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Of Polar Bears and Imps: An unpublished folio of notes compiled by Tom Anderton.

Antwerp-Turnhout Canal and the Northern Front

The German failure to, stop the Canadians crossing the Albert Canal convinced General Otto Sponheimer of the 67th Corps that he must pull back without delay to the next main obstacle, the Antwerp-Turnhout Canal. When the newly arrived 49th Division crossed the Albert Canal at Herenthals, they were unopposed.


On the right the 49th Division’s reconnaissance regiment found a place where the Antwerp-Turnhout Canal could easily be bridged. Major-General E.H.Barker, the Divisional Commander, ordered a diversionary attack some two kilometres away from the site which absorbed the enemy's attention while a bridge was being built. Next day six of his battalions were across the canal and were enlarging the bridgehead in spite of enemy counter-attacks in which some 800 prisoners were taken.


To the west, the 2nd Division had not fared so well. Two attempts by the 6th Brigade to cross the Antwerp-Turnhout Canal in the area of Lochtenberg were unsuccessful. 2 Corps Headquarters could do nothing to help. Indeed, with its four divisions fighting as far apart as Boulogne and Antwerp, it was well nigh impossible for them to influence all their operations.


On 26 September, at Simonds’ suggestion, Crerar made 1st British Corps responsible for operations in the Antwerp area and placed the 2nd Canadians and Polish Armoured Divisions under their command. With the 49th, Crocker now would have three divisions to drive the last of the enemy from Antwerp and to cut the base of the South Bevekand Peninsular.


Like most of his troops, Crerar had been attacked by dysentry – ‘the Normandy Glide’ - but his had not responded to the usual drugs. After weeks of fighting this debilitating affliction, the Army Commander bowed to the advice of the Medical Corps and agreed to return to England for diagnosis and treatment. He left on 27 September having appointed General Guy Simonds to replace him during his absence. Charles Foulkes took command of 2nd Corps while Brigadier Holley Keefler, in turn, became acting commander of the 2nd Division. These changes had no small influence, on the subsequent operations on the Scheldt.


The day that Crerar left, Montgomery issued new orders to his army commanders. 'The major task of the (Second) Army will be to operate strongly with all available strength from the general area Nijmegen-Gennep against the N.W. corner of the Ruhr.' Of the First Canadian Army he wrote, 'The right wing of the Army will thrust strongly northwards on the general axis Tilburg-Hertogenbosch and so free the Second Army from its present commitment to a long left flank facing west. This thrust should be on a comparatively narrow front and it is important that it should reach s’Hertogenbosch, as early as possible'.


The British Official History commented:- ‘Gen. Crerar had intended to seal off South Beveland by pushing two divisions of 1 Corps up to Bergen op Zoom and to Roosendaal, a short distance east of Bergen’. But as s'Hertogenbosch was some forty miles east of Roosendaal, Montgomery's new orders would result in the 1st Corps divisions being sent off at a tangent and, as will be seen, the operations due north of Antwerp suffered accordingly.


Simonds had no alternative but to order Crocker to direct the Poles and the 49th Division to the north-east. Montgomery was still giving the operations to open Antwerp a low priority in 21st Army Group. Even First Candian Army could not bring all its resources to bear on the task for now one of its corps was directed from the scene. The Poles would not take Bergenop Zoom - the 2nd Division alone would seal off the South Beveland Peninsular.


To understand what happened next, it is necessary to look outside the boundaries of First Canadian Army.


When Antwerp fell to the British on 4 September, Hitler ordered his forces in the West to hold 'Walcheren Island' the bridgehead at Antwerp and the Albert Canal positions as far as Maastricht. East of Antwerp there was no organised force ready to respond to the Fuhrer's call, only the remnants of defeated units in full retreat towards the Fatherland. It is doubtful that General Kurt Chill knew of the order to hold the Albert Canal when he made up his mind to defend it, but he recognized its strategic importance. Of more immediate significance, it offered an easily recognizable obstacle along which retreating units could be halted to regain their cohesion and to delay the Allied advance. At bridges over the canal, he posted staff officers backed by military police to sort the weary and bewildered survivors of the Normandy battles into units, which were then turned to face their advancing enemy. So was born 'Battle Group Chill'.


On 6 September Second Army resumed its advance north-east, from Brussels and Louvain toward Arnhem and immediately ran into stiff resistance along the Albert. Canal. In the days which followed, the Guards Armoured Division, leading the advance was slowed by stubborn rearguards and counter-attacks as they forced their way forward to cross the next main obstacle, the Eacaut Canal. It was soon evident that Chill's improvised battle group had won enough time for units of the 15th and 1st Parachute Armies to organize a shaky defensive line running east from Antwerp to the Maas. Their headlong retreat had ended.


On 17 September the German front was shattered. American and British airborne divisions landed behind it at Eindhoven, Crave, Nijmegen and Arnhem whilst Horrock's 30th Corps drove north-eastwards through them, bound for a crossing over the Rhine. Ten days later this bold thrust was brought to a halt just short of complete success when the gallant remnants of the British 1st Airborne Division were overwhelmed by German tanks at Arnhem.


By then the bulk of the Second Army had moved forward to give weight to the thrust, and to protect the two 55-ruile-long flanks of the salient which had its apex north of Nijmegen. From both sides the Germans attacked to cut off the British and American divisions but were thrown back. Montgomery's spearhead was close to the Rhine. To cross it and advance into Germany remained his primary objective.


On 26 September, when John Crocker's 1st Corps was made responsible for operation; in the Antwerp area, the 2nd Canadian and 49th (West Riding) Divisions were fighting, along the Turnhout Canal. Their right joined the 53rd Division of Second Army east of Turnhout. Ten miles further to the east, that division's front turned to the north at the base of the Nijmegen Salient.


Opposite them von Zangen's 15th Army which had escaped across the Scheldt, faced the Canadians and British from Antwerp to Nijmegen. Many of its units had been nearly destroyed but its brain and nervous system - commanders, staffs and communications - were largely intact. With desperate efficiency, they strove to counter the threat to the Rhine, whilst holding grimly to their fortress of the Scheldt.


By now no one in First Canadian Army was under any illusions about the enemy’s capacity to fight. Though short, of equipment, under strength and often with untrained boys in their ranks, many German units showed a determination and willingness to press home a counter-attack which could be disconcerting. The War Diary of the 5th Brigade, speaking of the battle for the Albert Canal noted, ‘this was the first time our troops had met the enemy using bayonets'.


The first result of the new command arrangements in the Antwerp area came when Crocker ordered the 2nd Division to stop its attacks near Lochtenberg and cross the Antwerp-Turnhout Canal through the bridgehead established by the 49th. Swinging westward, they took St. Leonard on the 26th September, but Brecht - more heavily defended - did not fall till the 1st October.


The Poles and the 49th Division, which Crocker had ordered to break out of the bridgehead to the north-east, immediately ran into heavy opposition. Three kilometres west of Herxplas the attack of 146th Brigade got off to a bad stsrt. Its right-hand battalion was late in crossing the start line for an attack on the Depot de Mendicite, enabling the enemy to concentrate is full lire on the troops attacking on the left. This was C Company of the Hallamshire Battalion of the York and Lancaster Regiment, who were protecting the left flank of the main assault.


Unaware of the strength of the enemy, the company was advancing with one platoon forward, it in turn being led by a section of six men commanded by Corporal John Harper.


The Depot was a natural defensive position being surrounded by an earth wall about 13 feet high backed by a wide road and a moat about 30 feet wide, Before it there was not a vestige of cover for more than 300 metres on the dead flat ground.


