REPORT ON

 

2ND BATTALION WELSH GUARDS AT BOULOGNE

21st - 24th MAY, 1940

War Diaries were written up by each battalion in order to give a brief account of events and to keep a record of battalion strength etc. They are not a full narrative and often the appendices give more concise information that the few sentences entered for each day. Mentions of men from the Ranks are few but they do happen. However as a rule of thumb Officers’ casualties are more likely to feature than ORs.


Bear in mind please that if a Guardsman died on a certain date, as per CWGC entry, this does not automatically mean that he was killed on that date. It may also be likely that he died of wounds sustained in an earlier action.


TNA Refs and dates will be given on the right hand margin where appropriate.


Sources: TNA; Google Maps

CAB 106/228


REPORT OF OPERATIONS 21st - 24th MAY - 2ND BATTALION WELSH GUARDS

by Major J. C. Windsor Lewis.




21 May 1940

Time: 1130hrs

2. W.G. ordered to be ready to move at 2 hours notice to a Port by M.T. and hired transport but that no Bn transport would be embarked. Those out of Camp on training were recalled and Bn were given dinners at 12 noon. Efforts by 20TH GUARDS BRIGADE to postpone time of starting to 1700hrs were unavailing, and Zero for the move form OLD DEAN COMMON CAMP, CAMBERLEY to DOVER was 1530hrs. 2 W.G. followed 2 I.G. in the M.T. column.


The move took place without event until dark, but when the head of 2 W.G. column had reached the top of the hill between FOLKESTONE and DOVER and the tail was still in FOLKESTONE, Air Raid Warnings were sounded and the column was halted at 1040p.m. The column progressed only a short distance during the next hour.


Meanwhile the Commanding Officer and Adjutant had gone on to a conference at the LORD WARDEN HOTEL, DOVER, which they reached with difficulty whilst Air Raid Sirens were still being sounded. On arrival the Commanding Officer was told to embark his Bn and as much kit as possible on the S.S. “BIARRITZ” which was to sail at 0200hrs the next morning. Most of the ship’s crew had not come aboard as they were taking shelter during the Air Raid Warning which was still in force, although no enemy aeroplanes were sighted.


A recce of the Transport was made by the Commanding Officer and the very limited deck space allotted to Companies. A large part of the Ship was already occupied by R.E. and dock workers who continually moved without orders, which added to the difficulties.


From the outset little or no Staff arrangements had been made on the Quay for loading personnel, weapons or stores. Eventually most of the personnel of the Bn were embarked in S.S. “BIARRITZ”, but the M.T. column carrying the weapons, ammunition and stores was still well back in DOVER and when it finally came forward, was allowed to double bank, causing a complete breakdown in loading. Thereafter, with time getting short, weapons, ammunition and digging tools at the expense of all other stores were manhandled forward along the Quay and loaded. The Master of the “BIARRITZ” then stated that he could load no more. He had previously announced that he had 60 tons of ammunition and stores already on board, which he had not unloaded on his last trip to BOULOGNE, as the stevedores there had ceased to work the cranes and the position there was reported to be very uncertain.


No. 1 Coy. (Captain C.H.R. HEBER-PERCY) was therefore moved with all Company weapons, ammunition and stores etc out of the “BIARRITZ” into the “MONA’S QUEEN”, with orders to load all Bn stores left on the quay and to unload and guard same at BOULOGNE. Major G. St. V.J. VIGOR (2 i/c) went in “S.S. MONA’S QUEEN” as O.C. troops. After considerable obstruction and difficulty on all sides, all personnel and almost all weapons, ammunition and equipment were loaded in pitch dark on to the two transports.


The order to sail was given to “S.S. BIARRITZ”, which followed H.M.S. WYCHETT carrying Brigadier W.A.F.L. FOX-PITT, MVO, MC, Commanding the force, out of the harbour. S.S. “MONA’S QUEEN” did not all sail until 4 hours later.


Coys disembarked from “S.S. BIARRITZ” and moved to their local positions under cover in the Railway Station. Unloading was begun under great difficulty and various impressed transport arrived at the Quay. There was again a grave absence of Staff direction and the Quay was filled with large crowds of disorganised troops of different nationalities waiting to get on the “BIARRITZ”. There were also many refugees and wounded.

