Category Archives: Normandy

Aldbourne’s War Dead and Easy Company’s Band of Brothers

Albourne Heritage Centre Curator John Dymond points out the layout of the 506 PIR camp with the help of Ww2 era photographs.

Earlier this month I had the pleasure of being the historian guide for the US National World War 2 Museum  “Band of Brothers Tour”. They are partners of the Liberation Route Europe. I accompanied the group to Aldbourne in Wiltshire, where the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment were billeted in 1943-44. The Aldbourne Heritage society were splendid hosts.

Memorial to Second World War dead: Aldbourne Parish Church
Memorial to Second World War dead: Aldbourne Parish Church

Travelers were curious about the reaction of villagers to the influx of American soldiers doubling the population. One of the overwhelming thoughts must have been reminders to them of their own menfolk, doing their bit for the war effort far from home.

The names on the memorial plate in the church provide evidence of the war service of villagers. Most of those who served came back, and the memorial is merely a fragment of the part that Aldbourne played in the war. By the time that Easy Company arrived in Aldbourne many men were serving in one of the armed forces, and six people from Aldbourne had already died.

Picture of M V Zealandic
M V Zealandic

At 00.45 hours on 17 Jan 1941 the unescorted M V Zealandic was hit underneath the forward mast by one torpedo from U-106 about 230 miles west-northwest of Rockall. The ship stopped for a short time, sent distress signals and then continued. The ship sank slowly after being hit amidships by more two torpedoes at 00.59 and 01.27 hours. The Germans observed how the crew abandoned ship in three lifeboats, but they were never seen again. The master, 64 crew members, two gunners and six passengers were lost. The passengers included 31 year old Wing Commander D. P. Lascelles RAF, and his wife Diana Trelawny,who lived on the Green, Aldbourne. Wing Commander Lascelles’ younger brother Flying Officer John Richard Hasting, had been lost over the Atlantic three month earlier, aged 20.

HMS Hood in 1924

Two others died at sea before 1943. 17 year old Desmond Trevor Wooton was serving as a Boy 1st Class in the Royal Navy on 24th May 1941 aboard H.M.S. Hood when it was sunk by the German battleship Bismarck in the Denmark Straits between Iceland and Greenland. He was the youngest of the village war dead.

HMS Tigress in 1918
A sister ship to HMS Niger
Map of the Denmark Strait
The Denmark Strait between Greenland and Iceland. Both HMS Hood and HMS Niger were sunk in this water

Commander Arthur Jelfs Cubison, (D.S.C. and Bar) RN was a naval hero. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) as the Gunnery officer of the 770 ton destroyer HMS Tigress, when the Tigress and three other small craft gave chase to a German-Turkish squadron including the 22,500 ton battle cruiser Yavuz Sultan Selim (Ex German SMS Goeben) and 4,500 ton cruiser Midilli (Ex German SMS Breslau). Cubison showed marked ability, quickly straddling and hitting an enemy destroyer. Between the wars his career included service on river gun boats in Iraq during the Arab Rebellion in 1924 and ended with his retirement in 1934, after 21 years in the Royal Navy. At the outbreak of war, he re-joined the Navy and served at HMS Vernon, the Navy’s torpedo and mine recovery school. He took part in the evacuation from Dunkirk and was awarded a bar to his DSC. In 1942 he was the Captain of the 835 ton minesweeper HMS Niger. In fog on 5 July 1942, with visibility of less than a mile, he mistook an iceberg for Iceland’s North Western Cape and led six merchant ships of the Murmansk to Reykjavík convoy QP 13 into Northern Barrage minefield SN72 laid one month earlier at the entrance to the Denmark Strait. Every ship detonated British mines. 46 civilian crew and 9 Naval Armed Guards died aboard the American Liberty ship John Randolph, and the freighters Hefron and Massmar. There were only eight survivors of the 127 men aboard Niger. Only one freighter could be salvaged. An expensive accident and a tragedy for mariners who had survived the Arctic passage to Russia.

Four airmen died before Easy Company arrived. Corporal Leonard John Barnes died in the UK on 12th June 1942, aged 26, and is buried in Aldbourne Churchard.

Picture of spitfiare
Spitfire Mk V in markings of No 234 Squadron April 1942.

There is also a private headstone to Pilot Officer George Roxberry Bland, of 234 Squadron RAF who died on 16th April 1942, age 20, but his body was never found. His was one of two Spitfire aircraft from, 234 Squadron RAF probably shot down by German fighters as cover to an air sea rescue patrol off Cherbourg. Sergeant Robert Herbert Charles Crook of 45 Squadron RAF was lost on 18th April 1941 over the Western Desert. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the El Alamein Memorial in Egypt.

Lancaster Mk 1 R5573 ZN-B of 106 Squadron RAF

 

Memorial in Harze to the aircraft

Sergeant Ronald Charles Barrett, 21, was the wireless operator of Lancaster Mk 1 R5573 ZN-B of 106 Squadron RAF, returning from a raid by 287 bombers on the city of Cologne when it was shot down at 01.53 on 9th July 1943, by a German night fighter over the Ardennes. He is buried in Heverlee War Cemetery near Louvin Belgium. There is a memorial in the Ardennes village of Harze to the crew of the aircraft. Two other Lancaster bombers were lost by 106 Squadron on the night of 8/9 July. One was flown by 1st Lieutenant Eugene Leon Rosner USAAF, from Wilkes-Barre Pennsylvania who had initially served with the RCAF before transferring to the USAAC in early July. This was the first mission in which Rosner flew in

1st Lt Eugene Rosner USAAC who died as captain of Lancaster III ED720 ZN-R 8/9 July 1943

USAAC uniform.  Rosner is buried in the Normandy American Cemetery in Plot A Row 3 Grave 38, above Omaha Beach.
During the period that Easy Company were billeted in Aldbourne before D-Day, three more men from Aldbourne would die. 35-year-old Captain Dermot Horace Thomas Hanbury, Royal Engineers died in India in January. Lieutenant Thomas Martin Francis Lowinsky of 1st Battalion Scots Guards died 16th February 1944, age 22, at the height of the fighting at Anzio, Italy. Sapper William Robert May, of 42 Field Company, Royal Engineers also died in the battle for Rome, on 1st June 1944, and is buried in Cassino War cemetery. He left a widow, Florence, in Aldbourne.
Easy Company’s campaign is entwined with the fate of Aldbourne’s war dead through the remainder of the North West Europe Campaign. Sapper Derek Thomas Brind died in Normandy on 24th August 1944, aged 24, and is buried in the Bayeux War Cemetery. Lieutenant Colonel

Picture of Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Irwin Bishell, DSO TD
Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Irwin Bishell, DSO TD

Thomas Irwin Bishell, DSO TD commanded the 94th (Dorset and Hampshire Yeomanry) Field Regiment Royal Artillery throughout the Normandy campaign. Born in 1899 he was a veteran of the First World War. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) for his inspirational leadership during the tough fighting south west of Caen during the first two weeks of July 1944. He met all emergencies with calm and resolute action and set an example of devotion to duty $rand contempt for danger. His regiment was part of the divisional artillery of the 43rd Wessex

Image of Route marker for 94 Field Regiment 43rd Wessex Division
Route marker for 94 Field Regiment 43rd Wessex Division. Markers like these would have been familiar to the 101st.

Division which played an important role in Operation Market Garden. He was killed by a shell splinter on 1st October a dozen miles from where Easy Company made their attack on the same day. “Every single man in the regiment had the greatest confidence and admiration for him, and whenever he visited the gun position during lulls in the battle he always had a cheery word and smile for everyone.” Bishell is buried in Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery.

305 (Polish) Squadron RAF Mosquito Mk VI

Not far very far away, across the German border is the Commonwealth Reichswald War cemetery, which contains the graves of many RAF airmen, including that of Flight Sergeant Kingsley Osbern George Nugent, the Navigator of a twin engine Mosquito fighter bomber downed on 26th November 1944. He is buried alongside the Bahamian pilot, flying in the 305th (Polish) Squadron, an illustration of the patchwork of nationalities in the RAF. Easy Company’s route to Berchtesgarten passed within ten miles of the War Cemetery at Durnbach where Sergeant/Air Gunner Bernard Conrad Ricketts of 170 Squadron, Royal Air Force is buried after his Lancaster bomber was shot down in the last RAF raid on Nuremburg, Bavaria.

PIcture of oldiers from 6th South West Borderers Burma 1944
Soldiers from 6th South West Borderers Burma 1944

The British army in Burma is sometimes known as the “Forgotten Army.” But there were some 20,000 British soldiers who fought in the Chinese American Northern command under US General “Vinegar Joe” Stillwell. They weren’t “forgotten” because few people ever knew they existed! One of these men was Private Ronald Arthur Hacker, 6th Battalion South Wales Borderers, who died on 15th November 1944, age 25. At Gyobin Chauang on the road to Mandalay, his battalion fought a five day battle with the Japanese 128th Infantry Regiment in thick jungle. Hacker has no known grave and is commemorated on the memorial at Yangon(Rangoon), Burma.

