Fighting withdrawal to St.Valery-en-Caux

Discussion in '1940' started by John Lawson, Nov 9, 2010.

  1. MarkN

    MarkN Well-Known Member


    This is shaping up to be a really good discussion.

    I don't think we are that far apart. Just a wee difference of understanding in the probable implications and consequences.

    Whilst the chain of command does appear complicated, it should not be seen as meaning people can't talk with one another. It is standard military proceedure to set up comms with neighbouring forces whatever the chain of command was.

    On 6 June Beauman with Karslake visited HQ 51 Division and discussed the situation with Fortune. It was at that meeting that the decision was made to place A Brigade under 51 Division.

    That evening a staff officer from HQ Beauman Div went to HQ X Armee to get permission to carry out preliminary demolitions. Altmayer, with Marshall-Cornwall present (probably doing the translation) refused.

    The following day, Marshall-Cornwall summoned Beauman to a meeting at X Armee HQ with Evans present. They discussed Hoth's XV advance on Rouen and its implications and considered a change to the command structure. The three, Marshall-Cornwall, Beauman and Evans decided against it.

    Also on the 7th, having been denied permission to start the demolitions by Altmayer the day before, the GSO1 from HQ Beauman set off to HQ 9e Corps to get permission from Ihler. He had to turn back because of enemy fire so didn't get the permission he wanted.

    What we have is a body of evidence that demonstrates that the various commands were actively communicating with one another irrespective of the laid down chain of command. That's exactly as I would expect it to be.

    Unless evidence exists that somebody within the Beauman Division decided to blow bridges against orders because they were French orders not British orders, I don't buy the complicated Anglo-French command structure as being the reason for Fortune not being up to speed on the 8th. It seems to me the reason lies entirely within the confines of Beauman Division decision-making.

    If Fortune had made a decision to withdraw of his own accord, he could have done so. London could have ordered him to withdraw, directly or via Marshall-Cornwall, if they had chosen to do so. Marshall-Cornwall could have taken it upon himself. So could Karslake. They didn't.

    But, had any of those options been implemented, it would be - as you wrote - "cut and run". British policy was to fight the Germans not "cut and run".

    Moreover, there is a presumption in the what if cut and run theory that events would have turned out better. Would they? Were the 51 Division to have cut and run to Le Havre on the 7th or 8th, they would simply be inviting one or more of Hoth's divisions onto them directly from the 9th onwards. Most of the BEF falling back to Dunkirk managed to evacuate successfully because a significant body of French remained behind to defend the evacuation. At Le Havre, whose going to hold the perimeter?

    I am turned off Saul David's book by its title.

    The remnants of 9e CA at St. Valery were victims of circumstance. They were not "sacrificed" by anybody and an analysis of the historical reality would suggest there was little chance for a better outcome.

    Being motorized, the 51 Division had the capability to "cut and run" unlike the French formations alongside them. They could exploit the advantage of mobility at the expense of the largly immobile French. But if "cut and run" was to be policy or the 'normal' go to decision, why bother to be there in the first place?
    Rich Payne likes this.
  2. Kiwi REd One

    Kiwi REd One Junior Member

    I'm not disagreeing with any of the above post Mark.

    Being about as far away as one can get from France (I'm in NZ as you have probably guessed) I have pretty limited access to records etc about this era (even less with COVID 19 travel restrictions) so I have relied on Saul David's book reasonably heavily to find out about the events surrounding the 51st Highland Division's time in France in 1940. My interest in the subject stems both from an interest in military history as well as from a personal purspective (My grandfather, Lt Col E.K. Page was C.O. of 51st A/T Regiment in 1940....he was captured at St Valery).

    Sure there are online resources but there is nothing like being there oneself to appreciate historical events. I was lucky enough to get to visit St Valery en Caux and a few other locations round the Northern Somme and Abbeville in June 2015 to see where that episode of their story ended.
  3. MarkN

    MarkN Well-Known Member

    Really? I was sure you came from a long line of shoe polishers. :D
  4. MarkN

    MarkN Well-Known Member

    Until the beginning of last year, I lived on the otherside of Europe to the British Archives. I engaged Drew to copy a stack of documents a few years ago and also tried to get a couple of days there when I visited the UK - which was about 4 times in 20 years.

