8th Rifle Brigade - from Normandy to the Baltic - June 1944 - May 1945

HISTORY   –   D-DAY TO VE-DAY

This page, on the battalion’s history from D-Day to VE-Day, is a ‘work in progress’. Currently it is being worked on on the basis of original text from the following contemporary sources: the battalion’s War Diary [13, 14] – as kept during the war, by Adjutant Captain Nat Fiennes – and the Company Histories published immediately after the war, by E [10], F [11], G [1] and H Company  [12]. At some later stage also information from other sources will be added, such as contemporary histories of other units within the 11th Armoured Division, or more recently published literature, e.g. on operations like Epsom or Goodwood, or on the fighting in Germany, at the end of the war. Where no reference to literature is made, descriptions are based on own research, again often based on contemporary sources, such as war diaries, GSGS maps and CWGC information. All sources used can be found on page ‘Bibliography & Links’.

6 to 12 June 1944 – From D-Day to landing in Normandy (England to France)

Liberty ship, note camouflage and landing craft. 
For other maps and photos, see elsewhere on this website.

 

‘It was the 6th of June. Breakfast as usual – and back to the barrack rooms. Then somebody said, “We’ve landed in France!” Silence – the silence of doubt, incredulity, amazement.’ ‘We found a radio and listened; and at a quarter to ten General Eisenhower spoke, and we knew for ourselves. At last it had come!’ ‘F Company left Aldershot on June 8th. and went by road to Tilbury Docks where we embarked for Normandy.’ ‘So it was that on that memorable day of Saturday, June 10th, we sailed away from Tilbury at 2.30 p.m.’ ‘The holds where we slept were fitted out with hammocks and smelt strongly of meat.’ ‘Eventually all embarked on two Liberty ships, India City and Samsip, and thoughts turned to speculation about the crossing, imagination painting grim pictures of U-boat and dive-bomber attacks.’ ‘However, all passed without incident; we were neither shelled nor attacked from either sea or air.’ The battalion’s war diary mentions: ‘Uneventful voyage, fine weather; together with unlimited quantities of food, send morale up very high.’

13 June 1944 – The Normandy Beachhead (France)

13 June – Getting ashore

‘On Tuesday morning at the crack of dawn we anchored off the coast of France.’ It was 13 June 1944, one week after D-Day and 3 days after embarkation at Tilbury Docks. ‘Everyone was up early to get a glimpse of the country we had come to, the Normandy Beachhead. The sea was black with ships and we were all surprised that we were left well alone by the Luftwaffe to disembark at our ease. We anchored about three miles off the shore.’  ‘The unloading of men and vehicles was executed by Landing Craft after hours of waiting. They were manned mostly by sappers who thought nothing of ripping off a mudguard from one of our newly-painted vehicles.’ ‘Vehicles were picked out of the hold by the ship’s derricks and lowered into the LCT. The crews had to scramble down a rope ladder. As each LCT was loaded it set off for the shore.’ ‘There was more deck space in our landing-craft than we had realized, but the vehicles were nose to tail and had their sides nearly touching, so we were well crowded.’ ‘The coastline became more distinct as we approached and we perceived there were sand-dunes at the top of the beach in front of the village.’ ‘The bottom of the craft grated against the shingle – it shuddered, then came to a standstill. The ramp went down.’ ‘We then drove down the ramp, into four feet of sea water, and we were ashore somewhere near Graye-sur-Mer.’ Another company’s history tells us: ‘After many days of work and preparation waterproofing our trucks in England, it was heartbreaking to find that not even the tyres got wet on some of our vehicles.’

Beach near Courseulles sur Mer, June 1944. 
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8RB’s route from the beach to Creully. 
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13 June – Getting inland

‘…we turned to have a final look at the sea. It was early evening now and the rain had ceased. The sun was shining on the sea and ships…’ ‘We passed the summit [of the dunes] and the rolling Normandy countryside opened up before us. Everywhere there were cornfields, all gently waving in the summer breeze.’ ‘We had no order where we had to go, instead MP’s waved us on at every cross roads, although they did not know themselves where we were going.’ ‘We passed a farm. An aged farmer, clad in old black trousers and a faded blue dungaree jacket, stood by the gate…’ ‘He did not smile…’ ‘Then we saw his broken farmhouse, and we realized why he had not waved.’ ‘Our route took us through a little town called Creully.’ ‘We turned left at Creully…’ ‘We continued to Lantheuil…’ ‘From about 1800 hours the Battn. began to arrive in driblets in a small orchard in the little village of Cully.’ ‘As our vehicles drove under the fruit trees a shower of young, unripened apples cascaded down upon us…’ ‘When we arrived we dug our first operational slit trenches but the spirit of Exercises in England was still  on us and after reaching a token depth most of us got down to sleep.’  ‘We had been in bed but a few minutes, when it started. The whole sky appeared to become a mass of red tracer and searchlights. The Luftwaffe was out to pay its nightly visit to the beaches.’ 

14 – 25 June 1944 – Forming regimental groups, around Cully (France)

‘Bn. remains in conc area, less ‘G’ and ‘H’ Coys who move out to join Armd Regts in their conc areas’, which for E and F Company meant that ‘the next ten days were spent in de-waterproofing and preparing for battle at Cully.’ H Company on the 18th ‘moved to Coulombs, …where we joined our armoured regiment, the 23rd Hussars. In the evening one could go out and there was a small Estaminet nearby where the only drink sold was Calvados, a drink one buys when it is the only drink sold.’ G Company ‘two days later received orders to move to… the other side of the village, where we were to join our friends of the 3rd Royal Tank Regiment.’ ‘…each motor company was attached to an armoured regiment, and under its command, to form a “regimental group.” ‘ While E Company retained its role as support company to the other three companies, F Company had been joined at Coulombs by the 2nd Fife and Forfar Yeomanry. ‘Days passed. The young expeditionary force was getting organized. Mail was arriving daily, also papers, which were only two days old, and that seemed very reasonable.’ Then on June 25th ‘we received orders for Operation Epsom’

Details of map GSGS 4347 – Thaon, showing Cully and Couloms. 
For other maps and photos, see elsewhere on this website.

 

25 June 1944 – Operation Epsom, the plan (France)

– – – Text to be added at a later date – – –

22 August 1944 – Advance to L’Aigle (France)

 

‘The next morning we [H Coy] moved off again and before long had our first encounter with enemy mines. The enemy had blown a bridge in the centre of a village called Ste. Gauburge, and we tried to find a way round the obstacle. In the meantime oil drums, sleepers etc., were collected in an attempt to fill in the hole, and the whole village turned out, complete with some very reasonable champagne, to watch us at work. Eventually a civilian showed Major Hagger the way round and we moved on.’12 ‘James Ramsden [9 Platoon, G Coy] and the carriers… found an excellent way round and we arrived much quicker than we had dared to hope on the broad highway to Laigle, up which we streamed in no uncertain manner, getting an enthusiastic welcome from the civilians all along the way.’1 H Company ‘…after a short advance of 5 miles, against no opposition we stopped for the night near the village of Rai sur Risle, just outside L’Aigle. The most noticeable feature of the day, was how very much more pleased the people were to see us, than the farmers of Calvados had been.’12  ‘…James… entered Laigle on the 22nd of August, a date which marked a milestone in our long march of liberation. Their reception was terrific, and after doing a victorious tour of the town they rejoined us as we moved into a pleasant field which we learnt was to be our home for the next few days.1

Bailey bridge replacing destroyed bridge over River Risle at L'Aigle, 23 August 1944 - IWM B9650

23 – 27 August 1944 – Five days’ rest around Ray-sur-Risle (France)

British troops bathing (Normandy) - IWM B9022

 

After two months of fighting, from 23 to 27 August, the battalion ‘…in beautiful weather had our first real rest, without being able to hear the guns.’12 ‘We had been fighting quite hard up to then and the contrast of the beautiful surroundings, and the peace and quiet which we all enjoyed, did everyone a lot of good.’12 Also E Company ‘…moved on to the little village of Rai where we had five very pleasant days, unfortunately marred by the death of Rfn. Watkin in a grenade accident. It was surprising how much was crowded into this short period of rest. A mobile bath unit made a welcome appearance on the second day. Swimming in the river was popular and there were cinema shows for the less active. NAAFI rations came up and many of us enjoyed the fine hospitality of the villagers. Some of the Company even went to a dance at L‘Aigle…’10 ‘…to which, unfortunately, very few of the gentle sex came…’1 ‘And, last but not least, much valuable work was done in the form of reorganisation and preparation for our next party. Reinforcements arrived, and Mickey McCrea returned to the Company just before the time once more came to think in terms of orders of battle and centre lines.1   

28 August 1944 – Crossing the River Seine at Vernon (France)

G Company ‘…said farewell to Laigle early in the morning of the 28th of August, having previously teamed up again with our “sandy” friends, the 3rd Royal Tank Regiment. Our route lay along very dry and dusty roads through Evreux and we harboured just short of Vernon, where we had time for a very welcome meal and brew.’1 E Company, on ‘…the morning of the 28th August… moved off through L‘Aigle, Bretteville, Damville, Pacy and Chambrai and harboured at St. Pierre de Bailleul, about 8 miles from Vernon, overlooking the R. Seine. At dusk we were on the road again and crossed the Seine at Vernon by the bridge made by the 43rd Division.’10 H Company also ‘…in the evening crossed the river and moved up to our concentration area near the village of Tilly, from where we were going to break out of the 43rd Division’s bridgehead.’12 G Company ‘…immediately after crossing the Seine… came upon a knocked-out Tiger tank, still smouldering, and lying on it several charred bodies. Nightfall found us in some fields on the high ground just across the river, with the sound of battle very close ahead.’1

29 – 30 August 1944 – From the Seine to Amiens (France)

German Schwimwagen, captured by 23rd Hussars, in Normandy. 
For other maps and photos, see elsewhere on this website.

