The 4th Armoured Brigade
Engagements - 1945
During 1945 the 4th Armoured Brigade was involved in the following battles and campaigns. These include Into Germany, Across the Rhine, The 'Great Swan' across Germany and Final Victory.
Go to bottom of pageInto Germany
As the last year of the war began the Brigade spend the first two weeks of it sending out more active patrols, with both 2nd KRRC and 44th RTR sending patrols over the River Maas. During this period, on 8th January 1945, 'A' Squadron of 3rd/4th CLY, which had moved up to support a highly successful attack by 1st Bn. The Suffolk Regiment, from 8th Brigade of 3rd British Division to destroy the enemy bridgehead west of the Maas at Wanssum. The Suffolks were moved up in Kangaroo APCs, but the area was heavily mined, which caused a number of casualties, and the enemy had a number of Anti-tank guns, which caused further problems, but by 11:00 the bridgehead had been cleared.
On 19th January, with No. 3 Commando under the Brigade's command crossed the Maas and captured Stevensweert, before starting to clear the Island between the Maas and the Juliana Canal. The Commandos were relieved later the same day by 2nd KRRC and 13th Field Squadron RE started to build a ferry at Stevensweert. On the 20th, 2nd KRRC completed clearing the Island up to Maasbracht and made contact with 7th Armoured Division beyond the canal. By the 24th the advance of 7th Armoured Division on the far side of the Maas made the Brigades tasks superfluous and it was no longer in contact with the enemy. Therefore, it remained in the same general area around Weert under command of 11th Armoured Division until 27th February 1945, recovering from the labours of liberation and training for the spring invasion of Germany. At this time the brigade was still equipped with Sherman Is and IIs, but the proportion of tanks equipped with 17-pounders had doubled since D day, each regiment now having 24. Troops consisted now of two 75 mm and two 17-pounder Sherman tanks.
On 18th February with the Brigade still acting as the armoured brigade of 11th Armoured Division, it moved to Tilburg, leaving the area of Weert and its friendly inhabitants for the last time. The Brigade had enjoyed its time their and many considered it as their continental home. At the same time 14th Light Field Ambulance left the Brigade as it had now been decided that independent armoured brigades were not allowed to have their own field ambulances. They had been with the Brigade since July 1942. On the 23rd the Brigade moved by night across the Maas to a concentration area around Cleve, towards the Siegfried Line and Germany. By now 11th Armoured Division were on the right flank of 2nd Canadian Corps and the plans was for it to pass through Guards Armoured Division on the Goch to Calcar road directed south of Udem while 3rd Canadian Division attacked towards Udem from the north-west. 3rd/4th CLY were to be under command of 159th Brigade in exchange for 4th Bn Kings Shropshire Light Infantry (KSLI) who were under the command of 4th Armoured Brigade.
Shortly after mid-day on 24th February 1945, 3rd/4th CLY along with 3rd Bn. Monmouthshire Regiment under the command of 159th Lorried Infantry Brigade began to pass through the Canadians to capture the ridge south-east of the town of Groesbeck which overlooked the whole area we were fighting in. They experienced considerable trouble was experienced with German SP anti-tank guns, but by 16:30 they had reached the upper slopes of the ridge, the 44th and 2nd KRRC were clearing the woods on the right flank and linking up with them. This they had completed at 18:00, with the capture of 60 prisoners, with the Scots Greys and 4th Bn Kings Shropshire Light Infantry (KSLI) moving up behind them to cover the approach to Udem from the south, which 3rd British Division on the Brigades right had not yet reached. During that night and the following morning 3rd/4th CLY with 159th Brigade succeeded in forming a bridgehead over the stream beyond the ridge and extending it beyond, in spite of constant interference from SPs on the exposed right flank, which caused several casualties including the acting CO, Major Grey Skelton, who had taken over when Lt-Col. Bill Rankin was wounded on the 24th at a brigade "O group".
Later at 18:00 on the evening of 26th February 1945, the Scots Greys and 4th KSLI crossed their start line and soon made their first objective. After that opposition increased, but they continued the attack with the aid of natural and artificial moonlight and after a hard night's fighting had reached the railway line south west of Udem by 05:00 on the morning of 27th February, complete with 150 prisoners, 4 SP guns and 2 tanks destroyed to their credit. By this time 3rd Canadian Div had cleared all but the extreme south-west corner of Udem. At first light 44th Royal Tanks and 2nd KRRC passed through the Scots Greys and 4th KSLI, but their progress was slowed by the very boggy ground was very boggy, which was almost impossible for tanks, plus the fact there was only a gap of a few hundred yards between the anti-tank ditch round Udem and the thick woods. The latter was full of infantry, with many Panzerfausts (German bazookas), who were supported by a few SPs, which ran all along the Brigades long open right flank. At the end of the day, 3rd/4th CLY moved to support 4th KSLI and on 27th February they set out for Udem, with 'C' Squadron leading, who reported the town in Canadian hands. However, the regiment had to work round to the right of their route was blocked by Canadian vehicles. Three of the leading troop were brewed by fire from a Jagdpanther on high ground to the East and heavy fire was encountered by a patrol of No. 4 Troop, trying to recce the anti-tank ditches to the south east of Udem. 'A' and 'B' Squadrons, who were each carrying a Company of the Herefords, then passed through 'C' Squadron to offload their infantry. Then while supporting the infantry to their objectives, the Squadrons lost five tanks to heavy AP shooting from the North and South West. Meanwhile 'C' Squadron had carried a further Company of Herefords to Gochfortz ridge, right and forward of 'B' Squadron, who they then supported to their objective.
During the afternoon of 1st March 1945, the Brigade concentrated east of the stream, under cover of smoke, with 4th RHA coming into action in full view of the enemy at a range of 1,500 yards. At 15:40 hrs the Brigade attacked the Schliessen line in two groups. On the right flank were 2nd KRRC and 44th RTR, while on the left flank were 4th KSLI and the Scots Greys. The ground was completely waterlogged and the whole area overlooked by the Hochwald and the high ground to the north of Sonsbeck.
