Operation Battle of Broekhuizen

The 'Battle of Broekhuizen', named for the Dutch village near the Maas river where it took place, was a small but bloody battle fought as part of the Allied campaign to liberate the left bank of the Maas river in the area of the Peel marshes (27/30 November 1944).

In the fighting, the German units at Broekhuizen were initially contained by elements of Major General C. M. Barber’s 15th Division. The Germans had developed Broekhuizen into a small but effective fortress, which was one of three small but nonetheless important German footholds on the left side of the Maas river at the time. The Germans occupied the houses and cellars of the village, and also the village’s Kasteel, which was a thick-walled mediaeval manor house surrounded by a moat. They had constructed an elaborate system of entrenchments, laid an extensive minefield, and were supported by artillery from the other side of the river.

On the night of 27 November, the 9th Cameronians attacked the Kasteel, held by German paratroopers of the 6th Kompanie of Oberstleutnant Grassmel’s 20th Fallschirmjägerregiment. The strength of the paratroopers' defence had been underestimated, and the attempt to storm the building was unsuccessful: more than half of the attackers were killed, wounded or taken prisoner.

On the following day, the Scots were relieved by the 3/Monmouthshire Regiment of Major General G. P. B. Roberts’s British 11th Armoured Division. At dawn on 30 November, after a day of planning and preparation, the 3/Monmouths set out to attack both the Kasteel, which was the objective of A Company, and the village of Broekhuizen, which was the objective of C Company, from woodland just to the south. Both companies had to negotiate the minefield, withering German machine gun fire from the Kasteel, and mortar and shell fire from the far side of the Maas river. The 2/Monmouths were joined in this effort by artillery support, 30 tanks of B and C Squadrons of the 15th/19th The King’s Royal Hussars and 12 mine flail tank 'funnies' of A Squadron the Westminster Dragoons brought in from Major General Sir Percy Hobart’s British 79th Armoured Division. The 15th/19th Hussars shelled German positions from the woods, and the Dragoons cleared a path through the minefield with the infantry of the 3/Monmouths following behind. Unfortunately, the attack stalled against the extremely well dug-in Germans, and severe casualties were inflicted on the 3/Monmouths once the cover provided by the Dragoons' flail tanks was gone. D Company of the 3/Monmouths had to be brought in from reserve to take over the attack on the village from C Company. The 3/Monmouths' commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Stockley, was killed leading the attack on the Kasteel, so the Hussars' commanding officer, Colonel Taylor, took leadership of the British effort to break the bloody stalemate. This had been achieved by dusk as the Hussars' supporting tanks effectively destroyed the Kasteel’s walls with HE shells fired at close range, and the new impetus provided by D Company, which was able to reach the village and clear it in house-to-house fighting with relatively few casualties.

The Kasteel and the village had been almost totally destroyed in the battle before the German garrison finally surrendered a few days later after a short period of sporadic resistance. By this time, the hard-hit 3/Monmouths had in turn been relieved by the 4/King’s Shropshire Light Infantry. The 3/Monmouths had then to be taken out of the line until 17 December for reinforcement.

The British victory had come at a heavy cost. The 3/Monmouths' A and C Companies had suffered 70% casualties. Of the 300 British soldiers present overall, 140 had been killed or wounded. The Germans lost 139 made taken prisoner, but a number of small German parties managed to escape across the Mass rover. Estimates for the German casualties range between 17 and 60 men killed.