VERITABLE 1945: 51st Highland Division Reichswald Forest

Discussion in 'NW Europe' started by stolpi, Oct 8, 2018.

  1. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Hekkens Time Life 1.jpg
    Same area: German paratroopers are searched by soldiers of the 51st Highland Division; I count 12 POWs in the ditch (including the one on the edge)… though the cap-badge of one of the British soldiers shows up, I have trouble with identifying it. Looks like Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders. Anyone?
    Last edited: Feb 17, 2020
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  2. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Last weekend I went through my files for awards of 51st HD soldiers and inserted some of these into the previous posts. Information on battles is usually spotty and less than we would like, but the awards given to the men of the 152 Bde bear testimony of the vicious close-quarter combat in the forest which was much fiercer than I was aware of. When the ammunition went out, the Jocks resorted to the bayonet, or clubbed the enemy with their rifles. I've even read about instances where shovels were used with great effectiveness

    The 152 Bde undoubtly was much weakened by the forest fighting, but the FJ Regt 20 must have taken even greater punishment. A quick survey of the War Diary reports learns that in the two days fight in the forest and the subsequent battle for the Hekkens Crossroads at least 495 POWs were taken and some 250 men were killed. Casualties probably were even higher since it was difficult to estimate their number in the thick forest. These were severe losses and accounted for over 60% of the combat effectives of the FJ Regt 20; assuming the average Coy strength was 100 men and all casualties belonged to the FJ Regiment. The FJ Regiment no longer could be regarded as an effective fighting force The latter is confirmed by the 51st HD Intell Sum no. 325 of 14 Feb 45; see below VERITABLE 1945: 51st Highland Division Reichswald Forest

    Artist Impresion Reichswald.jpg
    Artist's impression of the close-quarter fighting inside the Reichswald in the 53rd Welsh and 51st Highland Div's sectors
    Last edited: Sep 1, 2020
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  3. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Br Offensive n Holland 41aa.jpg
    Highland soldiers carefully bury one of their killed comrades in a field grave. Note the MG42 leaning against the tree to the right. The battle left the 152 Bde's battalions severely depleted. Not uncommonly the infantry companies had to carry the overwhelming burden of the division's efforts while chronically understrength. After two days of forest fighting the 2nd Seaforth were down to two companies with the makings of a weak third company; the 5th Seaforth were down to three weak companies and 5 Camerons to four very weak companies.
    Last edited: Nov 26, 2019
  4. 51highland

    51highland Very Senior Member

    From my Fathers memories;
    "We continued to advance along a track with the tanks on our right flank, until we reached a cross track, which was taken mainly due to "C" Company. Snipers were still firing at us from all directions. It had taken the Battalion all day to advance 1500 yards. The Germans were mainly Paratroopers, mostly fanatical, who kept firing until wiped out, usually at point blank range, with hand to hand fighting not uncommon.

    At one point we had run out of ammunition and we finished off one position, attacking and killing the occupants with our trenching tools. It was a particularly bloody affair but they were never going to surrender. Those defenders suffered a particularly violent and bloody death. You know, you can actually take a man's head, clean off his shoulders with a trenching tool. We spent that night consolidated in the cross track area and 2nd Seaforth moved through us to take the lead at first light 10th February.

    The Seaforths hadn't got far before they were held up by determined resistance from the German 7th Parachute Division. 5th Camerons were immediately ordered to push through this enemy pocket. We in "D" Company were ordered to push round the right flank...……………….".

    Owing to casualties, 'D' company was shared out among the 3 remaining companies on the 12th February and reinstated on the 15th. mainly from the 69 reinforcements which had arrived at B echelon on the 14th.
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2019
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  5. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    4. A second bridgehead across the Niers, 154 Bde

    By the evening of the 11th, the 51st Highland Division finally had left the Reichswald behind and debouched on the relatively flat alluvial terrain south of the forest. Goch now was only 5 miles away. To reach the town the Highland Division however had to cross the winding Niers River. Since the bridge at Kessel was out, this implied another river assault. During Feb 12th and 13th plans were laid for a second crossing of the Niers. The operation was to be carried out by 154 Bde. The operation plan called for three phases:

    - First: on the evening of 13 Feb the 7th Black Watch were to cross the river in the bend near Zelderheide and establish a first bridgehead on the high ground within the loop of the river;
    - Second: the 1st Black Watch then were to pass through and enlarge the bridgehead to the east and southeast. The objective was to dominate the road to Kessel and free the main supply road Gennep - Hekkens from enemy observation by seizing a wide tract of ground to the south of the Niers River;
    - Finally the 7th Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders were to seize Kessel, so that engineers could build a bridge across the Niers and open up the road to Goch.

    Buffaloes of the 79 Assault Sqn had to carry the infantry across the Niers. Due to the constant strain put on these amphibious vehicles by operation Veritable only 12 were available for the crossing. A Buffalo collecting point was set up at the township of Ven. The first crossing was to be made at 18:45 hours, the second phase to be launched at 22:15 hours. The 154 Bde was given control of the 5th Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders, who acted as a reserve.

    Buffaloos op strain.jpg
    Message from 30 Corps HQ, dated 14 Feb, 1020 hours, to 3 Cdn Div and 51st HD on limited numbers of available Buffaloes. The 51st HD were allotted 12 Buffaloes. Though later during the river crossing, after the number of operational Buffaloes had dwindled due to combat losses and mechanical problems, more Buffaloes were sent up to assist in the operation.

    The 153 Bde was to support the crossing by a diversionary attack from the Gennep bridgehead towards Hommersum. Next day orders were given to the 32nd Guards Brigade, which on the 14th came under command of the Highland Division, to seize Hommersum and establish a bridgehead across the small Kendel Brook at Hommersum, thus merging the 153 Bde bridgehead at Gennep, with the one established by the 154 Bde at Kessel. Success of this operation would not only bring Goch to within striking distance but also was essential for opening the Mook - Gennep - Hekkens road to general traffic. Opening the road would be a great relief for the forward divisions which were experiencing increasing difficulties with the unpaved forest rides inside the Reichswald and were only able to bring forward a limited amount of wheeled traffic through the forest.

    51 HD Ops Instruc No 27 13.02.45.jpg
    Ops Instruc No.27 51st HD for the second bridgehead across the Niers. The second page unfortunately is missing.

    In the meantime sappers of the 274th Field Coy were hard at work on the Gennep - Hekkens road, clearing mines and filling up numerous large craters that had been blown into the road. With their usual thoroughness, the enemy had destroyed most of the culverts along the road. Because of enemy observation the work during the daylight hours had to be conducted under cover of a smoke screen. In the morning of the 13th the road finally was open and immediately used by supply columns of the 53 Welsh Division. The Welsh, pushing through the heart of the Reichswald on the left of the Highland Division, were experiencing major supply difficulties. Owing to the mud, the continuous rain which had fallen since the start of the operation and the very large amount of traffic, road conditions within the 51st HD sector also deteriorated rapidly and at 16:00 hrs on the 13th the division's axis through the Reichswald collapsed and had to be closed down for maintenance for 12 hours. Ammunition for the 154 Bde crossing now had to be hauled forward along the crowded Gennep-Hekkens road and arrived only just in time. The activity however immediately attracted enemy attention and the road was subjected to a lot of enemy shellfire.

