Unit : 13th/18th Royal Hussars
31st May 1944
Moved from Petworth to marshalling camp A7. Road convoy by craft loads, went well, no accidents, turn-out and march discipline very good. Marshalling camp typical and food bloody, particularly for the Officers. However, had the office truck and Mason which improved things in the comfort line. [Mason was my soldier servant, on the establishment at this time, one per officer. He was splendid and immensely loyal, but almost completely silent and clinically shy. He was with me virtually all the time I was in the regiment and one of my great regrets is not having kept in touch with him. This was not for want of trying, he once sent me - out of the blue - a photo of himself and his wife and child, but never sent an address. He lived in Wigan.]
Another day's marshalling, i.e. nothing to do. Spent the time largely in tearing up paper. The Brigadier came round and told us the bombing was going well.
Marshalling again. Spent my time in marking up operation maps. Great difficulty in preventing others from seeing; but Sim Feversham, Peter Jury and I managed to get most of our map markings done.
Embarkation day. Time of leaving marshalling camp changed about twenty times, resulting in little sleep. We got on board at about 1200 hours. Trouble towing the Porpoises, and chaos on the roads through Portsmouth and Gosport. Our craft turned out to be overloaded and we had to return in the afternoon and off-load two tanks.
Operation postponed for 24 hours. Sat about on board with nothing to do, the weather was foul. Played cards; very dirty ship and rather a dull skipper.
Sailed for France. We slipped at about 13.30 hrs. Very rough and felt ill and in no form for the beach fight. Still felt like another exercise. We had no enemy interference during the passage.
D-Day for Operation Overlord - Bigot - Neptune. Landed at H + 45 (0830). Made our way inland from Ouistreham to Hermanville. Enemy 'hedgehogs' were encountered for the most part but there were reports of tanks in the evening. Regimental casualties were relatively light in personnel but very heavy in vehicles.
Defensive position taken up in Hermanville facing west to counter a reported Panzer threat. Nothing developed. [During the morning Peter Jury and I were sitting outside my tank seriously discussing something or other when the w/t operator sitting on Peter's tank and cleaning his sten gun let it off and a stream of bullets went between us. This was a very near miss! The prisoners mentioned below we had heard bleating in the dark to one another obviously lost and crying 'Rudi' or 'Hans' at intervals.] Then later a panic move to the bridge at Benouville and Ranville to assist the Airborne Division who said that Panther and Tiger tanks had broken through them. Again nothing developed. Rumours of insecurity on the right flank also came to nothing. We were sniped at (and bombed) in harbour during the night and subsequently captured three prisoners.
Defence of the bridge became our responsibility. Later we were told to be prepared to support the Stafford Yeomanry in their attack on the Hedgehog 'Vermouth', north of Caen. This, however, did not come off; and consequently we remained all day by the bridge. [Now known even on maps as 'Pegasus Bridge' after the Airborne Division's badge.] The general position is now more stabilised and the 3rd Division front seems to have drawn most of the fire, leaving the rest of 30 Corps to manoeuvre.
Look like remaining here all day. Captured two prisoners amongst the gliders. 9th Infantry Brigade and the East Riding Yeomanry are to launch a co-ordinated attack on Le Contest. There will be full support from artillery and naval guns. The attack was only partially successful against very heavy opposition. Another flap on the bridge which the Gordons now hold, again it came to nothing.
A great deal of enemy air activity and bombing since yesterday afternoon. It culminated in four bombs 20 yards from our tanks under which we were sleeping at 0530 hrs this morning. Brigadier arrived and laid on for 'B' Squadron to fight an action east of the river. We went over and formed up and attacked at 1600 hrs. supporting a battalion of the Airborne Division. The attack was extremely successful but we were heavily shot up from the left flank and four Shermans and two Stuarts were set on fire and destroyed. Coming back we had a fairly exciting time and were unpleasantly mortared when our tank broke down temporarily.
All objectives in yesterday's attack were captured and there were 300 Boche killed or wounded. 'A', 'C' and RHQ were moved to the Perrier le Dan feature to watch for enemy movement. There was a flap at 1000 hrs. when Rommel was reported to be putting in a two point counter attack to recapture Ouistreham and prevent us from using it as a port. 'B' Squadron were ordered to the other side of the river again. It all came to nothing and was very quiet.
'B' Squadron still in position. 'A', 'C' and RHQ moved off the crest of the feature about 500 yards to the rear into reserve. [This was particularly welcome because of the appalling stench of dead cows all over the ridge killed in the preliminary bombing before the Airborne landed, after 48hrs within a few feet of several we had all had more than enough!] At about midday 'A' Squadron moved over to join 'B' Squadron at the other side of the river; later at 1700 hrs. 'C' and RHQ followed, halting on the way in Benouville. 'A' and 'B' Squadrons were both involved in separate attacks with the Airborne Division. 'A' Squadron on the 'Breville Gap' and 'B' Squadron to the right of this. Both were successful. 'A' lost nil and 'B' three. We were bombed fairly heavily during the night. Caen was being bombed by the RAF and shelled by the Army and the Navy all night. [The Navy's contribution came from the monitor HMS Lord Roberts; they pumped huge shells more or less all night right over us who were about halfway between them and their target, Caen.]
A quiet morning. Troop of 'A' Squadron still up in Breville. Shelled off and on all the morning, just missed our soft transport. Very little enemy activity till the evening when following allied air attacks south of Caen the beachhead was liberally bombed.
