23rd Hussars - Le Beny Bocage

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mattstat1
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23rd Hussars - Le Beny Bocage

Post by mattstat1 » Thu Aug 05, 2010 5:47 am

Hello,

I wondered if anyone could help me with a bit of research I'm doing...

My Uncle's father was a trooper in the 23rd Hussars and was killed on 6th August in his tank near the village of Le Beny Bocage in Normandy. His tank commander - Robert Gilbertson survived the hit but my uncles father and two others in the tank perished.
I recently visited his grave at the CWGC cemetery in Bayeux where his stone is butted up against the two other comrades he died with, presumably as they were unable to separate the remains.

Since starting this research my uncle has sadly passed away but he left me some documents which included a letter from Gilbertson to my uncle's mother explaining what happened. Very moving. I also have a copy of a letter from a Major Blacker expressing his condolences.

I'm new to all this researching so started with searches on google which brings up this forum quite a bit in reference to the 23rd Hussars - so I thought I'd try and tap into some of the knowledge here first.

I'm having difficulty working out which squadron my Uncles father was in?
Also, is it likely he was inside a Sherman?
Does the rank of Trooper have a specific role - was he the driver?
Also, he died on 6th August and I'm having trouble working out which operation this was under - as Goodwood finished in late July?

Next year I plan to visit Le Beny Bocage - sadly, somewhere my uncle never made it to.

Any help much appreciated.

Matt

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Re: 23rd Hussars - Le Beny Bocage

Post by PaulJ » Sat Aug 07, 2010 5:51 pm

Matt,

Straight off the top of my head I can tell you that "trooper" is simply the term in cavalry regiments (in British and Commonwealth Armies) for private. As such, he could have been a driver, gunner, radio operator or loader.
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Re: 23rd Hussars - Le Beny Bocage

Post by michael kenny » Sun Aug 08, 2010 4:56 pm

'The Story Of The Twenty-Third Hussars 1940-1946
pages 104-107
Published April 1946.

