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

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1st August 1941 Hafnafjordur.

The CO, second-in-command, Major Humphreys and Captain Smallwood went to Force HQ to watch the Force Umpiring demonstration.

2nd August 1941

A conference was held by the Brigadier in the Garrison Recreation Hut on the Mobile Scheme which took place on Thursday 30th July.

3rd August 1941

The Force Sports Meeting took place at the Reykjavik Stadium.

5th August 1941

At 01:00 hours Air Raid Warning message YELLOW was received but was cancelled at 04:00 hours. YELLOW came through again at 04:30 hours followed by RED at 04:33. Hurricanes and Hudsons took to the air but no enemy was seen from here. The ALL CLEAR went at 05:10 hours.

A Force Signal Exercise started at 21:30 hours.

6th August 1941

The Force Signal Exercise ended at 11:30 hours.

7th August 1941

A Ceremonial Guard was supplied by A Company to Force HQ. The guard was commanded by Captain Cairns and was to greet Sir Percy Noble.

8th August 1941

The G.o.C. held a Conference at the FISH SHED THEATRE at 17:00 hours on the outcome of the Force Signal Exercise.

9th August 1941

A Map Reading Exercise was directed by the CO and Intelligence Officer for all Officers and Senior NCOs in the Alafoss area.

11th August 1941

Three Officer Candidate Training Unit applicants from the Battalion were put before the Force Interviewing Board (William Picken 3133869, Fred McJannet 4461619, George Henry Blair 3133742). All three were successful and were commissioned in due course.

The Quartermaster went on leave with the next Leave Party which left at 19:00 hours.

The Battalion Concert Party went to Kaldadarnes.

12th August 1941

An Icelandic ‘bus, which was out of control, hit D Company Office and another hut, doing some slight damage.

13th August 1941

The Brigadier visited the Posts at HVALEYRI and GARDAR.

At 17:00 hours the CO gave a lecture to all Officers in the Brigade on “Mountain Warfare”.

The Concert Party returned from giving a show at Kaldadarnes.

14th August 1941

A TEWT was held for all Senior Officers on “Withdrawal”. The information was set out on Appendix A – a copy of which was attached to the War Diary – for details see below.

15th August 1941

The TEWT was concluded. A Conference for COs and Adjutants was held at Brigade at 18:00 hours on the coming Ceremonial Parade provisional rehearsal.

16th August 1941

The Ceremonial Parade took place on the Concrete Road. The Force was inspected by The Prime Minister, accompanied by the First Sea Lord, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, the Air Vice Marshal and F.D. Roosevelt Jnr. A March Past then took place past GIBRALTAR Camp, which was used as the saluting base. The details of the Parade and the messages arising therefrom were attached to the War Diary as Appendices B, C and D – for details of which see below.

17th August 1941

The Brigadier attended Church Parade. The CO and 2 i/c visited the 1/5th West Yorkshire Regiment to attend a TEWT on “Mountain Warfare”.

18th August 1941

All Officers attended a reading of Army Training Memorandum 39 at 17:15 hours in the Recreation Hut.

19th August 1941

The Battalion took receipt of two armoured 15cwt trucks to assist in the guarding of the Emergency Landing Ground at KEFLAVIK. The information about this change is set out in Appendix E attached to the War Diary – for details see below.

20th August 1941

An Air Raid Message YELLOW was received at 07:05 hours followed by RED at 07:15 hours and the ALL CLEAR at 07:55 hours. There was thick low cloud and nothing was seen by the Battalion. The Working Party on the VATNSMYRI Aerodrome under 2/Lt Dunnell did see the enemy. He flew across the Aerodrome at about 600 feet and three Light Machine Guns opened fire. He appeared to be seen to be hit.

A further TEWT on “Withdrawal” was held. Details are set out on Appendix H – a copy of which was filed with the War Diary – for details see below.

25th August 1941

The Leave Party returned including 2/Lt J.A. Bruce and 2/Lt McNichol.

A new Officer has arrived – 2/Lt Howell, posted from 14th DLI, together with two reinforcements from the Infantry Training Centre.

27th August 1941

A Battalion Withdrawal Scheme commenced at 14:00 hours and continued overnight until 09:30 hours on 28th August. A description of the Scheme is set out in Appendices I, J and K – copies of which were filed with the War Diary – for details see below.

