Tag Archives: Gunners

Ctesiphon – the Turning Point in the 1915 Mesopotamia Expedition

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Camp of 1/5th Hampshire Howitzer Battery at Makina Masus near Basra, 1915 (NAM. 1987-01-70-42)

This photograph in the National Army Museum Collection shows the men of the 1/5th Hampshire Howitzer battery in Mesopotamia, modern Iraq in 1915. It was a Territorial unit, with many men from the Isle of Wight. Around half of the battery and three other batteries from the Regular Xth Field Brigade which served alongside them, would die during the war. This November is the centenary of the fateful events which lead to these units being doomed to suffer some of the highest proportional losses of any Gunner units losses in the Great War.

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Turkish Prisoners

The 1915 campaign in Mesopotamia is over-shadowed by the Gallipoli expedition. After the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire joined the war on the side of Central Powers the British send a small expeditionary force “Indian force D” based on the 6th (Poona) Indian Infantry Division to secure the oil refinery at Abadan, important for fuel oil for the Royal Navy. In addition to the 1/5th Hampshire Howitzer battery, the artillery included the Xth Brigade Royal Field Artillery, (63,76 and 83 batteries) The 1st Indian Mountain Brigade, 23rd and 30th Batteries),  a Territorial Army unit and S Battery RHA

Meso-WW1-2The Mesopotamian campaign started well and by April 1915 had secured its limited objectives. After landing at Fao on the 6th November 1914, the expeditionary force defeated the Ottoman defenders in battles for Basra and Qurna in 1914. At the battle of Shaiba 12-14 April 1915, the British defeated an Ottoman attempt to evict them, the last time that they would threaten Basra. But what next?

Kut1915The strategists in London wanted to scale the operation back, in favour of the Western Front and other theatres. Those in India saw an opportunity to exploit success and capture Bagdad given the light, defeated opposition. This was to be achieved with the resources in theatre.

So on a logistic shoestring, General Townsend with a force of around 11,000 men of the 6th Poona Division was ordered to advance up the River Tigris, supported by river gunboats as far as Kut-al- Amara and , if possible Bagdad. On 29 September the British defeated the Ottomans south west of Kut after an night march and dawn attack.

Mespot Album - 4 - Mountain GunsBy 21 November the 6th Division was approaching the next line of Ottoman defences on a six mile front at Ctesiphon 26 Km South East of Bagdad. The Turkish commander had entrenched his troops across the valley. The British plan was to form four infantry columns and attach the Turk positions at dawn on the 22nd while a flying column manoeuvred around the right, Eastern flank. Much of the fire-power to support the attack was to be from gun boats on the River Tigris. The Turks concentrated their artillery fire on the gun boats and by the end of the 22nd each side had suffered close to 50% casualties in a very bloody battle. Both commanders ordered their men to withdraw. Townsend had only a few thousand unwounded men, not enough to capture and hold Bagdad, and thousands of wounded. He fell back to Meso-WW1-3Kut. The suffering of the wounded was pitiful. Townsend entrenched his men at Kut and waited for relief. The Turks brought up reinforcements, defeated relief efforts and in April 1916 Townsend and his Army surrendered. Prisoners of War were not well treated by the Turks and around half of the British and Indian soldiers who fell into their hands died in Mesopotamia or on a forced march to Anatolia or in the harsh conditions there.

Among them were the men of the 1/.5th Hampshire Howitzer Battery and the three batteries of the Xth Brigade RFA (63,76 and 82). The Commonwealth War Graves records lists 442 dead from these units, which had an establishment of around 800.

Two batteries of the current day 106 Regiment are based in Hampshire are continue the traditions of Hampshire volunteer artillerymen, even though 457 and 295 batteries draw on the traditions of the Hampshire Yeomanry. The regular batteries were reformed, but none survived the post WW2 reorganisations.

One other battery which took part as Force D is still in existence. The 23rd Peshawar Mountain battery (Frontier Force) was transferred to the army of Pakistan in 1947. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/23rd_Peshawar_Mountain_Battery_(Frontier_Force)

Camp of 1/5th Hampshire Howitzer Battery at Makina Masus near Basra, 1915.

Photograph, World War One, Mesopotamia (1914-1918), 1915.

