Friday, 5 November 2010


The Battalion was first introduced to combined operations in this war when it was sent for a period of training to The Combined Training Centre, Inveraray, in the Summer of 1942.

In those early days the boating equipment was primitive, canvas and plywood craft with outboard engines; but on each successive visit to Scotland the equipment became better and the Battalion more efficient in Combined Operations.

By the beginning of 1943, they were considered ready for this type of operation, and after another short period of hardening and Combined Operations training in Scotland, were almost sent to Sicily. At the very last moment, this movement was cancelled and Canadians were substituted. Then, and during the subsequent months, everyone, felt intensely disappointed.

However, information received towards the end of 1943 proved that the Division of which the Battalion was part, had been retained in England for an even greater and more dangerous job of work, the long awaited invasion of Europe.

Build up to D-Day

For ten days prior to D Day the Battalion, with Lt-Colonel I. C. Harris in command, and with Major B. J. FitzG Donlea, MC, as Second in Command, was "sealed" in a camp which allowed of no entry or exit. There the problem of briefing had to be considered and preparations made. The sorting of operational maps started immediately. As these were of course highly secret they had to be made up into craft loads for each individual, and sealed only to be opened when the craft sailed.

As an indication of the number of maps issued, each officer had fourteen, and each section leader seven maps. Each officer also had two folders of aerial photographs showing a wave-top view of the coast, the Assembly area, the immediate area of the beachhead, the anti-tank ditch, and the town of Caen.
Aerial photo of Sword. Lebisey is the circle in the far distance. Hermanville is on the far right

The problem of briefing. which had to be carried out prior to embarkation was solved by the issue of Bogus maps. These were correct in every detail except that bogus names were substituted for the real names. Thus Caen was known as Poland and other places were concealed by such names as Japan, Mexico, Dublin, Belfast.

From an Intelligence point of view we had every possible aid to ensure a thorough briefing. It was carried out in special marquees which contained plentiful supplies of bogus maps, map enlargement scaled one foot to a mile, models, stereoscopic photos of the whole area and enlargement of all places of particular interest to us like Caen, the beaches, assembly and concentration areas and anti-tank ditches.

The Commanding Officers Orders and briefing of all officers including supporting arms took the whole of the first day. The briefing marquees were then allotted on a Company and Platoon basis, and briefing continued for three days under the supervision of the I.O. and the Intelligence Section. The principle had been laid down that, despite the risk from the point of view of security, the fullest possible information was to be passed on to the men who had to do the fighting. It can safely be said that no army had ever before had such a wealth of information made available to help it to fight.

D-Day Crossing

Officers and men were split up into their various boat loads, and on D minus 2 started to embark on Landing Craft Infantry. One might have expected very high tension in face of such a mighty undertaking, but on the contrary, the feelings appeared to be calm as if yet another of the many exercises on similar lines was about to take place. Food on board was very satisfactory, fresh vegetables and bread being supplied to augment the Compo rations.

The journey across was uneventful, the sea being comparatively calm until approximately two hours before the landing, when it became rather choppy and made a number of people seasick, though tablets to prevent this had been issued which proved a great help to some.

1st Lt Willis Photo of one of 2 RUR Landing Craft LCI (L) No. 375 at sea during training

The huge convoy of which the Battalion was a part, and the enormous number of Allied aircraft seen making for the Continent kept spirits bouyant.

Just before the convoy turned inwards to the shore, German coastal batteries opened fire and shells fell in the convoy; this delayed the landing slightly whilst the assault brigade put them out of action.

Our first reaction on seeing the coast was how very familiar it all looked until we realized that it was the wave top view that we had spent such a long time memorizing. It was rather a surprise to see so many of the houses still standing apparently undamaged as one had the impression that everything would have been flattened.

4 Commando landing on Sword Beach

Sword Beach Queen Red (La Breche) - Commandos of 1st Special Service Brigade landing from LCI(S) at 8.40am Brigadier Lord Lovat to right of column and bagpiper Bill Millin

Extract of  Landing Timetable for 
2nd Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles
(Issued in conjunction with 3 British Infantry Division OO No 1 dated 19 Mar 44)
Transcribed by Michel Sabarly from National Archives records WO 319/3075
H Hour on D-Day for Sword Beach was 7.25am

