32nd Guards Infantry Brigade september 1944

Discussion in 'The Brigade of Guards' started by Morancé, Jul 3, 2019.

  1. Morancé

    Morancé Member

    I am new member on this forum, and excuse me first for my bad English.
    I am looking for information about delivrance of Ath in Belgium, 3 september 1944. I think it was a unit of 32nd Guards Infantry Brigade (Guards Armoured Division), but which ? Anyone can help me to tell me which one ? Is it possible to get war diary of this unit for this date ?

    Thanks in advance

  2. Morancé

    Morancé Member

    53295579_2197010277044447_2330574362911965184_n.jpg I have this picture, an English motocyclist : I can't see his badge, can you help me ? It's a photo taken in Ath 3 september 1944
  3. Tricky Dicky

    Tricky Dicky Don'tre member

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  4. Morancé

    Morancé Member

    Thanks a lot ; have you this book : ROSSE, and HILL, The Story of the Guards Armoured Division 1941 – 1945 ? If yes, can you send me copy of pages about the rush to Brussels (on 3rd September 1944) ? Thanks in advance
  5. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    I'm afraid I don't have the war diary for 2 Armd Recce Bn Welsh Guards. In case no other forum member has it, the file can be found at Kew:
    2 Welsh Guards (Armoured Reconnaisance) | The National Archives
    Reference: WO 171/1260
    Description: 2 Welsh Guards (Armoured Reconnaisance)
    Date: 1944 Jan.- Dec.

    War Diary: 1st Battalion WELSH GUARDS, Jan - Dec 1944
    September 3
    The Battalion left at first light and after a short halt at 0630 hours to line up with the 2nd Battalion WELSH GUARDS, the advance continued, the tanks in front doing anything up to 40 m.p.h. as an American Armoured Division had preceded us as far as TOURNAI but after that we were going over unliberated territory, and in every village the WELSH GUARDS Group got a terrific welcome.
    The first check came at LEUTZ [?LEUZE], when some Infantry with a few Anti-Tank guns were well astride the road, and a staged attack which took a bit of time was put in by Prince of Wales Company and the leading tanks.
    After this opposition had been successfully overcome, without any casualties to ourselves, though considerable casualties to the enemy, the advance continued, with checks only at ENGHIEN and HALLE.
    The two Battalions entered the outskirts of BRUSSELS at approximately 2000 hours.
    The whole way along the route, the column had been greeted by cheering crowds, throwing fruit and covering with flowers every passing vehicle.
    It may incidentally be noted that it is not easy to operate a wireless set satisfactorily when unrip fruit continually hurtles through the window.
    Once the two Battalions had entered BRUSSELS however, the welcome exceeded anything the Battalion has ever seen before or is ever likely to see again.
    It was practically impossible to get through the streets, so great was the press of the crowd, and presents of every sort were showered on the troops.
    Scores of bottles of brandy, wines of all descriptions were pressed through the windows and nearly every vehicle had a blonde in it, but under the circumstances it was extremely difficult to eject them, even if the wish had have been there.
    Drill Serjeant BLACKMORE had two on the back of his motor cycle.
    Progress through the street was of necessity so slow that darkness had fallen by the time the Battalion reached the Avenue de Waterloo, where it was decided to form close laager with the tanks for the night.
    There was still a considerable amount of M.M.G fire at no great distance, and every kind of report and rumour of enemy tanks and enemy infantry were brought in by the excited soldiers of the BELGIUM ARMEE BLANCHE, while a hundred yards away the PALAIS DE JUSTICE was going up in a cloud of flames.
    Save for recce elements of 2 HOUSEHOLD CAVALRY REGIMENT, and 2nd Battalion WELSH GUARDS of R Force the Battalion were the first British troops to enter BRUSSELS.
    As soon as vehicles had been parked, and it was far from easy to find anyone in the confusion of the dark, crowds collected round all the vehicles and it is probably extremely fortunate that no counter attack of any sort developed, as in the darkness and confusion it would not have been a pleasant or any easy matter to deal with it.

    War Diary: 2nd Armoured Battalion IRISH GUARDS, Jan - Dec 1944
    3 September 1944
    The HOUSEHOLD CAVALRY REGIMENT passed through us leading the column, and after them the WELSH GUARDS GROUP.
    We moved ourselves and for the rest of the day drove almost without a stop. It was our longest drive, 82 miles in 13 hrs. The populace cheered and established plum apple and beer points along the road; the sun shone hotly and everyone enjoyed themselves enormously.
    After the Divisional Commander had held a conference by the road side, we received our orders for the entry into BRUSSELS. The 5 GDS ARMD BDE was directed on the N and W suburbs, the WELSH GUARDS GROUP to the centre and ourselves to the E to block the main roads of escape. Lt-Col. J.O.E. VANDELEUR therefore ordered three strong points to be formed, one on the main road to LOUVAIN at WOLUWE (6857 sheet 55) by No. 1 Company and No. 1 Squadron, one at the main X rds on the edge of the city (6751) by No. 3 and 4 Companies and No. 2 Squadron and the combined Hqs, and the third on a X rds in the FORET de SOIGNES (6949) by No. 2 Company and No. 3 Squadron.
    We turned off the main road to circle to the EAST of the city by ALSEMBERG (6643). The crowds now were thicker and more enthusiastic than ever and cheered each tank as it passed, shouting “Thank you, Thank you”.
    We were held up a short while by two German 3.7 guns firing down our road. The crews however were soon shifted by Browning and HE. The Squadrons then disperse to their areas and everyone was in position by 23.30hrs. It was very difficult to find the way through the streets by night, so a local guide was found for No. 1 Sqn, which had the hardest route. Prisoners began coming in almost at once, mostly from the CHATEAU DIETRICH, a former LUFTWAFFE HQ, some 500 yds form Bn HQ. Capt A.E. DORMAN while pulling Germans out of ditches was mistaken for one by some of 3rs Bn and shot through the leg. His annoyance was natural and great. The people were still crowding around the tanks kissing the Guardsmen, and we had to ask the police to make a cordon - which they did rather ineffectively. We found ourselves billets with ease, as the people gladly gave up their own beds so that their “biares liberateurs” could sleep in comfort. No-one in the Battalion will ever forget the night of our entry to BRUSSELS, and the joy and gratitude of the people: and many realised perhaps for the first time how very well-worth while the hardships and losses of the campaign in NORMANDY had been. Also the hatred of the GERMANS was more widespread and bitter than we might have expected.

    War Diary: 3rd Battalion IRISH GUARDS, Jan - Dec 1944
    September 3 DOUAI to BRUSSELS
    The Bn left DOUAI at 06:00 hrs, our object being BRUSSELS, via ORCHIES by-pass - TOURNAI - ATH - ENGHEIN - HAL. This was a distance of 80 miles but good progress was made once we got on the main road. We had a short and very bumpy trip across country and during this time crossed the BELGIAN frontier. As BELGIUM was entered the reception given us increased in enthusiasm - opposition was being by-passed all the time. For instance, there were several hundred Germans in ENGIENNCEand a battle raging with the MAQUIS as we went through. They could not understand why we did not stop but our orders were to push to BRUSSELS.

    I'll check the IG and WG Regimental Histories for the relevant date and post them later.
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  6. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    The Welsh Guards at War, Ellis; pages 202 - 211"

    “An armoured dash unequalled for speed in this or any other war.” (Part 1, page 66.)

    On the 28th August both WELSH GUARDS Battalions left the pleasant country in NORMANDY, where they had been resting and licking their wounds, and started the long record-breaking advance which with ever-quickening pace led to BRUSSELS. The German armies of NORMANDY had been everywhere broken and large forces had been annihilated in the FALAISE pocket. The remnants were in full flight and after the GUARDS ARMOURED DIVISION had crossed the SEINE by Bailey bridges near VERNON the Division led the hunt into BELGIUM.