Still no move and still troop detached in Breville. Dumps of petrol and ammunition being built up this side of the river in case the bridges are blown. Tom Welstead, Godfrey Stewart and Scabbard (Major E. S. Sword) turned up from the Airborne Tank Squadron. Went round to Airborne Division HQ to discuss the situation and our counter-attack role, which is to fall right back to the high ground surrounding the bridges. Gen. Gale accompanied us on our own reconnaissance: he is just like Fred Emney. [On arrival at his HQ in a country chateau he was having lunch but took us out through the house to the conservatory, climbed on a chair and opened one of the windows, whereupon a hail of bullets came from the woods some 200 yards away. That he announced was the nuisance he wanted us to get rid of!] We were heavily shelled late in the evening and 5 men of 'A' Squadron were wounded. Less activity however that night.
'B' and 'C' Squadron moved into prepared and static positions covering the approaches to the bridges. Stayed inside the regimental lines all day and did office work! Mike Aird came round and explained that a big attack west of the river was contemplated for Saturday (17th), with maximum bomber support. Shelled rather unpleasantly.
This has been a thoroughly bad day. This morning Dick Harrap was killed in his jeep. A German counter-attack started at 0430 hrs this morning and the whole area was heavily shelled. The attack got no further than Herouvillette, and a troop of 'A' Squadron was sent to support our counter attack, and was subsequently cut off. Dick was on a recce with the Infantry Brigadier organising the party and came round a corner to meet a German Mark IV tank. Brig. P.P. arrived with this bitter piece of news. He told us also that tomorrow's big attack is cancelled having been first on and then off about five times.
Sim Feversham has taken over command with Dag (Major A. A. K. Rugge Price) as second-in-command. Peter Lyon is in charge of 'B' for the time being. We still await the great German counter-attack and are all ready for it, I hope! No shelling today which is pleasantly surprising. The 'A' Squadron troop was successfully evacuated this afternoon. There is great gloom about poor Dick who was buried today at Hermanville. More Boche reinforcements reported - perhaps the attack will come tomorrow. No plan for the resumption of our attack yet. Had a bath! Quiet night, very little bombing and no attack developed after all.
Went up to the echelon to see the Delivery Squadron and laid replacements. Little activity. Big regrouping plans this p.m. and now the Regiment less 'A' Squadron is under command 51st (Highland) Division. 'B' Squadron remains with the Airborne. 'C' Squadron moved into their position with 155 Brigade, having a troop with each Battalion (2 Battalion Gordons and 5 Black Watch). A certain amount of shelling this evening. Reports of an attack by the Boche on Breville but nothing materialised.
CO went on recce at 0300 hrs. for 'B' Squadron op. in the afternoon which was later cancelled. Vile day pouring rain and cold. All yesterday's plans about regrouping of Airborne and Highland Divisions cancelled. Gen. Bullen Smith called and confirmed this. Hence quiet morning. Own Brigade held a big 'post mortem' conference in the 'Hillman' position this afternoon. Patrol activity. Quiet night. Two letters from home. No big plans pending for the moment. Little shelling.
Bit better day. Conference at HQ 152 to lay on an attack on Thurs. (22nd) on St. Honorine La Chardonerette. 'A' Squadron are to support 5 Cameron. 'B' may also help if 6 Airborne release. 'C' still in support of 153 Brigade around Le Mesnil. RHQ are still static, trying to construct a dug-in command post. St. H attack now off for 24 hours and 'B' Squadron now definitely involved. Gives a bit more time for reconnaissance. Sim went off to conference at 152 and on to see P.P. Quiet night, a few shells.
Everything very quiet and everyone recce-ing hard for the forthcoming battle. Now rumours of other big actions which should come off at the end of the week if the weather improves and helps the shipping position. Office moved into the dug-out. All squadrons in the same positions, very little shelling.
Moved at 0400 hrs. to Command post overlooking St. H. 5 Camerons crossed the startline at 0300 hrs. to attack the village silently. 'A' Squadron behind was to move into preselected positions by 0440 hrs. 'B' and two troops and HQ of 'C' were to move to positions on the flank N and NE. On the right was a troop of 'A' Squadron with the 2nd Seaforths in Longueval. 5 Camerons failed initially to get into the village and 'A' Squadron had to come forward and take the village themselves without infantry. This they successfully did and got into position without loss by 0530 hrs. There was a considerable amount of mortaring and shelling on the village and approaches, and the Command post was properly stonked. The infantry were eventually persuaded into the village but due to very well concealed cross-fire from MGs and Spandaus they had suffered about 160 casualties. Sim Feversham who went ahead to 152 Brigade Command post to watch the infantry attack with the Brigadier saw numbers of them coming back wounded and it was apparently a pretty sorry sight. Whole operation was planned to withstand the counterattack and self-propelled guns and Sappers were with the 5 Camerons for this purpose and 'B' and 'C' Squadrons were reported to be coming in from the NW while mopping-up operations were still going on. These had to be vigorously pursued, with some difficulty, till armour started to move about 1100 hrs. Two woods N & S of the village were not held by any infantry, and snipers bothered the tanks a certain amount. Tanks were first reported by Tac. R moving west to Caen from Troan and then turning N towards us. This was later confirmed by an observation post of ours - John Wardlaw in a tree with a wireless jeep south of Escoville - who saw them moving NE from Cuverville and reported first 20 then 30 then 35, and then another 8; I think 43 was the most, and this included all types and self-propelled guns. All then halted in line-ahead behind the ridge in front of us. They then turned westwards and moved NW for St. H-la-C, and as the leading tanks came into sight 'A' Squadron opened up hard and managed to get in some quick shooting - the SPs never opened fire. The leading two tanks were knocked out as also were some half-tracks that came into view as well. It was about this stage that the medium artillery was turned onto them and they halted. This was a pity as what might have been a first-class shoot for us from concealed positions was severely curtailed by this fire although it knocked out seven. The tanks then split into two halves, 14 retired E to hull-down positions facing W just below a troop of 'C' Squadron (Roddy Norris) who managed to bag two on their way. The remainder turned N and gave 'A' Squadron a magnificent shoot; it was estimated that they got another eight. Sgt. Cooper certainly got 4 with his Firefly, Spencer's troop got another 2, and Derrick himself one and possibly another. 'B' Squadron also got a shoot at long range, killing one. We suffered no casualties of men or vehicles. The enemy then turned away S to behind a ridge and tried to join up with the others by going E along the ridge. Air attack by Typhoons was then asked for and promised for 1215 i.e. in half an hour. In the meantime the whole battle had been carried out under intense artillery fire from both sides, St. H and the Command post were heavily plastered and 'B' Squadron got a lot as well, however the enemy tanks got most of it and certainly had it hot and strong. When the Typhoons arrived they fairly plastered the enemy tanks with rocket and machine gun fire, their crews having dismounted into the open. Results could not be observed but the attack was in three waves and most impressive. Not much else occurred except for artillery and mortar fire which hardly ceased, and calls for artillery support on prepared programmes continued. We remained in position all day till 2300 hrs. when I went off with Sim to give out the next day's orders and meet our own Brigadier. Was in my tank for a total of 18 hours today with only two breaks - essential to nature - very exhausting particularly with the bloody wireless and a couple of telephones that Sim insisted on from 152 Brigade. We got in at 2330 hrs. and barely had time to eat, wash and get to bed before being off again at 0330 after all the bumf and orders had been fixed up. Fortunately we had a quiet night and actually had two hours sleep.
