1st Battalion Worcestershire Regiment - Advance to the Rhine (March 1945)

March 1945 would be an eventful month for the 1st Battalion Worcestershire Regiment. The war in the west was nearing the end and the enemy were moving back. However, there were still pockets of strong resistance to overcome as the Battalion approached the banks of the River Rhine. The enemy was mainly made up of young German Paratroopers with unshakable morale; they fought stubbornly and often fanatically.

Early in March it became clear that the war was reaching a climax. From all fronts came convincing evidence of the enemy’s inevitable collapse. Already to the south the Americans had crossed the Rhine and were driving ahead at speed.

On the 6th March 1945 the German High Command ordered a withdrawal across the Rhine which was completed by the 10th. However, to protect their bridgehead they continued to hold places like Calcar, Marienbaum, Vynen, Wardt and Xanten on the west bank of the Rhine near Rees. This was to be a costly struggle for the 43rd Wessex Division and the Canadians, loosing some 400 men before the remaining German Paratroopers were driven out and across the Rhine.

The Worcesters were mainly involved in clearing the villages of Vynen and Wardt before eventually crossing the Rhine near Rees. On the other side of the river they were to fight a tough battle on a stretch of unfinished autobahn, which would prove costly in lives and wounded. This booklet tells the story of these events and how they affected the men of the Worcesters, including several personal accounts.

Advance to the Rhine

After a short rest in Cleve, following the hard fighting on the Goch escarpment, the 1st Battalion Worcestershire Regiment took over an area astride the Cleve-Calcar Road, about 2,000 yards short of Moyland, from the 4th Wiltshire Regiment, on the 26th February 1945. The enemy still held positions covering Calcar and indulged in occasional shelling, but otherwise the area was quiet.

Command of 43rd Wessex Division was temporarily assigned to the 2nd Canadian Corps and the role of the 43rd Division was to protect the left flank of the advancing Canadians’ infantry and take over as it was won by the Canadians.

So it was that in the late afternoon of the following day the Worcesters were ordered to relieve the South Saskatchewan Regiment (Canadian) on some high ground known as ‘Calcar Heights’ south-east of Calcar. This afterwards became known as ‘the pimple’. By 19.30 hours the changeover was complete. However, two companies of the South Saskatchewan Regiment were unable to move immediately as their supper did not arrive until 20.00 hours, due to a delay caused by the congested traffic on the roads.

For the next 3 days the Worcesters remained in this position and for the first time had a clear view of the Rhine which was about 4000 yards to the east. During the night they came under a little mortar fire and spandau fire. Patrols were sent forward to ensure that the buildings in the vicinity of the battalion positions were clear of enemy.

Cleve 1945

Moving out of the devastation of Cleve heading for Moyland

(Photo IWM)

Calcar Heights map 1945

Battalion HQ at Louisendorf and forward Companies occupying Calcar Heights
(27th February to 3rd March 1945)


Orders to take village of Vynen

On Sunday 3rd March orders were issued for an operation to seize and hold the village of Vynen, about three miles south-east, on the banks of the river itself. The village lay to the east of the axis and had already been by-passed by the advancing Canadians so that the object was really to protect their left flank and their line of communication.

Vynen map 1945

Route and positions of Battalion HQ and Companies ay Vynen

During the night a troop from the 43rd Reconnaissance Regiment was ordered by the Divisional Commander to find out as much as possible about the position in the village. By 05.00 hours the next morning they had occupied the outskirts of Vynen which appeared to be clear of the enemy. This was reported back to the Worcesters.

At 07.15 hours the Worcesters sent out a recce party and made contact with the troop of the 43rd Reconnaissance Regiment. This was followed an hour later by the marching party with the Carrier Platoon in the lead. The roads were churned up and very muddy which made the going difficult.

When the Carrier Platoon reached Vynen they found it was still occupied but they had no opposition and took three enemy prisoners. They reported the village was clear at 10.30 hours and the other companies moved up. ‘C’ Company took up a position at a crossroads about 400 yards from the village and ‘B’ Company passed through into the outskirts of the village. Battalion HQ remained in the rear at Haag about 1000 yards from the outskirts of Vynen. ‘A’ Company was now ordered to advance through the village and take up a defensive position on the eastern edge of Vynen. Finally ‘D’ Company moved into the centre of the village and took up a position by the church. By mid-day some fifty enemy who had been hiding in the village were taken prisoner.

During the afternoon there was a fair amount of shelling in the area but the battalion suffered no casualties. Three further prisoners were taken.

