OPERATION BLACKCOCK : 1st Commando Bde (Jan 45)

Discussion in 'NW Europe' started by stolpi, Sep 22, 2021.

  1. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Last weekend I attended an excellent BFTour near Maasbracht (conducted by WW2talk member Richard 1976), entitled: "1st Commando Brigade between Meuse and Railroad". We visited the area around Brachterbeek and Linne where the Commando Bde saw action during Operation Blackcock in January/February 1945.

    The tour much triggered my attention to this less known (at least for me) operation and I decided to delve a bit further into the subject and create a small thread on WW2talk.

    Blackcock area 000.jpg

    In the last week of Jan 45 the 1st Commando Brigade was attached to the 7th Armoured Division with the mission of clearing the Armoured Division's left flank along the Meuse River and capture Maasbracht, Brachterbeek and Linne.

    Contents of this thread:

    1st Special Service Brigade is redesignated and moves to the Continent OPERATION BLACKCOCK : 1st Commando Bde (Jan 45)
    Setting: Operation Blackcock (15 - 27 Jan 45) OPERATION BLACKCOCK : 1st Commando Bde (Jan 45)
    No. 3 Commando clears the 'Stevensweert Isle' OPERATION BLACKCOCK : 1st Commando Bde (Jan 45)
    1st Commando Bde moves east of the Meuse OPERATION BLACKCOCK : 1st Commando Bde (Jan 45)
    No. 6 Commando takes Maasbracht (Jan 23rd - morning) OPERATION BLACKCOCK : 1st Commando Bde (Jan 45)
    No. 45 Royal Marines at Brachterbeek (23 Jan 45) OPERATION BLACKCOCK : 1st Commando Bde (Jan 45)
    No. 45 Royal Marines at 'Riley's Gully' (23/24 Jan 45) OPERATION BLACKCOCK : 1st Commando Bde (Jan 45)
    1st Commando Bde clears the Montforterbeek (morning, 24 Jan 45) OPERATION BLACKCOCK : 1st Commando Bde (Jan 45)

    The fight for Linne (24 and 25 Jan 45) OPERATION BLACKCOCK : 1st Commando Bde (Jan 45)
    Containing the MERUM bridgehead 26 - 31 Jan 45 OPERATION BLACKCOCK : 1st Commando Bde (Jan 45)
    "Operation Bell Isle II" OPERATION BLACKCOCK : 1st Commando Bde (Jan 45)
    1st Commando Brigade - the end (28 Jan - 18 Feb 45) OPERATION BLACKCOCK : 1st Commando Bde (Jan 45)
    Monuments in the area OPERATION BLACKCOCK : 1st Commando Bde (Jan 45)

    For the creation of this thread I am much indebted to Hugo Levels, smdarby, DannyM (who among others retrieved the 45 RM Cdo War Diary), and Jonathan Ball. They all most kindly provided me with War Diaries and other material on the operations described. Special thanks to Richard1976, who patiently gave his comments and additions on the text below, though I probably high-jacked his BFT-format. Also special thanks to Mrs Julia Harden - Wells, daughter of VC winner Eric Harden, who most kindly gave permission to use part of her family album.

    Those seriously interested in a BFT in the area should contact https://www.facebook.com/oorlogserfgoedml/
     
    Last edited: Oct 27, 2021
  2. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian Patron

    I read about this recently and am looking forward to your thread!
     
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  3. smdarby

    smdarby Patron Patron

    "Four Five" by David Young has a chapter devoted to this operation with a good map of 45 RM Commando's actions at the Montforterbeek and Bell Isle.

    I remember also listening to an audio recording in the IWM archives by a 45 Cdo officer who fought there. He stated there were remains of German trenches near the Montforterbeek. I spent a good hour or so walking around the area a couple of years ago, but had no luck finding them. I'll try and find a link to the recording.

    Looking forward to the thread.
     
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  4. smdarby

    smdarby Patron Patron

    Oral histories from two officers who served with 45 RM Commando during the attack on Linne. It’s amazing how they can remember so much detail so many years on.

    Alan Tate starts talking about the attack on reel 2 and mentions the German trenches I referred to in my previous post:

    Tate, Alan (Oral history) | Imperial War Museums (iwm.org.uk)

    John Day starts his commentary about the attack on reel 6:

    Day, John Eddy (Oral history) | Imperial War Museums (iwm.org.uk)

    Hope you find them as interesting as I did.
     
    Last edited: Sep 23, 2021
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  5. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    1st Special Service Brigade is redesignated and moves to the Continent

    In September 1944, after the end of the Normandy Campaign, the 1st Special Service Brigade returned to England for a rest and refit. In October, No. 46 Royal Marines Commando, which had been much reduced in numbers during heavy fighting in the villages of Le Hamel and Rats, returned to England and changed places with No. 4 Commando who were reassigned to the 4th Special Service Brigade for the assault on Walcheren. On 6 December 1944, the Special Service Brigades were redesignated as Commando Brigades, removing the hated title Special Service which so easily was associated with the German abbreviation of SS (before that the commando brigades were referred to as No. so-and-so SS Brigade).

    3 Cdo No. 3 Troop.jpg
    A picture of 3 Troop, No. 3 Commando, during an pre-D-Day exercise in England in bombed area of Limehouse, East Londen, in 1944. There are 43 men in the picture and I count five Brenguns (Courtesy: 3 troop No.3 Commando - Limehouse '44)

    In January 1945 the 1st Commando Brigade (Brigadier Derek Mills-Roberts/ Irish Guards) consisted of:
    - No. 3 Commando (Lt.Col. Arthur Komrower)
    - No. 6 Commando (Lt.Col Antony Lewis)
    - No. 45 RM Commando (Lt.Col. Nicol Gray)
    - No. 46 RM Commando (Lt.Col. Thomas Gray)

    For Derek Mills-Roberts see also dbf's thread : 69334 Derek MILLS-ROBERTS, CBE, DSO & Bar, MC, MiD, Irish Guards & Commandos

    Each Commando unit consisted of about 25 officers and 450 men, divided into a Cdo HQ and six Troops of 3 officers and 62 men (each Troop was sub-divided into two sub-sections led by a lieutenant, a support sub-section which contained a PIAT, a 2"mortar-group, two snipers and an extra Bren group, and a Troop HQ, which included the signallers and medical orderly). Five of the Troops were fighting troops and one was a support troop (heavy weapons: two 3"inch mortars and two Medium Machine Guns). The Commandos were provided with the motor transport needed to accompany them on operations. The transport consisted of the commanding officer's car, 15 motorcycles (six with side cars), ten 15 cwt trucks, and three 3-ton trucks. The heavy weapons troop had seven Jeeps and trailers and there was one Jeep for each of the fighting troops and the headquarters. This gave them enough vehicles of their own to accommodate two fighting troops, the heavy weapons troop, and the Commando Headquarters.

    For more details on TO&E see: Organization and Training of British Commandos, WWII Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 1, June 18, 1942 (Lone Sentry) and a beak down of troop strength: Structure of Royal Marine Commandos

    After replacements had been absorbed, 1st Commando Brigade expected to be shipped to the Far East. But the German Ardennes offensive in December 1944 threw all plans upside down and the Commandos instead were sent to Ostend, Belgium, their task was to help defend Antwerp. However, by the time they arrived on the ground, the last great German attack had already run its course and failed.

