9th ROYAL TANK REGIMENT

WAR DIARY JUNE 1944 to JUNE 1945

 

Function of a War Diary

 

The War Diary of an army unit records details of its activities while in a theatre of war. It is primarily an historical record, and can later be used to trace what happened in an action or campaign. The Diary may be supplemented by Intelligence Summaries, kept either together with the Diary or as a separate set of documents. Information to be recorded includes, but is not limited to:

 

·         Changes in assignment: some units, and 9 RTR was one, came under command of different formations at various times during the campaign. The Diary should show the time, date, and place of such transfers, giving map references of the significant places.

·         Changes in command, establishment, equipment, or organization. These changes should also show time, date, and place. From time to time the Diary should list the names of key personnel in the unit.

·         Before an action, the Diary should record: the intention of the action; any information that could assist the unit commander to achieve his part of the plan, eg strength and disposition of enemy forces and own troops, including support forces such as Air Force, ground and weather conditions etc; plan to achieve the intention, which will include the plan of the unit’s parent formation, and the plan for the unit itself; the unit’s plan will be the basis for issuing orders to subunits; logistical arrangements.

·         At the end of the day’s activities, which could include movement, training, preparation for activities, combat etc: summary of activities during the day, including that of subunits down to appropriate level; preparation of defensive works, including laying of mines;  weather and ground conditions, where they were of significance.

·         Changes to the state of men and equipment, which can include: casualties, including prisoners-of-war taken by the enemy; this will be in summary only, the details being recorded by the Orderly Room; changes to weapons could include loss by enemy action or mechanical failure, or gain by repair or replenishment.

·         Information on the effect of the operations on the enemy: casualties inflicted, prisoners taken, damage to equipment; identification of formations in immediate opposition; any other information gained likely to be of value.

·         If appropriate, care should be taken to provide relevant copies of maps, aerial photographs, and of radio logs if maintained.

Each month, or at the end of a significant operation, the unit commander should write a brief analytical summary based on what has been recorded. Comments by the commander should include the reasons for success or failure, the lessons learned, and what can be done to improve future operations.

 

            War Diary of 9 RTR

            The person with direct responsibility for the War Diary in 9 RTR was the Intelligence Officer (IO). He had many other duties, including the collection, analysis, and onward transmission of intelligence, particularly as it could help the CO in making decisions. The IO was also responsible for the provision of appropriate maps to all subordinate commanders, ensuring where possible that the maps had defence overprints.

In action he was the commander of one of the four RHQ tanks. Thus at the times when the items of greatest significance for the Diary were happening, the IO was subject to the hazards of battle and the jolting rides of cross-country movement. The IO in June 1944 was Lt Frank Haydon. He was promoted to captain and the command of the Recce Troop in September 1944, and Lt Laurie Le Brun, always known as Bruno and previously 13 Troop Leader, was appointed IO.

The War Diary as it appears here was transcribed from the copy of the Diary in possession of the war-time Adjutant, Capt AEW (John) Hodges. There are some differences between that copy of the Diary and what follows. The main differences are:

 

1.       The text has been edited by spelling out in full many of the words recorded as abbreviations, and by some minor re-writing to make the sense clearer.

2.       The original war-time maps with their grids are no longer available. Most, but not all, of the map references have therefore been deleted. The maps provided show most of the locations referred to in the text.

3.       Some illustrations are included to show people, places, and equipment.

 

It must be stressed that although most of the entries in the Diary are factual and correct, there are occasions when what is recorded is contradicted by other records or personal recollections. If any reader wants to use entries in the Diary for research or other purposes, it is strongly recommended that they cross-check the information with other sources.

 

Battalion or Regiment?

 

In talking or writing about the British Army there can be confusion between the words ‘battalion’ and ‘regiment’. A battalion of either infantry or armour is a unit of some 700 soldiers, generally consisting of a Unit HQ, from where all activities of the unit are controlled and co-ordinated, an Administrative or Headquarters sub-unit, and three combat or front-line sub-units. The sub-units are companies in the infantry, batteries in the artillery, and squadrons in the tanks.

The term ‘regiment’ formally stands for an administrative rather than a tactical grouping. For example, the Dorsetshire Regiment comprised several battalions, of which the 4th and 5th were in 43 Infantry Division. Their abbreviated titles were 4 DORSETS and 5 DORSETS  respectively.

The Royal Tank Regiment during World War II consisted of eight regular battalions, four wartime only battalions, and

twelve Territorial battalions. In the deception operation ‘Fortitude’ there were also seven dummy RTR battalions. The 9th was

one of the wartime only battalions.

The history of nomenclature of what started in 1917 as the Tank Corps, became the Royal Tank Corps in 1923, and then became the Royal Tank Regiment as part of the Royal Armoured Corps when that was created shortly before World War II, is

a bit more complicated.

There were battalions in the Tank Corps and the Royal Tank Corps, and they remained battalions in the Royal Tank Regiment. On 1 January 1945 the battalions of the RTR were renamed as regiments, becoming for example: 1st Royal Tank Regiment, 9th Royal Regiment, 48th Royal Tank Regiment. Thus the 9th is referred to in the War Diary as sometimes a battalion

and sometimes as a regiment; abbreviations used include: 9th R Tanks, 9th RTR, and 9 RTR.


LIST OF MAPS

 

1.            Normandy Jun-Jul 44

2.            Epsom form-up

3.            Epsom 1

4.            Epsom 2

5.            Epsom 3

6.            Hill 112 morning

7.            Hill 112 afternoon

8.            Breakout

9.            Bridges

10.           To Le Havre

11.                     Le Havre

12.                     To Holland

13.           Raids in Holland

14.           Clarkeforce

15.                     Roosendaal 1

16.                     Roosendaal 2

17.           Movements Nov 44 to Mar 45

18.           Geilenkirchen

19.           Reichswald plan

20.           Reichswald action

21.           After Reichswald

22.           Broedersbosch


WAR DIARY

11 June to 23 June  1944

Refer Map 1

 

 

 

On June 11, the Advance Party left Aldershot for France and the following day the battalion moved by train and road to the Marshalling Area near Gosport.

After the first week, when everyone had been busy sealing, and the tanks undergoing wading trials, life at Aldershot had been leisurely only to be distributed with excitement as the odd assortment of kit, which included a pamphlet on France and a number of French phrases, “Not to be shown in public”, were distributed.

The Marshalling Area provided less excitement but more entertainment for the final stage of sealing was completed within a few hours of arrival, and departure delayed by heavy seas in the Channel. During the period waiting, every available penny was raked together but, owing to the tax on beer, was soon again in the hands of the Government.

By 18 June the weather was considered sufficiently settled to allow further embarkation, and Battalion Headquarters, A Squadron and part of B Squadron were loaded on L.C.T’s. There were not, however, sufficient of these craft for the whole Battalion, due to the number smashed on the Normandy coast by the rough seas, and the remainder of the Battalion were allotted L.S.T’s, one of which was American – those who were lucky enough to cross on this ship not only had a pleasant journey across, lasting four days, but also enjoyed the pleasant experience of American food. The Channel, however, had not calmed to the extent presumed by the embarkation authorities and neither craft nor ship was able to land until June 21, except for the Echelons which got ashore on June 19. Each craft had a different experience to tell; anchors and kedges had been lost; tanks had broken from their chains and bulged the sides of the craft, causing certain alarm; balloons had broken loose and torn away rigging; and a high percentage of the Battalion experienced the agony of being sea-sick.

The whole Battalion nevertheless had disembarked on Juno Beach by June 22 and concentrated in the area St. Gabriel .

The enemy had remained exceedingly quiet – no aircraft were seen nor did shelling disturb the quiet of those hot summer days. On the coast, except for the broken and damaged craft on the beach, there were none of the ravages of war that later controlled every landscape.

Under the command of viii Corps, the Battalion awaited orders for the first action.


BAPTISM AT CHEUX

24 June to 2 July 1944

Refer Maps 2 ,3, 4, & 5

 

 

 

June 24            On the night of 24 June, the Battalion did a road march to area Secqueville en Bessin and there spent the day resting and preparing for battle. The following night the Battalion left for the forming up point, line of railway  9171 – 9271, and arrived there at 0200 hrs.

                        Using the Caen-Bayeux railway as a start line, the intention was to attack with two Infantry Brigades up supported by a Tank Brigade, and having made a hole in the enemy defences, to pass elements of an Armoured Division through and thus establish a break-out from the original bridgehead.

                        9 RTR were under command 15 (S) Division.

                        The general plan was as follows:-

                        Phase I: 

Right – 7 RTR (less 1 Squadron) in support one Brigade, to cut Tilley-Caen Road and secure high ground Haut du Bosq.

                        Left – 9 RTR (less C Squadron) to attack St. Manvieu – La Gaule.

                        Phase II:

                        With Left flank secured by 15 Recce (1) C Squadron supporting Gordons to capture Colleville and Montrainville, and if possible secure bridgehead over River Orne; (2) one Squadron 7 RTR with one Battalion 227 Bde to capture Grainville sur Odon .

                        Elements of 11 Armoured Division to pass through, seize bridges and then occupy high ground pt 112 and pt 113. RAF support and artillery barrage of about 600 field and heavy guns was to precede the attack.

June 26            The battalion attacking with A and B Squadrons, crossed the start line at 0730 hours, following closely behind the barrage. By 0815 hours the River Mue had been crossed. No strong opposition had yet been met but the infantry found it difficult to clear the enemy from the high crops which provided cover for snipers who were also in the trees. At 0940 hours, house-clearing on the objectives had begun. Armour had been reported in the area South of Cheux, but by 1125 hours objectives were clear, except for one strongpoint in St. Manvieu, which was finally destroyed by CROCS. The infantry dug in and the tanks remained in support to assist in beating off counter-attacks which were made on a small scale south of La Gaule and East of St. Manvieu. No heavy anti-tank guns had been encountered but one tank commander had been killed during the barrage and three tanks damaged. It was estimated that at least two companies of enemy had been killed.

                        At 1515 hours, a regiment of 11 Armoured Division with Recce elements passed through and established themselves on the high ground north of Cheux. The threat of an armoured counter-attack had not yet developed.

At 1915 hours, without artillery support and the expected air attack on Grainville and Colleville, C Squadron began their advance in heavy rain. They pushed across the Tilly-Caen Road and had great difficulty in getting through the sunken narrow roads of Cheux. They eventually got on to the 100 ring contour South of Cheux and moved forward down the slope to support the infantry into Colleville, through the high corn. Heavy anti-tank fire, which included S.P. 88mm’s and Panthers, was encountered on the left flank (supposed to be held by 15 Recce) and to the front.

Continual rain made it difficult to locate the targets and gradually one tank after the other became a casualty. By splitting the Squadron so that half engaged the enemy tanks and SPs, while the remainder pushed on to help the infantry, who were in trouble with mortars and snipers at the approaches to Colleville, there were further casualties. The Gordons actually got to Colleville but not in sufficient strength to hold it and were forced to withdraw under persistent mortar fire.

Some Shermans later moved on to the ridge, but as they never fired a shot it is presumed that they never located a target or conversely were a display of strength for morale purposes only.

By last night, only 6 tanks of C Squadron were still engaged and under cover of darkness these tanks moved forward in an effort to collect the remainder of the infantry still pinned to the ground – not more than a company was found. In the darkness the tanks moved back into Cheux and spent the few remaining hours of the night in a farmyard.

For his determination to achieve his objective despite heavy opposition, Major R.E. Holden, O.C “C” Squadron, was later awarded the M.C.

Neither A nor B Squadrons were relieved until dark and they leaguered on their respective objectives.

The casualties of C Squadron’s action were not as heavy as anticipated. The Churchill proved that it could take a lot of punishment and that it was slow to burn. Three ORs were killed and about ten wounded. Complete write-offs in tanks later proved to be five.

At first light, C Squadron moved to the battalion area north of Cheux.

June 27            A & B Squadrons carried out mopping-up operations south of Cheux in the area Grainville and Colleville. Here again the fighting was fierce with Panthers infiltrating from a flank after an area had been clear, or remaining well camouflaged in an orchard or behind a hedgerow opening up only at point-blank range. Ten Panthers were located in this area and two of our tanks were lost. Lieutenant Mott was severely wounded, having his legs amputated below the knee.

                        By dusk, infantry had been supported into Grainville and Colleville and were firmly established. The tanks leagured north of the Railway.

June 28            By 0950 hours A and B Squadrons had put the Cameronians on the X- roads but the opposition was strong with enemy tanks resisting and counter-attacks being frequently made from the directions of Noyers and Haut de Forges NW to Grainville and Le Valtru. Three Panthers had been destroyed, however, during the day.

June 29            At first light, C Squadron relieved A and B Squadrons and took up a position South of railway crossing at Colleville.

                        Elements of 11 Armoured Division had now crossed River Odon and were in position on Hill 112.

                        C Squadron were shelled and mortared during the day, standing at immediate notice to support infantry should further counter-attacks develop on Grainville.

                        At 1800 hours a strong infantry and tank counter-attack developed; two Panthers had infiltrated into Grainville and German infantry were attacking Le Valtru. C Squadron deployed north-west of X-roads and gave all support possible, and it was estimated that 600 enemy dead were left on the ground as a result. Captain K.A. Kidd, R.O., during the action worked magnificently to maintain co-operation between tanks and infantry, and was later awarded the M.C.

                        Following this abortive attack, an armoured counter-attack was made south of Haut du Bosq but this was also later repulsed.

                        C Squadron remained in position till dark – the only casualties being through mortaring, which had damaged two tanks; five OR’s being wounded.

June 30            11 Armoured Division withdrew during the night, as C Squadron stood by at 0430 hours under the threat of another counter-attack, but nothing developed till the afternoon when 60 tanks of 9 S.S. Panzer attempted to cut off all troops south of Cheux by again attacking Haut Du Bosq – this was also beaten off.

                        C Squadron were relieved by 7 R Tanks and joined the Battalion north of Cheux in time to watch RAF bombing enemy tank concentrations in Villers Bocage area. This was the first time that the RAF had been seen in action and morale rose considerably.

July 1-2           The Battalion stood by to repulse further counter-attacks in conjunction with 43 Division. The plans made were never put into effect – continuous failure had apparently made the Germans accept the inevitable.


 

JUPITER AND HILL 112

3 July to 25 July

Refer Maps 6 & 7

 

 

 

July 2-3                 The general intention of the Higher Command appeared to be the capture of Caen and the clearing of ground to the south-west between the rivers Odon and Orne. Carpiquet 9769 had been reported clear by the Canadians, and Verson 9665 held by 43 Division. Eterville 9864 was, however, held by the enemy. The Battalion was still concentrated north of Cheux and a recce was ordered in conjunction with 130 Brigade (43 Division) of the area Verson – Eterville – Maltot.

 

                     

                             

 

July 10                   At 0300 hours Battalion moved to Forming up Point area Fontaine Etoupefour 9664. The move was covered by Artillery and no difficulties were encountered.

 

                              Battalion Headquarters was established at 944653.

                              At 0500, B Squadron advanced with 5 Dorsets and in fifteen minutes Les Daims 968640 had been taken and only machine gun fire had been encountered.

                              It was known that elements of 10 SS Pz Division threatened left flank and 12 Panthers were  reported roaming in the area of Eterville.

 

                              A troop of 17-pounder S.P. took up positions to guard against this threat while B Squadron pushed on to the Chateau. Resistance was still confined to machine gun fire and snipers, and soon 6, 7 and 8 Troops captured their objective, but one tank had been lost on the left flank, due to anti-tank fire later discovered to be 75/55mm.

 

                              At 0614 hours, the objective was reported secure with the infantry firmly established on the line of the road Fontaine-Etoupefour – Maltot.

 

About 30 prisoners had been taken, a number killed, and at least 6     gun positions destroyed.

 

By 0625, C Squadron were advancing and with Besa fire tearing the corn, the Germans came forward with their hands up. Those that were not killed were taken prisoner and later identified as belonging to 1 and 2 Battalions 22 PGR. As the 4 Dorsets neared Eterville, B Squadron moved up and gave added support from the right flank, destroying 2 unidentified anti-tank guns.

 

The threat from the left still remained, but a further troop of 17-pounder S.P. and 11 Troop of C Squadron were in good positions waiting for the first sign of enemy tanks.

 

By 0735 hours, Eterville had been taken and B Squadron rallied north of Les Daims. Heavy enemy mortar fire was, however, concentrated on Eterville while A Squadron began their advance at 0815 hours supported by B Squadron from right flank.

 

Up to now, the whole attack had gone perfectly, but at 0835 hours A Squadron was severely worried by anti-tank fire from 4 S.P’s in the area 985629, but as soon as an artillery concentration was brought down in this area, 3 Troop reported than ANT was firing from 970622 and that two tanks had been knocked out.

 

At 0933 hours, a strong enemy counter-attack was made on Hill 112 and 7 RTR suffered a number of casualties, including CO and 2IC. The right flank was thretened and anti-tank fire was also reported from the high ground dominating Maltot to west of River Orne. The impetus of the attack was failing – 2 Tigers were in Maltot making the advance of the infantry extremely difficult and A squadron’s movement was hampered by a troop of Tigers dug-in on the reverse slope of Hill 112, firing north-east.

