Fighting withdrawal to St.Valery-en-Caux

Discussion in '1940' started by John Lawson, Nov 9, 2010.

  1. John Lawson

    John Lawson Arte et Marte

    Hi Drew,
    Thanks for takingthe time to look up the 1 & 2 IBD diaries.
    Is it possible the WO166 mentions something about any training? The 7NF were based at my old training establishment of Bordon, but were billeted in Alton, and practiced out on Longmoor, to bring up their MG skills, before being deployed to France in 1940.
    Long shot I know, but I've always taken them, missed most of the time though!
  2. chesterflyer

    chesterflyer Member

    Coley where was your Grandfather from? Was he an Ashington lad?
  3. Inverugie

    Inverugie Member

    John, Did you ever manage to complete your ORBAT for 7RNF? Did you discover what transport the bn had; wheeled only (I've seen reference to 15cwts) or did they also have a carrier platoon like an infantry bn?
    CL1 likes this.
  4. Kiwi REd One

    Kiwi REd One Junior Member

    Hello Inverugie

    As you say 7RNF was a MG battalion rather than an normal infantry battalion so no carrier platoon was included in their organisation. I think you will find that Individual companies/platoons from the MG battalion were normally placed under command of other Battalions/Brigades on an "as required" basis by the Division that that MG battalion was attached to, so that 7RNF did not normally fight as a complete integral unit.

    You can see a ToE of a Non-Divisional MG Battalion such as 7RNF, including their official vehicle allocations, here: Infantry (Machine Gun) Battalion, May 1940

    Hope that helps
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  5. Inverugie

    Inverugie Member


    Thanks very much for the info and link.
  6. morrisc8

    morrisc8 Under the Bed

    Hope you don`t mind me adding this photo just to show a MG Rgt to show some of the vehs. Photo taken at Aldershot Sept 1939 just before leaving for France. 31 on front of veh MG unit. 2nd Bn Manchester Regiment, part of 1 Corps, Photo from my collection.
    morris mg unit 36 kb.jpg
  7. morrisc8

    morrisc8 Under the Bed

    Front row bikes with Humber. 2nd Bn Manchester Regiment, part of 1 Corps, Sept 1939. Photo from my collection.
    bef bikes humber kb.jpg
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  8. morrisc8

    morrisc8 Under the Bed

    One more photo with Morris CS8 1500Cwt trucks same unit as above.
    Photo from my collection.
    morris 15cwt trucks in the uk kb.jpg
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  9. Browno

    Browno Fake news challenger

    My understanding is IX Corps didn’t withdraw with 51st Div. 51st withdrew as a component part of the Corps. Even when Ark Force was detached it contained two French motorised battalions from 31e Division and so also should be considered part of IX Corps.

    I’ve been through this thread and 2/7th Duke of Wellington’s don’t seem to get a mention. They were the Dieppe garrison and were caught up in the retreat and formed part of the perimeter at Veules-les-Roses. Because they were nearest the evacuation beach they got away pretty intact. They also had stragglers from 1st Loyals and 1st KSLI as far as I can tell. It’s difficult to find decent info on the stragglers and French in Upper Normandy in June 1940.


  10. Kiwi REd One

    Kiwi REd One Junior Member

    I agree Adam, General Fortune and 51st Highland Division was definitely an integral unit of IX Corps under the control of General Ihler, the IX Corps commander. The very complicated Anglo-French command structure was one of the main reasons why 51st Division was trapped at St Valery en Caux.

    If you want to see information about French OOB/ToE have a look in this thread: French T.O & E

    For French dispositions see this thread: French dispositions at St Valery En Caux 10 - 11 June 1940

    French units with Ark Force - can you provide some details please?
  11. Browno

    Browno Fake news challenger

    Thanks for the links, Kiwi. I wondered where that map had come from. Makes sense now why the German units haven’t got swastika flags.

    I think I found the reference to the French troops in Ark Force during a trail of the internet trying to get divisional Orbats for Ihler’s divisions. My notes are a bit of a mess just now. I was just saving what I could when I found it and haven’t sorted it all out yet. I will have a look and post it as soon as I find it.

  12. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    An article from The Wavell Room, a contemporary British military website id'd via twitter: 'Rewriting history: St Valery and Remembrance' by a Scottish historian. Just done a quick read; the latest book by June Goodchild does not appear here and there is a bibliography - those books and author's names I have not checked.

    This thread appears to be most recently updated on the subject.

    Here are the two opening passages:

    Link: Rewriting history: St Valery and Remembrance » Wavell Room
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  13. MarkN

    MarkN Banned


    Whilst it is quite true that the command structure may appear overly complicated to us on the outside, I cannot see how that was any reason for the 51st Division being trapped. A simpler structure, or one of British only design, would not have changed the dynamics of the German movement.
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  14. Browno

    Browno Fake news challenger

    MarkN: "I cannot see how that was any reason for the 51st Division being trapped".

