11th Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry War Diary July 1944
1st July 1944 Rauray
Reports were received at Battalion HQ of German infantry infiltrating towards us, and almost simultaneously news came over the set of tanks approaching the Tyneside Scottish who were forward of our positions. The enemy seemed to be attacking in small battle groups – often a tank supported by a small group of infantry armed with automatics, but all our positions held firm.
The main impetus of the attack developed by 10:00 hours but no penetration was effected and the sight of several enemy tanks brewing up was a great encouragement to our men. During this period it was very difficult to get information of the bigger picture; each man had to be content with doing his own job and refusing to be uprooted or unsettled by Spandau, or mortar or tank shelling – the latter most unpleasant.
Our mortar Platoon under the command of Captain A.D. Barlow did splendid work in breaking up the enemy attacks and on two occasions managed to drive off an enemy tank which was shelling D Company. Major Brewis was very severely wounded just before mid-day while attempting to mop up a Spandau, and Captain D.M. Grant took over command of the Company.
Soon the enemy seemed to wilt and to be withdrawing SOUTH in the direction of BRETVILLETTE, and by close liaison a gunner concentration was brought down by the O.C. of B Company which threw them into confusion.
The respite was not to last for long. A further heavy enemy attack supported by tanks was made at 15:00 hours, but the brunt of this was taken by the Tyneside Scottish who managed to knock out many of the tanks, but who suffered a good many casualties in the process. The situation was rather confused. The forward elements of the Tyneside Scottish had been severely mauled and eventually it was decided that a local counter-attack by our C Company should be made to restore the situation.
This was put in with the support of gunners, tanks and machine guns and was immediately successful. Captain W.F. McMichael commanded the Company for the attack and the appearance of our charging infantry put the enemy to flight.
Meanwhile, the Brigade Commander had decided that the Battalion should relieve the Tyneside Scottish (who by this time were very thin on the ground), we ourselves being relieved by the 1st/7th Dukes. This was carried out smoothly and without enemy interference.
The total enemy losses for the day will probably never be known but the bag in the Rauray Sector included at least 30 tanks knocked out and many Germans killed and wounded. These losses were in all probability accentuated by our shelling of a column of lorried infantry observed debussing at QUEDEVILLE during the evening.
The weekly Field Returns of manpower were completed as at 1st July and stated that all Officers had been slightly wounded, but that Lt Fitzpatrick – a CANLOAN Officer - had been evacuated to the 146th Advanced Dressing Station and Lt W.R. Bell had been evacuated to No. 3 Casualty Clearing Station – their return to the unit was requested. The return showed that the Battalion was five Lieutenants and one Major short of establishment – the losses including the Intelligence Officer and the Anti-Tank Platoon Commander, as well as Major Brewis – referred to above, who sadly died of his wounds a few days later.
Although not specifically mentioned in the War Diary, evidence obtained from his Military Cross Citation indicates that Lt William Alan JAMES, a CANLOAN Officer attached to the Battalion, having already been wounded twice on 28th June 1944, and having immediately returned to duty, was Killed in Action on 1st July. Evidence from Captain J B Nicholson is that he was leading a Patrol at the time.
As regards the Other Ranks, the Return shows that 129 reinforcements were required, following the losses at the end of June. The one man on “detached duty” was Private Fletcher, who was working within Brigade HQ.
2nd July 1944 Rauray
After the exertions of the previous day, Sunday was a day of strange tranquillity, though the periodical mortaring and shelling continued. During the afternoon the welcome news came that we were to be relieved immediately by the 10th DLI and to proceed to a back area to rest and re-equip. The relief was complete by 20:00 hours and the Battalion took up position for the night in a cornfield EAST of the PARC DE BOISLANDE near the German trenches which had caused us so much trouble earlier in the battle.
