Friday, June 26, 2020

The 26th of June, 1944 - D + 20, Into the Fire

An ammunition lorry of 11th Armoured Division explodes after being hit by mortar fire during Operation Epsom.

The rest of the battalion had come in yesterday in preparation for an attack which Sgt Wallace had been told was named Operation Epsom. Apparently the attack on the 25th, which had been a bloody shambles, was in preparation for today's op. The company commander was optimistic. He said that all the SS fanatics had been drawn off to fight the West Riding lads. They'd really taken it on the chin from what Billy had heard.

Now it seems that they were in for it.

"So Sarn't Wallace, did you miss us?" asked Sgt Wallace's company commander. Sgt Wallace and his platoon had been on loan to 7th Armoured Division, the fabled "Desert Rats," in a deal made in England which Wallace had been none too fond of. While the rest of their battalion had just entered the line yesterday, Wallace and his chaps had been hard at it for quite some time. Whereas the battalion staff was in Normandy with Billy's platoon, it wasn't like they were slogging through the hedgerows themselves.

So they were back with their own battalion, just in time for them to step off against the Jerries later in the morning. Most of the battalion hadn't seen action since the spring of 1940, training in England for four long years. Billy wouldn't have minded another couple of weeks in Blighty, but he was in Normandy, advance party they called it, the Desert Rats need you, he was told. Bloody Hell.

Well, at least they had some combat experience now.

As he took another sip of tea, the artillery began to prep the battlefield. The mist hadn't lifted yet, the morning was still rather cool. But that wasn't what made him shiver, he had a bad feeling about today.


"Lass uns gehen Jungs!¹" SS-Obersturmführer Klaus Schumacher barked at the Panzergrenadiers as they slowly piled off the back of his Panther. The young troopers of SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment 26 were less enthusiastic than they had been the day before. They had taken severe casualties from the attacking Tommies, now today they had to do it all over again. The weather was pure shit, the ground was boggy, they were in a constant drizzle, but one good thing about that, no Allied Jabos!²

Schumacher's driver, SS-Sturmmann Georg Schnabel, jockeyed the big Panther into position, getting the tank's hull hidden, so that only the turret was exposed. That made them tougher to spot and harder to hit. In the meantime their 7.5 cm cannon was free to engage the big Shermans trundling over the plains. The Tommy tanks, supplied by the Amis, were very tall, but the damned things were quick. There were also a lot of them!

At that moment Schumacher heard the unmistakable sound of incoming artillery, ducking low in his hatch, it took too long to close it completely, he ordered his men to seal up the tank. As the first rounds impacted some 200 meters to their front, he remembered the kids who had ridden his tank up to the line. Sure hope those lads find some cover, this is going to be nasty!

"Up and at 'em lads! For King and Country!"

Sgt Wallace and his squad stepped off into the misty countryside. Ahead of them they could hear the rumble and thump of the artillery barrage. Occasionally one could see the flash of an explosion through the mist.

"McCudden, increase yer interval laddie, I know you and Bain are mates, but out here, being too close is nae a good thing!" Wallace still had to chivvy the lads constantly, they were learning, but were they learning fast enough, he wondered.

As they followed the creeping barrage towards the enemy lines, Billy was a little surprised at the lack of resistance so far. Perhaps the artillery could keep Jerry's head down just a bit longer, then they'd be into the village that was their first day's objective. The mist was also a help, but why did he have this feeling of impending doom?

Sgt Wallace noticed that it was getting lighter, damn it, the mist was lifting! There, the edge of the village, "Alright laddies, get into the village and find cover, move, move, move!!"


The machine gun team leader spotted movement as the mist continued to clear, there, just outside the village, " There they are! Tommies!"

Even as he yelled that out, his gunner saw the English (to the Germans they were all "English") running towards the village, in just a few moments they would be under cover.

Wallace ran, leading his lads to cover, his heart was thumping rapidly, his palms were sweating, there, a wall, "Get in there laddies, find..."

The ripping snarl of an MG 42 drowned out his voice, two men, Privates Kelvin Shearer and Brodie Seton, were hit and went down hard. Private Hamish Lindsay made the cover of the wall, but his lower extremities were bleeding badly.

"I'm hit Sarn't, it hurts, it bloody hurts! Ahhh!"

"Shut yer gob laddie, it ain't that bad. Hold still!" Private Robert "Robbie" McCudden began to dress Lindsay's wounds, while they weren't fatal, McCudden could see that both of his legs were broken below the knees. Hamish wasn't going anywhere without being carried.

Sgt Wallace signaled to Lance Corporal Gavin Rutherford and Private Ranald Morrow to cut through the building to their right front, "We'll provide covering fire, go, go, go!"

The two men jumped over the wall, Morrow went first and was immediately hit by what could only be a sniper. He was down and LCpl Rutherford was alone on the other side of the wall.

