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

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1st September 1941 Hafnafjordur.

The CO returned from ALVIDRA Camp.

3rd September 1941

An Inter-Battalion Exercise took place against the 1st Tyneside Scottish. Information is set out in Appendix A – a copy of which is attached to the War Diary – for details see below.

A Special Order of the Day was issued by the Force Commander and attached to the War Diary as Appendix C – for details see below.

4th September 1941

The Platoon Efficiency Competition took place. Details of the competition are included on Appendix B attached to the War Diary – see below.

5th September 1941

The Brigade Commander held a Conference on the results of the Inter-Battalion exercise.

10th September 1941

A Clock Code Artillery shoot was held at Kleifervatn. Various Officers gave corrections to the guns.

11th September 1941

An appreciation, dealing with Mountain Warfare, was made by Company Commanders in preparation for the coming TEWT. Information was contained on Appendix D – a copy of which was attached to the War Diary – for details see below.

12th September 1941

A further Clock Code Artillery shoot, similar to that held on 10th September, took place. The Battalion CO attended.

13th September 1941

A Conference was held on the appreciation made during 11th and 12th September.

14th September 1941

The Brigade Commander inspected the ceremonial guard at SLINGSBY Camp. The guard consisted of Captain Cairns, Lt. E. Newport and fifty Other Ranks drawn from the other Companies. There was also present the Battalion Band and the 10th DLI Bugle Band.

16th September 1941

The Brigade held a TEWT on Mountain Warfare. The CO and certain other Officers attended. It was held at Kleifervatn.

17th September 1941

The Mountain Warfare TEWT was postponed due to weather – for details see Appendix D below.

The ceremonial guard paraded on Middle Quay and welcomed Major-General Bonesteele (of the U.S. Army), who then took a March Past.

A Conference was held on the TEWT during the afternoon.

18th September 1941

The TEWT was held but, owing to the weather, became reduced to a one-day compass march over the mountains to SELFJALL.

20th September 1941

A Conference was held on Force Exercise No 10. The General Idea of the Exercise was that the Brigade were a force landing at Hvalfjordur and were due to attack Reykjavik town. This entailed 11th DLI going over the mountains to Helgafell.

21st September 1941

A visit by Press representatives took place in the morning.

Captain K.C. Johnstone and Lance Corporal Percival, who had set out to make a reconnaissance of ESJA and the area at 11:00 hours in the morning were reported missing by their truck driver who was to meet them on the South side of the Massif. The Brigade Major and 2/Lt Whittaker went out at about 22:30 hours and fired Verey lights in the area where he had intended to meet his driver. They returned at 04:30 hours on 22nd September. The visibility was poor with thick fog and rain.

22nd September 1941

The Intelligence Section searched for Captain Johnstone all morning with no success. In the afternoon, the CO, Medical Officer and 2/Lt Dunnell took a party of 12 Other Ranks out but returned at 19:00 hours with no success. Both the North and South sides of the pass were searched. At 19:00 hours Major Murray-Shireff, two Officers and 12 Other Ranks went out to relieve the CO’s party but returned soon after as it was hopeless. Visibility was still poor.

The fact of an Officer being lost was announced on the Reykjavik radio and an appeal made to farmers in the area to be on the look-out.

23rd September 1941

The Force Exercise was postponed to 24th September.

The Brigade search parties set out at 10:00 hours. Each Battalion was allocated an area to search. The Battalion parties were composed of an Officer and eight Other Ranks, there being, all told, ten parties per Battalion. Intercommunication was done by No 18 Set and No 11 Set to Brigade.

At about 11:00 hours Captain Johnstone and Lance Corporal Percival were found; they had just staggered into a farm house on the North side of the pass, and were in an exhausted condition.

At 09:29 hours there was an Air Raid message YELLOW followed by an Air Raid message WHITE.

A Hurricane crashed on the South side of ESJA near Lt Brewis’ search party. The crash occurred at about 11:30 hours. 2/Lt Dunnell went up with a party and brought the pilot back. The pilot was dead and the ‘plane had burnt out.