Private Thomas Scully batman to Captain Percy Huxter of ‘D’ Company recalls the events:
“Once we were in the village our company command post was set up in the cellar of a farmhouse near the village church. We encountered very little opposition but found small groups of the enemy hiding in houses which we took prisoner. Near our position in a field there were a number of sheep wandering about. I went out with Private Joe Bainbridge (Major Elder’s batman) and shot one which we had for dinner that night. This made a welcome change from our normal rations.”

Vynen aerial view

Aerial Photo showing positions of Battalion HQ and ‘C’ Company positions on the outskirts of Vynen


Once the Worcesters were firmly established in Vynen a troop from ‘B’ Squadron of the 43rd Reconnaissance Regiment passed through and headed towards Wardt. They discovered an enemy post had blown a bridge just outside Vynen and arranged for the Sappers of 204 Field Company to bridge the gap. Immediately the enemy fired on the Sappers but they were quickly silenced by the Reconnaissance Regiment troop. Shortly after this ‘C’ Squadron took over from ‘B’ Squadron who were ordered to probe towards Wardt with a patrol. A crater was found near the village and the enemy opened fire wounding the officer.

Later that evening, 214 Brigade, which had been informed of the result of this patrol towards Wardt, contacted the C.O. of 43rd Reconnaissance Regiment to say that no further regimental patrolling should be carried out that night as the Brigade proposed to patrol down the Marienbaum-Xanten road and to occupy Wardt during the hours of darkness. This was a job for the Worcesters.

During the night the Worcesters sent out a strong fighting patrol led by Lieut. Stride and moved forward towards the village of Wardt, about 2000 yards south-east, with the object of testing the enemy’s strength and discovering his dispositions. On ap¬proaching the western edge of the village the patrol was heavily engaged by light machine gun fire and Lieut. Stride was mortally wounded. The patrol then withdrew back to Vynen and reported the situation.

It was decided that no further action should be taken that night and so the Worcesters rested and prepared for a full battalion advance in the morning. During the night Vynen came under some enemy shelling and mortar fire but luckily suffered no casualties.

Corporal Dick Pigneguy, signaller attached to ‘D’ Company recalls:
“During the night I was in the cellar of a damaged house with a group of other men. During the night we heard a scraping sound coming from the stairs we thought it might be a German. I nudged my mate who grabbed his sten gun ready to fire. I flashed my torch up the stairs and to our surprise we saw a big horned goat. The goat was covered in manure and stank abominably. Try as we could to get him out of the cellar we failed so he stayed and we went above ground for the rest of the night.”

Corporal Dick Pigneguy


Hazards of Wardt

The next morning (5th March) following an ‘O’ Group at 09.30 hours a Recce patrol from ‘D’ Company was ordered to move forward and check a gap in the road and to find out if Wardt was still occupied. At 11.30 hours they reported the all clear and at 13.30 hours ‘C’ Company on the right and ‘B’ Company on the left advanced on Wardt. During the advance ‘C’ Company found the body of Lieut. Stride on the edge of an enemy slit trench. An hour later both companies had established positions in Wardt. Static patrols were then set up on the river bank over looking the Rhine.

On the following morning the difficult task began of evacuating some 500 civilians from Wardt, this was finally completed at 17.00 hours.

View of church used by Captain Huxter and Private Scully at Wardt (photo Louis Scully collection)
(note damage to church roof and there are a number of dead cattle in the field)

The two forward companies and the Mortar Platoon were now firmly dug in in the centre of the village with company HQ’s located in the cellars of houses. ‘D’ Company remained left rear with the Carrier Platoon at the entrance to the village. ‘A’ Company remained back at the eastern edge of Vynen.

Capt. Percy Huxter

Captain Percy Huxter

Captain Percy Huxter Second-in-Command of ‘D’ Company with his batman Private Thomas Scully used the spire of the church in Wardt as an observation post over looking the Rhine.

Captain Huxter recalls:
“On the far side of the river we could see tanks, troop movement and Germans digging in, preparing for any possible attack. I reported this back and was eventually put directly in touch with our Artillery support. I gave them all the necessary information and had the pleasure of directing the gunfire on to various targets. This lasted for some three quarters of an hour and much damage was done. However, the Germans eventually became aware of our position and two shells whizzed towards us. We quickly scrambled down to safety and reported back to Company HQ.”

