1st Canadian Parachute Battalion – Belgium – Holland – Germany

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The 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion in Belgium, Holland and in Germany. The Final Operation : January 2 1945 March 24 1945

1. The object of this report is to describe the part played by the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, Canadian Infantry Corps, in the operations of the Allied Armies in North West Europa during the final phase of World War Two. The report will deal to a minor extent with the role of the unit as ground troop helping to hold the front line in Belgium, during the Ardennes counter-offensive, and in the Netherlands, during the Battle of the Rhineland. It will relate in greater detail the story of the Battalion parachuting east of the Rhine River on March 24 1945, and and subsequently fighting overland to meet the Red Army on May 2 1945 at the Baltic Port of Wismar. First among the troops of the British 21st Army Group to join hands with the Russians, no other unit of the Canadian Army penetrated so deeply into Germany nor progressed so far eastward in that theater of operations.

2. This report supplements two reports produced by the Historical Officer, Canadian Military Headquarters. Report No 138 discusses the formation of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion in July 1942 and it initial training in the United States, Canada, and England. Report No 139, deals exclusively with its participation in the allied invasion across the Channel as part of the airborne armada which descended upon Normandy that memorable morning of June 6 1944 and thereafter fought as front-line troops during the summer campaign to expel the Germans from Francs. This third report is intended to conclude the series. It begins with a brief introductory account telling of further training undertaken in England upon the return of the Battalion from France on September 6 1944. The main story of final operations is followed by a short account of the repatriation of the unit and its disbandment in Canada on September 30 1945. The report concludes with a summary of the battle casualties suffered and decorations awarded.

3. The first two report. were completed by July 7 1946 at the Canadian Military Headquarters in London, England, whereas this concluding report has been written a year later at the Army Headquarters in Ottawa. Copies of the unit War Diary including original operational maps have been available, however, and have provided the chief source of information. The story of the parachute descent has been checked against a comprehensive report by American observers entitled ‘Operation Varsity’ : the Airborne Crossing of the Rhine River, March 1945. Statements outlining higher strategy have been drawn largely from the published report of the Supreme Commander to the Combined Chief of Staff. Much use has also been made of the well-known books written by FM Montgomery, Commander-in-Chief of the 21st British Army Group, and by Lt Gen Lewis H. Brereton, Commanding First Allied Airborne Amy.

Canadian Army Normandy 1944 (EUCMH)


4. Map references throughout the report refer to the following G.S.G.S. maps :
England & Wales, 1:63,360, sheet 107
Belgium & N.E. France, 1:100,000, sheets 4 and 13
Germany, 1:50,000, sheets 16 and 36
Central Europe, 1:100,000, sheets K5, K6, L5, L6, M5, N2, N3, N4, P1, P2, and Q1

Renewed Training in England – September 7 1944 – December 25 1944

5. The 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion returned to England from France on September 6/7 1944 at the time when the Allied Armies were sweeping into Belgium and the Germans were still in full rout from Falaise. The Battalion had received its baptism of fire in dropping from the skies upon Normandy between 0100 and 0130 on D-day. On that day alone the unit had suffered 117 casualties, and in three months of fighting that summer its battle losses totaled 24 officers and 343 other ranks. Reinforcements had not been sufficient in the later stages to maintain the Battalion· War Establishment of 31 officers and 587 other ranks; consequently there were deficiencies of 5 officers and 242 other ranks when the unit returned to England. There internal reorganization was to be undertaken and hopes were high that further airborne operations were in prospect.

6. The 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion had trained and fought as the only Canadian element basically part of the 6th British Airborne Division, retaining this status when the entire Division was withdrawn from operations and returning to the United Kingdom with it. The Canadians remained brigaded with the 8th and 9th Parachute Battalions to form the 3rd Parachute Brigade, commanded by Brig S.J.L. Hill, D.S.O., M.C. Just prior to this move from the Continent the Battalion’s first Commanding Officer, Lt Col G.F.P. Bradbrooke, received a staff appointment and Maj G.F. Eadie assumed the temporary command. Back in England, Maj J.A. Nicklin rejoined the unit on being appointed to command effective September 8 1944 with the rank of lt col. The new CO an outstanding athlete, had established a reputation across Canada as a former rugby star of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. One of the original officers of the Battalion, he had parachuted with it into France on D-day as second-in-command but later had been evacuated (June 23) with multiple wounds. Major Eadie now became second-in-commend, with Major C.E. Fuller, Major P.R. Griffin (MC), Major J.D. Hanson (MC) and Major R. Hilborn as company commanders.

7. Once re-established in their old quarters at Carter Barracks, Bulford, Wiltshire, all personnel were given 12 days leave ending September 4 1944. General training then began in earnest, with the battalion restored to full strength by reinforcements from the 1st Canadian Parachute Training Company. During the month of October 1944 each of the three rifle companies was sent in turn to street fighting courses at Southampton and in the Battersea area of London, while the training company attended a similar course at Birmingham.

8. On October 9/10, the entire Battalion participated in a 3rd Paratrooper Brigade scheme termed ‘Exercise Fog’, whose objects were : (1) – Detail practice for large scale drop on a Brigade DZ; (2) – Practice movement by night; (3) – Practice of evacuation of casualties. The operation order for the exercise stated that the 3rd Paratrooper Brigade will seize and hold Shrewton – a main centre of communication, and detailed the following tasks to the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion : (1) – Make contact with Glider Elements and conduct them to the Brigade Objective; (2) – Seize and hold feature East of Shrewton; (3) – Prevent Enemy movement south. Poor visibility caused a 24 hour delay, but at 1645, on October 9 1944, the Battalion em-planed at Walford, Northampton, in aircraft of the 9th Troop Carrying Command (USAAF). The unit diarist records : [ the takeoff was at 1700. Aircraft were over the DZ in tight formation at 1849. Personnel dropped and every man was clear of the DZ in 20 minutes – the maximum laid down by the Brigade Commander. Personnel made their way to the Rendez vous and then marched cross-country to Shrewton which was the Objective. Rendez vous area was cleared at 2020, and objective reached at 2335. Small parties of enemy were encountered and dealt with successfully on the way to the objective and upon arrival there the Battalion took up defensive positions and dug in ]

Snipers Ghillie Royal Visit 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion (EUCMH)

The 1st Canadian Parachute Training Company took part in the role of the enemy, jumping from Stirlings, but unfortunately, the jump was made with 8 non fatal casualties caused by a plane flying at 150′ while dropping men. The scheme ended the following morning and a 2.30 hour route march brought the troops back to the barracks, where officers and men began a thorough study of the tactics employed. Baker Co, had a follow-up exercise of its own two days later in which men were dropped from trucks by pairs every 100 yards and ordered to move to the rendezvous, advancing from there towards the objective. This was the village of Cholderton, with the way barred by an enemy platoon provided by Charlie Co, but the assaulting troops won through in a mock battle lasting 18 minutes.

9. Although these courses and exercises served to enliven routine training, the men were for a time in a very unsettled state, perhaps due to sudden release from the tension of the summer months’ fighting. The following entries in the unit War Diary are evidence of this unusual attitude :

October 20 1944 : On evening supper parade great confusion was caused when the men refused to eat. The complaint lay not in tho food but in the treatment of the men by the Commanding Officer.

October 21 1944 : General training during the day. Personnel still not eating. Platoon Commanders spoke to platoons to ascertain complaints and in the afternoon changes in Orders heretofore laid down were made but only 60 men ate supper.

October 22 1944 : Sunday. Personnel still in camp refused to eat again today.

October 23 1944 : Approximately 60 men ate their breakfast. General training in the morning and a lecture from Brigadier Hill who promised there would be an investigation into all grievances. Personnel all ate dinner and supper.

Canadian Commando with a Lanchester SMG (EUCMH)

Personnel of the 1st Canadian Parachute Training Company also took part in the hunger strike, advancing numerous grievances the chief of which were concerned with dress regulations both around camp and walking out. Refusal to eat was the only sign of dissatisfaction, and no further trouble was encountered after the Brigadier’s investigation. All grievances were brought forward at the Brigade Commander’s inspection on November 16, but no drastic action was necessary and training activities soon absorbed the attention of all ranks.

10. During the month of November the short courses on street fighting were concluded and emphasis shifted to weapon training : rifle, Sten, Bren, Vickers MMG, PIAT (Projectile Infantry Antitank), mortar, grenade, Bangalore torpedo, nines and booby traps (our own and enemy). The Mortar Platoon continued training with the 3″ mortar but stressed drills with the American 60-MM mortar, giving several demonstrations in handling this weapon. The Vickers, the PIAT, and the Signal Platoons were also busy in their specialized fields, the Intelligence Section held a two-day exercise of their own prepared by the IO; and the rifle companies made a considerable amount of range work. Route marches increased from 10 to 20 miles and long distance runs from 2 to 3 miles. Recreation included films, concerts, tabloid sports, and a 36-hour pass for all personnel November 11/12, with a special train to London.

Projectile Infantry Anti Tank UK (EUCMH)

Bren Gun (EUCMH)

Vickers MMG (EUCMH)

11. The main training feature of November was Exercise Eve, a 6th British Airborne Division scheme in which the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion as a whole and the Intelligence Section of 1st Canadian Parachute Training Company participated. Personnel traveled by lorry a day’s journey to the transit camp, where bad weather once again caused a 24-hour delay. The exercise finally took place on November 21, and included a daylight parachute jump followed by an assault on the enemy positions with preparations for counter attacks. Rehearsals such as Exercises Gog and Eve doubtless raised hopes that airborne operations would soon follow and served as some measure of compensation for exclusion of the Division from the descent on Arnhem in September 1944.

12. From December 1 to December 10, the personnel of the Battalion and the Training Company were on privilege leave, extended 24 hours in certain instances by the G.O.C as a reward for cleanliness of barracks. During the month three drafts totaling 3 officers and 256 other ranks arrived from Canada to join the Training Co, whose strength at the beginning of the new year stood at 694 all ranks. It was possible now to maintain the Battalion at full strength, vacancies as they occurred being filled with qualified jumpers. Extensive range practice with all types of weapons on establishment kept officers and men fully occupied and keen for action.