    Road maintence.jpg
    Road maintenance: behind the lines the Corps Engineers and Field Coys were fighting a very different battle against the elements to keep the shabby road net open. Excessive rainfall and heavy traffic turned many of the roads into mucky morasses. The 51st HD engineers were fully stretched endeavouring to keep the axis open besides the other tasks they had to undertake; even the Field Coys of the reserve Guards Armoured Division were called on to assist and were deployed on the road between Mook and Gennep (Photo © IWM B-14462).

    Second Niers Bridgehead aa.jpg

    Fragment of the 154 Bde War Diary for 12 and 13 Feb 45:
    154 Bde WD 1.jpg 154 Bde WD 2.jpg 154 Bde WD 3.jpg
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2020
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  6. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    4.1 Phase1: The 7th Black Watch crosses the Niers (Feb 13th)

    Op Veritable was in its sixth day, when at 20:30 hrs on Feb 13th the first flight of Buffaloes dipped into the dark water of the Niers at the river bend near Zelderheide. They carried the 7th Black Watch across in order of 'B' Coy followed by 'D' Coy, Battalion HQ and RAP. 'A' Coy was in reserve and did not cross until later. The crossing was covered by artillery fire following a preliminary bombardment by mortars firing from the Hekkens area. The crossing was not opposed, and 'B' Coy pushed quickly on. Tactical HQ had a little battle all to themselves in the clearing of some buildings taking 12 prisoners, some badly wounded. The RAP, by some freak of cross-country navigation, had actually arrived at these buildings before Tactical HQ but, on being confronted by some angry Germans, had contrived by dint of field craft, common sense, and one Sten gun, to make a strategic withdrawal.

    'B' Coy quickly reached Kapellen, capturing a number of POWs and clearing the area after a short engagement. 'D' Coy then passed through to clear Viller Mühle, a collection of buildings dominated by a large flour mill and its outbuildings. The enemy being taken in the flank were largely surprised, but, after a number had been killed, resistance centred on a large pill-box and a house in the middle of the village, which proved very determined. After one assault, supported by PIATs, had been repulsed with casualties, the house was eventually set on fire by 2-inch mortar smoke fired through the windows from 10 yards' range. Resistance then collapsed and 'D' Coy consolidated. By 01:45 hrs the 7th Black Watch had taken 86 POWs. The battalion's casualties were 5 ORs killed and 2 Officers and 24 ORs wounded.

    Pte William Imrie, a stretcher-bearer in 176 Field Amb RAMC, in support of the 7th Black Watch, received an immediate MM for his actions in the Niers Crossing in which he knocked out and disarmed a German with is bare hands, thus saving the lives of the RAP-party:
    Imrie 176 Field Amb 7 BW Niers Cr.jpg

    The winding Niers River near Zelderheide. At the time the river was swollen by flood waters and the water stood right up to the dyke.

    The crossing point of 154 Bde code-named RABBIT. The river here coincides with the Dutch/German border. The wooded area (codenamed Whippet) just across the river is inside Germany and nowadays occupied by a military depot and off limits.
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2020
  7. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    The old flour mill at Villers, also known as Viller Mühle, still exists. It no longer is used as a factory, but is turned into a sort of lumber room museum. The complex was taken by 'D'Coy of the 7th Black Watch after some stiff fighting. Later it was fire at by enemy SPs during the German counter attack. Below: The war damage is still clearly visible on the gable.


    Kapellenhof 1.jpg
    The attack of the 7th Black Watch was covered by a pepper-pot fired from the north bank of the Niers River between Hekkens and Nergena. The effect of the pepper-pot can still be seen on the gable of this barn at Kapellenhof, which was facing towards the river. Below: same barn different angle.

    Kapellenhof 2.jpg
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2020
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  8. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    4.2 Phase 2: 1st Black Watch attack and counterattack (Feb 14, 1945)

    The plan of attack of the 1st Black Watch was to cross in Buffaloes, then follow up the 7th Black Watch axis with 'A' Coy leading. The Company was to push forward and establish itself at the road junction, codenamed Bulldog, to cover the road from Kessel. 'B' Coy was to follow and exploit south of 'A' Coy as far as the woods north of Hassum Station - towards a report line called Mastiff (see map below). 'C' Coy who were the last in the line, were to branch off to the southeast and fight their way towards a line anchored on the Heyse Hof. Thus a two battalion bridgehead of some depth would have been established.

    At 22:00 hrs (13 Feb) the first elements of the 1st Black Watch crossed the river. The crossing was completed successfully in spite of heavy mortaring on the Buffalo marshalling yard. One Buffalo was knocked out by shelling, which killed one man and wounded the rest of the crew. The 2 i/c of the Buffaloes was wounded and the O.C. TCP 2 moved the marshalling yard a few hundred yards north to be out of the shelling. 'A' Coy were soon on their way to their objective and at 01:45 hrs was reported on Bulldog. At 23:30 hrs the remainder of the 1st Black Watch crossed and by 03:45 hrs the 1st Black Watch had taken all objectives and were mopping up some isolated pockets holding out in houses for which Lifebuoys (portable flamethrowers) were used. This produced another 60 POWs.

    An attempt to build a Class 9 folding boat equipment bridge at the Buffalo crossing point was unsuccessful on account of the extensive flooding and debris. A foot bridge was washed away by the current. The bridgehead for the time being had to rely on the work of the few available Buffaloes.

    Captain William Michael Wingate-Gray, of 154 Bde HQ, who was responsible for the Buffalo loading and assembly point received a bar to his MC:
    Wingate-Gray 154 Bde HQ 1.jpg Wingate-Gray 154 Bde HQ 2.jpg

    154 Bde bridgehead 2a.jpg

    At dawn on the 14th both battalions were across the river Niers, but the situation was fragile. The ammunition situation was bad, as most Buffaloes, due to the mechanical strain imposed on the vehicles by the prolonged ferrying of the last week, had broken down; by the early morning hours only three Buffaloes remained serviceable. Later reinforcements arrived in the shape of a troop of Buffaloes from each of 11 Royal Tanks and 77 Squadron RE. During the night only two carriers had arrived and a few anti-tank guns. There was a complete lack of communication as the 18 sets of the 1st Black Watch were in no case working from any Coy HQ and 'B' Coy was a bit disorganized, lacking its Coy commander, who had been wounded earlier that night.

    The 1st Black Watch held a large perimeter, mostly in the middle of woods. Around 08:00 hrs a counter-attack began to develop almost simultaneously around its entire length. At 08:15 hrs the battalion reported that they were being counterattacked from the south. In the 'C' Coy area enemy infiltration was going on and the whole area was subjected to brisk small arms fire. A standing patrol had been overwhelmed at early dawn and taken prisoner. D.F. was fired. Then two enemy SP guns with infantry support, attacking 'B' Coy from the southeast, infiltrated through the woods and surprised one of the platoons and the anti-tank gun supporting it, from the rear. A number of casualties were suffered from the SP guns firing at very close range. The platoon was driven back in the direction of Battalion HQ, which had been established in a farm building along the Kapellenhofstrasse, near 'Bulldog', followed by a second platoon which also had no officer. 'B' Coy and consequently 'C' Coy, who were now in danger of becoming isolated, withdrew and re-organised along the line of a small wood not far from the Battalion HQ. At 11:15 hrs a new close-in defense had been organized and closely co-ordinated with the 7th Black Watch. The 1st Black Watch had lost three anti-tank guns and two carriers and suffered 48 casualties. Pretty heavy shelling was going on continuously and the enemy continually were hitting the house in which the Battalion HQ was established. Eventually the situation was restored by the arrival of some anti-tank guns from the 5th Camerons and the arrival of ammunition and wireless sets. A company of the 5th Camerons was sent across the river and remained in reserve with 7 Black Watch. It was never committed.

