A History Of The 51St Highland Regiment

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Part One: Overview


Original Badge

"During the last war, I had the opportunity of seeing most of the British, Dominion and Indian Divisions, many American Divisions, and several French and Belgian Divisions, and I can assure you that, among all these, the 51st unquestionably takes its place alongside the very few which, through their valour and fighting record, stands in a category of their own."

So said Field Marshal The Viscount Alanbrooke. He was not alone in his estimation of the 51st Highland Division. Their reputation as an outstanding infantry Divisison was recognised many times over by Field Marshal Montogomery:


Field Marshal The Viscount Alanbrooke

"It is at once a humiliation and an honour to have had such a Division under one's command. I shall always remember the Highland Division with admiration and high regard".


Field Marshal Montogomery

The 51st Highland Division was officially formed in 1908 in a reshuffle of the Territorial Army, as a collation of all the kilted Highland regiments. Over the years that followed, until its disbandment in 1967, the 51st Highland Division served with great distinction. Their exploits in the Second Word War may have earned them their legendary status, but the Highland Division had been renowned since the First World War for their bravery and ability in combat.

They served in France in the British Expeditionary Force (B.E.F.) in 1915 and achieved a great deal on the Somme, at Beaumont Hamel, Arras, the 3rd Battle of Ypres, Cambrai and the Aubers Ridge before the final costly actions of the First World War.

After the peacetime period between the wars, the 51st Highland Division was mobilised again in 1939 for deployment to France in January 1940 as part of the B.E.F. After the initial operations, as the B.E.F. retired on Dunkirk and the Division formed a defensive perimeter around St. Valéry. Here, in what would be its darkest chapter, the Division was isolated, abandoned and forced to surrender. Fortunately, one of its brigades, 154 Brigade was able to escape through le Havre.


51HD surrender at St. Valéry

The Division was reborn from its twin, the Territorial 9th Scottish Division, along with many of those that had escaped St Valéry. Changing its name to the 51st Highland Division, it was deployed to North Africa, spearheading Montgomery's attack at El Alamein and pursuing the Axis forces through Tripoli, Medenine, Mareth and Wadi Akarit to final victory in North Africa.


New Badge


Battle of El Alamein

After a brief respite the Division took part in Operation HUSKEY, the Allied invasion of Sicily, where is saw much hard action at Vizzini and Francofonte, Gerbini and Sferro before retuning home to prepare for D Day.

The Division landed at Normandy on the 7th June 1944 as part of 1 Corps and fought in the breakout from the beachhead and in the return to St Valéry, conducted operations in the Low Countries, spent Christmas in the Ardennes, and went on to negotiate the Reichswald and the Rhine Crossing en route to final Victory in Europe.


Men of the Highland Division in celebration

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In 1938 the decision was taken to double the strength of Territorial Army. This required the raising of a "mirror" divisions which, in the case of the 51st (Highland) Division was 9th (Highland) Division.

In late 1939 the TA was "called out"; that is notice was sent out to all reservists mobilising them. On the 1 September the regiments of the 51 Highland Division were mobilized.


Extract from Return to St. Valéry by Lieutenant General Sir Derek Lang

General Lang was Adjutant of 4th Camerons in 1939 when the decision was made to double the size of the TA.

"I was in Lochmaddy in North Uist when I first received news of ######-Belisha's call to arms and, there being no telephones on the islands in those days, I telegraphed to Evan Baillie for instructions. If I had expected a curt military reply I could not have been more mistaken. Nor could the postmistress at Bayhead Post Office in the west of the island to which his reply was directed two hours later. The only two telegraph forms available were soon exhausted; the backs of envelopes were called into service, and, finally, in desperation, a toilet roll was requisitioned as the message ran on and on. I was to find new recruiting centres on the islands, open up territories like Harris which had been untouched for years and, in short, raise a "fiery cross" from end to end of the Hebrides.

Our Islands Company Commander, Viscount "Dubby" Fincastle, whose family had long territorial associations with Harris, came to join me and the local Permanent Staff Instructor; whose name, not surprisingly, was Macdonald. We set up our base at Leverburgh, the site of the late Lord Leverhulme's ill-fated attempt to improve the economy of the island, and soon Dubby's men started to roll in. It was not everywhere, however, that we met with such success. When we landed on the little island of Berneray, the fisherman population hid from us either among the rocks or behind their locked croft doors, no doubt remembering tales of the old press gangs.

In South Uist I received the greatest help from a formidable figure, Finlay Mackenzie, who treated me like his own son when I was in his domain. Finlay was the proprietor of the Lochboisdale Hotel and many regarded him as the real laird of the area. Finlay had led an extraordinary career which included service with the Canadian Mounties and he had been a 4th Cameron in the twenties. The great of those days came frequently and felt privileged to stay with Finlay to catch fish, shoot snipe and enjoy his hospitality. Woe betide them if they could not drink dram for dram with him. Many who couldn't were not welcomed back. He put his two old Rolls-Royces (the only cars on South Uist) at my service and himself stumped from end to end of the island, exhorting and cajoling the crofters into joining. The great-hearted Finlay was in his sixties but his dearest ambition was to lead his own men into battle. When this was refused him because of his years, he was inconsolable.

This pattern of exhortation and natural patriotism proved effective all over our area. I believe that the London Scottish were the first to reach their target figure but the Camerons were not far behind. In June, 1939, we mustered in camp near Dundee, sixty officers and twelve hundred men strong. They came in every form of dress and from every walk of life. They were not only crofters and fishermen, but bank clerks, lawyers and accountants, and even two forty-year old stockbrokers from London.

I well remember our first church parade when we were to show ourselves off before the British Legionaires at an open air drumhead service. I had been told to find a choir and in time-honoured fashion had deputed the task to the Regimental Sergeant-Major. When the great day came I found that there was no choir and asked the R.S.M. what had happened. "Quite forgot it, Sir," he confessed, "but don't worry." Marching down the front rank: of assembled men, he laid his staff on the shoulder of the twelfth man and shouted, "Here to the right, right turn-Choir!" We were back in business.

When war was finally declared in September our dispersed forces were mobilized in Inverness. Picture what was involved collecting over a thousand men together from the vast expanses of Inverness-shire and Nairnshire by sea and road. There were no ships or lorries that could be requisitioned and we had to rely on. the infrequent public transport services. I had the temerity to demand naval escorts from the Admiralty to protect our contingents crossing the Minch and got the outraged refusal I deserved. However, the redoubtable Finlay rose to the occasion again and in the absence of our own officers, who could not get to the outer isles in time, brought the Uist boys across safely like a hen with her chicks. The sight of him marching in at the head of his own men, wearing his civilian kilt in a last vain hope of being able to join us, will ever be remembered by those of us who saw it.

To our dismay Evan Baillie was passed unfit for active service and his command was taken by Earl Cawdor, third in command a few months earlier; the second in command, Alec Cattanach, now being faced with the task of organizing from scratch the 5th Camerons, formed as a result of doubling the 4th. Alec's right-hand man as Adjutant was Jock Maitland Makgill Crichton, who had come to my rescue as Assistant on the order to double the T.A.

Tradition distant and recent was maintained. Lochiel's Camerons from Lochaber had had rallied to Prince Charlie in the ?45 and the 25th Lochiel had raised and commanded the 5th Camerons in the 1914-18 war. Now his youngest son, barely out of school, joined this newly formed 5th Battalion, which again included the men of Lochaber.

With only rifles and old Lewis guns our home-spun army, full of esprit de corps but sadly lacking in military training, was sent down to Aldershot in October where we spent most of our time drawing vehicles and other equipment and trying to fit all the pieces together. Three months later we were on active service in France and by the early spring of 1940 in contact with the Germans, the most highly trained army in the world, in the Saar."

The Division was formed of nine infantry battalions formed in three brigades. These were the 152nd, 153rd and 154th Brigades. The infantry were drawn from the TA battalions of the five Highland Regiments; The Black Watch, The Seaforth Highlanders, The Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders, The Gordon Highlanders and The Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders. In addition the Division had four regiments of artillery, and a Royal Armoured Corps reconnaissance unit. Supporting arms and services included Royal Corps of Signals, Royal Engineers, Royal Army Service Corps, Royal Army Ordnance Corps and Royal Army Medical Corps.

In the middle of the month the Division moved by troop train to Aldershot.


Officers Training Company, December 1939

The Division was commanded by Major General Victor Fortune.


In January 1940 they embarked at Southampton for Le Havre.


Major General V.M. Fortune, CB, DSO

1st Bn. The Lothians & Border Horse (Yeomanry)

152nd Brigade: Brigadier H.W.V. Stewart, DSO

6th Bn. The Seaforth Highlanders

4th Bn. The Seaforth Highlanders

4th Bn. The Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders

153rd Brigade: Brigadier G. T. Burnet, MC

4th Bn. The Black Watch

6th Bn. The Gordon Highlanders

5th Bn. The Gordon Highlanders

154th Brigade: Brigadier A.CL. Stanley-Clarke DSO

6th Bn. The Black Watch

7th Bn. The Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders

8th Bn. The Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders

Royal Artillery: CRA. Brigadier H.CH. Eden, MC

75th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery

76th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery

77th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery

51st Anti-tank Regiment, Royal Artillery

Royal Engineers: CRE. Lt Col H M Smail, TD

236th Field Company, Royal Engineers

237th Field Company, Royal Engineers

238th Field Company, Royal Engineers

239th Field Park Company, Royal Engineers

Royal Corps of Signals: Lt Col T.P.E. Murray 51st Divisional Signals Company

Royal Army Medical Corps: AD.M.S., Lt Col D.P. Levack

152nd Field Ambulance

153rd Field Ambulance

154th Field Ambulance

Royal Army Service Corps: Lt Col T. Harris-Hunter TD

Divisional Ammunition Company.

Divisional Petrol Company Divisional Supply Column.

Attached troops

51st Medium Regiment, RA

1st RH.A (less one Battery)

97th Field Regiment,

RA (one Battery)

213th Army Field Company, RE.

1st Bn Princess Louise's Kensington Regiment (Machine-Gunners)

7th Bn The Royal Northumberland Fusiliers (Machine-Gunners)

6th Bn The Royal Scots Fusiliers (Pioneers)

7th Bn The Norfolk Regiment (Pioneers)

Sections of the RAOC and the RASC.

It was during the preparation that the War Office decided that the kilt was not appropriate for modern warfare and the order was given to hand them in.

Lieutenant Colonel Wimberley commanding the 1st Battalion The Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders wrote :

"An attack has been made on the Highland Regiments as to their wearing their kilts in battle in Europe... the kilt as a battledress was being attacked from three angles. On the grounds of (unit) security, on grounds of its inadequacy in case of gas attack and on grounds of difficulty of supply in war. There was also the tinge of jealousy - why should the kilted regiments be given preferential treatment to wear a becoming kilt. The thickness of the kilt and its seven yards of tartan was extra protection. It was traditional in all highland regiments never to wear any garment in the way of p@nt$ under the kilt. But anti-gas p@nt$ were issued."

The 5th Gordons had a symbolic parade at Bordon in January 1940 before embarkation in which a single kilt was ceremonially burned. A stone memorial marked the spot inscribed "We hope not for long". The 1st Camerons somehow managed to avoid the order and some were still wearing the kilt at St.Valéry.

The HD signs were removed and replaced with St.Andrews crosses and stags heads on green and purple background. The GOC, Major General Victor Fortune, however continued to wear the HD on his uniform.

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Sketch Map of Somme-Bresle 1940

The 51st Highland Division landed in Le Havre in January 1940 as part of the B.E.F. On 28th March they were deployed into the defensive line relieving the French 21st Division between Bailleul and Armentiéres. This was part of a rotation to familiarise the British brigades but in April it was decided that the Division would take over a sector on the Saar front in the area of Hombourg-Budange.

A decision had been made to strengthen the territorial divisions with regular battalions and 1st Gordons, 1st Black Watch and 2nd Seaforths replaced the 6th Battalions of the Black Watch, Gordons and Seaforths. The detailed organisation of the Division after this restructuring is provided in the Order of Battle (ORBAT).



Major General V.M. Fortune, CB, DSO

Lt Col H Swinburn, GSO1

1st Bn. The Lothians & Border Horse (Yeomanry)

152nd Brigade: Brigadier H.W.V. Stewart, DSO

2nd Bn. The Seaforth Highlanders

4th Bn. The Seaforth Highlanders

4th Bn. The Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders

153rd Brigade: Brigadier G. T. Burnet, MC

4th Bn. The Black Watch

1st Bn. The Gordon Highlanders

5th Bn. The Gordon Highlanders

154th Brigade: Brigadier A.CL. Stanley-Clarke DSO

1st Bn. The Black Watch

7th Bn. The Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders

8th Bn. The Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders

Royal Artillery: CR.A., Brigadier H.CH. Eden, MC

17th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery

23rd Field Regiment, Royal Artillery

75th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery

51st Anti-tank Regiment, Royal Artillery

Royal Engineers: CRE., Lt Col H M Smail, TD

26th Field Company, Royal Engineers

236th Field Company, Royal Engineers

237th Field Company, Royal Engineers

239th Field Park Company, Royal Engineers

Royal Corps of Signals: Lt Col T.P.E. Murray

51st Divisional Signals Company

Royal Army Medical Corps: AD.M.S., Lt Col D.P. Levack

152nd Field Ambulance

153rd Field Ambulance

154th Field Ambulance

Royal Army Service Corps: Lt Col T. Harris-Hunter TD

Divisional Ammunition Company.

Divisional Petrol Company

Divisional Supply Column.

Attached troops

51st Medium Regiment, RA

1st RHA (less one Battery)

97th Field Regiment, RA (one Battery)

213th Army Field Company, RE.

1st Bn Princess Louise's Kensington Regiment (Machine-Gunners)

7th Bn The Royal Northumberland Fusiliers (Machine-Gunners)

6th Bn The Royal Scots Fusiliers (Pioneers)

7th Bn The Norfolk Regiment (Pioneers)

Sections of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps and the Royal Army Service Corps


Scout Carriers

here had been some action and patrolling across the line but on 10 May the Germans invaded Belgium and three days later the Division withstood a heavy attack in the area of Grossenwald. To conform with the French the Division was ordered back to the next line of defence. On 20th May the Division was taken out of the line and moved to Étain and Varennes where they learnt that the Germans had broken through the French lines separating them from the rest of the B.E.F.

After a period of indecision, when the next task for the Division was unclear, a 300 mile road and rail move brought the Division to a position overlooking the river Bresle near Abbeville. As the B.E.F. retired on Dunkirk the Division was to fight with the French Army as part of the French IX Corps and initially to hold a line north west of Abbeville to the coast. The Division was thinly stretched over 23 miles, holding a line of the Somme from Erondelle to the sea, and without a mobile reserve. On the 4th June the attack on the Abbeville bridgehead began. Despite heroic attempts to stem the flood of German troops the Division was forced to slowly fall back to the Bresle. Meanwhile the German success elsewhere cut the Division's supply line to Rouen and orders were given to fall back to a line on the Béthune.


Periscope in Fort de Sainghain



This account of the “Movements of 51 Div. and Attached Tps. since leaving Lille Area” was provided by Mr Michael Thomson of Perth who provided me with various artefacts from his uncle, Major David K Thomson who was in the Royal Army Service Corps (RASC) in the Divisional Supply Regiment. The account is on foolscap paper and appears to be contemporary. Although unattributed, the only person mentioned by name in the account is Major C.P.R.Johnston and as the account from 10 June relates specifically to ARK force it may be that he was the author and escaped. I would be grateful for any further details.

Charles Grant

April 16.

154 Inf. Bde. Moved to SAAR by rail.

April 19.

51 Div. And attached tps., started move to SAAR area, N.E. of METZ, by road and rail.

May 1.

51 Div. And attached tps, now joined by 7 NORFOLKS become SAAR FORCE and relieve 7 Fr. D.I in sector HOMBOURG BUDANGE under Fr.C.A.C.

May 15.

Withdrawal ordered from LIGNE DE CONTACT.

May 20.

51 Div. And attached tps. become reserve to group of armies and ordered from area ETAIN. Withdrawl from HOMBOURG BUDANGE Sector on Maginot line begins.

May 22.

Move to ETAIN area completed.

Night 22/23.

154 Inf.Bde Group ordered to VARENNES area N.E. of VERDUN owing to threat in MONTMEDY area.

May 23.

51 Div. And attached tps. ordered by G.Q.G to area PACY in G.Q.G. reserve.

May 24.

51 Div. Ordered to join 154 Bde. Group in VARENNES area as reserve to group of armies. Road parties of most units move to that area night 24/25. Rail parties meantime diverted by direct orders of G.Q.G. to ROUEN.

May 25.

1st. Flight, (152 Bde.Group) move to area GISORS by two stages - 1st stage VITY LE FRANCOIS: 2nd stage SEZANNE., starting 2000 hrs.

May 26.

2nd Flight, (154 Bde.Group) move to area GISORS by same stages, starting 0800 hrs.

3rd Flight (153 Bde.Group) move to area GISORS byb same stages, starting 2000hrs.

May 27.

1st Flight, forward to line of R.BRESLE.

May 28.

Remainder forward to line of R.BRESLE.

June 1.

Line of R.SOMME incl. ABBEVILLE to the sea to be held by 51 Div. and attached tps. after French have driven in bridgeheads in front of ABBEVILLE.

June 2.

French X Army attack ABBEVILLE bridgeheads but fail to capture them.

June 4.

Combined dawn attack of French 31 Div. with tanks assisted by 152 and 153 Bdes. fails to secure bridgeheads - heavy casualties sustained by 152 Bde. (4 Seaforth and 4 Camerons).

June 5.

Heavy enemy pressure forces retirement to intermediate position between R SOMME and R.BRESLE. 31 Fr.Div sideslips to EAST. Front of 51 Div. now reduced to rt. BLANGY to the sea from previous frontage rt.SENNAPONT.

June 6.

"A" Bde. Sent up from ROUEN sub-area to assist 51 Div, allotted sector between 153 and 154 Bdes.

June 7.

900 reinforcements under Major J.R. Mackintosh-Walker (Seaforth) join 51 div. Enemy who had crossed river at BEAUCHAMP bridge successfully counterattacked. Information on enemy threat to ROUEN. Supplies, etc, now based on HAVRE.

June 8.

French X Army orders withdrawal to the line of R. LA BETHUNE which is carried out during night 8/9 June. Div. H.Q to LA CHASSEE from LE COUDROY. Dv. Amn.Coy fail to find amn,. train located en casse mobile between BOLBEC and ST.SAEN. ST.SAEN dump reported in enemy hands. Appeal for amn. to be sent by sea.

June 9.

Information of occupation of ROUEN by enemy and threat of advance from ROUEN on HAVRE. 154 Bde.Group later named ARK force ordered to hold line FECAMP - BOLBEC in conjunction with French tps. already in occupation to cover withdrawal on HAVRE of remainder of 51 Div.

ARK force withdraws from positions on R. LA BETHUNE 2100hrs but owing to bad weather conditions and road congestion, due to refugee traffic, rearward elements do not reach FECAMP until 1200 hrs.June 10.

June 10.

0530 reports, later confirmed, that enemy tanks and motorised infantry have turned N, from TOTES towards DIEPPE and are within three miles of LA CHAUSSEE. A/Tk.Regt. ordered to ensure adequate road blocks on this road. Staff Officer, (Major C.P.R.Johnston), ordered to try to get through to 154 Bde. Group and warn them of latest development, also to assist them in evacuation from HAVRE should the enemy succeed in isolating the remainder of the Division. Remainder of Division would attempt evacuation between ST.VALERY and DIEPPE.

Comdr. 154 Bde. Group warned of latest development and in view of reports of enemy tanks approaching FECAMP decides to hold a previously reconnoitred position HARFLEUR - MONTIVILLIERS - BLEVILLE, leaving detachments to strengthen French posts on line FECAMP -BOLBEC.

June 11.

Night June 11/12. Information received that remainder 51 Div. will attempt evacuate ST.VALERY and beaches to the EAST. Comdr. ARK force in conjunction with Comdr. HAVRE Garrison and RN commences evacuation from HAVRE.

June 12.

Original agreement with French that outer defences would be held until 1200 hrs, 12 June is altered at request of French to 259 hrs 12 June and inner defences to 0500 hrs, 13 June.

