Tag Archives: Normandy

How the Pub Regulars helped to plan D Day

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

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

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

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

Fancyapint.com pub picture

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

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

Op Overlord_Overview

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

 References

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

2. Morgan F E Prelude to Overlord London , 1950

Pointe Du Hoc: the Unlikely British Heroes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pte Blackmore MM (1) IMG_20121102_131748_LR

Pte Blackmore MM (2) IMG_20121102_131824_LR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roy Suzuki and the British Nisei

The story of the Nisei Japanese Americans in the Second World War is quite well known. The USA had a sizeable Japanese minority, whose treatment after Pearl Harbour remains controversial. This community produced a Japanese American units which served with distinction in Italy and France. While Britain had a less diverse population in the 1940s than in the C21st, Britain was home to people from around the world, including immigrants from the Axis powers and their descendants.

My interest in LCpl Suzuki started when a fellow member of the Kentish Town Sports Centre, asked me why someone with a Japanese name might be in the British War Cemetery in Normandy. He wasn’t sure whether this was a British, Canadian or even American cemetery

But he was right. There are two men named Suziki on www.cwgc.org The first is Donkeyman K Suzuki, born in Japan, who died on 1st March 1917, aged 34, when the SS Munificant was sunk without warning 3 miles NNW of Cap Gris Nez, and commemorated on the Tower Hill Memorial London.

The second was Lance Corporal Roy Suzuki, of the 3rd/4th County of London Yeomanry (Sharpshooters) Royal Armoured Corps, (3rd/4th CLY) buried in Bannerville-la-Campagne War Cemetery, sited close to a road that a lorry driver might use en route for the ferry at Ouistreham. Roy was the son of Jukichi and Mable Ruth Suzuki of Islington London. He died, aged 23 on 18th August 1944. Checking the cemetery records, Roy Suzuki, is one of ten members of 3rd/4th CLY who all died on that day buried in row B of Plot IV in the cemetery along with a Rifleman from 2nd Bn KRRC. The ten include two lieutenants and a sergeant. It seems quite likely that LCpl Suziki buried in grave B17 was killed in the same actions as LCpl Cornish in B16, Trooper Bishop in B18, and 2Lt Pritchard B15, possibly even the same tank.

The 3rd/4th CLY had only been formed a month earlier, on 20th July 1944 from the merger of the 3rd and 4th CLY, a reflection of the heavy casualties of suffered in the Normandy campaign. The 4th CLY had take particularly heavy casualties in June when it was on the receiving end of an attack by Tiger tanks led by Michael Wittman at Villers Bocage.

C Sqn 3 CLY Firefly tank Normandy 1944

WHAT HAPPENED TO THE 3RD/4TH CLY ON 18TH AUGUST 1944?

18th August is close to the climax of the battle of Falaise Gap. At this time, the 3rd/4th CLY were part of the 4th Armoured Brigade, commanded by the 28 old Brigadier Michael Carver. 4th Armoured Brigade were attached to 53rd Infantry Division, part of XII Corps. XII Corps had been ordered to advance South from Falaise, protecting the right flank of the IInd Canadian Corps which was attacking South to close the Falaise pocket. (1) Michael Carver had persuaded the GOC 53 Division, who wanted to advance with a series of staged infantry brigade advances that at this stage of the battle it would be better for the armour to lead. (2) 4th Armoured Brigade would lead, supported by 71st Infantry Brigade, with their objective to press on down the Falaise- Argentan road to cut off the 19 German divisions in the Falaise pocket. Despite the Brigadier’s enthusiasm for armour to take the lead, the ground was described by one of the officers from 2nd KRRC as “damnably thick and close and anything but suitable for tanks. The German infantry are well armed with bazookas and enjoy knocking out tanks from ten yards range from thick hedgerows, orchards, lanes etc.”