While the right group was able to make slow but steady progress in spite of intense shellfire, SP anti-tank guns and extreme boggy ground, the left group came to a halt/ The tanks had become completely bogged down and the infantry were unable to move forward in the due to the intense Machine Gun fire from well-prepared defences. Further north however the right flank had found a way into the line by a road which was over the brigades tactical boundary, but not being used by the Canadians on its left. The Scots Greys got half a squadron and a company of KSLI there to hold the start line while the rest were extricated with difficulty and moved round behind them, which took then until long after dark.
Meanwhile 44th RTR and 2nd KRRC had eventually closed right up to the Schliessen line, but were still clearing woods on their long open right flank, which they continued to do during the night. At 3:00 on the morning of 2nd March, the mounted an attack southwards between the two lines of trenches that lay on the edge of the forest. All went like clockwork and soon after first light they had crossed the anti-tank ditch by Scissors bridge and captured the high ground on the edge of the forest, which overlook the valley where the rest of the Brigade was. The Germans launched an heavy counter-attack, which was driven back costing them a large number of casualties. The Scots Greys and 4th KSLI were able to consolidate their gains, despite being heavily and accurately shelled all day. In the afternoon. 2nd KRRC and 44th RTR managed to clear most of the southern end of the line in the face of bitter opposition. However it could not be completely cleared it by last light so this continued during the night and into the following morning. On 4th March, 159th Brigade with 3rd/4th CLY passed through the Brigades new lines and the battle of the Schliessen line was over.
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Across the Rhine.
On 7th March 1945 the Brigade left 11th Armoured Division and received orders to move to Sonnis. It first moved to Nijmegan on the 8th were the tanks loaded onto transporters to move back to 12 Corps training area near Eysden on the Meuse in Belgium, to train for the crossing of the Rhine. Here 3rd/4th CLY were stationed ay Sonnis and while reorganising, carrying out maintenance and resting they received a number of tanks from 44th RTR who were being entirely re-equipped with DD amphibious tanks. 44th RTR then spent ten hectic days training in the River Meuse, with their new equipment. Most of the Brigade then returned to the area of Sonsbeck and Udem on 16th March, on tank transporters from 79th Armoured Division. Having off-loaded from transporters, the tanks crossed the Maas at Venlo bridge and moved to area near Udem. To make the movement easier tanks were despatched in packets of 6 at 15 minute intervals. The first packet of 3rd/4th CLY arrived at their destination at approx 02:00 and the move was complete by 05:00. Where possible, vehicles were parked by buildings, though trucks had to form open leaguer on fields in the area. In all cases, camouflage was carefully attended to, so as to conceal the build up of troops and armour from the enemy. 44th RTR re-joined the Brigade on the 22nd, in the concealed assembly area near Xanten.
The Brigade was now under command of 15th (Scottish) Division, who were to assault the Rhine under 12 Corps. The Scot began their assault in Buffaloes of 33rd Armoured Brigade in the early hours of 24th March 1945 and a 04:00 in the morning 44th RTR moved from their assembly area to a final forming up area by the river's edge on the extreme right of 15th (Scottish) Division's sector opposite the village of Bislich.
Shortly before 06:30 they began to cross the Rhine itself, with their recce parties having already crossed beforehand with the leading buffaloes. A few German Machine Guns were still active on the left of the crossing area, but the only dangerous fire was from guns and mortars directed on the area of the crossing itself. By 08:00, 55 of 44th RTR's DD tanks were over the Rhine, with four having been hit before entering the water and two more in midstream. There they met up with the leading battalion of 46th Infantry Brigade, who were 7th Bn. The Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders. After helping 44th Infantry Brigade to clear the northern outskirts of Bislich. 44th RTR then turned north with a company of the Camerons in support toward Mehr they cleared the east bank of the river between the two bridgeheads and went to clear the village of Mein. The next day 44th RTR moved North West to secure the crossing of the River Issel making contact with the enemy several times on the way, throughout the, 44th RTR were continuously engaged in extending the bridgehead to the north and north-east, joining hands with 6th Airborne Division and 'B' squadron coming under the latter's command. The regiment was relieved by 3rd/4th County of London Yeomanry, whose 'C' Squadron were in support of 8th Bn. Royal Scots Fusiliers of 44th Brigade. 'B' Squadron of 3rd/4th CLY were supporting of 6th Bn. The Kings Own Scottish Borders (KOSB) who had just been heavily counter-attacked. Elsewhere, 'A' Squadron, 3rd/4th CLY, was under the command 8th Bn. The Royal Scots of 44th Brigade and had moved to area near Hamminkeln, where they were shooting up enemy movement including an 88mm gun for a while before they started to be spasmodically shelled and mortared. So they lay low for the rest of the day, but at 19:00 put in a planned attack, with the infantry from 8th Royal Scots and 4th RHA support. As they advance opposition was encountered by all types of enemy fire, and some casualties inflicted on the Squadron. During the day 3rd/4th CLY captured 200+ POW, destroying 15 lorries and of course one 88mm gun.
During the afternoon of the 24th, 4th RHA had crossed the river by raft and were all over after dark, although they did lose one half track and crew when a pontoon bridge broke apart. During the night of 24th/25th March the Scots Greys, 2nd KRRC and TAC Brigade HQ crossed by the Class 40 bridge at Bislich which was receiving constant attacks from the Luftwaffe.
On the morning 26th March, the Scots Greys and 2nd KRRC under command of the brigade advanced north between 6th Airborne Division and 15th (Scottish) Division and opened up the road to Hamminkeln against quite stiff opposition. 3rd/4th CLY with 44th Brigade came up on their right later in the day, 44th RTR, less the squadron with 6th Airborne Division, concentrating west of Hamminkeln.
