Volume 3, Chapter 26
“General! A message from the 1st Infantry Division and General Gort!” Another messenger ran in a flurry.
“Give it here.”
Montgomery took the telegram and curiously looked it through. He felt strange why the 1st Infantry Division would send him a message. Didn’t Headquarters already state that the 2nd and 4th Divisions were coming? Reading it, Montgomery showed a look of surprise.
Then he quickly looked at the message from Headquarters. After a few seconds, a slight smile grew on his previously grim face.
“Your group will continue fortifying your positions. Once dawn breaks, the enemy shelling will become even more accurate. Soon the 1st Division will arrive at your location as reinforcements.”
Regardless of if it was Montgomery or the surrounding staff, all their eyes showed a mix of puzzlement and joy. Montgomery’s heart, however, was absolutely delighted. It was only by his own determination that he restrained that desire. His pride would never allow others to see his inner world.
Finally saved. Maybe it was possible to turn this situation around. General Gort, yesterday, ordered that all troops without defensive missions to proceed to Arras at all haste. The 2nd and 4th Divisions were making their way here. Following them was the main force of the British Expeditionary Force.
However, what was unexpected was the uncanny speed of the 1st Infantry Division. Causing them to be further ahead than even the 2nd and 4th Divisions. Currently, they were the closest unit to Arras. After contacting Command, they learned the desperate situation here and asked to reinforce. Gort also agreed to the request as it was the most sensible thing to do. Their distance put them only within an hour away.
Montgomery could not help but feel grateful for the 1st Division’s timely help. Fortunately, it didn’t seem that he needed to violate military orders.
However, what he was most pleased with, was that under the division was the 2nd Tank Regiment. From his previous reports, they were the only tank unit that was still relatively unscathed. Consisting of eighteen Matilda II’s and sixty-four Matilda tanks. Their most needed assets.
Previously, he was ready to order a retreat because even if the two infantry divisions caught up, they could do little to help the attack. Infantry, by themselves, would never capture the city. If there was support from the Royal Air Force, there was only a half chance of success. However, the Royal Air Force suffered sizable losses during the Battle of France and furthermore, the French airports were all mostly captured. Since they are outnumbered, it would be natural for the Government to not provide much air support.
However, tanks were a different story altogether. Montgomery was convinced that the Germans would have no anti-tank weapons. Or at least no enough to stop an armored advance. If these tanks suddenly charged, then it wouldn’t take long to cross the battlefield. Leaving the Germans without time to adjust their artillery. Moreover, howitzers are first and foremost an anti-personnel weapon. No matter how large the caliber, the traditional fragmentation rounds would still simply glance off. Hence, the need for a direct hit to disable it. Something that is hard to do with a high arcing shot, and a fast-moving target.
Once they rush the enemy’s front, the tanks will cause rampant confusions and chaos. Taking advantage of the German’s focus on the tanks, their infantry can swarm across the field. Hopefully breaking the enemy’s perimeter around the city and entering the city with minimal losses. As the British and German infantry would start fighting on the streets, it would eventually give the British, who had superior numbers, the upper hand. Leaving the Germans unable to use their heavy artillery, unless they wanted to kill indiscriminately. It would be short work for the three infantry divisions to occupy the entire city. If the infantry is fast enough, maybe it would be possible to capture those German guns.
Montgomery excitedly thought as he conceived his own battle plan. Quite certain in his victory, he had trouble maintaining his composure before his officers. Now, it was only waiting on the 1st Division and those tanks.
May 27, 1940, as dawn came over the horizon, Montgomery finally gave a good look at his new reinforcements.
Then he watched as the 1st Division commander, Harold Alexander entered. Montgomery rushed up and enthusiastically greeted him. He had no other way of expressing his elation at the 1st Division’s arrival.
Then the two commanders walked together and talked about the battle plan. After listening, Alexander showed a slight frown. Although he heard that Montgomery’s artillery was destroyed, he was still unwilling to believe that the Germans possessed such large firepower. Causing him to personally go to the front to see the situation.
Montgomery accompanied him to the forward command post. As they reached the top of the small hill, both turned to see the miserable scene, leaving them stunned. As the morning light exposed the wretched landscape to them, they could see an uncountable number of dead or wounded soldiers. The collapsed trenches and demolished bunkers paid testament to the sheer power of the shells. The whole field was a hell-like scene of dead bodies that had laid throughout the night. In some of the craters on the ground, pools of scarlet had accumulated.
Alexander was horrified and soon completely believed in Montgomery’s words. If he was placed in Montgomery’s position, with no tanks and air support, he would not have possibly performed any better. After all who would want to face heavy artillery with only infantry? Even their 25-Pounders had no way to compete with the German’s utterly destructive 203mm heavy howitzers. Now, the only choice to victory was to follow Montgomery’s plan.