1/5th Hampshire Howitzer Battery landed at Basra on 23 March 1915 and joined 6th Indian Division which had arrived in November 1914.

It fought in the Battle of Shaiba (April 1915) and took part in the advance towards Baghdad, including the Battle of Es Sinn, capture of Kut (September 1915) and Battle of Ctesiphon (November 1915). The battery was captured by the Turks following the British surrender at Kut in April 1916.

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Captain Blackadder – A Gallant Scottish Gunner Officer

51CVAPG2VCLBlackadder goes Forth was the final series of the Blackadder BBC TV comedy programme. “The series placed the recurring characters of Blackadder, Baldrick and George in a trench in Flanders during World War I, and followed their various doomed attempts to escape from the trenches to avoid certain death under the misguided command of General Melchett.” The six programmes in this series were a satirical comedy set in the trenches of the Western Front. The characters were grotesque and funny, but the series ended with the poignant death of most of them in a hail of bullets in 1917, in slow motion with a final scene  cutting into a shot of a field of poppies.

Major R J Blackadder MC
Major R J Blackadder MC

This was the “Oh What Lovely War” version of the First World War, with a heavy handed moral slant, but it is also glorious comic satire. And being funny is one of the core values of the British Army.  Not the official Core Values of the British Army , which are  Courage, Discipline, Respect for others, Integrity, Loyalty and Selfless Commitment. All worthy ideals but they do not round out the character of the British Army. There are at least three other unofficial core values –“ Sense of Humour”; “BS Baffles Brains” and above all “Don’t get Caught” all come to mind.

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This photograph advertised on e bay was captioned as showing soldiers from 152 Siege Battery RGA

There is a grain of truth in each episode of Blackadder Goes Forth. Starting with the existence of a Captain Blackadder in the Royal Field Artillery, as reported by the Radio Times in 2014.     The Imperial  War Museum (IWM) has a copy of his  diary.  This is listed as providing details of his service in 151 Siege Battery Royal Garrison Artillery. However, Peter Hart and Nigel Steel, both senior staff members of the IWM, record his unit as the 152 Battery – so I am not sure which is right. Both of these batteries were raised in Scotland, equipped with four 8″ Howitzers and deployed to France in August 1916.   Blackadder took part in the major battles from the 1916 battle of the Somme to the end of the war and his observations are a primary source for these battles. During this  time he rose from lieutenant to major and decorated for gallantry for organising the withdrawal of his guns , ammunition and stores under heavy fire.

The real Blackadder, with his accounting background looks a little more like Tim McInnerny’s  Captain Darling.

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8″ Howitzer of the type used by 151 and 152nd Siege Batteries

However, the extracts from his diary from summer 1917 in the 3rd battle of Ypres make it clear that he was far from a pen pusher with a paper-clip fetish.

The road to the new position is a mere apology for a road and as we are taking down the first gun at night the road surface collapses and the gun sinks to its cradle. It has lain there for three days now and we have not been able to shift it — two caterpillars failed to move it. Now we have had heavy rain so it is very doubtful if we will get the guns to their new place at all. The result of three nights’ work is to get one gun into a hole and another off to a workshop. Tonight I am to get the gun out of the ditch and another to the workshop if possible. The Hun shelled the battery all afternoon, broke another limber and badly damaged the road  again. About midnight he again shelled and set off more ammunition but all the men got clear. I got the gun out of the ditch with two engines and into the new position. It was difficult to get the gun away to the workshop owing to the road being cut up but we succeeded without mishap about 3 a.m.”


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8″ Howitzer towed by a Holts Tractor IWM Q 4322 These are the “Caterpillars” mentioned by Blackadder
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A location for 152 Siege Battery on the road from Bosinge to Langemark – whether Blackadder was with this battery is less certain

29 July (1917) At night, about 11 p.m., the old Hun began to strafe us and all around. The guns got it first of all so I ordered all to clear out. Then he worked up towards the fighting post, a concrete erection left by the Hun. Several of the gunners had come up here for shelter some very badly shaken. The shells were falling very near now, the concussion putting out the lights several times, then, all of a sudden, a tremendous crash and all darkness and smoke almost suffocating us — a direct hit on the post! We lit the candles again, but could hardly see for the smoke.

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Conditions in the field in Flanders. This 18 Pdr is much smaller than the 8″ Howitzers in Blackaddder’s battery.

