Scottish Lion On Patrol Ch 5
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To Normandy

Everybody in the regiment knew (training alone had been enough to show it) that if all went well with the Normandy assault he would soon be taking part in operations by the 15th Scottish Division to prise gaps in the enemy forces being pressed back from the bridgehead. In experience of battle the regiment lacked much, for few in it had been under fire. In preparation and equipment, it lacked little. Its great fire power, the variety of its weapons, its mobility and its long-range communications made it suitable for many roles.

Its 270 vehicles included 28 armoured cars, 24 light reconnaissance cars, 69 carriers, 55 motor-cycles (some of which were later discarded), armoured half-tracks, jeeps and three-ton and fifteen hundred-weight trucks. In addition to the 37 mm gun and Besa machine gun mounted in the turret of each Humber armoured car, the regiment was armed with 151 Bren guns, 36 PlATs, 8 six-pounder anti-tank guns, 6 three-inch mortars, 25 two-inch mortars, 410 rifles, 223 Sten guns and 88 pistols.

It had well over a hundred wireless stations, each combining transmitter and receiver. Most of them were the No. 19, which had three parts-the A set for long range communication; the B set for short-range communication, as between cars on a patrol; and a "house telephone" which enabled members of a vehicle crew to talk to each other without removing their headsets.

The regiment had trained to be a Jack of many trades, and a Jack of many trades it was to be in the dust of Normandy, the green Bocage, swiftly covered miles of Northern France, Belgium and Germany, and the mud of a Dutch winter and the Siegfried Line. But above all, in training and in action, its name was its purpose, and for most of the campaign the basis of its reconnaissance was the Humber car - the bulky armoured car and the long-nosed light reconnaissance car with its Bren. Both carried commander, driver and gunner/wireless operator. Each of the three reconnaissance squadrons had. three car troops (each of three armoured cars and two light cars), three tracked carrier troops (each of seven carriers) and an assault troop
(four sections equipped as infantry and carried in halftracks). At first car and carrier troops were combined, and the numbering of the troops was altered when the carriers were granted their independence in the course of the campaign.

The regiment's wireless communications were so arranged that regimental headquarters was in touch with the squadrons on a forward link and with divisional headquarters and the headquarters of the brigades on a rear link operated by a Royal Signals detachment; and each reconnaissance squadron headquarters was in touch with all its cars and with its carrier and assault troop headquarters. The regiment and the squadrons were commanded from half-tracks, fitted in a variety of ingenious ways with wireless, shelves, map boards, tables and seats, and bristling outside with aerials. Light reconnaissance cars or jeeps, equipped with wireless and called" rovers", enabled the colonel and squadron commanders to tour their commands without losing touch with the general progress of the battle.

Thus equipped, and waterproofed, prepared by fifteen months' hard training and tensed by the news of D Day, the regiment awaited its own D Day like the batsman who has proved his eye and strokes at the nets, yet has a certain feeling of the stomach mingled with his impatience and his curiosity about the bowling as he awaits his innings. Channel gales were to prolong the wait. The day after D Day was a day of prayer for the invasion troops, and at each squadron location the padre held a service, which was followed by a talk by the colonel. On June 11th, the advance party - Lieut Isaac, Sgt J. Millroy and Cpl J. Kay - left to join 227 Highland Brigade, with which they were to cross the Channel. They had to secure a concentration area for the regiment in Normandy. On June 15th, French francs were drawn on pay parade - two hundred a man - and two days later the regiment, leaving B Squadron behind, drove through Arundel, Chichester, Midhurst and Petersfield to a marshalling area in the woods of Denmead, near Portsmouth. On arrival there was chaos. Ship sheets had not been sent by Movement Control, and it was not until midnight that vehicles and their crews were arranged in five ship loads: LST 1107, commanded by the colonel; LST 1108, commanded by Major Mills; LST 1109, commanded by Major Rowlands; LCT 997, commanded by Lieut H. A. Green; and LCT 998, commanded by Capt Lane. Vehicles were parked on Denmead's roads; men moved into tents behind barbed wire in the woods. Next morning lifebelts, embarkation rations and bags, vomit, were issued, and by one o'clock in the afternoon everybody and everything had been made ready to sail. The move to the boats was expected to be on that night, but the wind whipped the Channel, and eight days of waiting went by. They were days of hanging about, expecting that everyone of the many calls of "Attention please, attention please, calling Serial 36115" on the camp loudspeakers would be marching orders. But day succeeded day and no marching orders came. The camp cinema and NAAFI were visited, letters were written and none received. On June 24th, the colonel organised a section stalk in the fields and woods round the camp, and pent-up energies were released in glorious rough-and-tumbles. Money ran short, and Major Smith and Major Gordon, paying a visit from the division's residue at Worthing, brought welcome financial aid.

