Scottish Lion On Patrol Ch 8
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ADVANCE FROM CAUMONT
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On July 23rd the 15th Scottish Division moved secretly to the extreme right of the Second Army front, relieving the 5th United States Division south of Balleroy in the Caumont sector. It was like going from the bustle of Oxford Street into the tranquility of
Hyde Park, this journey which began in the dust and smell and clatter of the country around Caen and ended in an unscarred land of little fields. C Squadron went straight into the line some miles from Balleroy. The rest of the regiment drove down Balleroy's wide street (between houses that might have been part of a Utrillo painting), turned right and right again, climbed a steep lane and found a home in green meadows. Here Major MacDiarmid took command of A Squadron. Major G. A. Gaddum joined the regiment to command Headquarter Squadron.

Relieving an American reconnaissance unit in the area La Chavetiere-Le Bisson, C Squadron became the link between first 44 Brigade and later 46 Brigade and the Americans on the right. Squadron headquarters were in a lonely grey farm, already equipped with excellent dug-outs. Over the whole of the Caumont front was the buzzing stillness of high summer, disturbed only by the stealthy tread of patrols and out-bursts of small arms and artillery fire that were as spasmodic as the convulsions of a drowsy animal irritated by flies. Behind Caumont, set on its ridge like a small English town on the North Downs, VIII Corps gathered its forces to plunge a mailed fist into the plain that stretched from the foot of the ridge like the" distant, dim, blue goodness of the Weald".

Operation Bluecoat began at seven o'clock on the morning of July 30th. There was no preliminary bombardment, but more than 1500 planes bombed prearranged targets in two attacks that day. Advancing along the main road to St Martin des Besaces, 46 Brigade, with the tanks of the 4th Coldstream Guards, reached the Hervieux crossroads before noon. On the left 227 Brigade, with the tanks of the 3rd Scots Guards and two squadrons of the regiment (A and B) enveloped the Lutain Wood and went on to La Recus-sonniere and Les Loges. The two squadrons, their carriers bumping along behind lumbering Churchills, mopped up enemy pockets. The going was not easy because of the many hedges and woods and many mines on the tracks. During the afternoon Capt Fordyce was bringing B Squadron headquarters forward to join Major Gordon when the light reconnaissance car in which Capt Fordyce was travelling ahead of the other vehicles "brewed up" on a mine. He and his crew got out, but with only his pistol to engage the Germans who appeared on the other side of the road. Tpr P. Walker, the wireless operator, and Trooper A. Richardson, the driver, were killed, and Capt Fordyce, who tried to cover their withdrawal, was wounded.

By the end of the day a sharp wedge had been driven six miles into the enemy. The small town of St Martin, which lay across the main line of the advance, was still in German hands, but a mile and half to the east the 2nd Glasgow Highlanders, at the tip of the wedge, were established on Quarry Hill (Point 309), to which they had ridden the tanks of the Grenadier Guards behind the tanks of the Coldstream Guards.

While A and B Squadrons were in action the rest of the regiment, tensed by a warning to be ready to try to gain the high ground overlooking Le Beny Bocage, followed the advance like a led horse waiting to be given its head. R.H.Q., C and H.Q. Squadrons, and parts of A and B Squadrons which had been left, drove out of Balleroy in the afternoon, paused at Mitrecaen, clattered through the empty, dishevelled streets of Caumont, and halted in the evening beside a burning copse at Hervieux on the straight road to St Martin. A and B Squadrons were waiting in fields beside the road. C Squadron was told that it was to lead the Second Army's break-out from the Normandy bridgehead; the day's advance had raised hopes so high that darkness, usually a shepherd who drove the regiment to the fold, was not to prevent immediate reconnaissance. An hour before nightfall Lieut E. A. Royle and Lieut K. W. Gray set out with their troops on unreconnoitred tracks to look for a way past St Martin
over Quarry Hill. 'A' Squadron's I Troop explored the main road to the town until halted by an anti-tank gun firing from the St Martin crossroads. These 1 Troop patrols then tried to get round on the right, but came under small arms fire on reaching the railway. When 11th Armoured Division tanks arrived an anti-tank gun opened fire, and one of the tanks was knocked
out. After sending back this information, the A Squadron patrols were recalled to await the clearing of the town by the 11th Armoured Division. On the left flank the C Squadron patrols encountered many difficulties. Lanes were narrow and their banks high. In the darkness vehicles got stuck. .It became obvious that the road through St Martin was the only way
good enough to bear the advance. At dawn the patrols crossed Quarry Hill, but found the way barred at La Mancelliere. Typhoons fired rockets so close to them that they had to make yellow smoke signals to establish their identity. In the evening of July 31st C Squadron was withdrawn to a harbour north of St Martin.

