BAOR Battlefield Tour notes: Operation Bluecoat, 30-31 July 1944

Discussion in 'Higher Formations' started by dbf, Dec 25, 2011.

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    Section III - Personal Accounts

    STAND 3

    B. Planning by 3 Tank Scots Guards - Lieutenant Colonel C.I.H. DUNBAR, DSO, CO 3 Tank Scots Guards
    (Note: The Squadrons of 3 TANK SCOTS GUARDS were known as Right Flank (RF) Squadron, S Squadron, and Left Flank (LF) Squadron)

    "Although this Sunday morning was our first battle - we did not start it completely fresh. 6 GUARDS TANK BRIGADE had concentrated in series of fields near BAYEUX and had been there for several days.

    Without warning, at 1900 hours on Friday night we received orders to move. By 2100 hours we were on the move, and it was not until 0800 hours next morning that we reached our destination, a concentration area about 3 miles North of CAUMONT some 20 miles away. I remember it was a hideous move - the worst of the whole campaign, interminable blocks - much dust - numerous wrong turnings on a very badly marked tank track.

    On Saturday however all went smoothly - order groups, battle procedure and good liaison with our old friends the Argylls. Reconnaissances were down to troop leader level and they were all able to identify Point 309 and Point 226 - invaluable afterwards, as our axis was merely an arbitrary line across country.

    The battalion moved up to an Assembly Area behind the CAUMONT ridge in the late evening and all preparations were completely soon after midnight.

    The next morning reveille was at 0300 hours, and crossing the PHASE I Start Line punctually at 0730 hours, we came down the forward slope some 500 yards East of CAUMONT where we received a sharp dose of shelling. We met the Argylls in our FUP at the bottom of the slope."
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    Section III - Personal Accounts

    STAND 3

    C. Advance of 2 A & SH to line of road SEPT VENTS - CAHAGNES - Major J. KENNETH, CO 2 A & SH

    "2 A & SH went into this Operation with very detailed orders but with little real ground recce.

    Our plan was to advance with two companies up, each supported by one squadron of tanks. Battalion HQ was to move behind the Right forward company with the two remaining companies on either side.

    Our line of advance was across country without any visible axis, and without tracks suitable for the passage of carriers. The fact that what tracks there were were impassable to carriers was not known before the Operation.

    However, on the morning of the Operation, we got into our FUP without difficulty, and the link up with the tanks was satisfactory.

    Our H Hour was fixed for 0955 hours, so we followed 2 GORDONS closely and watched its operation. It was fairly obvious that it was meeting stiff opposition from LUTAIN area, and I began to wonder about 0820 hours, if we should even get through to cross our Start Line on time. About this time the RAF "heavies" were putting on an inspiring show just ahead of 2 GORDONS, and our troops looked on with great enthusiasm.

    About 0830 hours the Brigadier advised me to get through behind 2 GORDONS, keeping well to the West of LUTAIN. So, shortly afterwards, we and the tanks started going forward. Very soon, both leading companies reported small arms opposition and it then became clear that we were in the battle, even though our Start Line was still 1500 yards to the South. It should be noted that no troops had been detailed to clear the area between SEPT VENTS and LUTAIN WOOD: consequently, it is not surprising that considerable operation was encountered in this area.

    Great difficulty was experienced in keeping touch with higher formation. To add to our difficulties, we found it increasingly difficult for the forward companies of infantry to keep in touch with the tanks, due to the tanks having to ink about and increase speed in order to find crossing places over ditches and hedges. It was not long before we lost sight of the leading squadrons of tanks.

    Just East of LE BOURG we struck an anti-personnel minefield, and in the general confusion the Right forward company became slightly disorganised. The Left forward company was still reporting satisfactory progress. Considerable numbers of prisoners were coming in, and it soon became clear that the area around LUTAIN to as far South as the lateral road SEPT VENTS - CAHAGNES was the enemy's main defended area. This being the case, I ordered the advance to reform on the line of that lateral road at ECORIGNY. This line was reached by 1130 hours and by 1150 hours the battalion was concentrated in the area.

    My reasons for ordering the battalion to reform were as follows:-

    i. the Right forward company was disorganised.
    ii. owing to the fact that we had no mortars up, and on account of the impassability of the country to carriers, I considered it advisable to have some gunner support available, especially as, by then, we could see that 43 (W) DIVISION on our Left was not keeping pace with us.
    iii. I considered that by reforming and continuing the advance in good order we would, in the long run, gain time."
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    Section III - Personal Accounts

    STAND 3

    D. Advance of 3 Tank Scots Guards to objective - Lieutenant Colonel C.I.H. DUNBAR, DSO, CO 3 Tank Scots Guards

    "Immediately we left the FUP, the two leading squadrons, Right Flank on the Right and S Squadron on the Left began to encounter difficulties - not anti-tank guns but several small minefields on which we lost two tanks, and a good many enemy posts which we shot up with great gusto, and above all, the apple orchards which you have already heard about. They were perfectly frightful - one could not see a yards and the apples were falling into the tanks like enormous hailstones. In addition one had to ink all over the place to find a way over the 'bocage' hedges. It was small wonder that there was considerable disorganisation and our progress became incredibly slow.

    There was however on my air photograph some open ground ahead near SEPT VENTS - CAHAGNES road, so we decided to make for this and reorganise - but in doing so the leading squadron lost the Argylls who were still mopping up.

    When we got to the open ground it was about 0950 hours - we were due to cross the Start Line any minute and we were still about 1,200 yards short of it.

    Five minutes later I saw the barrage air-bursting in the sky ahead and knew that we should be crossing the Start Line - so I asked leave to press on without the infantry and was told I could. I therefore ordered the two leading squadrons on, leaving only Left Flank, the reserve squadron, with the infantry.

    Progress continued slowly as we were still meeting opposition and having to advance by fire and movement shooting up every hedgerow, but we finally crossed our Start Line at 1105 hours by which time the barrage was nearly 1,000 yards ahead.

    We continued shooting our way on for another 1,200 yards, when about 1230 hours I found a good space to reorganise in, and so called a halt in the hope that the infantry would catch up. The halt was much appreciated, as by then we were all black and blue from the jumps we had been over, and quite a number of men, including my Signal Officer in my tank, had been knocked senseless.

