Dad’s War: Breakout to V.E. Day

Come 25th August 1944 and Paris had been liberated by French and US Forces and the British and Canadians were on the move again. The Canadians took Rouen on the Seine 29th August and the British took Amiens on the Somme 31st August. Some of the American troops landing in Normandy had moving South intent on joining French and other forces that had attacked the South East Coast and were moving inland. The Germans were evacuating from the Bay of Biscay and the Spanish border. Soon French and American forces would meet taking Bordeaux and not long after Montelimar.

On 1st September General Omar Bradley was put in command of a new 12th Army Group with plans to move East over the Moselle river pushing onto the German Western Front. Remember the Germans were also fighting the Russians on the Eastern Front. In the following two weeks they would cross the Meuse and the Moselle, take Liege in Belgium, occupy Luxembourg and cross the Belgium – German border at Aachen.

The British 21st Army now comprised the British 2nd Army and the 1st Canadian Army.
The Canadian Army were given the role of freeing the coastal ports and we learn more about that in a section below. Their armoured brigades (tanks) were not needed for these tasks and they crossed the Somme, took St. Omer, then crossed the Franco-Belgian border and overcame enemy forces at Ypres and Passchendaele before reaching Roulers in Belgium. The British 2nd Army were also on the move north into Belgium taking Brussels, Antwerp and Ghent. They crossed the Albert Canal and so moved closer to the borders of the Netherlands and Germany.

The map above shows lines of advances. In the month to the 14th of September the allies front line had moved from position 2 to position 3, close to the borders of the Netherlands and Germany. By comparison it had taken  over 8 weeks fom D-Day to get to position 2.

An Account of 4AGRA Involvement

This account concerns the 4AGRA 53rd medium regiment but gives us an insight into the role of the artillery. It says :-
“The Race To The Seine was on. The Regiment started its move early on the 17th under the command of 7th Armoured Division whose objective was the high ground east of Lisieux ( Due South of Le Havre and Due East of Falaise) This was a particularly exciting time for the Regiment as it exposed the troops to a new type of warfare supporting the fast-moving armoured units.
Although on the first day the guns were constantly moving forward to fire in support of the various armoured elements of 7th Armoured Division in reality they did not travel very far. It was another two days before they started to really get going – in fact on the 19th they liberated the village of Livarot on their way to the outskirts of Lisieux. The guns were held up by skilful rearguard action for another 48 hours before some fast moving on the 23rd and some lively shooting at the Seine crossing.
The battle ran away from them on the morning of 29 August. Positioned near Routot (South of the Seine West of Rouen) the Regiment paused while the armour raced across north-eastern France towards Brussels”

The 1st Canadian Army and Clearing the Coastal Ports.

The Canadian army had advanced over the Seine when on the 25th August it was assigned the task of clearing the coastal areas and opening the English Channel ports for supplies vital to the Allied advance. Taking control of the coastal defences would also stop the German rockets being fired at Southern England. It would be a difficult task because the Germans had been expecting an invasion, but not knowing where this would take place, they had prepared all the ports with fortifications and strong defences. With these new orders British 1 Corps peeled off for the port of Le Havre, whilst the Canadian 2nd Corps headed for the port of Dieppe.

