On 16th February, at 1355 hours, the regiment crossed the border into Germany on their way to positions near Bedburg. The route was through battered Cleve and it was a terrific thrill to see the havoc that the shelling and bombing had wrought on this enemy city. At last it could be seen that some damage had been done to Germany in retaliation for that in England, France, Belgium and Holland. Some civilians were moving about trying to get salvage from the wreckage or some food. Some of the younger women tried their 'smiles' but the large "NO-FRAT" signs and penalties involved, as well as memories of days passed, created very unresponsive Canadians. It was strange to note the difference in the attitudes of the men. Normally the whistles and calls were constant when passing local female inhabitants, but not now. THe first night in Germany was spent in a home for the mentally sick, and many oldtimers of the regiment felt pangs of homesickness for Weyburn days, where a similar institution for the province of Saskatchewan is maintained. Saddle horses and Jerry bikes provided much entertainment, as well as an episode involving some very succulent "pork chops on the hoof."
The following day the unit moved on to Honigsburg and began training for operation "Kangaroo." This consisted mainly of familiarization schemes and rides on the Kangaroos. These were RAM tanks similar to the old Priests with turrets and guns removed which had been used for carrying troops through fire zones and on to their objectives since the Caen-Falaise break-through.
During this period of training the Luftwaffe gave a display of their latest jet aircraft which left our local ack-ack batteries far behind.
The intention of the next attack was to capture and hold the high ground just south of CALCAR. It was to be a night attack with the help of artificial moonlight from the searchlight batteries. "A" Company was to be the right forward company, "D" Company left forward, and "B" and "C" Companies in the right and left follow up positions. All the troops were to ride in Kangaroos. The elaborate fire plan was to include the 6th and 14th Field Regiments and a Medium Regiment in support of the Brigade. Sufficient food, water and supplies for 48 hours was to be carried.
The first 'H' hours was postponed for 24 hours to allow a further build-up of follow through troops of the 4th Canadian Armoured Division. The whole operations now became known as operation "Blockbuster." 5th and 6th Canadian Infantry Brigades were to take all the high ground to the south of Calcar, while the 4th Armoured Division was to take the high ground northeast of the Hochwald Forest. 4th Canadian Infantry Brigade would then relieve the armoured troops, who would push on to the south edge of the Forest.
The S.Sask.R. leading troops crossed the start line at 0400 hours, 26th February, in heavy rain and mud, and under very heavy mortar and small arms fire. An eerie light was added to the whole scene by searchlights, Jerry flares and burning farm buildings. Some of the Kangaroos bogged down in the mud and troops had to transfer to other vehicles. Direction became a difficult thing to keep and all the anti-aircraft Bofors guns doubled their tracer fire on fixed lines which outlined boundaries, directions, etc. At first light Colonel Stott ordered the companies to break column and make for their objectives swiftly and soon reported all objectives taken with a total of 68 prisoners and approximately 100 enemy dead, and four 88-mm guns and two half track vehicles. Only two of the battalion's 6 pdr anti-tank guns had maanged to get through the mud, and a few tense moments were experienced by "B" Company during a Jerry counter-attack. Enemy mortaring continued all day with the odd sniper shooting into the exposed positions also.
As Major George Stiles and his men of "D" Company swept in on a group of burning buildings, they noticed the Jerries taking refuge in the cellars. One 15-year-old youth threw a grenade and wounded four S.Sask.R. men so he was killed instantly with small arms fire. This was the first time that German civilians had taken direct action against the S.Sask.R.
It was learned that Lt.-Col. Thompson of the Camerons had been killed as he jumped from his Kangaroo. He was one of the youngest C.O.s in the Canadian Army, being only 23 when he took over his battalion.
The mortar platoon came into its own as a fighting unit after a short surprise skirmish over a 75mm anti-tank gun which had been shooting at 4th Division tanks; the gun was captured and 55 prisoners were taken.
Two German stretcher-bearers came into "A" Company lines requesting aid to fix up their Medical Officer and some wounded men. An "A" Company patrol brought in the wounded and seven other prisoners into their lines. Late in the day the unit was moved two miles into a concentration area in preparation for relieving the 10th Brigade of 4th Canadian Armoured Division on 1st March.
FOr his skill and leadership in this battle, Colonel Stott was awarded the D.S.O.
The February battle casualties were not high, being 2 officers and 77 other ranks.
Killed: 1 officer, 10 other ranks
On 1st March, Colonel Stott became acting Commander of 6th Canadian Infantry Brigade and Major Buchanan took command of the battalion. After a long muddy march, the regiment relieved the Lincold and Welland Regiment which was dug in across the gap in the Hochwald Forest. The South Alberta Regiment was immediately behind the S.Sask.R. and gave a comfortable feeling of support in this hotly defended area. Here, for the first time since Caen days, the Moaning Minnies were heard screaming across the skies. Oldtimers hailed them by digging in deeper, and the newcomers, after one awed "look and listen," soon followed suit. It was these Moaning Minnes which caused a soldier to ask Captain Gordon Walker, the Padre, for a Catholic Prayer Book. "Yes, here is one you can have," replied the Padre, "but aren't you the man I gave a Protestant book to the other day?" "Right you are, Sir," replied the man, "but at a time like this I'm taking no chances."
