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.
“1. The aerial bombardment and Naval Gun Fire failed to reduce the German fortifications and failed to neutralise enemy artillery and machine gun fire. 2. A German Infantry Division thought to have been in reserve around St Lo had moved up the beach defenses on a “maneuver” and added materially to the opposition. ….. things had not gone altogether as planned. Items 1 and 2 were chiefly responsible and particularly 1…..Those bluffs were captured and those exits opened solely through the plain undaunted heroism of the infantry the 1st and 29th Divisions and their attached engineer teams”[i]
This is an extract from the report by Colonel E G Paules the Engineer member of the War Department Observers Board after visiting Omaha Beach on D +6. Many would agree with Colonel Paules’ verdict, especially the heroism and initiative of the infantry and engineers. The same sentiments can be found in the official history. The failure of the aerial and naval bombardment to neutralise defences of Omaha Beach remains controversial. But a re-examination of critical data about D Day reveals a different interpretation of what happened on Omaha Beach on D Day.
One problem in studying the story of Omaha Beach is that there is still only sketchy information about the true strength of the German defences at Omaha Beach. Some aspects are extremely well documented. The positions on the bluffs and beach have been documented in create detail over the years. We even know the names and faces of the individual German soldiers defending some positions. Much less is known or documented about the artillery support for the same defenders. Artillery was the dominant lethal arm in the twentieth century, responsible for well over half of all casualties. The US Official History made no attempt to locate artillery positions that were not on the coast or in the Op Neptune Target List. Even modern detailed studies such as Stephen Badsey and Tim Bean’s Battle Omaha Beach Zone Normandy[ii] and Peter Caddick Adams’ Sand and Steel[iii] are vague about the German guns.
TO WHAT EXTENT WAS THE D DAY AERIAL AND NAVAL GUN FIRE A FAILURE.
George A Harrison in the US Official History “Cross Channel Attack”[iv] described the beach drenching bombardment as “Generally ineffective”, against an enemy that was twice as numerous, unexpectedly strong and included soldiers from a different and higher quality formation than they had expected to face. Harrison mentions this faulty intelligence as a curious failing.[v]
The D Day naval bombardment plan worked – up to a point. The planners knew that the preliminary bombardment would not destroy all, or even the majority of, the German defences. Precision guided munitions had not been invented in 1944. There was nothing in the Allies armoury that could eliminate the hardened concrete bunkers and shelters which were the framework of the defences. The bombardment might destroy a proportion of the defenders weapons, as well as disrupting communications and keep the defenders heads down long enough for the assaulting infantry to close with them.
This was shared down the chain of command, and there are several accounts of briefings before D-Day with gloomy estimates of up to 80% losses by the assault troops.
The aerial bombardment by the heavy day bombers of the Eight Air Force was a key part of the bombardment plan. To make up for the short naval bombardment 327 B24four engine heavy day bombers were scheduled to drop 13,000 bombs on the Omaha Beach defences. However, one consequence of the decision to launch the operation in marginal weather conditions was that the heavy bombers would have to bomb blind through cloud. As a safety measure the point of aim adjusted 1000yards inland, with the hope that some bombs would fall on the defences, and the knowledge that most would not.[vi]
Harrison acknowledges that the preparatory navel bombardment did have some effect, including the detonations of minefields and destruction of enemy rockets.[vii] The testimony of one of the best-known German survivors, Franz Gockel described how the trigger mechanism for flame throwers were destroyed by the bombardment.[viii]
There is information that can help to understand more. Immediately after D Day British 21st Army Group Operations Research scientists carried out a series of studies to check the effectiveness of various allied tactics and technology- a sort of CSI Normandy. At the end of the war a study was made of the casualties and effects of fire Support on the British Beaches in Normandy, from which the authors deduced a model for casualties inflicted per weapons type using the concept of “machine gun equivalents” to compared mortars with machine guns . The study (AORG 261)drew the conclusion that the preliminary bombardment and drenching fire knocked out around 10-20% of weapons and reduced the effectiveness of machine guns by two thirds and mortars by three quarters. By comparing casualties from beaches on which no reports of mortar fire with this with a mix of machine guns and mortars they could build a best fit model, 17-19 casualties per machine gun equivalent across the three British beaches. For example, the 14 machine guns and seven mortars that could engage Sword beach should, under range conditions have resulted in 70% casualties among the assaulting infantry, but only inflicted around 22%. The German defensive fire was only one third as effective as it could have been, had no one been firing at them.[ix]
A follow up study comparing the British with Americans beaches (AORG 292 )drew the conclusion that the effects of machine gun fire had been reduced by about a half, which was less than on the British beaches because of the terrain and strength of the defences.[x] However, this analysis was flawed because it assumed that German artillery had been neutralised by the naval and aerial bombardment. We know this to be untrue from the testimony of American soldiers under bombardment and from the German records that the artillery under command 352nd Infantry Division had fired almost all of their first line stocks of ammunition.[xi]
One reason that the Omaha Beach story has missed the effects of German artillery is because the wartime fiction that the 352nd were at Omaha Beach on temporary maneuvers carried over into the post war narrative.
The Vth US Corps Plan was based on the assumptions that Omaha beach was defended by a single second rate infantry Regiment of the 716th Static division.[xii] Instead they faced soldiers under command of the 352nd Infantry Division, formed in late 1943 from around 2,0000 east front veterans and drafts of young recruits. In March 1944 Rommel, the German commander of the invasion front, had ordered the 352nd division to take over the Bayeux sector, between Asnelles and the river Vire. 352nd Division took command of the 726th (Static) Infantry Regiment and two of its three regiments of the 352 were superimposed over the existing defences, from the river Vire to Asnelles east of Arromanches.[xiii] War is a kind of democracy, the Germans had a say.