Dieppe: Operation Fusilade 1/9/1944: The port was abandoned and the Canadian 2nd Division were welcomed into Dieppe. The first ship was able to deliver there on 6/9/44 after which a train departed for Brussels on the 9th of September.The last V-1 Rocket was fired from Dieppe on 1/9/44.
Dunkirk: 5/9/44 to May 45: The 2nd Canadian division were having trouble clearing out the approaches to Dunkirk and some units suffered very heavy casualties. Dunkirk was placed under Siege, during which on 14/10/1944 a truce was called to allow 18,000 Civilians and wounded belonging to both sides out. Surrender did not occur until the end of the war in the May of 1945.
Le Havre: 10/9/44 to 12/9/44: The British 1st Corps had arrived at the heavily defended Le Havre. It had a series of strong natural defences as bodies of water completely prevented access from the south, east and west. The north side of the port was heavily fortified, with a 7 metre deep by 3 metre wide anti-tank ditch. There were pillboxes with anti-tank and machine guns and 1,500 mines. Defenders were said to number about 8,000, of which 4,000 were artillery troops.
The port was captured with few military casualties. Artillery and air assaults had destroyed 350 ships and 18 kilometres of docks. They had made 80,000 people homeless and 15,000 buildings were in ruins. Le Havre was not operational until October 44
Boulogne 17/9/44 to 22/9/44 was defended by three Forts. The operation was delayed by supply difficulties and by the need to complete operations at Le Havre before necessary armour and artillery could become available. About 8,000 civilians were expelled from the Port by the Occupiers. They provided useful information for the Canadian attackers. Continued bombing and a creeping artillery barrages were used to dishearten the garrison and obtain the surrender of the 2nd of three forts. Because of sunken ships and mines the port was not open until late October.
Callais and Cap-Griz-Nez 25/9/44 to 30/9/44  Although it had now been decided that opening Antwerp for supplies would have priority heavy batteries at Cap-Griz-Nez were threatening the sea approach to Boulogne so both ports were to be taken. The pattern was to be the same, sealing off the, softening up the defenders using Artillery, Aerial and Naval attacks and then perform attacks with support from rolling Infantry Barrages.
Attacks started on 25th September at Callais. Some early attempts by groups of Germans to surrender resulted in them being shot down by their own side. On the 29th of September a truce was called so that 20,000 civilians could be released. Many of the German drivers who brought the civilians half way to Canadian transport surrendered. Callais surrendered 30/9/44 but because of damage the port was not open until late November.
Cap-Griz-Nez had two forts with very heavy guns defending them. It received heavy bombing, including that from two large guns at Dover named Winnie and Pooh. A number of infantry attacks were made. On the 29th September at 06.35 the Artillery started a 10 minute Creeping Barrage with the infantry following it. The defenders were under real pressure and by 10.30 they had surrendered.

4AGRA Accounts of the taking of the Ports

One says that at Le Havre 4AGRA were deployed in near full view of the enemy, putting the port under seige, with parleys, white flags and artillery duels before the port fell on the 13th September
Another account says that the 53rd regiment left the main battle front to support the 49th Division’s attack on the coastal town of Le Havre. It describes bombing by Lancasters from Bomber Command during daylight and eight batteries of medium guns firing to suppress the AA flak – each working with an Air O.P. (Observation Post) watching small sectors of the defences with an overprinted street map.
It continues by saying that on the 13th Septembe the guns moved back some 30 miles to Autretot for a week’s rest before heading towards staging near Dieppe and on to Deynze on the 22nd where their tractors were borrowed by the Royal Artillery Service Corps, who would normally be supplying food, water, fuel, and general domestic stores, but were helping to ferry ammunition across Belgium.”

The taking of Antwerp and Alternative Plans

On 4 September 1944, 30 Corps of the British 2nd Army reached Antwerp and, with the help of the Belgian resistance, the city was secured with its port facilities intact. However the port was useless because both sides of the 80km long Scheldt estuary, which connects the North Sea to Antwerp, were In German hands, Many of the German’s holding it were from the Falaise encounter,

General Guy Simmonds, Crerar’s 2nd in command wanted an attack on the Scheldt and had created a plan. However there was a rift between Crerar and Montgomery who had a plan for a thrust to the north using Paratroopers, including Americans and who had put this plan to Eisenhower. Because of American involvement Eisenhower was delaying his decision. In the circumstances, Crerar chose not to go against Monty and never put Simmonds plan to him. Delays gave the German forces the opportunity to build up their defence of the Scheldt. Montgomery’s plan was agreed and code named “market garden”.

Operation Market Garden

On 17th September operation “market garden” used US and British paratroopers in an attempt to secure a land route into the Netherlands. It was to involve advance taking of many bridges over canals and rivers allowing ground troops to move forward at speed.

The final crossings were to be over the two rivers that the Rhine becomes near the German border. The Waal, which takes 2/3rds of the Rhines waters was to be crossed at Nijmegen and the Lower Rhine, north of it was to be crossed at Arnhem.

