Notes by Colonel Dowler & Brigadier Gubbins, Norway, April - May 1940

Discussion in 'The Brigade of Guards' started by dbf, Jun 30, 2015.

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    NOTES ON VISIT TO BODO - 21/22 May 1940.


    1. I left HARSTAD at 1430 hours by one of the destroyers taking 1st Battalion IRISH GUARDS and did not reach BODO until 0045 hours 22 May as the Captain wished to avoid going through TJELSUNDET owing to danger of air attack.

    A certain amount of fog was encountered by otherwise the trip was without incident and troops were landed safely.

    2. I found that the puffer party (1st Battalion IRISH GUARDS) had already arrived (2130 hours) after a trip of 21 hours. I understand this party had no troubles except that one puffer lost its way but arrived later.

    3. I left BODO at 0230 hours and so had about 1 1/2 hours to talk to Colonel GUBBINS. I would have liked more time ashore but having exceeded my time allowance by 3/4 of an hour I did not feel entitled to take more. There is no doubt that destroyers are very jumpy about air attack.

    4. Colonel GUBBINS, whom I had not previously met, was in BODO when I arrived. Having met and talked to him I feel that the operations about BODO could not be in better hands. He has had a fairly tough time, and was short of sleep, but when I left he said that what I had to tell him from C-in-C had heartened him tremendously.


    5. The rough sketch (Appendix A) shows present dispositions. A copy of Colonel GUBBIN's instructions to Lieutenant-Colonel TRAPPES-LOMAX is at Appendix B. The copy of a message sent to Lieutenant-Colonel TRAPPES-LOMAS on 21 May is at Appendix C. This had been sent off about 12 hours before my arrival and Colonel GUBBINS had no further news. The enemy had only made contact with SCOTS GUARDS that morning (21 May), so he was inclined to think that the report of withdrawal was incorrect. He thought that SCOTS GUARDS should be able to hold out South of the snow belt for another four days.


    6. A brief appreciation by Colonel GUBBINS is at Appendix D. He is undoubtedly anxious about the SCOTS GUARDS in their present position, mainly I think because of the difficulty with supply if the bridges at STORJORD and POTHUS are put out of action. They have already been bombed. He does not consider that there is a position between that now held and the one he intends to prepare and hold at all costs about 4km South of STORJORD.

    7. A Brigade is required to hold the STORJORD position, with independent Companies to protect the flanks and to operate against the German flanks. If the enemy uses tanks, his advance to SALTDALEN would naturally be speeded up. Some Anti-Tank guns are therefore necessary. The snow should have gone from the snow belt in about a fortnight.

    8. Requirements in order of priority are as follows:-

    (a ) Infantry.
    This will enable a battalion to be sent to STORJORD to work on the position there. I consider that the early despatch of this battalion is important. Another battalion, making five in all, is also required, but can be sent later.

    (b ) M.T. including some 30cwt lorries.
    This is urgently required for both tactical and administrative purposes. See Appendix E, Para 4.

    (c ) Anti-Aircraft Artillery.
    Only two Bofors are left.

    (d ) Field Artillery.
    This is mainly required North of SALTDALEN.

    (e ) Bridging Equipment.

    (f ) Independent Companies.
    There are 5 Companies plus an admin group now in the BODO-SALTDALEN area. Colonel GUBBINS would like four or five more Companies. Even if the Companies due to arrive shortly from U.K. are not fully trained, they will get as good, if not better, training at BODO as anywhere else.

    If, however, one or two companies are required for the present at BARDUFOSS and HARSTAD, I consider that the despatch of three companies to BODO would be sufficient.


    9. Colonel GUBBINS says that the provision of two or three small vessels armed with a gun is one of his most urgent needs (See Appendix D, Para 1). The enemy up to the present has been able to move up the coast unopposed in unarmed boats. Vessels are required:-

    (a ) To stop and examine Norwegian boats.
    (b ) To attack seaplanes reported landing troops.
    (c ) Assist in attacking the enemy in flank.

    At present the Germans are unopposed by sea and in the air. In my opinion the situation is sufficiently serious to warrant the despatch of trawlers until vessels of the M.T.B. type can arrive from U.K. The latter have already been asked for by F.O.N.


