Quieter today, only a few mortar bombs coming over. Enemy must be on the retreat leaving soldiers to fight a rear guard action. Waiting to be relieved, owing to the number of casualties we are no longer a fighting unit. Feeling tired and depressed - could sleep for a week. Still in the same position at midnight.
Relieved by the Royal Welsh of the 50th Division at 0100 and marched to the rear for a much needed rest. Passed through Cheux, a ghost village, in the darkness. The odour from a destroyed perfume factory and burnt out armour was anything but pleasant. Arrived at the destroyed village of Bretville Norrie to rest and get up to strength again. Dug slit trenches and fell asleep wrapped in our blankets.
Before dawn all the guns in the area were going full blast, must be in trouble up front. The 2nd Army is finding Caen a hard nut to crack. Busy all day checking and cleaning equipment. Crawley, from Whithorn, put a bullet through his foot while cleaning his Sten gun. Treated as an accident, that's him out of the war.
The biggest gun barrage in history commenced at 0500 and continued for two hours non-stop. Counter fire feeble but accurate. Marched four miles to the rear where mobile baths have been installed. Dropped our underwear on the way in, fresh supplies picked up on the way out. IC guard at 1800, quietest since arriving - lull before storm.
Detailed to pick up re-enforcements at HQ. Sergeant Reid promoted to RSM. Got ticked off for obscuring my tapes, they forget that Platoon officers the Sergeants are the snipers favourite targets. Returned to Company lines with thirty replacements in the afternoon.
The Battalion CO decided to have a ceremonial parade to boost morale. Battalion paraded in open ground with full pipe band beating the retreat about three miles from the front. Wonder what would have happened if the enemy had sent over shower of Moaning Minnys. Best nights sleep I've had in ages.
Further re-enforcements arrived today. "A" Company now at fighting strength. Watched 400 RAF four engined bombers coming in at low level to drop tons of bombs on Caen. I understand a number of planes missed their target and dropped their load on the Canadian's forward positions causing heavy casualties. A fantastic sight but at the present moment, RAF personnel are not very popular with the Canadians. All Corp guns firing tonight, sleep impossible, must be an all out effort to capture Caen.
Easy day today. Just relaxing and getting equipment ready for the next move. A further 100 other ranks arrived today from the London Scottish, my old Regiment.
Went to mass in the ruined church at 0930. Quite a sight seeing the men kneeling in the rubble singing the favourite old hymns. A number of civvies turned-up from the rear to salvage some of their belongings. Got a doing from one of them for using one of her sheets. Remained in camp as escort to Sergeant Franks. Company out on field and hedge exercise.
Caen captured yesterday, at long last. Dug-in Tiger tanks, the German's last line of defence have now withdrawn. A number of French killed in the bombing, reconned to be in the region of 6000. Very few of the enemy killed as they withdrew during the raid then returned to their positions when it was all over. On a route march to the outskirts of Caen. Fighting in this area has been severe; ground littered with burnt out tanks, carriers, scout cars - every kind of equipment. Canadians have taken the brunt of the fighting since "D" day, casualties very heavy.
Reveille at 0600. Ready to move after a meal. Waited until 1000 then told to unpack as we had two hour's grace. Rested and slept the remainder of the day. Now in charge of 18 Platoon as the officer has been promoted, leaving me in charge for the next do - not looking forward to it.
Short route march in the forenoon. A lecture by the Battalion CO on the last battle we were in completed the day's duties. Caen is out of bounds to all ranks as snipers are still causing casualties. Streets blocked after the bombing.
Short route march in the forenoon, make and mend in the afternoon. Expect to be on the move tomorrow.
Left our rest area at 2100, arriving at Verson about midnight. The usual mortaring greeted us but the former occupants left excellent slit trenches.
Left Verson and after a forced march reached the outskirts of Baron to be met with heavy mortar fire. Dug-in as fast and as quickly as possible in an orchard. We were mortared on and off all day. Just lay in our trenches and hoped for the best. Put in a night attack at 2200 using Monty's Moonlight for the first time (i.e. search lights in the rear shining on the clouds giving an eerie light to help us on our way). Went through heavy machine gun and mortar fire to reach our objective about 2000 yards from our starting point. Dug-in as fast as we could before daylight arrived.
