Several years ago I read with great interest an article on the Battle of Arras 1940, which witnessed the large-scale use of British tanks in an effort to stall the German Blitzkrieg. That it met with some successes and certainly put the Germans on the back foot – albeit on a very temporary basis – has made this engagement an attractive one for historians to examine.
Less well known in terms of Britain’s contribution to the armoured warfare that summer were the actions of Britain’s much vaunted (at the time) 1st Armoured Division. Designed for rapid attacks and reconnaissance in force, the Division was, on paper at least, a unit that should have caused its opponents a serious headache.
When the military crisis in France started to look like a disaster, the British War Office decided to rush the unit to the Front. But instead of achieving victory or even results comparable to the action at Arras, 1st Armoured Division was met with frustration, farce and tragedy. Its orders were confused, its supply shaky, its collaboration with the French weak and, most importantly, its tanks were either unfamiliar or obsolete – or both. That it managed to escape the clutches of the Germans was due to heroic endurance and level-headed leadership.
Arrival Normandy, May 24 1940: a motorised infantry detachment of the 4th Border Regiment is driving through a silent wood to the northwest of Amiens. While the soldiers knew they were approaching the battle zone, none suspected that they had blundered into carefully laid German positions.
The crack of rifles, the stutter of machine guns and the bark of anti tank guns shattered the rustic peace. The Borders’ trucks were aflame within a matter of seconds; those who were able to ran or staggered away from the scene looking for help. Fire consumed those who failed to escape.
Nearby, in a position overlooking the woods and having began their own operations, Lieutenant Gavin and his armoured squadron of the Queen’s Bays could see a pall of smoke rising from the burning vehicles. Gavin immediately ordered the squadron to advance and rescue the stricken Borders. They quickly neutralised much of the opposition by laying down a wall of machine gun fire. The squadron then began to extract survivors, while under the constant threat of a counter attack. They performed admirably and saved a good number of men before beating a hasty retreat…
The 1st Armoured Division had arrived in Cherbourg only a few days beforehand and was composed of two brigades: the ‘Light’ 2nd Brigade and the ‘Heavy’ 3rd Brigade. The Queens Bays, the 9th Lancers and the 10th Hussars comprised 2nd Brigade. The 3rd Brigade, which was made up by the 2nd RTR (Royal Tank Regiment) and 5th RTR, was one regiment short – the 3rd RTR had been sent to take part in the doomed defence of Calais. There was another other hairline crack: artillery and infantry from the Division’s support group had also been drained off for use in other theatres.
The 257 tanks of the Division were questionable in quality. The Vickers Mark VIB and VIC tanks were obsolete even by 1940 standards. Critically, the Division’s new and untested BESA machine guns still had to be fitted to the tanks and had only just arrived in packing cases before embarkation. To make matters worse, many of the gunners had not been trained on using and maintaining this armament. The A.9 and A.10 tanks were, in the words of 10th Hussar historian Peter Upton: ‘Deplorably equipped in comparison to the Germans.’ The A.13, a fair Cruiser tank for the time, had only just finished field-trials and was only present in small numbers. It was an unfamiliar machine and its crews still had much to learn in operating it.
Added to all these weaknesses was a lack of essential equipment. Liddell-Hart, the great tank historian, wrote: ‘[They were] still short of equipment such as wireless, telescopes, and armour-piercing ammunition.’ Looking back with hindsight, the Division’s commander, Maj-Gen Roger Evans, had to admit that his force was ‘a travesty of an armoured Division’.
On May 23 Evans was busy organising 2nd Brigade in Normandy, while 3rd Brigade was still crossing the channel. His efforts were interrupted by the arrival of War Office orders, which instructed the 1st Armoured Division to capture and secure four key bridgeheads across the Somme in and around the town of Abbeville and then push northwards to link up with the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). To help him, Evans was given the use of the nearby 4th Borders. The French refused to participate. They considered the operation to be ‘an independent exploit’ and an ‘entirely British affair’.
Evans, in his official war report, declared: ‘ I realised that an operation to secure a crossing over an unreconnoitered water obstacle, attempted without the artillery and infantry of my support group, and carried out by armoured units arriving piecemeal from detrainment was hazardous and unpromising of success.’ After the war, he was more candid: ‘I was ordered to force a crossing over a defended, unfordable river and afterwards to advance some sixty miles, through four real [enemy] armoured divisions to the help of the British Expeditionary Force.’
