Dr. Christopher Scott has been walking battlefields for over 45 years and has been to 332 fields in 20 countries over 5 continents. He has guided sites of Medieval, Civil War, Marlburian and Napoleonic battles and was a Trustee of the Battlefield Trust and The Guild of Battlefield Guides, which he also helped create and designed their first Validation Programme. He formulated his own approach to battlefield study and has written several military history and battle books including a new and detailed interpretation of Roundway Down. Whilst in Education he led departments and faculty teams, He and helped found a Further Education College. At The Royal Armouries he designed the education and public interaction programmes for the Leeds Museum. Chris is a freelance guide, lecturer, consultant and writer; he is also a good storyteller and a past winner of the Cameron Mackintosh Contemporary Playwright Award. He was the Lord General of the Roundhead Association.
Graeme Cooper has been battlefield guiding since 1995 and operates Cooper’s Waterloo Tours, a family run business specialising in tailored tours to Napoleonic battlefields for adults, and leadership training for the military.
A Fellow of the International Napoleonic Society (FINS), Graeme qualified as a Waterloo Campaign Guide with Les Guides 1815 in 1998.
In November 2003, Graeme inspired the foundation of The International Guild of Battlefield Guides and was the Secretary up until November 2009 when he became the first member of the Guild to be elected to the Roll of Honour for his services to the Guild.
Graeme is married with a son and daughter and lives in Essex. He plays golf when battle time permits.
Listen to the podcast here
Sue King is a professional guide, and guide trainer. Besides her accreditation by the International Guild of Battlefield Guides she is a very experienced Blue Badge guide qualified to guide Yorkshire, London, Cumbria, South West, Liverpool City Region / Merseyside, South East England, Heart of England. She is also a City of London Guide. For several years she has been the director of training for the London Tour Guides.
The Listening Post is a Podcast about Battlefield Guiding. There have been battlefield guides throughout history, but the modern trade started in the second half of the C20th. In 2003 the International Guild of Battlefield Guides was founded a professional organisation to analyse, develop and raise the understanding, practice and profession of battlefield guiding and to promote the education of battlefield visitors and students in military heritage.
The Listening Post is a Podcast about Battlefield Guiding. There have been battlefield guides throughout history, but the modern trade started in the second half of the C20th. In 2003 the International Guild of Battlefield Guides was founded a professional organisation to analyse, develop and raise the understanding, practice and profession of battlefield guiding and to promote the education of battlefield visitors and students in military heritage.
John Richardson’s full credentials are Professor & Colonel (Retired) J.C. Richardson, MA, MB BChir, MRCS LRCP, MSc(GP), MMedSc(Occ Hlth), FRCGP, FFOM(RCPI), DRCOG Emeritus Defence Professor of Primary Care & General Practice. He has been leading and taking part in expeditions for nearly sixty years. During that time his expeditions have faced most of the four horsemen of the apocalypse.
John was known as Doctor John to Royal British Legion staff as he organised medical support to the Legion’s pilgrimages to war graves, memorials and battlefields across the world. Each Pilgrimage was supported by a doctor nurse or paramedic recruited by John. He briefed Pilgrimage tour escorts, manager/guides about the medical problems and support for tours. A is copy is here for your interest and education.
In June 1940 Captain John Durnford Slater RA was adjutant of a training regiment. His CO wrote such a supportive letter that Durnford Slater was appointed commanding officer of the first Army Commando to be formed – No 3 Commando. His memoir covers the formation, training and actions of No 3 Commando, from Guernsey in 1940 through the Lofoten Islands, Vaagso, Dieppe and Sicily, and of his commando brigade in Italy. He tells his story of his own experiences as a D Day planner and deputy commander of the divisional sized commando force in North West Europe.
Commando is the first-hand account by one of the men who created the commando concept and led them in battle. Commandos have copied by armies and navies world-wide as commandos or rangers, the US knock off. It is also a study in leadership and command by a great fighting commander. It also includes delightful elements of what can be described as unofficial history – those stories that get left out of more guardedly written works, because of the reputational risk. Durford Slater’s men played hard and there are some escapades that would hit the front pages of the tabloids . Durnford Slater’s willingness to share these tales with his readers may also account for why he retired as a substantive major.
Appointed on 28th June 1940 Durnford Slater was given a fortnight to recruit and form No 3 Commando. After pillaging Southern Command for officers, these were sent to recruit volunteers for their own troops. By 5th July his unit was in existence with thirty-five officers and five hundred men. Their first operation took place ten days later. He and his officers seem to have been left alone to develop raiding techniques and a training regime that has been copied world-wide. It is hard to see how a comparable capability could be developed without a multi-million consultancy engagement. In 1940 a buckshee captain went off with the authority of the Deputy CIGS. The British Army seems have been ambivalent about Commandos, allowing the Royal Marines to own the concept. Durnford Slater’s work provides some explanations about why they may have been resented.
This work has much to offer anyone studying leadership and command. Durnford Slater sought intelligence, initiative and a sense of humour in his officers, perhaps recognising that sense of humour is the seventh core value of the Army. Every officer joined his unit as a subaltern, and every soldier as a private. He turned down Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat who would not relinquish his captain’s rank. His approach to paperwork and discipline will strike a chord with many readers.
One glorious aspect of the memoir are the tales from the margins of military history, The punch-ups with Irish navvies and Royal Marines, the plot to blow up the German embassy in Dublin, booze ups in enemy territory, and the staged visits for VIPs to patrol no man’s land in Normandy against a controlled enemy. It turns over a corner of the rug under which much history is swept.
I can’t remember reading Commando before. Its one I wish I had read much earlier.
The book has 211 pages, and thirty-six black and white photographs. There are seven clear sketch maps to illustrate Commando operations.
The 2020 edition has a RRP of £13.99, though you will not need to pay that to obtain it online, and the 1953 edition can be obtained for around £3.00
This is a well written account of the capture of the German submarine U-110 on May 1941. This was possibly one of the most important naval actions of the battle of the Atlantic, with far reaching results. Although U-110 sank on tow, its precious Enigma machine had been extracted and its secrets helped to inform British naval intelligence of German U Boat movements and route convoys to avoid them.
The book was originally written in 1959, to rebut the claims of Rear-Admiral Daniel V. Gallery USN that his capture of U -505 in June 1944 was unique. In the official history “The War At Sea.” Roskill had downplayed the capture of U Boats. U110 merited only a single line with the statement that it had been sunk. The first third of the The Secret Capture tells the story of the other submarine captures of the Second World War. The rest of the book is a fine account of convoy OB318, its encounters with U Boats and the capture of U110 by the 3rd Escort Group under Captain Addison Joe Baker-Creswell, to whom the book is dedicated. There could be no mention of Enigma, but there are references to books, codes and enough “secret material” to fill two crates.
It is a very readable account which covers the human story of the war at sea from the point of view of officers and men from the Royal Navy and merchant marine. Roskill went to some length to track down ex sailors and merchant seamen ten years after the events. He is a good writer and spins a good dit.
The book has 167 pages, and sixteen black and white photographs. There are six charts and two diagrams to explain the movements and convoy formations. These are clear and helpful.
This edition includes a new foreword by Baker-Crewsell’s son Charles, with more biographical information. Professor Barry Gough has written a short new introduction that explains the context and importance of the recovery of the Enigma machine.
There are two reservations about the work. The book doesn’t quite do what it says on the cover. I would have expected to have read more about the exploitation of the Enigma machine. The 2011 edition seems overpriced with at RRP of £16.99, though you will not need to pay that to obtain it online, and the 1959 edition can be obtained for £0.80
This is a good historic tale, told well.