The whole brigade was concentrated in this area by first light on the morning of the 27th, it came under the command of 53rd ( Welsh) Division to lead the advance towards Bocholt from Ringenberg, held by 157th Brigade, who were with 6th Airborne Division. The Brigade had to wait for a Class 40 bridge to be completed, which it was at 09:00. The Scots Greys and 2nd KRRC passed through Ringenberg and were soon fighting enemy in the woods to the north of the town and the farms to the north-east. While they were clearing a start line for 160th Brigade astride the main road and pushing out to the north-east to the wooded high ground, 3rd/4th CLY grouped with 4th Bn. The Royal Welsh Fusiliers, carried in Kangaroos of 49th APC Regiment, attacked and cleared the ridge to the east of the high ground, taking several prisoners. 'B' Squadron was with 'A' Company, 'C' Squadron with C Company, RHQ with Battalion HQ and A Squadron with 'B' Company. One of 'B' Squadrons tanks was knocked out during the actions, but a number of prisoners were taken.
Quickly exploiting their success, they made a bold dash through the thick woods and bogs, halting in the failing light about three miles south-cast of Biemenhorst. 44th RTR were supporting 160th Brigade on the outskirts of Dingden by last light, their squadron which had been with 6th Airborne Division, was supporting 158th Brigade on their left. Both groups continued the advance during the night and at first light 3rd/4th CLY and 4th Bn. Royal Welsh Fusiliers found themselves engaged in a fierce battle with enemy on all sides, supported by 88mms forming the defence of Bocholt. 'B' Squadron was in the lead still, with infantry of 4th Royal Welsh Fusiliers riding on the tanks, but dad going held up the column and Panzerfaust bazooka attacks from a field on the right, covered by Spandau fire, brewed two tanks and caused many casualties. The forces first objective was Buildings reached with artillery support, and then 'B' Squadron, having been subjected to considerable small arms and later AP fire, reached their objective, woods on the outskirts of the town, losing of one tank to anti-tank fire. There 'B' Squadron engaged enemy infantry in the area of the wood, inflicting many casualties and taking 60 POWs. Meanwhile, 'A' Squadron along with a Company of 4th Royal Welsh Fusiliers attacked the main lateral road South of Bocholt and reached its objective in face of sporadic small arms, anti-tank and artillery fire
As 44th RTR with 160th Brigade advanced beyond Dingden, the Scots Greys and 2nd KRRC were taken out of the line and moved round to the east of 3rd/4th CLY and 4th Bn. The Royal Welsh Fusiliers, clearing the woods on their right flank, from which they had had considerable trouble. At last light 3rd/4th CLY and 4th Bn. Royal Welsh Fusiliers attacked again and captured the road running east from Biemenhorst, the start line for 160th Brigade's attack on Bocholt that night, in which one squadron of the Scots Greys took part.
Next morning 2nd KRRC relieved 53rd Recce Regiment at Krechting and they and the Scots Greys completed clearing up to the river, while the one squadron, with 160th Brigade continuing to help clear up Bocholt. On 29th March 3rd/4th CLY joined 71st Brigade ready to pass through Bocholt and 44th RTR returned to the Brigade. Whilst Bocholt was still being cleared, 'A' Squadron replenished at first light, with one Troop then moving up with the 1st Bn. The Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry (Ox & Bucks) from 71st Infantry Brigade, 53rd (Welsh) Division, in readiness for an attack on Winterswijk. Also having replenished 'C' Squadron moved to support 10th Bn. Highland Light Infantry (HLI) as they moved through Bocholt. After replenishment 'B' Squadron, then moved off under the command 160th Infantry Brigade, to relieve 'C' Squadron of the Scots Greys, with 6th Bn. Royal Welsh Fusiliers and 2nd Bn. The Monmouthshire Regiment. Later, 'A' Squadron of 53rd Recce Regt passed through 3rd/4th CLY to lead to the regiment north of Bocholt, with no opposition being was encountered as they moved.
At first light on 30th March the Brigade passed through Bocholt and order to advance towards Rhede and Oding. The Scots Greys and 2nd KRRC formed the leading group followed by TAC Brigade HQ and 4th RHA, with 44th RTR in reserve with 2nd Monmouths. The Brigade found that Rhede was clear, but a demolition beyond it could not be crossed by a Scissors bridge so it had to be repaired by Sappers. While the was being done the Scots Greys and 2nd KRRC found a way round to the west and 44th RTR went round through the woods to the east. The Scots Greys met only a few odd Panzerfaust teams before meeting the 8th Hussars, from 7th Armoured Division at Grosse Burlo. The Hussars and 1st Bn. Rifle Brigade were up against a determined party of enemy astride the road south of Oding, which was their objective as well as the Brigades. The Brigade tried to find away round to the left, but found nothing but impenetrable bog, so it spent that night behind the 8th Hussars, watching the left flank. The following morning 8th Hussars and 2nd Bn. The Devonshire Regiment cleared Oding, and the Scots Greys and 2nd KRRC the passed through heading north. After clearing some enemy from the woods north of the village, the road petered out and no more enemy were found.