    Friday, September the 1st, 1944, was a memorable day for both Battalions. It was the last occasion on with the 2nd Battalion fulfilled its role of battle reconnaissance in front of the Division. In NORMANDY the close Bocage country had given them no real chance to show their mettle. This time there was no such difficulty. The hedgeless, open country was not unlike the Yorkshire wolds on with they had trained. The enemy were in retreat and the Battalions’ orders were to go as fast and as far as possible, by-passing opposition and sending information back. “Our advance began at dawn with No. 1 Squadron on the left, No. 2 on the right and No. 3 in reserve. Our objective was the VIMY RIDGE by ARRAS and we went by small roads and across country. It soon became apparent that the enemy were completely disorganised. In some villages there was no resistance and quantities of Germans gave themselves up without even waiting for us to open fire. In other cases a token opposition was overcome by a few rounds from our leading tanks. Occasionally the enemy made a more determined attempt to delay us, but we by-passed serious resistance and pushed on as fast as the tanks would go. By eleven o’clock in the morning No. 1 Squadron alone had taken two hundred prisoners, whom we left the local Force Francaise Interieur to deal with. Soon afterwards we had the pleasure of shooting up a large quantity of German transport passing down a main road across our front. Great damage was done to vehicles and personnel. By earl afternoon we had attained our objective and had begun mopping-up operations in the area. Our advance had been mainly across country and against an exhausted and confused enemy, dependent almost entirely on horses and horse-drawn transport. Our job had been exhilarating and exciting and we had done all that was asked of us in a very short time.”

    The day was no less memorable for the 1st Battalion for they were the first troops to enter Arras, which they had been the last to leave in 1940. “To those of us who had lived in Arras for seven months in 1940 and who had held it to the last, it was a great event to enter the town again. The reception we had had in every town and village was tremendous. At one place an elderly Frenchman with an even older bugle stood by the road and blew ‘Cookhouse at the double’ as the Battalion went by. But ARRAS was the best.” Their old friends turned out in full force, and Major MILLER recovered most of the kit he had left there four years before, though his suitcase had been cut open by a German officer and his uniform taken out.

    They moved on September the 2nd to the outskirts of DOUAI and there a series of marriages took place. For the GUARDS ARMOURED DIVISION was reorganised in regimental groups; each consisted of one armoured and one infantry battalion of the same regiment, the 1st and 2nd Battalions forming the WELSH GUARDS Group. It was a most happy wedding of infantry and armour: battle experience had taught that neither arm could be fully effective without the support of the other and this linking of battalions of the same regiment secured the closest unity. The inter-battalion friendship which already existed was strengthened by team-work in battle and the spirit and tradition of the Regiment were given full scope.

    The had a wonderful honeymoon next day which is vividly described by Lieutenant-Colonel J.C. WINDSOR LEWIS, who commanded the Group. “We had moved that afternoon, Saturday, the 2nd of September, 1944, to an aerodrome near DOUAI; there, as we though, to perform maintenance upon our long-suffering vehicles and to rest ourselves. For life this week had been gloriously hectic, with the peak our lightning advance nearer and nearer with every minute and every kilometre that flashed by. Major N.T.L. FISHER, now commanding No. 1 Squadron, and Major J.M. MILLER, Prince of Wales Company, quickly made a plan for their squadron and company to deploy, and in two hours the opposition had been cleared up and the advance resumed at its headlong momentum. The Cromwells were performing miracles of speed and endurance, a triumph for the manufacturers and fitters and drivers. Only once during the day did we pause for a long halt to grease, oil, tighten nuts and fill with petrol. Overhead weaved R.A.F. planes, seeking opportunities to batter and destroy German transport and fighting vehicles. With memories of NORMANDY, tank crews were quick with their yellowfins smoke and other recognition signals to signify our identity to the aeroplanes.

    “A few enemy were encountered in ENGHIEN, but not sufficient to hinder the speed of the advance. Hordes of prisoners were coming down the road as we approached the suburbs of BRUSSELS through cheering crowds and lanes of burning and destroyed German vehicles. We had reached the outskirts of the city before the first instalment of snipers’ bullets whistled over the heads of the leading tank commanders. There had been a complete absence all day of German artillery and mortaring. Hardly a shell whined or whistled during the advance. The HOUSEHOLD CAVALRY were halted by orders in the suburbs; the GRENADIERS leading on the left Centre Line had been held up and were not yet in the city; so it was left to the WELSH GUARDS Battle Group to be the first to enter, penetrate and liberate BRUSSELS, a proud and never-to-be-forgotten operation.

    “Resistance in the city itself came mostly from the eager Belgian crowds. It was difficult for any tank or infantry commander to manoeuvre his vehicle down those streets packed with crowds of liberated citizens who had gone literally mad. Drivers were kissed, commanders were embraced and garlanded, everywhere was noise and chaos abounding. It was quite impossible to transmit a coherent message over the wireless, and in any case the air at that time of evening was extremely bad, as, for some unaccountable reason, it usually was. The column by now had orders to seize key points in the middle of the town and harbour there. This proved a task of immeasurable difficulty, as it was quite impossible to read a map, hear yourself speak, or get any further order in that babel and pandemonium. The Battle Group did eventually harbour in a tight square in the Boulevard Waterloo; but even to reach this was to prove the task of a lifetime and we were not in position until after midnight. Crowds of joyous, deliriously excited citizens barred the way to our tanks, swarmed all over them, screamed salutations to us, pressed fruit and drink upon the tired, dusty, hot tank crews. By now what there was left of German resistance in the town was making itself felt; machine-guns, anti-tank guns and snipers barked at us. We barked back, the crowds leapt off the tanks and dived into slit trenches, porches of houses and any other cover that presented itself to them. This gave the scattered column some breathing space, and one was left wondering which was worse - to be kissed, hugged and screamed at by hysterical women whilst trying to give out orders over the wireless and to control the direction of your tank; or to be free of the crowd and shot at by Germans who did not shoot straight. The opposition was not heavy and was soon overpowered. The crowds emerged excitedly from their slit trenches and over-ran the tanks once again. How I wish we had entered BRUSSELS carrying infantry upon our tanks. There is no room on the platform of a Cromwell for excited citizens and tired soldiers. I have a feeling that the soldiers would have won.

    “Night was falling, and the column was still split and deployed all over the town each sub-group trying in vain to reach the destination that had been given it on the large-scale map that afternoon. What Germans there were still left in BRUSSELS must have marvelled at so great a force of tanks milling up and down the streets. For that is the impression that our Battle Group must have given, and the enemy, we hope, was duly deceived as to our size and strength. We made enough noise for two Armoured Brigades as each troop got lost in the city, retraced its steps, roared down another street, shot up some more Germans.

    “Eventually, and I shall never quite know why, we all met, infantry and tanks. Only the Adjutant of the 2nd Battalion and two troops of tanks were missing, and the reason was that they only of the entire column had reached the correct destination. We couldn’t dig in. The ground was too hard. The tanks got into a huddle under the trees in the shadow of the burning Palais de Justice; and the 1st Battalion looked after the perimeter along the pavements of the streets and at certain cross-roads. We tried to keep the jostling, tireless, excited, liberated crowds out of our strange laager area, but this proved to be quite hot soldiers were the exhibits. Most of us would have slept in any position for we were dog tired after this epic record-breaking operation. The Germans never bombed us that night, which was unaccountably strange for they must have known where we were.

    “Just before Reveille I was warned for an Order Group at Brigade Headquarters, but how the hell was I going to get there, and where was the Brigade anyway? I rubbed the sleep and dust from my eyes and wandered up the road to get my Jeep. Fifty yards away from our area lay Brigade Headquarters. They had gone wrong too.”

