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

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


    PRADELLES Well-Known Member


    I begin to write a little story about the 249th Field Company Royal Engineers during D-Day and Battle of Normandy.

    "Until May 20st 1943, 249th (East Anglian) Field Company RE was part of the 54th (East Anglian) Infantry Division and stationed at Bungay Mettisham Caste in Suffolk.

    On May 21st 1943, it was converted to airborne duties and on June 7th 1943, it became the 249th (Airborne) Field Company RE, the gliderborne Engineer Company of the 6th Airlanding Brigade as part of the 6th Airborne Division.

    Major Sandy Rutherford commanded the field company, his Second-in-Command was Captain Mike Clive. The Company comprised of a company headquarters and three platoons. These platoons were under the command of Captains Hirst, Neilson and Smeardon.

    The Company was organized in a “duplication” system, that is, the platoons were broken down between two gliders so that in the event of one aircraft not reaching its target, the other half of the platoon could still carry out its allotted tasks.

    The principle functions of the Company were bridging, demolitions, creation and clearance of obstacles or roadblocks, concrete and semi-permanent defences, development and maintenance of water supplies, and disposal of unexploded bombs.

    On 23th December 1943, the division was told to be prepared for active service from 1st February 1944. The company was trained in Bulford, Wyke Regis Bridging Camp.

    Between the 25th to the 27th March 1944, the company took part in exercise "BIZZ II" and from the 21st to 23th April 1944 in "MUSH".


    The company was trained to go into battle in the gliders, but unfortunately, for the D-Day, there was not sufficient to transport the whole 6th Airlanding Brigade, with the result that some units were designated to go by sea borne.

    During the first days of June 1944, at Southampton, the personnel of the 249th Field Coy RE (less 2nd Platoon, 2 officers and 56 other ranks, who participated at "Coup de Main Party" on Pegasus and Ranville Bridges) boarded three landing ships, LSI(L) J30 Monowaï, LSI(H) J32 Duke of Wellington, LSI(H) J33 Isle of Guernsey and the vehicles on the landing ship tank LST160.


    At Tarrant Rushton airdrome, 10.56 pm, operation 'TONGA' has begun, the main body of the 2nd Platoon boarded in the same 6 Horsa gliders (Chalk Number 91 to 96) as Major Howard's Ox and Bucks.
    They landed near the two bridge at 00.20 am of the 6th June and captured them intact.

    At the same hour, the remaining of the 2nd Platoon, 'Rafting Party', airborne from Brize Norton airdrome in 3 gliders (between Chalk Number 37 to 45). Their mission was to help the 7th Parachute battalion to cross the two waterways if the bridges are blown. Just 2 gliders had reached the Landing Zone at 03.20 am, the 3rd glider (Chalk number 37, S/Sgt. Shepherd Sgt. Bullivant returned to base due to their glider being uncontrollable) had to be released at base and has landed in Normandy in the evening, during operation 'MALLARD'.


    The Marching company has landed on JUNO Beach, NAN sector, BERNIERES-SUR-MER, the 6th June 1944, between 12h00 and 14h00, in Ferry Service serial numbers 1542 who was an LCT ship, 1543 and 1545. The vehicle party, Ferry service 1552, has landed on the same beach in the afternoon of the 7th June.


    After landing, the unit moved to assembly area "ARCHIE" (near "KNEE" assembly area), one kilometer North of REVIERS. The area wasn't clear and they must secured it. During this action, few germans soldiers were captured (between one to five)."

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  2. Cee

    Cee Senior Member Patron


    I don't really have much for you. There doesn't appear to be many first hand accounts by 249 Field Company RE members. Cyril Larkin's interview is available at the IWM.


    Here's Neil Barber's sources for the 249th.

    "249 Field Company RE:

    War Diary: WO171/1605.
    Cyril Haslett: Interview with author.
    Cyril Larkin: IWM Taped Interview and Remembering D-Day, Michael J. Bowman, Harper Collins 2004."

