History of 'DD' Battery, Royal Horse Artillery
Chapter 4 - Home in the UK, preparations for Normandy, the Normandy Campaign, Joining the "Black Rats", Closing the Falaise Gap and into Belgium and Holland.
|Home||Chapter 1||Chapter 2|
|Chapter 3||Chapter 5|
in January, training began. It was of a limited nature; no equipment began
to arrive until the end of the month. Maj. A. H. D. Barrow, having left
the Regiment in July, 1943, returned to command the Battery on 3rd
The village of Stoke, led by the Rev. D. P. Clibbon, gave a great welcome. In the village hall the Battery ran a dance nearly every week, and the W.V.S. canteen was open - and well filled - every night. Sir Charles Rowley, the owner of Tendring Hall, did much to make our return to England even more pleasant than it would have been in any case.
|26th January, 1944||Cadre classes - Senior and Junior N.C.Os, Specialists and Regimental Signallers classes began, though stores and equipment (particularly Signal stores) were still short.|
|29th January, 1944||Lieut. S. Eyres, who had gone home from B.N.A.F. after long service abroad, rejoined the Battery, having completed a course as I.G. at Larkhill.|
|15th February, 1944|| Sixty
members of the Battery with similar parties from the rest of the Regiment
were inspected and addressed by General Montgomery at Halstead. He had
recently arrived in England to take command of 21st Army Group.
Besides units of 5th A.G.R.A. 231st Brigade of 50th Division were represented.
|20th-22nd February.||Thornham, on the Norfolk coast, was the nearest practice range. The Regiment spent two days there for course shooting. Shooting at the O.P. and gun drill were both noticeably rusty (for running a Transit Camp in Bizerta, where every man became either an expert cook or clerk, had not been conducive to good gunnery). Each Battery bad a day's anti-tank shooting at Foulness.|
|3rd March, 1944||Another visit to Thornham, for calibration, Air O.P. and Arty/R shooting.|
|18th March, 1944||Lieut. W. S. McCulloch (from 163rd Field Regiment) joined the Battery just in time for its next move.|
|19th March, 1944||Leaving 5th A.G.R.A., we moved by road (three days) to Stobs camp, near Hawick (Roxburghshire), to train with 3rd (Br.) Division in I Corps.|
lacked the welcoming atmosphere of Suffolk, The camp of Nissen huts was a
camp and nothing else (shared with the 2nd Bn. Lincolnshire Regiment).
Hawick, four miles away, was the nearest and only place for recreation.
This period until 17th April, was one of intensive Regimental training.
For the first time since July, 1943 (at Suani Ben Adem near Tripoli). the
Regiment was billeted in one area, so that everything from messing and
guard-mounting to drill orders and course shooting was done on a
regimental basis. And a vast amount was learnt in every spheres.
Lieut. J. N. Hopley and Lieut. E. Hewitt Joined the Battery, the latter being in the War Office pool of officers, liable to be recalled to another job at short notice.
Course shooting took place on the Ettrick Bridge ranges, north-west of Hawick. At the end of the four weeks each Battery spent one day on a drill order directed by the C.O. This was followed by a regimental exercise, set by Colonel Hill - Deputy C.R.A. 3rd (Br.) Division - and umpired by officers of 150th Field Regiment, R.A. (South Notts Hussars) from 4th A.G.R.A, One wished that the C.C.R.A. (Brigadier Manners-Smith) and C.R.A. (Brigadier Meares) could have seen that exercise. It was by no means perfect, but it did show much improvement in training compared with the results of the course shooting a few weeks earlier.
So there was adequate proof that the time spent on gun-drill and laying had been time well spent : the response from the guns was beginning to be good. Signallers had been handicapped from the start of their training period through lack of equipment. (It seemed that in the change-over from 5th A.G.R.A. to I Corps, the Regiment had been somewhat passed over in the matter of priority stores. Only a visit by the Second-in-Command to Corps H.Q. in the south could start the ball rolling in producing our still deficient wireless sets - the bulk of which did not then arrive until the middle of May).
B.S.M. Smith, after long service in the Regiment, mainly in " F " Battery, and then B.S.M. to Jerboa, left us. Reinforcements continued to arrive to make up the strength. Some old members came back, including B.S.M. Collett and B.S.M. Victory, and by 16th April, when we were packing for the next move, we were full strength with a few First Line Reinforcements.
During this time at Stobs, Jerboa was affiliated to the 1st Bn. K.O.S.B. in the 9th Infantry Brigade. The Battery Commander paid one visit to them at Selkirk, otherwise we had no real contact with them. They sent a team of three experts to train our men for a week, teaching on the Projector, Infantry, Anti-Tank, - a new weapon to us, was particularly useful.
|14th April 1944||By now all ranks had had privilege leave since disembarkation, and privilege leave was cancelled from this date. Censorship of mail came into force - first signs of the Second Front.|
|17th April 1944|| Leaving a rear party
to follow in a weeks time, the Regiment set out on a three-day journey to
Larkhill to take part in Exercise " Manners II " - the
deployment by night of corps artillery and the preparation (also by night
- and a very wet night it was) for concentration of fire to support an
attack timed for 0730 hours next day.
The C.C.R.A. reported that he was well pleased with all results and again one felt that something definite had been achieved in the intensive training in the weeks in Scotland.
|22nd April 1944||Unexpectedly, the Battery found itself once more in Stoke-by-Nayland.|
|23rd April - 12th May, 1944|| The Second Front was
clearly drawing nearer, but no one knew where, when the time came, we
should finally be marshalled for embarkation. Speculation centred on
Surrey, Sussex (I Corps were in those parts) and the southern parts of
Essex. Capt. Chilver-Stainer went down to Sussex to umpire and exercise of
4th Armoured Brigade, who were recently home from Italy (Brigadier J. C.
Currie, who had commanded 4th R.H.A. at the time of Sidi Rezegh) and he
returned with news from many friends in 2nd K.R.R.C. and the armoured
regiments. There was also a hope that we should join this Brigade as soon
as possible after the invasion landings had given place to more settled
warfare. (This eventually happened in mid-June).
With this hope in view, the Regiment continued its life under 1st Corps (with very few dealings with 5th A.G.R.A.). though we saw no more of 3rd (Br.) Division until we joined them in Normandy. Wives came to Stoke-by-Nayland, either on week-end visits or, where possible, to stay; acquaintances of January and February were renewed. But suddenly, as the Regiment was setting off for a Practice Camp at Thornham orders came to move to a concentration area - Southend-on-Sea. The Battery left for Thornham, and went straight from there to Southend.
12th May - 5th June 1944
Southend - on-Sea: Marshalling Areas: Embarkation
population of Southend was still depleted as a result of earlier
evacuation, and the Battery was billeted in an area of semi-detached homes
in two adjoining streets.
Leave regulations were being tightened up. but up to the eve of embarkation twenty-four hour pass within a radius of twenty- five miles (interpreted to include London) were allowed. Water proofing with its attendant problems exercised everybody's mind night and day. All vehicles, wireless equipment, guns and ammunition - anything, in fact, that might be exposed to sea-water in a " wade " of four feet six inches - had to be treated. Early on one would have given pounds for a few extra tins of " pressure plastic " Bostik" or waterproof cloth, but by the end of the period one never wanted to flee the stuff again. Results on the day (D-+2) were excellent. No vehicle at all drowned.
New friends were made in Southend, whose inhabitants watched with interest our waterproofing labours, which were perforce carried out on the pavement and roadsides of llfracombe Avenue.
The administrative picture for Operation " Overlord " was now clear, and detailed orders were issued. The Regiment was to land in three phases on D+2, D+9 and D+18. Phase 1 was over loaded in that room had to be found for all first-line ammunition and other essentials, while Phase II and III consisted in empty vehicles (with some kitbags) and very few men. Lieut. Eyres was in charge of the third party: otherwise all the officers travelled in Phase I. That Phase was also subdivided into walking and mounted parties, who were separated in the marshalling areas and finally joined up in Normandy.
The backs of the roofs of gun-towers were built up to hold more kit: brackets for cable-laying apparatus and water and petrol tins were welded on to carriers. All vehicles were weighed and measured to conform to the requirements of the loading tables
|25th May1944|| " D " Troop
moved-off with " C " Battery and R.H.Q. to the Marshalling
Areas. An occasional visit from them was our only contact till we met in
Normandy on 8th June, and such visits were only possible if one could
evade or cajole the police (security police) at the Marshalling Areas.
Here the regulations were probably the most strict that have ever been
imposed on the Army.