    The 1st Commando Brigade upon arrival at Ostend became split up under various commands. No.46 RM Commando was detached and moved to Antwerp to protect the port installations against German sabotage units which allegedly had been dropped behind the Allied lines. No. 46 RM Commando stayed at the port city for the rest of the month and would not take part in the operations described in this thread. The remainder of the Brigade entrained at Ostend and, travelling across the snow-covered countryside of Belgium and Holland, had a very cold train journey towards Helmond, thence by TCVs to Asten. Here the Brigade came under command of 15 Scottish Division on 16 Jan 45 and was placed in reserve. This, however, did not include No. 3 Commando, who moved south, to Maaseik (B), on the west bank of the Meuse and was placed under command of 11th Armoured Division. On 20 January, a very cold day with lots of snow, the 1st Commando Brigade (-) moved to Helden , where No. 6 and No. 45 RM Commando relieved two battalions of Scottish infantry (227 Bde) near Baarlo (No.45 RM Commando) and at Kessel (No. 6 Commando). The Commandos were deployed in a conventional infantry role: a static defense of a stretch of the west bank of the Meuse River. It was too cold to patrol the Meuse by swimming across it, and boats for a similar operation simply could not be obtained, so the men had to just content themselves with merely hanging about, manning positions against an enemy whom they could not even see, and keeping themselves warm. The only clothing they had additional to the battledress was a Denison smock (also used by the British paras) which gave only meagre protection against the cold. But the stay would not prove to be of any length. The commandos soon would find themselves on the move again towards southern Holland, where British 12 Corps had started Operation Blackcock on 15 January 1945.

    Map deployment 1st Cdo Bde early Jan 45.jpg
    Map with the dispostions of the Commando units of the 1st Commando Brigade at the beginning of the third week of Jan 45. Brigade HQ was established at Helden near Venlo on Jan 20th.

    Colorized picture Commandos at Osnabruck.jpg
    The only clothing the commandos possessed additional to the battledress was a Denison smock (also used by the British paras) which gave only meagre protection against the cold. Two Royal Marines dressed in a Denison smock photographed in April 1945 at Osnabrück (photo courtesy: https://es-la.facebook.com/worldwar...89.1073741828.393166910813107/694401874022941).
     
    Last edited: Nov 15, 2021
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  6. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Setting: Operation Blackcock (15 - 27 Jan 45)

    The Roer Triangle: In January 1945 the entire area to the west of the rivers Maas and Roer had been cleared by the Allied forces, with the exception of a small front section along the Roer, south of Roermond. Here, on the west side of the Roer, was an awkward enemy salient that protruded into the Allied lines. This salient, resting on its south side on the stream of the Saffelaer Beek and Vloed Beek (now-a-days Vloedgraaf), was created in the autumn of 1944 and encompassed roughly the triangular area between Maaseik (B), Roermond (NL) and Linnich (D) (see map below). For the Allies, the Roer Triangle, as the salient was called, was a thorn in the side and a potential risk. The Germans might use it as spring board for spoiling attacks against the Americans or British. The enemy actually had made plans to launch a secondary attack by the 15. Armee from the area, in support of their Ardennes Offensive in Dec 1944, but the operation was cancelled when it turned out that the main attack in the Ardennes was less successful. On the Allied side the feeling was that the Roer Triangle formed a menace and had to be cleared, before further operations in the Rhineland could be started. This task was assigned to the British 12 Corps (Lt.Gen. Ritchie), who gave it the codename 'Operation Blackcock'.

    The British 12 Corps was facing the German XII. SS Corps, commanded by Günther Blumentrit, which had two infantry divisions in line between Linnich and Roermond. The Roermond area, considered a vital point by the enemy, was secured by the separate Fallschirmjäger-Regiment Huebner (later incorporated into the 8th FJ Division). The west bank of the Meuse was guarded by the British 8 Corps.

    Blackcock Op Area.jpg


    Operation Blackcock: For the attack on the Roer Triangle the British 12 Corps deployed three large formations, from west to east: 7 Armoured Division, 52 Lowland and 43 Wessex Division. It was decided to make use of the advanced left flank to break into the enemy position across the Vloed Beek and open the main road from Sittard to Schilberg from the rear, thus avoiding the extensive minefields and elaborate defenses which would have confronted a frontal attack. The 7th Armoured Division (22 Armoured Bde, 131 Brigade and attached 8 Armoured Brigade and 155 Brigade of the 52 Lowland Div) were to be passed down the Sittard - Schilberg road as soon as it could be opened and then to turn south-east and, by a rapid night move, secure the dominating high ground in the Waldfeucht, Bocket, Koningsbosch triangle. This would outflank and render largely untenable the whole enemy position on the Corps front. 52 Division and, later, 43 Division were then to roll up the main enemy defensive area. Subsequently, all enemy forces on the west side of the Roer were to be destroyed by a series of coordinated thrusts in a north-easterly direction, with 7 Armoured, on the left, setting the pace. The tasks given to the three divisions involved, were given code names as shown in the sketch below. Each task started from the north and west and was followed by an advance from the south. In this way, the villages in front were to be captured and cleared by a series of turning movements which struck at the rear of the enemy troops. It will be seen that 7 Armoured Division, to which we will turn our attention for this thread, was allotted: 'Angel', 'Dolphin' and 'Globe'.


    Blackcock Op Area 1.jpg

    7 Armoured Division, Phase 'Angel': The initial task given to the 7th Armoured Division was to form a firm base in the area SCHILBERG - ECHT and establish a Class 40 route thence from SITTARD. This phase was given the codeword ANGEL which was split up into three stages:
    - ANGEL I : establish a firm bridgehead across the Vloed Beek and capture Dieteren;
    - ANGEL II : establish a firm base by capturing Echt and Schilberg;
    - ANGEL III : clear Susteren from the NW and assist the RE to open a Class 40 route Sittard - Schilberg.

    Phase Angel & Stevensweert.jpg

    A detailed account of the operations of the 7th Armoured Division in Phase Angel is given in the Report on Operation Blackcock (NA/CAB 106). The operation started, after a slight postponement, in early morning of Jan 16th, 1945. Note that, due to the trouble of bridging the Vloed Beek, Angel III and II were reversed so that Echt and Schilberg were not occupied until late on Jan 17th:

    loopbrugvloedgraaf.jpg
    In the opening stage of Blackcock the 9th DLI crossed the Vloedgraaf (called Vloed Beek by the British) on improvised treadway bridges during Angel I in the early morning of Jan 16th (photo IWM B 13714).

    2nd Devons in Echt Jodenstraat 19.1.1945.jpg
    British infantry (2 Devon) involved in street fighting at Echt. The village was taken by midnight of the 17th after some stiff fighting. The picture is staged and was taken on Jan 19th (Photo IWM B 13756) .

    cromwell.jpg
    Whitewashed Cromwell tanks of the 1st RTR in the Stationsstraat of Sittard photographed on 15 Jan 45 (Photo IWM)
     
    Last edited: Nov 15, 2021
  7. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    No. 3 Commando and the clearance of the 'Stevensweert Isle' - part 1 planning the attack

    On 16 Jan 45, No. 3 Commando came under command of 4 Armoured Brigade ("Black Rats"), which watched over the west bank of the Meuse river opposite Roermond. The independent 4th Armoured Bde on 17th December had been placed under command 11th Armoured Division to replace the 29th Armoured Brigade who had been pulled out of the line to re-equip (they were to receive the new Comet tanks). The armoured regiments of the 4 Armoured Bde stayed in reserve at Someren (SE of Eindhoven), but the 2nd King's Royal Rifle Corps (KRRC) took over the west bank of the Meuse river from Stevensweert to Wessem. The Inns of Court regiment was also under the Brigade's command, holding the river line to the south to Maeseik, both were supported by the 4th Royal Horse Artillery (all under British 8 Corps).

