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

HISTORY   –   D-DAY TO VE-DAY

The battalion’s history from D-Day to VE-Day, on this page, is based on original texts from a number of contemporary sources: the battalion’s War Diary [17, 18] – 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]. Numbers refer to bibliography in page ‘Bibliography & Links’. Maps related to this history can be found elsewhere on this website.

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

Liberty ship. Note camouflage, and landing craft hanging from its side. 

‘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.’1 ‘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!’1 ‘F Company left Aldershot on June 8th. and went by road to Tilbury Docks where we embarked for Normandy.’11 ‘So it was that on that memorable day of Saturday, June 10th, we sailed away from Tilbury at 2.30 p.m.’11 ‘The holds where we slept were fitted out with hammocks and smelt strongly of meat.’1 ‘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.’10 ‘However, all passed without incident; we were neither shelled nor attacked from either sea or air.’1 The battalion’s war diary mentions: ‘Uneventful voyage, fine weather; together with unlimited quantities of food, send morale up very high.’17

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.’11 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.’12  ‘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.’11 ‘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.’12 ‘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.’1 ‘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.’1 ‘The bottom of the craft grated against the shingle – it shuddered, then came to a standstill. The ramp went down.’1 ‘We then drove down the ramp, into four feet of sea water, and we were ashore somewhere near Graye-sur-Mer.’12 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.’11

Beach near Courseulles sur Mer and Graye sur Mer, June 1944. Beach exit 8th Rifle Brigade believed to be second or third from right.

8RB’s route from the beach to Creully. 
More maps can be found elsewhere on this website.

 

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…’1 ‘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.’1 ‘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.’12 ‘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.’1 ‘Our route took us through a little town called Creully. We turned left at Creully… We continued to Lantheuil…’1 ‘From about 1800 hours the Battn. began to arrive in driblets in a small orchard in the little village of Cully.’17 ‘As our vehicles drove under the fruit trees a shower of young, unripened apples cascaded down upon us…’1 ‘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.’10  ‘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.’1

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’17, which for E and F Company meant that ‘the next ten days were spent in de-waterproofing and preparing for battle at Cully.’10 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.’12 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.’1 ‘…each motor company was attached to an armoured regiment, and under its command, to form a “regimental group.”’1 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.’1 Then on June 25th ‘we received orders for Operation Epsom’12

Details of map GSGS 4347 – Thaon, showing Cully and Couloms. 
More maps and photos can be found elsewhere on this website.

 

25 – 30 June 1944 – Operation Epsom (France)

25 June – The plan

‘It was an ambitious plan. 8 Corps was to advance South, cross the River Odon, capture Hill 112 to dominate the surrounding country, advance across this country, cross the River Orne and establish itself on the high ground on the Falaise Road about six miles South of Caen.’12 ‘We knew full well our role… The infantry were to make a breach in the defences… and we, the armoured columns, were to exploit that breach and break out with all possible speed as far as we could.’1 ‘At five o’clock the Commanding Officer visited us and wished us God-speed in our endeavour. Spirits were high and hopes were higher. For years we had waited for this. Our little band of… Londoners, had a debt to settle with the Hun, and tomorrow we were going to get our first chance to hit back.’1

25 June – First casualties

‘…in the evening 7 and 8 Platoons [F Coy] were called upon to extricate some of our tanks from an engagement with German infantry and Tiger Tanks. As they moved up for this operation, 7 Platoon had the misfortune to receive a direct hit from a shell on one of their Half-Tracks, with the result that they lost ten killed and three wounded. Never again during the whole of the campaign did we suffer so many casualties from a single stonk. 8 Platoon were successful in extricating the tanks, and the Company withdrew to a close leaguer where we spent the night in the drenching rain.’11

Ruined Norman church, Norrey en Bessin

26 June – Desolation and destruction

‘We moved off at about 10.30. This was the day we had been waiting for for four or five years. There is a thrill about driving into battle for the first time, that one never experiences again. We drove through Bretteville l’Orgeuileuse, Norrey en Bessin, with it beautiful Norman church now in ruins, within a mile of St. Manvieu which was burning fiercely…’12 ‘The roads were bad, being pitted with holes…’1 ‘…we were soon in the midst of utter desolation and destruction – corpses and wrecked vehicles everywhere and weeping hysterical refugees making their way back to our rear.’10 ‘Truly, the four horsemen of the Apocalypse were riding through Normandy’1 F Company ‘…advanced into Cheux, where the engagement had taken place the night before, and once again we suffered casualties through shelling. This time it was Company Headquarters… 6 Platoon sent out a patrol during the afternoon, and discovered some Tigers; but the distance was far beyond the range of their P.I.A.T., which was not altogether a disappointment to the Rifleman behind it’11 ‘As it got dark we moved into harbour in a field at Cheux. …it was raining hard…’12 E Company ‘…Platoons had moved through the blasted ruins of Cheux and had their first experience of sniping an shelling.’10

27 June – Crossing the River Odon

‘We managed a comfortable breakfast. Just as we moved off we had our first vehicle casualty; a 75 mm anti-tank gun made a hole right through the scout car, Rfn. Wright and Rodkoff were both inside… and were lucky not to be hurt… [Rfn. Rodkoff got killed a few days later on Hill 112]’12 ‘Less than a mile from Bretteville the column halted by a level crossing, and few shells landed nearby. The surrounding fields were littered with Canadian dead.’1 ‘We moved over the high ground after the tanks and down towards the valley of the river Odon. By this time some tanks had found a way through the next village called Tourville, across the main Caen-Villers road and on to the narrow flat plain at the other side of which flowed the Odon. Colonel Harding [23H] ordered two squadrons to cross the river by the only bridge, and to climb the overlooking ridge on the far side. H Coy. was to follow… As soon as we had crossed the river… we sent patrols to clear the woods on the ridge that looked back over the river. It was here that Moaning Minnies we first fired at us.’12 F Company’s ‘…8 Platoon captured the Company’s first prisoners from a gun-site, where much interesting enemy equipment was found.’11 H Company ’…went right forward on to the highest ground to close leaguer for the night. It was past midnight when we moved in… we could hear enemy Tigers retiring for the night into Esquay about a mile away… we had a quiet night, with only two hours of sleep in cramped positions in our vehicles.’12 ‘F Company that night ‘…were shelled again in the village of Baron,’11 and E Company, ‘…while digging in for the night… had our first casualties. An armour-piercing shot went completely through one carrier… After that we dug pretty deep. In the meantime the A. Tk. Pls. were not having an easy time. 19 Platoon were sent in to support “G” Company on the approaches to the notorious Hill 112. A “G” Company patrol had spotted an 88 mm. gun and two A/Tk. guns were ordered forward… They were heavily mortared and machine gunned as they moved into position and suffered heavy casualties…’10

28 June – Hill 112, Day 1, H Company

‘At about 0400 hrs. we moved out of the close leaguer. The company went back and spread out along the hedges near Baron, where we had our breakfast… There were about 3 enemy tanks firing from dug in positions in and around the wood at pt. 112. This position dominated the whole area and it became clear that we must take this wood… This H Company was ordered to do at about 0900 hrs. The company concentration area was in an orchard at the East end of Baron. …from here we went forward up the long slope of a cornfield beyond which lay the Caen-Evrecy road, the calvary at the cross roads, the orchard and the wood and pt. 112… At the far end of the wood 3 enemy tanks counterattacked, firing both H.E. and M.G. at very close range. …at the same time a friendly tank put the whole of Cpl. Rick’s section in 16 platoon out of action; meanwhile the enemy tanks caused many casualties especially in 13 platoon. Eventually we were ordered to withdraw some time before 1400 hrs… We then drove back… to the dead ground of the cornfield behind the road, and were ordered back to concentrate round a farmyard at Tourmauville… about one mile west of Baron. …it was evening before we found the right place. This was a tragic day, the casualties were all men who had trained and lived with us in England and everyone was rather shattered at their loss. It was not long before we learned that we were to revert back to 

Men from an 8th Rifle Brigade Motor Platoon take cover behind their half-track, 28 June 1944 - IWM A70 60-1

battalion command, for a night attack on the wood. …and then the attack being cancelled… We were to occupy the same field for the night, from which we had evacuated the casualties earlier in the day, and attack our old friend the wood early the next morning.’12 

8th Rifle Brigade half-track and E Company Loyd Carrier advancing towards Hill 112, 28 June 1944 - IWM A70 59-2

28 June – Hill 112, Day 1, G and E Company

‘It was daybreak, and we [G Coy] had slept for two hours. Trucks were immediately started  and we moved on… through Colleville and Mondrainville… The usual scenes met our gaze; dead Germans, dead cattle, wrecked and burning houses, and the usual stench accompanied them. At the bottom of a hill we came to a bridge by a bend. It was the River Odon… We climber up the steep, winding hill the other side… 10 and 11 Platoons were sent out on a patrol to investigate some wooded area… the patrols met trouble… Without warning, from a strongpoint… a low angled mortar was fired, which landed on the far side of the hedge, rendering all the men there, casualties. 10 Platoon… came down to their assistance, and in a fresh outbreak of machine-gun and mortar fire, Michael Lane was wounded, together with several others. Later, Michael died of this wounds. Micky McCrea went down in a scout car… As he approached, he was sniped at, and a bullet entered his knee. …the casualties were evacuated.  …it was considered vital that we should push on and make ourselves strong on Hill 112.’1 ‘It was not until the next day [28 June] that “E” Company group moved to the top of the Hill… A Motor Company was already firmly established on the top.’10 ‘It was early afternoon now… We rumbled over the field, slowly 

climbing. The carriers were firing their Brownings into the woods, and suddenly return fire started. Bullets pinged off the sides of the vehicles… This was Hill 112. The atmosphere was tense… Nearly all the half-tracks were ordered to withdraw… The ammunition which was required, together with the picks and shovels, was off loaded… the Company dug in. After about half an hour a machine gun opened up… shortly joined by another… It then became apparent that the tempo of the fire was increasing… The tanks, who were on the left of the field, hull-down…returned the fire… For several minutes the sky was rent with a great flow of tracer in both directions. Just as a climax was achieved, shelling commenced and a further note was also added… It was a diabolical sound, like that of a giant retching, which was repeated several times in quick succession. This was followed by a great whistling, culminating in a devilish scream… It was the German multiple-barrelled rocket mortar, commonly dubbed “Moaning Minnie.” After a seemingly interminable time, the crashing ceased… After a few minutes infantry were seen advancing from the west… Artillery support was called, and a heartening barrage of 25-pounders showered down on them. Nothing more was seen… and there was no counter-attack. It was, however, apparent that the position was quite untenable, in view of our strength, through the hours of darkness, and it was decided to withdraw from the summit… We made laager… Few had more than a wink of sleep that night, some none at all. The previous morning seemed another age.’1

29 June – Hill 112, Day 2

‘As soon as it was light we [G Coy] set about digging in. We dug with a will, and by nine o’clock we had trenches of a reasonable depth… As our trenches deepened, so our confidence returned.’1 In H Company ‘…only some people had breakfast this day. At 0800 a very sudden attack was ordered on the wood. We had one platoon of G Coy., under command, for this attack and later, for consolidating we were given another G Coy. motor platoon. We also had an anti-tank and machine gun platoon from E Coy., for consolidation. The carriers had been left for the night in the cornfield area by Baron, Sgt. Millwood’s section coming up as soon as we were established in the wood. The attack went in at 0800 hrs, two motor platoons up, each followed by another motor platoon. Almost immediately heavy mortar and shell fire came down… Major Mackenzie was wounded during this… This was a bad blow… for he had commanded us for over three years and had been splendid in the wood the day before. Fortunately, the commanding officer was soon at hand and he walked around to every position… We were all very tired and hungry and not much enthusiasm was shown for digging. However, by evening everyone seemed to enter in the spirit of it, and we should have given the devil of a pasting to those German fellows if they had come near 