FAULTY ALLIED INTELLIGENCE
Allied staffs were reluctant to admit that the intelligence picture was wrong. The highly detailed maps showing German defences and the awareness of senior commanders of Ultra intercepts gave a misleading impression of accuracy and reliability if not omniscience. However, allied intelligence was flawed. Ultra was of little help identifying details of gun pits and trenches or an enemy using line communications. It was easier to find concrete emplacements using a photo reconnaissance aircraft than camouflaged field positions. It was also hard to locate an enemy that they were not looking for. The target lists identified the positions of the 716th that they expected to find. They weren’t looking for the field positions occupied by the 352nd, and when they did find gun pits they assumed that they were for something else.
However, one explanation for disproportionate information about coastal defences is that the Germans made extensive use of French contractors to complete the fortifications on the coast, which also happened to be easily spotted by allied aircraft. The resistance may not have had the same access to the troops deploying into field positions inland, which were also much harder to spot from the air.
FIRE SUPPORT FOR THE GERMANS DEFENDING OMAHA BEACH
As regards Omaha beach itself, the defences were doubled, as an additional battalion deployed in the sector. The number of machine guns was doubled from some 40+ machine guns to 85. V Corps estimated that there were some 24-36 field guns “completely integrated into the strong points along fifty miles of coast,” Instead thirty-six 10.5 cm howitzers and sixteen 15cm howitzers were deployed a few miles behind the coast in range of Omaha Beach, in addition to the artillery integrated within the coastal strongpoints. There were seven batteries.
Three from 1st Battalion AR 352, (I/352) each equipped with four 10.5 cm German howitzers, marked as (1./352, 2./352 and 3./352)
Three from IVth Battlaion AR 352 each equipped with four 15cm German howitzers, marked as (7./352, 8./352 and 9./352)[xiv]
One from 10th Battery from Artillery Regiment 1716 (10./1716) equipped with four 15.5 cm (f) captured French howitzers.[xv]
1 shows the location of these batteries.[xvi] Map 2 is a German map which shows the detail of Omaha beach area and the ranges from 10./1716’s position. The map also shows the Omaha beach defences and three triangles marking the artillery observation posts on Omaha Beach. One for the 10./1716 and two from Artillery Regiment 352. The 352 Divisional signals log includes reports from observations posts from each of I and IV/352 indicating that they were observing Omaha Beach.
Each howitzer was about three times as lethal as an MG 42 machine gun. A machine gun firing an average of 250 rounds per minute created a beaten zone some 25 wide by 250 meters long. A howitzer shell flung thousands of supersonic shell fragments up to 250 metres. A battery of four howitzers could deny an area 50m x 200m. British world war two figures estimate that ten rounds per gun would inflict 20%+ casualties on troops in the open crossing that area. The fragments from howitzers could reach men hiding behind cover such as the shingle bank.
The Germans had a further nasty surprise for the assault troops. There were 38 pits each containing a wooden or steel frame, a 28/32cm Schwer wurfgeräte or heavy throwing equipment. Each frame held four unguided rockets, either 28cm containing 110 lb TNT high explosive or 32 cm incendiaries, containing 11 gallons of oil. These had a short range , just over 2,000 yards and were very inaccurate. A detachment of
84th Werfer Regiment are thought to have operated these at Omaha from position near the village of St Laurent.
The German 352nd Artillery Regiment fired almost all its first line ammunition on the morning of D Day. That is the best part of 225 rounds per 105cm Howitzer and 135 rounds per 15 cm Howitzer. 20 rounds per 105mm Howitzer would be enough to cause 20% casualties on a body of men caught under one of the 200m x 50m defensive barrages (according WW2 era calculations.) But each battery could fire ten such concentrations before ammunition became perilously low. By 10.00 ammunition was running low, in particular for the heavy battalion[xvii].[xviii] The Artillery Regiment commander ordered ammunition to be conserved for emergency use – three rounds per gun only to support units under immediate attack.[xix]
Although strongly sited on commanding ground overlooking the beaches, the Omaha Beach defences were far from perfect. Even on this most strongly held beach, the defences were spread far thinly than normal. Infantry and anti-tank guns were sited on a forward slope where they could be engaged from the sea. The fortification programme was incomplete. Only 15% of the fortifications in the 352nd Divisional area were bomb proof and 45% splinter-proof.. Many of the defenders were in field defences vulnerable to allied direct fire weapons on the beach or afloat. Furthermore, there was little depth.
The big advantage the artilleryman of Artillery Regiment 352 had over the German infantrymen defending Omaha Beach was that they were not under fire. Return fire reduced weapon effectiveness by around two thirds. Over the course of D Day the number of assault troops would soon match and then outnumber the defenders and offshore naval firepower and tanks would eventually supress direct fire weapons targeting the beach. Previously hidden howitzers in the countryside up to five miles from the beach were not easy to find quickly on the morning of D Day. The gunners of Artillery Regiment 352 would not be under fire as they engaged in the industrial warfare of dispatching howitzer shells.
A REVISED MODEL OF WHAT HAPPENED
Reworking the British study referred to earlier, to include the seven batteries in range of Omaha Beach, with one howitzer equivalent to three machine guns results in a very similar figures to those modelled in the study of the British beaches.
