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23rd Field Regiment ( SP ) RCA


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#1 KevinT

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Posted 26 November 2011 - 10:10 PM

Extracts from 23rd Field Regiment War Diary written by Lieu. Lawrence Smith.

The original file is too large to post here. Thanks to Cheryl England for sending it to me. If it is OK I will post it in sections.

Cheers
Kevin


The History of the 23rd Cnd Field Regiment ( SP ) RCA



Introduction


Part I – CANADA – A REGIMENT IS BORN


Chapter 1 Petawawa – The Raw Material
Chapter 2 Sussex - Melting and Moulding


Part II – ENGLAND – THE FINISHING PROCESS


Chapter 1 Chobham Camp
Chapter 2 Eastbourne
Chapter 3 Larkhill
Chapter 4 Redesdale
Chapter 5 Exercise Jing
Chapter 6 Pippingford Park
Chapter 7 Into the field


Part III – NORTH WEST EUROPE – THE FINAL PRODUCT


Chapter 1 Across the Channel
Chapter 2 Easing into Action
Chapter 3 Caen to Falaise
Chapter 4 The Mad Dash
Chapter 5 Holding the Leopold
Chapter 6 North from Antwerp
Chapter 7 Winter in Holland
Chapter 8 Sweeping the Rhine
Chapter 9 Over the Rhine
Chapter 10 Cease Fire


Appendix 1 Commanding Officers
Appendix 2 Where and When
Appendix 3 Casualties in Action
Appendix 4 Honours and Awards
Appendix 5 Facts and Figures
Appendix 6 Where they Went







Introduction



One hot black July night in 1944 a long column of vehicles which, to any onlooker must have resembled great prehistoric monsters, lumbered through the road junction at Wych Cross Sussex and rolled up the highway to London. After being confined to camp for several days awaiting the anticipated order, the 23rd Field Regiment (SP) RCA was on its way.
. . . . Destination - Normandy !
.

That broad London was the first leg of the long "Green Up”
route which those SP’s followed throughout the ten months, a route which took the clanking tracks over the dusty, dirt-laden roads of Normandy, the tree lined cobblestones of Belgium and Holland, and the muddy, crateredpeat-bog trails of northern Germany.


It has been a long trail - sometimes difficult, other times easy and pleasant-and this is the story of the men and machines of the 23rd who followed the trail till the job was done. This is the tale of the guns and the men who fought the guns,the men who provided the artillery fire so necessary to modern warfare. It makes no claim to completeness, for to be complete every man would have to write his own story. But within the limits of human remembrance and official records, this is the true story of this group of men with “23RCA” on their shoulders, whose motto is “Ubique quo fas et gloria ducunt”, and who, in addition, proudly claim:-
“We’re SP”

























CHAPTER 1

PETAWAWATHE RAW MATERIAL

The little tent camp at the southwest end of Petawawa Camp was the real birthplace of the 23rd Cdn Field Regiment RCA. Of course the paper work which initiated the formation of the regiment has been done long before. The order had gone out that a new regiment of artillery was to be created and the work of mobilizing three batteries had commenced early in the spring of 1942.

But it was on the hot sandv plot that the fusion of three separate sub-units, coming from various parts of Ontario into an efficient fighting team was f i r s t started. During May, June and July the men - the raw material for any regiment - kept coming in. Some arrived from the artillery training centres; veterans of six months to a year in battledress. Others, few in number had spent several years in England and were looked upon with just a touch of awe by many of the others. But the vas t majority were new to the army and half doffed their soot suits with neat pleats in answer to the energetic recruiting campaign carried on in the districts where the three batteries were mobilized.

The "senior" battery, the 31st, had-formed part of the 7th (Toronto) Field Regiment (Reserve) and most of its members came from the “big city”. Initially the battery was commanded by Major A L Skaith but in June he became second-in-command of the regiment and Major Alan Harper, back from overseas, took over the battery. Many of the men who joined the 31st were sent for basic training to Brantford where under the guidance of Capt John White - more familiarly known as “Uncle John" - they were initiated into the manifold mysteries of the army. After the basic training period they arrived at Petawawa to join the rest of the regiment.

Simultaneously, a battery was being mobilized in Cobourg Ontario a little town which claims t o have turned out one of the highest per capita number of gunners in the province. Commanded by Major H K Walker, back from England, the 36th Battery originally contained a high proportion of Cobourg Officers and most, of the men came from the area of Cobourg, Port Hope and Peterborough. However, it was found to be impossible to raise another complete battery from that district and ,several months later a large draft from the 26th Field Regiment , a Toronto unit, arrived to fill out the ranks of the 38th. The rest of the regiment had barely heard of Cobourg, referring to it jokingly as the village where the Toronto train stopped only on being flagged, but the little band of men from the lakeshore have always given the 36th a definite "Cobourg flavour” and have made the name of their hometown widely known. Nor have the Port Hope men been very silent!

The junior battery was the 83rd formed largely out of the. 8th Field Brigade (reserve) which was the reserve army formation covering Hamilton, Brantford and St Catharines:Recruiting was carried on in these three cities under direction of Major R A Hainsworth who had come back from overseas to form the Battery. In St Catharines and the Niagara district Capt W B C Burgoyne, one of the few original Officers with the regiment at "Cease Fire”, did the recruiting. The 83rd was then and always has been a real Niagara district battery.






Sussex Christmas 1942

Christmas was fast approaching, bringing with it the time when most of the regiment would be entitled to a two-week furlough. It was decided to send half of the regiment over Christmas this group to include the married men, with the other half going over New Year.

Those left behind on each occasion managed to celebrate the holiday quite adequately, although the season was somewhat marred by the news that the Commanding Officer was leaving the regiment. Command was given to Lt. Col. G.W. Wishart who arrived several days before Christmas but did not actually take over until January 9th when Lt. Col. Robertson left. At the Christmas dinner when the Officers and Sergeants served the men their turkey and cranberry sauce, “Jamie” introduced the new C.O. to the regiment.

Lt. Col. Wishart, who had been chief instructor at A-2 Petawawa, introduced some sweeping changes in the regiment. Within the next few months all three Battery Commanders left the regiment because their age would probably prevented them from going overseas again, and a number of the junior officers also left. Major Hainsworth went to Petawawa to take over a training battery and Capt. J. Maxwell was promoted to Major to assume command of the 83rd. He had been the original quartermaster and had subsequently been Battery Captain of the 31st when Capt. Glenn- Murphy became RQM. The adjutant, Capt. Peter Chipswick, was promoted and took over the 36th Battery in place of Major H. K. Walker. In April Major Harper left and the 31st was taken over by Major E. M. D. Smith, also from A-2.

Most startling was the order that all ranks would “whiten” their Canada badges forthwith, using white ink or whatever solution Canadian ingenuity could devise. It didn’t take Canadian ingenuity long! The perfect whitening process was soon found – after some hideous experimentation – to be white ink to which, when dried , was applied a solution of clear nail polish. This helped prevent smudging and also rendered it water-proof!

Early in the new year the one announcement was made which was to effect the future of the regiment more than any other. Along with the 19th Field Regiment, the 23rd was to be converted to a self – propelled artillery regiment and would be re-equipped with the 25 – pounder on a Ram tank chassis. The mounts, already in production, were expected to arrive at any time and the training of the regiment was to a degree channelled into lines which would prepare it for taking the new equipment into use.

The driver problem was to be the biggest one facing the regiment. With a bit of training anyone could drive a gun tractor. A tank was a different matter, however, and there was no one in the regiment who knew a bogie from a turret. In late February a large number of drivers and several officers were sent to Camp Borden, the armoured training centre, for a long course in tank driving and maintenance. One of the officers was Capt. Roger Murphy who later became technical adjutant, a new appointment in the regiment as a result of the revised war establishment. Other changes in establishment was substitution of drivers tank for drivers wheeled and a substantial increase in number of driver operators, for each mount was equipped with radio and it was thought R/T would play a large part in the deployment of self – propelled equipment.


At the same time G P O P A came into being and called a convention to decide what their fate was to be in the new order of things. The initials stand for Gun Position Offlicers Protective Association, and the main topic of discussion was the type of vehicle the GPO and CPO were to use. With all this talk of bullet-swept deployment areas and the aggresslvedeployment of SP’s which had lots of protection, the sub - alterns displayed a rather marked hesitancy about roaming around in universal carrlers, l5-cwt trucks or any other thin skinned vehicle.

After considerable discussion it was agreed that some type of armoured vehicle
was needed probably along the lines of an SP mount minus the gun and with built in artillery board and other equipment needed to operate a command post. In a request from. NDHQ our ideas on the subject were forwarded in the spring of 1943. The thing was almost forgotten, except for a brief moment in England, when one was on display, until March, 1945, in Tilburg, Holland, when a phone call from Div Arty instructed us to pickup six GPO command vehicles.Lo and behold, they were practically the same thing that had been asked for in Sussex twoyears earlier!

The conversion to self-propelled also involved a change in name The official new name given the regiment was 23rd Field Regiment (SP) RCA. Those two initials in brackets caused a good deal of trouble at first, and a number of letters from fond families were addressed to the 23rd Special Police Regiment!

March 1943

The first SP mount was finally delivered .early in April but before then a new oommanding officer arrived. He was L t Col K N Lander who arrived one afternoon' late in March wearing the maroon patch of -the 5th Cdn Armoured Division. He had commanded the 17th Field Regiment in England. .

An excellent disciplinarian and training officer, Lt. Col Lander gave the regiment a thorough look-over before he commenced any changes. When they came some of them were considered very startling and, in fact, caused some discussion among the men but on looking back it is realized that his work was largely responsible for bringing the regiment to a stage whereit was fitto go into action.

First tangible change to emanate fmio the new C0 ' s office was theorder to whiten not only Canada badges but alsostripes and badges of any kind. And further, he pointed out,the white paint was not to be just smeared on the stripes,but each tiny herrlngbone thread was to be whitened individually.The language in the sergeantsmess was unfit for human earsfor a short while., but when the sergeants appeared in public they were a
beautiful sight . Howls and whistles followed them down the street and at night you could dlstinguish a 23rd NCO while he was still two blocks away! By the time a man had white
on his Canada badge, his gun and his rank stripes he had quite an armful.

The CO’s Batman, (also L/Bdr and Sgt at various stages of his turbulent career ) Hogan, was the most whitened up man in the regiment, especially when he first got a
stripe, and he fully earned the title which Lt Col Lander bestowed on him of the "walking Christmas-Tree". Somehow he had earned a fancy MT badge and several good conduct
stripes so that hisarm looked like New York’s “Great White Way”.

The officers were all ordered to wear red a r t i l l e r y wedge caps and many were the barely-suppressed smiles whlch greeted them when the came on parade the first day after that order was issued!

The space between the officers lines and line of office huts was turned into a parade ground, and once again the trucks were busy hauling crushed gravel. Great emphasis was placed upon foot drill but with a few new quirks such as lifting the foot high and stamping it down on the turns and halts. Every drill move was done to the count with
everyone counting aloud until they could do it together. The parade ground and drill hall were scenes of pandemonium with several squads simultaneously shouting out “Hup-two-three” as they right turned or about turned or halted. Regimental route marches and parades were instituted as a weekly feature and within a short time every foot in the regiment stamped down as one on the order “Halt”, setting up a crack that echoed as far as Moncton.

Every Saturday morning was devoted to a regimental inspection in full battle order, each Battery stood rigidly at attention while it was being lnspected, and when the CO
passed on to the next it stood rigidly at ease. On a hot day an average of about five men rand officers) would keel over. It was considered tough but it gave the regiment a
smartness and discipline and a life-long hate for Blanco and Silvo which had previously been lacking.

Edited by KevinT, 11 December 2011 - 09:14 AM.

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#2 17thDYRCH

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Posted 27 November 2011 - 01:25 AM

Kevin T,
Excellent post. Look forward to seeing more.
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#3 KevinT

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Posted 27 November 2011 - 09:47 AM

More extracts from the War Diary.

Cheers
Kevin

April 1943

The arrival of the first self-propelled mount marks the end of a phase in the 23rd’s history and the opening of another phase which was not to end until the equipment was
turned in after "Cease Fire” in Europe.

A t first many were sceptical, including the New Brunswlck Department of Highways who took an exceedingly dim view of these overgrown monsters chewing up their roads
and knocking down their bridges. However before long all the officers and men were wholeheartedly in favor of the mounts as opposed to the towed guns. The Department of
Highways, it is feared, remained sceptical!

Suitable deployment areas for the mounts were a problem at first, but soon a good area was found near Penobsquis, a few miles southeast of Sussex. It was a rough scrubby area with no cultivation and no buildings. Here troop crash actions were practiced incessantly for at that time it was thought that self-propelled equipment would be
deployed in bullet-swept areas and with a need for utmost speed. The general idea was that the GPO, travelling some distance ahead of his troop, would immediately find a
deployment area on receipt of the order to go into action.

He would position his vehicle in the designated zero line, and if time permitted, would set out two stakes by means of which the first mount to hit the position would drive up and be “on line”. This procedure was substitute ( ? ) made necessary because the mounts did not have compasses in them. When they were equipped with them they would drive on to the position and halt on the bearing passed out by radio to them. Once the first gun was in position it could start ranging, at the time passing an angle to the GPO director which, it was hoped, would be mounted in his vehicle. He in turn would pass angles to the remaining three guns to put them parallel to Number One.

History has shown that there was rarely the space or the occasion for deploying by this method in action, but the time spent in evolving this drill was not wasted. After a few weeks a troop could get into action in very short order and was unhampered by fences, small ditches, trees and other obstacles. If there were any trees in the way the mounts simply knocked them down, a most valuable accomplishment at times. When Charlie Troop first deployed after the Caen breakthrough, four telephone poles had to be knocked down this way and it reminded everyone of the way the tall timber used to crash down at old Penobsquis.

No one was quite sure how strong the New Brunswick bridges were especially the many rickerty woodencovered bridges, so that every trip with the mounts meant a
thorough recce of routes around bridges. The mounts use to go through most of the rivers, but no matter how careful a recce was made,somehow some mount always knocked the
railing off a bridge, damaged a farmers field, tore his fence down, broke a culvert. Therefore, every deployment ormove had to be followed next day by a road or fence buildingparty which spent most of its time wishing they could getto Germany and really knock things down.

Through the C0's efforts a live firing range was made near Penobsquis and permission obtained from NDHQ to proceed with actual firing. The OP was near the rangers tower on a hill in the practice deployment area and the gun position which with squeezing would accommodate a battery was just off the road about 4000 yards distant. .

