The unique and highly important Second World War North West Europe ‘double’ gallantry Operation Blackcock Battle of the Roer Triangle 18th January 1945 attack on Schilburg Platoon Commander’s ‘immediate’ Military Cross and Normandy Operation Martl...

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The unique and highly important Second World War North West Europe ‘double’ gallantry Operation Blackcock Battle of the Roer Triangle 18th January 1945 attack on Schilburg Platoon Commander’s ‘immediate’ Military Cross and Normandy Operation Martlet Advance on Caen Battle for Rauray 28th June 1944 Private’s ’immediate’ Distinguished Conduct Medal group awarded to Captain G.E.A. Townsend, 2nd Battalion, Devonshire Regiment, formerly a Private with the 11th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry. As a Private with the 11th Durham’s he landed as part of the 70th Infantry Brigade on D-Day + 6, carrying a bicycle which was quickly discarded as useless. It was whilst involved in the savage fighting at Rauray on 28th June 1944 that Townsend won an ‘immediate’ award of the Distinguished Conduct Medal when engaged in fighting with the elite and unforgiving soldiers of the SS Panzer-Division’s “Das Reich” and “Hohenstaufen”. Private Townsend's Platoon came under heavy machine-gun fire whilst attacking the village. The Platoon Commander, Platoon Sergeant and two Section Commanders became casualties, and Townsend then took control of the Platoon and led them onto the objective. Later certain enemy tried to infiltrate. Townsend organised a quick local counter-attack and drove them back.’
Immediately promoted straight to Sergeant in the aftermath of the action, on the disbandment of his battalion later in August, he then found himself transferred to the 2nd Battalion, Devonshire Regiment, and took part in the crossing of the Seine, the advance through Belgium, and played a part in Operation Market Garden, fighting to consolidate the Eindhoven corridor through which XXX Corps would pass on their way to the bridges at Nijmegen and Arnhem. On its transfer into he 7th Armoured Division, Townsend received a battlefield commission as a 2nd Lieutenant on 23rd November 1944. Interestingly though, by the date that he would earn his ‘immediate’ Military Cross, namely the 18th January 1945 at Schilburg, Townsend’s promotion had been so rapid, that he had not even been allocated a service number!

In January 1945 the 2nd Devon’s took part in the bitter fight to clear the Roer Triangle in the south of Holland, known as Operation Blackcock. It was whilst in action at Schilburg on 18th January 1945 that Townsend won his ‘immediate’ award of the Military Cross and was wounded in action. Serving as a platoon commander in Major Howard’s ‘C’ Company for the attack on Schilburg on 18th January 1945, when supported by flame-throwing Crocodile tanks, Townsend’s men would have passed through villages with Nazi slogans painted on the walls, reading ’we will never capitulate.' In the attack on that town, with great determination he led his platoon forward to positions dominated by the enemy and under heavy fire from machine gun’s and snipers. When he had succeeded in getting the platoon into position, he, in full view of the enemy, went from section to section urging them to greater efforts and pointed out targets. Later he went forward alone to deal with an enemy sniper who was causing casualties and was shot in the arm. In spite of great pain and temporary paralysis of his arm, he insisted on remaining with his platoon to fight the battle.’

Having the ribbon of the M.C pinned onto his tunic by Field Marshal Montgomery at Luneburg in April 1945, on his return home, Townsend’s then had quite possibly a unique experience during the Second World War of receiving both the Military Cross and the Distinguished Conduct Medal from the hands of His Majesty King George VI at the same investiture at Buckingham Palace. Townsend is in fact the only recipient of both the Military Cross and the Distinguished Conduct Medal for the campaign in North West Europe, and is one of only four recipient’s of this combination to the British Army during the Second World War, one having also won the bar to his D.C.M, and one having gained two bar’s to the M.C. A further two Australian’s and one New Zealander won this M.C/D.C.M combination. Remaining in the army post-war, he saw service in Northern Ireland, Germany and Eritrea.

Group of 6: Military Cross, GVI 1st type cypher, reverse dated 1945; Distinguished Conduct Medal, GVI 1st type bust; (6213268 PTE. G.E.A. TOWNSEND. DEVON.R.); 1939-1945 Star; France and Germany Star; Defence Medal; War Medal. Mounted court style as worn.

Condition: light contact wear, Good Very Fine.

