THE NORMANDY CAMPAIGN
6th June, 1944- September 1944
1 RUR Officers in 1944
THE following account of the activities of the Battalion has been prepared as it is felt that it may be of interest to the officers of the Regiment and to other friends of the Battalion.
The story opens at the end of May, when the Battalion was ordered to move to a transit camp. The move, which was, conducted in an air of great secrecy, took place on 25th and 26th May, "A," "F" and "S" Companies going to Blakehill Farm and Battalion H.Q., with the remainder of the companies, to Broadwell. Reinforcements were left behind, at Bulford, under command of Major G. P. Rickcord, assisted by Lieutenant H. L. Croft.
At the transit camps the Battalion found itself entirely cut off from the outside world and settled down to enjoy the marvellous weather and to put, a final edge to its preparations for the long awaited "D" Day.
Towards the end of our stay the story of what was to take place was gradually explained until, at the last, every single man knew everything it was possible for him to know about the operation. Rarely have officers had such great opportunity of putting all their men so adequately into the picture, and full use was made of that opportunity.
An unfortunate accident with a "75" grenade on the 1st June resulted in the death of Lieut. Seale and Sgt. Dwyer, Major Warner and several others being wounded. As a result of this, Major Rickcord had to take over "B" Company at the last minute, and Lieut. Hindson replaced Lieut. Seale.
Shortly before "D" Day the good weather broke into a violent storm, after which there was a steady deterioration, and eventually "D" Day was postponed for twenty-four hours. On the evening of June 5th ("D"-l) we watched the Paratroops take off - a most impressive sight. Their men, in great morale, were given a fine send-off by all ranks of the Battalion.
The following day it was our turn, and during the afternoon both parties moved off to their respective airfields. The take-off from both airfields went smoothly and there was not a hitch either with tug aircraft or gliders which might have necessitated the substitution by one of the reserve loads held in readiness.
The flight across the Channel was uneventful, although at times inclined to be bumpy. The weather was fine, particularly during the later stages of the flight and ample evidence was available to reassure all concerned that the R.A.F. fighter cover was very considerable. By about 2045 hours the coast of France could be clearly seen and it was not long before the River Orne and Canal could be recognised. Whilst crossing the coast it was evident that flak was being thrown up; this appeared of light variety and there were only a few indications that it was inflicting casualty either to tugs, aircraft or gliders.
At 2100 hours, six minutes before the pre-arranged time, the first glider touched down. The majority of the landings were comparatively smooth, in spite of the flak and many wooden poles which were planted all over the Landing Zone. Enemy mortar and small arms fire was being brought to bear on the Landing Zone, but this was not allowed to interfere in any way with the unloading and concentration of the Battalion.
The majority of glider loads experienced considerable difficulty in removing the tail unit and unloading was therefore rather slower than would otherwise have been the case. It did not appear that gliders had been fully modified in the same manner as those on which instruction had been carried out at Netheravon. However, by using saws, axes and other suitable implements, most tails were soon removed, gliders unloaded and the Battalion concentrated South of Ranville in accordance with the pre-arranged plan at 2230 hours.
At this stage the Battalion had sustained only one casualty, considerably less than the actual casualties usually sustained on an air exercise, certainly a remarkable achievement and a very great credit to the R.A.F. and Glider Pilots. The only casualty was caused after landing and was due to mortar fire. On reaching the concentration area, the Commanding Officer (Lieut.-Colonel R. J. H. Carson) went to Brigade H.Q. in order to obtain the latest information. The original plan envisaged the Battalion Second in Command (Major J. Drummond) landing with advance Div. H.Q. on the' night of "D" minus 1 and of being well in the "picture" when the Battalion arrived. This was not to be, as the glider in which he originally took off made a forced landing at Worthing at 0300 hours. The Second in Command,, however, just managed to get back to the take-off airfield in time to take part in the rather trivial excitement of taking off for the invasion twice within 24 hours.
Information received by the Commanding Officer at Brigade H.Q. showed that the main objective of the Battalion (Ste. Honorine) was occupied by the enemy and that "Ring Contour 30" to the North of Ste. Honorine was also held. It was also reported that the enemy were also in occupation of Longueval ("D" Company objective). The Battalion was ordered to remain in the concentration area at Ranville until further orders were received. These were received at 2345 hours, when it was decided to seize the area of "Ring Contour 30." "C" Company (Major F. R. A. Hynds) was ordered to seize this high ground and by 0200 hours the objective was reported occupied. The enemy who had been in this locality had withdrawn to area of Ste. Honorine.
At 0200 hours 7th June the Battalion received orders to proceed with the original intention of seizing and holding Ste. Honorine and Longueval. Placed in support of the Battalion were one field battery one light battery, with the additional call on the cruiser H.M.S. Arethusa, for fire support on Ste. Honorine.
The plan for the capture of Longueval was briefly as follows:
C" Company with one platoon Medium Machine Gun (Lieut. H. R. Morgan) to remain on Hill 30 as fire company. The Battalion mortars (less C Company Detachment which was in position on Hill 30) to take up a position South of Ranville and support the attack. The Battalion Second in Command was ordered to co-ordinate the fire support and contact the Forward Observation Officers and Forward Observer, Bombardment on Hill 30. The remainder of the Battalion to carry out a right flanking attack on Longueval with "B" Company on right, "A" Company on left and "D" Company supporting "A" Company. Zero hour for the attack was 0900 hours.
The Battalion moved to Forming-Up Place without incident. In the meantime life on Hill 30 was full of incident. "C" Company, which had of necessity occupied hastily-prepared positions in the dark, was in full view of the enemy from Ste. Honorine. The range was about 1,200 yards, very suitable for mortars and Self-Propelled guns, which opened up a heavy and relentless fire. A number of casualties were sustained. The Forward Observation Officer from the field regiment was contacted but was uncertain as to whether he would have completed ranging by Z-15 minutes. The Forward Observation Officer from the light regiment was later contacted, some distance away but stated that he could not reach Hill 30 owing to the intense fire. The Forward Observer, Bombardment with a call on H.M.S. Arethusa was present on Hill 30 but stated that
(a) His wireless could not get through to the control ship, and
(b) That in any event he considered fire support from the cruiser was unlikely to be forthcoming as too many calls were already being made from other Forward Observer, Bombardments. The Battalion Mortar Officer was forward in observation on Hill 30, mortars ranged and prepared to fire on time.