I have assumed that all 28 howitzers fired on Omaha Beach. We know Pluskat’s I/352 were firing. IV/352 was short of ammunition by 10.00 and was not firing at Gold or Utah beaches which were out of range.
Despite the claims of total ineffectiveness, we don’t know how many of the German weapons were damaged by the aerial bombardment. Nor do we know how many of those weapons were fired. The study of the British beaches found that a proportion of weapons were serviceable but had not been fired. There is no reason to believe that the naval bombardment at Omaha was delivered less effectively than on other beaches. Nor that the soldiers on Omaha Beach were less resistant to panic or the confusion of battle.
Table 1 Percentage of casualties caused by different weapons on Omaha Beach
Proportion of weapons on beach destroyed or unmanned by preliminary bombardment
Numbers of weapons (1)
Casualties per MG Equivalent (4)
1. The number of machine guns and mortars are taken from AORG report 292. The number of artllery pieces is taken from Zetterling
2. The 152 Wurfergerate 41 is considered to be the equivalent of a mortar or artillery piece with 152 rounds of ammunition. The increased destructive power cancelled by inaccuracy.
3 Mortars and artillery calculated as three machine gun equivalents as per AORG 292
4. Total 3,000 casualties taken from AORG 292
The tables 1 models the distribution of casualties by weapon on D Day with assumptions of the effectiveness of the preliminary bombardment from having no effect at all, to 40% of weapons, the upper end of the AORG findings from British beaches.
There is still debate about the precise number of casualties on Omaha Beach. I have taken the figure of 3,000 from AORG 292. The leftmost figure for casualties per MG equivalent , assumes that the preliminary bombardment was totally ineffective, as is sometimes claimed. If this were so, it would mean that if all of the weapons on Omaha Beach survived the bombardment they would be on average less effective than comparable machine guns or mortars on Gold or Sword beach. It would seem more reasonable for the figure to be as high as the British beaches – which would assume that 10-20% of weapons were knocked out by the bombardment and 10-20% left unmanned – just as in the bombardments on the British beaches.
There is a rationale behind there being a similar average number of casualties inflicted by each machine gun. The allied forces on each beach landed with very similar forces, trained to a common standard using similar tactics supported by very similar forces off shore. Is it unreasonable that across all of the individual engagements on the four beaches the number of casualties that a machine gun might inflict before being suppressed is similar?
There are of course a lot of assumptions in a simplistic model. If you want to put in your own figures the model is here.
The key implication is that around half of the casualties on Omaha Beach were inflicted by artillery that had not been located before D Day; could not be engaged by the ships or armour landed on Omaha Beach. The casualties from artillery alone on Omaha Beach were probably higher than lost to all causes on any other beach.
The assault troops could do nothing about the rain of artillery shells until either the observation posts were captured or the Germans ran out of ammunition, which they did around lunchtime on 6th June. Allied air power did play a part, by interdicting German road movement inland.
HOW MUCH LOWER MIGHT CASUALTIES HAVE BEEN IF THE BOMBARDMENT WAS LONGER?
The bombardment on Omaha Beach lasted for a bare hour, an hour less than on the British beaches. The time of H Hour, the landings was determined by the tide, which reached low tide earlier at Omaha Beach. It has been argued that an additional hour of bombardment might have made a big difference to the number of casualties on Omaha Beach. Modelling the effect of increasing the level of damage by a further 10-20% shows a reduction in casualty numbers by perhaps 300-450, around 20% of the total historic casualties – but could have little effect on the undetected artillery.
WHAT IF THE NAVAL BOMBARDMENT HAD FOLLOWED THE PACIFIC WAR MODEL?
Some have argued that the Omaha Beach should have been prepared in the same way as the Japanese defences on the islands captured in 1944-45. A lengthy bombardment systematically demolishing the defences talking a week if necessary. This is similar to the tactics developed in the first world war and implemented at Vimy Ridge and Messines in 1917. While this would indeed demolish the beach defences, it would do little to neutralise the undiscovered artillery. Furthermore, it would give the Germans ample warning of the target area and allow them to concentrate their artillery, and deploy reserves in depth. This would risk an attritional battle on the beach itself reminiscent of Paschendaele. A mere doubling the number of defending batteries might be expected to cause an additional 1,500 casualties.
WHAT IF THE WEATHER HAD BEEN BETTER?
The fire plan was predicated on fine weather and good visibility. With good weather the Eighth Air Force bombers might have dropped more ordnance on Omaha Beach. On the British beaches many of the defences were further inland than at Omaha Beach.On the British beaches air attacks were considered to have knocked out 13% of defences. Had that been repeated on Omaha Beach that might have resulted in the destruction on nine machine guns and a mortar, which according to the model might have saved 193 casualties
WAS THERE A WAY TO FIND THE HIDDEN GUNS?
Locating enemy guns was a science and an art. The Allies had a range of scientific techniques for finding artillery, sound ranging wireless DF and flash spotting. Unfortunately none of these were of any use against artillery which had not previously disclosed its positions or indeed could be deployed on ships.
There was an art to finding hidden positions in aerial photographs, or for human agents to locate positions on the ground. About the only tool for locating artillery the allies had on D Day were aerial observers, artillery officers flying planes. The Senior British Artillery Officer in the Second British Army was Brigadier HJ (Hatchet Jack) Parham. He was acutely aware of the need for aerial observers on D Day. He did his best to argue for an aircraft carrier for Air OP aircraft and even the prototype Sikorsky helicopter to provide more eyes in the sky on D Day. This is perhaps the only route that might have led to the discovery and neutralization of the artillery that bombarded Omaha beach.
