Saturday, 6 November 2010

4th February 1944 - Second patrol over the River Meuse

This knowledge of the ground and the enemy was put to the fullest possible use in a second expedition which the Battalion was called upon to undertake some four nights later. The intention of the patrol was simple and direct - to bring back a prisoner from Hoeken. 'A' Company found the patrol: its leader was Lt Beavan, and he had no difficulty in finding sufficient volunteers from 'A' Company to go with him.

The patrol itself was prepared and briefed far more rapidly than the first one: the order to carry it out on the night 4/5 February was received on the evening of the 3rd. But owing to the detailed topographical knowledge at Lt Beavan's disposal. this, in the event, made no difference at all.

Conditions were on this occasion some what different. The night was pitch black, and Lt Beavan decided to put back the time of zero hour from 2000 to 2030 and to call for artificial moonlight. Thaw had set in since the first, and the Meuse was considerably swollen, so much so that, on the far bank, the boat fouled the wire which Lt Hancock had been able to cut at his ease after landing.

However the whole party - Lt Beavan and 10 men - finally disembarked on firm ground and the screen of three Bren guns under Sjt Bonass were positioned in a small bridgehead defending the boat.

The patrolling party crawled forward to the edge of the orchard and soon began to see and hear activity. Coughing could be heard from the occupied slit trench to the South of the orchard, and, as if to assist us in pinpointing it, a few rounds of spandau were fired off at nothing in particular.

From Hoeken itself sounds of occupation could be heard and the patrol witnessed the extraordinary sight of a man carrying shovels of blazing coal from one house to another. Moving to the orchard, they arrived just in time to see three men walking from the top of the enclosure to the located position South of the orchard.

Lt Beavan now appreciated that others would return by the same route when these three had relieved them and immediately transferred his position to half way up the West side of the enclosure. His party had been there about two minutes when two more men walked straight into the ambush from the North.

They were challenged, disarmed, and hurried away to the river. Once more recognition signals were made and by 2320 hrs the whole party was back on home ground with no casualties and two rather dejected additions.

The prisoners if they had been hand-picked, could not have been more satisfactory or informative. The more valuable was a Company runner, who knew even more about his own and neighbouring positions than an intelligent runner might be expected to know.

His identification was what had been anticipated, but luckily he knew that the troops on his right belonged to a different Division, and he was able to delineate the inter-Divisional boundary. It is also interesting that he knew very well that 3 British Division lay opposite his own formation along the Meuse.

This valuable patrol proved a fitting swan-song for the Battalion's Watch on the Meuse. Great events were impending. For the previous week 12 British Corps had been engaged upon an offensive designed to bring Allied forces along the river Roer for the whole of its length.

It was a limited offensive, less significant in itself as in what it portended. Once the Roer was crossed - and it was a far less broad and temperamental stream than the Meuse - the Cologne plain lay open and prizes such as Krefeld, M√ľnchen-Gladbach, Bonn and Cologne itself lay within easy reach.

As this operation was completed 3 Division were drawn out of the line into Army reserve, being relieved by 52 Division fresh from its successful part in the offensive. We were to withdraw from the fog of war for a short spell, to put our house in order in a peaceful area North of Louvain, and then to be committed anew at the discretion of the Army Group Commander.

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