VERITABLE 1945: 51st Highland Division Reichswald Forest

Discussion in 'NW Europe' started by stolpi, Oct 8, 2018.

  1. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    I decided to restore an old thread about the 51st Highland Division in Operation Veritable, which I posted on this site in March 2012, but afterwards was lost due to software changes of the website. Unfortunately I did not manage to save all of it, so part of the thread, in particular that dealing with the fighting in and around Goch, will have to be redone from scratch and necessarily will take some time.

    HD map.jpg

    During Veritable the 51st Highland Division formed the right or southern wing of 30 Corps - operating under the directions of 1st Canadian Army - and had to open up the axis around the southern edge of the Reichswald, the important Mook - Gennep - Hekkens - Goch road. The Division had to break in into the enemy defensive line, conduct an attack through the southern part of the forest towards the crossroads settlement of Hekkens, cross the River Niers near Kessel and capture the fortified town of Goch. Besides that the division had to divert part of its strength to establish a bridgehead across the Niers at Gennep and clear the eastern bank of the Meuse River, so as to enable engineers to start the construction of bridges across this water barrier as a prerequisite for the build-up of the next big operation: the Rhine Crossing by the British 2nd Army. The battle fought by the Highland Division in the Reichswald lasted almost three weeks, from 8 - 28 February 1945, and included some of the bitterest fighting of the whole war.

    Elsewhere on this site, I already dealt with the operations of 30 Corps to the north of the Reichswald, from the Dutch border through Cleve and Moyland toward Goch, see: VERITABLE 1945: 15th Scottish & 43rd Wessex Divisions in the Reichswald battle and VERITABLE 1945: the Canadian attack on Wyler & Den Heuvel, 8 Feb 1945 and 3rd Canadian Division in Op Veritable.

    Road to Goch a.jpg

    This thread was made possible with the help of Horsapassenger, Hugo Levels and Captain Roel who most kindly gave their assistance and provided me with numerous War Diaries and documents. Bedee (again) did a wonderful job on the map-overlays from the War Diaries.

    Sequence of the engagements described in this thread:
    1. Gaining the western edge of the Reichswald - Operation VERITABLE: 51st Highland Division (Reichswald, Gennep, Hekkens & Goch)
    2. Across the Niers at Gennep: 153 Bde VERITABLE 1945: 51st Highland Division Reichswald Forest
    3. The Path Through the Wood: 152 Bde VERITABLE 1945: 51st Highland Division Reichswald Forest
    4. A second bridgehead across the Niers: 154 Bde VERITABLE 1945: 51st Highland Division Reichswald Forest
    5. Battle for Goch: 153 Bde
    6. Final battles: Siebengewald
     
    Last edited: Nov 16, 2019 at 9:52 AM
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  2. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    1. Gaining the western edge of the Reichswald

    In brief, the plan of attack of the 51st Highland Division consisted of three phases:

    - In phase I 154 and 153 Inf Bdes were to secure the high ground on the western edge of the Reichswald.
    - as soon as 154 Bde had taken its objectives 153 Inf Bde, next in line, was to pass through and swing south and make towards the Meuse, cutting off whatever enemy remained between that area and Mook. This phase was to be completed by dawn D plus 1;
    - For phase II 152 Bde, on D plus 1, was to pass through 154 Bde, clear the southern edge of the Reichswald and gain control of the crossroads area of Hekkens. Whilst 153 Bde was to open up the main 30 Corps axis running from Mook - Gennep.
    - During the last phase (phase III), while 152 Bde maintained its firm base at Hekkens, 154 Bde, using both northern and southern axis through the Reichswald, was to drive on and secure the Hekkens - Goch road. By this time 153 Bde would be ready to move on to Goch. Phase III was forecast for first light D plus 2.

    For these operations, the Brigades were supported in turn by the 107 RAC (gun tanks), 1st Fife & Forfar Yeomanry (Crocodiles), Lothians (Flails) and 222 Assault Sqn RE (AVREs).

    Artillery plan - The initial attack of the 51st Division was supported by prearranged artillery concentrations on the estimated main enemy localities, there was no creeping barrage as with the other assault divisions. On the 8th at 0500 hours there opened the heaviest artillery shoot of the campaign. Over 1.000 guns inundated the German forward line at the egde of the Reichswald for over five hours with shells of all different calibers. At 10.30 hours the infantry attack went in, with all assault divisions moving in simultaneously. The Highland Division moved around the northern flank of the Kiekberg and St.Jansberg, an elevated stretch of terrain, which the enemy over the past few months had transformed into an almost impregnable stronghold. With it they controlled the main Mook - Gennep road that ran south of the high ground in the river flats of the Meuse. The open right flank towards the Kiekberg and St.Jansberg was covered by a new device, known as the "pepper-pot" group, consisting of machineguns, anti tank guns, tank and anti aircraft guns, to which was allotted the task of preventing any interference from that quarter.

    Map of the combined fire plans during opening phase of Veritable and the arrangements for the "pepper-pot" (work on the overlay courtesy Bedee):
    Combined%20fire%20plans.jpg Pepperpot 51st HD sector.jpg

    Axis of advance for the attack on the Reichswald - I have tried to figure out the axis of advance of the assault divisions in Op Veritable. On the map below they are marked nos. 1 to 7. Please note that they are still tentative, as far as the 53rd and 51st HD are concerned. So, if anyone has additional information, please feel free to comment.
    According to Delaforce (page 205 of his book on the 51st HD) the 51st Highland Division used three axes of advance for the initial attack. These are indicated on the map with no. 1 to 3.: No.1. Breedeweg Straat, No.2. Bruukse Straat and No.3. a track north of Bruuk called Ashorst. The main road from Groesbeek towards Milsbeek (the Grafwegsche Straat/Holleweg) could not be used, as the Germans still held Grafwegen and the slopes of the St.Jans- and St. Martensberg south of the hamlet, from where they were able to control the road with fire.

    Axis of assault divisions a.jpg
     
    Last edited: Nov 4, 2019
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  3. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    The Break-in of the enemy forward defenses (154 Bde)

    Because of the narrow frontage allocated to the 51st Highland Division, it was decided to initiate the attack with only one brigade (154 Brigade) up, however the Brigade was strengthened by giving it 5/7th Gordons from 153 Brigade.

    The 154 Brigade plan was for an initial assault by the two Black Watch battalions across an AT-ditch on the townships of Breedeweg and Bruuk, situated in front of the Reichswald, followed by a further assault to seize the first stretch of high ground just inside the forest. This high ground was known as the Freuden Berg, an elongated ridgeline with raised ground at either end which faintly gave it a saddle-like appearance. For this part of the attack an extra battalion, the 5/7th Gordon Highlanders, was attached to 154 Brigade. The Gordon Highlanders were given the task of securing the southern knoll of the Freuden Berg, while the 1st Black Watch were to aim for the northern knoll. The 7th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders were to pass through the 1st Black Watch once they were firm on the northern knoll.

    107 Final aa.jpg
    Map overlay of the advance of 154 Bde in the opening stage of Veritable. The AT-ditch, which actually was an enlarged drainage ditch known as De Leigraaf, had to be crossed a four different points codenamed 'Wordsworth' and 'Tennyson' in the 7th Black Watch and 'Shelley (1)' and 'Shelley (2)' in the 1st Black Watch sector. The ditch at these points had to be bridged by AVRE's. The Bruuksche Straat remained impassable for the first day of the attack because of the numerous mines in the area near the AT-ditch and beyond (Map courtesy of Bedee).

    Bruuk Leigraaf.jpg
    The drainage ditch, known as De Leigraaf, across the Breedeweg Straat and the Bruuksche Straat (now: Bruuk) was turned into an anti-tank ditch which had to be bridged by the AVRE's. The crossing points of Tennyson and Wordsworth (both within the 7th BW sector) were in the fields to the left of the road. From this picture it becomes evident why the approach to the AT-ditch was extremely boggy. Already by the second day of the offensive the area turned into an appalling morass with traffic jammed all day near the passages of the AT-ditch.View to the west towards the (modern) village of Breedeweg .

