Tag Archives: WW2 Normandy Obituary

Edgar Feuchtinger – a General from “Allo Allo” out of “Catch 22”

Edgar Feuchtinger Bundesarchiv_Bild_101I-300-1865-12,_Nordfrankreich,_Feuchtinger
Generalleutnant Edgar Feuchtinger

Edgar Feuchtinger was a German General who commanded the 21st Panzer Division  defending the French city of Caen against the British Army in Normandy in 1944. He was awarded the Knights Cross and  promoted for his success. Yet he has also been described as the worst ever Panzer General. An artillery officer, he owed his position to political favour, and abused his time in command indulging personal pleasures, a South Ameircna exotic dancer. Condemned to death by the Nazi regime for corruption and cowardice he also betrayed the new Federal Republic spying for the Soviet Union.

It is easy to sneer at Feuchtinger but the answer to why he was in command of a Panzer Division is simple. Feuchtinger commanded the 21st Panzer Divison because he built it as his private army, using every political lever he had at his possession. It would not have existed but for his protégé, Major Becker’s genius for improvising self propelled guns from scrap French army AFVs, and for Feuchtinger’s skills in playing the system. Feuchtinger developed an organisation to man these weapons in OB West. First as a Schnelle Brigade West of two regiments of mobile artillery. Then in 1943 half of these were parceled among the static divisions, while the remainder were the artillery group for 21st Panzer Division, which Feuchtinger was uniquely placed to command.

SP Guns of the 21st Panzer Division inspected by Rommel
Rommel inspecting some of Major Becker’s SP guns before the invasion.

21st Panzer Division emerged having been constructed like the tramp’s stone soup. It had its own organisation table which reflected the equipment Becker had built. It was lavishly equipped with SP guns and APCs and a range of unique SP multiple rocket launchers and mortars . It was weak in armour, lacking a Panther battalion and less than the full establishment of two Pz IV Bns. Much of the manpower was from the cast offs from the static artillery formations and lacked the desirable martial qualities. All in all a formation better suited to defending Caen than driving anyone into the sea.

Feuchtinger was a sleazy individual who could have been from Catch 22 or one of Karst’s Gunner Asch Books. When the police eventually turned up on News Years day 1945 to arrest him for absence from duty on 5/6th June he was again absent – with his girlfriend in Celle, near Hannover. He was an East German spy and died “of a heart attack” at a meeting with his handler.

440px-Becker,_Rommel_and_Feuchtinger
Major Becker (left) and Feldmarschall Rommel (centre) and Generalmajor Feuichtinger (right)

However, for all the multitude of his faults Feuchtinger picked some good, if flawed, subordinates. He used his connections to obtain experienced panzer officers, Hans  von Luck,  and Ritterkreutztrager von Oppeln-Bronikowski. (The former had less than perfect Nazi credentials included his own half Jewish mistress, and the latter had had a reputation for drunkenness.  Feuchtinger commanded the Division from some distance in the rear, allegedly accompanied by his exotic dancer mistress,  and let his subordinates get on with it.

Hans_von_Luck
Hans–Ulrich Freiherr von Luck und Witten

Why was Feuchtinger decorated for his actions?  He played the system well.   He was effusive in praising his subordinates and recommended them for decorations. von Oppeln-Bronikowski:  Oak leaves (28/7/44) v. Luck Ritterkreutz (8/8/44) How could the modest divisional commander in whose regime these men had flourished not be awarded some decoration himself? If you want a mention in the honours list – write up your subordinates and get them a gong!

220px-Bundesarchiv_Bild_101I-721-0376-06A,_Hermann_von_Oppeln-Bronikowski
Hermann Leopold August von Oppeln-Bronikowski

Regardless of his personal integrity or leadership style, his  formation had been in continuous action since D Day, defending  Caen  tenaciously, giving little ground against overwhelming fire-power.  For all of Feuchtinger’s personal failings as a commander or officer, it is not easy to see where he could be blamed for taking the wrong action or failing to make a decision, or where another commander could have played a decisive role.

Map defences of Caen
It was inevitable that the units of the 21st Panzer Division units shown in green, would become embroiled in the D Day fighting for Caen waged by the 716th Infantry division.

1. A slice of the division was quartered in area of the infantry division responsible for defending the coast: the  716 Division and  in varying degrees under its command. 7./192 seems to have been under 716 Div command, while the anti tank battalion and one battalion from PGR 125 and PGR 192 were deployed so far into the 716 Div area that it was almost inevitable that they would be caught up in any landing on either side of the Orne Estuary. One artillery battalion I/155 was also deployed in support fo 716 Infantry division. (Source: Ethint interviews with Feuchtinger and Richter).

Sp Guns 21 Panzer Division advancing along road
This image of shows how the improvised gun mountings of the 75mm guns overhang the French tank chassis. Not very elegant but quite effective

2. The German defensive doctrine, based on the WW1 techniques, placed counter attaching forces under command of the formation responsible for the defence of that sector. The thinking being that the local sector command would know the ground and the current situation. Thus any troops committed to the Orne sector would be under command 716 Division and not 21 Pz Div Command. The counter-attack on D Day was planned at HQ 716 Div (now Caen memorial museum), by the Corps Commander and with Richter GOC 716 and Feuchtinger GOC 21 Pz Div. The IA of the division was the panzer trained officer and he remained in HC 21 Pz Div, all of which made it harder to cplan the counter attack on D Day. (Source Geyr Ethint B466)

3. The decision to deploy the 21 Pz Div against 6 AB Division and against their orders to wait for release by Rommel, was taken on the accepted German -principle that action is better than inaction. No one seems to have been blamed when this made it harder to concentrate most of the Division on the West of the Orne.  This was Hitler’s fault for instituting a Byzantine command structure and failing to rehearse commanders and staffs and war game how the system should respond to the reports of a landing to ensure that the correct actions were taken on the “Longest day”.

21 Panzer Division Sp Howitzer
This 105mm self propelled howitzer is being inspected by Rommel

It may be that Feuchtinger was so utterly useless, and self centred that everyone just compensated. Feuchtionger may have been sufficiently self aware that he was never tempted to be that most dangerous of men driven by ego to be “stupid and active.” As long as he was left along with his mistress and no none bothered him, he did not feel any urge to exert his ego and screw up the plans of those better fitted for command.