Craft LTIN/Craft Troops Vehicle Parties Equip Description Landing REMARKS
H+240 353 LCT(4) 6 6 bicycle airborne QUEEN WHITE ) Recce party
H+285 367 LCT(4) 21 6 1 car 5 cwt 4x4 QUEEN WHITE
H+285 367 LCT(4) 1 carrier univ QUEEN WHITE COs
H+285 367 LCT(4) 14 bicycle airborne QUEEN WHITE
H+285 367 LCT(4) 1 MC QUEEN WHITE
H+285 370 LCT(4) 10 2 carrier mortar QUEEN WHITE
H+285 370 LCT(4) 2 MC QUEEN WHITE loaded
H+285 371 LCT(4) 5 1 carrier mortar QUEEN RED
H+285 371 LCT(4) 1 MC QUEEN RED loaded on carrier
H+285 372 LCT(4) 3 1 carrier univ QUEEN RED coy comd
H+285 372 LCT(4) 1 MC QUEEN RED loaded on carrier
H+285 373 LCT(4) 15 1 carrier mortar QUEEN RED
H+285 373 LCT(4) 2 carrier univ QUEEN RED carrier pl
H+285 373 LCT(4) 3 MC QUEEN RED loaded on carriers
H+285 374 LCT(4) 5 1 carrier mortar QUEEN RED
H+285 374 LCT(4) 1 MC QUEEN RED loaded on carrier
H+285 375 LCT(4) 7 1 carrier univ QUEEN RED coy comd
H+285 375 LCT(4) 1 carrier mortar QUEEN RED
H+285 375 LCT(4) 1 MC QUEEN RED loaded on carrier
H+285 376 LCT(4) 6 2 carrier univ QUEEN RED coy comds
H+285 376 LCT(4) 2 MC QUEEN RED loaded on carriers
H+330 391 LCI(L) 200 200 bicycle airborne QUEEN WHITE
H+330 392 LCI(L) 143 133 bicycle airborne QUEEN WHITE Bn HQ craft
H+330 393 LCI(L) 200 200 bicycle airborne QUEEN WHITE
H+360 402 LCT(4) 20 4 carrier univ QUEEN WHITE incl 2 carriers carrier pl
H+360 402 LCT(4) 2 gun 6 pr A tk QUEEN WHITE
H+360 402 LCT(4) 2 MC QUEEN WHITE loaded on carriers
H+360 403 LCT(4) 17 3 carrier univ QUEEN WHITE
H+360 403 LCT(4) 2 gun 6 pr A tk QUEEN WHITE
H+360 403 LCT(4) 3 MC QUEEN WHITE loaded on carriers
H+360 404 LCT(4) 23 4 carrier univ QUEEN WHITE
H+360 404 LCT(4) 2 gun 6 pr A tk QUEEN WHITE
H+360 404 LCT(4) 1 carrier mortar QUEEN WHITE
H+360 404 LCT(4) 1 MC QUEEN WHITE loaded on carrier

Note: The LTIN Serial Number was a temporary landing timetable number allocated to each craft for D-Day and, whilst often similar, is different to the permanent Craft Hull Number which a craft retained throughout its service. Following extensive investigation of landing timetables combined with photographic and video evidence Michel Sabarly's current assessment of the Hull Number/LTIN match for Group 16 Landing Craft Infantry (LCI) craft which included the bulk of the 9th Brigade (including 2nd Lincolnshire; 1st Kings Own Scottish Borderers ; 2nd Royal Ulster Rifles) is:

Group 16, carrying the marching troops of 9th British Infantry Brigade
Craft Number and corresponding LTIN
Port Column (Queen Red) Starboard Column (Queen White)
2 Lincolns 1 Kings Own Scottish Borderers
LTIN 394 = LCI(L) 390 LTIN 388 = LCI(L) 376 (Flotilla Leader)
LTIN 395 = LCI(L) 385 LTIN 389 = LCI(L) 241 or 384 or 387 or 388 
LTIN 396 = LCI(L) 389 LTIN 390 = LCI(L) 241 or 384 or 387 or 388 
2 Royal Ulster Rifles
LTIN 391 = LCI(L) 241 or or 375 or 384 or 388 
LTIN 392 = LCI(L) 241 or or 375 or 384 or 388 
LTIN 393 = LCI(L) 241 or or 375 or 384 or 388 

Hence it can be summised that the bulk of the 2nd Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles are most likely to have landed on Queen White beach (Opposite Exit 11) at around 1pm on the 6th June on 3 of the following 4 Landing Craft Infantry:
  • LCI (L) Hull Number 375 - confirmed by personal accounts of 1st Lieutenant Harry Willis and A W (Paddy) White who both crewed LCI (L) 375
  • LCI (L) Hull Number 241 and/or
  • LCI (L) Hull Number 384 and/or
  • LCI (L) Hull Number 388

6th June - The Normandy landing

At 1000 hours on D Day, the 6th June, 1944, the Landing Crafts Infantry containing the Battalion touched down on the beach of Normandy at a spot slightly west of Ouistreham, a pleasant French summer resort with a wide sandy beach fringed with sand dunes.

Here the Battalion caught first sight of the enemy as batches of snipers with hands over their heads were being rounded up from the houses and sand dunes lining the beach.

1st Lt Willis Photo taken from LCI(L) 375 - POWs being led off beach

By this time the sea had developed a considerable swell. The Battalion was well used to wet landings when carrying out exercises, but this was without any doubt the wettest on record, most people landing in at least four feet of water and many in as much as five and a half feet.

The majority became soaking wet from the top of their heads. Although the beaches had been almost cleared of the enemy, hostile shells and mortar bombs were falling in fair quantities. Consequently, even though the Battalion was part of the reserve brigade in the assault Division, the landing was made very difficult and uncomfortable.

British troops wading ashore from LCI(L) on D-Day (IWM image)

Many of the Riflemen being small in size were finding it difficult to get ashore, particularly in view of the fact that over and above their normal kit - heavy enough --, they were carrying a bicycle! CSM Walsh of A Company, and Rfn Ryan, MM, of B Company did great work by getting a life line ashore from the Landing Crafts Infantry, and holding them in such a manner that others were able to beach themselves with greater ease. Few casualties only were experienced on the beach, those there were, being from shell and mortar fire.