The last Aldbourne fatal casualty of the war was Flight Lieutenant Guy Richard Brown, DFC RAF who died, aged 24, on 6th September 1945, three weeks after the Japanese surrender and is buried in Heliopolis War Cemetery, Cairo, Egypt. Brown was awarded the DFC for his service in 50 operational missions over Egypt and Libya leading to the capture of Tripoli. After then he seems to have flown for a electronic countermeasures unit in Britain against Germany. At the time of his death he was serving in an air ferry unit. The bus shelter was built as a memorial to him.
https://www.burmastar.org.uk/stories/south-wales-border-regiment/
There is another name on the village war memorial, Sergeant Ernest Wakefield Royal Engineers. This name cannot be linked to any name in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission database. Village memorials were erected by the local parish and we may never know anything more about this man.
Of the seventeen names on the memorial, seven have no known grave. Their relatives would have received a message that their loved ones were missing, and that it was possible that they would be found or had been taken prisoner. Much later there would be a letter stating that their status was “missing presumed killed.” It must have been hard to hope that it was all in error, and that one day they would come home.
The Band of Brothers of Easy Company 506 PIR fully illustrates the experience of every and any American soldier in the liberation of Europe. Aldbourne is a village which can represent every and any English village. While every village has its own unique history and Aldbourne seems to have been the home of a higher proportion of officers than many, the war service of its villagers covers all three services, across the globe. The fortunes of war took many of them into contact with American servicemen in general and several of them even cross the paths of Easy Company. They all did their bit.

Edgar Feuchtinger – a General from “Allo Allo” out of “Catch 22”

Edgar Feuchtinger Bundesarchiv_Bild_101I-300-1865-12,_Nordfrankreich,_Feuchtinger
Generalleutnant Edgar Feuchtinger

Edgar Feuchtinger was a German General who commanded the 21st Panzer Division  defending the French city of Caen against the British Army in Normandy in 1944. He was awarded the Knights Cross and  promoted for his success. Yet he has also been described as the worst ever Panzer General. An artillery officer, he owed his position to political favour, and abused his time in command indulging personal pleasures, a South Ameircna exotic dancer. Condemned to death by the Nazi regime for corruption and cowardice he also betrayed the new Federal Republic spying for the Soviet Union.

It is easy to sneer at Feuchtinger but the answer to why he was in command of a Panzer Division is simple. Feuchtinger commanded the 21st Panzer Divison because he built it as his private army, using every political lever he had at his possession. It would not have existed but for his protégé, Major Becker’s genius for improvising self propelled guns from scrap French army AFVs, and for Feuchtinger’s skills in playing the system. Feuchtinger developed an organisation to man these weapons in OB West. First as a Schnelle Brigade West of two regiments of mobile artillery. Then in 1943 half of these were parceled among the static divisions, while the remainder were the artillery group for 21st Panzer Division, which Feuchtinger was uniquely placed to command.

SP Guns of the 21st Panzer Division inspected by Rommel
Rommel inspecting some of Major Becker’s SP guns before the invasion.

21st Panzer Division emerged having been constructed like the tramp’s stone soup. It had its own organisation table which reflected the equipment Becker had built. It was lavishly equipped with SP guns and APCs and a range of unique SP multiple rocket launchers and mortars . It was weak in armour, lacking a Panther battalion and less than the full establishment of two Pz IV Bns. Much of the manpower was from the cast offs from the static artillery formations and lacked the desirable martial qualities. All in all a formation better suited to defending Caen than driving anyone into the sea.

Feuchtinger was a sleazy individual who could have been from Catch 22 or one of Karst’s Gunner Asch Books. When the police eventually turned up on News Years day 1945 to arrest him for absence from duty on 5/6th June he was again absent – with his girlfriend in Celle, near Hannover. He was an East German spy and died “of a heart attack” at a meeting with his handler.

440px-Becker,_Rommel_and_Feuchtinger
Major Becker (left) and Feldmarschall Rommel (centre) and Generalmajor Feuichtinger (right)

However, for all the multitude of his faults Feuchtinger picked some good, if flawed, subordinates. He used his connections to obtain experienced panzer officers, Hans  von Luck,  and Ritterkreutztrager von Oppeln-Bronikowski. (The former had less than perfect Nazi credentials included his own half Jewish mistress, and the latter had had a reputation for drunkenness.  Feuchtinger commanded the Division from some distance in the rear, allegedly accompanied by his exotic dancer mistress,  and let his subordinates get on with it.

Hans_von_Luck
Hans–Ulrich Freiherr von Luck und Witten

Why was Feuchtinger decorated for his actions?  He played the system well.   He was effusive in praising his subordinates and recommended them for decorations. von Oppeln-Bronikowski:  Oak leaves (28/7/44) v. Luck Ritterkreutz (8/8/44) How could the modest divisional commander in whose regime these men had flourished not be awarded some decoration himself? If you want a mention in the honours list – write up your subordinates and get them a gong!

220px-Bundesarchiv_Bild_101I-721-0376-06A,_Hermann_von_Oppeln-Bronikowski
Hermann Leopold August von Oppeln-Bronikowski

Regardless of his personal integrity or leadership style, his  formation had been in continuous action since D Day, defending  Caen  tenaciously, giving little ground against overwhelming fire-power.  For all of Feuchtinger’s personal failings as a commander or officer, it is not easy to see where he could be blamed for taking the wrong action or failing to make a decision, or where another commander could have played a decisive role.

Map defences of Caen
It was inevitable that the units of the 21st Panzer Division units shown in green, would become embroiled in the D Day fighting for Caen waged by the 716th Infantry division.

1. A slice of the division was quartered in area of the infantry division responsible for defending the coast: the  716 Division and  in varying degrees under its command. 7./192 seems to have been under 716 Div command, while the anti tank battalion and one battalion from PGR 125 and PGR 192 were deployed so far into the 716 Div area that it was almost inevitable that they would be caught up in any landing on either side of the Orne Estuary. One artillery battalion I/155 was also deployed in support fo 716 Infantry division. (Source: Ethint interviews with Feuchtinger and Richter).

Sp Guns 21 Panzer Division advancing along road
This image of shows how the improvised gun mountings of the 75mm guns overhang the French tank chassis. Not very elegant but quite effective

2. The German defensive doctrine, based on the WW1 techniques, placed counter attaching forces under command of the formation responsible for the defence of that sector. The thinking being that the local sector command would know the ground and the current situation. Thus any troops committed to the Orne sector would be under command 716 Division and not 21 Pz Div Command. The counter-attack on D Day was planned at HQ 716 Div (now Caen memorial museum), by the Corps Commander and with Richter GOC 716 and Feuchtinger GOC 21 Pz Div. The IA of the division was the panzer trained officer and he remained in HC 21 Pz Div, all of which made it harder to cplan the counter attack on D Day. (Source Geyr Ethint B466)

3. The decision to deploy the 21 Pz Div against 6 AB Division and against their orders to wait for release by Rommel, was taken on the accepted German -principle that action is better than inaction. No one seems to have been blamed when this made it harder to concentrate most of the Division on the West of the Orne.  This was Hitler’s fault for instituting a Byzantine command structure and failing to rehearse commanders and staffs and war game how the system should respond to the reports of a landing to ensure that the correct actions were taken on the “Longest day”.

21 Panzer Division Sp Howitzer
This 105mm self propelled howitzer is being inspected by Rommel

It may be that Feuchtinger was so utterly useless, and self centred that everyone just compensated. Feuchtionger may have been sufficiently self aware that he was never tempted to be that most dangerous of men driven by ego to be “stupid and active.” As long as he was left along with his mistress and no none bothered him, he did not feel any urge to exert his ego and screw up the plans of those better fitted for command.

Feuchtinger could not have existed in the British or US Armies. He would have been rumbled. That he did, is evidence of the ramshackle reality of the Nazi regime which was at odds with the impression given that in Germany “Alles in Ordenung”. This is a consequence of Hitler’s corrupt regime, where someone with no talent but party connections could build themselves a secure position for their own personal convenience.

To visit the battlefields of Normandy and hear some different stories contact Gunner Tours www.gunnertours.com

baldwin battlefields logogunner tours logo white on brown

Was the Gunner buried on Omaha Beach the original 007?

Major Henry Gustavus March Phillipps RA DSO, MBE
Major Gustavus Henry March Phillips RA DSO, MBE

One of the first Allied soldiers to land, and be killed on Omaha beach was a Royal Artillery Officer, spy and pirate,   whose story is closely linked to the James Biond story.

Omaha Beach is one of the most visited battlefields in Europe if not the world. Tens of thousands of people visit the coast between Vierville and St Laurent usually in conjunction with a visit to the Normandy American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer.   Some may notice the plaque on the sea wall on Dog Red beach west of the demarcation memorial at les Molins. This commemorates Operation Aquatint a commando raid which landed on the beach on 12-13 September 1942.

This raid was led by a remarkable Gunner officer who deserves to be much better known, especially by the Gunners themselves. Henry Gustavus March-Phillips(1) was a Royal Artillery Officer Reservist who served in the BEF in the 1940 battles for France and Belgium, with sufficient distinction to be awarded the MBE. Frustrated by the experience, disliking the restrictions of conventional military life and determined to make a personal contribution to winning the war, he joined the Special Operations Executive (SOE) and founded what seems to have been his own force of commandos, the Small Scale Raiding Force, also known as No 62 Commando.

