The Guards at War 39-45 
Bn HQ Section LHG

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History of the 5th Bn Coldstream Guards

 

The 5th Battallion of the Coldstream Guards was not a peace time unit; formed in 1941 and disbanded in 1946, it was an expansion of one of the most senior and prestigious units in the British armed forces.

Formed in 1941at Ilfracombe on the Devonshire coast, the unit was then moved to Salisbury Plain to join the Guards Armoured division at Knook camp as part of the 32nd Guards Brigade. From here, the unit moved to Hunstanton in Norfolk and then up to Scarborough in North Yorkshire for training before finally arriving at its marshalling area in Epping Forest in 1944, preparing to transfer to Normandy.

The 5th arrived with the Guards Armoured division on the 26th of June landing on Gold Beach. seeing its first engagement of the war against the Liebstandarte Adolf Hitler Division with heavy fighting at St Mauvieux. On July 11th the unit was pulled back to St Martin-les-Entrees for a rest period in preperation for Operation Goodwood, the complete liberation of the city of Caen. The battallion manouvered with the division going through Couverville and Demouville before meeting the 12thSS with heavy fighting at Frenouville before being pulled back to Giberville, again for a rest period. A month into its Normandy campaign the batallion had suffered 200 casualties, killed and wounded.

The next stages of the fighting were towards Falaise with consistent engagements against SS troops at Caumont, St Martin Des Besuces and St Charles De Percy, leading to a large battle at La Marvindiere, where they were, for a time, surrounded by mechanised German infantry and armour, taking 300 casualties but repelling determined German attacks and holding their ground. From here the unit was pulled back to a quieter part of the line until the end of the Falaise pocket battles, by which time the 5th was moved to Chenedolle for a badly needed rest and reorganisation, during which time, due to the depletion of the battle companies, the 5th battallion was reduced from 4 battle companies to 3.

The 5th battallion then moved to rejoin the division moving up to the Somme on defensive operations which mainly involved the rounding up of German prisoners. The 5th battallion then combined into a battle formation with the 1st battallion Coldstream Guards which was one of the armoured batallions of the guards armoured division. This combination of infantry and armour battallions was a common formation employed by the division for the rest of the war. Using this formation Arras was taken without a major conflict, with German resistance being quickly overcome.

The division then turned towards Belgium, liberating Brussels before crossing the Albert and Escaut canals. The 5th was involved in heavy fighting in Rovelle during the canal crossing, moving on to Beverloo during the battle and moving in to secure a bridge head over the Escaut. By this time the battallion had been reduced to 3 weak companies and was pulled back to La Colonie in preperation for transfer to Linden for Operation Market Garden in Holland.

For the start of Operation Market Garden the 5th was held in reserve, moving up to Eindhoven and then Nijmegan after their liberation, still without reinforcements from their battles in Belgium and being put into action against German attempts to close 'Hells Highway'. The 5th then moved into Oss and received desperately needed reinforcements allowing the 4th company to reform and the battallion to be returned to full strength. The battallion then moved to, and dug into, the area known as 'The Island' between Nijmegan and Arnhem, more specifically an area known as 'Stonk Hill' due to the extremely heavy levels of German artillery targetting the position. From here the 5th battallion was key in holding the gains that had been made in the area from German counterattacks.

After its beating at 'Stonk Hill', the battallion was rewarded with 3 weeks in Hatert. However after this, the batallion was flung straight back into thick fighting, relieving elements of the 11th armoured division in fighting around the Maas pocket against the German 7th and 102nd Fallschirmjager (paratrooper) Regiments. The batallion was then moved to Sittard to hold American positions whilst the Americans themselves went on to claim Cologne. With the start of the of the Battle of the Bulge, the 5th was moved back to Belgium to keep safe the bridges over the Meuse near Namur on the 25th of December, although this turned out to be a quiet operation and on the 28th the unit moved back to Opheylisem for rest.

The begining of 1945 saw the 5th moving back to the Nijmegan area for operation 'Veritable' Elements of the division, including the 5th, launched attacks on Mull with fierce fighting punctuated by heavy artillery barrages (known as stonks) on the advancing guards. After victory here, the 5th was rested in Schule from the 23rd of February to the 3rd of March. The next operation involved most of the division capturing the high ground at Bonninghardt; facing them was the 8th German Fallschirmjager Regiment. After very heavy fighting 105 German prisoners were taken. The 5th then held the position they had just taken for 3 days whilst the remaining pockets of German resistance were cleared.

The 9th of March saw the 5th preparing to clear the Rhine bridge-head against fanatical resistance from the German 7th Fallschirmjager. Heavy fighting ensued, with the 5th taking heavy casualties before being pulled back to Mook for rest. On the 24th of March the batallion once again paired up with the 1st battallion Coldstream and began the push into Germany, meeting consistent and steady opposition. Reaching Enschek,

On 3rd April, 1945, Captain I.O. Liddell was commanding a company of the Coldstream Guards which was ordered to capture intact a bridge over the River Ems near Lingen. The bridge was covered on the far back by an enemy position which was subsequently discovered to consist of 150 entrenched infantry supported by three 88-mm. and 20-mm. guns. The bridge was also prepared for demolition with 500-lb. bombs, which could plainly be seen. Having directed his two leading platoons on to the near bank, Captain Liddell ran alone to the bridge. He scaled the 10-foot-high road block guarding it with the intention of neutralizing the charges and taking the bridge intact. In order to achieve his object he had to cross the whole length of the bridge by himself under intense enemy fire, which increased as his object became apparent. Having disconnected the charges on the far side he recrossed the bridge and cut the wiresw on the near side. It was necessary for him to kneel, forming an easy target, whilst he successfully cut the wires. He then discovered that there were also charges beneath the bridge. Completely undeterred, he disconnected these further charges. His task completed, he climbed up on to the road block in full view of the enemy and signalled his leading platoon to advance.

Thus alone and unprotected, without cover and under enemy fire, he achieved his object and opened the way for the advance across the River Ems. His superb example of courage and self-sacrifice will never be forgotton by those who saw it.

 

 

            Acting Captain I.O Liddle VC

 

 From here the battallion moved through Remsel, Thuine to Berge and on the 11th of April helped force a crossing over the river Haze with heavy fighting at Bohah and Bren. On the 22nd of April, the 5th moved into Rothenburg and then through to Zeven where short lived but fierce fighting erupted against the 15th Panzer Division. On the 3rd of May, the 5th moved into Stade; 4 days later German forces surrendered in Europe and the 5th battallion Coldstream Guards moved to Cuxhaven aerodrome to take the surrender of the 7th German Fallschirmjager Regiment, a unit the 5th had often fought against during its time in Europe.

At the start of the war the battallion was made up of 850 officers, non commissioned officers and other ranks; during its fighting career in Europe, from the 26th of June 1944 till VE day on the 7th May 1945 (a time of just under 9 months), it suffered 228 battlefield killed, 27% of the original batallion's strength. This figure excludes those who were left with injuries which left them unable to continue fighting.