11th Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry War Diary August 1940
For a more complete picture of activity, this War Diary should be read in conjunction with the 70th Infantry Brigade War Diary for the same month.
1st August 1940
One Platoon of A Company moved from DARTMOUTH to take over the defence of BEESANDS.
2nd August 1940
Stone-built road blocks have been completed at TORCROSS, SLAPTON, STRETE and BLACKPOOL.
3rd August 1940
Two Pill Boxes completed at TORCROSS, one Pill Box each at SLAPTON and STRETE.
4th August 1940
South Group HQ directed that the Home Guard would act as guides in the event of an emergency.
Amendment to Operation Order No. 1 issued – a copy of which is attached to the War Diary as Appendix A. (For details see below).
5th August 1940
The Battalion became a “Pink Area” with SLAPTON BEACH its primary defensive area. This called for control of the beaches and limited access at night. A new manning scale was published.
6th August 1940
Five Pill Boxes were completed at BLACKPOOL – manned by the Home Guard.
A Tank Hunting Platoon was formed at HALWELL – the Officer Commanding being Lt. Cantley. A Motorcycle Platoon was also created, with 2/Lt. Lang in command, also at HALWELL.
7th August 1940
D Company’s Command Post was completed at STRETE.
A Field Telephone line was laid to BEESANDS (presumably from Battalion HQ at HALWELL).
9th August 1940
A demonstration of an Anti-Tank Flame Trap was held at STRETE – attended by Admiral Naismith (Senior Officer Commanding PLYMOUTH), Major General Petre and two Staff Officers from Southern Command. The demonstration was organised by the Battalion.
The Corps Commander issued notes on policy.
11th August 1940
One Pill Box was completed at TORCROSS.
13th August 1940
Leave began at the rate of 5 Officers and 50 Other Ranks per week.
14th August 1940
Work started on a permanent Anti-Tank Flame Trap at STRETE.
15th August 1940
Training Memorandum on Anti-Gas Training issued – a copy of which is attached to the War Diary. (For details see below).
16th August 1940
The wiring of TORCROSS and BEESANDS was completed.
Training Memorandum No. 2 issued – a copy of which is attached to the War Diary as Appendix B. (For details see below).
Training Memorandum No. 3 issued – a copy of which is attached to the War Diary. (For details see below).
17th August 1940
All the Pill Boxes at TORCROSS were completed.
Operation Instruction No. 2 issued – a copy of which is attached to the War Diary as Appendix E. (For details see below).
18th August 1940
The range sites at STRETE were prepared for firing practice.
Authority was given by the War Office for members of Parliament to visit defensive works within their constituencies.
19th August 1940
Firing practice and training started at STRETE.
An RASC Supply Exercise took place as a test of the methods of supplying ammunition and rations. Details are set out on Appendix C attached to the War Diary – see below.
20th August 1940
256 Field Company Royal Engineers arrived at STOKENHAM to speed up the completion of defensive works. Land mines were placed on SLAPTON BEACH.
21st August 1940
Southern Command prohibited sketching in Devon and Cornwall within five miles of the coast. This further restricted SLAPTON BEACH.
22nd August 1940
South Group was given the new Code Name ZUXE.
Training Memorandum No. 4 issued – a copy of which is attached to the War Diary as Appendix D. (For details see below).
24th August 1940
The NCOs Course completed. The RASC Supply Exercise finished.
At 23:00 hours bombs from enemy aircraft fell on SALCOMBE.
25th August 1940
An alternative Telephone Exchange was installed at SLAPTON with civil telephone connections to all Company billets and Headquarters.
Pill Boxes were completed at TORCROSS, SLAPTON and STRETE.
26th August 1940
The Anti-Tank Flame Trap at STRETE was completed.
One 6” Mortar was installed at STRETE with a second positioned at TORCROSS.
27th August 1940
The installation of Anti-Aircraft Pylons on the road between TORCROSS and STRETE was completed.
Two more Pill Boxes were completed at BEESANDS.
28th August 1940
A visit was made to the Battalion front by the Corps Commander – Lt. Gen. Franklyn - calling at DARTMOUTH at 16:15 hours and SLAPTON at 16:45 hours.
29th August 1940
A visit took place of representatives from the London Press.
A searchlight was positioned at TORCROSS for the purpose of illuminating the beach should a landing take place in the SLAPTON area.
