Citation:   Happenings at Otterloo, Holland on the Night 16/17 April 1945.  (1965 12).  The Canadian Gunner.  v 1.  pp. 72–75.


The following is an account of the action of the 17th Cana­dian Field Regi­ment RCA at Ot­ter­loo, Hol­land, in April, 1945.  It is reprin­ted here so that junior offi­cers and sen­ior NCOs, who have not ser­ved on active ser­vice, may bene­fit from the exper­ience of the Cana­dian Gun­ners invol­ved.  The engage­ment at Otter­loo, and the les­sons learned from it, give a graphic exam­ple of the neces­sity for jun­ior lea­ders to take a ser­ious ap­proach to local de­fence and to learn to appre­ci­ate its impor­tance when car­ry­ing out artil­lery deploy­ments.  If ser­ious reflec­tion is given to this ac­count it will be seen that local de­fence plan­ning can­not con­sist of a gen­eral wave of the arm and state­ments, which are often heard, such as “wea­pon slits over there, ma­chine guns over there;” and, “a sen­try over here”.  The secur­ity of the gun posi­tion re­quires a more ser­ious and know­ledge­able ap­proach by the offi­cers respon­sible for lo­cal defence.
5 Canadian Armoured Divi­sion had been given the task of pas­sing through 49 Infan­try Divi­sion at Arn­hem and break­ing through to the sea in the area of Nij­kerk with the aim of pre­ven­ting the enemy from car­ry­ing out a with­drawal into the wes­tern part of Hol­land, and also of get­ting behind the enemy being en­gaged by 1 Cana­dian Infan­try Divi­sion to the east of Apel­doorn.
5 Canadian Armoured Brigade had reached Otter­loo on 15 April 1945 and had passed through to Barn­e­veld and Nij­kerk.  11 Cana­dian Infan­try Bri­gade was de­tailed to mop up along the axis of ad­vance and to hold the line of com­mun­ica­tions.  To do this, bat­tal­ions were de­ployed as fol­lows: To give support for the infan­try bri­gade, 17th Cana­dian Field Regi­ment and 211 Bat­tery, 3rd Medium Regi­ment Royal Artil­lery were to deploy in the area of Otter­loo as soon as the town was clear.
The regimental reconnaissance party reached the town of Otter­loo at approx­i­mately 1400 hours and found that the town had been cleared, but the woods on the out­skirts of the town were still being cleared.  The recon­nais­sance was car­ried out and the first bat­tery de­ployed by 1640 hours.  The other two bat­ter­ies and regi­men­tal head­quar­ters were de­layed car­ry­ing out an air obser­va­tion post shoot in the old area and did not arrive until 1900 hours.  By night­fall the fol­low­ing units were in and about the town: Main Divi­sional Head­quar­ters, a squad­ron of the Gover­nor Gen­er­al's Horse Guards, Regi­men­tal Head­quar­ters of 17th Cana­dian Field Regi­ment, 211 Bat­tery of 3rd Medium Regi­ment Royal Artil­lery, Head­quar­ters 4 Cana­dian Anti-Tank Regi­ment, The Irish Regi­ment of Canada and 24th Field Ambu­lance Royal Cana­dian Army Med­ical Corps.
Command post officers were warned on their arri­val that there were still enemy sni­pers in the area and that they would make their own plans for local de­fence and co-ordin­ate with the near­est com­pany of the Irish Regi­ment of Canada.  The dis­po­si­tions of 17th Cana­dian Field Regi­ment were then given to the head­quar­ters of the Irish Regi­ment of Canada.
The regiment settled into the new area during the even­ing and worked out defen­sive fire plans for the 11 Cana­dian Infan­try Bri­gade area and car­ried out some har­as­sing fire.
After the reconnaissance was carried out, and during the evening, there was con­tin­uous move­ment of troops and units in and out of the area.  Thus it was next to impos­si­ble to co-ordin­ate de­fences with other units.
At 2320 hours a report was received by the 37th Bat­tery, from an offi­cer of the Gover­nor-Gener­al's Horse Guards, that there were approx­i­mately 200 enemy 2000 yards north of their posi­tion.
A short time later (at 2359 hours) sen­tries repor­ted to the 76th Bat­tery com­mand post that enemy were mov­ing south down the road be­tween E and F Troops.  Fire was opened on them and regi­men­tal head­quar­ters noti­fied at 0100 hours.  76th Bat­tery com­mand post repor­ted at inter­vals for the next two and one-half hours that they were being at­tacked and that the enemy had passed through their posi­tion and were dig­ging in between E and F Troops.  All per­son­nel had manned posi­tions either around their guns or in the imme­di­ate vici­nity of the gun posi­tions on the first warn­ing of the enemy attack.  76th Bat­tery com­mand post passed each report on the situ­ation by wire­less and direc­ted the fire of the guns of 60th Bat­tery on the woods some 200 yards from their posi­tion.  One shoot in this area suc­cess­fully si­lenced a mor­tar.  The 60th Bat­tery guns were fir­ing at ranges from 750 to 1000 yards in sup­port of 76th Bat­tery.  Har­as­sing fire was car­ried out by 60th and 37th Bat­ter­ies on the roads run­ning to the north and north east out of Otter­loo.  2/11 Medium Bat­tery Royal Artil­lery har­assed the con­cen­tra­tion and shot down to 2300 yards.