With hindsight, perhaps the best way to have prevented high casualties among the assaulting infantry on Omaha Beach might have been to land paratroops inland.[xx] This isn’t original Stephen Badsey made this point in 2004 The parachute drops on the Cotentin peninsular landed on and behind many of the artillery positions severely disrupted the German artillery which could have made Utah as fatal as Omaha beach.
TOO HIGH EXPECTATIONS
It is worth remembering that the assault on Omaha Beach was a success. The beachhead was secured and over 34,000 troops landed at a cost of around 8-10% of the assaulting force.
The balance sheet for failure in C20th battles looked somewhat different. On July 1st on the Somme the British VIII Corps lost 14,000 casualties in about 20 minutes from some 24,000 assault troops attacking a comparable frontage to Omaha Beach after the barrage lifted prematurely. No ground was gained.[xxi]
Even successful assaults on defended positions with heavy artillery support incurred high casualties. The set piece attack on the Hindenburg line 29 Sep-2 Oct 1918 cost the 27th Infantry Division 3,076 casualties[xxii] and the 30th Infantry Division 2,494 casualties[xxiii], mainly on the 29th. Between 18 and 22 July 1918, the Big Red One took part in the very successful Franco-American counter stroke on the River Aisne at a cost of 6,800 casualties over the five days.[xxiv] Three weeks before D Day the IInd Polish army corps lost 4,199 casualties in the final assault on Monte Cassino.
A little too much is made of the failure of plans to work as intended. War is inherently chaotic. There is an Anglo-American misguided belief that military commanders can impose their will on the elements and an un-cooperative enemy. Perhaps it is time to move on from hunting scapegoats for the high casualties at Omaha beach and appreciate the role of fortune elsewhere on the D Day beaches.
[i] War Department Observers Board Report No 23 report Observations on the Invasion of France and the Fall of Cherbourg. 25 July 1944
[ii] Badsey S and Bean T Omaha Beach: Battlezone Normandy (2004)
There is a small interpretation centre at the entrance to the German cemetery at Langemarck. One of the slides shows Langemarck church as a heap of rubble – with an doorway suggesting at some dug out complex in in the crypt. It’s a striking image to compare with the rebuilt church.
Sure, anything in the “strip of murdered nature” that was the battlefields of the Western Front was going to end up as rubble. But there are RGA War Diaries that record their target as “Langemarck Church” not a strong point in the church, or the village but the church itself. It was repeatedly targeted along with targets such as “trenches u.16.d.76.23- u 16 d.54.14 and “wire u 16 a.52,05 – u16 a.15.16” So why was the church such a popular target?
A week or so ago I was carrying out some research for a guided family history tour to the battlefields of where their relative Bombardier Griffiths had served in 324 Heavy battery RGA. The battery’s war diaries were available, but the diary for March 1918, the month he died , was missing. Furthermore, there was evidence that suggested that Bombardier Griffiths did not join 324 battery until january 1918.
However, the diaries were very legible and full, recording the details of each shoot, including rounds fired and the target.
324 Heavy Battery was formed from 1916 conscripts and deployed to France in May 1917 equipped with four 6″ 26 cwt Howitzers. After a few weeks on the quiet sector of Bois Grenier the battery moved to Woesten, north of Ieper on 14th July 1917. From there it took part in the preliminary bombardment for the 31 St July , then stepping forwards to Elverdinge. The first day of 3rd Ypres 31st July, was successful on Pilckem Ridge, with the British line moving forward roughly along the Steenbeek south west of Langemarck.
A first world war artillery piece aimed at a target some 6km away was probably going to miss with its first round, even if the target had been plotted on a surveyed trench map. The position of the guns and the direction in which they are recorded as pointing may not be particularly accurate. Changes in the wind speed and direction will change the trajectory. An observer with communications to the guns could adjust the fire of the guns until the rounds from the guns were landing in the target area. Of course, by this the enemy will have worked out what was going to happen next and take cover.
A further problem was that the guns in a battery would not all have the same characteristics. Guns may be manufactured to different standards and might have different wear in the barrel. The WD entry for 5th August records that between 2pm and 2.30 pm 324 battery fired 30 rounds unobserved at Langemarck Church as ordered in Operation Order No 23. After this, someone,at Periscope House, probably Major William Orpen Sikottowe Sanders, the battery commander decided to calibrate the guns using the church. Firing ten rounds and watching one hit the church with others plus and minus, the unit could apply a correction for each gun. (Though ten rounds might be few to base a statistically reliable.
It wasn’t always possible to see targets clearly. Pilckem ridge isn’t much higher than the surrounding ground and it would have been quite difficult to pick out specific targets from the ground. Furthermore, the landscape was devastated, with buildings and trees leveled and landmarks obliterated.
One technique which could help is to use a “Witness Point” This was a point some distance from a target, but accurately located in relation to it, which could be ranged without losing surprise against the target and the correction applied to data for the target. If the correction to hit the church was “left a bit and add a bit”, the same correction could ensure that targets in the same area picked off a map could be hit first time.
The entry for 7th August shows that between 3.30 and 6.30pm 324 battery fired a total of 24rounds at Langemarck Church as a Witness Point. Their next shoot 7.30pm to 8.30 an unobserved concentration on trenches straddling the Langemarck-Poelcapelle road was unobserved, but could be expected to be reasonably accurate, as might the shoot at 9pm. a response to a call for the SOS.
