The drive South to Conde sur Noireau or Operation "Black-water" followed. August the 9th saw the beginning of this tough struggle; progress was slow as the Germans held tenaciously to every village and ridge; on this day the 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards lost Major Michael Bell, an officer whose conduct in battle was quite outstanding. The continuous lighting in support, alternately, of two Divisions was having its effect - casualties had been heavy and the Brigade was dog tired; in order to try and give some rest the 5th Inniskilling Dragoon Guards and the 86th (Hertfordshire Yeomanry) Field Regiment Royal Artillery, who like the Essex Yeomanry were self-propelled 25 pounders, were placed under command.
Each Regiment thereafter was given 48 hours out of the line. During this period the Brigade Workshops established a record which remained unequalled throughout the campaign. The average weekly output of repaired Battle Casualty tanks exceeded 20 and in one week 31 A. F. Vs were returned to the front line.
Proussy was captured on 14th August and the way to Condé lay clear. Lieutenant-General B. G. Horrocks had now taken over 30 Corps; he took an early opportunity of addressing the Officers and NCOs of the 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards and the 13th/18th Hussars when he expressed his admiration for the fighting spirit of the Brigade in this "timeless test".
Back again under 43rd Division, the Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry excelled themselves in the crossing of the River Noireau where it flowed through a narrow gorge with steep tree-covered sides in which lurked many German Bazooka teams. By the evening of the 17th the infantry had joined this gallant Regiment in the St Honorine area, well beyond the river, and a great battle, which had lasted for nineteen days and had caused many casualties, came to a successful end. Major Dayer-Smith joined the Brigade as Brigade Major from the 27th Armoured Brigade and Major Pile left to become a Squadron Leader in the 3rd Battalion, Royal Tank Regiment.
The American armour was now in full swing, the breakout from Caen towards Falaise had had its effect and with the fall of Mont Pincon and Conde sur Noireau the German army was in full retreat. As in the desert, so in France the weather broke, sheets of rain poured down and no aeroplanes could fly for three whole days during which the Germans were pulling out much of their motor transport.
The 11th Armoured Division coming from the West rolled across the 30 Corps front and after two days halt the 8th Armoured Brigade set out upon the road past Falaise to the Seine.
For miles on either side of Chambois the roads and fields were littered with dead soldiers, dead horses and smashed equipment; the scenes of chaos belie description, as also does the stench.
The 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards carried out an operation to clear the Forest of Laigle and then pressed on to the Seine at Vernon. For three whole days the remainder of the Brigade remained static, a situation which was at the time most remarkable. The Sherwood Rangers even played a game of cricket.
The spectacular river-crossing operation which followed was mounted from a point 120 miles West of the river. The 43rd Division completed the approach march in 36 hours, the 4th and 5th Wiltshires and the 4th Somerset Light Infantry crossing the 200 yard wide river from the centre of Vernon within 2 hours of their arrival. The east bank consisted of an almost vertical cliff honeycombed with enemy machine gun posts. The assault, led by the tanks of the 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards on rafts, a hazardous operation in view of submerged mud banks and weeds, was launched at 7 p. m. on 25th August under an intense barrage and smoke screen. Other tanks drove down all streets leading to the West bank at zero hour opening fire at point blank range across the river.
Casualties to men and craft were considerable, but within 72 hours the bridgehead was 4˝ miles deep and the Royal Engineers had constructed a 680 foot folding bridge over which the remaining tanks of the 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards were able to cross.
Now at last the Brigade was to be given an independent role; instructions from General Horrocks were to cross the river immediately, to fork right and open up "Club Route" to the Somme for the Guards Armoured Division, said to be hot on the heels of the Brigade.
Acting on a wireless order from the Brigade Commander's Scout Car the Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry, 12th Battalion The King's Royal Rifle Corps and 13th/18th Hussars were rushed across on the afternoon of the 28th; at the same time the 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards reverted to command, Hasty plans were made and at dawn the next morning the Brigade advanced two up with right 13th/18th Hussars and B Company 12th Battalion The King's Royal Rifle Corps, and left Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry with C Company 12th Battalion King's Royal Rifle Corps. The Essex Yeomanry supported both columns and the 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards remained in reserve. It rained throughout the entire day. The axis lay along the valley of the tributary river Epte towards Dangu and Gisors, the road being dominated by high ground on both sides. Each successive village was held by the enemy with infantry and anti-tank guns. While the Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry made an excellent left hook through the Bois de Baquet and some very hilly country to come in behind 'the enemy at St Remy, the 13th/18th Hussars had a very hard day's fighting under most dismal conditions and did well to reach Dangu by nightfall.
