49th Infantry Division 'The Polar bear Butchers'?

Discussion in 'Higher Formations' started by Smudge, Oct 22, 2010.

  1. Smudge

    Smudge Member

    Hi all

    The 49th Infantry Division became known as the Polar Bears because of their service in Iceland but in 'John Crook's War' it is stated that "they became notorious to German troops and merited a vicious attack by Lord Haw Haw on the radio during the Normandy campaign. He called them 'The Polar Bear Butchers". It also says that..."This extreme rhetoric reflects the ugliness of fighting in Normandy. There was a constant fear that neither side would give any quarter. Sadly there many many incidents of POWs on both sides being executed after capture. Snipers and SS troops were hated and many documented accounts indicate they were unlikely to be given the courtesies of the Geneva Convention".

    This seems to imply that the 49th were notorious for something a little more sinister than being just aggressive in battle.

    Can anyone expand on this (until I get hold of the book Tom recommends on The Polar Bears)

  2. Verrieres

    Verrieres no longer a member

    Hi Smudge

    Nothing notorious at all,The Polar Bears were involved in some of the bloodiest battles and this resulted in Lord Haw Haw attempting to insult the Division during the Normandy campaign. He called them 'The Polar Bear Butchers' and the Div went along with it ,the remarks even prompted a 49th Divisional Christmas Card for 1944. This `insult/title reflects the bitterness of fighting in Normandy during 1944 when casualties were very high and not the fact that their men were in any way more aggresive towards their enemies (SS or otherwise) than any other unit at this time...unless you know something we do not?? During the battles around Rauray the Germans made a real effort to force the Allies back and attempted to drive them back towards the beaches it failed mainly due to the steadfastness shown by Divisions such as the 49th despite as mentioned horrific casualties
    I have that Christmas card somewhere I`ll try and dig it out.
  3. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Smudge - when you get the "Polar Bears" by Delaforce - you will find that the battles around Rauray were some of the more viscous in that whole campaign and as a result the 11th battalion DLI was nearly wiped out the 6th DoW didn't do so well either - one result was that the 70th Bde was broken up and spread around various other units.
    Lord Haw Haw had to say something to cover the antics of the 2SS Panzers in those battles so he came up with the "Polar Bear Butchers" - and as Verrieres points out - the DLI made it into a Christmas Card
  4. Philip Reinders

    Philip Reinders Very Senior Member

  5. Smudge

    Smudge Member

    Thanks for the info chaps

    Verrieres; the Yorks and Lancs were my local regt so I'm glad nothing untoward took place...I was in charge of the Hallamshire Platoon at Sheffield which are the last decendants I think of The Hallamshire Btn. I joined up at the old Y&L building in Barnsley back in 1984...now the Barnsley Chronical offices ( what a waste of a great old building). Must visit the Regt Museum in Rotherham sometime. I pretty much quoted verbatim from John Crookes War at John Crook's War which is a good read I think.

    I've been to many a Mess function at Endcliffe Hall which as a massive mural in the ballroom depicting the capture of Fontenay.

    Tom; the books on its way...a bargain off Amazon ( hardback) at £4 new. Can't wait.

    Philip; ta for the postcard. I have seen this on the John Crookes site but not this large so thanks.

  6. Buteman

    Buteman 336/102 LAA Regiment (7 Lincolns), RA


    Have you read the book by the Hallam's CO, Trevor Hart-Dyke?

    I've also read John Crooks war. Great webpages.

    I've been trying to track down the 49 Division's war diary at Kew, but it does not seem to be lodged there for some reason. I'm interested in September and October 1944, when they successfully crossed the Antwerp-Turnhout at St. Leonards.

    Cheers - Rob
  7. Smudge

    Smudge Member

    Hi Rob

    Haven't come across that book...you any more details i.e title, publisher etc?

    Are all the old war diaries at Kew? Its a shame that these things disappear; i.e. a mate of mine recovered Y&L maps from WW1 in a skip at Rotherham TAC...the civvies were having a clearout and loads of 'old useless stuff' was burnt. One is now hanging at Barnsley's drill hall

  8. sapper

    sapper WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Just a small comment.they were known as "The Butcher Bears" Not as the Polar Bear Butchers, that was at the time.
  9. Combover

    Combover Guest

    They were known for not taking prisoners amongst the German units they faced. As with all of these things, there is a degree of truth in that, but it IS mostly just propaganda.
  10. Gerard

    Gerard Seelow/Prora

    Just goes to show the ferocity of the fighting in the bocage in Normandy.
  11. johneowens

    johneowens Active Member


    You know about the Belgian Polar Bear Assn and their website at http://www.polar-bear-association.org.uk/index_files/Photo_Gallery.htm? Right?