Falaise Gap 16-21 Aug 1944 (Atkinson)
Falaise Gap 16-21 Aug 1944 (Atkinson)

Between the 15th and 17th the Brigade advanced about five miles and by the 17th had captured the high ground South of Falaise. On the 18th the Sharpshooters took over as the leading Regiment in the Brigade.

Fal
Fal

The excellent Sharpshooters website (3) gives the following extracts from the War Diary of the 3rd/4th County of London Yeomanry (Sharpshooters) August 1944

18/8/1944 B Sqn led the advance and found enemy infantry mining the road – these were quickly dispersed. The leading troop was then fired on by A/Tk guns but no hits scored, and another troop was sent round to the East but was also held up by A/Tk guns. The country was too close for deployment so smoke was put down and the leading tanks moved forward and fired HE. This was successful – one gun knocked out and one abandoned – and the advance continued. A Mark IV special was seen and knocked out but shortly afterwards the two leading tanks were hit by A/Tk fire. The driver of one tank succeeded in driving his badly damaged tank back out of range and was able to rescue his wounded crew. Arty fire was brought down on the suspected gun positions and another attempt was made to go forward but the leading tank was immediately hit. Many attempts were made to find a way round and A Coy 2/60 KRR was sent into the village ahead to try and locate the A/Tk guns and clear the area of the enemy. At 1800 A Sqn succeeded in finding a way round and took up position South of the village of ROUFIGNY. B Sqn were then able to go forward and sent a troop into the village to assist 2/60th whilst the remainder of the Regiment were together further North. During the day C Sqn had taken up a commanding position on high ground and accounted for several enemy vehicles attempting to escape.

During the
Casualties:-
2 officers killed and 8 ORs killed.
4 ORs missing.7 ORs wounded.

And on the following day

19/8/44 C Sqn took the lead and continued to advance to the high ground South of ROUFIGNY and overlooking the escape road. A/Tk fire was soon encountered and 2 tanks knocked out. The fire came from the area of FRENAY LE BUFFARD 160624 and this was subjected to arty concentrations and was heavily smoked whilst the advance continued. In the afternoon the Regiment was withdrawn before the final objective was reached. Considerable quantities of enemy transport etc. were accounted for both by the tanks and B Bty 4th RHA and a number of guns were destroyed in the village of ROUFIGNY by the 2/60th KRR.
Claims for 18th & 19th Aug:-

2 Mark IV special tanks
1 Beetle Tank
2 Mark IV SP
5 75mm A/Tk guns
1 Mark III SP
1 50mm A/Tk gun
1 Tank (unidentified)
2 Half tracked vehs
1 88mm A/Tk gun
2 A/Tk guns (unidentified)
1 French SP
Sundry lorries and cars
Casualties:- 1 OR wounded.

1:50,000 map showing movement of B Sqn 3rd/4th CLY 18th Aug 1944
1:50,000 map showing movement of B Sqn 3rd/4th CLY 18th Aug 1944
Viewpoint  1 (Google Streetview)
Viewpoint 1 (Google Streetview)

 

Viewpoint  2 (Google Streetview)
Viewpoint 2 (Google Streetview)
Viewpoint 3 (Google Streetview)
Viewpoint 3 (Google Streetview)

The ten men in row B of plot IV in Banneville-la-Campagne were killed in the frontal attack on Roufigny. This village was in a hollow down the escarpment, quite a tough task for an armoured unit. B Squadron, seem to have been unlucky on the 18th, losing ten dead and ten wounded from the five tanks knocked out, while C Sqn suffered one wounded from the two tanks knocked out on the 19th.. The mortality rate of casualties was around 25% for the campaign as a whole, so ten dead from 20 casualties may reflect some catastrophic events such as two tanks brewing and incinerating their crew – a horrific prospect.

This operation was a success for 4th Armoured Brigade. Besides the CLY claims listed in the war diaries, the brigade captured 3,000 prisoners.