    The units of No. 3 Commando concentrated at Maaseik (on older maps also called Maeseyck). While the transport carrying the commandos still was in transit, the CO of No. 3 Commando, Lt.Col. Komrower, in early afternoon of the 16th, visited 4 Armoured Bde's HQ at Neeritter and was briefed on Operation SWEEP, PINAFORE and TINOPENER. An assault crossing of the Meuse at Stevensweert in order to clear the Stevensweert Island, the area bounded by the Meuse river on one side and the Old Meuse/Julianakanaal on the other. Initially the plan called for a crossing by two Coys of the 2nd King's Royal Rifle Corps (KRRC), who occupied this stretch of the river for some time and conducted several patrols across the river (Op SWEEP). Now that the commandos were on hand, the plan was changed: the commandos were to lead the assault, followed by the Coys of the 2 KRRC. Two new plans were laid out codenamed PINAFORE and TINOPENER, each with alternate dates (D-Day night 19/20 or 20/21 Jan); the start of the operation depending on the rate of advance made by the 7th Arm Div on the far bank. By midday of Jan 17th, due to the little progress made by the 7 Arm Div, Op SWEEP (D-Day 18 Jan) was definitely called off. The War Diary of the 2 KRRC, not without regret, stated: "the assault is now to be done by 3 COMMANDO and our job now merely consists in line laying and carrying boats to the river".

    Map action Stevensweert 1.jpg
    While 7 Armoured Div was rounding off ANGEL, the opening phase of Op Blackcock, No. 3 Commando launched a river assault against the Stevensweert Island on 19 Jan 45. Situation map around that date.

    On the morning of the 17th an officer party consisting of the CO, the OC 2nd Troop and the IO of No. 3 Commando recced the river bank for possible crossing places and watched enemy positions. There was no sign of enemy movement in Stevensweert. Meanwhile the Troops started to practice assault boating on the Meuse near Grevenbicht, south of Maaseik. In the afternoon a message arrived that operations SWEEP and PINAFORE were cancelled and TINOPENER was now on, which meant a crossing at midnight on the night to Jan 20th. The plan was to make a 'silent' crossing in assault boats, clear the line of Stevensweert - Eiland and open up a ferry site before first light, with the assistance of the attached 13 Field Sqd RE. Once this was accomplished the rest of Stevensweert Island to the south would be cleared. The commando troops were to be supplied with snow-camouflage suits for the operation. For more details of the operation plan see attached file at the end of this post from the War Diary of 1st Cdo Bde.

    The enemy on the Stevensweert Island was identified as the 176. Fusilier Battalion, belonging to the 176. Infanterie Div. Two Coys of this unit were in position on the Island, one on the northern part at Stevensweert and nearby Brandt, the other at the southern end at the villages of Ohé and Laak. In all enemy strength on the Island was estimated at 180 men. The Bn commander, a Hauptman Hoffmann, had his HQ at the village of Oud Roosteren, just to the south of Echt, on the east bank of the Julianakanaal.

    Map Stevensweert Island.jpg
    Map of 'Stevensweert Island'
     

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Oct 26, 2021
  8. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    No. 3 Commando and the clearance of the 'Stevensweert Isle' - part 2 the crossing 19 Jan 45

    In the early morning of the 18th no movement of any sort could be seen on the Island, which corresponded to information from a POW, taken on the 17th, that Stevensweert had been evacuated by the enemy. However, standing patrols of 2 KRRC, in early afternoon reported small parties of enemy moving between Eiland and Brandt. By late afternoon the 7th Armoured Div had felt forward as far as the outskirts of Berkelaar (to the north of Echt) and at 17:30 hours the 2 KRRC reported a white flag seen waving from a house at Brandt. During the afternoon No. 3 Commando, in preparation for the upcoming operation, moved to Thorn.

    A change of weather was heralded during the night to Jan 19th by a 30 mph storm which was followed by rain and a thaw which caused the Meuse river to rise. That morning again no movement of any sort was observed on the Island, on which it was decided to put the commando attack forward to 12:00 hrs. Two Troops - 4 and 6 - would cross and capture Stevensweert and Eiland. 4 Troop, in the lead, accompanied by the 2nd i/c and Lieut. Denham MM, crossed the river downstream from Stevensweert without mishap and occupied a small wood on the far bank to the north of the village (at 683843). There was no opposition and Stevensweert was quickly occupied. One enemy straggler was taken POW. Interrogation of civilians revealed that the enemy had left the Island the previous day, Jan 18th. The sappers of 13 Field Sqn RE immediately started construction of a ferry.

    Stevensweert Meuse.jpg
    The Meuse south of Stevensweert. The village is visible to the left. The windmill on the right is the Hompensche Molen situated on the other side of the Island (Courtesy Google Streetview). Unfortunately large tracts of land on either side of the Meuse have been excavated for sand and gravel extraction.

    The complete absence of enemy opposition again induced a change of plans. The crossing of 6 Troop, was cancelled, instead 'A' Coy of the 2 KRRC was ordered to cross the river and take over Stevensweert. 'A' Coy started to cross and by 16:00 hours was completely over. The company spent the evening in getting comfortable in Stevensweert, they found the town badly battered and few houses had any glass left in the windows. They sent out two patrols during the night who had nothing to report.

    In the meantime 4 Troop was recalled and after handing over to the 2 KRRC returned to the west bank of the Meuse. The commandos moved back to Thorn, where news arrived that No. 3 Commando now came under command of the 7th Armoured Div and was to move early next morning to Echt. Upon arrival at this village No. 3 Commando was put under command of the 131 Bde.

    The 2 KRRC cleared the remainder of Stevensweert Island on the 20th. A patrol occupied the villages of Ohé and Laak without meeting opposition. Another moved to the lock in the Julianakanaal and reported the house at the lock clear, though the enemy obviously had only just left that morning. A third patrol went to 705849 (northern tip of the Island) without meeting enemy - though several were seen across the river at Maasbracht. Under pressure of the 7th Armoured Div's advance, who seized Echt late on the 17th and probed forward to Berkelaar, the enemy started to retreat, causing the 176.Fuslier Bn to abandon the Island. Unlike most of his men, the CO of the Fusilier Bn, Hauptmann Hoffmann at his HQ at Oud Roosteren, failed to escape, he had been cut off by the 2nd Devons advance to Echt and had been captured by the 5th KOSB, together with 60 of his men.

    kosb_naar Echt 19.1.jpg
    Infantry of the 5 KOSB march from Dieteren to Echt through a snowy landscape. The 5 KOSBs (52 Lowland Div) were attached to secure the bridgehead at Dieteren. One Coy, supported by a Troop of tanks, was sent to clear up the village of Oud Roosteren on the Julianakanaal, on the left and rear of the 2nd Devons. After a short fight the village was taken together with 60 POWs including the CO of the 176. Fus.Bn, Hauptmann Hoffmann (Photo IWM B 13750)

