FORTY THIRD LIGHT INFANTRY FROM 1ST JANUARY TO 30TH JUNE, 1945
BASED ON EXTRACTS FROM THE REGIMENTAL WAR CHRONICLES OF THE OXFORDSHIRE & BUCKINGHAMSHIRE LIGHT INFANTRY 1939-1945
JANUARY As the intelligence officer put it in a situation report, "After a long period of semi-rest, merited owing to the lengthy time the Regiment had previously spent in the line, but misused owing to the incessant scampering brought about by the combined intention of the British General Staff and the German High Command, the Regiment moved up into positions facing the enemy once again."
These positions were at Marche (2983), where it took over from the 2nd Battalion 335th U.S. Regiment of the 84th U.S. Infantry Division. Patrols found enemy positions and the 2nd January was spent hi improving the defences.
On the 3rd orders were given for an attack on enemy positions in the Bois de la Rochette (324816) and the Bois des Spiroux (326820). The weather was very cold with about six inches of snow and woods dense.
A and D Companies led the attack and C Company was to push patrols to the far edge of the two woods when A and D had won their objectives. Each of the leading companies had a troop of tanks from the 1st Northamptonshire Yeomanry in support. H hour was 1330 hrs on the 4th.
A and D Companies met little resistance and about twenty prisoners were taken and a number of Germans killed. The dead included the commander of Battle Group Schaeber. Two carriers received direct hits from enemy mortars, whose observer was discovered directing fire after the attack had overrun him. The observation post was quickly dealt with. A Company had some difficulty in clearing its objective of snipers.
A local counter-attack upon D Company's position was repulsed with heavy casualties, including the officer commanding the force. During this counter-attack D Company's com mander, Major E. C. Vicker, was killed. Captain D. C. Taylor, who had already been wounded earlier in the attack, returned to take command until the following morning.
C Company's patrols soon bumped enemy positions. The following day C Company relieved D Company, Lieutenant A. F. M. Paget was wounded in the shoulder and Captain G. R. Seers came up to take over D Company from Captain D. C. Taylor.
Another patrol from C Company encountered heavy fire and the commander, Lieutenant J. A. Hawkins, was killed.
On the 7th the Regiment took part in a further attack designed to cover the right flank of the Americans driving southwards on the east bank of the River Ourthe (3986).
C Company, with two platoons from D Company, the carrier platoon, a pioneer section, three Weasels and a Wasp flame-throwing carrier, were to carry out the attack aimed down the south edge of the two woods already captured. Crest-clearance problems made close support by the gunners impossible, but the 3-inch mortar platoon put down a thousand bombs in thirty minutes.
Within an hour the objective was taken. The D Company platoon had a fierce but short fight and one platoon from C Company met sixty Germans who had been pinned in by the mortar bombardment. They fought hard for a few minutes, but then surrendered.
Altogether eighty-three prisoners were taken and between thirty and forty dead counted—all from the 116th Panzer Division.
Captain G. R. Seers, who had come up to visit his two platoons, was hit by an isolated concentration of mortar fire and died a few minutes later.
On the 8th the enemy withdrew under cover of darkness and patrols hurried them on their way.
The next day the Regiment was relieved by a parachute battalion and moved to the area of Barvaux-Condroz (2395).
After a period in reserve the Regiment moved on the 20th to St. Oedenrode (4232), near Eindhoven.
The last ten days of the month were spent in training, particularly section training, and in planning for future operations in the Reichswald. Route marches figured largely in the training. At the end of this period of activity—the 21st January—the commanding officer issued some notes on operations in severe cold. These show the very great care and foresight with which this problem was handled. Every man was able to enjoy two hours in a company rest area daily. Here were constant hot water, dry socks and hot food. Special white helmet covers were improvised. The result of this care was that no soldiers were evacuated because of bad feet and morale was very high. The German case was reversed and many miserable prisoners passed through the Regiment's hands.
FEBRUARY 1945 On the 1st February the Regiment received orders for the attack into the Reichswald.
On the 4th they left for a concentration area in the monastery at Nebo (724587). Strictest security measures were enforced and the whole brigade was packed up in the monastery and the skirling of the Highland Light Infantry pipes, the notes of the 43rd bugles and the singing of the Welsh heralded the approaching battle with more zest than tune.