    Nevertheless, little by little, I have accrued a reasonable collection of files on the 1st Armoured Division and the Beauman Division. Almost nothing on the 51st Division. Which is why I believe this thread could be most interesting as we each pool our knowledge and thoughts to come to a wider - and better - understanding ofthe whole.

    I've also built up a decent stack of documents on the German units to match the contemporary accounts of the foes. It is very interesting to read a British account of how they had to withdraw from position X after it was set upon by a legion of panzers to then comb through the German documents to find there were no panzers within 20 or so miles!

    Can't beat doing your own research, analysis and in your case a field trip.

    I generally avoid books. They have a tendency to have been written with a story to tell rather than be an account of history. The Saul David title flashes with a warning light as bright as it gets. Perhaps the inside matter has more value.

    The Forczyk book I found last week also exhibits lazy research and has a habit of telling the reader what to think and believe rather than laying out the historical details for the reader to make up their own mind. The line I quoted earlier is a prime example.

    It's difficult to do better than Ellis' official history. Dry and exhibiting the normal traits you'd expect from an official history, but based on contemporary documents to provide an historical account rather than push an agenda or to be a bestseller.
  5. Browno

    Browno Fake news challenger


    He's not the only one with muddled thoughts...

    You haven't read David and only a handful of pages of Forczyk you found online, Mark even though he devotes several chapters of his book to the fighting between Somme and Seine. Yet you can forensically pick apart his thesis on these snippets:

    I'll leave it at that thanks. Kiwi sums it up nicely for me. British units supporting the 51st were under a different command structure. The Allies' largest division couldn't cut and run from an overstretched line. Once trapped Operation Cycle was organised to lift British troops from Upper Normandy. It lifted nearly 15k whilst 10k were trapped by fog and panzers. The French defence of Veules-les-Roses allowed over 3,499 British and French troops to be lifted from its shingle beach.


  6. MarkN

    MarkN Well-Known Member


    Yes, many people can become muddled in their thoughts. It is an almost certainty when trying to push a narrative that doesn't accord with historical reality.

    You don't need to be a forensic literalist, nor read the entire book, to recognise weakness in Forczyk's analysis and opinion. In a single sentence he provides his thoughts on the "logical course of action" and expects the reader to assume, as he does, that that solution would (miraculously) turn out just fine. As his narrative continues, he switches from his "logical course of action" to propose they should have done someting else.

    Formations operating in conjunction with other formations under a different chain of command is quite normal. Indeed, it is quite impossible to have all units reporting to the same immediate boss.

    The British had placed Military Missions in each of the relevant French HQs to coordinate activities, ensure information was disseminated, present the British point if view and, if necessary, intercede and reject orders from the French they felt inappropriate. No.1 Mission was in Weygand's HQ, No.2 was in George's HQ and No.17 was in Altmayer's HQ. In addition to that, a legion of liaison officers were to be found in all the headquarters whether in the chain of command or geographically prudent.

    By having this system there was double the chance of communications getting through and an extra check on the wisdom of decisions. In that sense, the complicated Anglo-French command structure, whilst being far from perfect, was more fit-for-purpose than a wholly British chain of command.

    Please do not think my understanding of the topic is based soley on the reading of a handful of pages from Forczyk. It's not. For example, in respect of the decision whether to "cut and run" or not, I'm reading the original source correspondence that Marshall-Cornwall had with the War Office and the CIGS Dill, Swayne, Altmayer, Fortune, Evans, Karslake and Beauman. I'm also reading the contemporary accounts by units and formations that did "cut and run" to understand how they did it and what difficulties they faced in the process.
    Last edited: Mar 30, 2021
  7. MarkN

    MarkN Well-Known Member

    Continuing the discussion.

