Discussion in 'NW Europe' started by stolpi, Dec 29, 2016.
Upon closer examination, not nearly as much protection as I would have thought:
3. Shelling incident Ourthe Valley La Roche-en-Ardenne, 12 Jan 45
A picture which is also frequently seen in publications about the battle in the Ardennes, but rarely with the correct caption, is the following one with a Sherman tank amid burning vehicles (photo IWM).
The picture shows the tank of Sergeant Joe Brown, of Regimental HQ, 144th Regt Royal Armoured Corps, using his tank to push burning and exploding wreckages off the road in order to make a way for an ambulance convoy taking British wounded to the rear. The date is 12 January 1945 and the location is the main road in the Ourthe River valley just to the north of La Roche-en-Ardenne. The 144 RAC was in support of the 51st HD at the time. I once have seen a film shot of the ambulance convoy in a British documentary about the Battle for the Ardennes - a long line of ambulances waiting for the road to be cleared - but cannot retrieve it on the internet.
Same spot today. View to the northwest in the direction of Hotton. To the right of the road is the Ourthe River.
Fragment from my booklet:
"A calamity had marred [the 5/7 Gordon Highlanders] journey to the front line. On the morning of the 12th, Colonel Irvine’s 5/7th Gordon Highlanders moved out from Hodister in TCV’s to follow closely behind the 5th Black Watch [who were leading the advance towards Ortho to the southeast of La Roche]. They soon were held up on the main road just outside of La Roche. The road for over a mile was packed with a long column of vehicles of all sorts stalled bumper-to-bumper. All traffic, including the column of the 5/7th Gordons with the men uncomfortably ensconced inside the trucks, became stuck for many hours in very cold weather. Private Bill Robertson of ‘C’ Company: “We were in the process of freezing to death on that road when our Company Sergeant-Major actually ordered us from the truck and gave us close order drill. Looking back now I can see it was an exercise in discipline and a sure fire method of ceasing the thought process, while generating heat. There were many disgruntled remarks, but it worked.”
By the middle of the afternoon, all of a sudden, the road was subjected to long range enemy shell fire. Two unlucky shells landed slap on the road among the closely packed column of vehicles, which at that point was even double banked. At least seven vehicles were set on fire, which because of the double banking completely blocked the road for nearly two hours, until Sergeant J. Brown, of Regimental HQ of the 144th RAC, used his tank to push the burning vehicles clear off the road. There were 22 casualties, of which seven were killed. Four men of the 5/7th Gordons were killed and eleven wounded, when their TCV received a direct hit. One of the fatalities was Lieutenant Hugh D. McKibbin, a young Canadian officer, seconded to the Highland Division under the Canloan programme. The driver of the truck – Harry E.D.B. Lennard, a member of the RASC, also was killed. Two men of the 193 Battery, 61st Anti-tank regiment, were killed and four wounded, when two 15-cwt trucks and a jeep were hit and burned out.
Lying about his age Pte John Tough, 5/7 Gordon Highlanders, was 17 when he joined the Army. He applied for the airborne forces but was transferred to the infantry and became a Gordon Highlander.