Montgomery speaking to Rifleman Ryan MM prior to D-Day. Ryan had been awarded his medal for action at Ypres in 1940 and was one of those responsible for the safe arrival of the 2nd Battalion on the beach on D-Day by securing a line to the beach 

The Battalion then quickly made its way from the beach to Lion-sur-Mer, a small village about half a mile inland which was the Assembly Area. Here they were met by OC HQ Company, Captain M. D. G. C. Ryan and his party of guides who had landed an hour previously with one of the assault brigades to make a reconnaissance of the Assembly Area.

British troops heading inland from the beaches to assembly area (IWM image)

Shelling and mortar fire was still coming down resulting in a further few casualties. The Brigade Commander, Brigadier J. C. Cunningham, M. C., was wounded and evacuated, Lt-Colonel Harris assuming temporary command of the Brigade.

The loss of the Brigade Commander was a severe blow as his enthusiasm and charm during approximately two years with the brigade had made him particularly popular with all ranks of the Battalion. Another blow was the loss of Captain A. G. Sellers, the Mortar Platoon Commander, who whilst in the assembly area was wounded in the legs by small arms fire, probably from a sniper.

Fortunately his No 1, Sjt McCutcheon, had been with the Platoon for many months, and assumed temporary command. During the move to the Assembly Area, the Battalion was greatly cheered by the sight of the Airborne Troops of which the 1st Battalion was part, flying over and landing some distance away.

 Troops of "A" Company, 2 RUR pause in La Brèche d'Hermanville during their move inland 6 June 1944 from Queen Red Beach. On the right are Rifleman McNaul from County Antrim and Rifleman Charles with his Bren Gun (subsequently awarded the Military Medal for his actions on 18th July outside Troarn (IWM image)

Having assembled together and sorted itself out from the inevitable tangle which such a landing makes, the Battalion was ordered to occupy the high ground at a point slightly North East of Periers sur le Dan, where it dug in for the night in readiness for a quick move forward.

On the way to this area, seven German snipers had been captured, and ten other prisoners of war, together with a fair quantity of weapons and equipment.

British troops escorting German prisoners off beach on D-Day (IWM image)

Lt-Colonel Harris had returned to the Battalion, the Brigade having been taken over by Colonel A. D. G. Orr, DSO, who was not unknown to the Brigade, having acted as its Second in Command for a few months prior to D Day.

7th June - First attack on Cambes Wood

On the 7th June, the Battalion was ordered to move in a South Westerly direction to capture Cambes, a small village thickly wooded, and approximately six miles inland from the coast.

Front Line positions 7-8 June 1944

The Battalion moved via Le Mesnil with D Company, commanded by Captain J. R. StL. Aldworth as vanguard, it was believed that Cambes was lightly held, but as the two woods surrounding it were themselves surrounded by walls some ten feet high, it was not possible to observe the enemy's actual dispositions. D Company was therefore ordered to proceed forward and capture Cambes with the rest of the Battalion closely following in reserve.

About 1700 hours on the 7th June, D Company moved forward supported by one squadron of tank (East Riding Yeomanry); the rest of the Battalion remained halted at the side of the wood.

A short diversion was provided here as four enemy fighters suddenly appeared and machine gunned the rear companies, causing no casualties. Here too, the first French people were met, who outwardly showed many signs of goodwill.

Approach to Cambes Wood from Anisy - circa 1500 yards across a shallow slope with waist high corn offering no cover

On reaching the wood - the approach having been somewhat costly due to enemy snipers on the forward edge of the wood, and accurate mortar fire dropping onto the approach - the company split into half, two platoons under the Company Commander attacking the village through the left side of the wood, and the other platoon and Company Headquarters, commanded by the company's second in command, Captain J. Montgomery, attacking through the right edge of the wood.

Immediately the company had broken through into the wood, cross fire from machine guns opened up, resulting in many men becoming casualties. The Company Commander was killed on the left, and one Platoon Commander on the right, Lt H. Greene, was wounded and unable to carry on.

Captain Montgomery, deciding that the opposition was too heavy for his depleted company to overcome, ordered a withdrawal from the wood.

Owing to the high wall and the thickness of the wood, the supporting tanks had not been able to give any effective close support during the attack. The Company then withdrew to the Battalion and the Commanding Officer on the information received decided that a Battalion attack would be far too costly without much greater artillery support.

During D Company's attack, the reserve companies had suffered a few casualties from mortar fire, amongst whom were Captain H. M. Gaffikin, the Carrier Platoon Commander, who was wounded but not evacuated.

The Battalion withdrew to Le Mesnil where it took up a defensive position. The attack had cost D Company its Commander and fourteen Other Ranks killed, one Officer and eleven Other Ranks wounded and four Other Ranks missing, with two Stretcher Bearers from the Medical Section killed whilst tending the wounded.

Members of 18 Platoon, D Company Killed in Action at first attack on Cambes Wood - 7 June 1944
RFM Desmond Bradley
Cpl Kohler
RFM Williamson
RFM McAllister

The loss of Captain Aldworth was a particularly heavy blow. He had commanded D Company for close on two years and had become almost an institution both for D Company and indeed the Battalion. Of the many regulars of the Battalion that we were so soon to lose he was the first, and with his passing it seemed as though the Battalion had lost part of its identity and character.

Captain J R St J Aldworth

8th June - Reconnaissance of Cambes Wood

On the 8th June, the Commanding Officer made a reconnaissance for a Battalion attack on Cambes, this time attacking from the village of Afisy, some 1200 yards to the west of Le Mesnil, and 1500 yards north of Cambes.