    I waited an hour but the Argylls had still not appeared, and at 1330 hours I felt that we must get on to the objective. I therefore ordered our advance at maximum speed at the same time calling up the reserve squadron, Left Flank, as I felt we needed every tank we could raise and the infantry was not now meeting serious opposition.

    We really got moving after this and by 1415 hours S Squadron followed by Battalion HQ was right up on this ridge to be followed at 1430 hours by Right Flank which had to skirt LES LOGES village as they had no infantry to cover them through it.

    Our route, though hard to describe on the ground, was all to the East of the Sandy Track in the middle distance and our formations throughout had been as tight as possible, as otherwise control and direction keeping were quite impossible. There was sharp shelling and mortaring as we approached the ridge, but once we were established on it, it died down a bit.

    By 1530 hours therefore when the leading Argylls got up to us we had reorganised as follows:-
    Right - Right Flank Squadron protecting the front and Right
    Left - S Squadron protecting the front and Left
    Reserve - Left Flank Squadron protecting the Left and our rear
    Battalion HQ was just in rear of Right Flank Squadron and was responsible for LES LOGES village.

    No vehicles except the CHURCHILLs had managed to make the journey. We were therefore without any form of anti-tank gun except our own few tank six pounders and we had no reconnaissance of any kind.

    We did, however, have an FOO in a CHURCHILL, but he was finding it difficult to keep in touch with his command post."
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    Section III - Personal Accounts

    STAND 3

    E. Advance of 2 A & SH to objective - Major J. KENNETH, CO 2 A & SH

    "At 1230 hours the advance was continued with three companies up - one directed on LES LOGES village, and two on Point 226, with one company in reserve.

    At this stage the reserve squadron of tanks went off to join its battalion ahead. Our advance continued meeting small pockets of enemy and the line of the original Start Line was soon reached. Here our gunner programme was coordinated into an amended Brigade plan, and we consequently had to delay our further advance till 1330 hours to conform.

    From then on the battalion advanced rapidly, and companies arrived on their objectives, LES LOGES about 1520 hours and Point 226 about 1530 hours.

    So far, large numbers of prisoners had been taken at small cost. On that day, the battalion handed over 200; our own casualties were 3 killed, and 3 Officers and 20 Other Ranks wounded.

    On the objectives, companies were disposed as follows - one company LES LOGES village, about half a mile away from the rest of the battalion - two companies on the ring contour 220 - one company astride the LES LOGES - CAHAGNES road just below the Left forward company. Battalion HQ was in the wooded area to the North of that same road.

    Reorganisation went smoothly, except that our own anti-tank 6-pounders and the troop of 17 pounders allotted to our support were experiencing difficulty in getting through to us. About 1600 hours, I saw Colonel DUNBAR and he informed me that he had been told by higher formation that it was unlikely that his battalion would go forward to PHASE III, and that he was to consider the holding of Point 226 to be of the first importance. The 17-pounders finally arrived in our area just before 1900 hours.

    At about 1745 hours the position started to be shelled heavily, and we became apprehensive of a counter attack. By this time, however, the troops were pretty well dug in. Shortly after 1800 hours the counter attack came in: it proved to be an armoured show and there was little that the infantry could do about it. We lost 3 men - members of a PIAT crew - in the action, which resulted in several casualties among our tanks.

    After that we spend an uneasy night because the battalion was very extended, with the LES LOGES company out of sight and sound of the remainder of the unit."
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    Section III - Personal Accounts

    STAND 3

    F. Dispositions of 3 Tank Scots Guards on objective - Lieutenant Colonel C.I.H. DUNBAR, DSO, CO 3 Tank Scots Guards

    "Just about the time I was talking to Major KENNETH, I asked Brigade HQ for further instructions and especially for permission to carry on to Point 309, even if 7 SEAFORTH had not then turned up. This was refused, at least for the time being. Instead I was ordered to hold the Left flank and especially Point 226 and LES LOGES - at all costs.

    I discussed it with Major KENNETH and, owing to the shelling and mortaring and difficulties of digging in under fire in the open, we decided that the Argylls should hold the reverse slope position firm based on LES LOGES village, but it seemed to me vitally important to keep a strong force of tanks on the ridge itself since

    i. Should the enemy counter-attack, especially with armour, and establish himself on the ridge, not only would it be extremely difficult to dislodge him, but he wold be very well placed to interfere with the vital road CAUMONT - ST. MARTIN.

    ii. There were still no anti-tank weapons, either SP or towed, available in the area.

    At that time the main danger appeared to me to be most likely to come from the dominant ground to the South East, South and South West.

    It is true that there was no information or sign of the progress of 43 (W) DIVISION on our Left, but in my innocence I felt that, at least, it would be threatening CAHAGNES and so occupying the Germans' attention there. In actual fact it was then still at the foot of the CAUMONT ridge.

    However, I positioned my reserve squadron so as to command the Left flank, the rear of my Left forward squadron and a certain amount of the LE HOMME road at the bottom of this hill. The other two squadrons I left in their original positions with minor adjustments for concealment especially from the South.

    These therefore were the dispositions when, soon after 1800 hours the shelling and mortaring became more and more severe, apparently coming from BOIS DU HOMME and somewhere else on our Left that we could not identify, and then almost before we could realise it had happened, the counter-attack had come and gone."
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    Section III - Personal Accounts

    STAND 3

    G. Counter attack on Point 226 feature - Captain W.S.I. WHITELAW, MC, OC S Squadron 3 Tank Scots Guards

    "During the battle of CAUMONT I commanded S Squadron, the Left hand leading squadron of 3 TANK SCOTS GUARDS. When I reached this objective I had left four troops each with three tanks and two Squadron HQ tanks. My dispositions in the area allotted to me were as follows:-

    Right forward troop - in the area of Point 226 itself observing to the South.

    Left forward troop - in the bushes just South of this STAND observing to the South and South East.

    Reserve troop - about half way between this STAND and the bottom of the hill beyond the Left flank troop, observing East and covering Left flank troop in case of infiltration by infantry or Bazooka men.

    Squadron HQ - in trees behind Right forward troop, covering the forward troops.

