Page 28 - The Chapka 2016
P. 28

 Exercise BOCAGE LANCER was a battlefield study that, at the operational-strategic level, analysed the D-Day landings and the breakout attempts from the Normandy bridgehead by the British Second Army around Caen in June and July 1944. However, at its heart the study followed – at the tactical level - in the footsteps and tracks of the 24th Lancers.
Readers will be forgiven if, like me, their knowledge of the 24th Lancers is sketchy. The 24th Lancers were raised in December 1940 around the nucleus of 16 officers and 129 Warrant Offic- ers and other ranks from the 9th Queen’s Royal Lancers and the 17th/21st Lancers. Following three years of training and unit moves around the UK, the Regiment, equipped with Sherman tanks, fought in the Battle of Normandy, landing on Gold Beach. They took part in a series of actions to expand the Normandy bridgehead that most will have covered at some-time in their military careers and, unbeknown to recent staff college graduates, had featured in many of the major battles. The Regiment was disbanded in July 1944 and its personnel transferred to reinforce other regiments. In just over a month in combat, the Regiment gained a DSO, six Military Crosses and three Military Medals. The price: 41 killed in action along with 98 wounded or missing.
Battlefield studies are hugely important – even more so in this environment of suppressed funding: they are relatively cheap and prepare the conceptual component of fighting power by the application of doctrine through the prism of military history. By the end of the battlefield study our junior ranks had learnt more about ADP Operations and Armoured Cavalry Tactical Actions.
After an all-ranks briefing and study day in Catterick, the field study period took place between 19th and 23rd September 2016. This battlefield study was big: twice the size of ARGENTA LANCER the year before, with one hundred personnel of all ranks, including attached arms from routinely affiliated units within 12th Armoured Infantry Brigade. The exercise was also supported by Home Headquarters in the form of the inimitable Major (Retd) Phil Watson, with staff college-regular military his- torian Dr Bill Mitichinson. The study comprised primary and secondary source research, ground briefs, central presentations by Major Phil and Dr Bill (military history) and, your humble servant (doctrine) and syndicate work to answer set questions.
The field study phase began at Southwick House a few miles north of Portsmouth and one-time command post of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force, now the Officers’ Mess of the Defence School of Policing. The Map Room, which has been beautifully preserved, offers a fantastic vista against which to brief the OVERLORD plan. Outside, underneath the house’s colonnaded portico, syndicates discussed the force generation of
the 24th Lancers, drawing comparisons with today’s challenges of contingency and readiness. Most striking were the trials and tribulations of creating a new regiment, from a cadre of lancers amongst the drafts and preparing it for operations. The over- night ferry to Ouistrehem provided a perfect opportunity to fur- ther dismantle the weighty tome of the reading pack and prepare briefs with lubrication in the form of bière et vin.
The next morning was an early start on the cliffs of Arroman- ches-les-Bains stood amongst the ruins of the Atlantic Wall, looking north over the storm-lashed maritime engineering tri- umph of the Mulberry artificial harbour and the tumultuous sea toward England. As well as considereing the principles, or- ganisation and conduct of the German defence, the ‘fresh’ Chan- nel weather and visit to the Musée du débarquement provided syndicates with some welcome doctrine relief from those with slightly sore heads. A short drive east along the coast took us to the small, seaside village of Asnelles, or 72 years earlier, Green Jig Sector, Gold Beach, where the 24th Lancers came ashore at the second tide overnight 6-7th June 1944. We tried to envisage the scale and challenges of the landings.
We followed the 24th Lancers inland, where, as part of 8th Ar- moured Brigade, the Regiment advanced south towards Villers- Bocage pausing north of the hamlet of St Pierre, at a hill known as ‘Point 103’, in the face of stiff German resistance. The ham- let changed hands many times during the course of 8-18th June 1944, with the Regiment (in particular C Squadron) supporting the Durham Light Infantry. The day concluded with a visit to the Commonwealth Wargraves Commission cemetery at Tilly- sur-Seulles where we paid tribute at the graves of fallen lancers and of Keith Douglas, a yeomanry officer, killed on 9th June 1944 whilst serving with the Sherwood Rangers (in the same brigade as the 24th Lancers). One of the very few soldier-poets of World War II and compared with the best of the Great War, we read of- ten from Douglas’ powerful and deeply unsettling poetry. Haute cuisine, calvados and “premier-classe” accommodation in the Norman bastion of Bayeux closed day two.
Day three began north of Cheux on the line of departure for the first of Montgomery’s gargantuan racecourse-themed opera- tions. By the end of June, the battle for Normandy had stalled into a bloody stalemate, with the British Army being bled-white against stiff Germany resistance. Operation EPSOM (24-29th June 1944) sought to punch VIII Corps through the German lines south-west of Caen first across the River Odon and then the Orne and onto the open road toward Falaise. The 24th Lanc- ers with the 1/4th King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry as part of 49th (the Polar Bear) Division provided the right flank for this deep penetration with their assault on Tessel Wood. Things
  Major Phil Watson briefs at Tilly-sur-Seulles Cemetery
The Eastern Flank of the Normandy Bridgehead June-July 1944

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