Friday, 5 November 2010

21st to 27th February - Goch in Germany

Rumours of a move were circulating on the 21st February. By this time the offensive launched through the Reichwald by the Canadian First Army was making progress despite appalling weather conditions, and by the 20th, Goch and Cleve were both taken.

On the 22nd we were ordered to send reconnaissance parties to Tilburg with a view to moving the Battalion on the following day. But whilst pondering upon the significance of that move we heard it was cancelled. Instead we had now to relieve a Brigade of 15 Scottish Division a few miles South East of Goch and continue the advance in its place.

So the instructional courses broke up, training schemes were abruptly terminated, lorries and trucks were loaded and the journey began. Louvain, Diest, Bourg Leopold, Helmond, St Anthonis, over the engineering wonder constructed by the Sappers across the Meuse - to that date the second largest Bailey Bridge in the world - and finally across the frontier into Germany, marked by massed 25 pounders in action on either side of the road.

This was the route which carried the Battalion across two countries and into a third on a single day. As darkness was falling, the ruins of Goch slid gradually into view and we saw for the first time the fate of a German town which had received the concentrated attention of the RAF.

The main body had left the Louvain area soon after 0900 hrs, preceded by the Commanding Officer and advance parties, and reached the final destination shortly before midnight straightaway taking over from a battalion of the Gordons.

The area was dismal and unattractive, in a thick wood centred upon a monument of gloom called Schloss Calbeck. It was a rude and sudden change from our happy surroundings in Belgium, but at least we had the comfort of a shell-less night - the first that the Schloss had known for some time - and were able to become acclimatised to warlike conditions more gradually.

During the night a patrol went out to establish contact with I KOSB on the left flank and another under Lt Beavan went forward and reported the wood directly to the front of the Battalion position clear of enemy; whereat 'C' Company moved up and dug positions in it.

Early next morning the honour of drawing first blood on German soil fell to 'A' Company; ironically enough the victim was a pig.

Later the higher plan for the resumption of the offensive was disclosed. While on the left the Canadians attacked Udem, and on the right 53rd Division attacked Weeze, 3rd Division was to clear some five miles of wooded area stretching from the outskirts of Goch towards Kervenheim.

9 Brigade were allotted the stretch which extended as far as the Udem - Weeze road, the consolidation of which was to be final task of 2 RUR.

On the day before the attack 2 RUR was ordered to secure the Brigade start line and prevent enemy infiltration across it. The start line was a track running across the front and about 200 yards forward of our positions which constituted the Brigade axis of advance.

A patrol from the Carrier Platoon under Captain Baudains, MM, was sent out to make a reconnaissance of the start line. Moving cautiously along the track he came upon the bodies of three men of a British tank unit lying on the track. He crawled forward to them, and looking up for a moment from examining them, he caught a glimpse of a German steel helmet peeping over the top of a bank not thirty yards away from him.

Throwing himself flat and crawling back to his men, Captain Baudains immediately organised an attack on this position. Covered by 2" mortar fire, he put in a quick flanking movement and finally charging with three Bren groups firing from the hip, flushed out two very timid members of the Master Race.

They proved to be most valuable because on being marched away down the track, they indicated with shaking fingers and terrified shouts of "Minen, Minen", that the track was mined.

Details of the number and depth of these mines were duly extracted by our Dutch Interpreter, Lt Daniels, and the information passed back. It was a difficult situation. By now it was dark, and clearing mines of unknown species by night was a highly undesirable occupation. But it was decided that since this track was the Brigade centre line, it must be cleared at all costs before the attack went in at dawn.

Accordingly Lt Hogan and some sappers were despatched to clear it. When they reached the area and started to work on the field, heavy mortaring began and caused Lt Hogan to be badly wounded on a mine.

Eventually the party was forced to abandon this impossible task and when the attack began next day, the forward troops had to bypass this place by going through the wood.

One other patrol was carried out that night. A sapper officer and a tank officer wanted to examine a bridge beyond the stretch of wood which was on the far side of the minefield. Cpl Wallace and three men of the Carrier Platoon conducted them, and the whole party had an adventurous patrol.

To begin with Cpl Wallace mistook the route, and marched the party straight through the minefield without mishap. Soon after this the patrol came under a sudden burst of machine gun fire which forced them to "freeze" for some time. Working forward again a verey light was fired at them at point blank range, again the party was compelled to lie up.

Notwithstanding this opposition, Cpl Wallace pushed forward reaching the bridge and a level crossing three hundred yards beyond, thus not only satisfying the sapper and tank officer but bringing back valuable information about the enemy.

Shelling and mortaring were severe that night and 'C' Company suffered most heavily. So low lying was the ground that all trenches of more than two feet deep filled up with water. Yet continuous shelling impelled the men to get themselves below ground.

It was miserable indeed and 'C' Company lost at least 15 wounded. Casualties were such that 'C' Company had to be reorganised into two platoons. Finally Major Murphy asked the Commanding Officer for permission to move forward beyond the mined stretch of track and dig in at the furthest edge of the wood. It was given.

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