Criticism of British Infantry during Op Epsom

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Sheldrake
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Re: Criticism of British Infantry during Op Epsom

Post by Sheldrake » 13 Dec 2020 17:56

Pips wrote:
13 Dec 2020 09:59
Very informative comments. Did the British make use of reverse slope defensive positions during the campaign in France in 1940? (1)

If so was the Germans tactic of attack similar to that used by the British in '44? As in did the Germans already have such tactics in there bag of tricks in 1940? Or did they perhaps develop them in Russia? (2)

Regarding Combined Arms, did the Germans already have such tactics practised and in use at the start of WWII? If so was their allocation of tank/infantry units a mishmach like that of the British. Or more a dedicated tank unit allocated to a division on a permanent basis? (3)
1. The British rarely had the opportunity to occupy reverse slope positions in 1940. Flanders is pretty flat. The defence against German armour was based on river lines and other water obstacles - which usually means that the defender needs to be on a forward slope in order to cover them with fire. One of the biggest battles was for the hilltop town of Cassel.

2. The Germans lacked the artillery ammunition and did not practice the creeping barrage - very much a British tactic. The trick that the British learned was that in order to be effective the infantry had to be close enough to their own barrage to lose about 3% to their own fire. That was never in the tactics manuals, but a nasty moral dilemma infantry commanders discovered and referred to by euphemisms such as "leaning into the barrage".

3. This is a big topic. The Germans had a consistent doctrine across all arms. They also trained their officers and NCOs to develop solutions quickly and consistently. British observers rather sneered at the German officers in wargames and on manouvres coming up with the same solutions. The British thought it showed a teutonic lack of imagination. What it meant in practice was that German lower level commanders had a good idea what their neighbours would be doing and what their boss wanted to happen. This was a huge help when regrouping. By contrast the British more imaginative solutions had the capacity to surprise friends as well as the enemy.

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Re: Criticism of British Infantry during Op Epsom

Post by Carl Schwamberger » 15 Dec 2020 09:02

Tom from Cornwall wrote:
20 Mar 2020 20:15
Duncan_M wrote:
20 Mar 2020 19:58
I'm not trying to start a pissing match but I did read that British didn't use combined arms tank-infantry below the division level until Normandy. Is there truth to this? Did British infantry sections work with individual tanks they were teamed with?
Hi Duncan,

No truth at all. There was a considerable amount of pre-Normandy tank-infantry training between, for example, 15 (S) Division and the Guards Tank Brigade. Unfortunately, through no fault of their own these formations did not fight together until Op BLUECOAT at end of Jul. Prior to Op EPSOM infantry and tank commanders did get together, but time was limited due to late arrival in Normandy due to the Storm.

The history of the 2nd Argylls has much to say about their relationship with 3rd Scots Guards, for example, the former an inf bn, the latter an infantry tank regiment equipped with Churchills.

Regards

Tom
This reminds me of a quote from some desert war history I read decades ago. The individual was I recall a junior tank officer, Captain or Lt. His remark amounted to: Why are we doing all this racing about? theres no coordination and nothing is done combined as we trained in England?

It tough hanging a theory or guess on a aging bit of remembered text. Does this remark make sense to anyone in this context. Or perhaps recognize it in the original?

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Re: Criticism of British Infantry during Op Epsom

Post by Richard Sands » 16 Dec 2020 09:46

Re, Combined arms co-operation; From 5th Battalion Queens Own Cameron Highlanders war diary dated September 17th 1942; " 0830 hrs. 5 Officers and 100 other ranks, visited 'C' squadron of 46 Royal Tank Regiment. They spent the whole morning with the squadron learning a good deal about the Valentine Tank and the Co-operation between Tanks and Infantry".

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Re: Criticism of British Infantry during Op Epsom

Post by Tom from Cornwall » 17 Dec 2020 20:27

Richard Sands wrote:
16 Dec 2020 09:46
Re, Combined arms co-operation
Richard,

Thanks. I think I've seen evidence of Australian troops training with Valentine units around the same time in preparation for Alamein. Today I came across this snip in the war diary of 167 Inf Bde for early Jan 43 (WO169/8966):

WO169-8966- Jan 43 - Tk demonstration.JPG
I doubt whether they ever saw that tank unit again though.

Regards

Tom
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Re: Criticism of British Infantry during Op Epsom

Post by Tom from Cornwall » 09 Jan 2021 17:27

Williamson Murray also picked up the anecdote in the OP from Max Hastings' 'Overlord' as part of his criticism of British army tactics in 'Military Effectiveness Volume 3 (p.127, 2nd edition):
Moreover, preparations as far as teaching individuals what to expect from enemy defenses seem also to have been lacking. The Royal Scots Fusiliers found it most disconcerting to come over the top of hills to discover 'the Germans dug in on the reverse slope, 'something we had never envisaged'' [Hastings, 'Overlord', p.141]. This is an extraordinary admission, because the siting of reverse slope positions had been a basic principle of German defensive tactics since 1917.
As we've seen, the anecdote was not from the 6th RSF but from an officer of the reverse battalion that day, the 6th KOSB. And as we've also seen, there is plenty of evidence that shows British army units training to attack reverse slope positions, orders for them to take up reverse slope positions and also operational orders in support of actual attacks on reverse slope positions.

Looking at the ground over which the 6 RSF advanced [Battlezone Normandy: Operation Epsom, Lloyd Clark, p.134-135] I'm not even sure the Germans were actually in reverse slope positions, rather dug in around the village of St. Manvieu-Norrey.