Thanks to the research efforts of George Brown, James Pasby and Fridthor Eydal, we now know that the aircraft was a Hurricane Mk II (Z4607) of Fighter Flight 1423, and that the pilot was Sergeant Herbert Arthur VERRELLS, aged 19, of Leigh-on Sea. For his CWGC entry please click here

The RAF had sent a flight of ten Hawker Hurricanes to Iceland in 1941 to replace a squadron of obsolete Fairey Battles of 98 Squadron, at the insistence of General Curtis, who had no other means of combat air support. Flight 1423 was established using pilots and personnel from 98 Squadron - which was disbanded on 15th July - and maintained eight aircraft and two spares. On the morning of 23rd September 1941 two aircraft were scrambled at RAF Reykjavik - now REYKJAVIK INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT to intercept a German aircraft which had been spotted over South West Iceland. Hurricane Z4607 was last seen climbing into clouds and is believed to have crashed into Mount ESJA at about 09:45 hours. The Flight was disbanded in December 1941, American forces having arrived with the 33rd Pursuit Squadron, equipped with Curtiss Warhawk P-40's, and the remaining Hurricanes were returned to Britain. Sergeant VERRELLS was their only loss during this six month period.

The last of the North side search parties who were under the CO (from A and D Companies) returned by 17:00 hours. The last of the South side parties (from B and C Companies) under Major Murray-Shireff returned by 22:30 hours. 2/Lt Keymer was taken to hospital suffering from exhaustion.

24th September 1941

The Battalion moved out to Hvalfjordur at 03:30 hours to start the Force Exercise. It was raining hard. The casualties in trucks were heavy – one three-tonner overturning – and the scheme was stopped at 10:30 hours.

25th September 1941

A new draft has arrived. Two Officers – 2/Lt Lee-Graham and 2/Lt Notman with 42 Other Ranks.

29th September 1941

Lt Col Oxley and representatives of 1st Tyneside Scottish visited the Battalion and inspected Camps.

Appendices attached to 11th DLI September 1941 War Diary.

Appendix A – Brigade Commander’s Exercise – dated 2nd September 1941.

This gave notice of a two-sided exercise between 11th DLI and 1st Tyneside Scottish to take place on 3rd September, with a preliminary reconnaissance on 2nd September starting at VATNSENDI at 14:15 hours.

The objective of the exercise was to study the tactics of airborne troops and the methods of countering them.

The assumption was that one Battalion – 11th DLI (less one Company detached for a special task) – would be defending the Wireless Station at VATNSENDI. The CO was asked to prepare an appreciation for carrying out this task and submit it to Brigade. The principal threat was seen as being from airborne troops.

The exercise narrative shows the 11th DLI having moved into the area and begun defence preparations. By midday 2nd September all Platoon localities and Battle HQ had been dug, wired and partly camouflaged.

At 18:00 hours an invasion Code Word was received with the intelligence that a large convoy had been seen 50 miles North of AKUREYRI (on the Iceland North coast) at 17:30 hours. Bomber concentrations on Norwegian airfields were reported.

On 3rd September at 05:30 – 06:00 hours vigorous hostile bombing attacks took place on VATNSMYRI Aerodrome, the seaplane base, VATNSENDI HILL and ARTUN.

Several enemy aircraft were shot down by Anti-Aircraft fire and RAF fighters but the bombing attacks were repeated at 07:15 – 07:45 and at 09:00 – 09:45 on the same targets. At 08:00 hours Force HQ issued the Code Word that invasion was imminent. At 11:00 hours another bombing attack had begun and was still underway at 11:15 hours.

1st Tyneside Scottish were representing the attacking airborne troops.

Appendix B – Platoon Efficiency Competition – dated 1st September.

The Appendix was addressed to all Umpires and the Signals Officer and gave the basic administrative instructions for the conduct of the Competition, including timings, rations, preliminary conferences, transport and maps. Platoons would only be given routes etc once they arrived at the Start Point.

Attached to the appendix were the preliminary instructions, a timetable for the conduct of the Competition and a table for the Umpires, giving points to be noted in carrying out the Competition. The Competition was a test of Platoon efficiency and physical fitness.

It consisted of:-

An initial inspection of the Platoon and its truck. 10 marks.

A four-leg cross-country course of some 17 miles.

At the first station, a Map Reading test for NCOs. 10 marks.

At the second station a short tactical exercise. 20 marks.

