For the past eleven months I've been following my late father's slow walk through NW Europe, from Sword beach at dawn on 6th June 1944 to Germany's final capitulation, which saw the battalion resting outside Bremen after a final action taking the bridge at Kattenturm on 24th/25th April. He bore shrapnel wounds from taking an SS-defended orchard at Cambes but was otherwise intact.
As a kid I used to model the Tamiya 1/35th series, becoming an expert with a 3/0 brush and Humbrol paints. After modelling a Wehrmacht Heer
mortar crew I showed the result to my dad and remarked something like "They were really smart in those uniforms, weren't they?" to which he replied laconically "Not the ones I saw". He had seen the German army not in its peacock pride but crumpled, dirty, lousy and abject in defeat. Or dead.
By that stage of the war a British infantry brigade in Germany worked like a proverbial well-oiled machine, in close co-operation with gunners, sappers and armour, in a continuous series of textbook small actions, company actions, taking villages, bridges, strongpoints. The battalion's final action is a good illustration -
"A" Company took some 40 prisoners, and besides this, killed and wounded
an appreciable number. Booty included the 88 mm gun, three lighter
flak guns, and a host of small arms. As against this, their own
casualties were one officer and 24 wounded, and most of these were
fortunately not serious. "A" Company has much cause to be proud of this
Meanwhile "C" Company's bridgehead was now the scene of furious
activity. Vehicles, anti-tank guns, and men poured out of the Buffaloes
and were directed onwards by Capt. Gray who, as Battalion Landing
Officer, had come in with "C" Company to search out a landing ground and
routes forward for vehicles.
"D" Company had pressed on, simultaneously with "A" Company, but the
German defences were without depth, and apart from a few snipers which
were cleared without much trouble, "D" Company's advance was unopposed.
Tactical Battalion Headquarters moved up close behind "D" Company and
established itself at the Eastern end of the village for the duration of
"B" Company had landed without incident, and as soon as "D" Company
reported their objectives gained, "B" Company was slipped through
towards the greatest prize of all, the Kattenturm bridge.
Almost at once they came under fire from the road and a large house to
the left. The leading section, under Cpl. Holt, rushed the position and
eliminated it, whilst another section dealt swiftly with the house, and
soon the advance was resumed.
Lt McCrainor, the leading platoon commander, had been given orders by
Major Cummins to push on as fast as he could towards the bridge and to
bypass any opposition which was not sufficiently serious to detain him.
At the cross-roads near the bridge they encountered opposition, and were
able to do this; and by slipping round the enemy, they seized the
bridge before it could be blown, quickly establishing themselves on both
sides of it.
Subsequently the enemy on the cross-roads and along the bund, where it went towards the bridge, were liquidated at leisure.
Altogether 4 Officers and 20 or 30 other ranks and one camp follower
were discovered in the Company locality; so that had the position been
assaulted frontally, serious opposition might have been met. As it was
the Sapper reconnaissance party, following close up behind the leading
platoon, quickly rendered innocuous the two bombs which were found sunk
into the side of the road as a demolition charge; and soon a bulldozer
arrived to assist in the clearance of a formidable road block which the
retreating Germans had left behind on the bridge.
They temporarily occupied a sector including Delmenhorst, Mettingen near Osnabrück (familiar to generations of BAOR) and at Gelsenkirchen, but while his comrades enjoyed a spell on occupation duties in Austria, the old man, as a professional soldier, was given little rest. He was posted to Palestine and subsequently to Korea before enjoying a furlough walking and climbing, then on to help mould the new cold-war army of the 1960s.
Apologies for this deeply personal post, but this 75th anniversary of the achievements of those who attained that epochal victory may be the last we will officially remember. To my father, and to the countless others who made that victory, my heartfelt thanks.