A considerable amount of simple course shooting was done here and both the, OP and gun position personnel learneda great deal. The GPOs seemed to make more mistakes than the others,however, and after the first days shooting most of them trembled in fear at the words ”GPO to the set” which would thunder down over the R/T after someone had fired on “fire by order” or some such error. The CO’s wrath was the topic of the regiment and it seemed to reach its height when blasting GPO’s. It took Lieu Bill Buchner to send it to previously un-recorded levels, however, when after a fiveminute blast over the radio from the CO he blandly answered “Hello Roger 3, say again, over”.

After Col Lander arrived the regiment ran into name trouble again. It was his feeling that since we had become more or less mounted we should bear the designation
“Royal Canadian Horse Artillery” Anyone versed in Artillery tradition will realise the furore with which this was bound to be greeted. The title “RCHA” was a permanentforce name and the only regiment to use it was the 1st Field Regiment, the original PF regiment.

Somehow permission was obtained to change the name to 23rd SP Regiment RCHA, and RCHA shoulder badges blossomed forth on all battledress. The Officers appeared with the traditional ball buttons on their serge uniforms. Except for a few humorous remarks and horse-laughs from other units nothing happened at all, but it was simply the lull before the storm. The.furore was to burst out on arrival of the Regiment in England.

Towards the end of June it appeared that the long awaited trip across the sea might soon materialize. The number of troop trains passing through Sussex was increasing daily. Rumours were flying about furiously.
Something was in the air.


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#4 Richard Lewis

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Posted 27 November 2011 - 06:50 PM

An interesting book covering this Regiment and other Canadian troops' time in Eastbourne:

Canucks by the Sea: The Canadian Army in Eastbourne During the Second World War
Author
Michael Ockenden
Published
01/11/2006
Publisher
Eastbourne Local History Society
ISBN
9780954764715
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#5 KevinT

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Posted 27 November 2011 - 10:26 PM

More extracts. They are on their way Richard!

Cheers
Kevin

Tracadie
June 26th – July 11th 1943

A final practice camp period at Tracadie was arranged with each battery going up in turn. The 36th went up first on June 26th and the third battery had completed its practice and was back in Sussex on July 11th where the warning order to proceed overseas had been received. We were to be ready by July 16th.
:

The Tracadie practice was of great benefit as a last minute workout, and it is interesting to note that brigade had to lay on 12000 gallons of high octane petrol for the mounts to cavort around the ranges there. No wonder this war cost money!

Tracadie had its tragic side too, for in a road accident on the trip up Gnr Mouncey was killed.

After returning to Sussex the regiment’s time was spent doing the million and one things necessary beforeboarding ship. Take the little detail of kitbags, forexample. Paint your name, rank and number and. the regiment’sserial on the side of the kitbags said the first instruction. All kitbags were duly painted. No No, said the secondorder, paint out the rank and number. So that was done. Ah!, there has been a great mistake, said .order number three.The name, rank, and number must be painted .on the bottom so that when the kitbags are all piled up a man can find his own easily. By the time the regiment embarked every bag was covered with blue, black and brown paint blotches, and no one now quite remembers what was painted on them - or where!

The necessary documentation, medical checks, security instructions, packing details and trial turn outsin full equipment were eventually got through, along withnumerous route marches which, in that hot weather, always ended up with a “birthday suit” swim in the river.

July 20th 1943

July 20th finally arrived. The great hush – hush move was out at hand. Of course, nobody in the town knew about it! Officers and Sergeants messes had paid up all their bills and that in itself was enough to let Sussex know that something important was stirring. Every drugstore in town was sold out of toothpaste, shaving cream, and razor blades, officers and men had been changing dollar bills for sterling drafts at the bank; huge overseas boxes were sitting down by the railway siding in plain view of one of the town’s main streets. But, of course, it was a secret move!

Just how widespread was the knowledge of our move was shown when the regiment moved down to the train shortly before midnight. With the exception of Fox Troop, RCCS, who had left that morning, the men had been standing around since supper time, fully packed. All the barracks had been scrubbed, closed and securely locked and everything was in order, except for Easy Troop who had left all the lights burning in their hut! About 11 o’clock the march began down to the train which was sitting on a siding in front of the main camp gate. The column reached the gate to find hundreds of people lining the street – wives, children, friends, - all came to say goodbye to the 23rd.

Slowly the train pulled out and the men settled down to sleep or shoot craps. When morning came the train was steaming into Halifax. As it came to a stop by the docks, huge funnels could be seen protuding above the dock warehouse. "It must be the Queen Mary or the Queen Elizabeth" the excited buzz went around. It was the Lizzie and the 23rd crammed its way in with 16000 other troops who filed every nook and cranny of this great luxury liner, now turned warrior.


Edited by KevinT, 27 November 2011 - 10:34 PM.

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#6 KevinT

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Posted 28 November 2011 - 08:56 PM

More Exctracts.

Halifax
July 23rd 1943

It was not until the afternoon of July 23rd that the huge ship finally moved away from the pier, passed through the submarine boom and set off alone across the broad Atlantic. Comfort was certainly not the keynote of the crosiing, and lack of comfort was compensated for by excellent meals and a quick unescorted four-day trip from port to port. One moved by order on that ship and according to definite traffic regulations. A loudspeaker system blared instructions about meals, boatdrill and changeover of personnel all day long. Americans staffed the ship in part and “line up for chow” became the most familiar and favourite order. You ate huge meals twice a day at times stated on the meal card issued to you at the start of the trip.

Due to overcrowding the men spent 24 hours in cabins and then would change over with another group and spend 24 hours on deck. During the deck period they had to sleep in the corridors inside and were extremely uncomfortable.

The voyage passed with little incident, apart from the good news that Mussolini had resigned. The only signs of other human beings during those four days was an occasional flying boat and as we neared Britain, a few fighter planes.

The officers were given 24 hour-a-day dissertation on what to do and how in England and the “perils of sea travel” by Capt John Monahan and Lieu’s Sam Pinkerton and Carl Rombold, all of whom had been in England before. Much to their disappointment no subs attacked the ship, and they doubtless felt personally annoyed at Hitler for rendering all their dire predictions about the terrors of wartime ocean trips false.

Scotland
July 27th 1943

One lovely summer evening, with the setting sun painting the hills and clouds a gorgeous hue, the giant liner slipped into Gourock harbour in Scotland and dropped anchor. It was 2030 hours 27th July 1943. The regiment was overseas.

They're here!

Cheers
Kevin

Edited by KevinT, 16 April 2012 - 09:10 AM.

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#7 KevinT

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Posted 30 November 2011 - 08:03 PM

More Extracts

Cheers
Kevin

Chapter 2
Eastbourne

Eastbourne turned out to be a beautiful seaside city, nestled behind the great promontory of Beachy Head. Great hotels lined the boardwalk “Grand Parade” which ran for several miles along the seafront. Most of them were closed due to damage from air attacks, and the others were being used as billets for the army and WAAF personnel who were stationed in the city. A large part of the civilian population had been evacuated and it was into their homes in the western end of the city known as Meads Village that the 23rd moved.

The only other Canadian unit in Eastbourne at the time was the 6th LAA Regiment. At a later date the 8th and 19th Field Regiments moved in, along with some 5 Div Infantry,
butthey stayed only a few weeks..

The regiment was without equipment when it reached Easfbourne so that the first six weeks were devoted to brushing up basic training subjects, footdrill, route marches and general hardening up. The Downs provided excellent material for any hardening activities, for simply to climb from the street beside Roger or Queen batterys to the top of the Downs was enough to ruin most men. One couldn’t go anywhere 1n.Eastbourne without having to climb at least one good sized hill.

A regular weekly feature for each troop was a bath and swim parade at the public Devonshire Baths down on the front. For sixpence you could have a private bath and then
swim in the pool :wearing a moth-eaten Gay Nineties bathing suit whichcost another few pence.

August 15th 1943

Shortly a f t e r the regiment got to Eastbourne, MajorR E Hogarth arrived to take over the appointment of 2 IC and Major A L Skait took over the 36th whose BC, Major Chipswlck dld not comeoverseas with the unit.

Within rive days o f arriving in Eastbourne the first group of men were away on privilege leave, with Scotland apparently in priority spot, as the place most Canadians want to see first. At the same time courses got cracking and on August 15th a party of 68 officers and men left for a driving and maintenance course at an armoured corps training centre.A number of other unfortunate souls were despatched on a battle-drill course which almost killed them.They all survived the rigorsof the course and returned to the unit in top physical condition, eager to try out newly acquired tricks on the unsuspecting remainder of the regiment.

During the fall an intensive course of instruction for gun position officers and ables was started under the guidance of Major C.F Martineau who was attached to the regiment as IG with the aim of raising it to battleworthy level. Considerable technical work was covered and the drill for Mike (regimental) targets was given to us for the first time.
In Canada there had been no attempt at regimental deployments and the drill had not been taught. In Eastbourne, however, it was perfected. Each Battery would set up a command post in t heir area, line would laid, R/T communication maintained, and the entire procedure for firing Mike targets - minus the firing of the guns - was run through time and again.

The spirit of competition entered in as each battery vied with the others for the honour of being first ready.The 31st battery command post staff , under their GPO Lieu Kim McIlroy; always seemed to lead the regiment in those days. The other batteries even resorted to sending spies around to watch them in action, but they never found the secret nor could they obtain anything to substantiate their friendly accusations of cheating.

Command post staffs who have had to work on a 24-hour a day basis throughout European operations will appreciate a little item which appeared in operation orders for one of those numerous command post exercises in England.

Para 3. Com’d Post staffs will not exceed normal personnel to be expected in action, ie, CPO, ACPO, 4 CPOA’s and one officer or able from each troop.

A far cry from nights in action when it was often difficult to have one officer and two ables in the command post.


September 3rd 1943

Meanwhile by the end of October the regiment was fully equipped with mounts. Five mounts hadarrived on September 3rd , four of them going to Charlie troop who were the first men to enter the Battle of -the Stirrup Pumps. Enough water was poured onto the mounts through that winter to drain the EnglishChannel and eliminate the need for a cross-channel invasion, but no doubt the heavy rainfall of the British Isles was the factor which allowed the channel to retain its normal level.

Throughout October deployments were practiced on the Downs and the regiment started going to the Alfriston Ranges for course shooting almost every week. Fog, rain, cold winds off the sea and equally cold haversack lunches
seem to make up the main memory of those days - mostly Sundays! - at Alfriston. The regiment would usually start moving from Eastbourne about 0430hrs after a big Saturday night. Out over the Downs and along the coast road through Seaford and Newhaven might be the route, or, depending upon the deployment area thecolumn mighthead out through Old Town and Polgate. Nomatter which route it was always cold. Andit was colder still up on the high ground where the OP and the guns were always located.

Despite the uncomfortable conditions the regiment learned a lot during those course shoots, both at the guns and at the OP. Shoots of all types were done there – Mike targets, battery, smoke and HE plans of complex natures, and the usual varietyofneutralization and destructive shoots.The favourite target was “TorontoCrater” a huge dew-pond on the sideof a ridge about 4000 yds from the OP. Lieut S M Pinkerton made a name for himself one day by dropping his first ranging round plum in the crater.
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#8 KevinT

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Posted 11 December 2011 - 09:11 AM

More Extracts

Cheers
Kevin


Chapter 3
Larkhill

November 23rd – 30th 1943

The first practice camp attended in England by the 23rd was at Larkhill, cradle of English gunnery. There on cold, windswept SalisburyPlain the regiment went through a week of course shooting, accuracy shoots and .battery fire and movement days, winding up with a grand and glorious first attempt at a regimental fire and movement plan.

The move from Eastbourne to Larkhill on Nov 23rd was made in two sections consisting of a road and a train party, the mounts being taken by tank transporters.

There were bad and good days at Larkhill. IGs seemed to be here, there and everywhere. Every day ended up with a discussion led by the OGs which usually sent the
officers crawling out of the mess tent wishing they could transfer to the infantry.

The anti-tank range at Larkhill was really tough after the close-range straight-run affair at Belle Toute. Here the run took a zig-zag path, moving farther from the guns on each tack, thereby calling for frequent changes of range as well as line. The facsimile tanks seemed to scuttle back and forth like scared rabbits and the scores were fairly low.

The regimental fire and movement day was the highlight of the practice camp. About dusk one evening the command post staffs deployed in an area some distance from camp and worked out a fire plan to be fired in the morning. At firstlight the gunsmoved out from camp and deployed in the prepared positions. After dry-shooting the fire plan, a move was ordered for one battery, with the other two leap-frogging once the first had reported ready. A thick morning fog in whioh half the regiment got lost didn't help matters much.
Things improved during the day and in one move of one and one-eighth miles the regiment was in action in twenty minutes.

After a hectic day of moving and firing, the regiment wound up i n the northern end of the camp with dusk falling rapidly. An R/T order to proceed to the rendezvous brought
the whole column together for the move back to the lines – with the exception of Dog troop. Capt Donohue, hearing theorders only in part figured that the rendezvous must be ourown lines and took his troop there by the quickest possible route.The rest of the regiment wound up and down the Larkhillvalleys, going successively in all directions of the compass until they finally ended up in the gun park long after dark;much to every ones surprise. It was during the snake-likeprocession that the 2IC whistled up to the head of the
column in his jeep and yelled “Who the hell is leading this column anyway!”. He was slightly taken aback to see the CO poke his head out of the lead vehicle!

There were plenty of criticisms offered about the regiments performance at Larkhill, the chief ones being poor par (?) reading and even poorer signal procedure. Both were valid criticisms for there were several cases of people getting lost on the Larkhill plains where there only contours and bushs to guide one, and on the radio no one bothered to use code and everyone did a lot of waffling.


Chapter 4
Redesdale

With Christmas looming up ahead the regiment was ordered early in December to proceed to Redesdale for another practice camp. This camp was in northern England jusy a few miles south of the Scottish border, and with the exception of the mounts, carriers and a train party of 400 men, the regiment was to convoy the entire way, staging at night along the road. It looked like a good trip and it was.

The first day took the troop through the heart of London under guidance of the Metropolian Police who escorted us as far as St. Albans on the north side of the city. After covering 72 miles the convoy staged a tent camp in the woods near Stevenage. The majority of the men crowded into several nearby pubs to try and get warm, but Lieut Bill Cameron had the best night of all. He had civilian friends in Stevenage where he had a hearty dinner, a warm bed with sheets and all, and was awakened in time to have a good breakfast before returning to camp and climbing into his truck. The rest of the officers were finally convinced that his years at Oxford had been of some value after all. Which brings to mind his classic answer when a new officer, hearing talk of Cameron and Oxford, asked him if he had had one of those eight day courses there, too. “My dear man,” Cameron replied in his best Oxonian manner, “I was educated theah!”

