Category Archives: Battlefield Guiding

Gunner Tours 2016 Programme

The biggest commemorative battlefield event in 2016 will be the Centenary of the Battle of the Somme. Our tour commemorates the start of the battle, which was the opening barrage  24 June.  We are also offering a proven Normandy and West Front tour that tells the Gunner side of these

The Somme Centenary, 23-26 June 2015 £469

Somme_centenaryThe Battle of the Somme began on 24 June 1916 – known as U Day. It was a dull day, low cloud and heavy rain, following thunderstorms the day before.It is a myth, showing much misunderstanding of a First World War battle, to believe it began with the infantry attack on 1 July.

Picture 1 shrapnel_for_one Divisonal attack
This wall is built from 7,000 shrapnel shell cases fired by 18-pounder field guns. This is how many shells were fired in support of a single division in an attack in August 1916.

The Battle of the Somme is an iconic event in British memory of the First World War. But the Gunner side of the story tends to be overlooked. The Gunner Tout top the battlefield will visit places ignored by many visitors and tell stories not often told. This is the story of the Royal Artillery in the Somme battles of 1916.

The main public interest in the battle is the staggering losses suffered by the volunteers of Kitchener’s Army on the first day. As one “Two years in the making. Ten minutes in the destroying. That was our history.”- the description of one Pals battalion.

Picture 2 753px-Hawthorn_Ridge_mine_1_July_1916
This mine explosion, captured on film was followed up by an infantry attack supported by B Battery RHA, who lost two men from the FOO party whose job it was to lay line across no mans land on 1st July 1916.

The Gunners don’t come out too well from the short version of the battle of the Somme. The largest ever concentration of British Artillery firing the largest ever barrage was supposed to cut the barbed wire in front of the German trenches, destroy German bunkers, defences and guns and keep the Germans heads down while the infantry advanced. But, over about eight out of thirteen miles of the front line attacked this did not happen, resulting in tragedy. We will show you why, and something of the efforts and sacrifices made by the Gunners to deliver the impossible,.

Picture 3 Haig_map extract
A section of a map showing the gun positions. The 15“ BL Guns are shown as green squares.

The tour has been based on research inspired by a project started by the late Will Townsend. It is based on research from original documents in the National Archives, Firepower Archives, the Historial de la Grande Guerre Château de Péronne and RUSI. We have brought together anecdotes and stories from a wide range of published and unpublished accounts by and about Gunners. We will have fire plans drawn by the future Field Marshall Lord AlanBrooke.

Picture 4 BL15InchHowitzerAndShell
Around half of the shells from these 15 “ guns did not go off, but even dud one ton projectile would collapse a German dugout.

We will look at the French and German artillery too. Few Britons are aware of how closely the British and French artillery worked. Nor is the German experience well known- even thought the most enduring German memory of the Somme was probably how their trenches were stamped into the ground by the British guns.

We are going to travel the week before the national commemoration because that is when the battle started for the Gunners, and we will have a better opportunity to get around the battlefield.

The tour is four days and three nights and for more information follow this link.

D Day Beaches and Landing Sites, 2-5 September 2015 £389
dday_and landing grounds

A visit over a long weekend to the D Day beaches and landing sites. There is a gunner story on each beach and landing site. We will see the strength of the German defences and see where and how the Gunners helped to overcome them. We will explore the stories of the Gunners who took part, the planners, commanders and soldiers, heroes, poets and those who fell.
£389 per person sharing single supplement £75
Details Here

BEF Western Front 10-14 November 2016 £469

BEF Western frontFive days and four nights, covering the sites of the major battles of the British Expeditionary Force from Mons in 1914 to victory in 1918 over Remembrance day 11 November.
£469 per person sharing single supplement £110
Details here

Wartime Wanderers Revisited

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Harry Goslin’s Original Grave (Courtesy W Goslin)

Last week, as the historian and guide for 103 Regiment (V) I took part in a special battlefield study to Italy, in the footsteps of the Bolton and Manchester Artillery on the battlefields of the Sangro and Moro Rivers and Monte Cassino, as part of Ubique 300. 53 (Bolton) Field Regiment were the nearest thing in the Second World War to the pals or sports battalions of Kitchener’s Army raised in 1914. In March 1939 Hitler reneged on the Munich agreement and invaded Czechoslovakia. The following weekend the team captain of Bolton Wanderers football club, Harry Goslin addressed the crowd and called for supporters to join the TA. It was not enough to deplore what was going on in the world. Hitler would need to be stopped. He and the team were joining up.

The story of what happened to Harry Goslin is told in an earlier post, written close to the 70th anniversary of his death. It was mainly based on general histories of the battle and material available on line.

Italy1100000Lanciano_with_markings
Map showing the attack by the 8th Indian Division on 14 Dec  1943, updated to show the attack from the South . (1) The “Impossible” Bailey bridge, built from the enemy side. (2) Position secured before the attack (3) 17th Indian Brigade attack (4) Canadian attack on Casa Beradi on the same day.

updated to show the

updated to show the

A visit to the National Archives and the war diary of 53 Field Regiment revealed more details about the story and the experience of the soldiers.

We can interpret documents such as fireplans.  Harry Goslin, the Bolton Wanderers fotball team captain was killed as an artillery forward observer in this battle
Fireplan Trace overlaid on 1943 1:50,000 map sheet.

