[page last updated 14 May 2015]
Distribution of Squadron on Rhine Crossing day 24th March 1945:
This report is an appendix to the Squadron War Diary for early 1945
Transcribed in to long hand.
PLEASE ALSO REFER TO THE MAPS[CLICK HERE] TO FIND LOCATIONS MENTIONED ON THIS PAGE.
Report on Airborne Element 591 Parachute Squadron RE.
H Hour to 2359 hrs D + 1
Written by Major Allan Johnston Jack,
Commanding 591(Antrim) Parachute Sqn R.E.
British Liberation Army
13 April 1945
A. PARACHUTE ELEMENT
1.~ Composition: The OC [Major A.J. Jack] 3 Officers and 43 Other Ranks of No.2 Troop jumped from four aircraft:
Nos. 205, 206, 242 and 243.
Five numbers in each plane carried kitbags.
In addition 10 men of the 22nd Independent Parachute Comapany all with kitbags jumped with No.2 Troop, spread throughout the four planes. In each plane the Officer jumped in the middle of the stick so that on the ground control would be easier.
2.~ Tasks: The Troop was to drop with 5th Parachute Brigade and under their command. No specific Sapper tasks were allotted other than to open the routes from 5th Brigade Headquarters to Hamminkeln and to Division Headquarters.
3.~ Loading: The 20 Sapper kitbags carried explosive, demolition accessories, small tools, PIATS [Projector Infantry Anti-Tank Gun] and bombs, mine clearing accessories and a percentage of Beehive charges. In addition all other jumping numbers had fixed to their rifle valise or to their harness further tools such as handaxes, felling axes.
Four containers were carried on each aircraft but these were jettison containers with no relation to the Sapper tasks.
4.~ Take Off :All preliminaries at the Airfield [RAF Rivenhall, Essex] proceeded with absolute smoothness and the planes took off between 0730 and 0740.
5.~ Flight: No cases of airsickness were reported - the flight could hardly have been steadier.
6.~ Preliminaries to Drop: Warnings in all cases were arranged as
20 minute verbal, 10 minute verbal, 5 minute verbal, 4 minute Red light on. [Followed by Green light for jump]
Aircraft No. 242 - No verbal warning received after the 10 min one. Red light only 60 sec. A/c was climbing as stick jumped. Last man jumped at about 1000 ft. Plot of stick shown on attached overlay.
Aircraft No. 243 - Approx 3 minute red. Height of drop 1200 ft. No refusals or casualties in plane. Very fast stick. Plot shown on attached overlay.
Aircraft No. 205 - 20 minute warning and then 30 second Red light. Approx height of drop 900 ft. No refusals or casualties in plane. Plot shown on attached overlay.
Aircraft No. 206 - 20 minute warning given, but stick still seated when Red light went followed immediately by Green light. Height of drop about 900 ft. No refusals or casualties in plane. Plot shown on attached overlay.
8.~ Move to Rendezvous: There was considerable chaos on the Drop Zone. Most sticks of the Brigade Group having been dropped up to a mile from correct place. Large bodies of men from all three battalions were wandering about without any idea of their bearings. All Sapper Officers were soon in evidence marshalling the Sappers and by 1130 the majority had reached the Rendezvous and were digging in.
9.~ Opposition and casualties: Flak during run-in was considerable. Small arms fire during descent appeared formidable, but the vast majority of Brigade Group were dropped in wrong area and ground opposition in this area was negligible. 3 Sappers were wounded on the Drop Zone and evacuated by Royal Army Medical Corps. None was serious. 88mm fire [anti-tank] was directed at troops making for the Rendezvous, in one case over open sights.
Lance Corporal J.H. Bowden sustained a shrapnel wound in the hand but reached the rendezvous. Shelling of the rendezvous was fairly heavy and Sapper W. Hobson was killed there.
10.~ Move from Rendezvous: The area having been cleared by 12th Parachute Battalion, the Troop moved at 1330 hrs to the Cottage and orchard area at 197495 next to Brigade Headquarters. Here the Troop dug in to defensive positions and were joined by one of the two Troop glider parties under Lance Corporal Goulding, complete with a jeep and trailer. The driver DVR A. Oldfield had been wounded and evacuated. A few more stragglers here joined the Troop, and the strength deficiencies were now found to be 1 killed, 5 wounded and the complete glider party under Lance Corporal Cowlard missing.
11.~ Subsequent tasks: Road reconnaissances as detailed were then carried out by Lieutenant J.B.S. Lockey and
Lance Serjeant P.C. Condie.
Lieutenant A.J. McKerracher left with the Commanding Officer [Major A.J. Jack] to contact the Commander Royal engineers at Divisional Headquarters.
