Pictures

Major-General Richard Gale

Major-General Richard Gale

Major-General Richard Gale

Richard Gale

Major-General Richard Gale with Queen Elizabeth

Gale with Field Marshal Montgomery and Brigadier Kindersley

Richard Gale with Brigadier Poett

Richard Gale during a Royal visit in May 1944

Major-General Gale addressing his troops before D-Day

Major-General Gale addressing his troops before D-Day

Gale standing amongst some of his paratroopers, shortly before take-off on the 5th June

Group Captain Surplice presenting a can of treacle to Richard Gale prior to take-off

Richard Gale, talking to Len Mosley, the War Correspondent

Richard Gale with Field Marshal Montgomery

Major-General Gale in triumphant pose over a Nazi flag

General Gale with his staff at SHAPE, 1960

Major-General Richard Nelson Gale MC

 

Unit : Divisional HQ, 6th Airborne Division

Service No. : 20116

Awards : Companion of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath, Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, Distinguished Service Order, Military Cross, Legion of Merit, Mentioned in Despatches (USA).

 

Richard "Windy" Gale was born in London on the 25th July 1896. His father hailed from Hull, in Yorkshire, but had ventured to Australia in search of adventure, and it was here that he met and married Richard's mother, who was half English and half Irish. They had returned to England for the birth, but quickly found themselves back in Australia, and it was here that Richard spent the first eight years of his life. Two years in New Zealand followed, but in 1906 the family returned to England on a permanent basis. Richard was educated at Aldenham School, but he did not excel academically; he later reflected that he was firmly in the category of "could do better if he tried". He was, however, an avid reader, "I read anything I could lay my hands on, including Disraeli's "Vivian Grey", which stimulated my imagination. I loved and still love the Classics and found in "the Iliad" a type of beauty and adventure that had a strong appeal." It was always his intention to become an officer in the British Army, however his lack of scholarly success barred the preferred route, via Woolwich. Instead, Gale left school in July 1913, and, with some reluctance, embarked upon a career in the City. He freely confessed, "I was a bit of a dreamer, building castles in the air, a delight I have never given up, for they are the only castles one can live in and perhaps they give an impulse when life becomes dreary and slow." The dream of a military career was not gone, because the Great War was but a year away.

 

With the call to arms in August 1914, Gale was only too delighted to abandon the day job and apply to join the London Territorials. He was, however, rejected on the grounds that City living had taken a toll on his fitness. Such was the sense of patriotic duty that flooded the nation at the outbreak of war, Gale was bitterly disappointed to be denied a chance to join in. A young lady, not pausing to consider Gale's predicament, passed him in the street and pinned a white feather to him, the symbol of cowardice. He was not so easily dissuaded, however, and took it upon himself to attend physical training classes after work. This paid dividends, and by the summer of 1915 he was attending the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. Such was the desperate shortage of manpower on the Western Front, the training regime was necessarily brief, and on the 22nd December of that year, Gale was commissioned, as he had requested, into the Worcestershire Regiment. Gale's boyish enthusiasm, however, was soon dented when he found that the half-hearted training regime of the holding battalion that he had joined was not at all to his liking. He had taken an interest in the machine-gun, the new weapon of war, and in March 1916 was posted to the Machine Gun Training Centre, Grantham. Gale had assumed that he was attending a mere course, but instead he found himself seconded to the Machine Gun Corps.

 

Eager to get into the War, Gale was posted to France in the summer of 1916 and joined the 164th Machine Gun Company of the 55th West Lancashire Division. With this unit he was soon involved in the terrible fighting on the Battle of the Somme and later served on the Ypres Salient, where he and his men endured gas attacks and the terrible winter of early 1917. Here he took part in the highly successful attack on Wytschaete Ridge on the 7th June 1917, but was not involved in the subsequent Passchendaele massacre due to being on leave, during which he was diagnosed with pyorrhoea and spent a short time in hospital. Suffering from mental and physical exhaustion, he was sent on a month's sick leave. Upon his return to France, on the 1st January 1918, Gale was posted to the 42nd East Lancashire Division and commanded a section of the 126th Machine Gun Company. With this unit he took part in defending against the German offensive along the Somme River in March 1918. Here, Gale and his men were almost cut off when German infantry infiltrated all around them during the dark, but silently they were able to withdraw to a second line of defence from where their guns helped to cut down the German attacks on the following day. In the final months of the War, Gale was promoted to Captain and he played his part in the advance towards, and over, the Hindenburg Line. 

 

Gale emerged from the Great War unscathed, though there had been numerous incidents which he had been fortunate to survive. On the Somme in 1916, soon after his arrival at the front, a shell had exploded amongst his party, killing several people and leaving the young Lieutenant Gale uninjured but spattered with blood and human remains. He had, earlier, been slightly unnerved at the sight and smell of a German corpse, the first dead body that he had ever seen, but this explosion in his trench curiously removed any fear of the enemy shells from his shoulders. At Ypres, a German machine-gunner opened fire on Gale and his batman as he was in the process of setting up firing positions for the night. A bullet struck Gale's webbing but did not inflict an injury, however his batman was wounded. Later, Gale's replacement batman was killed by a shell as he was in the process of cooking a meal for his officer. Once again, Gale miraculously escaped, but the shock of seeing the horrendously mutilated remains of his faithful batman proved too much for him and he wept as he tried to wrap the body in a blanket. His company commander noted the fragile state that Gale was in and took him out of the line for a period of rest, a comfort which returned him to his original self. Gale later wrote, "I really think he saved me from completely going off my rocker."

 

Gale was firmly of the view that the military was where he wished to stay. In September 1919, not wishing to be exposed to the tedium that came with a posting in England, he left for India with the 12th Battalion The Machine Gun Corps. In 1920, Gale's company was posted to the North West Frontier where the Third Anglo-Afghan War was being fought. A year later, the Machine Gun Corps was disbanded and Gale was returned to the Worcestershire Regiment and their 3rd Battalion, stationed at Fyzabad. In 1922, this battalion was disbanded and Gale transferred to the Machine Gun School in India. In January 1928, however, he returned to the 1st Worcestershires before being posted on to The Staff College. In 1934 he was appointed Brigade Major to the Ferozepore Brigade, with whom he remained until January 1936, when after in excess of sixteen years absence, he returned to England.

 

Captain Gale was posted to the 2nd Battalion The Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry, stationed at Blackdown. A year later he was with the War Office where he was responsible for all training publications, an appointment that kept him well abreast of all new tactical innovations. In December 1938, Gale was made GSO 2 to the S.D.(P.) section of the General Staff, a small group of planners who ascertained the feasibility of war plans, beginning with the aftermath of the Munich Crisis through to the declaration of War in September 1939 and the shipment of the British Expeditionary Force to France. In April 1940, the shoddy and hastily improvised Allied landings in Norway took place, an operation in which Gale was only peripherally involved as the chairman of the Inter-Services Executive Planning Staff. Gradually, Gale grew weary of his desk job as a "Whitehall Warrior" and was keen to return to the field. As a Lieutenant-Colonel on the 1st January 1941, he was given command of the 2nd/5th Battalion The Leicestershire Regiment. Nine months later, Gale left the regular infantry and, promoted to Brigadier, was transferred to the Airborne Forces and given the task of raising and commanding the 1st Parachute Brigade.

 

The Parachute Regiment barely existed at this time, as previously the only paratroopers had been of the 11th SAS Battalion, but now this unit was to be expanded into a brigade of three parachute battalions; Gale was its founding commander. His first major decision was whether to dismantle the 11th SAS and divide its men up amongst the new battalions, or to keep them together and raise two battalions of newcomers. He decided to leave the 11th SAS intact, retaining their structure and spirit, and renamed them the 1st Parachute Battalion. The 2nd and 3rd Battalions followed, with the 4th Battalion being added to the Brigade in January 1942. These newcomers were to look to the 1st Battalion as their benchmark.

