1939 - 1940 Campaign in France: week by week
Much of this information came from the war diary and can be corroborated by other sources.
Where the source of information is solely from the war diary of the 1st Lothians and Border Yeomanry,
(WO 167/455) which is held in the National Archives, this is stated. Other sole sources are also quoted.
The regiment was mobilised as part of the 52nd (Lowland) Division at Dunbar. On 8 September 1939 it was transferred to the 48th (South Midlands) Division, its place in the 52nd Division being taken by the second line regiment. The 48th Division had its headquarters at Oxford and were mobilizing in the Newbury-Swindon-Marlborough area. The advance party accordingly moved to Lambourn on 2nd October and the main body followed on 4th.
Lambourn is on the Berkshire downs and the Lothians were billeted in stables: 'A' Squadron was at Delamere, where Felsted and Windsor Lad, both winners of the Derby had been stabled; 'C' Squadron at MacVittie's; 'B' at Gwilt's. The Officers' Mess was at Ashdown House, some 3 or 4 miles from the village.
On 7th November they moved to Tidworth and into Bhurtpore Barracks on 11 November. There was more scope for training at this billet. The original intention was to return to Lambourn after a fortnight of intensive training but, in the end, the regiment remained at Tidworth until it went overseas.
During this time, all those under 19 were drafted to the second-line regiment and were replaced by over a hundred trained recruits from the RAC Depot at Catterick. These men hailed from all over England. Other drafts were received from 4/7 Dragoon Guards and Inniskillings and there was a temporary exchange of one officer and 4 other ranks with 13/18 Hussars.
Numerous exercises were held under the direction of Brigadier Bullock Marsham: some, though by no means enough, range practice was carried out and the tank troops spent a week at the Tank Gunnery School at Linney Head in South Wales.
The Lothians were given embarkation leave on 20 December 1939, and on 8 January 1940 the Regiment moved to Southampton via Bulford, Amesbury and Salisbury in preparation for their crossing to Le Havre. Vehicles were loaded on the SS City of Florence and the troops left on 11 January 1940 on the S.S. Lorina, a former Isle of Man steamer. The regiment was the first cavalry unit and one of the last units of the 48th Division, which was now under the command of Major General Thorne, to go to France. . The 48th Division was the first territorial one to go overseas; it was immediately followed by the 51st (Highland) Division.
a) Majors AB Usher and GC Dove-Wilson did not accompany the regiment, due to ill-health.
b) The command of 'C' Squadron was therefore taken over by the Adjutant.
c) The command of 'B' Squadron was taken over by Major Wattie McCulloch.
d) Captain NB Baird took over the adjutancy.
e) RSM JW Barnes received a commission and became the Quartermaster.
Friday 12 January 1940
The Lorina docked at Le Havre and the Unit marched to the Rest Camp at the Gare Maritimes. Working parties were marched to the SS City of Florence to unload vehicles. [1st Lothians and Border Yeomanry war diary (WO 167/455) in the National Archives]
Saturday 13 January 1940 to Thursday 18 January 1940: Montivilliers
The regiment moved to the Unit's assembly area at Montivilliers. A French cadet was attached to each Squadron. Regimental Headquarters were established at the Chateau de Rainbeau. [1st Lothians and Border Yeomanry war diary (WO 167/455) in the National Archives]
Tuesday 16 January 1940
2.Lieut. Robertson commanded the advance party, which left 16 January 1940 for Arras on the following route: VETOT-NEUFCHATEL-POIX 1784-AMIENS-ALBERT-BAPAUME-ARRAS. [1st Lothians and Border Yeomanry war diary (WO 167/455) in the National Archives]
Friday 19 January 1940
The Road Party (motorcycles and lorries) left for the Concentration Area: Yvetot-Neufchatel- Dollens-Blagny-Beaumetz-Allery-Boiry, arriving 20 January 1940. The Rail Party in carriages labelled 8 chevaux ou 40 hommes also left on 19 January 1940. It was bitterly cold: the thermometer registered 42° of frost. Tanks were frozen to the trucks. As a result of the intense cold experienced on the journey many men went sick.
Saturday 20 January to Wednesday 31 January 1940: Arras area
Billets were as follows:
RHQ amd HQ Sqn at Ayette, lying on the main road from Arras to Albert;
A Sqn at Sugar factory on Boiry-Boisleux road;
B Sqn at Boiry [Boiry-Saint-Martin];
C Sqn at Douchy [Douchy-lès-Ayette].
Divisional HQ were at Hénin Liétard between Lens and Douai and the 1st Lothians, as the Divisional Cavalry Regiment, were situated about 30 miles from the remainder of the Division. There were various other Divisional Cavalry units of the BEF in this area, including 4/7 Dragoon Guards at Bucquoy.
Some of the villages were new-built after the previous war and only had very primitive sanitary arrangements and a bath was unheard of. The ground was also very hard. The heavy traffic of the BEF was a strain on the roads which, already, were beginning to show signs of wear and tear.
The first few weeks in France were unpleasant. There was a widespread epidemic of flu and similar complaints in varying degrees of severity, a legacy of the arctic-like train journey from Le Havre. A combination of inexperience and makeshift garage arrangements led to much trouble with frozen engines, cracked cylinders and the like. The cold continued bitter and sanitary arrangements were difficult owing to the impossibility of digging. When the mud came: digging, at any rate, was possible, but it was difficult to find a place free of buried barbed wire, a relic of the last war. Steel helmets, rifles and unexploded shells were of common occurrence and a battalion in a neighbouring village actually excavated a horse and its rider!
Posted strength at 28 January 1930 was 389.
Thursday 1 February to Thursday 29 February 1940: Arras Area
TEWTs were held and a mobile cinema visited. Church parades were held. Training continued, including classes in Gunnery, Wireless, Driving or Maintenance. Weekly excursions to the Municipal Baths in Arras took place. Church parades took place every Sunday. When the weather improved, there were football matches. Owing to the calls of war service, the local farms were short of labour and the 1st Lothians were encouraged, whenever possible, to provide them with men.
a) 2/Lt Thorburn Brown Rejoined unit on being discharged from Mil Hp 30 January 1940.
b) 2/Lt Viscount Brackley admitted Mil. Hosp 30 January 1940.
c) Major the Earl of Haddington admitted to Military Hospital 4 February 1940.
d) Posted strength at 3 February 1940: 24 officers, 5 officers attached, 398 other ranks, 12 other ranks attached to 1st Lothians.
e) Posted strength at 10 February 1940: 23 officers, 4 attached, 399 other ranks (deficient by 23).
f) Posted strength at 25 February 1940: 389 other ranks.
Friday 1 March to Sunday 31 March 1940: Arras
Church parades were held. A cross country running competition was held. Concerts were held. Football matches took place.
Lt Col MP Ansell, Inniskilling Dragoons, took over command of the regiment from Lt Col HJ Younger, who preferred to remain as second-in-command rather then move elsewhere. Major, the Earl of Haddington, the previous second-in-command had meantime been invalided home. This change of command appears to have been in pursuance of a general policy of replacing with Regular Officers, Territorial Army Officers who, through no fault of their own, were not sufficiently experienced. The regiment now found itself in the curious position of having several subalterns actually older than the Commanding Officer and several very nearly as old.
