Exercises Hedgehog I – V were to study the action of an assault group of armoured fighting vehicles, Armoured Vehicles Royal Engineers(AVRE’s) and infantry, supported by artillery, mortars and MMG’s in the assault on a strongly defended position.
The Exercises show how things had moved rapidly on after the final demonstration of Exercise Kruschen, as Hedgehog IV and V were to involve AVRE’s with Petards, Flails and Ploughs as well as Snakes and Fascines and Crocodile tanks. Brigadier Wales had been unable to secure the use of Petards for Kruschen and only a single crocodile tank then existed, which Brigadier Wales had been able to use in his trials.
Exercise Hedgehog I, a T.E.W.T held on August 4th, looked at series of problems associated with the assault on a strongly defended position. The enemy position was described as follows:
“The enemy posn consists of hedgehogs manned by coy gps incl Fd and A.Tk Arty, mortars, M.M.G’s and L.M.G’s. Weapons are sited in concrete and field emplacements and weapon pits. There are reinforced concrete personnel shelters with 6ft thick walls.
The whole is enclosed in a mine marsh which includes belts of close spaced mines (A.Tk and A/Personnel) and there are stretches of ditch or wall across the best tk runs. Each locality is surrounded by a double belt of wire”.
Problem I considered the actual methods of assault:
(a) Methods of dealing with mine marsh
(b) Methods of dealing with wall and ditch
(c) Methods of dealing with mine belts
(d) Methods of dealing with wire
(e) Methods of dealing with pillboxes and personnel shelters
(f) Frontages and allotment of tps”.
Problem II dealt with logistics and control and command while problem three considered artillery support.
Hedgehog II and III where Skeleton Exercises designed to practice Command and R/T of units down to and including troop and platoon. The intention was to practice the command of an assault based on the conclusions reached in Hedgehog I. Again the method of assault gives an insight into the methods of dealing with such localities, and clearly shows the influence of Exercise Kruschen.
The method of attack was described as follows. The enemy was to be softened up with a barrage. A portion of guns and mortars were to fire a smoke barrage to blind enemy anti-tank weapons enfilading the assault. The obstacles were to be breached in four lanes. The assault troops were to be divided into an assault echelon, support echelon and reserve. The assault echelon was divided into two waves, the first wave consisting of AVRE’s to breach the obstacle (flails, ploughs, snakes, fascines, bridges) while the second wave consisted of Crocodiles. The support echelon consisted of infantry, carriers and anti-tank guns. The anti-tank guns were to remain undercover, firing on enemy weapons in concrete positions, until called forward. If the Director declared a breach of the obstacle had failed on a particular lane, commanders were to order the second wave of the assault echelon and the support echelon to move forward along a lane where the obstacle had been successfully breached, where they were then to deploy within the hedgehog and attack their own part of the objective. When it was clear that the objective had been secured, the reserve was to be moved forward to help in consolidation.
Exercise VI and V were exercises with troops, but did not involve firing of explosives; the Exercises were identical except that V involved firing smoke rounds. The method of assault was a more elaborate version of Hedgehog II. Again the obstacle was to be breached in four lanes. The assault was to be made in four waves. Wave A was comprised of AVRE’ s to breach the obstacle; wave B comprised tanks and Crocodiles in close support of wave A, at first in a hull down position as wave A moved off and as soon as the obstacle was breached were to assault through the hedgehog. Wave C and D (infantry, tanks and anti-tank guns) were to closely follow wave B and consolidate the objective. Wave B was to adopt a hull down position to support waves C and D while wave A would deploy AVRE’s to deal with pillboxes.
Above: Plan of enemy 'hedgehog' and map showing Assembley Area, Forming Up Point (F.U.P.), Start Line and lanes of advance, Exercise Hedgehog
The drill used in these exercises was more or less that used in Europe in 1944. For example, on the assault on Le Havre, the attack opened up with bombing and an artillery barrage to soften up the defences. Flails were used to clear three lanes through the minefield, which then infantry and tanks supported by Crocodiles passed through to deal with individual strongpoints. This technique can be traced back to Brigadier Wale’s drill developed in Kruschen, although at the time he only had the use of snakes to breach minefields and Ronsons instead of Crocodiles. The Kruschen drill involved clearing lanes through the obstacle when troops then fought their way through the hedgehog, supported by Ronsons and Engineers to deal with individual strongpoints. It is interesting to note that on one occasion, the attack on Boulogne, the drill was ‘reversed’, i.e. the infantry were to seize and hold a penetration through the “crust”, heavy bombers in great force being used to make the initial breaches. The exploitation was then to be carried out by three columns entirely armoured.