On 30th March a troop of 'B' Squadron of 3rd/4th CLY in support of 6th Royal Welsh Fusiliers cleared the area to the north of river at Bocholt, by first light. At 04:30, 'C' Squadron had joined 10th HLI and moved off at first light with 53rd Recce Regt in the lead. Undefended minefields were encountered as they advance, but machine gunfire from a Customs House caused the Squadron to deploy and shoot up enemy in houses at both sides of the road. One tank was brewed by anti-tank fire when an attempt was made to outflank to the left. Elsewhere, 'A' Squadron had moved through Bocholt to Winterswijk, but some German self-propelled anti-tank guns were encountered on the way which shot up seven Kangaroos and one 3rd/4th CLY RHQ recce Stuart tank. On 31st March 1945, 3rd/4th CLY had 'B' Squadron in support of 4th Royal Welsh Fusiliers, of 71st Brigade, and took anti-tank positions at as they advanced. 'B' Squadron the passed through Winterswijk and continued advance with 10th HLI to Vreden, reaching it against light opposition. They then pushed on to Alsatte, where strong opposition was encountered at and one tank was lost to 88mm fire. Two 88mm guns were destroyed by 'B' Squadron which then helped the infantry to consolidate. By 15;00 'A' Squadron had moved behind 1st Ox & Bucks through Winterswijk to area ½ mile East of Vreden and leaguered there for the night. The Brigade now had orders to concentrate the brigade clear of Oding, which they did, while 3rd/4th CLY stayed with 71st Brigade beyond Vreden.
It is now that it could be said that the last phase of the war on the western front began. The allies were across the Rhine and the German forces opposing them were in disarray, but still fighting fanatically for every inch of the Fatherland. Now what 4th Armoured Brigade would call their 'Great Swan' would begin as they raced across Germany.
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The 'Great Swan' across Germany
On 1st April 1945, 2nd Monmouths left the Brigade and it moved by devious tracks with the help of a series of Scissors bridges to a further concentration area north-east of Winterswijk. By the end of the day 3rd/4th CLY, supporting 158th Brigade when they passed through 71st Brigade, had reached the edge of Gronau. In doing so 'A' Squadron, 3rd/4th CLY had supported 4th Royal Welsh Fusiliers to the town of Lisratte which was reached without opposition in spite of three large holes blown in the road. One troop then advanced to 3 miles from Alstatte on the road North East to Gronau. 'C' Squadron along with a company of 1/5th Bn The Welsh Regiment in TCVs (Troop Carrying Vehicles), moved through Vreden and Alstatte to pass through 'A' Squadron. The leading tank was destroyed by anti-tank fire coming from some so one while one troop flanked the position on one side and two troops of Regimental Recce on the other and the remainder of 'C' Squadron moved up to the woods to support the infantry in clearing the district. However, considerable, but inaccurate, anti-tank and mortar fire prevented further progress. Meanwhile, 'B' Squadron was supporting of 1st Bn. The East Lancashire Regiment as they advanced on Gronau. Some slight opposition was ignored and having reached Glanerbru the infantry commander decided to consolidate, so the Squadron leaguered there behind the infantry posts.
The Brigades objective for 2nd April was to diverge from the main axis beyond Vreden and clear the road to Epe. It would then advance on the right of 158th Brigade to Ochtrup, with 1st B. HLI joining it north of Vreden to replace of 2nd Monmouths. The Scots Greys and 2nd KRRC led again and they met no opposition, except for a series of demolitions before reaching Epe.
These were by-passed by the leading vehicles where possible, some crossed by Scissors bridge or by culverting. Along the route a number of concrete road blocks were met which were broken up by 17-pounder fire (a rather severe form of demolition) and then removed by tank-bulldozer. The Brigade was held up for a time, while the bridge at Epe was completed in the late afternoon. By then the Scots Greys recce troop had by then made contact with enemy south of Ochtrup and 3rd/4th CLY on the left flank were held up by a strong post covering the main road west of the town. As 'A' Squadron 3rd/4th CLY left Alstatte for Ochtrup , they found the road obstructed at several points, with at two of the barriers being defended. At first defended barrier, the leading tanks deployed and made effective use of HE fire, inflicting considerable casualties and taking some 230 prisoners. The second defended block was encountered in the late afternoon, held up the advance for some hours. An attempt by the tanks to out-flank it after dark was made abortive by bad going and the difficulties of navigation at night. On returning to the main line of advance, the resistance was found to have died down and after a bulldozer had brushed aside the barricade, the Squadron followed the infantry into Ochtrup, arriving there at 030330B. Three tanks from 'A' Squadron and some of the 53rd Recce Regt vehicles were knocked out by land mines in the area of the last road block. Back near Epe, Scots Greys and 2nd KRRC put in an attack at last light and continued after dark, clearing the high ground and built up area south of the railway.
Meanwhile, 44th RTR had come up and taken over protection of the rear right flank of the Brigade and 1st Bn. HLI were brought up close behind the Brigade in the first half of the night, ready to pass through 2nd KRRC if the Brigade had to clear the whole town. However, the Brigade did not get a definite decision from the 53rd (Welsh) Division HQ as to whether it or 158th Brigade were to clear it until after midnight, but the enemy had withdrawn from Ochtrup during the night, so 158th Brigade occupying the town at first light. 160th Brigade passed through the town while the Brigade we searched the area to the south of it, clearing many mines and road blocks. 3rd/4th CLY returned to our command but remained with 158th Brigade ready to support them, with their 'B' Squadron working with the 1st East Lancs, while the Scots Greys moved to Neuenkirchen, supporting 160th Brigade in that area. 44th RTR spent the day resting a Langenhorst and then moved to a defensive position at Ohne. Intelligence reported that a counterattack by 15th Panzer Grenadier Division was expected from the north, so the brigade less the Scots Greys and 1st HLI (the latter having reverted to 71st Brigade command), moved on the 4th to the high ground north-west of Wettingen in reserve.
On 5th April 1944, the Brigade came under the command of 52nd (Lowland) Division for the first time. The Scots Greys were relieved by 3rd/4th CLY in support of 160th Brigade north-west of Rheine, then moved though Rheine supporting 155th Brigade in forming a bridgehead over the Dortmund-Ems canal. By last light Brigade HQ was on the south edge of Rheine, with 44th RTR and 2nd KRRC concentrated just to the north of the town. Soon after first light on 6th April the lead units of 3rd/4th CLY were across the Dortmond – Ems canal followed closely by the Scots Greys who the moved up with 155th Brigade Dreierwalde. 44th RTR also crossed the same day after having first clearing the west bank of enemy opposition. Having crossed they now began to come across very stiff opposition from small determined groups of Germans as they advanced. On the 7th 3rd/4th CLY also moved towards Dreierwalde, encountering only mines as they moved.