    The 154 Brigade met with varying success. The 1st Black Watch on the left (operating along axis no.3 - see map previous post) was commanded by Major Taylor, in the absence of the C.O. on leave. The battalion was supported by the Churchill tanks of 'A' Sqn, 107 RAC. At 10:50 hrs the Coys crossed the Start Line with 'B' Coy on the right (Major C.T. Cathro) and 'C' Coy (Major J.N. Davies-Colley) on the left, 'A' Coy was in reserve. The leading Coys each accompanied by a Troop of Churchill tanks. At 10:56 hrs the battalion moved off into the attack and an hour later reported that it had reached the first objective, the wooded area near the AT-ditch, without much opposition. From here the battalion moved on at 12:30 hrs but met stiff resistance in the area of "Tomato". The 30 minute pause here proved most usefull, allowing just sufficient time for regrouping before Phase II. 'A' Coy was moved up to "Tomato" and 'B' an 'C' Coy advanced again. They maintained their planned rate of advance and at 13:20 hrs, clearing up the little villages en route, reported being on their final objective the high ground 300 yards inside the Reichswald. 'A' Coy came up into reserve. The major problem was caused by the ground which was extremely boggy, and initially, no tanks could get forward and the AVRE bridge laying tanks that were to create a passage over the AT-ditch were ditched in the sodden ground. Eventually the accompanying Flails cleared the track slightly to the north of the proposed crossing site of the AT-ditch and the supporting arms were brought forward by this track, which was also shared by 53 Welsh Division. By nightfall the 1st Black Watch had gained the first stretch of high ground inside the forest. The battalion just succeeded in beating the 7th Black Watch for the honour of being the first troops in the 51st Highland Division to enter Germany. The 1st Black Watch took over 100 POWs at the cost of 4 men killed and one officer and 16 men wounded. There was very little enemy shelling as the tremendous counter-battery program appeared to have silenced the small amount of artillery the enemy had. Late that evening the 7th Argylls passed through and pushed deeper into the forest towards the area near 792520. Here the battalion dug in, with 'D' Coy forward near the X-tracks and 'B' to the right. 'A'Coy and Bn HQ dug in near 792520. 1 O.R. was killed when a barrage of 5.5 inch shells fell close to 'B' Coy. During the night a German patrol approached but was easily driven off. 2 POWs were taken.

    Major Peter Taylor, the 1st Black Watch acting CO, received a DSO for his conduct of the operation:
    Maj Taylor 1 BW 8 Feb 45 1.jpg Maj Taylor 1 BW 8 Feb 45 2.jpg

    Major Charles Thompson Cathro, the CO of 'A' Coy, the 1 Black Watch leading right hand company, was awarded a MC for his conduct of the operation:
    Maj Cathro 1 BW.jpg

    L/Cpl. Joseph Baron of the 1st Black Watch won an immediate MM for his actions during the opening phase of the battle:
    1 BW award.jpg

    Excerpt from the Regt History of the 7th Argylls re the opening of Veritable:
    Argylls00%20a.jpg Argylls01%20a.jpg


    Freudenberg trench.jpg
    German trench running along the top of the northern knoll of the Freuden Berg. This one is still about 3 feet deep. The 1st Black Watch captured the knoll without enemy opposition.

    On the right 7 Black Watch had a more difficult time at Bruuk. The 7 Black Watch met unexpected opposition from a fresh enemy battalion of the 1222nd Grenadier Regiment (180th Infantry Division), which had been inserted into that part of the line the previous evening. 7 Black Watch moved forward along the Herwendaalse Straat (axis no.1) with an open flank towards the right. In fact the battalion formed the extreme right flank of the First Canadian Army offensive. This flank was covered by the "pepper-pot" groups, consisting of machineguns, anti tank guns, tank and anti aircraft guns, to which was allotted the task of preventing any interference from that quarter. Reaching the road-fork just short of De Klok, the 7th Black Watch column split up. Here the battalion had to cross an AT-ditch. 'B' Company, followed by 'A', continued on the right - along axis no.1 towards De Klok. 'B' Coy captured of the area around the village church and the AT-ditch, after which 'A' Coy passed through moved further down the road Breedewegse Straat towards the township of Breedeweg (not to be confused with the modern Breedeweg). 'B' Coy found it hard to identify their appointed positions as a result of the amount of destruction. Sniping was encountered but many enemy, including a complete Coy HQ, were found sheltering in cellars and trenches and taken prisoner. Screened by their own 2-inch mortar smoke, 'A' Coy without delay scrambled through the anti tank ditch and captured Breedeweg without much difficulty. Only the leading platoon encountered opposition which however ceased soon. Meanwhile 'D' Coy meanwhile moved forward on the left, along axis no. 2 (Bruuksche Straat nowadays called Bruuk), but was not so fortunate. 'D' Coy suffered rather heavy casualties from some enemy who remained well concealed in a house near the AT-ditch and, though by-passed by the leading platoon, held their fire until 'D' Coy's HQ were within about 50 yards. They picked-off the company commander, Major Lowe, and two of his platoon leaders together with 5 men. There was a hold up as a result of the confusion from the loss of these three officers. The IO of the battalion, Captain Rae-Smith, immediately went forward and restored order. Tanks of 'B' Sqn, 107 RAC, which managed to get across the AT-ditch, finally eased the company on to its objective. On the left hand axis, as well as on the right, Schu-mines gave trouble. It was essential that the two roads should be opened as soon as possible to feed the exploitng attack by 5/7 Gordons and the 153 Bde. AVRE's and Fascines were to bridge the AT-ditch. The AVRE bridge in the Breedeweg road was ready by mid-day, but the Bruuksche Straat remained impassable for traffic. The road and verges in the area of the AT-ditch and beyond were infested with mines. Two tanks of 'B' Sqn, 107 RAC, went up on mines and Lieutenant Robertson and six men of the 107 RAC were wounded. Once the objective on the forest edge was taken, 5/7 Gordon Highlanders, passed through and secured the southern knoll of the Freuden Berg. The fighting went on during the evening and night. Enemy mortar and artillery increased considerably once they reached the top.

    The operations of the 7th Black Watch as described in some detail in the Regt History of the battalion:
    7th Black Watch 001.jpg 7th Black Watch 002.jpg


    57 Gordons Breedeweg.jpg
    Advancing infantry move near Breedeweg towards the Reichswald forest.

    Jonkerbos Lowe Major.jpg
    Major Lowe, the 'D' Coy CO, and two of his platoon leaders (Lieutenants Gaisford and Shanks) were killed in the advance on Breedeweg, which disorganized the company attack and caused considerable delay.

    The battalion I.O., Captain William Booth Rae-Smith, immediately went forward and reorganized the leaderless 'D' company and led it onto its objective. He was awarded a M.C. for his action:
    Rae Smith award 1.jpg Rae Smith award 2.jpg

    Pte Robert Middleton, a platoon runner in 'A' Coy, 7 Black Watch, was awarded a MM for his actions. His recommendation bears testimony to the fact that the advance of the right hand company also was not without difficulties:
    Pte Middleton 7 BW A Coy.jpg Pte Middleton 7 BW A Coy aa.jpg

    It was already late afternoon before the remaining battalions of the 153 Brigade - which formed the second wave of the Highland attack - could start their right wheel; 5 Black Watch aiming at the Pyramid Hill, followed by 1 Gordons moving along the edge of the Reichswald and then turning westwards on to the St.Jansberg, which would place them in the rear of the enemy stronghold on the Kiekberg. For their approach march both battalions used axis no.1, the Breedweg Straat - the Bruuksche Straat being impassable for traffic on the first day due to mines. 7 Black Watch consolidated some 200 yards short of the forest. 'A' and 'B' Companies forming a defensive front towards the south and southwest along axis no.1 (Breedeweg Straat) facing the German-held Grafwegen. Both axes no.1 and no.2 were still under occasional shell and small-arms fire. A machinegun still firing on the right from the direction of Grafwegen caused some trouble. After nightfall, a 'B' Company fighting patrol was sent to Grafwegen, but found the place - or what was left of it - abandoned.

    Though the general situation improved slightly, things had been going rather slowly. By 1900 hours, resistance in Breedeweg and Bruuk had been quelled, 5/7 Gordons were on the move towards the southern part of the Freuden Berg, and 5 BW had struck out in a southerly direction with the object of seizing Pyramid Hill, point 78 (7751). At this time 1 Gordons were preparing to follow up 5 BW to assault the high ground about St.Jansberg (7650). Darkness had fallen before all companies of the 1st Gordons had reached their objective the first slopes of the St Jansberg, aided in their advance by artificial moonlight and white tape laid by an Officer recce party of the Battalion.