The Commanding Officer then returned to the Quay with one large scale Map and two small scale maps (1 inch to 4 miles) and from them gave verbal orders to ‘O’ group which had been assembled, of which the gist was as follows: - 2 and 4 Coys to march to R.V. at ST. LEONARD, 2½ miles distant on the road to SAMER. 3 Coy and Bn HQ and HQ Coy to march to R.V. at OSTROHOVE 2 miles distant, a small hill NORTH of ST. LEONARD. Bn HQ to be established near OSTROHOVE. Provision was made for No. 1 Coy on arrival to be brought into reserve on the left of the position (i.e. NORTH).


The Commanding Officer then went forward by car to make a detailed recce of the front. At 1115hrs he met the Brigadier at ST. LEONARD and was ordered to hold a line from EAST of the RIVER LIANE along the line of the rd OSTROHOVE-VAROQUERIE - X rds N.E of MONT LAMBERT thence along DESVRES-BOULOGNE rd, blocking as many roads as possible back to the sea, total length 5 miles. Eventually about 3½ miles of front was held, the left flank nearest the sea being left open. 2 I.G. were to hold westward from the RIVER LIANE to the sea. Coys were therefore ordered to take up positions as under:-


No. 2 Coy excl RIVER LIANE to excl village of OSTROHOVE, two Pls covered the SAMER rd with Coy HQ at the Rly bridge. One Pl covered a rd not marked on map leading to OSTROHOVE. Bn HQ was established in a house in OSTROHOVE under the protection of HQ Coy who were responsible for the defence of the village, the A.A. and C Pls being used for ground defence. Later all the administrative Pl including cooks, spare signallers and pioneers helped in the defence.


No. 3 Coy continued the line excl OSTROHOVE - incl X rds MONT LAMBERT. One Pl held the rd junc at LA MADELINE, actually a X rds, one Pl rd junc N.W. of MONT LAMBERT and on MONT LAMBERT, one Pl covering the X rds from a position due NORTH. Coy HQ was in a farm about 200 yds N.W. along the rd to BOULOGNE.


No. 4 Coy held rd blocks from excl 3 Coy HQ, excl Church at ST. MARTIN, BOULOGNE along the BOULOGNE-DESVRES rd with one Pl watching towards the NORTH.


No. 1 Coy arrived in position about 1530hrs and held the many rds about the Church at ST. MARTIN, BOULOGNE.


All rds leading into the Bn position were blocked with cares and farm implements, the rd to SAMER being cratered by the R.E. in front of our posts. All troops were ordered to dig in as quickly as possible. Luckily the Bn was supplied with tools, but no wire.



22 May 1940

A/T. Defence

Four 2 pdrs R.A. and six mm A/T guns from 20th GUARDS BRIGADE A/T Coy were allotted under Comd for 2 W.G. These guns were brought up in lorries but once unloaded they had to be manhandled as it was impossible to get them back on the lorries. In many cases they had to be manhandled several hundreds of yards into their positions in support of the forward Coys. When the Bn withdrew it was found impossible to save these guns. These guns were disposed along the Bn front, but owing to the great frontage it was impossible to site them in any depth. A Belgian A/T Gun was found and manned by Belgian soldiers on No. 2 Coy front.


1700hrs

Up till this time the only information available was:-

(i) ETAPLES in hands of the enemy,

(ii) A small mechanized force had broken through, and might be expected to show up in front of BOULOGNE,

(iii) The French were stated to be holding SAMER and WIRWIGNES with a Bn at each.


1830hrs

To gain touch with (iii) above, 20 GDS BDE ordered to officers fighting patrols to be sent forward by 2 W.G. These patrols were cancelled before going out as enemy reported on both rds. Actually a patrol under 2/Lieut. J.D.A. SYRETT had gone forward earlier with a party of R.E. beyond PONT de BRIQUES in an attempt to blow up the bridge at HESDIGNEUL LES BOULOGNE. No French troops were found, enemy detachments were reported in the vicinity. At this time an enemy air raid took place but it was not directed against 2 W.G.


2000hrs

During the evening enemy recce parties were spotted on the ridge opposite OSTROHOVE and tanks attacked No. 3 and No. 4 Coys, one tank coming within 100 yrs of 2/Lieut. E.G.F. BEDINGFIELD’s Pl, using every bit of cover. Later it fired a smoke signal which appeared to be a rallying signal for the remainder of the tanks operating in the area. Shortly afterwards all enemy tanks withdrew.