    IWM foto 3.jpg
    A raiding party of Royal Marine Commandos before embarking on assault vessels which will carry them across the Meuse river, Holland April 1945. They wear the typical commando outfit, a denison smock and the green beret - note that the image is mirrored, they wear the berets the wrong way around (giving them a French look) - see OPERATION BLACKCOCK : 1st Commando Bde (Jan 45) (photo IWM A 28399)

    Uniform RM Commando.jpg

    Uniform RM Commando 2.jpg
    (Courtesy World War Two British Commando Paintings)
     
    Last edited: Oct 26, 2021
  9. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    1st Commando Bde attached to 7 Armoured Div

    The 1st Commando Bde (with No. 6 Cdo and No. 45 RM Cdo) had merely been one day in positions on the west bank of the Meuse south of Venlo, when, on 21 January 1945, orders arrived from 15 Scottish Div at Brigadier Mills-Roberts HQ at Helden. The Commando Bde was to be relieved in the present sector and move south to come under command of the 7th Armoured Div (British 12 Corps). This led to a busy, sleepless night in which the commandos handed over their newly taken positions to incoming troops of the 15th Scottish Div. The relief was completed by 11:00 hours on the 22nd, after which the commandos proceeded to Echt by TCVs.

    Brigadier Mills-Roberts and his CO's of Nos. 6 and 45 RM Commando, Lt.Col's. A.D. Lewis and N. Gray, moved ahead and reported to 7 Armoured Div HQ, at Limbricht near Sittard. Here they were briefed about the upcoming assignment. The 7th Armoured Division, after completion of the opening phase of operation Blackcock (ANGEL), entered the next phase of the battle in which it moved in a more northeasterly direction away from the Meuse, thereby gradually exposing its left flank. The 1st Commando Bde was required to clear the enemy from this flank, the large flat area between the railroad to Roermond on the east and the Meuse river on the west, and capture the villages of Maasbracht, Brachterbeek and Linne. It was planned that No. 6 Commando and No. 45 RM Commando should start the advance on morning of the 23rd. No. 6 Cdo would be leading, followed by No. 45 RM Cdo and 1st Commando Bde HQ. One Squadron of 1 RTR was put under command, 3 RHA in support and 11 Hussars were ordered to assist in recce and on the right flank. No. 3 Commando was to rejoin the Brigade in the course of the 23rd.

    No. 3 Commando, after the Stevensweert operation, had moved by TCV from Thorn to Echt and had been placed under command of 131 Bde (7 Armoured Div). On Jan 20th, the commandos took over the northern part of Echt from 9 DLI and were held ready to intervene in the battle for the village of St.Joost if necessary. Next day No.3 Commando took up a reserve position to the east side of the railroad and were made responsible for the defense of Schilberg and Hingen. St.Joost was a key-position and the village was defended to the last. It finally fell on the 22nd to the 131 Bde (1 Rifle Brigade and 9 DLI with support of tanks of the 8 Hussars), after several days of hard street fighting. This cleared the way for the northern assault group of the 7th Armoured Div to Monfort and St.Odilienberg. Now that they were no longer required, No. 3 Commando, as of 11:00 a.m. on the 23rd, reverted to command of the 1st Commando Bde and returned to Echt.

    St Joost FJ Huebner.jpg
    Fallschirmjäger taken POW at St.Joost POWs on Jan 20th. The POWs were identified as two Coys of the II. Bn (Major Zander) of Fallschirmjäger Regiment Huebner (or Para Regt 24/ 8. FJ Division). Next day it appeared from newly taken POWs that a third Coy of Fallschirmjäger had arrived to reinforce the garrison (Photo IWM).

    roerstjoost.jpg
    By the afternoon of the 21st enemy resistance at St.Joost was slowly overcome as tanks of the 8th Hussars started to knock down house after house with their shells and flamethrowers were brought into operation. An enemy wireless intercept revealed that the enemy commander was begging for permission to withdraw and signs of a withdrawal were reported by last light. The last portion of the village was finally cleared on the 22nd (Photo IWM).
     
    Last edited: Oct 26, 2021
  10. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    No. 6 Commando takes Maasbracht (Jan 23rd - morning)

    Jan 23rd, 1945, the day the operation of 1st Commando Bde's commenced on the left flank of the 7th Armoured, was another very cold day with several snow showers. No. 6 Commando was to lead the way and capture Maasbracht. The commandos had been billeted for the night at Echt and in early morning of the 23rd began the attack on Maasbracht. Since the ground north of Echt was open and flat country, the 1st Commando Bde had ordered No. 6 Commando to attack Maasbracht from the west, crossing the Julianakanaal on the ice at Berkelaar (the bridge here having been blown) during the hours of darkness and to recross by the lock, thus taking advantage of the cover provided by the dike along the Julianakanaal. 'C' squadron of 1 RTR was ordered to support the advance, whilst 3 RHA and a Medium regiment fired concentrations on the east end of Maasbracht and at Brachterbeek. 11 Hussars provided last minute recce up to Maasbracht and gave the invaluable information that the village was lightly held.

    At 06:00 hours the I.O. led No. 6 Commando out of Echt, through Berkelaar to Zwaantjeshof. Here the commandos crossed the Julianakanaal on the ice, and moved via a sunken path on the western bank of the canal to the lock hard south of Maasbracht. A footbridge was temporarily repaired and No. 4 & 1 Troops crossed to form a bridgehead to secure the crossing of the main body. By 08:30 hrs No. 6 Commando were ready in their FUP at the lock. Brigade HQ and No.45 Commando had set up at Berkelaar. The guns now were shelling Brachterbeek. Half an hour later the tanks approached by road from Berkelaar and the men of No. 6 Commando advanced on the village of Maasbracht from the south without incident. The houses and buildings were searched, but no opposition was encountered and the village was reported clear at 10:00 hours. According to the jubilant Dutch inhabitants the enemy had pulled out the night before.

    It was obvious that the enemy, due to the steady progress of the 7th Armoured Div on the right, had to give up his positions along the Meuse and started to withdraw, slowly pulling back towards the close-in defensive positions south of Roermond, between the Meuse and Roer river (part of the 'Maas-Stellung' or the ring around Roermond - line A on the map below). So far the commandos had benefited from this, but the situation could change at any moment. The enemy was known to be skilled in the tactics of a fighting withdrawal, and each time he reached a favorable position he was liable to put up some firm resistance to delay the British advance.

    Map Maasbracht No 6 Cdo.jpg
    Map from the War Diary of No. 6 Commando with the route taken by the commandos in the morning of Jan 23rd.

    Map German defensive lines.jpg
    The enemy had established a defense in depth in the Roermond area by constructing several consecutive defensive lines, mainly consisting of trenches and antitank ditches and protected by wire and extensive minefields. The positions in general followed the course of the rivers and streams. The town of Roermond, situated at the confluence of the Roer and Meuse, was turned into a bastion with a ring of defensive works around the town. Note that the Maas-Stellung also ran south of the town, where a switch-line between Meuse and Roer had been created, which later would be faced by the Commando Brigade. The town formed a pivotal point in the Roer defense and therefore was garrisoned by Fallschirmjäger (paras) of FJ Regt Huebner (map courtesy https://www.roermondinoorlog.nl/maasroer-verdedigingslinies/)

    On a sidenote: On September 30, 1944, one of the most massive destruction of inland vessels during the German occupation in Holland took place in the inner harbor of Maasbracht. More than 240 vessels, who had gathered in the harbor, were scuttled by the Germans. German Spreng Kommandos systematically sank all vessels with dynamite. Devastated skippers and their families sought refuge. Over a thousand people were forced to leave their ship and lost their livelihood and home. The damage was huge, the ship graveyard stretched over a length of two kilometers.

