Battle of Bure – Paratroopers v Tiger Tanks

A 6th Airborne Division sniper on patrol in the Ardennes, wearing a snow camouflage suit, 14 January 1945.

A 6th Airborne Division sniper on patrol in the Ardennes, wearing a snow camouflage suit, 14 January 1945.

A Bren gunner in the snow on the front line in Holland, 7 January 1945.

A Bren gunner in the snow on the front line in Holland, 7 January 1945.

The British 6th Airborne Division had been recalled to England following Normandy. When the Battle of the Bulge broke out they were amongst the reserve troops swiftly brought up to mount the allied counter-attack. In early January the German forces had reached the village of Bure, Belgium, where the tip of their advance came to a halt. The 13th (Lancashire) Parachute Battalion was ordered to attack Bure on the 3rd January.

Major ‘Jack’ Watson recounts how their attack almost failed before it started when they were subjected to devastating fire as they were forming up, when about a third of the force become casualties:

We marched to a wood which overlooked Bure, our first objective. This was the furthest point in the German offensive to which the German tanks had advanced. Our task was to evict them from Bure.

The forming-up was “A” Company on the left, “B” Company on the right, and “C” Company in reserve. My task was to attack Bure with “B” Company to secure the high ground. We were formed up ready to go in at 13.00 hours on 3rd January. It was a bloody cold day, still snowing heavily, and even going through the wood to the start line was very difficult because the snow was as much as three or four feet deep in some places. We were wearing normal battle equipment, parachute smocks, helmets.

We formed upon the start line and looked down on this silent and peaceful village. The Germans knew we were there; they were waiting for us and as soon as we started to break cover, I looked up and I could see about a foot above my head the branches of trees being shattered by intense machine-gun fire and mortaring. They obviously had the guns on fixed lines and they pinned us down before we even got off the start line. This was the first time I’d led a company attack and within minutes I’d lost about one-third of them.

I could hear the men of my left-hand platoon shouting for our medics. We were held up for about 15 minutes because of the dead and wounded around us but we had to keep moving. We were about 400 yards from Bure and so as quickly as I could, I got my company together and gave the order to move. We had to get under the firing and get in the village as soon as possible. On the way down I lost more men including my batman. One man took a bullet in his body which ignited the phosphorous bombs he was carrying. He was screaming at me to shoot him. He died later.

We secured the first few houses and I got into one with my Company Headquarters. What I did not know was that “B” Company had also suffered badly in the attack. Their company commander, Major ‘Bill’ Grantham, was killed on the start line together with one of his platoon commanders, Lieutenant Tim Winser. His Company Sergeant Major, Moss, was mortally wounded. The remaining officers, apart from Lieutenant Alf Largeren, were wounded. He led the much depleted company to their objective, but was later killed during the day, trying, with hand grenades, to clear a house held by a German machine-gun post.

Once I had got into the village it was difficult finding out just what was going on. I pulled in my platoon commanders to establish that they were secure and to start movement forward. It was eerie. We would be in one house, myself on the ground floor and my signalman telling me that there were Germans upstairs, and at other times they would be downstairs and we upstairs. It was a most unusual battle.

Our numbers were getting very depleted as we moved forward from house to house. I eventually got to the village crossroads by the old church. In the meantime I had informed my C.O. exactly what was going on, and he decided to send in “C” Company, who were in reserve, to support me. By that time their 60 ton Tiger tanks started to come in on us. It was the first time I had seen Tigers, and now here they were taking potshots, demolishing the houses. I moved from one side of the road to the other deliberately drawing fire. A tank fired at me and the next thing I knew the wall behind me was collapsing. But, a PIAT team came running out, got within 50 yards of the tank, opened fire and smashed the tank’s tracks. They were very brave. It went on like this all day – they counter-attacked, but we managed to hold them. They pushed us back – we pushed forward again.

The 'King Tiger', or Panzer VI B , had up to 7inch thick armour at the front.

The ‘King Tiger’, or Panzer VI B , had up to 7inch thick armour at the front.

A soldier from the 1st Battalion Rifle Brigade, 7th Armoured Division, emerges from his foxhole armed with a PIAT, 28 December 1944.  The Projector, Infantry, Anti Tank fired a 2.5 pound charge which was effective up to 100 yards away for armour less than 4" thick, although a skilled user could only accurately hit such a target about 40% of the time.