The town had been cleared by the 11th Armoured Division in the afternoon.

Next day the regiment watched the Guards Armoured Division stream south and listened to the battle around Quarry Hill, where German counter-attacks were repulsed and 44 Brigade, clearing the Bois du Homme, made contact with the 43rd Wessex Div-ision, which had advanced more slowly on the left. This action was fought on Minden Day, and the King's Own Scottish Borderers made their successful attack with roses in their hats, as the same regiment had done at the Battle of Minden.

In the evening, B Squadron helped 46 Brigade to clear the area of Galet and La Mancelliere. Leading 6 Troop towards La Mancelliere, Cpl Raymond's car was fired on by a gun from the left. After reversing, the car went forward again to draw fire while Lieut G. H. L. Carey looked out for the gun from the top of a bank. The next shell landed almost underneath Cpl Raymond's vehicle, ricochetted and damaged the steering of Sgt Short's car. Lieut Carey saw the gun. It was a large one on the far side of a valley on the left of the road, and he led the men from his carriers across a cornfield on foot to attack it while an assault troop advanced on their left, up the valley. Reaching a hedge on the opposite side of the valley to the German gun, Lieut Carey's party came under heavy machine gun fire, which killed Lieut Carey and Sgt E. P. Thomp-son and wounded others as they tried to make the best of scanty cover. Tpr Phillips was shot in the foot, and Sgt Austin Knibb, whose birthday it was, was hit in the wrist while attending to him with Cpl Chapman. Crawling to cover, Sgt Knibb was hit three times more. He ordered the rest of the party to withdraw, and, if possible to return for the wounded. Tpr Lawn covered the withdrawal and was shot in the stomach, but he was helped back to the carriers. Sgt Knibb lay where he was until midnight, when he began to crawl back to the British lines. He was wounded again, by fire from a house, as he crossed the cornfield, but he avoided a German patrol, and after going more than three miles reached the assault troop at four in the morning. Before being taken to hospital he gave the squadron commander a plan of the enemy position. Cpl Frost, Tpr Baxter and Tpr Johnson also were wounded in
this action. Tpr Lawn was lost in the sinking of the hospital ship in which he was being taken to England.

On August 2nd the regiment left its fields beside the Caumont-St Martin road, and, avoiding the dead horse in St Martin, went forward to protect the left flank of the Scottish Division, which was itself holding the corps left flank while the armour thrust towards Vire. There was a minor misunderstanding on this regimental move. The result was that the leading armoured cars, nosing cautiously forward, came upon R.H.Q. established in "uncharted" territory and blithely announcing its presence with the largest of signs. C Squadron; looking for the 43rd Division, took up positions in the area of La Boulintere and Beaumont while the rest of the regiment, with A and B Squadrons in reserve, settled in Le Bressi. This village in a valley had been free of Germans for only a few hours, and life there had its excitements. The French people brought out wine and calvados to celebrate liberation; the P.M.c., looking for eggs, came face-to-barrel with the Sten gun of the signals sergeant, Sgt Davidson, looking for snipers; and from the heights of Montamy the enemy fired shells which burst about one hundred yards from R.H.Q., tucked away behind a tall hedge on a hillside.