Wounded: 1 officer, 37 other ranks
Sick: 0 officers, 56 other ranks
Injured: 0 officers, 4 other ranks
In a basement of the farm where Battalion Headquarters was located, was a group of civilians who had been huddled together in the shelter for three days. Most of them were wounded, including a small child with a broken leg and an ugly head wound. This was a living object lesson of the impartiality of war where civilians and soldiers alike suffered. A nearby South Alberta Tank Regiment was safely hidden under a small railroad bridge and shooting aimlessly off into the general direction of the enemy. Each time it fired, a few round of enemy mortar fire came down in the battalion area in retailiation, causing casualties. Repeated requests by runner to the tank Sgt. to cease his fire were ignored until the Intelligence Officer was sent down to bring the Sgt. into Headquarters to the Acting O.C. An 'O' group was in progress when the luckless Sgt. was ushered into the room and much to the amazement of the gathered commanders, he was suddenly greeted with fervent handshakes and "home chit-chat." The tank Sgt. proved to be one of Major Buchanan's close friends from home. The tank gun was silenced painlessly for all concerned.
Plans for the attack through the Hochwald had been completed and 6th Canadian Infantry Brigade were to clear the woods to the east side. The Camerons made an attempt to get into the Forest but met with heavy fire and opposition, and were forced back.
On the morning of 3rd March, the S.Sask.R. began the second attack on the stronghold. This attack was supported by a squadron of tanks to the Sherbrooke Fusiliers, and the plan was to be accomplished by using a single axis through the woods with each company securing an objective before the following company passed through to a further point. "D" Company first encountered heavy machine-gun fire but pushed on to their objective. "C" Company passed through and secured the second objective, followed by "B" Company which was successful also. "A" Company's advance through "B" Company, met shell and machine-gun fire, and at the same time was cut off from "B" Company by enemy infiltration. The company suffered a number of casualties in the working forward and were ordered to remain in present positions. The carrier platoon was sent forward and was able to clear the area and gain a further objective. A total of 24 prisoners of war and 18 enemy dead had been counted. Later in the afternoon, the Sherbrookes knocked out two enemy tanks and took 12 more prisoners. By now the battalion was stretched out over a considerable area in the woods, so the Fus. M.R. was sent through to secure the eastern edges of the forest.
Fighting patrols were then sent out to mop up odd enemy machine-gun posts. Pte. D. Phillips, a stretcher bearer for "A" Company, had seen a wounded German and had gone out to give him aid but was taken prisoner by the enemy. Phillips, who could speak German and was very upset over the absence of chivalry in the Germans, told them so in no uncertain terms with the result that he was released with full apologies.
By the later afternoon the enemy score had mounted to 50 prisoners of war and 30 dead. The Fus. M.R. in the meantime, had been help up with only one company reaching its objective, and so the Camerons were passed through to continue the momentum. The Froest was finally declared mopped up and the brigade moved into the open plain towards Xanten. The S.Sask.R. advanced until forced to settle down in a group of farm buildings about one thousand yards from the outskirts of town.
Meanwhile, the 43rd British Division had advanced on the east side by the main road leading into Xanten and had been stopped a few hundred yards form the walls of the town and its perimeter of trenches and anti-tank ditches. On 6th March, it was planned that the Camerons would pass through the S.Sask.R. forward positions and capture the northwest corner of Xanten. THe plan failed, however, when the regiment came under extremely heavy fire just forward of the S.Sask.R. Xanten was apparently going to be strongly defended.
Quite a few of Cameron casualties occurred before their eventual withdrawal was complete. On 7th March it was found that a wounded Cameron lay close to the German lines and was in a bad way. A very brave armoured division sergeant agreed to drive his Kangaroo out to pick up the wounded man. He put a Red Cross flag on his tank and proceeded to the wounded Cameron. A German Stretcher bearer came out of his lines and assisted the sergeant in loading the man into the Kangaroo, and in good English, wished him luck and Godspeed. The whole scene took place in broad daylight with both sides as spectators.
During the early evening, the S.Sask.R. mail truck was observed rolling merrily down the road into Xanten. Both enemy machine gun and S.Sask.R. fire was directed on to the road, the former to knock it out and the altter to stop the catastrophe of losing all those cigarettes to the enemy or the British division on the left. The driver and his assistant stopped the truck and took to the ditch in a big hurry, and made thier way back to the S.Sask.R. positions where they were loudly breated by all present. The luckless chaps thought Xanten had been cleared. A strong fighting patrol went out at dark and succeeded in bringing the truck full of mail to safety.
