Tag Archives: WW2

Firepower on Omaha Beach : A new Interpretation

Planned counter battery bombardment Operation Neptune

“1. The aerial bombardment and Naval Gun Fire failed to reduce the German fortifications and failed to neutralise enemy artillery and machine gun fire.
2. A German Infantry Division thought to have been in reserve around St Lo had moved up the beach defenses on a “maneuver” and added materially to the opposition.
….. things had not gone altogether as planned. Items 1 and 2 were chiefly responsible and particularly 1…..Those bluffs were captured and those exits opened solely through the plain undaunted heroism of the infantry the 1st and 29th Divisions and their attached engineer teams”[i]
This is an extract from the report by Colonel E G Paules the Engineer member of the War Department Observers Board after visiting Omaha Beach on D +6. Many would agree with Colonel Paules’ verdict, especially the heroism and initiative of the infantry and engineers.  The same sentiments can be found in the official history.  The failure of the aerial and naval bombardment to neutralise defences of Omaha Beach remains controversial.  But a re-examination of critical data about D Day reveals a different interpretation of what happened on Omaha Beach on D Day.

One problem in studying the story of Omaha Beach is that there is still only sketchy information about the true strength of the German defences at Omaha Beach.  Some aspects  are extremely well documented.  The positions on the bluffs and beach have been documented in create detail over the years. We even know the names and faces of the individual German soldiers defending some positions. Much less is known or documented about the artillery support for the same defenders. Artillery was the dominant lethal arm in the twentieth century, responsible for well over half of all casualties.  The US Official History made no attempt to locate artillery positions that were not on the coast or in the Op Neptune Target List.  Even modern detailed studies such as Stephen Badsey and Tim Bean’s Battle Omaha Beach Zone Normandy[ii] and Peter Caddick Adams’ Sand and Steel[iii] are vague about the German guns.

TO WHAT EXTENT WAS THE D DAY AERIAL AND NAVAL GUN FIRE A FAILURE.

General Kraiss the commander of 352nd Infantry Division, killed in August 1944. . Much of the information we know about the German side of the battle is from the post war interrogation of his chief of Staff.

George A Harrison in the US  Official History “Cross Channel Attack”[iv] described the beach drenching bombardment as “Generally ineffective”, against an enemy that was twice as numerous, unexpectedly strong and included soldiers from a different and higher quality formation than they had expected to face. Harrison mentions this faulty intelligence as a curious failing.[v]

The D Day naval bombardment plan worked – up to a point.  The planners knew that the preliminary bombardment would not destroy all, or even the majority of, the German defences. Precision guided munitions had not been invented in 1944. There was nothing in the Allies armoury that could eliminate the hardened concrete bunkers and shelters which were the framework of the defences. The bombardment might destroy a proportion of the defenders weapons, as well as disrupting communications and keep the defenders heads down long enough for the assaulting infantry to close with them.

This was shared down the chain of command, and there are several accounts of briefings before D-Day with gloomy estimates of up to 80% losses by the assault troops.

Omaha Beach from the artillery Observation post at WN62

The aerial bombardment by the heavy day bombers of the Eight Air Force was a key part of the bombardment plan. To make up for the short naval bombardment 327 B24four engine heavy day bombers were scheduled to drop 13,000 bombs on the Omaha Beach defences. However, one consequence of the decision to launch the operation in marginal weather conditions was that the heavy bombers would have to bomb blind through cloud. As a safety measure the point of aim adjusted 1000yards inland, with the hope that some bombs would fall on the defences, and the knowledge that most would not.[vi]

Harrison acknowledges that the preparatory navel bombardment did have some effect, including the detonations of minefields and destruction of enemy rockets.[vii] The testimony of one of the best-known German survivors, Franz Gockel described how the trigger mechanism for flame throwers were destroyed by the bombardment.[viii]

German tactical map captured by the US Army. The named blocks on the beaches were pre-registered artillery targets for which firing data had been at least partially calculated.

