FORTY THIRD LIGHT INFANTRY FROM 1ST JUNE TO AUGUST 1944
BASED ON EXTRACTS FROM THE REGIMENTAL WAR CHRONICLES OF THE OXFORDSHIRE & BUCKINGHAMSHIRE LIGHT INFANTRY 1939-1945
JUNE 1944 on the 14th June the Regiment began moving from Faversham, in Kent, to take its part in the Normandy operations. An advanced party left under the second-in-command, Major J. W. Nicol, and was followed by the tracked vehicle party under Captain R. J. Holden and the wheeled vehicle party under the commanding officer.
The marching troops left on the 17th June under Major G. D. Jephson, M.C., for a marshalling area at Bolney, Sussex.
After final waterproofing, vehicles were embarked at the West India Docks on the 20th June.
The advanced party landed at Courseulles-sur-Mer on the 23rd June and drove to Beny-sur-Mer to prepare the Regimental concentration area.
After twenty-four hours' delay because of rough weather, the marching troops embarked at Newhaven on the 24th June and landed soon after midday on the 25th June at Courseulles, whence they marched to Beny-sur-Mer and met the advanced party.
The brigade had been detached from the 53rd Division (W.) and was under command of I Corps.
On the 26th June the commanding officer, with part of the vehicle party, joined the marching party at Beny-sur-Mer and the following day the Regiment marched to the area Colomby-sur-Theon and took up a defensive position in reserve.
On the 29th of June the Regiment came under command of VIII Corps again.
JULY 1944 On the 2nd July, after some days spent in reserve, the Regiment took over a battalion position from the 8th Royal Scots in the area Le Haut du Bosq (905560). The following days were spent in improving the position and the nights in patrolling. One patrol under Lieutenant P. J. Badman gained valuable information of enemy positions. Enemy mortars were active.
On the 8th July a more ambitious patrol was planned, known as Operation "Sally." A Company, under Major G. D. Jephson, M.C., moved forward during the night to occupy an orchard (903649) and to use it as a base for dawn operations against the enemy when they moved into their daylight forward positions.
At dawn the patrol moved up the railway line in search of the enemy. Contact was gained immediately and heavy enemy mortar fire caused casualties, Lieutenant H. C. Green being killed and Major Jephson wounded. The company was withdrawn, but several wounded had to be left in the orchard. During the night Lieutenant J. K. Mulcair (Canadian Infantry Corps, posted to the Regiment) led a patrol from B Company and recovered one of the wounded.
On the same night the 1st Highland Light Infantry relieved the Regiment, which moved back into brigade reserve.
On the 10th July the Regiment took over from the 1st East Lancashire Regiment and the brigade positions were reorganized. On the 13th July the second-in-command, Major J. W. Nicol, was ordered to assume command of the 7th Somerset Light Infantry. Major N. J. Callingham became second-in-command and Captain W. R. B. Hazell took over C Company.
The Regiment was stationed at Le Haut du Bosq on the 14th July when it received orders to attack Cahier and two copses immediately to the south-east, in conjunction with two divisional attacks on the flank, the one to the north to be carried out by the 59th Division directed at Landelle and Noyers, the one on the left by the 15th Division directed on Gavrus, Bougy and Esquay. The attack by the Regiment was to be a silent one in the dark. In fact, the 15th (Scottish) Division used searchlights to lighten the dark. The Regiment had to accept these conditions. A firm base for the attack was provided by the 2nd Monmouthshire Regiment, which was holding at that time the front line of the private drive to the chateau of Gavrus from about the church at Mondrainville to the bridge over the River Odon immediately north of Gavrus. The enemy was known to be holding Cahier, the two copses to the south-east of it, and the mill by the two bridges over the River Odon on the road to Gavrus. Its strength was estimated at not more than two companies, with probably a battalion headquarters about the avenue north-west of Cahier.