    10. Colonel GUBBINS wants Naval crews to man 10 local puffers. These are required for administrative and tactical purposes. Norwegian crews are unreliable and useless for his purpose. I told him that 40 ratings would be sent to BODO on 24 May.

    11. Local vessels not required at BODO are being told by Colonel GUBBINS to move to HARSTAD. He thinks that they will comply.


    11. This Battalion undoubtedly feels that the Germans are superior in soil. It does not understand, nor is it trained, for fighting in the type of country in which it now finds itself. The impression I get is that it fails to secure its flanks by occupying the high ground on either side of the valley. As this is a matter of common sense, one is forced to the conclusion that leadership has as much to answer for as lack of training.

    12. Colonel GUBBINS's comments are given in Appendix F. I know that he considers that MO was given up too easily and that the two Bofors guns might well have been got away.


    13. I gathered from Colonel GUBBINS that there is a certain feeling of depression and my strong impression is that this is induced by the enemy's mastery of the air and ability to advance unchecked by water.

    The Norwegians in particular cannot understand this, and everyone wold be immensely heartened by even sporadic actions by cruisers or destroyers and aircraft.

    14. Colonel GUBBINS understands that he has full powers and will not hesitate to take the most drastic action if it is required. He is satisfied with his Officers and does not require any changes or reinforcement at present.


    15. Colonel GUBBINS has a good opinion of Colonel ROSCHER-NIELSEN, who commands the local Norwegian troops. I told him that a new Commander for the area might be expected shortly.

    16. Colonel GUBBINS considers that drastic action should be taken in the case of Colonel NUMEDAL and Major SUNDLO. They are useless and possibly dangerous. Major SUNDLO's whereabouts is not known, but Colonel NUMEDAL is at ROGNAN.

    17. Now that the Norwegian troops have been withdrawn Colonel GUBBINS considers that the worst of his troubles are over. Until he is stronger, Colonel GUBBINS is definitely of the opinion that he cannot afford to estrange the Norwegian military or civil authorities. On the whole they have been helpful, and withdrawal of their co-operation would make matters very difficult for him.

    18. Colonel GUBBINS has four Intelligence and 12 F.S.P. I recommend that the latter should be reinforced from the 49 DIVISION Section. An Officer is not required.


    19. I was told that this would be ready in a week. There is apparently no shortage of labour, but only two shifts are being worked. Colonel GUBBINS will see that there are three shifts and understands that fighter aircraft cannot operate in his area until the landing ground is ready.


    20. Colonel EVANS (A.Q.M.G.) will forward a report on possibilities of DJUPVIK-FAUSKE as an alternative of L. of C. His depots are spread along the North side of SALTFJORD, so supplies need not be delivered at BODO.

    21. A list of stores and equipment required is attached as Appendix F. To this should be added Anti-Tank rifles and ammunition for two companies of 1st Battalion IRISH GUARDS which had not reached them before they embarked on the 21 May.


    22. Colonel GUBBINS does not propose to form his 5 Independent Companies into a battalion. For the present he will place them under the command of one Officer.

    23. He proposes also to keep his own staff separate from that of 24 GUARDS BRIGADE. I was not able to discuss this with him, but am doubtful if it is a satisfactory arrangement unless the staff provided for SCISSORS is purely a base staff. Otherwise it becomes a Force H.Q. with under it

    (a ) 24 GUARDS BRIGADE
    (b ) Independent Companies under a separate commander.

    In that case Colonel GUBBINS acts as Force Commander and 24 GUARDS BRIGADE requires a Commander as well. The situation will, of course, alter when Brigadier FRASER returns.

    24. He badly requires an Officer to act as Base Commandant.


    25. The situation at BODO may be summed up as follows:-

    (a ) Colonel GUBBINS is somewhat anxious about 1st Battalion SCOTS GUARDS but expects them to hold on for a few days more.

    (b ) Once this position goes there is no scope for fighting a rearguard action South of a position about STORJORD.

    (c ) To hold the enemy at STORJORD, and at the same time make the BODO area secure against landings from the rear, an additional two infantry battalions are required, making five in all. One of these should be sent without delay.

