11th Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry War Diary August 1944
1st – 7th August 1944 EMIEVILLE
This period was spent in an endeavour to find out information about the enemy. Owing to the heavy mortaring and shelling everything was done to cut down to a minimum movement by day, and great care was taken over the distribution of food to prevent noise and dust. During the hours of daylight our activity was of two kinds; first, every effort was made to engage enemy mortars and guns with accurate counter-battery fire, and secondly, snipers were sent out to observe and try to locate enemy positions. There was also a heavy programme of harassing fire which must have made the administration of the enemy forces a nightmare.
At night, vigorous patrolling was carried out and it was soon possible to build up a picture of enemy strength, even though we were not able to capture a Prisoner. The enemy seemed to hold his positions in daylight with a light screen of Observation Posts, holding the bulk of his force slightly to the rear as a mobile reserve. At night Spandau teams would infiltrate forward and loose off stray bursts into the night. The enemy also sent up flares of every description and whenever their own aircraft appeared, green Verey lights.
To combat the strain of long periods in slit trenches a very successful Rest Camp was set up at A2 Echelon (sited just EAST of the River ORNE at RAINVILLE). The Camp aimed at resting, bathing and clothing a hundred men at a time and although only 48 hours was allotted to each party, the benefit was obvious. Visits to the cinema and ENSA Shows were also arranged.
The Field Return on 5th August showed a remaining shortfall against establishment of four junior Officers. In respect of Other Ranks, the overall shortfall was 188, with 26 being Corporal or Sergeant vacancies. The list of men requested to be returned to the unit had grown to three, still including Pte Payne, but now also including Sergeant G.W. Sampson (thought to be at No 4 Infantry Training Centre at Brancepeth) and Private J. Bagnall (thought to be in hospital in Liverpool – and also, by chance, a first cousin of the author’s father, who joined 8th DLI on the same day as him in May 1939 and had the adjacent Regimental Number).
7th August 1944
A special Fighting Patrol under Captain W.F. McMichael was arranged with the objective of capturing a Prisoner. Very careful reconnaissances had been made the night before of the enemy post, and a programme of artillery support was laid on. Unfortunately, just as the Patrol was reaching the vicinity of the post an artillery smoke shell set the hedge ablaze a few yards from the objective and when the Patrol was eventually ready for the assault it was found that the Spandau team had withdrawn.
8th August 1944
Major C.D. Hamilton took over command of the Battalion vice Lt-Col J.M. Hanmer.
It soon became apparent that the enemy were likely to pull out at any time, to conform with the withdrawals on other sectors and each Company therefore was responsible for keeping constant contact with the enemy. This was done by patrolling both day and night, and by the use of snipers who penetrated deep into the enemy lines.
9th August 1944
A very successful Fighting Patrol, led by Lt O.D. Johnson of B Company captured a Prisoner, killed several of the enemy and established that they were still in position. The Patrol managed to achieve complete surprise and by clever use of fire and movement achieved its objective with the minimum of casualties. A full account was attached to the War Diary as Appendix A as follows:-
The Fighting Patrol consisted of a Platoon from B Company, together with two Pioneers and two Signallers.
The Battalion Commander had been told at 15:30 hours that confirmation, or otherwise, of continued enemy presence was required by 17:00 hours. He briefed two Fighting Patrols, one each from B and C Companies, to go to CHATEAU ST PEIRRE ORSIN at reference 143642, and deeper. Each Patrol had a strength of around 25 men to give; a suitable level of firepower against a small post, an ability to protect flanks, and the ability to cover withdrawal adequately. The Patrols moved off at 16:25 hours.
The B Company Patrol had Pte Hargreaves and Pte Everett as lead scouts and moved along the road axis from the B Company area at reference 133642. The scouting Section, Patrol Commander, Platoon HQ, the Signallers, Pioneers, Forward Observation Officer and the two other Sections, one each side of the road, moved off in that order. The comment was made that the Signallers should perhaps have been one bound further to the rear.
After the scouting Section had passed some Teller mines in the road, Pte Hargreaves reported a sleeping German in a dugout by the bridge at 137637, among other slit trenches. Hargreaves readied a grenade and Lt Johnson indicated he should throw it, being covered by the scouting Section. The German immediately gave himself up and was sent to the rear – his position being an observation post for the rest of his Platoon which was based on the crossroads in front of the farmhouse. They had a roadblock made of farm vehicles behind the bridge.
The scouting Section covered each other forward of the roadblock and the enemy opened fire down the road, hitting Pte Everett in the stomach. Enemy fire was coming both straight down the road and from hedges at either side. Several Germans were seen to run from the farmhouse and take up positions in the slit trenches by the hedges at right angles to the road. Fire was also opened from the windows of the farmhouse.
