75th. anniversary of the liberation of Reusel (1944-2019)

Welcome to my website on which you can find some information about The Battle of Reusel, 

Introduction

About me

"I have always been interested in the history of my village since I was a young boy. Especially in the Second World War and the role of the British army in it.
I was fascinated by the tremendous power and resilience they showed in overcoming the enemy. This fascination made me start collecting militaria and military scale models some twelve years ago.
Over the years I have also gathered a substantial collection of books and articles about WW-I and WW-II. The 75th. anniversary of the liberation of Reusel inspired me to compile a book about The Battle of Reusel  so that the sacrifice of those who fought for our liberation is not forgotten". 


(Frank-Peter van de Goor)

This book is about the military movements of both the British and the German army during September and October 1944. 
I have tried to gather as much detailed information from various sources. This information was compiled in chronological order to capture a picture as complete as possible of the battle in and around Reusel.


I start my story in Belgium, to be more specific up near the Albert Canal. As the story progresses you can see developments into perspective and understand the decisions taken at that time.

Basically this book is only intended for the British guests who will attend the commemoration in October this year.

Just a few highlights from the book are listed below with some other interesting facts.

Suitable music while scrolling down :)

The Lommel Bridgehead

Planning began that morning, Sunday 17 September 1944. XII Corps  Lieutenant-General Neil Ritchie was supposed to protect the left flank of XXX Corps after its breakout from Neerpelt bridgehead. But because of the fierce resistance at Ten Aard the 15th. Scottish Division was clearly getting nowhere and Ritchie decided to develop the main axis advance the following day from a new bridgehead further east, north of Lommel. This task was assigned to the 53rd. Welch Division. Operation Flood was cancelled and operation The Lommel Bridgehead was born. On Monday 18 September 1944 53rd. Welch Division (160th. Brigade) crossed the Bocholt-Herentals Canal at a bridgehead near Lommel. From here we focus on the 6th. Bat. Royal Welch Fusiliers and the 4th. Bat. Welch Regiment.

A Scammell Tank Transporter crosses the reinforced bridge at Lommel. ('The Lommel Bridgehead '  )
This picture was taken after Operation Market Garden had ended.

Sunday 24 September 1944

Monday 25 September 1944

Of the dozen or so battalion battles involved in the operations north of Lommel perhaps the most savage was that of the assault on Reusel on the west of the 53rd. Welch Division salient. The village was one of the road junctions, most important to the German defence and was defended by 600 Fallschirmjäger of whom only 100 were destined to survive according to British sources. Every house had been fortified and the divisional artillery of 25-pdrs would do little damage to the German strong points.

On Sunday 24 September 1944 the carrier platoon of 6th. Bat. Royal Welch Fusiliers came under fire, 'A' company under Major O.E.H. Hughes advanced under heavy Spandau, anti-tank and artillery fire. They secured the outskirts of Reusel but could move no further. 'C' company under Major Grindley and 'B' company under Major Lord Davies were sent right flanking but they were observed and pinned down. In close fighting 'B' company lost Lt. Haines, Cpl. Bramwell, Fusiliers Smith and Mitchell all killed. The Canloan Lt. P. West of 'C' company was hit and died of his wounds. By late afternoon after many hours of heavy fighting the three rifles companies were still hundreds of yards short of the village. Commanding Officer Lt. Col. Snead-Cox decided to withdraw at nightfall.

At dawn, Monday 25 September, Capt. Barnett led a patrol into Reusel unopposed. It was a trap as 'B', 'C' and 'D' companies were shelled as they were forming up for a dawn attack. 'C' Company despite heavy casualties captured some buildings on the south side but 'B' company were also in serious difficulties from machine-gun fire from a church converted into a strong point. Major Lord Davies and Lt. Ashmole were killed and Commanding Sergeant Major Blakely took over command. Major Lord Davies grave was found later in Hooge Mierde, at a German first aid post were he was buried with military honors.  

Mr. Walter van Veldhoven, who stayed in the basement of his house during the battle, writes in his diary about this day Monday 25 September 1944:
"07:30 hours. I can't hardly describe events; it is like our house is being blown away from over our heads. We were shelled from all sides. It took at least another hour. Afterwards we tried to eat something but we didn't have too much of an appetite. At 11:15 hours it starts all over again (...). This attack lasts about 45 minutes. The attacks are getting heavier and heavier".

L/Cpl. John Walter Wood  (4206696)

6th. Bat. Royal Welch Fusiliers  "C" company

L/Cpl. J.W. Wood was taken prison on Monday 25 September 1944. He ended up as prisoner of war in Stalag XI  B  north east of Bad Fallingbostel, Lower Saxony, Germany.


In the Kriegstagebuch LXXXVIII Armeekorps (war diary), we read that on this day, Monday 25 September 1944, approximately 100 British soldiers were killed and 33 were taken prisoner of which John Walter Wood was one of them.