 

‘F Company was again under command of the 2nd. Fife and Forfar Yeomanry. Slight opposition was met on the first day of the re-continued advance at a place called Etrepagny, where a full Company attack was put in with some very welcome support from our 3” Mortar detachments and also the tanks; this was too much for the enemy… We were now making for Amiens with all possible speed, and there was nothing to stop us.’ ‘Throughout the drive the machine gunners [from E Company] were protecting the flanks of the column and during the day travelled across country. This was no easy task with such a fast moving column…’ ‘Kenneth Chabot…, on rejoining us [G Coy] for the night was, to his great surprise and horror, ordered to take a patrol out to see whether Amecourt was held. The patrol consisted of 12 Platoon and a section of carriers, and Kenneth, having recovered from the first shock, and having steadied himself with a large swig from the whisky bottle, sallied forth into the night with his party.’ After a long and adventurous patrol, the village was found to be held and eventually by-passed by the 8th Rifle Brigade. ‘Tremendous excitement prevailed when we heard that we were going to cover the last forty-eight miles in a dash through the night. We pushed on without even a moon to guide us through the early hours…’ ‘…the advance began in the pouring rain…’ ‘In general, enemy opposition on the way was either “brewed up” or run over. German vehicles joined the column from side roads and sometimes travelled several miles with us before we realised their presence.’ ‘Sgt. Triggs [of H Coy] experienced this when a small car and a lorry pulled in to the column in front of his carrier and the Germans got the shock of their lives when they were suddenly shot up from the rear – the result was that the scout platoon afterwards owned a small car, and Sgt. Triggs some very nice shirts.’

31 August 1944 – The liberation of Amiens (France)

31 August – Entiring the city of Amiens (G Coy)

‘Light came in the morning of the 31st of August, and we found ourselves on the threshold of Amiens. The first sign if enemy activity was some very surprised German soldiers on bicycles, who rode into our column and were promptly put in the bag. They had obviously had a night out in the town…’ ‘Bill Close, commanding the leading Squardron of 3rd Royal Tanks Regiment, and I were then given orders to enter Amiens, push through the centre of the city and seize the bridges over the Somme. Reports came in from civilians that there were approximately five thousand Germans in Amiens, and at that early hour and having had no sleep, this information shook us a bit. Still, orders were orders, and we decided to push straight on…’ ‘If we were bold and quick we reckoned we could probably get to our objective before the Germans realised we were in the city…’ ‘It was now getting really light and we could see enemy columns and single vehicles streaming into the city along roads running parallel to our own, and a certain amount of confused shooting took place.’ ‘To cut a long story short, we entered Amiens, the fighting inside the city developing into a series of individual platoon actions, in which all achieved notable success and the German forces were knocked clean off their balance and mopped-up before they really had any chance of realizing what was happening. The most famous of these battles was enacted by 10 Platoon and was glamorously described by the press as “Sudlow’s Shooting Gallery”.’

8th Rifle Brigade Bren carrier Crew, Amiens, 31 August 1944. 
For other maps and photos, see elsewhere on this website.

 

31 August – Amiens, ‘Sudlow’s Shooting Gallery’

‘ ”What is described in the battalion as ‘Sudlow’s Shooting Gallery’ was one of the features of the fighting in Amiens, where the Nazis, taken completely by surprise, endeavoured to get out of the city quickly and safely. Lieut. Donald Sudlow saw that as few as possible did so.’ ‘On the platoon’s way down the main street it was noticed that a big Hitler barracks…’ ‘A road ran alongside the barracks and at the far end connected up with another parallel main road into the city. The latter appeared to be popular with retreating Germans, so Lieut. Sudlow put out three Bren gun teams behind piles of rubble and covered the far end of the connecting road, much in the style of a rifle range. The first target was a lorry, which came tearing down the corner and was stopped dead with simultaneous bursts from the Brens. Then a section of infantry tried to double across the opening. Of the dozen who tried only two succeeded. Another lorry gasped to a standstill and some more infantry fared even worse, for by now the marksmen were getting warmed up and competition was pretty keen. A staff car almost made the crossing, but was stopped by a brilliant shot, which killed the driver. The passengers jumped out and dived for cover under one of the lorries. The lorry was shot up. A large number of infantry tried to silence the post but failed miserably. Fifty prisoners were taken and as many left wounded or dead. The scene at the far end of the road was indescribable.” ‘

Newly captured Beauville Bridge, Amiens, 31 August 1944. 
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31 August – Amiens, crossing the Somme (H Coy)

G Company’s ‘11 Platoon were just about to put in an attack on a bridge when it was rudely blown up before our eyes.‘ H Company however had better luck. ‘…at about 0730 hrs. we moved off again and were soon in the outskirts of Amiens where the crowds were very pleased to see us and even at that early hour wine of every description was produced, and there was the usual crowd of small boys asking for “cigarettes pour Papa”. Sgt. Triggs’ carrier section which was leading did very well to capture the bridge over the Somme intact despite some quite unpleasant small arms fire, and with the help of 1st Troop C Squadron…’ (of 23rd Hussars) ‘and then later 14 Platoon, consolidated on the other side. We stayed in Amiens for the whole morning while a much needed wash and shave was had by everyone, and also something to eat – as we hadn’t had very much in the way of food for the last forty-eight hours.’

31 August – Afternoon, evening and settling down for the night

‘I have so far mentioned nothing of the reception we got from the inhabitants of Amiens. There was no doubt that they were just as surprised to see us as the Germans were, and it was therefore not till some time later that, the premature shock having worn off, they really expressed any emotion over their liberation. Signs of hardship and privations suffered by the townspeople were more evident here than in any other place… this no doubt was largely the cause for the wave of looting, mainly of food-stuffs which swept the town. An enormous food dump alongside which we came to rest was invaded by a vast crowd of people and the place was emptied in a fantastically short time. After a quick lunch we crossed the Somme and harboured in some woods on the high ground on the far bank. It was evident that the Germans had hoped to make a stand at the Somme, and on the far bank were numerous abandoned guns. We also found a dump of brand new guns in a cemetery on the outskirts of Amiens.’1  

‘In the afternoon we [H Coy] moved out [of Amiens] to Allonville where, after shooting up some completely disorganized Germans we settled down for the night.’12 E Company ‘…in the afternoon crossed the river over the intact bridges and took up a defensive position at Poulanville, north west of Amiens.’10 G Company, it seems, spent the night at Amiens.

1 – 3 September 1944 – From Amiens to the Belgian border (France)

1 September – Amiens to Arras

H Company’s ‘…orders for the next day were to move up to the area of Arras (25 miles distant) and we were given a very bad route, consisting mainly of very small tracks, but there were no Germans in the area who wanted to resist, and so our entire day was spent in collecting prisoners, and having fruit, biscuits, butter and cheese thrown at us by the deliriously excited French population.’12  G Company ‘…set off the next morning in very high spirits, and we pushed on steadily all day, meeting little opposition and nothing spectacular occurring. One very pleasing factor, however, was the great number of flying bomb sites, many still in the early stages of construction, we were finding abandoned. Nearly all of us were Londoners and it was very gratifying to know that we were helping… to lessen the burdens and dangers of that great city and of our own homes.’1 ‘At about 4 o’clock in the afternoon we [H Coy] had reached our objective (about 6 miles west of Arras) and we settled down to get a good night’s sleep.’12  E Company had ‘pushed on… through Talmas, Halloy, Grand Roulecourt and Berles and harboured late at night outside Aubigney.’10 For G Company the ‘…close of the day brought us to the two adjoining villages of Gouy and Servins just north of Arras, the Company splitting into two parts to garrison these places. Hospitality and kindness were again lavished on us and we were able to spend a comfortable and peaceful night here.’1

George 8RB - 440901 - impr
13 'scout' Platoon carrier, on its way to Arras, left to right: unknown, driver George Whitmarsh and carrier commander Norman Vicary - Rfn. Whitmarsh collection

‘…we could hardly move for the frantic cheering crowds…’

 

2 September – Arras to Carvin

‘The 2nd of September was the sort of day we had always dreamed of and which we [G Coy] thought could never come true.’1 ‘…we [E Coy] saw places which were famous in the last war. Through Loos and Lens we could hardly move for the frantic cheering crowds who swarmed on to our vehicles and showered us with fruit, champagne, and wines. We were embraced by women, children and old and bearded men with tears of joy streaming down their cheeks. We spent the night outside Hulluch, No. 21 Platoon defending the cemetery as usual.’10 G Company ‘…crossed the bridge over the canal at Pont-a-Vendin and turned north to Bauvin, where we halted.’1  ‘Crossing the canal “De L’Haute Dule” we [H Coy] stopped on the other side just short of Carvin in a very cold an windy field. We stayed there for the rest of the day and much to our surprise a NAAFI mobile van came up and sold cigarettes and chocolate. In the evening 14 Platoon had to go back and guard the bridge over the canal and the rest of the Company closed in to form a leaguer.’12 

3 September 1944 – Crossing into Belgium, Carvin to Ninove

‘Shortly after midnight the bridge defended by 12 Platoon’, at Bauvin, ‘was attacked by a large force of Germans. Before they came in to the attack they had mortared 12 Platoon’s position, and one mortar bomb caused the death of Michael Anderson and Sergt. Macauley…’1 ‘…Cpl. Shutz… took over command of the Platoon and acted with great coolness and courage. A few Germans succeeded in crossing the bridge and the situation became difficult… Dawn arrived and a troop of 3rd Royal Tank Regiment’s tanks arrived on the scene and did some very useful work in restoring the situation.’1 ‘On the outskirts of Hulloch… 20 Platoon [E Coy] fought a little battle on their own against four 75mm. guns and some infantry. The column had halted and the Platoon found itself at a cross road. They had been having an easy time and received a rude shock when three armoured piercing shells shot across their front. Cpl. Sparks took a patrol forward and came back with a sniper’s bullet in his rifle butt, but nothing to report. The Company Commander joined us just as we spotted the flashes of the guns and he called for artillery support… and two of the guns put out of action. In the meantime Rfn. Marshall directed machine gun fire on the position and both sides of the road, and later the other guns were found unattended with two lorries laden with kit and several dead Germans lying around.’10 For H Company the ‘…next day – the fifth anniversary of the start of the war – found us on the move again fairly in the morning, and after passing through Carvin and bypassing Lille to the south, we crossed the Franco-Belgium border near Baisieux at 1100 hrs. Half an hour later we were in Tournai where we split up into two forces – each going for a bridge over the canal. One of the bridges was still smouldering, as the Germans had set it alight, and a Belgian patriot had extinguished it. Cpl. Vicary had a good shoot when some surprised Germans started to drive along the canal in the opposite bank to him, and after hitting several of them, an A Squadron tank finished the truck itself off with a round of H.E., while it was still making about 30 m.p.h. down the road.’12 ‘We moved a long way that day through Renaix, Nederbrakel, Ophasselt and Ninove, stopping just level with Brussels…’12 

Lt. M.C. Anderson and Sgt. James Macaulay, both killed at Bauvin, 3 September 1944.