Rather than waste times and lives in trying to break through the strong enemy defences with battalion and brigade attacks, it was decided to attack with two full divisions. The 43rd British Division was to capture all the area east of the railroad tracks, and the 2nd Canadian Division was to caputer the area on the west of the tracks. Artillery support consisted of seven field regiments, three medium regiments, and one battery of heavy artillery, plus a battery of the new "mattress" rocket mortar weapons, plus a squardon of Churchill tank flame throwers. Study of maps and air photos showed strong dug-in enemy defences and huge supply dumps in the Xanten Forest on the west side of the railway tracks. The Germans had their backs to the Rhine and were fighting desperately for every inch of ground.
In the attack the S.Sask.R. was to form the firm base for the Canadian Divisionand would come under the command of 5th Canadian Infantry Brigade for the second phase. On 8th March, the heavy bombardement started and for the first three hours the attack progressed according to plan, but then the resistance stiffened. 4th Canadian Infantry Brigade was ordered to attack during the night of 8th/9th March. The S.Sask.R. was to protect the Xanted Forest and the railroad tracks, while the remainder of the brigade took the ground between there and the Rhine.
At 0300 hours, 9th March, the battalion was in its forming up area in Xanten and witnessed the spectacular sight of the Churchill flame throwers throwing streams of fire from a ridge to the Jerry positions. In a few moments, shocked, weary, and worn prisoners commenced coming into Xanten in hundreds. During this confusion, a prisoner got rid of a grenade which exploded, and Major Buchanan, Major Williams, Captain Robertson, Captain Pethybridge and Lieutenants Burrows and Graham were all wounded. Major Buchanan and Lieut. Burrows and Graham remained on duty until the attack was over.
The attack started at 0400 hours. "C" Company gained their objective with no opposition as did the carrier platoon. The railroad crossing proved to be a minor problem when it was found to be on a 40 foot high embankment. Finally the three companies continued on and into the forest. "A" Company quickly rounded up some 40 prisoners and continued to send more back to the cages. "D" Company had a bit of a skirmish but finished it up quickly. By the afternoon over 140 prisoners had been taken. In the meantime, Lt.-Col. Stott, acting as Commander of the 6th Canadian Infantry Brigade, issued orders that Major Buchanan and Lieutenants Burrows and Graham were to be evacuated. Major Lee took over temporary command. On 10th March, 4th and 5th brigades were moved back to a concentration area and 6th Canadian Infantry Brigade took over the whole divisional area. The S.Sask.R. was based at Birten.
Stand-down came at 1400 hours, 11th March. This meant that the last of the German Army had been cleared from the west bank of the Rhine River on the 21st Army Group Front. Colonel Stott had returned to command the abttalion and on 13th March, the regiment started for a concentration area at Kellen, near Cleve. The only operational role of the battalion in this area was to man the observation posts attempting to locate the enemy guns on the east banks of the Rhine. By this time the S.Sask.R.'s famous scout platoon was completely mechanized with Jerry motor-cycles and Volkswagens.
The whole west bank of the Rhine for miles became a huge concentration area for the build-up of equipment for the crossing oft he river into Germany proper. Constant smoke screens were maintained both to confuse the enemy and to hide movement. Jeeps became the only vehicles allowed to move in daylight. Conferences for all C.O.s were held by both Lt.-Gen. Simonds and Lt.-Gen. Horrocks, the G.O.C. of 30th British Corps, where the general plans and strategy for crossings were outlined. With these operations in mind, all civilians were treated as prisoners and cleared from the area. The 2nd Division had no part to play in the actual crossings and was moved back to the Reichswald Forest in reserve. The S.Sask.R. was now occupying the part of the forest they used to graze at from the winter positions. The weather was kind and dust was blowing for the first time in months. Most of the battalion lived in pup tents and commenced training with tanks and flame throwers as well as indulging in the old P.B.I. favourite pastime, route marches.
On 25th March, on a battalion parade, COlonel Stott read messages of congratulations onthe showing of the S.Sask.R. men in the recent fighting, and then presented C.S.M. D. Allen of "A" Company with the D.C.M. for gallant action during the Groot-Meer battle. It was also announced that Colonel Stott had been awarded the D.S.O. for the Regiment's actions at Calcar, and Colonel Clift also had been awarded the D.S.O. for fighting in France.
In the meantime, the crossing of the Rhine had been made. The 3rd Canadian Infantry Division was already over, and the plans called for the S.Sask.R. to take over from the Highland Light Infantry at Bienen. On 28th March, the unit passed through Materborn, Moyland, Calcar, and over the Blackfriars Bridge to the dispersal point and then into the battered village of Bienen.
