Captain Frank G. MacMillan

 

Unit : 317 (Airborne) Field Security Section, Intelligence Corps.

 

The following is Captain MacMillan's report, written in 1968, on the activities of the 317 (Airborne) Field Security Section, which he commanded, during the Normandy landings. I am indebted to his daughter, Marie-Claire Dibbern, for supplying a copy of it.

 

Abbreviations

2i/c

ADC

AG

Att

Bde

Bn

C-in-C

Comd

Comdr

Coy

Div

DZ

Fms

FS

FSO
FSP

G3

GOC

GS

GSO

HD

I

Int

IO

Lt

LZ

M/C

O of B
OC

Offr

Op

Ors

Posn

PW

Regt

RV

Sec

Tps
Tpt

Trg

Second-in-Command

Aide-de-Camp

Army Group

Attached

Brigade

Battalion

Commander-in-Chief

Command

Commander

Company

Division / Divisional

Drop Zone

Formations

Field Security

Field Security Officer

Field Security Personnel

General Staff Officer 3

General Officer Commanding

General Staff

General Staff Officer

Highland Division

Intelligence

Intelligence

Intelligence Officer

Light

Landing Zone

Motorcycle

Order of Battle

Officer Commanding

Officer

Operation

Other Ranks

Position

Prisoner of War

Regiment

Rendezvous

Section

Troops

Transport

Training

 

 

Notes for a history of 317 FS Sec (Airborne) 6th Airborne Division, in the planning of Op. OVERLORD and the assault on NORMANDY and subsequent regrouping in BULFORD, April-November 1944. By Capt. F.G. MACMILLAN, Int. Corps, sometime FSO, 6th Airborne Div, OC 317 FD Sec.

 

GLASGOW,

March 1968.

 

317 F.S. Sec (Airborne), 6th Airborne Div. During Training for and the Assault and Battle of NORMANDY, June-Aug 1944.

Sources: By Air to Battle; With the 6th Airborne Division in Normandy; Surgeon at War.

Other possible sources: FSP of 317 Sec; especially Sgt WELLS, Sgt Jean FESQ and Cpl EDWARDS. And Capt J. LOUDEN, Int Corps, Monsieur G. Gondree, Pegasus Cafe, BENOUVILLE; the former Directrice of La Maternite at BENOUVILLE; Col. GILLE (and Mme GILLE) Commander of the Resistance in CAEN who now reside in the Rue des Rosiers, CAEN.

 

1. Preamble.  I assumed Command of 317 F.S. Sec (Airborne), 6th Airborne Div at Bulford Camp about mid-April 1944. My predecessor in Command was Capt. Donald LOUDEN who went to 21st Army Group as GSO 3 I(b).

        I had previously commanded 301 F.S. Sec (HQ Sn Comd) from early February 1944; and after taking command of 317 FS Sec I still continue to fulfil a number of lecturing engagements which I had previously undertaken for Sn Comd.

 

2. Planning and Training.  When I took command of 317 Sec, plans for the invasion were far advanced (see Gen. Gale's book). I had already had a general idea of some of the special measures involved in the assault (PLUTO, swimming tanks, etc). However it was only after joining 6th Airborne Div that I was informed of the Div's target area and its relevance to the invasion as a whole.

        I was given this information at the Planning HQ of the Div on my first day of duty. I was also given the name of the Operation, OVERLORD, which was Most Secret; and the actual meaning of the Codeword was Top Secret.

        During the Planning Phase my duties as FSO were:

(a) to take my tour of duty at Planning HQ (a secluded house near Bulford);

(b) to train my Section in general military readiness - map-reading by day and night, range-practice etc, etc;

(c) to write an Appreciation of the Situation from BULFORD;

(d) to lecture on Security to all ranks of the Div and also of the Div NAAFI; as well as to all the top brass of Sn Comd area - Navy, Army, RAF, Police, Fire Service, WVS etc, etc, etc; in fact, all the major static formations in the Sn Comd area.

        One of my duties during the planning phase - especially just before the move into the concentration areas - was to destroy by fire (assisted by senior NCOs of the Planning HQ staff) all drafts and documents relating to the planning of the invasion. We did this in the garden of the Planning HQ; that is to say, I personally stood by the fire and supervised the entire burn-up.

        As a further security precaution I stationed my FS NCOs (I am ensuring that the special establishment of the Airborne FS is known to you) around the general area surrounding the Planning HQ in order to pick up and reduce to powder any fragments which might float away from the fire. In theory they should have done this without reading such fragments of paper/ashes. In fact, as I was told much later, they did pick up sufficient fragments to give them a pretty accurate picture about the Div's target area.

        The NCOs who told me this may have been exaggerating what they actually did know and may have confused what they learned at this point with the information they were given by FSO at their formal briefing for the assault.

        However that may be, two lessons are to be learned from this:

(a) there should be some form of incinerator or chemical disposal unit available in every senior HQ for their disposal and destruction of such important drafts;

(b) failing (a) and possibly even allowing for the provision I suggest in (a), FSP should be briefed before the time for the destruction of any such draft plans, maps, etc.

 

4.  I was eventually authorised by Div HQ to brief FSP on the target area. This was not long before the Div moved to the concentration areas. This allowed FSP to have sufficiently accurate knowledge of the Operation to distinguish real leakages of security information from mere rumours.

        At this time I also informed the NCOs of their personal assignments to Bdes and Bns for the assault. I kept to the previous plans of Capt LOUDEN in this matter since he knew the men better than I did. However, it is interesting to note that immediately after this briefing, every man who had been designated for the sea-borne rear party was in the queue outside my office to ask for the first "vacancy" in the event of any mishap, to any man in the assault parties. I give the distribution of FSP in the assault in the next Section of this narrative.

 

5.  During this phase, training of the Section (as distinguished from training of the individual NCOs) included participation in full Div Exercises and Exercises with lower formations and Units. (In this context see Trivia appended to this narrative).

 

Phase 2: Concentration

6.  The disposition of FSP for the assault was as follows:

2 NCOs with each Bde; FSO and 4 FSP with Div HQ, remainder of Sec, under Comd of WO 2, sea-borne rear party to be brought forward as and when shipping was available.

