The exceptional and emotive Second World War Normandy Operation Epsom Battle of Caen Defence of Rauray 1st July 1944 ‘immediate’ Military Medal and relief of Arnhem operations casualty group awarded to Lance Sergeant C.D. Rowe, 11th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, later 1st Battalion, Dorsetshire Regiment, who as a section commander with “C” Company, distinguished himself during his battalion’s classic action at Rauray on 1st July 1944, an action which saw the final German throw of the dice to attempt to penetrate the Allied line and force the British back to the coast, an attack which was fortuitously repulsed despite the best efforts of the elite SS 2nd Das Reich and 9th Hohenstaufen Panzer Divisions, when his battalion acted in direct support of the hard pressed 1st Tyneside Scottish. It was mid way through the afternoon when a local counter-attack by C Company was made to restore the situation during the confused fighting. At this critical moment, Rowe was in command of the leading section in the company assault sent to restore the situation on the left of the 1st Tyneside Scottish. During the advance his section came under heavy fire from an enemy machine gun situated in the corner of a hedge. He quickly placing down a smoke screen and worked his section round, and then himself charged the machine gun with his sten gun and destroyed the enemy post. Rowe was subsequently one of those men transferred to the 1st Battalion, Dorsetshire Regiment in late August 1944, when the 11th Battalion was disbanded, and he went on to be present during 30 Corps attempt to relieve Arnhem during Operation Market Garden, before being killed in action in that area on 4th October 1944.
Group of 5: Military Medal, GVI 1st type bust; (4461625 L.SJT C.D. ROWE. DURH.L.I.); 1939-1945 Star; France and Germany Star; Defence Medal; War Medal.
Condition: Nearly Extremely Fine.
Cyril Desmond Rowe was born in 1920, and came from Manchester. He married a Mary Karvey in Penzance, Cornwall in 1935. Having joined up circa mid 1940, he then saw service during the Second World War initially as Private (No.4461625) with the Durham Light Infantry.
Rowe saw service with the 11th Battalion in Iceland on garrison duty, and then during the invasion of North West Europe and the Normandy campaign, when a Corporal commanding a section of “C” Company, and it was in his battalion’s classic action at Rauray on 1st July 1944 during Operation Epsom and the Battle of Caen that he won an ‘immediate’ award of the Military Medal, during an action which saw the final German throw of the dice to attempt to penetrate the Allied line and force the British back to the coast.
The German attack comprised the elite SS 2nd Das Reich and 9th Hohenstaufen Panzer Divisions. It is recommended to read the book ‘Breaking the Panzers’ by Kevin Baverstock for a fuller account of this pivotal action, which whilst borne in the main by the men of the 1st Tyneside Scottish, was directly supported by the men of the Brigade sister battalion, the 11th Battalion, which also formed part of the 70th Infantry Brigade in the 49th Infantry Division.
With the onset of the German attack in the morning of 1st July 1944, reports ‘were received at Battalion HQ of German infantry infiltrating towards us, and almost simultaneously news came over the set of tanks approaching the Tyneside Scottish who were forward of our positions. The enemy seemed to be attacking in small battle groups – often a tank supported by a small group of infantry armed with automatics, but all our positions held firm. The main impetus of the attack developed by 10:00 hours but no penetration was effected and the sight of several enemy tanks brewing up was a great encouragement to our men. During this period it was very difficult to get information of the bigger picture; each man had to be content with doing his own job and refusing to be uprooted or unsettled by Spandau, or mortar or tank shelling – the latter most unpleasant.
Our mortar Platoon under the command of Captain A.D. Barlow did splendid work in breaking up the enemy attacks and on two occasions managed to drive off an enemy tank which was shelling D Company. Major Brewis was very severely wounded just before mid-day while attempting to mop up a Spandau, and Captain D.M. Grant took over command of the Company. Soon the enemy seemed to wilt and to be withdrawing south in the direction of Bretvillette, and by close liaison a gunner concentration was brought down by the O.C. of B Company which threw them into confusion.
