Information about: 5619202 MASON DC

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Information about: 5619202 MASON DC

Postby jcmason » Fri Jul 26, 2013 8:27 pm

Firstly thanks for letting me join the Forum, I hope I'm able to contribute in the future.
now to my questions:
Some background from his service records:
My late father enlisted into 1st Devons in Jan 1937, and spent the next few year in India, then Ceylon and finally into Burma, where he was injured July 43 and shipped back to UK in Feb 44.
He was eventually posted to 44 RHU (Reinforcement Holding Unit I think) 12/11/44 and embarked UK for NWE.
On 26/11/44 he was transferred to 1 Worcestershire Regt.
His Service and Casualty form for the period is a bit thin on information and seems to have been written up mostly in one go, judging from the handwriting, so I'm not attaching too much value to the accuracy of the dates, I can post a copy of the form if it will help.
Next he was wounded 15/4/45, spent some time in hospital and a spell at 2226 POW Camp, as part of the guard force I imagine.
Eventually discharged 21/04/46.
9 years service or thereabouts and clearly thought at the time that he had done his bit.
Sept 1953, re-enlists on a new 22 year engagement in the RASC, stayed in until taking redundancy in 1967, total service in the region of 23 years.

My father wouldn't speak about his war years, expect in very small bits, for example, when I was stationed in Germany my parents visited and we were driving towards Aachen, an area that he said "he had some experience of", end of conversation.
Also same trip, we were driving from Wildenrath towards Geilenkirchen and he saw the sign for Tripsrath, he said, something along the lines of "what a s**thole of a place, we had a bad time there", end of conversation.
Sadly my father died some years ago so I now cant sit him down and beat the stories out of him over a bottle of malt!!
So, can anyone identify which company/platoon my Dad would have joined, if I can find that out I can place him in the right sort of place according to the war diaries.

Thanks in advance for any snippets of information that will help me put together his story for his grandchildren.
jcmason
 
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Re: Information about: 5619202 MASON DC

Postby scully » Mon Jul 29, 2013 1:52 pm

Your father was wounded on the 15th April 1945 at fighting around Ahlhorn crossroads, Germany, just after the 1st Worcesters crossed the River Lethe.

I think your father was with 17 Platoon of D' Company (commanded by Lieut. Les Crossingham).

The fighting was over the period 14th and 15th April 1945. Below are some personal accounts of that period which may be of interest:

Major Peter G. Hall (Officer Commanding 'A' Company) recalls:

"The time was mid-April 1945. The 43rd Division was heading towards Bremen. 1st Battalion Worcestershire Regiment was the leading Battalion of the Division. The Divisional axis of advance was along a single road.

The vanguard Company was ‘D’ under Major Bryan Elder. The follow-up was A Company under me. Then came the Battalion HQ and the reserve Companies ‘B’ and ‘C’. The route was through typical NW European pine forest. This was not good country for deployment - particularly for the squadron of tanks from the 13/18th Hussars - under command of our Battalion.

Bryan, with ‘D’ Company found the vanguard Company’s work frustrating and hazardous, hard work. Along this single axis they had to contend with mines, road blocks, booby-traps and a periodic mortaring from the enemy; with the occasional sniper thrown in for good measure.

Naturally, progress was slower than we would have wished. However, towards evening, ‘D’ Company had reached the river Lethe which was approximately 20 yards wide with steep banks on either side. Needless to say, the retreating enemy had blown the bridge. There was no possibility that Brian could get his supporting tanks across this obstacle until the bridge had been repaired. Neither could he get his carrier-towed anti-tank guns across. He did manage to get his Infantry Company, over to the east bank and establish a shallow bridgehead. A fine achievement!

I, as the follow-up Company Commander decided that I would explore the possibilities of crossing the river further up-stream. I was lucky. We found a fordable crossing about 400 yards from the bridge. Not only did ‘A’ Company cross without incident, but my supporting troop of tanks got across as well. Unfortunately, this was not the case with my 17-pounder towed anti-tank guns. The first carrier got stuck in the mud, effectively blocking the ford.

Nevertheless, we were in business! I could support Brian on his right flank. We had, also, got three tanks with us.

Brian and I had reported to the CO by wireless who ordered us to establish a bridgehead east of the river and astride the road. As this was well past last light, we anticipated that we should stay until morning.

