A brittle German resistance continues to be dangerous

British paratroops in Hamminkeln during the Allied airborne landings east of the Rhine, 25 March 1945.

British paratroops in Hamminkeln during the Allied airborne landings east of the Rhine, 25 March 1945.

British airborne troops with a 6-pdr anti-tank gun in Hamminkeln, Germany, 25 March 1945.

British airborne troops with a 6-pdr anti-tank gun in Hamminkeln, Germany, 25 March 1945.

The Allies were suddenly firmly established on the east bank of the Rhine. The last natural German defence line had been breached and the expected battle of attrition avoided. It was also a massive psychological blow to many of the German troops, in many minds there was no rational explanation why the war should go on.

As the Nazis used ever more ruthless measures to deal with anyone even suspected of straggling or desertion, it remained difficult for German troops to surrender, even if they, and sometimes even their officers, saw no point continuing. There were a number of instances of a apparently strong resistance suddenly collapsing. Allied troops would come to resent Germans who fought and killed and then, when their position became untenable, suddenly surrendered and expected to be treated honourably.

The Seaforth Highlanders encountered one such incident in their attack on Groin. Lance-Corporal Green tells the story:

We were all in No 5 section,’ he said. ‘There was a Corporal Purchase, and Gray was the bren gunner, and there was Hayes, and Hay and Hanson, and myself . we’d been together a long time ? right through everything – and we were all good mates. Captain Gardiner came up and called for volunteers, and Corporal Purchase says “We’ll go.” Captain Gardiner says: “It’s important. The place must be got. ” And the Corporal says: “We’ll do the job properly if I have to do it myself. ”

‘We got 16 Platoon to put down mortar smoke and high explosive in front of us, and set off down the road. The house and the trench were on the left of the road, and that was the side where Mr. Manson was held up, so when the smoke cleared a bit and we were fired on we dived into the ditch on the right. It was a good ditch and we were able to work along it fairly fast until we hit the drain.

That was the start of the business. The drain cut the ditch and the road at right angles, and a wee bridge carried the road over it; so of course that meant we couldn’t crawl any farther. It meant we would have to nip out of the ditch, run across the bridge, and get back into the ditch on the far side. The Boche were only seventy yards away. They weren’t fast enough to catch Purchase and Gray when they made a dive for it; but of course they were just waiting for us, and whenever we showed ourselves we got a burst through our hair.

‘We thought the pair of them would wait for us and give us covering fire to help us over the gap: but nothing happened. I stood up beside a telegraph pole, and before a burst put me back into the ditch again I’d just time to see three spandaus and a hell of a lot of Boche in a big trench, and Purchase and Gray disappearing round the end of a house about forty yards away from them.

‘The bullets were going through the grass a foot above our heads. We heard a bren firing, and then a sten, and we heard them shouting: “Give up, you bastards! The Seaforths are here!” That must have been when they charged. There were a few bursts of spandau, and then silence.
‘We knew what that meant. They were our mates, and we were all boiled up. “To hell with this,” I said. “Come on.”

‘We ran over the bridge, and into the ditch again, then across the road to the cover of a house, and then round to the Boche side. Purchase was lying about twenty yards from the trench, and Gray was almost inside it. There wasn’t a scrap of cover for the last forty yards. The two of them had gone at it baldheaded, and there were three spandaus and forty-six men in the trench. Of course they were hit. They were hit all over. But they’d made the Boche look their way, and 16 Platoon had been able to get into the big house while the panic was on.

‘We were mad when we saw them lying there. We didn’t know what we were doing. We stood in the open, not even shooting, and called the Boche for all the names in creation, and yelled at them to come out. And so help me, they did. A wee white flag came over the edge, and then an officer, and then two or three, and then the whole issue. Forty-six of them. The officer was one of those right clever baskets – big smiles all over his face ….

‘Purchase was the best section leader ever we had.’He died. Gray, though he had a burst clean through him, lived to receive the Distinguished Conduct Medal and survive the war. His bren was found actually inside the German trench.

The whole circumstances of the attack can be read , with an accompanying map, at 51st Highland Division.

DUKW crews (including one soldier wearing a top hat) rest by the roadside east of the Rhine, 25 March 1945.

DUKW crews (including one soldier wearing a top hat) rest by the roadside east of the Rhine, 25 March 1945.

DUKW amphibious vehicles ferrying supplies across the Rhine, 25 March 1945.

DUKW amphibious vehicles ferrying supplies across the Rhine, 25 March 1945.

A Universal carrier unloaded from a Hamilcar glider during the Rhine crossing, 24-25 March 1945.

A Universal carrier unloaded from a Hamilcar glider during the Rhine crossing, 24-25 March 1945.

A Class 40 pontoon bridge over the Rhine, 25 March 1945

A Class 40 pontoon bridge over the Rhine, 25 March 1945

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Phil Goodwin April 2, 2015 at 7:43 pm

Is it possible to see some photo’s or information on the War in Burma. My father fought with the 14th Army, but there is very little coverage of the war in Burma.

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