 

With the Airborne Forces an entirely new movement in the British Army, Gale, closely working with his immediate superior, Major-General Frederick Browning, the father of the British airborne movement, therefore did much to create the template for all that was to follow. The extensive training that each man received was a feature that was already in place, however Gale firmly believed that it was vital for officers to possess a great deal of tactical initiative, and as there was no shortage of people willing to join the Parachute Regiment, he took the liberty of asking various questions on the application form concerning random tactical scenarios, which enabled him to select only the brightest and most cunning of men. Gale also drove his energies into reducing the casualty rate on jumps, which as it currently stood at 5% was thought to be an unquestioned hindrance to morale, and through the testing and employment of new jumping techniques and careful detail to the packing of parachutes, the casualty rate diminished.

 

In January 1942, Brigadier Gale was asked to select a company from amongst his battalions to carry out a small-scale landing on the French coast. He chose the 2nd Battalion's "C" Company, commanded by the then Major John Frost, who would go on to become one of the most famous British paratroopers through his exploits at Arnhem Bridge. The 1st Battalion, formerly the 11th SAS, were not at all happy that they had been overlooked for the operation because they were the more senior and, moreover, had been inactive for so long that their morale was beginning to suffer. Gale, however, opted for the younger 2nd Battalion on the basis that he believed the 1st Battalion to be more than up to the task, but he wished to determine whether the new formations were battle ready. The attack on the French radar station, later referred to as the Bruneval Raid, took place on the 27th February 1942 and it was a complete success. Although the 11th SAS had already earned theirs on Operation Colossus, the Tragino Aqueduct raid in 1941, this was the 1st Parachute Brigade's first battle honour. Unfortunately, Gale was not destined to lead the Brigade as a whole into action when they left for North Africa towards the end of 1942. Instead, in the spring of that year, he was posted back to the War Office and was not particularly pleased about it.

 

Despite his reluctance, Gale's work, as Deputy Director of Staff Duties for Air, and later as Director of Air, kept him in touch with the Airborne Forces because it was his job to enhance the co-operation between the Airborne Forces and the RAF, and more generally the Army and the RAF. It was a most difficult time to be presenting any sort of case in favour of airborne warfare because it was a largely untried concept and, when it came to grappling for precious resources, such as transport aircraft and pilots for paratroopers to train with, it was easy for the Airborne Forces to lose out in favour of more familiar formations, in particular Bomber Command, who did not like to be distracted from what they saw as their primary role, to bomb Germany. To lift a single division into combat required more aircraft than even Bomber Command then had available to it, and so, faced with their demands and those of Fighter, Coastal and Transport Commands, not to mention the insistence of the Army for close-support aircraft, there was very little room for the Airborne Forces to manoeuvre. In pushing the case for getting them what they needed, Gale again had the assistance of the very well-connected Major-General Browning, and also the General Staff, who recognised the importance of an airborne assault to accompany any seaborne invasion of mainland Europe. 

 

On the 23rd April 1943, the War Office ordered the establishment of the 6th Airborne Division, and on the 3rd May, promoted to Major-General, Richard Gale was given command of it. The challenge facing Gale was enormous. He had to raise this new Division and have it fully trained in time for the invasion of Europe, which could be expected after just nine months. One of the first acts that Gale performed was to give his Division a motto, "Go To It" - "This motto will be adopted by the 6th Airborne Division and as such should be remembered by all ranks in action against the enemy, in training, and during the day to day routine duties." With so little time to assemble and train an elite Division, any lesser aspiration would not have been adequate. Over the next year, Gale worked exceptionally hard to raise the Division to the expected level, and it is a great credit both to them and to himself that this was achieved.

 

Gale had no idea what role the 6th Airborne Division might be called upon to undertake during the invasion, and so he had them trained to carry out every conceivable action. Behind this thinking was a great deal of tactical knowledge, which Gale had gleaned from a careful study of the other Airborne operations of the war, beginning with the earliest assaults by German paratroopers and gliderborne troops in Holland, Belgium and Greece, and the more recent actions of the British and Americans in North Africa and Sicily. One particular aspect of airborne warfare that impressed Gale was the coup de main raiding technique that had been brilliantly used by the Germans early in the War. In Belgium, the formidable Eben Emael fort was a most fearsome obstacle for any ground force to tackle, yet during the invasion it was rapidly swept aside by the ingenious use of airborne troops and, in particular, a small number of gliders which landed on its roof. This brilliant manoeuvre, in addition to the gliderborne coup de main which was used to capture the strategically pivotal bridge over the Corinth Canal in Greece, eventually inspired Gale to decide on a similar strike upon the Ranville and Bénouville bridges.

 

In early 1944, Major-General Gale was summoned to 1st British Airborne Corps HQ where he was informed of the invasion plan and of the role that the 6th Airborne Division would play in it. All the following quotations have been taken from Richard Gale's book, "With the Sixth Airborne Division in Normandy".

 

"I well remember with what mixed feelings on 17th February 1944 I heard of the proposals for the part we were to play in "Operation Overlord"... Our great moment had arrived. I was now to be told what we had all been so impatiently wanting to know. All our training; all our endeavours; all our beliefs were at last to be put to the test. We had tried to think of every contingency. We, the whole team, had studied, laboured, pondered and deduced. We knew what we could do and what we wanted. We knew just how far the bow would stretch... General "Boy" Browning outlined the plan in general and then spoke of our role in particular. Of all the contingencies we had envisaged we had never contemplated anything but a divisional operation... I hope I had the good grace to not show what I really felt. I was, in fact, to place one parachute brigade and one anti-tank battery under the command of one of the sea assault divisions, the 3rd British Infantry Division... I was told that, regrettably, the size of the force had to be limited by the number of aircraft that could be made available for this part of the overall plan."

 

"Quite apart from the fact that I feared that so small a force would be inadequate for the task, not of seizing, but of holding the bridgehead, it is a terrible thing for a commander to feel that his formation is being committed piecemeal to battle and even then not under his command... Great, therefore, was my relief when a few days later, on the 23rd February, I was told that the whole of 38 and 46 Groups R.A.F. would now be available and that thus a divisional operation would be possible. That ghastly dream had passed."

 

With their role widened and a broad plan produced to achieve their objectives, Gale and his staff worked on a more detailed plan and began to learn everything about the area in which they were to land. "In the study of ground the air photograph is essential. Complete photographic cover of the whole area was available and from this we could glean details as to topography, cultivation and enemy works in the area. The intelligence staff studied and annotated these photographs and we pored over them. From these, and the already very complete maps we had, we made a large model of the whole area. This was done with great skill by Corporal Jones of the Intelligence Section. It was made of plasticine: houses, trees, roads, railways and rivers were all done most beautifully to scale. It was coloured, and over it later I and the brigade commanders made our detailed dispositions."

 

"The next problem was the timing of the fly-in of the second wave. Aircraft had to get back; be gone over for damage by flak; and pilots would have to be re-briefed. It was impossible to say accurately what losses there would be and quite impossible to know which aircraft would either return or not return, or which would be unserviceable. It was, therefore, reckoned that it would be unwise to plan on the fly-in of the 6th Airlanding Brigade and the remainder of the guns, etc., before the afternoon of "D" Day. Here again I was faced with a decision. We could not be sure that the bridges would be intact and we could not in consequence rely on being supplied overland. A proportion of the air effort on "D" Day must thus be devoted to flying in supplies. This meant that we would not have enough aircraft for the whole of the airlanding brigade. It was, therefore, not without great reluctance that I decided to bring in the 12th Devons (less one company which could be flown in) and one anti-tank battery over the beaches. We could not hope to have these troops in the battle before the afternoon of the second day."