During the night, the admirable Sappers came forward to repair the bridge. They could not do this, however, because there was a continuous and very accurate artillery and mortar bombardment from the enemy on the bridge site. This caused considerable casualties to life and equipment.

At this stage, I should explain my Company positions. Approx. 50 yards east of the ford was a very impressive stone-built farmhouse - the Big House. 50 yards east of that was another and smaller house which had probably been the home of the farm manager. 20 yards in front of this house was a post and rail fence. Then there was the pine forest, extending for approx. another 200 yards.

I had established ‘A’ Company’s two forward platoons on the edge of the forest and Company HQ in the manager’s building. My reserve platoon was a very fortifiable position - the Big House itself.

Having visited and approved the forward platoon positions, I plotted with my Artillery forward Observation Officer our defensive and SOS Artillery tasks. By this time it was 0200 hours and I was dead tired. I tried to snatch a little sleep. I got it - for about 15 minutes!

First, the enemy opened up his artillery ‘hate’ on the Sappers who were trying to rebuild the bridge. Then, my CO, over the wireless, commanded me that it was imperative that we should open the ford again. This was so that the general advance should continue early the next day.

Using the ford, we had found, and with the expertise of our tank comrades, we managed to shove the carrier and its 17 pounder anti-tank gun out of the way. This enabled our ‘A’ Echelon, (the cooks and the food) under Company Sergeant Stringer to cross the ford. Bringing with them our recently joined battalion medical officer, who was Captain J. McKendrick RAMC.

Subsequent events would make me thank God for both of them.

All of this activity involved us until about 0500 hours under periodic artillery and mortar fire. By this time Company Sergeant Stringer and his cooks had, with the skill of long practice, started to brew up breakfast.

We never had the opportunity to sample it! At about 0545 hours, there was a tremendous artillery thunder on my forward platoon positions. This was followed by massive enemy infantry and tank assault.

Coming out from my Company HQ I saw our forward platoon soldiers running back. Hastily, I organised new forward positions in and around the manager’s house. I transferred my signallers back to the main house. Unfortunately, they were both killed in the process. The wireless was destroyed. This had been our only link. Effectively, we were on our own!

To quote Major-General Essame in his book ‘History of the 43rd (Wessex) Division in NW Europe' :- “For the next two hours the battle raged through the woods.”

I cannot recall the full details of this battle. I rememeber ‘A’ Company and its supporting troops. They were superb. I was very busy! How? I will give a summary.

1. The new forward positions in and around the manager’s bungalow, had to be shell scrapes. There was no time to dig slit trenches. Furthermore, I felt that my personal presence during their hasty re-organisation was required to give a renewed confidence to the soldiers who had been badly shaken by the ferocity and strength of the enemy’s initial attack.

2. Two German Tiger tanks started to advance down the fire - break in the pine forest with supporting infantry advancing through the woods. Our own tanks were not ideally positioned to deal with this impressive threat. As I have explained, tanks are, almost, blind in forested areas. They need a guide dog to re-position them. That canine commander could only be – me, - on foot!

3. The enemy Commander had, already, revealed that he had two Tiger tanks at his disposal. Might he have more? If he had, then I assessed that he would deploy them against ‘D’ Company who, you will remember, had at that stage, no tanks or anti—tank guns.

If this unfortunate scenario was correct - and my opponent was a skilled and adventurous commander, then he could have sliced through ‘D’ Company like a knife through butter - and attacked and destroyed my final bastion, the Big House. Thus destroying the whole bridgehead.

I had one anti-tank gun stuck in the river. But, the ford was open and I had two more which I could deploy. I sited them facing north of the Big House to contain, hopefully, this possible threat. Thankfully, this never materialised.

Subsequently, I discovered that the enemy battle group Commander had had only two Tigers at his disposal and that he had made a disastrous, for him, tactical mistake in the way in which he had used them. He had committed them to woods rather than into the more open country on front of ‘D’ Company. This fatal tactical error lost him the battle.

This was why I was very busy! All of this to-ing and fro-ing was in open country with lots of lead flying about. I was very lucky to get off unscathed.

A Final Comment

In an engagement of this intensity, many brave men gave their lives on both sides. Amongst them was my forward platoon Commander, Lieutenant ‘Smudger’ Smith. It was particularly sad that Lieutenant Smith was a recent re-inforcement. This, alas, was his first and only battle with the 1st Worcestershire Regiment.