29th August 1941

The CO held a Conference on the Withdrawal Scheme at 15:00 hours in the Recreation Hut.

A Company sent a guard of two NCOs and six men for a special job at the Detention Barracks. (The author had been briefed informally some years ago that this “special job” was an execution – possibly of a civilian for espionage, and that the selected men were a firing squad – but no evidence has yet been found to support this story. It will be recalled that the British Army no longer executed men for such crimes as desertion by this stage but it is known that there was “fifth-column” activity amongst Nazi sympathisers in Iceland at the time.)

30th August 1941

The CO attended a Conference at Brigade.

31st August 1941

The CO departed to visit ALVIDRA Camp.

Appendices attached to the 11th DLI August 1941 War Diary.

Appendix A – TEWT on “Withdrawal” – issued 13th August 1941.

This note was addressed to the Officers Commanding the Camps occupied by 11th DLI and announced that the CO would be running a TEWT on Thursday and Friday 14th and 15th August 1941.

There were to be four syndicates for the purpose of the exercise as follows:-

Syndicate 1 – Captain Kirkup, Lt Brewis, Lt Johnson.

Syndicate 2 – Major Humphreys, Captain Johnstone, 2/Lt Grant.

Syndicate 3 – Captain Cairns, Captain Smallwood, 2/Lt Walker.

Syndicate 4 – Captain Lang, Captain Waistell, 2/Lt Whittaker.

Any Royal Artillery Officer participating would be included in one of the even numbered syndicates and any Machine Gun Officer to one of the odd numbered syndicates.

The preliminary problem would be set at 17:30 hours in the D Company Mess and required the maps of the Reykjavik-Hafnafjordur and Hafnafjordur-KEFLAVIK areas.

The CO would direct the Exercise, assisted by the 2 i/c, and D Company would set up the tables etc for the Exercise. Further details would be issued on 14th August together with amended Aerodrome Working Party tables.

Appendix B – Special Order of the Day – issued 17th August 1941.

This Order was issued by the Force Commander – Major-General H.O. Curtis C.B., D.S.O., M.C. and read as follows:-

The G.o.C. wishes to congratulate heartily all ranks on their soldierly bearing on the parade for the Prime Minister yesterday and to congratulate also all staffs concerned in making the excellent arrangements. The Prime Minister personally informed the G.o.C. that he was very impressed with both the keenness and smartness displayed by all ranks.

On the departure of the Prime Minister from Iceland the G.o.C. sent him the following signal:-

“All the Forces in Iceland respectfully send you their best wishes and as a result of your visit feel more confident than ever of victory under your leadership”.

Appendix C – Order of the Day – issued 20th August 1941.

This order was also issued by the G.o.C. as follows:-

“I have received the following telegram from the C.I.G.S. - General Sir John Dill K.C.B., C.M.G., D.S.O.:-

I would like to let you know how glad I am that I was able to see you and some of those under your command. I congratulate you on your parade and particularly on the fine soldierly bearing of your men and feel confident that in your hands ICELAND is safe. I know you realise how vitally important is your task. Few things matter more to the safety of our country than the retention for our use of Iceland. It was inspiring to see your close and friendly relationship with Forces of the United States”.

The Order was to be read out to all British Army Troops in Iceland.

Appendix D – Ceremonial Parade – dated 15th August 1941.

This note announced the Parade would be taking place “in the near future”. A full rehearsal was timed for 11:00 hours on Saturday 16th August 1941 on the Concrete Road.

The Battalion was to be organised by Camps and not by Companies (which would have been more usual). Troops were to be supplied as follows:-

SLINGSBY Camp – 110 men including R Company – Captain T. Cairns.

HVALEYRI Camp – 110 men including the Mortar Platoon – Captain T.M. Lang.

GARDAR – 100 men including the Cadre – Major R.B. Humphreys.

MILNSBRIDGE – 110 men including the Band – 2/Lt D.M. Grant.

CLOISTERS and AMOTHERBY – 70 men from Carriers, Signals and Reconnaissance – Captain K.C. Johnstone.