     
    Last edited: Oct 26, 2021
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  11. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Note on sources for No. 45 RM Commando (Jan 45)

    The problem with the description of the role of 45 RM Commando during operation Blackcock is that the War Diary of the unit for January 1945 is no longer available at the National Archives. During the 70/80-ies someone borrowed it without ever returning it, so I am told.

    I therefore have to rely on David Young's book "Four Five: story of 45 Commando Royal Marines, 1943 - 1971", who apparently still had access to the War Diary when writing his book in the early 70-ies. The book is excellent, but still. So if there is anyone who photocopied the 45 RM War Diary in the past, I would be very much obliged if he could provide me with a copy.

    I also ordered a copy of Bryan Samain's "Commando Men: the story of a Royal Marine Commando in World War Two", who was the IO officer in 45 RM.

    DannyM kindly sent me pages of two other books:
    - The Story of 45 Royal Marine Commando. Written by the officers and published privately for members of the unit and their relatives. 1946.
    - John Day - A Plain Russet-Coated Captain - 1993 - (an excellent story by one who was on the ground: Day was the CO of 'B' Troop in No. 45 RM Commando; I have cited parts of his story below).

    WW2talk member Jonathan Ball provided me with more material on the action which led to the VC of Eric Harden. He even went as far as to contact the daughter of Harden, Mrs Julia Wells. She most kindly shared photographs from her family album and gave permission to use them for this thread. For which I'm obviously much obliged.

    Thank you all so much.

    EDIT: DannyM retrieved the War Diary of 45 RM Cdo. See: OPERATION BLACKCOCK : 1st Commando Bde (Jan 45)
     
    Last edited: Oct 27, 2021
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  12. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Front pages of the titles mentioned above:

    Four Five RM Cdo.jpg Commando men.jpg

    The  Story  of  45  Royal  Marine  Commando (1).jpg A  Plain  Russet-Coated  Captain (1).jpg
     
    Last edited: Oct 4, 2021
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  13. Richard1976

    Richard1976 Junior Member

    Besides these two publications there is another one called: "Commando Medic: Doc Harden VC" by Stephen J Snelling. This books gives a good account of the situation for A Troop on January the 23th and what happened with and around LCpl Eric Harden, VC.

    Bryan Samain was indeed an IO for 45 RMC, but has mentioned a wrong amount of casualties in his book for January the 23rd. I don't have the book with me at the moment, but he is talking about, if I remember correctly, 25 KIA's for 45 RMC on the 23rd of January only. This number has been taken over in some later publications. But it should be 5 KIA on the 23rd (LCpl Harden, Mne Wales, Mne Russell, Cpl Cocks and Mne Lyon) + one (Sgt Ahern) who died of his wounds two days later.

    If a copy of the January 1945, 45 RMC war diary turns up, I keep myself recommended also.

    And thank you Stolpi for your kind words in your opening post.
     
    Last edited: Sep 30, 2021
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  14. Jonathan Ball

    Jonathan Ball It's a way of life.

    Pieter
    The next time I get the chance to speak to Bryan Samain I shall ask him if he has a copy of the war diary. It wouldn't surprise me in the slightest if he did.
     
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  15. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Thanks Jonathan - That would be great, not only for me, but also for future researchers. We might sent a copy to the National Archives . :cool:
     
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  16. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    No. 45 Royal Marines at Brachterbeek (23 Jan 45)

    At 10:00 hours the Brigade Commander ordered No. 45 RM Commando to take over the lead and clear the village of Brachterbeek to the east of Maasbracht. The order of march for 45 was 'A' Troop, commanded by Captain E.D.W. (Dudley) Coventry, followed by 'E', 'B', 'C' and 'D' Troops in that order. It was a bright clear morning by now, but bitterly cold. The Royal Marines soon passed through Maasbracht and, cheered on by No. 6 Commando, took over the advance and moved on to Brachterbeek, which was captured again without meeting opposition. The enemy had left. At 10:30 hours the leading 'A' Troop, under Captain Dudley Coventry, reached the eastern end of the village. Lt Cory, a section leader in 'A' Troop, remembered the marked change in behavior of the residents at Brachterbeek: "Maasbracht proved to be clear of the enemy and the inhabitants were most welcoming, handing out apples to the passing soldiers, as No. 6 Commando cheered us through to take over the advance. There was no information of enemy dispositions, [so] that we were engaged as an 'Advance to Contact' and we approached Brachterbeek without knowledge that the Germans had withdrawn from there too. We reached the village unopposed and found the inhabitants were in their houses, which we cleared through. They were considerably exited and agitated indicating that the enemy could not be far away". On the way in he passed a tank on the edge of Maasbracht: "I remember a camouflaged tank on the side of the road. The tank commander said that he was having a bit of trouble with the severe conditions but would I like him to take us in. What he meant to be doing there I have no idea, but I declined his offer saying: "not until we've been fired on". I reckoned that, in the circumstances he might rather be a liability. However I told him that the CO was not far back and might want to use him".

    cromwell 2.jpg
    A British Cromwell tank of 7th Armoured Div in position. Initially tank support to the commandos was lent by 'C' Sqn of the 1st RTR. In late afternoon of Jan 23rd, 'C' Squadron of the 8th Hussars were attached to the 1st Commando Bde. The tanks of the 8th Hussars were billeted near Schilberg for maintenance and rest. They were ordered to move to Brachterbeek before first light on the 24th (Photo IWM)

    1st Commando Bde's HQ moved to the Burgomaster's house in Maasbracht. All this was completed at 11:00 hours. Captain Coventry's 'A' Troop was then told to head for the next objective - a station and a bridge in the main road leading to Roermond a little more than a half mile ahead. The countryside was flat and open. Between the Troop an its objective was a small hamlet called St.Joostbrug - a cluster of small brick houses, a dairy factory and a café grouped around the junction of the Stationsweg with the main road, a wide, straight tree-lined street known as the Rijksweg. Beyond the junction and running parallel to the main road lay the railway line with the Station. Running north from the hamlet for about 600 yards was a dyke, containing a frozen canal, the Montforterbeek. This dyke, several feet below the surrounding area and therefore popularly known as 'Gracht' (Gully), the War Diary of 1st Commando Bde even calls it a 'wadi'. At its northern end the Montforterbeek was joined by a small stream (Krom Beek) and together both streams merged into the Vlootbeek which meandered through a wooded valley (note that nowadays the Montforterbeek is also called Vlootbeek). The stream looped around an approximately 36 feet natural elevation of sandy soil, crowned by a large country house, marked on the map as De Villa, before finishing in the Meuse river at Linne. The elevated ground, the Villa stood on, overlooked the Vlootbeek along its final course to Linne. Since the ground commanded the river flats of the Weerd polder the enemy had dug a trench system along its rim. A windmill (Linnermolen) stood on the eastern bank of the Montforterbeek, and at this point there also was a small bridge carrying a minor road which ran from Brachterbeek to Linne (Linnerstraat).