Moved into practically the same positions 0400 hrs. Everyone was a bit tired and there was a certain amount of difficulty in getting under way! 'B' & 'C' went slightly further W as an attack was thought likely through Escoville. However, nothing developed during the day and it was very quiet with little or no enemy shelling but plenty of our own. There was a little more in the evening and 'C' Squadron fitters' vehicle was written off. A BBC reporter arrived rather reluctantly this p.m. (Chester Wilmott) to see the battlefield and was given the story. A fairish flap in the evening with continual changes of orders. Originally we were to have been withdrawn and put at 4 hours' notice, but this was cancelled and at about 2300 hrs what was described as a heavy attack went in on the Black Watch at Escoville who had 3rd troop 'C' Squadron in support. After an immense amount of noise and shelling all quietened down, the Boche bombers were active and there was a great deal of noise from the SW. A dawn attack was expected and 'A' Squadron were made to remain in situ in St. H. 'B' Squadron moved up to the Command post at about 0200 hrs but were off again by 0330 hrs. 'C' Squadron after numerous counter-orders had to go back to 154 Brigade having a bad journey there with minefields and other horrors including a stonking during the Black Watch attack. Sim had some adventures whilst touring about in his jeep trying to get orders from 2 Divisional and 2 Brigade Commanders, which is certainly a highly trying business.
The expected dawn attack did not come off - instead all was quiet except for the battle away in the SW, but we had to put up with the excruciating smell of a dead cow. Got some sleep in the morning but by p.m. a considerable number of tanks were reported from all around. However, nothing happened and in the evening a certain amount of reorganisation took place. 'A' Squadron pulled two troops out of St. H and concentrated them behind Seaforth Corner and near where RHQ is. 'B' Squadron moved into the 153 Brigade area, i.e. from Le Mesnil to the Triangle', at 2030 hrs. to relieve 'C' Squadron who were now pretty tired. On relief, 'C' Squadron returned to the RHQ area by two bridges. Plans were made in case of an enemy counter-attack in the morning. 'C' Squadron were to remain in reserve and get some rest, 'B' were to send two troops into the 'Gap' where 'C' had been and 'A' were to cover 'B's front while sending two troops into St. H. We were all really rather tired and got into bed as soon as possible in case we were roused again at 0330 hrs.
Slept like a log and there was no flap - there was some shelling in the night but it never woke me and there was nothing to report from any part of the front in the morning. The office truck arrived and the day was spent trying to sort out some of the vast amount of bumf that had arrived, and deal with all the office work that had accumulated since we landed. In the evening we bulldozed the office truck into reasonable security from shelling and did the same for our petrol dumps which had suffered pretty severely. The big attack by 8 Corps went in today about 10 miles west of Caen. There was the hell of a noise from the artillery barrage which must have been terrific. I gather they have achieved what they set out to do which, although it does not sound very spectacular, is nevertheless against very strong opposition and is according to plan. Heard this evening that the Brigadier of 152 and the CO of the 5th Camerons have got the sack for the St. Honorine show - not altogether surprised but it strikes me as a bit hard on Sandy Munroe, the CO., who struck me as a first-class chap. The new Brigadier is a man called Cassels. [Jim Cassels was a splendid man, very tall, who eventually became a Field Marshall.] Very heavy rain in the evening which was perfectly bloody but had a bath in a shelter made by Duffy (RSM A. L. Hind) from compo boxes, (and in a bath taken from a French farmyard!) and a change, as Mason has also arrived - very pleasant. Quite a lot of shelling during the night, about 20 rounds not more than 200 yards away and certainly aimed at the bridge - very noisy, rather alarming and sounds like an express train coming along.