Feuchtinger could not have existed in the British or US Armies. He would have been rumbled. That he did, is evidence of the ramshackle reality of the Nazi regime which was at odds with the impression given that in Germany “Alles in Ordenung”. This is a consequence of Hitler’s corrupt regime, where someone with no talent but party connections could build themselves a secure position for their own personal convenience.

To visit the battlefields of Normandy and hear some different stories contact Gunner Tours www.gunnertours.com

baldwin battlefields logogunner tours logo white on brown

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.

gunner tours logo white on brown

Notes:-

1.   The name is spelled as March-Phillipps on the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery records, but March-Phillips in the London Gazette.

2.  The name is written as Pye in some accounts.  He may have been the same soldier who died commanding the defences of WN62 on D Day.

Gunner Tours Public Tour Programme 2015

 

Gunner Tours have launched the 2015 public tour programme. They tell the story of the key battles with a focus on the role that the artillery played, and the stories of those who served the guns. Around 25% of the British Army of the First World War served in the Royal Field, Garrison or Horse Artillery, and a similar proportion in the Second World War.

First World War

The First World War was an artillery war. Success and failure was largely determined by how artillery was used and how well the guns were served.

  • Somme and Arras 19-22 June 2015 A loSomme_Arrasng weekend of four days
    and three nights to two of the largest battles of the First World War. The 1916 battle of the Somme was the largest and most costly battle fought by the British Army. The Arras battles of April-May 1917 were the most intense of the war. This area was also where the war on the western front was decided in the open warfare of 1918. £319

  • Verdun, Somme and Ypres 10-14 August 2015. Five days and Verdun_somme-arras_10-14_Aug_LRfour nights. We will visit three of the most important battlefields on the Western Front, and look at the British French and German gunners. The battle for Verdun in 1916 was the first of the huge battles of attrition. The Somme offensive of 1916 was designed to relieve the pressure on the French army at Verdun. The battles for the Ypres salient were the longest and bloodiest battles fought in Belgium. £379

  • Wipers” 11-14 September 2015 Four days and three nights. TheWipers 11-14 sep 2015 Belgium city known as Ieper in Flemish and Ypres in French was known to British soldiers as “Wipers.” It was the main seat of British Army’s operations in Belgium from October 1914 to the end of the First World War, and a focus for Remembrance since then. Our tour will look at the artillery side of the story and of the gunners who served and suffered there. £319

  • BEF Western front NovBEF Western Front 9-13 November 2015 Five days and four nights, covering the sites of the major battles of the British Expeditionary Force from Mons in 1914 to victory in 1918. £349

Second World War 

Gunner Tours is offering two tours to Normandy, based on the specialist knowledge and expertise of our chief guide Frank Baldwin who has written about the role of artillery on D Day and in the Normandy campaign as well as providing the written guide to the D Day Beaches for the Royal Artillery for the 70th Anniversary of D Day.dday & normandy 6-10july

  • D Day and the Battle for Normandy 6-10 July 2015 This is five
    days and four nights expedition to the D Day sites and some of the battles inland. £359

  • D Day Beaches and Landing Sites 2-5 October 2015, A visit overdday_and landing grounds a long weekend to the D Day beaches and Landing sites. There is a gunner story on each beach and landing site. £329

For details on each tour click the link in the date or check the details on the Gunner Tours website

 TO BOOK A PLACE ON  THESE TOURS CALL 01943 433457

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

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

The exercise aims included the following:-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SATURDAY AFTERNOON – 107 MEDIUM REGIMENT ON THE ROAD TO FALAISE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

map3

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

gunner tours logo white on brown

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

gunner tours logo white on brown

3 MAY 1944 TARGET #78 WIZERNES NO BALL

C10/V-2The war in the West was a race between the Allies and the Germans. Could the Allies mount D Day before the Germans had perfected a new generation of weapons which would terrorise Britain into submission. The German revenge weapons included the Fi 176 cruise missile, (the V1 flying bom), the A4 surface to surface ballistic missile (the V2) and a very long range gun, the V3.

Mimoyecques-Eperlecques-Wizernes_map
Map showing the location of Wizernes and two other V Weapon sites in the Pas de Calais

Ever since the allies became aware of the existence of these weapons the Allied air forces had mounted a bombing campaign against the structures that the Germans were building to house these weapons. This campaign cost the allies 1,900 aircrew, a comparable number of fatalities to those lost on D Day.

Wizernes_site_octagon
1944 conjectre about the use of the Wizernes Site

On 3rd May 1944 the 8th USAAF Target was the the huge bunker at d’Helfaut-Wizernes, northern France. This vast structure was intended as a hardened launch centre for V2 and built with slave labour. This air raid was one of sixteen carried out by the allies air forces between march and the end of July 1944. 47 B24 Bombers of the 392nd Bombardment Group of the USAAF would drop 180 x 2000 lb bombs.

Briefing for crews was held between 0930-1000 hours. The mission was to be GH ship led with (22) aircraft carrying 2000# GP bombs. Despite fairly good visual bombing weather over the target with 3/lOths – 5/lOths cloud cover, bombing was poor with only a few hits in the target area of the (80) weapons released. While no enemy fighters were sighted, flak over the target was intense and accurate causing damage to (14) aircraft and wounding some crewmembers. No aircraft were lost and the mission recovered at base around 1740 hours after a 4 1/2 hour mission.http://www.b24.net/missions/MM050344.htm

B-24Bombs
B-24 Bomber being loaded with 2,000 lb bombs

The bombing by bombs of up to a ton in weight made no impact on the concrete dome, but wrecked the un-armoured facilites above ground, including the rail connections.

The bunker would be abandoned after a raid by 617 Sqn RAF :Lancasters and a on 17th July using six ton Tallboy bombs. Three of these exploded next to the tunnels, one burst just under the dome, and another burst in the mouth of one tunnel. The whole hillside collapsed, undermining the dome support, and covering up the two rocket vertical entry ways. The Germans abandoned the site in late July 1944.

