Sunday, 7 November 2010

27th February to 2nd March 1945 - Operation Veritable

The attack began on 27th February. 2 Lincolns passed through us followed by the KOSB, both Battalions being directed onto objectives intermediate to the main one which was the Udem - Weeze road.

Our own attack began at 1000 hrs with 'D' Company right and 'A' Company left. The support was magnificent: a barrage of colossal intensity crept forward in front of our advancing troops, and what that left uncompleted was well looked after by the Churchills of the Scots Guards, whose support with Besas and tank guns was so close and effective that the German heads were kept down until we were right on them.

The Germans were completely demoralised and many fell into our hands. Some were youngsters of sixteen who threw off their belts and equipment in disgust when taken, some were old men, and here and there were tough paratroopers.

The advance went forward in impressive line - 'A' Company, then 'C' Company on the left, 'D' in the centre, and the KOSB on the right. 'D' Company alone claimed 80 prisoners, while in 'C' Company tremendous strides forward were made by Lt Purcell, who, at the head of his platoon, captured several posts with inspiring dash and enthusiasm, and took a large number of prisoners.

One batch of them was ignominiously hauled from the cellar of a house and two further groups of ten each were taken as the platoon pressed forward to its final objective.

The official count of prisoners for this action was 140, but this is only the figure for those who were passed back through our Intelligence Section. Many others, in the heat of the battle, were passed on to the nearest unit and were put down to ultra-Battalion sources.

There was a sudden alarm from 'D' Company whilst consolidation was taking place. OC 'D' Company, Major Bird, MC, had already seen two SP guns making off just as he arrived on the objective. The Piat at Once went into action but unfortunately the range was too great, and 'D' Company had the painful experience of looking on while the SPs faded away in their own time.

Soon after this two enemy tanks counterattacked 'D' Company's positions, but a call for defensive fire produced a prompt and effective response from our excellent gunner Major Nicholson, RA, and henceforward nothing untoward occurred to interrupt digging and the brewing of tea.

The Battalion had not however escaped unscathed from this operation. Lt Hogan, the Infantry Engineer Platoon Commander, was severely wounded in the leg whilst making a reconnaissance of a schu minefield under shellfire before the attack.

Major Murphy fell victim to a light shell wound after the attack, and though not seriously hurt he was evacuated. Command of 'C' Company then consisting of two Officers, one Sergeant and fifty Other Ranks, devolved upon Captain DM Barry.

Altogether casualties for this operation - most of which were sustained in shelling before the attack began - were 2 Officer and 64 Other Ranks. On the more cheerful side, Lt Purcell was later awarded the M.C. for his part in this operation.

The battle was not without its unusual features. The weather was on the whole wet and miserable, and the tracks through the wood - at best poor - had for the most part been rendered impassable.

No vehicle dared to move before a thorough reconnaissance had been made of the route, and so the more unusual vehicles of the military establishment began to make their appearance TAG Battalion HQ for instance contained two Kangaroos, two Weasels, and a light tank.

With this motley collection it was frequently impossible to follow the Brigade axis, and attempts to find a route round the road were so successful that at one stage the group emerged well in front of the line of advance.

Later came a second anomaly when on the objective the problem of evacuating prisoners became so acute that the Commanding Officer himself escorted a batch of fifteen back towards Battalion HQ.

This action rounded off the month and our part of the operation Veritable was concluded in the first few days of March. 185 Brigade passed through us on 1st March and attacked Kervenheim, and even before this was cleared 9 Brigade was ordered to thrust again, leaving Kervenheim on our left flank, towards some woods about two miles South of Kervenheim, and from there push forward to capture Winnekendonk, four miles South of Kervenheim.

Early in the attack it became clear that with the exception of a few snipers the enemy had pulled back to a small perimeter defence of Winnekendonk. Thus only 2 Lincolns, who where charged with the capture of Winnekendonk, encountered organised resistance, and this they overcame with a determination and completeness that we were coming to recognise as characteristic of them.

2 RUR had two phases of this attack to undertake. Our first was to capture and clear the woods South of Kervenheim, and the second, after the Lincolns had taken Winnekendonk, to move up and consolidate the Winnekendonk - Wesel road, thus finally clearing the way for the armour to pass through.

In both these attacks we were again very fully and ably supported by the tanks of the Scots Guards, and by about seven Field Regiments. But apart from a few snipers beyond the objective of our first attack, the main opposition came, paradoxically, from our own troops.

During the first attack, Typhoons gave us such uncomfortably close support that the Commanding Officer was forced to halt the leading Companies advancing towards the objective.

Again, just before the second attack, a patrol sent forward to contact the forward Companies of 1 KOSB, through whom we had to pass, was shot up by an overzealous sentry, wounding two of our men.

Finally during the last attack, a fully articulated gunner programme including some seven Field Regiments, produced not a few "shorts"; luckily they inflicted no casualties.

Beyond the final objectives of the first attack, some brisk skirmishes with the enemy were however reported. 'B' Company at once sent out patrols which quickly located enemy positions, albeit at some cost.

One under Lt Phillips, pushed forward and found the enemy in a large house down the road. In front of this house Lt Phillips silenced a spandau which had opened fire on a second patrol under Sjt Cartwright. This patrol was less fortunate: it became pinned down by Machine Gun and rifle fire from several directions. Rfn Connor, a keen and excellent young soldier was wounded in the head by a bullet. He was carried back about a hundred yards to cover by Cpl Lawlor, but died before anything could be done about his wound.

One other Rifleman was wounded in the leg but was brought in by Sjt Cartwright to cover afforded by a fold in the ground. It was a tricky position, and finally artillery and tanks were called up to extricate the patrol.

A third patrol from 'B' Company under Lt McCainor cleared a large house which overlooked the left flank of the Company position. One German was discovered and swiftly bolted: he was fired upon, but, though winged, made good his escape.

Some enemy shelling and mortaring had, as always, to be endured however in spite of the virtual absence of ground opposition. After consolidation of the woods South of Kervenheim, it was quite heavy. Lt Purcell and an officer who had joined us in Thildonk, 2/Lt Macintyre, both being lightly wounded and evacuated.

But by comparison with the Lincolns we escaped lightly, and our second attack completed 9 Brigade's part in the advance towards the Rhine. Soon afterwards Guards Armoured Division, delayed some hours by demolitions, passed through us and in a few days all that was left to the Boche West of the River Rhine was the "Wesel" pocket.

During this period of January and February several noteworthy events have to be placed on record. In February we heard that Lt.-Colonel Harris, who had left us at the end of the year to go to the Far East, had been awarded the D.S.O. It was fitting reward and recognition of the immense service he had rendered to the Battalion from D Day up to the end of the year.

In the same list was the award of an M.C. to RSM Flaming, [Fleming?tn] a tribute to his ubiquity and courage under shellfire, and devotion to duty under the most harassing conditions. We had hoped to see him back with us again, but the wound sustained at Troarn gave him a permanent 'B' grading.

His place was taken by CSM Lutton, who came to Battalion Headquarters from "B' Company to assume the rank. Finally the return of Major Cummins to the Battalion after an absence of two years must be mentioned. He was well known to the older members of the Battalion, and after a short period assumed command of 'B' Company with Captain Gaffikin as his second-in-command.

No comments:

Post a Comment