2 RUR Cross Ochtum Floods, Battle Honour BREMEN

Tuesday, 24 April, 1945 - Wednesday, 25 April, 1945

RUR crest/badgeOn 23 April, the GOC 3rd British Infantry Division briefed all the officers assembled in Barrien on the higher plan for the capture of Bremen.

  • On the right, the 52nd Lowland Division was to attack Bremen north of the Weser
  • In the centre the 3rd Infantry Division was to attack on the south side
  • on the left, the 51st Highland Division would launch a ‘Chinese Attack’ on the railway north of Huchting; the sound of its tanks and gun preparations would make it appear that an advance in the direction of Bremen, that had cut the railway line some three or four days earlier, was being resumed.

The axis for the attack by the 2nd Battalion The Royal Ulster Rifles’ parent brigade, ( 9 Infantry Brigade), was along the main road that ran north from Brinkum, crossed the Ochtum canal over the bridge at Kattenturm and then to Bremen.

The southern approach to the Ochtum canal, running south and almost parallel with the River Weser, had been flooded by the Germans to improve it as an obstacle. The northern limit of the inundation was up against the bund, or embankment, on the southern edge of Kattenturm village. The bund ran east from the bridge along the canal to the eastern edge of village with the canal trickling away to the south-east. The bridge was assumed to have been prepared for demolition and to be defended by a company strong guard force. The road over the bridge to Bremen was one of very few routes open, due to the flooding. Kattenturm lay astride, but mainly to the east of the road.

The Commanding Officer 2 RUR, Lieutenant Colonel Drummond, held his formal Orders Group at 0930 hours on 24 April. The number attending, some twenty-eight, reflected the scale of the next operation, as did the Adjutant’s sixteen-page Operation Order.

The Battalion’s mission was to ford the water obstacle, capture Kattenturm and seize the bridge (see Attachment below - Ochtum Canal Map). Zero hour was to be midnight, and companies were to mount 4 RTR Squadron's forty-seven Buffalo tracked amphibious vehicles and move up from the current concentration area to a forward assembly area at 2130 hrs. The Buffalo Squadron was then responsible for crossing the flood obstacle and delivering the Companies to their offloading points on the bund. Company tasks were:

  • C Company leading, on landing, to clear its bund and establish a firm bridgehead to cover subsequent landings.
  • A Company to clear its bund
  • D Company to clear the main axis for some six or seven hundred yards.
  • B Company to pass through D Company and seize the bridge.
  • C Company, next, to advance and consolidate a position some five hundred yards further along the main road, thereby securing the route for the Battalion’s vehicles to move forward.

The indirect fire support, in addition to artillery, would include 4.2 inch mortars. Close support artillery would not be fired for the advance across the water obstacle, as the timings for the advance of the Buffaloes was too loose to allow a timed fire plan, but it would be on call. Bofors firing in a ground role, along with Medium Machine Guns and the mortars, would engage known enemy positions from 2200 hours onwards. There was also a Bofors gun firing three tracer rounds at one-minute intervals on a fixed line along the crossing route as an aid to navigation. Medium artillery that had been firing in the nights before the attack would fire again and the shoot would cover the sound of the Buffaloes approaching and crossing the Ochtum floods obstacle.

The evening of 24 April was warm, yet fresh, with a glorious sunset, as the companies climbed aboard their forty-seven Buffaloes at 2100 hours. The Brigade Commander had arrived, accompanied by reporters, to wish the Battalion good luck. Morale was excellent as the Riflemen whistled and sang while the convoy moved up to the forward assembly area just south of Leeste. There, the Battalion paused for an hour, managing to drink hot tea with a tot of rum before the advance. The Battalion Second-in-Command, Major Norman Wheeler, had established a control point just north of Leeste for vehicles that would be ferried over later; the Adjutant was positioned here with the rear-link wireless set to HQ 9 Brigade. The route to the Start Line was well marked with tape and lamps and C Company crossed it at midnight. Leading Buffaloes dropped off buoy lamps to guide those following, with A Company and D Company crossing in two parallel, snake-like columns at 0020 hrs.

All of the Buffaloes succeeded in crossing the flooded area and managed to climb steep slopes, turn, and then disembark their companies, with only two experiencing any difficulty; one had to cross load midway across and in Battalion Tactical Headquarters the 22 set link to the Adjutant and Brigade was for some time marooned 50 yards from landing. Both were recovered and continued forward due to the skill and experience of the Buffalo squadron’s co-operation and recovery drills.

