Major Fred Tilston's Victoria Cross at the Hochwald

Discussion in 'NW Europe' started by stolpi, Sep 27, 2014.

  1. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Location: Schmachdarm

    The weekend of the 70th Anniversary of the battle of Arnhem (20 & 21 September), I toured through the Rhineland with four Canadians, relatives of two Canadian veterans. We stayed at the 'Hotel Nagtigall' at Schmachdarm, located on the edge of the Hochwald near Uedem. Tranquil countryside today, in 1945 it was the location where Major Fred Tilston, CO of 'C' Coy of the Essex Scottish Regiment, 2nd Cdn Infantry Division, won a Victoria Cross on March 1st, 1945. Obviously this tempted me to take some pictures of the area.

    Location of Schmachdarm:

    Schmachdarm, with Hotel Nagtigall, must not be confused with the Forest House further south which at the time carried the same name: Forsthaus Nagtigall. The latter, located at the end of the Gellinger Strasse, for some time served as Tac HQ of the 116th Pz Division. See for both locations the attached wartime map of the area:
    Hochwald map.jpg

    Tavern Wehren.jpg
    Pre-war picture of the Hotel Nagtigall, which at the time was called the Schenkwirtschaft (tavern) Theod. Wehren. The Uedemerbruch is the shallow, waterlogged valley between the Totenhügel or Calcar Plateau and the Hochwald.

    Next to the tavern, right on the edge of the woods is the Schmachdarm Farm; built in the same style as the old tavern. Together these two buildings form the tiny township of Schmachdarm. Picture taken with a view to the north, standing on the secondary road which forks off at Schmachdarm and follows the western face of the forest to Forsthaus Nagtigall. The T-roads just beyond the farm is where the secondary road debouches on to the Landes Strasse 5 (L5).
    Last edited: Nov 15, 2016
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  2. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Setting: Op Blockbuster grounds to a halt

    By 28 February 1945 it was obvious that General Guy Simonds' 2nd Corps' offensive against the Schlieffen Line, the last enemy defensive line west of the Rhine, which started early on the 26th, had ground to a halt. The Canadian assault, called Operation Blockbuster, after a promising start, failed to breach the German Schlieffen Line, a defensive system of three succesive trench-lines along the western face of the Hochwald. Mud and rain made the going tortuous for the Canadians and gave the enemy the opportunity to regain their balance. After a day of hard fighting Simonds' 2nd Corps secured the Totenhügel plateau, but his attempt to exploit this succes by a dash through the Hochwald Gap with elements of the 4th Cdn Armoured Division failed. Instead the battle for the Hochwald Gap turned into a savage, slugging infantry match, in which every yard of ground was bitterly fought over. On February 27th and 28th the Canadian infantry battalions of the armoured division slowly, but heroically fought their way forward into the Gap under heavy shellfire and against determined enemy resistance. Though the infantry gained the near half of the Gap, they were unable to break through. A deadlock was reached and casualties on both sides were extremely heavy.

    Aerial of the Hochwald Gap:
    Hochwald Gap Lufo 2.jpg

    To help to restore the momentum of the offensive it was necessary for Simonds' infantry divisions to clear the Hochwald on either side of the Gap; on the right the 3rd Cdn Infantry Division was to take the southern extension of the Hochwald, called Balberger Wald, on the left the 2nd Cdn Infantry Division, of Major-General Bruce Matthews, was to clear the northern part of this forested feature.

    Matthews was required to sent his 6th Brigade to the Gap to relieve the battle-worn remnants of the infantry battalions of the 4th Cdn Armoured Division. His 5th Brigade was already committed. On 28 February it assaulted the forest near the Forsthaus Nagtigall (not Schmachdarm, as is stated by Stacey, Victory Campaign, p. 505). The remaining Brigade, the 4th, was to try and break through the northern end of the Schlieffen Line.

    It were the Essex Scottish that led the Brigade attack on Schmachdarm on March 1st, 45. The first major action of the recently reconstructed battalion after it got severly beaten at the Goch-Calcar road where it lost nearly half its fighting strength. The battalion had only had a week or so to rebuild its fighting strength with many raw reinforcements fresh from Canada, including some of the first conscripts to be sent up to the lines. Major Tilston, until recenty the battalion adjudant, was handling his first attack ever with a rifle company.

