Royal Scots Fusiliers
Number 4 Platoon - Carrier.
During the early 1930's the 2nd Bn was delivered a number of Universal carriers in their role as a Machine Gun battalion.
B Company as the resident Anti-Tank sub unit was given these to tow their guns.
The photo's on the left are from regimental journal from xx,xxx,xx
When the battalion was converted back to rifle companys, they lost all but ten of the carriers.
These were formed into 3 sections of 3 carriers, led by a Sergeant with the other 2 vehicles commanded by a Corporal with a driver and gunner as crew.
A HQ carrier was commanded by the platoon commander, with his 2i/c and a driver/ mechanic that doubled up as the officers batman.
Commanding the carrer platoon was Lt. Ian Scott Thomson. Ian was a strong character and natural leader of men. Described by his O.T.C. commander as someone of outstanding personality, possessor of great independence and force of character. All of these attributes were essential during the dark days of May 1940.
Commisioned into the Royal Army Service Corps in 1935, soon transferring into the RSF due to his love of infantry. He led the regimental Army Cross-country Motor-cycle team to victory in 1938 alongside 2Lt. Kempthorne and 2Lt. Shakespear.
The vehicles that the battalion took to France were the "Bren Gun Carrier" configuration with every third vehicle armed with the Boys anti-tank weapon.
They were not as well armoured as they could have been, this being demonstrated before the fighting even began.
"wretched carriers that were not even bullet-proof. That they were not bullet-proof I know, because early in May one of the Fusiliers let off his rifle by mistake and the bullet went slap through a carrier parked nearby!"
They also lacked cover from above, which as we shall see later proved a fatal shortcoming.
Despite this, the carriers proved their worth and with the agressive handling of Lt. Thomson saved the day on many occasions.
During the battle of Arras, the carrier platoon skillfully covered the withdrawal of the battalion, as is shown in Kemp's writings:
"In the early hours of May 23," the record continues, "the Battalion was ordered to come out of action. The withdrawal, which was skillfully carried out under the command of Major P. D. Morrison, was made along a very devious route. The enemy was already closing in from both flanks. At daylight the Battalion, which was acting as rearguard to the Brigade, was subjected to low-flying attacks from aircraft and shelling, as well as long range machine gun fire. Lieutenant I. S. Thomson was largely instrumental in enabling the Battalion to disengage and in securing our flanks and rear during the 27-mile march back to Douai." Time and again this resolute and quick-thinking young officer, by the skilful exploitation of his carriers, saved the situation in day-long engagements with the oncoming regiments of Germans on both flanks and in the rear.
The carrier platoon assisted with a counter-attack to relieve pressure on the 27th May alongside the fighting patrol, and stayed to cover their withdrawal back to the south side of the canal.
Jacques Cossart writes:
Suddenly without warning, tanks leap out from behind the small woods, the Scottish soldiers following them. An immense Hurrah is sounded that could be heard in the village of Zillebeke and the Scottish soldiers enter the Park again. Along with their tanks, they charge forward, the Germans turn and run everywhere at the same time. They push forwards and regain their positions along the edge of the railway line.
Afterwards they attempted to follow the rifle companies back through the "Pitche Menu" ford across the Ypres-Comines canal. Due to the steep nature of the ground, that had been churned up by heavy rain and shellfire, it was slow going and the last two carriers failed to make the crest. One was hit by fire coming into the unprotected top of the carrier and the other flipping over and catching fire. One of these carriers is still in place during the winter of 1940, in a photograph taken by German troops stationed near the "White House".
The story is taken up again by Jacques Cossart:
The "Pitche Menu" looking back north towards Hill 60. The carrier is the second of the first section.
The retreat takes place through the woods in good order, whilst the Bren gun carriers, form a rear guard, protecting them like loyal dogs. The last carrier is now on the road back to the collapsed bridge, its mission finished it accelerates to top speed. It goes past the burning artillery convoy and hooks into the fields and down the slope. It heads down to the ford of the "Pitch menu", its caterpillar tracks loosing grip on the loose stones, the tracks then bite the mud on the bank and it begins to rise again. They have almost made it, however the Hunters have finally seen it from their positions along the base of the Bluff. A burst of machine gun fire hits the driver, the carrier zig zags into the old bridge structure; it swerves, overturns and catches fire.
