Author(s): Patrick Delaforce
Originally a Territorial unit with its roots in the West Riding of Yorkshire, the 49th Infantry Division saw action in the ill-fated Norwegian campaign in 1940, before it was appointed to garrison Iceland where it stayed for two years. In August 1944, under the command of the Canadian Army, the Polar Bears acted as Monty's left flank after the invasion of France. Following the battle for Normandy, the Polar Bears played a key role in the capture of Le Havre, campaigned vigorously in Belgium and garrisoned the 'island' between Arnhem and Nijmegen during the winter of 1944. They helped to take Arnhem and then liberated Utrecht and Hilversum; and the Recce regiment were the first to arrive with their armoured cars in Amsterdam. In the final weeks of the war the Polar Bears played a humanitarian role by bringing desperately needed food supplies to the starving population of Holland. During the campaign in North West Europe, the Polar Bears were a completely British division with units drawn from Yorkshire, Durham, Royal Scots Fusiliers, Tyneside Scottish, Lincolnshire, Leicestershire, Kent Yeomanry and Suffolk Hussars. In August 1944 they were joined by the South Wales Borderers, the Gloucesters and the Essex regiments. The Polar Bears suffered 11,000 casualties and earned a Victoria Cross. Following the successful formula adopted for his other divisional histories, Patrick Delaforce draws on contributions from the soldiers who fought with the Polar Bears - privates, NCOs and officers alike. In their own words they tell just what it was like as they fought through from Normandy to the relief of Holland.
Patrick Delaforce was educated at Winchester College. During the Second World War, aged 17, he was in Churchill's Home Guard and witnessed the London Blitz of 1940 and 1941. Later he served as a troop leader in Normandy with the Royal Horse Artillery of the 11th Armoured Division. Hitler's Wehrmacht blew him up with their mines in Holland, and he was again wounded by a rifle grenade on the banks of the River Elbe. He was with the first battle group into Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in April 1945, was twice mentioned in despatches, and was awarded the Bronze Cross of Orange-Nassau. In autumn 1945 he served on a War Crimes Tribunal in Hamburg and tried many concentration camp guards. Finally, he was an official British Army of the Rhine witness when Mr Albert Pierrepoint, the British hangman, executed 13 convicted war criminals in Hameln on 13 December 1945. After leaving the army, he worked as a port wine shipper and ran an advertising agency in New York, before becoming a professional writer, mainly on historical and military subjects. 40 books by him have been published with 100 editions. Fonthill Media are publishing 6 of his titles.