Scottish Lion On Patrol Ch 12
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FULL CRY TO TILBURG

This is Lieut Peterson's story :-



The only B Squadron troop not completely divorced from its vehicles in the woods of Vleut was 5 Troop, so on October 24th it was given the job of heading the advance towards Tilburg in its armoured cars. Orders were received from the colonel, and at two o'clock in the afternoon the troop moved over the Best cross-roads, having waited in vain for a wireless report that the leading infantry, the Cameronians, had reached the far side of Best. At the Best railway crossing the reason for their delay was clear; the crossing had been " lousy" with mines. Our arrival coincided with the removal of what we hoped was the last one, and after a survey on foot the troop crossed safely, led by L/Sgt Grice's car. The Cameronians were left behind.

 

A few hundreds yards farther on we went round a bend and came upon the first obstacle: large trees lying across the road. It was a harmless obstruction, but one which made it necessary to use cars and tow-chains and machets to clear a way for the troop. These trees, similar obstacles and mines were the only hin-drance on the road to Oirschot. When that town, the halfway mark towards Tilburg, was drawing closer we met a civilian and asked for information. We gathered that about four hundred yards away, round a bend, was a large gun, pointing towards us. The cars were moved a little closer, into covering positions, and a small foot patrol went forward to investigate. A gun there certainly was, but it had long ago fired its last round and it sprawled drunkenly half in a ditch and half out. Probably the civilian had tried to tell us this, and we had not understood.

 

 Just before entering Oirschot we were met by two members of the Dutch Princess Irene Brigade-an odd experience to come across khaki-clad figures on bicycles while leading an advance. I t was the first time we had encountered this force, and it was hard to explain on the wireless in code who these friends were. Some people still believe that we met a fighting force of Free Chinese. The Dutch soldiers had crossed the Wil-helmina Canal the previous night and had spent the day exploring, but with nothing" in the bag". This meeting gave us added confidence as we probed into Oirschot. Two patrols made a lightning reconnaissance through the town and met on the far side, beyond the battered church. They reported" All clear". The report of the situation wirelessed to Major Gordon, coming up behind us with the remainder of the squad-ron, was well received; it fairly begged for his order, so often heard-" Push on ". Push on we did. Then with Oirschot well behind us, we ran off our maps, and had to stop. While the troop kept one eye on the ground and the other on the NO.2 Cooker the troop commander returned to Oirschot, where squadron headquarters were surrounded by a milling, cheering, chattering crowd which obscured all but the aerials of the command vehicle. One well remembers the idol of the hour, Major Gordon, a little perplexed (or was it anxiety?), but happy at the turn of events and eager to get on with the job. Capt Boynton, whom everybody knew as Johnny B, was tickled to death by the day's successes and the reception. Even the calm Sgt Sheppard was regarding the situation with, obvious enjoyment whenever he could allow his attention to stray from the wireless. Major Gordon made the sacrifice of his own map, and troop commander rejoined troop-giants a little refreshed. The orders were simple and to the point: " Centre line: Oirschot-Moergestel. Push on, but don't in-vestigate beyond Moergestel." How annoying to be so restricted! What a cramp on one's style!

 

The troop was now joined by the carriers of 6 Troop, under the command of Sgt Brewey" Reeves, and a three inch mortar and carrier under the command of Cpl Townsend. We pushed on, uneventfully. Surely, we thought, this cannot last; where is the Bosche today? The first sign that he might not be far away was discovered by Sgt Grice when the eading car reached a small wooden bridge beside a water mill. One side of the bridge was badly damaged. It looked as though the enemy had tried to blow up the bridge but had not had time. Or was this a trick to draw us on and prevent heavy support from reaching us ? The bridge seemed safe on the near side. What doubts remained were settled when the first car passed safely over. We went on with increased vigilance, and a few minutes later Sgt Grice, going round a left-hand bend, saw Germans moving in a long narrow wood on the left of the road, about ISO yards ahead. Other Germans were moving around a small hut on the far side of the wood. Tpr Simmons pressed the trigger of the Besa. Back over the wireless went the message " Contact-wait-out ". The fun was on. For once it was very one-sided.