23rd Hussars tanks on Hill 112, 29 June 1944 - IWM A70 61-7

us.’12 ‘In the evening F Company joined the rest of the Battalion on the since notorious Hill 112. There was quite considerable mortaring and shelling by the enemy, who appeared to resent our presence on this very commanding piece of ground.’11 ‘When at last is grew dark at about 2300 hrs. we all settled down to defend our trenches under the trees. No one knew what the hour, or the day was – so many things had happened in so short a time. At about midnight there was a loud crash of mortar bombs, and the Commanding Officer hopped into the Headquarter trench… and… brought the disturbing news that we might have to move – back. An enemy patrol had also come up to the wood, and was driven off by the anti-tank platoon. We would, therefore, have been happier to stay where we were. An hour later, the word came through. The tanks from the wood moved out first and then would cover us out. Orders to move out had… to be given by walking round to each position in turn. It was… one of the causes for the an unfortunate misunderstanding with the anti-tank platoon which resulted in three guns being left behind…’12

30 June – The battle is over

‘We reached the R.V. – the burning half-track of the night before – at about 0245 hrs. The battalion column was lined up by Companies, ready to move back over the bridge we had crossed only 57 hours before… The battle was now over. Everyone was very tired and the drive back was depressing. We passed through many derelict villages and it seemed that we had given so much and lost many of our friends and done so much destruction – all In vain. It was surprising that the enemy allowed the whole Brigade  to pass back over the bridge and along that narrow road without so much as firing one shot. The fighting that had been done had certainly been successful, and it was a great disappointment – after so much effort – to be brought back for a cause quite remote from our own action…’12 ‘…the order to withdraw was given because of the danger from the flanks. Many units were subsequently involved in the fighting around Hill 112, but the 23rd Hussars and 8th Bn. The Rifle Brigade were the only Regiments to gain a successful foothold. Moreover, the enemy never regained the ground.’10 ‘At 0630 hrs we reached our new concentration area. About half of the Battalion went right back to Cully… It was midday before we were all present. We spent the rest of the day sleeping and re-organising.’12

1  – 8 July 1944 – Le-Mesnil-Patry area, reading, writing, sleeping (France)

Bretteville l'Orgeuilleuse. German Panther tank knocked out in early June- IWM B6051

‘At 0500 hrs the next morning we were ordered to stand-to ready to move; but, as so often happened, we stayed where we were for a few days.’12 ‘At Bretteville [Bretteville l’Orgeuilleuse] we [F Coy] had time to clean ourselves up and make up for lost sleep. How nice this was.’11 G Company’s ‘…time at Norrey [Norrey-en-Bessin] was spent licking our wounds from Hill 112, and trying to take stock of our freshly gained experience. I don’t think any troops could have had a sterner initiation into the unpleasantness of battle than we had on that legendary hill…’1 ‘There were three things that encouraged us [H Coy] all at this time. The first was the arrival of our First-Line reinforcements, whom we had been so sorry to leave behind in England. The second was to see in the papers that at the very tip of the arrow that marked our attack was the wood at point 112, which H Company were the very first troops ever to occupy and which was not occupied again for a whole month. And the third was the news that the bridgehead we had made over the Odon was still held. During this time the Company was under command of the 23rd Hussars, and was in the area of Putot-en-Bessin; we were all in one orchard and everyone spent their days reading, writing letters, and, most popular of 

all, sleeping… It was at Putot that we were able to watch the first 3000 ton raid on Caen by the R.A.F….’12 Like F, G and H Companies, also E Company ‘…withdrew to a potato field near Norrey-en-Bessin and stayed there for about a week resting an reorganising.’10 

8 – 15 July 1944 – All the guns in the world, Cheux (France)

WD 440708-15

‘…on the 8th July, the Company [in fact the whole Battalion] moved forward to take over a counter-attack role from a company of the 2nd K.R.R.C., in the 4th Armoured Brigade…’12 ‘…, just North of Cheux…’11 ‘It was here that we were able to appreciate the strength of 2nd Army’s artillery, for we were positioned in the middle of what seemed to be “all the guns in the world”, especially when they laid down a barrage one night to open an Infantry Division’s attack.’12 ‘Our area had been heavily fought over, and a few dead Germans were found in some of the many slit trenches and dugouts. By far the most unpleasant thing, though, was the presence of dead cattle and the appalling stench of them. We minimized this to a great extent by borrowing a bulldozer from the 3rd R.T.R. and covering them with earth. The bulldozers at this time were in great demand… The many knocked-out German tanks in the area were used to good effect to show that our P.I.A.Ts. would very definitely go through them…’1 ‘It was here also that Lt. Col. Hunter came to take over the Battalion, and Major Dickenson the Company – both of them being members of the K.R.R.C.’12

'A French girl refugee returns to Cheux with two sheep she has managed to retain' - IWM B6341

15 – 17 July 1944 – Orders for Operation Goodwood (France)

WD 440715-17 Preparing for Goodwood

On 15 July ‘…orders for Op Goodwood were received…’ by the Battalion H.Q. ‘On the 16th we were withdrawn to a concentration area east of Cully in preparation for what was afterwards to be known by Riflemen as the “Caen Battle”. Then at 0030 hrs on the 17th we moved up to the area of Plumetot (North of Caen) where we spent the early hours of the morning turning the Company into a hedge by means of camouflage nets and branches. Camouflage officers were prevalent in the area complaining of our laxness… It was while pretending to be a hedge that we received orders for operation “Goodwood”, and they sounded very impressive  – 700 tanks, 3000 aeroplanes, 3 AGRAs (besides our own (Divisional) Artillery) against the enemy’s 200 to 300 tanks. And or course we also received a NAAFI ration, including our first bottle of English beer.’12

18 July 1944 – Operation Goodwood, Day 1 (France)

WD 440718-19 Goodwood

Over the Orne

‘Darkness fell and we emerged from our day camouflage to start on the final trek to our concentration area just north of Ranville.’1 ‘…early the next morning we moved over the Orne to our forming up area, near where the 6th Airborne Division’s gliders had come down.’12 ‘This was an even more unpleasant drive than the previous night, as in addition to the dark and dust, we this time had shelling added to the menu. However, no one was hit and we eventually arrived at our destination just before dawn broke. …the Company was almost complete, but very tired, by the time H Hour came.’1  

Motor Platoon of H Company around 6th Airborne gliders - IWM A70 90-1
Bombing of Cagny, 18 July 1944 - BHC000902

3,000 bombers

‘Before we all moved forward to form up on this lovely sunny summer’s morning, of 18th July, we were treated to a superb air pageant by the R.A.F., who appeared to be bombing everything within sight.’1 ‘…before the operation began and while we ate our breakfast, we saw the heavy bombers go over and bomb their targets, and it was a heartening sight.’12 ‘…we watched the thrilling spectacle of hundreds of medium and heavy bombers paving the way for our advance.’11

Moving off

‘”H” Hour was at 07.30 hrs.’10 ‘Then, over the air came the orders to crack off. All reached their appointed places in the formation except one carrier, which was blown up on one of our own mines… The roar of artillery was terrific on either flank… We eagerly awaited the sound of the 25-pdrs. starting up, which would be the signal to go forward. At last the creeping barrage began, and the mighty armoured steam-roller started on its task to flatten out all before us.’1 ‘…”E” Company crossed the start line at 08.15 hrs…’10 At about 0800 hrs ‘…H Company and the 23rd Hussars made their way towards the battlefield. The plan was that the Brigade should advance under a vast creeping barrage, and would thus be able to push its way through everything.’12

E Company Loyd carrier and 6 Pdr. A/Tk. gun during Goodwood, 18 July 1944 - IWM B7539

The beginning… a happy state of affairs

‘At first we saw little sign of the enemy, and the few Germans we did see appeared completely dazed as they came in and gave themselves up… All went very much according to plan for the first five miles till we got to Grentheville. Here a “Moaning Minnie” opened up just in front of us, but before the last its six barrels had been emptied the turrets of a dozen Shermans swung round and blew it and the crew to pieces – the best thing we had ever seen happen to this diabolical weapon.’1 ‘”E” Company group’s first task in this operation was to seize and hold Le Mesnil Fremental against attacks from tanks of the 21st Panzer Division. This was achieved without difficulty. We suffered two casualties… and the Company rounded up nearly 200 prisoners.’10 ‘…at the beginning… all H Company had to do was to direct prisoners back to the place from which we had come, or leave carriers behind to round them up as they came in and take them back. This happy state of affairs lasted until we reached the Caen-Argentan railway line, on the other side of which was a mass of 88 mm anti-tank guns and dug-in tanks…’12  

Nebel Werfer or 'Moaning Minnie' - BHC000826

Things becoming unpleasant, end of Day 1

G Company went on, ‘…to the outskirts of Hubert Folie, and found ourselves stuck out in front with no one upon our flank… we were ordered to find out whether Hubert Folie was held. The approaches were all very open, so after study of the air photographs of the village I decided to work a carrier section as close to the village as possible and then make a dash for it down the main street and out the other end. Divisionary fire was put down… and the carriers set off. After a few minutes of anxious waiting, they emerged from the village. David Stileman, who commanded the party, reported seeing no enemy, but it appeared the next day, the village was in fact occupied… The Germans had by now obviously collected their wits together, after the first colossal onslaught, and things rapidly became very unpleasant for us. Armour-piercing shells began coming in from all directions… tanks of the 3rd R.T.R. began “brewing up.” Then on our left, Panthers appeared and the fun really began. The tanks had pulled back to positions from where they could engage the enemy a little more safely, and I found my half-track and a section of carriers were stuck out in front of them all. The best we could do was to move back to a hedge… Unfortunately, the carrier section suffered heavy casualties… We seemed to lie behind that hedge for hours, imagining every moment to be our last. Eventually we were able to pull back and rejoin the rest of the company… Plans were made for our night dispositions… we moved back behind a railway embankment, which must have saved many of our lives, as shortly after we had got into our new positions 88’s opened up from the village of Bras and tanks began brewing up one after another… So after our great start, we had ended up the day a very depleted force, and it was clear that we would be unable to carry out our original plans.’1  

8th Rifle Brigade carrier crossing the railway embankment, 18 July 1944 - IWM A70 87-1

Most other companies had advances not so far as G Company. ‘…as our tanks advanced down the long forward slope of the railway line they were destroyed one after the other. So the rest of the day was spent [by H Coy] sitting on the railway line just outside the village of Grentheville with 14, and 15 platoons on the railway line, 13 platoon behind it, 16 platoon going into the village to begin clearing it. It was here that Sgt. Triggs had his carrier ‘brewed-up’ by an H.E. shell from an 88 mm…’12 ‘There was not much to do for F Company to do during the day, because this was largely a tank v. tank battle… We took a few prisoners and captured several guns and Nebelwerfers.’11 ‘Elsewhere the Armoured Regiments were involved in the biggest and costliest tank battle of the campaign. By nightfall the Division has lost 115 A.F.V.’s and the F. and F. Yeo. were left with only 9 tanks, the number increasing to 18 on the following day when stragglers came in.’10  ‘Than that evening the [H] Company formed a close leaguer with the 23rd Hussars…’12 F Company, that evening, ‘…relieved H Company in the village of Grentheville, where we spent what was probably the most unpleasant night of the campaign. The enemy mortared and shelled us quite considerably, and by the time we were relieved by some of the 1st. Battalion The Rifle Brigade, at midday on the 19th, we had suffered more casualties than we could afford.’11

19 July 1944 – Operation Goodwood, Day 2 (France)

8RB half-tracks moving through the corn, 19 July 1944 - IWM A70 90-1

The next morning

‘When light came next morning, we did not know what the day would have in store for us. A small comfort was that it surely could not be worse than the previous one.’1 H Company ‘…spread out again still staying in the area behind the railway line; there was some accurate high-velocity shelling and two half-tracks were knocked out, luckily with only one casualty.’12 G Company’s ‘…first move was to a big open field near the railway embankment, and we were accompanied by the 3rd R.T.R.’s remaining seventeen tanks. Here we were lucky, as the rest of this field, which was packed with vehicles , came in for some very heavy shelling, our past being left fairly well alone.’1

