Report on Evacuation of Boulogne: 20 Guards Brigade

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    By Brigadier FOX-PITT
    May 21 - 23, 1940.



    APPENDIX 'A' (Notes handed to Brig: Nye on Saturday May 25th)

    APPENDIX 'B' (Notes regarding organization of 20 Guards Brigade)


    May 21

    On this date 20 GUARDS BRIGADE was stationed at OLD DEAN COMMON CAMP. It was composed of the 2nd Battalion IRISH GUARDS, 2nd Battalion WELSH GUARDS, and 5th Battalion THE LOYAL REGIMENT.

    Strength of the GUARDS BRIGADE was as follows:-
    2nd Battalion IRISH GUARDS - 30 Officers, 690 Other Ranks.
    2nd Battalion WELSH GUARDS - 32 Officers, 900 Other Ranks.

    By this date, the BRIGADE had completed a fortnight of field training from this Camp. The low strength of the IRISH GUARDS was due to their recent expedition to the HOOK OF HOLLAND. The BRIGADE was at 12 hours' notice and was training on this date. The IRISH GUARDS having spent the previous night in the trenches, the Anti-Tank Company at LYDD, and the BRIGADE HQ shooting at BISLEY.

    At 1100 hours, a message from War Office was received ordering the BRIGADE to prepare to move as quickly as possible. It was finally arranged that the move should start at 1500 hours.

    Instructions given over the telephone were briefly as follows:-

    BRIGADE to move in M.T. to DOVER. No transport to be taken overseas. 5th Battalion THE LOYAL REGIMENT would not accompany the BRIGADE. Own transport to be used to take equipment to port of embarkation.

    As a result of these instructions Battalion Commanders were at once informed, the BRIGADE Anti-Tank Company, which was returning from LYDD, diverted to DOVER and BRIGADE HQ personnel recalled from BISLEY.

    The difficulties of the move were increased by the fact that the deficiencies of the IRISH GUARDS had not been made up, and the 'buses ordered from ALDERSHOT did not arrive until 1530 hours.

    The head of the column finally left at 1545 hours, reaching DOVER about 2145 hours, when loading was started. Meanwhile the Brigadier and Brigade Major went on ahead to DOVER, where it was found that only two ships had been ordered where three was the minimum required. Little preparation regarding loading, etc., had been made at DOVER and the operation and move by M.T. was hindered by an air raid warning RED, part of the M.T. column being stopped by the Civil authorities.

    The two Battalions were finally embarked as follows:-

    S.S. “BIARRITZ” - BRIGADE HQ, 2 WELSH GUARDS less one Company. Infantry Anti-Tank Company.

    S.S. “QUEEN OF THE CHANNEL” - 2 IRISH GUARDS less one Company.

    S.S. “MONA STAR” - Two companies and all remaining baggage and ammunition.

    H.M. Destroyer “VIMY” - Eight 2-pounder Anti-Tank guns.
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    May 22nd

    The convoy sailed at approximately 0445 hours 22 May. The Brigadier and Brigade Major embarked on H.M. Destroyer “WYTCHET” [sic; “WHITSHED”], and on nearing BOULOGNE, went ahead of the rest of the convoy to get in touch with General BROWNRIGG.

    They reported to General BROWNRIGG, who had established his H.Q. at WIMEREAUX, at 0700 hours. He briefly explained the situation which was as follows:-

    One M.T. column had been reported at ETAPLES. Enemy A.F.V.s were also reported Area GRESSY FOREST.

    Own Troops
    The 21st French Division was stated to be holding positions at NEUFCHATEL, SAMER and WIRWIGNES. Each of these were said to be held by approximately one Battalion. Their intention was to prolong this line as far as DESVRES. For this purpose remainder of the Division were to be moved up from the East by train.

    British Troops in BOULOGNE were situated as follows:-

    Road blocks guarded by a few ROYAL ENGINEERS or A.A. personnel were sighted on the four main roads running South-East and South from BOULOGNE. These road blocks were sighted 8 - 9 miles out from BOULOGNE.