The Bren gunner of the scouting Section – Pte Oakley – opened fire through the roadblock and his shooting was joined by that of Pte Dopson - the Bren gunner of No 2 Section, from the left of the road, and also by the Bren gunner from No 3 Section who fired on the right hedge from down the road.
The 2” mortar team from Platoon HQ – L/Cpl Grandfield and Pte Burns – began firing from a position next to No 2 Section and dropped both high explosive and smoke rounds on the road ahead and on the farm entrance. During the firing Lt Johnson crawled towards the roadblock but could not see Pte Everett. He then went back down the road, crossed the dyke into the orchard next to No 2 Section’s Bren position and shouted to Pte Everett, who replied that he was in the ditch on the left, beyond the roadblock.
Sgt McArthur – the Platoon Sergeant – spotted a German going into the ditch at its end near the farmhouse. Lt Johnson fired his rifle along the ditch and was then covered by Sgt McArthur, who fired at the end of the ditch while Lt Johnson crawled along it to reach Pre Everett. At the same time a German called “Kamerad” from the end of the ditch. The firing increased as Lt Johnson reached Pte Everett and dragged him, on his back, along the ditch to an opening in its side. Following the Lt’s call for assistance Pte Sharman and Cpl Garrett, assisted by Sgt McArthur, carried Pte Everett back down the road for 25 yards, where three other Privates carried him back a further 350 yards to where stretcher bearers, who had been following the Platoon up, had arrived.
At this time, Pte Ling, the other member of the No 1 Section Bren team, was hit and handed the Section’s Bren gun over to Pte Oakley and began to crawl back.
The Battalion Commander, who had been monitoring the progress of the Patrol over the No 18 Radio Set, ordered the Patrol to withdraw under cover of smoke from its 2” mortar. This was immediately thickened up by smoke bombs from the Battalion’s 3” mortars, which had been previously registered on the farmhouse area. As the Patrol reported its progress in withdrawing, high explosive bombs were fired from the 3” mortars, resulting in the withdrawal being completed with no further casualties. Each Section covered the other in a leapfrogging movement.
In all six Germans were seen to be either killed or seriously wounded rushing from the farmhouse, besides others who were probably casualties from the mortar fire. By 17:00 hours, as requested, Brigade HQ had been informed that the position was still occupied.
The Prisoner proved to be from 981 Grenadier Regiment and was being interviewed by the Brigade Intelligence Officer within two minutes of his arrival at Battalion HQ. The author of the Patrol Report expressed the view that often stealthy Fighting Patrols of this nature, mounted without preliminary artillery support, could be successful, by sacrificing that support for surprise.
Regrettably, despite the heroic efforts of his Platoon Commander and his comrades to rescue him and get medical attention for him, Pte Everett succumbed to his injuries.
10th – 15th August 1944
There was a further period of Patrol activity. Regular contact was maintained with 7th Duke of Wellington’s Regiment who were pushing forward on the right flank and rapidly making the enemy position untenable.
The weekly Field Returns of manpower on 12th August showed that both Major Grant and Captain Sopwith were in No 30 General Hospital and were expected to return to the Battalion on the 12th. Lt Bell was in hospital in Liverpool, Captain Ellison at Brancepeth, Lt Fitzpatrick in Colchester hospital – the return to the unit of all five was requested. Major Bryant returned on 18th August and Captain Ellison on 15th August – both changes being reflected in the returns for 19th August.
Lt. Col. Hanmer was at the rear HQ of 49th Division, awaiting a posting, having relinquished command of the Battalion. Lt Bryant was in Bayeux General Hospital and Lt Lazarus was at No 102 C.R.C. – these departures largely accounted for the shortfall of Officers against establishment having reached nine. No replacement Officers had joined during the week.
On 13th August Lt F.B. Hall was posted to No. 102 C.R.C.
The return of the three Other Ranks listed in the previous week’s form was still requested. The shortfall against establishment was 124, including 21 NCO’s. 15th August 1944
At 17:30 hours Patrols had established that the enemy had withdrawn. A German cemetery, with seventy-four graves, was found in the area of the courtyard of the Chateau.
16th August 1944
At 06:30 hours the Battalion was relieved by a Company of 10th DLI.
At 07:00 hours the Battalion embussed and moved to an area of the woods at 116604, where they were established by 10:30 hours.
At 15:00 hours the Battalion moved, using its own transport – achieved by emptying the cooks’ trucks and loading the tracked vehicles to the maximum capacity – to the assembly area at BRAY LAN CAMPAGNE. The Battalion Orders Group moved to VIEUX FUME at reference 211528.