The Battalion provided a useful Appendix to the War Diary in which they listed the Officers who returned from Rauray, back out of the line, as part of the Battalion. These were named as follows:-
39635 Lt-Col J.M. Hanmer Battalion Commander
90293 Major C.D. Hamilton Second-in-Command
64658 Major R.B. Humphreys Company Commander
140026 Major J.A. Boucher Company Commander
89696 Captain P.A. Johnson Company Commander
233296 Captain D.F. Stephenson Adjutant
138537 Major D.M. Grant Company Commander
163569 Captain W.F. McMichael Company Second-in-Command
117084 Captain I.G. Sopwith Company Second-in-Command
176392 Captain J.H. Pearson Company Commander
258710 Captain A.D. Barlow Mortar Platoon
228613 Lt W.L. Carr Pioneer Platoon
240439 Lt J.H. Cleminson Transport Officer
189527 Lt G.B. Murray Signals Officer
176397 Lt L.K. Pallister Carrier Platoon
143878 Captain G.J. Powell Quartermaster
254619 Captain A. Lyell RAMC Medical Officer
CF 4th Class R.N. Craig RAChD Chaplain
3rd July 1944 PARC DE BOISLANDE
The Battalion moved back to Ducy-St-Marguerite, where the task of re-equipping and reinforcing could be carried out in some degree of comfort. Rest was the order of the day. Baths were arranged and there were also cinema and ENSA shows for the troops in BAYEUX.
5th July 1944 Ducy-St-Marguerite
We had a visit from the Corps Commander, who congratulated the Battalion on its part in the fighting around Rauray.
6th July 1944 Ducy-St-Marguerite
At 17:00 hours a preliminary warning order was received for a move forward to take place at first light on the 8th July.
8th July 1944
The Battalion moved to the LE PONT ROC area and went into Brigade Reserve. This was a period of quiet, except for the noise of our own guns and occasional enemy shelling.
The Battalion also provided an Appendix to the War Diary summarising the replacement Officers and men received during this period, including those from other Regiments. These were listed as follows:-
251616 Lt W.L. Ford DLI 1st July
271488 Lt B.C. France DLI 2nd July
243110 Lt A.F. Lazarus DLI 2nd July
Cdn/278 Lt R. Purdy CANLOAN 3rd July
Cdn/206 Lt R.G. Winship CANLOAN 3rd July
149460 Major F.G. Barnes KSLI 4th July
102321 Captain T.F.G. Ellis Beds & Herts 6th July
249220 Lt D.F. Parkinson Glosters 6th July
292012 Lt O.D. Johnson Suffolks 6th July
314194 2/Lt L.F. Bryant Dorsets 6th July
1 Sergeant and 3 men from Northants Regiment on 1st July.
49 men from Leicester Regiment on 4th July.
1 Sergeant, 4 Lance-Corporals and 40 men from King’s Shropshire Light Infantry on 2nd July.
11 men from Sherwood Foresters on 2nd July.
30 more men from King’s Shropshire Light Infantry on 4th July.
2 Sergeants from Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry on 6th July.
1 Colour Sergeant from Border Regiment on 6th July.
1 Sergeant and 46 men from the Buffs on 7th July.
3 men from the Welch Regiment on 7th July.
The weekly Field Returns of manpower completed as at noon on 8th July may not have reflected all these changes, as they showed that the Battalion was still six Lieutenants short of establishment. Despite 50 replacement private soldiers having joined, there was still a net shortfall of 26 men but, more importantly, 24 Sergeants and Corporals were also still required to meet establishment levels. Lt (A/Captain) J.H. Cleminson was posted to 70th Brigade HQ on 7th July.
13th July 1944 LE PONT ROC
The Battalion moved at 18:00 hours, to relieve 10th DLI, NORTH of the JUVIGNY-Hottot-Les-Bagues Road. The Battalion’s disposition was with A and C Companies forward, D Company on the left and B Company in reserve. The relief was completed by 03:00 hours on the 14th without incident – the very close proximity of the enemy made this a difficult operation.
Captain T.F. Lang rejoined the Battalion from the “residue” on 13th July.
