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

The Defences of Le Havre

The essential, commercial port of Le Havre was well defended by the forces of nature as well as by the combination of the firepower of Krupp factories and the concrete of the Todt Organisation. The port is protected by water on three sides, the sea to the West, the flooded valley of the Lezarde river to the East and the estuary of the Seine to the South. These natural defences were supplemented by a system of bunkers and strong points that fairly bristled with machine guns and anti-tank weaponry. The only possible approach for a landward assault i.e. from the North would be severely hampered by defencive positions located on the high ground of Octeville-sur-Mer and on two plateaus to the North East of the port area. The Northern approaches were also protected by an anti-tank ditch some twenty foot wide by ten foot deep. Further into the centre of the town, were located many artillery positions (albeit largely with their guns trained out to sea), nevertheless, the Forts of Ste Adresse and Saniv combined with pill boxes, bunkers, wire and roadblocks to form a formidable interlocking system of defences that protected the port area from land approaches.

Two German strong-points on the Northern plateau faced by the men and arms of 56th Infantry Brigade

Nevertheless, despite such formidable defences, the fighting ability of a high proportion of the available troops was in doubt, through injury or a lack of experience in combat. Post war interrogation transcripts reveal such concerns:

'Battle-experienced men on leave from the Eastern front, hastily banded together into two battalions, had not yet shaken-down into a smooth-working team. The men of 81 Fortress Unit and two battalions of 5 Sicherungs Regiment (Protective Regiment) were infirm and of small fighting value. The fortress commander having considered the quality of his troops and the facilities for defence, had reported to the Commander of Fifteenth Army, so he alleged later, that the fortress could be held against an assault for 24 hours in unfavourable circumstances, or 72 hours if circumstances favoured the defence'

1 comment:

  1. It boggles the mind, don't it? The things they asked of men in the generations before us. I don't think any of us would have left home these days. Here in Amerika it's like the German people lost the war but the Nazis won. Her Trumpf indeed. Love this blog. Infinitely interesting. Fascinating. Keep it up!