Private Diary, extracts: 25-27 May, Major ARCHDALE, Liaison Officer, French 1st Group

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  1. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    TNA Catalogue Reference: CAB 106/276


    War Cabinet and Cabinet Office: Historical Section: Archivist and Librarian Files: (AL Series), WAR OF 1939-1945: France and Flanders - 1939-1940, Narrators' notes and papers

    Scope and content: Extracts from Major Archdale's diary.

    Covering dates: 1940

    Note: Major Archdale was Liaison Officer with General Billotte, Commander of the French First Group of Armies


    Courtesy of Drew


    Attached: pages at start and end of file, not transcribed
     

    Attached Files:

  2. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    25th May
    At 10 a.m. I went to 1st Group at LILLE with de VOGUE, where I found them in despair over the inaction of their new Commander. BLANCHARD had still done to regularise the situation caused by BILLOTTE's death.

    Just as it would have been an impossible task for Lord GORT to command the B.E.F. (which in itself imposed the double duty of commanding an Army and C. in C., B.E.F.) and the French Armies in the Norht, as General de la LAURENCIE had twice requested, so it was an impossible task to command the 1st FRENCH ARMY and be "co-ordinator" of the Allied forces in the North. BLANCHARD, however, appeared to be bereft of any power of action or improvisation and just let things slide.

    On our arrival at 1st Group, Colonel de HESDIN, who never lost his appearance of lacquered sang-froid, called us into his office to give us the following information. The day before (24th May) Colonel HUMBERT had succeeded in persuading General BLANCHARD that we must send a message to WEYGAND asking for a General to be sent to command the 1st Group. This morning, however, Colonel de HESDIN found that the message had never been sent, and could only attribute it to BLANCHARD's inability to take a decision.

    The whole staff were furious with BLANCHARD and implored me most earnestly to make their request to the C. in C. that someone should be sent without delay to PARIS to put the situation before WEYGAND and to see whether either MITTELHAUSER or HUNTZINGER could be sent to take command.

    The C. in C. was very busy when I got back and so I told BRIDGEMAN the whole story. He found time, as he always appeared to be able to do, to talk it all over with me and went in to the C. in C. at 2.30 p.m. I got the answer that the C. in C. could not interfere in any internal French question of personalities and so that was that.

    At 3 p.m. I was told that Winston CHURCHILL had sent instructions to fight South, and that the C. in C. was determined now to do that with or without the French. Food situation was getting very difficult.

    The next two hours I spent with Miles REID and VAUTRAIN arranging liaison duties for the attack next day. As 1st Group had no commander there was no point in my being with them: de VOGUE could well do all the work necessary: we had decided that Miles and I should go out as Divisional Liaison Officer. We had just got maps and boards when GREGSON ELLIS came out and told me that it was no good going on as I was wanted by the C.G.S. or another job.

    At 5.30 p.m. C.G.S. explained that C. in C. had decided to send me to No. 2 Military Mission at LA FERTE SOUS JOUARRE, so that Brigadier SWAYNE could explain the whole situation to General GEORGE.

    The C. in C. was sitting at his table very silent, and looking rather bewildered and bitter. I felt most strongly that he was wishing that he could take an active physical part in this battle; that it was irking him terribly to be forced to sit there with nothing but weary Allies all round him: weary in body but oh! so terribly weary in mind.

    He said that he had a raw deal from the Allies; not only had their Army continually pleaded that it was too tired to fight, and their staff work broken down, but from start to finish there had been no direction or information from the High Command. "Why" - he asked - "did they retreat to the ESCAUT when they knew of the great gap in the middle - why not retreat South and preserve a front and lines of communication".

    The C.G.S. asked me whether I knew what the situation was. I replied that I did, but that I would like to hear it from him. He gave me this rapid appreciation.
    Belgians hard pressed at COURTRAI: one Brigade and Machine Gun Battalion, the only available reserves, were being sent to their support. 5th and 50th DIVISIONS were going to do the attack South on 26th, but this could never be anything but a "sortie" by a beleaguered garrison, and for success MUST be met by a French attack from the South. If the enemy were to break through on the Belgian front, instant help would be demanded and for obvious reasons would have to be given: in that case the attack planned for 26th could not take place as 5th and 50th DIVISIONS were the only units available either for the attack or for Belgian support. In the latter case there would have to be a retirement to the line - GRAVELINES - BETHUNE - ARMENTIERES - COMINES - YPRES - the sea.