But orders were orders and, like its Crimean predecessor, the Light Brigade of 1940 was given a ‘do and die’ quandary. The unenviable task of performing this feat fell to the only combat -ready regiment from the Brigade, the Queen’s Bays, which was promptly grouped up with the Borders.
Into the inferno Lieutenant Viscount Erleigh of 2 Troop (of only two Mark VIC tanks) advanced on the small village of Dreuil. About a mile from their objective they came under anti-tank fire, prompting a quick withdrawal. An enemy machine gun, positioned on a nearby water tower then added to British problems. This opponent was swiftly pinned down by a burst of BESA fire – but only for the time being. The Germans prudently kept quiet until the tanks had moved on and then opened up again when the foot slogging Borders passed, causing the infantry a number of casualties.
In the meantime, Erleigh’s tanks tried to perform a pincer movement on the enemy with their two tanks. The machine on the left made some progress, but the tank on the right found its path blocked by woods. The Borders in the centre of this action grappled with the enemy – hand-to-hand at some points – but also made little headway. By , assistance that was thought to be on its way had failed to materialize. 2 Troop and their supporting infantry were therefore ordered back to reserve. For his leadership in this tough action, Viscount Erleigh was awarded an MC.
At the centre of overall operations, Borders units and 3 Troop of the Bays had come across a destroyed bridge at Ailly. Although two Borders platoons managed to cross the river (with the Bays’ giving covering fire) the odds were too heavy and a withdrawal took place. However, the Borders’ retreat had something of a ‘magnetic’ effect, drawing the enemy into the range of the Bays’ guns, which allowed the tanks to inflict some damage on their opponents.
These two actions and others besides – including Gavin’s Troop rescuing the Borders in the woods – while brave, professional and tenacious were simply not enough to dislodge a determined and well-equipped enemy.
Desperate times The newly-appointed Commander in Chief of all allied forces, the French general, Weygand, believed he had formulated a grand plan that could bludgeon the invading Germans to a standstill or, with luck, even defeat them. The masterstroke called for French forces to push north while the BEF would simultaneously strike south. A large bulk of the German Army would, in theory, be caught, encircled and smashed.
Weygand’s plan was deeply flawed: the Frenchman knew little of the details regarding the BEF’s position and that its ‘enclave’ was tenuous and shrinking. Indeed, its flanks were now dangerously exposed following the collapse of Belgium and her army – any move to make an offensive to the south would have invited disaster (the BEF’s command were already contemplating evacuation). Despite this, Weygand launched the offensive north in a gamble to try and make as much headway as possible.
Unfortunately for the Allies, the German’s secure hold of the SommeRiver was to be a severe problem. They had already been given five relatively uninterrupted days to entrench and prepare defensive positions (the Bays and Borders’ efforts on the 24 May had been a mere pinprick). A major punch would be needed to clear the way and the 1st Armoured Division was the formation chosen by Weygand to be the spearhead for this task. Disastrously, French Command had assumed that the 1st Armoured Division was made up of heavy tanks, which they believed would brush aside the opposition.
On seeing the task assigned to his unit, Evans protested to his immediate superior, General Altmayer. The Frenchman, however, refused to take Evans’ arguments into account. In his book outlining the fall of France, Basil Karslake wrote: ‘General Altmayer would have none of it. He told General Evans that these were his orders and it was up to him to carry them out.’ To be fair, the War Office must take some of the blame for failing to fully liase with the French. They should have vigorously underlined the exact role the 1st Armoured Division was suited to (rapid manoeuvre warfare and not mechanised assault).
Altmayer tried to reassure his British counterpart with the promise of support. The French formations of 2nd D.L.C and 5th D.L.C would offer artillery and infantry backup. For good measure, Altmayer added that this support would probably be superfluous as reconnaissance reported only light defences. In this last point Altmayer was being economical with the truth; French intelligence on the area of operations was basic to non-existent.
Charging the guns Evans and his commanders began making preparations as best they could. The battle would commence at on May 27. The assault was to take place along a front stretching from the town of Abbeville to the seaside resort of St. Valéry-sur-Somme. 1st Armoured Division units were duly moved to their start lines.