    At approximately 1800 hours I went back to see my reserve troop and to ensure that they had a good position of observation to the East. I cannot say that I did this because I anticipated what was about to happen, but merely because I had become slightly suspicious of the lack of an signs of activity on our Left flank. While I was with this troop the mortaring and shelling on the hill suddenly intensified. Then I saw the Left hand tank of my Left forward troop go up in flames closely followed by the other two. Immediately I started to return to the hill. As I was driving up the field I saw all three tanks of my Left flank troop go up in flames, and as I approached the top of the hill, I saw a tank moving from Right to Left in front of me. Suddenly it appeared to me (wearing a headset) as if the turret of this tank had been quietly lifted off and put down on the ground some yards away. It was only when I saw the flames that I realised that this tank had in fact exploded following a hit on the ammunition bin. This tank subsequently turned out to belong to the Second-in-Command of the battalion who had come over to see what was happening. He and his crew were blown up.

    At this time I realised that the fire was coming from our Left rear because of the angle of hit on the tanks. However, needless to say I had no idea of the exact position of the enemy tanks or guns. It subsequently turned out to come from the farm buildings in the wooded area on the Right, at the bottom of this hill.

    I should emphasise not that all six tanks in my two Left hand troops together with the Battalion Second-in-Command's tank and my second squadron HQ tank had all been knocked out in the time that it took me to drive up one fairly small field - in fact a matter of a little over a minute. I mention this because it shows how accurate and quick the German shooting was.

    At this time two Jagdpanthers, who evidently though that they had destroyed all the tanks on the hill, started to drive out from the wooded area to your Right and drove over the STAND where we are now. This are was uncovered owing to the destruction of the two troops. As they reached the top of the hill they shot up my Right hand forward troop. The reserve squadron and my reserve troop were evidently very slow in engaging these tanks presumably because these Jagdpanthers looked different from the things they had been taught to expect. These tanks then disappeared over the top of the hill, and were subsequently found abandoned just over the top with their tracks off and with marks on them which showed that they had been hit by HE.

    By this time I found that I had only four tanks left, my reserve troop and my own tank. I reorganised them in a position beside the infantry company on the hill and remained there until I was order to rally back at dusk.

    I consider that the counter-attack was carried out by three Jagdpathers, firing from the area of the farm buildings at the bottom of the hill, supported by some heavy fire from the CAHAGNES area and possibly from the BOIS DU HOMME ridge.

    It was obviously a carefully co-ordinated attack planned by the Germans in the CAHAGNES area who had seen us move onto the hill some three hours previously. it was very well carried out and the shooting was of a very high order. Further battle experience would certain have made my reserve troop and the reserve squadron shoot much quicker. This would have prevented the destruction of my Right hand forward troop but not the initial tank losses. From my point of view the main lessons learnt were that my tanks should have been even more careful concealed that they were and that I should have been more suspicious of the unknown Left flank. The vital necessity of carefully concealed tank positions impressed me most forcibly. I think that more attention to this would have been the best hope of cutting down our heavy losses."
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    Section III - Personal Accounts

    STAND 3

    H. Plan adopted for Phase III - Major General G.L. VERNEY, DSO, MVO, Commander 6 Guards Tank Brigade

    "The problem is set s being about 1530 hours, which is just about the time that it actually arose. I would remind you that the counter-attack on Point 226 did not develop until 1800 hours.

    The situation throughout PHASE II had been confused, and my recollections are of many conversations over the air with the two tank battalions, on the rival themes of hurrying on to the objective or staying close to the infantry whose whereabouts were continuously uncertain.

    This was due to the ground; apart from the difficulty of getting over it without the infantry CO and his Company Commanders losing control, the ground was so bad that the infantry wireless sets could not be transported. Of course, it is obvious now that we ought to have allotted a CHURCHILL tank as a transmitting station for each CO and Company Commander. For the future we must get better wireless sets for the infantry.

    After the tanks got on to their objectives there was a long period of uncertainty and impatience before any infantry arrived, but about 1530 hours we were able to take stock of the situation and knew for the first time for several hours where everybody was.

    The sequence of events was this. I was still in the OP on the forward slope of CAUMONT ridge with the Commander 227 (H) INFANTRY BRIGADE.

    It was becoming clear that we would never get PHASE III off at the rate we were going. 2 GLAS H and 7 SEAFORTH could not possibly get up in time. It seemed that the only hope was to take a chance and push 4 TANK COLDSTREAM GUARDS on alone, and follow them up with infantry later as best we could.

    I called up the Divisional Commander on the air, and asked if we and Commander 46 (H) INFANTRY BRIGADE could meet at once in CAUMONT.

    This would have been about 1530 hours. By 1600 hours we had met in a house near the fishing-tackle shop in CAUMONT and decided what to do.

    - 4 TANK COLDSTREAM GUARDS was to advance at once to Point 309.

    - 4 TANK GRENADIER GUARDS was to pick up 2 GLAS H and carry them forwards.

    - 7 SEAFORTH was to march across country to Point 309.

    - 3 TANK SCOTS GUARDS and 2 A & SH were to hold the Left flank at LES LOGES.

    By 1615 hours I had spoken over the air to CO 4 TANK COLDSTREAM GUARDS and given him his orders, and soon after 1630 hours he was actually on the move - a very fine piece of work on his part."
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    Section III - Personal Accounts

    STAND 3
    J. Description of route to STAND 4 - Conducting Officer

    "En route to STAND 4, you will again pass the HERVIEUX crossroads, and drive along the first part of the route taken by 4 TANK COLDSTREAM GUARDS in PHASE III. About a mile beyond the cross roads, the road passes through a cutting and drops down to cross a stream. 4 TANK COLDSTREAM GUARDS left the road and began to move across country by the track at the near end of this cutting.

    You will then pass through the village of ST. MARTIN, and on to the final objective, Hill 309, from the South."
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    Section III - Personal Accounts

    STAND 4

    A. Description of ground - Conducting Officer

    Object of Stand
    To study PHASE III of the battle, and subsequent counter-attacks.

    "You are now standing on Hill 309 - 15 (S) DIVISION's final objective: this STAND affords a very good view over a large area of typical 'bocage' country.

    To your Right rear the wooded summit of Hill 361 can be seen. You will remember that it was the final objective of 43 (W) DIVISION, and that it should have been captured at the same time as Hill 309. In fact, 43 (W) DIVISION met most determined opposition from the start, and by the time Hill 309 was taken, its forward troops had still not quite reached the bottom of the CAUMONT ridge.

    Directly out to your Right across the first valley, is a group of buildings which was known as Panther village, which you will hear referred to lair (Map Reference 704517).