There is information that can help to understand more. Immediately after D Day British 21st Army Group Operations Research scientists carried out a series of studies to check the effectiveness of various allied tactics and technology- a sort of CSI Normandy. At the end of the war a study was made of the casualties and effects of fire Support on the British Beaches in Normandy, from which the authors deduced a model for casualties inflicted per weapons type using the concept of “machine gun equivalents” to compared mortars with machine guns . The study (AORG 261)drew the conclusion that the preliminary bombardment and drenching fire knocked out around 10-20% of weapons and reduced the effectiveness of machine guns by two thirds and mortars by three quarters.  By comparing casualties from beaches on which no reports of mortar fire with this with a mix of machine guns and mortars they could build a best fit model, 17-19 casualties per machine gun equivalent across the three British beaches.   For example, the 14 machine guns and seven mortars that could engage Sword beach should, under range conditions have resulted in 70% casualties among the assaulting infantry, but only inflicted around 22%. The German defensive fire was only one third as effective as it could have been, had no one been firing at them.[ix]

A follow up study comparing the British with Americans beaches (AORG 292 )drew the conclusion that the effects of machine gun fire had been reduced by about a half, which was less than on the British beaches because of the terrain and strength of the defences.[x]  However, this analysis was flawed because it assumed that German artillery had been neutralised by the naval and aerial bombardment.  We know this to be untrue from the testimony of American soldiers under bombardment and from the German records that the artillery under command 352nd Infantry Division had fired almost all of their first line stocks of ammunition.[xi]

One reason that the Omaha Beach story has missed the effects of German artillery is because the wartime fiction that the 352nd were at Omaha Beach on temporary maneuvers carried over into the post war narrative.

The Vth US Corps Plan was based on the assumptions that Omaha beach was defended by a single second rate infantry Regiment of the 716th Static division.[xii] Instead they faced soldiers under command of the 352nd Infantry Division, formed in late 1943 from around 2,0000 east front veterans and drafts of young recruits. In March 1944 Rommel, the German commander of the invasion front, had ordered the 352nd division to take over the Bayeux sector, between Asnelles and the river Vire. 352nd Division took command of the 726th (Static) Infantry Regiment and two of its three regiments of the 352 were superimposed over the existing defences, from the river Vire to Asnelles east of Arromanches.[xiii] War is a kind of democracy, the Germans had a say.

FAULTY ALLIED INTELLIGENCE

Allied plan showing faulty dispositions taken from 1945 “Omaha Beach”

Allied staffs were reluctant to admit that the intelligence picture was wrong. The highly detailed maps showing German defences and the awareness of senior commanders of Ultra intercepts gave a misleading impression of accuracy and reliability if not omniscience. However, allied intelligence was flawed. Ultra was of little help identifying details of gun pits and trenches or an enemy using line communications. It was easier to find concrete emplacements using a photo reconnaissance aircraft than camouflaged field positions. It was also hard to locate an enemy that they were not looking for. The target lists identified the positions of the 716th that they expected to find. They weren’t looking for the field positions occupied by the 352nd, and when they did find gun pits they assumed that they were for something else.

However, one explanation for disproportionate information about coastal defences is that the Germans made extensive use of French contractors to complete the fortifications on the coast, which also happened to be easily spotted by allied aircraft. The resistance may not have had the same access to the troops deploying into field positions inland, which were also much harder to spot from the air.

FIRE SUPPORT FOR THE GERMANS DEFENDING OMAHA BEACH

As regards Omaha beach itself, the defences were doubled, as an additional battalion deployed in the sector. The number of machine guns was doubled from some 40+ machine guns to 85.  V Corps estimated that there were some 24-36 field guns “completely integrated into the strong points along fifty miles of coast,” Instead thirty-six 10.5 cm howitzers and sixteen 15cm howitzers were deployed a few miles behind the coast in range of Omaha Beach, in addition to the artillery integrated within the coastal strongpoints.  There were seven batteries.

  • Three from 1st Battalion AR 352, (I/352) each equipped with four 10.5 cm German howitzers, marked as (1./352, 2./352 and 3./352)
  • Three from IVth Battlaion AR 352 each equipped with four 15cm German howitzers, marked as (7./352, 8./352 and 9./352)[xiv]
  • One from 10th Battery from Artillery Regiment 1716 (10./1716) equipped with four 15.5 cm (f) captured French howitzers.[xv]

Map

Map 1 This map drawn by ObserstLeutnant Ziegelmann in 1947 shows the artillery deployment in 352 divisional area. (Annex 16a to FMS 490)

1 shows the location of these batteries.[xvi] Map 2 is a German map which shows the detail of Omaha beach area and the ranges from 10./1716’s position. The map also shows the Omaha beach defences and three triangles marking the artillery observation posts on Omaha Beach. One for the 10./1716 and two from Artillery Regiment 352.  The 352 Divisional signals log includes reports from observations posts from each of I and IV/352 indicating that they were observing Omaha Beach.