    (d ) Two or three armed vessels are required at once and action by the Navy and R.A.F. in the BODO area, even if sporadic will be invaluable.

    signed DOWLER, Colonel
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    The following is an extract from notes of Colonel DOWLER's first visit to BODO on 21/22 May and forms part of a report by Brigadier GUBBINS:-

    "SCOTS GUARDS. Somewhat depressed as a result of MO experiences though casualties not heavy (50 - 70). Do not understand this type of fighting and feel Germans are superior. I will not change C.O. for the moment, but may have to do so. Consider Major GRAHAM a good Officer.

    I have sent two good Indian Army Officers to give them a hand and encourage them.

    They have lost a good deal of kit and equipment."

    signed DOWLER, Colonel

    27 May 1940
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    BODO, 26 MAY 1940



    1. H.M.S. BEAGLE with the remainder of 2nd Battalion SOUTH WALES BORDERERS left HARSTAD at 1815 hours 25 May.


    2. Detachment 2nd Battalion SOUTH WALES BORDERERS landed safely 0330 hours 26 May. The puffer party with rear H.Q. and one Company had arrive the previous afternoon. The whole Battalion is now located in the BODO area.


    3. Brigadier GUBBINS has appointed Major STOCKWELL acting Lieutenant-Colonel to Command all troops in the area, and has given him his own B.M. and S.C.

    4. The troops under Lieutenant-Colonel STOCKWELL are:-

    1st Battalion IRISH GUARDS - about POTHUS.
    1 Independent Company - ROGNAN area with the job of looking after the fjord.
    2 Independent Company - Has not been in action yet.
    3 Independent Company - Lost 25 men when operating with 1st Battalion SCOTS GUARDS.
    Troop 203 Field Battery, ROYAL ARTILLERY
    2 Bofors
    Section Field Company

    5. Brigadier GUBBINS is hopeful but not confident of holding on to the POTHUS position. He does not think that there are many Germans North of the snow belt. They have some artillery.

    6. If the POTHUS position an not be held, it will be necessary to withdraw North of SALTDALEN. Brigadier GUBBINS, however, has confidence in Lieutenant-Colonel STOCKWELL and 1st Battalion IRISH GUARDS are shaping well. They got up on to the high ground straight away.

    7. Transport with Lieutenant-Colonel STOCKWELL consists of:-

    3 R.A.S.C. lorries
    4 or 5 buses
    8 (approximately) lorries

    In spite of steps taken to stop it, Norwegian drivers are abandoning their vehicles, after locking the ignition. The latter difficulty can be overcome but I gather the batteries suffer.

    8. A forward reserve of 7 days rations and some ammunition has been established at ROGNAN.

    9. The ROGNAN ferry, which is the only route for moving wheels and can carry up to 6 lorries at a time, is a difficulty. The proper crew have fled and it is worked indifferently by 2 Norwegian soldiers. There is a track from ROGNAN up the East side of the fjord, but it is difficult and only passable by men on their feet.


    10. Leading Company of the battalion ordered to BODO by General FLEISCHER has arrived. No sign of the remainder of the battalion yet.

    11. The Norwegian Officer to command at BODO has not yet arrived. Colone FINNE says he gets to HARSTAD today.


    12. These are:-

    (a ) 3" Mortars - One only available (1st Battalion IRISH GUARDS)

    (b ) Sandbags - Mainly for protection of puffers.

    (c ) Troop of Light Anti-Aircraft - Personnel should accompany equipment now being despatched.

    (d ) M.T. - Transport already arranged is required.

    (e ) C.M.P. - A detachment is required.

    (f ) Infantry - One good battalion is required, mainly for defence, in preference to more independent companies. Later are not suitable for this purpose. A battalion of CHASSEURS would be suitable.

    The above requirements should have been received by telephone early this morning by a code previously arranged.


    13. I delivered 24 copies of the telephone code. This will be taken into use forthwith.


    14. BODO aerodrome is ready for use at once and has been stocked.


    15. Brigadier GUBBINS has made the following appointment dated 23rd May and would like them confirmed -

    Major STOCKWELL - to be Acting Lieutenant-Colonel.
    Captain Sir W. BARTELOT - to be G.S.02 H.Q. BODOFORCE.


    16. 1st Battalion SCOTS GUARDS have had a total of about 80 casualties, NOT 200 as reported by W/T.

    signed DOWLER, Colonel

    26 May 1940
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    To: Lieutenant-Colonel TRAPPER-LOMAS, Commanding PARK

    Your instructions are as follows:-

    (a ) You are to maintain contact with the enemy and impede his advance by every means in your power.

