11th Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry War Diary June 1944

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1st – 5th June 1944 THETFORD

The Battalion was making final administrative preparations. The second-in-command left for the marshalling area.

6th June 1944 THETFORD

D-Day. The Battalion spent the day loading vehicles and packing. The issue of maps and movement instructions took place.

17:00 hours. A briefing took place of the Company Commanders.

7th June 1944 THETFORD

14:00 hours. The Battalion transport left for the marshalling area under the command of Captain P.A. Johnson. The Transport Party consisted of nine Officers, 225 Other Ranks and 71 vehicles.

10:00 hours. The marching personnel left THETFORD for a separate marshalling area at FALMER near NEWHAVEN.

8th – 11th June 1944 FALMER

The time was spent by the marching personnel in the marshalling area. The programme was one of games and entertainment and rest. Full advantage was also taken of bathing facilities.

9th June 1944

The vehicles were embarked at WOOLWICH DOCKS.

11th June 1944

The marching personnel embarked at NEWHAVEN in three LCI’s (Large). The total strength of the Party was 28 Officers and 542 Other Ranks. This was split into three equal shiploads, which were commanded by the C.O., Major Boucher and Major Low respectively.

12th June 1944

11:30 hours. The marching personnel landed on KING Beach near LA RIVIERE. Some had a dry landing, but others had to wade ashore through about three feet of water. Then began the march forward through VER-SUR MER, CREPON, CREULLY and St GABRIEL, to the concentration area which the second-in-command had laid out and signed in fields between the hamlets of BRECY and RUCQUEVILLE. There was great activity all up the road from the beaches – steams of DUKWs and RAF lorries, pioneers mending the roads, signallers repairing the telephone wires, and everywhere masses of signs (occasionally ACHTUNG MINEN!) and yet for all of the activity things were strangely quiet.

It might almost have been an exercise. Spitfires and Marauders roamed about overhead, as it were, looking for trouble. Only a few smashed-up bicycles with scattered ammunition and a couple of German graves near the roadside served to remind us that Overlord was no scheme.

On reaching the concentration area we dug in and waited for the arrival of the transport. Friendly contact was made with the local farm people who supplied us with water.

13th – 14th June 1944 NORMANDY

These days were spent in the concentration area. The transport arrived, odd trucks at a time, and it was learnt that the delay was over the unloading. By midnight of the 14th the marching party was complete, and also the vehicle party except for the 15 cwts which still remained to be unloaded. Orders were received for a move forward to a new concentration area, the Battalion area being at DUCY St MARGUERITE. Reconnaissances were carried out in the daylight that remained.

15th June 1944 DUCY St MARGUERITE

10:00 hours. The Battalion moved forward to DUCY St MARGUERITE and Headquarters was soon established in a pleasant little orchard just off the road.

So far there had been no sign of the enemy, but there was periodic shelling, by our own artillery, of enemy positions to the WEST of TILLY SUR SEULLES which a Panzer Division was still holding.

Mention should be made of the large scale air activity. Five landing strips had been constructed with the result that Spitfires and Typhoons were able to maintain a constant patrol over the beachhead area. Enemy air activity was nil as far as could be seen.

With the Brigade in Divisional Reserve the opportunity was taken to catch up with routine documentation (which had previously been impossible owing to the non-arrival of the Office Truck).

22nd June 1944 DUCY St MARGUERITE

Orders were received for the Battalion to relieve 1st/7th Duke of Wellington’s Regiment in the CRISTOT area. Reconnaissances were carried out in preparation for this relief.

23rd June 1944 PARC De BOISLANDE

12:00 hours. The relief of 1st/7th Duke of Wellington’s Regiment was completed. Three Standing Patrols were established in the PARC De BOISLANDE. Enemy infantry and tank movement was observed. Briefing of the patrols took place and a vigorous patrol programme was to be carried out in the PARC De BOISLANDE.

Lt. Price took out a large Fighting Patrol which met a certain amount of Spandau fire. Captain Sopwith took out a small Reconnaissance Patrol which reported no sign of enemy in the area patrolled.

24th June 1944 PARC De BOISLANDE

There was spasmodic mortaring and shelling of our positions during the day. Standing Patrols were maintained. At night Lt Hoggard took out a Fighting Patrol to search for enemy in the PARC and had the misfortune to be fired on by one of our Standing Patrols, one casualty resulting.

25th June 1944 PARC De BOISLANDE

There was increased enemy activity – including reports of enemy infantry infiltrating up the EASTERN edge of the PARC. The Divisional Reconnaissance Regiment killed twelve enemy near Point 102. There was more heaving mortaring of our positions.

14:00 hours. A Patrol under the command of Lt Baker was met with heavy mortar fire and Lt Baker was killed. (Lieutenant C.T. Baker was a CANLOAN Officer attached to the Battalion).

