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The Coleraine Battery 

 

The Coleraine Battery was a Light Anti Aircraft Unit of 200 volunteers raised to meet the threat of the German Blitzkrieg Attacks during WWII.  The volunteers all came from the Coleraine and mid-Ulster areas of Northern Ireland. The volunteers fought their way through Scotland, Egypt, Libya, The Western Desert, France, Belgium, Holland, Germany and Italy.  In 1946, one year after the defeat of the Axis powers in Europe, the Battery was disbanded. This section highlights their duties in Belgium and is illustrated with photographs taken during the war by the veterans.

Normandy  The Battery became part of 5 AGRA (Army Group Royal Artillery) for D-Day.  An AGRA was a group of five or six Medium RA Regiments brought together for a specific task. The Battery was going over to Normandy on D Day + 10. This phase of the Battery commitment was carried on without relief until the war ended in Europe in May 1945. 

The Battery left Tilbury Docks, Southampton on board ss "John Souter" Doherty (1988) and headed for a spot between the secured Juno and Gold beachheads. The disembarkation took place at Le Hamel, east of Arramanches on the Normandy coast.   Here, the Battery relieved 113th Battery of the 27th LAA Regiment RA. 

"The weather at this time was terrible, always raining. We had not washed for over two weeks. One day the Battery was cammed up in the corner of an orchard. Ernie Piney and myself had a great shower. We stripped off to the pelt and then put our boots on. We ran round the orchard a couple of times. I can still feel the fresh rain hitting my skin after all this time.

"The Bofors Guns were used in a ground role all the way through France until we reached the Nijmegan bridge. As part of the ground role we were asked on occasions to provide indicating fire for the Typhoons with the Bofors gun. On these occasions we fired three rounds of tracer on a designated bearing." Spanky McGowan (2004)

The Battery moved on to Belgium in early September 1944.  It passed through Tournai (4th Sept) Brussels (5th Sept) Argentan, Albert Canal, Champoi, and Louvaine. During this stage of the advance some personnel took over Recce Cars and operated with the Princess Irene Brigade. At this time the SP Troops  were getting in and out of all sorts of trouble at Cross Roads and Canal Crossings.

Author, "Spankey, why were you dancing with the women and children in the middle of a field?" Spankey replied, "It did not matter where you went in Belgium, everyone was so happy to be liberated from the Germans they were dancing with joy".

The Ardennes  "At Nijmegan we were all getting ready to celebrate Christmas, the war was practically won at this stage, or so we thought. Trude, her father and mother and the gun crew were clubbing together to have a good Christmas. The cook, Marcus Wilton had been scalded when the stove exploded, other than that we had no serious problems.

About the 19th Dec 1944, Willie Watton, the Don R (Dispatch Rider) came up to us.  He told us to pack up as we had one hour to move. We told him to go away. This information was hard to believe. The reason was that Von Runstedt went through the Yanks in the Ardennes like a hot knife through butter". Spanky McGowan (2004)

By Boxing Bay, the Battery had moved 120 miles  south into Belgium. They were at The Ardennes standing in three feet of snow

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The Battle of the Bulge - Belgium - 16 Dec 1944 until 16 Jan 1945

The Germans launched the Ardennes Offensive on 16 Dec 1944. The Start Line for this offensive was sixty miles long. It ran along the German border from Monschau in the North to the southern part of the Luxembourg/German border in the South.

The German aim was to punch their way through the weak defence in the Ardennes, cross the River Meuse and take the port of Antwerp. This would sever, not only the Allied supply lines but also the Allied Armies. With this successful conclusion, the German armies intended launching an attack on their Eastern Front. By 18 December, 28th and 106th American Divisions had been overrun.  The main reasons for this success included the fact that 106 Division  were spread out too thinly over a twenty one mile defensive front.

On 19th December, 6th LAA Battery were ordered to move from Nijmegan. Initially the Battery were located at Hasselt along with 30 Corps who covered the Northern Line from Louvaine to Hasselt. There they were expected to halt the advancing German Armies. American 1st Army were located from Ciney to Duboy and 3rd Army were located south at Bastogne.

However, due to the valiant and tenacious fighting of the re-grouped American Armies, the German Armies were halted on 22 December. This allowed the Allied forces to be re-deployed. On 23rd December, 6th LAA Battery, under the command of 6th Airborne Division moved to Namur and operated along a line from Ciney to Dinant. (Doherty, 1988)

The Bulge, which delineated the successful containment of the German offensive, was fan shaped. The Front extended for sixty miles from Monschau in the East to Dinant in the West. The base of the fan shape was thirty miles south on the Luxembourg/German border.

By the end of January, the German Armies had been routed. Of the 500,000 Germans involved 100,000 were casualties. For the Americans  600,000 were involved and  they had 81,000 casualties. The remaining Allied Armies lost 1,400 from the 55,000 involved.  

The Reichswald Forest   After the Ardennes, the Battery moved back to Nijmegan then crossed the Nijmegan Bridge and turned west, heading for Germany. The Battery moved through the Reichswald Forest, Goch and Cleve.

The Final Advance into Germany   The final stage of the Allied advance took the Battery to Buxtehude where the Battery carried out garrison duties for the first time. Then the Battery went on to carry out guard duties at Stalag XB, Belsen and Sanbostel Concentration Camps.

"The Battery carried out security duties at Belsen and San Bostel. It's different when you see a friend die, you feel sad and grieve for them. But to see a couple of thousand skeletons being thrown, heads to tails into a hole in the ground, covered in lime and then bulldozed over. It did not seem to have the same effect on the Battery. It was so strange, you all felt the same way, thinking 'This is horrible, those German bastards!' and all that. You talked about it and tried to accept it. The only way we could cope with this was to leave it behind when we returned home." Anon (2004)

After the horrors of Belsen and San Bostel, the Battery moved to Hamburg. The final set of duties included The Hartz Mountains and San Andreasberg. "We went swimming at San Andreasberg and nearly froze to death. The water was coming straight off the Hartz mountains". Spanky McGowan (2004)

Finally, the Battery was posted to Cuxhaven north Germany for Dockyard duties. For the Battery, the war ended here  in 1945. They were moved south from Cuxhaven to Otterndorf . Demobilisation speeded up and the Battery was reassigned as the 96th Battery, Royal Artillery.

 

References:

Doherty R. (1988) Wall of Steel: The History of the 9th (Londonderry) Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment RA (SR) North West Books. Limavady

Gamble R. (2006) The Coleraine Battery: The History of 6 LAA Battery RA (SR)  Causeway Museum Service