Account: 2 CORPS, May 1940, Louvain to Dunkirk, Field Marshal Lord Alanbrooke

Discussion in '1940' started by dbf, Jan 25, 2012.

  1. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

  2. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD


    during retreat from

    The retreat of the B.E.F. from BRUSSELS to DUNKIRK divides itself into three distinct phases.

    PHASE I From River DYLE (East of BRUSSELS) to the frontier defences prepared during the winter.

    PHASE II A short period during which the possibility of an offensive Southwards was examined.

    PHASE III The retreat Northwards to the sea.

    PHASE I entailed a series of retirements, straight to the rear, to successive defensive positions. These moves are shown on Sketch 'A'.

    The II CORPS at this period consisted of
    the 3rd DIVISION commanded by MONTGOMERY,
    the 4th DIVISION commanded by JOHNSON, and
    the 50th DIVISION by MARTEL.

    The 3rd DIVISION was forward of the DYLE,
    the 4th DIVISION North-East of BRUSSELS in reserve, and
    the 50th DIVISION was moving up when the retirement was ordered owing to the Germans penetrating the French front South of the B.E.F.

    I had the I CORPS on my Right and the Belgians on my Left.

    My first move (May 17th) was to deploy the 4th DIVISION along the CHARLEROI Canal through BRUSSELS and to retire the 3rd DIVISION through it to the line of the River DENDRE where the 50th DIVISION was deployed.

    The next day (May 18th) I withdrew the 4th DIVISION through the line of the DENDRE, and had heavy casualties in the 15/19 HUSSARS who were acting as rear guard of the 4th DIVISION.
  3. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD


    At a conference in RENNAIX on May 18th GORT transferred the 1st DIVISION (commanded by ALEXANDER) to my Corps and took the 50th DIVISION away.

    On the 19th we had a difficult retreat from the River DENDRE to the River SCHELDT, where we remained till the 22nd. We had some heavy fighting as the Germans crossed the SCHELDT in several places but were all driven back.

    As the situation on the French front to the South was going from bad to worse, we moved on the 23rd back to the defences we had prepared during the winter running along the frontier line.

    This ended PHASE I.

    PHASE II comprised plans and preparations for a break through Southwards which never materialised. The 5th and 50th DIVISIONS were however moved to the vicinity of ARRAS where they carried out a minor attack.

    The German armoured thrust was meanwhile making rapid progress in our rear. Our lines of communication were cut, most of our ammunition reserve dumps were occupied, and we were forced to live on the land. Food presented no difficulties, but ammunition was more serious.

    The refugee problem was becoming quite uncontrollable. During our move back from BRUSSELS, 800,000 civilians had been evacuated Westwards from LILLE, ROUBAIX and TOURQUAIN. As the area they were destined to go to was now occupied by Germans, they were all trooping back again and congesting all roads. The French 1st ARMY to the South of us was also showing signs of breaking up and added to the congestion of the roads with columns of troops that were not under control.

    On my Left there was every indication that the Belgians did not intend to put up any resistance. Their front was penetrated in many places, and parties of Germans began to outflank my Left near MENIN.
  4. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD


    On the 25th we captured a German Staff car just North of the LYS. The driver of the car was shot, but the staff officer escaped leaving a large leather wallet behind. I collected this wallet at 3rd DIVISION H.Q. and brought it to G.H.Q. (near ARMENTIERES) where the Intelligence Branch rapidly translated the most important documents. These contained the German plans for an attack by a Corps on to YPRES, a holding attack on the frontier defences East of LILLE, and another thrust South of this. This information was of course invaluable.

    We had at that time nothing on the YPRES - COMINES Canal except one brigade I had obtained from G.H.Q. the previous day. I knew for certain that the Belgians would offer no resistance, consequently a German thrust through YPRES, unless stopped, must inevitably cut off the B.E.F. from the sea.

    I have since discovered that the German Staff officer was a Lieutenant-Colonel (later Lieutenant-General) KINZEL, who was von BRAUCHITSCH's Liaison Officer with the Sixth German Army. His instructions were to report twice daily the situation on the Sixth Army front. He carried the Sixth Army orders for the attack on the following day and other invaluable documents. This is the same General KINZEL who played a prominent part in the surrender negotiations at 21 ARMY GROUP H.Q., and who committed suicide when informed he would be arrested and separated from his mistress.

