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Trooper Alan Lynn and Fort Montbarey, 1944

Alan Lynn from West Hartlepool fought in one of the most strategic battles of World War Two, the capture and liberation of Fort Montbarey in France in 1944. This battle helped to secure the end of Nazi occupation in Europe.

Trooper Alan Lynn, of the 141st Royal Armoured Corps, ‘B’ Squadron, and Fort Montbarey following it’s liberation from German forces. Image courtesy of Hartlepool Museums Service.

On the 6th of June 1944 the Allied Forces successfully invaded Nazi-occupied Europe. It became known as D-Day, and it was the beginning of the end of World War Two. What followed was a series of campaigns to capture French ports like Brittany to enable supplies to get to the Allied Forces, and to prevent enemy ships from using these ports.

One of these campaigns was the Battle for Brest, fought in August and September. The port city of Brest had fortresses and other fortifications built around it and this included Fort Montbarey on the western edge of the city. It would be the job of the 141st Royal Armoured Corps (RAC) to seize Fort Montbarey.

The 141st RAC, nicknamed ‘The Buffs’, were an independent specialist regiment who were often loaned out to other units temporarily for certain battles. For this operation they were loaned to the US Army. Among The Buffs was Trooper Alan Lynn of West Hartlepool who had enlisted on 17th December 1942 when he was 18 years old. The Regiment was split into separate squadrons, and Alan was a part of ‘B’ Squadron.

Trooper Alan Lynn seated at the front of a Churchill Crocodile flamethrower-mounted tank. Image courtesy of Hartlepool Museums Service.

Fort Montbarey was heavily fortified with 250 men and heavy artillery, a moat about 15 feet deep, 40-foot-thick walls, and it was surrounded by a long anti-tank ditch and mine fields. Taking over the fort would be no easy task, so The Buffs were accompanied by engineers trained in deactivating mines. They were also equipped with some specialist tanks – Churchill Crocodiles, tanks fitted with flamethrowers.

The assault began on 14th September with the Crocodile tanks cautiously making their way towards the fort and trying to find an opening in the defences. At first it seemed like the Germans were about to surrender when the tanks came in close range, but it soon became apparent that the fort’s wall was impenetrable, and the fighting resumed. However, The Buffs did manage to take 116 Prisoners of War that day.

The fighting continued, and on the 16th September a final assault was made by three Crocodiles, who made it to the fort’s main gate. A demand for surrender was made, which was at first refused, so the fort came under heavy fire from The Buffs, using both gunfire and flame from the Crocodiles. An opening in the wall was finally made and The Buffs stormed in. The soldiers in the fort surrendered and over 60 more Prisoners of War were taken.

The US Army were very impressed by the successful capture of Fort Montbarey. They awarded Bronze Star medals “for heroic achievement” to Trooper Alan Lynn and his fellow Buffs, and Lieutenant Tony Ward was awarded a Silver Star. The full list of those awarded the Bronze Star are as follows –

Captain Ian Nigel Ryle

Lieutenant Reginald Roy Moss

Second Lieutenant Neil Lewis Hare

Sergeant Leonard Henry Morley

Lance-Sergeant Arthur Strachan Cowe

Lance-Corporal Stanley Harris

Lance-Corporal Joseph Albert Rayman

Trooper Henry Adams

Trooper George Edward Clare

Trooper Thomas Parry

Trooper Peter Guy Thorne

Trooper Leslie George Richard Worthy

Alan was further praised in a letter from Major General C. H. Gerhardt – “During this most vital and dangerous operation, Trooper Lynn displayed outstanding aggressiveness and exemplary devotion to duty which contributed materially in the reduction of this enemy fort. His actions reflect great credit upon himself and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the Armed Forces”. To this day it is rare for a British Soldier to have been awarded a Bronze Star.

The Buffs being awarded Bronze Star medals. Image courtesy of Hartlepool Museums Service.

Trooper Alan Lynn’s war medals. The Bronze Star is the furthest right. Image courtesy of Hartlepool Museums Service.

Citation letter to Trooper Alan Lynn from Major General Gerhardt on his being awarded the Bronze Star medal. Image courtesy of Hartlepool Museums Service.

Some of The Buffs’ tanks had sustained great damage during the campaign and they and ‘B’ Squadron were sent to Ostend in Belgium for the repairs to be carried out. It was during this time that ‘B’ Squadron were given 48 hours leave, the longest leave time any soldiers were given, and they became the envy of the rest of The Buffs and were referred to as ‘Playboys’ for their luck. The name stuck.

Following the liberation of Fort Montbarey, The Buffs continued fighting together in further military campaigns, until the Regiment was disbanded after the end of World War Two. ‘B’ Squadron had all grown close as friends and long after their disbanding they continued to stay in contact and meet at least annually, as the ‘Old Playboys Association’.

Signatures of the 141st Royal Armoured Corps from their last night together. Alan had drawn the well-dressed skeleton, and this design became the logo for the Old Playboys Association. Image courtesy of Hartlepool Museums Service.

Alan was transferred to the 3rd Royal Tank Regiment in November 1945. It was around this time when he was stationed at Flensburg in Germany that he met a young woman in a café named Herta. They fell in love and soon wanted to get married.

Alan and Herta both experienced some discrimination for their union. After the war many British and German people saw each other as enemies, and Alan was told by the army to wait a year to see if he still wanted to marry her. For Herta some of her neighbours didn’t take kindly to her being with Alan, since many Germans were undergoing food shortages as a result of the collapse of their government and being occupied by the British Army.

Despite this, Alan and Herta’s feelings for each other never changed and they were finally married on the 14th June 1947. They travelled in a horse drawn carriage to the Danish Church in Flensburg, and about half of the town’s population attended the wedding. They lived together in Germany for a few months until Alan was de-mobbed in October. The couple then left the country and settled in Hartlepool.

Alan lived a long and happy life in Hartlepool with his wife and their two sons, Raymond and Ken. His service in the war remained an important part of his life, and he attended the 60th Anniversary Commemoration of the D-Day Landings in Normandy with Herta in 2004. Alan Lynn passed away in 2008.

We would like to thank Mr Ken Lynn for donating his father’s medals and war memorabilia to Hartlepool Museums Service.