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.

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Extracts From The Orders for 'Operation Astonia'

The following 'Operation Instruction' was issued to the participating Divisions and supporting units on 6th September 1944. In the event bad weather resulted in a postponement of D day from 9th to 10th September.



1.      1 Corps will capture LE HARVE.

2.      Allotment of troops

(a)    49 Inf Div

With under comd         34 Tk Bde
                                    22 Dgns

            In sp                42 Assault Regt ARE less two sqns
                                    ‘A’ Sqn 141 RAC
                                                                        44 Kangaroos
                               51 (H) Div

With under comd         33 Armd Bde
                                    1 LOTHIANS less one sqn
                                    two sqns 42 Assault Regt ARE
                                    ‘C’ Sqn 141 RAC
(b)   Of 44 Kangaroos allotted 49 Inf Div for Phase I, 24 will be moved to an RV to be decided mutually by 49 and 51(H) Divs on completion of Phase I and will then be available to 51 (H) Div.

3.      General.
The assault will be carried out with two divs up, 51 (H) Div RIGHT and 49 Inf Div LEFT, and the operation will be divided into four Phases.

4.      Tasks.
Phase I

49 Inf Div will capture the area 530320 – 540320 – 544302 – 522308 and secure a brhead on the feature to the SOUTH of this area with a view to passing further tps through during Phase II to capture this feature.

Phase II

(a)    51 (H) Div will secure a base in the area 510325 – 510310 – 520310 with a view to developing further offensive action during Phase III.
(b)   49 Inf Div will capture the feature 525297 – 544295 – 545280 – 532280.

Phase III

                        51 (H) Div will develop its operation to secure
(i)                 The bty area centred around 500315
(ii)               The high ground about 4730 and 4829
(iii)             The enemy defences about OCTEVILLE 500340 from the SOUTH      and EAST.


Both divs will exploit relentlessly into the town and crush any resistance within div bdys. It is most important that the plan of each div shall provide for immediate, deep and ruthless exploitation directly the opportunity arises. The sooner we can penetrate deeply and break up enemy cohesion and control, the more easily and cheaply will our task be accomplished.

Therefore plans must be flexible enough to take advantage of any enemy weakness.

5.      TIMINGS

(a)    D day

9 Sep

(b)   Phase I

H hr     1815 hrs

(c)    Phase II

Times to be fixed by Comd 51 (H) and 49 Inf Divs for their respective parts of this phase. In this connection 49 Inf Div will make the rd in para 7(b) available to 51 (H) Div by H + 5 hrs or earlier if possible.

(d)   Phase III

0800 hrs D + 1

Extracts From The Orders For The Liberation of Le Havre

Extract of the orders issued detailing the manner in which First British Corps were to coordinate with the supporting Royal Navy ships anchored of the French coast during 'Operation Astonia', the action to capture the fortress town of Le Harve.

From FOBAA (Flag Officer British Assault Area)
To ANCXF (Allied Naval Commander Expeditionary Force)

August 1944


12.     Army intention is to attack from the North East by land not less than two days after the attack on Dieppe.

13.     The object of the bombarding forces will be to engage strong points and batteries holding up the advance of the Army as far as 10,000 yards inland (This is the line of static defences).

14.     ROBERTS would be anchored in a position already swept to the NE of Ouistreham.

15.     WARSPITE and MALAYA would be anchored in a position to the South of the Seine bank.

16.     The general plan is being made out by the First Canadian Army.

17.     Detailed plan of attack on Dieppe will be made by Second Canadian Corps.

18.     Detailed plan of attack on Havre will be made by First British Corps.

19.     It is proposed that the general planning should be carried out with the First Canadian Army by FOBAA and detailed Fire Plans by FOBAA with the appropriate Corps.

20.     It is presumed that operational orders for the force would be issued by ANCXF based on information as to Army plan to be supplied by FOBAA. An officer could be sent to the briefing as required.