Quiet night till about 0430 hrs. when there was a terrific barrage from our guns - got up to find what it was all about, fortunately it was all our own barrage to help the 8th Brigade and Staffordshire Yeomanry forward in their attack on La Bijude and Epron, which has been a bit sticky. News from the 8 Corps front is that they are across the Vieil Odon and are making steady if slow progress. Went over with Sim to the Highland Division HQ in 'Daimler' SW of Ouistreham. They are living in the German dugouts in fair comfort. Sorted out the business of knocked-out tanks which they seem very keen on but isn't easy for us as it is very difficult to tell when a tank is KO'd or not. 'Daimler' is a queer place which was never finished, fortunately for us as it had a very commanding position overlooking the beaches. Although all the emplacements were made there were no or very few guns, and only mortar positions; the batteries at Ouistreham were much the same; they even had the shells there ...but no guns! A conference was held at Divisional HQ to discuss a further push down the river bank towards Colombelles. This may or may not come off and very much depends on progress the other side of the river. The Boche is still fighting hard everywhere and shows no sign of pulling out. Monty is rumoured to have said he wants to break the 'Ring' - he will be well away and in Paris by D+40. [The 'Ring' was the enemy opposition which was surrounding the allied bridgehead.] Spent the afternoon in the office with nothing much happening, Sim went off to recce ground with 152 Brigade. Sim went to a further conference at 1900 hrs, and then on to our own Brigade. I spent my time working out a new system for demanding and getting supplies, over several whiskies in the dug-out with Dag. Sim returned about midnight and then we all went to bed. We are still, and very wisely I consider, sleeping under our tanks, it has several advantages not the least being that it keeps us dry. Goodall has made a priceless trench entry to our pit which is a big improvement; Sim and I sleep one end and Goodall and Suggitt the other with our feet all meeting in the middle!!
Completely quiet night and apparently morning also. Mike Aird arrived to discuss various things including an indirect shoot on Lebissey on Sunday next as a preliminary to 'do' the following day - he went off with Sim to have a look-see. A certain amount of our own artillery warmed up later in the morning and this was followed by some enemy air-bursts in our area, a couple of AA shells fell on the ground which luckily slightly injured only one man. There are various plans and rumours of plans which change hourly - it's quite useless going out to make a recce or trying to lay on any plans as by the time one is back the whole scheme is changed again. It gives one the impression that there is lack of decision higher up but I dare say this is quite wrong if one knew all the moves. I gather however that the order is that Caen must be taken quickly. Efforts in this direction however have not been awfully good so far, as the 8th Infantry Battalion attack on the 3-division front (La Bijude, Epron, etc.) has now been called off as the opposition was much heavier than expected.
Quiet again, more and bigger plans but still just as vague and since they are dependant on moves on other fronts nothing can be definite yet. It looks rather as if we should try our hand at artillery the day after tomorrow which might be fun but they are pretty windy of 'reprisals' over here so that it may not come off. 152 Brigade had a regrouping conference this p.m. After it we went on to 154 Brigade and back for a Squadron Leaders' conference here. Mike Aird came over again this p.m. to discuss the shoot but there is still nothing definite. The plan if it comes off is a big one with the whole of 51st Division and the rest of our Brigade looks like joining us over here but, as said before, it is still fearfully vague. 8 Corps seem to be doing well and they are now established across the Odon and consolidating. It seems that they have drawn off four Panzer Divisions which even though they are not complete is pretty formidable opposition. It might well be that we are fighting 'the 2nd Battle of France-or of Western France' here, as I don't really believe he has the hell of a lot further east for some way. 'B' Squadron has come in here in reserve now and 'C' Squadron has gone out to the 'jungle' - the Recce Troop is going to do a job by relieving the 'C' Squadron in Longueval. There are now rumours of enemy reinforcements in the north i.e. north of Breville. What this means I don't know, but it caused a flap in the night. Tac R have reported a column about six miles long around Varaville - whether they will try a push east of Breville again is not known.
July 1944: Normandy and the battle for Caen
1st July 1944
On the whole a very noisy night and a flap. It poured with rain all the time and was in fact perfectly bloody. This morning our F.O.O. who has been down in St. Honorine with 'A' Squadron reports that he can see no movement in the enemy FDLs where usually there is a lot going on. He suggests this means they have pulled out; we have heard that they intend to hold a line running roughly SE from the factories at Colombelles, but this doesn't tie up with their activities around Escoville and Herouvillette moving E of Breville. Talk of another Division coming over the bridges to free the Highland Division and the Airborne. The Airborne must be pretty whacked by now; they have had a lot of casualties and no reinforcements. They were only supposed to be here a week and so far have been in the line for three. There is no doubt that they are magnificent men and wonderfully led. They fight the most unorthodox battle extremely successfully, only live to kill more Huns. They have had tremendous success and the Boche is definitely scared of the maroon beret. The other night they suddenly piled into two lorries, roared up the road to a cross-roads which they knew was held by machine guns, halted just round the corner from it, jumped out and dived into the ditches, let off everything they had in every direction and then got back into their trucks and off they went. The Boche have steered clear of that place ever since. The Highland Division is a very different cup of tea. We expected great things from them with their reputation, but they are still far from being acclimatised to this sort of warfare. In the desert they could see the Boche and get their bayonets into them, here all that happens is incessant shelling and mortaring from an unseen foe. They don't begin to compare with the Airborne and there have been some incidents already - to wit, St. H. However, there is no doubt that they are now getting angry and they must be good to have this vast reputation. Their officers are delightful and most hospitable to us when we are under their command. Sim has gone off to another conference with the General - I suppose to discuss another and even vaguer plan. The wind about the major counter-attack on the 8 Corps front still prevails and I feel the indications are that it will take place either today or tomorrow. Went off on a tour this p.m., first to Brigade then to John Cordy and finally the Corps Delivery Squadron. Found they have virtually got no reinforcements at all here, either officers or other ranks and they don't look like getting any! This is absurd and when in future we get tanks knocked out we shall not be able to accept new tanks which are in good supply for lack of crews to man them. Sim and I then went off in the staff car to HQ 21 Army Group - Monty's headquarters - to see Dan Riviere and his troop doing protection and bodyguard duty for the C-in-C. All we knew was that it was somewhere west of Bayeux and