British snipers at Dunkirk

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Musashi
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British snipers at Dunkirk

Post by Musashi » 04 Sep 2009 23:13

I've just read a Polish article about snipers during WWII. According to the article the evacuation of Dunkirk was possible mainly thanks to outstanding performace of the British snipers, who significiantly delayed German advance. After the battle the Germans started training more and more snipers and their role in the Wehrmacht increased.

Thanks for any comments.

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Re: British snipers at Dunkirk

Post by Stephan » 05 Sep 2009 12:28

A heavy british using of good sharp-shooters would be well known and videly used. Boosted as it was by this striking success.

Ergo: If story correct, they were probably not organized snipers. But "merely" some group of individuals, brave men and good shooters. Perhaps seasoned hunters or sports-shooters privately.
These volunteered /were assigned by some thinking officer to be part of the back-guard...

The standard weapon, the LeeEnfield(?), was good enough a rifle to be used for sharp-shooter usage.

This is what I think.

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David Lehmann
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Re: British snipers at Dunkirk

Post by David Lehmann » 06 Sep 2009 20:19

Hello,

If you enable I have only a more general comment, it has more to do with the word "the evacuation of Dunkirk was possible mainly" ... IMHO the British sources in general often forget the French troops on the ground.

On May 25, Lord Gort decided unilaterally to retreat all the British troops to Dunkirk. The British evacuation begins on May 27. On May 30 the British troops are still playing a significant role in the defense of the pocket (mainly on the eastern part, with the French 12e DIM). This role will nonetheless very quickly decrease each day, the troops having been ordered that their main goal is to retreat and evacuate*. Beginning June 1940, about 30,000-40,000 French troops constitute the very last barrier covering the evacuation of the BEF against roughly 130,000 German troops.
Until the 1st of June there are still very small British elements really defending the perimeter. If I am not wrong, the last elements are companies/squadrons from the Fife and Forfarshire Yeomanry, the Welsh Guards and more north the Lancashire Fusiliers. Are the snipers/sharpshooters in the mentioned article from these units?
I don't know specifically about British snipers in this battle. They may indeed have played a very important role; at least in the area defended by the British. Since most of the ground was defended by French troops I would doubt that these snipers played as said the "main" role in enabling the whole evacuation. In June the pocket will only be defended by French troops (in short 12e DIM, 68e DI, SFF … but there are remnants from many divisions involved). The success of the evacuation in the air and on the sea is widely due to British means. The RAF played a major role.
On the ground, from my point of view I see several points. The battle of Lille, where French troops were trapped played an important role by fixing German divisions that could have been directed towards the Dunkirk pocket. On the ground in the pocket itself, and especially for the last 4-5 days, I think that the main reason for the resistance was really the French Army (about 2,000 KIA and 5,000 WIA during this battle according to Robert Béthegnies who wrote several books including "La défense de Dunkerque" – with many detailed maps). Several small local counter-attacks were launched near Basse Colme and Téteghem on June 2 and 3. The counter-attacks involved several infantry battalions (reduced) and reconnaissance groups like 18e GRCA, 7e GRDI, 92e GRDI … also very reduced by previous combats like all the units. These attacks were supported by the tanks from group Marchal (remnants from the cavalry corps, including 21 Somua S35 and 18 Hotchkiss tanks). For me these tanks and several still operational armoured cars played an important role in resisting to the German advance. Many times their intervention even in small numbers of 1-5 tanks allowed defeating German attacks.

--------------------

* On May 31, there are still about 20,000 British troops in the pocket:, elements from the 1st, 5th and 42nd divisions (forming the 1st Corps). General Alexander is in command and has to act under command of Amiral Abrial to help the French defending Dunkirk. But the priority of the British HQ is to evacuate as fast and as much as possible. This 1st CAW is issued to the eastern area according to Lord Gort and to General Fagalde.
General Alexander and his staff officer are called at 15:30 on May 31 in the HQ at Bastion 32 to discuss the deployment of the 3 divisions. They meet Amiral Abrial, General Fagalde, General Altmayer, Amiral Leclerc, Capitaine de Frégate de Lapérouse, Commandant Lehr and other officers. The goal is to coordinate French and British troops. Here is a report of the meeting according to the book by Béthegnies:

Amiral Abrial:
"Lord Got sent me a letter indicating that he leaves 3 British divisions behind to cooperate with the French in the defense of the Dunkirk pocket, to enable British and French boarding. These divisions are placed under General Alexander, depending then from the commander of XVIe CA."

