War Diaries of K Battery, Royal Horse Artillery
|Organisation & Officers of K Bty World War II|
January to March 1940
ROYAL HORSE ARTILLERY.
2ND APRIL 1940
21ST SEPTEMBER 1940.
OFFICERS, AND THEIR TACTICAL
|Battery commander||Major R.R. Hoare M.C. R.H.A.|
|2nd in command||Capt. D. Welsh R.H.A.|
|C.P.O.||Capt. J.R. Kynaston R.H.A.|
|A/C.P.O.||2/Lt. R.M. Bremner R.H.A.|
|Troop Commander “D” Troop||2/Lt. J.F. Elston R.H.A.|
|G.P.O., “D” Troop||2/Lt. D.E. Tacey R.H.A.|
|Troop Commander “E” Troop||Capt. J.M. Northen R.H.A.|
|G.P.O., “E” Troop||2/Lt. T.R. Watson R.H.A.|
|Troop commander “F” Troop||Capt. N.B.C. Teacher R.H.A.|
|G.P.O., “F” Troop||2/Lt. J.H. Whitcombe R.H.A.|
|Wagon Line Officer||2/Lt. E.J.V. Williams R.H.A.|
|1st Line Reinforcements||2/Lt. F.D.N. Simon R.H.A.|
|2/Lt. D.L. Benke R.H.A.|
WAR DIARY OF “K” BATTERY ROYAL HORSE ARTILLERY.
road party under Capt. D Welsh RHA with Capt J.M. Northen RHA and 2/Lt.
D.E. Tacey RHA left for France. The journey was made without incident,
embarkation being particularly rapid.
main body under the command of the B.C. with the remaining officers of
the battery left DURSTEY in the early hours of the morning for in
training at CHARFIELD. On the afternoon of the same day, we embarked at
Southampton, arriving at LE HAVRE on the morning of 8th April 1940. The
journey was uneventful and behaviour among all ranks excellent.
at LE HAVRE where Capt. N.B.C. Teacher RHA i/c Advance Party met us on
the quay. X truck driven by Dvr.IC Wilson was also there for the purpose
of taking the B.C. to TOUFFREVILLE.
Main Body disembarked and after having breakfasted and purchase
cigarettes, etc., en trained for YVETOT where battery transport met them
for carrying kits to TOUFFREVILLE in the vicinity of which all three
troops were billeted. The journey was carried out without a hitch.
and cleaning up after long journey.
and 11th April.
the morning, is it better list by road for BOIS GRENIER to which place
the Advance Party headed by Capt. Welch had already gone. The journey
was completed in two days, staying the night at a small village a few
miles beyond BLANGY. The battery was billeted in the out House of a
Chateau and spent a comfortable night. On this journey there was an
unfortunate incident began skidding and crashing into the side of a
house. No damage was done to personnel.
BOIS GRENIER. Battery H.Q. situated in a farm just outside the village
with the Officers Mess & Battery Offices in the village about half a
mile away. Detroit was billeted in MOAT FARM situated almost exactly on
the old front line while E & F troops were informed about two miles
away. The bullets were soon made comfortable and then quickly became
accustomed to the new life.
this time there was considerable tension in the air due to repeated
rumours that the Germans were about to invade BELGIUM.
April to 2nd May 1940.
during the state seceded quietly although a certain amount of training
was carried out. There was at least 1 Regimental Drill Order and each
Troop had route marched during the night. Much was accomplished in
creating an independent spirit among all three troops as Troop
Commanders for the first time were able to take have complete control
which included the own cooking arrangements. The Battery Commander looks
upon those days spent it BOIS GRENIER as some of the most important in
the training of the battery, as the independent training enabled the
Battery afterwards to carry through more scattered operations with
Welsh was promoted A/Major and U/2nd i/c as junior Major in the
regiment, Major Heath having left on promotion. Capt. Northen, Troop
Commander of “E” Troop was promoted battery Captain in his place.
