreter and seemed to make the most or the high sounding phrases he used. In the afternoon the final of the inter platoon football competition was played. The mortar platoon beat No. 6 platoon of 'B' Company and were given the choice of prizes which were a suckling pig and a couple of geese. Surprisingly enough they chose the geese and so No. 6 platoon removed the pig amid much squeaking and snorting. For the evening an enormous bon-fire consisting of petrol and wood was prepared; on its top was placed a very life like effigy of Hitler holding a Nazi hag. As darkness fell the Commanding Officer moved at his best speed on a large grey horse to the bon-fire where the battalion was assembled; amid great scenes of enthusiasm the fire was lit, Hitler with flag disappeared in a sheet of flame and the sky was lit up with a fire work display produced by firing 2" Mortar flares and very lights. This was followed by a sing song accompanied by piano accordions, and those who felt thirsty refreshed themselves with some rather inferior German red wine which was all that could be obtained. This brought to a close a historic day and nobody could be but thankful that victory in Europe had at last been won; the bon-fires which could be seen burning all round the country side seemed to be symbolic of light returning to the world after so many years of darkness.
The other occasion, which will be remembered by all who were there, was the battalion Gymkhana which was held on 12th May. This was run as a battalion exercise, every company being allotted a job to do. Thus 'A' Company were responsible for horse events, 'B' Company for shooting and obstacle races, 'C Company for sports and 'H.Q.' Company for a variety of very ingenious side shows. The pioneers excelled themselves by constructing a full sized stand for spectators. Great preparations were made for the horse events and the neighbourhood was scoured for suitable mounts. As the demand far exceeded the supply, all horses had to be very carefully guarded otherwise they disappeared during the night. This in fact happened to a German officer's charger which Private PORTEOUS was looking after for the Commanding Officer. As a result of discreet enquiries it was found in the Brigade HQ stables some two miles away; an officer at this HQ, who is a well-known jockey in private life, expressed considerable surprise at this horse being found in his stables and stated he could not understand how it got there; Private PORTEOUS however had some very definite ideas on the subject! To produce the right atmosphere Sergeant BAILEY acted as bookie and dressed up perfectly for the part. Special arrangements were made with an American Air O.P. Squadron to fly Sergeant BAILEY to the Gymkhana ground, where he landed in the guise of a representative of the well known firm of Scotland and Co. Private FLETCHER, Major BUCHER'S batman, looking every inch a chauffer, met Sergeant BAILEY at the aircraft in a large German Staff car and drove him to the grand stand where he was given an enthusiastic welcome. The "bookie" showed his appreciation by distributing cigars to all and sundry.
Every sort of event was held; open jumping and a mile race both of which were won by Private PORTEOUS on a useful grey horse; musical chairs; a V.C. race which was won by Private WALKER of 'C Company; a pig race; pillow fighting on a greasy pole and finally a turn out competition for horse and cart. The men took infinite pains painting their carts and grooming their horses; this event was judged by the Divisional Commander and the winning entry was a well turned out tandem driven by Corporal CROSSLEY, impersonating Hitler, with Private O'GRADY as Himmler and Private ROGERS. Altogether this was a fine day's sport which gave the men something to do during a period when time might have hung rather heavily on their hands. A few days later it was announced that the battalion would soon be returning to England preparatory to service in S.E.A.C. - the old tag that B.L.A. stood for "Burma looms ahead" had come true. The battalion left Mecklenburg for England on 18th May and flew home from Luneburg airfield.
This brings to an end the story of the battalion's operations in Germany, but it would be incomplete without saying a word about the Quartermaster and his staff, whose work though not very spectacular was absolutely vital for the fighting efficiency of the battalion. It was a very comforting thought to know during a battle that whatever the difficulties, the battalion would never lack the food, water, ammunition and replacements of equipment required to maintain it in action. This was due to the untiring work of the shoemakers, cooks, armourers, drivers, fitters, carpenters and many others in the administrative platoon under the able command of Captain E. CLARKE.
During the period 24th March to 1st May the battalion crossed four of the five; great rivers; of Germany - the Rhine by air, the Ems and Weser by motor transport, and the Elbe on foot; advanced nearly four hundred miles right through the heart of Germany; and finished by linking up with the Russians on the Baltic.