Together with the following quantity of original documentation:

The original typed recommendation form for the award of an ‘immediate’ Military Cross, issued to George Eugene Atherton Townsend (DCM), 2nd Lieutenant 2nd Battalion, Devonshire Regiment. The speed of Townsend’s commissioning was such that the document even states reference his officers service number: ‘Not yet allotted’! This is the first time we have seen this.

A superb original photograph showing Townsend being presented with his ribbon for the award of the Military Cross by Field Marshal B.L. Montgomery, this additionally signed in ink ‘B.L. Montgomery Field-Marshal’. This is an Official War Office Photograph, and the reverse of the photograph is additionally inscribed for identification: ‘Lieut GEA Townsend MC 2 Devons’ and then additionally inscribed by Townsend in his own handwriting: ‘Field investiture at Luneburg just prior to the war ending. Presentation of MC ribbon.’

A superb original photograph showing Townsend and other decorated officers of the 7th Armoured Division, taken as a group together with Field Marshal B.L. Montgomery, on the day that Townsend was presented with the ribbon of his ‘immediate’ award of the Military Cross by Montgomery at Luneburg shortly before the end of the war in Europe. The photograph is additionally signed in ink ‘B.L. Montgomery Field-Marshal’. An Official War Office photograph, the reverse is additionally inscribed by Townsend in his own handwriting: ‘Decorate officers of 7 Armoured Division at field investiture at Luneburg.’

A typed memo issued in the field notifying the recipient of his ‘immediate’ award of the Military Cross, inscribed in ink ‘Dear Townsend’ and similarly signed by ‘L.O. Syme’ who as the recipient kindly notes in his own handwriting at the bottom: ‘Major General Syme commanded 7 Armoured Division See Citation.’ Dated 25th February 1945.

Original typed citation for the award of the Distinguished Conduct Medal, this additionally inscribed by Townsend in his own handwriting: ‘The decoration was earned with 11 Bn Durham Light Infantry but I was with 2 Devon when award was approved. See Captain Stephenson’s letter to me. He was Adjutant of 11 DLI. You will note that the decoration is stamped 2 Devon. I am mentioned briefly in the publication “The D.L.I. at War”. I also rate a mention in W Aggett’s latest publication on the Devonshire Regiment.’

A typed memo issued in the field notifying the recipient of his award of the Distinguished Conduct Medal, inscribed in ink ‘Sgt Townsend’ and then with typed details: ‘I have just received a letter from Major W.L. Bell DAAG, Headquarters, 49th Infantry Division, with the information that your name is in the latest list of decorations. I am very pleased to tell you that you have been awarded a (following handwritten in ink) Distinguished Conduct Medal for your excellent work at Rauray. My congratulations and all good luck with you in your new work with 2 Devons.’ Signed ink ‘DF Stephenson Capt.’ Issued through the 11th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, dated 24th September 1944.

War Office letter to the recipient’s wife, Mrs E. Townsend of 46 Court Way, Colindeep Lane, Colindale, London, N.W.9, informing her that her husband has been wounded in action whilst serving as a 2nd Lieutenant with the Devonshire Regiment on 18th January 1945 ’sustaining a shell wound in the left forearm. The report adds that he remained at duty.’ Incorrectly the War Office letter is dated 3rd January 1945, this is obviously in error and should read most probably 2nd February 1945.

George Eugene Atherton Townsend was born on 21st April 1922 in Southwell, Nottinghamshire, the son of Arthur G., and Mary A.E. Townsend, nee Cooper. By 1939 the family were living at 59 Upham Park Road, Chiswick, when Townsend was working as a clerk for an estate agents and surveyor.

With the Second World War, Townsend enlisted into the British Army initially as a Private (No.6213268) with the Middlesex Regiment in May 1940, in which capacity he employed on home defence duties, but, on qualifying as an Infantry Weapons Instructor, he was posted to the Durham Light Infantry at Barnard Castle. And he subsequently transferred to the 11th Battalion, a component of 49th Division, for training for the Normandy invasion.

Prior to preparing for the Normandy invasion, the 11th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry which had originally fought with the British Expeditionary Force during the fall of France in 1940, had then been sent to see service in Iceland on anti-invasion duties. With the invasion of Normandy, as a part of the 70th Infantry Brigade, the 11th Battalion landed on D-Day + 6, when Townsend was disembarked at Arromanches, each man carrying a lightweight bicycle which was soon discarded as useless. The battalions first real action would be a Rauray on 27th June 1944, and the following day to that, Townsend would distinguish himself.