Meanwhile the Battery, less one troop, continued to support the bars and cinemas of Southend, commiserating with "D" Troop in their confinement.
following is a list of Officers, etc., in the Battery at D Day:-
|2nd June, 1944||At dawn, the remainder of us, with " F "Battery, moved to marshalling area on the main London - Southend road : chiefly on the road itself, most of which had a dual carriage way, and was closed to the public. Only two or three hours were spent in the first area, where name serial numbers denoting final forming up, marshalling and stowage area were added in paint or chalk to the various numbers and labels already put on at Southend. By the evening, somewhere in the fields of Essex near .Tilbury, we were caged in Camp S3. The Dorset Yeomanry ran this camp and ran it well, on a hotel system as regards meals, etc. More paraphernalia for the voyage were issued - chocolate, twenty-four-hour one-man ration packs, vomit bags, life-belts, etc. - and clothing could be changed. Here vehicles were carefully parked in sequence according to their ship and order of loading on that ship.|
|3rd June, 1944||In this order we moved on towards Tilbury and the docks. Camp S2 sheltered us over the week-end, but the vehicles and drivers went straight on to load. S2 had not the comfort of S3, but cinema and baths were available. There was little to do but rest and write letters which one knew would not be posted until the operation had started.|
|5th June, 1944||Packed tightly in 3-tonners, the Battery moved to the quay-side and embarked on the American M.T. ship 16 at midday. Accommodation was bad: the holds of a cargo ship, with men packed tightly and only a few raised in hammocks, offer little ventilation or peacefulness. The Captain was a man of seventy years who had only recently returned to the sea. His officers contrived to run the ship successfully, albeit on rather happy-go-lucky lines. Picking up our own private barrage balloon, we sailed out down the Thames, waving to the rest of the Regiment .on M.T. 16 en passant, and anchored off Southend Pier.|
6th-19th June, 1944.
Operation " Overlord "; The Normandy Landings; 4th R.H.A. under. C.C.R.A. I Corps, Area North of Caen, near Hermanville.
|6th June 1944||Here we were waiting when news came that the operation had started early this morning. The Colonel had briefed Battery Commanders to S2 on 3rd June, but only now could the plan be revealed to everybody and detailed orders and maps issued. The latter were available on a lavish scale. Meals on board were difficult (rations were the " compo " type), Self-heating tins of soup and cocoa were a new and welcome idea.|
|7th June 1944||The convoy sailed at 0600 hours, and had an uneventful passage down the English Channel,|
|8th June 1944|| By the schedule we
were due to land today, hot rough weather was slowing up the off-loading
on the beaches. One had to be content with being one small part of the
vast Henley Regatta scene that was the Allied invasion's shipping lying
off the coast of Normandy. The scene never lacked interest as one watched
throughout the day. Rodney and Ramillies were firing
steadily - at what? You could only guess it was towards Caen, One heard
later that on the evening of D Day the Canadian (3rd Canadian Division)
reached the edge of Caen, but later had to come back.
We suffered our first casualty today, Captain Atkinson was going down the vertical ladders to the lower holds to get some kit off his vehicle, when he slipped and fell twenty feet. Luckily - in view of the fact that there was a mass of closely packed vehicles at the bottom - he fell on to the floor and only broke his leg. That was bad enough. He was in due course taken to a hospital ship and returned to England.
|9th June 1944|| The Battery, less
"D" Troop, landed during the morning on " M " and
"Q" Beaches, near Graye-sur-Mer. It was planned that the
regimental " flush " party (reconnaissance parties were divided
according to their sixes, and given names from the world of Poker) should
be cut down to three G.P.Os, travelling in one jeep, with their directors
and other impediments. As the L.C.T. carrying this jeep and that of the
Colonel, who also wanted to be ashore quickly, reached the three-foot-six
" wade," it was found that the latter was only firing on one
cylinder. That of the G.P.Os. was favourite as regards being first to
strike dry French soil. But - no; they " drowned " at once, and
the Colonel, on his one cylinder, was away up the beach and off to see the
C.R.A., although it took him a quarter of an how to cover eighty yards.
Passing through an assembly area, we moved eastwards towards Hermanville
where " D " Troop was already in action. It was not a crowded
area, though by the end of our time there vehicles were parked all around
- mainly an Ammunition Point, if not several such points.
Never once during this period did we provide O.Ps. actually with the Battalions of 3rd (Br.) Division, though local O.Ps. were out. They found few targets. Both sides tended to hold villages in well-concealed positions, with no attempt at a continuous line. Lieut. Millington was promoted to take command of " C " Troop.
|10th June 1944||There was hope of a break-out from this already stabilising front. 51st (Highland) Division with 4th Armoured Brigade, and 4th R.H.A. were to go cut across the river Orne, through the area held since D minus ! by 6th Airborne Division, and do a big left-book to the south-east of Caen. They would be directed on Bourquebus.|
|11th June 1944||With this in view, the Battery Commander went to visit the 3rd County of London Yeomanry (Lieut.-Colonel A. A. Cameron), who were in the 4th Armoured Brigade concentration area, about eight miles we»t of Hermanville. But just as the Sharpshooter-Jerboa link-up was beginning, a change of plan necessitated 4th Armoured Brigade staying in a defensive role behind 3rd Canadian Division. (They were on the I Corps right flank). So O.Ps. joined 3rd County of London Yeomanry at Villons-Les-Buisons, near Cambes, though the guns did not move. The Brigade, commanded by Brigadier J. C. Currie, consisted of the Royal Scots Greys, The 3rd County of London Yeomanry (The Sharpshooters), the 44th Battalion Royal Tank Regiment and the 2nd Battalion King's Royal Rifle Corps as the motor battalion.|
|12th June 1944||There were occasional night air attacks (the enemy air force had never appeared by day), and one of these caused casualties in the Battery wagon-lines from anti-personnel bombs : eight men were wounded, two of them seriously. (See Casualty List)|
|13th June 1944||Shooting so far had been of the mass-produced " back-end " kind - viz., concentrations and defensive fire tasks arranged by the C.R.A. 3rd (Br.) Division. But today Capt. Chilver-Stainer, bored with the lack of O.P. work, went to Cambes and saw the C.O, of the 1st K.O.S.B. His offer of help was gladly accepted: a few hundred yards in front of their forward posts wen some sixteen tanks, dug-in, with their crews all protected by slit-trenches. The only O.P. possible was in a farm building exactly, two hundred yards from the nearest enemy tank (some weeks later the exact distance was paced). To get there involved crawling over exposed country: a No, 38 let was the only communication possible. Captain Stainer, with L/Bdr. Cox, reached the O.P. and had a highly successful shoot, though the vision afforded by the hole in the wall meant that if two rounds at the same elevation fell at the top and bottom of the 50 per cent zone (he was firing at right-angles to the line B.T.), one probably would not see both: the apex angle was 90 degrees.|
|14th June 1944||Still the O.Ps. could sell no goods to the Sharpshooters. The latter were hardly in contact. So Captain Stainer and the Major filled in time by paying piano duets in a nearby chateau—pleasant enough in itself, but all the more so for being ' possible within sight of the enemy.|
|15th June 1944|| The " left book
" plan mentioned was now postponed. No change occurred on the I Corps
front, though XXX Corps (50th Division, 49th Division and 7th Armoured
Division) were pushing on.
Rumour had it that 4th Armoured Brigade, with 4th R.H.A, as part of the Brigade, were to join 11th Armoured Division, who were landing and concentrating. (The C.R.A. was Brigadier B. J. fowler, who had been our C.R.A. in 1st Armoured Division in North Africa.
|19th June 1944||The wise man had landed with a good stock of cigarettes, but they were getting- low in spite of the seven a day in the "compo" rations boxes. Today Phase II landed bringing the longed-for NAAFI packs and the balance of the transport, except for the two troop leaders vehicles', which were still to come in Phase III. But there was still no mail. Other units had been getting theirs, but 4th R.H.A,. had been mislaid.|
20th-29th June 1944.
Under 4th Armoured Brigade supporting attack by 15th (Scottish) Division on Cheux and St. Mauvieu; Intention to exploit between the Rivers Orne and Odon.
|20th June 1944||Today came the first move from the Hermanville position. 4th Armoured Brigade came under 11th Armoured Division and the Regiment moved with them Barbiere near Camilly, still in the area of 3rd (Canadian) Division. The depression caused by the order that there was to be no expenditure of ammunition (things were building up for an attack ) was eased by a visit from Brigadier Fowler, who found time to visit " D " Troop and most of the rest of the Battery. It was then completely dispelled by the arrival of the first mail we had received since D minus several days. VIII Corps (Guards Armoured Division, 11th Armoured Division and 15th (Scottish) Division had arrived to supplement I and XXX Corps.|
|24th June 1944||The week-end brought a series of conferences on the corning attack, and at 2200 hours the Regiment moved through Camilly to support this VIII Corps advance and exploit the ground between the Rivers Orne and Odon.|
|26th June 1944|| Spirits were high at
this prospect and at the results achieved in the first twelve hours. But
they were dashed to the ground by the news that Brigadier John Currie had
been killed by shelling just as a conference at his H.Q. had broken up. He
was a very old friend, having commanded 4th R.H.A. at the time the Battery
was formed in the Western Desert. Lieut.-Colonel A. A. Cameron (C.L.Y.)
temporarily commanded the Brigade.