The maps in the general histories portray the attack mounted by the 8th Indian Division on 14th December as an arrow from Villa Rogatti west north west to to Villa Caldari. The fire plan in the 53 Rd Regiment War diary shows a barrage by the divisional artillery supporting an attack north from the road between these villages, which curves first west then north. When superimposed on the 1:50,000 map the first line of the barrage is 50 yards north of the candy stripe road, an obvious start-line. 52 and 116 Field Regiments fired the lines of the barrage. 53rd Field Regiment fired a flanking barrage, three lines of shells fired at right angles to the main barrage to protect the left flank of the attack, exposed to enemy fire from the lateral road. All points calculated by hand in damp, cold dug out command posts.

members of 209 (Manchester) Battery pay respects to a Manchester Gunner in Sangro War Cemetery
Major T J Fox BC and members of 209 (Manchester) Battery, and the Captain General’s Baton  pay respects at the grave of a fallen Manchester Gunner in Sangro War Cemetery

The war diaries referred to the abysmal quality of the maps, with features up to 500 metres from their true location. It wasn’t much easier to find locations on modern maps. It is hard to find maps with more detail than 1:200,000 and the information on different publications can be contradictory, and at variance with the features on the ground.

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After the ceremony, Major A J Gledhill, BC and members of 216 Battery pose behind Harry Goslin’s Grave photographed by Philip Mason Chaplain of Bolton Wanderers FC

But the 53 Field Regiment gun positions seemed obvious. Plotting the battery locations on the 1944 map showed East of the road between S. Vito Chietano and Lanciano. west of Treglia The best fit of the 1944 map with Google maps put the gun positions just to the side of what is now a road through the edge of a village. This made sense. The fire plans called for hundreds of rounds of ammunition per gun per day. The weather in December 1943 was bad with the fields and tracks reduced to mud. The War diary noted that it was difficult to extract the guns from their old positions and that it took six hours before two of the batteries were ready after moving a couple of miles. Gun positions would need to be close to the driest ground. An old lady remembered, “yes. The guns were just over there”. What is now an olive grove was a field in 1943.

Grave of Gunner Plummer, a 53 FGiled Regiment OP Signaller who fell on the same day as Harry Goslin.
Grave of Gunner Plummer, a 53 Field Regiment OP Signaller who fell on the same day as Harry Goslin.

There were also some VIPs. Harry Goslin’s son Bill and grandson Matt came to make a visit, their first to Harry’s grave, and to find out about what happened to him. Lieutenant Harry Goslin was mortally wounded as a forward observer, a task usually carried out by a captain troop commander. Harry’s normal role should have been on the gun position, either in a troop or battery command post or as a gun position officer. The command post officers were responsible for supervising the soldiers who calculated what direction the guns should point to hit any given target. This was difficult and tiring work, but not as dangerous as accompanying the infantry, with the higher risks from bullet, shell or mortar bomb.

Major John Young in the "Dorway to Valhalla"  The entrance to the German War Cemetery Caira
Major John Young in the “Dorway to Valhalla” The entrance to the German War Cemetery Caira

The 53 Field Regiment War Diary provides evidence of the pressure on the officers and soldiers who served at the sharp end. On1st December, after a week long battle on the Sangro Rover one battery commander had been evacuated with exhaustion The nearby 1st Canadian RCHA attacking on the right of the Indians lost four out of six FOOs over four days. Officers and signallers from the guns would have to take their turn at the OP. It was as a stand in OP Officer that Harry Goslin crossed the start line.

The Rapido Valley looing towards Cassino from Caira German War Cemetery
The Rapido Valley looing towards Cassino from Caira German War Cemetery

The attacks along the Adriatic coastal plain halted a month later on the next river line, the Arielli, with winter snow.  Four months later, the 8th Indian Division with the 52nd Manchester Artillery and 53 Bolton Artillery crossed the Apennine mountains  in secret to deploy South of Cassino.   Here the allies had tried battering a way through what was the strongest part of the German defences between December 1943 and March 1944.

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Memorial to the 36th Texan Division which suffered heavy losses attempting to cross the River Gari in January 1944. Four months later the 8th Indian Division, supported by the 52 nd and 53rd Field Regiments crossed the river near here.

The allies concentrated both of their armies to break through the German army on the front facing Rome.  This time the allies assembled a force of 1600 guns, including those of 52 (Manchester) Field  and 53rd  (Bolton) Field Artillery Regiments. These blasted a path across defences which had stopped the allies over the preceding months. Not without a hard fight or losses. The commonwealth War

Down time in the Adriatic sea., close to the mouth of the River Sangro
Down time in the Adriatic sea., close to the mouth of the River Sangro

Graves Commission records list 184 members of the Royal Artillery who died in Italy during May 1944. 110 are buried or commemorated in the Cassino War Cemetery. Twelve of the dead served in the 52 (Manchester) or 53 (Bolton) Field Regiments.gunner tours logo white on brown

Airborne Gunners In Crete

Crete_TOP_7
Following in the footsteps of thousands of allied troops down the 8 km evacuation route of the Imbros Gorge to Hora Sfakia.

8 km

53 Louisburg Battery’s Exercise Louisburg Pegasus took place in Crete with aims that encompassed developing an ethos and a pride in the air assault role, understanding information, surveillance and  target acquisition.

STAND 1 (MALEME)   Questions: Syndicate A: Discuss the attacker's problem in an air assault, using the 6 tactical functions. Syndicate B: Discuss the defender's problem in an air assault, using the 6 tactical functions. Syndicate C: Maleme was in many respects a "soldiers' battle".  Nonetheless, the three most fundamental components of fighting power (physical/conceptual/moral) played a part even at the lowest level; discuss. Syndicate D: What are the similarities/differences between the actual action and how we would tackle it today?
Stand 5 – The Abduction Of General Kreipe.
Airborne Ethos.  The graves of German Fallschirmjaeger are on the vital ground overlooking Maleme Airfield.
Airborne Ethos. The graves of German Fallschirmjaeger are on the vital ground overlooking Maleme Airfield.