Remainder ARK Force and HAVRE Garrison evacuated from HAVRE between 2100 hrs. 12 June and 0200 hrs .13 June, except for party holding inner defences which evacuates 0600 hrs. 13 June.

ARK FORCE, with the exception of the two first ships to leave HAVRE, was evacuated to CHERBOURG, and left CHERBOURG for U.K. on June 15 and 16.

Preparations were underway to evacuate the Division but Dieppe could not be used so the decision was to use Le Havre. To defend Le Havre a part of the Division under Brigadier Stanley-Clarke with the headquarters of 154 Brigade was designated "Ark" Force. This force left the Division on the night of the 9/10 June to take up a defensive position from Fécamp to Lillebonne, thus narrowly escaping the German encirclement of the rest of the Division.


Holding position, River Bresle area

On the morning of 10th June reports reach the Division that made it apparent that the remainder of the Division was being cut off by the rapid German advance and the opportunity to evacuate through Le Havre was increasingly unlikely. General Fortune therefore decided to evacuate through St.Valery-en-Caux.

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Part Four: ST.VALéRY, JUNE 1940

Within a few hours of the dispatch of Ark Force, reports early on the morning of 10th June of the German advance made it apparent that the remainder of the Division was being cut off and the opportunity to evacuate through Le Havre was increasingly unlikely. General Fortune therefore decided to evacuate through St.Valéry-en-Caux. This news reached the Navy at 0400 hours on 10th June and preparation began.

St.Valéry-en-Caux was a small and far from ideal port for such an operation but there was no alterative.

A box was drawn around the town with the 2nd Seaforths, 1st Gordons and 4th Camerons on the west side and 4th Seaforths, 5th Gordons and 1st Black Watch on the east side. The French were due to take up the bottom or south side of the box but until they arrived the Lothian's, Norfolk's and the 6th Battalion, Royal Scots Fusiliers (Pioneers) would cover the gap. The Division was in position early on the 11th June but the perimeter was never fully established.

The Germans, moving at great speed, were discovered by the Lothian and Border Horse in strength at Cany, to the west. The Germans pressed the line from the west along the coast and the south west. In the east the 4th Seaforths, 5th Gordons and 1st Black Watch were all in action.



General Fortune issued the following directive to commanding officers at 1000hrs on the 11th June:

"The Navy will probably make an effort to take us off by boat, perhaps to-night, perhaps in two nights. I wish all ranks to realise that this can only be achieved by the full co-operation of everyone. Men may have to walk five or six miles. The utmost discipline must prevail.

Men will board the boats with equipment and carrying arms. Vehicles will be rendered useless without giving away what is being done. Carriers should be retained as the final rearguard. Routes back to the nearest highway should be reconnoitred and officers detailed as guides. Finally, if the enemy should attack before the whole force is evacuated, all ranks must realise that it is up to them to defeat them. He may attack with tanks, and we have quite a number of anti-tank guns behind. If the infantry can stop the enemy's infantry, that is all that is required, while anti-tank guns and rifles inflict casualties on armoured fighting vehicles."

During the afternoon the 1st Black Watch at St. Pierre-le-Viger came under great pressure from the Germans and by 1800hrs had lost some 50 men wounded or dead. They were supported by French cavalry who dismounted and, leaving their horse in a wood, fought as infantry. The position was finally overrun at dawn.

To the west the perimeter was penetrated and the 2nd Seaforths cut off in Le Tot. Without their anti tank platoon, which was on the other side of St Valéry, the enemy tanks were able to bypass them but not without loss. There were many fires in the town which was under constant bombardment from artillery and air attack. In the town the Divisional HQ, the 51st Anti-Tank regiment, part of the Norfolks and a Company of Kensingtons secured the perimeter. An attack into the town was repulsed in the late afternoon but the town was now surrounded. Final plans were now made for the evacuation, beaches allotted and orders given but these did not reach the 2nd Seaforths cut off in Le Tot.

After arriving in the harbour on the 10th and finding no one there the Navy had withdrawn on the 11th and after coming under air attack pulled further out to sea. When the order came to carry out the evacuation it was too late. A combination of fog obscuring the coast, the loss of several boats and the fact that the enemy occupied the cliffs overlooking the town made evacuation impossible.

Various local demands for surrender, specifically to 2nd\Seaforths and 1st Gordons were robustly rebuffed. Preparations were made for a last resistance. Meanwhile the French capitulated at 0800hrs on the morning of the 12th June.

General Fortune considered all the options, a counter attack, further resistance, retaking the town but against this there was no possibility of evacuation or support, the men were exhausted and virtually out of ammunition, with no artillery ammunition at all. Shortly before 1000hrs on the 12th June General fortune took the most difficult of decisions - to surrender.


General Major Rommel with Major General Fortune

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In 1998 Davey Steele composed a song called "The Beaches of St. Valery".

It's based on the real-life evacuation of British troops, and specifically Steele's father and uncle, from the coast of France early in World War II. Well known as the evacuation of Dunkirk, Steele's father was among the lucky ones who happened to be on the beaches of Dunkirk when the flotilla of boats arrived from England to carry soldiers back to safety. Steele's uncle, through that mysterious and sometimes cruel quirk known as fate, was located south of Dunkirk at St.Valery. Sadly, only one boat showed up there to carry back soldiers and Steele's uncle was captured and spent the rest of the war in a concentration camp. The song laments and drives home the fact that all the soldiers, both dead and living, fought equally hard. However, the ones who through no fault of their own languished in the stalags, were slighted, unrecognized and never lavished with parades and honors upon returning home. In real life, according to the liner notes, Steele's uncle returned to Scotland for a short time after the war but emigrated to Canada, never able to reconcile his feelings of neglect.

The lyrics are as follows.

The Beaches Of St Valéry

It was in 1940 the last days of Spring

We were sent to the Maginot line

A fortress in France built to halt the advance of an army from a different time

For we were soon overrun out-fought and outgunned

Pushed further back every day

But we never believed high command would leave us

So we fought every inch of the way

Till the 51st Highlanders found themselves on the banks of the Somme one more time

It still bore the scars of that war to end wars

The old soldiers scars deep in their minds

But we couldn't stay long for the Panzers rolled on

And the battle raged west towards the sea

Then on June the 10th when sapped of all strength

I entered St Valéry


And all I recall was the last boat leavin!

My brother on board waving and calling to me

And the Jocks stranded there wi' their hands in the air

On the beaches of St Valéry

So I huddled all night in a hammered old house

As the shells and the bullets rained down

Next morning at dawn my hope was still strong

For we moved to the beach from the town

But the boat that had left on the day we arrived

Was the only one we'd ever see

And with no ammo or food we had done all we could

So we surrendered at St Valéry


When I returned at the end of the war

From the stalag where I'd been confined

I read of the battles the allies had fought

Stalingrad, Alamein, and the Rhine

Wi' pride in their hearts people spoke of Dunkirk where defeat had become victory

But nobody mentioned the Highland Division

They'd never heard of St Valéry


No stories no statues for those that were killed

No honours for those that were caught

Just a deep sense of shame as though we were to blame

Though I knew in my heart we were not.

So I've moved to a country I've come to call home

But my homeland is far o'er the sea

I will never return while my memories still burn

On the beaches of St Valéry

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A fitting tribute to brave men. I LOVE these posts.

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Part Five: North Africa


Reformation of the 51st Highland Division

After St. Valery, what remained of the 51st Highland Division joined the 9th Highland Division to form the new 51st (Highland) Infantry Division. The reformed Division took on a home defense role between 1940 - 1942 when it set sail for Egypt and the North Africa Campaign.

his reformed division had the following orders of Battle :

* 152nd Infantry Brigade (formerly 26th Infantry Brigade)

o 2nd Battalion, The Seaforth Highlanders

o 5th Battalion, The Seaforth Highlanders

o 5th Battalion, The Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders

* 153rd Infantry Brigade (formerly 27th Infantry Brigade)

o 5th Battalion, The Black Watch

o 1st Battalion, The Gordon Highlanders

o 5/7th Battalion, The Gordon Highlanders

* 154th Infantry Brigade (incorporating 28th Infantry Brigade)

o 1st Battalion, The Black Watch

o 7th Battalion, The Black Watch

o 7th Battalion, The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders

* Divisional Support Units

o 1st/7th Battalion, The Middlesex Regiment

o 2nd Derbyshire Yeomanry, Royal Armoured Corps

o 126th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery

o 127th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery

o 128th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery

o 61st Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery

o 274th Field Company, Royal Engineers

o 275th Field Company, Royal Engineers

o 276th Field Company, Royal Engineers

The newly formed 51st Highland Division took on a training and home defense role between 1940 - 1942 before it would eventually be given the role of challenging Rommel in North Africa.

A Note from Brig. Charles Grant - March 2010

Several years ago one of the 51st Highland Division and Ross Bequest Trustees, Lieutenant Colonel G S Johnston OBE, TD, showed me an unusual shoulder flash, a blue HD on a red background.

I assumed for some time that this might have been specific either to his late father's regiment, 61st (Highland) Anti-Tank Regiment RA, or more generally to R.A. regiments in the Division.

Recently I was given a copy of "The Story of an Artillery Regiment of the 51st Highland Division" - 128th (Highland) Field Regiment R.A. where I came across the following:

"The 9th Highland Division.

After the departure of the 77th we then became a Regiment of the 9th Highland Division which was second line to the 51st Highland Division.

"Our Divisional Shoulder Flashes were alike to those worn by the 51st, except for the difference which was reversal of the colours; the "HD" and surrounding "Circle" in "Blue" and mounted on a "Red" background."


9th HD Shoulder Flash


51st HD Shoulder Flash


In June 1942 the 51st Highland Division moved by train to a variety of ports, and embarked for an unknown destination. They moved around Africa leaving Durban on the 16th July and disembarked on 14th August 1942 at the entrance to the Suez Canal at Port Tewfik.

In late August the Division moved into the Nile delta through Khatatba. Here they took up positions to defend the western approaches to Cairo with 152 Brigade on the Mena-Cairo road, 153 Brigade south of Mena and 154 Brigade west of Cairo covering the Nile barrage. At this time the enemy were no more than 50 miles west in the area of El Alamein and to its south.

They did not have long to wait - Rommel commenced his attack on the night of 30th August. The 8th Army weathered the storm and by 7th September the Battle for Alam Halfa, Rommel?s main objective, was over. The 51st Highland Division has not been directly involved with the enemy attack and done little other than take part of the western edge of the minefield.

The initiative, and the decision when and how to counter attack, was with Montgomery.

El Alamein


51st Highland Division Area of Operation

An Outline of the Battle

The Plan Montgomery was determined to attack the enemy using his infantry to create a gap and then push the armour through the gap created. The area for this was not the weaker sector in the south but the stronger part of the enemy position in the North. 30 Corps were to execute this attaching on a frontage four divisions wide.

The 2nd New Zealand Division were on the 51st Highland Division left and the 9th Australian Division were on their right. To the south beyond the New Zealand Division was the 1st South African Division. Once on their objectives the 1st Armoured Division would pass through them.

The Divisional Deployment

The 51st Highland Division would assault two brigades up, 154 Brigade on the left, 153 Brigade on the right with 152 Brigades behind.


The Division was moved forward in preparation for the attack into defensive "boxes" 25 miles east of El Alamein.

The Attack

The attack commenced on the night of 23/24 October. From the Start Line facing west there were a number of report lines, Green, Red, Black and Blue. These would help to control the artillery fire and monitor the progress. Within various objectives were names with Scottish place names like Perth, Inverness, Keith and Aberdeen.

These four lines were to be taken in three attacks with reorganisation taking place between each attack. A brief summary of the actions of each battalion the from the left is as follows:

* 5th Camerons - 5th Camerons moved forward to take Inverness and go firm on the Red Line. On the 24th they went into reserve in 154 brigade before taking part in the "Supercharge" Force.

* 7th Black Watch - The 7th Black Watch passed through the 5th Camerons once firm on Red Line and capture "The Ben", a piece of high ground on the end of the Miteirya Ridge. Successful, they reorganised on the Black Line and were relieved by South African on the 31st October.

* Recce Regiment and tanks - 51 Recce Regiment and the armour of 50 Royal Tank Regiment moved through their sector supporting the engineers clearing mines right up to the objective Nairn.

This account is taken from 'A Brief History of 51st (H) Reconnaissance Regiment (1941 -1943) and its Involvement in the Desert Campaign', produced as a pamphlet in 1991. The extracts concentrate on the activities of the Regiment and do not include the wider strategic picture which is covered to some extent in the publication.

At night the Division moved into positions consisting of slit trenches dug just behind the start-line.

At dawn there began one of the most trying days that the men were called upon to endure. There was to be no movement whatsoever during daylight, so each slit trench had to suffice for all purposes, even that of a latrine. With darkness came hot food, visits from senior officers, last orders and "good lucks".

Prior to the attack 152 Brigade was given the job of making eight gaps (originally eleven, but three named Sun, Moon and Star, north to south, had already been made) through our own minefields to the assembly positions and Sgt. Gordon Marshall (No.17 Troop C Squadron), recalls that his troop, under Lieut. Wally Hammond, was ordered to El Alamein Station to protect the engineers whose job it was to make the gaps, later being joined by flail tanks to make the gaps in the enemy minefields.

Parties also went out with drums of white tape, un­rolled them, fixed the tape to the cable at intervals so that it could not be blown or dragged away; after ninety minutes the nine miles of the start line and routes had been clearly marked.

As Zero Hour approached the leading troops, with their cramped limbs, moved stealthily forward from their slit trenches to the start-line. A deathly silence hung over the desert, which was illuminated by the brilliance of the moon.

At 21.40 - the firing of a single gun was the signal ­all Hell broke loose as 1000 guns started pounding the enemy positions, thus signalling the beginning of the battle of El Alamein. (Operation LIGHTFOOT). Initially the artillery aimed at the enemy's rear battery positions but gradually shortened the range to concentrate on their front line. By this time the shelling had almost reached saturation pitch with shells whistling overhead in both directions. The forward troops began their advance at 22.00

The Regiment did not take part in the battle as one unit but the three Recce. Squadrons, without their Recce. cars, did play a significant part in it, suffering heavy casualties both in men (1 Officer and 16 men killed) and vehicles. The dispositions were "A" Recce. Squadron attached to 153 Brigade on the right, "C" Recce. Squadron attached to 154 Brigade on the left, and "B" Recce. Squadron attached to 152 Brigade in reserve.


During the night, as Doc Jolly recalls, he dressed a leg wound for Cecil Horsburgh (A Sqn.) and sent him back to the C.C.S (Casualty Clearing Station). Not long afterwards, as a result of a Stuka bombing raid, the doctor himself sustained a broken humerus and he too went back to the C.C.S. They were eventually evacuated to South Africa to recover, Cecil going to Johannesburg and the doctor to Pietermaritzburg. From the time they were wounded (1942) they never met again until last year (1990) when they realised that they were members of the same club.

During the initial stages of the battle No.13 Assault Troop (B Squadron) under Lt. Geoff Hoffman, was used in its proper role but went in riding on tanks, and this was to become standard practice in the days to come.

It was not long before we realised that desert warfare was quite different from what we had read or heard. The Middle East had, for many years, been a veritable hot-bed of intrigue but warfare in that area had been confined mainly to skirmishes of one sort or another.

In this war nothing was straightforward, no clearly-defined lines, endless inhospitable desert. A hill as an objective could easily be, in fact, a mound, hardly discernible. Once the shells started falling there were times when it seemed they would never stop. Men suffered the most appalling injuries. They would be lying on the ground, crying out for help, covered by a mixture of blood and sand - hardly recognisable as human beings. It was night-time and with the sand being churned up by the shelling it resembled more than anything else an impenetrable fog. Vehicles were burning fiercely, many with the crews trapped in them. The battle had to go on, despite the carnage, and the stretcher-bearers were being killed too. One could only utter a few words of comfort that "somebody will be along shortly" and hope that there were stretcher-bearers nearby. This was real warfare - no holds barred. It was man against man and deadly machine against machine. Fortunately, unusual in modern war, civilian populations were not involved.

After several months of warfare in the desert a healthy respect for each other had developed between the 8th Army and the Afrika Korps and, generally, the rules of warfare were observed. Some cases did occur of transgressions - on both sides - but they were relatively few.

C Squadron with RHQ had taken up forward positions as part of the static battle occupying, very conveniently, some good trenches which had been dug by the Axis forces. Good use was made of these trenches as the troops were frequently subjected to enemy shelling as well as daily visitations from the Stuka dive-bombers, which had been attracted by the vehicle concentrations. Generally the Stukas would follow our DAF (Desert Air Force) bombers returning from bombing missions, the noise of which would give the Stukas an element of surprise.

On one such occasion Ed Meekison records that RSM Paddy Morrison was dealing out eagerly-awaited mail to Troop Sergeants, who would distribute the letters to the men concerned. The DAF bombers had passed over, hardly being noticed, when down came the Stukas releasing their deadly load. On such occasions everybody became accustomed to diving into the nearest fox-hole. One sergeant did precisely that only to find that it was the RSM's and the RSM had got there first, with the unfortunate result that the sergeant's boots came into contact with the RSM's pate. Paddy maintained a diplomatic silence until the dust had settled but then let fly with a few well-chosen words, which resulted in the sergeant beating a hasty retreat to his own fox-hole. On occasions such as this the bombs would often fall on hard rock, causing them to splinter over a wide area, having a similar effect to anti-personnel mines, and resulting in heavy casualties, both in men and vehicles.

This short account of the 51st (H) Reconnaissance Regiment which existed from 1941 to 1943 has been extracted from the more detailed 'A Brief History of 51st (H) Reconnaissance Regiment (1941 -1943) and its Involvement in the Desert Campaign', produced as a pamphlet in 1991, and describes the origins, raising and initial training of the Regiment prior to North Africa.

As war itself increased in complexity it was conducted by more men over greater distances, thus emphasising the importance of reconnaissance; and the need for speed led naturally to the employment of cavalry in the reconnaissance role. Thus cavalry regiments formed the reconnaissance element of the B.E.F in France 1939, having exchanged their horses for light tanks. The military situation after Dunkirk (1940) presented problems in all spheres. Apart from commitments abroad, and the necessity for a vigilant defence of these islands against the anticipated invasion, the new army had to be fashioned to be good enough to take on the Germans in combat. The cavalrymen managed to get away from Dunkirk but had to leave their tanks behind, and they were the only reconnaissance force the army had. The enemy had shown his hand in the devastating sweep across the Low Countries and France, and the allied generals now knew what they were up against. The broad lines of the coming war were plainly written - it was to be a war of movement, a war of the petrol and diesel engines, governed by a voice over the radio. In the post-mortem immediately following Dunkirk, much was learned from this first-hand knowledge of the enemy; many decisions were taken, all of which fitted together in the blue-print for the new army.

One decision was that a much higher proportion of the force must be armoured, and priority had to be given to the new armoured divisions. In the event the cavalry regiments were taken from the infantry and placed at the head of the armour. That left the infantry without any specialised reconnaissance element. In that event the infantry had to improvise because the task was still essential. However, it was soon realised that reconnaissance was too important to remain an improvisation.

The decision had already been taken by the War Office and the Reconnaissance Corps came into being on the 8th January 1941. Thereafter there was much activity, convoys of vehicles and men moving in all directions to form the various reconnaissance Regiments. Some battalions were fortunate in being converted to Recce. regiments en bloc, other units were formed from separate infantry companies and others from anti-tank companies; it was from this third category that the Recce. Squadrons of the 51st (H) Reconnaissance Regiment were formed.

Units supplying the men to form the nucleus of the new Corps had been requested to send their best men but, human nature being what it is, some of those sent did not come up to standard. On the other hand, because a man might be a rogue in civilian life did not necessarily mean that he would turn out to be a bad soldier. On the contrary, action tended to bring out the best in those men and many erstwhile rogues performed with great credit. All welcomed the challenge of a new and mobile role, providing something more exciting than mere footslogging. They were not to he disappointed, but they still got drill and plenty of weapon training as well as mobility.

Further convoys moved off from the various battalions of the Highland Division over snow-covered and icy roads to converge on the Highland township of Forres, in Morayshire, to form the Regimental HQ.

