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Ron's War in Europe: D+5icon for Recommended story

by Audrey Lewis - WW2 Site Helper

Contributed by 
Audrey Lewis - WW2 Site Helper
People in story: 
Ronald Axford
Location of story: 
UK and Europe
Background to story: 
Army
Article ID: 
A2270404
Contributed on: 
06 February 2004

Trooper Ron Axford in the driving seat of his armoured car.Denmark 1945

(Ron Axford, my brother-in-law, has agreed to have an account of his war in Europe published by me on the WW2 website.)

Ron Axford's war broke out one Sunday morning in September 1939. He had just finished a stint of Boy Scout Messenger Service between the ARP bunkers the previous night, when his mum told him war had been declared.

He was not old enough then to go to war but old enough to spend months of fire-watching, putting out incendiaries, running with messages, getting people into air raid shelters and doing what he could in the Bristol area where he lived and worked.

Call-up papers

On a cold January morning of 1942 Ron received his call-up papers to join the Royal Armoured Corp in Bovington, Dorset. He had already learned to drive a vehicle and was licensed to drive a large delivery van for the Co-op. Consequently he trained as a gunner mechanic and was then sent to Catterick in Yorkshire for a few weeks before transferal to serve with the Sherwood Foresters Regiment in Kent.

The place was littered with men and vehicles from many parts of the world. The Royals were ordered to take the vehicles over. Ron was assigned to drive an American Staghound Armoured car and was in his element behind the wheel of such a powerful vehicle. He learned that his job at the front would be to reconnoitre, often behind enemy lines for the British and Canadian armies.

Armoured cars had a complement of four personnel in total: a driver, a gunner operator, a car commander and a radio operator. In Ron's case he drove the Squadron Leader, a Major Fisher.

Every car was a unit in itself and carried its own water supply, drew its own rations, brewed its own tea (sometimes consumed hours later) and did its own running maintenance when possible but mainly with the squadron. The only personal arms carried by the crew were either a forty-five Colt or thirty-eight Smith and Wesson. Riffles would have been a hazard climbing in and out as tin hats also. Ron's right-hand headlight was draped by a tin hat, never used, throughout the campaign.

Preparing for the Normandy landings

Extensive preparations for the Normandy landings were in full progress and, when the time came to go, the many different contingents were given a 48-hour leave to visit and say farewell to loved ones. Ron was married to Muriel by this time and, leave over; she drove him to the railway station. As the train moved off he shouted, 'This is one Hitler won't get - take care - I'll be back.' Later on he acknowledged that it greatly helped him to have and hold a faith like that.

Burying mates

Ron and his contingent were transported at night to France off the coast of Kent in an USA tank landing craft from the London East End Docks. German U-boats sank several of their flotillas in the channel during the crossing and they were shot at by Nazi torpedo boats. Eventually they landed at the Arromanches beachhead near Caen. The bridgehead, already established, was quite small. Troops and equipment were spread all over the area. There was barely enough room on the beaches to move. They were bombed, strafed, and life was very touch and go. Many men were killed and it was his lot, with a heavy heart, to have to bury some of his mates and buddies. They lost their lives; Ron lost some of his friends and equipment.

At last and after heavy fighting there came a breakout through the Falaise Gap, and Ron and his team were immediately on the move and in the action to report on enemy troop displacements whether armoured or not; or in false uniforms. Reporting back to his Regimental Headquarters he witnessed some of the most harrowing sights of his life. The roads were crowded with refuges; old men and women, wives with children and babies in prams being machine-gunned by German fighter planes. He was helpless to help them.

On the move across Europe

As Ron's regiment moved across Europe south of Paris and then into Belgium and Holland, they underwent many near misses from the enemy. Good mates were lost and left where they fell. Each day was lived wondering if that was what war is all about. They feared a strike at any minute but there was no time for anything other than to keep moving, advancing and taking what rest and refreshment might be on offer.

The flat terrain of Holland meant that miles and miles of canals and wooden bridges had to be nogotiated. Ice on the water canals had to be tested for thickness and strength, and the bridges had to take the weight of heavy tanks.

In Hertogenbosch they encountered a spy in a wheelchair. He was duly dealt with. The local church steeple was booby-trapped and Ron lost another mate attempting to defuse it.

The winter in Holland was very cold. In the village of Boxmeer on the River Mass, the river was frozen over and the ice was thick enough to drive a vehicle across. Enemy patrols travelled over the ice and Ron's outfit sometimes did the same. One day he picked up a lad from Head Quarters as a reinforcement and then drove back to Boxmeer. On arrival they were shelled by the enemy, the lad was killed, and within the hour they were burying him. As Ron dug the grave his engagement ring came off and fell in. He didn't have the heart to try and find it.

Crossing the Rhine at Arnhem

At the crossings of the Rhine at Arnhem and Nijmagen Ron was put on bridge control where he witnessed a large number of his army comrades arriving in planes and gliders only to land on the wrong side of the river and right into the mouth of the enemy. They had a terrible battle on their hands and many were killed and injured.