    Forczyk's opinion that, "The logical course of action was to immediately order Ihler’s 9e CA to fall back towards Le Havre, where it could be supplied or evacuated by sea" contrasts somewhat with the opinion of the British general staff. Dill, CIGS, reported to the War Cabinet at lunchtime on 7th June:

    On the extreme left of the front the 51st Division were being very hard pressed, and the situation gave cause for considerable anxiety. A line in rear was being occupied by improvised formations of base details and Auxiliary Military Pioneer Corps in order to cover Rouen. The danger was that the 51st Division might be forced back into the Havre peninsula, and it had been impressed on the Commander that, if he had to fall back, it should be in the direction of Rouen. The Admiralty were sending 2 destroyers to give artillery support to the left flank of the 51st Division. General Pownall, who had gone over to see General Georges, would be returning shortly and would be able to report the situation on this part of the front and the reasons why the French Tenth Army had been unable to give any further support to the 51st Division, who were strung out on a very wide front (nearly 20 miles).

    Rather than being the logical course of action seen by Forczyk in hindsight, withdrawing into Le Havre was seen at the time as the danger and that the better option was via Rouen and across the Seine.

    More interesting, perhaps, in the understanding of history (as opposed to whatiffery) is the timing and Dill's words it had been impressed on the Commander that, if he had to fall back seeming giving a tentative green light from London that Fortune could decide of his own accord to "cut and run". I mean, if Fortune was expected to conform with whatever orders were received from Ihler's 9th CA, he has no say in the direction of withdrawal and thus giving him guidance on the matter would be pointless.

    Regrettably, I do not have any documentation on the exact words exchanged with, or presented to, Fortune himself so cannot be certain that he would have or could have reached the same conclusion. Nevertheless, London's guidance of some description regarding withdrawal of the 51st Division had been issued no later than the morning of 7th June.
  8. MarkN

    MarkN Well-Known Member

    On a slight tangent, but may be of interest as it contradicts what is often assumed, Marshall-Cornwall reported to the WO that the 51st Division had come under command of 9e CA as of 2040, 7th June having previously been operating directly under Xe Armee.

    When tracking the orders and moves of the various headquarters, this does not seem out of place at all.
  9. MarkN

    MarkN Well-Known Member

    CIGS' report to the War Cabinet didn't just come out of the blue.

    Overnight 6/7 June, the following cable had been sent to No.2 Mission (Swayne) in General Georges NE Theatre HQ. This cable was copied to No.17 Mission (Marshall-Cornwall) and HQ Line of Communications (Karslake).

    CIGS understands from 17 Mission that 10th ARMY has no instructions other than to hold line SOMME at all costs. General Marshall-Cornwall feels there is danger that in event of German breaking through further east, 51st Div might be driven into the Le Havre - Fecamp peninsula and trapped there. While he does not want to PROPESY disaster, CIGS insists that provision be made for action in event of enforced withdraw allotted to 51st Div should be via NEUBOURG in direction of LE MANS. It will also be essential to prepare alternative crossing between ROUEN and LES ANDELEYS in case of ROUEN bridges destroyed. This would be arranged with L of C after line of withdrawal allotted. Please represent to General GEORGES.

    The following is contained in Marshall-Cornwall's report to the WO of 4 June.

    I feel it important that a policy should be laid down covering the routes of withdrawal of the British Troops in the event of a German breakthrough further east. There is a danger of the 51st Division being driven into the Le Havre - Fecamp peninsula and trapped there. There are no bridges over the Seine below Rouen and the bridge there is sure to be destroyed.

    Alternative crossings must be prepared between Rouen and Les Andelys and a line of withdraw allotted via Neubourg southwards to Le Mans. This policy should be arranged on a high level with General Georges. The 10th Army Commander says that his orders are merely to hold the River Somme to the last.

    I suggest that, once the policy regarding the line of withdrawal is settled, General Karslake be ordered to make all the necessary preparations, including arrangements for alternative temporary bridges across the Seine.

    Documentary evidence demonstrates that the British were alive to the possibility of the 51st Division being trapped and had recognised this before the Germans had even started their attack. It shows that the decisions and choices being made were those proposed by commanders on the ground not imposed by London. It also identifies that the wheels of the decision-making process turn slowly.

    With the benefit of hindsight, we know Fortune historically did something different and the fate of the 51st Division was that which this exchange and preparation was trying to avoid.