30th August 1940
Training Memorandum No. 5 issued – a copy of which is attached to the War Diary. (For details see below).
31st August 1940
This was the last day of firing practice on the ranges at STRETE, having completed a course for every man on the rifle, Light Machine Gun and grenade. In addition, firing practice was carried out on the 2” Mortar, Anti-Tank Rifle, Maxim and Vickers Guns.
Arrangements for the evacuation of Prisoners of War were completed. They would proceed to OKEHAMPTON via HALWELL, TOTNES and DENBURY.
Appendices attached to the War Diary for August 1940
Appendix A – issued 4th August 1940 – Amendment to Paragraph 18 of Operation Order No. 1.
As has been mentioned previously, no trace has yet been found of Operation Order No. 1 itself.
This amendment was to the “Scales of Occupation” of posts and positions in the various stages of alert, changing details issued as recently as a week earlier – showing the pace at which the situation was developing.
The Sub-Area Commander (Brigadier Kirkup) had laid down that these latest changes would become effective on 5th August – thus cancelling the Amendment issued on 27th July.
At the time of issue the situation was regarded as “Emergency – Normal” so, during the day, from the end of the dawn stand-to until the beginning of the dusk stand-to, Observation Posts were to be manned where necessary. Two men were to be at each Machine-Gun position, primarily as a guard over the weapons, ammunition and equipment. Two men were to man each Light Machine Gun Anti-Aircraft position – if possible situated in such a way that they could also oversee the Machine Gun Post without drawing attention to its presence – this linked clearly with “track discipline”.
For anti-parachute purposes HQ Company was to continue to detail a small mobile force as described in an earlier note (one Officer, Despatch Rider, 25 men, two Carriers, one car, one lorry) ready to move instantly and with access to rapid communications.
At night, from the dusk stand-to until the end of dawn stand-to each Platoon position was to be manned by spreading one of its Sections around the posts, or alternatively, one Section Post was to be manned completely within each Platoon area – depending on the tactical position of each Platoon. All Machine Guns and Light Machine Guns to be mounted with ammunition available.
Some elements of normal routine were to be re-assumed, allowing four hours a day to be devoted to training (almost all of the men had been engaged on defence work construction, which was now easing off – the tasks having been accomplished in short order). Beach patrols were to be additional to these arrangements.
If the situation was to be raised to “Emergency – Special” at the discretion of Company Commanders or by Battalion Order; all automatic weapons were to be in battle positions with their ammunition, the Mobile Column was to be standing-by at HQ Company billets, and the Reserve Platoons of the forward Companies were to detail a Section-sized patrol available to move out at a moment’s notice. At night beach patrols were to be increased to 66% of strength, and dusk and dawn stand-to were both to be 100% strength.
A further escalation to “Full Defensive Measures” meant 100% occupation of beach defences and the evacuation of civilians from the beaches, closing of primary road blocks and wire gaps and the occupation of Battle HQ where applicable.
Training Note on Anti-Gas Training issued 15th August 1940
This note summarised recent advice and information on anti-gas issues. The Battalion had been spending all its effort on defensive work and anti-parachute problems and now that the preparatory work in those fields had been done it was time for other issues to be overhauled and practised.
The document summarised the potential types of gas attack and the local position where an attack from the sea was a distinct possibility, together with air-spray delivery of gas.
Concern was expressed that recent drafts of troops probably had limited training in this field and needed to be brought up to standard. Personal decontamination was a priority for training, including weapons. Constant practice was deemed essential. Respirators were to be worn weekly by all ranks for two hours, with regular inspection of gas masks and equipment.
South West area had circulated a report of an air-spray demonstration and the lessons to be learned in terms of how best to react and move, depending on the direction and height of the attack. The alarms to be given were specified and in a further note the emphasis was laid on identifying the type of gas and therefore how to react accordingly. This arose because of the question of whether or not to evacuate positions which had been sprayed. Troops generally were expected not to withdraw but deal with the contamination and remain at their posts.
Appendix B – Training Memorandum No. 2 – issued undated but thought to be 14th or 15th August 1940.
This Memorandum dealt with the details of range firing and the time to be spent on classification on the various weapons – though only a very limited amount of ammunition was available for such practice. In particular, those men who were likely to have to use the Boys Anti-Tank Rifle were to be given a chance to fire live rounds to dispel the perception that it was dangerous or difficult to handle. (Veterans have confirmed that while the Boys was not difficult, as such, to use it had a notable kick). Grenades were in such short supply that they could not be set aside for practice throwing until further orders were available.
