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VERITABLE 1945: 51st Highland Division Reichswald Forest

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

  1. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Hekkens Time Life 1.jpg
    Same area: German paratroopers are searched by soldiers of the 51st Highland Division; I count 12 POWs in the ditch (including the one on the edge)… though the cap-badge of one of the British soldiers is visible, I have trouble with identifying it. Anyone?
    Last edited: Sep 4, 2019
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  2. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Last weekend I went through my files for awards of 51st HD soldiers and inserted some of these into the previous posts. Especially the awards given to the 152 Bde bear testimony of the ferocious close-quarter fighting in the forest which was much fiercer than I was aware of. There were many bayonet charges and I've read reports of instances where shovels were used by the combatants when the ammunition went out.

    The 152 Bde undoubtly was much weakened by the forest fighting, but the casualties of the FJ Regt 20 must have been staggering. A quick survey of the War Diary reports learns that in the two days fight in the forest and the subsequent battle for the Hekkens Crossroads at least 495 POWs were taken and some 250 men were killed. Casualties probably were even higher since it was difficult to estimate their number in the thick forest. These were severe losses and accounted for over 60% of the combat effectives of the FJ Regt 20; assuming the average Coy strength was 100 men and all casualties belonged to the FJ Regiment. The FJ Regiment no longer could be regarded as an effective fighting force, which is confirmed by the 51st HD Intell Sum no. 325 of 14 Feb 45; see below VERITABLE 1945: 51st Highland Division Reichswald Forest

    Artist Impresion Reichswald.jpg
    Artist's impression of the close-quarter fighting inside the Reichswald in the 53rd Welsh and 51st Highland Div's sectors
    Last edited: Oct 26, 2019
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  3. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Br Offensive n Holland 41aa.jpg
    Highland soldiers carefully bury one of their killed comrades in a field grave. Note the MG42 leaning against the tree to the right.
    Last edited: Sep 24, 2019
  4. 51highland

    51highland Very Senior Member

    From my Fathers memories;
    "We continued to advance along a track with the tanks on our right flank, until we reached a cross track, which was taken mainly due to "C" Company. Snipers were still firing at us from all directions. It had taken the Battalion all day to advance 1500 yards. The Germans were mainly Paratroopers, mostly fanatical, who kept firing until wiped out, usually at point blank range, with hand to hand fighting not uncommon.

    At one point we had run out of ammunition and we finished off one position, attacking and killing the occupants with our trenching tools. It was a particularly bloody affair but they were never going to surrender. Those defenders suffered a particularly violent and bloody death. You know, you can actually take a man's head, clean off his shoulders with a trenching tool. We spent that night consolidated in the cross track area and 2nd Seaforth moved through us to take the lead at first light 10th February.

    The Seaforths hadn't got far before they were held up by determined resistance from the German 7th Parachute Division. 5th Camerons were immediately ordered to push through this enemy pocket. We in "D" Company were ordered to push round the right flank...……………….".

    Owing to casualties, 'D' company was shared out among the 3 remaining companies on the 12th February and reinstated on the 15th. mainly from the 69 reinforcements which had arrived at B echelon on the 14th.
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2019
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  5. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    4. A second bridgehead across the Niers, 154 Bde

    During Feb 12th and 13th plans were laid for a second crossing of the River Niers. The operation was to be carried out by 154 Bde in three phases.

    First: on the evening of 13 Feb the 7th Black Watch were to cross the river near Zelderheide and establish a first bridgehead on the high ground within the loop of the river. Second the 1st Black Watch then were to pass through and enlarge the bridgehead to the east and southeast. The objective was to dominate the road to Kessel and free the main supply road Gennep - Hekkens from enemy observation by seizing a wide tract of ground to the south of the Niers. Finally the 7th Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders were to seize Kessel and open the road to Goch. Buffaloes were to carry the infantry across the Niers. Twelve of these amphibious vehicles were available for the crossing. A Buffalo collecting point was set up at the township of Ven. The first crossing was to be made at 18:45 hrs, the second phase to be launched at 22:15 hrs. The 154 Bde was given control of the 5th Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders, who acted as a reserve.