    To your Right front about 1,200 yards away is a prominent hill - that, again, is Point 280, and Point 226 which we cannot see lies about 1,000 yards directly beyond it.

    At nine o'clock from the summit of Point 180, at the bottom of the slope, is the village of LA FERRIERE, with the church and its spire clearly visible.

    1600 yards to your Left front is a large open field - at the bottom Left hand corner of it, amongst the trees, some of the buildings of the village of LA MORICHESSE can be seen (Grid bearing 330 degrees).

    It is also possible to see in the middle distance HERVIEUX cross roads (Grid bearing 351 degrees) and, in the background, the village of SEPT VENTS and the road running South from it (Grid bearing 359 degrees).

    It is also possible to see in the middle distance HERVIEUX cross roads (Grid bearing 351 degrees) and, in the background, the village of SEPT VENTS and the road running South from it (Grid bearing 359).

    To the Right of SEPT VENTS on the skyline is the tower of CAUMONT church."
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    Section III - Personal Accounts

    STAND 4

    B. Action of 4 Tank Coldstream Guards - Lieutenant Colonel A.W.A. SMITH, DSO, Second-in-Command 4 Tank Coldstream Guards

    "Every effort had been made to contact the infantry, 2 GLAS H and 7 SEAFORTH, at LA TEINTURIERE and LA FORTERIE but without success. CO 4 TANK COLDSTREAM GUARDS, who was at that time near HERVIEUX cross roads, gave verbal orders to the Squadron Leader of 3 Squadron and orders over the air to the rest of the battalion.

    The outline plan was as follows: the battalion would move as quickly as possible to capture Point 309, two squadrons up, 3 Squadron Right, 1 Squadron Left, Battalion HQ and 2 Squadron to follow on the Right. The Right squadron was to move via LA MORICHESSE to LAUNAY, and there branch off the road up the hill, the Left squadron to move direct across country. On the objective the quarry was to be the inter-squadron boundary, inclusive to the Right squadron.

    The CO realised the need for speed, if any benefit was to be obtained from the air bombardment, and got things moving very quickly; the tanks were on the move by 1630 hours.

    All went well till 3 Squadron reached the defile in the road short of LA MORICHESSE, where the leading troop met resistance. The CO therefore ordered 3 Squadron to by-pass LA MORICHESSE and make direct for Hill 309.

    Again virtually no enemy was encountered but the difficulties of the going were serious; a boggy ditch running directly across the line of advance, a very steep uphill climb all the way, and railway line and embarkment just short of the objective. However they were all surrounded and Hill 309 finally reached.

    There was now little that could be done by the tanks alone - except to sit tight and hold on till the infantry came up and reorganisation could be completed.

    The leading companies of 2 GLAS H arrived by 2330 hours and the whole battalion was up on the hill by 0230 hours - 7 SEAFORTH did not appear till about 2359 hours and were not completed till about 0350 hours. The tanks were then pulled back a very short distance, and close-leaguered for the night. The crews were tired as it had been a long day and, for many of them, their first battle.

    The following day was spent in refuelling, rearming, maintenance etc, - all supplies having to be brought up in half-tracks or tanks. The tanks also gave assistance by towing up various infantry vehicles."
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    Section III - Personal Accounts

    STAND 4

    C. Action of 3 Squadron 4 Tank Coldstream Guards - Major J.E. TOLLEMACHE, MC, OC 3 Squadron 4 Tank Coldstream Guards

    "The orders received from the CO were to attack Hill 309 in the old 'assault echelon' manner, which we had practised so many times in YORKSHIRE.

    3 Squadron was to lead down the road and then the battalion would assault the hill from the South West with my squadron on the Right, turning off the road about 1,000 yards beyond LA MORICHESSE. I mentioned the fact that we knew the enemy was in LA MORICHESSE, but it was too late, and we started off at five minutes' notice, just allowing time for me to give out sketchy orders. We moved with 13 Troop leading down the road, supported by 14 Troop, then myself followed by the rest of the squadron.

    When we got to the defile just North of LA MORICHESSE, 13 Troop ran into a real old-fashioned Home Guard ambush - Germans running about, people throwing things, and the flash of bursting bazooka bombs in the road. 13 Troop turned on all their Besas, and accelerated down the road where the met more Germans; the Troop leader then turned round with his troop and came out again. It was lucky he did, as later the officer in the Battalion spare rear link tank did not get the message to by-pass, and drove on down the road into an 88 mm gun which destroyed him and his tank.

    14 Troop had summed up the situation and put down smoke around 13 Troop. I pulled out to the Left into the orchard which still appeared to be hatching with running Germans and I had a nice little shoot.

    I called up the CO, and asked for permission to by-pass the village and make straight for the hill, and I was given permission to do this. My tank then threw both tracks in a narrow lane, and I had to transfer into another. We then found this deep ravine in front of us which seemed quite impassable. We found a way down, however, and then we made straight for the summit in a grand race, the CO finishing about third. The going was quite indescribable and we had several men concussed by the humping. There was a certain amount of small arms fire, but we used to shoot first and look afterwards, to make them keep their heads down.

    My Besa got overheated half-way up the hill and would only fire single shots. The little railway cutting round the edge of the hill proved an anti-tank obstacle, but the only bridge over it was still intact.

    We felt very exhilarated that we had at last got on to the top of Hill 309 but a slight sense of disappointment as we felt we should have captured at least a general there: actually there wasn't a soul, only mess tins, food and a few rifles.

    We took up a position on the summit and West site of the hill facing South West and South East, and the CO kept calling up as it grew darker and darker, saying he could not guarantee to hold the hill in the dark without infantry. He also called for recce units to push on beyond us. At 2330 hours the infantry arrived and we moved back into close leaguer just below the summit in a small field, nine tanks of the Squadron of two of Battalion HQ.

    A rather nervy night was spent dug in under our tanks with spasmodic small arms fire all round; I had three guard tanks and also patrolling sentries; we kept a strict silence. Next day (31 July) was comparatively quiet, with desultory shelling and fire from Nebelfwerfers.

    F2 and A Echelon could only get up in half tracks so refuelling and re-ammuntioning was a lengthy business. The tanks, except for two troops, were left in the leaguer area, and some of the missing ones rejoined. The shelling appeared to come from our Left rear. Next morning (1 August) at 0539 hours we were wakened by the heaviest concentration of artillery fire I have ever come across, before or since; I had a direct hit on my tank, and sparks flew in all directions, but no damage was done. The sentries were in their slit trenches, and the rest of us were dug in under the tanks with earth shored up all round, and not particularly anxious to come out.