Little need be said regarding the actual infantry attack on Longueval as the locality was not held by the enemy and was occupied by the Battalion without Opposition.
The Commanding Officer now decided to attack Ste. Honorine forthwith, leaving "C" Company as fire company on Hill 30, and "D" Company (Major A. J. Dyball) and the remainder of the Battalion in occupation of Longueval. The assault on Ste. Honorine [was] to be carried out with "A" Company (Major C. E. Vickery) and "B" Company (Major G. P. Rickcord). Orders for the attack were issued to Hill 30 by wireless. Zero hour was given as U00 hours. The fire plan consisted of mortar concentrations on the forward edges of Ste. Honorine from Z-l5 minutes to Z and an artillery concentration Z-3 minutes to Z plus two minutes.
The fire plan was proceeded with according to orders but zero hour passed with no sign of the assaulting infantry advancing towards Ste. Honorine. An over-optimistic estimate of the time required to prepare for the attack had been made and the assaulting companies had not been allowed sufficient time for preparation and the giving out of orders. Zero hour was postponed until 1215 hours, but it was not possible to postpone the original fire support plan owing to difficulty in communications. Notification of the postponement did not reach Hill 30 until 1110 hours. The postponement seriously affected the repetition of the fire plan as the mortars and Medium Machine Guns were running short of ammunition and there was little time for replenishment. Determined efforts were made, however, and a small supply was obtained. During all this time "C" Company was under continuous fire from Ferdinand (88 mm. Self-Propelled gun) and mortars, and casualties were heavy. Shortly before the postponed zero hour seven enemy 75 mm. Self-Propelled guns (thought at the time to be tanks by all concerned) were seen from Hill 30 moving from the North-East to Ste. Honorine. This information was sent by wireless to Battalion H.Q., but owing to an unfortunate breakdown in communications did not reach the Commanding Officer.
Under cover of smoke "A" and "B" Companies advanced from the Forming-Up Place across open ground towards Ste. Honorine. The enemy position was penetrated to some depth but heavy Medium Machine Gun and artillery fire from Self-Propelled guns inflicted considerable casualties. It was obvious to the Company Commanders concerned that a very gallant attempt to secure the position by the officers and men under their command, supported by very slender artillery and Medium Machine Gun fire, could not succeed. They were out of touch with Battalion H.Q. and were forced to fall on Longueval.
The Commanding Officer gave instructions for "C" Company to withdraw from Hill 30, which was still under very heavy enemy fire, and concentrate with the remainder of the Battalion in the defence of Longueval.
The following casualties were sustained during the attack on Ste. Honorine:
Killed: Lieut. J. D. A. Boustead and five other ranks.
Wounded: Lieuts. C. O'Hara-Murray, D. A. S. Murphy, F.W. Hindson, W. E. Dean, H. R. Morgan and 64 other ranks.
Missing: Lieut. R. N. Morgan and 67 other ranks. Approximately 20 of the missing personnel rejoined the Battalion in the course of the next few days.
If the attack on Ste Honorine was unsuccessful it can at least be said that the spirit of the Battalion was completely unperturbed by the encountering on its first day stronger enemy opposition than was anticipated. A price had been paid, but there was no doubt that considerable casualties had been inflicted on the enemy. It was with a determined spirit of preparing for a fresh attack that the Battalion fell back on Longueval and made the village in a short time a veritable fortress into which no penetration was to be tolerated.
Civilians coming into Longueval reported that the Germans in Ste. Honorine and Colonbelles strongly resented the activities of the British' troops based on Longueval. This indeed was,, a tonic to our patrols and snipers.
By about 1500 hours on the 7th June the bulk of the Battalion was concentrated in Longueval and the Commanding Officer decided to hold a tight defensive locality in the immediate area of the village itself. Digging and preparation of positions in houses and orchards behind then started immediately and before dusk the Battalion was a good reverse slope position. The few stragglers from "A," "B" and "C" Companies had by now rejoined their companies, and it was decided to bring up the rest of the Battalion transport from Ranville, together with a mortar platoon and part of an anti-tank platoon which had retired from Hill 30. The Intelligence Officer (Lieut. B. W. MacD. Crockett) was sent to contact these elements and guide them to the new position. When this convoy was about to leave Ranville, enemy infantry, supported by tanks and Self-Propelled guns, put in an attack on that place from the direction of Ste. Honorine and the road to Longueval was cut.
It was not until considerably later in the evening that this party was able to join the Battalion, using the towpath along the bank of the River Orne. For the remainder of the Battalion's stay in Longueval this was the only road which could be used and, although shells and mortar bombs frequently landed on it, particularly during the early stages, it remained open throughout.
For the remainder of the 7th, and during the night of the 7th/8th June, Longueval was under continuous mortar and shell fire, which caused numerous casualties. In addition, small parties of the enemy frequently infiltrated into the woods and orchards above the position. The Battalion mortars and 3rd Div. Artillery did much to discourage them from putting in an attack. The speed with which Forward Observation Officers from 3rd Div. brought down artillery support was very noticeable.
On the 8th June digging in and improving positions continued with occasional shelling and mortaring, particularly in the area of Battalion H.Q.
During the afternoon an unfortunate misapprehension on the part of some gunners West of the River Orne resulted in a sharp artillery attack on the North-West corner of the Battalion area resulting in five deaths and nine wounded. Capt. R. Rigby swam the river and canal in an endeavour to get in touch with the nearest unit and stop the firing, but narrowly escaped capture by an enemy Dispatch Rider [?] For the remainder of the stay in Longueval he was equipped with clothing from a house which had been the H.Q. of a branch of the Todt Organisation.
Later in the evening a body of enemy, estimated at one platoon, was seen in the area behind Battalion H.Q. apparently preparing for an attack. These were engaged with small arms fire by R.S.M. G. Griffiths and the Adjutant (Capt. R. E. H. Sheridan) from the attic and by Battalion H.Q. clerks, Defence and Intelligence Sections. The enemy moved off to the left flank, where fire from "B" Company forced them to withdraw without having inflicted any casualties. For the rest of the day and the rest of the night the Battalion patrols covered the area in front of the position and kept watch on Ste. Honorine, but the enemy made no further attacks.