    Brachterbeek Map.jpg
    Map of the area to the east of Brachterbeek, where No.45 RM Commando moved against St.Joostbrug and the Station. Enemy positions are in blue. (Map courtesy Hugo Levels)
     
    Last edited: Oct 27, 2021
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  17. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    'A' Troops' action at St Joostbrug and the Station

    'A' Troop moved out of Brachterbeek with the section of Lt. Tommy Thomas now taking the lead, followed closely by the section of Lt. Robert Cory and Troop HQ with Captain Dudley Coventry. Wearing Denison smocks and green berets made the men conspicuous against the snow covered pan flat fields. All was silent except for the jangling of equipment and the crunch of snow under the boots.

    Infantry in snow 52nd Lowland.jpg
    British infantry marching through a snowy landscape during operation Blackcock. Unfortunately there are very few photographs taken of the commando troops during the operations around Maasbracht - Linne. The troops in the picture, which was taken near Heinsberg around Jan 23rd, 1945, belong to the 52nd Lowland Division (photo IWM).

    Neil Patrick was sent as a runner by the Troop commander, Captain Coventry to deliver a message to Thomas to be on the lookout for friendly troops from the 7th Armoured Recce Regiment coming from their right. He catched up to Thomas 50 yards from junction but had barely delivered his message when, as Patrick later stated: “Thomas’ reaction to my message was to whip his rifle to his shoulder and shoot a person emerging from the station buildings. I reminded him of my message, to which he replied: ‘The man is wearing black equipment’ . He was right … the man was a German soldier wearing black equipment on top of a white snow suit".

    Thomas' shot acted like a starting gun to hostilities. Heavy enemy fire came from both sides of the road ahead and also from the left flank. The men dived for what cover they could find, the roadside ditch if closest and pressed themselves into the ground. Mortar fire started peppering the fields, showering them with lumps of frozen earth, snow and ice. One man was seen running forward into the heavy fire, Neil Patrick, who put his Bren on a gate post and let rip. Neil Patrick: “My active participation in the battle did not last very long. I took up position close to the houses, loosed of a couple of [30 round] magazines in order to keep German heads down and allow the rest of the lads to seek a safe haven in their respective buildings”. Under the covering fire of the Bren, Tommy Thomas’s section scrambled up and dashed for the cottages in front. They piled in to the nearest ones to each of them, without suffering any casualties, which was mainly due to Patrick's action. With fire coming from the Station in front and from the left rear, Thomas’ section in the cottages could not make any further progress.

    Neil Patrick, the last one left out in the open, now quickly became a target. Patrick: “At least one German machine gunner hadn’t read the script and I was hit almost immediately. One of the lads shouted ‘Jock has had it. He has been hit in the head’. My reaction to this news was fueled by sheer rage and a wish for retribution, to the extent that I took the gun out in the middle of the road, where I had a better view of the station buildings, lay down in the snow, fired off all the ammunition I had left in the general direction of the station windows where the fire was coming from. During this time I was also exhorting the fatherless Germans to come out and fight. At this stage I really did feel like I was certifiable! Fortunately, this state of mind did not last long and I returned to Troop HQ with my gun”. For courageously continuing to fire his weapon although completely exposed to enemy fire, Patrick, later was awarded a MM.

    JB 1 Joostbrug.jpg
    Patrick Neil caught up with Thomas, roughly were the lamp post is on the road above, to deliver the message (Photo courtesy Jonathan Ball, see: 11006144 Henry Eric HARDEN, VC, RAMC attached 45 Commando - Brachterbeek and Nederweert)

    Lt. Robert Cory, following at some distance behind the leading section, remembers the episode: "Tommy Thomas' section took the lead along the road to the station at the far end of which was a cluster of buildings. (...) my section following at a distance of some 100 yards. We passed a farm house at the crossroads [the Vossen Farm] into very open snow covered ground until Tommy's section was some fifty yards from the buildings at the T-junction when heavy fire came down on both sections - small arms and mortar fire. Tommy and his men dashed forward to the buildings and disappeared from sight. We were completely exposed but, astonishingly no one was hit. Just to our right were two large potato clumps, some fifty yards apart, and on our left a large electricity pylon with its wires hanging down on the ground. Further to the left a windmill dominated the whole area. My section dived for cover behind the first of the two potato clumps, which were covered with mud and straw and some 4ft high and 20-30ft wide. I remember Derek Cakebread - a superb shot - taking up a firing position under the small camber of the road and engaging some shadowy figures moving over to our far left from where most of the fire seemed to come. I thought this to be highly dangerous - which it was! - and called him behind the clumps. Sgt. Tim Cook was beside me and we took stock of the situation while continuing to fire - I suspect ineffectually - at whatever movement we could see, which was not much as the enemy were wearing white camouflage."

    Unnoticed 'A' Troop had walked into a trap. The enemy not only held the cluster of buildings ahead, but was also in position on the left flank along the Montforterbeek. From the top of the windmill of the Linnermolen, which clearly stood out on the left, an enemy OP directed mortar and machinegun fire on to the exposed Royal Marines. An enemy machinegun fired from one of the windmill's windows.

    Lt. Robert Cory continued: "I thought that Tommy might be heavily involved in some close quarter engagement in the buildings ahead and clearly we were not of much use where we were. I thought of smoke, but with only phosphorous grenades that was not much of an idea and obviously we had to get forward to Tommy. I told Sgt Cook to get bayonets fixed and sent Whitney (my MOA) back to Troop HQ in the farm house at the crossroads to say that I was going to make a dash for the buildings where Tommy had disappeared. I told Weston to stay on his Bren gun and give what covering fire that he could and, on my order, we went for it. Almost immediately Wales and Wheeler went down and I was hit by a bullet through the arm which knocked me over. I picked myself up but then was hit three times in my left leg, presumably by a machinegun burst, and went down face first in the snow. Sgt Cook and the rest of the section, realizing that it was not on to reach the buildings, took cover behind the second potato clump. I had gone down some twenty yards from the clumps with my face deep in the snow. With my pack and equipment, together with a useless leg and arm, I could not turn myself over and I remember thinking that I was going to suffocate. However, Sgt Cook crawled back to me and, under continuing heavy fire, calmly cut away my equipment so that he could turn me on my back. He then bound on field dressings which the others threw to him from behind the clump. During this time he was constantly under fire and I kept telling him to get back under cover which he quietly refused to do untill he had done all he could for me. I am sure that I would not have survived but for him."

    Following closely behind Cory's section was Troop HQ. Among them was Marine John Haville who was a member of the Troops' 2" mortar team. John Haville recalls: "HQ section, which consisted of Captain Coventry, TSM Bennet, LCpl Harden, Marine Richard Mason and myself, were in the rear and doubled back to a brick building near the crossroads [aka the Vossen farm] which we just had left (...). Cory's section had been caught by machine gun fire, he and Marines Wheeler and Wales had fallen wounded about 120 yards to our front. This action had taken place at approximately 10:30 hours, completely split the troop and was causing confusion that we could do little about, being pinned down by continuous shell, mortar and small arms fire. In the meantime Richard Mason and myself had taken up a defensive position behind a small hedge just outside the brick building and saw that machine gun fire from a windmill some 400 yards to our left was causing considerable concern. We had a good view of the open ground to our front and the road leading to the station but could not see the forward elements of our troop, but could hear their small arms fire."

