BEING AN ACCOUNT OF SOME OF THE ADVENTURES OF “S” COMPANY IN HOLLAND SEPT 1944
After standing by for several operations which had been cancelled we were never sure if the current “op” was to be the one, but on being wakened at 06.00 and told that it was on decided that the great day had arrived at last. We reached the airfield at about 10.00 hrs, the containers and kit-bags being already on the aircraft, and fitted parachutes, and received and issued final orders. The BN (Battalion) plan was to siege and hold the bridges in ARNHEIM, Holland over the Mass and Upper-Rhine until the arrival of 2nd army after about 24 hours. We had been briefed by the C.O. (Commanding Officer) with the aid of sand models, maps and air photographs. The dropping zone which was about six miles west of Arnheim was a good one, and local opposition was to be plastered with HE (High Explosives) and strafed by Bomber Command, prior to our landing. Our transport to land by glider just before we dropped. We took off at about 11:00 hrs in fine weather and passed over the English coast at Aldeburgh in Suffolk. The weather was fine although it was a trifle “bumpy” at 3000 ft. We had an uneventful flight to Holland, passing over a certain amount of shipping including a number of rescue launches.
On passing over the Dutch coast I noticed a considerable number of Allied aircraft returning to base. Most of the countryside had been flooded by the Germans and I saw large expanses of water with occasional farm buildings and hamlets standing isolated and apparently cut off from civilisation.
There were “flak” barges on the canals, but most of these were burning fiercely after being attacked by our fighters. I also noticed a crashed glider and hoped that it was not one of my own. The odd “flak” which came up did not trouble us at all, no planes having to break formation for it.
I was flying practically line abreast with the C.O.’s plane and noticed that a container parachute had become released and was strung out underneath the fuselage like a yellow streamer. I thought at the moment that it was appropriate that the C.O would lead the Battalion into action once more, flying our colours from his aircraft.
The “Red” and “Green” lights came on in due course and we baled out. I was carrying a very heavy kit bag strapped to my leg, which caused me to turn a somersault, but the chute opened all right and in a few seconds we had landed on Dutch soil.
My first task was to collect the Battalion M/T (Motor Transport) which had landed by glider so I did not see that Bn collecting at the rendezvous.
I sent my batman to “Bn H.Q.” to report that I was on my way, and made my way to the M/T rendezvous.
By now the air was full of aircraft and parachutes as the remainder of the Bn came in with a certain amount of “flack” to the N.E of the D.Z (Drop Zone) and in the direction of Arnheim. The C.O. was using his hunting horn to guide the Battalion to the rendezvous.The M.T. was about a mile and a half from where I landed and I found the party assemble when I arrived under Lieut Dormer. I moved the party at once to the Battalion rendezvous.
It was a very pleasant Sunday afternoon, the countryside dotted with red roofed houses presenting a very pretty picture which was marred by occasional bursts of “flack” and spasmodic rifle and machine gun fire from the direction of the town.
THE MOVE TO ARNHEIM
The Battalion, although not quite complete was preparing to move off when I arrived and I just had time to load my mortars and machine guns onto the carrier and jeeps before we moved off. The order of march was:- “A” Coy, “C” Coy, Bn H.Q, “S” Coy.
“A” Company soon met with opposition and just as quickly dealt with it. During the whole of the march into the town “A” Coy fought several small battles and skirmishes and suffered some casualties. We reached and captured the Railway bridge, West of the town, “C” Company doing the assault. Unfortunately the bridge was prepared for demolition and was blown by the Germans when some “C” Company were on it causing several casualties including Lieut Barry.
The Bn pushed on into Arnheim leaving “C” Coy to clear up the right flank and “B” Coy the left flank which was threatened from some high ground shown on the map as Den Brinke.
By now snipers were pretty active and a few casualties were caused; I had three men wounded.
There was now a gap between the rear of Bn H.Q. and the M.T. which I was endeavouring to make up. I was standing in the carrier which was leading when an open armoured car suddenly turned into the main road from a side street and proceeded towards us. To my amazement I saw that it was German, with Germans sitting all over it. I opened up a short range with my Sten and the car ran into a hedge and stopped.