The 3rd Brigade was expected to punch a hole along a 12-mile front and then secure the seaside town of St. Valery-sur-Somme. The French 5th D.L.C was at their call. The 2nd Brigade was to clear the way to Abbeville by breaking the German defence line stretching through the villages of Bailleul, Limeux and Huppy. The 2nd D.L.C was to help with their efforts.
In the early hours of May 27, hidden in an orchard near Huppy, German anti-tank gunners could hear the sound of motors approaching. It was not long before they could see a number of light tanks pushing through the fields and bearing down upon their position. The vehicles belonged to the 10th Hussars and they were in sight of their first objective. The regiment expected minimal opposition, its diary recording that ‘French reconnaissance reports stated that this position was held by inferior troops equipped with only light anti-tank weapons’. They were in for a nasty shock.
The overall operation that day had been postponed by an hour because of French delays in the positioning their artillery (horses were still employed to position artillery pieces). Warnings of the hold up had been forwarded to all British units via radio, but the 10th, suffering from ‘wireless difficulties’, had failed to receive the message. Accordingly, they had started their attack at the original time, driving towards great danger without infantry or artillery support.
The German gunners worked quickly and relentlessly as soon as the British tanks came into range. Within minutes, 20 of the 30 tanks were either stopped dead in their tracks or aflame. The ten remaining tanks limped back to safety.
Like the Hussars, the Bays suffered too. To the left of the Hussars, their attack (into the sun) took them over the crest of a gently sloping ridge at Bailleul. Silhouetted by the skyline, they presented the perfect targets for the anti-tank gunners. Beddington, the Bays’ regimental historian, wrote: ‘[The] four leading tanks were hit in the first few minutes.’ Worn break linings only added to the misery, ‘quick manoeuvre was impossible’. Smoke, ‘which would have been an invaluable aid was unavailable, or to be more precise undelivered’. Moves to try and outflank the enemy proved impossible – the enemy’s shells again found their targets with unnerving accuracy and again caused great damage.
Seeking support, the Bays sent Lieutenant Dance’s troop towards Huppy to make contact with 10th Hussars. Dance met French units on the way and was given details of the mauling the Hussars had received.
In the meantime, the Bays had launched another attack. Again their tanks were stopped dead in their tracks. The enemy was simply too strong. Their diary ruefully notes: ‘It has been impossible to do little more than locate the enemy positions and at considerable cost.’ One officer, two sergeants and five other ranks had lost their lives and 12 tanks had been put out of action.
Opportunities missed The 3rd Brigade racked up greater successes on 27 May, although the advantages gained were lost due to French overcaution. The 2nd RTR launched their attack and made good headway, reaching the key hamlet of Miannay.
Here the weakness of 1st Armoured Division’s lack of support infantry was now cruelly exposed. Unable to advance through the village without foot soldiers making sure it had been cleared, the tankmen had to call on and then wait for 5th D.L.C infantry to come up. Sadly this never occurred. The staff diary noted their allies’ reaction: ‘No arty. or inf. support were forthcoming from the French and when withdrawal was finally ordered, the opportunity had been lost.’
Karslake’s record of events, although written with hindsight, is perhaps more revealing of the frustrations felt by the British towards their allies at this point. ‘Despite every effort to persuade the French to follow up the initial success and surprise nothing was done. Every excuse was offered, “Were we sure that this village was clear?”; “An enemy tank was spotted in that wood”; “We have very few soldiers”; “Our troops have been fighting for three weeks” etc, etc.’
The 5th RTR obtained the best results of the day. They managed to reach the key heights overlooking St. Valery-sur-Somme and immediately appealed for French support. With the heights taken, an infantry assault under covering fire from the British tanks had a very good prospect of capturing the town and securing an important bridgehead over the Somme. But instead of attacking, the local French commander moved his men a little further forward and had them prepare defence lines instead.
Although responsible for the loss of the two opportunities that day, the French considered the operation a success. A telegram was sent to 1st Armoured Division HQ thanking the British for the results that ‘we have achieved’.
On May 28 French tank units under the command of Charles De Gaulle relieved Evans’ battered force and took over the responsibility for an assault over the Somme. De Gaulle, with better quality French tanks under his command, managed to make a number of bridgeheads across the Somme, although the Germans contained them. One can only consider the results this able tank commander might have achieved if his units had been given an previously-secured bridgehead out of St. Valery-sur-Somme.