F and H Company take Bras

‘After lunch, orders came through that the remnants of the 29th Armoured Brigade were to capture Bras and Hubert Folie. “F” and “H” Companies were allotted Bras as their task…’1 ‘At 1730 hrs we [H Coy] attacked Bras with “F“ Company, supported by the 2nd Northants Yeomanry and 3 R.T.R.’12 ‘On the afternoon of July 19th, F Company led the Battalion attack on the Village of Bras, while G Company subsequently attacked Hubert Folie. This operation was a complete success. In the attack on Bras the 3rd. Battalion Royal Tank Regiment paved the way by softening up very well indeed those holding the outskirts of the place. 6 Platoon led the Company attack, followed by 7 and 8, while the carriers thrashed through the corn like destroyers, giving flank support. The battalion took over six hundred prisoners from the much-vaunted First S.S. Panzer Division (Adolf Hitler).’ ‘The enemy fought savagely and several tried the old trick of surrendering with a grenade in one hand. Snipers lay up in most of the ruined houses…’10 Despite all this, casualties ‘…were light in spite of enemy defensive shelling, and when in the evening the whole Brigade was withdrawn from the battle, every one, however tired, was filled with elation by the triumph of the afternoon.’11

Men of 14 Platoon, H Coy, clearing Bras, 19 July 1944. On left possibly Lt. Dixon - IWM A70 90-1

G Company’s attack on Hubert Folie

‘Bras was successfully cleared and we [G Coy] went on to begin our attack on Hubert Folie. A very effective smoke-screen was put down by our 2-inch mortars and behind this 10 and 11 Platoons formed up and went in to the attack, followed by 12 Platoon… As the motor platoons moved in I called over the air for the tanks to stop firing, but one went on firing and nothing could be done to stop it. It later transpired that this was a tank knocked out the day before and a German was [now] manning its machine-gun. The carriers who were acting as flank protection… came under fire from this machine-gun, and Cpl. Isard… was killed. We later had the satisfaction of seeing this German “brewed up” in no uncertain manner… Meanwhile the clearing of the village was going well, and we were soon able to announce that is was in our hands completely… It was not long before a battalion of our infantry brigade arrived on the scene and took over from us, enabling us to return once again to the railway embankment, where we rejoined the rest of the battalion in laager.’1 

20 – 22 July 1944 – Giberville area (France)

WD 440720-22 Giberville
Burnt-out Sherman tank, left behind on the battlefield - IWM A70 90-2

‘…in the morning, due to very heavy tank losses which the brigade suffered (115 in all), we were withdrawn to Longueville. It rained for most of the two days we were at Longueville, and nothing was done while we were there…’12 F Company found its ‘…temporary resting place was a field near Démouville, South East of Caen and there we were swamped by the most torrential rain that summer. There is no one more qualified to describe this swamp than the Company Commander, Major D.F. Cunliffe, M.C. “At Démouville… I chose the position of Company Headquarters in a dip. …it proved fatal. We had grown used to dust… and now we had our first taste of mud, real, rich, cloggy mud, and then it started to rain, and rain as hard as it does at Old Trafford… we were soon swimming in water. It was useless wearing ammo boots, we had no gum boots, and so I walked around in bare feet.”’11 G Company also ‘…moved to the area of Demouville. Here it was wet and muddy and once again we were in the middle of a gun area. However, in spite of these things, we spent a couple of quiet days there…’1   

22 – 28 July 1944 – Cussy (France)

WD 440722-28 Cussy

‘On the 22nd of July back we went, crossing the Orne once again by “London Bridge,” and ending up at Cussy, in the neighbourhood of Caen, where we were really to have the chance again of getting ready for our next party.’1 ‘There we spent six days in cleaning ourselves up and resting…’12 ‘…Cussy, a badly bombed village with a lovely old Abby, not far from Caen itself. Here the weather was calm, and the routine consisted of sleep, the maintenance of vehicles and weapons, the washing of bodies and clothes, and then more sleep. In spite of the arrival of more reinforcements, the casualties of the last two battles made it necessary for the Company [F Coy] to be reorganized with only two motor Platoons – these were known as 6 and 8. The Scout Platoon remained at full strength.’11 ‘ENSA made a first appearance and we thoroughly enjoyed the films and concert parties. We also had fresh rations for the first time. A leg of lamb proved a problem as we had only our small cooker dixies.’10

‘Abaye d’Ardenne’, Cussy, 24 July 1944 – IWM B7982

29 July – Moving to the other side of the British sector

WD 440729 Caumont area

‘On the 29th of July refreshed by our rest at Cussy we moved across the front to Bayeux and then turned south towards Caumont, ending up in some pleasant orchards a few miles north of the town.’1 ‘The Bn moved complete from almost extreme east to west of the British sector…, leaving Cussy in the early morning and reaching Planqueray, a small village N. of Caumont during the late afternoon.’12 ‘Here we caught the first glimpse of France untouched by was and experienced the fine hospitality of the French people. I was a wonderful experience for us, coming straight from the scenes of desolation around Caen. We also saw something of the rear areas where hordes of troops were engaged in keeping us going. How we envied them their comfortable billets and pretty Mademoiselles.’10 ‘The night was spent in a field with vehicles highly camouflaged…’12

30 July – Operation Bluecoat, Day 1, Caumont to St. Martin des Besaces

WD 440730 Caumont to

‘The morning was overcast and cloudy, but despite it the Royal Air Force delivered the goods, and at first light the 15th Scottish Division, with Churchill tanks of the Guard Brigade, attacked south of Caumont…’1 ‘…down through Sept Vents…’11 ‘After a succession of orders and counter-orders the Bn. finally left Planqueray at 1400 hrs working in reserve with 3 RTR. Movement was fairly slow… During the early evening we passed through two blazing villages… Later that night the Bn. was ordered to capture St. Martin des Besaces, F Coy leading to begin with, and then H Coy to pass through to the objective. The first part proceeded according to plan… 14 Pl went forward on foot towards the top of the hill overlooking the village and met opposition in the form of a tank tucked away on the road under a steep bank. Deciding the village was held 14 Pl eventually withdrew but not before Cpl. Fulton had considerably shaken the occupants of the tank with a well aimed grenade… 15 Pl moved forward in support and the two Pls. remained for the rest of the night on the reverse slope of the hill.’12 ‘”E” Company group were not engaged during the first two days…’10

31 July 1944 – Operation Bluecoat, Day 2, Saint Martin des Besaces and La Ferrière

WD 440731 St Martin des Besaces

G Company ‘…pushed on to St. Martin des Besaces, where “H” Company were in trouble and had been pinned down.’1 ‘At first light an attack was put in by the Company, but was held up by heavy Spandau fire from well concealed positions in the cornfields. Several men were killed or wounded…’12 ‘We were ordered to attack, supported by a squadron of the 3rd R.T.R. being given the information that the enemy consisted of only of the odd sniper, and the three motor platoons accordingly went into the attack… A high railway embankment had to be crossed and this obstacle could not be surmounted by the tanks and so they were unable to support the motor platoons. 10 and 11 Platoons came under heavy fire and were pinned down, suffering heavy casualties, but 12 Platoon managed to work round and reached their objective, although they lost a complete section… through mortaring. For several hours this handful of men of 12 Platoon held out on their objective against heavy odds…’1 ‘Eventually the village was cleared by 1 Herefords coming in from the right flank with tank support…’12 St. Martin des Besaces had proved to be a much harder nut to crack than higher command imagined… We [G Coy] had lost six killed in the action and a fair number of wounded…’1 ‘…the advance continued at 1700hrs…’12 ‘…we raced together through the depths of the beautiful Fôret de L’Evêque. At last we knew what it meant to be swanning. At La Ferrière we… were receiving a rapturous welcome from the French civilians. Calvados and Cider were offered in abundance… we realised that War possessed a pleasant side.’11 ‘An American tank column travelling in the opposite direction was passed during the night, causing many of the Coy’s drivers to think that their last hour had come. Eventually the Company harboured in leaguer with a Sqdn of 3 RTR.’12

2nd Household Cavelry armoured car shot up near Saint Martin des Besaces, in morning of 31 July 1944 - IWM A70 107-2
8th Rifle Brigade, E Company, Loyd Carrier at crossroads at Saint Martin des Besaces, 31 July 1944 - IMW B8292

1 August 1944 – Operation Bluecoat, Day 3, Beny Bocage and St. Charles de Percy

WD 440801 Bluecoat Day 3
The 'Jerry tank' at Le Beny Bocage, 1 August 1944 - IWM B8338

‘On we went to Le Beny Bocage, where we had a sharp encounter before seizing a piece of high ground to the north of the town. …5 Platoon… was shot up by a camouflaged vehicle, either a tank or self-propelled gun, and casualties were suffered.’11 ‘The advance continued through some very lovely country to Beny Bocage, which we occupied after “F” Company had pushed north from the town. Here we got our first real welcome of any size from the French people, and wine flowed freely… I have truly never before seen people go so absolutely mad with joy. Everybody was either shouting, waving, cheering, clapping, kissing one another, singing the ‘Marseillaise’ or doing all the whole lot at once. The town square-market-place, I suppose… about eighty yards by twenty. At one end a Jerry tank, charred and blackened, still pours forth smoke.’1 H Company at ‘…Le Beny Bocage… took up position forward of the village guarding the road to the South. During the night a Sqdn. of Household Cavalry returned from a successful recce 15 miles into enemy country. This was unfortunately marred by one of their Armoured Cars blowing up on 14 Pl’s carefully laid mines.’12 G Company after ‘…a brief period of rejoicing we moved forward again with a squadron of the 3rd R.T.R. and reached St. Charles de Percy, thus cutting the main highway from Caen to Vire. It was evident that we had cut one of the enemy’s main escape routes from the north, and we anxiously waited to see what would be his reaction… We settled down astride the crossroads and it was not long before an enemy tank approached… Our chances of holding off a an armoured attack in any strength were not bright with the forces at our disposal, so after urgent appeals…, some self-propelled 17-pdrs. were put under our command and we were strengthened by the loan of a motor platoon from “H” Company. The expected counter attack never came, but the threat of it kept us all very keyed up for the rest of the day and night…’1  

2 August 1944 – Operation Bluecoat, Day 4, Presles, Le Bas Perrier and Chênedollé

WD 440802 Bluecoat Day 4

‘Moved off early in the morning B Sqdn [23H] and H Coy leading, toward Chenedolle, meeting a certain amount of light opposition on the way which was dealt with most effectively by the leading tank of the Sqdn. Presles was reached by midday amidst great rejoicing from the inhabitants… unfortunately short lived…’12 ‘…by now we were far in advance of any other British units, and the inevitable enemy reaction followed, for we had penetrated very deeply into his defences. 8 Platoon and No. 2 Section of the Scout Platoon fought a very lively encounter against some machine gun posts on our left flank which had been attacking our Centre Line…’11 ‘…the vanguard moved down into Chenedolle, where tank opposition was met, causing the Carriers and Motor Pls. to play a most unpleasant game of hide and seek. One tank was effectively dealt with by Sgt. Triggs, using the PIAT, and knocking out all the crew except the driver who managed to reverse down the road… The company were withdrawn from the village… and the pulled back still further as the Guards Armoured Div on the left flank had been held up.’12 ‘As evening drew on… the whole Battalion, with the 23rd Hussars. Took up a position on some high ground at Le Bas Perrier. This high ground was extremely vital to the Germans and we confidently expected to be heavily counter-attacked at first light next morning. Digging up here was very difficult, but our perseverance paid ample dividend, as will be seen by the events of the ensuing days.’1   

8th Rifle Brigade half-track passing through Presles, 2 August 1944 - IMW A70 110-5

3 August 1944 – Operation Bluecoat, Day 5, Le Bas Perrier Ridge

WD 440803 Bluecoat Day 5
8th Rifle Brigade's arrival at Presles, the previous day, coming in from the north. The Le Bas Perrier Ridge can be seen lying on the horizon - IWM B8584