 

"It was not until fairly late in our planning that the "stakes" appeared. We had an excellent photographic cover and this was constantly kept up to date. One day {Major, GSO-2 Intelligence} Lacoste came to me with an anxious look on his face and an enormous bunch of photographs. The Germans had started putting in enormous stakes, cut-down tree-trunks, all over the country. Every conceivable place where gliders or parachutists could land was covered. With their customary skill and their usual thoroughness these things were going up at an astounding rate. We had information, too, that the stakes were to be mined. Minefields we could certainly discern in the photographs. From a microscopic study we found also that the poles were being connected by wires. Here then was a pretty kettle of fish... The first thing that worried me was, was this general all over Northern France or was it local? Had they in fact guessed or gleaned the area of the assault? Would they just be waiting for us? These doubts were quickly dispelled because an examination of other areas showed that the plan was general. There was in fact no reason to suspect that the Germans knew our intentions. That was an enormous relief... Our plan was to land sappers with the first wave of parachutists. Their tasks were to fell the lines of these poles by explosives... We worked at this night and day and perfected the drill. Eventually we felt satisfied that we could clear enough of them in sufficient time to make it reasonably safe for the gliders to land... The stakes gave us a scare, but that was the worst they did. Moreover, in them I saw a certain advantage. For one could argue that the Germans would look at these stakes and think they are safe; they would say no one could be so foolish as to land gliders in the midst of so much trouble."

 

With D-Day imminent, Gale was summoned to a meeting at St. Paul's School, and it was attended by all of the other divisional commanders who were to land in Normandy with the first wave. Gale sat next to Lieutenant-General Ridgway of the 82nd Airborne Division, of whom he had a great deal of respect, both as a man and a commander. "General Montgomery introduced into the discussion various pertinent questions as to what commanders would do in the event of the unexpected happening, and landings, assaults etc. not going quite as well as we might have hoped. All these situations as one might suppose were more than adequately dealt with. At the end of the historic meeting the Prime Minister came in. He listened intently as the Commander-in-Chief summed up and then at the end he spoke to us. He was obviously overcome by the greatness of the occasion, and he made no bones about his views on the subject. I shall never forget his fierce fighting conclusion, when he told us we were not invading Europe in order to "stake claims on bits of territory which we must be prepared to hold", but we were invading Europe with the object of carrying the offensive war right into the heart of Germany, on and on relentlessly, until Hitler and the German Army were once and for all thrashed and beaten. We left that meeting at St. Paul's School confident in our leaders, confident in our plan, confident in our allies and confident in ourselves."

 

The various arms of the 6th Airborne Division were moved into their concentration areas on the 25th May 1944. "The men were told everything, not only the details of what was to be expected of them, but also the larger plan. They were allowed to discuss among themselves their tasks and how they were going to carry them out. It was quite a sight to watch them in groups talking their problems over, their officers moving about among them to answer their eager questions... A day or so before we were to take off I flew around all the camps and addressed all the officers and men. They were in great heart, cheerful, expectant and ready for anything."

 

On the 2nd June, when Gale visited the 9th Parachute Battalion at RAF Broadwell, he received an enthusiastic reception and said of Normandy, "The Hun thinks only a bloody fool will go there. That's why I'm going!"

 

"My glider was to be flown by Major Griffiths who, expert glider pilot though he is, will be known probably more as a great cricketer and wicket keeper than as a glider pilot. We went aboard the glider and went all through our "ditching drill", just in case. My tug aircraft was to be piloted by Wing Commander, now Group Captain, MacNamara and was to be an Albermarle aircraft. MacNamara and I had a lot in common, not only our interest in airborne matters, but our love of sailing; for he like myself was a keen yachtsman... Among others who came down to see us was Wing Commander Dennis Wheatley, who was at that time employed in the War Cabinet Offices. He brought with him a bottle of the most delicious hock I ever remembered tasting, and in this he drank to our health and our success. I am by nature superstitious. I was, therefore, very touched when as a token or talisman of good fortune he gave me a small crusader sword; this I believe he had had for years."

 

"My glider number was 70. I was accompanied by my A.D.C., Tom Haughton, David Baird my G.S.O. 2, my personal escort, my signaller and my driver, and Rifleman Grey, Tom's batman. In the glider also were my jeep with wireless set and two moror cycles. There were twelve of us in all. Before us lay an hour and a half's flight... During the few days I had been on the station I had got to know the station commander and his staff very well. I remember I had once said that I like treacle very much indeed. It was a thoughtful, friendly, and very charming gesture, therefore, when Group Captain Surplice handed me a tin of treacle to take to France as I was emplaning."

 

"In the glider we all wore Mae Wests, and taking our places we all fastened ourselves in and waited for the jerk as the tug took the strain on the tow-rope. Soon it came and we could feel ourselves hurtling down the smooth tarmac. Then we were airborne and once again we heard the familiar whistle as the air rushed by and we glided higher and higher into the dark night. I suppose all men have different reactions on these occasions. I went to sleep and slept soundly for the best part of an hour. I was woken up by a considerable bumping. We had run into a small local storm in the Channel Griffiths was having a ticklish time and the glider was all over the place."

 

"We were flying at about five thousand feet and we soon knew the coast was under us, for we were met by a stream of flak. It was weird to see this roaring up in great golden chains past the windows of the glider, some of it being apparently between us and the tug aircraft... I shall never forget the sound as we rushed down in our final steep dive, then we suddenly flattened out, and soon with a bump, bump, bump, we landed on an extremely rough stubble field. Over the field we sped and then with a bang we hit a low embankment. The forward undercarriage wheel stove up through the floor, the glider spun round on its nose in a small circle and, as one wing hit one of those infernal stakes, we drew up to a standstill. We opened the door. Outside all was quiet... About us now the other gliders were coming in, crashing and screeching as they applied their brakes. It was a glorious moment."

 

"Had Ranville been cleared of the enemy? Were the bridges taken, were they intact and safely in our hands? How was Terence Otway and his gallant battalion faring at the Merville battery? We could still hear intermittent fire from the direction of the bridges... The crash we had, though not serious, resulted in the nose being really well dug into the ground and the problem of getting the jeep out was defeating us. Eventually we had to give it up: and so on foot we set out for Ranville. Soon dawn commenced to break, just a few yellow streaks towards the East... A figure loomed up before me that I would always recognise anywhere. It was Nigel Poett. He had successfully captured the bridges."

 

"It was just before it was getting light that we heard sounds from the side of the road, difficult at first to interpret. We stopped and we listened. Was it a party of Germans? We kept still and waited. I don't know whether we were relieved, disappointed or merely amused when we discovered it was only a horse grazing as unconcerned with the great adventure being enacted around it as it could be. I took the toggle rope from around my waist and, using it as a halter, took the horse along with me. I wasn't quite sure what I was going to do with it, but it made the men laugh and it amused me. The next day the poor brute was killed by a German mortar bomb and we buried it in the grounds of the chateau."

 

"It was daylight by the time we reached Ranville and knocked on the front door of the chateau. The poor people inside had not the remotest idea what it was all about... They were very frightened, these people, but very kind. They did not know at the time whether this was just a raid or the real and long waited for invasion. Would we just come and then go; then, when the Germans returned, would they have to pay the price of sheltering us? Whatever their thoughts they never faltered. The people of Normandy are a great, stalwart people; not effusive, but loyal and true to the bone."