    An entry in Lieutenant-Colonel LEWIS’s personal diary for this date reads: “The last time I had been in BRUSSELS was in July, 1940, as a fugitive escaping from the Germans. On that occasion I had entered the city from the east in a train. Today I entered it from the west in at tank.”

    * * * * *

    The first tank to enter BRUSSELS was commanded by Lieutenant J.A.W. DENT and driven by Guardsman E.J. JAMES; Lance-Corporal E.K. REES was the gunner, Guardsman Robert BERESFORD the hull gunner and Guardsman Ralph BERESFORD the wireless operator. They destroyed a busload of Germans by the Avenue des Arts on their way to the Arc de Cinquentaire, where they knocked out a German tank before halting for the night in company with Prince of Wales Company of the 1st Battalion. These men, the crew of the leading tank of No. 3 Troop, No. 1 Squadron, 2nd Armoured Reconnaissance Battalion WELSH GUARDS, were the first soldiers of the Allied Armies to re-enter the Belgian capital on the 3rd of September, 1944.

    * * * * *

    The story of the 3rd Battalion’s actions in the ARNO valley includes an outline of the way in which the transport of an infantry battalion was organised in the Italian Campaign. The 1st Battalion’s transport arrangements in Western Europe differed in detail, but the general plan was similar and indeed the principle of grouping transport in echelons, based at different points in the Divisional column, was applied to all infantry battalions. They applied, too, to armoured battalions, but these had a different set of problems to meet and an account of the 2nd Battalion’s transport arrangements may well round off this story of a three days’ movement which covered nearly 200 miles.

    As with the infantry battalions, the reason for grouping transport in echelon was to keep back as far as was practicable all vehicles not involved in fighting and only to have forward those most likely to be needed. Apart from other considerations there was the vital question of road space to consider, for the hundred and five wheeled vehicles of the 2nd Battalion’s transport, travelling as one column at twenty miles an hour, would have occupied at least four miles of road.

    “F2” Echelon was furthest forward, travelling with the Battalion behind the reserve squadron of tanks. It consisted, first, of petrol and ammunition lorries ready to refill the Battalion at any time in case of need - for petrol and ammunition are a special problem in an armoured battalion; next, Captain H.T. CLOSE-SMITH, the Signals Officer, had a small posse of vehicles carrying signal equipment and spare batteries; and in this echelon there were also various scout cars and jeeps which might be sent off anywhere at a moment’s notice; and “although theoretically the Sergeants’ Mess truck was supposed to be in the rear with ‘B’ Echelon it was always in F2, no matter how heavy the shelling!” A subaltern commanded this echelon, usually Lieutenant D.M. OWEN-EDMUNDS, and a notable figure there was Regimental Sergeant-Major Ivor ROBERTS. In all there would be about thirty vehicles.

    “A” Echelon came next, comprising the main group of petrol and ammunition lorries, the signal section stores, the technical stores, the squadron cookers. So long as the echelon was near enough to re-supply the Battalion with petrol and ammunition at night there was no need for it to be near the Battalion by day. By day the vehicles and personnel of this echelon were liable to be all over the place at any given time. Thus at mid-day it would be normal for the Battalion Technical Quartermaster-Sergeant E.E.C. COLLIER to be forty miles back getting urgently needed spare parts for the tanks; for Drill-Sergeant A. REES to be four miles back getting eight petrol lorries filled; for Lance-Sergeant R.P. HORNET, the Battalion butcher, to be on his way to the Battalion with tomorrow’s rations; for Drill-Sergeant F. GERMAN to be returning with empty lorries after taking ammunition forward; for the Signal Sergeant to be fetching repaired wireless sets from the Division; for the Post Corporal to be taking mail up to Battalion Headquarters; for “A” Echelon commander, Captain J.S. GWATKIN, to be at Headquarters, too, finding out what would be required later; for Squadron Sergeant-Major E. BIRCH of Headquarters Squadron to be attending an “O” group at Brigade Headquarters, as “A” Echelon came under the Brigade Transport Officer so far as movement orders were concerned. That would leave the Battalion Transport Sergeant G.H. MARCHANT in charge of what was left of this echelon, which when assembled consisted of about forty-five vehicles.

    “B” Echelon contained the remaining wheeled transport of the Battalion amounting to about thirty vehicles.

    For movement “B” Echelon came under the orders of the officer commanding the Divisional Administrative Area where it lived; otherwise it was under the Quartermaster, Captain J.C. BUCKLAND. Here were the stores which the Battalion could do without for a period of days - the clothing not wanted in battle, quartermaster’s stores, squadron stores and a few spare petrol and ammunition lorries in case those more forward became casualties. “B” Echelon was at any distance of from ten miles to as much as eighty (on one occasion) behind the leading squadron and in between lay the whole of the Divisional column. The Divisional Administrative Area would move in bounds; in NORMANDY it might not move for a week, but in great advances it would stay for a day or two at one place and then bound forward for a hundred miles.

    In the matter of petrol and ammunition supply the Battalion owed a great deal to the Assistant Quartermaster-General, Lieutenant-Colonel W.M. SALE, “who always estimated accurately the Divisional needs. Thus on the advance to BRUSSELS the emphasis was on petrol and the ROYAL ARMY SERVICE CORPS supply lorries carried more petrol and less ammunition; while the reverse was true when fighting was more static and more sticky. The ROYAL ARMY SERVICE CORPS, too, who filled the petrol, ammunition and ration points from which the Battalion drew supplies were a wonderful team.“


    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Jul 5, 2019
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  7. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    A History of the Irish Guards in the Second World War, FitzGerald:
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    Last edited: Jul 5, 2019
  8. Morancé

    Morancé Member

    Thank you very much, it's awesome !
  9. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    The Guards Armoured Division: A Short History, Verney; pages 81 - 86

    Advance to Brussels
    September 3rd [1944]

    It had originally been planned to make a very big Airborne “drop” in the TOURNAI area in order to disorganize the stream of enemy troops who, it was expected, would be pouring east. Subsequently, as already narrated, Army boundaries were altered so as to swing the axes of advance more to the east. Since the 11TH ARMOURED DIVISION were already committed to ANTWERP and the 7TH ARMOURED to GHENT, it became the task of the GUARDS ARMOURED to move on to BRUSSELS. The Airborne “drop” was cancelled, for the disintegration of the German forces on this line of advance was almost complete.

    The Corps Commander’s orders were for the Division to move into BRUSSELS, opposition was to be by-passed and they were to move as fast as possible. The advance was to be in two columns, the right moving via ORCHIES, ATH and HAL, the left via PONT A MARQ and TOURNAI. The HOUSEHOLD CAVALRY were to lead both columns.

    The right column was under command of the 32ND BRIGADE, and the WELSH GUARDS formed the leading Group. The 5TH BRIGADE commanded the left column, which was led by the GRENADIER Group. The ARTILLERY and ROYAL ENGINEERS, of course, were included in both columns; the Support Company of the NORTHUMBERLAND FUSILIERS moved with their usual Brigade, the 32ND.

    Immediately behind the Division was the 231ST INFANTRY BRIGADE from the 50TH DIVISION; this Brigade was commanded by Sir Alexander STANIER, a former Commanding Officer of the 2ND WELSH GUARDS. With them moved the 1st Belgian Brigade; this had been sent up hurriedly from the LE HAVRE area in order to take part in the liberation of the Belgian capital.