        The NCOs assigned to the 2 Para Bns jumped in accordance with the allocation of places in aircraft decided by Bde HQ; FSO and Div HQ group were glider-borne along with GOC and Div HQ personnel; NCOs assigned to Airlanding Bde landed with them on the evening of D-day (glider-borne). There was no option given whether we should jump or glide; we went in according to the HQ to which we were assigned for the Op.

 

7.  The FSP att to the various formations joined them in the concentration areas. At this point security of personnel was very strict. When tps had been sealed in their areas the Div op was explained to them by maps, photographs, sand-tables etc (See Gen. Gale's book re this briefing). No movement outside the concentration areas (fields adjoining the take-off airfields) except to very senior Offrs and FSP.

        FSO had a fairly wide area for patrolling area the concentration areas. FSO travelled to each concentration area each day to make contact and receive reports; this tour also included rear-party HQ which was still in Bulford.

 

8.  Immediately prior to the concentration phase (and during it), FSO had seen Bde and Bn IOs to brief them that FSP att to their formation/unit for the assault could be used at their discretion (a) for security purposes (such as interrogation etc); BUT, if there was any question of patrols or similar duties, a fighting escort must be provided for FSP; (b) as soon as was reasonably possible after the assault, all FSP must report to FSO at RANVILLE school, so that any losses could be ascertained and FSP reallocated in the light of the tactical situation and the requirements of Div and Bdes and lower units. The fact that these instructions were well founded was seen in the assault (see next section of this narrative).

 

Phase 3: The Assault

9.  For the timing of the assault, see General Gale's book. This is a brief recapitulation. D-Day was 6th June 1944. H-Hour was when the sea-borne assault was to hit the beaches, roughly 6am on 6th June. The first elements of 6th Airborne Div to land were the coup de main (glider-borne) parties which assaulted the bridges over the Orne Canal and river at approximately 00.30 hrs on 6th June; and the Independent Para Company whose duties are set out in Gen Gale's book p 78. No FSP were attached to these Units (though it should be recorded that the 2i/c of the Independent Parachute Company was a former Offr of the Int Corps).

        The first FSP in Normandy were att to the Para Bdes which jumped shortly after the coup de main parties. FSO and Div HQ FSP landed at approx 03.30 hrs.

        The Sec lost 2 NCOs on the drop; both were taken PW and survived the war (luckily so, as will be seen from the subsequent narrative - notably the matter of the episode at HEROUVILLETTE). These losses were due to aircraft missing their course; which is very understandable, given that their DZs were determined mainly by prompt sighting of river courses within seconds of crossing the French coast in darkness.

 

10.  We were lucky not to lose more FSP on the drop. However, in my view, this is a risk which has to be accepted (though whether there should be 2 NCOs att to Bdes is another matter to be decided by GS and FSO in the context of specific Ops). The fact is that the presence of FSP with the assault formations enhances the prestige of FSP with the fighting formations and tps; and this view was shared by the American Counter-Intelligence Offrs who went in with the US Airborne Divs on D-Day. We had a Conference in England after the battle and we agreed that this aspect was of great importance; and especially that the FSO should be among the Div HQ assault elements.

        However, it cannot be denied that this entails a pretty high degree of risk - as is inevitable with all Airborne personnel. One major factor to be considered is the replacement of Airborne FSP. They are pretty hard to come by; and they are generally extremely gifted linguists, whose usefulness to the Div and its formations and Units is very great. (The FSO is more expendable, in my view; because one can always get an FSO forward from other HQs if the Offr is lost in the assault; whereas the NCOs who are volunteers for airborne duties are difficult to replace).

        The risks involved are high indeed. I think I am the only Offr of the Int Staff of the Div who is not mentioned by name in Gen Gale's book (even though I was mentioned in Despatches); the reason is that I was the only Int Offr of the Div HQ staff to survive the drop and the battle without being either killed or seriously wounded (cf pp 113 and 114 of Gen Gale's book). I recap this very briefly; Major Jerry Lacoste G2(I) was seriously hurt on the drop; Capt MAX, G3(I), was in a glider which missed the proper LZ and, according to what we heard later, landed in the grounds of an enemy HQ where Capt MAX and others were killed in the first minutes of the invasion, doubtless having destroyed the various documents relating to the invasion; Capt Freddie Scholes Div IO, who took over from Major LACOSTE, was killed some 10 days after we landed (his baby daughter was born while we were in concentration areas and he never saw the child); Capt McBride, the API Offr, was killed during July.

        However, I do not see how FSP att to Airborne Divs can possibly avoid accepting the degree of risk involved in any Airborne op. The Op may be a tremendous gamble - like ARNHEM - and FSP may not manage to do anything useful at all - even if they can concentrate. On the other hand if the Op is quite amazingly successful, as the assault on NORMANDY was, by and large, is it still a considerable gamble whether FSP will not suffer considerable casualties... before they can fulfil their specialised duties. And, by and large, are they all that important in the assault elements when the situation of the Div is liable to be very fluid for the first 24 hours?

        These are factors for the GS and FSO to decide in the light of the Op being planned. However, I feel that it is very important for the status of FSP with their comrades of the Airborne formations that they should at least be represented in the assault elements; and I am sure that the FSO must be among that party; he has got to lead "from the front".

        However these pre-assault factors may be evaluated, one thing is certain. All FSP must concentrate as soon as possible after the assault at some previously determined RV if the battle situation works out generally according to plan.

 

11.  There is one fairly important historical note about the assault phase which has not been mentioned, to my knowledge, anywhere before this.

        As is known, the Proclamation that the Allied Armies had made the long-awaited assault for la liberation - and that this was the "real thing" was issued in the name of General Eisenhower. However, in view of the special situation involved in an Airborne Op, especially involving re-supply and jettison drops (see Gen Gale's book) we decided in BULFORD to reneo a special Proclamation to tell the French in our area that this was la liberation - and give instructions re leaving alone any material which might be dropped. Capt MAX, Capt. SCHOLES and myself composed this document, which the Div distributed in the name and under the authority of Gen. GALE. Some copies of this document may exist still in NORMANDY; in any event, our proclamation was certainly in circulation earlier than those of Gen. EISENHOWER and/or Gen. De GAULLE.

 

12.  The Battle and the Security Seal

From Gen GALE'S narrative it will be seen just how the general action on the battle-field differed from what had been ideally envisaged at BULFORD. However, as that narrative indicates, the main objectives of the Division were amply fulfilled, and indeed over fulfilled in the first 24-48 hours.