There were five Germans inside when I investigated, three dead and two badly wounded whom our medical orderlies attended to. We carried on and caught up with “Bn H.Q.” who were proceeding slowly through the outskirts of Arnheim towards our objectives.
Everywhere could be seen evidence of the progress of “A” Company. Enemy dead and wounded were lying around and there was some knocked out M.T. Spasmodic fire could be heard from somewhere forward.
On reaching the centre bridge which was pontoon with the central section missing, I was ordered by the 2 i/c (2nd in Charge) to hold it with two platoons until the arrival of “B” Coy whose task it was. They had met with stiff opposition on the left flank and were still fighting their way into the town. I also had to recky the riverbank for boats.
The Bn now covered a fairly large area. “A” Coy, “Bn H.Q” and “H.Q” Coy had reached the main objective which was the stone bridge and were now fighting there. I was at the pontoon bridge with a mixed party from the Mortar Machine Gun and Assault Platoons “B” Boy were on Dem Brinke and “C” Coy had met with stiff opposition and were still fighting somewhere in the area of the Railway bridge.
The light was failing and by the time I had posted my defence it was quite dark. My positions were attacked once from the direction of the centre of the town, which attack we repulsed and once an enemy patrol blundered into my outposts and were promptly dealt with.
What puzzled me was that the patrol came from the same direction as that which I expected “B” Coy to take. The various zones the combat could be seen quite clearly by now, made plain by the trace and burning buildings. The firing was heaviest from the “Bn H.Q.” and “A” Coy area. A large boat suddenly appeared from the darkness downstream and approached the gap in the pontoon bridge. It carried a dim light in the deckhouse, and I thought that it might be one of the enemy gunboats which we had been warned might be patrolling the river. On being challenged, shots were fired from it so I ordered a Vickers section to take it on which they did at about eighty yards range.
They raked it from stem to stern and it drifted to the opposite side of the river, out of control, until it struck the bank. Meanwhile an enemy M.G (Machine Gun) was causing a lot of trouble firing down a square between us and “Bn H.Q” positions. Bde H.Q. (Brigade Headquarters) and the A/T (Anti-Tank) gunners passed through at about this time, both being shot up by the M.G. I took it on with a 3” mortar and managed to quieten it after a while.
MONDAY SEPT 18TH
Just after midnight the Germans opened up with machine guns again, causing three casualties and a certain amount of excitement. After a little counter fire by a Bren section they were either knocked out or packed up. The Germans then fired two large buildings in the square but I estimated that it would be daylight before the fires reached our positions.
Things were quiet enough then until “B” Company arrived at about 02.50 hrs and took over the positions.
After handing over to Major Crawley I moved my party down the “Bn H.Q” which was in the area of the main bridge. The firing from forward was spasmodic and there was some sniping. I reported to the C.O. and was instructed to recce various sites round the bridge for machine guns with fields of fire covering N. N.E and E.
My company was dispersed as follows. One section M.M.G (Medium Machine Gun) with “A” Company in a house, covering the bridge. One section in reserve at Coy H.Q. which was a house next door but one to Bde H.Q. One Mortar section dug in on the green in the centre of the square at H.Q. the remains acting as rifle and Bren section in one of the houses. The Assault Platoon were in defence at Bn H.Q and Brigade.
I recced the area round the bridge for positions but found nothing really satisfactory and was under fire most of the time from the opposite bank of the river where the enemy had some positions. I picked up two glider pilots sgts (sergeants), and a sapper who were lost. They said that they knew where an enemy L.M.G.(Light Machine Gun) post was located in a house, so we collected a couple of R.A. (Royal Artillery) guns with a crew and had a go at it.
Under cover of the Bren we got close enough to bung some grenades in through the windows following up with the Stens. We found four dead and one dying German but no M.G. so concluded that it had been withdrawn. On my way back to Bn H.Q. I saw a stream of armoured cars crossing the bridge. They were being very thoroughly dealt with by our six-pounders and one of my own PAITs (Projector, Infantry, Anti-Tank Gun) from the Bn position.
