- Contributed by
- Ian Billingsley
- People in story:
- R. Angus
- Location of story:
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 05 May 2005
R. Angus. 2697250.
The 3rd Battalion Irish Guards, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Vandeleur, with ‘X’ Company Scots Guards attached, boarded ship at Southampton and sailed to a point off the Isle of Wight. The Commander of ‘X’ Company was Major F. Stewart-Fotheringham. Second in command was Captain E. Hope Llewellyn. I was serving in the No.1 section of No.14 Platoon commanded by Lieutenant A.D.G. Llewellyn. Ship anchored off Isle of Wight
June 20th - 23rd
Sailed towards France and arrived on the French coast at Arromanches. We disembarked and marched south to Bayeux. Resting and sleeping on the outskirts of the town.
June 24th - 28th
We moved forward, taking up a position in the line between Tilly and Caen.
Intermittent shelling of our positions by the enemy. The enemy moved forward at 2200 hrs but they were halted about 300 yds from our positions. They were driven back one mile before dawn.
Quiet through day. British artillery began a terrific bombardment of German positions at dusk. The enemy replied by shelling our positions heavily. There were no casualties. A Company sent out a patrol into the enemy lines.
X. Company moved forward into a new position roughly about 300 yds from the enemy forward slit trenches. Heavily shelled whilst digging in. No casualties.
Information was given to us that the position in front was Capriceux Aerodrome. It was held by the enemy. The Canadians, under cover of smoke and high explosive shells, attacked the aerodrome at dawn from a position three quarters of a mile to our left. The aerodrome was captured by noon. The expected counter attack, materialised and the Germans regained one half of the aerodrome. A terrific battle raged all day and our positions were mortared and shelled very heavily.
Thanks to the depth of the slit trenches, only one of X. Company was killed. There were no wounded. During the remainder of the day, the part of the aerodrome held by the enemy was bombed and machine gunned by RAF fighter planes three times.
At 0230 hrs. I was on sentry duty in the section Bren-Gun position, when I noticed a number of birds disturbed from a hedge 100 yds in the direction of the enemy. We suspected they were approaching and on being relieved from sentry duty at 0250 hrs, we informed the new sentry of our suspicions. At 0315 hrs. A German patrol penetrated our position, but they were soon scattered, although one member of X. Company was wounded.
In the early morning, an enemy tank was spotted on the aerodrome. It was believed to be a Panther. A Sherman tank, mounted with a 17 pounder gun was ordered forward to our positions to attack the enemy tank. The platoon was informed that we would probably be heavily mortared when the Sherman tank opened fire on the Panther. The gun crew in the Sherman tank fired six shots but only hit the tank once. It was not knocked out but it rapidly moved out of range. The enemy did not mortar us as expected.
After dark a patrol was sent into enemy lines. During the night the enemy was bombed and machine gunned twice by RAF formations of eight.
Intermittent shell and mortar fire. Otherwise it was very quiet throughout the day. We were heavily mortared and shelled in the early evening. There were no casualties. A mortar bomb exploded, five yards from my slit trench. Luckily, no-one was hurt.
During the day, British bombers, Lancasters and Halifaxs’, bombed Caen. I have never seen anything like it in my life. Roughly, 1000 planes took part in the raid, losing only one. I watched it crash.
Capriceux Aerodrome was still only half taken. The enemy’s half being under constant shell and mortar fire all morning. The afternoon was very quiet.
Caen was captured by the Canadians and British at 1000 hrs. The Canadians attacked the remainder of the aerodrome held by the enemy, finally capturing it by 1130 hrs. X Company Scots Guards were still holding the position left of the aerodrome. Although continually under mortar and shell fire. The Germans were now about 600 yds away.
Beginning at dawn, a terrific barrage was put down on the German positions by the Royal Artillery, which continued for four hours. A tank battle began and lasted all the remainder of the morning and afternoon. The Germans were then found to be in full retreat on a six mile front. X Company Scots Guards did not move forward but were ordered to rest.
Very quiet. The enemy were still in full retreat. We began to move from our forward positions to Bayeux for the purpose of resting.
Resting one mile south west of Bayeux.
July 12th - 18th
We moved off at 0200 hrs to be part of General Montgomery’s drive from Caen to Vimont. We took up our positions about two miles south east of Caen at dawn, waiting for the word go. At 0600 hrs, a gigantic bombardment of the villages to our front was started by the RAF and American Air Force. These villages would have had to have been either captured or by passed during our advance.
