A Day in the Life ... of 13 Fd Sqn, RE, 11th Armoured Division - April 6th, 1945

Discussion in 'Royal Engineers' started by Old Git, Jun 22, 2018.

  1. Old Git

    Old Git Harmless Curmudgeon

    As some of you know I've been doing a bit of research around 13th Fd Sqn, RE, who were part of 11th Armoured Division. Being the keeper of a vast collection of 1/6th scale Bailey bridge training models I have something of a soft spot for the dear old Sapper. I know from talking to many old Veterans of the RE just how much it rankles when 'official' histories or memoirs deal with the RE's efforts in a kind of off-hand manner. Most of us will have seen many times in the various histories opaque lines such as:

    "once again the Sappers did sterling work clearing the mine field in front of us"


    "The Sappers performed heroic efforts to get the bridge completed in record time".

    The brevity of such statements quite often belies the actual reality of the Sappers experience and this was really brought home to me when comparing various accounts of a single operation which took place between April 5th - 7th, 1945, when 13 Fd Sqn, and her sister units 612 Fd Sqn & 224 Fd Coy, attempted to put a Class 40 Bailey Pontoon Bridge across the Weser at Stolzenau.

    I suppose this brevity of statement is part of the price the dear old Sapper must pay for being everywhere on the battlefield, for always being 'first in and last out', indeed for being 'Ubique'! So, here is the same event as told by several different commentators, they make for interesting reading... especially Noel Bell's emotive description.

    1.) From the Desert to the Baltic, Pip Roberts, pg 235

    " To our great surprise soon after the Royal Engineers had begun their task the bridging site was attacked by a variety of German aircraft including one or two Stukas which had not previously been seen in this theatre. Next day these attacks were renewed but this time by Ju 88's and FW 190's; one or two were shot down but their attacks were persistent and much delayed our bridging. However, we had sent back for fighter cover and about mid-day on the 6th the first Tempests appeared, and by the 7th the Geran aircraft had been driven off.

    2.) Taurus Pusuant, pg 97-98

    "Very little resistance met our tanks when they entered Stolzenau, our Weser objective, at 10:30 on the morning of the 5th... No sooner had the engineers begun their task than there appeared the first evidence of the Germans' resolution to hold us on the Weser line. The bridging site was attacked by a strange assortment of enemy aircraft, including the once-terrrible Stuka, a machine which we had not previously seen in this theatre. Next days these attacks were renewed, this time by Ju 88's and FW 190's, and although several of these were shot down their attentions were persistent and damaging. We had, however, sent back urgent requests for fighter cover and about mid-day on the 6th the first Tempests appeared. These increased in numbers and effect until by the 7th the Germans had been driven from the sky...By the evening of the 6th the Chesires had also arrived, and the division felt considerably stronger, but all the same it had been a bad day. The bridge was under persistent machine gun fire; shelling continued throughout the day and this, together with the air bombing and strafing already mentioned, damaged or destroyed a number of the pontoons and partially wrecked the approach. The Engineers continued most gallantly with their task, but their casualties mounted at a disturbing pace and it was soon clear that until the bridgehead could be appreciably enlarged little progress with the bridge itself would be possible"

    3.) 8th Corps: Normandy to the Baltic, Lt Col. G.S. Jackson (Vol.2 The River Rhine to the Baltic Sea, pg 39)

    "Bridge construction at Stolzenau was being continually interrupted by shelling and persistent air attack. Two bombing attacks by Ju 88's in the afternoon caused the sappers some 40 casualties and destroyed a large amount of Pontoon equipent and badly cratered the bridge approaches. Insufficient undamaged material remained at the site to complete the bridge and work had to be temporarily suspended... A further attempt was made to continue bridge consruction but persistent and accurate shelling of the site made this an impossible task."

    4.) The Black Bull, Patrick Delaforce, pg 221

    "By midday the sappers were making good headway with the bridge despite constant shelling of 612 and 13 RE Squadrons. Constant salvoes of 88mm took their toll. Dick Anderson explained that:

    Eighteen Sappers were killed - a real disaster. Further bombing followed and destroyed the bridge, leaving just so much twisted metal.... Stolzenau with its grim memories was now abandonded. 8 RB withdrew across the river and the Sappers licked their wounds."