    Over 1500 personnel of the A.M.P.C. were in BOULOGNE but had not taken up any tactical positions, and were of no military value, as the Officers and N.C.O.s had no control over them, and it was found impossible to form them into a fighting force. WIMEREAUX was lightly guarded by personnel from ‘A’ Branch G.H.Q. The FORT DE LA CRECHE was held by A.A. personnel.

    General BROWNRIGG stated that one Battalion of tanks and one Battalion Q.V.R. were expected to be landed that night at CALAIS and could be expected early the following morning.

    His instructions were that BOULOGNE was to be held. Only five 1” maps of BOULOGNE were obtainable for the whole BRIGADE, and a few small scale.

    As a result of this recce, the following positions were taken up:-

    2nd Battalion IRISH GUARDS with under command four 2-pounder Anti-Tank guns, and three 25mm Anti-Tank guns.

    2nd Battalion WELSH GUARDS with under command four 2-pounder Anti-Tank guns and six 25mm Anti-Tank guns.

    Inter-Battalion Boundary
    All inclusive to right Battalion, R. LIANE. For exact positions see Map.

    The decision to hold BOULOGNE in this way was made in preference to the alternatives,
    (i) to hold well outside the town with the disadvantage of an increased front, and the nature of the country which was open and very suitable for tanks,
    (ii) to reduce the frontage by holding a perimeter within the town with the disadvantage of having to fight in the streets.

    Neither of these alternative was considered desirable and a line guarding the entrances to the town and held along the edges of it was selected, as affording the best Anti-Tank obstacle.

    During this time the Battalions were uploading their equipment, ammunition etc, and were marching up to the selected rendezvous. The difficulties of inter-communication, recce and moving of requisition transport were very great owing to almost all the roads in the town being blocked by a mass of refugees and stragglers from both the French and Belgian armies.

    Between 1200 and 1300 hours, Battalions, each less one Company had marched up to their rendezvous and were getting into position. The missing Companies had not yet disembarked from the “MONA STAR” which had left DOVER four hours after the remainder of the convoy.

    BRIGADE H.Q. was sited at a house in BOULOGNE 684539 (ref 1” - .79 miles Map attached).

    An Officers’ patrol was ordered to go to NEUFCHATEL and SAMER to make contact with the French 21 Division.

    At BRIGADE H.Q. liaison was effected with the following:-

    (1) The French 21 Division, Commanded General CAILLE, who stated that he intended to hold the line NEUFCHATEL, SAMER, BELLEBRUNE, 7953, and that his Division was now entrained and should be in position shortly
    (2) The Commander of French troops in the old town 684539. These troops consisted of about 2,000 recruits and the Commander stated that they would be no good for fighting, but that he was prepared to erect some road blocks.
    (3) The Commander of a Belgian force comprised of recruits under training, who had been evacuated by train from ETAPLES, and contained 2,000 men of the 18/21 age group and 1800 of 16 upwards. Of these the latter were unarmed and the Commander wished them to be evacuated to ENGLAND or the South of FRANCE, for further training.

    Rendezvous was arranged with these troops in order that they could assist in digging and other works, and it was arranged that tools could be obtained; however, no further contact was made with them and presumably they left the town.

    From about 1500 hours desultory shelling of the town began and by 1800 hours the enemy started to shell BRIGADE H.Q. A few casualties resulted. At about this time the electric light system failed and all telephones ceased to function. There was slight air activity, thanks to the good support given by the R.A.F. and little or no bombing took place at this time. However, to the surprise of both Brigadier BANKS (‘A’ Branch G.H.Q.) and Commander 20th GUARDS BRIGADE, the balloons comprising Balloon Barrage around BOULOGNE, started to disappear one after the other. It was ascertained that these balloons had been purposely released by their crews who were then proceeding to CALAIS or the Quay in the hope of re-embarking for ENGLAND. It is presumed that this action was not ordered by the Officer Commanding Balloon Barrage and it is known that no order to this effect was given by an Military Commander at BOULOGNE.

    By this time the Battalions were established in position with the exception of the 25mm Anti-Tank Guns which had been late arriving owing to the difficulties in their unloading and transport on shore. These guns were now sent up to Battalions.

