- Simon Biggs
The Battle of the Bulge - Royal Marines in the Ardennes Offensive
The Battle of the Bulge, also known as the Ardennes Counteroffensive, was the last major German offensive campaign on the Western Front during World War II, and took place from 16 December 1944 to 25 January 1945.
It was launched through the densely forested Ardennes region of Wallonia in eastern Belgium, northeast France, and Luxembourg, towards the end of the war in Europe. The offensive was intended to stop Allied use of the Belgian port of Antwerp and to split the Allied lines, allowing the Germans to encircle and destroy four Allied armies and force the Western Allies to negotiate a peace treaty in the Axis powers' favor.
For the Americans who took the brunt of the offensive, out of a peak of 610,000 troops, 89,000 became casualties out of which some 19,000 were killed. The "Bulge" was the largest and bloodiest single battle fought by the United States in World War II and the third deadliest campaign in American history. (Wikipedia)
Although fought primarily between German and American forces approximately 55,000 troops of the British Army, Royal Marines, Royal Air Force, and the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, as well as other allies participated in the counter offensive.
During the Ardennes Offensive, 45 Commando and the retitled 1st Commando Brigade was given the task of holding a stretch of the River Meuse; it was during this period of operations that Lance Corporal H. Harden, a medical orderly of the RAMC attached to 45 (RM) Commando, won the Victoria Cross
47 & 48 Commando
A German support operation for the ARDENNES Offensive took place, to support the main German attack through the Belgian ARDENNES. This support operation was know as "FALL BRAUN".
For this the Germans gathered a large force, north of the river MAAS in the Netherlands. When the operation started, German troops advanced through the south of the Netherlands towards ANTWERP. There was only one small problem for the Germans. The river MAAS acted as a natural barrier between the Germans on the north- and the Allied forces on the southbanks of the river. The Germans had three small bridgeheads at the river MAAS. One of these bridgeheads was the island of "KAPELSCHE VEER", named after a small ferry, that crossed the river MAAS near that point. The bridgehead was heavily defended, mainly by German paratroopers of the 6th Parachute Division.
At the end of 1944, the preparations of "FALL BRAUN" went on and on. But when the Battle of the Bulge started, Hitler decided that the forces of "FALL BRAUN" had to go to the area of the Bulge for support. At the end there was a very little amount of German forces left in the building up area of "FALL BRAUN".
On 22 Dec. at very short notice, the Commando moved to BREDA to come under command Brig. E.T. BOYLAN CCRA, and to form part of “PADDY FORCE”, the 1 Corps Mobile Reserve.
Two days later the Commando moved again, to OOSTERHOUT where they took on patrol and defensive duties on the MAAS and came under command 1 Pol Armd Div. Under command or in support were (C) Sqdn 18 Cdn Armd Regt, two Coys 1 Belg Fus, one troop 247 A/Tk Bty R.A.., one det Polish Engineers, one Pl Pol R.A.S.C. and 90 Field Regt R.A.
Then ensued a period of intensive preparation. The Commando was on the main approach from NORTH HOLLAND to ANTWERP, and the Intelligence was very certain that some attack was coming, to coincide with the ARDENNES offensive. (It is worth noting that this intelligence proved correct from documents captured later). The Commando were the only troops between the enemy and HQ. 1 Corps, and troops everywhere were thin on the ground.
Three troops of 48 Commando came under command 28 Dec. for a fortnight. On 30 Dec. Lt. Col. C.F. PHILIPS D.S.O. RM, relinquished command to form 116 Inf Bde RM., and Maj. DONNELL was promoted Lt. Col. to assume command. Maj. MARTIN PRICE D.S.O. joined on the 7 Jan. as 2 i/c.
There was continuous patrol activity on the South side of the MAAS, and on the 1 and 2 Jan. patrols crossed to the North side, contacting the enemy on the latter day.
Four days later an enemy patrol crossed to the South side of the MAAS, and ambushed our patrol killing 2nd Lt. GARDENER, and two days later, a little to the East they ambushed a patrol of ‘Y’ troop, 48 Commando (u/c) wounding Capt. HOSKIN.
Capt. N.S.Y. DOBSON rejoined on the 9 Jan. and was involved four days later in an accident when a Jeep skidded off a road into a dyke. Capt. JAMES and Capt. O'CONNELL were partially drowned and evacuated to hospital.
On 9 Jan. the Commando relinquished its patrol duties to return to training at BERGEN OP ZOOM, but were kept on long enough to attack the German positions at KAPELSCHE VEER.
This was a position of great natural strength which the enemy had crossed the MAAS to occupy on Christmas Eve. It was a small island between the MAAS and the OUDE MAAS. On the North was a broad dyke 25 feet high which broadened out, at the defended point, to form quite a reasonable plateau. Here the enemy were well dug in. There was only one small cottage in the area, and all supplies etc. had to be brought across the river.
The defending troops came mostly from Para Divs and were young and fanatical. They possessed a few LMGs but nothing larger, but there were a few batteries on the North side to support them.
Most of the low ground was flooded and, following snow, it had been freezing hard for some days.
Forces of 1 Pol Armd Div. had twice attempted to move the enemy, first by a platoon recce, and then with a whole company, but in vain. The Commando attacked on the night of 13/14th Jan.
On the night of 13th January 1945, 'Q' troop of 47 Royal Marine Commando, together with attached No. 5 Troop (Norwegian) 10 Inter Allied Commando under 2 i/c, launched an assault on the island of KAPELSCHE VEER attacking the right flank supported by armour and artillery from the mainland, while a main force of ‘A’ ‘B’ ‘X’ ‘Y’ troops of the Royal Marine Commandos attacked on the left flank.
The only possible means of approach to the enemy position was along the base of the dyke from the East or West. A Polish company was to secure the bridgehead, while 47 Commando and No. 5 Troop 10 IA Commando provided a diversionary attack.
The first phase - crossing the OUDE MAAS, was accomplished with difficulty. The heavy ice flow made it very difficult to get boats across, but eventually the Polish Engrs got the bridge fixed.
On the way to the forming up position ‘A’ troop who were leading ran into a small enemy outpost which was wiped out. By 0047 hrs both parties were in position and the code-word was given for the barrage which fired from 0055 - 0100 hrs - all the 1 Corps artillery.
Attacks went in simultaneously from both flanks, and ‘Q’ troop got onto the defended plateau to the neighborhood of one house.
However, the enemy were determined to hold out and brought down a withering fire. Confident that their troops were safe underground, they brought extremely heavy mortar fire down on their own positions causing heavy casualties among the Royal Marines. By 0530 hrs, after 8-10 hours of bitter fighting, it was obvious that the place could not be taken by a lightly armed elite force so small in a night attack, and so all were withdrawn.
47 Royal Marine Commando casualties numbered 49 including Capt. B.L. STICKINGS who was killed in the enemy position to which he had most gallantly advanced. The place was eventually taken by 10 Cdo Inf. Bde with support from tanks and ‘wasps' and after they had sustained approx 350 casualties.
This is what was left of the trees on the dyke at KAPELSCHE VEER, after the fearce fighting in January 1945
Only one of these trees survived the battle, and is still there at the memorial site. It is hard to determine which tree in the picture is the one that is still standing there, but the image does show the exact spot of the memorial.