    5.) From the Beaches to the Baltic: The Story of the G Company, 8th Battalion, the Rifle Brigade, by Noel Bell, Pg 109

    "By midday the Sappers were making good headway with the bridge despite constant shelling. It was growing hourly, and every span put into position meant to us one link nearer to tank support we so earnestly desired. But the enemy realised this too, envinced by his never ceasing salvoes of 88 mms, which proved costly to the Sappers. When in the mid-afternoon hopes of acheiving our link before dusk were running high, for the bridge was over half-way across, a Stuka appeared and dropped an anti-personnel bomb right amongst the toiling bridge-builders. Eighteen of them were killed outright. Further bombing followed and destroyed their bridge too, which now resembled the original one - just so much twisted metal. There was no sign of the R.A.F nor had we any heavy ack-ack protection....Towards evening, in the now untorubled sky, some R.A.F. Tempests put in an apperance, making quite a brave display over the bodies of eighteen dead Sappers and their wrecked bridge."

    6.) HQ RE 11th Armoured Division, April 1945

    April 5th (1640 hrs) - HQRE arrived Stolzenau to control br operation over R. Wesser.

    Troops employed - 13 Fd Sqn., 612. Fd Sqn., 224 Corps Tps Fd Coy.
    Tasks - 224 Coy - Assault Boats and unloading
    13 Fd Sqn - Raft construction and far side approaches
    612 Fd Sqn - Landing Bays and End Floating Bays

    (1640 hrs) Work commenced. Site continually attacked from the air by twin engines fighter bombers, about 8 at a time. This continued until last light. Airburst (88mm) and 40 mm delaying work throughout the night, and grew more intense at first light.

    April 6th (0800 hrs) - Job 60% complete
    (0915 hrs) - Enemy counter attacked br head.
    (0945 hrs) - Counter attack being held. Practically no progress owing to interruptions
    (1200 hrs) - Work still suspended owing to enemy activity from flanks of br head
    (1530 hrs) - 2 i/c 13 Fd Sqn (Capt. CEW Robins) killed by airburst shelling in Stolzenau
    (1600 hrs) - Br attacked by 6 FW 190 aircraft during new attempt to build. Enemy plane scored direct hits on end floating bay and on both approaches. Br 50% destroyed. O.C. 13 Fd Sqn (Major R.G. Astles) wounded and evacuated. 30 - 40 other casualties. Much eqpt sunk. Job again called off temporarily.
    (1830 hrs) - HQRE and 13 Fd Sqn moved out of town owing to intensity of shelling and continual damage to vehs. 11 Armd Div. Op Instr No.22 re crossing of br at 916356

    April 7th (0800 hrs) - C.R.E. and Sqn Ldrs met on site and discussed clearance of site.
    (0830 hrs) - Site heavily mortared
    (0900 hRS) - Lieut Venn 13 Fd Sqn Wounded and evacuated.
    (1200 hrs) - orders received from C.E. 8 Corps to stop work until a more secure br head was secured.
    (1730 hrs) - C.R.E. ordered to prepare to restart in 1 1/2 hrs if ops permit.
    (1900 hrs) - Postponed until midnight. 1 Cdo to put in attack at 2330 hrs

    April 8th (0030 hrs) - All No.1 Cdo across river.
    (0135 hrs) - Sqns ordered to move down to site.
    (0215 hrs) - Site shelled and mortared, small arms fire from enemy infiltrations
    (0330 hrs) - Tps withdrawn as work impossible.
    (0700 hrs) - 15 (S) Div RE to take over job on alternative site when br head cleared.
    (1145 hrs) - C.R.E. 15 (S) Div met CRE to take over br.
    (1405 hrs) - H.Q.R.E. and all sqns moved across R. Weser at Petershagen to rejoin 11 Armd Div.

    7.) 13th Fd Sqn, RE - War Diaries

    April 6th - 8th
    After 3 attempts to br at STOLZENAU during which Captain ROBINS was killed, Major ASTLES and Lieut Venn woounded and 32 O.R. casualties incurred, the site was moved to further South where, with the help of 612 Fd Sqn and 224 Fd Coy (Corps Tps) a bridge was completed at 0300 hrs 8 Apr 45.

    8.) Spr Marcel Heath, RE, 13 Fd Sqn, published on the BBC Website.

    "The bridge at Soltau had been blown so Marcel had to row across the river with a bleeding arm and a rope to guide him. When he landed on the other side the Germans opened fire with 20mm airbursts on the opposite side of the river — the side he had just escaped from. Ten men were killed in that incident."

    (there were no 11th Armoured Division RE Engineers killed at Soltau and the only place where such a great number of Sappers, attached to 11th Armoured, were killed was at Solzenau so we should assume that this reference to Soltau is either a case of faulty memory or of transcription. In fact I'm not at all certain that any elements of 11th Armoured Division ever got to Soltau before VE day)

    Finally, here are the names of those RE Personnel, killed on April 6th, 1945, in a futile attempt to get a Bailey Pontoon bridge across the Weser at Stolzenau. The majority of these chaps came from 13 Fd Sqn...