The U. S. 101st division were to take and hold 2 river and 2 canal crossings  The U.S. 82nd were to take and hold  crossings over the Maas and Waal at Nijmegen and the British 1st  Airborne division the crossing over the Lower Rhine at Arnhem. The securing of the bridges was a success

The ground troops of British 30 Corps supported by 8th and 12 Corps passed quickly over the secured canals and Maas river crossings. However after advancing and securing the Waal bridge crossing at Nijmegen on 20th September they were held up. The result was that the British 1st Airborne paratroopers at  Arnhem on the Rhine were not reached in time. They were encircled and lost 7,000 of their 9,200 men. The film “A Bridge too Far” is about this action.

Canadian 1st Army Battle of the Scheldt

History suggests that the Scheldt Estuary and its German forces might have been easily taken had they been attacked early September after Antwerp was taken. With the partial failure of “Market Garden” and the need to alleviate the problem of supplies still coming from Normandy, Monty was now instructed to make the opening of the port of Antwerp a priority.

The Canadian Army, now under the temporary command of Guy Simmonds because Harry Crerar was ill and had been evacuated,  was given orders to cease activities at other ports and concentrate on opening this port.

On 3rd October RAF bomber command burst the Walcheren Island Dykes in three places at Westkapelle. The sea rushed in forcing the Germans to higher ground but at the cost of civilian life. The land battle could begin.

On 6th October attacks were made on the Breskens pocket, the area north of the Leopold Canal. Canadian Wasp Carrier Flame Throwers supported a move across the canal and at the same time amphibious craft made an attack across the inlet west of Temeuzen. Precarious footholds were established which, despite strong counter attacks were held. The positions were added to and soon Armoured Brigades could cross the inlet. The 3rd Canadian Division then fought actions to clear German troops from a number of towns and a coastal fort in the pocket.

Clearing the area to the north of Antwerp in readiness for an assault on South Beveland was put in hand. But progress over booby trapped, mined and flooded land in driving rain was difficult. The Canadians on 13th October, a day known to them as Black Friday lost nearly the whole of their Black Watch Brigade. A more successful 2nd attempt secured  entry to this South Beveland Peninsular on the 24th October but mines and mud slowed progress along it  and the canal across it was heavily defended. An amphibious attack across the Scheldt out flanked this defence, leading to its collapse and the clearing of South Beveland.

The Allies finally cleared all of the port areas by 8 November. It had been at a cost of 12,873 Allied casualties (killed, wounded, or missing), half of them Canadians. It was a further three weeks before the first ship carrying allied supplies could unload in Antwerp (29 November 1944), the delay being due to the necessity to de-mine the harbours.

British 2nd Army and the Drive to the Maas River

While the above battle was in progress Montgomery, recognising the need to protect the Allied gains against German Counter attacks had tasked the British 2nd Army to take the northern area up to the Maas river. 4AGRA were involved in these clearances.
4AGRA supported the early movements of the Canadian 1st Army  over the Turnhout Canal in preparation for their assault on the Sheldt. One report has the 233rd battery of dad’s 68th Medium Regiment positioned at Loon Op Zand, a short distance north of Tilburg and firing  in support of forward infantry and armour.

For a period of about 2 months 4AGRA were supporting attacks, by elements of both the Canadian 1st Army and British 2nd army on both sides of the Nijmengen corridor in wet and muddy conditions. If they were not supporting infantry divisions, as for example the 49th West Riding and 4th Canadian they were assisting the 1st Polish Armoured in their tank assaults.

One of the very few things I remember my dad telling me about the war was of the hold up at a river, named what to me sounded like “Mars” but which was clearly his reference to the Maas river. These established positions south of the Maas river were held and relatively stable for some time. Parts of the Southern bank of the Maas were indeed still the front line at the end of March 1945. I know not whether dad’s regiment was one of them but, at the end of the first week in December, some of the 4AGRA regiments, taking advantage of the hold up had a period of rest from the gunnery, withdrawing to the Brussels area for maintenance and refitting of their guns.

