11th Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry War Diary April 1941

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1st April 1941 Hafnafjordur

A Section Post was established on the Emergency Landing Field at GARDA. Information about this position is set out in Appendix B, a copy of which is attached to the War Diary – for details see below.

At 21:00 hours reports of gunfire were received, but nothing was confirmed. The sound appeared to come from a South Westerly direction far out to sea.

2nd April 1941

A lecture on Camouflage was given by the G.S.O. II.

6th April 1941

Battalion transport reported to the REYKJAVIK AERODROME, now Reykjavik Airport, to aid in its completion.

7th April 1941

An ENSA show was enjoyed by all of us in the Recreation Hall.

8th April 1941

A Battalion HQ Exercise was held, dealing with the transfer from the HQ at CLOISTERS Camp to Battle HQ.

The RAF personnel who had been temporarily billeted by the Battalion departed.

10th April 1941

A Field General Court Martial was held – the accused being Sergeant McCall. The sentence was that he be reduced to the ranks (no information given on the charges levied against him).

The first Leave Party departed for the UK under the command of 2/Lt V.B. Murray.

2/Lt S. Humphries departed for a Motor Transport Maintenance Course in the UK, at HARROGATE.

11th April 1941

Good Friday – treated as a Sunday.

12th April 1941

A preliminary reconnaissance took place for the Battalion Field Firing Exercises.

Major R.B. Humphreys attended the 6th Force Tactical School – duration – 14 days.

14th April 1941

Working Parties commenced duty again on the Aerodrome.

15th April 1941

Hafnafjordur SUB-SECTOR Defence Operation Order was issued and a copy was attached to the War Diary as Appendix C – for details see below.

16th April 1941

At 11:00 hours Anti-Aircraft target practice was held using a drogue towed at about 1000 feet above the ALFTANES Peninsula.

17th April 1941

A lecture was given on the “Progress of the War” by Major Murray-Shireff, Second –in – Command of the Battalion.

11th DLI Operation Instruction – “Air Raid Action” – was issued.

A Field Firing Exercise took place at Kleifervatn – this was the completion of the rehearsals required for the Battalion Field Firing Demonstration to be given to the Force. Appendix A attached to the War Diary described the demonstration – for details see below.

21st April 1941

At 10:00 hours the Battalion delivered the Demonstration of Field Firing. This was an excellent exhibition and was most instructive to the Officers and men of the Battalion, as well as to the spectators.

22nd April 1941

An inspection by Brigadier Kirkup DSO, MC of the AMOTHERBY and CLOISTERS Camps took place.

23rd April 1941

Brigadier Kirkup continued his tour of inspection and visited the Camps of A, B, C and D Companies.

24th April 1941

At 11:00 hours the Battalion received the news that a Sunderland Flying Boat had crashed in the mountains near GRINDAVIK. A search party under Captain W.B. Kirkup reached the plane at 17:00 hours. Stretcher parties were sent from the Battalion and under the instructions of Lieut. P.M. Kelly RAMC (Battalion Medical Officer) all the injured airmen were successfully brought to hospital by 17:00 hours on 25th April. Lieut. P.M. Kelly worked continuously throughout the whole of the evacuation from the mountain and across the lava field.

(Thanks to the help of Janet and George Brown, and the information in “Royal Air Force Coastal Command Losses of the Second World War: Volume 1, Aircraft and Crew losses 1939 – 1941” by Ross McNeill, published by Midland Publishing in 2003 (ISBN Number 1 85780 128 8) we know that the aircraft concerned was a Sunderland Mark 1, numbered N9023 of 204 Squadron – lettered KG-G, based at Reykjavik.

The aircraft had taken off at 20:15 hours on 23rd April on a Convoy Escort task and, on returning, crashed into a mountain in fog near FRAGJADASFJALL. Sgt H.W. Taylor was killed in the impact and ten of the 13 crew were injured. The second pilot and Cpl W. Doddington – who was one of the injured, made their way to a local town for help. Unfortunately, after being rescued, Sgt W. Cook and AC1 A.J.T. Topping died of their injuries. Other crew injured included Fl/Lt J.D.E. Hughes DFC and Sgt D.W. Helm.

Those who died are buried in FOSSVOGUR Cemetery).

26th April 1941

An Inter-Brigade rugger match between 70th Brigade and 147th Brigade caused great excitement and an exceptionally fine game. The score was nine points all.

27th April 1941

Working Parties continued in hastening the work on REYKJAVIK AERODROME.

29th April 1941

The CO, Lt Col R.F. Ware MC, visited the 10th Battalion The Durham Light Infantry for a few days.

Appendices attached to the April 1941 War Diary.

Appendix A – Field Firing Exercise – dated 8th April 1941.

This document described the arrangements for a forthcoming Exercise on 21st April 1941 in which A and C Companies of the Battalion would be working with a Battery of Royal Artillery, Carriers, Mortars, Medium Machine Guns and a Scout platoon. 1st Tyneside Scottish made one of their Carrier Sections available to make the strength up to four Sections for the purpose of the exercise.

