1st BUCKINGHAMSHIRE BATTALION 1ST (CANADIAN) ARMY "T" FORCE
FEBRUARY TO JUNE 1945
BASED ON EXTRACTS FROM THE REGIMENTAL WAR CHRONICLES OF THE OXFORDSHIRE & BUCKINHAMSHIRE LIGHT INFANTRY VOL4 1944-1945 1
On the 27th February, 1945, the Battalion had been officially informed by headquarters, Lines of Communication, that it was to constitute one of the T forces of the 21st Army Group in the near future, and that there was to be a conference on the subject at headquarters, 5th King’s, on the 2nd March. The officers left the conference quite clear on the following facts:
(a) That the Battalion was to be the Second Army T Force. (b) That it had under command Nos. 805, 810 and 845 Smoke Companies, Pioneer Corps, and No. 19 Bomb Disposal Company, R.E. (c) That there was a lot of preliminary work to be done. (d) That time was short.
The magic letter “T” stood for target and a target might be anything from a radar installation to a factory, from a dock to a secret-weapon site. It had been correctly appreciated that much vital information and valuable equipment might be lost if these products of the enemy’s technical activity and scientific ingenuity were allowed to be sabotaged by the Germans themselves, or left to the tender mercies of the local inhabitants or of our own troops during the fighting and immediately after the fighting had passed them by. Hence the formation of a T Force to accompany each Allied army with the task of seizing and holding a comprehensive list of installations directly on the heels of the advancing troops. Once occupied and guarded, targets were to be held until such time as their contents had been assessed and investigated by technical assessors and such equipment as was required for further research or examination had been removed. Maps had been prepared which pinpointed our targets; briefs were prepared and the various types of targets were studied by all concerned.
One fear was that when the time came for action the battalion would not be able to disentangle itself quickly enough from it's commitments in Brussels. Their counterpart, the 5th King’s, were uncommitted and ready at a moment’s notice, and efforts were made to put the Battalion in a similar position. But as time went by and the crossing of the Rhine took place, the battalion was still heavily committed with no prospect of relief.
The blow fell at 2145 hrs on the 28th March, when the commanding officer was summoned to 21st Army Group for an urgent conference and told of the big switch-over. The Second Army T Force was wanted at once in view of the rapid advance. There was only one solution. The battalion was not immediately available, and the 5th King’s were. Thus it came about that the 1st Bucks ceased to be Second Army T Force and became First Canadian Army T Force. The issue was not though, as clear-cut as that, as it was decided, in view of the immediate heavy T Force commitments for the Second Army, to put two companies of the 1st Bucks (under the battalion second-in-command) under command of the 5th King’s.
The reallotment brought under command the 1st Bucks, Nos. 810 and 803 Smoke Companies and No.5 Bomb Disposal Company, who would join later in the concentration area.
The battalion were given a large area to choose from in the neighbourhood of Grave in the Canadian Army zone and straightway dispatched an advanced party. From then on things moved quickly.
The Battalion handed over command of the barracks to the incoming troops and freed itself of all commitments. Word was received from the advanced party that it was to go to Overasselt (2A/E65)and, after transport had been provided by No.4 Lines of Communication, the Battalion was ready to adopt its new role and to leave Brussels on the 3rd April.
Due to the quickening advance of the Canadian Army to the east it soon became apparent that Meppen would shortly be taken and the battalions attention was diverted to the seizing of Krupps factory and the testing ground at Meppen, one of the most important targets. It was decided to send a platoon of C Company to deal with this target.
Meppen was eventually entered on the 9th April and the C Company party, with its section of armoured cars leading, moved in at 1330 hrs. and seized their target according to plan, while the assessors who had moved with them got on with the job of assessing and reporting.
Whilst concentrating on the German targets that seemed likely to be uncovered at any moment, attention was suddenly switched back to Holland by a visit from the G.2, who announced that the Arnhem push might flare up shortly and that the town might even be taken the next day, the 12th April. The Bucks one remaining company was accordingly warned and briefed on targets to be seized.
At 1940 hrs on the 12th April the barrage started and continue as one long rumble for the next three hours—till H hour.
At 1000 hrs on the 14th April we received the message over the air that target A8 had been fought over and was still being shelled and mortared by the enemy. By midday the target was reported clear and the main body went in. For the next two days little was heard of the Arnhem party. The targets were duly seized, guarded and assessed, and the reports came trickling back.
At this time the battalion was given the news that the Canadian Army was due to move east shortly and that it was to go to Haaksbergen on the Dutch-German border.
