249th (Airborne) Field Company RE on D-Day and Battle of Normandy

Discussion in 'Airborne' started by PRADELLES, Jul 9, 2015.

  1. PRADELLES

    PRADELLES Well-Known Member

    Extract of war Diary...
     

    Attached Files:

  2. Cee

    Cee Senior Member Patron

    Xavier,

    I don't know how to explain that other than to suggest the numbers given for the sea going parties are wrong. Perhaps a clerk not doing his job properly or maybe it had something to do with secrecy?

    Regards ...
     
  3. PRADELLES

    PRADELLES Well-Known Member

    Hey,

    Extract of Corporal John Cooper diary from the 195th Airlanding Field Ambulance, RAMC, who landed at NAN in the same LCT as 249th :

    "Some three hours later a tank landing craft, having safely landed its original cargo arrived along side and we scrambled down the nets, to transfer to it. By this time the tide had ebbed considerably and twice we were caught on the sand banks from which the R.N.V.R skipper freed us before apologising on the third occasion on which we were grounded for not being able to get us nearer to the shore, about 100 yards away. The ramp was lowered and off we went into the water, I went straight down the ramp and the water came just above the knees, but others who could not swim and as a rest of being nervous stepped off the side of the ramp holding on to the chains ended being waist deep, However we all reached the beach safely.

    Here we all stood in a group, whilst the three officers in charge of the party decided which way to go. It seemed to remind me of a Sunday school party rather than an introduction to war! However a solitary plane helped to restore the realism by dropping two bombs, fortunately nothing was hit and fell into the water producing spectacular fountains.

    By then it had been decided that we should proceed along the beach, which we did for quite some distance, walking along the wire mesh roadway that had been laid earlier for the lorries and tanks. As we proceeded a ‘PLOP’, ‘PLOP’ was heard and seeing a portly officer getting on one knee. I dropped my cycle and dived onto the sand, digging my own slit trench as I slid. Again fortune favoured us as a lone plane (whether the same one which we had seen earlier I don’t know) came down firing its machine guns, our party all dived to the left and the bullets all tracked to the right of the road way producing little puffs of sand.

    Eventually we left the beach, where we were divided into two parties, those with bicycles and those without. Naturally it was not possible for those walking to keep up with the cyclists and I was appointed to be liaison officer to keep the two in touch, riding backwards and forwards between them.

    On one occasion when chasing the cyclists, I came to a cross roads with no indication of the direction they had taken. As a military policeman was on ‘point duty’ I asked him if he had seen a party of airborne troops on cycles, and was told that they had gone straight ahead, he also added that they were peddling ‘hell for leather’ and he did not know where they thought they were going as the Germans were only about three quarters of a mile down the road.

    Proceeding with some caution, I followed, thankfully finding that they had stopped after quarter of a mile, where we dug slit trenches, and stayed there for two nights due to there being a German strongpoint still holding out, on route to the unit headquarters. Little sleep was enjoyed due to the noise of small arms fire and bombardment by heaver weapons.

    We did have one major alarm during the first night, but the infiltrating Germans were revealed as a herd of wandering cattle."

    (http://www.pegasusarchive.org/normandy/john_cooper.htm)

    No information about folding bicycles for the 195th RAMC in the Landing Tables.
    May be it was a part of the folding bicycles off the 249th...

    Xavier
     
  4. PRADELLES

    PRADELLES Well-Known Member

    About the Seaborne of the 6th Airborne, some unit landed at NAN :

    398th Company Composite, RASC.
    (http://www.pegasusarchive.org/normandy/war_398coy.htm)
    "1st June 1944
    Comp Pl. leave Camp A.5. and proceed to Southampton where they embark.
    6th June 1944
    1215 - Comp Pl. land on "NAN" beach. The landing craft hit an enemy mine very near the shore. There were no cas. Landing was thus delayed one hr."

    -No information about their landing in the Landing Tables.
    -How many were they to land the 6th June 1944 ?

    May be a party of this unit are included in the 249th strength off the Landing Table for Juno...

    6th Airborne Divisional Signals.
    (http://www.pegasusarchive.org/normandy/war_signals.htm)
    "3rd June 1944
    Capt McMaster, Capt Westwood and 37 ORs embarked at SOUTHAMPTON."

    6th Airborne Divisional Ordnance Field Park, RAOC.
    (http://www.pegasusarchive.org/normandy/war_6raoc.htm)
    "1st June 1944
    Embarked on LSI/J.30. Strength of party 1 off 9 O.Rs. (Det 2).
    6th June 1944
    Early at 0400 hrs the assault tps of 3 Cdn Div who were on ship left boat at 0630 hrs. Ord party left at 1100 hrs to arrive on beach H+4 (1145 B hrs). Landing, almost [?], satisfactory 9 OR collect Beach NAN - STAR area. Proceeded to sub-area ARCHIE & dug in. Remained all night."