This map shows the positions of some of the batteries behind Omaha Beach. At he centre of the map is 10th Battery AR 1716. Its observation post is shown by the black triangle just above the number 67.

Each howitzer was about three times as lethal as an MG 42 machine gun. A machine gun firing an average of 250 rounds per minute created a beaten zone some 25 wide by 250 meters long. A howitzer shell flung thousands of supersonic shell fragments up to 250 metres. A battery of four howitzers could deny an area 50m x 200m. British world war two figures estimate that ten rounds per gun would inflict 20%+ casualties on troops in the open crossing that area. The fragments from howitzers could reach men hiding behind cover such as the shingle bank.

28/32cm Schwer wurfgeräte 41 Metal frame containing four heavy rockets

The Germans had a further nasty surprise for the assault troops.  There were 38 pits each containing a wooden or steel frame, a 28/32cm  Schwer wurfgeräte or heavy throwing equipment.  Each frame held four unguided rockets, either 28cm containing 110 lb TNT high explosive or 32 cm incendiaries, containing 11 gallons of oil.  These had a short range , just over 2,000 yards and were very inaccurate.  A detachment of

84th Werfer Regiment are thought to have operated these at Omaha from position near the village of St Laurent.

The German 352nd Artillery Regiment fired almost all its first line ammunition on the morning of D Day. That is the best part of 225 rounds per 105cm Howitzer and 135 rounds per 15 cm Howitzer. 20 rounds per 105mm Howitzer would be enough to cause 20% casualties on a body of men caught under one of the 200m x 50m defensive barrages (according WW2 era calculations.)  But each battery could fire ten such concentrations before ammunition became perilously low.  By 10.00 ammunition was running low, in particular for the heavy battalion[xvii].[xviii]  The Artillery Regiment commander ordered ammunition to be conserved for emergency use – three rounds per gun only to support units under immediate attack.[xix]

The 15.5cm 414 f was a French WW1 vintage howitzer. It fired a 43.61 kg (100 lb) HE shell to a range of 11.3 km (7 mi). Four of these equipped the heavy 10th battery of Artillery Regiment 1716 deployed near Formigny.

Although strongly sited on commanding ground overlooking the beaches, the Omaha Beach defences were far from perfect. Even on this most strongly held beach, the defences were spread far thinly than normal. Infantry and anti-tank guns were sited on a forward slope where they could be engaged from the sea. The fortification programme was incomplete.  Only 15% of the fortifications in the 352nd Divisional area were bomb proof and 45% splinter-proof.. Many of the defenders were in field defences vulnerable to allied direct fire weapons on the beach or afloat. Furthermore, there was little depth.

Thirty eight pits like this containing wurfgerat 41 were dug in the St Laurent area behind Omaha Beach.

The big advantage the artilleryman of Artillery Regiment 352 had over the German infantrymen defending Omaha Beach was that they were not under fire. Return fire reduced weapon effectiveness by around two thirds. Over the course of D Day the number of assault troops would soon match and then outnumber the defenders and offshore naval firepower and tanks would eventually supress direct fire weapons targeting the beach. Previously hidden howitzers in the countryside up to five miles from the beach were not easy to find quickly on the morning of D Day. The gunners of Artillery Regiment 352 would not be under fire as they engaged in the industrial warfare of dispatching howitzer shells.

A REVISED MODEL OF WHAT HAPPENED

Reworking the British study referred to earlier, to include the seven batteries in range of Omaha Beach, with one howitzer equivalent to three machine guns results in a very similar figures to those modelled in the study of the British beaches.

I have assumed that all 28 howitzers fired on Omaha Beach.  We know Pluskat’s I/352 were firing. IV/352 was short of ammunition by 10.00 and was not firing at Gold or Utah beaches which were out of range.

Despite the claims of total ineffectiveness, we don’t know how many of the German weapons were damaged by the aerial bombardment.  Nor do we know how many of those weapons were fired.  The study of the British beaches found that a proportion of weapons were serviceable but had not been fired. There is no reason to believe that the naval bombardment at Omaha was delivered less effectively than on other beaches. Nor that the soldiers on Omaha Beach were less resistant to panic or the confusion of battle.