All Battalion Officers, other than Major Murray-Shireff, Captain Morris, 2/Lt Whittaker and 2/Lt Dunnell were to take part in the Parade.

Dress for the Parade for Officers was; Battle Order – less haversack, respirator and gas capes and without gloves or stick.

For the men the dress was; full Battle Order including Steel Helmet with haversack (or small pack) on back and water bottle inside the haversack, less respirator, gas cape and gas curtain. Leather jerkins were to be worn by all ranks.

The Battalion was to line up in Company order from the left, starting with A.

CSM Bradley was to be left marker and CSM Young the right marker. On the March Past rifles were to be carried at the trail and Thompson Guns on the shoulder – no bayonets were to be fixed. Vehicle timings and locations were given and embussing and debussing points identified.

Aerodrome Working Parties were to delay their reporting for work until the conclusion of the Parade.

Appendix E – Operation Instruction No 8 - Defence of the Emergency Landing Ground at KEFLAVIK (UTSKALAR) – revised 16th August 1941.

The document – which has been described earlier in the War Diary – was revised to accommodate the changes necessary as a result of the introduction of two locally constructed armoured vehicles – based on 15cwt trucks and each armed with a Bren Gun.

Two drivers from the Carrier Platoon were added to the Section earmarked for the defence and the Signals personnel, who manned the Post.

Each armoured car would take two men from the Section to man the Bren Gun in addition to the driver, and both would be started and driven each day for at least a quarter of a mile. One car would carry out a 30 minute morning patrol of the runway each day.

Four full boxes of Bren magazines in total were included in the ammunition allowance, filled with one round of tracer in every five – two boxes for each Gun.

This arrangement of mounting the two Guns in the cars seems to be in substitution for the normal Section Bren Gun with which the troops were previously equipped. As the Section was manned on the full scale as one NCO, nine infantrymen and one Cook, this implied that the usual Bren Gun crew would ride in one car while two of the riflemen manned the second Gun. Two thousand rounds of ammunition were supplied for the NCO’s Thompson Gun.

The instructions for the Guard Commander were also revised and attached to the Appendix, including a reminder about each of the cars being started and run each day.

In an alarm, the two cars were to proceed immediately to the runway and engage any enemy attempting to land. The instructions set out that each car is crewed by the driver and one man to operate the Bren Gun – which is at variance with the implied manning in the main Appendix – suggesting that the No 1 from the Section’s Bren team would be on one car and the No 2 on the other. There clearly are operational issues about using a vehicle-mounted Bren Gun without the help of a No 2 to change magazines and barrels and it may be that this arrangement might have to have been revised further.

The communication arrangements were spelled out again in detail and an addendum was later issued on 29th August to add more specific communications details and telephone numbers, as well as revising the messing arrangements for the Naval and Norwegian personnel working on Coast Watching etc. to reflect the fact that an assistant to Bjarne Iversen had been appointed.

Appendix F – Order of the Day – dated 20th August 1941.

The Order was issued by the G.o.C. and read as follows:-

“The Prime Minister, C.I.G.S. and Deputy Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Wilfred Freeman, inspected the REYKJAVIK Aerodrome area and were given full information about the one at Kaldadarnes. They all realise the enormous amount of labour entailed in their construction and the strain imposed on the troops. In this connection the A.o.C. ICELAND has kindly sent me the following message which speaks for itself:-

“For more than six weeks now not a single ship has been lost on the North Atlantic route between America and the United Kingdom; this is very largely due to the increased air protection which has been afforded by aircraft operating from Iceland, which in turn has only been made possible by the splendid efforts of all ranks of the Royal Engineers and other Army units engaged on aerodrome construction work.

It is felt by us in the RAF that other ranks in the Army may not appreciate the connection between their work in Iceland and the supplies of armaments and foodstuffs which are safely reaching the services and families at home.

The connection between their work and the safe passage of hundreds of ships carrying food and arms is, we appreciate, a very direct one”.

The number of hours flown from both aerodromes last week was especially heavy as, in addition to protection of several most important convoys, the protection of the Prime Minister’s party had, of course, to receive special attention.