    On the front of the 2 IRISH GUARDS enemy activity was observed from 1700 hours onwards. Tanks in small numbers were reported on the Hill 669508, and it was evident that enemy A.F.Vs were feeling their way in to find out our dispositions on this sector. Intermittent shelling was taking place.

    Meanwhile all had remained quiet on the front of the 2 WELSH GUARDS. Information began to come in as shown below, but the rapidity with which it was received at BRIGADE H.Q. was greatly reduced owing to the difficulties of inter-communication, the absence of sufficient maps and the erection of road blocks by the French behind our line.

    At 2200 hours enemy mechanized columns were reported at FORT MANON and LA CAPELLE. From this time onwards it became apparent that the enemy was feeling his way on the North Eastern front to BOULOGNE and that this force of the enemy was probably a different one to that which had been encountered by the 2 IRISH GUARDS. By 2400 hours it was evident that the enemy was working round to come in from a North-Easterly direction and tanks were reported in the vicinity of LA RERE (7357).
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    May 23

    At 0130 hours 23rd May, Major-General LOYD who had previously joined General BROWNRIGG at WIMARAIS, came into BRIGADE H.Q. and reported as follows:-

    (1) Enemy tanks had been seen at WIMEREUX (7157).
    (2) It is probable that the British Tank Battalion, which had been landed at CALAIS, would arrive early that morning. It was arranged that a Liaison Officer should be sent to meet them. He also stated that a Battalion of Q.V.R. should be arriving at the same time.
    (3) W.T. communication from WIMEREUX and BOULOGNE had ceased and there was no longer any touch with ENGLAND.
    (4) In view of the situation, General BROWNRIGG and the remains of “A” Branch, G.H.Q. had decided to move into BOULOGNE to establish their Headquarters at the R.T.O.’s office on the Quay.

    As a result of this information, which confirmed previous reports, the WELSH GUARDS were ordered to prolong their Left Flank in order to block the roads running North and North-North-East from BOULOGNE. They were assisted in the task of blocking these roads by personnel from the A.A. Battalions at BOULOGNE who were issued with three extra Boys’ Rifles for this purpose.

    At 0330 hours the Brigadier left to visit the WELSH GUARDS front. Both Battalions had been ordered to “Stand-to” from 0330 to 0430 hours and the situation on the front of the WELSH GUARDS appeared to be more serious at this time. Enemy tanks were seen by the Brigadier in a small wood (not marked on the Map) at approximately 688536. A patrol was sent to establish that these were in fact enemy tanks. It was found that the WELSH GUARDS had not been able to extend their Left Flank as far as had been intended and steps were taken to ensure that the roads on their Left Flank were all held.

    Meanwhile, at 0345 hours a Senior Staff Officer of the French 21 Division reported that his Division had been dispersed by German tanks and were unable to hold a line to the South of BOULOGNE. It appeared that the Division had been caught entrained by German tanks who had set fire to the train and machine-gunned a large proportion of the personnel.

    At 0400 hours it was ascertained that General BROWNRIGG and General LOYD had left for ENGLAND in a Destroyer. The 20 GUARDS BRIGADE was now out of touch with ENGLAND.

    By 0730 hours the machine-gun fire opened on the IRISH GUARDS from the high ground in front of their position was followed up by tanks and by 1000 hours they were forced to withdraw to a line within the town of BOULOGNE, despite stubborn resistance on the part of the Left Forward Company. Previous to and during this withdrawal both Battalions were shelled and almost all the Anti-Tank Guns were lost.

    At the same time the WELSH GUARDS were being attacked more strongly from an Easterly direction, and shelling increased in intensity. A slight adjustment was made on the Right Flank, which had been strongly attacked.

    The general situation now appeared to be that the defence was being attacked by two columns, one from the South, one from an Easterly and North-Easterly direction.

    Intermittent shelling took place and the situation appeared to be deteriorating. There was no touch with ENGLAND and so far, no sign of reinforcements. Three Destroyers had been sighted lying about two mils out from BOULOGNE. It was decided to attempt to pass a message, giving the general situation to these Destroyers in order that they could pass it on to ENGLAND. Although our signals could be seen by the Destroyers were not prepared to acknowledge them. By 0800 hours the attack on the WELSH GUARDS had increased in intensity and several Anti-Tank weapons were put out of action.

