Booby traps and bridges - Stunning tech plans from 236 Fd Coy on the Rangoon Road

Discussion in 'Burma & India' started by PackRat, Jul 23, 2018.

  1. PackRat

    PackRat Well-Known Member

    Just thought I'd share a find from my last trip to the National Archives.

    All of these diagrams come from the 1944 and 1945 War Diaries of 236 Field Company, Royal Engineers, who were attached to 29 Brigade (36th Infantry Division, Northern Combat Area Command). They were drawn by Sapper F G Ford and Sapper F P Chant of the Company.

    I found these by chance while researching my grandad's service with 130 Field Regiment, RA, who were divisional artillery for 36 Infantry Division, mainly supporting 29 Brigade. Having exhausted his own Regiment's War Diaries I started looking into other units serving alongside his (you know how the research gets hold of you...), and requested this one just on the off chance there was something useful. It has ended up being an absolute gold mine of information about 29 Brigade's lonely wander down the east bank of the Irrawaddy.

    These are the only RE diaries I've looked at, and I'd be interested to know if others contain similar sorts of drawings or if 236 Fd Coy was exceptional in perhaps having a couple of particularly good draughtsmen who dedicated time to sketching up some of the incredible feats of improvised engineering they achieved. The diaries have certainly left me with great respect for the Field Companies, who were dealing with everything from mine clearance to road repairs to bunker demolition, at times under fire. They were only a couple of hundred strong at best and must have worked at a phenomenal rate through the burning heat and monsoons to achieve what they did. I thought I'd create this thread as a small tribute to these incredible men.
     
    Last edited: Jul 23, 2018
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  2. PackRat

    PackRat Well-Known Member

    1.jpg
    This first image shows one type of pressure-sensitive Japanese booby trap encountered sown on the jungle tracks and railway line between Pinwe and Naba in the 'Railway Corridor', combining a hand grenade and picric acid charge. December 1944.
     
  3. PackRat

    PackRat Well-Known Member

    2.jpg
    A replacement railway bridge built to stand in for one demolished by retreating Japanese troops at Indaw, using six steel box girder sections found at the railway station. December 1944.
     
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  4. PackRat

    PackRat Well-Known Member

    3.jpg
    Half-plan of a 'Class 9' improvised pontoon raft, constructed at Tigyaing for 29 Brigade's crossing of the Irrawaddy River. December 1944.
     
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  5. PackRat

    PackRat Well-Known Member

    4.jpg
    A 'Class 3' raft for the same crossing, built atop requisitioned local 'country boats' found at Tigyaing.

    The War Diary entry on 4 Jan, 1945 reports:

    Approximate total figures for the crossing of the IRRAWADDY in four days were Bde personnel (3500), mules (100), tons of stores and ammunition (110 tons), vehicles, trailers, carts, and guns (323); using one Class 9 raft, one Class 3 raft, outboard motors and country boats.

    The ferrying was achieved using the two rafts pictured here and a total of 20 'native' boats, 15 small and 5 large, paddled by local villagers and each capable of holding either 8 or 20 men on each trip. Not pictured is a 'Class 5' raft, again built by framing up local country boats with timber and attaching outboard motors: 236 Field Coy built one 'Class 5' raft for the crossing but it sank on its maiden voyage, loaded with 2 tons of ammunition. 3 men from 130 Fd Regt RA and 3 men from 236 Fd Coy RE drowned when it went down on the evening of 30 December 1944.
     
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  6. PackRat

    PackRat Well-Known Member

    5.jpg 6.jpg

    Two types of Japanese booby trap making use of British 20-lb aerial bombs.

    The first is particularly fiendish, using an obvious dummy trap on the road to divert troops into the undergrowth where the trip wire for the real device is hidden; they are also funnelled into the fire lane of a concealed bunker. Discovered on roads during the push along the east bank of the Irrawaddy towards Twinnge to link up with 19 Division, January 1945.
     
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  7. PackRat

    PackRat Well-Known Member

    7.jpg 8.jpg

    Underground operating theatre and ward for the MDS and Surgical Team, Pauktabin and Twinnge, January 1945.
     
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  8. PackRat

    PackRat Well-Known Member

    9.jpg 10.jpg
    Bridge over the chaung at Kyaukmaw, greatly strengthening the existing structure to allow 29 Brigade's MT column to cross as they head east to rejoin the rest of 36 Division for the assault on Mong Mit. February 1945.
     