At the beginning of February I attended an event in Brussels that really impressed me. Liberation Route Europe is an ambitious project, a marketing initiative to promote remembrance tourism of the Second World War across the continent of Europe. It was started by a Dutch charity, but now encompasses Europe from Sicily to the UK and Normandy to Poland. I met a great bunch of people. There are several impressive achievements.
• A walking trail covering Liberation Routes from London to Berlin via Normandy.• An impressive Rough Guide “Liberation Routes”, with a mixture of history, a campaign guide information about museums, memorials and cemeteries.
• A network of guides, museums and tourism organisations to support inbound travel.
• Generating business with inbound tour operators using the Liberation Route.
• Political support and engagement by senior European politicians. Liberation Route Europe’s Patron is Martin Schultz, a past President of the European Parliament and previous key-note speakers include Frans Timmermans, the Vice President of the EU Commission.
• A willingness to debate contentious contemporary issues. The event included several presentations of gaps or critical interpretations, including the Dutch neglect of its post war experience in Indonesia, and the current day Russian and Polish government driven historic narratives. There was a debate between two MEPs about the extent to which the EU should have an authorised narrative. A little incongruous, inconclusive and less than exciting, but significant that it took place.
Their website has a mixture of history and tourism offers. History takes the visitor to story lines, based on historic themes, geographic locations and personal stories. An invitation to Travel the route offers directs visitors to offers for individual, groups, educational tours, guides – and the Rough Guide.
The history behind the Liberation Route is based on an agreed historic interpretation named as the “Magna Carta”. This interpretation, agreed by eight historians of different nationalities, draws on the full range of individual experiences of the populations of European states during the Second World War. This acknowledges that loyalties were divided and avoids judgements on the actions of a generation that is fading from personal memory. The liberal politicians supporting the project see the story of the Second World War, and its roots in fascism and racial supremacy as an important warning from history. The inclusive interpretation focusing on the common experiences of European populations is an ideological counter to the nationalism and intolerance of modern populism.
Liberation Route Europe has been keen to engage with Britain. The Liberation Route walk starts in London. Whatever the UK’s future relationship with Europe, it does not affect its role in the Second World War and there is a common interest in promoting heritage to inbound tourists. However, many Britons are skeptical of “Euro History”. Some question how Germans can tell the story of WW2. Nor does the Liberation Route Europe focus on the heritage of 1944-1990 fit the British narrative with its finest hour in 1940.
Recent research segments tourists by their interests, referred to as passion communities, rather than by demographics. One segment is described as explorers of cultural identify. Around one third of visitors plan to visit sites associated with the world wars. This roughly reflects the segment covered by dark tourism research and the research commissioned by the Royal British Legion. Liberation Route Europe is ahead of the game as a focus for organising inbound tourism for this sector. Britain, committed to existence outside the EU needs to up its game.
1. HIS MATERNAL GRANDFATHER WAS A FAMOUS CHILDREN’S WRITER
His maternal grandfather, Dean Farrar was a famous preacher and author. Montgomery’s mother was the daughter of Dean Farrar, who was a well-known theologian who could fill a church when it was known he was preaching. He was master at Harrow and headmaster of Marlborough schools. He spent much of his clerical career at Westminster Abbey becoming archdeacon as well as a chaplain to the royal household. He wrote works of theology and several works of fiction, including Eric or Little by Little. This tale set in a school that was one of the best-known boys books in mid Victorian England.
The is a substantial memorial to Montgomery’s father Henry Montgomery in St Paul’s cathedral. After his return from serving as Bishop of Tasmania, Henry became the Prelate to the order of St Michael and St George. It was during his time in office that the Order was given their chapel St Paul’s Cathedral on the south side of the nave. Henry was made a knight commander of the order of St Michael and St George in the king’s birthday honours of 1928. He became a KCMG – known as “Kindly Call Me God.” Each member of the order has a brass plate in the chapel.
3. HIS COMMANDING OFFICER DESERTED HIS BATTALION IN BATTLE
In Monty’s first battle, his commanding officer deserted Montgomery and half the battalion on the battlefield of Le Cateau. At the end of the battle they escaped the Germans by marching among the German columns undiscovered. Lieutenant Colonel John Elkington was court-martialled and cashiered for deserting his men, and surrendering a post at Sant Quentin. Elkington eventually redeemed his honour. He joined the French Foreign Legion as a private soldier. When his platoon commander became a casualty Elkington rallied the men and led them in an attack in which he was badly wounded.
4. IT WAS A STUDENT PUNISHMENT TO SIT NEXT TO MONTY AT BREAKFAST
Montgomery was an argumentative and garrulous student at Staff College. According to the recollections of one alumni, one student was sentenced to sit next to Monty at breakfast for a week. In its conundrums page the college magazine posed: “If it takes ten truck loads of 9.2” Mk V star India pattern to stop one bath on the second floor of the staff college from leaking, How many haynets with full echelons will be required to stop Monty burbling at breakfast. its had a page of “Things we would like to know” one of them was “If and where does Monty observe two minutes silence on Armistice day?”
Monty met many artists of the 1920s through his wife Betty. She was a graduate of the Slade Art School. Her home at Chiswick as a meeting place for many “bohemians” such as AP Herbert, Eric Kennington and Augustus John.
6. MONTY WROTE THE INFANTRY TRAINING MANUAL
In 1929 Major Montgomery wrote the infantry tactics text-book. Infantry Training Volume 2 War. He knew and had written to Basil Liddell Hart, the author of the previous edition. Liddell Hart fell out with Montgomery over the omission of some of Liddell Hart’s favoured ideas, the Expanding Torrent approach to pursuit.
7. CRUISING WITH THE ARCHITECT OF THE REICHSWEHR
In 1934 Lieutenant Colonel Montgomery and his wife took a cruise to the far east. One of the passengers on the same cruise was German General von Seeckt, the architect of the German Reichswehr. Montgomery interrogated the German at some length about his ideas through an interpreter.
8. MONTY THE SMOKER AND DRINKER
Famously a tee total non-smoker, Montgomery drank and smoked in moderation until 1939. However in June 1939 Montgomery was invalided back to the UK from Palestine with pleurisy. On his recovery he gave up drinking and smoking.
9. THE SEX SCANDAL
In 1940 a sex scandal, or rather a scandal about sexually transmitted disease, threatened to engulf his wartime military career. As commander of the 3rd Division Monty became concerned about the prevalence of venereal disease in his 3rd Division. He wrote an order ordering commanding officers to make condoms available on sale in the NAAFI and ensure that sexual hygiene was promoted. “My view is that if a man wants to have a woman let him do so by all means, but he must use commonsense and take all precautions.” Nothing to frighten the horses in the 21st century, but not in the mid C20th for an army of national servicemen. It never occurred to Monty that this was a subject best left for the medical services. Lord Gort the commander of the British Expeditionary Force demanded that Montgomery publicly retract the order, which Brooke, the corps commander thought would have left Monty;’s position as commander untenable. His Corps commander Alan Brooke persuaded Gort to allow Brooke to deal with Monty.
After writing his memoirs Montgomery undertook a self-appointed role as a mediator for world peace. He obtained invitations from the Soviet and Chinese leadership. He met Nikita Krushchev in Moscow and Chairman Mao-Tse Tung in China, seven years before Nixon’s historic visit. Monty swam in the Yangtse river with Mao, enjoyed the meeting enough to invite Monty for a second visit and composed a poem for him entitled “swimming.”