At 1815 hours Lieutenant Lockey and Corporal H.W. Marsh with a small party left to destroy the 88mm gun battery at the North side of the Drop Zone, now in the hands of 7th Parachute Battalion. The four guns were successfully destroyed.
At 1830 hours Commander Royal Engineers and Commanding Officer [Major Jack] visited No.2 Troop and
Captain R.R. Beaumont was ordered to remove his Troop to support 6th Airlanding Brigade, no Sapper tasks seeming likely to arise with 5th Parachute Brigade.
During the night of D/D+1 there were several alerts and much small arms fire. At first light the Troop less one Section moved to 6th Airlanding Brigade taking under command there Lieutenant P.A. Cox and 9 men of No. 1 Troop. The remainder of D+1 was spent by the combined Troop in reorganising. No tasks developed but two parties of each 1 Officer, 12 Other Ranks, a jeep and trailer were detailed to accompany the leading battalions in the advance of 6th Airlanding Brigade at first light D+2.
B. GLIDER ELEMENT.
1.~ Tasks:1. To land with coup de main parties of 52nd Ox & Bucks and 1st Royal Ulster Rifles. Assist in seizing the [road] Bridges at 223485 and 218497 and prepare them, if necessary for demolition.2.~ Composition: 6 Gliders each with a party of five, a jeep and trailer and a motorcycle.
[also Railway bridge GPS map reference : 51.742244,6.601238]
2. To provide all other possible Sapper assistance to 6th Airlanding Brigade.
Glider parties 1 and 2 were to land with 6th Airlanding Brigade Headquarters. [GPS map reference : 51.725034, 6.561241]
Gliders 3 and 4 were to land at Bridge 218497 [Ringenberger Strasse Bridge GPS map reference : 51.739281, 6.602418 ] with a company of 52nd Ox & Bucks,
Gliders 5 and 6 at Bridge 223485 [Bruner Strasse bridge GPS map reference : 51.728862, 6.609993] with 1st Royal Ulster Rifles.
Map of destinations of 591's Troop 1 by Parachutes and Troop 2 by Gliders.
3.~ Loading: Jeep and trailers No 1 and 2 were identically loaded with mine clearance stores, reserves of explosive, General Wade's [explosive charges] and Beehives, with tools, paint and brushes, etc.
Jeep and trailers Nos. 3, 4, 5 & 6 were identically loaded with General Wade's explosive and firing accessories. Each Party with Battalions seizing Bridges was thus duplicated.
4.~ Preliminaries: All loading and preparations went without a hitch.
5.~ Flight Information:
Glider 1 (Captain F.G. Harbord, Lance Serjeant Adams, Sapper D.G. Job and Driver E.B. Field) It is believed that this glider landed safely at the point shown on the overlay but was then shot up by an 88mm gun at 100 yards range. Lance Serjeant Adams was the only survivor. He was badly shocked and was evacuated on D+1.
Glider 2 (Corporal W. Taylor and 3 Sappers) (Lance Corporal Goulding, Driver A. Oldfield) This glider crash landed at spot shown on overlay. Jeep and trailer were recovered intact. There were no casualties and party reported as briefed to 6th Airlanding Brigade Headquarters.
Glider 3 (Lieutenant K.A. DeWatteville, Corporal T.L. Rogers and 3 Sappers) The wreckage of this glider was found at the spot shown on overlay. There were no survivors. It is believed that Glider was hit in the air.
Glider 4 (Corporal J. Eaton, and 4 Sappers) No trace has yet been found of this glider or the occupants.
[This is presumably the glider which came down in Holland, and included Lance Corporal Cowlard and
Sapper T. Hobson; the survivors joined the Squadron on the following day. ]
Glider 5 (Lieutenant Cox, Lance Corporal Taberner, Sapper A. Drummond, Sapper McGettrick and
Driver Pratt, ) Glider landed at correct spot. Details follow further in this report.
Glider 6 (Lance Serjeant A. Fraser, Sapper J. McManus, Sapper J. Stobie and Driver Winston) Crash landed at spot shown on overlay. All escaped uninjured from glider but several shells landed close by and party were met by small arms fire at close range. Lance Serjeant Fraser was wounded immediately (he was later picked up and is now in England). With the exception of one Sapper and one Glider Pilot the rest were all killed.
Carrying out of tasks: Glider 5 with Lieutenant P.A. Cox and party was the only one to reach its objective. This landed at 1020 approx 300 yards North East of bridge 223485. The bridge area was defended strongly and the party were immediately involved in heavy fighting during which Sapper A. Drummond distinguished himself.
