Friday, 30 July 2010

Arras Counterstroke May 1940

Bob Hilton writes:

During a recent tour of the Wellington Quarries neat Arras I picked up a leaflet giving details of the 70th anniversary of the Arras Counterstoke by the Royal Tank Regiment against Erwin Rommel's 7th Panzer Division, that nearly 'did for him'. The accompanying photograph (above) was one I had never seen before. I cannot find anything about it on the Internet.

It is a Mark II Maltilda which had been knocked out and shows a German soldier on top of it. It seems to be near a cemetery or calvary. this must have been somewhere to the west/south west of Arras. I am wondering if anyone can enlighten me on where this could be?

Thursday, 29 July 2010

German Command Bunkers in Le Havre

Even those members who regularly guide or visit Le Havre may be unaware (as I was until recently) that there are two German command bunkers buried away in a residential area above the town and port. One is the central telecommunications bunker and the other is the flak commander's bunker. Both are being restored by the local "Association Memoire et Patrimoine". The former is now full of telephone exchange equipment and associated displays and the latter has a dominant view of the harbour. Both are worth a visit and can be opened for you by Sebastien Haule ( 0033 6745581 315) or Jean Paul Dubosq ( 0033 669742 242). They are not easy to find and with the map below (click on it to enlarge) which, if used in conjunction with a Le Havre street map, should do the job.

John Cotterill
Badge 10

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Fromelles 19th July 2010

Fromelles 19th July 2010 will be a day to remember for all those that were privileged to be there. The burial of the last soldier rescued from the ignominy of a mass grave and to be buried again with his other fallen comrades. This time with the accord of full military honours from their fellow countrymen and buried in the presence of Princes and the High and Mighty, some 94 years after their deaths.

The sequences of events for the day are told elsewhere. I along with many of our Guiding Members who were present were humbled by the occasion

The GBG Members of Back Roads were present, all 6 of them. No jackets, no names badges! and in one case, no tie!
The following images were taken from one of the viewing screens around the cemetery. Looking down on the cemetery grounds with the VIP Stand in which were sat relatives of those who had fallen
The coffin of the last soldier to be buried being taken to the cemetery by the Burial Party
Both British and Australian soldiers marched side by side to honour the dead of both countries
The Burial Party carrying the coffin to the grave side Lowering the coffin in front of the Firing party The 'Hairy Ones' but not in this case!

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Flamethrowers on the Somme

In response to my request for information on the above, Jeremy Banning brother of GBG member Mark Banning has provided the following information. He has been involved in the search for the Flamethrowers or more properly called the Livens Large Gallery Flame Projector.

The project to excavate the site was five years in the gestation with pace picking up in the last year. It involved countless meetings with local museums and authorities as well as six months archival research

Organised through GUARD (Glasgow University Archaeological Research Department) who did the initial work at Fromelles and the excavation of the Vampir Dugout in 2008, it was financed by a variety of British, Canadian, French and German broadcasters who contributed to the costs. The dig was filmed throughout by a Canadian TV production company, Cream Productions who made 'Digging up the Trenches' as well as the 2008 programmes on the Vampir Dugout.

An international team included Dr Tony Pollard (GBG member) and Dr Iain Banks from GUARD and two of their PHD students. Also including were French archaeologists and serving Royal Engineers. Safety underground was in the hands of two highly experienced men from Mines Rescue UK.

The necessary clearances were obtained from the relevant authorities and local landowners. The project had the full support of the Mayor of Mametz, the Historical in Peronne and Alain Jacques head of the Service Archeologue Municipale in Arras.

Four Flamethrowers were to be used in the southern Somme sector on the 1st July 1916. Two were successfully used where the lines crossed the Carnoy-Mountauban road. One at Kasino Point close by was knocked out of action before the battle started and the fourth one was in position between Mansel Copse and Bois Francais.

The one near Mansel Copse required a working party of 300 Devons to bring the Flame Projector up in pieces to the front line where it was re-constructed in a shallow mine gallery running under No Mans Land. However this Projector was damaged 'beyond recall' during intense German bombardment of the British Lines on the 28th June.

Each Flame Projector weighed 2.5 tons and required 250 man hours to be brought from the rail head to their respective saps. Once in position they took six hours to be constructed by a six man team. They would lie under the ground with the 'monitor head' breaking the surface when the machine was activated. It could spew out a ton of 'heavy and light oil' in a ten second burst over 100 yards away. This could be repeated twice before the Projector ran out of fuel.

The object was to terrify the enemy and to enable British troops to get across No Mans Land unscathed. The fire would keep the enemy heads down - the smoke would obscure their visibility.

The BBC filmed the site for a news item

Subsequent research by Jeremy Banning who works with Peter Barton on books and archaeological projects, showed that one of the attacking battalions on the 1st July 1916, 2nd Borders 'only' suffered two casualties whilst crossing No Mans Land. However they suffered considerably greater losses once they got into the German trenches.

Peter Barton has written a book entitled 'The Somme - a new panoramic perspective' with all the detail of the dig. Currently out of print the intention is to get it reprinted for early next year.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Flesquires Tank - Cambrai 1917

As has been pointed out to me now by two Guild members the Flesquires tank was actually called 'Deborah' and NOT 'Dorothy'.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Lochnagar Crater Parking

Those guiding members who escort coaches around the Somme battlefield should be aware that there is no longer a coach park adjacent to the crater site. It has been cordoned off by huge mounds of earth deliberately placed there to stop access. This may be due to a dispute between individuals owning land adjacent to the crater site. It means you will need to leave your coach in La Boiselle and walk to the crater, a distance of about 500 metres. It could be very difficult for older people to gain access to the site.

This closure does not restrict the ability of individual cars to access the crater site but it does limit parking and at busy times space now available for vehicles could be full.

I will endeavour to find out if this is likely to be a permanent closure. If any member visiting Lochnagar notes any change in the present impasse please let me know

Flesquires Tank - Cambrai 1917

Philippe Gorczynski of Flesquires near Cambrai has made it his lifetime passion to research the Battle of Cambrai November 1917. Some years ago he discovered the location of a British Mark IV Tank which had been buried in the area. Destroyed by artillery fire with 5 crew members killed, the hulk was pushed into a shell hole and used as a shelter. Philippe heard the story of a 'buried tank' from an old lady in the village who remembered it being buried. He set about finding and salvaging it and after much time and effort together with the cooperation of the French Army he discovered the tank under 2 metres of earth.

Today the tank called 'Dorothy' sits on a plinth in a barn in the village of Flesquires. Viewing is not available to the general public but eventually when enough funds have been found, Philippe intends to build a museum around his most treasured artifact of the Great War.

Philippe in front of 'Dorothy'

Massive structural damage to front end probably caused by a direct fire artillery piece
77mm German Field Gun of the type likely to have caused the damage