Private John Tough of Company ‘D’, 5/7th Gordons, witnessed the scene: “Our next move was towards La Roche. We boarded trucks and headed towards the main road in the valley. It did not take us very long until we came to a fork in the road [Vecpré], where we turned right towards the town. We had not gone very far when we stopped. At the time we did not think much about it, though we were dangerously close, literally bumper to bumper. After a while, some Sherman tanks started to move past our convoy. I remember putting my hand on one of them and saying: ”Good old Shermans”. There was not much room on the crammed road, so they were passing very slowly. Then it happened. All of a sudden, enemy shells fell out of the sky. The first one came over our heads and smashed right in among the ‘A’ Company trucks, which were right behind us. I do not know how many trucks were hit, but they also hit a carrier full of ammunition. There were immense explosions and fire spread to several trucks. A tank commander pushed the wrecked vehicle into the river with his Sherman. I read later that he got a medal for his bravery. The enemy kept on shelling us, so we were ordered off the road and up the bank on the right hand side. It was very steep but it was our only option. I knew two of the boys in ‘A’ Company. One was Cheyne, who was badly wounded, and the other was a fellow Mitchell, who was badly shell-shocked, or what we called ‘Bomb Happy’. He was really in a poor state. I never saw anyone shake so much, they had to take him away – not very nice to witness. Later that night we managed to get into a house in La Roche. It was bitterly cold. We eventually got some food and a very welcome ‘Rum Ration’, it was not a lot, but is was very welcome.“
Not far from the scene of the calamity, somewhat further down the road towards La Roche, in what nowadays is the Hotel Claire Fontaine, was Private Alexander Barr of the Carrier Platoon of the 7th Black Watch: “When the 7th Black Watch went up to Hives on the 11th, the carriers were left out of this move as were the gun crews. The place where we laagered was just short of La Roche. There was a large abandoned building with a fore-court well off the road with the river Ourthe flowing at the back. It looked as though it had been a restaurant or bar for tourist trade in peacetime. Though most of the fittings were gone, it was largely intact and most important had a large stove. With the carriers parked in the fore-court, we settled in. Essential maintenance to the vehicles was carried out; but once this was done, apart from a guard and stand to, night and morning, we relaxed in the warmth of our stove. About mid-morning next day we had a convoy of trucks moving down the road past our billet. They were travelling very slowly and against all convoy discipline almost head to tail. A dangerous procedure especially so close to the forward areas. We could see that the troops were from one of the Gordon battalions. Presumably they were to take over the advance when the leading battalions had consolidated. They continued inching along and halting, until suddenly an intense burst of shellfire fell slap on to them further down the road. There were vehicles in flames, as we could see a large dark cloud of smoke rise up. A number of wounded were brought into our billet to await evacuation by ambulance. The first person through the door was a young fresh recruit, who still resembled a schoolboy. He appeared to be in deep shock and was half carried in by two of his mates, who put him into a chair. He could not speak and seemed not to know what was happening. Although he was not wounded he was in a bad state. It was his first action and probably his last. I felt terribly sorry for him. Eventually ambulances came and took away the wounded, including our ‘schoolboy’ still speechless and in a world far from ours. I have never forgotten that incident. I never saw him again, but often wondered what became of him.”
The incident was filmed from the nearby Hotel Claire Fontaine, the location where Alex Barr was billeted.
See also (from 00:34) : Invasion Scenes 'ardennes'
The Hotel Claire Fontaine still exists. Actually it was at this accommodation that I stayed for several days with the veterans of the 51st HD during their first official revisit to the Ardennes in 1999. Only after he returned home from the 1999 visit, Alexander Barr realized that this was the place he had stayed during the battle.
Somewhat further up the valley, near the present location of the 51st HD monument, a film crew also held up in the traffic jam in front of the town of La Roche, decided to spend their time wisely and make a few film shots of the winter landscape. They unintentional caught part of the shelling on film, much to their fright since you can see the camera duck for cover. Most likely the crew then sped back to the site of the calamity to take the images shown in the previous post.
For the moving images see (from 00:31 onwards): Invasion - Europe In Snow
A good comparison nowadays is almost impossible, as the slopes are now completely covered with trees (courtesy of Street View)
Map of all of the locations
The men that fell in the shelling incident were:
001 GARLAND JA 11050185 517TH BN 12/01/1945 GORDON HIGHLANDERS
002 GODDARD ML 14691228 5/7TH BN 12/01/1945 GORDON HIGHLANDERS
003 MCGLASHAN DF 1474363 5/7TH BN 12/01/1945 GORDON HIGHLANDERS
004 MCKIBBIN HD CDN/640 ATTD 5/7TH BN 12/01/1945 ROYAL CANADIAN INFANTRY CORPS
005 HERRING FA 13093458 61 ANTI TANK REGT 12/01/1945 ROYAL ARTILLERY
006 SALTER F 14362089 61 ANTI TANK REGT 12/01/1945 ROYAL ARTILLERY
007 LENNARD HEDB T/125168 - 12/01/1945 ROYAL ARMY SERVICE CORPS
Does anyone have the recommendation for the award given to Sgt Joe Brown of the 144 RAC. I seem to have lost it, cannot find it in my archive anymore.