    The 153 Bde was to support the crossing by a diversionary attack from the Gennep bridgehead towards Hommersum, next day orders were given to the 32nd Guards Brigade, which came under command of the Highland Division at 01:00 hrs on the 14th, to seize Hommersum and establish a bridgehead across the small Kendel Brook at Hommersum. Thus the 153 Bde bridgehead at Gennep could be merged with the newly established one of the 154 Bde at Kessel.

    51 HD Ops Instruc No 27 13.02.45.jpg
    Ops Instruc No.27 51st HD for the second bridgehead across the Niers. The 2nd page unfortunately is missing.

    In the meantime sappers of the 274th Field Coy were hard at work to open up the Gennep - Hekkens road, clearing mines and filling up a large crater that was blown into the road. Because of enemy observation the work during the daylight hours had to be conducted under cover of a smoke screen. In the morning of the 13th the road was open and immediately used by supply columns of the 53 Welsh Division. The Welsh were on the left of the Highland Division exploiting into the Reichswald and were experiencing major difficulties with their supply over the muddy roads and forest tracks. The activity immediately attracted a lot of enemy shellfire.

    Owing to the mud, the continuous rain which had fallen since the start of the operation and the very large amount of traffic, road conditions within the 51st HD sector also deteriorated rapidly and at 16:00 hrs on the 13th the HD axis through the Reichswald collapsed and had to be closed down for maintenance for 12 hours. Ammunition for the 154 Bde crossing now had to be hauled forward along the Gennep-Hekkens road and arrived just in time for the operation.

    Second Niers Bridgehead aa.jpg

    Fragment of the 154 Bde War Diary for 12 and 13 Feb 45:
    154 Bde WD 1.jpg 154 Bde WD 2.jpg 154 Bde WD 3.jpg
    Last edited: Oct 13, 2019
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  6. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    4.1 Phase1: The 7th Black Watch cross the Niers (Feb 13th)

    At 20:30 hrs on Feb 13th, the first flight of Buffaloes crossed, carrying 'B' Coy followed by 'D' Coy, Battalion HQ the RAP. 'A'Coy was in reserve and did not cross until later. The crossing was covered by artillery fire following a preliminary bombardment by mortars firing from the Hekkens area. The crossing was not opposed, and 'B'Coy pushed quickly on. Tactical HQ had a little battle all to themselves in the clearing of some buildings taking 12 prisoners, some badly wounded. The RAP, by some freak of cross-country navigation, had actually arrived at these buildings before Tactical HQ but, on being confronted by some angry Germans, had contrived by dint of field craft,common sense, and one Sten gun, to make a strategic withdrawal.

    'B' Coy quickly reached Kapellen, capturing a number of POWs and clearing the area after a short engagement. 'D' Coy then passed through to clear Viller Mühle, a hamlet dominated by a large flour mill and its outbuildings. The enemy being taken in the flank were largely surprised, but, after a number had been killed, resistance centred on a large pill-box and a house in the middle of the village, which proved very determined. After one assault, supported by PIATs, had been repulsed with casualties, the house was eventually set on fire by 2-inch mortar smoke fired through the windows from 10 yards' range. Resistance then collapsed and 'D' Coy consolidated. By 01:45 hrs the 7th Black Watch had taken 86 POWs. The battalion's casualties were 5 ORs killed and 2 Officers and 24 ORs wounded.

    The winding Niers River near Zelderheide. At the time the river was much more swollen with flood waters.

    The crossing point of 154 Bde code-named RABBIT. The river here coincides with the Dutch/German border. The wooded area (codenamed Whippet) just across the river is nowadays occupied by a military depot and off limits.
    Last edited: Sep 26, 2019
  7. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    The old flour mill at Villers, also known as Viller Mühle, still exists. It no longer is used as a factory, but is turned into a sort of lumber room museum. The complex was taken by 'D'Coy of the 7th Black Watch after some stiff fighting. Below: The war damage is still clearly visible on the gable.

