OCCUPATION ARMY AND THE FINAL DAYS
May 1945 to February 1946
‘You looked after the division, protecting it from air attacks almost constantly from the moment you landed on D-Day until VE-Day. Whenever there was an attack, you never failed to get your men.’
FROM VE Day onwards, the regiment remained with the army of occupation, but was employed virtually as infantry, concentrating on supervising displaced persons, arresting SS men and other Nazis, destroying enemy equipment and policing troublesome freed Russian prisoners of war. On May 10, Lieutenant-Colonel Henderson stepped down as the 92nd’s CO and Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Maynard Adderley took command.
That same day, Lieutenant Coombs mustered as many drivers as possible for a special operation. Len Harvey was among them. ‘We were taken to the 3rd Division HQ, where two drivers each were assigned to a three-ton Bedford lorry and the whole convoy of trucks set off for Hanover, where they were loaded with Red Cross packages. From there we progressed to Belsen concentration camp.
‘The packages were unloaded at a temporary hospital. By this time, the dead had all been buried into large pits. I saw one sign which read, “Approximately 5,000 bodies were interred here” and there were very many such pits. The smell of dead flesh was still heavy in the atmosphere. Back with F Troop, we had to answer dozens of questions from comrades who had wanted to be with us. Personally, I found being in the camp very distressing and too difficult to talk about.’
May 18 saw the regiment move from Gesmold to the neighbouring town of Melle. Towards the end of May, 3rd Division moved 100 miles south-east to the neighbourhood of Kassel, and the 92nd became responsible for the district around Warburg. It guarded signals bases, hospitals, warehouses and a camp for Polish, Russian, Romanian and Serbian displaced persons. After a week here, the regiment moved on June 5 to Sennelager Camp, near Dortmund – where the men learned that the regiment was to leave 3rd Division and come under the command of 51st Highland Division.
On June 11, the 92nd assembled at Sennelager for a farewell parade before the 3rd Division commander, Major-General Whistler. In a special Order of the Day, ‘Bolo’ paid an elegant and emotional tribute to the regiment.
He told the gunners: ‘You are proud to be Loyals, and the division is proud of you. There is no doubt that the work you did before D-Day has shown its results in battle, and nothing could be finer than that. You looked after the division, protecting it from air attacks almost constantly from the moment you landed on D-Day until VE- Day, and I personally have never been seriously worried about the air.
‘Once or twice we had a party, but the raids were more enjoyable than dangerous. Whenever there was an attack, you never failed to get your men. I am quite satisfied that you got more German planes than any other regiment of your kind in 21st Army Group. You have been called upon to do some queer tasks. You have fought for me as infantry. You have backed up the infantry of this and other divisions by your barrages, particularly at the crossing of the Rhine and again at Bremen, which was the division’s last real battle of the war.
‘You can feel happy and proud to have fought through from D-Day and to have earned, by your behaviour and your skill and courage, the affection and admiration of 3rd British Infantry Division. On its behalf I wish goodbye to you and Godspeed and good luck in our future, whatever it may be. I want you to remember whom you have fought with, and whom you belong to. In the days to come, there may be a reunion of the 3rd British and I shall expect all of you to be there to join again your brothers-in-arms in battle.’
General Whistler had decreed that June 6 should henceforth be kept as a holiday because of 3rd Division’s historic role in the Normandy landing. Because the 92nd had been on operational duties that day, it instead observed the holiday on June 12. Four days later, the regiment moved to the north-east of Bremen, guarding 3,000 prisoners at the Milag detainee compound in Westertimke.
Towards the end of the month, three new troops were formed and the batteries were reorganised, each with three troops. On July 14, the regiment moved to Harpstedt. Here, the 92nd finally said farewell to the guns which had served it so well for so long. On July 17 in the gun and vehicle park at Weezendorf, the oiled and cleaned Bofors were handed over to ordnance troops for shipment out via Hamburg.
On August 13, Lieutenant Colonel Adderley was succeeded by Lieutenant Colonel R McLay. Although occupation duties still kept the bulk of the 92nd in Germany, some personnel were being transferred to the Far East, where Japan was stubbornly refusing to surrender – Major Crane and Jack Prior were sent to India.
In a top-secret plan, codenamed Downfall, 3rd British had been earmarked as one of the assault divisions for a gigantic American-led invasion of the Japanese home islands, scheduled for March 1946. The 3rd was to have formed part of a Commonwealth corps with a Canadian and an Australian division, attacking the main island of Honshu, eventually taking Tokyo.
Elements of one 3rd Division unit, the 20th Anti-Tank Regiment, got as far as being put aboard a plane for Maryland in the U.S., where they were due to start training. But the flight was cancelled. Mercifully, with Allied casualties predicted to be one million, the atomic bombs were dropped and Japan finally capitulated on August 15.
Back in Germany, the 92nd continued its policing duties. On August 18, the regiment evicted all Russian displaced persons and freed PoWs from Harpstedt and Dunsen to camps at Luneburg. At the beginning of September, while 318 stayed at Kreis Hoya, Harpstedt, the regiment moved to Scheessel in the Kreis Rotenburg area. On the 25th, the batteries completed the reorganisation into three troops.
During the month, men began to be released or transferred to other units and by the beginning of October, the regiment’s strength was 607. On October 9, the 92nd REME workshop was disbanded. Pioneers took over Harpstedt from 318 on the 22nd and the battery moved to Rotenburg aerodrome. On November 13, Lieutenant Colonel G E C Sikes, DSO took over command and as December opened, the regiment’s assignment was guarding a vehicle park on the Bremen-Hamburg autobahn.
All the time, numbers had been gradually dwindling. Because two drafts of men were scheduled to leave on December 24, Christmas celebrations were held on the 23rd, with the weather snowy. By now, the regiment numbered only 552.
As 1946 opened, the run-down accelerated and notification came that disbandment was scheduled for February. Throughout January, personnel numbers dwindled rapidly as men were discharged or given other postings. By February 2, most remaining stores, equipment and vehicles were being shipped out.
Two days later, on February 4, 1946, as rain swept Scheessel, the 92nd (Loyals) Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery, was formally disbanded. It was five years and seven months to the day since the 7th Loyals had been formed at Fulwood Barracks. Most of the men and many of the officers who had made up the newly-raised battalion in that desperate summer of 1940 had stayed with it on its long, eventful journey from fledgling infantry unit to crack mobile anti-aircraft regiment.
Through the long years of training in Britain and their many battles – from the Normandy beaches to Bremen – they had served the guns well. And had proved by their skill, courage and dedication that they were indeed ‘true Loyals.’
Quo Fas Et Gloria Ducunt