    We received an S.O.S. from the CO that the infantry reported German infantry attacking their positions. We pushed out the forward three troops to their recce'd positions and two troops had a shoot and a few Prisoners taken. The Germans had almost got up the infantry positions.

    We had no further attack during the day, but shelling went on until the evening."
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    Section III - Personal Accounts

    STAND 4

    D. Action of 4 Tank Grenadier Guards - Lieutenant Colonel C.M.F. DEAKIN, Second-in-Command 4 Tank Grenadier Guards

    "During the late afternoon orders were received to move the Battalion down the main road to ST. MARTIN where it was to pick up 2 GLAS H. The Battalion moved off and reached the HERVIEUX cross roads by about 1630 hours. In the meantime 2 GLAS H had gone across country in order to avoid the traffic congestion on the road; as a result the tanks passed them whilst they were in the country. When 2 GLAS H rejoined their axis it could not see the tanks and did not realised that they had already gone through. Some delay was therefore caused before the two married up but shortly after 1700 hours, 2 GLAS H was safely mounted on the tanks and the advance continued. On reaching LA MORICHESSE the leading squadron (2 Squadron) bumped an 88 mm gun and some infantry; the leading tank was knocked out and three of its crew were killed. The Squadron Leader dismounted and did a personal recce by crawling up the ditch, where he was wounded. The infantry whose job it was to join 4 TANK COLDSTREAM GUARDS on Hill 309, were then ordered to dismount and cover the last mile and a half on foot. They therefore asked for a squadron of tanks to accompany them; this was granted but as the tanks got stuck in a narrow lane and had to reverse, two or three of them losing their tracks as they did so. The Battalion was then ordered to harbour behind the HERVIEUX cross roads and it turned about on the road to do so - fortunately a CHURCHILL tank can turn about in its own length. No sooner had it done so that his order was cancelled, since the traffic congestion was very considerable with the F Echelon of 15 (S) DIVISION then trying to get forward. The Battalion was therefore ordered to move off down a side road and eventually harboured at LA FERRIERE AU DOYEN. It reached its harbour at about midnight. Foot patrols were sent out to try and contact 4 TANK COLDSTREAM GUARDS, but they failed to find them, and the Battalion harboured alone without infantry on the battlefield that night."

    Operations on 31 July
    "At first light the Battalion shook out from its tight hedgehog formation into squadron areas and prepared for counter-attacks which were rumoured to be imminent and to be supported by TIGER tanks. These however did not materialise and during the afternoon the Battalion was ordered to support 8 RS in an attack on the high ground to the South East, so as to form a link between 4 TANK COLDSTREAM GUARDS area on the Right and 3 TANK SCOTS GUARDS area on the Left. About this time reports were received that fit enemy tanks were forming up about 600 yards to our South East and were about to attack us. This caused quite a stir and the Battalion got into a position to receive this attack, which did not develop. As soon as this incident was over, recces were made for the attack with 8 RS. This commenced with H hour at 1845 hours and went according to plan except for the great interference from 43 (W) DIVISION Artillery on our Left firing from the neighbouring CORPS. This smoked the whole area of our operations for 4 1/2 hours. It was furthermore mixed with medium HE which hindered tank commanders greatly in the operations. Luckily only one tank was seriously damaged. The tank was the Squadron Leader's of 1 Squadron, which received a direct hit on its engines. It managed hover, to operate for three hours on only one engine with no water in the other and three big ends broken. Finally, the infantry were placed successfully on the objective - there had been no opposition - and the tanks rallied behind the objective for the night. "
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    Section III - Personal Accounts

    STAND 4

    E. Counter attacks on Hill 309 - Lieutenant Colonel A.W.A. WHITE, DSO, Second-in-Command 4 Tank Coldstream Guards

    "I would ask you to look at the ground for a moment: on the Right, quite good covered positions are available: the Centre of the positions is cut up by the quarry: whilst, on the Left, there are woods to the front, and further back to the East the ground is completely overlooked by the spur and village to the North East and East. 43 (W) DIVISION was still a long way behind us, and our position was therefore a difficult one.

    At about 0530 hours 1 August, everyone on the hill was awakened by very heavy shell and mortar fire, which lasted for a good half hour. Luckily the crews were well dug in and suffered little damage, but it was difficult to get the tanks started up and on the move. However, as a result of urgent calls from the infantry, the forward squadrons pulled forward, and were just in time to meet the leading enemy infantry and drive them back.

    It soon became apparent that a determined effort by both tanks and infantry against our Left flank was in progress. TIGER tanks were located in the village to the East, and also on the spur running North from the BOIS DU HOMME.

    These counter-attacks continued throughout the day, and I think the success we had in driving them off was largely due to the grand artillery support we had and the excellent way in which it was directed by both the FOO and the tank Squadron Leader."
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    Section III - Personal Accounts

    STAND 4

    F. Counter attacks on Hill 309 - Captain R.D. DOBSON, Troop Leader 2 Troop, 1 Squadron, 4 Tank Coldstream Guards

    "My Troop was in position to the Left of the quarry.

    On the morning of 1 August, the third day on Hill 209, we were awakened about 5030 hours by very heavy shelling and mortaring. We were almost immediately ordered to take up our previously chosen counter attack positions, as it was suspected that the enemy was going to counter attack from the direction of the BOIS DU HOMEE. We could hear tracked vehicles moving about the wood and about 0600 hours the first attack came in, as was expected from the BOIS DU HOMME. It was beaten off, however, without much assistance being required from the tanks.

    It was then that we were fired upon from the rear and we observed six TIGER tanks in the edge of the wood on the high ground to the East of LA FERRIERE. This put us in a very uncomfortable position as we were completely exposed and facing the wrong direction. We therefore turned about and took up as concealed positions as possible in the hedges. It was here that we realised for the first time the limitations of our own tank armament, our 6 Sabot and 75 mm solid shot merely bouncing off the TIGERS at that range.