Battle of the Bulge : A Battle in the Ardennes

The Allied front line had still not reached Arnhem, when, on the 16th December the American lines to the south were broken by the German Panzers in what came to be known as the battle of the bulge. Hitler had massed numerous divisions for an attack through the thinly held Ardennes Forest area of southern Belgium and Luxembourg.

The plan was for the forces to cross the Meuse River and swing northwest some 60 miles to envelop the port of Antwerp. The plan was designed to sever the already stretched allied supply lines in the north and to encircle and destroy a third of the Allies’ ground forces. Hitler believed that the offensive could smash the Allied coalition, or at least greatly cripple its ground combat capabilities, leaving him free to focus on the Russians at his back door.

The map to the right shows allied positions, the front line, the German plan and the extent of the German success.

Eisenhower placed the American 1st Army and 9th Army, north of the bulge under the command of Montgomery, who already commanded the 21st Army Group comprising the British 2nd and Canadian 1st Armies The armies north and south of the bulge then attacked the flanks of the German breakthrough.

Some 15,000 air sorties were flown by the Allies in 4 days. These together with the German problem of supplying their tanks with fuel meant that by January of 1945 the “bulge” had failed. This battle of the bulge in the Ardennes area may have been an initial German success but its defeat led to the allies crossing the fortified Seigfied line after retreating Germans who were ordered by Hitler to destroy the Rhine Bridges.

Eisenhower now restored the American 1st Army putting it back under the control of the American Army Group commander Omar Bradley but leaving the American 9th army and its commander General William Simpson in the 21st Army Group under Montgomery’s control.

4AGRA Regiments involved in the Ardennes

Some 4AGRA regiments had retired to the Brussels area in December of 44 but their rest was cut short  when on the 20th / 21st  some, including the 53rd medium, got orders to move in support of British 30 Corps who were to take up positions along the Meuse from Namur to Givet.  29th Armoured Brigade would be there in support of  the line and the artillery regiments were to support them.

The 68th Medium Royal Artillery in common with others in 4 AGRA, with gun positions facing the German troops over the Maas River got urgent instructions to send half of their complement of guns down to the Bastogne area to assist in preventing further enemy penetration in Allied-held territory.

Enemy troops facing gun positions on the south of the River Maas had to be kept unaware of this movement and so missing guns were replaced by inflated true-to-size balloon rubber moulding of the original gun,with like colour and camouflage treatment. King-size thunderflash fireworks simulated their firing along with the remaining guns.

Whether dad’s gun was one of those removed in support of the Ardennes counter offensive I know not,. He certainly did speak of being held up at the Maas, so it may be that his gun was one of those that remained.

AGRA guns supporting the Ardennes fighting included their 52nd heavy regiment. They supported the allied counter attacks but always trying to to avoid the Americans advancing from the South West. The battles moved out of the range of the guns on the 12th January and after a few days they withdrew to their former battle stations in the Maas area and near Tilburg at  Loon-op-Zand.

Moving up to the Rhine – Action in the Reichwald Forest

Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin met at Yalta on the Black Sea Coast on 4th February 45 to discuss and agree their plans for the offensive against and the subsequent occupation of Germany. Eisenhower  had asked his Generals to make plans to clear the area west of the Rhine River in Germany as far down as the German border with Austria and also South of the Maas and Waal rivers in the Netherlands. The armies involved would be the Canadian First Army, British Second Army, 4 American armies and a French army.

The northern borders of Germany with Holland were heavily defended with the best troops that were available to Germany, including a First Paratroop Army. The part of Gemany known as the Ruhr was the heart of its industry; any loss of Ruhr Plant and Equipment would be a serious loss to German Industry as a whole. Troops gaining access to the area between Roer river and Rhine river would pose a threat to this region and so be heavily opposed. Dams across the Roer river gave the German forces some advantage. Having control of the flow of its water meant they could flood the river and its surround area when Allied troop movements threatened.

Montgomery’s plan to push up toward the Rhine in this area was to employ a pincer movement. The British 2nd Army would continue fighting the Germans on the existing front line. The Canadian First Army, which at this stage had British 30 Corps under its command, would encircle the fighting Germans from the North. The American 9th Army, as part of 21st Army Group and under command of Montgomery, would similarly do so but from the South.

The action started with the bombing of the historic town of Kleve on the 7th February. Then on the 10th February the Canadian Army launched its troops  into the muddy flooded Reichwald Forest region near the Netherlands-German border. By the 23rd February they had only reached the position shown on the map. One reason for this was because the planned American 9th movement from the South had not been possible because the Roer had been flooded. Only after the 23rd Feb when conditions were improved could the pincer movements of operation “Veritable” from the North and operation “Grenade” from the South be effective.

The Battle of the Reichswald, near Kleve took place during late February, early March of 1945. It was between the Anglo-Canadian forces and 90,000 experienced and re-equipped German troops. Although the Anglo-Canadians’ had more equipment, armament, munitions and with nearly 200,000 men, more manpower, the ground conditions nullified many such advantages. The Anglo Canadians had about 23,000 casualties. About 50,000 German prisoners were taken.

American 9th Army troops had to manoeuvre through difficult conditions, caused by destructive Allied bombing and shelling. They often needed armoured bulldozers to clear the way for their armour to advance. Their army finally met up with the Canadian 2nd Army troops on 3 Mar, forcing the Germans to withdraw to positions around bridges on the Rhine and to the German Seigfried Line, a line of German Fortifications that was perhaps their best and heaviest defended line.

In an action slightly later than that shown on the above map and on the 8th of March the American First Army found the Ludendorf bridge at Remagen over the Rhine about to be blown. The bridge was blown and lifted but did not collapse due to the action of two Polish conscripts, who had tampered with fuses and the subsequent cutting of wires by Americans. A battle secured the bridge and allowed forces over it. However on the 14th March the bridge did collapse due to its continued use killing about 30 Engineers. This crossing of the Rhine had brought German forces to the area the area to restrict any further allied progress.

4AGRA in Support of this move up to the Rhine

4AGRA, usually attached to the British 1 Corps, were not the only artillery to be involved in the Northern moves toward the Rhine. The 2nd Canadian AGRA of the Canadian 2 Corps, the 5 AGRA usually attached to 30 Corps and the British 9AGRA, now also a part of the British 21st Army Group were involved. Some 184 guns were used, comprising a full range of artillery taken from each of those AGRA’s

4AGRA’s bombardment began at 05.00 am on the 8th of February and the guns fired their final rounds on the 10th February as the battle moved out of range. Each gun fired 229 rounds in the engagement. On the 11th some 4AGRA guns moved to St. Agatha to fire in support of the 51st Infantry who were having a difficult time in the Reichswald Forest. They then moved south east of Kleves to fire in support of the 3rd Canadian Division before further moves on the 28th Feb. to continue such support and in support of 11th Armoured. Finally they made moves on the 7th March to bombard the German bridge head at Wesel before taking some rest.

Preparing for the Rhine Crossing

The following map shows that by the 21st March some progress had been made from the position 5th March on the above map, partcularly to the South of Cologne. Allied forces were now in control over extensive distances on the West bank of the Rhine and the plans made for many coordinated Rhine crossings were now to be implemented on the 23rd and 24th of March. 

 Operation “Plunder” was the plan of the 21st Army Group and, like other plans that involved the American and French Armies to the South, it included the use of Paratroopers. The 21st Army code named its intended paratrooper operation “Varsity”. It would take place on the 24th and would be preceded in the late hours of the 23rd by the advance of ground forces over the Rhine, The use of paratroopers positioned beyond the German front lines would mean the Allies could attack the German Rhine defences on two fronts.

In preparation for the crossing allied forces bombed German airfields to reduce the capability of the Luftwaffe to interfere with the plans. The bombing had started on 21 Mar, and by 24 Mar the German air force were no longer able to put up much of a resistance against their Allied counterparts. Over 250,000 tons of supplies and 4000 artillery pieces were amassed on the west bank of the Rhine shielded by the largest smoke screen ever. Some 1 miillion soldiers were to participate in the actions.

