51st Highland Division Abbeville/St Valery

Discussion in '1940' started by Roy Martin, Jun 29, 2011.

  1. Roy Martin

    Roy Martin Senior Member

    I apologise if this is a repeat:

    How many British servicemen were made to surrender at Abbeville / St Valery-en-Caux? It.Wikipedia says 13,000, that is a great deal more than I had assumed.


    Roy Martin
  2. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    Saul David in his book Churchil's Sacrifice of The Highland Division says this on page 242.

    More than 10,000 were taken prisoner at St Valery....with the 1000 or so taken on the Somme and in the Saar a total of over 11,000 soldiers of the Division marched into captivity.

    That's just the 51st Highland Div's numbers there were many more from units not in 51st Div taken too.
  3. Roy Martin

    Roy Martin Senior Member

    Thanks Owen,

    It was far worse than I had realised. Looking at the numbers rescued during Cycle and Aerial it would seem that more than the accepted figure of 140,000 were still in France at the end of Operation Dynamo. As nearly that number were rescued during Aerial (though they may have included reinforcements sent for the Norman Force / Breton Redoubt).
  4. JCB

    JCB Senior Member

    Often wondered if this was a blessing in disguise for Scotland. How many of these men would have survived the war if they had not been captured?
    Infantry casualties were horrendous ' I have read ' 300% between D day and Berlin
  5. Steve Mac

    Steve Mac Very Senior Member

    Often wondered if this was a blessing in disguise for Scotland. How many of these men would have survived the war if they had not been captured?
    Infantry casualties were horrendous ' I have read ' 300% between D day and Berlin

    Hello JCB,

    The 51st (Highland) Division were not all Scots, with Divisional troops in 1940 coming from the 7th Bn Royal Northumberland Fusiliers and the 7th Bn Norfolk Regiment, amongst others.

    The casualty rates were enormmous for all front line Infantry Divisions. Tom Renoulf in his recent book 'The Black Watch' states that their ranks were packed with thousands of Englishmen fighting as Highlanders.

    All Divisions took their replacements from wherever they could and indeed, the 50th (Northumbrian) Division included a lot of Scots (amongst many others from outside Northumbria).


  6. JCB

    JCB Senior Member

    Thanks for info- wonder if Black Watch and others were more pure Scot early in the war.
  7. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

    I was reading some rather interesting short stories and personal accounts today about the 51st Div at St Valery etc in a book called the New Contemptibles and it gave a figure of 8,000. Being the book is over 70 years old I suspect it was being slightly economical with the truth.
  8. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter Patron 1940 Obsessive

    Sebag-Montifiore mentions a figure of 'over 8000' . Blaxland, writing earlier stated 'the loss cannot have come to more than 8000 men, including the casualties in the two-day battle for St. Valery'.

    I would have thought this figure more realistic, bearing in mind that 154th Brigade (1st Black Watch, 7th & 8th A&SH plus some artillery) had been sent to cover Le Havre. A normal infantry brigade comprised approx 2,500 of all ranks.

    The normal strength of an infantry division at the time is quoted by Ellis as approx. 13,600 of all ranks.

    51st Div did have some GHQ and III Corps troops with them originally which would gave brought numbers up but against this, Ellis mentions 2,137 British troops being taken off at Veules le Roses on the eastern perimeter.
  9. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    Illustrated London News 13 July 1946
    St. Valery honours the 51st Divison: Commemoration of a heroic defence.
    Illustrated London News 13 July 1946, 2.jpg

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Mar 16, 2019
    JERICHO, Drew5233 and Incredibledisc like this.
  10. Harry Ree

    Harry Ree Very Senior Member

    Dunkirk.The Forgotten Heroes portrays the the operations of the No 51st Highland Division from Abbeville down to being trapped at St Valery.

    Now on Channel 4 2000-2100 hrs.
  11. MarkN

    MarkN Banned

    I know the post is old and forgotten, but it caught my eye and I felt it worth a comment.

    Anybody interested in historical accuracy should stay well clear of wikipedia. Full stop.

    It was recently brought to my attention that the writers of wikipedia generally refuse primary documentation as historical evidence. Strange, but true. Further investigation provided a reason for this. Primary documentation is difficult for wiki writers to come by so at some point in the past they got together and decided that books that they can find free on the internet are the official go to source! But if a senior wiki writer has managed to pull a book off the local library shelf, that will do too. In other words, wiki is not the product of serious researchers and historians, it is the product of amateurs trying to increase their wiki warrior rank based upon quantity over quality!!!!

