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The Beachhead Pt. 2

The 9th of June was another very hectic day for the Regiment. The Germans continued to aggressively probe the forward positions of the 7th Brigade and the Hussars were busy answering numerous calls for assistance only to find that the anticipated attack failed to materialize. On the extreme forward edge of the Canadian salient was the village of Norrey-en-Bessin. On that day it became the target of a powerful but poorly coordinated German tank attack. Just after noon a company of 12 Panther tanks attacked out of the east along the railway line that ran just north of the village. In their hast the Germans failed to notice a composite squadron made up of tanks from the 1st Hussars and Fort Gary Horse (FGH) that had deployed just north of the railway line to cover the approaches to the village. One of those vehicles was commanded by Lieutenant Gordon Henry who also commanded 3 troop C Squadron 1st Hussars. In his Sherman Firefly named Comtesse de feu Henry had just taken up his position when he spotted the 12 Panther tanks from the German 12th SS Panzer Division deploying to attack. He coolly allowed the enemy column approach into optimum range then laying his gun on the nearest tank gave his gunner Archie Chapman the order to fire. In less than a second the first Panther shuddered to a halt having been hit on its front and within seconds it started to burn. However, by this time Henry had already selected his second target and with his loader Lloyd “Sass” Seaman slamming fresh rounds into the breach as fast as he could Henry and Chapman accounted for 4 more Panthers in quick succession. As Chapman was laying on his 6th tank it went up from a hit by another Hussar tank commanded by Sgt. Art Boyle. To be clear Henry’s crew were not alone in this action 3 troop were accompanied by another troop of Hussars and 2 troops from the Fort Gary Horse and all were engaging the Germans at the same time. In addition to the 6 Panthers claimed by the Hussars at least 1 more was credited to the FGH. As a result of this very fast action the enemy attack was broken up and the survivors quickly withdrew. Back in the harbour that night news of Lieutenant Henry and his crew’s victory did much to raise the moral of the battered and tired regiment. His score that day set a beachhead record up to that point and he and his crew were quietly and very unofficially lauded as the “Panther killers” and “Tank Aces” Two days later in the disaster that was Le Mesnil-Patry Henry and Chapman accounted for three more German tanks and again in the fighting around Caen another two were added to their score. Lieutenant Henry was later awarded the French Croix de Guerre avec Etoile Vermeil for this action.

Croix de Guerre avec Etoile Vermeil

That night was another long and restless evening for the tired Hussars. By nightfall, and following a very active couple of days, the tanks were short of both ammunition and fuel and in need of a myriad of minor repairs. The Echelon along with the men of #54 LAD arrived in the Harbour after dark. The tank crews already engaged in the never-ending round of repair and maintenance tasks that are a crewman’s lot paused to begin the laborious and strenuous task of refuelling and rearming. Once this was completed it was back to maintaining the vehicles, manning a radio watch and harbour sentries, digging slit trenches for personal protection, preparing food, and if time permitted catching a couple of hours of fitful sleep. Contributing to the improved moral that night was the fact that with the echelon came 13 badly needed replacement tanks and many crewmen from vehicles that had been swamped or knocked out on D-Day. The men were a particularly welcome sight as many had been feared dead.

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