Happenings at Otterloo, Holland on the Night 16/17 April 1945. (1965 12).
The Canadian Gunner. v 1. pp. 72–75.
HAPPENINGS AT OTTERLOO, HOLLAND,
ON THE NIGHT 16/17 APRIL 1945
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
The security of the gun position requires a more serious and
knowledgeable approach by the officers responsible for local
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:
The Irish Regiment of Canada, Otterloo
Cape Breton Highlanders, Barneveld
The Perth Regiment, the high ground east of Lunteren
To give support for the infantry brigade, 17th Canadian Field Regiment
and 211 Battery, 3rd Medium Regiment
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
Fire was opened on them and regimental headquarters notified at
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
All personnel had manned positions either around their guns or in the
immediate vicinity of the gun positions on the first warning of the
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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:
Left section, E Troop, 1 Canadian Survey Regiment;
E Troop, 5 Canadian Armoured Division Signals,
The Royal Canadian Corps of Signals;
58th Canadian Light Aid Detachment, Royal Canadian
Electrical and Mechanical Engineers;
Detachment from Division Troops, Royal Canadian
Army Service Corps.
Casualties suffered by the regiment during the engagement, were as follows:
Vehicles and Guns
25 pounder Mark II
Motor cycle solo
15 hundredweight truck
3 ton truck
Field Artillery Tractor
Heavy Utility Wireless
Casualties known to be caused to the enemy
Prisoners of War
Wagon and horses
The lessons learned by this regiment were not new, but merely repetitions of lessons
taught over and over again.
That every man must be trained to protect himself with his own small arms weapon.
That small arms fire must be controlled, and men taught to fire only when they can
see a definite target.
That without a field of fire, a position cannot be defended no matter how courageous
the defenders may be.
That men dug-in in the open, stand a
much better chance than those in and around
That the final outcome of any such battle depends on the resourcefulness and
ability of the junior officer and non-commissioned officer.
That a knowledge of basic gunnery principles is essential in order that
when the normal equipment is not available the Gunner officer can still
carry on with improvised means.
An artillery regiment must always be prepared to defend itself against
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.