Battle Study # 17   

File No.: Battle Study # 17
Title: Location where Capt. Lange of the Oxfordshire
and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry earned the Military
Cross in Oirschot, The Netherlands in September 1944
Investigation made at: Municipality of Oirschot,
The Netherlands
Period Covered: 26 and 27 September 1944
Date:  August 2009
Case Classification: Description of Battlefield / Combat Scene
Case Status: Case Closed
REASON FOR INVESTIGATION: It came to this agency's attention that in the night of the 26th to the 27th of September 1944 a short but fierce skirmish took place East of the town of Oirschot, The Netherlands. Part of a raid across the Wilhelmina Canal, British troops laid mines on the road from Oirschot to Best and booby trapped several parked German vehicles. After two vehicles hit the mines on the road, they caught flame and a fierce fire fight ensued. The raiding party then withdrew across the canal leaving behind many German dead, wounded and damage to enemy vehicles. For this action, platoon leader Captain Peter Lange received the Military Cross medal. In august 2009, Lange's son Ian and grand-daughter Abby visited the battlefield of their ancestor.
BattleDetective.com went with them to the battlefield.

 

SYNOPSIS:
Peter Lange was born on the Indonesian island of Java, a Dutch colony and therefore was Dutch by birth. His parents later moved to England and sent young Peter to school in England and he became a British citizen. Young Peter soon joined the British Army and at 18 he became a weapons instructor. On December 11th 1942, at age 19, he became a 2nd Lieutenant in the King's Regiment, was promoted to Lieutenant on June 12th 1943 at age 20, was promoted to Captain on the June 7th 1944 (D-Day+1 of Operation Overlord) at age 21 and to Major at the age of 22 on April 14th 1945. He commanded an Infantry Company at that time.

Captain Lange wrote a diary of his wartime experiences and described events in great detail. In this Battle Study we focus on one specific military action; an aggressive raid across the Wilhelmina Canal into the German-held outskirts of the Dutch town of Oirschot. Captain Lange's leadership and personal actions earned him the prestigious Military Cross. Unfortunately he died in 2003. He never retraced his war-time steps. A few month short of 65 years after the heroic actions, Captain Lange's son Ian and his 11 year old grand-daughter Abby toured the battlefield. Being a ‘local’, Battle Detective Tom was their guide.

Citation
Below is the citation, describing how Captain Lange earned his Military Cross. Although Captain Lange's war-time diary is in much more detail, we have decided to use the citation as the base for this Battle Study. We have added footnotes and hyperlinks to illustrate the raiding party’s actions across the Wilhelmina Canal into enemy territory, inflicting extensive damage to enemy vehicles, personnel and occupied houses.

Diagram

In his diary, Captain Lange has made a very comprehensive diagram which is very helpful to the raid's account. We have included it here:

CITATION

THE MILITARY CROSS
Captain (temporary) Peter LANGE (255741)
The King's Regiment
(Ox and Bucks LI)

"On the night 26th/27th September, 1944 Captain LANGE in command of a party of eight men of his platoon was ordered to cross the WILHELMINA CANAL by boat with instructions to do as much damage as possible to enemy vehicles using the main BEST – OIRSCHOT road. The far bank was known to be held by the enemy but the exact positions of their posts were not known. Having once crossed the canal Captain LANGE was faced with some 1100 yards of flat ground dotted with houses, which he had to get his party across before taking up his position to carry out his task on the main road. The raiding party crossed the canal without interference though another party not far to his left was heavily fired on and had to return. Captain LANGE made rapid progress passed the houses that were between the canal and the road, most of which were occupied by the enemy who could be heard talking in the doorways. On reaching the road, Captain LANGE laid two strips of mines across it to blow up vehicles approaching from either directions and took up a position in between. Here his party waited for thirty minutes while enemy soldiers stood, talked and smoked not ten yards from their position.
Then two vehicles approached simultaneously from either direction. Both blew up and caught fire. Enemy from the neighbouring houses tumbled out to see what was happening and in the glare of the fires about twenty of them died under LMG fire. Captain LANGE then withdrew his party to the canal bank firing into every house as he passed to do maximum damage to the enemy and to delay the enemy who were now pursuing him in force. On reaching the bank a party of Germans attacked from the west. The raiding party threw all their remaining grenades and embarked under cover of their explosives.
Half-way across the water an enemy grenade sank the boat and the party swam ashore under heavy fire. The raiding parties casualties were one man wounded, who was brought in, and one missing. The latter was probably drowned on the return journey. Just before dawn another five explosions were heard from the area in which Captain LANGE laid the mines and two more fires were observed. At least twenty and probably many more enemy were killed or wounded. The success – the great success – of this hazardous and important operation was due in great measure to the remarkable courage, nerve and inspired leadership of this officer, whose behaviour under fire has invariably been beyond praise.
"
 