    By midnight the Highland Division had accomplished the break-in of the German forward defences, the (approximate) positions reached by the battalions are indicated on the map below:
    The break-in positions by 2400 hrs Febr 8th a.jpg
     
    Last edited: Nov 4, 2019
  4. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Freudenberg area today

    Edge Reichswald.jpg

    Picture of the western edge of the Reichswald, as seen from Klein Amerika, with the high ground of the Freudenberg and Pyramid Hill in the center and to the right, which were the respective objectives of 154 and 153 Bdes. The houses in the foreground belong the village of Breedeweg. The Brandenberg, to the left, was assigned to the 53rd Welsh Division.

    Freudenberg.jpg
    Freudenberg as seen from the Breedeweg Straat (axis no.2). The long stretch of high ground along the western face of the Reichswald was the objective of two assault battalions of the 154 Brigade; the northern knoll was allotted to the 1st Black Watch, the southern to the attached 5/7th Gordon Highlanders. The narrow road of the Breedeweg Straat runs along the houses to the left.

    IMG_3051.JPG
    The wooded area in front of the Reichswald, known as Bruuk, seen from the Breedeweg. It was here that 'D' Company, 7th Black Watch ran into difficulty and lost a number of men to sniper fire. On this first day of the operation the Battalion had 3 officers (Major Lowe, OC 'D' Company and two of his platoon leaders) and 7 men killed in action, 1 man missing and 23 wounded.

    IMG_3050.JPG
    Picture taken from the position of 'A' Company, 7th Black Watch, on the Breedeweg Straat (axis 1), looking towards the open southern flank. The houses at the end of the field mark the main road from Groesbeek to Milsbeek. The ground beyond leads up to the St.Jansberg. The village of Grafwegen (not visible, but to the right) and the St.Jansberg area were still occupied by the enemy. The enemy defenses on the St Jansberg were taken from the rear by the 1st Gordon Highlanders later that evening of February 8th. Next day - in a battle that lasted all day - the Gordon battalion cleared the whole wooded feature up to the Kiekberg, an enemy stronghold that controlled the Mook - Gennep main road.
     
    Last edited: Oct 28, 2019
  5. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    The 5/7 Gordons at the Freudenberg

    DSC_0040.jpg
    Infantry of the 5/7th Gordons move along the Breedeweg Straat (axis no. 1) across the German border towards the Reichswald. To the left of the road the pushed aside barrier which marked the border.

    Breedeweg%20border.jpg
    Same area at the end of the Breedeweg Straat today. The township at the end of the Breedeweg Straat now is called Grafwegen, not to be confused with the Grafwegen on the wartime map. The Breedeweg Straat still is a narrow country lane, where two cars can hardly pass each other. The tree-line in the background is the western egde of the Reichswald.

    veritable3.jpg
    The official caption to this photograph reads: "British troops (of the 5/7th Gordon Highlanders) pass the boundary from Holland into Germany. A very shell-torn house and barbed wire fence marks the demarkation line and a solitary sign, "Reichs Grenze" is the only intimation of German territory. Immediately behind is the Reichswald forest, a natural obstacle which the Germans contested strongly. Pictures show men (of the 5/7th Gordons) combing the forest. 154 Brigade. 51 H.D. between Bruuk and German border. Taken by Sgt. Silverside. 10.2.1945". (photo IWM).

    Gordon%20Highlanders%20Reiswald.jpg
    This well known picture is a sequel to the above photograph. The official caption reads: "Immediately behind is the Reichswald forest, a natural obstacle which the Germans contested strongly. Pictures show men (of the 5/7th Gordons) combing the forest. 154 Brigade. 51 H.D. between Bruuk and German border. Taken by Sgt. Silverside. 10.2.1945." (photo IWM). In 5/7 Gordons area, on the southern end of the Freuden Berg, the enemy kept up stiff resistance inside the forest during the night 8/9 Feb. At 0630, on the 9th, 'A' Company of 1 Black Watch was sent to the assistance of the 5/7 Gordons and succeeded in clearing the area on the left of the Gordons at the cost of 1 officer (Lt Rosenthal) and two men killed, and Lt. Mitchell and 7 men wounded.

    Reichswald Freudenberg 5_7 Gordons aaa.jpg
    The leading 'C' Coy of the 5/7th Gordon Highlanders reached the edge of the Reichswald just before dark. 'A' Coy passed through and entered the forest but ran into determined enemy resistance and could make no headway (A1). 'D' Coy then made a left flanking movement and once this company was firm a 'B' Coy patrol was sent through to investigate the southern knoll of the Freuden Berg. This patrol was successful and soon was followed by the remainder of 'B' Coy who occupied the high ground (B1). The battalion reported 7 OR killed, 1 Officer and 22 OR wounded and 1 missing. Later that night, at 03:00 hrs, 'A' Coy, which had been withdrawn from the forest in front of 'C' Coy, released 'B' at the Freuden Berg (A2) and the latter moved deeper into the forest towards an X-roads in the main track. Here 'B' Coy ran straight into an enemy take-over with several hundred enemy soldiers milling around in the area of the main track. Though heavily outnumbered 'B' Coy attacked and came out as victor. The enemy withdrew in great confusion leaving behind many dead, while the company took 164 POWs (among them 16 wounded) at the cost of one man wounded (for more details see attached fragment from the War Diary). B2 is the position indicated by the MR in the Gordon War Diary; since the War Diary mentions an X-roads in the main track that was later used as axis of advance for the 152 Bde I have some doubt about this MR. The X-road reached by the Gordons probably was the one indicated in the yellow circle - which is on the main track known as Kartenspielerweg.

    Gordons Freudenberg 1.jpg Gordons Freudenberg 2.jpg


    Major James Ian Gammie, CO of 'B' Coy, 5/7 Gordon Highlanders received a MC for his actions in the opening of Reichswald attack. The award also renders testimony of the bravery of the men of the Coy who according to the citation 'fought like demons, capturing and killing many of the enemy':
    5.7 award 1.jpg 5.7 award 2.jpg

    Bruuk 7 BW.jpg
    The Bruuksche Straat, the small road that served as the 7th Black Watch left hand axis, nowadays known as Bruuk.

    Reichswald Freudenberg 5.7 Gordons bb.jpg
    The wooded slopes of the Freuden Berg today. Fighting during the hours of darkness inside the smashed up forest must have been a difficult and confusing experience for the 5/7 Gordons Highlanders, yet they succeeded in overcoming the enemy resistance by outmaneuvering them.

    standard.jpg
    Another picture taken in the Bruuk area demonstrates the terrible state of the ground. The boggy, sodden soil was an important factor in slowing down the Allied offensive. The official caption reads: "Even tracked vehicles find it hard going and have to be dug out. 154 Bde. 51 H.D. Between Bruuk and German border. Taken by Sgt. Silverside. 10.2.1945" (photo IWM).


    Road conditions in HD sector.jpg
    On the night of the 8th it started to rain quite heavily. It rained all night and it rained all the next day, which further deteriorated the road conditions.

    Churchills%20Reichswald.jpg
    Even the Churchill tanks of the 107th RAC had difficulty to move across the sodden ground near Bruuk. For Op Veritable one sqn of tanks was in support of each of the Bdes: 'A' Sqn, 154 Bde; 'B' Sqn, 153 Bde and 'C' Sqn, 152 Bde. For the opening phase of the operation 'A' and 'B' Sqn were in support of the 154 Bde. The official caption to this photograph reads: "Tanks (of the King's Own 107 RAC 34th Tank Bde.) line up on the edge of the Reichswald Forest awaiting the order to go, before pushing into Germany. 154 Bde. 51 H.D. Between Bruuk and German Border. Taken by Sgt.Silverside. 10.2.45". (Photo IWM)


    More images can be found here: Video Stills: Invasion Scenes - Europe - British Pathé
    and here: OPENING OF THE ASSAULT BY 5/7 GORDON HIGHLANDERS, 51ST (HIGHLAND) DIVISION, ON THE VILLAGE OF BRUUK AT THE EDGE OF THE REICHSWALD, GERMANY [Allocated Title]
     
    Last edited: Oct 27, 2019
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  6. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Operations of 153 Brigade: Pyramid Hill and St.Jansberg

    The 153 Bde was tasked with the capture of the high ground on the southern edge of the Reichswald. As soon as 154 Bde had taken its objectives 153 Bde (-), next in line, was to pass through and swing south and make towards the Meuse, cutting off whatever enemy remained between that area and Mook. It was proposed that 153 Bde would pass through 154 Bde at about 1300 hours on D Day, for it was estimated that by this time 154 Bde’s objectives and lines of communication thus far would be clear enough to allow 153 Bde to move up to capture the wooded hills north and east of Riethorst and form a firm base facing south. From here 153 Bde would exploit to clear the road Mook – Kanonskamp (7649). This phase, apart from 153 Bde’s exploitation, was to be completed by dawn D plus 1;

    On the right the 5th Black Watch had to capture the southwestern corner of the Reichswald, known as Pyramid Hill. This would enable the 1st Gordon Highlanders to wheel to the west and take the German positions on the high wooded ground, overlooking the Mook - Gennep main road, from the rear. The battalion advanced in order of 'A' Coy, followed by 'D', 'C' and 'B'. The battalion, using axis no.1, was to pass through the position of the 7th Black Watch at Breedeweg and move up to the Pyramid Hill. Though 'A' Coy crossed the start line at 13:00 hrs there was a considerable hold up as the 7 Black Watch had to deal with enemy resistance. Only by late afternoon, 18:45 hrs, all companies had passed through the 7 Black Watch position. At 19:30 hrs, while the other companies were fighting up the wooded slopes of the Pyramid Hill, 'B' Coy was launched along the sunken road towards the bridge at 771505 at the foot of the Pyramid Hill over which passed the road to Milsbeek. By 23:00 hrs the companies had reached their objectives. For the rest of the night they were in close contact with the enemy.

