Recollections of the Operations undertaken by "A" Squadron of the 13th/18th Royal Hussars (QMO) during the 1944-45 Campaign in Europe
From D-Day of the invasion of Europe on 6th June 1944 until my Regiment the 13th/18th Royal Hussars (QMO) was entering the outskirts of BREMEN on about the 25th April 1945, I was the Squadron Commander of "A" Squadron of the Regiment. I was then posted to command the 25th Dragoons in India.
I had served continuously in "A" Squadron since I was commissioned into the Regiment in 1936.
During the Campaign in Europe my Squadron Clerk (Lance Corporal Neville Blythen), who travelled in the "B" Echelon of the Regiment, which consisted of lorries carrying stores such as clothing, rations and NOT ammunition and petrol (which was the load of the "A" Echelon) would visit my Squadron HQ every third or fourth day with the delivery of COMPO rations and letters for the tank crews.
During these visits I would dictate to him an account of the activities of the Squadron during the previous few days. When he returned to the location of the Echelon he typed my reports in Diary form on a D-Day plus basis.
The Diary was lost for many years, but eventually was returned to me from the "effects" of a soldier who was the Squadron Clerk at sometime "post war".
The Diary commenced on D -1 and relates, in outline, my experiences and observations during the campaign. In the future I hope to be able to obtain contributions from members of my Squadron who served with me during the campaign so that a comprehensive account can be recorded.
On D-Day the Squadron was equipped with Sherman Amphibious (Swimming) tanks. The Regiment was one of the three Armoured Regiments of the 27th Armoured Brigade, commanded by Brigadier Eroll Prior-Palmer (father of Lucinda Green, of more recent equestrian fame).
The Brigade was under command of 3rd British Infantry Division which landed on Sword Beach on the left of the Allied Assault on D-Day. The Regiment was in support of 8th Infantry Brigade which assaulted with 1st Battalion South Lancashire Regiment on the right, supported by "A" Squadron, and 2nd Battalion of the East Yorkshire Regiment on the left, supported by "B" Squadron. "C" Squadron was supporting 1st Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment who were to pass through the positions of the Assault Battalions to capture the German Concrete Defensive positions South of Colville-sur-Orne.
The initial task of the Amphibious Squadrons was to neutralise the Beach Defences, after swimming ashore from 7000 yards, prior to the arrival of the Assault Engineers mounted in a variety of specialised (flails and demolition) tanks, who were to create tracks through the minefields for the movement of vehicles from the beach.
Once the exits were opened we were to move off the beach to support the infantry to capture their inland objectives, which in the case of the South Lancashires was the village of HERMANVILLE. D-Day should have been on the 5th June, 1944, but the bad weather forecast caused postponement by 24 hours. During this period the assault troops remained incarcerated in their landing crafts and ships, in our case LCT's Mk IV, in the Solent. Each LCT Mk IV carried five Sherman tanks in "Well Deck Holds". Four LCT's carried each Assault Squadron. The Flotilla was commanded by Lt. Commander Charles Creighton RNVR. We had trained together in the Moray Firth, from Fort George, during the Spring of 1944, in some very bad weather conditions. From the tank crews point of view the crafts were extremely unpleasant since the tank and their crews were confined to the well-decks from which they could only see the sky. When the tank diesel engines were running the exhaust fumes circulated within the well-decks producing an unhealthy atmosphere which, when added to the wallowing motion of the crafts in rough seas, produced a sickness tendency amongst the tank crews. They were known as "ALTMARKS". (The ALTMARK was an infamous German ship in which Allied seamen were imprisoned under appalling conditions. It was eventually captured in Norwegian waters and the prisoners released).
The Record of Events (The Diary Entries are in "Brackets")
THE ASSAULT LANDINGS with 3rd British Infantry Division
D - 1 (5 June)
"We sailed from the Solent at about 2 pm in a rough sea. The majority of the tank crews were seasick. Commanders opened the sealed packages containing the -operational Orders and studied them and the accompanying maps and panoramic photographs of the shoreline.
The night was uneventful except for the unpleasant weather and conditions on the Landing Craft. I think that all of us looked forward to being on dry land, where-ever it might be. Before dawn l went to the Bridge of my Landing Craft and asked Charles (Creighton) how we were getting on. His reply was 'You and I, Derrick, seem to be the only people carrying out this invasion'. However, soon afterwards the other craft of his Flotilla appeared astride us and the invasion fleet emerged astern".
