British 50th (Northumbrian) Division in Normandy

Discussion in 'Higher Formations' started by MLW, Aug 27, 2008.

  1. MLW

    MLW Senior Member


    I have placed something of interest for you on my website (bottom of the main page) for you to download. It is a student thesis from the US Army Command and General Staff College titled:

    "50 Div in Normandy: A Critical Analysis of the British 50th (Northumbrian) Division on D-Day and in the Battle of Normandy"

    Here is the abstract: In late 1943, the British Army ordered the veteran 7th Armored, 51st (Highland) and 50th (Northumbrian) Divisions to return to Great Britain to provide combat experienced troops for the D-Day invasion of northwest Europe. On D-Day, the 50th Division achieved nearly all of its objectives. But by mid-June, the 50th held positions only a few miles beyond its final D-Day positions. The apparent failure of this veteran division in later operations led many senior leaders to believe that veteran divisions had become a liability. This thesis evaluates the performance of the 50th Division in Normandy by examining the following: the 50th's prior combat experiences in France, North Africa, and Sicily; the 50th's overall readiness for war during the period before the invasion, including pre-invasion training; and the performance of the 50th Division in specific combat engagements in Normandy.

    I hope it generates some discussion.

    The website is: Maginot Line at War 1939-1940

    Regards, Marc
    Owen and Paul Reed like this.
  2. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    MLW -
    essentially I would agree basically with your extract as XXX corps as they were known were not performing as well in Normandy as they did in the Desert under Lt.Gen Oliver Leese.

    The whole history of that Corps is of course, rather different inasmuch as 50th Div performed well in France in the early days...the 51st surrendered to Rommel at St Valery... and the early regiments of 7th Armoured e.g 11th Hussars( Cherry Pickers)
    had been involved from December 1940 at Sidi Barrani particularly.

    The 50 th after Dunkirk were sent to Africa - the embryonic 7th Armoured were there already and the re-constituted 51st (ex 9th Highland Div) joined them at El Alamein as XXX corps where they fought almost every battle untill rested after Enfidaville(Tunisia) to be ready for the Sicilian campaign after which they went back to the U.K. - without Lt. Gen Leese to stayed on and finally took over 8th Army when Monty went back to the U.K. also.

    Monty insisted on having XXX corps as well as 8th Armoured Brigade with him to bring some battle experience into the newly formed 2nd Army ( as did Bradley with the "BIG RED ONE" et al) - he also insisted on bringing many battle tested Officers as well, including LT.Gen. Dempsey for 2nd Army and Brig.Gen. Urqhuart for 1st Airborne, Brig Gen."PIP" Roberts of 3rd Tanks for 11th Armoured Div.

    But these were tired troops and it showed, and many heads rolled at the top end until the right leaders were appointed which made a tremendous difference.

    the 50th were finally broken up in Germany, as Monty stated " they have fought well for too long and suffered grievious casualties- so now they should rest" the 51st went on despite losing their commander at the Rhine crossing to the end, and 7th Armoured with the "Cherry Pickers" in the van were first into Berlin - after the Russians !

    So extracts are wonderful but do tend to 'slant' history if we could read a similar analysis of some American Divisions and Corps such as 11 corps at Kasserine and V1 corps at Anzio - OR the 5th US army at Salerno - much the same problems with the top end leadership ????
  3. Paul Reed

    Paul Reed Ubique

    Superb stuff - many thanks indeed.
  4. MLW

    MLW Senior Member

    The thesis' extract (written by the author of the thesis) leaves the reader hanging. The thesis itself concludes that the 50th Division, considering the circumstances, performed well in Normandy; better than the 7th Armoured and 51st (Highland) Division.

    Posting of the document was not meant to imply any superiority of US forces. In no way is that my place.
  5. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    Enjoyed that.
    I wonder what the percentages of each unit were old hands / new drafts.
    I met a D-Day Veteran, from Kent , who was transfered with many other fellow Buffs to the DLI in the run up to D-Day.
    I'm sure there was enough fresh blood in the ranks to keep them sharp.
  6. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    MLW -
    No implication was noted - unfortunately I cannot get the full thesis as somehow " the link has been damaged beyond repair " - I am informed so can only comment of the extract -

    My comments vis a vis the American corps efforts at Kasserine et al for which I would apologise profusely, is probably tempered by far too many American authors "revising" true factual history for the benefit of Hollywood, which I abhor.

    As we probably both know, the American "superiority" was only in numbers.
  7. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

  8. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Owen -

    same message from pdf - "damaged beyond repair " could be my end of course....
  9. MLW

    MLW Senior Member

    PM me with an email address and I will glady send it to you. Regards, Marc
  10. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    ouch - thought i was on the Pm ....
  11. sapper

    sapper WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Sounds like a "Lets run down 50 div" to me. Specially when talking about them using huge numbers to beat the Germans. In fact for some time the landing forces were hugely outnumbered by the enemy. What is more they had spent many years preparing defense in depth in Normandy.

    That the Germans had far superior arms, In tanks. and in small arms. Not to mention the Gun that is still talked about today by Vets The 88.
  12. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Many thanks to Marc (MLW) for sending me the full thesis on the 50th Division's actions in Normandy - which as I suspected having read the full 10 pages of that initial criticism - was a bit like the trailer for a bad movie inasmuch as the author obviously dwelt too long on the specific criticism of Monty's plan and technique - by those two "experts" of Infantry fighting - Air Marshal's Tedder and Coningham. Whose antics to get rid of Monty in the midst of the most critical battle
    was - to my mind - treasonable. Mainly as Monty - despite a statement that he would gain the southern Caen Airfields on the first day - failed to do so and thus put a burr under their saddles.

