6 King’s Own Royal Regiment at Merville, May 1940

Living History

From the Regiments History by Cowper:

6 King’s Own were now concentrated at Merville in the angle between the River Lys and the canal. The first attack on the town was launched on the 24th along the north bank of the river against one of the canal bridges which could not be blown. Three tanks attempted to cross this bridge but were held up by Private C G M Longyear who covered the bridge with his anti-tank rifle. Although his gun jammed he stuck to his position, cleared his weapon and continued to fire until the enemy withdrew. On the 25th Merville was bombed and some tanks again approached the battalion position, but no serious attempt was made to reduce it and the Germans made a wide detour south of the river towards the east. Two field guns which had become detached from their battery were ordered from Sailly to go to Merville to report to Colonel Norris…

Possibly 26th May:

… 6 King’s Own was still hard pressed. Germans had reached the outskirts of Merville; some had established themselves in the houses, and Colonel Norris was continually organising counter-attacks. Sergeant G H Mason led one patrol which resulted in the capture twelve prisoners, three armoured troop carriers, four motor-bicycle combinations and an anti-tank gun. No.1 of a Bren gun team, Private D Callaghan firing from his hip, rushed into a cellar where nine Germans who had sought refuse there had already caused two casualties. He forced them all to surrender and then went on to an attic where, after killing two Germans, he took three prisoners. Private Longyear contributed a good deal to the success of these two operations as in spite of enemy sticky bombs he carried the magazines. The pressure was increasing when the field guns arrived from Sailly at three o’clock in the afternoon and brought a heavy fire to bear on two villages where enemy troops appeared to be assembling. This prevented the development of the next attack and there followed a brief respite…

Possibly 27th May:

The day started for the 6 King’s Own at about 7:30 am when Merville was heavily shelled. Then came news of the approach of two enemy heavy tanks from Calonne, but before they arrived a column of eight medium tanks was seen on the main road from Estaires. They halted at various points on the road and when their crews dismounted they were seen to be in French uniforms. It was hoped they would engage the tanks coming from Calonne, instead of which they turned out to be Germans who opened fire on the two British field guns at point-blank range. The tractors towing the guns burst into flames as the tracer bullets crashed into them, but the first shell from the British gun fortunately hit the leading German tank so effectively that it was swung across the road and made an excellent barricade. So started an engagement that went on intermittently until 5 pm that evening…

…It seemed that the Germans were still determined to drive their armour along the valley of the Lys where they were held up at Merville. Sergeant Mason’s two sections of the 6th Battalion were holding the bridges over the canal and preventing the enemy from penetrating farther; Private Longyear once more held up the German armour with his anti-tank rifle, even after he was wounded, and Private Callaghan, also wounded, continued to resist the German pressure with his Bren gun. Carrying parties had the most hazardous task for the whole thirty six hours, as all the approaches to the forward companies were covered by intense machine-gun, mortar and shell fire, but not withstanding the difficulties they were successful under CQMS W Bosward. Company runners were exposed to the same risks and one of them, Private R Hunt, twice had his clothing holed by bullets. ‘A’ Company was holding the two most important bridges and was continuously attacked by tanks, motorised machine guns and infantry. The Company Commander, Captain B P Dixon, led a number of counter-attacks and took twenty prisoners. He made possible the retention of Merville after it was almost surrounded, and he covered the withdrawal of the other two companies when ordered to do so. Perhaps the most exposed part of the whole position was in the south-west corner of the town Skaife d’Ingerthorpe’s platoon was once more under heavy mortar and shell fire. When he was eventually forced to withdraw the only way of escape was to swim the canal…

…After it’s gruelling fight on May 27, 6 King’s Own began to withdraw at 9.30 pm and marched to Meteren, where it arrived at 4 am. Second Lieutenant J Long, having been wounded earlier in the day, was captured.

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