The Allies Cross the Rhine

On the 22 Mar 1945, just before midnight, and contrary to orders from Omar Bradley,  the 5th Division of George Pattons 3rd Army crossed the Rhine, west of Mainz. Patton wanted an announcement that Americans had beaten the British in crossing the river. Opposition to the crossing was negligible and within 24 hours the entire US 5th Division had crossed the river.

It would not be so easy at other locations and to soften up the defending forces artillery bombing started on the 23rd of March in advance of the planned crossings.

British Second Army and Canadian First Army launched their assaults across the Rhine River north of the Ruhr River, late on the 23rd. They were attacking the north of the area known as the Ruhr. It was an area rich in the coal that supplied the German industies that backed their war effort and included the well known Krupp Steel Works at Essen. It was as a result heavily defended.

Throughout the night of 23 Mar and the next day, 80,000 British and Canadian troops crossed a 20-mile stretch of the river at 4 bridgeheads. One at Diersfordter, another at Wald and two over the road and rail bridges that crossed the River Issel at Hamminkeln. In the air 2,153 fighters supported these ground operations.

At the same time flying in tight formation, 540 American Dakota aircraft carried and dropped 12 parachute battalions, five British units from 6th Airborne Division, six US  units from 17th Airborne Division and one Canadian unit. The drops were closely followed by gliders packed with troops that also placed them beyond the German fromt line. This airborne operation was the largest of its kind during the entire war. It made use of 1,625 transports, 1,348 gliders, and 889 escort fighters to deliver over 22,000 airborne infantry into the intended target territory.  Weather for the drops and landings was perfect and almost everyone landed on their respective dropzones on higher ground overlooking the Rhine bridgeheads.

The Germans had been expecting an invasion of this area, and fighting in the drop zones was heavy. Some paratroopers who ended up in trees were cut down by German machine guns as they fought to free themselves. The 5th Parachute Brigade suffered particularly heavily from mortar fire exploding in the skies around them during the drop. There were also significant casualties from heavy anti-aircraft fire. By the end of the first day’s action 1,078 men of the British 6th Airborne Division had been either killed or wounded, with 50 aircraft and 11 gliders shot down. However the bulk of the airborne infantry had landed and were now participating in direct combat and attacking the German defenders from behind their lines.

On the 24th of March, Winston Churchill crossed the Rhine in an LCM (landing craft, mechanised), setting foot on the eastern bank of the Rhine. He later went as far as the railway bridge at Wesel in Montgomery’s staff car, a bridge that was still under enemy fire. It was a symbolic action to emphasise the crossing of the Rhine, something no foreign army had crossed in 140 years.
On this same day Hitler requested a counter attack against the American Rhine crossing at Oppenheim but was told no reserve forces were available for such an operation.

Meanwhile, the US Third Army captured Ludwigshafen and Speyer in Germany.  Not until the next day did the British army fully capture Wesel on the right bank of the Rhine
Eisenhower had been surprised, that the crossing of the Rhine north of the Ruhr had not been met with fiercer resistance and on the 25th in a face to face conversation Churchill had said to him “My dear General, the German is whipped. We’ve got him. He is all through.”

As US forces already occupied land east of the Rhine at Remagen, it provided an excellent place for Rhine crossings on the 25th. Further to the South, and on this same day, planned  drops of  American 13th Airborne troops were called off because the U.S. 7th Army having crossed the Rhine had met so little resistance.

The front line on the 28th March 1945 progress was as shown on the above map. Slightly later on the 1st April French First Army troops crossed the Rhine near Philippsburg .

4AGRA involvement in the Rhine Crossing Actions

Regiments began firing on the 23rd as part of the planned counter battery operations, continuing on the 24th with bombardments and various fire plans in support of the airborne assaults. Firing was constant day and night and with high accuracy, as directed in support of the assault troops by artillery command posts forward with the assault troops. On the 30th March the firing ceased

Rapid Advances after the Rhine Crossing

Montgomery, who was also Colonel Commandant of the Parachute Regiment, wanted 6th Airborne to head the advances on the other side of the Rhine and this they did on foot. In support of these airborne troops were the tanks of the Grenadier Guards and three regiments of artillery. In just seven days they marched and fought their way to the Baltic port of Wismar and joined up with the leading elements of Russian troops.

