Capture of Bricquessard - 30 July 1944

Discussion in 'NW Europe' started by Tom OBrien, Apr 20, 2020.

  1. Tom OBrien

    Tom OBrien Senior Member

    Hi all,

    I've finally got round to reading David Render's "Tank Action" and come across a large anomaly between his description of the capture of Bricquessard on 30 July 1944 and those of the unit of 43 Division which his troop and squadron were supporting. It would be interesting to see whether the accounts can be sorted out to see whether the glaring anomalies can be clarified.

    Render's account (p.149-155 in paperback edition) has him supporting a company of 5th Dorsets under Major Braithwaite, records that the infantry major wanted the tanks to lead, that the infantry failed to RV in the right place, attacked without the tanks, were held up and went to ground with only Render's troop of tanks getting the attack going again and moving alone into the village. Render is dismissive of the Major ("little idea how to use tanks", "arrogant and naïve") and describes seeing Major Braithwaite being evacuated by jeep ambulance back past Render's tank troop after which "the infantry melted out of sight into what was left of the receding mist" and Render's troop advanced unsupported into the village and Render cleared "a line of Teller mines" in the village and thereby allowed the following two squadrons of Sherwood Rangers to advance south of the village.

    However, the infantry accounts are somewhat contrary!

    Firstly, the infantry unit in question was in fact 4th Somerset Light Infantry. Major Braithwaite was injured by an anti-personnel mine but received a MC for remaining with his company until it was "on its objective" and the Bn's Pioneer Sgt (Sgt. Hayman) received a MM for "lifting some 50 Teller Mines" although under small arms fire.

    I'm wondering if this is all just the "fog of war" or just the normal case of two sub-units operating very close together without any idea of what the other was actually doing.

    Render does confirm that he didn't keep a diary and so his second by second narrative should be treated with some caution, but it does seem peculiar that he names Major Braithwaite although saying in the introduction that he doesn't name people when he thinks his description might cause distress to relatives or descendants.

    Could anyone help with other accounts of this action?

    I expect Doug Proctor mentioned it and I wonder what the Sherwood Rangers regimental history had to say about it?

    Regards

    Tom
     
    Last edited: Apr 21, 2020
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  2. Tom OBrien

    Tom OBrien Senior Member

    This is Major Braithwaite's citation for his MC (from the 4th Somerset Light Infantry regimental history):

    MILITARY CROSS:

    Major T.M. Braithwaite
    “During the early stages of the Battalion’s attack on the village and bridgehead at Briquessard on the 30th July, 1944, Major Braithwaite, Commanding D Company, had a foot severely shattered by a Schu Mine. In spite of this wound, he remained in Command of his Company until he was certain that the attack was going well and only then consented to be evacuated. His continued presence with his Company during this ‘touch and go’ period undoubtedly led to its final success.

    This officer has commanded his Company throughout the Battalion’s Normandy campaign with conspicuous success and bravery, and his example and leadership has always been a constant source of inspiration to his men.”
     
  3. Tom OBrien

    Tom OBrien Senior Member

    And here is the map of the area from the 4th Somerset Light Infantry history:

    Briquessard - Map - 4 Som LI History.PNG
     
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  4. Tom OBrien

    Tom OBrien Senior Member

  5. Tom OBrien

    Tom OBrien Senior Member

    Thanks to Ramiles we now have a transcript of the war diary for the Sherwood Rangers for 30 Jul 44:

    30th July 1944 - SRY - WD - transcript...