D Day (6 June)
"At 06.16 all tanks were launched, after closing to 5000 yards (from the planned launching distance of 7000 yards). The sea looked alarming from the Craft but FLOATER (launch) proved to be the right decision. Only Corporal Sweetapple's tank failed to swim towards the shore. This was because he could not get his propellers to fall and to engage with the drive off the tracks. His tank sank but he and his crew were picked up from their inflatable dinghy. Naval and Air Bombardment was tremendous and occasional glimpses of the shore were possible, due to the offshore wind which carried the smoke of the bombardment towards us. The tanks were performing well beyond what we thought to be practicable for the apparatus. Four columns each of five tanks (less Cpl Sweetapples) followed the lead of a Landing Craft Personnel (Navigational) the task of which was to lead us to the correct point of 'TOUCH DOWN' on the beach. Our tanks touched down at about 07.23. Sixteen tanks, got their tracks on the sea bed, moved into water sufficiently shallow to allow them to deflate their screens and to engage the beach defences".
I still remember very clearly the 'brewing-up' of the leading AVRE Churchill tank as it drove down the ramp of an LCT which was beached a few yards to my left front. The turret and the contents thereof spun into the air after a violent explosion, presumably caused by a penetrating direct hit by an anti-tank shell which detonated the explosive charges which the AVRE was carrying for the purpose of destroying concrete emplacements. I immediately got my gunner to engage a Bunker from which I thought that the shot had been fired. His first round hit the target and the gun became silent. We then continued to fire at suspected defensive positions until we could see nor hear any firing from the defences.
The Assault Engineers crossed the beach and started to carry out their task of creating 'Exits' from the beach. The Assault Companies of the South Lancashires came ashore, crossed the beach with very few, if any, casualties and passed inland. We had, therefore, successfully completed our first task, which was to neutralise the Beach Defences.
We could now only wait for the Engineers to open the 'Exits' so that we could escape from the beach to support the infantry in the capture of their inshore objective - the village of HERMANVILLE.
As no 'Exit Open' signs (Windsocks on poles) had been erected I decided to dismount from my tank and to walk along the beach to our right to inspect a road which I could see led straight onto the beach. When I got there I was surprised to see that the German anti-tank mines, which should have been placed in prepared holes in the road surface, were stacked up on the side of the road. I hurried back to my tank and remounted. By then the beach area was becoming a distinctly unhealthy place, due to mortar and shell fire. The time must have been about H + 15. The 'Windsocks' had still not been erected so I ordered my Squadron to follow me from the beach via the exit that I had found.
At that time I did not know that so many tanks had been 'swamped'. Shortly afterwards the Battalion HQ and Support Companies of the South Lancashires came ashore and, I believe, suffered quite severe casualties; including their CO (a distant cousin of mine) who was killed.
Having left the beach we caught up with the Assault Companies, who were not meeting much opposition in the village of HERMANVILLE.
When we reached the southern edge of the village we took up defensive positions in the orchards.
As a matter of interest the timings for the Assault Landings were as follows:-
H - 5 DD Tanks open fire 07.25 hrs
H Hour Assault Engineers land 07.30 hrs
H + 7 Two Assault Companies land 07.37 hrs
H + 20 Battalion HQ and Reserve Companies land 07.50 hrs
H + 45 Regimental HQ and 'C' Squadron land 08.15 hrs
H + 60 SP Artillery land 08.30 hrs
The Regimental War Diary records that "RHQ & C Squadron landed at H + 45 on White Beach (ours) to find that the beaches were still uncleared and considerable shelling and mortar fire encountered. Eventually by 09.00 hrs the tanks were able to pass through (presumably the official 'Wind-socked') the Exits". It would seem that my exit may not have been noticed or used by any of the Assault troops.
The country in front of us, to the South, was open farmland gently rising to the ridge North of CAEN. To our Left front was the German Defensive Bunker areas known as MORRIS and HILLMAN the capture of which was the prerogative of the SUFFOLKS, supported by 'C' Squadron. We were cautious not to expose ourselves to this area.
My own 'official' account and that of Captain Denny, as recorded on 9th June were as follows:-
L.C.T. 101 - Major Wormald, O.C. 'A' Squadron
1. I was with the flotilla officer of 14 L.C.T. Flotilla and received orders to 'FLOATER' at H - 110 mins. Orders were later received to close to 6,000 yds. and then to 5,000 yds., when 'FLAG ZERO' was given. The D.D. Drill was a complete success.
2. From our launching position, we could see that we were approximately opposite the church in LION SUR MER and that our beach was about 45 degrees to our port bow. No bombing had started on the beach and the houses were clearly visible. The starboard navigational leader took station ahead and the launch was complete in about 4 mins. We went down the ramp in first gear because of the heavy seas and all craft set off somewhat extended but keeping good station. No fire was opened by the enemy during the swim in or until we touched down at about 300 yds. from high water mark.
