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History of the Hannover Branch

The Royal British Legion Hannover Branch was re-established in 2014 and has grown rapidly.

The Branch is keen to document the history of its predecessor branch (or branches) in the Hannover area, but has so far found a complete lack of records relating to its history from the end of WW2 (or before?) until the Drawdown closures in the 1990s.

We know that, after the successful Normandy landings, the units of 21st Army Group crossed the river Rhine near the Germany city of Wesel on 23 March 1945. After an advance which was thoroughly resisted, the British formations, along with the Canadians and Americans advanced into the German counties of Nordrhein-Westfalen, Niedersachsen and Schleswig-Holstein. This established the British Army occupying the north of the country.

The British advance towards Hamburg was spearheaded by the 7th Armoured Division, attacking Harburg and advancing to the River Elbe across from Hamburg, with the 15th (Scottish) Infantry Division assaulting the town of Uelzen to the south of the city. Elements of the XII Corps attacked Hamburg itself from the northwest. On their way to Harburg, the 7th Division captured Welle and Tostedt on 18 April and advanced into Hollenstedt the next day. By this time, the Germans had built up defences in Harburg as the British moved closer. On 20 April, the division captured Daerstorf, eight miles west of the city. The RHA Forward Observation Officers (FOOs), reached the Elbe and began to direct artillery fire upon troops and trains on the other side of the river. On the same day, the 131st Infantry Brigade took Vahrendorf just two miles south of Harburg. The Division halted the advance for five days just short of Hamburg; it set up a perimeter and prepared for its assault on the city. However, on 26 April, the 12th SS Regiment, supported by troops of the Hitler Youth, sailors and policemen, counter attacked at Vahrendorf. They were supported by 88mm guns and 75mm howitzers and reached the town centre but were pushed back once British tanks arrived. The battle continued until the next day, when the Germans retreated to Harburg, leaving 60 dead and losing 70 men as prisoners.

On 28 April the British began their assault on the city. The 5th Royal Tank Regiment, 9th Durham Light Infantry and 1st Rifle Brigade captured Jesteburg and Hittfeld, where the autobahn was. Nevertheless, the Germans blew up parts of the autobahn at Hittfeld, slowing the British advance. As the British advanced towards the city, it was clear that the Germans would still not give up. The troops of the 1st Parachute Army were now a mix of a few SS, paratroopers, Volkssturm, along with regular Wehrmacht soldiers, supported by sailors, police, firemen, and Hitler Youth. They were supported by 88 mm guns, which were no longer needed for air defence.

Many German units, including a tank destroyer battalion, a Hungarian SS unit and many Panzerfaust anti-tank troops were also still located in the woods south of Hamburg, as the British had bypassed the area and were now mopping it up. The 53rd Division, supported by the 1st Royal Tank Regiment assaulted the woods and captured all remaining German troops, a total of 2,000 men.

On 28 April, the 3rd Regiment Royal Horse Artillery began shelling the Phoenix Rubber Works in Hamburg, which brought about a white flag delegation. On 29 April, a deputation from the city came out to discuss surrender. On 1 May, General Alwin Wolz's staff car, under a white flag, approached D Company of the 9th Durham Light Infantry. On 30 April, Adolf Hitler had committed suicide in Berlin and Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz, who was commanding the forces in the north, had ordered Wolz to discuss surrendering the city to the British. Wolz, along with a small German delegation, arrived at Division HQ on 2 May and formally surrendered Hamburg on the 3rd May. That same afternoon, the 11th Hussars led the 7th Armoured Division into the ruined city.