One of the most impressive aspects of this exercise was the way that the unit had organised planned syndicate discussions on doctrinal concepts. The exercises used the German invasion and occupation of Crete in the Second World War as a vehicle for introducing all ranks to doctrinal concepts.

“Stand 5” was the site where the British and Cretan Resistance abducted general Kreipe, the German Commander of the Island.   His vehicle was stopped at gun point and he was driven away in his own car. When he was in command he was known for responding to challenges by sentries with “Don’t know who you know who I am?” A policy he might have regretted when held at gun point in the back of his staff car while Patrick Leigh Fermor wore his cap.

These are the questions considered by the syndicates:-.

Syndicate A: Sometimes, effect can be achieved by minimal tactical engagement (eg through influence or strategic SF ops). Discuss the similarities and differences between the approach here and the way in which it would be conducted now (mentioning LOAC if needs be).

Crete_TOP_6
One of the Bofors guns abandoned in 1941

Syndicate B: Security and surveillance in a cluttered and contested battle-space: how might events such as this be avoided?

Syndicate C: The German COIN problem: the similarities and

Suda Bay Commonwealth War Cemetery
Suda Bay Commonwealth War Cemetery

differences between their approach and our own experience (post Boer War, Malaya, Afghan…).

Syndicate D: Planning and executing an abduction…how would you go about executing this operation?

The intellectual discussion didn’t take place at the crossroads, but over an ice-cream and a lemonade in nearby Archanes.

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Shades of Private Ryan – Britain’s “Bedford Boys”

I recently took a group of businessmen on a visit to the battlefields of the western front.  One of them, Richard Whittemore, told me a fascinating story.  His great-grandfather was one of six brothers who served in the First World War.  Three of them died and are buried in France.   A fourth is commemorated on the Helles Memorial  in Gallipoli.

 Private 6710 Whittemore Sidney JPM 6 Nov 1914

Sydney Whittemore was a regular soldier who served in the 1st Battalion of the Bedfordshire Regiment. This unit fought at Mons Le Cateau and the battles of the Marne and Aisne before deploying to Ypres. He died on 7th Nov 1914. The battalion had recently deployed to the trenches East of Ypres. According to the war diary, “Enemy broke through line held by Regt about 200 yards to our left, carrying next Regt & some of our men with them. Our supports were moved to left… & assisted in driving enemy back. Qr. Mr.Sergt. Byford [4893 Thomas William BYFORD, DCM] (awarded Distinguished C. Medal) collected about 40 men & captured trench held by 21 Germans, killing or capturing all. Pte. Falla [8095 William FALLA, DCM] (awarded Distinguished C. Medal) ran on in advance, & getting on left of trench enfiladed enemy whilst remainder were rushing the trench. Our casualties about 7 officers & 140 other ranks killed wounded 7 missing. It is likely that Sidney Whittemore was fatally wounded, as he is buried in Bedford House Cemetery, several miles west.

Lieutenant Frederick Whittemore MC

hill60may1915 Frederick Whittemore was a hero. He joined the army, aged 18 in 1896 in the Bedfordshire Regiment. He served in the Boer War as a soldier. There isn’t a His By 1914 he was Company Sergeant Major in the 2nd Battalion the Bedfordshire Regiment in South Africa. On 17th October he was commissioned in the field to replace the officers that had been lost up to that point. 2 Lt Whittemore was wounded on the 29th October 1914 in the first battle of Ypres. On his recovery he joined the 1st battalion and served with distinction in the heroic defence of hill 60. As the sniper Officer he was credited with accounting for over 50 of the attacking Germans, but was wounded again with as bayonet. His actions resulted in the award of the Military Cross in December 1915.

whittemorefj“Following twenty years of service in the regiment and having served through two wars, Lieutenant Whittemore, MC, was mortally wounded during a night patrol on 29 March 1916. His comrades tried desperately to recover his body, but despite several attempts, were unable to reach it. As a result, Lieutenant Whittemore is remembered on the Arras Memorial to the missing. “

It was soldiers like Frederick and Sydney Whittemore who epitomised the “Old Contemptibles” of the BEF.

13657 Private Whittemore G W 9th Bn Sherwood Foresters (Notts and Derby Regiment).

George Whittemore was a member of one of the first Kitchener Battalion of the Nottinghamshire and Derby Regiment which formed in Derby in 1914. It sailed for Gallipoli and landed at Suvla bay in August 1915. He was killed on 15th October 1915 but has no known grave and ius commeorated on the Helles memorial.

G/14877 Private Whittemore F A, (MM and bar) 7th battalion Royal Sussex Regiment

7 R Sussex WhittemoreFrederick Arthur Whittemore served in the 7th battalion The Royal Sussex Regiment died on 26th August 1918 aged 21. This gallant young soldier was killed in an attack on the Carnoy- Montebaun spur, almost on the 1st July 1916 front line. The attack in which he was killed seems to have been casually organised and as fatal to the assaulting infantry as any on the 1st July. as any on the as those ill supported as any in 1916. The total advances was planned to be three miles. There was “some difficulty calculating the barrage, as the position of the leading troops of 35 Brigade was not known and it was not possible to arrange for the barrage to conform with the barrage of the 58th Division, (the other formation attacking.) . Divisional orders were not ready until 11 pm, and did not reach the commander of 36 Brigade until after midnight and 2 AM before he could collect his battalion commanders to issue verbal orders for a 4 AM attack, and there were three miles to march to reach the start point. Further delay took place in consequence of the late arrival of the pack mules with reserve small arms ammunition , and of shelling which forced the battalions to leave the road and march across wire and trenches on a compass bearing, the latter part of the way in single file.

