280th Field Company RE. Assault teams rehearsals 21 May 1944.

Discussion in 'Royal Engineers' started by Son Of Sapper, Jun 27, 2018.

  1. Son Of Sapper

    Son Of Sapper Junior Member

    Hello forum,

    Question: Were landing craft used during the following rehearsal for the D Day Assault?

    Purpose: To establish if this was the first time that Sapper 6151340 Wilf Guest had set foot on a landing craft prior to boarding one of two LCT’s on 3rd June 1944 ready for the assault.

    Date: 21 May 1944, commencing 0700 hours.

    Location: Stanswood beach near Fawley, Hampshire England.

    Principal Participants: 280th Field Company RE. Assault teams.

    Probable Participants: 73rd Field Company RE Assault teams.

    3 & 4 L C O C U. ( Landing Craft Obstacle Clearance Unit, Royal Navy).

    Possible Participants: 81st Assault Squadron AVRE?
    (If any & only one or two AVRE’s & not necessarily the 81st).

    Source: 280th Field Company Royal Engineers war diary May 1944, see transcript below & original attached.

    Possible sources of answer: 73rd FC RE or 3 & 4 L C O C U war diaries?

    AVRE’ unit war diaries?

    RN landing craft records?

    Logs/diaries of attending commanders, etc?

    Personal knowledge?

    Some background info:
    Major L O Clayton was informed on 4th May 1944 that his Company, 280th Fld Coy RE, were to be used in the D Day landings planned in one months’ time.

    Up to this point in time their main purpose & training was in bridge building.
    However, they were familiar with mines & explosives.

    The selected 153 sappers, NCO’s & officers of 280th Fld Coy RE assault team had been training in the Stanswood Bay area for the preceding 12 days prior to the rehearsal in question.
    That is blowing up replica beach obstacles & having them towed off with AVRE’s as was their assigned tasks for H hour.
    There is no mention in 280th Fld Coy RE war diary for 1944 of any training involving landing craft at all.

    As they joined the party at this late stage they had missed out on the major exercises, Fabius etc,

    Their rehearsal was observed by GOC 50th (N) Div., Chief Engineer 21 Army Group,Chief Engineer 30 Corp and Commodore? /Commander? Royal Navy Gold Beach.

    The following is my transcript / translation of 280th Field Company RE war diary of May 1944.
    17th Weds Coy moved to C1 camp. Training continues.
    19th OC attends briefing conference at HQ 69th Infantry Brigade. (Clayton is now “BIGOT ed”)
    20th Training continues.

    21st Sunday Rehearsal for assault landing had on Stanswood Beach attended by GOC 50(N) Division, Chief Engineer 21st Army group, Chief Engineer 30 Corps, Commander Royal Navy Gold Beach, who all expressed satisfaction with the arrangements & approved the plan. Training concluded.

    23rd Tuesday Transport residue due to arrive in France on D+2 dispatched to camp S7 under command of Captain W. H. Knowles RE.
    Clayton is now “BIGOT ed” is my note as he is now in possession of 69th Infantry Brigades invasion plans as he has written notes on them. According to my eyes in comparison to the writing in the war diary it is the same hand.

    The plans are stamped BIGOT meaning British Invasion German Occupied Territories.
    Apparently a grade above top secret enforcing participants to remain on British soil not being allowed to travel overseas.

    Hopefully there is some kind person within the forum with access to the proposed sources and can supply an answer. Or if not, perhaps a suggestion as to where an answer can be found.

    Regards Son of Sapper

    Attached Files:

  2. idler

    idler GeneralList Patron

    It's not much of a start but I've seen training specifically recorded as 'dryshod' if landing craft weren't involved.

    Although he's not on the guest list, another source might be 50 Div CRE's war diary if it exists?

    I note that it refers to the selected men of 280 Fd Coy. Are there any references to those who weren't selected or were selected/detached for somethong else?
  3. Son Of Sapper

    Son Of Sapper Junior Member

    Thanks for quick response idler

    I’m in two minds as to if it was a dry-shod exercise or if indeed they went once around the lighthouse and ran an AVRE off a LC so they all could get a feel for the real thing. There were an awful lot of LC about this stretch of water at this time.
    Being only 15 days from kick off, were all vehicles & craft getting ready to go.
    So was it “Right you lot, stand up to your knees in the cold water until I say go”! ( Dry-shod?Y eah riht).

    I thought I would try a fishing expedition as a first effort prior to seeking out war diaries etc, just in case there is someone out there sitting on the knowledge. So I shall take note of your tip thank you.

    Indeed these guys were selected according to the War Diary.

    The Company were based at Mote Park near Maidstone in Kent when the order arrived. They upped sticks, quite their billets and moved lock, stock & barrel to Southampton on May 8.

    On Wednesday 10th the 154 are selected and formed into three platoons.
    Dad going into 3 Platoon.

    14th: 10 ORs (other ranks) detached to 623 Field Park Coy for use in a special role in the assault. (Not researched).

    15th: 2nd residue transport & personnel under command CSM Sryers ? despatched to Maidstone.

    23rd: Residue transport to arrive in France on D+2 dispatched to camp S7 under command of Captain W. H. Knowles RE.

    Thus, the assault party is locked into camp B9 waiting for the kick off.

    Studying “Trux” marvellous piece of work his tables show individual men of 280th arriving on Gold beach later in the day on 6 June.
    It appears they were allotted a single space here and there where they could be squeezed in.

    Then gradually the transports started arriving later to bring the Company back up to strength.
    Not taking into account the 8 killed within the first half hour on the beach or those evacuated due to injuries.
    25 OR’s and one officer was wounded also in that first hour. Just over a 20% loss, an expensive hour of time for the 280th.
    I have details of seven of the eight killed who are in Bayeux Cemetery.

    I have attached the relevant section of Major Clayton’s report about that time if you are interested.

    Not wishing to end on such a morbid note things brightened up for the old man when they found a flagon of neat Navy rum that was washed up. His mates and him including Sapper Donnison part took too much me thinks!
    They slept it off when the tide was too high to work.
    Not surprising, no proper sleep for two night, a day of puking their guts out on the LC no food in their bellies just neat rum, simple biology. War? What war?

    Son of Sapper

    Attached Files:

  4. idler

    idler GeneralList Patron

    I wouldn't normally condone fishing but I got a bite!

    The entry for the 14th might refer either to Roly-Poly-men or, possibly, an attachment to the Inns of Court's suicide squadron, though I'd expect perhaps an officer with the latter. 73 Fd Coy provided some of the sapper element with the IoC but not all.

    Thanks for all the other detail, though. It might be worth adding AVRE into the title to try catch the eye of some of the D-Day experts. We have got some fairly serious threads on AVREs dotted about, but can't recall anything on the training aspect.

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