Tuesday 5 March 1940
a) Captain D St C Thom to be Major and to command 'C' Squadron.
b) Captain W J McCulloch to be Major and to command 'B' Squadron.
c) Captain N B Baird to be appointed Adjutant.
d) RQMS Kerr to become RSM.
e) All wef 8th January 1940.
f) Lieutenant J W Barnes to become acting Quartermaster wef 23 January 1940.
a) Captain the Earl of Hopetoun was transferred to 'C'’ Squadron as Second-in-Command.
b) Second Lieutenant R M Robertson was transferred to RHQ to become Assistant Adjutant and Intelligence Officer.
c) A Field General Court Martial was held in RoR 1st Lothians and Border Yeomanry La Mairee, Ayette on 17 February 1940.
d) No 556112 Trooper Reynolds N was found guilty and sentenced to 84 days Field Punishment.
e) No 7886687 Trooper Lawley A was found guilty and sentenced to 42 days Field Punishment.
f) Lieutenant G D H Mackintosh was evacuated to No 2 CCS as medically unfit-Saturday 9 March.
g) As from Sunday 17 March 1940, Lieutenant Colonel M G Ansell assumed command of the Regiment and Major H J Younger took over the duties of second in command.
h) A Field General Court Martial was held in RoR 1st Lothian and Border Yeomanry La Mairie, Ayette on 11th March: No 7889564 Trooper Loughton J was found guilty and sentenced to 42 days Field Punishment.
Monday 1 April 1940 tp Friday 12 April 1940:Arras
Exercises and TEWTs were held. A concert was held at Bucquoy. Church parades were held. On Wednesday 10 April, an advance party under Second Lieutenant R M Robertson was sent to billet the regiment in a new training area near Pacy-sur-Eure, south of the river Seine, where the regiment was to have been brigaded with the other Territorial Divisional Cavalry units of the BEF, the East Riding Yeomanry and the Fife and Forfar Yeomanry. The following day, the Advance Party was recalled as a result of the occurrence of what was known in the BEF as a 'frontier flap'*and the regiment was placed on two hours' notice to proceed to Belgian frontier.
* Periodically, the Germans would engineer a 'scare' of invasion of the Low Countries which sent the allied troops in the North of France rushing to the Belgian frontier. The enemy were thus able to obtain a clear idea of the probable allied movements in the real event of such an invasion. This was the third of these 'scares' but the first since the regiment had been in France.
Saturday 13 April to Sunday 28 April 1940: Marchiennes
On Saturday 13 April, the regiment moved to Marchiennes.
It had been expected that the postponed move to Pacy would now take place but instead the regiment was transferred to the 51st (Highland) Division, under command of Major General VM Fortune CB DSO, and was ordered to proceed with it to the Saar front. This was at the northern end of the Maginot Line where, for some months, successive British Army Brigades had been holding a small sector of the line, each for one month and under French command. They were thus able to obtain training of a rather more realistic nature than was possible in northern France.
The regiment would have to operate almost entirely dismounted, in other words, to carry out the role of infantry. For this it was almost completely untrained and, since time was short, some intensive instruction was required. This was kindly provided by another regiment billeted at Marchiennes, the 2nd Battn the Norfolk Regiment, though the marshy nature of this low-lying country on the frontier, northeast of Douai, made it an indifferent training area.
Church services and football matches continued.
A 51 Division Operation order dated 18 April 1940 and included in the war diary refers to the Regiment joining the 51st Highland Division. [1st Lothians and Border Yeomanry war diary (WO 167/455) in the National Archives]
Monday 22 April 1940
Orders for regiment to move to Saar were received. Necessary preparations for advance party to move on 25th, road party 26th and rail party 29th were prepared. According to Sean Longden's None Bolder: at 3.00 am on 22 April HQ 152 brigade received a telephone message from Divisional HQ warning of rumours that German paratroopers were landing in the Arras area but this was 'yet another false alarm' and the Brigade returned to preparations for its move.
25 to 28 April 1940
The rail party entrained 28 April at Douai and after travelling via Cambrai, Péronne, Montdidier, Rheims, Bar le Duc and Metz, detrained the following day at Moyeuvre, some 20 miles north of the latter place, whence it moved to the Divisional assembly area being billeted at Montois la Montagne.
The whole Regiment arrived by 1200 hrs on Monday 29 April 1940. Maintenance and additional billeting arrangements were carried out.
Tuesday 30 April 1940
1 Tank Troop - all carrier personnel except drivers, and 3 tracks of A Squadron moved to Bois de Kalenhofen and spent night in the wood.
Woolward's A Short Account states: A line of outposts, some 8 or 9 miles in front of the Maginot Line proper, had been manned by infantry regiments since autumn. For the first time, a cavalry regiment, the Lothians, was now given the task of providing personnel for two of the posts, and of providing tank troops at separate sections of the line. To attain maximum surprise effect, the tanks had to be brought as near to the front line as possible, and had to take up position in secrecy. This was successfully accomplished - maximum effect was, in fact, gained in their first action - and these tank counter-attack tactics were successfully exploited till the Germans brought up strong anti-tank defences. This role gave the Lothians the honour of being the first cavalry unit in action in this war - an honour gained by A Squadron under the command of Major Dallmeyer when it took up position in the 'Ligne de Contact' on 30th April 1940. First in action, the Lothians were later - and only too soon - to be the last cavalry regiment to fight in France.
a) Second Lieutenant Hon R M Dundas rejoined the Regiment from No 1 GBD 9 April 1940.
b) Second Lieutenants F Stewart and A S Chambers rejoined the Regiment from No 1 GBD 12 April 1940.
c) Major A B Usher rejoined the regiment from 53rd Training Regiment Tidworth 16 April 1940 and was placed in command of 'C' Squadron, replacing Major D St C Thom who left the regiment.
d) Second Lieutenant EWB Grotrian rejoined the unit from leave following a course in England 16 April 1940.
One Tank Troop of A Squadron moved from Bois de Kalenhofen to Remeling in Ligne de Contact. Carrier personnel took over outposts. The remainder of the regiment followed 'A' Squadron, moving via Roncourt, over the river Moselle at Hauconcourt, Aboncourt, Ebersvillers to Ising Wood, where it spent a very wet night. This was close to one of the Maginot forts, the Michelsberg. As is well known, the efficacy of the Maginot Line was not tested since the enemy turned the flank of the Maginot Line and did not make a direct assault until France had been overrun and had virtually collapsed.
Sean Longden's None Bolder adds: On 1 May the reinforced division [51st(Highland) Division reinforced by pioneer battalions and machine-gun battalions and Gunner and Sapper elements] officially became Saar Force, relieving the French 7th Infantry Division of Third Army in the Hombourg-Budange sector with an advance HQ at the hamlet of Hombourg-Budange which sits across a Carrefour between the Saar and Moselle rivers, about eighteen miles north-east of Metz.
The War Diary [1st Lothians and Border Yeomanry war diary (WO 167/455) in the National Archives] includes
the following report from 2/Lt Brackley, dated 2 May 1940 about 1 May 1940:
Reached front 3.30 pm and French vacated 6:30 pm.
Supper 7 pm
All personnel standing to from 7.30 - 9:30.
Nothing to report from 9:30 - 1.30 excepting heavy rain and thunder storm.
1-30 am unnatural owl hoot heard from stream area this was shortly answered from several positions on the southern area.
1.40 Patrol entered wire by east post and southern area. 1.43 rattling of wires and further hoots (owl).
Shortly afterwards figure sighted 10 yrds south of my post. Fired ..(illegible)… at it and at same time blew whistle for internal fire scheme to come into operation. Signs of movement heard for considerable time afterwards. Visibility v. poor.
1.15 approx figure sighted by Cpl Simkin's post … shot at.
