Unit: 7th Ban. The Royal Sussex Regt.
Commanding Officer: Lt. Col. R. GETHEN M.C.
Brief Summary of War Diary of 7th R.S.
Parade - entrain St. Saens.
Remainder of Bn. (2nd half) arr. Buchy.
Train moved off with verbal orders from Brigadier to proceed to Lens (instead of Abbeville).
After few minutes stop just short of St. Roch Stn. (just W. of Amiens),
train was bombed: about 20 bombs dropped.
and 2 French interpreters killed: 10 officers wounded (1 died: and 1 lost an arm). Also
1 broken rib, 2 shocked and several cut by glass. 0.R. casualties in region of 80
(about 25 of whom killed) - these O.R. casualties are approx. (strength of Bn. on
train about 21 officers and 520 O.R.’s).
Got wounded away with help of 1 French Ambulance. Got Bn. away into small wood about 700 yds away just N. of Rly. A second bombing took place about 5 minutes after first (Rly. line was broken by first attack). C.O. got into Amiens and sent D/R (APM) to Fresneville (temp Div. H.Q.) reporting bombing and stating location of Bn.
Battalion reorganized in wood.
Spent night in wood: got rations from D.I.D. Number of bombs dropped round about during night and delayed action explosions.
Reveille - wash and clean up and breakfasts.
proceeded Amiens again: visited APM (all gone). R.T.O. said no trains available
- lines broken N. S. & E. and Commandant Poiret S.F.O. Amiens who said French line
Before leaving Bn. for Amiens, C.O. had advised Major Cassels, - 2nd I.C. of intention to move Bn. out of wood and 2nd I.C. reconnoitred high ground on Amiens-Poix road. Meantime Capt. Brook - GS03, visited Bn. having received our message previous evening. He left no orders.
C.O. returned to Bn.
Got Bn. moving by platoons and was clear of wood (except for small rear party) by 11.00 hrs.
Bn. redisposed on high ground - for dispersal rather than for defence or with any idea of occupying tactical position.
Bombing of Amiens commenced and continued until 14.00 hrs. - our late situation in wood heavily bombed.
Note: The bombing between 12 and 1400 hrs included two trains - one in St. Roch Stn itself and another in the identical site of bombing of Battalion train on previous evening - both trains contained reinforcements, details and some refugees.
Refugees pouring down Amiens-Poix road and decided to make a road block, primarily to stop stampede. Refugees accompanied by streams of French soldiers, presumably from Depot in Amiens. During latter part of afternoon, C.O. stopped a French Tank and forced them to stay.
Details from train bombings on this morning reported to number about
Lt. Fielding and Lt. Lamb
Promise by Guards Officers of 800 men came to nothing.
Refugee streams continued and French troops and Base personnel.
Bn. positions readjusted in view of aerial activity on previous afternoon - C & D pulled back behind B & HQ Coy. and A moved out towards Farm.
Enemy bombing of Amiens resumed and carried on at intervals
Refugees still pouring through.
Refugees began to say Germans in Amiens. Patrol sent in under Lt. Dunovan (?Rayner) and another under Lt. Burrough (‘A’ Coy.), also Lt. Bally (Bde. 1.0) sent in at his own request (this officer believed to have got home).
The 2 other patrols reported back that Germans were in Amiens -
but no mention of A.F.V.s. By this time, refugee traffic almost faded away.
called Coy. Commanders conference. The gist of his orders was as follows:
Information. Our patrols report enemy elements in Amiens: no report of A.F.V.s: considerable movement on Amiens-Paris road.
Intention. As no orders have been received, my intention is to hold this high ground.
Method. (This was pointed out on the ground - so that reference should be made to sketch map attached). The effect was that Bn. front was to be towards S.E. facing the farm. A Coy. would so be in front: HQ Coy. and B Coy. in support. C Coy. was to find 1. Plat under Lt. Dunovan (?Rayner) and would proceed towards Amiens following direction of main Amiens-Poix road, with instructions to reconnoitre and only to fight if forced to do so.
1 Plat. under Lt. Sevenoaks to take up position on high ground to North on other side of Rly: 1 Plat. under C.Q.M.S. Lowles to proceed to village 500 yds down Amiens-Poix road - in Reserve. D Coy. to proceed and through this village and turn left handed to reinforce A Coy. as shown on sketch.
