Regiments Kevin Baverstock's book "Breaking the Panzers"
by Tom Kyle from the Daily Mail Aug 2, 2002
AT DAWN on July 1, 1916 - alongside countless thousands of
others — the Tyneside Scottish Brigade went over the top at the Battle of the
Somme. By the end of that terrible day, 940 of its men had been killed and 1,600
wounded - nearly 80 per cent of the four battalions.
Exactly 28 years later, on July 1, 1944, a new generation of
the Geordie Jocks again faced the German Army head-on in Northern France - and
again suffered fearful casualties.
Three weeks after D-Day, the
battalion was dug in on the high ground
south of the village of Rauray in Normandy, awaiting the counter-attack from the
55 Panzer divisions that Hitler expected to sweep the Allies back into the
At the start of World War II, the name
Tyneside Scottish - originally a
‘pals’ brigade of Tynesiders with Scottish ancestry - had been revived and the
unit, of battalion strength, affiliated to The Black watch, based in Perth. They
were posted to France in April 1940, just in time to mount a desperate last
stand at Ficheux, where they held up Rommel’s Panzers for five hours to win
vital time for the evacuation of the troops trapped on the beaches at Dunkirk.
the next three years, the battalion was reinforced
and retrained, particularly in mortar and anti-tank warfare, in Iceland,
Scotland and Wales. The Tyneside Scots
missed D-Day itself; landing in France almost a week later on June 12.
Three weeks after D-Day, the Allies were
still desperately trying to force a breakout from Normandy. Field Marshall
Montgomery launched Operation Epsom, an attack designed to cross the River Odon
and take the area south of Caen, the pivotal point in the breakout strategy.
To protect the right flank of Epsom,
Operation Martlet was initiated a day earlier, on June 25, to secure the high
ground around Rauray.
The success of Martlet in capturing the
Rauray Spur - despite severe
casualties among the Royal Highland Fusiliers and significant ones to the
Tyneside Scottish — eased the pressure on the main assault.
Despite this, little progress was made on
the Epsom front until, against all odds, the 2nd Battalion Argyll and Sutherland
Highlanders took the bridge over the Odon at Tourmauville.
On June 30, with Rauray secured, the
Tyneside Scottish, flanked by the King’s Own Scottish Borderers and the Durham
Light Infantry, constructed slit trenches and defensive gun emplacements around
the village. All that was left to do was wait
- for the dawn and the hated and feared SS fanatics.
In his new book, Breaking the
Panzers, Kevin Baverstock (whose father Leonard was a Tyneside Scottish private
at Rauray) tells the story of that day, July 1, 1944, through official
regimental communications and the
eyewitness accounts of the men:
WITH A, B and C Companies dug in south of
the village and D Company in reserve, the first signal of the day was pencilled
into the log. C Company heard tanks limbering up around the village of
Brettevillette, about 1,000 yards to the south-east.
Soon after, the German mortar fire began.
At 0415 a reconnaissance patrol reported that the enemy was forming up for a big
armoured drive. At 0500, the first light of day was dulled by a wave of smoke
laid down by the Germans to mask the attack.
Rifleman A Corris:
‘Dawn broke. We were in a mist. To my surprise,
it lifted in seconds and I realised
it had been a smokescreen. In the field
immediately to our front and at about 500 yards were rows of tanks, silent and
motionless. They had crept up in the night.’
THE German barrage was at its height to soften up the
defenders before the first assault. At 0640, C Company
was under attack. The Germans were advancing rapidly in
groups of five Panzers with supporting infantry. Machine guns and snipers raked
the slit trenches at close quarters. C Company took heavy machine gun
casualties, but hung on as the Panzers rolled on towards B Company.
By 0655 the Tyneside Scots were frantically firing non-stop
to withstand the onslaught.
