‘You must feel quite proud to be a Red Devil’ – Walking with the 11th Battalion.

On Wednesday 20 September 1944, following the failure to relieve John Frost’s force at the Arnhem Road Bridge a defensive perimeter had started to form in Oosterbeek, a small town just to the west of Arnhem. At it’s centre was the Divisional Headquarters located at the Hartenstein Hotel. This perimeter, a thumb shaped area with its base on the Northern Bank of the Lower Rhine was created in the hope of giving XXX Corps, pushing up from the South, a bridgehead to mount a crossing of the river.

The defence of the lower eastern flank of the perimeter was formed by an ad-hoc force. It comprised of elements of the 1st, 3rd and 11th Battalions of the Parachute Regiment, the 2nd Battalion South Staffordshire Regiment, Glider Pilots and the Guns of the 1st Airlanding Light Regiment, Royal Artillery. It was initially christened ‘Thompson Force’ after the C.O of the Light Regiment, Colonel W.F.K ‘Sheriff’ Thompson and after he was wounded, ‘Lonsdale Force’ after Major Dickie Lonsdale from the 11th Battalion.

The northernmost part of Lonsdale Force holding the Perimeters’ eastern flank, on Weverstraat comprised of men from the Glider Pilots Regiment and the 11th Battalion. One house, known as ‘Vredehof’ was held for 4 days until 24 September by some of the blokes of the 11th Battalion and nearly 72 years later it was in the footsteps of three of them, Jimmy Kerr, Harold Cook and Dave Morris I walked on a recent lunchtime stroll in the Spring sunshine.

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1. Germans on the junction of de Dam and Weverstraat, then and now. The ‘Vredehof’, held by the 11th Battalion is just around the corner from where this photo was taken.

The following is an account written by Dave Morris which appeared in Operation Market Garden- Then and Now Volume 2 by Karel Margry.

Sunday, September 24, 1944

We were soon reminded at dawn that the enemy were in close proximity – we could hear tanks on the move and there was considerable mortar and small-arms fire. Three shells had hit our house before eight o’clock blowing out all the windows and doors. We all went down into the cellar whilst the shelling took place and remained there for about an hour. Lance-Corporal Harold Cook, Jimmy Kerr and myself stayed in the cellar whilst the other four went back upstairs to their positions at the windows, or at least where the windows had been! I heard footsteps made by heavy boots and instructed everybody in the cellar to keep absolutely quiet. Mr de Soet [the owner of the house] translated. After a very short while a German hand-grenade was hurled into the cellar and a German voice demanded everybody was to come out. Mr de Soet replied in German that there was only civilians in the cellar but the Germans insisted ‘everybody out’. I told Mr de Soet if it meant saving their lives I would surrender- he thought it would be best if I did.

At this point the baby, Roelinde, who had been so good throughout the four days, decided to call out ‘Da-Da’. Another grenade was thrown into the cellar and landed on the bed where Roelinde had been sleeping. I snatched it up and threw it into an alcove but it did not explode. I showed a white handkerchief through the cellar opening and ushered the civilians out first. Cook, Carr and myself followed. The three of us were put up against the wall of the house and to this day I thought we were going to be shot. One of the four men still upstairs in the house threw a No. 36 grenade amongst the ten or twelve Germans who had taken us prisoners and it exploded but, believe it or not, none of the Germans nor us were injured. I shouted to those upstairs to make good their escape via a side window but I do not know if they did. It will never be known if the throwing of the grenade saved us from being shot, but I do know that had any German been killed or even wounded by it, it would have been the end of us three.

I was searched after the grenade incident by a German soldier who found my cigarette case and put it into his own pocket. That case was the last present given to me by my wife and I did not intend to part with it so I drew the attention of a German who appeared to be in charge and explained, by sign language what had happened, pointing to the German soldier who had searched me. He was spoken to by the NCO and the cigarette case was produced. The NCO struck the offender across his face with the case and handed it back to me. In the meantime Mr de Soet and the civilians from the celaar were being ordered to leave the vicinity and were not, to my knowledge, molested in any way. Lance-Corporal Cook, Jimmy Kerr and I were marched away with three German escorts.

What Cook, Kerr and Morris were not to know is that this march into captivity was to be captured by both German photographs and newsreel. The first image was taken on the junction turning from Weverstraat on to de Dam. The road layout is slightly different now but the key here is the house in the background.

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2. Left to Right: Private Jimmy Kerr, B Company; Lance Corporal Harold Cook, Signal Platoon attd. C Company and Regimental Quartermaster Sergeant Dave Morris, HQ Company. (All 11th Battalion)

After walking along the 50 yard length of de Dam the three men turned left on to Fangmanweg and into the lens of a newsreel cameraman. The footage was shown in the newsreel Deutsche Wochenschau on 5 October 1944.  I doubt there’s a documentary on Arnhem around today that doesn’t contain the following footage.

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3. Kerr (partially hidden), Cook and Morris, who by this point had acquired a cigarette turn from de Dam and start to walk uphill on Fngmanweg towards the camera outside No.35

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Dave Morris outside No.35 Fangmanweg, then and now.

Shortly afterwards Dave Morris was separated from Cook and Kerr. He was again captured on camera in the care of a German Officer. The following is Morris’ recollection of the conversation..

I was handed to a German officer, who could speak perfect English. He asked me the usual questions, my name, what unit, how many comrades I had left behind, etc. Of course he only got my Army number, rank and name. He did not pursue his questioning. In fact he became quite pleasant. He said, “You must feel quite proud to be a Red Devil” and insisted that I posed with him for a photograph.

When in front of the camera he asked me why I did not speak German. I replied: “Why should I speak German when you can speak English?” I think he appreciated that for he patted me on the shoulder and took me inside the house. There I was offered a mug of tea and a piece of bread. I could not believe what was happening!

 

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“Why should I speak German when you can speak English?” Dave Morris with unknown German Officer.

Marched with other P.O.W’s towards Arnhem, Dave managed to detach himself from the column and into St Elisabeths Hospital, hoping to escape later. Whilst there, he was in a room and when a British doctor asked for someone who was blood group ‘O’ and Dave came forward. He was taken into a room for a blood transfusion, the blood destined for a man entered in the medical register as a Corporal Hayter, who was in fact Brigadier John Hackett, Dave’s C.O of 4th Parachute Brigade (to conceal his identity Sergeant Bert Tenucci of 16 Parachute Field Ambulance had removed all of Hackett’s badges of rank. Hackett was later smuggled out of the Hospital by the Dutch Resistance)

Dave wasn’t prepared to go quietly into captivity. He jumped from a train bound for Germany on 26 September and went on the run. Hidden by brave Dutch civilians he remained at large until attempting to reach Allied lines on 19 November 1944 as part of the Pegasus II Operation. He didn’t make it and was captured, ending his war at Stalag VIIIC at Sagan in Poland.

Dave Morris returned many times after the war to Arnhem. I would have loved to have met him but alas he passed away sometime ago. It was however a pleasure and a real privilege to have walked in his footsteps.

