Canadian Provost Corps
" The Caves At Fontaine Henry "
(Based On Official 4 Provost Company Reports)
Researched And Prepared By LCol (retired) JD (Jim) Lumsden
In the process of reconstructing the participation of the Canadian Provost
Corps in the "D" Day landings, an interesting incident (which is fully
documented) was discovered in the Archives material. It relates to 4
Provost Company, which was the Unit which supported 3 Canadian
Infantry Division. The date of the events was 8 June, about 48 hours after
"Operation Overlord" was launched, but it clearly flows as a matter of
continuity of action directly from the events of 6 June. The reports of the
participants make interesting reading as you recognize their actions in
adhering to the principles and guidelines for dealing with some of the Corp's
responsibilities as well as the value of detailed reporting,
The first item of interest is the precision of the location set out in the report i.e "South East of Fontaine Henry" accompanied by a Map Sheet number and a six figure grid reference. Thus some 50 years later it is possible to return to the precise location.
In the early hours of 8 June two groups from 4 Provost Company were engaged in the selection of a suitable prisoner of war cage, signing the route to that location close to the Main Supply Route (MSR), and in the words of one of the participants (RSM Harper), "laying on traffic control in the area of Fontaine Henry".
The two groups consisted of:;
Lieutenant Germen in describing the cave states that the interior was much larger than one might ever have appreciated from the exterior. There was a "Red Cross Ward" with about 21 wounded German and British soldiers. As time went on through the day this number increased. It housed some 20 to 30 vehicles some of which were ours, He concluded that it also served as a headquarters for a 'gang of snipers" who covered all the roads surrounding the area.
Within an hour of Germen and Wiberg's arrival at the caves, RSM Harper and Lance Cpl Stafford, together with another officer, identified as a Captain Eekenfelter, Royal Canadian Corps of Signals, arrived to join them as prisoners of war. Harper, Stafford and Sergeant Moore had also been ambushed in at the same location as the first group. Heavy firing occurred and Sergeant Moore, who was driving the "5 cwt car", was killed instantly. Stafford, who had been on a motorcycle, jumped from it to cover on the side of the road. Harper took cover alongside the jeep. Again, it was evident that the only reasonable course open in the face of a group of twenty enemy soldiers was to become a prisoner of war.
After being searched Harper, Stafford and Wiberg were later taken from the first cave to another where other ranks were being held. These included; British Gunners from the 9th Survey Regiment, Royal Artillery and L-27902 Lance Corporal Keeton D C, D Section, 4 Provost Company. Keeton had been despatched at 1145 hrs to get the exact location of the PW Cage. In his search he rode up to the mouth of the caves but observed no "signs of life", so, rode on. Shortly thereafter, he too was a victim of the German ambush party.
The reports indicate that during the day a Bren carrier pulled up to the cave entrance but was driven back by German fire. Later there was a mortar barrage which had the effect of "shaking the place to a great extent". This fire had come from the Regiment de la Chaudiere which had been surrounding the area.
Throughout the day Germen and Eckenfelter , neither of whom could speak german, maintained a dialogue with Germans. Fortuitously, one or two of the German officers had limited ability in English. They managed to convince them that further resistance would be of little value and simply result in a useless loss of life. The realities that food, ammunition and medical supplies were running low and the number of wounded was increasing were discussed. It was also apparent to the Germans that the original purpose of the caves, which was to house and support five 5.5 inch coastal artillery guns, could no longer be served. Consideration of this quandary, combined with the increasing weight of the attacks, convinced the Germans to surrender to Lieutenant Germen..
RSM Harper reports that about 1730 hrs he heard voices approaching the cave in which they were imprisoned. He then saw Lt Germen, armed with a shotgun, and accompanied by a senior German officer enter the cave. The officer was instructed by Germen to have his men disarm and place their weapons in a pile. They complied. The roles of captor and prisoner were now exchanged between the Germans and the members of the Allied Forces in the caves.
Germen then describes the care that had to be taken while exiting the caves to convince the Chaudieres that this was in fact a genuine surrender and not a trap. He speaks of white flags, placing their arms (hands) in the air and he (Germen) yelling CANADA. The well disciplined infanteers held their ground but withheld their fire. All exited without incident. Immediate attention was given to the wounded by 3 Field Ambulance. A request for immediate assistance was relayed to Division. In response to this the Assistant Provost Marshal, 3 Division, Major W.G. Lloyd and the Officer Commanding 4 Provost Company, Captain Archie Gillis arrived with assistance and escorts. In the interim period between 1830 and 2100 hrs, when the assistance arrived, the situation was described as tense with extensive sniper fire occurring. Lieutenant Germen, in his report of the day's activity, commended those involved during that time for their control and handling of the situation.
Lieutenant German, RSM Harper, Cpl Wiberg, LCpl Keeton and LCpl Stafford participated in escorting the prisoners of war to the PW Cage at rear Headquarters, 3 Canadian Infantry Division. No doubt, one of the most satisfying moments of that task occurred while en route from the caves to rear Div HQ they increased the size of the group of prisoners by 15. This transpired when they reached the original ambush location. They demanded and received the surrender of the German group who only hours earlier had ambushed them, fired upon them and killed one of their comrades, Sergeant Moore.
When they arrived at the Rear Div HQ PW Cage they had a total of 115 german prisoners of war (8 officers and 107 other ranks).
- The End -