On examination of the German dead, it was interesting to note that they came from a number of different units. There were Luftwaffe ground troops, members of Panzer units, a sprinkling of Waffen SS and Wehrmacht soldiers.

Later, intelligence reports indicated that the enemy’s last and final fling in a major counter-attack on the Wessex had resulted in the entire destruction of a German battle group. (See Note)

Viewing the aftermath of battle, my emotions were very similar to those which I had experienced after the Autobahn affair. Elation and sadness. Elation because, once again, ‘A’ Company had done a great work. Sadness, because of the lives which had been lost on both sides. Some of the German dead could not have been much older than 15. Some of them were pushing 50."

NOTE

It was a great tribute to German flexibility that, after consistent destruction of conventional units, divisions, regiments, etc., they reorganised into battle groups of about 800-1000 men. These groups, as I have indicated, contained a variety of troops from different units and were supported by artillery and mortar fire, and with tank support.

They did not have, obviously, the cohesion of a unit which had fought and trained together over a period of time. BUT, a battle-group, like a scorpion, has a sting in the tail. I know; I have experienced both!

After this particular battle, Germany’s last serious counter-attack of the war on 43rd Division, we took numerous prisoners. There were also, I was told, between 400-600 enemy dead. Also, one Tiger tank, - in front of our defences.

This was their final fling and it failed. Thanks to you all! ‘A’ Company, 1st Worcestershire Regiment, and our supporting troops from 13/18th Hussars. With the reliable and accurate support from the Divisional Artillery and Jock Bannister’s mortar platoon plus the left flank support from ‘D’ Company, Brian Elder was wounded in the neck in this engagement, and took no further part in the campaign.

EPILOGUE
During this battle there was a lot of hot metal flying about. In the big farmhouse there were some German civilians. One very young German female got in the way of this fire and was shot through the left breast. The doctor dealt with this with calm efficiency. For some strange reason, I was horrified. I was used to the sight of bullets on male bodies and had experienced this myself. The sight of musketry on mammaries was something else!

Two years after the war, I was teaching tactics at the Rhine Army Training Centre. Part of the programme was to conduct the students on battle-field tours which the instructors had personally experienced.

This battle was one of my assignments. I visited the site 24 hours in advance of the student tour.

I knocked on the door of the Big House. It was opened by the lady who had been shot. We recognised each other immediately. This was not surprising because we had shared a traumatic time.

She grinned at me and asked me to enter. In English.

The house was miraculously restored. She offered me a Schnapps which I happily accepted.
_________________________________________

Account by Private Alan George (16 Platoon, 'D' Company) recalls:

“16 Platoon were briefed on the morning (14th April 1945) as to what we were to achieve. We were told that in front of us was a road and the objective was to get to these crossroads and debus, dig in and hold the crossroads at all costs.

Actually it was all of ‘D’ Company but 16 Platoon was to lead. When we arrived at the start point we were met on the road by 3 Sherman tanks in-line and 3 Kangaroos (Armoured Personnel Carriers).

16 Platoon were then ordered to get into the Kangaroos. Lead by the 3 tanks we proceeded a short distance and formed a protective shield around the first tank.

Not long before there was another attempt by a German anti-tank crew to interrupt our progress but they were successfully dealt with. We continued to make steady progress down this road – on either side there was dense woodland.
The next thing we encountered was a solid timber road block which was about 8 feet high blocking the whole road. Engineers then went forward to make sure it was safe from mines and they also dealt with the road block.

We then proceeded further up the road at a steady pace. The next thing the road was blown in front of us, a great big bomb crater. We stopped. A bulldozer was off- loaded from a low loader and came forward and repaired the road and then withdrew and we then carried on.

We went on further down the road when another German anti-tank crew tried to get one of our lead tanks but was successfully dealt with. Further down the road we stopped again and the tank commander of the lead tank, with his binoculars, spotted a German scout car ahead. The tank fired, missing with the first two shots but hit it with the 3rd.

When we advanced further down the road we found the destroyed German scout car with bodies strewn around it, no one was alive. We then continued and finally came to the bridge which had been blown. This was the river Lethe (8 to 10 foot wide).
No more fire came from the enemy.