At approximately 0300 hours the com­mand post offi­cer of 76th Bat­tery repor­ted that the situ­ation was becom­ing seri­ous.  All con­tact was lost with F Troop when its com­mand post was over­run.  The com­mand post per­son­nel, how­ever, had suc­cess­fully with­drawn and joined the detach­ments on the gun posi­tions and had dug-in in an open field.  A dri­ver, know­ing the enemy to be dug-in along the road, vol­un­teered to take a scout car and pass infor­ma­tion back to head­quar­ters of the Irish Regi­ment of Canada.  He drove down the road with rifle and medium ma­chine gun fire boun­cing off the side of the vehi­cle and reached bat­tal­ion head­quar­ters where he reported the situ­ation.  The bat­tery ser­geant-ma­jor repor­ted to regi­men­tal head­quar­ters for the same pur­pose and then volun­teered to go to bat­tal­ion head­quar­ters, which he did.
The command post offi­cer of 76th Bat­tery then poin­ted out that they could not hold out indef­in­itely and that un­less help ar­rived the whole gun posi­tion might be over­run.  Even­tu­ally, when the com­mand post was on fire and the set knocked out, the per­son­nel with­drew to the E Troop com­mand post where ano­ther set was put on the regi­men­tal net and the posi­tion re-organ­ized with the extra men.  The per­son­nel of F Troop re­mained on the posi­tion through­out the entire night and killed 5 enemy on the actual posi­tion, woun­ded 4 more and took 22 pri­son­ers.  They cau­sed a fur­ther unknown num­ber of casu­al­ties to the enemy pas­sing around the posi­tion and knocked out the crew of at least one medium ma­chine gun.  The ammu­ni­tion trail­ers on the posi­tion were all set on fire and three of the four guns dis­abled by medium ma­chine gun fire.  The posi­tion was sur­roun­ded on three sides for over six and one-half hours, dur­ing which time the enemy ap­proached to within ten yards of the guns, but all were killed or dri­ven back before actu­ally reach­ing the guns.  The posi­tion was under mor­tar fire and also some of our own rounds fell in the area when the com­mand post was en­gaged by our guns after it was evac­uated.  The dri­vers from this troop, who were some 500 yards in rear, defen­ded their vehi­cles until all nine were woun­ded, when they fell back into the Irish Regi­ment of Canada area.  They pro­vi­ded most effec­tive cross fire on the enemy as he came down the road.
Shortly after the 76th Bat­tery com­mand post with­drew, the 37th Bat­tery Com­mand Post called for assis­tance and stated that the enemy were now mov­ing across to their area.  The enemy pene­tra­ted to within 20 yards of the com­mand post over­run­ning the vehi­cles and the sig­nal of­fice.  The sig­nal­lers, when the enemy en­tered the build­ing and found out from the civil­ians which room was occu­pied, waited until they ap­proached the room and then shot their way out and re­joined the com­mand post per­son­nel.  The com­mand post held out until relieved in the morning, while the men stayed with their guns.  When the enemy ap­proached to within 75 yards of C Troop guns, the troops opened direct fire with time fuzes (No 222), set at four seconds time of flight.  This was sub­se­quently re­duced to two seconds time of flight, which brought the bursts over the enemy posi­tions.  The enemy were seen to move out and take cover.  At approx­i­mately 0300 hours an enemy self-pro­pelled gun star­ted fir­ing from about 400 yards north of the 37th Bat­tery com­mand post.  As it was thought that this gun might pene­trate into the posi­tion, Tank alert was or­dered.  The guns were manned in spite of heavy small arms and medium ma­chine gun fire.
A short time after the 76th Bat­tery com­mand post per­son­nel moved onto the E Troop posi­tion the bat­tery com­man­der ar­rived at regi­men­tal head­quar­ters and ex­plained that ammu­ni­tion was run­ning out and that the posi­tion at E Troop could not be held for long unless more ammu­ni­tion was available.  No ammu­ni­tion was avail­able at regi­men­tal head­quar­ters as the re­serve had been issued to bat­ter­ies.  The com­mand post offi­cer, when he found his ammu­ni­tion gone, asked for dir­ec­tion as to whe­ther they would remain with their guns or with­draw to regi­men­tal head­quar­ters.  He was or­dered to with­draw and brought back the com­mand post per­son­nel and E Troop per­son­nel.  The de­fences at regi­men­tal head­quar­ters were reor­gan­ized and ammu­ni­tion redis­tri­bu­ted.  The enemy came to within 50 yards of regi­men­tal head­quar­ters, but did not pene­trate the posi­tion.