 

 The troop plan to send the carriers round to the left flank and to fire on the wood with the three inch mortar was never needed. The Germans were com-pletely surprised and in one way or another eliminated. The final" bag" was eight prisoners and five dead. The first two surrendered quickly, after fire from all the cars along the whole length of the wood. One, quite a boy, was badly wounded, but the other was unhurt and co-operative, an attitude which may have been connected with the pressure of a pistol in his back. He called out to those still in the wood, telling them to surrender. Nothing happened, so the Besas opened fire again. The performance was continued-alternate shouting and hooting-until four more prisoners came out. Then the troop commander and Sgt Bald-win (The Spiv, God bless the Queen) and the co-operative one went into the wood and captured the last two Germans, who, by good providence, gave themselves up instead of firing the loaded machine gun and bazooka which they had. Tpr Simmons, who was never called anything except Simmo, spotted a German cycling furiously away from the wood. The upper part of his body could be seen above the hedge, about 400 yards away. Simmo aimed deliberately and there was a short burst from the Besa. The cyclist shot from his saddle into the bottom of the hedge, dead. Simmo grinned. "How far do you reckon it is ? " he said.

 

We were now under shell and mortar fire which was accurate enough to make it clear that we were being watched, probably from the rising ground beyond the long straight road ahead. We withdrew round the bend and gave a complete report of the situation to quadron headquarters. The light was failing, and as we had gone farther than the infantry could hope to march that evening we were ordered to go back behind the damaged bridge by the mill. The prospect of digging in here for the night was not amusing. We were thankful when the colonel appeared, in good form and with the news that he had insisted on our relief and arranged for infantry to be brought up on the carriers of 2 Troop. What a welcome sight those Jocks were! We abandoned our half-dug slit trenches and went back to Oirschot, a hot meal and sleep. We bedded down in a school. We could have slept on our feet.

 

Orders for the next day, October 25th, were that Lieut Leppard would lead the advance to Tilburg with I and 2 Troops; 3 and 4 Troops, under Lieutenants Jenkins and Gillings, would investigate tracks on the right; 5 and 6 Troops would be in reserve; and Lieut Riesco's troop, lent by C Squadron, would explore the left flank, by the canal. Wednesday's dawn was misty, so misty that Lieut Leppard had to wait for the visibility to improve. After he had left, the command vehicle became an information bureau, with liaison officers from the infantry, the 6th Guards Armoured Brigade and the Gunners crowding round to listen to the wireless reports of his progress. The going seemed to be good. Headquarters and the reserve troops moved to near the damaged bridge-already repaired by the Royal Engineers so that the Churchills could cross. The sun broke through and spirits rose. Lieut Leppard had passed the wood where the one-sided shooting match had taken place on the previous evening, and all was quiet. The troops on the flanks encountered mines, but there were none on the main road. The report of " Contact" from I Troop brought all headquarters to immediate attention.


The troop had gone about two-thirds of the way to Moergestel when an anti-tank gun fired four shots from the left at short range. Visibility was still poor and all the shots missed the leading car, but in reversing it went into a ditch and from that moment was out of action. The crew baled out safely. When Lieut Leppard, leaving the carriers of 2 Troop on the main road as a base, tried to outflank the opposition on the left the soft ground claimed his lumbering Staghound and another car, leaving him only one Humber in action. One well remembers the views of Major Gordon on Staghounds, and his vows about their future.


It was decided at a high level to attack with infantry and the Churchills of the 6th Guards Armoured Brigade. Lieut Leppard's depleted force was reinforced by 5 Troop, and the infantry arrived on the tanks, ready for a full-scale sweep from the right flank down on to the anti-tank gun position. But Lieut Leppard had heard sounds of moving tracks, and, although unable to see what had happened in the mist, was convinced that the gun had departed after engaging his troop. We could take a chance on his" hunch" or allow the delay of an attack which might be against nothing. We decided to take the chance and told the leading Churchills, squadron headquarters and the liaison officer in touch with the Scots Guards. The attack was stopped. Followed by Lieut Leppard in his one car and the carriers of 2 Troop, 5 Troop's cars went down the road towards either an empty gun posi-tion or a gun. We passed the ditched car without having even as much as a rifle fired against us, and soon we were in Moergestel, only to find that the bridge over the fast-flowing river had been blown up. Things happened swiftly. The tanks rumbled and jerked their way down the road behind us. Major Gordon, in the highest of spirits and one of his better" push on " moods, appeared from nowhere, and everyone was thinking" Now for Tilburg". It seemed a pretty even bet that the first to cross the river would be the first there. The squadron leader of the Scots Guards threw caution to the winds and ordered a Churchill into the river. It stuck with its rear pointing to the sky. A scissors bridge was called up by wireless, and first across it were 5 and 6 Troops, ordered not to Tilburg but to go through the rest of Moergestel to the right and reconnoitre the bridge at Oisterwijk and, if possible, the routes beyond.