 

During the day, Major-General Gale toured the positions in the Ranville area. Staff-Sergeant Ernie Stocker, a Glider Pilot, recalls the sight of the General approaching: "Some time later in the day, walking along the road which was some ten feet elevated and right on the skyline, came this six-foot four-inch tall man, with no helmet on and a shock of white hair. Walking with him was his corporal bodyguard with a Sten and that's all! It was General Gale - known of course, right from his schooldays at Rossall, as 'Windy'. He looked fearless while we were cringing! He said "Where are the enemy?" to me. It should be remembered that the whole situation was fluid and firing was taking place in all different directions, so I said "I don't know, Sir." He said "Come on, Corporal. Let's find somebody who does know something about this bloody war!" It's little wonder that he figures so high on Rossall's honours board!"

 

At about 09:00 on the 6th June, a rather peculiar sight was seen strolling calmly to Bénouville Bridge from the direction of Ranville. It was Major-General Gale, with Brigadiers Poett and Kindersley, all wearing their red berets and none of them paying the slightest bit of attention to the shots that were passing around them. After exchanging a few words of encouragement with the men that they passed, they continued on to 7th Battalion HQ, where they were briefed on the current situation by Lieutenant-Colonel Pine-Coffin.

 

Gale continues: "Up to this time {6th June} I had no artillery of my own and no artillery support from the sea assault division, who were quite busy enough fighting their own battle in the area of the beaches and the ground just inland. In the extreme North I had a call on naval gunfire, but this would not reach much beyond Le Plein. It would, I knew, be several hours before I could expect to get any artillery support from West of the Orne and, at the rate things seemed to be going, that certainly not before the morrow. My only reserve was in Ranville: it consisted of about sixty men of the Independent Parachute Company... To summarize; we were very thin on the ground, but we had done what we set out to do and we all believed that we could hold what we had gained."

 

"The closing incident for this great day was the fly-in of the 6th Airlanding Brigade. It was a sight I shall never forget. Of a sudden the dull roar of aircraft could be heard. Then they came, hundreds of aircraft and gliders: the sky was filled with them. We could see the tug aircraft cast off their gliders, and down in great spirals the latter came to the landing zone. Most of the stakes had by now been cleared... It is impossible to say with what relief we watched this reinforcement arrive. The German reaction was quick. He mortared our headquarters, the village of Ranville, and attempted to mortar the landing zone. His fire was inaccurate and ineffectual. Unfortunately at my headquarters poor Jack Norris, my Artillery Commander, received a terrible throat wound; none of us thought that he could possibly survive, but he did. His loss to us out there was great. Jerry Lacoste, my Intelligence Officer, was also hit. One of my provost men standing just behind me was killed."

 

The location of Gale's Headquarters was later called into question: "I remember General Browning criticising me about the position of my headquarters. When he visited me in Normandy and we were getting a bad time with hostile shelling, he said, "Richard, you've got your headquarters in a pretty unhealthy spot". It was: but it was rather like Bruce Bairnsfather's drawing in the First World War of the soldier lying in one of a hundred shell holes in no man's land, above which was the following caption, "If you know of a better hole go to it"."

 

"The arrival of the 3rd Division {in the final hours of the 6th June} not only secured the right flank from counter-attack West of the canal, but also secured for us our supply line. In fact we felt we could face the morrow with confidence. The division had passed a critical phase. Although the morrow would certainly bring heavier German attacks, we would be in so much better state to deal with them. The buoyancy that results from the arrival of fresh and vigorous troops is astounding... I thanked God for the courage of the troops: they were splendid. Quiet in their strength and great in their skill, they lived up to the traditions of the British Army. The light of God was in their eyes."

 

"From all that could be gleaned from our studies of the problem in England I felt that we ought to hold Escoville. Escoville was the eastern terminus of a long, low ridge of which Longueval was the western beginning. The task of securing this village fell, therefore, to the other airlanding battalion, the 52nd {Regiment of Foot - aka the 2nd Oxford & Bucks Light Infantry}... It soon became apparent, however, that the task of clearing the whole village was beyond their capacity and the problem of reinforcing them would immediately arise. One had here to make a difficult decision. Should we go on and force the issue whatever the cost? In the light of what I had seen I finally came to the conclusion that the value of Escoville was not such as to warrant the undoubtedly heavy cost. Whereas Longueval was essential to us Escoville was desirable, and in war the two things are entirely different. Furthermore, with my weak resources, I could not afford defeat and the possible loss of one battalion. For these reasons I called off the attack by the 52nd, and decided to make the southern outskirts of Herouvillette the limit of our position on this flank."

 

"Kindersley's {6th Airlanding} brigade was thus going into action piecemeal, extending, as it were, the horns on either flank of the Ranville position. As I saw the inevitableness of this situation developing I decided on a re-grouping of the battalions of these two brigades. On the right where the Ulstermen were to go, I placed the 12th Parachute Battalion under Hugh Kindersley. When the 12th Devons arrived on the next day they would come to relieve the 12th Parachute Battalion which would then come into reserve. Hugh would thus have two of his own battalions under his command, plus one parachute unit... The 52nd I placed under Poett's {5th Parachute Brigade} command. When the 7th Parachute Battalion were relieved at the bridges they were to move to the East of Ranville. Poett would thus have two of his parachute battalions plus one airlanding battalion, the 52nd."

 

"In our battle for the Orne bridgehead the Germans had disputed our possession of this area hour in and hour out... My reasons for doubting his ability to oust us were based on three very good military arguments. The first was the adherence of the German to an unsound tactical concept... It was his faith in the regimental battle group form of attack, as opposed to the divisional attack supported by co-ordinated massed artillery fire... Up to that moment, though we had been continuously mortared and shelled by self-propelled guns, we had never been seriously registered. Without registration, that is to say careful ranging by all guns of all calibres, artillery fire, though harmful admittedly, can never be really devastating. The enemy had never registered the bridges or the approaches to them: he had never registered our gun positions: he had never registered our headquarters: he had never registered methodically our forward posts. All he had done was to mortar indiscriminately where he believed the troops were dug in. This failure of the German to group his artillery and exploit the great potential of this arm is astounding. That he had the means of controlling and co-ordinating this fire I later found to be only too true... Yet never once did I see this control exercised in the offensive use of artillery to support a determined attack with the object of forcing a break-in on a limited front. This was the British way of using artillery, and captured documents showed only too clearly the German regard for these tactics. It may have been that their ammunition supply would not run to it: but they never seemed to be short on our front and certainly an economy in those early days would have given sufficient time to mount one full-scale assault. One such assault successfully delivered might have saved them endless losses in the long run."

 

"The second reason for confidence that the German would not oust us from our bridgehead lay in the natural strength of the position we held. Paradoxical as it may seem the strength of this position lay in its apparent weakness. To the South we held a great crescent the tips of which were Longueval and Herouvillette. That the outskirts of Ranville in the centre should have been in the front line is an apparent weakness; but the defences here were well concealed, they had long and uninterrupted fields of fire, and the approach from St. Honorine was across completely open ground. German infantry, if they got in here, would be under fire from the East, from the West, and from the North. Tanks, if they penetrated into this open piece of killing ground, would be sitting targets to the anti-tank guns we had concealed on three sides of the square. The ground between Herouvillette and Le Mariquet was heavily mined with both anti-tank and anti-personnel mine-fields. Between Herouvillette and the edge of the Bois de Bavant was an open strip, but this area, too, was mined. An attack developed here, even if it successfully crossed the mine-field, would meet no less than three battalions in depth between it and the bridges. The road from Troarn to Le Mesnil ran through the thick and impassable Bois de Bavant. With one battalion at the road junction South-East of Escoville and one at Le Mesnil I felt confident that we could hold a thrust on this axis. The ridge between Le Mesnil and Le Plein was thickly wooded. Le Plein we held, as also the ground from there to Salanelles. We did not hold Breville. It was my weakest spot and I realized it. What, however, if the enemy did break through that gap?... the country to the North and North-East of {Ranville}: devastatingly open country for infantry to get into. Moreover, it will be remembered that, thanks to the swampy Dives valley and the Bois de Bavant, a serious tank threat from this direction could be ruled out. Thus, though an attack were to break through the Breville gap, it would only end by reaching the open plain facing Ranville: we had no doubt that thus far only would it get."