    May be a party of this unit are included in the 249th strength off the Landing Table for Juno...

    Xavier
     
  5. Cee

    Cee Senior Member Patron

    Xavier,

    To complicate matters Corporal Coopers says his group of 195 Airborne Field Ambulance men crossed the Channel on the Lady of Mann before being transferred to a LCT that took them into the beach. Some of the men in that party also had Airborne bicycles. I imagine, however, they followed the same route as all the other Airborne men headed towards the assembly area.

    It's too bad we don't have more details and accounts of all the other Airborne units that arrived by sea on June 6th. I suppose it's possible that some of these units were lumped together number wise, but sorting that out might be a challenge.

    Regards ...
     
  6. Trux

    Trux 21 AG Patron

    Annexure H to Chapter 5, CAB Report on D Day gives a full list of personnel and vehicles of 6 AB Division landed by sea up to D+7.

    249 Field Company RE.
    D Day. Tide 1. 212 men. 16 vehicles including trailers. Nan.
    D+1. Tide 4. 2 men. 1 vehicle. Queen.
    D+2. 3 men. 2 vehicles. Queen/Roger.
    D+6. 20 men. 9 vehicles. Queen/Roger.

    398 Company RASC.
    D+6. 35 men. 15 vehicles. Queen/Roger.

    6 AB Signals.
    D Day. Tide 1. 40 men. 10 vehicles. Nan.
    D+6. 66 men. 11 vehicles. Queen/Roger.

    Mike
     
  7. PRADELLES

    PRADELLES Well-Known Member

    Hey all,

    Information about the commander of the unit :

    RUTHERFORD, Alexander Henderson (EI 1927-M 1937) After leaving School he read Engineering at Edinburgh University and joined the OTC. Active throughout the Second World War, he later commanded a Field Company RE (Airborne) that took part in the Airborne drop in Normandy on D-day, the Ardennes Campaign and the Rhine crossing. For the Ardennes Campaign he was awarded the Belgian “Croix de Guerre” and the “Croix de Chevalier de l'Ordre de Leopold II”. On leaving the army in 1946 he joined the Cementation Co, where his engineering abilities were employed in the Tummel/Garry hydro-electric scheme. Two years later he founded the firm Little & RutherfordLtd, Engineers' and Manufacturers' Agent, on the engineering side specialising in paper making machinery. He was a prominent member of the FP Rugby Club and FP Club and played a major part in generating the constitution for the DSMC Club. Sandy was concerned for the less fortunate, young and aged, and for many years was associated with the Ponton House Association, of which he was Chairman. He died in November, 1990.

    More information about his career from an alternative source :
    By 1940 he was a second lieutenant in the Royal Engineers 556 Field Company. Home Forces
    By 1942 he had been promoted to captain.
    By 1943 he had been promoted to major
    By 1944 he was serving in North-West Europe.
    In the December 1945 Chronicle it was recorded that he had played rugby for Scotland against the Kiwis in the Alamein Club.
    By 1946 he was reported as having returned from North Africa.

    He won the following decorations:
    Chevalier of the Order of Leopold, with palms, First Class
    Croix de Guerre, with palms, Second Class
    The American Silver Star for Valour.
     
  8. Cee

    Cee Senior Member Patron

    I think this is Major Rutherford, taken from the 1943 photo on ParaData of 249 Fld Coy RE.

    Major Sandy Rutherford.JPG

    Regards ...
     
  9. PRADELLES

    PRADELLES Well-Known Member

    It's time to work on the "Airborne party". I stop for a moment research on the "Seaborne party".
    Some informations from soldiers :

    Sapper Cyril Haslett, 249 Field Company Royal Engineers, Glider n°2
    We all had our own little jobs. Some of us had to go and have a look on top of the bridge for explosives, others had to go underneath. I had to go underneath on the girders.

    It was just mud. [the canal bank] We had to scramble on as best we could, because the bridge came over the road, into the bank. Underneath, you had to feel your way around. We discovered that somebody had disconnected the explosives, so all we had to do was take the leads off, leading to the explosives. The explosives were on the side, but the leads were still on the bridge, we had to cut this cordite cord.

