Beauman Division

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Beauman Division
The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in France 1939-1940 F4529.jpg
Men of the 4th Battalion, Border Regiment in defensive positions, May 1940. The battalion defended the BEF lines of communication and became part of "Beauforce", later "A" Brigade of the Beauman Division
Active 27 May – 17 June 1940
Country  United Kingdom
Branch  British Army
Type infantry
Role ad hoc defensive force
Size division
Part of British Lines of Communication, French Tenth Army
Engagements Operation Red/(Fall Rot)
Disbanded 17 June 1940
Commanders
Notable
commanders
A/Major-General A. P. Beauman

The Beauman Division was an improvised formation of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) during the Second World War, which fought in Operation Red/(Fall Rot) the final German offensive of the Battle of France in June 1940.

Background[edit]

Battle of France[edit]

After the Phoney War, the Battle of France began on 10 May 1940 when the German armies in the west commenced Fall Gelb. The German Army Group B invaded the Netherlands and advanced westward. General Maurice Gamelin, the Supreme Allied Commander, initiated the Dyle Plan (Plan D) and invaded Belgium to close up to the Dyle River with three mechanised armies, the French First Army and Seventh Army and the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). The plan relied on the Maginot Line fortifications along the German-French border but the Germans had already crossed through most of the Netherlands, before the French forces arrived. Army Group A advanced through the Ardennes and crossed the Meuse at Sedan on 14 May and then attacked down the Somme valley.[1]

Situation, 21 May – 6 June 1940

On 19 May, an attack by the 7th Panzer Division (Major-General Erwin Rommel) on Arras was repulsed. During the evening, the SS Division Totenkopf (Gruppenführer Theodor Eicke) arrived on the left flank of the 7th Panzer Division. The 8th Panzer Division, further to the left, reached Hesdin and Montreuil and the 6th Panzer Division captured Doullens, after a day-long battle with the 36th Infantry Brigade of the 12th (Eastern) Division; advanced units pressed on to Le Boisle. On 20 May, the 2nd Panzer Division covered 56 miles (90 km) straight to Abbeville on the English Channel. Luftwaffe attacks on Abbeville increased and the Somme bridges were bombed. At 4:30 p.m., a party from the 2/6th Queens of the 25th Infantry Brigade of the 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division ran into a German patrol and reported that the Germans had got between the 2/6th and 2/7th Queens. The British infantry were short of equipment and ammunition and were soon ordered to retreat over the river, but the 1/5th and 2/7th Queens found the bridges had been broken by the bombing. The Germans captured the town at 8:30 p.m., and only a few British survivors managed to retreat to the south bank of the Somme.[2][a] At 2:00 a.m. on 21 May, the III Battalion, Rifle Regiment 2 reached the coast west of Noyelles-sur-Mer.[4]

The 1st Panzer Division captured Amiens and established a bridgehead on the south bank, overrunning the 7th Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment of the 37th (Royal Sussex) Infantry Brigade. Of the 701 men in the battalion, only 70 survived to be captured, but the operation deterred the Germans from probing further.[5] The 12th (Eastern) Division and 23rd (Northumbrian) Division had been destroyed, the area between the Scarpe and the Somme had been captured, the British lines of communication had been cut and the Channel ports were threatened with capture. The Army Group A war diarist wrote that "Now that we have reached the coast at Abbeville, the first stage of the offensive has been achieved.... The possibility of an encirclement of the Allied armies' northern group is beginning to take shape".[6]

At 8:30 a.m., Air Component Hawker Hurricane pilots reported a German column at Marquion on the Canal du Nord and others further south. Fires were seen in Cambrai, Douai and Arras, which the Luftwaffe had bombed, but the Air Component was moving back to bases in England. Communications between the AASF in the south, the Air Component units still in France in the north and the Air Ministry were disorganised; the squadrons in France had constantly to move bases and operate from unprepared airfields with poor telephone connexions. The AASF was cut off from the BEF, and the Air Ministry and England-based squadrons were too far away for close co-operation. Two squadrons of bombers in England reached the column seen earlier at 11:30 a.m. and bombed transports on the Bapaume road, the second squadron finding the road empty. After midday, Georges requested a maximum effort, but only one more raid was flown, by two squadrons from 6:30 p.m. around Albert and Doullens. During the night, Bomber Command and the AASF flew 130 sorties and lost five bombers.[7]

Lines of communication[edit]

Arques river and vicinity

The main BEF base ports were initially Cherbourg, Brest, Nantes and St Nazaire. When the expected Luftwaffe attacks against the sea traffic of the B.E.F. did not materialise, Le Havre, Dieppe, Boulogne and Calais were also brought into use. The headquarter of the Lines of Communication were in Le Mans, where there was an important railway junction.[8]

