The intentions to document this information are long standing in that they go back some two decades to the early/mid 1990’s, just a few years before the subject of this site, James Kitchener Heath passed away.

As is the case in so many families in which a generation experienced war and all its traumas, certain aspects of service are known, but all too often the details are sketchy and disjointed. Add into this mix the passage of time and the result is invariably a collection of stories and fragments of memories accompanied by a handful of fragile and faded documents (if you are lucky) that represent the sum of information relating to the most extraordinary period in a soldier’s life. This was certainly the case in our family..... and it’s not much to go on.

In February 1995, my Father and I struggled to put together a potted service history to be read by the cleric presiding over my Grandfather’s funeral. At this point I decided to take steps to fill in some of the gaps as best I could.... sadly now without the benefit of first hand testimony.

A well known turn of phrase, ‘written on the back of a fag packet’ is defined by the Collins on-Line dictionary as something ‘composed or formed quickly and without detailed analysis or research’. As far as first hand source material for this history is concerned, no better a description could be made. The details gleaned from my Grandfather in brief (and often emotional) discussions in the 1990’s are summarised as a list of place names written in an old man’s shaky handwriting on the back of a standard envelope! (this will feature later). On the upside, a standard envelope is approximately twice the size of a cigarette packet, which immediately doubles the amount of information to work with!

By my own admission, this site is a little self-indulgent, being of primary interest to myself, my mother, my children and a handful of relatives still living in Staffordshire. In addition, it may be that the information presented here will be read by others outside of the family who have a passing interest in military or family history.

I would welcome any comments/suggestions or dare I say it relevant information to contact me.

adrianandrews1@sky.com

Saturday, 17 January 2015

59th Division and Operation Pomegranate

The positions of Allied and German formations at the outset of Operation Pomegranate
(map used with the kind permission of http://59div.morssweb.com)

On 14th July, the 59th concentrated in the area surrounding the villages of Loucelles, Christot and Fontenay-le-Pesnel in the centre of the Pomegranate offensive line. The 49th (West Riding) or ‘Polar Bear’ Division was positioned on the 59th’s right flank whilst the 53rd (Welsh) Division formed up on the left flank.

The battle opened up at 0530 hours on the morning of 16th July, so called 'H’ hour. Passing over the start lines, the 5th East Lancashires of 197 Brigade reached their first objective east of the village of Vendes and by 0800 had captured part of the village despite a determined defence encountered from the outset of the attack. Here the 5th East Lancashires were pinned down and prevented from further advance when by 2.30 in the afternoon an effective infantry counter-attack with tank support overran one company on the right and forced the withdrawal of the remaining forces of the occupying battalion back to their start line.

To the east, the 1/6th and the 5th South Staffords moved on their allotted objectives. The 1/6th captured Brettevillette little over an hour after starting out and by 0845 hours troops of the Battalion had advanced as far as Quediville. In likewise manner, the 5th South Staffords captured the orchards to the west of Granville sur Odon and by noon Les Nouillons was in their hands. Thus it was that by this time, all of the 177 Brigade's objectives had been achieved, but at a high price. Resistance was heavy and effective, the objective village remains were thickly mined with both anti-tank and anti-personnel mines. Furthermore, two thirds of the tanks in support of the 1/6th assault ‘brewed up’, to use the parlance of the tank men of at the time, in a British minefield that remained in place, despite assurances that clearance would have been completed in advance of the attack. The confusion of the fighting was compounded when many troops became disorientated and misdirected in the heavy morning mist . By 1330 hours tanks equipped with mine clearing flails began to enter the minefields at Quediville. This marked the close of Phase I of the attack.

Phase II was launched in the early evening with a 2/6th Battalion advance of the village of Noyers Bocage (Hereafter referred to as Noyers) and three quarters of an hour later the 6th North Staffords (under the command of 177 Brigade for this action) assaulted Haul des Forges. The 6th succeeded in taking their objective, but in the face of heavy opposition, after initially penetrating some way into the village, were forced to withdraw to the area around Noyers railway satation. On this day 177 Brigade took a total of 369 German prisoners, all soldiers of the 277 Infanterie Division.

During the remainder of the 16th July, on the hard pressed right, another assault on the Phase I objective was launched, this time by the 2/5th Lancashire Fusiliers, but their efforts were thwarted by the heavy and accurate mortar fire laid down by the defenders and little was achieved.

The following two days were focused on the concerted efforts of the 177 Infantry Brigade to take Noyers. A dawn attack on the village by the 1/6th and the 5th South Staffords fell someway short of reaching the station and the men were pinned down until 13.30 hours when the order came through to withdraw and reorganise. A further attack by the 5th was launched from the north east of the village but was repelled just inside the outskirts. A 1/6th South Staffords advance from Bretteville in the direction of Bordel failed under heavy defensive fire. After dark all troops were withdrawn in order to ‘soften up’ the village defences with shell and mortar fire.

The 17th also saw the 1/7th Royal Warwicks of the 197 Brigade with support from the 1st Norfolk Yeomanry achieve success in assaulting the phase I objectives. To drive home this success and to strengthen the 197 Brigade front, 176 Brigade moved on Bordel , but without great success. At this time H.Q. 1/7th Royal Warwickshire was hit by two large bombs which resulted in high casualty numbers.

Attempts to subdue Noyers were renewed at 10 am on the morning of 18th once again with the 1/6th and 5th South Staffords advancing on the fortified village. Despite strong, albeit depleted, armoured support, this action as well as another assault in the afternoon was unsuccessful and the forces of the 59th Division once again withdrew by evening to allow shells and mortar to resume their attempts to subdue the resilient defenders of Noyers.

Once again on the right, by nightfall, the 1/7th Royal Warwicks had occupied Ferme de Guiberon and reports came in from the 49th Infantry Division of German withdrawals across the front. The 7th South Staffords of 176 Brigade attacked, captured and held the area from Bordel up to la SeneviƩre.

After three days of heavy fighting the process of relieving the exhausted, battle weary troops in the line began. During the night of 18th July, 176 Infantry Brigade relieved 197 Brigade, thus allowing it to move into reserve positions. Elsewhere on the right, the 7th Royal Norfolks relieved the 1/7th Royal Warwicks.

On the 19th, the 49th Division occupied Vendes, after the enemy had withdrawn from the village. Plans for a renewed assault on Noyers, after 177 Brigade dawn patrols confirmed that the village was still held by the Germans, came to nothing.

At 1250 hours on the 19th July, the Corps Commander passed down orders to cease any further attempts to take Noyers and subsequent activities in the following days were restricted to aggressive patrolling across the front.

British footage of Operation Pomegranate (17th July 1944)

More detailed information on the fighting in which the soldiers of the South Staffordshire regiments were engaged is given a later post.

Detail of the German front line a week after 'Operation Pomegranate'

No comments:

Post a Comment