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49th Infantry Division 'The Polar bear Butchers'?


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#1 Smudge

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Posted 22 October 2010 - 02:57 PM

Hi all

The 49th Infantry Division became known as the Polar Bears because of their service in Iceland but in 'John Crook's War' it is stated that "they became notorious to German troops and merited a vicious attack by Lord Haw Haw on the radio during the Normandy campaign. He called them 'The Polar Bear Butchers". It also says that..."This extreme rhetoric reflects the ugliness of fighting in Normandy. There was a constant fear that neither side would give any quarter. Sadly there many many incidents of POWs on both sides being executed after capture. Snipers and SS troops were hated and many documented accounts indicate they were unlikely to be given the courtesies of the Geneva Convention".

This seems to imply that the 49th were notorious for something a little more sinister than being just aggressive in battle.

Can anyone expand on this (until I get hold of the book Tom recommends on The Polar Bears)

Smudge
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#2 Verrieres

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Posted 22 October 2010 - 03:42 PM

Hi Smudge

Nothing notorious at all,The Polar Bears were involved in some of the bloodiest battles and this resulted in Lord Haw Haw attempting to insult the Division during the Normandy campaign. He called them 'The Polar Bear Butchers' and the Div went along with it ,the remarks even prompted a 49th Divisional Christmas Card for 1944. This `insult/title reflects the bitterness of fighting in Normandy during 1944 when casualties were very high and not the fact that their men were in any way more aggresive towards their enemies (SS or otherwise) than any other unit at this time...unless you know something we do not?? During the battles around Rauray the Germans made a real effort to force the Allies back and attempted to drive them back towards the beaches it failed mainly due to the steadfastness shown by Divisions such as the 49th despite as mentioned horrific casualties
I have that Christmas card somewhere I`ll try and dig it out.

Edited by Verrieres, 22 October 2010 - 03:51 PM.

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#3 Tom Canning

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Posted 22 October 2010 - 04:10 PM

Smudge - when you get the "Polar Bears" by Delaforce - you will find that the battles around Rauray were some of the more viscous in that whole campaign and as a result the 11th battalion DLI was nearly wiped out the 6th DoW didn't do so well either - one result was that the 70th Bde was broken up and spread around various other units.
Lord Haw Haw had to say something to cover the antics of the 2SS Panzers in those battles so he came up with the "Polar Bear Butchers" - and as Verrieres points out - the DLI made it into a Christmas Card
Cheers
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#4 Philip Reinders

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Posted 22 October 2010 - 05:39 PM

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#5 Smudge

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Posted 25 October 2010 - 12:21 PM

Thanks for the info chaps

Verrieres; the Yorks and Lancs were my local regt so I'm glad nothing untoward took place...I was in charge of the Hallamshire Platoon at Sheffield which are the last decendants I think of The Hallamshire Btn. I joined up at the old Y&L building in Barnsley back in 1984...now the Barnsley Chronical offices ( what a waste of a great old building). Must visit the Regt Museum in Rotherham sometime. I pretty much quoted verbatim from John Crookes War at John Crook's War which is a good read I think.

I've been to many a Mess function at Endcliffe Hall which as a massive mural in the ballroom depicting the capture of Fontenay.

Tom; the books on its way...a bargain off Amazon ( hardback) at £4 new. Can't wait.

Philip; ta for the postcard. I have seen this on the John Crookes site but not this large so thanks.

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#6 ramacal

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Posted 25 October 2010 - 04:14 PM

Smudge

Have you read the book by the Hallam's CO, Trevor Hart-Dyke?

I've also read John Crooks war. Great webpages.

I've been trying to track down the 49 Division's war diary at Kew, but it does not seem to be lodged there for some reason. I'm interested in September and October 1944, when they successfully crossed the Antwerp-Turnhout at St. Leonards.

Cheers - Rob

Edited by ramacal, 04 November 2010 - 06:42 PM.

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#7 Smudge

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Posted 27 October 2010 - 09:23 AM

Hi Rob

Haven't come across that book...you any more details i.e title, publisher etc?