    'A' Troop was split in three, with Thomas' section cut off and heavily engaged in the cluster of houses at St.Joostbrug, Cory's section caught in the open, unable to move, and Troop HQ at the Vossen farm at the crossroads. Meanwhile the rest of No. 45 RM Commando was trapped at Brachterbeek by a heavy artillery and mortar barrage. Twice an effort was made by the artillery to lay smoke screens, to help extricate the unfortunate 'A' Troop, but on both occasions the enemy intensified his fire, making it impossible for the men to move. The tanks also tried to come to the rescue but two enemy assault guns lurking near St.Joostbrug forestalled their attempts. Some fire support was given by a unit of the 7 Armoured Div to the far side of the railway. A Troop of tanks of the 5 RTR, in a screening position near a farm opened fire at some enemy digging in around the Station, setting the waiting room on fire.

    Meanwhile, the injured Lieutenant Cory lay helpless in the snow, floating in and out of consciousness. He remembers: "I lay on my back waiting for the things to happen. It was bitterly cold. I remember Whitney running past me from Troop HQ, presumably with orders from Dudley Coventry to stay put. Also quite spectacularly, one of our Jeeps, with cheering men on it, went hurtling down the road. I heard later this was our MMG section which took three wounded casualties but were able to reach Tommy, where they stayed while the battle developed."

    Actually more than one Jeep scuttled across the road leading to the station. Lt.Col Gray, OC No. 45 RM Commando, in an attempt to reinforce the men of Thomas' section at St.Joostbrug, sent a section of Jeeps from 'F' Troop (heavy weapons) up to the station. Under a hail of fire four jeeps from 'F' Troop's MMG section dashed forward at high speed towards the station. The leading Jeep was pelted with heavy machine-gun fire and suddenly veered off the road with a loud crash as if it had hit a wall. In fact, with its driver and another man wounded, it had ploughed into a ditch. The remainder of the jeeps reached the station, but here they also were pinned, the heavy enemy fire prevented them from returning.

    Captain “Doc” John Tulloch, the Medical Officer within No 45 RM Commando also sprinted to the station. His medical section had three jeeps at its disposal. Tulloch, accompanied by the Chaplain Reg Haw, raced with his jeep carrying a big red cross flag from Brachterbeek to the crossroads at the station. Despite the clearly visible flag, the vehicle was heavily fired upon. The other two jeeps of the section followed in his wake. Captain Tulloch immediately started to tend the wounded at the crossroads. At some point he had to cross the Rijksweg to take care of more wounded near the station building, but this proved to be impossible because of the heavy enemy fire. Tulloch realized that the only possibility was a ceasefire. The commandos stopped firing and Tulloch stepped out with a red cross flag he had taken from his jeep and planted it in the roadside for the enemy to see. Though there was no further communication between the two opponents, the enemy fire stopped. Carrying the flag, Tulloch crossed the road without being shot at. He then placed a total of thirteen wounded men from 'A' and 'F' Troop in his three jeeps and drove back to Brachterbeek. When they left, the battle at the station resumed. The Jeeps were heavily shelled on the way back, but managed to reach Brachterbeek 'unscathed'. John Day, CO 'B' Troop, later recalled: "I saw none of this action, but I did later see the medical Jeeps. Judging by the bullet holes in the windscreen and bodywork it was incredible that anyone in them could have survived". Captain “Doc” John Tulloch and Chaplain Reg Haw were both awarded the MC for this action.

    Map of the area marked by Lt Dudley Cory:
    Map Corey Station.jpg

    Reports of Lieutenant Robert Cory and Marine John Haville courtesy of Jonathan Ball.
     
    Last edited: Oct 27, 2021
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  18. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    St.Joostbrug - The ground

    Made possible through the intervention of Jonathan Ball, the photographs in this post, with exception of the two last ones, most kindly were provided for use on this site by Mrs Julia Harden - Wells, daughter of Eric Harden. The pictures were taken during a postwar visit by the family to Brachterbeek, to the area where her father had fought and had fallen.

    Harden action ground.jpg

    St.Joostburg: the settlement at the junction of the Stationsweg with the Rijksweg. The Stationsweg, marked by the small trees on the right, runs between the houses from right to left to the junction with the Rijksweg. To the left the line of trees along the Montforterbeek. The building with the small chimney, on the left of the high-voltage pylon, is the dairy factory "De Driesprong". Part of the enemy fire was coming from here; the enemy had installed a MG-post at the dairy factory.

    Harden action ground 4.jpg
    This photograph was taken at the same position as the one above, but now with a view to the northeast, in the direction of the Montforterbeek. The light row of trees, running from left to right, mark the course of the stream which flows through a deep gully at this place; someone compared it with a 'wadi'. The dense line of big trees to the right, disappearing into the distance, marks the Rijksweg, the main road to Roermond. Part of the dairy factory is still visible to the extreme right. The picture clearly demonstrates how the enemy occupying the Montforterbeek had a clear view of 'A' Troops advance.

    Brachterbeek Station.jpg
    The Brachterbeek Station as it appeared shortly after the war. The station no longer exists.


    Harden action ground 2.jpg
    The Vossen farm at the Stationsweg; view to the west towards Brachterbeek. Captain Coventry and his Troop HQ had taken cover in the farm building. The section of Lieutenant Corey was caught in the open in the exposed field to the left. Obviously, at the time of the action, there was no grain in the field.

    Harden action ground 5.jpg
    On the far bank of the Montforterbeek, near the bridge in the Linnerstraat, stood the windmill "Linnermolen" build on a landscaped elevated plateau. An enemy OP operated from the mill and caused much havoc among the Royal Marines. On the foreground the bridge which later was renamed 'Eric Harden bridge'. The battered mill on the picture is already partially broken down, as can be seen when compared to the wartime picture below which was taken at almost the same spot. In front British commandos in the process of building a small footbridge at the Montforterbeek. The building to the left is the ancient water mill (picture courtesy Commandoveterans.org: 59).

    Harden action Molen van Linne 2.jpg

    On 23 January 1945 the mill was attacked by British tanks and received several direct hits. Next day it was targeted by British artillery. A grenade hit the shaft head, after which part of the blades that stood over-cross fell down. The windmill was not repaired from the war damage. After having been dismantled, the stone hull remained as a ruin for years to come. In the 1970s it was converted into a residence, a function it still has. The building to the left was the old watermill dating back to the early 19th Century (photo taken by me during our BFT).

    Harden action Molen van Linne 3.jpg
     
    Last edited: Oct 27, 2021
  19. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    A Victoria Cross for L/Cpl Eric Harden, RAMC

    As soon as 'A' Troop Medical Orderly, Lance Corporal Eric Harden, RAMC, heard of the three casualties laying in the field in front of the Vossen Farm, he at once made preparations to fetch them, in spite of the fact the 120 yards he had to go was utterly devoid of cover and was being shelled, mortared and swept by small arms fire from several directions. Harden, who was called "Doc" Harden by the 'A' Troop members, ventured out into the open field and methodically started his work on the wounded. On his first journey Harden looked at all the casualties and put on the necessary dressings at the same time making an estimate of the seriousness of everyone's injuries. Lieutenant Cory, who was one of the wounded men laying in the field, remembers: "The next thing I knew, Eric Harden was kneeling beside me with small arms fire kicking up the snow around us. I think he gave me a shot of morphine and said he would be back. I told him on no account was he to do so."

