Captain John Anthony Noel Sim
Unit : "C" Company, 12th Parachute Battalion.
Army No. : 112966
Awards : Military Cross
Captain Sim was Second-in-Command of the 12th Battalion's "C" Company, and on the 6th June, after taking up positions along the ridge around Le Bas de Ranville, he was given command of an exposed outpost. The following is his description of what followed, taken from "Go To It!" by Peter Harclerode:
"My particular task was to command a forward screen in a hedgerow some three hundred yards from C Company's position. It had been planned that I was to have a section from No.4 Platoon, two LMGs, two PIATs, a 17-pounder and a 6-pounder anti-tank gun, a Forward Observer Bombardment (FOB) party who were going to direct the fire of a cruiser lying offshore and a wireless set for my use. The flanks of my position were to be covered by the fire of machine guns from a position in the rear."
"By first light my party, less the 17-pounder anti-tank gun, the two PIATs and my wireless set, was dug in and well camouflaged. The FOB party was busily engaged in ranging the cruiser's guns on likely targets while one of my snipers scored a hit on a man inspecting a container some four hundred yards away. At about 10am we spotted some men who appeared to be positioning a gun on a hill towards Caen. My FOB directed fire on to them and they vanished. Then came a long wait without a movement to be seen."
"At about 11am we were surprised to see a company of about fifty men straggling across our front from the left flank. They appeared to be some of our own men as they were wearing parachute-type steel helmets and camouflaged smocks. They were about three hundred yards away across a large open field and I thought perhaps B Company, on my left, was sending out a patrol in force. However, I soon changed my mind when they changed direction and advanced in line towards us. I asked the FOB to direct the cruiser's guns on them and then switch to the woods behind. A little while later he informed me that this could not be done as they were firing on a priority target."
"Meanwhile the enemy continued to advance, knee deep in long grass. Only my sniper was active, further down the hedgerow, as our plan was not to open fire until the enemy had come to within fifty yards of us where there was a barbed wire cattle fence. We watched and waited as the enemy came closer and closer. When they had reached the fence, I fired a Verey light straight at them and my men opened fire. The enemy went to ground in the long grass. Simultaneously, two self-propelled guns lumbered up from behind a ridge to our front and opened fire while on the move. They stopped seventy yards away from us, a sitting target for our 6-pounder anti-tank gun, but no gun opened fire. Shortly after, a soldier crawled up to me on hands and knees and saluted! He was sorry but the 6-pounder could not fire as the breechblock had slipped and must have been damaged in the glider landing. I could not be angry with him for not telling me earlier as he was so apologetic but the knowledge that I had no weapon with which to engage the self-propelled guns was rather frightening."
"We were by now suffering casualties rather quickly. The man on my right was dead. Another of my men, while crawling up to me moaning and groaning, slumped over before he could reach me and lay still. I noticed that the FOB had been badly wounded. Meanwhile the enemy, under the covering fire of the self-propelled guns, were crawling round to my right flank. I sent up two Verey lights in their direction, a pre-arranged signal to my company commander that I was being attacked from that direction. I hoped that he would get the 3-inch mortars into action and do something to help me. No response, however."
"As so often happens in action, all fire suddenly ceased and silence reigned for a bit. I felt fogged and mentally dulled, incapable of realising that I was in danger. Peeping through the thick hedge, I saw a German soldier standing up in another hedge running at right angles to ours. I ordered my batman to have a shot at him, which he did. The self-propelled guns had quietened down - one of them was only firing spasmodically into our position. To my amazement, I saw the hatch of one open and a German officer, splendidly arrayed in polished jackboots, stiff cap and Sam Browne, leisurely climb down and light a cigarette. He was allowed two puffs only. I don't think we killed him as we did not find his body later."
"Again we were subjected to fire but this time by mortars, the bombs airbursting in the hedgerow trees. Most uncomfortable - and we could do little but keep our heads down and hope for the best while the hell lasted. Again that sudden silence. One of my sergeants came to me and informed me that there were only four of us left alive and asked me what we were to do. The question, I'm ashamed to say, made me very aware of my personal danger and I decided that, rather than wait in the ditch to be killed, it was worth the risk to dash back to our company position and perhaps live to fight another day. We could do no more good where we were in my opinion."
"The four of us - my sergeant, my batman, a sniper and myself, - made use of a shallow ditch which ran alongside a ditch into the main position. We covered each other, leapfrog fashion, running a few yards, crawling, firing and so back to our company; the Germans firing wildly at us most of the time. Soon after we had evacuated the forward position, it was subjected to 3-inch mortar fire and was reoccupied by another section from C Company, Lieutenant Gordon Medd's platoon, the Germans having had enough and withdrawn. The FOB, who had been badly wounded in the thigh, and two other badly wounded men were taken away by stretcher-bearers, the remainder lay dead at their posts."