There was no sign of life from the enemy until the leading section came within 50 yards of the wall. Suddenly a hail of mortar bombs and small arms fire burst upon the advancing troops. Harper's section rushed the enemy, on the near side of the wall, and there were pinned down by fire from both flanks and by grenades thrown from over the wall. His platoon commander, attempting to get forward, was badly wounded and Harper took charge of the platoon. Looking back, he could see the rest of his company pinned to the ground. The attack was on the point of failure. Looking up the steep slope of the wall, he could see spurts of dust where a machine gun was raking the top. A stick grenade flew across and exploded a few yards away. He could at least reply to that.


Angrily he pulled the pin from a 36 grenade, tossed it over the wall, then followed it with two more. By the time the third one had burst, he had scrambled up the wall and was firing at the enemy on the far side, Three of them dropped, four threw up their hands in surrender, while several ran and dived into the moat and began swimming to the far side. Harper dropped his rifle, picked up an enemy light machine gun and shot them as they swam.


He brought his prisoners over the wall, which was still under fire, then returned across it to look for a way to cross the moat. Not finding one, in spite of bullets ricocheting from it, he crossed the wall again, gave orders to his section, climbed back on to the wall and covered them across with fire from a Bren gun, then occupied the abandoned enemy position.


Corporal Harper then left the comparative safety of a German weapon pit and once more walked alone along the moat for about 200 metres in full view of the enemy, to find a crossing place. Eventually he made contact with the battalion attacking on his right and found they had located a ford. Back he came across the open ground and on the way to report to his company commander he was hit by a rifle bullet and died on the bank of the moat.


Later it became known that the battalion on the right were only able to cross the ford with the help of fire from Harper's platoon.


His citation for the Victoria Cross acknowledged that the success of his brigade's attack on the Depot de Menuicite, 'can thus be fairly attributed to the outstanding bravery of Corporal Harper'.


The Poles now spearheaded the 1st Corps advance up the railway line from Turnhout toward Tilburg with the West Riding Division supported by tanks of the Sherbrooke Fusiliers, keeping pace on both their flanks. Ahead of them, Typhoons and Spitfires of 84 Group RAF criss-crossed the axis of advance looking for targets.


On 3rd October Field-Marshall Gerd von Rundstedt received one of those reminders from above which field commanders find so irritating. The Chief of Operations at OKW, Col-General Jodl, wrote that if the early opening of the Scheldt, which was obviously vital to the allies, was to be prevented, the line Antwerp-Tilburg-s'Hertogenbosch must be held to the last. The British, Canadians, and Poles could attest that Rundstedt had already reached that conclusion. That day he cancelled a projected attack by Battle Group Chill on the Nijmegen salient, which he considered less important than holding Tilburg. Instead he ordered it to join 67th Corps and drive back 1st Corps who had now taken Baarle Nassau. The battle group formed around the nucleus of Chill's depleted 65th Division, now contained remnants of the 8th and 89th Divisions, the Herman Goering Replacement Regiment and the highly trained and well-equipped 6th Parachute Regiment.


Like other formations of First Canadian Army, the Poles were suffering the effects of the heavy casualties to their infantry earlier in the campaign. The few replacements which came forward were poorly trained. When, on the 6th, Chill's battle group and 719 Division made a concentric attack, the Poles gave no ground but they lost heavily in both tanks and men. Later, trying to advance against vender Heydte's paratroops, their infantry and tanks seemed to have lost their earlier skill in working together. Without mutual support, Polish tanks were knocked out by 88s at close range, while their unsupported infantry were cut down by Spandau fire.


On 7 October 1st Corps was halted for a reorganisation of the front, the 2nd Canadian Division returned to 2nd Corps, whilst Crocker gained the British 7th Armoured and 51st Highland Divisions, together with an extension to his overlong 15 mile front.


Gradually the emphasis on opening the approaches to Antwerp was increasing. On 9 October Montgomery ordered First Canadian Army to give priority, above all other operations, to opening the port, though it was still to protect Second Army's flank. Two infantry divisions, the 52nd (Lowland) and the American 104th, which were due to arrive in the theatre shortly, would be available to help. Though they would speed the process, the Scheldt operations had still not been given absolute priority in 21st Army Group, over the projected attack on the Ruhr.


A few days later, Eisenhower recognised that 21st Army Group could not deal with both operations and gave the responsibility to General Omar Bradley. Immediately Montgomery told his army commanders that henceforth the opening of Antwerp would have 'complete priority over all other offensive operations in 21st Army Group, without any qualification whatsoever'.


No longer would First Canadian Army be responsible for Second Army’s flank, but would use all its force to free Antwerp. Moreover, Dempsey's Army would now close its other offensive operations and drive westwards toward Breda, both to take the weight off Simonds’ right flank and with the Canadians, attempt to trap the enemy south of the River Maas.


Freed of his commitment to Dempsey, Simonds now directed 1st British Corps to change its axis of advance to the north and west. The 4th Canadian Armoured Division would cut off the enemy facing the 2nd Division by taking Bergen op Zoom. The 49th Division and the Poles, joined by the 104th US Infantry Division, would drive northward to the Maas.


In the grey early light of 20 October General Crocker watched the 49th Division starting from Brecht toward Wuestwezel. The men of the veteran formation which had been fighting since D-Day in Normandy, looked surprisingly youthful - and many were -young soldiers who had replaced the casualties of earlier battles and now were moving into danger. Inevitably some would die, though few of them believed that they would be among that number. But their commanders knew and, having done their best to ensure that the number would be as small as possible, tried to put the thought from their minds. They seldom entirely succeeded. Yet it was their duty not to show openly the inward price they paid for their responsibility.


That day to John Crocker's emotional account as a commander was added the price of being a father when his own son was killed in action.


On the right of the Corps, the 49th Division advanced steadily through Wuestwezel toward Breda. As they approached the historic Dutch city, they were strongly attacked by the German 245 Division. The attack was beaten off with heavy casualties to the enemy. But so strong had their reactions been that it was apparent that the Germans, saw the northward advance as a dangerous threat.


And so they did. With the failure of the Arnhem operation, Runstedt's intelligence staff predicted that the Allies would now thrust north across the Maas into Holland, then eastwards into Germany.


Crocker ordered the 49th to change its next objective from Breda to Roosendaal, further west, thereby helping the 4th Armoured Division which had run into heavy opposition and making room for the Americans to be brought into the line. On 23 October, the US 104th (Timberwolf) Division joined First Canadian Army. Simonds assigned it to 1st British Corps to help in clearing the enemy from south of the River Maas.


With four divisions under command, Crocker's 1st Corps now had sufficient strength to clear the enemy from the Lower Maas. On 27 October the Polish Armoured Division and the Second Canadian Armoured Brigade advanced toward Breda. The 104th US Infantry Division, on their left, in their first battle, took Zundert, and the 49th was approaching Roosendaal, while the 4th Canadian Armoured Division had entered Bergen Op Zoom. Two days later the Poles were clearing Breda in house-to-house fighting and the 4th Division had captured Bergen.


The German 15th Army operating under instructions from Hitier, was again in danger of being destroyed. Second Army advancing west, had taken Tilburg and the enemy's line from Bergen op Zoom to Breda and s'Hertogenbosch had been broken. Von Runstedt asked for permission to withdraw behind the River Waal, the main stream of the Lower Rhine. Hitler ordered him to stand fast, but the old field marshall was determined not to lose the 15th Army if he could avoid it. He ordered them to pull back to the line of the River Mark and its canal.


Crocker now instructed the Poles, with 2nd Armoured Brigade under command, to drive hard for the vital Maas bridges at Moerdijk, the Americans to swing north-west to the River Mark at Standdaurbuiten, the 49th Division to secure the route northward from Roosendaal and the 4th Division (Armoured) to advance through Steenbergen to the coast of the estuary.