General Alexander:
"Yes" (evasive answer)

General Fagalde:
"I ask General Alexander to direct these divisions on following areas: 1 division around Bray-Dunes to support the French 12e DIM, 1 division around Uxem, 1 division east of Bergues on the Basse-Colme canal."

General Alexander:
"My divisions, according to their fatigue status, will not be able to defend the front you impose them. They are reduced in armament due to previous battles. By the way Lord Gort did not order me to defend the pocket with the French troops but to retreat as soon as the British troops embark."

Amiral Abrial:
"I am not aware of the verbal orders that you received from Lord Got. I know only the written document that he sent me and that we will read together to see if we are in agreement."

General Fagalde:
Reading Lord Gort's letter in English and translating in French as well.

General Alexander:
Taking as witness his staff officer
"I did not receive orders by Lord Gort to cooperate with French troops to maintain the integrity of the pocket, but Lord Gort ordered me to save as much as possible from the British Army and to retreat to the ships."

General Fagalde:
"Then you admit that the French Army alone covers the boarding of the British Army, while the British Army will bring no help to the French Army for its own retreat?"

General Alexander:
"I would like to cooperate with you, but I warn you that my troops will retreat this night at midnight, according to the orders received from Lord Gort."

Amiral Abrial:
"If you retreat at midnight, the French will not have started their boarding."

General Alexander:
"I regret but I will retreat at midnight. By the way the Germans are at the doors of Dunkirk and those who will not leave this nigh will be lost. Everything that could have been saved has been saved"

Capitaine de Frégate de Lapérouse:
"No my General, honor remains to be saved"

General Alexander:
Long silence …

General Altmayer:
"I think I have to insist on this notion of honor. We fight to save everything that can be saved, British or French, but we cannot leave this place without having the feeling that we have accomplished all our duty. This time is not yet arrived. We can achieve more if the British would like to support us"

[personal note: in present situation the goal of the British is to evacuate as quickly as possible and I think the French would gain more from a longer resistance, giving more time to the French troops south to reorganize before Fall Rot].

General Alexander:
"I have been ordered to board at midnight"

General Altmayer:
"But my General, we have a mission that was given to us by Amiral Abrial and General Fagalde. This mission is confirmed by the letter of Lord Gort. The mission is to defend the Dunkirk pocket with all French troops and 3 British divisions. We have to fulfil this mission."

General Alexander:
"I did not receive these orders from Lord Gort"

Amiral Abrial:
"In summary, the letter that I received from Lord Gort, the single document that has value to my eyes, is in contradiction with the verbal orders that you received. To check this I propose that we meet with Lord Gort. It is 16:30 and he told me that he will not leave before 19:00."

General Alexander:
"That would be useless; Lord Gort left at 16:00"

… silence …

Amiral Abrial:
"Since there is no way to count on the British cooperation, the mission will be fulfilled by French troops alone. Our mission is to fight to death to save all possible men that can evacuate the pocket by sea."

--------------------

Robert Béthegnies wrote also a letter around 1950 to Winston Churchill about volume II of his memories and the chapter about Dunkirk, where W. Churchill praises the RN and the RAF but seems to forget that on the ground the main weight of the German pressure was applied against the French troops defending the perimeter. Béthegnies indicates that the map at page 114 is wrong and explains that the meeting on May 31 is rather significant. He regrets that W. Churchill made such an omission.

Best regards,

David

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Musashi
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Re: British snipers at Dunkirk

Post by Musashi » 19 Sep 2009 02:12

Hi, David!
Thank you for your informative post.
The article, that I've read was not about British troops at Dunkirk, it was about snipers. There were just about 3 sentences dedicated to the British snipers/sharpshooters during the battle of Dunkirk, where they proved to be extremely effective. I found it interesting and I wanted to know more details about it.
Now I learned more about the French involvement in that battle. I knew the French resistance was very important but I did not know many details, you have provided.

If you have any more documents about the French troops during the WWII please mail me as I found the ones that you sent me a few years ago very interesting.