11. WOULD BE MIDDLE EAST PEACE ENVOY
At the 25th Anniversary of El Alamein, four months after the six day war, Monty offered his services to President Nasser of Egypt as a personal emissary to broker a peace between Egypt and Israel.
Most of these are taken from Nigel Hamilton’s biography of “Monty”
If you would like to visit some of the sites associated with Bernard Montgomery, I am organising walks and talks.
Innovation is a key factor in modern warfare. It is said, often unkindly, that every army prepares to fight the last war. Changes in technology will determine the characteristics of the next war, which will be different to the last. The side that can adapt and innovate fastest is likely to be at an advantage. The story of the 3.7 inch Heavy AA Gun is about the British Army responded to two sets of technical challenges. One is a great success story. The second a failure that has been a puzzle for 80 years.
Two big ideas emerged after the first world war that offered an opportunity to avoid the bloody stalemate of first world war. The advocates of air power claimed that long range bombers could strike the enemy heartlands and industry avoiding the need for bloody land campaigns. Similarly tank enthusiasts argued that a highly mechanized army would cut through slow moving massed armies destroying their command control and logistics, again avoiding the massed slaughter of attrition warfare. Neither idea led to bloodless victory in the Second World War.
The British 3.7 inch (93 mm) Heavy AA Gun had a similar role and performance to the German 88 mm Flak 36 AA gun. However, while the German “88” was famous as an anti-tank gun and the armament for some of the most feared German tanks, the 3.7 inch AA gun was rarely used in that role. Given the reverses that the British army suffered against Rommel’s Panzers in North Africa, this, in retrospect was a mistake. There is much interest in how armies innovate. The story of how the British did not use their heavy AA Guns against Rommel in 1941-42 is a case study in innovation – how not to do it.
Aimee Fox Godden’s ‘Learning to Fight’ is a study of military innovation in the First World War. She referred to top down, bottom up, horizontal, incidental or external learning. She reviewed the formal and informal mechanisms that the army of 1914-1918 used to transfer learning. There is a language to explore organisational learning in warfare. There isn’t space in this piece to do justice to the topic, but the aim is to with the appetite and inspire someone with the time to carry out the research.
The 3.7 inch AA Gun as an Air Defence Weapon
Between 1915 and 1918 Britain had been the target for the first strategic bombing offensive in history. The modest capabilities of the aircraft of the first world war caused sufficient alarm and damage to force the deployment of hundreds of AA Guns and aircraft and were the catalyst for Britain to form the Royal Air Force the world’s first independent air forces to take charge of the air defence of Britain.
The air defences were swiftly cut back after 1919 as funding was reduced on an annually renewed assumption that would be no war for ten years. However, there were two developments in the 1920s. A joint RAF and Army committee examined the plans that might be needed in the event of a future threat to Britain. Anti-aircraft artillery text-book written in 1925 defined the theoretical requirements of an capabilities of air defence artillery.
The 3.7 inch AA gun originated in a 1928 Royal Artillery Committee minute. By 1933 this had become a General Service Specification for a 3.7 inch gun weighing 8 tons capable of being put into action in 15 minutes and towed at 25 mph. The pilot model passed proof in 1936 and the first production guns were delivered in 1938. Production continued until 1945, with peak monthly production of 228 in March 1942.
The gun was an advanced weapon for 1936, the gunners received information electronically and only needed to operate the gun controls to keep the gun pointers aligned. The 3.7 inch gun should be seen as part of a weapon system, including the ammunition, warning, detection and fire control technology. Progressive improvements in all of these greatly improved its effectiveness over the course of the war. In its original form the 3.7 inch gun fired a 28lb (12.7kg) HE shell fitted with a powder-burning Fuze Time No 199 to an effective ceiling of 23,500ft using Predictor No1 at a maximum 8 rounds per minute with manual fuse setting and loading. By the end of the war the Mk1-3 equipment firing the same shell with a proximity fuse and predictor No 11 and auto-loading had an effective ceiling of 32,000 and a rate of fire of 32 rounds per minute. In the 1940 blitz 18,500 rounds were fired for each aircraft shot down. By 1944-45 the guns averaged 156 rounds per V1 brought down, over 100-fold, (10,000%) improvement.
+Initially targets were acquired visually, and the fire control computations made using a mechanical predictor developed in the late 1920s. The discovery of radar made it possible to consider new ways of engaging targets at night or through cloud. The first gun laying radar could only indicate a rough bearing and range, refinements enabled an indication of elevation. The invention of the cavity magnetron in 1940 at Birmingham University led to Canadian and British centimetric gun laying radar introduced at the end of 1942.At the same time fire control equipment was replaced with electromechanical predictors. The American SCR 583 radar arriving in 1943 offered outstanding performance, when used with the American Bell Telephone AAA computer. Another innovations included the Plan Position Indicating screen that showed the now familiar display with the rotating linear time base. American industry developed proximity fuses each containing a radar. These innovations enabled British HAA to play its part in defeating the world’s first strategic bombing campaign mounted by jet powered cruise missiles, the V1 Blitz.
Heavy AA Guns in the Anti-tank Role
There is less credit in the British story of innovation in the face of the German armoured threat. Indeed the failure to use British Heavy AA in the anti-tank role is also a case study on innovation. Every combatant had heavy AA guns roughly comparable to the 3.7” gun, and by the end of WW2 almost all armed their tanks and anti-tank artillery with guns based on their Heavy AA Guns. The German 88, Tiger, Jagdpanther & Hornisse; the Russian 85 mm in the SU 85 & T34/85,and the US 90 mm in the M 36 tank destroyer and T26 Pershing tanks. Except for the British, who neither used their excellent 3.7” AA Gun nor the 3 inch 20 cwt gun it replaced as an anti-tank gun in North Africa.
Although, the British faced German armour in 1940, it was the battles in North Africa that tested then British Army against German tanks. Failure to defeat Rommel cost a succession of senior British Generals their jobs – Aukinleck, Wavell, Cunningham, Ritchie and Corbett, and undermined the reputation of the British Army and confidence of its soldiers. Dunkirk revealed that the British army had far too few anti-tank weapons. A problem exacerbated by the loss of guns in the debacle of Dunkirk. Even by May 1942 the 8th Army in North Africa was over 100 anti -tank guns short of establishment.
German doctrine provided for AA Guns to supplement anti-tank guns. In the 1940 campaign one third of the ammunition for Luftwaffe heavy AA Guns was anti-tank shot. German tactic used tanks and anti-tank guns in conjunction. By summer 1942 more perceptive observers had noted that the Germans possession of anti-tank guns that out ranged British tank guns goaded British armour to undertake costly charges to close the range. (1) By El Alamein the Royal Armoured Corps was very wary of the presence of 88s.
There were some attempts to deploy the 3.7” Gun in the field, but only on a small scale and belatedly. Nor was there any systematic attempt to deploy a proportion of British heavy AA guns in the Middle East.
There was no technical reason why the 3.7 inch Gun and the 3 inch 20 cwt gun it replaced could not have been used as anti-tank guns. Besides the 3.7inch AA Gun, around 200 obsolete 3“(76mm) 20 cwt AA Guns were replaced by 3.7 inch HAA Guns. In 1940 in France at least once HAA engaged Germans tanks to great effect. In the UK HAA gun positions were laid out in order to engage an local ground attacks by parachutists and tanks. In the summer of 1941 the General A F Brooke, Commander Home Forces made it his business to test the capabilities of Britain’s anti-tank weapons including HAA. By July at least one 3.7 inch HAA Regiment, 103, was tasked with a secondary anti-tank role, to tackle any German heavy tanks.
