1st & 2nd Fife and Forfar Yeomanry

Discussion in 'RAC & RTR' started by nickc, May 2, 2006.

  1. Firefly44

    Firefly44 Researching the F&FY

    Chapel Hill was the name given by the British troops to a tree covered hill just to the NW of Bure. As the name suggests there was a small chapel on the top 'Chapelle Notre-Dame de Haurt' which the Germans were using as an artillery observation point. There was also an SPG up there which was firing down the tree lined access road. This made it a strategic point to capture and hold to deny the Germans access to the high ground.
     
  2. Firefly44

    Firefly44 Researching the F&FY

    Account of the Battle of Bure by Captain Steele Brownlie, A Squadron 2nd Fife & Forfar Yeomanry
    2 January
    The Germans were holding Bure, six miles up the valley, and we were to attack them from a favourable direction, perhaps by way of a ridge running east on our left front. I was to be taken by a small force of 61 Recce Regiment, in bren-carriers, to see if there was a route suitable for tanks. I should explain that it was a horrible experience to go into action in vehicles or with weapons to which you were not accustomed. No infantryman would ever get inside a tank, for example. Here was I in a small tracked vehicle, out of my element. The officer in charge gave me a Bren, said I was his gunner as well as his guide. I wished I was back in Ypres, even in Chanly.
    We motored through a Christmas Card landscape of snow, pines and glades, except that at one point I was out on foot and a small shell exploded nearby. There were signs of German patrols, also the tracks of wild boar, which didn’t matter so much. The important thing was that there was no covered approach for tanks on the left of the ridge, as the country was too thick. So we veered to the right, ended up in a village. The bridge was blown; the locals said that the Germans always occupied the place by night. Suddenly a shell crashed right among us, bowling us over. When the smoke cleared there was one carrier loss, its crew of three blown to pieces. We scattered, but nothing more came over.
    I had to get word back that there was no covered approach for the tanks, for the way ahead was in full view of the enemy, but had to use the carriers’ wireless, having no direct communication of my own. Their control promised to pass the message, but added that we were to stay there all night and try to keep the Germans out of the village. I also learned from the very nice platoon commander that they had no rations. (I wish I could remember what unit they were from). I decided that this was no place for me, and resolved to walk back to Chanly, hoping not to meet a German patrol on the way. Hmm, seven miles. To stay, or to go?
    A sudden alarm, and four small vehicles were seen coming up the road from the direction of the enemy lines. They were Special Air Service, Belgians, who had been air-dropped weeks before and operated beyond the front in jeeps. Their leader agreed to take me back to Chanly. Their way of crossing the river was quite simple. One Jeep drove into it until it stalled, then they all waded in and manhandled it across and so on with the other three. Off we went, myself sitting in a pile of ammunition, grenades and explosives, the others continually smoking and holding Sten guns. We were still in enemy territory, and I did not enjoy the ride. But they got me to Chanly. The Squadron had moved forward a mile to Resteigne, I hitched lift there, collapsed in the door of our Mess, asked for and was given some whisky, had a ham and egg supper, then had a talk with the boys and our friendly hosts. One was a girl who had left Antwerp to get away from the Buzz Bombs, only to find herself in the front line.
    3 January
    I do not know if my report that there was no covered approach towards Bure by tanks had any effect, but certainly the decision was to move direct to high ground, with no element of surprise, overlooking Bure. From there we were to support by fire Paras who had been flown from England. They were to attack up the valley to our right, while we took on targets ahead of them. When they got to the edge of the village, we would come down and join them.
    We moved at first light, the snow having stopped, and could see the whole area over which the battle was to be fought, a panorama of black and white. It was a dominating position. We ourselves were overlooked only by the top of our own feature, where there was a thick wood almost enclosing a church of some sort. We called it Chapel Hill and were assured that it was occupied by friendly troops. It was not.
    As we settled down waiting for the battle to begin, there was a roar and Guy Wilke’s tank was hit by an AP shot from the Chapel. We scurried round, looking for positions giving us both cover from Chapel Hill on our left, and still a good field of fire to our front. Jimmy Samson’s 3 Troop was sent to deal with Chapel Hill, while the main attack was postponed by 30 minutes. Meantime the unfortunate Paras sat in the woods down to our right, being heavily shelled. Our Desmond Chute was with them as liaison in a scout car, and kept urging us to clear up the nonsense on our flank, so that the attack might start.
    Easier said than done. The Chapel was guarded on three sides by thick woods, and the SP or whatever it was had a field of fire down the avenue on the fourth side. Eventually Cpl Dave Finlay motored into the open gap with his gun already traversed, and shot it out at a range of 200 yards. He knocked out the SPG, but received a hit that bounced off his turret, showering him with fragments and wounding him in the face. This High Noon encounter earned him the MM.
    Now the Airborne advanced from their Start Line, and we saw small black figures running out of the line of trees across the white expanse of snow, one or two dropping here and there, the rest soon disappearing into the jumble of houses and gardens of the village. There were little puffs of smoke as the Germans tried to keep back the flood, but we kept a stream of fire on them, and they were gradually pushed back from house to house.
    Geoff Hale’s Troop was sent down the track in front of us, to go into the village and give close support. He had gone about 300 yards when his Sgt Collis was brewed up from the Chapel on his left, still not cleared, then his own tank was hit. Sgt Robinson took cover in a hollow. Geoff and his two crews came straggling back up the slope. Amazingly none was injured, while only one man in Guy’s tank had been hurt, hit in the leg by a second shot as he was bailing out. Geoff had rescued nothing from his tank but a large carton of Mars Bars - he had a friend in the factory in Slough.
    The battle in Bure raged furiously, and the Airborne were in danger of being pushed back. Desmond, still with them in his scout car, reported a Tiger at the far end of the street, which was proving unassailable. He did not sound happy in his work, and then fell silent, so that we found it difficult to continue our fire support, not knowing who was where.
    However on the hill south of the village, down which half the Paras had come in the first rush, there came a counter-attack. Three SPGd followed by bunches of infantry were mowing a path through the Airborne, who were scattering in all directions. We hit the leading SP with our third shot, range about two miles, and it halted. The second was soon also stopped and the third, having been hit three or four times, disappeared. The counter-attack was over, and we felt that we had done our job. We were shelled, with no damage.
    With darkness we harboured near the Chapel, which was in ruins. A body lay in the brushwood, apparently the commander of the SPG. We sat and ate in the tank. There was no wind, no more snow, but it grew colder and colder. The ground was too hard for digging, so we decided to sleep in the tank. Jock McKinnon (driver) and MacKenzie (co-driver) in their seats down front; Buck Buchanan (gunner) on the deck below the gun, Norman Ingram (operator) on top of the gun, self on the floor with feet in one sponson and head in the other. Sleep? Within minutes the icy cold of the metal seeped through your clothing, and the breath froze on your lips. I lit a candle in a tin lid, and a fat lot of good it did.
     
