Saturday, 6 November 2010

18th-20th July 1944 - Approach to Troarn

On 18th July at 1000 hours the Battalion moved to an assembly area at Le Mesnil some 11/2 miles to the South and thence to a forming up position a mile East of Sanneville. The weather was extremely close and the heat and dust made this march a tiring one although in distance it was relatively short. Meanwhile 8th Brigade had reported their objectives taken and all was now ready for our own advance.

At 1730 hours Major Hyde moved from the start line towards the first objective, which was the Brickworks half a mile North East of Sanneville. Through the village, the bridge over a stream was reported destroyed and covered by fire. A scissors bridge was soon put down by the supporting tanks, and our men dealt swiftly with the rifle and machine gun fire on the other side.

The advance continued to the Brickworks where another group of enemy were encountered. After an exchange of fire, these withdrew, but straight away a concentration of mortar fire was put down.

Cpl McCullough in charge of the leading section ordered his men into the cover of a building but remained himself in the open without concern for his own safety to tend one of his section who was badly wounded. He remained in the open until the stretcher bearers arrived when he assisted in bringing the wounded man into the building.

During this skirmish Captain Baudains, MM, second in command B Company, was wounded in the arm. He had organised the Company fire support and continued so to do after sustaining his wound until ordered to return to the RAP which he only did under protest.

B Company soon established themselves in the Brickworks, and when C Company had come up to take over this objective, Major Hyde continued his advance along the track running North East to the junction with the main road South East into Troarn which was the second objective. This was soon made and consolidated and C Company came up to strengthen the position on the right hand side of the track from the Brickworks.

Towards dusk, A and D Companies moved into position behind B and C so that the Battalion was well concentrated by darkness.

Meanwhile the forward platoon of B Company had been troubled by two 75 mm German guns which opened fire on this platoon and caused casualties. Though out of his platoon area, Lt Lyttle at once gathered together a few available men and put in a flanking attack on the first gun.

Under his orders L/Cpl Sharpe and two numbers of his Bren gun team, Rfn Charles and Rfn McNally, crossed the road under intense fire and took up positions not 50 yards from the gun, to pour in a steady, deadly fire.

Meanwhile Lt Lyttle himself put in the assault with two men, killing one German and capturing six others. Immediately he attacked the second gun, the crew of which fled. Lt Lyttle gave chase but came upon a strong dug in position from which he came under heavy fire which prevented him from capturing it. But the dash and determination of Lt Lyttle and his men had been rewarded for both guns fell into our hands.

By night, contact was established with the 5th Cameron Highlanders of the Highland Division who were operating further North on the Escoville - Troarn road. Patrols from both Divisions reconnoitred the buildings and church which lay about 600 yards to the East of the road. Our own patrol was from C Company under the command of Lt Purcell and returned with the information that this area was held by the enemy.

Next morning at 0300 hours the Commanding Officer gave out orders for continuing the advance towards Troarn. D Company under Captain Bird were primarily involved and they moved forward at about 0630 hours to the first objective - a small wood some half mile down the road towards Troarn - with a troop of tanks in support. This was secured without difficulty or opposition and A Company was about to pass through to initiate the next stage of the attack when it became apparent that opposition from the area of the church was constituting a severe threat to our left flank.

Leading up to this church and its few surrounding houses from the Escoville - Troarn road were two avenues, one running Eastward, the other North Eastward, the two forming up at the church. C Company-began to move on the church along the first of these but encountered bitter resistance a few hundred yards from the road.

The leading section, under Cpl Brown, though under fire from two directions, pressed forward, using the bayonet and hand grenades, killed seven Germans and was largely responsible for capturing thirteen others. Four machine guns were also captured by this section. But resistance remained determined and Lt Rand the leading Platoon Commander was wounded. C Company could make no further headway along this route.

A Company under Captain Alexander, then advanced up the more Southerly avenue towards the church. As the forward platoon advanced on both sides of the road a machine gun suddenly opened up at 30 yards range.

The supporting tanks were unable to engage it, and four men of the leading section were wounded. Sjt Sharkey commanding the leading platoon acted with great spirit and élan. Using a tank as cover he dashed to within 20 yards of the gun and then, darting out into the open, personally attacked the machine gun killing the crew with his Sten. This daring and courageous performance demoralised the enemy who withdrew, and A Company with supporting tanks took the church.

The enemy had been struck hard and many had been killed. Among these was a group of Germans with two Spandaus who were seen running for cover into a barn. This was set on fire by shots from the supporting tanks and no Germans were seen to emerge. The heat given out by the burning barn was so great that the forward section of A Company had to pull back about 50 yards.

A Company then withdrew, and as expected, the enemy infiltrated back into position in strength. When a tank officer returned towards the buildings on reconnaissance he was wounded, and an attempt to recover him cost A Company Lt Burges killed, and six other ranks wounded.

Thanks to this troublesome diversion it was late before A Company could be launched towards their original objective. This objective was a road junction about 800 yards out of Troarn, and A Company fought their way forward and took it.

An Anti-Tank gun on the objective opened up on one of our tanks and knocked it out. At the same time the leading platoon attempting to outflank it came under heavy machine gun fire.

Once again, Sjt Sharkey, with a depleted platoon, was prominent. In co-operation with two tanks he pushed forward with great determination and captured the post of six men, dashing from slit trench to slit trench with tremendous enthusiasm and courage. A number of the enemy were killed and another ten captured by this platoon.

By now it was almost dark, and Lt.Colonel Harris, committed to watching the opposition from the church, decided to withdraw A Company about 200 yards so that by night the Battalion would be more closely concentrated.

A standing patrol was posted on the road junction, but early next morning the enemy, strongly reinforced, returned and the patrol was compelled to give up its positions. 1 KOSB who had attacked Troarn from the East were held up 500 yards from the railway station.

On the morning of July 20th it became apparent that the enemy had rushed up reinforcements to hold this, a sector which was vital to him.

In fact a German coast defence battalion had motored through the night, to take up positions against us, and a contingent of tanks from 21 Panzer Division, some of which fired on our men during the day, had also moved towards us. These were engaged by our own six pounders and by SP anti-tank guns in support, and disappeared, thought to have been hit. But plainly an attack was not now within the scope of a Battalion, and there were other schemes afoot. Offensive action on this front was not resumed.

Within the Battalion casualties had been 4 officers and 98 other ranks, and although the final objective had not been attained, it had throughout given an excellent account of itself. Later, good work was given official recognition in the award of the M. C. to Lt Lyttle, the D. C. M. to Sjt Sharkey and the M. M. to Rfn Charles and Cpl Reid.

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