    Sapper Harry Wheeler, 249 Field Company Royal Engineers, Glider n°1
    It was the only wire I could see. I didn’t know what it was; hoped for the best. It blew me off my feet, and the wire cutters, blew them out of my hands! I reckon it was for lifting the bridge; must have been, the amount of power that was there.
    http://www.henleystandard.co.uk/news/news.php?id=614418

    Sapper Cyril Larkin, 249 Field Company Royal Engineers, Glider n°6
    I went down underneath the bridge and there, was a well-worn path down the grass bank...Then I looked up into the girders of the bridge and I could see a scaffold board...and that ran all the way through the bridge as far as I could see in the dark. Right under the middle of the bridge was a dark object?
    My immediate impression was that it might be a barge containing explosives
    And then in a bit of moonlight I thought, 'it isn't that', there seemed to be some brickwork somewhere. So I got onto the bridge, underneath. Just before getting on, actually I thought 'I've got to have some assistance here' and I quietly called out, 'I want some help here...'
    I said "I'm going to check along this scaffold board and see what's the other side because to me, that's where the explosive will be, in the middle of the bridge." Crawling through the girders with rifle and backpack was no joke, and the water rushing below me was not inviting either. the "dark object" turned out to be a huge brick pier containing the bridge opening equipment and thankfully, no explosives. Obviously in past time it had been an openable bridge, but it has been disma,tled and all the cogs, wheels, stood up on end against the outside brickwork. So that was a relief 'cos I realized that the bridhe couldn't open.

    Captain N. R. K. 'Jock' Neilson, 249 Field Company Royal Engineers, Glider n°2
    There were no explosives under the bridge, John. The bridge had been prepared for demolition, but the explosives themselves had not been put into their chambers.

    Xavier
     
  10. Cee

    Cee Senior Member Patron

    Xavier,

    I certainly wouldn't want to be scrambling under those bridges in the middle of the night. Cyril Larkin's effort to make it to the centre column of the pont tournant over the River Orne by climbing along the girders was particularly hazardous. You would think there would have been away down from the centre of the bridge?

    B 5230.jpg

    Some interesting views of bridges as shown in historic postcards can be seen on the Villes du Calvados site.

    http://villesducalvados.free.fr/01ranville.htm

    http://merienne.jy.free.fr/01benouville.htm

    Regards ...
     
  11. PRADELLES

    PRADELLES Well-Known Member

    I understand...Cyril Larkin was not refering to the middle of the bridge, between the two banks. He refered to the bridge pier on his bank. We can see the scaffolds boards present along the bridges pier's banks.

    It's impossible to see this huge brick pie with aerial photographs. That's why sapper Larkin was surprized.
     

    Attached Files:

  12. PRADELLES

    PRADELLES Well-Known Member

    I forget a party of the interview of Larkin :
    "My immediate impression was that it might be a barge containing explosives
    And then in a bit of moonlight I thought, 'it isn't that', there seemed to be some brickwork somewhere. So I got onto the bridge, underneath. Just before getting on, actually I thought 'I've got to have some assistance here' and I quietly called out, 'I want some help here'..."
     
  13. Cee

    Cee Senior Member Patron

    Xavier,

    I'll take your word on that as I haven't a clue as to how these turning bridges worked. I made the false assumption that the turning mechanism (cogs, wheels,etc) would be in the centre structure.

    Carte Postale.jpg

    Regards ...
     
  14. PRADELLES

    PRADELLES Well-Known Member

    I agree with you. I am in the wrong.
    May be Larkin refered to this huge brick pie, we can see on the bridge pier on the middle of the river...
     

    Attached Files:

  15. PRADELLES

    PRADELLES Well-Known Member

    They were just five sappers at this moment on the bridge.
    Twin brothers Larkin were under the bridge.
    The other sappers were on the bridge.
    Their mission was to control all the bridge.
    May be that's why Cyril Larkin climbed on the scaffolds boards and took this difficult way, under the bridge...!

    It's impossible to control this information, Cyril Larkin RIP, and the bridge has been replaced.
     
  16. PRADELLES

    PRADELLES Well-Known Member

    Sapper Cyril Larkin, 249 Field Company Royal Engineers, Glider n°6
    For most of us this was our first time in action and there was almost conversation in the blacked-out interior of the glider. No lights at all were permitted.

    Sapper Cyril Haslett, 249 Field Company Royal Engineers, Glider n°2
    We had rifle or Sten gun, we had 5Ib of explosives, 808, in case we had to blow anything up, and fuse wire. We had plenty of equipment like ladders and rope.

    Sapper Harry Wheeler, 249 Field Company Royal Engineers, Glider n°1
    There were tunnels right underneath the banks coming from the bridge. they had cast iron doors on them. I crawled along one tunnel and bloody met a German! He didn't open fire, I didn't open fire, but he was gone in a flash, so he must have been to the end of the tunnel. I heard machine-gun fire afterwards so I expect he must have copped it.
     
