Cumbered with Help

Apr 2014
206
Liverpool, England
#1
There are times when people rush to give you a hand and you end up wishing they hadn’t bothered. What gives rise to this thought is a little-known action during the Battle of France, described in a file from the British National Archives. (WO 167/90)

With the arrival of the Germans at Amiens, a series of bridges along the Seine was prepared for demolition by British engineers, starting 21 May 1940. Exactly which bridges is not stated, but evidently the lower reaches towards Rouen and possibly not including the main bridges across the river. Owing to a series of unfortunate misunderstandings a number of these bridges were blown in error on the following day while the Germans were still miles away on the Somme.

Three bridges were blown “by order of an authorised officer.” Two, one of them “a bridge over a crossing”, for plausible reasons and one by a platoon officer for no good reason. The others were all blown by mistake. One by a nervous NCO who thought he heard German armour approaching at night. One when a minor demolition at the next crossing was taken to mean that the enemy had arrived. In one case an officer warned the men at several bridges to blow theirs if they heard the platoon commander’s crossing go up; foolishly, he then blew up “a small concrete bridge” nearby (in case the charge turned out to be insufficient) without warning the others of what he was doing – so several more bridges went up in sympathy. A section commander told to blow a tank ditch, blew up the wrong bridges. One bridge was ordered to be blown on receipt of a signal – two rifle shots. Unfortunately, a hunt for parachutists (almost certainly non-existent) led to some shooting and the bridge went up.

With hindsight, we know that all these bridges would have been blown anyway about three weeks later, but the French might have liked to have the use of them in the meantime. The troops involved in these events were mostly half-trained Territorials, who would soon be in the line as part of a scratch force known as Newcomb’s Rifles. They had heard stories (not always true) of Panzer divisions pouring into France across bridges that had carelessly been left intact and they were determined that this was not going to happen on their watch. The British file containing this embarrassing information was closed for fifty years – it would be interesting to know if any French report survives.
 
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Nemowork

Ad Honorem
Jan 2011
8,446
South of the barcodes
#2
British Expeditionary Force, France: special units formed in France; Beauman Division,... | The National Archives

I have no idea whats going on with these groups but i love the names
special units formed in France; Beauman Division, Davies' Rifles, Merry Rifles, Newcomb's Rifles, Perowne's Rifles, Waite's Rifles; missing men
If the commander of the Merry rifles didnt manage to make at least one Robin Hood joke i'm going to lose all respect for the British army.

Any idea which units got dragged into Newcombs rifles?
 
Apr 2014
206
Liverpool, England
#3
I must look up the file you have identified. Going from an article in “The War Illustrated” Vickforce was set up on 19 May to arrange a defensive line near Dieppe using whatever men they could find on the line of communications – their activities included the mining of bridges. Ten days later they were reorganised as the Beauman Division, which had three battalions of about 700 men each, one of which was Newcomb’s Rifles, commanded by Lt-Gen Perowne of the Royal Engineers (which suggests that Perowne’s Rifles and Newcomb’s were the same thing). The Merry Rifles were one of the other battalions. The Beauman Division caused a lot of trouble later when the French High Command assumed it was a proper division with artillery and armour, which it wasn’t. You may be pleased to hear that when they had to retreat in small parties through the woods to the Seine: “The scheme was given the code name ‘Robin Hood.’”
 

Nemowork

Ad Honorem
Jan 2011
8,446
South of the barcodes
#4
According to the press 5th oct 1940 they were the same unit, named for Newcombe but taken over and commanded by Perowne

WEEK-END MAGAZINE AMAZING EXPLOITS OF THE GALLANT 800 -
"Newcomb's Rifles" Was a Scratch Corps in France, But It Performed Miracles - And Then Disbanded!

Newcomb's Rifles had to cope with streams of refugees like this pouring along the French roods. A British infantry battalion headquarters in a French farmhouse of the type used by the gallant 800 Newcomb's Rifles had to cope with streams of refugees like this pouring along the French roods.


