8th Rifle Brigade - from Normandy to the Baltic - June 1944 - May 1945

HISTORY   –   D-DAY TO VE-DAY

Wherever possible, for the battalion’s history as described here, original texts are used, quoted directly from contemporary sources: official war diaries and early post war unit histories [1, 2, 9, 10, 11, 12 and 13]. For some larger well known operations (such as Operations Epsom or Goodwood) also more recently published literature has been consulted. Descriptions of some lesser known actions are based on own research, again using contemporary sources, such as war diaries, GSGS maps and CWGC information. All sources used can be found on page ‘Bibliography & Links’.

6 to 12 June 1944 – From D-Day to landing in Normandy

Liberty ship, note camouflage and landing craft. 
For other maps and photos see relevant pages of this website.

‘It was the 6th of June. Breakfast as usual – and back to the barrack rooms. Then somebody said, “We’ve landed in France!” Silence – the silence of doubt, incredulity, amazement.’ ‘We found a radio and listened; and at a quarter to ten General Eisenhower spoke, and we knew for ourselves. At last it had come!’ ‘F Company left Aldershot on June 8th. and went by road to Tilbury Docks where we embarked for Normandy.’ ‘So it was that on that memorable day of Saturday, June 10th, we sailed away from Tilbury at 2.30 p.m.’ ‘The holds where we slept were fitted out with hammocks and smelt strongly of meat.’ ‘Eventually all embarked on two Liberty ships, India City and Samsip, and thoughts turned to speculation about the crossing, imagination painting grim pictures of U-boat and dive-bomber attacks.’ ‘However, all passed without incident; we were neither shelled nor attacked from either sea or air.’ The battalion’s war diary mentions: ‘Uneventful voyage, fine weather; together with unlimited quantities of food, send morale up very high.’

13 June 1944 – The Normandy Beachhead

‘On Tuesday morning at the crack of dawn we anchored off the coast of France.’ It was 13 June 1944, one week after D-Day and 3 days after embarkation at Tilbury Docks. ‘Everyone was up early to get a glimpse of the country we had come to, the Normandy Beachhead. The sea was black with ships and we were all surprised that we were left well alone by the Luftwaffe to disembark at our ease. We anchored about three miles off the shore.’  ‘The unloading of men and vehicles was executed by Landing Craft after hours of waiting. They were manned mostly by sappers who thought nothing of ripping off a mudguard from one of our newly-painted vehicles.’ ‘Vehicles were picked out of the hold by the ship’s derricks and lowered into the LCT. The crews had to scramble down a rope ladder. As each LCT was loaded it set off for the shore.’ ‘There was more deck space in our landing-craft than we had realized, but the vehicles were nose to tail and had their sides nearly touching, so we were well crowded.’ ‘The coastline became more distinct as we approached and we perceived there were sand-dunes at the top of the beach in front of the village.’ ‘The bottom of the craft grated against the shingle – it shuddered, then came to a standstill. The ramp went down.’ ‘We then drove down the ramp, into four feet of sea water, and we were ashore somewhere near Graye-sur-Mer.’ Another company’s history tells us: ‘After many days of work and preparation waterproofing our trucks in England, it was heartbreaking to find that not even the tyres got wet on some of our vehicles.’

Beach near Courseulles sur Mer, June 1944. 
For other maps and photos see relevant pages of this website.

13 June 1944 – From the beach to the orchards of Cully

8RB’s route from the beach to Creully. 
For other maps and photos see relevant pages of this website.

‘…we turned to have a final look at the sea. It was early evening now and the rain had ceased. The sun was shining on the sea and ships…’ ‘We passed the summit [of the dunes] and the rolling Normandy countryside opened up before us. Everywhere there were cornfields, all gently waving in the summer breeze.’ ‘We had no order where we had to go, instead MP’s waved us on at every cross roads, although they did not know themselves where we were going.’ ‘We passed a farm. An aged farmer, clad in old black trousers and a faded blue dungaree jacket, stood by the gate…’ ‘He did not smile…’ ‘Then we saw his broken farmhouse, and we realized why he had not waved.’ ‘Our route took us through a little town called Creully.’ ‘We turned left at Creully…’ ‘We continued to Lantheuil…’ ‘From about 1800 hours the Battn. began to arrive in driblets in a small orchard in the little village of Cully.’ ‘As our vehicles drove under the fruit trees a shower of young, unripened apples cascaded down upon us…’ ‘When we arrived we dug our first operational slit trenches but the spirit of Exercises in England was still  on us and after reaching a token depth most of us got down to sleep.’  ‘We had been in bed but a few minutes, when it started. The whole sky appeared to become a mass of red tracer and searchlights. The Luftwaffe was out to pay its nightly visit to the beaches.’ 