Some shelling continued in the area of the battalion but luckily no casualties were suffered. During the night of the 6th, ‘B’ Company sent a strong recce patrol to Gut Grindt to check for any remaining enemy and found it clear apart from some local civilians.

On the 7th March the British Artillery started shelling the eastern bank of the Rhine. This resulted in some enemy shelling of Wardt near the church.

At 05.00 hours the next morning the forward companies of the 5th Wiltshire Regiment concentrated on the outskirts of Wardt in preparation for their attack towards Luttingen the next day. It was known that this area was still occupied by German paratroops.
Enemy shelling of Wardt continued during the morning, luckily the forward companies suffered no casualties. However, Major Freddie Hughes commanding ‘A’ in the rear east of Vynen was wounded and had to be evacuated to hospital.

The 9th was a relatively quiet day in the morning allowing some well earned rest for the men. Armed escorts were also provided for Royal Engineer Officers who were required to recce the river bank for take-off and bridging sites.

In the evening at 21.00 hours a standing patrol of 10 Platoon, ’B’ Company received a direct hit by a shell killing Privates Quinlan and Mott outright and wounding three other men. This was due to the reaction of the German artillery as the 5th Wiltshires advanced towards Luttingen and met heavy resistance.

Major T. F. Hughes

Major Freddie Hughes

Wardt 1945

Village of Wardt – house in the centre rear used as ‘D’ Company HQ
(Photo Louis Scully private collection)

Captain Peter Hall (second-in-command of ‘B’ Company) recalls this time:
“During the afternoon we endured German artillery and mortar fire lasting at least two hours. The 5th Wiltshires had concentrated in our area and had launched an attack which met strong resistance from the Germans and had invited a heavy artillery barrage on to our positions. The Company was on full alert because having provided back-up fire for the Wiltshires advance, there were all the signs that all was not going well with the attack. During the night after ensuring that all our defences were sound, I went back to Company HQ where I was joined by Rex Fellows, the subaltern commanding 12 Platoon.”

It was during this time that Private Steve Rogers recalls the following incident:
“At the time I was the signaller with ‘B’ Company HQ. We were set up in the cellar of a farmhouse in the centre of Wardt. The company commander was Major John Ricketts and his second-in-command was Captain Peter Hall. It was during the night that one of our men brought in a German Paratroop Officer who had come into our lines under a white flag. He was brought down into the cellar. It turned out that came to arrange a possible temporary ceasefire so as to attend to the wounded and request some drugs.

As soon as Captain Hall saw this officer it became clear that they new each other, they had both been to the same public school in happier times. The German Officer was Hauptmann Gerhardt Milner the son of a German diplomat who had been posted to the German Embassy in London before the war.

As this request could not be sanctioned at company level I was told to send a message back to our battalion HQ with a request of what action should be taken. They in turn contacted 214 Brigade who then contacted the Divisional Commander Major-General Thomas. All this took a long time.

Whilst waiting for a reply Captain Hall invited Hauptmann Milner to a glass of wine and sat at the table talking about happier times. Lieut. Rex Fellows (12 Platoon) was also present. However, when Lieut. Ken Hill (10 Platoon) entered the cellar he could not bring himself to joining them and turned away, as he had seen two of his men killed and three wounded earlier that night.

Corporal Steve Rogers

Pte. Steve Rogers

Captain Peter Hall

Capt. P. Hall

Lt. Ken Hill

Lieut. Ken Hill

Eventually, some time after midnight a reply came back from the Divisional Commander saying ‘There will be no ceasefire or drugs and the German Officer should be taken prisoner.' Major Ricketts reaction was that we could not do that due to the terms of the Geneva Convention regarding the white flag of truce. Major Ricketts then spoke to Battalion HQ on the radio and asked if the Divisional Commander would reconsider as the German Officer was protected by the terms of the Geneva Convention. After another period of time a message came back from the Divisional Commander saying; ‘There would still be no ceasefire or drugs but the German gentleman was to be escorted back to a safe spot between the lines and released’

Following this Captain Hall and Lieut. Fellows escorted Hauptmann Milner back to the companies forward lines and after saluting let him walk back in the darkness to his own lines.”

On the 10th March, ‘B’ and ‘C’ established Traffic Control Posts at the two main entrances into Wardt so as to reduce movement in the battalion area. Only the minimum essential traffic was allowed.

From then onwards during the remainder of their stay the battalion was to witness the intense preparations for the Rhine crossing. Teams of counter-battery and counter-mortar spotters arrived and sat for hours in the top storeys of the buildings.

