[page last updated 14 May 2015]
591 History Part 18 : compiled by Major Allan Jack dated 20 Dec 1945Note: Additional notes to Major Jack's History of the Squadron are in blue italics
No.1 Troop Assist Another Division
No German troops were left by this time west of the Elbe but there was a strong possibility that the gathered remnants of the Wehrmacht would turn and fight at the river, almost as formidable an obstacle as the Rhine. Nothing could be left to chance and a considerable British force was built up around Luneburg. The fears proved groundless, however, and the crossing by commandos and 5th Division was made with little opposition apart from occasional air strafing. Class 9 and Class 40 rafts were soon in operation and to be supplemented later by a Class 9 F.B.E. [folding bridge equipment] bridge and a Class 40 Bailey bridge. The sappers of 5th Division being employed with Corps Engineers on the bridging of the Elbe,
Lieutenant Lockey and 1 Troop were lent to 15th Brigade of that Division for their advance forward from Lauenburg, the terminal point of the Elbe crossing.
Early the following morning a party with Lieutenant Lockey went forward to fill in with a bulldozer a reported crater in the road a few miles north of Lauenburg. The task completed, they went forward to the village of Witzeeze, which the leading Battalion was supposed to have captured, to clear the route of mines. As the sappers entered the village from the east they met the forward elements of the Battalion stealing in from the west. From the next town, two miles away, the enemy appeared to be offering some resistance and there was a certain amount of mortaring of Witzeeze. A section of sappers was sent forward with the leading platoon, clearing on the way a few TOPF mines.
The platoon was pruned down by fire just short of Potrau. The planned attack developed into a company, and then into a full scale battalion attack with armoured support. And, after some 16 hours, Potrau was seized - together with the German mortar section defending it. Meanwhile, Corporal Taylor had been sent with a sapper officer of 15th Brigade to recce a gap a mile short of Potrau to the right. There were no enemy in this area but the officer decided that a look at the gap through binoculars would suffice. His estimation of the gap was ten feet. On reaching the spot later it was found to be 40 feet and it was necessary to bridge it with Bailey Equipment - this exploit, it was later learnt, on unimpeachable authority, that the officer was awarded the M.C. for this exploit!
The German "Frogmen" are Thwarted
Meanwhile, 2 Troop were put in support of 6th Airlanding Brigade who crossed later to Lauenburg and pushed on through 3rd Brigade to the country between Lauenburg and Boizenburg. Although the Wehrmacht, as such, had, by this time, seen the writing on the wall there were still small formations prepared to show fight and guerilla activity had been something of a menace ,,,,,,,,,,,,. On one occasion far back on the main Corps route they had destroyed a tank and a transporter with panzer attack in the dead of night in the middle of a bivouac area.
At Lauenburg it was rumoured that "Skorzeny's frogmen" were trying to swim down the canal leading from the south of the town to the Elbe, there to blow up the newly constructed bridges. Although most people were sceptical of this it was decided to take all precautions, and Corporal Hobbs and a party were stationed on the bridge spanning the canal half a mile from the Elbe with the task of throwing charges of gelignite into the river at frequent intervals throughout the night. The sceptics were confounded when the next morning three "frogmen" dressed in rubber suits, web footed shoes and respirators were hauled exhausted from the river a mile upstream.
The move with 6th Brigade involved no other sapper tasks and no fighting. The only fight was for accommodation in this thinly populated area. To find a roof for the Squadron, Captain Semple,
Lieutenant Fish and a party set off for a large house by the banks of the Elbe in an area unexplored by 5th Brigade or 3rd Brigade. Driving up to the main door with regrettably few precautions, they hammered loudly on the door for some minutes. Glancing casually back, Lieutenant Fish was slightly startled to see an armed German soldier approaching them a few yards away. He decided, however, the war really was over and was taken in charge of by Driver Horton who came up behind him. The house was found to be full of women and children from the neighbouring cottages who were immediately ordered to quit. Later, a casual glance into a barn near the house revealed a crowd of 45 surly, disgruntled but fully armed German soldiers, of whom Driver Horton took command and, in a matter of minutes, had had searched, numbered and knocked into shape in an almost .............. If they expected courtesy or softness from the British Army they must have been sorely disappointed in Driver Horton.