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  9. PackRat

    PackRat Well-Known Member

    11.jpg
    The least impressive of the diagrams, but the story is remarkable.

    This plan shows one panel of an underwater causeway that would enable the MT to cross Kin Chaung, only about a foot deep but with soft sand at the bottom. 40 panels were constructed, prefabricated so they could be rushed up to a bridgehead by lorry, using a stock of abandoned railway sleepers discovered by chance

    Major A.E. Thickett, OC 236 Field Coy, was killed in an ambush while on recce for a suitable crossing point on 17 February. 'C' Coy, 2 East Lancashire Regiment, forced a bridgehead on the evening of 22 February and held it against overnight counter-attacks. All platoons of 236 Fd Coy then came in to lay the causeway behind them on the morning of the 23rd, starting at 10.30 a.m. and working until 4 p.m.

    That crossing was abandoned (it seems that 2 ELR ran into a particularly tough set of bunkers on the approach to Nabu), and so on the 28th 236 Fd Coy lifted the panels, trucked them well north and relaid them for another crossing of Kin Chaung further upstream, which took 29 Brigade over the chaung and able to attack the fortifications from the rear.
     
  10. Juha

    Juha Junior Member

    Thanks a lot PackRat!
    As an ex-Finnish Army sapper corporal and squad leader I really enjoyed the photos.

    Juha
     
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  11. bamboo43

    bamboo43 Very Senior Member Patron

    Great to see these. It made me smile to see that many of the crossing places were so prominent during the first Chindits dispersal in 1943: Indaw, Tigyaing and Twinnge to name three.
     
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  12. Tricky Dicky

    Tricky Dicky Don'tre member

    Couldn't resist it

    Your maths are still good then :blush:

    TD
     
  13. PackRat

    PackRat Well-Known Member

    What makes all of this even more astonishing is that 29 Brigade were being supplied entirely by air during this time. Almost all of the materials used had to be improvised by 236 Fd Coy from whatever they could find locally. They took an entire infantry brigade and all of its stores across the mile-wide Irrawaddy using rafts they knocked up on the river bank. The Kin Chaung prefab causeway they made out of railway sleepers that had no business being stacked up by a jungle track miles from anywhere. 36 Division had chased the enemy down the 'Railway Corridor' running from Mogaung down towards Mandalay, and the retreating Japanese troops had ripped up chunks of the line and transported it well back to stop the British from using it for supply. Most likely they dumped the sleepers along the Mong Mit road for use in constructing bunkers, but instead 236 Fd Coy appropriated them and used them to build a causeway that allowed the brigade column to tear round the flank at Sindegon. And at the same time they were fixing the road, building airstrips for casualty evac by light plane, clearing mines, blowing bunkers...

    I didn't really understand the amazing job field engineers do until I read this War Diary. I break out in a cold sweat if someone asks me to put up a shelf, so I'm in awe of this work!
     
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  14. Juha

    Juha Junior Member

    Yes, we were trained to be capable to improvise and e.g. trained to built very light bridges using only planks and ropes. These allowed infantry to cross even fairly broad but slow-flowing rivers with more of less dry boots, see picture: https://2.bp.blogspot.com/-e8G0ardPkdE/VxSHyv9xWyI/AAAAAAABmso/kCiAiC-LP4sIW4SJgo3j7KlPEXsStmpEACLcB/w1200-h630-p-k-no-nu/Finnish+infantry+crossing+a+river+using+an+%E2%80%98Iivar%E2%80%99s+Bridge.jpg

    for stronger currents we needed also steel cable and logs. In mid 70s part of our equipment was from pre-war or WW2 e.g. Bailey-bridge. But we had also some more modern equipment and built up to 60 tons rafts using Soviet rafting system. But the main focus of our training was the mine-warfare, assault-engineer and anti-tank combat were the next important items. Bridging and road building came only after those.
     
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  15. Ken876

    Ken876 New Member

    I’ve just began my research online to find out about my father who was in the 236 field company in Burma. My father died almost 35 years ago and never spoke to his family much about wartime as we were probably too young to comprehend what he went through. The detailed drawings are facinating and I hope to go to UK soon to explore records of my fathers time in the Royal Engineers. He was trained carpenter so working with wood was probably a skill he could use along with the training in mine detecting etc
     
  16. PackRat

    PackRat Well-Known Member

    Good luck with your research, your father was part of a remarkable group.