    They both failed to recogonise - as does the author- that Monty made it quite clear - with constant - boring reiteration his statements of plan announced in January 1944 at his lectures at St Paul's school...that the 21st army group would hold trhe main Panzer Divisions around the Caen area in an attritional battle "making easier the breakout by the American forces to the west" - NOT as the author states "forcing the Americans to breakout in the West" - they were not forced - it was the agreed plan by all, especially Eisenhower who never did have a plan - for anything !l -

    Trouble was - and still appears to be the case - the Americans didn't understand the plan ! Both Ike and Bradley finally admitted - afterwards that without Monty - the invasion would have failed !

    Which was to all finish up on the Seine by day 90 with the enemy beaten - very strangely - despite the awful failures of the veteran Divisions of XXX corps - that is what happened !

    The author also berates the regimental diary system for failing to analyse the performance of a Division - not their job - that belongs to Corps and Army

    The waffle on page 10 gave me a chuckle after reading the extract - " this thesis will support that the 50th Division performed well in Normandy" and that the criticism is a by product of the dis-approval of Monty's doubt by Tedder and Coningham !

    I shall read later the authors account of the history of the 50th Division and their pre invasion training - should be good !

  13. sapper

    sapper WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Well said Tom. I do get fed up with the constant criticism of our forces Specially as they are great scrappers.

    It is a fact that of the 8 Panzer Divs in Normandy at that and a half were being taken on by the British....No ifs or Buts, that's is bare fact. Even then the Yanks bombed the living daylights out of their own men putting back their breakout, While we continued to take on the SS Panzer's.

    As to the treasonous behaviour of those sitting in their armchairs at home? Dreadful!
    I repeat what I said before, Authors write books to make money......Truth and Authors are often complete strangers at times.

    I read a book about Normandy where the Canadians landed on Sword beach and the British never even existed. I cannot tell you the title I slung it straight in the bin.
  14. Slipdigit

    Slipdigit Old Hickory Recon

    As we probably both know, the American "superiority" was only in numbers.

    I'll be sure to bring this up with my uncle this weekend when I see him at the reunion. He'll appreciate the high regard in which his efforts were held.
  15. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    It is in the spirit of this site to smooth out innacuracies, and to discuss history in a sensible way, If a book's bad I'd expect us to say so, but have to point out that there is a vast (and rapidly improving) pool of entirely sensible books that correct errors, bring 'new' information, and are exceptionally informative.
    The rote repeating and building onto of previous innacuracies really does only lie with the baser kind of publication, which thankfully seem to be being swept aside of late by many better works.
    That pdf. report on the 50th is an academic critique, it's very different to an attempt at a general history and should probably be read as such.

  16. sapper

    sapper WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Let me say that I fought with the Yanks and have a great deal of respect for them. I would not hear one word against them.
    But it has to be said, that there was a completely different approach to war by the Europeans and the Americans. The "Gung Ho" was admirable where it worked. But for slogging infantry work the Europeans had a better temperament ?????
    Slipdigit likes this.
  17. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Slipdigit - I would agree with "Sapper" - and hold to my thought that the superiority was in numbers - the Americans were no better - no worse than anyone else who fought - the American idea of discipline was something to behold ! Have a good visit with your Uncle .....
  18. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter Patron 1940 Obsessive

    The report makes some use of desertion / Absent without leave figures in discussing morale. Could Tom or Sapper shed any light on what the opportunities for going AWOL would have been close to the front line and how strictly the rules were enforced ?

    How late on duty did one have to be to be charged ?

    I have to say that I found the report quite even-handed although sadly we British have become so defensive of late that almost any use of the phrase 'The British' seems to hint at criticicsm.

    Whatever the talk of failures, I still feel that the unconditional surrender of Germany less than a year after the landings remains a phenomenal achievement.

    Who's going to write a spirited defence of 51st Div ?
  19. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Rich -
    the opportunity of desertion was always there but we never suffered from that problem but I do think that 8th army was in better way of "esprit de corps" than other Armies -and quite frankly had I been in the Infantry then I might have had just cause to desert - I could be wrong of course as I was not always looking at a broad picture.

    On the British being defensive - not without good reason I should like to point out that in this thesis - even an Academic Critique as should all of Historians works reflect Truth - we have a statement here that " the Americans were forced to breakout in the west " ( what a demeaning, unworthy statement)

    THAT is a downright lie and the author should have been brought to book on that one point alone- Bradley had apologised to both Monty and Dempsey for his tardiness in beginning the breakout and so Dempsey had to continue to suffer casualties in holding back six or seven Panzer Divisions with much superior equipment than his own armoured force.

    The 51st Division needs no spirited defence nor does 7th armoured as the problems were mainly at the top end with Commanders, and once they were replaced those divisions gave a good account of themselves having fought longer than many other divisions - even Russians.

    The fact is that the unconditional surrender of the enemy within that short period
    emphasises the strategy of Alanbrooke in weakening the enemy before delivering the coup de grace rather than the bull at the gate lack of strategy by others...
  20. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter Patron 1940 Obsessive

    Thanks Tom. I have to confess that I skimmed through it a bit (a tendency that I always have when scrolling through pdf docs).

    I can imagine how the charge of AWOL was used on Home service and in relation to troops who were not near to the front line but who had the opportunity to 'liberate' alcohol or visit certain establishments but that seems more than unlikely in Normandy during the summer of 1944.

    Could part of the reason for the punishment statistics be that parts of the British Army continued to impose pre-war disciplinary norms and charge offences that some of the other allies may have tolerated ?

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