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    War Diary: 2nd Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles

    Month and year: September 1944

    The 2nd Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles September 1944 War diary covers the units advance from France, through Belgium and into Holland

    National Archive Reference: WO 171/1384

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    Page 1 of 8
    PlaceDateHourSummary of Events and InformationReferences to Appendices
    Area 8514 near CHAPPELLE AU MOINE1Weather dry but cloudy. CO inspected gas equipment and overcoats of Bn. Parties visited
    ENSA Concert in FLERS.
    2weather again dull with occasional storms. Bn prepared for move to HACQUEVILLE. Bn had
    3Bn moved. Left CHAPPELLE AU MOINE at 0330hrs and arrived HACQUEVILLE 5194 at 1850hrs.
    weather quite warm. The distance was about 150 miles.
    5194 HACQUEVILLE4Another fine day. Bn commenced training.See App: Move Order
    5Bn had route march. I sec attended short course held at 9 Brit Inf Bde HQ. BnHQ Guard
    mounted with pipers in attendance for first time in the history of the Bn. Weather fine
    throughout the day but rain during night.
    6Bn continued training. Rain during morning and afterwards very windy.
    7stormy during day. Bn training was carried out on a coy and pl basis.
    8Another stormy day. training continued. I sec had night compass march.
    9Weather dry and sunny. CO inspected vehicles and billet areas. Bn had baths. I sec
    attended counter mortar course at Bde HQ.
    10Weather again fine. Bn held church parades during morning and afterwards had rest day.
    Parties visited ENSA Concert at GISORS.
    11Bn training continued. RSM held parade in afternoon. I sec attended a further counter
    mortar course. Officers study day, lecture by Brig. Mole. Parties attended cinema at
    GISORS. Junior NCOs Cadre begun. weather cloudy but fine.
    12weather again cloudy but remained fine. CO inspected Bn and Bn transport. MO carried out
    medical inspection of Bn. Party visited PARIS.
    Page 2 of 8
    PlaceDateHourSummary of Events and InformationReferences to Appendices
    HACQUEVILLE13Another dry but cloudy day. Bn and Bn transport inspected by Brig. Browne followed by Bn
    march past and Brig. taking the salute. Pipes and drums played for march past and many
    interested spectators in the village turned out to witness the event.
    14Weather still cloudy but dry. Bn continued training. very quiet day.
    15Bn received the news of move to new location and spent the day in preparation.
    CO held conference at 1800hrs. Bn soccer team played an RA eleven and gained an easy
    victory winning by 6 goals to 1. weather fine.
    NAAST nr SOIGNIES 402616Bn made an early start, reveille 0500hrs, embussed by 0655hrs and passed SP at 0730hrs.
    The route took us through several towns which included, BEAVAIS 9008, FROISSY 0222,
    MONS 3213, and then on to staging area. From ALBERT to MONS people lined the streets of
    the towns giving us a very warm welcome and presented us with fruit. In some places the
    crowds which congregated made it rather difficult for the convoy to get through. The
    staging area at NAAST was reached at 2130hrs after a very interesting journey. vehicle
    conveying personnel of A Coy overturned but there were no casualties. The weather was quite
    fine, rather misty at first but clear by mid morning. Covered 180 miles approx.
    KOLIS nr LILLE ST HUBERT 41290917Another early start. Reveille 0400hrs, embussed 0540hrs and bde SP passed at 0610hrs.
    The route again included several towns. BRAINE le COMTE 4629, NIVELLES 5828, and LOUVAIN
    8758. Cheering crowds welcomed us in every town and village, presenting us with coffee
    and more fruit. Our area was reached at 1530hrs after a journey of 112 miles and the Bn
    proceeded to dig in. Corps Comd visited Bn HQ at 1810hrs but CO was at Bde. Weather fine
    until 1900hrs and then rain throughout the night.
    18COs O Gp at 1100hrs and again at 1600hrs. By first light this morning it was known that
    9 Brit Inf Bde would have to do an assault crossing of the ESCAUT CANAL to extend and
    solidify the bridgehead already made by 50 Div some four miles further West. Not until
    1300hrs however did 2 RUR know that the crossing was to be made on the night of 18/19.
    The tempo of operations had consequently to be stepped up and recconsissance and preparation
    had to be cut down.
    Coy Comds had a restricted view of the canal from a church in LILLE ST
    HUBERT. In the afternoon pl Comds had the same view and more detailed reconaissance of
    For orders refer Appendix
    Page 3 of 8
    PlaceDateHourSummary of Events and InformationReferences to Appendices
    KOLIS nr LILLE ST HUBERT18the village and canal was carried out by patrols. Lt. FIRTH of C Coy found his way to the
    bank and discovered a suitable path from the possible assembly areas to bank. Capt.GAFFIKIN
    and Capt. BAUDAINS of B Coy put on civilian clothes and toured the area of the canal at their
    leisure. both these recconaissances revealed that some 10 - 20 yards on the South side of
    the canal there was a large ditch some 6 ft across which would have to be taken into
    consideration. Both found it difficult to give information about the enemy on account of
    the steep bank which led up to the canal.