    Part of the defensive fires were effectively directed by Captain John Fyffe, of the 79th Medium Regt (Scottish Horse), who had established an OP in the Viller Mühle. Captain Fyffe received an immediate MC for his actions:
    Lt Fyffe 79 Med Regt Viller 1.jpg

    His assistant, Gunner John N. Wilson, received an immediate MM:
    Lt Fyffe 79 Med Regt Viller Gnr Wilson.jpg

    During the rest of the day heavy defense fires were fired by the artillery on Kessel, where the enemy had also shown signs of attacking on 'A' Coy's front, and in the woods near Hassum Station and Heyse Hof. In addition, 20 Typhoons put up a tremendous display for almost an hour by attacking the woods north of Hassum Station, they claimed the destruction of 3 armoured fighting vehicles. The village of Hassum was knocked-over by 48 fighter bombers and destroyed. Any further inclination by the Germans to attack must have been blasted out of them by these aerial raids. Later, a POW statement revealed that the attack had been carried out by the II./Para Lehr Regt (Bn Gräfing) of the 8. FJ Div which had been brought up from the Maas front near Roermond and had been cast into the battle to bolster the severely depleted FJ Regt 20. The counterattack was completely broken up by artillery and aircraft and the POW estimated that of the 200 - 300 men who participated in the attack about 100 were killed.

    Mastiff 1st BW.jpg
    View from the north of the woodsline, also known under the codename Mastiff; the wooded area just north of Hassum Station where the 1st Black Watch was counterattacked by enemy SP guns on 14 February 1945.

    Viller 1.jpg
    The group of houses near the 'Bulldog' crossroads, where battalion HQ 1st Black Watch was established, received a lot enemy attention during the attack. The tiny chimney of the Viller Mühle is only just protruding above the treeline to the center-left.

    The 154 Bde attack hit elements of all three battalions of the 20. FJ Regiment. The Intell Sum no 325, of the 51st HD, dated 14 Feb 45, states that the Para regiment was in a much more disintegrated state than anticipated. According to a POW it had suffered such heavy casualties that all three battalions had been fused into one unit two days ago. Among the 123 POWs from the Para Regt taken in the night attack were three Coy commanders and a Battalion commander. Fragment of the Intell Sum:

    Intell Sum no. 325 14.02.45.jpg

    Typhoons ground attacks and fighter bomber attacks on Hassum carried out on the 14th in support of the 1st Black Watch broke up the enemy's will to continue the counterattacks; at Hassum a battery of horse drawn enemy artillery was caught on the road by the air attack and completely destroyed (photo IWM)
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2020
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  9. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Fallen of the 1st Black Watch for 13 and 14 Feb were:

    1. CAVENDISH Private 14499477 JOHN RICHARD 14 February 1945 Age 18 REICHSWALD FOREST WAR CEMETERY 60. G. 16.
    2. CHAPMAN Corporal 2762798 JAMES DAVIS 14 February 1945 Age 32 REICHSWALD FOREST WAR CEMETERY 60. G. 17.
    3. COLE Private 4862493 HARRY 14 February 1945 Age 25 REICHSWALD FOREST WAR CEMETERY 60. B. 17.
    4. CURRIE Corporal 2766739 NORMAN CAMERON 14 February 1945 Age 29 RHEINBERG WAR CEMETERY 12. B. 2
    5. EDWARDS Private 2760062 JAMES SPALDING 14 February 1945 Age 29 REICHSWALD FOREST WAR CEMETERY 60. H. 19
    6. FAIRBROTHER Private 14582916 JACK 14 February 1945 Age 19 REICHSWALD FOREST WAR CEMETERY 60. G. 13.
    7. HOLLAND Private 2992364 THOMAS WILLIAM 14 February 1945 Age 31 OTTERSUM ROMAN CATHOLIC CEMETERY Grave 4.
    8. JERRAMS Private 14577109 ERIC WILLIAM GEORGE 14 February 1945 Age 19 REICHSWALD FOREST WAR CEMETERY 60. B. 15
    9. WARD Private 1643908 FREDERICK HUNTER 14 February 1945 Age 35 REICHSWALD FOREST WAR CEMETERY 60. B. 14.
    10. WILLIAMS Lance Corporal 5340507 EDGAR 14 February 1945 Age 25 MOOK WAR CEMETERY II. B. 13.
    11. WILSON Private 14425209 FREDERICK GEORGE 13 February 1945 Age 19 UDEN WAR CEMETERY 6. E. 10.

    BW Cole.jpg BW Jerrams.jpg BW Ward.jpg

    Fallen of the 7th Black Watch for 13 and 14 Feb were:

    1. ARNOT Private 2759147 DAVID 14 February 1945 Age 28 REICHSWALD FOREST WAR CEMETERY 60. G. 9.
    2. ASTLEY Lance Corporal 6097788 PHILLIP 14 February 1945 Age 24 REICHSWALD FOREST WAR CEMETERY 60. G. 14.
    3. CLARK Private 14503143 WILLIAM COLIN 13 February 1945 Age 21 REICHSWALD FOREST WAR CEMETERY 60. G. 8
    4. MANDERS Private 5443007 ALFRED 13 February 1945 Age 31 OTTERSUM ROMAN CATHOLIC CEMETERY Grave 2.
    5. PICKUP Private 14497907 GEORGE 13 February 1945 Age 18 REICHSWALD FOREST WAR CEMETERY 60. G. 7.

    BW Clark.jpg BW Pickup.jpg

    Several Buffalo crew members of the 79 Assault Sqn RE were killed on 13 and 14 Feb:
    1. GILBERT, CHARLES WILLIAM, Lance Corporal 2119778, 13 February 1945, Age 28, MILSBEEK WAR CEMETERY II. E. 4.
    2. BARDER, J A R, Lance Corporal 14318584, 14 February 1945, Age 22, JONKERBOS WAR CEMETERY 9. F. 8.
    3. GASKIN, ERNEST PHILLIP, Sapper 14336989, 14 February 1945, Age 31, JONKERBOS WAR CEMETERY 9. F. 7.
    4. WANKLYN CLIFFORD, Sapper 2073975, 14 February 1945, Age 22, JONKERBOS WAR CEMETERY 9. F. 5.
    Last edited: Dec 27, 2019
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  10. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    4.3 Phase 3: the 7th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders capture Kessel (Feb 14th, 1945)

    During the counterattack, planning was going ahead for the 7 A&SH's attack on Kessel. It was decided that the Argylls would cross at the same place and by the same means as the other battalions. Their route was lit by the Bde Provost. The same TCP was to control the crossing. They would go through the Black Watch battalions and start their attack through the 1st Black Watch lines. The Start Line was a track running southeast from the Driesburg estate, an old courtyard of an otherwise disappeared castle on the bank of the Niers hard southeast of Kessel. The battalion would move from the assembly area at 18:15 hrs cross the river at 19:15 hrs and be complete in the FUP at 21:15 hrs. They would attack at 22:15 hrs. An L.O. would be with 1st Black Watch and go up with the first party of the 7th A&SH. The artillery program was again immense and was slightly adjusted to allow the Battalion to form up forward of 1st Black Watch and cross the S.L. immediately the artillery fire lifted.

