11th Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry War Diary December 1940

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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.

December opened with cold, frost, storm and snow. On several mornings there were twenty degrees of frost. This interrupted the Camp Improvement Scheme, the revetting of huts, and, together with the increased hours of darkness made training more and more of an indoor subject. A special Training Memorandum was therefore issued – a copy of which was attached to the War Diary as Appendix A – for details see below.

1st December 1940 Alafoss

At 11:00 hours Brigadier P Kirkup, Commander, 70th Infantry Brigade, inspected the Battalion’s Air Raid Precautions at a “mock” Air Raid on the Alafoss VALLEY made by two Fairey Battle planes. Various observations were issued.

2nd December 1940

2/Lt J.M. McNichol of E Company was transferred to B Company.

2/Lt J.B. Nicholson of B Company was transferred to E Company.

2/Lt R.J. Dyson assumed temporary command of E Company.

5th December 1940

A discussion and test on Military Publications was attended by all Officers.

6th December 1940

An Officers’ discussion took place on the organisation of the German Army.

9th December 1940

The second NCOs cadre opened.

The CO gave a lecture to all Officers on the use of the Sand Table Model.

First night of a Concert given by HQ, D and E Companies – organised by Captain K.C. Johnstone.

16th December 1940

The following left to attend a fortnight’s Course at the Force Tactical School – Captains A.W.L. Lawn, W.B. Kirkup, K.C. Johnstone. All received satisfactory reports.

18th December 1940

The CO, Adjutant and Intelligence Officer attended a 70th Infantry Brigade cloth model TEWT in Alafoss. Subject – the use of the Force Mobile Reserve in the KEFLAVIK area. A note on the conference was attached to the War Diary as Appendix B – for details see below.

22nd December 1940

Visit of ENSA Concert Party.

25th December 1940

The CO visited A, B, D, R and HQ Companies at Christmas Dinner and spoke to all the men. He afterwards telephoned all posts and wished the men on duty a “Happy Christmas”. This is the first mention of R Company and it is thought that this might have been a typing error - E Company being intended.

The following men were included in the England Team versus Scotland in Reykjavik:-

4457149 Sgt Robinson W. HQ

4457056 Cpl Robinson J. HQ

4457135 Pte Chilton A. HQ

4457141 Pte Armes G. HQ

A six-a-side soccer match resulted in HQ Company defeating C Company in the final. The weather was probably the finest since the Battalion’s arrival in Iceland and the CO and his party on their tour of dinners was dressed in Service Dress only.

31st December 1940

Notes on experiments with Reserve Rations were forwarded to Brigade HQ – and attached to the War Diary as Appendix C – for details see below.

Appendices attached to the December 1940 War Diary.

Appendix A – Training Memorandum No 2 – dated 13th December 1940.

This second Memorandum expressed concern that the first issue had not been effectively put into use in some cases and had been put to one side after reading – rather than being a constant source of reference. The lack of enterprise in developing Training Programmes was regretted and Officers were exhorted to be more imaginative. Men were expected to be occupied constantly throughout the normal day.

This second Memorandum accepted that the intentions of balancing indoor and outdoor work were having to be reviewed, in the weather circumstances. Indoor training was expected to be modified and enhanced using techniques such as sand tables and cloth models – such training approaches to be extended to all the men in the unit and not just NCOs.

It was considered that outdoor training did not need to duplicate the indoor variety and should concentrate on the more advanced skills. As intended earlier, schemes should be prepared ready to be “turned on” should the weather allow outdoor work at short notice – generally aimed at the collective training of the Platoon and Company.

The importance of utilising transport in training was re-emphasised with a stress laid on the importance of loading vehicles to full war scale, so as to familiarise the sub-unit with where equipment and stores were to be found on the vehicles – leading to greater efficiency. This would also ensure that equipment would be taken out and used on exercises and schemes.

Battle Administration – such lesser points as how tools were carried, the use of flare pistols, wire and so on was to be given attention so that Platoon Commanders and Sergeants became more familiar with these items and their use. Breaks in training should be used to address some of the smaller administrative problems.