    Spr Robert Bapty, Aged 21, (612 Fd Sqn, RE), Service Number 14442121
    Spr Arthur Thomas Loder, (612 Fd Sqn) Service Number 1881466
    Spr Walter Whittaker, Aged 25, (612 Fd Sqn, RE), Service Number 4040805
    Dvr Norman. Hubbick, Aged 24, (612 Fd Sqn,RE),Service Number 14249233 - Remembered with Honour on Groesbeek Memorial

    Capt. Christopher Edmund Ward Robins, Aged 27, (13 Fd Sqn, RE), Service Number 201710 - Son of Philip Seymour Robins and Ruth Emily Robins, of Merstham, Surrey.
    Cpl Lionel William Miller, Aged 27, (13 Fd Sqn, RE), Service Number 2009022
    L/Cpl James Samuel Plumb, Aged ?, (13 Fd Sqn, RE), Service Number 1923082
    L/Cpl John Henry Richmond, Aged 31, (13 Fd Sqn, RE), Service Number 2132985 - Son of Henry Percy and Zoe Annie Richmond, of Rotherham, Yorkshire; husband of Elsie Richmond, of Rotherham
    Spr Henry Herbert Griffiths, Aged 27, (13 Fd Sqn, RE), Service Number 3976556
    Spr Thomas John Hair, Aged 19, (13 Fd Sqn, RE), Service Number 14741333
    Spr Geoffrey D. Mitchell, Aged 22, (13 Fd Sqn, RE), Service Number 14506629, - Son of Donald D. and Madeline Mitchell, of Snettisham, Norfolk.
    Spr Geoffrey Nendick, Aged 29, (13 Fld Sqn, RE), Service Number 2132837, - Son of Digby and Mary E. Nendick, of Norton, Malton, Yorkshire; husband of Lily Nendick, of Norton
    Spr James O'Brien, Aged 30, (13 Fd Sqn, RE - 3 Trp), Service Number 2191805 - Recived a certificate of Gallantry from Monty himself on, or about, Monday 22nd January

    All these men are buried in HANOVER WAR CEMETERY, Niedersachsen, Germany, with the exception of Driver Norman Hubbick, Aged 24, (612 Fd Sqn RE), Service Number 14249233, who is Remembered with Honour on Groesbeek Memorial.

    Requiescat in Pace
    Last edited: Jun 25, 2018
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  2. harkness

    harkness Well-Known Member

    "The Story of the Twenty-third Hussars":


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  3. Old Git

    Old Git Harmless Curmudgeon

    Harkness, thanks for posting this, wonderful stuff and I have added it to my research. It would seem that the Sapper's were not alone in their suffering that day!
  4. harkness

    harkness Well-Known Member

    Extracts from the memoirs of Lt John Theodore Cooper Steinhart, C Sqr, 23rd Hussars:



    An unrelated incident:
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  5. harkness

    harkness Well-Known Member

    Extract from the memoirs of Sgt Bertie McCully, A Sqr, 23rd Hussars:

    Next morning we patrolled forward and met no trouble. We did, however, capture an elderly German soldier on a bicycle – he had come, he said, to make sure the bridge had been blown! The 3rd Tanks moved through us and we followed for most of the day but took over the lead at Rahden and harboured the night at Esern in pitch darkness. On April 5th we made a further dash to capture a bridge intact – this time a more important prize, the crossing on the River Weser at Stolzenau. The Fife and Forfars were advancing with 159 Infantry Brigade on our right with the same objective – so the race was on. We won with about five minutes to spare but the bridge went up in our faces. The Rifle Brigade were ordered to make an assault and secure a bridgehead. It became a precarious position for them on the far bank as they had come up against the training battalion of our old Caen enemies the Twelfth SS (Hitler Jugend) who fought ferociously and without any code of honour. In joining battle with them one felt not so much as to be killing men, but exterminating vermin.

    Our RB friends suffered heavy casualties in this operation. Fairly regular shelling of the town had begun and on occasion a Junkers 88 came over and dropped a few bombs. Its appearance was the signal for everyone to open up with small arms fire in its direction but each time it sedately flew away. The Sappers were having a very difficult time trying to bridge the Weser due to shelling and when the bridge was almost complete a German plane dropped a bomb which hit the centre of the bridge and the Sappers who were working on it suffered terrible casualties. On the far bank the RB had been relieved by the First Commando Brigade who was in position to move forward to assault the village of Leese. A Squadron gave them supporting fire from our side of the river.

