[page last updated 14 May 2015]
591 History Part 15 : compiled by Major Allan Jack dated 20 Dec 1945Note: Additional notes to Major Jack's History of the Squadron are in blue italics
Into the Heart of Germany
The following day, the remainder of the Squadron, together with most of the transport, arrived from across the Rhine but before there was time to reorganize properly the Division was already stabbing impatiently forward on the first stages of their magnificent drive to the Baltic, and within 24 hours the Squadron was harbouring south of Brunen, five miles further into Germany. The move in support of 3rd Brigade was a laborious one, along routes through sparsely inhabited woodland that were little better than sand tracks. From all around columns of dark smoke arose from smoldering ruins of farm houses and cottages that had paid the price of offering resistance. Later, as the news spread back into Germany that surrender would preserve their homes, each house at the approach of British tanks and troops came out in a rush of fluttering white flags, sheets and even underclothes.
During the early stages of the advance, the Division was barred from the main roads to allow of the full deployment of the 11th Armoured Division on the left and the Squadron had its first taste of the work that it was to be mainly employed upon till the Baltic was reached - the opening of routes and their maintenance. As one Brigade after another leap frogged forward in daring bounds, overrunning all resistance and outstripping the remainder of the 2nd Army, recce parties were found in time from the troops to move with the most forward elements, the remainder of the troop following in the main column, hastily improving crossings of streams, flinging in trees and rubble to restore the worst of the road surface, removing road blocks and signing routes for tanks and wheeled vehicles.
In the first bound to Brunen the tracks had to cater only for one Brigade for one day and apart from route reconnaissance and signing there was little required to be done. The Squadron harboured in some farmhouses south of BrÃƒÂ¼nen. Here Sapper Stapely was rebuked for trying to get going a small private car found in one of the barns. Conscience in the matter of civilian transport was to become very elastic in the days to come but these were early days and the Squadron was not yet into its stride.
BrÃƒÂ¼nen itself became a target for German gunners and trying to get through with convoys wedged head to tail was a rather harrowing business. There was spasmodic shelling too of the Squadron harbour area but no casualties were sustained. The following day the Squadron moved with 5th Brigade towards Erie, a leap of ten miles that was not achieved without opposition and three tanks of the armoured Recce Squadron leading the Brigade were knocked out, but an ambitious night attack completely confounded the enemy and the town was taken. In Erie itself 1 Troop were called upon to remove several formidable road blocks of reinforced concrete and it was here that the first German addition to the Squadron's establishment of transport was made in the shape of a 3-ton diesel lorry with a 6-ton trailer. The first of many such requisitions that were to ease the problems of the Squadron's 'B' echelon.
Early the following morning both Troops joined the 5th Brigade column in a spectacular drive that was to carry it 20 miles to the town of Coesfeld. For most of the way the advance was along sand tracks through thickly wooded country. There was no information whatever as to the opposition likely to be met, but the spirit of the day was "Bash on regardless." Although the leading Battalion travelled in "Kangaroos" and on the tanks of the supporting Squadron of Churchill's of the Guards Independent Armoured Brigade, and the advance was fast, there is no doubt that a determined enemy could have wrought havoc on the thinly drawn out column stretching back for miles through country that lent itself everywhere to defence. Nor was it always possible, in an advance which outstripped all attempts at route signing, to know which way the leading troops had gone and very early in the day half of 1 Troop, who had stayed behind to open up a sand bagged stretch, took a wrong turning and for an hour blazed a lone trail far to the right of the Brigade column.
All that day, parties of sappers throughout the length of the Brigade's passage slaved to keep open the route for the hundreds of following 'B' Echelon vehicles, throwing diversions across fields, ramping across deep potholes in the sand, unditching with their winch lorries and vehicles of every description. By nightfall the Brigade had linked up with the remainder of the Division at Coesfeld. 2 Troop, however, were working well into the night, unditching vehicles and building rough culverts to get forward the miles transport, bogged down on the narrow lanes across the open marshlands on the final approaches to the town.
Coesfeld itself had been most thoroughly blitzed by the Allied Air Forces, the streets were feet deep in rubble, bridges and culverts had been blown by the Germans and to pass any of the Division through was absolutely out of the question. 249 Company and 3rd Squadron were soon fully employed in opening up a diversion to the south of the town and meanwhile it was decided that 5th Brigade should strike out to the north and drive through the difficult wooded country to the next objective.
A Few More Prisoners
Early in the morning some of the Squadron officers went out with a subaltern of the Recce Squadron in a scout car to find a route on which the Brigade could start its advance. It was known that the enemy were in greater strength than previously around Coesfeld and that opposition might be expected to stiffen. As they struck north across a rickety bridge and left the forward infantry patrols behind them, they noticed, as a first ominous sign, that white flags no longer fluttered from the scattered houses on the way, but the success of the Division had imbued everyone with such a superiority complex that it never occurred to them that anyone might open fire or attack them and, with maps spread on the roof of the car perched precariously on the turret they struck off across the fields into the blue.
Finding a likely track through a thick belt of woodland, they were jogging unconcernedly down it when the car pulled up with a jerk and a shout from the driver below, who was fortunately a little more alert, called their attention to dim figures digging behind the trees 200 yards ahead. Immediately there was a wild scramble for Sten guns which after a short frantic search were disentangled from the debris in the cab and thrust up at them. There was no room for everyone to get down in the cab and so, putting as bold a face on it as possible, the party drove forward brandishing their arms with menace but with little confidence. As they drew near, four rifles could be seen pointing directly at them from behind the trees. They stopped and for a second the world stood still, then the moral advantage of two red berets and an armoured car won the day and eight Germans slouched sulkily out with their hands in the air. They were Engineers and had just made up charges against the trees and were about to fire them.
While the party pulled the charges off and smashed their rifles, further bodies were spotted darting in and out of the trees further down the avenue. Shouting to the driver to turn, they bundled the eight prisoner on to the roof and the bonnet and the two officers sheltering amongst them, the truck set off hell for leather back down the track. Two shots whistled harmlessly over their heads but they were soon back in less hostile country.
A few hours later, 5th Brigade were on the move and two section of 2 Troop under Captain Beaumont went with the 12th Battalion who were in the lead. As the Battalion column moved down this avenue they were met with heavy fire. Further trees had been blown across the track and while the Sappers tried to clear the route a fierce fight developed between the 12th Battalion and what turned out later to be a Battalion of fanatical Nazi Youth. For some hours there were violent interchanges of fire while German light mortars shelled the waiting column behind. Here were some casualties but the 12th Battalion eventually won through to the open ground and better routes beyond the woods, taking many prisoners.
Meanwhile, the advance had been badly held up and since the main route from Coesfeld was now open, the remainder of the Brigade moved forward along the axis to Greven, the 12th Battalion pushing on on their own through the rougher routes to the north, taking with them the half of 2 Troop under Captain Beaumont. Before Greven the roads were packed for miles back with a solid mass of transport trying to move in both directions at once. No longer was the Division moving on an individual axis but on the main Corps route. To add to the confusion, a battery of German S.P. guns [self propelled/mobile guns]from some two miles ahead were firing air bursts over the town at unpleasantly frequent intervals. To open routes through the town 249 Company were strengthening a bridge across to the right of the town, while an Engineer company of Corps Troops built a Bailey Bridge across the River in the centre of the town. This task took some considerable time, since the bridge was unfortunately allowed to dive into the river during launching, and meanwhile tanks, Cars and lorries continued to pour into the packed streets and squares of the town.
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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