Having waited for more than a week, Craft Load 1107 received orders in the typical army manner to move in fifteen minutes at eleven o'clock on the night of Sunday, June 25th. This party reached Gosport early the following morning. The other craft loads arrived later in the day, and everybody sat by his vehicle in Gosport's streets until seven in the evening, when orders to move to "the hards" were received. From ten o'clock that night, until two in the morning, the vehicles were driven up the ramps into the gaping jaws of the landing ships. The past twenty-four hours had been wearisome waiting tempered with movement and excitement. There had been little sleep. It was a tired regiment which turned in on board the long, grey, blunt-nosed ships in Gosport harbour.

The passengers woke up to find their ships lying in convoy off the Isle of Wight, and at ten o'clock that morning, June 27th, the convoy rolled, rose and dipped into a Channel gale. Many were sick. The final stage of waterproofing was carried out in the tossing ships. "Boat drill" and" Action stations" were rehearsed, but apart from the individual trials of the stomach the crossing was uneventful. In the early evening, the convoy nosed its way through a grey armada to the beaches between Le Hamel and Arro-manches les Bains, and the blurr of distant coastline sharpened into the regiment's first close view of Normandy: a line of prisoners in green uniforms on the wet, smooth sand; one or two landing craft stranded with broken backs; seaside bungalows awry; a white fountain where a mine exploded; and, behind all this, a green country fading to the blue of distance, where, three weeks after D Day, the rest of the 15th Scottish Division was already locked in its first battle about the River Odon.

 At seven in the evening, the craft beached on a falling tide, and the first vehicles went down the lowered ramps, plunged their bonnets into four feet of water and made for the shore. All went well until the signals office half-track disappeared in a crater between ship and shore, and Trooper Templeman and his passengers had to scramble out through the top. After this misadventure, for which nobody could be blamed, the beachmaster ordered that the remaining vehicles should be unloaded on the following morning, when they disembarked into one and a half feet of water. The half-track was the only casualty in the landing of more than 150 vehicles.

One after another the cars, carriers, jeeps, half-tracks and trucks sped across the sands and headed inland. Trusting an unseen organisation rather than knowing what they were about, the drivers found their way to a transit area a mile away, where part of the trappings of waterproofing was left with the discarded waterproofing already littering the fields. The vehicles formed up on the Bayeux road and moved off in groups of ten for the regiment's concentration area St Gabriel.

As the vehicles passed slowly along roads busy with military traffic drivers reminded themselves repeatedly that they must keep to the right, and commanders looked anxiously from map to land, realising that finding the way, with these maps of smaller scale, was harder over here. The painting of a picture of Nor mandy was beginninga picture that was to be framed in the memory around dusty roads scalloped by shell-bursts; fields crowded with men and trucks and guns; grim" Mienen" notices; dead animals, swollen and with stiff legs pointing skyward; trampled hedges and crumpled buildings; route signs which first seemed hopeless in their very profusion; reddened, knocked-out tanks; and the French country people, inevitably dressed in black, somehow surviving it all.
 
 
 
 


 

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