About this time considerable difficulty was experienced in maintaining R/T communication with Brigade. The enemy had got on to our frequency and carried out a continuous jamming programme with endless and meaningless Morse transmissions. Also at times a voice speaking in English kept asking for code-signs and would not give Slidex authentication when challenged. The station sending out these transmissions was either very powerful or very close, and succeeded in causing considerable difficulties and for some time a complete break in communication with Brigade H.Q.
Early on the 9th June our patrols reported the forward areas clear of enemy, and the Recce Platoon reported that the artillery fire on Ste. Honorine during the night had been very successful and inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy. Prolonged inspection of the village from a respectful distance failed to reveal any indication of enemy occupation and it was decided to occupy it as soon as possible with 12 Para. Battalion taking over Longueval, "D" Company was split into two strong patrols of two platoons each.
One, under Major A. J. Dyball, was to proceed up the river to Colombelles (reported clear of enemy by civilian sources) and thence to Ste. Honorine, and the other, under Capt. K. H. Donelly, was to start an hour later and move direct to Ste. Honorine. Major Dyball's party was accompanied by the Intelligence Officer (Lieut. R. W. MacD. Crockett) with Lieut. A. A. Milliken as Interpreter, left Longueval at 1000 hours and moved up the towpath to a point on the outskirts of Colombelles, where they turned up through a wood and debauched on the main road opposite some cottages on the fringe of the town.
Contact with French civilians was made and it was discovered that a party of about twenty enemy had moved up the road towards Longueval. It was also learned that a force about 200 strong had left earlier by the Ste. Honorine road and approximately the same number were in Colombelles itself, with some armoured cars. Almost immediately it was discovered that the party of twenty were returning along the road and Major Dyball decided to ambush this party. The enemy came down the road unsuspecting and, when a grenade thrown by Major Dyball exploded in their midst were mown down by intense fire from Brens, Stens and rifles at short range. In a few seconds almost the entire party was lying in the road, but almost immediately the rear party of the enemy patrol opened intense fire with an M.G. 34 and there were indications that an armoured car was approaching from Colombelles.
As the enemy was known to be in some strength, it was decided to withdraw. This operation was carried out successfully but some casualties were suffered by the platoon crossing the road to rejoin the main body and had to lay up for some time. On rejoining he reported that in a very short time large number of enemy appeared and made a search of the area. A subsequent patrol again contacted the civilians and learnt that eleven enemy dead and a number of wounded were left on the road as our patrol withdrew. Our casualties were two killed and one wounded. It was also learned from civilian sources that the enemy in Colombelles were very perturbed, and annoyed as a result of this operation and threatened severe reprisals on the civilians whom they suspected of having given information. The latter were, however, able to clear themselves.
In the meantime an intelligence observation post at Longueval reported at 1100 hours that an enemy force of at least a company in strength with a gun was moving into Ste. Honorine. At this time remainder of "D' Company was on the Forming-Up Place but was held there to await further orders, and a company of 12 Para. Battalion was covering a right flank of the Forming-Up Place. Soon afterwards it was learnt that owing to heavy commitments elsewhere no artillery support would be forthcoming for the attack, and the attack was cancelled by the Brigade Commander, who was present at the time. As the company of 12 Para. Battalion was withdrawing it came under heavy mortar fire and suffered casualties, and at the same time parties of the enemy commenced infiltrating into the woods and orchard to the right front of the Battalion area.
12 Para. Battalion withdrew from Longueval and the Battalion was ordered to "stand to" and await the enemy attack. For the next two hours small parties of enemy (their poor fieldcraft and marksmanship did not warrant their being called snipers) made determined efforts to penetrate the Battalion's position but met with no success. One party got to within fifty yards of Battalion H.Q. and threw grenades into "B" Company area. This party was small in number and was still further reduced by the accurate rifle fire of the R.S.M, who, with the I.O. was again in the attic of Battalion H.Q. The enemy could be heard shouting and cheering, presumably to encourage each other, and a few individuals attempted to cross the open field before Battalion H.Q. They were subsequently buried in the same field.
Eventually a platoon of "D" Company under the command of Lieut. W. J. Chapman, M.C., swept the woods and orchards in front of the position and cleared them of enemy, but not before some enemy in front of "C" Company area had fired on wounded personnel lying on stretchers waiting evacuation from the Regimental Aid Post. The Regimental Medical Officer (Capt. B. L. Bees) and O.C. Section 195 Field Ambulance (Capt. F. Shaw), together with all R.A.M.C. personnel, showed exceptional courage and devotion to duty when tending wounded under fire on this occasion.
After a break of approximately two hours, enemy forces again attempted to penetrate the position; this time supported by a Self-Propelled gun. The Recce Platoon covering the front of the Battalion position suffered some casualties before withdrawing and the enemy again attacked but without success. The Self-Propelled gun which fired about twenty rounds towards Battalion H.Q. sent all its shells over the top of the house. Lieut. R. Quinn opened fire with an anti-tank gun in reply and, although no hits were observed, the Self-Propelled gun withdrew and the attack pettered out.
10th and 11th June were quiet days with occasional mortar duels and some long rang sniping and it was not until 0130 hours on the 12th that the enemy made any further attempts to inflict casualties on the Battalion. At that hour a sudden burst of mortar fire caused several casualties around Battalion H.Q. and for the next two hours the position was subjected to continuous mortaring.
It was discovered that an enemy patrol of about twelve to twenty strong, with at least three Light Machine Guns. and a French 81 mm mortar, had established themselves, in an orchard in front of "C" Company and were firing at random into the Battalion area. The party withdrew before any steps could he taken to deal with it. On the 13th June a further attempt was made to capture Ste. Honorine, this time by the 5th Battalion Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders. The attack was preceded by a very heavy artillery bombardment and was successful, but an immediate counter-attack by Panzer Grenadiers, supported by Self-Propelled guns, forced the Camerons to withdraw. The enemy followed up the withdrawal, but not towards Longueval, and the Battalion position remained intact. Lieut. Chapman's platoon, which was covering the right flank of the Forming-Up Place for the assault, came under heavy mortar fire when withdrawing and suffered casualties, including Lieut. Chapman, who was badly wounded by a mortar bomb.
In the, afternoon, "R" group moved off to recce the new area of Breville, which was part of a new sector allotted to 6 Airlanding Brigade. "D" Company moved to Breville the same evening to strengthen the force holding the village and preparations were made to leave Longueval on relief by the 5th Camerons early on the 14th June.