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Dave Morris, on the left at the September Commemorations at the Airborne Cemetery in Oosterbeek. (Photo by kind of courtesy of Mr. Philip Reinders)

 

 

 

A Sapper on Club Route – Then and Now.

On the 71st Anniversary Tour of Operation Market Garden last September we were fortunate enough to have amongst our party a Veteran, Gordon Cantley. In 1944, Lieutenant Gordon Cantley was serving with 14th Field Squadron, Royal Engineers attached to the Guards Armoured Division. Gordon told me that he had decided that this would be his final visit to the Battlefields and given the level of detailed knowledge he could still display I had no hesitation in allowing him to speak throughout our Day spent on Club Route.

The following is a Transcript of an interview made with the IWM Sound Archive. It is Gordon’s reminisces of those days in September 1944 and pleasingly mirrors exactly what he was to say on our Tour years later. The Transcription comes courtesy of Diane from http://www.ww2talk.com whose father served with J.O.E Vandeleur’s Irish Guards Group during Market Garden.

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Gordon in Valkenswaard describing the Building of the Bridge at Son.

..So we got into the middle of Brussels and the population was out and clambering over everything. Sappers were having a splendid time. But my OC came up and he and I set off to have a look at all of the bridges on one of the canals, to see whether they were mined or not, and they weren’t. So we got back and we stayed in Brussels. I think we got there on the night of the 3rd. I think on the 4th the Grenadiers moved forward to Louvain which is further up, to capture the bridges there, with Tony. I stayed in Brussels with the Irish Group. They had liberated quite a lot of champagne and other wines, so each unit received its allocation of booze.

Now I don’t know what I was doing but I was driving through Brussels again with this armoured Section of mine and somebody waved us down and said the war was over. Now quickly my Sappers were into the nearest cafe and were being roundly boozed up but I hadn’t been told about this. You may remember there had been an attempt by I think it was one of the Swedish Princes or something, to establish or something of that particular order at that particular time. Anyway I persuaded the Sappers that the war wasn’t yet over so we started off again.

Now round about the 5th we started off again. We moved up, without a great deal of difficulty, up to another river line – no it was a canal line. I can’t understand what it was, but we couldn’t get across this canal. There was a high level lock so I clambered up onto this lock to look over and on the other side I could see the Germans in their slit trenches. There was an open area and there was a house which was obviously the Company Headquarters or words to that sort of effect. So I came back and revealed this information but em, we couldn’t get on.

On the other Centre Line, 32 Brigade was being led and they had captured a bridge partially intact. But the Squadron – 615 Field Squadron – had put a 110 foot Triple-Single and a small 40 foot Single bridge over the top of it and they were tired, of course. So I was delegated to join the Coldstream Group when they crossed the bridge that morning to advance. I had worked with the 5th Coldstream but I’d never worked with the armoured battalion of the Coldstream at that particular time.

It was really hard going, it really was hard fighting. We were getting shelled and mortared all the way. There was a big coal heap and it was obvious that the Germans were using this as an Observation Post and they could see everything that was going on. So we were working round to the left to try and get to this particular next canal the Meuse – Escault Canal. That canal which we had just crossed was the Albert Canal, quite a big canal. So we were now trying to get to the Meuse – Escaut and we were working round the the left. The Welsh were working up through the middle and they had a hard time of it, the Welsh, because the Germans had decided they were going to hold the Albert canal as their defence line and they put paratroopers and some heavy tanks across the Meuse-Escaut, up to the Albert but we were already across it. But this was what we were meeting – their attempts to retake this bridgehead and to form that as the line and our attempts to get through it.

So the Welsh had a hard time with this bunch. The Coldstream had also had a hard time. But we were moving slightly to the left near a place called Bourg Leopold and we were getting on not too badly having broken through this crust. But on the road to Bourg Leopold there was an anti-tank gun further up the road which was stopping the tanks. So I went up and had a look under the road to see what the – whether the culvert was blown up or not. There was a German tank buried up to the top of its tracks in the mud on the left so the ground was very soft, and not really able to get off the road.

Anyway we decided we would by-pass this anti-tank gun which in fact put a shot through the middle of a 15 cwt which incautiously had come round the corner. By this time I had learnt, quite soundly, that if everything was quiet, you were too near the bloody Germans. Nobody told you that you were at the Front but you knew very quickly that you were near the Front, if everything went dead quiet.

Anyway we moved round again and we were on sand at this particular time and one of my sister officers – or brother Officers – in 615 Field Squadron came bashing up saying: had I seen the Irish Group and I said No, normally I work with the Irish Group. But because of the palaver with the building of the bridge we were – 14 Field Squadron were supporting 32 Brigade at this time and 615 Squadron were obviously there to support…

This chappie Ron Hutton had been delegated to catch up with the Irish and help them because they had gone on on their own. The Household Cavalry had discovered a bridge which was unblown at a place called Lommel – no, near Lommel. It was on the Meuse – Escaut Canal. They’d carried out quite a good reconnaissance. They’d borrowed some Dutch clothing and got on bicycles and cycled along this road and had seen the bridge was unblown and gone back and reported this to the Irish – reported to Division and Division had reported to the Irish. The Household Cavalry were the Corps Reconnaissance Regiment and they used to go out into the wild blue yonder. And they really did. One of my Sections – the other armoured Section with Corporal Pratt – used to be sent out with one of their Sections, out into the wild blue yonder and they had a splendid time. But they didn’t do any fighting. They just wandered around.

Anyway, the Irish had been told this and at that particular time the Commander of the 3rd Irish was a chap called Joe Vandeleur and his cousin Giles Vandeleur was in fact commanding the armoured battalion, the 2nd Irish. Joe Vandeleur decided he would have a go at capturing this bridge. To cut a long story short, they bounced this bridge and they captured it intact and Ron Hutton removed the demolition charges and got an MC [1] for that. The story – the cruel story in the Division was that he lost his wire cutters and he had to use his revolver to break the wire. But that’s another story. He did well.

The other story which comes up in a little bit of the History of the Irish Guards is that either the lead tank across, or the second tank across, they had the had knocked an 88 out of the way on getting there, and they’d pushed another one which was being towed out of the way on getting over, and when they got across there was a German Army lorry burning, and they could smell tobacco, so they stopped, filled up their tank with cigars before proceeding. That’s true but it’s not something which eh … Anyway, the Brigade – the Irish crossed and they formed a bridgehead over this particular river. They kept on increasing this sort of bridgehead, a little bit here, to keep the Germans on the move during the time we were there.

Now this was the 10th of September. So we’d reached Brussels on the 3rd of September. The Grenadiers had moved forward to Louvain on the 4th of September. We’d started off again about the 5th or the 6th September. We’d had four days of very heavy fighting getting to and capturing this bridge. So the Germans were on the ball again and it was at this particular stage that Montgomery elected to try the Arnhem business. So we were told to stop at this crossing and hold on.