    Kiwi REd One,

    How does Saul David cover this?
  10. Kiwi REd One

    Kiwi REd One Junior Member

    According to Saul David on 6 June Beauman with Karslake visited HQ 51 Division and discussed the situation with Fortune. Karslake told Fortune that he had been instructed by London that the 51st would remain with the French (presumably under IX Corps still) and that any withdrawal "would have to be along its line of communication through Rouen". However any order to move back across the Seine would have to be issued by the French and until that came Fortune would just have to "sit tight". Evidently Beauman and Fortune had agreed when the 51st first arrived on the Somme that a move towards Le Harve would be best if they had to retreat.

    Fortune and Karslake both were of the opinion that the Le Harve option was best but with the 51st under French control there was no line of direct contact with a British commander to be able to appeal to London until Brooke arrived to command the 2nd BEF that was slated for arrival in Normandy by mid-June (Brooke himself arrived back in France on 11 June by which time any retreat by the 51st was academic since the whole of IX Corps were surrounded in the St Valery area by the Germans).

    I'll have to look back in David's book about the earlier agreement made by Beauman and Fortune. I do have all the 51st AT Regt's war diaries and note that 204 Battery (with Ark Force) was not evacuated directly to the UK but rather was sent to Cherbourg where they spent 3 days in a transit camp before returning to the UK. They were ordered to destroy all their MT at Le Harve but kept their 2 pdr AT Guns until ordered back to the UK and so left them in Cherbourg.
    Last edited: Apr 1, 2021
  11. MarkN

    MarkN Well-Known Member


    Breaking this down to really get a grip of history.

    Beauman's account of the meeting does not mention instructions from London nor withdrawal. He relates the meeting to the decision for his A Brigade to move forward and and come under command Fortune. That's not to say other things weren't discussed, of course.

    The War Office sent their instructions with regards to withdrawal to be via Rouen, across the Seine and on to Le Mans during the night 6/7 June. In otherwords, the meeting with Fortune was before the instruction from London had been sent but two days after Marshall-Cornwall had reported that as his recommendation. This would seem to suggest plenty of discussion between the various British commanders (despite the formal command structure) was going on in France and an agreed concensus had been reached even before London rubber stamped.

    On 6 June, as I have now ascertained, 51st Division was under command Altmayer's Xe Armee. 51st Division came under command Ihler's 9e CA late on 7 June.

    Beauman makes no reference to this in his report or his published narrative. However, it is documented by Swinburn GSO.1 of the 51st Division as having been thrashed out on 28th May. Details here: Private Diary: May 1940, 51st Highland Division, Lt-Col. H.R. SWINBURN thanks to moderatrix dbf.

    From arrival in the Somme area until the evening of 7 June, 51st Division were under direct command of Altmayer. From 31 May, Marshall-Cornwall was installed in Altmayer's HQ with the responsibility of "transmitting" the Xe Armee orders and instructions to the 51st and 1st Armoured divisions. His authority included a right of appeal direct to London.

    From the evening of 7 June, when 51st came under 9e CA command, Marshall-Cornwall was no longer responsible for issuing the orders but was required to be "fully acquainted" with the orders. Nevertheless, he retained the same right of appeal to London.

    It is not correct to say there was "no line of direct contact with a British commander to be able to appeal to London" during this period. There was.

    On 9 June, Marshall-Cornwall cabled London that Altmayer had given "sanction for the 51st Div to withdraw south of the Seine via Rouen". The precise time of this is not stated. Xe Armee had lost contact with 9e CA, so Marshall-Cornwall had sent a liaison officer and a despatch rider via a different route to Fortune with the order. Whether either made it through is not stated or known to me. History shows it was too late anyway and Fortune, in conjunction with Ihler, by the afternoon of the 9 June, were making arrangements of their own accord to fall back to Le Havre.

    There is a body of evidence that shows the 51st Division was neither sacrificed nor abandonned by anybody. Their plight was understood and plans for a withdrawal effected in advance. The order for that withdrawal came too late.

