Medley – Five days to live

Robin Medley (1990) was a 2nd Lieutenant in C Company, 2nd Battalion, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment (2nd Bedfords) in France and Belgium 1939-40 (during World War II). He has written a little booklet describing this period. They don’t seem to have been heavily engaged in combat but it is interesting reading.

The book is available from Amazon UK:

Medley, R. H. (1990). Five Days to Live, France 1939-40. Dover & Company.

Order of Battle

Robin Medley (1990) was a 2nd Lieutenant in C Company, 2nd Battalion, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment (2nd Bedfords), 10th Infantry Brigade, 4th Infantry Division.

  • 4th Infantry Division
    • Division HQ
    • Royal Artillery
    • Royal Engineers
    • 10th Infantry Brigade
      • 2nd Battalion, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment (2nd Bedfords)
        • HQ Company
          • No 1 Platoon – Signals
          • No 2 Platoon – AA (4 x Brens of tripods; 4 x 10 cwt trucks)
          • No 3 Platoon – 3″ Mortars (2 x 3″ Mortars; 3 x 10 cwt trucks)
          • No 4 Platoon – Carriers (10 x Brens, 10 x Bren Carriers)
          • No 5 Platoon – Pioneers
          • No 6 Platoon – Mechanical Transport
        • 4 x Rifle Companies (A, B, C, and D)
          • 1 x Company HQ
          • 3 x Rifle Platoons1
            • 1 x Platoon HQ (including 2″ mortar2 and anti-tank rifle; truck and bicycle)
            • 3 x Rifle Sections (1 x Bren; 10 x Rifles)
      • 2nd Battlalion, Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry (2 D.C.L.I.)
      • 1/6th Territorial Battalion, East Surrey Regiment (1/6 East Surreys)
      • Anti-tank Company (of 3 platoons)3
    • 11th Infantry Brigade
    • 12th Infantry Brigade

(1) The Rifle Platoons were numbered consecutively. A Company had 7-9; B Company 10-12, C Company 13-15 and D Company 16-18. Medley was in 13 Platoon.

(2) The 2″ mortars only had smoke rounds, i.e. no HE.

(3) Formed from an anti-tank platoon from each battalion in the brigade. Equipped with French one pounder anti-tank guns (presumably 25 mm anti-tank guns).

Avelghem and the River Escaut, 18-22 May 1940

Source: Medley (1990), p. 30 – 34

The 2nd Bedfords debussed at Avelghem on 2030 hours on 18 May 1940. Avelgham was about 900 m west of the River Escaut in Belgium.

On 19 May A, B, and D Companies deployed to the east of the river on Mon D’Eclus, with C Company in reserve in Escanaffles where a road bridge crossed the Escaut. Sappers wired up the road bridge – in preparation for the impending retreat – and blew the rail bridge which crossed the Escaut about 800 m north of the Escanaffles. Sometime after 1800 hours, with German armour at Renaix some 12 km away, the forward companies retreated through C Company, and the road bridge was also blown. A, B, and D Companies dug in on the river bank and C company, again in reserve, moved back to Avelghem.

At 2100 hours on 20 May, A, B, and D Companies pulled back to prepared positions on a dyke (or anti-tank obstacle) some 550 m from the River Escaut – there seems to have been a stream to the front of this feature. D Company – at least – were also positioned on the railway embankment on the left. The D.C.L.I to the left of the 2nd Bedfords also pulled back.

On 21 May the Germans realised the British positions on the River Escaut had been abandoned and began to cross and form a bridgehead (about a platoon in strength). Two platoons from C Company (13 and 15), with artillery support, were used to drive them out. Z hour was 1200 hours. From Z to Z+12 25 pounders shelled the enemy positions next to the bridge. From Z+12 to Z+16 the 25 pounders, now joined by 60 pounders shelled the enemy positions in Escanaffles beyond the river. It seems the Germans quickly abandoned their positions on the west bank when the artillery started. 13 platoon moved forward along the railway embankment to provide covering fire as 15 platoon attacked from the wood on D Company’s front. 15 platoon left their cover at Z+9 and reoccupied the now abandoned positions. The Germans made no attempt to counter attack. That night the British sappers blew a third bridge, near the dyke to the west of the river.

On 22 May shelling by German artillery increased. The Germans managed to get a foot hold on the west bank in the sector of the D.C.L.I to the left of the 2nd Bedfords. At 2200 hours the battalion abandoned their positions and withdrew to Mouscron on the French Border.

Some thoughts about making this a scenario:

  • Only the attack on 21 May 1940.
  • Down play the British artillery.
  • Down grade the scale of the game. Each real platoon is represented by a Crossfire company. Similarly, each section is represented by a Crossfire platoon. Each rifle stand is a rifle fire team not a rifle squad.
  • So the British get two Crossfire companies and the Germans get one Crossfire company.
  • Rifle Section (i.e. Crossfire platoon) = Section Leader (+1), 2 x Rifle stands.
  • Ignore the distinction between those fire teams with LMG and those without.
  • Give the Germans extra HMG stands because of their better/more LMG.
  • British 2″ mortars only have smoke.
  • 4’x4′ table.

Wytschaete and Voormezeele; Messines Ridge, 27 – 28 May 1940

Source: Medley (1990), p. 36 – 38

On 27 May 1940 the 2nd Bedfords left two platoons from A and B Companies in frontier positions near Tourcoing and relocated to Wyteschaete in Belgium; they were relieving the elements of the Royal Irish Fusiliers and the Comeronians. German medium artillery shelled the area during the relief. C Company deployed along the Ypres-Warnetan road (on Messines Ridge), about 1.5 km north-west of Wytschaete, with13 Platoon on the left, 14 Platoon centre and 15 Platoon right; Company HQ was about 360 m behind 15 Platoon. D Company deployed to the right-rear (south ??) of C Company. The D.C.L.I were deployed on the ridge further the north, near St Eloi, and the East Surreys to their left near Voormezeele.

German shelling – by mediums and heavies – continued into 28 May 1940. Soon after dawn the Germans probed the positions of the 2nd Bedfords, but were driven off. None-the-less the Carrier platoon came up to reinforce the line. Rain started and the German bombardment increased. At 1100 hours the Germans attacked again, but were repulsed with heavy losses. The Germans tried again at 1300 hours, but again failed. The D.C.L.I. and East Surreys were also heavily engaged and the Germans took St Eloi and Voormezeele.

About 1500 hours on 28 May 1940 C Company were ordered to withdraw. C Company – less a section from 13 Platoon who got lost – relocated to a wood 3 km to the north-west (where machine gunners of the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers were stationed). At dusk they counter-attacked past a farm toward Voormezeele. They found the village deserted and dug in. After dark 14 Platoon had a brush with a German patrol and the British soon discovered there were Germans all around them. Both British and German artillery shelled the village. At 0300 hours on 29 May C Company were ordered to abandon the village. It turned out that the orders for the attack had been countermanded but the countermand had not reached C Company in time.

In the subsequent retreat to Dunkirk the battalion lost contact with D company.

References British Expeditionary Force (BEF)

Medley, R. H. (1990). Five Days to Live, France 1939-40. Dover & Company.

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