Lieutenant-Colonel Peter John Luard
Unit : Battalion HQ, 13th Parachute Battalion
Army No. : 49882
Awards : Distinguished Service Order
When Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Luard landed in Normandy, he rallied his men at the rendezvous by sounding his hunting horn. Compared to the other Parachute Battalions of the Division, the 13th Battalion assembled tolerably well after the drop with 60% of their strength accounted for. The Battalion soon went about its main task of clearing the enemy from the village of Ranville, which was accomplished by 04:00, having been greatly assisted by the fact that the majority of the garrison, a company of the 21st Panzer Division, had been on manoeuvres when the landings began.
On the 10th June, the German 346th Division successfully drove a wedge between the 3rd Parachute and 1st Special Service Brigades in the Bréville area and its leading units headed directly for Ranville, where the 13th Battalion had been placed for just such an eventuality. The German infantry made their way across the excellent cover of LZ-N, in between the abandoned gliders, and so Peter Luard ordered his men to hold their fire until the very last moment. At a range of just 50 yards, the Battalion opened fire, and their intervention, later joined by the fire of the 7th Battalion, tore the German attack to pieces and as many as four hundred of their number were killed and a further hundred taken prisoner.
In late August, during the Advance to the Seine, the 13th Battalion was presented with two particularly difficult operations to carry out. The first of these occured at Putot-en-Auge on the 19th August, when the Battalion was ordered to advance and capture a feature known as Hill-13. The prospect of this attack was not at all a happy one as it required an advance over three-quarters of a mile of utterly open ground, and then an attack up the hill, which would surely be strongly resisted. Lt-Colonel Luard later wrote:
"Obviously, speed was the only way to cross the open space and I called my company commanders and issued my orders. B Company, commanded by Major Reggie Tarrant, was to lead, followed by Battalion Headquarters, then Major John Cramphorn's A Company and finally C Company which was commanded by Major Nobby Clark. I said that it was my opinion that the Germans would not expect us to do anything so mad, and that by the time we had started, and they had given the necessary orders to engage, we had a fool's chance, and a good one, of getting away with it. In any case, we had no real alternative as there was no cover. So off we went. The distance was about three quarters of a mile, of which the middle two hundred yards was the most hazardous. We were all very fit young men and there is no doubt that everyone knew that the speed they made was likely to save their lives. And they moved. The whole battalion was across, except for the last four men, before the Germans realised the danger and opened fire. There were a couple of casualties, neither serious, and I lost my waterbottle but had not the slightest intention of looking for it!"
"Major Reggie Tarrant and his company went straight up the hill with A Company, under Major John Cramphorn, supporting them. I remember so well seeing them storming into the Germans, using the bayonet and getting right to the top of the hill. Then - suddenly - they were counter-attacked and a well-sited machine gun opened up, seriously wounding Major Tarrant and killing Lieutenant Bibby, who was leading his men with the utmost gallantry, and killing many others. The leading platoons were almost all killed or wounded and the supporting platoons fell back to join us on the intermediate ridge. What had happened was that a fresh German battalion had arrived to reinforce the hill position and they had caused the damage. Had we been just a little earlier, it would have been more difficult for them. But it was not so."
"The Germans counter-attacked very well and I remember lying with the men of A Company in the grass on the reverse slope of the ridge and hearing bullets singing through the grass all around us. There was no fear; we just felt that as the enemy came into view, they would be welcome to everything we had. At that moment I heard a voice coming from a Bren carrier saying: "We must have immediate fire. We are being counter-attacked." It was Colonel Mitchell of the Gunners' talking to his regiment. He had crossed the open ground and there he was, cool and calm. His support was marvellous! The fire from his guns was so accurate that it stopped the Germans about a hundred yards from him. Realising that the initiative might now be with us again, I told C Company to make a flanking attack to the right. Off they went with Major Clark leading them but the re-entrant up which they had to go was well covered by the enemy and they could make no progress."
"On reporting to Brigade Headquarters, I was told to hold where we were. This was no difficulty as on the intermediate ridge we were in a commanding position, and in any case the enemy counter-attack had failed. B Company had lost many men and casualties had been suffered by the other companies. The battalion had been on the move and in action for forty-eight hours, almost without let-up, and was very tired. So we stayed where we were. I had a company commanders meeting and in the middle of it, I was so tired that I went to sleep as I was actually talking. They left me sleeping, and left word that I was not to be disturbed. I woke up two hours later and the rest of the meeting was resumed, with my apologies."
Although the attack had not succeeded in driving German opposition from Hill-13, the area was effectively in British hands as the 13th Battalion held the more prominent position and the general state of the enemy defences in the Putot-en-Auge region had been severely shaken by the 5th Parachute Brigade's other successes of the day.
The second of the major tasks that was assigned to the 13th Battalion was the capture of Pont L'Eveque on the 22nd August. For his actions during this most difficult operation, Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Luard was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. His citation reads:
On the 23rd August, Lieutenant-Colonel Luard, Commanding 13th Parachute Battalion, was ordered to force a crossing over the River Touques and secure a bridgehead on the far bank up to the outskirts of Pont L'Eveque. On the previous day his Battalion had succeeded in penetrating into the Western part of the town but had been unable to cross the river owing to stiffening opposition and the fact that the town had been set on fire and the approaches to the only crossing - a steel girder 80 feet long by 18 inches wide - had become impassable. Although the fire had died down during the night the town was still burning fiercely and the iron girder crossing was under fire from snipers and mortars; nevertheless Lieutenant-Colonel Luard succeeded in getting his three rifle companies and a small Battalion Headquarters across the river and established a small bridgehead which was in reality only a footing on the far bank. The enemy resistance in the town, however was very strong and his Battalion was unable to make progress and were themselves being strongly counterattacked and enemy infiltration was taking place towards the girder bridge. As a further advance was clearly impracticable Lieutenant-Colonel Luard was ordered to withdraw his Battalion to the West bank. The return journey over the water obstacle and through the burning streets involved a most hazardous operation in the face of the steadily increasing enemy pressure. Lieutenant-Colonel Luard organised his withdrawal with the greatest skill and by his personal leadership, courage and example completed it successfully. There were some 30 wounded men who had to be got across the river by means of a rope, the crossing by the girder being too vulnerable. He organised this evacuation of the wounded with the utmost coolness and not a single man was left behind.
This fine performance followed close on three months of outstanding work: Lieutenant-Colonel Luard had dropped with his Battalion on the night of June 5th/6th and had speedily secured the objectives allotted to him. His leadership and example had played a big part in keeping up the morale of his Battalion during the difficult period of defensive fighting at Le Mesnil. During the advance to the River Seine and particularly at Putot-en-Auge on the 19th August his energy, determination and courage was a source of constant inspiration to all ranks.
Peter Luard continued to lead the 13th Battalion throughout the remainder of the Normandy campaign, and later in the Ardennes, Operation Varsity and the advance into Germany.
See also: Brigadier Poett, Major Cramphorn, Captain Windrum.
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