The construction and use of the Field Firing Range was covered – with the Weapon Training Officer made responsible for sanctioning the use of the Range when it was finished.

In terms of specialist training it had been decided that four additional 3” Mortar teams would be selected and trained over the next three months. HQ Company Commander was made responsible for this and was expected to use reserve personnel from E Company and 75% of the Anti-Aircraft Platoon, with the remainder also from E Company. In addition, a 75% reserve would be trained for the Anti-Aircraft Platoon, drawn again from E Company.

Various amendments were made to the provisions in Memorandum No 1 – basically about the timing and frequency of producing Training Programmes. Indoor training would be carried out on every day of the week.

Appendix B – Brigade Commander’s Conference 16th December and Brigade TEWT 18th December 1940.

Notice had been given of the intention for 70th Infantry Brigade to relieve 147th Infantry Brigade in the South-West Sector of Iceland in early March 1941. 10th DLI – who had arrived in Iceland before the rest of the Brigade – were to be relieved in the Western Sector by a Battalion from 147th as soon as possible after 1st March – dependent on weather and road conditions. Sector Commanders would continue to command any units not yet relieved operationally, while their own Brigades would continue to be responsible for them administratively and for training.

Detachments in static roles would continue to concentrate during the day on air observation, while all Posts would be manned at night. Units could train at some distance from their positions unless the Code Words indicating preparation for an invasion had been issued. Any unit believing that they were having to be unnecessarily vigilant was asked to approach the Brigade Commander for guidance.

The Garrison was to be redistributed in Spring 1941, with changes in the manning of various locations. In respect of Kaldadarnes one Rifle Company would be placed with its HQ and one Platoon in the vicinity of the Selfoss – GULFOSS crossroads, one Platoon at Selfoss and one Platoon at ALVIDRA BRIDGE. 1st Tyneside Scottish were asked to hold an exercise shortly to test out reinforcing Kaldadarnes.

In the HUNAFLOI area the Garrison at REYKIRSKOLI and Bordeyri was to be expanded to a Rifle Company, and the Blonduos Garrison was to send a Platoon (rather than the one Section currently in place) to Skagastrond. Consideration was being given to transferring the responsibility for the defence of SAUDAKROKUR to the Western Sector. (Extra accommodation would be required to accommodate these changes on which CO 10th DLI was asked to report to Brigade).

On training, the Brigadier allowed COs their full discretion in making maximum use of the daylight hours in deciding their arrangements. (Bear in mind that at some times of the year in Iceland it is full daylight until midnight).

As regards the plans for 1941, April and May would see Section, Platoon and Company training taking place from existing billets. Battalion training – some from billets and some from Training Camps – would take place in June, July and August. Brigade Exercises, including TEWTS, Signals and HQ exercises would take place from billets in September.

Training Camps would be established at Kleifervatn, SANDSKEID and the North Shore of Hafnafjordur – to be reconnoitred and arrangements made for occupation by 1st June. The Camps would be tented, not huts.

With regard to the use of the Force Reserve, the weather had made full-scale practice impossible but theoretical problems could be tackled using cloth models, with sub-units visiting the ground later to put parts of the training into practice when conditions permitted.

The upcoming relief of 10th DLI by a Battalion of 147th Infantry Brigade was to be carried out, as far as possible, as a series of tactical moves, thus turning it into a training opportunity, with arrangements for embarkation, loading and disembarkation on a tactical basis.

Respirators were to be worn during training at frequent intervals.

A hut within the lines of the Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa would be allocated as a cloth model room.

Later Brigade Exercises would include provision for 2 i/cs and Assistant Adjutants. More important exercises would be notified to affiliated units – who were themselves expected to keep in touch with Battalions and Companies with regard to smaller exercises.

Figures for ammunition scales at Battalion, Brigade HW and in Reserve were notified. Empty “brass” was to be returned for salvage. COs were to ensure sub-units had adequate supplies for field firing work.

An announcement was made that Tank Hunting Platoons – previously part of Battalion War Establishments – were not now part of the new War Establishment and would not be organised. All ranks were to be trained in the provisions of Military Training Pamphlet 42 on this subject.