1.30 am most of activity had cleared.
15 calnoners and then further patrol activity movements in vicinity. At this period a small fire was lit giving off a glowing appearance. A few pieces of straw were found but imagine other material had also been used. This fire lasted for a few minutes. Fixed at
2.30 activity died down and patrol disappeared.
About 4 am a patrol of 6 or 7 was seen coming in front of Cp, Simkin's post (at the crawl) heading in the direction of Remeling. Identification was impossible and owing to French patrols being out that night no action was taken.
Numerous Verey lights (white) were seen from 9.45 pm onwards and one used one landed 15 yds behind my post about 3.15 am. In the morning I found a pole 16 ft with gaff end. This had been left on the inside of the wire enclosure. … five am (5) a 'small' shell burst about 100 yds SE pf ,y post.
There is the possibility that two patrols may have enticed taking into consideration the time of the disappearance of the 'first' and the arrival of the '2nd'.
Wednesday 1 to 2 May 1940
Regiment moved to area Lacroix. Spending one night in the woods north of Ising. Very heavy rainfall was encountered. A Squadron outposts were enticed by German patrols. No casualties resulted. Advance party under 2nd Lt RM Robertson left to billet Lacroix. The following day, the wholeRegiment moved into Lacroix. A Squadron outposts were again visited by German patrols, but there was nothing to report.
By this time, the Lothians were able to attain some idea of the layout of the Maginot defences and Wattie McCulloch, OC of 'B' Squadron writes: They consisted of three lines: the first, 'ligne de contacte', which, in spite of its name, ran a mile or more from a similar enemy line and just inside the French frontier. It lay about halfway between the rivers Saar and Moselle. It appeared a miserable construction and the Lothians learned later that it consisted of a series of posts, wretched wooden huts, scarcely a sound defence against a well thrown assegai, surrounded by a few strands of barbed wire. It appeared that there was no intention of making any serious resistance on this line. Sean Longden's None Bolder adds: Many forward platoon-posts were no more than log cabins 'with a dense perimeter of barbed-wire'. Since the ground that fringed the woods was so wet the French had decided to build up rather than dig down but they had chosen to use wood, which was certainly not bulletproof. The pioneer battalions - Norfolks and Royal Scots Fusiliers - were soon busy demolishing the cabins and replacing them with more effective positions.
Some 3 or 4 miles behind this was the 'ligne de receuil', a similar line but alleged to be considerably stronger, defended by an anti-tank ditch and under cover of the Maginot guns. Although the war had now been in progress for 8 months this line was still only in a very partial state of completion. Sean Longden's None Bolder adds: Many of the brisants (V-shaped defensive works) had not been finished and the stop line was in a similar state with no effective trench system. Five miles or so further back was the Maginot Line itself, a chain of forts sited at intervals of a mile or more and connected by formidable lines of concrete 'pill-boxes', anti-tank ditches, wire, 'champignons farcis' [stuffed mushroom] and all the other devices of modern defence. All the garrison wore badges in their brown berets with the motto 'on ne passe pas'! Lacroix lay just in front of the 'ligne de receuil' and, like all other places in front of the Maginot Line, had been evacuated at the outbreak of war. The Lothians took it over from some French troops, Cavalry and Artillery, who left it in a state of intolerable filth which it was the immediate task to remedy. Apart from this, it was attractive and the surrounding country was pleasantly rolling, much of it being covered with woods. Another attraction was the use of a cow for the Commanding Officer! In the meantime 'A' Squadron were in the 'ligne de contacte', mainly engaged in improving their posts as much as possible. They reported some enemy patrol activity which was said to be vigorous in this sector, but beyond this, there was, in the words of the French communiqués, 'sien asignaler'.
Friday and Saturday 3 and 4 May 1940
One Tank Troop B Squadron and one Tank Troop C Squadron moved to positions in Ligne de Contact: B Squadron to area Bizing and C Squadron to area Dampont Farm. A certain amount of artillery was seen activity during the day but since the village was in a filthy condition, the Friday was spent in maintenance and general clean up. The French cavalry regiment moved out of the village and further cleaning was carried out.
Monday 6 May 1940
C Squadron relived A Squadron in Ligne de Contact. A Squadron returned to St Francois Lacroix. A Squadron reported a few shells bursting in Remeling early this morning, otherwise conditions quiet. C Squadron also had little to report except for 'propaganda leaflet' shelling. It seems that hitherto the French, in this area anyhow, had pursued a mischievous policy of 'Doucement! Doucement!', under which nothing must be done which might upset the enemy: for instance, shelling villages behind their lines. This would only result in unpleasant retaliation and the destruction of comfortable billets! There was marked artillery activity on Monday 7 May 1940. The OC of C Squadron sent a note to the Intelligence Officer of the Lothians that: 6 men reported to be Bosch were in post and proceeded in the direction of Remeling calling one another by Owl Calls and Frog Calls. [1st Lothians and Border Yeomanry war diary (WO 167/455) in the National Archives] The War Diary also states that shelling took place in front of post 15 and that post 17 was visited by two Bosch.
Thursday 9 May 1940
On 9th May the enemy invaded the Low Countries and the 'Mise en Alerte' was ordered. The regiment accordingly moved out of Lacroix to the Bois de Menskirch behind the 'ligne de receuil' and A Squadron took up position in the Ligne de Receuil until relieved by infantry. The whole Regiment - less C Squadron and tank troops of A and B in Ligne de Contact - were in the wood by nightfall. General Fortune's Divisional Direction at this time states that: "Patrolling must be active. Any attack by the enemy must at once be exploited by the Tank troops (1st Lothian and Border Horse) immediately."
Saturday 11 May 1940
B Squadron relieved C in the 'ligne de contacte' around Remeling and the same evening the enemy attacked. Wattie McCulloch states: This was probably no more than a demonstration, synchronised with the main attack in Belgium and Holland, and calculated to 'fix' as many troops as possible on the Maginot Line. During this time the Tank troops had had a special role, one troop being allotted to each Brigade front. The enemy had recently surprised and captured a post held by the D.C.L.I. Their assault was supported by a 'box barrage' which prevented the arrival of reinforcements. Their success made it possible that they might try to repeat the operation. In that event, it was intended that the tanks should move in from a flank and cut off their line of withdrawal. This was a plan which, in the possible event of the enemy being unaware of the presence of tanks, might be successful once but which, a second time, would be, to say the least, hazardous. In addition, conditions were unsuited to employing light tanks in a counter-attack role.
The War Diary states: Tank Troop under Second Lieutenant A S Chambers went into action in the area around Grossenwald Wood. One tank was bogged 20 yards from the wood. Another had both tracks blown off in a position some distance out from the wood and in full view of the German outposts. All crews returned safely. Considerable artillery activity was carried out during the night. This rather sparse description is augmented by Sean Longden's None Bolder and in other descriptions. B Company of the 4th Black Watch was holding positions at Betting when they came under attack. When he learned that his platoon was being surrounded, Lieutenant-Colonel; Macpherson, CO of 4th Black Watch, ordered the Lothians' troop at his HQ, under Second-Lieutenant AS Chambers, to advance to Betting.
The official account of 2/Lt Chambers' action, issued by the Intelligence Officer was as follows:
'Regimental News Bulletin. No. 1. 14 May 1940.'