About 1000 hours on 14th June the Battalion relieved the 12th Para. Battalion at Breville. Breville had been captured from the enemy on the night 12th/13th June after a very heavy artillery bombardment and was in a derelict condition with large numbers of British and German unburied dead lying around the area. Immediate steps were taken to secure the position against any possible enemy attack, following which burial of dead, salvage and cleaning up were given priority.
Early during the afternoon of the 14th June a deserter reached "D" Company lines and supplied the information that an enemy company was situated at Le Bas De Breville. The deserter, who was a Pole, also 'stated that enemy morale was poor and that others would desert if the opportunity presented itself.
An immediate patrol was sent out to ascertain whether the information regarding the enemy dispositions was correct and "A" Company were warned to be prepared to raid the enemy positions, supported by a troop of Sherman tanks, which were under the command of the Battalion. At the last moment this raid was cancelled owing to the fact that Instructions were received that the tanks must not leave the area of Breville village, and it was considered that the enemy position was too strong to warrant an attack by a company without tank support. The remainder of the Battalion's stay in Breville was spent in improving the defences and continuous patrols to the enemy lines for information, identifications, etc.
On the' 6th June two Polish deserters came in through "D" Company's lines. Shortly afterwards a sentry noticed ten Germans about forty yards in front of his position beckoning to him. He beckoned back and when they had approached to within twenty yards he opened fire. They flung themselves into the ditch, where they remained for a few minutes before throwing down their arms and signifying their wish to surrender by holding their hands over their heads. After reaching Battalion H.Q. they stated they had been sent out after the two Polish deserters and that the sentry who had beckoned to them was one of the two men. They were full-blooded Germans but were not dismayed at having been made prisoners.
Lieut R. Quinn was shot dead by an enemy on the 16th June whilst inspecting his platoon lay-out (anti-tank) other casualties were sustained during various patrols; one of these was Lieut. M. L. Archdale, who failed to return from a patrol, sent out to obtain enemy identifications. This occurred on 26th June during the early hours of the morning.
On the 26th June information was received that on the following day the Battalion would be relieved from the Breville area by the 52nd Light Infantry. On the following day the Battalion moved to Amfreville, where it remained for one night before moving to an area at the rear of Breville, where, although in Brigade reserve, we were covering a gap between the 62nd Light Infantry and 12th Devons.
Although, this area was still within mortar range of the enemy it was possible to get some much needed rest during the period spent there by the Battalion. The peace was occasionally disturbed by enemy "overs" landing in the Battalion area, and there was a fairly regular shelling of a sector on our right, often seeming to be far nearer than it actually was. On the night of the 1st July some confused firing to our immediate front gave rise to a fear that an enemy patrol had penetrated close to our positions, but this was subsequently found to be unfounded. It was unfortunate that heavy rain made the area extremely muddy during or stay, flooding many slit trenches.
On the 1st July Capt. Gordon was attached to H.Q. 6th Airlanding Brigade as Brigade Medium Machine Gun Officer and assistant Staff Officer.
"B" Company spent this period under command of 3 Para. Brigade in an area known as "The Brick Works," some distance to the South of, the Battalion's position.
Orders were received for the Battalion to relieve the 12th Devons on the 4th July, but a last-minute alteration resulted in the Battalion relieving the 12th Para. Battalion on the 5th at La Mesnil, near the position held by "B" Company, who were then relieved by "C" Company. (We were rather shocked to discover how few men were left in this unit to hold this sector.)
The Battalion remained in this sector until the 21st of the month and this period was probably the most uncomfortable time spent by the Battalion during the whole campaign, as enemy mortars had the position well registered and indulged in frequent practice. The area came to be known to the Bn. variously as " Bomb Alley," "Shell 'Fire Corner" and "Le Menace." Fortunately, the weather improved and the 5th July was the first really fine day since the beginning of the operation. The first days were spent in digging in and improving the' few positions taken over. Mortaring and shelling by the enemy commenced soon after we had moved in and became a regular feature of daily life. There was also aerial bombing of the area on the first night.
On the ?th July two July two officer reinforcements joined the Battalion. Lieuts. Bennett and Cranston were posted to "B" and "A" respectively. This day the 2nd Battalion was visited by the C.O., Major Johnston and the Loading Officer, and we were very glad to have good news of them. We were also heartened by the receipt of twelve Russian deserters from the enemy, who led us to believe that morale in the troops facing us was low. L/Cpl. Walsh of the Pioneer Platoon distinguished himself by extinguishing a blazing trailer of explosives set on fire during the afternoon by an enemy mortar bomb.
The following day, Major Hynds, commanding "G" Company with 3 Para. Brigade; was wounded and Major Johnston ("S" Company) took over, Capt. Wilson (M.T.O.) taking over "B" Company. That night the first of two Tannoy broadcasts to the enemy took place in Russian and Polish. It was, of course, difficult to judge their results, but it may at least be said that they were accorded a respectful audition and that the "counter broadcast" fire resulting was not so heavy as expected on the first occasion and nil on the second.
Little of major importance happened during the next two days except for regular shelling and mortaring by both sides. Casualties were suffered by us, and it is believed that our counter fire was not without effect.
On the afternoon of the 10th the 13th Para. Battalion on our right put in an attack on "Bob's Farm" to their front and we staged a diversion consisting of all the fire plan of an attack on a wood to our front known as "Triangle Wood," but without the actual attack. This resulted in an intense enemy barrage being put down on the Battalion area, lasting nearly five hours. Artillery, mortars, "sobbing sisters," multiple mortars and small arms fire were all employed against us. It was subsequently found that the attack was successful, but our casualties were one man killed and ten wounded. Lieut. Cranston was fatally wounded earlier in the day.
The next day a party visited Ste. Honorine - at last in our hands - and located eleven graves of people previously reported' missing on "D" plus 1, including those of Lieut. B. N. Morgan and Sgt. McCayna. Subsequent visits failed to locate any further ones.