    Fragment from "Spirit of Angus", the Regt History of the 5th Black Watch:
    Pic 1 RW%20043a.jpg
    Pyramid Hill, with the small post-war lookout tower, was the objective of the 5th Black Watch; view from the west from Breedeweg. The Pyramid Hill is the most southerly part of the ridgeline along the western edge of the Reichswald. To the south of it the ground drops off to the river flats of the Meuse and its tributary the Niers.

    RW%20045a.jpg
    The Dutch/German border at Grafwegen; the forbidding Reichswald looms up just beyond the houses. The old barrier marking the border can be by-passed with the bike without much trouble.

    RW%20046a.jpg
    The entrance of the Reichswald. According to one Highland veteran: "after we had crossed the initial belt of organised defences, which included anti-tank ditches, Schu-mines and fortified farms and villages, we now faced our biggest obstacle - the natural fortress of the Reichswald". Inside the forest visibility was obscured by a wall of trees and brushwoods, made worse by the massive artillery preparation, which had smashed up the trees and branches, making it very difficult for the troops to find a way through. Rain and the falling darkness added to the problems as the leading Highland troops probed forward into the forest on that first day of Veritable.

    Battle scarred Reichswald.jpg
    The smashed up forest of the Reichswald

    RW%20047a.jpg
    Inside the forest, somewhat further up the Pyramid Hill, German trenches are still visible. They zig-zag across the western face of the forest for many a mile. Though not quite visible on the photograph this one is about 4 to 5 feet deep. Most of these trenches date back to WW1, when German troops were guarding the frontier against neutral Holland.


    RW%20052a.jpg
    The Holleweg ('Hollow Road'), aka by the 5th Black Watch regimental history as the causeway, that runs between Pyramide Hill and the Jansberg, at the point where it enters the flat marshy ground south of the Reichswald, nowadays known as "De Diepen". There were flood waters either side of the raised road, hence causeway. In the morning of the 9th the 5th Black Watch moved down this road to capture Kanonskamp (now part of Milsbeek) and cut the Mook - Gennep road.

    RW%20053a.jpg
    At the southern edge of the Reichswald the ground drops abruptly, giving way to a flat featureless landscape stretching all the way to the River Meuse and its tributary the River Niers. View of Pyramide Hill from the south. The causeway is to the left (not visible). The atmosphere with the low hanging clouds is almost like February 1945, except that it is not raining. BTW those are not tank-tracks, but the tracks show how soft the ground is. During Veritable the ground conditions were even worse as a sudden thaw and heavy rainfall softened up the ground, making it almost imposible for vehicles to cross.

    RW%20054a.jpg
    Same spot now looking eastwards, the edge of the Reichswald stretches, as far as the eye can see, all the way to Hekkens and beyond. The trees in front of the forest line the narrow farm tracks of Oudedijk and Koningsvennen.
     
    Last edited: Nov 4, 2019
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  7. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    1st Gordon Highlanders at the St. Jansberg & Kiekberg

    Account of the operations of the 1st Gordon Highlanders in the opening stage of Op Veritable from the War Diary of the battalion:
    5.7 G WD 1.jpg 5.7 G WD 2.jpg 5.7 G WD 3.jpg 5.7 G WD 4.jpg 5.7 G WD 5.jpg


    IMG_3052.JPG
    1. St.Martensberg, view from the north, beyond the tree-line there is an abrupt drop to the river flat of the Meuse. Company 'A' and 'C' of the 1st Gordon Highlanders occupied positions along the forest edge on the far side of the fields.

    RW%20051a.jpg
    2. St.Jansberg, view from the south. The picture was taken from the Holleweg looking in a westerly direction across the plain known as 'De Diepen', the same spot as the picture in the previous post. The hills are right to left: first and second knoll the St.Jansberg, the third is the St.Martensberg and beyond that (not visible) lies the Kiekberg (the latter was held by the Canadians - the Cameron Highlanders of Canada). Note that on the war-time map below, this area is erroneously indicated as wooded. In reality it was marshy ground.

    Mook%20-%20Gennep%20road%20at%20Plasmolen.jpg
    3. Main road Mook - Gennep at Plasmolen View to the east. This is the area indicated as D3 on the War Diary map. It was here that 'A' Company of the 1st Gordons ran into stiff enemy opposition, which was only overcome at nightfall of the 9th, with the battalion commander, Major Lindsay, taking personally lead of one of his companies and storming the position. On the left, just past the restaurant, is the shallow valley called Molendal (the operations of 1st Gordon Highlanders are most graphically described in Martin Lindsay's book, "So few Got Through, With the Gordon Highlanders from Normandy to the Baltic").

    Locatie pics St_Jansberg.png
    Map of the St.Jansberg/Kiekberg area; the numbers on the map correspond with the above pictures
     
    Last edited: Aug 25, 2019
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  8. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    1st Gordon Highl at Jansberg.jpg
    Soldiers of the 154 Bde move along a sandy track somewhere near the St.Jansberg

    1st Gordon Highl at Jansberg 2.jpg
    A German POW moves to the rear along the same track; according to the unit's War Diary the number of POW's captured by the 1st Gordons in the attack on the Jans- and Kiekberg exceeded well over 350. Most of them paratroopers belonging to the I./2 Para Regt, which had been shuffled in between the 180 and 84 Inf Div to guard the important entry of the Mook - Gennep road. Attacked from the rear and in the darkness the enemy was completely surprised and suffered heavy losses - the number of killed is unknown but must have been high.


    War Diary pages of the 1st Gordons re the operations on 8 and 9 Feb 45:
    1 G WD pages 1.jpg 1 G WD pages 2.jpg

    Note the remarkable similarity between the operation of the 1st Gordons at the Kiekberg and that of the Canadian Calgary Highlanders (2nd Cdn Inf Div) at Wyler; both were enveloping moves aimed at opening up an important, well defended, entry into the enemy lines. It took the Gordons the entire day of 9 Feb to overcome the enemy resistance and open the road. See also: VERITABLE 1945: the Canadian attack on Wyler & Den Heuvel, 8 Feb 1945

    20190411_103542.jpg
    The sandy track running up from the main road towards the St.Jansberg. View towards the west to the first intersection which was the C1 position

    20190411_103537.jpg
    View from about same spot towards the east with the Pyramid Hill (5th Black Watch) in the background. Along this track A and C company were in position on the evening of the 8th (C1 and A1 positions).

    Whille the 1st Gordons were involved in the fight for the Martens- and Kiekberg, the 5th Black Watch, in the morning of Feb 9th, moved out of the Reichswald forest to carry out its second task, the capture of the area of 'Kanonskamp' (nowadays Milsbeek). This would put the battalion astride the main road Mook - Gennep. The axis route was along the Zwarteweg, a raised causeway across the marshy area known as "De Diepen" with flood waters on either side. As soon as the Battalion led by 'B' Coy appeared in the open it came under very heavy shell and small arms fire from the right rear, that is to say from the northwest from the part of the Martens- and Kiekberg woods still occupied by the enemy. The enemy fire caused 15 casualties including two killed. It became necessary for the artillery and the supporting tanks (Churchill tanks of 'B' Sqn,107 RAC) to blanket the edge of the forest with a smoke screen and to maintain this cover until the whole Battalion had negotiated the causeway. From then on the operation went smoothly and by 15:00 hrs the objective had been taken; Kanonskamp was secure and contact established with the 1st Gordons on the right. The Battalion took 47 POWs during the action.

