(54-) Rain returned the next day and the morning was spent impatiently waiting for a Bailey Bridge to be built across the 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 Apr 2, bore a message to the local commander at Ladborgen informing him not to expect further reinforcements.
(56-) Taking to the road again on Apr 3, and preceded by the 8 and 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 its scouting party to be empty. The Battalion took over the town, and all was finally reported clear at 0230, Apr 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 9-A, 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 Apr 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 the #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, an 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 the 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 9-A took over just before dark, and the 1-CPB moved back to the billeting area in Luthe.
(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 Apr 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 UK 6th Air Landing Brigade had met heavy fighting around Uelzen, which prevented the Canadians from occupying their designated area to the southeast. A German aircraft aiding this delaying action dropped a bomb on Baker Co, killing two and wounding two. On Apr 16, the Battalion could advance only as far as Nettelkamp, which the 6th Air Landing Brigade had just left.
(59-) On Apr 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, the Battalion was joined at 0700 by tanks and embussed to move on Lauenburg. 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 counterattack 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 Mar 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 and the Battalion marched back to Hanstedt for a brief stay.
(60-) On Apr 21, the 1-CPB moved northwest 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 UK 2-A 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 been 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 Apr 25, the Allies achieved the object of their major thrust into the center of Germany when the Americans met the Russians south-east of Berlin near Torgau, thus splitting the enemy in two.
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 Apr 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 UK 21-AG in performing this task, right flank protection was provided by placing under command the US XVIII Corps (Airborne) consisting of the US 8-ID, the US 7-AD, and the US 82-A/B. Orders issued on Apr 22 called for the UK VIII 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 UK 6-A/B would remain with the VIII Corps until the bridgehead was formed, then be transferred to the XVIII Corps. This changeover was effected on May 1, 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 Apr 29, the 15th Scottish Division in amphibious craft led the assault of the British VIII 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, Apr 30, just west of Lauenburg. 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 which had caused a great deal of concern to the members of Charlie Company 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, has been aptly described by the unit diarist as a 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. Brig Hill decided to push on as far as 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 inside the city, on the Market Place, near Battalion HQ, which was set up in the Frundts Hotel. 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 no 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 Mar 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 UK 21-AG surrendered unconditionally. On May 7, Generaloberst Alfred Jodl (Chief of 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.
(67-) The Victory Day celebrations for the 1-CPB included joint festivities with the Russians and with UK comrades-in-arms. On May 11, the GOC of the UK 6-A/B reviewed the Canadian 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 Wismar. 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.
(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 the return to Canada. On May 31, the first draft left for a Canadian Repatriation Depot at Cove, Hampshire, thus ending almost two years of association with the UK 6-A/B. 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 Jun 15, and docked in Halifax on Jun 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 Aug 1945, therefore, its personnel were made available for discharge. So, by General Order 18 dated Jan 17, 1946, the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, Canadian Infantry Corps, was disbanded effective Sept 30, 1945.
(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, Jun 6, 1944, – Sept 6, 1944: KIA and DOW: 5 officers and 66 other ranks; WIA: 16 officers and 184 other ranks; MIA: 0 officer and 5 other ranks; POWs: 3 officers and 83 other ranks.
The following statistics compiled by the HQs Canadian Military, indicate the total casualties of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion for the whole of its service in the War of 1939-1945: KIA: 9 officers (*) and 86 other ranks; DOW: 0 officer and 26 other ranks; WIA: 19 officers and 267 other ranks; WIAZ-POWs: 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 Normandy, France, on Jun 7, 1944.
(72-) Comparison of these figures suggests 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 Mar 24, 1945, however, the paratroopers were able to apply against a weakened enemy the full effects of further training 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.
Note: Additional researches, Compilation, Iconography: Doc Snafu
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