- Contributed by
- Gary S. Crutchley
- People in story:
- Private Thomas Henry Crutchley
- Location of story:
- Putot en Auge, Calvados, France
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 07 June 2004
Thomas Henry and Lillie Annie Crutchley 09/09/1943
The Battle to Liberate Putot en Auge, Calvados, France — 19th August 1944
The following is a brief narrative account of the events that took place near the village of Putot en Auge in France on 19th August 1944 and that lead to its liberation. The sources of information that I have used in its compilation are various and every attempt has been made to ensure historical accuracy. In particular I would like to thank Isabelle Vagnarelli, Norman Crutchley, also Bernard and Fay Robbins for the information that they have provided.
On the 6th June 1944, after numerous delays due to bad weather, Operation Overlord, the battle to liberate France and ultimately the whole of occupied Europe from Nazi oppression commenced. On the morning of D-Day, after weeks of aerial bombardment and naval shelling of the French coast, the first waves of Allied troops went ashore on the beaches of Normandy.
In the days and weeks that followed the landings, Allied progress through France was slower than the high command had anticipated due to the nature of the terrain and powerful German opposition. The Allies had to fight bitterly for every inch of the ground that they liberated.
On August 17th 1944, in an attempt to increase the rate of progress through France, Operation Paddle was launched. The synopsis for the operation was for the First British Corps to move towards the East of the river Seine in order to liberate the Pays d'Auge. The corps was also tasked with pursuing an often-fleeing German Army.
During the evening of August 18th, the 13th Battalion of the Parachute regiment was positioned to the west of the Normandy town of Goustranville. Among their number was Private Thomas Henry Crutchley 4919420 from Bloxwich in the Midlands region of Great Britain. He had been serving in the in the South Staffordshire Regiment and had become attached to the 13th battalion. He was twenty-seven years old.
The 13th battalion commanders received orders on the 18th to prepare for a night march and attack on the tiny Calvados village of Putot en Auge, which was still in the grip of the enemy. The battalion began to move out at 2330 and marched up the main road through Goustranville heading for the nearby railway bridge. Guided by Captain Golding, the head of the battalion reached the railway bridge at 0145. To their dismay, they found that the bridge had already been partly destroyed. To make matters more difficult for the 13th, the canal flowing beneath the bridge was tidal and was rising, precluding any opportunity for a crossing at that time.
The men of the 13th turned around and retraced their steps through the darkness, towards Goustranville. On arrival, they received orders to follow the 12th Parachute Battalion across the river by another bridge, which had been found intact. The 13th began to move at 0400 and despite shelling from nearby enemy positions as they passed along the main road, reached a position at the foot of a hill where they could wait for an opportune time to cross the canal. The time was now about 0430 on August 19th.
The men took shelter from continued enemy fire behind a hedge and along a nearby earthen bank. They hoped that the darkness and the mist that had enveloped and concealed them during the night would remain long enough for them to be able to follow the 12th across the canal and open ground, into the village of Putot en Auge.
Gradually the first glimmer of summer dawn appeared and as the darkness receded, so did the mist. It was obvious to the men that their current place of rest was overlooked by enemy positions on the high ground nearby, and as morning approached, they were beginning to become visible, so they decided to disperse. As they moved, enemy shell and mortar rounds began to land all around them, but fortunately the 13th suffered no casualties as they dispersed. As daybreak came they stumbled across nine very frightened German soldiers and took them prisoner. At 0900, the Brigadier, who had already entered Putot en Auge along with the 12th ordered the 13th to follow.
At 0950, companies "B", "A" and "C" of the 13th crossed over the canal and entered the village, coming under renewed enemy mortar fire as they did so. On reaching the village at 1025, the 13th had taken five casualties and shortly afterwards received orders to attack and capture a hill that overlooked the village, known as "Hill 13". The attack commenced at 1115.
"B" Company led the charge up Hill 13, supported by "A" company, with "C" company in reserve. The mortar and machine gun fire from enemy positions at Goustranville, which had dogged them earlier, continued to impede their progress. "B" Company, led up the hill by Major Tarrant, stormed the first ridge with bayonets fixed and headed for the second. The defenders mounted a counter attack and sudden, murderous fire from two hidden machine guns left most of the men that had lead the way up the hill dead or injured. Despite such devastating opposition some of the men of “B” company reached the German positions and were seen fighting there. They never returned. It was also soon apparent to the 13th that some ninety men had just reinforced the German positions from the rear of Hill 13. “B” Company was forced to retreat off the hill.
Nearby in a series of barns that were functioning as the battalion field hospital, the seriousness of the situation that was unfolding was all too apparent to the army medics working there. The space available to house casualties was full and some had to be placed outside. The casualties just kept arriving and the medics struggled to assist the men who had been cut down in the battle for Putot en Auge.
The meagre supply of water that the hospital had available had been exhausted and the only source of fluids that could be used for the injured was cider from the adjacent farm. The medics used whatever cloth and materials they could find, including parts of their own clothing, as bandages and blankets to comfort the wounded men and to treat their injuries.
Back on hill 13, "A" Company tried to press forward once more, but in the face of heavy opposition from the defenders, they were unable to gain significant headway. "C" Company attempted to attack from the right flank but they too met with withering machine gun fire and could not press home their attack. It was at this moment that the Germans mounted a counter attack, but extremely accurate fire from the artillery of the 151st Field Regiment halted their progress.
It would seem likely that Private Thomas Henry Crutchley was killed by the horrendous machine gun fire encountered as he and the rest of the 13th made the assault on Hill 13.
By 1500 on the 19th August, the situation had been somewhat stabilised with the 13th able to hold their positions and fire on the enemy at will, whenever he was visible. The number of casualties suffered by the 13th was relatively high. About seventy men had been killed, wounded or were missing. Amongst them were Major Tarrant and Lieutenant Bibby, both of "B" company, Captain Tibbs, the Doctor and Private Thomas Henry Crutchley. Captain Granthem, the adjutant took over "B" Company, which received forty reinforcements soon afterwards.
That night there was very little enemy activity in the area surrounding Putot en Auge. The only significant action came when the men of 48 Commando arrived. Whilst reconnoitring their position, they were sighted by the enemy who responded with mortar fire. The attack resulted in five commando casualties, but despite slightly reduced numbers, 48 commando was able to carry out an attack on the enemy positions, rout the Germans and capture the summit of Hill 13. The village of Putot en Auge was liberated.
Operation Paddle ended on August 30th 1944 following the liberation of the town of Honfleur.
Private Thomas Henry Crutchley is buried in the churchyard at Putot en Auge in Row B, Grave 6 of the Commonwealth War Graves section. Buried alongside him are 31 comrades who also died near Putot en Auge in World War Two. His brave actions, like those of so many of his comrades were essential to ensure the liberation of Putot en Auge from Nazi rule.
GS Crutchley, September 2002
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