13. Finally, on December 20 1944, the Commanding Officer warned all ranks that the 1-CPB was returning oversees for active duty. The advance party left that day and the unit was placed on six hours’ notice, continuing in that state more than three days. A Christmas dinner was served in Carter Barracks on December 22, and another in the transit camp on December 25. On Christmas Eve the Battalion proceeded by train to Folkestone, embarking there on the SS Canterbury at 1830 on Christmas Day for Ostende, Belgium. Crossing the English Channel by boat must have been a bitter disappointment to trained paratroopers, but at least they were getting back into a fighting role.

Men from 1.SS-Panzer-Division at the Kaiserbaracke crossroads, between Ligneuville and Poteau, 18 December 1944 (EUCMH)

Operations in the Ardennes

14. The return of the 6th British Airborne Division to the Continent at this stage of the war was part of a mass movement of troops urgently required to help stem the Ardennes counter-offensive launched by the Germans on December 16 1944, against General Bradley’s 12th Army Group. The enemy’s general plan was to break through the thin line of defenses in a sudden blitz drive to the Meuse River in the Liège-Namur area of Belgium and continue on to Antwerp in order to seize or destroy this great port of supply and split the Allied Armies. Assembling all available reserves of armor and infantry to meet the threat, General Eisenhower decided to make extensive use of troops from airborne formations. Reinforcements had to be rushed to the Ardennes. The Supreme Commander immediately called upon the 82nd end 101st Airborne Divisions, which had been through a bitter campaign in Holland and were being refitted and reequipped in the Reims area (France) for future airborne operations. Farthest from their minds was a commitment to return to action. The Supreme Commander directed that the movement by Air of tho US 17th Airborne Division begin as soon as weather permits. He also directed that the British 6th Airborne Division be moved to the Continent by water with first priority. (Lt Gen Lewis H. Brereton)

15. The enemy’s wedge separated the left flank of Gen Bradley’s forces so badly from his right that it was necessary to divide his command on December 19, allowing him to give full attention to the southern part of the salient. There, the 101-A/B, reinforced by armor, was given the task of holding Bastogne, hub of seven highways and three railways, and maintained there a magnificent defense although completely surrounded for 5 days and under constant attack by forces many times superior in strength. All forces north of the Bulge, including the US First and Ninth Armies, were placed under the operational command of FM Montgomery, who concentrated the British 30th Corps in 3 strategic reserve position east of Brussels. The Krauts failed to reach even their initial objectives on the Meuse River, although they made a 45-mile gap and penetrated over 60 miles westward to within 4 miles of the Meuse near Celles. The Allied Forces brought the German counter-offensive under control by December 26, and shortly thereafter were able to resume the initiative with pincer-like attacks by the US First Army from the north and the Third Army from the south. It was at this stage that the British 6th Airborne Division was brought into action as part of the British 30th Corps, which Montgomery directed against the eastern edge of tho Bulge between the major attacking forces.

It had not yet however, been possible to form a reserve American corps available for offensive operations in the First Army, and I now decided to commit the British troops south and east of the Meuse in order to relieve US VII Corps for the purpose. My plan was to employ the UK 30th Corps on the right flank of the US First Army taking over the sector Givet-Hotton. The reliefs were to be completed by January 2 1945 … the British 30 Corps attacked on January 4, on a front of two divisions. In the south, the British 6th Airborne Division, which had been hurriedly brought over from the UK, had some fierce fighting in and ground Bure, but secured the area on January 5, and on the left, the British 53d Division moved forward in touch with the US VII Corps … (Montgomery)

16. Proceeding inland by lorry from Ostende, the 1-CPB had been billeted first in Belgian villages around Taintignies, south of Tournai, and then approximately 70 miles east at Maredret, near Namur. This week of waiting ended on January 2 1945, when the unit moved to Rochefort, a Belgian village on a tributary east of the Meuse River, and took up battle positions there in the familiar role of infantry of the line. The heavy fighting et Bure was approximately five miles south of the Battalion’s front, which remained comparatively quiet. That first day no activity was reported other than the capture of a solitary PW identified as a deserter from the 304.Regiment of the 2.Panzer-Division. Minor changes of position within the area were assumed from day to day without serious trouble, patrols by day and night often reporting no sign of the enemy. On January 3, Able Co met some slight opposition in an advance but reached its objective and the next day sent out a fighting patrol to clear the neighbouring woods. This company had had a last-minute change of commander just before leaving England when Major P.R. Griffin was left behind with a broken wrist, Capt J.A. Clancy taking command as A/Major. Throughout this second period of active service for the Battalion he led Able Co with the same gallantry which had previously won him the Military Cross in Normandy.

17. Finding the enemy had withdrawn from the Rochefort area after the battle to the south at Bure, the Battalion made a minor change of location on January 6, to the village of Aye, just west of Marche-en-Famenne, but observation posts set up by the Intelligence Section revealed no signs of enemy activity. Three days later the 1-CPB moved east of Marche to relieve tho Highland Light Infantry at Champlon-Famenne, the compagnies immediately taking up positions for all-round defense. After a quiet night the Battalion received orders to advance to Roy, which Baker Co attacked at 1100 and took unopposed, all enemy having withdrawn. No casualties resulted from this operation, although a reconnaissance patrol previously had been severely mortared by the Krauts. Defensive positions were taken up but patrols could not establish contact with the enemy. The following day, Baker Co took the neighboring village of Bande, also without opposition. The 1-CPB handed it over to 9th Canadian Parachute Battalion. An entry in the unit was diary reports a gruesome discovery made there. 37 civilians found beaten and shot to death in a cellar at Bande. One man from each Platoon in the Battalion was taken to Bande and shown the German cruelty. German aircraft bombed and strafed the ares near midnight on January 13, but patrols reported all enemy ground troops had fled and there was little to do but search for their abandoned equipment. While awaiting the end of the Battle of the Bulge, the 3rd Paratrooper Brigade held a winter sports meet at Roy on January 14, with toboggan races and contests in building snowmen, log sawing and wood chopping. On January 18, the Battalion departed for a rest area at Pondrome, thus ending the first phase of its reintroduction to active operations.

18. By then the junction of the US First and Third Armies had enabled FM Montgomery to dispense with the British 30th Corps as a buffer between them. I undertook the withdrawal of the British troops from the Ardennes with the greatest possible speed, in order to regroup for the battle of the Rhineland. Now was the opportunity to proceed with the utmost dispatch to carry out our plans, in order to take full advantage of the enemy’s failure. The enemy had been prevented from crossing the Meuse in the nick of time … The battle displayed many fine examples of Allied solidarity and team work. In particular, the passage of the British 30th Corps across to the south flank of the US First and Third Army, and its subsequent deployment east of the Meuse was an operation of tremendous complications achieved Without serious difficulty. (Montgomery). Formations of 1st Canadien Army in Holland, although profoundly affected by the Ardennes counter-offensive, had not been required to assist directly in repelling it. Certain units of the Canadian Forestry Corps (Headquarters 8th Canadian Forestry District with under command Nos. 1, 9, 14, 16, 25 and 27 Companies), which had been cutting timber in the Ardennes Forest since November 1 1944, were placed on ‘Stand To’ but soon received orders to withdraw to Brussels. The 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, therefore, had the honor of being Canada’s sale representative unit to close with the enemy in that important battle. (56th Battery, 6th Canadian Antitank Regiment, Royal Canadian Army, was placed under the command of the 51st (Highland) Division from approximately December 25 1944 to January 15 1945 but does not appear to have been called upon to play an active part in the Ardennes Campaign. This division was then in a reserve role as part of the US First Army and the 56th Battery acted as a Division Antitank reserve. An undated sitrep of the 56th Battery states regarding this period ‘as Div reserve we have carried out extensive recons in this area but no guns have been deployed’).

Operations in the Netherlands

19. With von Rundstedt’s striking power expended, the task of Gen Eisenhower now, was to re-grasp the strategic initiative and resume the advance. In planning our forthcoming spring and summer offensives, I envisaged the operations which would lead to Germany’s collapse as falling into three phases : first, the destruction of the enemy forces west of the Rhine River and closing to that river; second, the seizure of bridgeheads over the Rhine from which to develop operations into Germany; and third, the destruction of the remaining enemy east of the Rhine and the advance into the heart of the Reich. (Eisenhower)

Forces were regrouped and the major thrust made from the north, where the British 21st Army Group planned Operation Veritable and Operation Grenade to smash the enemy west of the Rhine. For this battle of the Rhineland the British 6th Airborne Division left the British 30th Corps and was assigned a holding role as part of British 8th Corps within the British Second Army, to whom FM Montgomery had given certain responsibilities. The Second Army was to hold a firm front on the Meuse facing east and to assist the Canadian operations by every means possible. At this stage of planning I envisaged the Second Army crossing the Meuse to secure Venlo as part of the Operation Veritable, though later this was cancelled because it proved unnecessary. (Montgomery)

20. The 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion was permitted to remain in its rest area at Pondrome, Belgium, less than four days before being ordered to proceed to the Netherlands. (This brief pause in the winter campaign permitted all ranks to attend bath parade, draw clean clothing, and enabled the quartermaster to issue rubber boots and leather jerkins in preparation for rigorous field conditions. On January 22, the Battalion, travelling all day by lorry, traversed the US Ninth Army area to reach the Dutch village of Roggel. Front-line positions on the west bank of the River Maas (Meuse in Dutch) were taken over from elements of the British 15th Infantry Division the next morning, with theb 1-CPB established at Haelen and the rifle companies in three neighboring villages : Able Co forward at Buggenum, Baker Co on the right at Broek, and Charlie Co on the left at Nunhem. Across the river the Siegfried Line extended along a slight lip which overlooked the valley, and continuous trench systems stretched along the east bank connecting the strongly fortified areas of Venlo to the north and Roermond to the south. The enemy held both these strong points, but south of the latter had been forced by the British 12th Corps (British Second Army) to retreat across the Roer River, which joins the Maas River from the southeast at Roermond. The US Ninth Army had taken over this Roermond triangle, from which it was intended to launch the Operation Grenade on February 10. Away to the south. however, the Germans by releasing a huge volume of water from a dam on the upper Roer caused it to overflow its banks along the entire front of the Ninth Army. Therefore the 1st Canadian Army was forced to be in Operation Veritable in the north on February 8, without supporting attacks.