The ground is very close, with thick hedges, small fields and deep ditches. It can fairly be said that the enemy dominated no-man's-land at the time the Regiment was ordered to attack. Apart from this, it was impossible to see at close quarters the objectives given to the Regiment, and air photographs only showed that the larger of the two copses had been cut down and gave no indication of the great thickness of Tiny Copse and the height of the undergrowth in Jumbo Copse. It transpired later that the enemy was very well dug in and hidden; and that mopping-up was quite impossible in the dark.
All available artillery support had been placed at the disposal of the two flank attacks. The attack on the right started at 0530 hrs on the 16th July and the one on the left at 2100 hrs on the 15th July.
The plan of attack was: B Company and one section of the carrier platoon on the right from point A directed on Cahier; D and C Companies from point B (D Company directed on the mill and the two bridges); C Company and one section of the carrier platoon directed on Tiny Copse. All three companies were ordered to occupy their objectives and it was intended to launch A Company to clear and mop up Jumbo Copse as soon as dawn broke.
Regimental headquarters were in the orchard at point C, with A Company just north in the same area as the 3-inch mortar platoon.
The commanding officer managed to procure the services of the 81st Field Regiment should it be "essential to the success of the operation." Beyond that no artillery support was, or for that matter could be, made available.
The Regiment moved from Le Haut du Bosq to an assembly area at Colleville about the level-crossing, arriving by 2200 hrs. on the 15th July. Here it harboured, prepared for the attack and had a meal. B Company made its way to its start line through Grainville-sur-Odon; D and C Companies, via Regimental headquarters (point C on map), to point B on map. To cover the forming-up, the 2nd Monmouthshire Regiment had placed standing patrols at points D, E and F, and the 1st East Lancashire Regiment, which was holding Grainville-sur-Odon, sent a section some 300 yards forward of B Company's right flank along the main road to Noyers.
At 0300 hrs. in the morning of the 16th July the attack started. D Company left point C first, reached the high ground overlooking the mill successfully and then came under mortar fire which wounded Major Pierce, the company commander, just after he had given orders to Captain Cooper to clear the mill. Captain Cooper was killed in the mill after bayoneting several Germans.
C Company advanced round the southern edge of Horseshoe Copse to within fifty yards of Tiny Copse, where it came under heavy machine-gun fire which pinned it to the ground. Serjeant Clarke, alone and without orders, went forward into Tiny Copse to emerge a few moments later driving a German prisoner in front of him and carrying a German machine gun over his shoulder. C Company fought hand-to-hand in Tiny Copse until aboiit 0615 hrs., when the company commander, Captain W. R. B. Hazell, who was wounded, decided that the position was untenable and ordered the remnants of C Company to withdraw. It was found later that all the section commanders except one had been killed fighting in the copse.
B Company got into its objective—Cahier—and had a platoon beyond when it came under very heavy mortar fire which killed or wounded all the officers of the company. What happened after that is not clear, but a party of some twenty men under Serjeants Bowers and Humphries went off to the avenue, where they engaged the enemy's headquarters and captured twenty prisoners, while the remainder of B Company stood off from Cahier and kept it under fire. The platoon south-west of Cahier at dawn came under heavy mortar fire and some sixteen of the platoon became casualties. At about 0800 hrs. the second-in-command, Major Callingham, who had been at Tourville in command of the transport, was sent forward by the commanding officer to rally what remained of B Company and to report on the situation at Cahier. No information had been sent back since B Company had come under fire owing to the signallers being wounded. Major Callingham collected a party of some twenty-five men to the north-east of Cahier and kept it under fire. The adjutant, Captain Patterson, came up from A Echelon and, taking over from Major Callingham, took command of the situation hi the neighbourhood of Cahier.
