British troops in France demonstrate their preparedness

There was little activity on the Western Front for propaganda purposes, so most images from the ‘phoney war’ period are blatant publicity shots. The Newsreel from the time now seems desperately optimistic, given subsequent events:

Machine gunners of the Cheshire Regiment pose for the camera, April 1940

There was little activity on the Western Front for propaganda purposes, so most images from the ‘phoney war’ period are blatant publicity shots. The Newsreel from the time now seems desperately optimistic, given subsequent event. The following very brief episode was released on the 1st April, which may not have been entirely coincidental: Continue reading “British troops in France demonstrate their preparedness”

The BEF in France: Life on the Western Front

Spent half an hour with him discussing the doings of the 11th Inf Bde during the last few days, and in obtaining from him details of the patrol encounter in which Hudson of the Lancs Fusiliers killed 5 Germans and captured one. It was a fine show as Hudson had only 5 men with him and there were 10 Germans in all, four of which escaped.

An earlier photograph: Lord Gort, Commander of the BEF in France, General Brooke, Commander of II Corps and Hore Belisha, Secretary of State for War until January 1940

In March 1940 Alan Brooke was General commanding II Corps in the British Expeditionary Force in France. He kept one of the best diaries of the war, here he describes life close to the front line:

26 March
Left Metz at 8.45 and met Anderson at 9.30 am. Spent half an hour with him discussing the doings of the 11th Inf Bde during the last few days, and in obtaining from him details of the patrol encounter in which Hudson of the Lancs Fusiliers killed 5 Germans and captured one. It was a fine show as Hudson had only 5 men with him and there were 10 Germans in all, four of which escaped. I then went up to examine the front posts and the work that has been done on them lately. From a good point of observation we examined the village of Leuvage and Anderson explained to me his plans for an encirclement of the village by all his battalion battle patrols with the object of capturing Germans. It is to take place on Wednesday night. I had an interview with Hudson, a very nice boy who has spent most of his life shooting and poaching! He gave me a full and interesting account of his adventures. Continue reading “The BEF in France: Life on the Western Front”

British infantry positions on the Western Front

The shell holes were pretty bunched which shows that the concentration was pretty accurate, and they were no mean holes – about 6 or 7 feet across and about 2 or 3 feet deep.
The British Infantry tie tin cans on all their barbed wire and on the trip wires in the vicinity of their posts. These shine well in the sunlight and can be seen a long way off, they were quite glad to be told about it but hadn’t noticed it. The Germans probably know every one of our posts by this and other means; they are very enterprising and clever with their night patrolling and use dogs trained for police work.

German Troops on the West Wall, dated 2nd March 1940

Further extracts from the diary of Captain Twomey from 58 Medium Regiment, Royal Artillery, on attachment to the French Artillery for a week, in which he describes British Infantry trenches, following an earlier German attack:

The posts are one and all sited very poorly. I don’t think a single one can see another to give it support. All we saw are in the forward edge of the wood sited to fire directly to their front – they can’t see to the flanks to fire because of the trees – and they can see no further to their front than their barbed wire entanglements because of the convex slope of the ground. Continue reading “British infantry positions on the Western Front”

No fraternisation on the Western Front

On the Rhine front a tentative attempts by the garrison of a German casemate to fraternise with French troops was interrupted by French machine gun fire.

British Expeditionary Force troops on the Western Front

The Naval, Military and Air Situation up to 12 noon on 28 December 1939, as reported to the War Cabinet:

Naval situation

General review.

Throughout the week under review the Northern Patrol has been maintained by a strong force of cruisers and armed merchant cruisers. A force of heavy ships has been operating to cover the patrol, the convoys to and from Bergen and their homeward bound convoy from Narvik. These convoys arrived without incident.

2. Strong submarine patrols have also been maintained in the approaches to the Skagerrak and Heligoland Bight, but there has been kept comparatively little enemy activity either of surface ships, U-boats or aircraft, due possibly to the bright moonlight and foggy weather in home waters.