One of the armoured cars came over my side of the bridge embankment, rolling over and over finally bursting into flames, when it came to rest against a wall. Needless to say I left the area pretty sharply. On my return to the Bn area I occupied the houses on the Bn right flank, facing the river.
My command was rather mixed consisting of a party of sappers under an officer, one section of machine guns under the M.G. officer, the Mortar Platoon, with the mortar officer doing F.O.O (Forward Observation Officer) and a party of glider pilots under two officers. In Coy H.Q. I had one 18 and two 38 sets, but later during the day the signallers fixed up a field telephone to “Bn H.Q.” I was in touch with my mortar officer with a walky-talky form the mortar pit.
There was some light shelling and mortar fire during the day, punctuated by the rattle of machine guns and rifles. I was at the C.O.’s command post during the morning, when the C.O. suddenly drew his pistol and opened fire through the window at some Germans who had driven into the square in a lorry.
Needless to say they “had it”.
Both number 1 Section machine guns and the mortars were in action during the day very good results being obtained in both cases. I visited the forward positions during the evening. Things were fairly quiet but there were a lot of fires in the area. Lieut Douglass went out and laid A/T mines which later showed a profit. “A” and “B” Coy's had patrols out which were in contact with the enemy around the bridge.
TUESDAY SEPT 19TH
Fire was kept up during the night and early morning but no determined effort to shift the Battalion was made. David Wallis, the 2 I/C was killed during the night and several lighter casualties were suffered. During the morning the R.S.M fixed the Bn water supply in one of my houses, and issued food from a German officers mess truck which we had captured in a side street.
Water was pretty short throughout the Bn positions during the whole action. Fire was kept up all day from all types of weapons, and the noise of the movement of tracked vehicles could be heard. I took a patrol out just before mid-day and saw some armoured cars but did not get a crack at them. Two large tanks approached and were knocked out by six-pounders and a PIAT fired by Cpl Rattray of the Assault Platoon. The six pounders were in action pretty well all day, doing excellent work although suffering casualties. The Germans were still firing new buildings, once aircraft passed overhead flying fairly low but we could not distinguish them through the heavy pall of smoke which hung over the area.
We received a message that the forward elements of 2nd Army were on their way, with orders to hold on. The men by now were very tired, having had practically no rest since Saturday evening, but everyone was in good form. In lieu of food and water which was very short I issued a tot of Cherry Brandy and a cigar to all ranks in the two houses. This stuff came from the German officers' mess truck which we had taken. Pte Carlier of the Mortar Platoon was ensconced as a sniper lying alongside the west wall of Coy H.Q. in an alley. Besides spotting A.F.V.’s (Armoured Fighting Vehicles) for the six pounder crew he shot at least nine of the enemy who were foolish enough to try and cross the west end of the square.
The position now was becoming rather tricky. Ammunition was very short, our casualties were mounting at an alarming rate and could not be evacuated from the R.A.P (Regimental Aid Post) and we could not get in touch with ‘C’ Company. To cap it all the 1st and 3nd Bn’s could not get through to us and the remainder of the Division were fighting against strong opposition outside the town. The Brigade commander was missing and Colonel Frost took command of the Brigade which consisted of a very scattered and decimated force indeed.
Everyone was in good form however and most cheerful under the heaviest fire. After a particularly heavy mortar shoot controlled by Lieut Woods at the forward O.P.(Observation Post) Col Frost came down to the mortar pits and congratulated us on it. As usual he was immaculately dressed, without his smock and wearing his beret although the whole area was under some sort of fire continuously. I sent the M.G. officer forward to check up on his No 1 Section who were with ‘A’ Company and he had a pretty hot trip ending up with him being wounded in the head. When he arrived back he was minus his steel helmet but was wearing a huge dressing which looked like a turban. He went off to the R.A.P to get it properly dressed. A continued stream of wounded were passing back to the R.A.P under the supervision of the R.A.M.C. (Royal Army Medical Corps) Orderlies, and although they carried a Red Cross flag they were shot at several times. One Medical Orderly at least was shot dead in this way. The Assault Platoon had been pretty busy, sniping, laying A/T mines, and shooting at armoured cars and other vehicles, and had suffered some casualties. I’d understood that at about this time we were given the opportunity to surrender, the usual reply being given. The enemy then fetched up another self propelled gun just beyond the trees North East of our positions and started to batter Bde and Bn H.Q. with it. We took it on with a mortar but as my wireless was now out of order I had to go forward and relay my range corrections through my batman.