Ron's war then travelled back into Germany heading for the Danish border at Flensburg. It was December, and a section of the German army made an unexpected and startling breakthrough in the Ardennes under Field Marshall Von Rundstedt. It looked like one last effort to enthuse the German troops and they penetrated thirty miles and back into Belgium. Many had been parachuted behind the American lines in allied uniforms. This enemy offensive was broken by early January after Ron and his buddies were moved into that theatre of war. At nighttime and in echelon they had only a two-inch white dot painted on the back axle of the vehicle in front to follow. He became crossed-eyed and not feeling so clever. By now it was becoming obvious that the Germans were fed up with war, as were our troops.

In a town only the size of Chipping Sodbury they had to deal with a couple of thousand armed German troops who had surrendered. They then went onto Flensberg on the Danish boarder picking up prisoners on the way. Ron got the impression that Denmark had been used as a holiday camp for German troops, 'And so,' he said, 'We spent about a week sending them all back.'

War in Europe over!

It was only a day later that the war in Europe was ended. Whole populations came out to make a fuss of them, cheering and shouting. Every town and village they went through people flooded from their homes to greet them. Ron lifted a little girl called Andrea into his arms and onto his vehicle. He vowed then that if he and his wife were ever blessed with a baby girl they would call her Andrea. Photographs were taken as the liberators were showered with flowers and refreshments, and invited to receptions in Town Halls with Mayors and Council members. They were on the crest of a wave! Soon they would be going home at last!

But not quite as soon for Ron. He was getting his vehicle into shape and had it on the jack for the job he was doing when the jack fell away, hit the side of the car and rebounded to hit him in the head. Badley injured and concussed he was rushed to the hospital at Aarhus and underwent an emergency operation for a bleeding fracture of the scull. As fortunate for him as it was unfortunate to suffer such an accident, the hospital at Aarhus was one of only two places in the world where this kind of operation could be attempted. Repairs were done and a large stainless steel plate inserted at the side and to the apex of the patient's scull. He was paralysed down one side of his body for quite a while. Only through expert treatment and nursing did health improve and strength return. One of the surgeons in Aarhus was Doctor Ethelburgh but Ron thinks of them to this day with great gratitude and affection.

After a long spell in hospital Ron went to stay with a family named Lautrup who lived in Skive. He could not travel home on a 36-hour journey by train and aircraft were not pressurized at the time. By now his Regiment had returned to Lubeck where eventually he rejoined it. Demobbed nine months later he went home to his wife and a very young baby son. He now proudly calls himself, 'the original skin-head'.

Sent to Korea

After a little while he almost got his call up again for the Korean war as the War Office had kept him on the Z-T reserve list. His head wounds, thankfully, kept him out of that war. He said, 'Wars are easy to start, mainly by politicians. Only big business makes a lot of money, the rest of the population are left with memories they would like to forget.'

Trooper Ron Axford says, 'At all times during my years with the Army I remembered, even in action, my loved ones at home constantly being bombed in Bristol. I longed to know how my wife was coping after being caught up in an air raid and badly shaken after the loss of a wonderful, loving, young brother-in-law who was killed at the Bristol Airplane factory as he was making sure all the factory workers had gone safely into the shelter during an air raid.'

Ron had been through so much in Europe - and - Hitler didn't get him after all!

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Message 1 - A2270404 - Ron's War in Europe - D Day Plus

Posted on: 08 February 2004 by Audrey Lewis - WW2 Site Helper

Dear Editor,
I see there are two versions of 'Ron's War in Europe'. I have tried to delete the first one but it still appears on my list. Will this be corrected eventually?
I wrote the first one without submitting it to you thinking I could edit it later and then submit it.I was surprised to see both on my page.
Sorry!
Audrey Lewis

Message 1 - Ron's War in Europe - D Day Plus

Posted on: 08 February 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Dear Audrey

I found the story of Ron's war very interesting.

However, there are two points I would raise, without in any way wishing to offend or cast any doubt on Ron's participation in D Day. It was an extremely dangerous undertaking and I greatly admire all who took part. Those who died truly gave their lives for us. In that spirit, would you consider these two points:

1. You say "Ron and his contingent were transported to France off the coast of Kent in an USA tank landing craft from the London East End Docks. German U-boats sank several of their flotillas in the channel during the crossing and they were shot at by Nazi torpedo boats."

The D Day armada achieved complete surprise and it was not intercepted by any German craft (which of course would have radioed back). No U-Boats were present in the Channel. There were two main assaults by sea, first the Utah and Omaha beaches. Here is what Chester Wilmot had to say about that momentous first wave crossing, of the tense soldiers in the holds down below:

"They did not imagine that the enemy was ignorant of their approach and his failure to respond seemed to many not only surprising but sinister. ... Because it was uneventful, it took on an air of unreality, which still prevailed at 2 a.m. when Naval Force 'U' (Rear-Admiral D.P.Moon,
U.S.N) began assembling undisturbed in its transport area off the Cotentin, 12 miles north-east of Utah."