    We have under comd, in addition to Essex Yeo (?? 7 Fd Regt.) as ???, are Sqn Westminster Dragoons (Flails) 1 Secn R.E’s / mine lifting) and one Sqn 141 R.A.C. (Crocodiles). A Sqn is with 5 Dorsets. B Sqn with 7 Hants and C Sqn with 4 Dorsets.
    Regtl Gp is under comd 130 Bde. The preliminary objective, BRIQUESSARD 743596. Wood + village was taken by 5 Dorsets with one Tp of “A” Sqn. with slight opposition. 5 Dorsets + 2 Tps “A” then struck South from LA REPAS but the natural A/Tk obstacles of hedges + ditches combined with mines, made the going very slow. Enemy SA fire was overcome and their F.D.L’s overcome. The Tps manning them were killed or made P.O.W. For the first time since we landed one of our tanks was directly attacked at close range by Infantry firing German “Bazookas”. The first shots missed our tanks and one Bazooka was promptly spotted and the crew liquidated after a lengthy interval of Red Indian stalking the Tp located a second Bazooka which was captured with the crew. This Tp had a busy day. The Tp Ldrs Lt Render, himself dismounted and rendered harmless mine which had been hastily strewn on the surface by retreating enemy. He also surprised a whole Pn of enemy walking in an exposed posn in a small open field – unusual conduct for German Infantry. 15 of the enemy were killed and remainder made prisoners.
    Meanwhile B Sqn with 4 Dorsets were advancing South on the right of “A”. They experienced S.A + H.E. fire but made fair progress.
    The days after were preceded by very heavy R.A.F. attacks immediately in front of our start line in which several hundreds of heavy bombers were used.


    Clearly David Render used this to help him with this section of his book, as he follows the mistaken belief that they were supporting 5 Dorsets rather than 4 Som LI.

    Regards

    Tom
     
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  6. m kenny

    m kenny Senior Member

    I think the book has two authors. One is telling a general story about his memory of what happened 50 years ago and the other is adding in details from period sources that the unwary might believe to be also 'from memory'. It was striking to me that so many details I knew from other accounts turned up in the book and I believe it would have been better if the 'fact checking' had been done in a clearer way.
     
  7. Tom OBrien

    Tom OBrien Senior Member

    Hi Michael,

    Yes, Tank Action was co-written with Stuart Tootal but, like you say, they don't really describe who wrote what and how memories and documents were reconciled if different.

    Regards

    Tom
     
  8. Tom OBrien

    Tom OBrien Senior Member

    Here is the description of the battle from the divisional history of 43rd Division:

    The 43rd Wessex Division at War 1944-1945

    Major-General Hubert Essame

    p.55
    BRICQUESSARD
    30th July

    "The battle opened at 0800 hours with an unpropitious start. On the left, 4 Somerset Light Infantry, advancing through the closely wooded country astride the narrow country lane leading to the village of Bricquessard, soon ran into trouble. The tanks quickly discovered that the road was mined, and the two leading companies, who were soon suffering numerous casualties from Schuh mines scattered in the fields, pushed ahead with difficulty in the face of heavy machine-gun fire. Providentially one of our bombers, flying at a very low altitude, dropped several bombs on their objective, the northern edge of the village. Majors Mallalieu and Braithwaite, the company commanders of C and D Companies were quick to take advantage of this unexpected support and get forward. Major Braithwaite, despite a serious wound in his foot from a Schuh mine, gallantly remained long enough in command to see his company on the objective. Meanwhile Sergeant Hayman and a party of Pioneers lifted some fifty Teller mines under small-arms fire and enabled the tanks of the Sherwood Rangers to get through.

    It was now mid-day. B Company, under Major Thomas, now passed through and seized the bridge across the stream. In a salient thrust forward 1,000 yards in close country the battalion remained for the rest of the day and the following night. Its commanding officer, Lieut.-Colonel Lipscomb, had fulfilled his contract in the face of costly and exasperating difficulties."

    The infantry account seems, therefore, to suggest that the tanks were held up by mines on the road even before the attack got going and therefore the infantry pressed on alone out of necessity. This may explain why Render's troop appears to have had a somewhat belated entry into the battle.

    I'm going to see if I can find contemporary air photos as some accounts suggest that the lane the tanks moved down was 'sunken' and through close country, so it seems completely feasible that the tanks bashed on down the road while the infantry moved into the village unseen by the tankies through the woods and close country either side of the lane.

    Regards

    Tom
     
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  9. Tom OBrien

    Tom OBrien Senior Member

    And more from the infantry point of view from Patrick Delaforce's "Fighting Wessex Wyverns":

    p.92
    130th Brigade started Bluecoat at 0800 hrs on 30 July from Livry, 2 miles north-east of Caumont and the village of Cahagnes, their first objective, was a mile due south. 4th Somerset LI were on the left flank and 5th Dorsets on the right, with 7th Hampshires in reserve. The whole division watched 500 Lancasters wreaking havoc with their carpet-bombing tactics. Cpl. Doug Proctor related in Section Commander:

    'Our immediate task was to take the village of Bricquessard and secure a bridge 200 yds to the far side of the village. We were one of the forward platoons [No. 18 – PD] being on the left flank immediately to the right of the road. I led the left section. Cpl. Douglas the right one and Cpl. Jim Kingston (a West countryman with a softly spoken Somerset burr) was in reserve … It was impossible to observe anything beyond the nearest hedgerow. It was a hopeless situation.'

    The Sherwood Ranger Shermans quickly discovered that the road was mined and the two leading companies soon suffered numerous casualties from Schu mines scattered in the fields. Doug Proctor again: ‘The barrage started and all hell was let loose. Scrambling out of our slits we began to advance and immediately ran into a hail of small arms fire. Flinging ourselves to the ground we tried to locate the Spandaus. The field was strewn with anti-personnel mines. It was a lottery where one trod.’ Pte. Vic Caldwell with 7th Platoon ‘A’ Company advanced through a minefield: ‘Schu mines could blow your feet off or you could lose your manhood; they were deadly.’ Vic was No. 2 on a Bren gun, carrying spare Bren gun magazines. ‘As I crawled through a gap in the hedgerow I felt a thump in my chest.’ Vic was lucky – the bullet was deflected off a magazine, ricocheted down and hit his left leg. He was patched up at the RAP; then sent to ADS. Later he rejoined his battalion. Majors Mallalieu, OC ‘C’ Company, and Braithwaite, OC ‘D’ Company (although wounded by a Schu mine) pushed their companies forward. Meanwhile Sgt. Hayman and his Pioneers lifted fifty Teller mines under small arms fire and enabled the Sherwood Rangers to keep going. At midday Maj. Thomas took ‘B’ Company through and seized the bridge across the stream and Col. ‘Lippy’ consolidated his battalion in a 1,000-yd salient.

    Cpl. Doug Proctor recalls: ‘One German soldier ran towards us from the left flank. His hands were raised as if surrendering but I could see he was still armed with a few stick grenades that were in his belt. His arm dropped and grasped a grenade; without the slightest hesitation or compunction, I shot him.’

    I think it is clear that the country was very enclosed and that any view from a tank commander's perspective on the road leading down to Briquessard of infantry moving tactically either side of the road would have been extremely limited.

    Regards

    Tom
     
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  10. Tom OBrien

    Tom OBrien Senior Member

    Also to add:

    Major Braithwaite is the only infantry officer below the rank of Major-General that I could find mention of in the index or in the book. Strange to pick him out after all these years - he must have really upset David Render - or Stuart Tootal must have found his name somewhere else and added it to Render's memories to add a bit of colour.

    It's also strange that the infantry talk about there being two companies up (one each side of road) whereas Render/Tootal only talk about their being one infantry company commander involved in any discussions.

    On p.154 Render/Tootal also relate that the defenders of Briquessard were German paratroopers (Fallschirmjager) 'wearing their distinctive cut-down helmets and baggy jump smocks' - but they weren't, they were infantry from 326 Infantry Division. Is that an indication perhaps that after 75 years, not surprisingly, memories of battles in Normandy and later in the campaign (at Gheel?) are beginning to merge?

    On the same page, Render/Tootal claim that the Panzerschreck found by Render that day in the village (as noted in the SRY war diary) was 'the first German bazooka to be captured in Normandy' which is also not true - and not supported by the war diary entry either, which only states that this was the first time that the SRY had been attacked by German infantry using one.

    Regards

    Tom
     
  11. Tom OBrien

    Tom OBrien Senior Member

    As well as the Company Commander, Major Braithwaite, two Platoon Commanders of D Coy, 4 Somerset Light Infantry were also decorated for their part in the capture of Briquessard:

    MILITARY CROSS:

    Lieut. G.V. Wright (D Company)
    “During the Battalion’s attack on the village and bridgehead of Briquessard on 30th July, 1944, this officer led his platoon with conspicuous success through a field of A.P. Mines and small arms fire to the assault on their final objective in the village. His Platoon’s success was entirely due to his leadership and enthusiasm. Lt. Wright was wounded during the action but stayed with his Platoon until they had captured their objective.
    This action is typical of this officer, who has served continuously with the Battalion since the opening of its Normandy campaign, and throughout it he has commanded his Platoon with the greatest bravery and determination.”