    For the Goch-Calcar road see: VERITABLE 1945: the Canadian finale (Moyland Wood & Goch-Calcar road)
    Last edited: Mar 2, 2020
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  3. 17thDYRCH

    17thDYRCH Senior Member


    Here is to anticipation for the next tour.
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  4. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Excerpt from Stacey, Victory Campaign (p.510):

    The assault by the Essex Scottish went in at 7:45 a.m. supported by artillery and a troop of tanks of the Sherbrooke Fusiliers. The German positions at the edge of the woods were strong, and their paratroop defenders, reinforced, it seems probable, from the Calcar garrison, met the attack with savage determination. The fighting was fiercest on the left, where the Essex "C" Company, led by Major F. A. Tilston, had to cross 500 yards of open ground and ten feet of barbed wire to reach the foremost trenches. That they succeeded in their task was largely due to the inspired leadership of their commander. Although wounded in the head during the advance, Major Tilston was the first into the enemy trenches, silencing with a grenade a machine-gun post that was holding up one of his platoons. As he pressed on with his main force to the second line of defences he was again severely wounded in the thigh but remained in command. In vicious hand-to-hand fighting the Essex cleared the trenches; but before there was time to consolidate the Germans launched a counter-attack heavily supported by mortars and machine guns. Through this hail of fire Tilston calmly moved in the open among his depleted forces (now one-quarter of their original strength), organizing his defences platoon by platoon. Six times he crossed bullet-swept ground to the flanking Essex company to carry grenades and ammunition to his hard-pressed men. Though hit a third time lie refused medical aid until, lying in a shell-hole, he had ordered his one remaining officer to take over and had briefed him concerning the plan of defence and the absolute necessity of holding the position.89 Nightfall found the Essex Scottish clinging firmly to their hard-won gains. The day's fighting had cost the battalion 31 killed and 77 wounded.90 But it had secured a solid base for the 4th Brigade's operations to clear the northern forest. Major Tilston's gallantry cost him both legs, but brought him the Victoria Cross.

    Excerpt of the War Diary:
    View attachment Pagina's van Essex Scottish Regiment (mrt. 45).pdf
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  5. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Major Frederick A. Tilston, Essex Scottish Regiment, at an investiture during which he received the Victoria Cross,
    Buckingham Palace, London, England, 22 June 1945

    Citation in the London Gazette of 18 May 1945 (courtesy Drew, WW2Talk):

    The 2nd Canadian Division had been given the task of breaking through the strongly fortified Hochwald Forest defence line which covered Xanten the last German bastion West of the Rhine protecting the vital Wesel Bridge escape route.

    The Essex Scottish Regiment was ordered to breach the defence line North-east of Udem and to clear the Northern half of the forest, through which the balance of the
    Brigade would pass.

    At 0715 hours on 1st March, 1945, the attack was launched but due to the softness of the ground it was found impossible to support the attack by tanks as had been planned.

    Across approximately 500 yards of flat open country, in face of intense enemy fire, Major Tilston personally led his Company in the attack, keeping dangerously close to our own bursting shells in order to get the maximum cover from the barrage. Though wounded in the head he continued to lead his men forward, through a belt of wire ten feet in depth to the enemy trenches shouting orders and encouragement and using his Sten gun with great effect. When the platoon on the left came under heavy fire from an enemy machine gun post he dashed forward personally and silenced it with a grenade; he was first to reach the enemy position and took the first prisoner.

    Determined to maintain the momentum of the attack he ordered the reserve platoon to mop up these positions and with outstanding gallantry, pressed on with his main force to the second line of enemy defences which were on the edge of the woods.

    As he approached the woods he was severely wounded in the hip and fell to the ground. Shouting to his men to carry on without him and urging them to get into the wood, he struggled to his feet and rejoined them as they reached the trenches on their objective. Here an elaborate system of underground dugouts and trenches was manned in considerable strength and vicious hand-to-hand fighting followed. Despite his wounds, Major Tilston's unyielding will to close with the enemy was a magnificent inspiration to his men as he led them in, systematically clearing the trenches of the fiercely resisting enemy. In this fighting two German Company Headquarters were overrun and many casualties were inflicted on the fanatical defenders.