    Kessel attack.jpg

    The plan was carried out almost to the minute and opposition was light. Tac Bn HQ was set up at 1st Black Watch HQ and the first Coy moved up to this area. The artillery opened up a barrage at 21:15 hrs which lasted for an hour and at 22:15 the attack went in. The order of march was 'A', 'D', Bn HQ, 4 A/tk guns and 'B' Coy. A number of shells fell short during the attack and caused casualties to Bn HQ and some in 1st Black Watch. 'A' Coy of the 7th Argylls went straight through to the area of the bridge hard on the heels of the barrage, followed by 'D' Coy to area 851467 and 'B' Coy to area 851469. The enemy had very little time to collect themselves after the barrage and before the Battalion had one Coy in. Most of them were emerging from the cellars and 70 POWs were taken that night. The 7th Argyll's casualties during the attack were one officer and 18 men wounded. Mopping up of the area took most of the night and the following day the 15th, and a further 70 POWs including two officers were rounded up. Bn HQ was established at 847468. During the night and next morning the area was heavily shelled and mortared by the enemy, probably with the intention of interrupting work on the bridge. Meanwhile the Buffaloes were still ferrying transport across and casualties and POWs were coming back. At 23:30 hrs TCP2 reported that all of A&SH's essential vehicles were across.

    Driesberg Fm Kessel.jpg
    The 7th Argylls attack towards Kessel passed by the small Driesberg estate - the forecourt of an old castle - on the bank of the river Niers. The remains of the castle have disappeared in the course of the time. Picture taken from the main Hassum - Kessel road view to the west. The Niers is just beyond the estate.

    During the night of the 14/15th, even before the Argylls had reported Kessel clear the 274 Field Coy commenced building operations at the bridge site. Lt.Col. Henry R.Carr, the CRE of 51 HD, states in his memoirs ("A sapper's life"): "As a result of our experience at Gennep, I thought it essential to use the confusion just after a night attack and the ensuing hours of darkness to launch a Bailey before first light so that the enemy artillery fire should not be in a position to prevent bridging operations. I realised that it would take some time for the Argylls to reach and clear Kessel village completely and report that bridging operations could start. I therefore decided to start dumping and building operations before the capture of the village was completed. Mine clearance and bridge reconnaissance parties could filter forward just as soon as the tactical situation permitted. Meanwhile in the shelter of a nearby farm, about 250 yards from the bridge, Bailey bridge lorries could deliver and turn round and preliminary building could proceed. Unfortunately, the approach to the bridge was on a rising curve with trees down the side, but I decided that a portion of the bridge could be pushed forward on rollers with the aid of a D7 tractor and then decked down and completed on the launching site. This scheme started according to plan but the cumulative exhaustion began to tell on all after this week of constant day and night operations. The enemy was fighting with great obstinacy so it took time to clear the village of Kessel to enable bridging operations on the site. Mines were cleared on the near side of the bridge and the bridge reconnaissance party attempted to swim across to the far bank. The river however was running in spate on either side of the demolished pier. The sapper who tried to swim across with a line was swept down stream but survived. The reconnaissance party had to use an assault boat and when the party reached the far bank, they ran into Schu-mines and all except one were casualties. Lieut. Shackleton was fatally wounded and had to be brought back in the boat.As dawn broke only a portion of the bridge had been built and was not ready to be pushed forward. There was also still a considerable amount of preparatory work required, particularly in the immediate area of the approaches on either side."

    The bridgehead created by the Argylls was shallow and had a depth of about 250 yards which left the bridge site under observation; during daytime the Sappers were constantly harassed by enemy shell, mortar, machinegun and even small arms fire. The angle of the bridge to the river also was not helpful, but it was hoped that a Class 40 bridge would be across in 12 hours. At 05:00 hours (Feb 15th) the RE's reported that the bridge could be only Class 9 and would not be ready before 12:00 hours but would be built up to Class 40 later. Throughout the morning heavy and accurate mortaring continued on the A&SH and the bridge site. Until a bridge could be finished the 154 Bde's bridgehead was in an isolated position. An attempt to build a small Jeep bridge farther downstream was made by the 1st Black Watch but owing to an anti-tank obstacle and flooding it was found to be hopeless.

    In late afternoon (17:45 hrs) the 7th Argylls were counter-attacked from the southeast up the axis of the main road from Goch - Hekkens. DF by artillery, MMGs and 4.2 inch mortars was fired and a troop of tanks from the 107 Regt RAC was sent from the 1st Black Watch to support the 7th A&SH. By 18:30 the counterattack had been halted. The MMG fire which was directed across and down the main road was particularly effective and the forward companies were greatly encouraged by the results. Casualties for the action in the 7th A&SH were Lieutenant Alexander wounded, 1 O.R. killed and 21 wounded. Enemy POWs revealed that the counter-attack had been made in company strength by the III./21 FJ Regt (7 FJ Division).

    Later that evening the REs completed the bridge over the Niers and supplies were brought over. The Engineers had been working under such heavy shelling and mortaring that work on the bridge had to be ceased at intervals. Two Platoon leaders were killed. The CRE of the 51st HD, Lt. Col. Henry R. Carr, took over command of the bridge building and all three Field Coys of the 51st HD at one time or another were involved. The bridge still was only Class 9 and in lasted until 11:00 hours of the 16th before a Class 40 bridge was finished. Only then could it handle tanks. The REs named the bailey Bridge "Shackleton Bridge", after the Lieutenant of the 274 Field Coy who had been killed in the recce party.

    The completion of the bridge was an important feat: the road to Goch now lay open, but to use it freely the situation to the south first had to be stabilized. This was the purpose of an attack, conducted next day (Feb 16th), by the 154 Bde against Hassum Station in conjunction with an attack by 32 Guards Brigade on Müll and Hassum.

    Shackleton Birdge at Kessel 2.jpg
    The Shackleton Class 40 Bailey Bridge at Kessel over the River Niers. The tower is the local transformer housing. The Ambulance is about to cross the bridge in the Kranenburgerstrasse. To make two way traffic possible the Engineers built a second Class 9 bridge - used by the trucks in the picture - which was in the extension of the Bogenstrasse.

    Shackleton Birdge at Kessel.jpg
    The Shackleton Bridge in close-up. As soon as the bridge was open to traffic, the 154 Brigade and all the various supporting arms came through to reinforce the Kessel bridgehead.

    Kessel bridge 1.jpg
    Kessel bridge today. The damaged farmhouse across the bridge has been replaced, but the transformer house still exists, partly hidden by a big coniferous tree. The pointed roof has disappeared.

    Kessel bridge 2.jpg
    The transformer house and the bridge from a different angle.