Stretcher bearer DW Jarvis: ‘Jerry opened fire with
everything he had. I watched the tanks coming through, followed by the
AFTER barely 20 minutes, the frontline troops had been
severely mauled, but the Germans had not managed to achieve their primary
objective of bursting through the British front. The hard-pressed B Company put
up a spirited fight. Sergeant David Watson’s six-pounder gun
detachment stopped the Panzers in their tracks, knocking out at least
five and, by some accounts, ten.
The initial attack had been blunted, although C Company was
dangerously short of men. A Company was also in need of urgent assistance.
Sgt D Watson: ‘Someone shouted
"Tanks" and everyone got to their positions. My Bren gunner was severely
wounded, but we kept on firing at the tanks. Then my aimer was struck in the
face and blinded. I took on his job and with the speed that the loader kept
pushing the shells in, we managed to take a few of the tanks
- but we were running short of ammunition. Then I was hit In the leg and
my loader on the hand. We were bleeding but just carried on firing until we, had
no ammunition left. As we were both wounded, we had nothing else to do but leave
Sgt Watson was later awarded the Military Medal.
DESPITE the sterling work by the anti-tank guns, the outer
defences had been penetrated and Panzers were threatening to enter Rauray.
By 0822, C Company’s position was looking pretty hopeless,
with some men already taken prisoner. The order was given to fall
back and make a stand on the
southern edge of the village. B Company had become disjointed, but Captain HP
Calderwood was still sending radio messages back to direct the British armour
and artillery fire. The scattered sections of A Company were drifting towards
the KOSB on their left.
Lt SF McLaren:‘All the Jocks I could see were
banging away, but the enemy tanks were more or less on our position and I had no
contact with Company HQ.
‘I could see little sign of life and ordered the few troops I
was in contact with to fall back.’
PANZERS had infiltrated deep into the territory defended by
the Tyneside Scottish. What was left of B Company had been completely pinned
down by machine gun fire and could only wait and hope for reinforcements. In
reserve, D Company made ready for action.
Pte (Acting Cpl) J W Barnes:‘Word was passed on
that they had smashed up B Company with tanks and infantry, had partially
overrun A Company ‘s perimeter and were heading our way.’
WITH the first phase of the battle over, the Durham Light
Infantry’s situation was reasonably under control to the west, but the state of
affairs with the Tyneside Scottish on the eastern flank was less certain. There
was no news of A Company and B Company was once more being encircled.
Virtually isolated, its position was very serious.
Reinforcements from D Company were ordered to fight their way through to join
what was left of B Company, but met with stiff resistance.
Pte (Acting CpI) J W Barnes:‘Lt J McAllan’s Bren
carrier was movin forward when it was hit by a tank shell. A large plume of
smoke went up. The driver was very badly injured or dying and Lt McAllan
seriously wounded. As we attempted to staunch some of the blood, I saw the tank
commander climb out of the turret and sit down on the front. He lit a cigarette
and watched us through binoculars as we carried our wounded men away.’
THE battle had reached a crisis point for the Tyneside
Scottish. It was crucial B Company was reinforced or it could not hope to hold
out much longer.
At 11.15, the second German attack was launched, under cover
of a heavy mortar bombardment. Under attack from enemy tanks, the KOSB, with
only one anti-tank gun left operational, were in a similar plight to their
Tyneside Scottish comrades.
Reinforcements were still edging forward, but losses were
high, including D Company commander, Major S Brewis, who was very seriously
wounded attacking an enemy machine gun.
Gunner P Moss (55th Anti-tank Regiment):‘We saw a
young Scot crawling along a hedgerow. His hand was severed and hanging at the
wrist. I carried him back to the Aid Post. He seemed more bothered about his pal
who he had left behind than himself.’
THE Germans’ second serious push had been held, but the
Panzers and infantry were already reforming for another effort.
Captain Shaw, of the KOSB, alerted HQ to the threat and
within a short space of time every available British gun was brought to bear on
the enemy build-up. The assault still came, however, and the Tyneside Scottish
bore the brunt. Still B Company held out, in anticipation of the imminent
arrival of reinforcements.