    He doesn't mention the source for his Harry Wheeler quotes. You will find online articles on Harry in his later years like the following.


    As far as WDs you may want to consider those from the months leading up to June 6th to get a idea of where they were, the kind of training they were concentrating on and their association with the Ox and Bucks at the time. Paradata has some interesting photos that they claim show 249 Engineers seated in Horsas. Not sure what the occasion was there, could possibly be an exercise or post D-Day for that matter.

    Regards ...
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    PRADELLES Well-Known Member

    Hey Cee,

    Thank you for your help. Very difficult to find information about this unit, especially the seaborne part.
    Concerning the interview and the article, they are a good translation exercise for me.

    Research continues...

    PRADELLES Well-Known Member

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  5. Cee

    Cee Senior Member Patron


    Great observation if in fact that is the horsa's serial number. My second thought was why would 1 OADU be towing horsas at RAF Portreath in Cornwall? Interestingly a number of horsas took off from there in June and early July 1943 bound for Tunisia during Operation Turkey Buzzard. The fellow pictured is definitely dressed as a dispatch rider. The STBD I took to be short for 'starboard', if that makes any sense? We just need to make sure the number shown is indeed a serial.

    Regards ...

    Don R on Horsa.jpg Horsa Number.jpg
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  6. Cee

    Cee Senior Member Patron


    I can't find any mention that troops or equipment were taken on Operation Turkey Buzzard. For such a long multiple stage journey they would have probably gone as light as possible. It's curious though that a number of a horsa that may have been destined for Tunisia should appear inside on the cockpit wall. HG944 hasn't show up anywhere else so far. It could have been repaired and returned to service for later use?

    Regards ...
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  7. Guy Hudson

    Guy Hudson Looker-upper

    I found an interesting newspaper reference to Horsa gliders lost in Portugal enroute to North Africa. In August and September 1943 four gliders were released from their tows to land in Portugal. Most of the Halifaxes had developed engine problems. All had taken off from Portreath.
    16/8/43 HORSA DP329
    HALIFAX DJ994 295 Squadron
    23/8/43 HORSA LH122
    7/9/43 HALIFAX EB178 295 Squadron
    7/9/43 HORSA DP824 LT D H Shuttleworth (KIA 23/9/44)
    15/9/43 HORSA LJ209
    The full stories can be found here:

    Attached Files:

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  8. Cee

    Cee Senior Member Patron


    Very interesting! Digging around I see this was a continuation of the transport of gliders to North Africa (?) under the name of Operation Elaborate. A little off track form Xavier's original enquiry on the 249th Field Company RE.

    Regards ...
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  9. Ludo68000

    Ludo68000 6th Airborne D-Day

    One pilot of Horsa LH122, Leslie RIDINGS was KIA on Operation Tonga at Saint Vaast En Auge where he was buried. I have photos of him and Len WRIGHT when interned in Portugal.
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    PRADELLES Well-Known Member

    No problem, this confirms the difficult to find information about the 249th.

    PRADELLES Well-Known Member

    The following units has landed at the same time as 249th on NAN Beach the 6th June 1944 :

    *Serial 1542 is Ferry Service from LSI(L) J30 Monowai.
    For 6 Airborne Division.
    100 men and 100 folding bicycles from 249 Field Company, Airborne RE.
    50 men from 716 Light Composite Company, Airborne RASC (http://www.pegasusarchive.org/normandy/war_716coy.htm, http://www.paradata.org.uk/media/11891?mediaSection=Documents).
    72 men from195 Airlanding Field Ambulance RAMC.
    The above units would be unable to travel along the coast to join the airborne division as the road was not open on D day.