The targets on the 8th August were east and west of the German positions which ran through the north end of the German Cemetery at Langemarck, as evidenced by the three bunkers.
The search for the part an individual soldier played turns up some surprising detail about how the battle was fought and the reason why Langemarck Church was shelled. It also explain the rationale that supports the old military axiom to never deploy at an obvious terrain feature. Landmarks are shelled because they are landmarks .
One army has been almost completely absent from any mention in the commemorations of this weekend’s centenary of the start of the 3rd Battle of Ypres. This army is the French 1st Army which also took part in the battle. Although the operation was led by the British, it was an allied operation With 135,000 men and over 1000 guns the French Army that took part was larger than the Australian, Canadian or New Zealander contingents that fought. Yet their role and sacrifices have been ignored.
The French First Army’s deployment on the British left was a commitment to the alliance, despite the strikes and mutinies afflicting their army after the failure of the Nivelle offensive April 1917. Their tactics were designed around using artillery fire to destroy and neutralise defences and seizing limited objectives to minimise infantry casualties. The tactics used on 31st July were the first use of those methods that Petain would use to rebuild the confidence of the French Army.
The two divisions of the 1st Army attacked on a 4 km frontage. Particular attention was paid to artillery support. The artillery included 60 batteries of 75mm guns, 240 pieces, 277 pieces of trench artillery – mortars, 164 heavy howitzers, 148 long ranged guns (105- 240mm) for counter battery fire and 64 heavy guns (305mm,320mm and 370mm) to smash concrete bunkers. This artillery train was supported by aircraft detachments for heavy artillery and counter battery fire, bomber, and reconnaissance squadrons and the elite Cigognes fighter squadron.
The French were faced with the problem of assaulting across the Yser canal against defences based on concrete bunkers. The French thought the concrete bunkers were less of a tactical challenge than the deep shelters capable of protecting entire platoons the Germans dug is drier country. The assaulting troops were preceded by a creeping barrage of shrapnel 150m ahead of the infantry.
On the 31st July the French First Army was tasked with protecting the Northern flanks of the British 5th Army. They succeeded in this mission, advancing 2500 metres, almost as far as the Guards division to their right. The French took part in several attacks in concert with the British , until the end of October.
The French had advanced some 10 km, capturing 1,500 prisoners. Their casualties were low, 1,625 killed or missing and 6901 wounded or taken prisoner. These are very light compared to those suffered by British formations, and raise some questions about British tactics.
The French army of Flanders was deployed to support the British led operation “as a matter of honour.” It is a shame that their gesture has not be remembered a century later.
When war broke out between France and the German states in August 1870 , the 59 year old retired Major General Sir Vincent Eyre KCSI, CB happened to be in France. This was the first war to take place in North West Europe since Waterloo over half a century earlier. Since Waterloo much had changed. Telegraphs and newspapers brought home to the public the suffering of the wounded. Florence Nightingale had revolutionised nursing. The Geneva Convention of 1864 had provided for the neutrality of the medical personnel of armed forces, the humane treatment of the wounded, the neutrality of civilians who voluntarily assisted them and the Red Cross Society.
Sir Vincent Eyre and Lady Eyre, in the name of the English Red Cross Society formed a committee in Bolougne and raised a British volunteer ambulance service. It provided hospitals, field ambulances medical staff and vehicles to collect and treat the wounded on battlefields across Northern France including many places familiar to the soldiers of the Great War such as Amiens Villers-Brettonoux, Bapaume, Peronne and St Quentin, the Somme battlefields of 1870-1871. These were led by British military officer and nurses trained by Florence Nightingale. The British brought their Indian experience and some staff including the Pharsee wife of the surgeon at St Quentin. including some By their medical services were treating 15,000- 20,000 patients a month.(1) Eyre’s report is in The report on the operations of the British National Society for air to the Sick and Wounded in War.
Vincent Eyre was born in 1811, in then Napoleonic era, four years before Waterloo. The son of a captain and educated at Norwich Grammar School. Eyre entered the Military Academy at Addiscombe when about fifteen, and passed out into the artillery of the company on 12 Dec. 1828. He was gazetted to the Bengal establishment, and landed in Calcutta 21 May 1829. After eight years he was promoted to be first lieutenant, and appointed to the horse artillery of the Company.
In 1839 Eyre was appointed commissary of ordnance to the Kabul field force and present during the 1841 rising. Eyre was in command of two guns sent out with a sally from Kabul and severely wounded. During the retreat from Kabul Eyre, still suffering from his wound, and his wife and child were surrendered as hostages. They were lucky. The dozen or so hostages were the only survivors out of some 4,500 soldiers and 12,000 civilians in retreat the column that withdrew from Kabul, and freed from being sold as slaves to the Uzbeks by a dramatic rescue.