By the evening of August 5th it really began to look as though
the Ninth SS Panzer Division had had about enough. They had
made no ground and the only casualties they had inflicted on us that:
day had been from shelling. Our ears were by now very well tuned
to hear any noise that might be an approaching shell and everyone
certainly knew the quickest way into his slit trench. By staying in
our tanks or slit trenches, and by doing the minimum walking in the
open, our casualties could not be greatly increased by shelling alone,
and the enemy appeared to be tired of counter-attacking. It was de-
cided to withdraw 'A' and 'B' Squadrons that night, and to leave 'C
Squadron with a troop from 'W to take over the whole regimental
position and support the "Warwicks. In the darkness the two squa-
drons withdrew to La Barbiere, and the next morning (6th) there was only
RHQ left to watch 'C' Squadron take up their new positions. All
was quiet until about midday when the unmistakeable crack of an
eighty-eight put everyone on the alert. For the first time the enemy
had worked a Tiger up onto the ridge to our south and, concealed
in the trees, it could not fail to see most of our tanks on the south
side, which had been completely immune from A.P. fire for the last
three days. Luckily we were all covered with cut branches, or it
might have been serious, for it was quite impossible to see where the
Tiger was. It first of all put three shells through a RHQ scout car,
but, although its shots were passing within ten yards of the RHQ
tanks, for some reason the Tiger did not notice them, though every
moment it seemed more certain that they could not fail to be seen
and destroyed eventually. A tank in 'C' Squadron began to fire back,
and must have worried the Tiger, for it turned its attention towards
the other side of the road. Without delay it knocked out a self-propel-
led seventeen-pounder, one of a troop which had been sent to our
support. This SP happened to be surrounded by slit trenches filled
with men of the Warwicks and, seeing that if the ammunition began
to explode it would undoubtedly injure them, Lieut. Robson and an
infantry officer courageously jumped into the burning vehicle and
be^n to throw out the rounds. This very brave action cost them
bodi their lives, for the Tiger, seeing movement on the SP put two
more shells into it, killing them instantly, and depriving the Regi-
ment of a very gallant and popular young officer.
The Tiger evidently was also having difficulty in seeing, and he
either withdrew or ceased fire, for no more was heard from him tor
a while. Regimental Headquarters withdrew and the C Squadron
force was left covering the whole hill.
The Guards, meanwhile, were slowly closing the gap on our left
flank, and were level with Le Beny Bocage. They were unable, how-
ever, to advance any further, because Estry proved to be an exceptio-
nally well-held strong-point. Moreover, their own left flank was
having its share of counter-attacks, and there was no prospect of a
further advance by them for several days yet. On our right the Fifes
and the Herefords had had much the same sort of a battle as we,
with the advantage, however, that we were on their left flank But the
Americans were now well into Brittany, and the speed-and direction
of their advance gave most cheering indications of what might be in
store for the Germans.
On Bas Perrier hill the situation looked quite satisfactory for
complete peace reigned for the early afternoon and everyone began
to think that the worst was over. But, as on so many occasions in Nor-
mandy, the quietest hour was but the prelude to the storm. It burst
upon Bas Perrier hill at four o'clock - a concentrated bombardment
by all the artillery the Germans could muster. The first concentra-
tion of minutes' landed all round the Warwicks' Battalion Headquar-
ters It caused casualties and handicapped the measures which had
to be taken at once to deal with the German counter-attack coming
in from the south. Very soon the rattle of Spandau came closer
through the trees and the same Tiger, which had appeared in the mor-
ning, began to fire again, this time with two or three friends to assist
him. Immediately our artillery swung into action, giving liner support
than ever. It was answered by German guns of all calibres and the
shelling of our positions continued unabated, while our tanks hurled
high-explosive into the trees and tried to destroy the Tigers with their
17-pounders. Soon, however, the leading company of the
Warwicks was driven back, and the enemy closed in to our main posi-
tion. 'C' Squadron were beginning to lose tanks. Captain Phillimore,
having destroyed a Panther, was severely wounded and Corporal
Gilbertson's tank and crew were also victims. Trooper Duck distin-
guished himself by pulling Corporal Gilbertson and his gunner to
safety under heavy fire.
Sergeant Johnson moved his tank
forward into an exposed position, knowing it to be the only means
of dealing with the enemy tanks. He fird, but a Tiger retaliated,
knocking off his tank's track. Sergeant Johnson got out with his crew
and coolly mended it under intense shelling. In the village a company
of Warwicks were in a serious condition, harassed by tank fire, and
Major Hagger sent a troop down to assist them. It was commanded
by Sergeant Smith and, by the time it reached the village, it consisted
of only Sergeant Jackson's tank besides his own. Sergeant Jackson
had just arrived in a replacement Sherman, which was in a hopeless
mechanical condition, and it broke down on the outskirts. Sergeant
Smith continued alone into the village where he gave valuable sup-
port. At one moment he found himself within thirty yards of a Pan-
ther on the other side of a house. Neither could move for fear of
putting himself at the mercy of the other, and, while they remained
still, the house gave protection to each of them. Small arms fire was
hitting his turret and Sergeant Smith had to remain in this unpleasant
predicament until the Panther managed to withdraw. He was then
called back to the Squadron and on his way found Sergeant Jackson,
who had been surrounded by German infantry in a narrow lane in
his immobile tank, but had refused to abandon his now almost useless
machine despite all attacks and although told to do so by the Squa-
dron Leader. Both Sergeants and their crews descended from their
tanks and, although under fire, managed to tow Sergeant Jackson's
back to the hill.
The battle continued unabated, and despite all efforts by ourselves,
the Warwicks, and the artillery, whose guns were nearly red. hot by
now, the enemy began to creep round the left flank. As darkness was
falling they reached the top of the hill and began to 'bazooka' the
tanks. The fact that this serious situation was overcome was due very
largely to the bravery of Lieut. Bishop, commanding the left hand
troop, who was quite unshakeable and whose coolness put fresh heart
into the Warwicks. When light failed, the tanks drew back into a
close leaguer with the infantry in order to beat off a night attack..
Shortly before this Lieut. Treanor, who had Just joined the Regiment,
was killed.
The Germans did not continue their onslaught after dark and
when dawn (7th) came we were able to re-occupy most of our positions.
Sporadic and half-hearted attacks were launched during the morning,
but in nothing like the strength of the previous day. When patrols
were able to go into the woods in front of our position the reason for
this was obvious, for the slaughter was found to have been terrific.
We knew later that the last counter-attack was made by the newly
arrived Tenth SS Panzer Division, whose orders had been to take
our ndge and that of the Fife and Forfar whatever the cost. But the
cost had been too high and that badly mauled formation never fought
again until much later when, with its equally battered brother the
Ninth SS, it was launched against Arnhem.
'C Squadron and the 'B' Squadron troop were relieved at midday,
having fought a magnificent battle. Particular praise is due to Maior
Hagger, whose first big engagement as a Squadron Leader it was, and
whose determination and coolness had been a great factor in the
holding of Bas Perrier on August 6th. His leadership undoubtedly
had a most excellent effect on the hard-pressed Warwicks.
The Regiment re-assembled at La Barbiere and began to reform
for the next battle. All ranks were able to look back on a week of
great achievements. For rather less casualties than at Caen, the Regi-
ment had inflicted heavy damage on the enemy and had advanced a
substantial distance. They had withstood every kind of assault and
had given far more than they got. Moreover, everyone felt that the
enemy could not withstand such treatment for long and that some day
soon we should be advancing into France with the Americans, leavinc.
the battered slopes of Bas Perrier ridge many miles behind.

