Chapter 19: The New German Offensive, 5th June to 8th June, 1940
The night of June the 4th passed quietly except for some desultory artillery fire, but there had been many indications that the enemy were massing for a new offensive, and about four o’clock in the morning of June the 5th the Germans attacked all along the 51st Division’s front. Their first thrust came from the bridgehead at St Valery sur Somme where the 154th Brigade held the left sector. The villages of Saigneville, Mons, Catigny, Pende, Battalions of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders—were all heavily attacked by infantry with artillery and mortar support, while more of the enemy’s troops pressed forward through the open country between them. The Highlanders’ villages were too widely separated for the companies to give each other effective support, and though they fought with dogged tenacity they were forced back to gradually overwhelmed. Mounting casualties and dwindling ammunition, and the superior numbers of the enemy, were too much for the village garrisons. Saigneville was lost in the late afternoon, and Mons, Catigny, Pende and Tilloy. Back at Franleu the battalion headquarters of the 7th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders were surrounded by forces which had advanced between Mons and Arrest while those places were being attacked.(28) The only reserve battalion in the division—the 4th Black Watch—were ordered to relieve Franleu, but the enemy continued to advance and they were already approaching Feuquières when the Black Watch arrived and held them up. Another company of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders also went to the rescue of battalion headquarters at Franleu, but they were themselves cut off and surrounded in the outskirts of the village. In the evening Lieutenant-Colonel Buchanan sent away three or four crowded truckloads of hs men, including many wounded, but he, Captain MacInnes, the padre, and the wounded who remained were later overwhelmed. Something of what lies behind such simple statements is revealed in a few sentences of this battalion’s War Diary account of what they knew that night.
The last man to leave at 1800 hrs states that the enemy mortars were still landing around Bn. H.Q. and all the buildings and trucks around there were on fire. Capt. Robinson, Major Younger, Capt. Handley, who had borne great pain since the very beginning , with M.
Ricard the liaison officer and about 30 wounded men remained in the cellar with Capt. MacInnes and presumably Col. Buchanan. Other wounded and many dead had had to be left out in the posts where they had been hit and there may have been isolated parties of men who were unable or unwilling to leave.(3)
Surrounded in the outskirts of the village, the company which had tried vainly to rescue this hard-fighting headquarters held out for over twenty-four hours, and the tide of battle had left them far behind when they were overcome. What remained of the 154th Brigade—and they were very few—were back that night on a front that lay between Woincourt and Eu.(4)
On their right the 153rd Brigade had been fighting hard all day. The enemy used low-flying dive-bombers and much mortar and artillery fire in support of their infantry attacks, and the Scotsmen were gradually driven back till they held a front which ran from Toeufles through Zoteux to Frières and from there was in touch with the 4th Black Watch at Feuquières. Here the attack was held with the help of our artillery and machine-guns.(5) In the evening, when the German infantry had drawn off, the 153rd Brigade positions were again shelled and mortared.
The French 31st Division astride of the Blangy–Abbeville road fought doggedly, but by the evening they were forced back to the Limeux–Limercourt–Behen line, continuing thus the line held by the 153rd Brigade on the left and by the 152nd on their right. For the 152nd had been forced back between Oisemont and the Blangy–Abbeville road. Finally the 1st Lothians, doing flank guard to the division, met the full weight of the enemy’s opening attack at Bray early in the morning, and after fighting all day fell back on conformity with the 152nd Brigade to the country east of Oisemont.(6) The Composite Regiment of the 1st Armoured Regiment had a number of minor engagements at threatened points and had several tanks knocked out. In the evening they assembled at Beauchamps on the Bresle.
Various adjustments were made during the night and when the second day of the German offensive opened the 51st Division and the French 31st Division held a line which ran from Oisemont to Woincourt and from there to the Bresle south-east of Eu.