After ascertaining all were untouched I tried to get out, the shelling having moved to the guns again, but found the entrance blocked with debris. All wires had been broken too so we were out of touch with the guns and headquarters.  We soon worked a passage out and set to work to get into communication. Meantime some of the ammunition on No. 3 gun had been set on fire and the limber and stores were burning merrily: I got this gunner to come with me to put the fire out, this we did without mishap and returned to the concrete post. About 2 a.m. the shelling stopped and at dawn we reckoned up the damage done. Casualties, nil, material destroyed, very little. The fighting post was only slightly damaged and will stand many more hits thanks to the excellent work of` the Hun.”

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A gun under repair.

Once again, it is ‘Der Tag’ and again we are nibbling at the Bosche line. Our Battery is busy closing up the Hun guns and during the day in addition to carrying out our programme during the attack, we received many calls from aeroplanes who saw Hun guns active. The Hun strafed the Battery area just before zero hour and broke all the communications to the guns, but we got these put right just in time. He did little damage though he hit No. 2 gun pit twice. During the day too, he endeavoured to neutralise the Batteries about our area with shrapnel and high velocity guns, but we got off with no damage.

Lieutenant Robert Blackadder 152nd (sic) Siege Battery Royal Garrison Artillery. (Steele and Hart Passchendaele: The Sacrificial Ground)

If you want to visit the area where the real Captain Blackadder fought, or hear the  gunner side of the First World War, contact Gunner Tours www.gunnertours.com  info@ Gunnertours.com

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Sources :

1. Steele and Hart Passchendaele: The Sacrificial Ground – on e of the best histories of this battle, drawing heavily on personal accounts and one of the few that tells the story from the Gunner’s perspective.

2. https://livesofthefirstworldwar.org/lifestory/366252   The entry credited to Paul Evans look like the work of Firepower’s archivist

3.http://1914-1918.invisionzone.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=101508    The pictures of 152 Seige battery, triggered by someone’s family research.

 

 

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.

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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

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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).

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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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“British ANZACs” – Gallipoli Gunners

Australian gunners manhandle 18 Pdr Guns inland from ANZAC Cove  (Australian War Memorial G00918)
Australian gunners manhandle 18 Pdr Guns inland from ANZAC Cove

25 April was the anniversary of the landings on the Gallipoli peninsular. It has become synonymous with the Australian and New Zealand forces, the ANZACs.  This was the day when the forces of these dominions first played a significant role in military operations. Gallipoli; in particular ANZAC Cove has become a place of pilgrimage for antipodeans commemorating  the endeavours and sacrifices of the antipodean dominions.

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ANZAC Corps Artillery Positions 8th May 1915. The broken hilly ground has forced the guns to be deployed forward in ones and twos. The guns marked “M” are mountain guns. (HQ ANZAC CORPS GS WD May 1915)

But the ANZAC corps which fought in Gallipoli was not just made up of Aussies and Kiwis. British and Indian gunners also served in it. The Corps comprised the 1st Australian Division and the Australian and New Zealand Division. Neither included as much artillery as a British infantry Division. The 1st Australian Division included three artillery brigades, each of three four gun batteries equipped with 18 Pdr field guns, a total of 36 x 18 Pdr guns. The Australian and New Zealand Division’s artillery support was the 1st New Zealand Artillery Brigade with twelve 18 Pdr guns and a howitzer battery of four 4.5” Howitzers. By comparison a British infantry division was supported by fifty four 18 Pdr guns, eighteen 4.52 Howitzers and four 60 Pdr guns. The ANZAC Corps had less than half of the artillery that supported comparable British formations.

BL_6_inch_30_cwt_howitzer_at_Gallipoli_in_colourIt was particularly short of howitzers capable of lobbing high explosive shells over hills and into trenches. Almost all of its guns were 18 Pdr guns with a flat trajectory and very difficult to deploy in the hills inland from Anzac Cove. Often the way to enable the guns to engage was to run them forwards with the infantry in the direct role. These guns were supplied solely with shrapnel shells which was almost useless against troops in trenches. Although the Allies could call on the support of the naval guns of the fleet, these too had a flat trajectory and could not be easily brought to bear onto Turkish positions among the hills.