The next 135 miles rolled under the wheels, bringing the convoy to Doncaster where the men were billeted in cold clammy concrete rooms under the grandstand of Doncaster race track. The third night was spent in an open field near Catterick, some 68 miles further on, and another 75 miles on the forth day brought the regiment into camp at Redesdale.

The accommodation was beyond all expectations and was far removed from the windy tents at Larkhill. The men were all billeted in large buildings filled with double-decker bunks. There were mess halls and a cinema, in addition. There was also a large and comfortable officers mess where everyone managed to fall asleep around the stove after a long day in the open followed by a heavy dinner.

The country around Redesdale was a far more realistic area than Larkhill had been. Here there were roads and hills, villages and church steeples, so that for map reading one didn’t have to reply on a lot of similarly shaped copses and shallow hollows.

The usual practice camp routine was varied by night firinf on the final night. After firing and moving all day the regiment deployed with another field and a medium regiment and prepared to spend the night in the open. A barrage was worked out and firing commenced about midnight. Flashes from all over the surrounding area painted a picture which was not to be repeated until we hit the coast of France.

The regiment in those days was far from wise in the ways of keeping warm and comfortable in the open, nor were blackout arrangements very good. The most unfortunate incident in Charlie Troop command post where the shivering staff decided that an earth and petrol fire in an empty petrol container might lend some warmth to the scene. The fire was going nicely when some of the gasoline leaked out and blazed across the floor of the command post. The light shone for a great distance towards “enemy” territory and fire extinguishers were brought into play. But all too late! A voice which thundered “What are you trying to do – light up the whole of Scotland?” told everyone that the CO had picked that time to make an inspection of the gun positions! The command post personnel resignedly wrapped themselves in blankets and continued to shiver.

Judging from the reports of the IG’s the regiment showed great technical and tactical improvements during this practice camp – compared with Larkhill, and it had obviously reached a much higher level of efficiency. Everything was going much more smoothly and despite awful ground conditions the deployments were good. While the other field regiment and the mediums spent half their time dragging guns out of the bogs, the SP mounts came through with flying colours.

While the regiment was at Redesdale Major F. A. Robertson arrived to take over the 31st battery which had been left without a battery commander when Major Smith returned to Canada.

The trip back to Eastbourne was made in three days, staging at Doncaster and Lutterworth, and again going through the heart of London where the convoy got halted for almost an hour near Grosvenor Square during the noon – hour rush. Eastbourne was reached on the night of the 23rd and the regiment settled into its hustle and bustle of Christmas arrangements.

Part of the regiment didn’t stay long. Eight gun detachments in charge of Bob Lucas were sent to Instow, North Devon, where they took a six week course on waterproofing, wading trials and combined operations, firing the mounts from landing barges and then from six feet of water. Each battery sent several detachments so that the knowledge gained was spread fairly equally around the regiment and proved extremely useful at a later date. It couldn’t have been all work at Instow either, for the postal clerk reported a heavy increase in the volume of mail between Eastbourne and North Devon during the next few months!

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#9 Jakke

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Posted 11 January 2012 - 02:45 PM

Hello KevinT,

Nice post and a great contribution!
Are you going to post some more extracts?
I'm very interested in chapter 6 of part III and the appendixes.;)

cheers,

Jakke
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#10 KevinT

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Posted 11 March 2012 - 06:31 PM

More extracts.

Sorry it has been a while. I have been tied up with another project lately.

Cheers
Kevin

Chapter Five
Exercise Jing

The New Year came and went, with the regiment stillin Eastbourne and the whole world starting to wonder about the so-called Second Front.

Bynow the regiment was afairly smooth operating unit. The usual training program oontinued without letup and huge quantities of water were still being sloshed on tracks, hulls and suspensions in what was supposed to be maintenance. Through a change in vehicle organization, the GPO’s and OP officers were now equipped with Ram command tanks with troop leaders riding in universal carriers. This was still by no means the perfect state of affairs as far as they were concerned for it did not give them a vehicle which could be used as a temporary command post, and the tanks proved to be most cumbersome for loading and unloading the command post equipment. The CP0 and ACPO each had carriers at this stage and they too were quiet unsatisfactory.

The method for deployment of an SPregiment was fairly firm by this time, and differed very little from that of a towed regiment, with the big exception that wagon lines and manhandling were eliminated. In a normal SP troop deployment the GPO on the recce planted four flags to mark the gunplatform. These flags were coloured, from the right, red, yellow, blue and-green. (Earlier one had been white but it was thought the displaying of white flags on the field of battle would be an unhealthy practise). In line with each of these flags the GPO, using a oompass, planted another flag of corresponding colour to showthe line of fire. As the guns approached, led by the troop leader each gun Sergeant directed his mount onto the appropriate marker depending upon which flank the approach had been from. In this waythe four guns were roughly on zero line immediately and were ready to receive accurate line from the director. Battery and regimental problems were exactly the same as in any other regiment.

February 1944

In February a large sized scheme for the 4th Armoured Division of which we were now a full-fledged part, was evolved calling for anarmoured advance from the Eastbourne area to Salisbury Plain. It was designed to give practice in the handling of an armoured formation on a single thrust line, and to the average gunner it seemed to be one great Traffic snarl. However, it brought out sharply the problems of road space, deployment sufficiently forward to be effective, traffic control and supply demands.

The deployment area allotted the regiment on the first night was probably one of the worst ever seen, even in action. It was in a wild area overgrown with thick brush and out by a deep ravine. The battery furthest from the road had to push its way about a mile down the winding ravine and then send its mounts up a steep hill onto the plateau above. No wheeled vehicles could make the gradient so that all the petrol for replenishing eight guns and two tanks after a day’s travelling had to be slugged by hand up the hill. And that was in the days before the easy-to-handle Jerrycan had made it’s appearance.

The scheme named Exercise Jing, ended on February 13th with a deployment of divisional artillery on the plains of Larkhill and the firing of a barrage, after which the regiment stayed at the camp for several days to do normal course shooting. The centre line near Larkhill was jammed with traffic for several miles and nobody thought the artillery would ever get through to deploy. By some wonder ( and spurred on by the Brigadier’s wrath ) we finally got into action.

Larkhill
February 1944

It was during the practice camp that Captain Bob Lucas, given a target to engage 6000 yards from the OP, set up the record of using 40 ranging rounds before going into fire for effect. Discussing it that night in his tent, his GPO said “It was too bad the CORA had to be at the gun position for that shoot”. “What do you mean?” asked Capt. Lucas, “He was up at the OP for that shoot”. “Well, he was certainly down at the command post and asked me if I knew what you were shooting at” answered the GPO. On comparing notes they found that the Brigadier had watched the first part of the shoot from the gun position and had then travelled up by jeep to the OP were he was in time to see about the last ten ranging rounds. It took a long time for Capt. Lucas to live down the “Forty Round Wonder” name which Capt Donohue promptly hung on him.

The famous incident whereby L/Bdr Hogan managed to cover all the CO’s belongings with thick black soot took place in the tent line after Jing. It seems he left the oil stove burning very high in the CO’s tent then went away. When he returned there was soot and coal oil all over the tent, with an extra-special thickness on the CO’s white sheepskin jacket. It was quite a race to see if Hogan resigned or got fired first, but the story has it that he got his resignation in about five seconds before the CO fired him. The best part of the incident was Gnr Forrest’s classic remark: “That’s what comes from putting an NCO in charge”.

Eastbourne
February 1944

Back to Eastbourne went the regiment by road convoy, although the mounts and the tanks went by transporter. The rest of the month turned out to be a period of numerous inspections and speeches by important people. Major-General Worthington, who was leaving the division, spoke to the division and introduced his successor Major-General Kitching. For this parade, as for most others, we were formed up in a huge hollow square, on a field just near Pippingford Park. Lieu-General Guy Simmonds, Corps Commander, also inspected the division there and several days later addressed all the officers in the division in a theatre in Brighton. On February 29th General Sir Bernard Law Montgomery, C in C, 21st Army Group, and one of the legendary military figures of our time, inspected 4th Division, and finally on March 9th His Majesty, King George VI carried out an inspection.

Towards the end of February, the rumours about a move started circulating again. There’s one thing about army rumours, they may be fanciful and far-fetched, and there may be many varied ones floating about at the same time, but it is usually true that when rumours start something at any rate is going to happen.

Edited by KevinT, 11 March 2012 - 06:43 PM.

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#11 Jakke

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Posted 12 March 2012 - 09:16 PM

Thank you for a nice read Kevin.

regards,

Jakke
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#12 KevinT

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Posted 15 March 2012 - 10:59 AM

More extracts

Cheers
Kevin

Chapter Six
Pippingford Park
March 1944

Pippingford Park in March was a muddy couple of acres, filled with trees and Nissen huts, set out in the middle of nowhere. After the comparative luxury and civilisation of Eastbourne it was rather a rude shock. But as better weather came things looked much brighter. Further-more it had the advantage of bringing the regiment closer together for in Eastbourne life had been lived more on a battery basis with separate battery messes and so on. While there were separate battery messes in Pippingford, regimental messes were set up for the officers and the sergeants. There was a regimental YMCA and NAAFI . Sports on a unit basis were easy to arrange. All in all , it did a lot to develop regimental spirit.

Pippingford park was situated about two miles from Nutley ( where there was one pub and part of the 5th Anti-Tank regiment ) fifteen miles from Hayward's Heath ( where there was the nearest train to London ) twelve miles from East Grinstead (where there was movles, tennis courts and a spot to dance) and about twenty miles from Tunbridge Wells
(where there were several movies and an excellent Saturday afternoon tea dance ). Within the circle of these four places there was little except uncultivated heath land; excellent for deployment practice, and many small schemes on battery level were held there.

The “Y” Supervisor, Jerry Hadcock, managed to keep plenty of things going at the “Y” Hut and .the regiment for the first time was put on the entertainment circuit for Canadian Army Shows and ENSA performances.

Lydd
April 1st – 3rd 1944

A two-day visit to Lydd ranges in Kent for antitank firing and general training took place on 1 Apr, the unit moving there in convoy and spending two hectic days keeping up with an exacting timetable. In addition to some good anti-tank practice, full use was made of facilities for small arms firing, tank and aircraft recognition, and mines and booby-traps training. Every moment of the day seemed to be accounted for, and during the change-over period it took half adozen people .to ensure that each group got to the correct place for the next phase.

Onthe trip down and back the convoy was given practice in ack-ack defence when fighter planes “strafed” the column. It was lucky it was only make-believe because the planes were usually well past by the time everyone tumbled out and got Bren Guns sited.

During April one Captain was called for the proceed on a paratroop course with a view to becoming a forward observation officer with the paratroop forces. Captain Bob Hamilton won (?) the toss and left on the four week course. Shortly before he returned two other officers were called for this training. It was to be on a voluntary basis and almost all the lieutenants and captains put up their names. The CO announced in the mess at lunch one day that Capt Jim Kane and Lieut. Larry Smith would go on the course. Once they had been picked up off the floor and revived, they started to get some condition for the supposedly-rigorous course.
A number of signallers also went with the officers to Ringway, Lancs, where the courses were held. Everyone qualified by making the necessary eight jumps from balloons and aircraft with the exception of one signaller who injured his knee on a jump. The all returned to the regiment proudly wearing their paratroop wings on their tunics. Capt Hamilton and several of the OR’s were eventually called on to join an RA forward observation unit but the others remained with the regiment.

Towards the end of May the task of waterproofing all of the vehicles and equipment was started. All other training ceased. Invasion was in the air. Unit censorship had come into effect on April 8th. Most of the southern and Eastern coast had been made banned areas and no one knew where 3rd Division, recognised as our assault division, was.
By then it was pretty generally accepted that 4th Division would not be in one of the invasion but would probably enter the bridgehead to spearhead a breakthrough.

By now there had been several further changes in officer personnel. Major C R Ostrander took over the 83rd Battery from Major Maxwell who returned to Canada along with Major Skaith. Major R D Telford arrived to take command of the 36th . The 31st was still under the command of Major Robertson, Major G VH Naylor, who later acted as a Battery Commander and 2 IC, was then carried as special increment along with a number of Lieutenants.

Waterproofing proved to be a major job, aggravated by the fact that a number of mounts were replaced after waterproofing had started and the regiment was given a number of half-tracks. Several of the troops got new mounts when the rest of the regiment had finished waterproofing and they had to work night and day to finish the task in the required time. A tremendous amount of metal had to be add to each mount to render it water proof, the sides being heightened by several feet and huge intake and exhaust funnels being fastened onto the rear decks.

GPO’s, CPO’s, ACPO’s and BC’s were all equipped with half-tracks during the last month. This move was greeted with joy by all concerned for the half-tracks were armoured vehicles, gave good performance on rough ground, had ample stowage space and in emergencies could be used as command posts. The adjutant’s vehicle was also a half-track, supplied by the RCCS troop and equipped with two radios, one on the regimental net and one on the rear link to divisional artillery and other regiments.

Mention of the RCCS troop brings up the subject of two other attached sub-units who have been integral parts of the regiment and have contributed in untold measure to the successful functioning of the 23rd – the Signal Troop and the LAD.

Fox troop of 2 Squadron, 4 Div signals has been attached to the regiment since Sussex days. Their responsibility has been the laying and maintenance of the lines to the batteries, and to Div artillery, and the operation of RHQ radio sets. In addition the troop provided DRLS, and has generally beenin there pitching when any communication problems came up. The troop was first in charge of Lieut. N R Rae who went to headquarters while in Eastbourne and was replaced by Lieut. Harold Whincup. When he was promoted in Belgium and went to another regiment., his place was taken by Lieut. Norm Scott. At Christmas time he became quite ill in Holland and Lieut. Stan Steben came from rear divto take over the troop and was still with it when “crease fire” was sounded in May.

Another of the Signal troops responsibilities was the operation of the radio sets in the CO’s tank and half-track while he worked as CRA’s rep at 4 Bde headquarters in action. Two operators and a driver worked constantly with him and went the whole show from Normandy to Germany, hitting plenty of tough spots enroute.

The LAD has been responsible for the heavy work of keeping the regiments vehicles on the road and its guns in action, a big task 'in a war of movement such has been fought in north-west Europe. They worked at any time of night or day to effect repairs or recover vehicles, and it was through their efforts that the regiment was always in running condition and could always count upon having a maximumnumber of guns in action.

The first LAD officer to take over 104 LAD was Capt.Don Eddy who was followed in Sussex by Capt Murry Waley. In Eastbourne Capt Ted Gordon took over the LAD and held that position until the spring of 1945 when, after doing a fine job in action he became LAD officer at div artillery. Lieut. Roy Paul took cover the job for a short while and when he was promoted Lieut. Al Clark came to take charge of the detachment.