Fifteen years later, in July 1857 Major Eyre was moving his company of the Bengal Artillery from Calcutta up into Oudh. Being the wet season of the year, when the river level was high, the gunners and their guns were usually conveyed up the river Ganges by river steamer, while the drivers and horses marched by road. While en route, Eyre heard that three Native Infantry regiments had mutinied and had attacked and besieged the civilian population at the small town of Arrah. (Now Ara)
Eyre disembarked his men and guns, collected a party of HM’s 5th Fusiliers and set off for Arrah. His own horses not having arrived, he commandeered local bullocks to draw his two 9-pounder guns and one 24-pounder howitzer. His ammunition was carried in country carts. After a march of over 40 miles, he encountered an enemy force of more than 10,000 trained soldiers barring his way at Bibigunge. On the morning of 2nd August he immediately led his small body of around 225 troops into the attack, carefully supported by the fire of his guns. Two attempts by the mutineers to rush the guns were broken with salvoes of case shot. After an hour’s fighting, the skirmishers of the 5th Fusiliers turned the enemy’s right flank. The gunners poured case and shrapnel into their front, and a bayonet charge by the Fusiliers won the day. This battle raised the siege of Arrah. Eyre’s exploits were recognised by the award of the battery honour title of 58th (Eyres) Battery Royal Artillery.
Fyre played a distinguished part in the relief of Lucknow and quelling the Indian Mutiny. After the rebellion he was promoted to Colonel and retired in ill health as a Major General in 1863. His first wife died in 1851 and in 1860 he married his cousin.
Eyre was a talented artist. Whilst in captivity he made sketches of the captives which were smuggled out of Afghanistan and published. You can see some of the images here.
The 1870-71 Campaign in Picardy was the Sir Vincent Eyre’s last campaign. In 18180 he contracted a spinal disease and died the following year in Southern France. On 2nd August every year 58 (Eyres) Battery Royal Artillery remember Eyre and commemorate the relief of Arrah on their battery day. http://www.theraa.co.uk/history/battery-days
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1. RUSI Journal: Lecture by Surgeon Major F J Mouet, A visit to the Battlefields and Ambulances of Northern France Friday 21st April 1871
Everyone has heard of the first day of the Somme, famously the day on which the British Army suffered its highest casualties on a single day. Fourteen days later the British Army made its next big push. Demonstrating that occasionally lessons are learned and learned quickly, the plan was a bit different from on the 1st of July.
There wasn’t quite as many guns or ammunition as there was on the first day, but all of it was concentrated ion the German defences along Bazentin ridge and the German guns behind it. One the 1st of July there was one gun to every 20 yards of front – spread over two defensive lines and the preparation lasted for a week, firing 1.5 million shells . On the 14th there was one gun for every 6 yards and the preparation lasted for 48 hours, firing just under half a million rounds.
H Hour was 03.25 at dawn. The infantry of five divisions moved out into no mans land at night, and guided by mine tape deployed quietly a few hundred yards from the German front line. It was a great success and about three miles of German trenches were taken and a gap wide enough to launch cavalry – supported by a battery of horse artillery that still exists as N battery the Eagle Troop. However, by the time the cavalry was in action the Germans had blocked the gap.
The map is the hand drawn trace for the XIII Corps fireplan for the attack on 14th July. Delville Wood is on the right hand side just below the number 12. The wood above the number 10 is High Wood. The poet and author Robert Graves was wounded in this attack at the churchyard in the village of Bazentin-le-Petit to the left of the number 9.
The area between Delville and High woods was the focus for fighting for the next two months. It was calculated that seven shells a second landed on Delville Wood at times.
Two of the casualties on that day was Lieutenant Colonel Dudley George Blois DSO Commander of 84th Brigade RFA and his Trumpeter. They were riding forwards to recconoitre new positions for 84th Field Brigade of 18th Division and caught by shellfire. Blois a descendent of the royal house of Blois, is commemorated in Blythburgh Church in Suffolk.
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9th July is the anniversary of the action for which Captain Henry Tombs https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Tombs of the Bengal Horse Artillery was awarded the Victoria Cross, and became the honour title of “Tombs’ Troop” , now 28/143 battery (Tombs Troop)
Tombs was awarded the VC for coming to the assistance of one of his subalterns who had got into a spot of bother in hand to hand combat with mutineers. The citation says: “For very gallant conduct on the part of Lieutenant Hills before Delhi, in defending the position assigned to him in case of alarm, and for noble behaviour on the part of Lieutenant-Colonel Tombs in twice coming to his subaltern’s rescue, and on each occasion killing his man.”
The citation references a dispatch by Lieutenant-Colonel M. Mackenzie’s which reads:
Despatch No. 40, Lieut.-Colonel M. Mackenzie, commanding 1st Brigade Horse Artillery, to Brigadier A. Wilson, Commandant
CAMP NEAR DELHI,
July 10, 1857.
“It is with great pleasure I submit, for the information of the Brigadier Commandant, the following account of the very gallant conduct of Second Lieut. James Hills, of the 2nd Troop, 1st Brigade Horse Artillery, and the noble behaviour of his commanding officer, Major H. Tombs, in twice coming to his subaltern’s rescue and on each occasion killing his man.
Yesterday, the 9th inst., Second-Lieut. J. Hills was on picket-duty, with two guns, at the mound to the right of the camp. About eleven o’clock a.m. there was a rumour that the enemy’s cavalry were coming down on this post. Lieut. Hills proceeded to take up the position assigned in case of alarm, but before he reached the spot he saw the enemy close upon his guns, before he had time to form up. To enable him to do this, Lieut. Hills boldly charged, single handed, the head of the enemy’s column, cut down the first man, struck the second and was then ridden down, horse and all.