Meanwhile the situation at the mill had become more stabilized and, although there was occasional firing, it was clear that D Company was dominating the bridges. The enemy's counterattack, after driving C Company out of Tiny Copse, emerged into the open, where it was engaged by the mortars of the Regiment, very skilfully controlled by Captain Holden, who had been sent forward by the commanding officer to try to get transport forward to C Company over very difficult ground to evacuate that company's casualties. Captain Holden, having arranged the withdrawal of C Company from Tiny Copse (he was wounded in the elbow while doing so), had gone to D Company, where he was in sufficient tune to take command of D Company and break up the enemy's counter-attack. Captain Holden returned to Regimental headquarters, where he gave a most lucid and calm account of the engagement before being evacuated.
It was now clear that the time had come to launch A Company to the counter-attack. Artillery now being available, it was arranged that three field regiments should support the attack. Major Livingstone, commanding A Company, went forward and carried out a reconnaissance about midday with a view to putting in the attack at 1400 hrs. While he was away the artillery plan was worked out by the commanding officer with Colonel Tyler of the 81st Field Regiment. On Major Livingstone's return the fire plan was confirmed and the attack began. It was mounted from the area of the mill and moved in a northwesterly direction on to the southern edges of Tiny Copse. Meanwhile Captain Taylor and two sections of the carrier platoon, which had been engaging the enemy frontally ever since H hour, worked forward, clearing the hedgerows, until they reached the copses and joined A Company on the objective. The whole operation was handled in a most masterly manner by Major Livingstone, who successfully controlled the fire of three field regiments and the Regimental 3-inch mortars on his No. 18 wireless set. At the same time the commanding officer had arranged for the 1st Manchesters to support the attack with two platoons of medium machine guns from the high ground north of Grainville-sur-Odon. Their task was to put down indirect fire west of a north-south line running through Cahier and Mon-ceaux (about a mile due south of Cahier); and to fire their twelve 4.2-inch mortars on the crossings over the tributary of the River Odon that runs north-west from Bougy (south-west of Gavrus) to Haut des Forges (due west of Cahier). It became clear as soon as A Company's attack developed that the enemy had had enough. Nevertheless, Lieutenant Paget's platoon, handled in a very efficient way, inflicted considerable casualties on the enemy before and while the enemy was withdrawing. By 1600 hrs. the Regiment was firmly settled on its objectives, the adjutant having walked into Cahier and found it empty. The Regiment was relieved by the 2nd Monmouthshires and moved back to rest at 2300 hrs. that night to the area previously occupied by the 2nd Monmouthshires at Mondrainville. Eighteen German machine guns were captured.
The fighting was fierce in its intensity, as will be shown by B Company losing all its officers and C Company having one man in four killed.
The total of wounded other ranks in the Regiment after the battle of Cahier was ninety-three, and of missing other ranks eighteen.
Total casualties in the Regiment after the battle of Cahier Officers.—9. Other Ranks.—166.
A conservative estimate of German casualties inflicted by the Regiment was: 116, including forty-five dead counted on the field. This figure of forty-five dead does not cover the area beyond the objective and so makes no allowance for casualties caused by mortar, artillery and machine-gun fire in those areas. In addition 138 prisoners were taken (including two officers).
The morning after the battle a regimental serjeant-major of one of the German regiments surrendered, saying that he had had enough. The enemy consisted of elements of the 272nd and 277th Divisions, approximately one and half battalions in strength.
The following day we cleared the battlefield and the dead were buried in a military cemetery near Brouay churchyard.
On the evening of the 17th the Regiment moved back to a rest area near Mouen (934653). While there some enemy aircraft dropped bombs, causing some casualties.
On the 19th July the Regiment moved forward again, occupying quiet positions at Gavrus (9161) and later south-east of LesVilains (928624).
On the 27th another move brought it to Bougy (914610), where it relieved the 1st East Lancashire Regiment. Here it was hi close contact with the enemy, a battalion of the 237th Infantry Division, which it had fought on the 16th July. Deserters came in at an average rate of two a day.
AUGUST 1944 The beginning of the month found the Regiment in company positions at Gouvry receiving spasmodic attention from enemy artillery and mortars.