    Moreover, when there is a dispute about information, they don't peer review as to which is the most accurate, the writer with the highest wiki rank gets the final say.

    Back to the subject matter itself.

    The original question posted seeks the number of British servicemen - not the number of 51st Highlanders. That's a key difference. Yes, the British forces there were all under the command of the 51st Division commander, but about half would not, by that time, have been part of the original 51st Division organisation that landed in France. Hence why there are some quite large differences in quoted numbers.

    What is the correct number? I don't have the time (or the inclination) to try and work it out. Sorry. But the first question before any research is done, is what numbers and units EXACTLY are to be incorporated? For example, do we include 51st Highlanders captured trying to cross the Swiss border after successfully evading the Germans through France? Do we include troops of the 1st Armoured Division Support Group overrun near Aumale? The what to include/exclude list is quite extensive....

    However, here's a useless piece of info - especially if you are a wiki writer as it is from primary documentation - the Wehrmacht HeeresGruppe B Abendmeldung for 12 June 1940 states 20,000 prisoners taken at St Valery. It's useless because it also includes the French. But, hey ho!!!
    Roy Martin, Owen and Incredibledisc like this.
  12. Roy Martin

    Roy Martin Senior Member

    Yes that ties in with my experience; when you try to edit an item using information from a primary source, you get someone's biography quoted as being a superior source and, worse still, a newspaper report. I have now given up trying to correct wikipedia. I also had an article rejected by a computer programmer from Bangalore, who objected to me referring to a ship as 'she'. As the British troops who were ordered to surrender at Abbeville/St Valery, I settled for 'about 10,000' - but am only too happy to be corrected!
  13. Harry Ree

    Harry Ree Very Senior Member

    The documentary states 11000 went into the bag.A figure of 5000 were said to be wounded.I would think that the wounded were included in the total taken prisoner. the dead being put at a 1000 .

    I do not think the numbers escaping from St Valery amount to many in comparision to the above I am not aware of.how many made the break into Switzerland.However the number and identity are recorded as escaping to freedom paasing through the safe house at Marseille is recorded in Helen Long's publication "Safe Houses are Dangerous"....the Pat O'Leary line.

    As regards Wikipedia,the photograph of the No 105 Squadron Mosquitos at Marham this morning threw up the squadron code, GB as No 97 Squadron which is incorrect, having served on 97 and knowing its history well.
  14. MarkN

    MarkN Banned

    I have nothing to do with the site. Never have done. Do enjoy a good laugh at some of what it says though. It has become the site for amateurs not willing to leave the confines of their own homes to tell the world what information that have managed to find whilst not leaving the confines of their own homes. Primary evidence means leaving home and doing proper research.

    It is utterly pointless trying to calculate how many were captured until after one has decided who to include and exclude.
    Geographically: do we consider those captured between the Somme and the Seine or only as far as St Valery en Caux? Do we include those captured outside this area but who had originated from that area before commencing their evasion?
    Timeframe: the Germans reached the coast at St Valery sur Somme on 20th May. Do we start from that point and include those captured in and around Abbeville and Amiens 19-21 May, the 1st of June which seems rather a random choice but seems the usual suspect, or the 5th of June which was when the German commenced Fall Rot? Do we stop on the 12th June because that's when St Valery en Caux fell, or also include those captured in the area after this date?
    Units: is this really just about the history of the 51st Division (and why 1st June pops up) or all the British forces in the area - which was quite considerable?

    I believe much of the confusion lies in the contradiction of the desire of some to establish the history of the 51st Division but an unwillingness to do the hard yards of separating out the non-51st Division personnel. Further problems arise in deciding whether to discuss the history of the 51st Division units as organised on departure from the UK (principally a Highland Scottish history) or whether to view this in broader detail where it is recognised that about half of the division had swopped or enlarged with non-Scottish units. Also, people often fail to grasp that for the period concerned, the French 31st Division was under 51st Highland Divsion command. In otherwords, a good few thousand of the French captured in the timeframe were also technically 51st Division!!!!