This was an organisation which owed little to the usual principles behind British army organisations. About half of the 55 man unit were British Officers, with the other ranks mainly volunteers from occupied countries, and a handful of British NCOs.

According to Marcus Binney, whose father served in SOE and whose mother knew him before the War, “March-Phillips had the guts and the daring-do to carry off great coups, as well as an engaging ability to admit his own fears to others. But while courage was his greatest attribute it was also to be his undoing, for at times it veered into foolhardiness. On occasion, impetuosity clouded his judgements and prevented him from weighing risks as a commander should. His success was due above all to his ability to motivate his men, and to forge a team in which rank played little part. All worked together with total commitment, pitching their physical strength, stamina, quick wits and resourcefulness into a series of pioneer commando raids intended to show in the desperate days after Dunkirk, that Britain was still on the attack.…’ In operations that depended on careful preparation and rehearsal, intense fitness, superb morale and swift execution , March-Phillips was a brilliant leader, able to delegate tasks to others and giving all the sense of playing a vital role. Some found him exasperating, and could never have served with him, but those who did gave him their complete loyalty and trust.

Marjorie March-Phillips nee Stewart Actress and SOE Operative
Marjorie March-Phillips nee Stewart Actress and SOE Operative

March-Phillips was an archetypal English Hero, a good looking all rounder, keen on sport, a countryman but literary minded and above all , incredibly brave. He was also described by one of his NCOs as “impatient with anybody who was slow or dithery, and valued the importance of getting on with something quickly, doing whatever you did well, and a kind of built -in dislike of any sort of slackness … And a great scorn of anyone who was carrying an ounce too much weight’.

In January 1942 he met, and then married the actress Marjorie Stewart, who was working in SOE as the lift operator in Baker Street, but rose to serve in a  “Miss Moneypenny” role as secretary to Patrick Howarth an SOE Controller.  More about her career More about her acting career on the  IMDB Database  

StateLibQld_1_140203_Duchess_D'Aosta_(ship)
March-Phillipps cut out SS Duchess d’Aosta from a neutral Spanish port in an operation that could have been a plot for a Bond film.

In early 1942 the SSRF carried out Operation Postmaster,, a raid to sink and seize German and Italian ships in the Neutral Spanish port of Fernando Po. The operation was a great success and March-Phillips and his men towed the Italian liner Duchess d’Aosta to Lagos in an exploit that could have appeared in a James Bond story. It has been argued that the story WAS the inspiration for some of the Bond stories, as Ian Fleming was the Press officer for the operation. Afterwards March-Phillips was awarded the DSO for the operation which also resulted in prize money from the Duchess d’Aosta. More about Operation Postmaster here.

During the Summer of 1942 the SSRF started raiding the French coast using a modified MTB, named “The Little Pisser” on account of its turn of speed. Operation Barricade was a raid to the radar site at Pointe de Saire south of Barfleur, which inflicted nine casualties on a German patrol. Operation Dryad was the abduction of the seven man garrison of the Casquets Light house on the night 1-2 September.

Operation Aquatint (c) Frank Baldwin 2015
Operation Aquatint (c) Frank Baldwin 2015

Operation Aquatint was intended to seize a German guard from the small garrison Sainte-Honorine-des-Pertes, an isolated coastal town on the cliffs between what would be known as Omaha beach and Port-en-Bessin. The raid was scheduled for the night of 11-12th September. But as one of the survivors recalled ‘We couldn’t find this ruddy kink in the cliff, so we went back the next night and still couldn’t find it. Then Gus said “What do you think chaps, shall we have a bash?”’ Sadly they had made a navigation error and were 6 km West of where they had planned. They had navigated to Cap Barfleur on the Eastern extremity of the Cotentin peninsular and plotted a course from there, but were 3.5 degrees off course. Instead of landing near the Sainte-Honorine-des-Pertes, they had landed near the village of St Laurent, in what had already been identified as a likely invasion beach.   Instead of stalking a guard, they were discovered by a patrol with a dog. They attempted to seize one of the patrol, but the numerous defenders from Infantry Regiment 726 garrison, under the command of Sergeant Major Pieh (2) opened fire. No one got back to the MTB. March-Phillips and two others were killed on the night of the raid. The remainder were captured evading through France. Of these one was executed by the Germans and two others, disappeared without trace in German camps. More on Operation Aquatint here

March-Phillips, reported missing, was recommended for a bar to the DSO for his leadership, approved by Lord Mountbatten. After his death had been confirmed he was awarded a mention in dispatches, in place of the DSO which was not awarded posthumously.

Operation Aquatint was a heavy blow for SSRF and in 1943 it was disbanded and the survivors became the nucleus of the 2nd Regiment SAS. One of the SSRF members, Anders Larsen would be the recipient of the sole VC awarded to the SAS during the War.

March-Phillips was also an author and a poet. His novels include an intriguing spy novel “Ace High” featuring John Sprake as its hero. It is possible that , had he survived, Gus March-Phillips might have beaten Ian Fleming to publishing spy novels based on SOE. Perhaps the name John Sprake would be as well known as James Bond. More here about James Bond and John Sprake 

The Grave of Major H G March-Philpps  DSO, MBE. (c) Frank Baldwin 2014
The Grave of Major G H March-Phillips DSO, MBE. (c) Frank Baldwin 2014

Major Henry Gustavus March-Phillips DSO MBE, Mentioned in Dispatches was buried in the churchyard of the village of St Laurent-sur-Mer alongside Sergeant Williams of the Queens Regiment and Private Leonard of the Pioneer Corps, whose real name was Richard Lehniger, a Jewish communist, WW1 veteran from the Sudetenland.

March Phillips’ grave is covered with a stone slab inscribed with what seems to be a poem of his own composition. “If I must die” which you mcan see in the photograph.

Gus March-Phillips deserves to be remembered by the Royal Artillery. Much of the contribution of the Royal artillery in the Second World War is a story of collective success as an integral part of the British war machine, epitomised by the motto “Ubique”. He was a hero, an inspirational leader and a larger than life character. Not without flaws, but a man whose actions could easily be case studies in leadership. His legacy includes the antecedents of the modern SAS. His style lives on in the world Ian Fleming created.

Gunner Tours is the only battlefield tour business to include the story of Gus March Phillips, and we tell his story and that of other Gunners in our tours to the battlefields of Normandy. Operation Aquatint wasn’t the most important historic event to take place on Omaha beach, but its story should be known to Gunners.

Join one of the Gunner Tours to Normandy this year.

gunner tours logo white on brown

Notes:-

1.   The name is spelled as March-Phillipps on the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery records, but March-Phillips in the London Gazette.

2.  The name is written as Pye in some accounts.  He may have been the same soldier who died commanding the defences of WN62 on D Day.

Gunner Tours Public Tour Programme 2015

 

Gunner Tours have launched the 2015 public tour programme. They tell the story of the key battles with a focus on the role that the artillery played, and the stories of those who served the guns. Around 25% of the British Army of the First World War served in the Royal Field, Garrison or Horse Artillery, and a similar proportion in the Second World War.

First World War

The First World War was an artillery war. Success and failure was largely determined by how artillery was used and how well the guns were served.

  • Somme and Arras 19-22 June 2015 A loSomme_Arrasng weekend of four days
    and three nights to two of the largest battles of the First World War. The 1916 battle of the Somme was the largest and most costly battle fought by the British Army. The Arras battles of April-May 1917 were the most intense of the war. This area was also where the war on the western front was decided in the open warfare of 1918. £319

  • Verdun, Somme and Ypres 10-14 August 2015. Five days and Verdun_somme-arras_10-14_Aug_LRfour nights. We will visit three of the most important battlefields on the Western Front, and look at the British French and German gunners. The battle for Verdun in 1916 was the first of the huge battles of attrition. The Somme offensive of 1916 was designed to relieve the pressure on the French army at Verdun. The battles for the Ypres salient were the longest and bloodiest battles fought in Belgium. £379

  • Wipers” 11-14 September 2015 Four days and three nights. TheWipers 11-14 sep 2015 Belgium city known as Ieper in Flemish and Ypres in French was known to British soldiers as “Wipers.” It was the main seat of British Army’s operations in Belgium from October 1914 to the end of the First World War, and a focus for Remembrance since then. Our tour will look at the artillery side of the story and of the gunners who served and suffered there. £319

  • BEF Western front NovBEF Western Front 9-13 November 2015 Five days and four nights, covering the sites of the major battles of the British Expeditionary Force from Mons in 1914 to victory in 1918. £349

Second World War 

Gunner Tours is offering two tours to Normandy, based on the specialist knowledge and expertise of our chief guide Frank Baldwin who has written about the role of artillery on D Day and in the Normandy campaign as well as providing the written guide to the D Day Beaches for the Royal Artillery for the 70th Anniversary of D Day.dday & normandy 6-10july

  • D Day and the Battle for Normandy 6-10 July 2015 This is five
    days and four nights expedition to the D Day sites and some of the battles inland. £359

  • D Day Beaches and Landing Sites 2-5 October 2015, A visit overdday_and landing grounds a long weekend to the D Day beaches and Landing sites. There is a gunner story on each beach and landing site. £329

For details on each tour click the link in the date or check the details on the Gunner Tours website

 TO BOOK A PLACE ON  THESE TOURS CALL 01943 433457

IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF A COUNTY REGIMENT IN NORMANDY

 

cap badgesIn July this year a group of soldiers from from the 2nd Battalion the Royal Anglian Regiment conducted a battlefield study in Normandy following the actions of their antecedent Regiments. The purpose of the exercises was to undertake a Battlefield Study over four days in Normandy with the aim of enhancing the conceptual training of Officers WOs and NCOs of an infantry battalion with regard to the conduct of operations of a light role battalion in conventional war, operating in conjunction with other forces. Around 25 officers and NCOs took part, preparing pre tour briefings and syndicate exercises for work on each stand.