By the afternoon the Battery was in action astride the railway at Bretteville-L'Orgenilleuse.
|27th June 1944|| The villages of Cheux
and St. Mauvieu - the objectives of Phase I of the attack - were fought
hard for by the enemy; but they remained in the hands of 15th (S.)
Division, who begun to push on towards Colleville. 4th Armoured Brigade
were still not committed, but followed up the infantry towards Mouen,
Colleville and Grainville, nosing on to the main road from Caen to
Villers-Bocage. But the enemy, using the advantages of trees and the cover
of the villages, persistently hung on in these areas.
The Sharpshooters were deployed north of Mouen, watching the woods like dogs waiting for rabbits. However, there was no question of driving out the enemy tanks and machine gun posts in the wooded area of the railway by frontal attack. Their concealment kept their numbers a secret. The tanks and our two O.Ps. did engage the woods frequently; enemy tanks were knocked out and the C.L.Y, lost some of their reconnaissance Troop (Honeys). It was decided to " beat " the area from the west, by a drive up the railway, with a company of Infantry and a squadron of tanks either side. This was only partially successful and the C.L.Y. returned to their old position north of the woods.
|29th June 1944||Another " grouse-drive " was planned, to which the Sharpshooters were to work round on the right flank. Here the enemy were still holding the area of Brettevillette and the railway to the south. The C.L.Y. were to move astride the road south-west from Haut du Bosq and then swing into Grainville from the west. Earlier in the day. Captain Millington had gone to their area to support the Northants Yeomanry (the Recce, Regiment of 11th Armoured Division) and had had some shooting on mortars and wooded areas that were holding up the infantry. In this evening drive the same area caused trouble and Captain Chilver-Stainer found it best to lay the guns on various suspected areas - mostly woods - as he approached them with the Squadron. Instant fire was then ready. Some hornets' nests were stirred up, particularly by the Northants Yeomanry, who, when the C.L.Y. " party " was over, did a quick dash south after dark, shot up the woods and returned to their night positions.|
30th June -7th July. 1944.
4th Armoured Brigade in reserved - North of Cheux.
|30th June -2nd July 1944|| The Brigade together
with the other Armoured Brigades in the Corps, were withdrawn north of
Cheux occupying defensive positions north and south of the
Marcelet-Fontenay - Le Pesnel road, with the C.L.Y. on the right.
All this time, since the advance Bretteville-L'Orgenilleuse the guns had remained in the same area, surrounded by several Divisional artilleries and A.G.R.A. regiments
|3rd July 1944|| An advance of 1,000
yards south brought the Sharpshooters close behind the battalions of 158th
Brigade, 53rd (Welsh) Division. whom they were now to support.
The thrust which had begun on the 25th was still exposed on the east and west flanks; It was not until today that Carpiquet airfield, fell to the Canadians. Any now even Bretteville-sur-Odon was strongly held by the enemy.
|7th July 1944|| North of Caen the
front had hardly altered since the first days of the invasion. Caen, one
knew, was to be the pivot on which the Allied front line would hinge when
the Americans rolled forward on the right. Today, I Corps attacked north
of the city and made progress
4th Armoured Brigade had had a day's rest, but 4th R.H.A, was still in action to answer calls for fire from HQ R.A. at the Division. The gunners were getting tired; it was not until the 19th July - six weeks after landing - that the Battery was out of action for the first time.
10th-12th July 1944.
The Battle of Point 112 (near Avrecy); 4th Armoured on left, near Eterville.
|10th July 1944|| Beginning with the
attack planned on 10th June (D+4) - the 51st (H.) Division " left
hook " this Normandy campaign gave birth to many plans for
large-scale advances - plans which never came off: miscarriages rather
than births. A phrase was coined which aptly described them, "
Chinagraph exercises," and another, " T.E.W.T.S." though
not in the usual sense Here they were "Tactical Exercise with
Talc." For the involved much marking of maps with routes, bounds and
It was now proposed to advance to the Orne - the second half in fact, of the attack began on 25th July.
The guns moved up near Mouen. When they were in action, the Brigade, with the C.L.Y. 'in reserve, moved through them over the main Caen—Villers-Bocage road and the River Odon. The Royal Scots Greys were in the lead with 44th R.T.R. on the right, and by 1000 hours the Greys were around Etoupe Four, with 44th R.T.R. pushing on to Point 112. All the world knew later how that point was disputed, more than any other in the campaign so far. Weeks later we passed near Points 112 and 113 on our way to Evrecy. The battlefield was charred by flame-throwers; there were still many unburied dead, much knocked-out equipment belonging to both sides (including three 88mm, guns which Captain Cooper had engaged a week or two before from an O.P. at Mouen). In fact, there was every sign of a stubbornly fought-out duel of resistances by both sides.
|10th-12th July 1944|| The Sharpshooters
came to take over positions round Eterville on the left of the Brigade.
Battalions from 43rtd Division, later relieved by 15th (S.) Division, were
already there, and each armoured regiment had its company from the Motor
Battalion -" A " Company in the case of the Sharpshooters (Major
Morris). Eterville, like any other village, was hotly fought for, and
counter-attacks from Maltot, with tanks and infantry, probed right into
the village, Captain Millington had some good shooting there, and during
the afternoon " A " Squadron of C.L.Y. moved round on the left
to high round, where Captain Stainer, when he could keep his head out of
the turret, had several good targets. There was heavy mortaring And
shelling, and even sniping, in the Eterville area. During one
concentration Major Morris was hurt and later died of wounds.
When " A " Squadron got on to the ridge they could see the main road running south from the Orne from Caen - and, more important, they had observation on the southern slopes of their own ridge. The specially overprinted 1/25,000 maps showed two infantry posts of some size - and there they were: good targets.
The ridge was a key-feature. To the left - the north-east - the Canadians had not yet cleared the area of the Odon down to Luvigny. This was an open flank. But the Brigade of 15th (S.) Division would not put infantry on the ridge; they withdrew them north, just the other side of the road.
On the second day, " C " Squadron took over from " A " , by now there was less opposition. A Canadian Armoured Brigade was due to take over, as Canadian infantry had taken over Eterville. So, on the night 12th/13th July, the C.L.Y. withdrew with the rest of the Brigade to the area of Mouen.
It had been a good three days. The Sharpshooters had knocked out ten tanks or S.P. guns for a loss of on of their own. Both Troop Commanders had had good targets. But the plan to advance to the Orne had not come off. Point 112 was still a source of worry.
" Popcorn "- the code word to release the Greys on their drive southwards, screened by Captain Millington's proposed smoke-screen on the east of the Orne - had never come. Another " Exercise in Chinagraph " was ended.
13th-17th July 1944
Cheux again; Fire programme in support of 15th (S.) Division attack to Evrecy; Armoured Regiments of the Brigade resting.
|13th July 1944||This was one of the rare days when the Battery Commander and Troop Commanders could visit the Battery area. The guns were still in action near Mouen. Probably " C " Troop was just visible to the enemy on Point 112. It may have been random shelling or accurate counter-battery fire; in any case they were suddenly shelled in the evening and four men were wounded.|
|14th July 1944||Lieut. Eyres - long expected - arrived with Phase III, making the Battery complete. He brought us news of the flying bombs that were beginning to menace Southern England.|
|15th July 1944||The guns moved back to a position by Cheux. Here the first commitment was a vast programme in support of 15th (S) Division who were to attack south-west from point 112 to Evrecy and the high ground south of it. During this night attack the Battery find a great deal - four hundred rounds per gun in twelve hours.|
|16th July 1944|| The enemy had again
taken to sporadic night bombing raids. The Divisional Artillery area in
general was bombed, but nothing fell near the Battery. But we avoided
casualties from bombing only to suffer much sadder ones, losses all the harder to bear from the very stupidity of their cause, when Sergt. Arculus and two of his detachment, Gnr. J. Thompson and Gnr. W, G. Roberts, were killed. At about 2300 hours the Battery
was firing the opening rounds of a barrage when a shell Roberts was in the act of loading, exploded. Presumably he knocked the fuse on some part of the breech and the fuse was a faulty one. All three were killed instantly and their loss deeply grieved by the Battery.
18th-22nd July 1944.
