Individual attacks make the difference on two fronts

The Troop dashing up behind Corporal Hunter now became the target for all the Spandaus on the North of the canal. Again, offering himself as a target, he lay in full view of the enemy on a heap of rubble and fired at the concrete pillboxes on the other side. He again drew most of the fire, but by now the greater part of the Troop had made for the safety of the houses. During this period he shouted encouragement to the remainder, and called only for more Bren magazines with which he could engage the Spandaus. Firing with great accuracy up to the last, Corporal Hunter was finally hit in the head by a burst of Spandau fire and killed instantly.

Ram Kangaroo personnel carriers carrying troops of the 9th Durham Light Infantry near Weske, 31 March 1945.
Ram Kangaroo personnel carriers carrying troops of the 9th Durham Light Infantry near Weske, 31 March 1945.
Comet tanks of 11th Armoured Division advance towards Osnabruck, 2 - 3 April 1945.
Comet tanks of 11th Armoured Division advance towards Osnabruck, 2 – 3 April 1945.
A long column of German POWs captured on the outskirts of Munster, 2 April 1945.
A long column of German POWs captured on the outskirts of Munster, 2 April 1945.
A Cromwell tank crew of 11th Armoured Division prepare a quick meal during the advance towards Osnabruck, 2 - 3 April 1945.
A Cromwell tank crew of 11th Armoured Division prepare a quick meal during the advance towards Osnabruck, 2 – 3 April 1945.

The push into Germany was now gathering pace, with the defences encountered being very unpredictable. The situation in Italy was very similar. Two British soldiers were to make courageous attacks of a very similar nature, fate dealt very different outcomes to the two individuals .

Corporal Edward Chapman VC
Corporal Edward Chapman VC

On 2nd April 1945, a Company of the Monmouthshire Regiment crossed the Dortmund- Ems canal and was ordered to assault the ridge of the Teutoberger Wald, which dominates the surrounding country. This ridge is steep thickly wooded and is ideal defensive country. It was, moreover, defended by a battalion of German officer cadets and their instructors, all of them picked men and fanatical Nazis.

Corporal Chapman was advancing with his section in single file along a narrow track when the enemy suddenly opened fire with machine guns at short range, inflicting heavy casualties and causing some confusion. Corporal Chapman immediately ordered his section to take cover and, seizing the Bren gun, he advanced alone, firing the gun from his hip, and mowed down the enemy at point blank range, forcing them to retire in disorder. At this point, however, his Company was ordered to withdraw but Corporal Chapman and his section were still left in their advanced position, as the order could not be got forward to them.

The enemy then began to close up to Corporal Chapman and his isolated section and, under cover of intense machine gun fire, they made determined charges with the bayonet. Corporal Chapman again rose with his Bren gun to meet the assaults and on each occasion halted their advance. He had now nearly run out of ammunition. Shouting to his section for more bandoliers, he dropped into a fold in the ground and covered those bringing up the ammunition by lying on his back and firing the Bren gun over his shoulder.

A party of Germans made every effort to eliminate him with grenades, but with reloaded magazine he closed with them and once again drove the enemy back with considerable casualties. During the withdrawal of his Company, the Company Commander had been severely wounded and left lying in the open a short distance from Corporal Chapman.

Satisfied that his section was now secure, at any rate for the moment, he went out alone under withering fire and carried his Company Commander for 50 yards to comparative safety. On the way a sniper hit the officer again, wounding Corporal Chapman in the hip and, when he reached our lines, it was discovered that the officer had been killed. In spite of his wound, Corporal Chapman refused to be evacuated and went back to his Company until the position was fully restored two hours later.

Throughout the action Corporal Chapman displayed outstanding gallantry and superb courage. Single-handed he repulsed the attacks of well-led, determined troops and gave his battalion time to reorganise on a vital piece of ground overlooking the only bridge across the canal. His magnificent bravery played a very large part in the capture of this vital ridge and in the successful development of subsequent operations.

