Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Guy Loder-Symonds
Unit : Headquarters Royal Artillery, 1st Airborne Division
Army No. : 56606
Awards : Distinguished Service Order and Bar, Military Cross, Distinguished Service Cross, Freedom Cross, twice Mentioned in Despatches.
Robert Loder-Symonds was born on the 1st March 1913. His father, Captain Robert Francis Loder-Symonds, was killed on the 3rd March 1915, aged 31, whilst serving with the 1st Battalion The Cheshire Regiment. His widow, Muriel, remarried in 1921, and Acting Lieutenant-Colonel Colin John Trevelyan Robertson of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps became his step-father.
Robert joined the Royal Artillery in 1933 from the SHOP, and was occupied in the years prior to the war with the usual tasks that were expected of a young officer. On the 8th October 1937, he married Merlin Allen, third daugher of Major Stanley Allen, at Barham Church. He found distinction in steeplechasing and was awarded his Jacket in 1938. In the autumn of 1939, serving with the 1st Regiment Royal Horse Artillery, he went to France as part of the British Expeditionary Force. During the retreat to Dunkirk, his Regiment was attached to the 51st (Highland) Division and, having proved himself in action, he managed to avoid the surrender of the Division at St Valery and returned to England.
The 1st Regiment RHA were reformed, with Loder-Symonds assuming the post of Adjutant, and sent to Egypt in 1940. It was during General Wavell's victorious campaign in the Western Desert that he began to show the brilliance which was to make him famous, even amongst that distinguished company of soldiers. He spent the summer of 1941 as commander of "B" Battery; the Regiment being the artillery backbone in the defence of Tobruk. During this period he was awarded the Military Cross, whilst he was an Acting Captain, and subsequently the Distinguished Service Order, as Acting Major. The citation for the former reads:
He has consistently shown great keenness and fine leadership throughout the campaign; and the Troop under his command has fought extremely well. He frequently established his observation post in advance of our foremost defended localities with most successful results. Guided by his observations the accurate fire of his Troop was especially valuable in silencing Batteries firing on the Australian penetration at Bardia and again when at Tobruk in supporting the King's Royal Rifle Corps carriers in their successful attack.
The citation for the Distinguished Service Order reads:
During the operations 21st - 24th November, 1941, in support of the 32nd Armoured Tank Brigade, outside Tobruk, this officer showed remarkable drive and fine determination. On the 1st December, he kept his Battery in action, in the face of the enemy, at the foot of Bel Hamed, after the New Zealand force had been driven off and disorganised. He took five guns of the New Zealands, which had managed to escape, under his command, and by his example and personal efforts, reorganised the broken line. He has been outstanding throughout this and previous operations, for vigour, endurance, and offensive determination.
Leaving Tobruk in November 1941, the Regiment participated in the advance of the 8th Army to El Agheila. Following a period of rest in Cairo, Loder-Symonds continued to lead "B" Battery during the long battles of the summer of 1942, culminating in the withdrawal to the Alamein Line. Along the way he achieved a bar to his DSO:
On 2nd June 1942 some 7 miles South West of Elmet Tamar, at 1830 hours, B Battery Royal Horse Artillery together with one troop Anti-Tank Battery, 1st Royal Horse Artillery and 4 Anti-Tank guns Kings Royal Rifle Corps under command 5th Royal Tank Regiment were in action against the enemy. Officer Commanding B Battery was ordered to be responsible for the right flank of 5th Royal Tank Regiment. Shortly after 20 Mk III German tanks threatened the right flank and were engaged by all guns. At about 1900 hours 5th Royal Tank Regiment were being fiercely engaged on the left by 40 German Mk III and IV tanks. Communication was lost with Officer Commanding 5th Royal Tank Regiment (it later transpired that his tank was knocked out and the Commander killed). Major Loder-Symonds however decided he must continue to protect the right flank of 5th Royal Tank Regiment. At about 1930 hours 40 more German Mk III and IV appeared on the left flank of the battery. They were engaged and given heavy punishment but the Battery also was suffering severely and it was now obvious that the Battery must now withdraw. The Anti-Tank guns were ordered back to cover the withdrawal of the 25 pounders. The intense 75mm and Machine Gun fire from this very large number of tanks now engaging the guns on two sides was so severe that 5 guns were knocked out. The guns were fought until there was only a total of 25 rounds left in the Battery when they withdrew, with the enemy tanks 300 yards from the position. During the action 8 German tanks were seen in flames and it is extremely probable that at least 20 were accounted for. Major Loder-Symonds was with his guns throughout directing their fire and dispositions and before finally leaving the position he personally went round to see that no wounded were left. This fine action eliminated a big threat to our positions and by his courage coolness and great leadership he set as fine an example as it is possible to think of.
A serious wound brought an end to his service in the Desert War, being hospitalised in South Africa before returning to England in 1943. Here, he was first given command of the 92nd Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment in the 11th Armoured Division, but later, as a Lieutenant-Colonel, was appointed Commander Royal Artillery in the 1st Airborne Division.
