Towards Bremen

  

Towards Bremen

 

I rejoined the Regiment at 6pm on Thursday 29th at the small town of Rees to hear that the guns had been in action continuously during the crossing of the Rhine. Having crossed, they had then been very busy securing the town of Rees with the 43rd Division instructed to advance on the left flank on the drive eastwards. This was to culminate in our eventual fighting for and occupation of the city of Bremen, the well known port.

The hopelessness of the German situation was pretty clear now but there was still some difficult fighting ahead. The German paratroops were used as ground troops and fought desperately.

30 Corps, including 214 Brigade, was on the left flank of the British-American Armies moving into Germany. We were in the north and, while the advance in the south by General Patten and the Americans was noticeably going ahead at full speed, we in the north were held up by a very stubborn rearguard action in defence of Bremen and Bremerhaven. It was particularly upsetting to suffer casualties at this late stage when the war was obviously drawing to an end. It was on 8th April that Lieutenant Bater of 179 Field Regiment, whilst doing a reconnaissance for a forward position in the next move of the guns, was ambushed by a rear party of desperate Germans in the little town of Bawinkel. Indeed, it was there that I had met him and suggested to him various positions for the guns as we moved on with the DCLI. That little gunner reconnaissance party, Bob Bater and Gunner Dunn, were killed, his driver, a man called Horndby, was wounded and three other gunners were taken prisoner.

By this time it was obvious to us that German resistance was cracking. The Regiment was not meeting such large forces of enemy as previously. Instead, we again met every form of obstacle the Germans could think of, bridges were blown, roads blocked and mined.

The crossing of the Rhine went quite successfully for our Regiment without many casualties. The Airborne troops and intense Artillery bombardment had subdued the enemy. However, once across the Rhine we were up against very stubborn resistance.

In the north, on the left wing, 30 Corps 43rd Division formed a pact. To the south, the Americans were advancing. Our role was to be along the left flank attacking towards Bremen, eventually to the River Elbe. By May, we approached Bremen crossing the river to attack from the north-east and we entered the lush suburban area of Bremmah Park.

My role as Battery Captain was to perform duties at the gun end as Second in Command of the Battery responsible for Admin and Reconnaissance of gun positions when we moved forward. We saw the guns move in torrential weather into Bremen itself. It may seem ruthless now but, at the time, we sought cover for the gun crews so troops of 25-pounders backed into front rooms of houses, rounds were fired and ceilings came down just like the damage in London and Canterbury.

Headquarters of the Air Defence of Bremen was located adjacent to our gun positions. With the advance of our Infantry into the area a lot of quite high ranking officers, including one General, had taken refuge in Anti-Aircraft Headquarters, eventually surrendering. I saw a number of high ranking prisoners marched off.

It was now obvious that the end of the war in Europe was imminent but the job had to be finished off. The general morale of the men was amazingly resolute and was maintained up to the very end. We did suffer late casualties. Moving on across very wet and marshy country we still met stubborn resistance with the common tactic to strew mines quite indiscriminately, anti-personnel mines which caused nasty leg wounds and the loss of men’s feet. Heavier mines disabled vehicles. Our Regimental Commander, Tom Brewis, was wounded by a mine on 1st May.

The next day, advancing as a column, I heard a terrific explosion behind me. We’d crossed a small hump bridge culvert and an aerial bomb placed under the culvert had been detonated by remote control and blew two vehicles to smithereens, killing eight men including the Sergeant No 1 on gun who had been with us since the start of the campaign. Nothing was left of them- just a few sleeves and boots!

By this time we were all getting very jumpy as we knew we were so near the end. I felt real hatred towards the Germans hanging on to the bitter end but I did understand it and hoped we would have been the same under similar circumstances.

On one occasion when I was still Battery Captain with my white scout car, a semi-tracked quite heavy American vehicle, armoured but open topped - a real death trap in a lane or by a hedge as they would lob a grenade in and you’d burn to death. I was in the car, parked having a meal with the crew – we had a charger unit to charge up the battery which my driver was using to warm up the meal - when we heard over the radio news that the Infantry had captured Joyce (Lord Haw-Haw) within 200 yards of our position outside Hamburg.

 

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