    MILITARY MEDAL:

    Sgt. W.J. Partridge (D Company)
    “On the 30th July, 1944, the Battalion put in an attack and finally captured the village and bridgehead at Briquessard. Sgt. Partridge’s Platoon suffered severe casualties from A.P. Mines and small arms fire. He, however, succeeded by his courage and enthusiasm in whipping up the remnants of his Platoon. Leading them through M.G. and grenade fire, he was largely responsible for the capture of this village.
    This action is typical of the fine power of leadership that this N.C.O. has displayed throughout the Normandy campaign.”

    Which all makes the Render/Tootal account in "Tank Action" even more peculiar.

    Regards

    Tom
     
  12. Tom OBrien

    Tom OBrien Senior Member

    And providing more evidence that the identification of the German defenders of Briquessard in Tank Action as German paratroopers was wrong, is a snip from an IWM film taken on 30 Jul 44:

    IWM A70 105-4 - - Briquessard - 30 Jul 44 - German POWs from 326 Division.PNG

    "A Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry (SRY) Sherman tank heads across country past a troop of Essex Yeomanry Sexton self-propelled guns engaged in bombarding German units in the vicinity of Bricquessard from their gun-lines in the Bois de Bricquessard. The Sherman is overtaken by a Fordson 30-cwt (?) lorry which in turn is pursued by a soldier who is either trying to stop it or trying to cadge a lift. A Loyd carrier from one of 129th (?) Brigade battalion's anti-tank platoons tows a six-pounder gun past a Sexton from which an empty shell-case is thrown out by one of its crew. Wehrmacht troops from the 326th Infantry Division taken prisoner during 129th Brigade's assault on Bricquessard form up before being marched off to a divisional POW cage. Universal carriers from the 8th Battalion Middlesex Regiment, 43rd (Wessex) Division's fire-support battalion, are used to transport wounded German prisoners to a regimental aid post near La Paumerie. Two SRY tanks pound the dust as they head towards Cahagnes."

    Which matches up pretty well with other accounts, although that should be 130th Brigade's assault on Briquessard.

    Regards

    Tom
     
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  13. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake All over the place.... Patron

    It might be worth checking what Sidney Jary has to say about the attack. He commanded 18 Platoon in 4th SLI. Not sure which company that would be.
     
  14. idler

    idler GeneralList

    18 Pl was D Coy. I thought his story started straight after Bricquessard but, having dug it out, it seems he joined the battalion shortly before the battle, serving briefly as 2i/c of the A/Tk Pl.

    Edit: Molesworth's regimental history has barely a page on the battle and nothing to add other than clarifying that the OOB was the battalion plus a troop of tanks. 0800 they set off with C and D Coys forward, 1005 they're within 200 yards of the objective (assumed to be the village), then all coys on their objectives by 1300.

    Unfortunately, my trip to Bricquessard didn't take in the northern side as I was obsessing over 7 Armd Div's doings on the southern side of the village.
     
    Last edited: Apr 23, 2020
  15. Hi
    My father was Jack Coyle Bren Gunner D company 4th batt. Somerset Light infantry he had been with the Regiment since 13th July. when on the 30 July during the battle for Bricquessard he received gunshot wounds plus head injuries from shrapnel from the mine he thinks was detonated by Major Braithwaite who suffered leg injuries , the Major stayed in command until their objected was achieved, my father survived his wounds and was evacuated to a Medical clearing station and then by boat to a Hospital ship then back to England . It is very difficult to gain information about action that took place at Bricquessard as all books that I have found cover this battle all contain the same information . If anyone has more info of what took place I would love to hear , my father would not say much about what happened I have had to piece together the story so far from his army record time line info from books and the little he would talk about
    Regards Chris Coyle
     
  16. Tom OBrien

    Tom OBrien Senior Member

    Hi Chris,

    Thanks for your reply and the addition of a human touch to this engagement. I haven't found any further details I'm afraid, not been able to get back to Kew to see if I can find more in the Bde diary. I'm hoping to get back there before Xmas though and will post up anything I find. Do you know which medical units your father passed through?

    Regards

    Tom
     

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