    At 6.30 p.m. C.G.S. sent for me again to say that the Belgians were giving way, and that Colonel LUMSDEN (12th LANCERS) reported that they were shewing no fighting spirit. 5th (or 50th) DIVISION were being sent in Belgian support and would almost certainly be followed by the only remaining division. The attack - our last hope - was consequently OFF. The C.G.S. sent a courier to inform General ALTMEYER (5th CORPS).

    The C. in C. wished me good luck, saying that perhaps all would be over by the time I was free to come back.

    My instructions were to find my own way. The first thing was to get an order, which BRIDGEMAN very quickly provided. Then to Group-Captain GODDARD to see if there was any chance of an aeroplane, but there was only a Moth which seemed too easy a way of being shot down. DUNKIRK seemed to be the only solution, so I told WINSTONE and McKAY to get ready to go and at 7.30 p.m. we set off.

    The entry into ARMENTIERES was by-passed, on account of bombing and a burnt out petrol lorry at the big bridge over the railway bore witness to their aim. From here past PLOEGSTEERT WOOD ("Plugstreet" Wood in which our 1st Battalion spent so much time at the beginning of the last War) the going was easy until we saw smoke rising in the village ahead - WYTSCHAETE - and every few seconds heard an explosion, and were stopped and told to go round as an ammunition lorry was exploding in the village street. So round by [blank] and into a strangely quiet and deserted YPRES, with few signs of life. As a matter of fact I believe that the force holding the line in front of YPRES on this day was almost non-existent, and certainly saw no sign of support troops in the rear.

    At each of the villages on the way to BERGUES there were signs that the Hun had passed only a very short time before and at low altitude, or else his aim was very accurate: in every case houses were demolished along the line of the main street but luckily the bombs were small ones and nowhere was the effect more than local.

    From BERGUES black smoke and occasional bursts of flame from burning oil tanks guided us easily to DUNKIRK, where after a short halt to watch an enemy plane reconnoitre low over the town and escape into the smoke clouds from Bofors fire, I was lucky enough to find a British N.C.O. to take me to the Bastion H.Q. where I knew that I should find the Naval Mission and probably the Town Major.

    Unfortunately there was no British destroyer due to leave that night and they decided to send for a M.T.B. to take me over in the morning. Just before leaving who should walk in but Georges de CASTELLANE, head in bandages, on his way back to PARIS by French destroyer to hand over General BILLOTTE's papers. I jumped at the chance of going with him: in five minutes my pass was signed and in ten we were both down on the Quai waiting for the French destroyer "FOUDROYANT", later to be sunk during the evacuation, to come alongside.

    My regret was that WINSTONE and MACKAY had to be left behind, but at the time I never though that I would not be back in a few days, and I was told point blank that they could not come with me. WINSTONE got back safely, but Jimmy MACKAY had a bad bomb wound in the leg on his last journey down to the mole to embark.

    After what seemed like an endless wait, the "FOUDROYANT" came alongside, and off her streamed about 200 French Marines: the scene was indescribably funny. A short "brow" was put up (the tide was out) and up it streamed the marines each one having first thrown up onto the dockside his little kit bag and suitcase: as these gradually accumulated, they made a little wall from from which the kit bags thrown up by the later arrivals on deck bounced back on to the deck or into the dock: all this was accompanied by frenzied shoutings as men struggled up the brow, slippery with heavy rain, some of them sliding down again to the bottom and knocking down the others behind them, which redoubled when two loads of bombs were dropped on either side of us. Eventually we were all on Board, the destroyer went astern, cleared the dock and we beetled off to DOVER at 30 knots.

    None could have been kinder than the Captain and Officers: we were free of the wardroom and cabins, were given tea, and what food there was.

    Among other passengers was General PICARD, returning to PARIS after being relieved of the command of the 1st D.L.M. who sat all night with his head in his hands, smoking endless cigarettes.
     
  3. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    26th May

    The crossing was uneventful, except for occasional bursts of fire from the 12 2mm twin Machine Guns and a 37mm A.A. gun at aeroplanes which we assumed were laying mines at DOVER. There large fires were burning at DUNKIRK, and sometimes the sky was fully of tracers both from DUNKIRK and DOVER. We got to CHERBOURG about 8 a.m. and de CASTELLANE and I were allowed off at once and went straight to the office of the French General Commanding CHERBOURG, who arranged for a car to take us to PARIS. We made a short detour to the de CASTELLANE's villa at CABOURG for lunch; blue sea, garden full of flowers, pate de fois gras, Chateau Yqem: it was all too like the years that were past and I began to wonder whether it was all true. NORMANDY was looking as richly lush as only NORMANDY can look in spring and not until EVREUX did we one more see signs of war: here the refugees began again, only this time they were all country people in farm carts trekking slowly west.