While atPippingford Park the regiment participated in a great number of skeleton schemes on a divisional level, as well as many smaller schemes in cooperation with the armoured regiments which we would be supporting in action. Most of these schemes were staged to exercise one particular group or to bring out one special lesson. The CO, Adjutant and three FOOs went on Exercise Jill early in April, a two signal exercise “to practise div and Bde HQ in operations”.

April 1944

Several days later the whole regiment was involved in Exercise Step in which we did actual firing over the infantry at Alfriston. Based on a tactical picture which had the Allies holding a firm bridgehead on the south coast, the exercise was designed to practice commanders and staffs in handling of troops (a) in breaking out of a bridgehead, (B) in advancing the div in a single thrust line, © in crossing a river obstacle and (d) in the assault of an enemy position using live ammunition. This type of training was absolutely essential in view of our future role in France and proved of immense value.

Pippingford Park
May 1944

Several large inspections were held in May, the first being May16th when Prime -Minister King reviewed the whole division in a mounted march past , and the second on May 29th when the supreme Allied Commander , General Eisenhower, inspected the division.

June 6th 1944

On a fine morning in June the men were broken off morning parade and went over to the vehicle park to continue the arduous task of waterproofing. Suddenlyall work ceased. Little groups gathered around each mount to hear the great news coming out of the loudspeakers. It was General Eisenhower telling the world that the Allies that morning had landed on the supposedly impregnable beaches of Europe and were at that moment fighting their way inland. The greatest and most powerful assault of all time had been launched that peaceful morning while the birds sang in the sunlit trees of Pippingford Park.

A slight feeling of disappointment at missing the big show was soon offset by the realization that it would be our turn soon. The CO briefed all the officers giving them some details of the regiments role in France and announced that the division would probably go about D plus 25. The warning order for service overseas was read to all ranks by the C0 on June 9th.

Meanwhile another diversion appeared to keep ourminds occupied. One night a terrific roar was heard over-head., waking everyone but seen by no one. In the daylight the same roar was heard and a plane-shaped object went streaking across the sky at terrific speed, spitting fire from its tail. One of Hitler’s promised secret weapons had come true.

The official name finally given to this weapon was the V1, but it was called a variety of names – flying bombs, pilotless planes, buzz-bombs. Pippingford and the surrounding district seemed to be on the main track of the bombs as they streaked from the coast to the metropolis of London. A tremendous amount of ack-ack was moved to the area, barrage balloons were put up to form a big defence belt for London, and speedy fighters hovered around ready to dive on the buzz-bombs and shoot them down. A number of them crashed in the area, coming to earth with a terrific explosion.

July 1st 1944

Towards the end of June it was decided to send the regiment out into the fields and woods to live under canvas until we embarked for France. Bad weather and tough resistance had slowed up the bridgehead and as a result our entry had been greatly delayed. The three weeks under canvas were excellent for they gave everyone a chance to find out how to be comfortable in the field, and allowed us to perfect our field cooking, sanitation and so on. The batteries were to be harboured in separate areas and were to have no more equipment or canvas than they would under operations conditions. And so on the 1st July the regiment left the last barracks it was ever to occupy.
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#13 KevinT

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Posted 15 March 2012 - 01:38 PM

More extracts

Cheers
Kevin

Chapter Seven
Into The Field
July 1st 1944

The area chosen for the deployment of the regiment was only about a mile or so from Pippingford Park between Wych Cross and Chelwood Gate. It was raining when we moved in which soaked everything right from the start, but a few hot sunny days fixed that up and on the whole everybody was very comfortable.

There was little doing during those last three weeks. No one knew for sure when the regiment would leave but word was expected at any time. All the vehicles, radio sets and artillery instruments had been completely waterproofed before we got there. Wading trials in the pool at Maresfield had been successful, although the CO’s HUP drowned on its first two attempts to go through the water. Surplus kit had been sent off to kit storage depot. What remained was packed and loaded. Maps for Normandy had been issued. Everything was set.

Sports and a few route marches made up the daytime activities while at night the batteries each ran liberty trucks to East Grinstead and Tunbridge Wells. A lot of the men went on 24 hour passes, although travel was restricted to a twenty-mile radius. However by judiciously making out passes to Purley or Polegate, numerous 23rd lads were able to reach London or Eastbourne.

As of July 15th the regiment was placed on 6 hours notice and it was announced that the move to a marshalling camp in East London would take place on the18th. The advance party consisting of Major Hogarth, Lieut. Buchner and Gnr Rockfeller had already departed via Portsmouth.

July 18th 1944

The tracked convoy left at 2300 hours while the wheeled vehicles pulled out four hours later. By noon the regiment was completely in the camp at Wanstead Common, putting final waterproofing touches to the vehicles, with the exception of Capt Monohan's tank obligingly conked out in the middle of London.
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#14 KevinT

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Posted 15 March 2012 - 09:25 PM

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Kevin

PART III
NORTH WEST EUROPE – THE FINAL PRODUCT

Chapter 1
Across The Channel
London
July 1944

With buzz-bombs dropping much too close for comfort the regiment was quite happy to leave that sun-baked marshalling camp and board the transport ships which were to take us across the channel to France. The huge loading job took sometime, so that two nights were spent in the camp, but finally all the men were checked on board, and one by one the ships eased down the Thames to a point off Gravesend where the convoy formed up.

The hard vehicles were on two LST’s ( landing ship tank) in charge of Major Telford and Major Robertson, while the soft vehicles were on MT’s ( motor transport ships ) under Lt-Col Lander and Major Ostrander. Some were American ships where the men enjoyed the best in rations, coffee, American cigarettes and movies. Those on British ships ate strictly COMPO rations and drank enough tea to wash down the decks twice a day. Sleeping was done in hammocks, each man being issued a hammock and a lifebelt as he went on board. The bent backs after one night's sleep revealed that the army is not adept at slinging hammocks in the approved navy fashion.

After several days at anchor in the Thames estuary the convoy slipped down to the open sea on the evening of July 24th making the dangerous run through the Straits of Dover during blackness. Next afternoon the coast of France, almost blocked off by a mass of ships of all description, came into sight. Barrage balloons hung suspended over the beaches and over the water too, their slender cables fastened to winches on tiny tugs.

France
July 25th 1944

Landing was not to commence until the following day and the ships lay about two miles off shore for the night. The display of fireworks that night was magnificent. Search-lights cut the sky in every direction in an effort to pick out the raiders which Jerry kept sending over the highly valuable fleet standing off shore. Tracer from shore and ship guns blazed weird and colourful patterns across the black night sky. Out on the horizon naval guns from mighty battleships sent salvos crashing across the water to land on some enemy target far inland.

The following morning the unloading and loading began. Little LCT’s came along side to receive the vehicles which were slung out of the hold and over the side by huge cranes. The vehicles, suspended in nets in the air, looked like little toys not the instruments which the allied armies were to sweep across Europe. As each LCT was filled a group of men clambered down rope ladders and rode ashore with it.

Ironically after weeks of toil and sweat ( if not blood ) at the risk of waterproofing, the only thing that got wet were the tyres and the tracks! The skippers ran their craft right up onto the beach or else stopped in ankle-deep water.

Once ashore the vehicles had to keep moving to clear the beach. Those who came off with their vehicles were lucky for the first concentration area was several miles inland near Ranville. After most of the regiment had been in the area for several hours, had completed de-waterproofing and had enjoyed a wonderful swim and bath in the creek, Lieut. Jack Blain dragged himself and some thirty weary bodies into the lines. Much to their disgust they had to march all the way from the beach. And it was plenty hot!

Meauvaines
27th July 1944

By night the regiment moved from that area to a concentration area reccied by the advance party near the little town of Meauvaines, not far from the coast. Everyone was in the area by the night of the 27th and there we sat, waiting for the order that would start the fireworks as far as the 23rd was concerned.

Edited by KevinT, 15 March 2012 - 09:35 PM.

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#15 KevinT

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Posted 16 March 2012 - 09:09 AM

And more extracts.

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Kevin

Chapter 2
Easing into Action

It didn't take much waiting before the regiment found itself ordered to go into the line for the first time. The CRA called for recce parties to move up to Caen the afternoon of July 28th to prepare the way for the regiment to take over from 3rd Div artillery the next day. They left on half an hour’s notice and then parked on one of the main streets of southern Caen for an hour while someone started changing plans. Eventually all vehicles were turned around the column returned to Meauvaines

Thefirst move revealed the utter destruction which modern warfare brings and no place showed it more clearly than Caen. Further it pointed out two facts - first, the dust was going to be one of our worst enemies and second, things were going to get "snafued” in action just like they used to be on schemes.

Caen
July 29th 1944

During the night word came that the regiment would relieve one of the 7 British armoured Division regiments so at the crack of dawn the recce parties started out again. As they reached the gun positions south of Caen and overlooked by enemy held IF’s shelling started to get pretty heavy. From spots of safety under half-tracks and in slit trenches the members of the recce party began to have some doubts about Major General Kitching’s famous statement in England that he would: "ease us into action”. Shelling, when it is your first experience, can be most demoralizing! And though one feels a trifle foolish clawing the earth the first few times, one soon realizes, that it pays to dive for a hole and dive fast!

The apparent nonchalance and casual air of the Desert Rats rather disconcerted the relieving men who were as green as their divisional patch, but by late afternoon the regiment was in action and starting to get the feel of things. Needless to say, all command posts were dug in and each gun crew had large slit trenches. And we noticed that despite their seeming nonchalance, the veteran Desert Rats had clung to mother Earth just as much as we had when that old “whistle and crump” was heard!

Mondeville
July 30th 1944

Next day the division was ordered to relieve 3rd Division as originally been planned, the regiment took over gun for gun from several batteries of the 13th and 14th Field Regiments south of Caen, with RHQ at Mondeville. OP’s were established at Four, Soliers and Grentheville and came in for a heavy pasting from enemy guns and mortars. The gun position got their share of attention too, and for a week everyone lived pretty well underground.

The tactical situation at the time showed the enemy dominating the high ground south of Caen, with plenty of tanks and a strong anti-tank defence screen. His defence line was pinned on Fontenay-le-Marmion, Roquancourt, Tilly-la-Campagne and LaHogue. The cream of the German army, liberally thickened with SS and panzer troops, was holding that Caen anchor. To the west the Americans were breaking fast intoBrittany taking advantage of the fact that Monty had the bulk of the crack German divisions lined up near Caen. The German Command realized the necessity of holding the Caen endof their line as a pivot to swing back their entire defensiveline which the Yanks were pushing in the west.

The enemy strength in front of us was clearly revealed by a number of abortive attempts to take LaHogue and Tilly during the first weeks we were there. Capt. Donohue lost one tank and was almost buried by a mortar within a few days and begin to figure that being in an OP had its drawbacks. A lot of other people agreed with him!

During the static period south of Caen the regiment polished up its organization, got used to shelling, and became accustomed to working on shifts at half-strength, a point never practiced enough in training. All day and night heavy counter battery and harassing fire tasks were fired, and a number of small fire plans were laid on for probing attacks to determine enemy strength.

On 3rd August Lieut. Doug Short survey officer, had to survey in the armoured regiments for indirect firing, a task which has been annoying survey officers of the regiment ever since.

Edited by KevinT, 16 March 2012 - 09:15 AM.

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#16 KevinT

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Posted 19 March 2012 - 10:37 AM

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Kevin

Chapter Three
Caen to Falaise
Caen
August 7th 1944

It was recognized by all that this static state of affairs could not last much longer, and on 7th August one of the epic and decisive battles of the European war was launched – the breakout from the Caen perimeter arid the push down the broad straight road to Falaise. Route Nationale 158 – where death walked the way once taken by summer tourists. A short 29 kilometres, which was the “last road” for so many who died while the August sun shimmered on the golden wheat fields.

Operation Totalize was the name given to this memorable attack in which the First Canadian Army came into being as a fighting formation. Resources available for the operation consisted of 4 Cdn Arm’d Div, 2 and 3 Cdn Inf Divs, the Polish Arm’d Div, 51 ( Highland ) Inf Div, 2 Cdn Arm’dBde, 33 British Arm’d Bde and 2 and 9 AGRAs. The intention was to smash through the enemy position astride the Caen – Falaise road and capture the high ground north of Falaise.

Phase One called for 2 Div and 2 CAB pushing on the right and 51 ( H ) Div and 33 Arm’dBde on the left to capture a general line through Caillouet, Gaumesnil and the woods south of St Aignan de Cramesnil. Then on Phase Two 4 Cdn Arm’d Div was to pass through 2 Div and capture the high feature formed by hills 180 195 and 206 south of Brettville-le-Rabet, while the Polish Div passed through on the left and captured the high ground north of Falaise. 3 Div would relieve the force at Falalse.

Air support consisted of RAF Bomber Command on Phase One, with RAF medium bombers on Phase Two, while 83 Group TAF with fighter-bombers and rocket-firing Typhoons were on call constantly and the USAAF was also laid on for a bombing job in the later phases.

With large resources at his command Lieut. General Simonds executed a further brilliant piece of strategy by mounting the attack at night, employing armour in darkness and sending the infantry through the German defence positions in armoured vehicles.

One half-hour before midnight on a perfect summer evening the curtain went up on one of the most dramatic operations of the war in Europe. Out of the sky from England came the drone of heavy bombers hundreds upon hundreds of them. As they loosed their bombs the earth grumbled and shook and great belches of orange flame shot into the sky ahead.

Then at midnight the guns, which Monty has always use to the full before any attack, opened up a terrific barrage which made speech and even thought almost impossible. From every quarter of the horizon flashes illuminated the scene as the artillery of three division and two AGRA’s broke loose. Searchlights were switched on to provide “artificial moonlight” as the great barrage died into silence the infantry and the tanks moved forward. The Canadian Army was on its way down the duty road to Falaise that road where thousands fought and many died in the battle which broke the back of the German Forces in France.

Caen
August 8th 1944

The guns of the 23rd had been busier that night than ever before as they did their bit in the fire plan to prepare the way for the men on the ground. An hour or so after the barrage ceased the regiment was on the road, moving in darkness to a forming up area south of AndresurOrne and south of IFS where at dawn they would receive deployment orders in accordance with the tactical situation.

After a sleepless night the recce parties moved south in the morning, heading for a deployment area south of Roquancourt. As they inched along the road the first grim scenes of death met their eyes – smashed equipment, battered buildings, sun blackened bodies of German and Canadian and British who would fight no more but now lay side by side in the comradeship of death. No matter how much one prepares for that sight, it still comes as a shock. Luckily the day proved to be so busy and hectic that there was little time to think of it.

The recce party ran into a heap of trouble in the form of a 99 mm gun which had the road well covered. Major Hogarth and Lieut. Short had to make a fast gallop back to their vehicles after they had gone ahead to look the situation over, and the whole column was backed up to a crossing where we turned east and then south to another area. Progress during the night had not been up to expectations so that the original deployment area could not be occupied without ending up dead or a POW.

