Vulgar Fractions – Why was it the 1/4th Essex Regiment?

The 1/4th Essex Regiment   fought at Monte Cassino
The 1/4th Essex Regiment fought at Monte Cassino

Why was it that some units in the British Army of WW2 had some kind of fraction in their designation?  There was the 1/4th battalion of the Essex Regiment at Monte Cassino, along with the 1/9th Gurkha Rifles and 4/6 Rajput Rifles.  There were the 13/18th Hussars and the 16/5th Lancers and artillery  batteries such as 9/16 and 17/43 which made 7th Field Regiment.

2nd_City_of_London_Battalion,_Royal_Fusiliers._Recruits_required_at_once_to_complete_this_fine_battalion_LCCN2003668164
2nd (City of London Battalion) Royal Fusiliers in WW2 was known as the 12th Battalion the Royal Fusiliers

Nor does there seem any consistency.  56 (London) Division in 1944 had three fractions in 169 Brigade (2/5/2/6/ and 2/7th battalions of the Queens Royal Regiment) but no fractions in 167 Brigade ( 8 & 9th battalions the Royal Fusiliers and the 7th Battalion the Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry)

Many armies use a “fraction”  the slash or  “/” sign as part of a unit designation.  This 1/16 Infantry in the US Army can be assumed to stand for the 1st battalion of the 16th Infantry Regiment.  In the German army I/Panzer Regiment 22, with a Roman number”I”   would be the   first abteilung  (Battalion) of  Panzer Regiment number 22.  Even more helpfully, each company within a Regiment of three battalions would be lettered in the US Army or numbered in the German army consecutively within a three battalion Regiment. So Easy Company is a rifle company in a US Regiment’s

13/18th Hussars formed from the amalgamation of the 13th and 18th Hussars
13/18th Hussars formed from the amalgamation of the 13th and 18th Hussars

second battalion and  7./ GR 736 would be the third infantry company in Grenadier Regiment 736.   Logical and straightforward once you understand which companies get their own letter and number. (HQ company  no, fire support company yes)

The British Army is frightfully tribal and adopts in house conventions to confuse and exclude.  The “fraction”  named battalions in the British Infantry were a convention from the First World War which was carried forward in some cases.  

D D Tanks of the 13/18th Hussars on D Day
D D Tanks of the 13/18th Hussars on D Day

The territorial army was originally part time troops to be mobilised to defend the British Isles, and the soldiers were not obliged to serve overseas.  In 1914 soldiers from the TA were asked if they would volunteer to serve overseas, Battalions were then split into two, a first line unit for overseas service and a second line unit that only served in the UK.  At the start of the Great War Those men from the 4th Battalion the Essex Regiment who volunteered for service overseas joined the 1/4 Essex and sailed for Gallipoli. Those that did not joined the 2/4th and  stayed in the UK.  During the war they changed the rules and anyone could be drafted for overseas service and second line divisions appeared in France formed from the units of men who had not volunteered for overseas service.

Just before the start of WW2 the British government decided they would double the size of the TA by telling each unit to form a duplicate unit.  The 4th battalion the Essex Regiment raised its duplicates as the 1/4 and 2/4 Essex, but without any difference in terms of service. Not every regiment  numbered its duplicates this way.  The duplicates of the 8th (1st City of London) and 9th(2nd City of London) battalions of the  Royal Fusiliers were known as the 11th and 12th battalions RF .

1 Bms - Plaque PL00153The Australians also had “fractional ” units in WW2.  These are units like 2/2 Field artillery or 2/18th infantry. In this case the “2” means that there had been a 2nd Field artillery and 18th infantry battalion in 1914-18 and this was the second time this unit had been formed. i.e. for the 2nd World War,

The Indian Army fractions resulted from decisions to amalgamate the many single battalion regiments of the Indian Army. This took place for Gurkha Regiments in 1908., and in the 1920s for other units.

0036-000-560-000The “Vulgar fraction” cavalry Regiments 4/7 Dragoon Guards, 9/12 lancers,13/18 Hussars, 16/5 and  17/21 Lancers are the result of amalgamations. (It is 16/5L and not 5/16L because the 5th disgraced themselves and lost seniority)

British artillery regiments didn’t have fractions – but batteries did for the first few years of WW2.  In 1938 the army decided to stretch its pool of artillery officers as far as it could by merging two six gun batteries to form a 12 gun field  battery,(or 8 gun RHA or Medium battery)  saving a major and technical specialists that could be used to build another unit.  So 51 and 54 batteries merged to become 51/54 battery and A and E Battery became A/E Battery.  At this time the gunners did remove one one cause of confusion, by renaming the Lieutenant Colonel’s command, known up to that point as a “brigade” of artillery batteries as a “regiment” which was consistent with the rest of the army.