Table 1 Percentage of casualties caused by different weapons on Omaha Beach
Proportion of weapons on beach destroyed or unmanned by preliminary bombardment
Numbers of weapons (1) 0% 10% 20% 30% 40%
Machine guns 85 45% 43% 40% 38% 35%
Mortars 6 9% 9% 9% 8% 7%
Wurfergerate 41(2) 152 2% 2% 1% 1% 1%
105mm (3) 12 19% 20% 21% 23% 24%
150cm (3) 16 25% 27% 28% 30% 33%
Total Artillery 28 46% 48% 51% 54% 58%
Casualties per MG Equivalent (4) 15.8 16.7 17.8 19.0 20.3
Notes
1.  The number of machine guns and mortars are taken from AORG report 292. The number of artllery pieces is taken from Zetterling
2. The 152 Wurfergerate 41 is considered to be the equivalent of a mortar or artillery piece with 152 rounds of ammunition. The increased destructive power cancelled by inaccuracy.
3  Mortars and artillery calculated as three machine gun equivalents as per AORG 292
4. Total 3,000 casualties taken from AORG 292

The tables 1 models the distribution of casualties by weapon on D Day with assumptions of the effectiveness of the preliminary bombardment from having no effect at all, to 40% of weapons, the upper end of the AORG findings from British beaches.

There is still debate about the precise number of casualties on Omaha Beach. I have taken the figure of 3,000 from AORG 292. The leftmost figure for casualties per MG equivalent , assumes that the preliminary bombardment was totally ineffective, as is sometimes claimed.  If this were so, it would mean that if all of the weapons on Omaha Beach survived the bombardment they would be on average less effective than comparable machine guns or mortars on Gold or Sword beach.  It would seem more reasonable for the figure to be as high as the British beaches – which would assume that 10-20% of weapons were knocked out by the bombardment and 10-20% left unmanned – just as in the bombardments on the British beaches.

10.5 cm FH18 howitzer like these equipped the 1st Battalion of Artillery Regiment 352.. This fired a 14.81 kg (32.7 lb) (HE) to a range of 14.10,675 m (11,674 yd)

There is a rationale behind there being a similar average number of casualties inflicted by each machine gun. The allied forces on each beach landed with very similar forces, trained to a common standard using similar tactics supported by very similar forces off shore.  Is it unreasonable that across all of the individual engagements on the four beaches the number of casualties that a machine gun might inflict before being suppressed is similar?

There are of course a lot of assumptions in a simplistic model.  If you want to put in your own figures the model is here.

The key implication is that around half of the casualties on Omaha Beach were inflicted by artillery that had not been located before D Day; could not be engaged by the ships or armour landed on Omaha Beach. The casualties from artillery alone on Omaha Beach were probably higher than lost to all causes on any other beach.

Not as infamous as his brew-boy Hein Serveloh, Artillery Observer Bernard Ferking may have inflicted more casualties than the so called “Beast of Omaha”

The assault troops could do nothing about the rain of artillery shells until either the observation posts were captured or the Germans ran out of ammunition, which they did around lunchtime on 6th June. Allied air power did play a part, by interdicting German road movement inland.

HOW MUCH LOWER MIGHT CASUALTIES HAVE BEEN IF THE BOMBARDMENT WAS LONGER?

The bombardment on Omaha Beach lasted for a bare hour, an hour less than on the British beaches. The time of H Hour, the landings was determined by the tide, which reached low tide earlier at Omaha Beach. It has been argued that an additional hour of bombardment might have made a big difference to the number of casualties on Omaha Beach.  Modelling the effect of increasing the level of damage by a further 10-20%  shows a reduction in casualty numbers by perhaps 300-450, around 20% of the total historic casualties – but could have little effect on the undetected artillery.

WHAT IF THE NAVAL BOMBARDMENT HAD FOLLOWED THE PACIFIC WAR MODEL?

Some have argued that the Omaha Beach should have been prepared in the same way as the Japanese defences on the islands captured in 1944-45. A lengthy bombardment systematically demolishing the defences talking a week if necessary. This is similar to the tactics developed in the first world war and implemented at Vimy Ridge and Messines in 1917. While this would indeed demolish the beach defences, it would do little to neutralise the undiscovered artillery. Furthermore, it would give the Germans ample warning of the target area and allow them to concentrate their artillery, and deploy reserves in depth. This would risk an attritional battle on the beach itself reminiscent of Paschendaele.  A mere doubling the number of defending batteries might be expected to cause an additional 1,500 casualties.

The 15 CM sFH 18 equipped the heavy IVth battalion of Artillery Regiment 352. It could fire its 43.52 kg (95.9 lb) (HE) shells to a range of 13,325 m (14,572 yd)

WHAT IF THE WEATHER HAD BEEN BETTER?