This note also changed the balance between working hours on defence works and the time spent training. The latter was to be increased, largely because of the excellent progress made in construction work.
Companies were also to be required to carry out at least one route march each week, with only Duty Signallers, Storemen, Clerks, Drivers and Cooks exempt.
Training Memorandum No. 3 issued 16th August 1940
This note regretted that not enough time and effort was being put into the organisation of training, and the Battalion Commander was stressing the need for a dual approach – firstly to harden the men and keep them fit and alert, and secondly to train them for an invasion of enemy soil.
More information was set out on range work to be carried out. Warning given to avoid stereotyped training. Three Companies had completed rifle, LMG and Anti-tank firing. Twelve grenades were to be allocated to each Company so that men with bombing duties could throw one each, with the rest of the men observing. A small quantity of 2” mortar smoke and H.E. were to be fired by mortar crews – normally part of Platoon HQs – as a Company demonstration, with the ammunition coming from Battalion Reserve.
Dates were given for Company Range Days. Provision was made for a modest level of firing with the belt-fed Vickers and Maxim Machine Guns.
It was stressed that the gas threat was to be taken seriously and troops were to be practised in anti-gas drills, despite the almost complete lack of decontaminants.
Drill was seen to be being carried out fairly well as an aid to discipline. Lectures were to be used to keep men up to date and enthusiastic.
Company Commanders were reminded of the need for them to lead on route marches, and that these would be done the following week as Platoon marches.
Appendix C – Brigade Supply Exercise – issued 19th August 1940.
This exercise was mentioned in the Brigade War Diary. It was carried out in conjunction with the R.A.S.C. and covered bulk delivery of RASC and NAAFI items and then their breaking down into more local deliveries. Despatch Riders were to be provided as vehicle guides for the stores lorries and times were allocated for Quartermasters to draw stores at various points. Map references were given for the forward delivery points on a Company basis.
Appendix D – Training memorandum No. 4 – issued 23rd August 1940.
This note covered the issue of the Training Programme for the following week. This was very detailed - down to Company and Platoon level – including the Specialist Platoons, and covering the full range of training.
General points made were that; Companies who had fired the Mortar and Grenade sections of the training should continue practising and then bring these weapons into small schemes, Field Craft and Tactical exercises with live ammunition would commence in a fortnight’s time, Company Commanders were to tutor NCOs on one or two meetings per week in TEWTs, special TEWTs for Platoon Commanders and full-rank NCOs would be started shortly at Battalion level.
Training Memorandum No 5 – issued 30th August 1940
The Memorandum opened with a reminder to keep the men working hard throughout the week, stressing discipline and a smart and soldierly bearing.
An allocation of ammunition was being made available for field training and further field practice. Any men on duty with a Working Party during the day would be given an hour’s training in the evening on weapons. Obstacles were to be overcome and there was to be no “moddle-coddling”.
Further supplies of gas equipment were being issued. An air-spray demonstration was being organised at SLAPTON, involving two Companies of Infantry, transport and motorcycles being sprayed from the air, following a lecture on the topic.
NCOs were to be given additional training in the afternoons and evenings on a variety of topics with evening discussions and readings from Army Training Memoranda.
Some time on Sunday mornings was to be devoted to interior economy – covering matters such as; rolling and packing blankets, quick loading of transport and preparation for quick movement. Specialists would also need to have time found for training in gas, weapon training and drill – probably in the evenings.
Appendix E – Defence – Landings of Parachutists – issued 17th August 1940
The paper began by putting the danger from parachute attack into context, made more complex by the Battalion’s position and depth of operating area.
The best method of tackling this type of invasion was seen as being Battalion Anti-Parachute troops or small mobile parties from Companies.
The Mobile Column to be formed from HQ Company has already been covered. Each of the other four Companies was expected to detail an Officer-led reconnaissance patrol each day of ten men, supported by a car and crew and a 15 cwt truck where possible – with the aim of gathering information. A means of swift communication would be required.
The area of responsibility was to be reconnoitred for the preparation of defences against such attacks. Liaison with the LDV and the Police on the warning systems was to be put in place.
To contact the author by e-mail with any queries, or to send information - click here.