These soldiers from 105/109 battery RAphotographed in a  POW camp
These soldiers from 105/109 battery RA photographed in a POW camp

Artillery batteries would have their own number or letter, but troops across a Regiment would be lettered alphabetically by seniority.  So 147 (Essex Yeomanry) Field Regiment was made up of  413,(A & B Troops)  431 (C &D Troops), 511 (E & F Troops)  Though sometimes there were inconsistencies when Batteries were reorganised from three troops to two some gaps might appear.

There was some possible confusion for the unwary as some lettered RHA batteries were also known by an honorific name as a “troop” – i.e. A Battery Chestnut Troop, N Battery (The Eagle Troop) and O Battery the Rocket Troop. At least post war, and possibly during the war, lettered batteries tended to call their troops by something other than a simple letter, possibly the battery founder “Leslie’s” in N Battery or a hero such as Bogue or Dancy in O Battery. L battery’s troops post war were “Bradbury” and “Dorrell” after two VC winners.  During 1940, L/N Battery RHA were a combined  battery with L and N Troops – which might also have been technically C and D troops of 2 RHA.

On top of this the Regimental system could be turned on its head and infantrymen could be converted into the armoured corps and cavalrymen could become gunners and the gunners become infantry.

2/5th Gurkha Rifles remain a vulgar fraction in the modern Indian Army
2/5th Gurkha Rifles remain a vulgar fraction in the modern Indian Army

For example, the 7th Battalion the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment was converted from an infantry battalion to become a Light AA regiment.  As 92nd  (7th Loyals)  LAA Regt RA it landed on D day and defending Pegasus bridge from air attack.  The Essex Yeomanry, the old volunteer horse from  Essex  were converted to artillery in the 1920s and  landed on D Day as SP Gunners 147 Essex Yeomanry RA.  This was the duplicate of 104 (Essex Yeomanry) RHA which styled itself Horse artillery and fought in North Africa.

Two units with broadly the same history might end up being designated is a different way. The 10th (3rd City of London) battalion Royal Fusiliers was converted to a searchlight unit in 1938 becoming 69 searchlight Regiment Royal Engineers   (Royal Fusiliers) TA in 1938 and then in Aug 1940 to 69 Searchlight Regiment RA (RF) TA as responsibility for searchlights was transferred to the gunners.  Its title retains the mention of Royal Fusiliers.  However, the 4th City of London battalion the London Regiment which had been converted to AA artillery in 1935 was the 60th  (City of London ) AA Brigade RA until 1939 when it became 60th  (City of London ) AA Regiment RA.  No mention of Fusiliers, but the “City of London” has been retained.

royal_household_cavalry_london_england_bumper_sticker-r722698c151b54368952152374170460c_v9wht_8byvr_324141 Regiment R.A.C. (The Buffs) was formed from 7th Battalion the Buffs and retained their own dragon cap badge, but in RAC silver.  This unit crewed crocodile flame throwers supporting British Canadian and US units in NW  Europe.

Some of these units retained their old cap badge or badges, flashes. Others did not.   Some infantry battalions  units had lettered sub-units from A-D for all their battalions, while some might have different letters, say WXYZ, or consecutively letter their companies or even platoons across their regular battalions. Thus D Company of 2nd Battalion the Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light infantry, which captured Pegasus bridge  had platoons numbered in the high twenties.

Simple really…

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King Louis the First of England!

File:BitvaLincoln1217ortho.jpgKing Louis the First of England!

Prince Louis of France was invited by the rebel barons to become king of England following King John’s refusal to accept the Magna Carta he had sealed at Runnymede. Over 200 castles in England were besieged, by the rebel barons or King John’s forces, in what became the First Barons’ War. This aimed to safeguard the rights, privileges and liberties of the clergy and the nobles as enshrined in the Magna Carta, but spilt out into a dynastic war for the English throne. This was only settled with the death of King John, and his succession by King Henry III. Even then, the dispute continued until the end of the century.