    Such had been the grimness of the fighting and so savage the enemy resistance that the Company was now reduced to only 26 men, one quarter of its original strength. Before consolidation could be completed the enemy counter-attacked repeatedly, supported by a hail or mortar and machine gun fire from the open flank. Major Tilston moved in the open from platoon to platoon quickly organising their defence and directing fire against the advancing enemy. The enemy attacks penetrated so close to the positions that grenades were thrown into the trenches held by his troops, but this officer by personal contact, unshakeable confidence and unquenchable enthusiasm so inspired his men that they held firm against great odds.

    When the supply of ammunition became a serious problem he repeatedly crossed the bullet swept ground to the Company on his right flank to carry grenades, rifle and Bren ammunition to his troops and replace a damaged wireless set to re establish communications with Battalion Headquarters. He made at least six of these hazardous trips, each time crossing a road which was dominated by intense fire from numerous, well sited enemy machine gun posts.

    On his last trip he was wounded for the third time, this time in the leg. He was found in a shell crater beside the road. Although very seriously wounded and barely conscious, he would not submit to medical attention until he had given complete instructions as to the defence plan, had emphasised the absolute necessity of holding the position, and had ordered his one remaining officer to take over.

    By his calm courage, gallant conduct and total disregard for his own safety, he fired his men with grim determination and their firm stand enabled the Regiment to accomplish its object of furnishing the Brigade with a solid base through which to launch further successful attacks to clear the forest, thus enabling the Division to accomplish its task.
    Last edited: Nov 15, 2016
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  6. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    In 1983 Tilston returned to the area of Schmachdarm for the first time since the war. The attached article gives an impression of his visit (Courtesy JvD).

    Field of Valour 1.jpg Field of Valour 2.jpg Field of Valour 3.jpg Field of Valour 4.jpg Field of Valour 5.jpg Field of Valour 6.jpg Field of Valour 7.jpg
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  7. Wills

    Wills Very Senior Member

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  8. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    The battalion losses on March 1st, 1945 (Courtesy Geoff's Search Engine).

    001 ALEXANDER BM B/143250 - 01/03/1945 ESSEX SCOTTISH REGIMENT, R.C.I.C.
    002 ARMSTRONG RN C/75153 - 01/03/1945 ESSEX SCOTTISH REGIMENT, R.C.I.C.
    003 CADMAN A A/108869 - 01/03/1945 ESSEX SCOTTISH REGIMENT, R.C.I.C.
    004 CHARLEBOIS JD B/118503 - 01/03/1945 ESSEX SCOTTISH REGIMENT, R.C.I.C.
    005 CHERRY H B/74138 - 01/03/1945 ESSEX SCOTTISH REGIMENT, R.C.I.C.
    006 CORMIER LJ G/50325 - 01/03/1945 ESSEX SCOTTISH REGIMENT, R.C.I.C.
    007 DEAN GA A/114479 - 01/03/1945 ESSEX SCOTTISH REGIMENT, R.C.I.C.
    008 DIXON AG H/10855 - 01/03/1945 ESSEX SCOTTISH REGIMENT, R.C.I.C.
    009 FERRARI GH A/110859 - 01/03/1945 ESSEX SCOTTISH REGIMENT, R.C.I.C.
    010 FOWLER WF B/40208 - 01/03/1945 ESSEX SCOTTISH REGIMENT, R.C.I.C.
    011 GILL JP A/103444 - 01/03/1945 ESSEX SCOTTISH REGIMENT, R.C.I.C.
    012 HEIGHTON VE F/5014 - 01/03/1945 ESSEX SCOTTISH REGIMENT, R.C.I.C.
    013 HEPP F L/105739 - 01/03/1945 ESSEX SCOTTISH REGIMENT, R.C.I.C.
    014 JAMIESON JD H/22015 - 01/03/1945 ESSEX SCOTTISH REGIMENT, R.C.I.C.
    015 LYNDE JA B/127839 - 01/03/1945 ESSEX SCOTTISH REGIMENT, R.C.I.C.
    016 MARION BL B/161324 - 01/03/1945 ESSEX SCOTTISH REGIMENT, R.C.I.C.
    017 MARSHALL TC L/108473 - 01/03/1945 ESSEX SCOTTISH REGIMENT, R.C.I.C.
    018 MCCARTY PJ A/105266 - 01/03/1945 ESSEX SCOTTISH REGIMENT, R.C.I.C.
    019 MCCOMBS KG A/109743 - 01/03/1945 ESSEX SCOTTISH REGIMENT, R.C.I.C.
    020 MCINTEE DH B/133554 - 01/03/1945 ESSEX SCOTTISH REGIMENT, R.C.I.C.
    021 MILLIGAN HO B/139428 - 01/03/1945 ESSEX SCOTTISH REGIMENT, R.C.I.C.
    022 MORGAN EJ B/160541 - 01/03/1945 ESSEX SCOTTISH REGIMENT, R.C.I.C.
    023 O'NEILL C D/142123 - 01/03/1945 ESSEX SCOTTISH REGIMENT, R.C.I.C.
    024 PELTIER AH A/110442 - 01/03/1945 ESSEX SCOTTISH REGIMENT, R.C.I.C.
    025 SHURA J H/1906 - 01/03/1945 ESSEX SCOTTISH REGIMENT, R.C.I.C.
    026 SMITH GH A/109388 - 01/03/1945 ESSEX SCOTTISH REGIMENT, R.C.I.C.
    027 SOLOWAY BA A/63183 - 01/03/1945 ESSEX SCOTTISH REGIMENT, R.C.I.C.
    028 VAUTOUR E G/27099 - 01/03/1945 ESSEX SCOTTISH REGIMENT, R.C.I.C.