The provisional organisation of Ski Platoons was described, based on a Platoon Commander and one Orderly, with three sections, each of one NCO and 5 men. Their main task was reconnaissance and a note on their training was to be issued. Men were to be taken temporarily from Rifle Companies, rather than from the 1st Reinforcements, to set these up.

A decision had been made that a Platoon on the march would proceed with two Sections in single file on one side of the road, with the third Section on the other side with at least ten yards between the tail of one group and the head of the other.

Arising from the recent Brigade TEWT certain points had been decided as regards the use of transport for personnel. Caution was expected - to avoid extravagant use of the Reserve Motor Transport Company. The vulnerability of the vehicle column to attack if excessive transport was employed was noted, as was the need to ensure that requisitioned transport would be available when actually required.

In this context, training in setting Anti-Aircraft mountings in the load bed of vehicles was to take place – using packs etc to secure the footings.

Greatcoats were expected to be worn for winter operations with equipment fitted over them and leather jerkins strapped at the back. Tropal Coats would be worn over the greatcoat when in Motor Transport, and then left in the Platoon truck on debussing. Work was underway on rations to be carried on the man (see Appendix C below).

A series of administrative matters were announced, including; Brigade to define the price of Polar Bear signs for Officers, with instructions on the correct wearing on sleeves to be issued (done on 18th December 1940). This would have been the first pattern of the famous Polar Bear patch – showing the animal head down, preparing to charge – a design which allegedly irritated the Prime Minister when he visited the troops in Iceland on the grounds that he did not consider it sufficiently aggressive – being subsequently changed in the second pattern to show the bear with its head raised. This perhaps demonstrates a lack of knowledge as to polar bear behaviour on the part of the Prime Minister, but known to the designer of the patch!

Units would be asked to select men for a Brigade Employment Platoon.

It was stressed that spare men would need to be available to guard vehicles that were parked and open when collecting stores.

The author recalls carrying out this duty in the UK in the 1970s and explaining jocularly to a coach-load of amused and inquisitive American tourists at a Motorway Service Station why he was armed and guarding what appeared to be a 4-ton lorry full of trays of loaves of bread – he did not, of course, reveal that underneath the bread lay hidden a Company’s full complement of small arms, nor that his sub-machine gun was loaded.

Appendix C – Reserve Rations – dated 31st December 1940.

2/Lt E.S. Newport of the Battalion had attended a set of experiments on the carrying of reserve rations on operations, in the context of the weight carried by the individual soldier. The appendix attached to the note helpfully sets out the burden of the individual infantryman as follows:-

Weight carried by the man.

25 ¼ lbs Ammunition, pouches, haversack, webbing braces, straps, filled water bottle, bayonet and scabbard, groundsheet, rations, towel, soap, mess tin, leather jerkin, supporting straps, shaving equipment.

3 lbs Steel helmet.

6 lbs Respirator.

2 lbs Gas Cape.

6 ½ lbs Greatcoat.

10 lbs Rifle and sling.

12 ¾ lbs Clothing.

65 ½ lbs Total weight.

The G.o.C. had apparently directed that a maximum fighting weight of 35 lbs only was to be carried by each man. In the light of this, work had been done to see how the burden might be reduced.

As regards rations, each man would carry in his haversack, or Small Pack as it was known in the 1937 Pattern Equipment; a tin of “pressed beef”, packet of biscuits and a portion of cheese in the mess tin, two packets of biscuits, tea and sugar in the ration bag, and a tin of “meat and vegetable stew” and a tin of milk or meat loaf loose in the haversack. This totalled some 4 lbs including the ration bag.

In order to carry this scale of rations the man’s water bottle – provision for which was made in the interior of the haversack – would have to be carried at the side, attached to the ends of his webbing cross-braces. A further 24 hours rations would be carried in the Company truck.

In considering the options for reducing the weight carried, the CO recommended to Brigade HQ that, while in some circumstances the greatcoat could be discarded, the only serious option was to remove the leather jerkin and the rations as well, in order to get down to the target of 35 lbs – he saw that as impractical and his view was that all the kit would have to be carried, including the rations, in the interests of fighting efficiency, despite the weight penalty.

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