The valuable work which Capt. Welsh had done for the Battery was
recognised by all ranks. Capt. J.R Kynaston RHA, the C.P.O. was also
posted to R.H.Q. as Adjutant. They were both greatly missed.
battery was detailed to proceed to GALAMETZ Practice Camp situated near
St. POL for the purpose of carrying out the duties of Depot Battery for
Shoots which could last two weeks. In addition to Depot Battery comma
the B.C. was responsible for all Safety arrangements.
Battery left by road GALAMETZ Ranges and was billeted in a village
G.F. Elston RHA, Troop Commander of “D” troop was promoted
8 and 9th May 1940.
regiments shot on the Ranges, including 5th Regt. R.H.A . Both “G”
& “K” Batteries fired and the shooting as a whole was good.
After having taken various things into consideration he B.C. considers
that more detail had to be given out for the successful operation of
these Ranges than almost any other anytime during the Battery’s time
in France. Both Brigadier Duncan and Lt.-Col. Durrand complemented the
Battery on the way in which the Camp had been organised.
of the German invasion of BELGIUM came through on the wireless.
Instructions were soon received for the battery to return to BOIS
GRENIER at once. We left about noon, the main having had a hurried
dinner beforehand. The march was uneventful although German bombers had
been at work in the front of the column. BROUAY and BETHUNE had air raid
warnings as the column passed through.
12, & 13th May 1940.
days were spent in packing up preparing to move at short notice from
F.D.N Simon RHA reported to the Battery from 1st Line reinforcements.
All ranks were pleased to see him return.
were received for the battery to take up a position near TOURNAI which
had been reconnoitred a few days beforehand. The Battery moved forward
at about 0900 hours scarcely had the guns come on the position before
orders received receipt at once to MARCHIENNES. This order was the
beginning of the retreat. The Battery forming part of the “Mac”
Force which was to protect the Right Flank of the B.E.F.
B.C. and captain went forward to do a reconnaissance how long is the
River SCARPE extending form MARCHIENNES and to St. AMAND with a view to
covering various bridges against enemy tanks.
in the evening after a long march all three troops came into action not
a single vehicle broke down nor was a single vehicle lost. In the
B.C’s opinion it was the second most difficult march which the battery
carried out during the whole operations.
May to 22nd May 1940.
HQ was situated on the edge of the FORET DE MARCHIENNES, “D” Troop
was action in the FORET, “E” troop in the village of WARLAING,
“F” troop in an orchard round farm buildings not far from St. AMAND.
three troops had a trying time from German bombers and Machine-gunners,
though, luckily no casualties were experienced.
no supplies could be obtained from the R.A.S.C., the order was given the
all troops should “live off the country”. Luckily, the district was
a farming one and there was plenty of food available with the exception
of bread. The Battery lived on army biscuits from this date until it
arrived in England.
Battery left MARCHIENNES for the FORET DE NIEPPE which was looked upon
as Anti-Tank obstacle. It was a long march and utter confusion appeared
to exist in that place due to the fact that no proper arrangements had
been made for the allocation of the various troops enter there. It was
an unpleasant night, feeling that we were caught in the neck of a bottle
an entirely helpless from German armoured attack and from bombing.
Fortunately, we got out of it without a single casualty.
Battery left FORET DE NIEPPE to assist in the defence of Cassel. En
route, the C.O. of the Regiment stopped the B.C. and told him that
“K” Battery less two troops was to proceed to the village of
HONDEGHEM and defend that village at all costs against enemy attack. The
B.C. collected a small Headquarter Staff and “F” Troop commanded by
Capt. N.B.C. Teacher RHA for the purpose. As we left the Road to
HONDEGHEM German bombers became very active and one casualty occurred.
The remaining two troops continued on their way to CASSEL under the
command of the Battery Captain. “D” troop subsequently went into
action as a Troop whilst “E” Troop was split up for A/T defence.
- 25th May 1940.
arrival at CASSEL on the afternoon of the 24th May 1940 it was decided
that “D” Troop will take up a position on the slopes of Mt . CASSEL.
