Across the Siegfried Line
Across the Siegfried Line
As I understood it from the orders I had received, the object of the exercise was that we should break out into the open country between the Goch and Cleve escarpment. At the beginning of March, possibly the 3rd or 4th, I recollect that we were confronted by severe and strong defences on the north tip of the Hochwald Forest. The defences consisted of trenches defended with concertina wire and dugouts, the defence system being of a depth which varied from a quarter to three quarters of a mile but, apart from on the main road running from Calcar down to Xanten, they were not strongly manned.
I have awful vivid memories of the fierce fighting down toward the village of Marienbaum. 43rd Division was fighting alongside 2nd Canadian Division. The Canadians were allotted the task of seizing the western edge of the town of Xanten and the high ground to the south. All this action was in full view of the DCLI and, of course, me, who, as FOO, was with them. It was on the 5th or perhaps the 6th March that 129 Brigade of 43rd Division was given the job of striking the final blow to take the town of Xanten. For this attack I was given the task of registering certain targets in and around Xanten as part of a Fire Plan. It was here that I remember firing at the only pinpoint target which I can clearly recollect during the whole campaign. It came about as I saw flashes, which to me seemed to be machine gun fire, from a tall building in Xanten. Using the right section of Fox Troop, I eventually registered the pinpoint target and had the satisfaction of seeing a 25-pounder shell smash through the window of the building. There was no more firing from that spot!
We were no longer facing the organised large forces that we had been used to fighting against but we were meeting every form of obstacle that the Hun could think of: blown bridges, large road blocks, the roads were very frequently mined. All these obstacles were covered by determined and small parties of Germans who caused us casualties out of all proportion to the forces against us. The civilians were in the most part very subdued and caused us no trouble. What was a very pleasant surprise to us was the enormous stocks of food the Germans had in their cellars: the German hausfrau was indeed a very industrious housekeeper and all sorts of things like fruits, fresh and preserved eggs and hams were found in these cellars and provided a very welcome change from Army rations. It was plain to us that the German civilian population was certainly not starving.
The general objective in our continual advance was the capture of Bremen, some 350 miles to the north. I remember bitter fighting at a town called Cloppenburg where with the 5th Battalion DCLI, we experienced strong resistance by Reichland group Grossdeutschlandi, fighting fiercely as if they were still at the Normandy bridgehead. I recollect that we encountered some potential young German officer cadets who were determined not to surrender and caused us severe problems. We were now finding ourselves in very boggy and wet country and we were told to anticipate further airborne landings.
The period of the first couple of weeks in March when we were fighting our way toward the Rhine down the escarpment from Goch and Cleve through the Reichwald Forest was, to me, the most testing since Normandy. For a whole month, perhaps from 10th February, it seemed as if we were operating in conditions of danger: we were exposed to enemy resistance which was continuously in action, the weather was bad and the troops received no opportunity for rest. We were up against the best units of the German Army who, of course, were fighting for their own country with a fatalistic courage as you would expect of any army defending its own territory. We did manage to defeat them in the open field of battle thanks, in no mean part, to the dogged determination and courage of the ordinary British soldier and, of course, not forgetting the organisation of Higher Command.
I cannot emphasise too much the artillery wireless link which enabled OP officers like myself to control the fire, not only of their own Regiment, but of Division and even Corp Artillery, with the result that we were bringing down overwhelming 25-pounder and media artillery support whenever required. I have to say that, in no mean part, the success as far as 179 Field Regiment was concerned was due to the efficiency at Headquarters particularly of our Adjutant Captain Greenhill who was on the wireless set controlling targets at the request of the OPs, it seemed day and night, without a break.
During this period, 43rd Division fought its way southwards down the Siegfried Line, fighting against stubborn German resistance and weather for a distance of about 10,000 yards. Over 2,400 prisoners were taken. After a feeling of being stuck in a state of stalemate in the mud, I was now moving with the forward Companies of the 5th DCLI and I did have the feeling that, despite the losses we sustained in heavy fighting, at last we were on the road to final victory and the Rhine could not be far ahead of us.
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