21. While stirring events were happening on the right and the left of the British Second Army, the 1-CPB had to be content with the holding role demanded of its central position. Enemy shells and rockets fell into the unit area time after time yet caused surprisingly few casualties. Sporadic exchanges of mortar, rifle and LMG fire were a daily occurrence, also without major damage. A standing patrol of Baker Co located near a railway bridge (774933) repeatedly came under heavy enemy fire of all types in the first few days. Soon an enemy observation post was discovered directly across the river at that point and thereafter was given a daily drubbing by machine-gunners and snipers, aided one day by a number of rounds from a Sherman tank. On February 1, a German raiding party ventured across the Maas to attack a standing patrol of Able Co at 0200, wounding two men but losing a prisoner of war. Almost every night the enemy lighted up the front with flares as though expecting attacks himself, and frequently during the day he could be seen digging trenches to improve his defensive position. Members of the Royal Engineers passed through the unit lines on January 25 and January 29 to reconnoiter the banks of the Maas River for a possible crossing, the Battalion affording protective troops, but in view of the changed plan no attempt was made to cross in force in that particular area.

22. Active patrolling across the Maas was definitely a major part of 1-CPB’s duties, however, in accordance with instructions given to British Second Army by the Commander in Chief. A very thorouh watch will be kept on the enemy on the east bank of the Maas and every opportunity will be taken to harry and alarm him by means of patrols, raids, etc, and to establish bridgeheads where, and when, suitable (21 Army Group Operational Directive January 21 1945). On January 29, Lt J.L. Davies with two other ranks crossed the river on a recon patrol which lasted 36 hours, observing the enemy without interference and returning without casualties. Patrols sent across the Mass on February 3, met no enemy opposition but the next night one encountered an enemy section so strong that the patrol commander dared not interfere. On February 7, a fighting patrol of 30 other ranks commanded by Lt A.J.C. Estling crossed to the east bank and entered the village of Einde, opposite Able Co’s location, but encountered no enemy opposition whatsoever. On February 10, Lt D.J. Proulx led another recon patrol across the Maas for 36 hours, carrying a #38 wireless set for communication purposes. Two nights later the enemy retaliated by sending a patrol of their own against Baker Co, wounding one man but retiring to their own side before morning. On February 13, one enemy patrol consisting of 6 men was seen crossing towards Able Co. They were immediately covered by LMGs which later opened fire and caused the boat to capsize. The enemy heard screaming in the water were believed to have been wounded. Able Co, promptly dispatched a patrol of its own across the river but it met stiff opposition and was forced to retire, returning to make another attempt also without success. That night a considerable number of flares were reported and machine gun fire was quite heavy. The next day the Maas was observed to be rising very rapidly, and active patrolling by both sides ceased.

23. As the flood waters rose the enemy fire noticeably decreased and the front held by the 1-CPB became extremely quiet. Fighting was heavy to the north, however, where the 1st Canadian Army cleared the Reichswald Forest by February 13, and the next day reached the Rhine River near Emmerich. When the Roer floods had passed their peak, Operation Grenade was launched from the south on February 23. The US Ninth Army in its sweep northward found Roermond abandoned by the Germans on March 1, and pushed on to Venlo, making two days later, contact with the 1st Canadian Army. The success of the combined Veritable – Grenades Operations removed all opposition west of the Rhine and inflicted crippling losses on the enemy.

24. The 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion once again had shared in a major engagement, fulfilling a very useful function in helping to hold a vital part of the front line in the centre until the Allies could deliver smashing blows from the left and right. As soon as the former had broken through and while the latter was held poised, relief for the unit was forthcoming. Rumors of a possible return to England began on February 15 when all personnel of the Battalion were asked for sizes of dress shirts and boots. The next day they heard that American forces would relieve the unit, whose future employment was a matter of considerable conjecture. On February 18, the American advance party arrived at 1000 and the Canadian advance party departed two hours later. The next day the main body of US troops arrived at 1300 to take up positions, the 1-CPB leaving at once to embus at Roggel for a staging camp at Zeveneecken, Belgium. Personnel of the rifle companies sailed from Ostende on February 21 while Battalion HQ and HQ Co flew from Nivelles the following day. By February 23, they were together again in their old quarters at Carter Barracks, Bulford.

25. Thus ended the second period of active service on Europe’s battlefields by the 1-CPB. To three months of fighting in Normandy the unit had added to its credit almost two additional months of campaigning at the front in Belgium and in the Netherlands, and now was spoiling to make another parachute descent like that of D-day.

Allied Plans for Crossing the Rhine

26. Once the Germans had been defeated west of the Rhine, the Allies were in a strong position to assault river and seize the vital Ruhr industrial region. The plan of campaign for crossing the Rhine and establishing a strong force on the far bank was, thanks to the success of the operations west of the river, basically the same as that envisaged in our long-term planning in January, and even before D-day. Its fundamental features were the launching of a main attack to the north of the Ruhr, supported by a strong secondary thrust from bridgeheads in the Frankfurt area, directed initially on Kassel to complete the envelopment of the Ruhr. Subsequently, offensives would strike out from the bridgeheads to any remaining organized forces and complete their destruction. Since an attack could not be made on the Ruhr frontally, it was necessary to by-pass it and, although the south had several assaulting sites, the most suitable terrain for mobile operations lay to the north.

27. Operation Plunder, the name given to this great assault across the Rhine north of the Ruhr, was conducted by the British 21st Army Group with three Allied Armies under command. The plan in outline was to cross the Rhine on a front of two Armies between Rees and Rheinberg with the US Ninth Army on the right and the British Second Army on the left. They were to capture the communications center of Wesel and then to expand their initial lodgement area on the east bank southward to a distance sufficient to secure the roads through Wesel from enemy ground action, northward to enable the river to be bridged at Emmerich, and eastward and northeastward to secure a firm bridgehead of adequate size from which further offensive operations could be developed. In the first stage of the operations the principal task of the British Second Army was to capture Wesel, while the US Ninth Army was to secure the right flank. The First Canadian Army, which had no active part in the assault, was made responsible for the absolute security of the Nijmegen bridgehead and of the entire northern flank from Emmerich to the sea. The second stage of operations involved the extension of the bridgehead eastwards and northwards.

28. To assist the advance of British Second Army, the First Allied Airborne Army was to drop the US XVIII Corps (Airborne), comprising the US 17th Airborne Division and the British 6th Airborne Divisions, approximately five miles north and northwest of Wesel to seize the key terrain in that area. The tasks of the US XVIII Corps (Airborne) were to disrupt the hostile defenses north of Wesel, to deepen the bridgehead, and to facilitate the crossing of the river by the British Second Army and its link-up with the US Ninth Army. It Was then to prepare for further offensive action to the east on orders from the Second Army (Montgomery). This airborne crossing of the Rhine to be made in conjunction with Operation Plunder, I was given the code-name Operation Varsity. Lt Gen Milles Dempsey, who as Commander of British Second Army was responsible for planning and executing the main thrust, met the airborne chiefs on February 20 to present his desired scheme for airborne support. He said he considered it absolutely essential to have airborne assistance in crossing the Rhine. The airborne mission was to be twofold : (1) Seize the commanding ground from which artillery fire controlled the whole area. (2) Block possible arrival of enemy reinforcements from east of Wesel (Brereton). Parachute descents hitherto had always heralded the main attack, but to provide an additional element of surprise Gen Dempsey persuaded the Commander-in-Chief to adopt a novel tactical variation in timing. It was decided to drop the airborne troops east of the Rhine after (sic) the assault across the river had taken place. There were two main reasons for this decision : daylight was desirable for the employment of airborne troops and, secondly, it would be impossible to make full use of our artillery for the ground assault if airborne troops were dropped in the target area before we had crossed the river. In deciding the landing and dropping zones for the airborne forces, the principles employed were that they should drop within range of artillery sited on the west bank of the Rhine, in order to obtain immediate artillery support, and that the link-up with the ground troops should be effected on the first day of the operation. (Montgomery)

29. The tasks assigned to the Allied Air Forces were three in number and all were achieved with a high degree of success. Primarily, on February 21 1945, both the Allied Strategic and Tactical Air Forces commenced their intensive campaign not only to isolate the immediate battle area but to cut off northwest Germany from effective ground and air reinforcements. As the target date for the assault approached, their attacks upon communications in the battel area were intensified to an even greater degree. In addition, during the 72 hours preceding the assault, a number of attacks were made upon enemy barracks and camps in the vicinity of the planned bridgehead. Apart from the casualties inflicted in such attacks, it cannot be doubted that they produced a serious moral effect on the enemy, who, after enduring three days of unremitting hell from the air was in no condition to meet the frontal attack when it was launched. In all, during the 4 days, February 21-24, the American and British Air Forces, based in Britain, western Europe and Italy, flew over 42,000 sorties against Germany. (Eisenhower)

Operation Varsity – March 1945 – General Area

Secondly, allied photographic reconnaissance aircraft provided the armies with extremely full and accurate intelligence information regarding flak areas, ground defenses and terrain suitability for drop and landing zones. Lastly, the Allied Air Forces were responsible for the safe delivery of the men of the XVIII Corps (Airborne) to the battlefield. The chief threat of interference lay in jet aircraft (ME-262) in which the enemy had a superiority of production. This was neutralized by heavy bombing of jet airfields to destroy the planes on the ground, to crater the extra-long runways they required, and to blow up hoarded supplies of fuel. In addition, on the actual day of the assault two major diversionary raids over Berlin and certain oil and rail targets kept enemy fighters occupied elsewhere. On that day the Allied Air Forces flew some 8000 aircraft and 1300 glider sorties while sighting fewer than 100 enemy planes in the air. The culmination of all these efforts in the air is described by Gen Eisenhower in these words : As a result of the protection by fighter aircrafts coupled with the measures taken against enemy airfields, not one transport was molested by hostile aircraft. Some losses were sustained from fire over the target, but the total of 46 planes destroyed (3.98 % of those employed) was remarkably low considering tho fact that, to ensure accuracy of dropping and landing, no evasive action was taken.