 

At 1156 hours A Squadron were still struggling to support the infantry in Maltot who were now confronted with another Tiger.

 

The German infantry were now counter-attacking and only 9 tanks of A Squadron were left. Major Ballantine, OC A Squadron, dismounted in an attempt to make contact with the Infantry Commander, but was severely wounded by mortar fire and subsequently died.

 

By 1200 hours, 2i/c A Squadron (Capt. Mockford) reported that he only had four tanks capable of fighting and further reports stated that counter-attacks were being made with tanks and infantry from north-east and south-west of Maltot.

 

The Battalion was disposed as follows:-

B Squadron and elements of A squadron in hull-down positions on spur 975628 – 992638  with infantry and anti-tank guns dug in.

C Squadron had joined Battalion Headquarters in forward rally after release by 4 Dorsets. Battalion Headquarters had been mortared and shelled periodically causing severe casualties among the wounded that had been brought in.

 

From 1330-1600 hours, there was a stalemate – the enemy making no attempt to push their counter-attack any further. A new plan was devised whereby one Squadron 7 R Tanks were to put WORCS on Hill 112 and C Squadron to put 4 Dorsets into Maltot. B Squadron were to give support from the right in the opening phase. 4 Armoured Brigade was waiting to go through.

 

The advance began at 1640 hours and, despite anti-tank gunfire from south-west of Maltot, C Squadron had put the infantry into the village by 1700 hours; but 10 minutes later C Squadron were being shot at from the rear, for once again enemy tanks had infiltrated under cover of the spur north-east of Hill 112. 8 Tigers were also moving in on the left flank, and the infantry were pulling out of Maltot under pressure.

 

At 1935 hours, C Squadron was also forced to withdraw under the cover of supporting fire from B Squadron. Mortaring and shelling was almost continuous and at 2030 hours all tanks rallied at the Forming up Point, and later joined A Echelon at 946659  to replenish and collect reinforcements.

 

Casualties suffered were:-

Major Ballantine;

2/Lt. Hendrie and 4 other ranks killed.

Capt. Kirby, Lt. Douglas, Lt. Drew, Lt. Chapman and 28 OR’s wounded; 29 OR’s missing.

 

16 tanks had been destroyed; 6 of which were recoverable.

One Tiger and 1 SP had been completely destroyed and others probably damaged. Enemy infantry casualties, including killed, wounded and prisoners exceeded 200.

 

This rather costly action taught many lessons. Lack of bedding etc. in enemy defence positions proved that at night defence positions were held only by light patrols, and that the main force withdrew to avoid the discomforts of continual shelling; therefore, an infantry attack at night co-ordinated so that tanks would be available at first light would have a greater chance of immediate success.

 

Enemy tanks, however, proved the greatest difficulty – dug-in, camouflaged in orchards and usually positioned on a flank they had every advantage including that of tank-tank fire power. To pin-point their location in battle for use by the artillery was also difficult and, under shellfire, enemy tanks moved to alternative positions that commanded as good a field of fire as before. To make a direct attack on these positions would necessitate the ignoring of the original objective and probably lead to further engagements. For their flank positions, smoke was the only answer, but weather conditions do not always permit a prolonged smoke screen.

 

Enemy counter-attacks made by infantry and tanks were generally successful, because having released supporting tanks our own infantry did not prepare adequate anti-tank defence – mines were never used; PIATs, though effective, were not popular, and there was usually too great a delay in bringing up 17-pounders, the crews of which were unfortunately very exposed to mortar fire. 17-Pounder SP’s were not used in the counter-attack role for they too were vulnerable to mortar and shell fire. Tanks having fought their way to the objective rarely had sufficient ammunition to remain as permanent anti-tank guns, a role hardly suitable for the Churchill.

 

July 11-12             Battalion remained in same location, obtaining reinforcements and replacements which included 10 Mk VII’s, at the same time standing by to assist 7 R Tanks who were still in the area Hill 112, in a counter-attacking role.

 

July 13-16             Battalion moved to 901705 in order to rest and on the night of July 16 moved to relieve 7 R Tanks in counter-attack on Chateau de Fontaine and Hill 112. The supporting Infantry Brigade were 129 Brigade. Battalion moved into position 952644 last light, and all crews began digging deep holes in which to sleep.

 

                              Just after 2300 hours, following mortar and shell fire, the harbour area was attacked by about 6 Ju 88s, who straffed and bombed. Lt- Col. Sir Nugent Everard Bart was wounded in the head and back, together with 7 O.Rs. 1 OR was killed. 2 Stuarts and 2 scout-cars were also damaged. Major Warren took over command. Shelling and mortaring continued throughout the night.

 

July 17                   At first light, HQ, B & C Squadrons moved out to area 955636, Squadrons deployed with 2 troops up. Mortaring continued throughout the day and in retaliation a shoot was carried out by all 75 and 95mm guns, resulting in the silencing of an MG that had been worrying the infantry. An SP was forced to disclose its position and infantry reported a Panther set on fire – no confirmation available. At 1930, a further shoot was made on the centre of St. Martin 9760, which drew heavy retaliation from enemy mortars, resulting in 3 minor casulties.

 

July 18-19             Very similar to July 17 – intervals of mortar and shell fire. Recces and plans made for counter-attack roles. Shoot carried out on Wood 9661 reported to harbour 3 Tigers. Lt. Col. P.N. Veale, M.C., assumed command of the Battalion.

 

July 21                   At 1430 hours, an enemy counter-attack threatened and B Squadron moved up to crest to give moral support to infantry. Heavy mortaring resulted in Major Warren and 2 ORs being wounded – no counter-attack developed, but a party towed away a number of dead cows whose stench did more to lower morale than the persistent mortaring and shelling.

 

                              7 R Tanks brought up into area to attack Maltot to correspond with Canadian attack on Etavaux 0062. Following the attack but corresponding with Canadian attack on St. Andre sur Orne 0161, 9 R Tanks were ordered to be prepared to attack Feuguerolles sur Orne 9961 and St. Martin 9760.

 

July 22                   1815 hours. Support given to 7 R Tanks attack on Maltot with 75 and 95mm fire aimed at Nebelwerfers in area 70 ring contour 9860, 9861. First shoot drew heavy mortaring but there was no reply to the second shoot. During this time, Major Holden got mixed up with his Slidex and reported “Dead”. Persisting in this report, he was advised to call skeleton “O” Groups.

 

July 23-25             The intensity of mortaring and shelling decreased and a further shoot was carried out on 88 located at 956614, but no further orders were received concerning attack on Feuguerolles and St. Martin. On 25 July, after watching rocket-firing Typhoons brassing up enemy positions south of Caen, the Battalion received orders to move to Fontenay Le Pesnil 8867.

 

                              After nine days of air attack at night and shelling and mortaring at all times during the day and night, no-one was sorry to leave.

 

                              The attack on Feuguerolles and St. Martin, which was to have been done down a valley dominated on both sides by enemy positions, had not promised to be the best of adventures either.


MINES AND THE BOCAGE

26 July to 12 August

Refer Map 8

 

 

July 26          After a night march, the battalion concentrated at Fontenay Le Pesnil 966669, and here came under command 59 Division. The Battalion had the task of supporting 176 Brigade in counter-attack roles on three positions – Haut du Bosq 9066; Rauray 8865; Pt 126 and Brettevillette 8864. The country in this area had been heavily mined by the enemy; it consisted of small fields bounded by thick hedgerows and ditches, and was undoubtedly the most difficult tank country that the battalion had yet encountered. The field of vision was generally less than 100 yards and in any deployed movement there could not be any visual contact between troops; large tree stumps, torn and gashed by shellfire, together with the deep ditches  provided natural tank obstacles. It was essential that each area was very carefully reconnoitered so that, should an emergency arise, each tank commander would know beforehand the exact line of advance of each tank. These areas were under constant shell and mortar fire, which added to the difficulties, and at 1800 hours B Squadron suffered a most unfortunate disaster. The troop leaders of this Squadron went forward for a rendezvous with Major Reynell, who was then making his plan just north of Brettevillette 8864. Dismounting from the track, an “S” mine was exploded, resulting in the deaths of Lt. Wolskel, Lt. Smart and Sgt. Nichols. Lt. Beale and Lt. Cargill were wounded and the latter died a few days later.

 

July 31          The reconnaissance and forming of plans for these three counter-attack roles lasted a couple of days, and finally, on 31 July, a demonstration was given by two troops of “C” Squadron with a company of 7 Norfolks in the method that had been adopted in clearing this type of country. Each hedgerow was to be considered as an objective and artillery fire would be brought down on this line until raised by the infantry command to the ground. Simultaneously with artillery targets I, Targets II and III would be engaged. For the first phase, tanks would sit at the starting line and engage hedgerows on flanks, keeping fire in front of infantry who would advance along these hedgerows.

 

                     Phase I would be complete when infantry reached the corner of the field and tanks would then concentrate their fire to hedge immediately to their front which had previously been engaged only by hull MGs.

 

                     The infantry would now use LMGs from positions in corner of field to engage next hedge to their front and, following a verey signal, tanks would move as fast as possible to the opposite hedgerow and the clearing would advance a further stage.

 

                     It is necessary to point out that as soon as artillery fire was lifted from target I it would move to target II.

 

                     In the case of the attack being made with 2 companies and 2 troops (which was most likely) it was essential that closest co-operation be maintained so that no advance moved faster than the other, otherwise casualties would be inflicted by own fire.

                     To ensure this co-operation, all troops of each Squadron practiced this method with their respective infantry; 26 Squadron Assault Regiment Royal Engineers also helped by using petards and bulldozers to make gaps in the hedgerows.

 

An experiment was made with artificial moonlight or movement light from searchlights, so that infantry might attack at night, and having secured their objective have tanks in position at first light to repulse any possible counter-attack. This too was quite successful, the light provided being adequate for movement.

 

August 1       An experiment was carried out to test the effectiveness of the Projectile Infantry Anti-Tank (PIAT) against the glacis plate of a Panther; complete penetration was not obtained and it was discovered that the cement veneer covering the Panther did much to nullify the effect of the PIAT bomb; the substance crumbled and prevented firm contact being made before the bomb itself exploded.

 

                     A 75mm hollow charge shell used by the 75mm Gun, carried by Airborne troops, was also obtained and by inserting this into the case of the 75mm tank gun, it was also possible to try its effect on the glacis plate of the Panther. Complete penetration was not obtained but in all cases the tank would have been knocked out.

                     Since 29 July 1944, 197 Brigade (59 Division) had been patrolling in strength, sometimes assisted by tanks of 7 R Tanks, and the general impression gained from prisoners of war was that the enemy were withdrawing under pressure of concentrated artillery fire, together with lack of food, sleep and at times ammunition.

 

1700           Orders were received that 59 Division with 31 Tank Brigade in support would capture Pt 213 on Villers Bocage – Caen Road, one mile north-east of Villers Bocage.

 

The main plan was in two phases:-

Phase I:   197 Brigade with 2 Squadrons 7 R Tanks in support and 2 troops C squadron 22 Dragoons under command, to feel forward and contact enemy.

Phase II: On contact, attack to be made with 2 Brigades up:-

Right – 176 Brigade with 9 R Tanks in support.

Left – 177 Brigade with one Squadron 7 R Tanks in support.

26 Squadron ARE; 2 troops 22 Dgns, and 304 Anti-tank  SPRA under command Division Boundary: Right – Main Road Villy Bocage 0259 – Les Fains 6361 – Juvigny 8466.

Left – line of 87 Easting.

 

9 R Tanks plan was as follows:-

To attack with 2 squadrons up supporting 2 Battalions.

Right – C Squadron in support 7 Norfolks with Flail and AVRE support.

Left – A Squadron in support 7 S. Staffs with Flail and AVRE support.

B Squadron with 6 N. Staffs to give right flank protection while one Squadron 7 R Tanks secured the left flank by attacking the area Pt. 142.

 

Boundaries:

Right – Main road Villy Bocage – Les Fains.

Left – Road-rail crossing 849590 – X- roads Monts 8561 – road-track junction 864639.

Probable start line – Rd 835625 – Monts 8561.

 

2/3 August    During August 2 and 3, 197 Brigade continued to patrol forward, meeting little opposition but encountering large quantities of mines, both anti-tank and “S”. At 1700 hours August 3, pt. 142 and Villy Bocage had been secured and leading infantry were held up 500 yards short of pt. 213.

 

1900           Battalion less B Squadron move to forward assembly area, 851646 where they were joined by B Squadron the following morning. No specific orders to attack had yet been received, though the C.O. went to attend an “O” Group at 0100 hours only to find it had been cancelled without him being informed.

 

4 August       By 1200 hours, 197 Brigade reported that they had crossed Villers Bocage – Caen Road and that no firm contact had been made with the enemy. Two hours later, 176 Brigade and 9 R Tanks were informed that they were now at 30 minutes notice to move, and at an “O” held at 835588, the following orders were given:-

                     9 R Tanks supporting 176 Brigade were to secure high ground formed by pts 158 (852562), 185 (861548) and 192 (817556).

                     Method:   A Squadron with 7 S. Staffs to pt 158.

                                    C Squadron with 7 N. Staffs to pt 185.

                                    B Squadron with 6 N. Staffs to pt 192.

                     Battalion Headquarters to be established at Le Mesnil Hervieu 9455 and 176 Headquarters Epinay sur Odon.

 

1500           Battalion begins to move. Orders were received from a divisional source that main road could be used only as far as Les Fains owing to mines and that from then on a cross-country route, which had been beaten by FLAILS, would be used. The main road was, however, subsequently cleared and the Squadrons ferrying their infantry as far as Villers Bocage, pushed onto their objectives, which they reached by nightfall.

 

This being the first occasion on which it had been possible to make any substantial advance, the road became blocked with traffic, so Headquarters moved along the cross-country route and waited at 837591 to allow Villers Bocage which was a veritable “bottle-neck” to clear.

 

Here, further orders were given by Commander 176 Brigade for the following day. The intention of the Brigade was to make a thrust to contact, and, if possible, gain a bridgehead across River Orne. An advance was to be made on two-thrust lines:-

Right – C Squadron with 7 Norfolks.

Route:- pt 200 – Courvadon – Nidalos – Montigny – La Canie Goupillieres.

L – A squadron with 7 S. Staffs.

Route:- Landes – Banneville sur Ajon – Gournay – Le Mont – Le Mesnil – Preaux Bocage – trois Monts – Goupillieres.

B Squadron with 6 N. Staffs to remain in reserve with 271 Anti-tank Battery. Reserve to be called forward by bounds.

Vanguard on each route to be as follows:-

2 troops tanks – 2 sections carriers - (tactical gap) – troop AVRE and foot sappers – 2 sections carriers.

Remainder to form main body.

H – 0615

Start line: junction 86569 – junction 857541.

At 2230 hours, however, information received that as from 0600 hours 5 Aug, 31 Tank Brigade to come under command I Corps, and that present role should be handed over to 107 RAC.

 

When the difficulty of handing over the role at such short notice had been explained, an attempt was made to delay the transfer to I Corps, with the result that the Battalion was first continuing to support 59 Division and then moving to I Corps. After five various reports in a couple of hours, higher command ordered that the transfer would take place as ordered.

 

Squadrons now had to concentrate in Battalion Headquarters area using routes that would not interfere with the advance of 176 Brigade. This resulted in Capt.J.M. Paterson, who was guiding a replenishment packet, being blown up in his Scout Car. He was wounded, as were Tpr G. Stubbs and Tpr Clifford Smale; Smale subsequently died of his wounds.

The Battalion did not leave the location till 6 August. The day’s rest was hardly necessary, because being able to measure an advance in miles a day without suffering heavy casualties had proved a great tonic for everyone after the grimness of the battles of Cheux and Maltot, where movement was restricted to a couple of thousand yards.

 

 

 ‘EGG’ and ‘TEMPEST’ WITH THE POLAR BEAR

6 August to 12 August

 

August  6      Now under command 1st Canadian Army, Battalion arrived, after a long and dusty road march, at 094715  in the I Corps area, and when darkness had fallen at 2230 hours, moved to Forward Assembly Area at 103666 in order to support 70 Brigade (49 Division) in a counter-attack role.

 

August 7          These defense areas were recced by Squadron Leaders, each to be a strong-point supported by a Battalion of infantry.

                     The areas were:-

1.             Le Prieure 1165

2.      Cagny         1164

2.             Lepoirier – Prenouville 1163.

 

                              These defensive areas were linked up with Operation “Totalise”, which was to be carried out by II Canadian Corps and which had Falaise as its objective.

 

                     The defensive area was planned to give protection to Lines of Communication for Totalise from left flank attack, as well as forming a strong defensive base should Totalise not go according to plan resulting in the necessity of withdrawal.

 

1800              A warning order was received that 31 Tank Brigade with 146 Infantry Brigade may be required for further flank protection roles during Op “Totalise”.

 

8 August       9 R Tanks ordered to close gap on left flank from Frenouville to

1130           Bellengreville (1361) to allow 153 Brigade (51 Division) to attack wooded area north-west Secqueville La Campagne 0959. C Squadron now moved to area FOUR 0962 and A Squadron to area Bourgebus.