At least three other Imperial gunner units were brought in to support the ANZAC Corps to redress this deficiency. Even so, the expeditionary force as a whole was never supplied with the level of artillery support, either in the number of guns or ammunition that was found necessary to support a successful attack.

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Gunners from 24 Mountain Battery and their 10 Pdr BL Mountain Gun

The 7th Mountain artillery brigades of the Indian Army was attached to the ANZAC Corps.The mountain artillery were the only artillery part of the Indian army manned by Indian rather than European gunners. Ever since the Indian Mutiny Indians were not entrusted with artillery, with the exception of the relatively small mountain artillery, a kind of elite which supported operations on the North West frontier, between British India and Afghanistan.

The two batteries which formed the brigade: 1st (Kohat) Mountain Battery and 6th(Jacobs) Battery are still in existence in the Pakistani Army.  These were equipped with the BL 10-pounder Mountain Gun. This was a 2.75 inches (69.8 mm) calibre gun, which lacked a recuperator or recoil system. It could be dismantled into 4 loads of approximately 200 pounds (90.7 kg) for transport, typically by mule. It could fire a shrapnel round or common shell. This was a shell filled with a low explosive such as gun powder. As a whole this was a weapon better suited to colonial warfare than a C20th battlefield. It was deployed in sections of two guns, as can be seen in the sketch map.

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Sketch map showing artillery positions on 11th May 1915. (ANZAC Corps GS WD May 1915)

Major Ferguson, (known to the Australians as “Percussion Sahib”) commanded the 21st Mountain Battery.   He met Colonel Sinclair-Maclagan, commander of the 3rd Infantry Brigade on the morning of the 26th April . ‘I found him at last, plumb in the middle of the firing line and asked where he wanted artillery support….  He waved his arm through a semi circle and said everywhere around there. I selected a gun position pretty high up and ordered up the battery. After a long interval a very heated subaltern arrived with a couple of gunners carrying wheels and said that all the loads would have to be carried up as the ground was very steep and sodden with rain, and the mules weak, and that we could not possibly have  four guns in action in under an hour… We got into action at last and began shelling movement on the chessboard, while two guns began shelling us… The Australians were very polite about our assistance that day, as always.”  Within three weeks the 7th Mountain Brigade unit needed 75 replacement soldiers.

5" Bkl Howitzers firing Gallipoli 1915
5″ Bkl Howitzers firing Gallipoli 1915

The 1/4 Lowland Brigade RFA, (4th City of Glasgow) equipped with 5“ Howitzers was transferred from Cape Helles to support the ANZAC Corps at the end of July 1915. This was a territorial unit whose heritage and traditions are maintained by 207 (City of Glasgow) battery RA, who hold what is believed to be the breech of the gun which fired the last rounds on the Gallipoli campaign.

6 Pdr Howitzer landed at ANZAC Ciove
6 Pdr Howitzer landed at ANZAC Ciove

A lone 6” howitzer, under the the command of Regimental Sergeant Major David Hepburn with a Royal Marine Artillery detachment was deployed ashore in mid May and attached to the New Zealand Artillery Brigade. His gun had been deployed on the battleship HMS Prince George, which was damaged below the waterline by a shell on 3rd May. “We had to fire over two successive ridges each 400 feet high at a target only 1,300 yards away. We could not see the target. We had the sea at our backs, and that was the only direction in which we did not fire. On one occasion we fired in one direction, then turned the gun round completely and fired in the other direction. One afternoon we received a message “engage enemy heavy gun!” Out came the map and from the map we laid our gun. It pointed bang over our won headquarters! It is ticklish work when the shells only just slither over the crests and when the target is only 30-100 yards from our own trenches. I never did get over the idea of firing so close to our own men.(2)

Brigadier C Cunliffe Owen CBR DSO (National Portrait Gallery)
Brigadier C Cunliffe Owen CBR DSO (National Portrait Gallery)

Several of the artillery commanders in the ANZAC units were Royal Artillery Officers. Brigadier Charles Cunliffe Owen CBE was Brigadier General RA of the ANZAC Corps. A South African War veteran he had commanded 26 Brigade RFA in 1914 in the Retreat from Mons and the battles of the Marne and the Aisne and the 2nd Infantry Brigade in Ypres.

