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

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1st February 1941 Alafoss

RSM Dunn H. left for the UK on transfer at his own request. He had been with the Battalion since its formation. CSM Poole was appointed to fill the vacancy as a temporary measure.

The issue of the Battalion Magazine, Bugle Call Rag No 1, took place, edited by 2/Lt A.F. Munford and Captain C.D. Hamilton. A copy was filed with the War Diary as Appendix A – for details see below.

It was stated at a Company Commanders’ Conference that the danger to Iceland had increased and defensive preparations were to take priority.

Battalion Operation Order No 5 was re-issued and a copy filed with the War Diary as Appendix B – details of which are set out below.

6th February 1941

An Inter-Company exercise with the Tyneside Scottish took place – details are set out on Appendix C a copy of which was attached to the War Diary and referred to below.

11th February 1941

A Commanding Officer’s Exercise took place with one Platoon of D Company – the subject being Protection.

14th February 1941

A Brigade Exercise took place with the aim of exercising the Force Reserve. Details were set out in Appendix D – a copy of which was attached to the War Diary and details of which are set out below.

17th February 1941

A Force Signals Exercise was carried out. Battalion HQ moved out towards Pingvellir.

24th February 1941

At 08:00 hours an Exercise took place at which the Force Mobile Reserve was ordered to prepare to move out. Enemy had been reported near BORGANES. No 12 Reserve Motor Transport Company reported for troop carrying within two hours of the warning being given.

The Battalion was ordered to Brautarholt. Full post flight of Mobile Reserve left Alafoss according to the Operation Order, but due to the extremely cold weather the exercise was cancelled at 18:00 hours and a rum issue was authorised.

25th February 1941

Plans were made for the relief of 147th Infantry Brigade by 70th Infantry Brigade. Relevant information was set out in Appendix E – a copy of which was attached to the War Diary, of which details are set out below.

The following left for Courses in the UK :-

2/Lt A. Waggott – 3” Mortar Course.

2/Lt J.H.P. Hadden – Weapons Course.

The following attended the third Course at the Force Tactical School:-

Captain T.M. Lang, Captain W.H. Waistell, 2/Lt A. Whittaker.

The following attended the fourth Course:-

Lt. J. Brewis, Lt. P.A. Johnson.

Appendices attached to the February 1941 War Diary.

Appendix A – Issue No 1 of the Battalion Magazine “Bugle Call Rag”.

This booklet, produced in the Battalion HQ Orderly room, and edited by the Adjutant and 2/Lt Munford, ran to an impressive 45 pages but was, of necessity in saving paper, of limited circulation.

After an introduction by the CO, the magazine contained articles on Football and Boxing – helpfully quoting the names of the Battalion teams - with notes from each of the Companies and a considerable amount of poetry, with a selection of articles describing personal experiences, without breaching security considerations.

B (Beer) Company’s correspondent told of Christmas Dinner, served by rather inefficient Officer waiters, but compensated for by that body of Officers giving a spirited rendering of “Bound for the Rio Grande”.

The Battalion Concert party (Birds of a Feather) told of their formation and an epic trip to visit the outposts of 10th Battalion, at BORGANES, Akranes and Blonduos plus an isolated farmhouse holding the 10th Battalion’s Ski Platoon out on training – the bulk of the journey being made on a Scots-crewed drifter called the “Nellie Magee”. Mention of the activities of the female impersonators brought to mind the TV Comedy “It ain’t half hot, Mum” – perhaps not as fictional as might have been thought!

Again, the names of the members of the troupe were helpfully included.

An article on the tribulations of one junior Officer sent to make arrangements for a laundry contract confirmed information previously discovered in that the local laundry refused the work – of around 900 bundles per week – on the grounds that they had enough to do and had no wish to expand the business!

Perhaps surprisingly, the few items written in a critical tone about the presence in Iceland were included without any form of censorship, and the magazine concluded with a crossword and a numerical puzzle. Much evidence of inter-unit sporting rivalry could be found in these pages.

Appendix B – Operation Order NO 5 – Revised 1st February 1941 – issued 12th February 1941.