During the week of August 1st to 7th, the advance to Chenedolle
and the battle on the hill cost the Regiment the following casualties :-
Killed 2 officers
19 other ranks
Wounded 6 officers
47 other ranks



War Diary 23rd Hussars

Aug 1
0700 Regt in posn high ground S River Souleuve. B Sqn patrols towards BENY BOCAGE. 3 RTR pass through
1400 (6742) Move to BENY BOCAGE. Harbour there. 1 OR KIA, 4 wounded. 6 Shermans received. 2 Shermans 1 Stuart struck off.
Aug 2
0500 (7135) Advance 23 H leading with 8 RB on route. BEAULIEU-LE DESERT-PRESLES
100 2 a/c's destroyed LA INHHARDIERE
1500 B Sqn made contact CHENODELLE and held up. A Sqn attacked by Panthers EAST of LE BAS PERRIER
2000 (T 7233) Regt moves tp posn S of LE BAS PERIERE with 8 RB in support. 3 OR's KIA, Majot WATT, 2/Lt GUNYON and 9 OR's wounded.
Aug 3
In posn LE BAS PERIER Heavy shell fire and mortaring
1400 8 RB relieved by 2 Warwicks. 4 OR's KIA, 12 OR's wounded
Aug 4-5
LE BAS PERIER. 3 OR's KIA, 5 OR's wounded 4 OR's missing
Aug 6
0300 A and B Sqns withdrew to harbour LA BARBIERE 6938
1500 RHQ move to LA BARBIERE
1600 Enemy begin to counter-attack LE BAS PERRIER posn. Beaten off by C Sqn and 2 Warwicks. Estimated enemy strength-1 Bn.
Lt. ROBSON and 3 OR's KIA Capt. PHILLIMORE, 2/Lt.TREANOR, Capt. CROUCH and 9 OR's wounded. 2 OR's missing.
Aug 7
1500 C Sqn harbour LA BARBIERE. Capt. TAYLOR and 7 OR's wounded.
Aug 8-10
LA BARBIERE 6 Sherman V, 3 Sherman Vc 1 3 Ton lorry 5 Half tracks received.
4 sc cars, 1 3ton lorry 4 half tracks 12 Sherman V 3 Sherman Vc struck off. 1 OR killed
Aug 11
LA BARBIERE 1 Sc car, 6 Sherman V, 3 Sherman Vc, 1 3 ton lorry, 1 M/c reseived
5 Sherman V struck off.
Aug 12--31
30 Corps Op "KITTEN"
Aug 12
1700 (695376) Break harbour and move to MONTCHAMP Peace time march
1900 (744407) Arrive harbour area


