Tuesday, June 30, 2020

The 30th of June, 1944 - D + 24, One Step Forward...

Men of the 8th Battalion, Royal Scots move forward past a Humber Scout Car of 31st Tank Brigade during Operation Epsom

Jacques Brisbois and his daughter Juliet were awake early, though some of their cows were dead from the shelling, bombing, and strafing over the past weeks, they still had twenty-three left. They all needed to be milked and cows do not care what time it is. As they finished up in the barn, Juliet looked across their pasture towards the hedgerow marking the boundary of their farm and the next.

"Papa, soldiers. I think they are English." Juliet told her father, soldiers made her nervous. A German had raped her a year ago, while his own army seemingly let him off with only a mild punishment, the Maquis were not so forgiving. The young man, brutalized by the fighting on the Eastern Front, disappeared in late April of this year. From what Jacques had discovered, the man had been a very bad soldier. Not even his colleagues missed him.

The Germans searched for him, roughed up a few of the villagers where he had been stationed. They eventually assumed that the man had deserted and stopped looking for him. The Maquis knew there was no body to be found. Gaston Renard's pigs were always hungry, they were also very thorough.

"Oui ma fille, ils sont Anglais.¹ Continue with your work, I will see what they want."

Le Haut du Bosq
Google Street View

Sgt Billy Wallace and his squad were on the alert, they had been ordered up to support the Royal Scots the day before but a stiff German counterattack had driven the Royal Scots back, so they had had to fall back as well. Now this morning they were moving back once again, towards Le Haut du Bosq according to their company commander. He could have told them they were falling back to the Moon, one hedgerow, one Norman farm, looked pretty much like any other after three weeks of nearly constant fighting.

Wallace looked over his squad, they'd lost one wounded, one missing, probably dead, and three more killed four days ago. One of the less experienced platoons in the battalion had been broken up and the men distributed to the platoons which were understrength, like theirs.

The new men were Pvt Seamus Hume, Pvt Jackie Ramsay, Pvt Hugh Souter, and Pvt Jamie Fraser. One of the new men, Ramsay, was from Wallace's own town of Kilmalcolm, though he didn't know the lad personally, he knew who his family were, solid folk. As for the others, he wondered if he should bother learning their names. The men he lost in the fight for St. Mauvieu were already fading in his memory.

"Sarn't, we've got company, a civvy from the look of him." Jock Campbell had noticed what had to be a French farmer coming towards them.

"Hello Englishmen, I am Jacques Brisbois, this is my farm. Is there anything I can do for you? I am with the résistance, a bas les Boches!"

"Right then Monsieur Brisbois. Seen any, uh, Boche lately?" Sgt Wallace asked.

"Bloody Hell Billy, we're not the bloody English. Hey laddie boy, we're Scots, ya know Écossais." Lance Corporal Rutherford was deeply offended that anyone would think that he was English.

"Wheesht wi' ye Gavin. I doubt he knows the difference." As Wallace turned back to the farmer. He heard the sound of mortars firing, had to be Jerries.

"Cover!! It's a bloody stonk!"

The men scattered and hugged any fold in the ground for protection. The farmer turned and sprinted towards his farm yelling, "Follow me!" He had to protect his daughter.

"Hold!" Wallace commanded. When the enemy mortar rounds impacted some hundred yards behind them he yelled, "Up, let's go!"

The men reached the farm building as the German mortars continued to tear up the field they had been in, no doubt the Jerries were firing at a map coordinate and didn't have a spotter. Just harassment fire Wallace figured.

Waffen SS Mortar Crew
"Rounds complete Scharführer!"

"Secure from firing!" The big SS sergeant turned to the company runner and sent him back to the company CP² with the admonishment that they needed more ammunition, they were down to their last few rounds.

"I'll tell them!" then the runner jumped from the fighting position and headed back to the CP. When he was maybe fifty meters away, the mortar team leader heard the sound of a diving aircraft.

"Get down! Junge," shouting to the runner, "take cover! Jabo!"

But it was too late, the rounds from the big Hawker Typhoon's four 20 mm cannon straddled the mortar crew's position and walked right over the runner who had desperately swerved at the last minute, to no avail. It was only a single round which hit him, but it tore him nearly in half.

"Scheiße!" screamed the Scharführer. Then he heard the whistling of incoming bombs. One impacted directly on the mortar team. There had been two Typhoons, not one.


Looking at the map above, one can see that Sgt Brandt's division, the U.S. 1st Infantry Division, part of the American V Corps, is still slugging it out hedgerow to hedgerow against the German 3rd Fallschirmjäger Division to the northwest of Caumont. (The link above will take you to a higher resolution map.) His company is out of the line for the moment. Also note that the Americans are getting very close to Saint-Lô. The breakout is not too far in the future at this point.