EPSON scanner imageThus the 7th Royal Sussex (and 5th Royal Berkshire) were unable to reach the starting line in time to move off before 4.30 and 4.45 am respectively, and lost the barrage, which in any case dropped too too far ahead, nearly 1500 yards, to be of any use. Both came under machine gun fire. The Royal Sussex were held up in the valley in front of their first objective. The Germans spotted a gap between the two battalions and counter attacked, threatening part of the R Sussex near some old mine craters, (from the pre July 1916 front line). The fight went on all day until the neighbouring formation on the left captured a key village behind the German right at around 4.30 pm. (2) The CWGC records list 24 soldiers from 7th Royal Sussex who died between 26 and 28th August 1918. Three of these men, like Frederick Whittemore were recipients of the Military Medal.

19833 Private Whittemore C Bedfordshire Regiment

whittemore 4th Beds

19833 Private C Whittemore of the 4th Battalion the Bedfordshire Regiment died , aged 23 on the 27th August 1918 and is buried in the AIF burial Ground Flees. He probably died in one of the two attacks made by 190 brigade on Thilloy.4 Bedfords 27 Aug 1918

There is a report on this action here. ttp://www.bedfordregiment.org.uk/4thbn/4thbtn1918appendices.html

He may have served alongside Charles Laughton.

http://www.huntscycles.co.uk/C%20L%201%20Home%20Page.htm

Richard’s grandfather survived the war. The medal cards list a Whittemore in the Bedfordshire Regiment, awarded the Mons star who survived the war. The family tradition is that he was a machine gunner, and suffered such severe shell shock that he spent the rest of his life in mental institutions. His family maintained a fiction that he had run off to India and married someone there. In fact he was incarcerated in a local mental hospital a few miles from where his children were growing up. He died and is buried in an unmarked grave.

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This was the result of some internet work and I am not sure exactly what the family relationships were.  However there seem to have been a lot of casualties, and medals awarded to a relatively small number of brothers or cousins.

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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

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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

Introduction to Battlefield Guiding City Lit Summer School Course 2014 12 July & 3 Aug 2014

The 2014 City Lit Summer School Introduction to Battlefield Guiding Course lasts for two days (12 July & 3 Aug)  and is an introduction to the theory and practice of battlefield guiding. It is based on the competences of the Guild of Battlefield Guides validation programme, combining knowledge of military history, presentation skills and the duty of customer care. It is a taster for anyone seeking to lead walks or tours and wishing to plan a personal development programme.  The course takes place at CityLit, Keeley St, Covent Garden, London WC2B 4BA

flodden diagram with psychology
The picture is just to illustrate the problem, and is no reflection of this particular guide’s excellent communication skills!
 What is the course about?

The course is an introduction to the skills of battlefield guiding. It is aimed it people considering developing their skills either as a volunteer or a professional or for a professional tour guide seeking to extend their expertise to cover battlefields. The course is based on the competences of the International Guild of Battlefield Guide.(GBG) the trade body which assesses and awards its Badge to guides which demonstrate their competence through the Guild Validation programme. The course is intended to give students a start in developing the skills and competences to become battlefield guide.

What topics will we cover?

We will cover the following:-

  • An introduction to battlefield guiding
  • The GBG Badge competences and validation scheme
  • Knowledge
  • Presentation skills
  • Duty of Care
  • Legal obligations
  • Working as a guide
  • Developing a personal learning programme towards the Guild Badge.

By the end of this course you should be able to:

  • Identify the obligations on the guide in providing a battlefield tour.
  • State the key competences of the Guild of Battlefields’ validation programme and the standards of competences needed.
  • Carry out your own simple self assessment of personal training needs.
  • Plan you own personal development programme towards achieving the standards expected of a competent guide.
What level is the course and do I need any particular skills?

The course is set at the level of an intelligent lay-person with an interest in military history. Participants will need to have a general knowledge of military history.

How will I be taught, and will there be any work outside the class?

The instruction will be in the form of tutor presentations, class and group discussions, and interactive exercises. There will be homework and a practical assignment between the first and second day. Participants will be expected to prepare and deliver short presentations.

How much will it cost?

Full fee: £92 
Senior fee: £60 
Concession: £31

For an explanation of these fees check the Citylit Fee Information

How can I enrol for the course?

You can enrol for the course book a place in the following ways:-

  • Online via this page  (or print and post the enrolment form)
  • Over the telephone 020 7831 7831
Comments from Past Students

“Excellent Course”

“Could not be improved”

“Practical focus, linked to personal opportunities and encouraged further study and involvement”

“ A good balance of relevant subjects”

“The content was wider and in greater depth than I had expected”

“ I learned a hell of a lot”

While the learning outcomes were set at an introductory level, the course reported the following  outcomes.

ADDITIONAL LEARNING OUTCOMES % Agreement
  • Self confidence
80%
  • Confidence in learning
70%
  • More able to participate in a group
50%
  • More able to contribute to society
30%
  • New Skills and Knowledge
90%
  • ability to progress to the next step
90%
  • Increased intellectual/creative fulfilment
90%
  • Will it enable you to gain work
100%
  • Increased voluntary work
90%

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..