Marine Corporal Thomas Hunter V.C,
Marine Corporal Thomas Hunter V.C,

The late Corporal (Temporary) Thomas Peck HUNTER, CH/X. 110296, Royal Marines (attached Special Service Troops) (43rd Royal Marine Commando) (Edinburgh).

In Italy during the advance by the Commando to its final objective, Corporal Hunter of “C” Troop was in charge of a Bren group of the leading sub-section of the Commando. Having advanced to within 400 yards of the canal, he observed the enemy were holding a group of houses South of the canal.

Realising that his Troop behind him were in the open, as the country there was completely devoid of cover, and that the enemy would cause heavy casualties as soon as they opened fire, Corporal Hunter seized the Bren gun and charged alone across two hundred yards of open ground. Three Spandaus from the houses, and at least six from the North bank of the canal opened fire and at the same time the enemy mortars started to fire at the Troop.

Corporal Hunter attracted most of the fire, and so determined was his charge and his firing from the hip that the enemy in the houses became demoralised. Showing complete disregard for the intense enemy fire, he ran through the houses, changing magazines as he ran, and alone cleared the houses. Six Germans surrendered to him and the remainder fled across a footbridge onto the North bank of the canal.

The Troop dashing up behind Corporal Hunter now became the target for all the Spandaus on the North of the canal. Again, offering himself as a target, he lay in full view of the enemy on a heap of rubble and fired at the concrete pillboxes on the other side. He again drew most of the fire, but by now the greater part of the Troop had made for the safety of the houses. During this period he shouted encouragement to the remainder, and called only for more Bren magazines with which he could engage the Spandaus. Firing with great accuracy up to the last, Corporal Hunter was finally hit in the head by a burst of Spandau fire and killed instantly.

There can be no doubt that Corporal Hunter offered himself as a target in order to save his Troop, and only the speed of his movement prevented him being hit earlier. The skill and accuracy with which he used his Bren gun is proved by the way he demoralised the enemy, and later did definitely silence many of the Spandaus firing on his Troop as they crossed open ground, so much so that under his covering fire elements of the Troop made their final objective before he was killed.

Throughout the operation his magnificent courage, leadership and cheerfulness had been an inspiration to his comrades.

Commando signallers prepare to release a carrier pigeon, Lake Comacchio area, 4 April 1945.
Commando signallers prepare to release a carrier pigeon, Lake Comacchio area, 4 April 1945.
A British Bren gun crew keep watch in a trench at Anzio.
A British Bren gun crew keep watch in a trench at Anzio.

6 thoughts on “Individual attacks make the difference on two fronts”

  1. Last I checked, Saddam has been wiped out. Quite a few years ago.

    Doesn’t seem to have helped.

  2. Dan, the failure to pursue unconditional surrender, such as not wiping out the iranian mullahs and saddam hussein is the reason we have so many problems coming out of the middle east today.

  3. Dan, not having unconditional surrender leads to things like 9/11. Had we wiped out saddam and his cohorts, and previously the iranian mullahs, we would not have the problems in, and caused by, the middle east today.

  4. Dan, imagine you were a Russian, or a Pole, or a Jew, who has lost everything, including his entire family. Who has lived under a homicidal tyranny for years.

    For that matter, imagine you were French or British, who has lost relatives, his house, his business, the records of his life savings, if his local bank had been bombed. Who has been reduced to sleeping in a subway station.

    How would you feel about seeing your government sitting around a table, probably after good dinner (considerably better than you’ve had in years), and having a nice chat about how a) Hitler would remain in power (you know that would have been his #1 demand), b) everybody in the Nazi hierarchy should get off scot-free (demand #2).

    A conditional surrender would, ultimately, have been about the politicians’ comfort.
    It might well have been what happened today, but happily, I think western politicians (perhaps less so in the USSR) back then were motivated by ideals of public service, rather than the sense of entitlement that seems to characterise our political class today.

  5. All of this useless killing could have been avoided if unconditional surrender had not been the policy.
    Dan Kurt

  6. Those German POW’s don’t look remotely downcast. Looking forward to a nice few months’ holiday, knowing they’ve survived, before going back to what’s left of home, I imagine.

    What’s the German for, “Thank God it’s not the Russians”?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.