Now the Airborne Army as it was, had been briefed three or four times for the Seine Crossing, for the airfields at Douai and Amiens and possibly the Albert Canal and they’d all had these things cancelled so they were all getting a little bit sort of uptight and this one was going to go, whatever happened.
So that’s one background which doesn’t get …

DID YOU KNOW THAT AT THE TIME, OR WAS THAT…?

We knew that they were getting a bit uptight but eh, that was not our problem.

The other thing was it took from the 10th of September to the 17th of September to organise this particular shooting match. Which isn’t a long time considering everything which had to be done. At that particular stage then we were on Water points. I remember building a water point on a house and taking a chance on the quality of the roof and just managing to get away with it. We put the self-supporting water tanks on the flat roof and it just managed to stay up without falling through, but that’s another story.

The Irish were in front and they were trying to get a little bit further forward all the time with their bridgehead or keeping the Germans on the move. Now at this particular stage the 11th Armoured had got through to Antwerp on the 4th of September, as we had got to Brussels on the 3rd September. 7th Armoured had got to had got to Ghent or Ghent as the case may be, as well, and the whole of the German 15th Army had been retreating up the coast. So they were stuck between Ghent and Antwerp with the Scheldt estuary in front of them. Now, it always puzzled me that they were not – that they were allowed to escape over the Scheldt. I read stories of this and they couldn’t move at all during the day but during the night they used to get their barges and swing their bridges across, and their rafts and they shifted basically the whole of this damned Army across into Zeeland. Of course that gave an awful lot of trouble in the capturing of the, and opening up of the Antwerp ports, because they had to land there and move down and push this army back.

In addition to that this Army was now on the left hand side, up towards the coast, and we were in the middle and Germany itself was on the right. I’ve often wondered about the wisdom of that, whether it was right to do this, or do that. But off course war is always a choice of different decisions. I think that in principle the Arnhem decision was quite well-conceived. If we had got as far as we had got, and got right round over Arnhem to the Zuider Zee as was our brief, our objective, then that would have eliminated the whole of the Siegfried line and all that rotten battle which took place between the Meuse and the Rhine after Arnhem.

But forgetting about that – we are here on the 10th September, the German Army is busy crossing on our left, which we don’t know anything about. The Airborne can’t go in until the 17th of September, so all we can do is keep nibbling away and keeping the the bridgehead alive. So, comes the 17th of September, and we’re all briefed you know: Bash on, press on regardless sir. No stopping, no nothing.

So up we go and I get briefed by the CRE and he says: The Irish are leading, so you’re with the Irish. You have under your command a bulldozer and two tipper loads of Armco culverting because before you reach the next village there’s a little stream – whose name I forget – and if that bridge is blown you are to deal with it and I’m giving you this equipment upfront. – Fine. Thank you very much Sir.

So the plan then is that the armour will lead, there will be no infantry assault, it will be an armour breakout to get going as quickly as possible behind a First World War barrage. Now by this time the 3rd Irish had been taken out of the line and one of the – I think it was one of 50th Division’s battalions – or maybe more than one had been put into the bridgehead.

So 3rd Irish were now back on the tanks with the 2nd Irish. So off we go at half past two on the Sunday afternoon. We’re the lead tank, two lead tanks, – the lead Troop Leader – the lead Troop leader was normally the lead tank – then his two tanks, normally three tanks, but normally there was one out of operation, the lead Squadron Leader, me, two half tracks of Sappers, two tipper loads of Armco culverting, a bulldozer on a trailer and the rest of the Guards Armoured Division. So off we set, and as I said, my wireless Operator sat in the turret, and I sat down and you could see out through ports on the side. As we were going along I saw these Germans popping out of the ground and running to what was obviously an 88 – and it was sitting up – an 88 sits high – and it was sitting up there and I saw them running to this. We were trotting along quite nicely and I thought somebody must be shooting at them but I didn’t see any shooting.

So off we got and we were belting along quite steadily and all of a sudden we stop. There’s open ground on the right hand side and there’s a rabbit fence on the left hand side with trees – more like young conifers than anything else. A ditch on the left hand side and and a ditch on the right hand side and the road width was probably about fifteen feet. This was the Centre line fifteen feet of road and not very good road at that.

So we stopped and I get out and I asked the Squadron Leader: Why are we stopped Sir? He said: Well look behind. Behind the bulldozer was one more tank and further down the line we could see more smoke because they had brewed up, I think it was either the next six tanks or the next nine tanks. So that was the Division at a halt. We stayed there – this must have been about three o’clock I suppose in the afternoon – we stayed there for a bit, the Sappers were out in the ditches preparing for any sort of difficulties.

The OC of the Squadron said: We got to go back about 500 yards or so because they want the Typhoons to strafe the woods and I said: Well that’s fine but it’s not going to be easy turning a bulldozer on a trailer on a fifteen foot road. He acknowledged that but he said: You’ve got ten minutes to do it. Fortunately we were able to get the damn thing onto this flat field and turn it round and we all got back. We got back, I don’t know how far we went back. I never saw any Typhoons firing but we went back so far and we stopped again and we managed to turn the bulldozer round again so the thing was on. And we sat there for a bit and eventually they cleared the Germans out of this hold-up, fairly quickly – fair number of casualties though when you read their battle that took place there and they broke out again.

So we set off again. Now it was still daylight and part of the plan had been that the lead tank would stop a couple of hundred yards short of this supposedly, possibly damaged bridge. The Medium guns, the 4.5s and the 5 inches, would fire on this target in case there were some Germans there. So we got there and we stopped. I pulled the dozer into a turning off to the left and my two half tracks of Sappers and told them to get the dozer off and let it amble down to the bridge.

Corporal South who was the Section leader at that particular time and I we started to walk down to the bridge. The tanks stopped about a hundred yards short of the bridge. We got down to the bridge and it was a timber bridge but we could see it was all right for Class 40 and it seemed to be all right. The Germans had been doing some road works at that particular stage in the game. They were obviously going to double up this bridge and they had started to make a road to the side to double up and it was sand bed only. Now no sooner had Corporal South and I said: Well this is all right, when these bloody 4.5s and 5 inches started to come in and there we were right on the target. So, I don’t know about him but I had my steel helmet on and I was dug-in pretty quickly in this sand bed.

But anyway, it stopped and there was very little damage to the bridge. The 4.5s were pretty ineffective but they had killed quite a number of cattle in the field or wounded them – they weren’t terribly happy. One of my Sappers had told me later on that one of them had damaged the trailer for the bulldozer – the dozer was off and he was wandering down to the bridge at this time and he’d stopped of course. But I left my Section there – half of the Section there – to repair this minor bit of damage. I’m told by one of the Sappers that the last he saw of the bulldozer was it was towing its trailer back towards Brussels. He’d had enough.

Anyway we got into this place called Valkenswaard and this was in the evening. Why we didn’t press on, I don’t know. But remember that the 3rd Irish had been pretty heavily involved in this battle to break out of the bridgehead, the 2nd Irish had lost six or nine tanks and done a lot of firing. So the probable reason for it was that they wanted to be replenished by the F Echelon for the next day. That’s the probable reason for the stop at Valkenswaard. Anyway we stopped there. The OC came up and he and I toured around the place having a look at different things but no problems.