On the evening of the 11th there commenced a series of "stonks" on an enemy Medium Machine Gun post known as "Stickies Corner," in which short but intense bursts of 2in. and 3in, mortar fire, P.I.A.T.s. [Projector, Infantry, Anti-Tank] and occasional Vickers and artillery fire were used. It was felt that this harassing fire at various times during the day, interspersed with "quiet days" on which no shooting took place, must have gravely disconcerted the enemy. Several normal routine days followed with the usual reciprocal mortaring and shelling taking place. A routine night patrol was instituted to ensure that the enemy was not preparing to attack us. This patrol suffered no casualties during the whole time it was in being. On the other hand it was regularly disappointed in its hope of "dating" the mysterious white lady so often reported (by other units) as being seen near the enemy lines at various places in the Divisional sector.
During this stage of the operation there was sniping activity on both sides and the famous "Battle of the Ladders" was begun. "A" Company, during their occupation line, had consolidated their snipers in Company H.Q. and then had set up an observation post in a tree, necessitating use of a ladder. From this post a similar erection was locate on the enemy side of the line. After that the matter somewhat resembled an old-fashioned duel with the seconds joining in, although it was considered most unfair of the enemy to use an M.E. 109 to shoot up and destroy our original ladder.. The close of play score on leaving La Mesnil was 13-2 in our favour (excluding possibles). Much credit for this success is due to the work of Cpl. Ayres, of "A" Company, who was in charge of the company's snipers, and who organised the rules of the game.
On the 16th the C.O. attended the Investiture at Div. H.Q. by General Montgomery of Rfn. Feeney and Rfn. Gilliland, both receiving the Military Medal for bravery under fire during the attack on Ste. Honorine. (It was a matter of deep regret to all ranks of the Battalion that Rfn. Feeney was subsequently drowned while crossing the River Touques on a reconnaissance patrol. That date was also memorable for the receipt of the first N.A.A.F.I. supplies of beer and whiskey since "D" Day.
Two days later the Battalion had a ring-side view of the, first heavy aerial bombardment for close support. The waves upon waves of bombers appearing in the dawn, followed by the terrible roar of the heavy bombs and the sharper crash of the fragmentation bombs, was awe inspiring in the extreme. The news that the big breakthrough had begun was tempered to us by the sudden death of Lieut. G. A. Maginnis, killed by an unlucky mortar bomb as he walked out of his headquarters. News of the big battle was conflicting but in spite of word of large casualties in tanks, and news - later contradicted - that the 2nd Battalion had suffered very severely at Troarn, there was a feeling throughout the Battalion that at last they felt that all the grim holding on they had done was well worth while and that without it the big push would not have been possible.
Enemy aircraft dropped a number of anti-personnel bombs around Battalion H.Q. on the night of the 19th, doing no harm, but gravely alarming a number of people whose slit trenches were too close to be comfortable.
A deluge of rain flooded the Battalion area on the afternoon of the 20th, rendering many slit trenches uninhabitable, and, as the raid resumed on the following day it was with considerable relief that the Battalion handed over the area to the 12th. Devons during the 21st, and moved back again to the same Brigade reserve position it had left when going to Le Mesnil. This area was now found to be in an extremely dirty and muddy condition, but by the end of the 22nd was made quite habitable. Fortunately the rain stopped and the weather improved steadily.
On the afternoon of the 21st a draft of sixty reinforcements was received by the Battalion. It may be mentioned that during the period at Le Mesnil the Battalion suffered 51 casualties: two officers and three other ranks killed, and two officers and 44 other ranks wounded.
The Battalion remained in this area, its role being the same as before, until the 29th of July, and although technically in a front position was able to rest thoroughly, do a little P.T. and get much-needed hot baths at the R.E. Workshops near the River Orne. The enemy developed an unfortunate habit of strafing the area with M.E. 109s, at dusk or shortly after each evening, but without any effect except arousing intense indignation in all ranks. As the 2nd Battalion was within a mile of us at this stage, opportunity was taken of frequent visits, and we were glad to find out that many people we had heard of as casualties were in fact alive and well.
On the 28th the Battalion was warned to relieve the 2nd Oxford and Bucks jn the Chateau St. Come area the following day, and this relief was carried out without incident. Although this area was quite close to the enemy it had an air of peace about it which greatly assisted morale - possibly on account of the good work done by our predecessors in rendering the slit trenches and general lay-out secure, clean and habitable. In spite of this feeling of peace there was a fair amount of mortaring and shelling and, in the forward area, sniping, two advanced patrols being maintained covering "Devon Orchard and Bugle Corner."
On the 1st of August "D" Company area (the right-hand section) was ceded to the 12th Devons, and for the remainder of the day in this area we were able to put one company at a time back into the reserve area we bad just left for a complete rest. Enemy mortaring continued spasmodically, but we were now in a position to answer back in full measure, and it soon became obvious that the enemy was preferring discretion to valour in this respect.
Several changes in appointments took place at the beginning of the month, Capt. Sheridan becoming Second in Command "A" Company, Capt. Rigby becoming Adjutant, and Capt. Martin taking charge of the Recce Platoon; Lieut. Milliken became I.O. and his predecessor, Lieut. Crockett, took over his platoon.
The Battalion resumed its sniping activities, and the score rapidly proved that the team was well up to its Le Mesnil standard. After the first few days marked improvement in the enemy's fieldcraft was observed, although he persisted in bringing up supplies during every night in horse-drawn transport. As this was clearly audible and was regularly engaged by our artillery support, it can be presumed that this must have been a most hazardous journey.
On the 5th of August two prisoners were brought in by Lieut. McGrath, of "A" Company, who had crawled right up to our defensive wire. One of them who had attempted to fire at his captors distinguished himself by dying as a result of this before he could be interrogated, and the other by refusing a glass of water and demanding alcohol from the Battalion Second in Command's remaining drops of whiskey. Needless to say, he was disappointed, but he was not cured of his optimism, as for the next twenty-four hours he attempted to give us an entirely false picture of his company layout. He was ultimately disillusioned on the subject of our gullibility.
At this stage a system of co-ordinated mortar firing on a Brigade basis was introduced, known as the "stove-pipe" system, which, used against a series of pre-arranged targets, proved very effective as a counter-mortar activity, and was eventually used to stir up concern in the enemy on all occasions when his behaviour seemed suspicious.
Apart from fairly heavy and mutual shelling and mortaring there was little to record during these days, and the Battalion settled down to a fairly regular routine. We were very glad to see Lieut. O'Hara Murray, who had been wounded at Ste. Honorine, leading back a reinforcement draft of sixty men, many of whom were former members of the Battalion who had become casualties. In spite of the regular artillery fire, casualties were extremely light, although we were unlucky in losing Lieut. Malcolm wounded by shrapnel on the 9th.
