Account of Operation Totalise
Gordon Highlanders War Diary, August 1944
Extract from the 5th/7th Gordons War Diary
OP TOTALISE - AUGUST 1944
8 August. The battalion moved forward to the marshalling area on the CAEN-FALAISE road. This was an open field and there was a certain amount of shelling. Our bombers mistook their objective and bombed CAEN wounding our mortar sergeant who had gone back to look for a carrier. In the evening the Battalion moved through the 1st Gordons and found themselves in a wooded area MR 102585. "D" Coy were slightly troubled by a single spandau otherwise it was a very quite night Casulaties - 1 OR wounded.
9 August. "C" and "B" Coys moved into Poussy (MR 131565) where there was a certain amount of shelling. There was heavy shelling on BN.H.Q. area which had moved forward. The 5th Seaforths relieved us in the evening and the Battalion withdrew to a field just behind their previous location (MR 096587). This had been an unfortunate battle in which we achieved little and had a very unpleasant time. Capt.Sinclair, who had been Signal Officer since the early days of the desert was wounded and had to have his arm amputated. He was a great loss to the Battalion. Casualties - Capt. G.j. Sinclair and 1 O.R. wounded.
10 August. The Battalion rested moist of the day and was slightly shelled. Casualties 4 O.Rs killed, 11 O.Rs wounded.
11 August. The Battalion moved to Daumesnil and had a very noisy time as we were in the middle of the gunfire which included 25-pdrs Mediums and 7.2's, all of which were firing full blast. This inevitably meant that we had some counter battery shells landing in the area, but casualties were very light.
12 August. Brigadier H. Murray spoke to the Battalion before he left the Brigade to take over a division in Italy. He had been in the Brigade, Commanding 1st Gordons since Alamein and later leading the Brigade in Sicily. His exceptional qualities as a soldier and personal charm will be a great loss to the Battalion and Brigade as a whole. Casualties - 10.O.R. wounded.
13 August. Again another of sitting and being shelled. Orders received to move the following day.
14 August. The Battalion moved during first light to ST.SYLVAN with a view to attacking the wood to the S.E. In St. Sylvan the Battalion came under shell and mortar fire and suffered casualties.
The attack on the woods MR 157536 was very successful indeed and a large number of prisoners were taken. Our casualties were comparatively light in comparison but the difficulty in evacuating the wounded was considerable owing to M.G. and mortar fire. The stretcher bearers did magnificent work and worked ceaselessly all day. Pte Hutchinson did particularly good work. Some very fine officers and men were lost, but the morale of the Battalion was terrific and it was just such an action as this that was needed to give the Battalion the "punch" it required. Casualties - Major Glennie, Capt. Inglis, Lieut. Aston, Lieut.Taylor, Lieut. Birse, and Lieut. Scott wounded. 8 O.Rs. killed and 39 wounded.
Reinforcements - 12 O.Rs. from 32 R.H.U.
15 August. Bombs were dropped during the night but no casualties were sustained. The day was expected to bring enemy retaliation but nothing happened, we had a quite day.
16 August. The Battalion moved to Peroy MR248538 and settled down for a nights rest. This however proved to be wishful thinking, at 2200hrs we were ordered to move by transport to St Maclou MR 297547. The night was pitch black and the operation appeared to be as difficult as any that the Battalion has ever been ordered to carry out. However the whole operation went according to plan and "C" and "B" arrived exactly on their objective and completely took the enemy by surprise. The "F" Ech transport under Major Irvine was some 200 yards away from their appointed place, and found themselves surrounded by the enemy when dawn came. Major Irvine who was commanding them immediately took the initiative and organised his somewhat mixed body and in a short time the enemy were liquidated.
Meanwhile great things were happening on the hill. "C" and "B" were busy mopping up and trying to organise their positions. The I.O. was with them and found the enemy O.P. . He killed the operator and took up the telephone. He told the operator at the other end and (in bad German with a strong Edinburgh accent) to surrender and come in with their hands up. At first his remarks were received with Teutonic chuckles. Later however a voice of authority came over the wire. The demand was made again. This time silence followed by noises of considerable confusion. Then again silence. This was just one example of how completely the enemy had been taken off their guard. When daylight came there were no Germans to be seen, and the jocks could look around. Soon the civilians came out and within a very short time the "entente Cordial" was being sealed in cider, at the incredibly early hour of 6 a.m.
