11 Corps

 

'It is no longer a question of "if" the Germans come but "when" they will come' - 1st Liverpool Scottish Defence Scheme

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                Eastern Command                                                                     11 Corps

 

Suffolk was in the territory of 11 Corps, Eastern Command. The badge of 11 Corps, a Martello Tower, is considered to be represntative of the large number of pillboxes constructed by the Corps along the East Anglian Coast.

 

During the Phony War, full scale invasion of Britain was considered to be of negligible risk.  Likely enemy action was considered to be in the form of large scale raids with the object of seizing a port, aerodrome or other strategic targets. This was to be either by parachute troops, troop landing airplanes or seaborne landings. These actions were expected to be combined with large scale bombing raids designed to cause maximum disruption and panic. Suffolk was defended by 54th Division and in the Lowestoft area, 18th Division.

 

Defence strategy (Julius Caesar Plan) was based around a series of defended localities sited to protect vulnerable areas and points. Lowestoft, because of its port was defended by an entire battalion and provided with 18 pounder gun protection.  Other battalion frontages were much larger. Beaches were only to be covered by light machine guns and anti-tank rifles. Strong points were based around the main road routes leading inland. Strong points were to be held to the last man in order to delay the enemy to allow the arrival of counter attack forces. During this period construction of defence works was limited to trenches dug for the strong points. Reserves included the 1st Armoured Division which moved into Eastern Command area during Nov 1939 and 51st Division which was to be prepared to move from London at 8 hours notice to an assembly area in the rear of the front line Divisions. During Jan 1940, 55th Div replaced 51st Div as the reserve Division and 1st Armoured Div left Eastern Command area.

 

Things all changed after the Battle of France as 11 Corps Defence scheme clearly illustrates:

 

Two forms of enemy action were identified in 11 Corps 1940 Defence scheme:

 

(a) invasion by sea and air, involving a combined operation;

 

(b) air-borne attack aimed at casuing damage to industry, aerodromes etc.

 

Invasion tactics expected to be used by the Germans involved a combined landing by panzer divisions on suitable beaches combined with an air-borne landing in the rear of the defences.  It was anticpated that the Germans could land 10,000-15,000 troops in one day with upto 5,000 parachutists included in this figure (Peter Fleming has shown in his book, Operation Sea Lion, how the British continually over estimated the number of troops Germany could land in an invasion). Although panzer divisions could land on any suitable beach, a port would still need to be secured to unload the bulk of the transport and supplies. An air-borne attack was expected to capture a port (Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft considered likely targets) and also to seize important inland nodal points and attack defences in the rear. Panzer troops, once through the forward defences were expected to push on towards London regardless of flank protection.

                                                       

11 Coprs identified favourable landing beaches at Felixstowe, Bawdsey to Hollesley and Aldeburgh to Lowestoft (i.e virtually the whole Suffolk Coast!). The coast between Aldeburgh to Lowestoft is described as consisting of well defined spurs along which run the main approaches inland. The spurs are divided from one another by marshy areas where streams run into the sea. This section of coast was considered ideal for defence by holding strong localities on the spurs and making the intervening marshes impassable as possible.

 

South of Aldeburgh, the coastal belt is cut by a series of water obstacles formed by  river esturaies which would make a movement from the north-east towards the south-west (i.e towards London) difficult.

 

To counter the invasion threat, the main principal of coastal defence was to be in depth with all round protection. Coastal defences were to be organised into company and platoon localities designed to cover the main approaches inland and prevent any landing on beaches at the head of these approaches. It was recognised that insufficient troops were available to cover the intervening beaches. It was planned to cover these intervening streches with artillery based further inland and flanking fire from the defended localities.

 

Anti-tank obstacles were to be used on the beaches and foreshore and flooding were possible inland of the beach. All obstacles were to be covered by pillboxes and field defences. All works were to be sited to fire to the rear as well to meet any attack by air-borne troops from the landward side.

 

Inland nodal points were to be given all round defences. A stop line, The Eastern Command Line ran through west Suffolk and was a continuous anti-tank obstacle with pillboxes sited to cover the obstacle by fire.

 

The front line Division was now the 55th Div . This was a TA Division and had little opportunity for training in mobile warfare and was accordingly allocated a manily static defnce role and was expected to hold to the last. This would hopefully disorgainize the enemy, interfere with his mobility and reinforcement and cause loss of time. Mobile reserves in 11 Corps area consisted of 1st Armoured Recce Brigade and 157th Infantry Brigade.