The Adjutant brought up the remainder of the Battalion to the area of MAGNY, while the attack was planned on the hill feature to give left flank protection to an attack by the 1st Tyneside Scottish on the bridge at Mezidon-Canon.
It was soon found that the hill feature was not, in fact, occupied and the operation consequently went without a hitch.
17th August 1944
The morning was spent on a river reconnaissance in conjunction with the Divisional Reconnaissance Regiment and at 14:00 hours a plan was made to form a Battalion bridgehead across the river in the area of MAGNY where a small bridge, not marked on the map, existed intact. Once again, the enemy withdrew before the attack could go in. The original plan, howver, was put into execution and by 20:00 hours the Battalion was safely established EAST of the River DIVES.
18th August 1944
At 06:00 hours B Company were pushed forward as a flying column to the line of the River VIC which was in view by 08:15 hours. Lightly held outposts fired a few shots from the far bank. Meanwhile the Battalion moved on to a new concentration area near MIRABEL and later to a further concentration area some two miles further up the axis.
At 16:00 hours the Battalion prepared to move on a new axis Mezidon-Canon with objectives MESNIL MANGER and MONT LA VIGNE.
At 17:00 hours the Battalion was established in concentration area 274558. During the night, 10th DLI attacked the MONT LA VIGNE feature and encountered the stiffest opposition being both heavily mortared and counter-attacked.
19th August 1944
The Brigade was relieved by the 146th Brigade and the Battalion pulled out to a rest area just SOUTH of VIMONT.
Captain Lyell, the Medical Officer, was wounded.
The Battalion was still requesting the return of Captain Sopwith and Lts Bell and Fitzpatrick. As a result of Captain Lyell’s wounding a replacement Medical Officer was also requested.
It was here that the sad news was learnt that the Brigade was to be disbanded owing to the general shortage of infantry reinforcements.
20th August 1944
A harbouring party under the Second-in-Command left for the new area at Thury-Harcourt where the final disbandment was to take place.
21st August 1944
At 17:00 hours the Battalion arrived at Thury-Harcourt.
21st – 26th August 1944 Thury-Harcourt
Here it was split into four Company Groups, each consisting of one Rifle Company plus a quarter of the specialists in the HQ and S Companies. In addition, there was a small residue party consisting of the Commanding Officer, Second-in-Command, Adjutant, Quartermaster and the Officer commanding HQ Company, who were left to wind up the affairs of the Battalion.
26th August 1944 Thury-Harcourt
At 08:30 hours, A Company Group, consisting of three Officers and 159 Other Ranks left for the 7th Battalion, The Green Howards.
B Company Group, consisting of three Officers and 144 Other Ranks left for 2nd Battalion, The Devonshire Regiment.
C Company Group, consisting of three Officers and 152 Other Ranks left for 1st Battalion, The Dorsetshire Regiment.
D Company Group, consisting of three Officers and 154 Other Ranks left for 2nd Battalion, The East Yorkshire Regiment.
These transfers have been largely identified to the men affected through the mechanisms of the DLI Enlistment Books, held at Durham County Record Office, and have been included within the names database wherever possible.
At 13:30 hours the Commanding Officer made final winding-up arrangements including the disposal of all stores, equipment and vehicles, and issued a farewell message, a copy of which was filed with the War Diary at Appendix B.
The Appendix read as follows:-
Final Order of the Day
General Montgomery’s news that the end of the War is in sight has softened the blow which suddenly hit the 11th this week. We are suffering, for the sake of the War, the fate so many Battalions have had in the past year. Good reinforcements are wanted quickly and we, who had been raised for this emergency, were the ones who would provide them.
In the midst of our sadness I would say this. For five years we trained a team to beat the Hun. Our success at Rauray and since will be a Regimental Battle Honour – our overwhelming defeat of the German counter-attack has had a vital effect on the campaign. We have been allowed to prove ourselves – and we were found good.
I admire the spirit with which you have already taken the news. Luckily our new postings mean that most friends can be kept together.
You have been “Faithful Durhams”.
That has brought you success in the past. Those standards will bring you through to the future..
GOOD LUCK TO YOU ALL.
C.D. Hamilton Lt-Colonel Commanding 11th Battalion, The Durham L.I.
The C.O. than added a note recommending that men join the DLI Association to help them keep in touch.
A further Appendix – C – was added to the War Diary listing the Officers serving with the Battalion on the day of disbandment. The names database has had these details incorporated.
In what was the final set of weekly Field Returns the number of Officers against the establishment of 36 was twelve – reflecting the departures listed above. Those who remained after the transfers were:-
Lt. Col Hamilton
Of the Other Ranks only 70 remained, including most of the senior NCOs, against the establishment level of 809, following the transfer out of the four Company Groups. L/Cpl Grieve had been attached to the 1st Tyneside Scottish.
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