The dash from the River Weser to the River Leine April 1945

Ref Map: GERMANY Sheet N4 1/100,000

1.  The 7 April 1945 and the night 7/8 Apr was a period of quick decisions, excitements, and casualties, but resulted in important gains for the bn.

2.  In the morning, the bn was at PETERSHAGEN on the R WESER when orders were received for the continuance of the advance to the R LEINE.  These orders visualised the seizing of the crossings in two places
        (1) The seizing of a commanding spur (1630) to the WEST of the River.
        (2) The seizing of the crossing at BORDENAU (1830)

3.  Phase 1 was to be done by 12 Bn supported by a sqn of Churchill tks (Gren Gds) and phase 2 by the 7 Bn.  It was expected that phase 2 would be carried out at night.  After the crossing at BORDENAU had been secured, the 13 Bn were to strike NORTH and seize the crossing at NEUSTADT 1735.  For this, the 7 Bn were to expect orders to assist by moving to NEUSTADT on the east bank of the river from BORDENAU.

4.  Accordingly, the Bde crossed the WESER at PETERSHAGEN at 1030 hrs and the 7th Bn dropped off into a concentration area just east of the river, which had been reconnoitred earlier that morning by the 2 IC (Maj Taylor MC), while the remainder of the Bde continued the movement and eventually carried out phase 1 of the op.

5.  This advance was a matter of some 25 miles and in order to keep in touch with what was happening it was necessary for myself and my wireless sets (in scout car) to midway between my bn and the rest of the Bde.  In this way, I was in wireless touch with both phases and could read the phase 1 by intercepting messages on my set.  The Signal Offr (Lt Theobald) and Int Offr (Lt Farr) were both in my car with me.

6.  Phase 1 went better than expected and the 12 Bn after securing the spur sent patrols to investigate the crossing at BORDENAU and managed to secure it intact.

7.  In the meantime, I had been ordered to move my bn forward on the same axis and by 1500 hrs, it was in ALTENHAGEN 0928 on wheels.

8.  The Bde Comd and myself were also in this village, and I was directed to seize the crossing at NEUSTADT with all possible speed.  Infm was scanty but it was clear that the rd to WUNSTORF 1426 was safe and although there was some doubt about it, it was understood that the Armd Recce had actually been to NEUSTADT and were at that time actually in possession of the bridge there.  They would not be in any strength though, and would need reinforcing quickly.

9.  I managed to sort out my column from the considerable traffic in the village street of ALTENHAGEN and separated the three letter rifle coys, MMG pl, Mortar pl and HQ parties from the remainder of my tpt (this latter I left with OC HQ Coy (Maj Went) with orders to keep in touch with Bde HQ in ALTENHAGEN who would pass on my orders to him as, of course, he had no wireless link with me himself.  The tps were being carried in 3-ton lorries, the covers of which had already been lifted so that they could fire from the lorry if necessary.

10.  I then warned every lorry that we were about to take a risk and would be moving through country which had not be fully cleared and every man was to travel with his weapon in the firing posn.  We moved out of the village at about 1545 hrs and the number of weapons showing over the sides of the lorries together with the aggressive looks on the faces of the men caused some comment amongst the other tps there.  I was most anxious that the column should make the best possible speed and I did not want to risk it taking a wrong turning or going further than I intended, so I led them myself in my scout car and decided to debus about midway between WUNSTORF and NEUSTADT at the crossings in the wood at 1531.

11.  On the way it was obvious that the way had not been thoroughly combed as many Germans appeared ahead of us on the rdside; these were all without arms and most of them put their hands up as soon as they saw us and I signalled to them to keep moving along the rd towards ALTENHAGEN, which they duly did.

12.  After passing WUNSTORF the rd swings due north and passes over an airfd at 1430 and 1530; at about 154303 there was a bit of badly churned up mud and after crossing it myself, I slowed up considerably to see if the 3-tonners could get over it all right.

13.  When I saw that they could I sped up again and had myself just reached the edge of the wood at 155308 when I spotted two Germans at the side of the rd about fifty yards in front of me.  They were not behaving like the other Germans we had met and could be seen to jump into a slit trench.  The scout car unhappily did not mount a bren gun and all the occupants of it were pistol armed.  Expecting a burst of MG fire at any moment, I stopped the car and ordered everyone out of it, this was accelerated by the expected burst of MG fire and then by a loud explosion close to the car.  This latter was a panzerfaust which passed just in the rear of the car and was clearly seen in the air by the 2IC (Maj Taylor MC) who had been travelling just behind my car in his jeep, and had run up to see why the scout car had stopped.  A ditch beside the scout car provided cover for the whole party.

14.  All this happened very quickly and while it was happening the leading four trucks of B Coy were all on the stretch of rd between the muddy patch and the scout car and had come under fire from both flanks (afterwards found to be from two MGs, one on each side of the rd, and a flak gun somewhere on the right, or east, of it).  Their cas amounted to six killed and eleven wounded with the leading pl comd (Lt Pape) amongst the killed.