‘The next morning we woke up to find that our position of the night before had changed considerably, and whereas our Company [H Coy] had been put at the rear of the Battalion position to have a quiet time, in the morning some German tanks had come round to the rear into Presles and had succeeded in cutting us off. …they destroyed several vehicles quite early on the day, and the hill was a mass of burning hulks.’12 ’20 Platoon [E Coy]…’10 lost three men wounded and… ‘had two of their MMG’s destroyed by shell fire.’10  ‘…tanks and self-propelled guns, most concealed in sunken roads, opened up from all sides. “Moaning Minnies” added to the fun and soon tanks began “brewing up” and casualties began to mount. Morale dropped and I think came nearer to cracking than at any other time during our whole campaign…’1 ‘Casualties were unfortunately fairly heavy, and they could not be evacuated immediately, the M.O. Capt. Willcox… and the Padre, Geoffrey Taylor, worked unceasingly despite all dangers. It was at this time that the mortar detachment had a very unpleasant experience… a large explosion in the pit, in which they were sited… it was presumed that a piece of burning metal from a “brewed up” Lloyd carrier had landed on the secondaries of some of the bombs… with the result that about six bombs went off at the same time…’12 ‘Vehicles, too, had come in for a bad time and we had four half-tracks and carrier hit… Night descended and we settled down, knowing that no supplies could reach us and that none of our wounded could be sent back.’1 ‘That night the 2nd Battalion Royal Warwicks attacked Presles…’12 after ‘…a tremendous barrage…’1 ‘and found it empty, as the enemy had withdrawn…’12 

4 August 1944 – Operation Bluecoat, Day 6, Relieved

WD 440804 Bluecoat Day 6

‘…at first light a patrol from “H” Company, established contact with…’ the Royal Warwicks,… ’thus ending our period of being cut off from the outside world, and so enabling an ambulance column to be formed and immediately and our casualties to be evacuated. The 4th of August was another day of being shelled an “minnied” and again a “P.I.A.T. gang” went to Chenedolle. It was, however, much more comforting than the previous day inasmuch that we knew that at least we could not be fired on from our immediate rear. Our padre, Jeff Taylor, who had been up with us the whole time, held a simple impressive burial service for those killed on the previous day, during which service perhaps by mere coincidence, not a shot was fired by either side.’1 On the afternoon of the 4th the Warwicks ‘…relieved us at Le Bas Perrier…’12 ‘The enemy counter-attacked during the change-over and gave our machine gunners a splendid opportunity for a shoot, of which they took full advantage.’10 ‘…we went back to Presles – a very different place to the Presles we had liberated two days before, where the church bells had been rung in our honour and where there was more wine than even the thirsty Riflemen could drink. We were very spread out at Presles and the Company [H Coy] position stretched out along the forward slope going down into the village…’12

Infantrymen of the 2nd Battalion Royal Warwickshire, one day earlier, advancing near Le Beny Bocage - IMW B8547

5 – 10 August 1944 – Underground life, Presles (France)

WD 440805-09 Presles

‘For five more days Presles was to be our home, a period spent for the most part in or extremely near slit trenches and clad in our steel helmets. These precautions were very well worth while, and considering the intensity of  shelling and mortaring our [G Coy’s] total of a dozen casualties was not unduly high. Brian Oxley-Boyle returned and took over 12 Platoon, but two days after his arrival he…’1 was taken prisoner. ‘Peter Morley was wounded very early on, and thereafter 9, 10 and 12 Platoons were commanded by Sergts. Kisby, Carr and Macauley respectively.’1 E Company found that ‘…at Presles the enemy shelling was constant and accurate. However, the casualties were amazingly light due to the excellent underground life led by all.’10

10 – 12 August 1944 – Two days rest, Le Beny Bocage (France)

WD 440810-11
'British troops enjoying a short break from the fighting near Le Beny Bocage, 11 August 1944 - IWM B9022

‘It was… with some relief that on the 10th we were withdrawn, and went back to two days rest near Le Beny Bocage.’12 ‘…where the Echelon had a most welcome hot meal awaiting us, and where we needed no encouragement to lie down and sleep.’1 ‘During this time we [H Coy] were very pleased to get Major Bradford as Company Commander, and Mr. Ellis and his platoon joined the Company together with a carrier section commanded by Sgt. Kitson and several others, all of whom came from 8th K.R.R.C. who had just been broken up in England.’12 ‘To F Company came a complete Motor Platoon which was called 7 Platoon, and a Carrier Section known as No. 1. There was also a 3” Mortar crew… We hope and believe we gave them the good welcome they deserved, and they certainly fell in with our way of life quickly and keenly.11 ‘And thus we worked and slept, preparing ourselves for the morrow, for events which were to surpass even our wildest dreams.10

12 – 15 August 1944 – Pushing forward to Vassy (France)

WD 440812-15

‘In the evening of August 12th, the Battalion again took to the road with renewed vigour.’10 ‘ …the Battalion moved forward… and took over a defensive position from the 15th Scottish near Estry. The move up was very chaotic, chiefly owing to traffic diversions, consequently the actual take over was done at night… We remained in this location over the 14th… In the early morning of the 15th the Company [H Coy] linked up with “C” Squadron 23rd Hussars and advanced in the direction of Vassy. Not long after starting “C” Squadron lost two tanks from what we thought to be 88 S.Ps. firing from both sides of the road. The whole Company deployed and 14 platoon got very close to a Mk. IV, but unfortunately they had not got their PIAT with them and so could do nothing about it.’12 For G Company, after ‘…a quiet morning on the road leading south to Vassy, we passed through the leading group, and it was not long before the first tank was “brewed up” outside the village of Canteloupe… which was found to be held by the enemy. An attack, supported by tanks [of A Sqdn. 23rd Hussars], was launched and 11 Platoon on the right pushed into the village without meeting serious opposition; 10 Platoon, however, on the left were held up and suffered casualties, three of them being fatal…’1 E Company, on the 15th, ‘…spent the night north of Vassy…’10

A view of Vassy, 15 August 1944 - IMW B9229

16 August 1944 – Aubusson (France)

WD 440816 Aubusson

‘The 159 Brigade [11ADs infantry brigade] went into the lead and we had considerable C.L. [Centre Line] trouble with them. Towards evening Regimental-Battalion group moved on past Mont Cerisi Belle Etoile, where the Battalion concentrated and Company Commanders went on to recce for the relief of the K.S.L.I. who were in contact in the area of Aubusson. As darkness came… the Battalion leaguered about two miles back.’12

17 – 21 August 1944 – Passing the Falaise Gap (France)

17 August – Notre Dame de Rocher

‘On the 17th, we [H Coy] again tied up with “C” Squadron [23H], and… advanced towards the Orne and reaching one of its tributaries which ran into a deep valley, the bridge was found to be blown. 14 platoon immediately crossed and occupied the high ground on the far side, followed closely by 16 platoon and then 15 platoon. Meanwhile the Squadron had found a place where they could cross their tanks, and shortly afterwards the entire group, less the scout platoon, who could not use the ford, were across the river and had consolidated the bridgehead. The sappers started building a bridge at once… As soon as the bridge was completed “G” Company group passed over and resumed the advance…’12 to the village of Notre Dame de Rocher which ‘…was attacked by 10 and 12 Platoons, supported by “A” Squadron, 23rd Hussars. The enemy withdrew, but 10 Platoon were mortared on their objectives and 9 Platoon had suffered some casualties from sniping… Eventually… 11 Platoon with the leading troop of tanks and section of carriers, continued the advance. They very soon ran into trouble… we had to call it off owing to failing light. Our night position was mortared and shelled continuously and more casualties were caused.’1  

18 August 1944 – Putanges

‘We were now beginning to get used to the German habit of fighting a rearguard action till nightfall and then pulling out, and the following day was no exception to this rule. “B” Squadron [23H] and “F” Company went through [G Coy] and “swanned” merrily on, meeting no opposition, and we reached the high ground overlooking Putanges, on our old friend the River Orne,…’1 where ‘…we awaited the making of a bridgehead and the building of a bridge.’1 ‘Moving off the next day, the [H] Company-Squadron group was given a task of protecting the left flank whilst the bridgehead at Putanges was being formed. Sgt. Kitson’s carrier section was in the van-guard and except for the drivers this section were all killed or wounded on first contact. Capt. May then took a second van van-guard round to the right and directed on Launay where they again encountered stiff opposition. The group was not strong enough to make any further progress and the rest of the day was spent in taking offensive action to stop the enemy infiltrating on to the Brigade C.L. That night the group… sat on the cross-roads just outside Launay…’12

19 August – Crossing the Orne, for the last time, and on to Sentilly

‘At first light on the 19th Mr. Davies took a patrol into Launay and found that the village was clear. Then 1st Troop and 1b under Sgt. Triggs pushed forward to see if the bridge over the Orne was intact; they reported that it had been blown. We were then called back… and crossed the Orne at Putanges. Late that afternoon we passed through Sentilly where the leading tanks had a short engagement… The combined group spent that night in the same area.’12 

20 August – Cuy, Occagnes and the Falaise-Argentan road

Early the next morning, a vanguard commanded by Mr. Davies [H Coy] was sent off… to consolidate on top of a hill feature on the main Falaise-Argentan road.’12 G Company ‘…went east till we came to the village of Cui. Here the leading tank was knocked out and thereafter a strange and uneasy situation developed. The village contained a large hospital which was full of German wounded, and which seemed to have an enormous medical staff, many of whom I am quite sure acquired red-cross armbands a very short time before we arrived… We remained trying to clear up the situation for the rest of the day….’1 ‘On the 20th we [E Coy] moved forward slowly among the wreckage and devastation caused to the retreating columns by the R.A.F. The scene round the hospital at Occagnes was indescribable. The whole area was strewn with dead Germans and horses and wrecked transport and guns.’10  ‘…No. 1 Section of the Scout Platoon [F Coy], leading the advance across the main Falaise-Argentan road, was shot up by two Panther Tanks. All three carriers were hit, and casualties were suffered.’11 ‘…after 5 shots, all of which missed the target by a long way, Cpl. Snowling of C Squadron managed to knock out the two tanks with his sixth. The rest of the Company then moved up on to the hill, and consolidated.’12

The German field hospital at Cuy - IWM A70 130-3
One of three F Company carriers shot up by Panther Tanks, 20 August 1944 - IWM A70 130-3
8th Rifle Brigade column moving through Le Bourg St. Leonard, 21 August 1944 - IWM A70 130-6

21 August – Argentan, Le Bourg St. Leonard, Bailleul, Merlerault

‘The next morning we were told to move south down to Argentan and continue our advance eastwards from there, and as we came past Argentan, we overtook the ‘A’ Echelon which surprised everyone more than somewhat. Moving on from there we came in contact with the 2nd French Armoured Division at Le Bourg St. Leonard. G Company led the way…’12 ‘After crossing the Falaise-Argentan highway at Occagnes we [G Coy] approached the Foret de Gouffern…’1 ‘The stench was overpowering’10 ‘…a section of carriers moved forward, but the leading one went up on a mine and once again the advance was slowed down. The wood either side of the road had to be cleared by the motor platoons on foot… It was at this stage that 12 Platoon, moving forward on foot, captured General Kurt Badinsky, commanding 271 Infantry Division, and his entire staff. An old lady had rushed up to them and told them that there were some Germans in a certain farmhouse… a General was seen at the window and was immediately covered while the remainder of the Platoon surrounded the buildings… This advance had brought us to the edge of the famous Falaise pocket at Bailleul and here we took up position for the night’1 ‘…when it was getting dark we [H Coy] passed through them [G Coy] at Melerault…’12 ‘All night, weary, woun-ded and hungry men of the SS Pz. Divisions came in to give themselves up.’10 

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)

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. 
For other maps and photos, see elsewhere on this website.

 

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.

