maandag 17 september 2012

Bange Septemberdagen 1944 (9b) : Engelse getuigenissen

In het WAR DIARY van het  2 ARMD IRISH GUARDS schreef LT.-COL. G.A.M. VANDELEUR het volgende over de gebeurtenissen van 17 september:

We received confirmation of the timings and news that the AIRBORNE CORPS was on its way.
The Bn formed up ready to move with Air recognition strips prominently displayed.
The leading Sqn passed over JOE’s bridge up to the S.L.
The counter battery and preparatory bombardment came down
Medium and heavy barrage lifting at 200 yds a minute covered the road from HOEK to VALKENSWAARD.
The Heavy mortars of 50 Div fired on known enemy localities to our front and flanks.
The 240 Field guns put down a concentration 1000 yds N of the S.L. and then lifted at 200 yds a minute till 14.55hrs.
No. 3 Sqn moved up to the S.L. waiting for the barrage to begin.
The Battalion advanced, keeping as close behind the barrage as possible. The clouds of dust raised made this difficult, but the leading tank managed to follow some 300 yds behind the hell bursts.
For 10 minutes all went well, but suddenly the rear of No. 3 and head of No. 1 Sqns were attacked by infantry with Bazookas and Anti-Tk guns, and 9 tks were knocked out in two minutes.
The remainder halted and got into defensive positions as best they could, spraying the edges of the wood and ditches with Browning and firing HE at any suspicious place.
L/Sjt COWAN, No. 2 Sqn, saw a Self-Propelled gun and knocked it out, made the crew climb on the back of his tank and point out their friends positions, which they did gladly in return, as they thought, for their lives.
Meanwhile Typhoons, were called for and answered immediately.
In the next hour 230 sorties were flown and very low and accurate attacks made on the enemy. Our tanks burnt yellow smoke abundantly and though the rockets landed within 100 yds of them, there was never any likelihood of a mistake, so sure was the pilots’ aim. It is only true to say that but for the Typhoon Squadrons’ support, our advance could not have continued.
The effect of the rockets, combined with the aggressiveness of our tanks and infantry, was almost instantaneous. Enemy came running out of the trenches trembling with fright and were sent doubling down the road in very quick time. All were still running when they passed Div HQ a mile the other side of the bridge. The 4th Bn DEVONS which had followed us up, clearing each side of the road, also dug a number of enemy out of trenches near Bn HQ with great vigour and relieved us from tiresome sniping.
Interrogation showed the enemy to be mainly 6 PARA REGT with some REGT HOFFMAN. Most were new and ignorant recruits, others good fighters who had survived NORMANDY and the retreat. One DR acting as escort made his party travel at motor cycle pace. The MO enrolled others as unwilling stretcher bearers.
1600hrs [WD is marked with hand-written note 16.40?]
The medium barrage was ordered again after No. 3 Sqn had withdrawn 500 yds for safety. Some difficulty was experienced in turning around the bulldozer and it was 16.30hrs before firing could begin.
16.30hrs [WD is marked with hand-written note 11.30?]
The advance continued, with Typhoons still overhead and attacking some 88 guns they had seen well in front.
Prisoners were still being taken. One warrant Officer from an Anti-Tank Coy said he had owned 10 7.62 Russian guns before the battle but none were now left working and very few of his crews alive. He could not decided which was the worse, the rockets or the Browning and was sent weeping down the road. We actually saw only 4 of the guns, but no more fired, so presumably he spoke the truth.
17.30hrs [WD is marked with hand-written note 18.30?]
The bridge was reported clear, intact and fit to carry tanks. No. 3 Sqn accordingly took up positions guarding it and No. 2 Sqn and No. 4 Coy were ordered to pass through them and capture VALKENSWAARD and No. 1 Sqn to mount No. 1 Coy again on tank back. Preliminary “stonks” also came down on the likely points of resistance in the town.
17.45hrs [WD is marked with hand-written note 18.45?]
4 88mm guns with their crews and towing vehicles were captured. They were from 602 Heavy AA Bn, and the crews in a great state of fear.
Lt. B.C. ISITT in trying to destroy one gun, managed to fire it, thereby greatly alarming Bn HQ. The enemy trucks as usual were packed with loot.
Enemy opposition had not completely given in, and all the while there was quite a deal of sniping. Both the Commanding Officer and Major D.M.L. GORDON-WATSON MC, had burst of Spandau just beside them, but no Germans came so near the mark as Lt. B.C. ISITT.
The re-shuffling of the GROUP and crossing of the small bridge took some considerable time. Also the leading Sqn had to approach the town very cautiously, and it was dusk before Major E. . TYLER reported his Sqn in position covering the N exits. Again the only light was from houses set on fire by the shelling.
The rest of the GROUP’s soon came up and harboured around the central square, blocking all roads, Some 30 prisoners of all sorts were taken including tow bicyclist scouts just back from EINDHOVEN who reported to us instead of their won commander. They were lodged for the night under the municipal bandstand, guarded by the Resistance. A German half-track later drove in - a welcome addition to the 3rd Bn’s transport.
A Dutch civilian reported to Bn HQ from the resistance in EINDHOVEN. He was agreeable and informative, so we took him on strength of the Bn and gave him a seat in a HONEY with which he was well pleased.
The Mayor’s clerk came running in to Bn HQ with a message telephoned by the German Commander in EINDHOVEN to his subordinate whom he thought to be still holding VALKENSWAARD. This unknown officer was to defend the town to the last man, with the assurance that reinforcements were on the way. Many very rude answers were given the clerk to send back. By arrangement with the girl in the Post Office, however, we kept contact with her counterpart in EINDHOVEN until 05.00hrs next morning when the line was cut. All she could tell us though was that the enemy were still there, and no sign had been seen of the AMERICAN AIRBORNE FORCES.
Orders were issued for the advance at 07.00hrs next morning - the only difference being that HOUSEHOLD CAVALRY REGT Sqn would lead.
The Bn then went to sleep.
The day’s fighting cost us in all 9 tanks with 8 men killed and several wounded, including SSM PARKES killed and Lt. D. LAMPARD and Lt. B.P. QUINAN wounded.