    At 1700hrs the CO held a co-ordinating conference
    and gave final orders. The Bn was operating on the left of PETIT - BROGEL - LILLE ST HUBERT
    road on a two bn front, and within the Bn the assault crossing was to be carried out with
    B Coy right and C coy left, with A Coy in reserve on the right and D as reserve Coy on the
    left. Bn HQ was to be established in a house adjacent to the two crossing places with a
    line to each, so that with wireless netted to each Coy communication would be
    sufficient to cope with any emergency. The Coys were to use assault boats for the crossing, jeeps and
    a tk guns the class V raft and more substantial F transport by the class IX, B Echelon
    were to wait for the establishment of a class 40 bridge construction of which was to begin
    as soon as the opposite banks had been cleared of enemy.
    2100The CO went to Bde for a final conference and by
    2130 advanced Bn HQ had moved to canal bank at 426926. Zero hour - when the boats were to
    move up the bank into the water - was fixed for midnight and at 2230hrs the forward
    Coys began to move to their assembly areas at ZAND 4293 and RIET 4194 respectively. It was
    a dark night and visibility was further obscured by a dense ground mist which had begun to
    rise at about 1900hrs. map reading and direction finding were liable to prove difficult
    but the whole Bn reached the assembly areas without mishap and by 2330hrs the forward Coys
    were in position near the canal awaiting the arrival of the assault boats.

    Some anxiety was caused by the failure of the
    sappers to produce their boats at this stage in time for the Coys to marry up with them
    before zero. It was subsequently proved that the boats had in fact arrived, but so, dark
    was the night that the NCO in charge of them failed to make contact with OC S Coy, Major
    WHEELER, who was supervising all boating done by the Bn. This was an unfortunate accident
    which might seriously affected the success of the whole operation. Liason was however
    finally made, splendid work was done by the pioneer Platoon under Lt.SHIMMIN in unloading,
    errecting and launching the boats, and the forward Coys were despatched without serious
    19From 7 - 15 to Z plus 15 a concentration of three
    Page 4 of 8
    PlaceDateHourSummary of Events and InformationReferences to Appendices
    KOLIS19divisional artilleries was put down on selected targets on the far side of the canal.
    The last few minutes of this barrage gave some trouble to B Coy who reported some "shorts"
    but although these harassed launching operations no casualties were sustained and launching
    went forward without cease.
    By 0055hrs both Coys were able to report a small bridgehead
    secured and their first objectives gained. Half an hour later B Coy had taken its first
    two prisoners and C Coy had reported its second objective taken and a section of the
    Carrier platoon in position covering the left or open flank of the Coy. Opposition had
    so far been light, giving the impression that this landing had achieved a fair element
    of surprise.
    At 0205hrs we heard from 2 Lincs on our right that they had
    three Coys across but were held up from their left flank by fire which was coming from
    buildings within our own area. At the same time C Coy reported that a counter attack
    was coming in from the left rear. Machine gun fire was coming from the tow path at 150yds
    range and the enemy closed the range to a distance from which he could throw hand grenades.
    C Coy with the Carrier sections under command produced a vigorous and swift reply to this
    menace. Brens came swiftly into action and by 0245hrs the situation was restored to
    normal. The strength of this counter attack was afterwards estimated to be a strong
    fighting patrol of at least 25 -30 men, though in the dark it was difficult to be accurate.
    The Boche left two dead behind, and it is thought that many more were wounded. On our own
    side, C Coy HQ had suffered, Capt. LAVING, the second in command being killed and two men
    being wounded.
    Soon after this attack the Commanding Officer decided to send
    over D Coy to substantiate C Coys left flank and not to advance to its original objective
    until daylight. This was achieved without casualties and by 0400 hrs D Coy was able to
    report itself in position.
    Meanwhile a most promising situation was developing on the right.
    B Coy had made the crossing unscathed, although a hail of machine gun fire had cut the
    water close by the boats which were carrying the final platoon, and a number of 8.1 cm
    Mortar shells fell dangerously near the Coy as it moved forward towards its objective.
    This was a pathway about 200 yds inland and it was reached safely with Boche machine guns
    firing high and wide and mortar shells still dropping close by. Then the Coy struck
    across country directly towards its second objective aiming for a point well North of the
    Village. Direction was maintained by a compass bearing and thereby the Coy found its
    objective and established itself upon it.