The only E-boat activity I know of was during the 2nd wave, Demsey's British force. On the morning of 6 June Naval Force 'S', assembled off the mouth of the Orne had lain down a smoke screen. Wilmot again "Out of the smoke ... just as dawn was breaking, three E-boats emerged,
loosed their torpedoes and turned tail. Two torpedoes passed between Battleships Warspite and Ramilles, another sank a Norwegian destroyer, while a fourth shot under the bow of Talbot's flagship, HMS Largs ... The E-boats did not wait to observe the results, and, when they had disappeared into the smoke-screen, the invasion fleet saw no more of the German Navy throughout the day."

2. The other point is here, where you say: "Eventually they landed at the Arromanches beachhead near Caen. ... There was barely enough room on the beaches to move. They were bombed, strafed, and life was very touch and go."

The British 2nd Army under Lt.General Miles Dempsey landed I an XXX corps on Gold, Juno, and Sword beaches; Arromanches (more properly Arromanches-les-Bains) was at the western 'Item' sector of Gold beach. Initially there were heavy casualties mostly from two anti-tank battalions of the German 352nd Infantry Division reserve supported by the Panzer Lehr Division and later the 2d Panzer, but there was no German air support whatsoever in that the Allies had complete dominance of the sky. There was no German air straffing or bombing of this or any other sector.
Indeed, even quite senior German officers accused the Luftwaffe of cowardice not appreciating fully the true situation. Arromanches was of extreme importance because it was here that the anchorage was secured for the construction of Gooseberry breakwaters and Whale piers of the vital artificial harbour.

I offer these clarifications in friendship and I hope they will jog Ron's memory after 60 years. I look forward to hearing more from him.

Kind regards,
Peter

Sources and works consulted:

"The Struggle For Europe" by Chester Wilmot (Collins, 1952): I am lucky to have a 1st Edition, the maps are still the best.
"Overlord" by Max Hastings (Michael Joseph, 1984)
"D Day June 6, 1944" by Stephen E. Ambrose (Touchstone, 1994)
"Decision in Normandy" by Carlo D'Este (Robson Books, 1984)
"The D-Day Encyclopedia" edited by David G. Chandler (Simon & Schuster, 1994)

 

Message 2 - Ron's War in Europe - D Day Plus

Posted on: 09 February 2004 by Audrey Lewis - WW2 Site Helper

Dear Peter,
Thank you so much for your very comprehensive reply to Ron's story. Ron is my brother-in-law. His story had to be prized out of him. As you say, after 60 years things can get distorted. I did do some research on this, but missed so much more. I will send your letter and phone him when he has had time the think about things. I will let your know what he says as soon as possible.
Thank you so much.
Best wishes,
Audrey

 

Message 3 - Ron's War in Europe - D Day Plus

Posted on: 09 February 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Audrey

I would be grateful if you would emphasise to Ron that my comments are not inteneded as a personal criticism in any way. If you could encourage him further, I look forward to reading much more of his story.

Kind regards,
Peter

 

Message 4 - Ron's War in Europe - D Day Plus 5

Posted on: 09 February 2004 by Audrey Lewis - WW2 Site Helper

Dear Peter,
Thank you for your letter. The title D Day Plus is on reflection a little misleading. It was meant to infer days after D Day itself rather than part of it. Ron said that he went to France on D Day plus 5. The narrative of the story to my way of thinking suggests that it was a few days later than D Day itself.
I hope this makes things clearer.
I am grateful for your comments. Please notice, I have changed the title. Thank you so much for the list of your reference books.
All good wishes,
Audrey

 

Message 5 - Ron's War in Europe - D Day Plus 5

Posted on: 09 February 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Dear Audrey

In a way it is a pity that the term 'D-Day' has become so entrenched in the popular mind for the Normandy Landings.

Here is an extract from a suggestion I made for an entry in the WW2 Glossary at F125683?post=4569416

Although commonly and mistakenly thought of as only referring to operation 'Overlord', the Normandy landings of 6 June 1944, 'D-Day' is a military term to denote the start of a military operation. It was employed in many amphibious operations in WW2 such as the landings in North Africa, Sicily, Salerno, and Anzio. There are two terms which are interlinked, 'H-Hour' and 'D-Day'. 'H' stands for 'hour, or time' and 'D' stands for 'Day, or date' "

D-Day is for planning purposes only. Subsequent days are called D+1, D+2, D+3, etc.

From what you say, Ron crossed on 11 June (D+5). This was a very dangerous time as the next day 7th Armoured Division swung right round to occupy Villers-Bocage only to get a severe drubbing from the Tiger tanks of 2nd Panzer.

I look forward to his next instalment.

Best regards,

Peter

 

Message 6 - Ron's War in Europe - D Day Plus 5

Posted on: 21 February 2004 by Audrey Lewis - WW2 Site Helper

Dear Peter,
If I haven't already thanked you for your helpful comments on this story - please accept them now. You will see, if you look at Ron's story again, that I have correct D+5 in the title. Ron was not sure himself so I was grateful to you for pointing this out to me. How is your writing going?
All the best.
Audrey

 

Message 7 - Ron's War in Europe - D Day Plus 5

Posted on: 21 February 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

My writing? Er ..... :-D

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Battle of the Bulge & Rhine Crossings 1945 Category
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