3. No merchant ships, Allied or neutral, have been attacked by U-boat, and losses due to mines are small.

4. The second Canadian troop convoys sailed from Halifax on 23 December with a powerful escort of British and French warships, and the military convoy which left India on 10 December, with four animal transport companies, has arrived at Marseille.

Foreign Waters.

13. Following the destruction of the Admiral Graf Spee off Montevideo on 17 December, the forces which had been hurrying towards the Plate and from northward carried out a sweep to locate the German tanker Altmark (20,000 tons), from which the Admiral Graf Spee had fuelled on 7th December. The Altmark is believed to have on board about 300 prisoners, the remainder of the crews of the merchant vessels sunk by the Admiral Graf Spee. This sweep has now been completed without success. The French have disposed a number of submarines and armed merchant cruisers to intercept the Altmark should she work towards the north Atlantic. The area to be covered is a very large one.

Military Situation

British Expeditionary Force

29. Headquarters and ancillary units of the fifth division had now arrived in France, thus completing that formation.

Reports from the British sector of the Saar front state that there has been no activity apart from patrolling.

Western front

30. No major operations have taken place. On the Rhine-Moselle found several minor German attacks were launched on French positions and successfully repulsed.

On the Rhine front a tentative attempts by the garrison of a German casemate to fraternise with French troops was interrupted by French machine gun fire.

Air Situation

Royal Air Force Operations.

Bomber command

Operations against German Naval forces

35. During the week under review a number of reconnaissances have taken place with a view to locating and attacking enemy naval forces.

On the 24th December seventeen Wellingtons made a reconnaissance of an area off the west coast of Denmark and sighted several patrol ships in a position 40 miles north west of Horn Reefs. The ships were steaming in pairs and, after challenge and counter challenge, they opened fire on the aircraft with pom-poms. Three Wellington was attacked, dropping eight 500 lb. bombs from a height of 4000 feet. Observations were rendered difficult by clouds and it is not known if any hits were made.

Russo- Finnish Operations

Situation on land.

50. Information received during the period under review shows that the situation of the Finnish armies has improved considerably in all sectors.

51. On the Karelian Isthmus a major Soviet offensive which took place between the 19th and 21st of December failed to make any impression on the Finnish defences, though it was accompanied by very heavy bombardment by artillery and aircraft. Lack of success appears to have reacted unfavourably on the morale of the Red Army; and, though the offensive has been continued, it has achieved nothing.

52. On the eastern frontier Finnish troops have scored a number of successes, helped by severe weather and by increasing Soviet maintenance difficulties.

53. These successes have greatly improved Finish morale and the High Command are now very confident. They find the enemy’s leadership feeble, his tactics poor and wasteful, his troops inferior. They express themselves as able to hold the Karelian Isthmus against any attack the Soviet can make and consider that maintenance difficulties will prevent attacks in other sectors developing on a dangerous scale. In spite of Finnish confidence it is doubtful whether it would be physically possible to hold any position against the weight of artillery which the Soviet could deploy against the Karelian Isthmus position, unless the defenders possess large quantities of artillery and aircraft to carry out counter battery bombardments on a large scale. It is, therefore to be hoped that Finnish optimism will not lead them to undertake any dangerous counter offensive, which might well result in losses of men and material the country could ill afford. It should be remembered that the Russian soldier always gives a much better account of himself in defence than in attack.

On the Soviet side it appears that the High Command have been attempting to reverse the course of events by bringing out further reinforcements, a doubtful remedy in a war where the lack of communications and limited frontages are the decisive factors. There is, however, some chance that Russian numbers may tell in the south, once the ice on Lake Ladoga and the Gulf of Finland become thick enough for Soviet troops to operate across them.

The latest reports suggest that there are 11 Soviet infantry divisions in the Karelian Isthmus and 16 divisions between Lake Ladoga and the Arctic Ocean. A partial evacuation of Leningrad is reported to have taken place so as to facilitate the working of the principal base of these large forces.

See TNA CAB 66/4/28