    28 men from 1 Corp Defence Company (CDC), provided by the Lorne Scots (LS) Peel, Dufferin and Halton Regiment or Brampton ?? (https://lornescots.wordpress.com/about/lorne-scots-at-d-day/).
    125 men from 170 Pioneer Company (http://www.royalpioneercorps.co.uk/rpc/history_main3.htm).
    8 men from 21 Army Group Movement Control Pool. Military Landing Officers staff, 8 Canadian Brigade.
    111 men from 5 Royal Berkshire Regiment. Beach Group (http://www.thewardrobe.org.uk/research/war-diaries/detail/21889).
    86 men from 966 Inland Water Transport Operating Company RE (http://ww2talk.com/forums/topic/53514-war-diary-of-966-inland-water-transport-4th-to-7th-june-1944/).
    48 men from 267 Port Company (Rhino Ferry) (http://www.longshoresoldiers.com/2014/08/a-short-history-of-267th-port-company.html).
    70 men from 255 Pioneer Company.
    60 men from 65 Field Company and 61 Mechanical Equipment Section.

    *Serial 1543 is Ferry Service from LSI J32 Duke of Wellington.
    46 men from Headquarters 1 Corps and 777 Corps Car Company, CCCCRCASC.
    71 men from Canadian Composite Anti Tank battery.
    60 men with 60 folding bicycle from 249 Field Company, Airborne RE. 6 Airborne Division.
    25 men and 4 bicycles from 176 Workshop and Park Company (http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/stories/98/a1144298.shtml). Advanced Headquarters
    4 men from 104 RAF Beach Section (http://www.rafbeachunits.info/List_of_Units/2nd_TAF_Beach_Squadrons/No__2_Beach_Squadron/No__104_Beach_Flight/no__104_beach_flight.html).
    15 men from 240 Petrol Detachment (R.A.S.C., N°7 Beach Group).
    2 men from 139 Detail Issue Depot (R.A.S.C., N°7 Beach Group).
    14 men from 140 Detail Issue Depot (R.A.S.C., N°8 Beach Group).
    3 men Port Section RAMC.
    61 men from 5 Royal Berkshire Regiment. Beach Group (http://www.thewardrobe.org.uk/research/war-diaries/detail/21889).
    33 men from 15 Ordnance Beach Detachment.

    *Serial 1545 is Ferry Service for LSI J33 Isle of Guernsey
    40 men from 249 Field Company Airborne RE. 6 Airborne Division.
    10 men from 41 Royal Marine Commando (http://www.americandday.org/Documents/4th_SSB-No41_Commando-War%20Diaries.html).
    9 men from Headquarters 8 Canadian Infantry Brigade Ground Defence Platoon (Lorne Scots).
    40 men. 5 Royal Berkshire Regiment. Beach Group (http://www.thewardrobe.org.uk/research/war-diaries/detail/21889).

    Thanks to "Trux" for his great TOPIC on landings at Juno Beach, "http://ww2talk.com/forums/topic/51316-juno-beach/".
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    PRADELLES Well-Known Member

    In the war diary of the "Headquarters of the Royal Engineers", we can read (*http://www.pegasusarchive.org/normandy/war_hqre.htm
    ) :

    "Meanwhile the marching party of 249 Field Coy less 2 Pl started landing under 3 Cdn Div on NAN sector at about 0915 hrs. The first party under Capt SMERDON themselves had to capture the assembly area ARCHIE, taking five prisoners."

    Does anyone knows where is exactly this area ? About 1 mile NORTH of REVIERS, extract from the war diary of the 249th (http://www.pegasusarchive.org/normandy/war_249coy.htm), but where more exactly ?

    Did the unit had to fight to seize the area ?
  13. Cee

    Cee Senior Member Patron


    Without map coordinates or an account of the action around Archie it will be difficult to pin down accurately. The Regina Rifles would have preceded them with leading elements arriving in Reviers just after noon D-Day. There is no mention of encounters with the British Airborne in their WD or in the few books I have on Juno Beach.

    I'll attach a really rough stitch of the area from NCAP dated April 1944. Reviers is at the bottom and the southern edge of Courselles seen at top.

    Reviers Area-NCAP.jpg

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  14. Cee

    Cee Senior Member Patron


    I'm not sure how useful this would be considering it's a fictionalized account by A. Marshall and probably only available for viewing at the IWM?


