The high cost of freedom

At the end of December, the British 6th Airborne Division arrived in the area, and an advance to Chany, Wellin and Resteigne started, though stubborn resistance was met in the villages of Tellin, Wavreille and Bure.

The village of Bure became the scene of the heaviest fighting.

The snow fell relentlessly and visibility was poor – it was a desperate struggle to stop the determined German advance.

A British war correspondent reported that troops of the British 6th Airborne Division, drenched with snow and ice, were fighting one of the bloodiest battles of the war.

He described how they fought with Sten-Gun, Tommy-Gun and Piat, and at close quarter with knives.

Sometimes British and German troops were on different floors in the same house.

The Germans added to this hell, he went on to say, by bringing in Tiger and Panther tanks.

These fired down Bure’s one main street.

The British, in turn, brought up their tanks.

The gunners were constantly called upon, during German counter-attacks, to wreak devastating fire upon the determined enemy troops.

Supplies could only be brought up, and wounded evacuated, under cover of darkness under such conditions.

Fighting was house-to-house and garden-to-garden. British paratroopers vaulted walls then fought in the next garden.

Another war correspondent, reporting from the frontline, wrote in his despatch that throughout, the medical orderlies and stretcher bearers were going in under fire to get the wounded out of the village.

At times, the firing was so intense that they had to throw morphine across the street so that it could be given to the wounded on the opposite side of the street.

Often whole platoons were cut off in houses with German tanks outside them.

Repeated counter-attacks were put in to get them out.

As if that was not enough for the soldiers to endure, there was a 40 mph wind blasting snow across the area like smoke.

It was so cold, a soldier could only withstand about 10 minutes with his head sticking out of a tank turret.

British Bren gunners could be seen firing up the street one minute, then traverse their guns through 180° the next, and continue firing in the opposite direction as the Germans put in attacks from each end of the village.

On January 5, it stopped snowing but was colder than ever.

It was so cold that batteries were constantly drained as the electrolite froze.

An unknown British correspondent described the scene as one of the most savage death grapples of all times.

His report went on to state that the British men shot the Germans out of rooms, cellars and attics, and sometimes had to kill them with their bare hands.

Another witnessed the scene of a paratrooper crossing a street and being hit by machine gun bullets from a Tiger tank which set alight the phosphorus bombs in his pouch. Two sergeants in a nearby house threw smoke grenades, and under their cover, dragged him to safety. Ambulances were full.

British 6th Airborne held Bure until January 6, having sustained 189 casualties in two days.

The dead and injured from both sides lay all over the wrecked village.

The gunners of the Hertfordshire Yeomanry were complimented on their performance by an airborne commander, citing that their quick and accurate fire broke up the continuous enemy counter-attacks and was of incalculable value to the morale and confidence of the paratroopers.

He recommended 342 Battery Commander for the Military Cross.

Praise was also given to the valiant stretcher bearers and their devotion to duty, who in some cases carried the wounded over distances of 1,500 to 2,000 yards, through deep snow and along slippery tracks because no vehicles could get there.

As the Germans retreated, they sowed mines in the snow which was particularly hazardous to vehicles.

They also started to fire V1 rockets from their positions.

However, by January 8, the Germans were in full retreat from Bure.

One million men had been involved in the Battle of The Bulge. The Allies sustained 81,000 casualties, the Germans 100,000. Freedom comes at a heavy price. We must never forget that.