All who have been, or still are, engaged on the construction of aerodromes should realise the vital importance of their work leading to victory. More still remains to be done, but the convoys and the Forces both in the United States and Great Britain now receive air protection both in Icelandic waters and on land. Since the construction of the aerodromes, England’s life-line to America is much better safe-guarded than before”

This Order was to be read out to all British troops in the Reykjavik area.

Appendix G – 11th DLI Training Memorandum No 5 – issued 19th August 1941.

This note on forthcoming training covered the period from 25th August to 6th September.

The following schemes were due to take place:-

The night of 28/29th August – “Withdrawal” – all troops.

September 2nd – Exercise with Artillery – Officers and Signals.

September 4th – Platoon Battle Efficiency Competition.

For the latter competition, the competitors would be one Platoon per Company (chosen by elimination to represent the Company), the Reconnaissance Platoon and the Carrier Platoon. A committee consisting of the CO, 2 i/c, Adjutant and Lt Johnson would meet to decide the conditions of the competition.

As regards other training:-

One Company scheme would be run per week, based on the occupation of a position in mountainous country. Company Commanders were to request co-operation from the Royal Artillery, Signal Platoon, Mortar Platoon etc as required.

Semaphore training would continue in co-operation with the Signals Officer.

Shooting – particular attention would be paid to the less good shots. Accuracy was regarded as most important and training should be carried out on the ranges at between 300 and 400 yards.

Appendix H – TEWT on “Withdrawal” – undated.

This note referred to the arrangements for a TEWT to be held on 20th August 1941.

There were to be two main syndicates – one lead by the CO, the second by the 2 i/c.

Each syndicate had sub-groups as follows:-

Syndicate 1

Group 1 – Captain Kirkup, Lieut Brewis, 2/Lt Whittaker – transport – A Company pick-up.

Group 2 – Captain Lang, Captain Johnstone, Captain Smallwood – transport - B Company pick-up.

Group 3 – Major Humphreys, Captain Cairns, Lieut Waggott – transport - C Company pick-up.

Syndicate 2 (no transport required)

Group 1 – 2/Lieut Munford, Lieut Nicholson, 2/Lieut Lloyd.

Group 2 – 2/Lieut Walker, 2/Lieut Dyson, 2/Lieut Keymer.

Group 3 – Lieut Rowell, Lieut Newport, 2/Lieut Cantley.

Group 4 – Lieut Ennis, 2/Lieut Humphries, 2/Lieut Sopwith.

Artillery and Machine Gun Officers would be allocated to Syndicates and Groups on arrival at the site.

Officers were expected to bring the “usual equipment” of binoculars, protractors, maps and compasses etc.

The rendezvous was timed for 09:30 hours at CLOISTERS Camp and the TEWT was expected to end at around 13:00 hours.

Captain Morris remained on duty at the Aerodrome and 2/Lieut Grant at CLOISTERS Camp.

Appendix I – Withdrawal Scheme 27/28th August – Initial Instructions – issued 25th August 1941

The exercise was timed to take place on the 27th and 28th of August starting at about 14:00 hours and ending at 10:00 hours.

The objective was to exercise the Battalion and their supporting troops in breaking contact with an enemy and withdrawing by night.

The lessons to be practised were:-

Field Service Regulations - Volume II – “A carefully worked out and strictly observed time table is the basis of a well-organised withdrawal”.

Military Training Pamphlet No 23 Part VI – “It may be necessary to retain some troops on the position until dawn” – these will have to move in daylight and “if they are to avoid casualties they will have to move dispersed and across country”.

The employment of Carriers.

The protection of rendezvous, moves etc.

The administrative problems of withdrawal.

The narratives were due to be issued on the morning of 27th – see later Appendix.

The troops taking part were 11th DLI (less B Company), B Troop of 366 Field Battery Royal Artillery and one Platoon of B Company of 1/9th Manchesters (machine gunners).

The Reconnaissance Platoon and others were to act as enemy and use blank ammunition.

Major Murray-Shireff was to act as Chief Umpire supported by all the available Officers of B Company, Captain Morris and Lieut Nicholson, plus others from other units, to be arranged by the CO as Director.

2/Lt Dunnell was to remain on duty at CLOISTERS Camp and be aware at all times of the location of Battalion HQ. Wireless Telegraphy sets would be used for communications, although one Despatch Rider and a Bugler would accompany the CO.