The CRA of the Australian and Zealand Division was Lieutenant Colonel G N Johnston RA. He was born in Canada but schooled in Scotland and commissioned through Woolwich. Johnson served

Brigadier G N Johnston DSO
Brigadier G N Johnston DSO

throughout the war as CRA of the New Zealand Division receiving the CMG and DSO and mentioned in dispatches eight times.

The CRA of the 1st Australian Division was Brigadier Talbot Hobbs, an Australian architect and militiaman who ended the war succeeding Monash as the GOC of the Australian Corps. His senior staff officer, Brigade Major Royal Artillery (BMRA) was Major Stuart Anderson, a British Regular Officer. Educated at Westminster and Clare College Cambridge. Major Anderson was appointed as the Instructor in Gunnery for the Australian Commonwealth forces artillery in 1912, and in 1917 he became CRA of 1st Australian Division.(3)

Gunner Tours is happy to provide subject matter expertise for any group seeking to understand the Gunner side of the Gallipoli Campaign.

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REFERENCES

1. AWM War diary HQ ANZAC CORPS GS May 1915
2. IWM Docs manuscript quoted in Hart Gallipoli
2. Venn, J, Alumni Cantabrigienses: A Biographical List of All Known Students, Volume 2

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  

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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.

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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

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

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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 

The Forgotten Gunners at the Turning point in the Battle of the Atlantic.

SS Selvistan, sunk on 5 May 1943 while part of  ONS 5 by U 266.  Gne R Clarke of 3 Maritime Regiment was killed in the attack
SS Selvistan, sunk on 5 May 1943 while part of ONS 5 by U 266. Gne R Clarke of 3 Maritime Regiment was killed in the attack

“Just before the first explosion I was on the Bridge; the SELVISTAN was rather close to the next ship abeam, which was an American Tanker, when suddenly I saw something moving through the water, which at first I thought was a porpoise, as it appeared to be spouting water. This object passed very close across the American Tanker’s bow, and when it was half way between the SILVEISTAN and the American ship, it jumped out of the waterm and then continued on its course; I immediately realised that it was a torpedo, si I rang “Full speed ahead”, and put the helm hard to port, but unfortunately the ship did not have enough speed to swing clear. This torpedo struck the ship in No. 5 hold,”  Extract from the Master’s Report on the loss of SS Selvistan5 May 1943

On the 5th May 1943  Slow Outbound Convoy Convoy ONS 5, outbound from Liverpool to Halifax lost eleven merchant ships to U Boat attack in a force 6 seas in the mid Atlantic.  The Battle of the Atlantic was the most important naval campaign waged by Britain in WW2 and the only matter which Winston Churchill said kept him awake at night

By the time the week long voyage n the course of a week, ONS 5 had been the subject of attacks by a force of over 40 U-boats. With the loss of 13 ships totalling 63,000 tons, the escorts had inflicted the loss of 6 U-boats, and serious damage on 7 more.

Many of these ships included detachments of Royal Artillery Gunners, who manned the armament of Defensively equipped merchant ship  (DEMS) alongside RN Gunners.  The ships sunk in ONS-5 typically had  two or three RA Gunners in the gun detachments of around a dozen.

This battle demonstrated that the convoy escorts had mastered the art of convoy protection; the weapons and expertise at their disposal meant that henceforth they would be able not only to protect their charges and repel attack, but also to inflict significant losses on the attacker.

Possibly the last  minutes of  U266 under attack by aa Handley Page Halifax GR Mk II of No.58 Squadron in the Bay of Biscay, 15 May 1943.  U266 was sunk by this attack with no survivors from its crew of 47.
Possibly the last minutes of U266 under attack by aa Handley Page Halifax GR Mk II of No.58 Squadron in the Bay of Biscay, 15 May 1943. U266 was sunk by this attack with no survivors from its crew of 47.

ONS 5 marked the turning point in the battle of the Atlantic. Following this action, the Allies inflicted a series of defeats and heavy losses on the U-boat Arm, a period known as Black May. This culminated in Dönitz withdrawing his forces from the North Atlantic arena.

The official historian, Stephen Roskill commented: “This seven day battle, fought against thirty U-boats, is marked only by latitude and longitude, and has no name by which it will be remembered; but it was, in its own way, as decisive as Quiberon Bay or the Nile”(1)

More on the battle here 

The ships lost on ONS 5 28 April – 5th May are shown in the following table from the U Boat Net. 