The aim was to produce a demonstration for the Force Tactical School and this took place in three phases involving firstly the assault on CANADA PASS and then the ISLAND, followed by an advance to capture BALL HILL and then the third phase would be an attack on FINAL RIDGE.

The first rehearsal was a walk over the ground – the second involved a dress rehearsal for the Brigadier during which firing would take place, a final rehearsal was held on 18th April and the actual demonstration was to be delivered a few days later.

Umpires were appointed from the Battalion and arrangements were made for transporting those taking part. Targets were to be the responsibility of Lt P.A. Johnson.

Appendix B – The Defence of KEFLAVIK Emergency Landing Ground.

The field – being constructed at GARDA - was some seven miles North West of KEFLAVIK (the current location of Iceland’s International Airport) and consisted of a Post with an Anti-Aircraft pit to cover the middle and Northern end of the runway. Naval Coast Watching Posts were operating at SANGERGI and GERDA.

The aim of these defences was to:-

Give early warning of enemy activity.

Protect ground installations.

Prevent the landing of enemy aircraft.

A Rifle Section was to be billeted in a house near the runway (the farm HLID GARDSKAGI near UTSKALAR – together with Naval and Royal Signals personnel), with a Bren Gun permanently mounted in the pit for Anti-Aircraft action. They were to provide a permanent sentry for the post, with a doubling of the guard at dusk and dawn.

Once completed, the runway would be blocked by an obstruction – to be removed by the guard if a friendly aircraft wished to land. Hostile aircraft were to be engaged at the point of coming to a standstill on the runway. No provision was made for withdrawal. Good camouflage was essential.

Rations and supplies for a fortnight were to be held at the farm under lock and key, with deliveries twice a week. Water quality would be tested regularly by the Medical Officer.

As regards weapons, in addition to the Section’s rifles the Section Commander would have his Thompson Sub-machine gun (with two thousand rounds) and the Section Bren Gun, with two full boxes of magazines, loaded one in five with tracer. A Verey pistol and coloured flares would be held, together with a dozen hand grenades.

Communication would be by civil telephone landline and military wireless – with a No 11 set linked to Brigade HQ. Code words were to be used and were issued in the document. Ship movements were not to be reported unless hostile. Close links were to be maintained with the Naval Posts.

The signal for an enemy landing was a single red flare and would be fired if other communications had been cut. Cipher sheets would be kept at the post and at least one man trained in their use.

The Section was expected to undertake a programme of continuous upgrading and improvement in the defence of the Post and was supplied with tools accordingly. The staffing of the Post was seen as normally the responsibility of A Company and the CO was expected to visit at least once every ten days. He was expected to ensure provision for recreation for the Section and making the billet as comfortable as possible. A high standard of cleanliness and discipline was demanded in such isolated Posts and all Post Commanders were expected to take this seriously.

Appendix C – Sub-Sector Defence Operation Order – Hafnafjordur.

This document, dated 15th April 1941, was an updated version of the Defence Scheme described in the original document issued on 13th January 1941.

The troops coming under the command of 11th DLI were; two Platoons of the Manchester Regiment (the Machine-Gun Battalion which had relieved the Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa) together with all the auxiliary troops and services in Hafnafjordur. In addition the Royal Artillery units in support were; One Troop of 386 Field Battery, D Battery of 536 Coastal Regiment (two 4.7” guns), and One Section (two 3.7” guns) of 4 Heavy Anti-Aircraft Battery – both of the latter after completing their primary tasks.

The intention was that the Battalion would prevent any enemy establishing a firm footing on the coast between PUFFIN BAY and HVALEYRI. The principles were that; any attempted landing would be denied, any enemy penetration of defences would be destroyed by fire – whether landings were sea or airborne, and that no withdrawal from positions was to be contemplated.

To carry out this duty, three forward Company areas were identified, with reserve positions to prevent penetration and act as a pivot for counter-attacks, and a Mobile Reserve.

The document set out the details of the Company allocations to the forward areas: –

C Company to the right, with additional weaponry in the form of pairs of Medium Machine Guns at SLINGSBY and GARDAR Camps. They were to prevent landings on the ALFTANES PENINSULA, defend road blocks at SLINGSBY and prevent landings on the beach at RADAGERDI.

D Company were placed in the centre with the Docks Group, Royal Engineers under command. They were to pay particular attention to the North and South Piers in preventing landings.

B Company would be on the left, with a pair of Medium Machine Guns and the support of the coastal guns mentioned above, when available. They were to defend the HVALEYRI road block, prevent landings on SANDY BEACH and cover the left flank. A reserve element would be kept ready for counter-attack roles and to prevent penetration around the South flank of HVALEYRI Bridge. The Manchester Regiment Platoons would be in support.

