The Battle for St. Lambert-sur-Dives
Following the capture of Falaise in the Normandy fighting, 1st Canadian Army continued to push south towards American forces that were moving north, in a pincer effort to close the "Falaise Gap" to prevent the escape of an estimated five German panzer divisions. Montgomery issued orders to General Crerar of 1st Canadian Army demanding the immediate capture of the village of Trun and to continue moving further south to close the "Gap". Crerar in turn, passed these orders on to Lieutenant General Simmonds of 2nd Canadian Corps. Simmonds had anticipated this turn of events, and had already sent his forces in a drive towards Trun at all speed.
On Friday, 18 August 1944, following the capture of Trun, the 29th Armoured Reconnaissance Regiment ( The South Alberta Regiment) was ordered to jump off from the village to occupy St. Lambert-sur-Dives and then advance further south to Moissy. All three squadrons of the regiment would take part in the forthcoming battle. The officer commanding the attack was Lt.-Col. Wotherspoon, the commanding officer of the SAR. Major Currie's task force was made up of the four troops of "C" Squadron of the SARs, plus the Squadron Headquarters. This gave him a total tank strength of nineteen Shermans. In addition to the tanks, he had "B" Company of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada which had a depleted strength of fifty-five men, and one troop of four SP 17-pdr M10s under his command. The M-10 tank destroyers would not remain with Currie as they would eventually marry up with the SAR Regimental Headquarters. Currie jumped off at 1800 hrs on the 18th of August with No.1 Troop of four tanks leading, followed by the three tanks and first aid vehicle of Squadron Headquarters, and then Nos. 2,3 and 4 Troops which each had four tanks also. The infantry support rode the tanks and were to deploy in St. Lambert to consolidate the position.
The lead Sherman came under fire almost immediately from the extreme left flank from what turned out to be the Polish Armoured Division. Currie corrected that problem and the advance continued. As the lead Troop entered St. Lambert the first Sherman was hit by 88mm fire and almost simultaneously, two roving Spitfires fired on the Squadron Headquarters tanks by mistake. Currie's Sherman was on fire as a result of the Spitfire attack and as he attempted to extinguish the flames, they made another strafing run, wounding several men, and causing Currie himself to leap into the roadside ditch for protection.
As it was getting dark, Currie conducted a reconnaissance on foot into the German occupied village to see if there was another way by which he could occupy the crossroads within the village where the 88mm fire had come from. Realizing that he couldn't flank the 88mm gun because of the Dives River which ran through the town, he returned to his Command and ordered the remaining three Shermans of No. 1 Troop to pull back two hundred yards to positions overlooking the village for the remainder of the night.
At dawn on Saturday morning, 19 August 1944, Currie's force began to fight its way into St. Lambert proper. The lead Sherman was again knocked out, but in doing so, the Germans had revealed the position of both a Panzer IV and Tiger. Currie's Command Sherman is credited with knocking out the Panzer IV, while infantry of the Argylls surprised and shot two of the Tiger crew. They then dropped a grenade down through the turret hatch killing the rest of the crew members, which effectively removed the Tiger as any further threat.
Surrendering German troops. Major Currie
standing at the rear of the column.
Photo taken on 19Aug44 by Lt. Don Grant at approx 1200 hrs.
Left to Right: Sgt. Jack Stollery (with film camera), Cpl. Garth ("Petey") Woolf wearing the shirt who was a crew commander in the AA Tp SAR, Major Currie, 3 Germans, one of whom is possibly Hauptman Rauch and two Argylls. The Argyll speaking with the German officer is possibly C.S.M. George Mitchell.
By mid-day of the 19th, Currie held approximately half of the village, but determined resistance prevented him from cutting the crossroads which the German troops desperately needed to keep open for their continued retreat. It was crucial that the Germans hold the line in St. Lambert to continue to allow the escape of their encicled troops. In the face of such determined resistance, Currie's advance stalled within the village and he dug in to hold what he had managed to gain. His tanks milled around firing their machine guns at each other to keep the Germans from climbing up on them. Currie was forced to call in an artillery barrage on his own position as the fighting intensified. The 4.5 inch artillery barrage saved the day by devastating the German troops. Currie consolidated his positions by withdrawing from parts of the village, and late in the day, he was able to resupply his tanks with ammunition from their supply column.
While Major Currie's task force was engaged in St. Lambert, Regimental Headquarters; together with the Reconnaissance Troop, Anti-Aircraft Troop and the troop of M-10 tank destroyers, was situated on Hill 117, which was located approximately 1000 yards north of the village. "A" Squadron was deployed along highway D13 that runs between Trun and St. Lambert. "B" Squadron, which would be overrun during the battle, was stationed on Hill 124, east of the village.
Major D.V.Currie (left) in St. Lambert observing the remainder
of the German column come under Canadian fire.
On the morning of Sunday, 20 August 1944, Currie and his men were caught up in more heavy fighting which continued periodically throughout the day. All of his officers, both armour and infantry, were put out of action due to wounds or fatalities. In the early evening the Germans began to concentrate for yet another attack. A Panzer IV and an 88mm ground gun were seen moving into a position about four hundred yards from the SAR headquarters. Currie opened fire using AP and HE rounds from eight of his tanks. The 88mm gun was destroyed and his tanks continued firing AP through several buildings behind which the German infantry were massing for an attack. Currie estimated that approximately one hundred rounds were fired which served to break up the attack before it could begin. Later that night a Panzer IV wandered into the Canadian positions and was knocked out by a shot to the engine compartment.
On Monday, 21 August 1944, Currie's force began taking large numbers of prisoners as it appeared that the German's enthusiasm for further battle was waning. By that evening, the situation in St. Lambert was well in hand and Currie was able to get some sleep for the first time in three days. On Tuesday, 22 August 1944, the SARs continued the advance and pursued the fleeing Germans towards the River Seine.
A "C" Squadron Sherman of the South Albertas at the south end of St. Lambert.
A destroyed Tiger with its turret blown off appears on the right side of the photo.
The photographs on this page were taken by Lt. Don Grant of 1 Canadian Army Fim and Photograpic Unit. He entered the village of St. Lambert at approximately 1200 hrs, 19 August 1944. On the following day, while attempting to re-enter the village, Grant's unit was ambushed and everyone except himself were wounded. As well as taking the still photographs, Grant's unit also shot 69 seconds of film.
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