70th Infantry Brigade War Diary March 1941.
National Archives Reference Document WO 176/304
1st March 1941
The high winds of the last two days had spent its force and left a trail of damage in its wake. In addition to damage to buildings, loss of sentry boxes and other minor damage, sea transport was halted for two days and many vessels were wrecked by being blown on to rocky coasts. The gale was worst in FAXAFLOI, the large bay in which Reykjavik lies, and the Alafoss area lived up to its reputation. FORT YORK, the Coast Watching Post which had been blown to pieces by the gale on 28th February – and was mentioned in that month’s War Diary – was still unable to be occupied when the Brigade left the Alafoss area on 5th March.
2nd March 1941
The first few days of the month were spent in preparation for the move. The weather was fine and this was of great assistance during the relief, part of which was carried out by road march. The available transport was insufficient to complete the move in motor transport and the march – of 17 or 18 miles – proved good training for 11th DLI.
3rd March 1941
The Advance Party of Brigade HQ moved to MELROSE CAMP, Reykjavik. The move of 11th DLI started with the interchange of one Company with 1/7 Duke of Wellington’s Regiment at Hafnafjordur. Both these Companies marched to their new headquarters.
5th March 1941
70th Infantry Brigade interchanged with 147th Infantry Brigade. The Command of the South West Sector passed to Brigadier Philip Kirkup D.S.O., O.B.E., M.C., T.D. at 12:00 hours. This involved a coast defence role for 11th DLI and 1st TS. 10th DLI remained at Borganes, Akranes, Blonduos and REYKIRSKOLI under the operational command of Brigadier Lammie M.C. commanding the Western Sector. By 17:00 hours the relief of 11th DLI by 1/7 DWR was completed.
At the time of the Inter-Brigade relief, there were 85 miles of coastline within the South West Sector to defend, the major portion being quite unsuitable for landings. Infantry and Artillery were therefore concentrated in the Reykjavik – Hafnafjordur area.
The South West Sector is the most important of those into which Iceland is divided and includes the ports of Reykjavik and Hafnafjordur as well as the aerodromes under construction at VATNSMYRI (Reykjavik) and UTSKALAR (KEFLAVIK peninsula). The first was intended as a stopping place for aircraft flying between England and America, and a large amount of Icelandic labour was engaged in its construction. 11th DLI, under Lt Col R.F.Ware M.C. were in the Hafnafjordur Sub-Sector.
1st TS under Lt Col C.W. Oxley were in the Reykjavik Sub-Sector.
1/5 W Yorks under Lt Col H.M. Morrison M.C. came under operational command and had one Company on coast defence in the LAUGARNES Sub-Sector. This Battalion formed the Sector Reserve and also supplied the garrison of 45 men at VESTMANNAEYJAR, a group of islands off the South Coast, where they provided local defence and also gave early warning of any naval or aerial activity.
Supporting the Brigade in the defence of Reykjavik and Hafnafjordur were a Canadian Machine-Gun Battalion (the Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa) less one Company, together with two Coast Defence Batteries, one Battery of a Field Regiment and one Anti-Aircraft Battery. Also in the Sector, and co-opted in its defence, were two Companies of 14th Royal Fusiliers, a group of three Companies of the Pioneer Corps, and several Royal Engineer and Royal Army Service Corps Units. The full dispositions were summarised as follows:-
1st Tyneside Scottish – less four Companies. SKIPTON CAMP, Reykjavik
One Company Tyneside Scottish (plus one Platoon). KEIGHLEY CAMP, GROTTA.
One Company Tyneside Scottish (less two Platoons). CRAVEN CAMP, HOWITZER HILL, Reykjavik.
One Company Tyneside Scottish (plus one Platoon). ICE FACTORY, SKULAGATA, Reykjavik.
11th DLI (less four Companies and three Platoons HQ Company). CLOISTERS, Hafnafjordur.
One Company 11th DLI (less one Platoon). GARDAR CAMP, GARDAR.
One Company 11th DLI. GARDAR ROAD CAMP, Hafnafjordur.
One Company 11th DLI (less one Platoon). MILNSBRIDGE CAMP, Hafnafjordur.