The fire plan was predicated on fine weather and good visibility.  With good weather the Eighth Air Force bombers might have dropped more ordnance on Omaha Beach. On the British beaches many of the defences were further inland than at Omaha Beach.On the British beaches  air attacks were considered to have knocked out 13% of defences.  Had that been repeated on Omaha Beach that might have resulted in the destruction on nine machine guns and a mortar,  which according to the model might have saved 193 casualties

WAS THERE A WAY TO FIND THE HIDDEN GUNS?

Locating enemy guns was a science and an art. The Allies had a range of scientific techniques for finding artillery, sound ranging wireless DF and flash spotting.  Unfortunately none of these were of any use against artillery which had not previously disclosed its positions or indeed could be deployed on ships.

There was an art to finding hidden positions in aerial photographs, or for human agents to locate positions on the ground.   About the only tool for locating artillery the allies had on D Day were aerial observers, artillery officers flying planes. The Senior British Artillery Officer in the Second British Army was Brigadier HJ (Hatchet Jack) Parham. He was acutely   aware of the need for aerial observers on D Day. He did his best to argue for an aircraft carrier for Air OP aircraft and even the prototype Sikorsky helicopter to provide more eyes in the sky on D Day.  This is perhaps the only route that might have led to the discovery and neutralization of the artillery that bombarded Omaha beach.

PARACHUTE ASSAULT

With hindsight, perhaps the best way to have prevented high casualties among the assaulting infantry on Omaha Beach might have been to land paratroops inland.[xx] This isn’t original Stephen Badsey made this point in 2004 The parachute drops on the Cotentin peninsular landed on and behind many of the artillery positions severely disrupted the German artillery which could have made Utah as fatal as Omaha beach.

TOO HIGH EXPECTATIONS

It is worth remembering that the assault on Omaha Beach was a success. The beachhead was secured and over 34,000 troops landed at a cost of around 8-10% of the assaulting force.

The balance sheet for failure in C20th battles looked somewhat different. On July 1st on the Somme the British VIII Corps lost 14,000 casualties in about 20 minutes from some 24,000 assault troops attacking a comparable frontage to Omaha Beach after the barrage lifted prematurely. No ground was gained.[xxi]

Even successful assaults on defended positions with heavy artillery support incurred high casualties. The set piece attack on the Hindenburg line 29 Sep-2 Oct 1918 cost the 27th Infantry Division 3,076 casualties[xxii] and the 30th Infantry Division 2,494 casualties[xxiii], mainly on the 29th.  Between 18 and 22 July 1918, the Big Red One took part in the very successful Franco-American counter stroke on the River Aisne at a cost of 6,800 casualties over the five days.[xxiv]  Three weeks before D Day the IInd Polish army corps lost 4,199 casualties in the final assault on Monte Cassino.

A little too much is made of the failure of plans to work as intended.  War is inherently chaotic. There is an Anglo-American misguided belief that military commanders can impose their will on the elements and an un-cooperative enemy.  Perhaps it is time to move on from hunting scapegoats for the high casualties at Omaha beach and appreciate the role of fortune elsewhere on the D Day beaches.

 

[i] War Department Observers Board Report No 23 report Observations on the Invasion of France and the Fall of Cherbourg. 25 July 1944

[ii] Badsey S and Bean T Omaha Beach: Battlezone Normandy (2004)

[iii] Caddick Adams P Sand and Steel, (2019) P562

[iv] Harrison, Gordon A, United States Army in World War 2 European Theatre of Operations: Cross Channel Attack. (1950) p319

[v] Harrison Footnote p319

[vi] Harrison P300

[vii] Harrison P302

[viii] Liddle P, D Day by those who were there. (2004) pp125-130

[ix] WO 291/243 AORG report 261 Casualties and effects of Fire Support on the British Beaches in Normandy (1945)

[x] WO 291/270 AORG Report 292 Comparison of British and American areas in Normandy in terms of fire support and its effects. (1945)

[xi] FMS B432 352d Infantry Division (5 Dec 1943-6 Jun 1944). By Oberstleutnant Fritz Ziegelmann (1946). Organization and fighting on D day in Normandy.