3. At approximately H - 30 mins. the A.V.R.E. Flotilla was seen to be bearing down on our Port quarter and passed us. All craft (tanks) managed to avoid being run down. Shortly after this, when fire from the L.Cs.T.R. began falling short, the A.V.R.E. and L.C.T. Flotilla came astern and we were able to pass them. After this the beach became obscured by bombing, artillery concentrations, and the fire of the L.Cs.T.R., about 10 per cent of which fell short.
In touching down, the A.V.R.E. L.Cs.T. passed us for the second time and the leading A.Vs.R.E. were wading ashore before our D.Ds. had moved in to deflate. Various explosive charges went off around us whilst we were moving from touch down position to deflating position. The screen of one tank was holed by one of these charges and the tank became swamped. Another of my tanks was swamped by what we thought was a wave soon after touching down (but it may also have been a charge). The crew had to bail out. The leading A.V.R.E. was hit by an anti-tank gun as it emerged on to the beach. On the beach the 88 mm and 75 mm emplacements were quickly recognised and dealt with, as were all pill boxes and machine gun posts. The two assault infantry companies were able to cross the beach, without being fired on by small arms.
The A.Vs.R.E. and flail operations were not highly successful on WHITE beach, but a *gap was eventually found and we were able to pass straight through on to the second lateral.
*My exit - see page 5
A.V.R.E. - Assault Vehicle Royal Engineers
L.C.T. 103, Captain Denny, 2nd Captain 'A' Squadron
Wireless communications for the launching drill worked well and my craft load launched at about 4,500 yds. The second tank had some mechanical trouble, but otherwise everything went according to plan. The sea was rough and the tank stood up to it far beyond my expectations.
At about 1,500 yds. from the beach the A.V.R.E. L.Cs.T. passed between the port and starboard columns. Shortly afterwards, they stopped their engines and then went astern, and we passed them again. The rockets then began their concentrations, and were falling short amongst us. The Squadron kept good station, in spite of these intrusions.
Enemy fire began at about 700 yds. from the beach and the crews got inside their turrets. Up to 1,000 yds. I could pick out the required landmarks and check that we were steering in the right direction.
At about 800 yds. I was rammed by an L.C.T. and we sank immediately, the tank going over on its beam and sinking for about 25ft ending upside down. Although the crew were wearing A.T.E.A. and 'Mae Wests', they never appeared again, as I did not see them during the 30 mins. I was in the water. The rest of my column beached satisfactorily but three of them got swamped by the incoming tide and only one got through the gap on to the shore.
Besides myself, the survivors (by tank commander's names) were Captain *Lyon (my 2i/c), Lt. *Hunter, Sergeants *Hepper and Morris (who had been my tank driver in 1940 from the R. Dial, in Belgium, to Dunkirk - affectionately known as "Father")
* Later killed in action.
During a peaceful period I discussed with the surviving Crew Commanders the possible fate of the remainder of the Squadron. Our conclusions were as follows:
Cpl Sweetapple - Sunk on launching - Crew picked up
Capt Denny - Sunk by LCT
Sgt Marke - Run down by LCT
Cpl Gammon - - ditto -
Lt. Garlick - Caught foot in collapsing strut
One tank - Hit underwater mine (on pole)
9 tanks - Swamped by incoming tide after engaging beach defences, (swamped because waves broke over the rear screen and filled the tank - stopping the engine).
Personnel - A very dubious Assessment
Missing - Believed drowned 5
Missing - ? 5
Missing - Returned to the UK 10
Wounded - 4
Another account of the DD Assault is told by Lance Corporal Patrick Hennessey, who was then commanding a DD tank and is now Group Captain Hennessey, O.B.E., R.A.F. (Retd). "We were roused long before dawn on the morning of 6th June. The sea was still rough and there was a strong wind blowing. We heard and watched the airborne force pass over us, hosts of gliders following their tugs, preceded by the aircraft carrying the parachutists and the busy fighter escorts above them. As daylight slowly appeared we could see ships of every description stretching away to the horizon on both sides of us and to the rear. It was a stupendous sight which must remain in the memory of all who saw it. We marvelled that such a gigantic force could assemble over a period of five days and move across the English Channel, un-detected.
At last the order came to board the tanks. We climbed on, stowed away bedding rolls and made sure that everything was in it's place, and we took post to inflate the screen.