4 – 7 September 1944 – Liberating Antwerp (Belgium)

4 September – The final leg to Antwerp

‘The 4th of September was to provide the climax to our historic advance across France and Belgium, a day which none of us will ever forget. At first light the Company [G Coy] , together with John Dunlop’s squadron of the 3rd Royal Tank Regiment, set off with Antwerp as our goal.’1 ‘We raced along the broad highway to Willebroeck and there turned north to Boom. So far we had met no opposition… As we feared, the main bridge at Boom was blown and it looked as if we might be held up here for a while, when a civilian approached us [Robert Vekemans], saying he was an engineer and a prominent member of the resistance movement. He volunteered to lead us round to another bridge which was still intact… So away we went and, to our great satisfaction, we crossed the bridge and immediately sat firmly on either end of it to prevent any desperate Germans from trying to blow it, while the rest of the 3rd Royald Tank Regiment crossed over. Our goal was now near and we wondered what sort of a fight the Germans would put up for Antwerp.’1   

H Company, upon hearing the bridge at Boom had been blown, ‘…made a very devious route going due east until we were nearly in Brussels and then swinging due north through Malines up to Contich.’12 Also ‘…E Company had moved up slowly through Vilvoord and Mechelin to Kontich. At Vilvoord a message from the Brigadier said that he had seen a large red object on one of our carriers and ordered its immediate removal. The carrier commander explained that she was not really that big and was actually rather nice.’10 E Company ‘…stayed four days in the grounds of the Chateau of the Baron de Coeur at Kontich and everyone had a short taste of the delights of Antwerp.’10 The other companies carried on, into Antwerp.

4 September – Liberating the city

‘The entry into Antwerp will be remembered by everyone in 29th Armoured Brigade, as the civilians were so very pleased to see us that they were thronging the streets while there was still danger from enemy mortar bombs.’12 As G Company ‘…left Boom and moved through the cheering throngs all along the broad approaches to the city, there was not a sign of a German anywhere. Then suddenly as we arrived at the city itself shots rang out, Germans began throwing grenades on to us from a window of a high building near us, twenty millimetre guns opened up, and we knew at least that we would have to fight for it. As we dealt swiftly with the scattered and disorganized opposition, we could see ahead of us the main streets of the city densely packed with crowds awaiting us, an this spurred us on in our efforts. Then came the great moment, as we entered the heart of the city, to receive a welcome none of us had ever dreamed was possible. Our vehicles were unable to move and were smothered with people; we were overwhelmed by flowers, bottles and kisses. Everyone had gone mad…’1 ‘We had to get to the docks at all cost to save them… With the very greatest difficulty we… ploughed our way through to the Scheldt, unfortunately getting separated from the tanks. We then came under fire from the far bank of the Scheldt at the same time as we were engaged in two different street battles… The docks were completely undamaged…’1 ‘During the afternoon while the civilians were still in the streets a mortar bomb dropped on the pavement killing and wounding several civilians and wounding some of 14 Platoon. This ended the day of rejoicing on rather a sad note, but the citizens of Antwerp were quite philosophical about it and realized that they had no-one but themselves to blame for it.’12 In the evening H Company ‘…withdrew back to Contich where we guarded three bridges on the west of the town, and waited for the 159 Infantry Brigade to attack some 88 mm Anti-aircraft sites which had been a source of trouble throughout the day.’12 G Company, as evening draw on, ‘…all drew in and concentrated with the tanks in a single street, blocking both ends. Hospitality was lavished on us and we were all able to look clean again, as well as at last having time to sit back and have a quiet drink… And so ended probably the most historic day in any of our lives so far.’1

Photos taken along the bank of the River Scheldt, 4 September 1944 – Jeltes coll.

8th Rifle Brigade carrier at Mortsel, Antwerp, 4 September 1944 - Harkness coll.

5 and 6 September 1944 – Semi-operational in Antwerp

‘The following morning we [G Coy] continued the work of mopping up… After lunch we were relieved by our infantry and the squadron of tanks and ourselves made our way back through the city to the pleasant suburb of Hemixem… Here we had thirty-six hours in which to reorganize ourselves, while supplies were rushed up to enable the great drive to retain its momentum.’1 H Company’s 88 mm sites were attacked ‘…next morning and in the afternoon we moved into Antwerp again and harboured near the Chateau Pulhof. We were semi-operational here, and carrier sections had to get out and guard against enemy infiltrations, while one motor platoon was always at immediate notice. But people were allowed out into Antwerp, and everyone found a house where he could guarantee to get a bath and be looked after like a king.’12 

7 September – The Bull being halted

‘On the 7th we [H Coy] were given orders to advance north up through Holland with the final objective Rotterdam. After our “swan” through France and Belgium, this seemed quite a possible task, but the leading elements were held up by strong defences on the Albert Canal…’12 Also G Company ‘…set off again in hight spirits to cross the Albert Canal at Merxem, where the 159th Infantry Brigade were to make a bridgehead. Things did not quite go to plan, however…, the enemy positions turned out to be too strong and the operation had to be abandoned. For the first time for a very long time the Bull had been halted… So having turned our vehicles round, we once again drove through the city of Antwerp, trying in vain to conceal from the citizens our sense of frustration and disappointment. In one way this setback had been a good thing. It had brought us right down to earth again and had dispelled our feeling of over-confidence.’1 

‘We spent the rest of the day in our old harbour area at Hemixem, while fresh plans were being made for our future.’1

8 – 9 September 1944 – To Diest and Beeringen (Belgium)

‘…early next morning [8 Sept.] the 3rd Royal Tank Regiment and ourselves [G Coy] moved off, this time on a “peacetime” march through the territory that had already been liberated. Our route lay through Malines and Aerschot to Diest, where we harboured just to the south-east of the town.’1 ‘A bridgehead over the Albert Canal had in the meantime been made by the Guards… This was at Beeringen, and on the 9th September we too crossed the same bridge.’1 ‘…a Netherlands Regiment was holding the Guards’ bridge. The next day the Company [E Coy] took over defence of the bridge and were delighted to meet old friends of the Princess Irene’s Netherlands Regiment who had with them in 1940 at Porthcawl (Wales).’10 ‘After taking up positions in Beeringen, itself, we were ordered to clear the wooded area to the north of the town, which was where the infiltrating Germans were assumed to be lying up. …A vast area of woodland was combed through and a fair number of prisoners were taken. The operation was very slow and tiring…, but we did receive some quite enthusiastic help from an infantry company of the Dutch Army. However, at last all was reported clear and we withdrew to Beeringen, where we took up positions for the night in defence of the town.’1  

Bailey bridges over the Albert Canal at Beeringen, 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 (8th 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 – 16 October 1944 – Crossing the Peel Canal (Holland)

In the afternoon of 15 October, 14 Platoon of H Company ‘…crossed the canal and got into position, completely unopposed, on the far side. 15 Platoon followed later and eventually the Company was in a defensive position forming a small bridgehead. It poured with rain the whole night and everyone was very wet indeed, but the sappers built the bridge very quickly and by morning the first vehicles were able to cross and move forward. H Company and C Squadron [23H] moved that evening [16 October], when the Inns of Court relieved us of defending the bridge, and leaguered for the night about 4 miles beyond the canal.’12 

‘The 16th of October saw our [G Coy] next operation commence – the clearing of the enemy line in the “Venray pocket” west of the River Maas. The weather was atrocious… No enemy were met for some time, but mines were plentiful, and a party on foot had to sweep a path the whole way to the village of Haag, where we took up a position for the night.’1

Bunker and Bailey bridge along Defence Canal near Helenaveen. A situation that must be very similar to that along Peel Canal near De Rips, a bit further north, after the sappers had built the bridge – Peelbelangonline.nl

17 October 1944 – Haag and Weverslo (Holland)

‘The next morning [17 October] we [H Coy] moved forward, our objective being the Venray-Deurne road… We had not gone far before we struck mines and a ‘Honey’ tank was brewed up, so we turned back and tried to make our way by a different route… We passed through a village the G Company was holding (Haag) and just as we came out on the other side some guns fired at us and also snipers, believed to be firing from a wood in front of us. As we went forward to clear it, “Minnies” started to “stonk” us and it was pretty good firing, one landing beside Capt. Straker’s carrier, killing Rfn. Huckle and wounding Capt. Straker and Rfn. Buttress. By the time our leading section had entered the small wood, firing from the right by snipers was getting quite hot and as Sgt. Rodwell marched a few prisoners back, the snipers were firing at their own men.’12  ‘Mr. Ryan was told to clear up to 100 yards into this wood… on the other side of the path was a slope… The platoon had hardly got a footing on the slop, when from our front a Spandau opened up killing Mr. Ryan, Rfn. Hopper and wounding Rfn. Mariner, Rfn. Maloney, L/Cpl. Sharwood and Cpl. Witchell. Rfn. Collier… crawled up… to see if… they were still alive… and was killed doing so… We afterwards found out that up on the top of the slope, an observation tower had been built to resemble a tree.’12  

Also G Company tried pushing on, ‘…towards Weverslo, but we soon ran into demolitions and the going was appalling.’1 ‘The roads were thickly strewn with mines and the fields were almost under water and impassable. Trees were felled across the roads which were well cratered and a the best of times had been little more than tracks.‘10 ‘The enemy were reacting fairly strongly to our movements, too, and were shelling us, adding to the discomfort of the mud and pouring rain. A scissors bridge was eventually sent to us and with the aid of this we managed to get over the first water obstacle. 12 Platoon… were fired on from Weverslo… After another couple of hundred yards, however, three tanks and a flail, which we also had with us, became well and truly bogged… Darkness was coming on and we merely had to content ourselves with staying where we were… Altogether, a most unpleasant and unfruitful day.’1 H Company ‘…harboured up about 400 yards from the wood and only received one heavy “stonk” during the night, but there were no casualties.12

18 October 1944 – Heide (Holland)

The next morning, G Company found ‘…enemy resistance on the front was definitely cracking, however, and this enabled us to reach the village of Heide… without much difficulty. In the village itself was a mass of abandoned equipment, and 10 Platoon collected in a lot more prisoners…

H Company, on the 18th, ‘…stayed where we were, spreading out a little and F Company and B Squadron [23H] passed through us; the 3rd R.T.Rs had reached the main road the night before and so the situation was easier and without much difficulty we moved down to Heide which was where we spent the night.12

19 – 25 October 1944 – Leunen, pigs and pork, Venraij, Schei, water and mud (Holland)

British troops slughtering pig - IWM B12097

Leunen, G, H and E Company

On the morning of the 19th, H Company ‘…moved into the village of Leunen, which we were to get to know fairly well…’12 ‘Our life in Leunen, where we were in defensive positions along the road leading west from the village, consisted of keeping fairly close to the house one was occupying…’12 ‘…the enemy began to rain down on us shells and mortar bombs in no uncertain manner.’1 ’19 and 21 Platoons [of E Company] were positioned in an orchard forward of “G” Company, a place which was eventually nick-named “Death stalks the Orchard.” …we set about digging-in in a leasurely fashion – but we soon had a rude an severe shock, A salvo of mortar bombs scored a direct hit on the trench of Cpl. Norris, killing him instantly. …his grave was a constant reminder of the peril of staying above ground for more than a few minutes at a time.10  ’G Company ‘…occupied half of the village, and for this purpose were allotted a machine gun and an anti-tank platoon of “E” Company, so that we were fairly strong on the ground. The following day, however, “B” Squadron and “F” Company moved elsewhere and we were left to defend the whole village, which was not an inviting proposition. I [Major Noel Bell] accordingly decided to form a platoon from the Echelon and cooks, fitters, storemen, clerks, and everyone we could lay hands on were thrown into the line under the command of James Ramsden.’1  ‘We remained in these positions for the next five days, being shelled and mortared the whole time and on one occasion bombed in addition. Considering however, the number of direct hits on the houses occupied by us, our casualties were very light. German patrolling was fairly active… a… patrol met a hail of fire from the Echelon platoon and rapidly made off. The first day the shelling was so uncannily accurate that we felt sure that someone in the village had some form of communication with the Germans. We accordingly had the civilians evacuated and as a result, although the shelling did not decrease in intensity, it was definitely not so accurate.’1 ‘…most of us will probably remember Leunen whenever we eat pork, as the number of pigs that were slaughtered there was quite considerable.’12