While they continued the advance towards Hopsten, the brigade, consisting of 44th RTR, 2nd KRRC, 5th Bn. The Kings Own Scottish Borders (KOSB) and 4th RHA, passed though 155th and 156th Brigades towards Spelle. Carrier patrols from 2nd KRRC had already reached the railway line and to the South of Spelle it was found that the enemy (well supported by artillery and mortars from the north) were holding a bridgehead which knocked out a recce patrol of 44th RTR. 44th RTR then advanced through Hopsten and reached Halverde on the 8th, before they then moved through Recke and across the Weser canal and on northwards.
There were a considerable number of Germans in the woods east of the canal, mostly from Gross Deutschland SS Panzer Training Battalion, who were surprised by the Brigades appearance in their rear and gave little trouble. Shortly before last light 5th KOSB cleared the area south of the stream, supported by RAF Typhoons and a squadron from 44th RTR. Meanwhile, the Scots Greys with 155th Brigade were just south of Hopsten where there was considerable opposition. On the morning of 7th April, 2nd KRRC and 44th RTR had tried to advance north towards Schapen, but this had proved impossible owing to bog and lack of bridges, but they did manage to collect a number of prisoners and inflict damage on the enemy in the attempt.
By now 155th Brigade had captured Hopsten during the night and it was now decided that the brigade should lead the advance to Halverde as soon as we could get through Hopsten, again a matter of boggy tracks until the bridges west of it were complete. 44th RTR and 2nd KRRC were to lead, and 3rd/4th CLY, now returned from 160th Brigade, were in reserve along with 5th KOSB, but neither had yet relieved from watching the north flank between Hopsten and Spelle. The plan was for the Scots Greys with 157th Brigade were to move towards Recke during the night, while 44th RTR and 2nd KRRC were to begin their attack, by-passing Hopsten from the south, at about 06:00. There was a considerable amount of shelling and a certain number of bazooka teams about.
By dark they had reached the road east of Hopsten and continued their advance during the night by artificial moonlight to Halverde, taking about 40 prisoners. At first light 3rd/4th CLY and 5th KOSB in Kangaroos passed through Hopsten and continued the advance from Halverde to Weese. An enemy company at Weese were surprised by our appearance from the rear and were soon liquidated. Voltlage, two miles to the north, presented greater difficulties. 3rd/4th CLY with a Company of 5th KOSB with its 'B' Squadron, led the advance to objective high ground find only light opposition. 'B' Squadron capture two German half-tracks on the route from Hopsten to Halverde, which they destroyed before moving on to reconnoitre some river crossings which they found to be protected by MG, Panzerfaust, mortar and shellfire. One tank was destroyed by bazookas, so 'B' Squadron continued on to high ground, while 'A' Squadron passed through with a Company of infantry in Kangaroos to take up positions overlooking the village of Voltiage from the East. As the kangaroos advanced to the village, their leading vehicle had been brewed up by Panzerfaust fire, near the bridge. As every attempt to outflank met with impenetrable peat bog, the entire village was blasted by the guns of the Squadron tanks and rocket firing Typhoons. Following this bombardment, 'C' Squadron then moved up from Dreierwalde with a Company of infantry on their tanks and entered Voltiage without loss, in spite of the fact that one company in Kangaroos took the wrong turning and drove straight into the middle of the village. They then spent the night, extracting a few prisoners and shooting up any suspicious houses, but by 09:00 on 9th April, the whole village had been cleared and was on fire after some stiff fighting which brought in over a hundred prisoners.
Meanwhile 44th RTR and 2nd KRRC had moved round through Recke and tried to find a route forward to the right of 3rd/4th CLY, but without success. Owing to the many possibilities of demolitions on the road north of Voltiage, the commander of 52nd ( Lowland) Division decided to transfer the main thrust to the road further east leading to Uffeln. 52nd Recce Regt were in contact with a small party of enemy covering a bridge on this road, but unfortunately the road was cratered during the night, so it was therefore some time before 44th RTR and 2nd KRRC could get going on the morning of the 9th, though the carriers soon found enemy in the woods beyond the crater.
For the rest of the day the 44th and 2 KRRC fought their way forward against the most determined resistance by Germans of a NCOs school from Hanover. Vinte was cleared by early afternoon and the final attack to clear Neuenkirchen and they encountered heavy defences south of the town manned by students of the German Officer Training Unit and 44th RTR suffered twelve killed, but many hundreds of Germans were killed. Meanwhile The Greys with 155th Brigade had relieved 3rd/4th CLY and 5th KOSB, who came round behind 44th RTR and 2nd KRRC. At last light, the infantry carried in Kangaroos, they passed though Neuenkirchen and advanced unopposed by artificial moonlight to Uffein.
156th Infantry Brigade relieved the Brigade during the night of 9th/10th April and the brigade, less the Scots Greys (who stayed behind under command of 52nd (Lowland) Division, began a long move round to join 53rd (Welsh) Division on the Weser. Tanks crossed the Ems-Weser Canal south of Vinte, with the wheeled vehicles having to go all the way back through Rheine. The Brigades route lay through Wester Kappeln, Halen, Veune and Welplage to Diepholz, Sulingen and Siedenberg to a concentration area round Asendorf, which was a move of over a hundred miles, much more for the wheeled vehicles. The first tanks got in just before dark, the rest of the brigade following all through the night. 44th RTR had moved over the Ems canal through Osnabruch and the North East towards Breman, arriving 20 miles south of the city in the early hours of 11th April 1945. On the morning of the 11th 44th RTR crossed the Weser at Rethen and soon made contact with the German 2nd Marine Divison.