    The Essex Scottish remained in position until early next morning when the other two battalions of the 4th Bde passed through. Casualties for March 2nd were:

    001 BENNETT CE A/105968 - 02/03/1945 ESSEX SCOTTISH REGIMENT, R.C.I.C.
    002 BOND LC - - 02/03/1945 ESSEX SCOTTISH REGIMENT, R.C.I.C.
    003 FOX A A/108837 - 02/03/1945 ESSEX SCOTTISH REGIMENT, R.C.I.C.
    004 GRAHAM WR - - 02/03/1945 ESSEX SCOTTISH REGIMENT, R.C.I.C.
    005 HUTCHINS DL G/19566 - 02/03/1945 ESSEX SCOTTISH REGIMENT, R.C.I.C.
    006 MUIR DA - - 02/03/1945 ESSEX SCOTTISH REGIMENT, R.C.I.C.

    Lt.Col. Pangham, CO of the Essex Scottish, on 2 March 45 reported his unit to have suffered appr. 6 Officers and 110 ORs as casualties in the fighting in the wood. The enemy opposite was identified as the 18th Parachute Regiment (6th Parachute Division). The action yielded one hundred enemy prisoners. The RHLI, passing through the Essex line on 2 March, reached its objectives without meeting much opposition and captured another 40 POWs.
    Last edited: Mar 12, 2020
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  9. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    The Schmachdarm area today:

    Forest edge just north of Schmachdarm. This stretch of the forest was attacked by Major Tilston's 'C' Coy. The picture was taken from the Landesstrasse 5 (or road L5).

    Almost exactly the same spot then:
    2nd Barbed wire obstacle.jpg

    The two assault platoons of 'C' Coy ran into this ankle to knee-high wire, while being hit by intensive German MG fire from the left flank. Hung up in the wire, and under murderous fire, the 'C' Company, according to Tilston in a post-war interview, was 'chopped to shreds'. Tilston figured that from the two forward platoons no more than 10 to 12 men made it into the woods.

    View from the German trench line: Major Tilston led his Company into the assault across this open field. The pairs of trees to the left center mark the L5 leading up to the forest. Beyond the wood in the center is the Hufschen Hof which formed the Start Line for the Essex Scottish attack. In the far background (to the right and left) the edge of the Totenhügel plateau is discernable.

    The second line of the German defense along the forest edge is still quite distinguishable.

    At certain points depressions in the ground might indicate a fighting position: an MG post or even a 75 mm AT gun position (below).