A few metres away, in their trenches in the woods, the Scots Fusiliers are unable to stop this tragedy. They rush to rescue the crew before they are burned alive.
During the rest of the day, the carrier platoon carry out recce patrols to locate units on either flanks. It is soon clear however that the RSF are very much on their own in Palingbeke. Both the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and the Seaforth Highlanders having been beaten back after a hard fight.
That evening Lt. Thomson, along with his best friend 2Lt. Knight led a fighting patrol suign their remaining carriers, sweeping in from the south up the driveway of the "White House" and then around eithe side before falling back again. This patrol stopped the Germans from consolidating their positions in the dark and also helped deliver ammunition to the companies still holding out in the woods. During this action, Lt. Thomson's carrier became stuck by the side of the lake (slipping down the steep slope) and he and Peter (Knight) had to swim back across the lake before returning to the Vergotte Farm and battalion HQ.
Jacques Cossart picks up the story but confuses some of the timings and facts in his narative:
Then at one o’clock in the morning a dreadful noise disturbs them.
Out of the black night flame spitting monsters emerge! Men shrink, flatten and try to merge with the ground, not daring to breathe as they watch this vision of hell. These tanks are returning to Palingbeek after coming from the village of Hollebeke to see what was happing there. The suddenly appear in front of the hunting lodge, leaping over the trenches and brutally crushing the privet hedge and copse. Now they turn around at the White House, using it like a traffic island. One
moment they slide down towards the pond, make a U turn and then turn back towards the main road. No flash of bullets or grenades applaud their passage, all those in Palingbeek are helpless with shock. At the entrance to the grand avenue the monsters halt and Lt Thomson, pipe clenched in his teeth, explains what they haven’t seen and asks them to carry more ammunition to the Ossuary wood or that position might fall. For now there is nothing else to ask them until tomorrow, tomorrow will be a different story. The tanks promise to return and leave, going back through the park, riding in a column randomly firing their machine guns.
In fact Lt. Thomson met those carriers that survived this patrol back at Vergotte Farm, where he was de-briefed by Lt. Col. Tod and also Brigadier Stopford.
His carrier can be seen partially submerged in the lake during the winter of 1940 and is in fact still near this resting place in the woods on the golf course. (although heavily rusted)
In the early hours of the morning, about an hour after BHQ at Vergotte farm has been over run, two of the remaining carriers try one last time to assist the rifle companies who are under fire in the woods of the Ossuary (D and C Coy).
They swing wide to the south and come in through the Pavilion farm entrance (East of the "White House")
Drawn by the noise of the battle taking place at Palingbeek, two small tanks arrive from Hollebeke. Without hesitation or reducing speed, they fly through the open courtyard doors of the pavilion farm. Here in the courtyard, they see the green uniforms beneath the trees; they rush forward, throwing grenades, as their gun is damaged.
The Hunters respond with their own grenades, suddenly the tank turns and an anti tank gun that has been set up near the Bois du Faison fires at them as they push through. The anti tank gun misses its target and the shot lands near the White House cloakroom window. The tanks reverse direction rapidly and return to the courtyard of the farm. Unfortunately the road is now cut off by another line of grenadiers; they are now corned in the farm house. Lieutenant H, who commands the 2nd section, demands their surrender and the Scots raise their hands.
Further to the west, both Peter Knight and Ian Thomson try to escape on foot across the fields to the south, but they don't realise that the farm (Ferme Diablo) they are heading towards has a German machine gun team set up in it. They along with Ian's driver Fusilier William Stott are killed.
Even after this action and the loss of their leader, 5 of the RSF carriers managed to break out of the encirclement and withdraw with the brigade to the Yser canal line. Tod writes a final word from his prisoner of war cell:
"After I had been a prisoner for more than a year someone brought me a cutting from a German newspaper. It contained an account of a deed for which a German captain had been decorated. The gist of it was that on May 28 near Voormezelle he had destroyed the tanks of a famous regiment of Scotland. There can be no doubt that this referred to Ian Thomson, and the tanks were his wretched carriers that were not even bullet-proof !"
2Lt. P.A. Knight