        This time element is very important, because the Op as planned at BULFORD had the underlying assumption that 6th Airborne would be in the line ideally for 24-48 hours; and if things didn't go to plan, for a maximum of 7 days. By this time, it was thought, I Corps would have taken CAEN and the enemy would be withdrawing beyond the SEINE; in fact 1st Airborne Div were planning to jump for the SEINE bridges as part of the general break-through.

        As can be seen from Gen GALE'S narrative, 6th Airborne (reinforced as mentioned by Gen GALE) were probably the longest-serving formation in the front line of the whole of 21st A.G. This was the decision of the C-in-C and it raised certain important questions at all levels of the formation; but I am here concerned only with the security aspects.

        It is important to emphasise how "untypical" this battle was from the accepted doctrine of the use of Airborne forces (the quick assault, the speedy reinforcement by sea-borne tps, the quick withdrawal from the line and re-forming for subsequent ops).

        However, from the security aspect this was almost an ideal op. The assault and bridgehead phases were an almost clinically-perfect "security seal".

        Since the Div, by and large, was able to secure its main objectives, viz, the bridges over the ORNE river and the Canal de CAEN, we (ie the FS Sec) had the ideal security set-up, via:

        (a) our left flank was on the sea; our rear was secured by the ORNE and the Canal; our front was held by our tps (however loosely at the start); and within our area we had to deal with a completely friendly population, which had seen very few Germans (and though these were mostly well behaved the French we glad to be rid of them).

        (b) we were able to give our own tps a completely certain security guarantee in respect of every civilian in the area we held. This was done by a very simple device planned by my predecessor, Capt LOUDEN. We called in the entire population of our bridgehead (only a few hundreds) and over stamped their French Identity Cards with a British Id stamp, over stamping this with the official stamp of 317 FS Sec, countersigned by the FSO.

        This worked perfectly, even including the few occasions when civilians made their way to CAEN without FSP authorisation - and were picked up there. (The only sanction I imposed was a personal "rocket" with the explanation that they only needed to report to FS HQ to obtain proper authorisation, since I regarded all the inhabitants of the bridgehead as reliable. This was a true statement of my views - and was justified by the events of the battle; but it also did a great deal of good to establish good relations with the population).

        One historical note emerges from this procedure. I learned from the all-highest orders of Gen. EISENHOWER'S HQ that this defacement of official French Identity Documents was quite contrary to an agreement reached between the Allied Commander and Gen de GAULLE'S Provisional Govt, which stipulated that no such interference should take place.

        From my angle (even when we learned about this agreement) I took the view that (a) the idea had been approved by my GOC and not specifically countermanded by him; (b) it was a most useful security safeguard for our tps; (c) the French population also seemed to be very reassured by this guarantee of their valid presence in our bridgehead area.

        There may even be some surviving Identity documents in our bridge-head area which still bear this historical defacement:

        I would also add the note that we did not evacuate the civilian population of the area for some considerable time, since Gen. GALE took the view that the French would probably be happier if they were not thrown out at once, despite the shelling of the enemy and various battle hazards.

        This proved to be a pretty true reading of the situation; and when eventually  we did evacuate the population to improvised camps in the area of Douvres-la-Deliverande we left a certain number of notables (or senior citizens) to keep a watch on civilian property. The leader amongst these was the old Comte de ROHAN-CHABOT and his most charming wife; and also the Maire of Le Plain who was actually English by origin - or his wife was English).

        (IN CONNECTION WITH MANY OF THESE FACTORS CONCERNING RELATIONS WITH THE CIVILIAN POPULATION I STRONGLY RECOMMEND A READING OF THE DIV NEWSPAPER - AND EVEN MORE SO, A CONTRIBUTION FROM ITS EDITOR, Mr. CHARLES STAFFORD, one of HM Inspectors of Schools, at the Ministry of Education, who now owns a cottage in RANVILLE).

 

13.  THE BATTLE, First PHASE. Two major events in the history of 317 FS Sec come into the narrative at this point:

        (a) on the initial assault a number of our tps were swanning around the area in general. In the case I now recount, some of them had captured some enemy tpt and penetrated HEROUVILLETTE village, which was in fact the HQ of a M/C Company with some elements in RANVILLE. The German Commander was a Hauptmann who seemed to have been a gallant and gentlemanly Offr later killed in an early counter-attack against our positions.

        In his Unit there were 2 low-grade Gestapo agents who had information from their HQ in Caen that British Commandos and Airborne tps were to be treated as franc-tireurs and denied rights of combatants under the GENEVA Convention. (My information came from the household with whom the Hauptmann was billeted was that he had knowledge of this Order from the Fuhrer to all Commanders and that he had decided that he would NOT communicate it to his men).

        In any event, two of our parachutists who had penetrated into HEROUVILLETTE were wounded in the action and were executed in cold blood (or better, murdered) by these two Gestapo creatures.

        I took statements from the landlady of the Hauptmann and her daughter and sent them to higher HQ. The information I sent back was to the effect that one of these German soldiers had been killed in action but that the other had been seen in a POW column. I was able to establish his name, Unit, etc.

        Some years later, in January 1948 (to the best of my recollection) I saw by accident on the front page of The People (Sunday) newspaper a small paragraph stating that this man had been hanged in HAMBURG for this was crime against our parachutists.

        (b) Quite a long time after our first assault, when the bridgehead had been really "sealed off" by the enemy reinforcing his front, a civilian was brought to FS HQ by a forward Unit. This civilian, a Frenchman, had come forward openly at first light to our sentries from the direction of the enemy lines.

        On interrogating him, FSO discovered that his documents were in perfect order, he had a perfectly "legitimate" reason for trying to reach the CAEN area, where his family lived.

        But he had not long since come from PARIS; and simply on a "hunch" FSO took him to HQ I Corps - where all his details, including his gold-fillings in his teeth, were listed on a Corps (and possibly Army) I(b) "black-list" established from an enemy agent who had been taken some days before in I Corps area. The "black list" had NOT been communicated to FSO 6th Airborne Div.

        A substantial "rocket" subsequently went to I Corps from 6th Airborne Div about this; and 317 FS Sec and the forward Unit were commended in Div orders.