Tuesday 26 September 1944

In the early morning of Tuesday 26 September the two attacking battalions, the 6th. Bat. Royal Welch Fusiliers from the south and 4th. Bat. Welch Regiment from the northeast, were only six hundred metres apart. The lead company of the 4th. Bat. Welch Regiment went round the village centre and cut the Turnhout (Arendonk) road. The Grenadiere inside Reusel were now virtually trapped and it seemed only a matter of hours before the battle was over. At 13:00 hours the gap between the two battalions was narrowed down to two hundred metres, but the 4th. Bat. Welch Regiment and the 6th. Bat. Royal Welch Fusiliers still could not establish contact because a great many houses were on fire rendering visibility nil at times.
Then the incredible happened, just as the village was about to fall: the Germans counterattacked. Reinforcements had arrived to help the defenders. Reinhard that morning had received a desperate call from Generalleutnant Sander. Just before he had learned that his Grenadier-Regiment 937 was being annihilated and that some companies were down to fifteen men, decimated by mortar fire. He asked Reinhard to release the Korps reserve. II./Fallschirmjäger-Regiment 6 (Hauptmann Rolf Mager) to him, where it could fight alongside the II./SS-Grenadier-Regiment Landstorm Nederland. The request was granted and Sander immediately ordered II./Fallschirmjäger-Regiment 6 to retake Reusel.

" Egypte "

Mr. Emrys Davies, 4th. Bat. Welch Regiment 'D' company, visited Bladel on 24 September 2007.           (picture: Ronald Damen)

Egypte a small hamlet south of Bladel from which the attack took place on Reusel 26 September 1944.


Wednesday 27 September 1944


The fighting was bloody and fierce and sometimes individual houses were contested. The church in particular was one of the focal points. During heavy shelling the nunnery burst into flames and everyone seeking shelter in the convent had to flee. Father A. Wouters who's also staying there, later writes: "As a storm of shells and bullets is raining down on us we must leave the burning convent in a hurry. This will be a journey to remember, the centre of Reusel looks like a blazing inferno".


Albert Sturm was a Gefreiter in 7.Kompanie of the II./Fallschirmjäger-Regiment 6, "we succeeded in driving the Englishmen out of the vicarage. They withdrew into the church which was covered with heavy MG fire. But now we were pinned down: as soon as we tried to approach the church, which was no more than twenty metres away we were met with a murderous fire from MG's and MP's". Eventually the Fallschirmjäger managed to get into the church and fighting continued inside the building. At one stage the Fallschirmjäger were in the choir while the 6th. Bat. Royal Welch Fusiliers and the 4th. Bat. Welch Regiment ('D' company) were in the aisles, shouting orders in Welsh so that the enemy would not understand. Pte. Donald Eric Percy Bicknell 4th. Bat. Welch Regiment 'D' company was killed during these close combat fights in the church, he was shot through the head.

That day, Wednesday 27 September 1944, 4th. Bat. Welch Regiment cleared Reusel; street-to-street, house-to-house and room-by-room.

Left: Lt. Andrew Wilson, 141st. Royal Armoured Corps "The Buffs  ", commander of a Crocodile flamethrower. Right: Major Arthur J. Lewis, Company Commander 4th. Bat. Welch Regiment. In 1984 they saw each other again for the first time after forty years at Nuland (The Battle of 's-Hertogenbosch).
Obviously Major Lewis was also in command of 'D' company at Reusel a few weeks earlier.
This was not the only picture of the Major that I found, below a picture from 1943.

4th. Welch Regiment: Officers taken at Faversham, Kent, September 1943

(many thanks to the Rosenheim family)

Thursday 28 September 1944

Typhoon attack

Thursday 28 September 1944, a black day for Reusel because the steeple of our church was to be blown off. It had been a magnificent observation post for the Germans and inside the church was 7. Kompanie of the II./Fallschirmjäger-Regiment 6 that put up stubborn resistance. The artillery of the 6th. Bat. Royal Welch Fusiliers had numerous attempts with the 6-pdr. anti-tank gun to eliminate this observation post but hardly damaged the tower's brickwork. The 17-pdr. anti-tank gun could not achieve the desired result either.


For this operation air support was essential. Therefore RAF was asked for backup. Air support came from air base B 70 Deurne (near Antwerp), 245 squadron was based there from 17 September 1944. This squadron was part of the Second Tactical Air Force No. 83 Group RAF, specialized in ground attacks. 245 squadron had access to the Hawker Typhoon MK-IB. This airplane was standard equipped with four 20mm. cannons. From 1943 this plane could provided with eight rockets which could be fired in pairs or eight at the same time.

Preparations started in Bladel. A pitch closely to the marketplace was cleared of British vehicles after which, at approximately 10:00 hours, brightly colored panels were put on the ground so the pilots could clearly see when they passed the front line.