The Battles and Sieges

There were dozens of battles and sieges between 1214 and 1267.  This was an era of castles and sieges. Many of the castles still stand. At Rochester you can still see the damage caused by John’s army when it undermined the corner of the keep using the fat of 40 pigs to create a fire fierce enough to burn the props.    These are events populated by heroes, heroines and villains that could have been created by Hollywood.  There are princes fighting for their kingdom, wicked sherriffs, heroines, callous mercenaries, treacherous pirates and outlaws.   A summary of the main military events are here.

http://magnacarta800th.com/history-of-the-magna-carta/key-magna-carta-locations-1214-1267/

The Capture of Eustace the Monk: Mercenary, Pirate and Outlaw
The Capture of Eustace the Monk: Mercenary, Pirate and Outlaw

The Battlefields Trust is planning to create a Battlefield Trail covering the battles and sieges of the barons wars. This will be a major project and be timed to coincide with the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta as well as the 750th Anniversary of the Siege of Lewes. The Battlefields Trust is a member of Magna Carta 800. One of the most exciting developments is the inclusion of battlefields in the Magna Carta 800 Trail being developed for Vist England. This is the first time it has been possible to promote Britain’s Battlefield heritage as part of a tourism strategy.

If you want to help with this project contact Edward  Dawson Project Director at the Battlefields Trust. magnacarta800@battlefieldstrust.com    See more here  http://www.battlefieldstrust.com/page136.asp

British Battlefields has been set up to promote and organise visits to British military heritage. It will be offering battlefield tours to the battlefields of Magna Carta.  Brit_Bat_logo_lores

 

26 Regiment, BAOR and the Cold War

The Inner German Border
26 Regiment RA at the Inner German Border; once a death strip covered by mines and automatic shotguns, now part of a European Green-way. Note the Captain General’s Baton to the right of the sponsor’s banner.

In June 2015, a  party from 26 Regiment, based in Guetersloh,   Germany, carried out Exercise Mansergh NorthAG,  a battlefield study of the Cold War   battlefields of Western Germany and Berlin. This was their leg in Ubique 300 taking the Captain General’s Baton everywhere the Royal Regiment of Artillery served in the past three centuries.

Overlooking  Lutter-am-Barenberg, two officers give their terrain analysis of the Hainberg feature north of the Harz mountains
Overlooking Lutter-am-Barenberg, two officers give their terrain analysis of the Hainberg feature north of the Harz mountains

Fortunately,  the armed forces of NATO and the Warsaw Pact never came into armed conflict, but for nearly 50 years this is where armies planned to fight at short notice. The North IMG_1210German Plain is one

of the few places where it is possible to study how the Britain and its allies would fight against a modern well equipped army.  It is sobering to consider how chemical and tactical nuclear weapons might have been used, and how and why they were replaced by more effective precision weapons.

26 Regt Gun No1 describes how he would deploy AS 90 in the villages around the Bockenem bowl
26 Regt Gun No1 describes how he would deploy AS 90 in the villages around the Bockenem bowl

There were casualties including fatalities. Hundreds of Germans died trying to escape Eastern Germany in addition to servicemen and women injured in training.  The marks of the divided city of  Berlin are evidence of the human and economic cost and a reminder of the psychological and intelligence war that took place throughout these decades.

It was fascinating and impressive to see how the soldiers of the modern army explored the past, considered the lessons for the current day and how to apply them in the future.

Ferry site across the Weser, It featured heavily in exercises but was an alternative crossing had the Soviets captured or destroyed other crossings.
Ferry site across the Weser at Grossenwieden.  This featured heavily in exercises, as can be seen in the video from Ex United Shield 2008.  

In wartime it would  have been an alternative crossing had the Soviets captured or destroyed other crossings.

39 Heavy Regiment Veteran of Ex Iron Hammer talks about service in the Cold War in the village of Bierbergen  on the North German Plain "Pin Table" east of Hannover. The Zur Linde has a photo on the wall of the landlady as a young woman sitting on the back of an RTR Chieftain tank.
39 Heavy Regiment Veteran of Ex Iron Hammer talks about service in the Cold War in the village of Bierbergen  on the North German Plain “Pin Table” east of Hannover. The Zur Linde has a photo on the wall of the landlady as a young woman sitting on the back of an RTR Chieftain tank.

It is a forgotten battlefield, not least because the mainly classified documents associated with the Cold War were destroyed as part of the peace dividend in the 1990s.

 It was only possible to assemble the information to carry out the study with support from many retired soldiers and officers who taxed their brains to retrieve what were once state secrets. Many thanks to Generals Mungo Melvin, Jonathan Bailey and John Milne and to the various RA Regimental associations, in particular the 50 Missile Association.