In support of a Company of 1st Royal Ulster Rifles the bridge was captured at 1115 hrs.
Lieutenant Cox then inspected Bridge and removed German firing system. German shells were already fixed to the Bridge as demolition charges and it was necessary only to add a few General Wades to prepare for a satisfactory demolition.
CRE [Commander Royal Engineers] and OC [Major A.J. Jack] visited Bridge at 1530. A firing party was left and Lieutenant Cox returned to Brigade Headquarters.
It was then learnt that contrary to reports from 6th Airlanding Brigade Headquarters, no sapper party had arrived with 52nd Ox & Bucks at Bridge 218497. CRE and OC visited this bridge and it was seen that preparation for demolition in daylight was out of the question since the bridge was under direct small arms fire at short range.
Further explosive and General Wades [explosive charges] were collected from Corporal Taylor and party who had by now arrived at Brigade Headquarters and at 2100 Lieutenant Cox, Corporal Taylor and 10 men reported to 52nd Ox & Bucks Company Headquarters at the bridge and attempted to prepare it for demolition. Work was repeatedly held up by enemy small arms fire and by our own shelling and charges had eventually to be carried one at a time to the bridge by Lieutenant Cox crawling on his stomach.
By 0215 hours the bridge was ready for demolition and there were sounds of tanks and enemy infantry approaching from the East. Corporal Taylor and one Sapper had been left as a firing party and at 0300 hours on the authority of General Staff officer No.1 at Division, the bridge was blown. Firing party then returned to Brigade Headquarters. The remainder of D+1 was spent in reorganising with No.1 Troop and preparing for the advance the following morning with the leading battalions of 6th Airlanding Brigade.
Map of the route taken by the Seaborne and Airborne elements of 591 Parachute Squadron through Germany.
The Rhine Crossing /Operation Plunder / Operation Varsity / Antrim Bridge
I have included these excerpts from "The story of the 3rd Parachute Squadron" as most of the officers of 591 Parachute Squadron had come from the 3rd Parachute Squadron and after the break up of the 591, most of the younger men of the squadron transferred in to the 3rd Parachute Squadron.
[Note: I have used long hand for the many abbreviations as not every reader will be familiar with the military abbreviations]
"GO TO IT"
The story of the 3rd Parachute Squadron RE
By Major J.S.R.Shave MC
The Rhine Crossing
The month of March 1945 saw the Allied Armies poised on the West bank of the River Rhine waiting to strike a crushing blow across the river into Germany. The first weeks of the month were spent in ardent preparation, the movements of 21st Army Group were shrouded under cover of a dense oil smoke screen, which was generated ceaselessly by thousands of burners on the riverbank.
Back at home the 6th Airborne Division was making itself ready for another Airborne assault.
The 3rd Parachute Squadron spent 1st-8th March on leave [as did the 591 Antrims], and then returned to feverish activity at Bulford. Shortage of transport and engineer equipment amongst other things, necessitated the reorganisation of the unit in to two Troops instead of the three which had previously gone in to action.
No.3 Troop was disbanded to reinforce Nos.1 and 2.
[Same applied the 591 at Bulford.]
We learned that there were insufficient sapper tasks in the coming operation to warrant the use of more than one Troop per brigade. Accordingly, a troop each from 3rd and 591st Parachute Squadrons had to be selected to go with 3rd and 5th Parachute Brigades.
A second Troop from 591 Squadron was selected to fly in by glider with 6th Airlanding Brigade, while the remainder had to return to B.L.A [British Liberation Army] by sea as quickly as possible.
The fact that Rosie [Major Tim Roseveare] selected No.1 Troop to take part in the operation reflects great credit on Freddy Fox, its commander. As Commanding Officer of No.2 Troop, I naturally held a different opinion at the time, and felt it very keenly. Taking all things into consideration, Rosie's choice was a fair one. In the Normandy descent No.1 Troop had not been so fortunate as we, and their opportunities to shine had not been so frequent. Since we had more casualties than they, there were still remaining in No.1 Troop a larger proportion of its original members than we had ~ although, in my opinion, what was left of the Troop, which had been trained by Tim Jukes, was still the best in the Squadron. Nevertheless No.1 was detailed for the operation and I became Commanding Officer of the Squadron sea party, which comprised Squadron Headquarters and No.2 Troop.
On the 11th and 13th March we had practice jumps on the divisional parachute drop zone at Netheravon. They were really enjoyable "Y.M.C.A" jumps carried out in perfect weather, "kitbagging" was the order of the day.