Are all the old war diaries at Kew? Its a shame that these things disappear; i.e. a mate of mine recovered Y&L maps from WW1 in a skip at Rotherham TAC...the civvies were having a clearout and loads of 'old useless stuff' was burnt. One is now hanging at Barnsley's drill hall

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#8 sapper

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Posted 27 October 2010 - 03:03 PM

Just a small comment.they were known as "The Butcher Bears" Not as the Polar Bear Butchers, that was at the time.
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#9 Combover

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Posted 04 November 2010 - 07:40 AM

They were known for not taking prisoners amongst the German units they faced. As with all of these things, there is a degree of truth in that, but it IS mostly just propaganda.
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#10 Gerard

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Posted 04 November 2010 - 09:30 AM

Just goes to show the ferocity of the fighting in the bocage in Normandy.
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#11 johneowens

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Posted 23 July 2013 - 02:03 PM


I've been trying to track down the 49 Division's war diary at Kew, but it does not seem to be lodged there for some reason. I'm interested in September and October 1944, when they successfully crossed the Antwerp-Turnhout at St. Leonards.

Cheers - Rob

Rob

 

You know about the Belgian Polar Bear Assn and their website at http://www.polar-bea...to_Gallery.htm? Right?

 

They are associated with local historians at Wuustwezel and Sint Lenaarts (note Flemish) spelling) who know a lot about crossing the Antwerp-Turnhout canal and Operation Rebound to lcut off the units of the German 15th Army on Zuid-Beveland and Walcheren (Holland) and secure the north approaches to Antwerp. Other units involved at various times were the 2nd Gloucestershire Battalion (Glosters), S Wales Borderers, Royal Scots Fusiliers, various RE field companies, including the 240th, and the 104th US Infantry (Timber Wolf). Sint Lenaarts was taken 1 October 1944.

 

Best

 

John


Edited by johneowens, 23 July 2013 - 02:38 PM.

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#12 Drew5233

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Posted 23 July 2013 - 02:11 PM

Looking at the date I'm guessing you have found them by now but just in case...

 

WO 171/500 49 Infantry Division. General Staff 01 July 1944 - 30 September 1944

and

WO 171/501 49 Infantry Division. General Staff 01 October 1944 - 31 December 1944


Edited by Drew5233, 23 July 2013 - 02:12 PM.

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#13 ramacal

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Posted 23 July 2013 - 06:36 PM

Rob

 

You know about the Belgian Polar Bear Assn and their website at http://www.polar-bea...to_Gallery.htm? Right?

 

They are associated with local historians at Wuustwezel and Sint Lenaarts (note Flemish) spelling) who know a lot about crossing the Antwerp-Turnhout canal and Operation Rebound to lcut off the units of the German 15th Army on Zuid-Beveland and Walcheren (Holland) and secure the north approaches to Antwerp. Other units involved at various times were the 2nd Gloucestershire Battalion (Glosters), S Wales Borderers, Royal Scots Fusiliers, various RE field companies, including the 240th, and the 104th US Infantry (Timber Wolf). Sint Lenaarts was taken 1 October 1944.

 

Best

 

John

Thanks for your interest John. I'm aware of the Polar Bear Association and their great website. Since 2010, I have looked at the war diaries at Kew. It was their rubbish search engine which initially stopped me from finding them. I've also attended a couple of annual liberation ceremonies at Sint Lenaarts and met a local Historian who has taken me on a tour of the area. My Dad's unit arrived in St. Lenaarts and were briefly attached to the 49th Division. Dad's unit, although RA, were active in the area North of there from 15 to 28 October as Infantry, hence the interest.

 

Cheers - Rob


Edited by ramacal, 23 July 2013 - 06:39 PM.

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#14 johneowens

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Posted 23 July 2013 - 06:53 PM

Rob

 

Excellent. I guess you know Guido, then, in Wuustwezel. He has been extremely helpful to me. I'm planning a visit there in September or October. My father was a Sergeant in the 240th Field Coy, RE. He was wounded in Wuustwezel on 21 October 1944 from shrapnel from a Jadgpanther shell. Two others from the 240th were killed in the same incident, driver Frederick Houghton and a L/Corp Hugh Wright. I guess they are listed on the memorial in Wuustwezel.

 

BTW, just been corrected: Sint Lenaarts was liberated on 29 September 1944, by the Canadian 2nd Infantry.

 

Best

 

John


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#15 ramacal

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Posted 23 July 2013 - 09:40 PM

I met a guy called Francis Huijbrechts from Hoogstraaten.