The Normandy battlefield offers a good basis for battlefield studies, drawing on the wide range of military operations undertaken by the British Army in different phases of war. Following the story of the County regiments which were merged to form the Royal Anglian Regiment was an opportunity to personalise the Normandy campaign. Each of the companies of the current battalion is associated with one of the antecedents; the Royal Lincolnshire Regiment, Royal Leicestershire Regiments Northamtonshire and Bedfordshire & Hertfordshire Regiments. Soldiers from each of these regiments took part in the Normandy campaign, which offered an opportunity to explore different infantry roles in a major war.

1st Battalion Royal Lincolnshire. Parent formation: 8th infantry Brigade of 3rd Infantry division, landed on D Day and took part in the 3rd Infantry divisions battles for Caen .

4th Battalion Royal Lincolnshire Regiment. 146 Brigade of 49 infantry Division. Landed on 13th June, D+7 and took part in the battles south of Bayeux The division was transferred to the 1st Corps on East of Caen and fought in the breakout from Normandy, the advance to the Seine and the capture of le Havre.

1st Battalion the Royal Leicestershire Regiment: 147 Brigade of 49 infantry division. This battalion was not originally scheduled to serve in Normandy. It replaced the 6th Battalion the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment disbanded at the end of June 1944. It fought in the 49th Divisions battles during the breakout from Normandy and afterwards.

IMG-20140702-000862nd Battalion the Hertfordshire Regiment joined 9 Beach Group, and the commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel J.R. Harper, was appointed overall commander. The Infantry battalions which served as beach Sub Area troops are not as well known as the assault infantry. Despite Harper’s hope that it would be redeployed as infantry upon the completion of this task, it was disbanded on 17 August and the soldiers dispatched in replacement drafts to other units.

No formed battalions of the Northamptonshire Regiment took part in the Normandy campaign, but individual officers and soldiers did.

STRONG POINT COD – SWORD BEACH

The 2nd Battalion the Royal Lincolnshire Regiment landed on Sword beach on D Day.

2577_00060 BARBER, Maj Robert Heberden 67170
Major Barber Northamptonshire Regiment, OC D Company 2nd Battlaion East Yorkshire Regiment D Day.

Five hours earlier Major R H Barber of the Northamptonshire Regiment had led D Company of the 2nd Battalion the East Yorkshire Regiment, one of the assault waves on Sword beach. A veteran of the North West Frontier, he was also a falconer and had published a bibliography of Falconry. He was killed by a mortar bomb which struck his Company head quarters and is buried in Hermanville War Cemetery.

VER SUR MER

On the morning of 6 June 1944 the 2nd Hertfordshires landed in the fourth wave on King Sector of Gold Beach, through which two brigades of the 50th Division would come ashore. This unit landed on D Day at Ver-sur-Mer and provided local security, command and control and labour for unloading ships on King Sector of Gold Beach. It was involved in fighting throughout D Day and it cleared bypassed

Operations by 2 Herts to clear German positions East of Gold Beach 6 June 1944.
Operations by 2 Herts to clear German positions East of Gold Beach 6 June 1944.

positions in the hamlet of Vaux that had been harassing movement on the beach, the assault being supported by one of the group’s Bofors guns. In the following days the battalion assisted the Royal Engineers in clearing land mines and moving supplies off the beach. A memorial to the regiment stands near the point at which they landed. Even though the British had built a prefabricated Mulberry harbour at Arromanches, about half of all stores landed on the Normandy beach head was landed on the open beaches

Martlet25June
A German 75mm anti-tank gun with its dead crew members lying in the roadway, while a disabled Panther tank sits down the lane in Fontenay-le-Pesnel, Operation Martlet. (Lieutenant Handford, No 5 Army Film & Photographic Unit – IWM B 5939 Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

OP MARTLET TESSEL WOOD AND RAURAY
Operation Martlet was the first major action for the 4th Lincolns. This was a Divisional attack to clear the Rauray feature. This was an area of high ground which dominated the Western Flank of the attack planned by VIII Corps, called Operation Epsom to the East of The bloody battles between the 49th Division and some of the toughest German Army and SS Panzer formations led to the destruction of much German armour and the 49th Division squiring the nickname of “Butcher Bears.” It is possible to trace the story of these actions over the rural landscape, which although not marked by many memorials, remains identifiable. The Ruray ridge is a place to look at the British army on the defensive against an armoured opponent. Although the 1st Tyneside Scottish bore the brunt of the German attack, 4th Lincolns were engaged to their west.

HerouvilleHEROUVILLE

Operation Charnwood 7-8th July 1944, the capture of Caen was 2nd Lincolns first major action. It was a three divisional attack supported by massive firepower, including the first use of heavy bombers for tactical bombing. The 2nd Lincolns were at the extreme left of the line. Their attack was made with minimal artillery support and over ground exposed to fire from across the Orne canal on their own left. The capture of Herouville was a tough fight which cost the 2nd Lincolns around 200 casualites. The CWGC records 50 members of 2nd Lincolns killed between 8-12 July, many of whom are buried in plot II of Ranville Commonwealth War Cemetery. The Herouville

The View from the Start line. Herouville Church spire is just visible in the centre.
The View from the Start line. Herouville Church spire is just visible in the centre.

area is not as heavily developed as other suburbs of Caen and it is still possible to follow the action on the ground and walk the assault route.  There is an excellent account of this action written by a descendent of a veteran who took part in the action. http://www.angelfire.com/scary/richi/charnwood/2.pdf

On the objective - discussion around the 2 Lincs memorial Herouville
On the objective – discussion around the 2 Lincs memorial Herouville

OP GOODWOOD
Operation Goodwood 18-20 July 1944 was an attack by three armoured divisions supported by artillery and aircraft in a southerly direction East of Caen. Three infantry divisions carried out subsidiary operations in support of op Goodwood. The 3rd Infantry Division’s role was to attack towards Traon to protect the Eastern flank of the armoured advance. 2nd Lincoln’s was deployed in Banneville. The dry ground had been so badly churned up by bombing that it was difficult to dig slit trenches. The battalion endured bombardment from mortars which cost it ten officers and 200 other rank casualties in 72 hours. One of the best places to contemplate this operation is the War Cemetery at Bannevile en Campagne, which is not far from “Black Orchard”. After this action 3rd Infantry Division were redeployed to the Western flank of the British Second Army, but 2nd Lincoln’s do not seem to have been involved in further heavy fighting in Normandy.

The Normandy battles offer an opportunity to explore the role of leadership in units undergoing the strains of battle. The unit that the 1st Leicesters replaced,6th Duke of Wellingtons, had disintegrated under the pressure of heavy casualties. The respective roles of officers and warrant and non-commissioned officers under these circumstances makes for an interesting discussion topic.

AUGUST 1944

breakout_49_div
Map showing the breakout battles of 49th Div

In mid August the 49th Division, and with it the 4th Lincolns and 1st Leicesters were on the left flank of the 1st Canadian Army offensives along the Caen to Falaise road which formed the northern jaws of the Falaise Pocket. The Germans which the Lincolns and Leicesters faced were conducting an orderly withdrawal towards the Seine and sought to impose delay on each river line. Several of the villages remember the these units as their liberators. In the past groups of veterans have been feted in Conteville, Poussy la Campagne, Billy, Airan and Chicheboville. There is a memorial to 4th Lincolns in the village of Airan. The acting CO Major Stokes was killed by a stray shell on the 13th August. His death was particularly mourned as an ex-city counsellor and pre war TA soldier. The advance to the Seine is an episode which has been overshadowed by the capture of Paris. Yet the river crossings of the Vie and Touques were no picnic. On the 19-20th August the 4th Lincolns struggled to cross the Vie and on the 23 Aug river Touques was only crossed as divisonal crossing with heavy casualties for 1st Leicesters.
The 49th Division had a further operation in Normandy, the capture of Le Havre in Upper Normandy. The advance to the Seine is a chance to examine the operations of the British Army in the Advance to combat and obstacle crossing.R Touques

THE COST

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission database lists 338 men of the antecedent Regiments of 2 Royal Anglian Regiment who died between 6th June and 31st August 1944 and are buried or commemorated in France or the UK. In the Normandy campaign there were 3.5 wounded for each dead, so the total casualties suffered by the four battalions serving in the campaign and individual soldiers attached to other units would have been around 1,200..

