British Expeditionary Force - The B.E.F.
January - June 1940
Sketch map of the Somme - Bresle in Northern France, 1940.
High Resolution Image:
THE BRITISH ARMY IN FRANCE 1940
Scout carriers of 51st Highland Division with Light Tank Mk VIs of 1st Fife and Forfar Yeomanry visible in the background, 19 March 1940.
The 51st Highland Division landed in Le Havre in January 1940 as part of the British Expeditionary Force [B.E.F.] On 28th March they were deployed into the defensive line relieving the French 21st Division between Bailleul and Armentiéres. This was part of a rotation to familiarise the British brigades but in April it was decided that the Division would take over a sector on the Saar front in the area of Hombourg-Budange.
A decision had been made to strengthen the territorial divisions with regular battalions and 1st Gordons, 1st Black Watch and 2nd Seaforths replaced the 6th Battalions of the Black Watch, Gordons and Seaforths.
THE BRITISH EXPEDITIONARY FORCE (BEF) IN FRANCE 1939-1940
51st Highland Division in the Maginot Line: A soldier from the Cameron Highlanders looks through a periscope in the Fort de Sainghain.
IWM O 228
There had been some action and patrolling across the line but on 10 May the Germans invaded Belgium and three days later the Division withstood a heavy attack in the area of Grossenwald. To conform with the French the Division was ordered back to the next line of defence. On 20th May the Division was taken out of the line and moved to Étain and Varennes where they learnt that the Germans had broken through the French lines separating them from the rest of the B.E.F.
After a period of indecision, when the next task for the Division was unclear, a 300 mile road and rail move brought the Division to a position overlooking the river Bresle near Abbeville. As the B.E.F. retired on Dunkirk the Division was to fight with the French Army as part of the French IX Corps and initially to hold a line north west of Abbeville to the coast. The Division was thinly stretched over 23 miles, holding a line of the Somme from Erondelle to the sea, and without a mobile reserve. On the 4th June the attack on the Abbeville bridgehead began. Despite heroic attempts to stem the flood of German troops the Division was forced to slowly fall back to the Bresle. Meanwhile the German success elsewhere cut the Division's supply line to Rouen and orders were given to fall back to a line on the Béthune.
THE BRITISH ARMY IN FRANCE 1940
Men of the 7th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, 51st Highland Division, holding a position in the River Bresle area, 6 - 8 June 1940.
IWM F 4743
Preparations were underway to evacuate the Division but Dieppe could not be used so the decision was to use Le Havre. To defend Le Havre a part of the Division under Brigadier Stanley-Clarke with the headquarters of 154 Brigade was designated "Ark" Force. This force left the Division on the night of the 9/10 June to take up a defensive position from Fécamp to Lillebonne, thus narrowly escaping the German encirclement of the rest of the Division.
On the morning of 10th June reports reach the Division that made it apparent that the remainder of the Division was being cut off by the rapid German advance and the opportunity to evacuate through Le Havre was increasingly unlikely. General Fortune therefore decided to evacuate through St.Valery-en-Caux.