James Colvin: Eighth Army versus Rommel, Tactics, Training and Operations in North Africa 1940-1942 Helion & Co Ltd 2020
This is James Colvin’s first book and is based on research undertaken for his MA. It is an academic work in that it is sourced and draws on primary sources. His academic tutor was Matthais Strohn, and this work displays rigour and insights informed by someone close to the British Army.
The book does what is says on the tin, and covers tactics training and operations.
However, its real strength is the clinical examination of the culture of the British and Indian Army and how this hampered the commanders and staff of the Eighth Army in developing effective tactics.
The author pieces together the thinking that led to the ineffective tactics and the influence of the Indian army approach to armoured warfare. It is worth reading alone for the exposition of the thinking of Tom Corbett, Eric Dorman Smith and Francis Tuker and how this led to a battlefield of boxes. Much of this is new analysis and adds a new dimension to any thinking about the desert war battles.
The author is related to two Gunner veterans of the campaign. One relative is the ill fated Beresford Peirse quotes extensively from the papers of his relative Robin Dunn,, an HAC officer during the campaign. However, the Gunners themselves escape critical review without mention of one question often asked. Why didn’t the British Heavy Anti Aircraft guns in a similar way to the Germans 88?
The 261 page work is illustrated with relevant sketches and photographs.
It should be on the reading list of anyone interested in the war in North Africa 1940-1942 or in the wider British Army of that period.
Not particularly cheap, but affordable. £29,95 RRP
1. HIS MATERNAL GRANDFATHER WAS A FAMOUS CHILDREN’S WRITER
His maternal grandfather, Dean Farrar was a famous preacher and author. Montgomery’s mother was the daughter of Dean Farrar, who was a well-known theologian who could fill a church when it was known he was preaching. He was master at Harrow and headmaster of Marlborough schools. He spent much of his clerical career at Westminster Abbey becoming archdeacon as well as a chaplain to the royal household. He wrote works of theology and several works of fiction, including Eric or Little by Little. This tale set in a school that was one of the best-known boys books in mid Victorian England.
2. HIS FATHER : KINDLY CALL ME GOD
The is a substantial memorial to Montgomery’s father Henry Montgomery in St Paul’s cathedral. After his return from serving as Bishop of Tasmania, Henry became the Prelate to the order of St Michael and St George. It was during his time in office that the Order was given their chapel St Paul’s Cathedral on the south side of the nave. Henry was made a knight commander of the order of St Michael and St George in the king’s birthday honours of 1928. He became a KCMG – known as “Kindly Call Me God.” Each member of the order has a brass plate in the chapel.
3. HIS COMMANDING OFFICER DESERTED HIS BATTALION IN BATTLE
In Monty’s first battle, his commanding officer deserted Montgomery and half the battalion on the battlefield of Le Cateau. At the end of the battle they escaped the Germans by marching among the German columns undiscovered. Lieutenant Colonel John Elkington was court-martialled and cashiered for deserting his men, and surrendering a post at Sant Quentin. Elkington eventually redeemed his honour. He joined the French Foreign Legion as a private soldier. When his platoon commander became a casualty Elkington rallied the men and led them in an attack in which he was badly wounded.
4. IT WAS A STUDENT PUNISHMENT TO SIT NEXT TO MONTY AT BREAKFAST
Montgomery was an argumentative and garrulous student at Staff College. According to the recollections of one alumni, one student was sentenced to sit next to Monty at breakfast for a week. In its conundrums page the college magazine posed: “If it takes ten truck loads of 9.2” Mk V star India pattern to stop one bath on the second floor of the staff college from leaking, How many haynets with full echelons will be required to stop Monty burbling at breakfast. its had a page of “Things we would like to know” one of them was “If and where does Monty observe two minutes silence on Armistice day?”
5. MONTY’S BOHEMIAN CIRCLE
Monty met many artists of the 1920s through his wife Betty. She was a graduate of the Slade Art School. Her home at Chiswick as a meeting place for many “bohemians” such as AP Herbert, Eric Kennington and Augustus John.
6. MONTY WROTE THE INFANTRY TRAINING MANUAL
In 1929 Major Montgomery wrote the infantry tactics text-book. Infantry Training Volume 2 War. He knew and had written to Basil Liddell Hart, the author of the previous edition. Liddell Hart fell out with Montgomery over the omission of some of Liddell Hart’s favoured ideas, the Expanding Torrent approach to pursuit.
7. CRUISING WITH THE ARCHITECT OF THE REICHSWEHR
In 1934 Lieutenant Colonel Montgomery and his wife took a cruise to the far east. One of the passengers on the same cruise was German General von Seeckt, the architect of the German Reichswehr. Montgomery interrogated the German at some length about his ideas through an interpreter.