30. Use of airborne troops, air support, artillery and amphibious equipment on the maximum scale was considered to be essential to ensure a successful passage of the main forces of infantry and armor across the river. By seizing unexpected opportunities, however, the US 12th Army Group accomplished two prior Rhine crossings in the south without formal preparations and with negligible losses. Seizure of the railway bridge at Remagen on March 7, was a factor of great significance in upsetting the enemy’s defensive scheme and in forwarding the plans of the Allies for encircling the Ruhr. A surprise night crossing south of the Rhine just as the Allies were about to launch their carefully-prepared power drive in the north impressed upon both sides the fact that a bridgehead there would inevitably result in the collapse of Germany’s powers of resistance.

31. Intelligence reports revealed that the British 21st Army Group was faced on the east bank by the German 1.Fallschirmjäger-Armee (Airborne Army), with the 2.Fallschirmjäger-Korps in the north, the 86.Korps in the centre, and the 63.Korps in the south. In Army reserve the 47.Panzer-Korps lay up behind the Paratroopers in the north, thereby indicating the area of greatest enemy apprehension. (The Concluding Phase : the advance into north-west Germany and the Final Liberation of the Netherlands, March 23 1945 – May 5 1945)

32. The land assault by the British 21st Army Group was timed to begin at 2100, March 23 (D-1), the initial parachute drop at 1000, March 24 (P hour). Almost 3000 guns were massed along the Rhine to support the ground and air onslaught. The offensive was heralded, at 2000, on March 23, with a great artillery barrage of an hour’s duration, directed against the east bank of the Rhine and extending through the zone where the airborne forces were to be dropped and landed on the next day (Eisenhower). The airborne operation necessitated an elaborate counter-flak fire plan synchronized with close air cooperation. Its complications were greatly increased by the decision to time the air assault some 12 hours after the ground attack. It was arranged that artillery would deal with enemy AAA guns within range, and that the Royal Air Force should undertake the neutralization of guns beyond this area which could engage the troop carriers and gliders. Very detailed arrangements were necessary for the control of artillery fire during the passage of the airborne fleets (Montgomery).

Prior to P-hour field, medium, heavy and super heavy artillery firing over the heads of the attacking ground forces laid down a devastating barrage extending through the landing zones and dropping zones. Its schedule was as follows :

Time : P-2 hours to P-1 hour – Targets : Counter-battery and softening bombardment
Time : P-30 mins to P-15 mins : Targets : AAA Guns bombardment
Time : P-15 mins to P : Targets : Counter-battery and softening bombardment

33. In order to conceal the ground build-up, FM Montgomery screened his activity by the extensive use of smoke on a fifty-mile front (American Observers’ Report). No comparable cloak could hide from the enemy the fact that a large-scale air operation was intended, however, as military men could easily interpret the pattern of Allied air attacks and various other factors together with information obtained through Intelligence channels. A well-known Berlin radio commentator (Axis Sally) announced on March 22 : Allied airborne landings on a large scale to establish bridgeheads east of the Rhine must be expected (Günter Wever). The point is that until the actual descent began the Germans did not know just where and when battle would be joined. Captured documents reveal the fact that the German High Command expected the Airborne landing farther north at Emmerich and had concentrated considerable flak in this area.

The Displaced Persons and Refugees in Rees, Germany. One of the forced labourers, a Pole, sits with his belonging waiting to be repatriated.

Operation Varsity, 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion

34. Upon the XVIII Corps (Airborne) being designated as task force for Operation Varsity, orders had been issued for the US 17th Airborne Division to concentrate in France and the British 6th Airborne Division in England. Soon after arrival there personnel of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion were informed by their Commanding Officer of the reason for the unit returning to the United Kingdom. Training for the forth coming operation did not begin, however, until after all ranks returned from seven days’ leave ending March 7 1945. The Battalion was then up to full strength in Officers and other ranks with the exception of a deficiency of 14 sergeants covered off by 8 surplus of junior N.C.Os. Major P.R. Griffin resumed command of Able Co from Capt J.A. Clancy; other senior regimental officers remained unchanged. Apart from the paymaster, the officers ranged in age from 22 to 30 years; the C.O. was 30, the youngest company commander 26, the padre and MO where 29 and 27 respectively and were qualified paratroopers.

35. Training of personnel began with Ts.O.E.T. (Tests of Elementary Training) on all weapons, followed by field firing exercises and battle drill. Lack of time, the need for equipment elsewhere, and the necessity of keeping accidents to a minimum in the final stages prohibited divisional or brigade manœuvres. There was no opportunity to hold even a single practice descent, which meant that the majority of the men in the Battalion had not jumped since Exercise Eve in November 1944. Events moved very rapidly indeed. On March 19, large packs had to be handed in for shipment overseas and thereafter all personnel were confined to the barracks for the remainder of the unit’s stay in England. The next morning the Division moved off by lorry to east Anglia. HQ 3d Paratroopers Brigade, 8th Parachute Battalion, 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, and a detachment of 224th Paratroopers Field Ambulance were accommodated in the Hill Hall Transit Camp, England and Wales, and were to emplane together at the airfield of Chipping Ongar.

36. For the past three days the Intelligence Section had been preparing plasticine models and enlargements of maps and air photographs for use in briefing the Battalion at the camp. This commenced March 21, with Lt Col Nicklin giving a general briefing to all personnel of the unit followed by special briefing of officers. Two whole days were devoted to detailed briefing by company and platoon commanders. For this purpose the unit was allotted one hut to show Corps, Divisional, and Brigade plans plus two huts for the Battalion plan.

37. The general tasks allotted to the XVIII Corps (Airborne) in cooperation with the British 12th Corps on the round have already been described in this report (see #28). That of the British 6th Airborne Division was to seize, clear and hold the Schnepfenberg (Wesel) feature, and the village of Hamminkeln (Wesel) together with the designated bridges over Issel River. These three bridges, all east of Hamminkeln (Wesel), were to be prepared for demolition but not blown unless recapture by the enemy became certain. Formations of the Division were : 3rd Paratroopers Brigade, 5th Paratroopers Brigade, 6th Air Landing Brigade, 22nd Independent Paratroopers Company, and the 6th Airborne Armored Recon (Recce) Regiment, together with units of artillery, engineers, signals, and the services. The task of 3rd Paratroopers Brigade, scheduled to drop first and operate on the divisional left, was to clear and hold an area on the western edge of the Diersfordt Woods (Wesel) woods which contain the Schnepfenberg (Wesel) feature and to establish patrols through these Woods. The 8th Paratroopers battalion, would seize the northern while the 9th Paratroopers Battalion the southern parts of the Brigade area with the 1-CPB in the centre. HQ 3rd Paratroopers Brigade would initially be established in the dropping zone to the north, then with 8th Paratroopers Battalion, but on completion of the brigade task would move into 1-CPB area. The 1-CPB was to drop just north of the Woods in order to seize, clear, and hold an area along the western edge including slightly more than half a mile of a main road running north-south. The Battalion objective was a group of houses in the southern section of this area. Charlie Co (1-CPB) was first to clear the road junction and corner of the Woods in the northern sector. All Company would then pass through Charlie Co in order to clear and hold the area of the houses where Bn HQ would later be established. Baker Co (1-CPB) was to move south-west through the woods to provide flank protection, to seize and hold the crossroads about which the houses were grouped, and to consolidate the southern sector. All companies would then carry out extensive local patrolling for their own protection and in order to attempt to establish contact with British and American troops.

38. Everything possible was done to make all ranks thoroughly acquainted with this plan. During intervals between briefing personnel played volleyball, softball, basketball, touch football, and sundry improvised sports. Sun bathing was also a popular pastime, the weather remaining warm. On March 23, the Battalion had a full day beginning with the reveille at 0400. In the morning all ranks embussed and moved with full gears (war scales of equipment) to the Chipping Ongar airfield in order to fit parachutes and stow away kit bags and weapons in designated aircraft. Returning to camp at noon, the Battalion completed briefing arrangements and held church services for Romans, Catholics and Protestants at 1800. As reveille the next morning was to be at 0200, the Brigade Commander ordered all personnel to be in bed by 2000, the hour when the artillery barrage over the Rhine began. The unit diarist recorded on the eve of the battle : ‘Morale top notch’.

39. The weather on March 24 1945 turned out as predicted by the forecasters. Unlimited visibility existed over our bases in the United Kingdom, on the continent and over the target area, although a considerable smoke haze persisted over the latter throughout the operation (American Observer Report). A message sent out by FM Montgomery shortly before 1700, March 23, announced to all concerned that Operation Plunder – Varsity would be mounted as planned. All airborne and troop carrier forces were alerted at once. The British Second Amy launched its assault over the Rhine at 2100 that night and the US Ninth Army at 0300, the following morning. While the ground troops pushed on in the early hours of March 24, the airborne forces were forming up. The US 17th Airborne Division took off from bases in France, while the British 6th Airborne Division was lifted from England. Escorted by aircraft of Fighter Command and of the British and American Tactical Air Forces, the two mighty air fleets converged near Brussels and made for the Rhine. Over the bridgehead area an air umbrella was maintained by nine hundred fighters, while deeper into Germany fighter formations kept enemy aircraft away from the battle zone. A great weight of artillery fire from the west bank of the Rhine prepared the way for the airborne drop, and a few minutes before 1000, the ground troops saw the aircraft of the first parachute serial arrive. For the next three hours relays of aircraft came into the dropping and landing zone areas in an immensely thrilling and inspiring demonstration of Allied air power; over 1700 aircraft and 1300 gliders were employed to deliver some 14000 troops in the battle areas. Our losses were comparatively light for an operation of this magnitude; under 4% of the gliders were destroyed while the total losses in transport aircraft were 55. Immediately following the glider landings, a resupply mission was flown in very low altitude by 250 Liberators of the US Eighth Army Air Force. The latter were met by heavy flak and 14 were shot down but 85% of their supplies were accurately dropped (Montgomery)

40. Tugs and gliders assigned to the 6th Airborne Division were operated by pilots of the 38th and 46th Groups RAF but on the other hand, the entire British Parachute lift was carried in by 240 C-47 of the US IX Troop Carrier Command. The 1-CPB was allotted 35 C-47 of US 61st Troop Carrier Command, and was scheduled to drop at 1004. This provided for an approximate Airborne Force strength of 32 officers and 565 men. Forming a part of the van of British 6th A/B, the 1-CPB dropped third among its units, being preceded by the 8th Paratroopers Battalion, the 3rd Paratroopers Brigade and followed by the 9th Paratroopers Battalion as well as the detachments of engineers, medicals, and the glider element. The unit war diarist has given a vivid picture of the descent and initial fighting by the Canadian paratroops on German soil.

