THE FIRST BUCKINGHAMSHIRE BATTALION 2ND ARMY "T" FORCE
FEBRUARY TO JUNE 1945
B AND D COMPANIES, 1ST BUCKS BATTALION ATTACHED TO 5TH KINGS REGIMENT AS PART OF SECOND BRITISH ARMY T FORCE
BASED ON EXTRACTS FROM THE REGIMENTAL WAR CHRONICLES OF THE OXFORDSHIRE & BUCKINGHAMSHIRE LIGHT INFANTRY VOL4 1944-1945 1
The detachment which was detailed to form part of Second Army T Force under command of the 5th King’s consisted of B Company under Major F. Kershaw and D Company under Major W. D. Marshall, with an armoured car section commanded by Serjeant Larkin. By arrangement with Colonel Wreford-Brown, who commanded the 5th King’s, this detachment was given the same task as it would have had if the whole Battalion had continued in the Second Army, initially seizing all targets in Hanover. The detachment was commanded by the (1st Bucks) second-in-command, Major H. C. Le Neve Foster.
Both the Second British Army and the Ninth United States Army were racing across Europe. Nobody seemed to know exactly where they were going, and it was by no means certain which army would ultimately capture Hanover. It was eventually decided that for the present the detachment should remain with Second British Army T Force.
From the Brussels area the first move was to Maasbreek, successfully effected on the 30th March. After a short stay in that place the next move was to Gescher, a small town near Bocholt, a few miles east of the Rhine.
It was a long and slow journey, for the most part over very bad roads, taking us through what must be some of the most fought-over country in the world. Shattered houses, dead animals, wrecked vehicles and all the aftermath of war marked our route.
The Rhine crossing was accomplished with no difficulty, thanks to a good Class 40 bridge, and everyone felt happy as we rumbled on into Germany. The towns on the east bank of the river bore evidence of heavy fighting which had taken place only a week or so before. Farther east we passed the wreckage of the airborne attack, and miles of fields strewn with gliders.
On the road there was always an endless stream of vehicles heading east. The roads were dusty and full of potholes. Almost every bridge had been blown and had been replaced by a Bailey bridge.
Our weary column eventually drew into Gescher at about six in the evening. On the 6th April the detachment was ordered to move on to Greven, twenty or thirty miles to the south-east, while Lieutenant-Colonel Wreford-Brown moved the rest of his own force farther north in the direction of Osnabruck and Bremen.
By the evening of the 10th the whole detachment was in the 84th United States Division area at Bad Nenndorf awaiting the word to go forward and enter the city of Hanover, just twenty miles away. It was known that some troops of the division were already in the town and that T Force should be able to drive in on the following day.
It was a fine spring morning as the party of armoured cars comprising the advanced party sped along the autobahn towards Hanover. There was a great deal of American traffic, but eventually the great city was entered. It seemed to us to be in a terrible state. Not a house had escaped some damage from bombing, a number of buildings were still burning and the spring air was full of dust and smoke.
As soon as the main body arrived platoons were sent off to their targets and temporary headquarters were set up in an old barracks near the Welten Platz.
By evening the preliminary reports from platoons were beginning to filter through to detachment headquarters and it was remarkable how many of the targets were in reasonably good condition. The most promising target from the point of view of a better detachment headquarters was the Wehrkreis headquarters building. By six o’clock on the 12th April a joint headquarters of B and D Companies had been set up and we were ready to get down to work on a more businesslike basis. All day assessors had arrived.
Our targets presented an interesting picture. One, the Hanomag factory in the Linden district was in three parts and far larger than one platoon could possibly guard. The best that could be done here was to place a picquet on the main gate, and to organise a detailed search of all the factory buildings.
At the end of the first day we had made preliminary reconnaissances of all the A targets and some of the B targets, and placed guards where we considered they were warranted. One or two of the A targets were burnt out and quite useless for the purpose of investigation, and as men became available they were switched to the B targets.
By Sunday, the 15th, a document team had arrived from T Force headquarters and began their work on the Wehrkreis Kommando. As nearly every room had a safe the air was rent at intervals by loud explosions as Captain Hill, of No. 19 Bomb Disposal Company, blew in the doors. He was really happy in his work and showed great disappointment when, after working for an hour on one door of a safe and using three charges, one of his sappers who was playing with the combination lock on the main door stumbled on the correct one and the great door swung silently open.
By the 19th most of our assessors had left us and we had renounced responsibility for the guarding of all except four or five targets. On the evening of that day Major Foster received an urgent call from T Force headquarters, the outcome was that one company was to leave Hanover as soon as possible to be ready to exploit further targets in the area between Bremen and Hamburg.