Battered and bruised Depressingly for 1st Armoured Division only 65 Cruisers and 64 Light Tanks were now operational and the men, worn out from action, required rest. In these desperate times, however, there was to be no let up and 3rd Brigade and a composite regiment (formed up with from all the working vehicles from the 2nd Brigade) were soon sent to support the 51st Highland Division, another British unit in the region.
The rest of 2nd Brigade, ready to begin essential repairs to the salvageable tanks, moved to the Forét de Louviers, near Rouen, to carry out maintenance, repair and overhaul. Supplies – that perennial problem – had become a severe headache and many vital spares for the tanks were missing. Indeed, the situation was so desperate that a nearby Renault plant was scoured for useful parts.
With German attention diverted by attempting to crush the BEF, 1st Armoured Division’s sector remained relatively quiet and calm. All this changed when the Germans launched ‘Plan Red’ on 5 June. With operations at Dunkirk over – the BEF had been allowed to escape by Hitler’s famous ‘Halting of the Tanks’ order – the full weight of Germany’s armies were unleashed to finish France off. Part of their main thrust came crashing into Normandy. French units in the region were battered from the air and then brushed aside by the seemingly invincible Panzer divisions. It was at this stage that French liaison with the 1st Armoured Division collapsed.
Aware that the German coup de grace had begun, Evans waited for orders from French High Command to arrive. On 7 June, frustrated and left in the dark for 48 hours, the general jumped into his staff car and was driven to see Altmayer.
French intelligence on where the enemy was and what his objectives were had collapsed, but this lack of knowledge did not stop Altmayer from issuing unequivocal orders. 1st Armoured Division (with just 78 tanks remaining) was to attack with all speed and halt the German advance. Evans was left speechless.
Just as he was about to protest, Weygand arrived and burst into the meeting. He promptly cancelled Altmayer’s orders and told the British geneal that his unit was now expected to move south of Rouen and stop the German advance there. Evans again tried to object – while his division could help, it could not halt the enemy alone. Where, Evans enquired, was his support? His army crumbling, his grand plan thwarted, his country on the verge of defeat, Weygand told the Englishman to ‘defend his position at all costs – with his bare hands if necessary’. Evans bowed to the inevitable and returned to divisional headquarters to make hasty preparations for a possible last stand.
Discord and disarray On 8 June, the last defence line in the theatre, the Andelle line, had been torn apart. A retreat across the Seine, south of Rouen was vital if the Division was to avoid being encircled and devoured. The going was slow and infuriatingly tense, which led to moments of high drama tinged with farce, as 2nd Brigade was to discover.
Setting out for Pont de l'Arche to cross the Seine, 2nd Brigade found columns of refugees and French Colonial troops clogging up the route. As more people joined the flood of retreating people, the slower progress became.
At Pont de l'Arche on the morning of the next day the British discovered no movement over the River Seine. Frustrated, 2nd Brigade officers approached French soldiers guarding the bridge and requested permission to cross. They were refused – the British had to obtain authorisation from further up the chain of French command. With tempers already frayed, this bureaucratic stance was the last straw. At the head of the British column, Major Peter Sykes insisted his men would cross regardless. The French commanding officer then threatened to use his 75mm anti-tank guns if they tried.
At this point a Luftwaffe reconnaissance aircraft was spotted circling overhead. There was now the dangerous prospect of enemy dive-bombers making an appearance shortly. Thinking on their feet, 2nd Brigade placed a troop of tanks to cover the far side of the river where French anti-tank positions were thought to be located. Should the French open fire the order was given that general battle could begin. Headed by another troop of working tanks, the two regiments of the 2nd Brigade approached the bridge barrier – the British expecting the worst. But instead of a fight between allies, the bridge post was politely raised and the British continued the retreat to new positions. Dawnay wrote: ‘We all drew sighs of relief on gaining the cover of the woods on the other side.’
Meanwhile – their secondment to the 51st Highland Division ended – 3rd Brigade and the composite regiment were also ordered to retreat across the Seine. The threat of destruction urged them on and they managed to make a difficult and trying journey of 120 miles in one day.
