10th Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry, War Diary June 1944
1st – 4th June 1944
At the beginning of the month, the Battalion was stationed at Riddlesworth Park Camp, THETFORD, Norfolk, where it had been for some four months. During this time much valuable training had been carried out in all aspects of warfare and, in particular, in fighting in close wooded country had been made possible by the nature of the country. The early days of June were employed in carrying out final checks to ensure complete operational readiness and in resting. Most Company Commanders took their Companies out for short, non-operational Camps.
(Field returns of Officers and Other Ranks were attached to the Diary at this point as Appendix 1.)
5th – 11th June 1944 The Advance Party
This group left for the marshalling area and, on the night of 8/9th June embarked at EAST INDIA DOCKS, London, sailing on the evening of 10th June and landing in France in the late evening of 11th June.
6th – 13th June 1944 The Vehicle Party
This group left for the marshalling area at WOODFORD, Essex. On arrival, vehicles were waterproofed for the voyage, the final stage of waterproofing being completed on 8th June. On 9th June, they embarked at EAST INDIA DOCKS and the following day their craft moved up the Thames estuary and lay off SOUTHEND pier. On the evening of 11th June they finally sailed and, having remained on board off LE HAMEL for some 24 hours, they disembarked in France on 13th June and joined the Battalion in the concentration are at St GABRIEL.
7th – 13th June 1944 The Marching Party
The marching troops left THETFORD by train in the morning of 7th June and, later in the day, reached the marshalling area at FIRLE North of NEWHAVEN. There, conditions were admirable and there were adequate facilities for recreation and resting.
Sgt Elliott confirmed that on 6th June 1944 the Battalion was moved to Thetford Station, using US trucks, and entrained for Newhaven which was reached by early afternoon – another sealed Camp. Here, NCOs were issued with additional equipment such as watches, compasses and map cases – though not yet the maps. His understanding was that they were held ready to go in if the assault divisions had failed. Most of his men were happy but irritated at being held incommunicado for several days, although food was decent and there was a cinema available. He spoke warmly of the Catholic Padre Reverend Goode (not yet traced in the Battalion’s manpower list).
The Battalion remained there, making final preparations and briefing, until 11th June when, at 13:30 hours, it left by road for NEWHAVEN and embarked on three L.C.I’s. (L). At 22:00 hours the craft sailed and apart from experiencing a roughish sea, the crossing was uneventful. All L.C.I’s. (L) did not land at the same time and Battalion parties came ashore at LE HAMEL independently, and by 17:00 hours, on June 12th, the Battalion was fully concentrated in the St. GABRIEL area. The vehicles joined gradually and had all arrived by the morning of June 13th.
Sgt Elliott stated that after several days his Platoon was moved at night on to a Landing Ship Infantry, which he described as a small ship carrying Assault Craft. They crossed the Channel and were loaded into the Assault Craft. Their vessel began to sink as it approached the shore and their helmsman called to another craft, to which they were transferred. Their original craft was driven up on to the beach successfully. Naval gunfire was underway but their beach landing was quiet.
A stay at St. GABRIEL of some 24 hours ensued, during which time “dog-fights” were frequently witnessed and, whilst having the satisfaction of seeing several Hun planes brought down, we learned respect for the German Anti-Aircraft fire.
Sgt Elliott described that after landing they moved inland and passed through Bayeux, passing through 50th and 51st Divisions, the members of which he described as exhausted. Brewed-up tanks were seen. After linking up with Battalion transport they moved further inland to a farming area and were told to expect action the following day. Sgt Elliott approached a farm to obtain water but could only do so by threatening the farmer with grenades, even though he paid for what was taken – describing the scenario as much like Dunkirk, as regards the attitude of the French civilians.
14th June 1944
15th June 1944
The Battalion remained at Conde-Sur-Seulles and witnessed further aerial activity.
16th June 1944
Realising the need for 100% efficiency in fighting in the villages and very close country in which we now found ourselves, a house and wood-clearing practice was organised, but the two Companies who commenced it were recalled about noon when the Battalion left by road for LE PONT ROC.
There the Battalion was deployed defensively and had its first taste of enemy mortar fire which caused six casualties in “D” Company. Snipers were sent out and patrols to “feel” for the enemy with the particular object of finding out his strength in the Tilly-Sur-Seulles and St Pierre areas. A standing patrol was out during the night. On the morning of June 17th a patrol was sent into St Pierre to see if it was occupied by the enemy and reported that it was empty, except for some odd snipers.
Sgt Elliott had spotted a booby trap on a farm cart, marked it, and reported it for Engineers to deal with. An “O” Group was held for action that afternoon. The Battalion was supported by naval and artillery fire, and with the 4.2” mortars of the Support Battalion. His Platoon was the Reserve Platoon in the left-flanking Company for the assault. Some enemy fire was taken, but very little by his Platoon. As a result of the assault St Pierre was taken and Tilly-Sur-Seulles was also being attacked. One casualty who was badly wounded during the assault was sustained in his Platoon . Two men were also mortally wounded by Machine-gun fire – friends from Scarborough – one, Pte Kenneth Sidney Prest 14415691, from his Platoon, the other being L/Cpl Thomas Robert David Ward 4468418.