    The situation remained like this for the remainder of the day with frequent artillery stinks being put down on the wood concealing the TIGERS. We now had our own FOO with us, and could therefore direct fire on to these targets. The enemy tanks kept firing at us but fortunately caused no casualties. They eventually withdrew in the evening, accompanied by infantry, many of whom we were able to deal with by Besa fire. About 200 dead Germans were later discovered in this wood so a fairly heavy counter attack had evidently been intended from that area.

    After the enemy had withdrawn from his position we had no further trouble."
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    Section III - Personal Accounts

    STAND 4

    G. Movements of artillery - Brigadier R.J. STREATFIELD, DSO, CO 190 Field Regiment Royal Artillery

    "As had been foreseen, no movement forward of the artillery was possible on D Day, but all guns could reach Hill 309 and a little beyond it.

    The divisional artillery moved forward during the morning of D + 1 (31 July) to LA TEINTURIERE, about half-way down the fairway.

    As early as 1100 hours on D Day the Corps Commander had appreciated that if things went went really well, he could put 2 HCR through to capture the bridges over the River SOULEUVRE (5 miles beyond ST. MARTIN), and if VIRE was to be within the CORPS boundary, to push on and capture this key position. He therefore acquainted the CRA with this, and the records show the CRA giving orders over the air for OPs of 8 AGRA to marry up with 2 HCR, and for reconnaissance of a gun area as far forward as possible behind ST. MARTIN, so as to be able to support this thrust.

    77 Medium Regiment and one battery of 155 mm guns reconnoitred such an area just South of LA MORICHESSE on 31 July, and occupied in on the same afternoon. The heavy guns did shoot up VIRE from this position with the object of causing alarm; artillery reconnaissance reported good results.

    OP resources were taxed to a maximum. A very liberal use was made of them on Hill 309, and it paid a dividend when counter attacks came in on 1 August. The only vehicle, other than tanks, which got up on to Hill 309 during D Day was a half track belonging to the Battery Commander supporting 7 SEAFORTH.

    The ammunition expenditure (rounds per gun) was as follows:-

    <insert image>

    RA lessons of this Operation

    1. There were NO pauses planned in the barrage. It used to be said that once a barrage has started it is dangerous to alter it. I would say that now, provided we have planned pauses, we can lengthen or shorten them very easily.

    2. Air burst shelling was right in theory but was not an unqualified success in practice: however, with the advent of the VT (proximity) fuse this is really a last war lesson.

    3. There were no artillery fire controllers (OPs) on Hill 309 for the first 3 or 3 hours. The reason for this was that the OPs were not in tanks and our vehicles were unsuitable. I would suggest that each independent armoured brigade requires a Forward Observation or Fire Control Battery permanently attached to it (as in the new Airborne Division establishment), but not a complete Field Regiment - there are quite enough guns already.

    4. No anti-tank guns got on to Hill 309 that night (30 July). In future, it might be better if the armour had its own anti-tank unit as part of the brigade, instead of relying on RA. Even on D +1 most vehicles had to be towed on to the hill by CHURCHILLS.

    5. Exceedingly good control of mass fire by artillery when the counter attacks came in on 31 July was shown not only by RA OPs, but by infantry and tank officers using the normal procedure."
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    Section III - Personal Accounts

    STAND 4

    H. Casualties and closing remarks - Major General G.L. VERNEY, DSO, MVO, Commander 6 Guards Tank Brigade

    "The casualties suffered in the 15 (S) DIVISION Operation on 30 July were as follows:-

    15 (S) DIVISION - 9 Officers and 214 Other Ranks

    - Personnel - 11 Officers and 61 Other Ranks
    - 4 TANK GRENADIER GUARDS - 7 (4 reappeared on 31 July)
    - 4 TANK COLDSTREAM GUARDS - 14 (7 reappeared on 31 July)
    - 3 TANK SCOTS GUARDS - 14 (of which 12 were totally destroyed)

    Finally I want to say one thing.

    The limelight has rather shone on the tanks, but this battle was won by the infantry. You have heard that through no fault of theirs, they were not absolutely fresh when they started. Also, they had had several weeks of continuous hard fighting behind them. You have seen the country they had to cross. It was a sweltering hot day. They met opposition in areas which they were entitled to expect to be clear, and they suffered casualties most of the way. Many of them must have been on the move with practically no rest for 24 hours or more. But they had the determination and the guts to keep going, so it is to them that the credit for this battle must go."
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    Section III - Personal Accounts

    STAND 4

    J. Action of 11 Armoured Division - Major General G.P.B. ROBERTS, CB, DSO, MC, GOC 11 Armoured Division

    "The object of this exercise is to study the operations of 15 (S) DIVISION, therefore I shall only deal very briefly with the operations of 11 ARMOURED DIVISION. You have already heard that 11 ARMOURED DIVISION was operation on the Right of 15 (S) DIVISION and its initial task was to protect the Right flank 15 (S) DIVISION. Initially our progress was slow because we had the same sort of difficulties which you'd have already heard described in the 15 (S) DIVISION operation: but in addition the task was made slightly more difficult by the fact that a SHERMAN tank is nothing like as good a performer though the 'bocage' country as is a CHURCHILL. During the morning of the first day the Left Brigade, 29 ARMOURED BRIGADE, advanced rather more quickly than the 159 INFANTRY BRIGADE, largely because 29 ARMOURED BRIGADE was somewhat assisted by 15 (S) DIVISION immediately on its Left. However, by the evening of the first day, 159 INFANTRY BRIGADE on the Right had reached a point just East of DAMPIERRE. It was in contact with the enemy, but the enemy was very disorganised and there was nothing like a definite line, only isolated centres of resistance. On the Left 29 ARMOURED BRIGADE had captured LA MORICHESSE against a certain amount of opposition. This village has already been mentioned in the accounts of 15 (S) DIVISION operation, but you will notice that the actual village itself is West of the main road running South from CAUMONT, which was in fact the boundary line between the two Divisions and inclusive to 15 (S) DIVISION.

    Sometime during the evening, I cannot remember exactly what time, I received orders from the Corps Commander that 11 ARMOURED DIVISION was, during the night, to capture ST MARTIN DES BESACES and also to establish itself astride the main road and on the high ground about 2,000 yards West of the place. Now you have heard the difficulties that some of the troops of 15 (S) DIVISION experienced in keeping direction in this 'bocage' country during daylight: you will therefor appreciate what without a very careful reconnaissance and preliminary planning, it was going to be an extremely difficult business by night, and it is not surprising therefore that my Brigade Commanders were not at all keen to undertake this task. The problem of the Left Brigade, which was given the task of capturing ST. MARTIN, was not so difficult as they could advance astride the main road, but on the Right, if you look at your maps you will see that it is very difficult to pick out a track which leads from the DAMPIERRE area to the final objective West of ST. MARTIN.