'On the evening 11th May Tank Troop under the command of 2nd Lt. AS Chambers was called upon to assist infantry outposts along the Grossenwald front. He was ordered to move his troop around the left of the wood and try and outflank any enemy patrols or machine gunners lying out in front of the wood. Carriers belonging to the Black Watch were to carry out the same operation on the right of the wood. Although unable to reconnoitre the ground in front of the Grossenwald previously, the impression was gained that it was suitable for tank action. This, however, proved to be wrong as it was still too wet in places for a Light Tank. The following is 2nd Lieut. Chambers' owns story: (who had previously received orders from O.C. Black Watch.)
'About 18.30 hrs. I was ordered by Major McCulloch to take my troop to the aid of No. 9 post. I accordingly moved off in the following order: No. 1 Tank, myself, No. 2 Tank - Sgt. Menteith, No. 3 Tank - Cpl Rust. This took three minutes. Moving out of our hide-out we were held up for a few minutes while a barrier was removed and then proceeded up the road to the point at which we had to leave it. This meant crashing through some barbed wire. We skirted round the left hand corner of the wood about 30 yards out and 80 yards between tanks. There was a considerable amount of shelling and gunfire. After passing down the point of the wood and reaching the right corner I discovered No. 3 tanks was missing, so I lay up under cover and waited for it and made a quick inspection of my Tank. I found that the camouflage net had been set alight by the exhaust and was burning. We managed to put this out and found no further damage. As nothing had yet been seen of No. 3 Tank, I turned back with No. 2 along the same route as we had come. Shells were bursting very close and my spotlight was blown off. At this point my Tank got bogged and I found the crew of No. 3 Tank hanging onto the outside. Whilst getting into position to tow us out No. 2 Tank also got bogged. They dismounted and by putting branches down and skilful driving they managed to get out. They then gave us covering fire whilst the same operation was carried out by my Tank crew. We got out as well. We then moved off again but whilst crossing a ditch my Tank got hopelessly bogged. At this point 2 carriers passed us and offered us assistance. I ordered No. 2 Tank to return to its base and the crews of Nos 1 and 3 Tanks to remove the feed blocks of guns etc. and board the carriers. We eventually took shelter in a barn for the night as we could not get back along the road. Very heavy shelling took place in the early part of the night. The following morning at 0500 hrs. We proceeded to the edge of the wood and camouflaged the carriers. I then reported back with my crews to our base and found No. 2 Tank had arrived back safely. Unfortunately no enemy were seen and none of the Tanks fired a shot.'
The following day a small party under the Commanding Officer made an attempt o recover No. 1 Tank. Aftetr some hours owrk they succeeded in getting the Tank from the ditch only to find the Tank's tow rope used the previous evening had somehow got into the track. This meant much further wor but unfortunately the party was spotted by the enemy who shelled them with high explosives. Pte. Craigie received a wound in the stomach and Sgt. Skene was hit in theh mouth. Otherwise there wre no casualties. No. 2 Tank had both tracks blown off and was some way out in full view of the enemy. An attempt was made to recover the wireless and guns. Under cover of a battle patrol this attempt proved a failure as it was found impossible to open the turrets. It is probable that the Tank will not be recovered. [Report from RM Robertson, IO as stated in the War Diary]
Monday 13 May 1940 [1st Lothians and Border Yeomanry war diary (WO 167/455) in the National Archives] Heavy shelling took place in Grossenwald at 0430. Tank Troop under Lieutenant J M Johnston went into action. Two tanks were hit by anti-tank guns and eventually abandoned. One tank commander and one gunner were killed. Our outposts were shelled but otherwise there was nothing of special interest to report.
[1st Lothians and Border Yeomanry war diary (WO 167/455) in the National Archives]
REPORT BY LIEUT. J.R. JOHNSTON Commanding No. 1 Tank Troop, B. Sqn.
1st LOTHIANS AND BORDER YEOMANRY
No. 1 Tank Troop at Bizing 13 May 1940.
At approx 04.15 hrs on 13th a barrage came down on posts F1 & F2, and along all Posts to the Grossenwald. O.C., Black Watch, asked me to take my Tp along the Bizing Falstroff road ready to support Posts F1 & 2 should small arms fire break out. When opposite F1 a certain amount of small arms fire was heard though owing to noise of engine and gunfire it was not easy to distinguish the amount. Two tanks went up and circled round the back of Posts and found Posts were not being attacked so retired out of barrage area as shells were dropping. After an interval of 5 minutes shelling ceased, and Troop leader's Tank went back to the Post F1 and get in touch with O.C., who said they were all right, but that he had a telephone message asking that the Tank Troop go to Post on Hill 301 which was out of communication with its Coy H.Qrs. Troop proceeded to Coy H.Q. at Railway Bridge, between Falstroff and Bizing and was asked to go to Post at 301 and find out the situation. No. 1 Tank then went up and to the back of the Post leaving remainder of Troop to cover. Black Watch Carriers were up there, and the Black Watch Officer said that Post was all right and apart from heavy shelling was not being attacked. Returned with information to Co H.Q. There received telephone message from H.Q. Sector saying that Grossenwald Posts were being heavily attacked and asking us to go to their assistance and do what we could. This was out of my reconnoitred area. Troop proceeded through Falstroff and up to Falstroff - Waldweisse Road. Halted at Road block in wood 2899 – 4099. Ammunition was loaded on each Tank and 2 Black Watch Officers came as guides. On circumventing Road block one Tank unfortunately got bogged. This Tank was later got out and returned to the Regiment. Two tanks proceeded up to Grossenwald and along the back of wood to near corner pt 2897-4111 where Black Watch officers unloaded boxes of ammunition and took it through wood to Post at 2897-4114. A few shells were dropping and machine guns opened up on the Post. No 1 Tank went forward to the corner but could not obtain field of fire and I decided to circle back through a gap in the wire and go round the wood, to a position from which I could enfilade the orchard at the front of the post. This was done but immediately No. 1 Tank came into view of the enemy we were fired at by the anti-Tank gun, one shot hitting the track and wounding Cpl Akers, the gunner, in the leg. We tried to turn right handed and get under cover, but probably the track came off and the Tank was out of control. Cpl Akers made a gallant effort to turn the turret so that I could get the gun into action, but at that moment we were hit by H.E. coming through the turret, killing Cpl Akers instantaneously and jamming the guns. I then ordered my driver L/Cpl Burkhart to get out and creep back to the Grossenwald and try and get into the Black Watch Post which he was able to do. I tried to remove the locks, but these were jammed. No. 2 Tank followed and was able to get round the edge of the wood; from later reconnaissance it was seen that this Tank crossed in a single apron wire fence which had dannert rolls in it and had done so with no difficulty.
The story of the crew of No. 2 Tank is as under:
Shortly after rounding the corner they came under Anti-Tank fire, one round of which broke a bogey on the track, a shell killed Sgt Grant and disabled the guns. The crew, Tpr Crooks and L/Cpl Fraser, got out and into the wood after firing their revolvers at an enemy patrol, which appeared coming towards the wood. They wandered in the Grossenwald for some hours during which they both received shrapnel wounds in the leg; eventually they were picked up by stretcher parties and brought back.
From the above the troop seems to have done all it was asked to do, and might have been more successful in helping the Post in the Grossenwald had not eh enemy had an A/Tk gun well forward and to the flank.
Two men were killed, two wounded and two tanks lost.
The Wireless sets, Ammunition, maps, papers and Gun Locks were later removed from both Tanks with the assistance of the Battle Patrol of the 1st Black Watch. The body of Cpl Akers was brought back but that of Sgt Grant could not be got out. These were the first cavalry casualties of the War.
