Private Diary: CALAIS, May 1940, Colonel RT HOLLAND, G.H.Q. Adjutant General

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    SUBJECT - Diary submitted by Colonel R.T. HOLLAND

    Historical Section,
    War Cabinet Offices,
    Great George Street,
    SW 1.

    War Office

    Colonel R.T. HOLLAND, a released Prisoner of War, called recently at the War Office and delivered, in person, a MS Diary of the events which preceded the fall of CALAIS in May 1940. The original MS, written in a German prison camp, Colonel HOLLAND has retained. Copies, however, have been made and checked and are now given the distribution a shown below.

    2. This diary is not an official report, as Colonel HOLLAND was not the Commander in CALAIS during the period described. A report by the late Brigadier NICHOLSON is believed to be in existence, but no copy is held by this Section

    Signed ?
    Colonel GS

    M01 (Records)
    War Office
    28 May 1945

    Distribution of Colonel HOLLAND's Diary

    M01 (Records) - 2 copies
    War Cabinet Officers - 1 copy
    C7 - 1 copy
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    Rydal house

    17 May 1945

    Under Secretary of State for War (MO1 Records)

    1. I have the honour to submit a diary I made of events in CALAIS in May 1940 in case it is of use for historical purposes.

    2. I must add that the actual dates and times cannot in all cases be taken as accurate, as the diary was made 3 years after the events with few sources to draw on. I made it after the death of Brigadier C. NICHOLSON, when I realised that I was the senior surviving officer, who had served in CALAIS at that time.

    I have the honour to be,
    Your obedient servant
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    CALAIS, May, 1940


    This diary was compiled in July, 1943, at OFLAG IX A/H (SPANGENBERG) from such sources as were then available. Complete notes had been handed over to the late Brigadier C. NICHOLSON at OFLAG VIIC (LAUFEN) in November, 1940 for incorporation in his complete diary of operations.

    - PAGE 1 -
    MAY, 1940

    Sunday 5th
    I returned to FRANCE after ten days' leave in ENGLAND, and took up my new appointment as Assistant Adjutant General ("Personal Services" Section) at G.H.Q. of the B.E.F. The officers of the Adjutant-General's Brance were at HERNEVILLE (about 4 miles West of ARRAS).

    Friday 10th
    German invasion of BELGIUM started.

    Saturday 18th
    "Rear G.H.Q." (including A.G.'s Branch) moved to Imperial Hotel, BOULOGNE. I moved my car with Brigadier James WHITEHEAD (D.A.G. Personal Services) in afternoon. Other Ranks and stores moved by train, and did not reach BOULOGNE till morning of 19th.

    Sunday 19th
    The Adjutant-General (Lieutenant-General BROWRIGG), who was senior officer present at Rear G.H.Q., held a conference at Imperial Hotel at 1800 hours. Owing to enemy interruption of our established L. of C., BOULOGNE, CALAIS and DUNKIRK were to be developed as Base Ports for the B.E.F. These three ports were included in BOULOGNE Base Sub-area; the two latter had been little used heretofore, and had very small staffs. In view of the proposed development the following appointments were made at this conference:-

    CALAIS -
    Commandant - Colonel R.T. HOLLAND (from A.G.'s Branch, G.H.Q.).
    Staff Officer - Major Douglas HILL (from Labour Directorate).

    Commandant - Colonel G.H.P. WHITFELD (from A.G's Branch, G.H.Q.)
    Staff Officer - ?

    The A.G. said that the most urgent role of these ports would be to forward ammunition and supplies received from ENGLAND to formations in the field. My subsequent short written orders laid down that I would be under the general command of Commander, BOULOGNE Base Sub-area, but the situation soon made this arrangement ineffective.

    About 2300 hours the Imperial Hotel was hit by bombs. Approximate casualties - 7 killed, 12 wounded.

    Monday 20th
    At 0800 hours Major Douglas HILL and I left BOULOGNE for CALAIS by car. The existing establishment at CALAIS consisted of :-

    R.T.O. Captain CLARKE (who had been R.T.O. CALAIS in the Great War).
    Cipher Officer (whom I never met). ? SIMMONDS.

