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

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

The exercise aims included the following:-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SATURDAY AFTERNOON – 107 MEDIUM REGIMENT ON THE ROAD TO FALAISE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

handout overall The A3 double sided annotated map includes:-

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

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

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

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

The Sheriff of Lincoln a “very cunning, bad hearted and vigorous old woman”

What is the connection between the unusual officer holder of a Plantagenet Local Goverment Position, the Second Battle of Lincoln and Utah Beach in Normandy?
Funerary effigy of King John, Worcester Cathedra
Funerary effigy of King John, Worcester Cathedra

The answer is a woman, Nicholaa de la Haye. Chatelaine of Lincoln Castle and Sherriff of Lincoln, described by the anonymous contemporary French Chronicler from Bethune as a “very cunning, bad hearted and vigorous old woman”  Nicholaa was a remarkable medieval woman who played a significant part in the Second Battle of Lincoln, 20 May 1217, the turning point of the First Barons War.

Nicholaa de la Haye is thought to have been born between 1150 and 1155 into a Lincolnshire family which claims to have owned the Barony of Brattlesby since pre Norman times. Nicholaa outlived two husbands, William FitzEmeis, who died in c. 1178, and Gerard de Camville, who died in c. 1215. The closing months of King John’s reign and the opening years of King Henry III’s minority not only saw her directing the royalist defence of Lincoln castle against the supporters of the French Prince Louis but also saw he created sheriff of the county of Lincoln. (1) The story of Robin Hood, and its villain the Sherrif of Nottingham gives an insight into the life of a Plantagenet local government official. Nicholaa was involved in seizing land from rebels and taking and moving hostages.   However she might be described in heroic terms by the Royal party as the manful defender”, she was King John’s servant and carrying out some of his dirty work.

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Nicholaa de-La-Haye was a benefactor of Castle Acre Priory in Norfolk.

The De La Haye Family took its name from La Haye-du-Puits in the Manche department on the Cotentin peninsular. Her second husband Gerard de Camville had commanded King Richard’s fleet and his family name was from an area near la Haye-du-Puits. Nicholaa’s family inheritance included land in Poupeville and Varreville in Normandy, on what would be the rear exits from Utah Beach. The lands in France were ultimately settled to Nicholaa’s sister Julia and her husband, which may have removed the potential for conflicting loyalties as King John had lost Normandy to the king of France in 1204.

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Lincoln Castle

20 May is the 797th anniversary of the second Battle of Lincoln. which was fought around Lincoln Castle on 20th May 1217. The battle was fought between the forces of the future Louis VIII of France and those of King Henry III of England, in what is known as the First Baron’s War. This conflict lasted from 1215-17 and arose in the aftermath of the signing of Magna Carta. King John repudiated the Carta and the Barons invited Prince Louis to England to depose King John. After the death of John ion October 1216, his faction fought in the name of the infant King Henry III. By May 1217 the French forces were as far North as Lincoln. Lincoln Castle itself was held for the Royalist party by Nicholaa de la Haye.

BitvaLincoln1217ortho
Illustration of the Battle of Lincoln. thought to show the death of the Compte de Peche.

Louis’ forces were attacked by a relief force under the command of William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke. One of the most famous soldiers of his day. The Comte du Perche, commanding the French troops, was killed and this heavy defeat led to Louis being expelled from his base in the southeast of England. This event is known as “Lincoln Fair” after the looting that took place afterwards. The citizens were loyal to Louis so Henry’s forces  sacked the city, which was regarded as being pro rebel.

Lincoln Castle is still preserved and as the site of one of the extant copies of Magna Carta.

Local tradition holds that this C13th funerary effigy is of Nicolaa de-la-Haye who died in 1230. The late C13th clothing suggests it might be a niece instead
Local tradition holds that this C13th funerary effigy is of Nicolaa de-la-Haye who died in 1230. The late C13th clothing suggests it might be a niece instead

There is a further Normandy battlefield connection. Nicholaa’s lands included Folkingham, the site of one of the airfields used by the US 82nd Airborne division in September 1944 for their airborne landings in the Netherlands

The sites of associated with Magna Carta and the are barons wars check the Magna Carta 800th Website

For more information on visiting the battlefield of Lincoln, and other sites from the Barons’ wars contact British Battlefields.

  1. PD D Thesis by Louise Jane Wilkinson Thirteenth Century Women in Lincolnshire.
  2. Anonymous of Bethune

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More on the battle here 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

U boat conningtower
U 534 preserved in Birkinhead

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

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

Unknownsailor
Tower Hill Merchant Marine Memorial

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

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

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