P.S. Recce-Mitch had a look at the WO373 files but there's no medal registered for Joe Brown. Neither does the regimental history of the 144 RAC, entitled "Blue Flash", mention an award for Sjt Brown, only that he "achieved fame and his photograph in the Daily Mirror".
Paul, thanks for your effort.
You had previously detailed Lt. McKibbon on the Canloan thread:
McKIBBIN, HUGH DAVID
Service No: CDN/640
Date of Death: 12/01/1945
Regiment/Service: Royal Canadian Infantry Corps
attd. 5/7th Bn Gordon Highlanders
Grave Reference V. D. 8.
Cemetery HOTTON WAR CEMETERY
CWGC - Casualty Details
Lt David McKibbin (grave to the right) was killed on 12 January 1945, during the Battle of the Bulge, when long range enemy shelling scored three unlucky hits on a stationnary column of TCVs and other vehicles just outside La Roch-en-Ardenne, carrying troops of the 5/7th Gordon Highlanders, 51st Highland Division.
McKibbin's truck received a direct hit. The truck driver H.E.D. "Bunny'' Lennard, RASC, (grave on the left) also was killed, as were three other soldiers in the rear of the vehicle.
4. 'Link up' at La Roche, 12 Jan 45
Another well known picture is the above of an encounter between soldiers of the 51st HD and 84th US Infantry Division at La Roche. This picture was taken in the afternoon of 12 January 1945 when the skies became heavy with clouds and it started to snow. The picture was taken at the edge of the Rue du Cielle and the Avenue du Hadja, near the ‘Pont du Gravier’ the northernmost bridge across the Ourthe inside the town. The Pont du Gravier had been destroyed in September 1944 by the Germans during their retreat from Belgium and had been replaced by a temporary wooden bridge.
The British soldiers in the picture had ventured across the temporary bridge over the Ourthe River, which formed the inter-corps boundary with the U.S. VII Corps, and technically were trespassing in the American sector. The British soldiers are, left to right, Harris McAllister (signaller), Corporal John Donald and Private Bill Towler from the signal section of HQ 153 Brigade. Sergeant Frank D. Richards, who was also present but not on the picture, relates: “Brigade HQ 153 Brigade moved to the village of Ronzon in the evening of 11 January. Next day the Brigadier decided to send a tactical or skeleton HQ into La Roche, possibly because the town, being badly damaged by bombing, could not accommodate the whole Brigade HQ. Our command vehicle was parked in a small square near the shattered river bridge. Having established ourselves, I together with the wireless operators not on duty and the driver of the command vehicle made our way over what was left of the bridge. On the other side we met the crew of an U.S. armoured car, which carried the commanding officer of the Recce Regiment of the 84th U.S. Infantry Division. While the others stayed with the Americans, I went back to our command vehicle to check if communications were all right and if there was any sign of a move”.
Harris McAllister recalls: “The picture of myself, Cpl. John Donald and Bill Towler was taken after the capture of La Roche on 12 January 1945. We crossed over the blown up bridge over the river and met the American soldiers in an armoured car. We sat down and had coffee provided by them, round a fire of petrol and sand in a bucket in front of a garage. It was then that a photographer arrived with a reporter in a Jeep and took a photograph of us. He realised we had different uniforms, and this was the allied link-up. He then asked us to meet at the road corner and shake hands, which we did, and he took a second more appropriate photograph”. (Photos NARA).
Street corner Rue du Cielle today
The house at the street corner of the Rue du Cielle still exists. A plaque on its gable now commemorates what passed into history as the link up between the British and American forces at La Roche. In fact the town had already been seized on January 11th by the British, while American patrols entered the eastern outskirts of the town even a day earlier.
For the location of the monument see: Plaque Meeting 11 January 1945 - La Roche-en-Ardenne - TracesOfWar.com
Pont du Gravier then ...