    A platoon of ARGYLL and SUTHERLAND HIGHLANDERS (formed from Base Details) under 2nd Lieutenant ROBERTSON was guarding ROYAL AIR FORCE special equipment on Eastern outskirts of CALAIS. (This platoon was relieved by I/Q.V.R. on morning of 23rd, withdrew into CALAIS, and found there under I/ROYAL ENGINEERS).

    Two Transportation Officers (Docks and Railways) arrived during the morning. Within the next 24 hours a Supply Officer (Lieutenant H. LEUTY, ROYAL ARMY SERVICE CORPS) and a Transport Officer (Major R.L. ATKINSON, ROYAL ARMY SERVICE CORPS) reported to me. A Signal Centre already existed at the Civil Post and Telegraph Office in Boulevard LEON GAMBETTA. This became the Signal Officer, and was manned by Captain F.R.B. BUCKNALL and details of G.H.Q. Signals and BOULOGNE Base Sub-area Signals, who arrived between []B[21st and 23rd/B]. Communication was maintained with the War Office, BOULOGNE and DUNKIRK till this office was evacuated on 24th. I established my H.Q. at a "Clinique" in Boulevard LEON GAMBETTA.

    Anti-Aircraft units (guns and searchlights*) had been detailed by the Major-General Anti-Aircraft Artillery, B.E.F. for defence of CALAIS.
    * detachments of the following units were eventually included in the garrison of CALAIS:-
    2 A.A. (Heavy) Regiment, 58 A.A. (Light) Regiment, 1 A.A. (Searchlight) Regiment.

    - PAGE 2 -

    Some of these were already in action; others arrived in the course of the next 24 hours. The senior A.A. Artillery Officer was Lieutenant-Colonel R.M. GOLDNEY, ROYAL ARTILLERY.

    Tuesday 21st
    All concerned at work on the organisation of CALAIS as a Base Port, discharge of ships from ENGLAND, etc. A Rest Camp was established at an old Lace Factory near the Hotel de Ville.

    About 2100 hours I met General Sir EDMUND IRONSIDE (C.I.G.S.), Group-Captain JACK SIESSOR, ROYAL AIR FORCE and an A.D.C. at Hotel (Meurice?). They were on their way back to LONDON after visiting G.H.Q.

    Wednesday 22nd
    After a night of bombing of OLD TOWN AREA, I motored round about 0430 hours to obtain an idea of damage done. At 0500 hours I saw General IRONSIDE off by car from his hotel - on his way to fly back to ENGLAND.

    I visited the senior French Officer in CALAIS (Naval Commandant LAMBERTY) at his H.Q. at FORT RISBAN. The French forces consisted of Naval personnel manning Coast Defence guns and some Army machine gun detachments. These were increased by several hundreds of French stragglers from many units - including personnel of French 9th Army from SEDAN area.

    Reports of enemy A.F.Vs in direction of BOULOGNE and towards South-West were now coming in. I had no Intelligence organisation and my sources of information were fortuitous. Details of many British units were now arriving in CALAIS. In accordance with orders from the War Office to evacuate "useless mouths" to ENGLAND, I decided which personnel were to remain (accommodated at the Rest Camp) and which were to embark for ENGLAND in any available ship.

    3rd Battalion ROYAL TANK REGIMENT (Lieutenant-Colonel R. KELLER) arrived from ENGLAND about 1230 hours and started disembarkation, which was discontinued after dark. In accordance with the task for this battalion decided on after consultation with the War Office (by telephone) and a Liaison Officer, who arrived from G.H.Q., I issued orders that the battalion was to move to the HAZEBROUCK Area, where Advanced G.H.Q. was said to be established. It was expected that the enemy would be met en route.

    1st Battalion QUEEN VICTORIA'S RIFLES, K.R.R.C. (Lieutenant-Colonel J.A.M. ELLISON-MacCARTNEY) without any transport arrived from ENGLAND about 1300 hours and came under my command. In view of the situation I gave this battalion the following tasks:-

    (1) to block all road approaches to CALAIS in co-operation with any troops found on the spot.

    (2) to patrol the beaches 3 miles East and West of CALAIS (these were reported to be good air landing grounds).