    Marine John Haville, behind the hedge at the Vossen farm, watched intently, as Harden carried out the dangerous work: "The wounded now had "Doc" with them, he had gone out on his own initiative with his medical bag and was kneeling beside them tending to their needs, applying field dressings and no doubt morphine where necessary. Going from one to the other in turn with no regard of his own safety until he had completed his task in his own time. Watching him one couldn't but admire his coolness and dedication. How long he was out there I wouldn't hazard a guess, but it was a considerable period. Then, to cap it, he came staggering back carrying Wheeler over his shoulder."

    Harden artists impression 00.jpg


    Zig-zagging because of enemy fire which could be seen striking the snow behind him, Harden carried Marine Wheeler, who was hit in his leg, back to the safety of the Vossen farm. He used a gap in the hedge to get to the farmhouse. Inside, Captain Coventry, the 'A' Troop commander, told Harden that he was not to go out again to the remaining wounded but that he would arrange for tanks and a smoke screen to support their recovery. But Harden insisted that the wounded should be brought in immediately as they had no chance of survival if they were left in the snow. Harden was right, the bitterly cold weather was indeed a great danger. Lt. Cory later stated that, during the time he lay helpless in the field, he had developed severe frost bite on both feet.

    While Captain Coventry was busy trying to arrange for this tank support, Harden, with two volunteer stretcher bearers, Marines Mason and Haville, went out again to fetch a second wounded. Haville remembers: "Troop Sergeant Major Bennett and Harden approached Richard Mason and myself to ask if we would volunteer as a stretcher party and try to recover the wounded. "Doc" said they would certainly die if left out in the snow in such a low temperature. We both agreed to do so, discarded our equipment and weapons and started to run to the casualties. "Doc" carried the stretcher and was wearing his red cross but that did not deter the Germans to fire with machineguns that came from the direction of the windmill to our left. As I ran through the snow I could see the bursts of fire kicking up the ground in front of my feet and I wondered what I'd let myself in for, but we continued running, keeping as low as possible till we reached the wounded. Here we lay down while strapping Marine Wales to the stretcher first. "Doc" then said he would take the front shafts while Richard and I took one each at the rear and we went crouching amid small arms fire, mixed with the frightening explosions of mortar shells, thankful to reach our HQ in one piece. We were not aware that "Doc" had received a wound as nothing seemed to hamper his movements but he did say that a piece of shrapnel had torn his smock".

    Unfortunately Marine Wales, while on the stretcher, was hit again on the way back and later died of his wounds. Though Harden had been slightly wounded in the side, he insisted on fetching the last wounded man, Lieutenant Corey. Troop Sergeant Major H. B. Bennet later stated: "[During this time] Lance Corporal Harden spoke to me and laid emphasis on the fact that the casualties must be got in from the extreme cold to have a chance to survive. During my conversations with him, he gave no thought to his own safety provided the wounded could be got in, and was calm and cool in dealing with his patients even though he had himself been hit (...)."

    After a short rest Harden went out for a third time, Marines Mason and Haville again volunteering to go with him. This time they brought Lieutenant Cory back. With about fifty yards to go to reach safety, Lance Corporal Harden was hit in the head by a bullet and instantly killed. Haville recalls: "(...) we went out again to recover Lt. Cory, strapped him to the stretcher and followed the same routine for the return journey. We were about halfway when I heard a click as if something had passed my left ear and immediately "Doc" collapsed with the stretcher almost on top of him (...). He had died instantly and without pain. The click I heard was the bullet passing between me and Mason. Lieutenant Cory who seemed to be in considerable pain and had received a severe jolt when the stretcher hit the ground, asked what had happened. On informing him that "Doc" had been killed he told us to leave him on the stretcher and save ourselves; here was a very gallant officer."

    Haville and Mason refused to abandon Lt. Cory and told him that they would get him back somehow, despite the serious situation. Obviously a sniper to their rear had them in their sights and it would be lethal to stand up and carry the stretcher. Haville suggested to Mason that if he eased up the front end, he would push from behind and by crawling along would use it as a sled. This they carried out but, despite the snow on the ground, it was a strenuous job. On the last few yards Troop Sergeant Major Bennet crawled out from behind the hedge and assisted both men in getting the stretcher, with the wounded Lt. Corey strapped to it, into the safety of the house.

    When darkness approached the forward sections of 'A' Troop returned, bringing with them the body of Lance Corporal Harden back to Brachterbeek. The village was held by 'C' Troop which by mid-afternoon had been reinforced by 3 Troop of No. 6 Commando, who still was at Maasbracht.

    Harden photo.jpg
    Photo of Lance Corporal Lance Corporal Henry Eric Harden, RAMC, born 23 Feb 1912, one month short of his 33rd birthday when he fell at Brachterbeek on 23 Jan 1945.


    Lance Corporal Eric Harden, very rightly so, was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross on 8 March 1945. His citation read:

    "London Gazette of 9th March, 1945
    In North-West Europe on 23rd January, 1945 the leading section of a Royal Marine Commando Troop having come under intense machine-gun fire was ordered to make for some houses close by. Four of the section had been wounded and were left lying in the open. Under continuous fire Lance Corporal Harden at once went forward and with great coolness and bravery attended to the four casualties. He then carried one of them back to cover. He was ordered not to go forward again and an attempt was made to bring in the remaining casualties with the aid of tanks, but this proved unsuccessful owing to the heavy and accurate fire of anti-tank guns. A second attempt under a smoke-screen also proving unsuccessful, Lance Corporal Harden insisted in going forward with a volunteer stretcher party and succeeded in bringing back another badly wounded man. He went out a third time, and whilst returning with the stretcher party, he was killed. Throughout this long period Lance-Corporal Harden displayed superb devotion to duty and personal courage of the highest order. His action was directly responsible for saving the lives of the wounded brought in, while his complete contempt for all personal danger, and the magnificent example he set of cool courage and determination to continue with his work, whatever the odds, was an inspiration to his comrades and will never be forgotten by those who saw it"
    (the citation as published in the London Gazette is attached below).

    Both marines who had so courageously volunteered as stretcher bearers and twice followed Harden into the field, came off badly. John Haville received a (mere) Mention in Despatches and Dick Mason got nothing. Nor did Sgt.Cook who, at great risk to himself, applied first aid under fire to his CO Lt. Cory. None of them ever complained – all were in awe of Harden from that day on.

    VC Harden journal.jpg
    Snippet from a journal announcing the award of the Victoria Cross to Eric Harden.
     

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Oct 25, 2021
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  20. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    The VC memorial of Eric Harden at Brachterbeek

    JB 2 Monument & Vossen farm.jpg
    After the war a memorial stone has been placed at the spot where Eric Harden fell. The memorial looking back to the Vossen farm where Captain Conventry had his Troop HQ. The hedge still stands. The opening in the hedge, which was used by Harden and his companions to get into and out of the field, still exists (Photo courtesy Jonathan Ball, see 11006144 Henry Eric HARDEN, VC, RAMC attached 45 Commando - Brachterbeek and Nederweert).

    See also below: 1st Commando Bde in 'Op Blackcock' (Jan 45)

    PS 1 Harden Monument.jpg
    A close up of the monument I took during the BFT

    Vossen Farm.jpg
    The Vossen Farm, at the Stationsweg 74, and the gap in the hedge, as they looked like mid-September 2021.


    Brachterbeek: 2015 commemoration ceremony on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the liberation, which was attended by Harden's daughter.
     
    Last edited: Oct 25, 2021

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