2100hrs

A major of the 8 D.L.I. reported to the Commanding Officer. He stated that he and the remnants of his tired Bn (about 150 strong) with no food of their own, were at his disposal. The Commanding Officer decided to rest half in rear of Bn HQ and the other half behind No. 1 Coy and to use them for counter attack if occasion demanded later.


About the same time Lt.-Col. DEANE, VC, reported to the Commanding Officer that he had 1200 tired A.M.P.C. to be at the Commanding Officer’s disposal. Actually only about 200 ever took up a position anywhere, the remainder just stood about blocking roads and houses and the quayside, and proved throughout and particularly in the withdrawal stage to come, a grave liability. Old, disorganised, tired but keen, armed with rifles and little S.A.A. and with no food of their own, their status in the front line was impossible.


There was also a small stream of refugees and disorganised parties of Allied soldiers through the Bn fr going in two directions, either NORTH to CALAIS or into BOULOGNE. An order was issued by BDE in the evening that only pedestrians were to be allowed past all the road blocks. 2 W.G. was also ordered to co-operate if possible with such disorganised small parties of FRENCH and BELGIUM soldiers who might be willing to fight on our front and under our command. Except in isolated instances nothing materialised from this.


1900hrs

An artillery bombardment began and grew in intensity, lasting until dark but directed over 2 W.G. positions into the town of BOULOGNE. The Arty fire came from behind MONT LAMBERT and from the direction of FORET DE BOULOGNE. As darkness fell, OC 3 Coy reported that 3 enemy A.F.V.s (probably those previously engaged by 4 Coy) had been sighted on his front, and shortly afterwards there was a sharp engagement. In view of the possibility of an attack on Bn HQ at OSTROHOVE all personnel of Bn HQ were further disposed in its defence, to give all round protection. However nothing materialised and 3 Coys front became quiet again, the enemy A.F.V.s having withdrawn.


2100hrs

Commanding Officer decided to move Bn HQ back about 400 yds to a small cottage at the Water Works on the railway, as it seemed likely that OSTROHOVE would be attacked next morning, as indeed it was, but all HQ Coy ground defence personnel remained in their positions. The bulk of the Bn M.T. was then laboriously moved back in the darkness and dispersed in the streets on the reverse side of the hill behind Bn HQ. (The remainder was moved early next morning).



23 May 1940

23 May

Between 2300hrs 22 MAY and 0100hrs 23 MAY the Commanding Officer visited all Companies in position. A good deal of sniping took place in the town and it was difficult to motor owing to French rd blocks. Recce patrols were sent out, but there was nothing to report and no enemy seen. Communication by line was established by 0600hrs from Bn HQ to 2/Lieut. H.H. HUGHES’ Pl on the right of 3 Coy. This was the only line laid within the Bn, during the operation, owing to the Bn Signal equipment being on the quay and every time N.C.O.s and men were sent to collect it, these men were ordered by officers to embark and evacuate the quay.


0730hrs

Whilst the Commanding Officer was making a detailed tour of the line enemy tanks attacked No. 3 Coy at MONT LAMBERT, setting fire to the rd block which was being inspected by a patrol under 2/Lieut. A. MacN. PERRINS, most of which suffered casualties. The tanks fired at the A/T guns sited near 3 Coy HQ. These guns either put the tanks out of action or at any rate made them withdraw after heavy fighting. Lateral enemy Arty bombardment began and lasted without pause until midday, registering at first on the quay and the town of BOULOGNE and later lifting backwards (SOUTH) until it registered accurately on the railway running through the Bn position, the SAMER road, and particularly on 2 Coy.

At about 0900hrs under cover of this close Arty bombardment and Mortar fire, a strong enemy attack with Tanks and A.F.V.s was launched against our right (2 Coy) and centre (3 Coy). The front was held intact until 11a.m., a slight readjustment to 2 Coy’s position having been made, one Pl and Coy HQ being withdrawn slightly to the left and rear. The Arty registration on the railway had made it untenable and one Pl suffered heavy casualties from shell fire. Meanwhile 3 Coy was heavily engaged and suffered casualties. Capt. W.H. CARTER being mortally wounded at about


1030hrs.

The A/T gun crews on the front suffered severe damage during this time, but accounted for some tanks. These guns had little time to dig in and were subjected to heavy fire from tanks firing over the crest of the hill. The left flank (4 Coy and 1 Coy) were not heavily engaged. One enemy tank was out of action by a 3” mortar in the village of VAROQUERIE.