 

Thought St Lenaarts was liberated by 4th Lincolns? The Brickworks is mentioned in their war diary and the old chimney is still there. The memorial there also has British 1 Corps and the Polar Bears Insignia on it.

 

A Belgian Historical Group called Spearhead BE hold an annual Camp in St. Lenaarts every year to commemorate the Liberation and is close to where the Bailey Bridge was put across. It is called Plumbridge Camp, in honour of that bridge. 10th Anniversary this September. 20 - 22 September to be precise.


Edited by ramacal, 23 July 2013 - 09:51 PM.

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#16 johneowens

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Posted 23 July 2013 - 10:08 PM

Thanks, Rob.

Ok, not Guido.

No, my Sint Lenaarts source tells me that the liberators of his town were the Canadians.

Do you have any more details on the Bailey bridge at Sint Lenaarts? When was the original bridge blown? Which unit of RE's built the Bailey?

Best

John
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#17 ramacal

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Posted 24 July 2013 - 05:19 AM

Apologies John,

 

You are right and I'm completely wrong and apologise to our Canadian Allies. It is Sint Josef on the Antwerp-Turnhout canal that the 4th Lincolns took. St. Lenaarts was to the West of St. Josef. That's what happens when you are not at home and don't have full access to your information. I found the photos I posted previously on WW2Talk of that Bailey Bridge at St. Josef.


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#18 johneowens

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Posted 24 July 2013 - 09:42 AM

No problem, Rob. Glad we are on the same page.

 

Which RA unit was your Dad with? And do you have its War Diaries for 21 October 1944, please?

 

Best

 

John


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#19 ramacal

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Posted 24 July 2013 - 10:08 AM

No problem, Rob. Glad we are on the same page.

 

Which RA unit was your Dad with? And do you have its War Diaries for 21 October 1944, please?

 

Best

 

John

102 LAA Regt and here is a link to the transcribed October war diary you refer to. It's here on WW2Talk.

 

http://ww2talk.com/f...e-2#entry510623

 

They were part of an adhoc Brigade u/c 89 LAA Regt with 62 Anti-Tank Regt, RA as well. A small part of 2nd Kensingtons were also attached.


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#20 johneowens

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Posted 24 July 2013 - 10:23 AM

OK, I now see that your guys were some way to the right of "my guys" in BOBFORCE on 21 October.

 

Many thanks, anyway.

 

Best

 

John


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#21 ramacal

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Posted 24 July 2013 - 01:27 PM

102 LAA Regt had command "A" Sector, BobForce, which was to the right side of Hoogstraaten. I know there was also IMPFORCE as well. Do you know which units constituted IMPFORCE?


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#22 ramacal

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Posted 24 July 2013 - 01:33 PM

Rob

 

Excellent. I guess you know Guido, then, in Wuustwezel. He has been extremely helpful to me. I'm planning a visit there in September or October. My father was a Sergeant in the 240th Field Coy, RE. He was wounded in Wuustwezel on 21 October 1944 from shrapnel from a Jadgpanther shell. Two others from the 240th were killed in the same incident, driver Frederick Houghton and a L/Corp Hugh Wright. I guess they are listed on the memorial in Wuustwezel.

 

BTW, just been corrected: Sint Lenaarts was liberated on 29 September 1944, by the Canadian 2nd Infantry.

 

Best

 

John

Both Houghton & Wright are buried in Leopoldsburg War Cemetery. I've their headstone photos if you want me to post them.


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#23 johneowens

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Posted 24 July 2013 - 05:55 PM

102 LAA Regt had command "A" Sector, BobForce, which was to the right side of Hoogstraaten. I know there was also IMPFORCE as well. Do you know which units constituted IMPFORCE?

Rob

 

Unfortunately, no - although possibly 4th Canadian Armoured. The only  ref. I know is in the 240th's WD, which refers to BOBFORCE, IMPFORCE AND CLARKFORCE as the 3 task forces comprising Operation Rebound.

 

"My guys" were in Hoogstraeten 28 October 1944, after Zondereigen and before Chaam and Breda

 

Best

 

John


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#24 johneowens

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Posted 24 July 2013 - 05:56 PM

Both Houghton & Wright are buried in Leopoldsburg War Cemetery. I've their headstone photos if you want me to post them.

Yes, that would be great. So, yes please.

