Battle of Bure
The Battle of Bure was part of the Battle of the Bulge, which lasted from the 2nd to 5 January 1945. The battle was fought as part of the allied counterattack to rid the German held ground of the 'Bulge' which forced them on the defensive. British XXX corps with British 6th Airborne division attached was tasked with clearing the area East of Dinant, Rochfort, Gupont and Bure. In a tough battle Bure was secured after nearly three days of heavy fighting whilst Gupont and Rochefort were both cleared with little resistance and the advance continued.
December 1944, the German armies launched a massive counter-attack through the forests of the Ardennes. The plan was to drive across the River Meuse and on to Antwerp to split the Allied armies and their lines of communication. As part of the First Allied Airborne Army, 6th Airborne Division was available as a component of the strategic reserve for the Allied forces in northwest Europe. The other two divisions available in reserve, the American 82nd and 101st Airborne, were already at Rheims in northern France, and the 6th Airborne rested and re-trained after their success in Normandy was sent from England by sea to Belgium to assist in the defence.
On Christmas Day the 6th airborne division moved up to take position in front of the spearhead of the German advance; by Boxing Day they had reached their allocated places in the defensive line between Dinant and Namur along the River Meuse. Soon after British XXX corps eliminated the most furthest Western German penetration and thus advanced. The 3rd Parachute Brigade were on the left, 5th Parachute Brigade on the right, and the 6th Airlanding Brigade in reserve. By the time they arrived in position the German advance had faltered.
Just before New Year’s Day the brigades were ordered to advance against the tip of the German salient. On 2 January 1945, they were to capture the villages of Bure and Grupont supported by the Sherman tanks of the Fife and Forfar Yeomanry from the detached from 11th armoured Division. Once these had been captured a crossing over the River Lomme would be seized in order to halt any German breakthrough and thus put them firmly on the defensive.
The following day the 13th (Lancashire) Parachute Battalion left Resteigne on foot and at 13:00 started the attack on Bure. Supported by the tanks, 'A' Company was to secure the village, while 'B' Company secured the high ground and 'C' Company was in reserve. The attack was met immediately with sustained heavy mortar and machine gun fire, supported by German armour and thus casualties began to rise in both companies. After being repelled they regrouped and attacked again and this time A Company managed to gain a foothold in the village while B Company reached the high ground by which it was able to enter Bure. At 17:00 'C' Company was sent in to reinforce A and B Companies, who were holding half the village with difficulty but this time they were supported by combined tank and artillery fire.
German counterattacks now began but the battalion was able to form a tight perimeter around half the village and develop strong points in all occupied buildings. As a result they carried out fighting patrols and fought off four German counterattacks with one on 'A' Company which was only defeated when they called down artillery fire on their own positions. In the closeness of the fighting, the paratroopers used their fighting knives to avoid giving away their locations and casualties could not be evacuated nor could supplies brought forward.
On 4 January the battalion was subjected to a continuous artillery barrage, and fought off another five German counterattacks knocking out tanks with their PIATS. At one stage in the battle an ambulance did get in to Bure from which stepped a Sergeant of the 225th (Parachute) Field Ambulance from the Regimental Aid Post accompanied by a padre. It stopped a few yards from a German Tiger tank which had moved up to it, almost pointing its gun through the drivers window, a German officer appeared who agreed in perfect English that the wounded could be collected but the ambulance was not to return.
By now the town of Bure was nearly a heap of rubble but the Germans clung to the houses and ruins, hid in cellars and catacombs, fighting and sniping to the end. Tiger tanks were still operating in the village which made mopping up extremely difficult. In the evening a company from 2nd Battalion, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry from 6th Airlanding Brigade joined the Battalion as reinforcements, and in the early hours of 5 January, a determined attack by the Battalion succeeded in pushing the bulk of the Germans out of the village although one Tiger tank remained despite repeated PIAT attacks on it. However, by 2100 the last German outpost was eliminated by A Company and the village was secured and German resistance ceased. During the same time the 7th (Light Infantry) Parachute Battalion had captured Grupont with only light resistance and with 5th Parachute Brigades objectives now taken the battle came to an end.
After the capture of Bure and the surrounding villages the battalion became the brigade reserve. Heavy casualties were sustained amounting to seven officers and 182 men (of whom sixty eight were killed) by 13th (Lancashire) Parachute Battalion (about a third of the Battalion), and one officer and twenty men (seven killed) by 2nd Battalion, Ox and Bucks. The Fife and Forfar Yeomanry and 23rd Hussars also suffered heavy casualties including the loss of sixteen Sherman tanks.
The Belgian SAS lost three men during the action whilst supporting the attack on Bure. After heavy losses the 13th (Lancashire) Parachute Battalion was pulled back from Bure to be replaced by troops from the 29th Armoured Brigade. The men of 6th Airborne went on to liberate Wavreille, Jemelle, On, Hargimont, Nassogne, Forrieres, Masbourg, Lesterny, Amberloup, Marloie, Waha and Roy. At Bande on 11 January 1945, a patrol from the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion who had been in reserve, accompanied by the Belgian SAS, discovered with horror the bodies of thirty four civilians, who had been murdered by the Germans on Christmas Eve.
By the middle of 6 January Airborne division withdrew to Holland and carried out patrolling along the River Maas before returning to the United Kingdom in late February in preparation for their next undertaking in Operation Varsity. When General Courtney Hodges of First US Army had joined up with General George Pattons Third US Army on 16 January 1945 after the late December allied counterattacks, this heralded an all out counter-offensive towards the East and the German border which eliminated all the German ground that had been captured.
A memorial dedicated to 13 Para stands in the centre of Bure and in the church there is a memorial book to the men of the 6th British Airborne Division killed fighting during the Ardennes campaign and in addition the CWGC at Hotton.
- Hastings, p.239
- Saunders, p.279
- Harclerode, p.549
- "Battle of Bure". Para Data. Retrieved 19 May 2011.
- Whiting, p.178
- Saunders, pp.279–280
- Whiting, p.181
- Schrijvers ISBN 0813137586,, Peter (2005). The Unknown Dead: Civilians in the Battle of the Bulge. University Press of Kentucky,. ISBN 9780813137582.
- Toland, p.355
- Saunders, p.283
- "CWGC - HOTTON WAR CEMETERY". Retrieved 29 August 2013.
- Harclerode, Peter (2005). Wings Of War: Airborne Warfare 1918–1945. London, United Kingdom: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. ISBN 978-0-304-36730-6.
- Hastings, Max (2005). Armageddon: The Battle for Germany 1944–45. London, United Kingdom: Macmillan. ISBN 0-330-49062-1.
- Saunders, Hilary St George (1971). The Red Beret. London, United Kingdom: New English Library. ISBN 978-0-450-01006-4.
- Toland, John (1959). Battle: The Story of the Bulge. U of Nebraska Press. ISBN 9780803294370.
- Whiting, Charles (2003). The Battle of the Bulge: Britain's Untold Story. Sutton Pub Limited,. ISBN 9780750931809.
- Woolhouse, Andrew (2013). 13 - Lucky For Some: The History of the 13th (Lancashire) Parachute Battalion. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. ISBN 978-1482029161.