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|VERNON - The River Seine Crossing (25th to 28th August 1944)
By the 22nd August 1944 the war in Normandy had moved on and the German resistance in the Falaise pocket finally ended with some 70,000 German troops either killed or captured, and the remaining German forces in full retreat across the River Seine.
While the British and Canadian Corps were advancing to the Seine, preparations were completed for bridging the river. Between Rouen and Paris the river is about 250 yards wide and all the bridges had been broken by earlier air attacks. Though bridgeheads should be gained fairly easily, the building of new crossings to maintain a large force will take some time.
In XXX Corps the 43rd Division which was given the task of crossing at Vernon; for this it was organised in three groups. The first, with the troops and equipment for bridging the Eure river and assaulting the Seine, contained 1,500 vehicles; most of the artillery, and material for one bridge, were in the second group with 1,900 vehicles; the remainder of the division and about 1,000 vehicles formed the third. The leading group, which included the 1st Battalion Worcestershire Regiment, harboured in the forest of Breteuil for the night of the 24th August and sent forward its reconnaissances, together with some engineers to repair the bridge over the Eure at Pacy.
Two four-hour timings through the American XIX Corps area (along only one route) were now given to the 43rd Division for the 25th August. This allowed the first group to assemble at Vernon by 16.00 hours that day. This time slot proved insufficient for the other two groups who had to continue filtering through during the night.
The story of the Seine Crossing at Vernon is details below in 14 Parts.
During 1944, the Resistance fighters of Vernon united themselves and on the 10th April 1944 they all joined the FFI (French Forces of the Interior) under the leadership of Georges André. With only a few weapons at their disposal their initial actions were limited. During their first action on the 18th August, they tried to blow up the remaining sections of the road bridge with plastic explosive.
On the 22nd August, the Resistance fighters dismissed the town council that obeyed the orders from Vichy and set up a new one.
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to Operation "Neptune"
On the evening of the 22nd August 1944, Major-General G. Ivor Thomas, commanding the 43rd Wessex Division, received his instructions from the Lieut.-General Horrocks, to force a crossing over the River Seine at Vernon, some 80 Km north west of Paris, and to form a bridgehead of sufficient depth to allow the remainder of 30 Corps to pass though. Later the same evening Brigade Commanders had been given the task of being the first British Division to assault the River Seine.
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"Neptune" begins (25th August 1944)
At 18.45 hours the artillery of the 94th Field Regiment, who were located in the Forest of Bizy, layed down a barrage of high explosive on the high ground on the north bank of the Seine. Tanks and mortars along the river front opened up with supporting fire. At 19.00 hours the guns and 4.2 inch mortars of the 8th Middlesex Regiment were laying down a smoke-screen for the assaulting troops as the 5th Wiltshires and 4th Somersets were making their move across the river in storm boats.
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|Follow-up Crossing (26th August 1944)
As dawn began to break (05.00 hours) on the 26th August, the Worcestershire Regiment was given the order to cross the damaged road bridge. Lieut. Johnnie Davies commanding 7 Platoon of ‘A’ Company crept along the broken bridge under cover of artillery smoke. Meeting no opposition, they were quickly followed by the remainder of the Company and afterwards by the marching elements of the Battalion.
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‘B’ Company meet heavy opposition
Due to a map reading error by officers of ‘B’ Company they took the road which runs from Vernonnet to La Chapelle St Ouen and followed the right hand side of a wooded valley running at right angles to the river. As the men approached a fork in the road the lead platoon commanded by Lieut. Rex Fellows (12 Platoon) were met will a hail of machine gun fire from ahead and to their right. The first burst of fire missed the leading section but Private Joe Cartwright in the second section was shot and killed.
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All Worcestershire Regt. Companies in Vernonnet
By 16.00 hours (26th August) the Worcesters were finally established on their objectives in Vernonnet, and the M.T. (Motor Transport) crossed at last light by the Class 9 Bridge, code named “David”, which had now been completed by the sappers. During the course of the afternoon ‘D’ Company continued moving forward over fields and small wooded areas into open country, during this period our own artillery were firing smoke shells which were meant to be in front, but the smoke containers were falling short.
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Advance towards Tilly (27th
During the early hours (27th August) the Worcesters moved down the road by a disused factory building and were ready to begin their advance by 06.30 hours. No British tanks had crossed over during the previous night but it was expected that one Troop would cross at first light and would move up the road to join the Worcesters by 07.00 hours. However, this did not materialise. At 08.10 hours `D' Company led the advance towards Tilly, up the twisting road through the densely wooded terrain.
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Worcestershire Regiment Consolidate
The next morning, 28th August, was fine and sunny. Ration parties despatched to a rendezvous on the main road to carry back boxes of compo were heartened to see a steady stream of infantry and armour moving forward along the original axis. Some of the Worcestershire casualties had lain out on the hill-side during the night in no-man’s land. They were now quickly brought in and attended to, though some of them had already had their wounds dressed by the enemy before they pulled out.
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The Worcestershire men enjoyed a most pleasant stay at Pressagny. For one thing it was unexpected, coming so quickly after the peace of Berjou, and for another, owing to the speed of the advance from the bridgehead, it lasted much longer than anyone had hoped; the weather was mainly good, accommodation was adequate, and the people, from Monsieur le General (retired) to the local baker, were quite delightful and hospitality itself. On the 2nd September the Padre (Capt. Spiers, C.F.) held a voluntary but well-attended Church Parade in the garden of Battalion HQ.
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List of Officers & NCO's
Details of all Officers and NCO's who were with the 1st Bn. Worcestershire Regiment during the Seine Crossing at Veron in Aug. 1944.
For details click here
Wounded & POW
List of Worcester men wounded or taken POW during the fighting at Vernon.
Details click here
Epilogue - Lieutenant-Colonel A. A. Grubb, M.C.
'Algy' Grubb was a Royal Hampshire officer who commanded ‘B’ Company of the 1st Battalion The Worcestershire Regiment during the campaign in North West Europe 1944-45. Following school his early ambitions to go on to the stage were diverted by parental influence towards the legal profession, but it was the war, and in particular the front line battlefields, which were to give him the centre stage he had always sought. He died on 27th August 1992 while attending a ceremony in Vernon, France to mark the 48th anniversary of the Seine Crossing.
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48th Anniversary Celebrations of the Crossing
of the Seine at Vernon
Veterans of the 1st Battalion Worcestershire Regiment retuned to Vernon on the 27th August 1992 as guests of the people of Vernon to celebrate the crossing of River Seine in 1944. The Mayor of Vernon unveiled a memorial to the men of the British 43rd Division and this was followed by banquet at the public hall at St. Marcel, a suburb of Vernon.
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