    Shortly after signalling two of our Destroyers it was noticed that one of them was putting into BOULOGNE. This Destroyer came alongside it approximately 1100 hours and was found to be carrying a demolition party ROYAL NAVY and covering party of ROYAL MARINES. A situation report was sent by means of the Destroyer and shortly afterwards instructions were received to evacuate all personnel of no military value and Stand Fast with the remainder of the force, and fight it out.

    At about 1500 hours there was a distinct lull in the firing and it seemed possible that the enemy had withdrawn somewhat from their forward positions. Attempts were made to patrol forward - the patrols being hindered by sniping from FIFTH COLUMINISTS. An Officer went forward in a French tank and found that around the Old Town, the Germans had withdrawn. This withdrawal seemed suspicious in view of the success of the German attack previously, and shortly afterwards about 40 - 50 enemy aircraft approached, with a view to bombing the town and Quay. This attack was to a large extent frustrated by vigorous action on the part of the R.A.F. - bombing being only carried out by a few planes which had succeeded in breaking off from the main aerial combat.

    Further information regarding the situation was sent by the Commander, 20th GUARDS BRIGADE and by Captain SIMPSON Captain D of H.M. Destroyer “KEITH”. By about 1800 hours an order was received that evacuation would take place and that Destroyers would be sent in to take off the troops engaged at BOULOGNE. The difficulties of the situation around midday and the early forenoon was greatly increased by about 1500 personnel of the A.M.P.C. who had remained on the Pier throughout the day. Lacking in discipline, with few Officers to control them, they fired indiscriminately into the town, often into positions held by our own troops. To add to the confusion, there was undoubtedly a considerable number of FIFTH COLUMNISTS who were sniping at our troops from windows and vantage points. The presence of these men in the town is not conjectural and individuals were captured by the 2 WELSH GUARDS during the day. Codes, instructions and considerable sums of money were found on their persons.

    As soon as the order for evacuation was received it was decided that the two Battalions must hold their present line and that a proportion of the A.M.P.C. personnel must be embarked before any withdrawal could take place from the positions held. At 1832 hours a warning order was sent out, stating that evacuation had been ordered and that Zero Hour would be notified later. Battalions were to start thinning out at Z-40 and finally abandon by Z.

    At approximately 2030 hours two Destroyers came into BOULOGNE, stating that evacuation would take place forthwith and that a second flight of Destroyers were coming in directly these two had loaded. Liaison Officers were immediately sent to the two Battalions with orders to this effect. The first two Destroyers were loaded with A.M.P.C. personnel, wounded, and certain Other Ranks of BRIGADE H.Q. They then left the harbour with little interference by the enemy.

    At approximately 2130 hours three more Destroyers entered the harbour. The first two passed through the channel safely. The third Destroyer reached mid-channel and as she did so came under fire of the French guns on the fort, which had evidently been captured by the Germans and had not been demolished by the French. She was quickly set on fire, her steering disabled and after skillful handling this Destroyer left the harbour stern first, firing all the time. All three Destroyers vigorously engaged the enemy who were firing from the French fort, and tanks and artillery from behind the high ground North of the port. There was also firing from what would appear to be heavier guns, possible 4/5 Howitzers South of OUTREAU (6651).

    Meanwhile the withdrawal of the IRISH and WELSH GUARDS was proceeding and the troops were being embarked during the action. As a result of one of the Destroyers being set on fire she was unable to embark any personnel. The remaining two Destroyers succeeded in leaving the harbour carrying personnel of the WELSH and IRISH GUARDS. At 2245 hours a sixth Destroyer, H.M. Destroyer “WINDSOR” entered the harbour and embarked further personnel of the WELSH GUARDS. She was not seriously interfered with by fire from the enemy, the guns from the French fort having been silenced by other Destroyers.