On the 4th August a small raid was planned, to be carried out by D Company (Major I. D. Jenkins), supported by C Squadron, 147th R.A.C., 81st Field Regiment, R.A., and the medium machine guns and 4.2-inch mortars of the 1st Manchesters. The company formed up in an orchard, but was there subjected to heavy enemy mortar and machine-gun fire and it was decided to call off the raid.
Very soon after this the enemy withdrew and there followed a few quiet days spent in positions overlooking Evrecy, with carrier outposts on the bridges at Le Locheur. There was considerable air activity by the R.A.F. and one bomb from a Typhoon fell in an area occupied by the carrier platoon, killing Lieutenant Hartman, Serjeant Creed, Corporal Timms and Privates Gooch and Rowley, and wounding nine others.
It was in this position on the 8th August that Major F. H. Howard, M.C., The Buffs, joined the Regiment as second-in-command.
On the 9th August the Regiment was ordered to concentrate hi the Bougy area ready to move forward. There followed days and nights of movement.
On the 10th August the Regiment marched to Ste Honorine duFay.
On the 12th August the Regiment moved in troop-carrying vehicles to the River Orne, debussed and crossed it on foot, marching on to Neumer and later to the north-west corner of the Foret de Cinglais. The weather was very hot and the roads very dirty, the temperature about this tune reaching 104° F. with 90° in the shade.
This heat, which had lasted since early in the month, brought many flies. It increased the unpleasant smell from dead cattle and caused a number of troops to suffer from diarrhoea.
There followed a very difficult march by night through the Foret de Cinglais on small tracks impeded by thick undergrowth.
Before first light on the 13th August A Company, commanded by Major A. R. W. Livingstone, M.C., moved on through Bois Halbout, held by the 1st East Lancashire Regiment, and established itself in a quarry at 0400 hrs.
B and C Companies were then ordered to attack the crossroads at La Bijude. This was to be a silent attack with artillery support on call, using darkness to effect surprise.
Owing to delay in starting, these companies did not reach A Company's quarry till 0600 hrs. in daylight, but a thick mist made visibility very poor. Accordingly, the advance continued, with C Company, commanded by Major N. J. Callingham, leading.
The leading platoons of C Company advanced to within fifty yards of the cross-roads before encountering opposition. Here they came under heavy small-arms fire which included machine-gun fire from an enemy tank. It appeared that the leading platoons had overrun some of the enemy posts without having disturbed them.
The leading platoons at once deployed and returned the fire, but owing to the mist became separated from the remainder of the company. Major Callingham deployed the remaining platoon and company headquarters on the left of the road and continued to work forward, capturing several prisoners and wiping out an enemy patrol, until held up 150 yards from the cross-roads. By this time the mist had lifted.
In the meantime B Company, commanded by Major D. C. Taylor, had deployed on the right of the road and attempted to work forward. This line of approach had to be abandoned owing to enemy fire, and the company then worked left behind C Company but was unable to make progress. During these operations Major D. C. Taylor was wounded.
At 1000 hrs. the commanding officer decided to withdraw both companies and lay on artillery fire. Both companies accordingly withdrew behind a firm base found by D Company. Captain D. C. Humphreys, second-in-command of C Company, and Lieutenant S. Middlebrook were wounded in this action.
At 1700 hrs. on the same day, the 13th August, a further attack was made by A and D Companies with artillery support, and was entirely successful. An enemy counter-attack later that evening was dispersed by artillery fire, and at 2200 hrs. the Regiment was relieved by the 7th Royal Welch Fusiliers.
On its relief the Regiment moved to an orchard in rear of its position and later carried out a night march to Acqueville.