At 16:00 hours the Battalion attacked St. PIERRE. Heavy mortar fire was encountered on the slopes leading down to the village and more opposition than expected was met with. This came mainly from a wood practically on D Company objective. B Company, though delayed, reached its objective and dug in.
Sgt Elliott indicated that there was less shelling on the left of the Battalion, where his Platoon was situated. After getting through an orchard, the Platoon reached the bocage but were halted after several hundred yards and returned to the orchard, where they dug in. Sgt Elliott was of the view that this had happened because the Battalion was in danger of getting too far forward too quickly – the downside being that the ground had to be retaken later.
Next morning, D Company put in an attack on the wood. The attack revealed the presence of some 50 enemy with Spandaus. D Company brought the Hun to his knees but expended their ammunition in doing so, and were forced to leave the job uncompleted at the moment when complete victory seemed assured.
During this time, St Pierre was securely held to the accompaniment of heavy mortar and Spandau fire from the enemy.
18th June 1944
C Company prepared, in the morning, to attack the wood which had troubled us yesterday and from which Spandau fire was coming intermittently. Whilst doing so, the enemy launched a counter-attack with a few tanks on our left front. This was driven off eventually and C Company proceeded with their attack, which proved entirely successful and few casualties were sustained.
Heavy shelling and mortaring continued throughout the day. Three prisoners were taken.
18th/19th June 1944
At night, a patrol of one Officer (Lt Johnston) and one Other Rank went out to a quarry at 855678 to ascertain whether the enemy had a position there. The patrol returned with one prisoner, a Pole, who talked freely, and the occupation of certain positions by the enemy was confirmed.
Sgt Elliott stated that two dead snipers were seen hanging in their harnesses from trees. Two German deserters surrendered and Sgt Elliott had to prevent the Platoon from killing them, as they were upset by the death of Pte Prest. The Platoon was ordered to search for the dead and bury them, and recover any wounded. The bodies of the two casualties mentioned above had already been moved but three others were found. At this point enemy fire began falling and Sgt Elliott sent his men to take cover, searched the bodies for personal effects, and then wrapped them in groundsheets and buried them temporarily in slit trenches. The ground previously covered was retaken and then the troops were told to withdraw again. Armoured Fighting Vehicles were heard so the troops withdrew to the St Pierre Church overnight and returned to their weapon pits the following morning.
That next day his Bren Group was assigned to support another Platoon for an assault. As the Lance-Corporal in command of the Bren Group had suffered an injury and was away having medical treatment, the Platoon Lance-Sergeant, James Walter Baldwin 3658495, offered to go as commander of the Group. Although the assaulting Platoon suffered no casualties of their own, L/Sgt Baldwin and both Bren-gunners – Pte Edwin Leonard Palmer 14418860 and Pte Raymond Smiles 14566970 were all killed. (Pte Smiles is unusual in having a personal War Memorial in Egglestone Church – the details of which can be found here.)
20th June 1944
Mortaring and counter-mortaring. Mortar and artillery fire was brought on to the quarry – the subject of last night’s patrol – which was apparently silenced.
Sgt Elliott observed an attack by a Battalion of the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment, which achieved its assault objectives but then failed to dig in promptly and suffered many casualties when the enemy swiftly counter-attacked.
Sgt Elliott's Platoon had dug in and he was returning to the orchard when he was hit by a round through his arm and hand. He went to the Regimental Aid Post and was evacuated to a Field Hospital for initial surgery and then, despite his wish to return to the Platoon, was evacuated by air to hospital in the UK for further treatment and rehabilitation. That concluded his service in Normandy – during which he stated that he was the only senior NCO in the Battalion who had been at Dunkirk. More details of his subsequent service and his civilian life can be heard on Reel 33 – which can be accessed here.
20th/21st June 1944
At night a patrol went out which clashed with the enemy and obtained information regarding their defensive layout. Battalion H.Q. was bombed by enemy aircraft. A large crater some 50 yards away showed considerable good fortune on examination the next day as no casualties were sustained.
(A copy of a congratulatory message from His Majesty the King was included at this point in the War Diary as Appendix 2.)
21st June 1944
Mortaring and shelling continued with counter-battery work.
21st/22nd June 1944
Three patrols went out – one with the intention of forestalling the enemy by arriving at a known position of theirs before they did. On approach, enemy Spandaus opened up. Erratic shooting by the enemy and instant action by the patrol saved lives, but one casualty resulted.
22nd June 1944
The patrol had indicated a permanent enemy position and in the afternoon a Platoon of A Company attacked this position with full support from supporting arms. The attack was entirely successful and excellently carried out. Some 25 of the enemy were killed and three prisoners were taken, but, whilst on the objective, two enemy tanks fired on our men from close range from MONTILLY wood area and they were forced to withdraw.
One of our http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ordnance_QF_6_pounder 6-pounders] opened up and claimed to have knocked out a tank before itself being knocked out. A Platoon of C Company then relieved A’s Platoon.
17-pounders failed to provide a solution and the position remained undecided. Late in the evening, tanks were heard withdrawing under cover of their own mortar fire. Patrols again went out during the night.