The artillery of the 6th. Bat. Royal Welch Fusiliers started little before 13:00 hours by marking the target using colored smoke grenades, and shortly after that eight Typhoons of 245 squadron approached from the east. They scored several direct hits with their rockets. Together with the artillery support, a battery of 7.2-inch howitzers (331 Battery Royal Artillery), situated in the south of Reusel (near Postel) they eventually succeeded in bringing the steeple down.

During this air strike seventy-five rocket projectiles screamed down on the German strongpoint obscuring Reusel once again in dense smoke. It was all in vain because on Saturday 30 September, after five days of fighting, the village (a mini Stalingrad) was once again completely in German hands.


Hawker Typhoon Documentary Film

Saturday 30 September 1944

Mr. Walter van Veldhoven, who stayed in the basement of his house during the battle, writes in his diary about this day Saturday 30 September 1944:
"...Oh dear, once again we see five Germans, walking down the street without battle suits. They are eating apples in a relaxed way and looking at their dead comrades lying in the doorway. Apparently the English were beaten back. This again was a blow to our morale (...). Our landlord Mr. Wilbords walks in, four days ago he fled to Hooge Mierde and the Germans gave him permission to go back to Reusel. He also says the English pulled back and Reusel is still in German hands..."


The final balance on British side

Both Forward Observation Officers, Capt. Frank Smith of the 331 Battery Royal Artillery and Lt. Bibby were awarded the Military Cross for their heroic action during The Battle of Reusel .
4th. Bat. Welch Regiment withdrew on Thursday 28 September 1944 and by clearing the immediate approaches of mines by the Pioneer platoon, 6th. Bat. Royal Welch Fusiliers entered an empty Reusel on Tuesday 3 October 1944.
This without much content, for their losses in killed, wounded and missing had been heavy indeed.

Major Arthur J. Lewis (company commander 4th. Bat. Welch Regiment) said:
"Many people believed in the protection of God during that withdrawal. We certainly seemed to be protected by some Divine Power".

On Friday 6 October 1944 160th. and 71st. Brigade of the 53rd. Welch Division moved North East to a defensive position in the triangle Elst, Nijmegen and Arnhem.
53rd. Welch Division's war eventually ended up in Hamburg, May 1945.
They celebrated victory in the Atlantic Hotel with a "Victory Dinner".


A few numbers

I am often asked: "How many soldiers were killed during The Battle of Reusel?  "
It's difficult to get a concrete answer to this question. But through charts from the administration of the 53rd. Welch Division (1946), I figured out that during the period from 20 September 1944 (Witrijt) till 4 October 1944 (Reusel) approx. 145 British soldiers from the 160th. Brigade were killed.

- 6th. Bat. Royal Welch Fusiliers   +/- 85 KIA
- 4th. Bat. Welch Regiment           +/- 60 KIA

On German side a multitude of this figure, at least 450 / 500 KIA.

 

The 53rd. Welch Division took part on many major campaigns pushing across northern France, Belgium into the Netherlands.
Finally, they crossed the Rhine and advanced into Germany were they ended the war in Hamburg.
Troughout its ten months of almost continuous combat, the 53rd. Welch Division had suffered nearly 10.000 casualties:

-113 officers and 1.396 other ranks killed
-387 officers and 7.221 other ranks wounded
-33 officers and 1.255 other ranks missing


However, the division, throughout the entire campaign, had, according to Major-General Bobby Ross, "captured some 35.000 Prisoners of War and probably accounted for the same amount in dead and wounded."  53rd. Welch Division would become known by several nicknames; within the British press they were known as 'Monty's Darlings', and for propaganda purposes it was said that the Germans referred to them as 'Monty's Butchers'.


          WE     REMEMBER

- Donald Eric Percy Bicknell

- Edward John Sheen

- Vernon James John

- Frederick Murdock

- Herbert Hughes

- Samuel Morris Price

- William Owen Traynor


...so that the sacrifice of these seven soldiers who fought for the liberation of Reusel is not forgotten...


There is a possibility to lay virtual flowers on the graves of 'our seven lads'. Please check the website Find A Grave  press the button down below.

Autumn Gale       

Thanks to the book 'Autumn Gale' by Jack Didden and Maarten Swarts there is much more clarity about what really happened in northern Belgium and the south of the Netherlands during the end of the Second World War.

I highly recommend this book!


Unfortunately 'Autumn Gale' sold out again but there is a possibility to sign up for a reprint. On the website (press the button on the right or below) you'll find more information.

Hardcover 545 pages
Publisher: De Zwaardvisch (2013)
ISBN: 978-90-800393-8-4
Language: English
Dimensions: 22x28cm.
Price: € 85,-

'Kampfgruppe Walther and Panzerbrigade 107'  by the same authors is still available though. Please check the website mentioned above for details.

Jimdo

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