Tuesday 14 May 1940
Outpost No 15 was attacked during the night 14/15 and Trooper Allington of B Squadron was killed. 2/Lt Otter-Barry's report is as follows: On The night of May 13th Post 15 was raided. During the course of the day Bosch patrols had been seen in the wood at our rear. At about 1030 I heard Sgt. Henderson, who held a post in the road and in the rear of my post, open fire with a Bren gun. About half-an-hour later he opened fire again and it was shortly after this that we heard some Jerries moving about inside our wires. We threw a grenade and the Jerries opened fire with pistols and a Tommy gun. We brought one Bren gun into action but it was too dark for any accurate shooting. The action lasted about half-an-hour during the course of which Tpr. Allington lost his life. Shells were falling all around us both before and after the raid.
Wednesday 15 May 1940
The German attacks continued intermittently for 5 days until 15th May. They had suffered some casualties but had inflicted very few either on 4 Black Watch or 5 Gordons who relieved them on 13th. They had, however, cut off some posts and the position on the left was beginning to be critical. Further to the left, too, they had captured some high ground from the French their possession of which made the whole Divisional front dangerous. It was therefore decided to withdraw from the 'ligne de contacte'. The withdrawal tool place on the night of 15/16 May, B squadron acting as rearguard and carrying out a number of demolitions. Meantime the regiment had moved to the Bois de Luttange behind the Maginot Line and B Squadron joined it there. Reinforcements had arrived and 2/Lieuts DM Otter Barry and BK Tighe and 6 other Ranks were posted to the Squadron. The following day, the regiment, less C in reserve in Ligne de Receuil, was ordered to Bois de Luttange.
Saturday 18 May 1940
The Regiment was ordered to take up position in the Ligne de Receuil. All wheeled vehicles and AFVs remained in the Bois de Luttange with necessary personnel. The Regiment had to take over a frontage of app 4400 yards which had been held by 7 Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders with 4 companies up: C Squadron being on the left behind Lacroix, A in the centre and B on the right on the crest of the Cote de Rodlach from where there was good observation behind the German lines. The enemy, however, made no attack: to have done so would have brought them within range of the Maginot guns. They contented themselves with some occasional shelling. On 20 May the Division passed into reserve to a French army group and was ordered to the vicinity of Etain, about twenty miles north-west of Metz; this move was completed by the 22nd.
Sunday 19 May 1940
The War Diary reports that the post was improved and that 1 Tank Troop A Squadron was brought up to HQ.
Monday 20 May 1940
The order was received for the Regiment to withdraw into reserve to a French army, with remainder of Division. They were ordered to the vicinity of Etain, about twenty miles north-west of Metz; this move was completed by the 22nd. On 23rd May the German Army broke through at Sedan, and the 51st Division was now despatched hurriedly to reinforce the French corps at that point. However, there was a lot of confusion surrounding the move.
Thursday 23 May 1940
The War Diary states that a Warning Order was received for the Regiment to move immediately to NW of Paris in Pacy area. They were to spend one night at Allamont app 15 miles NW of Metz, the Divisional reserve area. The regiment left the Bois de Luttange on 23rd and, after passing through Metz, billeted for the night at Dompierre, some 20 miles to the west of that town. Orders for a move to the Pacy area were cancelled and the Regiment was ordered to the support of the French Second Army in area SW Montmedy. The regiment less wheeled transport moved at 0700 hours 24 May.
Friday 24 May 1940
The Regiment continued the march to Gesnes via Verdun and on arrival at 154 Brigade HQ, the Regiment was allotted the Gesnes area, a small village, evacuated in the force of the German threat, lying on the eastern flank of the Argonne and some 15 miles from Sedan.. The day was spent in moving in. During the afternoon the Regiment was informed that the whole division was proceeding to this area, so all wheeled transport kept at Allamont was ordered up. They arrived during the evening. The Regiment stayed there for two days.
Saturday 25 May 1940
A further move was ordered at 0900 hours. A move to the Pacy area was ordered again and arrangements were made. The Regiment moved to their new destination by rail and road from 25 to 29 May.
Sunday 26 May 1940
The Regiment left Gesnes on 26 May and, after passing through the Argonne, entrained at Autry, near the headwaters of the River Aisne. It was clear that the plan to use the Division in the neighbourhood of Sedan had been altered. The division went to Normandy, and the rail-parties that were slowly moving towards Varennes were diverted to Rouen; the road-parties turned their transport westward to the sea. Their route was by Vitry le François, Sézanne and Gisors – from Lorraine through Champagne and the Ile de France – then north-westward to Neufchâtel, and so to the battlefield of the three rivers – the Somme and the Bresle and the Béthune.
This was a strange railway journey: they seemed to meander aimlessly and very slowly through half of France. After 15 hours they had reached Troyes and thereafter passed through Sens, Montargis, Orleans, Blois and Tours. In spite of food difficulties – they were without rations and had to make a hasty forage every time the train stopped – it was, on the whole, a pleasant journey, especially the latter part down the River Loire. They still did not know where they were going but presumed that we were being sent by this circuitous route because of the strain on the railways north of Paris and probably also because of bomb damage.
On 28 May they learned that their destination was somewhere north of Rouen. By this time, rumours of disaster in Belgium and Northern France and of ‘Dunkirk’ had begun to reach them and the sight of trainloads of famished refugees was not reassuring. It was with mixed feelings that they crossed the River Seine. Their destination proved to be Yquiqueville St Vaast, halfway between Dieppe and Rouen, where they eventually detrained after a 48 hour journey. They learned that he Division were moving up to the River Somme over which the enemy had established a bridgehead at Abbeville. It was the intention to attack and reduce this, a task in which an armoured division had already failed.
According to Linklater: The Divisional transport and the lorry-borne troops travelled about three hundred miles of French roads. The roads were roughly parallel to the German corridor and no more than thirty-odd miles away from it. From the Forest of Argonne, where men, wagons and guns had lain hidden among the trees, to the Haute Forêt d’Eu, where they assembled for battle was a three-days’ journey in drill-order: over an indicated route, at an ordered speed, in a fixed density of so many vehicles to the mile. Supply points and staging areas had to be arranged. Advanced-parties must be told off, road-pickets detailed, motor-cyclists sent forward at such-and-such a time. The huge assortment of vehicles – there were about three thousand of one sort or another – had to be marshalled according to their purpose and their kind: troop-carriers and Bren-carriers, company vehicles and cooking trucks, blanket lorries in the transport echelon, water-trucks, utility-trucks, and trucks mounting light machine-guns for anti-aircraft defence.
Wednesday 29 May 1940
RHQ and HQ Squadron were billeted at Guilmecourt, A and C Squadron at Assigny, B Squadron at Cannehan. The entire Division was in positions from Senarpont to Eu, a line of about eighteen miles, with Divisional HQ at St Léger-au-Bois. On 51st Division’s left was IX French Corps while, on its right, were supposed to be French marines.
Thursday 30 May 1940
C Squadron was ordered to reconnoitre routes and country between the sea and the main road Eu to Lancheres starting at 0730 hours.
Friday 31 May 1940
The Regiment moved to area Friaucourt, Allenay, Bethencourt, Tully. The Armoured Division had withdrawn to the neighbourhood of Rouen to refit, leaving a support-group of one brigade which, with the Lothians and Border Horse, was placed in Divisional reserve. But within a few hours the Lothians had to take over a position from the French, and were in the front line, on the extreme right of it, from Erondelle to Tourbières.