The intention of 6th Canadian Infantry Brigade was to capture the line from Terborg, Etten to Zeik. The Fus. M.R. were to capture Wiecken First, then the Camerons were to pass through and take Veldhunten. The S.Sask.R. were to take Etten. When these towns were secured, the brigade was to cross the Oude Ijsell River and capture Terborg. The Camerons' attack onBeldhunted failed and plans had to be changed. The S.Sask.R. now had to take out Gendringen before advancing on Etten. This would relieve the pressure on the Camerons and allow them to take their objective. On 30th March, by a succession of short company bounds, Gendringen was taken and the following day fighting patrols led the way to Etten. "B" Company began the initial drive into the town and after a brief hot fight, killed a few enemy and captured two 75-mm guns, a small infantry gun and two tracked vehicles. The other companies quickly cleared the town. Heavy enemy shelling was experienced during the late stages of the attack and casualties were suffered including 1 officer and 3 other ranks killed and 14 wounded.
"C" Company sent a strong reconnaissance patrol down the road to Terborg to ascertain the condition of the bridge across the Oude Ijssel. It was found to have a 20-foot gap blown in it. In the meantime, other troops had been working up the east side of the river and it was decided to postpone the reconstruction of the bridge until Terborg had been taken.
March ended with battle casualties totalling 10 officers and 97 other ranks:
Killed: 2 officers, 23 other ranks
Paris leaves had started again, with 72 hours in the gay city being the limit. Many wild and woolly stores started drifting around the companies about the escapades of the prairie men. C.S.M. "Shorty" Warren, an old S.Sask.R. Sgt.-Major, was the "major-domo" of the Canadian Leave Centre in Paris, and all S.Sask.R. men received an especially warm welcome.
Wounded: 8 officers, 74 other ranks
Sick: 3 officers, 36 other ranks
Injured: 0 officers, 10 other ranks
On the first of April the S.Sask.R. moved into Terborg and on the following day relieved the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry north of Vorden. Routing probing patrols were carried out by the carrier platoon under Captain Ken Coltman. It was learned that 4th Canadian Infantry Brigade had crossed the Twente Canal and that a class 40 bridge was under construction. The intention of 6th Canadian Infantry Brigade was to pass through 5th Canadian Infantry Brigade and hold a bridgehead over the Schipbeek Canal north of Laren. On the 5th April, the battalion moved comfortably on 'Kangaroos' across the Twente Canal to positions south of Laren and later to an area between Laren and the Schipbeek Canal. The S.Sask.R. was to make the crossing with 'H' hour set at 0330 hours, 7th April. "C" and "D" Companies were to make the initial crossings, with "A" and "B" Companies passing through them. The opening artillery barrage caused casualties when a few rounds fell short, but the companies moved across and on to their objectives with light opposition, taking 80 prisoners of war and counting a number of enemy dead.
The war became very fluid again and the next day the regiment advanced to the area west of Holten, moving in bounds and with the support of tanks. "D" Company encountered enemy opposition and resorted to use of flame throwing wasps.
Major Vic Schubert of "C" Company had a small war of his own after crossing the Schipbeek Canal. Schubert and C.S.M. Smith were looking for a suitable place for company headquarters, and were examining a likely building. C.S.M. Smith was opening a door when he heard footsteps behind them. Spinning round he found a Jerry one yard away, pointing a pistol at them. "Who the hell are you?" shouted the startles Major Schubert. "Was ist Das?" replied the Jerry and waved his pistol. Things happened fast htne. Up came Schubert's rifle and was rammed into the German's throat. The pistol fired but missed the Major's ears by inches. The Sgt.-Maj. went into action with his own pistol but was limited to refereeing duties by Schubert's flying tackle, and the resulting wild wrestling match. When the dust cleared, Major Schubert was standing with the sole of his boot on the throat of the prisoner who now had no fight left in him. It was discovered the Smith's one shot had wounded the man slightly. Major Schubert kept the Luger as a permanent souvenir.
The enemy pulled back many miles into Northern Holland with the main concentration being in and around the city of Groningen. On 10th/11th April, the battalion made a long move by T.C.V.s up through Rijssen, Wierden, east to Amelo, Marienburg and Hardenberg to the area of Gramsbergen. The 6th Canadian Infantry Brigade was to move along the main division axis pushing as close to Groningen as psosible. The S.Sask.R. led the advance, moving as far as possible in Kangaroos until blown bridges stopped their furhter use. Progress was made to a point a mile or two north of Spier. In the 48 hours the unit had travelled 45 miles and had been wildly cheered by Dutch people waving flags along the whole route.
