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British Army

Bure – January 3-5, 1945

Bure – January 3-5, 1945

 
The Battalion waited for zero hour among the densely planted pines 400 meters from the first houses of the village of Bure, 2 kilometers further along the road lay the battalion’s objective – the bridge over the River Homme at Grupont.  We waited since other troops from 29 Armored Brigade, under whose command we were operating, were to capture two hills north of Bure before we started our advance.  Finally, although word had not reached us of their capture, the order was given to cross the start line.
 
“A” Company was the first to move, and their orders were to clear the village of the platoon of German infantry reported to be occupying the place, but immediately they emerged from the shelter of the woods, and started to cross the 300 meters of open ground, heavy and accurate mortar fire descended on them.  They were in extended order, but there were several casualties and the remainder of the Company went to ground, but the Company commander soon had them on their feet again, and led them in a rush for the nearest buildings.  Spandaus were firing from the roadside, but they were overwhelmed in the assault; and now the company began a systematic clearing of the houses.  All movement was along the rear of the built-up area, because a “Tiger” tank was positioned at the crossroads some 200 meters ahead, making any movement up the street impossible.
 
Once “A” Company was clear of the woods, “B” Company emerged and started to make their way along the low ridge straight ahead, by passing the village, and with the task of establishing a base overlooking Grupont, and from where they could provide covering fire for the assault by “C” Company, who would advance through Bure, once “A” Company had cleared the way.  But the plan was thrown into chaos almost immediately.  A sniper picked out the Company commander and with a single shot, killed him.  Now in addition to mortars, machine guns, tanks and SP’s opened fire on the bare hillside.  Within minutes, more than half the men were casualties – only two officers remained unwounded, the Company Sergeant-major was another casualties.  One of the lieutenants took control, organized a smoke screen, and shielded from observation, those still capable of movement, dashed for the shelter of houses along the road running right from the crossroads.
 
“A” Company made slow but steady progress up the one main street, but every house had a cellar and out-buildings, for many of them were small farms, and after a while they were running out of ammunition; so the Colonel ordered them to hold, as he sent in “C” Company, hoping at least to capture the whole village before darkness.  To cover their dash across the open snow covered fields, an artillery concentration was brought down on the far end of the village, where the mortars and SP’s were operating.  The fire was concentrated and accurate, and they all reached shelter unharmed.  Now the fighting had fresh vigor, and as night began to fall, the tanks withdrew, and half the village up to the crossroads was in our hands.
 
German infantry, however, still remained.  The complete fighting elements of the Battalion were now in the village, and all spent a tense, sleepless night.  It was bitterly cold, and German patrols were trying to get behind us and cut the rod, but without success.  Ambulances did manage to get through and all the wounded were evacuated to the rear.
 
Since our arrival in Calais, France, on 24th December the weather had been cold and bright.  There had been no fresh falls of snow, although around Bure it was 30 centimeters deep.  It was a long time coming light on January 4th, 1945, and with the grey dawn came the snow and also the return of the Tigers.  The attack on the hills to the north had been called off, when the Sherman tanks ran into heavy snow and could not proceed.  Now they were sent into the village to assist our advance, but were knocked out regularly by the heavier gunned Tigers.  For us it was a cat and mouse game with them, since they never moved ahead of the German infantry, but shot up the houses we occupied from a safe distance – 40 or 50 meters.
 
But overnight, we had turned the houses we held into minor strongholds, and for the most part were able to hold the early infantry assaults.In mid-morning the Germans tried new tactics, bringing up large numbers of infantry, who could be seen lining the ditches and hedges on both sides of the village.  We were all ordered into the cellars for a certain time, and as we heard our own artillery shells arriving we all took shelter, as the devastating barrage descended on top of our own positions.  As it stopped, everyone dashed upstairs and drove the Germans back, and even managed to advance ac little further into the village.  But it was stalemate; the Shermans tried to out-flank the Tigers to no avail, and in all the 2nd Battalion of the Fife and Forfar Yeomanry lost 16 Shermans during the action.
 
Evacuation of wounded from the forward Companies was a serious problem and throughout the day their number increased.  Some were in urgent need of hospital treatment, but it came as a big surprise, when during a lull in the fighting in late afternoon, an unescorted ambulance drove slowly up the street, and halted outside “A” Company Headquarters.  The Battalion Padre was driving, and he was accompanied by the Battalion Royal Medical Corps Sergeant, who jumped down as the Padre made a three point turn.By now, one of the Tigers had trundled forward, and halted within yards of the ambulance.  The turret was thrown open, and an Officer stood up, and in good English said, “You are a brave man sergeant, but you should have waited until the fighting was over before you collected any wounded.  I will allow you to come once, but if you come again, I will shoot you off the street.”  The ambulance was loaded and drove away, the tank retreated within the German held part of the village, and the battle was resumed.
 
Most of the inhabitants had taken refuge in a large stone building known as “L’Alumnat”, which housed members of a religions order.
 
L'Alumnat at Bure near 1949.
 
There were large cellars, and they were all perfectly safe, and so they were not to witness the destruction of their homes and property.  The cattle suffered more than they did, confined within their sheds and barns.Some were wounded by shrapnel, all were terrified by the explosion of bombs and shells.  Others broke free and bellowing with fear roamed the area; the really unfortunate creatures were burned alive, as large part of the village went up in flames.  But many recall one lucky pig, roaming the main street oblivious of the danger moving between both lots of forward positions, surviving artillery fire both British and German.
 
During the night of 4th January 1945, a strong fighting patrol was established on the higher of the two dominating hills, but a planned attack timed for dawn next morning was called off.  The armor had withdrawn again before dark, and did not reappear on 5th, and this allowed the Battalion to completely clear Bure of the enemy, and then just before midnight we received some unwelcome orders – we were to evacuate the place, give up our hard won gain, and sneak away in silence.The orders just did not make sense; all our effort and sacrifices had been for nothing or so we thought.
 
And so began a long nightmare of a march back to safety.  We managed to disappear into the darkness without the Germans realizing what was going on.  But we were dead weary, and close to exhaustion.  This was our third night without sleep, and we had been living off what little food there was in the houses we occupied.  It would have been bad enough moving over a good road surface, but the snow was packed hard, and the polished surface was like glass.  We slipped and slithered, many a time falling flat on our backs.  It seemed as if only the man leading the way knew our destination.The countryside was deserted, not even a solitary dwelling did we pass, but eventually we did find shelter.
 
In the churchyard we erected a memorial to the 61 members of the 13th Battalion (Lancashire) The Parachute Regiment, killed in action during those three dreadful days; several more were to die of the wounds they sustained there, while over 100 more were to recover, some in time to jump over the Rhine with our American cousins of the 17th Airborne Division on 24th March 1945.
 
Source: Bulge Bugle, November 1998

By Lt Ellis "Dixie" DEAN

Machine gun Platoon

13th Battalion

The Parachute Regiment

6th Airborne Division

Campaigns

Battle of the Ardennes,

Belgium