The Reserve positions manned by R, and part of HQ, Companies were to defend road blocks at AMOTHERBY Camp and prepare for counter-attacks in the PORT area. The remainder of HQ Company would; defend ROCK HILL and CLOISTERS Camps, look after the area to Hafnafjordur, and occupy the Post at GALA FORT. One Section of machine-gunners from the Manchester Regiment would be in support at CLOISTERS Camp for counter-penetration tasks.

The Mobile Reserve – consisting of A Company plus the Carrier Platoon and the Mortar Platoon with the possible addition of the Reconnaissance Platoon – were located so as to be able to carry out counter-attacks in the area, cover the approaches to KEFLAVIK , cover the movement of the Force Reserve and occupy the stop lines on SPARROW HILL and/or BLEAK HILL. They would also provide a defence force for 386 Field Battery.

The document further developed the role of the Reconnaissance Platoon, Mortar Platoon, Artillery support and machine guns.

Instructions were given in detail about the control of defensive fire and the garrisoning of defensive posts, beach defences, patrolling – including dealing with shipping, and dealing with parachutists.

The actions of the Reserve for use outside the Sub-Sector was also covered, in terms of the force, described earlier, to be led by Major Murray-Shireff. Passive Air Defence was to be managed in accordance with previously issued instructions.

Demolition action to be taken was spelled out in detail with the responsibilities for the decisions to blow up installations being identified – this covered Piers, Petrol installations, Army Post Office and the B.O.D., which is assumed to mean the Base Oil Depot – due to be defended by R Company and which would be destroyed if it was likely to fall into enemy hands.

The Coast Watching Posts run by Naval personnel were listed as being at GRINDAVIK, SANDGERDI, GERDAR, KEFLAVIK and ALFTANES – all of which reported by telephone to Force HQ Control Room. The Emergency Landing Ground Post – mentioned in the earlier Appendix – was also mentioned in this context.

The Warning Messages on the onset of an Emergency were identified, with the actions that were expected to follow. On evidence that the likelihood of invasion was stronger than normal the message “Stand By for JULIUS” would be issued and preparations for action would be made, such as manning posts and confining troops to Camp.

An impending invasion was signalled by “JULIUS” which triggered the establishment of emergency posts, readying of the reserves and the manning, though not closing, of road blocks and refugee control posts. Telephone exchanges would be occupied and preparations for demolitions would be made.

An enemy landing was signalled by “CAESAR” followed by details of the landing sites. Code Words were only to be initiated by Force HQ and passed on by the CO. Alarms were signalled by a series of flares, supported by Wireless Telegraphy, telephone and Despatch Rider. The General Alarm would be raised by Force HQ, while local alarms would be fired by Posts with Verey pistols when repeating the General Alarm, or when in imminent danger of attack.

Traffic Control arrangements, involving road blocks and checking normal traffic, would be put into action. Port Control would be in the hands of the Officer Commanding D Company as the Officer in charge of the Part Area. Code words and names were set up for inter-unit communication.

Security might involve destruction of secret documents and the detention of suspects – this was detailed in an annex held personally by the CO, presumably because of its sensitivity. Arrangements were made for the declaration of Martial Law.

The Medical Officer was tasked with opening a Regimental Aid Post at AMOTHERBY Camp, with collecting posts within Sub-Unit areas. An Advanced Dressing Station would be set up by 187th Field Ambulance at SLINGSBY HILL, with provision for vehicle collection of the injured from RAF and Sub-Unit Collecting Posts.

Ammunition scales and supply arrangements were described with provision for “Molotov Cocktails” to be issued to those Posts most likely to be attacked by Armoured Fighting Vehicles.

Extra Radio Sets would be distributed on Code Word “JULIUS” being issued, to be deployed by Signals Officers as thought best at the time. Despatch Riders, telephone and lamp communication would also be used.

Liaison Officers would report to Brigade HQ on “JULIUS” accompanied by a Despatch Rider – in the case of 11th DLI this would be 2/Lt Whittaker, with Lt P.A. Johnson of the Battalion reporting to Force HQ as the Liaison Officer between Force HQ and Brigade HQ.

Situation reports would be submitted by the Intelligence Officer throughout any emergency at 05:00 hours, 11:00 hours and 17:00 hours each day.

A series of Annexes were attached to the document as follows:-

Annex 1 – this dealt with the implications and actions of the centre forward Company Commander (D Company at the time) for Port issues, including shipping control and the provision of boarding parties.

Annex 2 – this covered the arrangements for demolition of Port installations. A group of men from 294 Field Company, Royal Engineers, would report to MILNSBRIDGE Camp and remain attached to the Company for the purpose of fixing and firing charges.

Annex 3 is missing – and may well have been the sensitive paper on the detention of suspects in an emergency.

Annex 4 – this covers the introduction of Martial Law, including posting proclamations and enforcing the curfew and lighting rules.

Annex 5 – dealt with the refugee problem and the control of road use.

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