The casualties were not evenly distributed between the Regiments. 248 of the dead were from the Lincolns, 54 from the Leicesters, 27 from The Beds and Herts and 9 from the Northamptonshires.

Two battalions of the Lincolnshire Regiment served in Normandy, one from D Day. The CWGC records list 123 of the dead from 2nd Battalion which landed on D Day and 118 from the 4th,,which landed a week later. The Leicesters which landed in July, lost all but eight of their war dead in August, after the break out had started.

No_3 Cdo_and Herbert
L:t George Herbert DCM MM of the Northamptonshire Regiment, pictured with other officers from No 3 Commando. The DCM was for Vaagso as a corporal and the MM for Dunkirk. Heavily armed with rifle, pistol and a cosh liberated from an underground carriage,  he is “ally.”  Sadly this decorated soldier fell on 8th June.

Although no units of the Northamptonshire Regiment served in Normandy, six officers and two private soldiers are buried or commemorated in Normandy. Two of the officers were killed as Commanders with other infantry units. Two of the officers and two of the privates died as Army Commandos and one officer with 8 Para.

These figures are not entirely consistent. The CWGC records do not always include the correct unit and may have excluded soldiers from other cap-badges who became casualties while serving with one of these units, such as Lt James Richardson a Canadian Officer Loaned to the 2nd Lincolns, who died of his wounds on the 9th July. However they give an indication of the scale of losses.

CASUALTIES AND THE REALITIES OF WAR FOR AN INFANTRY BATTALION IN NORMANDY

IMG-20140703-00097
Row of Lincolnshire Regiment graves Ranville CWC.

Dividing 1,200 casualties/338 dead by the 88 day duration of the campaign gives an average of 13-14 casualties per day of which, around 4 would be fatal, a loss of around a section plus per day. However the casualties did not occur at a steady rate. 42 men died on the 8th July, almost all lost in the 2nd Battalion’s attack on Herouville, and a further 21 were lost on 20th July in Op Goodwood. 24 men of the 1st Leicesters were killed on the 23 August, in the assault crossing of the River Torques, a largely forgotten engagement and under visited battlefield, while Op Martlet cost 4th Lincolns 15 dead on 25th June. Multiplying these numbers by the number of wounded would mean that these units would have lost between 60 and 160 men, between one and two companies on these days.

Most of the losses would have been suffered from the 360 riflemen in the rifle companies in each battalion. The total losses of 1,200 approximate to the number of riflemen in the rifle companies of the four battalions which served in the campaign and are more than the three which served as infantry. Perhaps this is why the Normandy campaign was such a good place to study leadership within an infantry battalion in war.

In addition to the story of these units the itinerary also included a study of the battle for the Hillman position captured by the 1st Suffolks, antecedents of 1st Battalions’s Vikings rather than the Poachers of the 2nd battalion. We also included lunch stops in Arromanches and Pegasus bridge, which offered museums and shops to explore.

A CUSTOMISED BATTLEFIELD STUDY FOR ANY CAP BADGE?

This battlefield study followed the fortunes of the antecedents of one cap badge. There was plenty to see and talk about, and much that was unique to this tour. The same kind of tour could be probably be undertaken for almost any British army unit with WW2 antecedents.

To find out more about planning staff rides and battlefield studies contact Frank@Baldwinbattlefieldtours.com

 

baldwin battlefields logo

SOUTH NOTTS HUSSARS BATTLEFIELD STUDY NORMANDY 2014 “PAYBACK FOR KNIGHTSBRIDGE”

Ex Hussar Hindsight was the final exercise for 307 (South Nottinghamshire Hussars) Battery Royal Artillery before the battery was disbanded, and took place in Normandy in May 2014. It’s an example of how a battlefield study focusing on the story of a specific unit can cover many aspects of the Normandy battles than might be expected, while focusing on the ethos and heritage of the unit itself.

The exercise aims included the following:-

  • Practice decision making, planning and carrying out battlefield procedures in a simulated all arms environment, etc”
  • Practice in the estimate and orders process, etc.
  • Extract the lessons from operations in Normandy relevent to sustained operations, the  “realities of war” and the significance of the core values of the British Army.
  • Appreciation of the SNH Ethos and an the human dimension to the battery’s military heritage.

The study started with a long drive from Nottingham on Friday returning on Sunday which allowed a day and a morning for visits to the battlefields. What follows is a sample of battles and incidents in the Normandy campaign in which the South Notts Hussars took part.

The 107th (South Nottinghamshire Hussars) Field Regiment Royal Artillery a territorial artillery unit from Nottinghamshire, best known for the desperate battle fought at “Knightsbridge” the nickname for a desolate piece of desert in Libya. On the 6th June 1942 the battery, unsupported by infantry or armour fought to the last gun and man against the Afrika Korps. The story of the gallantry of these men in their doomed action has been captured in books and on canvas. However, that was not the end of the story. The title and cap badge of the “South Notts Hussars”(SNH) was adopted by the 107th Medium Regiment (107 Med Regt) and 150th Field Regiment RA,(150 Fd Regt) which also received a trickle of survivors from the battle and some escapees from prisoner of war cages.

SATURDAY MORNING – 150 FD REGT AND THE D DAY BEACH AREAmap1Two years to the day after the destruction of the Regiment, members of the SNH landed in Normandy and played their part in the defeat of the German armies. Although neither unit landed on D Day, individual soldiers and officers from both SNH units served as additional FOO parties, which did land on D Day with the airborne forces and assault troops. The allies had a huge advantage in fire-power over the Germans, in the form of artillery, naval gunfire and aircraft. However, this fire-power could only be brought to bear if controlled by a forward observer. The scale of the airborne and seaborne invasion on D-Day meant that many more artillery observers would be needed for D-Day itself and shortly afterwards.

Captain Sharman from 150 Fd Regt trained as a Combined Operations Forward Bombardment Observation Officer and took part in the amphibious landing on Juno Beach supporting the Queens Own Regiment of Canada on D Day with fire from HMS Kempenfeld. (Stand 1. in the map above) The assault on Bernieres-Sur-Mer was quite costly and Sharman found it difficult to keep himself and his radio set fully under cover from enemy fire.

This was a good place for the battery to discuss the options facing the protagonists and practice military decision making.

The 6th Airborne Division, with a key role on the Eastern Flank of the beachhead had only one RA Regiment, one third of the proportion within an infantry division. Additional artillery OP parties were dropped by parachute or glider to provide the airborne troops with artillery support from artillery units landed by sea. LT Hastings also from the 150 Fd Regt SNH was one of these observers. At one point in the campaign these two officers met at the top of Ranville Church tower. Capt Sharman spotting ships while Lt Hastings, wearing his red beret, was observing artillery fire. These were not the only SNH soldiers to take part. Gunner John Woolmore of 107 Medium Regiment is recorded on the Bayeux memorial to the missing as killed on the 6th June 1944, the first member of the South Notts Hussars to be lost in the Normandy campaign. Presumably he was a member of a similar party, and either lost at sea or in the inundated ground.

150 SNH Fd Regt was part of the 4th Army Group Royal Artillery (4 AGRA) but for almost the entire Normandy campaign was under command of the 6th airborne division. The recce parties landed on the 7th June and the guns on the 9th June. Between 9 June and 15 July the Regiment was deployed in action in the fields immediately West of the village of Coleville- Sur Mer, now Coleville Montgomery.(Stand 3)

It took part in the defensive fires which stopped the German attacks mounted between the 9-12th June. During the 24 hour period from 12 June 1944, 150 Field Regt fired 7,828 rounds, starting with Fire plan “Arrow” that supported the attack by 12 Para which seized Breville. This is regarded as the turning point, after which the airborne bridgehead east of the River Orne was never seriously threatened.   The battle of Breville is suitable for a TEWT and to explore the realities of war.

After this 150 Field Regiment settled into a static routine, supporting the programme of raids undertaken by the paras and commandos, a counter mortar campaign and several fire plans supporting the other formations of 1st British Corps The Gun position was subject to occasional artillery fire and regular night time bombing from the Luftwaffe. The evidence of this is in the Hermanville CWGC Cemetery, on the edge of the next village. (Stand 2) Lt Davey, an Assistant CPO was killed by bomb fragments of an anti personnel bomb which hit his command post on 9th June 1944, the first night the Regiment deployed. Other problems facing them were the mosquitoes and the flies which fed on the bloated corpses of animals and humans.  This was a good place for the battery to explore the implications of sustained operations.

The OP Parties took part in the raids and shared the dangers of the infantry. The second SNH grave in Hermanville is of Bdr Nelson, the BC’s assistance who died of wounds received when a shell burst over his and the BC’s heads on 14th June.