    I can't find this photo at the IWM of what is suppose to be 249 Field Coy RE men loading bicycles on a horsa.

    249 Field Coy RE Load Bicycles..jpg

    (Note - Xavier later discovers this is a 1st Airborne unit and not the 249th. See post here.)

    Regards ...
    Last edited: Jun 30, 2022
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    PRADELLES Well-Known Member


    Information about "ARCHIE", from the war diary of the 249th : "Slight German resistance in ARCHIE. One prisoner captured.".
    This confirms the fight to take the "ARCHIE" area.

    249th landed at Bernières-sur-mer and moved to "ARCHIE" area, 1 km North of Reviers.
    Regina Rifles, when they take Reviers, they arrived from Courseulles-sur-mer. Not the same road.
    The Queen's Own Rifle who landed at Bernières-sur-mer, before the 249th, moved to Bény-sur-Mer. Not the same road.

    May be the sector isn't clear, and few germans could defend this area.

    Another information about "ARCHIE", from the war diary of the 12th Battalion The Devonshire Regiment : "NAN BEACH. Move to Transit Area and thence to Assembly Area KNEE 9683. Report to Div rep. at 966834, where you will be redirected to sub-sector ARCHIE. On receipt of orders move to HOMER 0877."

    That could be useful ?

    PRADELLES Well-Known Member

    7th June 1944 : "Company at Archie on "qui vive".
    8th June 1944 : "Coy accounted for 3 German killed and 9 captured today (2 killed and 3 captured by 2 pl on bridge - 1 killed and 6 captured at ARCHIE".

    The fight in this area during until 8th June...
  17. Cee

    Cee Senior Member Patron

    Here are the 12 Devon locations using the Coordinate Translator. Assembly Area Knee on the other side of the Seulles River seems odd

    Knee.JPG Div. Rep.JPG Homer.JPG

    Links for a better look on Google Maps.

    Knee - https://www.google.com/maps/place/49%C2%B018%2746.7%22N+0%C2%B028%2709.1%22W/@49.3112891,-0.4688143,15.96z/data=!4m2!3m1!1s0x0:0x0

    Div. Rep - https://www.google.com/maps/place/49%C2%B019%2700.3%22N+0%C2%B027%2740.1%22W/@49.316292,-0.4648737,15.6z/data=!4m2!3m1!1s0x0:0x0

    Homer - https://www.google.com/maps/place/49%C2%B015%2746.6%22N+0%C2%B018%2704.9%22W/@49.261255,-0.3076091,15.25z/data=!4m2!3m1!1s0x0:0x0

    Perhaps Assembly Area Archie was close by where the Divisonal Rep was. I may have to edit this if my calculations are wrong.

    Regards ...

    PRADELLES Well-Known Member

    If Archie is on the other side of the Seulles river, I have a problem with the order for the 12th Devon.
    How can they go from Knee to Archie with Seulles River between the two areas ? It's not a stream...
  19. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

    Hi Xavier

    I copied the war diary for you as requested-Did you get the private message I sent you yesterday?

  20. Cee

    Cee Senior Member Patron


    Here's a quote from the Operating Orders for 6 Airlanding Brigade (HQ WD) for build-up by sea:

    "4. Parties ldg on NAN beach

    3 Cdn Div will direct them to area 9683 (code-name KNEE in sub-area ARCHIE), where they will assemble under orders of an offr 6 Airborne Div. They will then move under orders 3 Cdn Div through TAILLEVILLE 0082 - LA DELIVERANDE 0281 - HERMANVILLE SUR MER 0679 to area 0877 (HOMER), where they will conc under comd of an offr 6 Airborne Div. Thence they will be called fwd by HQ 6 Airborne Div to br or ferry."

    The longer the number the more accurate it is in pinning down location. The 4 digit Knee coordinate could be a little off. It strikes me then that they are in Assembly Area Archie when seeking out the Div. Rep. How big an area it is I don't know. Operating Orders are basically plans and not a description of what actually happened.

    Regards ...

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