By the end of the month, despite hard fought actions, neither the Poles nor the Americans had succeeded in securing a bridge-head over the Mark. Every attempt to do so had been met by prompt and effective counter attacks. But by now Hitler had authorised the 15th Army to make a deliberate withdrawal, adding that if the Moerdijk bridges fell intact into Allied hands the commander of its strong covering forces would pay with his head.


On 2 November the 45th and 104th Divisions, supported by bomb and racket attacks of 84 Group, crossed the Mark. On the 6th, as the Poles and Americans closed in on Moerdijk, the Germans blew the great road and railway bridges across the estuary. The Poles finally cleared the last Germans from south of the river on 9 November.


Map - Northern Front, 16 October - 10 November 1944

 

Of Polar Bears and Imps - Index - Top of This Page

Watch and Wait

"The patrol killed three of the enemy and took three prisoners." Reading those official and familiar words most people would comment: "Nothing unusual; the chief job of a patrol is to get information and prisoners". Usually this demands curiosity and activity; but not long ago a patrol of one of our battalions - 4th Lincolns, achieved this objective by just waiting and then acting at exactly the right moment.


It was a standing patrol, ordered to take up its position in a house 1,000 yards ahead of the FDLs and protect the company positions against any Bosche infiltration.


With his six men the NCO in charge, got settled in the house, making sure he was in touch with his company commander by telephone. At about 2200 hours a Bosche patrol was seen to approach and enter the house next door. The Bosche was after information too, checking up on our forward positions. The NCO saw his chance. He told his men to hold their fire until the Bosche got right close up. They watched and waited. Meanwhile the company commander was kept in touch with events by phone. Presently the voice of the NCO told him: "They're coming. They're 30 yards away; now 20; now 10. The leading man is walking over the plank bridge into the house". When the Bosche was 7 yards away, the standing patrol 'let them have it'. Of the enemy patrol of eight men, three were killed, three taken prisoner, and the remaining two got away. A voice came from the darkness saying, "Yankee soldier, don't shoot".


The standing patrol withdrew at the appointed time, having suffered no casualties; and complete with prisoners.

 

Of Polar Bears and Imps - Index - Top of This Page

4 Lincolns Activities for the Month of February 1945

The first nine days of the month found the Battalion at rest on the south side of the WAAL. The rest period was unfortunately somewhat broken up for the rifle companies had to find guards at supply depots and D Company had to return to the 'Island' for a short period to plug a gap. The area chosen for the rest was not altogether a quiet one, as buzz bombs streamed overhead and the enemy took a dislike to the local church and shelled it at intervals. However, there were no casualties and the Battalion was able to do a bit of training and cleaning up. A cadre was held for junior and potential NCOs and a couple of dances were run. On the whole it made a good change and everyone was delighted to be off the 'Island' for a while.


On 9th February, the Battalion returned to the line on the 'Island'. We were to hold a very wide stretch of front, most of which by this time was heavily flooded. The accommodation in this sector was however, good and the first days were spent in putting the defences to our liking, strengthening the wire, etc. Very little was known about the enemy on this front as, like us, he had been forced to modify his dispositions through the floods. Foot patrolling was impossible and patrolling by night was considered too difficult owing to the strong current and the absence of landmarks in the flood water.


To build up the picture, therefore, it was decided to send out boat patrols by day, either at first light or in misty weather, to lie up in houses in No Mans Land and try and get observation of the enemy from these. Some 3000 yards of flood water separated our forward Companies from the enemy troops. The first step therefore, was to set up an advanced base for patrolling. A Platoon of C Company under Lieutenant W Hill MC was therefore established some 1000 yards in front of our Forward Defence Lines (FDLs). The route to it was all under water and the position consisted of a wooden house, which rocked uncomfortably in the current, with a large brick barn behind.


On the day it was installed, a patrol of three men was sent forward 1000 yards to search a particular house. On its return, when it was about some 200 yards from the platoon position, a party of eight Bosche was seen approaching through the mist; Lance Sergeant (L/Sgt) Stevens, who was in charge, shouted to them to surrender. This they considered for a minute, apparently decided against it and started to make off, firing a few shots as they went. L/Sgt Stevens patrol replied quickly and accurately with bursts of Bren. The first burst caught the Germans fair and square and they were seen to fall into a heap into the bottom of the boat, emitting the most fearful shrieks and groans. Burst after burst was fired into the boat, which by now had been caught in the strong current and was unfortunately carried away before the bodies, which no doubt contained useful identification, could be retrieved. However, it would appear that all the enemy were either killed or wounded and it was a most encouraging baptism for the new platoon position.


On 17th February a section was sent out at dawn to lie up in a house, some 300 yards from the NEDER RHINE. The patrol was led by L/Sgt Hibbard of B Company. They arrived at the house in the mist of the early morning. The bottom storey of the house was under water. The patrol commander went upstairs to have a look around, while the remainder pulled the boat into the house to hide it from enemy eyes, making some noise in doing so. As he looked out of the window, the patrol commander to his surprise, saw a party of 12 Bosche standing-to in the next house some 100 yards away. He warned the rest of the patrol, who followed him silently upstairs, where they spent the rest of the day observing the movement of the enemy. They appeared to have no suspicions of this unwelcome attention, for they paraded openly around the house, brewed up tea and one produced a new pair of trousers to the obvious admiration of his fellows. Most valuable tactical information was also obtained, together with the exact siting of the enemy weapons within the house. The patrol throughout was in wireless communication by 38 set with the Patrol Base and the Company Commander was able to receive a running commentary throughout the day. However, it was a tense and tiring day for the patrol. They could only cough when a buzz bomb went over and to talk had to put their heads under the straw. When evening came, however, they withdrew successfully to the Patrol Base.


On 20th February, a similar patrol entered a farm and to their surprise found it already occupied by two Bosche. These, it transpired, had been sent out a fortnight before to try and find some food for their Company. They had got safely to the farm but decided to spend the night there. When they awoke, they found the floods had come up and they were cut off. They had lived during the fortnight on flood water and odd bits of vegetable that they had found round the farm. It need not be stressed that they welcomed the arrival of their captors.


Other similar patrols were also sent out which together built up a very accurate picture of the enemy's defences. All this knowledge was put to good account. B and C Companies both had good observation from their positions and were able to direct destructive artillery shoots on to the houses which the enemy were seen to be occupying. Lieutenants H.V. Burns and W. Hill MC had particularly good shoots and managed to put seven shells through the roof and one through the window of one enemy occupied house, which must have been unpleasant for the defenders.


The house in which L/Sgt Hibbard and his patrol had observed the enemy was engaged by the Air OP firing Mediums, until they had to stop firing because the target was obscured by a cloud of red dust. It is to be feared that the new pair of trousers had not escaped damage.


During the month C Company moved further forward nearer the enemy to obtain better observation. This was successful, as a lot of enemy movement was seen and engaged by artillery and machine gun fire. However, the position was very open and movement had to be cut to a minimum during daylight. This was perhaps not much hardship as they were completely surrounded by water.


On 17th February, the Battalion was visited by Field Marshal Sir Bernard L Montgomery. A very good guard was supplied by Support Company a feat all the more creditable as the Battalion was in the line. The C-in-C talked to a lot of troops and then addressed them on the war situation. He was not quite so optimistic about its speedy end as we had all hoped. He also asked the gathering if they were satisfied with the leave allotment and seemed amused by the shouts of dissent from the back of the hall. He was given a great welcome by the Battalion and seemed to be delighted with all he saw.