    The Right Column
    About seven o’clock A Squadron (Major D.B. DALY) and B Squadron (Major F.E.B. WIGNALL) of the HOUSEHOLD CAVALRY led off on their sixty-five-mile journey, closely followed by the WELSH GUARDS Group. For most of the distance there were scattered groups of Germans, some of whom attempted a short resistance; where these could not be dealt with quickly, the armoured cars found ways round and the enemy were left for the WELSH GUARDS to settle. For the main body, all went well as far as LEUZE where a small infantry rearguard held up the leading Squadron-Company group for a short time. Major M.W.T. LEATHEM, the Squadron Leader, was wounded here. There were the usual cheering crowds, if possible more enthusiastic in BELGIUM than they had been in FRANCE and, of course, the “Resistance”. At HAL there was again a short hold-up, but for the most part it was just a matter of hurtling forward as fast as vehicles could go. The Cromwells were the ideal tanks for this purpose, with they great speed and reliability and the necessity for little maintenance. They and the troop-carrying lorries poured on until they were finally brought to a halt when they were first stopped, then overrun, by the delirious citizens of BRUSSELS.

    First into the centre of BRUSSELS was a scout car of Lieutenant M. FRANKLIN’s Troop of A Squadron HOUSEHOLD CAVALRY. The first tank to enter BRUSSELS was that commanded by Lieutenant J.A.W. DENT and driven by Guardsman E.J. JAMES. They destroyed a bus-load of Germans in the Avenue des Arts on their way to the Arc de Cinquentaire where they knocked out a tank before halting for the night, the Prince of Wales’ Company with them.

    In the city itself the Resistance men and women of the White Brigade had, throughout the day, been making their way to various rendezvous in accordance with the long-arranged plans, and at 6 p.m., shortly before the arrival of the British, they had launched their attacks on those German troops who still remained.

    The Left Column
    Shortly before seven o’clock C Squadron (Major A.W.P.P. HERBERT) of the HOUSEHOLD CAVALRY started off. The first opposition was met at PONT A MARQ; this was by-passed and the information sent back. At TOURNAI the Americans were encountered. Much to their disgust, for they had been the first troops to enter BELGIUM here some hours before the arrival of the GUARDS DIVISION, they had run out of petrol, but they had occupied most of the bridges in the vicinity. Presumably they were not aware of the inter-Army Group boundary alterations and would have already one on to BRUSSELS if they had had enough fuel.

    All went well for the GRENADIER Group, following the armoured cars, until they reached PONT A MARQ. They had met no difficulties except the crowds of excited people, whose habit of standing well out in the middle of the roads, especially on corners, made things difficult fo the tank drivers, whose last desire was to damage any of their admirers.

    PONT A MARQ turned out to be strongly held. Whiel the main body of the Group worked their way round the village, the King’s Company and No. 2 Squadron were unfortunately left to find a very unpleasant battle, which cost them considerable losses. The village was held not only by infantry but also by anti-tank guns. Attacking from a wood south of the village, the King’s Company gallantly advanced under cover of fire from their 2-inch mortars, the tanks and some of the LEICESTERSHIRE YEOMANRY. Despite losses, they closed on the Germans in the south of the village. It took two more hours, and the assistance of the 50TH DIVISION, which was close behind, before the opposition was overcome. Twenty-five German dead were counted and 125 prisoners, apart from the wounded, but the King’s Company had lost fifteen killed and 25 wounded, and No. 2 Squadron seven killed and six wounded. Many of the inhabitants of the village, too, had been killed or maimed. The commander of King’s Company, Major N.E.W. BAKER, and Lieutenants M.B. AKROYD and N.G.J.H. STIFF, were among the wounded.

    The fates seemed to be against this Squadron-Company Group getting to BRUSSELS unopposed like their comrades, for when they were on their way to rejoin their Battalions in BRUSSELS they came upon a body of Germans who were attacking the Battalion Light Aid Detachment. The sudden appearance of this determined force behind the attacking Germans was too much for them and, at a cost of one man wounded, seventy prisoners were taken.

    Apart from a small number of Germans met at LESSINES, whom the Reconnaissance Troop had no difficulty in dispersing, the rest of the journey from PONT A MARQ was uneventful, and as evening came the GRENADIERS entered BRUSSELS - just bout the same time as the WELSH GUARDS were entering on the other route.

    C Squadron of the HOUSEHOLD CAVALRY had reached the suburbs of BRUSSELS some hours ahead of the GRENADIERS, but they had been greatly depleted by the necessity for dropping half-Troops at every bridge they had passed, so they no longer had the strength to overcome the German outposts, weak though they were, and Major HERBERT was ordered to hold his ground until the GRENADIERS arrived.

    In the City
    Histories of the Regiments in the Division may differ from time to time, but in one thing they are unanimous - the wonderful reception given to the troops when they reached BRUSSELS. [1] One thought that there could be nothing bigger or better than the welcome extended by the French, but this was exceeded by the Belgians in all towns and villages, even those like ANTWERP and GHENT where German shells continued to fall for some days after the liberation. Those who remembered it could only compare it to Armistice Day in 1918, which to a certain extent it resembled.

    [1] One of the unexpected results of the amazing scenes in BRUSSELS was the birth of some fantastic claims regarding the performance of the Division. Some said the 65-mile advance constituted a “record”, which is very far from being the case. Others, that the distance covered was 90 or 100 miles, and this claim has actually been recorded in two Regimental histories, in the “Household Brigade Magazine” and in the programme of the celebrations in BRUSSELS in 1945.

    Units tried to reach various parts of the city which they were to occupy, but every vehicle was packed with a hysterical mob of men, women and children. To leave one’s vehicle was to be overwhelmed on the ground. To try to hold a little “order group” with subordinate commanders was quite out of the question. For the COLDSTREAM and the IRISH and all the supporting arms the difficulties were just as great as they were for the leading troops. There were Germans about, but they were in a state of confusion and terror - it cannot have been pleasant to ponder their fate fi they had fallen into the hands of this mob - and they soon made themselves scarce.

    In a darkness lit by bonfires of Nazi books and pictures of Hitler, the vehicles struggled through the confusing streets of the great city, “directed by guides of doubtful sobriety“, as one History records, and overlooked to the end by their wild human load. The GRENADIERS and the 5TH BRIGADE Headquarters made for the Palace of Laeken where they were greeted by QUEEN ELIZABETH of the BELGIANS. The COLDSTREAM secured the bridges where the roads from the west crossed the railway. The IRISH made for the Bois de la Cambre and the eastern exits from the city. The WELSH GUARDS went to the Palais de Justice, which had been set on fire, and to various important cross-roads.

    Throughout the night the celebrations of the Bruxellois went on, and there they still were in the morning; as enthusiastic as ever. The Adjutant of the 5TH COLDSTREAM recorded that when he woke up in his own command post he was embraced by a bearded patriot.

    While the Division had been moving to BRUSSELS, the 11TH ARMOURED DIVISION had a longer advance, and by the evening they had reached WOLVERTHEM, ten miles north of BRUSSELS, preparatory to moving into ANTWERP a few hours later. Farther south this day, the Americans were engaged in collecting 25,000 prisoners round MONS.

    Since crossing the SEINE, the Division had been lucky in the slight opposition it met with; casualties amounted to between sixty and seventy, and of these nearly all were incurred in the PONT A MARQ action.

    Attached Files:

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  10. Morancé

    Morancé Member

    Very nice job, thanks again !
  11. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    The Story Of The Guards Armoured Division 1941-1945
    , Rosse & Hill, pages 81 - 93:
    Chapter Four The Advance to Brussels

    On August 23rd the whole Division was told to move on the following morning, but not for operational reasons. It is doubtful if any of us were sorry; though the danger, the smells and the noise were all memories of the past, the whole locality was too redolent of unpleasant associations. Our new homes were only some fifteen miles away, near CONDE SUR NOIREAU, and we were fairly concentrated so that everybody could visit their friends and partake together of any of the amusements provided, of which there were quite a few. But apart from this the real reason for the move lay in the fact that new operations were already being decided, now that the NORMANDY campaign rapidly drawing to a close, and it was considered more convenient for us to concentrate nearer to VIII CORPS Headquarters, now situated on the slopes of MONT CERISY, for planning and administrative purposes.