When C Company was 50 yards from its offloading point on the bund, two red verey lights came up from the enemy, followed by small arms fire and shoulder launched anti-tank weapons aimed at the Buffaloes. Despite the incoming fire, the Platoons were landed as planned. Sjt McAlevey’s platoon on the left cleared its objective, taking six prisoners. On the right, Cpl. McMullan’s leading section, arrived just as two 3.7in flak guns just being brought into action against the Buffaloes. His section rushed its crew, killing one, wounding five, and capturing eleven others. The two guns were then brought into action and engaged the enemy in Arsten until its ammunition was expended. Vehicles, anti-tank guns, and Riflemen disembarked rapidly out of the Buffaloes and were directed by Captain Gray, the Battalion Landing Officer, who had moved with C Company to search out landing areas and routes forward for vehicles.

As A Company disembarked, it was engaged with panzerfaust and, although taking some casualties, it continued its advance along the 4-yard-wide bund with dug-in enemy stubbornly defending their positions. The leading Platoon was literally ‘winkling’ enemy from each position and was confronted at point-blank range by Germans as they appeared suddenly from the opposite side of the narrow bund. Lt Songest’s platoon battled stiff opposition in a fierce fire fight at a large house set some twenty yards back from the bund. Like several NCOs and Riflemen, Lt Songest too was hit and wounded but continued to control his platoon. As the Company Commander, Major Tighe-Wood MC, ordered forward a second platoon, a gallant rush by Cpl Lambourne with his section from Lt Songest's platoon, took the position; Cpl Lambourne was later awarded the Military Medal. The Germans had been fighting to defend a well concealed 88 mm gun that, fortunately, had been unable to traverse enough left to engage the approaching Buffaloes. The actions of many in A Company eventually overwhelmed German resistance in Kattenturm. A Company took some 40 prisoners, killing and wounding many others while capturing the 88 mm gun and three lighter flak guns, at a cost of one officer and 24 wounded, most with ‘light’ wounds.

D Company had moved with A Company, but the German defences lacked any depth, and apart from a few snipers that had to be cleared, D Company's advance was almost unopposed. Battalion Tactical Headquarters moved up close behind D Company and established itself at the eastern end of Kattenturm to control the battle. B Company, commanded by Major Cummins, had disembarked without incident, and as soon as D Company reported their objectives taken, it moved through at 0330 hours to take the Kattenturm bridge. Coming under fire from a position on the road and a large house to the left, Cpl Holt commanding the leading section, rushed the position and eliminated it, and after another section dealt swiftly with the house, the advance continued. The lead platoon commander, Lt McCrainor, having been ordered to push on to the bridge as fast as he could, bypassed an enemy at the cross-roads near the bridge. He then moved quickly to seize the bridge before it could be blown and moving around a formidable roadblock, he soon established his platoon to secure both ends of the Battalion’s main objective, an intact Kattenturm bridge over the Ochtum Canal. An Engineer party soon cleared the four 500lb aerial bombs discovered to have been placed by the Germans as a demolition charge.

It was just after first light when C Company left its bridgehead area and moved up to the main road to complete the consolidation of the area and conclude the Battalion role in the Brigade plan. The companies had captured five officers, 128 other ranks along with an 88 mm gun and five other smaller flak guns. Complete surprise had been achieved and a captured officer revealed that the Bremen garrison commander had been certain that the attack would follow the line of the Brinkum road, explaining why the 88 mm gun had been taken off its wheels and given an arc of traverse limited to a vulnerable part of the that main road. The attack was therefore not so much a surprise, but its method and approach with its turning manoeuvre was a tactical surprise admired almost as much by the Germans commanders as was the fleet of ‘Schwim-Panzer’ that had crossed what they believed to be an impassable obstacle – the Ochtum Floods.

BH BREMENThe Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel John Drummond, was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and the actions of his Battalion on the approach to Bremen at Harpstedt, Moordeich, and at Kattenturm, ensured that the Battle Honour BREMEN was awarded to The Royal Ulster Rifles.

The Battle Honour BREMEN is emblazoned on the Queen's Colours of The Royal Irish Regiment.