3rd/4th CLY tank with German Prisoners August 1944
3rd/4th CLY tank with German Prisoners August 1944

The War Diary of 4th Armoured Brigade’s gunners, 4 RHA is evidence of the artillery fire-power inflicted on the Germans. (4)

“Aug 18 The 2IC went at once to Bde and got the form that the Bde was to push down the road running SSE frm Falaise to join in a general beat up of enemy tpt retreating east. Canadians, Poles, French and Americans were also to take part. The Regiment came into action about two miles south of Falaise and immediately had some wonderful shooting. OP s were continually calling for regimental and higher targets. We also had an Air OP up who had very good observation indeed, and there was so much to shoot at that it was difficult for him to choose one target from another. The 2IC, who was at Tac 4 Armd Bde, also had two reps (one from a fd regiment and one from a medium regiment sitting with him and he managed to wear out two medium guns. At one time there were three shoots going over the regimental frequency at the same time.
Aug 19 Another good day with plenty of observed and predicted shooting
Regt fired 800 rpg during these two days.”

The role that the British Army played in the Falaise Pocket is often ignored as the battle tends to focus on the impact of the air forces and they the controversy about whether the British did enough to prevent more Germans escaping. Roy Suzuki and his comrades in row B Plot IV are a testimony to the keenness of Carver to push on, the willingness and competence of the Germans to defend the flanks of the pocket and the difficulties of removing determined well armed men in good defensive terrain. They are also a reminder that arrows on tactical maps translate into handfuls of weary men faced with moving forwards towards a series of ambushes.

I’d like to know more about Roy Suzuki. I don’t know when he joined the army and whether there were any obstacles placed on the children of Japanese as there were the Germans and Italians. Maybe he joined up before Pearl Harbour. When I mentioned the Japanese British to Gordon Corrigan yesterday at the Battlefields Trust lunchtime lecture yesterday he told me that he know of at least one other. This man served in the Dorset Regiment he was the son of a Japanese musician who was travelling and working in Britain at the outbreak of war. He joined up when everyone else did. How many other Japanese or Anglo Japanese served in the British forces in the Second World War?

References

1. 12 Corps G War Diary August 1944 Appendix B HS/WD/NWE/159/1/H quoted in: Cabinet Papers: Liberation Campaign In North West Europe Phase 4 The Break Out And The Advance To The Crossing Of The Seine 16 June -29 August 1944
2. Patrick Delaforce: Monty’s Marauders
3. http://www.sharpshooters.org.uk/news/item.aspx?id=27
4. 4 RHA War Diary August 1944
5. http://www.mapmanusa.com/images/book-maps/rick-atkinson-guns-at-last-light-falaise-pocket.jpg

More about battlefield tours to Normandy here

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Frank Baldwin holds Badge No 8 of the Guild of Battlefield Guides
Frank Baldwin holds Badge No 8 of the Guild of Battlefield Guides

The Forgotten Anti Tank Gunners of St Pierre

 

The climax of the film “Saving Private Ryan” is set in a village in Normandy, a few days after D Day. A small group of American paratroops are under attack from all directions by German heavy tanks, and are saved by an air attack. Saving Private Ryan is fiction. However, on 9-10th June, four days after D Day, in true life, a similar drama took place in the village of St Pierre separated by the river Seulles from the town of Tilly Sur Seulles.

On 8th June the 8th Armoured Brigade seized the high ground North of St Pierre, Point 103 in a rapid move. The reason for the significance of Point 103 is that it gives good visibility to the South, despite the hedges of the bocage country. This move coincided with the attack North by the Panzer Lehr division, the best equipped of the German Panzer divisions. This formation had 250 tanks and assault guns and could mount all its infantry in the 635 armoured half track APCs it possessed. Over the next five days the fighting would rage around St Pierre and point 103.

