CROSSING OF AFTERWATINGS CANAL
5th Black Watch, Nov 1944
Extract from "The Spirit of Angus" by John McGregor by permission of The Black Watch Museum.
CROSSING OF AFTERWATINGS CANAL
5TH BLACKWATCH ASSAULT
4TH - 5TH NOVEMBER 1944
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."