On the 8th the attack began, supported by a massive weight of artillery fire, rocket concentrations and by tanks. Again the Regiment was to advance after a preliminary attack by the 4th Royal Welch Fusiliers had secured a firm base. With the Highland Light Infantry on its right B Company was to seize the corner of the Reichswald (796541) and A Company the cross-tracks (795535). They met little opposition, but took many prisoners who had been dazed by the weight of the preliminary barrage. B Company provided the first British troops to cross the German frontier in this area.
C and D Companies advanced through the leading companies and, meeting little opposition, reached their objectives successfully—the high ground of the Branden Berg (808537). A total of 115 prisoners were taken during the day.
In the evening heavy shelling of Regimental headquarters wounded the doctor and caused considerable casualties among the intelligence section and signallers.
On the 9th, 10th and 11th the Regiment remained in reserve, moving forward behind the advancing Welshmen.
On the 12th an area of woodland was cleared without incident.
During the whole of this period the condition of the tracks upon which supplies depended was appalling and hot meals were few and far between. The 13th was spent trying to move essential vehicles up to the fighting troops and by nightfall most of them were there.
The 14th and 15th were spent in a front-line position under spasmodic but occasionally very heavy shell and mortar fire, and on the 16th orders were received for a diversionary attack designed to assist the 43rd Division in its southward advance east of the Reichswald.
This was to be one of the fiercest battles of the campaign. B Company was directed on to the houses at 901476 and C Company on to Asperberg (895472) and the house at 897473. The enemy were later discovered to be from the 115th Panzer Grenadier Regiment and the 2nd Parachute Regiment, with orders to resist at all costs, and they had a fanatical determination to carry out their orders.
Within an hour both companies were on their objectives, but the enemy continued to fight fiercely from house to house and room to room in C Company's area. After the commander of one of C Company's leading platoons, Lance-Serjeant Crump, D.C.M., had been wounded, Lieutenant A. F. M. Paget assumed command of both of them. In the attack across 400 yards of open ground he commanded his platoon with great dash, capturing four and killing four Germans.
He then set himself to clear the houses. Leaving two sections to cover the approaches, he led the third into the building. The enemy discharged a panzerfaust at his party, killing the section commander, wounding one man and throwing him to the ground. At the same time another party of enemy attacked the covering sections.
Lieutenant Paget and his section killed the five Germans attacking the covering sections and then went on to clear the building, killing and capturing six more Germans.
Further enemy attacks were made and Lieutenant Paget personally killed a party of nine, each armed with a Spandau. Another German party succeeded in re-entering the building and were not mopped up until 0700 hrs. the following morning. Since Lieutenant Paget's No. 38 set had been destroyed he was out of touch with his company commander, Major G. D. Jephson, M.C., who twice led parties to try to get into communication with him. On the second occasion Major Jephson was fired upon by a panzerfaust, which killed him and killed or wounded the whole party. For his gallant action Lieutenant A. F. M. Paget received an immediate award of the D.S.O.
In the whole operation forty-two prisoners were taken and forty Germans killed. The Regiment lost seventeen killed, twenty-two wounded, and one missing, believed killed.
On the 17th the Regiment successfully and with minor opposition cleared the area to the River Niers (893466) and made contact with the 51st (Highland) Division.
On the 18th converging attacks on Goch (9043) by the 15th and 51st Divisions were successful and the Regiment found itself pinched out of the front line.
A short rest followed, but the Regiment was at short notice for further operations, planning for which was difficult because of the fluid situation.
On the 24th the 1st Highland Light Infantry was ordered to capture Rottum (9339), and once that was secure the Regiment was to attack the wood at 9239 beyond it.
A Company secured the start line and D Company, left, and B Company, right, were to attack the wood. In the darkness there was considerable confusion and the wrong wood was captured. However, a new plan was made and the correct objective was achieved without much opposition. The Regiment proceeded to" occupy the wood. Flooded ground made digging almost impossible and heavy shell fire caused considerable casualties—forty-two in all, including Lieutenant A. F. M. Paget, D.S.O., who was mortally wounded.
On the 28th the Regiment was relieved by the 1st Highland Light Infantry.