For the purpose of the move, the squadron M.T.[Motor Transport] with myself, Geoff Smith and Lieutenant Franklin, proceeded as a separate vehicle party. The personnel went by train to Purfleet on the Thames, where we spent the night of the 11th in a vast transit camp. The next day we embarked at Tilbury in an L.S.I. [Landing Ship-Infantry] and were carried swiftly to Ostend [Oostende] where we disembarked the following day. The vehicle party proceeded on to Eastern Belgium and we followed by train. We joined them eventually at Bree, near the River Maas.
Meanwhile No.1 Troop had spent a week, hermetically sealed in their transit camp near an airfield, being briefed and preparing for an operation.
On 24th March 1945, 21st Army group crossed the River Rhine. The code name for the operation was "Plunder". The crossing was effected by 2nd British Army with 12 Corps, 30 Corps, 2 Canadian Corps, 8 Corps and 18US Airborne Corps under command. Corps tasks were approximately as follows:-
12 Corps~ To capture Wesel, cross the River Rhine at Xanten and relieve 6th Airborne Division on the line of the River Ijssel.
30 Corps~ To cross the river and capture Rees and Haldern, to link up with 12 Corps and extend a bridgehead to the River Ijssel
18 US Airborne Corps (British 6th Airborne Division and 17 US Airborne Division)~ to capture and hand over to 12 Corps key features in the area of Diersfordt and crossings over the River Ijssel
To gain contact with No.1 Commando Brigade in Wesel.
To advance East, extending South to the River Lippe.
2 Canadian Corps~to cross at Rees and capture hill features, to revert to 1st Canadian Army after constructing bridges at Emmerich.
8 Corps~ to relieve headquarters 18 US Airborne Corps on the 7th day, take command of the two Airborne Divisions and pass through the right of the 2nd Army bridgehead and be prepared to operate North-East.
The code name given to the Airborne operation was "Varsity". Both Airborne Divisions were to drop at 1000 hours on the 24th March, several hours after the land assaults had begun.
[591 Parachute Squadron sent 90 men on Varsity, 25 by glider and the rest parachuted]
The 6th Airborne Division and 17 US Airborne Division were to land East of the River Rhine in the area of Hamminkeln, six hours after the assault crossing of the river, with the objective of
A rapid extension and build up of the bridgehead with a view to an advance towards Bocholt.The plan was to seize and hold the line of the River Ijssel. The area of the landings was well wooded, a forest called Diersfordter Wald lay on the West. The guns of German divisions holding the Rhine were hidden in this area. The woods were broken by stretches of open farmland served by a good network of roads.
Denying enemy observation of the Rhine crossing.
The River Ijssel was not a large river which would provide a good natural obstacle. There were three bridges in the area of the landings, one railway bridge and two road bridges. It was anticipated that these bridges would not be blown by the Germans until they were forced to retreat from the area. In any case, it was desirable that we should hold the bridges to save or blow them as we deemed necessary.
Engineer tasks in an airborne operation in this area seemed to be few, it was thought that the following engineer tasks would arise:
To examine the three bridges [East of Hamminkeln] and perhaps to prepare them for demolition.The engineer elements included in the airborne force, and their tasks were as follows:~
To clear mines and obstacles encountered, and to assist Brigades to dig in.
To dig in with bulldozers the wireless of Divisional headquarters and the 75mm guns.
To carry out opportunity tasks of route clearing, mine laying and water supply, if they should arise.
One troop of 3rd Para Squadron, under the command of 3rd Parachute Brigade. 3 officers and 47 other ranks to drop by parachute, while 10 other ranks went in two gliders with jeeps and trailers. This troop to give general assistance to 3rd Airborne Brigade and to open up a route from 3rd Brigade to Division.
One Troop of 591 Squadron by parachute and glider with 5th Brigade to give general assistance and to open up a route from 5th Airborne Brigade to Division.
One Troop of 591 Squadron with 6th Airlanding Brigade. This troop of 3 officers and 25 men was to be accompanied by the Commanding Officer of the Squadron. They were carried in six gliders each with a jeep and trailer. The engineer tasks of this troop were most important. Two gliders were to land with each coup-de-main party of the Ox & Bucks Regiment and 1st Royal Ulster Rifles, to assist in seizing the bridges over the River Ijssel and, if necessary, to prepare them for demolition. Four of these gliders each carried enough explosive to destroy one of the road bridges over the River Ijssel.
From 286 Field Park Company, four bulldozer drivers with two D4 bulldozers were to fly in two Hamilcar gliders. The Stores Officer and NCO were to fly with Headquarters Royal Engineers.
