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British Army

Break Out in the Ardennes

Break Out in the Ardennes
December the 18th 1944, the 53rd Welsh Division was stationed in and around Weert in Holland when there was talk of us going back to Antwerp in Belgium for a rest and refit.  We had spent the couple of weeks there, in September, mostly on the bank of the Albert Canal, and we were looking forward to having regular meals, baths, and perhaps seeing an ENSA concert. 
However, all the plans were changed by the breakout of the German 5th and 6th Panzer Armies in the Ardennes on the 16th of December.  The attack took place in the American sector taking them completely by surprise.  
The German forces consisted of over fifty thousand troops and over eight hundred tanks of the latest Panther and Tiger types.  The 53rd Welsh Division, along the 43rd Wessex Division and the 51st Highland Division, plus three armoured brigades under General Sir Brian Horrocks, were given the immediate task of securing the Meuse crossing between Namur and Liege.  
The weather was bitterly cold with freezing fog, and we had been marching all day.  By the evening at a farm and were told to dig in along and embankment.  After we had dug our trenches our section went out with the engineers to lay anti-tank mines on the approach roads.  When we got back to company HQ.  Which was in the barn, I took my boots off and rubbed my stock-inged feet with a fistful of hay to bring back a bit of circulation as they were frozen.  I then noticed my socks felt wet and, holding my hands up to my face because of the poor light.  I could see they were covered in blood.  It appears that the hay had cut through my socks and scored my feet, but there were too cold to feel anything.  We later posted sentries and had a cooked meal.  We found an old coke brazier and some coke which we put in the root cellar of the farm house, and settled down for a few hours sleep.  A couple of hours later we were dragged from the cellar, unconscious, by a sentry who had come in to see where his relief was.  I woke up lying on my back in the farm yard looking up at the stars with a blinding headache, because there was no ventilation in the cellar and we had been overcome by the fumes from the burning coke.  
A couple of days later it was Christmas and, as was the custom.  Christmas dinner was served by the officers.  We had a good dinner followed by treacle pudding and a couple of cans of Felin Foel beer.  By the side of each man's plate was a little packet, the contents of which were used mainly to keep the barrel of the rifle or Bren, clean.  We later went to Rochefort to relieve a Battalion of Americans in the front line.  When we got to within about a half mile of their positions they shouted something about: "You can have it", and there were gone – there was no official handover.  They had not dug a single trench! In a chateau which they had been using for a HQ we found automatic riffle ammunition, grenades and, what was more interesting to us boxes of Chesterfield and Camel cigarettes, also boxes of chewing gum and candies.  We were then told to dig in around the chateau and when "Stand to" came at first light, we had only dug down about two feet.  The ground was as hard as flint and it was as well there was no dawn attack.  
That night our platoon went out on a fighting patrol.  We were loaded down with automatic weapons and grenades.  We were dressed in white snow suits with hoods.  As we passed through the town of Rochefort we could see several of the buildings were burning and the air was thick with smoke.  After we had gone a couple of miles or so out of the town we lay in the snow and listened for about an hour.  My mate whispered to me "Happy New Year Ron".  It had just gone 12 o'clock on January the 1st, 1945.  The order then came down the line that we were going back so instead of being the last man.  I became the first. While we were going back through Rochefort we saw something in the gutter the other side of the road which we had not noticed on our way out.  
Corporal Sid Lloyd, our Section Leader, walked over to it and gave it a kick and it turned out to be a German soldier who was very surprised to see us coming from that direction.  I searched him and found that he had several packets of American cigarettes, an American army torch, and a couple of watches.  The German later accompanied us back to HQ as a prisoner. 
Our next move was to a place called Hotton where we had a visit by a Western Mail Reporter and cameraman who took photos of us in old trenches with snow on our tin hats and in a firing position, "waiting for the enemy". The Germans were at least ten miles away at the time and heading in the other direction.  On 7th of January we were told we were to attack the high ground south west of a place called Waharday.  It was avowing at the time and it was very cold.  As we moved along the road to the starting point we passed a convoy of lorries and other vehicles all frozen up and we were told they didn't have any anti-freeze.  Soon later we had started our attack into the woods, we came under very heavy shell fire and we had been told not to use any slit trenches because they might have been booby trapped.  However, as the shells started to fall around us we didn't hesitate and dived straight into them.  After sheltering in one for a few minutes till the shelling had ceased, I was about to climb out when the tracks of a tank stopped right across the top of my trench. 
This was a old trick of the tank drivers it they thought the trenches were occupied by the enemy, so I just prayed it would go straight on, which it did.  After it had gone, we were following close behind a tank along a track in the wood, when we came under a short but sharp attack of mortar fire from "Moaning Minnies".  They were called " Moaning Minnies" because of the weird sound made by the bomb as they flew through the air.  The German name for them is Nebelwerfers.  They were six barrelled weapons fixed to the bed of a truck which they would fire for several minutes and then move on.  It was very difficult to get a fix on them.  When the attack had finished looked around for my mate and found him lying a few yards away.  A piece of shrapnel had struck him on the head just below the rim of his helmet.  Only two hours previously he had been showing me some photographs of his wife and kids.  His name was Sidney Bourne and he was from London. 
We advanced to the top of the ridge and dug in. An hour or so later we were told "Grub up".  One man from each trench made their way down through the wood to a clearing where the cooks were dishing up the food from the back off 15 cwt truck.  It was dark by the time we made our way back to our trenches.  The chap from the trench next to mine slid down into his trench his two mess tins in one hand and his mug of the in the other.  The slide took him straight onto his bayonet which was fixed onto his rifle and propped against the side of the trench.  He was taken away to HQ on a stretcher and I heard Sergeant Major Bowen telling him to say the wound was caused by enemy action.  We often wondered what story he told.  
Some time during the night a German patrol walked into our position, there was some firing but they got away.  At first light we had "Stand To". I nudged my mate who was sleeping on the floor of the trench, but he did not move.  I pinched his nostrils but he didn’t wake up.  A couple of us then carried him over to a tank that had its engine running and we propped him up against the exhaust.  He was frozen stiff. About an hour later he came around and didn't seem any the worse.  The tables spoonful of neat rum probably helped.  I know it thaw of me out.  Two day later we marched out of the woods to a village near Liege where we were given a great welcome by the Belgian people.  We must have looked a sorry sight as we had not washed for several days and our once white snow suits were stained a muddy brown.  
After a hot meal we were driven into Liege.  We had a lovely hot bath in the public baths and a clean change of clothes.  The only thing to spoil our night was a couple of V1's or Buzz bombs that landed in the town while we were bathing. 
The following day we were told that the German offensive had been halted.  As the weather improved the RAF were able to bomb and strafe the enemy forces resulting in the complete destruction of Hitler's two Panzer Armies.  Exactly one month from the day of the breakout the 4th Battalion, "The Welch Regiment" returned to Holland to prepare for the attack on the Siegfried line in Germany 

"C" Company

4th Battalion, The Welch Regiment

53rd Welsh Division

Welch Regiment


Battle of the Ardennes,