8. MONTY THE SMOKER AND DRINKER
Famously a tee total non-smoker, Montgomery drank and smoked in moderation until 1939. However in June 1939 Montgomery was invalided back to the UK from Palestine with pleurisy. On his recovery he gave up drinking and smoking.
9. THE SEX SCANDAL
In 1940 a sex scandal, or rather a scandal about sexually transmitted disease, threatened to engulf his wartime military career. As commander of the 3rd Division Monty became concerned about the prevalence of venereal disease in his 3rd Division. He wrote an order ordering commanding officers to make condoms available on sale in the NAAFI and ensure that sexual hygiene was promoted. “My view is that if a man wants to have a woman let him do so by all means, but he must use commonsense and take all precautions.” Nothing to frighten the horses in the 21st century, but not in the mid C20th for an army of national servicemen. It never occurred to Monty that this was a subject best left for the medical services. Lord Gort the commander of the British Expeditionary Force demanded that Montgomery publicly retract the order, which Brooke, the corps commander thought would have left Monty;’s position as commander untenable. His Corps commander Alan Brooke persuaded Gort to allow Brooke to deal with Monty.
10. SWIMMING WITH CHAIRMAN MAO
After writing his memoirs Montgomery undertook a self-appointed role as a mediator for world peace. He obtained invitations from the Soviet and Chinese leadership. He met Nikita Krushchev in Moscow and Chairman Mao-Tse Tung in China, seven years before Nixon’s historic visit. Monty swam in the Yangtse river with Mao, enjoyed the meeting enough to invite Monty for a second visit and composed a poem for him entitled “swimming.”
11. WOULD BE MIDDLE EAST PEACE ENVOY
At the 25th Anniversary of El Alamein, four months after the six day war, Monty offered his services to President Nasser of Egypt as a personal emissary to broker a peace between Egypt and Israel.
Most of these are taken from Nigel Hamilton’s biography of “Monty”
If you would like to visit some of the sites associated with Bernard Montgomery, I am organising walks and talks.
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)
I cannot recommend too highly John Kiszely’s book: Anatomy of a Campaign: The British Fiasco in Norway, 1940. This is a great book that anyone interested in modern strategy and military affairs will find interesting. It also casts a contrasting light on the popular view of 1940 influenced by films about Dunkirk and Churchll.
On Tuesday, at RUSI, he received the Duke of Wellington Award for the best military history work of the year. This is a military history, but with a specific purpose. The work was inspired by his time at the Higher Command and Staff College for a study of a campaign as a whole, and that the Norway Campaign which ended in a defeat might offer more lessons than a success. In his book he dissects the campaign from policy decisions in cabinet through to the events on the ground and on the waves.
It should be a valuable case study for anyone with an interest in business or political strategy. While written for the general reader, John Kiszely explores causality and the interplay between the personalities and institutional cultures of the organisations that took part.
For anyone with an interest in the events of 1940, it adds sharp critical insight to the state of Britain’s armed forces and leadership. This pulls no patriotic punches. The frank admission that companies of Guardsmen ran away must have been painful to document. The book is an essential sobering complement to the sometimes public smugness about 1940 Dunkirk and Churchill.
It is a cautionary tale about military intervention and compulsory reading for anyone advocating that something must be done about some international crisis. It is well written without labouring points or underlining obvious lessons, there is much that is familiar from recent history. A divided cabinet. Public opinion demanding action. Institutions barely fit for purpose. It is also an object lesson about the longer view. The OP asked how much damage did the occupation of Norway do in the long term to the allied cause. The answer was probably very little: indeed, the German naval losses may have saved Britain from the Germans attempting an invasion the same year.
Its published by Cambridge University Press £28.00
What did you do in the war daddy? Gunners from 113 Light Anti Aircraft Regiment could truthfully answer – “We helped to save tens of thousands of lives.”
113 Light AA Regiment Royal Artillery was originally raised as 2/5th Battalion the Durham Light Infantry, converted to a Searchlight battalion RE before the Second World war, and then to a Light AA Regiment in 1941.
In June 1944 it landed in Normandy as part of 100 AA Brigade and defended the bridges over the Caen Canal, including Pegasus bridge and the gun areas north of Caen. In September 1944 it took part in Operation Market Garden, taking over responsibility for defending the Bridge at Nijmegen. After a cold winter in the Netherlands and Belgium it provided air defence for the bridge over the Rhine at Xanten.