Sgt Billy Wallace's unit, the 6th Battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers, in the 44th (Lowland) Brigade of the 15th (Scottish) Division of the British Army, is assigned to VIII Corps who are inching slowly, and painfully, towards Carpiquet Airfield. They are also starting to get in the rear of the Germans defending Caen, which Monty had hoped to seize on D-Day itself. The fall of that city, or what's left of it, is close.

Yet another laconic entry in 6 RSF's war diary reads -
Le Haut du Bosq
30 June 1944 0600 - 1400 Hours
In the early morning at about 0600 hrs the Bn moved back to an orchard in the village of LE HAUT DU BOSQ where it remained till the afternoon.
At about 1400 hrs the Bde took up an anti-Panzer hedgehog in the vicinity of 905660 with 6 RSF in reserve area. Intermittent mortaring took place during the night.
CR Buchanan
Commanding 6th Bn. Royal Scots Fusiliers 
Field Marshal Montgomery is beginning to worry about the casualties his infantry are taking, the Prime Minister has already warned him that the supply of soldiery was not inexhaustible. The only good thing he could report is that his Second Army was tying down at least five panzer divisions, three of them SS divisions. The Germans were also suffering, but damn it, he needed Caen!

The Orchard near Le Haut du Bosq
Google Street View

¹ Yes my daughter, they are English.
² Command post.


  1. The various post war reports on the efficacy of allied air power (especially on armor) make for interesting reading. IIRC arty killed and destroyed more Krauts and their equipment than anything else, yet much of that was credited by the PBI to air, and an enormous myth was born. That's not to take away from air; it did what it did very well, contributed mightily, and had a huge psychological impact -- one which is only rarely treated as an important factor in victory. It's all very interesting stuff. Naked truth seldom survives more than a few hours after the action.

    I'm so greatly enjoying this stuff Sarge, thanks!

    1. There is much discussion these days about just how much armor was destroyed by aircraft. Some argue "not much," they would be wrong. Those that argue the converse, are also wrong. Truth lies, as it often does, somewhere in the middle. Aircraft were very good at shooting up soft vehicles and trains. German logistics were shot to Hell by Allied air. They just couldn't move during the day.

      Glad you're enjoying it!

    2. They should have used their NVG and moved only at night .... oh, wait, ...

      Ditto on enjoying the story - the episodes always end more quickly than I'd like, but that just means I look forward to the next one even more.

    3. The air-to-mud situation on the Eastern front is somewhat confounded by wild Soviet overclaims, where the Reds would say “Our valorous comrades killed 240 tanks with their glorious Il-2s!” and the corresponding German records say “Started the day with 67 tanks. Came under scattered air attack. Retreated three months later, unit intact.”

      But, on the Western front, we actually had effective tank-killing weapons like HVARs....

    4. a bear - What? The Soviets lied about stuff? NO!!

      The Il-2 was an effective weapon. The German Junkers Ju 87 G-1 Kanonenvogel with twin 3.7 cm underwing gun pods was also an effective tank killer in the hands of the right pilot. It replaced the Henschel Hs 129B, another effective tank killer, but it's large fuel tanks made it rather vulnerable to ground fire. Which one sees a lot of in air-to-mud.

      No weapon system is ever as effective as is claimed. When you're rolling in on a tank, there's a lot going on, survival is high on the "to do" list, so an accurate count is often not possible.

      "We destroyed 50 Nazi tanks today!"

      "Uh, no comrade, one tank, 12 trucks, and a staff car. But close!"

    5. Wild overstatements aside, 1944 and onwards great offensives of the red Army really took advantage of newly found air superiority. See, with Allied bombers pounding Germany heartland 24/7 Germans retreated most of the fighter force from both East and West resulting in tactical air of allies and soviets having free roam over the battlefield.
      Germans have ended on the receiving end of own brand of mobile warfare, combining motorized infantry, tanks and air support. He who lives by blitzkrieg, dies by blitzkrieg...

  2. I do not know that I grasped the importance of close air cover there. Thanks.

    1. And the importance of good cover and concealment from prying eyes in the air. Especially with mortars, who only really can be concealed in misty or rainy conditions as the flash is easily seen at night and during the day the launch of the mortar, even a mid-sized 81mm like in the picture, creates a huge donut of dust.