Best regards,
Krzysiek

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Re: British snipers at Dunkirk

Post by phylo_roadking » 19 Sep 2009 13:06

Krzysiek, looking back at the various British-oriented histories of Dunkirk I have in my possession - Sebag-Montefiore, Harman etc. - what I DON'T see is an instituted snipers' organisation or role :wink: What I DO however see is many occasions during the whole campaign where British riflemen did manage to hold positions for some time (certainly longer than expected)...but mainly because they didn't have anything heavier at the time! :lol:

But the Polish view that this was down to the superiority of British snipers....as opposed to riflemen doing what divisional arty/tanks should have been doing!...is definitely "making a virtue out of a necessity" as the saying goes! :D

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Re: British snipers at Dunkirk

Post by Tom from Cornwall » 24 Sep 2009 17:38

When Montgomery resumed command of the 3rd British Division in the UK after Dunkirk one of the first things he did was to issue a "Lessons Learned" memorandum. In it he comments on the excellent manner in which the Germans responded to meeting opposition by infiltration and especially by their hightly effective sniping organisation. It seems that he laid great emphasis on responding to this challenge during subsequent training. (information from "The Making of a General" by Nigel Hamilton.

Regards

Tom

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Re: British snipers at Dunkirk

Post by The_Enigma » 30 Sep 2009 01:13

I remember an account i read a number of years back, i believe it was from 'the miracle of dunkirk', where the author made a big deal of an infantryman who was made his squad/platoons sniper/marksmen and spent the retreat wandering back and forth through the frontline taking potshots at Germans.

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Re: British snipers at Dunkirk

Post by morrisc8GS » 06 Aug 2019 19:21

Just bought these two photos and on the back in german it says, 26 German Graves Dunkirk France 1940 Soldiers shot by sniper, i wonder is anyone knows anything about this.
Keith
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Sheldrake
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Re: British snipers at Dunkirk

Post by Sheldrake » 06 Aug 2019 19:35

This may be a garbled version of the story of Marcus Ervine-Andrews VC.

His men were short of ammunition so Ervine Andrews a crack shot fired the rounds. He thought that the sight of men dropping as casualties would have impact on the Germans than the sound of near misses from a heavier weight of fire.

His citation

War Office, 30th July, 1940.

His Majesty The KING has been pleased to approve of the award of the Victoria Cross to the undermentioned: —

Lieutenant (acting Captain) (now Captain) Harald Marcus ERVINE-ANDREWS, The East Lancashire Regiment.

For most conspicuous gallantry on active service on the night of the 31st May/1st June, 1940. Captain Ervine-Andrews took over about a thousand yards of the defences in front of Dunkirk, his line extending along the Canal de Bergues, and the enemy attacked at dawn. For over ten hours, notwithstanding intense artillery, mortar, and machine-gun fire, and in the face of vastly superior enemy forces, Captain Ervine-Andrews and his company held their position.

The enemy, however, succeeded in crossing the canal on both flanks; and, owing to superior enemy forces, a company of Captain Ervine-Andrews' own battalion, which was dispatched to protect his flanks, was unable to gain contact with him. There being danger of one of his platoons being driven in, he called for volunteers to fill the gap, and then, going forward, climbed onto the top of a straw-roofed barn, from which he engaged the enemy with rifle and light automatic fire, though, at the time, the enemy were sending mortar-bombs and armour-piercing bullets through the roof.

Captain Ervine-Andrews personally accounted for seventeen of the enemy with his rifle, and for many more with a Bren gun. Later, when the house which he held had been shattered by enemy fire and set alight, and all his ammunition had been expended, he sent back his wounded in the remaining carrier. Captain Ervine-Andrews then collected the remaining eight men of his company from this forward position, and, when almost completely surrounded, led them back to the cover afforded by the company in the rear, swimming or wading up to the chin in water for over a mile; having brought all that remained of his company safely back, he once again took up position.

Throughout this action, Captain Ervine-Andrews displayed courage, tenacity, and devotion to duty, worthy of the highest traditions of the British Army, and his magnificent example imbued his own troops with the dauntless fighting spirit which he himself displayed.

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Re: British snipers at Dunkirk

Post by aghart » 11 Aug 2019 15:32

British Infantry in the past spent a lot of time on the rifle ranges. I would suggest that the "sharpshooters" at Dunkirk were not dedicated and trained snipers but ordinary British Infantrymen,who were likely to be pre war regular soldiers or trained reservists and were simply good at what they did due to the amount of time they had spent on the rifle ranges before the war.

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