Wizernes_low_level_6_July_1944
Photograph taken by a low flying RAF aircraft on 6th July 1944, before the raid by 617 Sqn RAF.

According the the French Records, the ultimate fate of the 1,100 Russian slave labourers who worked site is not known.

The Bunker complex is now a museum, easily accessible from Calais and a day trip from the SE of England. Although the Germans never used the site for its intended purpose, the sheer scale of the building , the conditions under which it was built and its sinister purpose make it a thought provoking place. It is part of the V weapon story and the defeat of the V weapon bombardment of London. The story of the aerial campaign waged by the RAF and USAAF against the V weapon sites deserves to be better known.

La Cupole Visitor Centre site

USAAF Official History – Chapter on Operation Crossbow

392 BG website

Airpower tours logo_R131_G202_B255

How the Pub Regulars helped to plan D Day

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

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

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

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

Fancyapint.com pub picture

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

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

Op Overlord_Overview

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

 References

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

2. Morgan F E Prelude to Overlord London , 1950

Lt Harry Goslin RA: a fallen Wanderer at the Moro River

The 18th December 2013 is the 70th anniversary of the death of Lt Harry Goslin RA of 53 Field Regiment.   He is buried in the River Sangro Commonwealth War Cemetery, in Cheti Province, Italy.  His story and that of the battle in which he died deserve to be remembered as they show a different aspect of the Second World War.  

THE WARTIME WANDERERS

big-ra-wanderers-01
Bolton Artillery – 53rd (Bolton) Field Regiment football team – The Wartime Wanderers Standing: Danny Winter, Harry Goslin, Stan Hanson, George Catterall, (Lt Col G Bennet), Jimmy Ithell, Jack Hurst, (Capt J J Clavell QM) Front row: Albert Geldard, Donny Howe, Ray Westwood, Jack Roberts, Tommy Sinclair http://www.boltonswar.org.uk/i-ra-09.htm (1)

 

Before the Second World War Henry “Harry” Goslin had been the captain of Bolton Wanderers Football Club.  On 1st March 1939 Hitler broke the terms of the Munich Agreement by invading the rest of Czechoslovakia.  On 14th March 1939, before the next home match Harry addressed the crowd with a megaphone urging them to join the Territorial Army. After the match, 32 out of 37 men on the playing staff joined the armed forces, 17 joining their local TA unit, the Bolton Artillery.   The idea of “pals” battalions of chums joining the same unit and serving together is much more associated with the First rather than the Second World War.  However the Wartime Wanderers joined together and served together in what was mobilised as 53rd (Bolton) Field Regiment RA.  They served in France and Belgium in 1940, were evacuated at Dunkirk, then sent overseas serving in Iraq and at the second battle of El Alamein as part of the 8th Indian Division.  The Regimental football team was much in demand as an expert position matches. While the Regiment was based in the Uk, players continued to play for their own side and as guests for football clubs close to where the Regiment was stationed.  Harry Goslin played for Bolton in  4 out of 22 matches played in the 1939-40 season as well as appearing as a  guest for Chelsea and Norwich City.

big-ra-wanderers-02
Wartime Wanderers – Ray Westwood (foot on trail), Jack Hurst (tall figure at back) Ernie Forrest, Tommy Sinclair and Harry Goslin (just behind instructor) http://www.boltonswar.org.uk/i-ra-10.htm (1)

THE EIGHTH INDIAN DIVISION

The 53rd (Bolton) Field Regiment RA was in direct support of the 21st Indian Brigade, comprising the 5th Battalion the Royal West Kent Regiment, the 3/15th Punjabi battalion and the 1/5th Mahratta.  Harry Goslin was a Forward Observation Officer attached to the 3rd Battalion of the 15th Punjabi Regiment. (3/15th Punjabi)  Divisions of the Indian Army were comprised of a mixture of British and Indian troops.  Two thirds of the infantry would be Indian, with the remainder from the British army, all the artillery would be British while the sappers and services would be Indian. The “Indian” units were still mainly commanded  by British officers but the proportion of Indians holding a Kings Commission rose during the war.  The divisional machine battalion of the 8th Indian Division was commanded by Lt Col D S Brar, one of the Indian officers to command a combatant unit in the field. (2)

8th Indian Division
8th Indian Divisional Badge worn on the upper sleeve and painted on vehicles (2)

The 3/15th Punjabi Regiment had originally been raised as the Rawlpindi Regiment in 1857, and served in the Second Opium War alongside some of the Dragon batteries, and then in Afghanistan and Somaliland. As the 27th Punjabi Regiment it served in France and Mesopotamia in the First World War, and was renumbered 3/14th when the Indian army was reorganised in the 1920s. After partition it was transferred to the Pakistan army where it still exists as the 11th Punjabi Regiment.  The Punjab countryside was fertile recruiting ground for the British Indian Army, with military service an attractive alternative to life on the land. In return the British values its soldiers for loyalty and hardiness.  These were some of the conditions which led British post war industry to attract workers from the Punjab to serve in the textile industry of the North of England.

The policy not to raise artillery units from the Indian population dated from the aftermath of the Indian mutiny, as a measure to prevent any future rebellion from having access to the firepower of the artillery.  The story of the Royal Artillery in the World Wars is that of the Indian as well as the British Army and its formations.  Three Indian Army Divisions served in Italy, the 4th, 8th and 10th and with them nine field regiments and three LAA regiments.  In September 1943 the 8th Indian Division and with it the Wartime Wanderers sailed to Italy to reinforce the 8th Army.

MONTGOMERY ON THE SANGRO NOV-DEC 1943

Sangromap
River Sangro Battlefield

The battlefields of the Sangro and Moro rivers do not attract as many visitors as those on the Garigliano and Rapido, conveniently between Rome and Naples with the focus of the historic cultural icon of the Abbey of Monte Cassino.  The Sangro battlefields took place in the Adriatic region of Chieti, which isn’t as accessible and further from the major cultural tourist sites.  The battle has also been overshadowed by the historic drama of the battles of Cassino and the Anzio landing.

But this battlefield does not deserve to be neglected.  These battles were the last battle fought by Montgomery as commander of the Eighth Army, and the largest set piece battle commanded by him on the mainland of Italy.  In late 1943 the allies stiller had hopes of capturing Rome. In October the Germans made the decision to try to stop the allies south of Rome and constructed the Gustav or Winter Line based on the Garigliano River flowing west and the Sangro River flowing east across the “calf” of the Italian boot. The Fifth Army under Mark Clark was to advance from Salerno and Naples via the West coast.  Montgomery with 8th army was to push along the Eastern Adriatic coast, break through the Gustav line on the coastal plan, press on the Pescara and then attack Rome from the east, across the ApennineMountains.   While the coastal strip south East of Pescara is much gentler country than the mountainous terrain around Cassino, the landscape played an important part in shaping the battle and is reasonably well preserved. 

The battle of the Sangro was a set piece battle mounted by the four infantry divisions of the Vth Corps, and started on the 20th November 1943.  Supported by 652 guns and the Desert Air Force the Eighth Army blasted its way across the Sangro River and almost obliterated the 65th German infantry division defending the sector and capturing its divisional commander. 

The operation took place under appalling weather conditions. “The winter rains had set in, and no reprieve from bitter cold, swollen streams, and sodden earth could be expected. The Sangro in spate averaged five feet in depth, and was of such turbulence that patrols on more than one occasion had been drowned. The infantry bivouacked miserably in boggy fields under pelting showers. Transport speedily churned the water-logged earth into mud soup; vehicles slithered and skidded uncontrollably on the greasy tracks. Heavy transport and guns were winched and manhandled into position by their shivering, mud-soaked crews. Sappers and transport services toiled unceasingly to keep the roads open, and to get supplies through to the advanced positions.”(3)   The 100ft wide Sangro River became a 1000ft wide torrent which washed away the initial bridges constructed by the Engineers.

After a week of fighting, which drew in the German reserves from across Italy, the German commander decided to fall back from the Line of the Sangro and the Gustav line defences and defend the next river line back, that of the River Moro. In itself this was an achievement as it took the 5th Army many more months to break through the Gustav line on the admittedly more difficult sector they faced.

THE BATTLE OF THE MORO RIVER

(1) 8th Indian Divian build “Impossible bridge “ across Moro River. (2) From 9th Dec 1943 The 21st  Indian Brigade secures the ridge above the River Moro Crossing by 13th Dec 1943.  This is where the 1/15th Punjabis and Harry Goslin would have been likely to have been. (3) 17th Indian Brigade attack Caldari and seicze pt198 on the lateral road. (4) Attack by 1st Canadian Division on 14th Dec 1943 towards Casa Beradi. (5) The guns of the 53rd Fd Regt RA deployed Wesr of the village of Tregelia.
(1) 8th Indian Division build the “Impossible bridge “ across Moro River. (2) From 9th Dec 1943 The 21st Indian Brigade secures the ridge above the River Moro Crossing by 13th Dec 1943. This is where the 1/15th Punjabis and Harry Goslin would have been likely to have been. (3) 17th Indian Brigade attack Caldari and seize pt198 on the lateral road. (4) Attack by 1st Canadian Division on 14th Dec 1943 towards Casa Beradi. (5) The guns of the 53rd Fd Regt RA deployed West of the village of Tregelia.

Technically, Harry Goslin fell at the battle of the Moro River rather than the Sangro.  The title of the History of the 8th Indian Division is “One more River”. (1) The geography of the Italian peninsular meant that the campaign was the story of an assault on the inevitable hill between one river valley and the next. The Germans did not defend the river banks themselves. Instead they held the high ground dominating the exits from the river valleys and reverse slope positions beyond the ridgelines, while deploying snipers and patrols on the forward slopes.  Towns and villages on the ridges such as Orsogna and Ortona were often built on tactically important positions, which had withstood the ancient endemic risk of attack by pirates. The German defenders were drawn from the 26 Panzer Division, 90th Panzer Grenadier Division and the 1st Fallschirmjaeger Division.

WH2Art090a
25 Pdr Guns firing from a muddy emplacement on the Sangro Battlefield

In early December 1943, the 8th Indian division was deployed between the 2nd New Zealand Division and 1st Canadian Division which were intended to make the main attacks on the towns of Orsogna and Ortona respectively on the ridges.  Initially the 8th Indian division was tasked with making a diversion to distract attention from the attacks on their flanks. To this end very obvious preparations were made to build a bridge across the Moro.  The configuration of the approaches made it impossible to build from the home bank, so the sappers manhandled materials across the river and built the “Impossible Bridge” from the enemy bank.   On 8/9th December, as the flanking Canadian and New Zealand attacks faltered and the Indians were ordered to secure the village and the ridge line north west of the MoroRiver.  On the night  9/10th December the 3/15th Pubjabis with one company of 5th Royal Mahratta Machine-Gunners, and other supporting arms the Forward Observation Officer (FOO) parties from 53 Field Regiment Royal Artillery crossed the Moro to secure the bridgeheads.  FOO parties consisted of an officer, such as Harry Goslin, trained to control artillery fire, and soldiers providing technical and communications support.  It was on his judgment, and the competence of his signallers in maintaining communications to the guns 7km in the rear, that the survival of the infantry might depend. He and his men would move and live with the infantry sharing the dangers of the front line.  The presence of  FOO parties was sufficiently important that Montgomery himself took a personal interest that they were correctly allocated.  A few weeks earlier, at the Sangro crossing, one infantry company of another division crossed the river without an FOO party and found themselves unable to call for artillery fire and forced to retreat. This made Montgomery very angry and spoke severely to the Corps commander on the subject and obtained an assurance that it would not happen again. ()

“The Germans reacted violently to this incursion. From patrol clashes the fighting mounted into a tense struggle. The Punjabis went forward to clear a strong-point with the bayonet. That night, “Impossible Bridge” was strengthened, and next morning British tanks crossed to come up in close support of the Punjabis and Mahrattas. Mopping up continued, but the area remained unhealthy with enemy snipers and mortar teams infiltrating audaciously. In destroying these pests a number of cat-eyed, soft-footed Indians compiled remarkable individual bags. Havildar Badlu Ram of the Punjabis slew sixteen Germans, and others were not far behind his total. The ground was cleansed and a firm bridgehead established.“ (3)tiger06