Saturday 1 June 1940
The frontages were allotted among the woods and hamlets on the south bank of the Somme, with the 152nd Brigade on the right, the 153rd in the centre, and the 154th on the left. The Regiment was ordered to the right flank of the Division: Area Lignieres, Aumatre, Mouflieres. Route Eu, Gamaches, Blangy.
Sunday 2 June 1940
The Divisional front was 15 miles along the Somme, from the sea at St. Valery-sur-Somme to Erondelle, south of Abbeville. Astonishingly, despite being on the front line, the Lothians took part in a church parade before taking over as infantry from the French cavalry line on the River Somme from inclusive road Mareuil, Villers to exclusive road Erondelle, Bailleul on the right flank of the Division (with French, somewhere away to the right) and up river from Abbeville, where the enemy had already gained a substantial bridgehead. A Squadron was on the left and C on the right in the area Mareuil - Bray, with B in reserve in the Bois de Fréchencourt, immediately in front of the village of Bailleul. (A and C less tank troops). Frontage 6000 yards (about 3½ miles). They could do no more than cover the roads along which an attack could be most expected. It was a line of wide gaps interspersed by small posts, with an immobile French tank (complete with crew) incorporated as a ‘strong-point’, and with a void of unknown dimensions on the right. The defences consisted of a few shallow scrapes in the ground, the field of fire was around 100 yards. Because of the necessity to conform to flanking positions, better positions could not be chosen.
At 1900 hours, the Regiment moved into Bois de Bailleul. Tank troops and carriers with drivers only less one carrier troop per Squadron remained in Bois de Bailleul.
Monday 3 June 1940
Day spent improving positions, digging and laying telephones but the Regiment suffered casualties: 2/Lt. BK Tighe and 4 other ranks (of B Squadron) were killed. RHQ also suffered some casualties at this time from sporadic shelling. Both the Adjutant, Capt. NB Baird and Intelligence Officer, 2/Lt RM Robertson were wounded and evacuated. They were replaced by 2/Lt IR Pitman and 2/Lt HF Ford respectively.
LOSSES: 2/Lt BK Tighe, 4 other ranks; WOUNDED: Capt NB Baird and 2/Lt RM Robertson (evacuated).
Tuesday 4 June 1940
The War Diary states: Some pigs, ducks, geese and chickens killed and sent to RHQ for cooking. Meanwhile, the Camerons passed through the Lothians to take part in the elimination of the German bridgehead at Abbeville. Supported by French tanks and the R.A.F. (the last time the Lothians saw our own Air Force), with the Gordons relieving the Camerons, the attack was only partially successful. Big losses of B Company of the Camerons and B Company 4th Seaforths all but wiped out. 2nd Seaforths and 1st Gordons reached their objective.
Wednesday 5 June 1940
War Diary: 0430 hours: Germans attacked C Squadron front at Bray.
War Diary: 0530 hours: Germans attacked A Squadron front at MAREUIL.
War Diary: 0800 hours: Telephone lines cut.
War Diary: 0930 hours: Dive bombing attack on Bailleul. Result little left. Intense bombardment of Bois de Bailleul. Bailleul de Bois evacuated. RHQ evaluated in wood further back. Very hot day.
War Diary: 1400 hours: Order received to fall back. C Squadron rejoined RHQ at about 1600 hours. A Squadron rejoined RHQ at Doudelainville 2200 hours. Casualties: A Squadron 40 out of 65. C Squadron 2 prisoners and one corporal. B Squadron lost second Lieutenant B K Tighe and three men killed by direct hit.
The enemy counter attacked the next day along the whole divisional font making the strongest effort against 154 Brigade’s thin eight-mile front from Quesnoy to le Hourdel and the coast. The regimental sector was very thinly held, the enemy had no serious difficulty in infiltrating through the line and the position soon became critical. By 0800 hrs telephone communication with Regimental H.Q. was cut. The sector held by A Squadron had been held by 120 Frenchmen. A Squadron had 65 men and 3 carriers. The section was divided into 3: The northern part under 2/Lt. Lord Brackley and 2/Lt. Witt, the centre Major Dallmeyer and Captain Watson, and the southern end under 2/Lt. R.M. Dundas and 2/Lt. A.S. Chambers. The northern and centre were contiguous and to this portion were allotted 45 men. The southern end had 20 men including the mobile reserve of 3 carriers (Mr. Dundas’ troop).
A Squadron had taken advantage of the breakdown of a French tank by pressing the machine into service as a strongpoint, using its 2-pounder gun and machine gun. When C Squadron at Bray was hit by a German attack the carrier troop from A Squadron was sent to its aid and helped repel the attackers. Then it was A Squadron’s turn to come under attack when German infantry made a sudden appearance in their sector. A Squadron held its position until noon when the shells for the tank ran out. German artillery was becoming more accurate as their gunners registered the Lothians’ positions and some outposts were evacuated
Woolward states: In the late afternoon, the Regiment was ordered (by wireless from Brigade) to withdraw ‘if possible’. . The lines to C Squadron were open, and this squadron withdrew fairly easily. But A Squadron, enduring a nine-hour attack launched by vastly superior forces, and grimly huddled together in the centre of its sector, was surrounded to the extent that its only line of withdrawal was covered by the enemy. Orders to withdraw, carried by a small force of two tanks and three carriers, reached this squadron at 1400 hrs. One of these two tanks (Lieut. Dundas) was then sent to cover the withdrawal of a patrol, but it ran into violent anti-tank fire and was hit repeatedly. The action was successful and the patrol safely withdrawn, but of the tank’s crew of three only one escaped.
The Germans were now massing in increasingly large numbers and A Squadron’s Bren guns made them pay a bitter penalty while the outlying posts and patrols were being drawn in. When the remaining men were organised for departure, and at the moment when the retiral signal was being given, a heavy blast of H.E. covered the orchard in which the vehicles were gathered. Three men were killed and about fifteen wounded. As the casualties were being laid on the vehicles, a large force of Germans appeared suddenly at terribly close range, and opened up intense sub-machine-gun fire. The one remaining tank (Lieut, Thorburn Brown) manoeuvred into position to give effective reply and defend the rear-guard. It was not seen again, but its action was successful. Despite the close proximity of the Germans, all the wounded and all the guns were safely loaded and taken away on the three carriers, one loaded with no less than eight desperately wounded men, some of them suffering indescribably agony, but their courage and patience in this ordeal was beyond praise. While the carriers went on ahead, the remainder of the Squadron – some of them were scarcely able to walk – started out, on this boiling-hot day, to catch up with Regimental H.Q., not knowing where the enemy were, and having only one ¼-inch map between them. They reached Regimental H.Q. at 2200 hrs., after a weary trek of 10 miles. There were twenty-five survivors of his squadron; he had lost forty men that day. Their casualties amounted to about 30% of their strength, a loss which seriously crippled them in the subsequent operations. Among those killed were 2/Lt A Thorburn Brown and 2/Lt. Hon, RM Dundas: 2/Lt. Viscount Brackley was taken prisoner. The withdrawal was covered by ‘B’ Squadron and some tanks under 2/Lt. CN Cairns which had a “good shoot” at the enemy from the high ground behind Bailleul as they emerged from the Bois de Fréchencourt. During the afternoon Bailleul was dive bombed by enemy ‘stukas’ but fortunately RHQ, which had been there, had moved, just previously, into the wood behind the village. Regimental HQ had been hit hard during the day, suffering attack by divebombers that prompted a move from the Bois de Bailleul to Doudelainville. C Squadron also returned to the regimental fold that evening.