At this point 17 Platoon took over the lead from 16 Platoon and someone did a recce down the banks of the river and found a small wooden bridge further to the right. After being checked by the tank commander, 3 tanks managed to get across
After getting over the river we veered left to get back on the road we were supposed to be on. We then passed a big house which had been a maternity home, it had been evacuated. It was now late in the day. The adjutant came up in a jeep and brought congratulations from the Battalion C.O. to Major Elder and said he could call it a day and hold his ground. However, Major Elder said he would carry on – this did not go down well with the lads and there were a few groans. We then proceeded past the big house along a lane which led to the main road. After we passed the big house we stopped.

By this time, 17 Platoon had already gone on ahead of us and had reached the main road, crossed it and made their way to a farmhouse on the far side of the road in some woodland.

The Major was still with us and decided he wanted to make sure that 17 Platoon were secure and bedded down for the night. He only got as far as the main road when a Spandua opened up and then there was the call for the stretcher-bearers to go forward, which they did. They came back carrying a man and as they passed us the lads said ‘who is it?’ They said it was the Major. They took him to the big house where the cellar was being used as a R.A.P.

Captain Percy Huxter who was with us told us to dig-in, it was now getting dark so we took shelter for the night in a wooded area. At this point our officer of 16 Platoon came forward. Joe Sharp and myself (Alan George) and were No.1 and No.2 on the PIAT. The officer told me to come with him and took me up to the road, turned left towards the bridge and said this is where I will be. I left him there and went back to join Joe Sharp. The engineers came up during the night and started to build a bridge across the river but they were continually shelled by the Germans. We later learned that the engineers had to abandon their work due to the shelling.

The next morning Joe and I were on stag in our slit trench and then I heard the rattle of machine gun fire coming from where 17 Platoon were, so I went up the road to our officer, he was still fast asleep, after waking him, I told him there was a counter attack coming in. I then went back to Joe. A little bit later some troops from 17 Platoon started to come back shouting ‘Tanks, Tanks !’ Some of the lads of 16 Platoon were also getting nervous. The officer came up to us and said ‘you two bring the PIAT’, Joe said he was ill so I went on my own with the officer. I was now promoted to No.1 on the PAIT and the officer came with me to find a No.2. I was then taken back up lane and placed in the middle of the road with my back to the bridge, I now had a No. 2, a young 17 year old lad. There was no one to cover us and we lay there waiting for these tanks to appear. We could still hear firing in the distance coming from the area where 17 Platoon were.

A tank was on the road out of sight firing its machine gun into the verges at the sides of the road. It was when bullets were whistling down the road that I decided to take cover. So I went back down the lane to try and rejoin the rest of 16 Platoon, but I couldn’t find them. I went back to the big house to see if I could see anyone at the house. Everyone was packed into the cellar.

The German tanks were now in front of the house in what was a stable yard, there were 3 tanks.

I stayed around the house and was at the back of the house when all of a sudden the front of the house exploded. Previous to that Private Scully the batman to Captain Huxter and a despatch rider had engaged this tank with small arms fire.

The German in response fired an armoured plated shell through the building which decapitated the despatch rider and left Private Scully looking like a red snowman as he was covered in red brick dust.

I was still behind the house at this time and I could hear the sound of trucks approaching - over the wooden bridge came a jeep and then a 15 cwt, straight in front of me. I told them that there was a counter attack going on. The Quartermaster Sergeant who was in the jeep jumped out with his revolver and ran off in the direction of the road, he also gave the order for the jeep and the 15 cwt to go back over the bridge – that was our breakfast arriving!!
I was still in the area behind the house and then over to our right was ‘A’ Company.

Two ‘A’ Company men appeared with a prisoner and they were bringing him towards the R.A.P. (the big house) one of the Germans had half his face blown away and yet he was still walking. They took him down to the cellar in the house. I later learnt that this German died.

17 Platoon were still in the farmhouse on the far side of the main road. When it got light they noticed that their position had been overlooked by the Germans and when the German counter attack came in, this is what caused them to withdraw to the farmhouse as they were exposed. The sergeant took charge of the men that were still left and organised them in the farmhouse. He placed bren guns in the doorways and windows and the rest of the men used to fill the bren gun magazines.

During the night 17 Platoon were attacked by a tank with infantry. The tank fired but the shell luckily struck a tree and exploded. The tank then tried to move into a better position to get a better view to fire again. However, the second shot also hit a tree and exploded. The German tank commander decided to poke his head out of the turret to get a better view. The sergeant fired a shot at him and the German commander ducked back into the tank. The next time he raised his head he was shot by the sergeant and the German commander slumped over the turret and was pulled inside and the tank withdrew. The German infantry were then left without a tank in support so they came in and surrendered.”