The enemy had now cut off regi­men­tal head­quar­ters and the regi­men­tal head­quar­ters of 4th Cana­dian Anti-tank Regi­ment from the rest of the units in town.  They had gone right through to 2/11 Medium Bat­tery Royal Artillery and Divi­sional Head­quar­ters, but were stopped in both places.  One patrol got through to the 60th Bat­tery area, but after a sharp clash with small arms, Span­dau and gre­nades they were wiped out after cau­sing some casu­al­ties.  The morn­ing showed three direct hits with mor­tars on bat­tery head­quarters, and bat­tery and troop com­mand posts were rid­dled with bul­let holes.
There was fairly heavy mor­tar­ing on the whole area during the night, in spite of which the guns of 60th and 37th Bat­ter­ies and 2/11 Medium Bat­tery Royal Artil­lery con­tin­ued to fire on the area to the north of Otter­loo.  When 37th Bat­tery came under dir­ect small arms fire, and pre­pared to engage over open sights, tar­gets were all passed to 60th Bat­tery.  Ammu­ni­tion on the 60th Bat­tery posi­tion ran dan­ger­ously low and the dri­vers and ammu­ni­tion num­bers drove their vehi­cles on to the gun posi­tion and dumped ammu­ni­tion while under small arms and medium ma­chine gun fire.
From 0530 hours onward, the whole area was sub­jec­ted to heavy and medium ma­chine gun and small arms fire and some mor­tar­ing.  As day­light ap­proached, the inten­sity of fire in­creased al­though there were no organ­ized attacks on regi­men­tal head­quar­ters or on 37th Bat­tery.
A group of men falling back from 76th Bat­tery to regi­men­tal head­quar­ters missed the area and moved on down the main axis to the east.  They came across a group of the as­sault squad­ron Royal Engin­eers and ex­plained the situ­ation to them.  As soon as it was light, they moved up with their Church­ill tanks and en­tered the area with every­thing firing.  Unfor­tu­nately, they were not given full infor­ma­tion as to the loca­tions of units in the town and some casu­al­ties were suf­fered.  As they passed regi­men­tal head­quar­ters, some of the men con­tac­ted them and gave them the pic­ture.  They then con­tac­ted the Irish Regi­ment of Canada and to­gether ad­vanced and cleared the woods to the north, using flame throw­ers.  The as­sault squad­ron Royal Engin­eers undoub­tedly ar­rived just in the nick of time to save regi­men­tal head­quar­ters and pos­sibly 37th Bat­tery and F Troop from being over­run.  Their prompt ac­tion turned the tide.
As soon as per­mis­sion was ob­tained from the bat­tal­ion com­man­der, the per­son­nel of 76th Bat­tery Head­quar­ters and E Troop moved back onto their posi­tions, mop­ping up en route.  They ar­rived to find F Troop intact having already mop­ped up their gun area and having break­fast and a clean up.
Valuable assistance was given to 37th Bat­tery by a Dutch Red Cross man, name un­known, who showed com­plete dis­re­gard for his own safety in help­ing our own and civil­ian casu­al­ties in the area.  He went in and out of the civil­ian houses in the area of the 37th Bat­tery com­mand post through­out the period.
All concerned were most grate­ful for the excel­lent work carried out by 2/11 Medium Bat­tery of 3rd Medium Regi­ment Royal Artil­lery.  Although con­stantly en­gaged by enemy mor­tars and suf­fer­ing casu­al­ties to the extent of 2 killed and 11 woun­ded, they con­tin­ued to fire defen­sive and haras­sing fire in front of 37th and 76th Field Bat­teries through­out the night.  On one occa­sion a Ger­man patrol suc­cee­ded in pene­trat­ing to their gun posi­tion, but was seen off by small arms fire, leav­ing one dead.
The assis­tance given by the troops at­tached to the regi­ment was all that could be desired.  They were as follows:
Casualties suffered by the regi­ment during the engage­ment, were as fol­lows:
RHQ 60th Bty 37th Bty 76th Bty Total
Killed  1  2  3
Wounded  1  2  1 16 20
Vehicles and Guns
25 pounder Mark II  3  3
Motor cycle solo  1  1
15 hundredweight truck  2  2
3 ton truck  1  1
Field Artillery Tractor  3  3
Heavy Utility Wireless  1  1
Casualties known to be caused to the enemy
Killed  4  3 16 23
Wounded  5  2  4 11
Prisoners of War  6  4 26 36
Total  6  9  9 46 70
Anti-tank guns  3
Vehicles (lorry)  1
Wagon and horses  1
Lessons Learned
The lessons learned by this regi­ment were not new, but merely repe­ti­tions of les­sons taught over and over again.
The type of operations now being con­duc­ted in South East Asia, and which may occur in other parts of the world, places fur­ther empha­sis on the require­ment for effec­tive local de­fence and com­mand at the gun posi­tion.