Verrieres
August 8th 1944

Towards noon the regiment finally got deployed near Verrieres right in the middle of what seemed the main tank paths for the armoured attack. Red smoke markers were fired for the USAAF, part of whose planes made one of the tragic mistakes of the war and bombed or own lines and rear areas, inflicting substantial casualties. Sgt R. A. Matson of the LAD lost his life in this bombing. It was also learned that Pte. Bob Audette who had been driving a scout car for the infantry on the night attack had also been killed.

Roquancourt
August 8th 1944

Progress during the day improved and by night the infantry had captured Gaumesnil, about four miles south of our gun position. The regiment moved in the late afternoon to a new position just south of Roquancourt where it was learned that Gnr J. B. King had been killed by gunfire.

Caillouet
August 9th 1944

Next morning the regiment pulled a boner. The maplay system of coding and de-coding map references had come into use but no one was too familiar with it. The adjutant de-coded our deployment area incorrectly and the regiment ended up outside the div boundary on the extreme flank and front of the Allied thrust! The guns were deployed on the high ground overlooking the river Laize near Caillouet. The infantry opened their eyes a little wider as we rolled through them but said nothing. That the Germans had only just departed showed in some of their dugouts where food was still sitting on tables and clocks were still ticking.

This was August 9th. On the previous night the armour had run into heavy opposition as they pushed down to Hill 195, as it turned out later practically the entire 28th Armoured Regiment had been wiped out in an attempt to by-pass Brettville-le-Rabet and reach their objective. Capt. Jack Donohue FOO with the 28th, and his crew were listed as missing, and it had only been due to trouble with his tank and radio that Major Ostrander as REP had not been with them. During the day out forces consolidated themselves on that feature south of Brettville but were counter-attacked continually. The enemy were still strong in and behind Quesnay Woods and the regiment was called on for some heavy firing to break up the attacks.

Hautmesnil
August 10th 1944

On the morning of August 10th the regiment pulled out of position and moved south east to deploy in front of the quarry at Hautmesnil. Whilst stationary on the road waiting to turn into the area the column was shelled. Bdr W. R. Richmond was killed and A2, the RHQ Office truck, was demolished by fire which destroyed all the records of the unit.

Along with bad news came good. The four members of Capt. Donohue’s tank crew, Gnrs Lorna Munce, Joe Chaisson, Tim Reardon and Tim Moule arrived back at the regiment after a harrowing trip by foot from the area where the 28th had been wiped out. Two of them had been captured for a short while but were freed by our men. They could given little news of Capt. Donohue other than he had stayed behind.

By August 11th, after four days of heavy going, the regiment had suffered a number of officer and OR casualties. Lt. Col. Lander suffered a bad back injury when he fell from his tank while the brigade was being shelled, so Major Hogarth took over the job of CRA’s REP and was subsequently promoted to Lt. Colonel. Major Ostrander became 2 IC and Capt. Jim Kane ran the 83rd for the next little while. Capt. Donohue was still missing, while Major Robertson, Capt. Monhan, Capt. “Doc” Middlebro and Lieut. Doug Cave had all been evacuated with injuries, none of which were of a serious nature. Major G. H. V. Naylor took over the 13th Battery.

Robertmesnil
August 11th- 13th 1944

During that afternoon 3 Div relieved us and the regiment moved east of the main road and a mile or so back to a concentration area between St Aignande Cramesnil and Robertsmesnil. With the intention of concealing the presence of an armoured division in that sector, camouflage experts visited the regiment and did their best to hide us. The German gunners still seemed to know we were there, however. There in the hot sun the regiment spent part of the weekend while on a high level plans for a new attack were being formulated.

The new offensive, first name OP. Tallulah and then changed to OP Tractable, was to start on 14th August with the intention of smashing through the anti-tank screen between Quesnay Woods and Potigny along the River Laison, crossing the river to the high ground on the south bank, and striking on to Falaise, at the same time seizing crossings of the Rivers Ante and Dives.

With 3 Div on the right and 4 Div on the left, the plan called for 2 CAB and 4 CAB to crash through in column of squadrons, each followed by two infantry brigades. Support was to consist of a smoke screen on each flank of the attack, a smoke screen with HE concentrations ahead of the armour, and heavy bomber attacks.

Recce and digging parties moved late on the 13th to an area north of Renesmil to prepare for a night occupation in readiness for the next day’s attack. That afternoon Gnr C. L. Stitzinger of the 83 Battery was killed by shell fire, making the fourth casualty of the regiment.

Renemesnil
August 14th 1944

When morning came everyone was ordered to lie Doggo with no movement and no noise until the start of the fire plan. It was a sunny, peaceful morning with scarsely a sound or sign of war until noon when, without any preparatory bombardment, long columns of tanks came crashing over the hill and down in the valley towards the river, raising huge clouds of dust high in the sky. Then the guns opened up with their smoke screens and the enemy guns came back with some heavy HE, especially i n RHQ's area.

About two hours after the attack commenced the recce parties were ordered to move, but when they got as far as Roger battery position they sat for almost an hour awaiting further orders. And from that vantage point (and from slit trenches) they watched another of the tragic episode which almost broke up the new offensive. Wave upon wave of heavy bombers came floating over in the bright afternoon sunlight, beautiful glistening machines which proceeded to dump thousands of bombs far short of their target. Fortunately it was the rear areas which again were subjected to the bombing which went on for what seemed to be more than an hour, despite thefrantic efforts of Capt Dick Hughes who flew around in anAir OPAuster trying to stop the bombers. The attacking troops had made such a good advance that they were not effected by the bombing and by late afternoon the armoured brigades reached the river and two of the Infantry brigades had passed through to the high ground on the south bank.

Rouvres
August 14th 1944

The regiment moved to an exposed position on the north bank of the river Laison at Rouvres where the Adjutant’s vehicle was hit and Capt John White suffered a severe head wound when struck by shrapnel which pierced his helmet. It was learned here that both Capt Bob Lucas and Capt Sam Pinkerton had been wounded and evacuated, the former, while FOOing with the 22 Armd Regt and the latter while with the 21 Armd Regt.

Just as dusk was falling it was decided to move the regiment forward again to the far side of the river. The column passed several large groups of prisoners on the way up and the boys began to feel that perhaps this war was getting some place after all. Certainly the first week of this fighting campaign had been as hectic, grim and exhausting asthey had ever imagined it would be.

Olendon
August 15th 1944

After spending the night in position south of Rouvres the regiment moved another two miles ahead in the morning, deploying north o f the village of Olendon, where they wereto stay for several daysto give the amour time torefit and reorganize before pressing on. While in position at Olendon some Allied fighters did a nice strafing job and set one of Peter Battery's ammunition trucks ablaze but there were no casualties.

While deployed here, Capt Bill Burgoyne moved from the 36th to take over the heavy Job of Adjutant, a position he kept until after “Cease Fire” day.

A new plan was announced with the intention of by-passing Falaise if necessary and advancing south east to seize and hold Trun, thus sealing off the escape route from the large-sized pocket which - had now been formed between the Canadians and British on the north and the Americans coming up from the south.

The regiment, along with the rest of the div, pushed off on the morning of the 17th August only to get tied up in a huge traffic jam which eventually got sorted out as the armour struck rapidly ahead. By evening the 22 Armoured Regiment along with a company of LSR’s had made a great leap forward and were now on the far side of Trun, practically up to the Poles who had got themselves into a stiff little battle and were cut off on the high ground near Chambois. The Rep and FOO with the 22 Arm’d Regiment found the field guns out of range and had to use mediums.

The 23rd deployed on the road to Trun near Les Moutiers-en-Auge and had a great time firing in every direction except to the exact rear. A terrific slaughter was going on in the valley all the way from Falaise to Trun with the guns and Tiffies piling destruction on the ranks of the fleeing and dis-organized Germans. Prisoners streamed in constantly and the enemy showed little fight.

Trun
August 19th 1944

On the 19th the regiment made a long move up to the area of Le Menil Girard north-east of Trun where RHQ replenished their stationary supplies from a knock out German office truck which had formerly belong to headquarters of 807 German Infantry Division.

It was in this position that Lt-Col Lander came up to see the regiment for the last time, his back was still troubling himconsiderably, and after a day or so with the unit he left for England and eventually Canada.

Falaise had fallen and Trun had been taken, with 3Div relieving our infantry there on 20th August. In a 28 hour period from the 19th to the 20th a total of 47 officers and 2118 ORs passed through the 4 Div PW cage alone. The Caen to Falaisebattle was truely finished, the back of the Germans in France had been broken, and the div was poised to start on the pursuit battle which was to take it well into Belgium.

Discussing the battle of the preceding two weeks Lieut. General Simonds said: "I believe that these achievements will have a decisive influence on the great battles now raging throughout France - We have made a good start and I am certain we have it in our power to make a better finish”.

Not to a man in the regiment will ever forget August 1944, on the road to Falaise.

Edited by KevinT, 19 March 2012 - 10:56 AM.

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#17 KevinT

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Posted 21 March 2012 - 11:09 AM

More extracts.

Cheers
Kevin

Towards the end of this section there is a short list of casualties, and namely one Gnr. G. S. Fisher is later listed as George S. Fisher. Thanks to Rob ( Ramacal ) he has confirmed that this was an original error and the name should be Gordon S. Fisher.

Chapter Four
The Mad Dash

With three good weeks of battle under its belt, the regiment moved on August 22nd to a new position in a valley east of Trun, readyto start off on the run across France.

There had been a number of officer changes as a result of casualties Capts Cliff Baker and Don Dunbar arrived to take over the two troops in the 36th Battery. Lieut. Don Aitkens went to div artillery to work on the CM0 staff and Lieut. Bob Maddock rejoined the regiment as IO. Capt Kim McIlroy also went to Divartillery as an L0 in the brigade Major’s Office.

The 19th Field Regiment, our fellow SP unit, went out of the line for awhile to be equipped with 25-pounder Ram SP’s, and it wasn't until we reached the Somme that we saw them again.

Major General Harry Foster, took over command of 4 Div on August 22nd.

On the night of the 22nd - one of the blackest and rainiest nights in history - the 31st battery was sent off on its own to support the engineers who were doing a bridging job across the River La Vie and the River Tougue. In the morning the regiment set off, picking up the 31st en route, and headed for Rouen and the Seine River. The new thrust line for the div was Trun - Le Sap Monnai - Broglie - Bernay – Rouen, and it was the intention to drive ahead as fast as possible on the heels of the retreating Germans - for although the massacre in the Falaise gap had been terrific, the Germans had skilfully managed to get a considerable force away before the gap closed, and furthermore, they were picking up more men every day as they fell back through their rear areas.

Monnai
August 23rd 1944

After a long move which was like a Sunday afternoon drive at home, slight opposition was bumped and Roger Battery was deployed near the cemetery near Monnai. The FOO calling for fire was on the 36th net so their vehicle was wheeled over to Roger battery and the orders were passed that way. That was in the days before Reps and FOO’s on the regimental net was inaugurated. The whole regiment deployed on that spot an hour later and spent the night there, getting onto the road again early in the morning.

Things were still breaking fast and it was necessary to maintain a good pace if pressure was to be kept on. 4 CAB was leading the chase, spearhead by a small task force consisting of an LSR scout platoon and a squadron of tanks, an LSR motor company, and the 83rd Battery. Should opposition be encountered the 83rd would deploy, and if the situation warranted it,the remainder of the regiment would go into action when it reached the area.

During the phase of the battle the map situation became exceedingly grim and the poor IC who was in charge of maps came in for a lot of undeserved abuse. We were running off our maps in a matter of hours, and new supplies were just not getting up in time. On several occasions the guns were deployed and shooting was done off 1: 250,000 scale maps.

Bernay
August 24th 1944

The flush of victory was on the face of France during those last days of August. Scenes of unrestrained joy met the column at every crossroad and hamlet, while it was often difficult to get through a large town due to the crowds. On the afternoon of August 24th the regiment moved slowly through Bernay and finally got stopped on the main street. Flowers, tomatoes and eggs were tossed into the vehicles, while cigarettes and chocolate bars ( always for papa or Mama! ) were showered among the civilians by slap happy Canadians who were getting the feeling that the war was all over. Bottle after bottle of wine, cognac and cider was offered to the “liberators” and it was amazing that some of the drivers were still able to get their mounts started again.

Here in Bernay a real mob spirit was on the loose as we watched supposed “collaborators” being marched up the street and women who had been friendly with the Gemans having their heads shaved clean. One wandered how many of those sorry looking people wouId still be alive by evening.

However, there was still a war to be won so the regiment once it had got through Bernay deployed, on the eastern outskirts of an area filled with German underground installations which made excellent pre-fabricated command posts and dugouts.

Bout de la Ville
August 25th 1944

Another early start was made on the followlng day and after a fair run the regiment moved into a harbour area for the afternoon near Bout de la Ville. After supper the recces were ordered to move ahead to a new area but when it was found that the proposed position had not been cleared and that American infantry were just starting to go through it, the recce parties returned, much to the bewilderment of the villagers who had cheeredwildly as the half-tracks roared through the first time. Now they weren’t so sure whether they should be cheering or heading for the cellars.

St Pierre les Elbeuf
August 26th 1944

After a restful night in the harbour area the regiment deployed on the spot and then made a move of several miles, going into action near St Pierre les Elbeuf. It was here that a battle echelon was formed to move midway between A and F echelons, and to consist of water, cook and petrol trucks. The supply problems involved in the pursuit battle were giving the echelon a terrific headache and lots of work but the boys did a fine job in keeping the supplies following up.

Seine
August 27th 1944

On August 27th the 23rd deployed in a large clearing in the middle of a pine forest on the west bank of the Seine and settled down to give support to 10 CIB which was making an assault crossing. Once across the plan was that the Div would advance as fast as possible, with this in view 2 days rations were loaded onto all vehicles.

Seine Crossing
August 29th 1944

Two days later the regiment moved down to a marshalling area and crossed the river at Criqueboeuf-sur-Seine, just north west of Pont de l’Arche, on ferries operated by the engineers. The crossing and subsequent deployment on the high ground near Ymaro was carried out in a driving rain which turned everything into thick mud.

August 30th 1944

Next day, on the 30th , an early move to, Le Hamil aux Batiers was made and rumour had it that we were in for a five dayrest. That fond hope was shattered with 2 hours by the order to move again to Grainville-sur-Ry where we went into action and spent the night. Lifewas becoming just a series of orders of deployments and “prepare to move” orders with little time for eating andsleeping, but if it was going to shorten the war, everyone was quite happy.

