Operation Totalize and B Squadron, Lothian and Border Yeomanry

Discussion in 'NW Europe' started by Tolbooth, Jul 16, 2020.

  1. Tolbooth

    Tolbooth Patron Patron

    I wanted to write something about my father’s experiences during Operation Totalize – a bit like one of Stolpi’s excellent threads. He was a loader/operator in No 1 Troop, B Squadron, Lothian and Border Yeomanry in the tank ‘Tolbooth’. Fortunately, the Lothians war diary has after-action reports for the individual Troops involved and I was able to get what I hope is a fairly good picture of the events of that night.

    Whilst researching I came across some disagreement as to the formation of the column he was in. Most of the books state the column was four tanks abreast and only contained two troops of Flails which was contradicted by the details given in Lothian’s War Diary. I’ve hesitated posting as I’m sure I’ve probably missed something blindly obvious that one of you clever buggers is going to point out.

    The Plan

    Operation Totalize stemmed from Montgomery’s desire for an attack on the eastern flank of the Allied front to capture Falaise. The American Operation Cobra in the west was showing great promise and US forces were driving south and west from the Brittany peninsula. Totalize, thrusting south from Caen, was intended to bring about a general German collapse. The II Canadian Corps, commanded by Lt Gen Guy Simmonds, was tasked with the assault.

    During the early hours of 8 August, two attacking forces of tanks and armoured personnel carriers would advance south either side of the main Caen-Falaise road. West of the road were the 4 Canadian Infantry Brigade and 2 Canadian Armoured Brigade. East of the road the 154 (Highland) Brigade and the 33 Armoured Brigade would make the attack. These two columns would bypass the front-line defenders and capture the main German defences around Cramesnil and Saint-Aignan de Cramesnil by dawn.

    Phase I. The assembly areas, advance lines and objectives of the armoured columns are marked in red, those for the following walking infantry in black. The divisional boundary is shown as a black, dashed line running down the main Caen-Falaise road. (Operation Totalize, Battlefield Tour, BAOR)

    The second phase would follow immediately. The remaining four infantry brigades of the 2 Canadian and 51 (Highland) divisions would clear up the isolated German forward defences and the 3 Canadian and 49 (West Riding) divisions would begin subsidiary attacks to widen the base of salient captured in the first phase. The 4 Canadian Armoured Division and 1 Polish Armoured Division would move up the corridor to Cramesnil and prepare to advance further south.
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2020
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  2. Tolbooth

    Tolbooth Patron Patron

    The Canadian attack.

    The 2 Canadian Armoured Brigade (2 CAB) plans were set out in Operational Order No. 3, issued 7th Aug 1944

    The intention was to seize and hold high ground in the Caillouet area, Quarry – Cramesnil feature and exploit to Gaumesnil.


    Map showing the initial attack. The Canadian columns are numbered 1-4 with the 8 CRR column being number 4, closest to the Caen-Falaise road.

    The attack was to be carried out at night with full artillery support by four armoured columns moving on two separate axes – three columns on the right axis and one on the left axis. Each column would be composed of a Gapping Force, Assault Force and Fortress Force.

    The gapping force on the left axis would consist of two troops 10 Canadian Armoured Regiment (10 CAR), The Fort Garry Horse, equipped with Sherman tanks, three troops (1, 2 and 4) from B Squadron, 1 Lothian and Border Yeomanry (LBY) with Sherman Crab flails and one troop 79 Assault Squadron Royal Engineers mounted on Churchill AVREs. The Operational Orders however say only two troops of flails were to be part of this column but, as I hope will appear, there were in fact three. Its role was to remove mines, mark routes and prepare the way for the following forces.

    This would be followed by the Assault force of the 8 Canadian Reconnaissance Regiment (8 CRR), the 14th Canadian Hussars, and other attached troops. They were to be mounted in a mix of Kangaroos - Priests SP guns hastily converted into rudimentary armoured personnel carriers - half-tracks, armoured cars, carriers. Their task was to seize and hold the area around point 122 just to the east of the Caen-Falaise road and close to the village of Cramesnil.

