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Artillery support to 1 Commando Brigade - 1945  XML
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geoffmurray1
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An adapted version of an account written recently by Geoff Tudor for the Royal Artillery Journal of how 1 Commando Brigade and the 1st Mountain Regiment RA came together in March 1945. Geoff is author of ?Hoofprints in the Clouds ? Jeep Tracks in the Mud? (ISBN 978-1906206-32-1)

From Mountain Artillery to Commando Artillery

The Story of 1st Mountain Regt. R.A., 1945
For two and a half years the regiment formed part of 52 (Lowland) Division, training in Scotland for mountain warfare. In the summer of 1944 - at very short notice - they swapped mules for jeeps and -stood by in Lincolnshire for an air-landing role in the Arnhem operation. An assault mission at Flushing in November was followed by an anti-mortar role during the winter campaign of 1944-45. Then the regiment became 'Commando Artillery' for the Rhine Crossing and the remaining battles of the war in Germany

Coming Together
1st Mountain Regiment and 1 Commando Brigade first came together in the final stages of Operation Veritable, the battle for the territory between the Rhine and the Maas. Both formations were in a sense 'spare numbers'. The mountain gunners were surplus to 52 Div's three field regiments - hence the counter-mortar role. The commandos had been diverted from employment in the Far East because of the Ardennes crisis: once in the battle, with infantry in short supply, a series of tasks was found for them. So it came about that mountain gunners found themselves supporting commandos, as the Regimental History describes:

The road from Afferdon to Well, about ten miles south, was cratered every hundred yards, and the craters and road verges mined with A.P .mines and booby traps. In spite of these difficulties the sappers, who suffered several casualties in doing so, cleared and repaired the road for traffic in a remarkably short time. The guns had to be brought up, across country, which necessitated a good deal of manhandling.

The dash with which the guns were brought forward in the advance to Well inspired among the commandos a respect which quickly became affection. Ahead lay the task of assaulting many great rivers: in this task the Brigade demanded the continuing support of the regiment they came to look upon as 'Our Gunners'. The two units worked, together from February until May - from the operations on the Maas to the storming of the Elbe and the advance to the Baltic. During that time, wrote Hilary St. George Saunders in The Green Beret, 'the bonds of friendship, forged in battle, were hoops of steel.'

Operation Plunder - the Rhine Crossing
It was 10 March when, protected from air strikes by fog and heavy drizzle, the last of the German defenders crossed to the east bank and the Rhine bridges were blown. Just thirteen days later the river was stormed. Montgomery has been accused of being dilatory and over-cautious, but this was a massive feat of organisation. A million and a half men had been deployed, with all their vehicles and supplies. By D-Day 250,000 tons of ammunition and other material had been lifted to dumps close to the battlefield. General Simpson's 9th American Army was to cross on an 11-mile front south of Wesel: Dempsey's 2nd British Army on a 12 mile front stretching northwards from Wesel to Rees. Key to the whole operation was Wesel itself, a vital communication centre for road and rail and the boundary between British and American sectors. Its capture was the responsibility of 7th Armoured Division for whom a quick success was imperative: the task was given to 1 Commando Brigade, with the mountain gunners in support.

The Commando role at Wesel: Artillery 'the Core of the Plan'.
An opposed river crossing against prepared. positions is lone of the 'most hazardous of military operations - in January 1944 the American 36th Division lost over 1,000 men in a disastrous attempt to storm the, Rapido River in Italy. The Rapido was only 50 feet across, whereas the Rhine at Wesel was a formidable obstacle: over 400 yards wide, its stream ran at about 5 knots, and flood dykes (bunds) rose to a height of fifteen to twenty feet. Brigadier Mills-Roberts decided to repeat the 'Heights of Abraham' infiltration technique developed so successfully in Normandy. He later explained his battle plan in his Five Rivers Report:

Any form of frontal assault was-considered out of the question.- Surprise and speed must be the keynote of the attack. Therefore it was decided to cross at the most unpromising place, Grav Insel, a mud flat which was practically an island some four thousand yards west of Wesel. Once ashore and the bridgehead established, then the route into Wesel must be the most improbable and unsuspected ... ln order to complete the deception of the enemy no trace of the force must be found in the bridgehead area after daylight. The whole force must disappear into Wesel, leaving the enemy in complete ignorance as to the strength of the force or its whereabouts.

