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July 2019
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British Army

The 50th British (Northumbrian) Division

The 50th British (Northumbrian) Division
 
I cannot be sure about the movements of the remainder of the British 50th Division during the Ardennes conflict.  However I can give you information regarding the involvement of my Regiment, the 61st Reconnaissance Regiment which was the Reconnaissance Regiment for the 50th Division.
 
The Division had landed on Gold Beach, Normandy, on June 6th and fought through Europe up to Arnhem, Holland.  Because of the reduction in personnel it was decided that the Division would be disbanded and the remaining personnel be transferred to other units.
 
My regiment, along with all the 50th Division, was withdrawn from Nijmegen, Holland, to Belgium in order to be disbanded in November 1944.  The 61st Reconnaissance Regiment was located in Iseghem, Belgium.
 
While waiting there for the disbandment the Ardennes offensive began, and the Regiment was ordered to regain its equipment and proceed forthwith to the Ardennes.
 
We arrived at Namur, I believe on the 17th December, and Dinant on the following day.  The Regiment was then thinly spread to defend the bridges over the Meuse and were probably under the command of the US Army.  We were then engaged in Reconnaissance patrols all around the area.  
 
Records in my possession indicate that units of the Regiment were operating at Hotton on 21st December, Celles on 27th December, Houffalize on the 30th December, and Rochefort on the 31st December.  After the situation was normalised the Division returned to Belgium, my Regiment to Iseghem on 25th January, to be finally disbanded.  
 
The Ardennes: Battle of the Bulge. by Hugh M. Cole. XXII. The Battle before the Meuse. 
As of noon, 21 December, Brigadier General Ewart C. Plank reported that the vital crossings at Liege, Huy, Namur, and Givet were guarded only by the 29th Infantry (a separate regiment assigned to line of communications duty), two anti-aircraft gun battalions, two anti-tank guns, four British scout cars, and a British reconnaissance force of 300 men.  This reconnaissance force was the 61st Reconnaissance Regiment.  
 
ACTION REPORT - THE AFFAIR IN THE ARDENNES 
(Newsletter Old Comrades Association) 
By the morning of January 3rd 1945, the weather had become our worst enemy.  We attacked on this day in a driving blizzard.  Snow was falling continuously and the roads were ice-bound.  Consequently, little progress was made, although the 6th Armoured Division reached the outskirts of Bure where the 13th Parachute Battalion and the 3rd Royal Tank Regiment became engaged in heavy fighting.  Further North, at Wavreille, the 7th Parachute Battalion gained a footing in the town. T he approaches to Wavreille were reconnoitred by two Troops of the 61st Reconnaissance Regiment; under the command of Lieutenant M A Urban-Smith and Lieutenant W. Fling.  They had with them a section of the Belgian Special Air Service mounted in Jeeps and bristling with machine guns.  This section was commanded by a Sergeant who was a Belgian nobleman and who owned most of the land over which we were operating.  Consequently, he was most anxious to assist in the expulsion of the Huns.  Halfway to their objective they spotted some Germans coming up behind.  They quickly opened fire and those who survived surrendered.  Slogging on through snow and sleet, they reached the outskirts of Wavreille and immediately became violently engaged with the enemy.  Aided by the Belgians, they drove the enemy from the village but were counter-attacked strongly and it became necessary to withdraw.  The following day the 7th Parachute Battalion and the 2nd Fife and Forfar Yeomanry joined to attack the village of Wavreille again.  The tanks advanced across the open ground, firing as they went and the paratroops sprinted from position to position.  Casualties were high, and we lost five tanks, but the village was captured. Corporal Skip Ricketts "A" Squadron.  
 
Extract 
This is an extract from my own account which I wrote for my children a few years ago.  It follows the decision to break up the 50th Division. 
 
December 1944 
With this in mind we, 61st Reconnaissance Regiment, were sent back to a small town called Iseghem, which is situated in Belgium, close to the French border.  We were billeted in various houses, cafés and so on, and our H.Q. and cook-house was situated in the railway goods yard.  All our vehicles and equipment were taken to a dump somewhere on the road to Antwerp.  We had a few days of wonderful bliss.  Nothing to do but have a few drinks in the cafés and idle our time away. 
 
We hadn't reckoned on the Germans.  They had realised that the defensive strength of the US Army in the Belgian Ardennes forest was not good, with only 4 Divisions holding a front of 80 miles long.  Hitler himself had ordered 3 Armies, totalling twenty-one Divisions (although well below strength), to be assembled in Germany ready for a huge counter-attack.  This began on December 16th, meeting with great initial success and the American defence lines were cut to ribbons.  
 
The situation was becoming very serious, as the whole 'sharp-end' of the Allied forces were in danger of being isolated.  The British forces directed a push down from the north onto the advancing Germans.  We were given 24 hours to reclaim our vehicles and equipment and move out to the Ardennes.  This we did.  
 
We arrived at Namur a few days before Christmas, and were immediately given the task of contacting a forward unit of US Engineers who had been instructed to blow a bridge over a small river ( I believe the Ourthe) whenever they sighted the German advance.  The orders had now been changed to 'blow up the bridge regardless', but radio contact with the Engineers had been lost.  
 
We set off on our mission and we were shocked to see convoys of US troops retreating in total panic.  They threw us some fags and shouted that we were going the wrong way. 
 
We approached our destination, and turned a corner to see that the road ran down into a steep valley, with a similar road running round and down the cliffs on the other side.  At that moment we heard a loud explosion and knew that the bridge had been blown.  We continued for a short way down the road before spotting the US Engineers running up behind the hedgerow and waited for them to arrive.  It was then that I observed a German tank on the road across the valley and, almost immediately, a puff of smoke from his 88 mm. gun.  There was a whoosh as the shell screamed over my head and took a lump out of the road and part of the tyre from the armoured car which stood a few yards behind me.  Within a few seconds our armoured cars had disappeared up the road and round the corner, in reverse.  
 
Don Aiken is two places behind the driver 
.
Don AIKEN

"B" Squadron

61st Reconnaissance

Regiment

Reconnaissance Corps

Campaigns:

Normandy, France

Market Garden, Holland

Battle of the Ardennes,

Belgium