    20190606_134248 aa.jpg
    The sodden plain at the foot of the Jans- and Martensberg as seen from the road at De Hel (view towards the east) aka as "De Diepen". In the far distance the restaurant 'Eethuis de Diepen' which is located along the road to Milsbeek which formed the exposed axis of the 5th Black Watch' advance for Feb 9th. To the right part of the small woodlot labelled D2 in the map of the 1st Gordons operations.

    Kanonskamp 5 BW 9.2.1945.jpg
    Map of the positions of the companies of the 5th Black Watch at 16:30 hrs on the 9th as they were reported to 153 Bde. The battalion had cut the Mook- Gennep road (indicated by M), which was to serve as main axis for the 30 Corps south of the Reichswald. To the right the 1st Gordons were still mopping up enemy resistance from mostly paratroopers. The area up to the River Meuse was reported clear by the Gordons not until 06:00 hrs next morning.

    Plasmolen 1945 a colonne mil..jpg
    Opening the southern 30 Corps axis the main road Mook - Gennep was one of the goals of the opening battles of the 153 Bde. Aerial of the main road at Riethorst/Plasmolen with a view to the east towards Milsbeek. The picture was taken in March 1945. Top left the hamlet of De Hel; the Kiekberg is on the left (not visible on the picture) ; in between the shallow valley of the Molendal. The high spur of ground was occupied by the Canadians, an area baptized in Sept 44 by the airborne troops of the 82nd US AB Div as "The Hill". At the foot of the spur is the area indicated as D3 on the War Diary Map of the 1st Gordons. The last picture in post # 7 was taken at the junction where a road turns off to the right. (photo courtesy CaptRoel).
     
    Last edited: Sep 8, 2019
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  9. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    The Other side of the Hill: map overlay German defense

    154 overlay.jpg

    Map overlay from 154 Bde War Diary - map courtesy Bedee

    According to the Divisional Intelligence Report No.324, 51st HD, of Feb 9, 1945, the enemy appeared to have been caught by the attack of the Highland Division while adjusting his forward positions. The Intell Report gives some details of the enemy units encountered:

    "Some four days ago, the 84 Fus Bn appears to have taken over the whole of the sector held by 1052 Gren Regt, which then went north to the Zyfflich area. On the night 7/8 Feb 84 Fus Bn in its turn was handing over the sector formerly held by the southernmost battalion of 1052 Regt, to I./1222 Gren Regt of 180 Div, which had come up from a reserve position. This change over was interrupted and I./1222 was severely mauled in the area of Bruuk. Further south II. battalion of 1062 Gren Regt (Katzmann) was withdrawing into the woods, and it is suggested that II./1222 was due to take its place. I./1062 was caught by us at Grafwegen and is hoped to be accounted for in the 100 POWs which are reported from our clearing operations in there to-day [9 Feb]."

    A POW, taken on Feb 8, from the I./1062 stated that Battle Group Katzman contained two battalions and was only renamed two or three weeks ago into 1062 Gren Regt. The regiment, according to the POW, was expecting to be relieved on 6 Feb, but this appears to have been postponed until the morning of 8 Feb and I. battalion was caught in the opening barrage on its way back to the Reichswald and went to earth. The II. battalion was identified in the area 795908, where they were committed in a position consisting chiefly of foxholes along one of the rides. Many casualties were suffered from the shelling and the fighting that took place on the 8th. The POW estimated that 50% of his unit was written off. I. battalion seemed normally organized with an average company strength of 78 men.

    Sit Rep 51 HD as of midnight 8/9 Feb 45:
    Sitrep 090100 51 HD.jpg
     
    Last edited: Sep 5, 2019
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  10. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    The following Highland soldiers fell in the opening phase of Veritable, Feb 8 and 9, 1945; I included Feb 9th since the battle within the forest continued through the night. Used the search machine of the CWGC site for the first time and have still to figure out how to download the results properly - but already do sorely miss my old companion 'Geoff's search machine'.

    1st Black Watch:
    1. ARMSTRONG ,IVOR (33), 08/02/1945, Private 2645034, Black Watch (Royal Highlanders),1st Bn., JONKERBOS WAR CEMETERY, 8. C. 4.
    2. BARKER, ALBERT (30),08/02/1945,Private 2645072, Black Watch (Royal Highlanders),1st Bn., JONKERBOS WAR CEMETERY,14. A. 3.
    3. CROWTHER, LAWRENCE AUSTIN PRANCE (20), 08/02/1945, Private 2645316, Black Watch (Royal Highlanders),1st Bn., JONKERBOS WAR CEMETERY, 6. F. 2.
    4. FROST, ALBERT FREDERICK (32), 09/02/1945, Private 2645477, Black Watch (Royal Highlanders),1st Bn., JONKERBOS WAR CEMETERY, 6. F. 1.
    5. HARPER, PETER JOSEPH (19), 09/02/1945, Private 2645578, Black Watch (Royal Highlanders),1st Bn., JONKERBOS WAR CEMETERY, 6. F. 3.
    6. McHENRY, ROBERT (19), 08/02/1945, Private 2619299, Black Watch (Royal Highlanders),1st Bn., MOOK WAR CEMETERY, II. A. 8.
    7. WARE, KENNETH LESLIE (20), 08/02/1945, Private 2647079, Black Watch (Royal Highlanders),1st Bn., JONKERBOS WAR CEMETERY, 6. E. 7.

    5th Black Watch:
    1. BRADFORD, DAVID (25), 09/02/1945,Corporal 2037108, Black Watch (Royal Highlanders), 5th Bn., REICHSWALD FOREST WAR CEMETERY, 61. D. 4.;
    2. HUNTER, JOHN (-), 09/02/1945, Private 2055705, Black Watch (Royal Highlanders),5th Bn., REICHSWALD FOREST WAR CEMETERY, 61. D. 6.;
    3. REID, WILLIAM (18), 09/02/1945, Private 2961916, Black Watch (Royal Highlanders), 5th Bn.,MILSBEEK WAR CEMETERY, II. D. 2.;
    4. McGURN, ROBERT (18), 09/02/1945, Private 2961878, Black Watch (Royal Highlanders), 5th Bn., MILSBEEK WAR CEMETERY, II. D.1.

    7th Black Watch:
    1. BURTON, DENNIS GILBEY (-), 08/02/1945, Private2645203, Black Watch (Royal Highlanders), 7th Bn., JONKERBOS WAR CEMETERY,14. C. 2.
    2. GAISFORD, ANTHONY WYNDHAM GWYN (19), 08/02/1945, Lieutenant 2645485, Black Watch (Royal Highlanders), 7th Bn., JONKERBOS WAR CEMETERY,14. C. 3.
    3. GREEN,LEONARD (29), 08/02/1945, Lance Corporal 2645546, Black Watch (Royal Highlanders), 7th Bn., JONKERBOS WAR CEMETERY,14. G. 2.
    4. HULME,FRANK (26), 08/02/1945, Private 2645684, Black Watch (Royal Highlanders), 7th Bn., JONKERBOS WAR CEMETERY,14. G. 7.
    5. LOWE,KENNETH ALLAN (26), MC, 08/02/1945, Major 2645837, Black Watch (Royal Highlanders), 7th Bn., JONKERBOS WAR CEMETERY,14. C. 1.
    6. MACDONALD,THOMAS (20), 08/02/1945, Private 2646511, Black Watch (Royal Highlanders),7th Bn., JONKERBOS WAR CEMETERY,14. G. 4.;
    7. PRICE,WILLIAM ALBERT (28), 08/02/1945, Private 2646741, Black Watch (Royal Highlanders), 7th Bn., JONKERBOS WAR CEMETERY,14. B. 8.
    8. ROCK, KENNETH (19), 08/02/1945, Private 2646795,Black Watch (Royal Highlanders),7th Bn., JONKERBOS WAR CEMETERY,14. G. 8.
    9. SHANKS,OWEN (35),MM, 08/02/1945, Lieutenant 2646849, Black Watch (Royal Highlanders), 7th Bn., JONKERBOS WAR CEMETERY,14. G. 3.
    10. SHEACH,STANLEY (21), 08/02/1945, Private 2646858,Black Watch (Royal Highlanders), 7th Bn., JONKERBOS WAR CEMETERY,14. G. 5.

