Private Loren Nelson
While the Lincoln and Welland Regiment rested and reinforced in the rear, an Allied operation was taking place titled OPERATION VERITABLE.
VERITABLE, which began on 8 Feb 45, was designed to overcome the three defensive German lines built within the 30 km gap between the Maas and Rhine Rivers east of Nijmegen. Also known as the Siegfried Line, the German positions consisted of trenches, anti-tank traps and wire belts which ran between towns and farmhouses. Behind the line was German territory, including the cities of Cleve and Goch. The Germans fought very hard on their home ground, something the allied armies sometimes took for granted.
The Lincoln and Welland Regiment did not take part in VERITABLE, but the did take part in the continuation of the the operation, titled BLOCKBUSTER.
Kapelsche Veer was seen as a turning point for the Regiment in that it sustained so many casualties. During the weeks after Kapelsche Veer the Lincoln and Welland Regiment received more reinforcements, while the battle hardened regulars shook off the physical effects of frost-bite, sustained during the battle. The regiment was now again located at Loon op Zand, Netherlands.
It was also in these days that the Commanding Officer, Major Swayze, was relieved by Lt. Col. Rowan C. Coleman. Coleman was seen as a "dare devil", who liked to have his command post close to the front. Coleman recalls the circumstances which brought him to the regiment: "It was obviously a period of intense reorganization.... I hitched in as fast as I could. I went through a period of interviewing the survivors, that is down to the rank of Company Sergeant Major, just to see what was left. At the same time we had 17 brand new officers sent up as reinforcements and they all had to be sorted out to see what calibre they were."
The day Coleman arrived in Loon op Zand a training regime was begun. The middle two weeks of February brought exercises such as small arms practice, field exercises and route marches, as well as the tactics of basic fighting. Combined arms training was also conducted at this time, dealing with the intricacies of working with armoured regiments.
On a foggy morning of 18 Feb 45, the regiment was relocated 10km northwest to Walwijk, where they replaced the Argyll and Sutherland Regiment at the Maas River. Two days later the Regiment was to take launch OPERATION SCHULTZ, which consisted of a 36 man patrol over the Maas into German territory. Their objective was to capture a German prisoner for interrogation. Upon crossing the patrol encountered machine gun and mortar fire and returned after three hours with one man missing (taken prisoner) and five men wounded. This was the Lincoln and Welland Regiment's last foray over the Maas River.
Meanwhile, OPERATION VERITABLE, had bogged down short of it's original objective. A heavy snowfall, coupled with an early thaw, produced severe flooding south of the Rhine River. Mud was everywhere.
The Lincoln and Welland Regiment finally found itself on the move to the front on 22 Feb 45. The convoy moved through s'Hertogenbosch, Grave, Nijmegen and across the German border into Cleve. It was here that the Regiment spent the night near the historical German town which had recently been heavily bombed by the allies. The town had nearly been wiped off the map. South of Cleve, the regiment was put into an area which was jammed with troops and equipment being readied for the next operation, OPERATION BLOCKBUSTER.
Confusion reigned, as the Regiment was moved twice before the 26th of February, when the operation began. Also, the regiment was split up. Both the Lincoln and Welland Regiment and the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders had been placed under Brigadier Moncel's Armoured TIGER GROUP which had been divided into five forces, each with it's own tasking during the operation. The initial assault was to be made by the JERRY and SNUFF forces. COLE and JOCK forces would follow up to reinforce their positions. SMITH force was then to push on further to high ground north of the German town of Udem. Each group consisted of two Infantry Companies and one Armoured Regiment. It is not known which group Private Loren Nelson was part of.
One Private describes the scene prior to the 26th of February:
"The area was a sodden field alright; it was mud. It was late winter and it was, I'll swear... a ploughed field. They had unloaded all kinds of supplies in that particular area; it was a staging area. They had fields full of crates of hard tack, bully beef, canned food, things of that sort... They loaded us onto troop carriers that were sort of tanks... and most of us... were suffering from diarrhea. That was basically because we had found some canned apricots and had gotten into them and it was disastrous, let me tell you. They loaded us onto these things and they took us on and dropped us off someplace in the dark in a barn and told us to sleep there for the night and we just dropped wherever we could. The next morning I woke up and I had dropped in a cow stall and I was covered with crap... You were dead tired, you didn't know where the hell you were."
On the night of the 25th the TIGER GROUP went to their start lines for the attack. There was a icy rain coming down which turned the ground again into mud. OPERATION BLOCKBUSTER began with the various groups struggling with stuck vehicles. At 0430 hours, after a 45 minute artillery barrage into enemy territory, the forces attacked under artificial moonlight. Their progress was slowed by the mud and small enemy groups armed with Panzerfausts (a german anti-tank weapon), which destroyed a number of Canadian tanks.
Mud, rain, darkness and the horror of war combined to confuse the situation. Still the Canadian's forged ahead improvising at the best of their abilities. Ken Hipel gave an account of that day:
"I remember stopping and asking this new lieutenant who had no battle experience where the hell the rest of the companies were. We were losing Shermans: they were running over mines; blowing tracks; getting stuck. I said, `We'd better stop until we've got communications. ` He had the radio . . . He says, `I lost radio contact, but we've got to take the crossroads. `Well,' I said, 'if that's your wish, we'll push on. `... So we head up to the crossroads, and by the time we get there, we've got one lousy Sherman left and the Rams [armoured vehicles] we were in, the heaviest armour we had on them was a .50 calibre [machine gun]... There was a hedge. So we dug part of the platoon along the hedge. We kept the Rams in the back and the Sherman started moving around and they knocked it out. So there we were, sitting ducks, with no heavy armour . . . Then they started counterattacking. I had the driver from one of the Rams who had never had battle experience in one of the next slit trenches. When they started machine gunning, he stands up to see what `s going on, which is only reasonable, and he got a burst across the chest."
Later, on the afternoon of the 26th, JERRY and SNUFF Forces had reportedly reached their objectives near Todtenhugel, overlooking the Hochwald Forest. COLE and JOCK Forces came up from the rear and reinforced the position. A counterattack was mounted by the Germans, but was beaten off by the Lincoln and Welland B Company commanded by Major Martin, who was slightly wounded in the fighting. By nightfall, only A company was attached elsewhere, the Lincoln and Welland Regiment was back together and had reached their objective.
On the evening of the 26th, while being relieved of their position by the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry, both regiments were attacked again. This attack was again repelled.
On the first day of BLOCKBUSTER, the Lincoln and Welland Regiment acted as the "sharp edge of the sword" and lead the advance into German territory. The Regiment suffered 27 wounded and 8 deaths that same day. When compared with the Regiments losses exactly one month prior, at Kapelsche Veer, BLOCKBUSTER was cautiously declared to have gone "fairly well."
But the Hochwald Gap still lay ahead; Another trial for Private Loren Nelson and the Lincoln and Welland Regiment.