Operation " Goodwood ": meanwhile 4th Armoured Brigade plan to advance to Thury Harcourt : Operation " Brandy. "
|18th July 1944|| This was the VIII
Corps armoured thrust south-east of Caen (our plan of 10th June on a much
larger scale). Terrific air bombardment preceded the attack: progress was
made, but not as far as was hoped. Meanwhile, another " Exercise in
Chinagraph " was planned for 4th Armoured Brigades Brigadier Carver
(who had taken over the Brigade after Brigadier Currie's death: be had
commanded 1st R.T.R. and been G.S.O. I, 7th Armoured
Division, and so had the experience of the desert campaigns behind him)
was to command a composite Armoured Division: 4th Armoured Brigade and
71st Brigade - 53rd (Welsh) Division - with 4th R..H.A. 81st Field
Regiment, R.A. and a
Medium Regiment in support This " Mikeforce " was to advance south-west on two roads in Regimental Groups, directed eventually - after a variety of report lines with the stimulating but tantalising code names of drinks - on Mount Pincon and Thury-Harcoort, this final bound being named " Champagne."
|19th July 1944||But the plan did not materialise, and today the Regiment came out of action and was " on wheels " for the first time since landing. We moved to an open " lager " beside the C L.Y. near Mouen.|
|20th-22nd July 1944||During these three months till the end of August when the Regiment went back to Bayeux to re-equip, the Brigade was perpetually changing from one Corps or Division to another. Today there was talk. of the Brigade coming under 11th Armoured Division. So while the VIII Corps attacked on Bourquebous continued well, the Brigade moved back to Ville-Neuve, west of Carpiquet, to join up 11th Armoured Division, who were withdrawn from the VIII Corps thrust.|
|23rd-29th July 1944||Period of rest near Carpiquet. Bath and cinema parties filled much of this time. On Monday, since the idea of re-quipping with 25-pdr. S. P. Rams way again in the air (this had been everyone's wish for months-years), a visit was made to 13th (H.A.C.) R.H.A. (Lieut.-Colonel Daniels) to study the equipment. Nos. 1 and Second-in-Command, Troop Commanders and G.P.Os. and the Battery Commander all went. It was arranged that they could have things explained to them by their opposite numbers in the 13th. A very useful visit. At the same time, the C.C.R.A. of VIII Corps (Brigadier Matthews) produced Sherman tanks on the scale of one per battery on which to train driven, and the Sharpshooters ran a cadre class for six of our drivers in their." B " Echelon area.|
|30th-31st July 1944|| The Brigade under 1st
Canadian Army for forty-eight hours
Today came a change not only of Corps but of Army. The Regiment moved to the factory, area south Caen (Cormelles) and came under 4th Canadian Armoured Division. " D " Troop " position was in the factory grounds. The only firing was on harassing tasks at night. By day, Captain Millington was the only O.P. out. At Bourquebous he found himself to be the only tank among a series of infantry posts, who were no more pleased to see him than he was to be there. He unwittingly travelled along a 2,000 yard stretch of enclose road which was covered by an S.P. gun that had shot at everything else that had gone past.
1st-13th August, 1944.
Three days' rest and Maintenance at Carpiquet; to Vire - the right flank of 2nd Army : then back to 12th Corps on the Orne.
|1st August 1944||The order to move back to 2nd Army came as suddenly as the order on 30th July and by 1030 hours we were bade by Carpiquet, on wheels. Here we spent the next three days on maintenance.|
|5th August 1944|| The next move, a
comparatively long one, took the Regiment, with the Brigade, across to the
right of 2nd Army at Vire. Here VIII Corps, switched from the left at Caen
(3rd Division and 11th Armoured Division), were on the left of the
Americans and opposed by various German Parachute Regiments, who though
few in numbers, fought a good delaying action.
After a night near Balleroy we came into action north-east of Vire, to support the Recce, Regiment of 3rd (Br.) Division (lately a battalion of Northumberland Fusiliers). The Divisions was to probe east and south-east from Vire (only recently liberated) towards Tinchebray. But comparatively little headway was made. The country was far more thickly wooded than anything we had seen before, and visibility, except on high ground where one only saw the tops of the trees was limited to the 'length of a field. The policy - difficult to put into practice - was to register points immediately in front of one as one advanced, But you advanced slowly.
|6th August 1944||The front here ran south from the Battery area and north-east from it. On the latter front Lieut. Eyres was out as a local O.P. and while he was there an attack developed on the village in front of him: his area was shelled. Lieut Connors had gone out on a motor-cycle to give him some orders. The latter arrived to find him badly wounded in a Rifle Brigade R.A.P. and a few minutes later he was himself hit, and died at once. Lieut. Eyres died of his wounded soon after and A. Humphrey the O.P.A., was also killed. It was a sad day.|
|14th August 1944||XII Corps had remained in the area north of Evrecy, in the main role of 2nd Army, viz., to hold the enemy who were good troops (S.S. Panzer Divisions) and very numerous, while the Americans began the encircling movement on the western end of he line. This was already under way, and the German left had begun to crumble. After two days" on wheels " near Evrecy in an area on the over-printed map and the digging showed to have been a German gun area in the days of the battle for Point 112, we moved over the Orne and concentrated with a view to moving on in support of 53rd (W.) Division.|
14th-20th August 1944.
4th Armoured Brigade in support of 53rd (W.) Division in its advance southwards to the Falaise-Conde road; in the closing of the Falaise Gap.
dawn, the Brigade marched south through Bois Halbout and the Regiment came
quickly into action south of the village, O.Ps. being already with the
A word on this regiment. During the period spent at Carpiquet 3rd C.L.Y. and 4th C.L.Y were amalgamated into one - 3rd/4th C.L.Y, The 4th had long been in 22nd Armoured Brigade (7th Armoured Division) and their place there was taken by the 5th Inniskilling Dragoon Guards. But it was only a week or two before the difficulties of amalgamation were all settle and we as a Battery, were once more happily " tied up " with the new regiment, now commanded by Lieut.-Colonel W, Rankin.
There was a touch of the traditional dash of the Horse Artillery, getting into action at Bois Halbout - no easy thing to achieve in warfare where one of the gravest problems concerns the movement of vast numbers of vehicles on poor roads. Some random shelling aimed presumably at the road running between " C " and " D " Troops, wounded Gnr. Diddams of " D " Troop, who later died of his wounds. He had been in the Battery since its formation.
The forward troops of 3rd Division had moved fast and by 1000 hours were on the high ground around Bonndell, leavings small parties of enemy to be mopped up to the villages to the valley to the north.
|14th August 1944||4th Armoured Brigade was today to be used in a break-through role: the pocket of enemy west of the now narrowing " Falaise Pocket " was fighting fairly well, and to deal with them it was necessary to leave the high ground south of Falaise. The first phase was to reach the main western road from Falaise to Conde-aur-Noirean ; the axis of the Brigade ran south- east from Bonndell, passing north of Treprel and through Pierrepont. The C.L.Y. were the leading Regiment, supported by " A " Company, and K.R.R.C. (now commanded by Major Toby Wake, M.C.). To cover this advance, 4th R.H.A. went into action near Bonndell. Progress was slow through the wooded area, where the tanks moved nose-to-tail, and O.Ps. were hard put to it to find places to get any view at all. The C.L.Y. moved, en two routes, two squadrons up, each with a Troop Commander. Small camps of refugees caused difficulties in identification, and in some places the enemy had laid mines. Key interference on the wireless was bad and intermittent stations between the O.Ps. and the guns had to stay out all night.|
|16th August 1944||The C.L.Y. leaguered 1,000 yards north of the main road. and the next morning sent a squadron down to link up with a battalion of Royal Welsh Fusiliers, who had reached the road during the night, and K.R.R.C. took this over and the day was spent consolidating on the first objective, while a Brigade of 53rd (W.) Division advanced to prepare for the final securing of the ground south of Falaise. On the left of 53rd Division were Canadians, directed on Falaise down the main road from Caen.|
|17th August 1944||With the Brigade in Divisional reserve, 4th R.H.A. moved up the action in the area where the armoured regiments were concentrating near Montigny.|
|18th August 1944|| And then began the
last round-up in the Falaise Gap: a great day, with some of the best
shooting of the whole campaign. The guns moved up by batteries while the
armour deployed along the high ground, which had Ronal at its eastern end.
The weal (right) flank was exposed but with little threat from the
Germans, who with seven anti-tank guns, two Mark IV's, a Panther and some
two hundred infantry, succeeded in holding off any direct attack by "
B " Squadron down the road into Rufigny, which lay at the foot of the
escarpment. Towards the end of the day " A " Squadron crossed
the stream 1,000 yards west of the village and spent a lonely night on
high ground south-west of Rufigny.
Meanwhile, all day the O.Ps, were shooting continuously at Germans moving east in all sorts of vehicles from tanks to farm-carts. We put down frequent concentrations on Rufigny and Fresnay-le-Buffard to its south. One could see most parts of the country as far south as Habloville.
But the day was not without disaster. While Captain Millington was trying to push on with " B " Squadron down the hill. Captain Stainer, with " C " Squadron, was a having some good shooting from the ridge. A burst of gun-fire caught him fitting with his legs only in toe turret of the tank. He was seriously wounded in the arm, also in the neck and chest, First unconscious, then delirious, he only recovered consciousness in the C.C.S.
|19th August 1944||The rest of the C.L.Y. crossed the stream to join " A " Squadron, leaving Rufigny, to the north-east, still held by a few enemy. A battalion from 53rd Division cleaned them out, but by the end of the day (which was the end of the particular battle) Fresnay-le-Buffard was still in enemy hands. Snail, quick fire plans were laid on, which enabled the C.L.Y. to push eastwards, north of the village, and M link up with 44th R.T.R. on the left, who were pushing on via Ronai at the eastern end of the escarpment. Captain Cooper, coining up as the second O.P., had his share of shooting. Meanwhile, Captain Millington, his own tank having broken down, had changed over on to Captain Stainer's and was working with " C " Squadron on the left. Pushing on to some high open ground to get better observation on Fresnay-le-Buffard, be was spotted by, shot at and knocked out by an anti-tank gun : but all witnesses declare that at exactly that moment his own fire was coming down on the gun in question, knocking it out too. The tank caught fire; Gnr. L. E. W. Johnson was badly burned - he was the operator, So ended a satisfactory forty-eight hours, during which the Battery had fired four hundred rounds per gun. All day 8th Armoured Brigade had been closing the Gap up from the south, and one's limit of shooting was being continually shortened.|
20th-23rd August 1944.