    We were told to enjoy real rest during the next few days, particularly as it was not envisaged that we should get much of it once the next operation started. Our surroundings were ideally conducive to the purpose, since we had passed through into a part of the country that the Germans had had to leave at top speed. Although the centres of the towns and sometimes even simple road junctions presented tragic spectacles, the farm lands in between were quite untouched; and very rich farms they mostly were, with owners who were only too anxious and willing to let us have any milk, butter, cheese and eggs that were to spare. Hitherto the few houses that were still intact had either been evacuated or filled with refugees, and for the first time we had the opportunity of meeting French people in normal surroundings. They too were mostly meeting British soldiers for the first time and on the whole both parties were pleased with the encounter. The 3rd Battalion IRISH GUARDS even went so far as to organise an afternoon party with a circus for the local children, which was an uproarious success, partially helped by the weather which was no glorious again after having broken during our last week near VIRE. While we were experiencing this carefree, pastoral, existence the Seventh German Army was meeting its doom in the FALAISE “pocket” between that town and ARGENTAN, and on August 19th the neck of the “pocket” was finally closed when American troops from the South linked up with the POLISH ARMOURED DIVISION from the North fighting on the left of the FIRST CANADIAN ARMY. This presented the Allied Air Forces with targets probably unparalleled in the whole war and in a few days all resistance was at an end.

    On August 27th we received a warning order that we were to come under the command of XXX CORPS and to move the following day to L’AIGLE; this was no longer a matter of the few odd miles to which we had grown accustomed, as our destination was some seventy miles to the East and more than half-way to the SEINE.

    While the Division was moving up, a matter of some considerable difficulty as half the possible roads were impassable owing to demolished bridges and blocked towns, resulting in appalling traffic congestion, the General flew up to see our new Corps Commander, Lieutenant-General B.G. HORROCKS, at his Headquarters near VERNON on the banks of the SEINE. The 43RD DIVISION had carried out a fine crossing operation of the river here two days previously and the 11TH ARMOURED DIVISION, the 8TH ARMOURED BRIGADE and the 50TH DIVISION were in the process of moving over the two Bailey bridges which had just been built. General HORROCKS was most anxious to push on to the River SOMME at the earliest possible moment and asked when the Division could be up; as it was still over a hundred miles away, the answer had to be that the earliest time for its concentration North of the river was on the night of August 30th. “Then we will start tomorrow,” said General HORROCKS, “the 11TH ARMOURED DIVISION directed on AMIENS and the 8TH ARMOURED BRIGADE on BEAUVAIS. You will come on as quickly as you can, moving by night if necessary, and pass through the 8TH ARMOURED BRIGADE to seize the crossings over the SOMME at CORBIE.” Our right flank would be protected by the 2ND U.S. ARMOURED DIVISION, which was to conform with our advance on moving out of a more Easterly bridgehead over the SEINE at MANTES.

    The resultant orders that reached the Division were quite short but they were in a dramatic contrast to any that had been previously given. It was an exciting moment, as everybody realised that we should at last for the first time be carrying out the mobile operations for which we had been training for three years. Curiously enough, though, experience gained in the preceding weeks led us to adopt a different organisation from any that we had ever practised; during the years of training we had found increasingly that under European conditions, as opposed to those of the desert, tanks and infantry needed to work in close co-operation down the lowest level if the best results were to be achieved. It has already been pointed out that, in the later days of NORMANDY, the 5TH GUARDS BRIGADE had usually been loaned one infantry battalion in exchange for one armoured battalion allotted to the 32ND GUARDS BRIGADE, but for the forthcoming operations it was considered best that each brigade should control an equal proportion of infantry and armour. Under the old organisation this would have been impossible to arrange, but the decision to give once more an armoured car regiment to each armoured division, which in our case involved the reversion of the 2ND HOUSEHOLD CAVALRY REGIMENT to divisional command after some two years’ absence as Corps troops, provided the solution - the 2nd Battalion WELSH GUARDS was no longer needed for specific reconnaissance purposes, and each brigade could be provided with two armoured and two infantry battalions. As each regiment other than the SCOTS GUARDS, which was only represented by X Company, had one battalion of each type, four regimental Battle Groups were formed; these Groups were in future allotted to each brigade as convenient, but for the present operation and in the normal course of events the 5TH GUARDS BRIGADE received the GRENADIER and IRISH Groups and the 32ND GUARDS BRIGADE the COLDSTREAM and WELSH Groups.

    The GRENADIERS led the Divisional column; they started to cross the SEINE on the afternoon of August 29th and by mid-day the next day the whole Group was complete on the further side. Orders were immediately given to re-form and to move on through GISORS behind the 8TH ARMOURED BRIGADE in order to push through to the SOMME on the following morning. The roads were very crowded but they reached and passed GISORS. At dusk they harboured in the fields by the roadside immediately behind the 8TH ARMOURED BRIGADE, which had been held up by Germans holding a defile on the main road near AUNEUIL, twelve miles short of BEAUVAIS. Everybody was very tired after three days of almost continuous movement and hoped for a good night’s rest, but a half-past ten all hopes of this were rudely shattered. Orders came to reconnoitre a route at once by which the opposition at AUNEUIL might be by-passed, with the object of resuming the advance at two o’clock in the morning.

    An alternative road was quickly found and the GRENADIERS duly led off at the appointed hour. Ahead of them went the HOUSEHOLD CAVALRY, fanning out over a wide front both to get information and to discourage and disorganise still further the few Germans who were still around. BEAUVAIS was reached without incident at dawn and soon after mid-day one of the armoured car patrols reported that it had seized an intact bridge over the SOMME at CORBIE, a few miles South-East of AMIENS, and that the demolitions charges had been removed.

    This was superb news. The GRENADIERS were told to push across and to establish themselves in a firm bridgehead before dark. The rest of the Division, now altogether across the SEINE, would meanwhile concentrate between BEAUVAIS and the SOMME and the whole would move forward on ARRAS next morning.

    The ground rose fairly abruptly on the far side of the river at CORBIE and some Germans were known still to be there. Lieutenant-Colonel GOULBURN decided to send the King’s Company - No. 2 Squadron Group through first, directed on the ridge to the left of the main road; No. 2 Company - No. 3 Squadron Group was to follow and to make for the ridge to the right, thus securing all ground that commanded a view of the bridge. There were quite a few Germans around and they had one anti-tank gun, which was well concealed and knocked out two tanks of No. 3 Squadron before being itself destroyed. Some of them in particular were advantageously positioned behind the tombstones of a graveyard, but when our infantry deployed the opposition soon melted away, providing some prisoners who were unable to tell us anything of interest.

    That night we heard that our success had not been an isolated one. The 11TH ARMOURED DIVISION was also across the SOMME, having seized AMIENS and found all the bridges there intact. We had no news of the Americans on our right but at least we could count on complete security on our left when we advanced the next day.