    Most important starting point is his service records (if you don't already have them) from the MoD to give you an idea of where he was and when - there are instructions on how to send for them on this site. Once you get them, if you post photos of them here you'll get plenty of help to interpret all the acronyms and dodgy handwriting.

    If you're outside the UK and want copies of war diaries etc. from Kew, a couple of chaps on this forum do a copying service that is massively cheaper than the 'official' National Archives photography service.

    Not sure about their earlier history, but while in India/Burma 236 Fd Coy was part of 36th Infantry Division, primarily supporting 29th Infantry Brigade. 36 Div was involved in the relief of the Admin Box (during the 2nd Arakan Campaign) in early 1944. Later that year the Division transferred from the Fourteenth Army to Stilwell's American/Chinese NCAC, and fought along the 'Railway Corridor' from Northern Burma down towards Mandalay, through many hundreds of miles of thick, remote jungle, often reliant entirely on air supply. The last operation in Burma was an attempt to capture Kalaw, which was ordered after the Division had been promised it was going home - many of the men were almost due for repatriation at this point. 236 Fd Coy played a vital role to the end of it - on top of all their usual dangerous jobs they had to operate Brigade Water Points in the parched Shan Highlands. Doesn't sound like much, but when 72 Brigade had an outbreak of cholera in April 45 none was reported in 29 Brigade - four of the 72 Brigade cases, men who should have been on their way home, died.

    The Division's head of medical services wrote a booklet about its exploits with the NCAC while sailing home. It's called 36th Division - The Campaign in North Burma 1944-45 by Geoffry Foster, and you can download scans of the whole thing here:

    36 Div. | WW2Talk

    Also some images from 236 Field Company for you:
    • 1 & 2 - Men of the Company preparing a jeep track up to Point 1619 in the Arakan. This is probably men of No.1 or No.3 section in mid-march 1944. They completed 2300 yards of track, an average of nearly 3 yards of track per man per day. The work helped supplies to get through, and also enabled 494 Battery (of 130 Assault Field Regiment, RA) to get a 3.7-inch howitzer to the summit to engage Japanese positions on Point 1301 over open sights.
    • 3 - Photo from the Imperial War Museum. Caption says: "A sapper of the 36th Infantry Division sweeps an area for old Chindit mines that had been left to create a road block for the Japanese, 1944. SE 411". It's definitely 36 Division as you can see the badge on the bush hat, and from movements recorded in various war diaries I'm fairly sure these are men from 29 Brigade's 236 Fd Coy, clearing mines from around the old Chindit stronghold of 'White City'.
    • 4 - 236 Fd Coy report on the mines etc. they were facing in the final Kalaw operation, at the time when they were supposed to have been on Dakotas flying back to India.

    Image00004.jpg Image00003.jpg Image00002.jpg Image00001.jpg
     
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  17. Ken876

    Ken876 New Member

    C179E09D-8067-457A-9CFD-9281D4927964.jpeg F7039615-ECD8-41DD-B154-2CC4B77C4ADE.jpeg Here are some photos I have of my Dad in India/ Burma and photos of my Dads medals.He is seated in two photos and on left in third photo
     
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  18. Ken876

    Ken876 New Member

    I recall my Dad telling me he had malaria and in fact was reluctant to go in water when we were in holidays as children. He also had mentioned the bobby traps in the jungle and mines. He had burns to hands a face but had healed. He had tattoos on right arm I remember looked very like the Royal engineers emblem.
    My Dad was a member of Burma Star Association and went to meetings and I remember the Dekho newsletters coming in the post 40 years ago. When he was confined to a wheelchair I would drive him to get to meetings as he wanted to meet his friends there.
     
  19. Tricky Dicky

    Tricky Dicky Don'tre member

    The ribbon below is for the Defence Medal - yours for some reason is attached to a Star

    [​IMG]

    The 1939 - 1945 Star should be on a ribbon like this
    [​IMG]

    I think you may need to have someone remount the medals onto the correct ribbons - for information check out the MOD link for WW2 medals and their respective ribbons
    Medals: campaigns, descriptions and eligibility

    TD
     
  20. bamboo43

    bamboo43 Very Senior Member Patron

    Here is the correct order of wear for the four medals that make up your Dad's entitlement:

    Burma-Star-Group.jpg
     

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