Tag Archives: battle of france

70 years ago: the evacuation begins

By the end of May 1940 the evacuation from Dunkirk was well underway. While men were being plucked from the beaches, the rearguard were fighting to hold the Germans back to allow as many men to escape as possible.

Rifleman George Clements was killed on 28 May 1940. Aged 33 and Portsmouth, he was serving with the Rifle Brigade. He has no known grave, and is remembered on the Dunkirk Memorial. The only Rifle Brigade unit to serve in France in 1940 was the 1st Battalion, who were part of the 30th Infantry Brigade, of the 1st Armoured Division.

Gunner Ralph Cairns was killed on 29 May 1940. Aged 25 and from Buckland, he was serving with 1 Medium Regiment of the Royal Artillery. He has no known grave and is remembered on the Dunkirk Memorial. His service number indicates that he had originally joined the Northumberland Fusiliers. 1 Medium Regiment were a Corps Artillery unit of Brooke’s II Corps.

Lieutenant Harold Asser was killed on 29 May 1940. From North End, he was serving with 4 Field Park of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps. He has no known grave and is remembered on the Dunkirk Memorial.

Private Thomas Sewell was killed on 29 May 1940. Aged 20 and from North End, he was serving with the 5th Battalion of the Kings Own Royal Regiment. He is buried at Les Moeres in France. The 5th Kings Own were part of the 126th Infantry Brigade, in the 42nd Infantry Division. As Les Moeres is 10 kilometres east of Dunkirk and was at the front line of the British perimeter it is believed that Private Sewell was killed in the rearguard fighting.

Sapper Francis Wiseman was killed on 31 May 1940. Aged 35 and from Cosham, he was serving with 59 Field Company of the Royal Engineers. He has no known grave, and is remembered on the Dunkirk Memorial. 59 Field Company were part of the 4th Infantry Division.

The Royal Navy was also suffering losses while attempting to evacuate the Army from the beaches. 42 destroyers were assigned to support Operation Dynamo, initially to bombard German shore positions to support the Army, but gradually they were pressed into service carrying men back to England.

On 27 May HMS Wakeful carried 631 troops to Dover. While crossing the Channel she came under air attack and suffered minor damage below the waterline. She returned to Dunkirk, embarking another 640 troops on 28 May 1940. On 29 May she was torpedoed by the German E-Boat S-30. One torpedo hit the boiler room and the ship quickly split in two. Only one of the 640 soldiers survived, and only 25 of a crew of 110. One of the sailors killed was Warrant Engineer Harold Tucker, 37 and from Southsea. He is remembered on the Chatham Naval Memorial.

On 28 May HMS Grafton carried 277 men to Dover. On 29 May she hard returned to Dunkirk and was in the process of taking men back to Dover when she was called to assist the survivors of HMS Wakeful. Whilst doing so she was torpedoed by U-62. She suffered serious damage, and the Captain and one officer were killed, along with four men. One of them was Engine Room Artificer 3rd Class Thomas Kean, 26 and from Eastney. He has no known grave and is remembered on the Chatham Naval Memorial. The Grafton was too badly damaged to be towed and was scuttled.

Unfortunately it is impossible to tell, but some of the soldiers killed and who have no known grave may well have been killed on HMS Wakful and HMS Grafton.

2 Comments

Filed under Army, Navy, portsmouth heroes, World War Two

70 years ago – the Battle of Dunkirk begins

By late May 1940 the British Expeditionary Force and elements of th French and Belgian Armies were becoming bottled up in a small pocket based on the English Channel, cut off by the advance of the German Panzers. The situation was so serious that General Sir Alan Brooke wrote that “nothing but a miracle can save the BEF now”. Lord Gort, the BEF’s commander, informed the Secretary of State for War that there was a risk that a large part of the BEF would be lost in France.

Yet for reasons which Historians have never been able to substantiate with any certainty, on 24 May Hitler ordered the Panzers to halt and to leave the task of finishing off the Dunkirk perimeter to the Luftwaffe and the infantry. This may have been one of the most critical decisions of the war, for by the time the Panzers began their advance again on 26 May the BEF had managed to withdraw relatively unhindered towards the coast. The vital breathing space also allowed the Royal Navy to begin planning the evacuation.

Lance Sergeant Albert Reypert, 30 and from Portsmouth, was killed on 23 May 1940. He was serving with 9 Field Regiment of the Royal Artillery. He has no known grave, and is remembered on the Dunkirk Memorial. 9 Field Regiment were part of the 5th Infantry Division, a unit that was part of BEF GHQ reserve.

Corporal Alexander Boag, 29 and from Southsea, was killed on 26 May 1940. He was serving with the 4/7th Royal Dragoon Guards, a Cavalry unit. He is buried at Essars in France. 4/7 Dragoon Guards were the armoured reconnaisance unit in the 2nd Infantry Division. Essars is a communal cemetery, just south of Bethune. Boag was killed during a fierce battle where the resumed German advance pinned down the 2nd and 50th Divisions. The 2nd Division in particular suffered heavy losses. But they managed to keep a corridor open through which much of the BEF could reach the coast.

