• Si Biggs

Royal Marines Armoured Support Group


Unit/ Formation: RM ASG Location: Merley House Camp Period/ Conflict: World War II Year: 1944 Date/s: 6th June 1944


RM Armoured Support Craft Group was formed on 14 March 1944, this Group would command the two RM Armoured Support Regiments and an RM Independent Battery of Centaur tanks. It was commanded by Brig D. C. W. Sanders, OBE, AFC, who had been CRA of the RM Division. He was killed when this HQ was in Normandy in June 1944 and succeeded by the second–in–command Col A. J. Harvey, OBE.


The small tactical headquarters was staffed by RM officers who developed: first, the techniques for firing engineless tanks on Bailey bridges in LCT(Adap­ted); and later, the methods of firing and control these Centaurs with their engines replaced. The headquarters returned to the UK in late June 1944 after several weeks in action, and on being disbanded that autumn the personnel were transferred to the 29th RM Bn, later forming the 34th Amphibian Support Regiment.


1st and 2nd RM Armoured Support Regiments formed in the spring of 1944, each with two Batteries, these Regiments were landed from LCT(Armoured), which were modified LCT(Adapted). The HQs, each of some 40 all ranks, were mainly administrative, and only the tactical portion of two officers and two other ranks landed with the Batteries on 6 June 1944 in Normandy.


The Regiments’ personnel included RA officers and RA gunner–drivers, with RAC fitters and mechanics, but the majority were RM gunners, including those who had trained for LCG(L)s.


Many of the HQ staff transferred ultimately to the 34th Amphibian Support Regiment, after the armoured Support Regiments were disbanded in the autumn of 1944. 1st RM, 2nd RM, 3rd RM, 4th RM and 5th RM (Independent) Support Batteries The ‘1st’ and ‘2nd’ were in the 1st RM Armoured Support Regt, the ‘3rd’ and ‘4th’ in the 2nd RM Armoured Support Regt, and the ‘5th’ was an independent Battery.


Each had four Troops with its Left and Right Sections. Troop commanders were in Sherman tanks, with the two Centaurs of the Left Section, in one LCT(A). The Right Section of two Centaurs were in a second LCT(A).


Operationally Batteries Nos 1 to 4 had no tactical HQ, as Troop commanders worked to their local artillery commands, therefore the Batteries’ cooks and quartermasters landed in follow–up waves.


Centaur tanks towing a “Porpoise” ammunition sledge

APPENDIX J to 21 AGp/1413/5/G(SD) dated        44 - CHARACTERISTICS AND EMPLOYMENT OF ROYAL MARINE ARMOURED SUPPORT GROUP IN OPERATION “OVERLORD”


ORDER OF BATTLE

2. (a) Under comd 50 Division –

1 RM Armd Sp Regt consisting of Tac RHQ and eight troops each of one Sherman 75 mm and four Centaurs 95 mm.

(b) Under comd 3 Canadian Division –

2 RM  Armd Sp Regt consisting of Tac RHQ and eight troops as above

(c) Under comd 3 British Division –

5 (Indep) RM Armd Sp Bty consisting of Tac Bty HQ and four troops as above.


The GPO’s tank is the Sherman 75mm, in which there is sufficient room for an artillery board. This tank is also provides the anti-tank and concrete breaking element of the troop. The four Centaurs are the gun tanks. All tanks are fitted with No 12 dial sight and GPO’s tank with a binnacle compass in addition. Guns can be brought parallel and zero lines recorded without any personnel exposing themselves.


Centaur tanks from 5 Independent Armoured Support Battery, Royal Marines Armoured Support Group

4. The 95mm Gun.

This is a howitzer, with a maximum range of 4,700x with a Charge III or 1,300x with Charge I. With Charge I it can shoot down to 700x over an obstacle 50 ft high at 200x.


5. The Shell.

This gives a bigger burst than the 25 pr and has a steeper angle of descent. It should be very useful in clearing thick undergrowth with its big burst.


6. Ammunition Supply.

All tanks tow Porpoises which can be carried several miles inland. Total ammunition carried, with NO soft vehicles, 165 rpg.


7. Direct Fire from LCT A

This is controlled by GPO from the bridge of craft by telephone, using a Director on the bridge and bearing scales in the tanks.


8. Direct Fire on Shore

Controlled by GPO from Sherman tank.


9. Indirect Fire on Shore


Due to limitations of frequencies available, and to the primary role no 1 (a) above) FOOs of field arty rgts provide observation of fire for Armd Sp Gp Troops.


(c) Fire from beaches.


(i) Indirect. Indirect fire from the beach was carried out by 14 guns (17.5%). A further 7 guns established R/T contact with FOOs of the field arty regts to which they were attached, but received no calls for fire. The remaining 27 guns landed up to H + 4 hours and had no indirect fire from the beach area for one or more of the following reasons:-

  • Disablement of tank and gun through enemy fire or drowning after landing

  • Casualty to FOO

  • FOO not replying when called on R/T.