    Jonkerbos Gaisford.jpg

    1st Gordon Highlanders:
    1. FRASER, WILLIAM GEORGE (28), 09/02/1945, Lieutenant 2961829, Gordon Highlanders,1st Bn., MILSBEEK WAR CEMETERY, II.D.6.
    2. WALLACE, ERIC ANDREW (18), 09/02/1945, Private 2046672, Gordon Highlanders, 1st Bn., REICHSWALD FOREST WAR CEMETERY, 61. C. 5.

    5/7 Gordon Highlanders:
    1. BELL, MATTHEW PATTISON (30), 08/02/1945, Lance Corporal 2619141,Gordon Highlanders, 5/7th Bn., MOOK WAR CEMETERY, II. B. 17.
    2. CHAPMAN,LESLIE WILLIAM (31), 08/02/1945, Private 2619170,Gordon Highlanders, 5/7th Bn., MOOK WAR CEMETERY, II. A. 10.
    3. JOLLY,WILFRED (22), 08/02/1945, Serjeant 2645727, Gordon Highlanders, 5/7th Bn., JONKERBOS WAR CEMETERY, 7. F. 4.
    4. NUTTALL,ROBERT (32), 08/02/1945, Private 2619325, Gordon Highlanders, 5/7th Bn., MOOK WAR CEMETERY, II. B. 19.
    5. RYDER,WILLIAM ALFRED (24), 09/02/1945, Lance Corporal 2961922, Gordon Highlanders, 5/7th Bn., MILSBEEK WAR CEMETERY, I. G. 15.
    6. SKILLICORN, WILLIAM ALFRED (32), 08/02/1945, Private 2619364, Gordon Highlanders, 5/7th Bn., MOOK WAR CEMETERY,II. B. 18.
    7. SPENCE, EDWARD HOWLETT (23), 09/02/1945, Corporal 2646923, Gordon Highlanders, 5/7th Bn., JONKERBOS WAR CEMETERY,21. C. 3.
    8. TAYLOR,DENNIS (23), 08/02/1945, Corporal 2619389, Gordon Highlanders, 5/7th Bn., MOOK WAR CEMETERY,II. B. 16

    Two of the Gorden Highlanders who rest on the Milsbeek War Cemetery:
    Ryder 57 G.jpg Lt Fraser 1 G.jpg
     
    Last edited: Nov 3, 2019
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  11. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    2. Across the Niers at Gennep, 153 Bde

    After clearing the western edge of the Reichswald and mopping up the area around Milsbeek and the Kiekberg, the 153 Bde set about the third phase of the operation the clearing of the 30 Corps axis, the main road Mook - Gennep, and the capture of the small town of Gennep and the bridge across the river Niers, a tributary of the River Meuse.

    WO_171_4409_0015 153 -1.JPG WO_171_4409_0015 153 -2.jpg WO_171_4409_0015 153 -3.jpg WO_171_4409_0015 153 -4.jpg
    Operation Order no 14 of the 153 Bde, as given on 5 Feb 45. There were no detailed written orders for Phase three of the battle, which was about to be opened now.

    Total Niers_cr-01 aa.jpg
    The third Phase of the operation for the 153 Brigade consisted of the capture of the town of Gennep, which involved a River Assault, and finally the clearing of the wooded area south of the town known as Genneperheide and the small village of Heijen. The above map overlay from the 153 Bde gives both stages of the operation- in brown resp. red colours. The operation lasted from 10 to 13 Feb 1945 (Map courtesy Bedee).

    Gennep R Meuse aa.jpg

    The capture of Gennep and the area immediately to the south of the town also was of logistical importance. By clearing the eastern bank of the Meuse engineers could start building bridges across the river to support the operations in the Rhineland and eventually facilitate the build up of the next big operation: the Rhine Crossing. The big railway bridge to the west of Gennep had been blown as is demonstrated by this aerial of Feb 1945. View to the northeast. In the background the town of Gennep, the flooded Niers and the dark contours of the Reichswald.
     
    Last edited: Aug 19, 2019
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  12. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    2.1 The approach of Gennep (5/7 Gordon Highlanders, Feb 10)

    During Feb 9th, the 5/7 Gordon Highlanders remained on the edge of the Reichswald. The battalion was out of action for much of that day after the 154 and 152 Bdes moved eastwards, deeper into the Reichswald forest and the 153 Bde mopped up enemy resistance in the Kiekberg - Milsbeek area. Two companies were posted on the Pyramid Hill to provide a firm base, after the 5th Black Watch left the area to exploit southwards towards Kanonskamp. The rest of the battalion assembled in what had been the 'C' Coy objective the area of Grafwegen. After spending a 'peaceful night' on the edge of the Reichswald the 5/7 Gordons reverted to command of the 153 Bde and, at 10:00 hrs on the 10th, with 'B' Coy in the lead, moved out to the right and passed through the position of the 5th Black Watch. The battalion's new task was to clear the main road along the River Meuse to Gennep and if possible capture the bridge across the Niers river at the town. By the end of the afternoon the battalion had captured the village of Ottersum, a friendly small village that straddles the road to Hekkens and faces Gennep on the opposite bank of the Niers, but had been unable to capture the bridge into the town. When a patrol approached the Germans blew the bridge. From the volume of fire encountered it was apparent that the enemy strongly held the line of the Niers. The 5/7 Gordons lost 1 man killed and 10 wounded during this engagement.

    Fragment of the War Diary of the 5/7 Gordon Highlanders:
    Gordons.JPG

    One of the wounded Gordon soldiers succumbed to his wounds and was buried at the Jonkersbosch War Cemetery. The soldiers lost on the 10th were:
    1. BROWN, ALFRED JOHN HENRY, Private 4918283, February 10, 1945, Age 25, JONKERBOS WAR CEMETERY 7. F. 5.
    2. MINNEY, REGINALD PERCY, Private14724372, February 10, 1945, Age 19, MILSBEEK WAR CEMETERY II. C. 15.

    Gennep%20centrum%2031-12-1944.jpg
    Aerial of Gennep taken in December 1944 with the bridge across the Niers on the northern edge of the town. The Niers River in February 1945 was swollen due to melting snow and the rainy weather. The whole river bed, the light, frozen area above the town, was overflown, thus forming a formidable waterbarrier. The 5/7 Gordons approached the bridge along the causeway running down from the top-left corner of the picture. Positioned in the houses on the south side of the river the Germans commanded the open area up to Ottersum with fire (picture courtesy: Untitled Document).

    IMG_3070a.jpg
    Niers River as seen from the bridge nowadays


    IMG_3074a.jpg
    View across the bridge along the Nijmeegseweg towards Ottersum. The river had overflown the banks at the time and the water stood at the river dike. The first houses on the opposite bank border the Kleineweg, they are post war buildings with the exception of the houses along the Nijmeegseweg. At the time the area was much more open. The leading platoon of the 5/7 Gordon Highlanders had reached the house on the corner of the Nijmeegseweg/Kleineweg - then a café known as 'Oud Buitenzicht' - when the Niers bridge was blown. In the background the windmill of Ottersum.

    Below: The windmill of Ottersum also features in another well known photograph. The road to Venlo/Maastricht, turn to the right, leads up to the bridge site. The route straight on is the Ottersumseweg which leads to Ottersum and then to Ven-Zelderheide and Hekkens, the small crossroad settlement on the southern edge of the Reichswald (photo: © IWM B 14625)


    Ottersum%20POWs.jpg

    IMG_3067.JPG

    Nijmeegseweg 36 then.jpg
    Highland infantry approach Ottersum along the Nijmeegseweg. The picture was taken in front of house no.36.

    Nijmeegseweg 36.jpg
    Same spot Nijmeegseweg no.36 (house to the right) nowadays. The gable of house has changed litte over the years. Just around the corner is the roadfork with the Ottersumseweg and the nearby windmill.
     
    Last edited: Nov 8, 2019
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  13. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Derbyshire recce to Zelderheide and Ven (Feb 10th)

    In the afternoon, armoured cars of 'C' Sqn of the 2nd Derbyshire Yeomanry, which was attached to the 153 Bde, were sent out to recce the flat and open area to the east of Ottersum between the Reichswald and the river Niers. The recce was conducted by the 2nd Troop, under Lt. D.G. Partridge. The Troop advanced from Ottersum through the small settlements of Aaldonk and Zelderheide, which were found clear. When the lead cars ventured further eastward, towards the x-roads at 834481 (Hekkens), they were hit by AT-fire from a concealed position. Three armoured cars were knocked out in quick succession and sveral men killed and wounded. The Troop leader, Lt Partridge, was taken POW, but recaptured later.