The area south of the Somme mouth was the Northern District, commanded by Acting Brigadier A. B. Beauman, on the BEF lines of communication, with Dieppe and Rouen sub-areas. Dieppe was the main medical base of the BEF and Le Havre the principal supply and ordnance source. From St. Saens to Buchy, north-east of Rouen, lay the BEF ammunition depot and infantry, machine-gun and base depots were at Rouen, Évreux and l'Epinay. A main railway line linking the bases and connecting them with bases further west in Normandy and with the BEF in the north ran through Rouen, Abbeville and Amiens. Beauman was responsible for base security and guarding 13 airfields under construction, with troops drawn from the Royal Engineers, Royal Army Ordnance Corps, Royal Corps of Signals and older garrison troops. Further south in the Southern District, there were three Territorial divisions and the 4th Border Regiment, the 4th Buffs and the 1st/5th Sherwood Foresters lines-of-communication battalions, which were moved into the Northern District on 17 May as a precaution. Rail movements between the bases and the Somme quickly became difficult, due to congestion and German bombing, the trains from the north mainly carrying Belgian and French troops and the roads filling with retreating troops and refugees.[9]

Prelude[edit]

Formation[edit]

A soldier and lorry of "Beauforce" in May 1940.

On 18 May 1940, Acting Brigadier Beauman, who was based at Rouen, was ordered by Major-General Philip 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 recently arrived in France. This second brigade-sized unit was named after its first commander, Colonel C. E. Vicary.[10]

Beauman placed the force 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 detailed for construction and labour in the rear area.[11]

On 29 May, these three formations were combined to form the Beauman Division and Beauman was promoted to acting Major-General in command.[12] This was the only example of a British Army division being named after its commander since the Peninsular War.[13] 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.[14] A plan to withdraw all the improvised forces was dropped at the request of General Alphonse Joseph Georges, who said that such a course of action would have "an unfortunate effect on the French Army and the French people".[15]

Battle[edit]

Beauman line[edit]

Fall Rot, 13–25 June 1940

In the first days of June, the Beauman Division continued to construct what defences it could along the 55 miles (89 km) 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. "A" Brigade was detached to assist the 51st (Highland) Infantry Division (it became part of Arkforce, which was formed to cover the retirement of the Highlanders towards Le Havre).[16] Some units of the 1st Armoured Division arrived in support but remained under the orders of the French Tenth Army commander, General Altmayer. The difficulty of maintaining communications led 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".[17]

At dawn on 8 June, the 5th Panzer Division and the 7th Panzer Division renewed their drive towards Rouen. The first German attacks were at Forges-les-Eaux and Sigy-en-Bray. At Forges, refugees prevented the blocking of roads; when French tanks appeared, they were allowed to pass through. The tanks had been captured by the Germans and were used as a ruse. Once through the road blocks, they 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 parts of the 1st Armoured Division on their left. Late in the afternoon, Syme's Battalion, only formed from depot troops in the previous week, held up the 5th Panzer Division for several hours outside Rouen, before being forced to retire south of the Seine. During the night, the remainder of the division retired across the river.[18]

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.[19] 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. The Beauman Division was therefore ordered to fall back on Cherbourg for evacuation conducted as Operation Ariel. This was a relatively straightforward task as, unlike some other British formations, they were not in contact with the Germans but involved 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.[20] 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."[21]

Order of Battle[edit]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ The 25th Infantry Brigade discovered that it had lost 1,166 of 2,400 men when the remnants rallied at Rouen on 23 May. The 2/5th Queens counted 178 survivors, the 2/6th was intact except for one platoon and the 2/7th had 356 men left.[3]
  2. ^ All details taken from Karslake (1979) unless specified.[22]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ MacDonald 1986, p. 8.
  2. ^ Karslake 1979, pp. 70–71.
  3. ^ Karslake 1979, p. 71.
  4. ^ Frieser 2005, p. 274.
  5. ^ Karslake 1979, p. 67.
  6. ^ Ellis 2004, pp. 80–81, 85.
  7. ^ Ellis 2004, pp. 81–83.
  8. ^ Beauman 1960, p. 98.
  9. ^ Ellis 2004, pp. 252–254.
  10. ^ Ellis 2004, p. 253.
  11. ^ Karslake 1979, pp. 74–76.
  12. ^ Glover 1985, p. 150.
  13. ^ Beauman 1960, p. 140.
  14. ^ Ellis 2004, pp. 279–281.
  15. ^ Ellis 2004, p. 265.
  16. ^ Ellis 2004, p. 279.
  17. ^ Ellis 2004, p. 280.
  18. ^ Ellis 2004, pp. 280–282.
  19. ^ London Gazette 21/05/46 (pp. 2438-9)
  20. ^ London Gazette 21/05/46 (p. 2439)
  21. ^ Second Supplement to The London Gazette of Tuesday 13 August 1940 (p, 5,001)
  22. ^ Karslake 1979, pp. 249–251.
  23. ^ Hastings 2009, p. 43.

References[edit]

External links[edit]