On the 13th and 14th other troops from the Indian Division attacked towards Villa Caldieri and the lateral road on the ridgeline parallel to the Moro.  The Germans shelled the area heavily and counterattacked with infantry and tanks.  The war diary of the 53 Field Regiment made at 0250hours on the 14th  records that the Regiment had fired 170 rounds per gun ona  timed programme to support the advance of 17 Brigade through the Punjabis positions and then a series of defensive fires against counter attacks made at dawn by German tanks and infantry. (4)    

Later that day the diary noted “heavy enemy shelling of the Observation Post (OP) positions – an increase” and two serious casualties. One was Gunner Plummer an OP signaller killed by a sniper’s bullet.  The second was Harry Goslin, wounded by a shell or mortar round bursting in a tree above his slit trench.  The slit trenches customary in the Second World War provided protection against splinters from shells or bombs bursting on the ground.  However, without overhead cover they were vulnerable to splinters from exploding shells overhead. Prior to the invention of radar “proximity” fuses, it was difficult to achieve accurate air bursts.  However, if a shell struck a tree it would burst at the optimum height to inflict casualties.  Harry Goslin was caught like this and paralysed by a shell splinter in the back.  He was evacuated but died four days later and is buried 20 km south at the Sangro War cemetery in plot XV. Row C. grave 29.  He was the only member of the Wartime Wanderers to be killed in the Second World War, but two other members of the seventeen who served in 53rd Field Regiment were wounded during the war. 

tiger05The conditions under which the troops fought were atrocious, and closer to the popular imagination of the First World War than the Second.  The weather was vile.  According to the New Zealand histories, it took six men to carry a laden stretcher.  One Canadian soldier described the land beyond the Moro river as “ a landscape that seemed almost lunar in its desolation where men lived and died in unremembered ways.”  Brigadier Kippenberger, a New Zealander veteran of the First World War, wrote that  “I had not seen men so exhausted since Flanders.  Their faces were grey”

 The Battle of the MoroRiver was a significant battle, the last attempt by the 8th Army to break through on the Adriatic coast.  To the right of the 8th Indian Division the 1st Canadian Division attacked towards Casa Beradi and the crossroads leading towards the town of Ortona. The bitter house to house fighting in Ortona between the Canadians and the German paratroops which lasted until the New Year is the main episode remembered from the battle of the Moro River. The story of the Indians who fought alongside them and endured the mud and slit trenches in awful conditions, deserves to be remembered, as does that of the gunners who supported them.

BRITAIN’S BAND OF BROTHERS

A film is being made.It is great to see that it is about a bunch of gunners.

Wartime Wanderers teaser

More details here.

 VISITING THE MORO BATTLEFIELD

The View looking across the R Morro  from the track leading North from Frisa Cjhieti
The View looking across the River Morro from the track leading North from Frisa, (Gr 308081) on the 1:100,000 map

 Pescara is a good base for exploring the battlefields of the Sangro and the Moro. There are cheap direct flights from the UK to Pescara.  As a holiday resort it has ample accommodation and, out of Italian peak season it is easy to find accommodation.    It is possible to fly to Rome and travel over the Apennines by road or rail. The countryside is quite spectacular and illustrates why the Allied plan to take Rome via Pescara was doomed from the moment the Germans decided to stand South of Rome.  Ortona has a fine little military museum and the Commonwealth War Cemeteries, as everywhere, are well maintained and their staff helpful.

The battlefield is one of the battlefields that need to be visited to appreciate the micro-terrain, the tactically important minor features of what Montgomery described as “ridge and furrow” countryside.  Although Ortona has sprawled along the lateral road the battlefield is much less overgrown than the  Monte Cassino massif or litter laden and developed than Anzio. There are plenty of view points beloved for military studies and TEWTs.

 The area is less geared to battlefield tourism than around Cassino, but when aware of the purpose of a visit the local response can be humbling.  An explanation to the hotel owner of the purpose of the visit resulted in the owner telling the story of her father, taken prisoner in Sicily and her uncle who fought with the partisans alongside the British Major Lionel Wigram.  As soon as the occupants of the “manor House” in Casa Beradi had worked out that the group of people in German registered minibuses were British soldiers the hospitality was overwhelming.

 For more information about visiting the battlefield contact Gunner Tours www.gunnertours.com +44 207 387 6620

References

1.  Bolton Remembers the War 

2. One More River the story of the 8th Indian Division.

3. The Tiger Triumphs: The Story of Three Great Divisions In Italy; His Majesty’s Stationery Office For The Government Of India 1946

4.  War Diary 53 Field Regiment RA WO /170

Roy Suzuki and the British Nisei

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

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

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

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

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

C Sqn 3 CLY Firefly tank Normandy 1944

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

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

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

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

Fal
Fal

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

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

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

And on the following day

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

More about battlefield tours to Normandy here

gunner tours logo white on brown

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

What the Godwin Sands Dornier 17 can tell us about the Battle of Britain

Formation of Do17Z Bomber Aircraft in 1940 (wikipedia Commons)
Formation of Do17Z Bomber Aircraft in 1940 (wikipedia Commons)

If asked to name some famous aircraft from the Battle of Britain,  most people would think of Sptifires, Hurricanes, Messerschmits, Heinkels and Stukas  The announcement of the plans to raise   Dornier Do 17Z Werke nr. 1160 from the  bottom of the English Channel has thrown the spotlight on a duel between a pair of aircraft.  This duel touches on the controversy within the RAF about the best way to fight the battle of Britain. It also illustrates the link between the Battle of Britain and the night bombing of Germany.  Hidden in the landscape too are the places that tell this story.