    Page 5 of 8
    PlaceDateHourSummary of Events and InformationReferences to Appendices
    KOLIS19Recce patrols were immediately sent North to the railway and South of the
    village. Both soon returned with confirmation that the Boche was in both places in some
    strength. At the same time B Coy began to gather in the fruits of a position built up
    astride the enemys line of retreat. The first party to be taken prisoner was three from
    a medical section who were evacuating some casualties. They were astonished at being
    captured here, and could not believe that they were cut off from the rear.
    At this stage Capt. GAFFIKIN spoke to the Commanding Officer over the 18 set
    explaining the position. He pointed out that B Coy by itself could not clear the village
    because with enemy in strength both to the North and the South a firm base of the entire
    coy strength was essential to retain its present commanding position. But the village had
    to be cleared and cleared swiftly, since enemy machine guns from there covered the site
    selected for the class 40 bridge, and the nature and direction of Capt. GAFFIKIN'S advance
    had made it possible to attack the village from the North instead of incurring heavy
    casualties which a frontal or flank attack would have caused.
    At 0345hrs on the orders of the Commanding Officer A Coy crossed the canal.
    One casualty was sustained by mortar fire but no accurate fire was brought down to hinder.
    Guides from B Coy were met at the other side and they guided Major SWEENEY MC, OC A Coy, and
    his Coy to B's position. the two Coy Comds quickly conferred and decided that A Coy should
    clear the village while B Coy remained firm based upon its objective.
    It was 0530 hrs before Lt. BETTY, in command of A Coy's leading platoon,
    began to move towards the village: the light had begun to break though it was obscured by
    the same ground mist that had risen the night before. Straight away five Germans emerged
    from a ditch and ten more came out of the first house taken on by the platoon, though in this
    case only after a lively exchange of fire.
    This position was hardly in hand before the sound of horse drawn transport
    was heard approaching from the direction of the village. Suddenly two cart loads of Germans,
    with a varied assortment of weapons and food, appeared, and they were promptly engaged by
    Lt.BETTY's platoon at short range. The enemy displayed the agility of desperation and
    brought his weapons into action with remarkable speed. A brief fire fight took place in which
    our men soon made their superiority felt; and the result was clinched by a hand grenade
    from the Pl Sjt, Sjt PEEL, which finally caused the surrender of the party.
    The rest of the village was combed and about ten more prisoners were
    produced. Among the last party was a sapper of 3rd Div who had been captured the previous
    evening on a recconaissance, he was able to describe the bewilderment of the Germans in the
    village when they discovered that their escape route was cut off.
    Page 6 of 8
    PlaceDateHourSummary of Events and InformationReferences to Appendices
    KOLIS19It was 0630hrs by the time A Coy had reported the village clear. Meanwhile D Coy had in
    daylight moved forward to their original objective, the level crossing, and at 0730hrs
    Lt.Col. HARRIS ordered A Coy to take over D position covering the Bn's open flank. Before
    that major SWEENEY had begun an advance towards his original objective - the halt - but
    had been troubled by heavy machine gun fire from this position. 2/Lt. MORGAN fell, killed
    by a burst of it.
    By 0800hrs the Bn was firm in its adjusted positions, and the remaining concern
    was to get the a tk guns into positions supporting the Coys. Great efforts were
    made by the Pioneer Platoon and by the sappers, so that by 0830hrs the guns towed by jeeps
    were able to make the passage on the class V and the class IX simultaneously. By 1000hrs
    a tk guns were in position. There had been, nor was there to be, any sign of a counter
    Total count was made of damage inflicted upon the enemy. In men he
    lost 8 killed, 20 or more wounded and 44 prisoners, and in equipment, 12 MGs, 1 20mm, and
    a number of mortars 5 cm and 8 cm and bazookas. Our own losses were two officers and 1
    OR killed and 24 ORs wounded.
    Finally note should be made of the excellent signal communication
    throughout the operation. The 18 set net to Coys and 19 set to Bde were outstanding, and
    the line to each crossing site was a great success. Throughout both Bn and Bde HQ were
    fully acquainted with what was going on and consequently the creation and execution of
    plans was immensely facilitated. Testimony to the excellente of communications was the
    fact that Bn HQ did not cross the canal until 0900hrs, because Lt.Col. HARRIS had complete
    control of the whole operation from the South side long after all four rifle coys were
    The rest of the day was spent resting. Contact patrols were sent out to contact troops of 50 Div along the canal to our left and also to KOSB on our right and though some of these failed to achieve their object by nightfall troops on both flanks had been contacted.
    ACHEL 439720COs conference at 1000hrs. Bn moved to ACHEL at 1500hrs. 11 Armd Div began crossing
    bridge 0930hrs. Lt. Gen. O'CONNOR arrived at Bn HQ at 1210hrs and left at 1315hrs. Weather
    quite fine.