15.  For a time it was a most unpleasant situation because the 2IC and myself were much too far forward to control the battle and anyway were pretty securely pinned ourselves.  The scout car became the target for the panzerfaust enthusiast; he was an extremely bad shot though and, despite the range being only about 30 yds, he missed it continuously, but his overs came uncomfortably close to the ditch we were using for cover.  Finally he did hit it once and this put the wireless set out of action.  L/Cpl Mundy of K Sec, RCS worked his way back to and into the car, and confirmed that the set was completely dead.  Excellent work was also done by No.5672152 Pte Strudwick, Major Taylor's batman, who ran back across the open to the four trucks of B Coy with my orders for OC B Coy (Maj Reid).

16.  Maj Reid had very quickly grasped the situation and had in fact started, on his own initiative, to carry out what turned out to be my orders to him.  He was to work up the right of the rd which would bring him past our ditch, and clear two houses which were close to the scout car.  He put down smoke with his 2" Mortars and led the first wave himself; I was able to tell him as he passed me to continue as far as the east-west road at the cross roads where I had intended to debuss.  This he duly did and as his coy rushed past, I found myself in a position to observe some truly great leadership by his offrs and NCOs.

17.  It was then necessary for me to get to my normal place in this column before I could clear up the situation properly; this had to be done on foot and was very unpleasant.  I found that the bulk of the column were in dead ground behind the spur in 1530 and that the Bde Comd himself was with them and had ordered up the tks.  These went into action as I was running back and started to lace the wood to the east of the axis road, they did not know that B Coy had entered these woods - fortunately they caused no cas to B Coy and their fire was of great assistance.

18.  My plan was to send off C Coy (Major Keene MC) on a similar mission to B Coy but on the other side of the axis rd and to stop them also when they had reached the same east-west rd as B Coy were making for.  I then planned to continue the advance by passing A Coy through and with B and C, rejoining at the crossrds.  A Coy's (Maj Fraser) first objective was MOORDORF 1633.

19.  The bulk of the airfield was on the side of the axis rd allotted to C Coy and they were likely to take longer than B Coy so I shifted the tanks over to that flank and got them to shoot up the woods on the left flank of C Coy.  The Bde Comd informed me that the 13 Bn were then in GROSSERHEIDORN 1230 and that he was prepared to move them anywhere that would assist me.  I asked him to bring them in to mop up the aerodrome buildings after we had passed through them, and then to clear POGGENHAGAN 1731.

20.  B and C Coys duly arrived at the east-west rd and I passed A Coy through them, according to plan.  My plan was to secure MOORDORF with A Coy and then to bring up the tanks and from the MOORDORF area shoot up NEUSTADT and the br for ten minutes.  The tanks were then to switch their attention to the east face of the long wood to the west of NEUSTADT.

21.  A and C Coys were to secure NEUSTADT where the br is at the eastern extremity of the town and I gave the main east-west rd through the town as a dividing line.  A Coy were to lead in and then C were to pass through them.  Adv Bn HQ was moving just in rear of A Coy and I intended to open up in the first suitable house we came to.
        Note: The bn has now occupied several towns by night and I have found that a most effective way is to pick the key points off a map and make straight for them.  Once there as many tps as possible are put into houses and no movement is made from house to house, or area to area, until daylight. At first light each coy clears its own area of the town, this is also laid down before hand from the map.

22.  B Coy in the meantime were to strike off right handed and work their way up the river; their job was to seize the br and to get it intact if possible, but, in any event, to get a footing on the east bank in the area of the br.

23.  As A Coy left the wood at 161321 they observed movement on the area of MOORDORF and accordingly moved up the ditches at the side of the rd; when the leading pl (Lt Hunter MC) and Coy HQ were about midway between this point and MOORDORF there was a loud explosion between them and the rest of the coln.  It was found that an enormous crater had been blown in the rd.  As the tps were in the ditches at the time only one fatal cas resulted - two other men were stunned and treated for shock but rejoined the next day.  It was later found that this crater was blown by three 200 kilo aerial bombs laid in a concrete pipe inserted under the rd, (presumably from the side as the surface had not been disturbed at all) and fired electrically from a slit trench about 100 yds away and to the left rear of it.

24.  It was also found that there were two other similar arrangements with the same aerial bombs and concrete pipes at intervals of fifty yds along the rd; the one that was blown was the most distant one.  By some miracle the other two were not blown.  If they had been, it is doubtful if the op would have been continued as the cas would certainly have included the bulk of A Coy and my Adv HQ and almost certainly the Bde Comd himself who was moving with my adv HQ at the time.

25.  The effect of the crater was that the tanks could not get up, and so I had to carry on without them.  This was not such a handicap as it sounds because it was beginning to get dark anyway and there was such a fair chance of securing our objective by surprise tactics.

26.  A and C Coys encountered no opposition on entering the town and Bn HQ was soon est in a suitable house.  A German patrol was encountered by A Coy and in the resulting confusion they captured a German but lost one of their own men (prisoner) in doing so (this man, No.1490914 Pte. Lloyd) was later recaptured and was able to give useful infm of things he had observed.

