50 (Northumbrian) Division

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  1. War Diary of 50 Div 'G Branch' covering the final month in France 1940. (WO 167/300)

    50 Division G Branch War Diary May 1940
    May 10
    Code word BIRCH 6, was received at 0630 hrs instituting Plan D.... Air Raid warnings were heard throughout the day and much A.A. fire heard. Enemy planes were brought down in Div area at HERRIN and HOCRON and 2 prisoners captured.
    R.R.O.I. No. 3 received. 50 Div. A.O. No. 9 issued

    May 11
    50 Div. Med. O.I. No. 1 issued
    Situation Reports issued at 0830 and 1500 hrs.
    Petrol Coy reported British Blenheim P.6208 down. Crew bomber sent to hospital – observer dead. Sgt Collins.
    Another day of wailing sirens.
    Information that 9 King’s Own were to be attached to Div.

    May 12
    ....King’s Own attached to 151 Bde temporarily. Enemy plane crashed HOCRON 1 prisoner taken. British plane down. F/O Gore landed by parachute. Orders were received Guards in 3 Div area to be taken over by 50 Div. Enemy parachutists seen landing in VIMY RIDGE area.
    Inf. Bdes drew their guns A.Tk from A.O.D. ARRAS.

    May 13
    Warning Order received from G.H.Q. to prepare to move after time T.C.C. arrive.

    May 15
    General Gamelin’s Ordre du Jour dated 10 May rec’d.
    Warning Order –Div to move on route G only. Zero hour for Div 1300 hrs 16 May.
    No. 2 T.C.C. came under orders 50 Div.

    May 16
    Div move into Belgium commenced. Zero hour1100 hrs. Advanced to R. DENRE relieving 5 Div and taking over bridgeheads at LESSINES J24 (150 Bde) GRAMMONT J24 (151 Bde) and NINOVE J35 (25 Bde). Adv. Div. H.Q. opened at EVERBECQ J24 1700hrs.

    May 17
    Day spent digging in and preparing bridges for demolition. There was reported danger to right flank owing to withdrawal of 1 Corps. During day orders were received that 50 Div was to come under comd 2 Corps and withdraw (less 25 Bde Gp) to line of R. ESCAUT.
    During night 17/18 armd forces were rumoured to be on our front.
     
  2. May 18
    R.E. Operational Order re demolitions.
    ... 25 Bde remained in position at NINOVE. H.Q. opened at HERSEAUX H84 at 1100 hrs. Night 18/19 was spent on River ESCAUT. For schedule of demolitions on R. ESCAUT from PECQ H94 to HELCHIN see appendix (APP 29).

    May 19
    Orders were received that owing to further danger of enemy penetration of the southern flank of the B.E.F. 50 Div was to be relieved by 1 Div and would move south and take up a position to prevent the enemy crossing any of the bridges across the canal from RACHES to BETHUNE. H32. 50 Div reverted to G.H.Q. comd and was rejoined by 25 Bde Gp. Dispositions were to be – 25 Bde on rt. 151 centre, 150 left. Warning order was issued at 0905 hrs... Later word was received that the line to be held was altered and the brigades replaced – 150 on rt., 25 centre and 151 on left.
    Adv. H.Q. opened at LOOS H63 about 1600 hrs. News was received during the night that the situation had improved and 50 Div less 151 Bde was to proceed to VIMY H40 area for offensive action near ARRAS. 151 Bde was to remain on the canal but its right boundary was extended to include BETHUNE. Later it was ordered that owing to loss of transport 25 Bde and 151 Bde would exchange roles.

    May 20
    Adv. Div. H.Q. arrived at cross roads near VIMY around 1030 hrs and were informed that the Germans were fighting in ARRAS and might be expected on VIMY RIDGE at any moment. Orders by G.1. were sent to 4 R.N.F. to come forward immediately and go out as a protecting screen in front of VIMY RIDGE while R.E. Coys and a party of Sigs occupied a position along the front of the wood at the top of the ridge until 150 Bde arrived. 151 Bde was ordered to move by march route but later was halted by G.O.C. as orders from G.H.Q. were that it must not leave the canal until 25 Bde were in position and owing to lack of transport and traffic congestion this relief was not accomplished until evening.
    G.O.C. arrived about noon at Div H.Q. which had been opened in a cottage on the roadside under Brigadier Massy, C.R.A. and visited General PRIOUX in command of the French forces in the area.
    50 Div and 5 Div were now part of FRANKFORCE under command of Major-General FRANKLIN and this force had under command 1 Army Tank Bde which was due to arrive between 2000 hrs and midnight. General FRANKLIN arrived during the afternoon and held a conference in 50 Div H.Q.

