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The British at Bure during the Battle of the Ardennes

The British at Bure During the Battle of the Ardennes
In December 1944, the German armies launched a massive counter-attack through the forests of the Ardennes.  The plan was to drive across the River Meuse and on to Antwerp to split the Allied armies and their lines of communication.
The 6th Airborne Division, rested and re-trained after their success in Normandy, were ordered over Christmas to move at once by sea and road to take up defensive positions between Dinant and Namur in order to defend the crossings of the River Meuse.  By the time the 3rd and 5th Parachute Brigades were in position, the German advance had been brought to a halt.  Just before New Year’s Day 1945, the brigades were ordered to advance against the tip of the German salient.
The German Army, however, was still full of fight and it became necessary to attack.  On January 3, 13th Parachute Battalion was ordered to attack the village of Bure which was strongly held by the Germans.  After some very heavy hand-to-hand fighting, the battalion forced the Germans to withdraw but at the cost of heavy casualties.
In January the division withdrew to Holland and carried out active patrolling along the River Maas before returning to the UK in late February.

Major Jack Watson,

13th Parachute Battalion:

The 13th Battalion moved out on 23rd December 1944 from Larkhill Barracks, Salisbury Plain, for the Ardennes.  The Germans were breaking through and 'Monty' needed some very quick reinforcements.  We had to get down there very quickly to help stop the gap, hold up the German advance and assist the Americans.
We got our kit ready very quickly, entrained at Salisbury on Christmas Eve, then went straight down to Dover and across by boat to Calais where we were picked up by RASC [Royal Army Service Corps] transport. We travelled by open trucks, old coal lorries, and it was bloody cold.  We were taken down into the Ardennes to Namur.  We hadn't been able to tell our families that we were going.  The Padre's wife had come all the way from Newcastle and as she got in at Salisbury we were on the other platform moving off.  A young officer who'd been left behind had to tell her that her husband had gone to the Ardennes!
We had our Christmas dinner in the 'Chateau Ardennes', and it was a very pleasant way of enjoying Christmas, especially as there was a lot of snow around us - one got the festive feeling.  On 1st January 1945 our battalion received an order to move to Pondrome, to attack a village called Bure, and then secure another village, Grupont.  I was sent for by my C.O, Peter Luard, and briefed - I was commander of “A” Company.  The plan was to spend one night in Pondrome and then go by transport to Resteigne.  There we would de-bus and march to Tellin.  There were six inches of snow and it was cold, below freezing, with ice on the roads, but the men were in good heart.  We marched to a wood which overlooked Bure, our first objective.  This was the furthest point in the German offensive to which the German tanks had advanced.  Our task was to evict them from Bure.
The forming-up was “A” Company on the left, “B” Company on the right, and “C” Company in reserve.  My task was to attack Bure with “B” Company to secure the high ground. We were formed up ready to go in at 13.00 hours on 3rd January.  It was a bloody cold day, still snowing heavily, and even going through the wood to the start line was very difficult because the snow was as much as three or four feet deep in some places.  We were wearing normal battle equipment, parachute smocks, helmets.
We formed upon the start line and looked down on this silent and peaceful village.  The Germans knew we were there; they were waiting for us and as soon as we started to break cover, I looked up and I could see about a foot above my head the branches of trees being shattered by intense machine-gun fire and mortaring.  They obviously had the guns on fixed lines and they pinned us down before we even got off the start line.  This was the first time I'd led a company attack and within minutes I'd lost about one-third of them.  I could hear the men of my left-hand platoon shouting for our medics. We were held up for about 15 minutes because of the dead and wounded around us but we had to keep moving.  We were about 400 yards from Bure and so as quickly as I could, I got my company together and gave the order to move.  We had to get under the firing and get in the village as soon as possible.  On the way down I lost more men including my batman.  One man took a bullet in his body which ignited the phosphorous bombs he was carrying.  He was screaming at me to shoot him.  He died later.
