The 8th Battalion Sherwood Foresters in Norway April 1940

Discussion in 'WW2 Battlefields Today' started by Steve Foster, Dec 13, 2011.

  1. Steve Foster

    Steve Foster Senior Member

    Lt Col Ford surrenders.JPG

    Col Ford after capture.JPG

    German Burial Party at Tretten.jpg

    Sherwood Foresters at Tretten Station.JPG




    ]In June 2010, I visited the site of the battles in Lillehammer and Tretten where 148 (North Midlands) Infantry Brigade (TA) fought against overwhelming odds in Norway. After the invasion of Norway by Germany on 9 April 1940, the Norwegian Government asked Britain for help and a hastely devised plan was put together to counter the three pronged invasion. 148 Brigade was earmarked for landing at Andalsnes and then to turn North at Dombas to "operate" against german forces at Namsos. It was entitled "Sickleforce"and should have been at Divisional strength before contact.
    The Brigade (Brig H de R Morgan), consisting of 8th Battalion Sherwood Foresters (TA) (Lt Col T A Ford) and 5th Leicesters (TA), was at half strength on sailing for Norway with only two companies of Leicesters embarked and the third battalion (4th Lincolns) deployed with 146 Brigade for the direct assault on Namsos. The merchant ship Cederbank carrying the anti-tank artillery, communications equipment, Bren carriers, motor transport, and most of the ammunition and food was torpedoed and sunk during passage. The Brigade disembarked at Andalsnes on 18 April with the battle dress, rifles and personal ammunition they stood in and with no transport. During passage, Brig Morgan had received 3 signalled changes to his orders, the final one being to turn south at Dombas and assist the remnants of the Norwegian army to stem the advance North from Oslo of the German army spearheaded by the Armoured Division "Pellengahr". Relying on Norwegian trains as a means of reaching the front, the Brigade moved south to Lillehammer in the Gudbrandsal valley.
    On 19 April, 148 Brigade made contact with German forces in the open valley south of Lillehammer and staged a fighting withdrawal north to allow the remnants of the Norwegian army to pass through their positions and regroup. After four days of constant fighting in Arctic conditions and with very little food or sleep, the brigade made a stand about a mile south of the village of Tretten, to prevent the road bridge falling into enemy hands and thus cutting off the Norwegian "Dahl Force" which was retreating on the opposite side of the valley.
    The Vardekampen Hights was chosen as a defensive position as it protruded into the valley at a farmhouse called Rindheim and descended steeply to the valley road which in turn had a steep gorge dropping away from it to the valley below. It was hoped this narrow front would prevent Austrian ski troops from turning the Brigade's left flank which had been a feature of all previous engagements further south. British troops, with help from Norwegian civilians, hastily prepared rock defensive positions in the pine forests, as it was impossible to dig trenches in the frozen grounds. The battle at Tretten commenced early on 23rd April and lasted all day. Subjected to continuous mortar and machine gun fire (the Foresters mortar platoon only had smoke ammunition), the hungry and cold Territorial soldiers, armed only with rifles and limited ammunition, attempted to stem armoured and ski troops overrunning their positions and taking the strategically important bridge at Tretten. These forward positions were eventually overrun as tanks and supporting infantry passed through them and continued north to take the village of Tretten where hand to hand street fighting took place between the Germans and Brigade rear echelons/reserve companies. At about 9pm, after a day of constant fighting, detached Brigade staff volunteered to form a rearguard to the north of the village to allow the remnants of the Brigade to withdraw. Pockets of Sherwood Foresters continued to fight on the slopes of the vardekampen Heights until nightfall but all were eventually silenced
    The Brigade ceased to exist as a fighting unit, the majority being killed wounded or captured at Tretten. The remnants (only 3 officers and about 200 men of the Foresters) continued to retire north staging various rearguard actions to stem the German advance until they eventually passed through the British 15 Brigade, which had landed on 23 April, and who held the Germans at Kvam. Their battle is the subject of another story.

    My father, Sergeant F Foster of the 8th Sherwood Foresters, was wounded and captured at Tretten on 23 April 1940. This ties in nicely with another thread: L/Cpl JAR Coulthard who died on the Long March. His and my father's escape exploits can be read there.

    Photographs below:
     

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  2. Steve Foster

    Steve Foster Senior Member

    I made a hash of the first post, so here are some photos of my vist to Tretten in 2010. The photos of the fighting in Tretten I took when visiting the little museum there. The ones of Lt Col Ford surrendering the forward position at Rindheim and of him being marched into captivity must have been German PR photos. Note he is dressed for the wrong war (trench coat and puttees) and his service revolver is around the neck of the German soldier to the right of the photograph. I sent the photos to the Regimental museum who were very pleased as they did not have them.

    The first photo on this post is what I believe to be the Forester's Battalion HQ Sangar, with the second photo showing the field of fire from there across the grass field to the farmhouse at Rindheim. The battle took place exactly here, with three german tanks emerging from where the track leaves the forest beyond the farmhouse. The Boyes anti tank rifles proved completely inadequate and one tank positioned itself in the right hand corner of the field and despatched many of the Foresters taking cover in the sangars. It is through this gap that the photo of Lt Col Ford being marched into captivity was taken.

    The next photo is of the CWG cemetery at Lillehammer, the Germans buried the dead where they fell but the Norwegians exhumed them after the war to the Lillehammer cemetery.

    The next one is of the forward rifle company's sangars in the field. B&C Companies would have been the first to take the knock from the German assault and very few survived. The farmer who was showing me round didn't even realise these were the sangars, he just used to plough round what he thought was a pile of stones!

    Next is a plaque on the rock under the HQ Sangar, placed there by the Norwegians (The Regimental Museum did not know it existed) and the next is a view of the Sangar with the plaque beneath.

    The final photo is the view the attacking Germans would have had of the Vardekampen Heights as they emerged from the track out of the forest on to the field at Rindheim. The Forester's positions were to the left in the field and also in the pine woods. As the attack developed pockets of Foresters moved up the slopes of the heights to gain cover and managed to hold the infantry at bay all day. However the tanks bypassed the positions and moved on to Tretten where a second battle developed. I believe my father was captured on the Heights as he said he was with with Lt Col Ford at the end. It was a very emotional day walking where he had fought.

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    Field of Fire from Bn Sangar.JPG

    CWG at Lillehammer.JPG

    B & C Coys Sangars.JPG

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    HQ Sangar with Plaque under.JPG
     

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  3. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter Patron 1940 Obsessive

    Fascinating photographs Steve and a part of the 1940 campaigns that I really should read more on.

    To my lowland eye, it's interesting how the dry-stone construction leaves fortifications that could have been used any time in the last two-thousand years.
     
  4. Steve Foster

    Steve Foster Senior Member

    The first is of Forester's wounded at Tretten being taken into captivity past advancing armour.
    The second is of the cheese factory in the middle of Tretten after the battle. At the start of the battle on 23rd April this was the combined Brigade/Battalion HQ plus Regimental Aid Post. All had to evacuate as it's chimney was targeted by German artillery.
    The next is the Cheese Factory when I visited Tretten in 2010, quite a difference!
    A plan of the battle at Rindheim and Tretten. It can be seen why Brig Morgan chose this position, the German advance had to channel between the Vardenkampen Heights and the river to advance on Tretten. It was the best they could do under the circumstances but armour swept on down the road and ski troops outflanked the Rindheim position on the other side of the heights. Two battles raged at the same time - at Rindheim and within Tretten itself.
    Next, a sketch of the battle at Rindheim depicting the tanks emerging from the trees at the other side of Rindheim farmhouse with B and C Coys attempting to stop them with WW1 Lee Enfields. Artistic license has been used as none of the soldiers had grenades, they were all on the Freighter Ceder Bank at the bottom of the North Sea!

    Lastly a poem written by Capt Beckwith, CO A Coy and dad's CO.
     

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  5. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    Thanks for sharing the photos etc Steve very interesting indeed and great to have some more info about your father's experience.
    One day I'll get around to covering the SG in Norway, but i have posted the 1IG war diary if you are interested
     
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  6. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    Thanks for posting this.
    Always good to bring the less well known campaigns to people's attention.
     
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  7. BarbaraWT

    BarbaraWT Member

    Hi Steve, this is a very interesting story. Amazing photos too.
     
  8. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Jul 26, 2018
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  9. Steve Foster

    Steve Foster Senior Member

  10. BarbaraWT

    BarbaraWT Member

    Amazing!
     
  11. BarbaraWT

    BarbaraWT Member

    Diane,
    I don't suppose you could find the barn (if it is still there) where Antony died, using street view?
     
  12. cliffhughes

    cliffhughes Junior Member

    I am a new member, but it seems to me that Steve Foster has done a valuable service with these posts as little notice seems to be taken in the wider world of the campaign in Norway. The story of the 8th SF is well told in Cliff Housley's "First Contact" (if you can get hold of it).
    My grandfather was with the 1/8 Sherwoods before and during WW1. I wonder if in 1940 he knew what had happened to his old Battalion.
     
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  13. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    A good site here with links to others:
    Norway 1940


    Sorry, Barbara I wouldn't know where to begin without more info about location and, not all roads are covered by street view.
     