To write such a ‘broad survey’ of operations that their shape and significance is disclosed and that the same time to convey even a glimpse of what such a day’s fighting involved for the men who took part in it, is difficult if not impossible. The men of the 51st Division had themselves been the attacks throughout the 4th of June. They had had severe casualties and a gruelling and unsuccessful experience. They needed above all things a good night’s sleep. But June the 5th had hardly dawned when new and yet more gruelling fighting began. It was high summer, and the days were long and blazing hot. After all
their exertions the soldiery had had but little rest, and they were to get none that day. Mostly they were too busy even to eat, Dive-bombers roared down on their positions and they were shelled, mortared and machine-gunned. They were attacked by infantry who outnumbered them, and while they held off their immediate attackers they saw other enemy columns by-pass their strongholds and penetrate their front.
Often it was impossible to get their wounded away. Sometimes it was impossible to get away themselves when retirement was ordered and the troops on their flanks had fallen back. The villages they defended were people only now by disconsolate dogs whose owners had forsaken them and by cattle bellowing to be milked.
The Highlanders fought as Highlanders do—and as their casualties bear witness. The 7th Argyll and Sutherland lost that day twenty-three officers and nearly 500 other ranks, killed, wounded, and missing; and the whole division was cruelly mauled.(7) The task laid on them was beyond their powers, beyond the powers of any single divisions. They and the French 31st Division were made responsible for the defence of a forty-mile front. What this mean can be illustrated by one example. The 1st Black Watch had to defend a 2½ mile frontage of broken country—an impossible task for any battalion when the enemy had the numbers and equipment of this so-far victorious German Army. They did their best. Throughout this scorching day battalions, companies, even platoons, held on till they were overwhelmed or, sadly depleted, fell back to fight on in another position. And all day long the division artillery worked their guns unceasingly to give the infantry protection and to stop the enemy’s advance. Some batteries maintained forward positions so long that they too were nearly engulfed, and when orders to withdraw reached them they needed all their skill to get the guns away.
On this first day of the new German offensive our air forces could give but little help to the Allied troops engaged. The 51st Division sent to South Component headquarters, now at Boos, to ask for protection against the enemy’s bombers, but the Advanced Air Striking Force’s three squadrons of fighters, though they were to be made up to strength, were on this day reduced to a total of eighteen serviceable aircraft. They had lost four in battle that morning. Information suggested that the enemy planned a big air attack on targets in and near Rouen itself, which was not only important industrially and as a focal point in road and rail communications, but was also a centre of military and air activity for both the French and the British. No. 1 Squadron was therefore on early patrol and, together with French fighters, engaged a very large formation of German bombers strongly protected by Messerschmitts. In the bitter fight which ensued some of the enemy were shot down or driven off, but enough got through
to bomb Boos airfield and a military camp. And again in the evening, when No. 501 Squadron intercepted a second formation sent to renew the attack, enough got through to bomb the camp and airfield, the main bridge, power station, railway, and the factories of Sotteville.(8)
The bald account of these two episodes explains the fact that, while our small fighter forces were exhausting themselves in unequal combat, troops on the ground who suffered the enemy’s attacks still complained of inadequate protection.