This reconnaissance was carried out with Lt-Colonel Hussey, commanding 33 Field Artillery who was killed later in his tank, and Lieut. Colonel Williamson, commanding East Riding Yeomanry, protected by the Battalion Snipers under command of Sjt F. Pancott.

As a result, Company Commanders were given the plan in outline at Anisy at 1630 hours 8 June, after which they made their reconnaissance.

The ground from Anisy to Cambes was very open, rising slightly from Anisy for about 400 yards, the remaining 1100 yards to Cambes being quite flat and open. Consequently the Company Commanders reconnaissance was not carried out under very satisfactory conditions.

Captain W. H. Baudains, MM, was detailed to make a reconnaissance of a route for a night patrol, and took with him the Platoon Commander and three Section Commanders of 11 Platoon. On the way he met an enemy patrol of one officer and ten men, of which five were killed and six taken prisoner without injury to our party of two officers and three NCOs.

During this time an enemy fighting patrol of about thirty men had attacked C Company in its defensive position at Le Mesnil and had been driven off, the attack costing us one killed and five wounded.

During the night. 8/9th June, C Company retaliated with a nuisance raid on the enemy position at Cambes, and the Germans again attacked C Company at Le Mesnil, both these actions causing no further loss to the Battalion. Sporadic mortar fire and machine gun fire was experienced during the night.

9th June - The taking of Cambes Wood

On the 9th June 1944 the Battalion attacked and captured Cambes. The attack was fiercely resisted by the Germans, and the Battalion, two thirds of which had not been in action before, conducted itself with great gallantry.

The picture was as follows: Cambes and Galmanche (another small village some 800 yards south of Cambes), thought to be lightly held by the enemy, were defended strongly as outposts. Buron and St Contest, two villages a further 1000 yards or so south and south west of Galmanche were strongly held. On the east side, La Bijude, some 800 yards south east of Cambes, and Epron, some 500 yards south of La Bijude were held by the enemy with unknown strength.

The general idea was for 9th British Infantry Brigade (2nd Bn. The Royal Ulster Rifles, 1st Bn. Kings Own Scottish Borderers and 1st Bn. The Suffolk Regiment) to capture the St Contest area, the attack hinging on whether Cambes was taken or not. The 9th Canadian Infantry Brigade were to give covering fire and anti-tank support during the attack from ground which they had captured some 2000 yards to the west.

The 2nd Bn. The Royal Ulster Rifles had additional troops as follows:

Under Command, one section Field Ambulance. In support, one 6" Cruiser, Royal Navy, the whole of the Divisional Artillery, two troops Anti-Tank (RA) - one ordinary and one self propelled. One company 4.2" mortars, one company Medium Machine Guns; one regiment of Sherman tanks (East Riding Yeomanry); and finally Royal Engineers in the shape of assault demolition and mine clearance teams, with five Armoured Vehicles Royal Engineers in support.

It will be recalled that the ground from Anisy to Cambes is open, its distance being approximately 1500 yards, and its width approximately 800 yards. A dusty track with no bordering or fence of any description runs straight from Anisy to Cambes.

The intention of the Commanding Officer was simple and direct; "2nd Bn. The Royal Ulster Rifles will capture and consolidate Cambes".

The plan was as follows: The advance from Anisy to Cambes over the open ground was to be carried out with B Company on the right, A Company on the left with their left on the track, D Company supporting B Company, and C Company supporting A Company, the advance to be carried out under cover of an artillery barrage. The advance was to be in open order, with A and B Companies clearing the front edge of the village and guarding the flanks, and with C and D Companies passing through and capturing the far edges of the village, the whole operation requiring both wood and street fighting.

Prior to Zero Hour, the Naval Cruiser gave a five minute concentration onto the village, followed by the Fd Arty giving a series of concentration, behind which the Battalion were to advance. The anti-tank gunners were to protect the flanks, and the East Riding Yeomanry tanks were also to assist. The assault companies, A and B, were each given a demolition and mine clearance team for use until their final objectives, when they were to pass these on to the supporting companies, C and D. The Armoured Vehicles Royal Engineers were to move forward with the Battalion ready to deal with any strongpoints.

The 4.2" mortars were given two tasks of crumping onto A Company's first objective, and then to transfer to C Company's final objective.

The Medium Machine Gun Company were (1) To cover the left flank, and (2) To consolidate on the final objectives in order to deal with counter attacks.

The Battalions own 3" Mortar Platoon were to be prepared to fire on call from the Assault Companies, and then from the two Supporting Companies.

The Carrier Platoon under command of 5 Company Commander, Major C. R. P. Sweeny, MC, were to remain at Anisy and be prepared to ferry up ammunition or any other requirements to the objectives.

The anti-tank platoon were given protective tasks once the objective had been gained

The Pioneer Platoon, whose Commander, Lt D. Greer, had left the Battalion on the 7th June to collect some stores from a dump and had not since returned, were to be ready should the Royal Engineers not be in a position to fulfil their commitments.

Lieutenant D Greer 240443- initially believed to have been missing presumed killed was subsequently confirmed to have been taken prisoner, POW No. 385, and taken to Oflag 79, Braunschweig before being released 18/05/1945 and going on to serve with 2 RUR in Palestine.