  14. Steve Foster

    Steve Foster Senior Member

    I am a new member, but it seems to me that Steve Foster has done a valuable service with these posts as little notice seems to be taken in the wider world of the campaign in Norway. The story of the 8th SF is well told in Cliff Housley's "First Contact" (if you can get hold of it).
    My grandfather was with the 1/8 Sherwoods before and during WW1. I wonder if in 1940 he knew what had happened to his old Battalion.
    Hello Cliff, My father was immensley proud of being an 8th Sherwood Forester, because being a TA Battalion, it was very similar to the WW1 "Pals Battalions" in that they all came from the same area, unlike the regular Battalions.
    As you know, the Sherwood Foresters were the Notts and Derby Regiment with the 8th TA Battalion representing Nottinghamshire and the 5th TA representing Derbyshire. The 8th recruited from Newark, Mansfield, Worksop and Newark; HQ and B Companies coming from Newark where dad was born and bred as were all of his pals in his Company.

    As stragglers who escaped the battle at Tretten started to return to Britain and Newark by various means, Mum met every train to see if dad was on it; she had had the dreaded telegram, missing believed killed. She talked to a friend of his who told her he had seen dad lying dead in Tretten churchyard, but refused to give up hope. Eventually a post card arrived from Stalag XXA to say he was alive.

    Steve
     
  15. Steve Foster

    Steve Foster Senior Member

    A final post about the Sherwood Foresters at Tretten:

    First, Tretten as the Foresters would have found it in 1940
    2cnd, Tretten when I visited it last year.
    3rd, The Bridge at Tretten in 1940, the very reason why the stand was made, to allow Norwegian Troops to retire across it. They never turned up so it was all in vain.
    4th, Tetten Bridge as I found it in 2010, totally unchanged. As Diane proved with her shot from Google, it was like being in a time warp even the sangars still standing after 70 years.
    5th, A sketch of the battle at Rindheim from C Housley's book, "First Contact", so named as the Foresters were the first British troops to fight the German army. If you look carefully at the sketch, the small triangle between the Foresters Battalion HQ and Rindheim is the field where I took the photos and where I found the sangars.
    6th. Sgt Fred Foster taken in Barnard Castle, Jan 1940, prior to deployment
    Last, Sgt Foster in Stalag XXA, Poland, taken Aug 1942, just before he and Barbara's uncle, L/Cpl JAR Coulthard attempted their escape which took them to the Swiss border on lake Constance.

    Of interest, as this was the first battle between British and German forces, Hitler wanted to see first hand the nature of the captured British troops. Lt Col Ford, two officers and two NCOs were taken straight to the Reichstag in Berlin where they and their kit were paraded in front of Hitler and the story of the battle was relayed to him. Apparently he muttered to Colonel Ford the german equivalent of 9/10 for grit, 0/10 for kit! Ford was awarded the DSO for his handling of his Battalion.

    Steve

    Have changed the photos to .jpg but the order has changed
     

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  16. Steve Foster

    Steve Foster Senior Member

  17. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    Hi Steve, I think the SG had a bad time too, of the 3 inf bns in 24 Gds bde, they were the only ones not to suffer a mishap at sea - another ship went aground. Therefore they fought a good part of rearguard alone, hooking up later with IG and passing through. Transport - or lack of it was also a major problem - the IG ended up shoving theirs into a fjord: unused, never having left the quay where it was disembarked! Some IG who were cut off from the bn, managed to make their way to Sweden, one died there, but I know that others were repatriated as evaders.

    Thanks for your posts, they've made a very interesting read indeed.
     
  18. cliffhughes

    cliffhughes Junior Member

    Steve
    Nicely informal photos of your father.
    Another useful source of info is 'Norway 1940: The Forgotten Fiasco' by Joseph Kynoch. He served in the 2/5 Leicesters, the Forester's sister battalion in 148 Brigade.
     
  19. BarbaraWT

    BarbaraWT Member

    They were exceptionally brave and resourceful under the circumstances. I wonder what happened to the Norwegian troops that were supposed to use the bridge?

    This URL mentions the IG and 1/8 SF; from the site listed by Diane (above) "Norway 1940"

    Allied reference
    Select Army OB link if it doesn't show the Army Order of Battle page firstup
     
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  20. Steve Foster

    Steve Foster Senior Member

    Steve
    Nicely informal photos of your father.
    Another useful source of info is 'Norway 1940: The Forgotten Fiasco' by Joseph Kynoch. He served in the 2/5 Leicesters, the Forester's sister battalion in 148 Brigade.
    Hello Cliff,

    Apologies for not mentioning too much about the 5th Leicester's input to the Lillehammer/Tretten battles. Their two rifle companies who were left behind at Rosyth, sailed from Aberdeen in merchant vesels and arrived at Tretten by train just in time for the battle on 23 April. Prior to that, Lt Col German, their CO, had only two companies under his Comand but he fought hard. They were deployed forward of Tretten the morning of the battle and ran a fighting retreat through the night to hold the Germans and allow the Foresters to set up at Rindheim. According to Kynoch's book, he was at the front of his troops getting busy with a Boyes' anti tank rifle when someone reminded him he ought to be in the rear controlling things!

    Like Lt Col Ford, he was awarded the DSO for his handling of the 5th Leicesters.

    Steve
     

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