10 – 11 September 1944 – The battle for Helchteren (Belgium)

‘The next day [10 Sept.] the battalion, led by H Company, had a very hard day’s fighting at Helchteren and Sonnis, the next village. F Company came in from the right to influence the battle, but it was H Company’s day and it was they who put an end to the Paratroopers’ activity.’11 ‘On the 10th of September, C Squadron [23H]/H Company group were leading and orders were received to clear Helchteren, part of which was captured by the 159 Brigade. On reaching the church 14 Platoon, which were leading, took up a position some 400 yards further on. The company remained grouped by the church, where they came under mortar fire, which caused casualties in 15 and 16 platoons. Orders were then given to 14 platoon to clear two houses in the right, to enable the following platoons to advance on the left. …6 section led the way and immediately came under fire from the left of the road and were pinned down. A fresh plan of attack was then made… 14 platoon attacked supported by two tanks. Casualties were sustained… the platoon commander Mr. Dixon was one of them, and while trying to help him Rfn. Prudence was killed outright. Cpl. (now Sgt.) Pratt took charge of the platoon and continued the attack [for which he won a DCM]; when the objective was taken many enemy killed and wounded were found, and some prisoners were taken.’12 ‘…we [G Coy] were looped round to the north, the intention being that we should rejoin the centre line in the rear of the enemy position and so to influence the situation. This manoeuvre proved highly successful and the leading carriers reached the road to find Germans calmly walking up it and a 75 mm gun facing the wrong way. The enemy were completely taken by surprise and before they could collect their wits had been written off in no uncertain manner. The gun and its crew were also speedily put out of action… The remnants of the paratroopers made off during the night, leaving behind them mines which we found next morning. The position they had occupied, was littered with dead bodies and abandoned equipment, and there was no doubt that they had paid very dearly for the slight delay they had succeeded in imposing upon us.’1 H Company alone lost 7 killed and 16 wounded at Helchteren. As a testimony to their bravery, three MC’s, one DCM and a MM were won that day.

Situation and photos of 'advance in Helch-teren area', 10/9/1944 (IWB BU845/847)

11 – 17 September 1944 – Rest at Petit Brogel (Belgium)

H Company ‘…were put into reserve the next day, as a result of the day’s fighting, and at about 11 o’clock we moved off in the direction of Peer…’12 ‘F Company was in the lead and… had a short, sharp engagement in Peer, where 8 Platoon dealt with some snipers in a windmill; and later 6 Platoon indulged in a little street-fighting. A few casualties were suffered by both platoons. From Peer we advanced north to Petit Brogel…’11 ‘…at about 1500 hrs we arrived at Petit Brogel. The whole Regimental-Battalion group was in Petit Brogel, which is about 5 miles south of the Escaut Canal, and our main job there was to send out patrols up on to the canal to see that the enemy didn’t try to infiltrate back. But on the whole we had quite a quiet time, and we were not asked to do too much.’12 ‘A German patrol one night penetrated to Company H.Q., but having thrown a grenade into our area, they were dispersed at high speed by the centuries.’1

17 – 20 September 1944 – ‘Rest’ continues, at Grand Brogel (Belgium)

G Coy Sgt. Fruin (left) on leave in Brussels, 17 November 1944 – Sgt. Fruin collection

 

17 – 20 September 1944 – ‘Rest’ continues at Grand Brogel

‘Then the Battalion moved to Grand Brogel. The only excitement here befell a section of 21 Platoon who had their guns covering a lane leading to the canal at the far end of the village. There were a few cottages about 200 yards from the position and we made great friends with the inhabitants. One woman in particular was most keen to help us and gave several warnings of patrols in the area. However nothing materialized and we were beginning to think that she might be fooling us. Then, on the morning of the 19th, which was so misty that we could not see the cottages, just as we had finished breakfast, the same woman came racing excitedly through the mist to inform us that a German patrol was approaching the cottages. She had hardly conveyed her meaning when two German soldiers, one with a Spandau and the other carrying a Panzerfaust, loomed out of the mist. The gunners sprang to their guns and let them have it. Then, as if by magic, the mist lifted and one of them was seen running across the fields. The machine gunners pinned him down while a patrol went out to capture him… The other man, a Serjeant-Major who had come on the patrol for fun, was found riddled with machine gun bullets near the cottages. An “F” Company patrol then searched the houses on the main road but found no more enemy there. During this period some of the men paid their first visit to Brussels. We played football, had baths, went to cinema shows and cafes and generally enjoyed ourselves.’10 For G Company ‘…the first batch of members of the Company who were wounded in Normandy returned to the fold.’1 ‘But these good things came to an end on the 20th…’10

20 – 22 September 1944 – Holland (Holland)

20 September 1944 – Crossing the border, Petit Brogel (Belgium) to Heeze (Holland)

‘The 20th of September marked the date of our entry into the third foreign country since leaving the shores of England…’1 ‘…we moved over the canal at Lille St. Hubert passing through the 3rd Division’s bridgehead and pushing north on the right of the Guards Armoured Division… Our specific job was to protect the right of the Guards Centre-line.’12 ‘Such pleasant sights as pretty Dutch girls clad in their national costume as depicted on tourist posters, waiting to greet us on the frontier, were conspicuous by their absence.’1 ‘…the pace of our advance became slower, as the state of the ground made it quite impossible for vehicles to move other than on the road. A small engagement was fought by the vanguard at Heeze…’11 ‘Soon after crossing the Dutch border, H Company and C Squadron [23H] were detached to go up to the Leende-Maarheeze road and worksouth east to Maarheeze. We reached the road quite easily but soon met opposition in the form of dug in Germans in the woods on either side of the road. The rest of the day was spent in trying to push them out…’12 G Company ‘…pushed on north without incident, arriving in the late afternoon before Heeze. This place we cleared without much difficulty and we settled down for out first night on Dutch soil.’1 ‘“E” Company were put were put into a defensive position for the night.’10  

8th Rifle Brigade Half-track at Achel, Belgium, 20 September 1944, during a halt just before crossing the border into Holland – IWM A70 164-8

Panther tank, somewhere in Holland. 

 

21 September 1944 – From Heeze and Maarheeze to Nunen (Holland)

The previous night, H Company ‘…couldn’t get through the wood, and so we… pushed on early next morning, by which time the enemy had disappeared. Meeting the R.T.R.s in the outskirts of Maarheze, we turned around and joined the rest of the group who had gone north to Nunen.12 G Company ‘…reached Geldrop, a very friendly place, where during a temporary halt several members of the Company had time to dive into a local barber’s alongside our column and have a haircut and shampoo. …as we were about to enter Gerwen, the leading two tanks and a carrier were rudely “brewed up.” Artillery were called into action and… Once again an attempt was made to enter Gerwen, this time with a troop of tanks, a section of carriers and 10 Platoon on their feet. At the entry of the village, however, opposition was again met…’1 Also F Company’s ‘…vanguard, consisting of a Carrier Section and 7 Platoon was shot up rather smartly by German tanks, but fortunately no casualties were suffered by the Company. This was the first time we had encountered enemy tanks since Normandy.’11 ‘A civilian was running down the road towards them [13 Pl., H Coy] and when he was accosted, told them that there were some German tanks coming down the road behind him. It was then that Sgt. Triggs reported in his own inimitable, matter-of-fact way that there were some Panthers coming down the road towards him. 1st Troop were put into position, luckily they had two ‘Fireflies’ with them that day, and when the Panthers came along, the leading one was knocked out and another one which became bogged was also destroyed. After that excitement, for it wasn’t every day that German tanks were knocked out, we stayed put for the night just south of the village of Nunen.’12  

 

22 September 1944 – Stiphout, Helmond and Zomeren

‘Next morning our [G Coy’s] our vision was obscured by a thick mist, and advancing through this we moved into Gerwen without meeting any opposition. But we saw only too clearly the sites of the guns which had been firing at us the previous day and also the track marks of the Panther tanks.’1 ‘H Company and C Squadron [23H] were again ordered off on their own and were told to go down to Stiphout, just about 3 miles west of Helmond. …we arrived at Stiphout without meeting any trouble and “went firm” there while patrols went out to see whether it was possible to approach Helmond from the west. Most of the bridges across some streams between us and Helmond had been blown… It was during the afternoon that some “Moaning Minnies” opened up much to our surprise, as we hadn’t heard any since Presles.’12 Meanwhile, F and G Company ‘…were to turn south again back through Geldrop and Heeze’1, ‘…to cross a bridge which the Fife and Forfars Yeomanry and the Herefords had built after a very gallant and rather bloody battle at Zomeren.11

Infantry (Rifle Brigade) take up positions outside the village of Heeze, 22 September 1944 – IWM B10247

23 – 24 September 1944 – The battle for Vlierden (Holland)

At Ommel G Company stopped to let H Company pass through to Vlierden. ‘When the leading carrier came over a slight crest at the entrance to the village of Vlierden, a 75 mm gun in the village knocked it out with the second shot, killing Cpl. Birleson and Rfn. Barnes. After a pause to see how the village could  be attacked, it was decided as it was getting dark to send two carriers down the road to see if the enemy were still there, as they had kept very quiet. However just as the leading carrier reached the outskirts of the village a bazooka was fired, which luckily missed the carrier. As a result of this, it was decided to wait till morning and leave a standing patrol on the outskirts of the village for the night, while we…’ (that is H Coy) ‘leaguered with F Company and B Squadron…’ (of 23rd Hussars) ‘about a mile short of Vlierden.’12

‘In the morning though, the section which had been on patrol found itself pinned down and so 15 platoon supported by a troop of tanks and a section of carriers…’ (of 13 platoon) ‘was sent to attack the houses on the outskirts, which were occupied by Germans. The tanks fired H.E. and Browning at the houses and their gardens and made the place fairly unhealthy for its occupiers, but when 15 platoon attacked – advancing from behind the tanks across about 40 yards of open ground – they were fired on by bazookas at very close range and the attack was broken up, Cpl. Clarke being killed, and Sgt. Killick, Rfn. Saville and Mr. Coryton being wounded.’12

‘The carriers did very well in evacuating the wounded and the platoon withdrew. The “Mediums” then proceeded to stonk the village, and Captain May took 14 platoon, 5th Troop and Sgt. Millwood’s section of carriers round to the right where they captured several prisoners. F Company then went through the village from the opposite end and had no difficulty in clearing it. A propaganda van had been used to try and persuade the Germans in Vlierden to give themselves up, but this had no effect, and the Germans – who were supposed to be convalescents – had fought extremely well.’12 

Barned (left) and Birleson

25 September – 15 October 1944 – De Rips (Holland)

24 – 25 September – Deurne to De Rips

‘G Company ‘…moved on to Deurne through villages already cleared and entered the town without incident. However, as we were parking the Company H.Q. transport, one of the mortar carriers, to our great surprise and dismay, was very rudely “brewed up” by a gun which was shortly afterwards severely dealt with. After having been in the town for a short while, the Germans began shelling it sharply, but no one was hit… ‘1 H Company ‘…moved to Deurne and entered is just after the 3rd R.T.R.s had reached it. Staying there for the night, we moved forward the next morning to De Rips, which we were destined to get to know rather well. De Rips is a very small hamlet on the main Deurne-St. Anthonis road and the Battalion was strung out along the road. H Company and C Squadron had the best area by a stroke of good fortune and for the first time since we had come to the continent, we lived in houses.12 

8th Rifle Brigade advancing through Deurne, 24 September 1944 – IWM B10342 

25 September – 14 October – Operational activities at De Rips

‘We were operational and our [H Coy] job was to send a carrier section in the day to watch the line of the canal, a mile or so to the east. By night, 2 motor platoons from the Battalion went out on standing patrol to the canal and this, beside our own local protection, was our only commitment.’12 ‘Unfortunately the Germans had been in the habit of laying mines… and in the early morning of the 8th of October, Cpl. Vicary’s carrier was blown up, seriously wounding Cpl. Vicary [he lost both legs]  and also Rfn. Macdonald, his driver. Three days later the carrier O.P. was shelled and Rfn. Smith of 13 platoon was wounded. Apart from that though we suffered no casualties at De Rips…’12

G Company ‘…were roused from our inactivity on the 3rd October and ordered to proceed to Meijel, a “no-man’s land” village right out in the blue, and to the south of Deurne.’ Major Noel Bell ‘…commanded Meijelforce, which came under direct command of the 11th Armoured Division and consisted of… G Company, a troop of tanks of 23rd Hussars, a troop of armoured cars of the Inns of Court, a troop of 25-pdr. guns…’1 etc. Just like H and F Company before them, ‘Three nights were spent in this eerie village, each night seeming to last for an age. The first night an enemy patrol approached our positions, but made off without firing a shot. The second night a party… reached the vehicles of 10 Platoon… Francis McGinnis, our anti-tank gun commander, had a bullet through his tin hat which miraculously only grazed his head. By the third night we were all extremely “trigger conscious” and by this time the Germans chose as their objective our 25-pdr. gunners, who were lying a short way back from us. Just before dawn they made  a three sided attack. One of these attacks was directed against our carrier section which was with the guns, and here the Germans had a hot reception. The gunners fared disastrously… an unfortunate ending to our stay here…’1 ‘Still, we may have fared a great deal worse, as it was not very long afterwards that the Germans launched an attack against the village with strong tank and infantry forces. And I think that, with the meagre forces we had at our disposal, we would have well and truly “had it” if we had been there at that time.’1 

Schoolstraat Meijel, 25 September 1944

NAAFI truck, Holland, October 1944  – IWM B11338

25 September – 14 October – Entertainment at De Rips

‘De Rips stands out not so much because of an action, but because of the fact that it was here the Company dared to approach the local farmers, asking permission for us to sleep in their barns and cowsheds. …we all had the good fortune to secure a very nice clean barn, with the added comforts of straw on the floor. It was made our home for nearly three week. The farmer and his family were very nice to us, supplying us with milk and eggs.’11 ‘There was a mobile cinema at De Rips and liberty trucks went into Helmond for the cinema and baths. There were one or two parties given by H Company for C Squadron and vice versa, and on the whole our existence was very pleasant.’12 G Company ‘…also had a very successful concert party, the talent being selected from members of the Company and Squadron, as well as, on the more serious side, some very well-attended evening services in the barn we had commandeered.1 Also while at De Rips, in their area at Judiths Hoeve, G Company one morning, just after dawn, ‘…saw an abandoned truck about a hundred yards down the road from us… The NAAFI stores [in it] were almost intact and we luckily reached the truck before the local civilians had a chance to loot it. Brushing temptation aside, we drove it to Company H.Q., put a guard over it, and got word through to its rightful owners. An officer arrived later in the day to claim it and we handed it over to him complete except for a few bottles of gin and whisky, which we retained as a small salvage fee. …life for the next week consisted of rest and recreation. The first official short leave to Brussels began and some of our Normandy warriors set out the make the scheme a big success.1  

15 October – Leaving De Rips

‘On the 15th of October, the 3rd Division’s attack on Venray from the north had advanced beyond Overloon and so it was decided to try and cross the canal, build a bridge across it and move over down to Venray…’12 

15 January – 11 February 1945 – Bree, Christmas (Belgium)

‘On the 14th of January we set off on a two day trek to Bree. We did not know what we were going to be expected to do there…’ ‘…Bree became a soldier’s delight.’ ‘Socially the first big occasion was the celebration of Christmas’, on 21 January, the battalion having missed its Christmas in December, when being sent as reinforcements to the Ardennes. ‘Festivities began early and by lunch time everyone was in tremendous form. Our dining-hall was in a large cafe, which had been gaily decorated…’ ‘Plates were piled high with food… helped down by beer and Guinnes.’ ‘The jollity of the event was very much augmented by an excellent rum punch brewed by the Company Commander.’ ‘Amidst all this rejoicing and hilarity, one solemn toast was drunk – to the memory of those who… were not able to share with us the fruits of our victories to date.’ 

‘The following day, when many of us were not feeling at our best, was the one “Monty” had chosen to visit the Division for an investiture of the men who had won awards since D Day.’ ‘He was in great form and spoke with great optimism and conviction about the future.’ ‘There was no doubt that “Monty” had something which no one else had got.’

‘The social life at Bree was as good as we had seen anywhere. There were dances, cinemas, and riotous Platoon parties. The numerous cafes were very popular – ice cream with hot whine giving us a new epicurian experience.’ ‘For the next three weeks we remained peacefully at Bree. On several occasions we nearly had to take our turn in the line, but were spared that discomfort each time at the last minute.’ ‘We eventually said goodbye to Bree, after exactly a month’s stay…’ ‘The whole population turned out to see us off when we finally departed on February 11th.’

11 – 16 February 1945 – The river Maas (Holland)

‘Our eventual departure from Bree on the 11th of February came as a complete surprise. We [G Coy] were to leave the 11th Armoured Division and were to move north to the stretch of the Maas between Roermond and Venlo in Holland. We moved to the Village of Helden…’1 , together with F Company. ‘There was very little comfort there, and although cinemas and baths were available, we had all been spoilt by Bree, and everyone took a rather dim view of the place.11 ‘After our long sojourn at Bree it was only right that we should go and do a bit of work, and it was therefore no surprise when we were told that we were going to be under command of the 5th Parachute Brigade who were holding a section of the Maas south of Venlo. H Company was in a village called Egchel…’12 For E Company, their new quarters ‘were a great change for we were billeted in the attic of a Monastery near Roggel and we felt keenly the absence of lighting and heating. The whole Company was in one large room…’10 ‘…after 4 days we [H Coy] were told that we were going to take over form a parachute battalion; the recce parties went down, but the next day the orders were cancelled and instead advance parties went off to an unknown destination which eventually turned out to be Roosendaal,’12 

17 – 24 February 1945 – Roosendaal (Holland)

‘So once again our long column of vehicles set forth. Out route lay through Weert, Eindhoven, Tilburg, and Breda and the journey was neither interesting nor eventful. Although our advance party had had very little time, they had done great work  and when we arrived at Roosendaal…’1 ‘It was there that we realised that Holland was not all mud and rain and that, given the right conditions, the people could be as hospitable as any we had met.’10 ‘…we found ourselves in some of the best billets we had even had. …we settled down to a period of training and emptied our vehicles of all stores.’1 ‘The Battalion went to Roosendaal, with F Company out on detachment at Oudenbosch. There were good facilities for recreation here, and our stay proved an enjoyable one.’11 ‘The Black Market was very evident in this town [Roosendaal] and crowds of people hung around our transport all day in the hope of buying something from us. Every single thing we had seemed to be in demand. The crowing incident occurred when… [Cpl.] Kingsmill emerged from the stores carrying in his hand a cake of blanco and an enthusiastic black marketeer…, relieved him of the balance, and pressed five guilders in his hand. What his reactions were, …on opening his package we never discovered… The only signs of enemy activity in this part of Holland were the large number of flying bombs, which passed over us on their way to Antwerp. A terrific barrage from anti-aircraft guns used to greet them and a remarkably high proportion of the, were shot down… The natural reaction of us all was to rush into the streets and watch the shooting gallery, but we had to restrain ourselves owing to the danger of the falling fragments of the anti-aircraft shells.’1 ‘After five days of cinema, football, and even training, we changed areas once again…’11 ‘…on the 23rd we moved at very short notice to Tilburg, where we spent the night…’12 Here G Company ‘spent the night in a monastery and our classical scholar, James Ramsden, was reported to have sat up all night talking to the Monks in Latin’1

24 February – 12 March 1945 – Nijmegen and the river Waal (Holland)

‘…early the next day the Company [H Coy] – detached from the rest of the Battalion – moved to Nijmegen, where, under command of a mysterious formation calling itself Brockforce, we had to guard the two bridges [three, in fact, see photo]. This is probably the most comfortable operational role ever given to a motor company, as besides the guards, which were fairly numerous, all we had to do was to amuse ourselves, which was not too difficult in Nijmegen. The rest of the Battalion was holding a sector of the Waal near Dreumel…’12 

Aerial reconnaissance photo, showing the three bridges, and positions, guarded by H Coy - 8RB War Diary