Soldiers of the 51st HD return from the American sector.The Pont du Gravier was destroyed by the Germans during their retreat from Belgium in September 1944 and was replaced by a temporary wooden structure and a small footbridge. The road on the other side of the river is the Rue du Cielle along which the Americans approached the town (Photo C.Nollomont).
(almost) the same spot now ....
The old course of the Route du Cielle has been shifted. It now follows the river bank and runs along the front of the houses.
La Roche-en-Ardenne from the American perspective
Soldiers of the 84th US Infantry Division enter La Roche along the Rue de Cielle.
Attached the cliff face of the above picture is to the left. The rebuilt Pont du Gravier is visible on the right. The large white building on the hill above the town, in the center of the picture, is the Hotel du Chalet. In front of this Hotel is nowadays the monument for the 1st Northhamptonshire Yeomanry with the Achilles (!) tank destroyer. To the right the main road to Hotton runs through a narrow rock defile, cut through the base of the mountain spur that forces the Ourthe River to make a final large loop before its continues on a more even course to the northwest to Hotton; the cut is locally known as 'La Troué du Chalet'. On Jan 11th, 45, the British forces entered La Roche through this defile; more on that see below (courtesy Street View).
A little further down the road the US troops enter the town. The street corner where the pictures of the encounter with the British were taken is just beyond the truck in the middle of the road.
Attached same location today (courtesy Street View)
For film images of this scene see (from 5:49 onwards): Time To Remember - The Last Winter 1944 - 1945 - Reel 2
5. The 5th Black Watch at Verdenne, Jan 9th, 1945
The above picture is a US Signal Corps photo taken on January 9th 1945. According to the caption it shows soldiers of the 5th Black Watch, 153 Bde. Though the caption gives Marenne as the location, it actually was taken in the vicinity of the nearby village of Verdenne, which was the forming up area for the formations of 153 Brigade. The tanks belong to 'B' Squadron of the 1st Northamptonshire Yeomanry. Two troops of the Squadron were attached to the 5th Black Watch (Photo NARA).
Same area today:
The assembly area along the 'Rue de Refuge' just west of Verdenne with view to the west (courtesy Street View)
January 9th was the first day of offensive operations by the 51st Highland Division in the Ardennes. The division had moved into the line the day before, with the 154 Bde taking over from elements of the 53rd Welsh Division. Since the most feasible approach to the south, the main road from Hotton to La Roche, in the deep Ourthe River valley, was difficult to attack and easy to defend, the plan was to thrust forwards on a one-brigade front across the high ground to the west of the river. The task was entrusted to Brigadier Sinclair's 153 Brigade, who was to push forward as far as the crest crowned by the farming settlements of Hodister and Warizy, which would afford him control of the lateral road from Marche to La Roche and also cut off any enemy units still hanging on farther north in the Ourthe valley. The advance would go over rugged terrain, covered by dense forests, which was deeply cut at intervals by small tributaries of the Ourthe. There were no roads which forced the 153 Bde to use a forest ride as main axis.
The start line of 153 Bde was at the Fme du Chauvaimont which overlooked the road between Grimbiémont and Cheoux. The small ride that functioned as brigade axis here crosses the road and continues up to the Bois du Handeuwez which was the objective of the leading battalion, the 1st Gordon Highlanders.
Fragment from the War Diary of the 153 Bde re the operations on the 9th:
The 153 Bde encountered only light enemy opposition during the day. The attack of the Highland Division coincided with Adolf Hitler's reluctantly taken decision to authorize a limited withdrawal of his forces from the apex of the salient in the Ardennes. A tacit admission that his Ardennes offensive had failed utterly. It was a withdrawal not all the way back to Houffalize, as had been advocated by his generals, but only to a line anchored on a great eastward loop of the Ourthe River some five miles west of Houffalize. Those authorized to withdraw were mainly units of the Fifth Panzer Army facing the British in the north and the Third U.S. Army’s VIII Corps west of Bastogne. From the night of 8/9 January the enemy started to retreat to this new line.