    It may have allowed the Corps (not just the 51st division) to retreat to the Seine instead of being ordered to hold its ground by Weygand on 7th June. Which may possibly have allowed it to cross at Rouen before those bridges were captured. In that scenario I would think there would have been more damage done and would possibly have meant fewer prisoners but larger casualties. e.g an equivalent of ArkForce could have been sent to protect the route to Rouen and block 5th Panzer Div. thereby taking heavy casualties (if you look at the fate of 5e DIC). ArkForce was little troubled by 7th Panzer Div and the bulk of it was evacuated through Le Havre, If they had gone south instead of west I doubt that would have been the case.

  15. MarkN

    MarkN Banned

    There are two ways for the 51st Highland Division et al to avoid encirclement and entrapment: 1) not be there in the first place, or
    2) withdraw/retreat/evacuate before the encirclement was effected.

    Neither of those are affected by a "very complicated Anglo-French command structure".

    Your reference to the Weygand order is an echo of what Ellis wrote in the official history. That is not a problem of complexity in the command structure, it is a simple order that, with the benefit of hindsight, seems to have sealed the fate of the IX Corps. But did it? The answer is no. It is a convenient narrative for a British historian to deflect criticism and blame onto others.

    What sealed their fate was the German operational plan, its implementation and the inability of the Allied forces to prevent the German movement. If the German plan was to have XV Panzer Corps move on Paris not Rouen, there would not have been an encirclement. If the blocking forces assembled to prevent the move on Rouen, predominantly British, had been more effective, there would have either been no encirclement or at least a greater delay in the German advance.

    Morever, to ensure a withdrawal beind the Seine before the Germans got to Rouen and blocked their path would mean the British abandonning the IX Corps completely. To what end? If there was no intention to defend the Somme beyond the initial skirmish, and no intention to defend any other line north of the Seine, why stop on the Seine? If the British policy is to leg it the moment the line is pierced somewhere else in fear of encirclement - the only way to avoid encirclement north of the Seine - why bother to be in France at all?

    I'm not a fan of chasing down what if rabbit holes trying to determine what might have been. Had different choices and decisions been made, different outcomes would have resulted. But what they would have been are impossible to determine.

    The 51st Highland Division held the section of the Somme Line which was the most logical for the single British infantry division then in France to hold.

    The command structure, which certainly looks complicated to an outsider, was probably the best that could be effected on the ground at that time.

    To avoid encirclement and capture, the two options were for the British to abandon France completely or to abandon the front line and leg it to a safer rear area the moment shots were fired. In that sense, the 51st Highland Division and other British forces in the area were indeed doomed by the British politicians. But not in the sense of being abandoned to their fate in Seine-Maritime as is a popular narrative nowadays, but in the fundamental decision to stand up to Nazi aggression. To avoid the surrender at St. Valery-en-Caux required a political policy of giving up completely, or in practise, the struggle against Nazi aggression.
  16. Browno

    Browno Fake news challenger

    It is also the narrative of American historian, Robert Forczyk who used French, British and German sources for his book "Case Red"

  17. MarkN

    MarkN Banned

    Hello Adam,

    Forczyk has some muddled thoughts on the matter and offers no analysis as to whether his opinion was feasible.

    On page 298 he says:
    The logical course of action was to immediately order Ihler’s 9e CA to fall back towards Le Havre, where it could be supplied or evacuated by sea.

    On page 299 he says:
    While a counter-attack by the 1st Armoured Division could not stop Hoth’s Panzers, it might have caused the Germans to slow down to deal with the threat to their flank, thereby gaining some time for at least part of Ihler’s corps to withdraw towards the Seine.

    So, is the Forczyk plan to save the 9th Corps to have them evacuate from Le Havre, perform a last stand in Le Havre or (part of them) withdraw south of the Seine? Muddled.

    Can we assume Ihler will order the British to withdraw first and be the part that manages to get south of the Seine, or succeed in evacuating from Le Havre?

    When does this what if 9th Corps withdrawal commence? Forczyk's narrative has decision time and Weygand intervening on the evening of the 7th. Does that give time for anybody realistically to get anywhere?

    After claiming Rouen early morning of the 9th, Hoth's panzers moved against the 9th Corps. The direction they took was determined by their intelligence of where the 9th Corps was located. If they are in a different place, as per Forczyk's what if plan, Hoth would move his panzers differently. The remnants of the 9th Corps failed to keep Hoth out of St Valery, what is the likelyhood they would succeed at Le Havre?

    And so on.