F Company

While G, H and E Companies were in Leunen, F Company had ‘…left De Rips on October 18th, to take part in a small advance eastwards, which was to assist the Third Infantry Division in their attack on Venraij. The weather and the going were both appalling… The first day took us to the village of Meerselo, where we were subjected to a little stonking, which caused some casualties.  We remained there for 24 hours, and then, with the much needed assistance of some flail tanks we crossed the main Deurne-Venraij Road, and collected a big haul of prisoners in Heide, especially around the windmill there.’11 ‘The next day we arrived at… Leunen, where we were told we could expect to stay for some time… Company Headquarters was set up in the comfortable-looking school, which adjoined the Church…’ ,which… ‘in particular became a favourite target. As a result of a patrol… we realised that the enemy was planning to sit down very near to us, and all guards were very much tightened. Soon the church was well and truly knocked about and casualties began to occur.’11

‘After two days at Leunen… G and H Companies would remain with the 23rd Hussars at Leunen, while F Company joined the 3rd Royal Tanks at Schei. Schei will never be forgotten. It was… our first taste of really static warfare. …all our platoons were sited in normal infantry defensive position. The mud reached fantastic depths, one seemed never out of gum-boots, and Weasels, a new type of tracked vehicle designed to go through any type of mud, were introduced for the purpose of bringing supplies. The trenches, which were manned throughout the night, were often knee-deep in water, and even an issue of good winter clothing together with the nightly tot of rum, could do little against the elements… After seven days at Schei we moved back into reserve at IJsselstein…’11 

Flail tank near Venraij, October 1944 – IWM BU1231

25 October – 1 November 1944 – Patrolling and rest, IJsselsteijn (Holland)

On the 25th the 8th Rifle Brigade at Leunen ‘…were relieved by the Monmouthshires and went back to IJsselsteijn which was the Divisional rest area and one’s only commitments were 2 patrols of a platoon strength each, from the Battalion every night. These patrols consisted of going forward to a sort of “front line” which was only treated as such on a sort of gentlemanly agreement basis and sitting there with a platoon spread over about a thousand yards of front.’12 ‘We [G Coy] sent out several patrols at night an from one of these 10 Platoon returned with a prisoner. Otherwise our activities were confined to some much-needed maintenance and re-organization and rest.’1 ‘…entertainment and baths were well organized’11 ‘…all were reasonably comfortably billeted. The civilians were evacuated and we were told that any livestock left could be used. From then on we lived royally on pork and chicken.’10 ‘14 Platoon [H Coy] had to go out on a fighting patrol on November 1st to try and get an identification of the enemy, which they succeeded in doing, the only trouble being that the prisoner they captured was probably the stupidest man in the German army and not of very great use to the Intelligenzia.’12    

Sketch of 8RB G Coy patrol, night of 27/28 or 28/29 October 1944 - Jeltes collection

2 – 4 November 1944 – Back to Leunen (Holland)

‘On November 2nd we [E Coy] moved back to Leunen. On the journey 20 Platoon were extremely unlucky in having three of their men wounded by a shell… This time it was even more uncomfortable at Leunen. The weather was worse and there were occasional shells from the big guns of the Siegfried Line coming at us. A member of 20 Platoon describes the situation adequately:  …”We all cursed the two tanks which were positioned in the orchard for no apparent reason. They had the habit of charging their batteries at the most awkward moments, making a great noise which drew considerable fire from the enemy guns. One of our carriers received a direct hit from an 88 mm gun and burnt out almost at once… it was one of the stickiest positions I had ever been in, and when I look back I am surprised how we survived all the hardships, lack of sleep, little food (for it was impossible to cook) and the general discomfort of being confined to water logged trenches.” No. 18 Platoon had two vehicles knocked out on the right of the orchard where the enemy paid great attention to an old windmill in the vicinity. We had been told that we would occupy these positions for a considerable time, so it came as a pleasant surprise when we were relieved after three days by the 5th Battalion Coldstream Guards and given a week’s rest, the Hatert area…’10

F Company went not to Leunen, but back to ‘…Schei again, this time for a slightly longer stay. By now the enemy had the position fairly well taped, and there was occasional mortaring and shelling, but this did not compare with what we gave him back.’11   

4 – 11 November 1944 – Rest at Hatert (Holland)

On the 4th ‘…we then moved up to Hatert – a little village just south of Nijmegen – where we spent a week maintaining the vehicles and cleaning ourselves up. There was also a Battalion concert on the 10th and an Officers versus Sergeants football match.’12 ‘Here there was no sign of war whatever – no damaged houses, no shell holes and no noise; it was a most welcome change… Reinforcements arrived and the scout platoon was able to form a third carrier section for the first time since leaving Laigle.’1 

British troops playing football - IWM A28730

11 – 19 November 1944 – Leunen, the third and last time (Holland)

‘It was a well refreshed [E] Company that returned to Leunen on the 11th to take up their old positions for the last time. We were greeted by heavy shelling at dusk and during the night it started to rain and continued for three days, by which time our trenches were full of water and the roads almost impassable… 18 Platoon received special attention from the enemy on the 14th and it was during a particularly heavy spell of shelling that Rfn. Winston had an amazing escape. He was standing on guard in his trench when he heard a shell, whistling through the air in his direction. He ducked but it fell actually in the trench beside him and, although it was H.E., failed to explode… On the night of the 15th the rain turned to snow, but on the following day it was fine though freezing hard… Then, on the 17th 21 Platoon decided to take aggressive action shooting at enemy OP’s and suspected positions. …the water in the guns [water cooled Vickers MMGs] had frozen during the day but they were soon warmed up and 2,500 rounds from each gun were pumped into the enemy lines…’10  

For H Company, apart ‘…from a few recce patrols and intermittent shelling, there isn’t anything to note about our stay…’12 Most of G Company ‘…lived in dugouts in our new positions. Great effort and enterprise were put into these, however, and some of them were remarkably well appointed and comfortable. The weather and mud were appalling… Suitable and welcome clothing in the form of gum-boots and leather jerkins arrived up in good supply, so we might have been a great deal worse off than we actually were.’1 ‘…on the 19th we were relieved by the Royal Warwicks of 3rd Division – our friend from Bas Perrier.’12 ‘…with no regrets at all [we] said goodbye.‘11

19 – 27 November 1944 – Back to IJsselsteijn (Holland)

F Company ‘…returned from Schei to IJsslestein, which in our absence had become part of the sharp end… One patrol was sent our by 7 Platoon, but the enemy thought fit to set fire to all haystacks and houses in the neighbourhood, so the party was called off. The following night an enemy patrol penetrated our lines, and succeeded in brewing up one of our half tracks with a Panzerfaust. Guards were immediately doubled and there was no further repetition of such impudence.’11 ‘We [H Coy] went back to IJsselsteijn and prepared for an attack south to Amerika as part of the general offensive to clear the “Venlo” pocket. This was gong to have been a real heavy infantry job and we were to have gone on foot through the mud, but luckily the 15th Scottish attack advanced sufficiently far to shut us out and we were able to stay at IJsselsteijn. After a further week at IJsselsteijn we moved north…’12 

Today, Ysselsteyn is the location of the only German War Cemetery in Holland. 31,598 German soldiers lie buried here.

27 November – 6 December 1944 – Swolgen and the banks of the River Maas (Holland)

G Company men near Gunhof - Fruin coll.
G Company men near Gunhof - Fruin coll.
G Company men near Gunhof - Fruin coll.

‘…to Swolgen where we came under command of the 159 Brigade and took over a sector of the line from the 15th Scottish Division. H Company was in a “Kasteel” [Kasteel Ooijen] – a large house – many of which are to be found on the banks of the Maas, normally surrounded by a moat and isolated from villages. The whole company lived in the Kasteel which was a fairly solid building and which was completely surrounded by water from the Maas floods, except for a road which came from the village of Broekhuizen-Vorst and which was in full view of the enemy.12 

‘F Company was based on the village of Osterbos, and had to send out standing patrols forward to the large village of Broekhuizervorst, right on the river. …The Scout platoon also suffered a few casualties on the first day. Broekhuizervorst was only one of the many places where we received valuable help and assistance from E Company… 17 Platoon were our particular friends, who fought side by side with us on many occasions…’11

G Company was located nearby, at Gunhof, and ‘…decided that we would have a strong-post a on the river bank and the rest of us would sit back in Gunhof, where, although cramped, there was cover for everyone. The floods were high and the only way to our advance post was along a causeway. As our first party were moving out along this we were horrified to see the causeway suddenly collapse, four carriers being marooned in the floods. The crews remained with them all night and by the next morning the depth of the channel between ourselves and the carriers was five feet. …plans were made for a bulldozer to be loaned from the sappers the following night. …off it set… making and appalling noise… The Germans that night either were deaf or else they were short of ammunition. The noise we made was frightening, but all the carriers were rescued without any interference at all. The party of sappers and Johnny Maidlow’s helpmates had well and truly earned the rum which always miraculously appeared on these occasions. Otherwise nothing much of interest happened during our week in the area.1

6 – 12 December 1944 – Melderslo, Horst, re-organising (Holland)

‘We were relieved by the Inns of Court Regiment and a Dutch Company on the 6th December and …’12 ‘…moved back to what was advertised as a rest area at Melderslo, a small village near Horst, but was in fact nothing more than a few scattered barns.’1 ‘The local people were not so friendly here and…’10 ‘…the mud, even for Holland, [was] excessive.’11 ‘…after great difficulty getting in to our area because of the sea of mud, we settled down under rather uncomfortable conditions to re-organise and do the usual run of G 1098 check.12 ‘I am afraid our standard of living and comfort had been fairly high up to now, and it was probably good for us to see how some of our more unfortunate brethren lived. To cap our discomfort  a most unfortunate fire broke out at Company H.Q. which was brought under control after some very gallant fire-fighting. This occurred after dark and to facilitate the extinguishing of it we lit up the area with headlights. The sequel to this floodlight display came a short while later when shells began landing In the area, and our infantry brigade H.Q. who were very near us, naturally blamed us for the whole affair. A week dragged by slowly at Melderslo and we were quite relieved at the end of it to hear that we were once again going up to the line on the Maas…’1   

13 – 16 December 1944 – Grubbenvorst and Houthuizen, final days in Holland (Holland)

‘On the 13th of December we moved up on foot to relieve the 1st Herefords at Grubbenvorst and H Company were reserve Company being about 1 mile west of the Maas on the railway line. Out only job there was to send a platoon forward to the river every night…’12  ‘We were getting to know the Maas pretty well by now, and this new stretch of river we moved to was just as dull and uninteresting as the previous ones.  However, the billets at Houthuizen were good, all civilians having been evacuated and we made ourselves very comfortable… The Germans on the other side of the river were again very quiet, contenting themselves with firing an occasional rifle shot or sending over a few mortar bombs to remind us that they were still there. Our own detachment, aggressive as ever, amused themselves by dumpling all their available bombs on the village of Lomm, which was immediately opposite us on the far bank of the river. They never considered they had had a really good shoot unless a hail of shells came back in reply, so we used to try and find a place for them as far away from us as possible.‘1 

View of the Maas from a window in Houthuizen, 27 Nov. 1944 - IWM B12167

‘After a couple of days here, really first class news came through. The Armoured Regiments from whom we had been divorced since Leunen were going back to Belgium to refit with the new Comet tanks and we were going back with them. It seemed almost too good to be true – to go to an area hundreds of miles from the nearest Germans. Surely something would happen to dash our hopes to the ground. But all was well and so on the night of the 16th of December… we started off on our long trek to Poperinghe…’1

16 – 20 December 1944 – Christmas in Poperinghe? (Belgium)

16 – 17 December – The journey

‘…on the 15th advance parties went off to Poperinghe and after being relieved by the Royal Warwicks (again) the main body moved down on the 16th. This was what we had all been hoping for…’12 ‘The long and arduous journey to Belgium was undertaken with great elation at the prospect of spending the Christmas in friendly and peaceful surroundings. Our vehicles were in bad condition, most of them having done well over a thousand miles over the roughest of country without any major overhaul.’10 ‘…we moved on all through the night towards our distant Utopia… Helmond, Eindhoven, Bourg Leopold, Beeringen and Diest flashed by, and dawn saw us approaching Louvain…On we went again via the Brussels by-pass… to Alost and Audenaerde… through Menin and Ypres, and passing the great Menin Gate.’1 ‘…everyone was in good spirits despite the awful 24 hour journey. In the evening of the 17th, H Company arrived in the village of Proven…’12  ‘There was no doubt in any of our minds now that we were going to have the time of our lives…’1