Alanbrooke’s intervention also lead to a plan to assign fifty 3-inch 20 cwt AA guns to be mounted on towed carriages and fifty to be mounted on Churchill tank chassis. None of these activities led to an additional anti-tank weapons in North Africa by summer 1942. The Germans could do this. Major Becker, a German artillery officer with a background in engineering had developed a range of self-propelled guns based on captured British and French AFVs. These included 75mm anti-tank guns and 105mm self propelled howitzers sent to the Afrika Corps. It was not beyond the wit of man for the British to have mounted one of their HAA guns on an armoured chassis. But they did not do so.
What Might have Gone wrong?
So what might have gone wrong? No one can ever be certain of cause and effect of historic events, and counter factuals are speculation. However, here are some of the factors that may have played a part in the failure to apply HAA as part of the solution to German tanks.
#1 Misunderstand the Problem.
No one at a senior level seemed to grasp the significance of German Heavy AA Guns, used first in North Africa in May and June 1941 to defeat heavy British tanks. After these battles the armoured division commander noted German tactics of luring British armour onto anti-tank guns and an artillery commander noted the Germans were using high velocity AA Guns. But the British did not two and two together and copy these tactics. Instead, there were grumbles about the quality of British tanks, their armour and armament. Over the next year the British learned to fear the “88s”, as any and every German anti-tank gun was regarded. This wasn’t helped by the lack of common doctrine between the Royal Armoured Corps and the other arms.
#2 Ignore the Past.
The German Army was the first army to face massed tanks, in the First World War. They had experience of anti tan k warfare. One of their remedies was to employ any artillery in the anti-tank role. Mobile 75mm anti-aircraft guns mounted on trucks were the anti-tank reserve and rushed to the site of tank attacks. The 88mm Flak 36 used by the Wehrmacht was designed to be dual role. German army and Luftwaffe AA units were trained to operate in the ground and anti-tank role. One third of 88mm AA ammunition in 1940 was anti-tank shot. The British closed their minds to the possibility.
#3 Create Organisational Stovepipes.
During the first half of the Second World War the Royal Artillery was divided into AA and Field Artillery. There was no transfer of officers between the branches. Transfer of ideas may also have been hampered by the cultural and social distinction between the field and AA branches. The AA Branches offered fewer routes to front line action for the bold and adventurous. AA Command was so far in the rear that the women of the ATS to serve in many roles. Besides professional status, there was a difference in social status between the officers of the Royal Horse Artillery who supported the armoured divisions and the lower status fish and chip mob regiments of the Heavy AA..
#4 Set blinkered doctrine and procedures
British regulations saw no role for Heavy AA Guns in any field operation and provided no guidance for their use. Most AA Artillerymen were neither trained nor equipped to fight in the ground battle.
#5 Let Internal Politics Get in the Way.
The project to mount 3inch 20 cwt guns on a Churchill tank chassis failed to result in any AFVs in service. The official history of British Armour notes that this gun would have “proved a powerful and effective tank destroyer” but the Royal Armoured Corps and Royal Artillery could not agree who should operate the weapon. Fifty heavily armoured self-propelled guns might have made a big difference in mid-1942 in North Africa.
This article appeared in the Royal Artillery Journal September 2019. Unfortunately some of the maps were not reproduced correctly. This article includes the corrected maps, which are illustrations from the book “Gunners in Normandy” due for publication in Februrary 2020.
Seventy-five years have elapsed since D Day and the battle for Normandy. Since then there have been countless publications, including several in the Royal Artillery Journal.[i] The Gunner contribution was recognised with the highest praise by commanders, and widely acknowledged. The Gunner contribution to the battle has been included in the more thoughtful works about the campaign.[ii] However, many of the most popular and respected histories are flawed and contain inaccuracies, if not outright howlers. The Gunners are ubiquitous, but faceless and voiceless. One reason for this has been the absence of a Regimental history of the Normandy campaign, which documents the actions of individual Gunners and Gunner units. This article is based on the narrative from Gunners in Normandy, the History of the Royal Artillery in North West Europe Part 1, a work started by the Late Lieutenant Colonel Will Townend.
Artillery were the largest single cap badge in Normandy. Comprising some 18% of the force, in comparison to 15% of infantrymen. If the proportion of service troops is considered, just under half of the British troops serving in Normandy were either gunners or supporting the artillery. Of the 135 RHA or RA regiments in the British Liberation Army, 11% had seen service in France and Belgium in 1940, and 13% had been in the Middle East. Only 5th RHA and 74th Field Regiments had served in Belgium and France in 1940, in the Middle East and in Normandy. Some individuals had served in both. There was a policy of cross posting officers to share knowledge and experience. Most of the officers and men were conscripts, from a generation whose fathers First World War experiences served as a benchmark.
A handful were pre-war regular regiments including 3rd, 4th and 5th RHA, 7th and 33rd Field, 7th Medium, 20th and 21st Anti-Tank Regiments. Many of the Gunner units were reservist units mobilised at the start of the war. Some had a strong regional character like the World War I Pals, for example the 15th Light Anti-aircraft Regiment, the Manx TA, the 90th (City of London) and 76th (Highland) Field Regiments. At least thirty-eight Regiments were originally raised under a different cap badge. Several, such as 151st (Ayrshire Yeomanry) Field Regiment were mobilised as mounted, yeomanry cavalry; only became gunners in 1939-40 and retained their own cap badges. In 1942 twenty infantry battalions were converted to light anti-aircraft regiments, and nine to field and medium artillery regiments. Some of these units retained a dual identity, such as the 92th (7th Loyals) Light AA or 181st (6th Battalion King’s Shropshire Light Infantry) Field Regiments. Their unit histories record their dual identity with pride. Others, such as 110th Light AA Regiment originally raised as 7th Dorsets appear to have been subsumed completely as Gunners. Some Gunner regiments tolerated or sported non-issue items of clothing. Some extended their individuality to fire discipline, with questions raised about the extent to which the use of code words in 7 Armoured Division originating in the Western Desert, hindered them in Normandy.[iii]
By comparison with the British Expeditionary Force on 1940 the British Liberation Army of 1944 had a few more field and medium guns, but far more anti-tank and light Anti-aircraft guns. Not shown is the substantial increase in communications and locating equipment, Air OPs and a 50% increase in numbers of BCs and FOO parties.
The two principal field artillery equipment, guns, used in Normandy were the 25-pounder, the workhorse of the divisional artilleries and the 5.5-inch, the mainstay of the Army Groups Royal Artillery (AGRA). Others were:
- The 75 mm (US) Pack Howitzer, used by the Airborne Artillery.
- 5-inch, Gun. This equipped two medium batteries for counter battery work on account of its range.
- 155 mm (US Long Tom – 6-inch), designated heavy artillery and used primarily for counter battery work
- 2-inch (Mk 6 on US M1 carriage, or a box trail carriage), used for heavy bombardment
- 25-pounder Sexton self-propelled gun (on a Canadian Ram tank chassis and often known as the Ram), mainly used by the regiments supporting the armoured brigades in the armoured divisions, with two from disbanded formations as Army Group assets, and 90th Field Regiment from 50th Division converted for D Day.
- 105 mm (US) M7 Priest self-propelled gun (on a US M3 tank chassis), used by 3rd British and 3rd Canadian Division Artillery and the 19th Canadian Field Regiment. The Priest was replaced in most units by the towed 25-pounder at the end of July-beginning of August.