On the 11th of July we received the recce party of the Princess Irene Netherlands Brigade Group, who were to relieve us the following day. We had to admit to feeling somewhat overwhelmed when we realised the strength and equipment of this unit, but ended up by feeling that it was a high compliment to the Battalion that such a strong unit should be required to relieve us! We were also surprised at the exceedingly good standard of English spoken by all ranks of this unit, although in at least one case a surprisingly satisfactory explanation was obtained. On being asked what part of Holland he came from, one Dutchman replied that he had never lived away from London in his life until he joined the Army! Late that evening we had word that L/Cpl. Milne, taken prisoner at Ste. Honorine had escaped and was now safely back in England.
The following day we moved uneventfully back to a divisional rest area near Colleville Sur Orne, leaving a small party to assist the Dutchmen in settling in. This party was unlucky enough to suffer a casualty when a very heavy salvo of shells struck the chateau building, doubly unlucky for the individual concerned, who had only just rejoined the Battalion on the last draft, having previously been wounded. In this rest area Battalion H.Q. established itself (to the jealous envy of less fortunate parts of the Battalion) in the subterranean headquarters of a German flak network: a position remarkable for the thoroughness of its defence preparation, yet even more remarkable for the absence of any evidence its having been defended.
The next few days were spent in rest, swimming and recreation, amidst glorious weather, with a general feeling of having a real holiday, after which we would be ready for anything.
On the morning of the 16th the Battalion was inspected by the Brigadier, and in the afternoon the Divisional Commander visited us and gave the officers and N.C.Os. a most illuminating account of the Division's activities and strength from "D" Day onwards.
Few could fail to feel proud as he explained just how important the Divisional task, in fact, how vital to the whole campaign had been our grim effort in holding out at Longueval. He left us feeling well able to cope with anything we might have to deal with in future. After the Divisional Commander had left us the CO. and his recce party re-visited Amfreville, where we were due to relieve the 12th Devons on the next day, our holiday being ended. But that night we were warned that the enemy on the Brigade front might withdraw at any time, and that on the receipt of the word "Paddle" we would put into action the already prepared plans to pursue him closely.
At 2230 hours we received the order "Prepare to Paddle." A hasty journey to Brigade procured the necessary maps and aerial photographs and shortly after midnight orders were given out.
At 1300 hours on the 17th August 1944, the Battalion Duty Officer was informed by Brigade that there was no change in the enemy situation on the Brigade front and that transport would report later in the morning for the normal move back to Amfreville. At 0545 hours he was informed that operation "Paddle" was in progress.
The Battalion was roused and started to move to Le Plein, being ferried on the limited transport available, the close pursuit force, consisting of "C" Company with, under command, Recce Platoon, Pioneer Platoon and one section 249 Field Company, R.E., arriving at Le Plein by 0830 hours, followed by the remainder of the Battalion.
At 1300 hours the Battalion was ordered forward to Cabourg, and passed through the 12th Devons near Conneville and through the 2nd Ox and Bucks at Descanneville. Progress was slow due to the extensive cratering of the road and surrounding country by the Allied bombing. Demolition charges could be heard ahead of the Battalion and at Le Petit Homme the Recce Platoon was within 800 yards of the enemy when the road was cratered in our path.
At this time we were ordered to leave one company in the Petit Homme area to cut off any enemy retreating from Franceville Plage, and "B" Company was ordered to occupy this area, which was done without opposition, although one officer (Lieut. Bennett) and four other ranks became casualties through mines. This company also heard the Belgium Group operating on their left in the Merville Franceville Plage area.
Meanwhile the Battalion continued its advance on the coast road and towards, Cabourg, encountering two further craters, which were by-passed with the aid of the R.E.'s. The whole area was heavily mined and as speed was essential the line of advance was limited to the carriage way. Nevertheless, progress was reasonably rapid and no active opposition was encountered apart from a few shots exchanged between the Recce Platoon and the withdrawing enemy rearguard at Le Homme, until the Recce Platoon was on the outskirts of Cabourg. At this point the enemy put up a definite resistance which held the Battalion advance despite attempts to outflank him, which, failed owing to the extremely limited scope for movement.
As the Battalion's orders were to pursue the enemy closely without becoming too heavily engaged, and as the light was failing rapidly, it was decided to concentrate for the night in the area of Le Homme and Les Panoramas. The Battalion dug in on the side of the road and small posts were put on the flanks. One N.C.O. from "D" Company became a casualty from a mine during this period. From the evidence of a trace subsequently received from Brigade this was believed to be a bottle mine.
A patrol was sent out early the following morning to recce the possibilities of moving the Battalion around the right flank of the enemy and at the same time the Battalion position was adjusted, areas being cleared of mines to allow better dispersion.
The Recce Platoon was again sent forward, engaging the enemy briskly, receiving several casualties. As the enemy position was very well camouflaged and strongly held they were unable to advance and were eventually ordered to withdraw slightly to a more favourable position. During the next two hours a party under Capt. Martin succeeded in rescuing casualties under extremely difficult conditions. The patrol had returned reporting that an advance on the right would not be feasible due to enemy strongpoints, mines and floods.
Meanwhile, plans had been made to force an advance with the aid of tanks, but as the leading tank struck a mine while passing one of the craters and was put out of action this plan had to be abandoned. This wrecked tank incidentally blocked the only mine-free line of supply for the Battalion and a system for ferrying had to be instituted which worked with reasonable success. Orders had now been received to hold fast to our position and maintain contact with the enemy without entering any major engagement.
During the afternoon and evening (18th) there was spasmodic and mainly ineffective shelling and mortaring of the Battalion area. The Recce Platoon had now been withdrawn into Reserve and "B" Company had rejoined the main body, the Battalion dispositions being "C" Company forward in Les Panoramas, "A" Company on the right, "B" Company on the left, and "D' Company to the rear, Battalion H.Q. being established in some empty stables and grooms' quarters at the eastern end of Le Homme.
