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Dmitry Yudo aka Overlord, jack of all trades
David Lister aka Listy, Freelancer and Volunteer

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Mourning the Monmouthshire

Note: Imgur and Blogger are playing silly buggers this morning, so if the images aren't appearing that's why. I've spent the last 20 mins trying to insert images. Occasionally the two websites randomly decide they're not talking to each other, and it makes life interesting.

On the 27th of November, 1944, an understrength platoon and section of sappers from the 9th Cameroons were trying to sneak through the muddy fields surround the castle at Broekhuizen in Holland. Their task was to infiltrate the minefield and storm the castle in a surprise attack. Things went badly, of the 32 soldiers in the Coup De Main only eight were to return, the rest being captured or killed by the dug in German defenders. The failed attack was their last attempt at this position, on the 28th the 3rd Battalion, Monmouthshire Regiment took over. They would be the ones to launch the attack to subdue one of the last German strong points in Holland and clear the bank of the Maas. The 3rd Mons were to go over the top on the 30th of November.
Broekhuizen "castle" not quite what you were thinking.
 Intelligence suggested that one to two hundred Hitler Jugend were dug in at the castle and nearby village. They were surrounded by minefields some 700 yards deep. The Germans were well dug in as well, even if the quality of the fight they were expected to put up was low. Two platoons from the Westminster Dragoons equipped with Sherman Crabs were provided to support the attack. The plan was a three company attack, launched in stages. First in action would be A Company, they along with a platoon of three Crabs would go direct for the castle, starting at 1000. An hour later C Company with another troop of Crabs would attack the village. B Company would attack the village from the far side. Before the off a supporting artillery barrage and smoke screen would be laid.

Things went wrong almost immediately. Germans had plentiful and liberal fire support from their bank of the Maas, and a heavy barrage of mortars and artillery, including 150mm pieces rained down upon A Company. One of the flails became bogged, and was unable to bring their gun to bear on the defenders. The other two were destroyed by German fire. With the German machine guns raking the muddy shell torn field the remaining men of A Company went to ground, their commander killed, along with several officers. All their wireless sets were rendered useless as well.
At 1100 C Company set off. The flails were leading at a steady one MPH, the chains flogging ("flog" was the slang the crew used to describe using the flails to clear mines) the ground, exploding mines on contact. The crews of the Crabs had an extremely long drive in a very nerve wracking manner. Slowly crawling forward listening to the explosions of the mines they hit, tensed for the moment an AP shell would rip their tank apart. To make matters worse the turret had to be turned to the side while flailing.
To make the crews feel a bit better, every so often one of the tanks would halt, stop flailing and crank the gun round to the front to fire a few rounds, then start up its flail again and continue on its way.
The troop commander of the second platoon of flails cleared its lane, it was now fifty yards from the German lines and the infantry of C Company were taking the same beating that A Company had suffered. When the other tanks finished their flogs they were ordered back to the start. He remained in position just short of the village directing point blank fire into the German positions. The uniforms of the Germans however were not Hitler Jugend, but those of the Fallschirmjäger. The defenders were actually elite veterans of the 21st Fallschirmjäger Regiment.
After a few salvos a Panzerfaust was fired at the lone Sherman sitting there in a field, it hit the left side of the turret, near the coaxial machine gun. The gunner with his ears numbed from the blast and unable to hear anything felt blood dripping, at first he thought it was his, but looked over to see that both his commander and loader were injured. Both of the latter bailed out immediately, as he started to move the gunner's hearing began to return and he could hear the driver and hull gunner yelling for help as the gun was blocking their escape. With the turret power traverse out of action the gunner stayed in his position hand traversing the turret until both of his crew mates could escape, once that was done he leapt out of the commander’s cupola and down behind the tank, and started crawling back along the track marks his tank had left. On the way he found they'd driven over an Italian box mine which had failed to detonate. Shortly after reaching their start line and safety the Crab was hit by another shot and blew up instantly.
The infantry were in dire straights. However two officers stepped forwards. The CO of the 3rd Mons,  Colonel R. C. Stockley managed to reach the forward elements of C Company, where all previous officers who'd attempted it had been killed. Additionally the commanding officer of the 15/19th Hussars came forward in his tank to investigate. The 15/19th Hussars linked up with the 3rd Mons reserve, just 60 men of D Company and began an attack on Broekhuizen. Col Stockley managed to rally the men of C Company as well and lead them towards the castle. With point blank fire from the Sherman's of the Hussars the men of C Company stormed the castle, with Col Stockley leading at the front with his service revolver drawn. However as he charged over the bridge he was shot and killed. Nevertheless C Company carried on into the castle. Meanwhile the men of D Company attacked Broekhuizen from an utterly unexpected direction, this and their tank support enabled them to make the village. Outnumbered the infantry set to clearing the village, a task that would take most of the night.
The 3rd Mons had been gutted capturing this village. They'd taken 140 killed and wounded, and would be out of action absorbing replacements for several months. The Germans had 139 taken as prisoner and an unknown number killed. Estimates put it between 17 and 60.
The experience of the 3rd Mons impacted decisions made elsewhere. When the 6th Guards were faced with a similar situation at Geijsteren, they knew of the experiences at Broekhuizen, and took an entirely different approach.