    (b ) You willy only withdraw from any position you hold if in your opinion there is serious danger to the safety of your force. You must bear in mind that your object is to delay him all you can, and that can only be done by hitting him hard; this I wish you to do.

    (c ) If you consider at any time that you can carry out your role with less infantry than your four companies, you many withdraw one company to the STORJORD position to prepare it for all round defence. You will refer to me however beforehand.

    (d ) x x x x x [sic]
    (support from 3 Independent Company, Norwegians)
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    TO: PARK
    21 MAY

    Just heard you are continuing retreat.
    If so this is against my
    orders as cannot believe your ?
    seriously endangered already in view no
    contact with enemy yesterday you must
    hold enemy as far south as
    possible. This is my final order.

    signed GUBBINS, Colonel
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    Brief Appreciation of Situation

    1. Object.

    2. Own Strength.
    One Infantry Brigade of three Battalions.
    One troop 25 pounders.
    Two Bofors Anti-Aircraft guns.
    Five Independent Companies.
    Total strength of about 3,500 men.

    3. Hostile Strength.
    Probably one German Regiment and one Austrian Regiment in area MOSJOEN - MO - MESSINGSLETTEN, with some artillery.
    Estimated strength about 4,000.

    4. Factors.
    Main factor is enemy is superior in mobility. I must expect a turning movement by ship, by seaplane or by parachute troops, as not only is this tactic the germ of the enemy's military teaching, but his only alternative in this situation is a straight drive up a difficult road with opposition all the way.

    I must therefore keep adequate troops on the BODO peninsula to guard against this. As I have very little transport* I cannot keep those troops concentrated but must disperse them to a considerable extent, so that any landing can be opposed at once, even if only by small forces.

    I consider two Battalions and one Independent Company as the minimum for this task.

    * [handwritten in margin]
    Note: Even with more transport the road available makes high mobility very doubtful of achievement.

    5. I must at the same time oppose as strongly as possible the enemy's advance by road from MO. One Battalion (SCOTS GUARDS) is now carrying out this task, with one Troop of 25 pounders and two Bofors under command, plus ROYAL ENGINEERS detachment for demolition.

    6. To guard the rear of this Battalion from parachute Troops or seaplane landings in the fiord requires a minimum of two Independent Companies in the SALTDALEN - STORJORD area. [handwritten note added -] with patrols for observation and quick action forward across the snow fields (see Para 8 below).

    7. This leaves me with two Independent Companies. One I must use to hold STROMOEN Island, and the other to deny to the enemy the line of approach from the south up the MISVAER FJORD to SKJERSTAD. [handwritten note added -] This company is also in a position to harass the enemy advance on STORJORD or to oppose penetration from the South or South West.

    8. Present positions of SCOTS GUARDS in MESSINGSLETTEN position is precarious. Behind them they have a long road to SALTDALEN (ROGNAN) of which 20 miles is through snow field with no cover whatsoever. The destruction of a bridge in their rear, or of the road by bombing would prevent their supply. Even in the STORJORD position North of the snow belt they are dependent on two vulnerable bridges remaining intact. A retirement to this position from present MESSINGSLETTEN position is a different operation in view of German air superiority (3 Independent Company had 14 casualties on that road today by air machine gunning).

    9. I consider that only course is to hold the position at STORJORD at all costs. To give up that would mean enemy would soon get ROGNAN (as the valley is very wide and wooded and suited for infiltration and offensive action, and I cannot afford to put more troops in there in view of enemy's mobility). What is required above all to implement this plan successfully is air fighting, and naval, craft to enable me to investigate all doubtful ships and sink those carrying German troops.

    If this can be provided I should be able to hold the STORJORD position for some time, until the enemy can bring up his main forces against it.

    I consider that to hold it then would require reinforcements of about two Battalions.

    signed GUBBINS, Colonel
    Commanding Independent Companies
    21 May 1940
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    [handwritten notes]


    1. Small naval craft (the smaller the better) fast and with one gun (2 or 3 ) to prevent t?ing movement by sea.

    2. Air support to present bombing and machine gunning of vital road and ferry (ROGNAN), and destruction of essential bridges.

