Daily Archives: 4 April, 2010

World at War weekend at Fort Nelson

I’ve just got back from the World at War weekend at Fort Nelson.

The main event involved an re-enactment of a raid on a fort on the Franco-German border in late 1944. The British had captured the fort, and a scouting force had left the fort on a patrol. A German force entered the fort, killed the commanding officer and set up an ambush.

The British troops – of the Devonshire and Hampshire Regiments – returned, in a half-track and on foot. Suddenly the Germans fired a Panzerschrek at the half-track, and ambushed the British. Returning fire, the British were hard pressed. Reinforcements arrived in the shape of an American patrol, a British airborne anti-tank gun, and a Royal Artillery Sexton Self propelled gun. With the extra firepower the British eventually assaulted the German positions, clearing the fort and taking them prisoner. Although slightly fanciful, interpretations such as this make great watching for kids and adults alike.

I also watched a brilliant interpretation of the Cockleshell Heroes raid – Operation Frankton – based on the recollections of Marine Bill Sparks, one of the survivors of the raid. Again, brilliant to watch.

There were also a whole host of military vehicles on display – including a number of Second World War Jeeps, with one in British Airborne Recce markings, and another marked as a Red Army lend-lease Jeep. There was also a British Army truck in 2nd Army markings, and a US Army truck.

Also outside were a number of post-war British vehicles. There were a number of Land Rovers, including a Bomb Disposal, and a couple of lightweights. Interestingly, there was also a Humber Pig, an armoured vehicle used in Northern Ireland, in the markings of J (Sidi Rezegh) Battery, 3 Regiment Royal Horse Artillery. Two of my uncles served in J Battery in the 1970’s.

Fort Nelson is definitely one of the best-kept secrets about local military history. There’s always plenty of events going on up there, and you only have to pay to go in on special event days. How many people live only a mile or two away but don’t even know that exists?

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Filed under Army, event, Local History, out and about, Royal Marines, World War Two

1st Hampshires: Le Cateau to the Marne

After Le Cateau, the 1st Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment continued retreating on 27 August 1914, cross country through Serain, Beaurevoil, and Esterres to Bellicourt, before halting at 9am for breakfast. At 9.30am the rearguard reported that German cyclist troops were only 2 miles away. At 9.45am the village was shelled, and the Brigade moved on. In the confusion the companies became split up. There was heavy rain throughout the day, but Private Pattenden tells us that he stopped for tea and rum from 8 to 10.30. By 7am on the 28th the Battalion had reached Voyennes. The CO Colonel Jackson and five other ranks had been wounded. Jackson had been shot in the left leg, and Lance Corporal Jones carried him into the Cure’s house in Bellicourt.

The retreat continued relatively unhindered, described by Private Pattenden as ‘towards Paris, reasons unknown’. By 31 August the Battalion had reached the forest of Compiegne, when Aerial Recconaisance reported that a German column of divisional strength was approaching the forest. 11th Brigade were positioned in the forest to cover St. Sauveur, with the Hampshires on the line of Carrefour-Des Princess-Carrefour St. John. The position was held throughout the night, unmolested apart from several Uhlan Cavalry patrols.

The next day the Brigade was ordered to retire towards Vaucelles. The Hampshires were now under the command of Captain the Hon. L.C. Palk, Colonel Jackson, Major Hicks and Major Barlow all having been wounded. However a new Medical Officer joined on 3 September. The retreat continued in a similar manner, until 4 September when the Battalion were ordered to take up positions Couporay to cover crossings over the River Marne. At 11pm that evening reports were received that the Germans had pushed forward and were crossing the Marne at Esbly. The Brigade was ordered to move to oppose them. Half an hour later the report was found to be false.

By 2pm on 5 September the Battalion had reached Graitz, where the retreat finished. The Battalions first draft of reinforcements since they had landed in France arrived – Captain R.D. Johnson with 52 men. These reinforcements made good the losses at Le Cateau.

On 6 September information was received that the Germans were now retiring. The Battalion advanced to Villeneau-le-Conte. By nightfall on 7 September they had reached Montdenis-Vie Crecy. Here Private Pattenden was given a slice of bread by a villager, ‘perhaps the last she had. It was very welcome and quit a change from bisuits’. Also on 7 September Captain Moore took command of the Battalion, after Captain Park reported sick with fever. The advance continued on the 8th, where the Battalion bivouaced for night at Les Corbieres. At this point the Hampshires were in reserve, but poised to go into action at an instant.

The Battle of the Marne had commenced on 7 September. On 9 September 11th Brigade’s part in the Battle began. The Hampshires took up position on high ground at Chateau Veuteil, to cover the 1st Battalion of the Rifle Brigade as they advanced towards the river. British Guns shelled the Germans on the north side of the bank, but well-placed German Machine guns prevented the Royal Engineers from bridging the river until dusk. The Brigade began to cross in small boats in order to cover the bridgehead, the Hampshires began crossing at 9pm and were all across by 2am. 2 men were accidentally drowned during the crossing,one of them 27 year old Private James Finch from Romsey. Also on 9 September a second draft of reinforcements arrived, Lieutenant Sandeman bringing 137 men. During the Battle Private Pattenden was with the Battalion transport, having trouble with his feet. Apparently his ability to speak French was very useful to his comrades, even the officers.

At 2am on 10 September the Hampshires began advancing, along with a Battalion of the East Lancashire Regiment, encountering little opposition an occupying an important road junction north of La Ferte. At 9am the Battalion transport, including Private Pattenden, passed over the Pontoon Bridge. During the 10th the Germans began a general retreat, and the Brigade continued advancing, finding many German dead and wounded.

The retreat from Mons, via Le Cateau, was one of the most succesful in the British Army’s history. The war diary’s stories of retreating, occasionally holding the line against the German advance guard, giving them a bloody nose then moving on, has strong echoes of the retreat to Corruna in 1809. That the Germans allowed the Allie to retreat in good order and stand at the Marne suggets why the Schlieffen plan did not work – it was not carried out with the decisiveness that it needed.


Filed under Army, World War One