A soldier from the 1st Battalion Rifle Brigade, 7th Armoured Division, emerges from his foxhole armed with a PIAT, 28 December 1944.
The Projector, Infantry, Anti Tank fired a 2.5 pound charge which was effective up to 100 yards for armour less than 4″ thick, although a skilled user could only accurately hit such a target about 40% of the time. The user usually sustained bruising from the recoil.

It became difficult to keep the men awake – after all they were tired, we had no hot food. All through our first night they were shelling and firing at us and we were firing back. When we told H.Q. we had German tanks in the area they decided to bring in our own tanks in support, but they were no match for the Tigers. We had Sherman, and by the end of the battle 16 of them had been blown up. We were reinforced by a company from the Oxf and Bucks, commanded by Major Granville – by that time I was down to about one platoon in strength. The Oxf and Bucks went forward, but they were not out there very long before they were forced back into our positions.

I will always take off my hat to Color Sergeant ‘Harry’ Watkins. How the hell he found us I do not know, but he did. We were still scattered in the houses along the main road in the center of the village. He brought us a stew which was good and hot, and we were able to get men into small groups to have food and then get to their positions in the houses.

At one point in the battle, Sergeant Scott R.A.M.C. [Royal Army Medical Corps], went forward in an ambulance to pick up casualties. A German Tiger, which had been fighting us all day, rolled forward alongside him, and the commander seeing him unafraid said, “Take the casualties away this time, but don’t come forward again, it is not safe”. Even Sergeant Scott knew when to take a good hint!

This whole of this account and many more individual stories can be read at Henri Rogister’s Battle of the Bulge Memories.

The original recommendation for the MC awarded to Major Watson can be read at Paradata

Lieutenant P Bickepsteth of 1st Battalion Rifle Brigade briefs his men during a counter-booby trap patrol in the village of Nieuwstadt, Holland, 3 January 1945

Lieutenant P Bickepsteth of 1st Battalion Rifle Brigade briefs his men during a counter-booby trap patrol in the village of Nieuwstadt, Holland, 3 January 1945

Troops of the 1st Rifle Brigade take cover as a mortar bomb explodes in a stream in the village of Nieuwstadt, north of Sittard, 3 January 1945.

Troops of the 1st Rifle Brigade take cover as a mortar bomb explodes in a stream in the village of Nieuwstadt, north of Sittard, 3 January 1945.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Sally Warner March 10, 2018 at 11:09 am

My father was Major Jack Watson of A company 13th bataillion parachute regiment (died in 2011 aged 94) – we are just about to go on a commemorative tour of Ardennes on 24th March 2018 we will be in Bure where the square will be renamed in honour of Dad and all the men who fought there. If anyone is interested please email me sallylouisewarner@icloud.com

Wayne April 7, 2016 at 4:52 am

Interesting stuff. I’ve read a few accounts of the Battle of Bure now and all of them refer to Tiger tanks (finding a good map seems more difficult). As the 6th Airborne were fighting the Panzer Lehr Division this doesn’t seem right. They didn’t have any Tigers during the Ardennes offensive. The division was equipped with Panther and Panzer IV tanks, and Panzer IV/70 tank-destroyers. Additionally 559. Schwere Panzerjager-Abteilung was attached to the division for the offensive which was equipped with Jagdpanther tank destroyers. This make me think the ‘Tiger’ referred by the accounts must be one of the above, which can be just as dangerous in the hands of experienced troops like the Panzer Lehr panzertruppen. In fact the only Tigers used during the Ardennes offensive were the SS Tiger II tanks attached to 1. SS-Panzerdivision.

Steven Pengilly January 28, 2016 at 12:13 pm

My father was one of Col Luard’s oily rags with Lt Dixie Dean at Bure. Sadly he died in 2012 as a result of a motorbike accident at the age of 93, they don’t make them like him anymore.

Steven Pengilly January 28, 2016 at 12:12 pm

My father was one of Col Luard’s oily rags with Lt Dixie Dean at Bure. Sadly he died in 2012 as a result of a motorbike accident at the age of 93, they don’t make them like him anymore.

Joe Dugdale July 27, 2015 at 4:43 pm

Thanks for this , my father Coloour sergeant WB ‘Duggy’ Dugdale ( C Company 13th para) told me about being pinned down by a tank – I think it must have been at this battle.
he died in 1982

Nick Dudderidge March 30, 2015 at 1:19 pm

Thanks for the account. My Dad was in C Squadron in Bure at the time.

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