The Brandenburg Gate - the symbol of a divided city

The Brandenburg Gate – the symbol of a divided city

Major Simon Fittock, the exercise director, gave his view:-

“I requested Frank’s assistance to deliver a battlefield study, based on the ‘Functions in Combat’ that was designed to look at the Cold War and specifically the multinational Northern Army Group (NORTHAG) centred around the North/Central area of Hannover, West Germany. The tour also visited Berlin to continue its studies of the Information and Intelligence Wars.

Model of the Stasi buildings inside the old Stasi HQ
Model of the Stasi buildings inside the old Stasi HQ

Right from the off Frank’s engaging style kicked in. His impromptu introduction on the coach during the journey to our first stand set the context fantastically,

An aircraft of the Berlin airlift
An aircraft of the Berlin airlift

bringing the scenario to life and immediately putting the troops in the era and whilst relating his own memories to our current dispositions and our approach to the very high readiness lifestyle that those in the 70-80’s lived through.

IMG_1200His insight into the era, having lived through exercises and deployments, combined with an acute ability to translate the issues into modern day language and engage with all ranks worked fantastically.

I cannot recommend him highly enough and will certainly be using him again in the future.”

One of the results of this exercises is that we have assembled a useful collection of information and documents about the Cold War. If anyone is interested in studying this period either in Germany or the UK contact Gunner Tours.

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Airborne Gunners In Crete

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

8 km

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

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

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

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

These are the questions considered by the syndicates:-.

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

Crete_TOP_6
One of the Bofors guns abandoned in 1941

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

Syndicate C: The German COIN problem: the similarities and

Suda Bay Commonwealth War Cemetery
Suda Bay Commonwealth War Cemetery

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

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

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

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“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.

8h May 1915_LR
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.

Indian_10_pounder_mountain_gun_and_crew_Gallipoli_AWM_C02073
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.

11th May 1915_LR
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

China’s War with Japan – Rana Mitter, winner of the Duke of Westminster Award

china_war_with_JapanYesterday Dr Rana Mitter gave the lecture after receiving the Duke of Westminster Prize for Military History at RUSI for his book “China’s war with Japan 1937-1945- the Struggle for Survival” . His is fascinating not only does it tell the story of what has been a neglected corner, but it is also has much to say about the background to current day geo-politicval issues in Asia.

Much has been written about various turning points in WW2,. Such as the British decision, under Churchill, to fight on in 1940. Just as important was the decision by the Chinese Nationalist government to continue fighting after much of their country had been over-run. Had the Chinese surrendered in 1940, there would have been no quagmire holding down Japanese troops which could have been used in South East Asia , against British India or the Soviet Union. It is humbling to realise that the London Blitz started over a year after the sustained Japanese bombing of the Chinese temporary capital at Chongqing, – or Chungking as it was then known in English. Nor that the date 4th May 1919 was the 20th anniversary of a key date in Chinese history, the massed demonstrations in favour of modernisation. Nor was I aware that the Chinese Nationalist government were influenced by the Beveridge report which set out the post war welfare state.

It was particularly interesting to hear about who modern China has acknowledged the story of the nationalist Chinese part in the Second World War. How books films and ceremonies now commemorate events which could never have been mentioned a few years ago. For example. The hundred thousand Chinese soldiers who fought in Burma received no pensions or acknowledgement, of which around eighty are still alive. This year a memorial is being erected to their memory. It is a whole new dimension to the term “Forgotten army”

The conclusion of the lecture and the talk concerned the implications of modern China embracing the history of the war  against Japan.    China was one of the big four allies.  It paid a heavy price to survive and win.    It did not obtain the same territorial advantages gained by the USA and USSR.  Nor was there the same accommodation with the defeated enemies.  There is a sense of unfinished business.

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

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

 Private 6710 Whittemore Sidney JPM 6 Nov 1914

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

Lieutenant Frederick Whittemore MC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

19833 Private Whittemore C Bedfordshire Regiment

whittemore 4th Beds

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

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

He may have served alongside Charles Laughton.

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

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

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

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Was the Gunner buried on Omaha Beach the original 007?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Join one of the Gunner Tours to Normandy this year.

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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

IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF A COUNTY REGIMENT IN NORMANDY

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

STRONG POINT COD – SWORD BEACH

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

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

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

VER SUR MER

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

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

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

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

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

HerouvilleHEROUVILLE

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

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

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

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

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

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

AUGUST 1944

breakout_49_div
Map showing the breakout battles of 49th Div

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

THE COST

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Row of Lincolnshire Regiment graves Ranville CWC.

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

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

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

A CUSTOMISED BATTLEFIELD STUDY FOR ANY CAP BADGE?

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

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

 

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