There were now two days maintenance and rest, both of which were badly needed, and the Scots Greys rejoined the Brigade during the evening of 12th April. The Brigades future task was to cross the Aller at Rethem, as soon as the bridge there was complete, advance up the road towards Walsrode to open up a gateway through which 7th Armoured Division could break out, and then swing north-west to outflank the enemy holding Verden. For this task they were assigned to have 6th Royal Welsh Fusiliers (RWF) in Kangaroos, while 3rd/4th CLY were to support 158th and the successive brigades of 53rd (Welsh) Division in the direct advance on Verden down the east bank of the Aller.
As a result of constant and accurate shelling, by the eneny, the bridge at Rethem was not completed until midday on 14th April, but as soon as it was ready, 44th RTR and 2nd KRRC crossed, securing Altenwahllngen and Kirchwahlingen with little difficulty. Then resistance then became stiffer, the thick woods being full of German Marines armed with Panzerfausts and machine guns and moderately well supported by artillery. Some progress was made, but the advance was delayed by the need to allow 3rd/4th CLY and a host of other units to pass through so they could join 158th Brigade to the north. But, by last light 44th RTR and 2nd KRRC were halfway to Eilstorf, and the Scots Greys and 6th RWF were over the river and moving out to the right. After dark with the aid of artificial moonlight, 2nd KRRC patrolled into Eilstorf, while the Scots Greys and 6th RWF drove straight though the enemy infested woods to the high ground east of the village. Meanwhile, 4th RHA had crossed the river and were in action round Altenwahlingen at first light, when the 44th and 2 KRRC began to clear Eilstorf and the Scots Greys and 6th RWF attacked Kirchboitzen. Both attacks succeeded in the face of considerable and determined opposition, and the 8th Hussars, leading 22nd Armoured Brigade, were passed through the right flank of the Scots Greys. The Brigade now swung north, with the Scots Greys and 6th RWF attacking Vethem and 44th RTR and 2nd KRRC Sudkampen. There were a number of Self-Propelled anti-tank guns in each village and both were defended with vigour. While Vethem was being cleared, one squadron of the Scots Greys and two companies of 6th RWF slipped round it and by a quick dash across country reached Idsingen, 4 miles to the north, before dark, overrunning a number of guns. Meanwhile 44th RTR and 2nd KRRC had cleared Sudkampen and then by artificial moonlight they continued the advance to Nordkampen and cleared that too. The Brigades tally of prisoners for the day was 16 officers and 539 other ranks, all from the redoubtable 2nd Marine Division, with many more being killed.
At first light on the 16th, 44th RTR and 2nd KRRC began to clear the road up to Idsingen while the rest of the Scots Greys and 6th RWF joined them at Idsingen, followed by TAC Brigade HQ and 4 RHA. As the advance continued northwards the Scots Greys found the bridge on the road to Groote Heins had been blown and the crossing was well defended. A scissors bridge was put down and one squadron and a company in Kangaroos crossed before the bog became impassable. 44th RTR and 2nd KRRC advanced north-east from Idsingen while an improvised bridge was built over the ruins, which was completed by 14:00, by which time the Scots Greys were on the main road south of Bendingbostel, which the found to be strongly held. 44th RTR and 2nd KRRC were now relieved by 53rd Recce Regt and they began to concentrate behind the Scots Greys.
Bendingbostel was attacked in the late evening and the Scots Greys and 6th RWF had cleared it and seized a bridge to the west by last light. 44th RTR and 2nd KRRC then passed though them by artificial moonlight and attacked Klein Sehlingen and Kreepen, both of which had been cleared by first light on the 17th, though there were still a large number of enemy in the woods all round. After being relieved by 53rd Recce Regt, the Scots Greys and 6th RWF passed through 44th RTR and 2nd KRRC's position at Kreepen and moved straight across country with little opposition to cut the main road north of Verden. During the day large numbers of prisoners were collected from the woods we had encircled or passed through, culminating in a haul of 273 by 4 RHA, along. During all this time 3rd/4th CLY had been supporting all the brigades of 53rd (Welsh) Division in turn, entering Verden with 71st Brigade at about the same time as the Scots Greys reached its northern outskirts.
On 15th April, 'A' Squadron, 3rd/4th CLY, had
made an unsuccessful attempt to clear the wooded area near Armsen, but it was
called off to enable an adequate artillery preparation to be made for a further
attempt. The second operation to clear the wooded area was entirely
successful, with 1/5th Bn. The Welsh Regiment being were supported by ½ Squadron
of Crocodiles from the 7th RTR in addition
to 'A' Squadron's
Shermans. During the early afternoon, 'B
Squadron which had remained uncommitted in
the adjoining area to RHQ, were suddenly shelled and the Officer Command the
Squadron, the 2i/c and 6 ORs were wounded, with one man being killed. Among the
nine casualties were no fewer than 6 tank commanders. Bad luck dogged the
Squadron in the evening when a bridge collapsed under one of its troops which
was supporting 1st E Lancs to that area. The tank tipped upside down and,
despite repeated efforts to save him, one of the crew drowned. Elsewhere, 'C'
Squadron was supporting 2nd Monmouths, from 160th Brigade, and finished the day
in positions in the area Kukenmoor. On the 16th, 'A'
Squadron moved into Weimuhlen with 1/5th Bn.
The Welsh Regiment and, again with the help of ½ Squadron
of Crocodiles, attacked high ground North of
the village. The objective was secured with out much trouble and yielded some 40
POWs. 'A' Squadron was still with 1st
E Lancs and helped the take Kirchlinteln.