It was for his gallantry in Normandy whilst in action during Operation Martlet (also known as Operation Dauntless), a part of the larger Operation Epsom, the British attacks to capture the town of Caen, that Townsend won his award. The aims of Martlet were to protect the right flank of 8 Corps as it began Operation Epsom. an offensive into the Odon Valley west of Caen. It was when involved in the savage fighting at Rauray on 28th June 1944 that Townsend won an ‘immediate’ award of the Distinguished Conduct Medal when, despite being a Private, owing to casualties he assumed command of his platoon. At the time his battalion formed part of the 70th Infantry Brigade in the 49th Division.

The recommendation, originally for the Military Medal but then upgraded to the Distinguished Conduct Medal reads as follows: ‘At Rauray, on 28th June 1944, Private Townsend's Platoon came under heavy machine-gun fire whilst attacking the village. The Platoon Commander, Platoon Sergeant and two Section Commanders became casualties. Private Townsend took control of the Platoon and led them onto the objective. Later certain enemy tried to infiltrate. Private Townsend organised a quick local counter-attack and drove them back. Throughout this period and later when on the defensive, this man showed a fine example of leadership and complete disregard of personal danger.’

Townsend was immediately promoted straight to Sergeant in the aftermath of the action, and his ‘immediate’ of the Distinguished Conduct Medal was published in the London Gazette for 19th October 1944.

Operation Martlet 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 was put in charge of the capture of Rauray, the village being situated on a small rise in the landscape 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 managed 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 rescue 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 then stopped in Rauray, taking time to reorganise after the 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 German’s who obliged them to retreat back along the 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 then 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. The Battle for Rauray was technically over, but unable to continue south, the British maintained this line of defence in the Rauray sector for almost a month and it was not until about July 30 that the front moved definitively.

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 2nd Battalion, Devonshire Regiment, one of the battalion’s which had originally landed on D-Day, 6th June 1944 as part of the 231st Malta Brigade. After the rapid advance across the Seine and through Belgium, they played a part in Operation Market Garden, fighting to consolidate the Eindhoven corridor through which XXX Corps would pass on their way to the bridges at Nijmegen and Arnhem. October and November 1944 were spent defending the island – the low-lying polder-land between Arnhem and Nijmegen – against a German thrust south. The 2nd Devon’s received reinforcements from many regiments, one of these being Townsend, who is confirmed as having transferred to the 2nd Battalion, Devonshire Regiment around about 28th August 1944, the date of the disbandment of the 11th Battalion, which in itself had suffered heavy casualties in Normandy during the operations at Rauray, and was no longer a viable fighting unit.

In late November 1944, the 231st Malta Brigade was split up and the 2nd Devons were transferred to 7th Armoured Division, then near Sittard and with whom they served for the rest of the war. It was at this stage that Townsend received a battlefield commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant (No.338185), he having been granted an ‘immediate emergency commission’ on 23rd November 1944, gazetted on 23rd February 1945. Interestingly though, by the date that he would earn his ‘immediate’ Military Cross, namely the 18th January 1945 at Schilburg, Townsend’s promotion had been so rapid, that he had not even been allocated a service number! His M.C. recommendation form in the section for - Rank and Army or Personal No - states 2/Lieutenant and in the section for his personal number ‘Not yet allotted’. A most unusual occurrence.

In January 1945 they took part in the bitter fight to clear the Roer Triangle in the south of Holland, known as Operation Blackcock. It was whilst in action at Schilburg on 18th January 1945 that Townsend won his ‘immediate’ award of the Military Cross and was wounded in action.

By the end of 1944, the frontline in Dutch Limburg had stabilised along several natural barriers. By far the most difficult barrier to cross was the River Maas running along the Dutch - Belgian border. The next barrier was the River Roer, running from the German Eifel area through Heinsberg towards Roermond, where it joins the Maas. From Heinsberg, southwards the famous Siegfried Line or 'West Wall' was formed along the banks of the Rur. Dutch South-Limburg was already liberated in September by the First United States Army, but the area above the Sittard - Geilenkirchen line was still in German hands. Here the front had settled along the "Saefeller Beek", a small creek forming another seemingly immense obstacle. These obstacles formed a triangular area, indeed; it was referred to as the Roermond Triangle, which protruded like a small bulge into the frontline. As a result of the German offensive - Operation Herbstnebel - in the Ardennes (also known as the Battle of the Bulge), the Allies had to withdraw resources to stop the German advance in the American First Army’s sector. Therefore, the British Second Army's XII Corps, had taken over the task of guarding the frontline north of Sittard for the US Army. The Maas front was guarded by the British VIII Corps. The British XII Corps was facing the German XII SS Corps, which had two infantry divisions present along the frontline between Geilenkirchen and Roermond. In the Roermond area these divisions were strengthened by the Fallschirmjäger Regiment Hübner.