The Following account of the fighting was taken from the War Diary of Major Sinclair, 2nd Battalion Gordon Highlanders.
Saturday 15th and Sunday 16th July 1944
I went forward to Baron in the morning to find a forming-up place for our night attack and selected two large orchards not far from the start line.
The Battalion moved up to the FUP in the evening and were dug in there before dark. The plan for the attack was that it was to be carried out in two phases. "C" and "D" Companies were to lead the attack with the object of capturing an intermediate objective on a track about 2000 yards South of Baron. "A" and "B" Companies were to pass through them and take the final objectives. PT 113 about 700 yards further on. I was to wait in the orchard at Baron with the anti-tank guns, mortars, etc., and to send them forward when called for on the wireless by Eddy. The axis of the attack was to be carried out by artificial moonlight provided by searchlights in the back area.
The KOSB's (44 Brigade) were to attack on our right and before our attack the Glasgow Highlanders (46 Brigade) were to take Esquay then hold the cross roads at Le Bon Repos. At first light on the 16th July the Argylls were to move on to the right of the Glasgow Highlanders at Le Bon Repos and the HLI with tanks and crocodiles were to go through on our right to take Evrecy.
As it got dark, the Germans started to mortar the orchard, in which we were in, very heavily. The mortar Platoon had some casualties and the Pioneer 3 ton truck, loaded with explosives received a direct hit and blew up. John Thompson, the Pioneer Platoon Commander, and members of the Platoon lost all their kit in the lorry, and John Thompson's kit was found the next day three fields away.
At about 2300 the Battalion left the FUP and moved to the start line under mortar fire but with few casualties. The IO and some of the intelligence Section had gone ahead to lay a tape on the start line, but failed to do this and the Battalion had to form up without the assistance of the tape. Fortunately the light provided by artificial moonlight enabled them to form up correctly.
One of our own minefields had previously been laid between the FUP and start line, but during the day Pioneers had made gaps through it and taped them.
The attack started at 2330. I remained in the orchard where we continued to be mortared pretty heavily at intervals. At 0100 I got a message to say that the Brigadier's Scout car, which was at his advanced HQ in the next orchard, had a direct hit and that the Brigadier had been killed. Eddy Colville was on his way back to take over command of the Brigade, and I was to take over command of the Battalion.
I set off in a carrier, calling in to see Eddy at the advanced Brigade HQ on the way, and made my way through the minefields and down the track and found Battalion HQ with Duke ("A" Company) temporarily in command on the track just South of where it crossed the Tourmaville-Esquay road. Before I left I heard that "C" and "D" Companies had taken their objectives so I brought the six pounder guns forward with me ready to get some guns up to this objective after "A" and "B" Companies had gone through.
When I arrived at Battalion HQ I found things were not going too well, although "C" and "D" Companies were on the first objectives, "A" and "B" Companies were having difficulty in getting forward owing too fairly heavy machine gun fire from their left. This fire had apparently not opened up until "C" and "D" Companies had passed through. Hamilton who was commanding "A" Company in Dukes absence was not to be found and the two Companies seemed to be getting mixed up. Progress by them during the remainder of the night was extremely slow (I put this down to bad leadership, as although the German machine guns were firing bursts from their left the fire could not have been aimed, and a determined attack could have got through it). Although I wasn't sure how far they had got (communication with them wasn't good) and as the country across which we were attacking was completly open and covered with crops it was impossible for them to indicate their position at all accurately, it was obvious they would not be able to pass through "C" and "D" Companies before light did come. I found they were only a short distance ahead of my HQ and some 700 yards behind "C" and "D".
About 0400 I was faced with the unpleasant fact that "A" and "B" Companies, my HQ and the 6 pounder gun were going to be caught out in the open when it got light, without being dug in. However, there was no alternative but to continue with the attack until we received any orders to the contrary. Shortly after this as the first sight of light came orders from Brigade HQ that we were to dig in where we were.
I decided immediately that I must get some 6 pounder guns up from "C" and "D" Companies. I started off in my carrier to go forward to them to see what their situation was, but had only gone a few yards when we found that the track was blocked by a large mound of earth. In trying to get up the bank of the track to avoid this mound, m carrier shed a track. I went back to get James Irvine's (Adjutant) carrier, but found this carrier had also shed a track. Tony Parish (OC Anti Tank) and I, then went forward in his carrier. We avoided the mound in the track but had not gone much further when there was a blinding flash and deafening explosion, and it seemed as if we got a direct hit on the carrier. We two and the driver baled out as quickly as we could and though we were quite deaf in our left ears and our faces that side were completely numb (I was certain I had only got half a face until I felt it and found it was quite whole). We were not touched at all. Actually I think we received a very near miss from some German high velocity gun, its accuracy in getting on to us so quickly was amazing as it was still practically dark and I think that they must have fired at the noise of the carrier rather than the sight of it. James Irvine who watched the whole incident never expected us to come back alive.
Anyway, that deterred us from trying to get forward again for the time being. Tony Parish made constant efforts all morning to get his guns up and through. He succeeded in getting two forward to "A" and "B" Companies during the morning (losing some Loyd carriers in doing so) was not until after mid-day that he succeeded in getting two right forward to "C" and "D" Companies. Every time we thought there was a chance of doing so, the German mortar fire or the fire from an anti tank gun onto the track, prevented us doing so.
As it got light, we realised that our position was not too good. "C" and "D" Companies were very much out in the blue with a long distance between "A" ad "B" Companies, and we were all very exposed. However, there was no option but to dig in where we were as quickly as possible and hope for the best. "A" and "B" Companies had got very mixed up during their attack, but I got them sorted out a bit before they dug in. Fortunately there was very little mortaring from the Germans while we were doing this and machine gun fire seemed to have stopped. I had no idea where he KOSBs on our right had got (later in the day they connected up with the right of "C" Company) and the plans for the Argylls and the HLI had gone wrong and their attack had not gone in.
I had my HQ in the area of the track where my and James carriers had broken down. I had my slit trench between the bank on the side of the track and my broken down carrier. This had the disadvantage that the Germans throughout the day must have had the carrier to range on, but in spite of this, although we had pretty well everything possible fired at us, the bank and the carrier between them gave us good protection, and although mortars burst several times on the edge of the bank and a piece of bomb went through my map case, which was sticking out of the carrier, no one inside of the trench (and there were sometimes many of them) was at all hurt.
"C" and "D" Companies had a most successful attack on their objective. They had kept direction very well and had found the track which marked the objective by counting paces from the start line. They met some opposition on the way, but had not come under much fire, and had rounded up quite a number of prisoners. The artificial moonlight had undoubtedly helped them a lot and although there was some criticism that they were silhouetted against the searchlights, I feel certain they would have found their task much more difficult in complete darkness.
We were dug in soon after it got light and sat down to wait developments. These were not long in coming, at about 0800 twelve German planes came over and started to circle round the whole Battalion positions. They did this three times, and the third time opened fire on us but caused no casualties. This visit depressed us a lot, as it seemed certain they had got our positions taped and shortly all hell would come down on us. We opened fire on them as they left. A light AA gun brought one down about a mile away. However, luckily this did not happen and although we were mortared and shelled on and off during the day, it was not excessive and not more than we expected.
During the morning some of our tanks appeared to the right of "C" Company, but they came under fire from a German anti tank gun on their left rear on the Le Bon Repos/Evrecy road. One or two tanks were knocked out and they withdrew. The Germans were giving us a certain amount of trouble from positions on this road, where they certainly had some high velocity guns, one or two machine guns and some snipers. They made it difficult for us to get anything forward to "C" and "D" Companies. They were difficult to locate as they moved positions constantly.
"C" and "D" Companies had a number of counter attacks on their positions during the morning, but dealt with these satisfactorily with the assistance of very accurate fire from our 25 pounder guns. A lot of Germans were killed and they took quite a number of prisoners.
The doctor (McPhail) managed to get forward in a carrier to "C" and "D" Companies in the morning to deal with casualties and Tony Parish went up to reconnoitre for his guns and came back with a bag of prisoners. These on reaching my trench were greeted by a salvo from a German moaning minnie which fell very close to them. They all threw themselves flat on their faces, until quickly urged to their feet by a Sergeant escorting them. A very appropriate welcome for them.
At about mid-day Max Tindal (OC "D" Company) sent through a message to say some German tanks were approaching the left rear of his position from the direction of Esquay. He, not knowing where BN HQ was, did not realise how much more closely these tanks concerned me than him, nor did I until I looked out of my trench and saw the leading tank only about 150 yards away slowly coming towards us. Fortunately I had got Tony Parish with me and he got two guns in position about 20 yards behind my trench. We had been trying to get these guns forward to "C" and "D" Companies the whole morning and only a very short time before had ordered them to have another try to get them up and then again had to stop them owing to mortaring and shelling. So it was an absolute miracle that we still had them with us.
There were five tanks (Mark IVs) in all they were slowly making their way in line to the rear of "A" and "B" Companies, the fifth tank being some distance behind the other four. Tony quickly got his guns into action and in a very short time had knocked out the four leading tanks. The fifth tank was more difficult, as it was almost impossible to lay a direct aim on it because of the standing corn.
However after man-handling one gun to another position and putting out aiming posts, it was soon disposed of. So within the space of 5 - 10 minutes we had five blazing tanks in front of us. The crews bailed out and though some of them managed to escape "B" Company and Ian Munro who was near me at BN HQ managed to shoot several with Bren gun fire. The 6 pounders were firing practically directly over my trench so it was a case of bobbing down just before the gun fired then bobbing up to see what the result was.
It is pretty certain that these tanks were leading a German infantry counter attack, because immediately afterwards Gordon Campbell, our gunner FOO spotted a number of Germans forming up near the cross-roads at Le Bon Repos. He quickly brought down the fire of his battery on to them and completely broke them up and must have killed a large number.
The tanks could not have spotted my HQ and the two six pounders until it was too late. Their attention was concentrated on "B" Company and opened fire on the men in their slit trenches with HE from their guns, killing Hugh Slight who was commanding the Company. When our guns opened fire they evidently thought that they were being fired on by one of our tanks which was on the ridge near "C" Company and opened fire on it putting it out of action.
During the morning Duke had gone back to Brigade HQ for orders and returned with the news that we might be withdrawn to a position covering Baron, with the Argylls on our right and the HLI on our left. Later in the afternoon when things seemed to be a bit quieter I went back to try and find the HLI and Argylls to arrange with them where we would link up in this covering position. I found the HLI taking up a position on the South edge of Baron but I had some difficulty in finding the Argylls but eventually found them on the road down to Tourmaville.
I called in at the orchard in Baron on my way back to BN HQ to see the A1 transport who were still there and found a message waiting for me there to say that I was to return to BN HQ at once as there was a counter attack going on. So I got back into my carrier and set off. The road back was being pretty heavily mortared, but there was nothing else for it but to drive through it and hope for the best. My carrier driver, after a moments hesitation, showed great pluck and drove straight through it all. We had one or two near misses but got back safely.
When I got back I found that "C" and "D" Companies had been counter attacked but had managed to beat it off without much difficulty.
These two Companies did magnificent work during the day. On several occasions, they sent out small parties to deal with enemy forming up near them, and these parties succeeded in killing a number of Germans and taking a number of prisoners. As a result the moral of the men was very good indeed. On one occasion, a party went out to deal with some Germans who had got into a derelict tank. On approaching the tank, the Germans stuck a white flag out of the turret. The Corporal in charge of the party went forward to take prisoners but was fired at from the tank and hit in the stomach. Although it cannot be proved that this was intentional misuse of the white flag, by the Boche (it is possible that some of our men supporting the party had not seen the white flag, and continued to fire, making the Boche believe that his display of the white flag had been disregarded) it is well in keeping with some of his previous tactics. Contacted OCs of "C" and "D" Companies as they were out on a limb, to be prepared to withdraw, but to wait for further instructions.