- The 3.7” HAA Gun was used extensively in the field artillery role. It out-ranged the 5.5” Medium gun and had a useful HE round and mechanical time fuse
- The Centaur CS tank mounted a 95mm howitzer. This equipped the Royal Marine Armoured Support Group, formed initially for the D Day assault.
Field Regiments comprised 24 guns organised into three batteries, each of two troops of four guns. Medium regiments of 16 guns organised into two batteries of eight guns, each of two troops. Heavy Regiments. Heavy Regiments had 16 guns, eight each of 155mm and 7.2”, organised into four batteries of four guns. Within field regiments the battery and troop commanders provided the observation and liaison element in direct support of infantry or armoured units. Medium and heavy Regiments could provide liaison and additional observers. Each infantry division had three field regiments of towed 25 pounders. Each armoured division had a field regiment of towed 25 pounders and in direct support of the infantry brigade and a field regiment of SP 25 pounders in direct support of the armoured brigade. The AGRAs were of mixed composition, but normally included a heavy regiment, two or more medium regiments and a field regiment.
The principal anti-tank guns in use in Normandy were:
- 6-pounder anti-tank gun, used by both infantry and Royal Artillery anti-tank units in 1944
- 17-pounder anti-tank gun, used exclusively by the Royal Artillery anti-tank regiments
- US M10 self-propelled (on an M3 tank chassis) 3-inch anti-tank gun
- US M10 self-propelled (on an M3 tank chassis) with British 17-pounder anti-tank gun (Achilles)
The 57mm calibre 6 pounder had entered service in 1942 and proved effective in North Africa against the German Mark III and IV tanks and could inflict damage on the German Mark VI Tiger heavy tank with Ballistically Capped Armour Piercing Steel shot (CAPC).[iv] By D Day this ammunition was supplemented by Armour Piercing Discarding Sabot ammunition (APDS) which could had improved penetration. The six-pounders were light and manoeuvrable and could deal with all but the Tiger and the front armour of Panther tanks. They were towed by the Universal carrier, although this was under-powered and possessed a “paralytic” cross country performance when towing a gun.[v]
The 17-pounder was a very effective anti-tank gun, but, was heavy and unwieldy to manhandle into position. Introduced in 1943, an APC shot from the 17 pounder could penetrate the armour of the heaviest German tanks. The gun detachment had no protection from shell splinters and a gun pit took 12 hours to dig. The soft skin Field Artillery Tractor was inadequate in a forward area swept by shell splinters and bullets. Obsolete Crusader tanks were converted into gun tractors and issued to the towed batteries of the Corps Anti-tank Regiments. The towed 17 pounders in armoured divisions used M14 half-tracks as tractors.
The American M10 Gun Motor Carriage which mounted a 3-inch gun in an open topped turret on a Sherman tank chassis. The M10’s armour gave little protection against German tank guns. The 3-inch gun was replaced with a 17-pounder as production capacity – and industrial relations permitted. There is no evidence of the inferiority complex that seems to have affected the RAC tank crews facing Panther and Tiger tanks. “The 3” M10 is a good SP Gun; The 17 Pounder M10 is a terror”[vi]
There were two types of anti-tank regiment: those supporting infantry divisions and those supporting armoured divisions and the corps anti-tank regiments. Both types had four batteries of three troops each of four guns, a total of 48 guns. In the infantry divisions all four batteries comprised one (or two) troops each of four 6-pounders and two, (or one) each of four 17-pounders. The D Day assault divisions were given US M10 3-inch SP anti-tank guns in place of the towed 17-pounders. The anti-tank regiments of the armoured divisions and corps anti-tank regiments comprised two SP batteries each with three troops of four M10s and two towed batteries with three troops of four 17-pounders.
The anti-tank defences were supplemented by field and anti-aircraft equipment which had a secondary anti-tank role. AP shot from 3.7” HAA Guns would penetrate armour almost as thick as a 17 Pounder could penetrate.
The AA forces for Operation ‘Overlord’ included the largest concentration of British AA Artillery assigned to any operation. Thirteen AA Brigade HQ, seventy AA Regiments, several independent batteries and an RM AA Regiment. Almost half of the gunners landed in Normandy in the first few days were AA gunners. By the 25th June twenty-nine AA regiments had been landed. Twelve of these were assigned to the Corps and Divisions. A further seventeen were part of three AA brigades under army command in Normandy.
The principal anti-aircraft guns used by the Royal Artillery were the 3.7-inch heavy anti-aircraft gun and the 40mm Bofors. The heavy anti-aircraft regiments had three batteries each of two troops of four 3.7-inch guns, a total of 24 guns, and the light anti-aircraft regiments had three batteries each of three troops of six 40 mm Bofors guns, a total of 54 guns, in various combinations of SP and towed guns. They also had three troops each with 20mm Oerlikon guns, although, these did not arrive in Normandy until mid-July. The anti-aircraft brigades had varying numbers of heavy and light anti-aircraft regiments and searchlight batteries under command, depending on the task. LAA regiments manned the off-shore anti-aircraft guns on the Mulberry, Gooseberries and Landing Barges Flak, and deployed ashore to protect the beachhead and Mulberry harbour had special establishments and equipment. In August 1944, the Light AA regiments were reduced and reorganised; the 20mm troops and one troop of 40mm guns per battery handed in their equipment and sent the manpower to the reinforcement holding units for reallocation.
The 3.7” Heavy AA Gun was comparable to the German 88mm Flak 36 AA gun. Progressive improvements to ammunition, warning, detection and fire control technology improved its effectiveness over the course of the war around a hundredfold. It was towed by a four-wheeled AEC Matador, a 10 ton capacity four wheel drive vehicle.
The 40mm Bofors gun was the British version of the eponymous Swedish Light AA gun used by almost every combatant. It had an effective ceiling of 5,000ft. The Bofors gun was towed by the Bedford QLB, based on the Bedford QL chassis. The SP variant mounted the 40mm Bofors on the chassis of the Morris Field Artillery Tractor. The SP Bofors was much quicker into action that the towed equipment and popular in service. These were disproportionately issued to the Light AA Regiments in the three Assault divisions and the Light AA of 76th and 80th AA Brigades
In order to ensure that the first wave of Light AA could get ashore without waiting for beach roadways to be laid, the first wave of Light AA to land were provided with thirty 40mm Bofors guns mounted on old Crusader tank chassis with the turrets removed. The hulls were modified to take the maximum ammunition.[vii]
In order to engage low flying fast aircraft the British Army adopted 20mm AA guns. The 20mm Oerlikon, used by the Navy and installed in RAC AA tanks, lacked the self-destructing fuses that detonated after a set time. They could only be safely fired into ground known not to be occupied by friendly forces, which restricted its use. In 1944 the Polish designed Polsten was introduced with a self-destruct round. Fifty-four triple mount Polsten guns were equipped the batteries of 93rd Light AA Regiment. Twenty-seven were mounted on Crusader tank chassis and a further twenty-seven mounted on 40mm carriages.[viii] These would provide low level point air defence to the beaches.
The Royal Artillery used several types of radar equipment to detect and locate enemy aircraft. Few, if any photographs exist of these in service in Normandy. The loading lists for 80th AA Brigade suggest that each troop of four guns was accompanied by its own pair of radars.