It was decided to move the whole of A Company over to Arnhem, which was to form a base for its future activities, and temporarily to make that company responsible for all targets in Holland.
As the general trend of offensive action seemed to be towards Germany rather than Holland, two companies were allotted (C Company and No. 810 Smoke Company) to that area, leave one to hold the fort in Holland and keep one smoke company (No.803) in reserve.
On the 19th April Force headquarters, with No. 5 Bomb Disposal Company and No. 30 Assault Unit, set off for Haaksbergen.
Just before the Battalion left Overasselt it had heard that the Second Army had taken over a part of the Canadian Army sector. This meant that Second Army T Force would have to deal with certain targets for which 1Bucks held the briefs and all details. It also meant that we could now assess more accurately the total force required to deal with targets still left to us in Germany. The equivalent strength of two rifle companies would suffice, centring eventually round Wilhelmshaven and Emden. At the same time, A Company reported that all targets had been assessed and completed in Arnhem, and that they were now just standing by.
On the 22nd April No. 810 Smoke Company arrived at Haaksbergen as scheduled, and eight of their three-tonners were dispatched to C Company, which by now had moved on to Borger—less one platoon which remained at Krupps in Meppen.
A conference was called of all company commanders, and the following deployment of companies was laid down: (a) A Company and two sections of No. 5 Bomb Disposal Company, with headquarters at Meppen, to look after all targets in Northwest Germany, including Emden. (b) C Company, with two platoons of No. 810 Smoke Company and one section of No. 5 Bomb Disposal Company, with headquarters at Borger, to look after all targets in Northeast Germany, but including Wilhelmshaven. (c) Two platoons of No. 810 Smoke Company, with two sections of No. 5 Bomb Disposal Company and one platoon of No. 803 Smoke Company (when it arrived), in reserve at Haaksbergen.
The two platoons of No. 810 Smoke Company at once joined C Company and on the 23rd April A Company moved to Meppen.
C Company was given the job of finding a number of German prison and concentration camps in the Papenburg area. Their reconnaissance revealed two large groups of camps—one group consisting of seven camps around Papenburg and another consisting of eight subsidiary camps in the Meppen area. Guards were posted on the camps and teams were sent over to see what they could find. Many documents were unearthed and before we left the area the guarding of these was handed to the local military government. The horrors of these camps would make grim reading, and while A and C Companies were in that area compulsory tours of the camps were made so that everyone might see for himself the gruesome details. It had a very good effect on the men, and made the non-fraternisation rule unnecessary.
Oldenburg and Bad Zwischenahn looked like falling at last and Emden might soon be within T Force range. No. 803 Smoke Company, less one platoon, was suddenly put under our command from the 4th May.
C Company had moved into Oldenburg, where the big target was a ration store, but on arrival had found that the cupboard was bare.
A Company was waiting to go into Emden. A message was received from 21st Army Group “Cease Fire” was to take effect from 0800 hrs the following morning, the 5th May. In view of this dramatic change in the situation and as the 30th Royal Berks had still not been released, it was decided to hold all targets in Holland with a composite platoon of H.Q. Company, support platoon, two platoons of No. 810 Smoke Company and one platoon of the bomb disposal company until they could be taken over by the 30th Royal Berks.
Advanced headquarters, instead of going to Meppen, was now to move to Utrecht, and the G.2 was to be responsible for looking after A and C Companies, which were shortly to reach Emden and Wilhelmshaven respectively.
At that time there were scheduled 117 targets in West Holland, ranging from Utrecht to Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Delft and as far north as Den Helder. The area was divided equally according to strength of those taking part, and on the 6th May the force was ready to move. Because of some hitch over the local surrender terms the advance did not start until the 7th May and on that date, leaving Haaksbergen at 1300 hrs. advanced headquarters moved to Utrecht.
The triumphal entry into West Holland was an experience not to be forgotten. Crowds of rejoicing people lined the roads for mile after mile, all waving and shouting and displaying hundreds of flags. Whenever the column stopped, the Dutch swarmed over every vehicle, and as the column approached Utrecht the vehicles were so bedecked with boys and girls that it was dangerous to move at more than 5 m.p.h., chiefly because the driver could not see, but also lest the attachments might fall off and be hurt.
As the Canadian Army’s advance on the 7th May had been limited to a line drawn north and south of Utrecht, it had been arranged that the balance of the party should follow on from Haaksbergen on the 8th May, when it was understood that the occupation troops would be moving on.
At eleven o’clock on the 8th May the support platoon reported to advanced headquarters for orders. Contact had meanwhile been made with the authorities at the 49th Division, who assured the commanding officer that it was in order for the force to advance and seize the targets.