  3. Firefly44

    Firefly44 Researching the F&FY

    4 January
    Out at dawn to our previous positions, just in time to avoid a tremendous stonk by enemy Medium guns on our harbour area on Chapel Hill. I sat chewing my fingers to keep them from freezing up. Jimmy Samson walked over to discuss some point or other, and I hardly recognised him. He seemed to have shrunk to half his normal size, face black and blue, encrusted with dirt, icicles and beard. But then, how did I look? We later invented the story that he blew his nose, and half of his moustache broke off. Not true, but credible.
    Dick Leith’s Squadron joined in further attempts to push through Bure, coming in on a flank along with a unit of Tank Destroyers. These were anti-tank guns mounted on tracks, designed for defence, in which we did not have a lot of confidence as on some occasions they had refused to fire in case they gave away their positions. Dick had a dispute with them, on the air, saying that they were just getting in the way. Finally he told them to bugger off, which they did. His flank attack failed, but one troop penetrated up the main road into the village, where it was knocked out by a Tiger, if that is what it was. One tank did not brew, but ran against a house with engine running and gear engaged, where it scraped away with its tracks for twelve hours until the petrol gave out.
    Meanwhile we sat and shivered, with no word from Desmond. His scout car had in fact been destroyed by a shell while he was conferring with the Paras. Three miles away on our left front was a huge round hill, code name Orange, all white except for a wood on the summit. There was a discussion about who was occupying it, but in the afternoon I saw a platoon of infantry advance up its lower slopes in arrowhead formation, the size of ants at that range. A grey snout emerged from the trees above them, there was a flash of flame and a white puff among the little figures, who ran back the way they had come. The snout fired again, and one little black figure seemed to leap into the air, and fall back into the snow. He lay there until we left the area of Bure. I was able to report that Orange was not held by our troops, and hoped that the information was useful to those who gave us orders and controlled our destinies.
    Back at last light to Chapel Hill, where Pinkie Hutchison cheerfully announced that he was going on leave, and would I take over the Squadron till he came back. He got into a scout car, waved, and disappeared. The Squadron was now down to 9 tanks, out of a possible 19, one a non-starter which had to be towed to and from its daytime firing position. My crew were rather pleased, reckoning that a Squadron Leader was supposed to keep himself safe and secure, with others doing the fighting. There was only a small grain of truth in this. Another miserable sleepless night in the turret.
    5 January
    Out to the same positions at dawn, frequently shelled, but things quieter in the village. We were told that the enemy were pulling out, so I sent Jimmy Samson’s Troop round to the far side of Bure, to take on any enemy withdrawing. His Sgt Robinson blew up on a mine, but the rest got round to the rear and spent the day firing at odd packets of Germans.
    Colonel Alec came up in his tank, and said that we would probably be relieved by 23 Hussars. They arrived late in the afternoon, and haggled about where they were to position themselves. I finally told them that we were leaving anyway, and that they could leave the line undefended if they wished: their pigeon. The rest of the Regiment had long gone, and I followed their tracks cross-country. The ground was churned up, and at one point I cleverly led my newly-acquired Squadron in a short cut over virgin snow. Unfortunately this concealed a frozen pond, and three tanks bogged. We tried brushwood under the tracks, towing with a long rope, no use. (I have a few photos of the scene) Finally three Armoured Recovery Vehicles were sent back to help, and Colonel Alec ordered me to come on back “in any vehicle available”. I suppose that this was typically kind on his part, but I felt an absolute shit leaving my crew and the others: Brian Jule in charge of the ARVs and Jimmy Samson, whose tank I took to get back It did not have rubber treads, unlike mine, and when we got from the muddy tracks to the icy roads it kept slithering, at one point crushing a 15 cwt truck against a wall - nobody in it.
    In Wellin I saw the troops settled in their billets, and searched for the Mess. There I had first shave for almost a week, a drink, a hot meal and a talk with the others about recent events. Finally Desmond Chute and I (acting OC and 2 i/c of the Squadron) collapsed into a huge bed upstairs and went to sleep.
    This was the small part we played in pushing back von Rundstedt’s “bulge” in the Ardennes. We had been suddenly wrenched out of the comforts of Ypres, at such short notice that some of the troops went in gym shoes, having no time to get their boots, never mind their bedding. My abiding memory is of the tiny black figures labouring in a white landscape, while we did our best to support them. That, and the cold.
     