 

Battalion Headquarters with B Squadron in reserve was established at 079628. There was spasmodic shelling and mortaring during the day, some of our medium 5.5 falling in the area of B Squadron, but there were no casualties.

 

1915              Battalion moved to rear rally area Grentheville 0864 and at a conference with Commander 146 Brigade Op Egg was outlined.

 

Aug 9            Orders received as follows:-

                     31 Tank Brigade supporting 49 Division to secure left flank area Brentheville – Vimont – Chicheboville.

                     7 R Tanks to support 147 Brigade from Frenouville south-east to Vimont 1561.

                     9 R Tanks to support 146 Brigade from wooded area 1160 to Vimont.

 

                     Plan: Operation “Egg”

                     Phase 1:  (“Compo”) A Squadron 9 R Tanks to support 4 Lincs to Star Wood 1261 – 2 Battalions and 2 Squadrons up.

                     Phase II: (“Bully”) 7 R Tanks to support 147 Brigade to line 129625 – 125621 – 2 Battalions and 2 Squadrons up.

                              Left – DWR; Right 1 Leics.

                     Phase III:

                              C Squadron 7 r Tanks to support 1 Battalion 147 to Vimont.

                              A squadron 9 R Tanks to support Lincs to Bellengreville.

                              C Squadron 9 R Tanks to support Hallams to Chicheboville.

B Squadron 9 R Tanks to support 49 Division Recce to establish firm positions area Bengauville 1459 to area X roads 139581 and exploit forward to line W. 163596 – track south-west to 155385.

     

                     At the time that this plan was made the situation was very fluid and obscure with the infantry fighting local actions with the general belief that the enemy were withdrawing.

 

                     Op EGG was never given a definite H-hour, and was to be put into operation only if a definite defence centre round Vimont was encountered. Consequently, various phases of Op EGG were completed by troops other than those given the task and there appeared to be no co-ordination at all.

 

1700              Reports issued as follows:-

                     1 Leics (147 Brigade) in Star Wood

147 Brigade to send patrols to Vimont and 4 Lincs (146 Brigade) were to take over from 1 Lincs.

 

1905           Battalion moved from Grentheville to area X-roads 098611 north of La Hogue and almost immediately two troops of C Squadron were asked for to support the Hallamshires, who were making for Chicheboville.

 

Situation as follows:-

Lincs area wood 105605 with intention of taking over Star Wood.

 

Two troops C Squadron at 130599 supporting Hallams to Chicheboville – no serious enemy opposition being encountered, the Hallams dug in on outskirts of Chicheboville and 2 troops c Squadron rejoined Battalion, having destroyed snipers and mortar positions area wood 1459. 7 R Tanks had got no further than line “Bully” having been held up by mines, which lined most tracks and verges in this area.

 

Aug 10          At first light A Squadron moved to area Star Wood with the intention of linking up with Koyli and supporting them to Bellengreville. However, they remained in that area all day as the infantry walked into their objective and decided to go no further.

 

                     C Squadron first supported the Hallams with two troops in consolidating Chicheboville and later, as resistance stiffened, with the whole Squadron in an attempt to clear wood 145596. At 1040 this wood was clear but heavy mortaring forced the Hallams to draw back to Chicheboville at midday.

 

                     49 Recce during its patrols met no serious opposition that required the support of tanks, so B Squadron remained with Battalion Headquarters, which had moved to area 113618 and it was there that 2 ORs were killed and 3 wounded by shelling.

 

                     Enemy strongpoints seemed to be centred around Benceauville, 40 contour 1559 and 50 contour 1658 and the Commander 146 Brigade considered clearing this area, but at 1600 hours the inter-brigade boundary line was changed and the task of clearing Bencauville passed to 147 Brigade.

 

                     C Squadron stayed with Hallams till 2000 hours and then joined the Battalion, claiming the destruction of 3 Spandaus in wood 143595 as well as several mortar positions. Shelling was fairly persistent in this area and A Echelon suffered 2 ORs killed while at Cagny.

 

August 12     No call was made on Battalion by 146 Brigade as they apparently had no immediate task at hand, but at 1200 hours information was received that owing to a further change of inter-brigade boundary the tasks of clearing Bencauville now passed to 146 Brigade and 9 R Tanks. The change-over was to come into effect at 1800 hours and Op Tempest was planned.

 

                     51 Highland Division had captured woods 1553 and were pushing up line of road Danneville – Bray La Campagne, to establish positions on high ground 1856.

                    

                     Troops in support – Division Artillery and 51 Division Artillery – B Squadron 141 RAC – 4 AGRA – 2 Kensingtons.

                     Plan:-

                              Battalion to support 146 Brigade in clearing east edge of wood 147596 – 146603 – Bencauville – Contour 40.

                     Method: C Squadron supporting KOYLI to attack in two phases.

                              Phase I: Clearing of wood with infantry 2 copy up, supported by C Squadron and B Squadron 141 RAC.

                     Phase II: Prospero:- 1 Company to consolidate in wood; one company to attack Bencauville and third company to attack 40 Contour.

                     C Squadron to support from right flank. H-Hour was again undecided and as far as the 9 R Tanks was concerned never really mattered, for the attack never developed. The battalion left the area to join II Canadian Corps for Operation Tractable. Before leaving, however, 2 ORs of C Squadron were wounded by further shelling.


K.B.O. TO FALAISE

13 August to 26 August

(K.B.O. stands for: Keep bashing on)

Refer Maps  9 and 10

 

 

August 13     At 1700 hours, the C.O. was called to Brigade Headquarters and the Commander of 31 Tank Brigade outlined the plan for Op Tractable. The role allotted to the Brigade, however, was no more exciting than being Corps Reserves, which meant that 9 R Tanks was to take up a defensive position in the area Estrees la Campagne 1249, ostensibly to prevent any counter-attack being made from area Wood 1249, in an attempt to cut II Corps L of C during the thrust for Falaise.

 

1900 Battalion leaves harbour area and at 2105 hours had concentrated in area

Urville 0750. The Battalion was neither shelled nor mortared in this new area, which was a welcome change, and on the following day the C.O. And Squadron Leaders reccied their defence areas which had been allotted as follows:-

August 14     A Squadron – Area 122498; B Squadron area tracks 115501; HQ with C Squadron in reserve area 112508.

 

1200              Battalion moved to Starting Point – 088524 – which it crossed an hour later. At 1346 the Regiment was in position and also on the edge of the Safety Line for the heavy bombing that was to be administered by the RAF at 1400 hours. For the first hour the bombing seemed to be very accurate and the wood that the Battalion was watching was ripped and battered on the northern edges. But heavy explosions and huge columns of smoke to the rear proved that one wave of bombers had lost their target and were dropping bombs on the area Hautmesnil where it was known that Forward Artillery and the Polish Armoured Division were concentrated. As this exhibition lasted for about half an hour, the morale as well as the Battalion’s opinion of the RAF dropped considerably – most of the supplies of yellow smoke were used up and even the white “ground to air” signals were unearthed and displayed but without any apparent effect.

 

1625             One Mk V and 2 Mk IV were located in area 103492 out of effective75 mm range. Strict observation proved, however, that most of their fire was directed north along the line of the main Caen-Falaise road.

 

1640               Two Shermans belonging to the Canadian Armoured Brigade came into the Regimental area with casualties, and the C.O. of an R.A. formation declared that these two vehicles were the only survivors of the Brigade HQ, and that the wounded were unattended.

                        Capt the Rev McMahon and the R.A. Colonel took out a half-track ambulance, but within ten minutes of its leaving it was observed to be in flames, hit by an unlocated anti-tank gun. A party later sent out on foot returned with the news that  the Rev McMahon had been killed and almost unrecognizably burned.

In co-operation with Shelldrake, the enemy tanks on the edge of the wood were periodically stonked, and by 1815 the Mk V showed no signs of life.

 

1900              Orders were received that Royal Regina Rifles in the village of Estrees La Campange were now under command and with their co-operation a defensive locality was planned for the night which brought shelling, but there were no casualties.

 

August 15              Recce Troop, that had meen patrolling towards area of Wood, pushed up a prisoner of 1054 GR, 85 Division. He was a fair-haired youth in his early twenties, not yet completely disillusioned about the might of the Fuehrer and the invincibility of the German Army, but had nevertheless left his Company position after the heavy bombing and got lost, and on returning the next morning found the defence position vacated and the tanks gone, and so decided to give himself up.                      

 

All Prisoners of War confirmed that their forces were withdrawing and that 85 Division had only been rushed into the line after a 3-day forced march with vague orders to defend Falaise.

 

The original plan of II Canadian Corps was now changed and the Regiment was ordered to support 4 Canadian Infantry Brigade of 3 Canadian Infantry Division, under whose command the Battalion now came, in a thrust to Falaise with the main road as Centre Line.

 

The first order received was than the Regiment was to give support in establishing a firm base area Potigny – Aisy – Pt 195 – Bonstassily.

 

1400              Regiment left area and moved to 097442. Reports proved that the Boche were withdrawing as quickly as possible and orders were no more than “K.B.O. to Falaise”.

 

2000              To comply with this terse and elegant order B Squadron was to support the Scottish Essex to form a vanguard. A Squadron was allotted to RHLI  and C Squadron to RRC should these battalions need tank support.

B Squadron  start with Scottish Essex at TORPS 1041, with the intention of joining Falaise Road at Villers Canivet. One mile south of the village light infantry opposition and MG fire was met but quickly cleared. A series of short sharp actions were fought, one resulting in the capture of an 88mm gun. Heavier opposition was met in the area Bois du Roi 1138, but this was effectively dealt with. Failing light resulted in the infantry taking the lead with two companies up.

 

2300              The high ground north-west of Falaise had been reached and B Squadron spent the night in close leaguer, enduring heavy shelling and mortaring, but suffered no casualties. B Squadron had made an advance of 3½ miles and taken approximately 100 prisoners. The Regiment, less B Squadron, was at 088423. The traffic problem was acute for only one road was usable, due to the previous day’s bombing and ruined verges and fields.

 

The Commander of 4 Brigade gave orders that the Regiment was to remain in its present location for the night but was to join B Squadron at first light.

 

Returning to the Regiment from this “O” Group, which had been held at Villers Canivet, the C.O. and I.O. had the later amusing, but at the time rather tedious experience of being forced, due to traffic jams, to use the roads so badly damaged by bombing. In rain and mud and darkness they guided their scout car through the craters and across fields, using pieces of luminous bark that had fortuitously been picked up on the road side. About midnight they were greatly relieved, having requested a red verey to be fired, to see it appear from their anticipated goal.

 

August 16     By 0830, the Battalion was deployed, Right – A squadron; Left – C Squadron, in support of B Squadron, but no further orders had been received, not was any information available. The Bois du Roi to the rear was being shelled by our own artillery as well as being mortared by the enemy and now and again it produced some M.G. fire.

 

                     Following a quest for information, each of the three infantry brigades had no clear idea as to the intention of the other, or for that matter, of their respective dispositions, but orders were finally received that 6 Brigade would clear Falaise and that Battalion should form a firm base with 4 Canadian Brigade in their present locality.

 

1400              Orders received that battalion to move by Squadrons across country to harbour in area 1160.

 

C Squadron moved first and the shelling and mortaring increased and later one B Squadron tank was hit and set on fire by 88mm, but there were no casualties.

 

No one in the Regiment appreciated being robbed of entering Falaise but were glad of the rest the following day, having covered over 40 miles in 30 hours.

 

August 17     Orders were received that 9 R Tanks were again under command 49

1600              Division and that they should move to 212571 and take over from 7 R Tanks by 108600 hours.

 

                It was known that the 10 DLI had a small bridgehead over the River Dives at Mezidon 2456, and that enemy were holding pt 66 in some strength – all other bridges had been blown. The task given to the Regiment was to support 49 Division in widening and strengthening the bridgehead when Royal Engineer’s had built bridges at 253588 and 251608.

 

August 18     At a conference held at 49 Division Headquarters, the Division Commander stated that the opposition of East of River Dives was not sufficient to justify the use of tanks in support of infantry, and to ease traffic problems across bridge at Mezidon 251562 – the only one complete – no tanks should move, but that 9 R Tanks should carry out recce to see whether it was possible to use the “Jumbo” Churchill at 296585 and 293596, so that River Vie could be crossed as soon as possible when necessary. Regiment Headquarters, B and C Squadrons were allotted to support 146 Brigade and A Squadron to support 70 Brigade.

 

1400              Major Holden and Capt. Kidd (C Squadron) carrying out recce for Brigade crossing 296585 had scout car destroyed by 50mm anti-tank fire – information brought back was that JUMBO would not span river at this point.

 

August 19     At 0630 hours, Battalion passed through Mezidon and concentrated

      0708       at 268566. Capt. Brewer, reconnoitering bridge at 293596 was badly wounded in the stomach by Spandau fire, but brought back information that tanks could not be used at this point either.

 

0740      49 Division issued orders that as no effective infantry crossing had been made across River Vie and tanks would not yet be required. During the day information was received that the first bridge available for 49 Divison forward elements would probably be that built at 322564 by 51 Highland Division and that Regiment should be prepared to cross there with A Squadron supporting 49 Divison Recce, B Squadron supporting 147 Brigade, and C Squadron 146 Brigade.

 

August 20     A Squadron move to area 323565 to be on call to support 49 Division Recce forward in bounds to road excl Les Trois Rois 3262 to inclusive 443880.

 

1130              B Squadron cross bridge and assemble area 3233567 to support 147 Brigade.

 

1325              C Squadron leave harbour area in order to contact Hallams (146 Brigade) at 299593 in order to support them to higher ground 3161.

 

1430              B Squadron prepare to attack 40 ring contour, 3158, supporting RSF and thence to river line 317595.

 

                B Squadron pushed on in front, clearing the way for infantry and had reached their first objective by 1515 hours.

 

At 1600 hours, RSF began taking over and at 1725 B Squadron pushed on again. No serious resistance was encountered; light anti-tank gun fire and MG fire was met but quickly dealt with so that by 1912 hours they dominated the area of the bridge, and the infantry arrived half an hour later to begin securing the position covered by the tanks.

 

C Squadron met with many delays in their effort to contact the Hallams. In avoiding mines and keeping clear of the main roads, an occasional tank became temporarily ditched, and the leading troop hit mines in a defile which caused further difficulties. But by 1710 hours contact with the Hallams had been made and a plan was made to attack St. Pair du Mont 3161; the attack to start at 1830 hours. Civilians reported that main enemy forces had already retreated North to high ground.

 

C Squadron attack started at 1630 hours but he advance was slow due to difficult going which included the pushing down of houses to get through. At 1915 hours the tanks began climbing the high ground which had an incline of about 1 in 4 with a field of view at times limited to less than 50 yards, due to foliage. Nevertheless, the tanks were on their objective at 1940, ahead of the infantry, and had destroyed 1 75mm anti-tank gun and 1 50mm Field gun. One tank had been knocked out resulting in injuries to Lt. A.C.W. Moore and one OR killed. 3 OR’s had also been wounded and three tanks ditched.

 

B Squadron suffered no casualties at all.

 

A Squadron was never required to support 49 Division Recce but Capt P.M. Myatt was accidentally shot in the leg. C Squadron harboured at 305613 and B at 406856. A report received at 1945 stated that a bridge at 297587 had been completed to class 40.

 

August 21     The tanks for the day were as follows:-

                     C Squadron to support KOYLI in an attack on St. Laurent du Mont 3162 and then to secure road incl Carrefour St. Jean 2852 to road track junction 306626. B Squadron were to move to Crevecoeur en Auge 3060 and then north-east to Cambremer 4090.

 

                     The nature of the ground, hilly and wooded, made it quite impossible for the tanks to attack in a deployed formation. So it was decided, as enemy opposition was expected to be light, that the infantry would attack in an orthodox manner, but that the tanks would move behind along roads where possible and either take over the ground from the infantry or be brought up to destroy any strong point encountered.

 

                     The KOYLI had little difficulty in securing their objectives and by 1200 hours C Squadron had assembled in area Carrefour St Jean. B Squadron were at Crevecoeur with the DWR exploiting to Cambremer. By 1300 hours it was realised that this type of attack against a retreating enemy was no good at all and far too slow, so it was decided to advance on two thrust lines so that contact was maintained with the enemy and he was allowed no respite.

 

                     C Squadron in support 146 Brigade to advance Carrefour St Jean 2862 – Bonnebosq 4395 – Le Tourquesne 4996 – bridge 533972. B Squadron in support 147 Brigade – Le Cadran 415887 – X roads and tracks 474923 – road Junc 438934 – X- roads 505935 – bridge 530942. Brigade Group leading advance was to be composed as follows:-

                     3 sec carriers; Troop tanks; lorried infantry; Squadron Tanks; sec Mortars; Sec REC.

 

1830              C Squadron were approaching Bonnebosq which was offering resistance and it was apparent that an attack would have to be put into clear it. The Squadron deployed to cover the village and sealed the exits while KOYLI attacked.

