Battle training in the far north of Britain

Crusader and Valentine tanks negotiate boggy ground on a training course at Linney Head in Wales, 17 December 1942.

Crusader and Valentine tanks negotiate boggy ground on a training course at Linney Head in Wales, 17 December 1942.

3-inch mortars of the Essex Regiment in action, Orford battle area, December 1942.

3-inch mortars of the Essex Regiment in action, Orford battle area, December 1942.

At the end of 1942 Denis Forman was a Major in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, posted to the Shetland Isles, in the far north of Great Britain, closer to Norway than to London. He had developed an interest in the new ‘battle school’ training methods and was intent upon developing his command of men with them.

He had an uneasy relationship with some of his senior officers over the issue:

With this body of men I began to amass ammunition, weapons, a demonstration platoon and NCO instructors, and to work out the first essential of any battle school, the assault course.

Our assault course was formidable, starting with an ascent up a naked cliff, passing through all manner of obstacles, including a pool of liquid mud, and ending with a three-hundred-yard walk through the freezing water of the voe or fjord, chest-high, weapons carried above the head and live .303 bullets whipping up the sea all around.

Brigadier Fraser was delighted. He came to see us often and asked innumerable questions. We found this a bit of a drag so when he visited us on the great opening day to see the demonstration platoon go round the completed assault course, we stood him on a knoll in the centre of a meticulously calculated fire plan.

First a burst of bren gun fire whipped through the heather in front of him and when he instinctively drew back a second burst struck some rocks just behind his head. Then, while the firing continued on fixed lines, down came the two-inch mortar bombs, smoke, very close, and clearly visible through the earlier patches of smoke, high-explosive bombs perhaps one hundred yards away all round.

But as the smoke engulfed the whole party, the explosions came nearer and nearer and thick and fast until some of the bangs seemed to be only twenty yards away, as indeed they were: not caused by mortar fire, but by half-pound slabs of guncotton which Sapper Fleming had buried in the peat and was now detonating with relish from his hideout a quarter of a mile away.

By now we could see through the writhing smoke that most of the HQ party were on their knees protecting their faces from flying shrapnel, which was in fact nothing more than heather roots and peat.

As the smoke cleared the brigadier drew himself up to his full height. He rocked backwards and forwards for a few moments ‘Urrgumph,’ he said, and again ‘Urrgumph Good show, Forman. Good – urrgumph – show.’

As he hobbled to his staff car, his GSO II drew me aside. ‘Don’t … do … that … again,’ he said.

‘Well,’ I said, ‘if the brig wants to know what we are doing, we have to let him see it, don’t we? And if he continues to visit us daily, he is bound to get involved in live ammunition exercises from time to time. Indeed I did want to warn you to give us previous notice of his movements, otherwise it’s quite likely that his car coming up one of these roads may …’

‘Don’t … do … it … again,’ said the GSO II.

After that the brigadier visited us less frequently and always gave us two days’ notice.

See Denis Forman: To Reason Why

New Davis Breathing Apparatus tested at the Submarine Escape Test Tank at HMS Dolphin Gosport, 14 December 1942

New Davis Breathing Apparatus tested at the Submarine Escape Test Tank at HMS Dolphin Gosport, 14 December 1942

Airborne troops unloading motorcycles from a Horsa glider at RAF Netheravon, December 1942.

Airborne troops unloading motorcycles from a Horsa glider at RAF Netheravon, December 1942.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Clive Cartwright December 21, 2012 at 11:12 am

Brilliant. :)

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