    The news came through that the 6th Airborne Division had built a bridge at Petershagen to our south and were across the Weser. We were, next day, to follow them over it, turn north and resume our advance. Failure to achieve an objective is disappointing and no division likes to use another division’s bridge but this was saving time and allowing us to resume the advance. C Squadron left at dawn on April 8th, crossed at Petershagen and came under command of the First Commando Brigade for an attack on Leese. This was successful and they advanced as far north as Landesbergen where a large V bomb factory was discovered.
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  6. Old Git

    Old Git Harmless Curmudgeon

    Fantastic stuff chaps, anyone got anything covering April 1 - 4?

  7. Old Git

    Old Git Harmless Curmudgeon

    Incidentally, the IWM hold some film footage of the Luftwaffe attack on the Bailey bridge at Stolzenau. Sadly it is not yet digitized and on-line. Perhaps if we all petitoned them to do so they'd get it done by June 2030.


    There are also some covering 8 RB and KSLI, if anyone is interested!


    Last edited: Jun 23, 2018
  8. Old Git

    Old Git Harmless Curmudgeon

    Just a wee update on this bit of research. When I first posted this up with a list of the dead I did not know who was with 13 Fd Sqn and who was not, eventually I realised that the CWGC would probably have this info so I had a spin through their site and duly found all the information I required. As part of this I noted that Dvr Norman. Hubbick, Aged 24, (612 Fd Sqn,RE),Service Number 14249233 - had no known grave and was 'Remembered with Honour on Groesbeek Memorial'. On the off-chance, and operating on the assumption that Drv Hubbick may have been swept downstream to his death, I sent all this info to CWGC and asked if they might have any unknown Sappers who might be Dvr Hubbick. Today I received an email from CWGC thanking me for all the info I sent and informing me that they have an unknown Sapper in Hanover War Cemetery whose "...'body was recovered from Stolzenhau and is believed to have been killed on the 6th April, 1945". They have asked if I can check the war diaries of 612 Fd Sqn to see what mention they make of Drv Hubbick's death and if there was any reference to whether his body was lost or not. I've already had a shout out on the net (here and on Facebook) looking for 612 Fd Sqn's War diaries but no joy so it looks like I'll be making a trip to Kew in the next 10 days or so.

    You know I do the research I do because it makes me happy to do it, it keeps the old wetware active and I actually do love the smell of musty archives! I can't tell you what impulse made me email CWGC to ask if they had an unknown Sapper who might match to Drv Hubbick but it is hugely gratifying, and indeed sobering, to find that this stuff we do does have it's uses and that it's just possible that, by my inadvertent meanderings through dusty tomes, I may have given this boy back to his family! More often than not in the course of my research I have had the acute sense that the dead want to be remembered and that they have their own ways of making sure that we do remember them! So, here's to Drv Norman Hubbick, 612 Fd Sqn who died on April 6th 1945 at the tender age of 24, Requiescat in Pace

    As soon as I've got 612 Fd Sqn War Diaries and confirmed their contents to the chap at CWGC I shall update this thread with that info and hopefully CWGC's official position on the unknown Sapper they have at Hannover War Cemetery.
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  9. SDP

    SDP Incurable Cometoholic Patron

    That's interesting because the 4KSLI did not have armour of their own....that role normally fell to 3RTR at that stage of the War. Good footage of Comet tanks if you like that sort of thing, which I do.
  10. Seroster

    Seroster Canadian researcher

    SDP, how have you been able to view said footage of Comets?
  11. SDP

    SDP Incurable Cometoholic Patron

    Click on the links in 'Old Gits' post. This takes you to the IWM site. Scroll down the page to 'related' items. Then click on the 'image' box. Video will play if it has a 'play' symbol. Hope that makes sense.
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  12. Old Git

    Old Git Harmless Curmudgeon

    This bit of Film no doubt shows Noel Bell, and his colleagues, being rowed across the Weser, in assault boats, to form the Bridgehead as described on pg 109 of his memoirs, "From the Beaches to the Baltic: The Story of the G Company, 8th Battalion, the Rifle Brigade"....


    It would be really nice if the IWM could get its finger out of its flabby arse and put these films on their web site, most of which have already been digitized.
    Last edited: Jul 31, 2018
  13. JDKR

    JDKR Member

    I have seen this footage but sadly it is not much to write home about, just a few out of focus, very small grey blobs moving quickly at height. Very disappointing.

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