    (3) to guard the cable landing place at SANGATTE (on coast about 4 miles West of CALAIS).

    (4) to relieve 2nd Lieutenant ROBERTSON's platoon of ARGYLL and SUTHERLAND HIGHLANDERS on coastal road to GRAVELINES.

    A certain number of vehicles were collected locally as transport for I/Q.V.R.

    Many refugees were in the CALAIS area during these days - French soldiers, unarmed Belgian soldiers on their way to the interior of FRANCE (where they were to be armed and trained), French and Belgian civilians. Some of the French civilians were coming from the East, others from the West - both parties thinking they were moving away from the enemy.

    Thursday 23rd
    About 1300 hours Brigadier Claude NICHOLSON, commanding 30th INFANTRY BRIGADE, arrived from ENGLAND and took over command of all troops in CALAIS. 2nd Battalion KING's ROYAL RIFLE CORPS (Lieutenant-Colonel E. MILLER), 1st Battalion RIFLE BRIGADE (Lieutenant-Colonel C. HOSKYNS) and part of … Anti-Tank Battery, ROYAL ARTILLERY landed during the day.

    - PAGE 3 -

    From the time of arrival of Brigadier NICHOLSON, H.Q. of 30th INFANTRY BRIGADE and H.Q. of Commandant, CALAIS, were virtually amalgamated. I still dealt with decisions as to embarkation for ENGLAND or retention in CALAIS of the various details and personnel now collected. I was also able to help over the topography of the town, liaison with the French Officers I had met, etc. It was still, too, to be envisaged that 30th INFANTRY BRIGADE might move away as a field formation, in which case I should again have taken command of troops remaining in CALAIS.

    3rd ROYAL TANKS completed disembarkation and concentration during the morning. At 1300 hours the battalion moved off towards HAZEBROUCK in accordance with the orders I had issued to it on 22nd (and which I had since shown to Brigadier NICHOLSON). The battalion met opposition within 5 miles of CALAIS and was forced to fall back within the CALAIS perimeter before night fall.

    Brigadier NICHOLSON disposed 2nd K.R.R.C. and 1st R.B. on perimeter defence of the town, 2nd K.R.R.C. on the Right (West side and half South side), 1st R.B. on the Left (half South side and East side). As 1st Q.V.R. was already extended on blocking approaches on the whole perimeter of CALAIS (about 6 miles) and on other tasks, this unit was not given a separate sector of the perimeter; its companies were to come under command of the battalions, in whose sectors they found themselves, when the dispositions ordered were taken up.

    When outer A.A. detachments had to withdraw into CALAIS and abandon their equipment, they placed themselves under the nearest infantry commander and fought on as infantrymen.

    Meanwhile Brigadier NICHOLSON was planning to despatch on 24th a convoy of supplies (received from ENGLAND and loaded into ROYAL ARMY SERVICE CORPS lorries) via GRAVELINES to the BERGUES area for maintenance of troops in the field. Brigadier NICHOLSON left our H.Q. at the "Clinique" about 2300 hours to direct this operation, leaving Lieutenant-Colonel MILLER as his operational Second-in-Command.

    Under the French organisation CALAIS Defences formed part of the command of the Admiral commanding the Coast Defences at DUNKIRK. This Officer, no doubt realising the inability of the aged Naval Commandant LAMBERTY to deal with the type of situation confronting him, now sent Commandant LETELLIER, an Army officer on his staff, to take over command of the French troops in CALAIS. Commandant LETELLIER proved a very efficient command and a most loyal ally.

    Friday 24th
    About 0400 hours the operation preparatory to despatching a convoy of supplies towards BERGUES started. The road was to be cleared by 1st R.B. and 3rd ROYAL TANKS. Oppositions was met soon after leaving CALAIS. The clearing force was finally forced to withdraw into CALAIS. (I heard later as a Prisoner of War that a detachment of about four tanks of this force under the command of Major W.R. REEVES, 3rd ROYAL TANKS broke through the enemy at GRAVELINES and eventually rejoined British troops at YPRES).