    During the afternoon General HERBERT commanding 23 Div visited the G.O.C. and explained the dispositions of his troops.

    In answer for a call for assistance from ARRAS 5 G. Howards were sent to ARRAS to help the defending force and 242 Fd Coy were sent forward to lay anti-tank mines on the southern outskirts of the town.

    Div. H.Q. was transferred to a house in the village at about 1800 hrs.

    May 21
    G.O.C. attended a conference at 0600 hrs at 5 Div H.Q. and returned with plan for advance of 151 Bde supported by 1 Army Tank Bde. The attack was to be directed to the west of ARRAS and turning south-east was intended to destroy all enemy forces in the area south of R. SCARPE as far as R. SENNE. The attack moved forward in two columns 8 D.L.I. preceded by 7 Bn R.T.C. on the right and 6 D.L.I. preceded by 4 Bn R.T.C. on the left; a screen of 4 R.N.F. moved ahead. The tank bns were timed to cross the ARRAS-DOULLES road at 1400 hrs.
    The attack proceeded successfully and inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy, between two and three hundred prisoners 6 & 8 Schutzen Regimente being taken.
    During the evening the Germans carried out heavy dive-bombing and machine gun attacks.
    About 2000 hrs orders were issued for 6 D.L.I. to LAAGER in BEAURAINS, 8 D.L.I. in WARLUS. This was carried out but during the night very heavy attacks by bombers, tanks and infantry compelled our troops to withdraw after intense fighting. The Bns were reformed and later withdrew to VIMY RIDGE.
     
  3. May22
    The position was established on VIMY RIDGE by 151 Bde. 150 Bde with 13 Bde on its left was in position east of ARRAS and 12 Bde on west of the town. During the night 22/23 May the enemy was reported to be crossing the R. SCARPE on the 150 Bde front but by 0430 hrs all was reported quiet.

    May23
    A day of intense air bombardment. Div H.Q. was machine gunned by low flying German planes and many bombs were dropped in and around the village of VIMY. The enemy worked up and almost to LENS on the right flank. Orders were recd to withdraw, and Div Office and all personnel except G.O.C., G.1., G.2., AQ moved during the evening to BOIS BERNARD where Div H.Q. Office was established. At 1700 hrs however FRANKFORCE recd orders to stand and fight. Later this was cancelled and further orders were recd where by withdrawal was to begin during the night, the whole force crossing the LA BASSEE by one bridge on the HENIN LIETARD-CARVIN road. The move began at midnight 23/24 and by 0600 hrs the force was across the bridge which was later blown.

    May24
    Div. H.Q. was established in LOOS for the third time. 150 and 151 Bde now withdrawn behind the canal spent the day reorganising and resting.

    May25
    G.O.C. visited G.H.Q. and during the afternoon held a conference at Div. H.Q. and outlined probable move south for offensive action. Later 3 Corps comdr. General ADAMS came to 50 Div H.Q. regarding this and confirmed that C. in C. wished it to be proceeded with.

    During night 25/26 reports were recd from 151 Bde that enemy parachutists about 40 had landed in 50 Div area. 4 R.N.F. were ordered to go out and look for them, but no contact was made.

    May26
    Message from G.H.Q. received at 0730 hrs stating that 50 Div were to move with a view to taking up a position on the high ground near BAILLEUL H44 in case of penetration on the Belgian front. G.O.C. gave out plans for move to BAILLEUL, the orders being given to liaison officers 150 and 151 Bdes.

    Messages from 151 Bde stating that 6 D.L.I. who had been bombed and heavily shelled during the night would move back to HERRIN H26 and that 8 D.L.I. would get back as soon as possible. The 9 D.L.I. had been badly shelled and shot up and would probably not be able to get out. Shortly afterwards 6 D.L.I. were reported concentrated at HERRIN, 9 D.L.I. were heavily engaged at PROVIN H52 and 8 D.L.I. were counter-attacking a few Germans who had crossed the canal at CARVIN H62.

    Rear Div. H.Q. moved to ERQUINGHEM H53 at 0945 hrs.

    About 1100 hrs G.O.C. returned from recce at FLEURBAIX H53 and phoned G.H.Q. that Div was moving as ordered with the exception of 9 D.L.I. to follow later.