    In the event, on the Right 4 KSLI advanced in single file during the night down a very small track which finally brought it on to its objective: no opposition was met; had it been, no doubt it would have been held up most of the night, but in fact the battalion was established on its object by first light next morning. On the Left 8 RB supported by 3 ROYAL TANK REGIMENT, advanced steadily and against slight but continuous opposition until it was at first light established on the North side of the railway just short of the village of ST. MARTIN itself. As soon as possible 8 RB was reorganised and prepared for an attack on the village from the West, and as soon as the 8 RB attack was seen to be held up it was called off and 4 KSLI, supported by 2 FF YEO, put in its attack from the West. This attack was completely successful, ST. MARTIN was occupied, and later handed over to the 9 CAMERONIANS of 15 (S) DIVISION.

    Meanwhile, during the morning of the second day, a troop of 2 HCR which was under command of 11 ARMOURED DIVISION, carried out a most enterprising recce. Crossing the road and railway some 1,500 yards West of ST. MARTIN against no opposition it worked its way through the FORET L'EVEQUE and the first I heard of it was that it had reached LA FERRIERE (6345) where there were a few very disorganised enemy. It was told push on to the bridge over the River SOULEUVRE at 638437. This it reached with no opposition, and as soon as it was possible it was supported by two troops of 2 N YEO while the main body of the Division was organised to take advantage of this unexpected opportunity. It appears that the FORET L'EVEQUE was astride not a divisional or a corps boundary, but an army boundary, and, due to some oversight and then delay, a vital stretch of some 1,500 yards of country was completely unoccupied. Without going into details, suffice to say that thanks to this the whole of the 11 ARMOURED DIVISION was able to establish itself the following day South of the River SOULEUVRE and eventually to occupy the high ground immediately East of VIRE.

    In conclusion I would like to add a word about the tactical employment of 11 ARMOURED DIVISION during this Operation. Having heard of the difficulties experienced by 7 ARMOURED DIVISION and by the American Division in this 'bocage' country we had for some time been considering the best method of achieving infantry and tank co-operation. The Armoured Division being so comparatively weak in infantry it is essential to utilise the armour as much as possible: this principle combined with the very close country led us to the conclusion that we should work basically on a troop/platoon basis. This automatically led us to adopt the "homogeneous brigade" group, i.e. each brigade consisting of two armoured regiments and two infantry battalions. Without going into details they were very slight variations to that grouping in this particular instance, but I think it is true to say that this was the first time that an armoured division had been used in this way and it proved a great success."
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    Section III - Personal Accounts

    STAND 4

    K. The Enemy Story - Chester Wilmot, Esq, BBC War Correspondent

    "I have been asked to make a few comments about the enemy side of this Operation and to add some general information about the enemy's overall conduct of the Battle of NORMANDY.

    With regard to BLUECOAT I should perhaps start with some additional background remarks from the Allied point of view. The American break-out offensive (Operation COBRA) began West of ST. LO on 25 July. The same day East of the ORNE 2 Canadian Corps launched a holding attack down the FALAISE road with the object of containing the German armour which had been drawn to this sector by Operation GOODWOOD. Unfortunately the Canadian attack proved abortive and by the 27 July it was clear to General MONTGOMERY that no fresh holding attack could be launched in this sector within the next ten days. It was also apparent that the enemy had made a similar appreciation and had already begun to move armoured reserves Westward against the Americans. There was the danger that the development of the American attack might be interfered with by German counter-attacks directed against the Americans exposed Eastern flank. General MONTGOMERY was anxious that General BRADLEY should be able to put his full strength behind his Southward drive and should not have to look over his shoulder and worry about his flank. It was therefore essential that SECOND ARMY must re-group its armoured more rapidly than the enemy and must launch an attack Southward from CAUMONT to protect the American flank. It must interpose British Armoured forces between the German Panzer Division and the flank of the American advance. Hence the need for speed in launching Operation BLUECOAT.

    Before this Operation began, two German armoured divisions, 2 and 116 Panzer Divisions, had been switched to the area West of VIRE and were engaging, or were about to engage, First United States Army. To other armoured divisions 21 Panzer and 9 SS Panzer were moving Westward, together with two battalions of Tiger Tanks and one battalion of Jagdpanthers. The movement of these armoured formations and units was interrupted by the advance of 8 CORPS, and in the first few days of August, as Operation BLUECOAT developed, 9 SS Panzer, 10 SS Panzer and 21 Panzer Division and three Heavy Tank battalions all became involved against 8 CORPS and 30 CORPS, which thus protected the American flank from what might have been a troublesome counter-stroke.

    Operation BLUECOAT is a good exemplification of the factor which was I think the key to our success in NORMANDY once the initial landings had been made. That factor was our superior capacity to employ armour - a superiority which sprang almost entirely from our command of the air. Because of the greatly superior quality of the German tanks in the kind of fighting that developed in NORMANDY, the enemy's armoured potential was considerably greater than our own, but he was never able to make full use of it.

    In the first month after D Day, because the movement of German infantry divisions to NORMANDY was delayed by air attack and sabotage, ROMMEL was forced to commit all his panzer divisions to hold the line to contain the bridgehead. Throughout this phase of the battle, we were able by a series of timely thrusts to compel the enemy to commit his panzer divisions defensively as soon as they reached the battle area. Thus ROMMEL was never able to deliver a deliberate and concerted armoured attack in strength because Allied air power broke up his concentration.

    In the second phase of the battle, lasting throughout most of July, the enemy was able to build up some reserves of armoire from time to time, but he never gained the initiative or the ability to employ them in accordance with his own plans. He was forced into a "wet hen policy", compelled to rush his reserves from one side of the ORNE to the other in response to the threats we were able to create, thanks to our superior capacity to re-group and manoeuvre our armoured reserves. We have seen in the case of Operation GOODWOOD (8 CORPS Operations East of the River ORNE, 18 - 22 Jly 1944) how swiftly SECOND ARMY was able to shift the weight of its armour from the ODON sector to the bridgehead East of the ORNE. But this rapid re-grouping and the mass employment of armour in Operation GOODWOOD would have been quite impossible if the Allied Air Forces had not gained complete command of the air. In the case of Operation BLUECOAT there was another swift and smooth re-grouping of armour with the result that 8 CORPS succeeded in establishing its forces to block the panzer divisions which were to have assaulted the American flank.