 

2015              Bonnebosq clear and infantry established themselves for the night. C Squadron harbouring at 422948. By 1800 hours B Squadron were at X- roads 419914 and by 2100 hours had reached Baignard 4492. They had been held up by poor roads, mines and anti-tank fire. One 75mm anti-tank gun had been captured at 446926. During the afternoon the Recce Troop had been patrolling bridge and roads and at 2230 hours killed 30 German infantry in area woods 4390 and 4491.

 

August 22     The advance on thrust lines continued but A Squadron replaced C Squadron and joined up with 4 Lincs, while B Squadron continued on their route with RSF. Little offensive opposition was met. A Squadron reached bridge 530940 at 1400 and B Squadron reached bridge 525917 and hour and a half later. Both bridges had been blown,

                     but RSF found a footbridge which they crossed, supported by tanks, but heavy mortaring resulted in 1 OR being killed and 12 ORs wounded. Capt. F. Drew of A Squadron was also wounded in the head as a result of mortaring.

 

                     As the tanks had no field of fire in the low ground by the river and no alternative positions were possible.  B Squadron joined HQ at 2030 hours and A Squadron harboured at 508965.

 

August 24     It was not till about 0900 hours that class 40 bridges had been made across River Touques but two thrust lines had been planned to converge on Cormeilles 6598.

 

                     Owing to the short time available for maintenance and the little rest that the tank crews were getting, 144 RAC came under command 49 Division and were allotted southern route. A Squadron supporting 56 Brigade were to advance on line S.P 475965 – bridge 532972 – road junc 567985 – road junc 579985- Cormeilles 6598. Steady progress was made throughout the day and at 2115 hours A squadron was supporting 2 Essex into Cormeilles. Only pockets of MG fire and a small number of tank obstacles and mines had been encountered. Battalion Headquarters established itself during the day at 628979 where it was joined by C Squadron at 2015 hours. B Squadron remained at its old location.

 

August 25     The advance was delayed awaiting completion of class 40 bridge at Cormeilles but at 0830 C Squadron crossed River Calonne supporting Glos  in advance of Brigade Group. The route was to be as follows:- Epaignes 7101 – road junct 755990 – road and track junc 787016 – track and road junc 789023 – road and track junc 789037, via tracks north-east to bridges 810065 an d799068.

 

                     Enemy defences were soon found to be centred round Epaignes, La Houssaye 7002, and La Heberdiere 7102. C Squadron quickly surrounded Epaignes but infantry insisted on putting in a number of small attacks which were all abortive.

 

                     Later, however, it dawned upon the infantry commander that a co-ordinated attack had to be made in some strength – this was put in at 2100 hours and Epaignes fell within an hour.

 

                     C Squadron during the day had destroyed 2 75mm anti-tank guns; killed about 100 infantry and captured Adjutant of Battalion Schleue (346 Division). One tank had been hit by a faustapatrone which penetrated the turret and killed 1 OR. It seemed that Epaignes had been the centre of resistance guarding Pont Audemer and if the infantry had not delayed so long it might have been possible to have got to Pont Audemer before dark. This would no doubt have resulted in the capture of a considerable amount of equipment and personnel.

 

                     A Squadron had remained in reserve at Cormeilles, much to the delight of the inhabitants. Major. Mockford took the salute in the square during a march past of the Forces Francaises de L’Interieur and placed a wreath on the cenotaph. Later there was a celebration with champagne in the Town Hall and the whole Squadron had been promised sheets and beds in the village.

 

                     But at about 1800 hours Cormeilles was heavily shelled and one tank was put out of action by a 150mm shell. This put an end to the celebrations and A Squadron joined Battalion Headquarters. There were, however, no casualties as a result of the shelling.

 

                     The Brigadier, 56 Brigade, expected a further advance to Pont Audemer to be strongly opposed and decided that

                     a thrust should be made on two lines – a battalion and a squadron moving on each.

 

               Left – B Squadron with SWB on route  road junction 679021 north-east to high ground point 128 7207.

 

               Right – A squadron with Essex on route Epaignes – St Laurent 7306.

 

               Starting Line – road junction 679021 – Epaignes. Start Time 0815.

 

August 26     A and B Squadrons crossed Start Line and by 0950 the objectives had 0815 been reached – no opposition had been encountered at all.

1130              Battalion Headquarters at 774073.

                Bridges across River Risle at Pont Audemer were blown and the unit again became static, moving across the river the following day. By now the whole area South of the Seine except for the Foret de Brotonne had been cleared.

 

56 Brigade were finally given the job of clearing the forest but did not require tank support. The Battalion remained concentrated at Fourmetot le Crosiet 8111, in division reserve, realising that though at least 60 miles had been covered the advance had not been spectacular, but flowers, cheers, hand-clapping and waves from civilians were a pleasant change after the grim days of breaking out of bridgehead, but nevertheless regretting that whenever impetus to advance had been gained it had been already cheated by yet another blown bridge.

 

August 27 to 9 September

Our copy of the War Diary contains no entries for the days 27 August to 9 September. This is unusual, because even when there was no combat, as was the case during these days, the Diary recorded the unit’s movements. However, the movements have been identified from personal recollections and other sources, and were: from the outskirts of Pont Audemer to a crossing of the Seine at Pont de L’Arche, then to the outskirts of Le Havre via Rouen, Yvetot, and Bolbec. The route taken to Le Havre is shown in Map 10.

 

 

 

 

 

 

BATTLE OF LE HAVRE

Operation Astonia, 10-12 September

Refer Map 11

 

 

1.       General.

The original task for 9 R Tanks was to support 146 Infantry Brigade in mopping up area East of River Lezarde, forcing a crossing of river and entering Le Havre.

 

2.       Plan

Phase 1:

A Squadron to support 1st/4th KOYLI, having under command B Squadron 22 Dragoons less one troop; Sec 294 Field Coy; Medium and Field Artillery.

Task:

To clear localities 562289, 563283, 561279, making two gaps through minefields.

Method:

(a)    A Squadron deployed in area track 574295 to 575287 to support B Company with MG and HE fire in clearing locality 563283.

(b)    C Squadron to support C Company attacking north to locality 562283 from high ground area 571303.

(c)    Two troops and Headquarters to support D Company in attacking area 563279.

(d)    A Company to exploit forward to line of 20 Contour and clear locality 560279.

Time:    D + 1.

 

Phase 2:

B Squadron supporting 4 Lincs, other supporting arms – 222 Squadron

ARE: Sec 294 Company, Medium and Field Artillery.

Task:

To force crossing River Lezarde at Harfleur and secure railway bridges at 545276 for advance on main road West to Le Havre.

Method:

To advance on thrust line track 564288 west to 558286 across country to join main road at 556286, thence south to Harfleur and on to Le Havre.

Plan:

Column to be composed as follows:-

One platoon infantry; one troop tanks; Flails; ½ troop Assault Regiment Royal Engineers; Troop Tanks – Headquarters Company Infantry, Forward Observation Officer (Royal Artillery): Wasps; Sec Royal Engineers; Sec Mortars; Sec Anti-tank; Jumbo bridge; Company Infantry and two troops tanks.

Reserve:- one troop tanks and one company infantry.

One company to give right flank protection as far as Harfleur.

Time:

Dependent on Phase 1.

C Squadron was allotted the following tasks:-

 

1.       From 1815 to 1915 hours on D Day to engage targets 557292, 545282; 545286, to simulate attacks from east, working on a prearranged plan with artillery and mortar fire ordered by 49 Division.

2.       To assist A Squadron in supporting 1st/4th KOYLI in Phase 1(b).

3.       To stand by in reserve to support Hallams to push through B Squadron and 4 Lincs into Le Havre should resistance be determined and formidable.

 

4.       Action by Times:

10 September: 1815 – 1915

According to plan, following RAF bombardment area plateau 5428 (Bentley), C Squadron deployed on spur 5730, engaged and observed targets in wood 562288 (Oscar), and pillboxes on eastern slopes of plateau 5428. Both the HE and MG fire was accurate, heavy and well-controlled, and did much to soften and harass the defences for the attack on the following day.

 

11 September: 0530

Phase 1(a) starts. Owing to poor visibility, tanks had to fire on fixed lines using MG only. Nevertheless, the attack looked as if it would be successful, but the enemy withheld their fire until infantry were within 30 yards of Objective (OSWALD) – the infantry had also got on to an unlocated “S” minefield and this with the sudden heavy MG fire caused heavy casualties.

 

11 September: 0559

Phase 1(b) starts but “S” minefield pinned infantry to ground – tanks could now see to fire and went forward to cover infantry while flails were brought up to make gaps.

 

0908: Gaps to objective had been made by flails supported by tanks and with the wood 563283 (OSWALD) being smoked by tanks and two troops supporting from the left flank, the infantry had captured their first objective by 0925 hours. While the KOYLI re-organised themselves A Squadron engaged locality 563283 (OSWALD) with well directed fire so that by 1030 hours white flags were flown by the enemy.

 

An interpreter was sent forward, but the enemy declared that they had no wish to surrender and wanted only an hour to bury their dead. During this lull a troop of Crocodiles was brought up for extra support and at 1230 hours the second attack started. A Squadron had taken up excellent positions around the wood and maintained well-controlled fire while the flails made two gaps for the Crocodiles. These were completed by 1305 hours and the Crocodiles moved forward with the infantry following. With the flames on the right flank and heavy MG fire on the left, the KOYLI walked into the objective and all the occupants had surrendered by 1325 hours.

 

The defences east of River Lezarde had been smashed – the strongpoint area 563279 (KIM) flew its white flag at 1340 hours and about 30 prisoners of war were marches out.  The estimated damage to the enemy in this phase of the attack was: - about 100 prisoners of war; 1/75mm gun; 1/50mm anti-tank gun; 1 Heavy MG and 6 MGs.

 

1540: A Squadron had moved in Forward Rally at 577278, having suffered no casualties – damage had been sustained by the RO’s Recce tank by tellermine.

 

1545: B Squadron started their advance but were delayed by mines and difficult cratered ground. While mines were cleared the tanks engaged enemy MG positions on eastern slopes of plateau 5428 which were troubling the Lincs. While on right flank on main road, 7 Troop in support of D Company destroyed pillbox positions with intense fire, and allowed the main body of the infantry to get forward.

 

1930: Bridges at 553282 (RANDOLPH) and 551280 (RONALD) had been crossed and Harfleur cleared. B Squadron now caused about 130 enemy to surrender to the Lincs because of the intense fire that had been directed on any point that offered resistance.

 

2004: B Squadron had reached bridge 545276 (ROBIN) but were unable to pass because of road blocks, craters and other obstacles.

 

2045: B Squadron was released and the Regiment was concentrated area Gainneville 5828 by 2200 hours, with Headquarters at 586299.

 

12 September:

Owing to the unforeseen developments in the north of Le Havre, the task of 9 R Tanks was to support 146 Infantry Brigade in clearing area bounded by – North, Canal Vauban; South, Canal de Tancarville.

 

Left                     -        B Squadron with Lincs

Centre Line          -        Boulevard D’Harfleur

Start Line             -        Cross roads 549279

Right                   -        C Squadron with Hallams

Centre Line          -        Boulevard Sadi Carnot – Boulevard Amiral Mouchez

Start Line             -        Road bend 660276

 

Squadron Leaders concerned had received their orders to rendezvous with respective infantry CO’s at 0800 hours.

 

C Squadron crossed SP at 0835 hours and leading troop with OC C Squadron first came under enemy fire (Anti-tank) at 532268. Infantry were also harassed by MG and 88mm HE and fire from high ground to North. 14 Troop was called up with 2IC and took charge of the battle while forward tanks pushed on supported by 15 Troop. 14 Troop with 2IC finally put out one 88mm and 5 MG positions. Demolitions and craters in the area of bridge 546275 prevented B Squadron from reaching Boulevard D’Harfleur and they finally passed through C Squadron to go on to their  Centre Line via Boulevard de Graville.

 

      C Squadron forced the various strongpoints to surrender; Telephone Exchange 511266; blockhouses at 506261; 502262; 502260; 501263 and brewery 499263, and had completed their task by 1300 hours. All opposition had been quickly engaged with accurate fire and at least 200 prisoners of war had been taken, most of whom were passed onto the enthusiastic  Forces Françaises de L’Interieur. Two 50mm anti-tank guns; five 20cm and a number of MG positions had been overrun besides a large number of riflemen sniping from windows. B Squadron met little organised resistance and had cleared their area by 1330 hours, overrunning two 50mm anti-tank guns and MG positions, 30-40 prisoners of war being taken.

 

1430:         Regiment released by 146 Infantry Brigade, except for Recce Troop which had been doing very useful work all day in clearing and patrolling side roads. From 1600 hours to 2100 hours, the Recce Troop under Sgt. Findlay gave invaluable assistance to Hallams in clearing their dock area south-west of bridge 502259.

 

Manoeuvring up to strongpoints and covering them with accurate fire they were instrumental in supplying the Hallams with about 250 prisoners of war. Released at 2130 hours, they joined the Battalion which had now concentrated at 570312.

 

Throughout Operation “ASTONIA” the Battalion suffered no battle casualties.

 

 

References: Battle of Le Havre

 

 

 

OSCAR                        Wood 562288. Sheet 123, 1/25,000

OSWALD                    Wood 563283

KIM                             Strongpoint 563279

RANDOLPH               Strongpoint 553282

RONALD                    Strongpoint 551280

ROBIN                        Strongpoint 545276

 

 

 

 


 

 

REST AND TRAVEL

13 September to 7 October

Refer Map 12

 

 

Following the Battle of Le Havre, the Battalion was informed that a fortnight’s rest was anticipated and that billets could be found in the area south of Dieppe.

 

On September 17th, the Regiment was disposed as follows:-

Headquarters, A1 and A2 Echelons – Binville La Baignard, 1845; A Squadron in Brennetuit, 2146; B Squadron Gonneville; C Squadron in St Genevieve, 1748.

 

Billets were found for all personnel, and certain comfort and rest was enhanced by the attitude of the villagers, who were kind enough to entertain by providing meals and wine – this was greatly appreciated for with petrol “frozen” it was not possible to send “passion” trucks to the larger towns.

 

Being the first time that  we had been given a definite rest period since landing, maintenance was carried out on an extensive scale; each vehicle was given a thorough inspection and a number of engine changes were made.

 

It was not, however, possible to ignore the hospitality of the villagers, and at the request of various “Maires” certain ceremonies were gladly endured.

 

Major Reynell, OC B Squadron, was presented with a bouquet of flowers by his admiring villagers and in a gesture of respect and also to avoid his own embarrassment, laid this quickly at the foot of the local cenotaph.

 

On Sunday, 25 September 1944, Headquarters and C Squadrons held similar but more elaborate functions to further the cause of Allied unity.

 

At Biville, Headquarters Squadron scrubbed their belts, cleaned their brasses and paraded with a guard of honour that appeared to have little acquaintance with rifles, while the Colonel and “Le Maire” laid wreaths on the cenotaph and exchanged speeches. The Colonel, speaking in French, expressed his admiration for the Forces Françaises de L’Interieur and thanked the villagers for their kind welcome, while the “Maire”, with appropriate gesture, re-affirmed the bond that existed between the French and English in their love of freedom. No ceremony, however, is complete without flags and music, and the local band was there to express its personality – it struggled valiantly through the Marseilles and God Save the King, but produced such confusion during the March Past that it was only possible to maintain a marching step away from its influence. The “Maire” of St. Genevieve was less ambitious in his arrangements, but C Squadron’s parade was no less impressive and the speeches no less suitable.

 

The football match between the Battalion and a team from the local villagers was played in the afternoon and, despite heavy showers of  rain, attracted a reasonable audience.  The standard of football was not high, but the French side was not outclassed as a victory of 6-0 might suggest. The most entertaining part of the afternoon was provided by the ceremonial prelude to the game, with which the Regimental side had not been acquainted.

 

They strolled out nonchalantly on to the field, while the French side trotted out one behind the other and lined up in the middle of the field. One by one the Regimental side realized that perhaps they too should follow this example and began to sort themselves out but were not quick enough. An almost unrecognizable God Save the King was being played. The band was here again. During the Marseillaise, the French turned about but this time theRegiment made no response and were finally embarrassed by the presentation of another large bouquet of flowers.

 

As the days passed further amusements were found. A dinner party was given for Lt. Col. Leakey, 7 R Tanks, where he was presented with the model of Churchill derelict upon a minefield in recognition of his leadership in discovering more minefields in France than any other unit. The present was accepted with grave and dubious laughter, but as the table was supplied with certain luxuries including Champagne, Vin Blanc and Benedictine, nothing rude was said at the time.

 

C Squadron indulged in the traditional taste for dramatics and produced a noisy but amusing variety. B Squadron followed suit and no critic would hazard an opinion on the higher state of excellence.  A Squadron organised a dance and were kindly supplied with a bar by a local Aubergiste. It is rather obvious to state that everyone thoroughly enjoyed themselves and sobriety was hardly the order of the day.

 

The Battalion moved again on 29 September. The first complete rest had been thoroughly enjoyed – many had made pleasant friendships, among these were such notable personalities as the 2IC who bade a tender farewell to a group of fair young ladies at five o’clock in the morning, and Major Mockford, whom it was rumoured, had acquired an affection for a certain doctor’s wife.