The Canadians and other British headed for Hamburg and the Baltic whist the American 9th performed a northern encircling of the German Army Group B in the Ruhr. With the defenses along the Rhine River falling apart, the heavily defended industrial Ruhr region was surrounded  depriving Germany of its war manufacturing capabilities. The allied armies were facing resistance that varied from none to fierce as they moved east.

Britain’s Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, urged Eisenhower to let the 21st Army Group leave the surrounded Ruhr and head for Berlin. In this he was supported by General George Patton who believed the 21st could reach Berlin in 3 days. However, Omar Bradley warned against the plan and Eisenhower ordered all armies to halt when they reached the Elbe and Mulde Rivers, perhaps for political reasons that would leave the Soviets to take Berlin.

Eisenhower’s requirements and instructions were for the 21st Army Group to move northeast toward Bremen and Hamburg. His instructions to the U.S. Ninth and First Armies were to hold the ground they had attained from Magdeburg through Leipzig to the western Czech border and his instructions to the 1st French, Seventh U.S. and Third U.S. armies were  to move into South Eastern Germany and Austria.

Meanwhile the British Eighth Army in Northern Italy were pushing the Germans back and against and over the borders of Yugoslavia, an action causing some friction with the Yugoslav forces there.

Death and Surrender

On the 15th of April British 11th Armoured liberated 60,000 at the Belsen Concentration Camp and on the 19th at Dachau US 42nd Infantry had SS Guards dig mass graves and bury high numbers of dead there.

On the 25th April all Germans left Finland. On the 27th of April Mussolini had been caught by Partisans trying to escape Italy and the following day he was killed. On the 30th, Hitler and Eva Braun committed suicide in his Fuhrer bunker in Berlin.

On the 1st of May German Forces in Italy surrendered making for about 1 million German and Austrian prisoners. Next day Berlin surrendered to the Soviets. On the 4th of May Montgomery took the unconditional surrender of about 1 million German forces in North West Germany, Denmark, Belgium and the Netherlands. He did this in his headquarters at Luneberg Heath, near Hamburg. On the 5th of May Bavarian forces surrendered and on the 6th Goering surrendered.

The German Armies were in disarray. Surrenders were being made on behalf of Army Groups, Corps, Divisions and by smaller groups. However German control and communications were such that many groups were fighting on which necessitated the Allies fighting on. Surrenders were accompanied by attempts to negotiate but each such attempt was accompanied by surrender unconditionally or else the Western allies would not take Germans across their lines leaving them to be dealt with by the Soviet forces.

On the 7th of May the German General Jodl unconditionally surrendered all German forces and that same day forces in Norway surrendered. On the 8th May Channel Island forces surrendered. All activities were set to cease at 23.01 Earopean Time and in the West that day 8th May, is celebrated as V.E. Day, Victory in Europe Day. The Soviets celebrate it 9th May. In reality fighting went on in isolated pockets for another fortnight.

The Final Gun Activities of 4AGRA

Whist some of 4AGRA regiments had retired to Brussels for a rest, others moved from the Tilburg Area to Till at the end of March, where they fired into woods north of Emmerich, on the Rhine and just North of Kleve and East of Nijmegen and the splitting of the Rhine into the Waal and Lower Rhine. After about 2 weeks at Till the artillery was able to cross the Rhine at Emmerich. From here some went to Duiven where they acted in support of 49th Divisions attack on Arnhem which was a success on the 17th of April, then on to Meppen where some stayed until the 28th moving to acted in support of 3rd Canadian Divisions attack on Leer and Detern to the North, that ended on the 4th May

The final gun positions for the 68th Mediums were in the German region of Meppen, a position they had moved to on about 17th April 1945. Though the battles and actions were now at an end and medium and heavy guns were no longer needed there was no question of troops leaving Germany as there was now much to be done