At 2100 hours “D” Troop was shown the gun positions and by first
light on the morning of 25th May the guns reported ready for action; the
men having worked the whole night through making the gun positions as
secure as possible in the dark.
preparations continued in preparing the defence of HONDEGHEM against
enemy attack. The B.C. left to join other two Troops for one night but
returned to HONDEGHEM the following morning.
the early hours of the morning comma the Germans attacked the village of
HONDEGHEM, a full account of which was subsequently published in the
Daily Telegraph and is attached to this diary. The following Officers
and W.Os were at the time in the village, the B.C. Major R.R. Hoare M.C.
R.H.A., “F” Tp. Cmdr, Capt. N.B.C. Teacher R.H.A, 2/Lt. F.D.N. Simon
R.H.A., 2/Lt. J.H. Whitcombe R.H.A., B.S.M. Millard, T/B.S.M. Opie TSM
Gordine and the French interpreter M Charles HINSTIN. The following
officers were with “D” troop; Capt. G.F. Elston R.H.A ta the O.P.
2/Lt. D.E. Tacey R.H.A. with the guns. No sooner had the guns off
“D” Troop opened fire in support of “F” Troop than two guns were
immediately knocked out of action. “D” Troop fought a gallant action
and maintained the best traditions of the Battery. Both Padre Royle and
Padre Rice and the M.O. Lt. D Hector Jones R.A.M.C. immediately joined
the Troop and gave all the assistance and encouragement possible. The
following Officers were in “E” Troop: Capt. S.R. St. John all right
shake, 2/Lt. R. Watson R.H.A. “E” Troop under Capt. St. John did
some great work. The detachments were isolated, but will always cheerful
and happy. Capt. St. John was wounded while visiting his guns. The
following remained at Battery Rear H.Q.:- Capt. J.M, NORTHEN R.H.A.,
2/Lt. R.M. Bremner R.H.A. Capt. Northen had been a power of strength
during the action. 2/Lt. E.J.V. Williams R.H.A. was with B Echelon.
During this action, the following Officers W O's, N.C.O and men were killed, taken prisoner or reported missing:-
|Gnr. Hindle R.C.S. (“D”).||Gnr. Wright M. (Bty.H.Q.)|
|Dvr. IC. Pinner G. H. (Bty. H.Q.).|
|Died of Wounds.|
|Gnr. Hinton. T.J. (D).|
|Capt. N.B.C. Teacher RHA (F).||Capt. S.R. St. John (E).|
|2/Lt. F.D.N. Simon RHA (F).||2/Lt. J.H. Whitcombe RHA (F).|
|Gnr. Ames G. (D).||Gnr. Barnes L. (D).|
|Dvr. IC. Boothman R, (Bty.H.Q).||Dvr. IC. Campbell T. (Bty.H.Q).|
|Gnr. Faulkner R. (F).||Gnr. Gill E.G. (D).|
|W.O.III Rimmer J. (D). K.I.A.||Dvr. IC. Russell (F).|
|Gnr. Tilling H.F. (F).||Gnr. Wells D.G. (F).|
|Gnr. Williams D. (F).||Dvr. IC. Broddie A.K. (F).|
|Gnr. Byrne H.L. (F).||Gnr. Forman. (D).|
|Gnr. Adaway A.C. (F). K||Dvr.IC. Armour R. (F). v|
|Gnr. Foster J. (F). K||Sgt. Heaton C. (F). K|
|Dvr. Rastrick F. (E). K||Gnr. Kemp. E (F). K|
|L/Bdr. McVeigh. E. (E). K||Sgt, Pallant G. (F). K|
|Bdr Soppitt J.H. (F). K||Dvr. Bumford E. (F). K|
|Gnr. Manning R.J. (F). K||L/Sgt. Parker H.C. (Bty.HQ).K|
|Dvr. Poole. W.J. (E). K||L/Sgt, MCKay A.B. (Bty.HQ).K|
|Dvr. Frost G. K (Bty.HQ.)|
|Prisoner of War.|
|Sgt. Astrop. R.F. (E).||T/BSM Opie R.R. (F).|
|Gnr. Bennett W. (E).||Gnr. Clark J. (E).|
|Dvr/Mech Hunt W.P. (F).||Gnr. Lockhart D. (E).|
|Gnr. Marriot R.D. (F).||Sgt. McGeachie W. (F).|
|Dvr. Paget W. G. (E).||L/Sgt. Pickford T.A. (E).|
|Gnr. Talbot J.W. (F).||Gnr. White B. (F).|