    The Wehrmacht HeeresGruppe B Tagesmeldung for 13 June 1940 states 26,000 prisoners captured 10-12 May in the immediate vicinity.
  15. Roy Martin

    Roy Martin Senior Member

    I seem to have unintentionally cause confusion. I was only seeking the number who were ordered to surrender after they could not be evacuated by the ships of Operation Cycle ( 8 June - 13 June 1940). In the book I used Owen's figure from post #2 above: 10,000 at St Valery and 1,000, or so, taken on the Somme and the Saar. Those who survived and made their way to other parts of France were rescued during Operation Aerial (NW and western France) and Spirit (south of France).
  16. MarkN

    MarkN Banned


    My posts have been aimed at the subject matter in general not specific to your original post. Please do not take offence. The numbers out there in the internet ether and found in black&white in various narratives are utterly confusing, contradictory and generally unhelpful.

    The BEF post-Dunkirk narrative is poorly covered and barely understood. The Dunkirk theme has come to dominate and consuming attention like a black hole sucking in everything around it.

    The best work done to address this has been a pretty localised affair by the Highlands community to remember their own. For that they should be praised. Compare what you know about 51st Highland Division's effort to your knowledge and understanding of what 1st Armoured Division got up to, what Beaman Division did, what 52nd Lowland Division got up to. And what about all the other rear area and LoC troops, RAF personel etc that found themselves caught up in the German sweep through Normandy and Brittany. There's still a huge amount of the BEF story to tell.

    Despite their good work, those researching the story of the 51st Highland Division seem to have come up against quite a few hurdles and obstacles that, for the sake of simplicity, they have decided to find the easiest way round. The path of least resistence. Many non-Highlanders are not extracted from the numbers, many Highlanders elsewhere are set aside or forgotten.

    For example: this is a great website and much praise must be given to the efforts of the writers and contributors. 51st Highland Division Online Museum | Home Page The start page for the BEF section has 2 paragraphs. This is the 2nd paragraph:
    At which point, the story of what the three 6th Battalions subsequently got up to is non-existent. Perhaps it will come with time. The same applies to the two RA field regiments and an RE field company from the 'original' 51st Highland Division which swopped out.

    I wish I had the time and writing skills to do something about it. Unfortunately, there is no money in it to tempt me into finding the time and learning the skills to make it happen. I just research and learn what I can, when I can, as a little hobby.
  17. Roy Martin

    Roy Martin Senior Member

    No offence taken. I concentrate on the maritime side of evacuations and landings. You say : The BEF post-Dunkirk narrative is poorly covered and barely understood. The same goes for Operations Cycle, Aerial and what I now know as Spirit - and even more so for the evacuation from Singapore!
    As you say, there is no money in it, all I want to do is document as much as I can, before I fall off my perch.
  18. 51highland

    51highland Very Senior Member

    6th Seaforth was replaced in152 brigade by 2nd Seaforth. 6th Seaforth went to 17 Brigade of 5th Div replacing 2nd Seaforth. What was left of 6th Seaforth was evacuated from Dunkirk 1st June.
  19. Harry Ree

    Harry Ree Very Senior Member

    A good account of two officers of the No 51st Highland Division who escaped from being POWs en route for Germany.

    A WW2 Escape from France (June 1940)

    A circuitous route through France,evading the Germans .....crossing the Cher into the Vichy unoccupied zone.....imprisonment by Vichy police...down to Marseille.....on to crossing the Pyrenees and further imprisonment by Spanish police....intervention help from British and US Consular personnel.Other escapees joined the group en route and amounted to 17 when arrangements were made for them the enter Gib.Unfortunately, after an epic escape journey,two No 51 Highland Division officers who joined the original two escapees en route, lost their lives when they were killed shortly after arriving when Gib was bombed by Vichy aircraft.

    Interesting evidence that Spain was pro German,supported by widespread anti British propaganda. Franco's youth organisation seen as very prominent in claiming Gib as Spanish.

    Another interesting fact from the account was that the cost of petrol in Spain was given as 12/6 a gallon....very expensive.During the war, the majority of petroleum products was imported from the US....probably another reason why Franco was reluctant to join the Axis, even if the prize would be Gib.
  20. I am looking for information on General Fortune's surrender to Rommel at St. Valery. What transpired, what was said, etc. Any ideas?

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