1130hrs

The position in front of HQ Coy was obscure. Having return from HQ Coy’s front and observed towards the left of the position, i.e. towards 1 and 4 Coys the Commanding Officer dictated at situation report to the Adjutant to be sent to BDE of which the gist was as follows:-


“Strong enemy pressure on my front is being resisted. Have made slight readjustment to 2 Coy’s position. Ammunition running short.”


O.C. 2 Coy then appeared and slightly accentuated the danger of his position. O.C. HQ Coy came in immediately afterwards and said that his line in front of OSTROHOVE was now in grave danger of being enveloped. A screen consisting of Bn HQ personnel available, and about 60 A.M.P.s was hastily pushed out in front of Bn HQ facing N.E. Very little firing could be heard from 1 and 4 Coys’ front but in view of the attack on 2 and 3 Coys the Commanding Officer decided to hold the houses between the halt and BEREQUERECQUE facing S.E. with HQ and 3 Coy continuing the line with 4 Coy linking with 1 Coy. Before this adjustment was completed a liaison officer from BDE came with verbal orders to withdraw 2 W.G. into the town and to defend and block the approaches to the harbour facing N.E. from the sea as far as the main railway bridge over the RIVER LIANE.

Eventually the Bn with 4 Coy as rear-guard were successfully withdrawn an took up positions along the line of the river road facing EAST in collaboration with French troops. It was now about 1400hrs. There was at this time a lull in the bombardment. From then until the final withdrawal by sea there was continual sniping from houses and from both sides of the river many hundred of disorganised, officer-less A.M.P.C. had arrived and fired indiscriminately at each other and at 2 W.G. 2 I.G. and BDE HQ had by this time withdrawn to the quay? Under great difficulty the Commanding Officer personally redistributed the Bn in Coy areas and Bn HQ was opened at the HOTEL DE LA PAIX. The Brigadier then arrived and gave the Bn the order that we were “to fight it out”. BOULOGNE was to be held. Further strengthening to road blocks was therefore carried out.


1700hrs

Many houses searched for 5th columnists. Four arrested, questioned and placed in close custody, and important papers and money subsequently handed to M.I. 6 War Office.


1730hrs

An intense air bombardment on the quay and town of BOULOGNE which lasted about 30 mins. Few if any casualties to 2 W.G. Soon afterwards written warning order to withdraw at Zero to the Quay, given to the Commanding Officer. “Zero to be announced later”. Shortly afterwards Zero given as “Forthwith”. All Coys and Coy Commanders were warned with great difficulty by D.R. with the exception of 3 Coy, the D.R. reporting that 3 Coy could not be found where they were supposed to be. The Commanding Officer himself went out and was able to extricate Coy HQ and some men who were attached to it. O.C. 3 Coy (Major J.C. WINDSOR-LEWIS) and the bulk of his Coy were at that time heavily engaged with the enemy on a road block and could not be withdrawn.


2000hrs

Bn less 3 Coy were across the bridge and dispersed chiefly in the railway station with some forward in the pier shelter. Three destroyers then attempted to sail into the quay. All were at once engaged by Arty from the hill to the SOUTH of the quay, and from the Fort in the old town, by tanks at close range on the opposite side of the river and by bombs from the air. One destroyer was hit and set on fire. Firing all the time it left the harbour. The remaining two under intense fire, took off 2?? and other personnel, including a small proportion of 2 W.G. All shelters and the quay were during the evacuation crowded with hundreds of A.M.P.C. and other disorganised British, French and Belgian troops. A certain number of casualties occurred, including Captain J. DUNCAN, who was killed.

Every effort was made to get all personnel of the WELSH GUARDS forward in readiness for the next destroyer which might come in and as far as was known all remaining personnel were collected in the pier shelter forward of the quay. O.C. 3 Coy only, had not been seen on the quay side of the bridge. The Bn waited there for 2 hrs.


2300hrs

The Destroyer “WINDSOR” sailed in safely and the evacuation of all 2 W.G. on the quay and a large number of other troops were taken on board.



24 May 1940

0030hrs

DOVER was reached.