14 – 25 June 1944 – Forming regimental groups

‘Bn. remains in conc area, less ‘G’ and ‘H’ Coys who move out to join Armd Regts in their conc areas’, which for E and F Company meant that ‘the next ten days were spent in de-waterproofing and preparing for battle at Cully.’ H Company on the 18th ‘moved to Coulombs, …where we joined our armoured regiment, the 23rd Hussars. In the evening one could go out and there was a small Estaminet nearby where the only drink sold was Calvados, a drink one buys when it is the only drink sold.’ G Company ‘two days later received orders to move to… the other side of the village, where we were to join our friends of the 3rd Royal Tank Regiment.’ ‘…each motor company was attached to an armoured regiment, and under its command, to form a “regimental group.” ‘ While E Company retained its role as support company to the other three companies, F Company had been joined at Coulombs by the 2nd Fife and Forfar Yeomanry. ‘Days passed. The young expeditionary force was getting organized. Mail was arriving daily, also papers, which were only two days old, and that seemed very reasonable.’ Then on June 25th ‘we received orders for Operation Epsom’

Details of map GSGS 4347 – Thaon, showing Cully and Couloms. 
For other maps and photos see relevant pages of this website.

 

25 June 1944 – Operation Epsom, the plan

– – – Text to be added at a later date – – –

29 – 30 August 1944 – From the Seine to Amiens

German Schwimwagen, captured by 23rd Hussars, in Normandy. 
For other maps and photos see relevant pages of this website.

 

‘F Company was again under command of the 2nd. Fife and Forfar Yeomanry. Slight opposition was met on the first day of the re-continued advance at a place called Etrepagny, where a full Company attack was put in with some very welcome support from our 3” Mortar detachments and also the tanks; this was too much for the enemy… We were now making for Amiens with all possible speed, and there was nothing to stop us.’ ‘Throughout the drive the machine gunners [from E Company] were protecting the flanks of the column and during the day travelled across country. This was no easy task with such a fast moving column…’ ‘Kenneth Chabot…, on rejoining us [G Coy] for the night was, to his great surprise and horror, ordered to take a patrol out to see whether Amecourt was held. The patrol consisted of 12 Platoon and a section of carriers, and Kenneth, having recovered from the first shock, and having steadied himself with a large swig from the whisky bottle, sallied forth into the night with his party.’ After a long and adventurous patrol, the village was found to be held and eventually by-passed by the 8th Rifle Brigade. ‘Tremendous excitement prevailed when we heard that we were going to cover the last forty-eight miles in a dash through the night. We pushed on without even a moon to guide us through the early hours…’ ‘…the advance began in the pouring rain…’ ‘In general, enemy opposition on the way was either “brewed up” or run over. German vehicles joined the column from side roads and sometimes travelled several miles with us before we realised their presence.’ ‘Sgt. Triggs [of H Coy] experienced this when a small car and a lorry pulled in to the column in front of his carrier and the Germans got the shock of their lives when they were suddenly shot up from the rear – the result was that the scout platoon afterwards owned a small car, and Sgt. Triggs some very nice shirts.’

31 August 1944 – The liberation of Amiens

Amiens, 31 August 1944, entering the city (G Coy)

‘Light came in the morning of the 31st of August, and we found ourselves on the threshold of Amiens. The first sign if enemy activity was some very surprised German soldiers on bicycles, who rode into our column and were promptly put in the bag. They had obviously had a night out in the town…’ ‘Bill Close, commanding the leading Squardron of 3rd Royal Tanks Regiment, and I were then given orders to enter Amiens, push through the centre of the city and seize the bridges over the Somme. Reports came in from civilians that there were approximately five thousand Germans in Amiens, and at that early hour and having had no sleep, this information shook us a bit. Still, orders were orders, and we decided to push straight on…’ ‘If we were bold and quick we reckoned we could probably get to our objective before the Germans realised we were in the city…’ ‘It was now getting really light and we could see enemy columns and single vehicles streaming into the city along roads running parallel to our own, and a certain amount of confused shooting took place.’ ‘To cut a long story short, we entered Amiens, the fighting inside the city developing into a series of individual platoon actions, in which all achieved notable success and the German forces were knocked clean off their balance and mopped-up before they really had any chance of realizing what was happening. The most famous of these battles was enacted by 10 Platoon and was glamorously described by the press as “Sudlow’s Shooting Gallery”.’