    Luckily at this juncture the plans for an attack Southwards were abandoned, and I at last obtained the 5th and 50th DIVISIONS from GORT. These were, however, in the ARRAS area and had to be moved up. The 5th DIVISION arrived up on the morning of the 25th and the 50th DIVISION on the morning of the 26th.
  5. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD


    At this same period GORT transferred the 1st DIVISION back to the 1 CORPS, and issued orders to the B.E.F. to move North to the sea.

    We now come to PHASE III (See Sketch map 'B'), which was the dangerous one. We were changing the direction of our retreat almost through 90 degrees. We had moving from East to West: we were now to move from South to North. We were to move to a flank and our Right would be exposed to the direct advance of the Germans.

    I realised that in view of the information contained in that German order we were certain to be destroyed unless we could stem the German attack directed on YPRES. I therefore took the following steps:

    (a) Ordered the 5th DIVISION (commanded by FRANKLIN) to move as quickly as possible to the line of YPRES - COMINES Canal, and to take under his orders the infantry Brigade already deployed on the Southern portion of this sector.

    (b) Ordered the 50th DIVISION to move to YPRES and to extend the line of the 5th DIVISION through YPRES and along the canal Northwards.

    (c ) I had also picked up the 1 CORPS Heavy Artillery whilst at G.H.Q., and ordered it into action to cover the line of the Canal between YPRES and COMINES.

    On the morning of the 26th I motored out early to see how the 5th DIVISION was getting on. Found the H.Q. in PLOEGATEERT Wood and saw FRANKLIN who told me the Division was just arriving on the Canal.

    I motored North through MESSINES and on towards ZILLEBEKE. On the Canal I found the Left of the 5th DIVISION in the process of arriving on their front.
  6. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD


    I pushed on to ZILLEBEKE and beyond looking for the Belgians but found none.

    I then turned South to recross the Canal at HOUTHEM as I wanted to see what defensive value the Canal had at this point. Here I narrowly escaped capture as the Germans closed on to the Canal at this point, just after I had recrossed the Canal, and started shelling HOUTHEM.

    The situation was critical here on the morning of the 26th. The Germans were already attacking the line of the Canal, which was no serious obstacle and held no water, whilst further North the 5th DIVISION were only just arriving and North of them we had nothing except LUMSDEN's Armoured Cars.

    I rushed back to speed up the move of the 50th DIVISION which could not arrive till the morning of the 27th.

    During the rest of the day Germans launched heavy attacks between HOUTHEM and COMINES and achieved certain penetrations.

    I went to 1 DIVISION Headquarters to ask ALEXANDER he could help, and although he was no longer under my orders, he at once came to my assistance with 3 Battalions he had withdrawn to the vicinity of ARMENTIERES.

    I also obtained seven Infantry tanks from G.H.Q. and a Yeomanry Regiment, all of which I handed over to FRANKLIN. On the morning of the 27th, I visited 5th DIVISION on H.Q. and was informed that the fighting had been very heavy on the Southern sector near COMINES, that the Division had lost some ground, but that thanks to the Battalions from 1st DIVISION, the Germans had been held. On the Left of 5th DIVISION, the Germans had been held. On the Left of 5th DIVISION, the situation was unsatisfactory, and no touch had been gained with the 50th DIVISION.

    I therefore motored up to YPRES where I saw MARTEL and instructed him to gain touch on his right with the 5th DIVISION.
  7. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD


    I then motored round to the LILLE Salient to see MONTGOMERY and JOHNSON, to settle details about their retirement. I instructed JOHNSON to send BARKER's Brigade at once to reinforce the 5th DIVISION, and to follow it up by Kenneth ANDERSON's Brigade.

    I instructed MONTGOMERY to retire during the night 27th/28th by motor transport, to cross the LYS East of ARMENTIERES and to move North through PLOEGSTEERT Wood on to the Canal North of YPRES, to extend the front held by the 50th DIVISION. I told him he would be marching parallel to , and within some six to seven thousand yards of, the 5th DIVISION front where a battle was raging and fluctuating unpleasantly.

    I then returned to 5th DIVISION H.Q. to hear from FRANKLIN that BARKER's Brigade had failed to restore the situation between the 5th and 50th DIVISION, and that a gap still existed at this vital point.

    I instructed FRANKLIN to place Kenneth ANDERSON's Brigade, which was just arriving, so as to hold WYTSCHAETE Ridge at all costs.

    I then moved my H.Q. from near LILLE to the FERME de l'ALOUETTE near PLOEGATEERT Wood, and ordered the 4th DIVISION H.Q. to that vicinity also, so that we were all near 5th DIVISION H.Q.

    The battle raged hard throughout the night and the 1 CORPS Heavy Artillery which I had roped in did tremendous work firing 5,000 rounds of Medium Artillery in 36 hours.