That evening Lieut. Crockett, while carrying out a preliminary recce for a patrol, was fired at by a small party of enemy, but found nothing on subsequent investigation. At midnight a platoon of "D" Company had a brief encounter with an enemy patrol which withdrew. Shortly afterwards, a patrol under Lieut. Crockett set out to investigate the enemy situation at Cabourg. It was established that the enemy were still there but detailed reconnaissance was prevented by floods. There was little activity in the area during the following morning except for slight enemy artillery and mortar fire by long-range guns, presumed to be those at Le Havre.
Shortly after mid-day the Battalion water cart blew up on a mine in the path cleared beside the wrecked tank, again blocking the supply route. (Mines were found to have been buried up to four feet deep by debris from the cratering of the road). During the afternoon Belgian engineers cleared away the tank and water cart and by dusk had a serviceable road to the Battalion area. A patrol that night under Lieut. O'Hara-Murray again encountered opposition and was fired on at close range, but returned safely. In spite of the intermittent fire on the position all day, only three other ranks became casualties. The remainder of the night was fairly quiet and early next morning enemy shelling increased considerably in volume and accuracy, the whole day being most uncomfortable.
In the early afternoon the Battalion was put at four hours' notice to move to Le Plein and thence East to Troarn, and the C.O. and recce parties moved off to Brigade. On return it was learnt that the Belgian Group would take over when the Battalion left for La Plain and the thinning out of the Battalion commenced at once owing to the extreme shortage of transport. That evening an unlucky shell knocked out one 6-pounder crew entirely, other casualties, being extremely light.
The relief was carried out under some difficulty, as the Belgian Group arrived earlier than anticipated and had one Bren gun carrier blown up at the same crater as the tank and water cart by still further undiscovered Teller mines. Two of the Battalion medical orderlies distinguished themselves by rescuing Belgian soldiers whose clothes were blazing from this carrier.
By midnight the Battalion had concentrated at La Plein and early next morning moved by Troop Carrying Vehicle to Troarn. Heavy rain was falling and the move to the lying-up area near St. Richer was completed by march route. After the possession of the area had been settled with the Artillery, who were in occupation, fires were lit and the troops were dried out.
Immediately after dinner the C.O. was summoned to Brigade and ordered to move the Battalion up to another lying-up area at Lieu St. Laurant. This move was completed by 2130 hours, only one detour being necessary.
The supply situation was now becoming most difficult and cooking arrangements were brigaded. As the last-mentioned detour had become extremely muddy and difficult much credit is due to Capt. Wilson, in command of the unit's "B" Echelon, and to Lieut. Beattie, Q.M., for maintaining supplies during this and the following day.
At 0700 hours the following morning the Battalion was put at thirty minutes' notice to move and eventually moved at 1130 hours, being ordered through the Devons and 62nd, and to take up position on a spur near Vauville. While on the march a verbal message was received to go on and take Deauville and the hill behind it. This march was the beginning of the entry into territory still occupied by civilians, whose welcome was amazing. Constant reports were received from friendly civilians of recent enemy departures, French and Allied flags were appearing everywhere, and F.F.I. armlets became conspicuous.
When it had been reported that Deauville was cleared of enemy the Battalion I.O. was sent forward to confirm, and was nearly mobbed by the tumultuous crowds who welcomed him as the first Allied soldier to enter the town. He also brought back word that all bridges over the Touques were blown and that the enemy were holding Trouville. As orders were received from Brigade to push on with all speed and secure the central bridge and a bridge-head beyond (the bridge alleged to be intact) the Recce Platoon was ordered forward to confirm the I.O.'s report on the bridges.
About this time "D" Company, the leading company, was being very accurately shelled on the road South of Deauville and its transport was suffering. Accordingly, it was planned to send the transport over Mont Casiny and the Battalion on foot. Just as this plan was about to be put into operation, a report from Brigade that Mont Casiny was mined caused some delay but, as reconnaissance proved, a route clear and the Self-Propelled gun shelling of the road increased, it was decided to let 'D" Company (who were well ahead) continue round the foot of the hill while the remainder of the Battalion went over it.
During this move the Brigade I.O. came up with further instructions to capture the bridge intact, but was just in time to hear an R/T report O.C. Recce Platoon that all bridges were blown and that the approaches were covered by enemy fire. A report had been received that the Belgians were in the town in strength, but on arrival it was found that they were only in the eastern and southern parts of the town.
Battalion H.Q. was established without difficulty in the former German Commander's residence, and "B" Company occupied its position at Vieux Deauville without difficulty. "S" Company also had no difficulty, but the area allotted to "F" Company proved to be fully under enemy view and a fresh area had to be found.
"D" Company, the first arrivals, had some difficulty in reaching their forward area near the river but occupied the area successfully, although their dawn patrols towards the river were heavily fired on.
"A" Company, whose objective was Touques Railway Station, had some difficulty when taking over from the Belgian Company in that area, which was badly exposed, but only suffered one casualty.
"C" Company, whose objective was on the left near the river, had the most difficult time, as an unlucky shell killed the Company Commander, Major Johnston, and wounded a platoon commander, the C.S.M., two platoon sergeants and several riflemen, including the two wireless operators, putting their set out of commission.
As the Company Second in Command at that time was on a recce, there was some time before the company could be got together and reorganised, Sgt. Redpath, aided by the French, got the wounded away to safety. The company then managed to occupy the position. The Belgian Group was then contacted and, now being in sufficient strength to take over its sector, "C" Company was withdrawn to the racecourse area.
That night Brigade sent up three French guides who (it was claimed) would guide the Battalion across the shallow part of the river to continue its advance. In point of fact, they stated that it was impossible to cross the river but said that, given twenty-four hours for reconnaissance, they would guide small recce parties across. Eventually they agreed to lead one small party to a place where they could take a boat across, but flatly refused to cross themselves. Assault boats were procured, and eventually a small recce party got across in the early hours of the morning. Finding the enemy in possession and having found no suitable way of bringing up the Battalion they returned.
Meanwhile, Capt. Martin, O.C. Recce Platoon, had again visited the bridges and reported that determined infantry with adequate support might get across one of the blown bridges. Full daylight and the absence of adequate support led to this plan being discarded. It was eventually decided to move upstream and force a crossing opposite Bonneville Sur Touques, using assault boats.
The Battalion was accordingly withdrawn from Deauville with some difficulty, especially "A" Company, who suffered several casualties from shelling while pulling out. The Battalion was then dispersed around the area of La Poterie.