The close-support bombing undertaken that day by the Advanced Air Striking Force was done in a more easterly sector of the French battlefront, while twenty-four Blenheims of Bomber Command attacked enemy transport immediately behind the new battlefront, with two squadrons of Fighter Command to give cover. By night the enemy concentrations behind the front, his communications in France, and oil targets and marshalling yards in German were attacked by 103 bombers, of whom three failed to return.(9)
The German plan for Operation Red had been set out in an order issued by OKH on May the 31st over the signature of the Commander-in-Chief (Brauchitsch). ‘The purpose of the Supreme Command is to annihilate the allied forces still remaining in France by means of an operation following the battle in Artois and Flanders as rapidly as possible. Operational enemy reserves in considerable numbers need no longer be expected. It will therefore be possible first to break down under heavy assault the hastily constructed enemy front south of the Somme and the Aisne and then, by rapid, deep penetration, to prevent the enemy from carrying out an ordered retreat or from forming a defence line in rear.1(10)
It is unnecessary in this account of British operations to describe the whole of the German plan. It provided for the employment of three Army Groups (A, B and C) and a reserve, in all nine armies and 140 divisions, of which 137 actually took part.(11) At a conference on June the 2nd Hitler expressed his belief that ‘the French and English have at most sixty to sixty-five divisions left for employment against us’ which was not far wrong. He was less accurate when he added: ‘Doubtless General Weygand will withhold an operational assault group which is to be sought in the area of Paris and eastwards. It must also be expected that the enemy will settle down and prepare resistance further south.’2 In reality the remaining French Army consisted of forty-three infantry divisions (some only in course of formation), three armoured and three cavalry divisions all greatly reduced in strength by fighting; and the equivalent of thirteen fortress divisions in the Maginot line and on the Swiss frontier.3(12)
The attack of the German right flank, where the French Tenth Army was and where, alone, British forces would be involved, was to be made by the Fourth Army, now part of the reconstituted Army Group B. Their orders read: ‘Fourth Army (two armoured divisions, six infantry divisions, one motorised division, 11th Motorised Brigade and 1st Cavalry Division) will attack from Abbeville–Amiens area and defending their Paris flank will advance towards the lower Seine. The army will take early possession of Havre and the bridgeheads at Rouen, Les Andelys and Vernon.’4(13) Further advance across the lower Seine in a southerly or south-westerly direction was to wait for special orders.
During the night of June the 5th/6th General Fortune wrote a strongly worded letter to Lieutenant-General J. H. Marshall-Cornwall, who had been appointed by the War Office to coordinate the actions of the British divisions was at headquarters of the French Tenth Army. Pointing out the condition of his men and the length of his front, he asked ‘that half my front be take over at once by someone—that I by authorised with my neighbour [the French 31st Division] to retire on the River Bresle’.(14) But there was no one who could take over additional ground on this front. All that General Marshall-Cornwall could do was to secure from the commander of the Tenth Army authority to retire to the Bresle (which was then ‘to be held at all costs’) and to arrange that when this move took place the French 31st Division should hold from Senarpont to Gamaches and the 51st from Gamaches to the sea.(15) This would reduce the front of the 51st Division to about 12½ miles.
The 6th of June meanwhile passed fairly quietly on much of the corps front. The enemy tried hard but unsuccessfully to capture Oisemont with the help of repeated air and artillery bombardments, and the 1st Lothians and troops of the French 2nd Light Cavalry Division suffered considerably in beating off these attacks. Elsewhere German attempts to advance broke down under our artillery, machine-gun and rifle fire, and with one or two minor adjustments the line held. Only on the left was the position more threatening, where frontal pressure towards Beauchamps and infiltration at Eu and Ponts at Marais were resisted with difficulty. The Composite Regiment of the 1st Armoured Division was ordered to this danger area early in the morning, and after clearing up enemy posts in front of the Bresle—and capturing an officer and forty-three other prisoners in the process—was then moved back across the river to stop further penetration through Eu.(16)
In the afternoon the French 40th Division moved into position in front of the Bresle between Senarpont and Aumale, where detachments
of Royal Engineers and an anti-tank batter from the 51st Division had a number of flank guard posts.