Lt Harry Goslin RA: a fallen Wanderer at the Moro River

The 18th December 2013 is the 70th anniversary of the death of Lt Harry Goslin RA of 53 Field Regiment.   He is buried in the River Sangro Commonwealth War Cemetery, in Cheti Province, Italy.  His story and that of the battle in which he died deserve to be remembered as they show a different aspect of the Second World War.  

THE WARTIME WANDERERS

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Bolton Artillery – 53rd (Bolton) Field Regiment football team – The Wartime Wanderers Standing: Danny Winter, Harry Goslin, Stan Hanson, George Catterall, (Lt Col G Bennet), Jimmy Ithell, Jack Hurst, (Capt J J Clavell QM) Front row: Albert Geldard, Donny Howe, Ray Westwood, Jack Roberts, Tommy Sinclair http://www.boltonswar.org.uk/i-ra-09.htm (1)

 

Before the Second World War Henry “Harry” Goslin had been the captain of Bolton Wanderers Football Club.  On 1st March 1939 Hitler broke the terms of the Munich Agreement by invading the rest of Czechoslovakia.  On 14th March 1939, before the next home match Harry addressed the crowd with a megaphone urging them to join the Territorial Army. After the match, 32 out of 37 men on the playing staff joined the armed forces, 17 joining their local TA unit, the Bolton Artillery.   The idea of “pals” battalions of chums joining the same unit and serving together is much more associated with the First rather than the Second World War.  However the Wartime Wanderers joined together and served together in what was mobilised as 53rd (Bolton) Field Regiment RA.  They served in France and Belgium in 1940, were evacuated at Dunkirk, then sent overseas serving in Iraq and at the second battle of El Alamein as part of the 8th Indian Division.  The Regimental football team was much in demand as an expert position matches. While the Regiment was based in the Uk, players continued to play for their own side and as guests for football clubs close to where the Regiment was stationed.  Harry Goslin played for Bolton in  4 out of 22 matches played in the 1939-40 season as well as appearing as a  guest for Chelsea and Norwich City.

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Wartime Wanderers – Ray Westwood (foot on trail), Jack Hurst (tall figure at back) Ernie Forrest, Tommy Sinclair and Harry Goslin (just behind instructor) http://www.boltonswar.org.uk/i-ra-10.htm (1)

THE EIGHTH INDIAN DIVISION

The 53rd (Bolton) Field Regiment RA was in direct support of the 21st Indian Brigade, comprising the 5th Battalion the Royal West Kent Regiment, the 3/15th Punjabi battalion and the 1/5th Mahratta.  Harry Goslin was a Forward Observation Officer attached to the 3rd Battalion of the 15th Punjabi Regiment. (3/15th Punjabi)  Divisions of the Indian Army were comprised of a mixture of British and Indian troops.  Two thirds of the infantry would be Indian, with the remainder from the British army, all the artillery would be British while the sappers and services would be Indian. The “Indian” units were still mainly commanded  by British officers but the proportion of Indians holding a Kings Commission rose during the war.  The divisional machine battalion of the 8th Indian Division was commanded by Lt Col D S Brar, one of the Indian officers to command a combatant unit in the field. (2)

8th Indian Division
8th Indian Divisional Badge worn on the upper sleeve and painted on vehicles (2)

The 3/15th Punjabi Regiment had originally been raised as the Rawlpindi Regiment in 1857, and served in the Second Opium War alongside some of the Dragon batteries, and then in Afghanistan and Somaliland. As the 27th Punjabi Regiment it served in France and Mesopotamia in the First World War, and was renumbered 3/14th when the Indian army was reorganised in the 1920s. After partition it was transferred to the Pakistan army where it still exists as the 11th Punjabi Regiment.  The Punjab countryside was fertile recruiting ground for the British Indian Army, with military service an attractive alternative to life on the land. In return the British values its soldiers for loyalty and hardiness.  These were some of the conditions which led British post war industry to attract workers from the Punjab to serve in the textile industry of the North of England.

The policy not to raise artillery units from the Indian population dated from the aftermath of the Indian mutiny, as a measure to prevent any future rebellion from having access to the firepower of the artillery.  The story of the Royal Artillery in the World Wars is that of the Indian as well as the British Army and its formations.  Three Indian Army Divisions served in Italy, the 4th, 8th and 10th and with them nine field regiments and three LAA regiments.  In September 1943 the 8th Indian Division and with it the Wartime Wanderers sailed to Italy to reinforce the 8th Army.

MONTGOMERY ON THE SANGRO NOV-DEC 1943

Sangromap
River Sangro Battlefield

The battlefields of the Sangro and Moro rivers do not attract as many visitors as those on the Garigliano and Rapido, conveniently between Rome and Naples with the focus of the historic cultural icon of the Abbey of Monte Cassino.  The Sangro battlefields took place in the Adriatic region of Chieti, which isn’t as accessible and further from the major cultural tourist sites.  The battle has also been overshadowed by the historic drama of the battles of Cassino and the Anzio landing.

But this battlefield does not deserve to be neglected.  These battles were the last battle fought by Montgomery as commander of the Eighth Army, and the largest set piece battle commanded by him on the mainland of Italy.  In late 1943 the allies stiller had hopes of capturing Rome. In October the Germans made the decision to try to stop the allies south of Rome and constructed the Gustav or Winter Line based on the Garigliano River flowing west and the Sangro River flowing east across the “calf” of the Italian boot. The Fifth Army under Mark Clark was to advance from Salerno and Naples via the West coast.  Montgomery with 8th army was to push along the Eastern Adriatic coast, break through the Gustav line on the coastal plan, press on the Pescara and then attack Rome from the east, across the ApennineMountains.   While the coastal strip south East of Pescara is much gentler country than the mountainous terrain around Cassino, the landscape played an important part in shaping the battle and is reasonably well preserved. 