    In developping his "sacrificed by Churchill" argument, how does Saul David explain away that plans and preparations were in place for the 51st Division's withdrawal, that Fortune was (fully) aware of them and the order for that withdrawal was actually given - but too late?
    Last edited: Apr 2, 2021
  12. Kiwi REd One

    Kiwi REd One Junior Member

    Well, although reluctant, my grandfather did talk to me about his time in the 51st Division in general terms a couple of times and he certainly didn't give me the impression that they (the division) thought that they were "sacrificed", but rather their withdrawal plans were frustrated due to the manuverability and sheer rapidity of the German advance.

    Saul David covers a lot of ground with his book about the subject we are discussing here, maybe you should try to track down a copy and read it yourself? Its certainly a pretty good general account of 51st experiences in France, even if one does not agree with his ultimate conclusion.

    I'm only referring to his book and copies of Swinburn's and 51st AT regt diaries that I got from Drew. You seem to have access to a much wider range of primary sources Mark, so you are probably seeing the overall picture much clearer than myself.
    Last edited: Apr 2, 2021
  13. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter 1940 Obsessive

    I too have avoided the David book with it's prejudicial title. In fact, as has been mentioned, 51st Division's fate had been effectively sealed when they were detached to the Maginot as a division. Prior to their positioning there, the British had only rotated brigades on the Saar.

    According to Colville in his biography of Gort, although the French had been asking for a regular division, Gort felt that his territorial divisions were under-trained and only suitable for static warfare and he didn't feel that he could spare one of his regular divisions. 51st were actually sent there as it was the place where they were least likely to have to deal with mobile warfare and in so far as it went, this assessment was correct. They were spared what was seen as the riskier movement up to the Dyle Line where the main German attack was expected to fall.

    They weren't selected to be 'sacrificed', but to be protected until they had reached an adequate level of proficiency and training.

  14. MarkN

    MarkN Well-Known Member

    I think your grandfather was bang on the money with that assessment.

    I was not there, nor have I communicated with anybody who was. Nevertheless, I draw an exact same conclusion from a reading, analysis and understanding of primary documents.

    As a rule, I tend not to read books written by modern storytellers. My enjoyment in this is doing the research and analysis myself from the source documents and evidence.

    When I see a title such as "Churchill's sacrifice of ..." huge red warning lights start flashing. I tend to engage with such books principally to understand how they have influenced somebody else's opinion. For example, how Forcyk's book Case Red deals with the topic and how that has influenced Browno's post here. From the pages that I read, I saw a book which was easy to read/follow and, in its own way, entertaining. I did not see it as a book to help anybody understand the events about which it describes. Indeed, I felt it was positively misleading.

    I'm not sure that Saul David's book is going to be any better. From the title, it gives the impression it is deliberately trying to influence readers opinion away from historical reality.

    I don't have either Swinburn's account, nor any of the 51st Division or its consituent parts's war diaries. My interest lies in the lesser known forces and events which overlapped with the 51st Division. Thus, I have most of the Beauman Division and 1st Armoured Division documents and some others which are related. I also have a good few documents from the German side too.

    If you have an interest in burying yourself in those documents to form your own understanding of what was (really) going on with and around your grandfather, I'm happy to get them to you. Best bet is you send me your email address by PM and, in time, I'll upload the files somewhere for you to download.

    Here's an example of the sort of source document that has shaped my thoughts and understanding. Remember, you mentionned the incident where Fortune arrived at one of the crossing on the River Bethune to find some of the bridges already blown. It was something that you got from Saul David as being evidence of the command structure being a problem.

    This is a recording of a telephone/radio message I found in the HQ Beauman Division war diary. In his report, Beauman wrote that a hard copy of this message was also sent by a despatch rider. I have no evidence to confirm when it was received by HQ 51st Division - if at all.


    Assuming Fortune did receive the message and elected to comply with the request (it certainly made sense for him to do so), you can understand his irritation on arrival at the bridge. From this message, he is the one who has been delegated with the authority on when the bridges get blown!!! It also demonstrates, along with the reams of other similar evidence, that British formations were in excellent contact with one another, and doing their own thing, irrespective of the proscribed chain of command and the French elements therein.