    During the night MONTGOMERY carried out his flank move in M.T. marching under a pergola of artillery fire from our Medium Artillery near KEMEL, and the Germans replying.

    Th roads were badly congested with civilians and portions of the French Army, and I had some bad moments wondering whether MONTGOMERY would complete his move before daylight. If not, he would be fully exposed to German air attacks at low altitude, as we had no fighters and little A.A. artillery.
  8. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD


    By daylight, the 3rd DIVISION was through and the 5th DIVISION front was still holding. The 5th DIVISION had suffered heavily and on reaching the sea reported its two Brigades as being only six hundred strong per Brigade. The action it had fought had, however, saved the B.E.F. FRANKLIN had put up a very firm defensive battle, and at the height of it was handling in addition to his own Division of two Brigades, the 1st CORPS Heavy Artillery, and Infantry Brigade, three Battalions of 1st DIVISION, two Brigades of 4th DIVISION, seven tanks and a Yeomanry Regiment!

    On the morning of the 28th I instructed the 5th and 4th DIVISION to co-ordinate their withdrawal through a covering position I was preparing with 50th DIVISION, with its Right on POPPERINGE and its Left joining the Right of the 3rd DIVISION on YPRES Canal.

    I had hoped that the 1st DIVISION would be extending this front Westward from information I had received. I therefore motored to POPPERINGHE to try and establish contact with the 1st DIVISION, but could find no troops West of the 50th DIVISION. POPPERINGHE was being badly boomed and I had a job to get out of the town as most of the roads were blocked with fallen houses. I then visited H.Q. 50th DIVISION and instructed MARTEL to push the 4th NORTHUMBERLAND FUSILIERS Westwards to try and gain contact with the 1st DIVISION. I also gave him orders for his further withdrawal to NEWPORT perimeter on the 30th.
  9. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD


    I then visited MONTGOMERY to arrange his withdrawal on the 30th and proceeded to LA PANNE to find out the situation on the beaches. Then I received bad news. The Germans had worked along the coast and had penetrated the perimeter we intended to hold whilst covering the embarkation. ADAM who was organising the plans for the re-embarkation had already sent some gunners he had available to hold the Germans on this front, and to check this penetration.

    I had hoped to put up a delaying action on the line of the River YSER and had ordered one Brigade of the 4th DIVISION to DIXMUNDE. I now saw that this was impossible and sent orders to this Brigade to move to NEWPORT as quickly as possible to restore the situation at this point.

    On the night of the 29th I retired the 50th and 3rd DIVISIONS into the defensive perimeter. The move was a difficult one, roads encumbered with refugees, a French Armoured Division reduced to nothing but its transport, and a French Infantry Division, all converging on the few crossings over the Canal.

    By the morning of the 30th the II CORPS was in its perimeter with the 50th, 3rd and 2nd DIVISIONS holding the line of the Canal and the badly depleted 5th DIVISION in reserve. We had had some very narrow shaves, some hard fighting on the YPRES - COMINES Canal, had occupied seven successive defensive positions and had covered some 120 miles all in 14 days. The 3rd and 4th DIVISIONS were still 13,000 and 12,000 strong, but the 50th and 5th were reduced to 2,400 and 1,200 (these two Divisions only had 2 Brigades instead of 3). These are only approximate figures and no doubt many more men turned up later.

    I had received orders from GORT on the 29th that I was to proceed home at once. I arranged with him that I should remain until such time as I had finished withdrawing II CORPS into the defensive perimeter, and had organised the defence.
  10. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD


    On the 30th I visited all Divisions to ensure that the Defence of the II CORPS sector was complete.

    In the afternoon I attended a Conference with GORT to settle further details of embarkation.

    I then handed over II CORPS to MONTGOMERY and at 7.15 p.m. went down to the beach to be paddled out to the nearest destroyer which I boarded. We remained anchored till 12.15 a.m. during several unpleasant bombing attacks. At 3.00 a.m. we ran onto a sandbank which gave us some trouble, and at 7.30 a.m. on the 31st May sailed into DOVER.

    I went straight up to see Bertie RAMSAY, and to inform him of the results of our previous day's Conference with GORT, and to explain to him the degree of the effort still required to clear the rest of the B.E.F.

    I then motored up to LONDON and went to report to DILL at the War Office.
  11. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    2 CORPS dispositions


    Attached Files:

  12. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

  13. Oldman

    Oldman Very Senior Member

    Thanks for the post very interesting

Share This Page