The Gun laying Radar AA No3 MkII, also known as the GL III, was a 10cm mobile radar for accurate fire control of heavy anti-aircraft guns. Depending on the source, this radar could pick up and engage a medium bomber at 27,000 yards (25km)[ix]. or pick up at 36,000 yards( 33km) and engage at 14,000yards (12.5km)[x] It was mounted on a four wheeled trailer. It could transmit continuous information the range, bearing and elevation to a predictor, which could then further transmit information to individual guns. This radar had a very narrow field of view and was used in conjunction with another radar with a wider beam which provided early warning and tracking information
The main radar used for local warning and “putting on” the GLIII was the. Radar AA No 1 MII, commonly known as GL (Gun Laying) II. It had a pick-up range of 50,000 and could be used for fire control out to 14,000 yards, but was inferior to the GLIII. The radar comprised separate transmitter and receivers mounted on trailers.
Passive air defence equipment included barrage balloons and smoke generators deployed as part of the Gunner controlled air defences, but manned by other arms.
The operational methods of the British Army in Normandy were the product of doctrine, the lessons learned during the war and the personality of its successful field commander General B L Montgomery. Montgomery had a preference for set piece battles, characterised by a master plan, concentration of force, and fire-power based attrition. He described his set piece battles as consisting of a break in, a dog fight and a break out. The Break in would take place on D Day. Montgomery’s theatre strategy for the Normandy “dog fight” envisaged a series of holding attacks on the British sector, designed to draw the bulk of the German forces to that front, thus permitting the Americans to advance in the West. His approach also strove to keep t he initiative, forcing the Germans to react to Allied moves.
The key to Montgomery’s conduct of battle was the use of overwhelming concentration of massed artillery fire power, supplemented by aerial bombardment when possible. He had seen how massed fire power together with the anti-tank action of anti-tank guns had brought success at El Alamein, and this impressed itself indelibly on his mind.[xi]
It would be wrong to attribute these tactics solely to Montgomery. While he was the commander of the formations which achieved success, the artillery techniques were the product of the developments made within the Royal Artillery and the evolution of thinking within the British Army, supported from the top by the CIGS, Brooke.
D Day would be the “Break in Battle “for the battle of Normandy. The story of the fire plan and the run in shoot has been covered in the pages of the RA Journal, in several articles including by one by Brigadier H J Parham BRA Second British Army responsible for the D Day Fire plan.[xii] Parham also kept a planning diary, held by the Firepower archives. This documented the planning efforts made during four months of intense planning with the RA staff working daily until 02.00.[xiii]
On 31st May 1944 Brigadier Parham confided to his diary his predictions for D Day. “As long as the cloud allows the Fire plan will, given perfect weather and freedom from cloud (which is essential), as follows when it comes off in a few days time.
- A vast quantity of moderately aimed assorted missiles will fall on or near or not so near the beach localities from H-30 to H.
- There will be a vast pall of smoke . As a result the very high proportion of the fire which is dependent on direct laying , will go haywire. But so will the Huns’.
- Defiladed AT guns on beaches will cause a lot of trouble as many will survive. They will be hard to KO and will account for a lot of our own DDs and Centaurs on some beaches.
- Counter battery and counter mortar will be our biggest headache.
- The successful engagement of hull down tanks (Tigers and Panthers) lying back 3,000-4,000 yards from beaches and covering our painful progress through minefields will be difficult.
- We shall be badly short of aerial observation early on.
- The battle on D Day and for the next days will be a very rough house indeed. On it the war’s result depends. BUT…we are absolutely certain to be ashore in enough places to stay there. Nothing else matters and we will then win the war , sooner or later & we hope soon. The Hun commanders on the spot are in for an interesting, exciting and highly depressing day”
Parham took a realistic view of the effectiveness of the fire power being applied to the D Day objectives. He knew that there was very little in the allied armoury that could target an anti-tank gun in a concrete bunker sited to fire in enfilade across the beach. There could not be a solution until the development of precision guided weapons.
The D Day fireplan has been heavily criticised by American and Canadian historians for the apparent failure to destroy more of the beach defences. Yet as Parham’s note makes clear, the fireplan required clear visibility. The decision by Eisenhower to launch the invasion in marginal weather meant that the US Heavy bombers, which provided some 5 kilotons of bombs would be ordered to aim 1,000 off their targets. Parham’s expectations are also a reminder that the outcome on D Day exceeded all contemporary expectations.
Parham had strong views about the need for early Air OPs. There were few natural vantage points on the Normandy battlefield, other than heavily shelled church towers and vegetation restricted what could be seen. He lobbied strongly, but unsuccessfully[xiv], for an aircraft carrier to operate Air OPs on D Day[xv] and even for Sikorski’s prototype helicopters to be operated from Landing craft.[xvi] Air OPs were essential for adjusting fire. Most artillery shoots ordered from the ground were predicted rather than observed fire, using the spread of fire from multi battery missions to offset inaccuracy, with undoubted waste on agricultural targets.
Parham was a champion of the Royal Marines Armoured Support Group (RMASG) who would man obsolete tanks firing in the run in shoot from H-15, thickening the fire after H-10 when the field artillery barrage would end. The RMASG is not well understood, although two of their Centaurs remain as memorials in Normandy. The RMASG was manned by a mixture of RM, RAC and RA and commanded by a CRA. The formation was organised into five batteries each of four troops of four Centaur tanks and a GPO’s Sherman. The Centaurs were fitted with dial sights. There was one battery per assault brigade group to provide direct fire on the run in shoot and indirect fire once ashore. There was no administrative support and most of the men were to be released after a few days in action. The RMASG was not a tank brigade, but a disposable assault gun brigade The CRA, Brigadier Sanders and many of the RM Gunners were from the artillery of the disbanded Royal Marines Division. Only half of the RMASG landed as scheduled, as the high armoured decks of the modified LCT (A) were barely seaworthy. However, as noted by RA 2nd Army, they were “A strange unit: amphibious, web footed, armoured, partly SP, partly RAC, fires off seas as HM craft, on the land as tanks or SP Artillery according to taste….a GRAND LOT OF CHAPS and it would not be their fault if they were not a great success.[xvii] Due to rough seas only half of the Centaurs landed. Those that did gave a good account of themselves and instrumental in an action that resulted in Canadian Gunner Holtzman’s military medal action on Juno Beach. Brigadier Sanders was killed in June, one of the highest-ranking Gunner officers to be killed in action by shellfire while visiting the Orne Bridgehead.
A “corps level battle drill” was promulgated in October 1943, based on experience in North Africa and Sicily.[xviii] This battle procedure included carrying out the procedures to survey guns and targets, identify enemy batteries and, where necessary, carry out preliminary operations to secure ground for gun positions. The techniques were practiced by all but one of the corps headquarters and their associated AGRA at Larkhill during the spring of 1944. The British Army would fight its battles at corps level. If a division fought on its own it would not prevail against a determined German defensive. This proved to be the case in Normandy as can be seen by the lack of success by 3rd British Division against Caen 6-7th June and by the 7th Armoured Division at Villers Bocage.
Inevitably, during battle the process was disrupted by an uncooperative the enemy, who kept artillery and mortars silent until after the attack started, deployed in depth to out range field artillery, and cunningly hid reserves of infantry and heavy tanks. At this point attacks would break down while new targets were acquired and fire-plans adjusted.
The battery commanders and troop commander FOOs played a key role, accompanying the infantry and armour and providing the network of informed observers around which concentrated artillery fire could be applied. The direct support element of field artillery suffered casualties comparable to the infantry. After fourteen days in action Major P Pettit of 481st Battery of 116th Field Regiment was the only un-wounded member of his party. Becoming a Troop Commander FOO, or Battery Commander would bring an officer promotion to Captain. The same was not true of OP signallers or drivers. Officers could be ordered to the OP and? in many units the OP parties were relieved by volunteers from Command posts.