We secured the first few houses and I got into one with my Company Headquarters.  What I did not know was that “B” Company had also suffered badly in the attack.  Their company commander, Major 'Bill' Grantham, was killed on the start line together with one of his platoon commanders, Lieutenant Tim Winser.  His Company Sergeant Major, Moss, was mortally wounded.  The remaining officers, apart from Lieutenant Alf Largeren, were wounded.  He led the much depleted company to their objective, but was later killed during the day, trying, with hand grenades, to clear a house held by a German machine-gun post.
Once I had got into the village it was difficult finding out just what was going on.  I pulled in my platoon commanders to establish that they were secure and to start movement forward. It was eerie.  We would be in one house, myself on the ground floor and my signalman telling me that there were Germans upstairs, and at other times they would be downstairs and we upstairs.  It was a most unusual battle.
Our numbers were getting very depleted as we moved forward from house to house.  I eventually got to the village crossroads by the old church. In the meantime I had informed my C.O. exactly what was going on, and he decided to send in “C” Company, who were in reserve, to support me.  By that time their 60 ton Tiger tanks started to come in on us.  It was the first time I had seen Tigers, and now here they were taking potshots, demolishing the houses.  I moved from one side of the road to the other deliberately drawing fire.  A tank fired at me and the next thing I knew the wall behind me was collapsing.  But, a PIAT team came running out, got within 50 yards of the tank, opened fire and smashed the tank's tracks.  They were very brave.  It went on like this all day - they counter-attacked, but we managed to hold them.  They pushed us back - we pushed forward again.
It became difficult to keep the men awake - after all they were tired, we had no hot food.  All through our first night they were shelling and firing at us and we were firing back.  When we told H.Q. we had German tanks in the area they decided to bring in our own tanks in support, but they were no match for the Tigers.  We had Sherman, and by the end of the battle 16 of them had been blown up.  We were reinforced by a company from the Oxf and Bucks, commanded by Major Granville - by that time I was down to about one platoon in strength.  The Oxf and Bucks went forward, but they were not out there very long before they were forced back into our positions.
I will always take off my hat to Color Sergeant 'Harry' Watkins.  How the hell he found us I do not know, but he did.  We were still scattered in the houses along the main road in the center of the village.  He brought us a stew which was good and hot, and we were able to get men into small groups to have food and then get to their positions in the houses.
At one point in the battle, Sergeant Scott R.A.M.C. [Royal Army Medical Corps], went forward in an ambulance to pick up casualties.  A German Tiger, which had been fighting us all day, rolled forward alongside him, and the commander seeing him unafraid said, "Take the casualties away this time, but don't come forward again, it is not safe".  Even Sergeant Scott knew when to take a good hint!
Over the following day we suffered five more counter-attacks supported by Tiger tanks.  By that time we also had artillery support, and we could finally make the Germans life difficult too.  Once we started shelling they countered with their own artillery and tried to blast us out of the village.  Fortunately most of my company had experienced heavy shelling at Ranville, in Normandy, so they knew what to expect.  I told Major Granville to move forward beyond my own position to find out what was going on.  As he did so the enemy attacked again with two Tigers.  We held that attack and then it all went very quiet, though the Germans left one Tiger behind as an irritant.  It was time at last to secure the other half of the village, together with “C” Company and the Oxf and Bucks going from house to house ferreting them out.  It was very much hand-to-hand fighting.
By about nine o'clock on the evening of the 5th January we had the whole village in our hands with my company eliminating the last enemy post.  We took up defensive positions, but that same night we were told to withdraw.  We found out afterwards that the 7th Battalion had come in from a different direction, met with little resistance and taken Grupont.  It meant that we did not have to go any farther.  So very early on the morning of the 6th, just after midnight, I got all my company together and we withdrew to Tellin, very wet, very tired and unshaven.  The battalion lost about 68 men killed and about half of them were from my company.  They were buried in a field in Bure by our Padre, Whitfield Foy, a few days later.
Source: Checkerboard Newsletter, March 1993

By Major Jack WATSON

Commander "A" Company

13th Battalion

The Parachute Regiment

6th Airborne Division


Battle of the Ardennes,