The Commander Royal Engineers and a proportion of Headquarters Royal Engineers flew in by glider with Divisional Headquarters. The remainder of the Divisional engineers moved by land to the West bank of the River Rhine and crossed on 24th,25th and 26th March.
The main airborne landings took place soon after ten o'clock on D-day (24th March). The battalions were involved in some brisk fighting, but the day went well and saw all objectives successfully achieved. A 'link-up' with 15th Scottish Division was quickly and firmly established.
No.1 Troop of 3rd Parachute Squadron dropped at 10 minutes past 10, events affected them as follows:
All sticks were very long and overshot their drop zone. Light flak and small arms fire greeted them before and during the drop. There was some slight 'battling' on the drop zone which was mortared by the enemy. Captain Freddy Fox was wounded on the drop zone, a bullet smashing his arm, four men were wounded by mortar splinters. At 1015, 75% of the troop had arrived at the rendezvous and by 1115 there were only 4 missing in addition to the casualties. The missing men were all recovered the same day, one of them having been wounded, captured, and then re-captured from the Germans. Both jeeps and trailers arrived safely, so the troop was well equipped to carry out small tasks.
3rd Parachute Brigade did not linger in the vicinity of the drop zone but advances to its objectives, which were successfully seized. No.1 Troop moved with Brigade Headquarters and dug in with it. No.3 section was placed under command of 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion. The section was employed in the construction of a road block and in the lifting of Reigel and Schu mins which were found buried in a main road.
During the night of the 24th March, 8th Parachute Battalion cleared a way through the forest of Diersfordter Wald and discovered a crater which blocked the main divisional axis. With the aid of a D4 bulldozer, which had arrived safely, No.1 Troop repaired this and other craters on 25th March. The troop also neutralized a crater charge discovered on a bridge.
No.1 Troop came through the operation very lightly when compared with the troops of 591 Squadron. Headquarters Royal Engineers were also fortunate, the glider carrying Colonel J.R.C. Hamilton [Commander Royal Engineers] crash landed in the right place without hurting its occupants. The other headquarters' glider carrying the Adjutant and Information Officer came down in Holland, but its passengers managed to reach Divisional headquarters the same evening. Of the two Hamilcars which carried bulldozers and drivers, one landed successfully and the bulldozer with both operators reported to Divisional headquarters at about 1330. The other Hamilcar landed wide and its occupants fell into the hands of the enemy, one bulldozer operator was killed.
The Troop of 591 Squadron commanded by Captain Bob Beaumont, which dropped with 5th Parachute Brigade landed successfully. It came under fire from 88mm guns which were shooting up the drop zone over open sights. At 1330, it had all assembled at the rendezvous with the exception of one complete glider load. The glider landed in Holland and its occupants arrived later. One man was killed at the rendezvous and five were wounded. The troop moved with 5th Brigade and dug in next to Brigade headquarters. The guns which had fired on the drop zone were soon captured and this Troop blew them up. Otherwise there were no engineer tasks.
The heroes of the engineer elements which took part in 'Varsity' were six detachments of No.1 Troop, 591 Squadron, who went by glider with coup-de-main parties of 6th Airlanding Brigade. This Troop was commanded by Captain Frank Harbord. Out of six gliders only two arrived safely, two were shot down by light flak and two were destroyed by shell fire on the landing zone. Frank Harbord and Lieutenant Ken deWatteville were killed. Of sixteen men and eight glider pilots, only one sapper and one pilot escaped uninjured. Two lance-serjeants were wounded and evacuated, the remainder were killed.
One glider landed successfully with the coup-de-main party of the Royal Ulster Rifles, and one with Brigade Headquarters.
Having reached their road bridge, the coup-de-main party of the Royal Ulster Rifles, and the sappers under Lieutenant Peter Cox, were involved in heavy fighting. The bridge was captured at 1115 by the Royal Ulster Rifles after a stiff battle~it was found to be prepared for demolition with German shells. The Sappers improved the charges and firing circuits.
No sapper party arrived at the road bridge which was the objective of the 52nd Ox and Bucks. Accordingly, Lieutenant Cox's party moved to this bridge where it was found that the enemy were holding the far bank. The bridge was under direct small arms fire at short range, so it was decided to attempt to fix charges after dark. Explosives were obtained from the other glider at 6th Airlanding Brigade headquarters and work was commenced after dark. This work was repeatedly held up by small arms fire and the job eventually completed by one man who carried charges while crawling on his stomach. The demolition was ready at 0215, it had to be blown at 0300 because the enemy were attacking heavily with tanks. It is thought that the leading tank was destroyed on the bridge. Peter Cox was awarded the MC for his exploits.
