8th Rifle Brigade - From Normandy to the Baltic - June 1944 - May 1945
HISTORY – GETTING READY
This page is a work in progress. Eventually, it will describe the history of the 8th Rifle Brigade from its formation on 1 September 1939 (when still called 2nd Battalion The London Rifle Brigade) until 5 June 1944, the day before D-Day. Most of the text on this page is based on the battalion’s War Diaries [13-17] and those of other units in the 29th Armoured Brigade and the 11th Armoured Division.
January 1944 – Bridlington area
1 January 1944 found the battalion still in the area of Bridlington. From 4 to 5 January an exercise was held by 29th Armoured Brigade, including the 8th Rifle Brigade, in the Yorkshire Wolds training area.16 It was meant for training night harbouring and advancing through a minefield gap, and for training advance and attack.33 The ‘enemy’ was made up of 159 Infantry Brigade troops. On the 12th a lecture was held by Lt.-Col. V.B. Turner, VC, on the part played by the 2nd Rifle Brigade during the Battle of El Alamein. At the end of the month, from 25 to 30 January, the three Motor Battalions went down to London for a street fighting exercise in the Limehouse area. During this exercise, Lt. Hubble got seriously wounded in the chest.16 He only returned to the battalion in March 1945.17 Lt. Sedgwick got a Sten Gun round through the nose. At the end of the month, in the War Diary, it is noted that in the battalion about 30 men have got the Africa Star, for service with the 8th Army.16 Most likely, they have been sent to the 8th Rifle Brigade to share battle experience.
February 1944 – Bridlington area
From 1 to 13 February a period of intensive training is carried out at Hunmanby, including driving on and off landing craft. Then on 10 February, the battalion and the rest of the 29th Armoured Brigade are inspected by General Montgomery, on the grounds of Bridlington Highschool. After the training at Hunmanby is finished, from 13 to 25 February, the whole battalion takes part in Exercise Eagle, a training at Corps level, with 8th Corps, in the Wolds training area again. The 8th Rifle Brigade companies are all placed under command of one of the three Armoured Regiments in the brigade.
1 – 29 March 1944 – Bridlington area
In the Brigade inter coy/sqn football competition’s final, on 9 March, G Company 8th Rifle Brigade beats C Squadron 23rd Hussars, again and with the same score as in the final of 1943. From 17 to 25 March, Captain Noel Bell and 10 ‘Other Ranks’ are attached to U.S. 3rd Armoured Division, and an equal number Americans to the 8th Rifle Brigade. Baseball is played for the first time in the battalion ‘and seems likely to catch on.’16 On the 22nd, in Bridlington, the complete battalion parades for H.M. The King. Advance parties leave for Aldershot. Before finally leaving the Bridlington area, from 23 to 25 March, F, G and H Companies, in turn, take part in Exercise Honey, as ‘enemy’ to the recce troops of the armoured regiments in 29th Armoured Brigade.16
30 March – 5 June 1944 – Aldershot
During the last two days of March, the ‘main bodies’ of 29th Armoured Brigade, including the 8th Rifle Brigade, move from the area of Bridlington to Aldershot.39 In April additional security and other measures related to the upcoming invasion of Western Europe are imposed16: on 9 April full unit postal censorship comes into force, on 14 April the battalion changes its postal address to A.P.O. England and on 24 April all White scout cars are replaced by half-tracks. From 20 to 22 April, there is an exercise with Airborne troops. In May further preparations for Normandy are carried out.16 On 15 and 16 May the bulk of the battalion’s vehicles gets waterproofed and on 24 May the Universal carriers used as Machine gun carriers, by E Company, are replaced by Machine gun carriers. From 28 May, the battalion is put at 6 hours notice to move. The invasion must be at hand.