During the month Major BHT Barlow-Poole MC left to become Second in Command 1/4 KOYL1 (King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry) in the same Brigade. Major CE Corben took over A Company from him and Captain P Francis was appointed D Company Commander.


The battle of the Scheldt - October/November 1944

 

Of Polar Bears and Imps - Index - Top of This Page

Skirmishes at Groenewoud, a farm in the Nijmegen 'Island' - Early March 1945.

By Ferdinand van Hemmen.

In September 1944 the Allied attempt to reach the Ruhr area from North Belgium through Eindhoven, Nijmegen, and Arnhem failed to come off. The offensive with the code-name ‘Market Garden’ came to a standstill in the Upper-Betuwe in the last week of September. For some time after that fierce fighting took place in this area, where the Allies had established a solid bridgehead across the river Waal, but by the middle of October the clashes became less vehement, and a static front line ensued. Although neither the Germans nor the Allies regarded the bridgehead any longer as of primary importance, it still remained of considerable interest for the latter, as it might be used at some time or other as a spring-board for a major assault on Germany, a menace of which the enemy was well aware. Exploiting this German fear of an assault launched from the Upper-Betuwe, the Allies in the meantime tried to tie down strong German unit to the bridgehead by means of an unremitting aggressive defence. When the Germans found that they lacked the power to avert this threat by force of arms, they resorted to inundation. On December 2nd, at a moment that the rivers were exceptionally high, German engineers blew up the dykes of the Lower Rhine to the south west of Arnhem, the water rapidly over-running the Upper-Betuwe.


Afraid of being separated by the rising water from their rear-echelons the Allies shifted a great part of their front line to the higher grounds in the middle and the south of the region, between the Lower Rhine and the Waal, which some of them called the ‘Nijmegen Island’. The Germans availed themselves of this receding move of their adversary, and re-occupied the villages of Driel, Randwijk and Heteren south of the Lower Rhine. As an additional result of the deluge the troops were faced with quite a few fresh problems. All sorts of vessels had to be put on, both for patrolling and supplying the advanced posts in the flooded no-man's land. These activities were especially hampered by strong currents and numerous under-water obstacles, which could damage the light canvas boats. Nerve-wracking for the patrolling soldiers was the sense of extreme vulnerability as they were sitting closely together in their boats, making an easy target for the enemy. Moreover it seemed to the rowing crews as if "the splash of our oars must carry for ten miles". Though the flood-water level in the Upper-Betuue during the 1945 frost period had dropped considerably, the beginning thaw in the second week of February changed the scenery back again into a boundless expanse of water. In that period two battalions of the English 49th WR Infantry Division, whose task it had been since December 1944 to defend the Waal bridgehead, were stationed opposite the German positions near the village of Driel. At Elst and surroundings there was a battalion of the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry and in the Valburg/Lienden section, a battalion of the Lincolnshire Regiment. For the latter two units February was to be a time of trying hardships. On the 12th, boats were sent out in the daytime to patrol the area north of the Linge, a little stream that roughly constituted the dividing line between the combatants, in order 'to discover depths to which the enemy had withdrawn owing to Flooding’.


In addition to this, 146 Brigade, to which the Yorkshire and Lincolnshire Regiments belonged, had received orders about this time to exert extra pressure on the enemy in support of the Allied Rhineland offensive, which had begun on February 8th. Thus the Allies hoped to prevent the Germans from withdrawing troops from the Upper-Betuwe front in order to reinforce their defence of the Rhineland.


So it happened that in the second week of February units of 146 Brigade set out, through practically impassable terrain, for objectives far north of the Linge. These patrols started either from Elst, following the Hollanderbroek Steet in the direction of Driel, or from Valburg along the Homoetse Street towards Heteren. An impression of the exceptional circumstances of the operation is given in the account of Lt/Col. G. Barker Harland, who was in command of the unit that moved towards Driel. According to Harland the soldiers could not proceed with their boats on the deeper water on account of the danger of being swept along by the strong east-west current. So they had to stick to the relatively higher roads, which were about one metre under the water. Struggling against the powerful current, and cautiously exploring every foot of the invisible road they navigated their assault boats, loaded with rations and equipment, through the icy water. And there was the unremitting fear of discovery by Germans hiding in the neighbourhood as any movement faster than dead-slow caused, the water to swish loudly. In the course of these actions the Lincolns and KOYLIs managed to establish posts close to the advanced German positions at Heteren and Driel, with the intention of intensively patrolling from there, towards the enemy, and of taking observations on behalf of the Allied artillery in their rear. It was not only the forces of nature that hampered the English efforts, but also the skills of the enemy, who in spite of limited resources had organised a formidable defence in the Heteren-Driel area. The English were confronted by a number of companies of the Festungs-Maschinen-Gewehr-battalion 46, who were under the command of the 2nd Fallschirmjager Division, which was responsible for the entire Upper-Betuwe sector. The headquarters of the battalion were, at Oosterbeek, the various companies having taken up positions south of the Lower Rhine. The third company, which lay in and around Driel, had put up its Gefechtsstand (command post) in the cellar of a house in the village. The unit was supported by the artillery of the 2nd. Fallschirm-Artillerie-regiment, which had spread its guns throughout the higher and densely wooded fringe of the Veluwe, thus concealing them from English observation. Furthermore, the German defence could rely on fire support from a mortar unit. The Germans had a good survey of the country-side south of Driel, both from the higher Veluwe bank and from a church tower in the village, which had two apertures commanding the south-west. By means of telephone lines and/or radio connections the Germans in the outposts, south of Driel could get into contact with the command-post of their company.


During the British actions in February neither the English sources nor the very scanty German ones make mention of any activities at an abandoned farm, referred to by the troops as 'Groenewoud'. Actually this is the name of the locality, the farm itself being called 'Fikkersdries.' It was situated to the south-west of Driel, at the end of a country lane, its only connection with the village. The site consisted of a dwelling-house, flanked on the west, by a large barn and a wooden shed. To the east, south and southwest there were orchards, which must have obstructed the view towards Homoet, the English position.


'Groenewoud' was rather an isolated location between the roads along which the KOYLIs and Lincolns operated during the action described above. Although they could have had an excellent, view of Driel and surroundings the English had preferred not to send any patrols to the farm during the high-water levels, probably because there was no direct communicating road to the south. The English patrols would then have been forced to approach the farm through unfordable terrain, where their-boats were at the mercy of the strong current. That this current was a formidable impediment for boat patrols was proved by the experience of some men of the Yorkshire, battalion. Powerless against the onset of the water they were swept from the Hollanderbroek Street to the position of the Lincolns in the west.


On February 26th, 1945, when the water level had been dropping for a short week the intensity of the English activities seemed to have abated a little. The war diary of the Yorkshire battalion for that day reads: 'Owing to floods subsiding it was decided to withdraw forward troops to a firm base'. This decision was founded on the circumstance that the forward units were in danger of unexpectedly losing the protection of the floods, which made the risk of keeping them too close to the enemy unacceptable. All the same, the Lincolns in particular remained remarkably active north of the Linge, for on March 2nd they operated even a little north of Homoet, D Company esconcing themselves in several houses at Homoet itself. The command post was established on the eminence of, and close to, the little church of the hamlet.


On March 4th, 1945, the Diary of the Lincolns makes mention of the safe return of a patrol which had spent the whole day in the house at Groenewoud, 'watching German troop movements to the south-west of Driel’. In the war-report Groenewoud is mentioned at a time that the water had apparently subsided to such a level that the site was accessible across terrain that was largely fordable. As the Diary does not report any hostilities it may be inferred that the farm was not in German hands. Presumably the Germans had refrained from taking possession of it for fear of a sudden attack from the roads to the east and the west of the buildings, for it is possible that they had not yet discovered that on February 27th already the Yorkshire battalion troops, that had been stationed near Driel, had been withdrawn some distance to the south.