|Gnr. Barker S.L. (F).||Gnr. Berry G. (E).|
|Gnr. Crichton J. (E).||Gnr. Gadd W.G. (E).|
|Dvr. Hewitt A. (F).||Sgt. Lownsborough G. (E).|
|Dvr/Mech Muncaster G. (E).||Sgt. Pilcher A.J. (F).|
|Gnr. Huntriss W. (F).||Gnr. Appleby F.W. (E).|
|Bdr. Beales R. (E).||Gnr. Davis T. (E). K|
|Gnr. Griffen A. E. (E).||L/Sgt. Howard T.A. (F).|
|L/Bdr. Lawrence J. (F).||Dvr. Murphy J. (F).|
|L/Sgt. Stewart A. (F).||Gnr. Westbury T. (F).|
in the morning our wounded were evacuated from CASSEL under L/Sgt/Sur
Beacham who succeeded in finding his way to the Clearing Station on
STEENWOORDEN under extreme difficulties on an unknown route in the
darkness He handed over the wounded safe and sound and returned to the
Battery in the early hours of the morning
On the retirement of “F” Troop from HONDEGHEM, the day closed
with a feeling among all ranks that the Battery had done its duty.
“D” Troop was withdrawn from action together with two guns of
“E” Troop and the Battery concentrated almost two miles behind
CASSEL. Orders were received that the Regiment was to proceed to BERGUES
to clear up a situation had the two guns of “E” Troop were to remain
in action at CASSEL attached to 140 Regt. R.A. At 1600 hours, the
Battery moved towards BERGUES (at this time nothing was known of the
impending retreat and ultimate embarkation at DUNKIRK). The first few
miles of the roads were clear and it appeared likely that we should go
into positions within the area allotted to us. As we approached BERGUES
in the evening, the confusion due to abandoned vehicles and retreating
Frenchmen was indescribable It was only then that the B.C. realised that
a retreat had begun. In his opinion, one of the most difficult nights
(and we had already experienced the 1918 retreat) in the whole of his
service was the experienced. Senior Officers, Staff Officers, and
innumerable other people urged the Battery to abandon the vehicles and
proceed to DUNKIRK. The Battery fought its way through endless endless
abandoned vehicles until it ultimately reached BERGUES which was then in
flames. Leaving the town was Major-General Thorne who commanded the 48th
Division on his way to establish his H.Q. at HONDSCHOUT. He informed the
B.C. that he advised him to turn round and having known the Battery at
St. John’s Wood, felt certain that it could do so successfully. The
entire column entered the town of BERGUES, turning round amid the glow
of burning houses and from there, once again forces its way through
innumerable abandon vehicles to HONDSCHOUT where it arrived in the early
hours of the morning. As the B.C. collected vehicles behind the village,
one by one other vehicles turned up together with the rest of the column
and the Capt. J.M. Northen RHA who had done most excellent work
throughout the retreat: the Battery was again complete. The Guards were
retreating along the road where the Battery had halted, so the B.C.
asked the Colonel of the Welsh guards where he would like the guns
brought into action. He replied “On the other side of the canal,
covering the bridge.”
the operation rained throughout the difficult march, many of the men of
the Battery could easily have left the column and made their own way to
DUNKIRK as everyone else seemed to be doing, but nobody did this.