The retreat brought the war and the suffering of civilians into sharp relief. Pat Hobart witnessed a stark scene while crossing the River Seine. He wrote: ‘We were clattering down cobbled streets, it was dark, some houses were on fire and by the light of a burning building, just at the end of the bridge, I saw the body of a young woman sprawled against the wall clutching her dead child.’
Having crossed the Seine, both brigades took up holding tenuous positions near the river to the south of Rouen. The French, however, were in complete disarray and in many areas had left the British to hold the line alone. The Bay’s war diary records: ‘The French made very little effort to hold the river and nearly all of them had retreated south.’ France’s army was coming apart at the seams.
Evans and other top-ranking British Army generals in the theatre decided to hold an emergency meeting on the evening of 9 June. The division had reached the limits of its endurance and found itself being pushed back or forced to withdraw whenever heavily engaged. The men were in desperate need of a rest, while all the surviving and workable tanks needed a complete mechanical overhaul. With permission, Evans ordered all of 2nd Brigade, including the composite regiment, to move out of the firing line to Le Mans. Meanwhile, it was decided that 3rd Brigade would remain in the field, but carry out repairs at the Foret de Pereign.
Escape The end of operations in France for the 1st Armoured Division came abruptly. Defence in the Normandy region may have been brittle to say the least, but in other parts of the country military resistance had completely collapsed.
On 14 June, Brigadier Crocker of 3rd Brigade was informed that he was now under the command the French general Petiet. Crocker’s job was to cover a five-mile gap in the lines between the villages of Barc and Barquet. A day later, Crocker was ordered by British command to move to Cherbourg and prepare for evacuation – 1st Armoured Division headquarters had just received word of French armistice plans.
Moving through the CherbourgPeninsula on 16 June, 3rd Brigade received a message from Petiet. The Frenchman ordered the brigade to move 50 miles southwest, back inland. Had Crocker followed these orders, he would have doomed his brigade to defeat and capture: there was only one day’s worth of fuel and rations left – just enough to reach Cherbourg. Crocker wired General Marshall-Cornwall (now C-in-C of British Forces remaining in France) for clarification of orders. The reply was unequivocal: ‘You will proceed forthwith to Cherbourg’. Britain was preparing for its own defence and every man and tank brought out of France would be vital for this. Now was not the time to make glorious last stands.
On the morning of 17 June, 3rd Brigade Headquarters tuned into the BBC and heard an announcement warning of an imminent French armistice. The news spurred them on and they arrived at the channel port by evening. The British quickly got on with the job of loading up onto the waiting transport ships and by they had set sail for England.
Amazingly, they had been unknowing participants in a race for the town. Erwin Rommel’s forces, which had just destroyed the 51st Highland Division, had been hot on their heels. The Germans marched into the port just two days after 3rd Brigade had left. It should be noted that French resilience outside of Cherbourg and at the approaches to the town had played a key part in slowing the future ‘Desert Fox’ just enough to enable the British to escape.
The 2nd Brigade’s journey, although tense, was less dangerous than 3rd Brigade’s. The unit raced to Brest, Brittany and evacuated from there. They arrived in Plymouth on 17 June, but without their tanks. In the final days of France 1940, only 15 were left to the brigade and these were entrained at Le Mans, but had failed to reach Brest. The drivers of these machines then left France by driving their lorries to Cherbourg and also evacuating from there (again before the Germans reached the port). In a bizarre postscript, the tanks of 2nd Brigade were found at the end of the war on a German army range near Lubeck.
Back in the UK, and much to their surprise, the men were caught up in the post-Dunkirk euphoria – the British public offered them support and warm words of encouragement. For some of the 1st Armoured Division it was difficult to reconcile their experiences in France to the hearty welcome they received at home. The historian for the Ninth Queens Royal Lancers wrote: ‘We felt like heroes until we remembered that we were part of a defeated army.’
Like or not, France 1940 for the 1st Armoured Division had been an unmitigated disaster – precious lives equipment and vehicles, now desperately needed for the defence of Britain, had been lost. For no gain.
However, this was not the fault of the men of 1st Armoured Division, who displayed courage and determination in the face of terrible odds. Poor supply, unfamiliar technology and obsolete tanks proved insurmountable difficulties that guaranteed their successes would be few and far between, while defeat and retreat were always on the cards. Vital lessons learnt by 1st Armoured Division were taken on board on a wider scale, particularly the need for dedicated infantry support and concerns over maintenance.