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  4. Alex1975uk

    Alex1975uk Well-Known Member

    Thanks. None of the links seem to work on that page, I’ll check again from my laptop.
     
  5. Alex1975uk

    Alex1975uk Well-Known Member

    Incredible stuff, many thanks. Is that from a published book or private collection ?
     
  6. 8RB

    8RB Well-Known Member

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  7. Firefly44

    Firefly44 Researching the F&FY

    It's from Steele Browlie's unpublished wartime memoir 'And Came Safe Home'. The IWM and theTank Museum have copies of it. I got a transcript copy of it from the TM.
     
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  8. Lt. J. Mc
     
  9. Lt. J. McGregor was injured in the same incident that killed Capt. RHA Gregory ( of whom we have adopted the grave). So he then joined the B sqn, correct? How and where could we find out where he was previously posted? With which regiment? Perhaps I could then pursue my search for a picture there. Thanks in advance for any info and tips you may have!
     
  10.  

    Attached Files:

  11. Firefly, is there a list with all the names of the C Squadron?
     
  12. Firefly, learned today that Overloon was misidentified and should be Overbroek looking at the coordinates, apparently, a small hamlet near Veulen. This is almost next to where the other three field graves were and now I could find the family in the personal report by son Roy Robenson. Might interest you too... I do not know how to check those coordinates for accuracy...
     
  13. Firefly44

    Firefly44 Researching the F&FY

    I can't find any official list of names but this is a list of C Sqn names produced by Ron Cox. He was wounded on 18th July and never rejoined the regiment so he doesn't name anyone who joined after this time.

    Rob
     

    Attached Files:

  14. Firefly44

    Firefly44 Researching the F&FY

    Good research It makes a lot more sense that they would have been buried somewhere closer to Veulen. I don't know if coordinates can still be checked on modern maps or if you need the original British wartime map referred to in the report. I had a quick look at Google maps and thought field in the photos below might be a possible location for the original field graves and the Croyman Farm. The views do look similar though I might be in completely the wrong location.
    Rob
     

    Attached Files:

  15. 8RB

    8RB Well-Known Member

    If you want to find the relevant wartime map, have a look in "resources": ww2talk: http://ww2talk.com/index.php?resources/topographic-maps.40/ . I suppose you'll be looking for one in the GSGS4083 (1:50,000) or GSGS4427 series.
     
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  16. Alex1975uk

    Alex1975uk Well-Known Member

    Firefly44 would you possibly have anything in the war diaries from the end of March 45? Looking for info on the fighting around Gescher in Germany.

    Alex.
     
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  17. 8RB

    8RB Well-Known Member

  18. Firefly44

    Firefly44 Researching the F&FY

    Thanks I'l have a look. The map reference given in the Graves Concentration Report is 'Overloon, Holland, Sh 4, 1/100.000 781231'
     
  19. 8RB

    8RB Well-Known Member

    This one: Maeseyck ? Couldn't find an "Overloon" map scale 1:100,000.
     