27.  Meanwhile, B Coy had been working up the river and were able to hear German voices on the bridge - they heard Lloyd and his escort being challenged at one or quite clearly.  When within 400 yds of their objective, they were forced to swing westwards and follow the bank of a loop canal as this was a considerable obstacle in itself.  This deviation took them onto the main east-west rd through NEUSTADT and left them with two bridges to deal with instead of one, i.e. one over the loop canal and the main one, the two brs were 100 yds apart.  A civilian was encountered soon after coming on to the rd and Maj Reid, who speaks German, questioned him about the br and garrison.  The civilian said the bridge was prepared for demolition and stressed the need for speed if it was to be captured intact.  This confirmed Maj Reid's original plan which was to rush the br and trust to getting across in time to prevent it going up.

28.  He therefore ordered his men to charge and the two leading pls under Lt Gush and Sjt McIver (Lt Pape's pl) and led by the Coy 2IC Capt Woodman had crossed both bridges when the first arch of the main rd was blown behind them at approx 0015 hrs 8 Apr.  Heavy and severe cas were suffered by the tps on both sides of the explosion but the small party that got across completely routed the garrison there and held their small brhead all night.  In the morning I put A Coy over in boats and pulled B Coy right out for a much needed rest.  (A Coy was augmented by 1 pl C Coy (Lt Archdale) and MMG Pl (Lt Norton).  A Coy were later given a tp of 6-pr a tk guns which came up from BORDENAU.

29.  The casualties suffered by B Coy in the explosion were:-
        Killed: 19    Wounded: 19    Missing: 6 (believed killed but bodies not found).

The total casualties suffered during the day and night (which all came from B Coy except one man killed in A Coy as a result of the    cratering of the rd were:- Killed: 1 offr & 26; Wounded: 3 offrs & 30; Missing: 6

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30.  The following points of interest arise and are taken from reports of the assault tps and from the observations of Pte Lloyd who was held as a prisoner at the far end of the main br for about 30 mins before B Coy assaulted and crossed it.

31.  The garrison of the br amounted to about 12 men.  They were not in a state of alertness although they were always in the vicinity of the end of the br.  They walked about with their rifles slung and some of them smoked cigarettes.

32.  The br was blown by aerial bombs laid end to end across the rdway and connected by fuses to each other.  These were seen by Lloyd as he and his escort had to step over them.  They were also reported by the assault tps who had to hurdle over them during their rush.  Capt Woodman, who was leading at the time checked at that point long enough to kick several of the fuses free.  Six unexploded bombs, with lengths of fuse protruding we later removed from the br by RE.

33.  There is no question of the explosion having been caused by the tripping of a wire:-
        (a) Lloyd was not told to step over anything except the actual bombs.
        (b) While Lloyd was held prisoner a civilian with a bicycle crossed the br and was challenged, and let pass, by the guard.  He also walked straight over the br except for stepping over the bombs.
        (c) The assault tps encountered no such wire.

34.  When B Coy crossed the first br they were worried by an electric bell that started ringing in a house near the br and on the left (north) side of it; they thought this was a signal as it rang continuously like an alarm.  Two men were sent in and they stopped it by pulling out the wire.

35.  Lloyd reports also hearing this bell, but says that the Germans paid no particular attention to it and certainly did not behave as if it was the signal for an immediate assault on their br.

36.  The garrison put up very weak resistance and did not appear to have any special fire posns.  Lloyd reports that when B Coy started their assault, the garrison unslung their rifles and most of them fired a round or two in the general direction of B Coy and then ran away.  He reports that they left by the rd leading north from the br.

37.  The prisoner who was captured by A Coy at the time when Lloyd was taken prisoner, reported that the garrison amounted to 10 men and that the main br was prepared for demolition.

38.  Amongst other prisoners taken in the town that night was an SS Serjeant Major who stated that he was in comd of the br garrison, which he also put at 10; he further said that he could not blow the br without the permission of his offr who was ten kilos away, and that the only means of comn with this offr was by bicycle.  We did not attach much value to this evidence as it seemed too good to be true also he made no mention of the telephone which was probably working (the electric light in the town was working when we entered).

I find it quite impossible to express my appreciation in words of the work done by Capt Wagstaff RAMC, Capt Beckenham (Padre) and the medical orderlies of, and attached to the bn.

Working incessantly throughout the day and night, and always in the most dangerous places, their contribution has been beyond all praise.

While they were still working on the cas on the airfd, the advance had to continue, and almost immediately further cas (mercifully only light) were requiring their attention as a result of the cratering of the rd.

Finally came the br explosion with its appallingly serious casualties and the difficulties of even reaching these, much less evacuating them.

All ranks of the bn would wish me to give the most credit for any success gained by the bn to this modest but untiring band of offrs and men.

(Signed R.G. Pine-Coffin) Lt-Col.
Commanding, 7th Bn (LI) The Para Regt.
14 Apr 45.

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