Crossing the Seine.

Discussion in 'Home' started by Trux, Oct 31, 2021.

  1. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    I suggest this book for anyone who wants to read more.

    Assault Crossing: The River Seine 1944
    by Ken Ford
  2. Trux

    Trux 21 AG Patron

    Class 9 FBE bridge. David.

    Work on the Class 9 bridge was to start as soon as possible after the assault had started. At 2015 hours on 25 August the Commander Royal Engineers 43 Division asked the Commander 129 Brigade when bridging could start. He was concerned that the situation on the right front was confused. He was told that he could start straight away and the order was passed to 553 Field Company RE, which had 204 Field Company RE under command. In fact the assault battalion on the right, 5 Wiltshire Regiment, had only one company on the far bank and it occupied only a very small area. The far bank opposite the bridge site was still occupied by the enemy and any attempt to work on the bridge met with a considerable amount of machine gun fire and some shelling. In particular the bulldozers attracted a lot of shellfire when ever they started to work. Presumably the noise gave away their position and activity. Work was started on the rafts for the bridge at a site which was sheltered from the far bank by an island. It was decided to carry on constructing rafts and mooring them ready to be moved into position at first light, when it was hoped the enemy would have been cleared from the far bank.

    By 0400 hours on 26 August thirty five rafts had been built although two had vanished. It was thought that the men detailed to moor the rafts had been killed and the rafts had drifted away. Most of the bulldozing on the near bank had been also done at this time. Since the enemy still held the high ground overlooking the far bank no further work was possible. It was thought that when daylight came the rafts would be seen and shelled so as many as possible were moved and moored in the lee of the island. When daylight did come it was impossible to move on the near bank without attracting enemy fire.

    Work started again at 0900 hours and construction work on the near bank was complete by 1000 hours. The task of moving rafts into the bridge was started but was slow owing to constant delays caused by enemy fire. By 1200 hours the bridge was half built and by 1400 hours it was three quarters built. Work was then halted as casualties and damage were becoming unacceptable.

    By1600 hours the infantry had cleared the cliffs and work started again. Work was rapid and the bridge was completed in 45 minutes. The Germans had opened a dam further down stream causing the water level to drop by four feet and the low water levels meant that the far bank landing bay had to be adjusted. The bridge was finally opened to traffic at 1730 hours.

    On 27 August the bridge was working to capacity until during the morning an enemy long range gun succeeded in destroying two floating bays and sinking the boats. Replacement rafts were ready but removing the damaged bays was hindered by the sunken boats. The damaged portion was eventually cut free using oxy acetylene equipment and the bridge reopened after 1¾ hours.

    There were eight minor holdups when the bridge was damaged by vehicles in excess of Class 9. Repairs took only minutes in each case. Unit officers, provosts and engineer personnel checked vehicle bridge plates but it was clear that some lorries and halftracks were overloaded. It was also thought that bridging vehicles carrying equipment to the far bank for the Class 40 Bailey bridge were overweight. Some REME vehicles which were clearly over weight were turned back.

    On 28 August, with the Goliath Class 40 bridge in operation, CRE 43 division was ordered to move the David Class 9 bridge to a new position to make room for a further Class 40 bridge, Saul. New approaches to David were made and the bridge was to start operating at 1800 hours. The divisional engineers would then remain to maintain the bridge and to operate Close Support Rafts if David was damaged.

    vernon 10.jpg

    A good view of a FBE raft showing all the accessories:
    The nearest boat has rowlocks for the oars. One can be seen on the left.
    The oars are on the roadway between the first two boats.
    Boathooks are on red and white striped poles which can be used for measuring the depth of water.
    The second boat has an anchor and a buoy to the right.

    The two men in the nearest boat are fitting raft connectors which will connect this raft to those already in place.

    This seems to be the last raft. In the background can be seen the almost complete bridge with a gap in the centre.

    There does not seem to be any flow in the river. The man with the mooring rope is very relaxed.

    Vernon 11.jpg

    FBE Bridge ‘David’ open to traffic. The approach has been levelled but is bare earth, passable for tracked vehicles but difficult for wheeled vehicles. Note the tapes marking the approach.

    Vernon 12.jpg

    Vehicles waiting in a side street to be called forward to the bridge. The carriers are well down on their suspension at the rear so are heavily loaded.

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  3. Trux

    Trux 21 AG Patron

    Bailey Pontoon Class 40 Bridge. Goliath.

    7 Army troops Engineers were responsible for construction the Class 40 Bailey bridge. The Commander RE arrived at Vernon on the afternoon of the 25 August and carried out his reconnaissance. The planned site was just below the demolished road bridge but he considered it was less than ideal having high and steep banks on either side of the river and an island which would complicate the operation. A much better site was found just above the bridge but it was close to the proposed site of the Class 9 bridge and there was a possibility that the site might be needed for a proposed Class 70 bridge.

    At 1730 hours the CRE met with the Chief Engineer XXX Corps at Tactical Headquarters 43 Division. He was told that the Class 70 bridge would not be needed but that a second Class 40 bridge would be required. At this time the Field Companies and the bridging equipment had not arrived since they had failed to pass the Starting Point on the route in time. They were however fed through the US controlled area and arrived during the night and harboured on the hill west of Vernon.

    At 0630 the CRE and the commanders of field companies carried out a reconnaissance and agreed that the downstream site was not possible. It was decided that the bridge would be built between the demolished road bridge and the Class 9 bridge. The pontoons would have to be launched downstream of the demolished bridge. 72 Field Company would launch the pontoons and construct the rafts. 73 Field Company would build from the near bank and 71 Field Company would build from the far bank. 343 Pioneer Company was divided between the three field companies.

    During the morning and early afternoon the field companies carried out detailed reconnaissance and checked for mines. The CRE and commander 71 Field Company crossed the demolished bridge to reconnoitre the far bank. Apart from some large logs and some masonry which would need removing the task seemed straight forward.

    The only remaining problem was the enemy fire which still made work on the river banks slow and difficult, and the work of bridge building impossible. However the enemy were cleared from the high ground by 1600 hours. Engineers and equipment moved into Vernon and work started at 1800 hours.

    On the near bank there was a large bomb crater and there was a large amount of masonry retaining wall to be cut away. There was also an awkward downhill launch for the landing bay. A considerable amount of work had to be done on the approaches and heavy rain added to the problems. On the morning of 27 August an enemy long range gun shelled the far bank. Twenty casualties were suffered plus two D4 dozers and a bridging lorry. Work continued steadily and the bridge was opened to traffic about 1930 hours.

    The priority was to get the remainder of the 15/19 Hussars and 4/7 Dragoon Guards across the river. A squadron of each had already crossed on the Class 40 raft.

    On 28 August the bridge continued to be used to capacity the only problem noted being that the approaches, especially on the far bank were beginning to deteriorate and a field company from 50 Division was put on standby to carry out improvements.

    Vernon 13.jpg

    David, the Class 9 bridge is open for traffic. Goliath, the Class 40 bridge is nearly complete. The centre section of Goliath remains to be inserted and the ramps and approaches remain to be constructed.

    The shore end of the Bailey Bridge should be built and placed in position first. The pontoon raft nearest the shore consists of four tripartite pontoons with a transom and distributing girders to hold the bridge in position. The bridge itself is built on rollers and when complete it is pushed out until it reaches the point of balance at which time the far end will tip downwards. In order to prevent it running out of control it is held by preventer tackle. This consists of ropes and pulleys which gradually pay out until the end of the bridge rests on the pontoon. If necessary weights can be placed on the shore end of the bridge to stop it tipping too far. The weights are usually spare bridge parts, road bearers are most convenient. It is not unknown for a bulldozer to be used a s a counter weight.

    There is a good view of the far bank with its heights overlooking the site, and of the steep slopes and cliffs. In the centre is the valley which eventually allowed the assault troops to out flank the enemy positions.

    Vernon 14.jpg

    View from the far bank. ‘Goliath is complete but apparently not yet open to traffic.

    Vernon 15.jpg

    A big No No. A hold up has caused the Class 40 bridge to be full of stationary vehicles without the correct spacing. The vehicles are not heavy enough to cause problems as far as weight as is concerned but the bunching would be fatal if enemy aircraft put in an appearance.

    The vehicles seem to be well used. The 3ton CMP truck in the fore ground has a cover on the windscreen. This was common on tactical vehicles to prevent reflected light giving their location away. The tactical sign on the side of the body suggests an armoured regiment but there are carriers further back and then a convoy of ambulances.

    Bailey Pontoon Class 40 Bridge. Saul.
    It was originally intended that a class 70 Bailey Bridge, capable of carrying any vehicle including loaded tank transporters. It was thought at the time that Vernon would be on the main forward axis of 30 Corps. This was changed on 25 August when it was decided that only a second Class 40 bridge would be required.

    Early in the morning 26 August the CRE 15 GHQ Troops Engineers selected a site upstream of the Class 9 FBE bridge, David. Since this bridge was not required for the assault phase no preparations were made at this time.

    At 2200 hours on 27 August CRE 15 GHQ Troops Engineers had a conference with the Chief Engineer 30 Corps and it was decided that the second Class 40 bridge would be started on the morning of 28 August. Around midnight the CRE was woken up by the SORE 1 (Staff Officer Royal Engineers Class 1 at 30 Corps) who said that the situation had now changed. The second Class 40 bridge had now become an urgent requirement and must be completed by 1200 hours on 29 August. The CRE called a conference of company commanders and it was decided that since the sappers had been working hard all day on the Class 40 Raft work would not start until 0800 hours on 28 August when everyone would be fresh. The exact requirements for the bridge were decided and a list of stores prepared for the SORE 1.

    Meanwhile SORE 1 went to visit the Headquarters of 128 Bridge Company RASC in the RASC area at Pacy sur Eure. He arrived at 0100 hours on 28 August and enquired about the amount of stores left over from Goliath Class 40 bridge and the number of empty lorries which had been despatched to the army dump to refill. He then went to visit 11 Field Company to warn it to be prepared to work on the approaches to Saul Class 40 Bridge. He then returned to the Chief Engineer’s Command Post and arranged for the lorries back at the army dump to bring forward the stores required.

    0800 hours on 28 August work started on the second Class 40 bridge, Saul. 583 Field Company did the work on the near bank, 582 Field Company did the work on the far bank and 584 Field Company constructed the rafts and brought them into the bridge. One company from 7 Army Troops Engineers helped to unload the pontoons. Construction went well and the slow flowing river presented no problems as rafts were towed upstream and into position from 2100 hours. The whole bridge was connected by midnight and work on the banks was complete by 0300 hours on 29 August. 297 Field Park Company worked all night on cutting timber needed for the banks while the sappers of the field companies slept. At first light work resumed, a wearing surface was laid, foot walks fitted and all work was complete by the scheduled time of 1200 hours. Approaches to the bridge on both banks were also constructed. On the near bank a platoon of 210 Field Company from 30 Corp Troops Engineers laid 60 yards of roadway while on the far bank one platoon of 11 Field Company laid 200 yards of road. Both approach roads were complete by 1300 hours.

    All Field Companies were identical. The only difference between a divisional field company, a corps field company, an army field company and a GHQ field company was in their training and experience. In theory at least they were inter changeable.


    Many more photographs are available on the IWM website.
  4. Trux

    Trux 21 AG Patron

    43 Reconnaissance Regiment.

    A note in praise of the Reconnaissance Regiment. This was a versatile and essential divisional unit which rarely receives the attention it deserves. It is true that in this operation it did not take an active part in the actual assault, nor did it help in building bridges but it was never the less very active throughout the move up to the Seine, in protecting the area of the assault and bridging and then in securing the flanks of the bridgehead.

    On the move up to Breteuil 43 Reconnaissance Regiment, less ‘A’ Squadron, was the leading unit in the first serial. This is where a reconnaissance unit should be, acting as the advance guard. They would lead the way, ensure that the route was clear of the enemy, be ready to deploy if the enemy was met and, most important, signal all information back to division headquarters. The Commanding Officer of 43 Reconnaissance Regiment was travelling with the Tactical Headquarters of 129 Brigade in Serial 6. Any information would then be passed back to Tactical Headquarters 43 Division in Serial 13.

    ‘A’ Squadron, 43 Reconnaissance Regiment was acting as advance guard to Group 2, which included Main Headquarters 43 Division.

    One troop moved ahead of the main force to reconnoitre the route, including bridges, and to provide protection for the engineer reconnaissance parties and working parties clearing the route.

    After crossing the River Eure the left flank was protected by having ‘C’ Squadron of 43 Reconnaissance Squadron reconnoitre the roads between the Rivers Eure and Seine as far as Gaillon. The squadron then remained in observation on a line between the two rivers. This was a Report Line which would report back to Regiment Headquarters and then to Divisional Headquarters if any enemy were seen. If an enemy should attack the left flank the reconnaissance squadron would attempt to delay them and then fall back to a stop line of tanks and anti tank guns.

    One squadron of 43 Reconnaissance Regiment advanced into Vernon and found it clear of the enemy. The squadron then remained concentrated in the town in order to be ready to cross the river and patrol the far bank.

    On August 26 ‘C’ Squadron 43 Reconnaissance Regiment took part in an offensive sweep between the River Eure and the River Seine since there had been rumours that enemy troops were in that area. to the north of Vernon.

    On the same day two armoured cars from 43 Reconnaissance Regiment crossed the River Seine at Vernon using an assault raft. Their task was to give much needed armoured fire support for the infantry until tanks could be ferried across. Unfortunately they both got bogged down and had to be pushed out of the way.

    When the crossings were secured and the bridges were operating 43 Reconnaissance Regiment crossed and provided flank guards to give warning of and protection against any enemy interference. ‘B’ Squadron moved down the far bank to the west while ‘A’ Squadron moved to the east.

    On 29 August 43 Reconnaissance Regiment were stood down and moved back to the woods above Vernon. ‘C’ Squadron was detached to provide local protection for Tactical Headquarters, 2 Army and accompanied it to Belgium.

    The Reconnaissance Squadron.
    The squadron contained three scout troops and one assault troop.

    Each scout troop had a headquarters with an armoured car for the subaltern who commands the troop and a universal carrier with a second subaltern and two wireless sets, one to pass orders forward and receive reports back from the sections, and one set to pass reports back to regimental headquarters and receive orders from them.

    The troop had two reconnaissance sections and two carrier sections. Each reconnaissance section contained two armoured cars and two light reconnaissance cars, all equipped with wireless. Each carrier section contained three universal carriers also wireless equipped. The carriers could be used cross country whereas the cars were largely restricted to roads or tracks.

    The assault troop had a halftrack with wireless for the subaltern commanding and there were four halftracks each carrying a section of eight men including the driver. It was not the role of the reconnaissance unit to engage in fighting and not to fight for information but on occasion it was necessary to be more aggressive and to provide defence for the squadron.

    The armoured cars would move forward while the carriers held a firm base. Then the cars would halt and the carriers would catch them up to form another firm base from which the cars could advance further.

    The troop leader was responsible for keeping up a steady flow of information back to squadron headquarters.

    Armoured cars and light reconnaissance cars were road bound and the carriers, whilst capable of cross country movement, had little dismountable manpower. Thus the assault troop in White armoured trucks or halftracks was required to clear opposition such as anti tank guns.

    The tasks of the Reconnaissance Regiment.
    The reconnaissance regiment was a very versatile unit but its main functions were those of the classic reconnaissance regiment which Napoleon would have recognised, information gathering and protection. These two functions cannot in fact be carried out simultaneously since information gathering requires a unit to be spread out on the front and flanks in order to report all enemy movement and to explore all possible routes, obstacles etc. Protection requires that the squadron be concentrated so as to hold or slow down an enemy until the main force can deal with it. Of course a compromise is often reached where an information gathering force can fall back to form a more concentrated unit if required.

    Information Gathering.
    This was the task for which the reconnaissance regiment was particularly equipped. It had fast light vehicles which could probe the front and flanks of a formation to obtain information and report it back to the main body as soon as possible. Information is of no value until it has reached the staff who can act on it. The reconnaissance patrols had a high proportion of officers and NCOs trained to recognise the significance and importance of what they saw. Obviously any information on enemy positions was of importance but in mobile warfare it was also necessary to have information on roads, tracks, bridges, minefields, flooded or soft ground. Anything which might help or hinder the following units. Such work required good navigation and map reading skills, not only to find the way but to be able to give an exact map reference for anything seen.

    Normally the wireless set carried in every reconnaissance vehicle could be used to send information back to troop headquarters, which would send it back to squadron headquarters and then onto to whichever headquarters the squadron is working to. Regimental Headquarters would sift and monitor the information so that it would know where its units are and also to be able to inform flanking units. When wireless silence was in operation the units had motorcycles and light armoured vehicles to carry the information back.

    When a force was operating in open country, typically in an advance or in a pursuit, it was always at risk of being attacked from the flanks. A force which was static, but not in contact with the enemy, was also at risk of a surprise attack from the front. In these circumstances the reconnaissance regiment would typically put two squadrons out to form a screen which would give warning of an attack. Having raised the alarm the reconnaissance regiment would then fall back to form a more secure defence. If possible the individual troops would delay the enemy while falling back. The third squadron would form a concentrated reserve to assist where the threat was greatest. Such defensive action would only allow time for the main force to deploy and could not be maintained for long.

    Seizing Key Points.
    The reconnaissance regiment had sufficient firepower and dismountable troops to take and hold key positions in an advance. A squadron advancing down a road would have the choice of
    - By passing a strong point. It would often be possible to leave a section to watch a strongpoint and then move on. The follow up forces could be left to deal with the enemy.
    - Outflanking a strongpoint. It was often possible for the carrier sections, backed by the motor sections and mortar sections, to move across country and work round an enemy flank thus forcing him to withdraw.
    - Assaulting a strongpoint. The assault troop may be strong enough to take the strongpoint.

    If a key point was taken it was probable that the enemy would try to regain it. In this case the squadron would need to hold it with assault troops, mortars and anti tank guns. When heavier troops arrived the squadron would be released to advance once more.

    A key point may have been a crossroads, perhaps taken without a fight. It would often be necessary to hold the crossroads for the following forces, and to put patrols down each road to guard against surprise.

    In some ways similar to seizing key points but squadrons would secure a breach or bridgehead and the routes from it. Squadrons, perhaps supported by other forces, would dash through the breach created by an assault and then fan out to secure as large an area as possible, especially routes that other units could use to exploit further. Armoured Car units or Armoured Reconnaissance units could then pass through to hold more distant points.

    Signals Work.
    Reconnaissance troops were skilled in the use of wireless and of rapidly setting up and maintaining communication nets. In Normandy, and occasionally afterwards, detachments from reconnaissance squadrons provided a communications network until the Royal Signals could establish a more permanent system. For two weeks from D Day 3 Reconnaissance Regiment and 61 Reconnaissance Regiment provided twelve contact detachments. Each detachment had a subaltern and two other ranks with a Wireless set No68. At first they were on foot but later transport was landed for them and a serjeant, trooper and 22 set in a jeep was added to the detachment.

    Traffic Control
    The reconnaissance regiment had several assets which made them ideal for traffic control
    - they were mobile
    - they were accustomed to working in small detachments under NCOs
    - they were accustomed to taking responsibility and showing initiative.
    - they were skilled in the use of wireless and well provided with wireless sets.
    - they were skilled in map reading and route finding.

    Traffic Control was necessary at river crossings and sometimes in breakthroughs in an enemy defensive line. Detachments could be stationed on approaches to act as control points. They would hold units until they were called forward. They might be called forward according to need or as there was capacity on roads, bridges or ferries for them. Often detachments in scout cars, jeeps or motorcycles would guide the unit transport forward. This gave additional control over traffic flow as even after leaving a control point the flow could be regulated via the guides and their wireless sets.

    After a breakthrough it is desirable to actively pursue a fleeing enemy to prevent him reforming. Fast moving light units with good communications were obviously ideal for this work. They may not have instilled the same fear as the lancer of old but even light armour could spread anxiety and uncertainty.

    The troops of reconnaissance regiments were often called upon to serve as infantry. They normally held sections of the front line in order to relieve the hard pressed divisional infantry battalions. Particularly in the late autumn of 1944 most regiments had little reconnaissance work to do so they parked their vehicles and acted as infantry. In some cases the actually formed normal infantry companies from squadron personnel and deployed the anti tank guns, mortars and carriers as would a normal infantry unit.

    Headquarters Protection
    Most headquarters had organic protection units but when the frontline was confused and snipers abounded, then the armoured cars and personnel carriers of the reconnaissance regiment could be deployed as additional protection.

    Convoy Protection.
    Reconnaissance regiments were often deployed to protect the flanks of an advance but sometimes, as in the Low Countries, this was not possible. The roads ran along raised banks and the surrounding country was low, wet and crossed by ditches and dykes. In these conditions light armoured units were used to accompany convoys. They were dispersed in small groups throughout the convoy and groups were in contact with each other by wireless.

    Observation Posts
    The reconnaissance regiments expertise in observation, map reading and wireless made them very useful for Observation Post work. Working much as an artillery observer, a vehicle crew would establish a post with line communications back to a vehicle mounted wireless set. They could report on enemy activity and even act as artillery observers if required.

    Last edited: Nov 29, 2021
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  5. 4jonboy

    4jonboy Daughter of a 56 Recce

    Lovely work Mike:).

  6. Trux

    Trux 21 AG Patron

    Knew you would like it Lesley.

    4jonboy likes this.
  7. Trux

    Trux 21 AG Patron

    The dash across northern France (and the problems it caused (and the solutions)).

    With bridges across the River Seine established the way was now open for a rapid advance across northern France. Some preparations had been made but the speed of the advance took everyone by surprise.

    By early August it was apparent that German resistance was weakening and soon must break under the weight of Allied forces. No one could predict when this would happen or where any Allied advance would end. The first preparations were made on August 1 when it was decided that six General Transport Companies, RASC, which had been assigned to 21 Army Group but were still in the UK, should now move to France. It was also decided that since the Beach Maintenance Area depots in Normandy now held 28 days of stores it was possible to reduce the import of stores. This released transport from duties in port and beach clearance. Later in August Rear Headquarters 21 Army Group was moved from the UK to France. This was the headquarters that dealt with ‘A’ and ‘Q’ matters including supplies and transport.

    In the last week of August 30 Corps crossed the Seine at Vernon, 12 Corps crossed the Seine near Les Andelys and 2 Canadian Corps crossed the Seine at Elbeuf. By August 31 30 Corps was crossing the Somme at Amiens, an advance of eighty miles, and there was no sign of enemy resistance. The advance continued until:
    September 3. Brussels was captured by the Guards Armoured Division.
    September 4. Antwerp was captured by 11 Armoured Division.
    September 8. The Guards Armoured Division secured a bridgehead over the Albert Canal and advanced to Bourg Leopold.
    September 11. 11 Armoured Division secured a bridgehead over the Meuse- Escaut Canal.

    There was now an opportunity to make a great advance which would take 2 Army to and across the Rhine. On September 10 it was agreed that 2 Army, assisted by the airborne corps, should attempt to do just this. Operation Market Garden commenced on September 17. This was a bold move and one for which the planners were unprepared. No one imagined that the Germans would collapse. It was expected that at some point they would rally and form a defensive line.

    The following arrangements were made to cope with the sudden developments.

    Supplying all the armies needs as the Lines of Communication grew longer caused many problems. Early measures included the establishment of Roadheads which were to be the point at which the Line of Communication RASC transport companies dumped supplies to be collected by the Army’s transport companies. Up to this time supplies had been collected from the Rear Maintenance Area in Normandy.

    No 1 Roadhead was established at Falaise for 1 Canadian Army on August 21.
    No 3 Roadhead was established at Lisieux for 1 Canadian Army on August 24.
    No 3A Roadhead was established at Elbeuf for 1 Canadian Army on September 2.
    No 4 Roadhead was established at Laigle for 2 Army on August 26.

    Each Roadhead was served by a separate road route. No 3A Roadhead was a forward extension of No 3 Roadhead. A system of numbering depot units was introduced in which all such Canadian units were given odd numbers while British units had even numbers.

    Roadheads contained a number of depots to deal with different commodities and maintenance and administrative units.

    Soon the roadheads were too far behind the advance to allow Corps transport to maintain the flow of supplies needed. ‘Cushions’ were introduced as a temporary measure. These were positioned between the Roadheads and the forward troops. They did not have the range of depots and service units of the roadhead but were a point at which supplies could be dumped for Corps transport to collect. Cushions could be closed down and moved forward very quickly, but they could not move and operate simultaneously.

    Captured enemy supplies.
    Normally in an advance one would expect, or at least hope, to capture enemy dumps and supplies in transit. On this occasion Allied bombing had been so successful in destroying roads, railways and bridges that the enemy needed in order to move supplies that little was captured.

    Obviously the ever increasing length of the Lines of Communication put a great strain on RASC transport units. A number of solutions were developed to provide more vehicles and drivers, organise the transport system to achieve the greatest efficiency and deliver what forward units required when they required it.

    All Line of Communication units, except transport, were grounded and would remain in place until further notice. The transport of these units was to be used to support the advance. 8 Corps was grounded and all of its second line transport plus half of its first line transport were temporarily removed and used on the long supply routes. It was calculated that leaving half of the first line transport would be sufficient for static units.

    On September 1 it was decided to issue Line of Communication transport units with additional 3 ton lorries from reserve stocks. Eventually the whole of the GHQ reserve was issued, some 1,700 vehicles. These were normally issued at the rate of thirty per company so that an additional platoon could be formed.

    The reduction in the amount of stores being landed into the Rear Maintenance Area allowed eight DUKW companies to be converted into GT companies.

    One company of three platoons of tank transporters from 2 Army plus a platoon from 1 Canadian Army had Sommerfeld track welded onto their forty ton trailers to form a bed and sides. These trailers could then carry sixteen tons of supplies, thirty six tons of ammunition or five hundred jerricans of petrol.

    Anti Aircraft units had their RASC platoons removed plus sufficient first line transport to form an additional nine platoons.

    Two 10 ton GT companies were issued with 5 ton trailers to give a 50% increase in their load carrying capacity.

    Eight US Army truck companies were loaned to run from Bayeux to Brussels, delivering 560 tons of petrol a day.

    It was agreed that seventeen additional General Transport Companies would be loaned to 21 Army Group from the UK. These took time to arrive.

    Obviously the greater number of vehicles employed needed additional drivers. Even more drivers were required to provide relief drivers for vehicles which now regularly travelled two hundred miles. The vehicles which came from grounded units came with drivers but they were not generally accustomed to long journeys so efforts were made to use experienced long distance drivers on long routes while less experienced drivers were employed on more local journeys. This was done mainly to avoid accidents which caused delays as well as loss of vehicles and loads.

    For some local driving such as in the Rear Maintenance Area the reinforcement centres were combed for drivers and some civilian drivers were employed.

    To control the movement of traffic and to achieve the required levels of each commodity good communications were essential. Line communications, telephone and teleprinter, were the most efficient and effective but these took time to establish over the distances involved. The distances soon became too great for the available wireless sets to be able to maintain links. Communications had to depend on despatch riders which were slow and often unreliable over long distances. At this time despatch riders used jeeps, clearly marked to give priority, but on busy roads and going against the traffic delays were inevitable.

    Traffic Control.
    Very careful traffic control was essential. The temporary Bailey bridges over the Seine, and other rivers further north, were bottlenecks over which traffic had to be carefully controlled to maintain the flow while giving priority to essential convoys.

    Tank transporters were needed to move armoured vehicles forward but they were notorious road blockers and needed carefully planned timings and Class 70 routes. In the case of river crossings where Class 70 bridges were not available it was possible to unload the armoured vehicles so that the transporter and the armoured vehicle could cross the bridge and then reunite on the far side. This caused even more delay unless carefully organised.

    Urgent convoys had to be given priority and be guided along specific routes by provost units.

    Signposting was an important aspect of traffic control but the provost units only had resources to signpost the main priority routes and roads in roadhead areas.

    Petrol was the most urgently required commodity on the long advance and on the equally long supply routes. Tanks in particular used prodigious amounts of petrol when moving on their own tracks. Of course the vehicles that were used to carry petrol used large amounts themselves.

    All available bulk petrol tankers were mobilised to transport petrol. There were seven bulk petrol transport companies and 154 additional vehicles were added from reserve stocks. Bulk petrol of course needed petrol filling units to transfer petrol to Jerricans.

    Unfortunately there was a shortage of Jerry cans. There were two main reasons for this. A very large proportion of jerry cans were already in use and on the backs of lorries. In the rapid advance vehicles, in particular tanks, filled up from Jerricans and then threw them away so that soon a large part of the stock of cans was strewn across northern France. The salvage organisation did their best to recover these.

    2,308 tons of petrol were delivered by air to the Brussels area from the UK. Briefly petrol was delivered in bulk by Liberator bombers fitted with long range tanks but this proved to be expensive in aircraft and the petrol that they consumed.

    The situation eases.
    In parallel with the advance of 12 and 30 Corps across northern France the Canadian army was moving up the French coast. On August 30 the decision was made to rely on the Capture of Channel ports rather than depend n the Rear Maintenance Area in Normandy. Plans to develop Caen as a port were abandoned. Dieppe was captured intact on September 5 and coasters started to use it to land stores. Ostend was captured soon afterwards and used for stores and vehicles.

    It was originally planned to establish an advanced base at Rouen on the River Seine but this was abandoned in favour of Brussels and Antwerp.

    It became possible to use the railways to move large quantities of stores forward. A railway was cleared as far as the Seine and from the Seine onward to Belgium. However there was not yet a railway bridge over the Seine so trains had to be unloaded, the stores moved across road bridges and then loaded onto another train.

    Road transport organisation was modified to bring all transport columns under army control and speed up deliveries. Units now collected from Forward Maintenance Centres, second line transport collected from army roadheads and other transport was concentrated under army control to bring stores from the Rear Maintenance Area to Army Roadhead.

    There was to be no let up yet however. Operation Market Garden was about to begin but that is another story.

    Much of the above has been gleaned from that old favourite ‘Administration History of 21 Army Group’.

    Aixman, ecalpald, Owen and 1 other person like this.

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