The air bottle was turned on and the screen began to rise. We took particular care, this time, to make sure that the struts were secure because we could feel the effect those large waves were having on the LCT, and we were under no illusions as to what they would do to a puny DD tank once we got into the water.
The bombardment started with a tremendous roar of gunfire. On our left we heard a terrifying 'whooshing' noise and saw a veritable fire-work display as the rocket firing ship, (LCR) went into action. The burning projectiles carved an arc through the sky as they sped towards the shore. Beyond her stood HMS Warspite, adding a loud contribution from her large guns. We had been warned that it would be very noisy, but this still took us by surprise.
We heard the order over the ship's tannoy, "Down door, No. 1", and we knew this was our cue. The ramp on the bow of our LCT was lowered into the sea, the ship hove to, tank engines started, and Sgt Rattle's tank moved forward down the ramp and nosed into the waves. We followed, and as we righted in the water I could just see the shore line some 5000 yards away; it seemed a very long distance and in a DD tank, in that sea, it certainly was!
Slowly, we began to make headway. The crew were all on deck apart from Harry Bone who was crouched in the driving compartment, intent on keeping the engine running because, as we all knew, if that stopped we stood no chance of survival. The noise seemed to increase and the sea appeared even rougher from this low point of view, with only a flimsy canvas screen between us and the waves. We shipped a certain amount of water over the top of the screen from time to time, so Trooper Joe Gallagher, the co-driver, whose task it was to man the bilge pump, was kept hard at work.
We battled on towards the shore through the rough sea. We were buffeted about unmercifully, plunging into the troughs of the waves arid somehow wallowing up again to the crests. The noise continued and by now the shells and rockets were passing over our heads, also, we were aware that we were under fire from the shore. The Germans had woken up to the fact that they were under attack and had brought their own guns into action. It was a struggle to keep the tank on course, but gradually the shore line became more distinct and before long we could see the line of houses which were our targets. Sea sickness was now forgotten. It took over an hour of hard work to reach the beach and it was a miracle that most of us did. As we approached, we felt the tracks meet the shelving sand of the shore, and slowly we began to rise out of the water. We took post to deflate the screen, one man standing to each strut. When the base of the screen was clear of the water, the struts were broken, the air released and the screen collapsed. We leapt into the tank and were ready for action.
"75, HE, Action - Traverse right, steady, on. 300 - white fronted house - first floor window, centre".
Within a minute of dropping our screen we had fired our first shot in anger. There was a puff of smoke and brick dust from the house we had aimed at, and we continued to engage our targets. Other DD tanks were coming in on both sides of us and by now we were under enemy fire from several positions which we identified and to which we replied with 75mm and Browning machine gun fire".
Harry Bone's voice came over the intercom: "Let's move up the beach a bit - I'm getting bloody wet down here!" We had landed on a fast incoming tide, so the longer we stood still the deeper the water became. As we had dropped our screen, the sea was beginning to come in over the top of the driver's hatch and by now he was sitting in a pool of water. The problem was that the promised mine clearance had not yet taken place, so we had to decide whether to press on through a known mine field, or wait until a path had been cleared and marked.
Suddenly, the problem was solved for us. One particularly large wave broke over the stern of the tank and swamped the engine which spluttered to a halt. Now, with power gone, we could not move, even if we wanted to. Harry Bone and Joe Gallagher emerged from the driving compartment, soaking wet and swearing.
Infantry were coming ashore, their small landing craft driving past us and up to the edge of the beach. There was quite a heavy fire fight in progress so we kept our guns going for as long as possible, but the water in the tank was getting deeper and we were becoming flooded. At last, we had to give up. We took out the Browning machine guns and several cases of .3 inch belted ammunition, inflated the rubber dinghy and, using the map boards as paddles, began to make our way to the beach. We had not gone far when a burst of machine gun fire hit us. Gallagher received a bullet in the ankle, the dinghy collapsed and turned over, and we were all tumbled into the sea, losing our guns and ammunition. The water was quite deep and flecked with bullets all around us. We caught hold of Gallagher, who must have been in some pain from his wound, because he was swearing like a trooper, and we set out to swim and splash our way to the beach. About half way there, I grabbed hold of an iron stake which was jutting out of the water to stop for a minute to take a breather. Glancing up I saw the menacing flat shape of a Teller mine attached to it; I rapidly swam on and urged the others to do so too.