    Report by the CO of 'C' Sqn, Major Patrick MacNaghten, of the events of the 10th:
    Derby C Sqn Report.jpg

    Next day the Derbyshire position at Zelderheide was reinforced by the arrival of 'A' Coy, 5/7 Gordon Highlanders. The infantry held the hamlet together with one Recce troop of 'C' Sqn. Another 'C' Sqn troop held Aaldonk and two sections of the Carrier Platoon, 5/7 Gordons, occupied the cloister area of Maria Roepaan along the Niers, thus picketing the north bank of the river. The Germans still held the south bank. The small township of Ven, near the Hekkens crossroads, also remained in enemy hands.

    The Derbyshire lost the following men in this action:
    1. BEARE, CHARLES GODWIN, Trooper 3860407, February 10, 1945, Age 25, MILSBEEK WAR CEMETERY II. B. 10.
    2. BLOUNT GEORGE HEDLEY, Trooper 7905770, February 10, 1945, Age 26, MILSBEEK WAR CEMETERY II. B. 14.
    3. FULLER, HENRY, Trooper7939026, February 10, 1945, MILSBEEK WAR CEMETERY II. B. 13.
    4. SCHEIN, SOLOMON, Trooper 4749323, February 10, 1945, Age 26, MILSBEEK WAR CEMETERY II. B. 11.
    5. WEST, FREDERICK EDMUND, Lance Serjeant 7905819, February 10, 1945, Age 25, MILSBEEK WAR CEMETERY II. B. 12.

    All of them rest at the Milsbeek War Cemetery:
    20190818_165406.jpg 20190818_165413.jpg 20190818_165439.jpg 20190818_165458.jpg 20190818_165504.jpg
     
    Last edited: Nov 19, 2019 at 7:57 AM
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  14. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    2.2 Fight for Gennep, 5 Back Watch & 1st Gordon Highlanders, 10/11 Feb, 1945

    During the night 10/11 Feb 45 the 5 Black Watch (BW) crossed the flooded Niers in assault boats and entered Gennep from the northwest in the early hours of the morning. The site of the crossing was well chosen being a mile from the town itself so a large measure of surprise was achieved. Two companies of the BW cleared the town. First to enter was 'B' Coy, Major Sander Leslie, which cleared the area of the Church and hospital and captured the area of the destroyed bridge. Enemy resistance was "considerable", but was overcome by the speed of the attack. The enemy tried to make a stand at the large old factory building of the Genneper Molen, which stood by the destroyed Niers bridge, but this resistance was quickly overcome by some artillery support. 'C' Coy, Major Graham Pilcher, then passed through 'B' and proceeded to clear the main street - known as Zandstraat - down to the large crossroads at the southern end of the town. Enemy resistance remained the same and was aggravated by long range sniping and shelling, especially of the bridge site. Sniper fire from the houses along the water edge, along the Niers Straat, at first made it impossible for the engineers, standing by in Ottersum, to approach the bridge. The sniper fire only eased as 'C' Coy moved further south. 'A' Coy, next in line, advanced on the left as far as the build up area of the Picardie street, but met heavy enemy resistance halfway and was held up after taking out some enemy positions. Later that evening the Coy was counterattacked by about 50 enemy, but held its position. The Coy had received about 20 casualties from small-arms fire - machine gun and snipers.

    There were no civilians in Gennep to welcome the Highlanders. Because of the proximity of the frontline the entire population had been evacuated by the Germans in October 1944.

    Gennep Town.jpg
    Aerial of pre-war Gennep with 1. Sanatorium/Hospital, 2. Martinus Curch, 3. Gennepermolen, 4. Old Town Hall, 5. Site of POW Renouf, 6. HQ building 'C' Coy, 7. Niers Straat, 8 Main Street or Zandstraat. (picture courtesy Capt.Roel)

    Fragment from the War Diary of the 5th Black Watch:
    WO_171_5159_0005 5 BW 1.JPG WO_171_5159_0006 5 BW 2.JPG

    In the afternoon the Coys and Tac HQ of the 1s Gordons also crossed the Niers at the same site the Black Watch had crossed the river. All were across by 15:00 hrs. After the crossing all the Coys made their way forward along the communication trenches dug by the enemy all along the Meuse and reached the part of the town occupied by the 5 BW without incident. In the meantime enemy resistance had stiffened and enemy artillery shelling, hitherto confined to the bridge site, was directed on the town center. 1 Gordons decided to attack astride the main road with two companies and then to strike outwards and clear the whole area north of the railway. 'C' Coy led off and cleared all the houses on the west side of the main street and occupied a 3-storey factory (milk factory) which was a key-building with a good field of fire across the railway line. 'B' Coy passed through the forst houses which had been cleared and then, under the cover of smoke, dashed across the street and proceeded to clear the houses across the main road from 'C' Coy. As soon as both companies were established 'A' and 'D' Coys were brought up and put in positions close up against them. These Coys at once sent out patrols, those to the west reported no enemy to the north of the railroad, those to the east located several enemy parties almost in the next street. 'C' Coy was in close contact, the enemy firing a bazooka at their factory from 100 yards. This was the position by dark on 11 Feb. The obstinate resistance came from a battalion of the FJ Regt 2, 2. FJ Division, who according to a POW had orders to hold the railway line to the last man.

    Gennep fight for the town.jpg

    For the story of the battle for Gennep I'm much indebted to WW2talk member Captain Roel who provided me with documents and photographs and kindly guided me around in his hometown and pointed out many details of the battle that were thusfar unknown to me.
     
    Last edited: Sep 9, 2019
  15. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Crossing site at the Genneperhuis

    Genneperhuis Spit.jpg
    Aerial (Dec 1944) of the crossing site at the Genneperhuis - an old castle and 16th century fortification destroyed in 1710 by the French of which nothing remained but for the foundations and surrounding ramparts. The spit of land between the two rivers at the time was even narrower than on the picture because of the overflooded banks. Clearly visible is the communication trench along which the Highlanders moved towards Gennep. The enemy troops - belonging to the 180 Inf Div - which occupied these trenches were facing to the west, towards the Meuse River which was the frontline. 'Bill' is the codename for the Hurkens farm - the house has gone long since (picture courtesy Capt.Roel).

    Bloemenstraat Niers.jpg
    Crossing site of the 5th Black Watch near de Drie Kronen (view to the west towards the Meuse). The ramparts of the old fortification are vaguely visible as shallow rises in the terrain. The area of the Genneperhuis is accessible by a small footbridge that spans the Niers, on the picture on the right, a new construction - which was not present in 1945 - and part of a recently completed landscaping project see Genneperhuis | Vista).

    Leslie Farm 2.jpg
    Somewhat further down the spit of land 'D' Coy reached the farmbuilding codenamed Leslie which was to serve as jump off position for the attack on Gennep. As the leading platoon of 'D' Coy approached the farm the darkness was momentarily illuminated by a flash of light and the men were schocked to find a German platoon right in front of them. A tremendous firefight erupted and several men were hit; a corporal was killed. The platoon nevertheless managed to take their farm objective. But as soon as they occupied the position it was hit by enemy mortar bombs. Lt. Col. Bill Bradford went up to the farm on recce with the OC 'B' Company, Major Sandy Leslie (!). Finding everything allright 'H' hour for 'B' Coy's attack was fixed for 07:15 hrs.

    Buffalo over de Niers c.jpg
    Later on the 11th Buffaloos became available and ferried essential vehicles and ammunition across the Niers; note the width of the river. This image from a news reel was taken near Henakkers (IWM).
     
    Last edited: Oct 27, 2019
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  16. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Battle for Gennep (Niers Bridge)

    Niers Crossing.jpg

    Image of the swollen Niers river. The St. Martinus church and the high square building of the Genneper Molen clearly visible on the opposite bank. The bridge site is under shell fire (courtesy Arensbergen).

    20190818_145353.jpg
    Standing next to the bridge is this old water mill driven factory building - known as the Genneper Molen - which was a saw mill. On the right the church spire of the Martinus church. The ship of the church was so badly damaged, that it was torn down after the war. The church spire is the only part still standing.

    IMG_3068.JPG
    The Niers Bridge photographed in Feb 2015 as the bridge was renamed Highlander Bridge to commemorate the Liberators of Gennep (see also:Operation Veritable - Bridge across the Niers at Gennep now 'Highlander Bridge' ).

