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Liberation of Walcheren Island

by SEAWIZARD

Contributed by 
SEAWIZARD
People in story: 
Frank Reginald HIMSWORTH
Location of story: 
Holland
Background to story: 
Army
Article ID: 
A2590896
Contributed on: 
02 May 2004

The Liberation of Walcheren Island - 1st November 1944

This is one mans story of that day and how it he saw it through his eyes.

Corporal 1153990 Frank Reginald HIMSWORTH.
1st Lothian and Borders Yeomanry
79th Armoured Division
Location: Holland
Date: November 1944

On October 31st 1944, grey skies and cold winds were the order of the day as LC(T) 737 left Ostend Harbour bound for Westkapelle, carrying an assortment of tanks which were to spearhead the taking of Westkapelle, a small town on the northwest coast of Walcheren Island, Holland.

It was to be a journey of almost 7 hours on a flat bottomed boat built for the purpose of transporting men and military hardware, for the liberation of Holland was to commence at Westkapelle .

Various landing craft were now en route to Holland, some filled with Commandos, some with tanks and some with batteries of rockets. Back up was provided by the battleship HMS Warspite and 2 ageing monitors, HMS Erebus and HMS Roberts.

Aged 20 years and 11 months, Corporal Frank HIMSWORTH, looked around him, seeing other young men preparing for the coming assault. This was only his second time at sea.

The first had been on June 10th 1944, D Day +4, when he and his unit had landed at Gold Beach, Normandy, and since then they had fought their way up the French coast, mainly in support of the Canadian 1st Army.

Today, his crew consisted of Driver Jock STRACHAN, Wireless operator WILEY and gunner John GARDNER

Corporal HIMSWORTH’s tank was not an ordinary tank, it was an American Sherman tank, but fitted on the front was a huge rotating boom, and attached to the boom were lengths of chain, which reached to the ground.

This was affectionately called a “Crab” by the men who manned them, but the official term used by the British Army was a “ Flail Tank or Mine Destroyer.

The previous days had been spent loading supplies, ammunition and waterproofing tanks and by the time LC ( T ) 737 arrived at Westkapelle Beach, the beachhead was a quagmire.

The German artillery batteries had not yet been subdued by the Royal Navy or the bombers of the Royal Air Force and these batteries had been successful in sinking several Landing Craft, especially those that carried the rocket batteries.

As LC (T) 737 threaded her way through the shoreline obstacles prepared in advance by the Wehrmacht, Corporal HIMSWORTH stood upon two cases of .303 ammunition, his head and shoulders proudly poking through the cupola of his Sherman tank, call sign, “Bramble 5”.

Corporal HIMSWORTH, big in heart but small in stature, was a rarity. One of the youngest tank commanders in the British Army, he was unable to command his tank through the cupola without standing on something and the only apparatus to hand were 2 boxes of ammunition.

If those ammunition boxes had been hit, Corporal HIMSWORTH would have been blown through the cupola, skywards, and in all probability lost his life.

As LC (T) 737 approached the beach at Westkapelle, she lowered her ramp into the sea, 20 yards from what was now a quagmire of mud, rubble, burning vehicles and hidden defensive mines, laid by the German Army sappers.

Corporal HIMSWORTHs’ tank, call sign “Bramble 5” was the second tank to leave the LC (T), following Sgt FERGUSONs' tank, driving straight into the sea and forwards towards the beach at Westkapelle. Shells and bullets were flying all around from the German defensive positions at Domburg, which had to be silenced, otherwise British and Canadian Commando losses would increase, especially in Landing Craft off the Westkapelle shore, which were being struck with alarming regularity.

Already, several troop carrying Buffalos were to be seen burning fiercely where they had come into contact with German mines.

Soldiers were dying on the beachhead and vehicles were being shelled by the German defences so best get off it thought Corporal HIMSWORTH and so “Bramble 5” gunned her way through the break in the dyke engaging her flail to knock out any German land mines and made her way towards the village of Westkapelle where they found the roads flooded to a depth of at least 1 metre.

The village of Westkapelle had been flooded. A defensive move by the German Army had been to blow up the dykes and so flood the land, especially when high tide occurred. This was designed to slow up and hinder the Allied advance.

Bullets were ricocheting off her armoured body as “Bramble 5” entered Zuidstraat when the order came to engage the top of the church tower, which was believed to be used by German snipers as an advantage point.

Taking careful aim, Corporal HIMSWORTH and his crew fired several rounds at the church tower, causing enough damage to prevent its use to the German Army.

It was now late and evening was fast approaching so Corporal HIMSWORTH and his crew parked up in the street, hoping to get some sleep, when in the early morning hours, Corporal HIMSWORTH’s driver, who was seated low in the front of the tank, noted with some dismay that his feet were frozen and soaking.

A quick examination of the floor of the tank revealed that as the Sherman Tank had come ashore her waterproofing had been damaged and that a substantial part of the North Sea now occupied the lower half of the inside of the tank.

Sleep being out of the question, and the Sherman being out of action, Corporal HIMSWORTH and his crew waited until the tide went out and left the tank and made their way into an empty house, making their way upstairs, as the lower floors were flooded.

They cooked up a meal as best they could and used the porcelain plates, which had been left behind by the Dutch owners of the house.

Corporal HIMSWORTH said later:-

“ When we had finished our meal, ironically we had no water to wash the plates, so we threw them out of the window. I often thought afterwards how wasteful we had been. These plates belonged to someone. They ate their meals from them, but we just threw them away. “

On 2nd November Corporal HIMSWORTH and his crew set themselves to work loading ammunition and supplies into other military vehicles which were going forward through the dikes to reinforce forward elements of the Commandos, who were engaged in street fighting with German Infantry.

