- Contributed by
- John de Mansfield AbsolonResearcher 238443
- People in story:
- John Absolon
- Location of story:
- Normandy 1944
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 14 May 2004
John Absolon Anzac Day 2003 New Zealand
Up from Gold Beach D+1
At this stage I will explain the make up of the 25th LAA Regt RA in the 50th Division. The Regt
comprised three batteries each containing 18 guns in the three six gun troops. The Regt was
equipped with 40 mm Bofors guns mounted on a 4 X 4 Morris chassis a total of 54 guns. The
regiment's task was to defend the division against low-level air attack. The British Army was very
sensitive to low-level aircraft attack due to experiences when the enemy had a high degree of
air superiority. Possibly not quite so sensitive as the Royal Navy who believed everything with
wings was hostile.
. Although in Normandy the allies had control of the air, German fighter bombers carried out
numerous daylight low-level attacks and nightly bombed the beach head. The Regt mainly
defended the gun lines and a certain amount of route protection in the divisional area.
This story follows directly on from the “Trip across the Channel” when we had reached the de-waterproofing area and having seen a soldier blown to pieces just in front of me I decided not to go into the de- water proofing park I managed to collect our guide and as the battle was still going on in the Le Hamil area which was not our problem we set out inland .
We pulled out from the confusion of the beachhead and started to move towards Ryes.It was a nice sunny day and there seemed very little activity going on as though the battle had flowed on ahead of us.We might well have been on an exercise. The roads were pretty dusty,the country didn't look very fought over and everybody seemed to be moving forward.Plenty of signs saying “Achtung Minen” etc
Here I must digress a little and say something about mines.
Mines were always a major problem but fortunatly there were many indicators as to whether and where mines were. I did a month’s training on finding, neutralising and removing mines. As we often had to put guns in positions that had not been cleared of mines whenever possible I checked the area personally. I was proud of the fact we had no casualties either personal or Vehicular during the period I was with the unit. I found that commonsense had a lot to do with it. If for instance a sign saying “Achtung Minen” on the fence and a large herd grazing in the field beyond usually indicated a mine free area. There were many indicators like that. But one only made one mistake.The enemy nearly always put mines and booby traps were they would do the most damage like verges etc but for safety of his own troops he could only lay them as he retreated if he had time. The Royal Engineers were brilliant at clearing verges, but on minor roads one had to be alert to the possibility of them not having time.
.Having digressed I will continue with our onward progress There was little sign of battleapart from the odd German vehicle smashed by fighter bombers,it looked as though everything was on the roll . People working in the fields and houses seemed undamaged.As we reached our turn off in Ryes the inevitable happened.,Lorry No 2 broke down.Fortunately we rapidly backed up the first lorry and hooked up the offender. We had put a tow chain on the front of each Vehicle in case this happened. This created a bit of a fuss from a passing Bren gun carrier (I think they saw some loot disappearing).On the move again down a long straight road towards the deployment area. As the road was straight and treeless I was a bit concerned about the possibility of air attack or shelling but all was quiet. My troops were not used to this type of country (either the desert or Sicily) and I wasn't battlewise otherwise I would've realised the danger of everything being quiet. Fortunately we were lucky and reached our destination without any further trouble. We met the remainder of the troop, the guns were led off to their positions.Troop HQ moved into a narrow sunken lane parallel to the road to the bridge at Creully about 200 yards distant. The vehicles were turned round ready to move off and everybody started unloading kit. The 3 ton lorries carried all the personal kit of the Troop as there was no place to carry kit on the guns that would not have been soaked wading ashore. The lane had high banks and was well concealed by trees and all was quiet. We had been issued with a wireless receiver that was supposed to pass information as to how the battle was going. I managed to set it up on the bank facing the parallel road. Glancing up I saw to my horror what appeared to be a company of German soldiers doubling towards Creully. Fortunately they were more concerned with where they were going and didn’t notice us.All the training exercise sunny afternoon in the country feeling was shattered. We realised we must have run through our own forward areas into enemy held territory. Discretion being a better part of valour and only a Sten gun my hand I decided not to dispute the Germans passage.Hopefully they were too busy to notice us.Then the panic of forming all-round defence, the Bren guns.and ammunition was under piles of kit,Shortly afterwards solid shot and machine-gun bullets started hitting the tops of the trees above us, the fire coming from the beach area, fortunately, we were below the brow of a hill and the fire didn’t drop any lower. Nobody knew where their rifles were and there was general confusion. We got organised without any further trouble.As I seemed to be in charge I decided we would remain on the defensive unless directly attacked. I decided to site a Brent gun across the road pointing towards the beachhead. As I walked up the track I saw a pair of boots and field grey trousers sticking out of a bush and for some reason I didn't’fire. I kicked one foot and ordered him to surrender with my finger on the trigger for any false move. To my amazement out of the bush came a grey haired old Frenchman, and how near he was to a magazine of Sten he will never know.I told him in no uncertain terms to go home and change his boots and trousers. I think he got the message as he was gone like a rocket. I crossed the road and carefully peered through the hedge Nothing in sight, so collecting a Bren gun crew they settled down into position covering our rear. A few minutes later three Germans with a Spandau were doubling across the field in full view ,obviously, not aware of the danger, A couple of quick bursts from the Bren and they were down. At that moment over the brow of the hill came some Sherman tanks. Carefully displaying our recognition colours (yellow triangles) we made contact They then informed us that they had only to advance as far as the road. They (the tanks) then took off back the way they had come. Turning to the three Germans, who were not too badly wounded we patched them up . Pointing out that If they.were well treated and some other enemy saw that they wouldn’t be so hesitant to surrender. Having collected the Spandau and ammunition,checked that the Germans were un-armed we got them to the road.There we managed to stop an ambulance heading back towards Ryes The driver reluctantly stopped and was hopping about while we loaded the wounded on. I enquired what the problem was his reply “There are three bloody great Tiger Tanks half a mile back at the crossroads” With that bit of information he left at high-speed.So where was the PIAT(projector infantry anti-tank) after a hurried search it was unearthed. Then the Troop Commander returned and having heard the news decided we would stay put. He then said “You know all about those things you had better site the PIAT in a suitable position.” So with a bit of trepidation found a position and stayed there until dark hoping that it wouldn’t happen. I must say that on my wish list was 1. I should be able to hear them coming 2. It was too late in the day for them to venture too far in close country. Fortunately I didn’t and they didn’t. We found out later that we were on the flank of the Panzer attack that was made on the first day. After an anxious night the troop was redeployed around the divisional gun lines the next morning . The troop was lucky to escape without casualties and fortunate to learn a lot about the Bocage country. There is an old Chinese curse that says “May you live in exciting times”.
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