    Initial assembly of the forces was to take place on the evening of the 7th in the area south east of Fleury-Sur-Orne and was to be complete by 2100 hours. Half an hour later they would begin to move forward to just behind the start line on the road (now the D89) from St Andre-Sur-Orne to its meeting with the main Caen-Falaise road (the N158). H Hour was to be 2330, with the lead tanks crossing the start line at 2335.

    There was to be a program of heavy bombing to secure the flanks and a large artillery barrage ahead of the advancing troops.


    Looking South from the start line in the approximate start position of the leftmost column. To the right are the modern barns of Troteval farm. The Caen-Falaise road runs across the bare fields to the left. (Google maps)
    Last edited: Apr 27, 2021
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  3. Tolbooth

    Tolbooth Patron Patron

    The Lothians move into position.

    B Squadron of the Lothians received orders late on Saturday night, 5th Aug, to join the Canadian forces. At 0600hrs on the morning of the 6th they left their current position at St Quen des Bisaces arrived at Louvigny southwest of Caen about 1400hrs, and went into harbour, losing one tank on the way with a broken propeller shaft.

    An ’O’ group was laid on for that afternoon attended by Major Watson (B Squadron Leader), Lt Carter (1 Troop leader), Captain Henderson (2 IC B Squadron), officers of the 8 CRR and Major Bray of the Fort Garry Horse where the form of the advance was decided on.

    That evening, whilst most people availed themselves of the nearby Canadian Mobile Bath Unit, Major Watson attended a Brigadier's ‘O’ group.

    Reveille on Monday 7th was at 0630hrs. Whilst Major Watson attended another ‘O’ group with 8 CRR, the troop leaders went to a dress rehearsal. Lt Boreham, Troop Leader of 2 Troop, started for the rehearsal at 1100hrs but returned at 1200hrs as it was postponed.

    Lt Borehams’ War diary entry continues “Started again at 1300hrs, met troop leader who was leading our column. Went for ride round on tanks. Came back to conference. Attempted to put in two comments, one to my mind most important, ie crossing of railway. Nobody was interested so gave up trying.
    Last edited: Aug 6, 2020
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  4. Tolbooth

    Tolbooth Patron Patron

    The 8 CRR column- 3 or 4 files?

    At about 1730hrs that evening the Lothians begin to move up to the marshalling area southeast of Ifs to form up into the columns for the attack. The day had been hot and dry and the masses of armoured vehicles converging on the assembly points raised clouds of dust which luckily failed to prompt any German shelling. The 8 CRR had begun forming earlier, at 1200hrs and their war diary contains a diagram of the formation consisting of three files of vehicles.


    Blank spaces or trucks were left to represent flails, AVREs and FOO tanks which would join up in the assembly area.

    The right flank of the 8 CRR column was to advance from Troteval farm south-south-east, parallel to the main Caen-Falaise road. The left flank was to be 16 yds east of the right flank.

    Lanes were to be marked with tape and green and amber lights.

    No flails are shown as being in the centre lane, but this is contradicted by the Lothians’ B Squadron war diary entry which shows the column composed of three files thus:

    (“1/2 – Tk AVRES” is probably a mistake for ½ Tp of AVREs).

    If the flanks were 16 yards apart as specified in the Operational Orders and given that a Sherman tank was roughly 8 ½ feet wide, then the files of vehicles would have been over 11 feet apart.

    Reid in “No Holding Back” however, shows the column as being four abreast, only containing two troops (2 x 5 = 10) of flails and considerably closer together than 11 feet.

    Drawing from ‘No Holding Back’, Brain Reid, 2004

    Stephen Hart, in Osprey’s ‘Operation Totalize 1944’, 2016, also shows the column as being 4 abreast and only containing 2 troops of Flails. Hart does not list Reid’s earlier book in the bibliography so there is perhaps another source for this layout.
    Infantry in ‘defrocked’ Priests forming up on the evening of 7th Aug. There appears to be only three columns at this point.

    Lt Carter in his WD report gives more details of the disposition of No1 Troop of the Lothians in the centre of the three columns. His own tank (possibly ‘Cowgate’) led, followed by Sgt Mackie (‘Holyrood’), Cpl Edwards (possibly ‘St Giles’), Cpl Rackham (‘Tolbooth’) and Cpl Imrie (‘Cannongate’).
    The layout of the head of the column as it would appear if the LBY war diary is accepted as accurate. I have omitted the lead navigation tank.
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  5. Tolbooth

    Tolbooth Patron Patron


    H-Hour crept closer. Shortly after darkness fell, at 2255hrs artillery began firing red and green flare shells to designate the fortified villages on the right and left flanks for the approaching bombers and five minutes later the first of 1,019 heavy bombers began dropping their loads. General Simmonds himself described it as “like the worst thunderstorm you have ever been in in your life, only worse. The ground was shaking beneath us.”