    On arrival in PARIS I went straight to report to the Military Attache, Colonel Lord MALISE GRAHAM. General SPEARS was in his office, and after listening to my story said that I was to go straight off to see Marshal PETAIN. I protested that this was not what I had been sent to do, but he ordered me to do as I was told and an appointment was made for 6.30 p.m. at 8, Boulevard des Invalides.

    On our arrival we had a short conversation with General with General BINEAU, PETAIN's "Chef de Cabinet", who told me that I must talk very slowly or the Marshal would fail to follow the conversion.

    PETAIN looked and behaved like a very tired old man: quiet and dignified but bowed down with his cares, and when, at the end of the conversation an usher asked whether he would see General WEYGAND he answered in a lack-lustre way as if it was really immaterial whether he saw WEYGAND or not. The record of the talk was made by General SPEARS as follows:-

    "The meeting took place at General SPEARS' instigation and on his responsibility. Major ARCHDALE made it perfectly clear that his sole mission was to see General SWAYNE, Liaison Officer to General GEORGE. GORT wish under no circumstances to make any complaint or suggestion concerning the French command.

    Major ARCHDALE was asked by PETAIN to explain the situation which he had already done in the M.A.'s office.

    GORT had two Divisions with which he could have counter-attacked. These were to have co-operated with the French in an attack Southwards tonight, but yesterday the Belgians to the East gave way and GORT had to send one Division to support them, and had to be in readiness to send the second. This made co-operation wht the French impossible, and reduced greatly any chance of an attack South.

    ARCHDALE having described the position of the BLANCHARD group as that of a beleaguered garrison, PETAIN asked him to give his views concerning its chances.

    ARCHDALE made the excellent answer that the chance(s) of a beleaguered city without enough strength to make a powerful sorties were a matter that rested with those in charge of the relieving forces.

    Put a direct question by the Marshall concerning BLANCHARD, ARCHDALE made it very clear he would and could only speak in his own name.

    BLANCHARD was, he said, very tired. His army was good and had fought well, but he was not the man to infuse enthusiasm in an overstrained force, and what the force particularly needed was to feel confidence and grip in the Command.

    Questioned concerning the Commander of the C.C. PRIOUX, he said he was a magnificent man who inspired confidence and would inspire confidence in the Troops and his force was magnificent too.

    PETAIN asked if he would enthuse the British also: ELS. said they did not need this. PETAIN then said rather sadly: it is then the French only who need this. ARCHDALE brok in very aptly: the French have been more highly tried than we have.

    PETAIN asked him if GORT would assume command of the whole force. ARCHDALE answered he believed it would be impossible to add this to his already heavy task as C. in C. B.E.F. and G.O.C. Army.

    He made it perfectly clear the one idea of the British if forced to re-embark would be to retake their place in the line ..."

    John LITHIBY met me outside and took me out to LA FERTE where Jack SWAYNE gave me dinner at the "Epee". It was refreshing after the grim interview with PETAIN to have a laugh and a joke with them all … before going up to General GEORGE's H.Q. where we arrived at 10.30 p.m.

    Signs of strain were very evident (and small wonder) in the General Staff Office, but we only waited for a few moments before being shewn in to General GEORGES and General ROTON, his chief of staff.

    GEORGES was as he always was, solid, robust, good colour and genial: ROTON, on the other hand, like so many other Staff Officers, seemed to be stricken by the calamities which were so rapidly befalling his countrymen: white and shrunk and hardly willing to speak.

    This interview was a very much easier one. There was no mention of personalities, and General GEORGES was quick to understand the implications of my tale.

    I explained the position of the B.E.F. and Allies exactly as the C.G.S. had described it to me, and emphasised the following points:

    a) The reason for the withdrawal from ARRAS. It had not been fully appreciated by the French that the German net had been drawn round this town until there was only a gap of thirty per cent in the perimeter through which to withdraw.

    b) The absolute fallacy inherent in any French suspicion that the C. in C. had been preparing for some time for a withdrawal of the B.E.F. to the coast.

