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The Coleraine Battery - France and Belgium   

1939 - 1945


Introduction

The Early Years

The Move

Egypt

Western Desert

France and Belgium

Netherlands and Germany

Italy

Battery Administration

Battery Roll Call

Closing Notes

Home


Introduction  On June 6th 1944, three million personnel from the Allied Armies took part in the largest seaborne invasion in human history. In October 1945, five months after the war ended, demob started for the Battery.

 

 

 

 

 

6th Light Anti -Aircraft Battery June 1944

 

Ipswich  This Battery photograph was taken in Ipswich, where the 6th were part of and training along with the 113th  and the 149th  Batteries of  the 27th LAA Regiment RA (SR). They were all training for the invasion of Normandy as part of  the spearhead for 30 Corps. "We were part of the spearhead because our guns were Self Propelled (SP). The Bofors were mounted on a Morris chassis and this made our role more adaptable than the towed Bofors." Spanky McGowan (2004)

"While we were at Ipswich, we were billeted at Brooke Hall Camp in Orwell Park. This was a large private estate with a mansion house. The River Orwell flowed through this estate. Our unit used the outhouses of the mansion for the Battery Stores, HQ and cooking facilities. We were accommodated in Nissen huts close to the mansion. 

 

It was at this stage of the war we were issued with our berets for the first time. Until then we had worn the Glengarry. The badge on the beret was the flaming bomb, as worn on our lapels. We never got to wear the Royal Artillery badge on our berets. We were all Militia Volunteers. It was only regular Army personnel posted into the Battery that wore the RA badge in their beret. 

We were also issued with the shoulder flashes of the 30 Corps, the leaping Black Boar on a white background. Jim McCaw said, "Take my jacket down to the town and have one of the Welfare Women sew on the shoulder flashes for me". Willie Maxwell had a Biro pen, one of the first I ever saw in my life. It was a red Biro and he put a red tip on the boar's penis. Jim McCaw never saw the difference between his flashes and ours until someone said, "Jim, where did you get those flashes? We never got ones where the boar had a hard on". Robin Martin (2004)

The Battery Tac Sign and the Liberation Forces Star Combined

"The emblem of the Liberation Forces was the white star. All vehicles involved in the Normandy Landings had this stencilled on the side and top of the vehicles for easy recognition. The Battery added the shamrock to all their vehicles. There was one other innovation with the paint brush.  When we were preparing for the move to Europe, Ernie Piney painted a name on each gun. Some little old ladies took offence to the name of our gun, 'The Impatient Virgin' and Capt Pelham ordered us to obliterate it". Spanky McGowan (2004)

Drive Past of the new issue Self  Propelled Bofors (SP's) at Brook Hall Camp, Orwell Park, Ipswich 1944

 Maj. DJ Christie Officer Commanding  6 LAA Bty,  is the right hand officer.

This photo was found in The Long Commons car park , Coleraine in 2000. Where is the remainder of this set???

Normandy   With leave finished, the Battery became part of 5 AGRA (Army Group Royal Artillery) for D-Day.  An AGRA was a group of five or six Medium RA Regiments brought together for a specific task. The Battery was going over to Normandy on D Day + 10. This phase of the Battery commitment was carried on without relief until the war ended in Europe in May 1945

The Battery left Tilbury Docks, Southampton on board ss "John Souter" Doherty (1988) and headed for a spot between the secured Juno and Gold beachheads. The disembarkation took place at Le Hamel, east of Arramanches on the Normandy coast.   Here, the Battery relieved 113th Battery of the 27th LAA Regiment RA. 

"The weather at this time was terrible, always raining. We had not washed for over two weeks. One day the Battery was cammed up in the corner of an orchard. Ernie Piney and myself had a great shower. We stripped off to the pelt and then put our boots on. We ran round the orchard a couple of times. I can still feel the fresh rain hitting my skin after all this time.

"The Bofors Guns were used in a ground role all the way through France until we reached the Nijmegan bridge. As part of the ground role we were asked on occasions to provide indicating fire for the Typhoons with the Bofors gun. On these occasions we fired three rounds of tracer on a designated bearing." Spanky McGowan (2004)

 

Caen  "The advance to Caen was terrible to witness. The soldiers of The Highland Light Infantry were lying dead by the road for miles. During this advance the Battery were in AA Defence, spread out in a circle to cover key installations such as Airfields and Field Guns." Willie Norris (2004) After their initial tasking, the Battery advanced to Arromanches, Bayeux and Caen. 

Montgomery's strategy at Caen was misunderstood by the press, Eisenhower and the Germans. He did not plan for a quick victory. Quite the reverse, he was engaged in a protracted battle. Montgomery succeeded in drawing in all the German reserves to the Caen area. He wanted them to commit themselves to the defence of Caen. In doing so, the Germans had depleted their forces in the West. This allowed the American Army to capture and control the west coast ports of Cherborg and Cotentin.