Maddison's gun had a punctured tyre and in spite of the difficulties
attached driving a Quad under these circumstances, the No. I refused to
abandon his gun as he could easily have done. It was brought all the way
from CASSEL to the last position where it remained in action until the
The Battery came into action on the other side of the canal
supporting various battalions of the Brigade of Guards which are holding
the bank, though later a battalion of the Duke of Wellingtons took their
the early morning R.H.Q. & “G” Battery arrived. We were all
delighted at the re-union as she felt that some of us must have been cut
off. It was so obvious it was only a matter of time before we are
embarked from DUNKIRK. Many other troops passed through opposition
including the 2nd Regt. R.H.A. which been obliged to abandon their guns
and vehicles much earlier in the battle. The great sadness of the day
was that 2 guns had been left attached to 140 Regt. R.A. In CASSEL and
that their fate was unknown. In the afternoon, the first party was
ordered to proceed to the beaches for embarkation at DUNKIRK. This party
was headed by Capt. Northen, 2/Lt. Williams who had been in charge of
the B Echelon and 2/Lt. Bremner. It was also accompanied by Padre Rice.
second party led by 2/Lt. Watson preceded to the beaches.
Battery with B.C. (Major R.R. Hoare M.C. R.H.A.), Capt. G.F. Elston
R.H.A., 2/Lt. D.E. Tacey R.H.A. with the two remaining gun attachments
(Sgt. Maddison and Sgt. Addle), BSM Millard, QMS/ART Tribe, TSM Gordine
and Sgt. Talbot withdrew at 4:00 am to DUNKIRK. The guns had been put
completely out of action before being abandoned, the sight clinometers
and the dial sights being brought back to ENGLAND by the Nos. 1. We
proceeded in our vehicles along the road in perfect order and in rear of
the column came Lt. Col A.A.M. Durand M.C. RHA who commanded the
Regiment. Intermittent shelling and bombing was experienced. At DUNKIRK
and excellent reconnaissance was carried out by the Adjutant, Capt. J.R.
Kynaston RHA which eventually made it possible to fight for us to find
the place for embarkation. We were probably one of the few units who
drove their vehicles within 100 yards of the mole where they were
abandoned and put out of action. The men were embarked on the Destroyer
“WINCHELSEA” in perfect order and L/Bdr. Stewart T. was the last to
come on the mole, having waited behind with the M.O. to tend the
wounded, who were subsequently embarked on a hospital ship. After
embarkation, German ‘planes flew over and dive bombed heavily
attacking destroyer on at least 4 occasions before reaching DOVER.
arrival in DOVER was in perfect order and, had it not been for the
stringent orders to the contrary, the men would have marched to the
train as a Battery. As result, everybody got separated though it was
after discovered that all ranks had been hospitably treated. All had
interesting stories to tell when the Battery eventually reformed at
SOUTH TAWTON CAMP, Devonshire.
to 12th June 1940.
small parties and singly, all ranks of the Battery gradually reformed.
We were able to take stock of ourselves And set our house in order. They
were pleasant days admit beautiful weather. The men were able to bathe
in a large pool which gave them pleasure.
SOUTH TAWTON CAMP for COLWYN BAY at which place the men were billeted
with subsistence in boarding houses.
to 25th June 1940.
days were mostly spent in doing physical exercise and barfing together
with a certain amount of marching and rifled you.
orders were received for the Battery to proceed to eastern command for
the purpose of manning 6-pdr. static guns for A/T defence. It was
considered likely that the Germans would invade at any moment. The
Battery arrived at CHELMSFORD and subsections were scattered along the
G.H.Q. Line for the purpose of building temporary gun pits while the
concrete emplacements were being completed in the line from DUNMOW to
D.E. Tacey RHA was promoted A/Capt.
H.Q. was situated at THAXTED.
H.Q. was moved from there to ELSENHAM and the men were billeted most
comfortably in a house which had a swimming pool.
Northen preceded to the School of Gunnery, LARKHILL with a view to
becoming an I.G. Capt. W.R. Holman RHA was posted from “G” Battery
(Mercer’s Troop) RHA in his place. It was with great regret that Capt.
Northen was posted away. His service when the Battery had been
following days were spent in preparing gun pits and it organising static
warfare down to the minutest detail. At one time the Battery was
maintaining no less than 15 different cookhouses. Great amusement was
created by Gun Pit competitions. The detachments put up remarkably good
shows having made all the own Gun Pit furniture. These pits were
subsequently handed over to Defence Batteries and set a high standard at
what can be accomplished in static warfare. They were pleasant days to
look back on.
R.R. Hoare M.C. R.H.A. awarded D.S.O. in Times dated 11th July 1940.
W.H.L. Addison, 2/Lt. C.P.S. North & 2/Lt. A.C.S Gimson posted to
“K” Battery RHA.
F.D.N. Simon RHA posted to “K” Battery RHA from hospital.
A.A.M. Durand M.C. R.H.A. who commanded the Regiment since its formation
hand whose example of fearlessness and coolness had maintained the
highest traditions of the service was promoted Brigadier and posted as
C.R.A, 54 Div. All right ranks greatly regretted his departure as he had
been an incentive to efficiency throughout the entire time hand being
commanded the Regiment.
R.R. Hoare D.S.O., M.C., R.H.A. promoted Lt.-Col and to command the
Regiment. Capt. W.R. Holman RHA took temporary command of the Battery.
N.B.C. Teacher RHA awarded M.C. in the Times dated 27th August 1940. BSM
Millard awarded D.C.M. and L/Br. Kavanagh the M.M. in the Times dated
27th August 1940.
H.Q. & E/F troop moved from ELSENHAM to MARK’S HALL near
COGGESHALL, E/F Troop taking control of 4 mobile guns 2 12-pdr and 2
3-pdr. “D” Troop moved two static guns into COLCHESTER, one into BURES
and one into BURY ST. EDMUNDS, with a Troop H.Q. in COLCHESTER.
Major D. Welsh RHA took over command of the Battery.
GALLANT BATTERY AT HONDEGHEM
Of all the close range fighting play that took place between British and
German troops in France during the last fortnight of May, there was no
more gallantly contested engagement than that of the defense of
Hondeghem village, a couple of miles North of Hazebrouck.
Of all the close range fighting play that took place between British and
German troops in France during the last fortnight of May, there was no
more gallantly contested engagement than that of the defense of
Hondeghem village, a couple of miles North of Hazebrouck.
Here during more than
eight hours of continuous fighting on May 27th, two eighteen-pounder
guns of the famous “K” Battery of the 5th Regiment, RHA held off the
onslaught of vastly superior enemy forces. Gun detachments, often firing
at point-blank range of a hundred yards, were in action all day until
the crews were deafened by the noise of the incessant firing. Officers
and men alike behaved with the same coolness as though they were taking
part in a Practice Shoot on Salisbury Plain. The following count of the
days glorious action has been assembled from three separate accounts of
the operations suspired supplied respectively by two Officers and the BSM
all of whom were in the thick of it.
On the 26 May enemy
forces were in full flood along the main road from Saint Omer to Mt.
Cassel in their violent thrust to reach the sea and the Channel ports.
Traditionally cited an immediately in the Direct Line of the advanced
lay the little village of Hondeghem. To delay the enemy it was vital to
defend this place comma and this task was allocated to “K” Battery
RHA. The Battery Commander selected a small Headquarter Staff and
“F” troop of four guns for the purpose. No infantry were available
and the only additional Garrison was a detachment of eighty men and one
officer of the searchlight unit.
The village formed a
vital outpost in the widely dispersed British line and its defence was
far from easy. The armament of the defenders was restricted to four
eighteen-pounder guns, Bren and Lewis guns and rifles. By the evening of
26th May, final arrangements had been made for the defense. Two guns
were posted on the outskirts to come on the road by which the Germans
would probably come, and two others were placed at strategic points
inside the village. Bren and Lewis guns were located in makeshift strong
points, chiefly in the upper windows of houses.