    This suspicion arose in the tired minds of the 1st ARMY Staff when Lord GORT asked them to relieve him on his right, from BOURGHELLES to MAULDE. The object of this request was to form a mobile reserve for an attack south as BLANCHARD had for days been repeating that his troops were too tired to attack. The C. in C. had therefore made this suggestion that BLANCHARD's tired troops should replace in the line British less tired and release the latter for offensive operations. There was no excuse whatever for the French interpretation as the combative intention underlying the C. in C.'s suggestion had been very fully explained to them.

    I reiterated most emphatically to General GEORGES that the morale of the B.E.F. was excellent and that the C.-in-C. from the start had been the robust personification of the fighting spirit.

    General GEORGES listened to me with patient courtesy and, I am convinced, with complete understanding of the situation in the North and of the difficulties with which the C.-in-C. had been faced. What I longed to ask him, but what I did not dare, was why he had not once, since May 12th, paid a single visit to his subordinate commanders and to the allied commanders in the North.

    He then explained to me the reasons why he had never been able to mount the counter-attack from the South for which we had so long been hoping.

    He confessed that, with the exception of a few (I think there were four) divisions which were swiftly thrown into the gap formed by the collapse of the 9th ARMY, there was in fact NO STRATEGICAL RESERVE, and that divisions had hastily to be drawn from the Italian front and from the MAGINOT LINE, of this, apparently the enemy were perfectly aware and started systematically to bomb railway junctions and the East-West lines: the result was that on the 2nd day there were four hours' delay, on the 3rd eight hours until on the 5th day they were 2 days behind schedule and the concentration became impossible.

    As it became evident that any slight hope we might have had of help from the South was extinct I tried by every possible argument to extract a promise of full co-operation for a joint evacuation which remained as the only military operation for us to perform. General GEORGES admitted this, but would go no further, and, as history later shewed, no order was actually given to French troops to evacuate until two days before ours was complete.

    I was perhaps presumptuous or conceited enough to hope that some seed of action was sown at this interview, but if any was sown it was doomed to wither with the light of the morning.

    Before leaving, General GEORGES told Brigadier SWAYNE that I was to see General WEYGAND next morning.
     
  4. JCB

    JCB Senior Member

    Very interesting diary dbf thanks for putting it up.
    Craig
     
  5. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    27th May
    Unfortunately the head of No.1 Mission, Major-General Sir Richard HOWARD VYSE, could not go with me to General WEYGAND's H.Q. at VINCENNES, and it was perhaps for this reason that I was not able to see WEYGAND (and) himself, but only his Chief of Staff, Colonel BOURGET.

    To him I repeated what I had told General GEORGES the night before, but had no impression of sympathetic comprehension which GEORGES had given me.

    He, unlike GEORGE, asked a good many pertinent personal questions relating to French commanders and staff to which I replied in the same way as I had to Marshal PETAIN, adding that I had no mission whatever from the C.-in-C. which could be in any way interpreted as interfering in the internal affairs of the French and that anything I said in this connection must be considered as my personal views.

    Colonel BOURGET said that General KOELTZ had gone to 1st Group to see for himself and put heart into BLANCHARD: in order to make the situation quite clear I replied that if the "esprit rigoureux" did not come from the inside it was no good expecting that, after fifteen days of such intensive strain, any external stimulation would endure. He appeared perfectly to understand.

    At the end of the interview he voiced the astounding suggestion that French troops would be able to eat their way North up the coast from the ABBEVILLE - PICQUIGNY area, and Allied troops would be able to eat their way South from DUNKIRK past CALAIS.

    Presumably they would have met at the Casino at LE TOUQUET to have an inter-allied round at the chemin de fer, unmolested by the eight Panzer divisions which would then be waiting to strike them anywhere they wished from NIEUPORT to ABBEVILLE.

    In any case the proposal appeared to me to be so criminally futile that I made a faint protest and took my leave, realising that from this man, (and consequently probably from WEYGAND too) there was certainly no hope of constructive action and even less of combined evacuation.

    On returning to No. 1 Mission I wrote a cable with General HOWARD VYSE for the War Office giving the result of my interview, and telephoned my fears to Brigadier SWAYNE ...



    [NB This is the end of extract in file]
     
  6. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    The National Archives | DocumentsOnline | Image Details

    Name Archdale, Osmund Audley
    Rank: Captain
    Regiment: Intelligence Corps late Rifle Brigade General Headquarters
    Theatre of Combat or Operation: British Expeditionary Force 1939-40
    Award: Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire
    Date of Announcement in London Gazette: 11 July 1940
    Date 1940
    Catalogue reference WO 373/75
     

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