He flew to Arnhem on Sunday 17th September 1944, and at 17:00, he accompanied Major-General Urquhart when he left his headquarters to locate Brigadier Lathbury. Having failed to find him at his headquarters, who were marching behind the 2nd Parachute Battalion on the southern route, Urquhart moved on to the centre route and eventually met him at Lieutenant-Colonel Fitch's headquarters. It was at this stage that Loder-Symonds became separated from Urquhart, and so he made his way back to Divisional Headquarters.
On the afternoon of Tuesday 19th September, he became concerned that enemy pressure to the north and west was putting the positions of Nos. 1 and 2 Batteries of the 1st Airlanding Light Regiment in some danger, and so he ordered them to No.3 Battery's position, in the area of Oosterbeek Church. On the following day, the five guns of the Polish Brigade which could be salvaged from their landing zone were put at the disposal of Loder-Symonds within the Divisional perimeter. On the same day, he ran across the road from Divisional Headquarters to personally direct the fire of a 17-pounder anti-tank gun on an enemy tank which was approaching from the direction of Arnhem.
At 09:00 on Thursday 21st September, Lieutenant-Colonel Loder-Symonds was visiting the Light Regiment's area accompanied by Major-General Urquhart and the Regimental commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Thompson. The latter subsequently wrote the following account: "The last place we visited was 1st Light Battery's Headquarters. Entering in the wake of the Divisional Commander, I saw Captain McMillan (1 FOU) speaking to the CRA and handing him his head-set and microphone. From the CRA's expectant attitude I could see that there was something important in the air. Several times he called up saying he was 'Sunray' (the code-name for a commander) and then, 'Yes, and my Christian name is Robert', then, 'Wait!' For a few moments he looked puzzled and slightly amused and then with great gusto he called up and said, 'Yes, Armitage, Charles Armitage!' Turning to the Divisional Commander, he announced that we were through by wireless to 64 Medium Regiment. The tense atmosphere in the Command Post relaxed in a sense of elation. It was great news. 'The guns. Thank God, the guns!' in a new setting. The apparently irrelevant wireless conversation had resulted from the efforts of 64 Medium Regiment to establish the identity of our station beyond all doubt. To do this their Adjutant had asked our CRA whether he had a friend called Charles in his old regiment who was now a big 'Seagull' in a land formation (Charles Armitage was BM, RA at 11th Armoured Division). We were now linked by wireless to the Corps Artillery through 64 Medium Regiment and from now on they gave the Division continuous support. This fire, mostly near extreme range of their guns was directed with astonishing accuracy on to targets in close proximity to our positions. Moreover, this RA net was the only link between the Division and XXX Corps and over it passed much vital General Staff signal traffic in addition to the fire orders."
Responsibility for the wireless link was later transferred to another officer of the Forward Observation Unit, Captain O'Grady, who was based at Headquarters Royal Artillery under the control of the CRA and his staff.
At 06:45 on Friday 22nd September, Loder-Symonds sent a message to the 64th Medium Regiment which read: "Support excellent. Having magnificent results. Must have more regiments at earliest opportunity, especially field regiments from relieving formation". At 07:20 a signal came from the Corps Commander Royal Artillery at XXX Corps stating: "can you send latest sit-rep [Situation report] We are driving on hard". Loder-Symonds simply replied: "No change. We shall be glad to see you."
On Sunday 24th September, he had a lucky escape when he was standing in the entrance to his dug-out Headquarters, speaking with Major Philip Tower, when a snipers bullet narrowly missed him. It was on this day that air support first became available to the Division, and he selected targets in the North-West corner of the perimeter for attention by the rocket-firing Typhoons. Their efforts were reported as "highly successful", and they were a most welcome boost to morale for the troops on the ground.
On the following morning, Loder-Symonds was presented with an opportunity that is very rarely afforded to a Commander Royal Artillery; that of an observed shoot on a body of infantry who had established themselves in a wood some 250 yards to the south of his position. They were sited, worryingly for him, on a direct line between himself and the guns at Nijmegen. Nevertheless he made his observations from the entrance to his dug-out, radioed the map reference and called for a ranging shot from the 419th Heavy Battery. The shot, over a distance of 19,000 yards, landed close to the target, and, following an adjustment, he called for a concentration of all four guns of the Battery, and watched with some satisfaction as they landed amongst the enemy.
After the Battle of Arnhem, Lieutenant G. Ryall, the Liaison Officer in the 1st Airlanding Anti-Tank Battery, who had spent much of his time with the anti-tank guns around Divisional Headquarters, wrote: "I should like to pay my own tribute to our CRA, Colonel Loder-Symonds, who was an inspiration to us all. Very clever and brave, yet at the same time kind and understanding, he helped me enormously during what was a most severe battle inoculation".