By DUDLEY BARKER
Part of the force hurriedly scratched together from these units was a battalion christened Newcomb's Rifles, although the officer who gave them their name was put

into another Job, and they chose a colonel of the Royal Engineers to command them.

He was Lieut .-Colonel L. E. C. Perowne, a huge man, of great physical strengt^!, with fierce red hair and a red moustache.
Just got curious because i was reading about some of the DLI territorials who were basically supposed to be used as pioneers while doing infantry training in their spare time, managed a couple of days training then sent up to the front as khaki speed bumps without training, knowing their officers, transport or much heavier than an understrength complement of Bren guns.
Its a comedy of incompetence, retreat, shooting the ocassional prisoners and mostly running away which tends to make a bitter contrast with the competence and resilience of the low number and more regular DLI units.
 
Last edited:

Nemowork

Ad Honorem
Jan 2011
8,446
South of the barcodes
#5
BEF after Dunkirk. Posted by user Stoffel so of unknown reliability

My father was part of Newcomb's Rifles and i have the newspaper cutting as detailled below. Unfortunately it does not give me what paper or the date it was reported.
Retreat: 332 got home to England.
Through a countryside infested with German mechanised forces, along roads and forest paths choked with refugees, a little band of 800 British soldiers fought its retreat, step by step to the sea.
In quiet, matter of fact terms an official report on the movements of this tiny army tells a story which will rank as one of the greatest in all British military history.
Newcomb’s rifles, they called them. But they were in fact, not a composite body at all but a scratch lot from 33 units, hastily got together from base camps over a wide area. Their commander was Lieut-Col L E C Perowne, of the Royal Engineers.
In 40 hours on June 8, 9, 10 they marched 40 miles through difficult country, ill-equipped to deal with enemy aircraft and with enemy tanks which pressed upon their front and flanks and threatened to cut their line of retreat.
Newcomb’s Rifles comprised roughly a third of a body of troops known as Vickforce, whose job was the impossible one of attempting to check the German advance along the Channel coast to France.
The main aim of Vickforce was to build a solid obstacle between the Somme and Seine to protect Dieppe, Le Harve and Rouen. It was, in the conditions, hopeless almost from the start. In one sector 300 rifles were strung out along 12 miles.
They mined bridges, erected wire obstacles, built road blocks, concealed anti-tank rifles and Bren guns in strong emplacements and set up sandbag figures wearing steel helmets and armed with tent poles in other dummy emplacements.
Finally, with growing enemy pressure in front, flank support non-existent and unknown conditions behind, Vickforce had to retreat.
On June 9 Newcomb’s Rifles had fallen back on the Seine and they found the small river towns of Caudebec and Duclair choked with wreckage, human and material.
At the height of the work of getting Newcomb’s Rifles across, the ferry captain refused to return from the far bank. He ignored the ringing of the bell and his craft did not resume its service until volunteers had swum the river and placed him under armed guard.
At long last what remained of Newcomb’s rifles got across the Seine and on June 19 they embarked for England.
Originally there were 800. There embarked for home 22 officers and 310 other ranks, with 29 anti-tank rifles and 15 Bren guns.”
 
Apr 2014
206
Liverpool, England
#6
Some revisionist historians think we didn't do enough in this way. The pioneers sent away from Dunkirk as useless mouths should have been given rifles and put in the line.
“Their disappearance was a sign of defeatism.” How much longer the line would have held with their assistance is an interesting question - supposing that guns and ammunition could have been found for them when everything was running short.
 
Apr 2014
206
Liverpool, England
#8
Yes, it does look interesting. But: Le débarquement d’hommes et de chevaux du corps expéditionnaire britannique? What chevaux? The BEF didn't take any horses to France except for Lord Gort's charger.

It needs looking at properly, but I notice it is not entirely complimentary.
 

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