The Brabant village Oisterwijk and Operation Market Garden
The role of the reconnaissance squadron is to obtain accurate tactical information
on the enemy and the ground in all phases of war and pass it back quickly to the
higher commander. A Reconnaissance Corps, ‘Recce’ used fast and powerful armoured
vehicles for reconnaissance that where partly or entirely equipped with tracks.
‘The Scottish Lion on Patrol’ Being the story of the 15th Scottish Reconnaissance
Regiment. The following about Moergestel and Oisterwijk is written by lieutenant
‘The orders were simple and to the point: " Centre line: Oirschot-Moergestel. Push
on, but don't investigate beyond Moergestel." How annoying to be so restricted! What
a cramp on one's style! According to Lieut Peterson.
The troop was now joined by the carriers of 6 Troop, under the command of Sgt Brewey"
Reeves, and a three-inch mortar and carrier under the command of Cpl Townsend. We
pushed on, uneventfully. Surely, we thought, this cannot last; where is the Bosche
today? The first sign that he might not be far away was discovered by Sgt Grice when
the leading car reached a small wooden bridge beside a water mill (village of Spoordonk).
One side of the bridge was badly damaged. It looked as though the enemy had tried
to blow up the bridge but had not had time. Or was this a trick to draw us on and
prevent heavy support from reaching us? The bridge seemed safe on the near side.
What doubts remained were settled when the first car passed safely over. We went
on with increased vigilance, and a few minutes later Sgt Grice, going round a left-hand
bend, saw Germans moving in a long narrow wood on the left of the road, about ISO
yards ahead. Other Germans were moving around a small hut on the far side of the
wood. Tpr Simmons pressed the trigger of the Besa. Back over the wireless went the
message " Contact-wait-out ". The fun was on. For once it was very one-sided.
The troop plan to send the carriers round to the left flank and to fire on the wood
with the three-inch mortar was never needed. The Germans were completely surprised
and in one way or another eliminated. The final" bag" was eight prisoners and five
dead. The first two surrendered quickly, after fire from all the cars along the whole
length of the wood. One, quite a boy, was badly wounded, but the other was unhurt
and co-operative, an attitude which may have been connected with the pressure of
a pistol in his back. He called out to those still in the wood, telling them to surrender.
Nothing happened, so the Besas opened fire again. The performance was continued-alternate
shouting and hooting-until four more prisoners came out. Then the troop commander
and Sgt Bald-win (The Spiv, God bless the Queen) and the co-operative one went into
the wood and captured the last two Germans, who, by good providence, gave themselves
up instead of firing the loaded machine gun and bazooka which they had. ‘We were
now under shell and mortar fire which was accurate enough to make it clear that we
were being watched, probably from the rising ground beyond the long straight road
ahead. We withdrew round the bend and gave a complete report of the situation to
squadron headquarters. The light was failing, and as we had gone farther than the
infantry could hope to march that evening, we were ordered to go back behind the
damaged bridge by the mill (Spoordonk). The prospect of digging in here for the night
was not amusing. We were thankful when the colonel appeared, in good form and with
the news that he had insisted on our relief and arranged for infantry to be brought
up on the carriers of 2 Troop. What a welcome sight those Jocks were! We abandoned
our half-dug slit trenches and went back to Oirschot, a hot meal and sleep. We bedded
down in a school. We could have slept on our feet.
Orders for the next day, October 25th, were that Lieut Leppard would lead the advance
to Tilburg with I and 2 Troops; 3 and 4 Troops, under Lieutenants Jenkins and Gillings,
would investigate tracks on the right; 5 and 6 Troops would be in reserve; and Lieut
Riesco's troop, lent by C Squadron, would explore the left flank, by the canal. Wednesday's
dawn was misty, so misty that Lieut Leppard had to wait for the visibility to improve.
After he had left, the command vehicle became an information bureau, with liaison
officers from the infantry, the 6th Guards Armoured Brigade and the Gunners crowding
round to listen to the wireless reports of his progress. The going seemed to be good.
Headquarters and the reserve troops moved to near the damaged bridge-already repaired
by the Royal Engineers so that the Churchills could cross. The sun broke through
and spirits rose. Lieut Leppard had passed the wood where the one-sided shooting
match had taken place on the previous evening, and all was quiet. The troops on the
flanks encountered mines, but there were none on the main road. The report of " Contact"
from I Troop brought all headquarters to immediate attention.
The troop had gone about two-thirds of the way to Moergestel when an anti-tank gun
fired four shots from the left at short range. Visibility was still poor and all
the shots missed the leading car, but in reversing it went into a ditch and from
that moment was out of action. The crew bailed out safely. When Lieut Leppard, leaving
the carriers of 2 Troop on the main road as a base, tried to outflank the opposition
on the left the soft ground claimed his lumbering Staghound and another car, leaving
him only one Humber in action. One well remembers the views of Major Gordon on Staghounds,
and his vows about their future.
It was decided at a high level to attack with infantry and the Churchills of the
6th Guards Armoured Brigade. Lieut Leppard's depleted force was reinforced by 5 Troop,
and the infantry arrived on the tanks, ready for a full-scale sweep from the right
flank down on to the anti-tank gun position. But Lieut Leppard had heard sounds of
moving tracks, and, although unable to see what had happened in the mist, was convinced
that the gun had departed after engaging his troop. We could take a chance on his"
hunch" or allow the delay of an attack which might be against nothing. We decided
to take the chance and told the leading Churchills, squadron headquarters and the
liaison officer in touch with the Scots Guards. The attack was stopped. Followed
by Lieut Leppard in his one car and the carriers of 2 Troop, 5 Troop's cars went
down the road towards either an empty gun position or a gun. We passed the ditched
car without having even as much as a rifle fired against us, and soon we were in
Moergestel, only to find that the bridge over the fast-flowing river (Reusel) had
been blown up. Things happened swiftly. The tanks rumbled and jerked their way down
the road behind us. Major Gordon, in the highest of spirits and one of his better"
push on " moods, appeared from nowhere, and everyone was thinking" Now for Tilburg".
It seemed a pretty even bet that the first to cross the river would be the first
there. The squadron leader of the Scots Guards threw caution to the winds and ordered
a Churchill into the river. It stuck with its rear pointing to the sky. A scissors
bridge was called up by wireless, and first across it were 5 and 6 Troops, ordered
not to Tilburg but to go through the rest of Moergestel to the right and reconnoitre
the bridge at Oisterwijk and, if possible, the routes beyond.
The only German seen in Moergestel was a dead one near the junction of the Tilburg
and the Oisterwijk roads. He had not been dead long, and was obviously the work of
the Resistance. Sgt Grice, in the lead, set a cracking pace. Ahead was a dense wood-not
a pleasant prospect. Tpr Simmons, who was never called anything except Simmo, spotted
a German cycling furiously away from the wood. The upper part of his body could be
seen above the hedge, about 400 yards away. Simmo aimed deliberately and there was
a short burst from the Besa. The cyclist shot from his saddle into the bottom of
the hedge, dead. Simmo grinned. "How far do you reckon it is? " he said.’
Author van der Linden’s note; ((The German was Gerhard Robel, borne on 04-12-1926,
Rank: Grenadier. A Dutch witness declared after the war; “A German cyclist was coming
out of the direction of Oisterwijk. The Scots where already on the corner at Pierre
Timmermans. The German cyclist possibly belonged to a reconnaissance unit because
of the radio equipment he was carrying on the back of his bike. He took an apple
out of his pocket and before taking a bite he cleaned it by rubbing the apple past
his trousers. Residents on the Oisterwijkseweg who saw the German even waved at him
explaining he better could be turning around the opposite direction. A Scottish “sniper"
kneeled on the road and shot him through his head. The bike and German then wandered
from left to right and the German fell over the hedge in the garden of Willem de
Laat. “This German was later buried by the allies on the local roman cemetery in
Moergestel and was dug up on January 22, 1957 and relocated to the German cemetery
in Ysselsteijn, Venray, Holland.))
The cars raced through with the drivers pressing hard on the accelerators. There
were concrete pill boxes beside the road and we saw figures moving among the trees
as we flashed by. But the Germans were surprised; there was no opposition. Breaking
out of the wood, we saw the church steeple of Oisterwijk in front, open country on
our left, and on our right along row of houses which gave cover against observation
from the right flank. A few hundred yards ahead, where, according to our maps, the
river was bridged, large trees were lying across the road, and their leaves and branches
blocked our view. Sgt Bald-win and Sgt Grice went forward with their cars and reported
that the bridge had fallen into the river. When two carriers went up to try to tow
the trees aside a long burst of machine gun fire from the other side of the river
raked the area. A second attempt brought down more intense fire, which included shells.
The carriers were withdrawn, and the troop took cover, watching the far side of the
river and firing Besas at places which might have been machine gun nests. The shelling
increased. It was obvious that 88 mm guns were being used, and the indications were
that the enemy intended to make a stand behind the river.
When we wirelessed back our report Capt Boynton, who received it, was at first incredulous;
he could not believe that we had gone so far in so short a time; he thought that
we had given the wrong map reference and must mean a small bridge, passed almost
unnoticed, on the outskirts of Moergestel. His delight on being convinced that we
were right was good to hear. We were ordered to withdraw out of the shellfire, and
as we started to go back to the Moergestel side of the wood a shell screamed over
the rear of the troop commander's car, landed in the bank about six feet away and
covered the vehicle with a shower of earth and stones. On the way back Tpr Simmons
was seized violently with diarrhea, but the wood was no place in which to loiter
and even less a place in which to be caught with pants down, so he had to suffer,
not in silence, until the cars had settled at the junction of a road and track on
the Moergestel side of the wood. He began to scramble from the turret, but a second
later fell back into the car, hit in the chest by a sniper's bullet. This chance
shot put Simmo out of action until the following March. The troop was the poorer
for his absence.
It seemed only a matter of minutes before we saw supporting arms of every kind streaming
past us towards Oisterwijk. We received from Major Gordon his famous message, perfectly
coded: "The big Sunray has been here and is highly delighted. I mean the long Sunray,
the longest and leanest Sunray of them all. Well done." Afterwards we heard that,
unknown to Major Gordon, the" long Sunray", Major-General Barber, was standing beside
the jeep from which the message was transmitted.’
The Scottish Lion on Patrol
The reconnaissance regiment of the 15th Scottish Division