Captain P. C. Bernhard

 

Unit : Battalion HQ, 12th Parachute Battalion.

Army No. : 153168

 

Captain Bernhard was the Adjutant of the 12th Parachute Battalion, but on the 8th June 1944 he was appointed Commander of "A" Company. The following is his personal account of the capture of Breville on the 12th June:

 

 

At approximately 2030 hrs Lt Colonel Johnson took his "O" Group [Orders Group] by jeep from the Brickworks to the Commando Headquarters at LE PLEIN. On arrival he went forward of the Commando Headquarters (a farm) into an orchard from where the commanding officer pointed out the ground over which the attack was to be made. BREVILLE looked very peaceful on that pleasant June evening.

 

The commanding officer gave out his orders at the Commando Headquarters at about 2130 hours in the same quiet, calm, and clear way in which he had always done in England on exercises. The enemy began shelling the farm as soon as the commanding officer started his orders. The battalion had arrived at LE PLEIN at about 2130 hours.

 

The commanding officer's orders finished at 2145 hours and I took my platoon commanders, Serjeant Murray No 1 Platoon, Lieut Campbell, No 2 Platoon, Lieut Brewer, No 3 Platoon, to view the ground from the point where we had viewed the ground with the commanding officer. I gave my orders from the same spot, and although the platoon commanders hadn't much time they were able to show the ground to their Section commanders who in turn managed to tell their sections what we had to do, before we moved up to the start line. This was a good effort by the Platoon and Section commanders and was only possible through sub-unit commanders being on the spot prior to their commander having finished receiving his orders.

 

Our objectives were the Chateau and the area to the right of the chateau on the further side of BREVILLE. No 2 Platoon (17 strong) was to clear the chateau and take up a position in front of it. No 1 Platoon (16 strong) was to take up a position approximately 50 yards to the right of No 1 Platoon, Company Headquarters behind 2 Platoon and 3 Platoon in reserve behind Company Headquarters.

 

On our way up to the start line we halted a few moments to allow "C" Company who were in front of us to deploy into the field in which was the start line. The barrage had already started and Colonel Johnson came up to see if the company was all right. He said he doubted if the enemy could survive and it seemed impossible that anybody could live in BREVILLE. But subsequent events proved that well dug-in troops could survive the severest barrage. We found quite a sufficiency of active Boche when we reaches BREVILLE. The Colonel then left me for "C" Company and that was the last I saw of our very gallant and beloved Colonel.

 

Before the barrage finished we were shelled by enemy mortar fire on the start line the result of which was the complete loss of No 2 Platoon and their commander, Lieut Campbell. I called No 3 Platoon forward to replace No 2 Platoon and gave Lieut Brewer instructions to clear the chateau and take up a position forward of it. We then attacked two platoons up, No 1 Right, No 2 Left.

 

I had been hit on the start line and C.S.M. Marwood insisted on taking off my equipment and leaving it behind. I remember thinking how our Quartermaster would disapprove. As I was unable to move quickly enough I gave my Verey pistol and cartridges to the C.S.M. telling him to put up two whites when the objective was taken. He and company headquarters then moved very quickly and cheerfully in the direction of BREVILLE. There may have been C.S.Ms as good as Tommy Marwood, I very much doubt if there were any better.

 

Except for one survivor Company Headquarters were wiped out by a SP [Self-Propelled] gun in BREVILLE, as well as CSM Marwood, L/Corporal Raine a signaller, and Private Hackett an orderly, were killed as was also Serjeant Armstrong of No 1 Platoon.  Marwood, Raine, and Armstrong were experienced soldiers, Hackett was only eighteen but had all the attributes of a first class soldier. Private Craik another eighteen year old was badly wounded on the start line. He was the company clerk and also an outstanding soldier. The only member of Company Headquarters who reached the objective was Private Coulson a signaller.

 

On entering BREVILLE I passed "C" Company commander - Major Stephens who, though painfully wounded was signalling his company forward. It was fairly dark in BREVILLE and I remember noticing what a pretty pattern the enemy machine gun tracers coming from the wood on our left made as they passed overhead. We were grateful that the German machine gunners did not lower their trajectory.

 

I found Serjeant Warcup of "C" Company in the village and asked him if he could help me forward, his method of doing so was to sling me over his back in a fireman's lift and start running forward. After about 25 yards of this I asked Serjeant Warcup to put me down as it was difficult to appreciate the situation in my present position. Serjeant Warcup then left me and returned to command "C" Company who had no officers left.

 

When I reached No 3 Platoon they were held up short of the chateau and a little later Lieut Brewer was killed by enemy LMG [Light Machine Gun] fire. This was a great loss as both he and Lieut Campbell were Platoon Commanders above the ordinary. I had been very fortunate to have such good company officers.

 

I told Serjeant Nutley to take command of the Platoon and clear the chateau. This he did. Serjeant Nutley's work throughout the battle was beyond praise and he achieved and held his objective with a Platoon of nine strong. Serjeant Murray (No 1 Platoon) also attained his objective.

 

I then, assisted by Corporal Rhind, made my way to where my company headquarters was intended to be. When we started I was very glad to see two white Verey lights go up from the approximate position of Company Headquarters. Unfortunately this was the enemy signal for mortar fire and it arrived with exemplary promptness. As a result I was hit again and our weapons were knocked out. Corporal Rhind, who was fortunately unhurt, got me into a ditch and did all the necessary first aid, cheerfully remarking that it was a good job he was a butcher in private life. Be that as it may he was certainly the best sniper in the company.

 

It was now dark and I wanted Corporal Rhind to return to return to No 3 Platoon. But he refused to leave me and helped me back towards BREVILLE. At the cross roads we came upon Colonel Parker, assisted by CSMI McWhinnie, reorganising his old battalion. The arrival of our old commanding officer heartened us all. He always turned up when he was most needed.

 

At the RAP [Regimental Aid Post] Captain Wilson and his RAMC [Royal Army Medical Corps] orderlies were getting through a great amount of work with efficiency and under very difficult circumstances. One of the orderlies Private Etheridge told me politely but quite firmly that in the RAP all casualties must take their orders from the M.O. [Medical Officer]. Lt Colonel Harvey, commander 225 Para Fd Amb [Field Ambulance] arrived shortly afterwards and himself drove the jeep and trailer which took us to RANVILLE. I believe he made several of those difficult and dangerous journeys.

 

Corporal Rhind left me at the RAP, picked up a Bren and some grenades and made his way towards No 3 Platoon. In the course of his journey he came upon a slit trench containing three of the enemy, he destroyed them. Later on he came upon two further slit trenches containing four Germans each, he also destroyed these. Quite a good bag for a part time ghille. He then reported back to No 3 Platoon.

 

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