    Lieutenant-Colonel Henry R. Carr, the CRE 51st HD, personally took charge of the building operation of this vital bridge and was awarded a bar to his DSO for it:
    Carr  CRE 51st HD Kessel br 14.2.jpg

    Major Ian A Duncan-Millar, CO of the 276 Field Coy, at the bridge site received a MC for the operation. From the recommendation it appears that all three Field Coys were involved in the building operation:
    Duncan Millar 276 Field Coy RE Kessel br.jpg Duncan Millar 276 Field Coy RE Kessel br a.jpg

    Two officers of the RE's lost his life in the action:
    - 274 Field Coy
    SHACKLETON, RICHARD ALNWICK, Lieutenant 228886, 15 February 1945, Age 22, OTTERSUM ROMAN CATHOLIC CEMETERY Grave 3.

    - 275 Field Coy

    WALKER, KENNETH MERVYN, Lieutenant 311568, 15 February 1945, Age 26, JONKERBOS WAR CEMETERY 21. C. 1.

    Lieutenant Walker of the 275 Field Coy, while at work at the bridge, was seriously wounded by shell fire in the morning of 15 Feb. He was rescued by two drivers, Harry A. Davies and John W. Drennan, of the 1642 Bailey Bridge platoon, 147 Coy RASC, who together with 30 other men were taking cover in a cellar of a ruined house in Kessel waiting for the enemy shelling to abate. When an officer of the 51st HD Div RE asked for volunteers to help him to bring in a seriously injured officer the two men immediately came forward and together with total disregard for their own personal safety, ran 300 yards to where the injured officer lay, they then placed him on a stretcher and lifted him on a Jeep who took him to the RAP. Both men received an immediate MM for this action. Unfortunately the wounded officer, who must have been Lieutenant Walker, later died of his wounds. His 3rd Platoon had been working under command of 274 Field Coy:

    One soldier of the 7th A&SH was killed on the 15th:
    ALLAN Private 14790033 DAVID 15 February 1945 Age 20, REICHSWALD FOREST WAR CEMETERY 61. C. 3.

    Shackleton Bridge Monty and Horrocks.jpg
    On 26 Feb 45, Montgomery accompanied by Horrocks visited the Reichswald area. This picture was taken on the "Shackleton Bridge" at Kessel where they paused to have a look at the Niers River. The road ahead is the Kranenburgerstrasse (Photo © IWM B 14863).

    Kessel bridge 4.jpg
    Almost the same spot today
    Last edited: Apr 28, 2020
  11. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Ottersum Roman Catholic Cemetery

    The headstone of Lt. Richard A. Shackleton, after whom the bridge at Kessel was named, at the local cemetery of Ottersum.

    The local cemetery at Ottersum, on the other side of the road opposite the church, contains a small plot with eight graves of fallen Britsh soldiers of the Second World War.


    These are the graves of:
    Serjeant Percy Brown, 1803188, Royal Artillery 40 LT. A.A. Regt., 24-02-1945, age 33
    Driver Leslie Gilbert, 14215067, Royal Engineers 521 Field Survey Coy, 02-11-1944, age 20
    Private Thomas William Holland, 2992364, Black Watch (Royal Highlanders) 1st Bn., 14-02-1945, age 41
    Private Alfred Manders, 5443007, Black Watch (Royal Highlanders) 7th Bn., 13-02-1945, age 31
    Lieutenant Lawrence Bowman Robbins, 267713, Pioneer Corps, 24-02-1945, age 41
    Private Robert James Rowley, 14431467, Seaforth Highlanders 5th Bn., 17-02-1945,age 19
    Lieutenant Richard Alnwick Shackleton, 228886, Royal Engineers 274 Field Coy, 15-02-1945, age 22, Awards MC
    Private Charles Broolie Stirton, 268918, Seaforth Highlanders 2nd Bn., 17-02-1945, age 23.

    (Courtesy Commonwealth War Graves Roman Catholic Cemetery Ottersum - Ottersum -
    Last edited: Apr 28, 2020
  12. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Together with WW2talk member Capt Roel, I toured the Reichswald battlefield today with a delegation of the Gordon Highlanders, all former officers and soldiers of the regiment (no WW2 veterans) ... travelled with them from the Start Line of Op Veritable to Goch (Thomashof).

    Gordons visit Reichswald 3.jpg
    ... and paid our respects to the fallen at the Milsbeek War Cemetery.

    Gordons visit Reichswald.jpg

    a small ceremony ... complete with the bag-pipe ...

    Gordons visit Reichswald 2.jpg
    Last edited: Feb 20, 2020
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  13. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    4.4 Merging of the bridgeheads (Hommersum 14 - 15 Feb 1945)

    On the evening of Feb 13th, the 32nd Guards Brigade was released from 30 Corps reserve and temporarily placed under command of the 51st Highland Division. The task of the 32nd Bde was to attack next day southeast from Gennep capture Hommersum and link up with the 154 Bde's bridgehead at Kappelenhof/Viller thus gaining additional depth to protect the main road Mook - Gennep - Hekkens - Cleve.

    The War Diary of the 5th Coldstream Guards gives further details of the plan of attack:
    The 5th Coldstream Guards and 1st Welsh Guards successfully completed the first phase of the operation and cleared the wooded area to the southeast of Gennep against very little resistance; together they captured about 30 POWs. Then at 17:00 hrs in the afternoon the 3rd Irish Guards, with the support of No.2 Squadron of the 2nd Welsh Guards (Major N.M. Daniel), attacked across the small Kendel Brook, which at this point forms the border with Germany, and seized Hommersum against slight opposition. The attack was supported by the fire of 7th Field, 5th Medium and 3rd Heavy Regiment RA. According to the Regt. History of the 3rd Bn IG: "The guns did capital execution and put the Germans out of business". The Irish Guards reached the village with very few casualties and collected 35 wet and frightened prisoners out of the battered houses. Although a large number of the POWs were paratroopers, they "did not show much inclination to fight and their morale was generally poor", according to the divisional history of the Guards. Hommersum lies just inside Germany and it was the first German locality to be captured by the Guards Division. That same evening a Class 40 bridge was completed across the Kendel Brook at Hommersum. The War Diary of the 3rd Irish Guards mentions a 'scissors bridge' that could carry armour.

    The POWs at Hommersum were identified as members of the I./FJ Regt 20 (7th FJ Div). This confirmed the estimated enemy lay-out given in the 51st HD Intell Sum of the previous evening. According to this document the area between Kessel and Hommersum was defended by the II. and III./ FJ Regt and possibly I./FJ Regt 20 and elements of 7. Para Div AT-battalion.

    Letter Rennie to 30 Corps 13.02.1945.jpg
    Fragment from a letter dated 13 Feb 1945 sent by the 51st HD HQ to 30 Corps. In it general Rennie requested his Corps commander, general Horrocks, to relieve the 153 Brigade as soon as possible, which would enable him to assign his whole division to the Goch operation. Moreover, the Highland Division by that time had been fighting continuously for nearly a week and needed a rest. This request led to the release of the 32nd Guards Brigade from 30 Corps reserve. The 52nd Lowland Division, alerted on the 14th, arrived a couple of days later to take over the Gennep bridgehead from the 153 Bde and expand it further southward towards Afferden.

    32nd Guards Bde uc 51st HD.JPG
    A message from 51st HD HQ from 14.0100 hrs re the 32nd Guards Brigade's move forward to the Gennep bridgehead. The 32 Guards Bde was placed under command if the Highlanders on 13 Feb at 19:30 hrs.