‘The little village of Dreumel, where we [G Coy] now found ourselves, was a very pleasant spot and quite an oasis in this land of eternal bog and swamp. Despite the fact that it was right in the front line, except for the usual shattered church spire, it bore few of the scars of war… Nothing much was known of the enemy facing us on the far bank of the river, but it was thought that they consisted largely of Dutch S.S. On our side I [Major Noel Bell] had two platoons of Dutchmen under my command, who were apt to be rather a liability at times owing to their craze for blazing off with their weapons at the most unsuitable times. Still they meant well…’ ‘The slightest movement above the dyke would be greeted with angry bursts of machine gun fire. Because of this, we [E Coy] could never account for a very strange incident which occurred just before dusk one evening. An Echelon of the Dutch independent Brigade lost their way… towards our positions. Imagine our horror when they turned along the dyke and drove past in front of our positions. Maybe the enemy on the other side of the river was just as astounded… for not a shot was fired at them.’10

‘Our “watch on the river Waal” lasted for just over a fortnight and during this time nothing very sensational happened. … the only casualty during this whole period was suffered by a civilian. At one time it was thought possible that we might have to do a raid across the river, and we put in a certain amount of boating practice, but the plan never materialized.’1 ‘F Company was in the village of  Wamel…’ and ‘…was ordered to make a raid across the river in order to secure an identification. 6 Platoon was chosen for the task, and it was decided to sand a recce patrol across first, in order to find a suitable area. They crossed very successfully on the night of March 6th, but were unable to locate any enemy. The crossing of the river Waal… is no mean feat at night, because the river is at least five hundred yards wide, and very fast flowing. 7 Platoon then crossed on March 8th, and did equally well, but with the same result. …on the 10th, 8 Platoon undertook…’ a final crossing, ‘…but had the misfortune to land right on top of an enemy position and casualties were suffered. They did well to bring back all their wounded with them.’11    

‘Survivors of the First Airborne Division from Arnhem were still making their way back to our lines and we kept a very close watch on the opposite bank of the river at night for any signals which might indicate to us that one of them wished to be collected and brought across. On three occasions the agreed upon signal was spotted, but it was then thought that the enemy had found out the secret of the signal and were using it as a ruse against us.’1 On March the 11th, we ‘decided to make our last night at Dreumel a gala one. As many Brens as we could muster poured a stream of tracer bullets across the river and our mortars, firing phosphorus smoke bombs, started some first-class fires amongst the building, which we hoped contained the enemy. Morale was very high when, on the morning of the 12th March, the Manitoba Dragoons returned to relieve us and we set out for Belgium once again.1 

1 April 1945 – Sinningen and Saerbeck (Germany)

Sappers of the 13th Field Sqn. R.E. bridging the Dortmund Ems Canal, 1 April 1945 - IWM BU2916

‘We were now close to the Dortmund-Ems canal… It was a fair-sized water obstacle with wooded high ground on the far bank. It seemed ideal for defence… It was now 1st of April, and we spent the greater part of the day resting in a wood, where we would not be seen by prying German aircraft.’1

While most of the battalion rested near Sinningen, ‘in the morning H Company and C Squadron [23H] were sent off to occupy the village of Saerbeck and to protect the right flank. …the Company/Squadron group moved in without any opposition, and then “went firm” in the village. Soon after this the vanguard under Mr. Neill discovered an 88 mm a/a. site and it was decided to clean this up, as it was on the outskirts of the village. 15 platoon and two troops of tanks were used for this purpose, and just before the attack was due to go in, we heard the very sad news that Captain Budgen had been killed. “Stonker Bill”, as he was known to all of the riflemen, was one of H Company’s best loved friends… The miserable Germans in the a/a. site didn’t realise that by killing him they were in for reprisals which might even have surprised them. So with their blood up, 15 platoon went in to a very well co-ordinated little attack and the Germans – about 50 in all – were soon mopped up.’12 After coming across another anti aircraft site elsewhere, later in the day, ‘as night was approaching the guns were destroyed. The Company then withdrew to a close leaguer just outside Saerbeck, where after a lot of difficulty was met in locating the field, we settled down for a quiet night, complete with a mobile canteen van which had suddenly appeared in our midst.’12  

Meanwhile, ‘Just a we [G Coy] were rejoicing at the thought of a good night’s rest, however, orders suddenly came through that we were to make a bridgehead over the canal to enable the sappers to throw a bridge across it. The sappers had received orders from a different source… and it was accordingly with a certain amount of shame that we found that they had arrived before us. Their commander was very relieved to see us, however, as het had realized that his bridging apparatus was forming the spearhead of the advance. No opposition was encountered… and we were soon in position, surrounding the sappers, who quickly started work on the bridge. The canal had very little water in to and we were thus able to see for ourselves the effect of the R.A.F.’s draining operations. The night was quiet…, but we remained very alert and on the lookout for signs of a counter attack.’1

2 April 1945 – Tecklenburg (Germany)

‘We held our bridgehead till lunch-time the following day, and during the morning we collected several prisoners from the neighbouring woods and killed seven our of ten of a German patrol which was taking an interest in our activities. This last encounter was most cheering and succesful, giving us great satisfaction. The bridge building had not proceeded as quickly as had been hoped…, and we were therefore relieved… to enable us to rejoin our Regimental Group, which had been ordered to cross the canal by a bridge which had been constructed farther north at Riesenbeck… Motoring through burning villages, we eventually passed through the leading groups and arrived at the approaches to the town of Tecklenburg.’1 ‘…at the town of Tecklenburg, just south of the Teutoburger Wald… two tanks were hit, and 8 Platoon [F Coy] found themselves committed as soon a they entered the town. Later all three Motor Platoons, and most of the Scout Platoon, spent a very tiring and arduous cleaning up what must have been one of the easiest towns of all Germany to defend. The town was in a hollow and surrounded by high hills, and we found not only the German soldiers but also the civilians were fighting against us. This was the only place where we had to take offensive action against German civilians and we had to kill some and send many back as prisoners.11 ‘…it seemed as if the whole place was in flames…’10 ’…16 platoon, a section of carriers [of H Coy] and a troop of tanks were sent round to the left on to the high ground, while 14 and 15 platoons went up into the village to help F Company clear up the trouble. Luckily by the time they got there all Germans had withdrawn and the platoons had no difficulty in clearing it up. The Company then stayed in the village and some very good drink was found in an hotel in the middle of the village.’12   

3 April 1945 – Osnabruck and crossing the Ems-Weser Canal (Germany)

‘Reading the English newspapers at the time, one would have thought that fighting had virtually ceased and that all we were doing was to motor along and cease thousands of prisoners. This annoyed us [G Coy] to no small degree and, as will be shown later…, two of our bitterest engagements were yet to be fought.’1 ‘C Squadron came up and joined us and the 3 R.T.R. passed through us intending to push on in the dark with the K.S.L.I. Later that night we [H Coy] were ordered to push on after the 3 R.T.R. and at 2 o’clock in the morning we moved forward with misgivings and doubts as to the success of this second “Amiens swan”. The only similarity between the two operations was that it was pouring with rain, and after 4 hours we had only moved forward 3½ miles. In the morning the vanguard met opposition near the railway line at Hamburen and 15 and 16 platoons were dismounted to clear it up. The German defenders were OCTU candidates and they fought quite bravely; the only casualty of the day was Sgt. Triggs, who went forward to bring in a man who was intending to surrender and was shot through the head by another. The latter was not allowed to live very long, but Sgt. Triggs was badly wounded. At midday the trouble was cleared up and B Squadron [23H] and F Company passed through us and we followed them up to Osnabruck.’12

‘At 3 o’clock in the morning of the 3rd of April, we [G Coy] extricated our selves from the mud in which we had spent the last few hours and moved forward through the darkness with the intention of seizing intact a bridge across the canal north-west of Osnabruck. The advance went on slowly and we began meeting scattered resistance. At midday, however, orders came through that we were… to crack on as fast as we could with the object of getting an intact bridge over the canal near Bohnte – the last water barrier before the Weser. …our best chances lay in going at full speed ahead and hoping that the bazookas would miss. The only opposition at first was a certain amount of sniping which caused a few casualties, but nothing serious was encountered until on turning east the two leading tanks were hit by an “88” and our column began to be shelled. This put a check on the advance… While all this was going in the “F” Company group motored through us and secured the bridge…’1

For F Company, ‘…the day ended with one of the most exciting hours of the war. We were ordered to capture the bridges over the Ems-Weser Canal. This objective was about 15-20 miles away, and we went away with full cry, with No. 3 Section of 5 Platoon In the lead, with the idea of capturing the bridges before they were blown up. As we neared the Canal, excitement rose to fever pitch, and groups consisting of a Carrier Section, a Tank Troop and a Motor Platoon fanned out to either side of our axis with the object of capturing more than on bridge. Two bridges were captured intact, and a bridgehead established unopposed.’11 ‘That evening a vanguard [of H Coy] went down to another bridge at Olingen and found it intact. Then we moved back to Osterkappeln where we leaguered with the rest of the Battalion.’12

4 April 1945 – To Essern and Nordel (Germany)

On the 4th, H Company ‘…moved off in the early morning behind the 3 R.T.R. and passed through them in the afternoon at Rahden, then after a lot of losing the way in the dark, we arrived at Essern to find an abandoned Tiger, which was still warm.’12 G Company (and E Company) ‘…pulled up for the night at the village of Nordel’1

5 – 8 April 1945 – The battle at Stolzenau and the crossing of the river Weser (Germany)

5 April – Arrival and assault crossing at Stolzenau

‘F Company and B Squadron were ordered to do a repeat performance [like two days earlier, when capturing the bridges over the Ems-Weser Canal] at Stolzenau on the River Weser. By now our pace was growing hotter and hotter, the wireless was getting a bit too hot, and we were certainly swanning. In spite of a most spirited dash by No. 2 Section of the Scout Platoon, the bridge was blown up as the Company arrived. We were at once busy in shooting up a lot of Germans, who were running about in panic on the other side of the River. We were then ordered to clear the town, and this proved quite a lengthy business. A crossing was then made in boats by G and H Companies… We acted as boatsmen and load-carriers, and did what we could to help.’11