0430hrs

2 W.G. proceeded by train to FLEET and thence to Camp at TWESELDOWN RACE COURSE reaching it about 1030hrs.


1830hrs

2. W.G. proceeded by rail to COLCHESTER and went into CHERRY TREE CAMP.


2/Lieut. R.C. TWINING, 2/Lieut. E.G.F. BEDINFELD and less than 20 men of 4 Coy joined the Bn later in the morning at TWESELDOWN CAMP, having arrived by destroyer at DOVER just before the Bn left for FLEET. From their reports an unfortunate misunderstanding or error of judgement had occurred before the bulk of the Bn had been embarked, resulting in the loss of most of the officers and men of 2 and 4 Coys. The Coys were stated to have been in one of the big sheds on the quay in rear of the Station. Attempts had been made to contact forward, when “an officer” is stated to have told Capt. J.H.V. HIGGON (O.C. 4 Coy) that the last destroyer had left. After a short conference between O.C. 2 Coy and O.C. 4 Coy, it was decided to strike out through the German ring along the coast in the direction of ETAPLES.


2/Lieut. TWINING and 2/Lieut. BEDINGFELD and a proportion of 4 Coy (number unknown) became early cut off from the remainder as a result of encountering fire more than once down the streets up which they were advancing. Having lost touch with their Coy they decided to return to the quay and were soon taken off in a Destroyer.



ROLL OF OFFICER WHO EMBARKED 21 MAY 1940

BATTALION HEADQUARTERS.

Lt.-Col. Sir ALEXANDER STANIER, Bt. MC - C.O.

Major G. St V. J. VIGOR - 2 I/C

Capt. & Adjt. R.C. ROSE PRICE

Lieut. P.T. PETLEY - IO

Lieut. & Qmr. W.L. BRAY, DCM, MM


HEADQUARTER COMPANY.

Captain R.B. HODGKINSON

Captain P.V. MAKINS - MTO.

Lieut. R.C. SHARPLES, C.Pl.

2/Lieut. R.D. STEWART-BROWN, SO.


No. 1 COMPANY.

Captain C.H.R. HEBER-PERCY

Captain J. DUNCAN

Lieut. C.A. StJ. P. HARMSWORTH

2/Lieut. R.C.L. FITZWILLIAMS

2/Lieut. N.T.L. FISHER

2/Lieut. K.R. JOHNSTONE


No. 2 COMPANY.

Major H.M.C. JONES-MORTIMER

Lieut. P.J. McCALL

2/Lieut. J.D.A. SYRETT

2/Lieut. I.H.T. GARNETT-ORME


No. 3 COMPANY

Major J.C. WINDSOR LEWIS

Captain W.H. CARTER

2/Lieut. R.C.H. PILCHER

2/Lieut. C.F. CRAWSHAY (att. HQ. Coy)

2/Lieut. A.MacN. PERRINS

2/Lieut. H.H. HUGHES


No. 4 COMPANY

Captain J.H.V. HIGGON

Captain A.H.S. COOMBE-TENNANT

2/Lieut. R.C. TWINING

2/Lieut. E.G.F. BEDINGFELD

2/Lieut. P.F. HANBURY


HQ 20TH GDS BDE

Lieut. J.A. MEADE - A/T Coy Commander

2/Lieut. P.S. BLACK - A/T Pl Commander

2/Lieut. M.W.T. LEATHEM - Bde. Liaison Off.


ATTACHED OFFICERS

Rev. P.F. PAYNE, R.A. Ch.D.

Lieut. J.H. TAYLOR, RAMC


OTHER RANKS WHO EMBARKED

With 2nd Bn - 894

With 20th Gds Bde - 45

Total - 939

RACC personnel att. to 2nd Bn - 5

Total - 944



ROLL OF OFFICER WHO DISEMBARKED 24 MAY 1940

BATTALION HEADQUARTERS.

Lt.-Col. Sir ALEXANDER STANIER, Bt. MC - C.O.

Major G. St V. J. VIGOR - 2 I/C

Capt. & Adjt. R.C. ROSE PRICE

Lieut. P.T. PETLEY - IO

Lieut. & Qmr. W.L. BRAY, DCM, MM


HEADQUARTER COMPANY.

Captain R.B. HODGKINSON

Captain P.V. MAKINS - MTO.

Lieut. R.C. SHARPLES, C.Pl.

2/Lieut. R.D. STEWART-BROWN, SO.


No. 1 COMPANY.

Captain C.H.R. HEBER-PERCY

Lieut. C.A. StJ. P. HARMSWORTH

2/Lieut. R.C.L. FITZWILLIAMS

2/Lieut. N.T.L. FISHER

2/Lieut. K.R. JOHNSTONE


No. 2 COMPANY.