But the English were to run a grave risk as well in trying to occupy 'Groenewoud' at 1900 hrs on March 5th a reconnaissance-guard patrol of the Lincolns set out for the farm, intending to stay there for three days. The outfit consisted of an officer and eleven men, supplemented by a carrying party of twelve men, who probably carried the extra requirements, such as rations and equipment, among which a field telephone, a range-finder and a mortar. Toiling along through a rainy and extremely dark night it was not until 0400 hrs that the entire patrol had taken up quarters in Groenewoud, which means that it had taken them nine hours to cover a distance of no more than a couple of miles, and get into position. The English unit at the farm was in radio communication with the command post of D Company at Homoet.


That very night the Lincolns met with disaster. In the evening hours while the English patrol was on its way to Groenewoud, the Germans had found that 'the hitherto observed enemy positions were occupied no longer’. Evidently they meant primarily a group of houses situated near Driel on the Hollanderbroek Street, from which the British might threaten a possible German occupation of Groenewoud, but which, as stated above, had already been evacuated by them for some time. When the German reconnaissance of its near surroundings provided no clue either, of Groenewoud being in enemy hands, they decided in the early hours of March 6th to send a patrol of twelve men to reconnoitre the farm and, if possible, to take possession of it. As a precaution against booby-traps the English might have left behind, they also took two mine-detectors. At a point in time when presumably the Lincolns were busily organizing the defence of their new outpost the German patrol managed to enter the farm-house unobserved. The Germans found the ground floor unoccupied but 'when searching the attic and the upper rooms Corporal Timm suddenly found himself face to face with a group of the enemy'. Without hesitation he roared "Hande hoch", managing to relieve one of the Lincolns of his weapon. By promptness of action, and assisted by a few comrades who, on hearing the shouting had rushed to his aid, he succeeded in forcing the surprised British soldiers to surrender. Thus the German reconnaissance patrol not only captured unexpected rich spoils, but also thirteen prisoners, who were bundled off to Driel without delay, as in the meantime dawn was breaking.


At that moment, the staff of D Company, were not yet aware that their plans regarding Groenewoud had been thwarted. Evidently when the English patrol was being captured they had not had an opportunity to send a distress signal. And so it happened that later on that day (March 6th) the British sent a line party to Groenewoud for the laying and maintenance of a telephone-line. At 2100 hrs they appeared in front of the farm, where meanwhile the German detachment had been reinforced to seventeen men. Taking them for an enemy relief party the Germans allowed them to approach to within fifteen paces. Then they called 'Hands up', and when the English soldiers didn’t comply they opened fire. Completely surprised at this unexpected confrontation the line-party retreated to Homoet, leaving behind three comrades, two dead and one a prisoner. Still the British at Homoet failed to appreciate the Groenewoud situation. In the night of March 6th-7th they attributed the shooting to a terrible mistake of their own men at the farm, since "the patrol there had not been informed of the line-party's arrival owing to breakdown in communication", however, this misconception was not to live much longer.


On March 7th the staff first gave evidence of their suspicions regarding the farm by despatching two snipers to it in order to identify the occupants. These two soldiers "had not been able to attract anyone though they had shouted several times". Probably the Germans wisely refused to react in order to keep the enemy guessing as to the true situation at their outpost.


Evidently the suspiciously profound silence at Groenewoud led the British to the conclusion that their remote strong-point must have fallen into enemy hands. At 0100 hrs in the morning of March 8th, a combat patrol of one officer and seventeen men set out "to destroy enemy in buildings and search for the missing patrol". The Germans at the farm noticed that at 0200 hrs the searchlights which normally provided the artificial moonlight over the forward area of the British frontlines were switched off. It was so dark now that visibility extended to only a few metres. For an hour utter silence had reigned in the area around the farm when whispered commands and furtive movements outside put the Germans into the highest state of alarm. A soldier of the English patrol stole up to about 60 yards from the farm-house and called out: "Are you there?", which remained unanswered. Then the patrol advanced some more and the challenge was repeated. Presently one of the German soldiers sent up a flare which put part of the grounds around Groenewoud into a flood of light, which revealed to the Germans that "the enemy was pushing forward towards the strong-point from the west, north-west and south-west. "When they observed that the British had advanced to within 50 metres the Germans opened fire with sub-machineguns and machine-guns. The Lincolns returned the fire with their Bren guns and other small arms. During the heavy shooting and under cover of darkness, several attackers managed to come close to the farm. At a certain moment, the large barn where the Germans had several machine-gun positions caught fire on all sides, the thatched part of its roof having been set on fire by tracer ammunition and the shed next to it having been attacked


with phospher hand-grenades and ‘Piat’ missiles. Furthermore a British phospher-grenade silenced a German machine-gun operating from a bunker to the south of the farmhouse. Its crew escaped unscathed. In the meantime, practically all the German defence posts in the barn, where the fire spread lustily, were in flames. Here only one machine-gunner could operate effectively, covering the orchards to the west and south-west. In spite of grim German resistance it was not long before also a second barn, presumably the wooden shed, had "caught fire and was ablaze".


At 0310 hrs the Germans at Groenewoud reported to their command post at Driel, that they were under attack from all sides. The company-commander then ordered his mortar unit to shield the farm towards the west, east and south by means of a barrage. After consultations with the staff of the Festungs-Maschinen-Gewehr battalion at Oosterbeek it was decided furthermore that the detachment at the farm was to retreat, if the inferno rendered a longer stay at the farm impossible, or if the escape route was in imminent danger of being cut off by the British. In addition the German artillery received orders to join in the struggle by laying a curtain-fire on the area south of the outpost. Presently the situation of the Germans, which had already grown precarious, became untenable, and the commanding officer of the company at Driel received a message that they "could no longer hold the post, as the fire was expanding at a frantic rate, and that therefore the house could no longer be held". On top of that all the defence posts had by that time been burnt out.


It was this plight, which eventually forced the German company-commander to order his men to withdraw to safer quarters. As soon as the last German had contrived to leave the outpost under cover of artillery and mortar fire, and had vanished into the darkness, and the English patrol had advanced some more the German barrage, assisted by machine-gun fire, was concentrated on Groenewoud itself. For the advancing Lincolns the course of events at the farm must have been shrouded in a mysterious atmosphere; the burning building with a profusion of exploding ammunition, the intensive German covering fire, and at the same time no enemy to be seen. Obviously the pandemonium of explosions and fire prevented the British from searching the farm buildings for any possible traces of the missing patrol, and so the mystery of its disappearance remained unsolved. At 0400 hrs the English combat-patrol had returned from its short, but vehement encounter with the enemy. It is surprising that during this skirmish there were no casualties on the German side (on the English side no mention is made of any losses).


After this climax the account of the events at Groenewoude must be broken off. How the fighting for the possession of the farm developed later in March is not quite clear. German sources supply information only about a very short period, viz, March 5th-8th. Nevertheless it is possible to give a broad outline of the events at the Driel front during the weeks that followed. Even before the middle of March the Lincolns and the KOYLIs were relieved by other troops of the 49th Division. For some weeks the front line south of Driel remained stationary mainly along the Linge. Owing to improved, weather conditions by the end of March the Upper-Betuwe region, which had hardly been passable for a long time, became more practicable for large-scale military operations, and the Allies began to build up an offensive force for the conquest of that part of the Upper-Betuwe that was still in German hands. On April 2nd English and Canadian units launched an attack with the code-name 'Destroyer'; in the course of a few days the entire Upper-Betuwe was in Allied, hands, Driel being one of the few places where the Germans resisted, but presently on April 3rd the Canadians succeeded in breaking the opposition. All the same two weeks passed before the village was beyond the line of fire.