The Medical Officer was to establish a Regimental Aid Post which would be relocated as required.

The defensive positions being occupied at the start of the exercise would be stored with reserve small arms ammunition in sealed boxes (in case of genuine emergency), grenades, 2” Mortar ammunition, tools, wire and one day’s hard rations. Each man would have a greatcoat and one blanket. Occupation of the posts would not be done as part of the exercise.

B Echelon was to be positioned in the area of the TB Hospital for the exercise and would be required to move during the process. Cooks would remain with the Battalion and not return to Camp until the completion of the Exercise.

Appendix J – Withdrawal Exercise 27/28th August – Opening Narrative – dated 26th August 1941.

The narrative described the Battalion’s position for the purpose of the Exercise, together with those of other Force troops.

11th DLI was acting as the forward Battalion holding a defensive position on the line HVALEYRI – HAMRANES 2096, with 1st Tyneside Scottish and 10th DLI digging a reserve position on the line of SKELTON Ridge – VATNSENDI.

The main battle was being fought elsewhere and it is known that the Force to which the Battalion belongs may have to withdraw to conform. (This is a situation in which the Brigade found itself several times during the battles in France and Flanders in May 1940).

The enemy were known to be in defences on the general line of the track running South East from GERDI 1696. They were patrolling extensively.

The Battalion were supported by a Troop of Field Artillery and a Platoon of Medium Machine Guns. The disposition of the Companies was given, together with the allotted supporting troops. Existing defences and sangars were to be used as far as possible.

All Companies were to be in position by 15:00 hours with all stores in position and Company HQs established. Full defensive measures would be brought into operation.

The Orders Group – consisting of; Company Commanders, Intelligence Officer, Signals Officer, Mortar Officer, Carrier Officer, Transport Officer (also representing Quartermaster), Anti-Aircraft Officer, Regimental Sergeant Major, Artillery Officer and Machine Gun Officer, would meet at Battalion HQ for orders at 15:00 hours.

Wireless sets were allocated to sub-units. No ball ammunition was to be carried by troops but, as usual, the reserve stock would be held ready in case of a genuine emergency, such as an enemy aircraft being spotted.

Appendix K – Withdrawal Exercise 27/28th August – 11th DLI Operation Order No 1 – dated 27th August.

The Exercise situation was that the enemy was known to be moving South and had formed up in the Kleifervatn Valley – and was likely to move in the next two or three days. Fifth columnists in British uniform were known to be employed.

B Company were moving up the KALDARSEL Valley at dusk to prevent enemy penetration from the left flank.

The INTENTION was to withdraw to GEITHALS.

The METHOD was by the Companies thinning out in accordance with a detailed plan and timetable – with no movement whatsoever before dark. In some cases there would be a progressive take-over of each other’s positions but with an overall timed move to the HOSPITAL area at Point 117 reference 2499. A Company was given discretion as to the route to take but the other Companies were given specific directions. Transport was to be clear of the positions by 02:30 hours but no movement was to take place before dark.

C and D Companies were to leave small fighting patrols in situ in the forward areas who would withdraw independently at first light and make their way across country to the concentration area.

A Battalion Check Point was to be established by the Signals Officer at the Farm reference 229998, from where the Intelligence Officer was responsible for the route to the concentration area. Movement of guns was given priority over other transport and specific routes and timings were laid down to ensure that all transport was clear of the area.

The establishment of a Battalion concentration area was the responsibility of Captain Johnstone, to be located North of MALHAM Tarn reference 2400, including organising Company areas and a site for Battalion HQ. Once in place, no troops were to leave the area without permission from the CO.

Administrative arrangements were made for moving blankets and for the movement of the B Echelon from the HOSPITAL to GEITHALS at 02:00 hours. Company arrangements would be made for meals. The Regimental Aid Post would be moved from the SCHOOL reference 208994 – closing at 02:30 hours and reopening in the HOSPITAL area 2400 at 03:00 hours. The Carrier Platoon were to be on standby to move any casualties while the RAP was being relocated and while the Battalion was being moved to GEITHALS.

Battalion HQ would close down at 03:15 hours and re-open at the same time at the concentration area. Wireless was to be used to the minimum and the withdrawal was always to be referred to as an attack.

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