A smoke screen was laid along the east bank of the Rhine by huge generators manned by the Pioneer Corps, obscuring all the feverish activity from view from the east side. During this period the German artillery targeted the church spires at Vynen and Wardt as they were obvious look out positions for the British.

Rest and training at Afferden

On the 12th March the battalion was relieved by 6th Highland Light Infantry (52nd Lowland Division) and moved back in troop carrying vehicles to a so-called rest area at Afferden, about six miles south of Gennep, in Holland.

The moved commenced at 08.30 hours in small groups at 10 minute interval. There was a long halt made south of the Xanten-Goch crossroads before finally moving off again at 13.00 hours.

The route to Afferden lay directly through the now shattered defences of the Siegfried Line and it took the battalion from the Rhine back to the east bank of the Maas. They drove through the Hochwald forest where the 4th Canadian Armoured Division had fought so stoutly, and where the road was strewn with staring corpses and knocked-out vehicles of both sides. Then on through the once heavily fortified towns of Uden and Weeze with their network of defensive positions and vast entanglements of wire, but which now lay in smouldering ashes. The roads were cratered and pitted with shell-holes, and the trees which lined them were naked and askew.

Smoke Generator

Smoke generators laying down screen before and during the Rhine crossing
(Photo IWM BU1951)

Afferden was something between a large village and a small town. It is directly on the east bank of the Maas, about six miles south of Gennep and seven miles south-west of Goch. It had been in-corporated in the German front line during the whole period of the winter, and that is precisely what it looked like. It had received constant attention from our own gunners for a long time, and the only comparatively whole building in the place was occupied by a detachment of Royal Army Service Corps who had arrived there before the Worcesters. Everything else was in such a battered condition that it could only absorb Battalion Headquarters and ‘Sp’ Company in anything like weather-proof accommodation, and the remainder of the Battalion was therefore forced to shelter in two-man bivouac tents in the neighbouring fields.

Afferden area map

Military map showing location of Afferden


Lieut. Ronald Henry Jauncey

Lieut. Ronald Henry Jauncey

However, it was a rest and the weather was gloriously fine. Baths, cinema shows and E.N.S.A. shows were laid on in Gennep and in Afferden itself: A good deal of training was carried out on the surrounding heathland and each Company practised working with the much modified Wasp flame-throwers. Drivers drove their vehicles on and off improvised rafts and Buffaloes on the Maas, and the unfortunate Signals 15-cwt. was unlucky enough to run over an undetected mine whilst doing so. This did no lasting damage to the driver of the truck, but the vehicle itself was a sorry sight.

Another incident which happened during the stay was when Lieut. Ron Jauncey was accidentally hit by an ammunitions truck. As the truck passed it caught the spade in his backpack knocking him to ground and he was run over by a back wheel. After being taken to the R.A.P. for treatment he was eventually evacuated back to the U.K. on the 17th March.

Major J. D. Ricketts

Major J. D. Ricketts

At an investiture on 18th March, Major John Ricketts received the D.S.O., and Sergt. Robert Edwards and Pte. Charles Dayus the M.M.

On the 19th the Commanding Officer Lieut.-Col Tim Hope-Thomson left for the United Kingdom for a few weeks leave and to get married, and Major Gordon Reinhold, M.C., Second-in-Command of the Battalion, assumed command.


Captain Donald Yewdall Watson
Captain Donald Yewdall Watson
Sergeant Bob Edwards
Private Charles "Scatty" Dayus


On the 22nd the battalion practised moving into a marshalling area, crossing an obstacle and regrouping tactically on the other side. An advance party consisting of Capt. ‘Doc’ Watson, who had now taken Command of ‘Sp’ Company, a driver and a signaller with an 18 set wireless, was selected and briefed.

By day the clear skies were full of medium and light bombers, rocket bearing planes and pursuit craft, and each night the darkness throbbed to the pulsating engines of the heavies heading for the Rhine.

Worcestershire Regt. men 1945

Lt. Rex Fellows, Lt. Dan Pullen, Lt. Les Crossingham, Lt. Jerry Millinson, Lt. Ken Hill
And Major Bryan Elder (kneeling at the front)

(Photo Louis Scully private collection, photo taken at Afferden by his father Private Thomas Scully)

Crossing the Rhine

The code-word for the crossing of the Rhine was originally ‘Operation Plunder’, but for some reason this was later judged to be ill chosen and the name was changed to ‘Turnscrew’.