At the third station, a short firing exercise, during which hits would be recorded. 30 marks.

A final inspection. 15 marks.

A draw would take place to decide the order of starting – six Platoons would take part – one from each Rifle Company, the Reconnaissance Platoon and the Carrier Platoon.

Rifle Sections would be at normal strength – one NCO and seven men – while the Reconnaissance and Carrier Platoons would be at full strength and equipped, as far as possible, as Rifle Platoons. Maps of Reykjavik and Hafnafjordur would be required.

Dress would be Field Service Marching Order (this would normally include the large pack or valise which could, alternatively, be carried in Platoon transport – it is not clear whether this was expected to be the case for this Competition). The Platoon truck was to be loaded in the normal way and would include the Anti-Tank Rifle. The Platoon bicycle would be inspected but not taken on the Competition.

Each man would carry only five rounds of small arms ammunition with the Platoon also taking two magazines for each Bren Gun. No other ammunition would be taken. No weapons would be loaded until ordered. All weapons would be cleared before leaving the Field Firing Area. Each man would also carry a day’s rations and a full waterbottle – which he would be allowed to drink from.

Marks were to be allocated as indicated above plus up to 10 marks for keeping to the timetable and five marks as a reserve – totalling 100 marks overall.

The table of timings set out the times at which each Platoon was expected to be at the start of each stage, and the length of time those stages were to be allowed. The Umpires’ table set out remarks about points to be noted for each stage, such as guidance on the sub-allotment of marks, including deductions for any men having fallen out.

The final sheet contained the results of the Competition and demonstrated a gap of only 13 ½ marks between first and last place.

The winners were a Platoon from D Company, followed in order by the Reconnaissance Platoon, A Company, C Company, the Carrier Platoon and finally B Company. Over each of the Sections of the Competition, it was noticeable that the lowest scores, from all participants, were in the Field Firing. Total scores out of 100 ranged from 45 to 56.

Appendix C – Special Order of the Day – issued by General Curtis on 3rd September 1941.

The Force Commander indicated that a message had been received from the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, on this the second Anniversary of the start of the War as follows:-

“From C.I.G.S. to all troops under your command. As we enter into the third year of the War the Army can look with pride upon what has passed and with confidence into the future. We have passed through times of defeat and anxiety, through weary months of waiting and through days of triumphant success. No one can predict what the future holds for the Army, which in these two years by its own endeavour and with the help of its brothers in industry has grown in strength and efficiency. There may still be months of waiting and preparation for some, there may still be heavy blows to be met by others, but whether patience or hardihood is demanded of the soldier he will I know carry out his task with high-hearted confidence in absolute assurance that whether it comes soon or late victory will be ours”

Appendix D – TEWT – Officers – dated 9th September 1941.

This note (issued at 08:30 hours on 12th September) announced that a TEWT on Mountain Warfare would take place from 13:30 hours on 17th September to 21:30 hours 18th September. Those attending would be the CO, Adjutant, Rifle Company Commanders, Signals Officer, Medical Officer, Carrier Officer and the Mortar Officer.

Major Murray-Shireff as second-in-command of the Battalion was to remain at Battalion HQ. The President of the Mess Committee was to arrange for Mess facilities for the TEWT party, including driver and batman for the CO, pick-up truck drivers, mess truck driver and the mess staff. Transport was to be co-ordinated by the Transport Officer.

As mentioned above, preliminary work by the Company Commanders was to be done on 10th and 11th September, followed by a discussion at 15:00 hours on 12th September.

The objective of the TEWT was to study the tactics of an Infantry Battalion employed in offensive operations in Mountain Warfare and the attendant administrative problems. It was not postulated on the existing situation in Iceland. Iceland was assumed to have been occupied by the Germans as an allied country, comparable to Norway. The German garrison had been reduced to release troops for operations elsewhere and would not be able to reinforce their men quickly. The plan was to establish a lodgement using a reasonable port and access to a good airfield. Low category troops were in the area but there were known to be good Mountain Troops some two or three days away. Surprise had been achieved – the port and landing field secured and the RAF had brought in aircraft. Landings were due to be made in other areas to divert the enemy reserves. Enemy air activity has been moderate and is not expected to become significant – no gas has been used.