Boissay
August 31st 1944

August 31st saw the usual pre-dawn move, this time with 36th Battery up with the leading task force, they were deployed on the Crenon Rlver to provide immediate support for the armour and then the whole regiment moved on and deployed in the rain near.Boissay. Here it was firmly believed thatthe Div was going into corps reserve, involving at least a 48hour rest , but hopes were dashed again when the great “press on” order came. 0bjective this time was Abbeville across the Somme.

That night Easy troop was sent off to help a small task force take and hold Forges-les-Eaux. About 0400 hours next morning the regiment threaded into brigade column and picked up Easy troop en route at Orival where they had deployed. 10 CIB led until dawn and then 4 CAB passed through and struck out for the Somme. Unfortunately.4 Div, 7 British Arm’d Div, and 53 Brit Div all seemed to have been given the same centre line for the advance and there was considerable confused jockeying for road space.

Airaines
September 1st 1944

An all-day move was brought to a stop when opposition was encountered at Airaines, while the FOO’s reported enemy transport several miles north-west of the town. By moonlight the 22 Arm’d Regiment and the 23rd Field Regt complete set out to by-pass Airalnes by moving across country. Up and down the hills and dales, sometimes on paths, most times on fields, the column wound until practically everyone was lost. Major Ostrander knew where we were, however, and about midnight got us deployed in a tight circle on the other side of Airaines. At about 0100 hours the 36th battery, most of whom had crawled into bed, were ordered to move several miles ahead where they deployed near the burning town of Wanel. Their loss of sleep was compensated for next morning when they sent a patrol into Wanel and found a packlng case filled with new Lugers, still covered with the grease in which they had been packed and shipped.

Sorel
September 2nd 1944

The regiment was collected together again on Sept 2nd and went into action near Sorel, just west of the Somme, where some German airburst gave a potent reminder that the enemy still had some equipment left.

Abbeville
September 3rd 1944

Once the infantry had established a bridgehead across the Somme - and they had a far easier job than anticipated - the regiment crossed and deployed on the high ground over looking Abbeville. Then came the long awaited news that the Division would have a 48 hour rest. The guns came out of action and the men devoted themselves to reading, sleeping, and writing letters, getting badly needed baths and doing some equally necessary maintenance.

Several personnel changes took place during that period. Lieut. Larry Smith going to RHQ as IC and Bob Maddock going to the 36th. BSM Redmond left Charlie troop to become RQMS while another old-timer of Charlie troop, Sgt. John Filiatrault, became temporary BQMS of the 36th.

The general war situation was good at this particular moment. There was every excuse for optimism. The British Second Army had captured Brussels and Antwerp in a record push. The Poles were midway between Ypres and Ghent. 2 Cdn Div had entered Dieppe where so many of their comrades had died on the beaches there 2 years previously, and 3 Div was assaulting Boulogne. The GOC told Senior officers that the war virtually was over and no pitched battles would be fought. Home by the end of the year ran from tongue to tongue and at any moment news of Germanys surrender was expected. Perhaps “expected” was too strong a word, but certainly no one would have been surprised at the news. There had been no heavy fighting for almost two weeks. We had seen the carnage and destruction brought uponthe German Army in Normandy. We had seen thousands of prisoners stream into our cages. Surely they could persist little longer.

At any rate, whether or not the war was almost won, 4 Div was put on the road again starting off on September 6th with Holland as the objective. This thought staggered us but when we had covered 53 miles by noon people began to wonder.

The Div was moving in battle group formation for this drive and the 23rd formed part of Battle Group Moncel, named after the young commander of 4 Bde. The spearhead, named Keane Force after Lt. Col Bob Keane, CO of the LSR’s, consisted of an armoured recce troop, a scout platoon, an armoured squadron and a motor company, engineer recce party, an SP artillery battery plus the regimental recce party, the remainder of the LSR and a section of the light field ambulances.

Wisques
September 6th 1944

During the afternoon the Div came to a forced halt due to an abundance of wrecked bridges over the canal at St Omer. The regiment “mushroomed” for several hours and the deployed near Wisques just this side of St Omer. It was in this spot that a considerable quantity of German wine and Champagne was “liberated”, although the Bde. HQ reached the source of supply first!

St Omer
September7th 1944

Engineers worked feverishly through an evening downpour to bridge the canal, and just after midnight the regiment made the crossing and went into action at 0345 hrs with everyone soaked to the skin and half of RHQ lost. The Adjutant set out to bring them back to the fold and finally arrived back in time to snooze for an hour before the “Move Now” order came. Total mileage for the previous day had been 76 miles according to the speedometer and the Adjutant control vehicle.

Soex
September7th 1944

Again good progress was made during the morning but towards noon on September 7th opposition was reported near Bruges, almost directly south of Dunkirk where the Germans were holding out in some strength. Peter battery was deployed at Soex, while the rest of the regiment “mushroomed” until things got straightened out. It was raining and blowing in gale-like proportions and the heavy coastal guns from Dunkirk started tracing in some big shells. But most of the lads seem to ignore that by getting into houses where the liberation-happy inhabitants filled them with fried eggs and wine.

St Riquiers
September 7th 1944

It was eventually decided to strike south and by-pass the opposition and by supper time we were off again, crossing the border into Belgium about 1900 hours to receive a wild welcome from the citizens of Leysele. The guns deployed at St Riquires.

Word came in during the night that div echelon had been badly shelled that afternoon near Soex, and our own battle echelon under Capt Norrie Stavert suffered four fatal casualties and eight men wounded. Those killed were Gnr Frank Langille, Gnr G. S. Fisher, Gnr Jim Reid and Pte.Romeo Landry. A number of the lads, includng Bdr.Budway and Gnr W A Smith did heroic work in unloading ammunition from a blazing vehicle, thus preventing further casualties.

Bruges area
September 8th 1944

On September 8th the regiment moved east again towards Bruges which was reported strongly held by SS troops. Further all bridges on the Canal de Ghent running south from Bruges had been blown and thus our advance was barred. After running for a short while on a beautiful double-width highway reminiscent of the Queen Elizabeth Way, the regiment deployed southwest of Bruges and just west of Den Daelo. With that deployment the fast moving run from Trun came to an end. One phase of the war was over and another phase was starting, a phase which everyone soon realized was to involve heavy fighting. The mad dash was over, then on moves became considerably shorter and muchless frequent. Life almost became static.

Edited by KevinT, 21 March 2012 - 11:22 AM.

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#18 KevinT

KevinT

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Posted 22 March 2012 - 09:18 PM

More updates.

At the end of this section there is a short casualty list. One of those listed is Capt. Graham Brown, and again thanks to Rob ( Ramacal ) who has spotted another original typo. The name should be Capt. Graham Browne.

Chapter Five
Holding the Leopold

The division now entered that particular phase of our little war which has since always been referred to as “the Leopold” mainly because for some time that narrow canal became our front line.

It was soon apparent that Bruges was not going to be surrendered easily by the German occupants, nor were the Jerries willing to let us cross the Canal de Ghent cutting south from that city. However, on the 9th the Lincs and Winks ( Lincoln and Welland Regiment ) fought their way across at Moerbrugge, running into very heavy opposition.

Meanwhile an intensive propaganda campaign to scare the garrison in Bruges was commenced. Since it was one of the oldest and loveliest cities in Belgium. the people addressed a plea to the Canadian Commander to spare it from destruction if possible. As a result, no artillery was fired into the city but airburst was fired at several bridges and other points around the fringes of the town.in an effort to simulate registration of a fireplan in hopes that the Germans might decide to evacuate. In addition, one of the German Commanders was taken, blindfolded, for a tour of the Canadian area. From time to time the blindfold was taken off, allowing him to see the large concentration of tanks and artillery at our disposal.

Bruges still held, however, and it became apparent that the stubborn resistance by the enemy in this sector was designed to keep open his escape routes up to the Scheldt and across to Flushing.

Den Daelo
September 9th 1944

One afternoon at Den Daelo, where the regiment had deployed, “Y” Supervisor Jerry Hadcock showed a movie under the viaduct. Belgians crowded around and although they could not understand what was going on, nevertheless, the antics of Abbott and Costello on screen made them laugh as much as we did.

By September 10th the bridgehead across the canal had been well deepened and a bridge had been thrown across. Two days later the regiment crossed and deployed north of Oedelem, just below the east-west highway running from Eecloo to Bruges. By this time Bruges had capitulated, but Eecloo was being held tenaciously.

Syssele
September 13th 1944

An attempt to cross the Leopold Canal met with dismal failure so the division started to fan east towards the Canal de Derivation de la Lys which branches south from the Leopold at Strouiburg and cuts south-east between Maldegem and Eecloo. To support a possible attack the 23rd moved on the 13th to an area just north of Syssele. Two days later a crossing of the canal was established, we deployed considerably to the south near Cliet, and the infantry fought its way into Eecloo. A bridge was built at Balgerhoek and over that bridge the regiment rumbled on, the 16th to deploy on the outskirts of Eecloo.

Eecloo
September 16th 1944

By now the situation had become static to a degree, with the enemy holding an extremely strong defensive position along the Leopold Canal, a line which and armoured division with its single infantry brigade could not hope to breach. As it was, the armoured brigade was thinned out along a 29,000 yard front! The only room for further exploitation was to the east and the Terneuzen Canal running north from Ghent to the Scheldt, and from a position near Capryche to which the regiment moved on September 19th artillery support was laid down for an infantry attack in that direction. Progress was fairly rapid and within two days Bouchante, Assenede, Sas vanGent and Philipine had all fallen into our hands.


While FOOing during this period Lieut. Sam Brody found three heavy railway guns which the Germans had destroyed in their retreat.

Major J S Darling arrived from 21 Army Group HQ to take over the 83 battery which had been commanded By Capt. Jim Kane ever since mid August when Major Ostrander became 2 IC.

On September 22nd the regiment moved west under command of 4 CAB and went into action north-weat of Maldagem, but within an hour we reverted to command of the CRA and were moved back east to a position near Balgerhoek where we stayed until October 16th.

Balgerhoek
September 22nd 1944

For the next few weeks there was very little activity on our sector except for patrol strength attacks to gain information and similar counter measures by the enemy. Elsewhere 2Div was fighting on the northern outskirts of Antwerp while farther east the magnificent failure at Arnhem had been written into history.

Several movies and a recreational centre were opened in Eecloo and a number of men went on 24-hour passes to Ghent where they discovered (a) lots of goods in the stores and (B) francs don't go very far! Ammo expenditure was cut to ten rounds per gun per day so that everyone had plenty of time for relaxation and entertainment.

Static warfare will never finish a war, so on October 5th after it was realized an armoured division could not cross the Leopold, the veteran 3 Div was brought in to do the job.
Plans called for a single brigade attack on our front at Strouiburg where the two canals branch apart, with a two brigade “back-door” attack across the Savojaards Plaat from Sluiskil. Despite what 4 Div intelligence said about it, 3 Div figured there couldn’t be many troops across the canal and counted on clearing right up to the Scheldt within 48 hours.

Operation Switchback, as it was termed, opened on night of October 5th and 6th and ran into heavy opposition right from the start. By 0500 hours the Canadian Scots, with Capt. Graham Brown Fooing for them, had two companies across, and an hour later the Regina Rifles, were also across.

Gnr Norm Kettlewell was killed by shellfire on the 31st Battery position, while Capt. Stavert lost a tank on a mine. He escaped injury but one of his crew, Gnr Andy Trofanenko, was evacuated with wounds.

By nightfall, despite terrific artillery support, which used up more than 200 rounds per gun per day. The attacking forces had penetrated only 200 yards at the deepest point. On the morning of the 7th Capt Bob Brownridge, F00 with the Canadian Scots and Gnr Joe Tendeck, were taken prisoner along with some of the infantry. On the next day the regiment suffered one of its heaviest strokes when Capt Graham Brown, Gnr Bob Black and Gnr Pete Craigen were all killed by a shell which made a direct hit on their carrier.

The “seaborne” landing from the east was successfully carried out on October 9th and after a few days of tough resistance things opened up. When 4 Div was suddenly pulled out on October 16th to move over to the Antwerp area the “seaborne” and the land forces had linked and steady progress was being made. It is interesting to note that the total prisoner bag from that supposedly “troop-less” pocket amounted to12,812 men.
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#19 Theobob

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Posted 22 March 2012 - 10:20 PM

Thank you Kevin very interesting.
My dad was one of the signallers who,with Capt Hammilton went into 2nd Forward Observer Unit.
Bob Hammilton was my dads Capt throughout the war
Dad was originally in 6th Sydney Heavy RCHA then 23rd Field.
Incidently the crossing on the Queen Mary is still a world record for the most amount of people on a ship at sea.I have the figures somewhere,but i am in the middle of a move to Canada and my dads papers are shipping at the moment.
Its nice to be able to fill in some gaps in dads movements post Greenock
Rob
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#20 KevinT

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Posted 23 March 2012 - 07:58 AM

Hello Rob,

In chapter 4 The Mad Dash there is mention that the sister regiment the 19th Field changed over to 25 pounder Ram SP's ( "Sextons" ), from US M7 ( "Priests" ), towards the end of August.
Do you or anyone know when the 23rd made that change as I have not been able to find any reference to this change.
If you have anything you can add, photos, the number of passengers on the Queen Mary etc, please do.

Cheers
Kevin
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#21 Theobob

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Posted 23 March 2012 - 08:17 AM

Hi Kevin,
Yes the dates of the changes are in my dads service records.
I will update when we get to Canada.
There were lots of changes around that time units being cobbled together.
I noticed when i checked back that the crossing was on "the lissie" but dad was definitely on the Queen Mary,could that be an error or do you think that both ships crossed?.The dates and places of embarkation and disembark seem right.
Cheers
Rob
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#22 KevinT

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Posted 23 March 2012 - 08:19 AM

Incidentally I have a list of 9 named Sextons, none of which is mentioned in the documents. If anyone can add anything please feel free.

AGATHA 31st Battery A Trp, No. 3 gun.
ARLENE 31st Battery A Trp, No. 4 gun.
MISS TORONTO 31st Battery.
COLLEEN 36th Battery C Trp, No. 2 gun.
COLLEEN II 36th Battery C Trp, No. 3 gun.
MISS COBURG 36th Battery C Trp.
DARLING T204815 36th Battery D Trp Leader, GPO.
DOFFIE 36th Battery D Trp, No 4 gun.
ROGER

Cheers
Kevin
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#23 KevinT

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Posted 23 March 2012 - 08:35 AM

Hi Kevin,
Yes the dates of the changes are in my dads service records.
I will update when we get to Canada.
There were lots of changes around that time units being cobbled together.
I noticed when i checked back that the crossing was on "the lissie" but dad was definitely on the Queen Mary,could that be an error or do you think that both ships crossed?.The dates and places of embarkation and disembark seem right.
Cheers
Rob


Hello Rob,

I checked back and found this passage, Halifax July 23rd.

