The Brabant village Oisterwijk and Operation Market-Garden

Regimental Reports of the Scots Guards

From the "Regimental Reports of the Scots Guards" (tanks) can be recorded;

 

 

"We came to realize, that the enemy by this time was in full withdrawal and therefore the Scots Guards were given the task to drive " full speed " to advance through Oirschot and Spoordonk to the village off Moergestel. When the first tank, the Montrose, commanded by Lieutenant Archie Fletcher reached the stream called ‘De Stroom’ in Moergestel they discovered the bridge across the stream destroyed. The messages of the reconnaissance troops had warned the Scots Guards that, they could expect to encounter German anti-tank gun fire, and that the German infantry would defend the stream crossing at Moergestel. Lieutenant Fletcher, Ernie Atack and troop sergeant-major Alex-Somerville, where therefore relieved when they saw themselves welcomed by exited and cheering civilian population of Moergestel on the opposite bank of the stream instead of Germans. The people started crossing the stream to the other side to jumps on the tanks, waving little orange flags and overwhelmed the crew members of the tanks with food, drinks and kisses. All of this is provided for the necessary amount of excitement, but the question remained as to how to succeed in crossing the tanks over the stream. The first platoon and the squadron commanders were examining the river bed, when all of a sudden the civilian population appeared to understand their precarious situation, and to that end, they, led by a priest (pater Lambertus) of a nearby monastery, started to great collect big rocks to roll down the river bank in to the stream. Their enthusiasm to fill the hole was so great, that it was becoming really dangerous for us to stay to near to the river bank. Soon Lieutenant Fletcher decided to make an attempt to cross the stream and started to sent his tank down of the stream bank in to the stream that now had been reinforced and filled with rocks, but when attempting to cross to the other side the Montrose slipped back into the stream and sank in the mud. In the meantime, it was called for a mobile scissor bridge and within five minutes, there was one to be welcomed by a joy-eruption and applause from the crowd. However, when the bridge came down in to place in position, there was a deathly silence amongst the crowd and when the bridge was then hovering in the air, and gradually came down, the people spontaneously began to sing their national anthem. The Wilhelmus was sang!  They continued to sing, until the first tank started its engines and crossed over the bridge.  

 

 

It was now 15.30 hrs in the afternoon and there was still a small chance that the Scots Guards by a rapid advance could not only conquer and cross the bridge four kilometres north, witch gave access to the village of Oisterwijk but be able to reach and even cross, the main bridge over the canal, located six kilometres west to access the great and relevant industrial city of Tilburg. A rushed therefore forward before a company of the 2nd Glasgow Highlanders in Kangaroos (Churchill tanks, with removed gun turrets in order to transport infantry), in the hope to conquer the vital bridge intact. But 't was getting darker and the tanks were still a quarter of an hour away from the bridge where the reconnaissance unit already was in a position, which was ideal for a German attack. A brief and fearsome fire fight took place in the growing darkness. Three "Honey"-tanks (light American tanks, used by the reconnaissance unit) got stuck during the fight, but two of them were saved that same night after heavy machine gun fire, the third was saved in the morning. The reconnaissance unit finally pulled back, but not before they inflicted  significant damage to enemy reinforcements on the surrounding farms. Only the darkness had managed to stop these brave attempts to conquer the bridge in Tilburg and to make it a complete success.  The left flank and the 7th Seaforth Highlanders, who were on the Kangaroos, prepared themselves to go in to the northern direction towards Oisterwijk. The intention was to take to Oisterwijk, and the heights, in which the village is built, as a base for the following day to advance left to Tilburg by means of the road from 's-Hertogenbosch to Tilburg. The access roads to the road led first trough a forest area, not yet cleared of possible enemy’s -for the time being crawled and than trough an open area of approximately 1.8 miles along the shores of a small stream called the Aa. On the other side of this stream, which was considered as an obstacle for tanks, the village rose , from which the area could be overlooked on which the March would be made. Quickness was of vital importance because it was still not known whether the bridge over the canal was blown. The tanks with the infantry went in Kangaroos op front and were as close as possible, followed by the rest of the infantry in Kangaroos and by foot. However, it was not easy, to march this column through the streets of Moergestel, because the place had become a very difficult and narrow passage, that almost could not handle two different columns at the same time that were trying to prosecute their way. The confusion was so great, that only four tanks were able to get through it quickly, and it was therefore decided, however that these four were to reach the bridge as soon as possible, and in any case, to try and take the bridge. The peloton of Lieutenant Cameron left as quickly as possible. Just before reaching the bridge they stumbled on a roadblock with logged trees across the road, but in spite of strong mortar-and machine gun fire Lieutenant Cameron forced a breakthrough.