At Caen part of the Battery, A and C Troop, took over four 110mm Howitzers from the Royal Marines. These guns were mounted on Centaur tanks and had drivers supplied by the Royal Armoured Corps. Doherty (1988).

"Bob Balmer called the tanks sardine tins. The Battery then went forward with the 51st Highland Division as a Counter Mortar Battery. A and C Troop carried out this role until July 30th 1944. This was our first introduction to Field Gunnery. We had to build up planks and run the sardine tins up the banking to get the elevation required. The bearings we had to fire on were already worked out in advance, all we had to do was man the guns." Spanky McGowan (2004)

"We were in visual contact with Caen during the Counter Mortar role. All the orders we ever got were, "No 1 gun one round fire!" "No 2 gun one round fire!". Whoever was in the observation post was doing a great job because all the guns were never needed to hit a single target. For a whole day we were picking off individual targets.

This was near the end of the war and the hedges were all over 4 meters high. During the German occupation no one was available or interested in keeping the hedgerows tidy." Robin Martin (2004)

SP Bofors in their Ground Role

Caen had been surrounded and attacked on three different occasions between June 7th and July 1st 1944. On July 7th it was surrounded again and Montgomery mounted another final attack. As well as the Land Artillery, this final assault involved over 500 heavy bombers and Royal Naval gun fire from HMS Rodney, HMS Belfast and HMS Roberts. Caen was in Allied hands by July 8th.  The fall of Caen allowed the Allied Armies to break out of the Normandy beachhead and start the advance towards Germany.

 It was at this stage of the war a major reorganisation of all Allied AA units took place. The Allies had gained air supremacy in Europe, so there was a reduced  requirement for Royal Artillery AA Units.

"I stayed with the Battery until Caen fell on the 8/9 July 1944. The Royal Artillery AA Batteries were reorganised in that they lost over 30 men each to infantry regiments. After the bombing raid that finished Caen we were all in the troop HQ for breakfast. I heard a dull thud and saw steam coming out of the banking behind me. It was a 3" AP shell steaming in the wet ground. I left it there and finished my breakfast.  After the meal I was detailed along with some other gunners to leave the battery for good.

Normandy was bursting at the seams. The troops were all moving inland and we had trouble getting onto the Mulberry Harbour to return us to England." Robin Martin (2004)

"The Germans were on the run and what a welcome we got from the men, women and children. They all stood by the roadside throwing apples into our vehicles. You see it was the apple harvest time. We had a splendid air force that took a lot of work off our hands. The Germans were thoroughly beaten. We met crowds of them walking along the road with their hands up."  Sam Nevin (2004)

Mount Pincon  "This was in France, near Normandy. We were stuck there and the heavy artillery and Typhoons blasted the area until we were able to move forward." Anon (2004)

The Falaise Gap  After Normandy and Caen, the Battery was off again, covering The Falaise Gap. Montgomery repeated the strategy of the protracted operation. The British 2nd Army fought their way out of Caen and attacked the German defences to the north of Falaise. Again the Germans committed their reserves to the defence of Falaise. This allowed the American Army to break out from the west and capture Brittany. Montgomery then tasked them to close in on the south east of the Falaise Pocket in order to trap the German army. This manoeuvre was not completed in time due to the unexplained intervention of Eisenhower. He was responsible for ordering Bradley to halt just before completion of the manoeuvre. By the time this order was reversed over 40,000 German troops were allowed to escape and retreat towards Germany. The Germans caught in the Falaise Pocket were decimated by the Allied Forces.

"When we broke out of the bridgehead at Normandy, we were surrounded by slaughter.  Driving out through to get to Falaise you were driving over everything. The bodies of men women, children, German soldiers, Friesian cows, dogs and farm horses, it was out of this world. That was a different thing to, just like Belsen. You could not grieve, we just had to break out, making for the Gap and keep going. We were sitting there, surrounded by death. Going down through the Falaise Gap.....it was slaughter. Our Typhoons had four rockets with sixty pound warheads and they took out everything in front of us. The roads and fields were just filled with dead bodies.

Somehow or other I remember sitting in the SP  with Markus Wilton driving. Now, Marcus was a sensitive soul from Portstewart. He wrote home to his wife Jean every day. He always got a letter from her at every mail drop. When we hit a bump in the road I said to Marcus, "F*** me Marcus, you just went over that Germans head". Marcus nearly lost control of the SP. But, you could not miss running over bodies, the road was blocked solid." anon (2004)

After the Falaise Gap, the Battery moved on to Argentan, Albert Canal, Champoi, Brussels and Louvaine. During this stage of the advance some personnel took over Recce Cars and operated with the Princess Irene Brigade. At this time the SP Troops  were getting in and out of all sorts of trouble at Cross Roads and Canal Crossings.

Belgium  

Tournay near Brussels. A French couple engaged to be married.

Louvaine


Introduction

The Early Years

The Move

Egypt

Western Desert

France and Belgium

Netherlands and Germany

Italy

Battery Administration

Battery Roll Call

Closing Notes

Home