Support platoon set off to cope with its targets at Den Helder. Its progress was slow and greatly hampered by the cheering crowds which smothered the armoured cars with flowers at every town and village passed through.
The next party to arrive at advanced headquarters was the composite H.Q. Company platoon under its commander Captain Low. After receiving the “All Clear” it also set off, brushing the children off the bonnets every mile or so, and made for Rotterdam and Delft. It too must have outstripped the official occupying troops by reaching Rotterdam first.
The remaining platoons of No. 810 Smoke Company and No. 5 Bomb Disposal Company had arrived and had been dispatched to Rotterdam, Haarlem, Hilversum and Amsterdam respectively. All had similar experiences with flowers and receptions. They finally reached their targets, and very soon interim reports were rolling in to Force headquarters at Utrecht, stating that all priority A targets had been seized and some priority B targets as well, and that the Dutch resistance were guarding all targets not yet taken over by our troops.
Touch was gained with the 30th Royal Berks and one company arrived to take over targets in Utrecht itself and relieve the platoon of No. 810 Smoke Company which was required to help out at Ijmuiden. It was arranged for the remainder of the Battalion to arrive the next day, the 9th May. A suitable headquarters was found for them in Utrecht itself, quite close to the Bucks.
That night the radio announced that at 0001 hrs the next day the war with Germany would be over.
The 30th Royal Berks arrived in force the following day and immediately deployed into previously arranged areas, each company joining one of our parties with a view eventually to taking over the whole of West Holland. The hand-over process went on for several days. Assessors came flooding down to us now. Radar and naval targets were the big draw and they were kept very busy indeed. It soon became clear that there was little of interest to assessors in West Holland; all the important apparatus had been removed long ago to Germany—much of it after the airborne landing at Arnhem in September 1944. Even so, as every opportunity target had to be investigated, there was plenty to do.
While all this was going on in Holland A Company had moved its headquarters to Aurich, from where it covered all targets in Emden. Also on its list was “Lord Haw-Haw’s” (the nickname given to William Joyce, the traitor who broadcast for the Germans all through the war) radio transmitter at Norden, to which a platoon was dispatched as guard. “Lord Haw-Haw” was unfortunately not in residence when it arrived, nor was the transmitter working, although it was in perfect working order. Two further wireless stations had been discovered on the island of Borkum and another platoon was dispatched there as guard.
C Company had moved to Wilhelmshaven on the 7th May. By the evening of the 8th May twenty-three targets had been traced, five of which had been destroyed in our own bombing raids. A wireless station was found on Wangerooge Island and a section with an officer was sent to make a reconnaissance. They were taken out in a German R-boat which, whether by accident or design, grounded on a sand Bar and the party had to wait ten hours for a flood tide before they could get off. They reported that the wireless station was 50 per cent Intact and that there was much radar equipment on the island. An assessor was accordingly dispatched to deal with this.
It had been understood that No.30 Assault Unit would cover the Friesian Islands, but we were now informed that they must be exploited by us. Support platoon at Den Helder was accordingly informed, and given a platoon of No. 5 Bomb Disposal Company to assist.
A platoon was sent to Texel to guard the radar there, and a platoon of No. 5 Bomb Disposal Company was sent to Terschelling.
Orders now came to complete targets in Holland as quickly as possible and concentrate the force at Haaksbergen again, with a view to moving into the Ruhr and taking over targets from the Americans.
By this time we had uncovered all targets and were merely waiting for them to be assessed and investigated. If we could be freed of the radar targets the 30th Royal Berks could deal with the others, and we could then concentrate as required. Netherlands District took over the radar and after handing over all the remaining targets to the 30th Royal Berks we finally returned to Haaksbergen on the 23rd May, leaving the 30th Royal Berks in sole charge of West Holland as far as T Force was concerned.
It seemed that the 1st Bucks were now to become one of the three T Forces in the British zone of occupation, and that its particular area would be Westphalia, probably under I Corps District. The next few days were spent making contacts with the 49th Division, in whose area we were to be, and also trying to piece together the jigsaw puzzle over targets to be taken over from the Americans.
The same reshuffle was taking place in Second Army T Force, and the two rifle companies, B and D, now returned to Battalion command, ready for the next move, wherever it might be. It came on the 6th June, when we forsook the friendliness of Holland and took up residence in Germany, for the first time as a force, at Menden.
By now we had virtually ceased to be First Canadian Army T Force, but we remained so in name until the 21st June, when we officially became I Corps District T Force.
1.The Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry Chronicle, Vol 4: June 1944 - December 1945 Pages 366-386