‘The plan was that H Company should go across first, make a bridgehead and then G Company should come across on our right and enlarge it. 14 Platoon was to cross the river by the blown bridge and 15 by assault boats while the 25 Pounders punt down a smoke barrage. Immense preparations were made to obtain rope to cross the bridge, which was in a very derelict condition… At 1300 hrs. the leading platoons started to cross and 15 platoon went over very quickly and reached their objective. 14 platoon were very slow and after ½ an hour it was obvious that they could never get across by the broken bridge, so Major Bradford called them back and they waited to follow 16 platoon who were crossing in the boats. Just as the first section of 14 platoon were about to cross, a spanau opened up and by an appalling… and killed Captain May [Lt. Neill was standing right next to him; in an interview in 2017 he told Capt. May was killed by a sniper]  and wounded Rfn. Hawkins. This was the first… opposition we had met, and after a pause two sections of 14 platoon crossed; after this though a 20 mm cannon opened up and made the embarking point which was south of the bridge rather an unpleasant spot. So the last section of 14 platoon crossed the river north of the bridge. The plan was then changed and it was decided to put G Company across on our left…’12

The blown bridge at Stolzenau - IWM BU3183

G Company ‘had another wait while the final preparations were made for the crossing, during which shelling by airburst persisted, punctuating the Spandau fire which, directed at “H” Company still establishing themselves, chattered away with regularity. The atmosphere was tense – as tense at it always was during those minutes of waiting before action. At last we received the command to make our way to the riverside, a platoon at a time. We emerged from our cover of the warehouse, and turned right down what must have been the main street. After a fifty yard sprint, the river was swirling, black and menacing at our feet. It was a good spot… for we were completely out of sight of the enemy…, owing to a ridge on the far side similar to the one on our own.  The Weser was wide and flowing fast – too fast to be pleasant. We knew that unless we could gain the opposite bank before the current had carried us too far down, the game was well and truly up, for the bridgehead was only a hundred yards or so in width.  The assault boats, flimsy craft of wood and canvas, lay to our left in a small inlet. 12 Platoon went over first… 10 Platoon followed, with elements of 9, then 11, and Company H.Q…. no casualties so far.1 ‘…a section of A. Tk. Guns from 18 Platoon [E Coy] went across by ferry to each Company. …the sappers had constructed a raft for ferrying the 6-pdrs. to the other side. Our carriers could not be taken over, so a Jeep was sent over first to tow the guns…’10

Assault boats being unloaded at Stolzenau, 5 April 1945 - IWM BU3184

F Company remained in Stolzenau itself, while G and H Companies dug in on the other side…’11

5 April – The bridgehead, day 1

‘The Engineers soon started to build a bridge and everything looked as if it was going to be satisfactory, until in the afternoon some Stukas came over followed by some Heinkel 111, which dropped anti-personnel bombs mainly on the town on the other side of the river. Then in the evening FW. 190s came over and did some very efficient skip-bombing which completely disrupted everything as the Engineers suffered heavy casualties and the bridge they had begun to build was broken. Our casualties were light luckily,…’12 but ‘we realised that the bridge which was going to have been ready by the morning would not be ready at all.’12 G Company, it seems, suffered more casualties from the anti-personnel bombs.  ‘They were brought into Company H.Q. house and laid, on their stretchers, in the main entrance hall, where stretcher bearers, with many other helpers, attended to their needs as best they could. We all knew evacuation was likely to be delayed, as the Weser separated us from the Regimental Aid Post… Later we heard Sergt. Wickham had died… The Command Post [of G Coy] was established in a cellar, one of a series of subterranean rooms in the centre of the house. It was very small… All around the walls were shelves and chests, the former arrayed with vast quantities of preserves, both fruit and vegetables, bottles of Chianti and hams. Wireless communication was at the time maintained by our portable 38 sets, and the aerial rod described a broad arc across the ceiling and half-way down the far wall. The platoon signallers also laid their own lines… and although the line over the water was immediately severed by shell-fire, the lateral link between “G” and “H” proved its worth as the hours went by.’1 ‘The night was happily quiet, but…’1 ‘…we realised that the bridge which was going to have been ready by the morning would not be ready at all.’12

6 April – The bridgehead, day 2

‘The night itself… was quite peaceful and the enemy did not attempt any offensive patrolling. They did manage to infiltrate up close to 16 platoon’s [H Coy] position, and in the morning during the stand-to period, overran Cpl. Stone’s section and took them all prisoner. At approximately the same time a counter-attack was put in across completely open country at a range of about 1000 yards. …the enemy advanced in open formation in full view of our own troops. So without much difficulty, the artillery and mortars which both shot very accurately (except for one 25 pounder which nearly killed Major Bradford, it was shooting too short) the attack was dispersed and everyone heaved a sigh of relief.’12 The same happened at G Company’s position: ‘…at nine o’clock the following morning, 11 Platoon rang through to report infantry advancing in waves on the Company’s positions. “Hundreds of ‘em,”… Over the air, artillery support was immediately enlisted, and the gunners, …were able to bring down an almighty “Stonk” slap in the midst of the enemy. The force was, for all purposed, written off, but the Germans… put in a further attack, which turned out to be even more suicidal…’1

‘By midday the Sappers were making good headway with the bridge despite constant shelling. …never ceasing salvoes of 88 mms… proved costly to the sappers. When in the mid-afternoon hopes of achieving our link before dusk were running high, for the bridge was over half-way across, a Stuka appeared and dropped an anti-personnel bomb right amongst the toiling bridge-builders. Eighteen of them were killed outright. Further bombing followed and destroyed their bridge too, which now resembled the original one – just so much twisted metal. That bridge had symbolized all our hopes. As one sank, so did the other.’1

‘Over in the bridgehead, we were inclined to think that the drivers who had stayed with their vehicles, and a few other members of the Company, were having a fairly easy time. It was not until we met up with them later that we began to realise that… not a few bombs meant for the bridge (or us) had whistled down on their side of the river… One of these overshoots made a direct hit on one of our half-tracks.’1

‘In the afternoon the Royal Marine Commandos came across with the intention of making their way round the river bank to our [H Coy’s] right and influencing the position of the enemy who were completely pinning us down on the right. Their plan though was not feasible… and so after suffering a few casualties they withdrew… Towards the evening 15 platoon had been having an unpleasant time as an enemy mortar detachment had the house round which they were positioned completely ranged, and were sending a steady flow of bombs down on it. The whole position was really rather unpleasant by the evening and it was good news to hear that Mr. Raymond’s platoon [7 Pl.] from F Company was coming over to relieve 16 platoon who were very depleted. ‘Towards the evening, in the now untroubled sky, some R.A.F. Tempests put in an appearance, making quite a brave display over the bodies of the eighteen dead Sappers and their wrecked bridge.’1

7 April – The bridgehead, day 3

‘That night we [G Coy] heard the heartening news that some Commandos were coming across to reinforce us, widen the bridgehead, and then push on the village of Leese, which lay about 2,000 yards in front of us, and in which the S.S. Troops who were opposing us had based themselves. We were even more encouraged when we heard a whole Commando brigade was coming over.’1 ‘…the Royal Marine Commandos were coming to relieve the bridgehead position.’12 ‘They started arriving from 0200 hrs. onwards and throughout the night until 0600 hrs. they poured into our bridgehead, interrupted only by a counter-attack which developed on “H” Company’s position during the small hours,’1 ‘…the enemy put in a small counter-attack which made things more difficult still and Mr. Raymond’s platoon suffered some casualties.’12 ‘We had, like everybody else, heard a lot about Commandos, but we had never fought with them before; and with all due respect we were amazed, after daylight had broken, to see them walking about, seemingly quite oblivious of the enemy so close at hand, making no effort whatever to conceal their movements. In consequence, a considerable enemy artillery barrage came down on our positions, wounding many of them, some seriously.’1 ‘…by 0700 hrs the Company [H Coy] had all crossed back over on the other side and were indulging in a hearty breakfast – their first since they had crossed the Weser.’12

‘It is only fitting to say about the Stolzenau “episode” that even though nearly everyone was in need of sleep before they got there, everyone did wonderfully well in a position which was far from pleasant. Our losses though were considerable and we didn’t feel fighting fit when we were moved back to Niendorf for one day’s rest and re-organisation.’12 ‘All the half-tracks with Brownings mounted upon them had their floors ankle-deep in spent cartridge cases – a silent testimony to the defence put up by the drivers against the air attacks.’1

Members of 9 Platoon, after the battle at Stolzenau; left to right, front row: unknown, Rfn. Mills, Davey, Patience, Petrie; back row: Rfn. Clark, unknown, Sgt. Hart, unknown - Rfn. Petrie collection

 

8 April – To Petershagen and across the Weser

The next day we moved south and crossed the Weser at Petershagen…’12 ‘At Petershagen itself, the 6th Airborne, who were on our right flank, had succeed in throwing a bridge across the river, and here, following the 3rd Royal Tank Regiment, we crossed… By nightfall we had reached a village just north-east of Husum. Like all German villages that the Regiment “liberated”, it was ablaze from one end to the other, only a few houses being spared.’1 H Company also had been ‘…following the 3 R.T.R. up through Loccum, Rehburg and Schneeren to Husum, where we moved into leaguer after dark.12

11th Armoured Division Cromwell, crossing the Weser at Petershagen - IWM BU3195

9 April 1945 – The battle for Steimbke (Germany)

‘The night was uneventful and at 0640 hrs. the following morning we, “A” Squadron and “G” Company, set off in the lead on the road to Wenden. It was still early… as we emerged from the far side into some op country, two enemy half-tracks towing 88s were spotted… It was apparent that they had not the slightest idea of our presence and they were easy targets for the 23rd’s 77 mm. guns.’1 ‘Another mile or two down the road brought us to the village of Steimbke. It looked peaceful enough, sheltering in a quiet valley under a warm sun in the morning sky. The small cottages with their thatched roofs, and a small pretty church, presented a picture of complete tranquility. Incongruously, stiff resistance was encountered here, in the form of a Company of 12th S.S., armed with bazooka’s [Panzerfausts] and small arms. 12 Platoon and Sergt. Balswin’s section of carriers, with a troop of tanks in support, went in to clear it’1

‘Soon, however, it was evident that resistance was much too stiff for them… Orders were given for them to withdraw and plans were made to put in a two-company attack… preceded by shelling…’1

‘Again we advanced into the village and this time it was successful, but not without cost. The S.S. fought fanatically and every house had to be cleared individually.’1 ‘Many of the enemy were little more than schoolboys and the operation was more like a ratting expedition than a battle.’10 ‘Our stretcher-bearers were fired on which spurred us on even more. No quarter was given or asked and very few S.S. prisoners lived to tell the tale of the battle of Steimbke.’1 ‘When we had finished with the village it was a mass of flames. There were over a hundred enemy dead lying about and we had captured about 40 PW.’10 In the War Diary, the battalion as a whole claims about 180 Prisoners of War. Two members of 12 Platoon got killed, its OC Lt. Eric Yetman MC and Rfn. Ken Wolton. The number of wounded is unknown.