      Which is why most modern armies have mortar carriers, basically infantry fighting vehicles (armored people carriers) equipped to carry a mortar, and either firing out of the top of the troop compartment (usually via lifting the roof that in a mortar carrier is in two pieces, kind of like opening a double door but it's flat and the roof) or dismounting. In shaky situations, leave the mortar mounted, fire 2-3 rounds, scoot to the next position, fire 2-3 rounds, scoot to another position, fire 2-3 rounds, rinse repeat. Ah, the modern joys of precision counter-battery fire and air support (counter battery fire is when one artillery unit (mortars, howitzers, whatever) fires at an enemy artillery unit after the enemy fires. Using sound ranging (flash vs sound, like lightning vs thunder, gives you a rough distance and heading) or visual ranging (sumdood actually spotting the enemy and calling and adjusting the fire) or funky radar systems (like the detection system in Israel for mortars and rockets, which then automatically triangulates and orders a stonk on the coordinates (with human approval, of course.) Iron Dome is an amazingly complex series of systems and works very well and the terrorists and Syrians and Iranians who face it really hate it.)

    2. Toirdhealbheach Beucail - Wait until the Operation Cobra and the Battle of the Falaise Gap! Then you'll really see some close air support.

      One of the prerequisites of launching Overlord was air superiority over the beaches and inland. In reality, the Allies achieved air supremacy by the time the first soldier stepped ashore in Normandy. The Luftwaffe was a non-factor.

    3. Beans - Movement is life, speed is life. If you sit still, you die.

    4. A little TOO close, in some cases.

    5. Pilots fixating on a ground target has been a problem for a long time. Well, at least since WWI when the first aviator attacked a ground target and tied the low altitude record.

    6. (Don McCollor)...There was a WW1 Brit BE-2 pilot A.A.B. Thompson that purportedly invented strafing. He was rarely seen more than fifty feet off the ground, and able to turn a plane into a flying wreck in ten minutes. He would return with barbed wire wrapped in his landing gear, machine gun bullet holes crisscrossing the sides of the cockpit, and more than once with a bullet hole square in the middle of the windshield (from Iron Men With Wooden Wings).

    7. No doubt his crew chief adored him.


    8. (Don McCollor)…(in the account) a religious flight mechanic crossed himself and said "It will take a silver bullet to kill that one"...

  3. Ah, the fun part of the battle, been going on long enough that some units are in the 'consolidate position and troops' phase and others are in the middle of their own private 'great muthering battle.'

    Never understood why the Brits just didn't encircle Caen and attack from the rear, rather than trying frontal assault after frontal assault. Encircle, cut it off, wait a few for German supplies to get worse than they were, work it over with tactical air, then attack from multiple angles while putting up a big spoiling attack from the airfield side (with just enough troops to make it potentially a real threat.) I mean, you've got your troops, your planes, and your artillery and armor. Why do basically a frontal assault against a prepared position? Go around, surround, invest (as in lay seige to, not buy) and then attack in a week or so. Meanwhile have your engineers cut encircling roads around Caen and bypass it if necessary. Yeesh, like no-one in command had any tactical sense or something.

    Oh, wait, it's.... MONTY!!! Tada. Answered me own question.

    1. Also there were some understrength, but still very capable Panzer divisions facing Monty. If Rommel had gotten his way, the British landings may have actually been thrown into the sea. But most of the generals higher up were used to the Eastern Front where the Russians didn't really establish air superiority until the war was practically over. Rommel knew what it was like to fight in conditions where Allied air held sway, he learned that in North Africa.

  4. Based on some hands on experience when our farming friends kept pigs, pigs are indeed hungry, and very, very thorough.
    Turning a pig into food is a lot of nasty and hard work.

    1. Whereas a pig will indeed eat anything.

    2. Pigs, chickens and crabs/shrimp. All very efficient ways to dispose of bodies.

      The last way, crabs and shrimp, will strip a corpse clean pretty darn quickly. You just have to make sure the body's weighed down enough, and in deep enough water that the bones won't float or wash ashore.

      Not that I've made a study of body disposal.

    3. Not easy to find crabs and shrimp in hedgerow country.

    4. These are interesting and at the same time slightly concerning facts...

    5. Yeah, makes one a little queasy doesn't it?

  5. There is a project going on to restore to flying condition a Hawker Typhoon. It would be nice to see one of those in flight again. Look for the Hawker Typhoon project for details.
    As an evidence destruction mechanism pigs are particularly efficient. It was rumoured that a few missing 1960's gangsters from London ended up as pig food. It probably still goes on today. I was also told by an experienced detective that the only part of a human body that isn't fully digested by a pig is a small bone in the ear, you'll need an experienced pathologist to find that after you've done a bit of 'sieving'.

    1. Interesting about restoring that Typhoon, I had no idea that there was only one surviving, intact example.

      As to pigs and body disposal, I learned all I know from the HBO series, Deadwood, which stars one of my favorite actors, Ian McShane.


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