During the night a German vehicle – I forget what it was – came through, but I didn’t see it. He came through breaking his way out for himself and he was hurling grenade out of the doings. But I don’t think any real damage happened. So the next day came along and this was Day 1 gone. We’d got two days to get to Arnhem and here we were, we were about 10 miles north of the breakout, we had about another 40 or 50 miles to go.

So we started off the next morning again with the Irish leading and we got – we knocked out a tank on the way or a self-propelled gun, I remember that. Again remember I’m about 4th vehicle in the line. The lead tank spotted it this one before he spotted it, knocked him out get to this village called Aalst – A A L S T – and we stop again. The reason why we stopped is there was a battery of 88 guns round the corner and they can’t get the tanks around them. So we stopped again and there was another culvert at the entrance to this village so I went out to have a look, to see if it was prepared for demolition and it wasn’t. As I got out one of these Daimler Dingos of the Household Cavalry came belting backwards with his smoke pots discharging. He’d tried to go forward and the 88 had had a shot at him, so he came back. The Grenadiers tried to get to the left and Tony tried to pass them over a bridge and the third tank fell through, so they were stuck. Eventually the infantry got round and they moved these anti-tank guns out of way. This time we were sitting in Aalst.

Now this was the afternoon in Aalst and there are two things you do in the Army – you either sleep or you eat. I was having a nap on the bonnet of my Scout car. This chappie came out of a house at the side and he said: I just had a telephone call from Eindhoven, are you interested? I said: I’m not interested in Eindhoven, but can you get through to Zon, which was the bridge further up the line. That was the bridge that the American Airborne – 101 – was supposed to capture. That was the next major bridge, the Queen Wilhelmina canal.
Can you get through to Zon? He said: Well, we’ll try.
So I went in to his house and I spoke to the Operator at Eindhoven: Can you through to the Operator at Zon? She said: Well, we’ll try.
She got through to the Operator at Zon and I said: Well look, can you get an Engineer Officer to come to telephone and she said: We’ll try.
So I went back to sleep on the top of the car and the OC, Major Thomas came up, cos I’d told the CRE what was happening. I was on the CRE’ s net, the lead, the two lead Officers – myself and Tony Jones – were on the CRE’s net – right back to the CRE so we kept him fully in the picture. I said: Well, we’ll see.

This chappie came through and the Engineer officer came on and talked to the Squadron Leader and he said :Yes
Well what size of bridging do we need?
110 feet. Right.
Will you clear the site for us? Yes

So there we were in the afternoon the 18th of September: We knew it was 110 foot Triple-Single, we knew that the site would be cleared and we knew the bridge was blown. So one of the things the CRE did was he cleared the Centre Line and when the Irish started off again and we got through Eindhoven, still in the daylight. We got to Zon which was about I suppose five or six miles beyond Eindhoven – the Wilhelmina canal. There we were.

Now on my two half tracks I used to carry Assault boats, British Army canvas Assault boats, so we were always able to cross a wet obstacle. So we were able to set out the bridge before the rest of the Squadron arrived and the bridging arrived. That night when I was OC Bridge and we built that bridge – 110 foot Triple-Single. My memory of it is that we were supposed to have it finished by 6.30 I think it was, in the morning and we’d started about 8, 10 o’clock at night. It’s a ten hour job so it must have been 8 o’clock at night and it was 6.30 and we were just finishing the end ramp which was on the other side of the bridge to get it down. The Section that was there was my armoured Section who’d been awake for two nights and they weren’t as bright as they should have been, but the CRE came storming over and he was yelling his bloody head off at these people not working hard enough. So I pointed out to him: This is the armoured Section, etc etc etc. So he understood.

We got the Grenadiers away – they were on lead. The Irish had been on lead for the two days. The Grenadiers with Tony Jones went through. By this time we were into the territory of the 101st Airborne. Now all I did from then on was follow behind the Grenadiers with the Irish Group and we were pushed round to the left of Eindhoven, round towards the railway bridge and the power station. The Grenadiers in front of us were pushed through into Eindhoven to try and capture – if it hadn’t already been captured – the main bridge over the lower Rhine – the Waal.

But we learned by this time that the American 82nd Airborne hadn’t managed to capture the bridge. They had concentrated on keeping the Germans off the Centre Line, preventing them coming through from the Reichswald Forest and they hadn’t managed to capture the bridge. There was some argument that eh – I forget whose name the Divisional Commander was – but he’d ordered one battalion to go for the bridge and they had hesitated and stopped short.

Anyway here we are on the third day and the Grenadiers belting along. There is a connecting canal between the main river, the Waal and the Meuse, called the Maas-Waal canal and it’s got a big bridge over it as well. When they got to there they found that it was badly damaged; a partial demolition had taken place and it was drooping. But the Airborne had captured a bridge over a minor canal further round to the right so that the Group was passed over that bridge and they got up to Nijmegen.

I don’t know the details from there on onwards but the fact is that they tried to capture the bridge and they didn’t get it. They didn’t get anywhere near it because the reaction of the Germans had been such that they’d put somebody over on the South side of the river very quickly. They’d put their guns on to those particular targets very quickly. They knew what the pattern was very quickly from you know, the landings of the Airborne Division. So anyway the Grenadiers attempted to go at it on the first day and didn’t get anywhere.

Now we’re not on the 19th. This is the afternoon of the 19th. They’re trying to capture this bridge, they can’t do it. Tony sends one of his half tracks with a Lance-Sergeant round to the left with some tanks to try and take the railway bridge which is on the left hand side and downstream. They get shot up and in fact Lance -Sergeant Berry is killed. [1] Tony remains with the main group. After very hard fighting and some good fighting by both the 1st Battalion of the Grenadiers who lost some good people and the battalion of the Airborne, they get to the end of the bridge but they still can’t get across the bridge. So the Airborne decided that the only way that they can do this is to put a water assault downstream and come in from the other side. This has been planned for some time because of the difficulties of getting the bridge but the difficulty of getting the Assault boats up this single Centre Line has been enormous and they haven’t arrived till fairly late on the afternoon of the 20th.

Now by this time the south side of the bridge has been taken but not the river, not the crossing. The Americans are supported by the Irish, whom I told you were round on the left hand side and the Irish lined the embankment and fired smoke and supporting fire for the Americans rowing themselves across. In fact my Troop was down to ferry them across and that’s one reason why I was round there but they decided they would do it themselves for which I am very truly grateful. Nevertheless they did it themselves and they did a splendid job.

I was very lucky one time running into Morris – some peculiar name – Burrell Moffett I think his name was, or Burris Moffett [T. Moffatt Burriss], some sort of name, who was the chappie who was the leading Company Commander crossing that particular thing on that particular assault. We met up with him on one of these visits to Arnhem with Tony Jones and they had a long argument as to who had cut the wires on the bridge. Because when the notice was given that the Americans were at the far side of the bridge, the tanks dashed across.

