Battlefield Netherlands by Jonathan Ball

In the autumn of 1944, the Allied forces found themselves advancing on a wide front across the Netherlands. The famous Operation Market Garden, leading to Arnhem, took place but there were many forgotten battles along the eastern corridor of Holland. Find out first hand about our brand new tour, Battlefield Netherlands, from our specialist guide Jonathan Ball.


Operation Blackcock was a large scale methodical mopping up operation. It was not planned to make any deep thrust into the enemy defences or capture large numbers of Prisoners of War. It proceeded from stage to stage almost entirely as planned and was successfully completed with minimum casualties.

That was the official 21st Army Group take on the events of February 1945. Lt-Col Frank Coutts of the Kings Own Scottish Borderers held a slightly different point of view…

I would very much like to meet that staff officer from 21st Army Group sitting in his caravan or chateau outside Brussels with a large whisky and soda on his table. He had the cheek to add ‘with minimal casualties’. What in Heaven’s name is minimal? One mans life is precious and XII Corps suffered over a thousand killed and wounded.

For our BRAND NEW four-day tour, Battlefield Netherlands, we aim to take our guests very much off the beaten track in the Netherlands which to most British minds ends on the banks of the Neder Rijn at Arnhem. On the recent recce, we looked at the Battle for the towns of Overloon and Venray as the Allies pushed eastwards from Nijmegen towards the River Maas and beyond to the borders of the German Reich. First attacked by the US 7th Armored Division, the Americans found Overloon too tough a nut to crack. In 7 days they advanced little more than 2 kilometres suffering 452 casualties and having 35 Tanks destroyed, 13 of them in quick succession in just one day by a solitary German 88mm Anti Tank Gun. Following the withdrawal of the ‘Lucky 7th’ the task of taking Overloon was given to the British in the shape of the veteran 3rd Divisions’ 8th Infantry Brigade. The Battalions involved lead the British assault on D-Day in Normandy landing at 0730 hours on Sword beach and it’s their fortunes we followed. Firstly with the Suffolks on their start line north of Overloon. We looked at the story of Nelson Brown, a Dunkirk veteran and a bit of a character. The night before the attack on Overloon he shaved a swastika in his hair. By the next morning, he was dead. Scythed down by German machine gun fire literally yards from where he emerged from the trees at the beginning of the attack.

Overloon Cemetery
Overloon

We followed the Suffolks to the site of a windmill, destroyed during the fighting on the Oploo road. All around the fire-swept, flat terrain gives the visitor a first-hand impression of what it must have been like on that October day to advance under heavy fire with so little cover. George Rayson, a Suffolks veteran was later to remark of the fighting around the Windmill “It was bad enough on D-Day but this was one of the worst days of my life, why I’m still here today I don’t know”

After the Suffolks, we followed the story of the East Yorkshire Regiment from the perspective of the defending German Paratroopers. In a wood, there is what a colleague of mine described as some of the best-preserved trenches of the Second World War he’d ever seen. Amongst these trees took place bloody, hand to hand combat as the East Yorks battled through to their objective.

Suffolks start line - CWGC Cemetery in Overloon
Suffolks start line – CWGC Cemetery in Overloon

Then it was on to the beautifully maintained CWGC Cemetery in Overloon before lunch and a visit to the superb museum in the town. There’s lots of original battle damaged kit recovered from the Battlefield in there that again illustrates the ferocity of the fighting.

After lunch, we walked in the footsteps of George Eardley. A Sergeant whose actions in destroying 3 German Machine Gun Posts was to culminate in the awarding of the Victoria Cross. After that, we travelled to the crossing of what is today the peaceful Loobeek River. It was no easy objective in 1944 and for good reason did the locals later know the river as the ‘Bloodbeek’.

Loobeek River
Loobeek River

Venray CWGC cemetery visited on the Battlefields Netherlands tour

Later, after paying our respects to the boys in Venray CWGC cemetery who fell liberating the town we moved on to end the day at Ysselsteyn German Cemetery. The only statistic you really need to know here is the number of men buried, 31,598. Everything else pales into insignificance after that.

The following day took us around what was known as the Roer Triangle with Operation Blackcock, arguably one of the most interesting series of battles you’ve probably never heard of?

We started at Brunssum CWGC cemetery with Brigadier Gerald Mole, killed when 700 mines that had been lifted detonated next to his Headquarters. When Mole was buried the British guns fired in salute using live ammunition on carefully selected targets across the border in Germany, an act that Gerald Mole would no doubt of approved of and incidentally our next destination on the tour.

