Neerpelt bridge

neerpelt joe bridge 1944The original bridge had been destroyed by the Belgian Army in 1940, but the Germans had constructed a wooden Pontoon bridge to the west of it. This bridge was taken on the evening of 10 September 1944 by the Irish Guards under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel J.O.E Vandeleur. While the Welsh Guards engaged the German forces around Hechtel, the Irish Guards advanced rapidly north-east through the villages of Eksel, Overpelt and Neerpelt, and launched their combined infantry-tank assault, with artillery support, from the grounds of the zinc processing factory in Overpelt. They succeeding in taking the bridge undamaged.
neerpelt joe bridge 1944 neerpelt joe bridge 2005
click to enlarge click to enlarge
The capture of the bridge completed the encirclement of German troops in Hechtel. German units tried for some days to recapture the bridge from the north but were driven off, once at the point of the bayonet. Once the bridge was secure, men of the 615th Field Squadron, Royal Engineers, set about repairing it, while the Irish Guards secured a bridgehead along the N69 main road towards Valkenswaard.

Some 3 km to the east, in the centre of Lommel, SS troops had placed 40 randomly-selected Dutch civilians in the street, at machine gun-point, as a human shield. However the swift advance of the British from the east prevented a massacre. The Germans held the north side of the Maas-Scheldt canal up to the 17th September, apart from the area around the bridge.
The bridge became known as "Joe's Bridge", after Lieutenant-Colonel Vandeleur, or possibly because the RE troop who repaired it were known as "Joe's Troop".