(ii) Direct. Direct fire from the beach area was carried out by 8 guns or 10 per cent of total fire power.


(11) Secondary Task – Fire on the Run In

(a) Performance of the Group’s secondary task was directly dependent on time of arrival off the beaches.  The table in para 4 above shows that the maximum number of guns which had the opportunity of carrying out this task was only 20.


(b) Ten guns, or 12.5 percent, of total fire power engaged shore targets during the run in to the beaches and in all cases the GCOs and Troop Lts reported that “targets were extremely difficult to identify”, but were satisfied that this fire was of value in keeping the enemy’s head down.


(c) Most of the remaining ten guns which landed within 15 mins of H hour were in the sector of 3 Canadian Division, the CRA of which had given instructions that fire on the run in was to be employed only if targets were easily identifiable and unmistakable. In fact, visibility was poor and several craft were landed on beaches other than those planned, with the result that GCOs had not been briefed on possible targets.


THE BRITISH ARMY IN NORMANDY 1944. Sherman and Cromwell tanks of the Royal Marines Armoured Support Group near Tilly-sur-Seulles, Normandy, 13 June 1944. Creator: Laing (Sgt), No. 5 Army Film & Photographic Unit. Source: © IWM (B 5454)

12. Third Task – Attachment to Field Arty Regts.

(a) Employment of units and sub units of the group after completion of their primary task varied greatly in accordance with the needs of the various divisional fronts and with the ideas of the divisional CsRA. Details are given in paras 13 – 15 below.


10. Primary Task

(a) Performance of the Group’s primary task (provision of arty support during the interval between H hour and the establishment of the SP arty in action ashore) was dependent on the successful landing of the guns at the right time and place, and secondly on the establishment of contact with FOOs of field arty regts and the receipt of fire orders from these FOOs.


SUMMARY OF PERFORMANCE OF UNITS


13. 1 RM Armd Sp Regt.

(a) After beaching, no direct fire targets appeared and no calls were received from FOOs. Beaches were very crowded, with few exits.  GCO’s Sherman of one troop was knocked out by 88 mm, all of the crew being casualties, and two Centaurs of the same troop were damaged by mines. The craft containing RHQ was sunk some distance from beach. Personnel swam to a LCM, which struck a mine on beaching. Regt 2IC wounded and evacuated. RHQ without transport, but subsequently obtained a German staff car.


(b) After regrouping, three troops were operational. These were deployed forward of field regts on 50 Division front, and employed to a limited extent. The only engagement out of the normal was on D + 1, when one and a half troops supported an attack on a wood in rear of their position, from which 86 prisoners, three 75 mm guns and one 105 mm gun were captured. On D + 7 the regt was transferred to 49 Division, who again only employed them occasionally.


(c) SUMMARY. The employment of this regt, perhaps due to the small percentage of craft which arrived, and partly due to the inherent disadvantage of being dependent on FOOs whose primary duty must be to their own field regts, was disappointing.


14. 2 RM Armd Sp Regt.

(a) On the beaches, several troops carried out the role as laid down. When no calls for fire were being received, troops engaged special tasks on their own. One troop knocked out an MG nest and captured 21 prisoners, and another attached itself to the Regina Rifles and fired 100 rpg during the capture of a 105 mm gun position. Another troop attached itself to a FOO other than its own, and engaged targets at 650x range, over tall buildings, the only occasion on which Charge I was used.


(b) After regrouping troops were used in a variety of roles. On D and D + 1, troops supported 46 and 48 RM Commandos in street fighting.  Other troops regrouped and engaged independent direct fire targets in forward areas. Subsequently, seven troops were continuously employed about 3,000x in advance of field regt areas, firing either under field regt FOOs or under their own GCOs, who moved up to FOPs in Shermans. On D + 5 three troops supported 46 RM Commando at ROTS. RM GCOs acting as FOOs. On D + 15, when remainder of the Group was withdrawn, three troops of this regt were ordered East of R ORNE in support of 6 Airborne Division. They were deployed well forward in anti-mortar role. They then trained RA personnel to take over their tanks.


(c) SUMMARY.  This regt was kept well employed throughout and exemplified the two most useful tasks after leaving the beaches – street fighting and very close support of troops on special tasks, and deployment well forward of arty areas in anti-mortar and DF roles.


15. 5 (Indep) RM Armd Sp Bty.

(a) On the beaches, direct and indirect fire support was given to 4 Commando. Guns were also ready to support 41 RM Commando, but no call for fire was received. The battery commander became a casualty at H + 45 mins and was evacuated the next day. Several tanks were drowned, due to rising tide and punctured waterproofing. Ammunition number in craft did particularly good work with this battery.


(b) After regrouping, troops were at first deployed in field arty areas, but later one troop was placed in support of 4 SS Bde East of R ORNE, and the other in support of 41 RM Commando for capture of DOUVRES Radio Station.