On 12th April, the Camerons and Fus. M.R. were closing in on the town of Beilen and the S>Sask.R. was ordered to outflank it and make a crossing of the Oranje Canal a mile north of Zwiggelte. Bridges were out but a crossing was made without much difficulty. The bridgehead was quickly enlarged to give protection to the bridge building engineers iwth "A" Company providing the actual protecting force. "D" Company advancing out of the bridgehead met very strong opposition in the hedgerows and ditches. Major George Stiles had been itching to use his pet weapon, the Wasp, and this provided an opportunity. Getting the Wasps, under command of Sgt. Renwick, into position with the wind behind them, some roaring 100 yard flames soon sent enemy machine gunners running and screaming out into the open and the battle was over. A good number of prisoners were taken and a greater number of dead and burned were counted. The company suffered 11 casualties including one killed. The bridge was soon completed and the rest of the battalion moved across, followed by 4th Canadian Infantry Brigade which passed on through to further objectives.
"C" Company, under Major Schubert, had also crossed the canal and was probing out on the flank to test the enemy strength when it was fired on by a hidden machine-gun post. By advancing in bounds and dashes, the company, less the Majormade the safety of a group of farm buildings. When the redoubtable Major Schubert got up from his ditch to run to the buildings, the Jerries sensed this must be an important personage, and kicked up the dust under the dodgin Major's heels all the way, while his company stood sheltered, cheering and laughing and shouting advice.
During "A" Company's advance, it came on a very distressed pregnant woman. Major Williams phone the C.O. and advised him that he had no timeor facilities so he was sending her back to battalion headquarters. The fast thinking C.O. was not stuck for long. As he was pondering the problem, Captain Stephenson, the Q.M., and his driver walked into Headquarters. Immediately the Colonel ordered a "Q" evacuation of the woman. The worth Q.M. drove the poor woman across the bumpy countryside and over a small bridge which was under enemy harassing fire. With each bump and shell, he feared he might have a family on his hands. They finally arrived at the field dressing stations where Captain Robb, a former S.Sask.R. Medical Officer, was on duty. The woman was questioned in German but was moaning and groaning and in apparent labor. Captain Robb ordered her taken further back for medical attention so the Q.M. started off again. A mile down the road Captain Stephenson remembered some very important business in nearby 'B' echelon so he dispatched his luckless driver to the nearest village with his cargo. Here the woman was turned over to the Burgermeister with barely minutes to spare, and the dirver made a hasty retreat to pick up the wily Q.M.
"A" Company had moved on into a Jewish concentration camp which proved to be a bonanza for Sgts. and officers mess equipment. It was also a source of good radios for every platoon in the regiment. The camp was a typical "Hollywood" concentration camp with double fencing, guard towers, cremation cambers with their gory hot-beds and rows of urns for the ashes. Approximately 900 Jews were in the camp and they appeared to have been not badly treated. The girls in particular seemed to be very well dressed and very beautiful. The German quarters were magnificnet homes and the various messed stocked up with cutlery, linens and crockery for future use. Captain Gordon Walker, the unit Padre, held a Church service in the camp which was attended by everyone in it. During the service, he baptized three children, and it was strange to hear familiar hymns sung in a foreign tongue. The pleasent relaxation was not to last long. The Essex Scottish had captured Essen with 500 prisoners and the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry were reported on the western outskirts of Groningen. On 15th April, the battalion moved to a concentration area south of the city to learn that the 4th Canadian Infantry Brigade had cleared up to the huge canal going through the outskirts of the city and the neemy were quite evidently going to make a determined stand. The 6th Canadian Infantry Brigade was to go through the 4th Canadian Infantry Brigade and clear the city, with the S.Sask.R. taking the left half and the Fus. M.R. taking the right half.
On the 15th, the regiment made its attack and partially cleared the left portion taking 6 officers and 167 other ranks as prisoners. It was a spectacular battle as many large buildings in the business section were burning and out of control. Tanks moved up to street corners and fired at point blank range at sniper posts and strong points. "B" Company and the carrier platoon captured the post officer where a Nazi agent from Amsterdam was on his way out with 250 million guilders. Fortunately it go no furhter. By noon the next day, the city was completely cleared.
C.Q.M.S. Mickey Faille had a very interesting experience. Tkaing the wrong road while bringing up the rations, he was stopped by a German officer who signified to him that he was willing to surrender his men to an officer of his own rank. Mickey told him to line the men up in threes and he would be right back with his Colonel. When Colenel Stott arrived he found the Jerries all ready, but they were in the Fus. M.R. battalion area so they were handed over to the French Canadian regiment. The 181 prisoners included 5 Lt.-Col.s and 8 Majors. After that surrender there was no organized resistance in the city. Hundreds of the inhabitants were drunk, or partially so, from liquor stolen from a German liquor dump. Looting from stores and depots was out of hand for hours until the civilian controls were established by Military Government officials.
Future operations were to consist of clearing the north of Gronigent o the North Sea, but reconnaissance patrols declared the area devoid of any troops so the battalion moved a few miles north to the town of Zuidwolde for a three day rest period. Two platoons were detailed to guard two hospitals in Groningen where wounded Jerries were hospitalized. It was feared the civilians would take reprisals against them.