I eventually got within seventy yards of the gun and brought three rounds rapid down on it, knocking out two of the crew. The remainder shoved off quickly with the gun before I could get them. As I was in the centre zone of the bombs it was not surprising that one landed just in front of me, and both my batman and myself collected a few bits in the legs. One Boche poked his head up over a hedge on the opposite side of the road but I fortunately saw him first and gave him a short Sten burst all to himself. An officer from Brigade H.Q. gave a fire order to my other mortar team who opened fire on to a platoon of the 3rd Bn but I was able to stop them before any damage was done.
By now the buildings occupied by ‘B’ Company were on fire and as their wireless had broken down they passed a message through my H.Q. asking for orders. They evacuated their buildings, and crossed the square to our side under their own cover of smoke.
One chap was carrying a large sword, another had a 12 bore shot gun. The remnants of one platoon came under my command, the remainder under Capt Hoyer-Millar took up positions in the house between Bde H.Q. and ours. When night fell again it made very little difference as the flames from the burning buildings kept the place bright. I withdrew the mortar teams from the pits and organised a system of rest in a darkened room for the men where they could also brew up. The house next to mine caught fire and burnt all night. I had a party in the loft of my H.Q. with sacks and sand and managed to prevent the fire taking hold although we were kept pretty busy.
WEDNESDAY SEPT 20TH
We stood to at dawn but no infantry attacked developed although a straggling fire was kept up. It was believed that the Boche were using the church tower as an observation post for their artillery so a Bren section raked it occasionally and I had a sniper posted with binoculars to keep his eye on it. We were under heavy fire all morning the roof and top floor of Coy H.Q. being demolished. I had a party mouse-holing through the garden walls and digging slit trenches in the garden to keep a freedom of movement and have an alternative position if necessary. With some empty wine bottles, oil and petrol we made some Molotov cocktails to be used with smoke grenades against A.F.V.’s. A mortar was knocked out, Sgt McCreath and Pte Crew being killed and at about this time Lieut Woods was seriously wounded. My mortar pits were plastered with fire of all kinds several casualties being caused. I had left only one barrel which was fit for use. With this barrel no base plate or tripod. Sgt Jackman stayed in action until all mortar ammunition was expended the barrel held by two men with a toggle rope being mounted in the garden behind ‘B’ Coy H.Q. With this barrel we knocked out two M.G. posts, an anti-tank gun and vehicle and took on all counter mortar tasks.
Late in the morning the remnants of ‘A’ company were withdrawn to Bn H.Q. area. They had seen heavy fighting since landing in Holland and had suffered severe casualties all officers being wounded and Leiut Grayburn being wounded twice finally being killed. I had to re-arrange my defences to cover our front now so the enemy would now infiltrate into the ruins of the buildings on the opposite side of the square. A patrol was sent out from ‘Bn H.Q.’ to have a look over these buildings. The section of the machine gun platoon who had been with ‘A’ Company now returned the guns behind buried in a demolished building. In crossing the square two were wounded. I visited ‘Bn H.Q.’ and found them in slit trenches, as their building was untenable. Heavy shelling and mortaring started up again in the afternoon, one mortar bomb wounding both Colonel Frost and Major Crawley who was commanding the Bn. Both were wounded in the legs and were hors-de-combat. With our mortar barrel we succeeded in shifting the enemy mortar although when one ceased firing another one opened up from somewhere else. I had nine bombs left for the mortar but had several thousand rounds of Vickers ammunition. Major Tate took command of the Battalion. At about 15.00 hours the Boche turned his artillery on my H.Q. once more and blew the south west corner away before moving on the ‘B’ Coy house, and Bde H.Q. I recced the area to the north east of our position in case we had to move as that seemed the best direction. In one street a woman was lying, moaning with her jaw shot away. When we gave her some morphine the Boche opened up on us with machine guns. The whole area was a shambles with German dead and equipment lying everywhere. I moved a Bren section out to cover my flank which was fortunate as they shot up a Boche patrol, killing or wounding at least seven. ‘B’ Coy’s house was now on fire. ‘B’ Coy commanded by Capt Hoyer-Millar had evacuated and taken up positions in their garden.