Dead on August 6th

Lt P J W Robson
Lt P M Treanor (descibed as wounded above, must have DOW)
Trooper S Beazley
Trooper C Danks
Trooper A R Harrison

The book says it was C Squadron and 5 crew means it must have been a Sherman. The only other tank used by 23rd Hussars was a Stuart with a crew of 4.

The actions in August were during Operation Bluecoat

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Bluecoat

mattstat1
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Re: 23rd Hussars - Le Beny Bocage

Post by mattstat1 » Tue Aug 31, 2010 10:26 am

Gentlemen, and in particular, Michael Kenny, many thanks for your help.

My Uncle's father was Trooper Allan R Harrison, which you included at the bottom of your piece.

Much appreciated.

Matt

Steve Blake
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Re: 23rd Hussars - Le Beny Bocage

Post by Steve Blake » Sun Jan 23, 2011 10:54 am

Gentlemen,

I'm carrying soe research into the wartime career of my late father in law, Frank Kitto. Frank served in 23 Hussars during WW2 having prior to that been in 10th Hussars. I understand that they were brought back from colonial duties in India around 1940? to be amalgamated with other units forming a regular army cadre for the reformed 23 Hussars. I don't know the other units that were amalgamated to form 23 Hussars, but presume they like 10th were cavalry units reroled into Armour.

I've been through the other posts about 23 and would be grateful if anyone has any insights into the formation of the unit and what Squadron Frank served in. I understand that at the end of the war he was an SQMS in 23 Hussars.

I only hold one relavent document, 'Tarsus Pursuant' The History of 11 Armd Div, which is relevant but a level of command above the detail I am after.

I presume the National Army Museum will be able to help but would like a little more background before I approach them.

Best regards,

Steve Blake

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Re: 23rd Hussars - Le Beny Bocage

Post by grimmy » Mon Mar 14, 2011 8:03 am

Steve,

The 23rd Hussars were formed from scratch - 90% of its members had never previously seen action.

Its formation is described in some detail in "The Story of the 23rd Hussars" (1946) - hard to get hold of but well worth it.

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Re: 23rd Hussars - Le Beny Bocage

Post by grimmy » Mon Mar 14, 2011 8:11 am

.....I should add that my father, Frank 'Garth' Grimshaw, was in C Squadron. He always said (and still maintains, at the age of 88) that the action around Bas Perrier/Presles/Chenodolle was the worst he experienced.

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Re: 23rd Hussars - Le Beny Bocage

Post by grimmy » Tue Mar 15, 2011 3:46 am

I spoke to my dad last night, and can confirm that

Matt: Gilbertson, Duck and Harrison were in C Squadron;

Steve Blake: Frank Kitto wasn't - my dad doesn't know which squadron he was in, but at least it narrows it down a bit.

grimmy

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Re: 23rd Hussars - Le Beny Bocage

Post by mconrad » Sat Mar 19, 2011 12:44 pm

http://rapidshare.com/files/374071533/23rdHussars.pdf

I believe it was me who scanned this for eternity. Hope it helps.

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Re: 23rd Hussars - Le Beny Bocage

Post by Steve Blake » Sun Apr 03, 2011 2:47 pm

All,

It's a while since checked in and picked up on the replies. Thanks for the help, particularly mconrad - that was a labour of love!

Thanks again all,

I'll post up my findings in a little while

Steve

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Re: 23rd Hussars - Le Beny Bocage

Post by grimmy » Thu Apr 14, 2011 7:35 am

Matt,

Am I right in thinking that Trooper Harrison's grave is butted against that of 7905407 G.H.Beresford and 14224427 A.E.T.Cooper?