off we went. The roads were absolutely solid with every kind of vehicle. The coastline which we could see during some of the trip was black with shipping and pretty well every field was full of stacks of ammunition. It certainly gave us the impression that there was the hell of an army on shore and that was after seeing the British and Canadian lines only. It was very noticeable that the further west we went the less evidence there was of fighting. In 3 Division sector every village is practically flat but there is little damage to show in Douvres and towards Bayeux none at all. Bayeux is a fair size and stuffed with British and Canadian troops. It is practically impossible to get through in spite of a highly geared up traffic control plan. Every road we wanted to take had a 'No Entry' sign on it, maps were no use and neither was the information bureau near the station. West of Bayeux the roads were straight and completely empty and we found our way in the end quite easily. Monty's HQ was practically unsigned (unlike all other HQs which have the most enormous signs of every colour, and stretch for miles) and when we got there all there was to be seen was a few tents in an orchard and an enormous 'Tiger' tank which had just been pulled in and was being looked over by our troop. It is a most impressive vehicle and certainly looks as if it would go. Its 88mm gun is vast and so is everything about it but its size doesn't strike one till it is seen alongside a Sherman. Dan seemed quite happy with very little to do except keep guard on Monty's caravan at night. He took us over to the Mess where they were very pleasant and did us well. We were given gin, beer, bread and brandy, none of which we had seen since D-Day!! It seems that this Tac-HQ is quite a small affair and pleasantly informal, no shouting or stamping or rushing about but the great man did not put in an appearance himself. The head 'I' man was interesting about the flying bomb which is clearly the most original of this war's weapons so far and opens up a lot of fairly unpleasant possibilities. Only London, we gathered, has had it so far, and only about 30% have got through; the RAF reckon to shoot down about 50%. The remainder either just don't arrive or are shot down by our AA. Coming home was bloody, it was pouring with rain and these ridiculous 'No Entry' signs made it impossible to get onto the right road! However, after eventually motoring practically in our own FDLs all down the line we got home about midnight. A pretty poor night too as I was woken about 0100 a.m. by a pestiferous despatch rider and then we had to 'stand-to' at 0400 hrs, added to this it was a great deal noisier than it need have been. The bigger war seems to be going quite well. I gather the Boche has counter-attacked five times today on 30 Corps' front and not 8 Corps' as was expected. Each attack was in a different place and about an hour between them - the results were highly successful for us.
There is little or no news today - no sign of movement on our front and nothing coming in from any other. Various people have looked in, Brig. Cassels, the Gunner CO, Jim Eadie and Col. Walford of the Camerons. Cassels says he hopes to God the Boche attack us with two Panzer Divisions. I suppose he might but I can't say that I personally look forward to it. Sim has gone off again, this time with EPP. News now is that we are to go back across the river, spend a few days resting at Luc-sur-Mer and prepare for a battle at the end of the week. We are to be relieved here by the 148 RAC of 33 Brigade. What the reason for all this is is hard to see but imagine that they will make another try at getting a bit nearer to Caen.
A bloody night - pouring rain - very hot, muggy and damp, very noisy and a veritable plague of mosquitos. Really got extremely little sleep by the time we had stood-to at 0400. Recce and conference etc., etc., with new information and all very involved and not at all clear. Relieving CO came to find out the form and Sim took him round. Went over to Brigade this p.m., absolutely nothing doing. It had poured with rain again all day and only stopped at about 1600 hrs. This weather is perfectly bloody and keeps our aeroplanes on the ground. Incidentally, a 'buzz bomb' was overhead this morning and every idiot rushed out to have a shot at it, this was most alarming and quite absurd as it was heading straight for the German lines! Luckily no one hit it. All preparations for going over to Luc-sur-Mer are now made. It sounds quite pleasant but is very badly bombed. This next attack sounds rather bloody as it has failed twice already, but it is on a much bigger scale this time.
We were all ready to be off to Luc for our 'rest' when news came that we were to stay put as they wanted to send us to Ouistreham. This caused a few grimmish laughs as the place is under constant shell fire and even in range of small-arms fire from Sallenelles while the route there is under observation the whole way. However, it was all settled and RHQ and 'B' Squadron set off for Luc at 1000 hrs. An uneventful journey along a well-marked route and we arrived about midday. We occupy bombed houses and there is literally not one complete house in the town at all along the front. The place is packed full of mines and booby-traps so one has to be rather careful. We have a Mess and an office under cover which is highly satisfactory and tonight looks like a 'pyjama' night between sheets which is really luxurious after exactly a month. It is exactly a month since we landed on the beach about two miles further east. To look at the beaches is a potent reminder of D-Day - particularly seeing all the obstacles at low water. There are relatively few French left although I gather they are beginning to return. It must have been rather a pleasant little French seaside town in peacetime - exclusively French and not a tourist place. But there's very little of it now and it will take a long time to get it going again. We have dug ourselves in, in most of the empty rooms of jerry-built shelters and bombed houses! The mess is the last two rooms of a large house; there is practically no roof at all on the sleeping quarters and the office is downstairs only! However, everyone is very happy and delighted to get a rest and change. Only on arrival here did one really realise that one was bloody tired. 'C' Squadron arrived about tea-time. Went round and had a drink with 'C' and 'B' and then to bed - slept like a log - I am told through an A.A. barrage of immense proportions - the nearest battery is only 50 yards away.
Felt 100% better this a.m. Went along to the office at 0930 having sent a message to Monkey Sellar on the 'Locust' asking him to come and dine. [Monkey Sellar was the naval officer i/c of the LCTs that took us over for the assault. Later he became senior partner of the stockbrokers W.I. Carr, the firm in which David Stapelton and Roddy Mcloed were partners, and I occasionally saw him in the city.] Squadron Leaders went off on a reconnaissance with Sim this p.m. preparatory to the 'La Bijude' operation. Not much form on this yet. Had a stroll round the town - behind the front it's not too bad and there are still shops functioning. We have managed to set up the Mess with wine, cheese, butter and fruit, which is really rather a triumph. All taking life very easily and there is an air of holiday in this place. The DUKWs go roaring about the place and charge into the sea and out, as lighters all day. They really are the most wonderful vehicles. You see them tossing about 5 miles out to sea in quite rough weather and next you see them going over the most appalling country in the forward areas about 5 miles inland! I've rather lost touch with the battle in the last 24 hours but gather all is relatively quiet.