More convoys converged on Forres to form HQ Squadron and they were accommodated in the Hydropathic Hotel in the town. Hitherto the three brigades of the Highland Division each had its own Anti-tank Company, identified by its brigade number. Thus 152 Anti-tank Company, comprising Camerons and Seaforths, became A Sqn. 51st (H) Reconnaissance Regiment. Likewise, 153 Anti-tank Company, comprising Gordons and Black Watch, became B Sqn. and 154 Anti-tank Company, comprising Black Watch and Argylls, became C Sqn. All three squadrons continued to be located in their own brigade areas, as in the former set-up Thus the 51st (H) Reconnaissance Regiment officially came into being in early February 1941.

In the early days it was very much a question of improvisation, so great was the loss of equipment at Dunkirk. In many cases Armadillos (commonly referred to as Roll-and-gos) were used as place of Light Reconnaissance Scout Cars. These slow and cumbersome vehicles were so top-heavy that they were considered dangerous. They were soon replaced by Beaverettes, which subsequently proved to be too light, and then Humberettes. Only the Bren Carriers stood the test of time and did sterling work, both in the desert and Europe. For sometime there was very little contact between Regimental HQ, HQ Squadron and the three Recce. Squadrons, because of the wintry conditions, as well as their widespread dispersal. However, each buckled down to the new role and trained with a will, although re-equipment of units in Scotland had, necessarily, a low priority.

Before the snows cleared Regimental HQ and HQ Squadron were moved to Auldearn, where RHQ was accommodated in Boath Housc and HQ Squadron billeted in suitable buildings in the village. It was here that Lt.Col. E.H. Grant, an Argyll and former member of the Royal Flying Corps in the 1914/18 war, took permanent command of the Regiment. It was not long before a feeling of belonging began to pervade the Regiment, despite the fact that the caps and badges of the various Highland regiments continued to be worn.

The design of a Reconnaissance Corps cap badge exercised the minds of the hierarchy in Whitehall for several months, and the 'morale of .the British Army in the aftermath of Dunkirk was uppermost in their minds. Numerous designs were considered, but rejected. Any sort of a dog was ruled out because the Corps would inevitably become known as the "dogsbodies". The design which eventually "carried the day" was the work of one Trooper George Jones of the "I" Section of the 56th Reconnaissance Regiment, he being a commercial artist by profession. The A & QMG accepted the final design on the 20th June, submitting it to the King, who returned it with his approval on the. 30th June 1941. The Corps colours were to be green and yellow, and the Regiment was given a distinctive shoulder-flash of Hunting Stewart tartan. The Tam o' Shanter was to be the official head-gear.


51(H) Recce. Reg. Insignia

From Auldearn RHQ and HQ Squadron moved to Drummuir Castle, a few miles from Keith. The castle was situated in beautiful wooded countryside and surrounded by parklands. Everybody fed well, having the use of the ample vegetable gardens to supplement the army rations. The various offices were located in the basement, with C.O.'S Orderly Room and offices in the more ornate part. Sleeping quarters for all were in tented accommodation in the grounds.

Pride of appearance was instilled into the men, and discipline enforced, by a series of parades; for example the C.O.'s Parade on which all officers were present, the Adjutant's Parade on which all officers junior to him were present and the R.S.M's Parade, on which no officers were present, which was run with the greatest precision under Warrant Officers and Sergeants. N.C.O Drill Training Cadres were also organised, all of which were reflected in due course in the bearing, turn-out, and neatness of the men.

On each parade a close examination was made of the clothing of all ranks and shortcomings put right without undue delay by the Quartermaster Sergeant concerned. It was not long, therefore, before clean, well-dressed and well-equipped soldiers were parading before their commanders.

Leave was now granted as the invasion threat receded, and many of the Officers, N.C.O.s and men brought their wives and girl­friends to the village where they were made most welcome by the locals. Sleeping-out passes were not granted, however, not even to the C.O. whose wife and daughter who were accommodated by the Head Forester; but there was ample time to be with partners in the evenings and at week-ends, duties permitting.

Before long the three Recce Squadrons were moved to independent locations, coming under the control of Regimental HQ albeit at a distance. This dispersal continued until the entire Regiment came together for the first time, concentrating in the town of Nairn in the Autumn of' 1941. Officers, Warrant Officers and Sergeants were generally billeted in local hotels or large houses, and the men in large halls such as school rooms. Within each Squadron the Officers had their own Mess, as did the Warrant Officers and Sergeants.

It was while we were in Nairn that "Paddy" Morrison was appointed Regimental Sergeant-Major in succession to Tommy Mellon, who took over HQ Squadron from Charles Hill, who was posted out-with the Regiment. Paddy was very thankful for this posting, thereby escaping an appointment to a Training Centre for the W.R.A.C. (Women's Royal Army Corps). He revealed many years afterwards that he had been ordered by Gen. Wimberley to "knock the Regiment into shape within three months" which, with the benefit of hindsight, was significant.

R.S.M Morrison, being a regular soldier, was a strict disciplinarian and this had a profound effect on the Regiment; by his personality' and sense of humour Paddy did not need the use of charge sheets to maintain discipline.

One day, when the officers of B Squadron (occupying a large house, Kirkville, in the town) were about to. sit down to. a meal of roast chicken they were told by the cook that somebody had "pinched it". There was utter consternation in the mess and much muttering. The deft individual who carried out this dastardly act was never found but, without saying as much, several members hoped, in vain, that the fowl would choke him.

It says much for the discipline and bearing of the Recce lads that the townspeople of Nairn quickly took them to their hearts, and from then on the 51st Recce was Nairn's own wartime Regiment, whose activities were closely followed long after the Regiment had left.

Whilst there the Regiment was inspected by Major-General D.N. Wimberley, who, by that time had assumed command of the Highland Division, in succession to. Major-General Neil Ritchie, who had been posted to the Middle East as Deputy Chief of the General Staff and, subsequently, to take command of the 8th Army in the Western Desert. The inspection took place on a snowy winter's morning on the cricket ground, which we used as our parade ground whilst in Nairn. He was well pleased with the smartness and turn-out of all ranks and spoke to several of those on parade. That same night he accompanied Col. Grant (popularly referred to as "Prof" "Totty" or "Father") to the local cinema, a nice touch as a lot of the lads were there too. In the days to come the General, affectionately nicknamed Tartan Tam, soon earned the respect of every Jock in the Division, leading them from one victory to another in the desert war, and in Sicily.

Wherever we went in Scotland, on schemes and exercises, the local population invariably treated us with great hospitality, which was much appreciated. Christmas was celebrated in the traditional manner, Officers, Warrant Officers and Sergeants waiting at table on the men for the Christmas dinner, accompanied by much leg-pulling.

In the middle of January 1942 the Regiment received a draft of 117 "Geordie" recruits. They had enlisted in the Newcastle area on the 15th with orders to proceed to Union Street, Aberdeen where they were picked up by Regimental transport and taken to Nairn. They were billeted in the Golf View Hotel and subjected to intensive training under the command of Capt. Bill Stratton, formerly of the Grenadier Guards, for about three months until the 23rd April when they were posted to the Squadrons, 26 to HQ, 24 to A, 32 to B and 35 to C. The Geordies and Jocks soon became firm friends and this was subsequently cemented in action.

In the Spring of 1942 a Divisional exercise was held, the final objective being the capture from "enemy" troops of the small coastal town of Buckie. This was mainly to test Divisional staff work and movement control, as well as the performance of each unit in the Division.

In April we were on our way to Aldershot to be "kitted out" for service overseas; embarkation leave had been granted prior to the move. On the move from Nairn to Aldershot Doc Jolly recalls sitting with the Adjutant (invariably referred to as K-B), who was navigating, in the lead car. The column stopped at a pub for some liquid refreshment as a result of which K-B became sleepy, so he handed his map to the doctor saying "you navigate, Doc".

There we were equipped with new vehicles and equipment, G1098 stores made up to scale, and K.D. (Khaki Drill) uniforms issued together with pith helmets. During our stay there all officers and men were subjected to an I.Q. test which threw up some very surprising results. Those failing the test were to be replaced. Inoculations were given to all who required them. Individuals reacted differently, of course, but any adverse effects did not last for long.

After about six weeks in Aldershot our vehicles were on their way to Birkenhead to be loaded onto a cargo vessel, the S.S. Fort Nipigon, which sailed in a separate (slower) convoy.

In early June the Regiment, along with the rest of the Division, was inspected by T.M. the King and Queen. Lieut. Alan Blacker (NO. 17 Troop, C Sqn.) remembers the event, particularly the playing and counter-marching of the massed pipe bands of the Division. Many were hearing this stirring sound and witnessing the proud sight for the first time.

On the 16th June, with haversack rations for the journey, we left by rail destined for Greenock, where we detrained close to H.M.T. Stratheden, 23722 tons. We marched straight on board for what was to be our home for the next two months. As we did so last minute work was still being carried out.

The Stratheden, the flagship of the P & 0 fleet, sailed regularly in peace-time as a luxury liner to India and the Far East, with accommodation for 800 passengers. Now, having been converted to a troopship, it was conveying 320 officers and 4500 men, which included the entire Divisional HQ and others.

The Stratheden arrived off Suez on 11th August. From there they moved by train to Qassassin Camp east of Cairo. On 1st September the Regiment moved up to Gezira Island to cover the cover the approach to Cairo. After the Battle of Alam Halfa in which the Division was not involved the 51st Highland Division joined the 8th Army in preparation for the battle of El Alamein.


51(H) Recce Reg. June 1942


The initial pursuit was hampered rain on the 6th and 7th of November, but Tubruk was taken on 13th November and Benghazi on the 20th. The 51st Highland Division were relieved after the battle by south African forces and enjoyed a period of reorganisation before joining the advance and moving forward towards Mersa Brega. Here as they prepared to attack what was described as a very strong position. However on 13th December, before the attack was launched, there were reports that the enemy had withdrawn. During the night the 1st and 7th Battalions Black Watch encircled the Mersa Brega from north and south. The 1st Battalion suffered heavily from mines in the dark. The 7th Argylls were moved forward into Mersa Brega to fill the gap between the two Black Watch battalions and found it heavily bobby trapped but abandoned. The 7th Armoured Division now took up pursuit and the 51st Highland Division became Corps Reserve.

New Years day was celebrated by the Division at Wadi Matratin between Marble Arch and Sirte.

On the 5th January the Division moved forward over 170 miles to take on the next enemy defence line was at Buerat and Wadi Zemzem. The initial dispositions had 154 Brigade at Wadi El Chibir and then relieving 7th Armoured Division at Wadi Ouesca. 153 Brigade was situated 8 miles behind Wadi Mira and 152 Brigade in Wadi El Chibir.

The Plan

The 51st Highland Division called the "coastal column" were to take the Buerat position and then drive up the coastal road clearing the way to Tripoli. The New Zealand and 7th Armoured Divisions would form the southern thrust or "inland column" and between them and the 51st Highland Division were the 22nd Armoured Brigade. The operation was to be a four phase one:

* Phase 1 "Silk" was the engagement of the enemy by 154 Brigade.

* Phase 2 "Satin" was the capture of the enemy position at Buerat.

* Phase 3 "Cotton" was the advance.

* Phase 4 "Rags" required the engineers to restore the coastal road for wheeled transport.

The Action

154 Brigade commenced "Silk" on the night of the 14th January and 24 hours later 153 Brigade began "Satin" assaulting the Buerat position. The attack was mounted by 1st Gordons with Scorpion mine clearers, 40th Royal Tank Regiment and 1/7th Middlesex regiment machine gunners. Despite some casualties the objective was secure and as the enemy withdrew the exploitation began. This involved 5th Gordons passing through 1st Gordons and swinging south west followed by 5th Black Watch swinging north west. By the 16th January Phase 3 "Cotton" commenced with 152 Brigade. Reports of an enemy position some 40 miles further on at Churgia, a third of the distance to Misurata, resulted in the Division being ordered to assault it that night. The advance pressed on and, despite casualties from the German rear guard artillery, on the 19th they were south east of Misurata.

154 Brigade were ordered to bypass Misurata and make for Hons and the road to Tripoli


The 51st Highland Division moved along the cost with the New Zealand Division and 7th Armoured Division carrying out a flanking attack. Failure to succeed in occupying Tripoli would cause Montgomery to have to fall back.

An Outline of the Battle

On the night of 19th January, the 51st Highland Division pushing forward with 154 Brigade leading, passing Hons discovered at dawn the enemy in a defensive position four miles west. The enemy position was on a fort, which they nicknamed "Edinburgh Castle". Across its front was an anti tank ditch linking from the coast to the Wadi Zenadi in the south.

The Plan

In the plan for the Battle of the Hills General Wimberley determined to outflank the initial position. He decided to pushed 154 Brigade with 7th Argylls, 7th Black Watch, 2nd Seaforth, 40th Royal Tanks and a battery of 126 Field Regiment along the cost with orders to cut off the enemy retreat on the main road near Corradini, which was 14 miles on.

The Action

The outflanking formation lead by 7th Black Watch managed to negotiate their way over the anti tank ditch. However all vehicles and heavy weapons had to be left behind. They marched some 16 miles but by mistake came up just a mile short of their intended destination. Approaching the road they saw vehicles on it and opened fire, then realising they were British vehicles they ceased fire. The vehicles were British, but captured ones in enemy hands and they opened fire on the 7th Black Watch. They overran A company but were beaten back and retreated west.

The 2nd Seaforth assaulted a feature "El Nab" from the flank while elements of 5th Seaforth, who had come up the axis of the road, assaulted the same feature from the front. 5th Seaforth were part of "Hammerforce" under command of Brigadier Richards, Commander 23 Armoured Brigade. This force, consisting of one company of 2nd Seaforth, "A" company of 1/7th Middlesex, a squadron of tanks, a battery of field artillery and some engineers, was tasked with exploiting rapidly down the main road once the Edinburgh Castle feature was taken.

The next day, on the 21st January, "Hammerforce" continued on through the 5th Seaforth objective making for Castleverde. Having had to cope with major enemy demolitions along the way they arrived on the morning of the 22nd January.


On the morning of 23rd January 1st Gordons, riding on the tanks of 40th Royal Tank Regiment, and a company of 2nd Seaforth in lorries, entered Tripoli which had been abandoned by the enemy.


An Outline of the Battle

Rommel's next defensive line was the Mareth line. This was formed at the narrow point between the coast and the Matmata hills.

The Plan

The 51st Highland Division was moved to the northern, costal flank of the 8th Army. They were deployed with 152 Brigade on the left, 153 on the right and 154 Brigade covering the approaches to Medenine. The Division was thinly spread and so adopted a deployment of defended strong points interlocking with anti tank and machine gun fire. The position was masked by a screen of armoured carriers.

The Action

The first attack came on the 3rd March but was rebuffed. The main attack came on 6th March. This was a more determined attack which achieved some penetration but these were counter attacked and driven back.

The main action took place further south in the area of high ground held by the Guards Brigade and called "The Wellington Hills". Over 50 enemy tanks were destroyed and the enemy withdrew.


A relief in line now took place with 50th Division replacing 153 Brigade and 7th Armoured Division taking over from 154 Brigade. There was now a lull to prepare for the next push.


An Outline of the Battle

The Mareth line was formed at the narrow point between the coast and the Matmata hills.

The Plan

The Division was to conduct a preliminary operation to attack a two German forts names Ksibia and Zarat. At the same time 201 Guards Brigade were to attack a position called the "Horseshoe" which comprised a ring of small hills to the southwest of the Mareth line. Once this was done the 50th Division would break through the line, and establish a bridgehead through which the 4th Indian Division would exploit, supported by 51st Highland Division. While this was taking place the New Zealand Division and 7th Armoured Division would conduct a left flanking manoeuvre, through the Matmata Hills into the Gabes Gap, which would later be the area of the battle of Wadi Akarit.

In front of the Mareth position was a plain. The Wadi Melah was in the centre and between it and the Mareth line was the Wadi Zeuss. Immediately before the defensive position was the Wadi Zigzaoug joined by an anti tank ditch.

The Action

There was some preliminary action against the Mareth Line. 153 Brigade was one of three probing attacks on the night of the 16/17th March.

A minefield gap was found and 5/7th Gordons pushed through. By first light they were still in the minefield and behind schedule, but by 0900hrs they were on their two objectives.

Throughout the 18th and 19th the Brigade was under heavy artillery fire.

On the night of 20th March the 50th Division attacked but a strong counterattack retook most of their objectives, casualties were very heavy and they failed to secure the bridgehead. To support them the 51st Highland division was ordered to send two battalions to hold a sector of the Zigzaoug anti tank ditch. The 5th Camerons and 5th Seaforth found themselves pinned down in the Wadi and caught in tremendous fire. When they were withdrawn, under cover of smoke, at 0300hrs on 24th March they had suffered very heavy losses.

Meanwhile, the attack of the 50th Division having failed, Montgomery reinforced his left flanking hook, leaving the Highland Division, the Guards and 23rd Armoured Brigades to fix the front of the Mareth Line. Rommel in turn removed the 21st Panzer Armoured Division to meet this threat.

On the 25th March the 5th Black Watch supported by 5/7th Gordons carried out successful attacks.

On the 28th the 7th Argylls found the Mareth lines abandoned and moved across the Wadi Zigzaou and the following day continued the advance towards Gabes. The Division arrived as the New Zealanders, leading the left hook, were also arriving.

Wadi Akarit

The battle of Wadi Akarit took place in a narrow coastline strip between the sea and the coastal towns of Gabes and El Hamma. Between these was the Gabes gap. The Wadi Akarit ran across the gap at the coastal end and to the Roumana Ridge inland and to the west. This area was the objective for the 51st Highland Division.

The Plan

The overall plan was for a three Division assault with 51st Highland Division on the right (assaulting the ground already described), 50th Division in the centre and the 4th Indian Division on the left. The 210th Guards Brigade was under command of 51st Highland Division holding the coastal gap to the east of 153 Brigade.

The Divisional attack required 153 Brigade (less 5th Black Watch as the Divisional Reserve) to move forward and establish a line about 2000 yards for the Wadi Akarit. 152 Brigade would move through on the left to assault the Roumana Ridge and 154 Brigade on the right would assault the Wadi. There were two heights of significance on the Roumana ridge, 198 in the centre and 112 on the right or northern end.

In more detail, in 152 Brigade, the 5th Camerons on the left and 5th Seaforth on the right were to take the left end of the ridge and point 198. 2nd Seaforth would follow up behind 5th Seaforth and swing right to clear the ridge up to point 112. On the right, 154 Brigade would lead with 7th Argylls who would move through a minefield and attack an anti tank ditch and Wadi to form a bridgehead. 7th Black Watch would then pass through and turn west to clear along the Wadi up to the Roumana feature to link with the 2nd Seaforths.

The Action


Diagram of the Battle of Wadi Akarit, from The History of the 51st Highland Division by J B Salmond

On the right the minefield clearance and bridging of the anti-tank ditch went well and at 0515hrs the 7th Argylls advanced crossing the anti-tank ditch and secured their objective. They were immediately subject to counter attack but the Argyll's put up a great defence. It was on this occasion that their Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Campbell, was awarded the Victoria Cross.

At 0625hrs the 7th Black Watch passed through as planned. However, all had not gone so well on the left with 152 Brigade and this now caused problems for 7th Black Watch.

In the 152 Brigade area on the left 5th Camerons and 5th Seaforth attacked the Roumana feature.

At 0545hrs the 5th Seaforth were secure on Point 112 and the 2nd Seaforth moved through and hooked right. The counter attack came an hour later and point 112 was lost and then retaken and lost again, at the same time 5th Seaforth could not take point 198 and were forced back. This left 7th Black Watch vulnerable to fire from the heights dominating the Wadi.

From his observation post General Wimberley was well able to assess the situation and ordered forward 5th Black Watch, the divisional reserve. They joined the battle for 198 and by last light it was firmly in the Highlander's hands although the defenders at point 112 obstinately held out blocking the way along the ridge.

While all this had been going on the 5th Camerons, on the divisional right on Roumana Ridge, had been very heavily engaged. 50th Division on their left and failed to make their objectives exposing the 51st Highland Division to a flank attack.

The Camerons had held their ground against heavy counter attack. Help came from 5th Black Watch when they moved forward to support 2nd and 5th Seaforth.

Towards dark the fighting died down and the Highlanders consolidated on their objectives. The next morning the enemy had withdrawn.