A Rest In The Royal Air Force's Killing Area, west of Falaise.
|22nd August 1944|| After a few days'
rest and maintenance, the Brigade was ordered to support 53rd (W.)
Division Recce. Regiment, who were mopping up in the area of
Villedieu-de-Bailleu— eight miles south-east of Falaise and due south of
Trun. 44th R.T.R. were the only armoured regiment committed. But on one's
arrival in the gun area there was nothing left to do and the Regiment
concentrated two miles south-west of Trun.
This was where great havoc had been created by the R.A.F. among retreating German transport and a selection of vehicles from comfortable cars to well fitted signal lorries were brought in, and several of the useful ones were kept.
G. Hill came from " F " Battery to command " D "
Officers, Warrant Officers and Senior N.C.Os. as of 24th August, 1944
* " C " Troop, † " D " Troop
25th August - 27th August 1944.
The long advance to within 12 miles of the Seine.
|Though we did not
know it, we had fired our last round against the Germans in France.
Meanwhile the Brigade was to move a long distance about sixty miles
north-east to the line Neuborg-Conches. Armoured Regimental Groups were
formed in case small enemy opposition was met. It was not.
There could not be seen anywhere scenes of greater contrast than those of today. Leaving Sees, one passed through country roads littered with remains of the trapped Germans - their dead, their transport, their horses (caught by the R.A.F. still in harness), their guns and all sorts of equipment. The smell of rotting flesh was everywhere. But by the afternoon we were going through villages that had not been touched by battle, villages that had only sheltered German hidden as they spent a night there on their retreat. Flowers festooned every vehicle, the floors were strewn with fruit ; almost every halt meant a glass of cognac or a kiss ; banners and flags were everywhere. Houses were no longer shattered, and one had a glimpse of familiar living in the happiness of home life.
By the evening guides had met us and we settled in an area hard north of Romilly where the Battery remained until the move to Bayeux.
28th August - 4th September, 1944
A Week at Bayeux to re-equip.
hours' march, with batteries moving independently and later meeting up
again for the night, we arrived at the R.A. Reorganisation Centre between
Bayeux and Ryse in the early afternoon. Six days of hard work, drawing
stores, S.P. " Sexton " and tanks, handing over certain vehicles
and doing the essential training on the new equipment, saw the Regiment
ready to rejoin 4th Armoured Brigade. H.Q, an Army Group, gave us our
orders and information, As for the former, the Colonel drafted
his own—that ii, knowing the Brigade was in the area of Arras, he asked Movements to direct the Regiment there. Information was harder to come by as the fast-moving front was so far away. Two new Troop Leaders arrived - Lieut. P. Irvine (" D " Troop) and Lieut. R. Adam (" C " Troop).
3rd September - 11th September 1944.
The March to Belgium to rejoin the Brigade near Oudenarde; Termonde, the liberation of St. Nicolas and Beveren-Waas
on the new War Establishment meant that often two routes were necessary
for the Regiment - one for tracked and one for wheeled vehicles. On this
occasion the guns and O.P. tanks were carried on transporters. After a day
of perfect weather in which the Seine and the surrounding country were to
be seen at their best, we spent the night about fifteen miles east of the
river, crossing it at Les Andelys.
Before moving on early next .morning, Lieut.-Colonel R. A. Eden visited us. He was now commanding 112th Light Anti- Aircraft Regiment in XII Corps and the Regiment were doing transport duties near the Seine; he was enjoying the hospitality of a French family and the chance of some good riding.
|7th September1944|| After a night at
Arras with still no certain knowledge of where the Brigade were, we moved
on through Ceclin and Lille, near to Menin; so we had lunch in discomfort
of very uncertain conditions, while information 1,000 yards from A
Squadron of Royal Dragoons, who, a mere away, were in contact with the
enemy to the north.
We had come to far North and move back through Roubaix crossing the frontier at Toufleur, to spend the night at Pecco. The transports caught up here, having been intercepted at Lille.
Brigade was operating on the road running north-east from here to Oudenarde. Corps were surprised, if not a little annoyed at the way 4th RHA has made their own way back. The first lessons were learnt about choice of ground for gun positions with S.Ps. It was always going to pay to pick high ground to avoid getting bogged: though here there was nothing higher than ten metres. The situation on the front was that 1st Canadian Army was driving along the coast from the west towards Bruges, Thurout and Roulers. Antwerp. as a town was nearly in our hands (the necessary work for opening it as a port was not complete till the end of November), Ghent was half ours and half the enemy's and a fair number of Germans - about five Divisions, of which 59th Division was perhaps the best - were between us and the mouth of the Scheldt and Flushing.
|9th September1944|| The Greys
(Lieut.-Colonel Readman) one battery of 6th Field regiment, R.A.. who had
taken our place, moved away north-west to Lockeren, 44th R,T,R, with 2nd
K.R.R.C. were to advance north through Hamme to St. Nicolas. This as
easily done, 44th R.T.R. receiving a great welcome in St Nicolas though
the embraces, beer and sandwiches, parades of police and brass-bands were
embarrassing, since heir squadrons on the outskirts of the town were
heavily engaged. The town's square was one of the largest in Belgium, but
there was hardly a square yard that was not covered by tanks, vehicles and
crowded population. Lieut.-Colonel Hopkinson (44th RT,R.), though striving
hard to control the battle from his command tank, was forced to mount the
steps of the Town Hall, and take his place beside the Mayor and officials.
Captain Millington had let up his O.P. on he north-west outskirts of the town. He was just enjoying a glass of beer and a sandwich from a local house, when he was ordered to move over to the western side of the town. As he started back into the town he saw coming in from a side road, a German lorry, towing a small gun and followed by some infantry. He was shot at and the tank hit, so that for the next hour or two he and his crew lay up in the fields - with several Germans also taking cover in a ditch no more than fifteen yards away. The episode ended happily - they all returned to the market square in due course. Dvr. H. E. Hayer bringing the tank back on his own, and the damage to the track was repaired.
The guns moved north to Hamme. The 1st/7th battalion of the Queen's from 131st Brigade of 7th Armoured Division, was under command of 4th Armoured Brigade. They took over St. Nicolas, and, while " F " Battery supported 44th R.TR., Jerboa Battery had O.Ps. with the Infantry Battalions. " C " Battery and the Greys moved off north-east to clear Beveren-Waas and Melsele, leaving 44th R.T.R. at St. Nicolas, and came into action
near Beveren-Waas, south of the railway. From here it was hoped to push on to Calloo and close the net even mow tightly round the German, But in Calloo they were in some strength, and even with the help of the Armee Blanche, it was hard to make progress. So a halt was called on the plan for a night attack by the Queen's, who had also moved up. The 11th Hussars were patrolling on this sector and acquaintances were renewed during the next two fairly quiet days.
|12th September1944||It was appreciated that the preponderance of Artillery was probably wrongly placed - one Battery with 44th R.T.R. at St. Nicolas and two at Melsele - since the enemy, if he thrust at all, might come down a line between the two gun areas. So Jerboa Battery returned to their positions at Hamma.|
13th September - 17th September 1944.
Heyst-op-den-Berg for training and Maintenance; The Battery to join C.L.Y. to a Regimental Group near Gheel in support of 15th (S.) Division
|The Polish Armoured Division in 1st Canadian Army were taking over St. Nicolas, and 4th Armoured Brigade were to go farther east for a maintenance period of three to four days. By nightfall we had started the journey, crossing the Scheldt at Wetteren (the bridge at Termonde was now too weak), near which we spent the nights.|
|13th September1944||Going on by Termonde and Willebroke (the scene of the Germans torturing of patriots) and Malines, passing through 7th Armoured Division who were concentrating near there, the Regiment arrived at Heyst-op-den-Berg. The Battery was billeted, if that was a suitable word, in the railway station and settled down to maintenance and training, with visits to Brussels.|
|16th September1944|| Though the rest of
the Regiment remained the Battery was ordered to move twenty miles E.N.E.,
to join the 3rd/4th C.L.Y. south of Gheel and form a Regimental Group with
them in support of 15th (S.) Division. 44th Brigade were to form a
bridgehead over the next canal north of the Albert Canal; then the C.L.Y.
with the Divisional Recce. Regiment were to move on to Thurnout and
protect the left (west) flank of the XXX Corps advance into Holland. The
layout of Divisions was as follows: the Canadian Army had taken over
Antwerp. Then came 7th Armoured Division, 15th (S.) Division, with 53rd
(W.) Division moving over to their right (all these were in XII Corps), with XXX Corps (43rd Division, Guards Armoured Division and 50th
Division), preparing for the thrust that was to lead to Nijmegen and
Arnhem, on their right, However, the bridgehead formed by 44th Brigade was
very small and heavily counter-attacked, and the Thurnout-plan never
materialised. The Battery, meanwhile was attached to 160th Field Regiment,
R.A. (Lieut.-Colonel R Streatfield) and came under the C.R.A. (Brigadier
L. Bolton D.S.O., who earlier in the war had commanded 2nd R.H.A. On the
night of the 17th/18th some 88mm. shells landed "D" Troop's
position, wounding Sergt. Greeves and Gnr. Lear - not too seriously.