        The I(a) Offrs at Div HQ were of the opinion that this agent had been infiltrated to discover whether or not 6th Airborne had been withdrawn from the line of battle; because just previously Div HQ had ordered our tps to reverse their berets to show only the black lining instead of the Airborne maroon. This may well be the explanation of this attempted infiltration; the agent admitted that the enemy had attempted to infiltrate him at various other posns along I Corps front.

        He was pretty small fry anyway; but the incident goes to show the importance of efficient staff work at all levels. I Corps I(b) Staff fell down very badly about this.

 

14.  Relations with senior HQ. I(b)

        These were minimal. We had one or two visits from reps of I Corps I(b). However as our security seal was so obviously as near 100% as could be imagined; and as the enemy seemed always to mount an artillery "stonk" on the bridges over the ORNE and the CANAL DE CAEN for the aller-er-retour trips of these Offrs, we were left largely undisturbed.

        One useful contribution was when Capt LOUDEN took over command of 317 FS Sec for 48 hours when I was hospitalised. The Sec was glad to make his acquaintance again and he met some old friends at Div HQ and elsewhere.

        This re-emphasises what I have pointed out supra-viz the need for a replacement FSO; if possible one with some Airborne training.

 

15.  Relations with Civil Affair Department

        In Normandy these were ideal. On D+1 or +2 the Div was joined by a gigantic and most affable and informed Canadian Officer. Major Fred Adams, Canadian Army, to take over Civil Affairs relationships.

        He established himself at once as a major personality in the Div and he and FSO were at once on the most cordial terms. He shared HQ with FSO and, since at that point he had no staff, tpt or personal servant, he "shared" all these essential services with FSO - with my cordial assent.

        This is essentially a matter of circumstances and personal relationships. It might not have worked so well elsewhere in a fluid battle or in the administration of a Div area in enemy territory.

        Major ADAMS continued with the Div in GERMANY and PALESTINE. He died in CANADA some ten years ago or more; so unhappily his views are not available. Anything I heard from him re the Battle of the RHINE and subsequent pursuit to the BALTIC is largely fragmentary in my memory and cannot be regarded as worthwhile evidence or considered opinion.

        In NORMANDY, Major ADAMS made some enormously commonsense decisions (backed by Gen GALE) which were at variance with the views of Allied Command - eg, when cattle were killed in fields, Major ADAMS allowed civilians to butcher it and treat it and use it themselves and/or purvey it to our tps - which they were most willing to do. He had an enormous range of practical knowledge and could deal with all kinds of technical details in the idiom of the Norman farmer population and he made a great contribution to our excellent relationship with the population.

 

16.  Relations with the Resistance

        As we were in a very rural area which rarely saw many Germans (apart from HEROUVILLETTE where the local Commander did his best to minimise the impact of the Occupation on the French) there wasn't much of a Resistance organisation locally. The most important courier was the Directrice of La Maternite at BENOUVILLE, whose job was such that she had permission from the Germans to move around the area at any time of the day or night. She was a most charming and cultivated lady; the last I heard of her she had retired to PARIS.

        The Commander of the CAEN Resistance was Commandant Gille. He was mostly in contact with I (b) I Corps and FSO 3rd British Div. However FSO 6th Airborne made pretty useful and cordial contact with him and the secretary (now his wife). Mme Gille made a special mention of FSO 6th Airborne Div in her contribution to the 10th anniversary of the invasion, in 1954, on BBC radio.

        The main usefulness to us of the CAEN Resistance was in giving us news of any of our POW whom they could identify and what had happened to them - eg, they were sometimes harboured by the Resistance; or, if wounded, smuggled into hospital and treated there. This information was communicated to Div HQ; I gathered that such information was handled very gingerly in further communications, (eg, as regards informing anxious relatives of those reported missing) so as not to compromise sources.

        We had some very useful information from the late M. BRIARD, the Maire of TOUFFREVILLE, in the early weeks of the invasion. He showed quite amazing daring and skill in moving back and forth through enemy lines until the latter really sealed us off. I was very happy to meet him again after the war. He is now dead.

        The CAEN Resistance mounted one attempt to put agents through the enemy lines after the enemy had done a complete seal of our bridgehead. I was present at the briefing of one of the agents, who didn't get much further than No Man's Land and returned at first light without accomplishing his mission. The other agent, named SPITZER, was shot by one of our sentries in the Commando sector when he also returned at first light. I had not been present at his briefing; and either he had not been informed of the pass-word of the day (which then applied only to Bde and lower Units, Div having discarded the use of pass-words rear of Bdes) or he had forgotten it. At any rate the operation was a fiasco and I regret it was undertaken.

        Sometime later FSO was informed from Corps and higher HQ that the Resistance was going to try to pass an agent into our lines who would give the code-word Je viens de la part de Napoleon-Cesar. This agent did not get through. After the war I learned from the Commander of the Resistance at BEUZEVILLE, M. Le Docteur (Veterinaire) RENOULT, that it was their Unit which had attempted this penetration. The object was to inform us that a perfectly enormous piece of enemy artillery which used to stonk us every night - though with no great success - was a railway gun which hid by day in the long railway tunnel at BEUZEVILLE; its recoil merely took it back to its "hide" in the tunnel. We should have been glad to know about this, as our fighter-bombers were searching for it pretty industriously, with understandable lack of success.

 

17.  Relations with SAARF(?)

A l/Cpl who was elderly by the age-average of the 317 FS NCOs joined us from some mysterious higher HQ during an early stage of the battle. I do not know what his HQ was, or what his mission was. I merely verified his credentials, put him on the strength for messing and other administrative purposes and left him to get on with whatever his job was. After a time he left us, having notified me that such were his orders. He was a quiet and efficient man, as far as I could judge; and he rendered me some useful first-aid service when I was wounded.

 

18.  MORALE  This subject can be treated under two general aspects: military morale (more important from my experience in NORMANDY); and civilian morale (which partly involves Civil Affairs Dept).

        (a) Military morale. There were occasional instances when problems of "morale" in the widest sense arose. I must emphasise that these circumstances must be considered in the general context in what was a very untypical Airborne Op; viz the Div being in the line for a very long time, whereas the classical doctrine of the use of Airborne tps is the drop on the targets, the holding battle till joined by the linkup tps, then the withdrawal for further assaults.

