Exploring History

Two Victoria Cross winners killed on 21 April 1945

Posted on: April 22, 2020

Captain Ian Liddell 5th Battalion Coldstream Guards and Guardsman Edward Colquhoun Charlton 2nd Battalion Irish Guards were both awarded the Victoria Cross for heroic actions in the final days of the war in Germany. They were both killed on the 21st April and were awarded the highest award for bravery posthumously.

Captain Liddell’s official recomendation reads: “In Germany, on 3rd April, 1945, Captain I.O. Liddell was commanding a company of the COLDSTREAM GUARDS which was ordered to capture intact a bridge over the River Ems near Lingen. The bridge was covered on the far back by an enemy position which was subsequently discovered to consist of 150 entrenched infantry supported by three 88-mm. and 20-mm. guns. The bridge was also prepared for demolition with 500-lb. bombs, which could plainly be seen. Having directed his two leading platoons on to the near bank, Captain Liddell ran alone to the bridge. He scaled the 10-foot-high road block guarding it with the intention of neutralizing the charges and taking the bridge intact. In order to achieve his object he had to cross the whole length of the bridge by himself under intense enemy fire, which increased as his object became apparent. Having disconnected the charges on the far side he recrossed the bridge and cut the wires on the near side. It was necessary for him to kneel, forming an easy target, whilst he successfully cut the wires. He then discovered that there were also charges beneath the bridge. Completely undeterred, he disconnected these further charges. His task completed, he climbed up on to the road block in full view of the enemy and signalled his leading platoon to advance.

Thus alone and unprotected, without cover and under enemy fire, he achieved his object and opened the way for the advance across the River Ems. His superb example of courage and self-sacrifice will never be forgotten by those who saw it”

Liddell defusing the bombs in full view of enemy fire

Liddell continued the advance into Germany but was killed on 21st April. A sniper’s bullet passed through another officer and carried on to hit him too. He was unaware that he would be awarded the Victoris Cross which was approved by the King on 7th June.

Guardsman Charlton’s official recomendation reads: In Germany on the morning of 21st April, 1945, Guardsman Charlton was co-driver in one tank of a troop which, with a platoon of infantry, seized the village of Wistedt.  Shortly afterwards, the enemy attacked this position under cover of an artillery concentration and in great strength, comprising, as it later transpired, a battalion of the 15 Panzer Grenadiers supported by six self-propelled guns.  All the tanks, including Guardsman Charlton’s, were hit; the infantry were hard pressed and in danger of being over-run.

Whereupon, entirely on his own initiative, Guardsman Charlton decided to counter-attack the enemy.  Quickly recovering the Browning from his damaged tank, he advanced up the road in full view of the enemy, firing the Browning from his hip.  Such was the boldness of his attack that he halted the leading enemy company, inflicting heavy casualties on them.  This effort at the same time brought much-needed relief to our own infantry.

An American solider firing the unwieldy .30 Calibre Browning from the hip

For ten minutes Guardsman Charlton fired in this manner, until wounded in the left arm.  Immediately, despite intense enemy fire, he mounted his machine gun on a nearby fence, which he used to support his wounded left arm.  He stood firing thus for a further ten minutes until he was again hit in the left arm which fell away shattered and useless.

Although twice wounded and suffering from loss of blood, Guardsman Charlton again lifted his machine gun on to the fence, now having only one arm with which to fire and reload.  Nevertheless, he still continued to inflict casualties on the enemy, until finally, he was hit for the third time and collapsed.  He died later of his wounds in enemy hands.  The heroism and determination of this Guardsman in his self-imposed task were beyond all praise.  Even his German captors were amazed at his valour.

Guardsman Charlton’s courageous and self-sacrificing action not only inflicted extremely heavy casualties on the enemy and retrieved his comrades from a desperate situation, but also enabled the position to be speedily recaptured.”

Firing such a heavy gun from the hip or with a wounded arm was no mean feat. The King approved his VC on 2nd May 1946