Slowly the train pulled out and the men settled down to sleep or shoot craps. When morning came the train was steaming into Halifax. As it came to a stop by the docks, huge funnels could be seen protruding above the dock warehouse. "It must be the Queen Mary or the Queen Elizabeth" the excited buzz went around. It was the Lizzie and the 23rd crammed its way in with 16000 other troops who filed every nook and cranny of this great luxury liner, now turned warrior.


It is probably quite likely that both ships were used but others more in the know many be able to confirm this. ( addit. edit ).

Cheers
Kevin

Edited by KevinT, 23 March 2012 - 08:42 AM.

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#24 Jakke

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Posted 23 March 2012 - 05:03 PM

Hi Kevin,

I can't help you with the questions you posted, but I have link that might interest you if you haven't seen it.
A friend of mine made a documentary about the 23rd FR and has put it on youtube. His grandfather with his brother were gunners in the 23rd FR. I showed him around in Belgium and Holland along the routes where the 23rd FR passed.

23rd Field Regiment (S.P.) RCA-Ep. 1, Part 1/3, Battle of Normandy with the Sexton Tank - YouTube

I'm pleased with your postings as I'm interested in the 4th CAD, because they liberated my hometown.

best regards,

Jakke



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#25 17thDYRCH

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Posted 23 March 2012 - 11:41 PM

Jakke,
Excellent clip on the 23rd Field Regiment. Thanks for sharing it.

Randy
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#26 KevinT

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Posted 24 March 2012 - 07:58 AM

Hi Kevin,
Yes the dates of the changes are in my dads service records.
I will update when we get to Canada.
There were lots of changes around that time units being cobbled together.
I noticed when i checked back that the crossing was on "the lissie" but dad was definitely on the Queen Mary,could that be an error or do you think that both ships crossed?.The dates and places of embarkation and disembark seem right.
Cheers
Rob


Hi Rob,

I did a quick search on the web and found a site listing the war-time service of the Queen Mary. You are correct. Not only does it list the crossing dates, in this particular case 23rd July - 30th July New York - Gourock, it also states the record number of souls carried on a floating vessel - 15,740 troops with 943 crew total 16,683.

Queen Mary - Ship History and Specifications

Cheers
Kevin
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#27 KevinT

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Posted 25 March 2012 - 08:17 AM

More updates

Chapter Six
North from Antwerp
October 16th 1944

The stay at Balgerhoek had been the longest in any one position since the regiment came to France – 24 days. Relieved by 61 Field Regiment RA, the regiment joined a brigade column at Eecloo on October 16th and made the long trip via Ghent to Antwerp and then on out to a residential area north of Schilde where we concentrated and rested for several days.

It was an area of large houses and a few summer hotels, so that everyone was able to be fairly comfortable. A few buzz bombs and V-2s served to give some exciting moments but apart from broken windows and ripped tarpaulins there were no casualties.

Antwerp area
October 16th – 19th 1944

The possibilities of Antwerp were fully investigated and it was found to be one of the best cities we had yet struck. Using the Century Hotel as a rendezvous and firm base, considerable recce and exploitation was done in all directions.

With 2 Dlv starting to push out the narrow neck of land toward South Beveland and Walcheren Islands, it was decided to mount an operation to push directly north from Antwerp, protecting the flank and rear of 2 Div and pushing the Germans slowly back across the Maas. 4 Div was to be employed for this operation.

The div wasbroken into two brigade groups for Operation Suitcase, with 4 CAB consisting of the 22nd and 28th armoured regiments, the LSR’s, and the Argylls. The 21st CAR, Links and Winks, Algonquins and 29th Recce Regiment would comprise the other brigade group. All artillery was to be under command of the CRA who would also have at his disposal 59 AGRA and two HAA and one LAA regiment.

Putte
October 19th 1944

In readiness for the thrust northwards, the regiment deployed on October 19th near Putte and spent the day working on the fire plan for the attack the following morning. The fire plan which was to commence at 0730 hours, consisted of a 30-minute counter-battery round up and a huge list of concentrations on call.

Phase one of the operation called for a drive as far as the Roosendaal Canal, where the forces would firm up while Phase Two the capture of Esschen, was accomplished. Kicking off on the morning of the 20th the troops pushed up the axis of the road and railway and by the next day were well past the canal – which proved to be only a fair-sized ditch. Progress by the 4 Bde group on the left was considerably faster than on the right where 10 Bde met stiff opposition in a wooded area.

Pont Heuvel
October 21st 1944

On the 2lst the regiment made a leap-frog move, Roger battery deploying first and then the other batteries moving up, to the area of Pont Heuvel where some very fine houses were obtained for use as command posts. With the coming of dirty weather a recce party's first consideration seemed to become accommodation and the definition of a gun position was "four good houses surrounded by 24 guns”.

Wildert
October 22nd 1944

Excellent progress continued and by noon the 22nd and the Algonquins were into Esschen and the regiment moved up again to Wildert where a few enemy shells were pounded into the area. It was here that we heard the great news that Capt. Jack Donohue, missing since August, was a prisoner-of-war and in good health. That plus the promotion of Lieut. Bill Buchner to Captain called for a celebration, but the sudden stiffening of resistance around Wousche Plantage and the amount of fire support required kept us all too busy.

The axis of the attack was starting to swing west now, centred on Wousche Plantage and Bergen-op-Zoom, with British 49th Div and 104th US div coming up on the right flank of 4 div. The effort to take Wousche Plantage, a small hamlet dominating an important crossroads, proved extremely costly. The country was the worst possible for tanks – low, flat and wet, with the roads elevated on dikes which made every tank a beautiful target. One armoured squadron lost about 10 tanks in a matter of hours.

Our part in the first attack on Wousche Plantage was a huge smoke screen fire on the morning of October 23rd, in preparation for which 2350 rounds had been dumped on our position from 15th Field, 19th Field, 4 div dump and service corps dump. A HE program was fired as well and it was during this that a premature on one of Fox troop’s guns killed Gnr McElroy who was laying the gun next to and ahead of it. Lieut. Brody was evacuated when a sniper shot off his fingers while he was acting as a FOO.

Next day another fire plan was laid on to help the attack on Wousche but fighting continued to be very heavy, and the enemy put down a surprising amount of mortars. Capt. Bob Gibson was instantly killed when a mortar bomb which came through the roof of a barn he was using for an OP, and his signaller, Gnr Lorne Munce, who had already had a number of close escapes, was badly shaken up.

By October 25th , after a two directional assault, our troops got into Wousche and in this operation both Capt. Bob Sharpe and Capt. Cliff Baker did an excellent job as FOO’s.

Spillebeek
October 25th 1944

The regiment moved again that day to Spillebeek where we were fortunate enough to have a mobile bath in operation right onto the gun position, allowing everyone a much needed cleanup.

That evening Major Ostrander called for a Victor target on a suspected railway gun, getting scale three from all the artillery of 4 div, 49 div, 59 AGRA and 74 AA bde. 4 div reported ready first but the 19th Field beat the 23rd by twenty seconds. As one of the FOO’s put it: “The thing sounded like an express train coming over”. No one quite knows what happened to the railway gun or even if there was one there to start with.

From six o’clock in the morning to eight o’clock at night that day the regiment “brassed off” 3600 rounds, and in the first six hours of the next day we went through another 2400 rounds.

When Dog troop OP was heavily mortared on the 26th, Gnr Charles Hooper, able for Capt. Don Dunbar, was killed, making the third fatal casualty for the regiment in this short offensive.

Heimolen
October 27th 1944

By the 27th the situation was beginning to break up at last, with 2 div coming up fast along the coast and our own recce elements within a few hundred yards of Bergen-op-Zoom. On the following morning the regiment deployed at Heimolen just south east of Bergen where we did three shoots in moonlight for the air OP. This unusual practice worked out quite well, according to the pilot’s report.

Bergen fell to the Canadians on October 29th and long before our troops had cut all the roads leading out of town and were getting beyond artillery range so another move was ordered, this time to Halsteren, several miles north of Bergen. The objective for 4 Bde was Steenbergen so the axis swung north east again. Blown bridge slowed up the advance and it was not for four days that our troops were able to take the town. Meanwhile Lieut. Chick Sills had been evacuated with leg wounds received while FOOing.

The LSR’s with Major Telford and Capt. Baker along, had swung west out into St Philipaland Peninsula where they managed to sink several small German craft and captured an enemy gunboat. After making an entry into the ship’s log to the effect that she was “gersunken” by the Canadians, they scuttled her.

Dinteloord
November 5th 1944

While the remainder of the div came to rest, their job complete, the artillery was moved up near Dinteloord where they deployed on small patches of ground showing above water and supposedly supported by a 49 British div attack on Willemstad. Numerous vehicles got stuck in this position but the record went to Easy troop whose GPO half-track slid into a shallow canal and “capsized” in several feet of water! The troop was re-christened “Easy Flotilla” and “Admiral Coughtrey”, their GPO, took quite a verbal beating from the rest of the regiment.

In 36 hours, the only firing we did was a ten minute fireplan, much to everyone's disgust, and when the town was captured and we moved back to a contration area at Halsteren expecting a rest but receiving orders to get on the road in the morning and head for s'Hertogenbosch.


Edited by KevinT, 25 March 2012 - 08:26 AM.

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#28 Theobob

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Posted 25 March 2012 - 08:21 AM

Hi Kevin,
16683 men on one ship.
You have to admire the crew,can you imagine trying to feed 16683 hungry young men!!
And the ablutions must have been fun!!!!
Dad said the mess arrangements were interesting.
The Queen Mary when she was flat out was very difficult for uboats to catch,it would be a very lucky/unlucky torpedo if she got hit,i guess the odds were considered worth it.
Cheers
Rob
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#29 KevinT

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Posted 26 March 2012 - 06:02 PM

Another update.

Cheers
Kevin

Chapter Seven
Winter in Holland

The completion of Operation Suitcase on November 7th marked the end of our active fighting for a few months and the start of a dull, boring period “holding the line” along the River Maas and waiting for spring.

Vught
November 8th 1944

The trip from Bergen-op-Zoom through Roosendaal, Breda and Tilburg to another concentration area at Vught was done almost entirely in darkness since daylight started to fade about five o’clock during the winter months. After a day or two in Vught the regiment deployed east of s’Hertogenbosh with Peter Battery at Nulands, Roger at Roamalen, and unluoky Queen in the mud in between. As usual, RHQ managed to find itself, a .large-sized house which served as our headquarters off and on until February.

s’Hertogenbosch
November 9th 1944

As a starter, three OPs were deployed with the main purpose of doing a bit of harassing and a lot of observing to build up an information picture concerning the enemy along that front. The three OP’s were at Maren, Gewande and Empel and as the weather became worse, some of them had to be occupied by weasel. Ammunition was cut down to 10 rounds per gun per day, only five of which could be used without reference to HQ RCA, so there wasn’t much to play around with and the adjutant spent most of his time either curbing enthusiastic OP officers or else juggling ammunition reports so that the higher authorities wouldn’t discover that we had splurged over the limit.

A few days after our arrival in the s’Hertogenbosh district the CRA Brig. J N Lane was killed when his Jeep ran over a mine while he was visiting several of the regiment. A great part of the regiment attended the funeral on November 11th t o pay a last tribute to this fine soldier and man who had personally guided our destinies since we came to France.

Short leaves to Antwerp, Brussels and Ghent opened up an a fairly liberal scale, along with the promise that privilege leaves to Blighty would soon commence, so that the boredom arising out of a static period was to some measure alleviated. Supervisor Hadcock practically wore his projection machine out showing movies, and was also instrumental in opening a recreational centre in town where he and Major Ostrander
organised a number of regimental tea dances. Avery successful evening dance was held in the Casino where a British Army dance band provided the beat.

These were the start of bad days for the paymaster, Capt. Freddie Sprague who almost went crazy changing money from one currency to another.The men were paid in Dutch guilders or “gliders” as they soon came to be called, but on leave in Antwerp or Brussels they had to convert guilders to Belgian francs. It was only a prelude of things to come, however, when we spent some time in Germany and were paid in marks. And then further complications arose when people started going to Paris and England on leave.

About the middle of November Major Ostrander was promoted to the rank of LC. Col and was given command of the 13th Field Regiment a 3 Div "D-Day" unit. Major Telford became 2 IC just in time to recce a concentration area i n the vicinity of Boxtel where the regiment was going to enjoy a two week rest.

Boxtel
November 24th 1944

On November 24th the 79 Field Regiment RA, relieved us and we moved to the new area, everyone being billeted in Boxtel except for Queen battery which had the luxurious (?) village of Germonde to itself . The two-week respite after three and a half months of fighting was filled with resting, training, recreation and a frantic attempt to get the guns calibrated despite horrible weather conditions.

The Padre, H/Capt R L Bacon, held an impressive memorial service on our first Sunday in Boxtel. L/Bdr A HSims read out the names of the sixteen members of the regiment who had lost their lives in action thus far.

Despite complaints about being billeted in a tiny hamlet, Queen battery found that a hamlet could produce quite a population when they staged a Christmas Party for the children of the village. A total of 410 children came to the party. Santa Claus, in the person of Major J C Btewart, then commanding the battery, was no less surprised than the other officers and men. Nevertheless, he managed to overcome his surprise and stumble through a speech in Dutch which the local schoolmaster had written out for him.

While in Boxtel, news of another promotion in the regiment came, this time taking from us Major Telford who went to command the 19th Field Regiment. Major Darling became 2 IC and Capt. N Stavert was promoted to Major and took over Roger battery.

s’Hertogenbosch
December 6th 1944

All things must come to an end, and on December 6th the regiment moved back into the line, taking over the same gun positions except for Queen who were situated west of s'Hertogenbosoh, thus creating difficult communication problems. An additional OP was deployed at Hedikuizen on the front covered by Queen battery.

During the next week several personnel changes occurred both within the and outside the regiment. Major General Chris Vokes became GOC 4 Dlv, switching places with Major General Foster who went to Italy to take over 1 Div. Closer to home, Lieut. Bill Cowan and Bill Turner both received their captaincy, the former taking over Easy troop and the latter going to the 15th Field Regiment. Major Stewart left for England to take a staff course.

We were now living once more in a veritable “buzz-bomb alley” as the Germans intensified their efforts to knock out the port of Antwerp and render it useless to the Allies. On one single day one OP reported 25 of the flying vacuum cleaners, roaring past overhead, in the general direction of Antwerp.

Shortly after taking over the division, Major General Vokes carried out aninspection of units individually. There was frantic haste to prepare for the inspection and to get clothes in decent order. Able Troop, searching in vain for irons to press battle dress, came out with the "bright idea of the year” by placing a pair of trousers between two planks and then driving a half-track back and forth over them. Effort: very little! Result: excellent creases!