2/Lieut. J.D.A. SYRETT


No. 3 COMPANY

2/Lieut. C.F. CRAWSHAY (att. HQ. Coy)


No. 4 COMPANY

2/Lieut. R.C. TWINING

2/Lieut. E.G.F. BEDINGFELD


HQ 20TH GDS BDE

Lieut. J.A. MEADE - A/T Coy Commander

2/Lieut. M.W.T. LEATHEM - Bde. Liaison Off.


ATTACHED OFFICERS

Rev. P.F. PAYNE, R.A. Ch.D.

Lieut. J.H. TAYLOR, RAMC


CASUALTIES

Major J.C. WINDSOR LEWIS - “MISSING”

Major H.M.C. JONES-MORTIMER - “MISSING”

Captain J.H.V. HIGGON - “MISSING”

Captain W. H. CARTER - “MISSING”

Captain J. DUNCAN - “KILLED” http://www.cwgc.org/search/casualty_details.aspx?casualty=2278453

Captain A.H.S. COOMBE-TENNANT - “MISSING”

Lieut. P.J. McCALL - “MISSING”

2/Lieut. R.C.H. PILCHER - “MISSING”

2/Lieut. P.S. BLACK - “MISSING”

2/Lieut. A. MacN. PERRINS - “MISSING”

2/Lieut. I.H.T. GARNETT-ORME - “MISSING”

2/Lieut. P.F. HANBURY - “MISSING”

2/Lieut. H.H. HUGHES - “KILLED” http://www.cwgc.org/search/casualty_details.aspx?casualty=2280639


OTHER RANKS.

No. who disembarked with 2nd Bn. - 529

No. who disembarked with HQ 20TH GDS BDE. - 27

R.A.O.C. personnel - 5

No. wounded evacuated to hospitals in England - 62

Total - 623


CASUALTIES

Killed - 4

Missing - 317

Total - 944



TACTICAL NOTES ON THE OPERATIONS.


1. A/T RIFLES.

It is not possible to say accurately if A/T Rifles actually knocked out enemy tanks as they always fired in conjunction with the A/T Guns supporting the Bn. Certainly a good deal of damage was done to enemy tanks at least five being put out of action by fire. One tank was put out of action by 3” Mortar fire.


2. A/T GUNS.

These guns certainly stopped the tanks. More damage could have been done if the shooting had been better. This was of a low standard as the gunners had had very little training. Eventually these guns were all abandoned or put out of action due to the following causes:-

(i) Once spotted by the enemy they received very heavy punishment and in every case the enemy attempted to outflank the guns and shoot at the gunners from their rear.

(ii) The guns were not properly dug in. Tools were very short and the gun crews only tried to dig themselves in, not the gun. This is considered essential.

(iii) No transport was available to load and move the guns.


3. ROAD BLOCKS.

In nearly all cases road blocks were made of cars and cars. The enemy tanks on approaching set fire to these by means of a flame thrower or tracer bullets. Although the men holding the blocks gallantly defended them in some cases they had to withdraw because of the flames and smoke. It is therefore recommended the trenches, cratering, wire and non-flammable things are used for road blocks.


4. INFANTRY POSTS.

Every effort was made to dig everyone in and although extra picks and shovels were available and were used, they were hardly sufficient. As long as men remained in their trenches casualties were low and the enemy had difficulty in dislodging our posts. Casualties occurred when Cmdrs finding the enemy attacking their flanks attempted to move into alternative positions. Trenches must be dug to give all round defence and sited so that it is unnecessary to move once the attack starts.


5. 2” MORTARS, AND GRENADES

2” Mortars might have been very useful in screening posts from tanks but although Mortars were carried there was no ammunition available. Very few grenades were used, I think chiefly because men had never used live ones before and were not sure of this weapon.


6. COMMUNICATIONS

Owing to there only being three maps issued, one 1” to 1 mile and two smaller scaled ones, it was impossible to send out written orders. Also very little signalling equipment came with the Bn from DOVER. It was impossible to lay line or communicate by visual with Coys. There were only a few Motor cycles and bicycles which again added to the difficulty of keeping Coys in touch and in the end No. 3 Coy were lost and did not withdraw due in a great part to the lack of communication between Coys and Bn HQ.



SUBJECT: OPERATIONS - BOULOGNE.

FROM: MAJOR J.C. WINDSOR LEWIS, WELSH GUARDS.