The TEWT narrative indicated that 70th Infantry Brigade were being disembarked to take part in the operations and are concentrating in an area South and South East of Kaldadarnes. A bridge over the river North of Kaldadarnes is being constructed by Royal Engineers while the Selfoss bridge has been destroyed.

At a Conference at 16:00 hours on 17th September the Brigadier briefed his CO’s that the enemy had withdrawn North into the hills where they were expected to try and hold out, awaiting reinforcements. As these troops were of a low category it was hoped that a determined advance would break their resistance. Our troops were holding a covering line from Selfoss to KOGORNHOLL which had not as yet been counter-attacked. Further troops were being disembarked and an advance into enemy territory was planned for 19th or 20th September. The Brigade had been tasked with securing the high ground to the North and harassing the enemy wherever encountered. This would be done by 1st Tyneside Scottish on the right securing the whole of INGOLFSFJALL, 11th DLI in the centre taking the hills around KLOARFJALL and 10th DLI on the left taking the KAMBAR Pass. Start line crossing times were allocated and Tyneside Scottish were to advance as soon as possible – say 04:00 hours, giving a Verey light success signal once their objective was taken. 11th DLI would then cross the start line an hour after that signal was received. 10th DLI would proceed to carry out their tasks independently.

A Battery of 3.7” Howitzers would be available to support 10th and 11th DLI in the first instance, up to a distance of two miles into the hills. Some aircraft would also be available for close support from 11:00 hours. Brigade HQ would be placed at KOTSTRAND from 04:00 hours. The syndicates were then despatched on reconnaissance with a recommendation that Company Commanders be included in the party. The time was 16:20 and the syndicates were to return to Brigade HQ at 20:00 hours to discuss final details. Many points required consideration, including communications, casualty handling, feeding, equipment, transport and so on. Each syndicate needed to prepare a plan based on their approach to the task, although fine detail was not necessary – such as bridge traffic control.

The 11th DLI syndicates were:-

One - Major C.D. Hamilton, Captain T. Cairns, Lt Waggott.

Two – Captain T.M. Lang, Captain W.B. Kirkup.

Three – Captain C.A. Smallwood, Captain K.C. Johnstone.

The Signals and Medical Officers were each to consider the problems in their specialist spheres and stand prepared to advise syndicates.

Appendix E – Force Exercise No 10.

This was planned to be a three-day exercise 23rd to 25th September 1941 and 11th DLI, less A Company which was deployed on defence duties, formed an element of BLUE FORCE.

The General Instructions gave details of Section strength (NCO and seven wherever possible), clothing and the amount of blank ammunition to be issued. Locations and timings for the troop carrying transport were given, and arrangements made for rations.

2/Lt Walker was identified as the Motor Contact Officer for the Battalion and the Umpires were listed as; Captain Waistell, Captain Cairns, 2/Lt Keymer, 2/Lt Cantley. 2/Lt McNichol and 2/Lt Dunnell, together with three NCOs from each Rifle Company and two NCOs from HQ Company – one of whom would be the Carrier Umpire.

The Order of March was set out on the next sheet with the movement instructions – the start point being the SLINGSBY Road Block. The last vehicle was to be clear of SALMON Bridge by 06:06 hours. The route was; SLINGSBY, FOSSVOGUR, JERMYN STREET, COVENTRY STREET, CHARING CROSS, SALMON BRIDGE, Lagafell, FORT CAMERON and MEDHALFELLSVATN. The column from 11th DLI would link up with that from 10th DLI, with the Carriers and Mortars from that Battalion closely following their 11th DLI counterparts.

Procedures were set out on the conduct of the exercise including the following subjects:-

No bayonets would be fixed.

No-one in civilian clothing would be employed on the exercise.

Defeated troops would be handled in accordance with Umpires instructions – being ordered to withdraw from their positions, which would then be occupied, after an agreed interval, by the successful forces. Captured drivers would be allowed to remain with their vehicles.

The final sheet of the Appendix made the normal arrangements for the defence of the Sub-Sector in reality, while the exercise was taking place. This task fell on the Battalion’s A Company reporting to Major Humphreys, who had to ensure that sufficient men capable of handling Medium Machine Guns were available from those troops. This task also included finding men for work on the airport.

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