Note: 5 D.I.D. lorries had just previously attached themselves to Bn. as D.I.D. personnel had left in their absence. 3 of these used by D Coy 1 by Lt. Sevenoaks and 1 in Reserve.
Details from train (bombed 19.5.40). to remain partly with A Coy.
(about 20) and remainder (about 80) on right of B Coy. under
Lt. Fielding and Lamb.
2 French mitrailleuse teams to be attached - 1 to H.Q. Coy. and 1 to B Coy. The
3rd to take up position on Railway (in deep cutting)
B Coy. to detail 1 Bren Gun Section to take up position at road junction W. of Rly (see sketch). French Tank held in Reserve.
B.H.Q. in same position as hitherto.
Time - shortly after 13.15 hrs.
Note: About 12.45 hrs a MC D.R. came up from Rouen and as he couldn’t go through, C.O. gave him written message for O.C. Rouen sub-area, reporting enemy elements in Amiens, asking for orders from 12th Div. and giving our location.
Coy. Comdrs had gone to their Coys. to carry out orders and D Coy were in process of undressing, when M.G. fire started from beyond farm. Engagement with enemy developed and mortar and shell fire were added. Our Bren and French mitrailleuses fired when targets seemed apparent.
About this time, C.O. received verbal message from 0.C. A Coy. reporting being pinned by enemy M.G. snipers and tanks. C.O. and 2nd i/c reviewed ground between Amiens-Poix road and A Coy. and the farm. A good deal of fire of all sorts and one enemy tank visible, stationary in region of A Coy. position (little to the right). Reference to tanks (in numbers) treated with some incredulity. Decided to endeavour relieve pressure on A. Coy. and drive enemy out of their position by advance by H.Q. Coy. and B. Coy. plus train details - and relying on D. Coy. to conform from the right flank. A message to this effect given in writing by C.O. to Major Cassels, for delivery to 0.C. A Coy. French Tank got forward of haystack in view of enemy tank and it (the French Tank) actually opened fire.
Battle developed and continued for probably an hour longer - until
about 17.15 hrs (or little later) when it seems, tanks came right forward and cleaned
up remainder of H.Q. Coy. and B. Coy.
From 0.C. A Coy. subsequent information this Company did not finally capitulate until region of 18.15 plus (32 and some details).
C.O. proceeded to village (500 yds down Amiens-Poix road) and turned out reserve platoon of C Coy. to reinforce on right of B Coy. Then C.O. went on to Lt. Sevenoaks, in order to ascertain situation in his area and, if necessary, to bring his platoon up into the main action. From here, C.0. could see all battlefield and up to the farm, and things seemed to have quietened down - no tanks were visible. C.O. stayed here till about 17.30 hrs. and ordered Lt. Sevenoaks to proceed with his platoon through village and up on to high ground on right of B Coy. (Lt. Sevenoaks got home with his platoon and got M.C.)
C.O. proceeded back to village, where he met about 20 men without a leader and reporting numbers of enemy tanks (C.O. still incredulous) - organised them into 2 sections and led them up on to high ground to S. of village and put them along edge of Chalk Pit. There he saw and spoke to C.S.M. Tring of D Coy. Certain amount of M.G. fire, mainly from right (S.W.). C.O. went forward to try and ascertain situation. When crest almost reached, several enemy tanks suddenly appeared on right, travelling N.W. along track from farm to village. They stopped just level with C.O. - less than 100 yds away. After nearly an hour, they suddenly swung inwards across the battlefield. One picked up C.O. and took him round battlefield collecting up few remaining details.
By now, close on 20 tanks - and then tank on which C.O. was - proceeded across to farm with about 20 O.R.s (& Lt. Holland) and towards Amiens-Paris road. (See sketch map for gun position passed - where some dozen or more medium calibre guns were trained towards battlefield.)
Notes in Conclusion
On morning of C.O.’s return from Amiens (19/5) 10.00 hrs. he said to Company Commanders:- “Our original orders were to proceed to LENS - that is impossible. We have no orders to go back - therefore we stay where we are.”
It would appear that the Battalion’s action amounted to a Bluff, which succeeded in delaying the enemy advance in this area for at least six hours and probably till next morning. They could have cleared our Position in 5 minutes, had they known the real situation.
These six columns are an extract from the War Diary of 7 R.S. covering week-end 18th- 20th May 1940 and have been copied here for Captain G.H.Cook, in case he should be home before me.
Sgd. - Gethen Lt. Colonel.