Date U-boat Commander Name of ship Tons Nat.
29 Apr 1943 U-258 Wilhelm von Mässenhausen McKeesport 6,198 am
4 May 1943 U-125 Ulrich Folkers Lorient 4,737 br
5 May 1943 U-707 Günter Gretschel   North Britain 4,635 br
5 May 1943 U-628 Heinrich Hasenschar Harbury 5,081 br
5 May 1943 U-264 Hartwig Looks   West Maximus 5,561 am
5 May 1943 U-264 Hartwig Looks Harperley 4,586 br
5 May 1943 U-358 Rolf Manke Bristol City 2,864 br
5 May 1943 U-358 Rolf Manke Wentworth 5,212 br
5 May 1943 U-638 Oskar Staudinger Dolius 5,507 br
5 May 1943 U-584 Joachim Deecke West Madaket 5,565 am
5 May 1943 U-266 Ralf von Jessen Bonde 1,570 nw
5 May 1943 U-266 Ralf von Jessen Gharinda 5,306 br
5 May 1943 U-266 Ralf von Jessen Selvistan 5,136 br
61,958
13 ships sunk (61,958 tons).

The Maritime Regiments.were the largest Regiments in the Royal Artillery in the Second World War. Their actions are also some of the most under appreciated.  Serving in small groups which Bombardier as the most senior  rank, out of sight, and largely of mind  of the rest of the British Army.  Their actions too numerous and disparate to attach particular attention.  It is worth sparing a moment to consider the RA participation in ONS-5.   Thirty one of the forty two merchant ships  in the Convoy were British.  With two or three Gunners on each ship, there would have been around 75 members of the Royal Regiment at this battle, a big troop or small Battery by modern standards.   Not many fewer than in some of the smaller  RA Battle Honours title engagements.

The Gunners are listed in the following table with the ship annotated where known.

Gnr DOUGHERTY 2 Maritime Regt. PORTSMOUTH NAVAL MEM. SS North Britain
Gnr HARMER 2 Maritime Regt. PORTSMOUTH NAVAL MEM.
Gnr CLARKE 3 Maritime Regt. CHATHAM NAVAL MEM. SS Selvistan
Gnr WILSON 3 Maritime Regt. CHATHAM NAVAL MEM.
LBdr KNIGHT 5 Maritime Regt. CHATHAM NAVAL MEM. SS Lorient
Gnr RIORDAN 5 Maritime Regt. CHATHAM NAVAL MEM. SS Lorient
Bdr MITCHELL 6 Maritime Regt. PLYMOUTH NAVAL MEM SS Bristol City
LBdr FORD 6 Maritime Regt. PLYMOUTH NAVAL MEM SS Harbury
Gnr BRUNNER 6 Maritime Regt. PLYMOUTH NAVAL MEM

The accounts from the interviews with the Masters of the sunk ships gives some insight into the conditions under which these men served, and died.  These were the records from the ships sailing in convoy , many of whose survivors were rescued.   The men on the Lorient were on a vessel straggling from the convoy and any that managed to take to a life boat  were subsequently lost.

There is no mention of the DEMS Gunners in The Cruel Sea, the book and film which is a portrait of the U Boat war.

Here is a link to the a radio adaptation of the book and to the trailer of the film

Although the battle has no name or location other than a track over points of latitude  and longitude, there are places to see the U Boat war in Britain.

It is possible to see a U Boat in Birkenhead on Merseyside. This is a type XI larger than the type VII Uboats used by the German wolf packs against ONS 5.

U boat conningtower
U 534 preserved in Birkinhead

The Western Approaches control room in Liverpool is where the Atlantic war was fought.

The  Commonwealth War Grave Commission lists 736 fatalities on 4-5 May 1943, a time when there were operations on  land in Burma and Tunisia  and in the air over Germany. Of these 114 were lost at sea, most oif them in the battle for ONS-5

Unknownsailor
Tower Hill Merchant Marine Memorial

The merchant marine sailors who lost their lives on ONS 5  are recorded on the Tower Hill memorial to the missing.    The Royal Artillery and Royal Navy Gunners are listed on the Chatham , Portsmouth and Plymouth Memorials.

If you would like to visit any of the places associated with this battle contact Gunner Tours

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