A fine officers' club was temporarily established in the hotel and canteens were opened for other ranks, and fraternization soon was in full swing. In contrast to was the flood of "non-frat" literature and orders issued in view of the future move back into German. On 20th April, a Regiment Dance was help prior to the long move back to the Reich. Lt.-Col. Stott and his reconnaissance party proceeded to Brigade Headquarters, now 200
miles ot the east, leaving Major Buchanan to bring the battalion to the concentration area in the town of Wildeshausen, 35 kilometers from Bremen. The 200 mile route was via Balkblug, Uelsen, Nevenhaus, Nordhorn, Sudlhone and Lingen.
During the short stay in Wildeshausen the battalion enjoyed some fine fishing using 75 anti-tank grenades for bait and tackle. The sport was flourishing until an enraged British Mobile Bath Officer took exception to having silt and bits of fish in his bath water.
The next operation was to capture Kirchatten, after Neerstedt and Ostrittum had fallen, and then to allow the 4th Canadian Infantry Brigade to pass through to the Oldenburg territory. In support of the regiment for the operations, were two field regiments, one medium regiment, one troop of tanks, one platoon MMG, one platoon 4.2 inch mortars and one platoon 17-pd S.P.s - a veritable army in itself.
The Fus. M.R. captured Neerstedt easily, and Ostrittum fell to the S.Sask.R. leading elements with little opposition. The Camerons of C. had been ordered against Kichatten and were having a tough fight for the village so the S.Sask.R. were sent around the left flank to secure Sandhatten a few kilometers northwest. The whole area was heavily mined and Lieutenant G.S. Blake was killed when his carrier ran over one. By evening, 23rd April, the unit was consolidated in Sandhatten and each company established reconnaissance and standing patrols. Casualties for the two day action had been held down to 8, while over 30 enemy dead were counted and 15 prisoners taken.
The Camerons had captured Kirchatten in the late afternoon after repulsing three counter-attacks supported by S.P. guns, and the Fus. M.R. had also moved forward on the right flank to the solidarity of the Brigade group. It was expected the battalion would remain in the Sandhatten area a couple of days so bath parades were arranged and the Legion Supervisor set up a picture shown in the town hall. Major Ken Williams returned to command "A" Company, and new reinforcements arrived, many of whom were men who had been wounded in past battles of the regiment. Captain W.L. Brown was presented with the "Croix de Guerre with Bronze Star" for his work in the Foret de la Londe.
The next task quite clearly would be the clearing of the Oldenburg State Forest directly to the north, so maps and air photos were studies in preparation for the operation. Patrols reported many mines and road blocks and information from the whole sector showed this was to be the Germans' last stand on this front.
The Germans had resorted to the use of vicious Airedale-type dogs to warn them of approaching patrols in the woods. A three-man patrol under Sgt. Don Brown of Vancouver, had patrolled until one of these dogs set up a terrific howling. Keeping still, the patrol could hear the music and the noise of tins rattling and presumed it to be mealtime. The dogs were still barking when a German let out an ungodly yell which was followed by loud yelps from a dog. Apparently one dog must have bitten the hand that fed him.
Another patrol under Sgt. George Pool of Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan, went into the woods in bright moonlight. They passed a road block covered by an enemy machine gun, without being detected. Just after passing the road block,they saw a Jerry coming out of the woods and walking up to them talking. He had mistaken the patrol for his own fellows. Sudden recognition by the Jerry, brough the end to his career with a well aimed burst of Sten gun fire in the mid-section.
In the early morning of 23rd April, a lucky enemy shell hit the ammunition truch in 'A' echelon. There was a terrific explosion in which two 60-cwt. trucks, a jeep and two trailers were destroyed, and damage resulted to several others. Pte. Tony Martin doubtless saved lives when he drove a flaming truckload of mortar bombs out of the farm yard and into an open field. The building where the battalion orderly room was set up was burned down and many men barely escaped with their lives. The armourer sergeant had been sleeping in the attic of the house and lost his life inthe fire. A large draft of men on their way back to Canada were sleeping in the barn and lost most of their souvenirs. As one man said, "It is a Hell of a send-off, and very nice of the regiment to put on such a fireworks display just for them."
"D" Company shoemaker, Pte. L. Dufresne, was peeling potatoes in his billet and was bemoaning the fact that chaff was falling from the attic into his culinary effort and his freshly washed hair. After due consideration, he figured it was not nice so mounted the stairs and found four Jerries hidden in the straw who had been there for three days. Shortly after this, a wounded German was found in a girl's house and he was treated in the R.A.P. before going to the prisoner of war cage.
On the evening of 25th April, the radio news stated that the Yanks and Russians had linked up and Berlin was surrounded. The war appeared nearly over. Success after success was reported on every front. Peace rumours were flying around and many bets were made as to the date and time of the cease fire. Word was also received that Colonel Merritt, V.C., andother S.Sask.R. officers and men had been released from prisoner of war camps.