Concluding Operations

In the wake of the Wadi Akarit battle the armour took up the pursuit. However the physical bottleneck of the position was difficulty to negotiate and allowed the enemy to use armour and artillery to slow down the advance. The road was cratered and on 9th April 1st Gordons with 23 Armoured Brigade met a strong rearguard at Wadi Cheffar. The tanks could not get forward but 1st Gordons put in a strong attack and the enemy withdrew. This opened the way to the city of Sfax and 1st Gordons were first in to the city.

Various messages of congratulations to the Division now followed. The division stayed in reserve in the area of Sfax while other pressed on. 30th Corps took Sousse on 12th April. The enemy had a line in front of Enfidaville. The 1st Army was approaching Tunis from the west. Enfidaville was attacked by the 8th Army on the 19/20th April. Despite the capture of the town the enemy retained a strong position inland. The next night the 51st Highland Division relieved the Indian and New Zealand Divisions in the area of Enfidaville. While the firing continued the Division was relived by Free French troops in early May

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Part Six: Sicily


Introduction Sicily Campaign

The campaign in Sicily was called Op Husky. In January 1943, Winston Churchill and the American President Franklin D. Roosevelt met with their senior military advisers at Casablanca, Morocco, to devise a military strategy for the coming year. With the North African campaign moving toward a successful conclusion, the leaders of the two nations debated where to launch their next blow. After several days of negotiations, they agreed to make Sicily their next target.

The original Allied plan was to launch two widely separate landings in the north-west and south east of the island. General Montgomery objected on the grounds that this approach violated the principle of a combined and closely coordinated force. After much discussion, the plan was changed with the British 8th Army landing on the south east of the island and the US 7th Army landing on the south.

Preparation for Op Huskey

The Division was quartered in Djidjelli on the Algerian coast. Preparation for Operation Huskey was conducted against a background of secrecy with deception plans suggesting that, among others, Crete was the next destination. It was however clear that the next operation would be a combined operation and the Royal Navy played an important part in the training. Familiarisation with a range of landing crafts and the terminology and procedures for amphibious operations took much of the time. Lectures and battalion level training commenced while the Division was reinforced and brought back up to strength. The training involved to three brigade exercises and then a Divisional landing exercise. The Division was then moved to Sousse and Sfax.

The division embarked for Malta on 5th July and disembarked on the 6th at Valetta where the Division moved into three camps. Montgomery visited and spoke to the Division on the 7th.

The stay in Malta was however short and the Division embarked on the 9th July for the invasion of Sicily. The GOC who was already embarked sent the following message:

"Now we are called upon once more to enter Europe. As the time approaches to go forward into battle never must we forget that we of this division helped by our English comrades , are ever the proud bearers of the ancient motto (Scotland For Ever) and in bearing it we carry with us Scotland's renown, Scotland's fair name and Scotland's prayers"

Order of Battle - Operation Huskey

51st (Highland) Division, July 1943

Major General D Wimberley

152nd Brigade: Brigadier MacMillan

* 2nd Bn. The Seaforth Highlanders

* 5th Bn. The Seaforth Highlanders

* 5th Bn. The Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders

153rd Brigade: Brigadier H Murray

* 5th Bn. The Black Watch

* 1st Bn. The Gordon Highlanders

* 5/7th Bn. The Gordon Highlanders

154th Brigade: Brigadier Rennie

* 1st Bn. The Black Watch

* 7th Bn The Black Watch

* 7th Bn. The Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders

Royal Artillery:

* 11th Royal Horse Artillery

* 120 Field Regiment Royal Artillery

* 127 Field Regiment, Royal Artillery

* 128 Field Regiment, Royal Artillery

* 61st Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery

* 40th Light A-A Regiment, Royal Artillery

Royal Engineers:

* 244th Field Company, Royal Engineers

* 274th Field Company, Royal Engineers

* 275th Field Company, Royal Engineers

* 276th Field Company, Royal Engineers

* 239th Field Park Company, Royal Engineers

Royal Corps of Signals:

* 51st Divisional Signals Company

Royal Army Medical Corps:

* 174 Field Ambulance

* 176 Field Ambulance

Royal Army Service Corps:

* Divisional Ammunition Company.

* Divisional Petrol Company Divisional Supply Column.

Attached troops

* 50th Royal Tanks

* 1/7th Middlesex (MG)

* No 7 Royal Marine Commando (19-29 July 1943)

The Landing

The Plan

The allied plan was in five phases:

* Phase 1. Preparatory measures by Naval and Air Forces to neutralise enemy naval efforts and to gain air superiority.

* Phase 2. Pre dawn sea borne assaults, assisted by airborne landings with the object of seizing airfields and the ports of Syracuse and Licata.

* Phase 3. The establishment of a firm base from which to conduct operations for the capture of the ports of Augusta and Catania and the Gerbini group of airfields.

* Phase 4. The capture of the ports and airfields outlined in Phase 3.

* Phase 5. The reduction of the island.

The main amphibious landings involved three British divisions and the Canadian Division in the east, and two US divisions in the west, all supported by heavy off shore fire from warships.

On the east side 13th Corps would land two divisions (5th and 50th) to capture Siracusa. Two Divisions of 30th Corps were to land on the south east corner, the 1st Canadians on the left (west) and 51st Highland Division on the right on the Pachino Peninsula.

The Divisional Deployment

The 51st Highland Division would land at the southeast tip of the island near Pachino on a four battalion frontage.

The landing was lead by 154 Brigade divided into two ? the main part of the Brigade and 1st Gordon's Group.

154 Bde - 1st Black Watch, 7th Black Watch, 7th Argylls, 11th R.H.A., 50th Royal Tanks (minus two squadrons), two companies 1/7th Middlesex (machine guns), 244 Field Company R.E., 176 Field Ambulance and other administrative and logistic elements.

1st Gordons Group - 1st Gordons, 456 Battery R.A., one squadron of 50th royal Tanks, "C" company 1/7th Middlesex, 275 Field Company R.E., 174 field ambulance and other administrative and logistic elements.

The Divisional Task

The 51st Highland Division was tasked with capturing Pachino and then advance on the Noto-Avola road to relieve 50th Division, part of 13 Corps. They were then to continue the advance towards Viccini.

They landed on 10 July, largely unopposed, and pressed in land to secure the bridgehead. The 7th Argylls lead the way landing on the beach at 0245 hrs on 10 July. They had no opposition and advanced inland to Pachino in the first 24 hours and moved on to Nota which they reached on the evening of the 12th July. From there they moved to a position 12 miles north near Palazzolo.

"C" Company of 7th Black Watch got on the correct beach but the rest of the Battlion were landed in the wrong place and it was not until 0615 that the Battalion was ready to advance, but by 0700hrs they had taken their objectives.

1st Black Watch, the reserve battalion, landed without opposition.

1st Gordons Group objectives were Capo Paassero island and the village of Portopala, a tunny factory, light house and a ridge beyond dominating the approach to Pachino. By 0900hrs they were on the ridge.


By the 28th June the Division had concentrated in the area of SOUSSE. The move was carried out partially in the landing craft which were available at DJIDJELLI and by MT. The sea move, which was carried out largely by LCIs, provided useful experience to men in acquiring their sea legs. From the concentration areas troops and vehicles were called into assembly prior to embarkation. In these areas troops and vehicles were checked up, and in the case of vehicles the adequacy of the waterproofing was examined. Al the vehicles loaded in the convoy landing on D.1 had to be waterproofed to enable them to debark from landing craft through several fee of water. All the arrangements for the embarkation of troops through the transit areas worked smoothly. The loading of the Divisions' vehicles and stores took approximately six days.

The landing craft used for the operation consisted of Landing Craft Assault (LCA), with a capacity of one platoon, Landing Craft Motor (LCM) with a capacity of 2-3 vehicles according to type, Landing Craft Infantry (LCI) with a capacity of 200 men with manhandling loads, Landing Craft Tank (LCT) with a capacity of 8 tanks or 12 vehicles, Landing Ship Tank (LST) with a capacity of 60 vehicles, Landing Ship Infantry (LSI) with a capacity for 150 troops. The LSIs carried smaller landing craft such as the LCAs and LCMs swung on davits together with the personnel and vehicles naval plan for the movement for the assault convoys was as follows. The LCIs and LCTs were to move two or three days in advance and were to stage at MALTA where personnel were to be rested prior to the move to Sicily. The larger vessels, LSIs and LSTs were to move direct from SFAX to Sicily. All convoys were scheduled to rendezvous at a point North-East of Malta and assemble at a release position approximately 7 miles South of CAPO PASSERO by 2300 hours. At the release position LCAs were to be manned and lowered, after which the 1 Gordons and 154 Brigade convoys were to move to their respective Red and Green waiting are positions which were a mile off-shore. From the waiting positions LCAs were timed to beach at zero, 0245 hours, following half an hour later by LCIs and LCTs carrying the reserve companies and Battalion Headquarters of the landing Battalions. At approximately Zero plus one hour the LCIs and LCTs of 154 Brigade reserve were to be in the vicinity of the beaches ready to beach when the opportunity offered. All craft were to be beached by daylight or be in an unsinkable position by that time. To enable loading to be carried out after daylight arrangements were made for a large quantity of smoke canisters to be carried in all craft, so that the area of the landing beaches could be adequately smoked should this be necessary.

Naval support for the approach to the beaches consisted of Landing Craft Guns whose primary task was to take on searchlights, Landing Craft Support whose task was to cove craft during their approach to the beaches, and Landing Craft Rocket whose task was a, to provide a block barrage on the beaches on which landing was to be carried out and b, to neutralise defences on the promontories on the flanks of the landing. A Naval bombarding force of destroyers was available for the task of neutralising coast defences which proved troublesome, and Forward Observation Officers to control this navel bombardment were landed both with 1 Gordon and 154 Brigade Groups.

Zero day was to be the 10th July. The Naval plan as recounted above worked satisfactorily with a few exceptions and no enemy interference was encountered either from sea of air. The weather however was exceptionally rough for the Mediterranean at this time of year, and the majority of troops travelling in the small craft suffered from sea-sickness. There was also some apprehension about the prospects of successfully beaching the smaller craft on the surf ridden beaches, but this was accomplished without serious difficulty. Some anxiety was caused at the waiting position, as by zero hour when assault landing craft had beached, many of the LCIs and most of the LCTs had not arrived. This was largely due to the rough sea which had considerably reduced the speed of the craft.

The LCAs of the landing flight beached approximately at zero hour and in most cases at the correct beaches. The landing of the LCIs in the second flight was not however so successful as several of these vessels found difficulty in locating their correct beaches, and by arriving half an hour to one hour later delayed the movement inland of the leading battalions. Brigade Headquarters controlled operations during the initial period from LCI 177 (specifically fitted as Brigade Headquarters Ship) at the Red waiting position. The floating reserve which consisted of 1 Black Watch, tanks and 11 RHA less such detachments as were landed with the leading battalions was to land if possible at Red II beach provided the landing there was a success, otherwise the landing was to take place on Red I or Red III, or both. It was realised early during the planning stage that with the Red and Green beaches so far apart the possibility of landing the floating reserve on the Green beaches was practically out of the question.

By 0320 hours information reached Brigade Headquarters that the assault companies of 7 Black Watch and 7 A&SH had succeeded in landing without serious opposition, but that their follow up companies had not yet put in an appearance. At 0345 hours the reserve convoy including Brigade Headquarters were due to close to Red II beach, but at that time three of the LCIs of 1 Black Watch had not reached the waiting position, and it was not till 0415 that they were collected. Although information as to the progress of the initial landing was still scanty, it appeared that progress was being made on Red II beach by the 7 A&SH. The Brigade Commander decided that Brigade Headquarters and the reserve convoy should close at once in order to disembark the infantry before daylight. Disembarkation was duly carried out without enemy interference. It was fortunate that this landing was to all intents unopposed as with the concentration of craft on the beaches at daylight heavy casualties both to the craft and personnel would have been inevitable. By 0630 hours "C" company of 7 A&SH had captured Pt 25 and made contact with the 1st Canadian Division who landed on our left. At this time it was apparent that the leading battalions had reached their objectives, and the Brigade Commander recommended the landing of 153 Brigade who were planned to land on Red II and mop up PORTOPALO Bay. By 0700 hours all objectives had been secured with Brigade reserve in position according to plan.

The Brigade Commander at this stage with Commander, 11 RHA proceeded in the latter's Honey tank to the Headquarters of 7 Black Watch on the main ridge. From Colonel Oliver?s Command Post PACHINO town could be seen, and it was apparent that the Canadians on the left were making progress to the West of the town. As a result of this, the Brigade Commander ordered the 7 Black Watch to exploit to PACHINO with the squadron of tanks and one platoon of 7 Black Watch mounted on them. The force eventually reached PACHINO without meeting resistance and made contact with the Canadians on their left and 231 Brigade on their right. The Brigade Commander then proceeded along the ridge to Headquarters of 1 Gordons who had also completed their task without interference. The Brigade was finally re-organised to form a firm base, with the 1 Black Watch holding a portion of the main ridge between the 1 Gordons and 7 Black Watch, and the 7 A&SH concentrated in reserve in the beachead area.

The landing had thus gone entirely according to plan, and was not dissimilar from the training exercises which had been carried out previously; in fact the operation had gone even more smoothly than was customary on these exercises. Resistance had been negligible and only a very few casualties were suffered resulting from "S" mines, and in another case a grenade thrown into a LCA had caused a bangalore torpedo to explode. Two or three hundred rather antiquated Italian prisoners were taken, all of whom were too terrified to offer resistance. It was interesting to examine the beaches and the ground over which this operation took place after the period of intensive theoretical study of the ground from the air photographs, summaries and defence overlay maps, and satisfying to find that these had been so accurate that ones impressions as to landing facilities and the lie of the ground had proved reliable. The Brigade?s task of securing a firm base on the covering positions and of rendering PORTOPALO Bay safe for the landing of the rest of the Division had therefore been accomplished


Despite one or two problems the other landings all succeeded, opposition was light and 154 Brigade established the bridgehead. 153 Brigade started to land at 0630 hrs and passed through 154 Brigade. 152 Brigade and the Divisional Tactical HQ also landed without opposition. The advance north now began.

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Thanks mate.

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A fitting tribute to brave men. I LOVE these posts.

Thanks mate.

Any time my friend. As long as I know at least one person enjoys these post I do then I'll keep posting them...

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Part Seven: Normandy


January - July 1944


The 51st Highland Division returned to Britain in November 1943 and after leave settled down to training. In March they moved to East Anglia and on 5th April 1944 transferred from 30th Corps to 1st Corps and commenced training for the invasion of main land Europe Operation OVERLORD. In June they moved to the River Thames and embarked.

The Order of Battle of the three infantry brigades remained largely unchanged:

* 152 Brigade commanded by Brigadier AJH Cassels consisted of 2nd and 5th Seaforths and 5th Camerons

* 153 Brigade was commanded by Brigadier "Nap" Murray with 5th Black Watch, 1st and 5/7th Gordons

* 154 Brigade was now commanded by Brigadier James Oliver (formerly Commanding Officer of 7th Black Watch) with 1st and 7th Black Watch and 7th Argylls

In addition the 2nd Derbyshire Yeomanry replaced the Highland Recognisance Regiment.


The details of the plan for Overlord are well documented elsewhere but in outline it was as to invade the Normandy coast from the Carentan estuary to just east of the mouth of the River Orne.

The Plan. There landings would be from right to left, the US Airborne Division on the right, then the 1st US Army (VII and V Corps), the British 2nd Army (30th Corps right and 1st corps left) and the British 6th Airborne Division in the Ornnemouth, Caen and Cabourg triangle.

The Role of 51st Highland Division. The role of the 51st Highland Division in the landing was as a second echelon division to support and fill in behind the first wave. 153 Bde would be the lead brigade of 51st Highland Division. They landed in the afternoon of D Day. 152 Brigade followed on D+1 and 154 Brigade on D+4. the latter remained as Corps Reserve until placed temporarily under command of 6th Airborne Division.

On 5th June (D-1), Commander 153 Brigade, with the Battalion Seconds in Command, had gone to Portsmouth where they would sail ahead of the main body to mark the out the Brigadedeployment. However their ship was unable to land and on D daythe main body sailed passed them near enough for Murray to shout to Lieutenant Colonel Thompson, in temporary command of the Brigade, that he on landing he should contact the Canadians. They landed without opposition on the afternoon of D Day.

The Divisional Commander landed on the 7th June. 152 Brigade arrived in the morning of D+1 also without their Brigade Commander and advance party as did 154 Brigade on D+4.

PIOBAIREACHD was the name given to the 51st Highland Division newsletter. The first issue was produced in Normandy on 14 June 1944 with the following message from the GOC.

"This is the first daily newssheet to be issued since the Division returned to France. Four years ago, our Division fought the Germans in France. Through weight of numbers, overpowering air support and equipment generally, the Germans were then able to oust us, despite every gallant endeavour, from France.

Today the picture is different. The much vaunted Western Wall has been pierced and shattered by the assaulting troops. Already we have been into France, well into France too, for 9 days, whereas the Germans said they would defeat the invasion on the beaches.

The Division has played its part, with at first only small forces engaged, in a notable way towards the 2nd Army's grand achievements. The 5th Black Watch, the first battalion of the Division into action, has covered itself with glory, and the fields of Normandy with dead Germans. The Gordon Highlanders have had a good fight, and have more than held their own. The Seaforth and Cameron Highlanders were in action, and ready as always to do likewise. Our Gunners, and Machine Gunners, have already fired many shells, bombs and bullets, had many successes and done much sterling work.

And so have all the other units in the Division.

So we have made a start. Not a spectacular start, such as was the Division's fortune at Alamein, but a brave start non the less. Before us lie hard days and hard fighting. But there is no doubt that our present operations are going well, and that we are making a great contribution to those operations.

Let us go ahead, then, with confidence in ourselves, faith in our cause, and with a grim determination to do our best at all times, so that Germany can quickly be brought to her knees, and the War won.

To all ranks in the Division, I send you my greetings, and the best of good luck. I have absolute confidence in you. So has the Army.

In Africa and Sicily, we showed the world what the sons of Scotland can do. That was nine months ago. We will show it again Now."

(Signed) D.C. Bullen-Smith.

Throughout 327 issues PIOBAIREAHD had kept the soldiers of the 51st Highland Division informed. The range of the, usually two page, fullscap broad sheet was compressive. A typical issue would have details of the progress of the war on the Western Front with sketch map, the Southern Front, Eastern front and Far East. It would have details of the air war. There might be a general letter from home, home news, world politics and even football scores. It was a masterpiece of information.

It seldom spoke specifically of the Divisions role keeping the reports at Corps and Army level. One of the exceptions is in issue number 281, covering the Rhine Crossing, produced at 1130hrs on 24th March 1945.


AT REES. Yesterday evening our own troops opened Monty's great assault. We got over very quickly on both sides of REES, which is now almost completely encircled. We have captured ESSERDEN, SPELDROP and other villages to the North-West of REES and are now attacking up the road that runs North towards BOCHOLT. Our casualties have been very light, and this morning we already had 360 prisoners in a cage. Amphibious tanks are over the river, and we have a raft ferry service running. Pontoon bridges are not likely to be in operation for some time. This morning, every eye has seen the hundreds of Dakotas and Horsas which are landing two para divs between our bridgehead and BOCHOLT. No more impressive comment can be made on this successful beginning to the greatest operation of the war after D-Day."

In the next issue, 282 on Sunday 25th March:


The battle of the Rhine bridgeheads is going very well. On the 21 Army Group front, 15 miles of the East bank is held, with four solid bridgeheads established and a penetration of up to 5 miles already made in the enemy defences.

REES. With German paratroopers still fighting desperately against our encircling forces, inside the town of REES, our own bridgehead is very firm and considerable progress has been made. We have cut the road leading North-East towards BOCHOLT, and one of our battalions has stormed and taken a strong enemy position in a brickworks a mile and a half North of REES, The small village of GROIN just East of the road has also been captured. We have advanced towards the road running North and West from the town, after taking SPELDROP, and are attacking stubborn enemy defences around BIENEN. To the right of the sector, the peninsula between the Rhine and the Alter Rhein has been completely cleared of enemy. The PW total up to 11 o'c this morning was just short of 1,000. "

The paper then went on to cover the other sectors, BISLICH, WESEL, DINSLAKEN, and OPPENHEIM.

The second page had a section on the Dannube March and home news including reporting the warmest day in London for 50 years, football scores (including Aberdeen 3: Hearts 1; Dundee United 1: Rangers 3 and Falkirk 1: Celtic 0) and rugby scores.