Whilst the crew were engaged in loading ammunition onto one of these vehicles, called a Buffalo, because it was an amphibious tracked troop carrier, the Buffalo sank deeper into the mud and came into contact with a German landmine, which exploded, damaging the Buffalo and blowing Corporal HIMSWORTH up into he air, landing him several yards away.

Corporal HIMSWORTH was lucky to survive. He had no visible wounds apart from bruising, but he had sustained broken bones in his ribs and been concussed.

The unit medic strapped him up as best he could and sent him to Vlissingen. On 4th November Corporal HIMSWORTH was placed aboard a Buffalo, which was departing for Breskens and proper medical treatment.

Being a non-swimmer Corporal HIMSWORTH had to wear 2 lifejackets, which compounded the pain from his broken ribs, the pain of which was not helped when the Buffalo crashed into the breakwater at Breskens.

Corporal HIMSWORTH survived World War 2. He re-joined his crew soon afterwards, and they fought their way through Holland and into Germany.

A quiet unassuming man, Corporal HIMSWORTH, says he was lucky to survive the war. On 3 separate occasions on Walcheren Island he was close to being killed, all within the space of two days.

The Second World War had already cost the lives of two of his three brothers.

Reflecting on those early days, Frank says:-

“Life was much easier for us than the Dutch people. Okay, we had to fight, but we had enough food and shelter, but most important was that our country had not been occupied by the enemy. That must have been terrible. We only did our job.”

In 1999, 55 years after the liberation of Walcheren Island, Frank HIMSWORTH, now aged 76 years old, attended a reunion at Westkapelle, where he met and made friends with a group of local Dutch people.
After a church service they all attended a tank monument at Westkapelle, where his Dutch friends took photographs of the tank, and in particular a copper plate fixed to the rear of the tank, which was inscribed in Dutch.
A photograph was taken of the inscription and later translated by his Dutch friends and sent to him.
The translation on the copper plate left Franjk HIMSWORTH very excited, because he was sure that the tank on the monument was his old tank.
The tank he had driven ashore at Westkapelle on 1st November 1944.

In November 2000, Frank HIMSWORTH returned to Westakapelle with his wife Sheila, to be met by their friends, Alice, Leen, Puck and Ralph.

Frank went along to see the tank. It looked familiar, some parts were missing and there was no longer a boom fitted to the front of the tank for the chain flails, however, when he walked round the rear of the tank, he stopped and stared and tears came to his eyes. This was his tank. This was the Sherman tank he had landed with at Westkappel, in November 1944.

He remembered years back when he, Jock STRACHAM, John GARDNER and Operator WILEY had landed on this very beach, in this very tank.

How did he know?

Simple, because there on the rear of the Sherman tank was painted his call sign “Bramble 5”.

There was no doubt, this was Corporal HIMSWORTHs’ tank. It was the second tank to land on Walcheren Island, on 1st November 1944.

There then followed interviews with the local and regional media in Holland and in November 2004, Frank and Sheila will return to Walcheren Island, and in particular Westkapelle, where a newly dedicated WW2 museum is being opened, to the honour of the Allied WW2 veterans.

This story has been recorded by Richard Goddard ( Frank Himsworths nephew ) from accounts made by Frank HIMSWORTH, his wife Sheila and their Dutch friends, Alice, Leen, Puck and Ralph.

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Forum Archive

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These messages were added to this story by site members between June 2003 and January 2006. It is no longer possible to leave messages here. Find out more about the site contributors.

Message 1 - Your Uncle's story

Posted on: 04 May 2004 by paul_i_w

Thanks for posting the story, it was very interesting. There does not seem to be a lot of information about the tanks that survived to get ashore at Walcheren. There were 4 LCTs taking part, but only a handful of tanks landed ok. LCT737 was named 'Bramble' (hence 'Bramble 5'), the others being Apple, Cherry and Damson. On Bramble were 2 flails, 2 Churchill RE tanks (AVREs), one carrying a bridge, and a bulldozer. One Churchill got stuck after it dropped its bridge. I read somewhere that one of the flails got stuck, but that might not have been the case from your uncle's account. Anyway, it was very interesting. I didn't know there was a surviving flail tank on display either!

All the best

Paul

 

Message 2 - Your Uncle's story

Posted on: 04 May 2004 by SEAWIZARD

Paul,
Thanks for your comments.
I don't know too much about this particular episode other than what my uncle has told me and from what I've read from survivors accounts. I have however got photographic and newsreel evidence of my uncle driving the second flail tank off LCT 737.
As the story says, his tank was recovered by the Dutch folk who have made it into a monument, and in November 2004, I'm taking my uncle back to Walcheren Island, to be present at the opening of a new museum dedicated to the liberation.

Best wishes
Richard

 

Message 3 - Your Uncle's story

Posted on: 05 May 2004 by originalmarjorie

Hi, I've been very interested in reading about your uncle. My father I think was involved with this. I say think, because he never talked about the war but having done some detective work with his service record and various books I surmise that in all probability he was there. His name was Thomas Hook and he was a private with 5th KOSB. At the end of Oct 44 he went to Ostend and from there the regiment went to Breskens in Holland. The regiment then went on to liberate Flushing.

Regards,
Marjorie

 

Message 4 - Your Uncle's story

Posted on: 09 May 2005 by trooperscott

I read your story with interest - my late father was a 'crab' driver with the 1st Lothians and also landed at Walcheren. He also lost his tank to flooding. His name was trooper 14259421 John Douglas Scott, and was in 'A' Squadron. I've written up his 'memoirs' in a Trooper's Story.

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