    75mm AT Gun.jpg
    A 75 mm AT gun position at Schmachdarm. The War Diary of the Essex Scottish mentions the capture of three 88 mm AT guns and one mortar. These guns most likely were entrenched 75mm AT guns, like the one on the picture. They were fitted on a block of concrete. According to the owner of the Hotel Nagtigall one such a AT gun, on a concrete block, also was positioned behind the barn of the old tavern. The crew of six man and a non-com dug a shelter covered with boulders and dirt beside the barn. The ammunition for the gun was stacked inside the barn. They were captured by 'D' Coy before they could man the gun, so close was the infantry following the artillery barrage.

    More impressions of the area:
    Tilston 1.jpg Tilston 2.jpg Tilston 3.jpg
    Last edited: Apr 6, 2020
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  10. canuck

    canuck Closed Account

    Magnificent photos Stolpi!

    The casualty rate is much more easily understood when you see the open ground those men had to cover. Looks like WW1 all over again. Attacking a forest line with an entrenched enemy while exposed in those fields is a reminder to me of the sheer guts those men had.
  11. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    There obviously were German trenches in the open field and shellholes for cover, but on the whole, without tank support, the infantry's only hope for success was to keep close up to their own artillery barrage.

    View of the ground from the German lines (courtesy of Nijmegen):
    Tilston approach enemy  lines a.jpg

    View from the Start Line - the hedge & ditch - from where Maj, F.A. Tilston led the Essex Scottish Regt. for the attack. Hochwald Forest, Germany, 13 March 1945. (Courtesy LA of Canada):
    SL Essex Scottish attack.jpg
    Last edited: Jan 3, 2018
  12. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Aerial of Schmachdarm after the battle (courtesy Uedem im Krieg):


    The old tavern caught fire during the fighting and burned down. According to the present-day owner, the Germans at some point, probably upon abandoning their position at Schmachdarm, cratered the main road by detonating two aerial bombs of 150 lb which they had dug into the road in front of the house. The blast knocked down the scorched walls of the tavern. The large crater created by these bombs probably was the one where Tilston got wounded. Early next day, March 2nd, Canadian engineers started work to repair the road and bulldozered what was left of the tavern into the craters to fill them; they worked for several hours most of the time under intense mortar fire.

    The flattened ruins of the old tavern
    Last edited: Mar 12, 2020
  13. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Some post-battle photographs of the area, taken from the Essex Scottish Regt History (Courtesy Dryan67):

    Essex Regt Hist.jpg
    On the left image the remnants of Schmachdarm are discernable on the edge of the forest (to the right). The inner trenches following the tree line, on the right image, clearly stand out on the aerial in the above post. They nowadays are still discernable.

    Essex Regt Hist 1.jpg

    Photo left: In the advance to the Hochwald 'C' Coy had to overcome a stretch of trip-wires stung across the ground which were knee to ankle-high. Photo right: German outer trench system which ran across the open ground halfway between the 'C' Coys SL and the forest.
    Last edited: Mar 12, 2020
  14. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    The rebuild Hotel Nagtigall

  15. JanW

    JanW Member

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  16. smdarby

    smdarby Well-Known Member

    I must have missed this post earlier in the year - excellent info and photos Stolpi.
  17. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Major Tilston on Canadian Army Newsreel (from 6:21 onwards):
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  18. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Definite account of the Essex Scottish at the Hochwald

    Chapter from a MA thesis written in 1966 by James Arthur Mowbray, "The Essex Scottish in the Rhineland, 12 January - 10 March 1945, The Role of an Infantry Battalion in a major Operation". It contains a lot of (quotes of) post-war interviews with participants of the battle.

    This document is the most definite account I saw of the operation of the Essex Scottish at Schmachdarm. Does anyone have access to the Windsor Daily Star? This newspaper is quoted a lot in this study. I would be very much interested in copies of the original interviews.

    Map 1.jpg

    Naamloos 0.jpg Naamloos 1.jpg Naamloos 2.jpg Naamloos 3.jpg Naamloos 4.jpg Naamloos 5.jpg Naamloos 6.jpg Naamloos 7.jpg Naamloos 8.jpg Naamloos 9.jpg Naamloos 10.jpg Naamloos 9.jpg Naamloos 10.jpg Naamloos 11.jpg Naamloos 12.jpg Naamloos 13.jpg Naamloos 14.jpg Naamloos 15.jpg

    Document courtesy of JvD
    Last edited: Nov 15, 2016
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  19. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    .. another one 'reinstalled'
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  20. canuck

    canuck Closed Account

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