On the Sunday afternoon everyone had been led to expect a vast bombing of the area to the north in preparation for Operation " Garden " which was to act XXX Corps going. In fact it was not bombing but the dropping of the Airborne forces in Holland - a magnificent spectacle. Doubtless the was bombing - and strafing, too - but it was unnoticed amid the roar of transport planes and gliders. This was, of course, the opening phase of
Arnhem struggle which lasted for the next week, and of which news reached us through the Press, the B.B.C and " I " summaries.
18th September - 26th September 1944.
Holding the hinge between the Armies; in the area of Bree and Asch.
|4th Armoured Brigade was given the dull but important work of holding the ground which was the hinge between the British and Army, advancing north-east, and the American and Army driving east from Aix-la-Chapelle. So the Battery joined the Regiment on the march east, took over from Bree down the line of the canal to Lanclaer, which was the American left. The Greys were responsible for the northern half of the front and 2nd K.R.R.C. for the south. 44th R.T.R. were away on the XXX Corps advance, and. the C.L.Y. were still with 15th (S.) Division. We were again under VIII Corps - 3rd (B.) Division, 11th Armoured Division, 1st Belgian Brigade and 4th Armoured Brigade.|
|21st September1944||The gun area was at Opglabeek. To ease the difficulties of wireless range and to be able to reach targets which the Americana might call for, batteries moved forward and separated from R.H.Q. Jerboa came into action in the woods near Dorne. The C.L.Y. had arrived, but there was no real war on. The enemy on the canal, having provided some good single-gun targets in their fox-holes on the first day or two, had now withdrawn north-east towards the Dutch frontier and Roermond. But this soft spot between the armies had to be watched, w we remained quietly sitting on the canal until the 26th.|
26th September - 6th October 1944
Holland for the first time; defensive position on the Canal du Nederweer - Wessern.
|Going north, then
east, through Bree, and Kinroy, the Brigade (less 44h R.T,R.) crossed the
frontier into Holland to take over from 3rd (B.) Division a stretch of
canal from Weert S.S.E. to Wessern. The 60th with the C.L.Y. took over the
whole of this 11,000 yard front from the canal junction 4,000 yards N.E.
of Weert to Hunsel. The Greys, with "C" Battery in support,
looked after the part north of the junction, " F " Battery. were
in a central position one third of the way from Weert to Kinroy, while
Jerboa were in action at Tungelroy. It waa a sparsely held front. At
night, if one drew in on the map rays from the gun positions to the enemy
lines at 5° intervals only about two rays out of twenty would have passed
near the 60th's right position before they passed through an enemy
locality. The enemy was full of pranks and tricks (though he never
penetrated so far as the gun area at night), patrolling our side of the
canal frequently and vigorously. The Both were hard worked (they were now
commanded by Lieut. Colonel Robin Hastings, D.S.O., M.C., whom we had
known in the Rifle Brigade in the old days), But no serious battles took
place. The standard O.Ps, after we had handed over Swartbroek Church to
" F " Battery were at Hunsel, where one linked up with the
Belgian Recce. units' armoured cars, and the Zuivelfabrik at Steenweg. On
one occasion Lieut. Irvine ventured out to the farms in front of this with
a platoon of " C " Company, but the farm they occupied, like
several others in this area, proved to be on the gunners list of houses to
be burned. So the line of F.D.Ls., albeit widely separated laterally, came
to be the road that ran parallel to the canal through Swartbroek, EL
Steenweg and Hunsel Meanwhile, the 1st Airborne Division was being
withdrawn from Arnhem; we were therefore having a quiet war, with enough
happening to keep man's interest alive - occasional movement to be seen by
day round odd houses or on certain rads or a patrol of three men with
" panzerfausts " sent to stalk a " C " Squadron tank
that bad gone up on a mine. On 30th September, the Belgian Brigade on our
right were attacking eastwards to Sandfort, and the Battery joined in
their fire-plan. We had telephone or wireless to the Belgian Battery of
twelve guns commanded by Lieut-Colonel de Ridder.
On the 1st October a regimental team played Weert football club - and was well beaten - while the school where the C.L.Y. and 60th had their Headquarters was being accurately and heavily shelled (meteor was skillfully applied) - only 2,000 yards away our own R.H.Q. had been running a Counter Battery Office, and Monday was a big C.B. day.
6th October. - By now the front had thinned out: the 60th, less half a Company, and the C.L.Y., less "C" Squadron, all moved to the Greys area, the latter going up to Nijmegen, This layout existed until the next move.
8th-18th October 1944
Nijmegen, and the Island; then the Southern back of the River Waal.
|7th U.S. Armoured Division took over, and 4th Armoured Brigade concentrated for the night north-west of Weert before moving on via Uden and Grave (where a glimpse was to be had of Lieut.-Colonel Eden, delighted to see the Battery with S.P. equipment) to Nijmegen. The set-up on the Island (the area between Arnhem and Nijmegen) was 101st U.S. Airborne Division holding west main north-south road, with the Royal Scots Greys in support, 50th Division immediately on their right (C.L.Y. in support). 4th R.H.A. were under the C.R,A. of 53rd Division. It was a depressing area once you had crossed whatthe sappers on their signs had dubbed " Nit Brit (Class 40) " - battle-scarred, boggy and well soaked with rain. The Armoured Regiments were not committed during the next few days we stayed there. Then, leaving them behind, we crossed the bridge to support 2nd K.R.R.C. on a stretch of the lower Rhine west of Nijmegen, on the southern bank, extending two to three miles, east and west of Druten. Jerboa was directly in support of the 60th, "C" Battery had O.Ps. still with 101sit Airborne Division and " F " Battery had to be ready to support 61st Recce. Regiment, who took over on the left of the 6oth. There was a fine view from Druten Church towards Ochten and Kesteren: this was regularly manned by the Troop Commanders in turn, perching high up in a three-foot square hollow pinnacle on a corner of the tower. The evening before our arrival the enemy had mortared the street at the base of the tower, but nothing more came back until the morning when we were handing over to the Essex Yeomanry, when, between 7 and 7.30 a.m., when normally the O.P. was manned (Captain Millington had been back to the Battery to put his tank in the line of march before going back in a jeep to hand over at the church) - the enemy moved up an S.P. gun and put six rounds of solid shot through the tower. The other O.P. was either in one of the factories on the river bank or farther along towards Leeuwen. Only once did an enemy patrol cross the river at night. The 60th bad a plan - never put into practice - of floating a small boat down-stream, with a burning cigarette tied to the mast, to see what enemy fire it would draw.|
19th October - 24th October 1944.
To the left flank of XII Corps: Hilvarenbeek.
|We seemed to be going
in an anti-clockwise circle round the and Army front - Asch and Bree,
Weert, Nijmegen, Druten - and now a long march through Eindhoven to the
area between the Tilburg - Turnhout road (west boundary) and Best. This
area sandwiched between 49th (W.) Division on the left and the Royal
Netherlands Brigade (later to become great friends) and 51st (H.) Division
on the right, had been held by the Royal Dragoons, with a Churchill Tank
Battalion and the Herts and Essex Yeomanry (25-pdrs.) in support. They
had, then, been thin on the ground. It was a piece of country full of game
for those who had a gun - parts of it boggy, parts a wild moorland. The
rest of the Regiment was astride the road near Poppel, supporting the 60th
and 44th R.T.R. The Greys had a squadron in Hilvarenbeek, but this town
and east to Middelsbeers and Baast was really the province of the Royals,
with 3rd/4th C.L.Y. in support. To shoot for them, Jerboa Battery went in
action on their own 3,000 yards south of Diesen, nicely in the centre of
the zone. Problem of communication became more pressing than anything
tactical: for once, a battery telephone exchange was set up. The Command
Post was in the village pub (also the H.Q. of the local archery club; we
only lost one arrow for them - precious and unobtainable things, worth
four guilders a piece), The line layout ran in this way:-
Extra long aerials were used with success on the " H " set , and the Battery forward control set. The Dutch Battery of six 25-pdrs was commanded by Lieut. Groumond, with two G.P.Os. and two W.Os. as Section Commanders. We got to know them quite well - - mainly on the telephone - but it was until the advance north to Tilburg that we became good friend and discovered their excellence.