    Brig. Churchill phoned G.H.Q. at 1130 hrs to say that Germans were penetrating towards CAMPHIN H62 from the direction of LIBERCOURT and had engaged 8 D.L.I. at CAMPHIN. G.O.C. said Germans must be held. At 1145 hrs G.H.Q. ordered (by phone) 1 Bde Gp to move to YPRES for defence. G.O.C. to organise this defence, hand over to Gen. Franklyn.

    4 R.H.F. were ordered to ERQUINGHEM.

    G.O.C. phoned Brig. Haydon explaining the position regarding the defence of YPRES. 150 Bde, 72 Fd. Regt, 150 Fd. Amb, 232 Fd. Coy, and 6 D.L.I. were to go. The G.O.C. then left for YPRES.

    At about 1300 hrs 151 reported considerable air activity over 8 D.L.I. who were attacking in co-operation with French tanks. Phone message to 151 at 1315 that G.H.Q. say that the stopping of the enemy is of primary importance therefore 8 and 9 D.L.I. stay in position pro-tem and when their task is completed by pulled out into G.H.Q. reserve.

    Adv. Div. H.Q. closes at LOOS at 1320 and moved to WEZ MACQUART (Near PERENCHIES H64) where it opened at 1430 hrs. 9 Fd. Coy was placed under command during the afternoon.

    At 1610 a message was recd from 151 Bde that the move to YPRES was impossible owing to bad traffic blocks. About 1630 hrs 151 Bde reported situation to be still uncertain but at 1700 hrs CARVIN was recaptured by 8 D.L.I. who then attempted to arrange for support by French tanks to attack ESTEVELLES. 9 D.L.I. still firmly established in PROVIN. Gen Langlois requested 151 Bde that 8 & 9 D.L.I. should remain until 2 North African Div arrived and to this Brig. Churchill agreed. G.H.Q. were informed.

    At 1730 hrs G.H.Q. rang up (C.G.S. speaking) saying that the C. in C. complimented 8 D.L.I. on its counter-attack as the best news he had yet received. On completion of the task 8 & 9 D.L.I. were to move in Tp. Carrying Coys, and a later call from G.H.Q. ordered that when 8 & 9 D.L.I. were relieved the whole Div was to move to YPRES and come under 2 Corps. 151 Bde reported that 8 & 9 D.L.I. were still engaged and unable to move until relieved. Casualties were estimated at 30%. It was expected that relief would be completed about midnight.

    G.O.C. returned shortly after 2030 hrs and almost immediately left for H.Q. 2 Corps.
     
  4. May 27
    At 0005 hrs G.O.C. returned from 2 Corps and said that the Div would not move before daylight.
    Orders for the move to YPRES were issued at 0110 hrs. Div H.Q. left WEZ MACQUART for YPRES area at 0615 hrs and arrived at the Div Report Centre at YPRES at 1015 hrs where G.O.C. had arranged areas for incoming units.
    The Corps Commander (Lt. Gen. Brooke) called and before leaving told General Martel that he was to assume command of all troops in the YPRES area and was to begin at once to build up the necessary defensive system adding to it as units arrived.
    At 1045 hrs 12 Lancers reported enemy advancing in area 6564 and a few minutes later added that the enemy had broken through after heavy shelling at 635628 with the result that our flank might be forced back.

    Adv. Div. H.Q. opened at cross roads 515627 at 1300hrs. During the afternoon 12 Lancers sent several messages regarding enemy activity and movement and finally at 1915 reported that crossings at NORDSCHOOTE H57 and KNOCKE were causing some anxiety as the former was only partially prepared for blowing and the latter not at all and there were only Belgians near both these places as our patrols had withdrawn.

    151 Bde was reported in position at 1755 hrs.

    A German cavalry patrol was reported at 1845 hrs to have been wiped out between YPRES and BOESINGHE H56 (Identifications obtained).

    May 28
    The G.O.C. held a conference at 0900 hrs on the proposed withdrawal and destruction of equipment. Message was received from 2 Corps at 1015 hrs to the effect that 23 Div was place under comd. 50 Div for the purpose of reinforcing the depleted battalions of the Div. During the morning the Corps Commander called at Div. H.Q.

    151 Bde reported that 4 Green Howards on the right had been forced back from the canal to KRUISSTRA THOEKE. G.O.C. ordered 4 R.N.F. to move towards VLAMERTINGHE H56 to support 4 Green Howards. 151 Bde was warned to have the reserve battalion ready for the move and O.C. 9 Fd. Coy. was ordered to send his remaining section to 92 Fd. Regt. to act as infantry to protect bty posn if necessary. At 1215 hrs G.O.C. placed Brig. Haydon in charge of battle at YPRES and sent 8 D.L.I. down to give any assistance. Brig. Haydon established a report centre at 569612.