This Operation Order has been described on an earlier page. This later version includes map traces of the areas to be occupied should invasion threaten.

The Second-in-Command of the Battalion – Major Murray-Shireff – was made Officer Commanding Local Defence and would have commanded a combined force of the Battalion’s R Company (previously, it is thought, E Company), and 711 General Construction Company Royal Engineers together with details from 386 Field Battery and 143 Field Regiment Royal Artillery, the Mobile Bath Unit, 187 Field Ambulance, the Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa and a Section of 12 Reserve Motor Transport Company.

The task of this force was to protect the Alafoss and BRUARLAND areas. This was broken into sub-tasks, such as occupying particular posts, and these were identified and illustrated on the accompanying maps. Arrangements were also made for Camp Guards to be provided when the Force Reserve moved out, while Battalion HQ would become the HQ of Local Defence.

Appendix C – 70th Infantry Brigade Inter-Company Exercise 6th February 1941. This was a report from the Director on the results of the exercise and contains detailed criticisms of the way in which the two Companies (one each from 11th DLI and 1st Tyneside Scottish) concerned carried out their tasks.

The task was to secure ULFARSFELL, map reference 3207 – with the aim of securing a further advance and to ensure artillery observation. 1st Tyneside Scottish had been allowed to choose when to leave their base at BALDURSHAGI – which they did at 05:15 hours, reaching their positions well before 11th DLI. The positions reached were set out on an attached map trace.

Both Companies were criticised for not dominating the feature – which extended 2000 yards long and 2000 yards broad – a large area for one Company to defend. Both Companies had pushed a small force to the summit, leaving the body of their Company at lower levels. 11th DLI had one Section wiped out by fire from their rear while the remainder of the Platoon were outflanked by an attack and were also considered to have suffered heavy casualties. As a result, 1st Tyneside Scottish were considered to have achieved their objective while 11th DLI did not.

Criticism was also made of the lack of concealed movement with men on the hilltop being visible from as far away as the Alafoss Camp. The result was their positions were disclosed much earlier than necessary – which would have been vital to artillery or air attack.

The 11th DLI Company Commander gave his movement orders but failed to organise his HQ so as to move with the leading Platoon – causing later messages for him to go astray. His attack failed because his supporting Bren Guns were not in place before the advance started. His Bren Gun teams were also burdened by carrying Anti-Aircraft Mountings – a heavy load and perhaps unnecessary in view of the level of air threat, or the need for fixed-line firing.

One of the DLI Platoons advanced up a re-entrant with forward scouts but no flank protection – rendering themselves open to ambush from the hills.

Appendix D – Force Reserve Exercise – issued 12th February 1941.

The Brigadier directed this exercise which was aimed at; practising the First Echelon of the Force Reserve in dealing with an enemy landing, and practising two Infantry Companies at representing the enemy in securing beaches after a landing. More detail is given in the 70th Brigade War Diary for this month.

A critique of the Battalion’s performance by the CO was appended to the Exercise Briefing in which he commented on the continuing failure to take account of unit protection – especially from the air. He was of the view that movement in extended order across country had been “overdone” whereas the use of file or arrowhead formations would have been more appropriate until closer to enemy forces. He was pleased that Battle Procedure had worked quite smoothly but some vehicles had got into the wrong order, and sub-units had persisted in unloading vehicles without using cover.

Appendix E – Movement Instruction No 1 – issued 26th February 1941.

This Order detailed the arrangements for 11th DLI and 1/7th Duke of Wellington’s Regiment relieving each other in early March 1941. All Companies would take over from their opposite numbers in their new sectors.

Advance Parties – totalling 99 Officers and Men - were to move on 27th February. Details were set out in an Appendix to the document. A further Appendix set out the destinations of each of the 11th DLI sub-units – remembering that the Battalion was moving from one consolidated Camp to a series of eight separate Camps – while information was also given as to the means by which the transfer was to be managed.

Detailed arrangements were set out for handing over stores, maps, ciphers, ammunition, barrack furniture and accommodation stores.

At this stage, the future of R Company had not been settled – it was understood that it was likely to be reorganised into a regular Rifle Company but this was not by any means certain. Their personnel were largely attached to other Companies.

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