Now Tony’s memory of this briefing is – it was with Lord Carrington who was I think the Second in Command of that particular lead Squadron of Grenadier tanks.
Sergeant Robertson or Robinson as the case may be, pointed out that this should be the job of an Officer. In fact he was told: Not in the Grenadier Guards. Tony remembers this quite well.

Anyway off shot Sergeant Robertson, or Sergeant Robinson, Robertson I think it was, with his two tanks belting across and Tony was briefed to follow with his half Section to cut the wires. Off they went and they bounced their way through a roadblock of concrete blocks which I think had been there for another purpose but which were there. Tony says he threw about half a dozen Teller mines into the drink and he got started on cutting the wires. This is of course where our friend from the American Army says he was cutting wires but I’m sure there were plenty of wires for him to cut, signal wires and all sorts of wires. The reason why it went up was nae because they cut the wires it was that they decided that they could nae blow it, or something went wrong. Anyway.

The other story is of course that when Robertson got over the bridge with one tank – because one tank had been damaged – they stopped under the railway. Now as I said the railway was down below and the road bridge was here, so the railway crossed over and the road passed under this railway bridge. So he got as far as this railway bridge which I suppose was about a couple of miles up and they stopped. The Americans were quite excited because they wanted the tanks to go on. Now remember the Grenadiers had been fighting quite hard to clear this bridge, they’d taken a lot of casualties, the tanks had taken casualties and these two tanks were on the right side of the river with no infantry to follow. But the Americans said but Well we’ll put our people on. This has always been the argument.

But remember we’re now on the evening of the 20th of September and eh I know now that our friend Frost had surrendered on the afternoon of the 20th of September and he was – they were taken off on the afternoon of the 20th of September. So the bridge had gone at Arnhem and even if it hadn’t, the purpose of belting up there with a couple of tanks and getting to the bridge had probably gone. We certainly weren’t going to get to the Zuider Zee. But at that particular stage of the game the remainder of the 1st Airborne were having a bit of a battle around about Hartenstein, I think it was called, on the other side, but they were much further downstream, opposite or very near to the Heveadorp ferry near a place called Driel.

Now the next day which is the 21st the Irish were in lead again and we again crossed over this bridge – well we didn’t cross it till the early morning of the 21st and we’d gone about eh, oh i don’t know, two or three miles, rounded a corner and the first three lead tanks were brewed up. Bang, bang, bang. We could see the Polish airdrop taking place and they were taking place to the left round about Driel. So they were dropping to support the Airborne on the other side of the river. But we were on this embanked road with polder on left and right, and nothing, no cover whatsoever and we turned round this bend and the first three lead tanks were burning. So we stopped and we got out, the Squadron Leader got out into the ditch, I got out into the ditch. I’d picked up an American Garand I think it’s called, which is a self-loading rifle. So i had a shot or two at a farm which I could see just over the field, which produced an immediate response of a burst of Spandau, at which I was asked to desist, which I did very quickly.

We stayed there for a bit and then we moved back a bit – not very much – just a yard or two to get out of the way and whilst we were there the half track containing the RAF Controller for the Typhoons was there. Now, I can’t remember the Typhoons being brought into action, at all. I don’t know whether they were or they weren’t, maybe the weather wasn’t good, maybe they couldn’t fly by at least a fella was there. I was talking to him and I heard a barrel of incoming mortars on its way and I knew this lot was coming close. So in two seconds flat I was under the tank but he wasn’t aware of these sort of things, so he was left standing. Fortunately he wasn’t hurt but he decide he was a bit too close to the sharp end and withdrew. Very wise.

Anyway we stayed there. My only memory of that particular area is that – we moved off the side. My only memory of that particular area is that the 25-pounders were starting to fire and there was one gun was dropping short – there’s always one bloody gun dropping short – and he was dropping into our laager, so people were getting a bit excited about this. But anyway, we stayed there and we had nothing more to do with regard to the relief of the Airborne Division. The Armoured Division was drawn back and we were drawn back to the side.

We had some more exercises in helping to maintain – what do you call it – the thing that was stretched across the river to stop the Germans sending stuff down the river. But in fact the Germans sent down a squad of frogmen and they attempted to blow both the railway bridge and the road bridge. In fact they put a charge alongside one of the piers of the railway bridge and they dropped a span into the brink, so that went well for them. At the road bridge it didn’t damage the pier but it blew a hole in the bridge. So we had to put a couple of Bailey bridges across this gap to keep a two-way traffic. But that was that.

I understand also that the Navy got involved in producing a proper boom and they put a proper boom in up upstream after this particular exercise. But I also understand that the Germans knew about this so they launched a haystack into the drink. Now you wouldn’t believe it but a haystack when it picks up the water, it still floats but its a fairly massive thing. This made a real mess of this boom as well. But that’s another story. Whether there’s any truth in it I don’t know.

Anyway we were now out of the line. This was September, getting towards the end of September 1944. Now, what did we do after that? We hung about in that particular area for some time and during November I was sent back with my Troop to Bourg Leopold to build a transit camp for the Leave personnel. So I was down in Bourg Leopold for about six weeks building this transit camp – at least knocking into shape damaged buildings and this sort of thing as a transit camp.

The full interview, including his experiences from landing in Normandy and beyond Market Garden can be found here:

http://ww2talk.com/forums/topic/49835-william-gordon-cantlay-14-field-squadron-re-attached-gad/?hl=%2Bgordon+%2Bcantley#entry585545

 

‘To fight immediately on Landing’

The following is a transcription of a card, given to all new members of Airborne Forces in 1944 and written by Lt-Gen F.A.M ‘Boy’ Browning. Operations in 1944 were not of course just restricted to Market. This missive would also very much apply to those who took part in Tonga, Rugby and into 1945, Varsity.

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You are joining the Airborne Forces. They are something new, different and specialized. They are composed of picked troops.

Show by your turn out, saluting, soldierly bearing and efficiency that you belong to a Corps d’Elite. The credit and reputation of the Airborne Forces are in your hands as much as in mine.

Whether you are dropped by parachute or landed by glider, you will normally go into battle by air. That is the difference between your new task and any other you have done in the Army. That is what makes your new work different and intensely interesting.

But do not think that you will be landed in the centre of Germany as a “suicide force.” You will not. Airborne Forces will be used in close co-operation with land or air or naval forces. They will always be followed up and reinforced as quickly as possible.

The sort of tasks you may have to do are :

(i) Capture a line or a particular point in the rear of the enemy, cut his communications, isolate him from reinforcements.

(ii) Attack the enemy in his rear, while our main forces attack his front.

(iii) Capture airfields in enemy country.

(iv) Assist seaborne landings by attacking coast guns and beach defences in rear.

(v) Be landed close behind our own Armoured Divisions, who have broken through, so providing the infantry, guns and co-operation they require.

(vi) Raid special objectives.

(vii) Assist, by landing with arms, friendly inhabitants of occupied countries in the event of invasions.

Occasions may arise when Airborne Forces will be used in a normal ground role. They are armed and equipped to do so.

In almost every case Airborne Forces will lead the way and be the advanced guard of the attack.

