battle of Groningen in April 1945 had been one of the last acts of the
liberation of The Netherlands. At the same time as the First Canadian Army
prepared to move east into Germany again, 325,000 Germans were surrendering
to the south, in the Ruhr Pocket, while the Red Army to the east was
flinging itself across the Oder - the last barrier between the Soviets and
21st Army Group next turned both its Armies onto enemy soil with the goal of
capturing key ports in northern Germany and liberating Denmark. While
British 2nd Army moved on Bremen and Hamburg, First Canadian Army would move
alongside to protect its flank.
The Battle Honour for
Oldenburg was granted to several regiments for many individual unit actions.
The 5th Canadian Brigade made
the move into Germany on 19 April 1945, concentrating 40 kilometres
southwest of Bremen. The entire Division would move in bounds, protecting
the right flank of 4th Canadian (Armoured) Division, itself advancing on the
flank of the British XXX Corps moving on Bremen. The 5th Brigade moved on
22 April, with The Calgary Highlanders in the lead. "C" and "D" Companies
led the advance mounted on tanks of the Fort Garry Horse. Only three
casualties were suffered in the days' advance when a carrier driven by
Private Leonard W. Pepper was ambushed. Captain Bill Lyster was severely
wounded, almost losing his arm and being evacuated to England.
The 5th Brigade once again led
the division's advance on 26 April. The Brigade was ordered to attack
towards Oldenburg, with the Black Watch and Le Regiment de Maisonneuve
leading and The Calgary Highlanders in reserve. While the Germans had shown
no inclination to stand and fight in recent days, the garrison at
Gruppenbühren - the town sitting astride the brigade's objective - was a
Captain Sandy Pearson would describe this battle as "sort of a useless
endeavour as we knew the end was near", the action nonetheless produced
three awards for gallantry.
War Diary - 26 April
The War Diary painted the battle in
very stark terms: after crossing the Brigade Start Point at 0800 hrs, they
reached a concentration area at 0900, and were told that the earliest
possible commitment for the unit would be 1100 hours. Several changes of
plan followed, and at 1345 hours Tactical Headquarters moved to a new
"A" Company was detailed to put an
attack in with a main road junction as their objective. Heavy enemy
shelling and mortaring delayed the attack, as did the fact that Le Regiment
de Maisonneuve had not been able to achieve their objective. The
Maisonneuves were consequently using a large portion of the available
artillery ammunition being fired in support of the Brigade.
"A" Company finally launched their
attack at 1800 hrs, over open ground, with Major "Knobby" Clarke leading his
company personally onto their objective. As described below, he did not
stop there. "B" Company crossed the same open ground subsequently, and "D"
and "C" moved north to the main road. "D" Company stopped 500 yards short
of their objective in order to concentrate more artillery fire on it.
By 2350 hrs all companies
were settled in for the night, and a patrol was sent to check on a forest
opposite their position, but the scouts returned at 0200 and reported the
woods clear of enemy soldiers, and that there were fires burning.
Decorations - Major Francis Herbert "Knobby" Clarke, DSO
recommendation written for a Military Cross for Major Francis H. "Knobby"
Clarke paints a vivid picture of how the action went for his company:
On the 26
April 1945 The Calgary Highlanders were directed to take GRUPPEN-BUHREN by
passing through an area between the other two units of the Brigade. At the
time of the operation the other units were both still clearing their own
immediate areas and due to this fact the objective of the unit was over 1200
yards of mostly open country and not a particularly good start line.
Clarke had the leading company and moved it to the edge of a small wood this
side of an extremely flat and open country. Sizing up the open country he
quickly realized that his plan would have to entail the wise use of smoke.
At this time the area of his FUP (Forming Up Point) was subject to
heavy enemy shelling, consistent 20 MM arty fire and the area was being
swept by small arms fire. Major Clarke decided that to get his company
across this treacherous area he would have to carefully use smoke and
leap-frog his platoons so that he would not mess his own supporting fire.
His plan included a programme of smoke from artillery, 4.2 and 3 inch
mortars and to be successful it would require his own personal supervision
due to the casualties which included one platoon commander and two NCOs
wounded. His plan was laid and carried out so successfully that his leading
platoon arrived on its objective and so completely surprised the enemy and
caused so much disorganization in their midst that Major Clarke realized
that the quicker he got in the remainder of his company the more complete
would be the rout of the enemy, so by his own personal supervision and
encouragement he achieved this. In this particular area one 88MM gun, 3 -
20MM guns and several MMGs (Medium Machine Gun - generally refers to an
MG34 or MG42 on a tripod mount) were captured. The crews were either
killed or taken prisoner.
Clarke, on looking over the objective on which he was sitting quickly
appreciated that by exploiting further he could render the whole of the
defences in this area useless. He immediately asked permission from the
Commanding Officer and when granted, carried out the exploitation so
successfully that the remainder of the Battalion was quickly got on its
objective, capturing a large number of prisoners with very little loss of
life on the unit's part.