Reveille was at 0200. Personnel had a good breakfast, en-trucked on lorries at 0445, and proceeded to the airfield arriving at 0615. Personnel put on their parachutes, emplaned and took off at 0730. The flight from England to the DZ in Germany lasted approximately 120 minutes. The flight across was quiet and uneventful. Unit jumped at 0955, and was widely spread due to the high speed of the aircraft when crossing the DZ. Aircraft did not slow down or lift their tails. Flak was fairly heavy over the DZ and several aircraft were seen to go down in flames. On landing, most of the Battalion encountered severe MG and sniper fire, which accounted for most of the casualties. There were very little artillery fire. Most of the casualties were on the DZ proper, which was covered by mutually supporting German positions. A good many were dropped east of the DZ because of the speed of the planes, and though enemy fire was not so intense, snipers were fairly active. The Companies reached the rendezvous in good time, and the Battalion objectives were cleared by 1130. Positions were dug, and the men held against probing German patrols, who were either captured or killed. Charlie Co, at the north end of the perimeter, came under severe fire from 100 or 200 yards away, and were constantly repelling probing attack by numbers of German Paratroopers. In the centre and south end Able and Baker Cos respectively held the wooded country. Baker Co took large numbers of prisoners which constituted quite a problem because they numbered almost the strength of the entire Battalion. It was fortunate that Krauts were killed by the hundreds otherwise it would have been impossible to corral and guard them in the early hours of the operation. In the late hours of the afternoon enemy artillery fired, quite inaccurately in the Battalion perimeter. At 1000 recon elements of the 15th Scottish Division linked up with the Battalion, and were warmly welcomed. During the night of March 24/25 three were wounded by enemy shelling. Casualties for the Day were, officers : 2 KIA, 1 MIA, 1 WIA, other ranks : 26 KIA, 3 MIA, 34 WIA. Among the casualties were Lt Col J.A. Nicklin, Commanding Officer, killed. Lt J.J. Brunette, killed. Capt J.A. Clancy, missing. Lt J.I. Davies, wounded.

THE BRITISH ARMY IN NORTH-WEST EUROPE 1944-45 (B 15448) A Cromwell tank crewman of 11th Armoured Division prepares a brew alongside an adopted German calf, 8 March 1945. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205203089
THE BRITISH ARMY IN NORTH-WEST EUROPE 1944-45 (BU 2541) A soldier from 6th Airborne Division escorting a mass of German prisoners from a Luftwaffe field division, during the Rhine crossing, 24-25 March 1945. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205203248
THE BRITISH ARMY IN NORTH-WEST EUROPE 1944-45 (BU 2739) Churchill tank of 6th Guards Tank Brigade carrying paratroopers of the 17th US Airborne Division, Germany, 29 March 1945. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205207005

41. Reorganization of the 1-CPB on the ground was speedily achieved with Major G.F. Eadie assuming command on the CO failing to arrive at the rendezvous; it was not until March 26, that the body of Lt Col Nicklin was found hanging from a tree in his parachute. All the company under Major P.R. Griffin landed in all cases east of the DZ but within 30 minutes had collected 70% of its personnel and by 1130, cleared its objective, reporting a total loss of 13 casualties. Later that day an enemy attacking force, a troublesome mortar crew, and 3 German patrol in the woods were successfully eliminated in turn and numerous prisoners captured. Baker Co, jumped under the command of Capt S.V. McGowan, vice Major C.E. Fuller who at the last moment had to remain at the airfield in England. Capt McGowan on landing received a large hole in his helmet and a slight wound but gallantly carried on until killed in action a few days later. Meeting a very warm reception on the DZ, 2 officers and 12 other ranks failed to reach the rendezvous and several others turned up quite late, one not until D 5. Although reduced in strength, the Company took its objective successfully and established patrols to scour the woods. Outstanding work was done by Sst A.B. Paige, who vith 6 men, captured 98 prisoners on D-day. Charlie Co preceded the whole of the Battalion in the jump, meeting considerable small arms fire on the DZ. Major J.P. Hanson suffered a broken collarbone and had to be evacuated. Capt J.A. Clancy, Company Second-in-Command, was taken prisoner of war immediately upon landing and from his interrogation it is apparent that the Germans did not know whether the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion was part of or surplus to the establishment of British 6th Airborne Division nor whether it was part of the 3rd Parachute Brigade or of the 5th Parachute Brigade. Although without either of its senior officers, Charlie Co put up a good show against strong opposition while under constant shell and mortar fire. Concentrating against the Company a threatening force of men and guns in the nearby woods, the enemy prevented several parties from reaching the gliders on the DZ and staged a strong counter-attack at 0530, the next morning. Charlie Co were fully prepared and with the aid of well-placed supporting weapons were able to beat them off. One of the 3″ mortars cooperating with the PIATs succeeded in knocking out a deadly 88-MM self-propelled gun, thus removing a serious threat to the Battalion.

42. Excellent assistance in the defense was given by the Specialist Platoons of the Support Company under Major R.C. Hilborn, who became Battalion Second-in-Command on the death of the CO. In close contact with Charlie Co, the Vickers Platoon commanded by Lt E.B. Armstrong set itself up astride the main road with two MMGs on the platoon front and one on either flank. Cpl J.L. Chambers, distinguished himself the first day by leading in the rescue of 3 seriously wounded glider pilots. The next day he himself was wounded with one arm rendered useless yet he insisted upon remaining with his gun until orderedto the RAP; on this being set on fire he returned to his post until the action ended. This platoon gave particularly strong support in repelling the major enemy counter-attack during the first night and later captured a Messerschmidt pilot forced to parachute into its lines. Initial casualties of the platoon included 2 killed, 2 wounded, and 3 slightly wounded. The Mortar Platoon under Lt G. Lynch landed to the north of the DZ and while attempting to reach the Battalion HQ its Bren carrier suffered a direct hit. Outstanding heroism in rescuing its crew led to the award of the Victoria Cross to Cpl Frederick Topham. The mortars rendered valuable service to Charlie Co in particular and in two days suffered total casualties of 5 killed and 5 wounded. The PIAT Platoon with Lt D.O. Bolding in Command was distributed among the three rifle companies, four weapons with each. These were most useful in clearing houses and in counteracting enemy SP guns. Platoon casualties were 1 killed and 5 wounded.

43. Complete consolidation of the objectives seized could not have been achieved without the close support rendered by artillery from positions on the west bank of the Rhine immediately after the Airborne troops arrived on the ground. This of necessity had to be observed fire, and each airborne battalion was given a trained artillery observer who parachuted with it in order to radio back fire control directions. The observers adjusted fire visually by day and night and on occasion by sound … for 48 hours they gave to the airborne divisions something unique in airborne annals – observed close support artillery fire in great mass during the crucial period when the airborne division artilleries were seeking to assemble and organize on the ground ((America Observer Report). Attached to the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, as Forwnrd Observation Officer, Capt Boss gave effective service in calling down a concentration of artillery fire on enemy infantry and guns in the woods north-west of Charlie Co’s location. Unfortunately, he was wounded during the shelling on the afternoon of D 1 and had to be evacuated. Later, German artillery fire grew less and less as the Allies extended their foothold and overran the gun sites.

44. FM Montgomery has given great credit to the Allied airborne and ground forces for the impetuous and dash they displayed in the operation. The timing of the airborne attack achieved the element of surprise which had been planned and threw the enemy into confusion, thus accelerating the progress of the assaulting forces. The Airborne Corps took 3500 prisoners during the day and cleared all its objectives according to plan. The US 17th Airborne Division first made contact with the Commandos of the British Second Army about noon and by dark had achieved all objectives. In the afternoon, the 17-A/B also linked up with the British 6th Airborne Division, who had taken all its objectives by 1330, and had made contact at 1530, with the 15th Scottish Division of British 12th Corps of the British Second Army. Recon elements of the Scots were far ahead of the main land forces in reaching the Canadian lines, however, as it was not until 0430, on D 1, that an armored column of the 15th Scottish Division arrived and it was 0800, before the infantry marched in to consolidate the junction of the forces. Later, the Scots passed through the lines of Charlie Co (1-CPB) and proceeded northward along the main road. Stage one having been successfully completed, efforts now were directed towards extension of the bridgehead. … the British 6th Airborne Division commenced a swift advance eastward with the 15th Division, while the 17-A/B, after linking with the main forces of the US Ninth Army, followed suit. (Eisenhower).

45. Enemy shelling slackened off considerably during the second night and by dawn, March 26, the 1-CPB was able to detail squads to sweep the DZ for unit equipment and casualties. At 1000, that morning, orders came for the Canadians to move south-east along the roadside and then skirt the eastern edge of the woods to reach the Brigade assembly area. Remaining there about three hours, the unit, at 1500, began a long trek across open country to the east following minor roads with frequent changes of direction. After crossing the railway line between Wesel and Hamminkeln, the Battalion paused for a meal in a clump of woods and then crossed the upper Issel before finding shelter for the night in barns and houses.

46. Although reveille was at 0530 the next morning, there was no time for breakfast before the advance continued. Traversing upon country until crossing the Issel again further east, the Battalion then was able to advance in the protection afforded by stretches of coniferous trees. The Canadians encountered no resistance until 0945, when fire came from nearby woods. The Mortar and Vickers Platoons immediately went into action, aided by artillery fire brought to bear upon the enemy. A squadron of tanks and armored cars arrived at 1100 to assist in bringing about the swift collapse of German opposition. The Battalion took 18 prisoners and by 1315, had reached its objective. Whereupon companies took up defensive positions and remained static until morning. Other airborne units had met with similar success in their advances. North of the Lippe River the airborne divisions made considerable progress, and enemy resistance on their front was progressively weakening; to add to the weight of their thrust an armored brigade passed through their sector at midnight, March 27. (Montgomery)

47. Resuming its advance at 0800, March 28, the 1-CPB passed north of the Wesel Forest and of the village of Erle, thence along a main road leading eastward. No enemy resistance was encountered until just beyond Rhade, where air bursts were fired overhead from enemy AAA guns located in the woods ahead. That evening, Able and Charlie Cos successfully attacked and destroyed these AAA guns and the Battalion was able to proceed to the village of Lembeck. There the companies took up defensive positions on the outskirts of the town but, were not troubled again.

