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.

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Operation Astonia - The Opposing Forces

The Attackers

As mentioned previously, the task of capturing Le Havre was designated to the 51st (Highland) Division and the 49th (West Riding) Division of First British Corps of the First Canadian Army.

49th (West Riding) Division

The 49th (West Riding) Division were positioned on the left flank of the assault. The Division are described in detail across this site.

51st (Highland) Division

The 51st (Highland) Division formed the right flank of the assault attacking from the North.

The Division formed part of the British Expeditionary Force (B.E.F.) but on 20th April 1940 it was detached from the Force and command was transferred to the French Third Army. After the encirclement of the B.E.F. at Dunkirk, the Division, now under command of the French Tenth Army, took up a position on the River Somme. After fierce fighting in early June 1940, the 152nd and 153rd Brigades were forced to surrender at Saint-Valéry-en-Caux with the capture of some 10,000 troops.

In August 1940, the 9th (Highland) Infantry Division, the second line Territorial duplicate of the 51st took on their name and the Division was once again posted overseas in June 1942 when it participated in the Second Battle of El-Alamein and the invasion of Sicily.

The Division landed in Normandy on D-Day + 1 as part of 1st British Corps and saw significant action in the campaign, although it would seem that Montgomery was not impressed with their performance at this time. On 1st August 1944, 1st British Corps was incorporated into the 1st Canadian Army, as part of which the 51st engaged in Operation Totalise prior to the crossing of the Seine. With a score to settle, the Division proceeded to and liberated Saint-Valéry-en-Caux, scene of their humiliation some four years previously. This achieved, the Division doubled back in readiness to take the port of Le Havre.

The Defenders

The garrison of Le Havre was estimated to be between 7,350 and 8.700 men. Of these 4,500 were infantry, according to information gleaned from post-war interrogations. Being a port, naturally many of the troops, an estimated 1,300, belonged to the German Navy and as such were untrained in the combat techniques required for effective fighting on land. Many of the soldiers belonged to artillery and anti-aircraft batteries and also therefore ill-prepared to repel a determined and well-supported infantry assault. Moreover, many of the garrison forces were injured or of questionable fighting value for the defence of the city.

226 Infantrie-Division

Formed on 26th June in the 27th formation wave, this Wehrmacht Division was active in the line until the point of surrender in May 1945.

245 Infantrie-Division

Formed in Routen, France in September 1943, the Division were again active in the line until May 1945.

5th Security Regiment (Sicherungs Regiment) 

A fighting unit within the 325th Security Division (Sicherungs Division).

The 325th Security Division was created in May 1943 for the purpose of the defence of Paris. Most of the troops of the 325th left Paris before the liberation and the men were dispersed among other formations that had been decimated in Normandy, They, including men of the 5th Security Regiment, continued to fight as the Allies liberated towns and cities across North West Europe, but the troops were generally considered to be of poor combat quality.

36th Grenadier Division

A Wehrmacht formation originally formed as the 36th Infantrie Division on 1st October 1936 and mobilised in August 1939.

The Division participated in Operation Barbarossa as a part of XXXXI Panzer Corps. Originally a motorised division, it was demotorised in May 1943 and in the same month saw action in the Battle of Kursk. 

Effectively wiped out in the Russian summer offensive of 1944 at Bobruysk in Belarus, some survivors managed to make their way back to Germany where they formed the seed of the newly created 36th Grenadier Division on 3rd August. This formation was sent to North West Europe to attempt to slow the Allies Eastward advance.

No comments:

Post a Comment