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Cap badge Westminster Regiment WW2

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The Royal Westminster Regiment is a Primary Reserve infantry regiment of the Canadian Army. It is part of the 3rd Canadian Division's 39 Canadian Brigade Group and is based in New Westminster, British Columbia at The Armouries, located at the corner of 6th and Queens.

With the German invasion of Poland, the Regiment's 1st Battalion was mobilized on September 2, 1939, as a machine gun battalion.

During the Second World War the regiment formed a part of Major General Burt Hoffmeister's 5th Canadian Armoured Division ("The Mighty Maroon Machine") taking part in the Italian Campaign before being transferred to Europe and participating in the liberation of Holland. The 2nd Battalion, Westminster Regiment served in the reserve force stationed in Canada.

At that time of mobilization the regiment consisted of Battalion HQ, A and B Companies in New Westminster, C Company in Mission and D Company in Chilliwack.The Commanding Officer was Lt Col C.J Loat, with Major "Little Joe" Sager as Deputy Commanding Officer. Major Sager became CO at the end of 1939. On May 27, 1940, the unit deployed to Camp Dundurn Saskatchewan for additional training. Late in September 1940 the unit was deployed again, not overseas as they had hoped, but back to Vancouver for winter quarters at the then abandoned Hotel Vancouver.

The Westminster Regiment (Motor)

The unit was converted to a motor battalion and designated The Westminster Regiment (Motor) in early 1941. On May 27, 1941, the unit entrained at the CPR station in Vancouver for deployment to Camp Borden. At Borden the unit became part of the 1st Armoured Brigade, 1st Armoured Division.The regiment sailed from Halifax on HMT Andes for Great Britain on November 13, 1941, exactly 26 years from the day that the 47th Battalion CEF had sailed for Europe from the same port. The unit disembarked in Liverpool on November 24, 1941.

Great Britain

The brigade and the division were both re-numbered on arrival and the Westminsters were now part of 5 Brigade of the 5th Canadian Armoured Division under command of Major General Burt Hoffmeister, based at Aldershot for more training. Subsequently the unit was moved to Farnham, Hove, Pippingford Park, and Cranwich Camp Thetford, Norfolk.

In March 1943 the Westminster's CO, Lt Col Sager, was promoted to Brigadier and given command of 4 Canadian Infantry Brigade. Command of the regiment passed to Lt Col RL Tindall, who had been recently second in command of the Perth Regiment.

Deployment to Italy

On November 15, 1943, the regiment sailed aboard RMS Samaria for Algiers.Next the unit was sent by rail to Phillipeville and immediately embarked on theHMT Cameronia for Naples, Italy where they joined the 8th Army. The regiment went into the line and engaged in combat first at the town of Guardiagrele, near Monte Mariella. The unit's first casualties were suffered on January 22, 1944, during patrolling on this static part of the front. After eight days on the line the unit was withdrawn to the Sangro River on the night of 25–26 January. The regiment returned to the line on January 31, relieving the 1/9 Gurkhas at Sararola.During this action the Westminsters developed the tactic of sending out patrols by night to lay over behind enemy lines in a deserted house through the day, calling in artillery and mortar fire by radio and then returning to their own lines the following night.

On February 14, 1944, Lt Col Gordon Corbould, a former Westie company commander and regimental 2IC, returned from his posting as second in command of the Irish Regiment of Canada to assume command of the Westminster Regiment. He would command the unit for the remainder of the war and through its hardest actions.

Corbould Force

On March 1, 1944, the regiment was relieved from the line by the Perth Regiment and sent for rest in Roatti. It was soon re-deployed as part of a battle group under Westminster CO Lt Col Corbould, known as "Corbould Force". The unit took part in the Battle of Monte Cassino, holding the line near the villages of Vallirontonda and Aquafondata, starting on April 11, 1944. The unit was relieved on May 3, 1944, and moved to a rest area at Pignataro.

Battle of the Melfa River

 

On May 11, 1944, the attack on the Gustav Line and the Hitler Line commenced with the Westminsters and the 5th Armoured Division forming the exploitation force, hoping to break into the Liri Valley and the assault on Rome. The advance through the Liri valley included the Westminster's most famous action, the assault water crossing at the Melfa River. The Officer Commanding, "A" Company at the Battle of the Melfa River, Major Jack Mahony, was awarded the Victoria Cross for his gallantry and leadership under fire during that action fought in conjunction with the tanks of Lord Strathcona's Horse (Royal Canadians). This action cemented a friendship between the two regiments that has endured since the Second World War.

The Gothic Line

The entire division was relieved from the line on May 30, 1944, and carried out "rest and refit" duties near the villages of Baia and Latina.

By August 1944 the Anzio Bridgehead force had broken out, Rome had fallen and the advance to the Po River commenced. The Westies joined the fight on August 6, 1944, at Montefalco in the advance to the next German defensive position, the Gothic Line which the regiment engaged starting on August 26. The unit was involved in the crossing of the Fogia River. and the Conca River. The unit completed the action on September 5, 1944.

Coriano

After a few days out of the line the regiment was thrown into the Battle for Coriano Ridge, starting on September 13, 1944. The regiment prevailed despite heavy shelling and losses, being relieved by the 4th British Division. The regiment was moved back for rest at the coastal town of Riccione on September 14, 1944

San Mauro and the Rubicone River

The regiment was soon back in action, following more training. They were assigned to pass over the Uso River bridgehead held by the Princess Louise Dragoon Guards and take the village of San Mauro. The attack commenced on September 23, 1944, with the bypassing of San Giustina, which had not been captured and was held by stiff German resistance. "A" Company and "B" Squadron of Lord Strathcona's Horse (Royal Canadians) led the advance. The advance continued into the flat country under heavy fire to capture San Vito. On September 25, the order was received to continue the advance and cross the Rubicone River, this time with the tanks of the Governor General's Horse Guards in support. The attack ran into thick minefields and heavy shelling, but no German infantry and regimental casualties were few.

