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1st Battalion Irish Guards – Report on the actions of No. 4. Company on 3rd/4th February 1944

Account of the Action of No. 4. Company, 1st Battalion Irish Guards February 3/4, 1944

By order of Major D.M.L. Gordon-Watson, MC, 2nd-in-Command, 1st Battalion Irish Guards.

To: Major D.M.L. Gordon-Watson, MC.

From: Lieutenant T.C. Keigwin, No. 4. Company, 1st Battalion Irish Guards.

At 2300 hrs the enemy's barrage began. Although most of it was directed at No. 3 Company in front of us, we had our fair share from guns of all calibres. It was evident also that small parties of the enemy had infiltrated across the railway line, for as soon as the initial concentrations were over, burst after burst of LMG fire came whipping through our position from all directions. Fortunately, we had just completed a telephone line to Lieutenant Harcourt 's forward platoon and he was able to give us a running commentary on what he could see and hear of the attack on No. 3 Company's position, He said he could hear them shouting and yelling "Sieg Heil Gott mit unset Gott Gott, etc", and reported that the haystacks had been set alight. I fully expected that we should be attacked any minute, particularly after No. 3 Company went off the air. Lieutenant Harcourt reported a body of enemy moving across the dip towards the railway line, and he engaged them with HE from his 2-inch mortar. This appeared to cause shouts of alarm and despondency. We also put up flares from time to time, although we had to husband them, and I think the enemy realised that our position was fairly strong.

At any rate when dawn came he had made no attempt to assault our position, and contented himself with shelling and continuous sniping from all sides. At first light, I established an OP in the top room of the house, manned by Guardsman Donaldson, and either Lieutenant Dodds, Lieutenant Boyd (whose 6-pounder was in our area), or myself were up there most of the morning. From there we could see the enemy crawling about in groups and firing on No. 1 and 2 Companies area. I tried to get the gunners onto this target relaying the corrections from the upstairs window via the 18 set, but with limited success, as I suppose they had to go carefully with their ammunition. The greatest tragedy was that the 3-inch mortars had been moved out of our area an hour before the attack began, and were caught on the hop. At about 10 o'clock I spoke to Captain Combe on the 18 set and he ne assured me that the battalion had been promised tank support immediately and that they would soon sweep the ground between us clear of the enemy - "No, they are not yet actually arrived, but are on their way". Then the wireless, so carefully nursed all night by Guardsman Buckley, broke down. At last, an hour later, we got it going again, and on getting through to the Adjutant again I was told that the tanks had not arrived and that the situation had greatly deteriorated. I was ordered to concentrate the company, and fight my way forward to help Battalion HQ. From the top window I could see the enemy machine gun posts dotted all over the field on both sides of the railway line, and I decided that it would be quite impossible to go straight up to the bridge. Our tanks had now established themselves on a firing line east of us near the main road, and I decided to try and work around to the right by the main road and then bear left-handed up the gully to the bridge.

No. 17 Platoon managed to withdraw to us without casualties although several men wore shot at; and within a quarter of an hour we were on our way; we moved with Lieutenant Dodd's platoon (16) in front, then 18 and 17 in the rear. We just skirted the tanks who were firing hard at the Germans on the skyline near No. 3 Company's late position, and then moved along the left-hand side of the main road.

We had gone about 200 yards beyond the tanks, when we branched off left-handed up the gully, which was very overgrown. We ran straight into a large body of Germans and after a few bursts of Bren and Tommy gun fire about forty ran out with their hands up. The Company were elated by this and we proceeded to winkle them out at a great pace. Lance Sergeant Weir's section greatly distinguished themselves on the left, and then we began to meet with stiffer opposition, the enemy had a tremendous number of MG 34's, about one to every three men, and we began to have casualties. I could see that we had little chance of getting any further frontally, so I sent 17 Platoon, the only one not committed, across the main road, with the intention of getting forward on the rising ground, and shooting up the enemy from the right flank. Lieutenant Harcourt led the platoon around with great dash, and the Germans in the gully in front of us proceeded to pull out, several more giving themselves up. Germans now began to appear from their holes all over the place, and Lieutenant Harcourt's platoon ran into at least another company in the olive grove on the right. Lance Corporal Foran was killed after doing great execution himself.

It was at this stage I was told that Major Gordon-Watson was on the road on my right. I know then for the first time that Battalion HQ, must have been overrun, and ordered the company to concentrate in the ditches near the road. I sent a runner round to contact No. 17 Platoon on the right, but he returned stating that he had been forward 200 yards and come under heavy fire - there was no sign of 17 Platoon. It turned out that they had fought their way up the gully towards Battalion HQ, unaware that it was in enemy hands. Lieutenant Harcourt was taken prisoner on reaching there, but managed to escape, and most of 17 Platoon joined the company that night. I was then ordered to take the company back to the "Gordon's farm", about a quarter mile along the road.

We remained there, dug in behind the road embankment until dusk, and then withdrew to a rear RV. We suffered one or two casualties by the farm, through heavy enemy shelling, but apart from these and some of 17 Platoon who were still missing, the company was still fairly intact, and the wireless set still with us. It is difficult to estimate the total number of prisoners taken, but we sent back well over 100 under escort, apart from very many others who went back on their own. The company fought with unfailing cheerfulness throughout a very harassing day.

I have the honour to be Sir,

Your obedient servant,

(Signed) T. C. Keigwin,

Lieuenant, No. 4. Company, 1st Bn Irish Guards.

7th February 1944.