Sgt Aubrey Cosens shatters the Germans at Moosdorf

The devastated town of Kleve, Germany, photographed from an Auster AOP aircraft, after capture. The wrecked railway station and yards lie in the foreground. The fortified town was heavily bombed by 285 Avro Lancasters of No. 1 Group, led by 10 De Havilland Mosquitos of No.8 Group on the night of 7/8 February 1945, and captured the following day by troops of the Canadian 1st Army.

The devastated town of Kleve, Germany, photographed from an Auster AOP aircraft, after capture. The wrecked railway station and yards lie in the foreground. The fortified town was heavily bombed by 285 Avro Lancasters of No. 1 Group, led by 10 De Havilland Mosquitos of No.8 Group on the night of 7/8 February 1945, and captured the following day by troops of the Canadian 1st Army.

A Canadian soldier escorts captured German parachute troops during fighting near Uedem, 28 February 1945.

A Canadian soldier escorts captured German parachute troops during fighting near Uedem, 28 February 1945.

In north west Germany the attack that had begun with Operation Veritable shifted focus to the Canadians with Operation Blockbuster.

On the 25th February 1945 the Queens Own Rifles of Canada prepared to assault the hamlet of Moosdorf, Germany. They faced German parachute troops who had spent time preparing the isolated villages and hamlets into substantial defensive positions. By this time the Queens Own Rifles were battle hardened veterans, after landing on D-Day in June 1944 they had suffered 76% casualties in Normandy alone. On this day the 115 men of D Company would be reduced to 36 men by the end of the action.

Aubrey Cosens VC

Aubrey Cosens VC

With the officer commanding his platoon wounded, Sergeant Aubrey Cosens took over the attack. The original recommendation for the Victoria Cross tells the story better than the shortened version that was adopted for the citation:

On the night of February 25/26, The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada launched an attack to secure ground, the possession of which was essential for the large-scale operations in the immediate future. The first phase of the attack was made by “D” Company with two platoons up. Sergeant Aubrey Cosens was sergeant of Number 16 Platoon which had, under command, two tanks of the 6th Canadian Armoured Regiment, with orders to capture the hamlet of Mooshof.

The platoon was to cross its start line, which was about half a mile from the objective, at 0430 hours. Before reaching the start line, it came under heavy enemy shell fire, but the attack went in on time and was pressed home through the darkness in the face of intense artillery, mortar and small arms fire.

On reaching Mooshof the enemy was found to have prepared positions throughout the area and to have strongpoints in three farm buildings. The platoon attacked these building twice but, on each occasion, was beaten back by fanatical enemy resistance.

The enemy then counter-attacked in strength. In the darkness, and aided by their knowledge of the ground, the Germans succeeded in infiltrating into the positions which Number 16 platoon had hastily taken up. In bitter and confused fighting, this counter-attack was beaten off but not until the platoon had suffered heavy casualties, including the platoon commander.

Sergeant Cosens at once assumed command of the platoon. To a lesser spirit, the situation would have seemed hopeless as the enemy was obviously present in force, and he was able to find only four survivors of his platoon. In addition, one of his two tanks had been separated from the infantry during the fighting, and the area was being swept from all sides by intense enemy fire.

Not daunted, and determined to carry on with the attack notwithstanding the odds, Sergeant Cosens organized his four men in a covering fire position and himself ran across twenty-five yards of open, flat, bullet-swept ground to his one available tank. Here, with magnificent contempt for the very great danger, he took up an exposed position on the tank, sitting in front of the turret and, with great daring, calmly directed the fire of the tank against enemy positions which had been pinpointed in the previous fighting or which disclosed themselves by their fire.

Once again, the enemy counter-attacked savagely in force. Remaining on the tank and completely disregarding the enemy’s superiority in numbers and the withering fire Sergeant Aubrey Cosens led and inspired the defence. He plunged the tank, in the blackness, into the middle of the attackers. His bold tactics resulted in the complete disorganisation of the enemy force, which broke and fled after sustaining many casualties.

Turning promptly and with great courage to the offensive, and notwithstanding the sustained enemy fire from all direction and the obvious risks in the darkness from concealed enemy posts and from snipers, Sergeant Cosens determined to clear the three buildings. To do so, he ordered his four men to follow the tank on which he was riding. He ordered the tank to ram the first building, a one-storey farmhouse and, when it had done so, aided by thee covering fire of his men, he entered the building entirely alone, killed several of the defenders, and took the rest prisoner.

Sergeant Cosens then pressed relentlessly on and directed the tank, under continuous heavy fire, towards the second building. En route, he saw in the flash of shell fire, the body of one of his comrades who had been killed in one of the first abortive attacks, on this position, lying in the path of the tank. Calmly he halted the tank and removed the body. Continuing, he had the tank fire into this building and then he entered it alone to find that the occupants had fled.

With splendid persistence, he then advanced to the third building, which was a two storey farmhouse and strongly held by the enemy. Under cover from the tank and from his little band of four men. He again made a one-man entry into this building and personally killed or captured its occupants.

The hard core of the German resistance in the immediate area was thus broken. Sergeant Cosens promptly gave his small force orders for the consolidation of the position and started off to report to his company commander. He had not travelled more than twenty feet when he was shot through the head by an enemy sniper. He died almost instantly. The German force in the Moosdorf area had by this time become so compietelv shattered and dispirited, however, that there was no further counter-attack against this position.

The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada was able to pass through to its next objective and the other attacks were able to proceed according to plan.

Throughout this action Sergeant Aubrey Cosens displayed unsurpassed leadership, initiative and devotion to duty. He was faced by an enemy force which was numerically, and in firepower, far superior to his own and was composed of resolute men who had every possible advantage of ground cover. Never for a moment, however, did he hesitate and he fought his tiny force under the most difficult conditions with the utmost skill and determination absolutely refusing to consider the possibility of defeat.

In the actual fighting, his personal gallantry was of the highest order. He was always to the forefront of the battle and in the course of the operation, he personally killed at least twenty of the enemy and took an equal number of prisoners.

Sergeant Aubrey Cosens’ heroism and his brilliant conduct of this successful action have been an inspiration to his regiment and will remain for all time a glorious example to the Canadian Army.

A Churchill tank and a Valentine Mk XI Royal Artillery OP tank (left) in Goch, 21 February 1945.

A Churchill tank and a Valentine Mk XI Royal Artillery OP tank (left) in Goch, 21 February 1945.

An Archer 17-pdr self-propelled gun being ferried on a raft across flooded countryside near Kranenburg in Germany, 23 February 1945.

An Archer 17-pdr self-propelled gun being ferried on a raft across flooded countryside near Kranenburg in Germany, 23 February 1945.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

s hughes April 19, 2015 at 11:54 pm

Unbelievable bravery

Thanks for your help Canada

Not to be forgotten

Robert Heinz February 26, 2015 at 6:54 pm

True display of courage and heroism.
Lest we Forget!

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