 

By the first of October the Regiment had reached Henneveux – a distance of 123 miles. During a short rest there, an impressive Service was held in memory of those who had been killed in fighting with the Battalion. As the sun set behind a curtain of trees, the Regiment formed up on a sloping field facing two Churchills, in front of which stood the Padre, who conducted a simple service, the message of which was that however difficult it was to understand, no death was in vain.

 

The following day the Regiment moved to Renescures H 2250 and there awaited transporters in the final stage to join I Corps, who were now protecting the south-western flank of the Arnhem salient. Whilst loading on 6 October, Lt. Wintle of A Squadron fell as he attempted to climb on to a moving transporter and was crushed to death. An unfortunate end to an excellent troop leader who had fought so well from the very start.

 

By October 8th, Headquarters, A and C Squadrons had crossed into Holland and came under command 51(H) Division – B Squadron and the Recce Troop remained at Renescures awaiting further transporters. A further 100 miles had been covered on tracks, and the welcome by the Dutch was the most effusive that the Battalion had encountered, even surpassing that of the Belgians, who had done everything to satisfy the general wish for comfort and wartime luxury.

Major Massy, who had done excellent work in securing billets, was awarded a special medal of recognition by the Regiment – the recommendation coming via the Adjutant, who generally had a doubtful residence.


RAIDS IN HOLLAND

With 51 Highland Division

8 October to 16 October

Refer Map 13

 

 

 

October 8        Arriving in Holland, the Battalion came under command 51 Division and were given the task of preparing to meet any counter-attack from the north-west against Eindhoven and also to worry the enemy by carrying out repeated raids.

 

                        B Squadron and Recce Troop were still awaiting transporters in france; meanwhile, C Squadron established themselves at Zonsche 3726 and A Squadron at Acht (3922); Headquarters at 4210.

 

October 9        The first two raids by C Squadron were carried out in support of 152 Brigade, operating in the area of Best. Capt. Link and 11 Troop supporting 5 Camerons advanced in north-west direction east of road Eindhoven – Boxtel and combed woods area 3629.

 

                        Major Holden with two tanks supported 2 Seaforths in an advance west, crossing the road/rail junction 371262 and shooting up suspected Company Headquarters in area 369264.

 

October 10      A Squadron was now given the role of supporting 153 brigade and moved to St. Oedenrode 4232 where Headquarters also established itself.

1330                    13 and 15 Troops under OC “C” Squadron supporting an assault troop of Derby Yeo (51 Recce Regiment) carried out a very successful raid on wood west of Dorendork, running approximately 382297 – 377296. Fire support was given by artillery, 4.2 mortar and MMGs. Three Spandaus were silenced before the beating of the wood began and finally one Sgt. and 33 ORs from 6 Coy. 1034 were taken prisoner. The ground was exceedingly soft and intersected by ditches and considerable skill was shown by tank commanders in completing the operation without any vehicle being bogged. It is said some tanks came out like speed boats with noses well up in the air. There were no casualties among our troops.

 

October 11      Was a complete day of maintenance and rest, but 12 October found C Squadron busy again.

 

October 12      OC “C” Squadron with 14 Troop carried out a raid on houses area 371260 and generally shot up line of railway tracks 374255. During the afternoon B Squadron and Recce Troop arrived and were allotted a reserve role and during the evening St. Oedenrode was shelled, resulting in 3 ORs, who were relaxing in a pub, being wounded. Shelling continued throughout the night and though a number of houses were destroyed there were no further casualties.

 

October 13      C Squadron still busy. Another raid with 5 Camerons and Lifebuoys reached 362283. Enemy withdrew hurriedly but 8 of them were killed, and one prisoner of war taken, whose identity proved to be 5 Coy 1036 GR.

 

                        A day of rest followed and then A Squadron did their first raid which had as an objective the collecting of prisoners for identifications. The area chosen was enemy positions west of Donderdonk. The first phase was concentrations by Brigade artillery and heavy mortars and also MMG fire. This was followed by about 30 minutes of tank movement and then a broadcast was made on the lines that the enemy faced a considerable force and would thus show discretion by deserting, and a smoke screen was laid to give cover to our lines. 15-20 Germans were seen to move towards the lines of 5/7 Gordons. Two prisoners were brought back on the tanks and three Spandaus were destroyed in the area 382302.

 

October 16      Information was now received that the Brigade role was to be handed over to 33 Armoured Brigade and the necessary arrangements were made. This week of harassing raids had proved quite enjoyable for every night the troops returned to the comfort of billets and were spared the discomfort of living in open fields. It is perhaps worthwhile noting that at no time during these raids did the enemy infantry make use of any anti-tank weapon.

 

 


REBOUND” AND “THRUSTER”

with 49 (WR) Infantry Division and Clarkeforce – 19 – 30 October 1944

Refer Maps 14, 15, & 16

 

 

October 19        Move to Forward Assembly Area for Operation “Rebound” – area St. Leonard 8709.

 

                        Task: (a) 9 R Tanks in support 56 Brigade to recce area 8513 – Woods 8413, clearing enemy from area as far as east road Oosterbrecht 8811 – road junction 869142 and as far west as gen line incl Beekhoven 8810 – including Koningsven 8413; (b) to relieve Clarkeforce in Loenhout.

 

                        Plan:

                        Right               -      C Squadron with 2 Glos. B Squadron in reserve.

                        Left                -      A Squadron with 2 Essex.

                              Starting Line     -     Road Brecht 8410 – Koningsven 8413.

Supporting Arms- 3 Medium Regiment, 4 Field Regiment – C Squadron FF Yeo less one troop; C Squadron 22 Dragoons less one troop; D Heavy Mortar Company 2 Kens less one Platoon.

 

H – 0730.         D – October 20

 

October 20      No rain; dull; ground soft after heavy rain.

0730          Start Line crossed. Attacks began well – within 20 minutes C Squadron had advanced 800 yards. Prisoners coming in – no serious opposition. By 0830 C Squadron outpaced infantry and found a number of Germans in area wood 871122 and there had to wait for infantry.

                  A Squadron advanced slower. By 0805 had reached 850118, while two troops were busily engaged in Stapelheide 8411 where an anti-gun an numerous infantry were causing trouble. One tank out of action. Prisoners had, however, been taken.

 

                             

By 0845, C Squadron had reached area wood 865125, having captured 88mm and crew. At 0910 were joined by infantry and clearing up began – more prisoners taken and position clear by 0945.

 

Meanwhile, Stapelheide was still being cleared but the rear of A Squadron had got to area woods 850125.

 

1100                    C Squadron with infantry established on ridge 8513 (final objective) – more prisoners had been taken and suspected enemy position north engaged – enemy artillery located 864145 and dealt with.

 

1116                    A Squadron established area Stapelheide 8413 where 75mm and dummy anti-tank guns were captured with 10 prisoners. Fighting Stapelheide finished but other enemy posts to south still to be cleared. By 1330 only occasional opposition was found in the area, which was systematically cleared. 276 prisoners taken during the whole operation.

 

1445                    C Squadron for rally wood area 865125, leaving 1 troop for eyes on final objective.

 

           Casualties                        A Squadron                 C Squadron

            Tanks                                      1                                 -

Personnel                       Lt. Smythe wounded             -

                                      1 OR wounded

 

1430                    B Squadron move forward to follow up Clarkeforce. It was however nearly dark before B Squadron and Essex were able to move into Leonhout 8415 and as Clarkeforce had not entered the village, B Squadron and Essex sat south of the village during the night.

 

C Squadron leaguered with the 2 Glos. in general area 8612 while A and Headquarters leaguered area Het Kloester, supplying own patrols from personnel of A Echelon.

 

Recce Troop was posted at Chateau de Yeuse 8810. The night was generally quiet with occasional shelling of heavy calibre.

 

October 21      B Squadron and Essex moved into Leonhout and found little opposition – one anti-tank gun was encountered east of village. A couple of abandoned 88mms were discovered by C Squadron in area north-west of Kloester and there was sufficient evidence to presume that they were the guns during the night. No further orders. Meanwhile squadrons to form defensive positions.

 

October 22      Raid by 2 troops C Squadron and Recce troop to harass enemy positions on right flank. C using 870129 as starting point move east, shoot wood 900144 and shoot up houses in Steenhoven 8615 and Hiebart 8713, retiring south to original area. 21 enemy killed; 2 prisoners taken; 1 ½ track; 1/75mm; 1/50mm; 1/20mm destroyed.

 

                        Recce troop carrying out patrol on road St. Leonard 8809 – Hoogstraten 2215 lost two tanks at 890115 – as the tanks approached the mines were pulled across road by infantry hiding in ditch. 1 German killed – own casualties 3 Ors wounded. Report of 15 armed vehicles and infantry forming up area Kruisweig 8116 – no serious developments.

 

October 23      Regiment concentrated area 8113 for purpose of moving north to support 56 Brigade in taking over Esschen 7323 from 6 Canadian Brigade.

 

October 24      Arrive Wildert 7319; dispersed as follows in support 56 Brigade: A Squadron in support SWB 724235; B Squadron in support Essex 728229; C Squadron in reserve with Headquarters at Wildert.

 

October 25      C Squadron and Headquarters move to area 722223 in preparation for Operation “Thruster” – the capture of Nispen 7225.

 

                        Plan:

                        Phase 1: Capture by SWB of area wood 719249, to take place during dark, 25/26 October. A Squadron 9 R Tanks to stand by and be prepared to support at first light.

                        Phase II: B Squadron to support 2 Essex in capture of woods 7125 – 1 troop FF Yeo (Crocs) in support.

                        Phase III: C Squadron to support 2 Glos in capture of Nispen, attacking from west to east. One troop FF Yeo under command. During Phase I, 2 troops A Squadron to support 1st/4th KOYLI’s (146 Brigade) in capture of wood 7324. Attack to have artillery support and at the conclusion of Phase II, Clarkeforce to pass through having as its objective WOUW 6730.

                        Starting Line – road/rail junction 718240 to cross roads 725241.

                        H – 0730 hours for Phase II.

 

October 26      By first light, 2 SWB had gained objective and there was no call for A Squadron to support. The two troops with KOYLI’s on the right, under command Capt. Kidd, experienced 88 HE fire and Capt. Kidd was wounded in the head when his cupola was blown off. KOYLI’s had little difficulty in reaching objective, but the two troops remained in support throughout the day.

 

730                        B Squadron crossed Start Line and a quarter of an hour later had passed through positions previously captured by SWB. Visibility bad owing to mist and maximum shooting range 500 yards.

 

800                        Supported by tank fire and Crocs, infantry had secured left flank of objective; on right the infantry were consolidating area wood 719258. Resistance had only been spasmodic and about 40 prisoners had been taken – identification 857 GR.

 

As soon as objective had been taken, the area was continually mortared and shelled. 1 OR wounded. One 88mm SP and 75mm anti-tank gun worrying the right flank were knocked out. Infantry and tanks cleared area north of road to allow clarkeforce to pass through.

 

C Squadron suffered two Officers casualties (Capt. A.J. Morgan; Lt. A.P. Boden) in the forming up point as a result of mortaring and shelling.

 

1120                    C Squadron cross start line and very shortly had the outskirts of Nispen under fire. The enemy appeared to have evacuated the village but securing it was delayed as infantry had some difficulty in getting up. Shelling still continued and 3 SPs were reported north-east of village on far side of the Molenbeek.

 

1225                    Infantry clear houses supported by tanks from east – a few prisoners and considerable defensive mortaring.

 

      1330          Firmly established in village – targets to east and north-east stonked by Shelldrake.

 

1550                    Half of B and C Squadrons withdraw for replenishment.

 

1615                    Shelling more intense and SP engaging tanks from well-concealed positions. Two tanks damaged and 2 Ors wounded. This skirmish was no doubt a diversion to cover engineer party who blew bridge at 729268 at 1630.  One SP and 75mm anti-tank gun abandoned by enemy under fire.

 

1635                    Essex and Glos defensive positions complete. B and C Squadrons released and join Headquarters at 7192656, where the night was spent in leaguer.

 

October 27      From first light two troops of each Squadron move forward in support of infantry – remainder of Regiment stand down.

 

1530                    Following orders from 34 Tank Brigade, b Squadron with one Coy. DWR, previously established in area Brembosch 7026 with Clarkeforce, move forward and take over Rietgoor 7128. No opposition encountered. DWR establish themselves in village, B Squadron RR Brembosch 7026. C Squadron now responsible for giving support to Essex and Glosters.

 

October 28      A Squadron move to area woods 7126 to be on call by 2 SWB who had overnight established themselves area east of railway and west of Molenbeek with forward Coy. Area woods 721282.

 

1700                    Two troops B Squadron with Coy DWR clearing area north-east railway/road junction 718290. Shot at by 2 SPs firing down line of road; 1 tank hit; no casualties. Bad light prevented pin-pointing its position – not destroyed but later put out of action by Medium Regiment RA.

 

1730                    Regiment less B Squadron who remain with DWR move to area Wouwsche Hill 6827 with intention of supporting 146 Brigade. Plan made for occupation of Boeink 6930 and Vinkenbroek 6929, preparatory to an attack on Roosendaal 7231. Attack to be supported by 2 Medium Regiment and 4 Field Regiment RA.

     

Phase I: C Squadron with A Company Hallams to capture vinkenbroek.

Phase II: A Squadron with B Company Hallams to capture Boeink

H: 1200 hrs 29 October

Start line: track 690291 – 700292

 

 

October 29     C Squadron cross start line and have little difficulty in overcoming obstacle of railway. By 1225 forward infantry in village but 4 tanks were already bogged. AP fire from SP in area Boeink knocked out two tanks. Infantry had no trouble at all and collected about 40 prisoners.

 

1248                    A Squadron began to move up and anti-tank fire was fairly heavy from area Boeink. SP very active but infantry again met with little resistance, and soon reached the village and the SPs withdrew north under cover of a gentle slope.

 

1355                    While infantry mopping up village, A Squadron steadily losing tanks – one SP and 75mm anti-tank gun knocked out in area Boeink. Tanks had to push on despite losses to ensure infantry took over their objective.

 

1410                    Fairly quiet – third company established itself in area houses 689305 but A Squadron had now only 3 tanks left from the eleven that started. More prisoners had been taken and the total count by infantry was over a hundred.

 

1520                    Squadron rear rally 693293.

Casualties:

A Squadron – Killed, 1 Officer (Lt. R. Clarkeson); 3 ORs Missing believed killed; 4 ORs killed; 6 ORs wounded.

                                    C Squadron – 1 OR Killed; 5 ORs wounded.

Tanks:- C Squadron – 2; A Squadron – 6.

 

This was purely tank versus anti-tank and SP battle and it was obvious that the Germans were using their SPs in force as a last defence to cover a general withdrawal north and to prevent any armoured thrust from disorganizing their retreat.

 

                        As a result of the battle, it must be emphasised that the infantry must release the supporting tanks far quicker in open flat country; otherwise unnecessary and expensive casualties are suffered.

 

1545                    B Squadron supporting Leics in area north of Tolberg 7128 having as a task the enlarging of the small bridgehead made by DWR across anti-tank ditch 713295. Operation completely successful despite soft ground – no casualties and some prisoners taken.

 

October 30      B Squadron cross anti-tank ditch which had been made passable by

 0530        bulldozing and established themselves during darkness in area Hulsdonk 7130.

 

                       The tanks were heavily camouflaged in defensive positions to break up any counter-attack that may have been made against the bridgehead. 1 troop AVRE and 1 troop Flails were under command. To ensure perfect liaison, 2IC B Squadron was in W/T command with 147 Brigade and RO was with the Leics, the most forward Battalion.

 

The further task of B Squadron was to support 147 Brigade in clearing Roosendaal south of Bredaschebaan but recce

reported that that part of the town was clear.

 

930                        C Squadron supporting KOYLI (146 Brigade) passed through but the Churchill bridge had to be used to cross at 721312. Tanks and infantry moved down the streets but no enemy was found. The battle for Roosendaal had obviously been fought the previous day.

 

                       Various orders followed which included the change of command to 56 Brigade and the movement to a Battalion area in Oudgastel 7336 for which recces were carried out but later instructions followed that Battalion was to remain in Roosendaal which was to be concentration area for 34 tank Brigade. Since 20 October 9 R Tanks with 49 Division had advanced 12 ½ miles against many obstacles and a determined enemy.

 

October 31      9 R Tanks remain in Roosendaal under orders of 34 Tank Brigade.


NOVEMBER IN ROOSENDAAL

1 November to 30 November

 

Following the entry into Roosendaal, it was uncertain what the future would bring, and the first few days were spent in very active maintenance and re-organisation; new tanks and fresh crews were wanted from the Forward Delivery Squadron, and the welders were busy again filling in unpleasant looking holes in both C and A Squadron’s tanks; Major Holden being especially delighted that “Incredible” was battle-worthy again and Eb Wood was seen proudly watching the six-inch hole in his turret gradually decreasing.

 

The days passed with general routine, broken only by the excitement of an outbreak of fire in the school used by Headquarters and C Squadrons. It turned out that there was more smoke than fire, but before this was discovered, unfortunately, four ORs of C Squadron were injured jumping from the roof into an improvised sheet held by a rescue party organised by RSM Palmer. The local Fire Brigade got the fire under control and though one of the lower rooms was gutted, no kit was lost except for the odd articles that disappeared.

