The Battle of ’s-Hertogenbosch

Part One — The Plan


On 16th October 1944 Field Marshal Montgomery issued orders making the clearance of the rivers around Antwerp the sole responsibility of the 21st Army Group which meant that General Dempsey's British Second Army had to turn its attentions to the west of their present locations in the Nijmegen salient while General Crerar's Canadian First Army thrust northwards from the Antwerp area.

Situation 16th October 1944

Field Marshal Montgomery's plan to capture the Schedlt peninsula and open up the port of Antwerp. [© Ian R Gumm, 2016]

Lieutenant General Ritchie's XII Corps, which was in the Nijmegen salient, was ordered to drive westward with the 15th (Scottish) Division, 51st (Highland) Division and the 53rd (Welsh) Division directed against Tilburg, Boxtel and 's-Hertogenbosch respectively. Operation ALAN was the codename for the assault against 's-Hertogenbosch.

In 1944, 's-Hertogenbosch had a population of around 50,000. The city was intersected by three major waterways: the River Dommel, River Dieze and the Zuid Willems Vaart Canal. The Germans considered it to be vital ground as it was the transportation hub through which their supplies passed into the Scheldt and was their only viable withdrawal route from the peninsula.

Defending the area were four German Divisions, one of which, the 712 Infanterie-Division commanded by Generalleutnant Friedrich-Wilhelm Neumann, was responsible for the defence of 's-Hertogenbosch. The 712 Infanterie-Division consisted of two battalions from the 732 Grenadier Regiment, one battalion from the 745 Grenadier Regiment, three training battalions of paratroopers, plus the Feldersatz-Bataillon 347. General Neumann had no armour, but had thirty guns including eleven anti-tank guns.

The 53rd (Welsh) Division, commanded by Major General Robert Knox Ross, was assigned the task of capturing 's-Hertogenbosch. He had the tanks of the 5th Inniskilling Dragoon Guards, the flame-throwing Crocodile tanks of 141st Royal Armoured Corps Regiment (the Buffs), some Flail tanks and AVREs of the 79th Armoured Division and Kangaroo personnel carriers, Sherman tanks without turrets capable of carrying 10 men, under command. The action to capture and liberate 's-Hertogenbosch was to be the 53rd (Welsh) Division's first major engagement as a whole division, as up to then they had been employed piecemeal in brigades often in support other divisions.

Major General Ross' plan was for the 53rd (Welsh) Division to attack with:

  • 160th Infantry Brigade, supported by the tanks of the 5th Inniskilling Dragoon Guards and some of the Crocodiles and Flails was to advance to the north of the Nijmegen – Den Bosch railway line.

  • 71st Infantry Brigade was to advance to the south of the railway astride the Nijmegen – Den Bosch road to the left of 160th Infantry Brigade.

  • 158th Infantry Brigade was to be in reserve ready to pass through the forward Bdes supported by the 53rd Reconnaissance Regiment and a Squadron of 5th Inniskilling Dragoon Guards to seize the Canal bridges and bridges over the River Dieze and River Dommel in the city should a favourable opportunity occur. The 1st Battalion the East Lancashire Regiment of 158th Infantry Brigade was mounted in Kangaroos ready to make this bold charge into the city as soon as chance presented itself.
Plan to capture 's-Hertogenbosch

Major General Ross' plan to capture 's-Hertogenbosch. [© Ian R Gumm, 2016]

53rd (Welsh) Division Order of Battle

Divisional Headquarters

 Commander: Major General R K Ross CB, DSO, MC.

 GSO1: Lieutenant Colonel C H P Harrington DSO, MC.

 AA and QMG: Lieutenant Colonel R Neilson OBE.

71st Infantry Brigade, commanded by Brigadier M Elrington DSO, OBE

 4th Battalion the Royal Welch Fusiliers, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel H J Tedder.

 1st Battalion the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel J H Hare DSO.

 1st Battalion the Highland Light Infantry, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel T Macleod.

158th Infantry Brigade, commanded by Brigadier G B Sugden OBE, MC.

 7th Battalion the Royal Welch Fusiliers, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel George F T B Dickson DSO.

 1st Battalion the East Lancashire Regiment, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel G W P N Burden DSO.

 1/5th Battalion the Welch Regiment, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel H D Nelson Smith MC.

160th Infantry Brigade, commanded by Brigadier C F C Coleman DSO, OBE.

 6th Battalion the Royal Welch Fusiliers, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel K G Exham DSO.

 4th Battalion the Welch Regiment, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel J M K Spurling.

 2nd Battalion the Monmouthshire Regiment, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel F H Brooke DSO.

Divisional Troops

 53rd Reconnaissance Regiment, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel L Williams DSO.

 Royal Artillery, commanded by Brigadier J C Friedberger DSO.

  81st Field Regiment, RA, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel C V Hill.
  83rd Field Regiment, RA, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel R E H Hudson.
  133rd Field Regiment, RA, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel F N W Gore.
  71st Anti-Tank Regiment, RA, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel W J N Norman-Walker.
  116th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, RA, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel E H Walter.

 Royal Engineers, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel G G S Clarke.

 Divisional Signals, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel D E Harrison.

 Royal Army Service Corps, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel J E Bridge.

 Royal Army Ordnance Corps, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel G R Kerr.

 Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel F M Hext OBE.

 Royal Army Medical Corps, commanded by Colonel W H Marston.