17 – 20 December – Settling in

‘…the advance party had got the Company well organized and we began to settle down and try and get all the cleaning and re-organising done before Christmas. All the trucks were completely unloaded and their contents put into stores for the first time since June 6th 1944 and it looked as though we were going to be very comfortable…’12 ‘Universal unloading and cleaning of stores gave the high street of Proven the appearance of an Indian Bazaar. Never since D-Day had we so completely and ruthlessly become non-operational!’12 ‘’The Battalion was centered round Poperinghe, near Ypres, with F Company on detachment 6 miles away at a village called Watou, on the Franco-Belgian frontier. This was the first time we had been properly billeted on civilians, and the Belgian People gave us a wonderful welcome. Two or three men were billeted in almost every house, and anyone, who could not boast sheets and a bed, was in a minority. All kit was unloaded, even the Stores Truck, and plans were made for the Christmas festivities.’11 ‘Our Christmas celebrations were well and truly planned when the bombshell fell…’1

20 December – Three hours notice

 ‘At seven o’clock in the morning of the 20th of December I was awakened by the guard commander… I was to be at an order group at a quarte to eight. …we were told to be ready to move at eleven o’clock.‘1 ‘…it was nothing new for the experienced, to be told at breakfast this morning that we were under orders to move within three hours – completely warlike again – for the Ardennes region.12 ‘…Rundstedt’s army… had broken through the American lines…’10 ‘1200 hrs. In some extraordinary way, we were all ready in time! Loading in a hurry has always been our strong point. On “schemes” under Major Mackenzie, life had been something like living in a railway sorting office, but it bore fruit today, and amid the cheers and tears of Proven’s female population, the Company moved off.’12 

20 – 21 December 1944 – Heading for the Ardennes (Belgium)

20 December – Past Brussels

‘At a quarter to twelve came the order to move and long columns of half-tracks and carriers began slowly threading their way through the narrow streets of Poperinghe, once more on the road to battle. The local populace turned out almost to a man to wave farewell to us… Nightfall found us on the outskirts of Brussels, where we were met and informed of our destination. The drive through, or rather round, the city was a nightmare, with vehicles swanning off in the wrong direction in the pitch darkness. Flying bombs were heard spluttering overhead and several hurtled down on Brussels that night. However, we eventually arrived just south of the city at the village of Overyssche, where we laid our weary heads to rest in a disused convent.’1 ‘Like G Company, F and H Companies also spent the night at Overyssche, ‘…in a huge school… which blazed with light from top to bottom.’12 

21 December – On to Dinant and Givet

‘Signs of the alarm and despondency caused by the German offensive were already evident.’12 The ‘…tense atmosphere was accentuated early next morning when without any warning some shells fell in the village, and visions of S.S. Panzer divisions streaming towards us came into our minds. However, no one ever discovered the origin of these shells… Orders now came through to proceed to Charleroi… The main thrust of the German S.S. Panzer Army appeared to be directed on Liege and that of the 5th Panzer Army on Namur and Dinant. There appeared at that time to be nothing very formidable to stop the Germans reaching the Meuse… “R Force” were holding the stretch of river between Namur and Givet… The 29th Armoured Brigade was to take over this stretch of river…’1 From Charleroi, Battalion HQ went to Anthée, and E Company’s ‘…A/Tk Platoons went with their respective Motor Companys and the remainder of “E” Company formed a separate reserve force.’10 ‘…F Company came once again under command of the Fife and Forfar Yeomanry, who were reserve regiment. For a few days we occupied a series of villages three or four miles from the western bank… [St. Gerard, to begin with].’11 ”G” Company and our old friends the 3rd Royal Tank Regiment, with whom we were delighted to be again, were to be in the centre at Dinant.’1 H Company ‘…moved up to Givet on the Meuse, under command of 23rd Hussars. The advance party for this move consisted of the Scout Car, with Major Bradford “up”. Our job in Givet was to hold, deny or blow the bridge over the river, and the little party in the Humber thought it was pretty important!’12

21 – 24 December 1944 – Namur, Dinant and Givet, guarding the Meuse bridges (Belgium)

21 December – Holding, denying or blowing the bridges

G Company ‘…having reached the historic old town of Namur, we motored south along the river to Dinant. What a delightful change this part of the Meuse was from the lower reached we knew so well in Holland… Scenes of the utmost confusion greeted us in Dinant itself. American columns were going first this way and then that way, refugees were beginning to appear on the roads and rumours of every kind were rife… The bridge over the Meuse had been prepared for demolition… This was the most appalling responsibility of all. If the bridge went up, all sorts of people would be stranded the other side and I wondered what on earth I would do if the Germans ever tried to rush the defences. Evening came and we heard with great relief the distant rumble of tanks, which signalled the approach of the first squadrons of the 3rd Royal Tank Regiment. We now felt we were fairly secure…‘1 H Company, when arriving in Givet on the 21st, found it ‘…a pleasant surprise… to find the American Brass Band playing to the civilians in the town. However, the Company and a Squadron of tanks settled in for the night on and around the bridge prepared to “hold”, “deny” and if necessary “blow” it.’12 F Company together with part of E Company, it seems, remained at St. Gerard for the first few days, until 23 December.

Dinant, G Coy's O.C. Major Noel Bell (left) and 2i/c Capt. Chabot (right) - Capt. Fiennes coll.

22 December – The situation taking shape

‘The night [at Dinant] passed without incident and the next day the remainder of the 3rd Royal Tank Regiment arrived and remained on the high ground a few miles behind us. The situation was definitely beginning to take shape and it looked extremely improbable that one of the 5th Panzer Army’s groups would be directed on the crossing at Dinant… Great volumes of traffic, mostly American, were still crossing the bridge, and the refugee problem was getting a little troublesome. The Germans were trying out the fifth column trick again and we had to scrutinize very carefully everyone’s papers… In the evening there was the most tremendous explosion… a Sherman tank had fired its seventeen-pounder gun by mistake, blowing an American Jeep to bits and unfortunately causing casualties.1 H Company found there ‘were 3,000 Americans at Givet. Apparently they were none of them “employed men” and all took their turn of guard duties., as it was discovered this morning that about 30 of them were guarding the bridge as well as us, which not only “denied the bridge” to the enemy, but made it almost impossible for anyone to see across it.’12

23 December – Germans in American greatcoats

‘From St. Gerard we [F Coy[ moved with the Fife and Forfar Yeomanry down to Namur, where we were ordered to hold the important bridge over the River Meuse at all costs.’11 H Company at Givet had made the ‘…decision to close the bridge to all civilians…’12 At Dinant fresh ‘…reports of enemy movement reached us [G Coy] and there now seemed to be no doubt whatever but that sooner or later the Germans were going to come up against us. …at the far bank was a road running alongside the river and at one point this road passed through a hole carved out of the rock, through which a Sherman tank could just squeeze. We had a post at this rock manned by Sergt. Baldwin’s carrier section… The sentries… had a Very pistol which they were to fire if any vehicle would not stop, whereupon Sergt. Baldwin was to pull a string of mines across the road at the exit to the hole in the rock. At about midnight up went a Very light and across were pulled the mines. A deafening explosion rent the night air and I… expected to see a yawning gap where the bridge once was, not having myself seen the light signal. A jeep which had refused to stop had been blown to bits and three very dead and shattered Germans lay in the road. They had been riding a captured American jeep and were wearing American greatcoats over their German uniforms…’1

24 December – Goodbye to the Meuse

‘The advance elements of the German 2nd Panzer Division were now a very short distance from Dinant and the tanks [3RTR] had spent a very uncomfortable night with enemy patrols all round them. They managed nevertheless to get safely to their day positions a short while before the leading German tanks hove in sight from the neighbourhood of Foy-Notre-Dame. The great news came over the wireless that three Panthers and a “Mark IV” had been knocked out and hopes ran high. At about the same time… a section [of E Coy] trying to move down towards Foy-Notre-Dame was chased by a six-wheeled armoured car, which appeared from the village… Things had certainly warmed up and Christmas Eve had the prospects of being an extremely exciting day. Then all activity suddenly died down… During the remainder of the day not a shot was fired… What were the Germans going to do next? …the popular theory was that they would try and come on again that night. It was now much too risky for the tanks to be out on their own during the hours of darkness, so it was decided that 11 and 12 Platoons would move out at last light to join them… Darkness fell once more… and we prepared ourselves for a disturbed night. Surely we would be attacked… ’1 A bit later, however, ‘…orders had come through for us to turn from the defensive to the offensive on Christmas day…’1

Similarly, H Company was ‘…ordered to move up to Beauraing at 0700 hrs on Christmas Morning.’12 At Namur, members from F Company ‘…had had several invitations out to Christmas dinner and were looking forward to the morrow. But we were unlucky. The order to move came late that night and in the morning we were saying goodbye to Namur, and moving once again.11

25 – 31 December 1944 – Ardennes, from defensive to offensive (Belgium)

F Company

‘The fact that we were ordered to advance eastward from Namur on Christmas Day showed that the enemy had reached the limit of its advance, and the British and American forces passed to the offensive. We passed through Celle, where we saw wreckage of German tanks and transport… Christmas Day itself was spent in occupying a dominating position of ground in the hope that we would draw the enemy armour towards us, but not contact was made. By now the ground was frozen hard, there had been quite a heavy fall of snow, and with the sky a glorious hue, we realised we were fighting in some of the loveliest country in the world. For a few days we moved only short distances and still no contact with the enemy occurred. Eventually we passed through the picturesque Dinant, and advances 5 miles eastward to the village of Falmagne. Here we remained for about four days… We spent New Years Eve at Falmagne…

G Company

‘Christmas day, 1944, dawned…, the darkness lifted, revealing to our eyes the most beautiful morning – cloudless blue sky… It was going to be a wonderful day for the air force… At about eight o’clock two columns, each consisting of a squadron of the 3rd Royal Tank Regiment, a motor platoon and a section of carriers, set forth on parallel roads, one directed on Sorinne and the other on Boisseles. The advance to Sorinne was unopposed, but the column directed on Boisselles found the village to be held, and 12 Platoon, supported by the tanks, had to put in an attack to clear it. This attack was successful… a useful haul of prisoners was sent back.’1

‘Meanwhile, we had connected up with the reconnaissance regiment of the U.S. 2nd Armoured Division in Sironne, and… their tank battalions were about to put in an attack on a ridge of high ground overlooking the village of Foy-Notre-Dame… we were going to have a grandstand view of the battle… figures of men in quite large numbers began running about… the confusion was increased when two large tanks could be seen silhouetted against the sky-line. …we had not long to wait before… a squadron of Lightnings roared over us… It evidently did not take them long to make up their minds that they were going to have a festive Christmas day… This German force was subjected to merciless and incessant attack from the Lightnings, who soon began to dive to rooftop height with machine guns blazing, dropping bombs at the same time…’1

Lockheed Lightnings - IWM FRE5535

‘On the grandstand with us all this time was the Colonel of the American reconnaissance regiment… we could see he was itching to get on the go himself again. … orders came over the air to him to move into and clear the little village of Foy-Notre-Dame which lay beneath us. …they did sterling work and rounded up numerous prisoners. The village, nevertheless, was nowhere near clear, when the wave of jeeps swept on to undertake bigger and better tasks… Daylight was just beginning to fail, when we were ordered to complete the clearing … 11 Platoon set about the job of searching every house and barn in the village… Eventually this fantastic game of hide and seek came to an end and we were able to report Foy-Notre-Dame clear of the enemy. …Christmas night found us spread over a wide stretch of countryside. 12 Platoon remained in Boisselles, 11 Platoon in Foy-Notre-Dame, and the remainder at Sorinne.’1