Brits generaal Brian Horrocks

En in de geschiedenis van het Irish Guards-regiment luidt het als volgt :

The morning of 17th September dawned bright and fine with a slight wind, a perfect day for airborne operations. At midday the battalions heard that the “Market” part of “Market Garden” was going according to plan; the Airborne Corps was on its way from England. There was plenty of time to dish out dinners, hang air recognition strips on the tanks and trucks and to form up ready to more. The leading squadron, No. 3 Squadron, crossed Joe’s Bridge at a quarter to two. At the same time Lieut.-General Horrocks and Major-General Adair climbed up to the roof of a large factory, from which they could get a grandstand view of “the greatest breakout in history.” At two o’clock the preparatory and counter-battery bombardment came down. In the clear blue sky the gigantic air armada was just visible. The word went round the battalions, “H is 1435.” At 1425 more guns joined in to harass the enemy At half-past two the heavy mortars of 50th Division began firing on the few known enemy positions. Two minutes later 240 field guns fired their first shot. This was the signal for the leading troop commander to move his troop up through the 50th Division’s forward positions. At 1435 hours Lieutenant Keith Heathcote, in the leading tank, shouted “Driver - Advance!” No. 3 Squadron drove straight up the main road, keeping close up to the barrage. As there were no air photographs no one had located exactly - “pin-pointed” - the enemy positions. The gunners were firing a narrow rolling barrage into the woods along the roadside “where Jerry ought to be,” and the tanks advanced in the hope that the Germans would run away or surrender. The Typhoons were circling overhead in a “cab rank,” waiting to be whistled up by their link on the ground. The clouds of dust made it difficult to see the actual shell-bursts, so that several time Lieutenant Heathcote got involved in the barrage. Behind the Irish Guards a battalion of the Devons and an armoured regiment, the 15th/19th Hussars, followed up on either side of the road to clear the woods and hedges.

For ten minutes all went well. The exalted spectators on the factory roof rubbed their hands as they watched the Irish Guards pouring up the road and when they saw the tanks cross the Belgian-Dutch frontier where the road changed from macadam to concrete. When they turned to look again the road was covered with burning tanks. “Oh, my God, they won‘t get through!” Infantry in the ditches, and anti-tank guns from the wood, had struck down the read of No. 3 and the head of No. 1 Squadron. Nine tanks were knocked out in two minutes. The gunner in Sergeant Capewell’s tank put a belt of Browning bullets into a “bazooka boy,” and so saved the front half of No. 3 Squadron which, like a mutilated lizard, went careering on until Major O’Cock’s wireless cries of “Hi! You‘ve lost your tail,” brought them to a halt. Major M. O’Cock, No. 1 Squadron commander, goggled with fascination as one tank after another in quick succession went up in flames. First the tenth in front of him, then the ninth, and so on till, with a shock, he realized that the tank just in front of him had been hit and that it was his turn next. He could not go forward, he could not go back, he could not cross the deep ditches to leave the road; there was nothing he could do except wait for it. It never came. A few tanks farther back, Captains E.N. Fitzgerald and E. Udal agreed that it was just as well that Colonel “Joe” Vandeleur had decided this time not to put his Headquarters immediately behind the leading squadron.

Before the tanks had halted the 3rd Battalion infantry were off them and into the ditches. The tanks edged into what cover they could find along the road, spraying the hedges and woods with Browning and firing high explosive at any suspicious place. Lance-Sergeant Cowan, No. 2 Squadron, saw a German self-propelled gun tucked up against a roadside cottage. In all probability the crew were just getting Major O’Cock’s tank in the sights. With one shot Sergeant Cowan knocked it out and then induced the crew to climb on the back of his tank and point out their friends’ positions, which they gladly did in return, as they thought, for their lives. Meanwhile, Colonel “Joe” Vandeleur had called in Typhoons to help. The R.A.F. officers, in their wireless car, were just behind his Headquarters. They knew what was wanted, and they knew exactly what the Typhoons could do. Speaking to pilots in their own professional jargon, they directed them straight on to the targets. After their taste of ground warfare all the R.A.F. officers asked to go back to flying duties as being much safer and quieter. In the next hour the Typhoons flew two hundred and thirty sorties - a record in ground support. The tanks, as arranged, fired red smoke at the enemy positions to give the pilots an aiming mark, and burnt yellow smoke abundantly and eagerly to mark themselves. The pilots’ aim was sure, and there were no mistakes. The Typhoons came cutting in from every angle at zero feet, bombarding with rockets the enemy positions for the battalions, and how much more for the Germans who took the rockets. The din was appalling - tanks, trucks, planes, shells and rockets, machine-guns all roaring and blazing. Colonel “Joe” Vandeleur seemed to enjoy it. Though continually shot at, he stood by his scout car with Colonel Giles Vandeleur and gave orders to gunners, airmen, company commanders and German prisoners.
At 1510 hours Major Denis FitzGerald, on the rear link wireless truck, reported to Brigade H.Q., “Air support very good - using it now,” and held out the microphone so that the staff could hear the swish of the rockets. It was the immediate close support of the Typhoons that enabled the advance to continue. “It was all very thrilling,” said Colonel Joe, “especially as the bazooka boys and the parachutists were hopping about the hedges all around us.” But the 3rd Battalion had had quite enough of these Germans and were glad to get the order to put an end to them. They attacked outwards from the road on either flank. Two companies of the German 6th Parachute Regiment, with self-propelled guns in support, held the left of the road, while Battle Group Hoffman held the right. Most of these were new recruits, but many were good, experienced fighters who had survived Normandy and the retreat, and had to be dug violently out of their trenches. An unknown, but enterprising, Guardsman killed Hoffman himself. The Typhoons shot the infantry into their objectives, the rockets landing two hundred yards in front of them. “I have never seen Guardsmen so angry, nor officers. The Krauts got rough treatment that day,” said an officer afterwards.

The rockets and the ugly mood of the 3rd Battalion had an excellent effect. Germans came running out of trenches, trembling with fright, and were sent doubling down the road in very quick time. All were still doubling when they passed Divisional H.Q., a mile the other side of the canal. In all, about 250 prisoners reached the “cage” - some a little short of breath, as one despatch-rider, acting as an escort made his party travel at motor-cycle speed. The Medical Officer, Captain Ripman, who always went where the bullets were thickest, enrolled other Germans as unwilling stretcher-bearers.

…The stream of prisoners was unabated. One Unter-Offizier said that he had once owned nine 7.62 Russian anti-tank guns, but now had none working. As for the crews, “Alles tot, alles tot.” Only four of these guns were found, but no more fired so, presumably, he spoke the truth. He could not decide which was worse, the rockets or the Brownings, and was sent weeping down the road.

The advance could now continue. During the fighting the artillery barrage had gone plodding remorselessly on and had far outstripped the troops. The medium guns - which alone had the necessary range - began all over again. They were down to their last reserves of ammunition, the rest being still west of the Seine. No. 3 Squadron withdrew five hundred yards so as to get a flying start past the shattered hulls of the knocked-out tanks. The bulldozer transporter got stuck across the road trying to turn round, and it was half and hour before the column could start. But this half-hour was useful. The Typhoons put in a concentrated attack on some 88-mm. guns they had seen well in front. No. 4 Company were fully occupied making haversack rations out of food found on a German truck. There was no trouble on this stretch of the road. About half-past five the leading troop reached the bridge south of Valkenswaard. Their report that the bridge, through only a temporary structure, was intact and fit to carry tanks was welcome, as no one was looking forward to spending part of the night in the woods with the bazooka boys. No. 1 Company found a long roll of cloth, which it would have been a pity to leave to rot; No. 3 Company were more warlike and took four 88-mms. from their unnerved German crews. Lieutenant B.C. Isitt, thinking it rash to leave such dangerous things as 88s lying about, tried to destroy them, but only succeeded in firing one into the middle of the Group H.Q. The German infantry in the woods round the bridge were not as pusillanimous as the 88-mm. crews. Their snipers were particularly active, one of them wounding Lieutenant Cyril Russell. Both Colonel Vandeleurs had burst of Spandau machine-gun fire just beside them, but no Germans came so near the mark as Lieutenant Isitt.

The reshuffle of the groups and the crossing of the bridge took a considerable time. No. 2 Squadron and No. 4 Company approached Valkenswaard very cautiously, while a battery put concentrations down on likely points of resistance. It was already dark; the only light came from houses set on fire by shelling. We finally battered our way into the place expecting to find it a complete shambles. Well, it more or less was, with three or four really big fires burning, the streets strewn with debris, some Germans still firing, and other Germans milling about trying to find their way back to Germany. Yet all the inhabitants stood about in the streets yelling themselves hoarse and getting in the way of the fighting. It just did not make sense. The rest of the Group came up and harboured around the central square, blocking all roads. Some thirty prisoners of all sorts were taken, including two bicycle scouts just back from Eindhoven, who reported to the 2nd Battalion instead of their own commander, and were lodged for the night under the municipal bandstand. A German half-track later drove in - a welcome addition to the 3rd Battalion‘s transport, and more useful than the horse-drawn platoon truck they had already captured.

A Dutch civilian, an agreeable and informative man, reported to Headquarters from the Resistance in Eindhoven. The 2nd Battalion christened him “Dutch George,” took him on strength, and gave him a seat in a Honey tank, with which he was well pleased. He might not have been so pleased had he known that the Honey tank is the most dangerous known form of transport. A little later the Mayor’s clerk came running into Headquarters with a message telephone by the German Commander in Eindhoven to his subordinate, who was supposed to be still holding Valkenswaard. This unknown officer was told to defend the town to the last man, with the assurance that reinforcements were on the way. By arrangement with the girl in the Post Office, Captain E. N. Fitzgerald kept contact with her counterpart in Eindhoven until early next morning, when the line was cut. All she could say, though, was that the Germans were still in Eindhoven and that she had not seen anything of the American airborne forces.
The day’s fighting cost the 2nd Battalion nine tanks, with eight men, including S.S.M. Parkes, killed and several wounded, including Lieutenant D. Lampard and Lieutenant J.B.P. Quinan; the 3rd Battalion lost seven killed and nineteen wounded. In the little cemetery outside the town are buried : S.S.M. William John Parkes, [2Bn], Lance-Sergeant John Walters, [Watters?] [3Bn], Guardsmen : Michael Dee [3 Bn], Walter Ackers, [2Bn], Michael Josep Delaney [3Bn], William Gill Moore, [2Bn], James Johnson, [2Bn], Norman Mallon [3Bn] and Thomas Crowe Watson [3Bn].

Het lijk van William Parkes (geb. 1911), tankgunner, ligt nog bovenop zijn tank.

Ook het 2nd Battalion van het Devonshire (infanterie)Regiment trokken mee op

Soldiers of this Battalion killed on the 17th and burried at Valkenswaard : Private Ernest Harold Bray 5735116, Corporal George Henry Carrol, 5337571, Private William Fredrick Dare, 5617238, Private Arthur Hargraves, 4545568, Private Ernest Charles Kelly, 5342613,
Private Clarence Edwards Newbery, 1625771, Private Harry John Oakley, 14696512,
Lance Corporal James William Potter, 14557274, Private George Robertson, 14233445
Private Norman Albert Sharman, 14700699, Private John Arnols Stealy, 4463980, Captain Ivan Gerald Sopwith, 117084, Durham Light Infantry, seconded to the Devonshire Regiment.
Buried at Leopoldsburg Cemetery, Belgium : Lieutenant Frank Arthur Thornes, 308477, East Surry Regiment, seconded to the Devonshire Regiment, Corporal Harold james Ash, MM, 5620098.

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