    Last edited: Sep 25, 2019
  8. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    4.2 Phase 2: 1st Black Watch attack and counterattack (Feb 14, 1945)

    The plan of attack of the 1st Black Watch was to cross in Buffaloes, then follow up the 7th Black Watch axis with 'A' Coy leading. 'A'Coy was to push forward and establish itself at the road junction, codenamed Bulldog, to cover the road from Kessel. 'B' Coy was to follow and exploit south of 'A' Coy as far as the woods north of Hassum Station - towards a report line called Mastiff. 'C' Coy who were the last, were to branch off to the southeast and fight their way towards a line anchored on the Heyse Hof. Thus a two battalion bridgehead of some depth would have been established.

    At 22:00 hrs the first elements of the 1st Black Watch crossed the river. The crossing was completed successfully in spite of heavy mortaring on the Buffalo marshalling yard. The 2 i/c of the Buffaloes was wounded and the O.C. TCP 2 moved the marshalling yard a few hundred yards north. 'A' Coy were soon on their way to their objective and at 01:45 hrs was reported on Bulldog. At 23:30 hrs the remainder of the 1st Black Watch crossed and by 03:45 hrs the 1st Black Watch had taken all objectives and were mopping up some isolated pockets holding out in houses. They used Lifebuoys and produced another 60 POWs.

    By this time a small bridge to take feet only was across at the Buffalo crossing point, but within a very short time it was washed away by the current. Casualties and POWs were ferried back by the Buffaloes to a car point near the crossing site.

    Captain William Michael Wingate-Gray, of 154 Bde HQ, who was responsible for the Buffalo loading and assembly point received a bar to his MC:
    Wingate-Gray 154 Bde HQ 1.jpg Wingate-Gray 154 Bde HQ 2.jpg

    154 Bde bridgehead 2a.jpg

    From 08:00 hrs onwards the situation began to deteriorate. The ammunition situation was bad, as most Buffaloes had broken down during the night and only two carriers had arrived and a few anti-tank guns. By the early morning hours only three Buffaloes remained serviceable. There was a complete lack of communication as the 18 sets were in no case working from any Coy HQ and 'B' Coy was a bit disorganized, lacking its Coy commander, who had been wounded during the action.

    At 08:15 hrs the 1st Black Watch reported that they were being counterattacked from the south. In the 'C' Coy area enemy infiltration was going on and the whole area was subjected to brisk small arms fire. A standing patrol had been overwhelmed at early dawn and taken prisoner. D.F. was fired. Then two enemy SP guns with infantry support, attacking 'B' Coy from the southeast, infiltrated through the woods and surprised one of the platoons and the anti-tank gun supporting it, in rear. A number of casualties were suffered from the SP guns firing at very close range. The platoon was driven back in the direction of Battalion HQ followed by a second platoon which also had no officer. 'B' Coy and consequently 'C' Coy, who were now in danger of becoming isolated, withdrew and re-organised along the line of a small wood not far from the Battalion HQ. At 11:15 hrs a new close-in defense had been organized and closely co-ordinated with the 7th Black Watch. The 1st Black Watch had lost two anti-tank guns and two carriers and suffered 48 casualties. Pretty heavy shelling was going on continuously and the enemy were hitting continually the house in which the Battalion HQ was established. Eventually the situation was restored by the arrival of some anti-tank guns from the 5 Camerons and the arrival of ammunition and wireless sets. A company of the 5th Camerons was sent across the river and remained in reserve with 7 Black Watch. It was never committed.

    During the rest of the day heavy defense fires were fired by the artillery on Kessel, where the enemy had also shown signs of attacking on 'A' Coy's front and in the woods near Hassum Station and Heyse Hof. In addition, Typhoons put up a tremendous display for almost an hour and any further inclination by the Germans to attack must have been blasted out of them.