MARCH 1945 On the 1st March B Company, operating simultaneously with the 4th Royal Welch Fusiliers and the 158th Brigade, launched an attack on Graf (926387). Flooding, caused by a blown bridge, made the attack difficult, but flames were shot in by their supporting tanks and under cover of darkness the attack was successful. Later in the morning a single shell fell in A Company's area and mortally wounded Major C. G. Percy-Hardman,
On the 2nd the Regiment came under command of the 8th Armoured Division for the pursuit of the enemy, who had begun to withdraw in order to avoid being outflanked by the American drive towards the Rhine from the south.
The pursuit meant travelling in Kangaroos and dealing with any opposition which hindered the advancing armour. Deployment of infantry and a preliminary bombardment were usually sufficient to force the enemy to withdraw.
On the 2nd the first of these kind of engagements was fought in the area of Weeze and Neuhaus (949362). Little opposition was met and patrols pushed forward to Kevelaer (9632). Twenty prisoners were taken, including a few members of the Volksturm.
Some houses were booby-trapped and caused four casualties.
On the 4th further advances were made to Issum (0827) and in the evening A and D Companies moved on to Boxtenhof (103285) to establish a firm base for an attack by the 4th Royal Welch Fusiliers and the 1st Highland Light Infantry. Part of the supporting barrage fell short and caused casualties, including Lieutenant N. W. C. Francis, who was killed.
The carrier platoon was put under command of the 4th Royal Welch Fusiliers for this attack and one section was lost when a shell landed in the middle of it.
On the 5th B Company moved forward to relieve the 4th Royal Welch Fusiliers, and on the 6th the 71st Brigade was left behind by the attack. The next day the Regiment was concentrated in a harbour area at Holt (9620). There it remained for five days and then moved back to rest in the area of Schepdael (5054), near Brussels.
For its part in this phase of the operation—the Reichswald battle—the Regiment received many messages of congratulation and thanks. The commanding officer himself said that the morale and standard of turn-out and efficiency of the Regiment were of a very high order—outstanding in the division. Casualties had been grievous, but the enemy had more than felt the weight of the Regiment's vigorous attacks and suffered accordingly.
Between the 13th and 23rd March the Regiment prepared for the Rhine crossing operations in the morning and amused itself hi the afternoon and evening.
With a great many new men and officers it was essential that they should get to know each other, that they should understand the standard of drill and turn-out, and that they should train together. The field of Waterloo was visited and the eve of the Rhine crossing was spent, as was the eve of that famous battle, in dancing.
On the 24th the Regiment moved back into the battle area once more, concentrated at Kuckuck (935276) and crossed the Rhine on the night of the 26th/27th, moving up behind the leading divisions. On the 30th it passed through Bocholt (2260) and now was once more at the head of the pursuit, travelling in Kangaroos. A Company deployed and cleared Haken (295690) and B Company passed straight through and took Veldboom (297692). A few prisoners were taken.
A Company remounted and set off again, but a self-propelled gun knocked out the leading tank, and since the ground was too soft for vehicles to move off the road, proceeded to pick off eight Kangaroos/three of them still full of troops. Casualties were lighter than might have been expected, but included Lieutenant Selby and Serjeant Walton. The gun then moved off and the subsequent attack found no opposition.
The next day—the 31st—the advance continued to Vreden (3782) unopposed.
APRIL 1945 After a, pause at Vreden the 3rd and 4th April were spent in clearing an area north of Gronau (5102) and Ochtrup (6201). No enemy were encountered.
On the 5th the Regiment moved to Mesum (8303) in preparation for an attack on the high ground north of Ibbenbiiren (9808) after the 4th Royal Welch Fusiliers and 1st Highland Light Infantry had captured that town.
During the night it moved up to Ibbenburen, where the situation was confused. The 4th Royal Welch Fusiliers and the 1st Highland Light Infantry were reported to have got through the town, but bursts of small-arms fire came from every direction.
Eventually C and D Companies started the attack at 0500 hrs. behind a series of artillery concentrations. They were met by intense but extraordinarily inaccurate small-arms fire, and by first light had established themselves on their objectives, and A and B Companies had advanced through and beyond. "Never," said the officer commanding B Company, "had so many bullets been fired with so little effect"—surprising, since the opposition were officers and N.C.Os. from a training school.
During the afternoon the 1st East Lancashire Regiment passed through the Regiment and continued to drive the enemy towards the Ems—Weser Canal.