    The last ship to evacuate details to ENGLAND (except for subsequent light craft for wounded) left about 1100 hours crowded with personnel. The R.T.O., S.T.O. and Cipher Officer presumably left in this ship - also the male and female staff of the Salvation Army Hostel, who had done excellent work in continuing to provide meals under very difficult conditions.

    About 1420 hours orders were received from the War Office that in the interests of allied solidarity no further evacuation from CALAIS, except of wounded, was to take place.

    Enemy armoured troops were now gradually closing on CALAIS and engaging our forward defences. Detachments of 3rd ROYAL TANKS worked in close touch with our infantry in the street fighting, which developed. Orders were issued that tanks and transport likely to fall intact into enemy hands were to be destroyed. Owing to a misunderstanding some tanks were prematurely destroyed.

    About 1430 hours owing to the proximity of enemy armoured fighting vehicles at the Western exits of the town, the combined Brigade and CALAIS H.Q. moved to crowded cellars in the GARE MARITIME. The Signal Office at the Civil Post and Telegraph Office was evacuated at the same time.

    - PAGE 4 -

    From now onwards our only communication with higher authority was by wireless to DOVER. Commodore GANDIE, ROYAL NAVY (Principle Sea Transport Officer, Channel Ports) had established himself at the GARE MARITIME at this time; this officer left for ENGLAND later.

    About 2345 hours Admiral SOMERVELL arrived from ENGLAND and discussed the situation with Brigade NICHOLSON. The Admiral then returned to ENGLAND.

    Saturday 25th
    About 0515 hours H.Q. moved from the GARE MARITIME to the Citadel, where we established a joint H.Q. with the French in a cellar of a block of buildings. Communication with ENGLAND was still maintained by wireless until about 1700 hours, when the set was put out of action by enemy fire.

    The "Citadelle" was a fortified enclosure ascribe to VAUBAN on West side of the Old Town. It was measured about 450 yards North to South and 300 yards East to West. It was surrounded by deep, dry moats outside ramparts about 20 feet high. There was a gate and bridge over the moat on the East side, giving access to the Old Town. The only other gateway was in the south face. From here a road led over bridges to the vicinity of the main railway station ("CALAIS VILLE") in the New Town. There were good, vaulted cellars under the ramparts. Within the enclosure were buildings used as stores, stables, etc.

    During the morning a German wireless message was intercepted, ordering cessation of attack on the West of the town and concentration of available forces on the East face.

    A message of encouragement including the words "The eyes of the Empire are on you" was received from the War Office during the day.

    About 1300 hours I visited H.Q. 1st R.B. (then on embankment South of BESSIN DES CHASSES), taking orders from Brigadier NICHOLSON to Lieutenant-Colonel HOSKYNS to carry out a counter-attack on the East side of the town. (This operation was subsequently cancelled).

    By now our think forward line had withdrawn to an inner line, which had been ordered, viz:-
    FORT RISBAN - Line of waterways dividing the Old (Northern) Town from the New (Southern) Town - PONT MOLLIEN - thence line of waterways to PONT DU VIC - PORTE DE MARCK - BASSING DES CHASSES (East of the GARE MARITIME).

    About 1400 hours a parlementaire from the enemy was brought to H.Q. He stated that his commander offered to spare the town, if we unconditionally surrendered. Brigadier NICHOLSON rejected these terms. The parlementaire was then conducted back to our front line and let though the rejoin the enemy forces.

    About 1700 hours an artillery bombardment of the Old Town and Citadel took place, causing damage and fires. In the Citadel buildings containing supplies were set on fire. Combined British and French H.Q. moved to shallow trenches on the Western ramparts. During the above bombardment it was deemed advisable to destroy the cipher and other papers; these were burnt in the cellar occupied by H.Q. at the time. Ships of the ROYAL NAVY engaged enemy battery areas during the bombardment.

    A ROYAL NAVY party had arrived from ENGLAND; their task was to blow up the docks, when necessary, to prevent them falling intact into enemy hands. Attempts were made to blow up bridges connection the Old and New Towns, but these were only partially successful (certain stores were, I believe, lacking). In the end little damage was done to the docks, before the ROYAL NAVY party embarked for ENGLAND.