 

"The third reason was the Allied undoubted and little-disputed command of the air. Proper and systematic air reconnaissance of our positions was either not possible or not practiced by the enemy. I think the German mentality here again was at fault. In spite of the terrific strain there had been on our air resources to provide and build up our fighter, bomber and coastal commands, all essential to our very being, we had not neglected the requirement of air photography. I had, for example, the most excellent photographs, always up to date, of the German defences on my front. From these we were always able to mark down all his new works, his mortar and his gun positions."

 

The German attacks on the ridge around Bréville increased and became particularly serious after the fighting on the 12th June. "I was myself up at Le Mesnil, and from all I had seen and {Brigadier} Hill told me when he came in it was plain that once and for all the Breville sore must be liquidated. The problem was when and how. It was 5 p.m. when I got back to my headquarters. I had one battalion in hand, the 12th, sadly under strength, but a gallant hard-fighting unit. I also had about sixty men of the Independent Parachute Company. Finally I had the squadron of the 13/18 Hussars... The Germans had been fighting hard for over three days. On this front we only had the 346th Division to contend with and their losses had been severe. They had the initiative, but after the extreme severity of the day's fighting they would scarcely credit us with the ability to stage a counter-attack, anyhow until the following day. If we waited they would be rested and they would have time in which to organize themselves in the Breville postions. I decided to attack that night... There is a turning point in all battles. In the fight for the Orne bridgehead the Battle of Breville was that turning point. Neither in the North nor in the South were we ever seriously attacked again."

 

For his actions during the Battle of Bréville, Major-General Gale was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. His citation reads:

 

On June 12th 1944, 12th Battalion Parachute Regiment attacked Breville supported by artillery fire. Major-General Gale went to a vantage point to observe the preliminary artillery concentration. On proceeding to 1st Special Service Brigade HQ he discovered that some of the guns were falling short into No.6 Commando area. He proceeded to this area to investigate and joined up with a company of 12th Parachute Battalion. He walked forward into Breville over open ground which at the time was being swept by all types of fire. His presence among the forward elements, still wearing his beret continued with the utmost coolness and calmness, suggesting more an exercise than the middle of a very bloody battle had such an amazing effect on the troops that wounded and attackers alike cheered and attacked with such elan that nothing could resist them. The Battalion by this time had lost its Commanding Officer and General Gale's presence without any manner of doubt contributed largely to the success of the attack. General Gale's complete disregard for his own personal safety, his popularity with the troops and his cool and calm manner has on several occasions since the beginning of this campaign been an inspiration to officers and men alike.

 

"{Following the arrival of the 51st Highland Division} Our front now extended from a point in the Bois de Bavant due East of Escoville to the sea, a front of nine thousand yards. To hold it we had nine weak battalions and the 1st S.S. Brigade. We had all been fighting hard for between eight and nine days and nights without a break. In spite of the fact that many missing men on the drop had now come in the total strength of infantry in both airborne and Commando units along this whole line was under six thousand. It was really essential that I should get one brigade out at a time to give a reserve, to rest the men, and to give some depth to the positions. For these reasons I was given the 4th S.S. Brigade of Royal Marine Commandos, under Brigadier Leicester, which had been fighting up till then West of the Orne."

 

"We were now in for a period of static defence. In spite of the fact the men realized the valuable part they were playing in holding this area, this role was bound to lead to a sense of disappointment and frustration. The maintenance of morale and the offensive spirit was, therefore, our first charge. The happiest and most inspiring thing about all this was the will with which the troops went into their tiring and uninspiring task. The advent of a new German division or the change or one division for another on our front would have obvious repercussions on us. Consequently my great interest was to build up the enemy order of battle on my front. Where were the boundaries between formations? How wide a front was each formation opposite me holding? Who were the Commanders and what were their intentions? Information from prisoners and deserters of whom there were a few, generally Poles, showed us what German morale was like, confirmed or otherwise our ideas as to his positions, as well as many other things... We, in that we had just invaded, had the initiative, and we had complete confidence in ourselves and in the success of the Allied plan, but we had a respect for the stubbornness of our enemy. It was not during this phase a question of vigorous pursuit, it was a matter of hard fighting for every inch of ground as well as skill, determination and guts to hold what had been got. A constant and up-to-date knowledge of the enemy organisation, strength and intentions on the front was naturally of the greatest importance."

 

"When on "D" Day, Lacoste, my Senior Intelligence Staff Officer, was wounded and had to leave us we were all extremely upset. Firstly because he was a staunch friend to us all, always cheerful and always nice; secondly we had such a real appreciation of his technical ability. His opinions were sound and were from our experiences proved to be correct... However, we were, in this case, fortunate beyond measure. Lacoste's G.S.O. 3 was one Freddie Scholes. His work carried out in most difficult circumstances was just splendid... But poor Freddie was killed whilst at work. I personally felt his loss most keenly... The interpretation of air photographs was done by a small section of experts of my staff known as the Army Photographic Interpretation Staff. They were under the command of one Captain McBride of the Border Regiment... He was an expert at his job and there were no secrets in these photos we had taken that McBride did not unearth. We found the German mortars, the holes in the hedges where he was wont to run up his self-propelled guns, and his rocket-firing mortars. The tracks as well as the tell-tale footpaths and muzzle blast of the guns all showed up on the air photographs. Most nights the Germans came over and gave us a bit of bombing. One July night a bomb, which dropped just outside the office, sent a shower of splinters into the sand-bagged doorway where poor McBride was standing; and thus we lost yet another of the band." McBryde died on the 18th June 1944, Freddie Scholes two days earlier.

 

"Of course there were continuous rumours that we were to be taken out and sent home to reform for another airborne operation. At one time it even came to the point of reconnaissance by the supposed relieving division. However, this was not to be. One question, over which there were at times differences of opinion, was whether we should or should not push the Germans back on our front across the River Dives. We knew the strength, or rather the weakness, of the German division opposite us and given adequate artillery support and fresh troops the task would certainly not have been beyond our power. On the other hand the ground the Germans held was intensely enclosed and well suited for defence. It was no country for the use of tanks, and accurate observation of artillery fire was well-nigh impossible. It would be a costly operation and to what end? Once on the line of the Dives we should be faced with a broad flooded valley beyond which rose the almost precipitous ridge which formed the eastern watershed of the river. From this ground the Germans would have complete observation of our forward positions which would then be in the open. His own positions, protected by the bluff escarpment opposite us, would be immune from observation. Reconnaissance for this attack were carried out by the 49th Division as well as by us. At one time it seemed that we should push forward. The desire to drive the Germans over the Dives was strong and animated all. Sound judgment prevailed, however, and I was thankful when once and for all the idea was dropped. The time for us to advance East from our positions was not ripe: the time to do it would be when we had the strength to follow up an attack by crossing the Dives and pursuing the Germans right up to the Seine."