At night, Patrols were taken out by Lt Yorke and Lt Bell.

Lt Yorke’s Patrol became separated, but after some exciting experiences returned intact. The presence of enemy troops in the hedgerows NORTH of FONTENAY was confirmed.

An attack on FONTENAY LE PESNEL took place with the Hallams on the right and the 11th Royal Scots Fusiliers on the left, after a very heavy artillery barrage. Stiff resistance was met on the left where a thick smoke screen put down by the enemy made fighting difficult.

During the night of the 25th/26th the 1st/7th Duke of Wellington’s Regiment were given the task of completing the house clearing in FONTENAY and at mid-day, the Battalion was put at short notice to move.

26th June 1944 PARC De BOISLANDE

15:00 hours. A Brigade Orders Group was held. The Battalion began an advance forward through FONTENAY making for an assembly area in the neighbourhood of ST NICHOLAS FARM Reference 883672. Mortar fire caused a slight hold up and eventually the Battalion pushed straight through to seize and hold and area at the cross-roads Reference 887661. This was done without opposition except from a few snipers. Digging was begun immediately, the Battalion being disposed in a box with A and C Companies forward and B and D Companies to the rear.

Lt Broughton was also despatched with a small Reconnaissance Patrol to investigate the situation in RAURAY and preliminary orders were given for the occupation of the village.

However, at 03:00 hours one of the Patrol returned with the information that; Lt Broughton had been wounded and taken Prisoner, that the village appeared to be occupied, and that tank movements had been heard in the vicinity.

Accordingly, the attack was postponed.

27th June 1944 St NICHOLAS FARM

Lt Hoggard was sent into RAURAY with a Fighting Patrol one Platoon strong, supported by two troops of tanks and artillery.

Heavy opposition was encountered from Spandaus and snipers, but the Patrol penetrated the village and managed to send back information.

From about 09:00 hours onwards Battalion HQ was subjected to very accurate and heavy mortaring, and snipers made movement of any kind difficult. However, our attack on RAURAY was planned with heavy artillery support. Zero hour was 11:30 hours and the attack went in with D Company left and B Company right. A Company provided the firm base and C Company were used to mop up – especially in the village itself where numerous snipers were making things unpleasant.

The attack was completely successful though it cost us dear in casualties, most of which, fortunately, were wounded. During this period, the stretcher bearers showed a fine example of devotion to duty tending the wounded, despite the constant mortar fire and sniping, and assisting in the evacuation of over a hundred casualties.

The War Diary contains an Appendix which is an expanded version of the sections of the weekly Field Return showing Officers joining and quitting - for whatever reason - during that week. The Field Returns themselves were not filed with the War Diary but the typed Appendix shows that Major J. Low, Lieutenant J.E. Johnson and Lieutenant I.A. Bansall were killed on 27th June and Lieutenants R.P.H. Sprague (Canloan), D.G.O. Yorke, J.R.Kellett, J.M. McNicol, K. Hoggard, W.R. Bell and R.H. Broughton - all of the DLI - were wounded and evacuated to No.3 Casualty Clearing Station.

28th – 30th June RAURAY

During these two days the task of the Battalion was to hold on to RAURAY against possible counter-attacks and to maintain constant touch with the unit on the right – at first the Tyneside Scottish and later the Lincolns. A Company of the 1st/7th Duke of Wellington’s Regiment was brought forward and the gap was securely bridged. Every effort was made to clear the area of snipers and many were shot in the tops of the trees. A perfect sniper’s hideout, complete with furniture, wine, sheets etc was also found near Battalion HQ and this was thought to be the cause of the accurate mortar fire.

During the day Lt McNicol, the Battalion Intelligence Officer, was seriously wounded by mortar fire and evacuated - the War Diary Appendix , as mentioned above, indicates he was injured on 27th June.

The Appendix also shows Major C.A. Smallwood as having been wounded and evacuated beyond the Regimental Aid Post on 29th June.

Replacement Officers in the persons of 2/Lt R. Black (South Staffs), Lt D. McNgood (Canloan), Lt F.B. Hall (South Staffs), Lt A.R. Holloway (Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire), Lt E.J.K. Rees and Lt G.O. Thomas (South Wales Borderers) were transferred to the DLI and posted to the Battalion on 29th June, while 2/Lt H.R.C. Merryweather (Royal Berkshires) and Lt P.H.R. Taylor (Lincolns) were transferred in on 30th June.

Replacements for casualties amongst the Other Ranks were:-

1 Sergeant and 10 men from the Essex Regiment on 29th June.

3 Corporals and 26 men from the Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry on 29th June.

3 Corporals and 3 men from the Royal Berkshire Regiment on 30th June.

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