 

 

He mentioned that the bridge was blown, and that the Voortse stream would be a significant obstacle to the tanks. A battle then unfolded and the problem was to ensure infantry with a safe and sheltered location to possible dig in to. In the course of this battle the tank of sergeant Marsden got stuck near the bridge and he was killed, and most of the houses where set on fire and the church tower (St. Peter bands), which proved to be a German post-was destroyed. As soon as the rest of the squadron turned up, they dug in around the bridge with the dual aim to provide support to the fighting men and to form a half-circle where the infantry could dig in. This tactic was so effective that, when the infantry finally was able to get trough the traffic jam at Moergestel, they found that a small bridgehead was made by tanks and shielded by the smoke, which came from the burning homes. Enemy fire was now less effective and reducing so the infantry, that was advancing along the stream when the night began to fall, suffering little losses. During the night it was decided that the numbers of tanks on the one hand, were to be split, to support to the company that was advancing over the bridge (Catharinenberg) and on the other hand to provide assistance to another company that was 900 yard further off advancing on a bridge (Gemullehoekenweg), which, although it was undamaged to small to carry light tanks. A half an hour before dawn the Squadron was ready to leave their bivouac two miles distance from the village, to advance directly on to the two bridges. When the crew members where about to man their tanks, an 88 mm gun, that had fired high-explosive shells the night before and during the night, dropped two shells directly down in the middle of the tanks and killed Lieutenant Ramsey and troop sergeant-major Price was seriously injured. At the crack of dawn, however, the squadron tanks where positioned in front of the two bridges and fired heavy shells on the other side. The infantry was waiting for 20 minutes, during which time the counter-offensive by the enemy was strongly but inaccurate and then, at approximately 07.20 hours, they advanced on to the village. They met little resistance, in which the tanks could withdraw. Soon the infantry occupied the village, where they discovered it was defended by only one battalion of German troops and they took 200 German soldiers as prisoners of war. Meanwhile the right flank was advancing in support. It was only when he was convinced of sufficient stock of gasoline and ammunition, troop sergeant-major Price allowed his wounds to be treated.

He had, fought with his tank during the whole battle, while his right hand  showed a large wound and his arm was full of little pieces of shrapnel up to his shoulder. He was distinguished with the "Military Cross" for his action. The Scots Guards were now in a position where they could control both the East and the northern suburbs of Tilburg, and that is why it was decided that the grenadiers would cross the Wilhelmina Canal with the task to attack Tilburg from the South. Accordingly they took to 'Vinkenberg’ south of the village centre of in Moergestel and waited until  4.30 p.m. when the sappers finished the construction of a "class-40" bridge (a bridge that could carry the weight of heavy tanks) over the canal at the village Biest-Houtakker.

 

 

They crossed the bridge at the heuvelstraat, but because the road to Hilvarenbeek had to remain in a good condition for vehicle’s on wheels, the battalion was ordered to advance over the jaagpad in the south along the Wilhelmina to take the city of Tilburg from a different direction. When we already had advanced a distance along this road the 2nd platoon which was up front lost two vehicles, a tank, a A.R.V. (= Armoured Recovery Vehicle), and a scout car, both which drove on mine. The rest of the Battalion had to backtrack to the bridge, and proceed by means of the initial route. As a result of this delay, the battalion was able to take shelter for the night at half past ten in the evening. The vehicle carrying the battalions mail distinguished itself by that night advancing closer to Tilburg than any other British force had dared to do. This had to do with a small error in reading of the map. When the mail cart approached the bridge over the Wilhelmina Canal, while in the outskirts of Tilburg, the occupants (sergeant Gregory and corporal Yates) were forced into a ditch to find coverage as a result of an attack with Spandau- gun fire and mortar fire directed on their position. The result of this event was that the mail, mostly consisting of packages from England, was never to be seen again. The hope was expressed that both the grenadiers as well as the 4th tank battalion of the Coldstream  Guards would enter Tilburg in the course of the next day, October 27. To their great disappointment, the grenadiers were stopped in the suburbs of the city, because the main water pipe had burst with huge flooding as a result. Similar obstacles were delaying the Coldstream Guards, but with the help of a "class-40" bridge of the Royal Engineers and Churchill tank with scissor bridge they succeeded in entering the city of Tilburg, the first major city liberated by the 6th Guards Tank Brigade. Lieutenant Scott had already, by means of a scout car, quickly scouted trough the main streets of the city, and reported back that the only opposition came from the enthusiasm of the population of Tilburg. This proved to be correct, and the entire battalion was part of a wonderful welcome and in witch they were soon to acclimate in an evening full of cheering, such as only can take place in a city which has just been liberated from four years of occupation by the Nazis.  The Germans had already left in the afternoon, because in the morning, the reconnaissance unit in the northern suburbs of the city had encountered no significant opposition and in the afternoon, when the left flank the 7th Seaforth Highlanders brought to a place at the canal north of the city, the Seaforth-patrols could cross the canal without any opposition. That night both the Scots Guards as the grenadiers bivouacked outside of Tilburg and had to satisfy themselves in listening to the sounds of joy coming from the population of the liberated town that rose up in the night.  

 

 

 

Regimental Reports of the Scots Guards