The only German seen in Moergestel was a dead one near the junction of the Tilburg and the Oisterwijk roads. He had not been dead long, and was obviously the work of the Resistance. Sgt Grice, in the lead, set a cracking pace. Ahead was a dense wood-not a pleasant prospect. The cars raced through with the drivers pressing hard on the accelerators. There were concrete pill boxes beside the road and we saw figures
moving among the trees as we flashed by. But the Germans were surprised ;there was no opposition. Breaking out of the wood, we saw the church steeple of Oisterwijk in front, open country on our left, and on our right a long row of houses which gave cover against observation from the right flank. A few hundred yards ahead, where, according to our maps, the river was bridged, large trees were lying across the road, and their leaves and branches blocked our view. Sgt Bald-win and Sgt Grice went forward with their cars and reported that the bridge had fallen into the river. When two carriers went up to try to tow the trees aside a long burst of machine gun fire from the other side of the river raked the area. A second attempt brought down more intense fire, which included shells. The carriers were withdrawn, and the troop took cover, watching the far side of the river and firing Besas at places which might have been machine gun nests. The shelling increased. It was obvious that 88 mm guns were being used, and the indications were that the enemy intended to make a stand behind the river.


When we wirelessed back our report Capt Boynton, who received it, was at first incredulous; he could not believe that we had gone so far in so short a time; he thought that we had given the wrong map reference and must mean a small bridge, passed almost unnoticed, on the outskirts of Moergestel. His delight on being convinced that we were right was good to hear. We were ordered to withdraw out of the shellfire, and as we started to go back to the Moergestel side of the wood a shell screamed over the rear of the troop commander's car, landed in the bank about six feet away and covered the vehicle with a shower of earth and stones. On the way back Tpr Simmons was seized violently with diarrhrea, but the wood was no place in which to loiter and even less a place in which to be caught with pants down, so he had to suffer, not in silence, until the cars had settled at the junction of a road and track on the Moergestel side of the wood. He began to scramble from the turret, but a second later fell back into the car, hit in the chest by a sniper's bullet. This chance shot put Simmo out of action until the following March. The troop was the poorer for his absence.


It seemed only a matter of minutes before we saw supporting arms of every kind streaming past us towards Oisterwijk. We received from Major Gordon his famous message, perfectly coded: "The big Sunray has been here and is highly delighted. I mean the long Sunray, the longest and leanest Sunray of them all. Well done." Afterwards we heard that, unknown to Major Gordon, the" long Sunray", Major-General Barber, was standing beside the jeep from which the message was transmitted.



While 5 and 6 Troops were in position by the wood other parts of B Squadron and Lieut Riesco's cars were searching for an intact bridge east of Tilburg. At five o'clock Lieut Leppard found one, near Moeren-burg, whence it would be possible to attack the main railway bridge over the Wilhelmina Canal. Two more troops were rushed to strengthen the bridgehead. At dusk the enemy realised that the bridge was standing and in British hands, and after using small arms and finding that the bridge was well held the Germans
shelled the area heavily. The 9th Cameronians relieved B Squadron at seven o'clock.


On October 26th C Squadron patrolled the. Wil-helmina Canal south of Tilburg, meeting the 4th Armoured Brigade and reconnoitring the roads, while 46 Brigade dealt with the opposition in the Oisterwijk area, and 44 Brigade prepared to attack Tilburg from the south. The attack opened at half-past eleven on the following morning, and soon after two o'clock the infantry had reached. the outskirts of the town. At half-past two the Commander of 44 Brigade reported " sounds of jubilation from the direction of Tilburg" ;
half-an-hour later the town was declared liberated. As the infantry advanced cautiously they were seized by jubilant Dutchmen and carried off into the city. That night and the next they were feted as never before.


I t was not altogether by chance that the regiment did not move into
Tilburg, the city which it had done so much to set free. There were strong rum ours that all was not well in the Helmond area, and it was obvious that the division would be unemployed in the west now that Tilburg had fallen. The colonel did not want to leave Oirschot; he thought that the regiment should stay there, concentrating on maintenance. He was over-ruled, however, and on October 28th R.H.Q., A Echelon and A and B Squadrons were concentrated at Moergestel, and C Squadron at Best.


 

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