By 16th April 1945 German air effort was weakening and the Regiment came out of action into a concentration area near Haldern East of the Rhine. The Allied spearheads were rapidly advancing through Germansy and the Red Army had surrounded Berlin. It might reasonably expect to have little to do until demobilised. 113 LAA the Regiment’s service was not untypical of any Light AA Regiment It had done its bit.
But things changed with the orders the next day to move to administration duties at Belsen Concentration Camp (42 miles North of Hannover) under command 10 Garrison, taking over from 63 Anti tank Regiment.
Captain Pares, the Adjutant of 113 LAA wrote the following:-
“On 12 April 1945 following the break-through of Second Army after the Rhine crossing, the German Military Commander at Bergen-Belsen (Chief of Staff 1 Para Army) approached 8 Corps with a view to negotiating a truce and avoiding a battle in the area of Belsen Concentration Camp.
In occupation of the area were 800 Wehrmacht, 1,500 Hungarians with their wives and families, and certain SS Prison Guards. In the concentration camp were known to be 45-55,000 internees of whom a very large number were reported to be suffering from Typhus, Typhoid, Tuberculosis and Gastro-Enteritis. The electricity and water supply had failed: there was no bread and very little food.
The camp area consisted of the concentration camp and ½ mile North a large tank training centre with very extensive barrack buildings, a small PW camp attached in which were 800 Russians, and a military hospital.
In the interests of our own troops and the internees, and from the point of view of preventing, the spread of disease, a truce was granted on the following terms.
The German Military Authorities were to erect notices and white flags at all the road entrances, marked ‘Danger – Typhus’ on one side and ‘End of Typhus Area’ on the reverse, with a disarmed German post at each notice. German and Hungarian troops would remain at their posts armed, wearing a white arm-band on the left sleeve. The Hungarians would remain indefinitely and were placed at the disposal of the British for such duties as might be required. The Wehrmacht were to be released within 6 days and conveyed back to the German lines with their arms, equipment and vehicles. SS Guard personnel were to be removed by 1200 hrs 13 April and any remaining to be treated as PWs. SS Admin personnel would (if the Wehrmacht could prevent them running away) remain at their posts, carry on with their duties, and hand over records. When their services could be dispensed with, their disposal was left by the Wehrmacht to the British authorities, i.e. the Wehrmacht ‘sold’ the S.S.
About 50% of the inmates were in need of immediate hospital treatment. All of them had been without any food for 7 days, and prior to that living on the normal concentration camp semi-starvation scale of diet.
There were about 10,000 typhus-infected bodies, mostly naked and many in an advanced stage of decomposition, lying around the camp, both inside and outside the huts, which required immediate burial; and the daily death rate was 4/500.
The living conditions were appalling – people were sleeping 3 in a bed, mainly treble-bunk beds, and huts which would normally accommodate 60 were housing 600. There were no sanitary arrangements, and both inside and outside the huts was an almost continuous carpet of dead bodies, human excreta, rags, and filth.
There were some 50,000 persons to supply and feed, but the cooking facilities were totally inadequate. There were 5 cookhouses of varying size equipped with a number of large boilers, and the only containers available to distribute the food were a few large dustbins A large proportion of the occupants were bed-ridden, and many were incapable even of feeding themselves.
The inmates had lost all self-respect and been degraded morally to the level of beasts. Their clothes were in rags and teeming with lice; they had no eating utensils or plates, and at the time of the food distribution they behaved more like ravenous wolves than human beings.
There were 49 SS male and 26 female prison guards under close arrest and a Wehrmacht Hospital with 2,000 sick and convalescent German soldiers.
The electricity which came from Celle was cut off and the wiring sabotaged; the water supply which depended on it for pumping had consequently failed.
To prevent spread of Typhus and the other diseases it was necessary to keep all the internees within the Camp, yet the Hungarian guards were grossly lax and made little effort to prevent them from filtering out.” More of Captain Peres Account here.
Over the next month 113 LAA took over the Wehrmacht barracks at Bergan-Belsen, which would become Bergen-Hohne Camp. The typhus epidemic meant that the the concentration camp inmates could not be allowed to leave. They built cook-houses, buried the dead transferred the living to clean accommodation, guarded the SS men, and disarmed the Hungarians. Their soldiers can be seen in the newsreel shots. The War Diary entry for 26th April comments that over 8,000 bodies had been buried since their arrival in the camp. The SS Guards interviewed for the newsreel seem to have lost the SS Runes from their uniforms. These seem to have fallen into possession of the Gunners.
On VE Day 9th May the Regiment paraded through Hohne Camp,. Starling at the corner of the Belsen Concentration Camp past British, US Soviet and US Senior officers who took the salute to the sports pitch where the 54 guns of the Regiment fired ten rounds single shot and ten rounds automatic to celebrate victory and peace in Europe.