One Platoon 11th DLI. QUARRY CAMP, Hafnafjordur.
Two Platoons HQ Company 11th DLI. AMOTHERBY CAMP, Hafnafjordur.
10th DLI less three Companies plus one Section Carrier Platoon. PERCY CAMP, DERWENT CAMP and ZETLAND CAMP, Borganes.
One Company 10th DLI plus one Platoon. CLEVELAND CAMP, Akranes.
One Company 10th DLI and Carrier Platoon (less two Sections). HURWORTH CAMP, Blonduos.
One Company 10th DLI (less one Section) and one Section Carrier Platoon. MORPETH CAMP, REYKIRSKOLI.
One Section 10th DLI. Bordeyri.
6th March 1941
The relief of 1/6 DWR by 1st TS commenced. The Brigade Commander visited Major Collier, 25 Group Pioneer Corps, Officer Commanding Town Defence, Reykjavik, regarding suggested alterations in defences.
7th March 1941
1/6 DWR relief by 1st TS completed by 16:00 hours. The Brigade Commander toured the defences taken over by 11th DLI in the HAFHAFJORDUR area, with the Commanding Officer, Lt Col R.F. Ware M.C. and suggested certain improvements.
8th March 1941
The thaw commenced and transport was compelled to keep off the roads except for the most essential services. All Units used their emergency rations during this period so that no potatoes or bread were drawn.
10th March 1941
The Brigade Commander toured the Reykjavik Fort defences with the C.O. of 1st TS and the Company Commander of “D” Company 1st TS – known as the “Harbour Company”.
At 14:30 hours the Brigade Commander had a conference with the General Officer Commanding Iceland Force, and the Commander of Fixed Defences, Lt Col Walters Symons, on proposed Coast Defence exercises and co-operation with Coast Defences generally in the South West Sector. The exercise, arranged for the night of 11th March, was subsequently postponed owing to incessant rain.
Seven new vehicles arrived at Brigade HQ to complete to G1098 scale of transport.
11th March 1941
Brigadier Kirkup toured the defences of the LOGBERG Sub-Area with the Commander, Major W.L. Collins 14th Royal Fusiliers. This Sub-Area is a Line of Communications Area, containing a disused landing ground, a petrol dump, ammunition dump, supply dump and field bakery with its defences not yet completed. As in most places which had been visited since the thaw began, very large areas of mud four or five inches deep surrounded the posts. Owing to the recent thaw, drainage of the posts presented a difficult problem in this, as in other areas.
12th March 1941
Lt Col Marley D.S.O., M.B.E., T.D. Officer Commanding 10th DLI visited Brigade HQ from Borganes. Commanding Officers of the other two Battalions, and Lt Col F.W.B. Maufe M.C., T.D. of 69th Field Regiment Royal Artillery, were called for Conferences with the Sector Commander.
13th March 1941
An Order of the Day was published by the General Officer Commanding Iceland Force in which it was stated that it was impossible to relieve Units as quickly as had been hoped but that arrangements were being made for leave to be granted to the UK on a scale as generous as was tactically possible.
A conference was held at HQ Iceland Force between the G.O.C. and the Commanders of 70th and 147th Infantry Brigades on the relief of 10th DLI by 1/5 West Yorks. It was hoped that this might take place by road during April. As the road round Hvalfjordur is impassable to motor transport until May or June under normal conditions, it was suggested that the move be carried out as a tactical operation.
This involved the move of 10th DLI – one Company per day – in motor transport to HRAFNABORG then a march of ten miles to HVITANES where motor transport could wait and convey them to the Camp of 1/5 W Yorks in the Reykjavik area. Equivalent parties of 1/5 W Yorks would move in the reverse direction on the same days. G1098 stores and equipment would move by sea, but unit motor transport – except for Carriers – would not move from the Sector but would be taken over by the incoming Units. Bren Carriers would accompany each Sub-Unit for defence purposes, as it was considered that they would be able to travel over the stretch from HRAFNABORG to HVITANES.
As a result of this conference, the boundaries of the Sectors were altered, so that the defences of Kaldadarnes aerodrome and the LOGBERG Sub-Area were taken over by the Western Sector. In neither of these areas would 70th Brigade have been called upon to fight, so it had always been an anomaly that those areas should be in the South West Sector. The detachment on the VESTMANN ISLANDS would still have to be found from the South West Sector.