48. For two nights and a day the Canadians rested while the enemy showed no signs of activity. The weather on March 29, was cloudy with considerable rain but personnel were made happy with an issue of cigarettes and chocolate from the auxiliary services officer. This short rest in Lembeck was very welcome after the week’s fighting and before the long chase across Germany swung into full speed. With both stages of Operation Varsity successfully completed, the door into Germany had been battered down and the Allies had crossed the threshold.

Advance to the Elbe River

49. Through every Rhine bridgehead Allied forces had poured into Germany to complete the encirclement of the Ruhr. By April 1, this had been achieved and the American Armies immediately began operations to eliminate the enemy forces trapped within. Once the Ruhr was no longer a threat, the Supreme Commander saw three main avenues by which the Allies could thrust deeper into Germany. In the north, a route lay across the north German plain toward the Baltic and Berlin. In central Germany, 3 route was open to us through the gap in the enemy’s line created by the trapping of Armee-Gruppe-B (Army Group B) in the Ruhr. In the south, an axis of advance was available through Nurnberg and Regensburg, by the Danube Valley into Austria, where the Russians were already threatening Vienna. Weighing the relative ‘advantages which would accrue from an advance in strength in either north, centre, or south, Eisenhower decided that an offensive first in the centre would prove the most effective.

50. This decision necessitated modification of the plans of FM Montgomery, who on March 28, had directed the British Second Army and the US Ninth Armies to drive hard for the line of the River Elbe so as to gain quick possession of the plains of northern Germany. This is the time to take risks and to go ‘flat out’ for the Elbe. If we reach the Elbe quickly, we win the war.

To take part in this drive the 8th Corps had been brought up from reserve and placed on tho right of the Second Army. The Supreme Commander’s decision, however, called for the US Ninth Army including the US 17th Airborne Division to be removed from the British 21st Army Group on April 4, in order to form the left wing of the American offensive, thus reducing the striking power in the north. The aim of the British 21st Army Group remained to reach the line of the Elbe in our sector. Now that the Allies would not be so relatively strong in the northern sector, it was to be anticipated that these tasks would take longer than previously hoped, and the Second Army would require to watch for the security of its southern flank. It was decided to establish an intermediate phase in the advance to the Elbe on the line of the Weser, Aller and Leine rivers. It had also been intended, prior to the change in the overall Allied plan, to employ the US XVIII Corps (Airborne) on the right of 8th Corps, to capture Munster. This Corps, however, ceased to be operational on March 30, and it was left to the XIII Corps, under the Ninth Army, to reduce Munster on April 3. The British elements assigned in the US XVIII Corps (Airborne), the British 6th Airborne Division had passed to the 8th Corps on March 29. Other formations under command of the 8th Corps were the 15th Infantry Division (UK) and the 11th Armoured Division (UK).

51. The new plan was issued to Montgomery’s 21st Army Group on April 5. The British Second Army now had the 30th Corps on the left, 12th Corps in the centre, and the 8th Corps on the right, where enemy resistance proved to be lightest although the Germans did a thorough job of demolishing bridges over a network of waterways. The 8th Corps nevertheless was able to cross the Dortmund-Ems canal without undue difficulty and to clear Osnabruck. On April 5, the 6th Airborne Division captured Minden on the Weser River and seized a bridgehead over the river. On April 7, the 8th Corps advanced north from the Weser and by April 10, had established bridgeheads over the Aller River. Thereafter hard fighting took place around Uelzen, south-east of Hamburg, before advance elements reached the Elbe River on April 19, and several days were required to mop up the enemy. Eventually, by April 24, the west bank of the river had been cleared throughout the Corps sector. About the same time, the 12th Corps closed to the Elbe just south of Hamburg and later the 30th Corps, having paused to take Bremen, crossed the Weser to reach the Elbe estuary below Hamburg.

5.5-inch guns firing in support of the Rhine crossing, 24 March 1945.
BU 2140
Part of
WAR OFFICE SECOND WORLD WAR OFFICIAL COLLECTION
No 5 Army Film & Photographic Unit
Malindine E G (Capt)

52. Advancing over 200 miles with relatively light strength for so wide a sector, the Second Amy had thus lined itself up on the Elbe in very good time. The War Diary of the 1st Canadian Parachute battalion relates many interesting experiences and incidents which occurred during this swift dash into northern Germany. Earlier aspects in which the Canadian paratroopers for the first time rode into battle on tanks are described by Patrick Forbes in his book 6th Guards Tank Brigade.

53. On March 30, the 1-CPB embussed in RASC lorries at Lembeck and at 0915, moved off northward to Coesfeld, which RAF bombers had completely wrecked. There the Canadians met #1 and #3 Squadrons of the 4th Battalion Grenadier Guards, 6th Guards Tank Brigade, who had been delayed an hour in getting through the rubble in the town and by 1000, were preparing to make a lightning dash to capture a vital bridge over the Ems River at Graven, 35 miles distant. The Paratroopers of Able and Baker Cos were ordered to debuss and climb on the tanks of these two squadrons, a Company to each squadron. In both cases the leading troop carried no Infantry so that their guns could be fired immediately if opposition was encountered. At first a series of delays were encountered as both squadrons attempted to race along winding roads. #3 on the left had to clear booby-traps trees felled where the road crossed a small range of hills. Then, on receiving a warning from a Frenchman who had appointed himself as guide, lightly-armoured Honey tanks had to be sent ahead to shoot up a Hitler Jugend Barracks. The crew of the leading one was practically wiped out, whereupon the paratroopers immediately jumped off the tanks and aided by the unorthodox but extremely effective manœuvres of the Frenchman, disposed of the Hitler Jugend. Following the main road, meanwhile, #1 Squadron was fired on with Panzerfausts in Billerbecke. The Canadians Paratroopers acting as terriers and the tanks as guns, the Panzerfaustmen stead no chance. It was now a race against nightfall. Both squadrons pushed on at top speed, but #3 ran into another road block at Darfelt which, with the aid of the local priest, they were able to pass but too late to proceed further that night. #1 Squadron consequently raced on alone and found Altenburg full of surrender signs and like a deserted town.

The deafening roar of the Churchill engines reverberated through the narrow streets and the only sign of life came from the groups of paratroopers huddled together on the back of the tanks. As they emerged on the eastern side of the town the light was fading, but they could just pick out the chimneys of Graven five miles away in the valley below. There ~as a steep tarmac road leading down into the valley, and the tanks rushed hell for leather down it. As the lead in troop was reaching the bottom, someone suddenly noticed a long column of enemy lorries fleeing for all they were worth along a road leading away to the north. In a flash the turrets of the whole Squadron revolved round to the left and Besa fire streamed into the retreating Germans. But there was no time to stop. The tanks sped on through one village, then another, dealing on the way with an enemy staff car, fleeing bicyclists, and many other targets which the gunners could not resist. They never slowed down until they had reached the suburbs of Graven, 500 yards from the bridge, where the paratroopers jumped off to rush forward and take it. In less than ten minutes it was in their hands – or so they thought – because only one bridge was marked on the map. But there were in actual fact two, and the one they had taken led to an island in the middle of the Ems. Twenty minutes later, there was a blinding flash followed by a loud explosion and the real bridge, 300 yards upstream, crashed into the water. They had been truly, if slightly prematurely, April-fooled but, to a small extent, the column got their own back on the Germans that night. For just after the bridge was blown, a passenger train came steaming into Graven carrying German soldiers on leave from the Russian front. The Canadians allowed them to kiss their wives and then promptly marched them off to spend their leave in a prisoner of war cage. No one got much sleep that night because at about 3 o’clock in the morning the Germans blew up a huge ammunition dump on the other side of the river, and the fires and explosions did not die down for many hours. This map error was most unfortunate as the second bridge could have been taken with little trouble, but in capturing the town, Able Co did great execution. Canadian losses during the day included Capt McGowan killed in action and five other ranks wounded at night, however, heavy enemy shelling brought further casualties.

A Churchill tank crew and US Airborne troops in Munster, 4 April 1945.
BU 2931
Part of
WAR OFFICE SECOND WORLD WAR OFFICIAL COLLECTION
No 5 Army Film & Photographic Unit
Hewitt (Sgt)
12th AD soldier with German prisoners of war, April 1945.

54. Rain returned the next day and the morning was spent impatiently waiting for a Bailey Bridge to be built across tho Ems River. During the afternoon the 1-CPB, together again, crossed on foot and passed through the 8th and the 9th Parachute Bns to halt on the west bank of the Dortmund-Ems Canal. Once more, heavy enemy shelling during the night, caused several casualties.

55. In teeming rain the next morning the Battalion crossed the canal on a blown bridge passable only on foot, and with Charlie Co leading proceeded to attack Ladborgen (Greven). The village was defended by one 40-MM and two 20-MM AAA guns supported by a platoon of infantry, most of whom were killed. Several Bn HQ officers who had carried hay-boxes of compo food across the canal later arrived at Ladborgen in an exhausted condition, only to find the troops eating fried chicken, eggs, vegetables and various preserved fruits. The Battalion rested there over 36 hours while the enemy HQ at Iburg less than 12 miles east remained blissfully unaware the invaders were even across the Dortmund-Ems Canal, for a German dispatch rider captured April 2, bore a message to the local commander at Ladborgen informing him not to expect further reinforcements.