The Squadron had 24 hours of comparative luxury in the mansion during which time they were rejoined by No. 2 Troop and Lieutenant Fish with a small party carried out a most useful reconnaissance patrol of the routes through the woods beyond the outposts of 6th Brigade. A patrol during which a few minutes of ............ stuff produced a prisoner in the shape of a German soldier from a village some miles away, bearing, in his papers, instructions to those near Lauenburg to hold out to the end. He was told he was a little late.
The Collapse of the Wehrmacht
The next day the Squadron swept up in the most spectacular drive of the whole war which was to carry the Division 50 miles to the shores of the Baltic at Wismar. The Russians were driving west from Stettin, [Known as Stettin while under German occupation is now Szczecin, Poland.] Berlin had fallen and, as a first hint that the German Army had at last packed in, a trickle of German lorries, unescorted flying white flags, were seen passing back to the Elbe and captivity. As the Divisional columns swanned northwards the trickle grew into a flood as whole formations of the German army poured into the axis, at first in orderly columns of their own transport then in an unending rabble of bicycles, farmcarts and sullenly marching troops. It seemed as though half the German army had fallen into the Division's hands. No paper count was ever made but the figure was well over 30,000.
The beaten Wehrmacht were not allowed to proceed entirely without question. Hot as the pace was to reach the Baltic there was always time to stop and eject senior German officers from their palatial staff car, and few of the mass of Germans packing the road who were foolish enough to display the glint of a watch on their wrist kept it for long. At one halt in the jam of traffic an obsequious German officer speaking perfect English approached one of the Squadron officers and complained "I say, old man, one of your men's just taken my watch, surely that's not cricket?" He was told that by the time he got to the end of the column he'd be lucky if he had his trousers left.
Late that afternoon, standing outside the newly acquired billets in Wismar, the Squadron advance party saw their first Russian soldiers. Grim faced, swarthy men riding their motorcycle combinations flat out through the town towards Lubeck. Apparently their orders were to seize Wismar and Lubeck and so to Lubeck they went, oblivious to the fact that Wismar was in the hands of the 6th Airborne Division and that Lubeck had fallen to the British some time before. A few hours later, they flashed back and looking equally grim. From then on a very firm ............. line was maintained east of Wismar.
The war, so far as the Squadron was concerned, was now over and the official declaration of V.E. Day [Victory in Europe Day] some days later came as something of an anti-climax. Even to celebrate it with a day off was difficult, since most days were 'days off'. Days spent strolling around Wismar, bathing in the estuary as 'guests' of the Wismar rowing club, yachting at the invitation of the Wismar yacht club, bathing, eating, drinking and trying to avoid the advances of the unscrupulous fraulein. A large motor boat [motor torpedo boat] was brought up on its trailer from a factory by the Elbe in which Lieutenant Fish and a handful of enthusiasts cruised around the estuary. Fortunately, most of the enthusiasts were mechanics. More seaworthy was a harbour launch, referred to "ad nauseum" by Sergeant Lemmon as "my launch". This was not used entirely for pleasure, however, being employed for some days in towing barge loads of German ammunition and explosives far out into the Baltic, there to be sunk.
The day before the Squadron left for Luneburg to fly home, Sergeant Lemmon and a party of eight sappers were briefed to cross the Baltic on this launch to Copenhagen as escort to a convoy of pleasure yachts. At the very last moment it was decided that the risk of attracting a magnetic mine in an all-metal boat was too great and the launch was left behind. The yachts reached Copenhagen and their crews, amongst whom was the Sergeant Major, enjoyed four days of Danish hospitality before flying back to England arriving a day after the main body of the Squadron.
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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