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


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 three landing craft suspended from starboard side.

‘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 up morale 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.’

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

‘…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’

Detail of map GSGS 4347 - Thaon, showing Cully and Coulombs.

25 June 1944 – Operation Epsom, the plan

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

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 fount 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 firer 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. Clarke 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.’

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