Somehow, we managed to drag Gallagher and ourselves ashore. We got clear of the water and collapsed onto the sand, soaking wet, cold and shivering. A DD tank drove up and stopped beside us with Sergeant Hepper grinning at us out of the turret. "Can't stop!" he said, and threw us a tin can. It was a self-heating tin of soup, out of the emergency rations with which we had been issued. One pulled a ring on top of the tin, and miraculously it started to heat itself up. We were very grateful for this, and as we lay there on the sand, in the middle of the battle taking turns to swig down the hot soup, we were approached by an irate Captain of Royal Engineers who said to me: "Get up, Corporal - that is no way to win the Second front!"
He was absolutely right, of course. Rather shamefacedly we got up, moved further up the beach and found some medical orderlies into whose care we delivered Joe Gallagher who cheered up considerably when someone told him he would be returning to Blightly as a wounded 'D Day Hero'. We left him at the Field Dressing Station and moved on. We had only our pistols with us, but we found a discarded Sten gun and some magazines. Attaching ourselves to a section of the South Lancashires, we made our way in-land. The beach, by now, was a very unhealthy place to be, it was under intensive small arms and mortar fire, mines were exploding and being detonated by our own mine clearance services, and all the time the build-up of troops and vehicles continued, making it a very crowded area. Clearly, we were not of much use to the infantry in our un-armed state, so I found the Royal Navy Beach Master and reported our presence to him. He was a very busy man at the time, and advised me to : "Get off my bloody beach !" We made our way to the road which ran parallel to the sea, some four or five hundred yards inland, and there we met up with some other un-horsed tank crews.
I could not help feeling a bit unwanted at that stage. There was plenty of action taking place, but there was not a lot that we could do to influence the course of the battle and nobody seemed keen to invite us to join in. Of course, we had already played our part, and we could look back with some satisfaction. We had done what most people had thought was impossible, we had swum a 32 ton tank through 5000 yards of savagely rough sea and had given that vital support to the infantry to enable them now to have the chance to do their job of clearing the beach. On reflection, I had learned a valuable lesson from the events of that morning. Sgt Hepper, for instance, had clearly not been deterred by the prospect of mines on the beach and had driven his tank ashore, accepting the risk. If I had used initiative and done the same, our tank would not now be standing submerged some 150 yards out in the sea. The RE Captain too, had the right idea of 'Press on, regardless'. In the heat of battle it really does not pay to sit back and weigh up the pros and cons of a situation, it is quick decision and immediate action which brings results. I mentioned these thoughts to Harry Bone, whose only comment was : "Bugger that! - If we had hit a mine, I would have been sitting right on top of it".
We were withdrawn suddenly to meet a threat to the bridges (over the River ORNE and the Canal de CAEN - PEGASUS)".
D + 3 (9 June)
"Squadron moved to BENOUVILLE area to rejoin the Regiment. Our role was to be prepared to counter any threat to the 6th Airborne Division, holding the Bridgehead over the bridges (PEGASUS). This was the first sight that most of us had had of the rest of the Regiment since the landing. All round us were the Gliders of the Air Landing Brigade, spread like giant crows over the fields. Much air activity was taking place. We were firing our turret mounted Browning Machine Guns at the enemy aircraft. Good for our morale but of little visible effect upon the enemy".
D + 4 (10 June)
"Spent near BENOUVILLE. There was some shelling and mortaring during the day. Whilst we were taking tea beside our tank Trooper Surey, my tank gunner, was killed by a mortar fragment which hit him on the temple. I think that it was this incident which caused us to dig a pit under our tanks (about 18" to 2 feet deep) in which we were to live by day and sleep at night in comparative comfort and safety, particularly in respect of overhead cover, when ever we were located in an area within range of enemy mortar or artillery fire. The pit slept four. Sergeant Charles Mason, my Squadron Signal Sergeant, opted to make his nest in the turret of the tank, where he remained, from Normandy to the Baltic, on 'Listening Watch'.
"A Battalion of the Gordons of 51st Highland Division was now at BENOUVILLE just South of us. Another noisy night. During the evening we listened on our radio to 'B' Squadron's attack, with Parachute Battalions, towards Le MESNIL, the object of which was to link up with 3rd Parachute Brigade, which had been cut-off. This was East of the River Orne, in the Airborne Bridgehead. The attack was successful but 'B' Squadron lost four Sherman tanks and the Recce troop lost two Stuarts to anti-tank weapons concealed in the wooded country on the Left flank of the attack".
It seemed to me that this was another case of an advance over open ground with an open flank, which might have been covered by smoke!
