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British Army

Battle of Bure, January 1945

Battle of Bure, January 1945

Account of the battle by Units

of the 29th Armoured Brigade supporting 13th Para

If the infantry had an unpleasant time of it, their discomfort was shared by the armoured regiments supporting them.  29th Armoured Brigade took part with the 6th Airborne Division in what they described as “one of the toughest little battles in the history of the campaign” – a battle for the village of Bure, to the south of Rochefort and about a kilometre from the River L'homme, over which crossings had to be seized in order to continue the advance.  The famous Five and Forfar Yeomanry had a bad time of it on the first day of Montgomery’s counteroffensive, 3 January: 
“C” Squadron were now ordered to send up a Troop into Bure and a very lively time was had by all.  The weather had now become positively savage.  Spasmodic blizzards reduced visibility often to a matter of yards, deepening snow made ground conditions nearly impossible, and the cold was most searching.  As if the these conditions were not enough to be going on with, heavy enemy shelling had to be endured, especially by the airborne troops. 
Meantime the Troop from “C” Squadron that had been sent off to support the attack on Bure was making an adventurous approach to that disputed village.  The tanks slithered from side to side on the glassy road.  Two hundred yards short of the village the leading tank went up on a mine and this gave the reminder of the Troop some cause for thought.  However, a diversion was found, the village was entered from another quarter and another of the tank was hit, this time by an armour-piercing shell.  The unfortunate airborne troops were also meeting trouble from a strong and determined enemy.  Major R.L. Leith, who had to come up with the “C” Troop, made liaison with the OC Parachute Battalion, and as darkness was falling the attackers could not hope to make further progress that night.  So, with the British holding one-third of the village and the enemy the rest, a halt was called to the fighting.  One Troop of “C” Squadron remained with the infantry throughout the night, while the remainder of the Squadron proceeded by a series of intoxicated slithers back along the snow-filled road to Tellin. 

The most perishing period of the whole of the ETO were the nights which were spent on Chapel Hill

If a competition were held among the survivors of the 2nd Fife and Forfar Yeomanry today to decide which was the most perishing period of the whole of the European Campaign, “A” Squadron, Regimental HQ and “F” Company Rifle Brigade would certainly vote for the nights which were spent on Chapel Hill. This feature, one thousand feet high, was a bastion vital to the success of the operations around Bure. With snow showers howling through the trees, not a solidly built house anywhere in sight, the country was at its midwinter worst. The men were soaked by their continuous work among snow, and supply vehicles could only be towed up the slopes to a “thus-far-and-no-further” point, after which they had to be manhandled by the exhausted troops. 
 6 January 1945, at Baronville's Crossroads.
From early light on 4th January there was enough excitement to satisfy anyone.  All three tanks which had been left in Bure were knocked out by well-directed enemy fire, and when “C” Squadron, now in position to the southeast of the village, pushed another troop forward with the intention of outflanking the village, another tank was lost.  There, for hours, the situation remained deadlocked. Each side resorted to heavy shelling.  It was certainly remarkable that relatively few casualties were incurred by the Yeomanry, for their position was simply plastered.  There were times when it seemed as though the whole Squadron must be out of action.  The vehicles looked so shrapnel-scarred and must-bespattered that they had the appearance of being knocked out.  Corporal Gorman and Trooper Lines were killed in this action and Lieutenant Jones and several troopers wounded. 
 At nightfall “C” Squadron was withdrawn to Tellin.  This village, though right on the edge of the war zone, and frequently under German fire, had still a good many civilians in it.  And hospitable ones, too!  Particularly memorable was the kindness of the nuns who gave food and wine to the tired and shivering tank crews until a direct hit on the convent put an end to the meal.  On 5 January the 23 Hussars were ordered to relieve, while the Regiment moved back to Tellin.  The 23rd Hussars did not far much better when they tried their hand on 5 January.

On 4th January, each side resorted to heavy shelling. Corporal GORMAN was kicked in this action. 

 The gravestone of

Corporal GORMAN at Hotton

7885187 Corporal


2nd Fife & Forfar Yeomanry

Royal Armoured Corps

4th January 1945

Age: 30

"A" Squadron moved out very early indeed with orders to have another crack at Bure.  By dint of going across country they reached Tellin, the last village before Bure, by ten o'clock.  Now Bure lay at the foot of a very high hill to the south of it and, the original plan having been scratched, or rather failed, "A" Squadron were ordered to reconnoitre this high ground in order to cover infantry into Bure from the right flank.  This hill, steep, wooded and covered in snow, lay half shrouded in mist.  The infantry, the 13th Parachute Battalion was contacted, and the plan discussed.  1st Troop was to advance in support of infantry along the main road into and through Bure whilst 3rd and 4th Troop with Squadron Headquarters slowly climbed out of Tellin up a steep and narrow track in an attempt to reach the crest. 
This track was covered with ice, the visibility barely thirty yards, and the progress murderously slow.  But the crest was reached and, Lieutenant Leather leading, Third Troop pushed on to the vital eminence above Bure.  Behind them, however, the enemy had laid an ambush.  Taking advantage of the mist and snow and of the wooded nature of the ground, the Germans had concealed a party which now laid mines across the track, and brought bazookas into action. 
First Sergeant Huthwaite's tank, coming up with 4th Troop, went up on a mine, and immediately behind him Sergeant Roberts was bazooka's and killed lost one of its most popular and able tank commander.  The tank, however, remained intact and Sergeant Huthwaite, by an act of great daring and enterprise which won for him the MM, gathered the crews of both tanks together and brought them all back on his tank.  That incident in itself was enough to show the hazards of the undertaking.  Tanks were not made to fight blindly in fog, up icy mountain tracks, and it soon became obvious that the whole enterprise was doomed, if not to disaster, at least to failure. 
 By early afternoon it was therefore decided to withdraw and abandon the attack.  The mined tank, however, had to be retrieved, and the armoured recovery vehicle, manned by Sergeant Wright and his crew, and protected by "H" Company, went up to fetch it in.
In the meanwhile 1st Troop was fighting its way through Bure with the remainder of the Battalion.  It was found that the Fifes and another Battalion had, in fact, cleared the larger part of it at great cost to themselves and with heavy casualties to the enemy. B ut the enemy still clung to the eastern edge of the village and some of the remaining ruins.  The attack to clear these positions at first went well, and good progress was made towards the river at Grupont. 
There, however, the tank moved forward more warily down the narrow village street.  The troop leader, Lieutenant Goss, led with the utmost determination and bravery.  But it was all in vain and both his own and the tank following were hit and destroyed.  Four of the crews were killed, the wounded having to make their way back under fire.  Bure was, in fact, one of the nastiest spots the Squadron had ever been in.  The Germans clung to the houses and ruins, hid in cellars and catacombs, fighting and sniping grimly to the end.  It wasn't a place for a depleted battalion and half a troop of tanks.  Finally the attack was abandoned and our forces withdrawn.  "A" Squadron fell back on Tellin and occupied defensive positions around it for the next few days. 

Even out of action, it was no picnic: 

The ground was frozen solid and no shelter could be dug.  There was nothing for it but to camp out.  Everyone did as best he could, but the most desperate measures hardly sufficed to keep one warm, and three nights were more than enough for anything living or human.  Perhaps the worst part of it all were the feeding arrangements.  As no fires could be lit, and all visible movement had to be avoided, the food had to come by cook's truck before dawn and after dusk.  But the tea froze faster than one could drink it, and the stew turned into iced jelly.  No one thought it very funny in the snow, in the cold, and at seven in the morning.  In spite of their stubborn defence the Germans were obliged to abandon Bure at the end.