The Dornier 17Z being recovered by the RAF Museum is the only example of its type in the world. This aircraft is also a particularly significant part of our battlefield heritage. It is not simply an example of a mediocre military aircraft from the mid 20th Century. This is a German bomber shot down by the RAF on 26th August during the Battle of Britain; a dramatic episode in our history, ranking alongside 1066, 1588 and 1805. This is on a par with say, a suit of armour worn by a French noble at Agincourt or by one of Richard III’s followers at Bosworth. The project needs support from donors and you can donate here https://support.rafmuseum.org/dornier-17-appeal

According to the information sheet written by Andrew Simpson and provided by the RAF Museum,

Dornier Werke nr. 1160 was 7/KG3 (7 Staffel (Squadron), III Gruppe of KG.3 with fuselage codes 5K+AR, which was based at St Trond in Belgium on 26th August 1940. This source says that this aircraft was part of a combined formation of Dorniers from KG2/3 despatched to bomb Debden and Hornchurch airfields. Seven aircraft of the 7 Staffel started to bomb an aerodrome, probably Debden, causing some damage.

No 264 Squadron Defiants in formation (Wikipedia Commons)
No 264 Squadron Defiants in formation (Wikipedia Commons)

Accounts of its loss vary from source to source; The original PoW Interrogation Report states that before reaching the target, when flying above clouds this aircraft seemingly became separated from the rest of the formation and lost its bearings. It was attacked by fighters, probably one of the RAF Hornchurch, Essex based Boulton Paul Defiants of No.264 Squadron RAF led by Flt Lt Banham, from their forward base at RAF Manston, Kent, which hit both engines and the cockpit as one,  of between one and six, as again published accounts vary – Dorniers brought down by the Defiants, who lost three of their number to defending Bf109s. At around 13.40 hours the aircraft force landed on Goodwin Sands off the eastern Kentish coast at low tide. Of the four crew, two (Wounded Pilot Feldwebel Willi Effmert, and Bomb Aimer Uffz Hermann Ritzel) became Prisoners-of-War in Canada and two (27-year old Wireless Operator Unteroffizier Helmut Reinhardt and 21-year old Bomb aimer Gefreiter Heinz Huhn) were killed, their bodies being recovered later and buried in Holland and the UK (Cannock Chase German cemetery) respectively.

Map showing the locations of the actions on 26th August 1940.  (New Zealand Official History)
Map showing the locations of the actions on 26th August 1940. (New Zealand Official History)

This air battle has some important consequences for the Battle of Britain,and is part of a

Dornier17Z bomber formation with the coastline behind them. (wikipedia commons)
Dornier17Z bomber formation with the coastline behind them. (wikipedia commons)

controversy which has continued ever since. 26th August is roughly half way through the Battle of Britain, at the height of the Luftwaffe attacks on the RAF Fighter Command Airfields. On this day the Germans would lure the RAF forwards to fight in an air battle over Kent and then send in a bomber force to try to knock out Fighter Command Airfields at Debden and North Weald and North of the Thames in Essex. These airfields were beyond the range where the bombers could be escorted by the singe seat Me109 fighters.

No 11 Group RAF, under the command of Keith Park was responsible for defending London and the South East and bore the brunt of the Battle of Britain. Their squadrons were directed towards incoming raids using the sophisticated integrated air defence system developed under Hugh Dowding. Their own airfields would be defended by squadrons from the neighbouring No 12 Group under Trafford Leigh-Mallory. On 26th August this did not work. The cloudy conditions of the day helped the Germans to remain hidden from the RAF, and Debden airfield was bombed at 15.20 hrs killing several servicemen and causing damage. This was one of the incidents which triggered the conflict between Keith Park and Leigh Mallory, the respective commanders of No 11 and No 12 Groups, the debate over the “Big Wings”, and the side-lining of both Dowding, the Commander of Fighter Command  and Park. This is a controversial episode in the story of the RAF which still makes ripples today, and is a fascinating case study of leadership and management which still offers lessons.

The RAF Museum information sheet leaves some questions about the relationship between Dornier Do 17Z Werke nr. 1160 and the raid on Debden. This aircraft appears to have crash landed two hours before the raid on Debden took place and may have been the result of some other engagement. According to the RAF Official History,(1) there were two major day raids on Monday 26th August 1940, not one raid as is the impression given by the information sheet. The first raids took place between 11.35-13.40 and took the form of a series of air raids on towns and airfields in Kent. The raiders included aircraft from III/KG3, and were intercepted by aircraft from, five squadrons including 264 Squadron. 264 Squadron, equipped with Defiant fighters and No 56 Squadron with Hurricanes sighted a formation of twelve Do17s near Deal before noon. The German bombers were flying at 13,000 ft and protected by thirty to fifty Me109s. The seven Defiants succeeded in getting at the bombers and claimed to have shot down six of them. However, the Me109s harassed them continuously shooting down three Defiants. This is the action which appears to fit the circumstances of the loss of the Dornier of No 7 Staffel of III/KG3 as it took place close to the Godwin Sands, a gliding distance from East Kent. The timings don’t quite fit either, but might make sense if the time of the crash was reported by the Germans using French/German time an hour ahead of the local UK time.

The loss of this Dornier to a Boulton and Paul Defiant has a certain historical irony. The connection between these aircraft is an interesting case study in the development of military technology.

The Boulton and Paul Defiant from "Britain's Wonderful Fighting Forces" (1941)
The Boulton and Paul Defiant from “Britain’s Wonderful Fighting Forces” (1941)

The  1930s was a period of technological change in military aviation. New engine designs and the potential of aluminium stressed skinned air-frames offered the potential to fly much faster than possible with fabric and braced struts and stronger structures than could be destroyed by the twin machine guns of contemporary fighter aircraft. The Dornier 17 was specified in 1932 as a “mail carrying aeroplane” but intended for reconnaissance. The resulting aircraft was faster than most biplane fighters and won an speed award in a 1937 air show in Switzerland, its top speed of 255mph was faster than French or Czech fighters. But by 1940 Do 17Z Werke nr. 1160 was already obsolescent. Fighter design had caught up and the Do 17 was slower than the RAF single seat fighters. Its bomb load was much smaller than the Ju88 and He 111 and new versions of the aircraft had already been commissioned. Although KG3 continued to fly this type of aircraft through the Blitz of 1940-41, from May 1941 the Wing converted to the Ju88. III/KG3 was the last to convert, in the following winter returning from the east front to Guetersloh in Germany.