Porter Force

The Westminster regiment was assigned to Porter Force on November 10, 1944. This ad hoc formation was intended to work with Popski's Private Army and Italian partisans in the forward area south of Ravenna. The mission was to hold the existing line, put pressure on the enemy and advance when the opportunity presented itself. Regimental HQ was in Vincoli with "A" and "B" Companies in San Stefano and "C" Company in Gambellara. The action consisted of extensive night patrolling and night advances to contact the enemy. The pressure forced the enemy back across the Uniti Canal and into San Pancrazio.

The regiment advanced through patrol actions across the Ronco River to the Scolo Lama canal, where bitter German resistance was encountered. Consolidating the advances by November 26, 1944, the Westminster's held a line of 7,000 yards (6,400 m), a very long front for a unit of this size in this type of warfare. The campaign to clear the Po River valley was severely hampered by the Italian climate and the rain at this time of year turned the flat valley into lakes and rivers.

The Porter Force membership ended with over 40 German prisoners taken and many more casualties inflicted on the enemy.

Adriatic battles

The regiment was employed as part of the 1st Canadian Corps which was given the role in the winter of 1944 of assaulting over the Montone River, capturingRavenna and the surrounding area, all with the aim of reducing pressure on the Fifth US Army operating near Bologna. The attack was commenced at 0800 hours on December 2, 1944, and the unit captured the town of San Pancrazio quickly.

After a month in continuous combat the unit was put under command of 11th Canadian Infantry Brigade and crossed the Lamone River in a night attack. The lead elements engaged in a difficult battle in the town of Villanova, where "A" and "C" Companies successfully engaged a column of German tanks with small arms and PIATs.

The regiment was next engaged in the battles for the Naviglio Canal and the River Senio between 12–22 December 1944. Both actions were continuous and involved dealing with heavy German opposition in concert with the tanks of the Strathconas once again.

On December 23, 1944, the regiment was withdrawn for rest at Ravenna after 43 days and nights of continuous combat.

Villanova

The regiment returned to action near the town of Villanova on December 27, 1944. The action was to advance and take the town of Rosetta in the flat country of that area. The battle was against a formation of the Waffen-SS and the fighting was fierce against the determined resistance. As the Westie tradition dictated the regiment was not deterred and the objective was captured, the enemy forced to withdraw.

The unit was relieved by the 1st Battalion of the Welsh Regiment and a squadron of the RAF Regiment on December 29, 1944.

Conventello

Early in the New Year the regiment was sent to fill a gap in the line at Conventello and bore the brunt of a German counterattack in that area with the aim of recapturing Revenna. The attack included massed German artillery and infantry attacks. The result was that the Westminsters in cooperation with the Strathconas' tanks and the Irish Regiment of Canada held the line and 200 wounded and prisoners were taken, with over 200 German dead.

On January 13, 1945, the unit was moved to Fano and on to San Severino Marche for rest and refitting.

Departure from the Italian Campaign

The Westminsters were dispatched to Livorno on February 21, 1945, and from there embarked on United States Navy shipping and conveyed to Marseilles, France. The unit mounted its own transport and drove through the Rhone Valley to Belgium, where they leaguered at Deinze.

Northwest Europe

The regiment was deployed to Meulebeke in Belgium as part of the 5th Canadian Armoured Division, now part of the First Canadian Corps, First Canadian Army. Most of the unit was sent on leave when the order came on March 17, 1945, to prepare to move into battle again. The first area of operations was on the Maas River and Waal River lines near Nijmegen where the Westminsters relieved the 12th Manitoba Dragoons and commenced active patrolling and used the battalion mortars against the German positions across the Waal in Tiel.

On April 5, 1945, the regiment was deployed to an area between the Waal and the Neder Rijn in conjunction with two companies of the 2nd Belgian Fusiliers.This was in preparation for a major offensive, which commenced on April 12, with a move to Doesburg, just west of Arnhem. The division was given the task of exploiting the breakthrough created by the British 49th West Riding Division and driving to the Zuider Zee. At this point the unit's anti-tank platoon was issued Stuart tanks, unusual for an infantry regiment. The unit carried out a night attack across the IJssel River on the night of 12/13 April 1945 and passed through Arnhem.Pressing the attack, the 5th Canadian Armoured Division, in concert with the 1st Canadian Infantry Division. During the attack Lt Oldfield won the Military Cross for the action of his "A" Company Scout Platoon in clearing a German position and taking 40 prisoners.

The regiment attacked in concert with the Strathconas and the British Columbia Dragoons, capturing Deelen Airfield. The armoured drive continued against intense German opposition in fluid mobile operations, by-passing points of resistance to clean them up later. The unit advanced through Voorhuizen and Barneveld. German defences were in chaos and many prisoners were taken in the drive to Putten. When the operation had ended on April 18, 1945, the unit had covered 33 miles (53 km) and participated in cutting off thousands of German troops in the Amsterdam area.

The unit commenced coast watching and patrolling near Groningen to prevent the escape or infiltration of German forces still holding the islands off shore.

The unit's final action was the capture of the German anti-aircraft battery at Termunterzijl. The battery's 128 mm guns controlled the whole area and the operation was hampered by the lack of artillery and air support. The action was hard-fought against stiff German defences built in great depth to protect the battery. Relentless pressure form the Westminsters forced the abandonment of the battery and the withdrawal of the remaining German forces.

 

Cap badge Westminster Regiment WW2

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