The Battle of ’s-Hertogenbosch

Part Four — Liberating the City

On 25th October 1944 the liberation of 's-Hertogenbosch continued. To the west the 6th Battalion the Royal Welch Fusiliers attempted to cross the River Dieze in boats under cover of smoke. As they put the boats into the water, however, they were engaged by German machine gunners on the far bank. The men in the first boat were killed and a hole blasted into the bottom of the boat.

Towards the centre along the Zuid Willems Vaart Canal the 1st Battalion the East Lancashire Regiment sent forward a recce party to check the crossings, but these all proved impassable. It was therefore decided that the 1st Battalion the East Lancashire Regiment would cross into the bridgehead and push towards the bridge over the River Dommel at the roundabout towards the southern end of the city whilst the 1/5th Battalion the Welch Regiment was to aim for the bridge over the River Dommel opposite the Railway Station. This took some time to arrange and it was late afternoon by the time the renewed assault got underway.

The 1st Battalion the East Lancashire Regiment pushed through the eastern side of the city towards their bridge over the River Dommel. After some fierce fighting they reached the bridge only to find that it had been blown. The 1/5th Battalion the Welch Regiment cleared through the centre of the city and their leading two platoons reached the bridge opposite the Railway Station by nightfall. They reported that this bridge had been partially destroyed. The 4th Battalion the Welch Regiment replaced the 7th Battalion the Royal Welch Fusiliers in the bridgehead before clearing the section of the city between the 1st Battalion the East Lancashire Regiment and the 1/5th Battalion the Welch Regiment to reach the bridge crossing the River Dommel that spanned the river between the Railway bridge and the bridge at the roundabout. By nightfall on 25th the forward elements of the 53rd Welsh were:

  • The 6th Battalion the Royal Welch Fusiliers at the north western section of the city and the bridge over the River Dieze(u).

  • The 1/5th Battalion the Welch Regiment along the River Dommel in the vicinity of the bridge opposite the Railway Station (y).

  • The 4th Battalion the Welch Regiment along the River Dommel in the vicinity of the bridge (z) between the Railway Station bridge and the roundabout bridge.

  • The 1st Battalion the East Lancashire Regiment in the vicinity of the roundabout bridge ({).
Action on 25th October 1944

The action at 's-Hertogenbosch on 25th October 1944. [© Ian R Gumm, 2016]

By the end of the 24th the 53rd (Welsh) Division had captured the area to the east of the River Dommel and the plan for the following day was for 158th Infantry Brigade to cross over the river and liberate the area to the west. During the night a recce revealed that the bridge opposite the Railway Station was still passable to infantrymen on foot and the 1/5th Battalion the Welch Regiment was ordered to rush it on the morning of the 25th. The bridge at the roundabout, although originally reported as blown, was also found to be passable to infantrymen and the 1st Battalion the East Lancashire Regiment was ordered to seize that bridge. The 7th Battalion the Royal Welch Fusiliers was to be ready to exploit whichever bridgehead was successful and cross over the River Dommel to clear the western edge of the city.

At 11:00 hrs on 25th October 1944 D Company 1/5th Battalion the Welch Regiment under the cover of smoke and supported by mortar fire rushed the Railway bridge. Their assault took the Germans by surprise and 25 of the enemy were taken prisoner and two machine guns captured before they had time to react. The absence of artillery fire in support of this assault confused the enemy and a bridgehead was formed on the western bank of the River Dommel. This was quickly counterattacked and fierce fighting ensued throughout the remainder of the day. Crossing the bridge was extremely precarious as were the attempts to repair it under enemy fire.

At the roundabout bridge the 1st Battalion the East Lancashire Regiment, supported by a Squadron of the East Riding Yeomanry who had replaced 5th Inniskilling Dragoon Guards as the armoured support for 53rd (Welsh) Division, had greater success meeting relatively light opposition and seizing the bridge. It was decided, therefore, to pass the 7th Battalion the Royal Welch Fusiliers through the 1st Battalion the East Lancashire Regiment.

The 1st Battalion the East Lancashire Regiment continued to work their way northwards along the bank of the River Dommel while the 7th Battalion the Royal Welch Fusiliers cleared the city to their west. The 1st Battalion the East Lancashire Regiment reached the 1/5th Battalion the Welch Regiment at around 22:00 hrs linking the two bridgeheads over the River Dommel together. The 7th Battalion the Royal Welch Fusiliers worked their way northwards towards the Railway Station, which was now burning fiercely, mopping up enemy resistance in the houses as they went. This went on into the night under the light of the burning station with every house and every street being fiercely contested by the enemy. By the evening of the 26th the ability of the enemy to resist was on the wane as increasing numbers of the enemy were either killed or taken prisoner.

With 's-Hertogenbosch practically in British hands, the fighting on 27th October 1944 consisted of mopping up the enemy positions on the western fringes of the city against diminishing German opposition. Prisoners continued to be taken in a steady flow including the German Garrison's Commander, Major Riehl. Another enemy counterattack developed during the morning as three tanks and five self-propelled guns supported by a company of infantry advanced against the Railway Station for the west. Small arms fire and the mortars of the 7th Battalion the Royal Welch Fusiliers dispersed the infantry and the enemy armour was engaged by anti-tank guns. Smoke was put down to add to the confusion and after two of the enemy armoured vehicles were put out of the action the remainder withdrew. Of these four were later captured by the 1/5th Battalion the Welch Regiment.

By the evening of 27th October 1944 practically all German resistance in 's-Hertogenbosch had ceased and the battle to liberate the city was won. 160th Infantry Brigade relieved 158th Infantry Brigade, less the 7th Battalion the Royal Welch Fusiliers, in the area to the west of the River Dommel the latter Brigade moved into reserve to the east of then city.