The Bolton and Paul Defiant is often ignored completely in popular accounts of the Battle of Britain, and when mentioned it is usually as an example of a failed aircraft design. Any internet search of “ten worst aircraft of WW2” will find the Defiant high on the list. Yet the idea behind the aircraft had a lot of merit.

The power operated Fraser Nash Turret in this No 264 Squadron Defiant  contained a battery of four .303 browning machine guns, each with 600 rounds of ammunition.(wikipedia Commons)
The power operated Fraser Nash Turret in this No 264 Squadron Defiant contained a battery of four .303 browning machine guns, each with 600 rounds of ammunition.(wikipedia Commons)

No one knew how aerial warfare might be possible with the 1930-40s generation of aircraft. The aircraft of the Great War flew at the same sorts of speeds achievable by a fast sports car, and needed to close to within 50m to achieve a kill. Twenty years later aircraft could fly two to three times faster, raising questions about whether aerial combat would possible at all.   In the 1930s the major threat as perceived by the RAF was of German bombers attacking Britain from Germany. The thinking of the time envisaged aerial bombardment by explosive and chemical weapons which might cause thousands of casualties. This was the era when it was believed that the bomber would always get through. To its credit the British Government and the RAF invested in developing technology to defeat bombers, which paid dividends in 1940. One of the major problems was overcoming the difficulty of deflection shooting with the high speeds of WW2 era aircraft. One solution was to develop a large battery of guns in the wings of a single seat fighter, as adopted with the Hurricane and the Spitfire.

Another solution was for the fighter to fly a parallel course and eliminate the need for deflection shooting. The Boulton and Paul Defiant, like the Hurricane and Spitfire was a monoplane fighter powered by a Rolls Royce Merlin engine. However, the Defiant had a crew of two with a gunner in a Fraser Nash power operated turret to provide a battery of four 303 calibre machine guns which could shoot down a bomber by engaging it from any angle, ideally from some blind spot where the bombers could not engage. The RAF hedged their bets in defensive technology. Alone of all combatants in 1939, it had developed aircraft like the Defiant and the similar Blackburn Roc to use this method of fighting, as well as single seat fighters like the Spitfire and Hurricane.

One of the assumptions made at the time the Defiant was specified was that a German attack would be launched from Germany, outside the range of any single seat fighters. No one predicted that France would fall and the air attack would be from France and within range of single seat fighter escorts, which would find the slow and heavy Defiant easy prey. Although the Defiant could spring a nasty surprise on a German fighter which misidentified it as a Hurricane, the limitations and vulnerability of their aircraft had been identified before the Battle of Britain started. 264 Squadron had taken heavy losses in May over Dunkirk and had been withdrawn to the Midlands beyond the range of German single seat fighters. The fact that this squadron was in the air over Deal on 26th August 1940 shows the limits to which Fighter Command had been stretched.

The Bravest of the Few?   A group of aircrew from No 264 Sqn, the  unit with the highest aircrew mortality in Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain. (wikipedia Commons)
The Bravest of the Few? A group of aircrew from No 264 Sqn, the unit with the highest aircrew mortality in Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain. (wikipedia Commons)

This air battle on 26th August is one of the few occasions where the Defiants were used against a bomber formation.  According to the 264 Squadron records the Squadron shot down seven Do17s for the loss of three Defiants.

The Commonwealth War Grave Commission records show that on that day two sergeants from 264 Squadron died. 26th August was a relatively good day for the Defiants as a total of fourteen men died between 24-28th August 1940, just under half the number of aircrew established for the Squadron, and more than lost by single seat fighter unit in the battle. One of the advantages the RAF had over the Germans in the Battle of Britain was that many RAF aircrew could bail out of a stricken aircraft and return to the fight, while any Germans shot down would be a prisoner of war.  The RAF reported 324 single seat fighter lost in August for the loss of 126 of the pilots killed. Just under two thirds of the pilots parachuted to safety.  That isn’t the case with the Defiants of 264 Squadron who appear to have lost two aircrew for each aircraft.  There are enough first hand accounts of the experiences of “The Few”, to know of the fearful experience of being attacked by a German fighter with only the armoured seat for protection and then bailing out from a crippled and burning machine falling from the sky. How much harder was it for a Defiant gunner, unprotected by armour to survive an attack, or to bail out of a Fraser Nash Turret if the power failed or the mechanism was damaged by cannon splinters?  RAF losses for August. I wonder too, whether the presence of a crewman inhibited Defiant pilots from jumping rather than stay with their  stricken machine to try to maintain control for as long as possible?

Two days after the action on 26th August, 264 Squadron were withdrawn from No 11 Group to No 12 Group and were tasked with operating as night fighters. The although the Defiant was heavier and less manoeuvrable aircraft to fly than either the Spitfire and had a landing speed over 100mph, it was a stable aircraft which made it more suitable as a night fighter. In Autumn 1940 the RAF had no means of finding the enemy other than the Mk1 eyeball and 264 Sqn struggled in this role through the Blitz. In 1941 they received Mk II Defiants which included a Mk VI Airborne interception radar operated by the pilot This seems less efficient than an arrangement allowing the pilot to concentrate on flying the aircraft and keeping visual look out while a second person on board operated the radar, as in the Beaufighter and Mosquito night-fighters. 264 Sqadron soldiered on with the Defiant until 1942 when the Squadron was converted to the Mosquito, a much better night fighter and the air gunners were posted out and replaced by navigator radar operators.