On the 8th the Regiment had the task of protecting the main route of the corps axis of advance.
Relieved of this duty on the 9th by troops of the 52nd Division, the Regiment concentrated at Lemforde (4330) ready to advance again. On the 10th it set off again in troop-carrying vehicles through Lembruch (4336), Warpe (927616), where it paused on the 11th, and on the 12th crossed the Aller at Westen (0572) and on to Ottersen (0872).
Thence it moved to outflank the crossing of the Aller at Rethem (1166) and free it for the corps advance axis. It was being stubbornly defended by the 2nd Marine Division.
The Regiment's part in the brigade plan was to capture Gross Hauslingen(1168).
Eventually the Regiment was fired at as darkness fell, in scrubby-country and with open flanks and no definite knowledge of enemy positions. A halt was called, but, after some opposition to A Company, Gross Hauslingen was occupied before first light.
Daylight discovered a dangerous and difficult situation, for a number of enemy posts had remained hidden and began shooting as soon as they could see.
The day was spent in cleaning up these enemy posts. Casualties were fairly high, as the fighting was very close. Captain E. P. Hawley was killed when a panzerfaust hit his carrier, and Major W. R. G. de Warenne Warren, Second Lieutenant E. Norris and Lieutenant L. W. Hedges were wounded. By 2000 hrs. the position was stable.
At 0545 hrs. the next morning, during stand-to, the enemy launched a determined counter-attack, designed to annihilate the Aller bridgehead at Rethem. At the time the 4th Royal Welch Fusiliers and 1st Highland Light Infantry were forming up in the Regimental area for a further advance.
Some enemy infiltrated into the Regiment's position, but D Company and, later, B Company cleared them out during the day, capturing the commander and headquarters staff of the 1st Battalion Marine Regiment, fifty other prisoners and two 10.5 field guns.
On the 15th the Regiment took up a flank defensive role in the area of Neddenaverbergen (0977). The next day they moved forward to Weitzmtthlen (0581) and received orders for a night attack from Kirchlinteln (0684) to Verden (0081).
This began at 0030 hrs. on the 17th. A Company secured the start line without incident and C Company moved forward with a half-squadron of Crocodiles* and attacked a group of houses wherein all the Germans surrendered as quietly as possible.
D Company advanced through them without opposition and A Company did another leapfrog attack on to a cemetery. The slight opposition encountered was silenced by Bren fire and a flame-throwing Crocodile.
B Company finally moved up on to a ridge above Verden and the 1st Highland Light Infantry moved into the town without resistance. By tea time the Regiment too was in Verden. During the day 112 prisoners were taken.
On the 18th the Regiment seized Dauelsen (0085) as a firm base for the advance of the 52nd Division on Bremen (7199). Heavily supported by heavy, medium and field guns, the battle was quickly won, only D Company having to fight a skirmish to secure its area. Later shelling damaged most of the vehicles of Regimental headquarters.
The 19th was spent in Dauelsen and after twenty-four hours under command of the Guards Armoured Division, during which there was no fighting, the Regiment reverted to its pursuit role, moved to Liidingen (1692) and attacked Riekenbostel (1594). Opposition was slight and a considerable number of disheartened prisoners surrendered. One shell, the only one fired, killed C Company's forward observation officer and wounded the company commander, Captain C. F. A. Baxter, and his two signallers.
Another attack was mounted for Hassel (1697) and 204 prisoners surrendered; there was no fighting.
The 21st was spent in this area and on the 22nd the Regiment moved up to Rothenburg (1102), and on the 23rd advanced towards Mulmshorn (0410), with a troop of the 53rd Reconnaissance Regiment in front. Opposition was met and, though attempts were made to outflank it, resistance stiffened and the whole day was spent without further success.
On the 24th the Regiment was relieved of its positions and moved round to Scheessel (1609) and later to Hetzwege (1112) as a preliminary to an attack north-west the f ollowing day.
On the 25th the 4th Royal Welch Fusiliers carried out the initial attack and at 1300 hrs. A and B Companies were directed on Gyhum (0515) and Wehldorf (0316). Opposition was considerable, especially against B Company, but A Company outflanked it and Gyhum fell to their combined assault C and D Companies then attacked Wehldorf and by nightfall had reached its outskirts against fierce opposition. A and B Companies were moved up and the Regiment sat round a furiously blazing village until dawn. During the night the enemy managed to slip away and a patrol found it empty.
