Beauman Division

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Men of the 4th Battalion, The Border Regiment take up defensive positions in May 1940. This battalion had been tasked with defending the BEF's lines of communication, but became part of "Beauforce", later "A" Brigade of the Beauman Division

Beauman Division was a Second World War improvised formation of the British Expeditionary Force, which fought in the closing phases of the Battle of France in June 1940.[1]

Raising the division[edit]

On 18 May 1940, (Temporary) Brigadier A B Beauman CBE DSO, who was based at Rouen, was ordered by Major-General de Fonblanque (General Officer Commanding Lines of Communication Troops) to strengthen his local defences. He formed a small mobile force, "Beauforce", consisting of Territorial infantry battalions that had been intended to protect lines of communication and undertake pioneer work. A second formation, called "Vicforce", was formed from five provisional battalions made up of troops who had been employed in various depots, together with reinforcement drafts that had recently arrived in France. This second brigade-sized unit was named after its first commander, Colonel C. E. Vicary.[2]

Beauman placed these forces in a defensive position along the rivers Andelle and Béthune so as to defend Rouen and Dieppe from the east. A further force, known as "Digforce", was created by combining numerous companies of the Auxiliary Military Pioneer Corps into several battalions under Lieutenant-Colonel J. B. H. Diggle. These troops were mainly reservists who were not fit enough to join their front line units and had been tasked with construction and labour in the rear areas.

On 29 May, these three formations were combined to form Beauman Division and Beauman himself was promoted to acting Major-General to command it.[3] This was the only example of a British Army division being named after its commander since the Peninsular War.[4] The use of the word "division" was to cause problems later, as it misled the French high command into thinking it was supported by artillery, engineers and signals in the same way as a regular division, rather than a collection of largely untrained troops armed only with light weapons.[5] A plan to withdraw all the improvised forces was dropped at the request of General Georges, who said that such a course of action would have "an unfortunate effect on the French Army and the French people".[6]

The "Beauman Line"[edit]

In the first days of June, Beauman Division continued to construct what defences it could along the 55 mile Andelle-Béthune line. On 6 June, it was reinforced by a further three battalions of infantry; some artillery and engineer units arrived in the following days. However, "A" Brigade was detached to assist the 51st (Highland) Division;[7] (it became part of Arkforce, which was formed to cover the retirement of the Highlanders towards Le Havre). Some units of the 1st Armoured Division arrived in support, but remained under the orders of the Tenth Army commander, General Altmayer. The difficulty of maintaining communications led General Beauman to issue orders that units would hold on "as long as any hope of successful resistance remained" and that "Brigade commanders will use their discretion as regards withdrawal".[8]

At dawn on 8 June, the 5th and 7th Panzer Divisions renewed their drive towards Rouen. The first German attacks were at Forges-les-Eaux and Sigy-en-Bray. At Forges, refugees prevented the planned blocking of roads and, when French tanks appeared, they were allowed to pass through. However, they had been captured by the Germans and once through the road blocks, attacked the British positions from the rear. The units of the division were pushed back and the line was penetrated in many places, despite the support of 1st Armoured Division on their left. Late in the afternoon, Syme's Battalion, only formed from depot troops in the previous week, held up 5th Panzer for several hours outside Rouen before being forced to retire. During the night, the remainder of the division retired across the Seine.[9]

Evacuation[edit]

British troops withdrawing through France in June 1940

The fragmented remains of the division that had escaped across the Seine were withdrawn to reorganise.[10] On 16 June, the Tenth Army ordered a general retirement with the eventual aim of establishing a defensive position on the Brittany peninsula; a policy opposed by both Brooke and the British Government. Beauman Division was therefore ordered to fall back on Cherbourg for evacuation; part of Operation Ariel. This was a relatively straightforward task as, unlike some other British formations, they were not in contact with the Germans; however, it did involve crossing the line of retreat of part of Tenth Army. Arriving at Cherbourg, the division embarked on to the waiting ships with whatever equipment they had; the whole formation had been evacuated by 17 June.[11] On arrival in England, the division was dispersed; an entry in the London Gazette for 16 August 1940 says simply: "Colonel A B Beauman, CBE, DSO, relinquishes the acting rank of Major-General on ceasing to command a Division - 21st July 1940."[12]