This isn’t quite the end of the story. In the mean time the Germans had found themselves

Prey Turned Hunter.  Dornier 17Z fitted with SN2 airborne Interception radar. Lieutenant Ludwig Becker used an aircraft like this fitted with the prototype of this radar to shoot down five bombers in August 1941.
Prey Turned Hunter. Dornier 17Z fitted with SN2 airborne Interception radar. Lieutenant Ludwig Becker used an aircraft like this fitted with the prototype of this radar to shoot down five bombers in August 1941.

considering the defence of the Reich from nocturnal air attacks. An interest sharpened by the raid on Berlin on the night of 25-26th August and whose raiders would be tucking into their breakfast about the same time that 7./KG3 would be waking up to theirs. Night air defence was low on Luftwaffe priorities and the night fighter force used the aircraft they could. Given that the Do 17 was becoming obsolete as a day bomber, the German night fighter force started using the Dornier as the basis for a night fighter. It had a sufficient margin of speed over the RAF’s Hampden,Wellington and Whitley bombers. Replacing the perspex nose with a fairing with a 20mm cannon and three machine guns and, or a gun pack under the nose gave the Do 17 as much fire-power as a day fighter. On 2nd October 1940 a Do17Z of NJG 1 (Night Fighter Wing 1) command by Lt Ludwig Becker made the first successful German radar controlled interception on 2nd October 1940, shooting down a Wellington Bomber.  The Germans too were developing airborne radar, and in August 1941 the same Lt Becker using the prototype Lichtenstein BC (FuG 202) airborne interception radar shot down five British bombers. Over the next two and a half years the Do17 and its redeveloped versions the Do 215 and Do217 were one of the mainstays of the German night fighter force, until replaced by better machines, such as the Ju88 R1, a faster machine.

Junkers_Ju_88_RAF_Hendon
This Ju88 R1 was flown to England by a defecting crew, on 9th May 1943 bringing with it the secrets of the SN 2 (Fu202) airborne Interception radar.

The RAF Museums JU88R-1 W/Nr 360043, served with IV/NJG.3, coded D5 + EV is anachronistically  displayed in the Battle of Britain Hall, as it is part of the story of the air offensive on Germany told alongside the RAF Bombers it once stalked in the Bomber Hall.  While this aircraft is a version of the Ju88 which flew in the Battle of Britain, it is the sleek fighter version without the bulbous crew crew compartment or the glazed “beetle Eye” nose of the bomber version, and antennae sprout from its nose.   This is also a very special aircraft with a provenance which gives the same significance as, say a machine flown on the dams Raid. This is an aeroplane which made an individual difference to the war, and saved many allied lives. The Ju88 R1 is not the bomber version which flew over Britain in 1940. but a night fighter variant with a sleek shallower fuselage and a crew of three rather than four, equipped with a battery of 20mm cannon, an average of ten shells from which would destroy a heavy bomber like a Lancaster or Halifax. Most important this version has a fairing covered in radar aerials of the production version tested by Lt Becker.  This particular aircraft was obtained by the RAF when a Luftwaffe night-fighter crew defected to England, on 9th May 1943 bringing with it the secrets of the Lichtenstein SN2 airborne interception radar, enabling the British to develop counter-measures. 

The Germans too thought about the problems of deflection shooting at night. British heavy bombers like the Wellington, Sterling Halifax and Lancaster all had a power operated Fraser

Diagram showing the  installation of two 20mm cannons to fire obliquely above the cockpit of an Me110G2.  The  Me110 G2  anachronistically displayed in the RAF Museum Battle of Britain Hall is fitted with this Schräge Musik  "Jazz Music" for shooting down RAF night bombers.
Diagram showing the installation of two 20mm cannons to fire obliquely above the cockpit of an Me110G2. The Me110 G2 anachronistically displayed in the RAF Museum Battle of Britain Hall is fitted with this Schräge Musik “Jazz Music” for shooting down RAF night bombers.

Nash rear turret mounting four machine guns, and manned by a gunner whose warning could initiate evasive manoeuvres which could throw off an attacker. Some Germans thought about the idea of oblique fire, approaching a bomber from underneath. Ober Leutentant Schoenert, a 23 kill “experten” from from NJG 1 had a Do 217 modified to include two upward pointing 20mm cannons. With this machine he achieved the first German kill using this technique in May 1943. The technique was widely adopted by the German night fighter force. So the technique which the RAF dropped, was adopted by the Luftwaffe and became a great success under different operational circumstances. Thus the Do17 became the hunter rather than the prey. 264 Sqn’s Air gunners left the squadron in mid 1942. I do not know what happened to them, but it would be an unfortunate irony if the RAF had posted these experienced air gunners as rear gunners in the Bomber squadrons,

There is a lot to see relating to the events of the Battle of Britain and the battle on 26th August. Of course the RAF museum has a lot of the aircraft involved, including the only surviving Bolton and Paul Defiant and at some point in the future, Dornier 17z. Here are some other places associated with the stories in the battle:-This could be the focus for people with an interest in wider aviation heritage.

  • Bentley Priory Museum (Currently being redeveloped) where the information from different sources was filtered and passed to Groups as plots of raids.
  • No 11 Group Command Bunker Uxbridge, where the Group Controller made the decision to commit No 264 and 56 Sqns to intercept 7./KG3.
  • RAF Northolt Restored Sector Control Room, the only No 11 Group Control Room in existance.
  • The reconstructed Sector Control room at the Imperial War Museum Duxford IMW, is where the No 12 Group aircraft were scrambled to intercept the raiders at Debden – but arrived too late.
  • The underground control room at Dover Castle, where the AA defences on that day were controlled.
  • RAF Debden, the target for the raids in the afternoon is a very well preserved Battle of Britain airfield, but is now Carver Barracks and home to No 33 Regiment Royal Engineers.
  • RAF Manston, the airfield where 264 Sqn used as a forward base on 26th August 1940 is now Kent International Airport, and there an RAF Manston History museum next to the Spitfire and Hurricane museum at Kent International Airport.
  • RAF Hornchurch, where 264 Squadron were based for their costly week in No 11 Group is now Hornchurch Country park. Most of the administration and technical areas of the airfield are now a housing estate. It was the subject of a Tv archaeology programme in the “Two men in a Trench” series. Some buildings have been preserved, includign the Offciers Mess, now a medical centre. The local pub, the Good Intent, which served airmen from the base has in recent times had a collection of photographs.
  • St Trond Airfield became a Belgian Airforce Base after the Second World War. It is now Limburg Regional Airport.
  • Gefreiter Heinz Huhn is buried in Cannock Chase German Military Cemetery alongside about 5,000 other German and Austrian war dead from the World Wars.
  • The names of the eight of the fourteen men killed flying for No 264 Squadron whose bodies have never been recovered are commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial for the missing, overlooking London. A fitting place to remember and reflect.

Contact Air Power tours if you would like to find out more about visiting the sites associated with this air battle.

Airpower tours logo_R131_G202_B255