24th March 1945
It was a beautiful spring in Eastern Belgium, mild and sunny. Our move to squadron location at Bree had been accomplished with as much secrecy as possible in order that the approaching Airborne operation would not be jeopardised. We had packed all red berets at the bottom of our kitbags, vehicle signs were painted out and no one enroute had been allowed to mention our name.
We did not know the date of 'D' day, but after two days at Bree we knew the time must be drawing very close. At about 0900 on the 24th March we heard the old familiar roar in the sky and over came the invading army. Screened by hundreds of high flying fighter planes, the steadily moving mass of troop carrying aircraft presented a wonderful spectacle. Serried, graceful ranks of Dakotas, Sterlings, Halifaxes and gliders passed over, followed by flight after flight of swiftly moving low flying Liberators. So low came the Libs that we saw through the large exit in their fuselages. There were the faces of dispatchers, ready to throw out supplies. I hope they saw us and felt a little easier in mind as we cheered and wished them luck.
Within an hour we were formed up in convoy and on the road north to cross the River Rhine and rejoin the division. As we left the village, out came our red berets and we were once again 3rd Parachute Squadron. We felt very proud to be linked to those fine fellows that had just gone overhead. I like to think that our security was good enough to make this a big surprise for the villagers. They registered enough of it to make a good show anyway.
We followed the River Maas down to Venlo, passing straight through the area which we had occupied a month previously. At Venlo we crossed a Bailey pontoon bridge,
Photo © the estate of Thomas Sim McCorkindale [1916-2003] of 503 Field Coy. RE.
Venlo's Bailey Bridge on Pontoons across the River Maas. A Class70 bridge built on 8th March 1945 by 7 units
including the 503 Field Coy R.E. which is the unit Capt. G.F. Davidson (Ex OC of 591) transferred to.
alongside which a very good timber pile bridge was rapidly taking shape under the expert hands of an American construction battalion.
From Venlo we passed into Germany. Moving up slowly all day, we followed routes painfully wrought by the British and Canadian Armies during the consolidation of the West bank of the Rhine. For one stretch of several miles, the convoys bumped over the stones of a high railway embankment, from which the rails and sleepers had been torn to allow the passing of traffic. On this occasion, and on many others, one felt very proud to be a sapper in the presence of good work done by other sappers throughout the Armies.
A folding boat bridge had been thrown across the river by engineer units before we arrived at the Rhine.
Photo © the estate of Thomas Sim McCorkindale [1916-2003] of 503 Field Coy. RE.
Xanten Bridge [aka Lambeth Bridge], a Bailey FBE built on the 24th/25th March across the River Rhine
he described it as a 'A Tough overnight job' on the reverse of the photo.
We were not of sufficient priority to cross that day so we harboured in fields allotted to us some ten miles back from the river at Geldern. There we sat waiting for news of our friends who had come down on the other side of that broad ribbon of water, friends whom we knew had landed right on top of the German positions.
By then we were surrounded by other vehicles and follow up parties of the division. Headquarters Royal Engineers, and 591 Squadron were quite nearby. Rosie went forward to try and find out how No.1 Troop had fared in the operation. The first news we had was jumbled and inaccurate, but it seemed clear that the gliders had been through a very rough time. 591 Squadron had sent in a complete Troop by gliders; Fergie Semple of 591 managed to get across the bridge and back again with news of his squadron. Two gliders had been totally lost; they had carried men of Frank Harbord's Troop~he and Ken de Watteville were lost with them. Light flak had played hell with the slowly moving gliders.
Rosie returned with good news for our No,1 Troop. They had landed and concentrated with few casualties. Freddy Fox himself was wounded, his arm smashed by a bullet, Jack Nash and Tony Wade were carrying on with the Troop.
Impatient to rejoin the division, we were glad to receive orders to move early on the 26th March. We crossed the Rhine on the folding boat bridge completed the day before by Sappers at Xanten. Moving slowly up some four miles to the forward area, we found ourselves in the centre of the divisional area. For our squadron harbour we were allocated a wooded hillock containing heavy flak guns which had been an objective of the 9th Battalion. We were delighted to see No.1 Troop soon after our arrival.................
......................................... 31st March 1945
We were approaching the first serious obstacle in our advance ~ The Dortmund-Ems Canal. Some six miles on our side of this ran a small river which crossed our axis at Greven. Entering this town on the 31st, 3rd Parachute Brigade found it evacuated by German troops but under fire from 88mm guns, and with all main bridges in the town blown. 249 Field Company moved up and commenced strengthening the one light bridge which remained. Unfortunately as soon as the first scout car of the reconnoitre regiment ran on to this bridge, it went through the decking. This held up operations for a considerable time, during which the infantry went forward on foot.
