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A Short History of the 8th Armoured Brigade

CHAPTER VI

 

The Rhine Crossing to VE Day.

The Staffordshire Yeomanry now returned to the Brigade. Since the break up of the 27th Armoured Brigade in Normandy they bad been back to England to convert to DD tanks under the 79th Armoured Division. Lieutenant-Colonel Eadie, after being awarded his second D.S.O., left to take up the appointment of Chief Instructor at Sandhurst and his place was taken by Lieutenant-Colonel Mike Farquhar, M. C. On their return to the Continent B Squadron had supported 52nd (Lowland) Division in the assault on South Beveland. This involved a swim of seven miles which was carried out without a casualty. The mud and dykes proved impassable to the Shermans however and only three tanks of this gallant squadron were able to proceed inland with the infantry.

After a winter spent in training on the Maas the Regiment, now under command of Lieutenant-Colonel John Trotter, had rejoined their old Brigade, to lead them across the Rhine.

A week before the crossing Lieutenant-Colonel Bill White M. B. E. succeeded Lieutenant-Colonel Mike Edwardes M. B. E. who had commanded the 12th Battalion The King's Royal Rifle Corps since August 1944. Lieutenant-Colonel White had been wounded on D-Day whilst commanding one of the battalions of 50th (Northumbrian) Division supported by 8th Armoured Brigade.

The 8th Armoured Brigade, now with four Armoured Regiments, was to support 51st (Highland) Division, commanded by Major-General T. Rennie, D. S. 0., in the Rhine crossing.

At 1700 hours on 23 March a tremendous air and artillery programme began. As at Nijmegen, every possible weapon took part. By artificial moonlight, at 2100 hours, the leading elements of 51st (Highland) Division crossed in assault craft just North of Rees. They were followed shortly by the DD tanks of C Squadron Staffordshire Yeomanry who experienced a certain amount of difficulty with mud on the far bank. The remainder of the Regiment crossed at first light and were up with the infantry before any enemy counter-attack could be launched.

At 1000 hours on that memorable morning the 6th British and 82nd Airborne Divisions streamed overhead to drop away to the East' in the enemy's gun area. This tremendous spectacle was observed by the Prime Minister, Mr Winston Churchill, and General Montgomery from a hill just behind Brigade H.Q.

The shambles which was Rees held out longer than was expected with the result that bridging operations had to be carried out by the Royal Engineers under direct fire from the East bank. Tank ferries were established by the evening of the 24th and the 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards began to cross; they were followed in the next two days by the l3th/l8th Hussars and the Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry. On the 27th Brigade H.Q., the 12th Battalion The King's Royal Rifle Corps and the Essex Yeomanry, who had been supporting operations from the West bank, made the crossing over the very fine Class 40 bridge.

For seven days the Brigade supported 51st (Highland) Division, 43rd Division who had come up on the left of the former, and the 9th Canadian Brigade in heavy and continuous fighting within the bridgehead, fighting that was characterised by bold use by the Germans of SP guns and very heavy mortar concentrations. It was in one such concentration that Major-General Rennie was killed white visiting forward Battalions on the East bank.

On the 28th Ijsselburg was captured and the road from Anhoh to Gendringen was in our hands. The enemy were beginning to have had enough and some were induced to surrender after appropriate harangues on the tank "Loud Hailers". Away to the right the 7th Armoured Division had broken out and the Guards Armoured were about to go.

German soldiers surrender after Rhine crossing

On the 30th March the Brigade with under command 4th Somerset Light Infantry in Kangaroos was loosed on Operation "Forrard On"; though as usual a break out battle had to be fought which lasted all day. 4th Somerset Light Infantry advanced on the right axis with 12th Battalion The King's Royal Rifle Corps on the left both supported by 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards. By evening the outskirts of Varsseveld were reached and 12th Battalion The King's Royal Rifle Corps on the left were in Silvolde. In Varsseveld both bridges had been blown and the river could not be crossed till the evening of the next day. Orders were received to push on with all speed to seize a crossing of the Twente Canal at Lochem. At 2300 hours, assisted by artificial moonlight, the advance continued, the order of march being 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards carrying 4th Somerset Light Infantry, Tac Brigade H.Q. and Essex Yeomanry. As dawn broke a sharp action took place at Ruurlo, but the advance continued to Lochem where considerable opposition was encountered and the bridge found blown. The Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry and 12th Battalion The King's Royal Rifle Corps were brought up to assist. Twenty-five miles had been covered during the day.

Fresh orders now arrived. The Brigade was to capture crossings South of Delden away to the East. Having handed over the Lochem area to 129 Brigade and 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards, the force was under way by 0400 and, headed by two troops of the Royals, covered 15 miles at a remarkable speed. The bridges, however, were blown but a crossing seemed possible by a lock gate Southwest of Delden. B Company 12th Battalion The King's Royal Rifle Corps put in a very bold attack but found the position to be strongly held with well-concealed Spandaus and heavy mortar fire. After a most gallant attempt in which severe casualties were suffered the Company was withdrawn. The 130th Brigade with Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry and 12th Battalion The King's Royal Rifle Corps under command, was now brought up and directed upon Hengelo by way of Enschede which stood at the head of the Twente Canal. Hengelo offered little resistance and the Brigade consolidated in that area. One of the V.2 supply routes into Holland had thus been cut. The 12th Battalion The King's Royal Rifle Corps pushed out in the evening towards Delden, patrolled during the night, and in the morning linked up with the forward troops of 4th Canadian Armoured Division advancing from their bridge-head over the Twente Canal.