On 30th April, Lt.-Col. Stott left for a short leave in Paris, and Major Buchanan was left to command the regiment in the remaining battles through the Oldenburg Forest and into the city of Oldenburg. During the clearing of the forest, "D" Company was the only one to meet opposition but the tanks helped neutralize this in a hurry. Progress was very slow due to many Schu mines and booby traps and the wide deployment of the companies over the whole forest. All the roads were checked for mines and the large tank flails used before vehicles could proceed. The assault section of the pioneers did yeoman work in the mine clearing as indeed they had been doing throughout the war. They were unsung heroes in most batallions. Rain and snow addedto the difficulties and discomfort, but the forest was finally cleared and the companies moved into a group of farms on the northeast edge of the woods.
The month of April closed with a total of 70 battle casualties:
Killed: 2 officers, 11 other ranks
On 2nd May, the battalion moved to new positions three miles south of the large city of Oldenburg. The attack on the city was to be carried in company bounds on a two company front. An extensive artillery support plan was made available but eventually was not used beyond the initial opening rounds. The fire plan called for the 6th Field Regiment and a Medium Battery to soften up opposition in the barrack buildings on the outskirts of the city. The barrage opened on time but it was quickly apparent taht one gun was still shooting on the previous target crossroads where Battalion Headquarters was now located. Captain Ross, the Artillery F.O.O. crouched beside his carier and shouted into the phone that one of the guns was short and that all fire should stop. He was talking to Lt.-Col. Dale Harris in person, and the conversation was as follows:
Wounded: 4 officers, 53 other ranks
Sick: 1 officer, 46 other ranks
Injured: 0 officers, 10 other ranks
"Easy Able Baker to Mike Love Item, there's a gun firing right into our positions. Stop all firing. Over."
Dale-Harris: - "Mike Love Item to Easy Able Baker - you're coming in strength 3. Repeat that last message. Over."
Another shall came in and splattered dirt over everyone.
Ross - "Easy Able Baker-Mike Love Item-never mind my strength. Stop the guns. One of them is landing on us-Over."
Baker-"Are you sure? - Over."
Another shell hit the roof of the building bringing a shower of slates down.
Ross: - "Yes, I am sure - Stop that d--n gun. - Over."
Dale-Harris:-"Mike Love Item to Easy Able Baker. Send map references - Over."
Ross:-"----- the map reference-stop that ----- fire - Over and Out."
Two or three minutes later Ross looked up with a sickly expression on his face and said, "My god, that was the Colonel I was talking to." But the fire did stop and the advance continued.
Mines and roadblocks caused initial holdups but the momentum gained speed. Soon the German barracks were entered and a large hospital of wounded soldiers over-run. The artillery fire, incidentally, included the last rounds fire "in anger" by the 6th Field Regiment in the war.
Sniper scout Powell and his helper had approached some noisy dugouts and shouted the usual "Raus" and threatened to throw grenades into them. Instead of German soldiers coming out, a babble of women and children came out all crying and pointing to their fingers. When the confusion was figured out it was learned that the S.S. troops had informed them that the Canadian soldiers cut off fingers as souvenirs as the Maori used to save ears of their enemies.
On "D" Company front, Sgt. Ludgate saw a Jerry soldier running into a patch of trees and gave chase along with Major Stils. The poor Jerry was found literally with his pants down obeying the call of nature and scared silly. Major Stiles was in a big hurry to catch to his company and put on quite a show trying to search and get information from the man while the luckless fellow was trying unsuccessfully to pull up his britches.
Due to the unexpectedly light opposition, Major Buchanan ordered the companies to advance as fast as possible to reach the main canal and bridge before dark. The battalion swept through the city on a two company front with only sniper opposition. The main bridge across the canal was found to be partially wrecked and it was decided not to cross till morning. Major Buchanan discovered that the local telephone exchange was still in good working order and the operator on duty. He secured the Burgermeister on the phone, who in good English, informed him that the German troops had all left town and to please not bomb or shell any more of his beautiful city. The Burgermeister was told to stop all civilian sniper fire and to report to the Major immediately. Soon the German Chief Executive, his Police Chief and Fire Chief, and several Aldermen reported to Major Buchanan and surrendered the city to him with amusing pomp and dignity.
Major Buchanan sent a message to Brigade Headquarters that initial objectives had been gained, plus 1,000 yards beyond the city, and that he was holding tight at the main bridge for the night. Brigade Headquarters then ferried the Fus. M.R. across the canal after dark and they advanced down the west side of the canal and occupied the west central portion of the city.