Brunssum CWGC cemetery with Brigadier Gerald Mole

We crossed the border to look at the Battle for Geilenkirchen and in particular the fight for the woods west of the village of Tripsrath. What took place in these woods was described by one senior officer as being akin to scenes from the First World War. The assault was made by 5/Dorsets and the wood with the trenches and dugouts which remain to this day was named in their honour as Dorset Wood.

Following our brief foray into Germany it was back across the border and to the Dutch town of Sittard for lunch. We took time at the towns CWGC cemetery to look at the posthumous award of the Victoria Cross to its youngest recipient of WW2, Fusilier Dennis Donnini, just 19 years old. Think about what you were doing at 19?

After lunch, we moved along the eastern bank of the River Maas to the town of Susteren. A superb and very original German 88mm Anti Tank gun awaited us there plus the scene of the bitter street fight for control of the town.

Leaving Susteren, we headed on to take in the site of another VC action, the only VC of WW2 awarded to a man of the Royal Army Medical Corps, Eric Harden, the Commando Medic. When men from 45 RM Commando were pinned down Eric Harden went out unarmed on at least three separate occasions to bring in the wounded. On that fateful third trip out he was shot and killed. As Derek-Mills Roberts was to write to his widow later, “it’s easier to be brave with a rifle in your hand than a stretcher”.

Eyewitness WW2 Museum visited on the Battlefield Netherlands tour
Eyewitness WW2 Museum

WW2 Museum visited on the Battlefield Netherlands tour

So those are some of the less explored Battlefields of the Netherlands. We finished with a flourish though at the simply staggering Eyewitness WW2 Museum in Beek. It’s a private collection, beautifully presented which tells the story of the war in the Netherlands and doesn’t shy away from some uncomfortable truths from those years of the German occupation.

Jonathan Ball – Specialist Battlefield Guide for Leger Holidays

If you’d like to join us on this tour, click here for more information.

The Holocaust Remembered | Leger Holidays

With the atrocities of the Holocaust brought firmly back to the forefront of our attention this week, it’s important for us to remember the millions of victims who suffered at the hands of evil during one of the most horrific parts of World War 2.

Our Holocaust Remembered tour follows the moving story of Anne Frank as well as the story of Oskar Schindler. Our specialist guide, Charlotte Czyzyk, who also works at the IWM North, specialises in the Holocaust, and here talks us through some of the most moving and thought provoking aspects of this emotional tour.

The Holocaust Remembered – Charlotte Czyzyk

This tour covers the history of the Holocaust in which 6 million Jewish men, women and children were murdered, as well as countless others because of their race, religion, sexuality, nationality, or disability. We follow the footsteps of those whose lives were affected by persecution, and include testimony from individuals such as Anne Frank to bring our excursions to life. We visit beautiful, vibrant cities where Jewish culture thrived before the war, including Berlin, Krakow and Prague, which reminds us of everything that was lost in the Holocaust.

We see the traces of Nazi architecture in the German capital of Berlin, and visit the villa outside the city where senior Nazis held the Wannsee Conference in January 1942. This secret meeting sealed the fate of European Jews, and it is always striking to think that such a beautiful lakeside location could provide the setting for such cold and calculated decision to murder millions of people. We also visit one of the earliest concentration camps at Sachsenhausen, where barracks have been preserved to gain a sense of the prisoners’ daily life. 

Achsenhausen Concentration Camp
Achsenhausen Concentration Camp

Moving onto Poland we walk through the sites of the former Krakow ghetto and Plaszow concentration camp, which during the war were plagued by overcrowding, violence, hunger and squalor. Later in the tour we also visit the so-called ‘model ghetto’ at Theresienstadt near Prague, which deceived the Red Cross inspectors into thinking that conditions were acceptable for the people held there. 
Krakow Ghetto
Krakow Ghetto

For many passengers, visiting the former concentration and death camp at Auschwitz is a particularly emotional experience. Seeing the huge displays of confiscated belongings – shoes, spectacles, even women’s hair – is overwhelming, and it helps us to begin to come to terms with the human tragedy that unfolded there.  The remains of the vast death camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, including the railway lines, prisoner barracks and gas chambers, show how the Nazi machine was geared to destroying people using industrial methods. 
And yet amongst the suffering and loss, there are tales of hope and courage. We look at stories of inspirational individuals such as Oskar Schindler, and visit the museum at his former factory in Krakow where he employed and saved 1,200 Jews. We also move to the Czech Republic to see the church in Prague where the brave assassins of SS leader Reinhard Heydrich met their fate, a building which still bears scars from the fighting that took place there over 70 years ago.
Auschwitz
Auschwitz