    Prior to the arrival of this Destroyer an unfortunate misunderstanding or rumour had led to a mistack which had most unfortunate consequences. Part of two Companies of the WELSH GUARDS, who were waiting to embark in the sheds at the land end of the Quay were informed by a source unknown that no more Destroyers were coming into the harbour. Although they had been ordered to withdraw, the Company Commanders had a conference and in view of the situation with which they had been misinformed, decided to march their Companies in a Southerly direction along the coast. On reaching the outskirts of BOULOGNE they came under machine gun fire and were somewhat disorganised. Two Officers and about 20 Other Ranks turned back to the Quay and on their return found the Destroyer there and were successfully embarked. No information has been received with regard to the remainder of these two Companies.

    Meanwhile there was no doubt that a considerable number of the A.M.P.C. personnel had been left behind at BOULOGNE after the “WINDSOR” had sailed. Directly the Destroyers reached DOVER, the Vice Admiral Dover was informed to this effect and two more Destroyers later put into BOULOGNE and evacuated the A.M.P.C. personnel who had been left behind.

    During the evacuation all wounded were embarked with the exception of those who had been seriously wounded and evacuated to the General Hospital at BEAUREPAIRE Road. These men were left in charge of the A.D.M.S. who remained behind after the evacuation.

    There can be little doubt that this evacuation would have been greatly simplified by the absence of 1500 undisciplined personnel of the A.M.P.C. on the Quay. Warning of the evacuation was given by the first two Destroyers to leave, carrying these men, and the speed and smoothness with which this operation was carried out was greatly hampered by their presence.

    On landing at the port at DOVER the Battalions were given a hot meal and were then entrained for FLEET station, when they were sent to TWESELDOWN CAMP.

    The casualties sustained during the operation were as follows:
    These casualties cover all personnel, missing, killed or wounded. It has not yet been possible to establish into which categories they could be divided.

    2nd Battalion IRISH GUARDS: 5 Officers, 196 Other Ranks.

    2nd Battalion WELSH GUARDS: 13 Officers, 358 Other Ranks.
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    Notes on the Capture of BOULOGNE by a German Mechanized Column.

    The following notes are made on the landing and defence of BOULOGNE by two Battalions of the 20th GUARDS BRIGADE without transport and supported by nine 28mm infantry Anti-Tank and eight 2-pounder Anti-Tank guns. These two Battalions were the only combatant troops at BOULOGNE, excepting about 2,800 A.M.P.C. personnel, one small detachment ROYAL MARINES, 5,00 Belgians who did not co-operate and 2,000 French who remained within the walls of the Old Town.

    One Battalion, strength approximately 700, held a front of 3,000 yards, the other Battalion, strength approximately 900, held a front of 6,000 years. The perimeter held was the outskirts of BOULOGNE. The country round BOULOGNE is of an open nature without fences or ditches.

    1. Composition of the German Force.
    As far as could be assessed from reports and recce, the column was divided into two, one part of which was attacked from the South-East and the other from the North-East. Each of these columns evidently included mechanized infantry, tanks and artillery, the artillery being drawn by tractors. It was hard to assess whether the tanks were light or medium, but undoubtedly a proportion of tanks was much larger than the majority seen, and were presumably medium tanks. The estimated strength of these two columns is as follows:-

    Column 1, South-East of BOULOGNE:-
    20 to 30 tanks and ? field artillery.
    2 Companies mechanized infantry.

    Column 2, North-East of BOULOGNE:-
    Approximately the same numbers, but including at least three medium tanks.

    These figures must, of necessity, be a very rough estimate, and the forces may have been considerably larger.

    2. Particulars regarding weapons.
    During the preliminary phases of the attack, shelling was carried out by a light field gun, probably infantry close support weapon.

    The tanks were armed with machine guns, a light mortar with a range of approximately six to seven hundred yards, possibly more, and a gun which fired an incendiary bullet, which was extremely efficient in setting fire to road blocks.

    Motorised infantry were carried on motor cycle combinations, and the infantry were supplied with grenades, which they used for attacking crews of Anti-Tank weapons, particulars of which are given later.

    3. Tactics employed by this force.

    (a) Tanks.
    In this operation, the German tanks were used at night and the technique of knocking out Anti-Tank weapons was as follows:-
    One tank would approach slowly and obviously attempt to draw fire. As soon as fire was opened on the leading tank, it halted, possibly as a result of being hit. A second tank then approached on the same front, but further back. The Anti-Tank gun having been identified and its location seen, attempts were made to put the weapon out of action by shelling or, in some cases, stalking carried out by infantry with grenades.

    The approach of the tanks was slow and cautious, but in one case the following ruse was adopted:- A French civilian approached the forward posts, stating that French tanks were approaching to help the forces engaged. He was followed by a tank with a French soldier walking each side. As soon as the tank reached the forward post, it opened fire and destroyed it.

    In one case where a section in a house was passed by a tank, it was noticed that five or six men were following immediately behind the tank on foot and under cover of it.

    (b) Artillery.
    Artillery fire at the start of the attack was by light field gun. A short time before the evacuation, a heavier calibre gun was used, possibly 45 Howitzer or equivalent. Artillery fire was concentrated on suitable targets with considerable speed, e.g. BRIGADE H.Q. was shelled within seven to eight hours of its location. This may have been through the activities of the FIFTH COLUMN.

    (c) Motorised Infantry.
    Very little was seen of motorised infantry and, as far as this operation was concerned, their use appeared to be restricted to stalking and knocking out the crews of Anti-Tank weapons. Few casualties were inflicted on German infantry and they did not expose themselves much during daylight.

    4. Effects of Anti-Tank Weapons.

    (a) 2 Pounder Anti-Tank Gun.
    According to reports from the Commander Anti-Tank guns, this gun was effective, and enemy tanks were immobilised, if not destroyed. This probably only applies to light tanks.

    (b) .25mm Infantry Anti-Tank guns.
    This gun was also stated to be effective, but in cases of both these Anti-Tank weapons, directly they had opened fire, attempts were made by enemy to put them out of action by shell fire or infantry stalking.

    (c) Boys Rifle
    In one definite and authentic case, an enemy tank was set on fire by a Boys rifle.

    (d) Although all of the above weapons appear to have had some effect on enemy tanks, the effect of 4.7-inch gun from British Destroyers was very great and the morale effect must have been considerable. One medium tank was completely demolished by a direct hit from a 4.7-inch gun.

    5. Notes on Air Attack
    Raiding by approximately twenty planes, the majority of which were driven off by fighters. Prior to the raid, all German troops were withdrawn from the Town. Only light Anti-Tank personnel bombs were dropped and the number of casualties resulting was very small. There was a certain amount of machine gunning from the air which appeared to be carried out fairly high, i.e. over 1,000 feet.

    6. Use of Fifth Columnists.
    It is impossible to say what number of these were employed, but they undoubtedly co-operated during the attack on the Town. The casualties inflicted by their sniping or firing with sub-machine guns were probably not very great, but the effect of their presence was considerable and created an atmosphere of distrust and tension, which caused a great deal of unnecessary firing, especially among the more undisciplined personnel of the labour units. The presence of FIFTH COLUMNISTS in an operation of this kind calls for extremely good discipline among the troops engaged, whose task is made more unpleasant by their activity. It is impossible to check all reports, but numerous instances were seen of signalling from windows, etc.
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    Lessons to be learnt from this operation with regard to the future organisation of the 20th GUARDS BRIGADE.

    The following points suggest that the organisation of the BRIGADE and the way in which this operation was conceived did not favour the accomplishment of the role given to it.

    1. The absence of a third Battalion or a reserve of any kind, made any form of fluidity or depth in the defence almost impossible.

    2. A proportion of provost personnel would have greatly simplified the handling of the refugee traffic, clearing of roads and control of traffic round Headquarters.

    3. The embarkation of Battalions without any transport whatever, hampers all arrangements for transporting weapons, equipment, food, etc.
    Requisitioned transport is seldom satisfactory and in the case of Anti-Tank guns is wholly inadequate.

    4. As an independent BRIGADE, medical personnel and a medical Officer should be attached to BRIGADE H.Q. During this operation the absence of a Medical Officer for BRIGADE H.Q. was keenly felt, despite the eventual arrival of an Medical Officer from the BOULOGNE General Hospital.

    5. The proportion of D.R.s allowed on the establishment of the independent BRIGADE should be increased. But for the fact that six D.R.s were taken from the 5th Battalion LOYALS inter-communication would have been well nigh impossible.

    6. The move and embarkation of the two Battalions was so hurried that tactical loading of the ships was impossible. Loading took place in the dark under very difficult conditions and the task set the Battalions when disembarking at BOULOGNE was a hard one.
    It would seem that such undue haste in embarking does not pay as it causes undue delay when disembarkation takes place.

    7. In an operation carried out in a foreign country an adequate allotment of maps must be arranged for. Five 1” maps of BOULOGNE was insufficient.

    8. The frontages over which the Battalions were disposed were too great. There does not seem to have been a feasible alternative to the method employed and a force of two Battalions without any Artillery Support was totally inadequate for the defence of BOULOGNE.

    9. The absence of carriers was keenly felt, and their lack made it impossible for Battalions to throw out a protective screen during the occupation of their positions in daylight. As a result their positions were probably spotted by the enemy during or soon after their occupation.

    10. The absence of wire and grenades made the forward posts extremely vulnerable to infiltration and stalking by the enemy.

    11. Anti-Tank mines would have been invaluable in this operation, and their absence was keenly felt.

    12. Anti-Aircraft Bren Guns.
    It is most unwise to site anti-aircraft bren guns in exposed positions in order that they may have an all-round arc of fire. It is much better to place them in well hidden localities even though they can cover only a small section of the sky.

    The anti-aircraft Bren gun firing .303 ammunition does little or no harm against the armoured protection which the German fighting machines possess. What is required is a weapon which has some armour piercing capacity, and until this is produced, I do not see that any great results can be expected from small arms fire.

    If Anti-Aircraft Bren guns are used they should when time permits, be dug in just like other guns.
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    See these threads for further information on Boulogne action, related to other Units.

    Anti-Aircraft Units Defending Boulogne, May 1940

    657 General Construction Company, Royal Engineers - Boulogne 1940

    Convoying of explosive from Boulogne May 1940

    French 21st Division in the defence of Boulogne May 1940 in French

    Major W A Akers, Loyal Regiment Commanding 81 Company, AMPC


    See this Imperial War Museum interview
    Nethercott, Ian Alan (Oral history) (7186)

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    From Irish Guards Journal, 1957:

    23rd May, 1940 & 13th July, 1956
    by Major General G.L. VERNEY, D.S.O., M.V.O.

    There was no finer Naval enterprise during the late war than the evacuation from BOULOGNE by nine Destroyers, under close-range enemy fire, of the 2nd Battalions of the IRISH and WELSH GUARDS and Headquarters 20th GUARDS BRIGADE after a desperate 48 hours’ defence of the port. With German artillery on the high ground less than a mile away, with enemy tanks on the quay on one side of the harbour, mortars, machine-guns and infantry in the houses and snipers on the roofs, the Destroyers came in two at a time - for the basin was too narrow for more - and took on board, first wounded and stragglers from the B.E.F. and Allied refugees, and then as many men of the two Battalions as had been able to fight their way back through the town when the order for evacuation arrived.

    Guardsmen, with seamen and marines of the Demolition parties, fought as units together and held off the Germans for several hours while thousands of men were embarked and taken across the Channel, the task being made harder by numerous intense air attacks during which man bombs fell into the water so close to the ships that it seemed they could not survive. The accurate gunnery of the Navy excited the admiration of all; one enemy tank was sent spinning across the quay; snipers were blown off roofs; in one ship the mounting of a gun was blown away, but the gun was supported on the shoulders of some of its crew and continued firing.

    H.M.S. VERITY (Lieutenant Commander BLACK), as she entered the harbour at the most anxious moment of all, was set on fire and forced to back out of the narrow entrance lest she sank and blocked it. Ablaze from stem to stern, firing every gun that could bear, she withdrew, doing such damage with her covering fire as materially to affect the successful outcome of the operation.

    For the IRISH and for one Company of the WELSH GUARDS this was the second occasion within ten days that H.M.S. WHITSHED (Commander CONDER) and several other ships had taken Guardsmen off a hostile shore, for earlier in the month they had all been concerned together at the HOOK OF HOLLAND in covering the move to ENGLAND of the Queen and her Government.