At this point their work was only half complete. The last huts of Belsen Camp were burned with as short ceremony on 23 May 1945.
After the traumatic work, 113 LAA Regiment were given ten days leave beside the Baltic and issued 6000 bottles of beer.
Last week, as the historian and guide for 103 Regiment (V) I took part in a special battlefield study to Italy, in the footsteps of the Bolton and Manchester Artillery on the battlefields of the Sangro and Moro Rivers and Monte Cassino, as part of Ubique 300. 53 (Bolton) Field Regiment were the nearest thing in the Second World War to the pals or sports battalions of Kitchener’s Army raised in 1914. In March 1939 Hitler reneged on the Munich agreement and invaded Czechoslovakia. The following weekend the team captain of Bolton Wanderers football club, Harry Goslin addressed the crowd and called for supporters to join the TA. It was not enough to deplore what was going on in the world. Hitler would need to be stopped. He and the team were joining up.
The story of what happened to Harry Goslin is told in an earlier post, written close to the 70th anniversary of his death. It was mainly based on general histories of the battle and material available on line.
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A visit to the National Archives and the war diary of 53 Field Regiment revealed more details about the story and the experience of the soldiers.
The maps in the general histories portray the attack mounted by the 8th Indian Division on 14th December as an arrow from Villa Rogatti west north west to to Villa Caldari. The fire plan in the 53 Rd Regiment War diary shows a barrage by the divisional artillery supporting an attack north from the road between these villages, which curves first west then north. When superimposed on the 1:50,000 map the first line of the barrage is 50 yards north of the candy stripe road, an obvious start-line. 52 and 116 Field Regiments fired the lines of the barrage. 53rd Field Regiment fired a flanking barrage, three lines of shells fired at right angles to the main barrage to protect the left flank of the attack, exposed to enemy fire from the lateral road. All points calculated by hand in damp, cold dug out command posts.
The war diaries referred to the abysmal quality of the maps, with features up to 500 metres from their true location. It wasn’t much easier to find locations on modern maps. It is hard to find maps with more detail than 1:200,000 and the information on different publications can be contradictory, and at variance with the features on the ground.
But the 53 Field Regiment gun positions seemed obvious. Plotting the battery locations on the 1944 map showed East of the road between S. Vito Chietano and Lanciano. west of Treglia The best fit of the 1944 map with Google maps put the gun positions just to the side of what is now a road through the edge of a village. This made sense. The fire plans called for hundreds of rounds of ammunition per gun per day. The weather in December 1943 was bad with the fields and tracks reduced to mud. The War diary noted that it was difficult to extract the guns from their old positions and that it took six hours before two of the batteries were ready after moving a couple of miles. Gun positions would need to be close to the driest ground. An old lady remembered, “yes. The guns were just over there”. What is now an olive grove was a field in 1943.
There were also some VIPs. Harry Goslin’s son Bill and grandson Matt came to make a visit, their first to Harry’s grave, and to find out about what happened to him. Lieutenant Harry Goslin was mortally wounded as a forward observer, a task usually carried out by a captain troop commander. Harry’s normal role should have been on the gun position, either in a troop or battery command post or as a gun position officer. The command post officers were responsible for supervising the soldiers who calculated what direction the guns should point to hit any given target. This was difficult and tiring work, but not as dangerous as accompanying the infantry, with the higher risks from bullet, shell or mortar bomb.
The 53 Field Regiment War Diary provides evidence of the pressure on the officers and soldiers who served at the sharp end. On1st December, after a week long battle on the Sangro Rover one battery commander had been evacuated with exhaustion The nearby 1st Canadian RCHA attacking on the right of the Indians lost four out of six FOOs over four days. Officers and signallers from the guns would have to take their turn at the OP. It was as a stand in OP Officer that Harry Goslin crossed the start line.
The attacks along the Adriatic coastal plain halted a month later on the next river line, the Arielli, with winter snow. Four months later, the 8th Indian Division with the 52nd Manchester Artillery and 53 Bolton Artillery crossed the Apennine mountains in secret to deploy South of Cassino. Here the allies had tried battering a way through what was the strongest part of the German defences between December 1943 and March 1944.
The allies concentrated both of their armies to break through the German army on the front facing Rome. This time the allies assembled a force of 1600 guns, including those of 52 (Manchester) Field and 53rd (Bolton) Field Artillery Regiments. These blasted a path across defences which had stopped the allies over the preceding months. Not without a hard fight or losses. The commonwealth War
Graves Commission records list 184 members of the Royal Artillery who died in Italy during May 1944. 110 are buried or commemorated in the Cassino War Cemetery. Twelve of the dead served in the 52 (Manchester) or 53 (Bolton) Field Regiments.