Cross was not awarded, and instead, a Distinguished Service Order was
gazetted on 10 November 1945:
Lance Corporal Floyd Orin
following is the citation from Floyd Rourke's Distinguished
Conduct Medal citation; Rourke survived the war and served again
in the Korean War. The DCM was a very rare award in the Calgary
Highlanders, as it was throughout the Army, but even more so for
someone as low in rank as Lance Corporal Rourke. The award was
gazetted on 22 September 1945 after the recommendation was sent
from 5 Canadian Infantry Brigade on 10 May 1945.
On 26 April 1945, the Calgary Highlanders were ordered to
capture Gruppen-Bühren, Germany. "A" Company was detailed to
secure the first objective to serve as a firm base for the
To reach this objective, "A" Company had to cross 1200 yards of
open, flat ground completely devoid of cover and to assist them
a smoke programme was laid on. Unfortunately, due to a sudden
change in wind, the smoke cleared and the company, now exposed,
was subjected to most intense 20-mm, light machine gun and small
arms fire which killed the Platoon Commander of Number 9
Platoon, the leading platoon, and caused many other casualties.
Floyd Rourke, 1945
Calgary Highlanders Archives Photo P97-84
realizing that he was now the senior Non-Commissioned Officer in the platoon
immediately took over command of the platoon and skilfully led the men over
the remaining 700 yards of open ground, through the barbed wire
entanglements and enemy crawl trenches and into the final and successful
assault of the objective.
Once on the objective, Lance-Corporal Rourke quickly reorganized his platoon
and made a further bound to attack an 88-mm gun which was knocked out and
the crew captured. A group of enemy now appeared on the platoon's left flank
and Lance-Corporal Rourke immediately moved his men over and engaged them,
capturing a further twelve prisoners.
This Junior Non-Commissioned Officer, by his initiative, good judgment and
complete disregard for his personal safety, not only was directly
responsible for the capture of the enemy gun and sixteen prisoners but also
caused by his bravery and splendid leadership the collapse of enemy
resistance in the area which resulted in the complete success of the company
Private Reginald Bruce Packer
Private Packer's Military Medal
was also gazetted 22 September 1945 after being passed on by 5th Canadian
Brigade Headquarters on 8 May 1945.
On 26 April 1945, The
Calgary Highlanders were attacking Gruppen-Buhren in Germany. "A" Company
was assigned the task of securing the first objective to serve as a firm
base for the battalion.
To reach this objective the company had to cross 1200 yards of open country
requiring a smoke screen to cover the flanks.
Private Packer was stretcher bearer moving just in the rear of the leading
platoon. As the smoke cleared, the enemy fire became deadly accurate causing
many casualties. Private Packer, with complete disregard for his personal
safety calmly and most courageously carried on with his work. While men were
being deliberately sniped on all sides of him, he proceeded from one
casualty to another administering aid.
Packer was soon the only outstanding target for the enemy fire but he never
gave up until all the serious casualties were evacuated despite the fact
that another stretcher bearer was hit beside him.
The devotion to duty and brave conduct displayed by this soldier were of the
highest order and served as an inspiration to the whole company.
Highlanders lost 6 men killed and several more wounded during the attack on
Gruppenbühren. The youngest fatality was 21 years old, while the oldest was
26. Platoon Sergeant John Stirling had been wounded once before and was
killed at the age of 22. All six men are buried in the Holten Canadian War
Cemetery in The Netherlands where 1,355 Canadians were interred. In total,
12 Calgary Highlanders are buried there.
Copas, Edwin Owen, Commander, 9 Platoon, "A" Company
Stirling, John Paisley, Platoon Sergeant, "B" Company
Webb, William Henry
Enns, Jacob George
Gorzitza, Alfred Otto
Larson, Amil Adolph
27 April 1945
Artillery (as well as Vickers
machine guns from the Toronto Scottish Regiment) continued to engage the
enemy during the early morning. At first light a fighting patrol from "C"
Company under Lieutenant Rosentrator located four 20-mm guns; they returned
with five German prisoners.
"D" and "C" Companies,
stopped short the previous night, had fire plans drawn up so they could
attack and exploit their objectives at 0930 hrs and 1000 hrs respectively.
By 1200, "D" was in position and "C" was held up by German-occupied houses
until 1700. Opposition was mainly machinegun and 20mm fire, with a single
gun reported in the War Diary to be an 88mm causing considerable concern
until engaged and silenced by Canadian artillery.
Two members of the Scout
Platoon, Private Gould and Private Walton, patrolled north of the "D"
Company positions during the afternoon. The War Diary described their
After a short time (lying
behind a hedge), they were surprised to see eleven enemy coming down the
side road from the West. The Germans were much more surprised when suddenly
confronted by two savage looking individuals in camouflage jackets. Though
completely armed, they surrendered as one, and were dismayed to learn later
that they were not in our lines as they thought when captured.
Further patrols at about 2300
hrs that evening went out to reconnoitre a possible further objective for
"D" Company. Enemy contact was made by both patrols (one each from "C" and
"A" Companies), and "D" Company was ordered not to attack until the Black
Watch had a chance to establish themselves on the left, to protect the
Calgary Highlanders' flank. The patrols netted 27 prisoners, however.