D + 5 (11 June)
"We were moved into a defensive position along the ridge of BERIERS SUR LE DAN. To the South we could see the enemy positions around CAEN at COUVRE le CHEF and LEBISEY. CAEN itself was over the hill, except for its water towers and the double spires of one of its churches. To the North we overlooked the sea. We were 60 metres up and (off shore) we could see a tremendous concentration of shipping. HM Ships, including the HM Battleships RAMILLES and WARSPITE were bombarding, we thought, CAEN. To the West, as far as the eye could see, were Barrage Balloons protecting the ships and beaches against the threat of low flying air attack. There seemed to be more equipment and stores coming ashore on the Canadian and 30 Corps beaches than our own (SWORD). A boom of sunken ships had been made off La BRECHE on our beach. All day the SP guns on our Left and heavier guns further West have been shelling enemy positions. We watched some enemy guns move across our front about 3000 yards away. They do not reply very much by day. Twice enemy fighter bombers came in to attack the beaches but most of the time the RAF have complete domination of the sky. In the afternoon we were concentrated again ready to meet another threat to the Airborne Bridgehead East of ORNE. 51st Highland Division have now moved into the Bridgehead and we are expecting to join them with a view to expanding the Bridgehead. A more peaceful night. We have been lucky with sleep, so far."
6th AIRBORNE DIVISION
D + 6 (12 June)
"A lovely morning. At 13.10 hrs we were brought to one hours notice and at the same time ordered at 90 minutes notice to move immediately to East of the River ORNE. Moved at 14.10 hrs with all Troops complete. Met C.O. (Lt Col Dick Harrap) as guide! Harboured at 108742 (West of RANVILLE). (A little later) C.O. requested two Troop Leaders for a reconnaissance immediately (for an attack on BREVILLE tomorrow). Duty Troops 5th (Lt Spencer) and 4th (Lt Garlick). C.O., myself and the two Troop Leaders went to reconnoitre the area for the attack and to liaise with 12th Parachute Regiment, who were to carry out the attack. (I had it in mind that it would be better to involve the whole Squadron, if this were possible. I do not like penny packets). After the reconnaissance the C.O. agreed that it would be better to involve the whole Squadron. He departed (presumably to visit 12 Para RHQ), and left us to liaise with the troops on the ground and to finalise our plan for the attack. A Commando Company was holding the sector, commanded by a distinguished Commando Officer, Major Peter Young.
We visited him in his HQ, which was in the local Châteaux. He gave us a glass of brandy and explained the enemy layout and his own positions. We then left him and took a look at the enemy positions for ourselves, from the Châteaux's garden. Whilst we were doing this, and at the same time consuming some delicious strawberries in the garden, we heard the unmistakable sound of Sherman tanks coming up the road from RANVILLE.
Suspecting that they might be our own we abandoned our reconnaissance and ran back down the road and met our Squadron column.
Apparently the Commander of 6th Airborne Division, General Gale, had decided that the attack should be launched this evening. He is recorded in having described BREVILLE as being a dangerous gap in the perimeter (of the Bridgehead) East of the River ORNE.
Our C.O. had presumably received this information soon after he left us. He ordered my Squadron to move from RANVILLE and to meet him in Le PLEIN. (He could not get in touch with me because I was away from my vehicle on foot reconnaissance.
He met the Squadron column in Le PLEIN at about 21.38 hrs and explained the plan to my Second in Command, in about two minutes. He then told them to 'get moving', four Troops and Squadron HQ raced towards the orchard to the North of BREVILLE, from whence it had been decided that they could 'soften up the defences' prior to the attack.
Firing was to begin at 21.45 hrs. It was during this process that I and my Troop Leaders met the Squadron column. I clambered onto the rear of the leading tank and directed the Troops to their firing positions. I then rejoined my own tank. Miraculously all Troops were in position by 21.45 and opened maximum fire onto the objective. This was to be for 15 minutes; 12th Paras would then launch their assault on the village.
One Troop, Lt Garlick's (4th) were to move down the road from Le PLEIN to BREVILLE in direct support of about 160 men of 12th Para.
Their special task was to destroy a known strong point in the village. This they did. During this engagement Lt. Garlick's tank was hit by a 75mm anti-tank shot which went straight through the mantlet and lodged in the turret of the tank. The wireless was shot away but there were no casualties in the tank.
At 22.00 hrs the fire support of the Squadron was to be switched to the wood to the East of BREVILLE until two Red Verey lights were fired by the Paras. One Troop was then to move forward to give 'close support' to the Paras assaulting the wood. (During this action Sergeant Rodwell's tank engaged and destroyed an anti-tank gun). The remainder of the Squadron, three Troops and Squadron HQ, were then to move to a position from which they could engage the wooded country to the North of BREVILLE.