    3. Base Commandant to control BODO and civil population.

    4. M.T. Vehicles. Unit transport very urgently required, as there is extreme shortage of busses and lorries - only 8 or 10 exist.

    5. Some British shipping (small craft) or personnel for Norwegian craft for administrative purposes. Cannot rely on Norwegian crews.

    6. 'Q' list of stores attached.
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    [handwritten notes]



    Somewhat depressed as result of MO experiences though casualties not heavy (50 - 70). Do not understand this type of fighting and feel Germans are superior. I will not change C.O. for the moment, but may have to do so. Consider Major GRAHAM a good Officer.

    I have sent two good Indian Army Officers to give them a hand and encourage them.

    They have lost a good deal of kit and equipment.

    Being withdrawn altogether, and are now in ROGNAN area except for some 30 men and 3 M.G.s at the front. ROSCHER-NIELSEN says they are quite hopeless in present condition and he must get them on to BODO peninsula and train them. I agree entirely with him, but am endeavouring to retain a few ski patrols.

    1 Independent Company had a very hard week of fighting at HEMNES and considerable losses. Are now reorganising near ROGNAN. Though in immediate reserve and acting as cover for parachutists, etc.

    Independent Companies are not equipped for defensive role. They have nothing but rifles and brens and cannot really hold a position against better equipped troops. They are meant for offensive guerrilla action only, i.e. cut and run. I would welcome a chance to use them for this.

    4. Independent Companies have no D5 telephones on cable, and the Marconi W/T sets are useless - this is the experience of every Company. In this defensive role telephones are essential. For the offensive role proper pack W/T (one man) sets are required.

    5. Norwegian Commander (Naval) here is very disconcerted that no naval action by us is taking place here in spite of his urgent requests. Germans are gradually creeping up the coast (R ? occupied, SANDNESSJOEN isolated) without any opposition by us, even though germans are only using unarmed trawlers. He insists that only naval activity can restore civilian morale.
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    Subject:- Requirements

    To:- G.1. RUPERT FORCE.

    1. M.T.
    20 30cwt Lorries
    6 Humber Snipes
    10 M.C.s
    M.T. Spares

    M.T. is a most urgent requirement both from a tactical and Adm. point of view. Can delivery be made at once.

    500,000 S.A.A.
    200,000 Tommy Guns, Ammunition
    5,000 Mortars 3" Ammunition
    10,000 Mortars 2" Ammunition
    5,000 Grenades
    5,000 Pistol Ammunition
    5,000 Very Lights
    25 pounder Ammunition
    3" Anti-Aircraft Ammunition
    Bofor Ammunition

    1,000 Rifles to arm Norwegians (War Office asked to supply)
    300 Rifles as reserve
    100 Tommy Guns (most important)
    50 Bren Guns
    300 Bren Magazines
    25 Revolver Pistols
    20 Sniper Rifles
    20 Binoculars
    200 Steel Helmets
    Rifle Oil
    Four by Two (most important)

    500 Sets of Webbing Equipment
    1,000 pairs of Boots
    5,000 pairs of Socks
    5,000 Soap Tablets
    500 Shaving Brushes
    500 Suits of Battle Dress

    5. MEDICAL
    2 Ambulances
    20 Stretchers
    20 Dressing Haversacks
    Regimental Comforts
    Bandages. Splinter
    3 Medical Panniers
    6 Field Surgical Nos. 1 & 2
    3 Field Reserve Medical Panniers
    6 Regimental Medical Companions
    8 Medical Companions
    8 Surgical Haversacks
    60 Shell Dressing Haversacks.
    20 Reserve Dressing Boxes
    10 Reserve Drug Boxes
    10 of 10 Splints Crammer
    30 Splints Thomas
    20 Bed Pans

    Staff Captain
    Headquarters ?
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    NOTES ON VISIT TO No. 3 Section, 229th Field Company, ROYAL ENGINEERS
    23rd to 25th April 1940


    Journey by: "TRONDENES
    Time taken: 6 hours each way.

    Operations 24th April, 1940
    No. 3 Section.
    Strength - 2 Officers and 50 Other Ranks, attached to 1st Battalion IRISH GUARDS.