"Billy! Where the bloody Hell is my covering fire?!?!"

As Wallace opened up on the machine gun position at least two of his men followed suit. In amazement Billy had turned to order someone over to help Rutherford, when he saw young Andy Bain jump up to the wall then crash down to the other side. Private Bain didn't know it, but a sniper's bullet had missed him by inches. Now he was on the other side of the wall, where the Hell was the lance corporal?

"Over here ye great walloper, are ye waitin' fer an engraved invitation?" LCpl Rutherford yelled at Bain. Quickly Bain got into the house where his lance corporal was waiting.

"Are ye ready?"

"Ready for what Corp?" Bain asked innocently.

"Bloody tea time ye doaty Glaswegian! Come on, let's grenade those Hun bastards. There's a window up above I think we can throw from. Out of that bloody sniper's sight line as well. At least, I think it is..."

Bain looked a bit worried as he followed Rutherford up a badly damaged staircase. But sure enough, at one window they could see the German machine gun team. Bloody wankers should have covered this, Rutherford thought. Then he noticed a dead German on the other side of the room and a great hole in the wall, no doubt the arty had done for him!

"You cover, I'll pitch!" Rutherford told Bain. "Ready?"

"Och aye!" Bain exclaimed as he rose up to the window and began laying down fire on the enemy machine gun team. He had hit the assistant gunner, before he could shift to a new target, he was amazed how everything seemed to be moving so slowly, he could see one of the Germans raising an MP 40, they were in for it now.

Rutherford had thrown two grenades in quick succession. The big German sergeant saw the second one, as he started to jump for cover, the first grenade went off, killing him and both gunners. His last thought was that he'd failed badly, the Tommies were into the village.

The rest of the day was a nightmare of house to house fighting, much of it hand to hand, with the ever constant threat of snipers as the men moved from cover to cover. Sgt Wallace lost another man, Private Rory Cockburn, killed by a sniper as he came out of a building he had just cleared.

All told, the squad lost half of it's strength on the very first day of Operation Epsom, Cockburn killed, Hamish Lindsay, badly wounded, Privates Shearer and Seaton killed just as they had reached the village and Private Callum Turnbull was missing in action, though Rutherford said that Turnbull was probably dead, "he went into that wee house just when those Jerry mortar rounds landed. I tell ye Sarn't, Callum ain't alive."

"Damn it," Billy muttered.

They had withstood a counterattack by the Hitlerjugend with tank support, though they'd killed a lot of Germans that day, their own strength was so depleted that the Borderers³ had had to relieve them. They withdrew back to the reserve that night around 2300 hours. It had been a bloody day.

"Billy, ye're wounded," LCpl Rutherford said with some concern as they withdrew from St Mauvieu-Norrey.

"Not my blood Gavin, it's Cockburn's. I was next to him when he was killed, head wounds, awfully messy." Sgt Wallace seemed to be in shock, he couldn't believe that he'd lost half his men. What's more, the Jerries were still holding out. Epsom wasn't over, not by a long shot.

From the War Diary of the 6th Battalion, Royal Scots Fusiliers of the 44th (Lowland) Brigade, of the 15th (Scottish) Division. Place St-Mauvieu, dated 26 June 1944 -
Op "Epsom".
Attack by 15(S)Div in which 44(L)Inf Bde took part. Bde took the two left objectives with rt 8RS, left 6RSF. 6RSF objective village of ST MAUVIEU. H Hour 0730.
Attack was carried out with heavy arty barrage, depth 500yds. A and B Coys were assaulting coys, C behind A, D behind B in reserve. Cas were incurred in the left coy by shorts in the barrage. On arrival on objective it was found to be strongly held by men of a unit of SS Hitler Youth Div, who carried out sniping during the clearing of the objectives with devastating results. The operation of clearing the village was well carried out by the Bn, but proved a slow and costly procedure, and it was not until 1700 hrs that the northern end of the objective was finally cleared by which time the Bn was very thin on the ground as the result of cas. Counter attack was launched about 1800 hrs on the left flank but was beaten off and no penetration was made except to an orchard at the northern end of the village. Later a further counter attack on the rt flank was seen to be developing and the CO, in order to avoid the posn being infiltrated, had to call on Bde for the assistance of two Coys 6KOSB. Bde Comd however decided in view of the cas incurred by the Bn in the operation to date to send up 6KOSB complete less one rifle coy to take over from 6 RSF. This relief was completed with difficulty as counter attacks were in progress during a portion of the time, and it was not until 2300 hrs that the final elements of the Bn were withdrawn from the posn to reserve. Total casualties incurred in this operation were as follows:
Killed : 21
Wounded : 113
Missing : 9
This was the first time the Bn had been in action since Jun 1940 and for the majority of the personnel of the Bn it was their first battle inoculation. The Bde Comd expressed to the Comd Offr his appreciation of the conduct of the Bn in a difficult operation. 
CR Buchanan Lieut-Colonel 
Commanding 6th Bn. Royal Scots Fusiliers (Source

¹ Let's go lads!
² Jabo = Jagdbomber = Fighter Bomber. No slack in ground attack!
³ 6th Battalion, King's Own Scottish Borderers


  1. Reading that War diary entry one can see why the butcher's bill was so high...... artillery shorts... snipers... counter-attacks...AND first action in four years. Cloudy, gloomy soon to rain weather here, perfect for reading such gloomy action...... nailed it Sarge. PBI!