    As the last few minutes ticked away the sound of the bombing was joined by the rumble of hundreds of engines starting up as the columns prepared to advance. Finally, at 2330 they crawled off slowly in bottom gear guided by the lines of tracer overhead fired from Bofors guns and the eerie glow of “Monty’s Moonlight” – searchlights reflected off the underside of the low clouds.

    Within minutes confusion reigned. One writer describes the scene:
    “A thousand vehicles raised a cloud of dust in the darkness ..…At the same moment a smokescreen rose above the [German] lines….. Navigators were blinded. Drivers trained their eyes to make out the faint light of the vehicle ahead…there were some spectacular collisions, lamentable errors of range, tanks firing against friendly tanks, while the blazing hulks provided a magnet for the German guns and mortars”
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  6. Tolbooth

    Tolbooth Patron Patron

    No 2 Troop

    No 2 Troop, under Lt Boreham had moved up to the start line at 2310hrs. At H Hour they moved off into the darkness following the Sherman in front with great difficulty, as in Lt Boreham’s words, “fool kept his rear light off and dust made it impossible to see”. The remainder of the Troop became lost behind somewhere. Due to the poor visibility they were led off course twice by the loader but regained it by aid of Bofors firing tracer down the centre line.

    Fifteen minutes after leaving the start line the artillery barrage began. 360 guns, with an average rate of fire of better than two rounds per minute, added to the already deafening cacophony.
    Looking south the column passed between the village of Rocquancourt on the right and the main road on the left. (Google maps)

    The column had passed the village of Verrieres on the right when Boreham’s flail was blown up by three Teller mines, smashing off one bogie, damaging the offside suspension, the jib supports, hydraulic cylinder and piston, cracking the near-side track and leaving a hole in co-driver's plates. Corporal Bradford, following with the remaining three tanks, flailed past Boreham’s now disabled tank. Bradford’s tank now also struck mines, damaging his suspension and track. The remaining three tanks carried on with the main column whilst Boreham and Bradford’s crews retired 150yds behind their tanks and dug-in with ground-mounted .30 Brownings. They remained there all night.

    Looking from the Caen-Falaise road west towards Rocquancourt between which the 8 CRR column passed. Due to the difficulty of keeping direction the Royal Regiment of Canada column, which should have passed to the west of the village, also found itself going through this gap. (Google maps)
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  7. Tolbooth

    Tolbooth Patron Patron

    No 1 Troop

    Lt Carter’s No 1 Troop, in the centre, was also having problems with visibility which caused the column to go too far to the left, hitting the main road and then swinging back. In the ensuing chaos Corporal Edwards, the third Flail, lost contact with Sgt Mackie’s ‘Holyrood’ in front.

    Sgt Mackie, unaware that Cpl Edwards was no longer following him, managed to stay with Lt Carter following the leading Fort Garry Shermans. A group of infantry appeared out of the gloom and Carter fired off two rounds of HE hoping they were Germans.

    At about 0045hrs, Lt Carter’s engine failed and Sgt Mackie had to manoeuvre past him, in the process losing sight of the tank in front. A few minutes later Carter’s failed engine roared into life and they moved off again, now followed by the squadron leader, parallel to the road. Finally, a halt was called and orders were given to take up defensive positions.

    Cpl Edwards, after losing Sgt Mackie, lost direction until later he became immobile and did not rejoin the troop until morning. Cpl Rackham, in ‘Tolbooth’ kept going all night, occasionally lit up by enemy flares and fired on but not hit. By using green Verey lights and giving his position in relation to burning tanks and the moon, Lt Carter managed to guide ‘Tolbooth’ back to him at about 0300hrs. Corporal Imrie, last in line in ‘Cannongate’, suffered mechanical faults and did not rejoin the troop until two days later.
  8. Tolbooth

    Tolbooth Patron Patron

    No 4 Troop

    On the right Lt Melville’s No 4 Troop found itself in mist about half an hour after leaving the start line. In the mist, combined with the darkness and vast amounts of dust raised by hundreds of armoured vehicles, the tanks became separated and the column was thrown into chaos. Melville and Cpl Coates both ran over mines but fortunately without damage. By using his entire stock of Verey light cartridges, by 0200hrs Melville had manged to gather together three of his tanks and located Sgt Longcroft's, although he could not join them because of an intervening line of Canadian carriers.