The acts of war had played havoc, with Groenewoud. When the family returned they found the farm-house mainly intact, but the rest of the buildings were badly damaged, a disappointment which the owners of many a remote farm were to experience, often without being aware of what had taken place on their property. So the account of the events at Groenewoud may for them be representative of the complicated activities that befell quite a few isolated farms at the front of the Nijmegen 'Island'. It shows particularly the rivalry between the contending sides regarding the occupation of those farms in that flat no man's land which provided an observation post and offered shelter against the water, the cold and the shelling. Thus a theme has been brought to the fore that most literature after the description of the well-known events in September 1944 has hardly got down to, or not at all.


Map 1 - Nijmegen Island


Map 2 - Nijmegen Island

 

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Submarines on the Waal

At Nijmegen, bridges for road and rail, captured intact, span the Waal, the main stream of the lower Rhine. Beside them the British had laid a third across a row of barges, Almost ever; day the Germans tried, to destroy them by shelling or air attacks. At the end of September enemy frogmen, using mines, blew a gap of 80 feet in the road bridge which was soon repaired; and destroyed a span of that carrying the railway. In November and December they damaged the barge bridge by flouting mines down the stream.


At the end of November the 49th and 51st relieved, the troops on the Arnhem island. A few days later the Germans blew the river dyke and the railway embankment south of Arnhem, allowing water of the lower Rhine and the Waal to flood the low-lying farmland within two or three days much of the island was under three feet of water. As the floods extended, the few remaining civilians and livestock were evacuated, while the British withdrew to defensible positions closer to Nijmegen. Before dawn one morning while this movement was in progress, units of the 6th Parachute Division attacked the 49th about three miles upstrem from Nijmegen. At first they made some progress but a counter-attack drove back the enemy who left behind 60 dead and more than a hundred prisoners.


In January, 1945, the Germans made another attempt to destroy the Nijmegen road bridge. Late in the evening of 12 January Lt-Colonel Roger Rowley, of the Stormant, Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders, was called forward by Captain Jake Forman of C Company who mysteriously asked his Colonel to bring his artillery representative with him. When Rowley arrived forward, Forman led him to the river where, alongside a warehouse, on the opposite bank, they made out the shapes of two midget submarines. Men appeared to be loading them. Forman explained that he was moving two anti-tank guns into position arid given them instructions that, on his order, they would open fire with armour-piercing ammunition, followed by high explosive shells. He was confident that he could sink the two boats and didn't need any help from the artillery who would only claim the credit for it.


When eventually the submarines moved out into the stream, the anti-tank guns ended their part in what was a much larger enterprise. Other submarines were engaged that night by the 12th and 14th Field Regiments, Royal Canadian Artillery, but the scale of the operation only became known after the war. The Germans had launched 17 midget submarines, or 'Biber'. None of them reached the Nijmegen bridge. Eight members of their crews were lost.


Editors Note: This story was also related to us by by Ex-Sergeant Wally Hibbard: Submarines on the Waal (Wally Hibbard)

 

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Temporary Cemetery at Lent - 1945

Temporary Cemetery at Lent - 1945

 

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Arnhem and Beyond

West of the Ijssel and north of the Maas, the most densely populated area of Holland the Dutch people waited in quiet desperation for the arrival of their liberators. They were hungry and their inadequate rations were being steadily reduced. Each cut brought starvation closer. Tens of thousand had been shipped to Germany to concentration camps or as forced labour and those who remained were at the mercy of the ruthless Nazi occupiers of their country.


Their hatred for the 'rot-moffen', as they called the Germans, had been honed to killing point. Everywhere underground groups waited for the moment to rise and strike the enemy, yet everywhere there were collaborators who cooperated with the Germans.


There was little that the underground could do but plan, identity traitors and make life uncomfortable for the Germans. They took terrible risks to commit small acts of sabotage—the cutting of telephone lines or the polluting of enemy rations.


The Dutch could understand the logic - the military logic - which called for the Allies to throw their full strength behind a drive into Germany, but with every day which passed during the last long winter of the war their positions had grown worse, even more so since the Rhine was crossed on the 25 March. Surely the Allies realise how desperate their situation and come to their rescue before it was too late. Until then there was little but hope to sustain them.


Mercifully they did not know that the Allies had no immediate plans to liberate western Holland with its great cities of Rotterdam, Amsterdam and the Hague. Montgomery's orders to First Canadian Army on 25 march were to open up the supply route to the north through Arnhem and then to operate to clear north-east Holland, the coastal belt eastward to the Elbe, and west Holland. But he made it plain too Crerar that he hoped that the last task, which he regarded as a diversion 1 roc defeating the German armies in north-west, Europe—would be unnecessary.


To open the supply route north to Arnhem would involve both Canadian Corps. The 2nd, having taken Zutphen and Deventer, was to launch the 1st Division across the Ijssel. Twenty-four hours later, the 49th Division of 1st Corps would take Arnhem. Then these two divisions, operating together under Foulkes, would clear the road from Arnhem to Zutphen and seize enough territory to the west to secure it from German interference. As late as 2 April Crerar envisaged them using both Corps in the advanced into Germany.


In the meantime, before these operations could begin, the so called Arnhem island must be cleared.


Following the deliberate flooding by the Germans in December, the 49th Division held about half of this tongue of land between the lower Rhine and the Waal, in the form of a semicircular bridgehead north of Nijmegen. During the last week of March, the 5th Canadian Armoured Division took over the western hall of the perimeter from the 49th. Then on 2 April the two divisions swept forward together and met unexpectedly i. light resistance, for the most part artillery, tanks and fighter-bombers blew the opposition from the path of the advancing infantry. Everywhere mines, craters and road blocks gave trouble. The only real show of light on the part of the Germans occurred in the 5th Divisions sector after the Perth Regiment had taken Driel. There the veterans from Italy beat off two counter-attacks without much trouble. Early on 3 April men of the 146th Brigade crossed the Pannerdensch Canal (that stretch of the lower Rhine between its junctions with the Waal and the Ijssel) and seized Westervoort which lies east of the Ijssel less than two kilometres from Arnhem.


Preparations now began in earnest for the 49th Division’s attack on the town. It could not begin for at least a week until the 1st Canadian Division had crossed into western Holland.


In the past, few months the problem of taking Arnhem had been studied by every headquarters concerned - none more carefully than that of Major-General Rawlins 49th (West Riding) Division. The consensus was that the attack should begin with a crossing of the lower Rhine at one of two sites, 6 and 12 kilometres west of the town, followed by an advance up the north bank. When 1st Canadian Corps became responsible for the operation on 15 March, Foulkes and, his staff agreed to this concept and the day after the Arnhem island was cleared, the briefing of the battalions chosen for the assault began. Then things began to go wrong.


From the high ground on the north bank of the river, the Germans had a clear view over much of the island. A large smoke screen similar to those used for the Rhine crossing was laid along the river but air currents and shifting winds made it ineffective. At one point near Driel several infantry battalion commanders on reconnaissance were pinned down in the open by German machine-gun fire when the smoke shifted. When the town was later plastered by artillery fire, it was obvious that the enemy had spotted trucks dumping stores for the assault.


To Foulkes and his experienced staff it seemed likely that the enemy would now expect an attack west of Arnhem. The current plans were a recipe for disaster. On 7 April he ordered Rawlins to prepare to attack Arnhem from the east.