Fairly hectic preparation for this 'Operation Charnwood'. 'O' Gp. in the morning - conference in the p.m., reconnaissance in evening and waiting operation order until well after midnight! Missed lunch as well - so this rest has not been so complete for some as it might have been. The 176 Brigade who we are playing with this time are anything but impressive. They are a Territorial Brigade and really very amateur. It is the first time they have been in action however, so perhaps they'll go great guns thinking it's rather fun. They certainly need to as it's a pretty tough nut to crack and the Boche reacts violently to any attempt to push him out. Also - as usual - information is very vague - it seems that we shall never get good information till the Infantry patrols improve. La Bijude, Epron and Couvre Chef are known to have elements of the 21st Panzer Division and 16 GAF Division there and I shan't be surprised if we meet upwards of 40 tanks in the area. The country is of course most unsuitable, frightfully enclosed and wooded with bad visibility and very little scope for manoeuvre. To add to our difficulties the Infantry have laid minefields in every possible direction which makes the natural limitations of movement even more restricted. They are all rather jungly and don't appear to know just where the minefields are either! Teeing up is going on hard and I think we might have quite a fair battle really. We have got AVREs, Flails and Crocodiles under command which is a novelty and might be quite amusing. At any rate the thing is committed now and we shall see what we shall see!
The Battle for Caen! We moved into our Assembly Area leaving Luc-sur-Mer at 1100 p.m. and arrived at the command post at about 0300 a.m. under cover of a barrage from Mediums. The command post was with Brigadier 176 Brigade (Fryer) and bulldozed in, about two fields, short of La Bijude. At 0420 (4th hour) the barrage came down and (the fun began) the Infantry (7th North Staffs) went in with 'B' Squadron shooting them in and 'C' Squadron were also supporting from the left. They appeared to be having not much trouble and our supposition was pretty correct that they had pulled out to the west and were now getting in some deep-dug trenches west of the village in very strong positions. Then 'B' Squadron troops went into the village and then the Infantry turned their attention to the trenches where they immediately became stuck. The result was nil and eventually the troops in Bijude began to get a bit anxious as the Infantry had left them and they were surrounded by about 50 Boches. One of their tanks was knocked out and, after killing quite a number with Browning fire they withdrew further into the village. Meanwhile on the left and right things were going rather well. The East Riding Yeomanry and 197 Brigade were in Galmanche on the right - but the Infantry again were short of the objective, leaving the ERY on their own. (They lost 5 Crew Commanders and a Squadron Leader today from snipers). On the left the Staffs had got into Lebissey with the 135 Brigade. At 0730 Phase II was ordered and the 7th Norfolks moved off to take Epron. What they did I still don't know but it appears to me that none of these Infantry can read a map. At any rate 'C' Squadron couldn't get forward because they couldn't link up with them. Communications with 176 Brigade were practically nil. By teatime, after continual and confused, but hard and severe fighting, the position was really unchanged. The first phase battalion was still not into the entrenched position and the second was not in Epron. The tanks were sitting on or near the positions and fairly uncomfortable. The Brigadier who had gone off to view the battle and had left Sim to command, returned and we all went up to 'B' Squadron to view the situation. It was decided that a planned attack on the trenches with the reserve Battalion was the only way to fix it and the General (Lines) arrived with our own Brigadier to plan the Operation. Why the Operation was so slow up to this stage I cannot say except that there is little doubt that this Brigade is far behind what it ought to be in fitness for battle; they seemed to lack a proper grasp of things and this in addition to their other shortcomings had caused them an enormous quantity of unnecessary casualties. But the opposition as far as we could make out at this stage was not more than two companies in the trenches and a bunch of well-trained snipers in Epron. However, the result was as usual and we were left sitting on objectives without support and our tank casualties were about 8 - Delaval's tank was knocked out by a bazooka and Toto had his arm broken. [Delaval was Major Sir Delaval Cotter, Bart, commanded 'C' Squadron on D-Day and throughout the campaign. Toto was Anthony Akers-Douglas.] At about 2030 the big attack went in on the trenches and at the same time Delaval pushed into Epron. The barrage was terrific and flame-throwers and Flails performed with some success as well. Sim and I went up in the tank to watch and pushed on down into Epron. Again the tanks reached the objectives first and it was dark shortly afterwards and Peter Lyon withdrew to forward rally before the Infantry had taken over. We then all rear-rallied on the crossroads at Cazelle and settled down to a short night's sleep. Got up to go to a conference at 0530 with Old Fryer of 176 and our own Brigadier. [Brigadier Fryer commanding 176 Brigade.]
It has been decided to attack the trenches again in exactly the same way. Why, I don't know as, despite the rather feeble efforts of the Infantry, I am confident that the barrage, the Crocodiles and ourselves must have dealt them a sharpish blow. 'B' Squadron were to go in with the Infantry again and 'A' to support from Epron with 'C' in reserve east of the Chateau de la Londe. Net result - barrage went down, Infantry went forward and we all put down smoke (I am getting my eye in now and last night in Epron and La Bijude let off some Browning and a bit of H.E. through the muck and mess of the barrage). I don't believe there were any Boche there at all and I fear that a lot of our Infantry were killed in our own barrage because again - I imagine - they couldn't read their maps because their axis was oblique to the barrage. When the party died down we went back to forward rally and sorted ourselves out. We had no casualties today. The battle for Caen has gone well and all the town north of the river is captured. This is a big success and everyone is delighted. Vincent Dunkerly arrived this evening to take over the Regiment and we had been expecting him for several days. We were told that we were to be out of battle for a week which is great news, and moved back to Cazelle to a perfectly delightful chateau and settled down for the night - very tired and very glad to get to bed.