It was decided that 249 Field Company would construct a Bailey Bridge where they were working. Further delay was caused by the fact that bridging lorries were unable to get through the congested roads.
Greven was being subjected to a steady bombardment with airburst shells which were fired from quite close range. Going off to inspect the main road of the town I found Jack Bence an officer of 249 Field Company, on the same errand. I had gone forward on the pillion of Lance-Corporal Worgan's motorcycle. We parked the machine above the demolition and then climbed down the river bank to look at the obstacle. At that moment the guns began firing over this bridge and we were forced to take cover beneath it. There we 'quaked' for about 15 minutes until the stonk finished. Going up to the road again, we found the motorcycle had been hit by several splinters.
Making our way back to the Troop, we sat at the roadside for an hour or two until the bridge could take us. The congestion in Greven was frightful and we felt thankful for our air superiority. However our faith was rudely shaken at one point when a column was spattered by bullets without warning. All we heard after, was the whine of the disappearing jet plane (a Messerschmitt ME210) which had been responsible. So fast had this plane been moving, that its bullets were around us before we heard its engine. The speed also affected the accuracy of the shooting so that no one was hurt~the experience was definitely exciting.
My responsibility was to get up to the Dortmund-Ems Canal with the leading infantry, to reconnoitre the crossing there and get a report back to the Commander Royal Engineers. It was anticipated that bridges would be blown and 591 Squadron had moved up in to Greven in readiness to dash forward to put a Bailey Bridge across the canal 5 miles beyond. 249 Field Company were mending the hole in the wooden bridge before constructing their Bailey over the River. Sandy Rutherford had promised to give my jeep priority over it as soon as it could take traffic. I received a 'telling off' from the Commander Royal Engineers for not going forward on foot but I preferred to wait, since I couldn't see how I could get back the report quickly without a jeep or motor cycle, even if I did walk to the canal. In the end I was glad I did wait, 249 Field Company allowed my jeep over and off I went, chasing the 9th Battalion who were well away by now. 249 Field Company suffered several casualties from shell fire whist bridging at Greven.
The Dortmund-Ems Canal
Accompanied by Lance Sergeant Doyle in my jeep, driven by Driver Malmsjo, with a wireless operator in the back, I arrived near the canal and found 9th Battalion headquarters. There I left the jeep and went forward on foot with Doyle~ we carried a few items of reconnoitre equipment. We reached the canal bank at the same time as the leading platoon of the 9th Battalion went over. As usual, Brigadier Hill was there, on the pillion of a motor cycle. A light AA gun was firing straight down the road from somewhere the other side of the canal, the bridge itself was under slight mortar fire.
Doyle and I walked down the ditch beside the long straight road leading to the bridge which we knew had been blown. In our progress we had to step over the infantry who were taking cover. Our first view of the canal was impressive, it was almost dry, having been emptied some time previously by RAF bombing. The gap from bank to bank was about 120 feet. The road ran along a high embankment, and at road level where the old abutments were, the gap was a clear 160 feet. The bridge itself, a massive steel girder affair was completely destroyed, and obstructed the passage of any new bridge. Doyle and I climbed down and reconnoitred a site as near as possible to the old bridge site. It was clear that considerable work would have to be done on approaches each side of the canal, and bridging would be long and difficult. We were thankful to get out of that spot after some 20 minutes. As we returned to the jeep, a stonk came down on the bridge ~ the infantry just sat 'taking it' as usual.
Squadron Headquarters was on the other side of Greven, out of range of our wireless. We lost no time in roaring back to Greven the way we had come. Crossing the bridge without difficulty, we were then nearly 45 minutes reaching the farm, such was the congestion enroute. Before reaching the farm however, I contacted Rosie on the 'blower' and we both nearly went frantic as I tried to pass a message about the bridge site~ the air was filled with the buzz and crackle of a thousand sets, against which we could not hope to compete. By that time it was pitch dark, a condition which made travelling none the easier, Malmsjo did wonders at the wheel.
Reaching the Squadron, I reported to headquarters and found half the Officers of the Divisional Engineers, from Commander Royal Engineers downwards, gathered there. I made it quite clear that I considered bridging was out of the question until things were quieter around the canal, also that the site was unsuitable. My report was not a good one, and I felt that all were sceptical about the conditions under which it had been compiled. Everyone was madly keen to get over the Dortmund-Ems Canal and to get cracking down the road again. I was told to go back to Greven and to stand-by at 591 Squadron to tell them all I could about the site and to be prepared to help them with my Troop. Two jeeps raced back to Greven, the first (driven by Fergie Semple second in command of 591,) carried Allan Jack his Commanding Officer. My jeep, driven by Malmsjo, followed. Traffic was solid on the road and only side lights were allowed. Fergie drove as fast as possible, weaving in and out of the dense column with Malmsjo hot on his tail. We were heartily cursed by many who had been waiting patiently in the queues of vehicles.