 

"The men, I knew, loved {"Pegasus Goes To It" - the Division's daily news sheet}; they looked forward to it and passed it round and, if for some reason they missed a day, they wanted to know the reason why... On the front page we gave snips of information. "Nutty", one of the soldiers, always had a cartoon, and on this page there was at least one joke. On the other side we printed extracts from the latest news culled from the B.B.C. and other sources. I always put letters in it that would be of interest to the division as a whole. And sometimes, if I wanted to get something over to the troops, I would publish it in the paper. I knew they'd read it there and take it for what it was meant to be."

 

"{On the 16th July} I was able to take {Field Marshal Montgomery} up to the wreckage that had been Breville, and from there show him the panorama that was opened from this commanding position. Due to the clearances in the orchards and the rather peculiar configuration of the ground, Breville afforded the best view from any point East of the Orne of the British left flank. No wonder the Germans had fought so stubbornly for it. From here one could see across the River Orne and the Canal de Caen, right over to the northern outskirts of Caen, whilst looking southwards one could look right into Ranville, and Herouvillette and onwards beyond the Troarn-Caen road, and even to the rolling country beyond this. That the Germans had never held this strongly was a mystery to me, for it was the key to the whole position East of Caen. Had they held it firmly from "D" Day onwards they could, so long as they remained there, have inflicted the most grievous hurt to the 3rd Infantry Division West of the canal."

 

Two days later, the British and Canadians mounted Operation Goodwood, an armoured attack through the 6th Airborne's positions, mounted by the 7th, 11th and Guards Armoured Divisions. "Before dawn, in company with Tom Haughton and my faithful escort, I was up with {Chester Wilmot of the BBC, on the ridge at Bréville}. All was still quiet. As dawn broke over came the British bombers... In a few moments they were dropping hundreds of tons of high explosive on Collombelles and the area round Troarn. The air shook and vibrated with the appalling roar of these explosions. On and on came the bombers: the German flak was intense... Whilst all this was going on Wilmot and I heard an unusual, a different sound. It was from a German V1 bomb which, coming from the direction of Le Havre, passed over our heads only a few hundred feet up. We watched it and to our joy and astonishment it turned left-handed and, heading to the South, burst in the German lines. It was the only one we saw. We thought it must have been one intended for England that had gone astray. From my hilltop I watched the great tank battle during that day. We ourselves came in for some German retaliatory shelling, but we were inured to this by now, and it was not really severe."

 

"At the end of July we opened a divisional rest centre and school on the sea-front just outside Ouistreham. The primary object of this establishment was to provide rest for approximately one hundred men and ten officers for a period of four or five days. The site we selected was a row of small seaside detached houses facing the beach. The whole area had to be swept for mines, but the houses for the most part were unharmed, dry and comfortable. The contrast of this attractive setting with the drab and utter discomfort in the bridgehead was of itself a tonic. The battle school was intended to train young officers and non-commissioned officers in patrol leading, digging and revetting, mine and booby-trap detection, wiring, and in sniping and the employment of snipers... It took weeks to get all this ready. I saw the troops settle in on their first day and it really looked good, and that evening I returned over the bridges to my headquarters well satisfied. At about 10 p.m. we were all shaken by an enormous explosion in the Ouistreham area, flames could be seen from the direction of the school, some six miles from where we were... I naturally thought a bomber had scored a direct hit on one of my little villas. I got in my jeep and rushed over to see what it was all about. To my horror I found that two of these villas were blazing away. A German bomber, flying out to sea, had been hit by our anti-aircraft guns and, out of control, it headed straight for the school and hit one house, its whole bomb load going off. The house it hit and the one next door were both completely demolished. Twenty-two men were killed in this disaster. It was a tragedy that stunned us. Here we had drawn men, tired men, out of the line to rest and here in one blow we had lost twenty-two precious lives. It is a great tribute to all that the morale of the remainder was unaffected. The rest centre and school continued to function right up to the day we started the pursuit to the Seine."

 

"On the 7th August I received instructions from the 1st Corps to prepare plans with the object of taking every advantage of an enemy withdrawal on my front. They did not anticipate that the 6th Airborne Division would be able to do more than follow up the withdrawing Germans, as it was felt that our resources in vehicles, artillery and bridging materials were hopelessly insufficient to make the division sufficiently mobile for a rapid pursuit. The shortages of transport in an airborne division did not, of course, make themselves seriously felt in the assault operations on "D" Day, nor did they matter so seriously during the long period of static defence, though units were often hard put to it to manage and the 1st Corps had had to help us out... Whilst it was a fact that both in terms of unit transport and divisional R.A.S.C. we were quite inadequately equipped for a rapid pursuit, what we did have was a wealth of pent-up energy resulting from two months' enforced defensive fighting. The division further had itself to prove: it wanted to show that in pursuit it could be as determined and successful as it felt it had been in the assault and in defence. We felt also that we could overcome difficulties by improvisation and the will to get things done. It was in this frame of mind that we approached the problems that were to confront us."

 

"In view of the nature of the country and our resources in artillery it was clear that, with determined resistance on the whole front by an enemy prepared to fight, it was extremely doubtful whether we had the resources to force the crossings over the first great obstacle, the River Dives, anywhere on our front. The basis of the plan I evolved was to push forward on the Troarn-Dozulé-Pont Leveque road with the bulk of the division, and to mop up the coastal strip with the 6th Airlanding Brigade under whose command I intended to put the Belgian and Netherlands contingents... My hope was that the forward move could be pushed with such vigour that no time would be given to the enemy to organize positions East of the Dives. Between midnight and 5 a.m. on the night of the 16-17th August I visited each brigade commander and tied up with each certain last-minute details. I impressed upon them the necessity for vigour in the pursuit and the legitimate risks that must be taken in this phase of battle. We were all a little worried about the physical fitness of the troops. They had spent over two months in static defence, living in unhealthy fox-hole positions. In these circumstances their feet would be bound to have softened, and the general muscular hardness that had so characterized them when they flew over on "D" Day must have deteriorated. Such a pursuit, as I envisaged, over hilly country, in the height of summer, with little or no transport and consequently much marching, with heavy loads to be carried on the move, would call for much from troops in hard training, and the 6th Airborne Division was certainly not that at this moment. They say that faults known are half cured; we certainly knew our weaknesses."

 

On the 18th June, the main thrust found the 3rd Parachute Brigade caught on the Island under direct observation from the Dozulé heights. "The strength of the Dozulé position was as obvious as it was frightening. On the other hand it seemed to us that the German intention was merely to gain time and that all we were up against was a determined, but probably weak rear guard. The amount of fire from the enemy and the amount of British movement that was taking place on what I now called our island bore out this theory. We could, however, unless we were careful, take an awful punishing and would almost certainly fail if we went straight in. The German positions were extremely well concealed and their fields of fire all that could be desired. Later, when I was able to examine them I was immensely impressed by the thoroughness of the German small field-works. Their fox holes were neatly dug, had obviously been dug for some time, and were beautifully camouflaged. Where the turf had been removed it had been relaid with infinite care. To me it was a lesson not to be forgotten. Their individual siting was excellent and in every case the get-away was completely concealed from the front."

 

"A daylight assault over the open and under the direct observation of the heights on either side of the road was out of the question. A night attack was the obvious answer... Hill's {3rd Parachute} brigade by now, though capable of making the initial attack, would not, I felt, be able to push on and force the fight up on to the high ground beyond. They had the great advantage, however, that they knew the ground to their front and this it was most desirable to exploit. For this reason, as well as for reasons of speed, I decided to put a two-brigade leapfrog attack that night. The 3rd Brigade was to advance forward up to and make good the crossings over the canal, and then to proceed as far as the line of the railway. The railway line was to form the start-line for the 5th Brigade who were to pass through with the task of seizing Putot-en-Auge and the high ground to the South of and overlooking Dozulé. We had to rule out the ground to the North because a frontal attack here would be far too difficult, the slopes being almost precipitous. A thrust down the axis of the road would leave the Germans in possession of the high ground on either side; and, unless a complete enemy withdrawal were to take place, dawn might find us in an impossible position."