Issue number 327 of PIOBAIREAHD was published at 1550hrs on Tuesday 8th May 1945 with a banner headline VICTORY giving the text of the Prime Minister's Announcement.



After the landings the operations in the following weeks were some of the worst the Division had experienced. The Division landed west of the Ornemouth but, after initial operations by 5th Black Watch against the area of Douvres, 153 Brigade followed by 152 Brigade crossed the Orne to operated to the east of the Orne and north east of Caen centred on an area known as the Triangle. This was bounded Ranville - Touffreville -Breville, with a wood also called the triangle on the east side.

On 13th June, 152 Brigade ran into stiff opposition in the area of St.Honorine and Demouville. Their attacks were driven off and they went into a defensive position north of St. Hororine. Without securing St.Honorine it was not possible to take Demouville further south and to the east of Caen. On the 22nd June the Camerons were launched again at St. Hororine, took it and despite counter attacks, held it. Meanwhile during this period fierce action continued around Escoville.

154 Brigade in reserve were, for a considerable period, in defence at Bois de Bavent and subject to heavy enemy artillery fire. The brigade then joined the Division in the defensive position and all three brigades were tied down in the bridgehead in and around the triangle, facing the Germans on two sides and subject to near continuous bombardment in the close country.

On 11th July 153 Brigade launched a night attack on Colombelles, a village with a large factory and chimneys which provide excellent enemy observation. Despite a determined attempt the position was not taken, a German armoured counter attack destroyed 10 of the 11 Shermans supporting 5th Black Watch, and at 0830 the next morning the Brigade withdrew back to St. Hororine and Longuecal. This failure, coupled with previous setbacks, had a marked effect on the Division's self esteem.

On the 18th July, in Operation Goodwood, 5th Seaforth successfully launched south and once successful the 2nd Seaforth and 5th Camerons pressed on south east toward Troarn. The 5th Camerons Op.Order No1 gives details of an "on call" counter attack plan should 5th Seaforth and 2nd Seaforth be overrun. In fact they were successful and went firm consolidating their gains and for 10 days held their objectives under almost continuous fire until 152 Brigade was relieved by 153 Brigade.



Although Operation Goodwood had gone well for the Division, restoring in part the its confidence and reputation, the previous failures had left their mark. The Divisional Commander, Major General Bullen-Smith, was replaced. The new commander was Major General T G Rennie, previously a commander of 154 Brigade.

Whereas the Division had been very at home with 30 Corps in North Africa and Sicily, they did not enjoy their time with the 1st Corps in Normandy and felt that the Corps was in part responsible for the problems they had encountered. They were therefore not disappointed to be reassigned to the Canadian Corps for what was to follow.

Operation Totalise, the breakout, commenced at the end of July.

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Busy bunch of lads, the 51st...

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Part Eight Breakout:


August 1944

The 51st Highland Division was relieved in place on 31st July and moved to North West of Caen to refit and rest.

The Background

The 51st Highland Division was relieved in place on 31st July and moved to north west of Caen to refit and rest.

The next phase of the campaign would be to achieve the breakout from the bridgehead. 8 and 30 Corps would drive east to take Vire and Mount Pincon. The 2nd British Army was to take Argentan and the Canadian Army Falaise The breakout battle began in the west on 30th July. The successes in this area, coupled with the weakening of the Germans further east as they shifted forces to meet the attack, allowed Montgomery to order the Canadian Corps to strike out towards Falaise. The operation was called Op Totalise. For Operation Totalise the 51st Highland Division was placed under command of the Canadian Corps.

Operation Totalise

y early July Cherbourg had fallen to the Americans and the British occupied Caen. The US forces pressed on to St. Lo and commenced the isolation of the Brittany peninsula. The US success now set the conditions for Montgomery's break out. This took the form of three operations, Bluecoat which began on 30th July, Totalise on the 7th August and Tractable which began on 14th August.

For Operation Totalise the 51st Highland Division was placed under command of the Canadian Corps and on 6th August moved forward to begin the operation. With the Division were grouped the 33rd Armoured Brigade which became the Division's affiliated tank brigade.

The Canadian Corps Plan - The plan was for an advance on a two brigade front, 154 Brigade left (supported by the 33rd Armoured Brigade) and a Canadian Brigade right, on the axis of the Caen - Falaise road. One of the Canadian Corps Commanders innovations was to create armoured personal carries by taking now obsolete "Priest" self propelled guns, removing the guns and using them as troop carriers called "Kangaroos", each carried 10 fully equipped soldiers. 154 Brigade was mounted on these.

The 51st Highland Division Plan - 153 Brigade would form the firm base and 154 Brigade would strike south to occupy and hold the area Cremesnil, St.Aignan, Garcelles and Sequeville. 153 Brigade followed by 152 Brigade would then exploit followed by the armour.

The Action - The attack began on the night of the 7th August with an large bomber attack. At 0230 hrs 154 Brigade advanced in two columns with over 350 armoured tracked vehicles. Major A McKinnon MC provides a graphic account of the actions of 7th Argylls on Op Totalise. (link). With the objectives successfully taken 152 Brigade cleared the enemy that had been bypassed and met stiff resistance in Tilly before overcoming it. 152 Brigade, which had secured the start line now moved up and took Secqueville-la-Campagne and on to Soldiers. When the first phase of the breakout ended on the 10th August the 51st Highland Division had secured all its objectives.

Subsequent Operations

Once the initial objectives were secure, the Division turned east and crossed the River Dives and pressed on towards the River Vie. On the 18th August 153 Brigade forced a bridgehead over the Vie at Grandchamp (an extract for the 5/7th Gordons war diary describes the breakout and the action at Grandchamp) and 154 Brigade further south at St.Julien-le-Fancon. 152 Brigade exploited and on the 22nd August Lisieux fell to 153 Brigade.

The occupation of Lisieux brought the breakout to an end. The Division had fought without break since the 7th August.

The Canadian Commander sent the following message to General Rennie:

"Please congratulate Highland Division on fine aggressive work. The 51st of this war is showing the same unbeatable sprit which the Canadians got to know and admire in 1918"

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Part Nine Return to St. Valéry:


With the "Breakout" battle complete the 51st Highland Division has several days to recover before the advance continued. From Lisieux they advanced East crossing the Seine dealing with the enemy rear guard. The intention was to isolate the port of Le Havre

It was Montgomery's wish that the Division should recapture St Valéry and he asked the Canadian Army commander to arrange this.

Carrying on they arrived at St.Valéry on 1st September where the 5th Seaforth and 5th Camerons met each other in the Station Square.

The Divisional Commander, Major General Rennie, put his Headquarters in the Chateau at Cailleville which head been General Fortune's Headquarters in 1940. He also deployed 152 and 153 Brigades as their predecessors had been positioned in 1940.

September 3rd was made St Valéry day. The massed pipes and drums of the Division beat Retreat at Caillevile. Major General Rennie addressed the gathering.

Major General Rennie's Address At St. Valéry

On 3rd September General Rennie addressed HD:

"This is a very great occasion in the history of our famous division. Here at St Valéry on the 12th June 1940, a portion of the Highland Division, including its Headquarters, 152 and 153 Brigades, was captured by a large German force.

That magnificent Division was sacrificed in a last effort to keep the French in the war, True to Highland tradition the Division remained to the last with the remnants of our French Allies, although it was within its capacity to withdraw on Le Havre.

The Division drew on St Valéry the German 4th Corps, a Panzer and a Motor Division - in all six Divisions - and thereby diverted this force from harassing the withdrawal of other British troops on Le Havre and Cherbourg.

General Victor Fortune ordered the surrender of the division when it had run out of ammunition and food and all prospects of evacuation, which had been carefully planned by him, had failed.

That Highland Division was Scotland's pride; and its loss, and with it the magnificent men drawn from practically every town, village, and croft in Scotland was a great blow. But this Division, then the 9th Highland Division, took its place and became the new 51st Highland Division. It had been our task to avenge the fate of our less fortunate comrades and that we have nearly accomplished. We have played a major part in both the great decisive battles of this war - the Battle of Egypt and the Battle of France - and have also borne our share of the skirmishes and those costly periods of defensive fighting which made these great victories possible. We have lived up to the great traditions of the 51st and of Scotland.

I have disposed the Division, as far as is possible, in the areas where it fought at St Valéry. General Victor Fortune had his HQ here, 152 Brigade held the sector to the west, and 153 Brigade to the east. The Lothians and Border Horse held the sector to the south. The 154 Brigade and "A" Brigade ("A" Brigade was at that time operating with the Division) embarked at Le Havre.

I hoped by disposing the Division in that way to make it easier for some of you to find the graves of your relatives or friends who lost their lives with the St Valéry 51st. You will find at St Valéry and in the village cemeteries around, that the graves of our comrades have been beautifully cared for.

We have today playing with the Pipes and Drums of the Highland Division those of the Scottish Horse. There are also officers and men of the Lothians and Border Horse at this meeting.


It remained to take Le Havre. For this operation the 51st Highland Division were returned to 1st Corps. The operation to take Le Havre was to be a two division attack with 51st Highland Division and 49th Division. The initial plan had the 51st Highland Division attacking from the north along the strongly defended coast but the GOC successfully argues to approach from Montevilleirs with 49th Division attacking from the east. The operation was called "Astonia" and took place on 10th September. Le Havre surrendered on the 12th September. The next ten days were spend in garrisoning the city before the next series of operations.

On 23rd September 154 Brigade was given orders to be detached, to under direct command of the 1st Canadian Army, to invest Dunkirk and prevent a German breakout. The 154 Brigade Dunkirk task, which lasted until 9th October, is detailed in the History of 154 Infantry Brigade in North West Europe.


The square in St. Valéry

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Part Ten: Low Countries

October - December 1944



5th Camerons on Shermans Nr. Kaatsheuval, 21 OCT

In late September the 51st Highland Division moved east through France and into Belgium to relive the 15th Scottish Division on a line from St Odenrode to Eindhoven protecting the supply corridor to Nijmegen. The place of 154 Brigade still at Dunkirk, was taken by 158 Brigade of the 53rd Division but 154 Brigade returned to the Division on 19 October. The next phase of the campaign was to establish Antwerp as an operating port and clear the Germans south of the River Mass.

Operation Colin

Outline - 51st Highland Division with 7th Armoured, 15th Scottish, 33rd Armoured and 53rd Welsh Divisions formed the 12th Corps charged with this task. The Battle of Mass, Operation Colin, would start on the 23rd October for the Division. On the previous day 53rd Welsh and 7th Armoured Divisions would clear the area to the east between Zuid Willems Canal and s'Hertogenbosck and the day after the 51st Highland Division attack, 15th Scottish Division on the left would capture Tilburg and push north.

51st Highland Division Plan - The plan for the Divisional attack was that 153 Brigade objective was Schijndel, 152 Brigade to the left would clear the wooded area east of the River Dommel and 154 Brigade, mounted in Kangaroos, would be in reserve to exploit.

The Action - The attack began on the night of 22nd October. Schijndel was taken relatively easily and the Division pressed on and, despite stiff resistance, they captured Vught in the afternoon of the 25th. Meanwhile 7th Armoured Brigade had been stopped at Zoon op Land. 153 Brigade were sent to assist and took the town and moved on north reaching Sprang on 30th October. 154 Brigade now exploited north west reaching Raamsdonk and then Geertruidenberg to find the bridge over the Mass destroyed.

After this successful phase there remained two German pockets south of the Mass of which one west of s'Hertogenbosch was known as the "Island".


Men of Seaforth After Schijndel


British Attack Troops, Sprang

The Island

The 53rd Division had been task with the operation to clear the "Island" were moved to support the US sector against a German counterattack and the task was given to 51st Highland Division. The "Island" was west of s'Hertogenbosch and was about six miles long and four miles deep formed between the Afwaterings canal and the River Mass.

154 Brigade relieved 152 Brigade who, with 153 Brigade were to conduct Operation "Guy Fawkes", aptly named as in commenced on the 4/5th November. A large preliminary bombardment preceded the assault. Collapsible canvas boats were used to cross the canal and dyke. The 5th Black Watch crossing as part of 153 Brigade is described in "The Spirit of Angus".

An Account of the 5th Blackwatch Assault

Crossing of Afterwatings Canal

4th - 5th November

from "The Spirit of Angus" by John McGregor

by permission of The Black Watch Museum

"Helvoirt: 2nd to 4th November

In preparation for the crossing the Battalion changed over locations with the 1st Black Watch and moved by transport through Vught to Helvoirt. The following day 'A', 'C' and 'S' Companies went to the Wilhelmina Canal to practise boating and rafting using the standard canvas-sided, collapsible assault boats, each with a capacity for 16 armed infantrymen. 'S' Company assembled and tried out rafts for transporting Anti-Tank guns and Jeeps. It was emphasised that speed was essential in getting the boats over the high banks and into the water, then loaded and across. The 'D' Company men, who had been detailed to act as 'boatmen', proved their ability to do a professional job.

Later that day all Company and Specialist Platoon Commanders went to the 5/7th Gordons OP to study the far bank of the Canal and to receive the latest sit. reports from the Gordons. At the same time, Lieut Bill White, Signals Officer, took a party of men to dig a Command Post under the bank midway between the two chosen crossing points.

Later in the evening the Carrier Platoon and a 'B' Echelon party ferried the assault boats up to the bank and assembled them. Due to a misunderstanding with the Gordons who were responsible for providing Standing Patrols, the boats were left unguarded whilst the Carriers returned for a second load; and a three-man German raiding party crossed the Canal in a rubber dinghy and sabotaged the Battalion boats. Alerted by the covering Spandau fire Lieut Macpherson went out with a Patrol and found four of the assault boats with their sides slashed. It was some hours before replacement boats were delivered to the site.

Early on Sunday 4th November, a full '0' Group was held, including all Supporting Arms, and the CO gave out the Battalion plan. Crossings would be made by 'A' Company on the Left, 'C' Company on the Right. Covering close support fire by 'B' Company and Anti-Tank guns, 'D' Company to carry boats over the bank, launch them and ferry the assault troops over the Canal. 'S' Company to organise and control rafting of Jeeps, Anti-Tank guns and other stores, and Buffaloes to ferry all other vehicles. Tanks, Crocodiles and l/7th Middlesex Machine Guns to dominate the far bank while crossing was in progress, before themselves crossing when RE bridge was complete. The Royal Artillery to fire concentrations on an agreed programme with further support on call as the attack developed the bridgehead.

Assault Crosing of of Aftwaterings Canal: 4th and 5th November.

At 1500 hours the Battalion marched to the Concentration Area and all was ready for the opening of the Divisional attack. 152 Brigade advanced at 1645 hours, followed in 30 minutes by the 153 Brigade advance which was preceded by heavy Artillery concentrations. The Tanks were unable initially to climb the banks, but one Troop of Crocodiles, from their position on the road, was able to bring its firepower to bear. Otherwise close support for the crossing came from 1/7th Middlesex Machine Guns and 'B' Company.

'C' Company, led by Major Graham Pilcher, crossed in record time and soon consolidated on their first objective, which was around the blown bridge at 249443. 'A' Company had a very unpleasant 15 minutes as they immediately came under Spandau fire and their leading boat was bazookaed, causing several casualties. Immediately this happened the 'A' Company reserve Platoon took over the lead and, propelled by the hard working 'D' Company boatmen, made the far shore and attacked the enemy who immediately surrendered. The Company then proceeded to the wood, which was their first objective, and captured several more Germans.

With the far bank in Battalion hands, 'B' Company crossed and passed through 'A' Company positions, going on to take their objective, the road and track junction at 236455. 'D' Company and their 'boatmen' crossed and took over the position behind 'A' Company, whilst the CO and Tac HQ moved forward to 'B' Company position. Meantime 'S' Company had built their two rafts and Anti-Tank guns and Jeeps were manhandled over the banks and quickly ferried to the far bank. The two Buffaloes had considerable difficulty getting over the bank but, once in the water, they were of great help in getting vehicles to the other side. The Royal Engineers had started their work on the Pontoon Bridge and were also bulldozing a track for the Tanks.

By 2200 hours all Company Carriers and Jeeps were with their respective Companies and the Anti-Tank guns were deployed. Other transport was beginning to appear and it was judged that the assault crossings had been a very successful operation for all concerned. News that the 1st Gordons crossing had been equally well carried out was received as the Battalion waited for Brigade's next order.

They had not long to wait. The Brigadier ordered them to push on to join up with the 1st Gordons at Haarsteeg, which was to be occupied. They moved off just after midnight with 'B' Company leading, followed by 'A' and 'D' Companies. 'C' Company was left to provide a guard for the Royal Engineers' bridge which was rapidly being completed."

Operation Ascot

Enemy counter attack against the US, which had required the 53rd Division to be retasked, had been restricted but they had established a bridgehead across the River Mass, between Venlo and Roermond, threatening Eindhoven. To push the Germans back over the Mass was the next task and this was named Operation Ascot.

Outline - The overall plan was to push the Germans back over the River Mass and 51st Highland Division's role was to attack the Germans on the line Weert - Roermond and swing north east driving the enemy up to Venlo.

51st Highland Division Plan - The plan in outline was:

* 152 Brigade to cross the Noorder Canal

* 153 Brigade to cross the Wessen Canal

* 154 Brigade to capture the lock gates at the junction of the Noorder and Wessem Canals. If 153 Brigade had crossed the Wessen 154 brigade would then advance to take Heyhuijzen.

Some preliminary training for the crossing of the canals took place using assault boats and buffaloes.

The Action - D Day was 14 November. All three brigades successfully crossed the canals and in the case of 154 Brigade the junction. The advanced continued and the 5th Camerons in particular distinguished themselves creating a bridge head over the Zig (also called Uitwaterings) canal. The GOC wrote to congratulate the Battalion. The Division then exploited across the Zig Canal and by the 18th November they were just south of Venlo in the area of Baarlo, Bong and Zoterbeek close to the River Maas. Operation Ascot was successfully concluded.

GOC's letter to CO 5th Cameroons - copy


51st Highland Division.


19 Nov 44

My Dear (COs name on origional)

I am writing to congratulate you and your Bn on its great achievement on 17 November. The action of the Bn in crossing the canal will, I feel, rank as one of the great episodes in the history of your Regiment.

I must explain the effect of your Bn's action both on the Highland Division and on the enemy. As you know the crossing of the Canal was to be the task of another Division and this was to take several days of preparation as, owing to bad tracks, a corduroy road axis was to have been built. I had, in fact, decided on the morning before your Bn succeeded in crossing the Canal, that the plan for another division to pass through would hold good. News of your crossing caused me to think deeply, and I at once ordered 153 Bde to test the opposition and cause a diversion on their front, also to plan for an assault crossing to take place that evening.

After visiting your Headquarters and realising what a tough time your two forward companies had gone through to hold that small bridgehead, I decided that the Division would cross that night.

The point I want to make is that everything was against a crossing that night - the weather, the appalling state of the approaches and the short time to prepare for a complicated assault crossing with difficult bridging problems. The decision was made on your account, to avoid the possibility of losing a hard won and held bridgehead.

As you know, the Division responded magnificently and achieved what I believe to be one of its greatest achievements since D Day.


The Division now moved north to support the allied bridgehead between the River Waal and the River Rijn west of Nijmegen and Arnhem. On 2nd December the Germans blew the Lek dyke and flooded the "Island". Such an act had however been foreseen and Operation "Noah" was implemented to evacuate the "Island". The Operation Order for 5 CAMERONS provides an example of this contingency planning. As the floods subsided the "Island" was reoccupied. This concluded the series of operations that pushed the Germans east of the River Maas and preparations could begin to commence operations in the New Year to clear them to the Rhine.

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Part Eleven: Ardennes

January 1945


On 16 December 1944 Hitler launched an offensive through the Ardennes aimed at driving a wedge between the allies, securing Antwerp and the important fuel supplies, cutting off the forces in the north and reversing the tide of the war in Germany's favour. The attack came as a complete surprise to the Allies. For this offensive, which became know as the Battle of the Bulge, Hitler assigned three armies. These were, in the north the Sixth SS Panzer Army which would attempt to break through to Liege, in the centre the Fifth Panzer Army which was to attack towards the St Vith and Bastogne, and in the south the Seventh Army directed on Luxembourg.