One of the more hazardous jobs in the Regiment was that of the OP Signaller, responsible for maintaining line and radio communications – even under fire. LBdr Dickie was a member of an OP Party at St Honorine on 11 July 1944, in support of an attack by 51 Highland Division. (Shown with the purple arrow)  The OP Area was subjected to intense and prolonged mortar and shell fire, and as a result of this fire all means of communications were useless. LBdr Dickie volunteered to carry an urgent request to fire in support of our own troops to another Arty OP. He successfully crossed 250 yards of open ground under very heavy fire to deliver the messages. The artillery support thus obtained undoubtedly did much to relieve the heavy enemy fire. For this, Lbdr Dickie was awarded the Military Medal.

SATURDAY AFTERNOON – 107 MEDIUM REGIMENT ON THE ROAD TO FALAISE

map2The 107th (South Notts Hussars) Medium Regiment was given the title and number of the 107th RHA destroyed near Knightsbridge. It was a medium Regiment of 18 x 5.5” guns formed into two batteries 425 and 426 batteries. The latter was commanded by Major W F Barber who had commanded the original 426 battery pre war, been captured at Knightsbridge, but made a dramatic escape from Italy.

The Regiment landed in Normandy in July as part of 9 AGRA. By 21 July the Regiment had been deployed to Demouville SE of Caen. (Stand 6 in the Battle for Caen Map) This was a low lying, unhealthy, much shelled and bombed location in a salient further forwards than medium guns were usually deployed. From this area the Regiment supported the 2 Canadian Corps in its attacks south from Caen to Falaise. It took part in the fire plan to support the innovative Operations Totalise and Tractable as part of 9 AGRA. These assaults used heavy bombers by night and day to try to support deep attacks by Armours, mechanised and motorised troops into the German defences. The use of heavy bombers carried a high risk of “friendly fire” and the War Diary of 9 AGRA notes that action by a pilot from B/Flight 662 AOP Sqn managed to prevent US Bombers from bombing 107 Med Regiment.

On 14th August as part of Operation Tractable 107th Med Regt was under command 4th Canadian Armoured Division. The plan was to was to attack with phalanxes of armour, accompanied by infantry mounted in carriers and APCs and supported by engineer vehicles through a smoke screen, to enable the armour to penetrate the German defences, supported by a fire plan of artillery fire and bombing by medium and heavy bombers. (Stand 2 in Road to Falaise Map)  The operations between Caen and Falaise offer a very different terrain and tactical setting to that of the D Day beaches and a place to explore mechanised operations..

OP Parties were mounted in Sherman OP tanks, which were modified for use as OP vehicles by removing the main armament to fit a map table and the replacement disguised with a rubber barrel. Capt Turner was travelling with the HQ of 4th Canadian Armoured Brigade when it came under fire from anti tank guns. His was one of several knocked out. Turner was wounded in the arm and bailed out. He managed to get Gnr Craig his signaller out of the tank before it caught fire. Gnr Craig and the other seriously wounded were loaded into an armoured ambulance which was itself knocked out and Gunner Craig’s body has never been found.

Captain Dobson, whose OP Assistant was Gnr Moore MM set off in support of the Lake Superior Regiment, an infantry unit mounted in carriers. Captain Dobson’s Sherman was described as “like a battleship among destroyers,” attracting enemy fire. His coolness under fire over two days was rewarded with a Military Cross.

The 4th Canadian Armoured Division was then ordered to block the escape route of the Germans trapped in the Falaise Pocket. 107th Med Regt’s guns were brought forwards to bring fire into the pocket. On the 17th August the gun batteries came under air attack from German fighter bombers while on the move in the village of Epaney.(Stand 2 Road to Falaise Map)  One of the aircraft was shot down by Gunner Farmer with a Bren gun, for which he was awarded the Military Medal, but within half an hour one gun tractor hit a landmine, killing Gnr Cornish and wounding three other men. The speed of the advance and the confused situation around the edges of the Falaise pocket brought new problems.

A recce party, led by the CO, Lt Col Oswald and escorted by a troop of tanks was ambushed and the CO captured. He later escaped from captivity and returned a few days later. One newly occupied battery positions came under fire from German infantry and mortars and at one point the medium artillery was ordered to prepare for tanks. The medium artillery was need to both fire South West into the pocket and east to prevent the Germans from breaking back in. (In the area of Trun shown as Stand 3 on the Road to Falaise map)

The 29th Canadian Armoured Regiment, the South Alberta Regiment, was the lead armoured battle group, was ordered to take Lambert-sur-Dives, which dominated the river crossings through which many of the trapped Germans were heading. It was the cork in the neck of the Falaise Pocket. Captain Marsh of the 107th was an FOO deployed in support of D Squadron of the 29th regiment under the command of Major David Currie, who was awarded the Victoria Cross for his part in this action. The citation for Captain Marsh’s MC was signed by Canadian Corps commander General Simmonds the Army Commander. “Enemy tanks were at times within 500 yards of Captain Marsh’s tank before being knocked out either by anti-tank guns or the shells of Captain Marsh’s Regiment. It was largely due to his accurate shooting in a difficult situation that the Reconnaissance Regiment was able to hold on to the high ground north of St Lambert-sur-Dives and thus capture a great quantity of Prisoners of War. The latter stated that our shell fire was the cause of their collapse. Over 100 rounds per gun having been fired by Captain Marsh from his own Regiment, it was the fire from 107 med Regt which enabled the 29th Canadian armour Regiment to hold their positions and that their fire, over 100 rounds per gun was instrumental in the capture of the thousands or prisoners.” One of the Germans formations trapped inside the pocket was the 21st Panzer Division, which had been among their tormentors at Knightbridge. (Capt . Marsh’s Op is shown on the map in Blue East of Trun, close to the viewing platform for St Lambert -sur-Dives

SUNDAY MORNING – 150 FD REGT IN OP PADDLE – A NEGLECTED CHAPTER IN THE NORMANDY CAMPAIGN

map3

The journey home on Sunday Morning started with an act of Remembrance at Bannerville Commonwealth War Cemetery, where several South Notts Hussars as buried.    The route followed the actions fought by 150 Fd Regt in the second half of August and the beginning of September 1944.

The situation on the Eastern flank changed in mid August 1944 as the German position in Normandy collapsed. At the same time as the allies executed a short envelopment of the German 7th Army at Falaise, Montgomery planned a wider encirclement, trapping the Germans outside the Falaise pocket against the river Seine. The I Corps, with 6th Airborne Division (6 AB Div) on the left flank, on the coast, would form the left wing of this advance, with the intention of linking up with the Third US Army. The 6th AB part was Operation Paddle. This operation, often overlooked in the story of the Normandy campaign took two weeks and was no walk over.

The operation was a frontal attack on the positions held by the German 711th Infantry division, which had been ordered to hold a series of delaying positions, based on the rivers emptying into the bay of the Seine. While the Germans were, at this point trying to extricate as much of their army as possible, every day’s delay

The 6th Airborne Division was a lightly equipped infantry formation intended to seize and hold objectives, rather than undertake mobile mechanised operations. It lacked the communications equipment for mobile warfare and the integral artillery. For this operation 6th AB Div’s three airborne brigades were augmented by two commando brigades, a Dutch motorised Brigade and a Belgian motorised battle group. It had some armour from its own recce Regiment. The 150th SNH Fd Regt, was placed under command of 6 Airborne Division for the advance supporting different parachute, air landing and Special Service, (commando) brigades.

The operation started with an attack from the positions which had been occupied for the past three months and ended on the banks of the Rover Seine. The first stage was to cross the river Dives. The battlefield was littered with minefields, marked and unmarked. Late in the evening at 11 pm. on 17 August, 1944, north west of Troarn, (Stand 2 on the Pursuit to the Seine map) a soldier from a Royal Marine Commando reported that several of his men had been blown up in an uncharted minefield and were lying wounded. On hearing this, Gunner Rawlings dashed to their rescue but while attempting to carry away one of the wounded on a stretcher was himself seriously wounded. Rawlings then gave verbal directions to the rescue parties which enabled them to pass safely through the minefield until all the injured had been brought to safety. For this action Rawlings was awarded the George Medal.

Two days later, at Putot-en-Auge on 19th Aug 150 Fd were key in assisting 3rd Para Brigade to break up a German counter attack and help them to drive back the Germans capturing 160 prisoners as well anti tank and anti aircraft guns.

At the next river, the Touques, 6th AB Division tried to force an attack at Pont L’Eveque. (Stand 3 on the Pursuit to the Seine Map)  The fighting around Pont L’Eveque took the best part of three days from 21-24rd August. On the 22nd 5 Para Brigade attempted to force their way through with a battalion infiltrating through the town while a second battalion attacked via two fords south of the town. This assault was beaten back. On the 23rd the attack was resumed through the town and a foothold made on the eastern bank, but again forced to withdraw. Only seven men reached the objective, but were forced to withdraw. Two of these were Captain Saddleworth the FOO, who had been wounded the previous day. He was pinned down in the river itself and, while attempting to neutralise a sniper with a Tommy gun was wounded again in both hands. His OP Ack Bdr Tustin was fatally wounded in the same engagement. A second FOO, Captain Clough was wounded on the same day. The Germans brought down sufficiently heavy and accurate fire, for the actions taken by Bdr Warner the Op Signaller that day to re-establish communications between the Op and guns, to be rewarded with the MM.