For his actions at Arnhem, Lieutenant-Colonel Loder-Symonds was promoted to Brigadier and awarded the American Distinguished Service Cross. His citation reads:
This Officer was Commander Royal Artillery of the Division during the battle of Arnhem 17th to 25th September. His artillery arrangements during the battle were quite first class and the maximum possible use was made at all times of the support available. When the Medium artillery of 2nd Army came within range Brigadier Loder-Symonds directed their fire with such skill that medium shells were destroying the enemy within a few hundred yards of our own positions. The effect of this close in medium gun support was so devastating that several enemy concentrations forming up for attack were completely broken up and many dangerous situations were averted.
This Officer was constantly under fire. The leadership which he displayed and his cheerfulness under difficult and dangerous conditions was quite outstanding and at all times an example to those with whom he came into contact.
He continued to act as the 1st Airborne Division's CRA, serving with them in Norway, for which he was awarded the Freedom Cross. His citation reads:
This Officer commanded Stavanger Zone which included Kristiansand Sub-Zone. By his foresight and firm handling the surrender terms were put into effect in the shortest possible time and with the minimum friction.
The bearing and high standard of the troops under his command during their many successful raids on German concentration camps reflects the greatest credit on this Officer. His administrative organisation was first class in spite of a very inadequate staff.
The 1st Airborne Division was disbanded on its return to England, and Brigadier Loder-Symonds was specially selected to take up the appointment in the Far East as CRA to the 5th Indian Infantry Division, who were to participate in the final assault on Malaya. His brilliant career was brought to an abrupt end several months after the surrender of the Japanese, when his plane crashed in Java on the 11th November 1945. Although only 32 years of age at the time of his death, he had, in that time, acquired a level of military experience and received a number of gallantry awards that has seldom been surpassed in the history of the Royal Artillery.
As a man Robert was gay, charming, persuasive, and a friend to be with in any circumstances, happy or sad. Originality, abounding energy and immense capacity were the qualities most apparent in him. His wealth of talents occasionally made it difficult for him to understand the weakness that he might have found in others, and caused him to develop a certain ruthlessness which bordered on intolerance. As a soldier, his record alone is sufficient to indicate his greatness. Different weapons, terrains, different ways of going to battle, all were apparently equally simple to Robert. His power of decision, however complex or threatening the battle, was outstanding, and this, linked with his ability to treat each situation on its merits alone, made him a leader whose very presence would always fire his subordinates to tremendous efforts. Above all, he was a very brave man, and that tall, thin figure will always remain in one's mind, standing in nonchalant conversation while every sort of enemy missile was bursting around him, unnoticed by him - but not by his probably reluctant companions. Some thought that he really liked a battlefield.
A dynamic leader, his loss so young robbed the Royal Regiment of Artillery of its brightest rising star. He is buried in Jakarta War Cemetery, Plot 5, Row F, Grave 2.
A/Capt. 07.04.1940 - 06.07.1940
T/Capt. 07.07.1940 - 07.07.1941
A/Maj. 08.04.1941 - 07.07.1941
T/Maj. 08.07.1941 - 21.10.1942, 02.02.1943 - 17.12.1943
A/Lt-Col. 18.09.1943 - 17.12.1943
T/Lt-Col. 18.12.1943 - 28.03.1945
A/Col. 29.09.1944 - 28.03.1945
A/Brig. 29.09.1944 - 28.03.1945
Official Military Career.
Educated at the Royal Military Academy.
31.08.1933. Commissioned, Royal Regiment of Artillery.
Jan 1937. Posted to 22nd Field Brigade, RA. (Shorncliffe)
Jan 1939 - 30.04.1940. 1st Regiment, Royal Horse Artillery (Bulford, UK, France)
01.05.1940 - 07.04.1941. Adjutant, 1st Regiment, R.H.A. (France, UK, Egypt)
08.04.1941 - Summer 1942. Battery Commander, 1st Regiment, R.H.A. (Tobruk, Alamein; wounded)
23.09.1943 - 26.01.1944. Commanding Officer, 92nd (Loyals) Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, R.A. (UK)
Jan 1944 - Summer 1945. C.R.A. 1st Airborne Division (UK, Arnhem [evacuated], Norway)
Summer 1945 - 11.11.1945. C.R.A. 5th Indian Infantry Division (Burma)
D.S.O. 24.02.1942. Middle East (Egypt & Libya)
D.S.O. 13.08.1942. Middle East (Egypt & Libya)
M.C. 08.07.1941. Middle East, Dec 1940-Feb 1941 (Egypt & Libya)
M.I.D. 30.12.1941. Middle East, Feb 1941-Jul 1941
M.I.D. 30.06.1942. Middle East, Jul 1941-Oct 1941
D.S.C. (US) 14.11.1947. Arnhem, Sep 1944
Freedom Cross 17.10.1946. Norway
Sources. The Royal Artillery Commemoration book 1939-45. The Gunners at Arnhem, by Peter Wilkinson, MC.
My thanks to Bob Hilton for this biography.
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