Excellent work was done by an R.E. officer who, with his men, repaired an old foot bridge sufficiently to make it passable for infantry. At 1630 hours a patrol consisting of 10 Platoon, led by Lieut. O'Hara-Murray crossed this bridge as a strong recce patrol with the church at Bonneville Sur Touques as its objective. If they were successful the Battalion was to follow. However, they came under heavy fire from the area of the railway and were forced to withdraw. As information then came to hand that the railway was the enemy's main line of defence and that between one thousand and two thousand men were holding east of the river, it became obvious that a Battalion crossing was out of the question and the Battalion was withdrawn slightly to be out of mortar range into the area between Glatigny and la Poterie.
Four patrols were sent across the river during the night in recce boats at different times and places, all achieving an average penetration of a thousand yards, and all contacting the enemy. One man was lost overboard and his body was recovered some days later.
At 1000 hours the following morning (24th August) we were informed that the 52nd, who had moved up on our left, were across the river in strength and that the Belgians were moving into Trouville. The Battalion was ordered to cross immediately and secure Bonneville Sur Touques and subsequently St. Philibert. The Battalion transport was to cross by a bridge further to the South.
By 1230 hours the entire Battalion had crossed the river and was occupying the Bonneville area. A small patrol visited Englesqueville to find it clear and collected four prisoners en route. Meanwhile other prisoners were surrendering all around. At 1500 hours the Battalion, was ordered to continue towards St. Philibert and moved at once, establishing itself around St. Philibert by 1615 hours. F.F.I. here proved extremely useful in finding quarters and giving detailed information about enemy movements and their next line of defence. It is regretted that, although this information was passed back to Brigade, owing to Brigade being on the move it did not reach them in time to be of any value.
Next morning the Battalion was at two hours' notice to move, at 1100 hours we followed the line already taken by the 52nd, until we were halted just behind them near Manneville le Raoult, which was the 52nd objective and for which they were fighting hard. The Battalion was to pass through and secure Petit Beaucher after the 52nd had gained their objective. Little happened that day except for a narrow escape by the C.O. when a shell landed close to him in the open.
That evening "D' Company were lent to the 52nd, as a counter counter-attack reserve and took up position in the 52nd area. The 52nd were ordered to send forward patrols and to inform us as soon as the enemy had pulled out.
By 0430 hours on the morning of the 16th we still had no news from the 52nd patrols, so it was decided to push on immediately. Our objective had now been given as Berville and all speed was made, transport being left behind. Signs of enemy retreat - very recent - were seen all along the road, but no conntact was made. We were so close that civilians had to look several times before they were satisfied that we were not Germans. Useful information was again received en route from French civilian sources, and only one short delay occurred where the road was cratered near Berville.
During this move three more prisoners were taken, also a horse, used by "C" Company Commander and known to all ranks as "Pegasus." At 09.35 hours the Battalion entered Berville, twenty minutes ahead of the Belgians, being the first unit to reach the Seine, and operation "Paddle" was over. Berville was found to be seething with indignation against its few collaborators, and at one stage a riot was narrowly averted when many of the villagers who had been celebrating their liberation with calvados - a fiery and potent spirit - wanted to lynch the proprietress of a local cafe.
A rifleman sentry managed to divert most of the mob towards Battalion H.Q., where a promise to get the F.Self-Propelled to deal with the case pacified them. A few hours later the Battalion was ordered to the adjacent hamlet La Judlie, and the harassed I.O. was very thankful to hand over the civil problems of the district to the F.Self-Propelled sergeant who had just arrived. From the position on the hillside there was a magnificent view of the Seine, and the Battalion had a ringside seat watching the R.A.F. bombing the escape route across the river.
Apart from a false alarm that the enemy were bringing artillery into position on the other side of the river there were no incidents to disturb our peace during the next two days. While investigating this false alarm, the I.O. had the strange experience of watching, through field glasses, a German observer watching through field glasses from the other side of the river!
On the 28th the Brigade moved into reserve, and the Battalion was allotted a wide area of frontage in which to settle and rest after the wild rush of "Paddle," and a short period of complete holiday began, with companies settled in widely separated farms and hamlets. It was while we were in this area that notification was received of the award of the Military Cross to Major Hynds and Capt. Wheldon for their gallantry on Hill 30 during the attack on Ste. Honorine. The Battalion will hardly forget the splendid treatment given to them by the local inhabitants, who did their utmost to show their gratitude for their liberation. So well did they succeed that we were almost (but not quite) sorry to leave their hospitality on the 1st of September en route for England.
Despite a succession of transport difficulties we arrived that night at a transit camp near Arromanches and the following afternoon we were taken out in a landing craft to the transport. A heavy sea made the transhipment extremely hazardous, and eventually the landing craft had to be cut adrift with only half the Battalion taken off.
Next day the sea had gone down and the remainder of the Battalion was taken off without incident, and we set sail immediately. Although the crossing was rough, very few were unable to appreciate the excellent food on board and, despite heavy rain, the deck was crowded as we neared the English coast. Unfortunately we were too late to land that night, but next morning we drew into the docks at Southampton and before long we were on our way back to Bulford in Troop Carrying Vehicles. We were glad to see Major Warner and several others an the quay as we came along side, and we very much appreciated the presence of the band of the Hampshires to welcome us.
Approximately 562 men and 32 officers returned from France, and our total casualties from the campaign were six officers and 45 other ranks killed, one officer and 33 other ranks missing, and 18 officers and 385 other ranks wounded or evacuated through illness.
Ten officers and 208 other ranks, reinforcements, joined during the campaign (some of whom were previous casualties rejoined). The original strength of the Battalion on "D" Day was 47 officers and 817 other ranks.
The following awards for Gallantry In the Field were awarded to officers and other ranks of the Battalion between "D" Day and the end of August, 1944:
Major F. R. A. Hynds, Capt H. P. Wheldon,. Capt. R. D. Martin.
7012822 C.S.M. W. McCutcheon, 7012420 C/S. W. Hardy, 6084231 Rfn. C. Feeney, 3853060 Rfn. J. Gilliland.
7022414 Rfn. A. Johnson.
Original strength of 1st Bn The Royal Ulster Rifles on 'D' day:
864 officers and men.
During Normandy campaign:
403 wounded or evacuated through illness
488 total casualties
594 returned from France (including 218 reinforcements who joined during the campaign)
1 RUR Winners 6th Airborne Divisional Cup 1944