Witness statements of citizens of the "Moleneind" hamlet near Oirschot during battlefield visit
During our visit to the area of Captain Lange’s raid, we talked to several residents of houses along the route of advance from the point where the raiding party crossed the canal to the Best-Oirschot road. Their homes are located along a rural road named "De Braken" today.
In the front yard of the house on No. 10 De Braken we talked to Mr. Johannes Van Nunen and Mrs. Wilhelmina Van Nunen-Bierkens.

After we had introduced ourselves and explained the reason for our visit to the general area, they stated:
  • that they were both 11 years old in September 1944;
  • that they were not in the house on No. 10 De Braken at that time as their families had to evacuate to the nearby town of Boxtel;
  • that upon return to the house on No. 10 De Braken, Mr. Van Nunen found all wooden doors and shutters removed by German soldiers to be used in their air raid shelters;
  • that Mrs. Van Nunen-Bierkens was told that in September 1944 English soldiers had crossed the Wilhelmina Canal who then moved towards the Best-Oirschot road through the drainage ditch in front of the house;
  • that one of the brothers or sisters of Mrs. Van Nunen-Bierkens (literally in local dialect: "one of our own") had found a beret or cap of one the British soldiers in or near the drainage ditches in front of the house on De Braken;
  • that she does not know where said headwear is today;
  • that damage from shrapnel or bullets can still be seen at the North-West outer wall of their home;
  • that the barn, that was set ablaze by one of the German trucks that hit a mine on the road, belonged to the Bierkens Family;
  • that Mr. Bressers from No. 1 Wevershoek also has information on the raid across Wilhelmina Canal in September 1944.

We then moved to the house on No. 1 Wevershoek and talked to Mr. Theodorus Bressers, who stated:
  • that he was 15 years old in 1944;
  • that his Father had died in 1942;
  • that he was the youngest of ten (10) children;
  • that his older brothers, in particular Martin Bressers, were resistance workers and were helpful in hiding downed Allied pilots and people wanted by the German secret police;
  • that he had lived North of the Best-Oirschot road in 1944 and that he had visited the battlefield the day after the raid;
  • that he had found many spent cartridges, apparently from a machine gun position at a point along the route towards the canal;
  • that his home in 1944 was at the end of the interlocking fields of fire from both the British raiding party and the Germans in the farm West of his current home;
  • that at least one German dead was found near his home in 1944 of whom it is unknown whether he was killed by the British soldiers or by friendly fire;
  • that after the war he had built a house along the dirt track named "De Braken" and had 'his' stretch of road renamed "Wevershoek";
  • that the terrain has seen some changes after 1944 and that the dirt track running parallel along the road, where Capt. Lange had set up his Bren gun position, is now at the edge of his garden today;
  • that he regrets the fact that Captain Lange died in 2003 as he would have enjoyed meeting him in person.
CONCLUSIONS: The late 1970's and 1980's brought certain changes to the terrain in the sense of redevelopment of the small-scale pastures and meadows in the area. In a government stimulated program, focused on enlarging adjoining agricultural property by means of the honest exchange of land (named 'ruilverkaveling' in Dutch), the terrain's features changed. For example, small vegetable patches changed into larger pastures. Drainages ditches and dirt tracks were moved efficiently. Despite all this, the general features of the battle area remained intact. The wide part of the canal is still in the same place. Most of the dominating houses, farms and barns are still there. Above all, the terrain is still an open one from the Wilhelmina Canal to the Oirschot-Best Road. It was surprising, not only to find the battle area this much unchanged, but also to listen to recollections of a battle which is more than a generation old.


EXHIBITS: 
(click on the thumbnails to enlarge)

 1) 2)  3) 4) 5)
 

1) Portrait of Captain Lange, with Military Cross Medal ribbon on uniform
2) Captain Lange's original WWII British Army identification discs. "CE" stands for Church of England
3) Minitiatures of Captain Lange's war-time medals
4) Display of Captain Lange's relics at the Veterans's House in Eindhoven
5) Two generations of Captain Lange overlooking the battlefield

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