Meanwhile, 'C' Squadron had encountered stubborn infantry opposition in supporting 6th RWF into their objective. The forward troop covered the infantry by smoke and HE fire, killing a considerable number of the enemy and assisting in taking about 20 POWs. The joining up with 4th Bn. The Welsh Regiment, C Squadron supported their attack across a stream at but the bridge in the locality proved too weak for armour and the Squadron waited until 23:30 until a Class 40 bridge was completed. On 17th April a troop from 'B' Squadron was sent to the rescue of a patrol of the 4th Welsh which had been cut-off during the night, giving covering fire whilst stretcher bearers brought out the wounded infantrymen. Then at 05:30 meeting only light opposition, 'A' and 'B' Squadrons, with 4th RWF and 1st HLI respectively, converged on the Northeastern outskirts of Verden and by 14:00 the two Squadrons were concentrated in the North East outskirts of Verden, as the Scots Greys arrived from the North.
At 06:00 on 18th April, 'A' Squadron supported the 1st Ox & Bucks to take the village of Dauelsen, encountering only spasmodic small arms fire, before the returned to its former area at Verden. Also on the same day 6th RWF left left the Brigade and the Scots Greys joined 52nd (Lowland) Division, who were to continue the advance to Bremen. The brigade, now only consisting of 44th RTR Tanks, 2nd KRRC and 4th RHA began to move north at first light. The towns of Kirchwalsede and Rahnhorst were captured without difficulty, but Westerwalsede was found to be strongly held, with a complete battery of 88mms covering the approaches from south and east. By an encircling movement on both flanks the north edge of the village was entered with little difficulty, but only after stiff fighting was entirely the village totally cleared. Pushing on to the north, a line of guns was found covering the only crossing over another boggy stream. This was attacked in the afternoon with complete success and the bridge over the railway beyond it captured intact. Continuing their advance after dark 2nd KRRC and 44th RTR captured the main road bridge over the railway line and the important crossroads in the woods to the south. During the days advance 9 Officers and 403 other ranks were captured and four 88mm anti-tank guns and nine 105mm field guns were captured or destroyed.
Next morning the cross roads became very lively with a SP firing direct on to it and infantry counter-attacking through the woods. By midday however the woods had been cleared and our hold on the area extended in all directions. In the afternoon the Brigade was relieved by 158th Brigade, accompanied by 3rd/4th CLY, and moved back to an area northeast of Verden to come under command of 52nd (Lowland) Division again. Later on the 19th, 44th RTR was concentrated around Scharnhorst to prepare for the capture of Bremen. The advance on the city started with considerable fighting, the regiment in support of 52nd (Lowland) Division. In the six days since crossing the River Aller the brigade had completely defeated most of the German 2nd Marine Division, capturing 39 guns and a mass of equipment. It had fought day and night without stopping, advancing thirty miles against the continuous opposition of some of the best troops the Germans could muster.
While 3rd/4th CLY remained with 53rd (Welsh) Division, the Scots Greys were supporting 156th Brigade round Etelsen on 20th April and 44th RTR were supporting 157th Brigade on their right, in capturing Voilcersen, while 2nd KRRC took over the right flank astride the main road to Rotenburg.
On the 21st the Scots Greys continued the advance with 156th Brigade against stiff opposition, while 44th RTR was with 157th Brigade coming up on their right through the woods. Shellfire was heavy and there were a large number of 88mms and Nebelwerfers about. 3rd/4th CLY with 53rd (Welsh) Division were approaching Rotenburg from the south.
On 22nd 44th RTR were in position for the final assault on the city of Bremen and supported 157th Brigade during a fierce battle all day against the mass of 88mms and 20mm AA guns that formed the outer anti-aircraft defence of the city. By the end of the day they had reached their objectives north of Achim after some tough fighting. On the 23rd a massive air raid by the Royal Air Force tool place against Bremen and 44th RTR extended to the north, cutting the autobahn and capturing Oyten. Elsewhere the Scots Greys carried on their support of 155th Brigade advancing west from Achim, which had been captured during the night. Meanwhile, 2nd KRRC had moved into position to cover the right flank between 52nd (Lowland) and 43rd (Welsh) Divisions, lines of advance. The advance on Bremen by the Scots Greys continued steadily during 24th April and they supported 157th Brigade up to the railway at Malendorf. This move really out a finish to the serious fighting for Bremen and on the morning of the 25th the Scots Greys advanced with 156th Brigade and later 155th Brigade right into the heart of the city, while 44th RTR's also supported the the infantry entered the city. Apart from light shelling and a few snipers opposition was very light and the problems was the rubble created by the recent bombing, though odd Panzerfaust parties were a still nuisance. On the morning of the 26th, 44th RTR supported 157th Brigade passing through into the dock area, no opposition being met at all and by this final advance the city of Bremen was completely liberated. The Brigade remained in Bremen until the 28th, when it joined 51st (Highland) Division near Bassen on the autobahn east of Bremen.
The aim was for the Brigade help 51st (Highland) Division with their advance to the north, but there were no bridges and it moved again late in the day to Eversen on the road from Verden to Rotenburg ready to rejoin 12 Corps next day. On 29th April 44th RTR arrived at Oldendorf and 3rd/4th CLY rejoined the Brigade, having supported many different units of 53rd (Welsh) Division in clearing up the area round Rotenburg, as detailed in the next paragraph. The Brigade set off on the last of its long treks, mostly by track to save undo wear on the tank tracks from the cobbled roads. On arrival in the area of Salzhausen, twelve miles south of Winsen, the Brigade, less the Scots Greys, was under 53rd (Welsh) Division command again, with the Scots Greys coming under command of 6th Airborne Division in 8 Corps on the Brigades right.