Major-General Evans, the man who had been placed in an impossible position from the day of his arrival, and who had successfully shepherded his forces out of the maelstrom, was replaced on his return. Given that Britain was in desperate need of men who possessed the knowledge and wherewithal to direct armoured command, it seems a short-sighted decision to say the least.
Four years later, in the early summer days of 1944, a new British Army was poised to return to Normandy, with tank units forming a core component of this revitalised force. The struggle and suffering of 1st Armoured Division had already faded from memory.
Barber N, The Week France Fell, Macmillan, 1976
Beddington W R, A History of the Queens Bays (the 2nd Dragoon Guards) 1929-1945, Warren & Son Ltd, 1954
Benoist Méchin J, Sixty days that shook the West: The Fall of France 1940, Cape, 1956
Blatt, The Defeat of 1940: Reassessments, Berghahn Books, 1998
Bois E J, Truth on the Tragedy of France, Hodder and Stoughton, 1941
Brander M, The 10th Royal Hussars, Leo Cooper Ltd, date unknown
Bright J (editor), The Ninth Queens Royal Lancers 1936-1945, Gale & Polden, 1951
Chapman G, Why France Collapsed, Cassell, 1968
Dawnay D (editor), The 10th Royal Hussars in the Second World War 1939-1945, Gale & Polden, 1948
Forty G, Royal Tank Regiment: A Pictorial History, Spellmount ltd, 1988
Hanwell, A Short History of the 9th Queens Royal Lancers, Gale & Polden, 1948
Horne A, To Lose a Battle: France 1940, Macmillan, 1969
Hutchinson W (editor), Hutchinson’s Pictorial History of the War: 10th April to 11th June, Hutchinson & Co, 1940
Hutchinson W (editor), Hutchinson’s Pictorial History of the War: 12th June to 6th August , Hutchinson & Co, 1940
ImperialWarMuseum, 1st Armoured Division reference sheets, no author or date declared
Karslake B, 1940 The Last Act: The story of the British Forces in France after Dunkirk, Leo Cooper, 1979
An early version of a very light British tank. The error of developing and investing in this type of machine was brought into stark relief for the tankmen of the 1st Armoured Division in 1940.
Men of the Border Regiment on patrol in France during the Phoney War. The Borders were to suffer heavily on 24 May supporting 1st Armoured Division’s effort to cross the Somme to the northwest of Amiens.
A German anti-tank gun in action in the Low Countries, 1940. With the rapid advance of Blitzkrieg, AT deployment could often be hasty affairs. But when 1st Armoured Division and the French advanced hoping to cross the Somme in late May, the Germans had been given five relatively uninterrupted days to prepare their AT sites.
A French battery of 75mm guns. France's artillery was not fully motorised by 1940 and often reliant on horse drawn transportation. On 27 May, 1940, the 10th Hussars attacked Huppy without support, not realising that operations had been postponed by an hour due to French difficulties in bringing up their guns.
End of the line
A Vickers Light Tank Mk VIC knocked out on 27 May 1940 near Huppy. It was one of many.
Attack and advance
A somewhat fanciful print of German infantry assaulting Allied positions in France 1940. The sense of inexorable advance in this picture was only too real, however, as 1st Armoured Division was to find out when Plan Red was unleashed on 5 June.
88 all out
Inspecting an 'eighty-eight’ at Abbeville after De Gaulle’s advance. The Germans learnt the hard way against heavy British and French tanks, particularly at an action near Arras, and so quickly utilised the Flak 88mm in an anti-tank role to devastating effect. None of the tanks on 1st Armoured Division's roster had plating strong enough to withstand a direct shot from an ‘eighty-eight’.
With the Luftwaffe almost unopposed, Stuka dive bombers were free to act as ‘aerial artillery’. It was a perennial fear for those in the 1st Armoured Division to be caught in the open by the dive bombers.
As the German armies advanced, thousands upon thousands of civilians packed up and fled, all wishing to avoid life under the Nazi yoke. Unfortunately, their numbers clogged up the roads, making it slow moving for all retreating Allied units – including the 1st Armoured Division in its withdrawal to positions south of Rouen.
Nazi propaganda hails the victory over France, which officially came into effect on 25 June, 1940. 1st Armoured Division escaped the formal cessation of hostilities by the skin of its teeth.