TO: REGIMENTAL ADJUTANT, WELSH GUARDS.


Sir,


I have the honour to submit to Lieutenant-Colonel Commanding the Regiment an account of the Battle of BOULOGNE May 21/25th. My account will be in two parts; first as O.C. No. 3 Coy, 2nd Bn. WELSH GUARDS; secondly as Commander of the Small Allied Force which held the Harbour Station after the 20TH GDS BDE had been withdrawn.


After arrival at BOULOGNE on 22 May, No. 3 Coy was detailed to occupy a defensive position astride the village of OSTROHOVE just outside the town. It was difficult to move through BOULOGNE town owing to the congestion caused by the crowds of refugees and isolated parties of French soldiers who were streaming down the streets.


I had been in my position for an hour when the Commanding Officer arrived at my HQ in the village of OSTROHOVE and told me to move and take up a position further to the left, as the Bn was to hold a wide front.


My new position was on a frontage of over 1.000 yds,, my Right forward Platoon being very isolated form the remainder of my Coy. My Left forward Platoon was in position on X Rds, EAST of ST MARTIN, my reserve Platoon and Coy being in small house and farm some 200 yds behind my Left forward Platoon on the Main Road. With me at my HQ and in position were 2 Anti-tank Guns, while another of these weapons was situated between No. 7 & 8 Platoons (my forward Platoons). This gun did good work and knocked out at least 1 tank.


No. 7 Pl established 1 road block in front of its position. No. 8 Pl put up two road blocks, whilst No. 0 Pl, my reserve Pl, dug themselves in for all round defence by the house across the Main Road and to the right of the farm where my Coy HQ were.

In the evening of 22 May we were attacked by Light Automatic Fire and 2 or 3 enemy tanks. My forward Platoons made a spirited reply and the tanks withdrew.

All Pls sent out patrols during the night, made contact with Coys on right and left, Nos. 2 and 1 Coy respectively, but had nothing to report re enemy movements.

About an hour after Stand-down the following morning, 23 May, our position was again attacked, this time more strongly by enemy tanks. After ¾ hour the tanks withdrew, one tank having been put out of action by our Anti-tank Gunfire.

The attack was resumed again within an hour. 3 heavy German tanks had appeared on our front, and both the road blocks of No. 8 Pl had been set on fire. The Coy were resisting this attack well, and No. 8 Pl was particularly well led by 2/Lieut. R.C.H. PILCHER, despite the fact that two tanks were practically on top of them. 1½ miles on my left flank I could see German Artillery getting into position, and more Tank movement could also be discerned in the distance. The shelling and firing from the tanks on our front was growing in its intensity. Word reached me by messenger that my right flank was exposed as No. 2 Coy had been forced to withdraw and with my own right forward Pl also compelled to withdraw, I decided to retire with what was left of the Coy.


When I reached the Citadel in BOULOGNE I sent a message to BDE HQ telling them where I was. I was told that all Coys were withdrawing and to conform to this withdrawal to the Quay.


In the afternoon I was ordered to establish Road blocks in the town. BOULOGNE was to be held. I had few men left by this time, but with three Sections forward covering Rd blocks and Coy HQ down the street about 300 yds in rear, I took up position. Shortly after dusk, 2 tanks approached my position and infantry could be seen infiltrating behind them. I opened as strong a fire as possible with my two Sections (the other was on opposite side of road) and we drove the infantry back and stopped the tanks temporarily.


In the meantime, intense M.G. fire and Rifle fire was directed at my position (in big empty municipal building ) from the houses opposite. 2 houses on my left were set on fire, and some German infantry had succeeded in occupying a house on our left flank, but they gave no trouble when dealt with by the Bren Gun fire of one of my Sections.

Firing died down after midnight and after Stand-to in the morning I sent out a messenger to discover what was happening.


From the time when I had first taken up my position until now, I had sent three messengers to Bn HQ but none of them had returned. I thought at the time the Commanding Officer might have retained them owing to the heavy firing that was going on. Later I discovered that only one message had got through. The other 2 men must have been killed.


I never received the Bn order to withdraw as I could not be found. I remained with my Forward Sections all the night as I was the only officer left in the Company after the battle in the morning. The others were all casualties. This explains why I never received the order to withdraw. I was therefore left in BOULOGNE with the two Sections that I had been with on the Road blocks; the remainder of my Coy were successfully evacuated to ENGLAND with the Bn.