Today we start sorting ourselves out and settling down. The chateau is really delightful and used to be a German Mines School. They must have left it in the hell of a hurry because it is quite the filthiest place I have ever seen. It beggars description. We have set to work to clean it up and should be very comfortable. However, I wish we were to be here for a month and not a week. The new Colonel is also sorting himself out and trying to get to know people, and held a short Squadron Leaders' Conference this evening. The mess truck and all 'B' Echelon have arrived in France which is very satisfactory and means that we can get ourselves organised. In the evening, Peter Chance arrived to say that there was a chateau down the road full of drink and furniture, pictures and silver being looted and would we put a guard on it. Sent Peter Jury off to get the form and then followed ourselves later. Nothing like such a good chateau as ours and much more knocked about; in fact ours is really the only habitable building for miles around. Rommel is said to have lunched here on Thursday! Pity we didn't know! We managed to get a bottle of 1870 Eau de Vie out of them, which was very good! Really feeling quite civilised now having bathed and sat down to a normal meal in the mess even though it is still Compo!
Marvellous thought - no real work today. Colonel walked all round the Regiment and saw how things were going on. This p.m. we had the most interesting time. Col. Sim and I went off in the jeep sightseeing. We went down past La Bijude and Epron, and found the shambles awful. There were quite a number of civilians creeping back, presumably from Caen, and it was a very pathetic sight. The story is that during Thursday night's monster bomber attack the population collected in the Cathedral for a service. After the attack, which was in daylight, the Cathedral was the only place practically speaking left intact and they all emerged singing the Marseillaise - much to the discomfort of the Boche! It isn't possible in Epron and La Bijude to tell which was a house or which just a wall. No sign of life of any sort and a vile smell of dead Boche, cows, horses, etc. Delaval's tank was sitting in the middle of Epron with a neat hole from the bazooka in the side of it and the whole bottom blown out. We then went to Lebissey, the bloody place that had nagged us for five weeks, and climbed the water tower. Why it was still standing is a mystery - it must have had a hundred shell holes in it and was really a mass of rubble and mess but we ventured up the rickety iron step ladder and reached the top and perched on the roof. The view was terrific - we could see north to Perrier le Dan, the feature we had sat on a few days ago - and every stick and stone of it. East - over the river the whole factory area and Colombelles was plainly visible. There was a battle going on there ('Findhorn' - which we were to have done) which we later heard was a dismal flop and the 153 (H) Brigade and 148 R.A.C. took a bit of a knock. South - over Caen the famous 'high ground' was clearly visible and most interesting. A certain amount of movement going on and we thought we saw some guns under a railway embankment. West we could see 9 Corps being pushed out of Maltot, and for miles beyond the view was first class. It really is a super observation post and the Boche who used it must have been brave men! I should hate to have been third relief climbing up that tower in the early morning. It is literally pockmarked with holes! Our gunners were hanging about in the village and not at all keen on moving into the tower as an observation post. Actually the Boche were much nearer to us than we thought sitting up there - in fact they can't have been more than 1½ miles away - hence the ranging shells which dropped around about two fields away! We went into the Lebissey woods where the Boche had put up the hell of a fight. The trees looked just like the last war, and the place was a ruin and consequently nothing really to see. There is no doubt it was the most commanding position and held with only about two companies who fought bloody hard. We looked at Colombelles again and the factories, but couldn't make much out of it, and no signs of movement visible. We returned to the jeep and set off for Caen, a couple of miles away over the hill. The nearer we got the more the road was cut up, and the more civilians we met creeping out with their few belongings. Eventually we got into the town having made numerous detours, and the sight was really staggering. There can be only a few people at this stage of the war who have seen the results of our own bombing at close quarters, and this was 2300 tons in an hour in an area a mile square. It was like H.G. Wells or worse, and piles of debris were just everywhere. We could however distinguish streets and buildings - unlike Epron - and the Cathedral - apart from the windows, was reasonably intact, but it was pretty grim. The inhabitants seem to have been pleased to see us, but I felt personally pretty sorry for them and can't quite understand their feelings. They weren't involved in '14-18 and saw no fighting in '40, the Boche bought all their produce and kept them going on much as normal, and now the 'Forces of Liberation' have completely flattened them down and left them virtually destitute.
A quiet day. Promotions conference a.m. This afternoon C.O. and I went off on a round first to the forward Delivery Squadron; to see some new officers and find out about reinforcements and then to the Field Cashier and on to Brigade who have set themselves up in an isolated field outside Douvres. Various people have been into Caen which is just beginning to get the C.M.P around who are trying to prevent us going there at all.
We were to have gone to a conference at HQ 59 Division, at 0900 but this was cancelled so set off to see 'A' Squadron Tewt. at Epron, but missed them, so carried on and went to 21 A Group to see Dan Riviere and Troop looking after Monty. Everything was much the same as the last time we went there and his HQ is still no larger than a Brigade HQ! The roads were just as crowded but we managed to by-pass Bayeux on a bulldozed track that has been made. Heard at Army Group that a certain amount of what was described as 'reorganisation' was going on, but many sprats failed to catch a mackerel. Lunched in Le Lion d'Or in Bayeux on the way back - rather moderately. But fresh meat was a pleasant change. Then went on to see the 23 H the Colonel's old regiment and saw Perry Harding and Monkey Blacker. On the way we ran into Jeff Taylor who showed us the way and was really in very good form. I hadn't realised he was now parson to the 23 H. They told us (over there) that they had shot at a Panther from 200 yards with 17 pounder with great success and an encouragement as stories to the reverse effect had been circulating. The whole countryside through which we motored i.e. from just short of the Odon (23 H) to our chateau at Cazelle is devastated. There are dead tanks littering the countryside and half-tracks and vehicles of every sort. The usual foul stench is everywhere too. It is all an appalling sight and really makes one quite sick. The battle-fields are only too easy to find and the actual fields and countryside between the villages seem fairly free. I suppose this is because of the high corn which covers up all the mess. The villages are however quite pathetic. No sound houses left whatever, and no signs of human life at all except a few forlorn and bedraggled objects groping about in all the muck and ruin. You occasionally see a very emaciated and scrawny cat or puppy. Possessions such as bedclothes and ordinary clothes, tables (and jars) and the inevitable pot are around all over the shop. The latter item seems a common one, and for some reason is never broken even though it's in the middle of the street. Back at the chateau all was quiet and really quite civilised now. Sim and the Colonel went off to dine with the Staffordshires and Jimmy Delius came and had dinner here.