56. Taking to the road again on April 3, and preceded by the 8-PB and the 9-PB, the Canadians drove in lorries 40 miles to Wissingen (Osnabrück). Rain poured down but the enemy showed no signs of opposition. Early the next morning, however, the Battalion transport officer was ambushed while retracing part of the route and his driver was killed. Many such pockets of resistance had to be left for others to mop up and prisoners usually had to be passed back without interrogation due to lack of time. The 8-PB riding on tanks led the way via Lübbecke, causing great havoc until finally becoming pinned down on the outskirts of Minden. It was decided to attack after dark. The Battalion entered Minden at 2345, and after a long wait it was found by it scouting party to be empty. The Battalion took over the town, and all was finally reported clear at 0230, April 5. Battalion HQ set up in the Victoria Hotel, the best in town, and lived in grand style for the rest of the night. A peculiar feature of the day was that Minden was an objective of a unit of the US Ninth Army, on our right. But our Brigade Commander, Brig Hill, pushed on and took it before they had a chance to do anything about it. The Americans had laid on 350 B-17 Fortresses to bomb the town if it hadn’t surrendered by 2000, but they called it all off when they found our troops in the town. The Americans took over Minden in the morning and the 1-CPB moved to Kutenhausen (Minden), which was occupied after a sharp skirmish. Billeted in houses there, personnel wore issued with their large packs in anticipation of several days rest. However, this respite lasted only one day, during which 3 officers and 100 other ranks arrived as much-needed reinforcements from England.

57. On April 7, the unit marched across the Weser to Lahde (Petershagen), where Able and Baker Cos climbed aboard the tanks of their old friends the 4th Battalion Guards, while the remainder of the Battalion’s fighting troops continued on foot. The enemy offered no resistance that day but it was well after dark before resting places were reached at Wölpinghausen and Altenhagen (Celle). The next day, Charlie Co together with the Vickers and Mortars replaced Able and Baker Cos on the tanks and #1 Squadron carrying the Canadians captured Wünstorf. Thereupon the Recon Regiment of 6th Guards Tank Brigade went about two miles ahead of the tanks to take intact a bridge over a minor tributary of the Leine River which flowed down to Hanover, a city that an US Armored Division was attempting to encircle. After seizing this bridge at Luthe, the armored cars found themselves cut off by a German tank or two, and SP gun, and supporting infantry which had been overlooked. Help was urgently required. #1 Squadron immediately went into the attack with the Canadians. One of the Canadian sergeants was overheard giving out his orders : I guess we gotta get this bridge and if we hit anything, don’t you guys sit around. Let’s go. They certainly did not sit around and the Germans reluctantly retreated. In so doing, however, they overran the armored cars and the occupants had to hide in the woods until the tanks arrived. Happily no lives were lost as the result of the incident, but it was a perfect example of how the Germans used a couple of tanks and a few Infantry to slow down for a short time tho advance across Germany.

Further opposition was encountered at Ricklingen when Able Co, leading the attack on a bridge across the Leine River, met fire from machine guns and a Ferdinand SP gun. Four casualties resulted but the objective was taken intact. The bridge was found to be prepared for demolition, but the Regiment’s Engineers cut the explosives away and rendered the bridge safe. US troops of the Ninth Army took over just before dark, and the 1-CPB moved back to billeting area in Luthe.

Three 14 year-old German prisoners of war eating rations in front of a group of other POWs, 29 March 1945. The boys were captured by 6th Armoured Division, Third US Army, near Frankfurt-am-Main.
German prisoners under guard during the Rhine crossing, 24 March 1945.
BU 2174
Part of
WAR OFFICE SECOND WORLD WAR OFFICIAL COLLECTION
No 5 Army Film & Photographic Unit
Harrison (Sgt)

58. This day of intense activity was followed by one of rest in Luthe, after which the 1-CPB advanced northward by lorry to recross the Leine at Neustadt am Rübenberge and then marched east from Metel to Brelingen. A stay of 3 days in billets there allowed time for bath parades and church services, although the Battalion was kept busy with petty troubles of the local populace until the Military Government officials arrived. On April 14, the unit marched to the suburbs of Celle, where several suspected werewolves were captured. The next day, a long advance by lorry was intended but a halt for the night had to be made at Eschede. The British 6th Air Landing Brigade had met heavy fighting around Uelzen, which prevented the Canadians from occupying their designated area to the south-east. A German aircraft aiding this delaying action dropped a bomb on Baker Co, killing two and wounding two. On April 16, the Battalion could advance only as far as Nettelkamp, which the 6th Air Landing Brigade had just left.

59. On April 17, reveille was at 0200 for night advance accompanied for the first time by a mobile radar section whose function was to locate tanks, guns, mortars, etc. Pausing briefly about four miles east of Uelzen at Hanstedt II, the Battalion was joined at 0700 by tanks and embussed to move on Ratzlingen. The 9-PB was already in the town and having some trouble. The enemy withdrew, having suffered some casualties, and our Battalion mounted an attack on Reistedt, to which the enemy had withdrawn. The Battalion attacked, dismounted over open ground with tanks and artillery giving fire support. As the Canadians moved forward the tanks moved with them. In Reistedt, the enemy had left 3 SP guns behind and a number of dead soldiers. The town was taken by 1330. The Battalion dug in and placed AT guns, expecting a counter-attack with armor. This failed to materialize but exchanges of shelling and mortar fire occupied the balance of that day and the next, with occasional skirmishing by patrols. The Battalion took 117 prisoners in a period of 24 hours. During the night, Capt Clancy, who had been taken prisoner on March 24, on the DZ, turned up having escaped from a marching column of POWs. He took command of Able Co. Soon all enemy activity ceased end the Battalion marched back to Hanstedt II for a brief stay.

60. On April 21 1945, the 1-CPB moved north-west by lorry via Uelzen to billets in a rest location south of Luneburg at Kolkhagen, remaining there approximately nine days. This relief from active fighting permitted the Brigade Commander and Battalion Commander-in-Chief to inspect the unit, the Medical Co to bring personnel up to date with vaccinations and inoculations, the padres to conduct services, and the YMCA to show films. While the rifle companies undertook drill and PT with games, the Mortar and Vickers Platoons entered a Brigade competitive shoot.

61. At this stage the British and American forces were closing in along almost the entire length of the Elbe River, which after the Rhine River is considered to be the most important river in Germany. On the front of British Second Army it was about 300-400 yards wide, with dykes similar in construction and appearance to those which existed in the Rhine valley. There was a number of ferries in the area, but only one bridge, a railway bridge at Lauenburg, and this had bean destroyed by the enemy. The German Army was in too great a state of disintegration, however, to take proper advantage of this natural barrier, and the Allies were able to cross without the extensive preparations which the Rhine had demanded.

Advance to the Baltic

62. On April 25 1945, the Allies achieved the object of their major thrust into the centre of Germany when the Americans met the Russians south-east of Berlin near Torgau, thus splitting the enemy in two. Although it was not conceivable that resistance could long be maintained in the northern German Plain, it was possible that some withdrawal might be attempted into Denmark and Notvisy with a view to make a last stand in those countries, while Fortress Holland would also continue to hold out behind the water barriers, the prevention of such a withdrawal, by means of a rapid Allied advance to the Baltic, thus became the primary object of our operations in the northern sector (Eisenhower). The reason for the extreme haste with which this manœuvre was conducted, obviously to the great surprise of the Russians, has been explained by Gen Eisenhower.

Rumors of an impending local capitulation in the north also reached the Allies in mid-April. Generalfeldmarschall Ernst Busch, commanding the Hamburg area, was stated to be anti-Nazi and willing to surrender, but unable to do so until the Western Allies reached the Baltic and cut him off from the possibility of the arrival of die-hard Waffen-SS formations from central Germany. Generaloberst Georg Lindemann, the commander in Denmark, was also understood to be ready to yield at the same time as Busch, and on April 30, an emissary appeared in Stockholm to confirm this. It was urged that the British Army should make all spend to reach the Baltic before the Russians did so, for the Germans would under no circumstances surrender to the Red Army.

To aid the British 21st Army Group in performing this task, right flank protection was provided by placing under command the US XVIII Corps (Airborne) consisting of the US 8th Infantry Division, the US 7th Armored Division, and the US 82nd Airborne Division. Orders issued on April 22 called for the British 8th Corps to assault across the Elbe River in the area of Lauenburg in order to establish a bridgehead then to thrust northward to capture Lubeck. The US XVIII Corps (Airborne) was to create a second bridgehead to the right and from it secure the east flank north of the Elbe on the general line Darchau – Schwerin – Wismar. The British 6th Airborne Division would remain with 8th Corps until the bridgehead was formed, then be transferred to the XVIII Corps. This changeover was effected on May 1 1945 at 1500.

Anticipating that contact would be made very shortly with the Russians, FM Montgomery directed that, to avoid confusion, and to prevent expansion into areas occupied by the Red Army, our troops will halt as and where then meet Russian forces. The local commander will decide what adjustments are then necessary in order to deal with any remaining enemy opposition. When all hostilities have ceased in an area, troops will be disposed in accordance with military requirements, regardless of ultimate zone boundaries …

63. On April 29, the 15th Scottish Division in amphibious craft led the assault of the British 8th Corps across the Elbe River. The 1-CPB did not cross that day but marched as far as Holzen. The initial bridgehead was therefore well secured and the Americans were forming theirs when the Canadians crossed at 1635, April 30, just west of Launburg. Advancing eastward without resistance, the Battalion suffered no casualties in seizing its objective, an important road and rail crossing near Boisenburg. Civilians appeared eager to cooperate, reporting several suspected Gestapo agents. That night, shells fell on Charlie Co’s positions, presumably fired by American artillery from the west bank of the River in support of the enlargement of their bridgehead. No casualties were caused, though it was a matter of hours before contact was made with the Americans responsible for the shelling. It caused a great deal of concern to Charlie Co since there was a huge German ammunition train on the railroad in their area. Contact with the US troops on the left was made at 1000, May 1, and active patrolling continued to net numbers of prisoners.