 

With the successful outcome of this attack, the Division turned its attention elsewhere and slowly won all the ground to the east of the Island. "I had by this time brought the 6th Airlanding Brigade under Brigadier Flavell round from Cabourg, leaving the Belgian Brigade there to make what headway it could. The Dutch Brigade were to move up behind Flavell's troops. The Germans were now just holding on by the skin of their teeth and the dominating ground was passing feature by feature into our hands. My object was to drive the enemy and so rather than wait for the dawn I decided that for the third night in succession we would carry out a night assault. The ground to the South was very enclosed and unsuitable for night movement whereas that to the North was open. I decided to by-pass Dozulé by passing Flavell's brigade North, directing him on the important road junction at Cour Rouge some eight kilometres distant. During the night, while his brigade was moving up, suddenly the sky to the East lit up. In a few seconds we could see that Dozulé was on fire. The Germans had decided that they had had enough and commenced to withdraw. Their last act was to burn this attractive Normandy village to the ground. Such wanton destruction caused no delay or hardship to us. It just hurt the poor wretched French people who were left behind."

 

"My idea now was to push on along two roads, the main thrust, as planned, being on the southern route via Pont Leveque-Pont Audemer. The northern route would follow the Cour Rouge-Touques-Honfleur. Instructions had been given to the Belgian Brigade under Colonel Piron to make as much headway along the coastal road as they could, but I was not very hopeful that they would succeed. It was, therefore, great news to hear that they had entered Cabourg and had, with their own engineers and their own resources, bridged the tidal river Dives at Cabourg itself. This was a splendid feat and materially assisted the main divisional operation."

 

"Dozulé was still smouldering and the local fire brigade, now emerging from cover, was endeavouring to combat the fire. Water, hose-pipes, half-demolished houses, charred furniture in the street all told their sad story. We were soon to learn, however, that the enemy was determined to fight a hard rearguard action. The first and most obvious line on which he could hold us appeared to be the line of the road running along the high ridge through Branville-Annebault-Valseme. I was not surprised to hear armoured reconnaissance patrols report the latter two places to be held. The country was very enclosed and wooded and the hills extremely steep. It was in fact ideal ground for delaying actions. I half hoped that the rapid advance of Flavell's {6th Airlanding} brigade on the northern route would turn this position, but in spite of the latter's quick capture of Cour Rouge the Germans showed no sign of withdrawing from either Branville or Annebault."

 

On the 21st August, the 3rd Parachute Brigade overcame the Annebault position. "And so we rolled on. I hoped by pushing hard I would secure the crossing over the River Touques at Pont Leveque before the Germans had time to organize themselves. I rushed ahead in my jeep and found {Lieutenant-Colonel} Peter Luard with his {13th Parachute} battalion already on the line of the river. The Touques in this area runs through a wide valley in perfectly beautiful country. The hills on either side rise steeply, sometimes almost precipitously, to a height of some four hundred feet. The whole country is studded with woods, small gardens, orchards and little farmsteads, divided up by thick hedges... The valley, which to the North and South of Pont Leveque is about a mile broad, at the village closes in considerably. Pont Leveque is an attractive straggling place on either bank of the river which flows through the town in two channels approximately two hundred yards apart. Here in the vicinity of the town was the only possible crossing place on my axis of advance. It is true the river could have been crossed at Trouville, but here it was tidal and I had not the bridging equipment available to cross at both places and Trouville was well off my axis... In the meantime I had returned from the western half of Pont Leveque itself and, judging from the quietness in the area and the reports from the local French people I had talked to, I had come to the conclusion that if we rushed the position now we should stand every chance of success. I could not find Poett at the moment and so sent my orders to him via Lieutenant-Colonel Harvey. It was a decision which may be open to criticism. In these pursuit actions speed is the essence of the problem and a commander must be prepared to take risks if he is to grasp opportunities as they offer or even appear to offer themselves. Be that as it may, as a result of this decision Poett ordered {Lieutenant-Colonel} Stockwell {and his 12th Parachute Battalion} to carry out his crossing at once in daylight."

 

"In the meantime I had summoned a conference for 5 p.m. at Poett's headquarters and then issued orders for an advance to be made during the night by his brigade and the 4th S.S. Brigade. The 5th Parachute Brigade were to secure the St. Julien spur and the 4th S.S. Brigade the high ground immediately North of the Pont Leveque-Pont Audemer road. These orders were based on the belief that the 13th were still making some sort of progress in Pont Leveque itself."

 

Unfortunately the 13th Battalion became bogged down in particularly difficult street fighting. It was not until the 24th August that the Germans finally abandoned the village and allowed the 5th Parachute Brigade to cross over the River Touques. "We were now surging forward on a ten-mile front. Flavell and the Belgians on the left directed on Honfleur-Foulbec and the remainder of the division on the road to Pont Audemer... The 3rd Parachute Brigade, and in particular the 8th Battalion, had a very stiff fight in Beuzeville itself. I directed the 4th S.S. Brigade under {Brigadier} Leicester, round by the railway and the South flank; with him went our Cromwell tanks... It was a hard fight and the German casualties were heavy. Once again I was struck by the will to fight which the Germans at this time still had. Their ability to organize rearguard positions and their skill in fighting it out to the last was the outstanding characteristic of the whole fighting during this pursuit."

 

"That evening {on the 25th August} I received orders from General Crocker outlining the operations for the following day. Up to now we had really been fighting this battle on our own. A forgotten army away out on the left flank of the pursuit to the Seine we had been called by certain press correspondents. This to some extent we felt we were. Of course in fact we were very much in the 1st Corps and 1st Canadian Army Commanders' minds. The point was, I think, that in the first instance it was not assumed that we would make much headway, because we were so abominably short of transport; and secondly we were not on the Army Commanders' main line of thrust to the Seine. Just as I pushed all my main effort down the Dozulé-Pont Leveque road, taking the gains of the Belgian and 6th Airlanding Brigade as welcome and important contributing factors in my advance, so I think to the Army Commander the advance of the 6th Airborne Division, whilst not the main effort on which he was concentrating, contributed considerably to the general success of the Army operations. It was, therefore, with great pride that we received the following signal from Lieutenant-General Crerar {OC 1st Canadian Army} through our Corps Commander: "Desire you inform Gale of my appreciation immense contribution 6th Airborne Division and all Allied contingents under his command have made during recent fighting advance. The determination and speed with which his troops have pressed on in spite of all enemy efforts to the contrary have been impressive and of the greatest assistance to the Army as a whole.""

 

"To return to the 1st Corps directive to which I referred above. This gave my southern boundary for the next day's advance and excluded to me Pont Audemer. This latter town was to be on the axis of advance of Major-General Barker and his 49th Division. I received this signal in late evening. At this time I was within ten kilometres of Pont Audemer and although I could not rely entirely on my information I felt certain that I was nearer than the 49th Division. By piling my soldiers on my tanks and by using every lorry I could lay hands on I was certain I could reach Pont Audemer first. It seemed to me that by forcing the pace I might well be able to reach the village and seize the bridge before those Germans in front of General Barker's division would reach the town. The river at Pont Audemer is of course a major obstacle. If we could seize it before the Germans had made their crossing we might take a considerable number of prisoners. That night, therefore, I decided to disobey my orders and make a dash for the bridge. I placed Lieutenant-Colonel Van Stevenick's Royal Netherlands Brigade under Poett's command. This brigade, mounted on the tanks of the Armoured Reconnaissance Regiment and in their own vehicles, led the van. Pont Audemer was reached without opposition; but we were too late. The last of the Germans had crossed about twenty minutes prior to our arrival."