One heroic example took place on the slopes of Hill 112 on 10th July. Major Mapp, BC 171st Battery supporting 7th Somerset Light Infantry was fatally wounded by mortar fire and the infantry CO killed. Both OP parties were deployed and pinned to the ground. Bombardier, Acting Sergeant Trevis at Battalion HQ then took command and assumed the BC’s responsibilities, co-ordinated the work of the O.P.s and brought down ﬁre when required by the battalion. Captain Robinson, the B K, was killed coming up to relieve him. It was not until late in the evening that another ofﬁcer could be made available. “Bombardier Trevis therefore commanded the battery for a period of 12 hours for the greater part of which he was under enemy mortar and shell ﬁre. He did a job which would have been a credit to any Battery Commander.” An act recognised with the award of the Distinguished Conduct Medal [xix] A similar act, two weeks earlier resulted in the same decoration for Gunner, Acting Bombardier Moorin of 190 field Regiment.[xx]
In mobile warfare the idea of the infantry securing every area was as outdated as long lines of trenches. Artillerymen could often find themselves face to face with the enemy. On 27th June 25th Field Regiment was ordered to deploy as far forward as possible to be able to support 31st Armoured Brigade in operation Epsom. Infantry progress had been slowed by a deep minefield. But reconnaissance of a gun position beyond this minefield and about one mile south of le Mesnil Patry from the village had been completed.
The guns started arrived on the position and, with the exception of “A” Troop, were got into action without any difficulty. As the leading gun of “A” Troop, 12/25 Battery (now 8 Alma Commando battery) entered the field in which it was to deploy the troop came under rifle fire. The GPOA, L/Bombardier Hobson, fell at the director not far from the edge of wood bordering the position. Efforts to reach him brought more fire, as did further movement of men or vehicles. Gun detachments, therefore, dismounted from their tractors and crawled away under cover of a hedge along which the guns were now halted.
The CPO. Lieutenant KJH. Astles, immediately formed two small patrols from Battery H.Q., each of two men, with himself in charge of one and the ACPO, Lieut. F. R. Gutt, in charge of the other. These had hardly entered before heavy rifle and automatic fire was opened. Only Gunner Erskine returned, reporting that both officers and two gunners had been killed and another seriously wounded.
Sergeant Duke, the NCO i/c Signals, who had been laying lines which ran through the wood appeared shortly after Gunner Erskine. He had been pinned down by fire and unable to reach the men whom he had seen shot. He later brought in L/Bombardier Hobson under fire. A section of infantry attempted to enter the wood but was forced to withdraw by heavy fire.
Meanwhile, the Second-in-Command, Major A F Johnson, had enlisted the help of a troop of Sherman tanks. A troop of M5 Stuart light tanks, hearing the noise, also arrived. Two of the Shermans, the Stuarts and the Battery’s Bren guns were sited to provide covering fire, while the third Sherman was to cover a party of gunners, under the command of Sergeant Duke, would enter and clear the wood. Gunner Erskine, also in the party, had made another expedition into the wood with two signalers and had located the area where most of the fire came from.
After a short intense bombardment by the tanks, the gunners entered the wood and very soon afterwards a white flag was hoisted by the enemy. To everyone’s astonishment, forty-three prisoners were rounded up, and some dead Germans.
When the whole Regimental area had been searched, it was plain that it had been an enemy reserve company locality, which had been overrun but not mopped up. In the action 25 Regiment lost two officers and four other ranks killed and three wounded, but took around fifty prisoners from the 12th SS. Sergeant Duke was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal and Gunner Erskine was awarded the Military Medal.[xxi] This action deserves to have been better known, and could have been a setting for many post war test exercises.
The Monty set piece battle envisaged that anti-tank guns should play a major role in defeating enemy armour. Each infantry battalion possessed six 6 pounder anti-tank guns and dozens of hand held anti tank weapons for self-protection. In the assault anti-tank guns would accompany the infantry, relieving the accompanying tanks as soon as possible. Self propelled 3” or 17 pounder guns were much in demand for this purpose. Both infantry and RA manned 6 pounder guns would be adequate, but the towed 17 pounder was very vulnerable for around 12 hours until it could be dug in. German doctrine called for immediate counter assault and planned counter attacks, supported by armour when available. The easily concealed and manhandled 6 pounder would have been adequate had the Germans not deployed Tiger or Panther tanks in the battles around Caen. Instead many of the battles around Caen included duels between heavy tanks and ill protected 17 pounder guns in the open.
In defence the infantry’s own anti-tank guns were intended to provide local protection, while the towed 6 pounders were sited on tank killing areas, with SP guns moving as appropriate and the towed 17 pounders forming a back stop. The last ditch anti-tank defences for the beaches themselves were the heavy AA guns, which were assigned anti tank positions.
There were several occasions during the Normandy Campaign when the Germans attempted to launch their armour in an attempt to throw the allies into the sea. On D Day Sergeant Mitchley[xxii] No 1 of an M10 of 20 Anti tank regiment became one of the anti-tank regiment first fatal casualties stopping the 21st Panzer Division. There was particularly heavy fighting between the 7th and 11th June between Bayeux and Caen.
One of the biggest anti tank actions took place on 1st July 1944 at Rauray, when the II SS Panzer Corps launched an attack with elements of four panzer divisions into a British held salient SW of Caen. The Germans ran into the anti-tank guns of 55th Anti-tank Regiment reinforcing the infantry. Sergeant Hall of C Troop 217 Anti-tank Battery, 55th (Suffolk Yeomanry) Anti-tank Regiment was awarded the DCM after an action in which he manhandled his 6 pounder gun 350 yards to stalk a heavy German tank, as well as knocking out some four or five other others.[xxiv] In this action the Gunners were helped by an allocation of Armour Piercing Discarding Sabot ammunition which enabled the 6 pounder to penetrate the armour of the heaviest tanks they faced that day.[xxv]
The M10 units were exhorted to remember that the M10 wasn’t a tank and was not supposed to be used as one. However, photographs from D Day provide testimony of its use bunker busting. Two No’s 1 were awarded the Military Medal for actions which would have been unlikely to win the approval of Anti tank Wing at the RSA. Sergeant Todd, the No 1 of an M10 of J Troop, 198 Battery 73rd Anti-tank Regiment was isolated after the infantry withdrew after a counter-attack. When German infantry burst through a hedge about 50 yards in front he engaged them with his 0.5” Browning, which was mounted on the open turret. He withdrew through a hedge, but only to charge back again and engage the enemy in an open field. He continued to move up and down the field causing some 30-40 casualties before withdrawing. On 18th July Sergeant Smith of 73rd Anti-tank Regiment was tasked to support an assault by 1/7th Staffordshire on the village of Bretteville. When the supporting armour did not arrive, he considered that the infantry, mortared in their FUP would not advance without armoured support he charged at H bringing his SP into action on the flank of the objective and providing covering fire.[xxvi]
Perhaps the best example of an anti-tank battery action is Beaulieu-Maison-Celles on 3rd August. (shown as Maisoncelles on the sketch map) 153rd Field Regiment of the Guards Armoured Division were targets of a counter-attack by Panther tanks supported by infantry. 129th Battery lost two guns and a command post; the attack then reached 131st Battery in a neighbouring field. OP/CP Sherman tanks attempted to engage the Panthers but were knocked out. 129th and 131st Batteries deployed their 25 Pdr SP guns to anti-tank positions. The 2IC, ordered these two batteries to withdraw to Le Desert under covering fire from 130th Battery; two further guns were lost and nine ammunition lorries had to be abandoned. 130th Battery then withdrew under cover of its own smoke.