As this advanced guard, the Airborne Forces must be first-class in every way. Every member must be more efficient, more alert and resourceful, and above all more highly disciplined than any other troops in the world. The following principles are essential in war and the highest standard in them must be achieved and maintained.

  1. Discipline – With this introduction to your membership of the Airborne Forces is given you my views on Discipline. Read them carefully. They are the result of experience on the battlefield and if you take them to heart and practise them, neither the Airborne Forces nor yourself will fail in battle.
  2. Speed – In thought and action – This is the prior requirement in war and all risks will be taken to achieve it.
  3. Alertness and the power to observe – Without extreme alertness the soldier is doomed. The man who is alert and sees the enemy first is the one who survives, not only to kill his immediate opponent, but to fight and kill again. The British are naturally an unobservant people, and it is only by constant training  in alertness and the power of observation that these become a habit. It is the habit gained by what you do in training that you will practise in war. Saluting, especially the flags on Commanders’ cars, is one of the best tests of alertness and discipline of the man or unit. I judge the alertness and discipline, and therefore the efficiency of a unit very largely on its saluting. The test of war invariably confirms this judgment.
  4. Initiative – Not by leaders alone but by all ranks – To do nothing when faced with a situation through lack of orders is little short of criminal. To “have a go” and do something, even if it may prove wrong, is infinitely better, mentally, morally and physically. I will never drop on anyone who has a go, even if he is wrong.
  5. Fitness – You will be expected to travel by air, to land by parachute or glider, to fight immediately on landing, and to look after yourself on the ground, on compact rations, perhaps for as long as six days at a time. To do this you must be fit. The Airborne Forces only accept A1 fighting men, but you must be the best of the A1 class. Concentrate on building up your staying power, so that you can undergo hardships and think nothing of them. Train also to be capable of short spells of high-speed marching and fighting. If you are not fit you are a drag on your comrades and you will not survive the battle.
  6. Marksmanship  – All weapons – Airborne troops cannot afford to waste one round of ammunition. All ranks must be expert shots, with all the weapons they are armed with, since the success or failure of any operation will largely depend on the marksmanship of each individual.
  7. Supporting fire – Both automatic and overwhelming – No troops, however well trained and dashing, can advance against even minor opposition unsupported by fire. Further, a weapon that is neither shooting nor in a position to shoot is not fulfilling its function. It is essential, therefore, for the majority of weapons to be actually giving, or prepared to give, supporting fire, only those weapons essential to its success being carried in the assault. Therefore, every movement or offensive action will be heavily supported by every weapon available. This principle must become second nature and be automatic.
  8. Security – Airborne troops will invariably be given the fullest available details on maps, air photographs, and models of any operation they are called on to carry out. This means that at least 24 hours before the operation every soldier taking part will be in full possession of all the details of the operation. This demands a very high standard in security. In plain words – Keep your mouth shut. The success of the whole operation, your own life and equally, if not more important, the lives of your comrades, will be jeopardised if one word is given away.

Now you know what sort of thing you will be required to do; and you know the qualities you will need to take your place worthily in Airborne Forces and to uphold the very high reputation they have already earned.

From now on you will be training hard. Your training will be sound, but you alone can get full value from it. Put all you know into your work.

Never forget that you will be the advanced guard, doing a vital task on which the success of a major attack may depend. Airborne Forces lead the way in battle; so must they lead the way in the whole army and the world in spirit, bearing, efficiency and discipline.

                                                                   [Signed] F.A.M Browning

                                                                                 Lieut-General

                                                                                                   Comd. Airborne Troops

1944.

 

Ike.

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CONFIDENTIAL

Appended is extract from a letter which I have received from the Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Force.
I wish the contents of this letter to be made known to all ranks of the Division.

[Signed] R.E Urquhart
Major General,
Commander,
1st AIRBORNE DIVISION

APO ENGLAND

27 Oct. 44.

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“In this war there has been no single performance by any unit that has more greatly inspired me or more highly excited my admiration, than the nine days action of your Division between September 17 and 26.

There is no question that those sentiments are shared by every soldier, sailor, and airman, of the entire Allied Expeditionary Force now battling against the Western boundaries of Germany.

Before the world the proud record that your Division has established needs no embellishment from me, but I should like every survivor of that gallant band to realize, not only how deeply this whole Command appreciates his example of courage, fortitude and skill, but that the Division’s great battle contributed effectively to the success of operations to the southward of its own battleground.

Your officers and men were magnificent. Pressed from every side, without relief, reinforcements or respite, they inflicted such losses on the Nazi that his infantry dared not close with them, in an unremitting hail of steel from German snipers, machine guns, mortars, rockets, cannon of all calibers and self propelled and tank artillery they never flinched, never wavered. They held steadfastly.

For nine days they checked the fury of the Hun and when, on 26th September, they were ordered to withdraw across the river, they came out a proud haughty band — paratroopers, air-landing men, glider pilots, clerks, cooks and batmen, soldiers all — two thousand strong out of seven thousand five hundred that entered the battle.

The Allied Expeditionary Forces salute them.

My profound admiration and warm regard to you, personally.

Sincerely

(Signed) DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER

Jorrocks

 

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Bernard Montgomery, Brian Horrocks (left) and Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands discuss strategy, 8 September 1944.
(Photo courtesy of IWM, Ref: BU766)

 

Considered to be one of Britain’s most charismatic Commanders of the Second World War, Lieutenant-General Sir Brian Horrocks commanded XXX Corps during Operation Market Garden. He’d certainly had a full war to that date and had enjoyed a rapid rise through the ranks. In 1940, as part of the B.E.F in France and Flanders and up to its evacuation at Dunkirk, Horrocks held the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel and was Commanding Officer of 2nd Battalion, Middlesex Regiment.

Further promotions back in the U.K quickly ensued, culminating with command of the 9th Armoured Division in 1942. Montgomery, fresh himself from assuming command of 8th Army in North Africa, summoned Horrocks to take command of XIII Corps which he did so with aplomb at the Second Battle of El Alamein and beyond.

Wounded by a strafing German Aircraft in Tunisia in June 1943, Horrocks returned to the UK and started 14 months of recovery from wounds that never completely healed. He did not return to service until Montgomery brought him back in August 1944. The previous Commander of XXX Corps, Gerard Bucknall, had been sacked by Montgomery as a consequence of what the latter perceived as the Corps poor performance in Normandy. Montgomery turned to one of his most trusted Lieutenants to take over and so once more, Horrocks assumed the mantle of Corps Commander.

The following are extracts from Horrocks’ memoir Corps Commander, first published in 1977 and co-authored by Eversley Belfield and one of Horrocks own Brigade Commanders during Market Garden, Hubert Essame. It covers the Campaign in North West Europe from Normandy to the German surrender in May 1945 and of his own performance is refreshingly candid. Of his own capabilities Horrocks famously wrote ‘Napoleon, no doubt would have realized this, but I am afraid Horrocks didn’t’.

Horrocks on the conference at Bourg Léopold…

I had learnt from attending many of Montgomery’s conferences the value of simplicity: clear, concise orders, if possible, were pointed out on a map which all could see.

