The War Illustrated, No. 232, Vol. 10, May 10th 1946

iirv n t Stories o f'th Ware l t doh! Break fast in our com­fortable chateau just outside Ardre was a pleasant meal on that lovely May morning in 1940. Even the Adjutant seemed quite serene, despite the rumours Boulogne has fallen.’’ “St isOmer captured.” “The Germans arc heading your way for Calais.” and on.?o As we had no official information none of us took these rumours seriously. They were too fantastic they just didn’t make sense !But sense was bludgeoned into our dis­believing minds by a sudden, shattering roar of gunfire. We rushed onto the veranda. In the valley, two miles away, we could see yellow fumes of cordite rising slowly into the still air. And to our ears came the harsh clattering of tanks and a bedlam of cannon-fire Into a cloudless blue sky roared a formation of dive- bombers that began to peel off into screaming attack. Another moment and our Hurricanes and Spitfires were attack­ing them. To our incredulous eyes the air became filled with whirling, twisting, diving, fire-spitting death. Flaming planes crashed to earth others limped off in clouds of smoke. Parachutes floated calmly down. Then the sky emptied again save for an intricate pattern of vapour-trails but the noise of battle continued in the valley. 'It was all as sudden as that !We goggled at each other. A telephone screeched, and a voice, commandingly insistent, said, “Everybody to R.H.Q. immediately” A few minutes more and we found ourselves in our own little hell. Enough only need be said of our isolated action to give the picture of many similar actions that were taking place or had taken place allover the country­side around Calais. Sufficient to relate that a column of German tanks, men and field- guns, assisted by spotting-planes and para­chuted snipers, were upheld for a whole day by a handful of clerks, cooks, batmen and officers comprising the R.H.Q., who barri­caded themselves, with ration-lorries, inside the rectangular farmyard which was Head­quarters, and fought like veterans. Victims of Fifth Column Snipers The end, of course, was a foregone con­clusion. But we denied the enemy the satisfaction of capture. For, as the evening came on, and screened by the smoke from the now blazing farm-buildings about us, we slipped out of our garrison, waded waist- high along a nearby dyke and safely reached the main road that led north to Calais. In a weary “crocodile” we marched the nine miles to the outer perimeter of the town amid whining shells and the bursting of explosives. We found the railway-siding, .anal and dykes which formed this perimeter ’sparsely manned by platoons of the K.R.R.s. We entered Calais. We could hear the sounds of battle away to the west of the town, and learned that partial siege had already been laid by the enemy two days before. Gunners, Pioneers, andR.E.s a few Welsh Guards who had trickled back from shattered Boulogne had held the west side of Calais until reinforced by untried units of K.R.R.s, Queen Victoria’s Rifles and the Rifle Brigade. These had arrived that morning and gone straight into action. The main fighting so far had been By Rev. CLIFFORD LEVER Author o f MOn Hearty Too on that side of the town, as the Germans, moving up from the south, had not yet arrived. W e knew they were on their Away! ship loaded with ammunition, equipment and some tanks, accompanying these units, could not be off-loaded because of the failure of the electric power to the dock-crancs and the disappearance of the French dockers. (The ship, later, had to return to England still fully loaded save for a few tanks that had been manhandled onto the quay by our own men. These must have been the tanks we had heard inaction that morning.) We were warned that it was necessary to be on the alert for Fifth Column snipers who had already killed some of our Amen. s we walked warily down the shattered streets, dodging flying slates, splintering glass and chunks of masonry, the last four tanks the garrison possessed passed onus their way out. Before we reached the end of the mjiin thoroughfare the largest tank, battered and broken, was back again. The other three did not return. From this the inference was simple :the Germans from the south were now with us !The shortage of men and ammunition soon became apparent. That night, as we crouched in a cellar while bombs rained onto the town, we could hear, between bomb-bursts, the chattering of rifle and Bren-gun fire becoming louder and nearer—so near that it meant the outer perimeter had been abandoned and we were now fighting on a shorter line to hold the inner perimeter. Next morning the smouldering inferno of the night blazed up white-hot an inferno that made Dante’s a pale fantasy beside this fiendish, stinking hell. Rifle, Bren-gun, tank-gun and field-gun fire crashing walls flying slates and glass men crawling from street-corner to street-corner, firing as they crawled men blazing away through glassless windows at an enemy who seemed amazingly expert at this kind of battle men fighting from flaming roof to flaming roof bodies falling out of windows and from the roof-tops streams of bullets smacking the cob­bles and zipping past your crouching body stretcher- bearers creeping along, ignoring their own danger in the greater purpose of mercy water from burst mains flooding down the littered streets—water with a pinky tinge as it lapped around your feet red-hot dust choking lungs and nostrils. All this and, overall, the cataclysmic din and that insidi­ous awareness of death that blacks out reason and leaves only naked instinct to motivate one’s actions. Pioneers Held the Inner Bridges The trained infantry units were now fighting bitterly—fanatically—on the inner perimeter which half-circled the town, every shrinking yard claiming its percent.ige of life. The Pioneers—old veterans of Mons and some, 1 swear, of Mafeking—toothlessly grinned as they held the inner bridges and stopped loose-roving tanks by the sheer rate of their Bren-gun firing. (These were cunning old men who neatly piled up German dead to make fire-parapets for themselves.) Gunners andR.E.s, now turned infantry, blazed away with their unfamiliar rifles. Time and time again the Nazis broke before them. In roared the dive-bombers ineffectu­ally The fighting was loo close-contained. They sheered off, to wait until the situation cleared. Slowly, as the terrible days and nights vaguely punctuated this unrcspitcd agony, the situation did clear. It was inevitable. You cannot fight tanks and armour forever with rifles, Bren-guns and anaemic anti-tank rifles, especially if you arc so few in number that you cannot get any relief save the snatched moment of twitching sleep. No matter how high your courage or how tenacious your obstinacy, rations that become more and more frugal and ammuni­tion that dwindles without replenishment will make the end inevitable. Street by street, square by square, the area of the town held by us shrank. It was all so simple— for the Germans !Two German tanks atone end of a street two at the other with no tanks to oppose them—then their infantry would fight away with sub-machine guns and grenades into the first house of the street, blast a hole through THE TOWN HALL AT CALAIS with its well-known clock tower as it is today. After the siege of 1940—described above—from 1941 to 1943 this ancient French town was the frequent target of R.A.F. bombers and long-range guns sited at Dover, and again saw heavy fighting when ths Canadian Army recaptured it in 1941. PAGE 3 5 l ’hoto, Planet Nctos
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