Bombardier Harry Short, 34 and from Eastney, was killed on 26 May 1940. He was serving with 5 Battery, 2 Searchlight Regiment of the Royal Artillery. He has no known grave, and is remembered on the Dunkirk Memorial. 2 Searchlight Regiment were part of 5 Searchlight Brigade, which was attached to BEF GHQ.

Gunner Frederick Morgan, 28 and from Stamshaw, was killed on 27 May 1940. He was serving with 5 Battery, 1 Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment of the Royal Artillery. He also has no known grave, and is remembered on the Dunkirk Memorial. 1 Anti-Aircraft Regiment were part of BEF GHQ.

Lance Corporal Henry Bonner was killed on 27 May 1940. He was 28 and from Portsmouth. He was serving with 7 Field Company of the Royal Engineers. He is buried in Comines, Belgium. 7th Field Company were part of the 4th Infantry Division. Comines is 12 Kilometres south of Ypres. On 27 May General Brooke was conducting a holding operation near Ypres, which became known as the battle of Wytschaete.

Two things become immediately clear from what we know about the men from Portsmouth who were killed in the early stages of the Battle of Dunkirk. Looking at their ages, most of them were obviously pre-war regular soldiers. In addition, that some of them were serving with Anti-Aircraft units or Searchlight units, who might expect to be some way back from the front line, suggests that the fighting was extremely muddled, and/or that the Luftwaffe was attacking the Dunkirk pocket with ease during this period.

2 Comments

Filed under Army, portsmouth heroes, Uncategorized, World War Two

70 years ago: Blitzkrieg

On 10 May 1940 the phoney war came to an abrupt end when the German Panzers rolled into Holland, Belgium and France in the west. In accordance with the plan agreed with the French, the British Expeditionary Force moved up into Belgium to the line of the Dyle River, after the Germans invaded Belgium.

Private Louis Ayling, 21 and from Eastney, was killed on the first day of the campaign. Serving with the 1st/6th Battalion of the East Surrey Regiment, he was killed on 10 May 1940 and is buried in Avelgem, Belgium. A territorial unit, the 1/6 East Surrey’s were undergoing training and labour duties under 12 Infantry Division.

The attack further north in Belgium was not the main thrust, however. The main attack came further south through the Ardennes. As the German Panzers advanced west there was a serious risk that the BEF would be cut off. The run to the coast at Dunkirk was already falling into place.

The RAF contingent serving alongside the BEF was called into action almost immediately in an attempt to stem the advance. On the first day of the battle Sergeant (Pilot) Alfred Robertson was killed over Holland. 26 and from Southsea, he had taken off from Wyton in England. He was flying a Bristol Blenheim with 40 Squadron, and is buried in Voorburg, Holland.

Sergeant (Observer) Herbert Trescothic was serving with 142 Squadron, who were flying Fairey Battles. Taking off from Berry-au-Bac on 14 May, they were targetting bridges and roads around Sedan. His aircraft crashed at Cherey, where he is buried. He was 25 and from Southsea.

Also killed on 14 May was Flight Lieutenant Harold Sammells. 24 and from North End, he was serving with 105 Squadron, a unit operating Fairey Battles in France. He has no known grave and is remembered on the Runnymede Memorial.

Leading Aircraftman (Air Gunner) Walter Lawes, 21 and from Copnor, was killed on 16 May 1940. He was serving with 13 Squadron, a Westland Lysander unit. Lawes is buried at Vieux-Conde in France. Westland Lysanders were often used for dropping off and picking up special agents behind enemy lines.

Private Albert Voysey, 21 and from Mile End, was serving with the 7th Battalion of the Royal Sussex Regiment. He was killed on 18 May 1940 and is buried in Abbeville, France. The 7th Royal Sussex were also serving under 12 Infantry Division.

Sapper Leslie Parsonage, 26 and from Eastney, was also killed on 18 May. He was serving with 17th Field Company of the Royal Engineers, and is buried in Aaigem, Belgium. 17th Field Company were serving under Bernard Montgomery’s 3rd Infantry Division.

Sergeant William Northey, 22, was serving with 5 Medium Regiment of the Royal Artillery when he was killed on 19 May. He is buried in Le Doulieu, France. 5 Medium Regiment were a Corps Artillery unit attached to I Corps.

Sapper Henry Ward, of Cosham, was killed on 20 May 1940. He was serving with 263 Field Company of the Royal Engineers, and is buried in Pont-de-Metz, France. 263 Field Company were performing labour duties under 12 Infantry Division.

Private Alfred Williams of the Royal Army Service Corps was also killed on 20 May. Aged 24, he is buried at Candas in France.

2nd Lieutenant Reginald Stevens, 19 and from Southsea, was serving with the 2nd Battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers when he was killed on 22 May. He has no known grave, and is remembered on the Dunkik Memorial. The 2nd Lancs were serving in the 11th Infantry Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, II Corps.

Even by the 22nd of May, however, the BEF was already fighting a stiff rearguard action towards the coast. Its noticeable from the losses in the opening stages of the battle that it was not just the infantry who were caught in the front line – due to the manner in which the BEF was outflanked and almost cut-off, gunners and sappers were also casualties. And as desribed in Tim Lynch’s Dunkirk 1940: Whereabouts Unknown, many territorial units still undergoing training were thrown into the battle.

Leave a comment

Filed under Army, portsmouth heroes, Royal Air Force, Uncategorized, World War Two