The artillery was now turned onto my H.Q. once more, blowing in the front and setting the top on fire. I went round to Bn H.Q. for permission to evacuate, which was given by Major Tatham-Warter who had assumed command of the Bn again, together with orders to cover the square with fire at all costs. We evacuated just about in time, the artillery were bashing away at the front rooms while two machine guns were shooting at the rear door and windows. I sent the wounded to the R.A.P. I had returned to the ground floor for a final check for ammunition when there was a blinding flash and I remembered nothing until I came round in a slit trench outside where I had been carried by the M.G. officer and a couple of men. It seems that an 88 shell and myself arrived in the house simultaneously and I nearly “bought it”. We were pretty well dug in, in the garden and I had the rear house intact and one Vickers and two crew covering the square from the burnt out building next door, the rubble being still hot.
Just after taking up our new positions we received a message that 2nd Army would relieve us at 1700hrs. This was amended shortly afterwards and we were told to hold out until the following morning. All the buildings but one two storied building which I was occupying were now blazing fiercely, and we were under constant fire from light and heavy machine guns, mortars artillery and tanks and were suffering casualties. I received instruction to report to the “Bn H.Q.” and on arrival in the garden there found what was left of the Bn frantically preparing positions.
Col Frost had called or accepted a half-hour truce with the enemy in order to evacuate our wounded from the burning R.A.P. and they were being removed by the German Medical Orderlies. Unfortunately Col Frost was taken too. The truce of course only applied to the wounded, but the Boche in his usual dirty fashion was trying to take unwounded troops away also, this act being frustrated by Capt Hoyer-Millar. Major Tatham-Warter had refused to surrender the Bn and all who were fit to fight had to close in to Bn H.Q.
I moved my party over, now greatly reduced, and prepared positions, fortunately still being able to keep the square covered by fire. When the half-hour truce was up the scene in the garden was incredible. The Bn had more or less formed square and was entirely surrounded by Germans who resumed their mortar and machine gun fire, some of the mortar bombs bursting in the branches of the trees overhead which was pretty unpleasant and caused several more casualties. The whole scene was lit by flames from the blazing buildings. The enemy continually called on us to surrender but the men only swore back at them or jeered at them and invited them to come in and get us.
I think that was the Battalions finest hour for everyone thought at the time that death was inevitable and all ranks were determined to do as much damage as possible before being overwhelmed. After about an hour of this I received orders to move back to my old positions as the Bn was moving out. The whole Bn moved across the street and took up positions in a two story house, a bottle warehouse and a garden. I took the opportunity to booby trap my jeep and the German truck, which we had captured with grenades. In the general noise and confusion it was hoped that we had moved unseen as the enemy still concentrated their fire on our old positions, but it was so doubtful that the C.O. decided to move. Our party under Major Tate and Capt Frank were to move out and lie up near the town prison and return to our present position before first light next morning.
The other party commanded by the C.O. were to move out and lie up west of our position and rendezvous with the other party in the morning. The M.G. Platoon ***** Leiut *** moved with the first party the mortar platoon under Sgt Jackman came with the C.O.’s party, I could not find the Assault Platoon. Also in the C.O.’s party were ‘Bn H.Q.’ under the adjutant and ‘B’ Company under Capt Hoyer-Millar with a mixed party under Major Gough of the Recce Regt [Squadron]: I was to guide this party having previously recced the area. We all moved off through the burnt out ruins led by the C.O. myself and two sten gunners. After working our way through a couple of side streets where it was fairly dark we reached another square. A half track vehicle lumbered past, but we weren’t spotted and carried on until suddenly I was challenged by a German post. I was leading at the time and I halted to try and locate the source of the voice when a machine gun opened up about twenty yards in front of the firing ***** tracer and hitting a few of the party behind me. I turned into a gateway on my right and threw a grenade over the railings at the gun and then followed the remainder of the party who had taken to the ruined buildings once more.