Next day A Squadron, lent to the Guards Armoured Division, was ordered to relieve the Grenadier Guards at St Pierre Tarentaine, but it was evident that this order was not based on a true appreciation of the situation. The Grenadier Guards were being shelled, mortared and counter-attacked, and relief by the squadron would have meant putting troop strengths in the place of companies and self-propelled guns. So the Guards stayed, and A Squadron stayed to help them repel more counter-attacks under heavy fire until evening, when the squadron went back to Le Bressi. Tpr D. Machen was killed.

 C Squadron spent the day patrolling on the left in country where the high banks and hedges beside the roads made patrolling an extremely risky business, always liable to ambush. Overlooked by the German strongpoints on the Montamy heights, Lieut Gray took his patrol forward under shell and mortar fire, obtained valuable information and surprised an enemy patrol. He thus became the first member of the regiment to win the Military Cross. A patrol from 10 Troop came under enemy fire at close range, and Tpr F. McNeil, gunner in the leading car, was killed before the German party was dispersed.

Lieut Royle has described what happened when his patrol encountered a young Frenchwoman, running from the direction of the German positions:



She cried out to us not to shoot because there was somebody else coming, and a moment later we saw an old woman running down the road faster than I had ever seen an old woman run before. The old woman told me that there were about a hundred Germans in the wood round the house where she lived, and others in the house. She asked us to fire on them. We gave the information to the artillery, and as shells landed on her home she jumped for joy.



The same day, August 3rd, Major-General Mac-Millan, to whom the Scottish Division owed much, was wounded by a mortar bomb which fell near his jeep. Brigadier C. M. Barber D.S.O., commander of 46 Brigade, became the divisional commander.
On August 2nd Major-General MacMillan had issued this Order of the Day:

I have received from the Army Commander today the following message, which will be given to all ranks in the 15th Scottish Division: "It was the 15th Scottish Division which broke through the enemy's main defence line South of Caumont on July 30th and opened the way for the Armoured Divisions to pass through. The result of your great action on that day can now be seen by everyone. You have set the very highest standard since the day you landed in Normandy, and I hope you are as proud of your achievements as I am to have you under my command.-M. C. Dempsey." I am proud of the Division, and I wish to include in my congratulations and thanks the 6 Guards Armoured Brigade, whose splendid cooperation made our latest success possible.

On August 3rd Sir Richard O'Connor issued an Order of the Day, congratulating the division on "a magnificent achievement in the recent operations South of Caumont", and the Commander-in-Chief, talking to the divisional commander, praised the division for breaking right through the enemy defences without regard to the situation on its flanks.

Montchauvet (known to the regiment as Mont-charivel) and Montchamp fell to the eastward attack of 44 Brigade and the tanks of the Welsh Guards on August 4th, and the same day the regiment's car patrols made contact with the 43rd Division at Le Mesnil Auzouf. Advancing from the Montchauvet area on the following morning, 227 Brigade turned south down the main Vassy road and secured the important crossroads at La Caverie. The regiment moved to fields at Montchauvet, removed the carcass of a cow and considered its part in the next day's attack towards V assy. The plan was based on information which suggested that the Germans were about to withdraw-they had already abandoned Esquay and Evrecy on the XII Corps front, and all that bombing had left of Villers Bocage (a mess of rubble) had been captured by XXX Corps.

The attack was opened on the misty morning of August 6th by 46 Brigade and B Squadron, which advanced east from Au Cornu and took Le Codmet without opposition. When, however, the advance was continued towards Gourney there was strong resistance.  B Squadron, contending also with bad tracks, was unable to reach Lassy. Two hours after the 46 Brigade attack opened, 227 Brigade, C Squadron and a squadron of tanks from the Grenadier Guards were due to cross a start line at La Caverie crossroads, but the start was delayed until the tanks had dealt with enemy tanks which broke through on the left to within a few hundred yards of the start line. On the Estry route Lieut Royle's troop found that Estry itself was strongly held and the main road to Le Theil mined and covered by German tanks and machine guns. Patrols of the troop managed to enter Estry, but had to withdraw. They continued to harass the enemy, and obtained much information for the brigade, whose advance was halted by the resistance.