    Mastiff 1st BW.jpg
    View from the north of the woodsline, also known under the codename Mastiff; the wooded area just north of Hassum Station where the 1st Black Watch was counterattacked by enemy SP guns on 14 February 1945.

    The 154 Bde attack hit all three battalions of the 20. FJ Regiment. The Intell Sum no 325, of the 51st HD, dated 14 Feb 45, states that the Para regiment was in a much more disintegrated state than anticipated. According to a POW it had suffered such heavy casualties that all three battalions had been fused into one unit two days ago. Among the 123 POWs from the Para Regt taken in the night attack were three Coy commanders and a Battalion commander. Fragment of the Intell Sum:

    Intell Sum no. 325 14.02.45.jpg
    Last edited: Oct 30, 2019
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  9. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Fallen of the 1st Black Watch for 13 and 14 Feb were:

    1. CAVENDISH Private 14499477 JOHN RICHARD 14 February 1945 Age 18 REICHSWALD FOREST WAR CEMETERY 60. G. 16.
    2. CHAPMAN Corporal 2762798 JAMES DAVIS 14 February 1945 Age 32 REICHSWALD FOREST WAR CEMETERY 60. G. 17.
    3. COLE Private 4862493 HARRY 14 February 1945 Age 25 REICHSWALD FOREST WAR CEMETERY 60. B. 17.
    4. CURRIE Corporal 2766739 NORMAN CAMERON 14 February 1945 Age 29 RHEINBERG WAR CEMETERY 12. B. 2
    5. EDWARDS Private 2760062 JAMES SPALDING 14 February 1945 Age 29 REICHSWALD FOREST WAR CEMETERY 60. H. 19
    6. FAIRBROTHER Private 14582916 JACK 14 February 1945 Age 19 REICHSWALD FOREST WAR CEMETERY 60. G. 13.
    7. HOLLAND Private 2992364 THOMAS WILLIAM 14 February 1945 Age 31 OTTERSUM ROMAN CATHOLIC CEMETERY Grave 4.
    8. JERRAMS Private 14577109 ERIC WILLIAM GEORGE 14 February 1945 Age 19 REICHSWALD FOREST WAR CEMETERY 60. B. 15
    9. WARD Private 1643908 FREDERICK HUNTER 14 February 1945 Age 35 REICHSWALD FOREST WAR CEMETERY 60. B. 14.
    10. WILLIAMS Lance Corporal 5340507 EDGAR 14 February 1945 Age 25 MOOK WAR CEMETERY II. B. 13.
    11. WILSON Private 14425209 FREDERICK GEORGE 13 February 1945 Age 19 UDEN WAR CEMETERY 6. E. 10.

    BW Cole.jpg BW Jerrams.jpg BW Ward.jpg

    Fallen of the 7th Black Watch for 13 and 14 Feb were:

    1. ARNOT Private 2759147 DAVID 14 February 1945 Age 28 REICHSWALD FOREST WAR CEMETERY 60. G. 9.
    2. ASTLEY Lance Corporal 6097788 PHILLIP 14 February 1945 Age 24 REICHSWALD FOREST WAR CEMETERY 60. G. 14.
    3. CLARK Private 14503143 WILLIAM COLIN 13 February 1945 Age 21 REICHSWALD FOREST WAR CEMETERY 60. G. 8
    4. MANDERS Private 5443007 ALFRED 13 February 1945 Age 31 OTTERSUM ROMAN CATHOLIC CEMETERY Grave 2.
    5. PICKUP Private 14497907 GEORGE 13 February 1945 Age 18 REICHSWALD FOREST WAR CEMETERY 60. G. 7.