To regimental officers in the 49th Division, who had so recently been briefed on two alternative plans, the introduction of another indicated that the Canadian commander could not make up his mind. When the grumbling reached the ears of the veterans of the battles of the Italian river lines, the reactions varied from amusement to indignation. The most polite comment was that of the Chief Engineer: ‘Crossed more rivers than they've had hot dinners.’


Thirty kilometres to the north-east, at 4:50 p.m. on 11th of April, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry and the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada crossed the hundred-metre-wide Ijssel river in Buffaloes of the 4th Royal Tanks. They met little opposition and within 90 minutes both battalions had landed on the west bank. By the morning of the 13th when it once more came under command of 1st Corps, its leading elements were moving west, towards the city of Apeldoorn and attempting to open a route southward towards Arnhem.


There the 49th Divisions attack had begun at 10:40 p.m. the previous evening.


All day on the 12th RAF Spitfires and Typhoons strafed and rocketed the Arnhem defences. West of the city, enemy positions near the river were shelled by the Corps artillery, whereupon German guns retaliated on Driel and other nearby villages where an assault force might be concentrating. As darkness fell, the full weight of the Corps artillery switched to the south-east outskirts of Arnhem. When the 56th Brigade — South Wales Borderers, Gloucesters and Essex Regiment — crossed the Ijssel in Buffaloes they had little difficulty in seizing a bridgehead in the fringes of the town.


Early next morning soldiers near the crossing site at Westervoort were astounded to see a complete Bailey pontoon bridge being towed towards them from the direction of the lower Rhine. It had been prefabricated eight kilometres away near Doornenburg by the 12th Field Company, Royal Canadian Engineers. Rafts were already in operation when it arrived, carrying Crocodiles and the tanks of the Ontario Regiment. During the day the remainder of the Division crossed, into the town.


The second battle of Arnhem was not like the first. The enemy was neither as strong, as determined, nor as skilled, this time, and the British victory seemed easy by comparison. But street fighting of any kind is a dangerous and nerve-wracking business and no one who saw the wounded of the 49th Division or counted its dead would use the word 'easy' to describe their battle.


By the 14th, Arnhem was free of the enemy.


In the meantime, the suffering of the Dutch population began at last to affect military plans. It was learned that in western parts of Holland the daily ration for a civilian was less than that of a concentration camp inmate in Germany. This disquieting news had resulted in Montgomery's instructions to Crerar, on 5th April, to clear western Holland of the enemy. The orders were passed to 1st Corps.


On the 12th, when the 49th was crossing into Arnhem, Foulkes relieved the 5th Armoured on the island with a mixed force under the 1st Armoured brigade. From there it moved across the Rhine at Emmerich where it concentrated, ready to break out to the west through either of his two infantry divisions. As soon as these had cleared the Arnhem-Zutphen road, the Corps would strike west ward to the Hague, Rotterdam and Amsterdam.


While this regrouping was taking place, another change in orders was imposed by the Allied governments. Montgomery had pointed out that if the Germans chose to offer more than token resistance, an attack into densely populated western Holland must inevitably result in heavy civilian casualties. At the same time there were indications that Seyss-Inquart, the Rieichskommissar in Holland, might be prepared to allow relief supplies into the country.


Foulkes' orders were changed. He was to advance no further west than the Grebbe Line, a system of old Dutch field fortifications running from the south shore of the Ijsselmeer, east of Amersfoort to the lower Rhine. On 14th April he passed on these new instructions to his divisional commanders.


To the east of Apeldoorn, the 1st Division met unexpectedly strong resistance from the 361st Volksgrenadier Division. Both the 1st and 3rd Brigades were able to make only slow progress against its rearguard of infantry and self-propelled guns. Air reconnaissance and intelligence reports showed that the enemy intended to defend the line of the Apeldoorn Canal which runs roughly north and south through the city. During the night of 13/14 April an attempt to cross by a company of the Royal Canadian Regiment and a squadron of the 1st Hussars failed with the loss of two Shermans.


Major-General Harry Foster had no intention of making a direct assault on Apeldoorn. It was a friendly city, filled with refugees and I was not prepared to use artillery on it. He planned to hold the enemy garrison in its prepared positions by threatening an attack by the 1st Brigade while the 3rd crossed the Canal to the south and swung around to isolate the city.


During the afternoon of the 14th Charles Foulkes saw that the 49th Division's rapid success at Arnhem and the Germans stubborn resistance at Apeldoorn had presented him with an unexpected tactical opportunity. He ordered the 5th Armoured Division to advance at once with all speed, through Arnhem, north to the Ijsselmeer, thereby cutting the escape route to the west of the forces facing Foster at Apeldoorn. By early morning next day the Division had moved to the northern outskirts of Arnhem and was ready to attack. Their first task would be to break through the enemy's 346th Division and seize the high ground north of the town.


At first light, 6:30 a.m., the British Columbia Dragoons and the Princess Louise’s (New Brunswick) Hussars roared forward into the densely wooded sand hills. Tanks crashed through the trees, by-passing road blocks as they sped, towards their first objectives. The speed and direction of the advance took the Germans by surprise. At Deelen the Hussars captured the commander of the 858th Grenadier Regiment and his staff. Swinging towards the north-west Lord Strathcona's Horse passed through, heading for Otterloo. By nightfall they were on the outskirts of the town with the 8th Hussars harboured to the south-west. Late the next afternoon the Strathcona’s and the British Columbia Dragoons, having by-passed Barnveld, were at Voorthuizen threatening to cut the Apeldoorn-Amersfoort highway, the enemy's escape route to the west. Here the Germans were prepared to fight.


In failing light the Dragoons attacked and, despite slow going across the surrounding marshy ground, succeeded in cutting the vital highway.


To the east, near the Ijssel, brigades of the 1st and 49th Divisions were advancing towards each other along the Arnhem-Zutphen road. Near the start, the Seaforths of Canada and the Loyal Edmonton Regiment had to break through the young fanatics of a parachute training regiment who fought to the death, even when attacked with flame-throwers. Flanking them to the west, the Patricias swept forward, rounding up groups of wandering Germans: 'A patrol wearying of foot-slogging, borrowed bicycles from the Dutch Resistance and rode in carefree fashion into the south. Out of the ditch besides the road a balaclavad head rose and in broad East Anglian shouted "Close". As one man the Patricias replied "Shave". It was the joint pass word and the gap between the 1st Canadian and 49th British Division had been closed.


At, Diernen the Edmontons crossed the Apeldoorn Canal and turned north up the west bank. The right flank of the enemy defending the city had been turned.


West of Arnhem, the 4Sth Division moved down the north bank of the Lower Rhine toward the Grebbe line and by nightfall on the 16th were half-way to Ede and Renkum.


Except for a narrow corridor between Voorthuizen and the Ijsselmeer, the German escape routes to the west were virtually closed and as yet there was no sign of them attempting to pull back. Next day the ring would close as the 1st Division began their attack on Apeldoorn from the south.


Heavy fighting continued to the north, especially at Otterloo, but eventually with all their escape routes blocked, 1st Corps completed the round-up of the enemy and closed up to the Grebbe Line. On 22 April Field-Marshall Montgomery confirmed that, pending further instructions, 1st Corps 'will not for the present operate further westward than the general line now held east of Amersfoot.'


The Army's attention now turned, to the urgent problem of feeding the starving Dutch. Already thousands of refugees in Apeldoorn were being supplied by its Civil Affairs Organization. Further west, troops reported signs of malnutrition bordering on starvation among the people. Many a Canadian and British ration was shared, particularly with the young and very old.


On 27 April Seiss-Inquartt, the evil Reichskommissar of the Netherlands, agreed to discuss the entry of food into western Holland. That night verbal instructions were circulated within 1st Corps that from 8 o'clock next morning, the enemy would not be fired upon unless he was seen to be taking offensive action.