That day and the three following were spent in the same area, but the enemy were rapidly withdrawing northwards and on the 28th patrols could no longer maintain contact
Later, Lieutenant-General N. M. Ritchie, C.B., C.B.E., D.S.O., M.C., commander of XII Corps, sent a message of thanks and congratulations to the 53rd Division for its part in opening crossings over the Weser and Aller.
"SPECIAL ORDER OF THE DAY by Major-General R. K. Ross, C.B., D.S.O., M.C.
It is with very great pleasure that I publish the following extracts from a letter I have today received from Lieutenant-General N. M. Ritchie, C.B., C.B.E., D.S.O., M.C., commander, XII Corps:
HEADQUARTERS, XII CORPS TAC. April, 1945.
Your task in opening up passage ways for XII Corps, and incidentally also for XXX Corps, over tide Rivers Weser and Aller is now completed. It has been no easy task; in fact, quite the reverse. Yet it has been carried out superbly by you and your division.
You have responded as the 53rd (Welsh) Division always does, to every demand made upon you, quite magnificently.
It has been hard fighting, made doubly difficult coming as it has done so closely upon your heavy losses in "Veritable." To my mind this makes your achievement rank even higher than it otherwise would.
Your casualties have again been considerable, and I feel very much for you in the loss of so many fine junior leaders.
Today has been a most fitting close to these operations, which have crowned your success with the capture of Verden and well over 1,000 prisoners.
Many congratulations will reach you from elsewhere, but I send mine now to the 53rd (Welsh) Division for their great fighting qualities and splendid spirit.
We in XII Corps are very proud that you have been with us so long.'
This is high praise, but it is well deserved. Since making contact after crossing the Rhine on the 27th March the division has been continuously in action. Not a day or a night has passed without the enemy being attacked and progress made somewhere.
This has imposed a tremendous strain on all ranks of the division and on all formations and troops placed temporarily under command or in support of the division.
This strain has been particularly severe in the operations referred to by the corps commander, coming as they did at the end of a long period continuously in action.
It was, however, largely owing to the fact that the enemy was allowed no rest that the final success of the operation was achieved and the gap made through which the armoured divisions are now streaming.
I express the thanks of the division to those formations and units—to the 4th Armoured Brigade, to the 7th Royal Tanks, to the 29th A.P.C. Regiment and to the 72nd Medium Regiment, R. A.—who have shared the fighting with us and without whose assistance this success could not have been achieved.
'(Sgd.) R. K. Ross, Major-General, "Commanding 53rd (W.) Division. 'B.L.A. "18th April, 1945."
MAY 1945 1st May.—The Regiment left Gyhum (0515) at 1340 hrs. in troop-carrying vehicles and moved along the Reichsautobahn to the cross-roads at 316311, thence through Tostedt (3122), Trelde (3726), Liillau (4523), Jesteburg (4825) and Hanstedt (5220) to Quarrendorf (5322), which was reached at 1640 hrs. and where the Regiment moved into comfortable farmhouses before crossing the River Elbe.
3rd May.—The Regiment left Quarrendorf (5322) at 1140 hrs. hi troop-carrying vehicles and moved through Brackel (5425), Pattensen (6027), Wittorf (7529), St. Diongs (7729) and over the River Elbe on the class 9 bridge at Tespe (777382) to Geesthacht (7540), which was reached at 1340 hrs.
The Regiment waited here until the evening while negotiations for the surrender of Hamburg were in progress. At 1845 hrs., on the city's surrender, the Regiment left Geesthacht and moved through Bergedorf (6446), Schonningsted (6751) and Stemwarde (6655) to Willinghusen (6354), where it was ordered to spend the night before entering Hamburg at dawn on the following day.
4th May.—At 0530 hrs. the Regiment left Willinghusen (6354) and moved through Barsbuttel (6055) into Hamburg (5055).
As the city had surrendered unconditionally on the previous day, there was no opposition. The streets were entirely deserted and all civilians had been ordered to remain in their houses.
The Regiment arrived without incident in its area in the neighbourhood of the Stadpark (5158) and the remainder of the day was spent in finding billets, having road-blocks removed by civilians, patrolling the area and locating vital points and camps of displaced people and prisoners.