Once again his commandos would follow a 3" wide track of white minefield tape: moving in Indian file at the double the whole brigade could" pass a given point in 20 minutes. Arriving in Wesel on the heels of an R.A.F. raid, they would seize just the northern and north-western sectors. It was a town of 24,000 people, large enough to swallow up several brigades, so no attempt would be made to clear the whole area. Their mission would be to seize a redoubt, .and then hold it against all counter-attacks, until reinforced from across the river and by the two airborne divisions that would land beyond Wesel on the, following day .. In this way the German prepared positions along the waterfront would be outflanked: -It would be the commandos who would be occupying known positions protected by artillery fire plans, the Germans who would be attacking over open ground. The threat from enemy tank attacks was reckoned to be small, and it would be difficult to move anti-tank guns along their approach router Brigadier Mills-Roberts described the support plan:

It was therefore decided to rely on the rubble of Wesel, a liberal issue of captured panzer-fausts, and artillery support to deal with any enemy armour. In this last connection the Brigade was fortunate enough to have under command the 1st Mountain Regt. RA. The officers and signallers of this regiment had been specially trained to carry their heavy No 22 sets for long distances and maintain communications on the move. The excellence of artillery communications in this and in subsequent operations proved a decisive factor. It was vital that they should be excellent, for the artillery was the core of the plan, and a vast number of guns were controlled by the O.Ps.

This message was edited 3 times. Last update was at 22/10/2012 11:56:02


Geoff Murray


'United We Conquer'
DaveF
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My dad was a radio operator in the 1st RA. All of this info matches what he told us over the years, so I'm glad to see it verified as the details are hard to find. Afterwards his unit went out to India and then Palestine (I have the photos) but I can't find anything about this on line anywhere.

I'm apparently named after his best mate in the RA.
Bill Harvey
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Roger Wainwright

Have you seen this.

Bill

Bill Harvey
Son of Gunner Bill Harvey No4 Commando who was killed in action on 1 November 1944 when liberating Flushing. "Their deeds shall live from age to age. They've writ their name on History's page. Upheld their glorious heritage. The Fighting Fourth Commando."
DaveF
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I did get a copy of Geoff Tudor's book, which also matched what Dad had said about the training up in Scotland.
Bill Harvey
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Dave

Roger Wainwright posted this in a private message to me, Hello. Just found this website and have been reading your comments about the upcoming memorial events in Vlissingen. I've actually visited the place a couple of times over the years because my father landed there from Breskens in november 1944. He was a gunner and signaller with the F.O.O in 452 battery 1st Mountain Regiment Royal Artillery. His regiment went from Holland to Germany where he won the Military Medal near the the town of Wesel when crossing the Rhine. I have managed to get his citation from Kew and found that he was attached to 6th Commando Brigade when he won the medal. There seems to be quite a bit of information about his regiment in Walcheren but i can't seem to find anything about them as they made progress through Germany. Anyway, i didn't realise that it was 75 years since the Walcheren landings and would have very much have liked to have attended the memorial events. I hope they all go well and will be thinking of my late father, Gunner George Arthur Wainwright. Very best regards, Roger.

Bill

This message was edited 1 time. Last update was at 06/02/2020 11:11:08


Bill Harvey
Son of Gunner Bill Harvey No4 Commando who was killed in action on 1 November 1944 when liberating Flushing. "Their deeds shall live from age to age. They've writ their name on History's page. Upheld their glorious heritage. The Fighting Fourth Commando."
DaveF
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Thank you.
That's the first time that I have had any link at all to someone who would have served alongside my dad. He told me they went up and over the Rhine to Bremen then down to Luneburg Heath. He claimed to have seen the incident where Mills-Roberts snapped the German officer's baton.
John L Dixon
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1st Mountain Regiment is featured as a supporting Unit to the 70th Infantry Brigade - the subject of the Memorial Website at www.newmp.org.uk/70brigade

Those contributors who had relatives serving are invited to check the 1st Mountain Regiment Page at :-

http://70brigade.newmp.org.uk/wiki/1st_Mountain_Regiment,_Royal_Artillery

If I already have your relative listed please get in touch with any extra information you have and if he is not yet included, please send me the details so that he can be added to the Personnel List. My research e-mail is:-

[email protected]

I look forward to hearing from you so that we can improve this Memorial Website.

John L Dixon
Lead Researcher
www.newmp.org.uk/70brigade
[email protected]
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