On getting up and searching for his sword, three more men
came at him (two mounted). The first man he wounded with his pistol, he caught the lance of the second with his left hand, and
wounded him with his sword. The first man then came on again and was cut down; the third man (on foot) then came up and
wrenched the sword from the hand of Lieut. Hills (who fell in the struggle), and the enemy was about to cut him down when Major Tombs (who had gone up to visit his two guns) saw what was going on, rushed in and shot the man and saved Lieut. Hills. By this time the enemy’s cavalry had passed by, and Major Tombs and Lieut. Hills went to look after the wounded men, when Lieut. Hills observed one of the enemy passing with his (Lieut. Hills’) pistol. They walked towards him. The man began flourishing his sword and dancing about. He first cut at Lieut. Hills, who parried the blow, and he then turned on Major Tombs, who received the blow in the same manner. His second attack on Lieut. Hills was, I regret to say, more successful, as he was cut down with a bad sword-cut on the head, and would have been no doubt killed had not Major Tombs rushed in and put his sword through the man. I feel convinced that such gallant conduct on the part of these two officers has only to be brought properly forward to meet with an appropriate reward. Major Tombs was saved from a severe sword cut on the head by the wadded head-dress he wore.
“(Signed) M. MACKENZIE,
The Tombs claimed that his folded military cloak saved his life from the sword thrusts of his opponents.
There was a lot more to Henry Tombs than this act of gallantry. Here is what Field Marshal Lord Roberts of Kandahar had to say about him in his autobiography “Forty One Years years in India”
I longed to meet and know the men who names were in everyone’s mouth. The hero of the day was Henry Tombs, of the Bengal Horse Artillery, an unusually handsome man and a thorough soldier. His gallantry in the attack on the Idgah (a Mahomedan place of worship and sacrifice) and wherever he had been engaged was the general talk of the camp. I had always heard of Tombs as one of the best officers in the regiment, and it was with feelings of respectful admiration that I made his acquaintance a few days later.
Jemmy Hills, one of the subalterns in Tomb’s troop, was an old Addiscombe friend of mine; he delighted in talking of his Commander, in dilating on his merits as a soldier and his skill in handling each arm of the service. As a cool, bold leader of men, Tombs was unsurpassed ; no fire, however hot, and no crisis, however unexpected, could take him by surprise ; he grasped the situation in a moment and issued his orders without hesitation, inspiring all ranks with confidence in his power and capacity. He was somewhat of a martinet, and was more feared than liked by his men until they realized what a grand leader he was, when they gave him their entire confidence and were ready to follow him anywhere and everywhere.” Page 175.
On the 17th (September, 1857) we were attacked from almost every direction— a manoeuvre intended to prevent our observing a battery which was being constructed close to an Idgah situated on a hill to our right, from which to enfilade our position on the Ridge. As it was very important to prevent the completion of this battery, Barnard ordered it to be attacked by two small columns, one commanded by Tombs, of the Bengal Horse Artillery, the other by Reid. Tombs, with 400 of the 6oth Rifles and 1st Bengal Fusiliers, thirty of the Guides Cavalry, twenty Sappers and Miners and his own troop of Horse Artillery, moved towards the enemy’s left. . . . Tombs drove the rebels through a succession of gardens, till they reached the Idgah, where they made an obstinate but unavailing resistance. The gates of the mosque were blown open and thirty-nine of its defenders were killed. Tombs himself was slightly wounded and had two horses killed, making five which had been shot under this gallant soldier since the commencement of the campaign.” Page 169.
Henry Tombs was a veteran of dozens of campaigns over twenty years of service and his military career is the story of the British Army in India. As a twenty year old Subaltern he was ADC to Sir Harry Smith, who had stormed Badajoz in the Peninislar war under Wellington. Tombs was promoted to major general at the age of 42, but died aged 49 of sickness.
However, James Hill, http://www.britishmedals.us/people/hills.html the subaltern Tombs saved, and awarded the VC for the same action lived to the age of 85 and died in 1919 as a Lieutenant General , living through the first world war. He maintained his friendship with Lord Roberts choosing to spend some of his retirement on campaign in South Africa during the Boer War serving in a private capacity on Lord Robert’s staff. (Is this an extreme form of battlefield tourism?)
The battery that he had served in fighting with sword and revolver had become 56th Howitzer battery RFA which served on the Western Front throughout the First World War and took part in the battle for Delville Wood on the Somme 100 years ago this month in late July 1916.
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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 American 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.
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 in East Berlin.
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.
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!
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.
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).
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 HQ 21 Pz Div, all of which made it harder to plan 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”.
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.
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The Battle of the Somme was the largest, most bloody battle fought by the British Army. The popular image in Britain is of waves of foot soldiers going over the top into a hail of shells and bullets. But whether they succeeded often depended on how well the Gunners had breached then barbed wire, damaged defences, neutralised enemy batteries and neutralised enemy in the path of the infantry, and whether the infantry used the barrage.The Somme was an artillery battle, the first of its scale waged by the Royal Regiment. The artillery plan for the 1st of July assault was the first army wide artillery instruction. Within common principles and guidelines each corps developed its own fire plan. In one sense the First Day of the Somme was a very big experiment with each Corps trying out a different technique for supporting the infantry.
The verdict was clear by the end of the day and the tactics used by the XV and XIII Corps, of heavy counter battery fire and a creeping barrage became the norm for future attacks.
The majority of the BEF’s troops were “Kitchener’s” New Army Volunteers, raised for the duration of the war.However, many of the regular and territorial units which fired in the opening barrage and on the first day of the Somme are still part of the Royal Artillery.