    On 14/4/19t0 at 06.30 hours, whole section less one store man embarked in'Puffer' for H.M.S. 'VINDICTIVE', with restricted R.E. stores (carpenters' tools and wire cutters).

    Whole party - 1st Battalion IRISH GUARDS and sappers - (750 All Ranks) completed embarkation on 'VINDICTIVE' at 0900 hours (2 1/2 hours). Difficulties due to choppy water. Companion way not safely useable. Troops climbed in by wooden ladders slung from side of ship.

    Re-embarkation started under rather smoother conditions at 10.30 hours, and landing completed at 12.00 hours.

    This movement of troops emphasised their individual immobility with Arctic coats, (filling packs) and respirators at the alert. Coats would have been discarded before dis-embarkation, but respirators worn.

    Recommendation for consideration of G.S. That respirators be not worn in mobile operations until there are firm expectations of employment of gas. Apart from its additional weight, respirator is serious obstruction, and would put our troops to a serious disadvantage against more mobile enemy.

    Also the question of life-belt provision for troops afloat needs consideration. (The SCOTS GUARDS disembarking from 'SOUTHAMPTON' at SAGFIORD on 14/4/1940 were ordered to take their life-belts with them, but no similar action appears to have been taken elsewhere).

    From Pawn Operation Order No. 1 23/4/1940

    "ROYAL ENGINEERS will be split between Companies as detailed and will disembark with their respective Companies. They are to deal with booby traps and delay action mines"

    ROYAL ENGINEERS recce parties of 1 N.C.O. and 3 Other Ranks each were detailed for three Companies of IRISH GUARDS, and the balance of the Section, 2 Officers and 37 Other Ranks was to be held in reserve with H.Q. and No. 2 Company IRISH GUARDS. Under snow conditions, these ROYAL ENGINEERS recce parties could not have been expected to find and render harmless any booby traps or land mines, but might have dealt with such obvious positions such as piers or road bridges.

    BALLANGEN appears to be the best developed small part open to West of NARVIK. Population 2,000 unconfirmed. Development due to iron pyrites mine (sulphur) 3km in-land. (Idle since October). Normally 250 employed. Two strong piers (recce by Commander HOPKINSON). One with small electric crane and connected with mining company's concentration plant by 60cm. heavy rail track. 2 coal burning locos (old) which draw 10 trucks with 3 tone load. Daily tonnage 250 tons. Ample water supply.

    Electric power-plant for mine and general lighting. Hospital. Mine work-shops. Internal roads are apparently good. Considerable ground open for the building of huts and stores.

    BALLANGEN favourably situated against air attack.

    26 April 1940
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    VISIT OF G.O.C. to H.Q. 1 Scots Guards - 25 April 1940

    1. The G.O.C. was told that the PAY CORPS had been extremely helpful and obliging in all transactions with this unit.

    2. A question was raised as to the correct treatment of the issue of leather boots - whether they should be treated with oil or dubbin.

    The G.O.C. understands that oil is not good for them and suggests that Ordnance should be asked to advise on this point.

    3. The Commanding Officer said that whilst it had always been the custom in the Battalion for Officers to pay their servants 5/- per week, Force Standing Orders laid it down that Batmen should be paid nor more than 2/6 per week. The G.O.C. gave permission that Officers should pay their Batmen whatever had been customary.

    Signed P.J. RANKIN, Captain
  15. Tullybrone

    Tullybrone Senior Member

    Hi Diane,

    Thanks for posting this material.

    "Good to see" Scots Guards had their priorities right during visit from GOC as outlined in your last post!

    May also explain the criticism of their performance at Mo I Rana in mid May where my late mothers cousin was wounded and taken POW.


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    Quite. That and the remarks about common sense / high ground, etc.

    I'm sorry I don't have the WD for this battalion in Norway, although 1IG's can be found here . It'd be interesting to see if there ever was a reply or a counter to the orders in Appendices B & C, or even some comment about the arrival of Indian Army officers. 1SG weren't the only ones to suffer loss of equipment and IIRC they ended up kitting out the Micks after the Chrobry was sunk and, the ship carrying 2SWB the other bn in the Brigade, ran aground at some point. I shall have to refresh myself with the Norway chapter in their History - which I might post up, if only to give that perspective.