30 Corps, of which 43rd (Wessex) Division had been a part since Normandy days, was to cross in the area of Rees. It consisted of Guards Armoured Division, 51st (Highland) Division, 43 (Wessex) Division, 3rd Canadian Division, 8th Armoured Brigade, and one Brigade of 71st Armoured Division (Funnies). Those who had seen this sort of combination before knew that the Corps was out to draw everything that it could against it in order to make a weak spot elsewhere for someone else to go through, and knowing what that meant, visualized some hard fighting.

On the 23rd an intensive artillery barrage pounded the enemy positions over the Rhine throughout the day. A dense smoke-screen was also laid down all along the Rhine to cover the activity of the advance and the bridge building of the Sappers.

Saturday 24th March was a cloudless day and just before 10.00 hours the great armada of the 18th Airborne Corps appeared overhead. Some 4000 aircraft heading towards the Rhine. As they flew over the Worcesters position by the river Maas at Afferden, the men cheered wildly.

The battalion was now put at two hours’ notice to move as from 11.00 hours on the 25th, but this was cancelled the next day and the timing extended to 18.00 hours. This was also cancelled, and at an ‘O’ Group held at 18.00 hours it was learned that there was no move before 05.45 hours on the 26th. All this uncertainty caused a certain amount of upheaval and it was with relief that the column drew out of Afferden at 16.00 hours on the 26th and headed for its assembly area at Marienbaum, a mile or so from the river bank and near the village of Vynen.

129th Brigade had already crossed the Rhine in buffaloes in the early hours. Shortly after daylight the Sappers had completed a Class 9 bridge, aptly named ‘Waterloo Bridge’, over the river about half a mile downstream from Rees.

Class 9 bridge, Rees 1945

Class 9 bridge “Waterloo Bridge” half a mile downstream from Rees
(Photo IWM)

The complicated process of passing the break-out formations over this bridge was extremely highly organized and very skilfully carried out. Each Unit was allotted a block of serial numbers for its vehicles and marching troops; the assembly areas were clearly defined, well signed and policed; and the routes to the crossing site were named and lighted so that the whole thing worked like a well-oiled machine.

Eventually the Worcesters were called (by their serial number) by Bank Control, an organization manned by the Royals, whose job it was to co-ordinate all movement across the river. The vehicles went first and all except the Armoured Command vehicle, which crossed by Buffalo, drove slowly over the 300 yards of floating bridge. They were followed by the marching troops and by 05.30 hours on the 27th and after passing through Rees, the whole battalion was concentrated in a field in the area of Esserden, about a mile and a half north-west of Rees. Congestion around Esserden was now critical with the whole of 214 Bridage were now concentrated in an area no larger than a football ground.

Rhine to Esserden

1st Battalion Worcestershire route across the Rhine to Esserden

The early morning mist had already passed with the promise of yet another fine day. The freakish, spell of warm weather still held. At a Brigade ‘O’ Group, held at 09.00 hours, the acting commanding officer (Major G. G. Reinhold, M.C.) learned that 214 Brigade were to advance through 129 Brigade and clear a stretch of ground about a mile and a half north-east of Millingen. It’s main feature a partially constructed autobahn, running along a sandy ridge covered with spruce woods on the far side. Enemy paratroopers were heavily dug-in and posed a threat to the Divisions advance to Isselburg.

Major G. Reinhold

Major Gordon Reinhold


British Troops Rees 1945

Troops passing through Rees after crossing the Rhine (Photo IWM)


Private Alan George

Private Alan George

The farthest point of the semi-circular perimeter of the Divisional bridgehead now rested on Millingen.

The Worcesters now moved out of their concentration area at Esserden and headed north passing through Speldrop and Bienen and finally arriving at Millingen. The village of Millingen had already been captured by 5th Dorsets of 130 Brigade the day before. It was clear from the burning ruins that there had been some heavy fighting.

Private Alan George of ‘D’ Company recalls:

“On arriving we found the Dorsets out of their slit trenches enjoying the sunshine, for it was a lovely day. One of our lads asked ‘Whats it been like?’ to which someone replied, ‘It’s been a doddle.’ We listened with a certain amount of relief. However, this quickly changed when we saw our task ahead.”

Battalion HQ was now set up in Millingen and preparations were being made for the attack. The Company commanders were given details and the area at Hutte, about 1000 yards south-east of Millingen was designated as the start-line.

The task was to seize a stretch of Autobahn about 2000 yards to the north in the area called Vehlinger Birge.