 

News finally came that the stay in Roosendaal, where the Battalion was still considered as liberators, was likely to be prolonged and, consequently, organised trips were made into Antwerp where for the first time it was possible for the troops to spend money – Xmas shopping and eating ice-creams were only the lesser indulgences, and stories of seductions were overheard as soon as forty-eight hours leave was instituted.

 

By November 14, however, it seemed as if the pleasant period of relaxation had come to an end for a warning order was received to stand by ready to move. Within forty-eight hours, however, the order had been cancelled and it was now rumoured that the Brigade would be left stranded in the area for the rest of the war; certain personalities now became worried and the Intelligence Staff were constantly asked if they thought the armistice would be delayed another nine months. No reassurance was given.

 

Nevertheless, a long static period was prepared for. First, a series of trade tests were started following a Brigade order to test in an orthodox manner those who had been mustered in the field as tradesmen. Later, D & M, Wireless and Gunnery courses were started to improve the technical training of those recently absorbed from the Forward Delivery Squadron and a range was made in the area of Willemstad where all gunners were to fire a series of practices to ensure that their efficiency did not decrease.

 

Major-General G.W. Richards, DSO, MC, visited the Battalion and was spectator at a demonstration given to prove the limitations of 6-pdr DS ammunition. Accuracy could not be claimed above 800 yards and a system of ranging could not be laid down as it was affected by the jump of each individual gun.

 

Organisation of the fighting Squadron was also discussed following a further suggestion by the Brigade Commander. There was talk of squadrons being limited to four troops each of four tanks, but the final decision was made whereby the troop should remain three tanks but in planning only four troops should be considered, the fifth being L.O.B.

 

Many points were brought out for the adoption of the four-troop Squadron and it was voted an excellent and necessary re-organisation. The four-tank troop got no supporters but one or two points were brought out in favour. They were (i) the fourth tank doesn’t actually go into action but is a “tracker” or “swinger”. Thus, if it is commanded by the Troop Sgt he is in position to take over control of the troop immediately should the Troop Leader become a casualty. (ii) A four-tank troop can take a harder knock without requiring reorganisation. (iii) the fourth tank is in a good position to paint the picture, thus leaving the Troop Leader free to concentrate on manoeuvre and control.

 

Against the four-tank troop the “tracker” was not liked because it put on the battlefield odd tanks which were uncontrollable (ii) four tanks made troop leader’s job more difficult (iii) unwieldy, (iv) communications over “B” get more difficult; (v) it meant more goods in the shop-window and less depth to the attack.

 

It was decided to keep five troops in the Squadron but the fifth troop is not to be reckoned with in planning and is to be a Squadron reserve. The advantages were that: (i) the fifth troop keeps its identity (ii) it can be relieved and changed about; (iii) the fifth troop can become the forward repair group and receive replacement tanks and make them battleworthy away from the battlefield; (iv) automatically it is an ideal proportion for L.O.B.

 

If these activities and problems occupied everyone by day, another type of relaxation was found for the evenings. Squadron dances became a local feature at the village hall where beer and cognac were sold in increasing quantities, reaching a climax on Cambrai Day which, though celebrated in style on the twentieth, spread its influence over nearly a week. No hall could be found large enough for a Regimental Dance, so each Squadron held a dance in succession and competition was strong to see who could provide the greatest orgy and the most surprises, which included among other novelties free ice-cream and A.T.S. from Antwerp.

 

During the morning of Cambrai Day a 40-a-side football match occupied everyone’s attention. Officers and men were seen grovelling in the mud; at times chasing the ball, at others pursuing personal vendettas while smoke screens were laid and goals barricaded. A Squadron have to be congratulated as victors and they carried away their barrel of beer chanting some hoodoo that is believed to have been a ritualistic thanksgiving to the mystic goddess of Wine and Women.

 

The afternoon passed with entertainment given by “Four Smart Girls” and though the show was pleasant enough “smart” was an exaggeration and “girls” an understatement. Nevertheless, the tradition of the day was kept – the meals were abundant and served in Cambrai style and there is still no doubt that everyone enjoyed themselves.

 

To overcome whatever effects these gaieties might have there was a certain amount of sporting activity. The football field was occupied most afternoons, and each troop produced a seven-a-side team, and after a lot of excitement and many struggles C Squadron Headquarters (F) were hailed the victors. An exhibition rugby match was held in aid of the Red Cross and hockey matches were arranged against local teams, but no amount of physical exercise could repair the damage caused by C Squadron’s notorious “spigot support” which was given to unsuspecting visitors with the result that they departed in rather a too hilarious mood.

 

As the month drew to an end, it became clear that the Regiment would definitely not be the guests of Roosendaal for Xmas. On 26 November all courses were cancelled and by the 29th the Squadrons were lined up in the Wildert area ready for the transporters which were to take the Regiment to XXX Corps area, established on the left flank of the 9th U.S. Army.


 

DECEMBER NOMADS

1 December to 28 December

Refer Maps 17 and 18

 

 

 

By 1 December half the journey to XXX Corps had been completed and once again the Battalion were in Belgium, receiving the traditional Flemish hospitality.

 

The wheel column spent one night at Opglabeek about fifteen miles north-west of Maastricht. It was believed that a couple of days would be spent there awaiting the arrival of the tanks which were travelling on transporters via Brussels, but orders were received that the journey would continue the following night. This was to ease the traffic problems over the American bridge that was now carrying all traffic west due to the other bridges further north being destroyed by the rising river.

 

The tank column remained at Waterscheide and finally followed 24 hours later, also travelling by night over minor roads which in no way corresponded with those shown on the map. Though no tanks were lost, there were a number of stragglers who had thrown tracks on the bad, narrow roads.

 

By midday 8 December, however, the Regiment had concentrated in Brunssum under 34 Tank Brigade, which now formed the nucleus of XXX Corps reserve, which was to be prepared to take up defensive positions on the right flank to hold bank any enemy penentrations down the Wurm Valley – the Corps front being held by 43 Division on the right with 8 Armoured Brigade under command and the Guards Armoured Division on the left.

 

The first few days passed without any excitement, though each day new billeting arrangements were made due to the constant changing of Regimental areas. This discomfort was, however, in part compensated for by being able to indulge in the luxury of hot baths and shower made available at a nearby pit-head.

 

This was also a favourable opportunity to put the finishing touches to the formation of the “Qui s’y Frotte” Association, which had been formed to provide help and give assistance to next-of-kin of members of the regiment who are killed in action, and the first copies of the Regimental newsletter were circulated.

 

147 RAC relieved a regiment of the 8 Armoured Brigade after a couple of days and on the eighth the Battalion moved forward into Germany to take their place, while 156 Brigade came under command 43 Division and relieved 129 Brigade.

 

The German villages had been badly damaged and one remembered the Normandy villages of the past. The mud was thick, which necessitated a universal issue of gumboots and as the change-over took place the tanks nosed their way into damaged houses and prepared positions. Reconstruction of living was necessary – cellars and houses were made habitable and in the forward areas the most common sign of life was a thin trail of smoke rising from a rusty pipe that protruded from a cellar.

 

At the same time that the Regiment took over from 147 RAC, 156 Brigade, which had come under command 43 Division, relieved 124 Brigade. A Squadron moved two troops into Hockheide 873667 in support of 6 Cameronians, and held two troops in reserve at Bauchem 8564. B Squadron also had two troops forward in Rischden 8666 in support of 4/5 RSF with the remainder of the Squadron at Neiderheide 8665. C Squadron remained in reserve in the Headquarters area which had been established in Gillrath 828662.

 

The front remained quiet though there was a certain amount of activity in preparation for future operations.

 

During this lull further experiments were carried out with BEME concerning the device to be fitted to Churchills for clearing paths through Schu minefields in order to assist the infantry in attack against prepared positions. On 9 December a demonstration was given attended by the Division Commander and was considered successful. Though various experiments had been carried out the device finally approved consisted of a steel bar at the end of which were welded steel plates drilled so that they could be attached to the edge of the hollycone drawbar. On the bar were threaded two sets of manganese track plates separated by a distance piece.

 

Each set of plates had the spuds facing forward and consisted of a total of seven plates, the sixth being specially adapted by welding to its spud three carrier universal track plates. The wheel guides of the carrier track plates acted as combs on the ground and as the plates were welded so that on the side of the tank track itself there was an overlap of four inches it was possible to clear two lanes approximately 5 feet in width with an uncleared gap in the centre of approximately 1 foot.

 

On December 10th, the CO attended an “O” Group at 214 Brigade, 43 Division. Operation “Shears” was outlined whereby the enemy divisions disposed west of the River Roer between Roermond K 7990 and Gilenkerchen K 8664 were to be destroyed. 34 Tank Brigade with 43 Division were to do the break-out and 52 Division with 8 Armoured Brigade and Guards Armoured Division the mopping up. 9 R Tanks in support 214 Brigade were to complete the first phase of the break-out.

 

Following heavy and continual rain the ground provided poor tank going and frequent reports showed no improvements. Nevertheless, thousands of air photos and maps were issued and every plan was complete when the news came that the operation was cancelled.

 

The Regiment remained in its position with its role unchanged. On December 16th news was received of the German counter-offensive against the American First Army front, attacking with the 6th and 5th Panzer Armies.

 

Owing to the dropping of parachutists the guards were far more alert and even those supplied by “A” Echelon were known to be aggressive. Enemy air activity increased both during the day and night, and shelling became more frequent. Finally, orders were received that 34 Tank brigade with 43 Division were to be withdrawn and go to the area Tilburg to undergo special training for future operations. On 19 December the Regiment’s role was handed over to 2 Squadron Grenadier Guards and the tanks set off on a road march to Waterscheide where they were to be picked up by transporters. RHQ moved back to brunssum, complete with new furniture, to join the wheels column which was to leave at 0630 hours the following morning.

 

The road march was made in thick fog and a number of wheels of the leading regiments were passed ditched by the side of the road.

 

After a few miles, the column was stopped and informed that the Brigade would now concentrate in the area Asch and there await further orders. It was appreciated that the German counter-offensive might develop unpleasantly. XXX Corps moved south and established itself on the west of the River Meuse in mobile reserve. The task given to 34 Tank Brigade and 43 Division was to destroy any bridgeheads made by the enemy between Huy and Liege. The Battalion was to support 214 Brigade in these possible operations.

 

By the night of 20 December the Battalion had established itself in Bilsen (K 4355) and it was there, a day later, that confirmation had been received that the awards of M.C. had been granted to Lt. T. Fawcett and Lt. F. Critchley for personal bravery and devotion to duty during operations around Boeink and Nispen. 13 Troop were proud to claim three MMs awarded to Sgt. Tomney, Tpr. Rees and Tpr. Lowe during the same series of operations.

 

The possibility of Xmas celebrations seemed remote though various greetings were received from old friends of the Regiment, the most subtle and attractive being from our original Brigade Headquarters, 31 Tank Brigade.

 

On December 23, the German offensive looked less dangerous and the Regiment was placed at 3 hours’ notice – there were also rumours that Xmas would be celebrated and these were proved true the following day. In consequence the Regiment decided to move to more comfortable billets but owing to unforeseen difficulties and a number of false starts, the move was not completed until midday of Xmas Day. Nevertheless, there was time to lay on the traditional meal by the evening.

 

But, during the afternoon, a warning order had been received whereby the Regiment would be ready to move by 0700 hours the next day and the C.O. was informed that he would report to 51 (H) Division at Tilff (K 4921) that night – a poor sequel to the cancellation of his special leave that was to cover the Xmas period. A Christmas meal was thus the only celebration and the only amusement was caused by Capt. Lord appearing with a broken nose after he had lost a wheel from his Scout car. This was considered amusing only as a sequel to his summer escapade when he had tried to drive across a bridge that the retreating Germans had unkindly blown.

 

On Boxing Day the Regiment detached from 34 Tank Brigade came under command 51 (H) Division in reserve to the First American Army and after another difficult road march in thick fog concentrated in Ougree, south of Liege. It was here that the Regiment had its first experience of flying bombs.  They were heard chugging in the skies at frequent intervals and though some fell unpleasantly close, destroying billets, there were no casualties.

 

Here the Division Commander visited the Regiment and suggested an alternative concentration area be found.

 

On 28 December the Regiment moved again and established itself in the small village of Villers aux Tours and there saw out the last day of 1944 surrounded by ice-frozen roads and snow-white fields. The inhabitants were glad to see British troops again and were generous in their welcome, while the Regiment waited to strike against any enemy penetrations that might be made from the east or south. Meanwhile, A Echelon remained at Seraing, a southern suburb of Liege, somewhat piqued it is said at being likened to the processionary caterpillars, which the French Naturalist, Fabre, claimed marched in a continuous circle in a head-to-tail snake-like string for a week around the edge of a large vase despite the tempting offers of food. In fairness, however, it must be stated that in road marches alone they had covered about 150 miles during the month.

 

 

SNOW AND THE ARDENNES

29 December 1944 to 7 February 1945

 

The New Year arrived and it is believed that a few got drunk but other than that there were no changes.

 

It was obvious now that the German counter-offensive had lost the initiative and it would only be a question of weeks before they would be retreating once again behind the Siegfried Line. The operational role of the Regiment with 51 (H) Division began to lose its significance. The days when maps had been studied and routes reccied had passed and the concern now was to frustrate boredom that might have threatened the Regiment isolated in this small but hospitable village.

 

Some began tobogganing and others, with the guidance of local gamekeepers, ploughed through the snow and forests in search of the renowned boar.  No one, however, proved themselves expert at this kind of hunting and the Recce Troop were no more successful when they went off one night in search of two Germans in American uniform reported by civilians to be roaming the wood and having in their possession a map of Liege.

 

On the seventh of January, 51 (H) Division began to move South into the area of Rochefort – the Regiment, however, remained where it was to come under command of 53 (W) Division with whom touch had been lost since training days in England.

 

On 8 January, XII Corps, who had taken over the previous role of XXX Corps, began their attack designed to clear the enemy bridgehead over River Roer between Roermond and Gilenkirchen. It was appreciated that Rundstedt might make a spoiling attack with the Volksgrenadier divisions opposite the 9 US Army in order to prevent the straightening of the Allied line. Nothing serious was expected but as 10 SS Panzer Division had not been located for some time it was thought that this division might be used to give weight and support to the Infantry Divisions. Possible axis of the enemy counter-attack in order of probability were:-

 

1.                   Julich – Aachen

2.                   Linnich – Aachen

3.                   Duren – Eschweiler

4.                   Rotgen – Aachen

5.                   Geilenkirchen – Aachen

 

53 (W) Division with 9 R Tanks in support and 5 US Armoured Division were given the task of dealing with this possible counter-attack should it succeed in breaking through 9 US Army positions.  Support from Groups of P47 was to be expected and the general principles as laid down by Commander 53 (W) Division to fulfil task were as follows:-

 

1.                   Immediate occupation of a firm base position by one Brigade Group.

2.                   Remainder of Division to assemble in an area in rear of firm base preparatory to:-

3.                   Operating about firm base with object of striking the enemy in the flank of his penetration.

 

9 R Tanks was to be prepared to move to Divisional area where they would concentrate and be prepared to support either of the two attacking brigades.

 

The Regiment remained at 24 hours’ notice and were still responsible with 53 (W) Division for the defence of Leige. However, the XII Corps attack progressed slowly and there was no indication that the enemy would make any spoiling counter move. Life once again became sedentary and the Regiment were entertained at intervals by film shows, concert parties and pantomimes -–the latter introducing two charming Belgian girls who declared that they like entertaining British soldiers – no-one however, discovered whether entertainment meant more than singing or dancing.

 

On January 29, 53 (W) Division moved and the Regiment reverted to the control of 34 Armoured Brigade. Mol was expected to be the next concentration area and though A and B Echelons moved there they were eventually sent on to Eindhoven.

 

Getting the tanks from Villers-aux-Tours along the ice- and snow-bound roads to Leige, where transporters were to be found, was no easy task, but by the 25th concentration was complete and two days later the Commander of 34 Armoured Brigade issued a Special Order of the Day congratulating the Regiment on the efficiency of their move.

 

At Eindhoven, old friends were contacted and though it might have appeared that the Regiment was resting, it was, in fact, preparing for its next action – the breaking of the Siegfried Line. By 3 February plans were complete; the hundreds of maps and aerial photographs had been studied and all commanders and tank drivers had had experience of driving through woods and using the tank compass at night. On 4 February, the Regiment moved north to Malden where 34 Armoured Brigade had concentrated preparatory to Operation “Veritable”. All formation signs had been painted out and cap badges removed in the interests of security, but captured documents show that German intelligence had placed the Brigade in the area of Helmond and later announced it as taking part in the First Canadian Army’s offensive.


OPERATION “VERITABLE”

8 February to 12 March, 1945

Refer Maps 19, 20, 21, & 22

 

 

 On the morning of 8 February 1945, the Regiment left Malden and by 0930 were beginning to move into the Assembly Area in the woods west of Groesbeek. The artillery barrage, which had begun before daybreak, continued the noise of war which had started the previous evening with the RAF bombing of Cleve and Goch.