        (i) as regards FSP: Since there was not much security work to do after our first registration of civilians and in view of our ideal security "seal" it was necessary to ensure the FSP did a certain amount of patrolling West of the ORNE to pick up possible unauthorised "emigres" from our bridgehead to rear areas, especially CAEN.

        Again, the nightly shelling by the enemy was wearisome to the FSP, as it was for all Div tps. As a counter-irritant I laid on some barrack-style inspections am, and pm, to "smarten them up". These were far from popular (I could hear some comments!!); but I was encouraged to find that Gen. GALE made a general Div Order to the same effect ostensibly (I suppose) to prevent general "scruffiness" in turn-out, but certainly also to keep the tps looking and feeling that, battle or no battle, they still had to be a corps d'elite. And it worked: (Lovat's Commandoes were always impeccable, even after some of the battles described in Gen GALE'S book, especially the crucial assault on BREVILLE and its environs).

        (ii) Still on FSP, though this may have relation to other tps. One of my senior NCOs was badly hurt on the drop, and was evacuated to ENGLAND within 48 hours. His great anxiety was that he should be kept on the nominal roll which 317 Sec made regularly for personnel whom he wished to be re-posted to the Unit when passed fit for duty. I faithfully kept this agreement; though, after I was incapacitated in November 1964 I do not know whether or not he was actually posted back to 317 Sec.

        However, for what my views are worth, I had decided that this NCO would never again jump in an assault while I was in command, because he had already jumped in North Africa, Sicily and Normandy; and I was concerned that if he had to face another jump he might refuse and blemish a brilliant record. (This may be an unrealistic evaluation of this particular NCO'S courage and endurance; but it was my firm resolution that he would not be exposed to any chance of a refusal to jump and that he would form part of the seaborne party in the next battle. Whether he would have been fit to rejoin us in time, and whether I would have been steel-willed enough to give him such an order are things which I never had to decide in reality). But I do feel that all Commanders of Airborne Fms and Units should consider this morale aspect. It may not necessarily arise so acutely in the constituent combat Unit of the Div; but FSP are very likely to be "special targets" for enemy interrogation (and must know this). I would be of the opinion that a sensible FSO should decide on his assault groups taking into account the previous assault jumps of his FSP.

        (iii) One other aspect of FSP morale in the context of this odd battle: As the Div's stay in the line continued for an inordinate time by the concept of Airborne ops, Gen GALE laid on a "rest-camp" to which Div tps went in rotation (when there were reserves to cover the front). FSO sent FSP NCOs to these areas (in the exiguous "rear" area of I Corps) for 48 hours in batches of 2. FSO's only "break" was 48 hours of hospitalisation. In the event of a prolonged battle this aspect needs consideration - not forgetting some relief for the FSO (which will be readily forgotten by I(b) at higher HQ, in my experience). (I'm not sure what Div HQ Offrs did in these circumstances; certainly the GOC and GSO 1 were "ever-presents"; but, as I have mentioned, every Offr on the original I-Staff apart from the FSO was either killed, lost or wounded in the first minutes-day-months of the battle; and that is not exactly the kind of "relief" which should be taken for granted in normal planning of an Op. However, my reflections at this point are concerned with the FS Sec - and the FSO).

        (b) Morale of own Tps. Once or twice in NORMANDY FSO ran across cases where the morale (in the widest sense) of our own tps was affected by enemy shelling and mortaring night after night, which is very wearing, of course. There always seemed to ensue a suspicion that some of this enemy action was due to the civilian population communicating in mysterious ways with the enemy. (In hostile territory, of course, this would be a major security hazard). In NORMANDY only a very few such incidents had to be coped with by FSO and are mentioned here as examples of the general field of FSP responsibility.

        (i) On one occasion our Lt Armoured Regt had been pretty heavily mortared during one night and a report was passed to FSP that it was thought that 2 civilians had been seen heading for the enemy lines on the previous evening. These civilians were easily identifiable because they were wearing the white helmets of the Vichy-French ARP services and they had been doing useful work for us in the bridgehead zone.

        On receipt of this report, FSO had them picked up (they were still where we expected to find them); and fortunately the local garde-champetre was able to vouch for them and their families (they were natives of CAEN) so the security angle was cleared.

        It was just about this stage in the battle that Gen GALE authorised the Civil Affairs Offr (Major ADAMS) to clear the bridgehead of civilians, apart from some persons who were retained to safeguard the property and habitations of the local population. As I have mentioned, the key figures in the "civilian morale" evacuation were people like the old Comte de Rohan-Chabot and the various Maries of Le Plain, Breville, Salenalles, etc. (When I write "people like" the old Comte de Rohan-Chabot, it is merely because language won't stand up to describing such persons. He was a magnificent old man, with a perfectly wonderful wife; for further testimony consult Gen. GALE and Brigadier POETT).

        Anyway, all this happened at a time when we had decided to clear the civilian population; they were by this time happy to go; and their evacuation helped the morale of our tps and especially the HD.

        (ii) On one or two other occasions FSO had reports from forward Bns and Coys re suspected "light" signals emanating from civilian dwellings in forward areas towards the enemy lines. I must confess that my confidence in our vetting of the population was so cast-iron that I did not seriously entertain any such possibility. However the morale aspect was important in these reports; so FSO personally went forward to the location whence the reports emanated and suggested that FSO and the Bn IO or some other Offr should carry out an observation patrol into no man's-land and observe for any suspicious developments.

        Two reflections arise (in my view):

        (a) the security aspect, in friendly territory, can be regarded as negligible (though one must keep an open mind about possible real hazards) - provided FSP have done a thorough job of vetting in advance;

        (b) however, the morale angle is of paramount importance; and in my view, it should be the FSO who undertakes any such tasks - because the original reports will come through normal channels, viz, Coy Commander, Bn IO, Bn. Commander - and it is no good at all to send out a NCO to cope with such a situation; for, if a patrol into no-man's-land is envisaged (and I can't see any practical way of dealing with such reports) the Bn Commander and his Offrs are much more competent to do this than a FS NCO. Whereas the FSO has normally equal status with his brother-Offr on the patrol and has more advanced training than his NCOs; therefore his findings are liable to be given more weight.