Order of Battle[edit]

Division Headquarters

HQ staff and signals drawn from HQ North District

"A" Brigade "Beauforce" (previously 25th Infantry Brigade tasked with Line-of-Communication defence)

NB: "A" Brigade was detached from Beauman Division to Arkforce on 9 June 1940

"B" Brigade "Vicforce" (provisional battalions formed of reinforcement and depot troops)

  • Perowne's Rifle Battalion (disbanded and split between Ray's, Davie's and Meredith's Rifles by 1 June)
  • Waite's Rifle Battalion (disbanded and split between Ray's, Davie's and Meredith's Rifles by 1 June)
  • Ray's Rifle Battalion (later renamed "Newcombe's Rifles", then "1st Battalion")
  • Davie's Rifle Battalion (later renamed "2nd Battalion")
  • Meredith's Rifle Battalion (later renamed "Merry's Rifles", then "3rd Battalion")
  • Brigade Anti-Tank Company (2 x 2 pounder guns and 2 x 25mm guns; later renamed "Z" AT Company)
  • Brigade Carrier Platoon

"C" Brigade "Digforce" (provisional battalions formed of infantry reservists serving in the Auxiliary Military Pioneer Corps)

  • "A" Battalion (Nos 3, 10, 18 and 28 Companies AMPC from Rennes Sub-Area)
  • "B" Battalion (Nos 5, 21 and 111 Companies AMPC from Nantes Sub-Area)
  • "C" Battalion (Nos 4, 13, 113 and 114 Companies AMPC from Nantes Sub-Area)
  • "S" (Scots) Infantry Battalion (formed from General Base Depot troops on 14 June; joined "C" Brigade 15 June)
  • Brigade Carrier Platoon

Divisional Troops

  • Syme's Rifle Battalion (formed in late May - retained under Divisional control)
  • "E" Anti-tank Regiment (12 x Ordnance QF 2 pounder anti-tank guns (later 14); improvised from base reinforcement details and men returning from leave)
  • "X" Field Battery (12 x Ordnance QF 18 pounder field guns; improvised from base reinforcement details - many guns lacked dial sights[14])
  • Divisional Tank Company (5 x Infantry Tank Mk I and 5 (later 6) x Infantry Tank Mk II, later also 1 x cruiser tank and 1 x armoured car; formed from 27 May)
  • Divisional Engineers: 212th, 218th, 291st Army Troops Companies, 271st Field Company and 670th Artisan Works Company, Royal Engineers.

[15]

References[edit]

  1. ^ *Ellis, L. F. (1954) The War in France and Flanders 1939–1940. J. R. M. Butler (ed.). HMSO. London p.253
  2. ^ Ellis, p. 253
  3. ^ The Fight for the Channel Ports: Calais to Brest 1940: A Study in Confusion, Michael Glover, Westview Press, 1985 ISBN 0-436-18210-6 (p.150)
  4. ^ Beauman, Brigadier General A B (1960). Then a Soldier. London: P.R. MacMillan Limited. p. 140. 
  5. ^ Supplement to The London Gazette of Tuesday, the 21st MAY, 1946 (p.2438)
  6. ^ Ellis, p. 265
  7. ^ Ellis, p. 279
  8. ^ Ellis, p. 280
  9. ^ Ellis, p. 280-282
  10. ^ London Gazette 21/05/46 (pp. 2438-9)
  11. ^ London Gazette 21/05/46 (p. 2439)
  12. ^ Second Supplement to The London Gazette of Tuesday 13 August 1940 (p, 5001)
  13. ^ "25 Infantry Brigade". Orders of Battle. Retrieved 19 May 2014. 
  14. ^ Finest Years: Churchill as Warlord 1940-45, Max Hastings, Harper Press 2009, ISBN 978-0-00-726368-4 (p.43)
  15. ^ British Army, 1939-1945: British Expeditionary Force, 10 May 1940: Tables of Organisation and Equipment: Orders of Battle: Volume 2, Alan Philson, Military Press 2006 ISBN 978-0-85420-936-1 (pp 38-40