The peace and quiet of the winter months was rudely shattered by the terrific offensive which von Rundstedt had launched against the American sector in the Ardennes. Gaining a surprise advantage, employing novel disruptive tactics and aided by foggy weather which cut down Allied air activity, he had made great advances and his spearheads were throwing the people of Brussels and even Paris into jitters. In spots his troops ran wild through the rear areas with nothing to stop them; at other places heroic action by American units stopped the Germans cold.

Vught
December 21st 1944

It was thought that in connection with his southern drive von Rundstedt might attack from the north across the Maas, aiming at Antwerp, or that he might try an airborne invasion, or both, as a precautionary measure 4 div was pulled out of the line, moved to a concentration area in the Vught – Boxtel district, and placed on two hours notice. It was felt that the div would probably go south to stem the Ardennes dive, but it would also be valuable to have the div ready to move quickly to any needed spot in the event of an attack in our area.

The system of area defence was laid on, calling for R/T equipped road patrols and mobile reserve squads ready to meet any emergency. The regiment carried out patrols every night but found little except a lighted skylight in one house “ I forgot the blackout” the man said and a man running out of his house at 4 a.m. clad only in underwear when he heard our patrol moving along the road ( he didn’t have anything to say but he did seem rather surprised to see Canadians and not Germans ).

Breda
December 24th 1944

Christmas Eve arrived and still nothing had happened, billets were decorated as best as could be and plans for Christmas dinner were well in hand when a sudden order to move came in by phone. Intelligence had got wind of a concentration of troops north of the Maas, ready to attack the following day, so the div was rushed to the Breda area to take up defensive positions. It was pitch black by the time the regiment pulled into the southern outskirts of Breda where we were to concentrate, luckily, rather then to go into action.

Morning came by no attack materialized. Breathing a sigh of relief, every started to madly find a place where sufficient numbers could sit down at once to have a decent Christmas dinner. Some troops had to eat outside and standing up but the majority were able to use schools or other buildings for the annual feast.

St Philipsland
December 29th 1944

On December 29th , as a result of information that there might be an attack on St Philipsland Peninsula, 36th battery moved out there in support of 22 CAR, staying for about 10 days. Again nothing happened. A new Battery Commander, Major K. A Toms, formerly Adjutant of the 15th Field Regiment, arrived to take command of Queen battery.

Operation Trojan
January 5th 1945

The only fighting activity the regiment did while at Breda was a one day deployment north east of the city to take part in Operation Trojan which was to simulate a crossing of the Maas and also to force the enemy to disclose his resources. Our guns were to fire for fifteen minutes, then pause for ten minutes, while all available counter mortar and counter battery equipment attempted to locate the German retaliatory fire. The fire plan went well – but the ten minute pause was crammed with silence. The enemy didn’t have anything with which to retaliate, or else he just wasn’t in the mood.

s’Hertogenbosch
January 8th 1945

On January 8th the regiment moved back tos’Hertogenbosch, reoccupied the same positions and billets except for Queen battery which was east of the town and settled down to a humdrum existence again. A week later Operation Schultz was mounted with the intention of getting prisoners from the other side of the river. The LSR’s were given the job, the 15th Field, 68th Medium and three tank regiments joined in with us on artillery support. Crossing the river from Gewande in company strength, the Lake Supps’ executed a nice daylight raid which, although it stirred up opposition, went off very smoothly. The first boats touched down on the other side at 1232 hours and by 1440 hours everyone was back – including three frightened Germans, the LSR’s suffered one fatal casualty and three wounded.

A week later came Kappelsche Veer! The infantry of 4 div will probably remember that episode as one of the deadliest, costliest, most miserable five days of the war.

Kappelsche Veer
January 25th – 31st 1945

Kappelsche Veer was a narrow island formed on the south bank of the Maas by a small canal. Somehow the Germans had slipped back across the river and now had control of the island. To push them back – or kill them off – someone had dreamed up Operation Elephant.

Original plans called for a ten hour show, using the Lincoln and Welland Regiment, and employing a mass of artillery. The original ammunition allotment, including mortar, 75 and 155 mm, 25 pounder, and 5.5 and 7.2 inch totalled 87,220rounds - which is a lot of ammunition in any man’s language and more particularly in the language of the men who had to haul and dump it.

On January 25th the regiment moved to an area sear Sprang, north east of Tilburg, and deployed in sub zero weather. Our part in the plan was the firing of a huge smoke screen, an intricate but well-planned thing which included three screens, each of three densities, so that the smoke situation could be varied quickly on call. The first round was fired at 0725 hrs on the 26th, and within a very short while it was realized that the battle was going to become static. The Germans had well prepared defensive positions, behind dikes, from whioh they could cover every approach and mow down the infantry trying to come up across the flat, frozen terrain.

The smoke was eventually stopped and we started firing HE on call continually. In the afternoon a big HE fire plan was issued for which we required 1500 time fuzes. We got them alright – ten minutes after the fire plan was finished.

The next day the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders were tossed into the fray for the Links had suffered heavy casualties and it was apparently decided that having made such a big and expensive start, the thing had better be carried through to a finish. We were ordered to deploy two OP’s. To keep them fully manned it was necessary to change personnel every eight hours because the cold made it impossible to stay my longer and remain efficient. The unfortunate Infantry had to stay longer because it was obviously impractical for them to work in shifts.

Unsuccessful attacked continued day after day until late on the afternoon of January 30th when at 1812 hours the objective a bit of high ground with a house on it, was cleared out. Around midnight patrols from the Argylls on the right and the Links on the left made contact and the island was ours. Our forces suffered heavy losses, but all reports from the island showed that the Germans fared far worse.

s’Hertogenbosch
January 31st 1945

That job done, the regiment returned to old stamping grounds at s’Hertogenbosch, although that “independent” group known as Queen battery was deployed right on the northern fringe of the city where the personnel enjoyed the best in living and recreational facilities. “Just making up for Gemonde” they used to say.

Hockey had been booming during the past month and our hockey team, coached by Major. Stavert, scored considerable success. Their crowning triumph, however, was in February when they deployed permanently in Antwerp, apparently attached for all purposes to the arena, the Century Hotel, and all points between. The fact that they didn’t win many games once they were SOS to Antwerp didn’t matter much.

Meanwhile the outside world was boiling with big events. The Russians had been eating up the space between them and Berlin at an amazing pace. The Americans were closing up to the Rhine on the south, and Monty had launched a big push on February 8th to clear the Reichwald Forest as a prelude to sweeping to the Rhine. In the area various deceptive measures had been employed to make the enemy think that a major crossing of the Maas was to be attempted. Piles of bridging equipment, truckloads of assault boats, dummy gun positions, recorded noises – all of these were part of the big plan.

Operation Veritable, the name given to the Reichwald attack, went extremely well and about the middle of February the news arrived that we were to have a part in the next operation which would bring the forces of 21 Army Group to the banks of the Rhine – and possibly win the war then and there, for Eisenhower had publically said he hoped to fight the major and decisive battle of the West on this side of the Rhine. However, just in case the armies would have to fight on the east of the Rhine, one of his armies had brilliantly seized the bridge at Remagen and already a solid little bridgehead had been established.

And so – off to Germany.

Edited by KevinT, 26 March 2012 - 06:11 PM.

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#30 KevinT

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Posted 29 March 2012 - 01:02 PM

Next chapter

Cheers
Kevin

Chapter Eight
Sweeping to the Rhine
Vught
February 19th 1945

With a feeling of spring in the air, the regiment spent several days out of action in Vught before pushing off for “der faderland” on February 22nd. The recce party had left the previous day.

In brilliant sunshine the column moved along the “Maple Leaf Up” through Oss, across the Grave Bridge, down through battered Grosbeek into Germany to our concentration area in the woods near Hau, south of Cleve.

Reichwald
February 22nd 1945

Tough resistance was predicted in this battle to the Rhine - and tough resistance was certainly encountered. The Germans were fighting stubbornly and courageously - some say fanatically, but that usually is just another way of saying that your opponent is determined and courageous - to delay our advance to the vital waterway.

Tobreak his resistance, Operation Blockbuster was planned, employing four divisions and divided into four phases. In phase One, 2 and 3 Infantry Divs were to clear a start line for 4 Div by advancing south through Calcar and Loiusendorf to within about 2 miles of Keppeln. Then on Phases Two - 4 Div would pass through to a line running directly east from Keppeln while 3 Div took the town. Phase Three called for a difficult armoured push south by 4 Div, breaking out onto the high ground east of Udem.Once 4 Div was on that feature, 3 Div and 11 British Arm’d Div- were to take Udem. Phase Four looked like the toughest part of all, with 4 Div thrusting through the gap between the Hochwald Forest and the Balberger Forest, while 11BritishDiv kept up the pace to protect the right flank.

The whole plan was to have been achieved. By the night of February 27th. As it turned out, Phase Three was executed by thenbut penetration of the Hochwald itself and the famous gap met with heavy resistance.

Louisendorf
February 24th 1945

In preparation for the attack the regiment left the concentration area on the night of the 24th and moved south to deploy near Louisendorf. The roads were in terrible condition, and the heavy volume of traffic which had to roll over them ceaselessly only made matters worse. On the first deployment most of the soft vehicles were left in concentration areas back along the road, partly due to bad traffic conditions and partly due to enemy shelling in the more forward areas.

The huge fire plan, which in sound and intensity reminded one of the Caen breakout, opened at 0430 hours, February 26th, and despite heavy going in the mud good progress was made. By the next day 3 Div had taken Keppeln and Udem and overlooking the Hochwald. However, it had only been through exceptionally fine artillery – armour cooperation that they ever reached the objective. The push to the high ground was made at night and it was impossible to see a thing. Capt.’s Bill Cowan and Cliff Baker both made use of the newcoloured flare shell, or indicator shell as it was called.

This shell bursting, between 200 and 300 feet in the air, dropped three red flares to the ground where they burned for about ten seconds. By ordering a round at a certain map reference the FOO could orient himself, and both Capt. Baker and Capt. Cowan reported that during this ground burning period features were sharply outlined so one could actually mapread. By firing the shells far enough ahead, the attacking force was not itself illuminated.

Two motor companies with supporting tanks were put into the objective in this manner at separate times with no casualties. One FOO said that the force would definitely have veered off in a wrong direction had it not been for the marker shells. There was some confusion at first because everyone was expecting a white flare. Capt. Cowan got quite annoyed because we were not firing the indicator shells and complained of enemy red flares on his position. He was finally convinced that the red flares were what he had been calling for during the past half hour.

Keppeln
February 27th 1945

On the 27th the regiment made another move, going into action just east of Keppeln. There had been a lot of rain during the past few days, turning the side roads into quagmires. Practically every house had been knocked down or was on fire, and dead livestock was all over the place. It was a dirty dismal picture and a dismal campaign. However, it was the one phase of the war in which the troops ate like kings and the German livestock that wasn’t killed by shellfire met the same fame at the hands of amateur butchers. One of the results of this was to make paper the most precious commodity a man could have.

For the next few days the forward troops made a number of unsuccessful attempts to push through the Hochwald gap and also into the forest itself, but they met a strong German defence and had to beat off many counter-attacks. On the night of March 1st – 2nd a force of Algonquins, LSR’s and tanks pushed through almost to the end of the gap in an attack which resulted in heavy casualties. However by 0442 hours, on the 2nd Capt. Baker reported that his force was on the objective, and within a few minutes Capt. Buchner’s group had also firmed up there. At 0520 hours they saw Capt. Cowan’s tank go by, leading some tanks and Kangaroos. He went on ahead to a point where some LSR’s and Algonquins,with tanks, had consolidated and it was the last seen or heard of him. Later that day it was reported that that force had been entirely wiped out or captured.

Meanwhile two FOO’s, on the primary objective were having a busy day, beating off counter-attacks from every direction. Casualties were heavy. Capt. Buchner was hit twice in the head and temporarily lost sight in one eye, but would not be evacuated. He stayed up with the force and continued to bring down much needed fire all day, working in close liaison with Capt. Baker who had a close escape when his tank was hit and set on fire. He and his crew were able to extinguish the blaze and carry on until nightfall when the gallant force was relieved. The efforts of these FOO’s was instrumental in allowing our troops to hold their position through the Hochwald gap, and from that springboard further attacks which finally wound up the battle were launched.

Both Capt. Baker and Capt. Buchner were awarded the Military Cross for their work.

Hochwald
March 3rd 1945

On March 3rd the regiment moved by night to a position near Udemerbruch, just west of the Hochwald gap. It was in that position that Capt. Cowan’s tank was found up ahead, along with the body of Bdr. Doug Trumpter who had been killed when his tank was hit. The tank had been hit three times, it was discovered. No traces of Capt. Cowan, Bdr. Johnson or Gnr. Bowerman could be found.

From then on things started to move fairly fast, although in no way as fast as the American surge in the south. They had crossed the Roer and fanned out in all directions to the Rhine, and their spearheads were fast approaching us.

Sonsbeck
March 7th 1945

Veen became the next objective for 4 div, and to support this attack the regiment moved on the 7th – again at night – into action east of Sonsbeck which used to be a town, but was just a rubble heap when we passed through. The 43rd British Division pushed down along the Rhine and took Xanten, while the Guards Armoured Division came up on our right and pushed north east. As for 4 div, the Infantry ran into stubborn resistance again around Veen and Winnenthal, especially where several hundred “do or die” boys held out to the end.

By the 8th the three regiments in div artillery had fired 79,000 rounds in Operation Blockbuster, and the steady supply of ammunition over the terrific roads was a feat little short of miraculous.

The division was “squeezed out” of the battle on March 10th having taken Veen and Winnenthal. The other divs had cut us out and were mopping up rapidly to the Rhine, so the “stand down” order for 4 div gave everybody a rest.

Gnr. Jim Harwood of Fox troop was tragically kill on March 9th when his motorcycle struck a mine practically on the gun position. Capt. Buchner whom we thought had been seriously wounded, arrived back at the regiment after getting a release from the hospital and hitch-hiking the whole way from Louvain near Brussels.

At 0100 hours on March 12th the regiment pulled out and headed for Tilburg and a rest period. No one could understand why an entire armoured division was being sent on that long road trip just to rest, but no one bothered asking questions. They were just happy to be leaving that shattered part of Germany and returning to Holland.

Tilburg
March 12th 1945

The mud and rain had made this Hochwald offensive one of the worst we had been in. Vehicles were getting stuck continually and the fact that most of the moves were made at night had made things more difficult. Gnr. Johnny Lacheur, Q’s battery’s irrepressible DR, solved the problem best by discarding his Norton and using a tired old German nag for his DR runs.
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