[xii] HQ V Corps Operations  Plan  Neptune Annex 1 G2 Estimate of the Enemy Situation 1st April 1944

[xiii] Ziegelmann

[xiv] Gliderung der 352 I D Stand 1.5.44 T312,R1566 F000216 quoted in Zetterling, N: Normandy 1944 German military Organisation, Combat Power and Organisational Effectiveness (2000) p278

[xv] Gliderung der 716 I D Stand 1.5.44 T312,R1566 F000215 quoted in Zetterling, ibid  p298

[xvi] FMS B490 Map 16a. This is a revised version of Map 5 in FMS B432, which was drawn from memory. Drawn a year later it corrects the identity of the battalions and adds the 10ht battery of AR 1716.

[xvii] FMS B-388 352d Infantry Division (6 Jun 1944). By Oberstleutnant Fritz Ziegelmann; 36 pp; D Day in Normandy. Extracts from the operations officer’s telephone log.

[xviii] FMS B432 Ziegelman P26

[xix] Milano, V and Connon , B Normandy Front D Day to Saint Lo through German eyes (2011) Chapt 5

[xx] Badsey S, Culture, controversy, Caen and Cherbourg: the first Week in Buckley J, The Normandy Campaign 1944 Sixty Years on (2004)

[xxi] Prior R and Wilson T Battle of the Somme (2005) P80

[xxii] 27th Division Summary of Operations in the World War ABMC (1944) p36

[xxiii] 30th Division Summary of Operations in the World War ABMC (1944) p35

[xxiv] 1st Division Summary of Operations in the World War ABMC (1944) p33

Anatomy of a Campaign: The British Fiasco in Norway, 1940 – John Kiszely

I cannot recommend too highly John Kiszely’s book: Anatomy of a Campaign: The British Fiasco in Norway, 1940.   This is a great book that anyone interested in modern strategy and military affairs will find interesting.  It also casts a contrasting light on the popular view of 1940 influenced by films about Dunkirk and Churchll.

On Tuesday, at RUSI, he received the Duke of Wellington Award for the best military history work of the year. This is a military history, but with a specific purpose.  The work was inspired by his time at the Higher Command and Staff College for a study of a campaign as a whole, and that the Norway Campaign which ended in a defeat might offer more lessons than a success. In his book he dissects the campaign from policy decisions in cabinet through to the events on the ground and on the waves.

It should be a valuable case study for anyone with an interest in business or political strategy. While written for the general reader, John Kiszely explores causality and the interplay between the personalities and institutional cultures of the organisations that took part.

For anyone with an interest in the events of 1940, it adds sharp critical insight to the state of Britain’s armed forces and leadership. This pulls no patriotic punches. The frank admission that companies of Guardsmen ran away must have been painful to document. The book is an essential sobering complement to the sometimes public smugness about 1940 Dunkirk and Churchill.

It is a cautionary tale about military intervention and compulsory reading for anyone advocating that something must be done about some international crisis.  It is well written without labouring points or underlining obvious lessons, there is much that is familiar from recent history.  A divided cabinet. Public opinion demanding action. Institutions barely fit for purpose. It is also an object lesson about the longer view.  The OP asked how much damage did the occupation of Norway do in the long term to the allied cause.  The answer was probably very little: indeed, the German naval losses may have saved Britain from the Germans attempting an invasion the same year.

Its published by Cambridge University Press £28.00

 

From the Beachhead to Belsen: The Humanitarian Mission of 113 Light AA Regiment RA

Belsen-survivors3What did you do in the war daddy? Gunners from 113 Light Anti Aircraft Regiment could truthfully answer – “We helped to save tens of thousands of lives.”

113 Light AA Regiment Royal Artillery was originally raised as 2/5th Battalion the Durham Light Infantry, converted to a Searchlight battalion RE before the Second World war, and then to a Light AA Regiment in 1941.

In June 1944 it landed in Normandy as part of 100 AA Brigade and defended the bridges over the Caen Canal, including Pegasus bridge and the gun areas north of Caen. In September 1944 it took part in Operation Market Garden, taking over responsibility for defending the Bridge at Nijmegen. After a cold winter in the Netherlands and Belgium it provided air defence for the bridge over the Rhine at Xanten.

2015-09-18 09.50.09 2015-09-18 10.11.09 2015-09-18 14.01.18By 16th April 1945 German air effort was weakening and the Regiment came out of action into a concentration area near Haldern East of the Rhine. The Allied spearheads were rapidly advancing through Germansy and the Red Army had surrounded Berlin. It might reasonably expect to have little to do until demobilised. 113 LAA the Regiment’s service was not untypical of any Light AA Regiment It had done its bit.

But things changed with the orders the next day to move to administration duties at Belsen Concentration Camp (42 miles North of Hannover) under command 10 Garrison, taking over from 63 Anti tank Regiment.

Belson .1Captain Pares, the Adjutant of 113 LAA wrote the following:-
“On 12 April 1945 following the break-through of Second Army after the Rhine crossing, the German Military Commander at Bergen-Belsen (Chief of Staff 1 Para Army) approached 8 Corps with a view to negotiating a truce and avoiding a battle in the area of Belsen Concentration Camp.

In occupation of the area were 800 Wehrmacht, 1,500 Hungarians with their wives and families, and certain SS Prison Guards. In the concentration camp were known to be 45-55,000 internees of whom a very large number were reported to be suffering from Typhus, Typhoid, Tuberculosis and Gastro-Enteritis. The electricity and water supply had failed: there was no bread and very little food.

The camp area consisted of the concentration camp and ½ mile North a large tank training centre with very extensive barrack buildings, a small PW camp attached in which were 800 Russians, and a military hospital.

In the interests of our own troops and the internees, and from the point of view of preventing, the spread of disease, a truce was granted on the following terms.

The German Military Authorities were to erect notices and white flags at all the road entrances, marked ‘Danger – Typhus’ on one side and ‘End of Typhus Area’ on the reverse, with a disarmed German post at each notice. German and Hungarian troops would remain at their posts armed, wearing a white arm-band on the left sleeve. The Hungarians would remain indefinitely and were placed at the disposal of the British for such duties as might be required. The Wehrmacht were to be released within 6 days and conveyed back to the German lines with their arms, equipment and vehicles. SS Guard personnel were to be removed by 1200 hrs 13 April and any remaining to be treated as PWs. SS Admin personnel would (if the Wehrmacht could prevent them running away) remain at their posts, carry on with their duties, and hand over records. When their services could be dispensed with, their disposal was left by the Wehrmacht to the British authorities, i.e. the Wehrmacht ‘sold’ the S.S.

About 50% of the inmates were in need of immediate hospital treatment. All of them had been without any food for 7 days, and prior to that living on the normal concentration camp semi-starvation scale of diet.

There were about 10,000 typhus-infected bodies, mostly naked and many in an advanced stage of decomposition, lying around the camp, both inside and outside the huts, which required immediate burial; and the daily death rate was 4/500.

The living conditions were appalling – people were sleeping 3 in a bed, mainly treble-bunk beds, and huts which would normally accommodate 60 were housing 600. There were no sanitary arrangements, and both inside and outside the huts was an almost continuous carpet of dead bodies, human excreta, rags, and filth.

There were some 50,000 persons to supply and feed, but the cooking facilities were totally inadequate. There were 5 cookhouses of varying size equipped with a number of large boilers, and the only containers available to distribute the food were a few large dustbins A large proportion of the occupants were bed-ridden, and many were incapable even of feeding themselves.

The inmates had lost all self-respect and been degraded morally to the level of beasts. Their clothes were in rags and teeming with lice; they had no eating utensils or plates, and at the time of the food distribution they behaved more like ravenous wolves than human beings.

There were 49 SS male and 26 female prison guards under close arrest and a Wehrmacht Hospital with 2,000 sick and convalescent German soldiers.

The electricity which came from Celle was cut off and the wiring sabotaged; the water supply which depended on it for pumping had consequently failed.

To prevent spread of Typhus and the other diseases it was necessary to keep all the internees within the Camp, yet the Hungarian guards were grossly lax and made little effort to prevent them from filtering out.”  More of Captain Peres Account here.

Over the next month 113 LAA took over the Wehrmacht barracks at Bergan-Belsen, which would become Bergen-Hohne Camp.   The typhus epidemic meant that the the concentration camp inmates could not be allowed to leave. They built cook-houses, buried the dead transferred the living to clean accommodation, guarded the SS men, and disarmed the Hungarians. Their soldiers can be seen in the newsreel shots. The War Diary entry for 26th April comments that over 8,000 bodies had been buried since their arrival in the camp.  The SS Guards interviewed for the newsreel seem to have lost the  SS Runes from their uniforms. These seem to have fallen into possession of the Gunners.

Victory march1On VE Day 9th May the Regiment paraded through Hohne Camp,. Starling at the corner of the Belsen Concentration Camp past British, US Soviet and US Senior officers who took the Victory march 3salute to the sports pitch where the 54 guns of the Regiment fired ten rounds single shot and ten rounds automatic to celebrate victory and peace in Europe.

At this point their work was only half complete. The last huts of Belsen Camp were burned with as short ceremony on 23 May 1945.

Belson 2
Last hut burning May 1945

After the traumatic work, 113 LAA Regiment were given ten days leave beside the Baltic and issued 6000 bottles of beer.

A tour for Spirit of Remembrance Image1baldwin battlefields logo

Wartime Wanderers Revisited

2015-07-21 22.46.10_origianl goslin grave
Harry Goslin’s Original Grave (Courtesy W Goslin)

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

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

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

updated to show the

updated to show the

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

16 MAY 1944 DID NEUTRAL SWEDEN KILL FLIGHT SGT DAY DFM?

Date: 10-MAY-1944
Time: 17:00
Type: Silhouette image of generic MOSQ model; specific model in this crash may look slightly different
de Havilland Mosquito FB.Mk VI
Owner/operator: 418 (City of Edmonton) Sqn RCAF
Registration: MM421
C/n / msn:
Fatalities: Fatalities: 1 / Occupants: 2
Airplane damage: Written off (damaged beyond repair)
Location: sea 3 mile S of Ystad –    Sweden
Phase: En route
Nature: Military
Departure airport: RAF Coltishall
Destination airport:

Narrative:
MM421 – Missing from night intruder to Greifiswald 10.5.44
Public Record Office WO 208/3320 had his MI.9 report; he had left Stockholm on 16 June 1944, arrived in Britain 17 June 1944 and was interviewed on 18 June 1944.
“I was captain and first pilot of a Mosquito aircraft which took off from Coltishall on 16 May 1944 at about 1300 hours on a Day Ranger operation across Denmark, and covering German aerodromes on the Baltic. When approximately over Rostock we were hit by flak at about 1530 hours. One engine was rendered completely unserviceable, and the fuselage was badly damaged.

“It was obvious that we would not be able to reach base, so I took the only alternative of attempting to get to Sweden.
“When over Ystad we were fired on by flak, although it was obvious that we were in distress. This compelled me to fly out to sea again. I ditched outside the three-mile limit, exactly south of Ystad at about 1700 hours. The aircraft broke up badly, but we both got out safely. The water was so cold that I just managed to inflate my dinghy and got into it before becoming unconscious. When last seen my navigator was trying to get his dinghy inflated. When I came to about half an hour later there was no sign of him.
“I was picked up by a Swedish fishing boat, which also found my navigator’s body. I was taken ashore and to a hospital in Ystad. I was there till 22 May. On the second day a member of the British Legation at Malmo came to see me. On 22 May I was taken to the internment camp at Falun. After a trip to Stockholm to report the details of our accident to the authorities. I returned to Falun whilst negotiations were being carried out with the Swedes for my repatriation.
“At no time was any interrogation pressed on me, and I was treated with great consideration. On 11 June I was taken down to Stockholm and repatriated on 16 June.”
Crew:
W/Cdr (J/5756) Howard Douglas CLEVELAND DFC (pilot) RCAF injured
F/Sgt (1503804) Frank DAY DFM (nav.) killed.

Sources:
http://www.airhistory.org.uk/dh/_DH98%20prodn%20list.txt
http://www.rafcommands.com/forum/showthread.php?3359-Crash-location-418-Sqdn-RCAF-Mosquito-MM421-May-44/page2

mosquito418 RCAF is claimed to be the RCAF’s highest scoring fighter squadrons in the Second World War, in terms of both air-to-air and air-to-ground kills, and of both day and night operations.   Its night operations were carried out without airborne interception radar.  

There is an excellent well written account of the expereince of 418 aircrew, ” Terror in the Starboard Seat: 41 Trips Aboard a Mosquito, a True Story of 418 Squadron”  by Dave McIntosh.

This aircraft took off from RAF Coltishall, which continued to serve as an RAF airfield until its closure  in November 2006.  It is currently awaiting disposal with plans for reused as the site of a prison, immigration centre and housing.

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The crew of MM421 were not based at Coltishall.  418 Squadron were based at Holmsley South airfield in the New Forest in Hampshire on the South Coast.  Presumably the day ranger operation in the Baltic needed to operate from East Anglia.  It is possible to visit the site of  Holmsley South where the is a memorial to the units which operated from the airfield.

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http://www.newforestmilitaryarchive.org.uk/Site/RAF_Holmsley_South.html#0

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