Over the next days the 51st Highland Division, therefore, would be trying to catch up with the enemy retreat. Still progress would not be easy, nor swift. The mountainous terrain of the Ardennes and the worst weather a Belgian winter had to offer were enough in itself to see to that. The sparse minor roads were beset with obstacles such as felled trees, blown bridges and innumerable mines. All these would slow down the speed of the advance to the pace of engineer clearing operations. The weather rendered Allied air superiority largely irrelevant. So murky was the atmosphere that on many days the Allied fighter bombers were unable to intervene in the battle. Under these circumstances, gaining a few miles a day would be a major achievement.
Map of the operations on Jan 9th, 1945: On 8 Jan 45 the 154 Bde took over the positions from the 53rd Welsh Division, the Welsh Division's 71st Bde for the moment remained in line and passed to command of the Highland Division. The Bde was relieved by the 3rd Para Bde next day and reverted to command of the 53rd Welsh. On 9 Jan 45 the 153 Bde opened the 51st Highland Div's attack against the German Salient and moved through the 154 Bde's frontline. The attack was assisted by the 53rd Recce Regt, also under command of the Highland Division, which operated on the left flank in the valley of the Ourthe River (ops indicated in light blue).
Fragment from my booklet re 5th Black Watch action for Jan 9th:
For the men of the 5th Black Watch it had been a day of long wearying waits. That morning the battalion, under command of Lt.Col. Bill C. Bradford, had moved off by truck at 0900 hrs to the forming up area at Verdenne, where they were joined by the supporting tanks. The rest of the morning was spend with waiting for the progress of the other battalions. In early afternoon, after some hot soup, they finally moved off on foot up the hill and into the woods some 3000 yards, but then they were held up again. To the men it seemed like the old army game of "hurry up and wait". By late afternoon, at 1630 hrs, the battalion again moved forward, now with Warziy as its objective. The long hours of inactivity had left the men chilled to the bone. It was snowing intermittently and when darkness closed in it became even colder. Lieutenant William M. Chisholm, a platoon leader in ‘D’ Company, remembers: "We trudged single file through knee deep snow at night. I told my platoon to keep walking in the steps of the one in front to save energy in the bitter cold. But always there is one who doesn’t listen. One of the men moved out of line to talk to a friend up ahead and fell into a deep ditch full of snow. Unfortunately he carried two lots of PIAT bombs – as we fished him out he lost one lot of three and since we were holding up the whole column we did not have time to recover them."
Colonel Bradford’s battalion passed through the position of the 5/7th Gordons at Hodister. The going was slow and the track littered with vehicles unable to move. On the final stretch, snow drifts four feet deep had to be levelled by tanks before the battalion transport could get through. Private Tom Renouf, of ‘A’ Company: "At least the exertion kept us warm. The track seemed endless. After several miles we thought we must have lost our way, but then we suddenly arrived on our objective above the village of Warizy". Upon entering the dark village it was found already occupied by armoured cars of the 53rd Recce Regiment which had finally overcome the enemy roadblock at Hamoul and moved up from the river valley. Shortly after 2100 hrs, twelve hours after they had started that morning, the 5th Black Watch had taken up position in and around the village. An hour or so later Captain Donaldson produced trucks with a hot meal for everyone – which very much lifted the spirits of the cold, weary men, or, as the War Diary of the battalion termed it, "an excellent piece of work, and more than we were hoping for". He had avoided the confusion on the track and came round by the main road. Colonel Bradford sent ‘A’ and ‘C’ Companies forward to outpost Warizy and both companies spent a very uncomfortable night in the open. Despite the bad going, ‘B’ Squadron of the 1st Northamptonshire Yeomanry managed to get up a troop of tanks to each of the infantry battalions.
See also: 16th December 1944 Battle of the Bulge begins
On January 9th, the 3rd Para Bde, 6th Airborne Division moved to Marche-en-Famenne to relief the 71st Brigade, 53 Welsh Division, which was still holding part of the frontline under command of the 51st HD. The relief was accomplished at 1100 hrs. It was in the morning of the 9th, that this well-known picture of paratroopers of the 1st Cdn Para Battalion was taken at Marche. The 3rd Para Bde passed under command of the 51st HD, but reverted back to command of the 6th Airborne on the next day. Note the Highland soldiers in the left background (photo IWM).
6. Link up with the 17 US Airborne Division near Warempage, Jan 14th, 1945
Extract from the After Action Report of the 17th US Airborne Division. On the 14th the Airbornes contacted patrols of the 51st HD at the Ourthe River. The patrols encountered belonged to the 2nd Derbyshire Yeomanry, the Recce Regiment of the division, which were scouting in front of the main line of the Highland Division.
Site of the link-up today. DeGraeve's picture was taken at the entrance to the side road leading to Warempage (Courtesy Street View).
The story of the link-up from the British perspective reads as follows:
On the right, in the 153rd Brigade’s zone, Captain Patrick MacNaghten, in command of ‘B’ Squadron of the 2nd Derbyshire Yeomanry, dispatched all of his reconnaissance troops forward from Ortho. They had to patrol over three different routes towards the riverside, and, if possible establish contact with the Americans at the bridge south of Warempage. On the right, one troop was to probe towards Mousny, in the center another troop was to push along the Bertogne road to the bridge site and, on the left, one troop was to clear Warempage and Herlinval. Each troop was accompanied by a section of engineers for mine clearing. No.2 Troop went to Mousny and reported it clear of enemy, but because of deep snow it was not able to recce further. The troop that went down the main road, no.1 Troop, commanded by Lieutenant Owen, found the road blocked by eight trees. There were no mines but the trees were too big to be removed and they asked for a bulldozer to be brought up. Meanwhile no.3 Troop, commanded by Lieutenant P. Mucklow, entered Warempage, where it saw two enemy soldiers running into a house. By firing its 2-pounder guns and Besa machineguns at the enemy occupied house they flushed out the enemy and before long 9 POW’s were taken. By the time Warempage and the nearby Herlinval were clear Lieutenant Mucklow’s no.3 Troop had rounded up 39 POW’s. Unfortunately lieutenant Mucklow was killed in Op Veritable on 13 Feb 45 south of Gennep; see: VERITABLE 1945: 51st Highland Division Reichswald Forest
Since Mucklow’s troop was fully engaged in clearing up the houses in Warempage, Captain MacNaghten decided to let no.1 Troop make a detour by way of Warempage and rejoin his original axis further south. Lieutenant Owen’s troop proceeded through Warempage, turned right and descended to the main road. When the troop almost rejoined the main road, the leading armoured car spotted some infantry in slit trenches, who ran into some houses at the crossroads. The method of dislodgement described above was tried again, this time without success. The enemy remained in the houses. When this was reported, Captain MacNaghten told Lieutenant Owen that he would send infantry - two platoons of the 5/7th Gordons and a troop of tanks of ‘B’ Squadron 144th Regiment RAC were held at stand-by at Ortho, for just such an eventuality - but Owen replied that this was not necessary and that he would try again. This second attempt, however, was also unsuccessful. Owen, on his own initiative, then sent two pioneers round the back and opened the front door himself. He was confronted by a German officer and four men with their machineguns aimed at him. Owen fired two shots from his revolver which hit the ceiling over their heads and withdrew behind the door-post, covering the opening with his revolver, to await developments. He did not have to wait long as the Germans came out with their hands up. Obviously, the sight of the fiery Welshmen was too much for them and despite his bad marksmanship they were only too willing to surrender. He then proceeded to collect more prisoners, making 14 in all. As soon as Lieutenant Owen was satisfied that it was safe to do so, he went on south only to find the road blocked once more by trees. As no.3 Troop was still fully engaged in Warempage, Captain MacNaghten decided that it would be quicker to bring no.1 Troop back to Warempage once more and send them via the small road leading south from Herlinval to rejoin their axis. This they did. On rejoining the main road a second time, the leading car of no.1 Troop reported another road block manned by “determined-looking” soldiers. This was at 1140 hrs. On ‘closer examination’, they proved to be Americans and, at 1155 hrs, ‘B’ Squadron was able to report that “contact had been established with friends from the South”. Lieutenant Owen went on, on foot, to investigate the bridge over the Ourthe, but found it blown. A full report on the condition of the bridge was sent to Brigade.
Sergeant Peter de Graeve an armoured car leader in no.1 Troop, clearly remembers an exchange of ‘friendly’ fire: “About half a mile north of the river Ourthe we came under small arms fire from a wooded area each side of the road. We in our car already had the gun at 2 o’clock and as soon as firing started I told John Madden, my gunner, to open up with the Besa machinegun, spraying the wood until Lieutenant Owen after a short time realized they were Americans and shouted to cease fire. Mercifully, there were no casualties in this fire fight. The Yanks had been cut off for several days and eagerly accepted tins of corned-beef etc. To save this moment for posterity, I took a photograph with my camera.”
On the Scout Car:
John Tough of ‘D’ Company, 5/7th Gordon Highlanders: “The armoured cars of the 2nd Derbyshire Yeomanry passed through our lines that day and probed in the direction of the river. After a short while urgent appeals were caught on the wireless; the Derbyshires apparently had run into trouble and needed assistance. Orders came down for us to go into the next village from us aboard tanks and rescue the patrol. We were on the tanks ready to move when word came over the wireless that the enemy had surrendered. We knew that they were holding the village because our platoon leader, Lieutenant Thomson and our section leader Corporal Roy Wainwright went on a two-man patrol the night before, dressed in white camouflage clothing. As they walked through the village’s main street there were German soldiers walking about everywhere, but somehow they were not recognised. After a while they turned back and only when they were near the end of the village an alert German sentry halted them. Lieutenant Thomson immediately opened fire with his Sten gun and both men ran for their lives. They were very much out of breath and quite shocked when they arrived back to us.”
A party of infantry of the 5th Black Watch clad in snow-suits. There was no general issue of snow-suits to British troops during the fighting in the Ardennes. These were only handed out for small patrols or parades in front of a camera like in this picture, which was taken on Jan 9th, 45, near Verdenne; in the same assembly area as the picture of the Shermans in post # 32 (Photo US Signals, NARA).
The enemy prisoners taken at Warempage by the 2nd Derbyshire, as it turned out later, belonged to the Panzer Lehr and the 26th Volksgrenadier Division. The latter had fought against the Americans the previous day at Givry, to the south of the Ourthe Occidentale. When they attempted to withdraw through Bertogne they found the town already occupied by the Americans and thereupon they struck north across the river, only to be captured by the British at Warempage.
7 . La Roche-en-Ardenne, Jan 11th, 1945
On Jan 11th, 1945, the 154 Brigade seized the bombed out town of La Roche-en-Ardenne. The Bde approached the town along the main Hotton - La Roche road, which follows the course of the Ourthe River. Just before the road enters the town it runs through a narrow rock defile, locally known as the Trouée du Chalet, a man-made short cut for the approach road which previously followed the more circuitous loop of the river.
It was here that the following picture was taken:
Soldiers of the Highland Division, moving up on foot to La Roche, are about to pass through the Trouée du Chalet (Photo IWM)
The same spot today:
Sometime after the war the defile was widened by removing part of the cliff to the right in order to make it suitable for modern traffic .
See for moving images of the Trouée (from 2:37 onwards): Invasion - Europe In Snow
A walk through the Trouée du Chalet into the town:
Story of the advance to La Roche:
At 0600 hrs, on 11 January, the 1st Black Watch, of Lt.Col. John A. Hopwood, set out on foot from Cheoux for a six-mile march across the snowy hills to the start-line at Vecpré. Arriving there at 0800, the battalion joined up with the supporting tanks and engineers. The armoured cars of the Derbyshires, with an attached section of the 276th (H) Field Company RE, had already moved out along the valley road at 0745 hrs. At 0825 hrs the Derbyshires signalled that they had reached the area of the Hotel Claire Fontaine, halfway to La Roche, without encountering opposition and reported the small bridge of the local tramway line across the Ourthe blown. Thirty minutes later the leading armoured car approached the entrance of the ‘Trouée du Chalet’.