The night passed quietly
in atmosphere of great tension as scouts had reported the enemy force
concealed in woods only four miles away. At 7:30 AM the lawn was
received by dispatch rider that the two outer guns (I and J
sub-sections), had engaged the enemy and had destroyed a number of
vehicles and two or three tanks as they advanced down the main road
towards the village. The two sub-sections, however, despite gallant
resistance were quickly overwhelmed by the avalanche of a large of tanks
and were both out of action and the crews captured or disabled in ten
minutes of opening of the Battle.
Such a setback so early
in the day was a serious matter and all considerations were now centred
on the defence of the village itself.
Armoured vehicles and
supporting parties of German infantry began to penetrate the outer
perimeter of the vehicle and the two remaining guns were immediately in
action registering hit after hit at short range on the enemy as they
tried to place machine guns in windows of near-by houses. The enemy did
manage to get one machine gun into action in in the Battery’s
cookhouse but just as they were about to open fire, L sub-section gun,
gallantly manhandled under intensive fire with the same precision as
though the men were deploying during a gun laying parade on the barrack
square, put around straight through the wall of the cook house,
effectively silencing the post. The cook-house was set on fire and all
the day's food was destroyed, but the gun was knocked out and later the
dead crew were discovered in the embers of the charred building: the
remains of the German sub-machine gun and now a prized memento to the
machine-gun was located by K sub-section behind a large farm house which
has served as a car park for the Battery vehicles. Although some of our
men might have been there, it was essential to silence the gun at all
costs as, if it were left unmolested it would have caused havoc
enfilading fire. K gun was trained on the farm house and the first
round was a direct hit bringing the whole place down in a dense shower
of plaster and dust. Another four rounds were pumped in to make sure
that the machine gun was not heard again. One British driver who was in
the farm house had a miraculous escape and rejoined his unit little
later the worse for his rare experience of being shelled by his own
Both K and L guns were
now hotly engaged, firing at point blank range of one hundred yards
using Fuze 1. So close with the Germans that the gun crews will being
bombed by hand grenades but casualties apart from the total loss of J
and I sub-sections, remained small, only one man haven't been killed and
two wounded. Both guns were in very exposed positions but they
maintained a very fast rate of very accurate fire and every round took
effect. The utter disregard for personal safety shown by Officers, NCOs
and men alike was magnificent.
About 1 pm large numbers
or German light and medium tanks were seen approaching Cassel and
Hazebrouck from the top of Hondeghem church, which had been used as an
observation post. About the same time, the enemy suspecting our use of
this eminence, began to shell it with typical Teutonic determination and
after twenty-two hits had been scored in 27 rounds, totally dismissed
In the thick of the
fighting one of our guns in error fired a round of smoke shell. It burst
into village street and all ranks were convinced that the Germans would
use the moment is covered for a general advance. The two gun detachments
worked like galley slaves pumping in round after round into the smoke as
a sigh of relief went up when it finally began to disperse, without the
enemy taking advantage of the opportunity.
Machine-gun fire was now
coming from all angles and both the eighteen-pounders had to be
frequently changed in position by their crews who manhandled them up and
down the street village street and fired from all angles, apparently
indifferent to the heavy enemy fire. Ammunition was also a difficult
problem, but all ranks did their bit in carrying ammunition to the guns.
In the meantime, help
came from unexpected quarter. “D” Troop of the Battery, posted on
the slope of Mt. Cassel, controlled by wireless, opened up a defensive
barrage and so accurate was their shooting that although at one time
their shells were fully within fifty yards of the two guns in the
village street, not a single round fell amongst their own people.
Unfortunately, three of these four guns were put out of action but the
remaining gun continued to fire up to the last minute of the action.
Ammunition was now
running low and the guns could only fire every 5 minutes. The enemies
activity, however, luckily seemed to die down a little while British
drivers, armed with rifles, did some excellent work taking pot shots at
the enemy from windows and excitedly making side bets amongst themselves
as to who would get the biggest “bag”.
At 3:30 pm it became
apparent that the small Garrison could hold out no longer. Ammunition
was almost gone, all food supplies had been destroyed by the fire at the
cook house, no reinforcements, except once full detachment of Fide and
Forfar Yeomanry, had appeared, and finally the danger of being
surrounded was imminent.