    A party of ROYAL MARINES (3 Officers and 100 Other Ranks under Captain COURTICE, ROYAL MARINES) had also arrived, and did good work both in the Citadel and in the Gare Maritime area.

    Sunday 26th
    At 0500 hours combined British and French H.Q. moved into the vaulted cellar at the North-West corner of the ramparts. The Old Town and Citadel were subjected to an intense dive-bombing air attack from about 0800 hours to about 0930 hours. The bombs made no effect on our H.Q. cellar; our appreciation of the engineering skill of the great VAUBAN was thus enhanced.

    - PAGE 5 -

    About 1200 hours I visited H.Q. 1st R.B. at the GARE MARITIME, and went on to the wooden pier beyond, where a naval drifter was embarking the last party of wounded to be evacuated to ENGLAND. I handed the captain of the drifter a message for the War Office giving our situation, and received from him our last message from the War Office, which contained the words "Every hour you hold out helps to save the B.E.F."

    By the morning of 26th Commandant LETELLIER had organised under available officers the hundreds of French Army stragglers, who had gathered in the cellars of the Citadel since 20th. The few British details in the Citadel (A.A.R.A. and ROYAL MARINES) were allotted to the defence of the North West corner of the ramparts; the rest of the Citadel perimeter was defended by the French, who put up a stout defence, when the attack on the Citadel came in the afternoon. The enemy finally forced the South gate. Brigadier NICHOLSON and I and other H.Q. personnel surrendered about 1515 hours.

    During the day our troops in the town were gradually driven back to the area of the BOULEVARD DES ALLIES and the GARE MARITIME, not only by the enemy forces advancing through the town, but also by an enemy thrust along the coast from the East. By the evening all units had been forced to surrender.

    The prisoners taken by the enemy in the Citadel were marshalled on an open space within the Citadel. After taking my blanket from my batman (Private WEAVER, 7th Battaion WORCESTERSHIRE REGIMENT), I was shortly afterwards marched off with Brigadier NICHOLSON to the German Regimental H.Q. in the THEATRE (in the PLACE ALBER 1er). On the way a German Officer, who passed us, said to Brigadier NICHOLSON in French: "Vous avez battu tres courageusement." The same sentiments were repeated at the German Regimental H.Q. Here, also, a German officer expressed surprise that we had had no artillery. We were allowed to try and retrieve kit, which we had abandoned, when hurriedly evacuating our H.Q. at the Clinique on 24th. We were driven off together in a car to DESVRES. After a halt there we were driven on, and late in the evening we reached MONTREUIL. We could not but remember that this was G.H.Q. in the Great War.
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    1. It may be accepted (from available information) that the attack on CALAIS absorbed the greater part of two German Armoured Divisions.

    2. Recommendations for Honours and Awards for the Operations were submitted by Brigadier NICHOLSON in January, 1942 through Senior British Officer, OFLAG VIB (DOSSEL) and representative of the Swiss Legation, BERLIN (the Protecting Power). It is understood that these reached the War Office.

    3. The fate of various commanding and other Officer in CALAIS was as follows:-

    :poppy: Brigadier C. NICHOLSON - Taken Prisoner
    Colonel R.T HOLLAND - Taken Prisoner
    Lieutenant-Colonel R.M. GOLDNEY - Taken Prisoner
    Lieutenant-Colonel E. MILLER - Taken Prisoner
    :poppy: Lieutenant-Colonel C HOSKYNS - Died of Wounds after evacuation to ENGLAND.
    Lieutenant-Colonel J.A.M. ELLISON-MacCARTNEY - Taken Prisoner
    Lieutenant-Colonel R. KELLER - Made his way Eastwards along coast and reached ENGLAND.

    :poppy: Major D. HILL - Killed in CALAIS, 26th May, 1940.
    Major R.L. ATKINSON - Wounded and Taken Prisoner.
    Captain F.R.B. BUCKNALL - Taken Prisoner.
    Captain COURTICE - Taken Prisoner.
    Lieutenant H. LEUTY - Evacuated sick to ENGLAND, 25th May, 1940.
    Commandant LETELLIER - Taken Prisoner.
  6. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

    Thanks Di, another great job greatly appreciated.
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