The atmosphere at the conference was casual and cheerful. I always did my best to keep it like this. The Corps Commander must be out all day ‘smelling the battlefield’. I therefore knew most of the audience at Bourg-Léopold personally. Some of us had fought side to side ever since Alamein, apart from the time I was in hospital, so they were more my old friends than subordinate commanders.

Edward Fox portaying Horrocks at Bourg-Lépold in A Bridge Too Far

Horrocks on Sundays…

It was a lovely sunny Sunday morning, completely peaceful, except for the occasional chatter of a machine-gun in the distance. It was rather a terrible thought that on my word of command ‘All hell’ would break loose. I was uneasy that this operation was starting on a Sunday, not, I am afraid, on account of any religious scruples, but because no attack which I had launched on a Sunday had ever been completely successful.

Horrocks on Zero Hour…

Suddenly, seemingly out of the blue, hundreds of aircraft were overhead, many transport planes, some towing gliders, with fighter cover swarming everywhere as the armada flew steadily northwards.
I ordered Zero Hour for 1435 hours. At 1400 exactly, there was a roar overhead as our 350 guns, hidden in the woods behind, opened up. I could see the Irish Guards, with their infantry riding on the tanks, moving up to the start line. I had taken the trouble to find out who would be commanding the leading troop, so at 2.35 p.m. exactly, I could imagine Lieut. Keith Heathcote of 3rd Squadron, 2nd Battalion Irish Guards picking up his ‘mike’ and ordering ‘Driver advance!’ – the battle for Arnhem had started.

Horrocks on the halt at Valkenswaard…

The Irish Guards halted for the night on the orders of Brigadier Norman Gwatkin, the Commander of the 5th Guards Brigade, and it has been suggested that this showed a lack of urgency on the part of XXX Corps. This criticism is totally unfounded. First of all, Gwatkin was a most experienced Commander and a great ‘thruster’, but he had received a message to the effect that the Germans had succeeded in blowing the bridge over the Canal at Son. The Guards still had a long way to go. They had been fighting hard and tanks require maintenance. In my opinion it was an act of an experienced Commander to halt, rest his troops etc., while the bridge was being repaired.

Horrocks on Nijmegen…

The key to the whole of this operation was the Dutch town of Nijmegen. When I arrived, after a completely peaceful drive along our one road, the whole place seemed to have erupted into chaos. In the southern suburbs the Dutch civilians, quite oblivious to the tumult raging elsewhere in their town, were busy in the streets, shaving the hair from women who had cohabited with the German garrison during the Occupation…

The German resistance was formidable. We were opposed not by elderly gentlemen, or inferior lines-of-communication troops, but by tough Nazi-indoctrinated SS troops, who were perfectly prepared to die, if necessary, for Hitler. Every square had been fortified and they set fire to every fifth house in a defensive perimeter round both bridges.

Horrocks on Browning…

‘Boy’ Browning and I were old friends, and from now onwards we took all major decisions together without any semblance of friction. Owing to the fact that he was always immaculately dressed, some people were inclined to underestimate him. In my opinion he was a first-rate Commander, always prepared to take the difficult decisions unhesitatingly. While he of course issued all the orders to the airborne troops, I did the same with XXX Corps. But in spite of great gallantry the progress towards the bridge was desperately slow.

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F.A.M ‘Boy’ Browning, pictured in October 1942.

Horrocks on the Crossing of the Nijmegen Road Bridge…

Of the many battle honours which the Grenadier Guards can claim none can have been more richly deserved than Nijmegen. At 7 p.m. Sergeant Robinson, in command of a troop of tanks, advanced rapidly to the bridge with guns blazing. Including the embankment on both sides, he had to travel 1200 yards completely in the open, when he was an easy target to enemy anti-tank guns firing from the far side and also to Germans firing from positions in the girders above the bridge. It looked to be a suicidal attempt and two tanks were hit, but somehow the troop got across and skidded broadside through the road block, knocking out two German anti-tank guns. The troop was followed by the remainder of the squadron, commanded by Lord Carrington.

Perhaps the bravest of all these very brave men was Lieut. Jones, a young Sapper officer, who ran on foot behind the leading tanks, cutting the wires and removing the demolition charges. I could hardly bear to watch Sergeant Robinson’s apparently suicidal advance, as I expected the bridge to be blown sky-high at any moment. By the evening of the 21st almost a miracle had been achieved: both bridges had been captured intact.

Horrocks on the Island…

The country in front between Nijmegen and Arnhem, which we called the Island, was almost impassable for tanks; all the narrow roads ran along the tops of embankments, with wide ditches on either side, and any vehicle on an embankment was a sitting duck for the German anti-tank gunners hidden in the orchards with which the Island abounded: one knocked-out vehicle could block a road for hours. It was infantry country, and realizing this I ordered up the 43rd Wessex Division to move through Nijmegen and launch a divisional attack towards Arnhem. I did not realize at this time that they also were badly blocked on that one ‘blasted’ road which was constantly under fire and so often cut.

Horrocks on the stresses of command…

Looking back, I realize that the next few days were amongst the worst in my life. Nothing seemed to succeed. I had to be very firm with myself; I was beginning to find it difficult to sleep, as my mind was always filled with the picture of those gallant airborne troops, fighting for their lives on the far bank of the Neder Rijn and, as I knew only too well, A Commander who fails to sleep will soon be no good. Montgomery had often said to me, ‘However bad the situation may be, the Commander must always radiate confidence.’ I did my best, but this was becoming increasingly difficult day by day.

Horrocks from the top of Driel Church…

On the 24th I climbed to the top of Driel Church, where I could get a view of the Neder Rijn. There seemed to me a distinct danger that the airborne troops might be cut off altogether from the river. The trouble was that the Germans were holding high ground on both sides of the airborne perimeter and could sweep the river with fire from machine-guns firing on fixed lines, and the losses in our assault boats would have been heavy indeed. In fact, the only possibility was to cross at night under as much artillery fire as we could afford.

Horrocks with the benefit of hindsight…

The main criticism has always been that XXX Corps was very slow. If this was so, it was my fault, because all the troops were imbued with a sense of desperate urgency. I blame myself very much for one oversight. I cannot now imagine why I did not insist on having a high-ranking Dutch officer at my H.Q. The Dutch Army must have carried out numerous exercises over the same ground. I believe that he would have advised me not to attempt the direct approach from Nijmegen to Arnhem, but to order the 43rd Infantry Division to cross the Waal (which we could have easily bridged) farther to the west of Nijmegen, and carry out a left hook against the German forces on the western edge of the airborne perimeter. The Dutch had a brave and very intelligent resistance movement, which supplied us with first-class information. Somehow, I don’t feel we made the best use of it.

But even if we had crossed the Neder Rijn and joined up with the Airborne Division we could have only have formed a limited bridgehead north of the river. I am certain that an advance to the Zuider Zee would have been out of the question because of the vulnerability of our lines of communication. Anyhow, with the failure of the Battle of Arnhem, all hopes of finishing the war in 1944 were over.