    Page 7 of 8
    PlaceDateHourSummary of Events and InformationReferences to Appendices
    5103 MAARHEEZE21COs conference 0900hrs. Recce party left 0815hrs for HAMONT 4798 and at 1300hrs received
    instructions to proceed on to MAARHEEZE 5103. Bn transport arrived at 1600hrs and marching
    personnel 1700hrs, this move took us over the border from Belgium into Holland. Brig.9.I.B.
    arrived 1915hrs and left 1935hrs. Weather again quite fine.
    22CO held conference 0900hrs. Weather rather stormy. A soccer match was played between
    D Coy and a local eleven, D Coy winning by 8 goals to 3. The pipe band played before the
    game and during the interval and after the match were followed through the village by
    delighted spectators.
    23Weather again rather wet. COs conference 0930hrs. Advance party left at 1045hrs for area
    5910 DE KIVEL. It was learned at 1700hrs that Bn move was postponed.
    24Weather still stormy. No move likely before 1300hrs followed by news that no move would
    take place before 25. Advance party still in area 5910.
    6520 DEURNE25Advance party left area 5910 at 0700hrs for 6520 DEURNE. on left MAARHEEZE in transport at
    0715hrs, arriving new location 1130: three prisoners were brought in during the day, two
    by A Coy and one by C Coy. A Coy discovered through civilian scources that two Germans
    were lying in a house. PIAT fire was directed onto the house in question which immediately
    resulted in one German rushing out and giving himself up. OC A Coy then went into the
    house and discovered the second Germand somewhat panic stricken by the PIAT fire.
    During the evening the pipe band played in the town causing great interest
    amongst the civilians who heartily applauded the bands effort. Weather again storny.
    26Continuous rain throughout night with occasional storms during morning. CO held conference
    0930hrs. Bn had bath day. A patrol of coy strength provided by A Coy left their area
    at 1315hrs and proceeded along line of railway were enemy in huts were encountered at
    704184 and on far bank of canal 708177. Coy came under MG fire which covered line of
    approach along railway. OC A Coy proceeded forward to canal and observed enemy positions
    more closely from house 706180. At 1830hrs one platoon came forward under cover to canal,
    followed by two remaining platoons but were pinned down by MG fire. On far bank of canal
    running South from 708139 were a number of concrete pill boxes with line of fire running
    North and South along the bank of canal. Major SWEENEY MC believed railway bridge to be
    intact but was unable to see canal bridge which had been reported by civilians as destroyed.
    Page 8 of 8
    PlaceDateHourSummary of Events and InformationReferences to Appendices
    DEURNE26Coy began to withdraw at 1915hrs and were clear of bridge by 1930hrs, reformed and returned
    by bounds back to Coy area. Major SWEENEY's impression was that the patrol was an ideal
    exercise and fieldcraft very good, Coy getting within 150 yds of enemy position without
    detection. A second patrol went out from B Coy to areas 669202, 697208, and 691190 but
    revealed no enemy.
    27COs conference 0900hrs. Two enemy fighters flew high over town at 1205 hrs and were fired
    on by AA. B Coy sent patrol to area 7018 leaving at 1245hrs and returning at 1915hrs.
    Patrol was fired on by MG at 704184 enemy then appeared to withdraw and no more opposition
    was encountered. Occasional mortar bombs fell at 683183. Civilian reports received stated
    that both canal and railway bridges were blown. Weather fair during day and rain at night.
    28COs conference 0900hrs. A patrol of Coy strength provided by D Coy left at 1315hrs for
    area 7018. Patrol proceeded along line of railway to level crossing 700182 arriving at
    1405hrs. It was suspected that enemy were occupying two houses at 706181 and at 1430hrs
    were fired on by a tk gun setting them on fire. At 1435hrs a platoon advanced to burning
    houses and found a dead German who had been shot by one of our snipers. At 1440hrs
    spasmodic small arms fire appeared to be coming from second of the burning houses which
    eventually died down and at 1552hrs enemy mortar bombs began to fall. Our OP which was in
    house 695181 estimated that three mortars were firing. Coy withdrew at 1700hrs returning
    by bounds back to Coy area, mortaring having continued throughout the afternoon causing
    us six casualties, four of whom were evacuated. Weather was fair with occasional storms.
    BAKEL 612429Bn moved to BAKEL 6124. Advance party left 0600hrs arriving 0625hrs. Marching personnel
    left 0730hrs arriving 0910hrs. A presbyterian service was held at 1600hrs and an RC service
    held in the local church at 1730hrs. News was received at 2100hrs that Bn would be at
    one hours notice from first light 30th to return to DEURNE. Weather was cold and occasional
    30CO held conference 0900hrs. American armd coln began to pass through at first light.
    Advance party at half hour notice from 1630hrs. Party left for Div Club at 0930hrs.
    In the afternoon the Bn heard that it would not move until 1200hrs 1 Oct. Recce parties
    left for new location at BEERS 685492.