At 0415 hrs. on the 14th August A and D Companies were detached to come under command of the 4th Royal Welch Fusiliers in the area between Bois de St. Clair and Bois SaurierJ moving by tracks reported to be clear of the enemy. D Company, commanded by Major I. D. Jenkins, moved without incident, by-passing the enemy and joining the 4th Royal Welch Fusiliers half a mile east of Angoville. Here it was surrounded by the enemy and had some hard fighting against numerous enemy counter-attacks. During this time Serjeant Hay, Corporal Byrne, M.M., and Private A. Cook knocked out one Tiger tank, two Panthers and one half-track vehicle with a Piat mortar. In spite of their position, the company captured a number of prisoners.
A Company, commanded by Major A. R. W. Livingstone, M.C., was delayed in starting and as it moved along the track came under machine-gun fire which killed Major Livingstone and wounded his second-in-command, Captain H. P. Patterson. In view of the openness of the country further progress was impossible, but later the second-in-command, Major F. H. Howard, M.C., managed to work one platoon forward to the 4th Royal Welch Fusiliers in carriers. One carrier was lost.
Towards the end of the afternoon the enemy counter-attacks died down and B and C Companies moved up to relieve D Company and the platoon of A Company.
17th August.—After a few quiet days in the area of La Rabitiere, the Regiment resumed its advance on the 17th August, receiving orders to concentrate west of Falaise and march by night to positions cutting the Falaise—Argentan road. After a preliminary move to the concentration area south of the Bois du Roi the night march started to St. Martin de Mieux, which was organized as a firm base with one company as garrison.
The advance continued with D Company leading. This went smoothly, with a slight amount of opposition, in which D and C Companies came under small-arms fire from some woods, but which soon stopped. D Company also knocked out an enemy staff car and captured maps and orders and a prisoner.
The Regiment took up position astride the Falaise—Argentan road at dawn on the 18th August and were relieved at 1600 hrs. that day by the 6th Royal Welch Fusiliers. It moved back to a harbour area just west of its former positions, but from here was ordered to prepare for a night attack on Pierrefitte, which was being reconnoitred by the 4th Royal Welch Fusiliers to ascertain the enemy strength. After having moved to a concentration area at Calvary the Regiment received orders postponing the attack and moved back to wait for tank and artillery support.
The Regiment moved to its concentration area at 1300 hrs and the attack on Pierrefitte was launched on the 19th August with the support of the divisional artillery, including a medium regiment and a squadron of the 147th R.A.C., with A Company right and C Company left. With this support enemy resistance proved to be very slight and the village was taken by 1600 hrs. One tank and one Loyd carrier were blown up on mines.
On entering the village of Pierrefitte the body of a soldier of the Royal Welch Fusiliers was found with his hands tied in front of him. He had been shot in the back of the head.
From the 20th to the 26th August the Regiment remained in the Pierrefitte area resting. Physical training and drill parades were held. Work included coping with prisoners of war, directing them, in the cremation of dead German horses killed in the last stages of the Falaise "pocket," and estimating enemy losses in equipment.
During this period the Regiment received a draft from the Royal Norfolk Regiment. It was also visited by the Regimental band and a church parade was held at which the band played. The band was greatly appreciated.
On the 26th August the Regiment left Pierrefitte and spent the rest of the month in moving. This started with an exacting march by night of thirty miles to Le Sap with many tedious diversions. Movement was continued at 0700 hrs. on the 28th August by troop-carrying vehicles to a farm north of Bois Branger.
Here contact was made for the first time with members of the French resistance movement, who continued to give information of varying value from then on. The first member met was a well-mannered old Harrovian, who gave accurate information of recent German movements in the area.
On the 29th August the Regiment moved again in troop-carrying vehicles to Irreville hi heavy rain.
On the 30th August the Regiment moved with the intention of crossing the River Seine at a ford at Bezu la Foret, but on reaching La Neuve Grange a huge queue of vehicles showed that the ford had ceased to be passable. It had become a quagmire and a detour was made, and Les Carreaux ultimately reached at night.
Here company positions were manned and the night spent in digging in heavy rain.
Reception by the French inhabitants of villages passed through during the day had been enthusiastic.