Death of a Battalion

Discussion in 'History' started by sgtpepperband, Jun 17, 2008.

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  1. sgtpepperband

    sgtpepperband War Hero Moderator Book Reviewer

    I know it's not RN-related, but I found this recently and thought I would share it. While the liberal Left British media crow about British and US losses in Iraq and 'Ghanners', I just wanted to introduce a little of... perspective. This is in no way intended as a slur or criticism of our Forces currently engaged in those AOIs.

    We are all familar with stories of dramatic losses during WWI and WWII. However, during the campaign in North West Europe 1944-1945, units spent more time in action and suffered higher casualty rates than their counterparts did in the Great War. One example of the intensity of the fighting in the Normandy bridgehead is the fate of the 6th Battalion, Duke of Wellington's Rifles.

    Having fought a traumatic battle at Le Parc de Boislande they remained to plug a gap outside Fontenay-le-Pesnel, which the SS Div "Hitler Jugend" was attempting to force. After 14 days of continuous fighting, their replacement CO (his predecessor having been killed), submitted the following report:

    Report on the State of the 6th Bn DWR (49 Div) as on 30 Jun 44

    1. I arrived at 6 DWR on the evening of 26 June. From AM on 27 June until 30 June we have been in contact with the enemy and under moderate heavy mortar and shell fire.

    2. The following facts make it clear that this report makes no reflection on the state of 6 DWR when they left UK:
    a) In 14 days there have been some 23 officers & 350 OR casualties.
    b) Only 12 of the original officers remain & they are all junior. The CO & every rank above Cpl (except 2 Lts) in battalion HQ have gone, all company commanders have gone. One company has lost every officer, another has only one [officer] left.
    c) Since I took over I have lost two second-in-commands in successive days and a company commander on the third day.
    d) Majority of transport, all documents, records and a large amount of equipment were lost.

    3. State of Men
    a) 75% of men react adversely to enemy shelling & are 'jumpy'.
    b) 5 cases in 3 days of self-inflicted wounds - more possible cases.
    c) Each time men are killed or wounded a number of men become casualties through shell shock or hysteria.
    d) In addition to genuine hysteria a large number of men have left their positions after shelling on one pretext or another & gone to the rear until sent back by the MO or myself.
    e) The new drafts have been affected, & 3 young soldiers became casualties with hysteria after hearing our own guns.
    f) The situation has got worse each day as more key personnel have become casualties.

    4. Discipline & Leadership
    a) State of discipline is bad, although the men are a cheerful pleasant type normally.
    b) NCOs do not wear stripes & some officers have no badges of rank. This makes the situation impossible when 50% of the battalion do not know each other.
    c) NCO leadership is weak in most cases & newly drafted officers are in consequence havimg to expose themselves unduly to try & get anything done. It is difficult for the new officers (60%) to lead the men under fire as they do not know them.

    5. Conclusion
    a) 6 DWR is not to fit to take its place in the line.
    b) Even excluding the question of nerves and morale, 6 DWR will not be fit to go back into the line until it is remobilised, reorganised, and to an extent retrained. It is no longer a battalion but a collection of individuals. There is naturally no 'esprit de corps' for those who are frightened (as we all are to one degree or another) to fall back on. I have twice had to stand at the end of a track and draw my revolver on retreating men.

    6. Recommendation
    If it is not possible to withdraw the battalion to the base or UK to re-equip, reorganise & train, then it should be disbanded & split among other units.

    If essential that the battalion should return to the line, I request that I may be relieved of my command & I suggest that a CO with 2 to 3 years experience should relieve me & that he should bring his adjutant and a signals officer with him.

    Being a regular officer I realise the seriousness of this request & its effect on my career. On the other hand I have the lives of the new personnel (which is excellent) to consider. Three days running a major has been killed or seriously wounded because I have ordered them to in effect stop the men running during mortar concentrations. Unless withdrawn from the division I do not think I can get the battalion fit to fight normally & this waste of life would continue. My honest opinion is that if you continue to throw new officer & other rank replacements into 6 DWR as casualties occur, you are throwing good money after bad.

    I know my opinion is shared by two other commanding officers who know the full circumstances.

    A.J.D. Turner
    Lt.-Col. Commanding 6 DWR
    In the field, 30 June 1944

    Yes the world has changed but our enemy today is just as dangerous as our enemy of 60 years ago - we are fortunate that we haven't yet suffered the same losses as our parents/grandparents. And as for the battalion, it was pulled out of the line, remaining officers and men rested before it was disbanded.
  2. Guns

    Guns War Hero Moderator

    SPB. A good post that shows how the breakdown of experiance (and that is not just an age thing) and leadership leads to the failure of those needing to be led.

    I am reading a book called "On Killing" by Lt Col D Gossman that talks about this very issue. How a man comes to a state that he can no longer funcition if he looses the bonds of friendship around him. When he becomes an individual with no alligence to those around him.
  3. I real reminder of what some had to endure back then.
  4. Breakdown of experience ----the main body of Allied troops on the D-Day front were relatively 'inexperienced ' --conscripts unused to continuous shell and mortar bombardments . The opposing army was well equipped and with some very effective and possibly superior weaponry that had been tried and tested on various other 'fronts' in the western/eastern theatres.German NCO and Officers were good in the arts of attack and counter attack and superb at holding positions. They had been fighting and winning during the previous 4 years and were very highly motivated.

    Total war is far from the Iraq and Afghanistan type of war theatres ---
    the hit and run style warfare of ambush ,IED ,Suicide bombers .booby trapped villages etc etc.
    No you won't get massive casualties --however the troop losses will continue and mount up. Every casualty is a win for the ''Taliban'' ?? The cost of men and material is a continuing drain on finances for the nations
    involved. The mill stone of continuous re supply and very little gain.

    Vietnam ----failed -------Mesopotamia[Iraq ] failed -------Afghanistan on and off since the late 1890's that has involved British/Indian Russian and now the US /Nato /UN . ---same old grindstone .
    Obviously our political leaders missed out on History classes.

    :nemo: :nemo:
  5. Wikipedia has this on the fate of LtCol Turner:

    "On receipt of the report General Montomery instantly dismissed the new CO, disbanded the battalion and used it to provide drafts for the 1/7th battalion. It arrived back in Guilford on the 17 August 1944 having lost 19 Officers and 350 other ranks. It was replaced in the Line by the 1st Battalion, Leicestershire Regiment."

    Anyone got any idea what would have happened to him after being dismissed by Monty?
  6. Lt.Col Turner was clearly a "brave" man to forward his Report/Recommendation, as it meant the end of his military career.
    You can see he did care about the welfare of the Officers and men under his command.
  7. My Dad was transferred into the Royal Hampshire Regiment & landed with them on D-Day. The battalion had fought through North Africa, Sicily and landed in Italy before they were brought home to refit for the Normandy landings. He told me that there was a great feeling amongst the veterans that they were yet again to be thrown into the "Lion's Den", while other regiments had been sat at home training, and had seen no action. Of course, they did their duty - but not with as much gusto as perhaps was expected of them - by then, they'd had almost 3 years of constant action, and were understandably reluctant to risk themselves once more.
    Perhaps Monty, with his wish to have combat experienced troops in the vanguard, might take some of the blame for the caution some troops showed - the 50th(Tyne-Tees) and 51st (Highland) suffered horribly in the previous campaigns, yet Monty had no thought of this when he threw them in again, then he criticised them for not being more eager for the fight.
  8. Seaweed

    Seaweed War Hero Book Reviewer

    With this difference today - in 1944 all of us were in the front line in a sense, the entire country was at war and indeed just about to get a sharp reminder in the South in the shape of doodle-bugs.

    Today our people in Iraq and Afghanistan are fighting a vicious war but most at home don't relate to it at all, they are enjoying an entirely 'peacetime' existence. This is also becaue so few today have relatives embroiled in the actual conflict, whereas in 1944 everybody had family in uniform.

    Colonel Turner putting his men before his career showed a courage sadly lacking in our politicians and civil servants today.
  9. An excellent posting - thanks for sharing SPB. Many would do well to follow his example in putting the welfare and well-being of others before self!

    I'm curious though to know what happened to Turner afterwards. Dismissed by monty but out of the service? transferred to another unit? Does anyone know?

  10. Stand fast the duty watch
  11. Despite being sacked from his Battalion, Turner stayed in the regular Army:
    GSO I - 4/2/45-3/5/45
    Colonel, General Staff - 1/6/45-30/6/45
    Coloenel "Q" - 1/7/45-1/2/46
    Assistat Commandant & Chief Instructor - 2/4/46-31/12/46
    Deputy Adjutant General - 1/1/47-24/9/48
    Colonel A/Q, BAOR - 25/9/48-6/5/51
    Commander, 151 Infantry Bde (TA) - 12/5/51-24/3/54
    DAG, GHQ, MELF - 22/4/54-2/57.
    Awarded DSO for services in NW Europe 1/3/45.
    Died Accra, Ghana 8/10/59.
    Sorry about all the abbreviations, but I figured them out quite easily (Old Man was a pongo).
  12. witsend

    witsend War Hero Book Reviewer

    interesting post!!!
  13. witsend

    witsend War Hero Book Reviewer

    Isa had a quick google, stick any links you have, cheers.
  14. Seaweed

    Seaweed War Hero Book Reviewer

    Losses like 6DWR's were nothing unusual in WW1 - in 1916 Nelson Battalion of the Royal Naval Division (for instance) came out of the Somme with only a Lieutenant RNVR, a Sub Lieutenant, a surgeon, and one hundred ratings uninjured (one of the losses was Sub Lt Dyett RNVR shot for desertion). This from a battalion which in those days had a nominal rifle strength of a thousand (about twice what it is today). By January 1917 it was back in the line on the Ancre, of course with completely new officers including army ones. Of course by this time the troops were only nominally sailors (mostly Durham miners), the original RN reservists had been mostly finished off either in Belgiujm or the Dardanelles.

    By 1918 when the Germans attacked and pushed back Gough's Fifth Army Haig's army was running on conscripts sent straight up to the line only nine weeks after enlistment, with units so under strength that the four-battalion brigades had been reduced to three.

    (Another instance) In Burma in 1945 2RWF was down to two companies with only the CO a regular - the 2i/c was a pre-war TA and all the other officers were wartime entries.

    Just to put a scale on things.

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