B Company was given a warning order to move and to hand over any targets it was still guarding to D Company. D Company was left in sole charge of all targets remaining under guard in Hanover. Ultimately B Company moved north into the area of Verden on the 22nd and farther, to an area north of Soltau, on the following day. They were now on the XII Corps axis, and contact was made with with that corps direct, with a view to exploiting targets at Hesedorf and Stadt.
While B Company followed up the advance on the XII Corps axis and D Company at Hanover, the second-in-command took over responsibility for all targets in Bremen. He was given other troops of Second Army T Force for this task, including two pioneer companies and one and a half companies of the 5th King’s, together with two armoured car sections of the King’s and one section of his own detachment. The Bucks section was well in the van and ultimately seized part of the enormous Deschimag shipbuilding yard.
On the 1st May B Company, after several attempts to move forward, managed to get Lieutenant Greene’s platoon into the target at Hesedorf. The going had been very difficult, as the Germans had blown enormous craters at two-hundred-yard intervals up the road for about a mile, each one having to be filled in or bridged by the Royal Engineers before progress with motor transport could be made. The target itself was found without difficulty and appeared to be very extensive, covering about two square miles. It was a mine and bomb dump and consisted of a number of bays in which were varying numbers of bombs.
On the evening of the 4th May we were listening to the wireless when the great news of the armistice in 21st Army Group was announced. All fighting would stop at 0800 hrs on the 5th.
For the next two or three days there was to be no movement forward, and so on the strength of the war ending the men were given the day off.
Meanwhile both B and D Company commanders were put in touch with the divisions concerned in the taking over of Wesermunde and Cuxhaven, in which were our final targets. The 51st Division was going to Wesermunde and the Guards Armoured Division to Cuxhaven. Both divisions were moving into their respective towns and areas on the 7th May and it was arranged for T Force to move with the divisional reconnaissance parties in order to reach all targets as early as possible.
D Company arrived at Hesedorf on the 6th May and arranged with the Guards Armoured Division that they should move with the Guards into Cuxhaven on the following day. The company set off at first light on the 7th over the most shocking roads yet encountered. Congestion on the roads and in the town of Cuxhaven itself was so bad that it took nearly three hours to cover the last ten miles. This was due to the enormous amount of German horse-drawn transport and marching columns which on our own orders were moving into concentration areas.
The outskirts of Cuxhaven, however, were eventually reached at about 2100 hrs Company headquarters and Nos. 13, 14 and 15 Platoons went to Altenwalde. some six miles from Cuxhaven, and No. 16 Platoon swanned off on its own in search of its target, the Kustenbefeldshaber—Deutsche Bucht (headquarters of the flag officer in command, The Bight), with special orders to hold Admiral Kleinkamp.
No.16 Platoon, arrived and reported the occupation of the flag officer’s headquarters, with the admiral himself and fifty staff officers prisoners.
Platoons were now situated as follows: No.13 Platoon at Altenbruch, guarding another admiral. No.14 Platoon at Nordholz, the main naval intercepting and direction-finding station. No.15 Platoon on the German ordnance testing range near Altenwalde. No.16 Platoon flag officer in command, The Bight.
Lieutenant Hare found on arrival at his target large quantities of ammunition ready for handing over and large contingents of railway mounted artillery waiting to surrender. Here it was that V1 launching ramps were found.
T Force operations in Cuxhaven proceeded very smoothly until orders were received to hand over all targets still open to No. 846 Smoke Company and move to an area a few miles north of Osnabruck. Platoons travelled independently and D Company eventually established itself at Quakenbruck.
On the 7th May B Company and one section of armoured cars moved into Bremerhaven. The targets were seized as planned and B Company headquarters was set up in one of them, the offices of the Deschimag shipbuilding works. B Company’s other targets included the Polizei Praesidium (police headquarters), the Donarwerke (manufacturers of small rockets) and another small factory. On 10th May the Deschimag offices were abandoned and the company headquarters moved to the Donarwerke, where they remained until B Company left the area.
After Victory in Europe Day, when the two companies had moved forward into Cuxhaven and Wesermiinde, they passed through the main concentration areas of the German Army which had capitulated. It was quite fantastic to see German and British vehicles moving side by side on the same roads, Germans walking into billets, and even Germans manning guns. The general plan was that the Germans would disarm themselves and this they did with, as far as could be see, their usual thoroughness.
It was becoming clear that B and D Companies’ tour under the Second British Army was nearing its end and that soon they would be reverting to the Battalion. On the day that D Company was ordered to hand over targets it was guarding at Cuxhaven, B Company was ordered to hand over targets in Bremerhaven to the Americans. Within five days the two companies had completed the hand-over and were concentrated in the area of Quakenbruck, where they remained until orders were issued for the redeployment of T Force to cover the I Corps district area.
1. The Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry Chronicle, Vol 4: June 1944 - December 1945 Pages 386-395