On hearing the news after Stand-to in the morning 24 May that the Bn had gone, I decided to move as quickly as possible to the Quayside with the men I had left.

On arrival at Quayside with the remnants of my Coy, I found the utmost confusion in progress. There were stragglers from Nos. 2 and 4 Coys, 2 W.G., some IRISH GUARDS, about 150 refugees, 120 odd French soldiers with two officers, 200 of the A.M.Ps, 120 men of R.E. and others. I collected this force in the sheds by the station while I, with a Major E.G.M. BURT of the R.E. who had since died, went off to find the minesweeper which had just come into the harbour and ask if it would evacuate us to ENGLAND.


The minesweeper, which was FRENCH, refused but said that when it put to sea again that morning it would make signals to any boat or warship that is saw to come to our rescue. I had previously been told by Staff Officers on the Harbour Station that the BDE had embarked overnight for U.K. but that boats were supposed to be returning for us. They never came, and I heard later that they had been sunk in the effort to reach beleaguered BOULOGNE.


On re-crossing the bridge with Major BURT to get back to the troops in the sheds, we were heavily fired upon by M.G.s from neighbouring houses but using cars, etc for cover we managed to reach the sheds without being hit.


The sheds were now very congested with troops and refugees, so I sent off and officer of the R.E., Lieut. KENNETH ROSCOE, to make a reconnaissance of the station itself and see how best we could defend it and obtain cover there for all. This officer returned shortly after with a comprehensive report and I decided immediately to move the refugees into the Shelters underneath the Station itself.


The Germans then began to open fire upon us in the sheds and several men were wounded. I immediately began to retire my force into the station. This was quite easily effected as there was a covered way of approach afforded by a line of railway trucks. The fire from the German tanks was quite severe when we finally abandoned the sheds which shortly afterwards went up in flames. The Germans then began to fire incendiary bombs into the Station and several of these lit up trucks which contained ammunition and inflammable matter. I hastily prepared the Station for defence by the erection of a sandbagged breastwork in front of the Station and on the left flank overlooking the Town and Custom House. The sandbags were already in the Station. Many of my Command, such as the A.M.Ps were unarmed, and while they prepared the position and carried sandbags the W. GDS personnel and French took up positions under cover and in trains, two of which were in the Station. All Ranks worked very hard and carried out their tasks under fire from enemy tanks and M.Gs.


By midday 24 May we had established as good a defensive position as possible under the circumstances. The position was held by the W. GDS and French infantry. All these troops were already thoroughly exhausted and their tenacity and bravery in keeping the enemy at bay for nearly 2 days without sufficient food and water is, I think, worthy of the highest praise.


Firing form the German tanks, of whom 3 were in front of our position, continued all day, sometimes intense at other times mild, and after 2200hrs dying down altogether. In the evening of 24 May, about 1800hrs, the Germans made an effort to land form a boat on my right flank. Their party of infantry was a small one and we drove them back to the other side of the Harbour with Bren A.T. Rifle and Rifle fire, inflicting losses upon them.


I was able to give the troops holding our positions some rest that night in relays, but early in the morning after Stand-to when the French infantry were holding our front line, the Germans again attacked heavily and we lost several men. At about 0900hrs I was able to see with binoculars big troop movements taking place on the high ground above BOULOGNE. I hoped these might be French but it soon turned out to be a big enemy force arriving to consolidate the capture of the town.


Their artillery which had begun to fire upon us the previous evening was increased, a bit shed to the right of my position was blown up and my own wounded men were being knocked about.


I made a reconnaissance to my flank to see if there was any possible way of escape, but the route was covered by two enemy tanks.


At noon the enemy, now strongly reinforced, opened up an intense fire upon my position and I was compelled to withdraw from my front line of breastworks into the Station itself, protected only by glass overhead and by a train on the left flank.

There was a little food and ammunition left and no more water, and after another hour of the greatest discomfort I decided that my position was now quite hopeless and that a massacre would ensue if I did not capitulate. Having an eye to the number of refugees under my care and the big percentage of unarmed men, I decided to surrender.


My little force had fought most splendidly in the face of heavy odds. Exhausted and without proper nourishment they never lost heart.


On a separate paper I have put forward the names of these Officers and O.R.s under me in both operations whom I consider worthy of decorations.


I have the honour to be,

Sir,

Your obedient Servant,


(sgd) J.C. WINDSOR LEWIS, Major.