A Company moved initially into flats at the corner of Jarre-strasse and Saarland Strasse (524573) and later into the municipal buildings in Vozzberg Strasse (509576). B Company moved into pleasant villas in Maria Louisen Strasse (507577). C Company went into a well-appointed warehouse, the property of the Hamburg City Railway Company. D Company occupied a block of flats at the corner of Jarrestrasse and Jollasse Steig. S Company moved into the school buildings at the corner of Grasweg and Vossberg Strasse. Regimental headquarters were established in the ground floor of the Red Cross buildings in the Schlageter Ring.
SPECIAL ORDER OF THE DAY by Major-General R. K. Ross, C.B., D.S.O., M.C.
Tomorrow, the 9th May, has been officially declared V Day and so ends for the 53rd (W.) Division a campaign in which the division has played a part second to none.
I attach as an appendix to this order extracts from a letter I have received from the corps commander and my reply on behalf of the division.
The corps commander has paid us a high tribute and all ranks of the division can feel justly proud that General Ritchie, who knows the division better than any other higher commander, has felt able to speak so highly of us.
Further, the unbroken line of successes of the division throughout the whole campaign enables all ranks to feel with quiet confidence that General Ritchie's generous praise is well deserved.
V Day coming as it does one day short of the completion of the fifth year that I have been privileged to serve the division as brigadier and divisional commander, I am in a better position than most to appreciate the years of hard work and effort by all ranks which have forged the efficient fighting machine which has proved itself so consistently on the battlefields of Europe.
General Ritchie is right when he attributes our success largely to the magnificent team work which exists throughout the division, but good team work is born of a thorough knowledge of and confidence in the ability of each member of the team and this cannot exist without a long period of hard woffe and training. Further, it implies complete loyalty to the team and allows no place for petty jealousies or individualism. I would say, therefore, that General Ritchie's tribute to our team work is the highest compliment he could pay us.
Those of you who can look back to the conditions of May, 1940, in Ireland—conditions of complete lack of transport and negligible equipment—will realize, as I do, how far we have gone since those days, and the immense amount of work which has been put into it by everybody to achieve the present team. "Battles cannot be won without paying the cost and we have had heavy casualties, though I am thankful to say that the numbers who have made the supreme sacrifice are astonishingly few considering the almost continuous fighting in which the division has been engaged throughout the campaign. I feel at this moment we should pay tribute to those whose gallantry contributed so much to our successes but who are unable to be with us now at the moment of our . . . triumph.
I would end on a personal note. I have had the honour of commanding the 53rd (W.) Division for the last two and a half years. It has been and will always be a matter of great pride and satisfaction to me that I have been privileged to be in charge of the final preparation of the division for war and to have seen the campaign through with you all to its successful end. I wish to acknowledge with gratitude the unfailing loyalty, understanding and support I have received at all times from all commanders of whatever grade, from all staffs and, indeed, from all ranks of the division, which has made my work so simple and at the same time so pleasant. I am most grateful to you all.
"N. K. Ross, Major-General, "Commanding 53rd (W.) Division.
"British Liberation Army. "8th May, 1945."
5th May.—Lieutenant-Colonel F. H. Howard, M.C., re-assumed command of the Regiment on return from leave.
5th to 31st May.—The rest of the month was spent mainly in locating and administering displaced persons' and prisoners' camps. At one time the Regiment was responsible for thirty-two camps containing approximately 4,500 people of all nationalities, the majority being Italians. The conditions hi the camps were extremely unhealthy and insanitary, and the inhabitants had been reduced to such a state of apathy by under-nourishment and ill treatment that it was difficult to persuade them to do anything to help themselves. There was a little spasmodic looting by displaced persons and prisoners during the first few days, but it ceased when it was discovered that this would not be tolerated. By the end of the month the conditions in the camps had improved beyond recognition and approximately 3,500 people had been evacuated to their home countries.
The attitude of the German population, both civil and military, during the month was orderly and obedient and there was a marked desire on the part of civilians to fraternize with the occupying forces. Two sentries of B Company had two shots from a revolver or a .22 rifle fired at them one night, but the firer was not caught; it is considered more likely that he was a discontented or drunk displaced person or prisoner than a German.