At 1230, disaster befell A Company. The battalion’s left
flank began to crumble as the encircling Panzers swung round to blast the slit
trenches from the side. Cut off from the KOSB, the shell-shocked and confused
soldiers staggered back towards Rauray.
Pte JLR Samson: ‘We saw the remnants of A Company
coming back, some without weapons some without helmets, practically all without
There were no NCOs and no anti-tank weapons. We attempted to
rally the boys, but even the threat of being fired upon by us could not halt
them. They were finished - and I for one could not
THE arrival of reinforcements gave B Company a much-needed
boost. But the Germans, having overrun A Company; were making a determined
strike at the battalion’s left flank. At 13.43, more Panzers passed B Company,
heading straight for C Company’s front.
Pte P Lawton:‘Within minutes of my leaving a slit
trench a shell hit it. I went back to see what could be done and found Pte Hamer
had been virtually cut in half by the shell. Pte Holt didn’t appear to have
suffered any physical damaqe at all, but he was taken off suffering from shock.
I never saw him again, but I have no doubt he has felt the effects of that
moment ever since.’
THE Panzers were queuing up to attack what remained of the
Tyneside Scottish, but Captain Calderwood managed to call down another artillery
B Company came under renewed attack, but Major W K Angus
somehow rallied 30 survivors from C Company who had been cut off. Following the
fourth attack, the battalion’s position was even more unstable. Losses had been
appalling and reinforcements, of whatever calibre, were urgently required.
L/Cpl K Taylorson: ‘I was issuing petrol behind the
lines, but we all knew it was something big by the number of wounded that were
coming back. At one point there was a rumour that all cooks, clerks and drivers
not really needed were to be sent up the line.’
AFTER nine hours of fighting and four major assaults, the end
was in sight. At 16.05, the enemy prepared to make one last attack.
Once again Capt Calderwood called for artillery. Radio
procedure had been abandoned and he increasingly shouted: ‘For mercy’s sake,
give us fire.’ Again a great barrage came down and the fifth and final German
attack failed before it really started.
The captain was awarded the Military Cross for remaining at
his critical forward post throughout the battle, under more or less constant
bombardment. Then British flame-throwing Churchill tanks, known as Crocodiles,
Pte J Munro:‘Everyone was tired and flaky. Our
initial relief came in the form of Crocodiles. These proceeded to flush out any
pockets of enemy activity.’
BY late afternoon, enemy snipers and machine gunners were
being cleared from the fields around Rauray. At 18.10, the counterattack began.
B Company was relieved and A Company’s original position was retaken, while the
remnants of C Company joined in an attack to flush the enemy from the company’s
initial position. To the left, the Royal Highland Fusiliers moved forward to
straighten the line held by the KOSB. After dark, the guns fell silent. Rauray
had been held and the Panzers repulsed.
Pte (Acting CpI) JW Barnes:‘The company areas were
a mass of debris, bodies and burning tanks. At the risk of sounding
melodramatic, it was a kind of Armageddon.’
Cpt G Cowie:‘The next day, the survivors paraded
and the RSM called the battalion roll. More than 850-strong. Perhaps the same
number answered their names as those that did not.’
The Tyneside Scottish CO, Lt Col RWM de Winton, received the
following message from Maj-Gen EH Barker, Commander of 49th Division: ‘Will you
please pass on to your troops my congratulations on the magnificent stand made
by you today. You have made a great name for yourselves. I deplore the
casualties you have sustained, but it is most gratifying to know that the
gallant band who remained were successfully relieved.’
Weeks after Rauray, the ‘Tyneside Scottish received a
stunning blow when it learned it was to be disbanded. Due to the desperate
manpower shortage, the brigade was to be broken up and used to reinforce the
rest of the Army.
Although some went to the Argylls and the Royal Highland
Fusiliers, most joined their parent regiment, The Black Watch. With them they
brought a major battle honour that remains on The Black Watch Colours to this
day: The Defence of Rauray, July 1, 1944.
Breaking the Panzers, by Kevin Baverstock, is out now at £25
from publishers Sutton.
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