We know that, on 25 August 1945, Field Marshal Montgomery's 21st Army Group was renamed the British Army of the Rhine (BAOR). It was made responsible for the occupation and administration of the British Zone in north-west Germany. In this task, it was assisted by the Control Commission Germany (CCG). This consisted of British civil servants and military personnel. It took over aspects of local government, policing, housing and transport. The BAOR’s headquarters were established in Bad Oeynhausen in North Rhine- Westphalia. Both here and elsewhere, it requisitioned German buildings for military administration and accommodation, exacerbating the housing shortage. Indeed, with around 800,000 Commonwealth soldiers in Germany by the end of 1945, finding barracks and camps for them all in a ruined country was major headache.

We know that it was the 9th US Army that liberated Hannover in April 1945 and dealt with the horrors of the surround concentration complex. In particular, it was the 84th Infantry Division (the "Railsplitter" division), which had landed on Omaha Beach in Normandy in early November 1944, five months after D-Day (June 6, 1944) and, although moved quickly into the Netherlands in preparation for an offensive into Nazi Germany, during the Battle of the Bulge, was diverted to Belgium to stop the German offensive. In March 1945, it moved into the Rhineland and subsequently advanced northward, capturing the city of Hannover on April 10. As the "Railsplitter" division advanced into the interior of Germany, its troops uncovered Hannover-Ahlem (April 10, 1945) and Salzwedel (April 14, 1945), both satellite camps of the Neuengamme concentration camp.

As the 84th Infantry Division "Railsplitter" division advanced into the interior of Germany, its troops uncovered Hannover-Ahlem (April 10, 1945) and Salzwedel (April 14, 1945), both satellite camps of the Neuengamme concentration camp. The SS established the Hannover- Ahlem camp on November 30, 1944, after transferring the camp and its inmates from the Continental Gummiwerke factory at Hannover-Stöcken. In Ahlem the inmates were forced to work in the nearby asphalt tunnels. These were to be cleared for the production of aircraft and Panzer parts for Continental Gummiwerke and Maschinenfabrik Hannover.

When the soldiers of the 84th entered the camp in Ahlem, they discovered an undetermined number of starving and ill Jewish prisoners. Reports range from 30 to 250 persons. The SS guards had abandoned these prisoners when they evacuated the camp, taking with them some 600 "healthy" prisoners. Of the prisoners sent on this death march, only 450 made it to the Bergen-Belsen camp. The SS guards had shot many of those who were unable to maintain the pace of the march. The U.S. Army war crimes investigators reported that many of these survivors died soon after liberation from the accumulated abuse, mistreatment, and neglect they had suffered. They estimated that only 300 to 400 Jewish prisoners at Hanover - Ahlem survived the war.

We know, for example, that BMH Hannover was open from 1951 to 1992, and that the RHQ and 10 Postal & Courier Sqn of 1 P&C Regt RE were in Langenhagen Barracks, near Hannover Airport.

We know that during October 1954 HQ BAOR relocated from Bad Oeynhausen to Rheindalen. Only a month earlier had seen the first large scale NORTHAG exercise, appropriately named, Battle Royal. BAOR at this point still consisted of 80,000 troops. 

Units in Hannover in 1989 are thought to have included 32 Field Hospital RAMC (at Chatham Barracks?), 63 Station Wksp REME (at Langenhagen Bks?), 5 Security Coy INT CORPS (at Stirling House?) and several TA units, including RAOC.

As a reminder, these were the principal locations in Hannover by the end of the 1980s:

  • BMH Hanover, Chatham Barracks.

  • Cold Store, Langenhagen Barracks.

  • Leichtmetallwerke, London/ Edinburgh Barracks.

  • Stirling House.

  • Stöcken Barracks.

  • Vinnhorst Barracks.

BMH Hannover

BMH Hanover1 was one of several BAOR (British Army on the Rhine) hospitals in Germany. It is understood to have originated as the 29th British General Hospital RAMC at Belsen in the late 1940s or early 1950s. The first Commanding Officer of the redesignated establishment was Colonel Knight in 1951, whilst the last CO, from 1989 to 1992, was Colonel Lynch. In 1990, BMH Hannover was mobilised as 32 Field Hospital to Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf War.