The end of the war created new challenges for survivors. We visit the former concentration camp at Bergen Belsen, which was liberated by the British Army in April 1945. At this emotive site we think about the difficulties that soldiers faced in providing the food, clothing, and medical assistance required to save as many people as possible, as well as the psychological support needed to help survivors to make sense of all they had come through and all they had lost. Some people poured their efforts into seeking justice from the perpetrators, and we end the tour by visiting the Nuremberg courtroom where the trials of leading Nazis such as Herman Goering took place. 
Bergen Belsen
Bergen Belsen

This tour follows journeys of many kinds:  journeys of death in trains, in ghettos and in camps; journeys of escape, hiding and survival; and journeys made after liberation to a new life. I hope that you will join this special trip to unforgettable sites, which create evocative memories for all those who travel with us. Click here to view WW2 Battlefield Tours.

Stalingrad: Turning Point of the Eastern Front by Paul Errington

Growing up in the 1960’s and 70’s I was brought up on the World at war TV series and Purnell’s History of the Second World War magazine series leading to a lifelong interest in Military history the Western European Theatre but also the Eastern Front, the scale of which fascinated me.

Great Battles in the Cities of Soviet Russia and on the expanses of the Russian Steppes where huge armies clashed in what was the most Titanic struggle of WW2. One place held my interest more than any other, a City where arguably the most destructive and costliest Battle of World War 2, and in fact History, took place and where the momentum of the campaign in the east turned against the Germans: Stalingrad.
Battle of World War 2 - Stalingrad

The Battle symbolizes many things including the clash of the ideologies of Fascism and Communism both of which were brutal regimes which led to the suppression of hundreds of millions, the personal struggle between Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin, but most of all the savagery of a modern Industrial war fought in an Urban environment where the loss of life was numbered in the 100’s of thousands; a final death figure will probably never be known.

But Stalingrad has also been held as a turning point of the second World War in the east, a place where the German Wehrmacht suffered its greatest
ever disaster in the field and its largest formation the 6
th Army was almost completely wiped out.

After researching the Battle for several years in 2001, I was fortunate to visit for the first time the City now called Volgograd and the surrounding Steppe Battlefields to the west and south of the City where so much remains to be seen. The battle can be viewed and Toured from the first crossing of the Don River to the final surrender by Field Marshall Friedrich Paulus at the Univermag Store in the City Centre, visiting locations relevant to all the phases of the Battle where memorials and original Battle-scarred buildings still stand bearing witness to the ferocious fighting and courage and sacrifice of those from both sides who took part.

One of the places I found the most emotive was the location to the North of the City in the suburbs of Rynok and Lataschinka where the first elements of the 16th Panzer Division, Armoured cars of Panzer-Aufklärungs-Abteilung 16 reached the Volga river in the late afternoon of the 23rd August 1942 having made their famous dash across the land bridge between the Don and the Volga. The German troops involved referred to it as overwhelming, or Ein Historisches Augenblick, an Historic moment.

From here high on the west bank of the Volga they could see the mighty river itself, the Asiatic steppe shimmering in the heat haze and extending far into the distance to the east plus the Northern part of the City and the Industrial district where they would soon be involved in brutal fighting. In the distance huge clouds of smoke and fire hung over the
City where over 600 German Bombers had begun their saturation bombing of the City itself, Soviet archives estimate that over 40,000 civilians were killed on that day alone
by the bombing. Looking at the same view you can envisage their feelings of success and exhilaration that now the Volga had been reached the Russian campaign may be
nearing its triumphant conclusion.

Volga Crossing
Volga Crossing

At that moment of Triumph I’m sure not many of them were aware of the scale of battle that was waiting to engulf them and what the fate of themselves and hundreds of thousands of other human beings would be. But the moment and feelings were only fleeting as they began to be engaged by Soviet Anti-Aircraft Guns crewed by young female crews who began firing over open sights at the German Spearhead. As the famous Russian writer Vasily Grossman wrote “This was the first page of the Stalingrad defense”:
the Battle for the City of Stalingrad had begun.

Urban warfare, or Rattenkrieg, in the sewers and underground shops of the factories, the cult of the sniper, the evolution of street fighting tactics, extremes of weather conditions, attack and counter attack, encirclement, starvation and surrender and the final victory of the people of Soviet Russia and the Red Army. This was a turning point in History.