At 1515 hours 9th June, A and B Companies crossed the start line followed by the Battalion O Group behind A Company. The men were well spaced out and advanced in good order, direction being steadied by the Commanding Officer from the left.

As the Companies reached the ridge some 1100 yards from the objective, whence they could be permanently observed by the enemy they came under a heavy barrage of mortar and shell fire accompanied by machine gun fire.

The Commanding Officer of the East Riding Yeomanry, who had fought with the Guards, observing the advance from the start line, said to himself "This is where they get to ground, and the attack is held up". To his astonishment however, the Battalion continued to advance in open order keeping perfect distance.

Certainly there is no doubt that the Companies advanced through what appeared to be an impassable barrage with the same unconcern as that shown on a company field firing exercise.

Men were dropping all round, but still the advance continued.

A Company under Major W. D. Tighe-Wood were particularly unfortunate, losing all three of their Platoon Commanders, Lt R. S. Hall being killed, and the other two, Lt D. Walsh and Lt J. St. J. Cooper being wounded in such a way that they could not carry on. Further, one Platoon Serjeant was also knocked out.

Major Tighe-Wood

      Lieutenant R S Hall              Lieutenant D H Walsh          Lieutenant J H St J Cooper

 But Major Tighe-Wood, despite these difficulties, succeeded in establishing his Company upon the objective and inspired all ranks by his example of cool and determined leadership. Cpl O'Reilly finding himself the senior person left in his platoon, took command and did very good work during the difficult period of consolidation which followed.

In the same Company, Rfn Miller finding his section leader-less, took over command and led his section with great initiative. L/Sjt McCann, A Company, was badly wounded in the face, but refused to drop out of the fight until his Platoons objective had been obtained.

B Company on the right, under the command of Major J. W. Hyde, came under heavy mortar and machine gun fire from the flank about 400 yards from the near edge of their first objective. With great presence of mind Sjt Kavanagh of 11 Platoon engaged the machine guns with his Bren groups and also directed the attention of a tank on to the trouble. Subsequent patrolling located several enemy dead in the target area.

Major J W Hyde

The first objective was quickly taken, 10 Platoon passing with great speed through the village to the church, their final objective. One German, an SS sniper was wounded and taken prisoner.

A and B Companies reached their first objective by 1630 hours. In passing through A Company, C Company, who by this time had the Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers tanks under command, lost these to German 88 mm guns firing from La Bijude.

These tanks manned by Royal Engineers had done great work, their crews having shown a strong desire to get to grips with the enemy, carrying out tasks which strictly they were not intended to do.

However, C Company Commander, Major J. C. S. G. de Longueuil, could not communicate with them during the battle, and they fought until their tanks were knocked out underneath them.

Major J C S G de Longueuil

When C Company with great vigour and dash, had fought their way through the wood to their final objective, they were unfortunate in losing one of their Platoon Commanders, Lt R. C. Diserens, who regardless of his own safety, was running about in the open under fire, putting his platoon into position. This very enthusiastic young officer was severely wounded and died later from the effects, a great loss to his Company and to the Battalion.

Lieutenant R C Diserens

D Company, which it will be remembered was sadly depleted, went through B Company, and almost immediately, two of its remaining three officers were wounded, Captain J. Montgomery the acting Company Commander, though wounded twice in the leg, carried on throughout the battle, and Lt Lennox, after leading his Platoon with great determination was severely wounded and could not carry on.

Captain J Montgomery            Lieutenant S M Lennox

Had D Company not secured its objective, it is possible that the enemy could have used this portion of the village and wood to make a very vigorous counter attack. In this battle D Company lost a further two killed, fifteen wounded, and one missing.

Immediately the leading companies had reached their first objectives, the Anti-Tank Platoon under command of Captain C. R. Gray was ordered to move forward to assist in consolidation.

Captain C R Gray

All gun detachments moved forward in the face of an accurate 88 mm and mortar fire, and succeeded in being manhandled into position with the exception of one detachment. This was commanded by Cpl Boyd and received a direct hit from an 88 mm shell which besides knocking out the carrier, wounded Cpl Boyd and Rfn Heald and killed Rfn Bingham. Rfn Walton the remaining member of the crew escaped without injury. The gun itself was later recovered and manhandled into position.

Whilst consolidating against a probable counter attack, the enemy subjected the position to a vicious attack of mortar and shell fire which lasted for five hours, so that the digging in was carried out under the greatest difficulties. During the consolidation, Captain M. D. G. C. Ryan, Headquarter Company Commander, was severely burnt in the hands by the explosion of a Phosphorous Smoke Bomb, and evacuated, and Major Brooks, MC, the very popular commander of the RA Battery which had supported the Battalion since 1939, was killed.

Captain M D G C Ryan

At the end of the day, the Battalions total casualties were three Officers and forty one Other Ranks killed, seven Officers and one hundred and thirty one Other Ranks wounded and evacuated, three Officers and three Other Ranks wounded but not evacuated, one Officer and ten Other Ranks missing, making a total away from the Battalion of eleven Officers and one hundred and eighty two Other Ranks.

Many of the wounded had been amazingly cheerful, joking in the face of the most frightful wounds. The Medical Officer, Captain C. R. Wright, RAMC, and his staff of medical orderlies and stretcher bearers had been a pillar of strength, dealing with patients with the same calmness and a good deal more humour than was normally shown on the non operational sick parade.