The battle of the Sangro was a set piece battle mounted by the four infantry divisions of the Vth Corps, and started on the 20th November 1943.  Supported by 652 guns and the Desert Air Force the Eighth Army blasted its way across the Sangro River and almost obliterated the 65th German infantry division defending the sector and capturing its divisional commander. 

The operation took place under appalling weather conditions. “The winter rains had set in, and no reprieve from bitter cold, swollen streams, and sodden earth could be expected. The Sangro in spate averaged five feet in depth, and was of such turbulence that patrols on more than one occasion had been drowned. The infantry bivouacked miserably in boggy fields under pelting showers. Transport speedily churned the water-logged earth into mud soup; vehicles slithered and skidded uncontrollably on the greasy tracks. Heavy transport and guns were winched and manhandled into position by their shivering, mud-soaked crews. Sappers and transport services toiled unceasingly to keep the roads open, and to get supplies through to the advanced positions.”(3)   The 100ft wide Sangro River became a 1000ft wide torrent which washed away the initial bridges constructed by the Engineers.

After a week of fighting, which drew in the German reserves from across Italy, the German commander decided to fall back from the Line of the Sangro and the Gustav line defences and defend the next river line back, that of the River Moro. In itself this was an achievement as it took the 5th Army many more months to break through the Gustav line on the admittedly more difficult sector they faced.

THE BATTLE OF THE MORO RIVER

(1) 8th Indian Divian build “Impossible bridge “ across Moro River. (2) From 9th Dec 1943 The 21st  Indian Brigade secures the ridge above the River Moro Crossing by 13th Dec 1943.  This is where the 1/15th Punjabis and Harry Goslin would have been likely to have been. (3) 17th Indian Brigade attack Caldari and seicze pt198 on the lateral road. (4) Attack by 1st Canadian Division on 14th Dec 1943 towards Casa Beradi. (5) The guns of the 53rd Fd Regt RA deployed Wesr of the village of Tregelia.
(1) 8th Indian Division build the “Impossible bridge “ across Moro River. (2) From 9th Dec 1943 The 21st Indian Brigade secures the ridge above the River Moro Crossing by 13th Dec 1943. This is where the 1/15th Punjabis and Harry Goslin would have been likely to have been. (3) 17th Indian Brigade attack Caldari and seize pt198 on the lateral road. (4) Attack by 1st Canadian Division on 14th Dec 1943 towards Casa Beradi. (5) The guns of the 53rd Fd Regt RA deployed West of the village of Tregelia.

Technically, Harry Goslin fell at the battle of the Moro River rather than the Sangro.  The title of the History of the 8th Indian Division is “One more River”. (1) The geography of the Italian peninsular meant that the campaign was the story of an assault on the inevitable hill between one river valley and the next. The Germans did not defend the river banks themselves. Instead they held the high ground dominating the exits from the river valleys and reverse slope positions beyond the ridgelines, while deploying snipers and patrols on the forward slopes.  Towns and villages on the ridges such as Orsogna and Ortona were often built on tactically important positions, which had withstood the ancient endemic risk of attack by pirates. The German defenders were drawn from the 26 Panzer Division, 90th Panzer Grenadier Division and the 1st Fallschirmjaeger Division.

WH2Art090a
25 Pdr Guns firing from a muddy emplacement on the Sangro Battlefield

In early December 1943, the 8th Indian division was deployed between the 2nd New Zealand Division and 1st Canadian Division which were intended to make the main attacks on the towns of Orsogna and Ortona respectively on the ridges.  Initially the 8th Indian division was tasked with making a diversion to distract attention from the attacks on their flanks. To this end very obvious preparations were made to build a bridge across the Moro.  The configuration of the approaches made it impossible to build from the home bank, so the sappers manhandled materials across the river and built the “Impossible Bridge” from the enemy bank.   On 8/9th December, as the flanking Canadian and New Zealand attacks faltered and the Indians were ordered to secure the village and the ridge line north west of the MoroRiver.  On the night  9/10th December the 3/15th Pubjabis with one company of 5th Royal Mahratta Machine-Gunners, and other supporting arms the Forward Observation Officer (FOO) parties from 53 Field Regiment Royal Artillery crossed the Moro to secure the bridgeheads.  FOO parties consisted of an officer, such as Harry Goslin, trained to control artillery fire, and soldiers providing technical and communications support.  It was on his judgment, and the competence of his signallers in maintaining communications to the guns 7km in the rear, that the survival of the infantry might depend. He and his men would move and live with the infantry sharing the dangers of the front line.  The presence of  FOO parties was sufficiently important that Montgomery himself took a personal interest that they were correctly allocated.  A few weeks earlier, at the Sangro crossing, one infantry company of another division crossed the river without an FOO party and found themselves unable to call for artillery fire and forced to retreat. This made Montgomery very angry and spoke severely to the Corps commander on the subject and obtained an assurance that it would not happen again. ()

“The Germans reacted violently to this incursion. From patrol clashes the fighting mounted into a tense struggle. The Punjabis went forward to clear a strong-point with the bayonet. That night, “Impossible Bridge” was strengthened, and next morning British tanks crossed to come up in close support of the Punjabis and Mahrattas. Mopping up continued, but the area remained unhealthy with enemy snipers and mortar teams infiltrating audaciously. In destroying these pests a number of cat-eyed, soft-footed Indians compiled remarkable individual bags. Havildar Badlu Ram of the Punjabis slew sixteen Germans, and others were not far behind his total. The ground was cleansed and a firm bridgehead established.“ (3)tiger06