__________________________________

Account by Major Bryan Elder (Commanding 'D' Company) recalls:

Ahlhorn Crossroads was our next objective, and “D” Company led the advance clearing craters and road blocks etc., until we reached the line of the River Lethe about 2000 yards short of Ahlhorn Crossroads. The bridge across the River Lethe was blown up and there was no possibility of our tanks proceeding further. However, No. 17 Platoon managed to wade through the River and gain a strong bridgehead in a farmhouse area left of the bridge crater, in spite of heavy enemy fire. To the right there was an imposing house (which turned out to be a maternity hospital) and there was a somewhat inferior bridge for light vehicles to get to the house. We secured the area round the house and I took a Tank Officer to inspect the possibility of using the bridge to get a tank across the river to support our troops. He said he would attempt to get across, and to my relief he was successful. He took up a position at the far side of the river whose main
bridge had been blown up. We then had a bridgehead over the River Lethe.

I remember suddenly realising that I might well have forgotten to tell the Tank Commander that our No. 17 Platoon held the farmhouse to the left, so I went to the tank to use the speaker unit on the left side of the tank and to the rear. The next moment I was bowled over by automatic fir from down the road from the enemy. Fortunately there was a ditch, and I lay helpless. The bravery of the Stretcher Bearers now became apparent as they came with their red and white flag and stretcher and carried me to the area of the maternity home from where I was able to hand over the tricky (to say the least) situation. To my eternal disgrace, when a lady Nurse from the maternity home offered to dress my wounds, I told her to get back in the cellar of the house.

I was taken back to a field infirmary where the wounds were attended to, and then flown back to Basingstoke to the Park Prewett Army Hospital. I managed to get a telephone message relayed to my Wife’s Father’s garage at Henley-on-Thames, reassuring them that I was being well attended to and not too seriously wounded, which was just as well, as a telegram arrived from the War Office:

“Major Bryan Elder seriously wounded, whereabouts unknown”

______________________

1st Battalion Worcestershire Regiment Official War Diary extract:
14th April 1945 (07.45 hours)
Battalion moved off - "D" Company Group leading. Advance was slow owing to roadblocks and craters, which were encountered every 500 - 600 yards. Very little actual opposition, which was only sufficient to enable enemy to wind craters. An enemy S.P. Gun firing from the woods North of the road approx 1,200 yards away shelled the column when it was spotted and shelled by our Artillery effectively. Unluckily a piece of shrapnel struck the C.O. in the leg causing him some discomfort. At 18.30 hours "D" Company had advanced 4 miles and reached River LETHE. Bridge was blown but a small bridge 400 yards to the South was found and the Company Group went over and established a bridgehead. "A" Company then passed through the bridgehead to make it firm. "C" & "B" Companies did not cross the river but were in close defence of bridging site. Major B. N. R. Elder was wounded in the leg and evacuated. R.E's. commenced building bridge during night but owing to accurate enemy shelling bridging Operations were stopped at 02.00 hours.

15th April 1945
At 05.00 hours heavy and accurate shelling from 2 S.P. Guns on the bridgehead was the prelude to a determined counter-attack by 200 Infantry supported by 2 Panther Tanks. This attack had some initial success, as the two leading Platoons suffered casualties including Lt. Smith killed, but Lieut. Crossingham's Platoon remained firm and inflicted severe casualties on the enemy. "A" Company rallied, led by Major P. G. Hall and what was a dangerous situation was in hand. After further enemy attempts to reach the bridge had failed owing to heavy and accurate small arms fire, enemy tanks and infantry withdrew. This attack cost the enemy 40 dead, 30 or 40 wounded and 60 P's W.

At 16.00 hours "C" Company passed through and cleaned up tongue of wood and were established at 17.00 hours. 2 Officers and 40 O.R's. surrendered to us during the evening.

___________
Hope the above is of help,

Regards,

Louis (webmaster)
scully
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Re: Information about: 5619202 MASON DC

Postby jcmason » Mon Jul 29, 2013 5:19 pm

Louis,
many thanks for so much information, I suspect it might take a bit to assimilate and work out.
Are you able to confirm the date he joined the regiment, his Service and Casualty form states he joined the Regiment on 26/11/44?
Many thanks

John
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