Determined American resistance deprived the Germans of early success and only the Seventh Army managed a breakthrough with the 1st SS Panzer Division which raced towards Malmedy, Stavelot and Liege. The offensive slowed but by 19th December the Germans were closing in on St Vith and Bastogne. Although the defenders of St Vith were forced to retreat they had inflicted a serious delay on the Germans. Meanwhile the refusal of Bastogne to surrender ( "Nuts", the US commander's reply to the request going down in history) prevented a breakout in the south.

Meanwhile on 19th December, Eisenhower cancelled the Allied offensive operations elsewhere and ordered Patton to attack the southern flank of the German salient and gave Montgomery command of additional US troops to assist his own in driving down on the northern flank of the German salient. It was as a part of this force, first guarding a number of the River Maas crossings between Liège and Namur and then moving forward on 7th January to take over from the 53rd Welsh Division as part of the allied counter offensive, that the 51st Highland Division found itself committed to the Ardennes.

The US counter attack began on the 22nd December. The Allied operations had been hindered in the first week of the offensive by thick fog making air operations impossible. When this lifted on 23rd December the air superiority of the allies was a crucial in both resupplying Bastogne and in attacking the Germans.

With the German offensive now stalled the Germans concentrated on Bastogne. The Allies now pushed forward slowing driving back the retreating Germans. Hitler's Ardennes offensive was over.

Story recalling 152 Infantry Brigade HQ at "Castle Embourg"


List of Officers at Embourg Castle or Chateau Piedboeuf

This scanned document is from Georges Laloux in December 2009.

George noted the story behind this list :

"Born in 1931, I was thirteen during the Ardennes bulge battle and we were living in Embourg (at that time a small and rural suburb village south of Liége.)

"I was living in the "Embourg Castle", with my parents and 7 brothers or sisters.

"[At the] end of December 1944, the 152nd Infantry Brigade H.Q. (from the 51st Highland Division [seaforth Highlanders].) rested in our home while we were living in the cellars due to German V1 bombs reaching Liége every 10 minutes.

"I remember the Christmas and eve evenings we spent with head quarter members.

"I remember also Brig General A. J. M. Cassels who later in 1945 was appointed GOC 51st Highland Division.

"[At the] beginning January 1945 the brigade was sent to reinforce the US Army (in La Roche) and as far as I remember struggles were very heavy. The Brigade HQ was replaced by a Welch Brigade coming back from Ardennes front, for a small rest.

"On January 14th an incident occurred in the military kitchen and the castle burnt completely. (But this is another story)

"I found recently, after the death of one of my older sisters, a list of Officers and Soldiers who stay in our house (see above).

"We still are grateful for all US and English soldiers who died for liberty


Georges Laloux"


On 10th January 152 Brigade moved through 153 Brigade with the task of pushing across the Marche - La Roche road and on to take Ronchamps thus covering the right flank of the divisional advance down the Ourthe valley. The Brigade was supported by the East Riding Yeomanry.

The 5th Seaforth captured Gênes which was not defended, however they lost two armoured cars from the Derbyshire Yeomanry to a minefield which was covered by snow. 2nd Seaforth then advanced through the 5th Seaforth towards Halleux capturing it by noon. At about 1400 hrs the 5th Camerons also moved through 5th Seaforth in the direction of Ronchamps. There was little enemy resistance but minefields and shelling, the latter causing a number of casualties, coupled with the thick snow made progress slow. As Ronchamps was reached at about 2100 hrs the German rearguard withdrew. The Brigade had taken its objectives and went firm, however the next day they suffered sustained artillery bombardment and suffered a number of casualties. The Germans had taken up a strong position just over a mile south of Ronchamps and forward of Mierchamps.


Captured German Half Tank

The following account is taken from Sans Peur by Alastair Borthwick, recounting the actions of the 5th Seaforths from 1942 to 1945:

"There were three parallel ridges. Between the first and second was a wide, gently sloping valley. Between the second and third was a valley more deeply cut, narrow and very steep. We were on the first ridge. The Camerons were on the second, astride the crossroads at Ronchamps. The Germans were on the third. Beyond the third, out of sight behind the crest, was Mierchamps.

It was a crisp white-and-blue morning, with the sun sparkling on the snow, and the air wonderfully clear. It was the kind of day set aside by Providence for the waxing of skis and the building of snow-men, and war seemed even more of a nonsense than usual. The sky was eggshell blue, and there was blue in the shadows of the drifts, and the snowfields stretched silver as far as we could see as we marched down into the first valley. The whole countryside was at peace except for one small angry spot half a mile ahead, where the Germans were pasting the living daylights out of Ronchamps. We were going to Ronchamps. The shell-bursts were black against the snow. Nobody was particularly chatty as we trudged up the hill towards them.

We stopped a little short of the crossroads, and waited. The Boche, said the Camerons, were still on the third ridge, so this was not going to be another route march. There were recces, and an "O" Group, and a lot of shells much too close, and then it was 1400 hours and we were attacking.

As this turned out to be the most peculiar attack we were ever involved in, the plan and the situation on which it was based must be gone into in some detail. We did not have a great deal to go on. The Boche were known to be pulling back, but no one knew how quickly they were doing it. They were shelling Ronchamps crossroads with great zest. This might mean they were covering a withdrawal, but on the other hand it might mean nothing of the sort. A few Boche had been seen earlier in the morning walking about on their own crest. A road sloped obliquely down to the right into the valley from the end of Ronchamps (the valley wall was too steep for the road to take it straight), crossed a small bridge on the valley floor, and crawled obliquely left up the far side. Down in the valley were thick pine-woods, but the upper slopes were bare. Early in the morning the bridge had not been blown, but there was no guarantee that it was still intact. There were mines on the road on our side of the bridge. That was all the information we had. Of the strength or dispositions of the enemy we knew nothing.

Major Powell decided to treat the whole business as an advance to contact rather than as a set-piece attack. "A" Company plus a troop of tanks and an armoured bulldozer was to be the advance-guard, followed by Tactical H. Q., followed by "C" Company. The other two companies were to remain where they were, near Ronchamps crossroads; and in the event of something solid being hit by the advance guard, "B" and "C" Companies were to put in a right-flanking attack on Mierchamps. "D" Company was to be in reserve for counter-attack.


5th Seaforth attack on Mierchamps

La Roche

With the successful advance of 152 Brigade to Ronchamps the Divisional right flank was secure and all was ready for the assault by 154 Brigade down the Ourthe valley to La Roche. The brigade was withdrawn from its forward positions on 10th January and had a nights rest in the area of Bourdon and Hooton before the attack.

The attach was planned in three phases:

* Phase 1 was the capture of La Roche by the 1st Black watch

* Phase 2 required the 7th Black Watch to pass through La Roche and push south to capture Hives and then beyond it Lavaux.

* Phase 3 required the 7th Argylls to pass through La Roche and capture the villages of Thirmont and Roupage.

At 0600 hrs on the 11th January the 1st Black Watch moved down the road to La Roche, through the road block set up by 5th Black Watch, and down the valley towards the town. Approaching the town one of the armoured cars from 'C' Squadron Derbyshire Yeomanry who were in the lead was hit by a mine. The engineers were deployed forward to clear the route. At the approach to the town a Panther tank provided a nasty shock before it was realised that it was abandoned. Apart from some shelling 'A' Company of 1 Black Watch reached the town with no serious opposition at abut 1100 hrs. However once in the town the battalion came under fire from a German position across the Valley on Mont Soeret accompanied by shelling. 'B' and "C" Company cleared this position in the early afternoon and the town was also cleared.

With La Roche in the hands of the 1st Black Watch, the 7th Black Watch passed through. As they advanced toward Hives they had to deal with mines and delaying positions. The supporting tanks could not manage the ground and the battalion arrived before Hives in the late afternoon without armoured support. They moved in after dark and by 1930 had cleared the village of Hives and taken 40 prisoners. However without tanks or transport they were isolated and it was decided not to exploit on to Lavaux. After a night during which the engineers cleared the road all was ready for the assault on Lavaux.

The plan for the 7th Argylls (Phase 3 was the capture the villages of Thirmont and Roupage) was cancelled and orders were issued for them to exploit through Hives and the 7th Black Watch to Lavaux and beyond. The sound of the US guns could be heard and the prospect of linking up was imminent.


The inscription reads:

"Dedicated to the memory of the fallen of the 51st Highland Division who gave their lives for freedom in the La Roche offensive of January 1945."

This photo was kindly sent to us ( by Didier Renard.

Didier wrote -

"On Friday 27th [2009], I attended a ceremony at the 51st Highland Division monument in La Roche, where a sizeable contingent of the Belgian Army and local officials paid their respects. "Last Post", "God Save the Queen" and "La Brabanconne" were played by the Belgian military band and wreaths were laid.

Subsequent Operations

By 12th January the 51st Highland Division found that the opposition had become more determined. The reason for this was that the Division now threatened the main German withdrawal route of Champion - Erneuville - Ortho - Filly.

The Divisional Plan now was for 154 Brigade to continue the attack moving through 7th Black Watch in Hives to take Lavaux and then exploit on to Beaulieu. Simultaneously 5th Black Watch from 153 Brigade but placed under command 154 Brigade was to move through La Roche and up to hill 400 overlooking Hubermont and Roupage. The 1st and 5/7th Gordons from 153 Brigade would move through to take Nisramont and Ortho.

The 7th Argylls advancing down the Hives - Beaulieu road encounter strong and well prepared opposition dug in Lavaux. It was not until 1900 hrs that Lavaux was taken by the Argylls. The advance continued on foot and Beaulieu was reached at 0100 hrs on the morning of the 13th January. The few Germans there were taken by surprise and surrendered. In the early hours of the morning two German tanks approached the village - one was destroyed and the other beat a hasty retreat. Before dawn the battalion had managed to get its anti tank guns up to help secure the position. From Hives to Beauieu the Battalion had suffered 38 casualties, nine of which were dead.

On the morning of the 13th the 1st Black Watch moved through the Argylls to occupy Erneuville which had been abandoned leaving a great deal of enemy equipment.

Meanwhile the 5th Black Watch moved through La Roche, under command of 154 Brigade, in the direction of Hubermont. The roads were blocked with large fallen trees which had to be cleared and the enemy positions were well defended with infantry and armour. Progress was slow. In the early hours of the 13th the enemy began to withdraw and the advance continued. Thirmont, on the Battalion right, was reach by "D" Company before dawn and "B" Company was sent forward to clear Hubermont. The 1st Gordons now moved up to the rear of Hubermont in readiness for their attack on Nisramont. Both they and the 5th Black Watch were subject to heavy shelling and direct fire from the German tanks in the woods. Because of the strength of the enemy position it was decided that the attack by 1st Gordons would wait until dusk.

On the 12th the 5/7th Gordons had move down the congested road through La Roche and in the afternoon of the 13th they occupied Roupage, which would be the start line for the attack on Ortho. From here, before dawn on the 14th, they moved through 5th Black Watch in Hubermont and on to take Ortho. The enemy had withdrawn during the night and there was little resistance.

By the 14th the Division had achieved all that had been asked of it. It remained to mop up and stabilise the line. On that day the 5th Camerons made contact with the Americans in the area of Champion. By the 15th all combat in the 30 Corps sector of the Ardennes had finished.

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Part Twelve: Reichswald

February 1945

After the defeat of the German Ardennes offensive the 51st Highland Division returned to Holland to recommence offensive operations. Operation Veritable was the code name for the operation which would clear the Germans from the ground between the parallel rivers of the Maas and the Rhine and drive them back over the latter.

The 51st Highland Division formed part of the 1st Canadian Army offensive. The attack was faced with three lines of defence, the first a line of anti tank ditches, defended farms and villages a mile or more deep; the second was an area of open ground in the north of the Siegfried Line which itself ran south through the Reichswaldf forest to Goch; and six miles further back was a second line named by Montgomery as the Hochwald "lay-back".


Men of the 5th/7th Gordons on the move

The Plan

Op Veritable was the code name for the allied operation to drive the Germans from the ground between the River Maas and the River Rhine. The Canadians and British would break out from the Nijmegen bridgehead clearing southeast down between the two rivers to link up with the US forces who would cross the Maas to the south and swing north.

The Ground

There had been heavy rains in December and the River Maas and the River Rhine had both flooded and the ground between the two was very wet. If the weather remained cold then the ground would be frosted and hard but if there was thaw then the going would be very difficult.

There were three defensive lines to overcome, firstly anti-tank ditches and fortified farms, then after a mile or more, several miles of open ground and the defensive Siegfried line which ran south through the Reichswald forest to the town of Goch.

The Plan

30 Corps would lead the Canadian attack and as the front expanded the Canadian 2nd Corps would come in on the left of 30 Corps. The 30 Corps. attacking force comprised six infantry divisions, two armoured divisions and three armoured brigades. The initial advance would be five divisions up; 3rd Canadian on the left then 2nd Canadian, 15th Scottish, 53rd Welsh and 51st Highland on the right.

The Divisional Plan

Because of the narrow frontage allocated to the Division, it was decided to initiate the attack with only one brigade (154 Brigade) up, however the Brigade was strengthen by giving it 5/7th Gordons from 153 Brigade. 152 Brigade were to follow 154 Brigade, while 153 Brigade were to clear the western corner of the Reichswald and cut the Mook-Gennap road.

The preliminary bombardment commended at 0500hrs on the 8th February and the leading elements of the Division crossed the start line at 1046 hrs.


Mud Hampers Progress



Hekkens Map

The town of Hekkens on the southern edge of the Reichswald lay on the important intersection of the Gennep-Cleve and Kessel-Goch roads. It was also on the Siegfried Line and was therefore heavily defended with pill boxes. The town also sat on the proposed corps axis and therefore had to be cleared. The 154 Brigade History takes up the story:

"At a Corps conference held during the night 10th/11th February, the Divisional Commander was informed that, further north, the important road centre town of Cleve had been captured but as the road leading to it from Nijmegen had been completely flooded, it was of vital importance that the road running north-east from Gennep through Hekkens and the Reichswald to Cleve should be opened up and made available for use, as the main Corps maintenance route, at the earliest possible moment. This necessitated the capture of Hekkens which was still in enemy hands and which was being strongly defended.

During the morning of 11th February 152 Brigade, who had been fighting strenuously in the Forest area north and north-west of Hekkens during the two preceding days and who had succeeded in cutting across the main road running through the Reichswald from Hekkens to Cleve, attempted to continue their advance into Hekkens itself but were unsuccessful in this attempt.

Hekkens lies at the southern edge of the Reichswald where the main roads Gennep/Cleve and Frasselt/Kessel/Goch cross and the village itself is bounded on the south by the Rivers Niers, a tributary of the Maas and which runs from east to west at this point. The enemy obviously fully appreciated the importance of Hekkens, and were defending it strongly. The defence overprint maps showed a considerable number of concrete defences in the area as the Siegfried Line runs through the village and into the Forest east of it. The Divisional Commander accordingly decided to launch a full scale Brigade attack against Hekkens during the afternoon and he ordered 154 Brigade to carry it out. The Brigade Commander was informed that the whole of the artillery deployed in support of 30th Corps would be available to support the attack.

As it had already been found, earlier in this operation, that it was practically impossible to carry out a successful attack by night through the Reichswald on account of the density of the woods, it was essential that the attack should be launched in sufficient time to enable the objectives to be captured before dark. As the orders to make the Brigade attack were only received about mid-day, time was very short and the Brigade Commander accordingly decided (first) to launch the attack at 15.30 hours which would give about one and a half hours of daylight in which it could be completed, and (second) to make the simplest possible plan, as the Battalions which had to make the attack had to be brought forward a considerable distance to the forward part of the area now held by 152 Brigade and could only arrive there a very short time before the attack had to be launched. There would accordingly be no time to carry out the necessary preparations for anything except the most straight-forward type of attack. The Brigade plan accordingly resembled rather the 1914/18 war type of infantry attack than the normal type of attack which had generally been carried out during this campaign. A convenient forest track running south-east across the main Hekkens/Cleve road and about 2000 yards north east of Hekkens made a suitable start line and the main road leading into Hekkens made a suitable axis of advance down which the two attacking Battalions would advance, one on either side of it.

The attack was to be made behind extremely heavy artillery concentrations, fired by the whole Corps artillery, which would lift at the same rate as the infantry would be able to advance through the thick woods which lay on either side of the main road. In addition to the medium and field regiments supporting the attack some heavy artillery was also available and were given the task of neutralising, as far as possible, the Siegfried Line defences in the Hekkens area as shown on the defence overprint. 1st and 7th Black Watch were given the tasks of the two attacking Battalions (the 1st on the left and the 7th on the right) and 7th Argylls were ordered to carry out an immediate advance south-east down the start line forest track in order to protect the exposed flank of the attacking Battalions during their forming- up. The two attacking Battalions had meanwhile been moving forward to the start line area and arrived there less than half an hour before the attack was due to start. There was no time to brief the troops in the detailed manner generally carried out and it was only possible to tell them the direction of the attack, the depth to which it had to be carried out and to emphasise that it was of vital importance to the success of the attack that they should keep up as close as possible behind the timed artillery programme which was to lift forward at the same rate as they would be advancing.

The attack started at 15.30 hours and the noise of the opening concentrations from the very large number of guns (field, medium and heavy) supporting the attack as the shells burst in the trees in front of the attacking troops was deafening. The leading troops kept so close behind the artillery concentrations that they over-ran the enemy positions before the defenders had time to come up above ground again and defend themselves and the attack was completely successful. By 16.50 hours Hekkens had been entered and by 19.00 hours both Battalions were firmly on their objectives and had taken a total of about 200 prisoners, all of the German Para Korps which was recognised to be one of the enemy's most formidable fighting formations."


Goch was planned as the Divisions final objective. The task fell to 153 Brigade. The town was very well fortified with many pill boxes and the river on one side and an antitank ditch covering the other three sides.

15 Scottish Division would clear north of the River Niers to east of Goch and 51 Highland Division the west including the town itself.

Order were given to the Brigade on the 18th February for an attack early on the 19th. The plan was for 5 Black Watch to attack from the northwest, enter the town and take the majority of it up to the main square. 5/7 Gordons would then pass through them and clear to the railway line. 1 Gordons would clear the south end of the town and the major road leading to the south west.

In a preliminary operation 152 Brigade, 2nd Seaforths in fact, made a crossing over the anti tank ditch.




"Next morning, 18th February, Brigade issued an Order for the Battalion to move to a concentration Area at Asperden with a view to a night attack on the town of Goch.


Taking of Gennep

This town was a major link in the Siegfried Defensive Line and, although frequently bombed, it was still in enemy hands. The plan was for the 2nd Seaforths from 152 Brigade to attack South from Hervuist and cross the Anti-Tank ditch. Once they had secured the ditch the Battalion would pass through their positions and advance on Goch. The Battalion moved to Asperden in TCVs and from the Assembly Area the Recce Parties went forward to study the ground. After an evening meal the Battalion moved to the Assembly Area just North of the Anti-Tank ditch.

The Seaforth advance was successful; H-Hour was set for 0100 hours on the 19th, and the Artillery programme was due to commence at 0045 hours. It was subsequently discovered that the Germans had expected that the attack would come up the line of the main road from the South. Instead the Battalion had come down from the North, more or less along the banks of the River Niers, and was into the outskirts of the town before the Germans, sheltering from the barrage, realised what was happening. 'D' company captured the crossroads, some 300 yards short of the first row of houses, with only light resistance; Major Sandy Leslie and 'B' Company then passed through and secured the next crossroads in the town, capturing several prisoners.

It was then the turn of 'C' Company (Major Pilcher) to push through and capture the factory and one side of the street, closely followed by 'A' Company (Major Mathew) on the other side of the street. Most of the houses were in ruins from the heavy bombardment and many had cellars which were frequently found to be occupied by Germans. One method previously used was to open the cellar door and toss down a grenade, but that proved messy, if effective, and so a new technique had been adopted, said to be from an idea by Sergeant Maxie MM, of 'D' Company. Instead of a grenade a large stone was tossed down the cellar steps which invariably had the desired effect of producing a scramble of Germans anxious to surrender. Goch posed another problem; some houses had empty cellars but determined enemy were dug-in in the gardens behind the buildings.

During the initial stages of the attack there was a hold up when it was discovered that the temporary bridge over the Anti-Tank ditch could not take the Jeeps and they had to be manhandled, across on hastily improvised ramps.