Meanwhile the Polish Armoured Division came up on 4th Armoured Brigade's left.
Up 174 steps of spiral staircase, and then over the rafters for a further twenty feet, the spire of Hilvarenbeek Church offered a good view on a clear day towards Tilburg. This became the " D " Troop O.P. while " C " Troop looked after " A " Squadron of the Royals in the Baast area - too close country for O.P. work - often using the church at Oostelbeers, The Royals were well pleased with our shooting - particularly some D.F. at night: especially when Captain Millington produced fire on a particular target one evening as if by magic. (When they asked for it, they did not know he bad already arranged it as a harassing task to be fired at that precise moment). This new contact with the Royals, with whom we had lost touch since desert days, was welcome.
Captain Hoyle sometimes took a sniping gun up to the area of his church and scored many hits on the church spire at Goirle and on a windmill in the same area. A week later, as we passed through Goirle, he asked the effect of this shoot, and heard that, although at the windmill he bad unfortunately kilted two civilians (though there had been a German with a telephone there the day before) in hitting the church he had killed five Germans and wounded one.
But after five days we left the village at Baar-Schott and the command post with its billiards and bows and arrows. Plans were being made to advance north to Tilburg.
25th October— 28th October 1944.
The advance to Tilburg in support of the Royal Netherlands Brigade.
|Up to now
there was still resistance in the " Scheldt pocket ", it was not
until the early days of November that this was finally cleared. Meanwhile,
it seemed that any large-scale operation on the 2nd Army front was not to
be undertaken until this western part of Holland and the few enemy-held
square miles of Belgium had been freed. Antwerp, though clear of enemy for
some week, could not be opened as a port since the enemy covered the
approaches to the sea.
So it came about that 4th Armoured Brigade was to play a final part in clearing the area south of Tilburg up to the southern limits of the town, with orders not to get too heavily involved, particularly in street fighting. The Royal Netherlands Brigade was still under command. They consisting of three infantry companies (stronger than a British company, but not as a Battalion), a Recce. unit and at Troop of six 25-pdrs, were to advance northwards up the Hilvarenbeek - Tilburg road, with 3rd/4th C.L.Y. and Jerboa Battery (with the Dutch guns under command in support. At the same time, on the left, the 60th, with " C " and " F " Batteries and 44th RTR in support would move north from Poppel to clear Goirle, where they would establish a firm base, while the R.N.B, did likewise in the Tilburg suburb called Broekhoven.
At dawn, the Battery moved up to a position just east of Hilvarenbeek with the Dutch Battery near by. The leading company of infantry mounted on the tanks of " A " Squadron C.L.Y. were to advance behind the Dutch and C.L.Y Recce. Squadron. The latter cleared the large road-block and flushed a few Germans with small arms fire and by the afternoon the Brigade was established astride the road, just south of the 30th Grid line, a mile from Broekhoven. This, as two captured maps showed (one giving their D.F. tasks and showing two Battalion H.Q. which were well and truly shelled by us at intervals, by interrogation of prisoners we tried to discover when they had their midday " blew" so as to catch them at the Battalion's cookhouse) —this was their main defensive position. They consistently put down D.F, during the rest if the day, one burst of which landed near Lieut. lrvine's driver, Gnr, Nessling, wounding him slightly in the foot. Ironically the latter was the only one in a slit-trench. The Battery moved up during the afternoon. So the R.N.B., like the 60th in Goirle, were held up just short of their objective. About thirty prisoners were taken. Patrols were put out to the west and north to try positions and the marshy ground showed that progress would be expensive. The R.N.B., never strong in manpower, was not the force to use for a further advance on the town.
|26th October 1944||We remained in status quo all day. Towards evening, reconnaissance parties from 46th Brigade of 15th (S.) Division appeared. This Division, on the right, had been clearing the country north of the Wilhelmina Canal from Dirachot westwars, and then north-east to Tilburg. And now with 44th Brigade, on the eastern edge of the town, 46th Brigade was being switched south-west over the canal at Beist, where a Class 40 bridge was quickly built to clear up the southern part of the town.|
|27th October 1944||Their support was to be from their own Field Regiment with the guns of one Brigade Group to help. When the attack was over (there was little opposition), the Battery rejoined the Regiment north of Poppel by a circuitous route through Hilvarenbeek and Esbeek, then west through the woods, and wheeled vehicles were even farther round - via Reusel and Arendonck. There was some doubt over on the left flank as to which units of the Brigade were going to move on this same evening. We occupied a position for the night with most of the Brigade concentrated in a usual area. Tilburg was meanwhile cleared, and on the left, the 1st Polish Armoured Division was driving northwards, ending the day some way west of Tilburg|
|28th October 1944||4th Armoured Brigade was to clear the area immediately west of Tilburg along the Breda road. Gun positions for the Regiment were found astride the road - zero line 280 degrees. The Greys and the 60th advanced west and made contact with enemy in the area of Reiten. Hero the R.N.B. was to take over while the Greys cleared the road north towards the Mass just south-west of Reiten, the Poles were still pressing on. Our O.Ps. with the Dutch Brigade had no shooting - they only took over at Reijen just before dark. But we fired - over 90 degrees right of our zero line - a fire plan in support of 51st (H.) Division who were advancing north of Tilburg towards the Mass.|
28th October - 11th November 1944.
The anti-clockwise circle complete; back to Weert. Preparation for clearing up Mass between Venlo and Roermond.
night " Flush " (the C.P.Os. Recce. parties) left for the next
area. The Brigade was perpetually moving from one part of the and Army
front to another, far away (once. it will be remembered, we had spent two
days " on loan " to the Canadian Army at Caen). Now, like a man
fighting two opponents, who, having thrown his weight in behind a lunge on
his left foot and then jumps back to strike the man who is creeping round
on his right, the Brigade moved across the back of the 2nd Army front,
part the dumps and rail and road heads, through rear Army (again a
roundabout route because of broken bridges) - back to Weert.
The enemy using 9th Panzer Divsion and 15th Panzer Grenadier Regiment had attacked from Meitel north-westwards. Meitel lies about eight miles east-northeast from Weert. His advance had gained him three or four mikes in the direction of Deurne. Combat Commands of 7th U.S. Armoured Division had been surprised by the attack; some had been cut off, and they had been some casualties. Otherwise down to the area of Wessern, there had been no change in the dispositions of either side.
Forty-eight hours after our arrival, 53rd (W.) Division who had recently had success at S'Hertogenbosch arrived and the set-up was as follows : right, from Wessern (the only place where the enemy was west of the canal in any strength) to Hunsel, was held by 71st Brigade, with the Greys in support. The 1st Belgian Brigade held from Hunsel to El, while from El, northwards to the canal running east-north-east from Weert, was held by 158th Brigade, with 44th R.T.R. in support. 3th/4th C.L.Y. and the 60th were in reserve for a counter-attack role: the Battery's main commitment wax to provide O.Ps. with them if they were called out. As a Regiment we came under the C.R.A. of 53rd (W.) Division (Brigadier Freidbeiger)—an H.Q.R.A. who were also particularly thoughtful in the way they looked after us.
The regimental area was just east of Stramroy, in the centre of the Divisional Artillery. There was the usual amount of luck- end shooting from H.Q.R.A., including night-harassing tasks for single guns, but O.P. commitments were as heavy or light as we chose to make them. Most officers made a thorough recce of the whole Divisional front in view of the counter-attack role of the C.L.Y., though as far south as Hunsel we all knew most of the tracks and hedges from our last time in the areas. The tempo of the war gradually lessened, at least outwardly: ammunition was restricted to five rounds per gun per day. Sometimes a shell landed in Weert; there was the occasional, brush with patrols on the canal bank. But the only serious fighting was in the north-east in the area of Meijel, where 15th (S,) Division, transferred from Tilburg, was recapturing the ground gained by the enemy.
However, a build up was in progress. Here, on this stretch of Canal once held by 4th Armoured Brigade less two Armoured Regiments, a mass of guns was being brought up - the Divisional Artillery of 53rd (W.) Division, 7th and 11th Armoured Divisions, and A.G.R.As. - and, near Weert, some super-heavies. Cinema parties going to Weert (there were plenty of these, and similar recreational parties to Hasselt and Eindhoven - and bath-parties, too) would pass medium guns at regular intervals on the roadside. Any enemy agent patrolling this road must have had evidence of the impeding attack.
|11th November 1944||The gradual process of getting units and formation H.Qs. into their battle position began, 4th R.H.A. went into action cut of Tangelroy - approached by tracks that were muddier and more rutted than anything we had known. 51st (H.) Division (operation " Aslot ") were to attack in that afternoon of the 14th, south-east from the canal junction. In the evening, 160th Brigade of 53rd (W.) Division (operation " Bristol "), with 3rd/4th C.L.Y. in support, were to form a bridgehead over the canal near Kelderhoef, From H.R.A. came even more sheets of paper than usual - traces, fire-plans, etc. The whole procedure was the beginning of the Army Commander's plan to secure the ground eastwards as far as the Mass. Canadian Army had taken over the Nijmegen area, so that the British 2nd Army all faced eastwards - towards Germany.|
12th November - 19th November 1944.