Regards

Tom

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Re: Criticism of British Infantry during Op Epsom

Post by Richard Anderson » 09 Jan 2021 17:34

Tom from Cornwall wrote:
09 Jan 2021 17:27
Williamson Murray also picked up the anecdote in the OP from Max Hastings' 'Overlord' as part of his criticism of British army tactics in 'Military Effectiveness Volume 3 (p.127, 2nd edition):
The problem with Murray and Millett is that when they stray away from "hard" OR data and try to be historians they are simply not very good at it. They exhibit the academics penchant for the "Comfy Chair Syndrome" (the best source is one that one can pluck from the bookshelf without leaving the confines of ones comfy chair). They also "reference" Belton Cooper for "evidence" the T26E3 should have been available in quantity on D-Day, in A War to be Won, amid a rash of other errors.
"Is all this pretentious pseudo intellectual citing of sources REALLY necessary? It gets in the way of a good, spirited debate, destroys the cadence." POD, 6 October 2018

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Re: Criticism of British Infantry during Op Epsom

Post by Sid Guttridge » 09 Jan 2021 18:01

Hi Guys,

Are we differentiating between infantry organic to the armoured divisions and infantry in the infantry division?

I doubt if the infantry in most infantry divisions in most armies had much practice operating with armour and they certainly couldn't expect to see most of the armoured units they might train with again.

Two things occur to me.

The British had a number independent armoured brigades without much organic infantry attached to them. Was this a good idea? This implies it may have been less that British infantry didn't train enough with tanks, than that British tanks didn't train enough with infantry due to this querk in British organization.

The British would be particularly at fault in this area if the infantry organic to their armoured divisions didn't train enough with their divisional armour. Is there any evidence of this?

Cheers,

Sid.

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Re: Criticism of British Infantry during Op Epsom

Post by Michael Kenny » 09 Jan 2021 18:26

Tom from Cornwall wrote:
09 Jan 2021 17:27


Looking at the ground over which the 6 RSF advanced [Battlezone Normandy: Operation Epsom, Lloyd Clark, p.134-135] I'm not even sure the Germans were actually in reverse slope positions, rather dug in around the village of St. Manvieu-Norrey.
They were attacking across the Odon valley. The British were attacking 'downhill' until Hill 112.

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Re: Criticism of British Infantry during Op Epsom

Post by Sheldrake » 09 Jan 2021 18:47

Michael Kenny wrote:
09 Jan 2021 18:26
Tom from Cornwall wrote:
09 Jan 2021 17:27


Looking at the ground over which the 6 RSF advanced [Battlezone Normandy: Operation Epsom, Lloyd Clark, p.134-135] I'm not even sure the Germans were actually in reverse slope positions, rather dug in around the village of St. Manvieu-Norrey.
They were attacking across the Odon valley. The British were attacking 'downhill' until Hill 112.
Michael,

You are right that the Odon valley bottom is the lowest point - but only if you use a small map and wave a large hand over it. ;)
This layered contour map from the OH shows the advance over a series of ridges.
Odon Battlefield OH LR.jpg
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Re: Criticism of British Infantry during Op Epsom

Post by Tom from Cornwall » 09 Jan 2021 19:00

Sheldrake wrote:
09 Jan 2021 18:47
This layered contour map from the OH shows the advance over a series of ridges.
Thanks, nice map.

The advance in question, though, is from Norrey to St Manvieu by 6th RSF on the first day - 26 June 1944. In Lloyd Clark's book there is another useful photo on p.129 from the south of St Manviey and looking north to Norrey.

Regards

Tom

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Re: Criticism of British Infantry during Op Epsom

Post by Michael Kenny » 09 Jan 2021 19:42

This shows how the land falls away to the Odon.
First the contours of the attack on St Manvieu Norrey from Norrey en Bessin
frtrty.jpg
.

,


The attack on Fontenay
Screenshot_705a.png

From Fontenay down and through Rauray to Grainville
Screenshot_710.jpg

From Grainville to Hill 112
Screenshot_711.jpg

Not many opportunities for reverse slope defence.
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Re: Criticism of British Infantry during Op Epsom

Post by Michael Kenny » 09 Jan 2021 19:51

There is this clear view of the ground from Norrey en Bessin to St Manvieu Norrey taken June 7th

P-0049 June 7th Norrey en Bessin bc.jpg
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Re: Criticism of British Infantry during Op Epsom

Post by Tom from Cornwall » 09 Jan 2021 20:39

And some more from British army records which demonstrates awareness of the importance of reverse slope positions. This time from Italy and a 64th Field Regiment RA war diary appendix dated 26 Sep 43 (during the attack towards Naples from the Salerno area) (WO169/9488):
Appendix J.2

Subject: O.Ps.

To: Dist A.

All OPs must do their utmost to locate enemy mortars and engage with Regimental and if necessary Divisional fire. Even suspected areas should be given a good stonking. Every possible effort will be made to locate and harass enemy mortars and likely places for infantry concentrations on rear slopes of hills. Each O.P. in position will engage at least one “M” target during the day and if possible an “U” target.
I'm sure Sheldrake would agree with the sentiment behind giving them "a good stonking"! :D

Regards

Tom

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Re: Criticism of British Infantry during Op Epsom

Post by Tom from Cornwall » 17 Nov 2021 18:48

In another demonstration that Max Hastings and Russell Hart were well wide of the mark in accusing the British army of not understanding Reverse Slope tactics I came across this citation for the award of a Military Cross to Captain Duffy of the 16th Bn DLI of 46th Division at Salerno:
Capt. Duffy - MC Citation - 16 DLI - reverse slope.JPG
I'll have a look in the war diaries and see if I can identify which formation those prisoners came from.

Regards

Tom
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Re: Criticism of British Infantry during Op Epsom

Post by Tom from Cornwall » 19 Nov 2021 20:49

According to the war diary of 16 DLI, the German unit was "a Coy of P.G.R's 16 Pz Div".

Regards

Tom

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