The respite was not to last for long. A further heavy enemy attack supported by tanks was made at 15:00 hours, but the brunt of this was taken by the Tyneside Scottish who managed to knock out many of the tanks, but who suffered a good many casualties in the process. The situation was rather confused. The forward elements of the Tyneside Scottish had been severely mauled and eventually it was decided that a local counter-attack by our C Company should be made to restore the situation.’ It would be at this stage that Rowe performed the actions which led to his subsequent award.
‘This was put in with the support of gunners, tanks and machine guns and was immediately successful. Captain W.F. McMichael commanded the Company for the attack and the appearance of our charging infantry put the enemy to flight.
Meanwhile, the Brigade Commander had decided that the Battalion should relieve the Tyneside Scottish (who by this time were very thin on the ground), we ourselves being relieved by the 1st/7th Dukes. This was carried out smoothly and without enemy interference.
The total enemy losses for the day will probably never be known but the bag in the Rauray Sector included at least 30 tanks knocked out and many Germans killed and wounded. These losses were in all probability accentuated by our shelling of a column of lorried infantry observed debussing at Quedeville during the evening.
The weekly Field Returns of manpower were completed as at 1st July and stated that all Officers had been slightly wounded, but that Lt Fitzpatrick – a CANLOAN Officer - had been evacuated to the 146th Advanced Dressing Station and Lt W.R. Bell had been evacuated to No. 3 Casualty Clearing Station – their return to the unit was requested. The return showed that the Battalion was five Lieutenants and one Major short of establishment – the losses including the Intelligence Officer and the Anti-Tank Platoon Commander, as well as Major Brewis – referred to above, who sadly died of his wounds a few days later. As regards the Other Ranks, the Return shows that 129 reinforcements were required, following the losses at the end of June.
The recommendation for Rowe’s immediate award of the Military Medal reads as follows: ‘At Rauray on 1st July 1944. Corporal Rowe was in command of a leading section in the assault of “C” Company sent to restore the situation on the left of 1 Tyne Scot. During the advance his section came under heavy fire from an enemy machine gun situated in the corner of a hedge. Quickly placing down a smoke screen he worked his section round. Then he himself charged the machine gun with his sten gun and destroyed the enemy post. He displayed very fine leadership qualities and it was due to his personal bravery that the enemy post which might have held up the attack was silenced.’
Rowe’s immediate award of the Military Medal was published in the London Gazette for 19th October 1944, however by this stage it was a posthumous award. In the meantime, Rowe had been killed in action.
Due to the battle of attrition faced by the British and Canadian armies to enable the Americans to break out of their beach-head, crippling casualties had been caused, specifically to the 1st Battalion, Dorsetshire Regiment, who by 1st July 1944, had since landing on D-Day, 6th June 1944, lost 19 of its original 20 officers, either killed, wounded or posted out. The other ranks had also been decimated. As such the 1st Dorset’s received reinforcements from many regiments, including an entire company from the Durham Light Infantry, namely “C” Company of the 11th Battalion, and several officers were also attached from the Canadian Army. Rowe is confirmed as being one of those men of “C” Company, 11th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, to be transferred to the 1st Battalion, Dorsetshire Regiment on 28th August 1944, which occurred on the disbandment of the 11th Battalion, which in itself had suffered heavy casualties in Normandy.
As a Lance Sergeant and ultimately Sergeant he was then with the 1st Dorset’s when as part of 30 Corps, it supported the Guards Armoured Division in their initial advance to relieve thew Allied airborne troops who had captured the bridges on the way to Arnhem. After the strategic failure of the operation they moved to the island, the low lying polder land between Arnhem and Nijmegen, in order to defend the area from German recapture. It was here on 4th October 1944 that Rowe was killed in action, he being buried in Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery