2 KSLI on D-Day
Source: Major G.L.Y. Radcliffe (Adjutant of the Battalion, September 1942 to June 1944 and September 1944 to May 1945), Assisted by Captain R. Sale (Commander of the Carrier Platoon and Support Company), History of the 2nd Battalion The King’s Shropshire Light Infantry (85th Foot) in the Campaign in N.W. Europe 1944-1945. (Basil Blackwood, Oxford, 1947).
I HAVE been both honoured by being asked to write this history and somewhat dismayed by the short time in which it must be done. For we have all of us read so many regimental histories in which the bare bones of the War Diary have been set out. I always feel, when I have read such a book, that I am left with no clear picture of the life, hopes, fears or privations which must have been the daily lot of the members of any regiment in any period of time. I have therefore conceived my task to be to create not only a factual chronological history, but also a story, in which flesh and blood have been given to the bare bones, and the spirit which animated the battalion has been breathed into the words.
I felt that I needed to make no apology for attempting this, even though I may fail; for in a short while the moment will have passed when this period is still fresh in our thoughts, and I have been privileged to hold a position in which one has the opportunity to know and to observe more than one probably can in most other appointments within a battalion. I must therefore give the reader some idea of the past of the battalion which sailed for France just before the 6th June, 1944. The 2nd Battalion The King’s Shropshire Light Infantry was The King’s Light Infantry, or 85th Regiment of Foot prior to the Cardwell Reforms, when it was allied to the Shropshire Regiment. The traditions of the 85th have lived on to today; kept alive by such memorials of the past as the silver of the officers’ mess, which too few, alas have seen, and the title of ‘The King’s Light Infantry’ by which the battalion is still addressed on parade.
As befits a Light Infantry Regiment it has a spirit which those who have lived among us as our guests, such as doctors and padres, have said they think is peculiar to the battalion. Some say that this is due to the number of single-battalion stations to which the battalion has been posted in recent years, Lichfield, 1935, Pembroke Dock, 1937, Jamaica, 1939 and Curacao in the Dutch West Indies in 1940. The latter, perhaps, was the greatest formative influence, for we were not only a single battalion, but in a foreign land and six hundred miles away from the nearest other British troops.
When the battalion returned to England in March, 1942, it was in much the same state as regiments which came from India in 1938 or 1939. Starved of virtually all modern equipment, having many officers and men, who, through age, medical category or specialist qualifications, were swiftly removed from us and out of touch with the conception of a modern mobile battle, the struggle to become efficient was bound to be long and hard.
After a period of ‘sorting out’ in the east of England, the battalion moved to Yorkshire to join the 79th Armoured Division as lorried infantry. At this time Lt. Col. F.J. Maurice, who had been both adjutant and a company commander of the 1st battalion, took command. No one could have been better suited. Possessed of all the requisite knowledge of the minuter points of Infantry training, of infinite patience and the greatest personal charm that I have ever known, he had a genius for getting the best out of his company commanders and his staff. To him primarily must be ascribed the superlative battalion which sailed for D Day.
Major P.C. Steel of “Y” Company
In March, 1943, the 79th Armoured Division, as then composed, was broken up on account of the shortage of tanks, and the 185th Infantry Brigade, in which was the battalion, joined the 3rd British Infantry Division, at that time due to take part in the assault on Sicily. The battalion started to mobilise, to acquire the necessary knowledge of combined operations and to fit itself for mountain warfare. But owing to the desire of the Canadian Government that the Canadians should take part in the invasion of Sicily, the division was switched to 1st Corps and became one of the two assault divisions for the Western Front.
From July, 1943 to March, 1944 the battalion was constantly on the move from one training area in Scotland to another. Indeed we moved seven times in that period—a tedious and exhausting business—but one which was good training for the daily moves of the early campaign.
At the end of March, 1944, the battalion moved to a camp near Haywards Heath; which was one of the multitude set up for the concentration of the troops prior to embarkation.
At this point it is necessary that I should give a more detailed review of the battalion and the plan for the operation, which by then had been settled in the greatest detail down to the level of the brigade and in broad outline for the battalion.
THE TIME OF PREPARATION
OF the commanding officer I have already spoken. The second-in-command was Major M. J. F. Wilson, a regular officer in the regiment, who came to that appointment at the same time as Col. Maurice. He was always regarded as a sound regimental and staff officer, and when he took command after the death of Col. Maurice was to show qualities of courage and leadership, in the attack on Lebisey, which endeared him to all ranks of the battalion.
The four rifle company commanders were:
Major A. F. Slatter, D.C.M.
Major G. M. Thornycroft.
Major P. C. Steel.
Major P. H. Wheelock.
Major Slatter was one of the few officers who had seen active service. He had won his D.G.M. shortly before Dunkirk with the 1st Battalion when in command of the carrier platoon. His courage, which was well known before we crossed, was to become legendary in latter days. The other three rifle company commanders were all regular officers of the regiment, who had been with the battalion some years. They were all outstanding and it would have been difficult to find a battalion with four such uniformly able and courageous company commanders.
The support company was commanded by Captain T. H. Read who had come to the battalion only a week before D. Day. He possessed a most unusually detailed knowledge of all the weapons in his company and was able to give the commanding officer far sounder advice than the average commander of that most complicated company. He also was blessed with tireless energy, great courage and the most terrific joie-de-vivre.
The battalion had received the greater part of its equipment and was up to strength in men, though not in its reinforcements, which were of great importance because two-thirds of them were to join the battalion on the evening of D plus 1.
The ‘phasing in’ of the battalion on the other side included the subdivision of the men and vehicles into four main parties. The first was that to land at H hour plus 120 to 240 minutes, which included all the rifle companies, all the support company, except half the carrier platoon and some of the men and vehicles of headquarter company which were necessary for the command, signals and administration of the battalion during the first 48 hours.
The second main party was that needed to maintain the battalion until D plus 10 approximately. This was largely administrative, but also included half the carrier platoon.
The third party was the balance to make the battalion up to the war establishment. This was due to land not before D plus 10.
The fourth party was the reinforcements, which were not directly under our control, but under the reinforcement holding group. But inevitably they were of great importance to us as they landed so early, and much time was spent and great efforts made to ensure that they should fit in smoothly in the midst of the battle.
Each of these parties was itself subdivided according to the different days and tides on which it was due to land.
As the parts of the battalion moved direct to some of the different camps from Scotland, all administration became most difficult from the beginning of the time at Haywards Heath. Indeed we were never split up to less than five different places, having at one time a part still in Scotland. All the stores not having arrived before we came south, there were minor crises. This became especially so after the great majority of our vehicles had been waterproofed and we only had three left in which to send out stores and replacements for men who became sick.
It was a tribute to the sound planning that no alteration to the landing table might be made by the higher authorities after it had been agreed during the planning in Scotland. Had this not been so chaos would have been inevitable, for all the subdividing to camps was based on the landing table which was the basis of all the details of administration.
Although the administration occupied first place in all our minds between the time of arrival at Haywards Heath and the commencement of briefing, the companies trained hard—a difficult task to keep the men really fit—occupied—but not overtired. Everyone who could be spared was allowed to go away on week-ends—an invaluable help in combating the rather highly strung state which the work and the future induced.
In addition to the decision as to the landing craft in which each man should go, it had to be decided what each man should carry and the exact stores which should be loaded on each vehicle. The latter was a seemingly endless task, for although started before we left Scotland, there were numerous vital articles additional to the normal scale which had to be taken. The total contents of all the vehicles had to be checked with the authorised holding to ensure that no articles had been omitted; on account of the phasing in of the vehicles the stores of each company could not necessarily be loaded on the vehicles of that company.
The whole of April, a month of brilliant sunshine and the most seemingly peaceful spring, passed in this way. The camp was as comfortable as most camps can be, which have to be sited in woods to give camouflage. The greater part of the administration of the camp was done by a squadron of the Northamptonshire Hussars to whom no trouble was too great. Our task would have been impossible had we had to take on this responsibility as many of the administrative personnel had to be sent to the other camps shortly before we left to embark.
Looking back at this time I remember it as a happy time, even though the happiness had to all of us the quality of the biblical verse—” Let us eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”
Now we must turn to the plan.
THE PLAN OF OPERATION OVERLORD
THE task allotted to the 3rd British Infantry Division was to secure a bridgehead into which the build-up could continue and to capture Caen should this prove possible. The left of the bridgehead was to be secured by the 6th Airborne Division who were to capture the bridges at Benouville over the River Orne and the Canal de Caen.
The right of the division was to link up with the next division, the 3rd Canadian Division.
The 8th and 9th Infantry Brigades were allotted the task of securing an immediate bridgehead as far as the ridge south of Hermanville, so that the follow-up brigade, the 185th Infantry Brigade, the vehicles and the guns could be disembarked and assembled in an area free of small arms fire.
The 185th Infantry Brigade was to assemble in the wooded area just north of Hermanville and attack towards Caen with the main road from Hermanville to Caen as its centre line.
The commander of the brigade, Brigadier K. P. Smith, O.B.E., decided to advance with one battalion, the K.S.L.L, up, and the other two battalions, the 2nd Battalion The Royal Warwickshire Regiment and the 1st Battalion The Royal Norfolk Regiment, in reserve.
Capt. R.B.H. Dane of “Y” Company
It was expected that by ‘H’ hour plus 120 minutes the immediate bridgehead would have been secured by the 8th and 9th Infantry Brigades. The rifle companies of all three battalions were therefore to land at this time in one wave of L.C.I’s together with a small battalion headquarters in each case, entirely on foot. The vehicles of all three battalions, which were in the first main party of which I have spoken earlier, were to land from L.C.T.’s at ‘H’ plus 240 minutes, and to join the marching men in the assembly area, or if the rifle companies had already left, to follow them up.
The tanks were to be brought in just before the vehicles, the guns would either have landed with the other two brigades or with the tanks, having fired from their L.G.T.’s as they ran in to touch down.
Elaborate sapper plans had been made to clear the beach obstacles, to open the beach exits and to clear the routes of mines ahead of the vehicles. The tanks were to move across country after they left the assembly area and were therefore bound to take a chance over mines.
Once the other two brigades had finished their mopping-up the whole of the divisional artillery was to be in support of the K.S.L.I. firing mainly by observation.
The country was seen to be open rolling cultivated land, rather similar to East Anglia, with a built-up area of rococo villas along the coast. There were three main ridges between the sea and Caen, which itself lay in a valley. The first was some half a mile south of Hermanville. This as the ridge to be seized by the two assault brigades. The second was two miles further south, with the village of Bieville at its summit. The third was a mile and half further south again and three miles north of Caen, and crowned by the thick wood and village of Lebisey.
The Germans were known to hold the coast with few troops, a company on the divisional front, but all sited in strongly defended localities with ample concrete, mines and wire. But at no point had these been developed to the degree of the much photographed western wall in the Pas de Calais area.
Each of the ridges was known to be held, but how strongly could not be ascertained. In the case of the first ridge it was thought that there would be the reserve of a company of the coast battalion, with its headquarters on the second ridge. The third was a doubtful quantity. For there were few signs of activity in the woods of Lebisey, though there was a formidable anti-tank ditch in the process of construction some three hundred yards down the slope in front of the wood of Lebisey. The last photographs showed it as stretching from the main road east almost to the end of the wood. On the west of the road only a short stretch had been completed.
The really unknown factor was the enemy’s reserve. This was known to be the 25th Panzer Division [actually the 21st]. During the early part of May this was in the area some ten miles south-west of Caen. It would therefore reach the area of Bieville four hours after the assault. But towards the end of May it was reported that it had moved forward to Caen and even to the Lebisey ridge. It was therefore expected that the K.S.L.I. would meet armour and first class troops as soon as they advanced south of Hermanville. The area to the north of Hermanville being largely built-up, was unlikely to be contested by the armoured reserve
In addition to the coast defence guns, the enemy was known to have batteries in the hollow in between the first and second ridges near the villages of Beuville and Periers sur le Dan. There were also a number of batteries on the slope down to Caen.
The R.A.F. were to treat not only the coast area and Caen but also these batteries. Indeed the weight of the preparatory fire before the assault infantry touched down was to be on a scale never before attempted, rocket-firing craft, battleships, destroyers, swimming tanks, typhoons, all the weapons of land, sea, or air which could be devised, were to fire in a very carefully co-ordinated programme.
All of this had been worked out at the planning before we left Scotland. The battalion’s plan had also been worked out by Colonel Maurice in outline, and much of the last weeks’ training had been related to various specific problems which he saw each company would have to face.
The details of the battalion’s plan were settled between the beginning of May and 14th May, when briefing started. During this period the commanding officer, the second-in-command, the adjutant and the intelligence officer were allowed to know the whole of the divisional plan and to study the real maps. Only the date was still concealed, though it was not hard to guess that within a day or two from the various administrative timings.
The plan decided on by Colonel Maurice was that the marching men should be mounted on the tanks of the Staffordshire Yeomanry, who were in support of us, whom they would meet in the assembly area, provided that the shelling was not too heavy and the outlook not sticky. Otherwise everyone thought that getting on the tanks would only increase casualties and waste time.
The battalion was to advance on a two company front, W company on the right, X company on the left of the road, Z company was to move behind W company, Y company behind X company. The route from the assembly area was to be across country until Hermanville was past.
Support company was to move to an assembly area just south of Hermanville as it got clear of the beaches. The detachments would then be called forward by O.C. support company as they were needed.
The administrative tail of the battalion, a very small one, largely ammunition, was to do the same and then move forward by bounds along the road as ordered.
Forward observation officers from the 17/43rd battery of the 7th Field Regiment were to join the leading companies in the assembly area—-for they had to support the other two brigades in the initial attack. The battery commander. Major I. H. H. Rae was landing with the commanding officer. Of him I must speak at greater length, for he had trained with the battalion for six months and was to fight with it for the whole of the campaign. A gunner officer of the greatest knowledge and ability, of great courage and the most encouraging cheerfulness, he was to be a tower of strength to each successive commanding officer. He won a well deserved M.C. later in the campaign when fighting with us.
Sappers were allotted both to the leading companies and for the clearance of the road.
A thousand small points, but vital to the success of this intricate plan, would be of interest to even the non-military reader, but the scope of this short narrative will not allow me to descend to that more detailed technical level.
THE BRIEFING AND EMBARKATION
ON the evening of the 13th May the camps were ‘sealed.’ This meant that only certain people were allowed outside the wire perimeter and that only people from other sealed camps were allowed in without an escort. Everyone else who had to come in to the camps was escorted to ensure that he did not talk to the briefed troops. Some officers and men, such as drivers, were bound to leave the camp for such duties as fetching stores or delivering them to the other camps. They were always warned by the commanding officer or the adjutant before they left that they must be completely silent. Our experience was that the realisation of the danger of talking was far stronger than the desire to appear to be ‘in the know.’ Every man felt that his own life might well depend on his sense of security.
The briefing was done on maps on which all the place names had been altered to false ones and the gridlines renumbered. In other respects the briefing maps were exactly similar to the real ones. The liberal and excellent air photos were annotated with the same false place names.
ll this briefing material was held in the briefing tents, which themselves were surrounded by wire and permanently guarded by officers. These tents were allotted to each company in turn–the principle being that all the odd personnel, such as drivers and signallers, should be briefed by the officer under whose operational command they would be. It was most carefully worked out that every man should know what was intended to happen. The personnel in the other camps who were landing later were only briefed to the extent which was needed for them to carry out their task, and with the principle always in mind that the course of events could not be foreseen beyond D Day.
During the last few days of May all of the battalion in the camp left for the marshalling camps nearer to the ports of embarkation, split up into their craft parties, each party consisting only of the personnel and vehicles which were to embark in the same craft. At the marshalling camps, the craft parties from all the different units joined up, so that when they left the marshalling camps they would leave in complete craft parties. This will sound to the reader a comparatively simple procedure. But it was not. For each craft contained personnel from up to fifteen or even twenty different units, caused by the number and diversity of the supporting arms and the large number of reconnaissance parties which had to be landed early.
In these camps were also issued the two 24-hour rations for the first 48 hours, the rations for the voyage and various other items. These camps were likewise sealed and the men on their journey to them were carried in M.T. which was guarded by C.M.P’s.
The battalion embarked with the following officers in the various companies: —
Lt.-Col. F.J. Maurice Commanding Officer.
Major M. J. F.. Wilson. Second-in-command.
Capt. G. L. Y. Radcliffe. Adjutant.
Lieut. J. R. Eaves. Intelligence officer.
Capt. C. Brooke-Smith.
O.C. headquarters company.
Lieut. D. C. Clapham.
Capt. D. R. Beales.
Lieut. A. T. Targett.
Capt. T. H. Read.
O.C. support company.
Lieut. V. L. Newham.
Capt. J. A. Aitken.
Lieut. J. T. D. Stanton. Second-in-command carrier platoon.
Capt. E. W. Corbett.
Lieut. M. P. Carr.
Second-in-command anti-tank platoon.
Major A. F. Slatter D.C.M.
O.C. W company.
Capt. R. R. Rylands.
Second-in-command W company.
Lieut. L. C. Wright.
Lieut. M. H. G. Bellamy.
Lieut. L. Murray.
Major G. M. Thornycroft.
O.C. X company.
Capt. W. L. Weinberg.
Second-in-command X company.
Lieut. P.J. Higginson.
Lieut. R. M. Rees.
Lieut. H. G. Jones.
Major P. C. Steel.
O.C. Y company.
Capt. R. L. H. Dane. Second-in-command Y company.
Lieut. T. E. Gwilliam.
Lieut. P. Kent.
Lieut. E. O. Davies.
Major P. H. Wheelock.
O.C. Z company.
Capt. W. R. J. Heatley. Second-in-command Z company.
Lieut. F. Percival.
Lieut. R. D. Lloyd.
Lieut. K. E. Scarlett.
Other battalion officers.
Lieut. A. B. Humphreys
O.C. residue (the last parties to come in).
Capt. J.W.Thompson. R.M.O.
Rev. A. E. Goodman. Padre.
On the 2nd and 3rd of June the various parties of the battalion left their respective camps for the ports of embarkation. In the case of the main body this was Newhaven. Some of the parties which were to land later did not, of course, proceed to their port, until some 48 hours before they were due to land.
The journey to the port was an unique and uncanny experience. For we had travelled the same road only a few weeks before for a large-scale rehearsal. We all wondered whether the people who watched us go by, they never cheered, they sometimes waved, would recognise by the heavily loaded vehicles and the far more businesslike air that this was the real thing. No longer were people in their steel helmets, or other particular dress ordered for an exercise, but in what they felt most comfortable. And everyone was rather quiet filled with an inner sadness, but also with excitement, the excitement of the unknown. To so many of us it was the prelude to a day of experiences we had never known before, another world into which we were about to step, so that there was quiet cheerfulness in the talk by the vehicles and on the craft.
One incident will remain vivid in my own mind for ever. As the craft was about to leave the quay a W.R.N.S. driver left her vehicle and walked over to the side of the craft and called to a commando driver who was sitting in the sun on the roof of his vehicle. He climbed over to the side. She only said ‘Goodbye—Good Luck’ and they shook hands. In that simple phrase, so often said between friends, we all felt that she had said goodbye for everyone of those that each one of us loved.
Outside each little port the small flotillas gathered, thence to move to join another. The craft with the vehicles of the battalion which were to land early sailed to Newhaven to join the L.C.T’s. with the marching men. There in succession they berthed beside the great peacetime quays—the wayward sausage balloons being removed to come to earth in an open space like marooned whales, resentful at their lost freedom.
The gathering wind on the morning of the 4th June told us all before the official announcement that there would have to be a postponement. Some of us walked on the quays, or enjoyed the hot showers provided by the Navy. Others read or sunbathed, yet others accepted the offer to go to a nearby marshalling camp to have a meal, read the papers and escape from the oily smell of the craft.
On the 5th June it seemed scarcely less windy, but at 09.30 hours the activity showed that we were about to sail. In succession the craft left their berths, pushing their blunt noses out of the calm waters of the harbour into the choppy waves of the channel. For some hours we were outside the harbour while the craft which were to touch down first started off in their long lines, each with its tame ‘whale’ flying above—describing fantastic jinks at the end of its wires.
Landing craft are not the ideal ships in which to make a rough channel crossing. Their blunt bows send cascades of spume over the ship, the quarters on L.C.I’s. are cramped, and in L.C.T’s. are non-existent. Most men felt none too well and on the L.C.T’s. especially it was difficult to keep dry. But the cheerfulness was amazing, even when officers were trying to cope with the distribution of the seemingly endless ‘ real’ maps which were issued to the senior officer of the party from each unit on the craft.
Everyone had expected that they would hardly sleep at all that night—but the contrary was the case with the vast majority.
The scene off the beaches early next day has been too often described for me to do so again. Sufficient be it to say that no one could have been disheartened after seeing the great battleships firing, the numbers of returning craft, even L.CA’s., which were undamaged and the immense numbers of ships covering the sea. Indeed the greatest danger seemed to be that of a collision on the run in.
Soon after 08.00 hours news was received that the 8th Infantry Brigade had landed successfully. Soon after we heard that they had captured the immediate bridgehead and that the 6th Airborne Division had secured the bridges over the canal and the river. The latter news was a terrific tonic to everyone.
At 10.10 hours the L.G.I.’s with the rifle companies touched down. It was not an easy landing—-four to five feet of water and a considerable sea. The beach was still under shell fire.
So began the battle on the day which we all hope will be the most terrifying that we have undergone. Later battles were to be worse—but none had to the majority the horror of the unknown, nor had any started with so great an expectation of heavy casualties.
THE ‘D’ DAY BATTLE
THE heavily laden men struggled ashore from the L.C.I’s, helped by ropes which the Navy ran out to the shore and moved off to the assembly area which all the companies had reached by 11.00 hours. One of the L.C.I.’s was hit by shell fire just after the men had disembarked and sank on the beach.
The load of the men was considerably lessened in the assembly area by dumping there a sandbag carried by each man, containing the gasmask, cardigan and other items which would be needed later. Ninety-five per cent. of these were recovered successfully the next day.
Meanwhile the Sherman tanks of the Staffordshire Yeomanry were landing but making only slow progress to the assembly area because of the congestion on the roads.
By 12.00 hours only one and a half squadrons of the yeomanry had arrived, and a large minefield had been discovered across the axis of advance which had been planned. The brigade commander therefore told the commanding officer to advance by the main road, leaving the remaining tanks to come up as quickly as they could. The battalion advanced in the order X, W, Y, and Z companies, through the village and up the long slope of the ridge south of Hermanville.
It was clear that this ridge had not yet been captured by the 8th Infantry Brigade, who were held up by a locality to the east of the main road. The enemy opened both small arms and mortar fire on X company as they moved up the slope, in particular a machine gun post on the right of the road was holding the company. The commanding officer, therefore, ordered W company to outflank this post, which they did, and then proceeded down towards Periers sur le Dan, where there was considerable opposition.
It was typical of the complete disregard of enemy fire which Colonel Maurice always showed that when the battalion first came under fire on this slope everyone instinctively went to ground. A brother officer has related to me, how looking round, and feeling extremely frightened, he saw the Colonel walking up the centre of the road, playing with the chin-strap of his helmet as he always did. He thought, “Well-—if he is all right I suppose I shall be too,” and got up. The example spread and in a few minutes the men were moving forward steadily.
It was rapidly apparent to both the tanks who had reached the top of the ridge, and to the infantry, who were advancing down the far side, that the battery near Periers sur le Dan, with which it was hoped that the R.A.F. would have dealt, was not only alive but kicking strongly. This battery had the whole of the main road down the south side of the slope under observation and were firing over open sights, thereby preventing either the tanks or the vehicles of support company, which had started to arrive, from going forward.
At 14.25 hours the commanding officer, therefore, ordered Major Wheelock to attack this battery with Z company. As the only forward observation officers were with X and W companies it was impossible to give him artillery support. The battle then fought was both bitter and vital. Major Wheelock took his company close to the battery, which was surrounded by wire. They managed to drive the gunners from the gun emplacements by small arms fire, but the gunners only moved to weapon slits and prevented the company from piercing the wire by heavy machine gun fire. Several times the gunners got back to their guns and started to shell the road, only being stopped by renewed fire from the company. The situation might have been critical had not the company captured a Polish deserter who showed them the way through the wire behind the battery. The gunners then fled, disappearing into the thick woods where they were pursued for some hundreds of yards by the company. The guns were blown up by an R.E. N.C.O., who though badly wounded, succeeded in rendering them all useless. Major Wheelock then consolidated his company, which had lost Lieut. Percival killed, Capt. Heatley wounded, and some thirty men, in the area of the battery. For his great courage and determination in this action Major Wheelock was awarded the M.C.
By 14.30 hours X company had progressed some way down the south side of the ridge but were held up by heavy sniping from Beuville. The commanding officer, therefore, decided to bye-pass the village to the right with both W and Y companies. This was successful. W company continuing to mop-up the area of the Chateau ofBieville on the next ridge, while Y company continued on their left.
But in the attack on the Chateau both Major Slatter and Lieut. Bellamy were wounded and had to be evacuated. The company was taken over by Capt. Rylands.
At 16.15 hours German tanks were seen approaching from the west towards the right flank. The anti-tank 6-pounders had been moved up to that flank, which was open country, and with the Staffordshire Yeomanry drove off the German counterattack. The anti-tank guns successfully knocked out two of the enemy, but in directing the fire of his guns Sergt. Walker was severely hit, and later lost his arm. He and several other wounded men were carried to the house of Madame Barrett in Bieville. The house was under heavy shell fire, and her invalid daughter was also there. But Madame Barrett was completely fearless and tireless in her efforts to tend the wounded, and being a trained nurse, undoubtedly saved the lives of some of the more serious casualties.
In the meantime Major Steel’s company had been making steady progress towards Lebisey and at 17.30 hours had reached the northern outskirts. Here they were held up by heavy machine-gun fire from the houses of the village, and a party of forty of the enemy were seen to be making their way round their right flank, along the valley between the Lebisey and Bieville ridges.
The commanding officer decided that it was beyond the power of the battalion to take Lebisey that evening. The other two battalions were still back at Hermanville engaged in mopping-up the enemy. The commanding officer, therefore, decided to consolidate the battalion in the area of Bieville and to withdraw Y company after dark. This was accomplished successfully, the three companies taking up positions on the southern edge of the village, battalion headquarters moving up to the northern edge, while the tanks went back to rally at Beuville.
The battalion suffered a great loss in Major Steel, who was killed by a machine-gun bullet while up with his forward platoons in Lebisey. He was not only a very good officer, greatly respected by the men, but of more than normal intelligence and culture and a fine swimmer, runner and golfer. His was, alas, only the first of a succession of deaths among the young regular officers in the battalion.
Thus ended ‘D’ day. And when during the night there was time to think, most of us felt surprised that we were alive. The prophecies of our casualties, thank God, had been far greater than those we had suffered.
Major P. C. Steel.
Lieut. F. Percival.
Major A. F. Slatter, D.C.M.
Capt. W. R. J. Heatley.
Lieut. T. E. Gwilliam.
Lieut. M. C. Bellamy.
In killed and wounded we had lost one hundred and seven other ranks.
Although the battalion had not captured Caen, we had never expected to, and the other two battalions, having become involved in the beach head area, there was no one to support us at Lebisey. As the days passed and we remained a month with Bieville marking our furthest progress we felt that we had done well.
For his great gallantry and leadership. Colonel Maurice was awarded the D.S.O., an honour to which we all felt that he was most justly entitled. No one could have led the battalion better or more courageously.