H Companies historian did not have much to add: ‘The opposition at Steimbke was more considerable than was at first expected so we [H Coy] were moved up and told to clear the western half of the village. This was done by 14 and 16 platoons and it was only at the northern end of the village that any Germans were found, and these were quickly dealt with by 16 platoon. After Steimbke was clear we moved on to Suderbruch…’12 G Company moved on to Rodewald.

Meanwhile F Company ‘ran into trouble at Nord-Drebben on the River Leine. Here the leading carrier or No. 5 section of 5 Platoon was hit by a Bazooka’ killing Rfn. A.M. Murphy. ‘It was soon obvious that to clear the village a Company attack would have to be launched. We eventually cleared up the village without any more trouble, but in doing so had to set light to nearly all the building. We remained here for four days.’11

10 – 15 April 1945 – Rivers Leine and Aller to Belsen (Germany)

‘The next obstacle was the R. Leine. The bridges were blown but tanks and infantry were ferried across to form a bridgehead.’10 ‘Just before darkness fell [on the 9th] we [G Coy] collected ourselves together and moved on a few miles to the village of Rodewald. Here we remained for three days, waiting for a bridge to be built across the River Aller. It was a much needed pause, as we were all very tired indeed and there was much work to be done in reorganizing, both as regards personnel and equipment.‘1 ‘On Friday, the 13th of April, we were on the move again, crossing the River Leine at Helsdorf and concentrating a short way farther in at Schwarmstedt…’1 ‘wating for the 159 Infantry Brigade to clear Winsen, which was being defended quite determinedly.’12 ’Here [at Schwarmstedt] we spent the rest of the day and except for the appearance of the odd Stuka from time to time nothing of interest occurred. The next day we crossed the Aller at Essel and again went into a concentration area to the east of the river’1   ‘We [F Coy]… on April 15th, after a journey through some most difficult wooded country, led the battalion to Belsen Concentration Camp.’11

15 April 1945 – Belsen Concentration Camp (Germany)

Belsen, April 1945 - IWM BU4092

Even though the battalion’s War Diary makes no mentioning at all of Belsen Concentration Camp (see above), the company histories do. The camp ‘had been declared a neutral area before we arrived, because of the typhus…’.11 ‘The yellow German road signs, edged in black, announced “Belsen.” It was just another name to us then. The sight of a concentration camp on our left as we [G Coy] drove through caused no surprise, for… we had been warned of its presence. The whole place was surrounded by pretty young conifers, and beyond them a barbed wire fence about twelve feet high. By the entrances… there stood groups of Hungarian guards… and small knots of men, pyjama-clad. They were the inmates; those that could still stand.’1 ‘…the job of entering and clearing up was left to other units of the Division who were following on behind. As we left Belsen and pushed on, we little guessed what sights lay concealed behind those trim rows of conifers.’1  Three officers returned to Belsen about one week later, to see for themselves what the camp was like. They were Captain Nat Fiennes and Lieutenants Brian Adams and Brian Neill. Another two weeks later Brian Neill wrote down what he had seen in a 5 page letter to his sister.

Later that day, the advance continued, just as it had done for over two weeks now. ‘We [H Coy] then drove through Belsen, Bergen and so out of the typhus area. Soon after this we were told to go to Bonstorf… and we arrived… to find the village ablaze…’12 ‘There were a lot of enemy in the village and 14 platoon were put in first to gain a foothold.  Then 15 platoon went in and the village was cleared in very good time, a lot of prisoners being captured and our losses being only one man killed and one wounded.’12 ‘That night we spent in the burning village…’12

16 April 1945 – From Reiningen to Wriedel (Germany)

‘An early move on the 16th took us to within a few miles of Reiningen where “F” Company met determined opposition’9 ‘Progress… became very fast, until we [F Coy] reached the village of Reiningen, where the leading carrier, again from No. 3 Section, was bazookaed, and the company, especially 6 and 8 Platoons, had a sticky battle with some accurate sniping.’11 G Company ‘followed the 3rd Tanks group and a short “swan” developed. By nightfall we had reached the village of Wriedel. Things were going very well again and our progress during the day had been unexpectedly good. However, it was not long before we were brought to our senses again.’1 ‘We spent the night at Wriedel, which annoyed us [H Coy] because we felt that we could go almost anywhere that night. However, another plan was afoot and the next day we were to cut off the Germans  who where in Uelzen which was to be attacked by the 15th Scottish Division the next night.’12   

17 April 1945 – The battle for Barum (Germany)

‘…when we [H Coy] set off in the morning we didn’t know quite what to expect. We moved through Ebstorf, Natendorf and then stopped while G Company and A Squadron [of …] fought a battle with some high velocity guns which had knocked out 2 tanks and a carrier.’12 G Company ‘passed through the 3rd tanks and pushed on without much difficulty to Seedorf. On leaving the village, however, and on approaching the main Uelsen Luneburg road, the leading two tanks and the leading carrier were hit and began blazing furiously. The fire was coming from a wood… and accompanying the armour-piercing shells was a steady volume of 20 mms. and small arms. The situation looked unhealthy, as there was no other way of approaching the cross-roads except across a wide expanse of absolutely open country. However, luck was with us, in the shape of a squadron of Typhoons… diving to tree-top height and loosing their deadly rockets with incredible accuracy into the midst of the enemy position. To make absolutely sure that the position had been neutralized, we next called on our artillery… and as the last shells of the barrage were bursting we made our way forward again. This time not a sound came from the wood. Turning south, we established ourselves on another cross-roads north of Uelsen, and here we remained for the day in comparative peace and quiet, getting a very good view of the attack on the village of Barum…’1

In the meantime, H Company ‘hadn’t stopped for long though’, after moving through Natendorf, ‘before we were ordered to go and influence the battle by moving through Barum and round to the south of the cross-roads at which they [G Coy] had been held up. Our advance went quite smoothly until the leading elements poked their noses over the crest of the hill leading down to Barum, when there was a colossal volley of fire from everything from machine guns to 88 mms. 15 and 16 platoons were used to clear some woods on the right side of the road and it was just before this that Sgt. Connelly was most unfortunately killed by a stray bullet.’12 Sgt. Connelly, of 13 Platoon, and also Cpl. Beer, of 16 Platoon, were the last members of H Company to get killed before VE-Day. ‘…as there had been no sound from the village, it was decided to push down the hill again with 2 troops of tanks and 15 platoon in their half tracks. This was about to take place when 15 platoon were ordered not to go in the vehicles after all, but the order did not get to the leading vehicle which was already on its way, and it started to career down into the village with every gun firing at it. …the track was knocked off by an 88 A/P shell, but luckily none of the crew were hurt very badly. 2nd troop  lost two tanks as they had also gone down the hill but had been forced to retire very quickly.’12

‘Another plan was then to be conceived, and before any good view could be had of the village, 16 platoon had to clear up a position round a water tower which completely commanded any forming up area which we might have used for an assault on the village. After this the whole Company was moved forward to a ridge overlooking the village and a plan was made for a Company attack. The only approach was across 500 yards of completely open ground and so smoke had to be laid on as well as a considerable amount of H.E. … This barrage was perfectly timed and conducted…’ by ‘the 13th R.H.A. who was shooting… from the northern side of the village.’12

‘So not knowing quite what was going to be our reception, the Company advanced in open formation with tanks  [and E Company’s machine gunners10] shooting in from the flanks. Just before we reached the village the tanks moved past us and established themselves on the outskirts of the village while the Company cleared the houses and made a small footing. There was no resistance as the barrage had driven the remaining Germans to earth, and it was not long before the whole village was clear and in our hands. Here we spent the night in platoon/troop groups carefully watching the roads from Uelzen, but nothing came our way.’12 ‘…the place was a mass of flames. An ammunition dump which had been set on fire was exploding in the centre of the village. Homeless civilians and cattle wandered in the roads – grim surroundings in which to spend the night. At dawn next morning, a machine gun section found themselves looking into the barrels of two 20 mm. guns, both loaded but unattended.10

18 – 19 April 1945 – To Westergellersen (Germany)

 

F Company’s ‘journey thence to the River Elbe was practically without opposition; this took us, at great speed, through Lüneburg to the village of Westergellersen.’11 G Company ‘were ordered… to turn north again up the main road to Bienenbuttel, which we reached without any trouble. Then, instead of continuing to Luneburg, which was only some six miles away, we branched off to the east, making our way through some very close and wooded country, eventually arriving astride the highway running east from the town. Along this road to our delight, we saw approaching a column of German horse-drawn transport, and it was only a matter of minutes before this ragged procession ceased to exist as such. …after a short pause we moved on again, reaching the village of Reinstorf, which we entered after overcoming very slight opposition. …we pushed out a carrier and tank patrols who were to try and reach the Elbe, which was now a mere six or seven miles away. Back with them came a story which later became greatly publicized by the press and the B.B.C. At Neetze they had liberated Belli’s Circus… it was decided to send a section of carriers to make a reconnaissance of the area… The first thing that met their eyes was a collection of vehicles hidden deep in the wood, which they assumed to be German transport. Anyway, deciding not to take any chances, they fired a belt of Browning at these objects. The reply to this were noises which made them think they had suddenly been transported to the jungle, and on closer investigation the supposed German transport proved to be caravans of artists and animals belonging to Belli’s Circus.’1 For H Company ‘the night was spent in Barendorf with the combined headquarters and B/F group. Then next morning, we were moved through Luneburg to Westergellersen where we had the official job of 8 Corps’ left flank protection.’12

Circus Belli, two months later, in June 1945. For other maps and photos see elsewhere on this website.