Throughout the day there were reports that the German armour had broken through on the right flank. Many of these were false or exaggerated, but in fact the German 5th and 7th Armoured Divisions had begun their thrust towards Rouen and their leading elements were already some miles south of the road between Poix and Rouen; their 2nd Motorised Division was to follow close behind; the 6th Infantry Division was coming up on their left and the 32nd Division on their right was only ten miles away. The German XV Corps Diary records: ‘… Avoiding woods, roads and adjoining villages and favoured by the gently undulating country practically free from ditches, the Corps advanced southwards across country, deployed with tanks in front and infantry in vehicles in rear.’5(17)
It was clear to our commanders on the spot and no less clear to the War Office that further enemy success on this flank must compel the retirement of the 51st Division; that unless prompt and effective action were taken there might well be a repetition of events in the north. The 51st Division and the French divisions now fighting alongside would be cut off in the Havre peninsula with their backs to the sea. The British Government intended to send out fresh forces as quickly as possible. Lord Gort was to command a new British Expeditionary Force as soon as it was ready and meanwhile a first corps was already forming.(18) The Swayne Mission was notified that General A. F. Brooke, who would command the corps, would proceed to France within the next week, and a brigade group of the 52nd Division would sail next day (June the 7th).(19) With these plans in view the War Office urged that importance of securing a line of retreat for the 51st Division, not towards the dead end of Havre but towards the main French forces and our own base south of the Seine.(20) This was again a situation where only foresight and prompt action could avert calamity. But General Weygand’s orders at this time forbade retirement; the Bresle was to be held ‘at all costs’. So nothing came of the War Office representations, and when two days later the German break-through in the south was completed and retirement was ordered, the decision came too late and the full costs of procrastination were duly paid.(21)
During the morning twelve Blenheims flying from England with fighter cover had attacked enemy columns moving towards the Somme crossings, losing five aircraft in the action. In the afternoon twenty-four bombed bridges and roads in the Somme area between Abbeville and St Valery sur Somme, and all returned safely. Fighters of the Advanced Air Striking Force were mainly engaged on protection
patrols in the Rouen area, in giving protection to our bombers, and, in the evening, on a patrol over the area in which the 51st Division and the French IX Corps were fighting. The former had again appealed for fighter cover, and in the afternoon two squadrons flew from England and refuelled at Boos before patrolling over the battle area. Except for one minor clash they met no enemy aircraft, though that afternoon the 51st Division again asked for defence against the enemy’s bombing which they had endured for two days.(22) The fighters must have just missed heavy attacks on the 1st Lothians at Oisemont and on Millebosc which, fortunately, 154th Brigade headquarters had left shortly before.
General Weygand also pressed for more fighter to be sent to France and, pending a decision by the Cabinet, the Air Ministry warned a number of squadrons to be ready to move at once.(23)
On this night eighty-four aircraft were employed in attacks on German communications and oil targets, including seventeen from the Advanced Air Striking Force.(24)
The 51st Division was by now only a fraction of its full strength, and ‘A’ Brigade from ‘Beauman Division’ (about 900 strong) was sent up to reinforce it. This brigade consisted of the 4th Buffs, 1st/5th Foresters and the 4th Border Regiment. They took over the left or northern sector of the divisional front and the 152nd Brigade, or what remained of it, moved back into reserve at the south-eastern edge of the Haute Forêt d’Eu.(25) By early morning of June the 7th the 51st Division was in its new position on the Bresle with the French 31st Division on its right from Gamaches to Senarpont. At his own request General Fortune was now relieved of responsibility for the command of this French division.