    What are your own thoughts on the practicalities of a general withdrawal by the 9th Corps?
  18. Kiwi REd One

    Kiwi REd One Junior Member

    I have not read Forczyk but Saul David in his book "Churchill's sacrifice of the Highland Division" outlines the following situation about IX Corps proposed withdrawal towards Rouen/the Seine:

    Lt Gen Marshall-Cornwall, the official British Liason Officer at General Altimayer's French 10th Army HQ, had by the morning of 8th June pursued General Weygand at French GHQ that it made sense to make IX Corps withdraw towards Rouen. Weygand issued a direct order to IX Corps to do this as they had lost touch with 10th Army HQ. General Ihler, the IX Corps Commander held a conference at his HQ on the afternoon of the 8th June with his Divisional commanders, (including the 51st's commander General Fortune) to how this could be achieved while keeping IX Corps intact. Ihler proposed a slow, staged fallback using the following timetable:

    Hold the River Eaulne line on the 9th June
    Hold the River Bethune line on the 10th June
    Hold the River Varenne line on the 11th June
    Hold a line through the village of Totes on the 12th June
    Arrive Rouen night of 12th/13th June

    To quote David directly "If Fortune was frustrated at the snail's pace of this proposed move he did not show it, but he must have realised that the panzers were unlikely to afford IX Corps anything like the time needed" practically speaking the proposed withdrawal was going to be far too slow to work.

    To support my point about the complex command system that I have posted previously David notes that on his way to the Corps Commanders conference Gen Fortune crossed a bridge over the River Bethune that some RE sappers from the ad-hoc Beauman Division were preparing for demolition (Beauman Division was not part of IX Corps). He had to order them not to blow the bridge as IX Corps would need it intact for their withdrawal on 10th June. A number of other bridges over the Bethune had already been demolished by these sappers without IX Corps being informed!

    What about Ark Force's chances against a panzer attack directed against Le Harve? Well, they had no armour of their own and only 204 Battery from 51st A/T Regiment with 12 x 2pounder A/T guns and some French 25mm A/T guns in the Brigade A/T platoons of 154 Brigade and (I think) "A" Brigade of Beauman Division (which was the only part of that Division attached to 51st Division). As the bulk of 51st A/T regiment was retained around St Valery en Caux and the Composite Regiment from 1st Armoured was engaged further inland I don't think that they could have stopped a serious attack by the two veteran panzer regiments from 5th and 7th Panzer, though luckily for Ark Force those units were directed at St Valery rather than Le Harve, which allowed time for Ark Force to evacuate back to the UK.
    Last edited: Mar 26, 2021
  19. MarkN

    MarkN Banned


    I haven't read David's book at all and have only read a handful of pages ( the appropriate ones :D ) of Forczyk after finding it on the internet last week.

    So, according to David, the 51st Division escaping the encirclement is a bit of a non-starter. The Germans were in control of Rouen on the morning of the 9th.

    Evidence of the left hand not talking to the right hand is not evidence that a "very complicated Anglo-French command structure" had any affect whatsoever on why the 51st Division was trapped.

    On the evening of 6th June, 2 days before Gen Fortune had to reinforce the order not to blow the bridges - too late to undo those that 291 Fld Coy RE had already blown - Gen Altmayer had expressly forbidden the bridges to be blown. A staff officer from Beauman Division had gone to Altmayer's HQ to ask specific permission to blow the bridges so the engineers could be released for tasks elsewhere. In the presence of Gen Marshall-Cornwall, this was refused.

    I other words, the evidence you offer is evidence the right hand is not listening to the left hand within the same formation - the Beauman Division - or somebody in that division simply decided to ignore Altmayer's instruction.

    As you rightly point out, the 'success' of Arkforce's evacuation was largely dependent on the scale of interference from the Germans which was historically next to nothing as Hoth's XV Corps was concentrating on St. Valery.

    If Forczyk's "logical course of action" had be implemented, Hoth's XV Corps would not have been directed to the coast to trap Ihler's 9th Corps at St. Valery but probably straight on to Le Havre. Without chasing too far down what if rabbit holes, I suspect much of Arkforce would have been lost in addition to those of the 9th Corps historically lost at St. Valery.
  20. Kiwi REd One

    Kiwi REd One Junior Member

    Hmmm OK I think we have somewhat different approaches about the command structure impeding 51st Division's chances of withdrawal Mark.....

    My point about the Beauman Div sappers was that they were under direct British Army control (As part of Karslake's British rear area LOC command, which was now in the front lines thanks to XV Panzer Corps breakthrough) while General Fortune's 51st Division was under control of the French IX Corps and the two formations, as you state, had obviously not talked to each other, which certainly did not make the situation any easier for either the British or the French formations.

    As you can see from the title of Saul David's book he takes the approach that the main body of the 51st was "sacrificed" rather than ordered to withdraw to Le Harve in a effort to show solidarity with the French. As General Fortune was under French command the 51st could not just cut and run. They were not masters of their own fate as this had already been determined by higher level authorities back in London.

    But London was not about to give up on them totally. Once it became obvious that IX Corps was trapped in St Valery quite a major effort was made as part of Operation Cycle to retreive them, though with time against them only some two thousand were rescued, mainly from the beach at Veules Les Roses.

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