64. May 2 1945, has been aptly described by the unit diarist as “an history-making day”. It began with the arrival of tanks of the Scots Greys to lift Baker Co and of RASC troop carrying vehicles for Able and Charlie Cos. The Battalion embussed at 0500, intending to reach Wittenberg at noon but arriving there at 0920, due to lack of opposition. Brigadier Hill decided to push on as far as was possible, since it appeared that resistance was fast crumbling. A refueling stop would be made at Lutzow, where tanks would be filled with all the reserve petrol the TCVs were carrying. In a wood at Lutzow just before the refueling point, we came across a German workshop detachment, numbering some 3000 troops, who had had orders to surrender. The confusion was indescribable in that wood. German civilian women, men, end children were there with the troops, and when the troops were lined up three deep on the road, many had their wives and children with them, to accompany them on the trek back to PW cage. This was because the rumor was ripe that the Russian Army was only nine miles away. The civilians and soldiers were terrified of the Russians, and wanted only to be taken by us.

After refueling the tanks we moved off again at top speed. All resistance had collapsed, because the Germans wanted us to go as far as possible. They reasoned that the more territory we occupied, the less the Russians could occupy. Thousands of German troops lined the roads and crowded the Villages, some even cheering us on, though most were despondent-looking mob.

On reaching Wismar, Baker Co vas sent straight through the town to take up positions beyond the railway and astride a main road leading into the town from the north. Charlie Co, was sent to the east edge of the town to cover the bridges and the road leading in from the east. Able Co was held in reserve in the area of the Market Place, near Battalion HQ, which was set up in the Frundt Hotel on the ABC Strasse. All posisions were reported covered, and the situation was well under control. All afternoon and all through the night German refugees and soldiers came through our lines by the thousands. On the night of May 2, a Russian officer arrived in a jeep with his driver. It was quite unofficial, since he had no idea we were in Wismar until he came to our barrier. He had come far in advance of his own columns, and was quite put out to find us sitting on what was the Russians’ ultimate objective.

65. Traffic congestion constituted a major problem and all refugees had to be ordered into the fields while German prisoners were sent to the rear and hundreds of released Allied POWs were directed to the airport of Lüneburg where a ferry service was already in operation. Relations with the Russians were most cordial; the unit War Diary records many examples of friendship and none of friction. There was considerable visiting being done between officers of the Battalion and Russian officers. It turned out that the Battalion had several excellent Russian speakers, one of whom was attached permanently to Gen Bols’ Staff for the high level’ work. Gen Bols was very pleased with his work. Maj Hilborn acted as chief liaison officer between the Battalion and the Russians, and was wined and dined by them at great length. He brought in several distinguished visitors, who proved to be the most persistent and thirsty drinkers we had ever met. The first contact was made between Charlie Co and the Russian Scout Officer on the night of March 2-3, but the first contact with numbers of troops was by Baker Co to the north of Wismar, with Lt P.G. Insole doing the handshaking and Vodka-drinking on behalf of the Battalion.

66. Once the junction had been effected quite obviously the end of the war was in sight. On the same day that Wismar was occupied Lubeck fell and Hamburg capitulated. The enemy were abandoning the struggle in Italy, in southern Germany and Austria, and effective 0800, May 5 1945, all Germans opposing the British 21st Army Group surrendered unconditionally. On May 7, Generalobert Alfred Jodl (Chief of the Operations Staff of the Armed Forces High Command – Oberkommando der Wehrmacht), signed the act of surrender on behalf of the German High Command and the complete capitulation was ratified in Berlin on May 9 1945.

Victory day, World War II, USSR, 1945. A woman celebrating the defeat of Nazi Germany with members of the victorious Soviet Red Army. Found in the collection of the Moscow Photo Museum (House of Photography). (Photo by Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

Victory day, World War II, USSR, 1945. A woman celebrating the defeat of Nazi Germany with members of the victorious Soviet Red Army. Found in the collection of the Moscow Photo Museum (House of Photography)

67. The Victory Day celebrations for the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion included joint festivities with the Russians and with British comrades-in-arms. On May 11, the GOC of the British 6th Airborne Division reviewed the 3rd Parachute Brigade, including the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, the German people turning out en masse to watch docilely but sullenly. 10 days later, a memorial and thanksgiving service was held in the Nikolaikirche in Wisnar. After active operations ceased it was essential to keep the troops busy and contented by providing a variety of entertainment to compensate for the ‘non fraternization’. The problem of recreation was partly solved by the YMCA, which did invaluable work in providing equipment for softball, football, rugby and other games. Every day those who wished could either go sailing in the luxury boats on the Harbor, or go on a swimming party, for which recreational transport was provided. It was only a matter of a very few days, however, before the Battalion was ordered back to England, and the personnel emplaning at Lüneburg, arriving at their old barracks in Bulford in two parties on May 20 and May 21. This was the third and final return of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion from the European battlefields.

Repatriation and Disbanding

68. With a magnificent record of two parachute jumps into major battles and a total of practically seven months intensive front-line fighting, the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion on its return to England received high words of praise from British, American, and Canadian military leaders. Brigadier James Hill, Commanding the 3rd Parachute Brigade, wrote to Lt Col G.F. Eadie :

    I shall for ever remember, with great pride, that I had the honor to have under my command, both in and out of battle, a Canadian Battalion which is regarded by all of us as fine a fighting unit as has ever left these shores.

The Battalion had been the first Canadian unit to touch down in Normandy, one of the first to cross the Rhine, and the first to link hands with the Russians on the shores of the Baltic. Now it gained the privilege of being the first Canadian Army unit to be repatriated.

69. On May 27 1945, all ranks were recalled to Bulford from nine days’ privilege leave, which they had begun but three days before, and were ordered to prepare for return to Canada. On May 31, the first draft left for a Canadian Repatriation Depot at Cove, Hampshire, thus ending almost two years association with the 6th British Airborne Division. Maj Gen Bols, Brig Hill, and many members of the divisional and brigade staff were at hand to give the Canadians a royal send-off. Bulford siding was decorated with flags and bunting, including a large parachute badge and gold maple leaf, and as the train pulled away, a band played ‘Auld Lang Syne’.


A fortnight later, the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion embarked on the Ile de France, which sailed on June 15 and docked in Halifax on June 21. Led by Lt Col G.F. Eadie, the Battalion paraded that afternoon through the streets of Halifax with the salute taken by Maj Gen A.E. Walford, Adjutant-General. This was the prelude to Welcome Home receptions across Canada as drafts dispersed to their Military Districts and officers and Men reached home.

70. Following 30 days disembarkation leave, all ranks reassembled at Niagara-on-the-Lake. The Battalion did not form part of the Canadian Pacific Force nor was it assigned a specific task for the future. With the end of the Japanese War in August 1945, therefore, its personnel were made available for discharge. So, by General Order 18 dated January 17 1946, the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, Canadian Infantry Corps, was disbanded effective September 30 1945.

Casualties and Decorations

71. Report No 139, op cit, tabulates the following battle casualties incurred by the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion in France during its first period of action, June 6 1944 – September 6 1944 :

Killed in Action and Died of Wounds : 5 officers and 66 other ranks
Wounded in Action : 16 officers and 184 other ranks
Missing in Action : – officer and 5 other ranks
Prisoner of War : 3 officers and 83 other ranks

The following statistics compiled by the Headquarters Canadian Military, indicate the total casualties of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion for the whole of its service in the War of 1939-1945 :

Killed in Action : 9 officers (*) and 86 other ranks
Died of Wounds : – officer and 26 other ranks
Wounded in Action : 19 officers and 267 other ranks
Wounded Prisoner of War : 1 officer and 4 other ranks

(*) This figure includes Hon/Capt Geo A. Harris of the Canadian Chaplain Service, who was killed in action while serving with the Battalion in Normpandy, France, on June 7 1944.

72. Comparison of these figures suggest that the unit’s heaviest fighting took place in France. The Battalion was in action there for a period twice as long as in Germany, and its battle casualties on D-Day in Normandy warp more than double those on D-Day of the Rhine crossing. In the descent of March 24 1945, however, the paratroopers were able to apply against a weakened enemy the full effects or further trainig and extensive combat experience. For gallantry during that engagement, Company Sergeant-Major G.W. Green, M.M., received the Distinguished Conduct Medal and Military Medals were awarded to Sergeant Aurelle Bray and Private J.O. Quigley. It is fitting that this report should conclude with the citation accompanying an award of the Empire’s highest decoration for valor.

The first Canadian Victoria Cross medal – produced by the Government of Canada

Award of
THE VICTORIA CROSS

to
B.39039 Corporal Frederick George Topham
1st Canadian Parachute Battalion

(Citation) On March 24, 1945, Corporal Topham, a medical ordely parachuted with his Battalion onto a strongly defended area east of the Rhine River. At about 1100, whilst treating casualties sustained in the drop, a cry for help cane from a wounded man in the open. Two medics orderlies from a Field Ambulance went out to this man in succession but both were killed as they knelt beside the casualty. Without hesitation and on his own initiative Corporal Topham went forward through intense fire to replace the orderlies who had been killed before his eyes. As he worked on the wounded man, he was himself shot through the nose. In spite of severe bleeding and intense pain he never faltered in his task. Having completed immediate first aid, he carried the wounded man steadily and slowly back through continuous fire to the shelter of the woods. During the next two hours Corporal Topham refused all offers of medical help for his own wound. He worked most devotedly throughout this period to bring in wounded, showing complete disregard for the heavy and accurate enemy fire. It was only when all casualties had been cleared that he consented to his own wound being treated. His immediate evacuation was ordered, but he interceded so earnestly on his own behalf that he was eventually allowed to return to duty. On his way back to his company he came across a across a carrier which had received a direct hit. Enemy mortar bombs were still dropping around, the carrier itself was burning fiercely and its own mortar amnunition was exploding, an experienced officer on the spot had warned all not to approach the carrier. Corporal Topham, however, immediately went out alone in spite of the blasting ammunition and enemy fire, and rescued the three occupants of the carrier. He brought these men back across the open and, although one died almost immediately afterward, he arranged for the evacuation of the other two, who undoubtedly owe their lives to him. This non-commissioned officer showed sustained gallantry of the highest order, for six hours, most of the time in great pain. He performed a series of acts of outstanding bravery and his magnificent and selfless courage inspired all those who witnessed it.

For all purposes :
European Center of Military History
Gunter ‘Doc Snafu’ Gillot
rue des Thiers 8
Francorchamps 4970
Belgium
Email : gunter [at] eucmh.be





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(NB : Published for Good – March 2019)

 

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