    8 CORPS was not able to intercept all the armour which the Germans switched to the American sector, but primarily owing to our command of the air the remaining German panzer division failed in their attempt to cut off the American spearheads. Between 7 and 10 August - on HITLER's personal orders - von KLUGE gathered all available armour for a counter-attack against the American flank in the MORTAIN area. The aim was to drive through to the coast at AVRANCHES and to isolate the American columns which were thrusting into BRITTANY and towards the LOIRE. However, the movement of the German's armoured divisions to MORTAIN and their concentration there was seriously harassed by Allied aircraft, and the American ground forces had comparatively little trouble in breaking up the counter attacks. The advantages which the German armour had enjoyed in close fighting in NORMANDY were now gone. Once they failed to contain the Allied armour the Germans had no chance of catching it and roping it in again."
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    Section IV - Problem


    The original plan for PHASE III was as follows:-

    46 (H) INFANTRY DIVISION was to carry out the attack with 6 GUARDS TANK BRIGADE in support.

    The advance was to be made two battalions up:
    Left - 7 SEAFORTH, supported by 3 TANK SCOTS GUARDS
    Right - 2 GLAS H, supported by 4 TANK COLDSTREAM GUARDS

    The Start Line was about 400 yards North East of Point 226, and the axis of advance ran over the crest of Point 226 and straight on to the objective, Point 309, from the North East.

    On the assumption that the air attack went in on Point 309 at 1555 hours the tank battalions, each less one squadron, were to lead the advance and move straight on to the objective at best tank speed. The infantry battalions each supported by one squadron of tanks were to follow as rapidly as possible and tank over the objective.

    Each battalion group was to include an RE Recce Party, and the rest of the available Field COmpany was to be held back at SEPT VENTS until required.

    7 SEAFORTH and 2 GLAS H were to move to Forward Assembly Areas at LA TEINTURIERE and LA FORTERIE and there marry up with their supporting tank battalions, after the latter had been released by 227 (H) INFANTRY BRIGADE on completion of PHASE II.

    The Brigade reserve was to consist of 9 CAMERONIANS supported by 4 TANK GRENADIER GUARDS. This group was to move behind the assaulting battalions with a mopping up role. It was to take over from the two squadrons of 15 (S) Recce Regiment, which, if PHASE II had gone as originally planned, would be forming a protective screen to the South of the PHASE II objectives, while reorganisation was in progress.

    The PHASE II attack was due to start immediately after the end of the medium bombers' attack on Point 309.


    10 HLI have reached the HERVIEUX area, and 2 A & SH have only just reached the area LES LOGES - Point 226. Both battalions are reorganising but have not released their supporting tanks.

    The detailed dispositions on Point 226 have just been described (STAND 3 - Personal Accounts E and F)

    2 GORDONS is still in the area of LUTAIN WOOD having taken up a position facing East and South East.

    9 CAMERONIANS is still in the SEPT VENTS area.

    4 TANK GRENADIER GUARDS is also in the area of the PHASE I objective.

    2 GLAS H and 7 SEFORTH are moving forward from the CAUMONT area to their Forward Assembly Area. Owing to the traffic congestion their progress has been very slow, and so far as information can be obtained, they are still involved in the SEPT VENT area.

    The medium bomber effort is due on POINT 309 at 1555 hours. It is essential that this effort be immediately followed by attack by ground troops.

    As Commander 15 (S) DIVISION you appreciate that if you are to benefit from the air attack your original plan for PHASE III will have to be changed.

    What do you decided to do?
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    Section V - Major Lessons from the Battlefield Tour

    The following major lessons are brought out in the Battlefield Tour.

    The operations emphasised that morale, as always, is the most important factor in war. On occasions, the rapid mounting and concentration resulted in troops going into battle tired. Quicker results on the battlefield would probably have been achieved if the troops had been fresh. In all the operations the great results produced by enterprising junior leadership are apparent.

    The very high standard of training with the units and staff of 21 ARMY GROUP had attained in ENGLAND before the North West European campaign was one of the most important contributory factors to its success. The mounting of the various operations was always done against time at every level, and the speed with which they were launched could NOT have been achieved without quick and accurate staff work combined with smooth and efficient execution by the formations and units concerned.

    Close co-operation between tanks and infantry is vital. Tanks by themselves seldom achieve results. The more infantry and tanks have trained and operated together before a battle, the quicker and greater will be the results.

    In these operations, large supporting programmes with air and artillery were generally laid on, and good progress was made up to the limit of that support. Thereafter, the attack, was liable to falter and lose momentum. The enemy defences are often deeper than expected, and supporting fire must, therefore, be in depth. The later part of this supporting fire may be out of range of artillery and have to be carried out by air bombardment.

    The bomb must be suited to the country. If the country is open and the enemy is in strong houses or deep field defences, fragmentation bombs are useless except for very fleeting neutralisation, and HE must be used. Cratering can be accepted in villages in open country, since they can be by-passed. In large towns, blocked roads should, in future, be quickly cleared by mechanical equipment of improved design.

    The value of surprise is frequently brought out in these operations, and must be sought, in the future, through new methods and improved equipment. The use of night vision equipment will enable more fighting to be carried out at night, and the development of amphibious tanks will assist in gaining speed in crossing rivers.

    The degree of air supremacy attained in NORMANDY must NOT be expected during the early stages of future operations, though it may ultimately be achieved again. The increased threat from the air, coupled with the increased efficiency of weapons will enforce a greater degree of dispersion prior to battle. The ability to disperse for movement and concentrate quickly for battle will depend on cross county mobility. Further, the necessity for delaying concentration as last as possible will also demand a high degree of cross country mobility coupled with accurate staff work, strict march discipline and good traffic control.

    Cross country mobility for infantry can, in the future, be achieved by mountain them in APCs. Infantry in these armoured carriers must advance whenever possible on to the objective. A great part of the value of APCs is their ability to get the infantry over the last 300 yards. On arrival at the objective, however, the sub-unit commander must know exactly what to do when his sub-unit dismounts.

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