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.

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

The Assault On Le Havre 10th - 12th September 1944

The new zero hour for the commencement of Operation Astonia was 1745 hours on the evening of the 10th September. In the days prior to the 10th, men of the 49th and 51st Divisions concentrated on the approaches to the port and engaged in exercises of street fighting and house clearing. The ammunition brought up contained a high proportion of grenades and sten gun magazines in anticipation of the close quarters combat of the coming days.

The attack plans were described in detail and at all operational levels from Corps to Battalion and all ranks. The level of planning and coordination was highly impressive and was to pay dividends in the operation. Preparation was enhanced over the 4th and 5th September when both British patrols and members of the French Forces of the Interior (FFI) brought in intelligence from within the fortress that described particular strong-points as well as the deployment of German units within and around the many defensive positions.

German defences in the port area

In broad terms, the 49th Division were positioned on the left flank poised to advance from the north east and south east of the port. 49th Division, supported by the 34th Tank Brigade, were to capture the northern plateau situated to the west of the Lézarde river and to the south west of Montivilliers then secure a bridgehead on the southern plateau. In this first phase, the 51st Highlanders would advance from the north with the support of 33rd Armoured Brigade to secure a base further to the west on the northern edge of the Forét-de-Montgeon. Later the 51st were to subdue the defensive positions around Octeville-sur-Mer, thereby gaining control of the northern outskirts of Le Havre, whilst the 49th Division were to capture the southern plateau.

In the closing phase of the operation, both Divisions were to exploit opportunities to overcome remaining resistance and push into the centre of the town from the north (51st Division) and from the east (49th Division).

The bad weather turned the ground over which the advance was to take place into a morass. Approaches to the port were also heavily mined, so the initial assault was assisted by a number of adapted armoured vehicles, collectively referred to 'Hobart's funnies'.

No comments:

Post a Comment