Captain C R Wright

Mention has already been made of Captain Aldworth and Lt Diserens. Lt Hall had not been with the Battalion for as long as them, having joined in January from the Coast Artillery, but he was already marked out for promotion by his ability and excellence as an officer, while to his many friends, his death meant the loss of one for whom loyalty and reliability were always paramount virtues and for whom gaiety and good humour were as essential as the breath of life.

Captain Aldworth, Lieutenant Diserens and Lieutenant Hall - all killed at Cambes Wood along with   41 other members of the 2nd Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles.
7 Officers and 131 other ranks wounded and evacuated.
1 Officer and 10 other ranks missing.

Morale in the Battalion never faltered from the beginning. The Battalion took its victory and its wounds as if they were normal everyday occurrences. After consolidation, the Officers and Men soon learnt the advisability of digging deep, and the Germans regular strafing was soon the cause of much laughter and singing of such songs as "Run Rabbit Run". Cambes was not liked, but it was looked upon as a stepping stone to bigger things, and in order that the Germans could know this too, strong fighting patrols soon took up the offensive.

Remains of the stone walls around Cambes Wood originally circa 10ft high

When the 2nd Battalion was ordered to move forward again, it was not weaker owing to Cambes but stronger, and the Germans soon learnt to recognise the strong fighting spirit of the Royal Ulster Rifles.

It was learnt later that as a result of this operation, Major W. D. Tighe-Wood, Captain J. Montgomery and Lt S. M. Lennox had been awarded the Military Cross, Cpl O'Reilly the Distinguished Conduct Medal, L/Sjt McCann, Rfn Long (who as a Signaller with C Company had attended a wounded man under severe shell fire with complete disregard for his own safety) and Rfn McGlennon (who as D Company's runner had maintained personal communication throughout the worst phase of the battle) the Military Medal.

9th June to 3rd July - Cambes Wood

We took Cambes Wood on June 9th 1944 and left it on July 3rd. During that period two Battalions of the Brigade were in Cambes Wood and the third was in reserve at Le Mesnil about half a mile away. A system of frequent Battalion reliefs was arranged but, by chance, we were only relieved once for four days, and so consider that we held the position for the whole period.

By July 3rd the geography of Cambes and its surroundings were firmly imprinted on our minds. The village itself must have held a population of some 300 before the war, but now, of course, there was none, the last civilians - four old ladies - being evacuated by ourselves on June 12th.

The main road ran from North to South through the village from Villon Les Buissons on its way to Malon, and ultimately Caen, having Galmanche and St Contest on its right, and La Bijude and Epron on its left. North East and North of the village lay the wood, and through it into the village ran a track from Anisy, which was our main channel of supply and communication. This track was generously bordered with trenches and ditches, and many a visitor, trapped in a spell of Boche harassing fire, abandoned his vehicle for one of these.

Within the framework of these roads stood the Chateau, a large white impressive structure set in what a few years before must have been beautiful surroundings. The back windows looked down an avenue which connected La Bijude with Cambes, and the front looked across the Northern stretches of the wood which contained our own Mortar platoon and half the other Battalion that was holding this area with ourselves.

The Chateau in Cambes before the war

Some 200 yards to the West of the Chateau stood the Church, the meeting point of all roads and tracks leading into and out of the village. It was a fine old Norman church and once it had dominated the village architecturally just as its preachers and doctrines influenced the lives of all that dwelt there. Now, penetrated again and again by shells and shrapnel, its grandeur was a mere shadow of its former self.

The church before and after the Battle of Cambes

The railway followed along the Southern edge of the wood, crossed the Avenue at a level crossing and then swung South to follow a tortuous path towards Caen. Just East of the level crossing was Cambes station or halt - a building which we would have described as a signal box. It revived memories of travelling on the French railways before the war - nothing else need be said about it.

The Battalion was disposed on either side of this shell swept village. Two companies were on the right of the main road and of the two on the left, one was based on the station and the level-crossing, the other in the woods with Battalion Headquarters.

It is difficult to say whether any one position was preferable to any other. The Company in the wood near Battalion Headquarters had the advantage of not being in direct contact with the enemy, but then everybody suffered equally from the Boche artillery. Probably the companies close to the village had the most acceptable lot.

The houses themselves had little to offer because they had suffered irreparable damage from the attention of a Naval Cruiser and our Divisional Artillery in the attack upon the village, and they had been thoroughly looted by the German during his stay. But these companies, dug into vegetable gardens, acquired plentiful forage to supplement the Compo Ration, and for those who cared to look, the odd bottle of wine had in places escaped the attention of the Boche in his hasty retreat.

The Moulin family and their home damaged during the Battle of Cambes

The enemy were extraordinarily close to us in this position, at the nearest point no more than 150 yards away. From half way down the avenue some 200 yards forward of the level crossing - a system of entrenchments ran continuously round our positions to Galmanche and at no point was his line further away from our most forward troops than 250 yards.

From our observation posts - two in houses on either side of the wood beyond the village and a third in the attic of the Chateau - we had a complete picture of these trenches, of the wire in front of them and of the Germans walking quite freely up and down them.

This activity was carefully observed and chronicled by the observers but by itself would have been deceptive in estimating the strength of the position. We soon learnt that when the Boche chose to expose himself he did so with a purpose: it was to distract attention from the real strength with which he held the villages of La Bijude and Epron, Malon and Galmanche.