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The Combat Bulletin.

Between 1944 – 1951, The United States Department for War made extensive use of newsreel-type reports for its officers and enlisted men. Combat developments were reported from all theatres in Staff Film Reports, originally made and distributed to the commanding generals and their immediate staffs within the U.S Army. This montage is taken from segments of three of those newsreels, all now available within the Public Domain (Numbers 22,23 and 24). They feature the landings of both the U.S 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions and the advance of British Second Army, commanded by Lt-General Sir Miles Dempsey on its planned drive North towards Arnhem and beyond.

 

By Devious Routes and Much Daring – 5/DCLI and the Dash for Driel

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Following the seizure of the Nijmegen Road Bridge across the Waal on 20th September, the XXX Corps Spearhead, in the form of the Guards Armoured Division resumed the push North towards Arnhem the following day, 21st September 1944. They weren’t to know that organised resistance had ended that morning around the Road Bridge over the Lower Rhine in Arnhem, nor that German Armour had had free movement across the Bridge since the previous evening. Leading the Guards Armoured were the Shermans of the Irish Guards and moving along the elevated, single lane road the silhouette of the high-sided, U.S built tank made for an inviting target. Waiting for the Guards were elements of the 9th and 10th SS Panzer Divisions, armed with both Panther Tanks and the deadly, high velocity 88mm Gun plus 20mm flak guns which, when used in a ground role, proved to be a lethal and much feared weapon against unprotected troops.

As mentioned, the ditch-lined dyke road, with its steep embankments made it most unsuitable ground for Tanks and, unable to deploy, five of the Irish Guards Shermans were quickly knocked out, once more blocking the road North to Arnhem. At this point the decision was made to being through the following 43rd Infantry Division, the Wessex Wyverns, to replace the Guards Armoured as the spearhead of XXX Corps.

I have a personal interest in 43 Div as my Grandad served with the RAMC and was attached the Division, serving with them from the Divisions’ landing in Normandy until the German Surrender in May 1945. Their C.O, Major-General Ivo Thomas was one of the most controversial British Commanders to serve in the North West Europe Campaign and was less than affectionally nicknamed by his men ‘The Butcher’ or ‘Von Thoma’ for his perceived ruthlessness with the lives of his soldiers.

One of the Infantry Battalions charged with pushing North towards Arnhem was the 5th Battalion, Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry under it’s widely respected C.O, Lt-Col George Taylor.

George Taylor, C.O of 5/DCLI seen here as a Major with the Worcester Regiment.

George Taylor, C.O of 5/DCLI seen here as a Major with the Worcester Regiment.

The following is Taylor’s entry into the Battalion War Diary of the attempt to relieve the 1st Airborne Division who at this point were holding a defensive perimeter in Oosterbeek.

The Battalion was formed up early to move by 0900hours, but did not move until 1415 hours. We crossed the railway bridge [across the River Waal at Nijmegen], having been proceeded by the 7th Somerset Light Infantry who were clearing the enemy from the vicinity of Oosterhout. 130 prisoners were taken, identification of whom showed them to belong to Battle Groups named after their Commanders.

The weather was fine as the Battalion crossed the Bridge, and we waited for two hours while the Somerset Light Infantry cleared Oosterhout immediately in front of us. Many refugees were leaving the village, making for Nijmegen. All were in good spirits and glad to see British troops.

The area of Operations for XXX Corps across what became known as 'The Island' from Oosterhout on the North Bank of the Waal to Driel on the South Bank of the Lower Rhine.

The area of Operations for XXX Corps across what became known as ‘The Island’ , from Oosterhout on the North Bank of the Waal to Driel on the South Bank of the Lower Rhine.

At 1700 hours the Battalion began it’s lightening dash to the Arnhem area. Orders had been received to get to the Airborne troops there and to take all risks in doing so. At very frequent intervals pockets of resistance were dealt with, and not until we reached Driel, a village half a mile south of Arnhem, could experiences of the journey be related. At times enemy tanks isolated parts of the Battalion from the main body, and the Commanding Officer ordered ‘A’ Company to deploy and hunt for tanks in an area from which firing had been observed. They destroyed 3 tanks and enabled the Battalion to move on. It was reported that at one spot an enemy tank commander waved on our convoy thinking it was his own transport. ‘B’ Company were forced to leave the road due to patrols of enemy TIGER tanks, which destroyed two of our carriers, but a third which the crew were forced to abandon was later found intact. By devious routes and much daring the Battalion arrived at Driel and contacted the Polish Airborne troops there.

Immediately on arrival the Commanding Officer got together a party of men under the Intelligence Officer, Captain D.V Willcock, to get ammunition and supplies across the river to the British Airborne troops on the Northern Side of the river. Two DUKW’s were loaded with ammunition and other supplies, and left Driel at 00.30 hours on 23 September. The weather had changed from fine in the afternoon to very wet in the evening and the roads were consequently in a very bad state, with visibility practically nil. At approximately 02.45 hours word was received that the DUKW’s had become ditched and overturned in the narrow approaches to the river, thus was foiled the attempt to get ammunition to the airborne troops, which but for the adverse weather conditions might have been successful in spite of enemy gunfire from the river banks.

Carriers and DUKW's of the 5/DCLI in Holland on 18 September 1944. (Photo Courtesy of IWM (BU 934)

Carriers and DUKW’s of the 5/DCLI in Holland on 18 September 1944. (Photo Courtesy of IWM – BU 934)

The action described above by Lt-Col Taylor mentions the Tank Hunting exploits of ‘A’ Company of 5/DCLI. It was during this action that CSM Reg Philp won an immediate D.C.M (Distinguished Conduct Medal) and the following is the Citation for which Reg was commended:

At approximately 1900 hours on 22 Sep 44 the above named WO [Warrant Officer] was travelling in a carrier in the Battalion Column during the move from Oosterhout to Driel. A gap had been caused in the column owing to the picking up of marching personnel and as a result CSM Philp found himself to be in the leading vehicle. While he was endeavouring to close this gap he ran into five Tiger tanks approaching from the opposite direction. Both parties drew aside to allow passage and it was not until the third tank was approaching that CSM Philp realized that they were enemy tanks whereupon he immediately stood on top of his carrier and opened fire with a German Spandau in his possession, which resulted in the killing of the Tank Commander. The tank then opened fire and sprayed the carrier and its occupants were forced to jump from the vehicle and take cover in a ditch. CSM Philp then made his way back along his original route and contacted the soft vehicles in the rear. His information thus enabling a detour to be made thus avoiding the tanks. His Company Commander met the remaining convoy and CSM Philp joined the Company Commander on a tank hunting expedition, his information again enabling a trap to be set for the returning tanks, which was responsible for the destruction of four of the enemy tanks. During the whole of this operation he showed complete coolness and disregard for his personal safety and all this time he was suffering from wounds in the face received from artillery fire.

CSM Reg Philp DCM (photo courtesy of the Daily Telegraph)

CSM Reg Philp DCM (photo courtesy of the Daily Telegraph)

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