Unofficial War Diary of B Company, 1st Battalion, South Essex Regiment.

France 1940.

The Battalion was shipped to France in October 1939 as part of the BEF and spent the winter digging fortifications along the Belgian border. Once active operations commenced in May 1940, it marched to the Dyle position in Belgium, only to retreat once more when Guderians Panzer Group broke through on the Meuse. Its only action was a minor skirmish covering signal detachments as they destroyed vital papers.

Two sections from 5 platoon, B cmpany were involved in these skirmishes. No. 1 section maanged to repel a platoon size German attack, the enemy leaving four dead and 12 wounded on the field, our own losses being three wounded and one killed. No.2 section was overwhelmed, losing three wounded, one dead and five captured. In both cases the signallers were able to complete their work and pull out. The Battalion was evacuated from Dunkirk and spent the next four years in Britain.

(see Big Bonfire scenario and reports on Scenarios page)

Training in Britain.

The company engaged in intensive training at all levels including divisional exercises. The revised 1943 and 1944 infantry regulations certainly seemed to work at platoon level, although some officers expressed doubts that the Germans would be so obliging as to leave covered approach routes on their flanks which allowed their subunits to be isolated and destroyed in detail. The general principles of fire & movement, and the role of flanking fire in machine gun tactics was driven home and seemed eminently sensible.

{accounts of numerous hilarious and poignant episodes on garrison duty deleted}

Normandy 1944.

The Battalion landed on Gold beach on 8th June 1944 as part of the 43rd Infantry Division. After moving inland, the companies first action was on June 10th near the village of Le Hesnay.

No. 6 platoon, B Company was ordered to reconnoitre enemy positions around the village. Despite losses to enemy S mines, the platoon succeeded in overunning an enemy OP, capturing four members of the 12th SS Panzer Division in the process.

No. 7 platoon was sent on a similar mission in the same area on June 12th, but the enemy had moved reinforcements into the area. The platoon was pinned down by intense mortar and machinegun fire and suffered serious losses, five dead, eight wounded and five missing. They did succeed in identifying enemy positions and strength. The platoon commander, Lt Johnson, was killed by mortar fire and Sgnt Wilson took temporary command of the platoon.

June 15th 1944. B Company was ordered to launch a company size attack, supported by tanks and artillery, in the vicinity of Le Hesnay. The aim of the attack was to clear the orchards of machinegun and observation posts, advancing as far as the D269 to secure a start line for an even bigger attack. Whilst there was strong opposition from the 12th SS Panzer Division, including an armoured counterattack, the assault was a complete success with only minor casualties suffered and the objective taken. Cooperation of infantry, armour and artillery worked very well, but the Germans coordination seemed to go to pot. The intervention of medium guns disabled one German tank which was subsequently captured, and drove the rest away. A number of prisoners were taken. One Churchill tank from 107th RAC was destroyed by enemy bazooka fire, our total casualties amounting to four dead and nine wounded (including tank crews).

(see accounts of Le Hesnay on battles page)