    It was only in the afternoon of the next day, Feb 15th, that the Germans were able to react to the loss of Hommersum. This belated response probably was due to the trouble caused by the almost simultaneous attack by 154 Bde across the Niers at Kapellenhof/Viller on the night of 13 to 14 Feb. According to the War Diary of the 3rd Irish Guards: "The morning saw a marked increase in enemy artillery activity. Any movement of vehicles in the village drew heavy concentrations of fire. At about 1200 hours it was decided that a patrol from No. 2 Company commanded by Lieutenant R. TENNISON should go to see whether the houses South of the village were clear of enemy. The patrol cleared some houses successfully, capturing about a dozen prisoners, when about 70 or so infantry were observed forming up to the South of them. This proved in fact to be the first phase of an enemy counter-attack which developed simultaneously from South and East. Extremely heavy artillery concentrations preceded and accompanied it, and were directed mainly on to the area of the bridge. The patrol was most unfortunately cut off by this attack and had to make its own way back individually. Four of them were missing, two of whom were believed to be Prisoners of War. The Patrol Commander was wounded in the heel but was evacuated satisfactorily. By 1900 hours the attacks had been broken up by artillery fire and all was quiet again. They were not resumed."

    Previously that morning, at 08:30 hrs, a patrol from the 7th Black Watch was sent westward to establish contact with the Guards at Hommersum. This contact was made and two troops of Cromwell tanks of the 2nd Welsh Guards moved up to strengthen the 154 Bde's bridgehead. They had an uneventful time, but on their way back Lieutenant H.W.J.E. Peel was hit by shell fire and subsequently died of wounds. They were near Hommersum at this time when the enemy counter-attack on the village started. Lieutenant Daniel's tank, the No.2 Sqn CO, was bogged in soft ground, so he ran over to Peel's tank. But Peel was too badly wounded to be moved and throughout the rest of the action Daniel led from the outside of the turret, disregarding a hail of mortar and machine-gun fire and heavy shelling.

    During the day 'A' Squadron, 107 Regt RAC, had been standing by in the Reichswald area to cross the river Niers at Kessel. As the engineers were still struggling to finish the bridge at Kessel, the Squadron instead decided for the long round about route over Hekkens - Gennep - Hommersum to enter the 154th bridgehead by way of the bridge over the Kendel Brook. The Squadron set of at 10:30 hrs and was heavily stonked and shelled during its journey. By 16:00 hrs two Troops of Churchill tanks joined the 154 Brigade. One Troop in support of the 1st Black Watch and 7th Black Watch each. The third Troop had been stopped at Hommersum by the 32 Guards Brigade and taken under command as a reserve as there remained a counter-attack threat on their front as well. This move at last gave the 154 bridgehead some armoured backbone.

    The fallen of the Welsh and Irish Guards at Hommersum for the period of 14 - 18 Feb are:

    2nd Welsh Guards:
    1. PEEL, HUGH WILLIAM JARDINE ETHELSTON, Lieutenant, 165075, 17 February 1945, Age 24, UDEN WAR CEMETERY 6. A. 12.

    3rd Irish Guards:
    1. BOSWELL, THOMAS, Lance Serjeant, 2721313, 14 February 1945, Age 29, MILSBEEK WAR CEMETERY II. B. 3.
    2. DUNNE, MICHAEL, Serjeant, 2718093, 15 February 1945, Age 33, JONKERBOS WAR CEMETERY 22. F. 7.
    3. KEATINGE, WILLIAM ALFRED, Guardsman, 2722891, 15 February 1945, Age 23, MILSBEEK WAR CEMETERY II. B. 6.
    4. KENT, FRED, Guardsman, 2722363, 15 February 1945,Age 34, JONKERBOS WAR CEMETERY 18. A. 3.
    5. OWTRAM, RICHARD MICHAEL, Guardsman, 2722863, 15 February 1945, Age 23 JONKERBOS WAR CEMETERY 22. F. 3.
    6. POTTER, JOSEPH, Lance Serjeant, 2722319, 15 February 1945, Age 27, JONKERBOS WAR CEMETERY 22. E. 8
    7. SEPHTON, JAMES, Guardsman, 2724075,16 February 1945,Age 19, MOOK WAR CEMETERY II. D. 15.
    8. SMITH, STANLEY ERIC THOMAS, Guardsman, 2724018, 14 February 1945, Age 23, JONKERBOS WAR CEMETERY 22. F. 2.
    9. WHITE, HENRY, Lance Corporal, 2722121, 14 February 1945, Age 31, MILSBEEK WAR CEMETERY II. C. 13.

    War Diary 3rd Irish Guards and 5th Coldstream Guards with courtesy of DBF, see:
    Irish Guards: Reference Thread and
    War Diary: 5th Battalion COLDSTREAM GUARDS, Jan - Oct 1945

    Thank you Diana for your wonderful work on the Guards!
    Last edited: Aug 27, 2020
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  14. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Kendel Brook at Hommersum

    Hommersum brug 3.jpg
    The bridge across the Kendel at Hommersum nowadays as seen from the eastern or German bank. The stream at this point forms the Dutch German border. In the background the first houses of Hommersum.

    Hommersum brug 4.jpg
    The Kendel as seen from the bridge, view to the north. Its only a small stream, you almost can jump over.

    Hommersum brug 1.jpg
    View across the bridge towards Holland. Its bicycles only; no cars allowed. The scissors bridge was put in here by the 3rd Irish Guards to replace the stone bridge which had been blown. The road is called Veedijk (or Cattle Dike). On Feb 15th armoured reinforcements of the Welsh Guards, 107 Regt RAC and 1st Fife and Forfar Yeomanry used this passage to strengthen the 154 Brigade's bridgehead at Kapellenhof/Viller.

    Hommersum church & vicarage.jpg
    The Catholic church and the adjacent vicarage of Hommersum still carry marks of the war.

    Hommersum village.jpg
    The village of Hommersum as seen from the north-east (from the Heyse Hof area). The village at the time was even smaller than it is now. The line of high trees in the background to the right mark the course of the Kendel Brook. The Viller road - or rather track - passing in front of the houses to the left was used by the armoured reinforcements to reach the 154 Brigade bridgehead on the 14th. The 3rd Irish Guards remained for two days in Hommersum looking out across the sodden fields. The slit trenches filled with water, but incessant German bombardment kept them below ground and water level. The Irish Guards had 35 casualties at Hommersum, including 9 men killed.
    Last edited: Aug 27, 2020
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  15. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    4.5 Securing the 154 Bde's bridgehead: Müll, Hassum Station and Hassum (16 - 17 Feb 1945)

    For 16 Feb a series of attacks were planned by the 154 Bde in conjunction with 32 Guards Brigade to enlarge the 154 Bde's Bridgehead to the south, so as to give more cover for the Gennep - Hekkens - Cleve road and protect the right of 152 Brigade which would move against Goch along the main road to Asperden. The operations were: 1) 5th Battalion Coldstream Guards attack Müll - Startenhof (8343) and Retüt (8343) at 1330 hours; 2) 1st Black Watch attack Hassum Station at 17:00 hours; and finally 3) a night attack by 1st Battalion Welsh Guards on Hassum village at 0400 hours.