    1. The infantry.

      Much respect for those guys.

    2. The backbone of the army, any army, in any time period.

    3. The PBI, the worst-off gits of any war.

  2. Ugh. Sounds awful. The plans on paper never work out that way in real life.

    1. I think it was Ike who said "In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable."

      Be ready for anything, expect nothing to go the way you thought it would. No plan survives contact with the enemy.

      Studying warfare as I have since I was a wee lad, I'm surprised anyone survives.

  3. You do a great job of story telling. You could bundle these and book them! I would be a customer!

    1. That's the plan. I've been meaning to write a book for years now, realized that if I didn't start it wouldn't happen. Life and blogging tended to get in the way of writing the book. So I combined writing and blogging.

      What you've seen so far are various vignettes which I try to keep in an historical framework (not easy!) and which loosely all go together. I will, at some point, bring it all together with more stuff between the vignettes to make it a book. First time I've tried this and this is the longest one of these series has lasted.

      With the world apparently going insane, it seemed like a good time to stop bitching about the world, in the blog, and just start writing.

      So far the readership seems to like it.

      Thanks Coffee Man.

    2. Sarge, I have found the same problem - and that blogging with vignettes is a way to make progress.

    3. Heh, "blogging with vignettes," I like the sound of that. (Though it kinda sounds like a French cooking show!)

      But yeah, so far it's working.

    4. I'm with CoffeeMan! I tried to say such in yesterday's comments but couldn't get them to preview or publish.
      As to the "sniper"/rifleman discussion below I'd be interested to know how much individual marksmanship training the Wehrmacht conducted. My reading has indicated their doctrine was built around the MG and the "riflemen" were covering and hauling belted ammo.
      Still and all, great stuff! Make it into a book!
      Boat Guy

    5. The plan (hope? dream?) is that this will become a book.

      As to the commenting fiasco, preview doesn't work. I just tried it, it ate my comment.

      Software people, fixing stuff that ain't broke, then breaking something else.

      Yes, the German infantry squad was built around their light machine guns. You could lose most of the riflemen, but as long as the MG could be kept in action, very little drop in firepower.

    6. It's a damn good machine gun. I "qualified" on the 7.62 NATO version. Why our M60 wasn't as good is a travesty.
      Boat Guy

    7. I remember some guy blogging the campaigns of Julius Caesar in Gaul and Britain day-by-day (as best as can be be reconstructed). It was rather humorous, as in, "This morning the damned Catevellauni attacked again! Drove the sheep-shagging bastards off again in the same old way. Damn, but I'm getting sick of this shit!" (Umm, as best I can recall)

  4. This readership definitely likes it! How sterile the AAR's are compared to what the actual action itself is ... although some give a bit of real detail for what actually happened, most are like the one above - just the overview of facts, nothing of the bloody details.

    Note for further consideration - not all hidden riflemen are 'snipers'. Many infantry are lost to just good opponents that have good marksmanship skills and that know how to properly use cover and concealment, but are still listed as snipers in AARs. But when you are under fire and taking casualties, it doesn't really matter what specific training the other guy shooting at you has, does it, other than possibly to determine how hard or easy they are to neutralize.

    1. The Allied mantra in the Bocage seems to have been all enemy tanks are Tigers, all enemy guns are 88s, and anyone with a rifle is a sniper. While we all know that to be mostly false, the men on the ground would no doubt interpret single rifle shots as coming from snipers. Even if they weren't "real" snipers, as in someone who had specialist training in that field.

      Like you say, sometimes it's just a regular infantrymen who knows his trade.

    2. There isn't much difference between a dedicated sniper and an infantryman firing solo at targets of opportunity. So, yes, every rifleman was a sniper. As you said above.

      The confines of the Bocage did not lend themselves well to volley fire by a line of soldiers. It was really more like fighting in a very overgrown ruin of a town or city. Crappy sight lines, obstructed view, openings that lead to nowhere but death, some of them flooded by the Germans. A real nightmare. And then the only difference between the Bocage and towns were rounds were mostly absorbed by the Bocage, while ricochets abounded in the urban environment. And there was more booze in the urban environment.


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