When "D" Company were consolidating their area near the bridge, they were fired on from across the canal. L/Cpl. Schwartz saw a Jerry creep out of some bushes and fired on him with his Bren. A second and a third man also attempted to leave the bushes, but Schwartz fired on them also. It was too dark to see if he had got hits, but digging was heard later on, and in the morning there were three freshly filled graves at the spot. L/Cpl. Schwartz fired the last round "in anger" for the S.Sask.R. at the enemy and apparently got a 100 per cent shoot.
On a clean-up of the area, two lucky scouts spotted a Jerry going into a huge concrete bunker and gave chase. After repeated threats to throw in grenades, etc., 40 husky Germans filed out with their hands behind their heads. After disposing of the prisoners, the scouts went into the bunker and there all neatly lined up on the wall pegs was a long line of Lugers, etc. Again the scouts had a good long take.
In the morning the streets were filled with Polish displaced persons, looting houses and stores of as much food and clothing as possible. The German people stayed mainly indoors in fear of reprisals by the release of displaced persons. Thus the larges city in Europe captured by the Canadian Army was taken by the S.Sask.R.
Complete contact with the enemy had been lost, and the follow-up was continued. 6th Canadian Infantry Brigade was to protect the left flank and link up with the 4th Canadian Armoured Division. The S.Sask.R. advanced to Ofen where they found the Lincoln and Welland Regiment already occupying their objectives. However, billeting space was found and the battalion settled down for a peaceful night. It was here in Ofen, on 4th May, that word was received that the German forces facing 21st Army Group, would surrender at 0800 hours the following day. The regiment had fought its last battle. The regiment had taken part in the first Canadian battle of the War in Europe, at Dieppe, in 1942, and in the last major one at Oldenburg.
The "Cease Fire" word spread like prairie fire but there was no obvious rejoicing. Not because the men were not glad to see the end of the fighting, but because it had been expected for several days and the surrounding locale did not provide a celebration atmosphere. War was still around them in its battered buildings, roadblocks and "minen" signs.
Slowly a new feeling crept through the ranks with the slow release of tension. It was difficult to realize there would be no more shells and bombs, no more machine-gun fire and grenades crashing, no more mines, bazookas, no more lying with faces pushed down in the mud, or choking with the dust of a shattered wall, and no more sweating out the sounds of war like the Moaning Minnies. There would be no more of the sickly, fetid smell of rotting flesh and no more of the sights of gaping torn wounds, or of men who lay staring with lifeless eyes. Something seemed to be missing, for their lives had been centred around such things as these for months on end. It would take time to settle into this new pattern of life.
The last S.Sask.R. soldier to be killed in action was Pte. Budden, G.R., on 30th April. The last men to be wounded were Lieutenants V.P. Maxwell and Sgt. Forsyth, both on 2nd May.
Lt.-Col. C. C. I. Merritt, V.C., recently released from a German Prisoner of War Camp, paid a visit to the regiment to see old friends. On 6th May, a regimental service of Thanksgiving was held in the Ofen Church by Captain H. Gordon Walker. At the service, Colonel Merritt spoke to the men and told how proud he was to be one of them, and commended them on their achievements. Colonel Stott also spoke, reminding the men of their duties as Canadian ambassadors in Europe. Following the service, the regiment did a March Past with Colonel Merritt taking the Salute. A mess dinner, in honour of Colonel Merritt, was held that evening at 6th Infantry Brigade Headquarters. Brigadier Allard spoke glowingly of the achievements of the regiment due to the fine leadership given by its officers and N.C.O.s
On 7th May, the official surrender of the German forces took place at Rheims and the shooting was officially over.
On VE Day, 8th May, at 1400 hours, a Memorial Service was held with the Padre, Captain Walker, in charge. His words and prayers in that memorable service of thanksgiving will long be remembered by those present and deserve repeating here:
"Colonel Stott, officers, N.C.O.s, and other ranks of the S.Sask.R.: this is the day for which we have long fought and labored. Therefore let us humbly bow our heads and thank god for this Victory over evil which He has enabled us to achieve. Heavenly Father, we thank Thee that Thout art God, and Thou still reignest in all Thy Majesty, Glory and Power. More particularly we thank Thee, this day, for the great and glorious Victory Thou hast vouchsafed to our Arms and to those of our Allies. Help us to be worth of Victory and enable us to establish Truth, Justice, and Peace on Earth for the good of all mankind, through Jesus Christ out Lord, Amen."
Then all present repeated the Lord's Prayer, and Captain Tait, an R.C. Padre, offered a prayer of thanksgiving. Then Captain Walker prayed:
"The Sould of the Righteous are in the Hand of God and there shall no torment touch them. They are at peace. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit we commemorate and give thanks for that multitude of the Allied Nations, especially those of the S.Sask.R., who paid the supreme sacrifice and gave their lives that this Victory might be ours."
Then the Last Post was sounded by Pte. Bachinsky of "D" Company, followed by a two-minute silence and the Reveille, and the impressive service closed with the very stirring singing of God Save the King.