We 'married-up' with the Paras on the 'Start Line'. Both parties knew their tasks but I never was able to liaise with any of their Officers. We had no time so to do.
The 'suppressive' fire power of the Squadron was initially superimposed upon that of the Divisional Artillery or vice versa.
The fire power of each tank in the Squadron consisted of two .300 Browning machine guns and a 75mm gun. Initially this was thirty MGs and 15 75mm guns, firing on BREVILLE. The 75mm guns were firing HE 'impact fused' shells which produced 'airbursts' on the slightest contact with the trees in the hedges or on the edges of woods. Such 'airbursts' were lethal to enemy infantry in slit trenches, unless they had very substantial overhead cover and also to anti-tank gun crews in shallow gun emplacements. Therefore, the concentrated fire of the Squadron was sufficient to deter enemy resistance and could inflict severe casualties upon the defenders.
For example, at the time of the engagement of the target area to the North of BREVILLE we did not know that there were any enemy in the target area; but two days later when our troops occupied the area the 'pick-up' of dead enemy was about 100. It was believed that they were forming up for a counter attack when we caught them 'in the open'.
On our 'Start Line' for the attack we had been subjected to quite heavy artillery or mortar fire and had seen a number of the Paras become casualties. At the time I thought that our own guns were firing 'short', but it may have been enemy defensive fire.
I followed the attack into BREVILLE which itself came under heavy artillery/mortar fire. It was getting dark. There was nothing that I could do so I withdrew from the village and rejoined my Squadron HQ, leaving 4th Troop with 12 Para.
Shortly after I had rejoined my Squadron HQ I received orders to disengage, with the exception of 4th Troop who were to remain with 12 Para, and return to the Regimental harbour area near RANVILLE. We rallied in Le PLEIN and had all reached the harbour area by 02.45 a.m. This was the first of the Squadron's major operations in support of Infantry since D-Day. The preliminaries for the attack in no way resembled those to be found in the 'text books' on the conduct of a planned attack and which we had rehearsed so often in the UK before D-Day. However, on this day we had 'married-up' with infantry on the Start Line, provided them with the called for fire support and the 'Objective' had been captured, together with five enemy anti-tank guns, intact.
The Squadron did not suffer any casualties to personnel; but I learned later that of the 160 Paras who had taken part in the attack 141 had become casualties. For them the attack was described as a 'brilliant sacrificial battle'.
The defenders of BREVILLE were the 3rd/878 Regiment whose strength, during the three days fighting in the area, was reduced from 546 to 146. It was therefore a bloody battle. Soon afterwards our Intelligence sources reported that the Germans described it as 'a Massacre at BREVILLE'. They avowed vengeance upon the tank unit which had perpetrated it!
D + 7 (13 June)
"4th Troop remain in BREVILLE. Sergeant Rattle (engaged and) destroyed a 75 mm SP anti-tank gun which approached their position. The Squadron remained in harbour near RANVILLE. I was summoned by General Gale, Commander of 6th Airborne Division, to carry out a reconnaissance with him for defensive positions for the Squadron in the event of an attack against his Bridgehead from the South, the area of St HONORINE and COUVREVILLE, by 21 Panzer Division which was located East of CAEN. During the reconnaissance there was continuous bombardment and counter bombardment overhead. General Gale approved my proposed Layout (as his anti-tank advisor!). I suggested to him that the strength of the position would be considerably enhanced if some of the tanks could be 'dug-in'. He agreed and said that he would arrange for his Royal Engineers to be of assistance. Troop Leaders carried out recces of their allocated positions".
D + 8 (14 June)
"Tank crews begin to 'dig-in' their tanks. Quite a heavy task with only picks and shovels. Airborne REs not available".
D + 9 (15 June)
"No change in the situation. Digging continues. The Squadron moved to a concealed location nearer to their defensive positions".
D + 10 (16 June)
'FLAP'. "At 06.30 hrs the Squadron was ordered to occupy defensive positions and it remained in these positions all day, returning to our 'concealed' location at dusk. During the night the enemy had attacked and infiltrated into the area of the 1 GORDONS in the wooded country around ESCOVILLE. (We now appear to be under command of the 51st Highland Division). The GOC 51 Highland Division personally ordered the regiment to send one Troop to report to 1 GORDONS. At 10.00 hrs 4th Troop (Lt Garlick) and Captain Denny, my Tech. Captain, (to act as Liaison officer at Battalion HQ) left the Squadron position and reported to 1 GORDONS at Le MESNIL. There they had a sharp engagement with elements of 21 Panzer Division.