Map showing the fighting in the St Pierre area 9-10 June 1944. (1) the attack by 8th DLI supported by 24L 1745-2100 hrs 9th June (2) German counter attack 0615-0800 hrs 10 June (3) Counterattack 0845-1100hrs 10 June.(4) German attack on Pt 103 evening 10 June
Map showing the fighting in the St Pierre area 9-10 June 1944. (1) the attack by 8th DLI supported by 24L 1745-2100 hrs 9th June (2) German counter attack 0615-0800 hrs 10 June (3) Counterattack 0845-1100hrs 10 June.(4) German attack on Pt 103 evening 10 June

During the evening of 9th the 8th Battalion Durham Light Infantry, supported by the 24th Lancers and 147 Field Regiment captured St Pierre where they were joined by two troops of 288 Anti Tank Battery equipped with 6 Pdr guns. The route to St Pierre South from Point 103 was over bare slopes and the troops in the village were subject to attacks from three sides.

On 10th June the Germans attacked St Pierre shortly after first light at 0700 hours. This was beaten off by 8 DLI with the support of 24 L and 147 Fd Regt. St Pierre was partially overrun, one of the FOO’s Lt Sayer, was killed and Maj C H Gosling, BC 511 Bty and three other FOOs were wounded. The tanks of the 24 Lancers withdrew up to Point 103 to take up hull down positions.

288 ATk Bty’s guns withdrew, some of the gunners fighting on as infantry. When ordered to withdraw by the infantry company which they were supporting Sgt Down (1), from Ashington Northumberland, refused to leave his gun as “his duty was to kill tanks”. Keeping LBdr Gilmour, his layer, with him, he sent the rest of his detachment back and then proceeded to knock out the only tank that appeared on his front, for which he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) and LBdr Gilmour the Military medal (MM). The citation to Sgt Down’s DCM states that his courage and example helped to restore the confidence of the infantry at a critical moment, enabling them to re-establish their position. Later the same day Sgt Down was ordered to take his gun forward and destroy an enemy armoured SP gun. He appears to have carried out a recce on foot then manoeuvred his gun forward unseen and destroyed the enemy. Sgt Down had already made his mark as an aggressive soldier by undertaking several patrols hunting snipers on the night of the 8th June. The next day an enemy tank closed into a covered position where it could not be engaged by Sgt Down’s 6 Pdr. He then stalked the tank with a hand held PIAT and hit it at 30 yards range forcing it to withdraw. (2)

On the other side of the village, Sgt Seaton had to move his gun forward to engage the tanks that were troubling him and after being wounded, had to leave his gun; but he and his layer, Gnr Beresford, later returned to the gun and hit a tank which stopped firing then withdrew; they were both awarded the MM, as was Bdr Hinder who knocked out one tank and forced another to withdraw.(3)

Throughout, Lt Brameld, the troop commander had remained forward, giving advance warning of the approach of tanks. At one point Brameld found that there were enemy tanks out of range of his 6 pdrs. He borrowed a 17pdr Sherman from a neighbouring armoured regiment and directed its fire from outside the tank whilst under small arms fire, until at least one and possibly two enemy tanks were destroyed. For this action he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO). (4) At 1130 hrs, to prevent the counter-attack being resumed, 147 Fd Regt surrounded St Pierre with defensive fire, while Air OPs directed the fire of HMS Orion and Argonaut on to targets in the area Tilly-Juvigny-Fontenay-le-Pesnel and fighter-bombers attacked German reinforcements moving towards Tilly.

6pounder_antitank
6 Pdr (57mm) Anti Tank Gun of the type used by 288 Battery at St Pierre.This gun could penetrate German Mk IV tanks and SP guns as well as the side armour of Mk V Panther tanks. The anti tank gunners of 50th Division preferred it to the much heavier and larger 17 Pdr(76.mm) anti tank gun in the bocage country south of Bayeux

Later the same day 10 June the Panzer Lehr division launched an armuored attack on point 103, leaving 8 DLI surrounded in St Pierre and engaged the battalion from the North before returning South.  The fighting stabilised with the British holding St Pierre and the Germans holding Tilly with the river Seulles dividing the armies.