14th March 1941
During the next week, the Brigade Commander and his staff visited Unit positions. The allotment of 16 Vickers Machine Guns, due shortly to arrive on the island, to 1st TS and 11th DLI (subsequently reduced to a total of fourteen for the Sector) meant the siting of new positions to fit in with the existing fire plan. In this connection, the Brigade Commander had a conference with Lt Col G.H. Rogers E.D. Commanding the Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa (M.G.). The Battalion also put on a course of instruction in the Vickers Machine Gun which Officers and NCOs from the Brigade attended.
Brigade HQ was situated on the Reykjavik – Hafnafjordur road near HOWITZER HILL on which there were several posts, machine-gun and infantry positions. It had an excellent view over Reykjavik and on a clear day the glacier of SNAEFELL could be seen, across the FAXAFLOI sea, some 85 miles away. An Observation Post in the course of construction on the hill was to be used by Brigade HQ.
18th March 1941
A Coast Defence exercise was held between the Navy and Coast Defence batteries to test defence measures. Infantry Units manned their posts, but did not take part in the exercise.
An amendment – number 1 – to the Scheme for the defence of Reykjavik TOWN was issued as Appendix “C” – this included some changes to the unit titles of the Pioneer Corps detachments and some amendments to their deployment and locations, and those of the Royal Engineer Docks Operating unit, in the event of an invasion.
19th March 1941
Amendment No. 1 to the Scheme for the defence of Iceland (South West Reykjavik Sector) was issued as Appendix D to the War Diary. This made some detailed changes to the boundaries of Sub-Sectors and the deployments of some units as part of this Defence Scheme – several of which again involved the Pioneer Corps.
A spell of very fine weather now began and continued until the end of the month. For the first six days, the temperature was fairly mild, and the roads – normally made of earth and stones – began to thaw out. Traffic was therefore reduced by a ban being placed on all transport except for urgent work and the Icelandic “road scraper” re-appeared. These measures, and the return of the frost, allowed the roads to return to more usual conditions.
For the next week all Battalions concentrated on the improvement of defences which had depreciated even more during the thaw. Many of the posts were found to be filling up with water and in some cases this was over three feet deep. Drainage remained one of the first considerations.
In view of the dispersed Battalion positions, training was confined to manning exercises, mostly on a Company basis, range firing and Company exercises. The Ski Platoons had by now completed all training in the snow that they were likely to get and the results had been disappointing, owing to the lack of suitable weather, but the General Officer Commanding had decided that they would not be disbanded, but formed into scout platoons for reconnaissance and sniping work.
24th March 1941
During the next few days, rehearsals were held by both 11th DLI and 1st TS of demonstrations to be given to the Force Tactical School and other spectators later in the week.
25th March 1941
A demonstration was given as SANDSKEID by Batteries of 69th and 143rd Field Regiments, Royal Artillery, of concentrations, creeping barrage and smoke screen. This was followed by a demonstration of the uses of the 25 pdr gun as an Anti-Tank weapon. The demonstration was attended by the Brigade Commander and Officers of Brigade HQ staff and the Battalions.
27th March 1941
A demonstration of Machine-Gun fire was given at Kleifervatn by the Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa, assisted by personnel from the course which had been held at their headquarters.
28th March 1941
A demonstration of motor transport was given by 11th DLI to the Force Tactical School and other spectators, including the General Officer Commanding, Iceland Force and the Brigade Commander. Transport was lent to 11th DLI for the demonstrations to bring the Battalion up to full scale on the new establishment. The first part of the demonstration showed the transport arranged in groups with some vehicles carrying specimen loads. The spectators then moved to a nearby hill and watched the transport move off in convoy.
In the afternoon, a detachment of 1st TS, consisting of “A” Company, one Section of the Carrier Platoon and one Section of the Mortar Platoon gave the same spectators a demonstration of field firing, showing the Company in Attack, assisted by carriers and mortar fire. Both these demonstrations were very successful and repaid the time spent in their preparation.