LOSSES: Sgt Cormack (A), Tpr Queen (A), Cpl Wilson (A - missing), L/Cpl Baillie (A), L/Cpl Bain, Tpr Bray, Cpl Brown, Tpr Danny Graham, Tpr Jones, Tpr McLennan, Cpl Roberts, Tpr Smalley, Tpr Took, Tpr White, Cpl Piper Wilson, Lt Dundas (A), Lt Thorburn-Brown and crew (A), Squadron Sergeant-Major (A); WOUNDED: Capt NB Baird and 2/Lt RM Robertson (evacuated).
Now began the Division’s rearguard action with orders being issued for a withdrawal to positions on a line from Limeux via Limercourt, Moyenneville, Valines and Escarbotin to Hautebot, which was to be held ‘if possible’ until thirty minutes before midnight of 5 June. At the same time, preparations were to be made for a defence on the line of the Bresle river. In the ensuing withdrawal A and B companies of 8th Argylls could not be extricated from their positions and were left behind. The Lothians took up a position in front of Oisemont as part of the new divisional line, ‘B’ and ‘C’ squadrons being on the right and left of the town respectively and ‘A’ in reserve.
Thursday 6 June 1940
All the squadrons were well dug in, with two forward (B on the right, C on the left along the line of the railway) in good positions, and the men slept peacefully during the hot summer forenoon. A lost troop of French armoured cars, who elected to join the Lothians (and who afterwards fought magnificently), were welcome reinforcement, as were a platoon of anti-tank guns and a section of machine guns, sent up by Brigade. The attack came at 1600 hrs and started the second of the Lothians’ three major battles before St. Valery.
There was first shelling and dive-bombing, and low-flying machine-gunning. The single anti-tank gun was quickly knocked out. Under cover of this, at about 1700 hrs., to the left of the front, the enemy came up thick like a crowd from a football match. All C Squadron and the left Troops of B Squadron had a wonderful shoot. By 2000 hrs the enemy were making a little progress, grimly determined that sheer weight would tell. By 2100 hrs the position was serious – Oisemont was alight, fire was spreading from an oil dump, C Squadron had had to be reinforced by two troops of tanks, and A Squadron and the reserve tank troops had moved up into covering positions. The Regiment was ordered to hold until midnight: by that time the enemy were amongst the Lothians’ posts, but the Regiment made a clean withdrawal across the River Bresle at Blangy and went into position in the Forêt d’Eu. Among others 2/Lt. IAD Lawrie was hit by a shell in the open and could not be brought in and 2/Lt. EWB Grotrian was wounded and evacuated.
LOSSES: 2/Lt. IAD Lawrie, Tpr Brydon, Tpr Poole, L/Cpl Rees, Tpr Sime; WOUNDED: 2/Lt. EWB Grotrian (evacuated).
March to Western end Haute Foret d’Eu.
Friday 7 June 1940
March across the River Bresle to Fresnoy, the tanks of the regiment acting as a flankguard. From there they moved to Melicamps and spent the night 7/8 June in an orchard there.
Saturday 8 June 1940
1700 hours: Regiment moved to Touffreville. 2200 hours: A Squadron moved to area Flocques – le Quesnoy. B Squadron moved to reserve at Criel [sur Mer]. C Squadron moved to area St Remy.
The Lothians and Border Horse, covering the left flank of the withdrawal, were still in touch with the enemy, but to the rest of the Division the day brought no fighting. That night the regiment covered the withdrawal of the division from the line of the River Bresle, which it held since the withdrawal; from the Oisemont line. It held the Flocques – Le Quesnoy – St. Remy area and was disposed along the line of the River Yères, a stream running parallel to and some miles south to the River Bresle. On this occasion it was on the divisional left and ‘B’ Squadron covered the sector from the sea to Touffreville. There was no sign of the enemy but units of the division, including a battalion of the Buffs, were still coming back in the early morning of June 9. These, the regiment transported back to positions in the neighbourhood of Dieppe before proceeding to the rendez-vous outside the town at Thibermont. As the Royal Scots Fusiliers reached Criel at 0400 (due 0200), the bridges were blown.
Sunday 9 June 1940
The sole element of the Division in contact with the enemy during the 9th was The Lothians and Border Yeomanry who were covering the left flank of the withdrawal. The Regiment moved to Thibermont and moved out at night to crossing on rivers Aulne and d’Arques. During the night 9/10 June, the division took up a position behind the river Bethune which joins the sea at Dieppe. Infantry units fell back on to this position through the night and it was the task of the regimental tanks to cover the approaches to the bridges over the river. ‘B’ Squadron was disposed in the Forêt d’Arques in front of the bridge at St Aubin. Owing to the mining of a number of roads and the blocking of others by the inevitable French transport, which was now becoming somewhat disorganised, it was difficult to reach the position and the squadron was some hours late in doing so. However there was no sign of the enemy and, after blowing the bridge, it withdrew in the early morning of 10 June to the rendez-vous at Longueil. A Squadron to Flainville.
Meanwhile, Ark Force ordered to proceed that night to a position reaching from Fécamp to Lillebonne. From this line it would cover the withdrawal to Le Havre. [4th Bn Black Watch, 7th & 8th Bn Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, 6th Bn the Royal Scots Fusiliers (Pioneers), 1st Bn Princess Louise’s Kensington Regiment (less two companies), 17th & 75th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery, 51st Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery (one Battery), 236th & 237th Field Company, Royal Engineers, 239th Field Park Company, Royal Engineers, 154th Field Ambulance, and “A” Brigade: 4th Buffs, 5th Sherwood, 4th Borders.
LOSSES: Tpr James Wilson, Tpr Gordon Fortune.
Monday 10 June 1940
See separate accounthere.
The Regiment moved off at 1400 hrs., C Squadron on the right, B Squadron on the left, A Squadron in reserve. First bound line St Valery – Neville – St Vaast reported clear. Second bound River Durdent. Bridges at Cany and Veulettes held by enemy. Intervening bridges destroyed.
At Cany B Squadron troop went forward to test a crossing, but the enemy were in considerable force and two tanks were lost. The Squadron was ordered to hold the enemy on this line.
At Veulettes, near the coast, C Squadron reported that the enemy were advancing in strength towards St. Valery by shore and road. Ordered to hold enemy at all costs. 2 anti-tank guns and 2 machine guns sent to C Squadron. B Squadron ordered to remain in observation Cany. Patrol 2 carrier troops A Squadron ordered to area Bosville. Reported area held by French and no enemy in vicinity. Though C Squadron attempted by itself to stem the tide of the German advance, it was eventually compelled to fall back on a line on the outskirts of St. Valery. It was holding this line when darkness fell. 2200 hours: Regiment less C Squadron moved to Cailleville. Night: C Squadron fell back to outskirts St Valery. A and B ordered to take up positions to deny the enemy line Ocqueville – St Columbe. A on right, B on left. B Squadron was at St Colombe, about 6 miles south-east of St Valery.
Late on the night of 10th June the situation was not pleasant. The Regiment, depleted and tired, was stretched out on a 12-mile front. It was in contact with the enemy all along that front, with C Squadron on the western outskirts of St. Valery, and A and B conformed on a line Ocqueville – St. Colombe. The southern flank was wide open, and through the Lothians streamed French troops from the south, making for the coast.
LOSSES: L/Sgt Foley, Tpr Billy Bainbridge, Tpr Buchanan, Tpr Johnson, Tpr Keir.