    They are associated with local historians at Wuustwezel and Sint Lenaarts (note Flemish) spelling) who know a lot about crossing the Antwerp-Turnhout canal and Operation Rebound to lcut off the units of the German 15th Army on Zuid-Beveland and Walcheren (Holland) and secure the north approaches to Antwerp. Other units involved at various times were the 2nd Gloucestershire Battalion (Glosters), S Wales Borderers, Royal Scots Fusiliers, various RE field companies, including the 240th, and the 104th US Infantry (Timber Wolf). Sint Lenaarts was taken 1 October 1944.


  12. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

    Looking at the date I'm guessing you have found them by now but just in case...

    WO 171/500 49 Infantry Division. General Staff 01 July 1944 - 30 September 1944
    WO 171/501 49 Infantry Division. General Staff 01 October 1944 - 31 December 1944
  13. Buteman

    Buteman 336/102 LAA Regiment (7 Lincolns), RA

    Thanks for your interest John. I'm aware of the Polar Bear Association and their great website. Since 2010, I have looked at the war diaries at Kew. It was their rubbish search engine which initially stopped me from finding them. I've also attended a couple of annual liberation ceremonies at Sint Lenaarts and met a local Historian who has taken me on a tour of the area. My Dad's unit arrived in St. Lenaarts and were briefly attached to the 49th Division. Dad's unit, although RA, were active in the area North of there from 15 to 28 October as Infantry, hence the interest.

    Cheers - Rob
  14. johneowens

    johneowens Active Member


    Excellent. I guess you know Guido, then, in Wuustwezel. He has been extremely helpful to me. I'm planning a visit there in September or October. My father was a Sergeant in the 240th Field Coy, RE. He was wounded in Wuustwezel on 21 October 1944 from shrapnel from a Jadgpanther shell. Two others from the 240th were killed in the same incident, driver Frederick Houghton and a L/Corp Hugh Wright. I guess they are listed on the memorial in Wuustwezel.

    BTW, just been corrected: Sint Lenaarts was liberated on 29 September 1944, by the Canadian 2nd Infantry.


  15. Buteman

    Buteman 336/102 LAA Regiment (7 Lincolns), RA

    I met a guy called Francis Huijbrechts from Hoogstraaten.

    Thought St Lenaarts was liberated by 4th Lincolns? The Brickworks is mentioned in their war diary and the old chimney is still there. The memorial there also has British 1 Corps and the Polar Bears Insignia on it.

    A Belgian Historical Group called Spearhead BE hold an annual Camp in St. Lenaarts every year to commemorate the Liberation and is close to where the Bailey Bridge was put across. It is called Plumbridge Camp, in honour of that bridge. 10th Anniversary this September. 20 - 22 September to be precise.
  16. johneowens

    johneowens Active Member

    Thanks, Rob.

    Ok, not Guido.

    No, my Sint Lenaarts source tells me that the liberators of his town were the Canadians.

    Do you have any more details on the Bailey bridge at Sint Lenaarts? When was the original bridge blown? Which unit of RE's built the Bailey?


  17. Buteman

    Buteman 336/102 LAA Regiment (7 Lincolns), RA

    Apologies John,

    You are right and I'm completely wrong and apologise to our Canadian Allies. It is Sint Josef on the Antwerp-Turnhout canal that the 4th Lincolns took. St. Lenaarts was to the West of St. Josef. That's what happens when you are not at home and don't have full access to your information. I found the photos I posted previously on WW2Talk of that Bailey Bridge at St. Josef.
  18. johneowens

    johneowens Active Member

    No problem, Rob. Glad we are on the same page.

    Which RA unit was your Dad with? And do you have its War Diaries for 21 October 1944, please?


  19. Buteman

    Buteman 336/102 LAA Regiment (7 Lincolns), RA

    102 LAA Regt and here is a link to the transcribed October war diary you refer to. It's here on WW2Talk.


    They were part of an adhoc Brigade u/c 89 LAA Regt with 62 Anti-Tank Regt, RA as well. A small part of 2nd Kensingtons were also attached.
  20. johneowens

    johneowens Active Member

    OK, I now see that your guys were some way to the right of "my guys" in BOBFORCE on 21 October.

    Many thanks, anyway.



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