[page last updated 14 May 2015]
591 History Part 14 : compiled by Major Allan Jack dated 20 Dec 1945
Note: Additional notes to Major Jack's History of the Squadron are in blue italics
PLEASE ALSO REFER TO THE [ MAPS CLICK HERE] TO FIND LOCATIONS MENTIONED ON THIS PAGE.
The Gliders Fare Badly
Meanwhile, disaster had overtaken the gliderborne element of 1 Troop. Captain Harbord's glider, which was found the next day, had grounded within 20 yards of an 88mm gun and he, Sapper Adams,[9th Bttn] Sapper Job and Driver Field were killed outright. Corporal Eaton and his party of four sappers were all killed when their glider crashed in the woods far away from the Divisional area. Lieutenant De Watteville's glider with Corporal Rogers and three other sappers crashed in flames in the American area to the south and they and the two glider pilots were all killed.
The glider carrying Lance Sergeant Fraser and his party was hit while coming in but the pilot managed to crash land to the north of the D.Z. [drop zone]As the party were breaking out of the wreckage an 88mm gun nearby opened up at them over open sights. Lance Serjeant Fraser was wounded and took cover in a nearby trench. Sapper McManus and Sapper Stobie, while running for cover, were mown down by machine gun fire from a German post 50 yards away and both were killed. Of the whole party, only Driver Winston and one of the glider pilots succeeded in getting safely back to the Airborne positions, after more than one hectic skirmish with the enemy.
The Gallantry of a Scots Sapper
Of the six gliders supporting 6th Airlanding Brigade, one only landed intact at the right place. This carried the party under Lieutenant Cox in support of the 1st R.U.R. [Royal Ulster Rifles]They crash landed within 100 yards of the bridge that was the Battalion objective and were immediately fired on from the houses surrounding the bridge. The party leapt from the glider, scattered in all directions and, forming up quickly with men of the R.U.R. who had landed nearby, returned the enemy fire with interest. A German half truck loaded with soldiers was actually crossing the bridge as the gliders came in and it seemed at first as though the situation was desperate. Meanwhile Sapper Drummond and Sapper McGettrick, separated from the rest, had found shelter in a copse away to the right. Immediately opposite them, a bare 50 yards away, a machine gun manned by the Germans had opened up a murderous fire. Sapper Drummond decided immediately that this post must be wiped out.
Calling to McGettrick, his Bren gun blazing at his hip, he charged into the open towards the German position. He was shot, stumbled and fell but on his feet again in an instant. He rushed forward with wild Highland cries, still firing. This was too much for the Germans, who threw away their weapons and leapt out of the trench with their arms in the air. But for his gallant action, heavy casualties might have been inflicted by this post and his award of the Military Medal a few weeks later was indeed well earned.
Soon the handful of R.U.R. and the other sappers had the situation well in hand and all German resistance ceased. The bridge had been prepared for demolition but the Germans had no chance to blow it. The charges were found to be quite effective and Lieutenant Cox decided that little was needed to supplement them in his task of ensuring that an effective obstacle could be blown should a counter attack develop. A firing point was established and the party, which included Lance Corporal Taberner and Driver Pratt, dug themselves in for a well earned but short lived rest.
A Bridge is Blown in the Nick of Time
Meanwhile, it was assumed that the sappers with the coup-de-main party of the Ox & Bucks had landed and completed their similar task on the bridge at Ringenberg [now a suburb of Hamminkeln] further north along the river. This was borne out by a report from Brigade H.Q. that the bridge was almost prepared. The report was false, however, and it was soon learnt that no sappers whatsoever had arrived with the Ox & Bucks. Fortunately at this time Corporal Taylor reported at Brigade H.Q. with his complete glider load of four sappers, a jeep and a trailer load of explosives and tools to supplement the desperately depleted forces of troops and with Lieutenant Cox they moved to Ringenberg. By this bridge there was a house, now held by men of the Ox & Bucks but the last 200 yards down the road to this house and the bridge was under direct fire and impassable, further, the bridge itself was completely observed by the Germans who had withdrawn to the edge of a wood 200 yards across the river, and though it was possible to reach the bridge by a ditch and examine it closely, quite obviously it could not be prepared for demolition during daylight but explosives and sappers were hastily marshalled and as darkness fell Lieutenant Cox and Corporal Taylor made their way to the house by the bridge.
The Germans were most active from the wood across the fields. There was considerable small arms fire and the noise of tanks and transport being moved about. A counter attack seemed imminent and the Ox & Bucks, badly depleted in numbers, were desperately anxious that the bridge should at least be ready to blow. It was intended to lay General Wade charges across the bridge but even in the dark getting them there was no picnic for a machine gun was firing on fixed lines directly on to the bridge at frequent irregular intervals.
Crawling on their stomachs backwards and forwards on to the bridge, Lieutenant Cox and Corporal Taylor worked for an hour fixing the charges; as the last connexion was made came the unmistakable sound of German tracked vehicles approaching the bridge from the wood. The Company Commander of the Ox & Bucks, on the wireless to Battalion H.Q., called for permission to blow. As the request was flashed from Battalion H.Q. to Division, Corporal Taylor and Lieutenant Cox were frantically running out cable and fixing the exploder as the noise of the approaching tanks grew louder; within seconds the order to blow came back over the wireless and was shouted to Corporal Taylor bending tensely over the exploder. As he pushed the button, the first tank reached the bridge, there was a roar, a blinding flash and both bridge and tank were blown into a hundred pieces. It was the sapper's dream come true and the counter attack was effectively broken.
The Division Consolidates
During that night and the following morning counter attacks developed in the 6th Brigade area but all were effectively beaten off. To the south of the Divisional area, too, there was considerable firing throughout the night as the troops from the Rhine slowly drove the Germans back through the woods towards Hamminkeln. The situation was most fluid and it was not until midday of the following day that the 8th Parachute Battalion finally broke through the woods to the east to make the first effective linkup between 3rd Brigade and the rest of the Division. Shortly afterwards, it was known that the 15th Scottish Division were in touch with 3rd Brigade and that on the other flank of the Division contact was finally established with the American Airborne Division who had dropped on the previous day in the area north of Wesel.
The whole of the Divisional area was now finally held, the bridgehead across the Rhine strongly established, but casualties, particularly among the gliderborne troops, had been heavy. The cost to the Troop and a half of 591 Squadron was found to be two officers and 15 other ranks killed, two missing and six wounded. Among these were the cream of the Squadron and the loss of Captain Harbord in particular was keenly felt by every man.
2 Troop continued to hold their position in the farmhouse beside Brigade H.Q. and though no fighting developed in this immediate area, shelling throughout the second night was particularly heavy. If it inflicted no casualties, it certainly interfered with a well earned rest.
Map of the route taken by the 591 Parchute Squadron through Germany in March/April 1945.
(click map to enlarge it)
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