  17. Cee

    Cee Senior Member Patron

    Xavier,

    It seems we have traded positions, you have convinced me and I have convinced you - ha! On both bridges from various sources the "chambers" were said to have been empty, with the explosives found later at other locations. The Engineers still had the task of removing fuses and detonation wires.

    Cyril Larkin appears to have crossed the Orne Bridge:

    "I ran over the bridge. I got off the bridge and down onto the river bank and you could hear people running away from the bank and that was the defenders there, whoever they were and how many there were, running off."

    This is the way Neil Barber writes it up:

    Cyril Larkin:

    'I went down underneath the bridge and there was a well-worn path down the grass bank … Then I looked up into the girders of the bridge and I could see a scaffold board … and that ran all the way through the bridge as far as I could see in the dark. Right under the middle of the bridge was a dark object …'

    His immediate impression was that it might be a barge containing explosives:

    And then in a bit of moonlight I thought, ‘It isn’t that,’ there seemed to be some brickwork somewhere. So I got onto the bridge, underneath. Just before getting on, actually I thought ‘I’ve got to have some assistance here’ and I quietly called out, ‘I want some help here …’

    His twin brother Claude appeared. Cyril Larkin:

    'I said, ‘I’m going to check along this scaffold board and see what’s the other side because to me, that’s where the explosives will be, in the middle of the bridge.’ Crawling through the girders with rifle and backpack was no joke, and the water rushing below me was not inviting either. The ‘dark object’ turned out to be a huge brick pier containing the bridge opening equipment and thankfully, no explosives. Obviously in past time it had been an openable bridge, but it had been dismantled and all the cogs, wheels, stood up on end against the outside brickwork. So that was a relief ’cos I realized that the bridge couldn’t open.'


    Not sure if that makes it any clearer as I find it can be interpreted in different ways.

    Will Fowler in his book claims that for the Canal Bridge, "The German engineers had planned to raise the bridge before they fired the charges, so using the counterweight as a lever to twist and distort the steel girders and make removal and clearance even more difficult."

    According to information over head by Therese Gondree the detonation button was located in the pillbox (also described as the machine-gun bunker) on the east bank.

    Regards ...
     
  18. PRADELLES

    PRADELLES Well-Known Member

    Hey Cee,

    Another extract from this book. Do you have it ?

    Sapper Cyril Larkin, 249 Field Company Royal Engineers, Glider n°6
    Then we all started to move again. We made a left turn at the hedge and there was a huge bank on the roadside. I didn't realize the road was so close, but there was a ditch too alongside. So we dropped down into this ditch, ran a few yards along the ditch and then up onto the road and just ahead of us was the bridge.
    (...)
    We had an aerial photograph on the Saturday before we went over and there was a disturbance or something, alteration in the road, just about seven or eight feet from the actual beginning of the bridge. My Engineer Officer had detailed me to check that out. What I found was a light-hearted thing. A horse had stopped there and deposited its job there !

    Cordially,

    Xavier
     
  19. Cee

    Cee Senior Member Patron

    Xavier,

    I spent some time listening to Cyril's interview on the IWM where he goes into a little more detail. One of the confusing points is his use of the term "scaffold board." We can plainly see the scaffolding on both ends of the bridges in the photo. I believe, however, he is also using it to describe a gangway of sorts that runs between the girders from the east end to the centre pier. In fact he stops his account at one point to try to find a better term, but fails to do so. So what happens is he crawls along this gangway while brother Claude remains behind to cover him.

    When he reaches the centre pier he shines his torch around in search of wires and explosives. He feels a little vulnerable doing this afraid a German might take a shot at him. Not long after Claude joins him. He also says there was a doorless opening into what I assume is the structure that housed the turning mechanism which sits on the circular stone pier below. Afterwards they returned to the surface of the bridge. How they do this I'm not sure, but it sounds like they were able to climb up from where they were. Cyril also claims there were no wires laid or explosives found. The explosives were later discovered in a nearby house.

    Hopefully my interpretation is for the most part correct. By the way that is a pretty high quality aerial to be able pick out horse droppings ... :lol:

    There's a really nice 1883 photo of the bridge available here:

    https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/23/Pont_Tournant_de_Ranville_-_Les_Travaux_Publics_de_la_France.jpg

    Regards ...
     
  20. PRADELLES

    PRADELLES Well-Known Member

    Hey,

    I read on the war diary of the 249th : "7th June 1944 : At 2100 hrs 2 pl commenced building causeway for Bailey rafting site."
    There are two Bailey Bridges on the photo below (sorry for his quality), one in front of the Benouville Castle, the other in parallel of the Ranville Bridge.

    Bailey's Bridge.jpg

    Which bridge was concerned by the work of the 249th ?

    Best regards,

    Xavier
     

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