There are many lessons which can be drawn from these operations - the value of night operations and surprise; the importance of keeping the initiative once it has been gained; the technique of co-operating with tanks and maintaining the momentum of the attack, but without doubt the greatest lesson of all is the importance in war of those moral qualities which make success possible. Two of these were outstanding in the battalion; one was the fighting spirit of the men and their determination to close with the enemy whenever met. This attitude of mind could not have been better expressed than by the battalion's battle cry - Bash On. The other was the splendid spirit of co-operation which existed between all ranks; every man played his part in the game to the best of his ability, sinking his own interests in favour of those of the battalion, and as everyone knows team play always wins.
12TH BN. (YORKSHIRE) THE PARACHUTE REGT.
Order of Battle as on 24th March, 1945
Commanding Officer - Lt.-Col. K. T. DARLING
Second in Command - Major F. M. BUCHER
Adjutant - Capt. B. W. METCALF
Assistant Adjt. - Lieut. PALEN
R.S.M. - R. S. M. PARTRIDGE, B.E.M.
Orderly Room Sgt. - Sgt. C. GOWER
Orderly Room Cpl. - Cpl. C. BRAILOIU [?]
Provost Sgt. - Sgt. JOHNSON
Provost Cpl. - L/Cpl. THOMAS
'HQ' Company Order of Battle as on 24th March, 1945
Coy. Comd. - Major D. M. FREEGARD
C.S.M. - C.S.M. THORNE,
A.C. C.Q.M.S. - C.Q.M.S. CUSWORTH, J.
'I' Officer - Lieut. DEAKIN T
'I' Sgt. - Sgt. LLOYD
Sig. Officer. - Lieut. J. H. ABSALOM
Sig. Sgts. - Sgt. SMALL, Sgt. DICKERSON
Sig. Cpl. - Cpl. WOOLNOUGH
Comd. - Sgt. WALKER
Det Comds. Sgt. PIERSON, Sgt. MORLEY, Sgt. DOWNES, Cpl. MONGER
Det. Cpl. - L/Sgt. LEACH
M.M.G. Comd. - Lieut. T. K. D. RUSSELL
Pl. Sgt. - Sgt. K. DENNISON
Sec. Comds. - Sgt. KILKENNY, L/Sgt. GRAY
Anti Tank Pl.
Pl. Comd. - Lieut. G. PLEYDELL
Pl. Sgt. - Cpl. BROOKS
Captain Q.M. - Capt. Q.M. E. CLARKE
R.Q.M.S. - R.Q.M.S. Fox, M.B.E.
Admin. Officer - Capt. FIRTH
M.T.O. - Lieut. COAKES
M.T. Sgt. - Sgt. MARRIOTT
M.T. Cpl. - Cpl. HAZELWOOD
Tech. Sgt. - Sgt. OLDFIELD
R.M.O. - Capt. WILSON
Padre - Rev. J. O. JENKINS
Med. Sgt. - Sgt. LOCKE
Med. Cpl. - Cpl. HOUGHTON
Cook Sgt. - Sgt. FERRIS
Cook Cpls. - Cpl. AMPHLETT, Cpl. CARTWRIGHT
Q.M.S.I MCWHINNIE, S/Sgt. SHEDDON, S/Sgt. WILLIAMS
Sgt. HUGHES, Sgt. GRANT
Shoemaker - Cpl. FLANAGAN
'A' COMPANY ORDER OF BATTLE AS ON 24TH MARCH, 1945
Coy. Comd. - Major G. RITCHIE
Second in Command - Capt. G. FOSTER
C.S.M. - C.S.M. GRIMES, L.
C.Q.M.S. - C.Q.M.S. C. SIMPSON, B.E.M.
No. 1 Platoon
Pl Comd. - Lieut. BURKINSHAW
Pl Sgt. - Sgt. PAYNE, W.
No. 1 Sec - Cpl. YOUNG, K.
No. 2 Sec - Sgt. RHIND, S.
No. 3 Sec - Sgt. HORN, C.
No. 2 Platoon
Pl Comd. - Lieut. C. E. COOK
Pl Sgt. - Sgt. VASEY, J.
No. 4 Sec - Sgt. STEPHENS, F.
No. 5 Sec - Sgt. HESLIN, H.
No. 6 Sec - Sgt. SANGSTER, F.
No. 3 Platoon
Pl Comd. - Lieut. I. ADAMS
Pl Sgt. - Sgt. PRATT. A.
No. 7 Sec. - Sgt. TORRIE, J.
No. 8 Sec. - Sgt. CARLSON, L.
No. 9 Sec. - L/Sgt. HURRING, A.