The Bresle makes a good defensive line, with the river, especially in its lower reaches where some flooding had been contrived, as an effective tank obstacle. The only serious weakness with the enemy’s penetration at Eu and Ponts et Marais. Throughout the 7th, the 4th Border Regiment and a company of the 1st/5th Foresters made strenuous efforts to eliminate this enemy pocket on the western bank, but they only succeeded in confining German troops to the north-western part of the Eu Forest, and the 1st Lothians and the Composite Regiment of the 1st Armoured Division were both moved up to this northern danger-point as an additional precaution. On the rest of the 51st Division front some enemy detachments mad contact and their artillery was active, but it was a day of comparative quiet for most of the troops. Moreover the 900 reinforcements of A Brigade from Beauman Division arrived to make good the 51st Division’s losses.(26)
While the situation on General Fortune’s immediate front was thus for the time being improved, the situation further south rapidly worsened. Moreover he was now separated by the French
31st Division from the units of the Support Group of the 1st Armoured Division which he had posted as a flank guard between Aumale and Serqueux. He therefore wrote to the commander of the 31st Division explaining the role of the Support Group and its weakness, and suggesting that Brigadier F. E. Morgan, commanding the group, should confer with him as to the best use that could be made of it in cooperation with the infantry of the French 31st Division.(27) On 6th June the 1st Armoured Division was placed under the orders of General Altmayer and on the following day General Evans went to the French Tenth Army Headquarters and there conferred with General Marshal-Cornwall and General Pownall, who had arrived on a visit from England.(28) The latest intelligence was that the German armour was breaking through the French defence between Grandvilliers and Formerie, and this was indeed true, for leading elements of the German 5th Armoured Division had overrun a troop of anti-tank guns and a company of the 2nd/6th East Surrey in position south of Aumale. Other elements of the Support Group on this Aumale–Serqueux line had repulsed an attack, but the German armour had then turned south-west and had attacked and roughly handled other posts near Forges.(29) What remained of the Support Group was withdrawn that night into Basse Forêt d’Eu.
The German 5th and 7th Armoured Divisions were thus already outflanking the Bresle line. To relieve this position it was decided that what was available of the 1st Armoured Division should move up to Gournay and from there should strike at the flank of the German advance. The force at hand was forty-one cruisers and thirty-one light tanks of the 3rd Armoured Brigade, and six light tanks of the Bays and lorry-borne personnel of the 10th Hussars from the 2nd Armoured Brigade, returned from workshops where the tanks had been for repair and refit since the fighting for the Somme bridgeheads.(30)
That evening, when these moves were well under way, General Weygand arrived at Tenth Army Headquarters and saw General Marshal-Cornwall and General Evans in the presence of the French Tenth Army commander (General Altmayer) and his Chief of Staff. General Weygand described the Tenth Army’s fight as ‘the decisive battle of the war’ and said that, as no French reserves were available, all depended on the 1st Armoured Division. It was to hold ‘to the last’ ten miles of the Andelle river line from Nolleval to Serqueux; French formations would counter-attack from the south. General Evans explained the state of his division, from which all his artillery, anti-tank weapons and infantry had be now been take for use elsewhere, and urged that his tanks were quite unsuited for a static, defensive role; moreover they were already on their way to counter-attack the enemy flank. General Weygand would not vary his decision. All he would concede was that if it became necessary to
retire from the Andelle, the 1st Armoured Division should withdraw across the Seine where it would still be available for counter-attack. So General Evans had to issue fresh orders and recall the units moving up to attack the German flank, some of whom were already in contact with German advanced patrols five miles north-west of Gournay.(31)
Thus dawn came on June the 8th with the German armour nearing Rouen and the French IX Corps, still on the Bresle, being rapidly cut off.(32)
It was to prove another comparatively quiet day for the 51st Division, for the enemy were content to hold our troops forward on the Bresle while their armoured divisions further south drove on round the southern flank. The attempts of the 4th Border Regiment and the 1st/5th Foresters to oust German troops from their position in the Haute Forêt d’Eu went on all day, and though they still failed to clear the woods they stopped further penetration.(33) Near Beauchamps too, there was some outpost fighting, but no serious attack was made on our positions.