    That having been said, perhaps the bridge Fortune was using was one east of St Vaast and thus not covered by this message.
    ltdan likes this.
  15. MarkN

    MarkN Well-Known Member

    Here is Marshall-Cornwall's cable/report to the War Office of 9 June. It does not indicated what time of the day it was sent. However, the details are a summary almost exclusively of the events of 8 June rather than 9 June which may indicate it was earlier rather than later in the day.


    You previously posted,

    Saul David in his book "Churchill's sacrifice of the Highland Division" outlines the following situation about IX Corps proposed withdrawal towards Rouen/the Seine:

    Lt Gen Marshall-Cornwall, the official British Liason Officer at General Altimayer's French 10th Army HQ, had by the morning of 8th June pursued General Weygand at French GHQ that it made sense to make IX Corps withdraw towards Rouen. Weygand issued a direct order to IX Corps to do this as they had lost touch with 10th Army HQ. General Ihler, the IX Corps Commander held a conference at his HQ on the afternoon of the 8th June with his Divisional commanders, (including the 51st's commander General Fortune) to how this could be achieved while keeping IX Corps intact. Ihler proposed a slow, staged fallback using the following timetable:

    Saul David narrates that, on the morning of the 8 June, Marshall-Cornwall had pursueded Weygand to issue the withdrawal order for 9e CA towards Rouen and this had been done directly as HQ Xe Armee were uncontactable. I have nothing to confirm or deny that this actually occured. Nevertheless, Marshall-Cornwall's report of 9 June (above) seems a bit contradictory to Saul David's account. Why, for example, does Altmayer have to sanction something that has already been ordered by his boss' boss? Does it really need so much effort to pass on Altmayer's order to 9e CA to do something that they've already been instructed to do? Marshall-Cornwall makes no mention in this report that he went to Weygand's HQ. I also checked his report of 8 June to see if it is mentionned there. It isn't.

    Something doesn't sit quite right with Saul David's narrative with the evidence I have to hand.
    ltdan likes this.
  16. MarkN

    MarkN Well-Known Member

    Here are the instructions which Dill gave to Marshall-Cornwall on behalf of the SoS for Defence (Eden) as to his mission.

    In paras 2 and 3 you have the details of his responsibilities and how the 51st Division and 1st Armoured Division were to be commanded.


    You wrote earlier that such a command structure/responsibility/authority did not exist until the arrival of Brooke. Did you get that from Saul David too?
    ltdan likes this.
  17. MarkN

    MarkN Well-Known Member

    Circling back to this.

    Ellis in the Official History narrates:

    Now, when it was too late, the retirement of the French IX Corps was at last ordered. General Weygand sent through the Howard-Vyse Mission a personal message to the C.I.G.S., saying 'Orders were given this morning to Commander IX French Corps who commands 51 British and 31 French Divisions to withdraw these divisions to area Les Andelys–Rouen. Thus there was exhibited the same initial refusal to face facts, and the same subsequent attempt to mask the consequences of delay by the issue of orders that could not be carried out, as had been displayed in connection with the Weygand Plan. The wisdom of early withdrawal from the Bresle, while it was still possible to retire behind the Seine, was not recognised; and when withdrawal could no longer be avoided the IX Corps was ordered to retire through an area which had been open to them earlier but was now occupied by the enemy.

    General Ihler received these orders direct, as the French Tenth Army Headquarters had moved nearer to Paris, and was not at this time in communication with its IX Corps. He met his divisional commanders in conference during the afternoon and told them that by order of French General Headquarters the Corps would withdraw to Rouen. His plan was to move first behind the Béthune and then, having pivoted on Torcy, to reach Rouen on the 12th, that is in four days' time.

    This altogether too leisurely programme ignored the fact that the German armoured divisions were already within a few miles of Rouen—a distance they could easily cover in four hours—but it was some gain that retirement from the Bresle was authorised, and while the conference was still in progress General Fortune sent a staff officer back to his headquarters to set in motion preparations for move during the coming night.

    Later in the night the formal order for withdrawal was received from General Altmayer.

    Ellis narrates Weygand issued orders direct to 9e CA to withdraw 51st Division to the Seine east of Rouen in the morning 8 June. Details of this were sent to London via the Howard-Vyse Mission. There is no mention of Marshall-Cornwall.