The two self-propelled guns which had so damaged Sim's position were both later destroyed by 6-pounder anti-tank guns located around "B" Company's position. For his actions in defence of this vital outpost, Captain Sim was awarded the Military Cross. His citation reads:
Captain Sim's Company formed part of a parachute force landed behind the enemy lines on 6th June 1944. He was detailed to hold an outpost line in front of his Company with one platoon. After landing he was only able to collect seven men of his original force. He proceeded to carry out his task. He organised this exposed position under the constant fire of snipers and mortars. Shortly afterwards his force was attacked by fifty German infantry supported by three self-propelled guns. He so fought his little force that the infantry were held and the self-propelled guns were forced to come into point blank range. This was in spite of the fact that his force had no anti-tank weapons except Gammon bombs which could be thrown by hand. He continued to fight till all but three of his men were killed. By his personal example of conspicuous gallantry he held together his force and warded off the attack for two vital hours. This enabled a redistribution of troops to meet the armoured threat thereby ensuring the safety of the vital ridge held by the airborne troops.
The 12th Battalion suffered heavily on D-Day and was withdrawn into the Divisional reserve. As part of the reorganisation, Captain Sim was transferred to "B" Company to act as Second-in-Command. On the evening of the 12th June he accompanied them in the attack on Bréville. His story continues:
"A whole German battalion was concentrated behind Breville and all indications pointed to the probability that they were going to attack at first light next morning and drive through to the bridges. This had to be prevented at all costs. Breville was held at that time by at least two companies of the enemy, plentifully supplied with light automatics, mortars and self-propelled guns. Standing on high ground, it overlooked the bridges and was an ideal starting point for an attack. We had to get our attack in fast and time for reconnaissance was all too short."
"At 8pm we were ordered to prepare for battle and the company commanders were whisked away for orders and a quick recce. At eight thirty-five the battalion moved off, up the hill, towards Amfreville. To our surprise, on arrival, we filed into the church, a large solid building standing in the middle of the village green. The men sat in the pews talking in subdued whispers and sucking sweets. Others gazed at the gaily painted effigies of saints and at the elaborate gilded cross on the altar. The time dragged by, then the platoon commanders were called for and some sergeants and corporals filed out. We continued to sit and wait. Soon there was a scurry and bustle. Quick orders were given and the battalion filed out of the church in the order of C Company, A Company, B Company and Headquarter Company."
"On the steps of the church the Padre handed out copies of the division's paper called 'Pegasus'. In the order in which we had advanced from the church, we lined up along the side of the road with the head nearest Breville. Our company commander (I was now with B Company, having been sent there on reorganisation of the available officers) had just sufficient time to inform us that we were going to attack Breville and hold it, that our artillery would fire on the village for twenty minutes and that we were to be supported by a squadron of Sherman tanks. The advance was to be made in four waves in the order C Company, A Company, a company of the 12th Battalion The Devonshire Regiment and B Company. Headquarter Company was to arrive later. For a little while we had time to look at 'Pegasus' and to study a small sketch showing the amazing Russian advances in the East."
"With a crash, the show commenced and the attackers moved off down the road to Breville. It was 9.50pm. Shells whistled over our heads and the noise was colossal. Trails of white smoke from smokeshells appeared overhead. Then we came under very heavy gun and mortar fire. We hurriedly took cover in the narrow ditches beside the road, many of us had to be content with lying in the open hugging the walls of houses. It was not until ten past ten that the fire slackened and we were able to move on to our start line."
"When we were in position, our company commander signalled us to advance. Between us and the burning, dust-hazed village was a large open field in which were four Sherman tanks blazing away with tracer at the houses. Steadily and in line we advanced up to the tanks and, as they were still firing, we halted and waited for them to cease fire. Behind and to the left, a black pillar of smoke poured out of one of the Shermans. When the tanks switched their fire over to the left of the village and into the dark shadows of a wood (by this time it was getting dark) B company advanced again."
"Without any fuss or bother, we moved into Breville and took up defensive positions in an orchard. There were masses of German trenches in the orchard. Dead Germans lay around and the ground was littered with arms and ammunition. Our men quickly found themselves trenches, as they had been trained to do, so as to be ready for the counter-barrage. For about ten minutes it was hell in that orchard, as shells and mortar bombs rained down. Then it ceased suddenly. While the church and some houses continued to blaze and with the eerie wails of an air raid siren to cheer us up, we waited for the counter-attack; everyone now in possession of a captured enemy automatic. The Germans, however, had had enough."
During the following hours, Captain Sim was wounded in the arm when, owing to a misunderstanding, British artillery guns opened fire on Bréville once again, believing it to still be in enemy hands.
Back to 12th Battalion
Back to Biographies Menu