Some picture of this strength could he gathered by scrupulous tireless observation which noticed the change in colour in foliage where some natural camouflage on a tank or SP gun died, or some suspicious shape which had obtruded itself where previously there had been nothing. But information about the enemy was amplified and confirmed as always by patrols.

Three listening posts were found each night on different parts of the front; and sorties further forward brought our men to within yards of the Boche so that such activities as feeding, mining, wiring and digging could be studied at close range.

Additionally the Battle Patrol operating first under Sjt Murphy both of the Carrier platoon brought in a wealth of detailed information. The Battalion Battle Patrol, formed from volunteers, trained and operated by Major Sweeny, MC, undertook the bulk of the reconnaissance patrols in this area.

Major C R P Sweeny MC

Sjt Martin, probing down the avenue one night towards La Bijude, walked into the path of a Spandau on fixed lines, and so the Battalion lost a cool and adventurous patrol commander. Sjt Murphy carried on this invaluable work, patrolling with great success until the end of our stay in Cambes.

One other patrol deserves mention if only as an indication of the things that will go wrong under battle conditions. Lt Purcell, patrolling with a section in the direction of Galmanches bumped, on the outskirts of the village, a sentry who shouted "Halt". Lt Purcell pressed the trigger of his Sten. It jammed. Simultaneously the men on either side of him attempted to fire their Stens. Both guns jammed. Thereupon, without further delay, they made one of the swiftest withdrawals on record pursued by the shots and shouts of the Boche sentry.

Lieutenant R D Purcell

Observation by day and patrolling by night was the policy decided upon by the Commanding Officer, Lt-Col I. C. Harris. Undue activity by the Boche was dealt with immediately and severely either by the Battalions own 3" Mortars or by the Royal Artillery whose representative, Major Nicholson RA, was tireless in supporting our endeavours.

However there was little scope for the snipers, because a fold of ground between the enemy lines and our own, caused the bulk of our positions to be in dead ground, so that the only good fire positions were the OPs from which alone the enemy could be seen; and it would have been foolhardy to compromise this valuable source of intelligence for the sake of shooting a few Germans. As it was, we were able to hand over to our successors a storehouse of information the worth of which was proven in the subsequent attack.

The governing factor in life at Cambes was, however, the intensity of the Boche shelling and mortaring; this was eternally imprinted upon the minds of those who survived until July 3rd, the day we left Cambes. During the period we lost between three to five men killed or wounded each day from shellfire.

The Boche was adroit enough to select times when he could rely upon people leaving their slit trenches for one reason or another. He had the main road past the Church, the Chateau, and the area of Battalion Headquarters exactly ranged, while among the forward Companies it seems certain that he was able by some means to carry out observed shooting.

At all events he obtained results, and casualties included Captain N. R. V. Watson second in command of C Company and Lt Lyndon-Adams the Mortar Platoon Commander, two officers whose excellence had made a long standing mark and whose loss was a great setback to the Battalion.

Captain N R V Watson

Our Reinforcement Company under Captain K. G. Perona-Wright had been absorbed after the Battle of Cambes to bring the Battalion back to full strength, but now, as casualties mounted, so the gaps began once more to re-appear.

This period was one of intense strain for all ranks, for the feeling that we were pinned down by Boche fire was prevalent, but under the circumstances morale remained remarkably high. It was well known that for every one shell fired by the enemy, two hundred could be and were put down by our own gunners.

Also it was realised that our role as part of the Division was to protect the bridgehead while supplies were built up and plans for thrust and expansion were matured. On our sector alone, we were faced by 12 SS Panzer Division - the Hitler Jugend Division - parts of which we had driven back in the battle for Cambes.

Further East was 21 Panzer Division another potent armoured formation. On the other hand between ourselves and the beach there was nothing save the gun area and various beachgroups, so that retaining contact and yet holding these powerful formations required the maximum vigilance and effort. Appreciation of this delicate position by all ranks encouraged them to endure with determination this period of static defence.

As one means of strengthening our positions, mines were laid on an extensive scale. Long belts of anti-tank mines bridged the gap between ourselves, the Canadians on the right and 8th Brigade on our left. Additionally our own Pioneer platoon under Lt Shimmin covered our own front, working always by night, since they were within speaking distance of the Boche.

Anti-personnel mines were laid around the level crossing as a precaution against infiltration by Boche patrols down the avenue. This field caused a tragedy, when the Commander of the platoon covering the minefield, Lt Frost, accidentally set off one of the mines and lost his life. This was a most expensive loss for the Battalion as Lt Frost had been with the Battalion for over a year, and had proved himself a very gallant platoon commander.

Lieutenant S E Frost

In the last fortnight of our stay in Cambes, small parties were sent off to A Echelon at Cazelle for 48 hours rest. Cazelle was about a mile North East of Cambes. It was intermittently shelled and here like everywhere else on the advanced section of the bridgehead men lived at lead half below ground. But at least a bath, a change of clothing and a good long sleep could be obtained, and this did something to assuage the hardships of life in Cambes Wood.

We thought on various occasions that we might have to go forward from the wood to attack the positions in front of us that we had so carefully patrolled and observed. On one occasion an abortive attack on La Bijude was conceived wherein a squadron of tanks from the East Riding Yeomanry and one of our Companies were to move into La Bijude in concert with activities of the Brigade on our left.