        (iii) Relations with other Fms. One of the Fms which came into our bridge-head to reinforce us was the 51st (Highland) Div, of which one and occasionally two Bdes were in our area. (The senior Commander in the entire area was always Gen GALE - and this face was important). 317 FS Sec continued to exercise security surveillance in the whole area for all Fms and Units.

        As soon as the HD units appeared in "our" bridgehead area, the place became plastered with signs "HD" at cross-roads, road junctions, HQs, etc, etc. This was perfectly sensible; but for some reason our Airborne tps seemed to think it funny to add +2 to the HD sign (HD+2), presumably to indicate that 6th Airborne had been there since D-Day, and indeed H-hour minus 6!!

        Of course, the HD had been "otherwise engaged" until they were ordered into give us some much-needed support; and they did some bloody and brilliant fighting, especially in assaulting on 2 successive nights the heights of COLOMBELLES.

        FSO was of the opinion that, though one could understand a certain amount of rivalry and indeed "needle" between corps d'elite, this kind of graffiti and some talk which went along with it (even from our own Offrs) constituted a morale hazard in the wide sense. Hence I reported this to GSO 1, Lt-Col BRAY, who presumably took the same view, because immediately afterwards Gen GALE issued a Div Order commanding that any such talk would cease forthwith - and adding that anyone who wished to appreciate the fighting qualities of our near neighbours should visit a certain hill feature which had been taken by the HD (to our immense relief!).

        I think the importance of this incident was that such an able GSO L (Lt-Col BRAY, now Sir Robert N.H.C., KCB, CBE, DSO, C-in-C Allied Forces North Europe) took it seriously enough to report to Gen GALE, who also gave it sufficient weight to make it the subject of a Div Order. At any rate it showed the FSP were giving thought to every security aspect of the battle and were keeping Div HQ properly informed on the I(b) side.

        (c) Civilian Morale. By and large, this was excellent - as will be clear from previous references. This state of affairs was mainly due to the presence of the Comte and Comte de Rohan-Chabet and most of the other Maires in the locality. They all steadied the civilian population splendidly and when eventually we decided to evacuate the civilians (mainly because rear areas could by them accommodate them) these personalities remained behind to represent civilian matters.

        A quite brilliant morale-boosting propaganda job was undertaken fairly early in the battle, once 21st Army Group had landed a pretty gigantic arsenal of all sorts of weapons. At this distance of time I do not recall whether or not it was something dreamed up by Major Fred ADAMS at Div level or came from superior HQ on the Civil Affairs side.

        At any rate, all the Maires in our area were invited on a certain day to travel to BAYEUX, where Gen de GAULLE had established his first Prefecture on French soil, ostensibly to make contact with the Pre fet; which they duly did.

        On the way they were able to observe the enormous concentrations of men and material which by now were building-up in preparation for the killing battle and subsequent break-through; and on their return they were able to tell the civilian population what they had seen (which was anyway a mere fraction of the picture) and thus really reassure the French civilians that there could be no possible doubt about the success of the invasion.

        Whether this was also done in other areas of the Allied bridgehead I don't know; probably it was because Gen de GAULLE would doubtless want to ensure that all the civilian authorities should make contact with his representative at once. At any rate the trip by the Maires was a major morale-booster in our 6th Airborne bridgehead.

        This major boost should be seen against the background of really excellent relationships with FSP and CA established with the population. The morale aspect of the civilian population was never a problem once we had done our initial verifying of Identity Cards and over stamping thereof; this reassured our own tps and also the population who knew that they could at once establish their bona-fides anywhere in the entire 21st A.G. bridgehead (even in areas where they had not received clearance to go to!)

        I reiterate that this check on identity cards was possible only in a small area and with a comparatively restricted population; but it was an absolute winner in NORMANDY, and all credit for thinking about it must go to my predecessor Capt. LOUDEN and the I. Offrs of Div HQ - all of whom, apart from Major LACOSTE, were killed in the battle.

 

19.  Honours and Awards. Some time before the Break-out and Pursuit Battle, I was visited by one of the GS from Div HQ asking for my recommendations by name or Ors of the Sec who, in my opinion, should be considered for Mentioned in Despatches. I nominated three NCOs (having in mind to nominate others in subsequent Awards).

        As things turned out, 2 Mentions in Despatches were awarded to the Unit; one was awarded to the FSO and the other to Sgt Jean FESQ (if I remember accurately).

        I express no opinion as to the award to FSO; but I feel that the FS Sec might have been treated more generously in Mentions in Despatches.

        However, despite the impressive list of Honours and Awards personally bestowed in the field by the C-in-C, Field-Marshal Montgomery (see Gen GALE's book re this), the Div as a whole was pretty fed-up that Gen GALE was awarded the DSO whereas pretty well every Div Commander in the invasion (apart from the assault) was awarded the CB - that is, so far as we could judge in the rather hectic conditions of battle, when we could not sit down and computerise such matters.

        I mention this especially because the greatest security asset the Div possessed in every aspect, but especially that of morale, was Gen GALE.

        He must have been one of the very few Generals who was awarded the DSO for (apart from magnificent leadership) actually being in the very front line and shooting it out against the enemy in probably our most critical action in the early days.

        Apart from that battle (fought by the Devons), Gen GALE had an infallible "nose" for where the next engagement was likely to take place. Because wherever I turned up to visit a Unit I could be certain that Gen GALE's jeep, with its Div Comdr's pennant was there ahead of me. And that always meant that trouble was breaking out right there and then.

        I may add that I never saw the Gen in his jeep at such times; he and his ADC were always somewhere among the troops; and, I suspect, doing a lot of front-line shooting. On this same point, I think that Gen GALE mentions in his book how pleased he was on landing in NORMANDY to find that things had gone pretty well as planned - though with much-depleted numbers in many Units; and how he and Brigadier POETT discussed the situation together.

        What he doesn't mention (I think) is that they were discussing things in general when the enemy were mounting their first artillery "stonk" on the bridges over the ORNE river CANAL; and Gen GALE and Brig POETT walked quietly back and forth talking things over when the tps had been (properly) ordered to get their heads down.

        For the exact details of this incident one would have to check with Gen GALE and Brig POETT. I can only vouch for that fact that the tps (and Offrs) used to refer to it with admiring awe in terms like "You'd 'ave thought they were on a bloody Exercise!".