21.     Control arrangements to be exercised by my staff through the Mobile Bombardment Control Unit, which will operate close to and in conjunction with the appropriate Corps HQ.

22.     Presumably I will be responsible for this force when off the French Coast. I would prefer to conduct the operation from one of the bombarding ships.

23.     The Havre operation would be conducted from my HQ ashore.

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Setting The Scene For The Liberation of Le Havre

Progress of the First Canadian Army to clear  coastal belt and retake the Channel ports

The Allied advance during the second half of August stretched the supply lines enormously. All of the requirements of the now highly mobile army were being brought in by way of the Mulberry harbour many miles away from the front lines. This rapidly changing military situation, as the Allies pursued the Germans back towards Germany, demanded that the Channel ports of the Pas-de-Calais be delivered into the hands of the Allies at the earliest opportunity in order to shorten and strengthen the crucial supply lines.

On 6th September General Montgomery signalled to General Crerar, Commander of the First Canadian Army, the following request:

‘Would be very grateful for your opinion on the likelihood of early capture of Boulogne. It looks as if port of Antwerp may be unusable for some time as the Germans are holding islands at the mouth of the Scheldt. Immediate opening of some port north of Dieppe essential for rapid development of my plan and I want Boulogne badly. What are the chances of getting it soon?’

Plans for the deployment of the First Canadian Army were discussed and agreed on 9th September at a conference with Montgomery, attended by Generals Crerar, Dempsey and Hodges. General Crerar noted later in his diary ‘Decisions affecting the First Cdn Army were reached i.e. speedy capture of Channel ports within First Cdn Army boundary’.

In order to support the favourable military situation that existed in early September, Crerar issued a directive to his Corps commanders that stated:

‘It follows that a speedy and victorious conclusion to the war now depends, fundamentally, upon the capture by First Cdn Army of the Channel ports which have now become so essential, if the administrative problem is to be solved, i.e. Le Havre, Boulogne, Dunkirk, Calais and generally in that order of importance

  •       1 Brit Corps will attack and capture Le Havre on 10/11 Sep – unless unfavourable weather conditions entail a further delay. On completion of this important operation, 1 Brit Corps will re-organise and re-equip in the vicinity of Le Harve , pending an improvement in the administrative situation which will permit the movement of this formation to the Eastern sector of First Cdn Army area.

  •          2nd Cdn Corps has already been directed to proceed, without delay, to Capture Boulogne, Dunkirk and Calais, preferably in that order, but without prejudice to the earlier and easier capture of any one of them. If no weakness in the defences of these ports is discovered, and decisively exploited, in the course of operational reconnaissance - then a deliberate attack, with full fire support will require to be staged, in each case.

  •          In view of the necessity to give first priority to the capture of the Channel ports, mentioned above, the capture or destruction of the enemy remaining North and East of the Ghent-Bruges Canal becomes secondary in importance. While constant pressure and close contact with the enemy, now withdrawing North of R. Scheldt, will be maintained, important forces will not be committed to offensive action.

The task of capturing Le Havre was allotted to two infantry divisions of the 1 British Corps, namely the 49th (West Riding) Division and the 51st (Highland) Division with the support of 34 Tank Brigade and 33 Armoured Brigade respectively.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Do you have a photo of D Company 11th R.S.F. .

I was very pleased to see that my efforts to establish my Grandfather's wartime story along with details of this site have appeared within the pages of the December edition of The Polar Bear News. As mentioned in the article, I believe that my Grandfather served within D Company of 11th R.S.F. I would like to take this opportunity to ask whether any PBN members are in possession of photographs of the men of D Company. I have one somewhere, but frustratingly, it has become separated from my collection of original documents and photographs that I have. Sadly, this is the only group photograph that I have of him with the 11th R.S.F. Having recently seen a similar photograph taken that included Ken West, I believe the missing photograph was taken at the same time (the photo was taken in a clearing with woodland in the background) in Germany in July 1945.

Please email me if you believe you have a similar photograph.

Many thanks for your help.