    With the loss of two hundred of the IRISH GUARDS and three hundred of the WELSH GUARDS, the Brigade was brought off as night fell on May 23rd, and the total number of people evacuated was 4,400. The Naval losses were heavy and included Captain SIMPSON, of the KEITH, killed and Lieutenant Commander DONALD, Commanding Officer of the VIMY, died of wounds. Most of the ships were badly damaged but very heavy losses had been inflicted on the Germans whose advance towards DUNKIRK was checked and held up for several important days.

    As soon as the troops arrived back in ENGLAND a proposal was made that a picture of the action should be painted and presented to the NAVY as a mark of admiration and gratitude for their exertions, but owing to the difficult circumstances of the time this came to nought. A record of the idea, however, was preserved in the Historical Section of the Admiralty where it was shown to the writer of this article last year, and he was asked whether it could be revived.

    The Brigade Commander of the time, Major General FOX-PITT, and the Commanding Officers of the two Battalions, Major General HAYDON and Brigadier Sir Alexander STANIER, welcomed the suggestion that the event should be commemorated even though sixteen years had passed, and it was decided that, as a picture was out of the question for a variety of reasons, the offer should be made to the Admiralty of a 20th GUARDS BRIGADE flag, framed, with a suitable inscription, to be subscribed for by the surviving officers. Their Lordships expressed themselves much gratified by this proposal and asked that the flag be presented to the ROYAL NAVAL BARRACKS at PORTSMOUTH, at which port five of the nine BOULOGNE Destroyers had been based.

    There, on Jul 13th, at Divisions some five hundred seamen and about seventy W.R.N.S., with the combined Bands of the ROYAL NAVY and ROYAL MARINES, assembled under the command of Commodore THOMPSON, in the presence of about twenty former members of the two Battalions and thirty survivors of the Ships’ Companies of the Destroyers, including four of the former Captains.

    After Major General FOX-PITT had inspected the parade, during which the Bands played the Slow Marches of the IRISH and WELSH GUADS, he presented the flag to three Petty Officers who had fought at BOULOGNE. He then addressed the parade and paid warm tribute to the NAVAL Force to whose skill and gallantry, he reminded his audience, all the soldiers owed their freedom if not their lives, a point that had been made by almost every subscriber to the presentation. The Commodore, following, paid a handsome tribute to the Guardsmen who, under a withering fire, had stood as steady as though on parade in LONDON, and whose discipline and fighting qualities had alone made this hazardous operation possible.

    The parade then marched past and subsequently the company was entertained in the Canteen where the trophy was displayed. The inscription on it reads:-

    “This flag of the 20th GUARDS BRIGADE was presented to the ROYAL NAVY to commemorate the gallantry of His Majesty’s Ships KEITH, WHITSHED, VERITY, WILD SWAN, VIMY, WINDSOR, VENETIA, VENOMOUS and VIMIERA, and of the Demolition Parties ROYAL NAVY and their escorts of Seamen and Marines, in the evacuation from BOULOGNE of Headquarters 20th GUARDS BRIGADE, the 2nd Battalion IRISH GUARDS and the 2nd Battalion WELSH GUARDS on May 23rd, 1940.”
  10. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

    Shouldn't this be in the 1940 section :p
  11. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    Or War at Sea.
    You're free to quote it ;)
  12. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    HMS Venomous at Boulogne, 22 May 1940
    Top: Venomous escorted Mona Queen to Boulogne where the troops unloaded stores
    Bottom: Troops disembarking from the Mona Queen at Boulogne on the 22 May 1940
    Photographed by Lt Peter Kershaw RNVR

    Naval signals record events at Boulogne on the 23 May 1940

    A Hard Fought Ship - Order Form
  13. Roy Martin

    Roy Martin Senior Member

    Unless I misread dbf's post of the 28 June 2011, the evacuation was carried out by the merchant ships Biarritz, Queen of the Channel and Mona Star? Perhaps the Irish Guards Journal, 1957 report should be moved to fiction?

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