As it got dark there was a certain amount of activity behind us from German aircraft dropping bombs and flares. one was hit and went down in flames in the distance. I think it is certain too, that they dropped a number of smoke bombs forward of us. This smoke combined with a ground mist, produced a thick pea soup fog which was responsible for the complete failure of an attack which Brigade of the 59th Division put through us in the early part of the night, with the object of taking Evercy and the ground to the east of it. The troops got completely lost in the fog and though they took a certain amount of prisoners they were forced to withdraw again.
I waited up all night for orders to come through for our withdrawal, but none came. In the early hours of the morning "C" and "D" Companies arrived back at BN HQ to my surprise and slight dismay. In my orders I told the Company Commanders that they could expect to be withdrawn during the night and that, as contacting them by wireless was unreliable, I would send word to them when to withdraw by runner. As no runner had come to them during the night, the COs assumed they had got lost in the thick fog and rather than run the risk of being completely isolated as they were before and cut off from the Battalion if it had withdrawn, they decided to withdraw themselves. I was not sorry to have them back with us, as I then had the BN concentrated instead of these two Companies being completely isolated as they were before. It was then too dark to get them disposed in proper defensive positions, so I ordered them to dig in, in Company areas in the rear of my HQ with the view of taking up proper positions in day light.
Back to Diary
Dawn arrived. Found that we were on our own. "C" Company managed to reach their objective, "A" and "B" Companies failed to get through the machine gun and mortar fire. They were supposed to pass through our positions and capture the cross roads at Esquay to allow a two Brigade attack on the enemy strong hold at Evrecy. This meant that "C" Company and our Company were out on our own.
Enemy infantry appeared to our front - I think they were a strong fighting patrol looking for our position. Gave the Platoon the order to fix bayonets and be prepared to charge. Delivered five rounds rapid fire and charged. The Company brought in 45 prisoners. It was the first time I ever felt in a killing mood, must be part training and tradition.
Sent the prisoners to the rear and prepared or the main attack. Could hear tank engines starting in the woods to our immediate front. Six appeared on our left flank to cut us off. Fortunately the anti-tank officer tried to get his guns up to give us support but his carriers were knocked out by mortar fire leaving the guns stranded in the cornfields. They were not noticed by the German tanks. Five were put out of action before they could find out where the firing was coming from. The sixth tank was knocked out by a PIAT of "A" Company.
Our positions were heavily mortared and shelled. It was becoming impossible to hold. When the main attack came in "D" Company's Commander had a victory call put through, by wireless, giving a map reference whereby all guns in the Corp area would concentrate on the area given. Then we waited. First the 25 pounders, then the medium and heavy guns barrage came over the whole area. The area in front of us erupted which stopped the German attack before it got started. Churchills of the Guards Armoured Brigade tried to help. Some knocked-out, the rest retired. The Brigadier was killed when his jeep took a direct hit from a mortar bomb. Still in the same position at midnight being mortared on and off.
Battalion CO, Colonel Colville has taken charge of the Brigade. The acting CO, Major Sinclair decided, owing to our own and "C" Companies exposed positions to withdraw the two Companies and take-up a defensive position around Company HQ and to be dug-in before first light. The failure of "A" and "B" Companies to reach their objectives meant that the attack by 44 and 46 Brigades had to be cancelled.
Still in the same place and taking a hammering from mortars, oil bombs, phosphorous bombs. Air bursts on and off all day. According to the IO the remnants of two Panzer Divisions are in the area and trying to counter attack. Junkers came over after darkness, dropping flares to pinpoint our positions. Bombs dropped on the Argylls area causing casualties. Quite a display, tracer shells trying to bring down the planes, machine guns firing tracers to knock out the flares. One Junker came down in flames.
Welsh Battalion of the 59th Division passed through our lines at 1700 to try to take Evrecy. They lost direction owing to heavy mist and smoke screen laid down by enemy. Dug-in in front of our positions awaiting further orders. We marched out in Company order, tired but glad to be alive. Now in a rest area near Chuex.