The attack developed to the extent that the tanks went forward first while B Company were waiting to debouch from the wood as soon as the armour had crossed the ridge and began to drive down into the village, but it was swiftly called off when six tanks were knocked out by 88s from the village as they crossed the ridge. The task was patently beyond the resources of a single squadron and a single company.

On another occasion, it was thought that our Brigade should improve its positions by capturing Galmanches, Malon and St. Contest but this plan was postponed at a comparatively early stage, as it was not thought that the time was ripe to go forward on this front. Nor can there be doubt that we should have suffered heavily in attacking this position, as did the Division who took over this sector from us.

As it was, we were reserved for another role, which was to prove no less difficult but ultimately more congenial.

8th July 1944 - Bieville and Lebisey Wood

The Battalion first heard that it was to have the honour of leading the Allied Armies into Caen on the afternoon of 7th July 1944. After three weeks in the line at Cambes, we had been pulled out for a rest at St Aubin d'Arquenay, but had only been there for a single day when we were ordered to move forward again to positions behind 185 Brigade at Bieville prior to passing through them into Caen.

The plan was as follows: 185 Brigade was to capture Lebisey Wood, and, having consolidated, to seize the high ground above Caen on Ring Contour 60. The 2nd Battalion The Royal Ulster Rifles, supported by 1st Battalion The Kings Own Scottish Borderers, was to move up to the heights and, from there, thrust down into Caen.

The first half of this plan consisted of a deliberate attack, based upon information about the strength and dispositions of the enemy which had been accumulated since D Day. The second half, in which the Battalion was to be committed, depended entirely upon the progress and success of the first. Our task was to maintain the momentum of the first assault and to pursue the enemy to the far side of the river Orne.

185 Brigade launched their attack at 0400 hours 8th July. Shortly afterwards, our own Brigade moved forward into the positions from which 185 had gone forward. It was a clear night with a full moon, and as we moved forward, we could see the flashes and hear the rumble of the tremendous barrage which pounded the enemy for some hours before zero. By dawn, we were secure in Bieville, providing a firm base for the 185 attack.

By 1000 hours the objective Lebisey Wood was reported taken; but mopping up and consolidation took time and not until 1500 hours did the reserve battalion of 185 Brigade, the 2nd K. S. L. I., begin the advance towards Ring Contour 60.

Lebisey Wood 8 July 1944 - German prisoners captured by 185th Brigade (IWM)

Meanwhile the Commanding Officer was making his reconnaissance and evolving a plan with the Commander of the supporting tank unit, the 1st Northants Yeomanry, assisted by Major W. D. Tighe-Wood and Captain A. C. Bird, commanding the two forward companies. At 1430 hours the Battalion moved forward and debouched from Lebisey Wood towards Ring Contour 60 at 1730 hours.

At this time no news of the progress of the K. S. L. I. had reached us, nor had we heard anything of enemy dispositions behind Lebisey Wood.

However it was obvious from the viewpoint of Lebisey that the Boche was shelling intensively the whole area between the wood and Ring Contour 60, by using as O.Ps the chimneys of the factories at Colombelles lying on the south side of the Orne to the N. F. of Caen. These chimneys constituted too small a target for the RAF or for our own gunners, yet they dominated the battle field, and made the passage of our troops a difficult one.

Lebisey Wood, 8 July - Universal carriers and 6-pounder anti-tank guns (IWM)

A and D Companies, however, moved forward according to plan. At first, while they were operating in close touch with the tanks, the enemy barrage was not troublesome; but later the range was closed and some damage was done.

A Company had just established itself on the objective when Company Headquarters received a direct hit which wounded Major W. D. Tighe-Wood and a number of his staff. Captain C. G. Alexander took over command.
Major W D Tighe-Wood

Meanwhile liaison had been made with the K. S. L. I. and with supporting tanks providing admirable cover and protection against a counter attack, everyone dug in with the utmost rapidity. Little small arms fire had been met and prisoners were few, but the position was being continuously and accurately shelled.

Lebisey Wood 8 July 1944 - 33rd Armoured Brigade Sherman Tanks supporting 3rd Division (IWM)

A Company again suffered; this time its Stretcher Bearers were all wounded, and great work was done by Cpl Reid, Rfn A. Cranston and Rfn Devaney in bringing in and tending the wounded. B and C, the two reserve companies, who moved up to the position under heavy shellfire also suffered casualties.

By the time the whole Battalion was in position, it was getting late and the light was beginning to fail. We had about 80 casualties, mostly from shellfire, since such Germans as had been found on the objective were swiftly liquidated. Nevertheless, we were determined to make an effort to enter Caen that evening, and B Company under Major J. W. Hyde, with two troops of tanks, set off to probe the enemy positions in the Northern approaches to the town.

Some casualties on the start line were caused by an 88 mm gun, and opposition was encountered some 500 yards further on. The tanks were completely held up by the havoc and ruin wrought in bombing attacks by the RAF and our men themselves could only move forward with the utmost difficulty. Finally, mines were discovered on the track and its verges.

Rifleman Hugh Maguire who ultimately captured the 88mm gun and in the process also captured
SS Officer Anton Gecas. Hugh was subsequently awarded the Legion D'Honneur in October 2015.

It was considered unwise to continue this operation by night, and so B Company, under orders from the Commanding Officer, returned to their original positions.