At 4:15 pm the
withdrawal was ordered and the two guns and the two wounded men were
sent off ahead and told to rendezvous at St. Sylvestre, a village some
two miles away on the road to Cassel.
The remainder of the
little force followed later by different route. There was no
interference as the enemy had apparently momentarily withdrawn from the
outskirts of the village, leaving true two of their troop-carrying
lorries ditched just outside.
On arrival at St
Sylvestre, however, the road running through the village was found to be
held by German medium tanks and orders were hastily given to take up
positions around the church, with a group of some 20 RASC men were found
armed with rifles and Bren guns. The enemy were by now appraised of the
arrival of the British troops and the volume of hand grenades suddenly
started from behind the tombstones in the graveyard. Germans appeared on
all sides and the troop commander decided that he they could only be
dislodged by a desperate measure of a direct charge. Two parties armed
with rifles and bayonets advanced round each side of the churchyard
wall, each man shouting, has he been ordered to do, at the top of his
voice. A terrible roar went up and the psychological effect was
immediately apparent. Three or four Germans were shot and the rest
throwing away their rifles broke in panic stricken rout.
Both guns were now again
brought into action from the graveyard and fired what little ammunition
was left into nearby houses which the enemy was using a strong points. 1
gun was limbered up to its quad (four wheel drive) in order to take it
to a more advantageous position, but both it and the vehicle were blown
to pieces by two direct hits from a German gun firing along the road.
The situation began to look desperate, but the men were no what
disheartened and still full of fight.
Charges with rifle
parties made by small parties along the houses where Germans were
hidden, and the one remaining gun continued firing until its last round
had been expanded. As it is now getting late enemy Verey lights
presumably asking for reinforcements had been observed comma, and it was
decided to make a dash to escape. The men hurriedly piled into the
remaining lorries, the one gun left L sub-section, was abandoned and put
out of action, and the party proceeded down the main road.
The way put was covered
by fire from German tanks in the fields well to make matters worse, they
had to turn sharp left and then right at a bend in the road where the
Germans had mounted a machine-gun. This turn had to be done at high
speed so as to afford the enemy as fleeting a target as possible.
Excitement was intense as the first car approached the fatal corner and
the hail of German machine-gun bullets. The first vehicle became ditched
going round the right hand bend, but the occupants luckily were able to
scramble into the third vehicle which got safely away. The second
vehicle meanwhile had safely manipulated the first bend very fast but
the driver missed the next turn entirely and went straight through the
hedge and into a grass field. Luckily the ground was very dry and he was
ordered to drive on and nearly ran over a German lying in the grass, who
ran away terrified. As luck would have it, the road curved round the
field and the driver was it was enabled to regain the road a little
further on by crashing his car through some railings. All through this
manoeuvre the German machine-gun was firing steadily and bullets were
whistling all along round the truck, some even breaking the windscreen,
the convoy the preceded in comparative safety and after a mile or so
came across a party of the East Riding Yeomanry, who were astonished to
see them emerge alive as a jester mined the road along which they had
escaped from St Sylvestre.
One of the cars was
actually blown up, a 30 cwt truck, but the occupants luckily escaped
injury and continued their journey on foot.
In this secondary engagement at St Sylvestre which lasted two and a half hours, all ranks showed once again the greatest bravery and coolness which is all the more remarkable following, as it did, continuous fighting from seven o'clock in the morning. Thus ended an eventful day in the history of “K” Battery, during which the behaviour all ranks proved the value of long training and strict discipline. All through the heat of battle, the men took their orders and carried them out exactly as though they were on the barracks square at home. It was difficult to single out the achievements of any single man. All who took part fought not only for their traditions of the British Army, but also for the traditions of their regiment and Battery as well. The heavy toll was paid in casualties, but the gallantry of those who fell will remain for all time and incentive an example to all ranks of the regiment.
|Below are two hand drawn maps of Hondeghem and St Sylvestre|
October to December 1940
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