While plans for the further advance were being made Lieutenant-Colonel Phayre, commander of the Essex Yeomanry, was promoted to C.R.A. 11th Armoured Division, and his place was taken by Major Bob Hodges.

After a short pause Operation "Forrard On" continued with Bremen, still over 100 miles distant, as its objective. A new deployment was made with 214 Brigade on the right and 129 Brigade on the left; l3th/l8th Hussars with 511 Battery Essex Yeomanry and B Company 12th Battalion The King's Royal Rifle Corps were with the former and 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards, 431 Battery and A Company with the latter. Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry, 413 Battery and C Company 12th Battalion The King's Royal Rifle Corps were in reserve with 130 Brigade.

On other fronts 7th Armoured Division were reported 25 miles South of Bremen. 8 Corps held a bridgehead over the Weser at Minden and the 84th United States Division was aiming for Hanover.

For six days the division advanced in face of enemy rearguards which defended every village and bottleneck. Blown bridges, mines and road blocks were encountered without end. On 11th April 130 Brigade and the Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry took the lead on the right hand road. Two days later the Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry were on the outskirts of Kloppenburg where a very stiff action was fought far into the night before the town fell. The last main road from Bremen to Holland was now severed. On the same day the 8th Armoured Brigade with 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards, 12th Battalion The King's Royal Rifle Corps and Essex Yeomanry were placed under command of 3rd British Division some 75 miles away to the East. The Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry and 13th/l8th Hussars were left with 43rd Division.

3rd Division were engaged with enemy holding out in the numerous villages South of Bremen and on the 15th a series of attacks began. The Staffordshire Yeomanry, who had been away from the Brigade since the break-out from the Rhine Bridgehead, now rejoined.

After coming straight out of action with 43rd Division and without rest or maintenance the 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards completed a march of 75 miles and went straight into action with 3rd British Division - an arrangement which had disastrous results upon the tanks.

The 12th Battalion The King's Royal Rifle Corps now took over part of the 3rd Division's front looking across the extensive flooding South of Bremen, the Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry rejoined the Brigade and the 13th/l8th Hussars went under command of 51st (Highland) Division now facing Dehnenhorst. On 18th April the Staffordshire Yeomanry were posted away to 12th Corps to prepare for the crossing of the Elbe.

After several days stiff fighting 3rd Division had captured all the ground South of the flooded area. It was now decided to cross the Weser upstream at Verden where a bridge had been secured and to attack Bremen from the East. The 52nd (Lowland) Division were to attack with their left on the river while 43rd Division were to be on their right supported by 8th Armoured Brigade less 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards who were to remain with 3rd Division and capture that part of Bremen which lay South of the river.

The operation was preceded by very heavy bombing raids on the city; stiff fighting was experienced on the eastern outskirts but once the town had been entered resistance crumbled and by the 27th the whole town was in our hands. The Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry had the pleasure of capturing Major-General Becker, while the 13th/l8th Hussars claimed Major-General Siebert.

The 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards had now left 3rd Division and with 51st (Highland) Division were advancing North of the autobahn towards ZEVEN.

On the 29th the 43rd Division set off in a northerly direction through miles of the most appalling bogland where no vehicle could move off the road and where all roads were punctuated with enormous craters. Sea mines and aerial bombs were used connected to infernal machines which detonated only after a certain number of equipment had passed. The route lay through the villages of Ottersburg, Wilstedt and Tarmstedt to Rhade where the axis swung West towards Bremerhaven. Here no less than ten huge craters 70 feet wide were encountered in the space of half a mile. Filling operations were constantly interrupted by 105mm shelling and by a certain amount of Nebelwerfer fire, from which even Brigade H. Q. was not immune.

Away to the right Sandbostel Concentration Camp had been uncovered by the advance. Though smaller, and occupied only by men, the conditions in this camp were exactly similar to Belsen. The 168 (City of London) Light Field Ambulance was moved in to deal with a situation where over 2,000, out of a total of 22,000, had died during the past 10 days, and where the death rate did not fall below 100 a day for some time. All ranks of the Light Field Ambulance combined magnificently to relieve the indescribable sufferings of the unfortunate victims.

The 4th of May found Brigade H. Q. at the little village of Rhadereistedt, the Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry waiting for the completion of the bridge over the Hamme-Oste Canal at Gnarrenberg, the 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards negotiating for the surrender of Bederkesa 20 miles to the North, the l3th/l8th Hussars in reserve at Wilhelmshausen, the 12th Battalion The King's Royal Rifle Corps Companies with their respective Armoured Regiments and the Essex Yeomanry as usual in action. At 9 o'clock in the evening the following message was received from the Commander 30th Corps:

"Germans surrendered unconditionally at 1820 hours (.)
Hostilities on all Second Army front will cease at 0800 hours tomorrow 5 May 45 (.)
NO repeat NO advance beyond present front line without orders from me (.)"

From the hill upon which Brigade H. Q. stood miles of flares and verey lights could be seen shooting up into the sky. Rejoicing there was, but this sudden break in the tension reacting upon men, far more tired than they were prepared to admit, had a quietening effect. It was some days before the full implication of this great achievement could be completely realised.

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