 

It was known that the chief difficulty of this operation would be supplies. Tracks were in bad condition; roads were flooded and the Regiment moved forward towing supplies of petrol and ammunition on sledges; carrying themselves seven days’ rations and water, the latter was to be used only for cooking and drinking.

 

Operation “Veritable” under the control of the First Canadian Army involved two Corps, II Canadian and XXX  British, and by pivoting on the River Maas was intended to turn the Siegfried Line from the north.

 

Holding the northern end of the Siegfried Line were two German infantry divisions, 84 and 180, both of not more than average fighting ability, and 2 Para Regiment reputed to be well-trained and to consist of good fighting troops.

 

The Canadian Army during the first stage were to attack with II Canadian Corps in the north and XXX British Corps in the south with Right 51(H) Division and 107 RAC; Centre 53 (W) Division with 9 R Tanks and 147 RAC in support; Left 15 (S) Division and 6 Guards Armoured Brigade.

 

Tasks:

(a)                51 (H) Division to act as pivot for the swing from the north and clear southern edge of Reichswald Forest.

(b)                53 (W) Division and 34 Armoured Brigade to clear remainder of Reichswald Forest.

(c)                15 (S) Division attack a line Kranenburg – Cleve.

 

9 R Tanks were in support of 160 Brigade and were (1) to seize and hold northern and eastern parts of Reichswald Forest; (2) to establish contact with and support with fire if necessary 15 (S) Division on the left. (1 E Lancs Regiment, under command 160 Brigade, to make up 4 regiments for this operation).

 

General plan was to advance behind 71 Infantry Brigade, who were to capture west of forest and attack in four phases: Phase One with two Battalions supported by squadrons on narrow fronts to final objectives.

Phase One:

Grouping:       Right:           Squadron 147 RAC in support 1 E Lancs.

                                         2 AVRE and one troop Crocs.

                                         One platoon 555 Field Company

                                         Detachment 202 Field Ambulance

                     Left:             C Squadron 9 R Tanks in support 6 RWF

                                         4 AVRE and one troop Crocs

                                           platoons 282 Field  Company

                                         Detachment 212 Field Ambulance

Forming Up:   (a)               Squadron 147 RAC and 1 E Lancs.

                                               Track Nergena – 822582 – X tracks 815526.

(b)                            C Squadron 9 R Tanks and 6 RWF north of track junction 822528. Track from road  and track junction 819531 – track junction 814528.

S.L:                                 Track from road and track junction 819531 – track junction 814524.

Axis:                                500 yards inside north edge of forest.

Objectives:     (a)              Squadron 147 RAC and 1 E Lancs, track junction 824520 – clearing. 825519 – track junction 828517 – track junction 835523.

(b)                            C Squadron 9 R Tanks and 6 RWF. Track junction 833525 – 834531 – 832531.

Method of Attack:            4 troops up with tanks line ahead supporting 2 company’s.

 

PhaseTwo:    

Grouping:                      A Squadron in support 4 WELCH +

                                       4 AVRE + one troop Crocs

                                       One platoon 282 Field Coy.

                                       One troop 56 (Canadian) anti-tank battery

                                       Detachment 212 Field Ambulance

Forming up:                      Area of C Squadron and 6 RWF.

S.L:                                 Track – X tracks 833527 – X tracks 832521.

C.L:                                 500 yards inside northern edge of wood.

Objectives:                       Track junction 851544 – X tracks 851540 – 848536 – track junction 844535.

Method of Attack:            4 troops up with tanks line ahead supporting 2 coys.

Action on Objective:         Support infantry in consolidating and guarding approaches from north-west.

 

Phase Three:

Grouping:                      B Squadron in support 2 MONS +

                                       2 AVRE + one troop Crocs

                                       Half platoon 282 Field Coy

                                       56 (Canadian) anti-tank Battery less one troop

                                       Detachment 212 Field Ambulance

Forming Up:                     Area of A squadron and 4 WELCH

S.L:                                 track 853544 – 849534

Objectives:                       Area of clearing 855536 – 857533 – 853534

Method of Attack:            4 troops up, tanks line ahead, supporting 2 coys.

Action on Objective:         Support infantry in consolidating and guard track approaches from south.

 

 

Phase Four:

Grouping:                      C Squadron in support 6 RWF

                                       4 AVREs + one troop Crocs.

                                       Half platoon 282 Field Coy

                                       Detachment 212 Field Ambulance

S.L:                                 track 853544 – 851541

C.L:                                 X-tracks 861544 – 864543 – pt 815, 864538 – X-tracks 862536 –858542.

Method of Attack:            4 troops up, tanks line ahead, supporting 2 coys.

Action on Objective:         Guard east flank.

 

Each Squadron joined the infantry s group in the Assembly Area and Regimental  Headquarters joined 160 brigade Headquarters at 738548.

 

By 1540 hours it was reported that 71 Infantry Brigade had secured their objectives in the western edge of the forest and at 1645 C Squadron were ordered to move forward towards the forest followed an hour later by RHQ, A and B Squadrons. The move up was extremely difficult as the main road could not be used by tanks. The C.O. led the RHQ group on foot through fields and gardens bordering the road. A minefield  was encountered at 761547 and one Stuart and a Sherman tank belonging to 19 (SP) 25-pdr battery RCA, under Regimental command, struck mines; the remaining seven Honeys, which were intended to be used as a link in supplies, were completely bogged. By 1815 hours C Squadron had entered the forest and were moving up to their Start Line under heavy shelling. The tanks avoided the rides and broke their way through the trees guided by Troop Leaders on foot. This move up took some considerable time as it was already dark, raining hard and frequent detours had to be made to avoid infantry of 71 Infantry Brigade who were digging in. RHQ remained with 160 Brigade HQ just short of the edge of the forest in 7953 during the first phase.

 

There was some delay for C Squadron and 6 RWF on their Start Line because 1 E Lancs were unable to contact squadron of 147 RAC which was to support them. Eventually, I E Lancs decided to push on without tank support and the Start Line was crossed at 2300 hours. Squadron advanced with all 4 troops in line, meeting no opposition on the Right – on the Left some Spandau teams were mopped up.

 

By 0005 hours 9 February, C Squadron were in position and meanwhile A and B Squadrons had been moving up behind C Squadron. Movement through the forest in the intense darkness and at the same time pushing down the trees was well-nigh impossible, so it was decided to delay the next phase until first light when A Squadron began their advance. Opposition only slight – B Squadron following behind were shelled by 2 field guns (105mm) at 842544 which were engaged at 2200 yards: hits were observed and the guns silenced. A Squadron on objective encountered a minefield and lost one tank.

 

At 1015 hours, B Squadron crossed the Start Line. No opposition – objectives secured by 1100 hours. C Squadron now passed through A and B Squadrons, crossing Start Line at 1200 hours. Again only slight opposition was encountered and objectives were secure two hours later. Sorties were made into the thick plantation in front of position and 52 prisoners of war taken. Enemy transport and men were engaged with HE in the area 8753 – 8853 with good results and 4 MG positions holding up advance of 15 (S) Division on left were knocked out by artillery directed by OC C Squadron.

 

At 1530, RHQ moved to 816534. Tank going throughout the day had been appalling but all troops had eventually reached their objectives.

 

Rain continued throughout the day and night; the forest was gloomy and echoed with bursts of MG fire. Most of February 10 was spent waiting for petrol,, oil and water, but owing to the bad state of the roads it was 1830 before the RASC column reached RHQ. All supplies were then loaded on the four tanks and a “milk round” was made to the Squadrons in a blinding snow-storm.

 

The plan was now to move southwards along the edge of the forest to support 43 Division advancing south-east from 8853. Accordingly, A Squadron and 4 WELCH moved through B Squadron and by 2200 hours were astride the road  Materborn – Hekkens in general area 8752.

 

 On 11 February, B Squadron and 2 MONS continued the advance. The Regiment had now only twenty-nine battleworthy tanks of which eleven were with B Squadron. At 0900 hours the Start Line, road and track junction 874526, was crossed under heavy mortar fire. Almost immediately they were engaged by MG and Panzerfaust. One tank was bogged but a strongpoint at 876525 was overcome. One tank of 10 Troop was attacked by Panzerfaust and being unable to depress its gun or turn on the soft ground the Squadron Commander advanced and destroyed the enemy group with 95mm HE at point blank range. As a result, a German major and 20 men surrendered. The advance continued without further incident and by 1000 hours B Squadron was established in area 880529 – 876526 – 880523. A Jadgpanther, which opened fire and advanced towards position was engaged by M 10s and forced to retire.

 

At 1100 hours, C Squadron advanced with 6 RWF and after crossing concrete road destroyed MG positions with HE fire. By 1500 hours they were firmly established in area 877516. A squadron now passed through B and C Squadrons and occupied farm at 885520 by 1630 hours. A Jadgpanther sighted in farmyard was knocked out by 3 Troop, two shots destroying suspension. The crew baled out and took refuge in farm but were later captured by Lt. Fawcett. Soon afterwards another SP was heard firing in C Squadron area. Major Holden and two Troop Leaders went out on foot with a PIAT team to stalk it but SP moved off under cover of smoke before it was possible to close with it.

 

C Squadron now continued advance to track junction 891510 which was reached by 2000 hours. During the night enemy patrols were active in C Squadron area. One tank was struck by a Panzerfaust and Sgt. Mead was shot through the head by small arms fire. The Squadron “Stood to” until 0800 hours when 14 Troop located and dealt with a MG position. RHQ had harboured at 867528.

 

On the twelfth at 0750 hours, B Squadron and 2 MONS advanced again against heavy opposition. Trooper Hands was injured clearing a Besa stoppage and Panzerfaust were being used in large numbers by the enemy. 15 prisoners of war were taken and many killed. By 1130 hours the objective, 903519, had been reached and 30 more prisoners of war taken.

 

During the advance a mortar shell had burst on the turret of the tank commanded by Major Reynell and, receiving severe wounds in the head and chest, he died during the evening at the CCP. Capt. R.E. Long took over command.

 

At 1500 hours there were signs of an enemy counter-attack from south-east towards A Squadron area, who had moved forward to area 911498 – 905504, losing a troop on the way due to mechanical faults. 15 enemy, however, surrendered to A Squadron and C Squadron, who were doing tank maintenance, moved in five minutes and killed the first German five minutes later. The Squadron, however, was heavily shelled and one OR was wounded. The counter-attack was quickly dispersed but though now dark there was still more to be done. A tank of B Squadron went out to secure any enemy position at 910509 and en route 7 prisoners of war were taken and other MG positions were destroyed. On the objective a fierce action took place and 40 more prisoners of war were taken.

 

The remaining enemy in the wood appeared to be losing morale and at 0930 hours on 13 February, 1 Officer and 3 ORs walked in and gave themselves up to B Squadron. By midday, 71 Infantry Brigade had drawn level with 160 Infantry Brigade on their right, and the whole area was solidly held. RHQ moved to 877525 where it was joined at 1800 hours by B and C Squadrons.

 

A Squadron joined the remainder of the Regiment on 14 February and the greater part of the day was spent in maintenance and salvaging bogged tanks. At 1730 hours, the Regiment began to move back to groesbeek for rest and maintenance. Everyone was tired but morale was high and washing and shaving became a delight.

 

On 15 February the Regiment was briefed for operations south of gennep 787437.

 

It was known that 2 Para Regiment originally holding line of Maas had to swing right to meet the threat from the North flank and were holding line running approximately south-west to north-east from just north of Afferden with 2 Battalion right – 1 Battalion left. Between 2/2 Para Regiment and 20 Para Regiment, who were holding the area south of Hassum 8843, is Battalion Reigels, a rather nondescript GAF Battle Group. All these Battalions had suffered heavily in the last week. Six Jagdpanthers had been encountered south of Heijen, probably elements of 685 anti-tank Battalion and a few SP guns.

Own Troops: 51 (H) Division, established general line:-

(i)                  786420 – 822440 – 871446.

(ii)                32 Guards Brigade, established between right and Centre brigades to attack high ground area Mull 8243 to 1350 hours 16 February.

(iii)               52 (L) Division to pass through 51 (H) Division to seize:-

(a)                wooded area 8140 – 8240 – 8340.

(b)                High ground about Grootehorst 8639.

(c)                Weeze 9537.

(iv)              155 Brigade to carry out task (b) morning of 17 February.

(v)                52 Recce Regiment likely to operate along road Gennep 7746 – X roads 831353.

(vi)              Additional troops:- A Squadron 141 RAC; C Squadron W Dgns under command 9 R Tanks.

 

The intention of 9 R Tanks, less A Squadron, was to support 157 Brigade in passing through 153 Brigade and capture wooded area 8140 – 8240 – 8340; destroying all enemy and exploiting to line of road Afferden 8038 – Rempeld 8238 – Kasteel Blijenbeek 8338, and the general plan was to attack in two phases:-

Phase I:            capture wooded area 8140 – 8240 – 8340.

Phase II:           capture of Afferden.

 

PhaseI:

Grouping:          Right                                                                     

     B Squadron 9 R Tanks in support 5 KOSB with under command              One platoon C Coy 7 Manch     

     One platoon A Coy 7 Manch

     One troop (SP) 214 Anti-tank Battery

     Left

C Squadron 9 RTR in support of 5 HLI with under command

One platoon C Coy 7 Manch

     One troop (SP) 214 Anti-tank battery

Start Line:  Track 800415 – 809421

Centre Line: Track junction 805419 south-east to 825398.

 

Objectives:

B Squadron – south-east corner of wood incl. Pt 339, 818401 – 819395 – track 825401 – track  junction 822405.

C Squadron – north-east corner of wood – area track 821414 – pt 151, 829411 – track junction 825405 – pt 162, 821407.

Having seized the objectives, the Regiment was to support infantry in consolidation and if necessary in exploitation south-east.

Method of Attack: Each Squadron three troops up, each troop one up

Reserves: i. A Squadron 141 RAC:

                ii. C Squadron W Dgns to be used at C.O’s discretion.

Artillery: In close support 2 Field Regiment

              Additional troops available:-

              5 Field Regiment – 80 rounds per gun

              Med. Regiments 3, 4, 9 AGRA – 40 rounds per gun

              5 Batteries 7.2, 3,4, 9 AGRA – 40 rounds per gun

              One HAA Regiment – 40 rounds per gun

 

Assembly Area 787437 at 1000 hours; each Squadron having eleven battleworthy tanks.

At 0600 hours, 16 February, 9 R Tanks, less A Squadron, left Groesbeek, and passing through Mook and Gennep arrived in the assembly area 787437 at 1000 hrs, each squadron having eleven battle-worthy tanks.

1500 hours: Squadrons crossed Start Line in support of infantry.  On the right there was only slight opposition. One strongpoint, however, at 806408 had to be reduced with a combined assault with close artillery support – 30 prisoners of 2 Para Regiment were taken and many killed. From the left, HVHE fire was reported from the direction of Neiuw farm 814419 and OC C Squadron lost his tank on a mine. Resistance was stiffer on this flank and a pocket of enemy at 818413, which had been left by the infantry, fought strongly using a considerable number of Panzerfaust which, fortunately, fell short or wide of the two troops who had become involved in this little battle. Short range HE and MG fire eventually broke resistance and by 1615 hours the tanks had joined up again with the infantry who, though fighting well in the open, appeared to lack confidence in wood clearing and tank co-operation. By 1700 hours, 2 troops on the right and one on the left had reached their objectives and fifteen minutes later another troop on the left reported in position. In centre of the left section infantry were held up 30 yards short of objective in area 825407 by heavy Spandau fire and the troop in support was threatened by frequent Panzerfaust. This enemy position took some time to destroy as concentrated and accurate fire from the tanks was not possible owing to damaged traverse systems. One tank was hit by a Panzerfaust and brewed up. The crew  were badly burnt and one OR had his leg crushed as he fainted in front of a neighbouring tank. By 1830 hours, all objectives had been secured but between 1900 and 1940 the artillery had to be called twice to break up the enemy forming up for a counter-attack.

At 2300 hours, SPs and anti-tank guns had been moved up to position and the Squadrons were released and joined RHQ at 803421, where it had been established for the battle During the day’s fighting 2 Officers and 73 ORs had been taken prisoner all belonging to 2 Para Regiment.

 

17 February:9 R Tanks continued to support 52 (L) Division in carrying out their original intention, which resulted in a series of local and somewhat abortive actions. The plan of Phase I, the capture of Afferden, had been changed. It had been intended that B Squadron should support 1 Glas H in this task, but as they had not been released till late the previous evening, the Glas H were given the support of the Crocs which were not used. Afferden fell quickly after an early attack.

 

At 0700, B Squadron with eleven tanks reported to 52 Division Recce, and remained at 30 minutes’ notice for a combined attack in clearing (i) down to anti-tank obstacle between Afferden 8038 and Grootehorst 8639; (ii) triangle Afferden – Grootehorst – X roads 8323353.