Three of our bombers were shot down in flames. At 0945.Hrs the planes stopped their bombardment, but a heavy artillery barrage was put up by the Royal Artillery. At 1200 hrs we began to move forward. We didn’t meet any opposition until we reached the village of Cagny, which was captured by X Company and a company of Irish Guards. The village was then surrounded by the battalion at 2230 hrs. We took up a defensive position for the remainder of the night.
We were ordered to remain in a defensive position forward of Cagny until further orders. The break through at Vimont was not successful. We only got part way when our tanks met with a screen of anti tank guns. We were under constant attack. With this and the snipers, there were many fatalities.
We were still in the same position. No14 Platoon of X Company was ordered to send forward, (about 200 yds) a standing patrol. This was requested for the purpose of observing. I was a member of No1 section and we were ordered to go first. We arrived at the position. Two of the company’s four snipers, Guardsman Dinsdale and Guardsman Jardine, were sent forward another twenty yards to snipe.
At 0800 hrs, Guardsman Jardine was killed by a German sniper. Guardsman Dinsdale received a severe leg wound from an exploding German tank shell. Bullets were now flying all around us. Later, we were relieved by No 2 section. We returned to the company position. We were constantly shelled, mortared, and sniped at for the remainder of the day. Many more were wounded and killed. The torrential rain made things very difficult.
The standing patrols were still being sent out during the day and still by sections. It was very quiet although we were expecting an attack. It came at 1400 hrs. We were strafed, bombed and machine gunned for about ten minutes by fighter planes. We didn’t sustain any injuries this time. It was still pouring with rain and I had been soaked to the skin for twenty four hours. The roads were thick with mud and the tanks were at a stand still. We were again mortared and shelled during the evening, only this time we sustained more casualties.
Very quiet all day. Our position was taken over by the Black Watch at 2215 hrs. It had now stopped raining and we began to march along the muddy roads to the rear of our lines. We were still marching at midnight.
We arrived about two miles south of Caen at 0230 hrs, after a march of four miles, ankle deep in mud, and we rested at this position throughout the next three days.
Bombed during the night by enemy planes.
Our orders to move were cancelled.
Still resting two miles east of Caen. We’ve now been informed, that the reason we are resting in this position is because we are in full view of the enemy. They had to keep their crack Panzer Division on the opposite hill, thus not being able to move them to assist against the Americans at St Lo.
We moved to a position one mile south of Bayeux. Still resting.
We’ve received orders to move, this time into the Caumont Sector. We travelled in troop carriers for about fifteen miles and then we dug slit trenches to sleep in during the night.
We moved off again at 0500 hrs going into the attack. We travelled in troop carriers for the first ten miles and then began marching. Five miles on and the roads became within the range of the German guns and mortars. There were a few casualties to X Company whilst marching along. Corporal Barbour was killed. I remember he was promoted to Corporal in the M.T. at the same time that I moved from the M.T. to 14 Platoon.
We marched a further distance of seven and a half miles then formed up to attack. The objective being a hill. The hill was captured in twenty minutes, there was no opposition. We dug in on top of the hill. Later in the day, we moved off again to attack the village of Le Courneur. Once again there was no opposition. The attack beginning at 2215 hrs and finishing at 2315 hrs. We dug in once again and were ordered to hold the village until dawn when we were informed that tanks would arrive to relieve us.
The tanks arrived at dawn. The Germans were in full retreat. Reconnaissance units reported the enemy to be twenty miles away. About noon we moved off again and captured the village seven miles away. Once again there was no opposition and we moved on. The purpose being to attack an 88mm gun domineering the road on which we wished to advance.
It was known that there was at least 200 enemy troops in the area of the gun. The attack began at dusk. We reached the objective at about 2300 hrs. Our section of seven men led by Corporal Stevens, spearheaded the attack. We were supported by the remainder of the company, including six or seven tanks. The tanks were ordered to move along the road in convoy and X Company were in the fields to the right and left of the road.
The enemy 88mm gun opened fire at about fifty yards range, knocking out the leading tank. The remaining tanks were ordered to withdraw and orders to X company, were to continue the advance.
At this point, all hell broke loose. About six enemy Machine Gun Posts, opened up together, raking us with fire from front, left and right. There were many casualties. I must admit it was very frightening.
Tracer bullets were flying all around. A
Guardsman in front of me was shot through the foot. Another, a Sergeant at my right, was shot in the heel. I was ordered by Platoon Officer Llewellyn to get the two wounded men back to the stretcher bearers. I succeeded although I was very scared. The battle raged all night and X Company were under continual fire from machine guns. We returned the fire with Bren Guns and rifles. Four Germans were killed.