As the last gun withdrew, the first M10s of Q Battery, 21st Anti-tank Regiment arrived. The Panthers were difficult to locate and the Battery had to deal first with the enemy infantry, but after an hour Major Taylor’s gun destroyed a tank as it traversed a gateway. An hour later three more Panthers entered the field directly in front of HQ Troop. Major R I G Taylor got the first, Lieutenant L Hawker the second and the third withdrew. BSM Woolley and Lance-Sergeant Prudhoe were killed in their M10s. That evening Sergeant Farrow fired three rounds at where he thought he could see and hear – a tank in an orchard and was rewarded with a satisfying explosion; next day there was confirmation that he had destroyed a Panther but through the two stone walls of a cow-byre. Major Taylor and Lt Hawker were awarded the Military Cross. 153rd Field Regiment lost two OR s killed, Captain Cawley, Lt Leveson-Gower and 18 OR s wounded and Lt MacAlpine and 10 OR s missing, and four guns, two tanks, seven carriers and twenty B vehicles destroyed. [xxvii]
The story of the air defence of Normandy is a story of a forgotten army. The impression created in many histories of Normandy is that the allied air superiority was so overwhelming that the Luftwaffe did not have any noticeable impact. While this may reflect allied success, it does not do justice to the efforts needed to render a significant German air threat into insignificance.
AA was given a high priority in the D Day landings in anticipation of German air attacks. 76th AA Brigade was placed under 30 Corps Command for the Assault with the task of protecting Gold Beach, the Mulberry Harbour and the fuel facilities at Port-en-Bessin. 80th AA Brigade placed under 1st Corps command for the Assault was responsible for the air defence of Juno and Sword beaches.
Each assault infantry brigade group was accompanied by an AA Battlegroup comprising a mixture of 20mm and 40mm Light and 3.7” Heavy AA guns with their radars. AA Guns were some of the first Gunner equipment ashore. Major P F Tiarks BC 218th LAA Battery and four 40mm guns each of A and C Troops landed on Queen White and Red respectively at H+45, 0810 hours. Both beaches were under heavy fire from mortars and small arms. Major P F Tiarks was wounded in the hand by a mortar fragment. He and Captain Eburne were both were awarded the MC for inspiring troops in battle for the first time under trying conditions. On Gold beach the first artillery ashore seem to have been triple 20mm AA SP tanks from 320 Battery of 93 Light AA Regiment, who would provide low level air defence of the beach.
On Juno beach Sergeant James Finlay and Lance Bombardier Frederick Arthur Harrison from 114 Light AA Regiment were awarded the George Medal for saving the lives of men trapped on a burning “Rhino” ferry.
76th AA Brigade was responsible for the AA defences of Mulberry Harbour. These included the soldiers from 127th Light AA Regiment who manned the 40mm guns on the Phoenix caissons, and were towed across the channel. Several men were killed when a caisson was sunk en-route. The Gunners also endured the terrible conditions during the great storm 19-24 June.
F Troop of 318th LAA Battery of 92th (7th Loyals) LAA Regiment, equipped with wheeled SP 40mm guns, was the only element of 3rd British Division’s Light AA Regiment to land on D Day. Their mission was to provide air defence cover to the Benouville bridges. The troop landed on schedule at H+6½ but was held up by congestion and the arrival of 6th Air Landing Brigade and then ran into contact with Germans at the village of Le Port. The troop commander, Captain Reid took twelve prisoners on his recce. The troop was held up by snipers in the church of Le Port which were only taken prisoner only after a Bofors was brought into action and opened fire. The Troop reached Benouville Bridge just as the light was fading, but did not come into action until first light 7 June. The bridges were a target for numerous air attacks. Over the five days F troop was credited with destroying 17 aircraft.
As the battle wore on and the German air threat diminished, the anti-aircraft regiments were given tasks in direct support of the ground troops. Increasingly 3.7-inch heavy anti-aircraft regiments were used as long-range field artillery and the 40 mm light anti-aircraft regiments were used to fire tracer to give direction to assaulting troops at night, an increasingly popular time for attacks, and were used in the anti-tank and counter-mortar role. Even searchlights, a particularly unglamorous task, were used to provide artificial moonlight by reflecting their beams off low cloud – Monty’s Moonlight.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission lists 2,021 British and Canadian artillerymen killed between 5th June and 1st September 1944 from units serving in Normandy. For each fatality there were three to four others wounded. The Royal Artillery lost an average of around 23 dead and 70 wounded the best part of a modern-day battery per day. The highest fatal casualties occurred on D Day, when 61 men died, while on three days in early July there were over forty fatalities. Anti-tank regiments suffered the highest numbers of fatalities. Some of the Field Regiments, also suffered high casualties and disproportionately these are endured by the OP parties and the command post parties.
Frank Baldwin is the co-author of Gunners in Normandy the forthcoming Regimental history of the campaign. He served in 40th and 2nd Fields regiments,17 Training Regiment and HQRA 4th Armoured Division. He is a member of the British Commission for Military History.
[i] RAJ Vol
[ii] E.g. Stephen Hart, Colossal Cracks, John Buckley, Monty’s Men: the British Army and the Liberation of Europe, and Terry Copp, Montgomery’s Scientists and Fields of Fire
[iii] Gorle, Richmond, The Quiet Gunner (2011) Ch 21
[iv] Penetration figures from WO/219/2806, Appendix G to SHAEF/166652/GCT/Arty dated 11 July 1944
[v] Parham diary May 1944
[vi] Flower, Desmond, History of 5th Argylls 91st Anti Tank Regiment Thomas Nelson (1950) p
[vii] RA 21 Army Group War Diary May 1944
[viii] WO 171/155 Annex A RA Branch HQ 21 Army Gp
[ix] Pemberton, S. The Development of Artillery Tactics and Equipment, table B Page 24 1950
[x] Routledge, N W. AA Artillery 1914-55 P 107 Table XVI.
[xi] Hart, Stephen, Colossal Cracks
[xii] RA Journal 1970
[xiii] RA 2 Army planning diary file note Planning for Overlord May 1944
[xiv] RA 21 Army Group WD May 1944 Annex A
[xv] RA 2 Army planning diary memorandum Carrier-borne Air OPs 7 May 1944
[xvi] RA 2 Army planning diary memorandum The Case for Helicopters on D Day 14 March 1944
[xvii] RA 2 Army planning diary file note undated
[xviii] Army Training Memorandum October 1943
[xix] WO 373 DCM Citation LG 24.12.44
[xx] WO 373 DCM Citation. LG 19.10.44
[xxi] 25th Field Regiment Royal Artillery : North-West Europe, 1944-1945 [Aldershot : Gale & Polden, 1948
[xxii] Ranville CWC II. E. 35.
[xxiii] CAB 44/ Liberation Campaign North West Europe Book III chapter 6 diagram A
[xxiv] WD 55 Atk Regt July 1944 attached report by C Troop Commander
[xxv] Suffolk Yeomanry at War, Extracts from the diary of Maj B S Gooch
[xxvi] WO 373 MM Citation
[xxvii] Pilkington & Dow Regimental; History of 153 Leicester Yeomanry Field Regiment RA 1939-45 (Chapter Two) Hinckley Brassey
[xxviii] McCarthy, T. True Loyals a History of 7th Battalion, The Loyal Regiment (North Lancashire)/92nd (Loyals) Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery, 1940-1946 (2010)
[xxix] WO 373 MC Citation Captain Read