At 0600 hours the CO, having established his HQ in 'C' Company area, pushed Patrols from 'A' and 'C' Companies up to the Main Square, which was reported clear. He ordered 'D' Company to move through 'C' Company and secure the church and hospital. Whilst this move was getting organised, 'B' Company killed some Germans who came into their area from the Right.

It was a very dark night and, in making his way forward to catch up with his leading Platoon, Major Brodie overshot the side street and with his Company Runner, Pte McInnes MM, a tough Dundonian, found themselves approaching a group of shadowy figures. Expecting that they were some of' C' Company, Major Brodie called out. There was a moment of silence, then words in German and bullets flew. The Major and the Corporal did a very fast move back down the street where they found the correct turning and their lead Platoon. This Platoon had been fired upon from the church and the courtyard in front of the hospital, and had returned the fire, driving the enemy out of the church and into the hospital building. As soon as his reserve Platoon, led by Lt Ian MacDonald, arrived, he ordered them to follow him into the building to clear the ground floor. It was obvious that all the Germans had taken refuge in the large area of the hospital cellars. When the stone trick did not work, real grenades were used, without immediate effect. Only after some Sten gun fire down the main cellar steps was there any sign of movement: a rather shaken German Lieutenant came up with his hands aloft, shortly followed by a Major bearing a white flag and closely behind him a Colonel who was OC Troops in Goch and some 18 soldiers. The German Colonel had been wounded by one of the grenades and was sent back on a stretcher. It was daylight by this time and as the German Colonel was carried away by his own men and their escorting Jocks, the 'D' Company men saluted him, and this gesture persuaded more enemy to come out of the surrounding buildings in surrender.


'A' Company took over from 'D' Company to secure the North-West half of Goch, but by now the Battalion was coming under shell fire and snipers were active. Battalion HQ was established in a good cellar in the main street, the Anti-Tank guns were sited and other essential Transport arrived in Company areas. The total of POWs taken had risen to 406 since 8th February.

At 0730 hours the 5/7th Gordons advanced through the area but almost immediately met very strong opposition and were pinned down. Heavy shelling continued throughout the day and following night, interspersed with mortar fire including 'Moaning Minnies'. Movement amongst the ruins was difficult and kept to a minimum. By the afternoon the Pioneers had cleared the main North bridge of mines and had made contact with the 8th Royal Scots, 15th Division, on the other bank of the River Niers.

The 1st Gordons came through 'C' Company area as they attacked towards Thomas­hof, South-West of the town. Like their sister Battalion they met strong resistance and it was 1600 hours before they captured their objectives at Thomashof.

The Divisional General arrived at Battalion HQ around this time and explained the current situation. It was essential to force the enemy out of Goch to clear the main supply route from the South and this would be done by cutting off Goch from the South. The Battalion would attack South-East from behind the 1st Gordons positions at Thomashof and capture the strong enemy positions around Slavanien. H-Hour was set for 2100 hours and there would be Artillery support from 2045 hours.

Major Graham Pilcher and Major Sandy Leslie kept their Companies close up behind the barrage and attacked with great spirit. There was some very fierce hand-to-hand fighting before they secured their first objective around the farm buildings and cross tracks. Major Eric Mathew then advanced towards 'C' Company area, but had to hold 'A' Company in the open when both 'C' and 'B' Companies were counter-attacked. When the Germans had been driven off, about 2300 hours, Artillery fire was brought down again to cover 'A' Company's attack on the buildings at Slavanien. They also met with fierce resistance, but managed to capture part of the trench system although they were unable to penetrate the buildings. Their situation was complicated by part of a 'B' Company Platoon which had overshot their objective and were pinned down by the 'A' Company battle. Major Mathew reported that there were German Tanks and Armoured cars on his immediate front.

Whilst all this activity was going on, the Battalion Command Post in Thomashof had its own piece of the action when a German Patrol, having wounded a member of the I Section, forced the Jock to walk ahead of them towards the doorway of the Command Post. But they were driven off, leaving the Officer killed and one of their number badly wounded. The I Section man escaped further injury and was looked after in the RAP. Papers on the German Officer revealed that he was Captain Jaeger in command of a Company of Paratroopers. No sooner had the Command Post personnel dealt with this incident than there was a direct shell hit on the CO's Jeep, which knocked out both W/T sets. Colonel Bradford took Tac HQ forward to 'C' Company and, having found that 'B' Company had been unable to expand their position to the North because of the number of Spandau posts along the line of the road running into Goch, he ordered 'D' Company to attack and capture the house and trenches North­East of 'A' Company position.

'D' Company had been waiting in the Gordon area for some hours and when they were called forward they were all feeling cold, so Major Brodie set off at a very sharp pace, which soon extended his Company into a long line behind him. When he reached 'B' Company area he was given a brief on the ground ahead, and told that because of the close proximity of the other Companies, it was not possible for him to have the support of Artillery fire. The rest of his Company, having caught up with him, were then given a further quick brief and once again he set off at a furious pace towards the objective.

When he had gone a short distance he realized that he only had his two Company Runners, Lt Bill Chisholm and his Platoon with him, the other two Platoons were some way behind. He decided there was no time to waste and, telling the men to follow him, made towards the dim outline of the house which was their main objective. With some 200 yards to go they suddenly came under withering fire from several Spandaus and their advance was momentarily checked. After a brief pause they dashed forward again knocking out two Spandau posts before reaching the walls of the house. Several Germans were trying to get into the house and the Section dealt with them whilst the rest of the Platoon took up positions in the garden at the rear of the building. Several grenades were thrown into the house, and finally 12 Germans emerged with their hands in the air.

The rest of 'D' Company, like Marshal Ney, marched towards the gun-fire and were quickly deployed but then had to deal with an enemy position which opened fire from the orchard beyond the house. By this time Major Brodie had received several wounds, mostly in his legs, so once he had seen his Company consolidate he handed over to his 2 i/c Captain Ken Buchanan and made his way back to report to the CO. Later he went to the RAP and Captain Beetham.

Problems were experienced in trying to get SP guns up to the Companies, all of which were still being fired at and attacked by German Patrols. One SP gun slipped off the track into a ditch, completely blocking the route for all other vehicles until it was hauled out. Most of the urgently needed ammunition replenishments had to be carried forward but, soon after dawn, all the SP guns were sited and the roads into Goch covered.

Two German Mk IV Tanks rumbled into 'D' Company area, one fired at the SP gun and missed, then retreated rapidly. The other was struck by a Piat bomb which failed to explode, but the crew baled out and surrendered. Another SP gun in the 'D' Company area knocked out two German Tanks moving on the main road. As the light increased on the morning of the 21st, the Battalion saw large numbers of Germans moving into formations in the East and the South. They were supported by Tanks and Armoured Cars and could be seen digging in their Mortars. The Artillery, especially the Medium Gunners, had a field day. Their FOOs were calling on W/T with fresh targets every other minute and the chaos and carnage amongst the Germans was there for all to see. The enemy was broken and those who survived were seen struggling Eastwards, leaving Goch and its immediate area in Division's hands as the 7th Black Watch and the Gordons went through to clear the streets and houses in the East end of the town.

The Battalion casualties were high, including 8 killed, but the losses inflicted on the enemy were enormous. In the 3 days they captured another 220 prisoners, mostly Paratroopers, one Mk IV Tank, 3 x 88mm Guns and Tractors, 2 x 25mm Anti-Tank guns and Tractors, 2 x Flak Guns, several Half-Tracks and quantities of small arms and ammunition."


With the capture of Goch it was thought that the Division had completed its part in Operational Veritable, however orders were received to advance south to clear the area south west of Goch and the next lateral road from Weeze heading east which would be the Corps axis. On 24 February the GOC issues orders for the operation.

The operation was completed by 27th February. Prior to this the Division had received the following message of congratulation, written on 23rd February, from General Horrocks, the Corps Commander.

"I have seen the 51st Highland Division fight many battles since I first met them just before ALAMEIN. But I am certain that the Division has never fought better than in the recent offensive into Germany. You breached the enemy's defensive in the initial attack, fought your way through the southern part of the Reichswald, overcame in succession several strong points of the Siegfried Line such as Hekkens, etc., and then finally cleared the southern half of Goch - a key centre in the German defences. You have accomplished everything that you have been asked to do in spite of the number of additional German reserves which have been thrown in on your front. No Division has ever been asked to do more and no Division has ever accomplished more. Well done, the Highland Division."

The next operation would be the Rhine Crossing.

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Part Thirteen: Rhine Crossing

March 1945


Royal Artillery Battery

In preparation for the Rhine crossing the Division moved to a concentration area in Roermond and Nijmegen Here there was time for relaxation, reunions and several beating retreats took place. The Northants Yeomanry who had been away carrying out amphibious training with their Buffalo (amphibious armoured vehicles) rejoined the Division.

The Operation to cross the Rhine was to be called Operation Plunder. In preparation for the operation "Notes on Town Clearing", written by Lt Col JA Grant-Peterkin, Commanding 1 Gordons, were issued by HQ 30 Corps.


These notes are written on the experiences of a Battalion which has taken part in clearing two large towns, GENNEP and GOCH, against a determined and organised enemy. One town had been heavily bombed, but the other had not, civilians had been evacuated from both. The lessons learned shows that the principles as laid down in Inf Trg Pt VIII are sound as far as they go.


More than any other operation, very careful and detailed planning is necessary before launching any unit or subunit into a defended town. Large-scale maps, enlarged air photos and particularly in low obliques are necessary so as to determine the key buildings upon which it is likely the enemy will base his defence. He does not hold every house or factory, but those from where he can obtain a good field of fire and in particular those from where he can stop any encircling movement to his rear.

The ideal is for each section to be able to see exactly which buildings it is to clear before crossing the start line.


It is essential that each subunit starts from a very firm base, has a small compact object, usually a key building on which the Comd that has made a personal visual reconnaissance before starting.

With his rifle company, it has proved that it is unwise to have more than one subunit working at one time and that the Comd of the succeeding unit or subunit must be right forward with the attacking Comd to see the result and carry out his own reconnaissance. As always too, a reserve must be kept to deal with the unexpected posts which suddenly come to life.

The noise and echoes of street clearing are disconcerting and men must be always on "qui vive" to try and locate the enemy - the most difficult factor of all. It is essential that they fight lightly clad and without the small pack and pick and shovel, which catch in window frames cellar doors, etc. A rifle and bayonet, the Bren, a liberal supply of grenades stout hearts and a very high standard of leadership are all that is required. The degree of control that leaders must keep within these operations must be great. Individuals and sections must be kept to their objectives are not allowed to chase the odd German.

It has indeed been learned by bitter experience that town clearing is a tedious and most tiring operation which cannot be hurried.


It has been proved that even in complete darkness infantry can seize a limited objective in a town and completely clear that area, provided it is kept small. It is perhaps the best way to get a footing in a defended area, to rush it immediately the artillery concentrations lift in the darkness, and catch the enemy whilst he is still below ground. Large-scale clearing operations are not possible in the dark as it is impossible not to bypass enemy -- a principle -- who come to life with daylight and cause damage and confusion out of all proportion to their numbers. Searchlights are not of any great assistance in a town.


Before zero, the greatest weight all the artillery is required, but at zero and afterwards it should be lifted from the objectives to the far outskirts of the town, as it is disconcerting to troops clearing to hear explosions in front of them, and also drowned to noise of snipers if fired in close support. However well-trained, in a street it is impossible to say with accuracy whose shell it was and the effects of a 25 pdr on a house is not sufficient to warrant its use in the close support of troops clearing in a town. 4.2 mortars on the other hand of valuable as the bombs reach the ground floor: they, because of their danger area, naturally are best used on the back end of the town.

Fire movement by infantrymen remains as important as ever, and the 77 grenades has proved its great usefulness to cover street crossings.


From the infantryman point of view, heavy bombing has every disadvantage and no advantage, unless carried out immediately before the assault. Then air photos loose some of their values and the danger area for heavy bombs precludes the immediate rushing of the objective as the last bomb falls. Craters and rubble preclude the use of tanks, crocodiles or wasps and make the evacuation of casualties even more difficult; it makes the drill of clearing through the back gardens impractical and clearing houses from the top impossible. It also makes the enemy's task of hiding and camouflaging himself many times easier; his snipers always preclude the use all bulldozer till very late in the operations.

From our experience in clearing a town not bombed, to one that has been heavily bombed, there is little doubt that the infantryman would ask the airman to go elsewhere, particularly as he does not kill or even fight the defenders the infantry and is getting to meet.


We have found that the Germans we have met, mostly paratroopers, have concentrated and fought from the key buildings, and then from the ground floors; only the odd Spandau snipers have been up a story or two. Booby-traps were not met with in any large numbers, mines were, however laid in and about their demolitions, key rd junctions and in some gardens, but the latter were usually marked.


Thinking back on our experiences, the points that we were especially note are perhaps:-

(a) how slow at operation it is and how quickly troops get tired.

b the smallness to the objectives a platoon can take the certainty,

© the immediate effect of "flame warfare" - this was no surprise, but the speed with which the enemy reacted was.

(d) the great additional difficulties the after effect of heavy bombs made for the infantryman.


Lastly, the principles we will work on for the next German town we clear-

1. Always plan to the last detail and brief each soldier visually if possible. Each man must know this particular role in the platoon drill.

2. Start each operation from a very firm base.

3. Never operate more than one platoon at a time within a company area.

4. Keep a reserve ready, but don?t keep troops hanging about waiting their turn under fire. Once down they are sometimes difficult to get up again.

5. Limit your objectives severely and base your operations on the key buildings.

6. Never, bypass an enemy post - this does not apply to cut off troops if sent wide round the whole objective.

7. Fire and movement applies as much as ever - use flame whenever possible.

8. Don't overload the soldier.

9. Pray that the troops are in great heart, eager to destroy the enemy in yet another German stronghold, for without the highest fighting spirit being present, the best plans may buy the leaders will be of no avail.

Notes on "Town Clearing"

Lessons from recent operations.


Main HQ 51st Highland Division No 1004 G.

14 Mar 45

Main HQ 30 Corps

Herewith "Notes on Town Clearing" written by Lt Col JA GRANT-PETERKIN, DSO, O.C., 1 GORDONS, as a result of recent experiences in this type of fighting.

The GOC considers that the lessons brought out in these notes are of great value and very good. He considers that it must be accepted that it takes time to clear a built up area defended by determined troops and that the urgency of bypassing the town with units to prevent reinforcements arriving and also because of the moral effect of this envelopment on the defenders of the town is important. Crocodiles always have an immediate effect but it is emphasised that they cannot function if there are bomb craters caused by air bombing.

It is considered that these Notes would be of value for inclusion in "Notes from Overseas" or to Battle Schools at home, and six copies are forwarded herewith for onward transmission.

Signed for Major-General


The Plan

The plan for the Rhine crossing required a two corps frontage, 30 Corps on the left and 12 Corps on the right. Each would be lead by one of the three Scottish Divisions, the 51st in the case of 30 Corps and the 15th Scottish Division in that of 12 Corps. In addition on the extreme south were the 1st Commando Brigade.

The Divisional Plan. The Division would attack two brigades up with 154 Brigade on the left and 153 Brigade on the right with 152 Brigade behind 153 Brigade and the 9th Canadian Brigade on the left flank. The brigade tasks were:

* 154 Brigade. To hold the east bank of the Rhine as far north as Wardmannshof and to capture the villages of Klein Esserden, Speldrop and Bienen. They were then to advance north to Millengen and Grietherbosch.To conduct this latter task the Highland Light Infantry of Canada from the 9th Canadian Brigade would be under command.

* 153 Brigade. To capture the village of Esserden, block the approaches to Rees from the north, north east and east, take Rees and then exploit north on the Rees-Isselburg road. For this they would have the 2nd Seaforths from 152 Brigade under command.

* 152 Brigade (less 2nd Seaforths). To capture Mittelburg, Groin and Haldern and advance north on the Haldern - Isselburg road.

The 43rd Division would follow up the 51st Highland Division.

Map of Operation Plunder

Extracts from Operation Plunder





51(HD) Div will force a crossing of the RHINE, clear the town of REES and establish a bridgehead on the EAST bank covering approaches to REES.



The Div will cross the RHINE ona two Bde front :-

RIGHT - 153 Bde

LEFT - 154 Bde

152 Bde and 9 Cdn Bde follow up crossing behind 153 and 154 Bds respectively.

Leading bns of 152 Bde and 9 Cdn Bde come under command of 153 and 154 Bdes respectively for planning now and for operations at H Hour.

These bns will revert to their own Bdes as soon as they have been firmly established on their selected objectives and their own Bde has taken over the front.


(a) 153 Bde will:-

(i) Cross the RHINE in the initial assault clearing and holding the EAST bank of the RHINE on either side of REES including the peninsula about 0952 and the village of ESSERDEN 0653.

(ii) Attack and capture REES.

(iii) Position the leading Bn of 152 Bde so as to block the approaches to REES from NORTH and NOTH-EAST.

(iv) Block the approaches to REES from EAST in area 095525.

(v) Be prepared to operate NORTHWARDS on the axis REES - ISSELBURG 1260.

b 154 Bde will:-

(i) Cross the RHINE in the initial assault clearing and holding the EAST bank from the inter Bde boundary NORTHWARDS to incl WARDMANNSHOF 0354.

(ii) Attack and capture the village of SPELDROP 0654 and 0554.

(iii) Attack and capture the village of BIENEN 0556.

(iv) Assemble the leading Bn of 9 Cdn Bde EAST of the river as early as possible with a view to extending the bridgehead NORTH WESTWARDS with this Bn once BIENEN has been captured.

(v) Be prepared to exploit to capture MILLINGEN 0757 and GRIETHER BOSCH 0456.

© 152 Bde will:-

(i) Place one Bn under Comd 153 Bde initially.

(ii) Cross the river behind 153 Bde and be prepared to take over responsibility for blocking approaches to REES from NORTH and NE.

(iii) Be prepared to attack and capture HALDERN 1153.

(d) 9 Cdn Bde will:-

(i) Place one bn under Comd 154 Bde initially.

(ii) Cross the river behind 154 Bde and be prepared to take over left sector of 51 (H) Div front when leading Bn has been firmly established NW of BIENEN.

The crossing on the 23rd March was preceded by a huge preliminary bombardment which commenced at 1700hrs while smoke generators were used to screen the river.


This first hand account of the Rhine Crossing, published in a local newspaper has been provided by Trooper Bellamy's daughter.


Trooper Albert Bellamy.

Whose home is at 7, East Vale, Thrybergh, has given an interesting Account of his experiences of The Rhine Crossing in March.

He says: "On the afternoon of March 23rd, at 5 p.m., a terrible artillery barrage from numerous guns commenced to pound enemy positions inland. It was the biggest concentration of artillery I have seen over here. The barrage was augmented by several batteries of rockets which went off, hundreds at a time, with a terrifying roar.

"The infantry, which incidentally was the 51st Highland Division, boarded the 'Buffalos' at 7 p.m., and at 7.15 p.m. we moved off to the starting point which was one and a half miles from the river. Our troop leader was first and I was in the second craft manning the gun. We reached the river a few minutes to 9 p.m. and at exactly 9 o'clock the first 'Buffalo' entered the water and the rest followed. We manoeuvred into formation and headed for the opposition shore, which was just discernible through the mist. Our hearts were anywhere but in the right place, for we did not know what to expect, but the expected onslaught did not materialise, and we touched down at exactly 9.03 p.m. - three minutes which seemed like three years.

"We had a very nasty moment when the enemy sent up a brilliant flare and brightly illuminated the whole river, but nothing happened.

"The operation was a success and took the enemy completely by surprise.

"The flag of the - Battalion was carried in the leading craft and was the first flag to cross the Rhine in the last war; thus history repeated itself. The flag is moth eaten and held together by netting. The colours are brown, red and green and mean 'Through the mud and the blood to the green fields beyond'.

"We waited until the infantry had disembarked on the river bank and then returned to the opposite bank. Owing to the bank being very steep at this side, several futile attempts were made to climb it. Meanwhile the Germans had got our range and there were several near misses by mortar and shell fire.

"After a few minutes we then managed to reach the top of the bank and the proceeded to the loading area, where we loaded up with Bren carriers and other necessary equipment. A few shells dropped in the bridgehead but little if any damage was done. We then crossed the Rhine a second time and proceeded, 300 yards inland to the unloading area. Everything had been arranged so carefully and the organisation was marvellous.