A day in the office. Sim and the Colonel have been off on conferences at Brigade and with Old Cass who has just had another decoration from the Yanks! Rumours of moves again in the area but all fearfully hush hush and cagey. All quiet. Michael Bell and Bill Riley from 4/7 Dragoon Guards came over to dinner with 'A' Squadron.
Another morning in the office without much incident, Colonel and Sim went off on recce for next operations which are still kept extremely secret. The C.O. has told me the form but apparently no one else is allowed to know. Jeff Taylor came to lunch which was pleasant to see him again. He was in good form and much the same as ever. [Jeff Taylor had been regimental padre in England and had left us, I believe, on sick leave and had been posted elsewhere. He was a very popular padre, but death to any vehicle that he drove, and was known to the fitters as the Rev. Halfshaft Taylor! There was a lovely story told of his efforts to get some ATS to come to a regimental dance. He detailed a three-ton truck and driver to collect some ATS girls from their nearest camp and the driver duly carried out this task and on his return saluted Jeff Taylor and announced 'Three ton of fluff, Sir,' or words to that effect...] More office in the p.m. and evening and then a dinner party! Really very funny. Old Copper Cass and Mike Aird, Bob Dayer-Smith, Jim Eadie and Mike Farquarson came, the Brigadier and Tom Williamson and Victor couldn't make it. We haven't succeeded yet in getting Errol to dine with us in the 15 months he has commanded the Brigade. There is now no doubt that this Operation is on and we move tomorrow. I had to go off in the middle of the dinner party to collect orders from the Infantry Brigade living in a chateau on the other side of the village. Heard last night that Bobby has got his M.C. which is great news. Derrick has got a D.S.O. and Peter Lyon, Billy Wormald and Peter Hunter all got M.C.s, also about 12 others - all DD and D-Day awards which is a really good show.
Hectic day of conferences. 'Hardly time to turn round.' Brigade Conference at Divisional HQ (3 Div.) at 1000 hrs. and then straight on to Copper Cass's 'O' Group at 8 Infantry Brigade which was just typical of him. He is a very gallant man and very unorthodox. He has just been given an American decoration and was very funny about it. We lunched there and got back in time for a quick regimental 'O' Group and then on the move to a preliminary concentration area. Plum in the open. Everything has been done in a fearful hurry today and no time to really sort things out. As usual we have been rushed into the battle - I gather for security reasons - can still only tell Squadron Leaders the form. Had a priceless interview with the Corps Commander John Crocker - in the concentration area - he was really angry that we had put a few bundles of drying mustard seeds onto our tanks as camouflage in a completely open field. He said we were damaging French property and valuable crops. I hadn't the energy to protest very strongly - wisely too, I think, as he was a very angry man. We move again at midnight to East of the Orne again!! To old Escoville (alias Stonkville) and hope we will have a good do. We are back again with our old 8th Brigade which is a good thing but not time - as usual - to lay on the battle properly. It is nonsense not to brief until after recce - and we are not going to be able to do much recce as the order is 'no movement tomorrow!!'
My birthday! And a very hectic day indeed - at least another four conferences and 'O' Groups. To start with, up all night moving, and an absolutely bloody and pestiferous journey in a thick wet mist and also a dust which all agree is comparable to the desert. It took us five hours - visibility was 5 yards at best - however I was in the bottom of the tank and had a pretty average sleep there. Area crammed with other troops. This is a big do - a tremendous effort with armour predominating and a terrific air bombardment - the greatest ever - an armoured thrust also the biggest in history so there ought to be fun! As usual we lead - an honour! I doubt it, at any rate it all remains to be seen. It has been a very hot and trying day but the weather portends well. We are undoubtedly on the eve of a battle much bigger than Alamein. However, again everyone is calm, the crush east of the Orne has to be seen to be believed. There isn't an orchard or field empty and if it is postponed, life will be intolerable, as the place will be nothing less than a muck heap.
A fairly bloody night - the mosquitos were appalling and a despatch rider woke me up I suppose twice every hour. However on the tick of 0600 the bombers came over i.e. heavy Lancasters - their aim was accurate - thank God - as we were only 1½ miles away. It was a terrific sight and they streamed over for 45 minutes to attack 5 small villages - Couverville and Sanneville, Demouville and Ennerville, Giberville - and the Colombelles factory area. This over, swarms of fighter-bombers, Bostons etc. started fragmentation bombs scattered over a wide area. We moved off 0715 just as 1500 Fortresses arrived to plaster the gun areas to our south and east of Troan. It was terrific support and most effective. As we moved forward to the gaps in the minefield the Corps' barrage started and the battle was on. 'B' Squadron moved quickly forward to the entrenched areas south of the S.L. and west of Touffreville and started to shoot them up - before long prisoners started to appear and the trenches gave us no more bother. The Staffs Squadron under command then whistled forward and went straight for their objective at Lirose which they took with only minor opposition, knocking out some 50mm anti-tank guns on the way. At the same time 'A' Squadron moved to support the South Lanes in the wooded country S of the triangle which the 152 (H) Brigade was taking on. 'C' Squadron moved through the minefield into …
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