NOTES of a War-time Infantry Battalion Intelligence Officer

Looking through a collection of Second World War memorabilia, I read again a file started when appointed Intelligence Officer (I.O) of the 7th/9th (Highlanders) Battalion The Royal Scots and thought some extracts may be on interest and have added then to my War memoirs.

To read in Battalion Orders I was now the Battalion's Intelligence Officer came as a complete surprise. I had just returned from a Signal Officers Course at the School of Signals at Catterick and anticipated I would resume command of No. 18 Platoon in 'D' Company. I was very happy there and felt fulfilled as a young officer, having a fine Platoon of just over thirty men with an excellent sergeant, in a superb Rifle Company with good atmosphere of friendly rivalry between the three Platoons. I was also part of a team of four officers that bonded well together and had respect and high regard for our Company Commander who was a professional soldier and an excellent leader. It was great and what I had been trained for.

It was the second platoon I had commanded after being Commissioned: the first was thirty young Royal Scots destined as reinforcements for the Lowland Regiments and they and I expected to be sent to the Far East. I had been with them for just over three months and when they received their posting they held a platoon meeting and three lads came to the Officers Mess to ask me to go on the draft with them as their officer. It was a rare honour and a deeply treasured moment for a very young officer with only one pip.

When I joined the 7/9RS I commanded 18 Platoon and felt well content to stay with them and pleased my Company Commander wanted to keep me but the Commanding Officer wanted an officer with a signals background to be one of his officers at Battalion Headquarters. I realised I was going to miss the close contact - a special relationship - that exists between the officers and men of a rifle company and the only solace the change would bring I would be at the centre of things, playing my part at Battalion Headquarters supporting the C.O. as he commanded the Battalion. I had experience of working at Battalion HQ when Signal Corporal of 8RS as I was usually in charge of the Signals Office. I doubt whether my Colonel would have remembered the ocasions I had to deal with his telephone calls when he was Brigade Major and wanted to speak to the Colonel or the Adjutant of the 8RS! I guess my appointment to join Battalion HQ was 'horses for courses', being available as a trained Signals Officer if the Commanding Officer was confronted with reorganising his officers if and when there were casualties.

The Intelligence Section was a small unit with just myself, a sergeant, corporal and six men with responsibility to know as much as possible about the arms, equipment, formation and unit identities of the German Army. Initially I had a lot of reading and research to do and also set about establishing a close relationship with the Brigade I.O. and the two other Battalion I.O.s in 155 Infantry Brigade. I read all the available restricted and sometimes secret reports about the enemy made available through general intelligence gathering and from reports on our operations in the Western Desert and Italy.

We trained as a Section in setting up observation posts (O.Ps.) and manning these over a period of time to record incidents and movements [we had an excellent O.P. overlooking Dyce Airport], practised map reading which was an essential element of our work as was sketching terrain. We collecting and filed identification data about German Army grenadier units and their support troops along with detailed information and photographs of Germans arms and equipment; spent time studying and familiarised ourselves with the kind of documents that would provide information about enemy deployment and intentions; and rehearsed procedures for dealing with P.o.Ws. But, sadly for me, there was no longer platoon bonfires in the Cairngorms with their banter and rivalry between 16 and 17 Platoons!

As Intelligence Officer I had to be ready to brief those concerned about the enemy and what was known about their objective and any special enemy weaponry and, of course, always be fully knowledgeable about the Battalion's operational plans, whilst my Section would record the progress of any battles and keep a War Diary (see pages 27 to 31). An example of their work is below: it is a plan of the battle area sketched by the Intelligence Section after the capture of the Hotel Britannia, recording enemy positions and the obstacles we had overcome and this would be sent to Division HQ attached to the War Diary.

When the Battalion were occupying a defensive position, the Section would keep a record and map all enemy occurrences and observations reported each day by rifle companies, snipers and observation posts. Whenever possible the Intelligence Section would set up its own forward Observation Post; page 47 shows on the signal diagram an Int OP sited in the Battalion's defence positions on the west bank of The Rhine at Xanten. My time along with the Intelligence Sergeant would be to appraise the information we had collated from these sources as significant incidents would form part of our Situation Report to be sent back to Brigade Headquarters. The information we had gathered could also have a bearing on any patrols needed to be sent out that night. Along with the Second-in-Command, Adjutant and Signals Officer I would share with them the important duty of staffing the Battalion Command Post throughout the twenty-four hours but always had to be ready at short notice to accompany the C.O. if he was called to Brigade Headquarters or visiting the Rifle Companies or neighbouring battalions.

The Intelligence Section had to make sure the Battalion had all the maps and aerial photographs needed for every operation. I would try to get a copy of any aerial interpretation maps for use in the Command Post, as it showed the latest aerial reconnaissance intelligence about enemy positions and possible weapon sites on our front. Having been trained to use a stereoscopic viewer at an Aerial Interpretation Course in Cambridge, I always tried to get a set of aerial photographs covering our objective for the Intelligence section office and be prepared to examine them to supplement the information we had already been given.

We would built sand models to assist in the briefing of officers and men about major operations such as that planned for our part in the airborne landing in the Forest of Rambouillet when we were part of General Brereton's Airborne Army. However, for our assault on Walcheren we used aerial photographs, and these proved to be excellent in putting everyone in the picture about our objective and the terrain we would have to deploy. A great development in the latter stages of the Second World War was the availability of low oblique views as they were an excellent way of orientating troops about to attack a position: the equal of a visual reconnaissance right up to the objective.

   

This view of Flushing clearly demonstrates the immense facility of aerial photography as an aid to briefing officers, non-commissioned officers and men preparing to assault an important enemy position. It graphically shows the location where our Assault Landing Craft had beached [1] and visually relates this to the Battalion's objective of the German Garrison Headquarters of Flushing located in the Hotel Britannia [2] being the centre of a heavily defended stronghold of concrete positions. It pin-points the nest of pillboxes north-east of our objective [5], that have to dealt with before attacking the main position.

The visual scope of the aerial view relates how near to our objective was the gap [3] where the sea water from the Scheldt Estuary came flooding into Flushing, breached by the RAF prior to our landing. The sea water was tidal and could reach waist high and sometimes reaching up to the chest. Although the aerial photograph cannot show the depth of the flooding, information from the Dutch Resistance led to a decision to wear Mae-West lifebelts, despite their disadvantage during the assault. It will be seen from the aerial photograph that our capture of the objective would only be complete when the eight pillboxes on the sea dyke north-west of the Hotel Britannia [6] had been captured and our patrols had reached the sea wall gap [3] and visual contact with the Royal Marine Commandos had been made across the gap.

The aerial pin-points the site of a key pillbox, code-named 'Dover' [4], covering the beach and sea-frontage area of the Hotel Britannia; and the Water-tower, code-named 'Snipers Tower' [7], useful as a point of reference during our night advance but possibly occupied by snipers and to be dealt on our way to the forming-up position where we will launch the attack.

 

Plan of the Battle Area drawn by Private R. Marr of the Battalion Intelligence Section after the capture of the German Command Post in Flushing. It shows the the Hotel Britannia and its defensive positions. November 1944.

 

 


 


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