- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Ernest William Tryner
- Location of story:
- River Rhine
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 10 September 2005
This story was prompted by a telephone call from Major George Foster R.M. — Small Arms School, Warminster — to me in November 1997
Re: Battle to gain Groin March 1945
After reading Capt. Alistair Borthwick’s account of those 2-3 days I am somewhat confused. The sequence of events after 50 years does not quite coincide with the actual — perhaps it is my memory and I accept this.
Our briefings, such as they were, left me in no doubt that the operation was a ‘big show’ — indeed probably the last one leading to the ultimate victory.
On the morning of the 23rd March a number of battalion signallers went up to the flood bank of the Rhine leaving the main body in concentration areas perhaps 2/3 miles in the rear. It was a fairly uneventful day and, although dug in quite close to the river, I witnessed the detailed assembly of the paraphernalia of a massive assault river crossing. As the evening wore on and the massive gunfire in support of the primary assault gained momentum I remember being quite surprised at the relative reply of the enemy guns and hoping this was to be rather easier than predicted.
Perhaps it was just prior to midnight — time scales are difficult to judge in these situations — my colleague and I spotted on the top of the flood bank the silhouette of a British soldier minus his steel helmet. This was unusual in these situations and wandering about aimlessly on such an exposed spot also attracted our attention. We both decided to investigate and get him into a safer place — to our surprise and shock he collapsed into our arms crying for his mother. I had never experienced such uncontrollable distress — we described it as ‘bomb-happy’ (a term which seems rather brutal today). This young soldier was part of the crews manning Buffaloes and had deserted his post. Eventually we found his unit about 200yds away and had the utmost difficulty in persuading him to let go of us. This was a somewhat traumatic experience and we returned to our slit trench saying let’s hope we are moving out soon — we needed some action to take our minds off it.
The order came to embark and we joined our allotted assault craft for the ¼ mile crossing. There was some mortar fire as we crossed and we seemed to be all alone in the mist, dark and smoke — we passed one boat load, whose engine had failed, paddling furiously with their shovels to make the last few yards and avoid being swept downstream.
We landed successfully and for perhaps half an hour moved slowly inland behind our leading company. As it got lighter we came under spasmodic but intense mortar fire intermingled with spells of Nebelwerfer rocket fire. Throughout most of the morning we were under fire which meant constant digging and the slow the slow progress and small arms fire just in front was a sure sign and determined resistance.
By late morning the sun had broken through and it was a glorious spring day and I was sent with the C.O. Lt. Colonel Sym, to be his personal signaller with an 18 set (or had we 46 sets at that time?). As he moved around obviously reconnoitring so he could assess the immediate situation. Several times we came under accurate Nebelwerfer fire, particularly crossing open ground, so it became a constant run and take cover exercise. He left me with some of the chaps from A and C company while he went off returning some time later. During this period the house in which he was holding his ‘O’ group suffered a direct hit and I saw quite a number of platoon commanders making their way back to their platoons covered in dust.
On our return to Battalion H.Q. we spent some time scanning the buildings and approaches to the area which you say is Groin. To me they were obviously an area which was to be gained and judging by his concentration and note taking would present him with problems.
During our return we again came under rocket fire and I remembered well going to ground with my head between his boots and as the salvo straddled us — 4 on one side and 2 on the other — he kicked my ‘tin’ hat off (unintentional of course). Fortunately there were a number of deep tank tracks in the soft earth which we made full use of.
The next few hours and into the night was a busy time in Bn H.Q> with constant radio communications to be maintained and when not engaged on that standing by to lay telephone lines. These, unfortunately would be difficult to lay and also maintain due to mortar and shell fire and, of course, the open flat land that made daylight movement perilous. Every move near the hamlet seemed to attract Spandau fire and/or mortar fire.
During the night of 24/25th it was very hectic and at times frenetic as the continued action and no time, it seemed, for rest — we’d been on the move for almost 40 hours. It seemed you just dozed within seconds of sitting down only to be jolted up a few minutes later. It is not surprising that tempers were frayed and fuses were short because the Battalion had made what seemed too little progress into the bridgehead.
The events of the 23rd, 24th and 25th of March I am sure faded in my memory because they were overridden by those of the 28th, 29th and 30th. I was taken prisoner when Bn.H.Q. was overwhelmed and during that time we were subjected to various traumas that are not relevant to the battle for Groin.
Perhaps it is relevant to say that after the break-out from the bridgehead by the first Guards Armoured Division Col.Sym came personally to congratulate the Signal Platoon on their part in the battle. They had enabled him to maintain an up-to-date picture of the fighting and so make their contribution to the success of the operation.
After the event little seemed to be discussed about it — was it the feeling that the worst was over and we were the fortunate ones to be still around? I very much suggest that was the case.
Immediately after the cessation of hostilities the 51st Highland Division was disbanded and I was posted to the 2nd Bn the Devonshire Regiment who were in Berlin. So my contacts were lost and were only revised when you communicated with me in November — over 50 years later.
Ernest William Tryner
5th Bn Seaforth Highlanders
Further note by E. W. Tryner
Contacted by Major George Foster R.M. Instructor at Small Arms School, Warminster in Nov.1997.
Asked me to try to remember where I was and what I was doing on the night of 24/25 March 1945 — 52 years previously.
Questioned me thoroughly to test my integrity.
Asked me to recall what I could of the days and nights in establishing a bridgehead over the Rhine.
He had made a training film to give trainees insight into a “hands behind back operation” i.e. no artillery support, no air support and little tank support
I spent most of my time trailing around with the Battalion Commander, Lt. Col. John Sim (Sym), with an 18 set on my back usually in the dykes as open ground was “unhealthy”
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