The last river before the Seine was the River Risle and the crossing at Pont Audemer was also heavily contested by the Germans on the 26th August. The following day 150 Fd were detached from 6AB Division which would return to the UK. 150 Fd’s next battle was the final major operation in Normandy itself, the capture of the port of Le Havre as part of Operation Astonia.  The port of le Havre can be seen from the post war bridge over the Seine.  150 Fd Regt’s  part in the attack is documented on the Op Astonia Fireplan schedule and trace, included on the map.

The South Nottinghamshire Hussars were a British yeomanry unit which spent the first 150 years of its existence maintaining law and order, and war service in the First World War as mounted cavalry. In 1922 the SNH were one of the Yeomanry Regiments which converted to gunners. They retained their own cap badge the acorns and a selection of customs. It was one of some 20 former yeomanry regiments which took part in the Normandy campaign as Regiments of Royal Artillery. Despite this tradition, the 307 (South Notts Hussars) Fd Battery RA is about to disband, with the title and traditions being subsumed into the Royal Yeomanry

“Normandy” was not an honour title for 307 Battery. The battles in Normandy did not eclipse the gallantry, and steadfastness demonstrated by its predecessor at Knightsbridge. This was a chance to see how artillery was used in different phases of war and in a mechanised and dismounted environment over different types of terrain. It was possible to tell the story from D-Day to the Falaise Gap and the Seine through the stories of members of the South Notts Hussars. The 307th Battery RA was not very different to other batteries whose lineage includes service in Normandy. The 150thFd and 107th Med Regts were not elite units. Nor had they been singled out for a special role.

If not would like to find out more about developing a customised Normandy battlefield study focusing on a particular cap badge, or unit heritage contact Gunner Tours www.gunnertours.com  info@gunnertours.com

gunner tours logo white on brown

GUNNERS ON THE D-DAY BEACHES – ANNOTATED GUIDE MAP FOR SALE

Here is an opportunity to obtain a unique guide prepared for the British Army which is a guide to the Royal Artillery story of the actions on the D Day Beaches and landing grounds.

Although the Royal Artillery was the largest single element of the 1944 British Liberation Army. there is little to inform the casual visitor to the D Day Beaches or the role of the Gunners or their achievements.  There four memorials to the Gunners to the 86 Fd Reg 147 and the artillery of the 3rd and 50th Divisions.  The only  explanation of field artillery are on the information board surrounding the Sexton SP Gun commemorating the 86th (Hertfordshire Yeomanry) Field  Regiment   There are neither memorials nor any explanation for the Anti tank or AA artillery.  There are artillery pieces scattered around Normandy, but usually out of context.   other branches of the Artillery AA  with no explanation.   There are only two places that mention the exploits of individual Gunners  or their  sacrifice.

A handout has been prepared for  Royal Artillery soldiers attending the 70th anniversary of the D Day Landings to  explain the Gunner story associated with the major D Day sites.  The incidents have been selected to illustrate the different roles of the Gunners and draw attention to those men whose action made a difference.

handout overall The A3 double sided annotated map includes:-

  • A copy of a 1944 map of the British beaches and the Orne bridgehead with the 1944 grid to help to interpret the locations in war diaries.
  • Description of the Gunners role at different places on the most visited  D Day locations.
  • Mention of the Gunners who took part in the actions at places from Merville Battery to Omaha Beach.
  • Summary information about the role, organisation and equipment of the artillery of 21 Army Group.
  • Information about Gunner war dead.

extract_2If you would like to have your own copy of the map, a high resolution electronic copy can be yours for £6.00, for your own non commercial use.  If you want a hard copy printed for you it will cost an additional £3.50 plus postage and packing.  Send an email to the author frank.baldwin@gunnertours.com

For every copy sold Gunner Tours will donate £1 to the Royal Artillery Charitable Fund. If you would like to make your own donation you can do so though their Virgin Giving page. 

If you would like a print of David Rowlands’ splendid painting of 9 (Irish) Battery firing the Run in Shoot on Sword Beach order it from his website 

2 May – 70th Anniversary of the Largest Exercise ever staged in the UK

Troops_coming_ashore_from_landing_ships_during_an_invasion_exercise_in_Britain,_5_May_1944._H38213
Troops coming ashore landing from Landing ships during an invasion exercise in Britain 5 May 1944

Exercise Fabius 2-7 May 1944  was, arguably, the largest training exercise to take place in the UK.  It would be the final rehearsal for Operation Overlord .  It was a rehearsal of the landings on the four invasion beaches in the Normandy coast between the rivers Orne and Dives; ( Sword, Juno, Gold and Omaha beaches) .

Utah beach,  geographically separated from the other four beaches was considered a separate assault from  naval point of view. The rehearsal for the landing on Utah Beach was Exercise Tiger and took place on  26-30 April on Slapton Sands in Devon.

Ex Fabius  allowed participants the chance to rehearse under conditions as close as possible to those they would face.  It also allowed the ports to practice supporting a large scale landing.   This was a dress rehearsal with the landing forces approaching the beaches behind mine sweepers and landing craft lowered ten miles off shore.  The landings were accompanied by live firing from ships.

Men_of_6th_Battalion_the_Green_Howards_receive_48-hour_ration_packs_before_embarking_onto_landing_ships_during_Exercise_Fabius_5_May_1944._H38222
Men of 6th Battalion the Green Howards receive 48-hour ration packs before embarking onto landing ships during Exercise Fabius 5 May 1944. IWM H38222 These men will land on Gold beach a month later.

The assault troops for each of the D Day beaches would practice landing on a stretch of coast with a similar configuration to that they would face on D Day.   The exercise was too close to D Day for any  further experimentation or changes to the plan.  Some units would not return to their previous accommodation, but instread to their assault assembly area.

3rd British Infantry Division was assigned to assault Sword beach with the town of Ouistrhem and the River Orne on their left flank and the city of Caen as its objective.  On Exercise Fabius it landed near Littlehampton with the  River Arun on its Left and Arundel its objective.

beach_looking_west
On 5th May Hayling Island would substitute for Gold Beach.

Robin Dunn, who was Battery Commander  of 16 Battery of 7 Field Regiment claimed post war that there were problems which were identified and if put right would have  enabled the allies to do better on D Day.

” While at Bolney we had our final rehearsal of the invasion on the south coast near Arundel……..We had a new divisional commander, Tom Rennie, who had commanded  a brigade of 5lst Highland Division with distinction in 8th Army and had a high reputation. The commander of 185th Brigade was Brigadier K. R Smith, who had been with the brigade for some time and had so far in the war seen no action. He  was a good trainer of troops who had worked us hard during our training in Scotland. But he did not fully accept the role of the brigade in the divisional plan. We had  heard that 21st Panzer Division had been identified as having recently arrived about thirty miles inland of our landing beach. The presence of this division became a fixation in K.P.’s mind. He was haunted by the idea that, if 185th Brigade pushed too boldly inland, 2lst Panzer would come round our right flank, which was in open country and cut us off from the beaches. There was wooded country on the left and  KP. wished to infiltrate his infantry through the woods beside the river and approach the objective in that way along the divisional left flank. During our final rehearsal  he attempted this manoeuvre, which involved keeping one battalion on our original thrust line and passing the other two round their left flank in a wide turning movement. The result was chaos. The battalions became separated from one another  and the Brigadier lost communication with the flanking force which lost all momentum. I was at brigade HQ when Tom Rennie arrived and said wearily, ‘You won’t let this happen on the day will you KP?  It would have been better, even at that late stage, if he had sacked KP. on the spot.”  Robn Dunn   Sword and Wig.

331107_52863610
Littlehampton, the stand in for Ouestsrhem on the dress rehearsal for D Day

Although many fewer than on Ex Tiger, there were casualties on Exercise Fabius. On the Morning of 4 May twin engine fighter bomber aircraft of Coastal Command attached Allied motor boats inflicting many casualties.  Possibly the German attack on Ex Tiger had made the airmen a little trigger happy.

Places associated with the story of the training and rehearsals for D day can be found across Britain, from the sections of Atlantic Wall built in Scotland to the beaches which stood in for the Norman Coast.

Brit_Bat_logo_lores

How the Pub Regulars helped to plan D Day

After the Casablanca Allied committed to setting up a planning team to draw up a plan for the invasion as well as make provisions for any opportunities that may arise in 1943 as well as building up and training the forces in the Uk to mount an invasion

465px-Frederick_E._MorganThe planning team was set up under Lt Gen Frederick Morgan appointed as the Chief of Staff to the Supreme Allied Commander – COSSAC. Alanbrooke briefed him with the skeptical comment that it was an impossible job but he had to do it. The formal orders appointing him arrived on the auspicious date 1st April 1943 He was given offices in Norfolk House and tasked with producing a plan by July 1943. Morgan had difficulties finding staff willing to work on the project. There was a a lot of skepticism about whether the exercises was worth while or would ever amount to anything. Even in wartime career minded officers were keen to avoid being sucked into tasks which were time consuming, nugatory and offering limited opportunities for advancement or glory. This is the world that Evelyn Waugh pilloried in the Sword of Honour Trilogy.