The next morning the 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards took the lead and entered Gisors unopposed. "Liberation" now ensued. An amazing succession of sharp rearguard encounters followed by triumphal entries into towns, whose streets up to a moment before had been utterly deserted but which were now thronged by crowds, delirious with joy. Flags waved, apples and flowers showered on the tanks while luckless German infantrymen who had sheltered in houses were hurled out, shot and trampled underfoot. A kiss at one end of the street was often followed by a sniper's bullet at the other.
The 4th/7th continued with the Sherwood Rangers making a wide loop on the left but the 13th/l8th Hussars met determined resistance at a gap in the hills Southwest of Auneuil, known as the Kyber Pass, and were held up.
On 31st August the Brigade joined up with 11th Armoured Division on the Somme at Amiens. An independent role was again the assignment and early next morning the Brigade crossed by a narrow bridge on the West of Amiens and continued the advance on the left of the 11th Armoured Division, two up, 13th/18th Hussars right, 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards left each with a Company of 12th Battalion The King's Royal Rifle Corps and a Battery of Essex Yeomanry 'under command'. The enemy had formed up round the bridge head and a break-out operation had to be fought. The country permitted free tank movement and a great cross-country gallop ensued in which an R. E. officer, the Army High Jump Champion, and his bulldozer took a prominent part. On one occasion a battery of the Essex Yeomanry deployed off the march road into action with the speed and finish usually connected with a well rehearsed demonstration. By evening the l3th/l8th Hussars were through Doullens where a rearguard action had been fought at the crossing of the River Authie. The 4th/7th on the left had experienced some fighting at Vignacourt and Canapples on the left but by evening they too were up to the Authie. The night was spent at La Souche where many luckless prisoners were handed over to the Free French, a prospect which appeared distasteful to the Germans. Many Flying Bomb sites were located in this area and it was satisfactory to feel that they at least could cause no more civilian casualties in our homeland. Reconnaissance screens were pushed out towards St Pol and Arras, while the 50th (Northumbrian) Division was brought up by motor transport.
The army continued its advance with right the Guards Armoured Division and left the 11th Armoured Division. A column composed of 8th Armoured Brigade with under command 50th Reconnaissance Regiment and the 9th Durham Light Infantry, provided left flank protection. All went smoothly till some very determined SS were encountered dug in along a canal West of Lille. An attack by 9th Durham Light Infantry supported by the 4th/7th proved unsuccessful and the opposition having been pinned was by-passed. Two Squadrons of the 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards and two Companies of the 12th Battalion The King's Royal Rifle Corps reached the centre of Lille, the fourth biggest town in France, without further enemy opposition. Opposition from the incredibly enthusiastic citizens of Lille was, however, so great that the tanks and half-tracks were almost swamped and coherent military movement became impossible. As the force was so small, the town so large and its liberation only a sideline from the Brigade's main object, the party, rather weary from the festivities, was withdrawn at nightfall.
While Brussels and Antwerp were feting the Guards and 11th Armoured Divisions, formed bodies of German troops were reported moving East in Northern Belgium. The 8th Armoured Brigade with elements of 50th Division were therefore deployed to form a flank guard screen between Lille and Ghent, a distance of nearly 50 miles, to ensure that the festivities in Brussels and Antwerp were in no way interrupted.
On the 7th of September orders were received for the Brigade to march with all speed to the Albert Canal at Beringen to support the Guards Armoured Division in an attempt to turn the left flank of 719 Division who were holding the North Bank. The Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry were detached under 50th Division to assault across the Canal further West at Gheel.
After a very rapid march it was found that the Guards were experiencing considerable difficulty in enlarging their small bridgehead at Beringen. By midday on the 8th the leading elements of the 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards and 12th Battalion King's Royal Rifle Corps were over and fighting hard to enlarge the perimeter by the capture of Oostham. In the meanwhile the Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry were having an extremely sticky time in their bridgehead at Gheel where they were pinned by German tanks and SPs and lost 11 tanks. On the morning of the 9th September the brigade A Echelons, harboured just North of the Beringen Bridge, were attacked by a party of paratroops who had stalked the bridge through the woods. A desperate battle ensued in which the A Echelons and LADs acquitted themselves magnificently and drove off the paratroops, but as the equipment of the echelon had occupied no-man's-land during the fight, no less than 33 were "brewed up". The bridge, however, remained in our hands, thanks to the men of the echelon. The previous evening Brigade HQ, the 13th/18th Hussars and a Battery of Essex Yeomanry were surrounded by enemy at Beverloo; a fine old-fashioned British square was formed but the Germans did not put it to the test. Bourg Leopold was captured by the 13th/18th Hussars and B Company 12th Battalion The King's Royal Rifle Corps and orders were received to rest and re-fit.
Brigade HQ gave a cocktail party to celebrate the first official "stand down" that could be remembered since D-Day. At this juncture Lieutenant-Colonel Geoffrey Byron, whose 3 years in command of the 4th/7th had been completed, left and the Regiment was handed over to Major Gordon Barker.
