A long day in Normandy
History - EY HistoryThe attack on Rauray by the 12th Battalion The King's Royal Rifle Corps on 26 June 1944.. Recollections of Lt Tony Richardson, Essex Yeomanry
In Normandy on 25 June 1944 8th Armoured Brigade was in support of the 49th Division for a major assault from point 103, through Fontenay-le-Pesnel, up to Tessel Wood and then down to Rauray. This was in support of the major attack by VIII Corps on the left to cross the river Odon towards Hill 112. 147 (Essex Yeomanry) SP Field Regiment, who were the artillery regiment in 8th Independent Armoured Brigade, took part in the massive fire plan to cover this assault.
That evening I was asked to hand over D Troop gun position to my Troop Leader, Peter Rolles, and take the C Troop Leaders carrier and report to battalion headquarters of the 12th KRRC at midnight for orders and to support them in their operation the next day. The 12th KRRC were well known to us as they had been the motor battalion in 30th Armoured Brigade in 42nd Armoured Division in 1942 and 1943 when the Essex Yeomanry were in the division supporting the Armoured Brigade. The battalion was now the motor battalion with 8th Armoured Brigade. It had not been with the Brigade on D-Day and had only arrived in Normandy on 19th June. It had not been in action so far. It had been given orders to carry out a battalion attack on 26th June to capture the hamlet of Tessel next to the village of Rauray. Little did they know that the objective was strongly defended by 9th SS Panzer Division. It was exceptional for a motor battalion to be deployed on such a task.
The battalion was harboured behind Tilly-sur-Seulles in the area of le Pont Roc. The plan was that the battalion would march to the area behind Tessel wood, which it was reported had been captured that day. They would take no vehicles as they did not know if they would be able to cross the Seulles river near Fontenay-le-Pesnel. I said it was essential for me to get to the rendezvous with my carrier if I was to ensure that I had good communication with the guns. It was agreed that I would go on ahead and see if I could get across the river in the dark. Wading across the river was not difficult and using a back route I got to the rendezvous shortly after dawn. It was a lovely morning with the sun shining but very quiet and still. A smouldering German tank was by the corner of the wood. I discovered a rather frightened soldier of the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry in a foxhole near the edge of the wood. He had got there the evening before and did not know where anyone else was. I thought I ought to find out a bit more and walked quietly down a track beside the wood. A whistle came from inside the wood and a single British soldier appeared. He too was a bit disoriented and said that he thought the wood was full of Germans. I went back to the corner of the wood where my signaller and driver were digging a large hole for themselves!
There was a steep bank blocking the way it was likely we would have to go to reach our start-line for this attack. In no way could I get my carrier over this bank. A dead German was lying by the bank. I borrowed his rifle in case I had to defend myself. Things began to happen. Some tanks of the 4/7th Royal Dragoon Guards, which my battery supported, appeared with my Troop Commander, who was surprised to see me. The Hallamshire battalion of the York and Lancaster Regiment from 49 Div also appeared as did the 12th KRRC. A German FW 190 flew over the position but we did not shoot at it. I discovered that the 4/7th and the Hallams were going round to the left to attack Rauray and they were expecting support from my Battery. I managed to get someone to blow a hole in the bank with a landmine and I joined the Commanding Officer of 12th KRRC at the headquarters he had established on the start-line under a tree in the hedge at the corner of the field from which you could see the objective, which was a church about 500 yards in front of us. We could only see the roof of the church and the spire. Communication was not easy but I was through on the 19 set in the carrier and it would have been impossible with an 18 set so, as there was no other FOO with the battalion, I thought it best to remain by my carrier with the CO to control the fire support. The 4/7th ware getting support from C Troop and the rest of the Regiment were engaged on some other task so I had to do the best I could with D Troop. The first thing was to range on the church. Using close target procedure I got onto the church and ordered 90 rounds of gunfire at 15 seconds interval to support the advance across the field. As they got bogged down I changed the interval to 30 seconds. The battalion attack was stopped in a fold in the ground not far from the church. I asked if I could have the support of the whole regiment to get them onto the objective. This was granted provided I ranged each battery separately as there were other troops nearby. This I did and was ready to fire a Mike Target when the CO said he wanted to withdraw the battalion, so I ordered the regiment to fire smoke instead of HE. Two rounds gunfire followed by six rounds gunfire at 60 seconds interval from the whole regiment concentrated produced the most wonderful smoke screen and the whole battalion was successfully withdrawn without any further casualties.
Some of the officers gathered at battalion HQ and at the same time George Culley, a Troop Commander from another battery arrived to assist, even though the show was over. At that moment a German panther tank that we could see in the rather thin wood to our left, which had not so far taken part in the proceedings, fired one round of 88mm HE into the hedge above our heads. Three of the 12th KRRC officers were wounded by this round. I had the only vehicle and as George Culley was there and was through to the RMO on his 18 set, I said I would take the casualties to the Field Dressing station and return as soon as possible. I got them properly attended to and returned to the field. They had all gone and I was told to go to another rendezvous and be prepared to support a 15 Scottish Division attack the next day. It was getting dusk when we got to the place which was an open field. By this time without sleep for some 40 hours I was pretty exhausted and went to sleep in the front of the carrier. The crew had dug a hole and when it came on to rain they wanted to move the carrier over it. They failed to get me to wake up.
The next morning I was luckily not required to support 15 Div. I returned to the gun position, which had moved to an open field on the forward slope in front of point 103, which seemed to be in full view of the enemy, so we dug in.
Extract from the EYA Journal 2001.