    20190818_145257.jpg

    20190818_145306.jpg

    Work on a new bridge started as soon as the situation allowed it on the 11th. Engineers of the 14 Field Sqn RE of the Guards Armoured Division constructed a new bridge within 36 hours despite considerable shelling - which forced repeated stops to the work. The officer in charge of the Troop of RE, William Gordon Cantlay, was interviewed by the IWM. When he arrived at the bridge, says Cantlay, "there's not a bloody 'Kilt' in sight. Very quiet, not very nice at all". Cantlay sent a Bren group in an assault boat across the river and proceeded with the construction of an 80 foot Double-Single bridge while under heavy mortar and sniper fire. After working all through the night of 11/12 Feb the bridge was completed by 10:30 hrs on the 12th and tanks and other vehicles were able to enter Gennep. Cantlay did not see the bridge finished. He was wounded on the 12th, by the same mortar bomb that killed Sergeant Dixon. He also states that an additional number of four or five sappers was wounded during the operation at Gennep, which was quite a number percentage-wise for a small Troop of thirty men. The engineers baptized the new span "Spandau Bridge" because of the heavy enemy fire they were subjected to.

    Niersbrug%20Gennep.jpg
    The
    debris of the destroyed bridge first had to be cleared away before a new bridge could be build; engineers attach explosives to blow up the twisted remains. Inspecting the charges are (probably) Cantlay and Sergeant Dixon or as Cantlay recounted: "We just carried on with the charges and we got all these on ready to blow. We were ready to put the detonators in; until that time you string up your detonating fuze and all that, and your detonators are on that but until you put that into the charges very little will happen. If something really does hit a charge it might go off, but the chances of it are not so much, but immediately you put the detonators in, you're in trouble. So Sergeant Dixon takes the left hand girder, and I take the right hand girder, and we're both crawling up this girder putting the detonators into the charges and we get stonked. That's not terribly happy when you're lying on that with that happening. Fortunately nothing happened."

    The complete audio interview with William Gordon Cantlay can be found here: Cantlay, William Gordon (Oral history) (see audio: Reel 5, from 14:53 onwards)

    For a transcript of the interview see: William Gordon CANTLAY, 14 Field Squadron, RE, attached GAD (courtesy dbf)
     
    Last edited: Nov 19, 2019 at 8:07 AM
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  17. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Battle for Gennep (Town center)

    After 'B' Coy, 5th Black Watch, had cleared the bridge site and the northwest corner of the town center, 'C' and 'A' Coy passed through and moved along the main street, or Zandstraat, to the south of Gennep. In his book "Black Watch" Tom Renouf ('A' Coy) has the following account: " (…) 'C' Coy went up the left hand side, dashing from house to house, while those of us in 'A' Coy went up the right. All of the shop windows had been blown out and the roofs were close to collapsing. We eventually reached a shop whose whole frontage was missing. I stormed inside and found three Germans. One was crying in agony with a broken femur while the other two were trying to help him. They were clearly second-line troops - older and terrified, they did not want any trouble and were relieved to be taken prisoner. I said, "OK, get out," and pointed down the street to where they had to go. I had no time to escort them - we needed to clear the house and get moving. They plonked the injured Jerry on a plank and picked him up, but when they reached the street his leg fell clean off and he let out a terrified scream. Poor chap. If I had remembered my Boy Scout training, I would have tied his legs together. I silently chastised myself but then shouted at them to carry him away. We had to carry on."

    Renouf story.jpg

    Before they evacuated their wounded comrade, the POWs, taken by Tom Renouf, were stripped off their equipment which was left behind on the doorsteps of the shop and later photographed (photo © IWM B 14624)

    20190818_150930.jpg
    Picture of the market place with the old Town Hall. The shop where the three Germans were taken prisoner is to the right with the wooden benches in front, it is located at the Marktstraat 9 (see no. 5 on the aerial of Gennep in post # 14).

    feb1945 Zandstraat na de gevechten.jpg
    Another picture taken further down the Zandstraat. The Town Hall is visible in the background. The armoured cars most likely belong to 'B' Sqn of the Derbyshire Yeomanry which entered Gennep after engineers had finished the bridge across the Niers (IWM) .
     
    Last edited: Nov 8, 2019
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  18. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Battle for Gennep - Major Pilcher's CP (Town Center)

    BW Gennep.jpg

    Life for the most part is underground in Gennep. The Germans are still making the town, which was a key place in their water defense line, an unhealthy place to live in, and shell it regularly. Major Pilcher, CO 'C' Coy, established his CP in the cramped basement of the house at the Zandstraat 7. Major G.A. Pilcher, MC, is in the centre. With him is his 2nd in command, Capt. A.L. Campbell and No. 13 Platoon Commander, Lt. D.P. Smyth. The picture was taken by Sgt. Silverside 14 Feb 45 (photo © IWM B 14622)

    Below attached: The house still exists and is standing to the left of the Zeeman-shop. The basement windows nowadays have almost disappeared behind a raised pavement. The building is indicated as no. 6 on the aerial of Gennep in post #14 above. Lt.Col. Bill Bradford established his Tac Bn HQ next door. It received a direct hit by an enemy shell which killed his signaller and jeep driver.

    CP Zandstraat.jpg
     
    Last edited: Nov 8, 2019
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  19. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Battle for Gennep - Picardie
    Stadsherberg 14-2-1945.jpg

    At the south end of the Zandstraat, near the crossing with the Picardie, this picture was taken of Highland infantry attacking the building that houses the 'Stadsherberg' restaurant. After a smoke grenade has been thrown into the Picardie Street, the infantry dash across the road to 'liberate' the restaurant. These images were staged and taken after the battle for Gennep (photo: © IWM B 14629).

    20190818_151830.jpg
    Same area today. Looking across the Zandstraat into the Picardie Street. The first house to the left inside the Picardie Street features on the next image.

    feb1945 Engelse soldaat valt pand Picardie 4 binnen.jpg
    Picture taken from inside the 'Stadsherberg' restaurant. Across the street a soldier is involved in 'house-clearing'; he breaks down the front door with his rifle butt to enable another one to throw in a grenade and finally get into the house, which is Picardie 4. Sometimes the soldiers used bricks instead of handgrenades, especially when dark cellars had to be cleared and it was not possible to tell if innocent civilians were inside. Most of the time the thud of the brick in the dark space sufficed to bring out the occupants in a hurry. According to the veterans, it was a most effective method and 'less messy' (photo IWM).

    20190818_152002.jpg
    Same house nowadays.

    Picardie Aerial.jpg
    Aerial of the southern part of the town of Gennep up to the Railway Station. In the Picardie street, 'A' Coy 5th Black Watch encountered strong enemy opposition from fresh units of German paratroopers (2. Fallschirmjäger Division). The problem with the Picardie was that the houses were built with large gaps. Fifty yards of open ground separated each property from its neighbour, so it was a mad dahs to find some cover and then regroup for the next domestic raid. At 19:00 hrs a German counterattack hit the position of 'A' Coy. Firing bazookas and grenades at short range German paratroopers rushed the rear of the cottages that had just been taken. The 'A' Coy men fought back and held some of the houses, but others had to be abandoned as they were forced to retreat. The Germans overran house no. 21 held by 8 Platoon. Although 'A' Coy held its ground, it lost 20 men in these actions. The southeastern part of the town remained in enemy hands. (Nos on the map are: 1. Stadsherberg restaurant, 2. Picardie house no.4, 3. Picardie house no.21.) (aerial courtesy Captain Roel)


    20190818_152232.jpg
    Picardie house no. 21 still exists - although barely. Picture taken with view to the east towards the junction with the Kruisstraat which was about the farthest 'A' Coy had got. Tom Renouf: "Our lads threw smoke grenades and some escaped through the front door and windows, but six of them were trapped in the cellar, where they had gone for a smoke. The Germans took them prisoner".

    Cpl. Donald Swatman, a section leader in the 5th Black Watch, earned a Military Medal for his actions at Gennep. Swatman ended up leading his platoon in the defense against a 50-men strong German counter-attack (from this fact I deduce he was a member of 'A' Coy).
    Swatman 5 BW Gennep 1.jpg Swatman 5 BW Gennep 2.jpg


    Docudrama "Battle for Gennep" on You Tube:
     
    Last edited: Nov 8, 2019
  20. Captain Roel

    Captain Roel Junior Member

    At the end of the Zandstraat where the Jan Lindersplein now originated, there used to be a statue of the "Heilig Hart statue" in the perkje in front of the statue, Germans had made a machine gun set-up that they could use to fire directly in the Zandstraat and the Spoorstraat.

    Heilig Hart Beeld te Gennep.jpg
     
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