When given command of the 79th Armoured Division, Gen Hobart was ordered to continue the work begun in Exercise Kruschen, i.e. developing methods to overcome strongly defended positions:
“A technique for the assault on prepared defences was evolved in Exercise “KRUSCHEN” and is to be issued as a pamphlet by this Headquarters to form the basis for training by all formations. This technique is, however, not complete. With the resources with which your units are gradually becoming equipped, you will further develop the technique”.
The Orfordness Battle Training area was made available to 79th Armoured Division and Hobart was instructed to construct replicas of enemy beach and inland defences for training purposes.
Two sets of exercises which were held during the summer of 1943, Exercise Toreador and Exercises Hedgehog I – V, are of interest as one illustrates the doctrine at the time of a normal combined tank / infantry assault on a strongly defended position (Exercise Toreador) while the other (Exercises Hedgehog I – V) is clearly based around the technique of assault on prepared positions developed in “Kruschen”. As is often the case with War Diaries, no details are given on the outcomes of Exercise Toreador and Exercises Hedgehog I-V, but the Opening Narratives and Intentions do shed some light on the difficulties of assaulting such localities and the methods of assault that 79th Armoured Division was being trained in during the summer of 1943. They also provide further examples of Allied intelligence on inland German defences that were expected to be met once off the beach. It is unclear if replica defences were constructed in the areas in which these exercises were held; if they were, nothing remains of them today.
The object of Exercise Toreador was to practice Brigade, Battalion / Regiment and fighting Squadron Commands and their staffs in normal “I” Tank work ( 33rd Tank Brigade and 27th Armoured Brigade) and in particular the in the assault on a strongly prepared enemy position, to practice signals and communications and to study the use of special assault troops and appliances. The exercise was to have three elements: a TEWT to discuss the methods of attack, a recce by the Commands, with picture-painting by umpires and a Skelton exercise to practice signals of the various Commands (Division, Brigade, Battalion, Squadrons). The exercise was heavily umpired, with a Chief Umpire, two assistant umpires, two umpires per battalion HQ and one per squadron. An area of Sutton Common area was allocated for the exercise.
The narrative for Toreador envisaged a Divisional attack, supported by a Brigade of tanks, on a narrow front against a German position, in which they had had ample time to prepare permanent defences. The attack was to be supported on both flanks. The enemy strength was one fair quality division and a panzer division in support about 20 miles in the rear. The enemy defences consisted of:
Concrete pillboxes, believed to be 6ft thick. These held machine guns but concrete positions for flame throwers and anti-tank guns were also suspected.
A 10ft deep anti-tank ditch with steel spikes in its bottom.
Double apron wire fences with loose coils of wire, suspected to have mines and bobby traps. Surrounded woods heavily wired.
A minefield covering the forward defended localities. Scattered S mines and minefields covering the rear defended localities and almost certainly a minefield covering the second line. Surrounding woods suspected to be heavily mined.
50mm anti-tank guns and anti-tank rifles well forward; heavier anti-tank guns also to be expected. Surrounding woods likely to contain anti-tank guns, concentrated on the wood edges.
Above: Map of Exercise Toreador showing German 'defences' and aerial of the area today.
The narrative stated another division had secured a bridgehead and gaps through the forward minefields and wire obstacles. No additional artillery was available to support the attack and only limited Corps artillery was involved in counter-battery work. Ground vital to the enemy was his present defended localities and Valley Stream, the loss off which would deny the enemy of his last anti-tank obstacle. The plan of attack was in three phases:
Phase I: Employ the tanks as the main attacking force on a narrow front to secure objectives A and B on map below.
Phase II: Employ infantry to secure Valley Farm stream and bridgeheads to launch Phase III.
Phase III: Combined tank and infantry tank to role up the third positions Hollesley-Duck Corner.
This method of attack seems to indicate the current thinking of doctrine of tank co-operation with infantry in 1943; the earlier doctrine specified an attack in depth, the first two phases consisting of almost an entirely tank affair which were to engage the enemy defences simultaneously through its depth. The 1943 doctrine still recognised the need for an attack in depth, but acknowledged that tanks needed the close support of infantry to deal with the enemy defences.
Some of the problems to be considered by those taking part in the exercise were:
What proportion of the Divisional artillery should be used to support the attack and to neutralise the rest of the front?
How best to use smoke provided by 3” and 4.2” mortars.
How to use special assault troops to neutralise minefields, wire, pillboxes etc.
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.