 

Best

 

John


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#25 ramacal

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Posted 24 July 2013 - 06:44 PM

Rob

 

Unfortunately, no - although possibly 4th Canadian Armoured. The only  ref. I know is in the 240th's WD, which refers to BOBFORCE, IMPFORCE AND CLARKFORCE as the 3 task forces comprising Operation Rebound.

 

"My guys" were in Hoogstraeten 28 October 1944, after Zondereigen and before Chaam and Breda

 

Best

 

John

Hi John,

 

Clarkforce were the Canadians. One of 62 AT's Batteries were attached to them with Self Propelled M10's.

 

Here are some photos of the destroyed Church in Hoogstraaten which I got hold of a couple of years ago. It was blown up on 23 October 1944.

 

http://ww2talk.com/f...hl=hoogstraaten

 

I'll post the Headstone photos for you at the weekend.

 

Regards - Rob


Edited by ramacal, 24 July 2013 - 06:45 PM.

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#26 johneowens

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Posted 24 July 2013 - 08:55 PM

Dear Rob

 

Hmmm. My Belgian source has got the 104th US Infantry (Timber Wolf) as part of Clarkforce in Wuustwezel on 20 October 1944, at the same time that Hoogstraeten is still occupied by the Nazis' 711 Infantry Div. and their 346 and 245 Infantry Divs. are counterattacking south from the Dutch border. On 20 October1944, Clark Force/104th US Infantry attacked to secure Loenhout, first and then advanced towards Wuustwezel, which it was to capture and hold against possible enemy counterattacks. According to the 2nd Btn Glosters WD, the 49th Polar Bears were to attack N on a general axis of Sint-Lenaarts-Loenhout with 56 Bd in advance, and 2nd Glosters advancing on the left and 2nd Essex on right (presumably part of Clarkforce). The 2nd Glosters' task was to force a corridor and clear the areas N of Sint-Lenaarts "to enable a mixed armoured force called CLARKFORCE' to operate forward and capture Loenhout". By the evening of 20 October,, Clarkforce /104th US Infantry got to a point on the Niewmeorsestenweg (now N133) NW of Wuustwezel. Next day, I think they proceeded NW towards Essenboske but my solid info fades there.

 

I think the composition of these task forces was pretty fluid over this period and varied according to needs.

 

Thanks for pointing me to the Hoogstraeten photos and will look out for the headstone photos at the weekend.

 

Many thanks

 

Best

 

John


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#27 johneowens

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Posted 01 August 2013 - 04:16 PM

A Belgian source tells me that the 49th's War Diaries for 20-22 October 1944, written by Lt.-Col. Hart Dyke (Hallamshire Battalion) from Wuustwezel in Belgium, indicate that the 240th Fld Coy RE's HQ was located on Kalmthoutsesteenweg in Wuustwezel. On 21 October 1944, this HQ was hit by a shell from a German Jagdpanther.

 

I wonder whether some kind person could send me a copy of the WD for those dates?

 

In anticipation, Many thanks and best wishes

 

John


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#28 beanhead

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Posted 20 June 2014 - 09:10 PM

Sorry for this bump but it's ontopic anyhow :P...

 

I'm a resident from Wuustwezel, i'm planning to do a local tour here to view all the historical monuments preserved. As a child I met the division and they've left a lasting impression on me ever since, one notorious story I can recall is one unit went up our church (dating from 1485!!!) and sat there with a sniper rifle untill the Germans left, i've been there several times and it's really no place where you want to be. I can't really describe what I feel when remembering these people but it's painful that I can't put names on the faces. I've been looking for a list of the names but I really don't know where to look. (Yes, a shame, I realize)

 

We've received a AA-cannon from the Leicester division here in Wuustwezel (5 years back, 65!!! years of liberation) by the way

 

i'll visit the townhall soon anyhow, so if anyone has some questions that need to be asked feel free to shoot.

 

Much respect to the survivors and 360 brave men who fought for our freedom and the life I have now. I won't miss a chance meeting these men each time they return!


Edited by beanhead, 20 June 2014 - 09:18 PM.

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#29 Paul Reed

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Posted 20 June 2014 - 09:29 PM

Hi 'beanhead'.

 

I visited your village a few years ago with several Polar Bears veterans. There are some photos here:

 

https://www.flickr.c...57627474995367/

 

eg:

 

6117004431_9e6e8d7a06_b.jpg


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