 

"The next day, the 27th August, we received orders to concentrate in the area between Honfleur and Pont Audemer. Our task for the time being was finished and we were to be sent back to England there to be prepared for what we knew not. This was no false alarm; with the Germans streaming over the Seine in full retreat our fear was lest the war should end before we could be prepared for another airborne operation. Such was our optimism and I think the general feeling of optimism everywhere. It is hard to describe what this day late in August meant to us. This was the first day since our landing in Normandy on the 6th June that we had not been fighting. The feeling of relief was great indeed. Rest was what the men needed and sleep their first thought. In the last forty-eight hours when not fighting they would sleep where they stood. Of course every other division that had landed on "D" Day had had the same experience. The German retreat over the Seine marked the end of a chapter for us all."

 

"Great, too, was the satisfaction that comes from the completion of a task undertaken. The men felt that they had fought for and gained their bridgehead. They held with guts what they had got by skill. To sweep back and drive before them those very enemy divisions that had sat opposite them, mortaring them, shelling them and sniping them was a fitting fulfilment of the task they had been given... Before leaving Normandy I went to say goodbye to the Commander-in-Chief. I took with me a number of my officers and men on whom he pinned the ribbons for the decorations they had so richly deserved. Then the 6th Airborne Division came home... Right well had the officers and men lived up to their motto: "GO TO IT"."

 

Following their return to England, the 6th Airborne Division rested, replaced its losses and trained for their next airborne operation. Their sister division, the 1st Airborne Division, took part in Operation Market Garden on the 17th September 1944. On the eve of the operation, Major-General Gale was consulted by Lieutenant-General Browning, Commander of the 1st British Airborne Corps and Deputy Commander of the 1st Allied Airborne Army, and Gale was not remotely happy with the plan laid before him. The 1st Airborne Division were to be dropped on zones some eight miles from their objective, the main road bridge at Arnhem. In the event only a single battalion reached the bridge and defended it for four days until their ammunition was exhausted and they were all captured. The remainder of the division fought gallantly for nine days to hold a bridgehead over the River Rhine, after which time they were ordered to withdraw with less than 30% of their original strength. Before the operation took place, Gale examined the area and concluded that a coup de main raid should have been made on the bridges by at least one parachute brigade. Major-General Urquhart of the 1st Airborne Division had earlier asked for a similar plan, but the air forces refused to fly their aircraft so close to Arnhem as it would have brought them within range of a nearby flak battery. Gale told Browning that he would have insisted upon such a coup de main to the point of resignation. Although the planning period for the operation had been exceptionally short, with just a week from its conception to commencement, Gale was privately unhappy that he had not been consulted about Market Garden earlier, because his views, as the most experienced British Airborne commander, may well have been heeded and contributed towards a more satisfactory plan. Overlooking the importance of Gale's potential input, however, was but one of a great many failings that sealed the fate of Market Garden before a shot had been fired.

 

Towards the end of 1944, Lieutenant-General Browning was appointed Chief of Staff at South East Asia Command. Gale was his obvious successor, and so he was promoted to Lieutenant-General and took over Browning's post as Commander of the 1st British Airborne Corps and Deputy Commander of the 1st Allied Airborne Army. Command of the 6th Airborne Division passed to Major-General Eric Bols, but naturally Gale still kept in touch with them, and in March 1945 he had a hand in Operation Varsity, which saw the successful if costly attempt of the 6th Airborne and 17th US Airborne Divisions to secure a bridgehead across the River Rhine and into Germany. Gale was recognised by the USA with the Legion of Merit for his role in the operation:

 

Major General Richard Nelson Gale, O.B.E., M.C., British Army, as Deputy Commander, First Allied Airborne Army, from December 1944 to May 1945, distinguished himself in the Allied cause by his professional knowledge, cooperative attitude and skillful leadership. In operational planning, his understanding of the capabilities of airborne troops was a highly valuable reference source to the planning staff. His success as Commanding General, 1 British Corps, contributed spectacularly to the Allied cause. He was Deputy Field Commander in the great airborne crossing of the Rhine River, where his indomitable leadership and timely appearance at critical places played an important part in the success of that operation. General Gale's outstanding and varied services in positions of great responsibility contributed materially to the Allied war effort.

 

He was also made a Companion of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath:

 

General Gale, General Officer Commanding, 1st Airborne Corps served as Deputy to Major-General Ridgway Commander XVIII US Airborne Corps and prior to the Airborne commitment of this Corps - in a similar capacity throughout the planning stages. His sound judgement, professional knowledge and forcefulness reached the highest standards of the military profession. As a Corps Commander he applied himself with unflagging [will?] and by his personality was the [inspiration?] of his entire staff. His work is deserving of the highest praise and of high [award?].

 

German resistance quickly collapsed under the weight of the spring offensive, and although VE Day was soon celebrated, the threat of Japan still loomed in the East. Gale took his Corps Headquarters to India, with the 6th Airborne and 44th Indian Airborne Divisions under his command. Despite the terrain and climate of the region being wholly unsuited to Airborne warfare, planning was undertaken for an operation that would see the liberation of Bangkok. Before this operation could be mounted, however, the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan and their surrender soon followed.

 

The Second World War had come to an end, and with it large portions of the British Army were disbanded. The 6th Airborne Division survived for a few years, however the 1st Airborne Corps was scrapped and so Gale found himself as a General without a posting. Although he held the rank of Lieutenant-General, this was only temporary, his official rank was still Colonel. Gale knew that he would be demoted but had no idea to what extent. Fortunately he was only reduced to Major-General and, on the 1st January 1946, was given command of the 1st Infantry Division, stationed in Egypt. Two months later he took the Division to Palestine, where hostilities between the Jewish and Arab populations was rapidly gaining momentum. His Division was given responsibility for policing the north of the country, whilst curiously the south was entrusted to no less a formation than the 6th Airborne Division. Towards the end of 1947, Gale was promoted to Lieutenant-General and given command of all British troops in Egypt and the Mediterranean, though not including those on Malta and Gibraltar. In 1949, at the request of Montgomery, Gale was made the first Director General of Military Training at the War Office, and a year later he was honoured with a Knighthood. During these final years of his military career, Gale travelled much. He was invited by his old friend and former US Airborne commander, General Ridgway, to visit Korea, where he had superbly halted an Allied retreat and taken the offensive. On the 20th September 1952, Gale was sent to Germany and placed in command of the British Army of the Rhine, a post that he held for five years. From 1954-57, Sir Richard was Aide-de-Camp to Queen Elizabeth II. In 1957, Gale retired and had no intention of returning to military life. However, in the following year he was offered the NATO role of Deputy Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, and regarded this as too high a compliment to refuse. In 1960, he retired for a second time. Gale published two books about his military life. The first, "With the Sixth Airborne Division in Normandy", was published in 1948, while his autobiography, "Call to Arms" was released in 1968. On the 29th July 1982, General Sir Richard Gale died in Kingston Upon Thames, London. He was 86.

 

See also: Brigadier Lovat, Brigadier Poett, Lieutenant-Colonel Mills-Roberts, Lieutenant-Colonel Pine-Coffin, Captain MacMillan, Captain Windrum.

 

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