20 – 26 April 1945 – Cleaning and maintenance at Westergellersen (Germany)

‘We spent a week in Westergellersen…’12 ‘in very pleasant weather,’11 ‘sleeping in houses for the first time since we had been in Germany… We were semi-operational and our guards were not heavy so everyone made up for a lot of lost sleep.’12 ‘…a great part of our load carrying transport was requisitioned to assist the hard-pressed supply services in their superhuman effort to enable us to cross the Elbe in the shortest possible time. These lorries drove right back to Goch to pick up ammunition and supplies, and it was not long before the now familiar dumps of ammunition were appearing on the verges of the roads leading to the river, while load after load of bridging material streamed up to the places chosen for the assoault’1 Apart from this, the battalion’s other vehicles ‘received some very overdue maintenance, weapons were cleaned, and bodies were rested. F Company waited for the last lap.’11 ‘Then on the 26th advance parties went off to a little hamlet north-east of Winsen to look at the positions which we were to take over from the Herefords the next day.12

27 – 29 April 1945 – Winsen (Germany)

‘F Company left Westergellersen on April 27th to hold part of the line of the River Elbe for three days at Winsen, where for most of the time things were very quiet.’11 ‘This town was some miles from the river bank, and except for the occasional shelling was a peaceful and pleasant enough spot. Everyone was billeted very comfortably and we began to realize why the Herefords were not very enthusiastic about being relieved from their front-line position’1 ‘We sent a force forward for 24 hours to the village of Hoopte, on the bank of the river. It consisted of 6 Platoon and No. 1 Section of the Scout Platoon, who had a sleepless but uneventful night.’11 When G Company’s ‘turn came to supply the “Hoopte Forse,” it was made up of 12 Platoon and a section of carriers, with Kenneth Chabot in command. The latter had previously been rather shaken by a platoon commander of the Herefords showing him the scars on one of his legs, caused by a bazooka. However, nothing happened during the tour of duty of our force and they returned to us safe and sound the following night.’1 ‘…it was not long before we were recalled to continue our advance across the Elbe, which by that time had been crossed by the 15 Scottish Division.’12  

30 April 1945 – Crossing the river Elbe at Lauenburg (Germany)

‘In the early hours – very early hours – we moved unobtrusively away from our positions on the Elbe to rejoin C Squadron at Westergellersen. The journey was a normal one – half the Battalion went one way – the remainder led by H Company another, but as usual everyone arrived safely and pretty well to time. Although we received “ready to move” messages at regular intervals from 1000 hrs. onwards, we didn’t set out till the afternoon and the move developed into a series of interminable waits… due to… traffic congestions on the bridge approaches.’12  ‘…we set forth our drive through Luneburg to the village of Artlenburg [near Lauenburg], where we were to cross the Elbe. The traffic jams on the road were quite appalling and progress was awfully slow.’1 ‘Towards dark, we received orders that no matter how long it took us, we were to reach a certain point beyond the Elbe before stopping. In fact we moved on all night…’12 ‘The light was fading well before we reached the bridge as we moved a few yards at a time, nose to tail in the unending column of vehicles.’1 ‘It was a very dark night…’1 ‘…we… crossed the Elbe at Lauenburg. This crossing was by artificial moonlight, and, in the same way as when we crossed the Rhine, seemed a very uneventful moment.’11

The bridge at Lauenburg. For more maps and photos, see elsewhere on this website.

1 May 1945 – Mines, mines, mines (Germany)

‘The advance continued northwards all through the night and it was not long before we [G Coy] had reached the farthest forward positions of the 15th Scottish. …, as we were moving forward, closed up, along a country road, the noise of a violent explosion rent the night air, accompanied by vivid flashes. The leading two tanks were “brewing” as also was one of our carriers. In addition, another carrier had been hit bit had not caught fire1’ From the battalion War Diary it appears G Company had had an encounter with two Tiger tanks. Luckily, they did not suffer casualties. H and F Company did. ‘…at dawn G Company’s group met opposition and had some vehicles brewed. …some people managed some breakfast and then we moved on and ahead and met a tank or S.P. gun. We spent most of the day in the village with an occasional round of “black” whistling overhead and once a gentle “stonk” of H.E. came down in the next field. This was the last time we were ever at the wrong end of a “stonk”.12’ ‘…we pushed on but on the way met mines of an extra special type. Sea mines in fact, punt down in the road. The one which went off blew a carrier bodily some 20 yards and made a crater big enough to hold a London omnibus.12’ It wounded three men of 13 Platoon. E Company had a similar experience when ‘…mines were encountered. Sjt. Duncan and Rfn. Owens had a miraculous escape when their carrier was blown up by a mine of the new Topf type – a mine made of non-metallic composition which cannot be detected by the ordinary mine-detector. Their carrier was turned completely and caught fire, but they managed to crawl out in time.’10 ‘In the afternoon we set off in a casual manner for Lübeck. The Fife and Forfar had gone ahead and all we had to do was motor, which, once we reached the Autobahn (our first) was pleasant enough. We skirted Lübeck to the north…12’  For all companies it had been ‘the last organized opposition to our advance.‘10 ‘As the day drew to a close we [G Coy] found ourselves on a very poor track leading through some woods to the village of Borstorf. …and settle[d] down for the night beside our vehicles.’1

2 May 1945 – Lübeck (Germany)

‘On May 2nd the F. & F. Yeo. made their famous 50 mile charge along the Hamburg-Lübeck autobahn to Lübeck and took the city without opposition’10 ‘As soon as it was light enough…’ G Coy ‘…moved on to some fields just beyond Borstorf… We were just conjecturing as to what our next move would be when through came the astounding orders that we were to follow the Fife and Forfar group in a bid to seize the port of Lübeck. Stories came through that citizens of Lübeck had cycled out to meet the leading troops and had volunteered to ride on the tanks into the heart of the city. This sounded too good to be true… Out doubts were soon dispelled, however, as when we were just about to set out… the sensational news came over the air that the Fifes were already in Lübeck and had met no opposition whatever. Revised orders quickly came through that we were to proceed with all possible speed to the north of the city to cut all escape routes from it. …we settled down to the monotonous though lucrative task of collecting literally thousands of dejected German prisoners and hundreds of vehicles of all sizes and sorts. As fast as we disposed of enormous columns of prisoners, so we collected fresh ones…’1

‘To add to our embarrassment, a party of German A.T.S. girls were brought into my headquarters and promptly passed out. Whether this was a put-up job I will never know, but the fact remains that we had to carry the wretched girls to an upstairs room, where we laid them on the floor alongside the sleeping bodies of the headquarter personnel. To an outsider… the scene must have looked highly irregular, and he would have been justified in suspecting that fraternisation had started in a very bit way. But all was above board…’1

3 May 1945 – Travemünde, Neustadt and the sinking of the Cap Arcona (Germany)

‘The next day we [F Coy] were given the splendid job of capruring Travemünde.  Well knowing the hazard of this, we set out… It was an amazing spectacle, and some thousands of prisoners were taken. These were Admirals, Generals, all sorts and sizes, some of them with their wives, children and dogs. Company Headquarters as usual were right up in the front, and one saw the odd Rileman collecting together his bunch of prisoners and taking them to the most enormous cage the Company had ever to deal with. On the airfield 5 Platoon had their own adventures, and their task was made almost impossible by thousands of civilians, whose one idea in life was to run northwards away from the Russians. Eventually the 5th Infantry Division took over from us… For F Company the fighting was over’11 

‘At 11 o’clock we [H Coy] were suddenly ordered to move together with C Squadron [23H] up to Neustadt. We set off and it wasn’t long before we bumped into some Germans who wanted to give themselves up. A road block had prevented us going along the obvious road so the Germans lead the column in their car while the Company/Squadron group followed up behind. Nothing happened on our ride to Neustadt except that we met thousands of Germans of all ranks wanting to give themselves up. Our route took us up the Baltic Coast and just before we got to Neustadt we saw our Typhoons sweeping down on two ships which were lying at anchor in the bay below us. The rockets hit the ships and it wasn’t long before one of them was well ablaze and sinking…  We hadn’t been there long before we found out that the ships had been full of political prisoners, and that most of them had been killed*. But those who hadn’t died… were all in a very bad way and our job was then to try and give them something to eat. 15 platoon had a very busy time organizing the political prisoners and beating up their S.S. guards…’12    

*): one ship was the Cape Arcona, on which some 5,000 got killed. About 2,000 more got killed on the other vessel.

Cap Arcone burning, 2 May 1945.

4 May 1945 – Peace at last (Germany)

‘The morning to the 4th of May dawned and a signal came through postponing our move…’ to Kiel… ‘for twenty-four hours. This surely signified that something was in the air… No more news, however came through and we spent a quiet, peaceful day where we were. We were sitting in our headquarters with the wireless booming out dance music. Suddenly a little before nine o’clock the music stopped and all was quiet. Than the voice of the announcer rang out – you could have heard a pin drop in the room. “The German Armies facing the 21st Army Group have surrendered to Field-Marshall Montgomery,” he announced.’1

‘We gasped – it was the news we had waited for for over five and a half years. All at once the tension relaxed and everyone went crazy with joy. We had to give vent to our feelings.’1 ‘Fantastic rejoicing went on till the early hours and every drop of liquor accumulated during the past months was soon exhausted. I well remember one of my Serjeants, who deeply resented his nickname of “Tojo”, coming up to me, throwing his arms around me and begging me to sing the Japanese National Anthem with him. As we eventually retired to rest that night, some in prearranged resting-places and some not,  I think many of us felt our limbs to make sure we were still in possession of them all and offered up a prayer of gratitude that we had been spared to live through this occasion. So many had not.’1

5 – 8 May 1945 – VE Day (Germany)

H Company, on the 4th had been on its way to return to the Battalion at Niendorf, when hearing the news that all resistance had ended, and… ‘despite the rain and the discomfort, everyone had small parties all over the field we were then in. The next day we moved into the village, and prepared to move north to Kiel, but the orders were cancelled and we waited at Niendorf until the 11th. During this time “VE Day” was announced, and on the evening of the eighth we had a firework display in the Battalion, using up all our Verey cartridges and trip flares which we had got heartily sick of carting around in the trucks and never using. Later on in the evening though, life became slightly dangerous, as firing of live ammunition became the fashion, when all pyrotechnics had run out. But celebrations seemed unnatural and difficult to enjoy, as the war had ended so suddenly that it was difficult at the time to appreciate fully the significance of May 8th. This was an end to about 11 months of warfare during which some of our best friends had gone, and at the same time people had joined us who were now integral parts of the Company… And so ends an account of 330 days on active service, let’s hope that they have not been an entirely fruitless effort.’12