The situation further south was very different. At daybreak the enemy’s armoured divisions renewed their advance on Rouen.(34) Before describing what happened it may be well to get a clear picture of the state and situation of the British forces at this date. The position of the 51st Division in the north is clear enough. Reinforced and strengthened by a brigade from the Beauman division, it was holding the Bresle line from Gamaches to Eu. The division was thus fighting as a division under the immediate control of its own commander. By contrast the 1st Armoured Division had never been allowed the chance to concentrate or to fight as a division. It will be recalled that one armoured regiment and the infantry of the Support Group had been deflected to Calais in the last week of May and had never joined the division or been available for the fighting south of the Somme. For the latter General Evans had under his command the 2nd Armoured Brigade, the 3rd Armoured Brigade less the regiment sent to Calais, and the remainder of the Support Group which had no artillery. Since the fighting to recover the Somme bridgeheads, a Composite Regiment from the 2nd Armoured Brigade had remained to support the 51st Division and was now screening Haute Forêt d’Eu: the remainder of the 2nd and 3rd Armoured Brigades had suffered heavy casualties and could find no more than the improvised formations which were now, by General Weygand’s orders, on the Andelle line between Nolleval and Serqueux. What was left of the Support Group was in the Basse Forêt d’Eu under the command of the 51st Division. Finally there was Beauman Division. A Brigade was now with 51st Division, B and C Brigades were on the Béthune–Andelle line between the Seine and Dieppe. Certain additional units had joined the division on June
the 6th, namely ‘Syme’s Battalion formed of troops from the reinforcement depot at the base; and the 2nd/4th King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry and 2nd/6th Duke of Wellington’s, two battalions of the 46th Division which had been involved in the fighting at Abbeville on May the 20th and had since been reorganising at the base. These three battalions were now occupying defensive positions near Rouen, Syme’s Battalion with four 2-pounder guns and a platoon of machine guns in the neighbourhood of Isneauville, the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry on a bridge over the Seine and the Duke of Wellington’s on the railway south of Boos.(35)
There was scarcely any artillery support for these emergency forces of imperfectly equipped infantry. And there could be no really effective control of units, for they were widely scattered over the fifty-odd miles of country between the Seine south-east of Rouen and St Vaast on the Béthune, and in isolated positions round Rouen. To speak of them as a division is almost inevitably to give a false impression of their operational value. In places they were mixed up with units of the 1st Armoured Division and at some points French troops, of whose plans and positions they had no knowledge, fought in front of them or retired through their lines. Streams of refugees added greatly to the danger and difficult of their task, making it impossible to close road blocks or prevent espionage. It was doubtless the difficulty of maintaining communications and control which led General Beauman to issue instructions that troops would hold on ‘as long as any hope of successful resistance remained’ and that ‘Brigade commanders will use their discretion as regards withdrawal’ which was to be ‘to and across the Seine’.(36) Such conditional orders place a heavy responsibility on local commanders who can have little knowledge of the general course of a battle and so can hardly judge what is required of them. In this case there was the further complication that the armoured division’s tanks now shared with Beauman’s infantry responsibility for defending the Andelle line, but were under a different command.
The position in regard to command was indeed highly complicated at this time. Three small British formations, all acting in the same small area, were under three separate commands. The 51st Division was under the orders of General Ihler, commanding the French IX Corps of the Tenth Army. The 1st Armoured Division was under the orders of the Tenth Army commander, General Altmayer, though at this time it was acting on direct orders of Weygand. Beauman Division was under the orders of General Karslake who, as commander of our lines-of-communication troops, was under General Georges, commanding the French Armies of the North-East. General Evans had had orders direct from General Weygand that retreat if necessary should be across the Seine and not towards Havre.
General Beauman had received from General Karslake, and had passed on to his brigade commanders, orders to a similar effect. But although they were holding the same ground there was no one with an overall knowledge of the battle and of what the French IX Corps were doing to decide when the necessity for withdrawal had arisen and to coordinate their actions. Each commander would have to decide this for himself, knowing only the position on his own front.