By 28 December ‘…the sound of battle had grown very distant and we moved south to the little village of Mesnil Eglise, where we were to hold ourselves in readiness for any German counter attack. The weather had turned even more arctic… Mesnil Eglise was to be our home for the next nine days. This small, primitive and typically rural hamlet turned out to have a heart of gold… The whole Company was billeted in cottages and cafes all over the village… On New Year’s Eve revelry went on all over the village till the early hours, which made up in some measure for our austerity Christmas.’1

H Company

Beauraing ‘…proved to be a very pretty place and full of very nice people who obviously intended that our defence of their habitat should be conducted in the greatest comfort, and until New Years Eve the Company, plus its “big brothers” [23H] and their attendant comforting 17 pounder Shermans turned Beauraing and district into a veritable fortress. The Company spent a day preparing some truly incredible “emergency defence positions” on the hills east of Beauraing, and it was to everyone’s relief that they were never occupied in earnest…’12

1 – 2 January 1945 – Bridging and crossing the River Lesse 1945 (Belgium)

’On January 1st we [F Coy] moved off eastwards again to Chanly, where the Sappers [612 Field Sqn. R.E.] were going to build a Bailey Bridge over the River Lesse. By now the roads were so icy that they were a nightmare for carriers, most of which had to be towed by Half-Tracks. We spent a very cold night at Chanly, where we protected the bridge-building of the Sappers. Their work and co-operation we had grown to trust and applaud, and their skill in building this bridge in one night was much admired by us at the first light of day. We crossed the newly made bridge with the Fife and Forfar Yeomanry and came to the village of Restaigne, where we spent the following night. The enemy were known to be in the village of Bure, only a few miles east, and we were expecting to attack them.’11 ‘The weather was still extremely cold and much snow fell, making the countryside look very lovely. On the other hand movement of vehicles became even more of a problem and, the village being down in a hollow, I wondered at times of we would even manage to move out when the time came [it came at 6 January].’1 H Company remained at Beauraing until 4 January, ‘…tentatively expecting orders to move “up”.’12

3 – 4 January 1945 – Chapel Hill, Bure (Belgium)

Wellin, 8RB's Adjutant, 2i/c and C.O.: Capt. Fiennes, Major Liddell and Lt.-Col. Hunter - Capt. Fiennes coll.

The task of attacking Bure, however, was not given to F Company but ‘…to a battalion of the 6th Airborne Division, while F Company was assigned that noble feature of Chapel Hill… Chapel Hill was a delightful and breezy elevation commanding an excellent view of the surrounding country and to us, what was more important, an uninterrupted view of the village of Bure, which lay before and below us. …our arrival near the top of the hill, late one afternoon… was both unheralded and unsung. If it sounds a frigid welcome, we were content to let it be so. …our mood was not particularly receptive to the picturesque charms of our surroundings, and… it was later to become frankly abusive after a few hours’ trench-digging. The 6th Airborne Division had a difficult task in Bure. This they finally accomplished with the tanks from the Fife and Forfar Yeomanry. Our own role meanwhile, and for the day to follow, with of course the support of the big boys, was to deny the enemy the use of the high ground and also prevent him exploiting any possible counter-attack. It is satisfactory to recall that the duty was effectively performed.’11 Meanwhile, the Battalion’s H.Q. together with E Company, on the 2nd of January,  had moved to Wellin.

5 – 10 January 1945 – Chapel Hill, Bure (Belgium)

‘On this afternoon we took leave of the Ardennes town which will live in the memory of H Company [Beauraing], and spent the night very tightly packed in the village Sohier, from which we moved on with the intention of taking over from F Company on Hill Chapel de Notre Dame de Bure (Hill 113). This order was cancelled and instead 14 and 15 platoons went our looking for mythical “bazooka-men”. The weather up to now in the Ardennes had been seasonal – that is – bitter cold accompanied by ice and snow, but it was not until today that one had to face it without the certainty of a roof under which to shelter. Finally in the evening we took up positions on Chapel Hill overlooking Bure, which was in German hands, as was also some sort of S.P. Gun which occasionally gave us unpleasant reminders of the speed with which an 88 mm shell can travel.’12 F Company, after two nights on Chapel Hill, ‘…were relieved by H Company and… came back to Chanly in reserve. …once again the civilians did all they could to make us comfortable. Some of the more enterprising members of the Company organised a wild boar hunt, which although well armed with P.I.A.T.s and Charlie tanks, came back empty handed. We were not to see any further action on the Ardennes…’11 On 6 January, G Company ‘…eventually bade farewell to Mesnil Eglise and moved some dozen miles farther east another typical Ardenne village, Lavaux-St. Anne.’1 H Company, on the 7th, noted: ‘We were glad to see the Ox. and Bucks. Light Infantry today, after two nights on the hill, where slit trenches were almost as impossible as sleeping. They relieved us and we moved back to rest a while at Resteigne.’12 On the 9th, H Company was back on ‘to the hill again today, with the “form” much as ever, save that it seemed colder if that were possible.’12 They finally left Chapel Hill on 10 January 1945.  

10 – 14 January 1945 – Final days in the Ardennes (Belgium)

‘Today saw us [H Coy] guarding the Railway Station on a very warscarred Forrieres, which seemed awfully full of Airborne Troops who made our presence there seem a little unnecessary. However, next morning it was “back to Resteigne” where yet again 0.2 had succeeded in reclaiming our old billets. In fact we had all really thawed out, and got our Sten Guns to work again when advance parties were ordered to move to Menin. Hopes soared high, but in that wonderful way which surprised no-one, the order was cancelled, and instead we all “stayed put” until, after a few “alarums and discussions” the Company left 29th Armoured Brigade – and moved up on by-roads (which gave the carrier drivers the test of their lives) to Hautaine L’Eveque…’12 In fact, for the whole Battalion ‘…it became evident that we were going to be pinched out of the battle-front… And so our three and a half week stay in the Ardennes had come to an end. It had been a period full with excitement, amusement and interest, and although it completely wrecked our Christmas I don’t think many of us would have missed it for the world. …Riflemen, for many years to come, would at Christmastime, round their home fires, recount to their families the story of Christmas, 1944.’1 

14 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 

12 – 27 March 1945 – Getting ready for the Rhine offensive (Belgium)

‘…on the 12th… we [H Coy]… moved back to Eynthout near Diest.12 ‘The whole of the 11th Armoured Division was concentrated in the area of Diest and Louvain, prior to what we hoped would be the last battle of the war…’1 ‘Here we were attached to the Armoured Regiments for training. They had just come up from Ypres with their new tanks – the Comet – and to begin with we spent a bit of time looking them over. We also did a demonstration with C Squadron of village clearing – an operation at which we were to become expert within a few weeks. The rest of the time was spent in getting ready for the Rhine offensive, and quite a bit of training was done. Liberty trucks went into Diest or Louvain and there were a few vacancies for day trips to Brussels. Everyone knew what they were waiting for… And the atmosphere was similar to the one in Aldershot in the first week in June of last year.12 ‘The 24th of March… arrived. It was “D-Day No. 2.” Soon the sky was filled with the drone of aeroplane engines and looking up we saw countless streams of planes towing behind them gliders, containing our old and gallant friends, the 6th Airborne Division. …they were on their way to drop on the far side of the River Rhine… That morning we heard the “Big Plan.” The 51st Highland and 15th Scottish Divisions had made the assault crossings and through them were going the Guards Armoured and 7th Armoured Divisions respectively. The 11th Armoured Division was in Army Reserve and was gong to be pushed through at the first suitable point where resistance showed signs of crumbling.1 ‘…we packed up and said goodbye to the inhabitants and our hosts [at Testelt, for E Coy], on March 27th, at the very early hour of 3.30 in the morning.’10 The other companies only left Belgium on the 28th. ‘…at no time during the campaign can F Company’s spirits have been higher. The period of waiting was over, and we were driving forward into Germany to strike the final blow.’11 

The new Comet tank, being tested by the 29th Armoured Brigade, on the firing range at Gravelines, France, 27 January 1944 - IWM B14138

28 March 1945 – From Belgium to Germany and across the Rhine (Belgium, Holland, Germany)

Rhine crossing at Wesel, 28 March 1945 - Sgt. Fruin coll.

‘At half-past five… our long column of vehicles began wending their way down the village of Gelrode. Our destination was still not settled… Out route lay through Diest and Beeringen… to Bree, and here the the local population turned out to give us a great send-off. Familiar faces appeared from houses, cafés and shops everywhere… Striking east, we reached the banks of the Maas and followed the course of the river to Venlo…, where we crossed… It was with keen interest that we crossed the frontier into Germany. Signs of war were not very evident until we reached Goch. …Our minds went back to Normandy. And as we pushed on and reached Wesel the memory of those early days… came back to us even more… The stench of dead cattle, the sickly smell of cordite, the shattered buildings and the chaos brought about by utter destruction – they were all there. Wesel looked like Caen all over again – in fact it had been more completely destroyed than the Normandy town. Enormous modern buildings had just collapsed like packs of playing cards and not a sign of life was evident anywhere.’1

‘The actual crossing of the Rhine was a great thrill. Unending columns of every description were queueing up to take their turn on the pontoon bridges, which were ringed by scores of anti-aircraft guns. …we had now crossed the Rhine and were going to concentrate to the east of it. The fighting… could not have passed on long since as numerous dead bodies, nearly all German, lay unburied alongside the road and in the ditches. We…’1 and the rest of the 8th Rifle Brigade ‘…halted for the night, just short of the village of Brünen…’1  

29 March 1945 – Eastwards, into Germany (Germany)

‘The next morning we [H Coy] joined the 23rd Hussars and after a lot of trouble due to traffic congestion moved forward about 10 miles and leaguered for the night just south of Borkem.’12 Also for G Company, the ‘…night passed without incident, and the next morning we teamed up with the 3rd Royal Tank Regiment… Soon after lunch came the order to move and we set off down some tortuous tracks, where the going was extremely boggy. Many vehicles got stuck bet were all eventually pulled out, and on we all went, finally striking the road again at Raesfeld. Already we had gone farther than anticipated… For approximately fifteen miles we went on… and eventually arrived at the little town of Velen. Not a sign of any hostile Germans had been seen the whole way… we took over the buildings we needed…‘1 Similarly, F Company ‘…advanced eastwards …under command of the Fife and Forfar Yeomanry, and the next two days saw no major engagement…’11 E Company had it’s a/Tk. Platoons ‘…attached to their respective companies [F, G and H Coy] while the rest of the Company poodled along behind the column…’10 

30 March 1945 – Bazooka men at Holtwick (Germany)

‘…we felt quite confident that we would be able to “swan” quite a long way and on the morning of the 30th we moved off… We did move for 20 miles unopposed, but when we reached the village of Holtwick, the leading squadron met some trouble from bazooka men, and two Germans who had succeeded in “brewing up” an Inns of court armoured car. Further on into the village A Squadron again met trouble, so 14 and 16 platoons were dismounted and cleared the village… we pushed on… but we didn’t go far before B Squadron had two tanks “brewed up” and in the ebbing light were unable to trace the gun. …at about 11 o’clock at night we moved into leaguer.’12 Also G Company their ‘…first check can at Holtwick, where a bazooka was fired at the leading [3RTR] tank. 10 Platoon dismounted from their half-tracks… This was probably our first encounter with the German Home Guard. Their fighting ability was not very great and it did not need much persuasion to make them decide that an undamaged village was better than on reduced to ruins by shelling… The advance continued through the villages of Asbeck and Schoppingen to the small town of Horstmar… We had advanced some twenty-eight miles…’1 

3rd Royal Tank Regiment Humber scout car and Comet tank, 30 March 1945 - IWM BU2758

31 March 1945 – Crossing the Ems at Mesum (Germany)

‘The R.T.R.s and G Company had had greater success than us [H Coy] and in the morning we had to go quite a long way through Schoppingen, Ostendorf up to a field just south of Emsdetten, where we stopped while the [159] Infantry Brigade made a bridgehead over the Ems. In the evening we crossed the Ems at Mesum and moved up to a place 3 miles east of Elte.’12 ‘Eventually we [G Coy] came to rest in a field near the village of Sinningen.’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, June 1945.

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.

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