The exceptional Second World War Normandy Battle of Caen Operation Epson action at Rauray 1st July 1944 ‘immediate’ Military Medal group awarded to Acting Corporal R. Forster, 11th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, later King’s Shropshire Light Infantry, who won an ‘immediate’ award of the Military Medal for his gallantry when a section commander during the German assault on Rauray by Kampfgruppe Weidinger on 1st July 1944, in which the enemy comprising infantry and tanks, including elements belonging to the SS Panzer-Division “Hohenstaufen”, managed to break the line of defence, and came up against Forster’s battalion which was engaged in the battle in the heart of Rauray. Bitter fighting occurred between 6 and 10 am and noon and 6 pm, before the Germans withdrew. During this action, Forster was in command of a section at the junction point between companies. Certain enemy infiltrated through the close country and a party of about ten surrounded his section post and made a determined attack with Spandaus and grenades. Severe casualties to the section were caused, and Forster remained encouraging the men and defeating the enemy until he was wounded in the face. He then crawled back under heavy fire and reported the situation to Battalion HQ, and this information enabled a counter attack to be pit in in time to restore the situation and prevent further infiltration. Forster went on to see service post-war in Palestine during the Jewish Revolt.
Group of 6: Military Medal, GVI 1st type bust; (4461299 A/CPL. R. FORSTER. DURH.L.I.); 1939-1945 Star; France and Germany Star; Defence Medal; War Medal; General Service Medal 1918-1962, GVI 2nd type bust, 1 Clasp: Palestine 1945-48; (4461299 CPL. R. FORSTER. K.S.L.I.)
Condition: Nearly Extremely Fine.
Robert Forster came from Houghton-le-Spring, County Durham, and saw service during the Second World War in Normandy and North West Europe as a Private and Acting Corporal (No.4461299) with the 11th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry. It was for his gallantry in Normandy whilst in action during Operation Epsom in the fighting at Rauray on 1st July 1944 that he won an ‘immediate’ award of the Military Medal when in command of a section. At the time his battalion formed part of the 70th Infantry Brigade in the 49th Division.
This action was a part of Operation Epsom, which aimed to pierce the front to the west of Caen on 26th June 1944, and involved a flank offensive in the direction of Rauray and Fontenay-le-Pesnel. It began at dawn on 25th June and the 146th Infantry Brigade of the 49th Infantry Division is in charge of the capture of Rauray, the village being situated on a field movement serving as a formidable observation post of the region. But for two days the Germans of the S.S.-Panzergrenadierregiment 26 (12th Panzer-Division Hitlerjugend) and the Panzer-Lehr-Division managed to contain this attack as well as possible.
On 27th June the 70th Infantry Brigade, supported by the 8th Armoured Brigade, was ordered to renew the offensive in the direction of Rauray. At about 8 am, ‘A’ Company of the 11th Battalion Durham Light Infantry launched an assault, but was cut to pieces by the SS soldiers. Of the 70 soldiers in the two platoons, only 6 were still able to fight . The 1st Battalion Tyneside Scottish also manage to reach the village but they suffered very heavy losses. Fierce fighting ensued throughout the day but between 12:00 and 14:00, the two sides agree to establish a short truce in order to raise the wounded and evacuate the dead. At 1600 hours, the Germans abandoned Rauray to the British and retreated 600 meters further south. The 70th Infantry Brigade stops there, taking time to reorganize after these two terrible days of fighting. The Germans are also severely affected: the 10th company of the S.S. Panzergrenadier Regiment 26 had only two non-commissioned officers and twenty non-commissioned members.
On the next day, 28th June, 1st Battalion Tyneside Scottish resumed the advance towards the south before being stopped by the opponent which obliges him to retreat along a defensive line to Rauray height. During the following days, the Germans of the Kampfgruppe Weidinger (task force, commanded by the SS-Obersturmbannführer Otto Weidinger and composed of the 1st Battalion, SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment 3. “Deutschland”, 1st battalion and 14th, 15th and 16th companies of the SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment 4. “Der Führer”, 2. SS Panzer-Division “Das Reich”) bombarded by direct and indirect fire the village.
On 1st July at 6 am, Kampfgruppe Weidinger attacked the British positions defending Rauray and managed to break the line of defence, thus isolating the 1st Battalion Tyneside Scottish. German soldiers and tanks are came up against the 11th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, which was engaged in the battle in the heart of Rauray. Around 10 am, after very heavy fighting, Weidinger made a tactical withdrawal of his troops and then renewed the assault at 11 o’clock but without more success. At noon, elements belonging to the SS Panzer-Division “Hohenstaufen” attacked in turn towards Rauray and succeeded in upsetting the opposing lines. For four hours they fought hard, but at six o’clock they fell back against the formidable resistance of the British. On this one day, the 1st Battalion Tyneside Scottish recorded the loss of 132 of its soldiers.
Unable to continue south, the British maintained this line of defense in the Rauray sector for almost a month and it was not until about July 30 that the front moved definitively.
The recommendation for Forster’s ‘immediate’ award reads as follows: ‘At Rural on 1st July, Corporal Forster was in command of a section at the junction point between companies. Certain enemy infiltrated through the close country and a party of about ten surrounded his section post and made a determined attack with Spandaus and grenades. Severe casualties to the section were caused. Corporal Forster remained encouraging the men and defeating the enemy until he was wounded in the face. He crawled back under heavy fire and reported the situation to Battalion HQ. This information enabled a counter attack to be pit in in time to restore the situation and prevent further infiltration. Throughout the action he showed leadership qualities and disregard for personal safety.’
Forster was awarded and ‘immediate’ award of the Military Medal in the London Gazette for 19th October 1944. Post war he went on to see service as a Corporal with the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry in Palestine during the Jewish Revolt, and this latter medal was claimed in April 1951.