    A message was received from 150 Bde that 4 R.N.F. hold position VIERSTRAAT H55 to KRUISSTRAAT-HOEK – 8 D.L.I. moving area DICKEBUSCH H55. At 1523 hrs report from O.P. that Germans over canal on Northern outskirts of YPRES. This was passed to 151 Bde with G.O.C.’s suggestion that use be made of carriers.
    Adv. Div H.Q. commenced to move to WESTVLETEREN H47 at 2300 hrs.

    {HANDWRITTEN ENTRY};
    “An indication of the rapidity with which movements were taking place is given by the fact that during the course of the day an urgent message from 2 Corps stating 5 Div being hard pressed and asking for 50 Div assistance arrived 24 hrs late.”
     
  5. May 29
    Adv. Div. H.Q. arrived at WESTVLETEREN at 0130 hrs. At 0830 hrs instructions were received from 2 Corps re destruction of vehicles. At 0945 Corps Commander came and gave areas in the defence localities on the coast.
    At 1700 hrs Enemy tanks were reported approaching Artillery Areas but when taken on by our guns they retired.
    Div. H.Q. opened at ADINKERKE H48 at 2240. During night 29/30 50 Div withdrew to bridgehead position.

    May 30
    5 Div withdrew through 50 Div. Enemy contacted us about noon in the neighbourhood of BULSCAMP H48 and threatened to cross the canal and 3 Div rt flank on our left was bent back. 3 G.G.(strength -6 Offrs and 200 O.R.s) placed under command 50 Div to deal with this situation but 6 D.L.I. who had begun to fall back in keeping with 3 Div moved up again to line of canal and re-established the position. 2 R.N.F. and 4 Gordons (M.G.) greatly depleted in both personnel and arms placed under command. A certain amount of light pressure by enemy adv. forces was experienced on the right flank of 150 Bde. During the night 30/31 no further enemy pressure was felt. Orders were received that 50 Div would embark from the beach at LA PANNE H39 during night 31 May/1 June.

    May 31
    At 0830 hrs Brig. Ritchie called and said there was a change of plan. 50 Div would not now embark on night 31 May/1 June at LA PANNE but was to pivot on right and occupy Franco-Belgian frontier with 5 Div on its left. 50 Div to come under command 1 Corps at 1800 hrs. G.O.C. left at once to make a recce. Considerable enemy pressure developed and battle continued all day. 9 D.L.I. were forced back with the help of the 3 G.G.’s the position was established on the line of the second canal. At about 1800 hrs the enemy began shelling Adinkirke and started a fire in centre of the village. During night 31 May/1 June 50 Div withdrew behind the French frontier, 150 Bde taking up a defensive line in rear of French forward troops. Div. H. Q. Moved from Adinkirke to Malo Les Bain H28 finally closing at the former place about 0200 hrs June 1.

    June 1
    In view of the shelling and threatened air activity it was decided in the early hours to move Div. H.Q. to an open field near LEFFRINCKHOUCKE H38. Therein the complete absence of cover, vehicles were distributed among the many derelict vehicles which were to be found quite literally in every “hole and corner”, and although many enemy aircraft passed over during the course of the day, the location of Div H.Q. appeared to remain undiscovered or at least, despite the appearance of a “hedge-hopper” was not dive-bombed. Throughout the day there was continuous enemy shelling but no loss was suffered by Div H.Q. During the morning G.O.C. attended a conference at 1 Corps H.Q. and later issued verbal instructions for embarkation of 50 Div.
    These were confirmed in a message issued at 1455 hrs.
    The first troops of 151 Inf. Bde arrived at Div. Report Centre on shore at 1500 hrs and thereafter there was a steady influx until Div. H.Q. closed at 2300 hrs when 150 Bde took over. During the early afternoon several bombing attacks were made on shipping lying near the shore and the sands were machine gunned.

    {HANDWRITTEN ENTRY};
    “All Office letters and papers were destroyed, together with messages, battle log and notes for war diary. Only certain O.P. orders and instructions being left.”

    Embarkation commenced at 2100 hrs and continued with intermittent delage until 0330 hrs June 2. A small party which had been ordered to retire down the mole and lie up, managed to get on a troopship at 0530 hrs.
     

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