After four days rest the Brigade moved off in the wake of the Guards Armoured Division who were linking up with the various Airborne forces which had dropped at Eindhoven, Grave, Nijmegen and Arnhem, in operation "Market Garden". A long night march brought the 4th/7th to Nijmegen where the bridges over the Waal had been so brilliantly captured the previous day by the 82nd United States Airborne Division supported by the Guards Armoured.
By this time the 1st Airborne in Arnhem were in bad plight and on the evening of 23rd September B Squadron of the 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards carrying men of the 5th Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry on their tanks formed a column and having broken the ring round the Nijmegen bridge made a dash round the West of Elst for the North edge of "The Island" opposite Arnhem. The plan succeeded through its sheer audacity, astonished German soldiers sprang into the roadside ditches to let the column pass and three Panthers who sought to interfere became so excited that they also finished their careers in the dyke bottoms. Shortly after dark the, leading Troop made contact with the Polish Paratroops who were on the South bank of the Neder Rijn and the much needed stores and ammunition were handed over in DUKWS.
Sad to relate however, the DUKWS bogged on the way down to the river and their contents never reached the hard-pressed garrison on the North bank. This brilliant exploit owed its conception entirely to the Squadron Leader, Major David Richards, who so gallantly carried it through.
A few days after arriving in the Nijmegen area the ration situation, as a result of the cutting of the main supply route, became very grave. 552 Company Royal Army Service Corps was given orders to proceed to Oss where it was known that there was a German Army food dump. After occupying the dump the 552 Company column was counter-attacked but with the assistance of part of a Reconnaissance Squadron of Guards Armoured Division the attack was driven off. The Company behaved with the utmost gallantry and two officers and two men were decorated with M.Cs and M.Ms respectively. Before leaving the Company was asked rather pathetically by the German officer in charge to sign for what they had taken. This they were very ready to do.
The 13th/l8th Hussars were occupied in operations against the village of Elst with the 4th Wiltshires and also in the clearing of ground to the West with 130 Brigade. To the Southeast of Nijmegen the Sherwood Rangers were making history in company with the brilliant 82nd United States Airborne Division, for by capturing the village of Beek they established themselves as the first British troops to enter Germany.
The following day the Brigade Commander returned from a visit to this Regiment claiming to be the first British Brigadier to have achieved a similar distinction, due, however, entirely to faulty map reading which led the jeep deep into the heart of the Reich from where it was very politely redirected to the British lines by a full-blooded Boche.
Fighting on the island continued throughout the rest of September and this veritable garden of Eden became a dark battle-scarred shambles.
The Brigade now became responsible for the "Western Approaches" and the 12th Battalion King's Royal Rifle Corps and 43rd Reconnaissance Regiment were deployed in defence along a very extended front which was subject to frequent raids. It was after one such raid that the Colonel of the Essex Yeomanry, while accompanying the Brigadier in an effort to readjust a somewhat decomposed situation, lost his beret. The aiming mark thus disclosed proved too much for two German, 88s perched high up on the opposite bank and the two distinguished officers were subject to, the indignity of being engaged over open sights.
October was spent on the defensive and very static conditions obtained. On the 18th the formation handed over the responsibilities for the "Western Approaches" on "The Island" to 101st United States Airborne Division and took over a similar responsibility on the "Western Approaches" to Nijmegen.
Throughout the period one Armoured Regiment supported 'the 43rd Division to the South East of Nijmegen overlooking the Reichswald Forest,. one Armoured Regiment remained on the Island with the United States Airborne and the third rested West of the town.
The new line held by 8th Armoured was approximately 15 miles in length along the Maas and the Waal; the troops consisted of the 12th Battalion, King's Royal Rifle Corps, 43rd Reconnaissance Regiment, a squadron of the RAF. Regiment and a number of members of the Dutch Resistance. These "Free Dutch" showed tremendous bravery in swimming the Waal under appalling conditions to obtain valuable information.
During this period there was time to organise a certain amount of sport and entertainment and a football competition culminated 'in a 'final in which the Essex Yeomanry beat the l3th/l8th Hussars by 2 goals to 1. A Brigade Rest Camp was opened in the Abbaye du Mont Cesar at Louvain where, thanks to the very great kindness' of Father David who was a very true friend, it remained to the end of the war. Finally on the evening of 4th November the Brigade H.Q. gave a Ball in the centre of Nijmegen, at which were represented all Headquarters and many units; it was perhaps unique in view of the fact that it took place within 2,500 yards of the German front line and in a building frequently hit by enemy shell fire; the cabaret was, provided by Nervo and Knox.
The Earl of Feversham succeeded to the command of the l3th/18th Hussars when Lieutenant-Colonel Vincent Dunkerly had to be evacuated to England for an operation to an old injury. H.M. The King visited Corps Headquarters on the 12th October when Formation Commanders had the honour of being presented to His Majesty.