Resting in slit trenches in front of the medium guns area. Their fire and enemy counter fire making sleep almost impossible. "D" Company lost 36 men in the Baron Operation; very few of the original company left.
Decided last night to remove my battle dress and sleep with my PT shorts on and wrap the blanket round my body (the first time since coming to Normandy). Woke up, in the morning, to find I was lying in about three inches of water. Must have rained during the night and I never felt it. A Junkers dived on our position and dropped a string of bombs with screamers attached. The noise was unbelievable; makes one's hair stand on end. More re-enforcements arrived today but no replacement officers for 18 Platoon.
With advance party to recce position for 18 Platoon. The 15th Scottish are moving South, in a hush-hush operation to take over an area held by the Americans in and around Cannmont. Slept in one of their foxholes after being introduced to the local officer.
Cereal, bacon and eggs for breakfast. Creamed potatoes, roast beef and fruit salad for lunch. As many cigarettes as I wanted. They do it in style, even fresh water kegs hanging from the trees. The Americans moved out, "D" Company moved in an commenced digging slit trenches. Yanks don't believe in digging too deep or they're too lazy. Peaceful, nice and warm.
Wish I had an officer to take charge of the next operation. Its ages since I had a replacement, they don't last long. Weather is perfect for lying around. A Spitfire shot down a ME. Cannon fire killed one and wounded three in the anti-tank Platoon. Duties consisted of guards and stand too's.
Sergeant Sinclair under close arrest. He failed to return to his Platoon after taking prisoners to the rear after the action at Baron. HLI taking a pounding in Caumont. Went with "O" group to recce the area in case they needed support.
The enemy is beginning to feel that something is brewing in this area. A few mortar bombs are coming over at irregular intervals. A surprise for us in the afternoon when a NAAFI van appeared. Had just opened shop when a mortar bomb landed in the area. Decided it wasn't too healthy to be around, closed shop and moved out.
Checking equipment, stand too's completed; a nice warm day. The NAAFI van turned up and opened shop in the afternoon and was able to buy soap and sweets. On guard duty during the night.
Enemy active today. Quite a bit of mortaring and shelling. The area was strafed three times today by FW fighter bombers. Haven't heard of any casualties: things are hotting up.
Last day of lying about. Attended "O" group to receive battle orders for tomorrow. Seemingly the Battalion is part of the right hook to encircle the enemy in France. Informed 18 Platoon what part of the campaign "D" Company will be involved in.
The Battalion attacked at dawn in heavily wooded area. "C" Company on our right "B" Company on our left with "A" Company in reserve. Lead Platoon in extended order under heavy mortar and machine gun fire. A number of men hit; had to leave them for the stretcher bearers to pick them up later as we could not survive in the open. Crocodile Tanks were brought up to singe the woods with flame throwers.
Charged into woods with the leading section to be met with a burst of machine gun fire. Section was mowed down leaving me standing untouched. Withdrew taking one of the section with me, he had taken a burst in the lower part of the body.
Ordered by the CC to take another section in as the woods must be cleared at all costs so that the Battalion attack could be maintained. Charged in again throwing hand grenades and covered by machine gun fire to find no resistance. Must have been a small party left behind to fight a rear guard action then moved out.
"D" Company, in extended order, searched the woods. Half way through when the enemy opened up with heavy mortar fire striking the tree tops and showering the whole area with shrapnel. What was left of us reached open ground to see, in the distance, the German mortars packing up. They had finished their rear guard action.
The Battalion's part of the action seems to have been a success but at a heavy cost. I was the only Sergeant to come through untouched. McIntosh, Brookes, Franks were seriously wounded. Beagrie and two other killed. Pulled out of the woods at dusk and dug-in in open country. Put out guards and told, what was left of the platoon, to get some sleep.
Relaxing in the sunshine awaiting further orders. Enemy seems to have retreated. I expect there will be pockets of resistance which will have to be cleared-up. Day passed cleaning weapons and all day guard duty.
Back to Homepages