The sun had also exposed an interesting sight. Montgomery finally found the reason his artillery was annihilated. Floating over Arras was a huge balloon. Incredibly far from the British lines. He had no method of attacking it as his anti-aircraft guns were placed at the rear, to avoid sharing the same fate as the artillery. However, it was truly a nuisance, allowing the Germans a panoramic view of their positions. He was almost certain that they were the cause for the loss of his artillery.
However, this posed Montgomery a big problem. If he attacks with his tanks and infantry then they would quickly lose the element of surprise. Thus, increasing the German’s resistance and British casualties. Shooting the balloon down was also impossible. The German artillery would never sit idly as the anti-aircraft guns were moved within range. If he did attempt such a thing, the guns will soon be reduced to scrap iron.
Most frightening of all was that the German artillery had the capability to strike their artillery units at the rear. This meant that their entire formation was susceptible to German bombardment at any moment. This may have been noticed at the dark of night, however, it was utterly clear now. The trenches, the command posts, the 1st Division’s position, everything could be blown sky-high in a matter of seconds. However, why have they not started? The sky had been lit for almost an hour, but the Germans show no signs of shelling. Is there another purpose?
“General Montgomery, what are you thinking?” Alexander asked curiously.
“I was only thinking that the behavior of the Germans is very unusual. Perhaps there are things we do not know. I keep feeling that we are stepping further into a trap.” Montgomery answered seriously.
“Where do you see that?”
Alexander was not very clear what Montgomery meant. Montgomery immediately started to detail his own analysis of the situation. After listening to Montgomery’s words, he also began to feel that the Germans were acting weird. He readily agreed with Montgomery’s analysis.
“If we follow your conclusion, what should be done now? I would have thought that the tanks would easily break the enemy lines. Perhaps suffered some losses, but still a very high chance of success. But as I listened to your words, I can’t help but feel that it would be for naught. If we follow your premonition then the Germans may have an even more powerful trick waiting for us. Should we sound a retreat? General Gort will certainly eat us up for it, you shouldn’t be aware of how enthusiastic he is about this plan. We don’t have much time left to make a decision. If we choose to attack, we must attack immediately. We cannot allow this to drag out, by dawn tomorrow, the German Panzer Divisions will arrive and we’ll be in serious trouble.”
‘Tomorrow…” Montgomery felt as if he stumbled upon the critical question. Standing there blankly, desperately thinking in his mind.
Suddenly, he raised his head, his expression grim. Grabbing Alexander’s shoulders, he said in low voice.
“General Alexander… What if the Germans never had problems with their tanks? What if they were properly fueled and fully functional?”
Alexander looked back at Montgomery in horror. Apparently frightened by that assumption. If it was correct, then this was truly a most insidious trap set by the Germans. If successful, the British Expeditionary Force will be annihilated. But would the Germans really think of such a plan?
“General Montgomery, you’re really scaring me. If this was true then the results would be catastrophic. Is there any way to prove your theory?”
“Of course! I had wondered the same thing. Until I pondered why the Germans would so easily expose their weakness to us. Why did they suddenly retreat their tanks, why would their leave their most important route virtually defenseless? Furthermore, why would only two infantry regiments pack so much firepower?
But the real reason was to lure the main force out of our defenses. Allowing the German forces to suddenly appear and cut off our escape.
The plan is so incredibly wretched yet wonderful. The man that came up with this plan is a cunning and deceptive strategist. However, he would also be the greatest military genius of this time. Rather, I can hardly believe there is such a man in the German Army. If there is a chance, I must have a look at the man that captured the entire British Expeditionary Force almost single-handedly. I wonder how he got those old, highly conventional commanders to agree to such a large and sophisticated plan. No, rather an insane plan.”
Montgomery said with a wry smile. However, he could also barely hide his trembling. Not so much from fear as compared to excitement. The feeling gathered from respect for another commander, the excitement of solving their plan before the final reveal.
“General Montgomery… It seems you were right. You really managed to guess the plan of the Germans. However, I think we were too late to understand.” Alexander’s face grew pale as he looked towards the distant horizon.
Montgomery also quickly turned to look in that direction.
The rising of the dust, following the tracks of countless tanks and vehicles, appeared on the horizon. Tanks roaring as they quickly approached the British’s left flank. Atop the turret of a Panzer IV was a German flag, the Iron Cross fluttering in the wind.
[MD: Didn’t expect to release a chap today but had some unexpected spare time. Cannot guarantee a release for tomorrow because of SAT Testing that entire morning.
This chapter had a slight historical inconsistency that the history buffs may get me on. There are sooo many 1st Divisions, Regiments, Battalion…. It’s hard to tell which one the author is referring to. However, I was not aware of any armored unit within the 1st Infantry Division. Normally I would think it’s referring to the 1st Armoured Infantry Brigade. However, it specifically mentions Harold Alexander as the commander.]