    BW Clark.jpg BW Pickup.jpg
    Last edited: Oct 27, 2019
  10. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    4.3 Phase 3: the 7th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders capture Kessel (Feb 14th, 1945)

    During the counterattack planning for the 7 Argyll's was going ahead for the attack on Kessel that same night. It was decided that the A&SH would cross at the same place and by the same means as the other battalions. Their route was lit by the Bde Provost. The same TCP was to control the crossing. They would go through teh Balck Watch battalions and start their attack through the 1st Black Watch lines. The Start Line was a track running southeast from the Driesburg farm. The battalion would move from the assembly area at 18:15 hrs cross the river at 19:15 hrs and be complete in the FUP at 21:15 hrs. They would attack at 22:15 hrs. An L.O. would be with 1st Black Watch and go up with the first party of the 7th A&SH. The artillery programme was again immense and was slightly adjusted to allow the Battalion to form up forward of 1st Black Watch and cross the S.L. immediately the artillery fire lifted.

    The plan was carried out almost to the minute and opposition was light. The enemy had very little time to collect themselves after the barrage and before the Battalion had one Coy in. Most of them were emerging from the cellars and 70 POWs were taken that night. The 7th A&SH casualties during the attack were 18 and one officer wounded. Mopping up of the area took most of the night and the following day the 15th, and a further 70 POWs including two officers were rounded up.

    Meanwhile the Buffaloes were still ferrying transport across and casualties and POWs were coming back. At 23:30 hrs TCP2 reported A&SH essential vehicles were across. At this point 274 Field Coy commenced to build a Bailey bridge at the bridge site at Kessel. The task was made difficult by enemy shelling and mortaring near the site. The RE's recce party which crossed to recce the south bank unfortunately went up on a mine. The angle of the bridge to the river was not helpful, but it was hoped that a Class 40 bridge would be across in 12 hours. At 05:00 hours the RE's reported that the bridge could be only Class 9 and would not be ready before 12:00 (Feb 15th) but would be built up to Class 40 later. Throughout the morning heavy and accurate mortaring continued on the A&SH and the bridge site. Until a bridge could be finished the 154 Bde's bridgehead was isolated. A further attempt of building a small Jeep bridge was made by the 1st Black Watch but owing to an anti-tank obstacle and flooding it was found to be hopeless.

    One officer of the 274 Field Coy lost his life in the action:
    SHACKLETON Lieutenant 228886 RICHARD ALNWICK 15 February 1945 Age 22 OTTERSUM ROMAN CATHOLIC CEMETERY Grave 3.

    One soldier of the 7th A&SH was killed on the 15th:
    ALLAN Private 14790033 DAVID 15 February 1945 Age 20 REICHSWALD FOREST WAR CEMETERY 61. C. 3.

    Map of the Hekkens - Kessel area:

    Hekkens Crossroads.jpg
    Last edited: Oct 17, 2019
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  11. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Ottersum Roman Catholic Cemetery

    The local cemetery at Ottersum contains a small plot with eight graves of Britsh soldiers of the Second World War.


    These are the graves of:
    Serjeant Percy Brown, 1803188, Royal Artillery 40 LT. A.A. Regt., 24-02-1945, age 33
    Driver Leslie Gilbert, 14215067, Royal Engineers 521 Field Survey Coy, 02-11-1944, age 20
    Private Thomas William Holland, 2992364, Black Watch (Royal Highlanders) 1st Bn., 14-02-1945, age 41
    Private Alfred Manders, 5443007, Black Watch (Royal Highlanders) 7th Bn., 13-02-1945, age 31
    Lieutenant Lawrence Bowman Robbins, 267713, Pioneer Corps, 24-02-1945, age 41
    Private Robert James Rowley, 14431467, Seaforth Highlanders 5th Bn., 17-02-1945,age 19
    Lieutenant Richard Alnwick Shackleton, 228886, Royal Engineers 274 Field Coy, 15-02-1945, age 22, Awards MC
    Private Charles Broolie Stirton, 268918, Seaforth Highlanders 2nd Bn., 17-02-1945, age 23.

    (Courtesy Commonwealth War Graves Roman Catholic Cemetery Ottersum - Ottersum - TracesOfWar.com)
    Last edited: Oct 26, 2019
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