Veteran Stories:
Robert Spencer

Army

  • The Memory Project, Historica Canada
Enlarge Image
Listen to this story

"We were ordered to move up... and to make as much dust as we could on the road. Because the idea was to convince the Germans that was where the main thrust was going to come..of course, the Americans were going to make the break though at Saint-Lô to the west and the British in-between on the hinge."

Transcript

We were, we were told that we were to go on D+12. By that time… we were an armoured division, of course, 4th Canadian (Armoured) Division. We were the ‘thin-skinned’* regiment, 25-pounders and 4-wheel quads.  The other regiment was the SPs [self-propelled] 25-pounders.  We, theoretically, were to be married up with the 10th Canadian Infantry Brigade, and the other with the armoured brigade.  But when we got into action, of course, that was all mixed up.  You supported whomever you could.

Waterproofing and last minute preparation.  I mean, that went on and on, and then, of course, before the Channel crossing came, there was the problem that they lost one of the Mulberry harbours.** The result was to D+12 came and went.  There was no room for an armoured division.  June passed and we got into July before we could move.  Then it’s a move from Sheffield Park in Sussex.

It’s interesting to reflect.  Our port of embarkation was Tilbury on the Thames, the north shore of the Thames.  How to get there? Of course, no M25 [motorway].  We had to go right through the city of London, passed the Guildhall, passed St. Paul’s, passed the Bank of England.  We were broken up into 10 vehicles with the Metropolitan Police ahead and behind, and whirled through as best we could, and then out above the Estuary to the transit camp north of the Thames.   And there, of course… I think it’s interesting.  It was very well organized.  When you went to transit camp, it was hotel service.  You were looked after, everything.  And we were there, in fact, for three nights because, again, the weather was bad.  And then we were loaded onto merchant ships, and that was really something…  The people were just quartered in the holds.  And eventually after waiting two nights, we set off, down the Estuary, around Dungeness, around by Dover and towards Portsmouth.

And, of course, at night as we went through the Channel, the [Fieseler Fi 103] V-1s*** then were coming over, and it was a fantastic show when these things came over, attacked first by fighters way out, then by long range anti-aircraft guns and then rockets as they got in.  Anyway, it was quite a show.

Well, we got down to Portsmouth.  The shipping regrouped.  And on a very fine sunny day, we set off across the Channel, and we pulled in and anchored off the beaches.  Great big landing rafts came by and, of course, the vehicles and everything had to be hoisted up.  We weren’t in a landing craft assault,**** where the doors went down or anything.  And we went in, and after all the work of waterproofing, dry landing!  And we went in, and then were moved to a staging area.  It’s interesting, by a little village called Crépon. Years later I went back, and I was able, in fact, to find the hedgerow along which you could still the indentation from the tanks where we had […]  Well, we were there, of course, de-waterproofing now and getting the stores sorted out, and getting ready.  By this time, of course, the battle had moved to the south of Caen. It was very far on.  I mean, that’s how far behind we were.  Because the bridgehead, the bridgehead was just a seething mass of vehicles and, of course, airfields because the great thing was to get fighters there so they wouldn’t have to fly across the Channel, and they took up a lot of space.  So we were ordered to move up to our first deployment position south of Caen and to make as much dust as we could on the road.  Because the idea was to convince the Germans that was where the main thrust was going to come.  Where, of course, the Americans were going to make the break though at Saint-Lô to the west and the British in-between on the hinge.  We relieved the 7th Armoured Division in a factory area south of Caen and we, you know, these guys were experienced, casual clothes and all the rest of it. We were pretty spiffy.

Anyway we dug in.  This was our first thing — dugouts, command posts and all the rest of it.  And we were there for about a week.  Firing occasionally.  Occasionally being fired on, though not very much.  Firing occasionally because the idea was to bloody the infantry unit.  They each attacked at night, a village south of Caen.  And then, of course, came the great breakthrough attack.  And we were part of this tremendous artillery and rocket barrage when [Lieutenant-] General [Guy G.] Simonds^ had the unfrocked priest,^^ really his embryonic armoured personnel carriers, taking the guns out, so they could get across the bullet swept and mortar swept because the mortars were terrible.  It was hard chalk and a mortar shell landing.  We had one unfortunate experience.  We were bombed by our own air force before we got out of there.

 

*‘Thin-skinned’ regiments used lightly armoured or unamoured vehicles for transportation.

**The Mulberry harbour was a temporary structure engineered to permit the fast unloading of cargo on the Normandy beaches.

***The Fieseler Fi 103 (V-1) German “flying buzz bomb” was a ground-launched medium-range missile.

****Landing Craft Assault (LCA) was a vehicle used in amphibious actions, particularly during the D-Day landings.

^Canadian Lieutenant-General Guy G. Simonds was known for his sharp tactical intelligence. He commanded the 2nd Canadian Corps in northwest Europe.

^^The “defrocked” Priest was an improvised armoured personnel carrier, based on an idea from Lieutenant-General Guy G. Simonds. The Priest was transformed into a protected troop transport by removing its self-propelled guns.

 

 

Follow us