The first attacks of the German armoured divisions were at Forges and in the neighbourhood of Sigy on the Andelle. A stream of French refugees, stragglers, and vehicles had been passing through Forges throughout the night and early morning, making it impossible for Beauman’s infantry to close the road blocks they had built. French tanks were known to be operating in the neighbourhood, and when some arrived they were allowed to go through. They were indeed French tanks, but they had been captured by the enemy and were being used as the leading tanks of a larger German formation. Once past the defences they turned on our posts from the rear while the main forces attacked frontally over a wide area. Serqueux was lost, recovered by counter-attack, but lost again and finally. Sigy was heavily attacked after the defending troops had been subjected to dive-bombing, artillery, mortar and machine-gun fire. Neither the tanks of the 1st Armoured Division, armed only with machine-guns, or at best with 2-pounders, nor Beauman Division, armed only with rifles, could for long holdup such an attack. Gradually they were overcome and forced back, and their position was pierced in many places.(37) Meanwhile, further north, Neufchatel was in flames and the enemy’s armoured patrols had reached Mathonville and were pushing on towards the road from Neufchatel, which runs through L’Epinay to Rouen.
Early in the morning the Composite Regiment at Haute Forêt d’Eu was ordered to rejoin the 1st Armoured Division to act on the left flank of the formations holding the Andelle line.(38) They reached L’Epinay at about two-thirty in the afternoon. Before squadrons could deploy or any effort could be mad to get into touch with the rest of the armoured division, German tanks followed by lorry-borne troops came up the road from Serqueux which by now they had left twelve miles behind. The fight that followed lasted for three hours and, though a number of our tanks were put out of action, damage was also done to the enemy. Only when German dismounted troops threatened complete encirclement was the engagement broken off.
Other units from the German 5th Armoured Division had meanwhile pushed on towards Rouen, and at about four o’clock in the afternoon they ran into Syme’s Battalion at Isneauville.(39) The battalion had been dive-bombed during the morning, but they had been very
active in building road blocks and had made the most of dannert wire and roar mines. They were attacked by tanks, after artillery preparation, and by infantry. But they held out for three hours and claim to have accounted for twelve German tanks, six parachutists, one aircraft and a field gun, besides inflicting considerable casualties on the German infantry.(40) The battalion had been formed from reinforcements and had been in existence less than a week, but their stand prevented the enemy from reaching Rouen that night. Eventually the battalion withdrew, fighting, to the Seine.
In the afternoon and during the night all that remained of the 1st Armoured Division and Beauman Division also withdrew across the Seine.(41) Of the British troops on the 51st Division (still on the Bresle) and a fragment of the Armoured Support group under their command were now left north of the river.
Now, when it was too late, the retirement of the French IX Corps was at last ordered. General Weygand sent through the Howard-Vyse Mission a personal message to the C.I.G.S., saying ‘Orders were given this morning to Commander IX French Corps who commands 51 British and 31 French Divisions to withdraw these divisions to area Les Andelys–Rouen.(42) Thus there was exhibited the same initial refusal to face facts, and the same subsequent attempt to mask the consequences of delay by the issue of orders that could not be carried out, as had been displayed in connection with the Weygand Plan. The wisdom of early withdrawal from the Bresle, while it was still possible to retire behind the Seine, was not recognised; and when withdrawal could no longer be avoided the IX Corps was ordered to retire through an area which had been open to them earlier but was now occupied by the enemy.
General Ihler received these orders direct, as the French Tenth Army Headquarters had moved nearer to Paris, and was not at this time in communication with its IX Corps. He met his divisional commanders in conference during the afternoon and told them that by order of French General Headquarters the Corps would withdraw to Rouen.(43) His plan was to move first behind the Béthune and then, having pivoted on Torcy, to reach Rouen on the 12th, that is in four days’ time.
This altogether too leisurely programme ignored the fact that the German armoured divisions were already within a few miles of Rouen—a distance they could easily cover in four hours—but it was some gain that retirement from the Bresle was authorised, and while the conference was still in progress General Fortune sent a staff officer back to his headquarters to set in motion preparations for move during the coming night.
Later in the night the formal order for withdrawal was received from General Altmayer.(44)