On the 13th and 14th other troops from the Indian Division attacked towards Villa Caldieri and the lateral road on the ridgeline parallel to the Moro.  The Germans shelled the area heavily and counterattacked with infantry and tanks.  The war diary of the 53 Field Regiment made at 0250hours on the 14th  records that the Regiment had fired 170 rounds per gun ona  timed programme to support the advance of 17 Brigade through the Punjabis positions and then a series of defensive fires against counter attacks made at dawn by German tanks and infantry. (4)    

Later that day the diary noted “heavy enemy shelling of the Observation Post (OP) positions – an increase” and two serious casualties. One was Gunner Plummer an OP signaller killed by a sniper’s bullet.  The second was Harry Goslin, wounded by a shell or mortar round bursting in a tree above his slit trench.  The slit trenches customary in the Second World War provided protection against splinters from shells or bombs bursting on the ground.  However, without overhead cover they were vulnerable to splinters from exploding shells overhead. Prior to the invention of radar “proximity” fuses, it was difficult to achieve accurate air bursts.  However, if a shell struck a tree it would burst at the optimum height to inflict casualties.  Harry Goslin was caught like this and paralysed by a shell splinter in the back.  He was evacuated but died four days later and is buried 20 km south at the Sangro War cemetery in plot XV. Row C. grave 29.  He was the only member of the Wartime Wanderers to be killed in the Second World War, but two other members of the seventeen who served in 53rd Field Regiment were wounded during the war. 

tiger05The conditions under which the troops fought were atrocious, and closer to the popular imagination of the First World War than the Second.  The weather was vile.  According to the New Zealand histories, it took six men to carry a laden stretcher.  One Canadian soldier described the land beyond the Moro river as “ a landscape that seemed almost lunar in its desolation where men lived and died in unremembered ways.”  Brigadier Kippenberger, a New Zealander veteran of the First World War, wrote that  “I had not seen men so exhausted since Flanders.  Their faces were grey”

 The Battle of the MoroRiver was a significant battle, the last attempt by the 8th Army to break through on the Adriatic coast.  To the right of the 8th Indian Division the 1st Canadian Division attacked towards Casa Beradi and the crossroads leading towards the town of Ortona. The bitter house to house fighting in Ortona between the Canadians and the German paratroops which lasted until the New Year is the main episode remembered from the battle of the Moro River. The story of the Indians who fought alongside them and endured the mud and slit trenches in awful conditions, deserves to be remembered, as does that of the gunners who supported them.

BRITAIN’S BAND OF BROTHERS

A film is being made.It is great to see that it is about a bunch of gunners.

Wartime Wanderers teaser

More details here.

 VISITING THE MORO BATTLEFIELD

The View looking across the R Morro  from the track leading North from Frisa Cjhieti
The View looking across the River Morro from the track leading North from Frisa, (Gr 308081) on the 1:100,000 map

 Pescara is a good base for exploring the battlefields of the Sangro and the Moro. There are cheap direct flights from the UK to Pescara.  As a holiday resort it has ample accommodation and, out of Italian peak season it is easy to find accommodation.    It is possible to fly to Rome and travel over the Apennines by road or rail. The countryside is quite spectacular and illustrates why the Allied plan to take Rome via Pescara was doomed from the moment the Germans decided to stand South of Rome.  Ortona has a fine little military museum and the Commonwealth War Cemeteries, as everywhere, are well maintained and their staff helpful.

The battlefield is one of the battlefields that need to be visited to appreciate the micro-terrain, the tactically important minor features of what Montgomery described as “ridge and furrow” countryside.  Although Ortona has sprawled along the lateral road the battlefield is much less overgrown than the  Monte Cassino massif or litter laden and developed than Anzio. There are plenty of view points beloved for military studies and TEWTs.

 The area is less geared to battlefield tourism than around Cassino, but when aware of the purpose of a visit the local response can be humbling.  An explanation to the hotel owner of the purpose of the visit resulted in the owner telling the story of her father, taken prisoner in Sicily and her uncle who fought with the partisans alongside the British Major Lionel Wigram.  As soon as the occupants of the “manor House” in Casa Beradi had worked out that the group of people in German registered minibuses were British soldiers the hospitality was overwhelming.

 For more information about visiting the battlefield contact Gunner Tours www.gunnertours.com +44 207 387 6620

References

1.  Bolton Remembers the War 

2. One More River the story of the 8th Indian Division.

3. The Tiger Triumphs: The Story of Three Great Divisions In Italy; His Majesty’s Stationery Office For The Government Of India 1946

4.  War Diary 53 Field Regiment RA WO /170

Bosworth and Naseby – A Case Study for a Business in Transition

Opposed take over of the Family Business - Henry Tudor lands
Opposed take over of the Family Business – Henry Tudor lands

One of the most difficult transitions for a business is to move from being a family business controlled by its owner manager, to one capable of expanding to a size where a more corporate structure is needed. Guardian Water Treatment Limited is an ambitious building services business at this stage in its development.

Guardian Water Treatment LtdGuardian Water Treatment

Founded in 2001 by Mark Hobson, Guardian Water Treatment Ltd (GWT) is bringing science to the business of managing water and air purity in buildings in the face of regulation and the real risks of Legionnaires Disease. The business currently has a turnover in the £millions and has ambitions to grow to much more. GWT has a mixture of head office and home based sales and engineering teams. The management wanted to hold a management study day to get people together out of the office and to discuss some of the issues facing the business as it grows.