Even in subsequent visits that first sight of the Volga in that historical location left an overwhelming feeling of a moment in history and the beginning of infamous battle that
was to follow.

First view of the Volga
First view of the Volga

The Mamayev Kurgan, the Factory District, Lyudnikovs Island, Pavlovs House, Tsaritsa Gorge, the Railway Station and the Grain Silo etc are all names that will be familiar to those who have studied the fighting to capture the City. But out on the Steppe west of the City are the Airfields of Gumrak and Pitomnik the reconciliation Cemetery complex at Rossoschka including the memorials to the over 100,000 Germans soldiers still missing in action. Soldiers Field, Bald Hill – Memorials to the heroic Soviet defenders, Kalach and the Don River crossing and the area of the German defense lines around the so called Marinovka Nose.

Mamayev Kurgan
Mamayev Kurgan

Grudinin Mill
Grudinin Mill

The Tour we have put together is one that will allow the visitor to understand all the major phases of the Battle , looking at the whole picture from the point of view of both the Axis and Soviet Armies , the senior Commanders and the ordinary soldier, the Civilian experience and the famed resilience of the Red Army soldiers.

The Tour will be led by myself and one of the most knowledgeable and experienced Russian Historians and Guides of the Battle, who first took me to Stalingrad all those years ago: Evgeny Kulichenko. No-one knows the Battle and it’s history as intimately as Zhenya, who is a lifelong resident of the City and who has studied the Battle since being a small boy growing up with the stories and first-hand accounts of the surviving veterans. We look forward to welcoming you on an amazing tour of an incredible battlefield.

Top Tips for Travel Blogging

The rise of social media means we’re much more likely to share our travelling experiences now, than ever before. From posting pictures or even the odd Facebook boast, we like to let people know what we’re up to.

And, we think it’s a brilliant thing! With 60% of Brits updating their status TEN times whilst on holiday, we certainly have a lot to say.
If you’re happily guilty of being a social sharer, have you considered blogging? We love to post personal accounts from our passengers on this very blog, and if you want to try your hand at travel writing, here are our top tips to create the perfect post.

Don’t be too formal

We know, when you read travel guides, you’re not only left to pick out a few key bits of information from hundreds of pages, but it’s jam packed with big words and industry jargon. It can be slightly overwhelming.
When it comes to blogging, write simply. Write as if you were speaking to a friend, easy to understand language keeps your reader focused, there’s no need to over complicate it.
Keep your sentences and your paragraphs short, and break up your text with sub-headings. When people are taking time to read your piece, make it easy for them to see what’s written within.

Write in first person and past tense

It’s your experience and your story, so write from your perspective. When people are reading travel blogs, they’ll be looking for opinions. What you thought about a certain place, where you would suggest people visit.
Your visit gives your writing credibility, and your reader is there to read about what you got up to, just to see if it’s something they may like too. Don’t feel like it has to be written like a story book. Aim to entertain, not necessarily impress.

Start strong!

You don’t have to recall all of your trip in chronological order, what you want to do is to cherry-pick the best bits of your story.
And, this is no different with your opening paragraph. Let us know what makes your story interesting, grab your reader’s attention, and then, write about your favourite experiences.
A great tip would be to break your blog down into destinations, rather than days. Use sub-headings and let us know if you have any quirky little stories from your visit.

Find your angle

Are you a single traveller heading to unknown lands? Are you heading off on a special pilgrimage with your partner? Maybe, you’re on a journey of discovery? Each can be a unique angle to write from.
Think about what you’d like to have known prior to your trip. Whilst writing can be your hobby, it can also be an information source for others. If you have a reason for people to read your piece, they will.

Mix up your content

Keep your writing light by using photos, treat it like a show and tell. As they say, a picture can tell a thousand words, but it can also enhance your writing.
You will give the reader a better idea of what you’re talking about with visuals as images are easily digested. And, according to Content +, articles with images get 94% more views than those without.
(Be sure to use your own images, though. Pictures found online will, more often than not, be covered by copyright.)
It’s always great to throw in some interesting facts, or quotes from locals, your guides, or your travel companions, too. Keep your readers interested and give them something to take away from your writing.

Have fun writing!

Most importantly, have fun writing your blog. Your enthusiasm and passion for the subject will come across through your writing and make your blog post a pleasure to read.
So, there you have it. Our top tips for travel writing. Are you ready to begin? If you fancy writing a blog post for Leger Blog, send your work over to blog@legerblog.co.uk