Trooper Ian Creasey drove in the leading reconnaissance car: “Early morning on January 11th, our troop of three armoured cars pushed forward towards La Roche. We fired at intervals with our machineguns into to the hills on the opposite side of the valley, provoking the enemy to riposte and thus reveal his position. All went well for a while. However, as we approached the bend in the road that went through the rock defile my armoured car all of sudden literally jumped up into the air. My immediate thought was that we had been hit with an anti-tank shell, but after the dust and smoke had settled we realised that we had run over a mine. Fortunately no one had serious injuries; my sergeant being slightly concussed as a ration box caught him on the head and our driver suffering rust and paint fragments in his eyes. Order was given from the troop leader for engineers in the convoy to carry out mine clearing duties, with the two remaining armoured cars giving cover. While the engineers immediately began checking the road, I and another trooper investigated the area. As we went cautiously around the corner, a huge German tank with its gun pointing straight at us, gave us a nasty shock, but we were relieved to notice that it had a covering of snow on it and none underneath, which proved that it was not in use. Further investigation brought us in contact with a local vicar, or some member of the church, who on hearing the explosion of the mine came to investigate. He told us of a German medical officer and his batman, who stayed behind to attend a young woman who was in labour and in need of medical attention. They were readily prepared to surrender to British troops, as was another small party of about eight men. After the engineers had given the ‘all clear’ signal to the troop leader, he gave orders for the convoy to advance leaving us with the damaged car. The leading armoured car had only passed ours by about a hundred yards when it also ran over a mine. Three men were wounded: Sergeant Brown, Trooper Kirby and Trooper Perham. Only after more mines had been picked off by our engineers was the convoy able to advance”.
The abandoned Panther tank which was left behind in front of the Hotel le Chalet just round the corner of the Trouée du Chalet.
The abandoned Panther was standing in front of the red caddy. On the right the Trouée du Chalet.
For the film fragment see: Invasion Scenes 'ardennes'
The 1st Black Watch ran into trouble at the southeastern end of La Roche, known as Le Faubourg, where the enemy had strongly established themselves on a high promontory - called Mont Soeret - overlooking that part of the town. It took the Black Watch until mid-afternoon to take out the enemy stronghold.
The western entrance of the Trouée is also the location of the 51st HD Monument, which mentions the names of all Highland soldiers fallen in the battle for the Ardennes.
In 1999 at the occassion of the first official revisit of the 51st HD veterans to La Roche-en-Ardenne a memorial was unveiled commemorating the fallen of the 51st Highland Division. The monument is placed at the north-western entrance of the town called 'Trouée du Chalet' . It lists the names of 54 men of the division fallen in the battle in the Ardennes.
Two names are missing on the monument. On 29 December 1944 one soldier of the 7th Black Watch - L/Cpl Thomas Prentice, age 21 - was killed when a flying bomb (V-1) dropped near the 7th Black Watch HQ, at Seraing/Liège. The 51st Highland Division at the time was in position at the southern outskirts of Liège, acting as a reserve under command of the First U.S. Army and protecting the city. L/Cpl Prentice rests at the Leopoldsburg War Cemetery: CWGC :: Casualty Details
Another member of the division was killed near Liège on the closing day of December 1944 - Private Joseph H. Elliott, of the 1/7th Bn Middlesex Regiment, age 27, died on 31 December 1944. The circumstances of his death are unknown. Private Elliott also is buried at the Leopoldsburg War Cemetery: CWGC :: Casualty Details
A light armoured car of the 2nd Derbyshire overlooking the bombed out town of La Roche was filmed across the road from the Hotel le Chalet. The edge of the Hotel can be seen in the right background.
Same spot today (Courtesy Street View)
See for moving images (from 0:21 onwards): Invasion Scenes 'ardennes'
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