At Estry, Cpl H. J. Higginson and Tpr H. L. Roberts were killed, and Sgt W. McMinn and Tpr J. Bunker won the Military Medal. Sgt McMinn, commanding a carrier section in support of the armoured cars, saw that the leading car had been knocked out, left. his carrier and went forward on foot for about 250 yards under machine gun fire to some houses, from which he could see the car and discover what was happening in the village. He climbed to the top of a house overlooking an enemy machine gun post. The Germans shelled the building and it collapsed, but he extricated himself and reconnoitred the village street, discovering the positions of machine guns and a tank. This information he gave to the infantry.

Tpr Bunker was the driver of the car which was knocked out by the tank and set on fire. He was wounded by a shell. He could have left the vehicle and withdrawn to cover, but he waited for three Germans to approach, raised the car visor and shot them with his Sten gun. It was not until he was ordered to do so by his patrol commander that he left his vehicle, and then, in spite of his wounds, he sought out his troop commander and gave him a full account of the situation.

On the main Vassy road 10 Troop came upon an extensive minefield just over a mile from the start point. The Germans had the area well covered by fire, and two vehicles were knocked out. The crews, under Sgt Phillis, made their way back on foot. Throughout the day La Caverie crossroads were heavily shelled.  In the evening Band C Squadrons returned to harbour, and the infantry, who had been able to make little progress, withdrew to better positions. Capt J. Watson and Sgt W. Ponting, who had moved the regimental aid post forward in support of 227 Brigade, were not warned of this withdrawal, and they spent several hours in no man's land.

These were the days of the beginning of the end in Normandy. General Patton's columns were on the move. Mount Pincon, a natural fortress, fell to the Wessex Division, and the Americans captured Vire. But between them the 9th SS Panzer Division clung to its strongholds in and around Estry without a hint of withdrawal.

The regiment remained at Montchauvet while A and B Squadrons successively protected the left flank of 46 Brigade on the boundary between the Scottish and the Wessex Divisions. To do this A Squadron moved to high ground south of Linoudel, from which the mortars fired at enemy moving on the far slopes. A patrol of the 43rd Reconnaissance Regiment passed
through A Squadron, and although given details of the 1 Troop positions fired on them by mistake when it came under machine gun fire. A Squadron was shelled at night, but, having dug deeply, suffered lightly, whereas a squadron which had lately come from Britain to join the 43rd sustained considerable casualties because men were sleeping above ground. When BSquadron took over the position patrols reached the river line several hundred yards in front. On August l0th the Inns of Court Regiment relieved B Squadron. Tpr J. Burke was killed that day.

 On August 11th Lieut Sadgrove was posted as a liaison officer to divisional headquarters, where he later became Major-General Barber's A.D.C. At six o'clock on August 12th, the regiment was ordered to move back to the Caen sector on the following day, but two hours later orders came over the wireless for Operation Estry to begin at once. This was the operation previously planned to follow up an enemy withdrawal from Estry. Swiftly the regiment prepared for the chase, and armoured cars moved out of harbour in the twilight. Then the order was cancelled; the enemy had not withdrawn.

Next day the regiment drove through the wreck of Villers Bocage and over old, bitter battlefields of the Caen front to Amaye sur Orne. The same day the carriers of the 8th Royal Scots entered Estry at last, and the Inns of Court began the dash that was to take them through Vassy to meet the Americans on the far side of the trap which was closing round a large part of the German forces in Normandy. That night the Scottish Division was relieved by the 11th Armoured Division.


 

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