    Hassum & Hassum station.jpg

    The War Diary of the 5th Coldstream Guards, which is excellent and very extensive, gives further detail of the plan of attack:
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2020
  16. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Note on terrain:

    Operating on the right flank of the 51st Highland Division, the 32 Guards Brigade entered the river basin of the Kendel Brook. The Kendel Brook owes its name to the Roman Canalis. The brook rises from the area near Weeze and meanders it way with deep loops towards the west until it flows into the Niers near the hamlet of IJsheuvel, just to the north of Hommersum. Though it covers only a short length of about 12 kilometers as the crow flies, the brook due to its winding course is approximately 25 km long and has a catchment area of 25 km². The landscape, a broad stretch of flat low lying ground hemmed in between the high ground of the Reichswald in the north and the Meuse River dunes to the south-west, is monotonous farmland and consists of sodden fields so much so that ploughing can only been done on the most driest days of spring. The landscape is dotted with farms and a couple of small villages on the available high ground, otherwise it is open as far as the eye can see. There are no hedges only regular drainage ditches to remind you, if you need reminding, that the water is only inches below ground. Being near the Dutch-German border the countryside is peripheral with a limited road-net; there are few, if any hard surfaced roads, mostly small farming tracks. Due to the excessive rains in Feb 1945 the movement of vehicles was well-nigh impossible in this area; all tracks quickly turned into morasses in which even tracked vehicles got stuck. The operations of the Guards Brigade soon resembled those of the Canadians on the flooded river plains to the north of the Reichswald, with the difference that the Guards had to fight through mud and bog instead of floods.

    Kendel Brook.jpg
    Picture of the Kendel Brook near Weeze (courtesy: Google Maps).
    Last edited: Jan 15, 2020
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  17. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    The battle for Müll (5th Coldstream Guards)

    The attack of the Coldstream Guards went in at 1330 hours and from then until dusk when other attacks absorbed their attention the enemy put down an almost continuous series of D.F. tasks. The attack was supported by No. 1 Squadron (Major N.T.L. Fisher) of the 2nd Welsh Guards and S.P. antitank-guns. At 14:30 Hassum was attacked by Typhoons.

    No. 4 Company forced their way over the floods via a very doubtful causeway and also over the Anti-Tank ditch both of which were under fire at the time, without a single casualty. Typical for the sodden terrain conditions encountered: all but two of the Welsh tanks bogged down after the first few minutes and so did the S.P. guns. Ground which looked sound enough proved to be a squelching quagmire. One by one the tanks were bogged. The tank recovery vehicle that went to their aid was bogged too, as was the CO's tank when he went up to visit the Squadron. The enemy defense consisted of numerous lengthy communication trenches and in the outposts some wooden and light concrete casements disguised as haystacks. With the exception of the Anti-Tank ditch however the Germans made little use of these earthworks and fought from the houses. A few mines were encountered, but they were badly laid and caused no casualties.

    The most stubborn defense was met by No. 1 Company in the area of an small bridge over the Anti-Tank ditch that was in their area. The enemy were very strongly placed here and were at one moment reported to be forming up for a counter attack, so No. 1 Company were ordered to call off the attacks on it. However heavy stonks were put down in this area and nothing came of any threat that was impending. After No. 4 and No. 1 Companies reached their objectives No. 3 Company passed through over the Anti-Tank ditch and captured STARTENHOF and RETUT. Actually the closely strung groups of farm buildings made much further and wider mopping up actions necessary which they successfully accomplished. Darkness was coming on towards the end of things, and the enemy Artillery action died down.

    In the battle for Müll the Coldstream Guards lost 13 Other Ranks Killed and 27 Other Ranks wounded. Seven of the fallen men were pioneers belonging to HQ Coy. They were hit by shellfire.

    L/Sgt. Thomas Roberts, commanding one of the two tanks that were not bogged, received a M.M. for his support of the Coldstream Guards' attack on Müll:
    Roberts 2nd Weslh Gds Mull 1.jpg Roberts 2nd Weslh Gds Mull 2.jpg

    Mull battle.jpg
    Map overlay from the War Diary of the Coldstream Guards projected over a wartime map (courtesy Bedee)

    The War Diary of the Coldstream Guards gives further detail of the attack:
    The following Coldstream Guards fell on the 16th:

    1. BARRETT, ANTHONY, Lance Corporal, 2665920, 16 February 1945, Age 19, MOOK WAR CEMETERY II. D. 5.
    2. BREWER, CHARLES RONALD, Guardsman, 2661276, 16 February 1945,Age 24, RHEINBERG WAR CEMETERY 12. A. 5.
    3. CAPRON, ROBERT EDWARD, Guardsman, 2666676,16 February 1945, Age 19, MOOK WAR CEMETERY II. D. 2.
    4. COOPER, HERBERT WHEAT, Guardsman, 2659235, 16 February 1945, Age 30, MOOK WAR CEMETERY, II. D. 1.
    5. HODGE, FRANCIS IVOR, Guardsman, 2661325,16 February 1945, Age 25, RHEINBERG WAR CEMETERY 12. A. 2.
    6. HOWELL, RICHMOND BRYAN, Guardsman, 2666249, 16 February 1945, Age 19, MILSBEEK WAR CEMETER YII. C. 2.
    7. JENNINGS, JEFFREY, Lance Corporal, 2662474, 16 February 1945, Age 27, RHEINBERG WAR CEMETERY 12. A. 4.
    8. MOORE, WILLIAM EDWARD JOHN, Serjeant, 2659278, 16 February 1945, Age 26, RHEINBERG WAR CEMETERY 12. A. 3.
    9. SMITH, GEORGE, Lance Corporal, 2660142, 16 February 1945, Age 24, RHEINBERG WAR CEMETERY 12. A. 1.
    10. STEBBINGS, HERBERT WILLIAM, Guardsman, 2662018, 16 February 1945, Age 24, MILSBEEK WAR CEMETERY, II. C. 3.
    11. WASS, JAMES, Guardsman, 2666652,16 February 1945, Age 19, MOOK WAR CEMETERY II. D. 4
    12. WEDDERBURN, JOHN, Lance Corporal, 2658857, 16 February 1945,Age 24, RHEINBERG WAR CEMETERY 12. A. 6.
    13. WEEKS, JOHN OLIVER, Guardsman, 2666839,16 February 1945, Age 19, MOOK WAR CEMETERY II. D. 3.

    See for the sub-units the men belonged to and a list of the wounded 'Brussels Sprouts No. 13' : War Diary: 5th Battalion COLDSTREAM GUARDS, Jan - Oct 1945
    Last edited: Aug 27, 2020
  18. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Retüt Farm

    Retut Farm.jpg

    Retüt Farm which was seized without much difficulty by No. 3 Coy of the 5th Coldstream Guards on the 16th of Feb 1945. This sturdy farm building is typical for this region. The enemy used these farmsteads as defensive strong points and most of the time fought from dug-in positions all around them. During the shelling they would shelter inside the buildings, mostly in the cellars. As soon as the shelling stopped, they would rush outside to take up position in the trenches. The trick for the attacking infantry was to follow up their own artillery barrage as closely as possible, so as to catch the enemy infantry before they could man their defensive positions.

    An unusual enemy weapon was reported that day by No. 2 Company of the Coldstream Guards, and their description of the incident is corroborated by the Irish Guards. Whatever the shell or rocket used by the enemy was, in this case half a dozen landed without any preliminary warning whistle, and the blast and crater made by this unknown weapon was reported to be very considerable.