The northern most corps, VII Corps of the 3rd Army was made by two Territorial Divisions, the 46th (North Midlands) and the 56th (London). 210 (Staffordshire ) Battery can be considered the descendants of the CCXXXI (231)and CCXXXII (232) (II and III North Midlands Brigades) recruited from Staffordshire
265 (Home Counties) battery might consider themselves associated with the territorial artillery brigades of the 56th (London) Division at Gommecourt. The Home Counties Territorials also formed the 1/1 (Kent) Heavy Battery with four 4.7” Guns, part of the 48th Heavy Artillery group supporting the VIIth Corps at Gommecourt, as was the 1/1 Lowland Heavy battery, raised from the recruiting area of 207 (City of Glasgow ) Battery.
The VIIIth Corps, was the Northernmost army corps in the Fourth Army. One of its infantry divisions, the “Incomparable 29th Division” formed from regular units serving across the world. This division fought in Gallipoli and in all of the major battles on the Western front from the Somme onwards. The part of the battlefield over which the 29th Division advanced is includes the preserved battlefield of Newfoundland Park, one of the most visited and photographed. One regiment and four current day batteries have antecedents which served with the 29th Division on the First Day of the Somme.
The XVII Field Brigade is still part of the Gunners, being renumbered 19 Regiment after the Second World War. One of XVII Field Brigade’s batteries, numbered 13 Battery in 1916 is still part of 19th Regiment, having been renumbered as 28 battery in 1947. According to the fire plan, this battery fired the artillery support for the doomed attack across Newfoundland Park.
B and L Battery RHA also were part of the 29th Division and fought on the first day of the Somme. XV Brigade RHA was formed from RHA units, but was equipped with the 18 pounder field gun and carried out the same function as a divisional field artillery battery. B Battery sent an OP party forward to support the capture of the Hawthorn ridge crater caused by the much photographed mine.
10 Battery RFA, now 25/170 (Imjin) HQ Battery of 12 Regiment served in 147 Field Brigade, also part of the 29 Divisional artillery group.
The heavy artillery of the VIII corps included 1/1 Highland Heavy Battery, part of 1st heavy Artillery group raised from the recruiting area of 212 (Highland) Battery, and 1/1 Welsh Heavy Battery, raised in Carnarvon. Both territorial batteries were equipped with four 4.7” guns.
To the right of VIII Corps was X Corps, which attacked the dominating ground around the village of Theipval. None of the field batteries of its new army and territorial had survived to the current day.
However, 17 Siege Battery RGA, the
recently disbanded 52 (Niagra) Battery was part of 40 Heavy Artillery Group which was the Northern Group supporting X Corps. The battery was equipped with four 30 cwt 6” Howitzers and fired on targets in the sector attacked by the 36th Ulster Division and commemorated by the Ulster Tower memorial.
The III Corps attacked either side of La Boiselle on the Albert-Bapaume road. This was the point of main effort of the Fourth Army. North of the road, the 8th Regular Infantry Division attacked towards the village of Orvilliers. Its artillery group included V Brigade RHA, now 5 Regiment, and XLV Brigade RFA renumbered as 14 Regiment in 1947.
As with XV RHA, V RHA Brigade, was equipped as a field brigade, there being a greater need for field rather than horse artillery in trench warfare. V Brigade RHA’s batteries included was O and Z batteries RHA.
XLV Field Brigade, which became 14 Regiment and three of its batteries have also survived. 1 Battery as “The Blazers”, 3 Battery RFA as 13 (Martinique) Battery and 5 battery as 5 (Gibraltar 1779–83) Battery. This divisions attack just north of the Albert Bapaume road towards Orvilliers also failed with heavy casualties
The Heavy Artillery of III Corps included:-
1 Siege Battery equipped with four 6” howitzers, part of 27th heavy Artillery group. This became 73 battery, now part of 4/73 (Sphinx) Battery.
90 Heavy Battery RGA, equipped with four 60 pounder guns. part of 22 Heavy Artillery Group became the current day 38 (Seringapatam) Battery.
1/1 London (Woolwich) Heavy battery was part of 34 Heavy Artillery Group RGA, equipped with four 4.7” guns.
XV Corps was to the right of III Corps. One of its two assaulting infantry divisions was the regular 7th Infantry Division. The artillery group included XXXV (35) Brigade RFA, which still survives as 29 Commando Regiment, as does one of its batteries 12 Battery RFA, now 8 Alma Commando Battery as do F and T Battery RHA which served as part of XIV brigade RHA. The attacks by the 7th Infantry division were among the most successful of the day, due in part to the innovative creeping barrage fired by the artillery of the corps.
1/2 Lancashire Heavy Battery, based in Sefton Barracks Liverpool, in the current day 208 battery recruiting area was part of the 18th Heavy Artillery Group equipped with four 4.7” Guns
The attacks by the two New Army Divisions of XIIIth Corps were the most successful of the day.
115Heavy Battery RGA, the current day 18 (Quebec 1759) Battery was also equipped with four 60 pounder guns as part of 29th heavy Artillery Group in support of the XIII Corps. This was the right hand British Corps in the attack on the 1st day of the Somme. Their counter battery fire was particularly effective, supported by additional French heavy guns and a factor in the breakthrough in the XIII Corps sector.
1/1 Lancashire Heavy Battery was part of 29 Heavy Artillery group supporting XIII Corps, This too was raised in Sefton Road, Liverpool.
The story on each Corps sector is different. There are the personal accounts of the men who served the guns. And there is the story of how the Army developed the techniques learned at a painful cost to turn the Somme into the “Muddy Grave of the German army.”
If you would like to visit these places and see what the Gunners did on the Somme, there are still places available on the Somme Centenary Gunner Tour.
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