The clearing of the Roer Triangle was planned along three axes. The left axis, formed by the 7th Armoured Division, was aimed at capturing the bridge across the Roer in Sint Odiliënberg. For the 7th Armoured Division, the operation would start with bridging the creeks south of Susteren. The centre axis, formed by the 52nd Infantry Division, was aimed at the capture of Heinsberg. In order to do this, a break-through at the German defence line was to be undertaken near Hongen in order to open the road between Sittard and Heinsberg for moving troops. The right axis, formed by the 43rd Infantry Division, was aimed at clearing the area south-east of Dremmen. This axis would use the break in the German defence line that was to be created by the Lowland Division.

The 2nd Devon’s went forward for the attack on Schilburg on 18th January 1945, when supported by flame-throwing Crocodile tanks. Townsend was then a platoon commander in Major Howard’s ‘C’ Company. In the villages they passed Nazi slogans were painted on the walls, 'We will never capitulate.'

The original recommendation for the immediate award of the Military Cross to Townsend states: ‘At Schilburg on 18 January 1945, 2nd Lieutenant Townsend was commanding a platoon in the attack on that town. With great determination he led his platoon forward to positions dominated by the enemy and under heavy fire from M.G’s and snipers. When he had succeeded in getting the platoon into position, he, in full view of the enemy, went from section to section urging them to greater efforts and pointed out targets. Later he went forward alone to deal with an enemy sniper who was causing casualties and was shot in the arm. In spite of great pain and temporary paralysis of his arm, this officer insisted on remaining with his platoon to fight the battle. Throughout the engagement he showed great gallantry and devotion to duty and was a source of inspiration to all who saw him.’

Townsend’s wife, living at the time at 46 Court Way, Colindeep Lane, Colindale, London, was informed by the War Office in February 1945 that her husband had been wounded by shrapnel from a shell, though in fact it was a bullet received whilst stalking the sniper on 18th January. He however remained on duty. Townsend’s immediate award of the Military Cross was published in the London Gazette for 12th April 1945, and the ribbon for it was presented to him by Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery at Luneburg just a few days before the end of the war in Europe.

In the meantime, in March 1945, once across the Rhine, the 2nd Devon’s had forced a crossing of the River Weser and fought their last battle at Vehrendorf, outside Hamburg. On 12th July 1945 the 2nd Devons took part in the Victory Parade in Berlin, having joined the garrison there a week earlier. On his return home, Townsend’s had quite possibly the unique experience during the Second World War of receiving both the Military Cross and the Distinguished Conduct Medal from the hands of His Majesty King George VI at the same investiture at Buckingham Palace.

In his own words, of the investiture Townsend would recall ‘It was not customary to receive the M.C. at the “Palace” but as I was there for the D.C.M I did receive both.’

Townsend is in fact the only recipient of both the Military Cross and the Distinguished Conduct Medal for the campaign in North West Europe, and is one of only four recipient’s of this combination to the British Army during the Second World War, one having also won the bar to his D.C.M, and one having gained two bar’s to the M.C. A further two Australian’s and one New Zealander won this M.C/D.C.M combination.

Remaining in the army post-war with the Devonshire Regiment until August 1947, when he served on a Staff appointment to the 1st Battalion, Berkshire Regiment in Northern Ireland and Germany. Townsend then returned to the Devonshire Regiment, and saw service in Eritrea, before being promoted to Captain on 23rd November 1950. Townsend, having represented every Battalion he served at football and having opened the batting for the 2nd Devons cricket XI, transferred from the Active List to the Regular Army Reserve of Officers on 28th August 1953, and moved to the Class III Reserve on 1st October 1954. With the retitling of the army, as a reservist he then found himself with the Class III Reserve as a Captain with the Devon and Dorsets in the Wessex Brigade, before finally relinquishing his commission on 1st July 1959. Townsend latterly lived at Cowes on the Isle of Wight and died on 21st September 1997.

11/24/20 - 03:27:47