8th Rifle Brigade Bren carrier Crew, Amiens, 31 August 1944. 
For other maps and photos see relevant pages of this website.

 

Amiens, 31 August 1944, ‘Sudlow’s Shooting Gallery’

‘ ”What is described in the battalion as ‘Sudlow’s Shooting Gallery’ was one of the features of the fighting in Amiens, where the Nazis, taken completely by surprise, endeavoured to get out of the city quickly and safely. Lieut. Donald Sudlow saw that as few as possible did so.’ ‘On the platoon’s way down the main street it was noticed that a big Hitler barracks…’ ‘A road ran alongside the barracks and at the far end connected up with another parallel main road into the city. The latter appeared to be popular with retreating Germans, so Lieut. Sudlow put out three Bren gun teams behind piles of rubble and covered the far end of the connecting road, much in the style of a rifle range. The first target was a lorry, which came tearing down the corner and was stopped dead with simultaneous bursts from the Brens. Then a section of infantry tried to double across the opening. Of the dozen who tried only two succeeded. Another lorry gasped to a standstill and some more infantry fared even worse, for by now the marksmen were getting warmed up and competition was pretty keen. A staff car almost made the crossing, but was stopped by a brilliant shot, which killed the driver. The passengers jumped out and dived for cover under one of the lorries. The lorry was shot up. A large number of infantry tried to silence the post but failed miserably. Fifty prisoners were taken and as many left wounded or dead. The scene at the far end of the road was indescribable.” ‘

Newly captured Beauville Bridge, Amiens, 31 August 1944. 
For other maps and photos see relevant pages of this website.

 

Amiens, 31 August 1944, accross the Somme (H Coy)

G Company’s ‘11 Platoon were just about to put in an attack on a bridge when it was rudely blown up before our eyes.‘ H Company however had better luck. ‘…at about 0730 hrs. we moved off again and were soon in the outskirts of Amiens where the crowds were very pleased to see us and even at that early hour wine of every description was produced, and there was the usual crowd of small boys asking for “cigarettes pour Papa”. Sgt. Triggs’ carrier section which was leading did very well to capture the bridge over the Somme intact despite some quite unpleasant small arms fire, and with the help of 1st Troop C Squadron…’ (of 23rd Hussars) ‘and then later 14 Platoon, consolidated on the other side. We stayed in Amiens for the whole morning while a much needed wash and shave was had by everyone, and also something to eat – as we hadn’t had very much in the way of food for the last forty-eight hours.’

10 – 11 September 1944 – Helchteren

‘The next day [10 Sept.] the battalion, led by H Company, had a very hard day’s fighting at Helchteren and Sonnis, the next village. F Company came in from the right to influence the battle, but it was H Company’s day and it was they who put an end to the Paratroopers’ activity.’10 ‘On the 10th of September, C Squadron [23H]/H Company group were leading and orders were received to clear Helchteren, part of which was captured by the 159 Brigade. On reaching the church 14 Platoon, which were leading, took up a position some 400 yards further on. The company remained grouped by the church, where they came under mortar fire, which caused casualties in 15 and 16 platoons. Orders were then given to 14 platoon to clear two houses in the right, to enable the following platoons to advance on the left. …6 section led the way and immediately came under fire from the left of the road and were pinned down. A fresh plan of attack was then made… 14 platoon attacked supported by two tanks. Casualties were sustained… the platoon commander Mr. Dixon was one of them, and while trying to help him Rfn. Prudence was killed outright. Cpl. (now Sgt.) Pratt took charge of the platoon and continued the attack [for which he won a DCM]; when the objective was taken many enemy killed and wounded were found, and some prisoners were taken.’11 ‘…we [G Coy] were looped round to the north, the intention being that we should rejoin the centre line in the rear of the enemy position and so to influence the situation. This manoeuvre proved highly successful and the leading carriers reached the road to find Germans calmly walking up it and a 75 mm gun facing the wrong way. The enemy were completely taken by surprise and before they could collect their wits had been written off in no uncertain manner. The gun and its crew were also speedily put out of action… The remnants of the paratroopers made off during the night, leaving behind them mines which we found next morning. The position they had occupied, was littered with dead bodies and abandoned equipment, and there was no doubt that they had paid very dearly for the slight delay they had succeeded in imposing upon us.’1 H Company alone lost 7 killed and 16 wounded at Helchteren. As a testimony to their bravery, three MC’s, one DCM and a MM were won that day.