14th – 16th July 1944
A period of constant sniper and patrol activity by our own troops. The enemy was docile but there was intermittent mortaring and shelling. Battalion HQ was hit by a number of our medium shells but fortunately there were no casualties. It was also bombed at night by anti-personnel bombs.
Preparations were begun for a Battalion attack on HAMMER WOOD which lay immediately SOUTH of the Battalion position. Two Prisoners were captured belonging to 8 Company of the 286th Regiment of the 276th Infantry Division.
In the weekly Field Return compiled on 15th July the shortfall of junior officers had been reduced to three against the Battalion’s establishment, and the deficiency in Other Ranks had been reduced to 47 vacancies, of whom 22 were Corporals or Sergeants – still a significant shortfall.
17th July 1944
Preparations were completed for an attack on HAMMER WOOD (Operation MANGO). The plan was to carry out the assault in conjunction with a heavy artillery programme and the direct support of one Field Regiment. B Company was to attack on the right, with D Company on the left. C Company was to provide a firm base for the attack and A Company were to mop up HAMMER WOOD and provide, in conjunction with the Carrier Platoon, right flank protection.
Five Polish deserters were brought in during the day.
At 18:00 hours a final briefing for the attack was given by the Battalion Intelligence Officer using a sand model.
At 21:00 hours the attack was cancelled by the Divisional Commander, as it was hoped to achieve the same objective by a heavy artillery concentration.
18th July 1944
At 02:00 hours A and D Companies withdrew in preparation for the artillery concentration MANGO which came down between 03:15 and 03:45 hours.
At 05:15 hours a propaganda broadcast was made in both Polish and German, encouraging the enemy to desert.
At 06:30 Polish Prisoners drifted in with the news that the enemy had withdrawn. This was confirmed by two of our Reconnaissance Patrols. The Carrier Platoon, dismounted, was then sent forward. It encountered no enemy resistance, but reported the area heavily mined. The remainder of the day was spent clearing the area of mines and consolidating in new positions. B and D Companies were the right and left Companies respectively with A and C Companies in reserve. Battalion HQ was established at reference 842669. Contact was made by B Company with the Hampshires on our right.
19th – 21st July 1944
Little activity except intermittent mortaring and shelling. The enemy appeared to have withdrawn four kilometres and contact was lost.
21st July 1944
The Battalion was relieved by 2nd/5th Lancashire Fusiliers and pulled out to a concentration area in the rear of the Brigade HQ area of LE PONT ROC.
22nd – 23rd July 1944
The Battalion was resting while a reconnaissance of new positions was carried out by the C.O. in the area of EMIEVILLE in the CAEN Sector. Rain and mud hampered operations. Preparations were made for an embussed move to a new concentration area at Demouville - SOUTH of the River ORNE.
The weekly Field Return showed that the overall deficiency in the number of Other Ranks needed to maintain establishment levels stood at 74, of which 23 were Sergeants or Corporals – a shortfall which seemed to remain a problem for the Battalion.
24th July 1944
At 06:00 hours the Battalion left LE PONT ROC under the command of the 2i/c and arrived at Demouville without incident. The ground was rapidly drying and instead of the problem of mud, there was the problem of dust.
25th July 1944 Demouville
At 07:00 hours the relief of the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry was carried out without interference. Battalion dispositions were; B Company – right forward, C Company – centre, D Company – left forward, A Company – reserve.
25th – 31st July 1944 Demouville
This was a period of patrol activity which did not, however, produce the Prisoners hoped for. There was intermittent heavy shelling and mortaring by the enemy and on some nights, aerial bombing. However, by enforcing strict slit-trench discipline there were only a few casualties.
The 29th July Field Return of manpower showed a continuing deficiency in junior officer numbers of four, while a request was made for the return to the unit of Lt W.R. Bell. The shortfall in Other Ranks had risen to 104, with, again 22 Corporal and Sergeant vacancies being part of that total. The Battalion also requested the return to the unit of Pte A Payne, who had been hospitalised in the UK before the Invasion.
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