Unteroffizier Petrov of the Panzer Lehr Division described the effect of the artillery fire: “Early this morning we put in our attack. We had three SP guns under command. We attacked a village … as soon as we got beyond the village the artillery opened up and I’ll say there was some confusion. Oh, that certainly was not much fun … Then came a counter-attack by the English … After a long search we found our vehicles but the enemy planes found us and the artillery fire came down on us again. We proceeded in short bounds to Regimental Headquarters and await further orders … Shall I have to go forward again? Thank God we are staying here overnight.” (5)

The story of the anti tank gunners at St Pierre is largely missing from accounts of the battle of Normandy. The fighting around St Pierre is one of the battles covered in the battlefield studies undertaken by the Cadets at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, but the anti tank gunners have not formed part of the story. They aren’t in the history of 8 DLI. They aren’t even in the war diaries of 8 DLI or 102 Anti Tank Regiment, which illustrates the fallibility of war diaries. The author of the cabinet history of the Normandy campaign (CAB 44/246)collated from war diaries refers to the uncertainty about the identity of the anti tank battery in support of 8 DLI only mentioned as 288 battery in the 8th Armoured Brigade War Diaries. The citations for the awards for Lt Bramald, Sgts Down and Seaton, Bdr Hinder, LBdr Gilmour and Gnr Beresford were all recommended by the CO 102 Atk Regiment commanders and supported by the CRA 50 Div, and approved by the GOC 50 Div and Corps commander.

There is a need for the story of the anti tank gunners to be told properly. There has been an academic debate about the proportion of anti tank gunners and their role started by the paper by Dr John Peaty entitled “Ubiquitous and Unnecessary? Anti-tank and anti-aircraft artillery in the NW Europe campaign.(6) That is a question which is loaded in the absence of a proper account of their contribution.

The action at St Pierre was controversial. Brigadier James Hargest, the New Zealand observer to 21 Army Group, wrote a report before his death in action in August1944 which was very critical of the British infantry. He wrote that 8DLI ran away and ther village had to be retaken. The report is heavily quoted by Carlo ‘Este and Max Nastings in their books on the Normandy campaign. It is obvious from the citations that there was an unauthorised withdrawal by some infantry, and this would have been known by the divisional and corps commanders. This does not mean that the story in the DLI Regimental history wrong, merely that it isn’t the whole truth. The fact that some infantry ran, does not detract from the deeds of those who stayed to fight or counter attacked.  8 DLI took nearly 200 casualties in the battle. Eight MMs and an MC were awarded to the battalion for this action..

This article arose from research undertaken to complete the Official History of the Royal Artillery in the Normandy Campaign started by the late Major Will Townend.  

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If you would like to visit the site of this battle or other places and hear the story from the Gunner point of view visit www.gunnertours.com

Notes:

1  London Gazette 31 August 1944  The Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) was (until 1993) an extremely high level award for bravery. It was a second level military decoration awarded to other ranks of the British Army and formerly also to non-commissioned personnel of other Commonwealth countries. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Distinguished_Conduct_Medal)

2  London Gazette 31 August 1944

The Military Medal (MM) was (until 1993) a military decoration awarded to personnel of the British Army and other services, and formerly also to personnel of other Commonwealth countries, below commissioned rank, for bravery in battle on land.  The MM ranked below the MC and the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM), which was also awarded to non-commissioned members of the Army.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_Medal

3  London Gazette 31 August 1944

4  London Gazette 31 August 1944.  The Distinguished Service Order tended to be awarded to officers in command, above the rank of Captain. A number of more junior officers were awarded the DSO, and this was often regarded as an acknowledgement that the officer had only just missed out on the award of the Victoria Cross.  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Distinguished_Service_Order)

5.  Panzers in Normandy

6.  BCMH Summer Conference 2009: