ROYAL ELECTRICAL and MECHANICAL ENGINEERS - Introduction

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  1. Trux

    Trux 21 AG Patron

    ROYAL ELECTRICAL and MECHANICAL ENGINEERS

    REME was a new organisation formed to service and repair vehicles, weapons and the
    increasing number of electronic equipments. This had previously been part of the duties of
    the RAOC, who now concentrated on supplying items and the spare parts for them.


    REME CONTENTS

    LAD and Recovery.
    Headquarters Commander REME. War Establishment III/181/2
    Headquarters Commander REME. 79 Armoured Division. War Establishment VIII/736/1. April 1944
    Headquarters Commander REME. 79 Armoured Division. War Establishment XIV/1686/1. May 1945

    Light Aid Detachments Type A. War Establishment II/325/3
    Light Aid Detachments Type B. War Establishment II/340/3
    Light Aid Detachments Type C. War Establishment III/100/3
    Light Aid Detachments Type D. War Establishment II/420/1
    Light Aid Detachment (Special). War Establishment VIII/707/1
    Light Aid Detachment (Special). War Establishment XIV/1685/1
    Light Aid Detachment (APC Regiment). War Establishment XIV/1683/1

    Armoured Fighting Vehicle Servicing Unit. War Establishment III/300/1
    Recovery Company. War Establishment III/205/1
    Line of Communication Recovery Unit. War Establishment IV/225/1. December 1943.
    Mobile Recovery Section, Enemy Equipment. War Establishment XIV/1642/1.
    80ton Recovery Section.



    Workshops.
    Infantry Brigade Workshop. War Establishment II/339/3. January 1944
    Armoured Brigade Workshop. War Establishment II/338/3. January 1944
    Tank Brigade Workshop. War Establishment II/337/3. January 1944
    Brigade Workshop (Special) (79 Armoured Division). War Establishment VIII/709/1. April 1944.
    Brigade Workshop (Special) (79 Armoured Division). War Establishment XIV/1700/1. February 1945.

    Headquarters Base Workshops. War Establishment XIV/1690/1. May 1944.
    Base Armament and General Workshop. War Establishment XIV/1696/1. October 1944.
    Advanced Base Workshop. War Establishment XIV/1694/1. November 1944
    Line of Communication Troops Workshop. War Establishment IV/180/2. December 1943.
    Port Workshop. War Establishment IV/51A/3. December 1943.
    Engineer Equipment Workshop Type A. War Establishment IV/178/2. December 1943
    Engineer Equipment Workshop Type B. War Establishment IV/179/2. December 1943
    Civilian Workshop Control. War Establishment XIV/1698/1. February 1945.
    Civilian Workshop Control. War Establishment XIV/1698/2. May 1945.

    Headquarters CREME, AA Troops. War Establishment XIV/1677/1. December 1944.
    Light Anti Aircraft Workshop. War Establishment III/209/3. December 1943
    Light Anti Aircraft Workshop Type B. War Establishment XIV/1681/1. February 1945.
    Light Anti Aircraft Workshop Type A. War Establishment XIV/1682/2. February 1945.
    Searchlight Battery Workshop. War Establishment III/237/1. December 1943
    Anti Aircraft Brigade Workshop. War Establishment XIV/1697/1. February 1945.
    Anti Aircraft Brigade (DPA) Maintenance Detachment. War Establishment XIV/1672/1. June 1944.
    Searchlight Brigade Workshop. War Establishment XIV/1671/1. June 1944.
    Searchlight Workshop. War Establishment XIV/1679/1. January 1945.
    Searchlight Battery (Moonlight) Workshop. War Establishment XIV/1680/1. February 1945.
    Local Warning (Radar) Workshop. War Establishment XIV/1678/1. November 1944.

    L of C Telecommunications Workshop. War Establishment XIV/1693/1. November 1944
    Radio Maintenance Section CA. War Establishment IV/140/2. October 1944
    Radio Maintenance Section CA. War Establishment XIV/1691/1. July 1944
    Telecommunications Experimental Detachment. War Establishment IV/271/1. August 1944

    AFV Inspectorate. War Establishment XIV/1673/1. July 1944
    AFV Inspectorate. War Establishment XIV/1673/2. February 1945.
    Unit Maintenance Inspectorate (B Vehicles) War Establishment XIV/1670/1. May 1944.
    Unit Maintenance Inspectorate B Vehicles. War Establishment XIV/1670/2. September 1944
    Mobile Tyre Repair Unit. War Establishment XIV/1676/1. September 1944.
    Field Broadcasting Increment. War Establishment XIV/1674/1. August 1944.
    Medium Workshop Section (Special). War Establishment XIV/1692/1. July 1944.
    Scales Branch. War Establishment IV/269/1. June 1944.
    Scales Branch. War Establishment XIV/1695/1. November 1944.
    X Ray and Physiotherapy Repair Section. War Establishment IV/262/1. May 1944.




    Lines and echelons.
    Before the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers were created in 1942 the task of maintaining and repairing equipment was largely carried out by the Royal Army Ordnance Corp. This followed an ancient tradition under which the Royal Army Ordnance Corp was responsible for the guns, and later wagons and other vehicles, from acquisition to disposal. They were responsible for the maintenance and repair of the equipment and for advising commanders on such matters. Maintenance and repair tasks were divided into echelons which described the nature of the work involved. This was essential because the equipment and trained personnel provided depended on the nature of the work to be undertaken – the echelon. When REME was formed they found the categories to be inflexible and introduced the line as well as the echelon. This causes confusion in many documents, histories, manuals etc since the terms tend to be used indiscriminately and without explanation. The simple definition is that line applies to the unit while echelon applies to the task. The two will broadly correspond but there is some overlap in order to allow flexible working. The categories were:

    1st line units- Light Aid Detachments attached to regiment/battalion sized units.
    2nd line units- Brigade Workshops generally under divisional control.
    3rd line units- Divisional Workshops generally under corps control
    4th line units- Advanced Base Workshops or Base Workshops. In 21 Army Group Base Workshops remained in the UK and Advanced Base Workshops operated on the Continent.

    4th line units were semi mobile. They could not move all their own and equipment without assistance from RASC. Other units were fully mobile and could move all personnel and equipment in a single lift. Equipment was generally vehicle or trailer mounted.

    1st echelon work – This was maintenance and repair work carried out by drivers, operators, unit fitters and Light Aid Detachments. It was limited to repairs, replacements and adjustments carried out using only the unit and LAD tools and skills.
    2nd echelon work- This included the replacement, but not repair, of damaged or worn assemblies. It also included urgent repairs beyond the capacity of 1st echelons but within the resources, equipment and personnel of the workshop.
    3rd echelon work- This mainly concerned the reconditioning and repair of assemblies replaced by 2nd echelon. This usually involved replacing defective components of the assembly. Some repair of the components might be carried out as time allowed.
    4th echelon work- this included the complete overhaul and repair of components. This may include any work within the scope of the extensive range of personnel, stores, equipment and time of the unit. The controlling factor was usually the extent to which the repairs were worthwhile under the circumstances.

    This dual system allowed considerable flexibility, but only downwards.
    - 1st line units could only undertake 1st echelon repairs since they lacked the equipment to do more.
    - 2nd line units undertook 2nd echelon repairs but might also reinforce 1st line units when circumstances allowed or required it.
    - 3rd line units would react to tactical needs. In action the priority of 3rd line units would be to relieve 2nd line units of the heavier 2nd echelon work, replacing larger sub assemblies. They might position detachments with 2nd line units to speed up the work. If capacity permitted they would also do 3rd echelon tasks. In quieter periods they would revert to 3rd echelon work.
    - 4th line units would undertake 3rd and 4th echelon work as required. Work beyond the capacity of Advanced Base Workshops could be backloaded to the UK.

    As an example of the echelon tasks work on motor engines would be as follows.
    1st echelon work was limited to lubrication and other maintenance tasks, replacing plugs and filters and carrying out adjustments.
    2nd echelon work involved removing the engine from the vehicle and replacing it.
    3rd echelon work involved repairing the engine removed by second echelon.
    4th echelon rebuilt the engine and refurbished parts.

    One thing is certain, there was never any shortage of work. Apart from maintenance and repair REME units were called on to modify vehicles and equipment for specific operations or as part of a programme of upgrading.

    Within units the vehicle driver was responsible for routine maintenance and had a checklist of tasks to be performed daily and weekly. These tasks were limited to checking water, oil, tyre pressure, to lubricating mechanical parts, keeping the vehicle clean and perhaps changing a wheel. Units had a number of fitters to give advice and assistance. Unit vehicles were the responsibility of the transport officer or technical officer.

    When Light Aid Detachments were attached they normally absorbed unit fitters into their organisation and the officer or NCO in charge assumed responsibility for them.


    Recovery.
    Recovery was seen as a most important part of REME work. In armoured units it had long been recognised that a disabled tank should be recovered as soon as possible. A tank with a broken track or stalled engine would soon be a total write off if left on the battlefield. If recovered rapidly it could be back in service in hours. In fact 70% of tanks recovered were back with their owners within 48 hours.

    Even more seriously damaged tanks could be repaired and rebuilt, and thus returned to action eventually. If the tank was beyond repair it could still yield useful spare parts to enable others to be returned to service.

    Much of the above was true of softskin vehicles also. Vehicles damaged beyond immediate repair were recovered and taken to crock parks. Whatever REME unite were available would then repair the least damaged vehicles first and then work through the rest as time allowed. On occasions the REME unit would move on with its parent formation and leave the dump for other units to work on. Vehicles which were beyond repair first had usable parts removed. Each park had a list of parts which were in short supply and these were removed and re issued to REME and RASC units. The carcass was then left in a ‘help yourself dump’ so that units could take parts such as springs and mudguards that would be useful.

    Note that ‘cannibalisation’ was frowned on. Officially if parts were taken from one vehicle in order to keep another vehicle running then the un serviceable part should be put into the donor vehicle. Workshops could then repair, rebuild or refurbish the faulty part.

    Vehicles beyond local repair were passed back to 4th echelon workshops in Normandy or Belgium and then to base workshops and civilian works in the UK.

    Not all casualties occurred in action. Many vehicles broke down or were involved in accidents on the road. Whether this happened in an advance or on the long lines of communication the vehicles needed to be recovered as soon as possible to avoid blocking the road.

    Workshops with units often had a Reporting Centre well forward. These could carry out emergency repairs on some vehicles and return them to units. They also prioritised work and directed recovery units.

    Radar. Telecommunications units. Coast Artillery and Telecommunications Experimental Detachments were deployed. Coast Artillery no longer needed the detachments. Experimental detachments were originally formed to teach units maintenance of equipment when it was first issued.


    SCALE OF REME UNITS
    The following scale of units was used in 21 Army Group

    Light Aid Detachments – one per major fighting unit and formation.
    Brigade Workshops – one per brigade
    Infantry and Armoured Troops Workshops – one per division or independent armoured brigade
    Corps Troops Workshops – one per corps
    Army troops Workshops – two per army
    Advanced Base Workshops – four British and two Canadian
    Note: no Base Workshops were deployed until 1945. They remained in the UK.

    HAA and LAA Workshops – one per HAA or LAA Regiment
    Searchlight Workshops – one per searchlight battery
    Recovery Companies – one per corps
    Beach Recovery Sections – one per Beach Group
    Line of Communication Troops Workshops – Eight
    Line of Communication Recovery Companies – Three
    AFV Servicing Units - Two

    Civilian workshops were employed in Belgium and Holland.


    MACHINERY VEHICLES
    3ton Machinery House Type.
    The body types referred to the role that they were equipped to fill. The actual body remained the same whatever the role. There were slight differences between those bodies designed to fit onto 6 X 4 chassis and those designed for 4 X 4 chassis. By 1944 few of the 6 X 4 remained and most of the bodies were fitted to Fordson WOT6 or Albion FT11 chassis. There was space for a generator, driven from a power take off at the front of the body. Sections of the sides could be opened upwards for ventilation. There were work benches down each side. Later the power take off was not used and generator trailers were provided. These were better suited to long hours of running.

    - 3ton Machinery D1
    Machinery D1 was a 3ton 4 X 4 House Type Machinery body equipped with small machinery for precision turning and drilling, grinding and polishing

    - 3ton Machinery Instrument Repair
    This was a 3ton 4 X 4 House Type Machinery body fitted with an instrument makers lathe, grinders etc.

    - 3ton Machinery Type F
    This was a 3ton 4 X 4 House Type Machinery body for internal combustion engine repair. It was equipped with a battery charging board, electric pedestal drill, electric drying oven, grinding and polishing machinery, valve refacing and valve seat grinding equipment.

    3ton Machinery, flat floor.
    These were earlier called Workshop bodies. Type I30 and Type X were not fitted to 6 X 4 chassis. Again Fordson WOT6 and Albion FT11 chassis were used. This type had a canvas tilt and drop sides which formed work platforms when lowered.

    - 3ton Machinery Type I30
    This was a 3ton 4 X 4 equipped for battery maintenance and recharging.

    - 3ton Machinery Type X
    This was a 3ton 4 X 4 for heavier work. It carried a 7” lathe plus drilling and grinding equipment, and oxy acetylene cutting and welding equipment.

    - 3ton Machinery Type Z
    Type Z was a 4 X 4 Machinery House Type equipped for electrical repair. The precise equipment carried varies with the equipment to be maintained.

    - 3ton Machinery Type M
    This was a 3ton 6 X 4 or 4 X 4 for motor maintenance. It was equipped with lathe, drill, grinders and gas welding and cutting equipment plus battery charging equipment.


    It was found that many small repair jobs could be more efficiently carried out on site and so 15cwt trucks and trailers were provided to carry out these.

    - 15cwt Machinery T
    This was a 15cwt House Type equipped for telecommunications (including radar) repair and intended to repair equipment on site. The equipment carried varied.

    - 15cwt Machinery KL
    This was a strengthened 15cwt GS fitted with electric welding generator and equipment. Again this was designed to repair equipment on site. L = Light.

    - 10cwt trailer gas welding
    This was a standard GS trailer fitted to carry gas welding equipment. It was towed by the Machinery KL.

    - Light servicing trailer
    This was a specially designed trailer carrying compressed air lubricating and greasing equipment.


    - 3ton stores
    Any 3ton lorry could be converted to the stores role by the addition of storage bins, a desk and wire mesh security screens. Most were 4 X 4 but some Austin K6 were also used.
    - 3ton 6 X 4 Crane
    A Coles crane mounted on either a Leyland Retriever or Austin K6 6 X 4.




    Markings
    The REME Arm of Service Marking was a distinctive blue over yellow over red square.

    In the Armoured Division the following serial numbers were used.
    Headquarters REME white number 40
    Armoured Brigade Workshop white number 99
    Infantry Brigade Workshop white number 100

    In the Infantry Division the following serial numbers were used.
    Headquarters REME white number 40
    Infantry Brigade Workshop white number 88
    Infantry Brigade Workshop white number 89
    Infantry Brigade Workshop white number 90



    The first REME elements ashore were the beach armoured recovery vehicles of the beach recovery sections which landed immediately after the assault, to be closely followed by D-8 crawler tractors and wheeled recovery vehicles. "Drowned" vehicle parks were established near the beaches for the repair of drowned tanks, guns and "B" vehicles.

    For the assault 1 Corps had eleven 2nd line workshops and four 3rd line workshops in addition to three beach recovery sections and one recovery company, consisting of three light and one heavy sections. 30 Corps had three beach recovery sections, one light recovery section and two composite workshops which were responsible for all repair and recovery in the BMA leaving the LADs and brigade workshops free to follow up their own units and formations. The composite workshops including attached specialist personnel for dealing with such equipment as AVRE and Flails accompanied by the light recovery sections landed on the first and second tides of D-day.

    The constant moves of divisions during this period from one sector to another interfered with work as they took their 3rd line workshops with them. It was therefore arranged that as a general rule 3rd line workshops would not move from one corps to another but that each would have under command two armoured troops workshops and two infantry troops workshops whatever formations happened to be under command.

    It was necessary to cannibalise to a considerable extent and the scrap section of 1 Corps' back-loading point was called a "Help Yourself" park at first and was extremely useful to unit fitters who obtained many spares direct from the park.

    21 Advance Base Workshop although nominally 4th line heavy repair workshops and under normal conditions static, was in fact made fully mobile with all heavy machinery mounted on trailers.

    Shortly after the capture of Caen, three advance base workshops were established in field sites in the area of the Caen-Bayeuxroad. The main tasks were the conversion of AFVs to personnel carriers, assistance in inspection and repair of artillery equipment of RA regiments undergoing re-organisation, conversion of tank transporters to load carriers, vehicle recovery and backloading.

    Recovery resources were used with the object of keeping roads clear for fighting troops and supplies. All "crocks" were back-loaded, at night, to corps backloading points (CBPs), the priority being firstly repairable vehicles, then British "W" (write-off) "crocks" and lastly enemy vehicles. As these dumps of crocks were collected during the advance, third line workshops were dropped off and worked on them until nothing worth repairing remained.

    During the rapid advance armoured brigade workshops were faced with the alternative of keeping up with their formations and doing no work or being left far behind. Infantry brigade workshops did not have quite the same difficulties as there are three in a division and they were able to carry on by "leap-frogging" each other. Third line workshops found it necessary to be every bit as mobile as brigade workshops. Second Army's third line workshops had been fully mobile since the early days and able to move without help, given thirty-six hours notice. A recovery section always moved with them carrying forward as many spares as possible.

    In the Brussels area workshops were able to find first class accommodation, usually in doors and often with civilian machinery. Elsewhere workshops had to seek hard standings and accommodation such as railway stations.

    When the Channel ports were opened up it was possible to backload dead vehicles to UK. The task of loading vehicles and tanks into cargo ships was extremely difficult and it was often necessary to lower modified bull-dozers into the ships for manoeuvering tanks into position.

    In response to 30 Corps request for a maximum delivery of tanks to fighting formations the whole of the REME transporter resources were despatched on 13 September to Vernon and Amiens to bring up repaired tanks. Together with a few tanks from the Antwerp workshops and the output of second line workshops this resulted in over eighty tanks being delivered in five days.

    During October both "A" and "B" vehicles were beginning to show signs of age and the early frosts and heavy traffic had so broken up the Belgian and Dutch roads that troubles were developing with vehicle suspension systems, and consequently workshop loads remained heavy. To achieve the maximum output, specialisation was carried out in workshops with civilian labour assisting, and such units were sited wherever possible in buildings and factories where they could remain static for the maximum time and carry out their work more efficiently.

    A scheme was formulated for augmenting "B" vehicle repair by utilising the resources of civilian garages under military supervision. Members of a Unit Maintenance Inspectorate team took over a tyre repair plant and succeeded in producing four hundred repaired tyres per week, thus meeting the requirements of one complete corps, in priority types of tyres.

    The growing vehicle repair commitment led to an acute shortage of engine assemblies and a decision was taken to make some third line workshops into assembly repair workshops in addition to their normal activities. They reconditioned "B" vehicle repairable engines, gear boxes and driving axles using a large number of civilian fitters. A motor cycle repair line was also started.

    With the closure of the Rear Maintenance Area the remaining advance base workshops moved to Belgium. At the beginning of March two advance base workshops were in Antwerp, three in Brussels together with a base armament and general workshop, and one was on the L of C at ARRAS. In accordance with normal policy, advance base workshops, wherever possible, specialised by types.
    - 1 and 2 Canadian Advance Base Workshops dealt with "A" and "B" vehicles of US origin
    - 21 and 22 Advance Base Workshops repaired those of British manufacture.

    A heavy strain was thrown on REME by overhauls and modifications to the specialist type vehicles and equipment of 79 Armoured Division. In particular the Buffaloes and Kangaroos had been worked hard. REME were approached by the Royal Navy to devise a means to transport by road some Landing Craft Mechanised (LCM) from Antwerp to the concentration area. A suitable trailer was designed and the Navy ordered 25. Five days before the operation began a request for 40 similar trailers for smaller landing craft was received and met with assistance from 25 ships' chandlers.

    For the actual operation REME was faced with three main problems:
    - to provide an adequate bank recovery organisation for keeping exits and entrances to the crossing places clear. This was achieved by bringing forward a beach recovery section and a heavy recovery section under the command of a bank control group. Recovery DUKWs were also held available to assist stranded amphibians or light craft.
    - to maintain an organisation in the marshalling areas capable of keeping the roads clear and carrying out minor repairs. This was achieved by arranging for the divisions which were not taking part in the assault to provide recovery and repair posts at suitable points in the marshalling areas.
    - to make complete preparations for a rapid advance once the bridgehead was firmly established. CBP teams were held in readiness to move at a moment's notice. Certain workshops were then allocated by corps to deal with any work left behind.

    The first REME recce parties were across the river by H+6. A little later D4 and D8 tractors crossed, together with ARVs, and bank recovery was commenced.

    Every bridge, defile or other obstacle was liable to become a bottleneck in the advance and wherever possible recovery vehicles were held ready to assist. Recovery patrols often consisting of officers on motor cycles with tractors at call, were also organised along the routes.

    For the crossing of the Elbe a beach recovery section was made available for recovery at the bridges. This proved very necessary at Artlenburg, where a long and exceptionally steep hill made the exit from the class 40 bridge one of the most serious bottlenecks of the campaign. D8s, ARVs and tractors were kept continuously busy.

    A large number of vehicles used by PW and DPs were found abandoned on every road and the RAF had taken heavy toll of enemy vehicles. In many cases this transport so blocked the roads that it was necessary to use bulldozers in addition to other recovery vehicles to clear them. An unusual job undertaken by the tractors of the recovery section during this period was the towing of ploughs for digging signal cable runs along the divisional and corps axes.
     
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