        There is another aspect of the Gen GALE's quite fantastic contribution to the morale of the Div. He mentions in his book that he wrote personally to the relatives of every man killed in the battle.

        This I know (as did everyone on the Div HQ staff) to be absolutely true - and how he did this and also direct the battle so brilliantly only he and his Brigadiers and his GSO 1 know!

        But what he doesn't mention (and probably few people know) is that he tried as often as possible to be "around" when the bodies of our men were being interred. Many times I saw him at our little cemetery in RANVILLE meditating while his soldiers were being laid to rest.

        These things got around the Div and the effect on morale was fantastic.

        And, naturally, he was known to the tps as "Windy" Gale! A last word about Gen GALE's fantastic influence on the Div before the assault he assembled all Offrs of the Div to explain in general terms the Div's assignment; and he left nobody in any doubt just what he expected from us. His exact phrasing ran something as follows: "When I'm training a pony for a race I nurse it and I won't let anyone lay a whip near it. But when it's in the race and I give it the whip then I get all I want from it."

        It bucked up the Offrs no end; and maybe I was the only chap who thought later that what the blazes were we so bucked about - we were the pony! But Gen GALE never had to use the whip on 6th Airborne Div. That pony ran and ran and ran: specifically from the ORNE to the SEINE; and then from the RHINE to the BALTIC.

 

20.  THE BREAK-OUT AND PURSUIT BATTLE.

        This Phase of the Battle was tremendously exciting and exhilarating from the morale angle; all the details are in Gen GALE's book.

        From the security angle it was fairly unimportant - that is in the context of our Div. Just as we had evacuated the civilian population, so too had the enemy from nearly all important centres of population. Since this was very much a "main-road" phase of the battle (apart from towns with bridges over rivers - eg, Pont l'Eveque which the enemy always defended to gain time for his retreat), one sometimes came across peasants quietly gathering in the harvest and letting the war rush past them!

        However, back to security: the position was pretty well clinically ideal. Our left flank was on the Channel; the enemy had cleared out the civilian population to rear areas; our right was protected by other Fms advancing in conjunction with us.

        It was only when we got to BEUZEVILLE-DEAUVILLE-TROUVILLE area - and up to the SEINE, that any security aspect emerged. We did not entertain the idea of the overstamping of Identity Cards (a) because it was an open secret that the Div was due for imminent recall to ENGLAND; (b) we hadn't the manpower to do that job - and it would probably have antagonised a rapturously welcoming population.

        I kept the Sec more or less concentrated at BEUZEVILLE, making my HQ in the Mairie there; but I did send out NCOs to the Bdes to which they were normally attached.

        The main problem which FSP had to deal with in the short time Div was in this area was the business of the Resistance people doing a bit of head-shaving of females who had practiced la collaboration horizontale with the Germany soldiery.

        This nonsense was considered absolutely revolting by our own tps and it was drawn to my attention first in BEUZEVILLE by FSP and the 9th Parachute Bn. I made a pretty vehement speech about this and ordered that it would cease at once - with the complete authority of the OC 9th Bn and later Gen GALE. And it ceased. I know this was much appreciated by the decent elements in the town - including the Commander of the Resistance - who thanked me then and on subsequent post-war visits.

        I also made a similarly vehement speech both in private to the Resistance people in Deauville-Trouville and in public from the steps of the Hotel de Ville. I was particularly perturbed in this place because my original report from my NCO was that they were not simply shaving these females but also branding them! This brought him to FS HQ in a lather of disgust - and caused FSO to go hell for leather for DEAUVILLE-TROUVILLE. As it happened, the "branding" was, I gathered, to be done (if at all) by burnt cork on top of the shaven skulls! Anyway, the important thing in these episodes is that the reports on which FSO acted emanated from FSP and the ordinary fighting tps. In fact, I am quite sure that it was because I stressed the disgust of our tps - les liberateurs - for these repugnant practices that they ceased so abruptly.

        However, one again FSP and FSO acted and were very evidently seen to act rapidly and effectively. An important aspect of FSP work, since so much of it has to be done without being seen or - even more important - suspected.

 

21.  PHASE 5: RETURN TO ENGLAND and PREPARATION FOR RHINE BATTLE.

        After about 8 days in the BEUZEVILLE-DEAUVILLE area, 6th Airborne Div was withdrawn from the line and transported to ENGLAND.

        I had been informed by GSO 1 I(b) 21 A.G. that our next assignment was likely to be the Battle for the RHINE crossings. On our return to ENGLAND there was a short spell of leave for all ranks in the Sec. After this FSO embarked on much the same course of trg in map-reading by day and night, range-firing and other normal military trg.

        There was nothing very notable at this stage - as far as the Sec was concerned - except that we found that out of our small numbers we had the best Soccer XI in the whole Div.

        FSO was early in the position of knowing what was the (then) plan for the Battle of the RHINE crossings. It seemed to me a perfectly impossible plan; in any event it was NOT that which was finally adopted and implemented.

        However, long before this, in early November 1944, FSO was seriously injured in a M/C accident and ended the war in hospital a week after completing a parachute jump in an Exercise. I gathered later from Major ADAMS and one or two of my NCOs that our Div had been relatively lucky in its participation in the Winter-ARDENNES counter-offensive by Von RUNDSTEDT, but that it had been pretty unlucky in the RHINE drop, in which (I was told) many of our gliders hit live high-tension cables.

        I mention these things because one of the main sources of my information - Major ADAMS - is now dead; and it may be worthwhile pursuing supplementary information from other sources.

 

22.  SUPPLEMENTARY SOURCES.

        Since beginning this long narrative, I have run across a letter from Sgt W. WELLS which gives some information about other members of 317 FS Sec. Sgt WELLS wrote to me (in 1950!) from 25, Downs View Rd, SWINDON, WILTS. He was then in contact with Cpl VEROFT, Cpl Thompson, Cpl KERSHAW, Cpl HORNBY and Cpl EDWARDS.

        Sgt WELLS was (and still is) a Civil Servant. He was a most efficient NCO who ran the office side of the Unit admirably and with a dead-pan sense of humour which I relished - sometimes wryly! He was also the Unit's centre-half when we got back to England and discovered that we could on anything the Div could put against us.