(c) SUMMARY. Only two out of four troops were operational, and these were used entirely in close support of commandos, where their work was effective.


A Royal Marines Centaur IV tank from 'H' Troop, 2 Battery, 1st RM Armoured Support Regiment - Normandy, 13 June 1944. Colourised by Champagne Commando @ChampagneCdo

SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT IN PERFORMANCE OF STATED ROLE


16. It is suggested that the stated role could have been carried out very much more efficiently had it been possible to incorporate the following in the organization :-


(a) Observation of fire. FOOs belonging to RM Armd Sp Grp, to be provided on a scale of one per troop, allowed a frequency and transported in a carrier in a LCTA of the troop. No additional officers would be required, the troop Lt acting as GPO in the Sherman and the captain acting as FOO.


(b) Control. A regt comd net to be provided for each regt. This would have speed up the regrouping of troops in the initial stages and greatly increase the divisional CRA’s control in the later stages.


(c) Administration. Even if the agreed time limit had been adhered to, a very small adm tail of, say, 6 x 15 cwts per regt, would have improved the performance of units immensely. This transport should one vehicle for a small REME detachment, who would diagnose vehicle casualties and obtain spares for first line repair.


POSSIBLE ADDITIONAL ROLE


17. During phases after completion of the primary task (para 2(a) above), in addition to performing the role of thickening up of field arty fire, troops were found most useful in support of units employed on special tasks. The reason for this employment is two-fold:-

(a) It is most inconvenient for CsRA to detach field arty already committed to their fire plans and place them in support of individual units employed on special tasks. This is especially so when the special tasks are at such a distance as to involve re-deployment of field arty.

(b) Field arty, not being completely armoured, cannot act in the very close support, at times even street fighting, where a completely armoured gun can operate.


18. It is my opinion that, after the primary task, this new role was the most useful provided by the RM Armd Sp G.


19. It is for consideration whether, if this were an accepted role, the composition of a troop should not be one 17 pr Challenger and four 95 mm Cromwells. Amongst other advantages, this would facilitate provision of spares, either by cannibalisation or otherwise.


From APPENDIX J to 21 AGp/1413/5/G(SD) dated        44 - CHARACTERISTICS AND EMPLOYMENT OF ROYAL MARINE ARMOURED SUPPORT GROUP IN OPERATION “OVERLORD” (https://alliedarmour1940.wordpress.com/2017/03/04/the-royal-marines-armoured-support-group/)


After the initial landings the Batteries were used as independent units. The tanks of the ‘1st’ and ‘2nd’ supported 4 (Army) Commando and 48 RM Commando; the ‘3rd’ and ‘4th’ supported the Canadians, being deployed 3,000yds forward of the Canadian artillery.


CO 48 (RM) Cdo, Lt Col J. Moulton, watches a Canadian M-10 tank destroyer approaching a disabled Royal Marines Centaur tank during the attack on the WN26 strongpoint, Langrune-sur-Mer, 7 June 1944, colourised by Champagne Commando @ChampagneCdo

Troops from these last two Batteries assisted 46 RM Cdo on D+1 (7 June), and a Troop from the 5th RM Battery crossed the Orne river to give counter mortar fire in support of 4 SS (Commando) Brigade, among several independent actions by these Batteries before they were withdrawn on 24 June. By this time some 50 per cent had had mechanical failures. Although they had been intended as purely assault troops, they had stayed in action for almost three weeks and proved a valuable supplement to conventional artillery.


The Centaurs’ 95–mm gun–howitzer had many parts in common with the 25–pdr, and as a totally protected gun in a turret was less vulnerable than self–propelled artillery. These tanks were taken over by RA gunners before the Batteries’ personnel returned to the UK for disbandment on the formation of 29th RM Battalion on 3 October 1944, this Battalion later became the 34th RM Amphibian Support Regiment.


RM Armoured Support Group HQ Wing and holding Battery


This Wing included 65 RAC mechanics under command of five RAC officers,16 and 50 RM reserves for tank crews. These mechanics, assisted by RM tank crews, made exceptional improvisations to keep the tanks in action, despite the limited facilities available.


'As late as February 1944 the-plan to simply supply artillery support before the normal field regiments of the Royal Artillery could come ashore, was changed. This meant that the Marines should drive ashore and operate as self-propelled Artillery, so modifications were made, would remain mobile and the tank would be the platform. We were the first Royal Marines to fight in tanks, our job, to break the crust of the enemy defences. Intended solely for preliminary support we were instructed to limit our action to a week ashore and not to advance more than a mile from the beach. In the actual fighting the pressure of events took charge. So useful, and indeed essential was the support given by the, tank guns that the Armoured Support Group remained ashore for 15 days, and operated up to ten miles inland.’ Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart


The RMASG was reformed in Bovington in 2007.



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