    Marshall-Cornwall's report of 8 June was telephoned through to the War Office at 13.05 8 June from the Howard-Vyse Mission offices. His report makes no mention of seeing Weygand nor of any knowledge of such an order having been given.

    Saul David claims the order was based on the persuasion of Marshall-Cornwall. If so, it must have been when they met on the evening of 7 June at Altmayer's when Weygand issued his bite them like dogs order. It doesn't add up. But, if it is true, then Marshall-Cornwall was completely in the dark as to his powers as, in the morning of 8 June, he was trying to get Altmayer to agree to withdraw to the river Bethune! Having failed, he drove off to Paris to go over his head but seems to have failed there too.

    Notwithstanding, Ellis narrates that the formal order from Altmayer was received that evening. This suggests at least one of the three attempts by Marshall-Cornwall succeeded in getting through.

    What we don't have is any sense of the nature of Weygand's instructions to Ihler. Was it Weygand who stipulated the pedestrian withdrawal to the Seine to get there by the 12th, or was that Ihler's plan on his own initiative?

    More intriguing, I think, is how Weygand's order to Ihler to move 31st French and 51st Division to the Seine morphs into a withdrawal of the entire 9e CA.

    In his 8 June report to the War Office, sent 13.05 from Weygand's HQ, Marshall-Cornwall suggests to London that "51st Division be released from French control" and that Fortune make his own independent plans to fall back into Rouen - albeit in stages and in cooperation with the adjoining French 31st Division. He even states that he has warned Fortune in advance that this may occur.

    Clearly both Weygand and the nature of the command structure play a part in how 51st Division found itself caught at St Valery. But it seems a real stretch to suggest either were the cause.
  18. Kiwi REd One

    Kiwi REd One Junior Member

    Thanks for the very interesting discussion that we have been having about 51st Division. While I have Saul David's book, and do find it useful I would certainly NOT say that it is a definitive account of the campaign and I do not personally beleive that his conclusions that the Highland Division and associated units were "sacrificed" are correct. As I said above I think rather their withdrawal plans were frustrated due to the manuverability and sheer rapidity of the German advance.

    I would love to see the stuff you have on other British formations on the Somme...I have started a one to one conversation with you Mark, and have included my email address. Thanks for you very generous offer.

    From the above looks like you have some very interesting sources.
  19. Kiwi REd One

    Kiwi REd One Junior Member

    I have being doing a bit more digging about my points about the "complex command structure" that 51st Division was operating under and came up with where I think I got the idea mainly from - here are a couple of pages from Karslake's book that explain the intracasies of the command structure quite well:



    Mark N also asked about the planned withdrawal of IX Corps towards Rouen. Here's a sketch from Swinburn's report showing the withdrawal timetable:

    P1420834 mod.jpg

    And the revised one planned by General Fortune towards Le Harve after the route to Rouen had been closed:


    Hope those help clarify things.
    Last edited: Apr 26, 2021
    Browno likes this.
  20. MarkN

    MarkN Well-Known Member

    Karslake is reaching somewhat with his words and opinions.

    There was nothing "curious" about the command system, it was the product of the French and British forces being outhought, outmanouvered and outfought by the Germans.

    If Gort had fallen back on his LoC instead of the coast, his HQ would still be directly commanding the British forces.

    If the WO had been more proactive in sending out a senior officer to take command of all British forces, which they did with Brooke but could have done with either Marshall-Cornwall or Karslake but chose not to, then there would not be any confusion or complexity.

    Yes, to an outsider the wire diagram of the command structure seems overly complex and/or confusing. In reality, it was a product of circumstance and choices made in London and was quite practical given the prevailing situation.

    Was that claimed "confusion" or supposed complexity a cause of the 51st Division's fate? In my opinion, not at all. It is a convenient hook on which to hang blame to avert scrutiny and criticism of poor performance in the field and woeful doctrine.

    Yep. The orders had been issued and a plan was in place.

    But it all came too late.

    Understanding the process identifies that a simpler command structure would not have made a difference.

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