During the day, the Signal Sergeant who had been the only man killed during the action was buried, and all the local population attended the funeral. A mass of flowers were put on his grave.
The rest of the day was quiet and for some unknown reason the Battalion was not shelled. Casualties 1 O.R. killed 4 O.Rs. wounded. Reinforcements 10 O.Rs from 32 RHU.
17 August. The Battalion stayed in the same area all day.
18 August. The Battalion were told that there would be no move that day, this was taken as a portent by the Battalion (now well trained in such matters) that we would move very shortly. Training won the day and we were ordered within half an hour to attack Granchamp MR 418919 that night. Casualties 1 O.R. killed and 7 O.Rs wounded. Reinforcements 1 Officer and 64 O.Rs. from South Staffs.
19 August. The attack on Grandchamp was perhaps the most unpleasant that the Battalion had in the campaign. The night was very dark and wet, but again the companies found their various objectives and again took many prisoners. During the advance the battalion was heavily bombed and there was a lot of shelling. Lt.Col.H.A.C. Blair-Imrie, MC was killed which was a great loss to the Battalion. He had only been in the Battalion a few days, but he had got to know all the companies and was proving himself to be a very fine Commanding Officer.
A young French Maquis boy, who had insisted on joining the Battalion at St.Maclou, and had eventually been given a battledress and balmoral, was killed at the same time as Lt.Col.H.A.C. Blair-Imrie, MC.
Casualties: killed Lt.Col.Blair-Imrie, MC and 5 O.Rs. Wounded - Capt. Jamieson, Lieut. Wisley and 12 O.Rs.
20 August. The enemy had given up any organised resistance by the morning, but there was still a considerable amount of shelling. "C" Coy and a troop of tanks did good work shooting up the hedges and flushing a number of Germans who were still in hiding.
A complete new company from the East Lancs regiment arrived and were placed under command of Captain Henderson. "B" Coy was disbanded. Thus the Battalion was made up to the strength of three Companies of 1 NCO and 5 men per section. The Battalion was bombed during the night.
21 August. No move. The forward company ("D") was attacked rather feebly during the night, but the matter was soon dealt with.
22 August. The Battalion now under command of Major M.H.M. Du Boulay M.C. was ordered to capture the bridges leading into Lisieux MR 530877. The entry into the town proved a simple matter, the order of march being the Brigadier, the Bde I.O., O.C. 5/7 Gordons and Lt. Col. Jolly ( commanding the attached tanks). This party was followed by a company of infantry then a squadron of tanks.
The immediate task was to make a bridgehead over the river in order that the Sappers could make two bridges as the old ones hand been blown up. The Battalion was quickly put across the river and took up its position. Soon, however, it was harassed by some German troops from an S.S. Battalion and then started a very hard battle. The enemy were the best that Hitler could produce. Owing to the very close fighting it was impossible to use supporting arms. However the Battalion stood its ground and the work on the bridges continued without interruption.
The Battalion was now very tired indeed but in spite of this many acts of individual heroism were performed. The Stretcher Bearers again did wonderful work, and no praise can be too high for what they did.
Pte. Redican of "C" Coy particularly distinguished himself by exposing himself to the enemy and firing his Bren gun in order to extricate his platoon from a very difficult position. He was wounded in both legs and still continued to fire.
During the night the firing died down and it was possible to withdraw "C" Coy in order to rest it.
Casualties :- Wounded - Lt.Angus, Lt. Dunn and 8 O.Rs. Killed - 2 O.Rs.
23 August. During the night the Commanding Officer was ordered to clear the town the next day,. He pointed out that this was not a Battalion task and required at least a Brigade. The acting Brigadier compromised by saying that the 1st Gordons (now very depleted) would be held in reserve. The battle which took place was very hard fought and eventually not only 1st Gordons but also 5 Black Watch had to be used. The enemy fought fanatically and many casualties were caused on both sides. The fact that only one prisoner was taken showed that the enemy were determined to fight to the very last. By the end of the day the town was taken. Casualties:- Killed - 3 O.Rs. wounded - Captain Henderson and 7 O.Rs.
24 August. Very wet day. Patrols were sent out to mop up resistance in the outskirts of the town, but only a few prisoners (mostly Poles, who were lost in the retreat further north) were brought in. The Battalion then moved East of the town and had the first real nights sleep that they had had for some time.