The Planning and Execution of Operation "Mallard " which took XII Corps to the River Maas north of Roermood, up to and beyond Venlo.
|The first three days of the week were taken up with final preparation. On the Tuesday O.Ps. joined the C.L.Y., one with each squadron, to move with them on their various tasks during the evening (the operation began at 2030 hours), though they would only be of use as O.Ps. the following morning.|
|15th November 1944|| At 1000 hours, 51st
(H.) Division had attacked south-east from the canal junctions and secured
crossings with little opposition. Next, 7th Armoured Division secured the
lock at Panne to the south ; it was important to hold this, because, if
the enemy could tamper with the water-level of the Wessern canal, the
pontoon bridges would be useless. There was the usual amount of artillery
preparation-concentration on the canal itself, lifting to a barrage beyond
the far bank, which in turn went on to known positions farther east, while
160th Brigade's two Battalions were digging in. The C.L.Ys' role was to
line the bank, accompanied by " Crocodiles " (flame-throwers)
and flail tanks which were to clear the approaches of mines. The belching
flarnes in the dark were like jets of red-hot molten lava, a stirring
sight, as the Crocodiles spread them out.
By 2100 hours, we heard that 51st (H.) Division had made three crossings (facing Baexem) over the canal, 71st Brigade passed through them and turned south-east to clear the left bank of the river north-east of Wessern. And a battalion from the other Brigade turned north-west up the Wessern canal to join up with the Highland Division.
|16th November 1944|| During the following
day, our O.Ps. remained with the Squadrons, watching the flanks of 160th
Brigade from our side of the canal. Captain Millington, with " A
" Squadron on the right, could really do little to help 160th
Brigade, though the Squadron could do little they were subjected to
shelling - in the morning, and mortaring as an after-lunch diversion. Our
signal truck came up to a forward troop, with batteries, unaware of the
shelling: it beat a hasty retreat with its windscreen smashed by a mortar
That night 4th Armoured Brigade crossed the canal, tracked vehicles going by Class 40 bridge and wheels by Class 9 a few hundred yards farther north.
The whole slow ands protracted move took from 1800 hours (when the Regiment left the Tangelroy position) till 0430 hours, when the last guns in position and action, and the last bogged vehicles rescued. However, the Battery's move showed r rah standard of march discipline, only one half-track (H.) being ditched in the appalling mud early on. The crew did a good job of work ; one track had come right off, and neither the L.A.D. nor the Brigade Recovery Section bad the necessary jacks, etc. so they did it themselves. But it was all most irritating, since the whole distance was not more than eight miles. One complication was that the Belgian Brigade's Sappers had so sited the Class 40 bridge that on going down the far ramp one had to turn left-handed along the bank for one hundred yards, before doing a hair-pin bend back to the right. Both these turns became so followed out by the succession of tanks (44th R.T.R. were in the lead) that in time tanks and Rams were bellying - Bulldozer tanks being particularly fast stuck, and it was half an-hour's job to shift one, repair the ramp (which objected to skid-turns being made on it), and level, to some extent, the track at the turns. There was no question of half-tracks going that way: re-routing them via the other bridge, which, incidentally, collapsed and was not repairable till next morning, was another cause of delay.
" Flush " had gone on before and arrived in the gun area just across the canal as it got dark. G.P.Os. had gone on, too, and were the first tank to cross the newly built bridge. So this party waited in desperate misery and cold, having completed their reconnaissance by moonlight.
By 0430 hours, all that was going to arrive that night was in ; the last out-station was about to close when the O.Ps. came upon the air for the first call of the new day. They had had a comparatively good night's rest - albeit short and were now coming over with the C.L.Y.
We did not fire from the canal position, and luckily moved on that morning—there was only one house for cover in the whole battery area, and that was severely damaged from the shelling, And so to Baexem, still under H.Q.R.A. 53rd (W.) Division. Captain Hoyle had joined " A " Squadron of the Division Recce Regiment who had a probing role beyond Baexem, but he did not leave their H.Q. at Weert till nine o'clock this morning. He then went through with this squadron to Haelgu, where he covered a zone from the railway bridge over the river north of Roermond down to the main road bridge. There were signs of a line of diggings on the far bank which gave some good section targets, The C.L.Y. did not move from their concentration area near the canal. The day WM a more worthy om. We could just reach German soil, at maximum elevation, from " D " Troop's Baexem position, and a certain house was subjected to a five rounds salvo from the troop.
|19th November 1944|| We moved on north to
the small village north of Nijken. While 53rd Division had been advancing
eastwards from the canal towards Roermond, 51st Division had moved east,
with 49th Division advancing on their left, all gradually closing up
towards the Maas. 49th Division finally came round in a south-easterly
sweep towards Venlo.
After a few hours at Nijken we moved on north-east to positions at Hub, near Panningen, ever since the start of the operation, the mud on the tracks had been very bad (it was never so bad again till February when the great thaw followed the weeks of frost and snow. Hub provided quite good billets, a little congested by the presence of a battalion of the Hampshires of 50th Division, under whose C.R.A. the Regiment now came.
|20th November 1944|| The 2nd/60th now
appealed again, concentrated in Panningen. We prepared to support them in
the next small operation. The " big picture " is rather hard to
describe here, but briefly, 51st (H.) Division were directed on Venlo from
the south-west moving with their right flank on the Maas. (From this
flank, south-west, we had troops right up to the Maas right down to
Maseyck.) 49th Division were closing in from the west, and 15th (S.)
Division from the north-west.
49th Division Recce. Regiment had ended up on Saturday, faced by opposition from some S.P. guns and small arms fire from the woods round Koningslust Cloister.
The 60th were to clear this up (" C " Company), and secure the crossing of the stream 1,000 yards east of the Cloister (" B "Company). " A " Company were in support of the Greys on the left (North), while 44th R.T.R. were to advance to Maasbree on the right.
It was for the daring way in which he gave support to the 60th in the operation -particularly to " B " Company at their difficult crossing of the water, carried out under fire from a stubborn enemy dug in round farm buildings - that Captain Millington was awarded the Military Cross. And it was on this same day that two other M.Ca. were won by the Regiment, by Captain Hutchinson of "' F " Battery and Lieut Foster of " C " Battery, the former for a long time an officer in this Battery and the latter destined to command " D " Troop from the crossing of the Rhine onwards.
The fire-plan-at-call was laid on at a regimental level and consisted in concentrations on almost every building where opposition might be met, the whole plan being worked out from careful study of the 1/25,000 map and air photographs. Mines and obstacles were plentiful, and the enemy offered fair resistance. Both troop Commanders had some good shooting, while the K.R.R.C. progressed well, but in the afternoon Captain Hoyle's tank went up on a Reigel (R') mine, seriously wounding Gnr. G. Wright in the legs, generally shaking up the whole crew and writing off the tank.
In due course, the 60th concentrated in Tooger Loo, the C.L.Y. came up, and our next support was for them - an O.P. with each squadron. Captain Cooper with " B," Captain Millington with " C " and Lieut. Adam with " A " in reserve. They were to support a brigade of 49th Division carried in " Kangaroos " - armoured troop carriers - advancing on an axis through Korteheide - Langeheide and so on through the wood to the north-east.
Tactically, this went all right, but the mud and rain were a great hindrance and scattered mines were everywhere. The Squadrons went often into deserted house for the night, behind the leading Companies. The O.Ps. bad probably their most uncomfortable and coldest night for months, made more unpleasant by accurate harassing fire. To support the advance, the guns had moved to Loo and, now no longer having to give much support to the infantry, we moved up as a regiment south-east of Sevenum, It was nothing but a bare bit of ground, as desolate as any map square, neither troop having a single building within 1,000 yards or more of it - a real wilderness. With a zero-line south-east we sent an O.P. to the Division Recce. Regiment at Boekend, where he could see the imposing defences of Venlo, including one of the biggest minefields met since D Day, the sappers said, and a formidable anti-tank ditch. Our own F.D.Ls., were in thickly wooded country ; except for the suburb of Blerick nearly all the ground west of the Maas was in our hands 15th (S.) Division coming down from the north were to take over from 49th Division who went off to the Nijmegen area, This released 4th Armoured Brigade who concentrated north-west of Weert where they remained for so long that we came to call the C.L.Y. the Weert Home Guard.
|30th November 1944||The 4th R.H.A. were handed over to 53rd (W.) Division, and returning via Weert took over from 3rd and 5th R.H.A. in the area of Hunsel and Neeritter. It was by now vary much a war of billets, and H.Q. Troop in the Burgomaster's house near Ittervoort were particularly comfortable, the troops slightly less so with only a small farm each. This was to be our home for Christmas. though we did not know it. R.H.Q. were at Hunsel and 71st Brigade H.Q. at Neeritter.|
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