 

During the Summer and Autumn of 1940, the expectation of invasion was very real. For example on 11 May code word "JULIUS" was issued and the war diary of the 5th Kings records a letter from 165th Brigade: "For the next 48 hours there is rather more than an outside chance that the enemy may attempt to land on the east coast and possibly combine this operation with simultaneous landings from the air". On  September 7th code word "CROMWELL" was issued to Eastern and Southern Commands - invasion expected within 12 hours.

 

Despite the anticipated invasion not having materialized by the end of 1940, it was still very much expected in the spring / summer of 1941. The British still continued to over estimate the potential German invasion force – GHQ still expected a force of up to 20 seaborne and  2 to 4 airborne divisions as being a likely force to attack Eastern Command area. Throughout 1941 work continued on improving defence in depth and defence works. There is an interesting note in 11th Highland Light Infantry war diary for 27 March 1941; "C" company, whose day it was for training preferred to continue work on field works as the company commander considered invasion imminent.

 

In West Suffolk (‘Suffolk sub-area’), all bridges crossing the Corps Line were to be prepared for demolition and all roads capable of being blocked. The Home Guard was to hold Nodal Points to the last man and round. The concept of Defended Villages was developed from 1941 onwards – a series of villages to be defended and hence link up with Nodal Points to provided depth to the defence. These preparations were designed to delay and harass enemy columns. Defences on the Corps Line were still expected to be maintained so that relief troops could deploy along the line.  Aerodromes were considered as primary importance for defence.

 

But, by the summer of 1941, invasion began to seem less likely. The German air force had began 'tip and run' raids on Lowestoft, which prior to the end of January had been relatively untouched, presumably becasue the Germans would want it intact to use  during an invasion. A significant part of the German air force had been moved to the Balkans for operations (although captured pilots were found with time-tables, route maps etc back to invasion bases) and there was considered insufficient forces left in Western Europe for a full scale invasion. Tank carrying trains were noted standing ready in Athens, Dubrovnick, Sofia and Belgrade and  it was expected that any indication of invasion would see the return of units of the air force and army to Western Europe. It was now considered that Germany would try and force victory by air raids and U Boat blockades, only launching an invasion when these methods assured Britain's defeat. By August, 46th Brigade Intelligence report No 17 stated that all German intentions against the UK had been abandoned for the year due to heavier losses and slower progress than expected in Russia and the efficiency of RAF raids on Germany. The report goes on to state that a neutral air attache who left Berlin on Jun 19th reported that the Germans were quite convinced that invasion would not be attempted without air supremacy. They could not see how air supremacy could be obtained. Despite the German invasion of Russia, GHQ directed that the country’s defences should be bought to the highest state of anti-invasion efficiency by 1st September.

 

During 1942, a full scale invasion seemed unlikely although large scale naval and / or airborne raids were still considered a real possibility, with a potential force of up to 25,000 troops available to attack Suffolk’s aerodromes and defences.  11 Corps policy was still to hold the coast in depth with platoon and company localities. Defences were to be maintained to ensure a high state of anti-invasion efficiency.  The Coastal Belt, Corps Line and River Waveney were now organized as ‘Demolition Belts’ with all crossings to be prepared for demolition.  Defended Places (any place having an approved garrison of sufficient strength to hold its defences - it may be any size from a large town to a small village and the garrison may be a Field Force, Home Guard or both) were organized for all round defence in depth in order to deny roads to the enemy. Each Defended Place was to have a ‘central keep’ so situated if possible to dominate communication routes so that its retention would seriously disrupt the enemy. A second tier of villages were now to be organized for defence – ‘Hold-up Villages’. These villages did not have a garrison strong enough for protracted defence. They were to be regarded as an operational base suitable for carrying out delaying action in the local countryside.

 

By 1943, any invasion was now expected to have at least two months warning.  Suffolk, as with the rest of the country was no longer on invasion alert (until that is the warning was received). Seaborne and airborne raids were still considered a possibility. For this purpose a specific counter attack unit was still held for the relief of Landguard. Airfields were also still prepared for demolition.  Divisions training in Suffolk (i.e. 79th Armoured Division) also had a specific operational plan in the event of any enemy raids. However other defences were only maintained if still a useful part of a Defended Place. It was not until the autumn of 1944 that all invasion restrictions (bathing on beaches, replacing road signs etc) were relaxed. This was primarily not to affect the moral of the Home Guard who were still needed for the manning of defences as troops continued to be deployed overseas.

 

References:

 

11 Corps papers, TNA

Essex and Suffolk area papers, TNA

46th Brigade papers, NRA

5th Kings Regt papers, NRA

11th HLI papers, NRA

Heraldry in War, Formation Badges 1939-1945, Lt-Col H.N Cole, O.B.E, Gale & Polden, 1946

Operation Sea Lion, P Fleming, Simon & Schuster, 1957

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2009_10210024 Eastern command