    To most of us this day brought for the first time a full understanding of what freedom after four years of slavery meant to the inhabitants of the occupied countries. Not that the people of NORMANDY had not mostly been happy and grateful, as one discovered when one talked to them, but war had gone on too long and at too close quarters for the first flush of enthusiasm still to be present. Here, however, liberty had come with one fell swoop, and it became difficult during this phase to get through any town because of the crowds of radiantly happy and cheering civilians who clustered round the vehicles not only to exchange civilians who clustered round the vehicles not only to exchange greetings but to offer fruit, vegetables, wine, flowers, in fact any local produce on which they could lay their hands. It was on this day too that we began to feel a real admiration for the men of the French Forces of the Interior. To a guardsman they may not have been much to look at, but they had had to work under difficult and exceedingly dangerous conditions throughout the occupation and they now proved invaluable to us if only because of the assistance they gave in taking all prisoners off our hands. It is in fact doubtful if the momentum of our advance could have been maintained without them, as there were Germans in every wood and almost in every bush. These were hopelessly disorganised and often only too anxious to surrender, but they could not be left in shoals along the whole line of our communications, nor could we spare anyone to leave behind to look after them. This the French did for us, not only taking charge of all our prisoners but sending out parties in all directions to round them up. Their handling of them was perfectly orderly and correct, if not unduly gentle, and we neither saw nor heard of any cases of excesses; considering the indignities and sufferings that many of these men had had inflicted on their families and themselves we marvelled that their conduct towards the hated enemy could be so exemplary.

    This was by no means the limit of their help, however, for as we proceeded we occasionally saw stakes and brushwood by the sides of the road or of tracks; this was their way of showing where the Germans had laid mines, and it was undoubtedly instrumental in saving many lives.

    We came to learn, too, before long, that they had given us even more notable assistance that day; they had removed the charges laid by the Germans in the bridge at CORBIE and moreover had shot a party of them who had come to set them off. To them therefore a large share of credit for the capture of that bridge was due.

    At first light on September 1st we were off again, as ARRAS had to be captured and there was no time to be lost. The 2nd Battalion WELSH GUARDS led behind a screen of armoured cars in its proper role of divisional reconnaissance, since we were not in the familiar SOMME country which we had constantly studied as ideal for the armoured battle. March Tables and limitations imposed by them were things of the past and Lieutenant-Colonel WINDSOR-LEWIS pressed on at full speed. A few self-propelled guns opposed him and he lost one or two tanks, but neither he nor his men were in any mood for delay. They certainly wasted no time and quite early in the morning reported the capture of no less than the Commander of the entire SOMME defences. Soon after eleven o’clock came even more exciting news, that they were already positioned on the high ground immediately north of ARRAS. The 5TH GUARDS BRIGADE quickly joined them there, while the 32ND GUARDS BRIGADE was told to occupy the town. The COLDSTREAM Group first entered, led by the tanks of the 1st Battalion now commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel R.F.S. GOOCH, M.C. The occupation was soon effected, in the course of which some sharp exchanges occurred. As soon as Lieutenant-Colonel HILL and the infantry of the 5th Battalion COLDSTREAM had time to join the tanks of the 1st Battalion in the Grand Place, the Group was ordered to move on to the high ground beyond and leave the further occupation of ARRAS to the 1st Battalion WELSH GUARDS, which had a very special reason for gratification in that the battalion had been the last to leave the town in 1940. It was greeted by a wildly cheering population which became quite delirious when it realised the actual identity of its liberators. The occasion must also have been particularly moving for the General, for it was here that he was wounded and won his Military Cross in the First World War.

    The 11TH ARMOURED DIVISION had moved forward simultaneously on our left to take up its position on the continuation of the high ground to the North-West, including VIMY RIDGE of last war fame. XXX CORPS was therefore on its objective, which consisted of the district forming the watershed between the SOMME valley and the plain of FLANDERS, from where it could dominate the whole of North-Eastern FRANCE. Not only was it now possible to strike at will across any spot on the Belgian frontier, but the fate of the Channel ports was sealed, even fi they might individually hold out for some time, and with them the numerous V.1 launching sites, products of which had been distressing so many of our families during the preceding weeks.

    The full disintegration of the German forces resulting from the recent advances, which had become increasingly apparent to us, was meanwhile strikingly confirmed by the news we got that afternoon of the capture on the previous day by the 11TH ARMOURED DIVISION of General EBERBACH, the Commander of the German Army conducting the retreat. He had been made prisoner South-West of AMIENS with his entire tactical Headquarters, and the very fact of their presence in so vulnerable an area clearly showed the complete lack of information from which they were suffering. Among the documents captured was an Operation Order providing for the defence of the BEAUVAIS line till the day after this very one on which we had reached ARRAS; we must actually have already been through this line at the time when it was being written. It had apparently been the German intention to stage a series of delaying actions o the type so often met with in NORMANDY, in order to give to the troops selected to man the SOMME line the time and opportunity to arrange for a wholesale demolition scheme and for an extensive defence system. A special Corps Headquarters “SOMME” was formed, with all available engineers under command, for the purpose of manning and administering this line, and it was the commander of this force whom we had captured earlier that day. Our divisional commander had dispensed with the usual procedure of interviewing senior enemy commanders on the ground that anyone who had achieved so pitiable a result could not possible have any information of value to impart. Altogether there seemed no doubt that the Germans felt quite confident that the line of the SOMME could be held and that they could successfully keep us at arms’ length while it was being fully prepared for defence. They appear to have appreciated that the American threat further East was the more serious one and that, while they were dealing with this as the first consideration, no great difficulty need by anticipated with regard to the pinning down of the British forces in the LOWER SEINE valley. By now they had no doubt realised that they had made a gross miscalculation, but it was far too late for any action to be taken, even had their organisation and communications still be capable of functioning. Break-throughs are often written about and discussed, but this was for once an occasion when one had genuinely been accomplished.

    Only one small pocked of resistance had been discovered, at ALBERT; this was a large store depot lying a few miles to the East of our centre-line. Owing to its proximity and because it was reported to be strongly garrisoned, the GRENADIERS had despatched No. 2 Company and No. 3 Squadron group to deal with it but, after losing two tanks, they were told to content themselves with masking it pending the arrival of the 50TH DIVISION, which was following immediately behind us to consolidate and to safeguard our supply lines. In general, however, the situation was so wholly favourable that the General felt justified in sending the IRISH Group forward a further fifteen miles to occupy DOUAI and the crossing over of the River SCARPE just beyond. They were involved in some fighting on the outskirts of the town, but by dusk they had successfully carried out their mission.

    The following morning, September 2nd, the whole Division concentrated behind the IRISH, West of DOUAI, and battalions had a few hours in which to do some much-needed maintenance. It must be admitted that by now we were feeling supremely confident and our only wish was to continue the advance as quickly as possible but we were told that we had already gone so far and so fast that we were in danger of outrunning our supplies. The strain at this time on all the administrative departments in the Division in order to keep up the momentum of the advance was terrific. Staff Officers often spent the entire night on their wireless sets arranging for lorries to bring up extra petrol and other almost equally urgent requirements. The task of those ordered to bring up the supplies, moreover, was made no easier through our having long ago run off all maps issued to us. For some reason only a woefully inadequate number of exceedingly small-scale sheets of our present area was available, and these not unnaturally had been allotted to the fighting troops. None the less it can truly be said that we were never delayed for one minute by lack of supplies, though on one memorable day the Jerrycans of petrol had to be thrown from a moving lorry on to the GRENADIER tanks as they left their harbour area.

    Although it did not affect their operational capabilities, it should be remarked in passing that by this time most of our vehicles looked more suitable for the Lord Mayor’s show than for use in battle, so covered were they with flowers and streamers and with chalked-on messages of welcome. Of the latter the “V” sign was the most popular of all; it was completely spontaneous in every village and there can be no question but that its use in broadcasts played a very large part in building up resistance. But anybody who could get near a vehicle in safety could please himself, and there were many variants, one of which led to an incident which is worthy of record. On one of these days the scout-car of the General’s Aide-de-Camp, Captain the Honourable A. TYRON, had had “Vive la R.A.F.” inscribed in large letters on its side. While the concentration of the Division was in progress two British fighters hovered enquiringly overhead, circled round to get the sun at their backs and then came in with all guns firing. It was a magnificent sight and there was ample excuse, as our advance had been so phenomenally rapid, but three ammunition lorries went up and with them a great deal of abuse. Captain TYRON, without a word, walked over to his scout-car and added the inscription “Less two Spitfires”.

    We were now in the industrial district of Northern FRANCE and met with an increasingly fervent welcome, but the reason for the even greater joy of the inhabitants at seeing us was painfully apparent. Here, as everywhere, masses of German transport had been shot up by our aircraft as they fled and, as so many of the vehicles were horse-drawn, many horses were lying dead beside them. But whereas, in the rich farming districts through which we had so far passed, we had often before seen their bodies by the wayside, nothing was left here but skeletons. Hitherto we had been inclined to feel that the stories of starvation in Europe, as pictured by our propaganda, had been grossly exaggerated, but no starker evidence could have been provided of the genuine shortage of food from which these unfortunate people must have been suffering.

    At about mid-day on September 2nd the Army and Corps Commanders came to see our General and Major-General ROBERTS, the commander of the 11TH ARMOURED DIVISION; together they had a conference about the next day’s advance in a farmhouse on the outskirts of DOUAI. The plan was ambitious enough in all conscience. If conditions were favourable, airborne troops were to be dropped to seize various key bridges across the Belgian frontier, particularly at TOURNAI, together with strong points on a larger plan to cut off the Germans retreating from the coastal areas. The 11TH ARMOURED DIVISION was directed on GHENT and ANTWERP, while we were to make for BRUSSELS, the time of our advance depending on the completion of a bombing programme arranged in co-ordination with the airborne landings. For this reason explicit orders were given that no troops were on any account to cross the Belgian frontier; moreover, an urgent message reading, “All ranks will immediately dig slit trenches and hold ground-to-air recognition signals readily available” caused considerable consternation among those who had not yet been aware of the plan.

    The General gave out his orders just as darkness was falling, and they did not take long. “My intention is to advance and liberate BRUSSELS,” he said, adding, “That is a grand intention.” His manner was inspiring to the extent that all who attended the meeting left with the certain knowledge that they could pass on the same spirit to their own order groups. Speed was essential and any serious opposition was to be by-passed, while we were to move on two centre-lines. As this was only the first of many times we advanced thus in Brigade groups on more or less parallel routes, it may be as well on this occasion to give the detailed Order of March. While this was never precisely the same in any two instances, it varied only in small particulars according to the needs of the moment, and the following can be regarded as typical.

    On the left centre-line the Order of March was one squadron of the HOUSEHOLD CAVALRY, the GRENADIER Group, the 5TH GUARDS BRIGADE Tactical Headquarters, the COLDSTREAM Group, one self-propelled anti-tank battery and the LEICESTERSHIRE YEOMANRY, followed by the 5TH GUARDS BRIGADE Main Headquarters and supporting troops.

    On the right centre-line came two squadrons of the HOUSEHOLD CAVALRY, the WELSH Group, the 32ND GUARDS BRIGADE Headquarter Group, including one self-propelled anti-tank battery, the machine-gun Company of the NORTHUMBERLAND FUSILIERS and the WEST SOMERSET YEOMANRY; then the IRISH Group, the 21ST ANTI-TANK REGIMENT (less two batteries), Divisional Headquarters Group and the Sapper Companies.

    Following immediately behind on both routes and in support of the Division - which was not normal and only due to exceptional circumstances - came the 231ST INFANTRY BRIGADE Group, temporarily divorced from the 50TH DIVISION, under its WELSH GUARDS commander, Brigadier Sir Alexander STANIER. Included with it was the 1ST BELGIAN BRIGADE, which had been rushed up from LE HAVRE at the last moment. The route on the left lay through PONT-A-MARCQ, RUMES, TOURNAI and LESSINES, that on the right through the Route Nationale from LEUZE to BRUSSELS. The distance was about seventy-five miles by each route and all left the conference with determination to reach the objective, coupled with a curious inner conviction that somehow it would be achieved, despite the ever-shortening September daylight. In defiance of the inherent improbability of it, the only excitement lay in which Brigade would get there first. The 5TH GUARDS BRIGADE had a rather twisty and complicated route throughout, while the 32ND GUARDS BRIGADE, after an even more difficult start, had one of the main roads into BRUSSELS for the latter part of its journey; a great advantage, particularly with the fast Cromwell tanks of the WELSH GUARDS in the lead. On the other hand, being the main road, it was likely to be more strongly defended, and the chances were therefore regarded as pretty even. Obviously much would depend on demolitions, but we all felt that it would need considerable opposition to hold us up in a role which we had both practised on exercises innumerable and fought so often in our dreams.

    Our only worry concerned the hour at which we could start and, anxious and ungrateful though it may seem, seldom can a more united prayer for unfavourable air weather have been invoked. It may have been the result of a feeling of over-confidence on our part, but, in the present state of the enemy forces, such an expenditure of airborne troops seemed a waste of time and the proposed bombing a senseless sacrifice of lives. If we left at our own hour, which naturally enough was dawn, we considered that we had a good chance of reaching BRUSSELS in the day but, if we had to put it off, the hours of daylight would be too scarce, apart from the fact that the Germans would by then be warned and have time to organise obstacles in our path. It was therefore with profound relief that we learned towards midnight that the storm which had sprung up would prevent the landings and that we were to rely on ourselves and leave when we pleased.

    The HOUSEHOLD CAVALRY crossed the start line at ten minutes to seven on the left and precisely seven o’clock on the right with the difficult task of screening both Brigades. The WELSH GUARDS crossed at twenty-five minutes past seven on the right and the GRENADIERS, who had met slight opposition on the way, at eight o’clock on the left. After that the story was much the same on each centre-line - plain sailing for some miles at a stretch, with occasional small enemy pockets of resistance in towns or at crossroads consisting of a few anti-tank guns with supporting infantry. The armoured cars were often able to deal with the smaller strong-points themselves by outflanking and shooting them up from the rear; the more important ones they reported and by-passed, leaving them to be dealt with by the combined tank and infantry forces of the leading regimental group in question.

    It was not just a ninety-mile pleasure drive and some fo the strong-points were stoutly defended. The 32ND GUARDS BRIGADE received its first set-back when it heard that a bridge on its route short even of the Belgian frontier had been demolished, but the armoured cars were not there for nothing; within five minutes they had found a way round and were moving again and by ten o’clock they had reached the main road. The GRENADIERS had meanwhile met their first strong-point near PONT-A-MARCQ, consisting of eight anti-tank guns with infantry. This caused them some delay before they succeeded in liquidating it for the loss of two tanks, by which time the WELSH were similarly held up at LEUZE. Their tanks tried to force a way through, but the anti-tank guns were too much for them and the infantry had to deploy, entailing an hour and a half’s delay. By the time LEUZE was clear the columns were pretty well abreast. Rivalry between the two Brigades was becoming increasingly keen and it was at this moment that the General was persuaded to decide on a winning post. He chose the spot where the two routes met, just beyond a railway bridge within the confines of BRUSSELS.

    For the next thirty miles both columns moved on unchecked but they the WELSH reported that they were once more held up, this time at ENGHIEN; the GRENADIERS, on the other hand, raced on, and for a time it looked as though they must win. ENGHIEN did not, however, prove so stubborn a sport to deal with as had LEUZE, and in less than an hour the road was clear again. The WELSH tank crews had profited by the halt to do a little very necessary maintenance, and now Lieutenant-Colonel WINDSOR-LEWIS announced that, with Brigadier JOHNSON’s permission, he intended to head straight for BRUSSELS at maximum speed, even if the pace should prove too much for some of the vehicles and should lead to their collapse on the way. It would be mentioned that Cromwell tanks, with which the WELSH alone in the Division were provided, were capable of going fifty miles an hour on an excellent road such as this one was, a speed of which many other military vehicles were not capable and for which reason they had up to now held themselves back a little. It was an unorthodox suggestion, in that it might interfere with the tactical arrangement of the column, but under the circumstances permission was readily granted.

    The 5TH GUARDS BRIGADE had by now got within ten miles of the capital, but suddenly encountered unexpected opposition at an important road and railway crossing. Neither the armoured cars nor the GRENADIER tanks were able to deal with the anti-tank guns sited there, and there was nothing for it but for the infantry to deploy. When the WELSH heard this, they promptly replied that they would see if their tanks could not with persuasion achieve sixty miles an hour, rather than a mere fifty.

    What pace they actually went is not recorded, but there were certainly many stretches along which the following troops at any rate fully achieved it. Occasionally a carrier or a self-propelled gun for which the pace had proved too hot was passed, but it seemed almost as though the vehicles understood what was wanted of them, and were determined to accomplish it, for few of them did in fact fall by the wayside. Far greater in number were the evidences of the achievements of the leading troops - burning trucks and cars, overturned carts with luckless dead horses which had been stolen from farms and Germans still lying where they had been killed, small parties of prisoners in the capable hands of the patriots who were armed with weapons of every type, rifles, shot-guns, knives, bayonets and invariably stick grenades stolen from the Germans. The armour was moving so fast that these latter proved invaluable not only in guarding prisoners but in clearing snipers and holding bridges until the 231ST BRIGADE could take over and clean up the area as far as was possible in such a rapid advance. In addition the local inhabitants on their own initiative turned out with spades to repair roads where the tanks had turned, while those who could find no useful job lined the roads and cheered until we thought their lungs would burst. An armoured division on the advance is always an impressive sight, but at the pace at which we moved that day our progress may well to them have seemed awe-inspiring.

    The WELSH had one more engagement at the little town of HAL only a few miles short of BRUSSELS, but it did not delay them long and just after eight o’clock they reported that they had crossed the road junction designated as the winning post. At the same moment the GRENADIERS were entering the outskirts of the city after successfully dealing with the anti-tank screen which had held them up. So both Brigades reached the city as darkness was falling to be greeted by the inhabitants in a manner which and surely never have been equalled. As we approached our pace gradually slackened until it was literally reduced to a crawl. But this time there was no need to worry; it was no enemy opposing our entry, only hordes of Belgians careering madly about in such a frenzy of joy that movement was almost impossible. The news of our imminent arrival had obviously spread like wildfire and the crowds all surged by instinct towards the road by which we were making our entry. All emotions are infectious, to an increasing degree according to the numbers of people involved, and as BRUSSELS was immeasurably the largest town that we had entered so were the joy and enthusiasm with which we were greeted proportionately greater than any we had met before. Everybody was crazy in a delirium of happiness that knew no bounds. Effigies of HITLER were burning round which they danced, the usual gifts of food and wine, the display of flags and bunting and the cheers were not only more overwhelming than ever before, but the normal handshakes of gratitude were more often than not amplified with embraces. Most frequently it was the children who were held up to be kissed, but young ladies and old ladies, some pretty and some not at all, and even on occasions gentlemen, some of whom had beards, all competed to welcome their liberations with embraces in which one felt were pent-up all the sufferings and emotions of the past four years. It was as un-English a scene as could be imagined, and yet so natural and touching did it seem at the time that scarily one of us could feel shy or embarrassed or even flinch, other than perhaps mentally, at the enforced attentions of the occasional bearded old gentleman.

    And yet, amid all these scenes of unbridled enthusiasm, it was in many ways the most orderly and easily controlled crowd imaginable. The city police were lining the streets in an effort to keep the way open for us, and there was no question of any resentment over any restraint imposed by them. Although the people clambered on to our vehicles in their dozens, if one of us had occasion to go up or down the column on duty in a scout-car or jeep, there was not the slightest difficulty in inducing the odd half-dozen passengers to leave - once the reason for asking them to do so was explained to them. It must be rare to get the impression that vast crowds of people are, collectively, lovable but the crowds of BRUSSELS certainly were that night.

    BRUSSELS is a big city and an armoured division could easily get lost in it. The General had therefore allotted areas of responsibility beforehand, consisting of key-points controlling the approaches to the centre; but by the time we were well within the city it was already dark and the difficulty of finding our exact destinations in view of the fact that we had not been issued with a single detailed map began to seem insuperable. The WELSH GUARDS consequently enquired in due course on the wireless as to whether they should proceed any further. They were on the Boulevard de Waterloo and, though nobody knew exactly where that was, it seemed well in the centre and very appropriately named; moreover their leading elements were involved in some shooting with a small group of Germans fighting a rearguard action at the Porte de Namur, only about three hundred yards further on, while a colossal building was burning furiously to their left. Certainly it seemed prudent to call a halt, and Brigadier JOHNSON told them to organise a close harbour area there for the night. He joined them himself soon afterwards with his headquarters and the location had perforce to be sent back in most unmilitary fashion by the name of the street instead of by coded map reference.

    The IRISH GUARDS had meanwhile been told to wheel round to seize the Eastern approaches which they successfully did after dealing with an enemy position at a crossroads on the way. By now the 5TH GUARDS BRIGADE was equally astride the roads leading in from the North and West, while Brigadier GWATKIN was preparing himself, with his headquarters, to sleep the sleep of the just at the Royal Palace of Laeken, where QUEEN ELIZABETH OF THE BELGIANS had been on the steps to welcome the GRENADIERS on their arrival.

    All subsequent evidence tended to show that the Germans had not expected to have to give up BRUSSELS so soon and that they were hustled out of the capital by our advance. Demolition charges on the main bridges were never fired, while they had no time in which to remove or destroy a large number of highly incriminating documents. They cannot have enjoyed the falling of these into our hands, and the burning building on the Boulevard de Waterloo proved to be the Palais de Justice, set on fire with the express purpose of destroying them, though the effort was largely unsuccessful. They would probably also have liked to remove some of the excellent wine that the Gestapo had collected for their delectation in the cellars. What could be more right and proper than that we should share some of this looted store with the people of BRUSSELS and toast victory in it together? That was what they thought and we were in no mood to disagree, as case after case was deposited on the pavements in the lurid glare that came from the blazing building. It is a curious fact, and a pertinent one that demands study by prohibitionists, that, though an enormous amount must have been consumed, no case of drunkenness was recorded, nor did any man fail in his duty either during the course of that night or of the following morning.

    It may well be asked whether we did not pursue very unorthodox tactics in entering and occupying a large city during the hours of darkness, after an advance of a quite unusual length. Admittedly our general object might have been equally well achieved by merely blocking all the approaches, but our orders were explicitly to capture BRUSSELS itself. The long dash forward with this express purpose in view was obviously dictated largely by political and psychological considerations, and the General therefore took the view that at least a portion of the Division ought to get right through to the centre of the city. Undoubtedly a risk was taken, but not an unduly great one in view of the known disorganisation of the Germans and the universal good will of the citizens. Its tonic effects on all the inhabitants of the Belgian capital alone made it seem to us well worth while. Bearing all this in mind, there can be little doubt but that the decision was eminently right.

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  12. Morancé

    Morancé Member

    Many thanks !
  13. Morancé

    Morancé Member

    Hello dbf, thanks again for your help. I would like to thank you in a future article, can you send me your name ?
  14. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    Cheers but mention of WW2Talk is sufficient.
    (I've removed your email address, not so good to give that out publicly :) )
  15. Morancé

    Morancé Member

    OK, thx a lot ! Have a good tonight !

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