    The column now found itself under fire from several enemy machine gun posts and was forced to halt. It had reached the railway line SE of Rocquancourt which, as Lt Boreham had suspected, now presented an obstacle to further advance. At about 0300hrs the Canadian CO decided to dig in on the present position. Lt Melville was ordered to form a defensive position by a blazing tank with his Troop, where they were joined by two tanks of 1 Troop and two tanks of 2 Troop and awaited the dawn. Patrols were sent out by 8 CRR and some prisoners were brought in.
  9. Tolbooth

    Tolbooth Patron Patron

    Morning of 8th August
    Position at first light 8th Aug (Operation Totalize, Battlefield Tour, BAOR)
    With the village of Rocquancourt to the right and the line of the railway, now a road, on the left this is approximate area where the advance of the 8 CRR column stop in the early hours of 8 Aug (Google Maps)

    At 0730 hrs Major Watson attended an “O” Group to discuss a planned attack by 8 CRR on the village of Cailouotte to the south west and No 4 troop was placed under command of ‘C’ Sqn 10 CAR and moved down to area north of Cailouotte. The leading Canadian tanks were engaged by German anti-tank guns west of the village and No 4 Troop was ordered to withdraw. Captain Henderson on ‘Black Agnes’ was put out of action by a hit through the rear engine doors by Canadian anti-tank gunners who had received information that Panthers and Tigers were in the vicinity. Fortunately there were no casualties and No 4 Troop towed it back to harbour.

    The rest of the squadron remained dug in whilst the battle passed over them. Sporadic shellfire landed during the early morning. By the evening most of the squadron had returned to harbour back at Troteval farm.

    Phase I was over and could be considered a success. Infantry casualties were light and, of over 300 tanks, less than 20 were lost in a penetration of nearly 6,000 yards into the enemy’s rear. Phase II was set to begin with less encouraging results but, for now, the Lothian’s part in TOTALIZE was over.
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  10. Tolbooth

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    Several days later Lt Col Dallmeyer, CO of the Lothians received the following letter.

    “30 Armd Bde
    12 Aug 44

    My dear Jimmy

    I was talking to two Canadians the other day, one of them being Bingham of 2 Armd Bde. He turned to the third member of the trio and said to him 'If you want the help of really first class fighting troops who know their job inside out, I can't do better than advise you to grab hold of some of his flails. They did a first class job for us.'

    This was an entirely spontaneous tribute and one that is thoroughly deserved. I was delighted to hear it and I send you my warmest congratulations on the cooperation and help that you have obviously given to the Armd Bde. I hope that you will let your chaps know how their good work was appreciated.

    Nigel Duncan”
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  11. Tolbooth

    Tolbooth Patron Patron

    Primary sources

    Lothian and Border Yeomanry, War Diary, TNA
    8 Canadian Reconnaissance Regiment (14th Canadian Hussars), War Diary, Héritage
    10 Canadian Armoured Regiment (Fort Garry Horse), War Diary, Héritage

    Secondary sources

    Battlefield tour, Operation Totalize
    , BAOR, 1947
    Tank! 40 hours of battle, August 1944
    , Ken Tout, Robert Hale, 1994
    A fine night for tanks. The Road to Falaise
    , Ken Tout, Sutton, 1998
    Achtung Minen! The making of a Flail Tank Troop Commander
    , Ian C Hammerton, Book Guild, 1991
    No holding back, Operation Totalize, Normandy, August 1944
    , Brain A Reid, Stackpole, 2009
    Operation Totalize 1944
    , Stephen A Hart, Osprey, 2016
    Operation Totalize
    , Tim Saunders, Pen & Sword, 2019
    Road to Falaise. Battlezone Normandy
    , Stephen Hart, Sutton, 2004
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