    Wurfgerat 40.jpg Wurfgerat mobile.jpg
    The projectiles reported by the Coldstream Guards could have emanated from a rocket launcher called schweres Wurfgerät (or heavy launcher) of which different versions existed. Including a mobile (towed) version known as Raketenwerfer 56 based on the base of the 5 cm Pak 38, with space for firing six 30-cm missiles (each weighing 127 kg and charged with a war-head of 44,66 kg). It is known that the 7. FJ Division had a 'Fallschirm-Granatwerfer-Versuchs-Bataillon' (or experimental mortar battalion) equipped with these kind of rocket-launchers which was active in the Weeze - Goch area. During the battle for Goch, several days later, the British again were confronted by these 'mysterious' rockets (2nd picture courtesy to Wheelstogogo Travel Tales.: The Royal Canadian Artillery Museum/).


    Rocket 1.jpg Rocket 2.jpg
    Canadian soldiers inspecting some captured enemy rockets, similar to those that were used against the Coldstream Guards. Note the firing crates. These pictures were taken near Uedem during Op Blockbuster on 26 Feb 45.
    Last edited: Aug 27, 2020
  19. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Hassum Station: 1st Black Watch

    The 1st Black Watch was ordered to clear up the wooded area to the south along the railway line and capture the Hassum Station. This in order to deepen the bridgehead and protect the flank of the subsequent attacks of the Guards towards Hassum and the 152 Brigade towards Asperden later that evening. The plan was to advance quite simply south along the main road with one Coy on each side of the road; 'A' Coy to the left and 'C' Coy to the right. Each was to clear up half of the wooded area thus divided by the road whilst 'C' Coy, as right-hand Coy, would clear up the station area by swinging left and linking with 'A' Coy. 'C' Coy was supported by a Troop of Crocodiles from 'A' Squadron the 1st Fife and Forfar Yeomanry, whilst 'A' Coy on the left had a Troop of Churchill tanks in support. As the engineers still labored to complete the bridge at Kessel the Crocodiles had to go around the long way, like the tanks had done the previous day, by Gennep and Hommersum. They joined the 1st Black Watch in the morning of Feb 16th, at 09:00 hours.

    H-hour for the operation was 17:00 hours.

    As a preliminary 'B' Coy, at 15:30 hours, advanced and secured a firm base in the north west edge of the woods, on the right of the road, by infiltrating there by means of the German trench system which wound across the open country. At the same time the mortar platoon covered the left flank by screening it with smoke. At 17:00 hours a tremendous concentration came down on the woods and Hassum Station for nearly half an hour. The Coys advanced as close behind it as possible and then went in. At 17:35 hours the Black Watch had reached their objectives and the Crocodiles came up and had a very successful shoot. Their flames and the 1st Black Watch produced a number of 122 POWs with almost no casualties of their own. Besides the usual paratroopers of the FJ Regt 20, there were also a number of men from the Fusilier Battalion 180 among the POWs taken at Hassum Station, a hint that yet another battalion had been taken from the Meuse frontline to reinforce the wavering FJ Regt.

    Unfortunately heavy shelling came down particularly in 'A' Coy's area and both Major Donald Molteno, who had just rejoined the Battalion after being wounded in Africa, and Capt. Robert Walton, the Coy CO, and 2 O.R.s were killed; Lieutenant Oughtred and Lieutenant Liddell and 13 men were wounded. One of the wounded, Pte George Mudd, later succumbed to his injuries.

    The 1st Black Watch lost the following men fallen in this action:
    1. BIRD, LEONARD ERIC, Private, 5388509, 16 February 1945, Age 27, REICHSWALD FOREST WAR CEMETERY 60. B. 16.
    2. DOIG, THOMAS THOMSON, Private 2766397, 16 February 1945, Age 22, REICHSWALD FOREST WAR CEMETERY 60. G. 18.
    3. MOLTENO, DONALD IAN, Major, 88003, 16 February 1945, Age 27 REICHSWALD FOREST WAR CEMETERY 60. B. 13.
    4. MUDD, GEORGE HENRY,Private, 3782932, 16 February 1945, Age 38, REICHSWALD FOREST WAR CEMETERY 60. G. 15.
    5. WALTON, ROBERT CYRIL, Captain, 229275, 16 February 1945, Age 25, REICHSWALD FOREST WAR CEMETERY 60. G. 19.

    Hassum Station Map.jpg

    Hassum Station 1.jpg
    The wooded area that was cleared by 'A' Coy as seen from the south from the Maasstrasse, directly opposite Hassum Station at point 14.7 on the above map. 'A' Coy suffered several casualties by heavy shellfire.

    Hassum Station.jpg
    Hassum Station still exists though the railway line, know as Boxteler Bahn which connected the Dutch town of Boxtel with Wesel, has long since disappeared. This picture was taken at the Güterweg looking west. The railway line ran at the back of these buildings and is marked by the high trees in the background.
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2019
  20. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Night attack on Hassum (1st Welsh Guards)

    The next operation was a night attack by the 1st Welsh Guards on Hassum. Preparations for this attack started in the afternoon when the battalion moved forward from its positions captured on the 14th in the wooded area to the SE of Gennep. As the battalion moved across the bridge at Homemrsum it was shelled. Two men were killed and four wounded by this shellfire (one of the wounded later succumbed to his injuries). The battalion then dug in forward of Hommersum, still held by the Irish Guards, and started forward again at 03:00 hours in the morning of the 17th under cover of an artillery barrage. The advance was assisted by artificial moonlight and fighter bombers had bombed Hassum during the previous afternoon.

    Everything went well. The "moonlight" enabled the infantry to move quickly, wireless communications worked admirably, the barrage was most effective, and they reached their objective without casualties. Choosing discretion rather than valour, the enemy heavily reduced in strength, left the remains of Hassum to the Welsh Guards. The Guards entered the devastated village at 05:30 hours Hassum without opposition and at 06:20 reported that they were firm. Only a few despondent POWs and civilians emerged from the ruins. The capture of the town was followed by the usual retaliatory fire which caused a few casualties among the Welsh Guards.

    The advance to Hassum was not without hazards as the recommendation of Major William D.D. Evans' MC demonstrates. Major Evans was in charge of the leading Coy of the Welsh Guards:

    Evans 1 WG Hassum 17.2.jpg

    The approach to Hassum from the west is completely open and flat, without any cover for the infantry. The night attack offered the Welsh Guards at least some visual cover.

    Kendel Brook at Hassum.jpg
    The Kendel Brook at Hassum as seen from the small bridge at the southern end of the village.

    The 1st Welsh Guards lost the following men fallen at Hassum:
    1. DAVIES, PATRICK GORDON, Guardsman 2738563, 16 February 1945,Age 19, MOOK WAR CEMETERY II. D. 17.
    2. HOPKIN, ALWYN JOHN, Guardsman 2739345, 16 February 1945, MOOK WAR CEMETERY II. D. 16.
    3. STENSON, MICHAEL JAMES, Lance Corporal 2738976, 16 February 1945, Age 25, MILSBEEK WAR CEMETERY II. B. 2.

    Hassum crater.jpg
    A bulldozer at work on a large crater caused by an aerial bomb in Hassum. The place was utterly devastated and yielded only a few dazed POWs. (Photo - © IWM B-14762)
    Last edited: Aug 15, 2020
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