Situation and photos of 'advance in Helch-teren area', 10/9/1944 (IWB BU845/847)

23 – 24 September 1944 – Vlierden

At Ommel G Company stopped to let H Company pass through to Vlierden. ‘When the leading carrier came over a slight crest at the entrance to the village of Vlierden, a 75 mm gun in the village knocked it out with the second shot, killing Cpl. Birleson and Rfn. Barnes.’

‘After a pause to see how the village could  be attacked, it was decided as it was getting dark to send two carriers down the road to see if the enemy were still there, as they had kept very quiet. However just as the leading carrier reached the outskirts of the village a bazooka was fired, which luckily missed the carrier. As a result of this, it was decided to wait till morning and leave a standing patrol on the outskirts of the village for the night, while we…’ (that is H Coy) ‘leaguered with F Company and B Squadron…’ (of 23rd Hussars) ‘about a mile short of Vlierden.’

‘In the morning though, the section which had been on patrol found itself pinned down and so 15 platoon supported by a troop of tanks and a section of carriers…’ (of 13 platoon) ‘was sent to attack the houses on the outskirts, which were occupied by Germans. The tanks fired H.E. and Browning at the houses and their gardens and made the place fairly unhealthy for its occupiers, but when 15 platoon attacked – advancing from behind the tanks across about 40 yards of open ground – they were fired on by bazookas at very close range and the attack was broken up, Cpl. Clark being killed, and Sgt. Killick, Rfn. Saville and Mr. Coryton being wounded.’

‘The carriers did very well in evacuating the wounded and the platoon withdrew. The “Mediums” then proceeded to stonk the village, and Captain May took 14 platoon, 5th Troop and Sgt. Millwood’s section of carriers round to the right where they captured several prisoners.’ 

‘F Company then went through the village from the opposite end and had no difficulty in clearing it.’ ’…the Germans – who were supposed to be convalescents – had fought extremely well.’ 

15 January – 11 February 1945 – Bree, Christmas

‘On the 14th of January we set off on a two day trek to Bree. We did not know what we were going to be expected to do there…’ ‘…Bree became a soldier’s delight.’ ‘Socially the first big occasion was the celebration of Christmas’, on 21 January, the battalion having missed its Christmas in December, when being sent as reinforcements to the Ardennes. ‘Festivities began early and by lunch time everyone was in tremendous form. Our dining-hall was in a large cafe, which had been gaily decorated…’ ‘Plates were piled high with food… helped down by beer and Guinnes.’ ‘The jollity of the event was very much augmented by an excellent rum punch brewed by the Company Commander.’ ‘Amidst all this rejoicing and hilarity, one solemn toast was drunk – to the memory of those who… were not able to share with us the fruits of our victories to date.’ 

‘The following day, when many of us were not feeling at our best, was the one “Monty” had chosen to visit the Division for an investiture of the men who had won awards since D Day.’ ‘He was in great form and spoke with great optimism and conviction about the future.’ ‘There was no doubt that “Monty” had something which no one else had got.’

‘The social life at Bree was as good as we had seen anywhere. There were dances, cinemas, and riotous Platoon parties. The numerous cafes were very popular – ice cream with hot whine giving us a new epicurian experience.’ ‘For the next three weeks we remained peacefully at Bree. On several occasions we nearly had to take our turn in the line, but were spared that discomfort each time at the last minute.’ ‘We eventually said goodbye to Bree, after exactly a month’s stay…’ ‘The whole population turned out to see us off when we finally departed on February 11th.’