The Squadron diary recorded that "at 14.00 hrs four tanks covering the advance of one Company of the GORDONS entered ESCOVILLE and advanced 2000 yards due West but did not get a shoot. They returned to Battalion HQ where the Brigade Commander of 153 Brigade informed Captain Denny that Lt Col Harrap (our CO) had been killed. Apparently the CO had run into an enemy tank on his return to RHQ after reconnaissance with the Brigade Commander. The rest of the day, until dusk, was devoted to an unsuccessful attempt to dislodge six tanks which later developed into four Mk IV Specials plus three armoured cars and an SP gun, all manned by Poles serving in the German army. Corporal Charmbury shot up a 6pdr manned by Germans, missed a German traffic policeman and also missed one of the Mk IVs.
During the day and the night both ourselves and the GORDONS were very heavily mortared and sniped. Captain Denny's and Lt Garlick's tanks were both hit by mortars. Trooper Robinson was injured in the shoulder (not seriously) and Trooper Denny in the left arm, necessitating his removal to the Field Ambulance. (The Battalion Group were cut off at times, which prevented the tanks from returning to the Squadron). However, they did return at 10.00 hrs the next morning, via ESCOVILLE which now changed hands twice but was, once again, in the hands of the GORDONS. It was learned later that 65 GORDONS were either killed or severely wounded during the sniping and mortaring of their positions. One incident which occurred between the operations at BREVILLE and St HONORINE which I clearly recall was when I was carrying out a reconnaissance with our acting Commanding Officer, Major The Earl of Feversham, I was travelling with him, his driver and his operator in his jeep along a road in open country. It was a lovely day. I noticed that four Typhoons were circling overhead and was surprised when one of them turned into a dive at us. Before we could do anything about it the pilot had fired his rockets at us and the other aircraft were turning to follow up his attack. We halted rather quickly and bailed out. There being no convenient ditch along the side of the road the only 'inadequate' cover that I could see was the crater of one of the first rockets to hit the ground. This was a hot spot - but better than nothing - so I dived into it. When the aircraft had completed their mission we arose from our prone positions, remounted our vehicle and discontinued our reconnaissance. The lesson that I learned from this incident was that Rocket attacks against vehicles by aircraft, whilst being frightening, were not necessarily effective".
D + 11 (17 June)
"Uneventful, in that there was no activity on either side. Captain Lyon (2 i/c) left the Squadron to take over command of 'B' Squadron in succession to Major Rugge Price who became 2 i/c of the Regiment. Captain Gale arrived to become second Captain of the Squadron. 14.30 - funeral of Lt Col Harrap".
D + 12 (18 June)
"Remain in 'Waiting' positions for enemy counter attack. Intermittent shelling of our locations including attack by 'Moaning Minnies' (multiple projectiles fired from mobile vehicles). One casualty. Trooper Murley was killed by a shell fragment. He had only joined the Squadron two days previously".
D + 13 (19 June)
"Still in concealed positions. Weather very bad. I attended a conference at HQ 152 Brigade at 14.00 hrs. Subject - The capture of St HONORINE. I stressed the need for flank protection and movement with fire. I carried out a reconnaissance of LONGEUVAL in connection with the proposed attack on St HONORINE. Spasmodic shelling continues. Trooper Curtis slightly wounded. I was somewhat lucky in that a 'spent' fragment of a Moaning Minnie rocket hit me on the head when I was in my tank with my head out of the turret. Only superficial damage which was attended to by the RMO."
51st Highland Division
D + 14 (20 June) "No change. I attended a further conference at HQ 152 Brigade concerning the St HONORINE attack. The Brigade Commander stated that his night patrols into the village had reported that they had not found any enemy. He therefore intended to occupy the village silently tomorrow night. He required the Squadron to move into the village as soon as it was light enough so to do and to take up defensive positions. The 'silent' occupation was to be made by the 5th Battalion of the CAMERONS.
My appreciation of the situation, in relation to our defensive role, was as follows.
The village was most vulnerable to a counter attack by infantry and tanks from the area of COLUMBELLES, a suburb of CAEN about a mile to the SW of the village and separated from the village by a ridge; so that we could not see COLUMBELLES. The crest of the ridge was about 600 yards from the orchards on the edge of St HONORINE. The alternative for the enemy was to attack across the open country to the SE of the village, from the direction of COUVREVILLE, with armour. Of the two alternatives, I considered the former to be the greatest danger and difficult to halt and destroy. I therefore selected the following layout for the Squadron. One Troop in LONGEUVAL (2nd Troop - Lt Hunter) which could fire onto the flank of any enemy approaching from COLUMBELLES.