Saturday, 6 November 2010

21st July to 31st July 1944 - Outside Troarn

We arrived in our positions before TROARN in the darkness, dug them during the night, and imagined that we should go forward from there at first light. We did not. Instead we sat in them for ten days - until the 31st July when we were relieved by another Division and despatched to the opposite end of the Second Army front.

These ten days were probably the most static that the Battalion had experienced. For the first three of them, we were pinned down by continuous rain, that same rain that checked the progress of the Armoured Divisions on our right. It made men loath to leave their slit trenches for any purpose, and yet reluctant to remain in them because they became so wet and damp.

In most places the soil was strong and this prevented the water, once in the trenches, from draining away. The positions were of necessity in open fields, and consequently the days were passed in the most unpleasant conditions that the Battalion had had to endure.

In many respects this period resembled the corresponding static period at Cambes Wood. Shelling and mortaring were both as intense, perhaps more so, because the Battalion position was more concentrated and when the Boche had found out where we were, he was able to shoot with accuracy and effect.

He also produced for the first time in our experience, the multi-barrelled mortar called Reihenwerfer, Panzerwerfer or Nebelwerfer in official terms, but to one and all it was known as "Moaning Minnie". This instrument is so named because in firing it emits the noise of rending canvas, and during time of flight, up to 20 seconds, its missiles give voice to a wail or whine which becomes louder and more menacing as it comes nearer.

All these infernal machines were accurately and frequently ranged onto our positions, but on the whole the casualties were lighter than at Cambes Wood because the troops had there learned the necessity for getting below ground and were here able to profit from this experience.

One of the principal dangers in this position came from the dust which rose so easily from the roads which led to our positions. After the rain, a fine spell of weather dried the road and soon the passage of vehicles throwing dust to the skies, became a menace to the troops: for although the country was very close and thick hedges and woods impeded observation of more than 200 yards at any point, the dust rose high above these obstacles and the Boche had little difficulty in spotting the approaches and destinations of traffic.

The chief sufferers were the RAP, the mortar platoon, and F Echelon, all of which were sited in and around the houses some 200 yards North East of the Brickworks. Supplies were brought up to F Echelon from A Echelon at Amereville, and when the food had been cooked it was then taken forward to the companies by jeep. Necessarily it was a hive of activity, and in spite of the most outspoken warning signs, trucks continued to raise dust, however slowly they travelled. Consequently this area received more than its share of shells.

Patrolling at this position was not so ambitious as at Cambes Wood. Our Battalion Battle Patrol had been much reduced in strength by casualties and consequently our activities were confined to reconnaissance patrols of positions to our immediate front. These produced, however, a fund of information which was swelled by several deserters who trickled into our position at various times.

The troops that faced us were German Air Force ground units whose morale was poor: their strength included many whose stock was not of purest German, and among the deserters were several Poles who disclosed the location of tanks, platoons, companies and HQs with the utmost nonchalance. We were able to hand over to our successors a fairly complete picture of the layout of the Boche defences in front of. us.

The plan devised at Cambes for sending a limited number of men to A Echelon for 48 hours rest was resumed in this position. A Echelon was stationed at Amfreville, near Breville some two miles East of the Orne. From here men could visit the Divisional Club at Luc sur Mer by this time fast recovering from the original impact of the invasion.

From here too, Sjt O'Reilly, Rfn Long and Rfn McGlennon, decorated for their bravery at the battle of Cambes, attended a parade at Cazelle when they received their decorations from the C in C. Field Marshal Sir Bernard L. Montgomery, KCB, DSO.

Other parties went to the Corps Rest Camp at Aubin sur Mer a soldiers paradise where meals were served by the belles of the Normandy coast, and an early morning cup of tea was brought in at 0830 hours by a Serjeant-major.

These diversions helped us to carry through this period maintaining high spirits and looking forward with hope and confidence to whatever the future might bring.


  1. i was very interested in reading the accounts of action at Cambes particularly as my father L G Holcombe was a Sapper in the 253 Fld Co Royal Engs who supported the RURs in mine laying and recovery. He also went into Caen on the 9 th July Unfortunately his Co. Were involved in an incident about the15th July resulting in three deaths an two wounded. R Holcombe

    1. Hi Robert - you may be interested in contacting Brian Guy who was a Sapper in 3rd Division in Normandy and who has posted a wealth of information about what they got up to. See for more information and to contact.