    (Coincidentally I'm currently transcribing an E&E account by a guardsman from 1IG who was captured but who escaped to Sweden. Men interned there, were repatriated via Scotland, if I remember correctly.)
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    Brief comment about Norway, by Bernard Fergusson in review of Scots Guards regimental history
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    From The Glasgow Herald, June 12, 1940


    Thrilling Rearguard Action


    Thrilling descriptions of the fighting in Norway and the evacuation were given by members of the SCOTS GUARDS when they were landed at a British West Coast port yesterday. For 10 days the Guards fought a gallant rearguard action of 140 miles before re-embarking. During the 10 days they were engaged in almost continuous hand-to-hand fighting with the Germans.

    Guardsman BRYSON, from Cumberland, who has won the D.C.M. described the action which earned him that honour.

    “I was the No. 1 gunner in a Bren gun section,” he said. ”Our platoon had been practically wiped out, and one of our men was lying wounded some distance in front of our position. My sergeant took over the gun, and I crawled out to my wounded comrade.

    “We were operating in a wooded part of the country, and I managed to get a little cover. I succeeded in getting to the man, and, lifting him on my shoulder, I had carried him some distance when a party of Germans approached.

    “I lay down behind a fir tree, and had to smother the groaning of my companion, who was badly wounded in the back. The Germans were almost on top of us, and fortunately they swung off a bit to the left and passed without spotting us.

    “I then managed to get the wounded man back to our position, where he received attention.

    “Taking over my Bren gun again from the sergeant I ‘bagged’ in a short time about 60 Germans. I kept shifting from one position to another and letting go a short burst of fire each time. The Germans made towards me, but I continued to change my positions and kept mowing down the enemy while they were searching for me.

    “During all this time the sergeant was keeping me supplied with ammunition, which he was bringing forward rapidly.”

    Guardsman BRYSON, with this particular sergeant, figured with distinction in two other encounters with the enemy. In one the pair were responsible for bringing down an enemy ‘plane with their Bren gun.

    In the second exploit the two gunners spotted a patrol of about a dozen German cyclists which was in the vanguard of an advancing enemy column. With admirable deliberation the pair held their fire until the cyclists were close on them. The whole patrol was wiped out.

    The Guards fought in Norway for 73 days, and a company sergeant-major from High Blantyre said of their conduct “Guards’ discipline and tradition were always in evidence, and these carried us through in many a tight situation. Our rearguard action was magnificent. Bavarian Alpine troops were opposed to us, and there was much hand-to-hand fighting.

    “We were greatly superior to the enemy in this type of fighting and inflicted very heavy casualties.”

    Regarding the rearguard action, the sergeant-major said, “We would fall back probably 10 or 15 miles and take up a position at a bridgehead. This we would hold sometimes for nearly 24 hours. When arrangements were completed for retirement we would blow up the bridge and fall back to prepare another position for a stand. These tactics were adopted right up to the last minute before we left Norway.

    “When we arrived in Norway there was six to nine feet of snow on the ground. Our men knew nothing of skiing, but they took to it like ducks to water. Soon we were organising competitions, and gradually the men gained in proficiency until latterly most of them were quite good with skis and snowshoes. The training was something new for the men and they enjoyed it.”

    The sergeant-major told how one detachment, operating in snow about nine feet in depth, adopted something of the Eskimo tactic in preparing their encampment. The men dug down into the snow until they came to ground. Then they erected their tents in the hole. The tops were covered with blocks of wood and ice, so that the encampment was invisible from the air.

    “It looked like a vast snowfield,” he said. “Each tent had a primus stove, and fires were also lit from trees which they had found buried in the snow.”

    Indignation was expressed at the ruthlessness of the Nazi bombers. The first place the Nazi ‘planes made for, one Guardsman stated, was the hospital. Incendiary bombs were dropped on the buildings, which were set on fire. As casualties were being carried out on stretchers the ‘planes came down to little more than 50 feet and raked the men with machine-guns.

    The padre, the Reverend J. HAMILTON, St. Andrew’s, Perth, praised the Navy. “When we were being taken off,” he said, “a destroyer came into the wharf, tied up, took 500 men on board, and was steaming out again inside eight minutes.” The padre also spoke of seeing a Red Cross ambulance machine-gunned from the air by a Nazi aeroplane, although it was clearly marked.

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