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.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

A German Perspective On The Battle For Noyers - General de Nachrichtentruppe Praun Commander of the 277 Infanteriedivision

In the immediate aftermath of the war senior German officers and officials who were in the custody of the Americans were interrogated in detail. Their accounts of the battles that they had fought in were slavishly recorded and translated in a vast number of manuscripts.

One such manuscript prepared on 5th June 1946 documented the testimony of General de Nachrichtentruppe Praun who commanded 277 Infantry Division who opposed 176 and 177 Brigade of 59 (Staffordshire) Division during the Operation Pomegranate offensive.

The following extract describes the role of the 277 Infantry Division in the defence of Noyers in what was to be its first major engagement with the enemy,

'After the Division's brief closing of its ranks in the area of Conde-Thury Harcourt, the relief of the  2 Panzer-division by the XLVII Panzerkorps South of Caumont was ordered and prepared at the end of June. However, before this was accomplished the Division was brought to the II S.S. Panzerkorps (Obergruppenfuehrer Bittrich) for the relief of the 9 S.S. Panzerdivision, which took place about July 9. The main line of resistance ran between the 10 S.S. Panzerdivision (on the right) and the 276 Infantriedivision (on the left) about 12 KM southwest of Caen in the line (according to the map 1:50 000) "hill 113", north of Evrecy-Bougy Missy-Noyers. Maisoncelles sur Ajon was the division command post. Said line was to be held. The infantry had to be improved and strengthened, as the manner of fighting of the S.S. Panzerdivision had been more mobile and based on strong-point methods. Tanks of the S.S. Corps formed the mobile tank defense behind the right and left wing. The Division itself had one battalion in reserve. Shortly after the relief, the whole front of the Division was attacked again and again, after intense artillery barrages, with numerous tanks, by superior enemy forces, between July 10th and 13th. The new division suffered heavy losses in this, its first major battle; it lost terrain, such as the locality Gavrus), in several place; in other places, for instance - at Noyers, its counterattacks , launched with the armored support of the S.S. were successful. Nowhere did the enemy's exertion of strength lead to a break-through. The enemy, too, suffered heavy losses in tanks, which were demolished in close combat by the S.S. tanks; his infantry suffered through the systematically concentrated fire of the heavy infantry guns and the battering by our own artillery. The line which was held after termination of the battles, was until the end of the month attacked almost daily by the enemy - each time after considerable preparatory fire - with tanks, platoons, companies and battalions, of troops, - and at alternating places, especially at the right wing aroung "Hill 113". All these attacks were either repelled, or crushed even while they were being mounted'.

In an tactical analysis of the fighting in this period Greneral Praun had this to say:

'The enemy artillery bombarded the front line and rear areas with practically incessant harassing fire, mostly with sudden concentration of several hundred shots in quick succession. Due to low range and insufficient ammunition, it could not be troubled by our own artillery. The artillery regiment of the Division - often in conjunction with the corps artillery and the unsubordinated smoke-throwers and antiaircraft weapons - fought enemy movement and pasted assembly positions and enemy attacks with sudden concentration of battalion and regimental artillery. The enemy's attack on the artillery was almost ineffectual in spite of his extensive use of ammunition, because it confined itself to peppering of the positions , without concentrating the guns of individual batteries in single cones of fire. Thus, the artillery of the Division lost a great many advance observers in the foremost line but on the other hand six weeks of heavy fighting in the field emplacement , only 25 canoneers - dead and wounded - and one gun by a direct hit'.

In the final analysis;

'The courageous defense by the 277 infantriedivision in its sector delayed the enemy invasion. Tactically, the following factors were responsible for the decline of the forces and fighting power and finally their premature exhaustion:

  • the enemy's air superiority
  • the enemy's plentiful use of ammunition
  • the enemy tanks, and 

finally, the operational envelopment, also the result of this superiority in material strength.'

General de Nachrichtentruppe Praun
277 Infantriedivision Commander

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