 

At 0900, C Squadron were sent to rest at 784437 but at 1100 hours, following a “O” Group held at 155 Infantry Brigade Headquarters, it was decided that A Squadron, still resting and refitting at Groesbeek, would support 7/9 RS in (i) attacking farm 837396 and pt 22.7 at 837398; (ii) support infantry by fire from high ground to anti-tank ditch and ARE in placing fascines in ditch at three places. The first phase was to be carried out with 2 coys and 2 troops up – Start Line: 820396 – 824404. H – 1600 hours.

 

At 1530, B Squadron moved in support Recce Regiment to clear road Afferden – Grootehorst. Opposition light – enemy in houses engaged with HE. At 815387, however, large craters and very soft ground to the north and south delayed a further advance, though 52 Recce succeeded in clearing wood 817385. B Squadron later pushed on to Rempeld and there formed a firm base.  Meanwhile, A Squadron had been summoned from groesbeek but owing to the roads being blocked with traffic their attack did not start according to plan.

 

Reinforced by two tanks from RHQ, the Squadron had mustered two troops and a command tank, and though Troop Leaders were only given hasty orders, they did not succeed in crossing the Start Line until H + 20. 7/9 RS had already moved forward and B Coy was contacted at 828398 – no contact was made with the other coy, visibility being poor among the 3ft – 4ft trees in the thick young fir wood. The tanks got to within 300 yards of farm but no infantry could be seen. Enemy were now using panzerfaust in large numbers, most of which however, exploded against the trees. One Commander, however, was injured. Eventually, one infantry platoon was found in a small clearing digging in under heavy mortar fire. One mortar position destroyed by 95mm HE. At 1800 hours, the infantry command was at last contacted and being released half-an-hour later move to join RHQ at 825398.

 

At 1830, B Squadron was contacted by a patrol from 5 KOSB and then withdrew to Afferden for the night. RHQ and A Squadron moved to harbour area at 822403 at 2040 hours.

 

18 February:7/9 RS occupied objectives that had not been captured the previous day during the night and at 0600 hours an “O” Group was held and A Squadron was ordered to support 4 KOSB in Phase One (a) crossing anti-tank ditch at 828385; (b) assist ARE in placing fascines at crossing; (c) silence strongpoint at sluice 835388; Phase Two (a) support 2 coys infantry in attack on woods 836385 – 834379; (b) silence enemy position at 298, 827382 if not already captured by 52 Division Recce.

 

A Squadron had only six tanks available, two of which had only recently been delivered and these not thoroughly checked. Organized in two troops of two tanks each, supported by a C.S. 95mm, A Squadron left their harbour at 0730 hrs and crossed the Start Line road 827388 one hour later. One troop was to support the crossing of the anti-tank ditch and the other to attack the strongpoint. Both troops, however, were soon engaged by SPs situated to the south of the ditch and as the infantry came under heavy fire success looked doubtful from the first. One of the tanks, attacking the strongpoint, had three bogies shot away and the main armament was jammed. The other tank advanced firing 86 6-pdr rounds at the concrete defences at 50 yard range and then was hit, becoming immovable. On the right the situation was no better. Anti-tank fire had brewed one Churchill and the other was pinned – the AVRE was also hit and the CO 4 KOSB reported the operation not possible. At 0910 tanks and infantry rallied at 825392 and at 1220 A Squadron was released and returned to RHQ area.

 

B Squadron operating with 52 Recce Regt. had moved back to Rempeld at first light and with eight tanks straffed known enemy positions south of River Beck. It was soon appreciated, however, that no further advance could be made under existing conditions and the Squadron returned to Afferden in counter-attack role. In these actions, clearing difficult wooded country stubbornly defended, the Regiment lost three tanks by enemy action and suffered six casualties among tank crews.

 

The poor nature of the ground with so many obstacles did not allow constant use of tanks, and February 19 was a quiet day though there was heavy mortaring during the night. Tank replacements had begun to arrive and refitting was begun on the next day when the Regiment concentrated at 784437. The main task had been achieved and a congratulatory message was received from the Corps Commander.

 

Six days in tents and bivouacs passed with the Regiment either leisurely doing maintenance or resting, and then on 27 February the Regiment moved to area of wood 4439 in counter-attack role with 156 Brigade, 52 (L) Division, who were relieving 51 (H) Division on the night 27/28 February.

 

C Squadron situated at 490440 were to support either 7 CAM or 4 RSF in the area of Hulm and Boyenhoff 8839, while A Squadron were to be prepared to move south in support of 7/9 RS area 868413 or 6 CAM at 8740. B Squadron were to remain in reserve.

 

On 1 March, the Regiment moved forward to support infantry of 56 Brigade who had now extended positions to include Grootehorst 8630, a bridgehead over anti-tank ditch from 869389 to 890376 and Neider Helsun 9038.

 

Enemy resistance on the right was believed to be slackening but 53 Division were fighting hard in Weeze 9337, which was believed to be a hinge for the enemy withdrawal to a bridgehead round Wesel A2240.

 

C Squadron in direct support to 156 Brigade were situated at Hulm 4090 with A Squadron in reserve at 885440. B Squadron moved to 878392 in support 155 Brigade. RHQ established itself in a broken-down farmhouse 879430.

C and B Squadrons experienced some shelling, resulting in damage to two vehicles and Lt. A.P. Beale was wounded slightly below the right eye.

 

On 2 March snow made life less comfortable and the day looked as if it would be quiet but now the Division front was gradually moving forward, ground being taken over as it was vacated by the enemy.

 

As a result of a Division conference, C Squadron were given the task of supporting 156 Brigade in clearing Hess wood 9034 in order to open roads Hess – 890335 and Hess – Wemb 9133.

 

The Regiment, less c Squadron, was to support 157 Brigade now concentrated south of Goch 9144 and be prepared to pass through 53 (W) Division and 8 Armoured Brigade if necessary on axis Kevelaer 9632 – Geldern. The Regiment was placed at 2 hours’ notice and at 1000 hours on 3 March A Squadron moved across country to area of 1 Glas H who had already concentrated. The roads, however, were frozen by Corps to allow the Guards Armoured Division to move south. B Squadron did not move.

 

C Squadron had been unable to move south as there was no way across anti-tank ditch owing to demolitions – one Stuart was lost on a mine in an endeavour to find a route. 156 Brigade, however, carried out its task and took fifteen stragglers, one of whom was drunk.

 

The Regiment was now dispersed as follows: RHQ 879431; A Squadron 918416; B Squadron 879404; C Squadron 902401.

 

53 Division and 8 Armoured Brigade had meanwhile contacted the Americans and the bridgehead was slowly being squeezed. It was still possible, however, that 52 Division and 34 Armoured Brigade would be needed and orders were issued to concentrate at Walbeck 9622.

 

On 4 March the Regiment began to move but having reached the area of Langstraat 839340 were then ordered to move no further.

 

It was thought that 53 (W) Division and the 8 Armoured Brigade would be pinched out by the Americans and Guards Armoured Division but on 6 March they were still in the line regretting, it is reported, that they did not have the support of 9 R Tanks.

Again it was possible that 52 Division and 34 Armoured Brigade would pass through and the Brigade groups – 147 RAC in support 155 Brigade and 9 R Tanks in support 156 Brigade – were warned to stand by. The following day, however, 34 Armoured Brigade ceased to be under command 52 (L) Division and the Regiment remained in the area of Langstraat, having baths and doing washing, awaiting its next orders.

 

The Regiment was warned of a possible short rest but suddenly, at 1900 hrs on the evening of 8 March, a warning order was received whereby the Regiment would be moving at 0600 the next morning. During the last 24 hours enemy resistance around the Wesel bridgehead was as determined as ever; reports indicated the Para Regiments holding the line were being reinforced and the appreciation was that there would be some tough fighting before the german positions were destroyed. II Canadian Corps took over the whole front and the plan was 52 (L) Division with 34 Armoured Brigade in support would relieve 53 (W) Division and the 8 Armoured Brigade who had not yet been pinched out by the 35 US Infantry Division of 9 US Army.

 

At 2300 hours on 8 March, the CO was still trying to get definite orders which had already been changed twice. Eventually, however, it was decided that the Regiment would move at 0700 hours on 9 March and take over that day from 13/18 Hussars, who were in the line on the northern edge of the wood 1430. 9 R Tanks were to support 155 and 156 Brigades while 147 RAC supported 157 Brigade, whereupon A Squadron were allotted to 7/9 RS (155 Brigade) and C Squadron 4/5 RSF (156 Brigade). Both concentrated in the area of the clearing 3430 and RHQ was established at 133292 with B Squadron in reserve at 095296.

 

The enemy bridgehead was still thought to consist of 2,000 fighting troops, elements of 6, 7 and 8 Para Divisions, and 180 and 190 Infantry Divisions. 24 Para Regiment was believed to be facing 52 (L) Division.

 

Small local attacks gradually nibbling away the enemy positions were considered a waste of time and the intentions for 10 March, properly planned and laid on, were to be as follows:-

 

II Canadian Corps.

52 (L) Division.

(a) 147 RAC in support 157 Brigade to capture Menzelen 1636.

A Squadron 9 R Tanks in support 7/9 RS to capture area X-roads 169326 – 170345 –railway 161351.

 

(b) C Squadron 9 R Tanks to support 4/5 RSF in firm base area Alpon 1531.

 

XIX US Corps 35 US Infantry Division to capture

(a)                                     Borth 1833

(b)                                     Wallach 1933

(c)                                     Factory 1735

 

In the early morning, with heavy artillery fire, the attacks began, but there was no resistance and only enemy stragglers were picked up; one, a GAF NCO, stated that all possible equipment had been evacuated across the Wesel railway bridge by 0500 hrs and the bridge itself had been blown two hours later.

 

Word came that there might be the inevitable gallop but as there was now no further need for tank support, the infantry gradually took over the ground up to the Rhine. The Wesel bridgehead petered out without even a whimper, though the BBC reported that same night that enemy resistance was slackening.

 

The Regiment journeyed back on 12 March over the Maas, and with the Brigade, prepared to rleax in the area of Deurne, some fifteen miles west of Eindhoven.

 


     THE ANTI-CLIMAX ACROSS THE RHINE

13 March to 30 May 1945

 

On arriving at Deurne, the Regiment immediately began overhauling the tanks – changing engines, tracks, sprockets and doing less strenuous maintenance, while the BTA sorted out the more war-weary tanks and began to back-load those that had travelled well over a thousand miles. These battered old warriors disappeared and replacements arrived to refit the regiment for what was believed to be its last battles across the Rhine. On 14 March, General Sir Miles Dempsey, KCB, DSO, visited the Regiment and on leaving was heard to say that he had been most favourably impressed by what he had seen. The same day, the Brigadier passed more bouquets declaring that during the period which the Regiment had served under XXX Corps, the Corps and Divisional Commanders had nothing but praise to offer for the Regiment’s efficiency and fighting spirit.  Major R.E. Holden was awarded the D.S.O. for his outstanding ability as Squadron Leader and the morale of the Regiment bean to mount to such as extent that it accepted without protest the demands of “Bullshit” and undertook with enthusiasm the working out of a new method of night attack that would exploit to the full the element of surprise.

 

Faced with a clearly defined objective, unprotected by natural or artificial tank obstacles, it was proposed to allow the tanks to cross the Start Line and move in second gear as slowly as possible to within 300 yards of the objective – the noise of the approach being covered by Bofors firing on fixed lines and an aeroplane flying overhead. With the tanks in position, maximum fire power would be brought down on the objective (target selection being aided by spotlights) for about five minutes and then the infantry would attack. Carefully planned and with complete cooperation, success seemed assured, provided the attack was so timed that no enemy counter-attack was possible before first light. All demonstrations were impressive and it was hoped that the time would come when the theory would be tested under battle conditions, but the part that the Brigade would play in the future operations remained a mystery until the C.O. and Squadron Leaders were ordered to contact the 9 Infantry Brigade of the 3rd (Brit.) Division. This was the only Infantry Division that the Regiment had not at one time or another supported – it was a pleasing prospect as they were known to have a good reputation.

 

The role, however, proved disappointed for it depended on whether the Germans would be able to contain the assault forces in a small bridgehead over the Rhine and thus prevent an early break-out. Intelligence thought this unlikely and the Germans seemed to agree for, while the Regiment languished at Deurne in the sun, the assault started. One watched the gliders and aircraft passing overhead with certain impatience and frustration.

 

The news was good; ground was gained; the expected defence line didn’t hold and daily it was becoming obvious that the Regiment would not be needed. Finally, on 1st April, a move was made to Sevenum, preparatory to crossing the Rhine, but now everyone was bored and impatient and a little irritated by the publicity given to the 6 Guards Armoured Brigade who had been so carefully nursed since their tardy landing in Normandy.

 

The Brigade now came under the control of I British Corps, and on 6 April the Regiment crossed the Rhine to take over military control of Gelderland and a small area of Germany surrounding Bocholt. Here the Regiment was given the unattractive job of acquiring information about German war materials left behind in their retreat; of reconnoitering routes and ensuring that no subversive activities were carried out by the populace. Each squadron was given an area to clear up and the Regiment was dispersed with RHQ at Aalten A.2070; A Squadron at Groenlo A.2383; B Squadron at Lichtenvoorde A.1977 and C Squadron at Winterswijk A.3075.

 

Recce parties reported the states of road, blown bridges and minefields, while salvage parties collected into dumps the miscellaneous ammunition lying about the area. Nothing really interesting was found and everyone was glad to hand over the area to the 3 Heavy Regiment RA of 9 AGRA.

 

On 14 April, the whole Brigade moved into Germany and 9 R Tanks became responsible for part of Kreis Bentheim and Ahaus with the same responsibilities of battlefield clearance, route reconnaissance and security.

 

RHQ established itself in the fifty-year old castle at Bentheim V.6012 with A Squadron at Emsburen 6921; B Squadron at Gronau 5002; C Squadron at Schuttorf V.6513.

 

As the days passed the Squadron ammunition dumps became larger and the maps heavily marked with chinagraph; patrols roamed the area in an attempt to control the numerous D.Ps which had now become the vagabonds of Germany, eating, sleeping and take revenge as they wished. In an effort to control this gypsy life, the Ems River was made a stop line where all DPs attempting to cross were diverted to proper reception camps and preparations were made to seal off Germany by closing the Dutch/German frontier.

 

B Squadron was made responsible for the twenty-five miles of frontier in the Regimental area and work was begun on marking the frontier and carrying out reccies preparatory to setting up an evacuated frontier zone. Meanwhile, by house searches and enquiries, the area was cleared of all firearms and German deserters. Houses were searched for food hoarding, wireless transmitters and Nazi documents, and the list of Nazi officials who were to be arrested, grew longer. All ideas of fighting another battle had been abandoned but those of the past were recalled when the Brigadier decorated the Colonel with the D.S.O. and confirmation of other awards was received as follows:-

     Military Cross to Lieut. W.J. Waters (A Squadron)

     Croix de Guerre with Silver Star to Lieut. A.P. Boden (C Squadron)

     Military Medal to L/Cpl. A.J. Towlson (C Squadron)

     Croix de Guerra with Bronze Star to Cpl. F.D. Horner (C Squadron)

 

On 28 April, as their area was now clear it was decided to move A Squadron to Lingen where they were to help control the D.P. camp which was now responsible for some thousands of Russians and other nationalities but, before leaving, an ammunition clearance party of RASC and Pioneers exploded an “R” mine which resulted in the whole dump at Emsburen blowing up. As a result, vehicles were destroyed and houses collapsed, and though the clearing party suffered casualties, no member of A Squadron was injured.

 

By 8 May, despite the difficulty of liaison with Field Security and Military Government, the frontier zone had been evacuated and marked with warning notices, roads had been closed and frontier control posts established at three points (i) on the Oldenzaal/Bentheim Rd; (ii) Enschede/Gronau Rd and (iii) Enschede/Ahaus Rd. B Squadron were now the busiest of all squadrons, coping with hundreds of Dutch returning to Holland and preventing the use of unauthorised vehicles. The impounded vehicle park harboured all types of civilian cars and many unfortunate people were faced with a long hitch-hike back to their units. On 18 May, C Squadron took over the northern part of the frontier and, in consequence, moved to Bentheim where, since the Regiment’s arrival, numbers of the population had sought out RHQ in order to tell of their troubles and the “I” office added to its list of miscellaneous jobs that of a Civil Affairs Dept.

 

With the war in north-west Europe now over and the celebrations of “V.E” Day but a memory, news of the Regiment’s future began to be disclosed. The Regiment was to become an Armoured Regiment of Occupation, with the establishment of a few soft vehicles and other odds and ends.

 

All but six Churchills and six Stuarts were handed over to 267 Forward Delivery Squadron for disposal, and on 30 May the Regiment moved, being given Kreis Tecklenburg as the area of responsibility.

 

RHQ established itself at Ibbenburen V.9808; A Squadron at Westerkeppeln, W.0913; B Squadron at Mettingen W.0313; C Squadron at Lengerich W.0898.

 

There the Regiment, occupied by guarding a few V.P’s, mainly hospitals, awaited the arrival of the 4 R Tanks who were to be made up to strength by an exchange of Age and Service Groups and then train with Churchills preparatory to embarkation for S.E.A.C. The 9 R Tanks were to be partly responsible for the training, but before the end of June the Regiment would not be recognizable as the one that had fought for ten months in north-western Europe.