30th March 1941
An aircraft, identified as a Focke-Wulf Condor was sighted by the Coast Watching post at VESTMANNAEYAR at 09:45.
At 10:05 it was sighted over Hafnafjordur at 12,000 feet and was fired on by Anti-Aircraft Artillery. It flew towards Reykjavik, circled and returned to Hafnafjordur and then South East towards Kaldadarnes. The aircraft was never within range of the Anti-Aircraft Light Machine Gun posts but the Anti-Aircraft Artillery fired 50 rounds without any apparent damage being done. It was the usual fine Sunday morning favoured for such visits, although this was the first time that an enemy aircraft of this size had been seen over Iceland.
31st March 1941
70th Brigade Operation Instruction No. 8 was issued as Appendix “E” - related to the defence of the UTSKALAR emergency landing ground on the KEFLAVIK peninsula. One Section was to be provided by 11th DLI to give early warning of enemy activity in the area, then prevent enemy aircraft landing and for local defence. A post was to be constructed to cover the runway. Detailed arrangements for communications were included.
Accommodation for the defending Section was arranged in a neighbouring farm and contact made with the Coast Watching post at GARDSKAGI.
A summary of the administrative position is attached to the War Diary as Appendix A.
Appendix A – Administrative Summary – March 1941
Prior to, and following, the interchange of 70th and 147th Infantry Brigades, the main administrative details dealt with accommodation stores. It was eventually agreed that this would be left for Commanding Officers to arrange, the outcome being that a certain proportion of balances held by 1/6 and 1/7 DWR over those held by 1st TS and 11th DLI would be left in situ to compensate for the fact that 70th Brigade were taking over Company areas as against Battalion areas they were leaving. All cookers were left in situ on both sites. This arrangement worked quite satisfactorily.
Immediately following occupation of new quarters, the Staff Captain, in company with the Garrison Engineer, toured all Camps and various improvements were agreed to be put in hand, together with repairs to existing buildings where necessary. These comprised improvements and additions to cook houses, ration stores, ablutions and latrines. By the end of March all this work was in hand. Two Camps – GARDAR and HVALEYRI – which were Company areas of 11th DLI – remained without electric light, which was not at that stage possible to implement.
The Company area seen as requiring most attention was the 1st TS position at Harbour Front. One building – the Ice Factory – now housed 50 men with unsatisfactory ablution and cooking arrangements. These improvements were not being put in hand as Force HQ intended fresh accommodation to be arranged.
10th DLI reported that electric light was now installed and working in all huts at Borganes. Ablution and latrine buildings were completed, but a water supply was not yet available. Brigade arranged further Soyer stoves and these were despatched. Arrangements were also made for the despatch of two 400 gallon and two 200 gallon water tanks to Borganes.
Ample clothing supplies were available and 1st TS drew 400 suits of battledress during March to replace worn-out suits. A general tightening-up of orders regarding the wearing of denim canvas for fatigues was again impressed upon Units by Brigade. Boot repairs continued to be heavy. 10th DLI reported that the Caps, arctic, with which they had been issued, were efficient in dry cold weather but useless in wet conditions.
General condition was excellent and sick parades were very small throughout the Brigade.
A new scale of rations was brought into effect on 10th March 1941 and is compared with the earlier scale as follows:-
Item New Old
Bread 12 oz 16 oz
Flour 2 oz NIL
Bacon 3 ½ oz 4 oz
Sugar 3 ½ oz 4 oz
Margarine 3 oz 3 ¾ oz
M & V 16 oz 24 oz
Rice 1 ½ oz 2 oz
Marmite ½ oz ¾ oz per week
With this new scale in force it was found quite adequate and no hardship was experienced thereby.
As mentioned in the War Diary, thaw precautions had necessitated all Units living on reserve rations for a period of five days.
At a conference at Force HQ on Tuesday 25th March 1941, which was attended by the Staff Captain, it was laid down that “B” Echelon 30 cwt vehicles and all 15 cwt vehicles be pooled for R.A.S.C. use. The daily availability passed to the Officer in command of Transport R.A.S.C. in respect of 1st TS and 11th DLI vehicles supplied over the period 24 – 31 March were 33 15 cwt and 96 30 cwt.
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