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  20. Firefly44

    Firefly44 Researching the F&FY

    From Steele Brownlies memoirs

    28 March

    Into Germany at Issum, in a mass of vehicles piling up to get across the few bridges so far built. Passed hundreds of the strange stove-like contrivances that had produced a huge smoke screen for the Rhine crossing. A few Germans by the roadside, stoney stares and blank faces. Crawled over the pontoon bridge at Wesel, which was nothing but heaps of rubble through which paths were still being cleared by sappers and pioneers. Horrible smell and clouds of dust. It was a relief to get to Bunen, a small village in green fields, but even here there were scattered gliders, bodies, weapons, and equipment, left over from the past week’s fighting.

    Each Squadron was allotted an area round about Bunen, and mine was round a small farmhouse. On the road outside lay half of a German soldier. I forced the inhabitants to come out and bury it. When Colonel Alec arrived his HQ was put in a house nearby, and a mouldering corpse was found in a back room. Again the locals were made to take it out and bury it. The Echelon arrived. I went back over the Rhine to Issum, to meet the tanks, which were to arrive and get off their transporters at 2 in the morning, when I would lead them to their allotted areas. I sheltered with a mobile unit, then waited in the rain at the rendezvous, a broad concrete bypass near the town. The column was two hours late, and it was nearly light before all the tanks were off the transporters and lined up on their own tracks.

    29 March

    Back across the Rhine bridge as dawn broke, the tanks went into their squadron areas round Bunen, I rejoined my crew and had a huge breakfast. The morning was spent reorganising, 1330 hrs the Regiment moved by Erle, Raesfeld, to Borken on the fringe of the bridgehead. At first there were routes signed by Military Police, then chaos. Our maps were reprints of German ones, and inaccurate. Leaving a number of tanks bogged along the way, most of us got to Borken, which was a maze of little streets and lanes. I went round the town twice before finding the right place, and was then sent back in a scout car to collect stragglers. When I got back the Regiment had moved somewhere else. I was so disgusted with the whole business that I got into a half-track of the Rifle Brigade, who had just arrived, and went to sleep sitting up.

    30 March

    One Captain and one Troop from each Squadron were to be LOB, left out of battle, and move with the Echelon. The theory was that there might be guerrilla activity, so that the trucks should have tanks with them. David Voller and I were nominated, and we both saw the CO to protest. No use. My job now was LOB Squadron Leader. A real bore.

    The advance began in earnest. The villages Heiden and Velen were undefended, and white sheets or bits of cloth had been hung from the windows. It became the habit to ask the leading troop it there was “any washing out”. There was none in Geschen, where there was some resistance; or in Legden, where C Squadron had a battle.

    Eric Lamont and Charlie Workman got their troops into the town square, when the place became alive with enemy infantry and they were surrounded. The rest of their squadron were prevented from coming in to help by bazooka parties, while our artillery were useless: they would have done as much damage to our people as to the others. Eric and Charlie got out of their mess by leaving the tanks and taking to their feet, attacking the Germans with Brens and grenades. This they did so successfully that the enemy withdrew enough to let the other tanks in, and the place was soon cleared up. Eric was hit in the backside by splinters, but not evacuated. We harboured in a field in Legden, and it rained. I was wireless watch, and sat all night at the set, with water dripping down my neck.

    Between villages, it was the custom for the leading troop to “brass up” every wood and bit of cover where there might be tank-hunters, who might be scared off or at least put off their aim with their Panzerfausts. These were feared more than anti-tank guns, which might be spotted after they fired their first shot, and then dealt with. A man with a Panzerfaust shot just once, and it was another one nearby you had to worry about. We loaded our Besa machine-gun belts with a proportion of incendiary bullets, so that forest fires and burning buildings marked our progress. It was often an impressive sight to look back at the pall of black smoke along the Charlie Love: the centre-line.

    Everywhere there were non-combatants straggling along the roads, or resting in the ditch. With no pressing military tasks, I used my Greenock Academy French and German to talk to as many as possible. Information could sometimes be got from prisoners or civilians who were willing to give it. There were thousands of DPs, displaced persons, and released POWs, prisoners of war. They would often ask what was the safest way to go, accept a few cigarettes or biscuits, and plod on. Germany in 1945 was not a pretty sight.

    31 March

    Not for the first time, 11 Armoured had got away ahead of the band, and instead of baffing on we were halted and messed about. We were mentioned on the 1 o’clock BBC news as having taken up the advance, but spent most of the afternoon sitting in a field waiting for others to catch up. We moved on shortly before dark, and Tom Heald and I were harbouring with the Echelon, still LOB, when we were ordered up to the Squadron as an especially large guard was required. The Canadians were doing well in northern Holland, and bodies of retreating enemy might come into our area from the NW. We placed a tank in every lane or road in the district and watched all night, but nothing appeared. This was infantry work, not tank work, but I suppose somebody had to do it. Having placed Tom’s troop, I selfishly withdrew and slept in a bivvy.
     
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