We were still holding the same position at dawn. The 72 hours continual advance was now held up. We had not slept for the whole time and were beginning to feel exhausted.
Dawn found us still exchanging shots with the Germans who were only fifty yards to our front. When it was light enough to see, we found we were lining a hedge along the side of a farm. The Germans were lining the hedge in front. The hedge was heavily mortared by us and this caused the enemy to return the fire wounding one of our Corporals and killing one of our Guardsmen.
The casualties were now so great, that X Company were very much under strength. Originally there were 135 men in the Company and now there was only 90 left.
Suddenly, four Germans moved out of a barn ten yards to the right of our section position and calmly walked across the farmyard entering a stable. Everyone was too amazed to shoot. We recovered and closed around the stable entrance. Platoon Officer Llewellyn ordered the Germans to surrender and come out of the barn.
The first man emerged in a curious fashion, half crouched. Our suspicions were aroused. Corporal Stevens shot him dead with his Sten Gun. The second German came out in the same manner. Five rifles cracked, and he fell wounded. One of our Guardsmen noticed him put his hand into his jacket and withdraw a grenade. He shot and killed him. The grenade exploded in his hand.
There were still two more left in the stable. One tried to escape through the rear and he was shot in the neck. He shouted ‘Kamerad’. We took him prisoner. The fourth could not be found. He must have got away through the rear window.
The prisoner turned out to be a Russian, forced to fight by the Germans. He was not very badly wounded.
Snipers began to fire at the slightest movement in our area. I had my narrowest of escapes since arriving in France. Whilst observing over a hedge, instead of through it, a sniper’s bullet glanced off the top of my steel helmet.
It was quieter towards evening. The Irish Guards attacked from the left flank after dark, and the Germans retreated through the night.
At dawn, it was very quiet indeed. Occasional shots were fired by a few snipers left behind, but we moved forward again. Once more on the attack. X. Company had now been 96 hours without sleep and were very tired indeed. The attack commenced in daylight beginning at 1500 hrs. The objective this time? A farm on an overlooking hill. It was about a mile and a half away.
The advance was held up by four German tanks at the top of the road leading up the hill. Two of them being knocked out by our own Sherman tanks. X. Company, were ordered to enter the fields on the right of the road to try and bypass the remaining two tanks. The bypass was successful, but we were attacked by Machine Gun fire from a nearby farm. The two remaining German tanks were now sandwiched with X. Company at their front and the Shermans at their rear.
The German tank Commander decided to make a run for it. But he was met by Sergeant Tessler, manning a Piat Gun. The first tank broke through and Sergeant Tessler was killed. The second tank crew evidently, were surprised to find us in the rear for they abandoned the tank. It was captured by us. Intact.
After capturing the farm from where the gunfire that had delayed us earlier, had come from, we dug in and prepared for a counter attack. When it materialised, the enemy were repulsed at dusk, sadly along with the loss of Guardsman McPhee.
At 0200 hrs, the 17 pounder guns were brought into position alongside our platoon. Two enemy tanks were knocked out by 0300 hrs, another by dawn. The enemy was retreating again.
We managed to get three hours sleep in the morning and two hours in the afternoon. We were now waiting for orders whilst resting. At 1945 hrs, orders were received once again, telling us to advance. They stated that we were to advance until fired on, then dig in and hold our position. This we did after only a mile and a half. Night fell with only a few sniper shots and a little mortaring.
We were still resting although we were getting shelled and mortared all the time. X. Company had now been in action for seven days continually. Fortunately we were able to get some rest.
The village of estry was one and a half miles along the road which we flanked.
At 1030 hrs. The 15th Scottish Division moved through our lines to go into the attack. At 1200 hrs, many wounded were being moved back and we understood that they had, had a very tough time at the village of Estry. Our positions were heavily shelled during the morning and afternoon, but we suffered no more casualties. We got some more much needed sleep.
At dawn, we were ordered to prepare to move, but we were still waiting at 1200 hrs. We were shelled all day and at 2100 hrs, we finally began moving. Marching towards the rear of the lines. We were met by troop carrying lorries and then driven about ten miles east, where once again, we began to march another six miles. The last two being uphill. We were informed that we were approaching the enemy.
At 0230 hrs we arrived two miles east of Vire. We stood by until dawn. We found we were on the slope of a big hill with the enemy on the opposite slope. At 0900 hrs shelling and mortar-fire began by both sides. At 1200 hrs I was hit by shrapnel from an exploding German shell and removed to hospital.
In hospital at Bayeux.
A Dakota flew me and other wounded Guardsmen to England. We arrived at Oxford Aerodrome at 1200 hrs.
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