Friday, 28 January 2011

Cassel 26 - 27 May 1940

The withdrawal of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) saw a number of rearguard actions fought by British units which contributed enormously to the success of the evacuation of BEF and French troops from the beaches adjacent to Dunkirk and up to Nieuport in Belgium. One of the most significant actions was the defence of the hilltop town of Cassel. Set high above the Flanders plain within sight of Dunkirk, the town was occupied by 2nd Battalion the Gloucestershire Regiment ( 2nd Glosters) 4th Battalion the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry (4th Ox and Bucks) with supporting units. It was a brave defence which held back German armour albeit for a brief period, but sufficiently long enough to allow many of the units within the BEF to withdraw to the beaches in relatively good order. Both battalions suffered heavy casualties and very few managed to escape capture.

On a recent visit to Cassel with GBG member Terry Webb we spent some time in the area looking for the location of various battle sites as detailed on the sketch map below. This was drawn by a Gloster officer Captain E Jones whilst in a German POW camp. It is drawn from his memory of the defence of the town. There was little information about the battle at the time as very few Gloster officers survived capture and therefore were unable to write up the normal post action reports. However, there is sufficient information on the sketch map to be able to locate some of the positions on the ground today.

This is the town square in Cassel around which the Glosters sited their defence. To the right across the square and just off picture was the Gendarmerie(Map No 4) used as the HQ for the 4th Ox and Bucks. The square is the middle square in the town being higher than the Grand Place but lower than the Chateau Square at the highest point of Cassel. The Chateau was also the HQ of 145 Brigade

Then and now a bank Credit Du Nord. This building was the HQ for the 2nd Glosters (Map No 3)

This farm was occupied by 10 Platoon B Company 2nd Glosters as part of the perimeter defence and was on the NW edge of the defence (Map No 6)Looking uphill towards Cassell main town as seen from the German perspective.

The view from the farm yard looking towards the NW and covering the road to Calais

The Chateau which was HQ for D Company 2 Glosters still stands but is now a Conference Centre with modern additions (Map No 7)

The view from the Chateau grounds looking out towards the SW and the road to St Omer