Yesterday Dr Rana Mitter gave the lecture after receiving the Duke of Westminster Prize for Military History at RUSI for his book “China’s war with Japan 1937-1945- the Struggle for Survival” . His is fascinating not only does it tell the story of what has been a neglected corner, but it is also has much to say about the background to current day geo-politicval issues in Asia.
Much has been written about various turning points in WW2,. Such as the British decision, under Churchill, to fight on in 1940. Just as important was the decision by the Chinese Nationalist government to continue fighting after much of their country had been over-run. Had the Chinese surrendered in 1940, there would have been no quagmire holding down Japanese troops which could have been used in South East Asia , against British India or the Soviet Union. It is humbling to realise that the London Blitz started over a year after the sustained Japanese bombing of the Chinese temporary capital at Chongqing, – or Chungking as it was then known in English. Nor that the date 4th May 1919 was the 20th anniversary of a key date in Chinese history, the massed demonstrations in favour of modernisation. Nor was I aware that the Chinese Nationalist government were influenced by the Beveridge report which set out the post war welfare state.
It was particularly interesting to hear about who modern China has acknowledged the story of the nationalist Chinese part in the Second World War. How books films and ceremonies now commemorate events which could never have been mentioned a few years ago. For example. The hundred thousand Chinese soldiers who fought in Burma received no pensions or acknowledgement, of which around eighty are still alive. This year a memorial is being erected to their memory. It is a whole new dimension to the term “Forgotten army”
The conclusion of the lecture and the talk concerned the implications of modern China embracing the history of the war against Japan. China was one of the big four allies. It paid a heavy price to survive and win. It did not obtain the same territorial advantages gained by the USA and USSR. Nor was there the same accommodation with the defeated enemies. There is a sense of unfinished business.
Narrative: MM421 – Missing from night intruder to Greifiswald 10.5.44
Public Record Office WO 208/3320 had his MI.9 report; he had left Stockholm on 16 June 1944, arrived in Britain 17 June 1944 and was interviewed on 18 June 1944.
“I was captain and first pilot of a Mosquito aircraft which took off from Coltishall on 16 May 1944 at about 1300 hours on a Day Ranger operation across Denmark, and covering German aerodromes on the Baltic. When approximately over Rostock we were hit by flak at about 1530 hours. One engine was rendered completely unserviceable, and the fuselage was badly damaged.
“It was obvious that we would not be able to reach base, so I took the only alternative of attempting to get to Sweden.
“When over Ystad we were fired on by flak, although it was obvious that we were in distress. This compelled me to fly out to sea again. I ditched outside the three-mile limit, exactly south of Ystad at about 1700 hours. The aircraft broke up badly, but we both got out safely. The water was so cold that I just managed to inflate my dinghy and got into it before becoming unconscious. When last seen my navigator was trying to get his dinghy inflated. When I came to about half an hour later there was no sign of him.
“I was picked up by a Swedish fishing boat, which also found my navigator’s body. I was taken ashore and to a hospital in Ystad. I was there till 22 May. On the second day a member of the British Legation at Malmo came to see me. On 22 May I was taken to the internment camp at Falun. After a trip to Stockholm to report the details of our accident to the authorities. I returned to Falun whilst negotiations were being carried out with the Swedes for my repatriation.
“At no time was any interrogation pressed on me, and I was treated with great consideration. On 11 June I was taken down to Stockholm and repatriated on 16 June.”
W/Cdr (J/5756) Howard Douglas CLEVELAND DFC (pilot) RCAF injured
F/Sgt (1503804) Frank DAY DFM (nav.) killed.
418 RCAF is claimed to be the RCAF’s highest scoring fighter squadrons in the Second World War, in terms of both air-to-air and air-to-ground kills, and of both day and night operations. Its night operations were carried out without airborne interception radar.
There is an excellent well written account of the expereince of 418 aircrew, ” Terror in the Starboard Seat: 41 Trips Aboard a Mosquito, a True Story of 418 Squadron” by Dave McIntosh.
This aircraft took off from RAF Coltishall, which continued to serve as an RAF airfield until its closure in November 2006. It is currently awaiting disposal with plans for reused as the site of a prison, immigration centre and housing.
The crew of MM421 were not based at Coltishall. 418 Squadron were based at Holmsley South airfield in the New Forest in Hampshire on the South Coast. Presumably the day ranger operation in the Baltic needed to operate from East Anglia. It is possible to visit the site of Holmsley South where the is a memorial to the units which operated from the airfield.