"On the return trip our craft brought back 20 prisoners - the first to be taken in the operation.

"For the next three days we worked a ferry service without either rest or sleep, taking across vital supplies until the first bridge was built. Meanwhile a large ferry was taking across tanks to support the advancing infantry."

The Divisional crossing began at 2100hrs. The time taken to cross the River was little more than two and a half minutes but it seemed longer to the exposed troops. Never the less the lead battalions of 154 Brigade crossed with few casualties and secured their initial objectives but their third battalion, 1 Black Watch, met very stiff resistance but by dawn had advanced to Speldrop.

On the right 153 Brigade's leading battalions crossed and established a bridgehead either side of Rees, although 5/7th Gordons on the right having crossed the Rhine were caught in the island formed by the Alter Rhine and pinned down. 1 Gordons in depth were committed to clearing through Rees.


153 Brigade crossed in the area of Rees, with two battalions up, 5 Black Watch on the left and north of Rees and 5/7 Gordons to the right and south of the town. 1 Gordons would follow behind 5 Black Watch once the latter's Buffaloes had retuned over the river. By mid morning 5 Black Watch had taken Esserden. 5-7 Gordons successfully established themselves on the island between the River Rhine and the Alter Rhine to the east of Rees, but were very exposed to German snipers beyond. One attempt to cross the Alter Rhine failed but the next night (25/26 March) with 5 Black Watch having successful secured southeast Rees with the bridges still intact, 7 Gordons were successful. For more details see the Extract from 5-7th Gordons War Diary Op Plunder - March 1945.

Extract from 5/7th Gordons War Diary - Op. Plunder - March 1945.

On landing 1 Gordons secured a group of farm buildings but quickly had to evacuate some of them when the Germans set them on fire. They pressed forward , clearing a bund and housing estate, and reached the Rees-Speldrop road by 0700 hrs. They now swung south east as planned towards Rees. B Company secured the cemetery on the northwest edge which would also secure C Company's flank as they moved into the town. 5 Black Watch were meanwhile moving into the town from the east.

The opposition, two parachute battalions, was stiff and well prepared. Despite good progress by midday there was still much to be cleared. The Commanding Officer sought agreement to delay the remainder of the clearance until shortly before first light the next day but because Corps wanted Rees taken as the highest priority this was not sanctioned. The attack was resumed at midnight and progress was good so that by first light 1 Gordons were poised to finish off the German opposition. The commanding officer anticipated that he could clear the riverfront by 1130 hours and indeed it was done well before that time. However, he anticipated the last elements in the town being cleared by 1500hrs and in this he was proved wrong. The resistance was fierce and it was only as darkness fell that the last elements on the eastern edge of Rees disappeared.

During the morning the Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Grant-Peterkin, was wounded by shell fire and Major Lindsay took over. The latter's diary published under the title "So Few Got Through" (link to bibliography) provides a fascinating account of this action and the progress of 1 Gordons for Day until the end of the war.


Self propelled gun

Just before midnight 152 Brigade began crossing. Advancing on Mittenburg they were held up by an antitank ditch. Their third battalion, the 5th Seaforths, were slow to cross as craft were now limited as a result of losses but they crossed at dawn and moved up to Esserden under heavy shelling.

The Germans now reinforced the 8th Parachute Division in the Divisional sector with 15th Panzer Grenadier Division. 1 Black Watch were forced out of Kleinesserden and 154 brigade withstood a number of counterattacks. 152 Brigade also had to withstand these counter attacks but, assisted by a squadron of Staffordshire Yeomanry, they managed to cross the antitank ditch that had held them up. Middleburg and Groin were taken and Rees cleared.

The breakout now commenced with the Division pushing northeast to Anholt and Isselburg.

On 31 March the Commandeer of the 2nd Army wrote to the Division:

"Now that the Battle of the Rhine has been won, and the breakout from the bridgehead is well under way, I would like to give you and your magnificent Division my very sincere congratulations. Yours was one of the two divisions which carried out the assault across the river, defeated the enemy on the other side, and paved the way for all that followed. A great achievement - and I am sure you will all be very proud of it."

Sadly, among the casualties was the divisional commander, Major General T. G. Rennie, CB., D.S.O., M.B.E., was killed by a shell.

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Part Fourteen: VICTORY IN EUROPE, APRIL - MAY 1945

After a brief rest in Isselburg orders were received on the 3rd April for the 51st Highland Division to concentrate at Enschede. 30 Corps, under command of the Canadian Army, would clear the enemy out of North East Holland to the sea. The Divisional advance from Enschede would be to Salzbergenm, Lingen, to Quakenbruck, Vetchta, Wildeshausen, Delmenhorst, Bremen and finally Bremerhaven. Germany was now collapsing, and there were many refugees and prisoners but there was also sporadic but determined resistance along the route.


1. It is probable that by tomorrow the Corps will be advancing on three axes, one Div on each axis.

2. It is the Corps Comd's intention that the enemy shall be given no respite by day or night until he is broken completely. In order to achieve this we shall move with one Bde Gp forward, followed by another ready to pass through whenever there is a slackening of impetus. Order of move at outset:- 154 Bde Gp - 152 Bde Gp - 153 Bde Gp.

3. The limiting factor to speed is of course the number of demolitions and obstacles which the enemy oppose to us. To overcome these we must do all we can to find a way round his positions by tracks or across country and we must prepare instantly to frill in craters and blown culverts with any available means, bulldozers, scissor bridges, AVRE facines, etc.

4. Our task will be to open the main CLUB route but if we are to do this quickly I suggest that we must make our initial moves on by-roads round obstacles and clear them from the rear. The enemy have not got enough men to hold all the approaches to BREMEN. I want Bdes, therefore, to start their moves on a broad front at least on two axes ready to widen their frontage as soon as they meet opposition on either or both of their initial axes.

5. Tanks must be well forward and the maximum use made of crocodiles and wasps. It has been found time and again that the first signs of flame have a serious effect on the Boche morale.

6. There are too many stray Germans left behind by the armoured sweeps carried out by Gds Armd Div. No small parties must ever move about unprotected even well behind our forward troops and the Derby Yeo will operate in support of the leading Bde to sweep the country on our flanks between us and the neighbouring Divs on right and left to ensure a complete clean up. As time goes on it may be necessary to supplement the derby Yeo resources with carrier patrols from Inf Bns.

7. Arty and MG.

I want Bdes to be able to shoot steadily and continuously at the enemy area using all available weapons, field and medium arty, light AA arty, MG and mortars so that he is always being harassed.

When any strongpoint is to be taken the maximum concentration of all available weapons will be put down on it.

8. MGs.

While each Bde Gp will have the intimate support of its own MG Coy the comd 1/7 Mx must be prepared to use the MGs of the follow up Bdes and the Mortar Pl on a Div plan whenever the opportunity is appropriate. He will, therefore, always keep in the closest touch with the leading Inf Brigadier and offer his maximum support whenever a fireplan is being made. He will advice me on all occasions of his proposals.

(Sgd) GAN McMillan

Major General



10 Apr 45


Map of area, April 1945

153 Brigade led the advance meeting some resistance as they crossed over the river to Emsburen, occupying the town on the 7th and resting there for several days before continuing their advance on the 12th April, crossing the River Ems.

154 Brigade relieved the 5th Guards Brigade at Fürstenau and continued the advance to Vechta.

152 Brigade were at Lingen on the 10th April and advanced from there, moving through Vechta to Goldenstedt. On reaching Visbek and Brigade became the Divisional reserve. 153 Brigade met determined resistance on the 14th April but cleared the villages of Hockensburg and Brettorf.

The advance to Delmenhorst was led by 154 Brigade. At Ippener 152 Brigade took the lead. A stiff battle involving 5th Camerons in a night attack was made on Adelheide, after which it was possible to press on to Delmenhorst which had been abandoned, The advance continued and the 43rd and 52nd Division were tasked to take Bremen. 154 Brigade were to give flank protection. While 154 Brigade were left to clear the Germans from the far bank of the River Wümme, the remainder of the Division were moved northwest to link with the Guards Armoured Division. The linkup was completed on May 1st at Westertimke.

Meanwhile 152 Brigade had fought a hard engagement at Ganderkese on the 20th and 21st April before moving up to Selsingen at the end of the month. 153 Brigade had moved also moved up at the end of the month to Horstedt.

On the 1st May, the Division began the assault on Bremervorde, which was to be the last battle for the Division. final Divisional Operational instruction 51st Highland Division OP INSTR No 60 issues on the 3rdMay.

154 Brigade Account - May 1945



1st May 1945 to 5th May 1945

THE final operation of the campaign started on 1st May, the Division being ordered to force a crossing over the River Oste at Bremervorde, which lies half way across the Weser and Elbe peninsula. After forcing this crossing the Division was to swing westwards and advance on and capture the well-known ports of Bremerhaven and Wesermunde. 152 Brigade started off the operation on the night of 1st May 'and secured a bridgehead over the Oste through which 153 Brigade passed the following day. They encountered stiff opposition and were engaged in heavy fighting throughout the day. 154 Brigade was then ordered to pass through 153 Brigade at first light on 3rd May and to advance on the axis Ebersdorf-Grossenhain-Lintig-Bederkesa. 7th Black Watch started off the Brigade advance followed by 7th Argylls who, by midnight, had entered Lintig. The enemy by now was offering only light resistance and a considerable number of prisoners were taken during the day. The main difficulties were the blown bridges and other demolitions, the approaches to which were, as usual, heavily mined.


Map of area, May 1945

At 06.15 hours on 4th May a Red Cross envoy came into the 7th Argylls area and stated that Bederkesa wished to surrender. It soon became apparent, however, that although the civilian population might be keen to surrender and save .their town from destruction, the enemy troops in it had no intention whatever of giving it up.

The Brigade Commander was, at this stage, ordered to proceed cautiously and it later transpired that this order had' originated from the Corps Commander, who was aware that surrender negotiations were proceeding at a high level and was anxious to avoid any unnecessary casualties at this final stage of the war. No indication at all, however, of any such surrender negotiations had reached the Brigade at this time.

1st Black Watch were ordered to prepare to launch an attack against Bederkesa and went ahead with the necessary reconnaissance of possible crossing places over the canal which runs in front of that town. The operation looked as if it might be an unpleasant and difficult one and Lieut. Col. J. A. Hopwood made careful and detailed preparations for it. Col. Hopwood had commanded the Battalion throughout the whole campaign with conspicuous success and great personal gallantry. He was the only one left of the three original Battalion commanding officers who had been with the Brigade when it landed in Normandy.

About mid-day on 4th May, a patrol from the Derbyshire Yeomanry, operating under Brigade command towards Rinkstedt, captured a number of prisoners, including a senior officer who turned out to be the commander of a 'German regiment fighting nearby. This officer was called upon to surrender the village of Rinkstedt to save it from destruction, but in reply stated that he was unable to do this as any surrender would have to be authorised by his Division which, he stated, was the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division. (Note-This was a resuscitated Afrika Korps Division, into which all survivors of the Afrika Korps had been placed and was recognised to be one of the finest fighting formations of the German Army.) The German officer indicated that his Divisional Commander might consider surrendering and he was accordingly instructed to return to his Division forthwith with a view to surrender negotiations being initiated. The reply from the 15th P.G. Division was a request that a British staff officer should be sent to its headquarters. This was refused and it was arranged that, if the enemy sent a properly qualified staff officer to 154 Brigade headquarters, a staff officer from that headquarters would be sent to the German Divisional headquarters to explain the unconditional surrender terms. A local truce was agreed on to cover the period during which negotiations would be taking place.

A senior staff officer from the P.G. Division then appeared and was. brought to Brigade headquarters where he was informed, by the Brigade Commander, of the terms of unconditional surrender, as laid down by the Supreme Allied Commander. The German officer replied that he knew these terms would be unacceptable to his commander and asked if he might state his commander's views which were as follows;-

15th Panzer Grenadier Division, although considerably weakened, was still a reasonably equipped and well-disciplined fighting formation which would sell its life dearly and was certainly still a force to be reckoned with. Although fully aware of the major war situation his commander had instructed him to point out that, if 15th P.G. Division continued to oppose the Allied advance, the struggle would be severe and would no doubt cause heavy casualties to both sides. Since this could in no way alter the ultimate outcome of the war he was anxious to avoid this unnecessary bloodshed, but in return he considered that, for several special reasons, he was entitled to request that certain exceptions should be made, in the case of his Division, to the surrender terms. (These reasons, when explained, turned out to be largely based on the well-known theme of German military honour). The German officer said that the British wireless admitted that the 15th P.G. Division was the only German field formation now fighting on German soil as a complete and orderly formation, and he drew attention to what he called "the long and honourable association in warfare" which had existed between 15th Panzer Grenadier Division and 51st Highland Division. (Note.-As previously stated the 15th P.G. Division was a resuscitated formation of the Afrika Korps. The original 15th Panzer Grenadier Division was one of the three best-known German Divisions in the Afrika Korps and it and 51st Division had many times been opposed to each other in the North African campaign.) For this reason his commander wished to put forward the suggestion that his Division be allowed to surrender as a formation and be given an area, within the Allied occupied territory, in which to assemble for disbandment and demobilisation. He also suggested that the Division should be employed as a formation on police duties within Germany after the war and that the officers be permitted to retain their revolvers.

The Brigade commander replied that the terms of surrender were those laid down by the Supreme Commander and that none of the special requests could be considered in any way whatever. The only possible exception might be with regard to surrendering as a formation and the Brigade Commander stated that, provided the Commander of 15th P.G. Division agreed to the terms of unconditional surrender, it would probably be possible to arrange for his Division to surrender as a formation in a specially allotted area for the purpose of being disarmed but that, once this was completed, no further responsibility as to its future fate could be undertaken. On no account would the German officers be allowed to retain their revolvers.

This completed the interview and it was agreed that, in order to facilitate further negotiations, officer representatives from both sides would remain in the village of Ringstedt which would be treated as neutral territory and from which all troops would be withdrawn. It was also agreed that the truce would continue until 22.00 hours by which time the emissary would return with the 15th P.G. Divisional Commander's answer. At 21.00 hours the RRe. announced the impending surrender of aH Field Marshall Busch's troops opposing 21st Army Group in North-West Germany. No information at all regarding this or, in fact, of any high level surrender negotiations taking place had yet been received through military channels. The German emissary returned at 22.00 hours and stated that his commander was unable to accept the terms of unconditional surrender but wished to prolong the truce until the results were known of the negotiations which were believed to be taking place between Field Marshal Montgomery and Admiral Friedeburg. The Germans appeared to be unaware of the wireless announcement that their army commander had surrendered and that a general cease-fire was to take effect as from 08.00 hours the following day, 5th May. This was accordingly communicated forthwith to the commander of the 15th P.G. Division and he was ordered, together with his Korps Commander, to meet the Brigade Commander at Ringstedt at 10.00 hours on 5th May to be conducted to a British headquarters, where they would receive orders from the Commander of 30th Corps. He was also informed that the existing unofficial truce would be extended until the general cease-fire at 08.00 hours the following morning. A message was received at 01.00 hours on 5th May confirming that these orders had been received by 15th P.G. Divisional Commander and that he and his Korps Commander would present themselves at Ringstedt as ordered.

No unforeseen events occurred during the night and the truce continued until the general cease-fire the following morning. The fighting activities of the Brigade in North-West Europe thus terminated almost exactly eleven months after the Brigade had landed in Normandy. During this period of eleven months fighting the Brigade had suffered 158 officer and 2231 other rank casualties, of which 38 officers and 419 other ranks had been killed. The latter figures, unfortunately, included many old and tried members of the Brigade who, before laying down their lives for their country in the course of the Brigade's long and arduous journey through Normandy, France, Belgium, Holland, and Germany, had, with the Brigade, taken part in the 8th Army's great and victorious battle which started at El Alamein on the night of 23rd October 1942; had fought through the western deserts of Egypt, Cyrenaica and Tripolitania; had helped to storm the Mareth Line and the Wadi Akarit; had swept through the rolling cultivated plains of Tunisia; had taken part in the great assault landing in Sicily, the first major combined operation of the 1939-45 War and the forerunner of the mightier assault to be carried out later in Normandy; and had fought through the hills, vineyards and olive groves of Sicily. These officers and men had shared to the full in the hard lot of the infantry soldier which, in all wars, is to fight on and on and on. It is appropriate, at this particular part of this narrative, to pay tribute to the splendid services rendered to the Brigade by its Field Ambulance-the 176th Highland Field Ambulance. But for the untiring, self-sacrificing and most efficient medical services provided for the Brigade at all times by this Field Ambulance, the proportion of casualties killed as against those who ultimately recovered would have been immensely higher. The Field Ambulance was commanded throughout the campaign by Lt. Col. H. G. H. Hope, M.C., who had served in the original 51st Division in France in 1940 as medical officer with 6th Black Watch. The Advance Dressing Station, through which practically all the Brigade's casualties were cleared, had throughout the campaign been in charge of Major A. R. Wilson, M.C.

AT 10.00 hours on 5th May the Brigade Commander, with an escort of armoured cars from the Derbyshire Yeomanry, met the German Generals at Ringstedt and escorted them to 51st Divisional headquarters. The German party consisted of Lieut. General Raspe, Commander Korps EMS; Major General Roth, Commander 15th Panzer Grenadier Division; a naval representative and several staff officers. At Divisional headquarters the terms of unconditional surrender were explained to the German commanders by the Chief of Staff of 30th Corps, The main points were as follows:-

(a) All German forces were to remain in the areas at present occupied by them and were to continue to be under command of their own officers for administration and discipline until disembodiment could be arranged.

(B) All ranks, including officers, were to be disarmed immediately and all arms, ammunition and military equipment were to be collected, dumped and handed over to British guards.

© All mines, booby traps and road blocks were to be removed and made safe and no further destruction of equipment, demolitions or evacuation of troops were to be carried out.

(d) All main roads and certain other minor roads were to be made serviceable immediately.

(e) Full details of the enemy Order of Battle, together with the location of all types of dumps of ammunition, supplies and equipment were to be furnished immediately.

These terms were accepted by the Germans who then returned to their own lines.

On 8th May the Brigade moved to an area east of Bremerhaven where it was to carry out the disarming of the German troops in that district.

With the fall of the town the Germans sued for peace and surrendered on the 5th May. Three days between the final German surrender on the 8th May 1945 - V.E Day.


The Handover of Bremerhaven

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Part Fifteen: Post War Years (1946 - 1967)

The Division was reformed in 1946 and continued for 21 years. In that time is commanders were:

1946 - 1949 : Major General C N Barber,CB, DSO

1949 - 1952 : Major General R K Arbuthnott, CB, CBE, DSO, MC

1952 - 1956 : Major General J Scott-Elliot, CB, CBE, DSO

1956 - 1959 : Major General E C Colville CB, DSO

1959 - 1962 : Major General F C C Graham, CBE, DSO

1962 - 1964 : Major General D B Lang DSO, MC

1964 - 1966 : Major General I A Robertson, MBE

1966 - 1967 : Major General E Maitland-Makgill-Crichton OBE

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Merging the regiments may have lost the traditions, but thankfully your posting keeps the memory alive.

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What an *excellent* post.

Well done.

Wonderful photos of Highland soldiers and pipers.

God bless 'em, none like 'em.

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Hi, I'm trying to trace my Dads WW2 footprints.

My Dad passed away in 2010 but never really spoke about the war only small parts in later years.

I'm 99% sure my Dad served as part of 242 Battery support unit (61st Anti-Tank RA) 51st Highland Division, although he did mention 193 Battery.

I also know my Dad served in North Africa campaign inc Tunisia etc (Desert rats)

He also served in Sicily campaign .

They returned from Sicily to UK and was stationed at High Wycombe where there prepared for D-Day

I'm sure My Dads regiment landed on Sword beach on d-Day+1

I know my Dad was injured during this time with shrapnel wounds from a. Mortar shell and was taken back to England to Hospital before he rejoined his regiment.

I'm not sure though about where or when my Dad was wounded although he told me it was at Caen and after treatment back in England he rejoined his regiment in Eindhoven ?

I still have to get this part confirmed.

My Dad met my Mom whilst billeted in Enschede Holland before his regiment pushed into Germany towards Bremen and later he must have returned back to Enschede because he married my Mom on 19-08-1946 in Enschede.

I would love to track my dads WW2 footprints so any help would be very gratefully accepted.

Thank you.

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