23rd-25th June 1944
Intermittent shelling and mortaring causing a few casualties, and our own counter-battery work continued. A standing patrol to prevent infiltration was out each night. Lines were prepared for attack.
(The Field Return for 24th June – attached to the War Diary – shows a strength of 713 Other Ranks, against an Establishment of 809, and one man detached for duty at Brigade HQ. In respect of Officers there had been considerable movement during the week leading up to the 24th June with six Officers joining the Battalion to replace eleven Officers of whom one (Lt Edward Parr) had been killed on 17th June, while the other ten were at 146th Field Ambulance or at 10th Casualty Clearing Station – presumably wounded. The list of Officer names on the Field Return was unfortunately a poor copy, or badly faded, and did not allow all the personnel to be specifically identified.
The War Diary also included a typed sheet of Other Ranks who were at the Casualty Clearing Station or at 146th Field Ambulance and this allowed a number of names to be added to the 10th Battalion database and to be further followed up in the Enlistment Books. These were not without errors, however, and some double-checking was necessary).
(The Battalion’s first Operational Order from the Normandy Campaign is attached to the War Diary at this point as Appendix 3.
This sets out that the troops under the Command of 10th DLI were;
C Company of 2nd Kensingtons [the Machine-Gun Battalion of the Division] less two Platoons,
757 Field Company, Royal Engineers, less two Platoons,
The 17-pounder Troop of 217 Anti-Tank Battery, Royal Artillery.
The Intention of the first phase of the operation was, firstly, that the Battalion would give fire support and right flank protection to the 4th Lincolnshire’s attack, but would not become involved in the battle and, secondly, that B Company would be prepared, if ordered, to attack HALF MOON WOOD from 848674 to 854674 supported by the Battalion’s mortars and a Platoon of the MMG’s of the 2nd Kensingtons.
In the second phase, the Battalion was expected to move to a concentration are and come into Brigade Reserve.
This was then followed by a detailed fire plan covering both the Battalion’s Light Machine Guns, its mortars and anti-tank guns, the Medium Machine Guns of the Kensingtons and the self-propelled 17-pounder anti-tank guns of 217 Battery. A communications plan was set out, including netting in with 4th Lincolnshires and arrangements for ammunition re-supply were described.
The order of march for phase 2 was specified, down to individual vehicles, and the equipment to be carried was also listed – leaving haversacks to be carried by transport and carriers. While vehicles were not to be overloaded, the maximum possible quantity of ammunition was to be transported)
25th June 1944
146th Brigade attacked through us with 70th Brigade forming a firm base – 4th Lincolnshire Regiment passed through our Battalion position and we gave them fire support. During this attack, which was entirely successful, a heavy mist slowed up everything and all our positions were heavily mortared and shelled.
At 22:30 hours Battalion H.Q. moved up to 849685 and A and B Companies moved further forward to a half-moon shaped wood.
26th June 1944
Three patrols were sent out during the night to the Fontenay-Le-Pesnel – JUVIGNY road to ascertain the whereabouts of the enemy and one of these entered JUVIGNY and reported the presence of enemy there, and killed two.
26th/27th June 1944
At night a patrol probed the enemy side of the JUVIGNY-Fontenay-Le-Pesnel road and brought back valuable information, sustaining one casualty and wounding two Huns.
27th June 1944
The Battalion moved to Fontenay-Le-Pesnel where it awaited news of a further attack to secure ground around LA GDE FERME by 4th Lincolnshires. This took longer than was thought and the Battalion moved for the night into the concentration area at St. Nicholas Farm. 11th DLI attacked Rauray.
28th June 1944
The 11th Battalion’s attack on Rauray had stopped on the far edge of the village and, at 10:00 hours, the Battalion advanced to Rauray – C Company leading, to secure the start line. Some opposition was met there. The attack went in with one ten Sherwood Rangers in support – A Company was shelled on the start line. However, the objectives were reached and the Battalion dug in. Shelling and mortaring continued.
29th June 1944
The enemy counter-attacked with tanks firing, but still concealed. Buildings near Battalion H.Q. were hit and casualties resulted. A and B (forward) Companies were heavily shelled and mortared – enemy infantry advanced against B Company but were beaten off, largely by mortar fire. C Company had to deal with enemy infiltration during the afternoon.
30th June 1944
Mortaring and shelling continuously. Counter-battery work. Relieved in the evening by 1st Tyneside Scottish and we returned for a rest to the PARC DU BOISLONDE area.
Under the Catalogue Reference A70 59-9 within the Imperial War Museum's Film Archive is a sequence showing Carriers from the 10th Battalion DLI returning to Fontenay-le-Pesnel from the front line around Rauray, together with a Section digging-in near the Cheux-Vendes/Fontenay/Rauray crossroads with a Hitlerjugend Panther tank wrecked nearby. The wreck of an M10 Achilles Tank Destroyer of the 55th Anti-Tank Regiment can also be seen.
The description of the film can be read here though the film itself cannot be accessed on-line.
A similar piece of film - probably shot at the around same time is described [here] but in this case the film itself - which includes images of enemy casualties - is available to view online.
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