On 20th April, 3rd/4th CLY had began it support of 53rd (Welsh) Division, by supporting 7th RWF, with 'A' Squadron and this forces moved to and then round Ludingen, collecting a handful of prisoners, before it met up with 'B' Squadron around Dressdel. Together both Squadrons then advanced west south west to Jeddigen, where 'B' Squadron continued along the main road while 'A' Squadron worked their way round to the North and East of the village. 'B' Squadron then took 30 POWs at a road block, defended by small arms only. Leaving the infantry to consolidate the village and surrounding area, the Squadrons returned to Ludingen for the night. Meanwhile. 'C' Squadron had taken over from 44th RTR near Suderwalsede supporting 1/5th Welsh, engaged from time to time with dealing with stray snipers. On the 21st 'B' Squadron supported 71st Brigade, in clearing a line from Wittorf to Hastedt and with there being little opposition, the fire power of the tanks was little used. A troop from 'C' Squadron supported a patrol of the 1/5th Welsh through the some woods near Suderwalsede, and help to take 49 prisoners. On 22nd April 'B' Squadron moved to Bartelsdorf to support 1st HLI, while 'C' Squadron was supporting 7th RWF in local patrols in the Suderwalsede area, taking 50 POWs and encountering no opposition. Ay 11:30, 'A' Squadron travelled through Wittorf to the Southern outskirts of Rotenburg, with one of its troops accompanied by a Company of 1st Ox & Bucks occupied the areas north of the railway station. In the later afternoon 'C' Squadron moved to high ground above Unterstedt in preparation for an operation to support 1/5th Welsh in taking the town. Two troops of tanks and two Companies of infantry entered the village against only token opposition and took about 40 POWs and one 75mm, one 88mm and 125mm gun were also found abandoned. A small attack also took the hamlet of Eversen to the south of Unterstedt, yielding another four POWs. Elsewhere thirteen Germans gave themselves up to Squadron HQ during the day and another 10 were taken prisoner by the Squadron fitters!
On 23rd April, 'A' Squadron helped take the village of Westerholz without any opposition, but after passing it they then moved firstly westwards the northwestwards only to be shelled for some hours by SPs and later Nebelwerfers. However they did manage to destroy one 75mm anti-tank gun 'B' and 'C' Squadrons operated with 1st Ox & Bucks in the Scheessel area before taking Hertzweg unopposed. For the next two days 25th 3rd/4th CLY continued to operate in the Scheessel and Westerholz, with the village of Gyhum being taken on 25th April
During 26th April, 'C' Squadron of 3rd/4th CLY occupied the airfield near Westerholz, with 4th Welsh and later half the Squadron then supported 6th RWF to the western edge of the nearby woods. On the airfield considerable quantities of equipment were found, including at least 1000 wrecked searchlights, generators and sound location apparatus, a large considerable number of derelict aircraft. Late in the evening the whole Squadron supported 4th Welsh in an unopposed entrance into Botersen and while one troop remained in the village, another followed 6th RWF into Waffensen, again without incident.
On 27th April, 3rd/4th CLY carried out some minor support operations, while by the 28th the Regiment rested in Hoperhofen, Bockel and Scheessel, before receiving orders to move to Salzhausen and rejoin 4th Armoured Brigade on 29th April 1945. Having rejoined the Brigade 3rd/4th CLY was then assigned, on the 30th, to support 158th Infantry Brigade during their crossing of the River Elbe and the regiment spent the rest of the day in rest and preparation. As April 1945 finished they were able to reflect upon how the month had seen the regiment engaged in close support of infantry of 53rd (Welsh) Division, with one of their main tasks being the clearance of relatively small bodies of the enemy which had been by-passed by the thrusts of the Guards Armoured Division, the 7th Armoured Division or the 11th Armoured Division. In addition to nearly 900 prisoners taken in the field, some 30 or 40 soldiers had also been picked up in civilian clothes and sent back to the POW cages.
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On 1st May 1945 the Scots Greys began to cross the Elbe with 6th Airborne Division at Lauenburg and one squadron of 3rd/4th CLY also crossed with 1st East Lancs of 158th Brigade. Events were obviously moving fast, but in spite of that, we were amazed to hear that the Scots Greys had met the Russians at Wismar, each squadron supporting a brigade of 6th Airborne Division. They had travelled without stopping all day as fast as their tracks would carry them, heedless of the crowds of Germans withdrawing in front of the Russians. On 3rd May the remainder of 3rd/4th CLY crossed the Elbe at Geesthacht and on the morning of the 4th, accompanied by with 158th Brigade, the drove unopposed into Hamburg, which had surrendered to 7th Armoured Division on 3rd May 1945, while 44th RTR had crossed the Elbe and move to Bergdorf ready to assault Hamburg, also on 4th May. The rest of the Brigade moved later in the day and occupied Bergedorf, between Geesthacht and Hamburg.
At 08:00 on the morning of 5th May 1945 all opposition on the front of 21st Army Group ceased. So 4th Armoured Brigade had at last finished five years of fighting during which had seldom seen it out of the line. It had fought every major British campaign starting in 1940 in Egypt and Libya, followed by Tunisia, Sicily and Italy, in 1943 and finally France, Belgium, Holland and Germany, in 1944 and 1945. The Brigade and its regiments then celebrated VE Day, 8th May 1945 in the various unit messes and canteens. To signal the momentous day the C.O. of 4th RHA assembled the whole regiment, and after standing informally round the wireless set, to listen to the Prime Minister's speech and holding a short service which followed, " Take Post " was given, the Colonel gave the signal, and the Regiment fired a salvo, followed by a round of regimental fire and another salvo.
It knew that the sign of the Black Desert Rat would be remembered by many people of the many lands it had passed through and hopefully with respect by its enemies. Its war was now over an occupation duties began and on 9th May 44th RTR moving to Uetersen and 3rd/4th CLY to Elmshorn, respectively, as part of these duties. From here patrols at once started in the task of combing the 80-odd square miles of countryside for prison camps, for arms and equipment dumps and for undesirable natives. The many German servicemen roaming the district were handled by the Regimental Command Posts, before being were sent to Pinnerberg barracks, which had taken over by 4th Armoured Brigade as a POW Cage on 10th May 1945.
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