If so, I find this rather puzzling.

Beresford and 405253 R.M.Sives were killed in a half-track, part of a small convoy, which took a direct hit when trying to reach C and HQ squadrons of the Hussars on the ridge at Bas Perrier. My father helped to bury them (he was a good friend of Serjeant Beresford). The date was August 4th.

Their graves should have been together and yet they are not even next to each other - the grave of 7893618 S.M.Cull lies in between.

To add to the confusion (mine at least) the Roll of Honour at Bridlington Church gives 4th August as the date of death of Cooper and Cull, whereas they actually died (probably of wounds) two days later.

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Re: 23rd Hussars - Le Beny Bocage

Post by grimmy » Mon Jul 04, 2011 7:00 am

The following extracts are taken from The Battle: A Tank Officer Remembers by Lt. Geoffrey Bishop MC, 23rd Hussars. Published privately (no date).

All comments [within brackets] are my own.

Page 42
"Later in the afternoon my fourth tank arrived and I met the crew for the first time. Corporal Gilbertson, a lean, hawk-faced fellow with bright blue eyes; Harrison, his operator, a lanky soft-spoken Yorkshireman; Duck (of whom much more anon), a little bright-eyed fellow about my own age, from the same part of the world as Harrison; and Redmond, the gunner, a young, eager-faced kid with close-cropped fair hair."

[Note: by my reckoning that accounts for four crew members - a Sherman tank had a crew of five, of course. Bishop had just moved from 'B' Squadron to become a Troop Leader in 'C'. He gives the date as July 13th, though Bishop's dates should be treated with caution.]

Page 82
"One of the Sergeants [actually Corporal Gilbertson] moves out to get observation and when he is in the middle of the field and in line with the burnt-out gun [where Lt. Robson was killed], there are two deafening reports in quick succession and he is hit in the turret. The operator [Harrison] is instantly killed and the tank goes on fire. The rest of the crew crawl out through the escape hatch, their clothes alight. The dry corn also catches fire, but they roll or crawl to safety, the driver [Duck] dragging his wounded Commander [Gilbertson] to safety by the legs."

[Note: not sure what Bishop means by 'escape hatch'. He gives the date, incorrectly, as August 5th. 'C' Squadron (plus a single troop from 'B') and the infantry of the 2nd Warwicks were the sole defenders of the hill at this time.]

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Re: 23rd Hussars - Le Beny Bocage

Post by grimmy » Thu Aug 04, 2011 9:35 am

A 'then and now' from my trip to Normandy last week:
Tank01.jpg
Beny Bocage August 1st 1944
Tank01.jpg (93.01 KiB) Viewed 7221 times
Tank02.JPG
Beny Bocage July 28th 2011
Tank02.JPG (127.43 KiB) Viewed 7221 times

Rich
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Re: 23rd Hussars - Le Beny Bocage

Post by Rich » Thu Aug 04, 2011 5:25 pm

grimmy wrote:[Note: by my reckoning that accounts for four crew members - a Sherman tank had a crew of five, of course.]
If it was a Sherman 17-pdr then it was a four-man crew.
[Note: not sure what Bishop means by 'escape hatch'. He gives the date, incorrectly, as August 5th. 'C' Squadron (plus a single troop from 'B') and the infantry of the 2nd Warwicks were the sole defenders of the hill at this time.]
The escape hatch was in the belly of a Sherman and was an alternate escape route of exit through the turret or hull hatches were blocked or under fire.

Cheers!

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Re: 23rd Hussars - Le Beny Bocage

Post by grimmy » Fri Aug 05, 2011 2:27 am

Thanks Rich. That makes sense - I understand the Fireflies were often commanded by lower-ranking men (a corporal in this case) because they were usually the first to be targeted.

I confess I didn't know about the escape hatch - was it usable when the tank was upright?

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