It was now clear that the line of the division’s withdrawal to Le Havre had been cut and there was no other line of withdrawal available since it was known that bridges over the River Seine at Rouen had been blown. Up to this time and, indeed, even now, probably, by forcing the line of the River Durdent, the division could have withdrawn to Le Havre and embarked there. By abandoning all non-vital items such as anti-gas stores, which, in the Lothians’ case, required two large trucks, there was ample transport for the whole division which could have been entirely ‘motorised’. The regiment had in fact, already jettisoned everything possible, including all personal kit: but it was in vain for the division was ordered on no account to leave the French with whom it was fighting. The latter were far less mobile: much of their transport and most of their artillery being horsed and they were already withdrawing as quickly as possible. They were ‘easy meat’ for the fast moving German tanks.
Linklater reports: On the general line of the Béthune there had been four battalions forward, and three in rear. The latter – the 2nd Seaforths, the 4th Camerons, and the 1st Gordons – were ordered to establish the western side of the box along the Durdent, the forward battalions would retire and hold a line running southward from Veules-les-Roses to Fontaine-le0-Dun, or thereabout,. A battalion of the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment – a part of the Beauman Division, picked up in Dieppe – would form the left flank at Veules, with eh 4th Seaforths and the 5th Gordons to the south of them, and the 1st Black Watch on the right. These were the sides of the box, and the French, it was intended, would fill the bottom of it. But the French were slow on the road, and until they could take position the Lothians would reconnoitre the gap, and the Norfolks, the Pioneer Battalion, in Divisional reserve, would be prepared to cover it. Even on the Saar the Pioneers had had experience of the fact that their duty always includes fighting as well as pick-and-shovel work; and the Yeomanry, under the indefatigable Colonel Ansell – who had a kind of genius for suddenly appearing in the very place where he was needed – had throughout the brief campaign been busy as a maid-of-all-work, as fiercely mobile as His Majesty’s destroyers. The move was made at night, and the road from Ouville was, in some places, as crowded as the road to Epsom on Derby Day. The French were in retreat, many in total disorder.
Tuesday 11 June 1940
The perimeter around St Valery ran from Le Tot on the cliffs five kilometres (three miles) west to a point beyond the town of Veules-les-Roses seven kilometres (four and a quarter miles) east. The At Le Tot were the 2nd Seaforths and to their left were the 1st Gordons at Ingouville and then the 4th Camerons at Neville. The French troops, 2nd and 5th Light Cavalry, and remnants of 31st and 40th Divisions held the south front, facing inland. The 1st Black Watch were at Houdentot, 5th Gordons at St Pierre-le-Vigier and 4th Seaforths south-east of Veules-les-Roses, next to the sea. The French were due to take up the bottom or south side of the box but until they arrived the Lothian's, Norfolk's and the 6th Battalion, Royal Scots Fusiliers (Pioneers) would cover the gap. The Division was in position early on the 11th June but the perimeter was never fully established.
1100 hours: A and B plus 3 troops from C ordered to fall back and hold line covering Neville. German reconnaissance plane over our positions for at least ½ hour. Result violent shelling and several casualties.
Woolward states: All day the French, broken and in disorder, without arms, carrying sticks with white handkerchiefs, passed through the Regiment from the south, pressing in a mass towards the coast. Only one French unit, recognisable as such, appeared: it took up position in the defence perimeter, stayed an hour, and then quietly passed back into St. Valery, which was by now seething with the remains of an army, and was under fire from high ground overlooking the harbour. German pressure was maintained on the defence perimeters; A Squadron in particular was busy. C Squadron, in repelling a severe attack, lost its commanding officer, Major Usher, mortally wounded.
During the morning, the Squadrons ordered to withdraw to a new line, some 2 miles further back, in front of Cailleville.
In the evening General Fortune, the Divisional Commander, visited the unit: the situation was grave, there was doubt about the possibility of evacuation from the harbour, and the question of splitting up, in the hope of getting away in small parties, was reluctantly mooted.
At 10 pm the order was given for the destruction of all vehicles and equipment, with the exception of a few Bren guns which were to be retained, and for B squadron to rendez-vous at Cailleville before proceeding to St Valery for embarkation. The regiment reached St Valéry shortly after midnight.
During the afternoon the 1st Black Watch at St. Pierre-le-Viger came under great pressure from the Germans and by 1800hrs had lost some 50 men wounded or dead. They were supported by French cavalry who dismounted and, leaving their horse in a wood, fought as infantry. The position was finally overrun at dawn.
Towards the middle of the day on Tuesday 11 June Rommel approached from the west, finding, first, the Seaforths and then the Gordons and eventually the Camerons. ... So tenacious was the enemy defence that hand-to-hand combat developed at many points. Meanwhile the 25th Panzer Regiment had thrust forward [past the Seaforths] to the high ground immediately north-west of St Valery and was using every gun to prevent embarkation of enemy troops. To the west the perimeter was penetrated and the 2nd Seaforths cut off in Le Tot. Without their anti tank platoon, which was on the other side of St Valéry, the enemy tanks were able to bypass them but not without loss. There were many fires in the town which was under constant bombardment from artillery and air attack. In the town the Divisional HQ, the 51st Anti-Tank regiment, part of the Norfolks and a Company of Kensingtons secured the perimeter. An attack into the town was repulsed in the late afternoon but the town was now surrounded. Final plans were now made for the evacuation, beaches allotted and orders given but these did not reach the 2nd Seaforths cut off in Le Tot.
LOSSES: L/Cpl Emmerson, Tpr Keighren, Tpr Melville,
Wednesday 12 June 1940
0200 hours: Arrived St Valery. Town on fire. No ships. Regiment ordered to wood one mile from St Valery or to make off independently.
From a distance the whole town had appeared to be in flames but, actually, the fire was restricted to some half dozen houses and was no doubt the result of shelling the previous afternoon. Then the blow fell. Word came that there were no boats. Some passed down to the beach to verify this for themselves but it was all too true. They found also that the beaches were being raked with machine gunfire and a number were killed. Some people attempted to escape. Most of them were soon captured but some were lucky. Major CJY Dallmeyer and Captain RK Watson of ‘A’ Squadron and 2/Lt DM Otter Barry of ‘B’ Squadron, among others, succeeded in finding a boat and reaching England. Others were unlucky: a party including Lieut. Col. MP Ansell, Major HJ Younger, Captain the Earl of Hopetoun and 2/Lt KW Spreckley were mistake for ‘fifth columnists’ and attacked by a party of highlanders moving towards St Valery. Major Younger was killed, Lieut. Col. Ansell, seriously and 2/Lt Spreckley slightly wounded. The latter, after being in hospital for some time, succeeded in making his way back to England.
Officer casualties were as follows:- British Officers (including attached OME, Signal Officer, Doctor and Padres). Killed 6. Wounded 3. Wounded and taken prisoner 3; taken prisoner 21; reached England 3. Total 36. Of the 5 French Liaison Officers attached, one reached England, Cadet P Gimpel, 3 were taken prisoner of whom Lieut. J Bokanowski is believed to have escaped from the line of the march: of the fifth, Cadet R Roussille, there is no information. The casualty figures for B Squadron were approximately as follows:- Total strength (including officers and reinforcements) 124. Killed 9. Wounded 11. Wounded and taken prisoner 3. Reached England 4 (including one who was on a course there and 2 who had been sent back earlier with a damaged tank). Taken prisoner 97.
Total who made it home: 3 Officers and 17 Other Ranks, out of the whole Regiment except casualties previously evacuated.