Opposed take over of the Family Business – Henry Tudor lands

GWT was interested in looking at the following:-

  • The step changes required as a business grows.
  • The need to change business process in order to fully benefit from the potential of technology.
  • The challenges of retaining human capital.
  • Developing culture and processes that retain flexibility and responsiveness
IMG_20130308_100035_craftsmen 2
A skilled craftsman explaining the tools of his trade

A management study day could be held, in theory, anywhere. One could hire a conference room in any of a number of hotels. But there are good reasons for looking beyond a purely formal meeting. Teams can only bond when their members have an opportunity to meet each other outside  the day to day working environment. Excursions of all sorts provide a framework for building relationships with colleagues one might have only dealt with via the telephone or email. Historically, businesses have used sporting and cultural events for management level team building, but a round of golf or a day’s shooting is not for everyone.

Business Battlefields

Business Battlefields is a business service which provides corporate business events on historic battlefields. It was founded by Frank Baldwin in 2005 and its customers include Merrill Lynch, Marks and Spencer and Boeing. Business Battlefields was engaged to find historic locations which would provide a setting for GWT’s management study day.

A visit to the battlefields is a chance to compare current organisational issues in a way which enables participants to make connections and draw lessons from history which they may not otherwise see. It provides scope to tell stories that make it easy to understand and share messages which can be applied in a business situation.

New recruits
New recruits to an industrial revolution in warfare

The battlefields of Britain offer a great background for the study of business problems. The battles of Bosworth (1485) and Naseby (1645) are a source of lessons for a business growing from being family run to building the framework to become a global player. In the case of our battlefields, the business is protection and the family is, of course, Britain’s own Royal family.

Both battlefields are situated in the East Midlands and well served by business hotels, restaurants and pubs. The Bosworth Battlefield Centre provides an excellent interpretation of the battle supported by a collection of weapons demonstrated by a medieval martial arms expert. Naseby has no interpretation centre but has viewing points, which can be supported by living history

The battles of Bosworth and Naseby represent different eras in the development of armed forces. The Battle of Bosworth 1485 is one of the last battles of the medieval age. Richard III and Henry Tudor were feudal warriors leading factions fighting for control of the family business. Their rule was personal and their armies were comprised of bands of warriors owing loyalty in a way which stretched back to 1066 and earlier. The Battle of Naseby 1645 is the start of the modern world. The British Army is descended from the New Model Army with governance and organisational structures familiar to the modern world. Today’s soldiers could understand the organisation and rank structure of the New Model Army. Between Bosworth and Naseby there had been a military revolution, based on gunpowder technology, but requiring far reaching organisational and cultural changes. These made the European model of warfare a world beating model and enabled the European countries to colonise the world between 1600-1900.

Richard III and Bosworth: A Hostile Take-over of a Family Business

Living Historians on the Battlefield of Naseby
Living Historians on the Battlefield of Naseby

The story of Richard III is one reason why the Bosworth battlefield is fascinating. There are many lessons to be drawn from his short reign. The problem with family businesses is that genetics is not the best recruitment mechanism. Richard found himself as the man with the skills and experience for the top job while knowing that it would go to his juvenile nephew. He chose to mount a coup and wrest control, but ultimately failed because he could not win over all the stakeholders. It’s a cautionary tale for anyone. Do you settle for second best or risk all to win everything? Our client hasn’t relied on recruiting family members but there are lessons to be learned by privately owned businesses of all sizes.

These battles offer examples of the significance of the organisational and cultural impact of changing technology. The big difference between Bosworth and Naseby, less than 200 years apart, is the nature of the armies. Bosworth was fought by craftsmen; Naseby by mechanics. The warriors who fought at Bosworth, from King Richard downwards were trained to varying degrees from their youth in the martial arts they practiced. It took ten years to train an archer to use a war bow, and knights, squires and men at arms took a comparable time to master the variety of edged and blunt weapons used by a late C15th army. By the C17th soldiers were drilled and trained to use simple weapons such as the musket and the pike which could be taught in hours and days rather than years. And, with drill books sent across the world, could be taught to anyone. It’s a brutal lesson in the value of scale-able, low cost and repeatable solutions.

Gunpowder – the catalyst which replaced Craftsmanship with Process

"Downsizing" meant something slightly different in the past....
In the past,  “Downsizing” could be taken literally…

Other lessons from the New Model Army are the lessons for re-structuring. In 1644 Parliament had a problem with its military forces. The armies were created by local associations and commanded by the local Lords and MPs. Its success rate had been, at best, patchy and forces were tied to local regions. Parliament took the decision to form a homogeneous national army. One of their key decisions was to remove the owners of the individual armies via what is known as a the “self denying ordnance” by which Members of Parliament, (with a few exceptions) were to resign from their command positions in the army. The New Model Army, led by Sir Thomas Fairfax demonstrated its quality in its first battle at Naseby. This has an obvious lesson for any business seeking to assimilate an amalgam of acquisitions – remove the previous management.

GWT wanted the following from the day:

  • An opportunity for the management team to get to know one another outside of the working environment.
  • A chance to discuss the challenges of embracing new technologies, growing the business and managing change.
  • To use lessons learned from history to bring to life the challenges being faced while also explaining that they are not new challenges and there are opportunities to learn from history.
  • To enjoy a new and interesting experience.

Dan Doherty, the client contact, said: ‘Frank’s encyclopedic knowledge, connections and passion for what he does makes for a unique, interesting and beneficial experience. Most importantly, Frank is no everyday military historian; he has both military experience and a successful career in business and management. This is a heady cocktail of original and high value experiences that will benefit any organisation that wants to think outside the box for team building exercises.

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