 

   SOME BACKGROUND TRIVIA TO THE NARRATIVE

 

23.  Training Phase

        Somewhere in the publications concerning the 6th Div's Op in NORMANDY there occurs a story which made newspaper headlines when it was published after the war from official sources.

        It concerned an Exercise carried out by 9th Para Bn in a rehearsal for their attack on the MERVILLE battery. Naturally the tps, the subalterns of the 9th Bn, and even FSP were still unaware of the relevance of the Exercise to Op OVERLORD.

        It was decided to stage a "security exercise" in connection with the Bn Exercise (partly to make those engaged in the "rehearsal" imagine that security was possibly the major reason for the Exercise).

        The Offrs and tps (and FSP) were told that a number of attractive young women from the various Services would be "infiltrated" into their area and would attempt to gain information of a security nature - isolated trivialities which, gathered by an enemy I-Staff, could give a fairly accurate picture of the objectives of the Exercise.

        The post-war newspaper stories (following the official account which was released) gave great praise to the security mindedness of all ranks of the 9th Bn, who divulged not one item of information to these glamorous Mata Haris.

        This wasn't because they weren't glamorous enough - they were! Unhappily, the tpt which had been laid on to take the girls to the Exercise area didn't turn up - so the lassies never got into action at all.

        However, no doubt they were glad enough to get into civvies officially (for once in a while); and doubtless the Offrs and men of the Bn had some amusement watching out for glamorous "enemy agents".

 

24.  The Operation

        (i) This triviality again concerns the Press. The Div had excellent Press and radio coverage in the first Days of the Op. The late Chester WILMOT of the BBC was the radio Correspondent; and apart from his excellent reporting he was kind enough to undertake to phone relatives of the various Offrs and tps with whom he had been in contact to assure them that their fighting men were well and in good heart; which mission he duly fulfilled. Another very gallant reporter was the Correspondent of the Daily Mirror who jumped with the 9th Bn for the assault on the MERVILLE battery and lost his life in the action.

        So much for the background of the Div Op itself; now for the triviality. Possibly 2 or 3 days after the assault, FSO 6th Airborne Div decided that it was maybe time to make contact with I(b) Staff, I Corps; which I duly did. However, as I was swanning around the HQ area, a newspaper Correspondent spotted my red beret and asked me how the 6th Div assault had gone. (There was no security risk involved in this, since 6th Airborne had been identified by the BBC broadcasts as the assault Fm from 6 am on D-Day.)

        I told this Correspondent that the assault had gone very well indeed - "We caught the Hun with his trousers down". He asked me if he might quote my name for the story. I replied that there was no security risk about the story - but that it would seem odd that the FSO of the Div was going around giving casual newspaper interviews!

        So the story appeared from a "non-attributed" source. From what I learnt later, it went over big in the British and world Press and I have seen occasional comments that both ROMMEL and HITLER were very angry about it. Well they might be; for ROMMEL had been in our assault area only a few days before, observing a defence Exercise. And we know now that HITLER had refused to let him call up reserves of Panzers till it was too late to incommode our invasion build-up.

        (ii) I have mentioned that the BBC broadcast identified us right from its first broadcast on 6th June. "This is D-Day. Just after midnight, troops of the British 6th Airborne Division began dropping in NORMANDY".

        Before the invasion I had done a lot of lecturing to various tps of the Div, static Fms and top brass of all organisations which necessarily had to have some knowledge of the various gigantic preparations.

        In these lectures (which were intended to assist these very senior people to issue Memos which would be useful to their subordinates for security lectures to the rank and file) I was accustomed to give the easily understood example of how an enemy agent could pick up a pretty accurate Order of Battle merely by observing Div flashes in embarkation ports, or concentration areas. Moral: it might be that Div flashes would be concealed at least in the early stages of an invasion.

        In fact the C-in-C decided that the morale aspect was far more important than the negative security angle, viz, that the tps would be far more stimulated by displaying their Div flashes - many of whom the enemy had good reason to respect and fear. (In any case, the enemy's competent I-Staff could probably have given a pretty accurate idea of the Divs that the C-in-C would be using in the assault - especially when such renowned Fms as the 50th and 51st Divs had "disappeared" from the O of B in the Italian campaign!)

        (iii) Another example which I used in my lectures was aimed at giving confidence to sentries to challenge anyone approaching their post, and scrutinise their identification intelligently, no matter what their (apparent) rank.

        I used to illustrate this as follows: "No matter how short a time you have been in the Service, you all know that a Padre has always three pips up; so if you run across a "Padre" with only two pips up you put him straight in the guard-house." This generally raised a smirk from the soldiery - and the point of the illustration went home. Excellent lecturing technique!

        However, one hot day in RANVILLE, NORMANDY, I was hailed with a very large "hello" by a friend of mine of University days. He was in the 51st HD. He was wearing two pips - and a dog collar! I enquired of him about this interesting innovation in military attire. It emerged that he had been recognised by the Church of Scotland as a Padre, since he had done some years of theological training for the Ministry before the war (which I knew); but as he had also been in the OTC he had had the choice of continuing his theological studies or opting to take a Commission as a combat Offr. He had opted for the latter and had been with the 51st HD for a long time, but now he had switched to his chosen career in the Ministry - since the Church of Scotland had now decided that people in his position could do so.

        All that was required to regularise his position as regards rank was for the War Office to amend his status and transfer him to the Chaplain-General's department.

        Simple when you come to think about it. That's the way life goes.

        Alas for SECURITY, that Impregnable Goddess!

        In conclusion, and with particular reference to the above example - in FSP work, never be sure of anything.

        Or, to quote the concluding stanza on the Mandrill (or Blue-Behinded Ape):

        There must, indeed there cannot fail

        To be a moral to this tale!

        Let others solve the cryptograph;

        Me, I'm content to laff and laff.

 

FRANK MACMILLAN (Capt. Ret. List)

Sometime FSO 6th Airborne Division,

Sometime OC 317 FS Sec. (Airborne)*

 

* Airborne? Why not (Para), as with 89 FS Parachute Sec. The only man we had in the Sec when I took Command who was not a Parachutist was only in that status because he had suffered a spinal injury (I think) on a jump. He was entitled to wear the Para "wings"; and he was most anxious to be reclassified as fit for duty as a Parachutist.

 

Just one query: one of those thoughts that occur in the night about Army nomenclature.

 

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