'B' COMPANY ORDER OF BATTLE AS ON 24TH MARCH, 1945
Coy. Comd. - Major E. J. O'B. CROKER, M.C
Second in Command - Capt. D.E. HOLMES
C.S.M. - C.S.M. WARCUP, J., D.C.M., B.E.M.
C.Q.M.S. - C.Q.M.S. Fox, H.
No. 4 Platoon
Pl. Comd. - Lieut. CATTELL
Pl. Sgt. - Sgt. J. W. DOBSON, M.M.
No. 1 Sec. - Sgt. G. BAILEY
No. 2 Sec. - Sgt. I. SCARTH
No. 3 Sec. - Sgt. HARDING
No. 5 Platoon
Pl. Comd. - Lieut. H. E. DELANY
Pl. Sgt. - Sgt. R. CLIFFORD
No. 4 Sec. - Sgt. A. STEWART
No. 5 Sec. - Sgt. KERR
No. 6 Sec. - Cpl. A. STANLEY
No. 6 Platoon
Pl. Comd. - Lieut. M. MUSTOE
Pl. Sgt.- Sgt. RIPLEY, L.
No. 7 Sec - Sgt. SERCOMBE
No. 8 Sec. - Sgt. OTTMAN
No. 9 Sec. - Cpl. TIGHE
'C' COMPANY ORDER OF BATTLE AS ON 24TH MARCH, 1945
Coy. Comd. - Major C. W. STEPHENS
Second in Command - Capt. J. CUTHBERT
C.S.M. - C.S.M. HEMS, F.G.
C.Q.M.S. - C.Q.M.S. COMMONS, J.K.
No. 7 Platoon
Pl. Comd. - Lieut. K. JENKINS
Pl. Sgt. - Sgt. MURRAY, W.
No. 1 Sec. - Cpl. WILLIMENT
No. 2 Sec. - Sgt. DANGERFIELD, V.
No. 3 Sec. - Sgt. MARTIN, B. L.
No. 8 Platoon
Pl. Comd. - Lieut. T. REED
Pl. Sgt. - Sgt. WILSON, S.
No. 4 Sec.- Sgt. REYNOLDS, K.
No. 5 Sec. - Sgt. KITCHENER, L.
No 6 Sec. - Sgt. SMALL, W.
No. 9 Platoon
Pl. Comd. - Lieut. S. MATTHEWS
Pl. Sgt. - Sgt. BOTTING, S.
No. 7 Sec. - Sgt. THOMPSON, J.
No. 8 Sec. - Sgt. GERRARD-SMITH.
No. 9 Sec. - Sgt. MONAGHAN, M.
24th March - 24th March - D. Z. Hamminkeln
27th March - 28th March - Erle
29th March - Coesfield
30th March - Osterwick, Hopinger, Laer, Attenberg
31st March - 2nd April - Greven, Schmedhausen, Ladbergen, Lengerich, Hasbergen
3rd April - 4th April - Osnabruck ,Malbergen, Mentrup, Hutte, Droper, Kloster, Osede, Schledehausen, Bad Essen, Dahling, Holzhen, Blasheim, Hemmern
5th April - 6th April - Freide-Walde, Petershagen, Lahde, Lohr, Munchshagen, Bergkirchen, Hagenburg, Altenhagen
7th April - 11th April - Bordenau, Neustadt, Osterwald, Resse, Rissendorf, Fuhrberg
12th April - 15th April - Celle, Eschede, Beyhausen, Neinwohlde
16th April - 17th April - Stederdorfe, Karhlstorf
18th April - 26th April - Wellendorf, Uelzen, Hostusen, Betzendorf, Beverbeck, Velgen
27th April - 29th April - Bornsen, Bienenbuttel
30th April - Rederbeck, Neitze, Jungenstorf, Lauenburg
31st April - Bivouac in Woods, Boizenburg, Gresse, Gadesbusch
1st May - Mecklenburg
DECORATIONS AWARDED TO THE BATTALION
Distinguished Service Order
Lieutenant-Colonel K. T. DARLING
Major F. M. BUCHER
Major G. F. RITCHIE
Captain T. M. WILSON, R.A.M.C.
No. 7346272 Corporal H. HOUGHTON, R.A.M.C.
No. 1798753 Private J. D. WESTERMAN
American Silver Star
Captain B. W. METCALF
Mentioned in Despatches
Lieutenant P. BURKINSHAW
No. 4743151 Sergeant S. WILSON
No. 4343685 Sergeant J. VASEY