 Nowadays we are used to international organisations, but in the 1940s it was rare for the different armed services to work together, let alone with those of other nations. Frederick Morgan would have been a role model for Programme Managers anywhere. He tried to weld his people from a mixture of services and nation into a team.  The same applied to Lord Louis Mountbatten whose Combined Operations Organisation was a model of  teamwork.  Whatever criticisms may be made of either man, getting people from different services and nationalities to work together for a common purpose isn’t an easy task.3408599361_68a9b9ee42_z

US War hero general Norman D. Cota singled out COSSAC and Combined operations as “one force; one foe; one fight” and “united we conquer”. (1)  Its a bit of sloganising , but a good message to weld people from  different organisations into a common purpose.  The top floor of Norfolk House was turned into a Mess and equipped with a fine cellar to entertain visitors. The team was encouraged to out on a skit, Operation Overboard to let off steam in a way familiar to the British services.

Fancyapint.com pub picture

The Black Horse public house became an unofficial part of COSSAC. Morgans Military Assistant Canadian Major Peter

 Wright,  a Canadian Engineer was in lodgings near Baker Street and spent the evenings in the Black Horse on Marylebone High Street. “The Clientèle of the Black Horse, like that in every pub in British Isles took a keen interest in the the course of world events and were in the habit of debating nightly the proper steps which would be taken to accelerate the downfall of the enemy. This was in their view clearly being delayed at this time by incompetent leadership, by vested interests or by other similar well known obstacles to progress. At the time when Peter Joined me the “Black Horse” Plan for the invasion was already well advanced. “We found ourselves confronted by one of the many insoluble problems that continued to crop up. Peter’s sense of humour suggested that the problem should be put to the Black Horse. From this time onwards the habit grew up of consulting from time to time, naturally or without their knowledge, the thoroughly representative body of opinion that congregated at this hospitable bar. “(2)

Op Overlord_Overview

The Black Horse Public House is , sadly , no longer a Pub. However, it is still somewhere to eat and drink  as it is currently a restaurant. Somewhere there might be the ghosts of the regulars who once unwittingly did their bit for the war effort over a pint.   A very British way to wage a war.

 References

1.  Papers from HQ ETOUSA Conference on amphibious Landings, London May-JUne 1943

2. Morgan F E Prelude to Overlord London , 1950

Pointe Du Hoc: the Unlikely British Heroes

The attack on Pointe du Hoc by the US Rangers on D Day is a famous episode in the history of the cross channel invasion. On 6th June 1944 the US 2nd Ranger Battalion stormed 30m (100 ft) high cliffs to capture a German artillery battery which had to be neutralised. The action featured in the 1961 film “The Longest Day” and in many TV documentaries. The mission epitomised the Rangers ‘s ethos, inspired by the British Commandos. Few people are aware that along with the US Rangers some British logistics soldiers played an important and heroic part in the operation and were awarded medals for gallantry.

Pointe_du_Hoc_mapOn Pointe du Hoc, the Germans had built, as part of the Atlantic Wall, six reinforced concrete case-mates to house a battery of captured French 155mm guns. Pointe Du Hoc was on a headland situated between Utah Beach to the west and Omaha Beach to the east. These coastal defence guns threatened Allied landings on both beaches, risking heavy casualties in the landing forces. Although there were several bombardments from the air and by naval guns, intelligence reports assumed that the fortifications were too strong, and would also require attack by ground forces. The US 2nd Ranger Battalion was therefore given the task of destroying the strong point early on D-Day.

Isigny mapsheet showing Pointe Du Hoc
Prior to the attack, the guns were moved approximately one mile away; however, the concrete fortifications were intact, and would still present a major threat to the landings if they were occupied by artillery forward observers, which could still direct the fire of the guns.

US Rangers demonstrating the rope ladders used to storm the Cliffs at Pointe du Hoc.
US Rangers demonstrating the rope ladders used to storm the Cliffs at Pointe du Hoc.

Assaulting the 100 ft rocky cliffs was expected to be a tough challenge. This was rather similar to the problem facing armies scaling city or castle walls. If the Germans were at all alert they could rain fire down on men climbing rope ladders. The operation was planned to take place shortly before dawn in order to achieve surprise.

The Rangers planned to use a secret weapon to help them climb the 100 ft cliffs quickly; the modern equivalent of a siege tower. DUKW amphibious 2 ½ ton trucks were fitted with the turntables from London Fire engines and machine guns fitted to the top of the ladder. The idea was that the DUKW would land on the small beach below the cliffs, extend the ladders and the Rangers would rush up the ladders, which were easier to climb than ropes or rope ladders. This was tried and practiced on training exercises on the South Coast.

The DUKW and ladder in Training for D day. (Tank Museum photo No. 0999E4)
The DUKW and ladder in Training for D day. (Tank Museum photo No. 0999E4)

On D Day itself the plan didn’t work out as well. Firstly due to a navigation error, the assault took place later than scheduled. Instead of landing in the dark the convoy travelled for some way along the cliff in full view of the now very alert German defenders.

The landing took place at a higher tide than planned. Secondly, the allied naval and air bombardment had brought down some of the cliff and created a heap of rubble in front of the cliff. It proved impossible to get the extendable ladders in place or a firm footing for the DKUW. One account describes a Ranger manning the machine guns on an oscillating ladder firing at the Germans when the ladder passed through the highest point of each roll.

View from Pointe Du Hoc Battery where the Rangers -and the DUKW Drivers scaled the cliffs
View from Pointe Du Hoc Battery where the Rangers -and the DUKW Drivers scaled the cliffs

The Rangers assaulted the cliffs using rope ladders launched up the cliff with rockets. Despite the Germans throwing hand grenades and shooting at them from the cliff edge, the Rangers were successful. They cleared the battery, found and destroyed the guns themselves, which were about a mile inland and started what proved to be a 48 hour battle to fight off German troops counter attacking.

The same view 65 years later
The same view 65 years later

The DUKW drivers were RASC drivers. The fire engine ladders mounted on the cargo bay of the DUKW made them top heavy and harder to control, especially in the heavy seas on D Day. Navigating and operating these amphibious vehicles was a difficult and arduous duty performed with skill. But this isn’t the end of their story.

At least two of the DUKW drivers, Corporal Good and Private Blackmore, scaled the cliffs using the rope ladders and joined the Rangers in the fight as riflemen.  When ammunition was running low they went back down the cliffs and recovered machine guns from the DUKWs, which were under fire.  They then returned up the cliff and brought the machine guns into action.

Pte Blackmore was wounded in the foot. After receiving first aid, he then returned to the front line and rescued a badly wounded Ranger under machine gun and mortar fire. He then volunteered to carry ammunition to the front line, salvage ammunition from the beach and repair weapons until he was evacuated on 7th June.

Pte Blackmore MM (1) IMG_20121102_131748_LR

Pte Blackmore MM (2) IMG_20121102_131824_LR

Cpl Good remained with the 2nd Rangers  until Pointe Du Hoc was relieved by a force arriving by land from Omaha Beach to the East on 8th June.  As you can see Pte Blackmore was originally recommended for a DCM, the second highest British Medal for Gallantry,  but it was downgraded to an MM.

Cpl Good (1) IMG_20121102_131557_LRCpl Good MM (2) IMG_20121102_131635_LR

Colonel Rudder, the Commanding Officer fo the 2nd battalion US Rangers recommended that the actions of these two soldiers should be recognised.  Corporal Good was awarded the Military Medal Private Blackmore was recommended the Distinguished Conduct Medal, but was awarded the Military Medal.

US President Ronald Reagan at the Pointe du Hoc Rangers memorial 1984
US President Ronald Reagan at the Pointe du Hoc Rangers memorial 1984

For most of the British assault troops on D Day, the fighting on the beach was over within a few hours. These two RASC  soldiers fought one of the longest infantry actions undertaken by the RASC in North West Europe. They fought alongside specially selected, commando trained US Rangers in one of the actions which defined the US Ranger ethos.  They are the exemplar of soldier first tradesman second and deserve to be role models.

When I first heard about this story I tried to find out what training these men would have received.  The US Rangers and the British Army Commandos on which they were based were specially selected raiders expected to undertake physical feats not normally expected of ordinary soldiers, such as for example, such as scaling 100′ cliffs under fire. However, according to Andy Robertshaw, the Curator of the Royal  Logistics Corps Museum it is very unlikely that these men would have been given any Commando training. Their bit of the operation was to drive these amphibious trucks, top heavy with the extension ladders through heavy seas.

It is remarkable that these men, specially selected for their qualities as helmsmen and DUKW drivers, after what must have been an arduous and difficult voyage, then chose to join the Rangers in their fight.  I cannot find any pictures of these every-man heroes and been unable to trace any relatives or old comrades. The Sustainer magazine, the Journal of the Royal Logistics Corps published this article in their Winter issue  Their story deserves to be more widely known.

There are a lot more men like Corporal Good and Blackmore, who served in many different roles, doing their bit.  If you are interested in finding out more about other forgotten heroes please contact me and I can help you to find out more and where to visit the places where their did their bit..