Negotiations with the Germans began next day, but two more meetings were needed before the noticeably hostile enemy officers agreed to procedures for the Canadian Army's road convoys to enter their area. On May 2nd, Canadian and British Army Service Corps units began delivering some 1,000 tons of food per day into distrbution depots inside the enemy lines. Farther west, aircraft of Bomber Command and the 8th United States Air Force were already dropping millions of rations close to Rotterdam and the Hague. After the war it was estimated that mass starvation had been avoided by only a matter of two three weeks.


Although they did not know it at the time , the two divisions of 1st Canadian Corps halted on the Grebbe Line had fought their last offensive battle of the war.


Map - 1st Canadian Corps Operations, April 1945

 

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Honours and Awards

Distinguished Service Order

  • 41071 Lt-Col.F.P.Barclay, D.S.O.
  • 90446 Maj.J.O.Flint, D.S.O. M.C.

Military Cross

  • 47512 Lt-Col.P.R.Ashburner, M.C.
  • 160594 Capt.J.R,Ainger, M.C.
  • 66107 Maj.B.K.T.Bariow-Poole K.C.
  • 333114 Lt.J.A.Bent, M.C.
  • 12S443 Haj.E.N.Cook, M.C.
  • 90448 Maj.J.O.Flint D.S.O. M.C.
  • 183S36 Capt.R.V.Francis, K.C.
  • 269365 Capt.R.F.Goulding, M.C.
  • 329545 Lt.W.Hill, K.C.
  • 34943 Lt.S.Priestley, K.C.
  • 65875 Maj.C.E.Russell, M.C.
  • Cdn.102 Lt.W.J.Stainton, M.C.
  • 333692 Lt.C.KG.White, K.C.

Croix de Guerre

  • 165915 Capt.D.F.Cooke
  • 4804565 Sgt. Britton, L.B.

Distinguished Conduct Medal

  • 4800749 Pte. Sneesby, G.H.
  • 3738960C.S.M. Bilsborrow A.S.

Military Medal

  • 342055 2/Lt. P.Newton.
  • 4803798 Sgt. Bland, W.
  • 4604445 Pte. Burrell, C.A.
  • 4603392U/L/Cpl. Dodson, C.W.
  • 4805155 Cpl. Cross C.
  • 4543264 Pte Firth, W.
  • 4605185 L/Cpi. Freeman F.W.
  • 14590776 Pte. Grimmett. D.
  • 3653656 Cpl. Higham, W.
  • 4804457 Sgt. Jackson, W.
  • 4923213 Cpl. Marshall H.
  • 4804085 L/Cpl. Simmonds F.M.
  • 48C4991 L/Sgt. Ward, C.E.
  • 4801620 L/Sgt. Watson, G.A.

Mentioned in Despatches

  • 160954 Capt.J.R.Ainger, M.C.
  • 47512 Lt-Col. P.R.Ashburner, M.C.
  • 37896 Maj. F.E.Blackstone
  • 105028 Maj.C.H.Corben
  • 67777 Maj.J.ri.B.Freeman
  • 269365 Capt. R.F.Golding M.C.
  • 172686 Capt.P.R.B.Knight.
  • 32079 Maj.R.D.Stokes T.D.
  • 314943 Lt.S.Priestley, M.C.
  • 4804565 Sgt. BrittonL.B.
  • 4806205 Cpl. Fisher H.
  • 4807495 L/Sgt. Greenwood, H.
  • 4800749 Pte. Sneesby G.H. (D,C,M)
  • 14368703 Pte. J.Chapman.

Commander in Chief's Certificate

  • 308196 LT.L.E.J.Brown.
  • 333691 Capt.A.Turner.
  • 95397 Capt.F.F.Wolff.
  • 4805316 Pte. Drick,H.F.
  • 4603667 Sgt. Greenwood,A. (M.M.)
  • 4604219 Cpl.Danby,P.
  • 355703 C.O.M.S. Pashley,R.

 

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Military Organisation

Canadian and British military units were similar in structure and equipment, except that many items such as clothing and vehicles differed in details of design. During the Second World War there were considerable differences in organization and equip¬ment in the various theatres of operations. The following notes outline the structure of most of the fighting units of First Cana¬dian Army in 1944-45. The basic military 'formation' was the division, either infan¬try, armoured or airborne.


An infantry division consisted of three infantry brigades of three battalions each. To support them, it contained a recon¬naissance regiment, the divisional artillery of three field regiments, an anti-aircraft and an anti-tank regiment, engineers, signals, a machine-gun battalion and supply, transport, medical, ordnance, workshop and military police units.


An armoured division had one armoured brigade of three regiments and an infantry motor battalion, an infantry brigade of three battalions, an armoured reconnaissance regiment and two artillery field regiments. Its other arms and services were similar to those for an infantry division.


A corps consisted of two to five divisions, supported by an in¬dependent armoured brigade and an AGRA (Army Group Royal Artillery) of four or five regiments of medium, field and heavy artillery. In its 'corps troops' were an armoured car regi¬ment, anti-tank and anti-aircraft regiments, a survey regiment, engineers and signals.


Basic units, commanded by lieutenant-colonels, were organized as follows:


Armoured and armoured reconnaissance regiments:


  • 61 Sherman tanks organized in three squadrons of 19 plus a headquarters of 4 tanks and a reconnaissance troop of 11 Stuart light tanks.

Artillery regiments:


  • Field - 24 25-pounder guns organized in three batteries of two troops of 4 guns each
  • Medium - 16 5.5-inch guns organized in two batteries of two troops of 4 guns each
  • Anti-Tank - 48 17-pounder guns organized in four batteries of three troops of 4 guns each
  • Light Anti-Aircraft - 54 40mm Bofors guns organized in three batteries of three troops of 6 guns each.

Infantry Battalions:


  • Rifle - Support company: four platoons; mortar (six 3-inch mortars), carrier (13 Bren carriers), anti-tank (six 6-pounder guns) and assault pioneer. Four rifle companies: each three platoons of three sections. The section contained 10 men with one light machine gun; the platoon one officer and 36 men with one 2 in. mortar, and the company five officers and 122 men with three PIATs at company headquarters. Strength: 36 officers and 809 Other Ranks.
  • Machine Gun - Heavy mortar company: 16 4.2-inch mortars in four platoons of 4 mortars each. Three machine gun companies: each of 12 Vickers .303-inch machine guns organized in three pla¬toons of 4 guns each - total 36. Strength: 35 officers and 662 Other Ranks.
  • Motor - Support company: five platoons; three anti-tank (total 12 6-pounder guns) and two medium machine guns (total 8 guns). Three motor companies: each three rifle platoons in armoured trucks and one platoon in Bren carriers. Strength: 37 officers and 782 Other Ranks.
  • Commandos (Royal Marines and British Army) - Organized in troops of 3 officers and 60 men, lightly armed and equipped with a minimum of transport. Strength: 24 officers and 440 Other Ranks.

Fighting Organization


Close co-operation in battle was ensured by integrating units of the supporting arms and services of the division into its brigades. Thus each had, in effect, its own artillery field regiment, anti-tank battery, field company of engineers, machine-gun company, medical unit and so on, and were, referred to as brigade groups. In turn each infantry battalion had its own supporting field artillery whose commander lived at battalion headquarters. Supporting tank units were integrated, in the same way. Rarely did infantry fight without close support of its team of guns, mortars, tanks and engineers.

 

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The Lincoln Imp Polar Bear, 49th Division, Divisional Flash

Of Polar Bears and Imps - Index - Top of This Page

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