I could not find the others, and eventually went into a building which turned out to be some municipal offices. On looking through a window I saw some of our party led by the C.O.
I contacted them and while Capt Hoyer-Millar got the party into the building, the C.O. Adjutant and myself recced the upper floor.
The C.O. decided that it was unsuitable and was preparing to go down again when he was challenged by a German who was at the bottom of the steps. The German punctuated his challenge with a waffle of bursts from a sub-machine gun. While the C.O. talked down to him I bunged my last grenade at him and we joined the rest of the party with no more fuss.
The C.O. decided to lie up on the ground floor until first light and excepting for sentries the men were allowed to rest. The party now consisted of the C.O, the Adjutant, Capt Hoyer-Millar with a small party of his Coy. Lieut Tannenbaum with a few men and my own party of about nine N.C.O’s and men.
THURSDAY 21ST 1944
There was heavy shelling during the night which I was told later came from 2nd Army guns.
During a lull I had a look outside and collected about twenty five more men, which included Sgt Jackman and some of the Mortar Platoon and some men from ‘A’ and ‘B’ Coys. We placed everyone under cover and it was decided that we should have to stay put until the 2nd Army relief force reached Arnheim as the Boche were all round us. Captain Hoyer-Millar and myself holed up in a burnt out cell or vault, there were four of them with steel doors and we chose the end one.
After settling down we started to make plans for harassing the Germans when they started to withdraw never doubting for a moment that we should be relieved during the morning.
After a while we heard a lot of shouting in the main building. It proved to be the German S.S. troops who had captured our party including the C.O. and the Adjutant.
Without food and water and practically no ammunition and in our exhausted condition capture or death must have been inevitable.
The Germans searched all the ruins firing an occasional burst to discourage anyone who might be hiding, but, although they stood outside the half open door of our cell by pressing ourselves flat against the wall behind the door we were not discovered.
We stayed in the cell for a couple of hours making plans and discarding them as unsuitable and finally decided that if 2nd Army had not arrived by dusk we would try and find our way out of town and lie up until we could contact our own troops. Unfortunately the Boche decided to build in barricades and started taking the steel doors from the cells. We made a dash for it over the rubble but unfortunately ran into a room which had no other exit. On coming out we found ourselves covered by three sub machine guns and that was that. We were taken to the S.S. Headquarters for interrogation and had to carry one of our own men who was dying to a R.A.P on the way he died just as we arrived. We tried to pass ourselves off as a couple of privates but failed. The S.S. never once gave us an opportunity to escape we were always covered with a firearm of some sort. When going through Arnheim I had a chance to see the damage that we had caused and it certainly was impressive. Knocked out enemy vehicles were everywhere and bodies all around the area where we had been fighting. When passing along one street the curtains where pulled aside and someone looked out. One of our escorts put a burst through the window immediately. When we reached the R.A.P a doctor looked at the fellow we were carrying and said that he was dead. I saluted the body in the normal way and was bowled over by one of the guards. I was taken away to a H.Q at the other end of the town and all my equipment was taken from me, it was later photographed for a Boche ***** paper as I saw a copy recently. After interrogation I was taken in a horse and cart with other wounded prisoners to a hospital on the outskirts. We had stretchers on the floor. ***** gave me a 45 and four rounds and promised to get me some boots. During the night our heavies shelled the place and during the confusion when our building was hit I walked out. I had an escape compass and made for the river but the going was pretty grim and I had no boots. At first light I laid up for the day in a garden shed. There must have been chickens in it until recently as I collected a lot of fleas and was most uncomfortable besides being thirsty. As soon as it was fairly dark I pushed on again. I saw no ***** and very few troops who were not on some sort of vehicle. I reached the river just before first light and decided to lie up on a boat for the day if I could. I made for a jetty and on turning a corned walked into ********* who had apparently stopped for a smoke. I was covered immediately and they called the officer, who had been to university in Cuba and who spoke English. They dressed my cuts etc and gave me my first taste of black bread and German sausage, together with a bottle of wine and some dark cigarettes.
Source: Supplied by Kerry Silva (Granddaughter)Read More