Later on Allan Jack and the Commander Royal Engineers went forward to reconnoitre a site on another route some hundreds of yards further along the canal from where I had been at the main road. They decided that this was a better site, but not until they had been severely mortared. They were then convinced that bridging was 'not on' until the far bank was cleared. They returned late in the night and I was allowed to go off to rejoin my Troop which had moved up with 3rd Parachute Brigade and now lay somewhere up the main road to the canal. Tom Marsh was in charge of the Troop in my absence..................................
............... ...........................591 Squadron commenced bridging in the afternoon and, since the road beyond the bridge was to be conserved as much as possible, a tank route for some three miles was required. No.2 Troop was given the task of taping out this route and clearing it of obstacles where necessary. No.1 Troop was to stand-by to aid the 591 Squadron.
Crossing the canal after dark, Lieutenant Franklin and I with three sections set to work. It was an eerie business~we were prepared as a fighting patrol and were ready for anything. At the end of our route we were three miles beyond our leading troops on the canal. We need not have worried however as the work ran quickly and smoothly. It was a brilliant night of yellow moonlight, soft and warm. Skirting the woods, and crossing fields, we eventually ended up in a maze of light roads, well beyond the canal. There were two small obstacles that required 'dozing'. They were removed by a D4 bulldozer which was the first piece of equipment to cross the bridge during the early hours of the morning.
Although it took them rather a long time to build, a word of priase is due to 591 Squadron for their bridge. The First Bailey across this canal, it was used on the morning of the 2nd April, not only by the whole of our Division and a large part of the 8th Corps to which we were attached at the time, but also by a strong armoured column from the US Army to our right. They had as yet no bridge across the canal and used ours in order to outflank the enemy on their own front.[According to the map graphic that accompanied this article, the bridge was called "Antrim Bridge".]
The evening of the 2nd April found the 3rd Parachute Squadron in a farm some two miles up the road on the far side of the canal. No.2 Troop were at once put on road maintenance of about two miles of a particularly bad track through the woods. This route had to be kept open until a temporary road constructed by No.1 Troop was ready for traffic.
The object of these routes was to reach the main Osnabrück road from the 591 Squadron Bailey Bridge. Following a track, No.1 Troop had to prepare about a mile and half of roadway fit to take divisional traffic~a large portion of the road required the laying of Sommerfield track to avoid the bogging down of vehicles.
Work during the next few days was a nightmare. The weather, so long in our favour, broke out into a prolonged downpour. The ceaseless stream of the vehicles of 8 Corps over the stretch of road being maintained by No. 2 Troop soon turned in to a deep morass. The only material at hand was bundles of faggots, which we had to collect ourselves from all farms in the area. These woodland roads carried not the slightest metaling, they were merely sandy surfaces. We used two 'Autopatrols', machines with great scraping blades on them to remove some of the mud. The scraping was not enough however and after a time we found ourselves manhandling every vehicle through. This was simply 'not on', and the Commanding Officer allotted us some of the Sommerfield track being supplied to No.1 Troop, and we had to attempt laying it whilst traffic continued to pour past.
the column of traffic was intense at this time since the large city of Osnabrück lay a few miles ahead. The Royal Marine Commando Brigade was being rushed through to go into this large objective. My name and number were taken by one officious individual during one of the periods at which I was , of necessity, holding up the flow of traffic. So it went on through the night of the 2nd and all day on the 3rd. During the night of the 3rd, half the troop rested whilst the other half carried on. Franklin and I split the night between us.
Our biggest worry was with civilian cars which were coming through with every unit. We were ruthless with any car which became bogged. The occupants were asked to transfer to other vehicles as quickly as possible, then a group of sappers would heave the car into the ditch. Later we were able to salvage a couple of good cars for the Squadron!
We were very thankful to be relieved of this task on the afternoon of the 4th April. Some Army sappers took over from us. By this time we had been left so far behind by the advance that we didn't care very much, all we wanted was sleep. Squadron, Brigade, Division and even Corps, were all ahead of us. Harbouring in a farm for the night, we moved off at 0600 on the 5th April. Moving some sixty miles up the Divisional axis, all we had to do was follow the 'Pegasus' signs nailed to trees by the provost. The signs marked the route all the way from the Rhine to the Baltic........
[The reverse route back to England was sign posted with a Top Hat.]
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