Motor vehicle convoy rules?

Discussion in 'Unit History' started by tmac, Sep 18, 2021.

  1. tmac

    tmac Senior Member

    Were there set rules for military motor vehicles when in convoy in Britain during the war? I seem to remember being told that certain spacing and speeds were specified, making travel very slow. In May 1944 it took my father's gun troop three days to cover the 400 miles from southern Scotland to Portsmouth, requiring overnight stops.
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  2. Trux

    Trux 21 AG

    There were certainly rules. A whole Field Service Pocket Book was devoted to mechanised movement by road. Speeds varied for different types of vehicle and different times of day but were generally in the range 12 to 18 miles in the hour. Spacing was generally only forty vehicles to the mile. Add the mandatory stops for food and maintainance and 400 miles in three days seems good going.

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  3. Tony56

    Tony56 Member Patron

    An example:
    P1980698.JPG P1980699.JPG P1980697.JPG
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  4. Temujin

    Temujin Member

    Another example…….this is the “road route” for “Operation Goldflake” (the move of the 1st Cdn Corp). This is the ROAD ROUTE ONLY, it does not include the “sea portion” (transfer from Leghorn to Marseille) and it is ONLY wheeled vehicles (all Armoured vehicles were transported to NW Europe by Rail)

    So an “individual unit” took 5 full days to move from Marseille to their final destination (it varied, depending on Unit type) in Belgium and Northern France.

    Triangles on the map indicate overnight stays…….total distance was approx 600 miles

    Of course this was a massive operation and took months to move the entire Corps (Corps troops, 1st Cdn Infantry Division, 5th Cdn Armoured Division, 1st Cdn Armoured Brigade and all attached troops). Embarkation began on February 22 and most trips to Marseille took two days. It was then a five-day drive to the Belgian frontier, a distance of 1,085 km (674 mi) By the end of April, over 60,000 troops and support personnel had been moved from Italy to North-western Europe.

    OPERATION "GOLDFLAKE", the Move of 1 Cdn Corps from Italy to North-West Europe, Feb-Mar 1945. -


    Speed was essential, but the Allies did not want the Germans to learn about the plans. The convoys would be vulnerable while in transit, so “Operation "Penknife" was created to hide the movement of the Canadians out of Italy. A special, temporary organization, called 1st Canadian Special Basra Unit was created. "Basra" was the code name for the cover plan and the unit included 230 officers and men taken from other groups being disbanded (such as the no. 1 Anti-Malaria Control Unit). Men would drive throughout the area in Italy where the Germans thought the Canadians were located and post location signs that were then moved the next day. All Canadian clubs, hostels, leave centres and hospitals were kept open. The Canadian forces newsletter, "The Maple Leaf" continued to be published in Rome until mid-March.

    The Royal Canadian Corps of Signals continued to maintain the normal level of wireless traffic by sending dummy messages. Their success was shown by the efforts of the Germans to jam these messages.

    German documents captured after the war showed that Operation Penknife was successful in concealing the movement of Canadian troops from Italy to Belgium. Until late March, German intelligence maps showed the Canadians to be at various places in Italy. On March 17, when all Canadians were either in Belgium or northern France, the Germans still believed the Canadians were in the Ancona area, although the exact location of the 1st Canadian Armoured Brigade was unknown. Only in mid-April did the German maps show the absence of Canadian troops.

    I have all the route “orders” copied, but did not post them here as they are extensive, showing the routes, orders from the locations in Italy to Leghorn and Naples, see orders, and all the land orders including all the individual camp orders, road march orders etc etc… much to post here
    Last edited: Sep 18, 2021
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  5. Trux

    Trux 21 AG


    Some years ago I studied several examples of movements and the detailed movement plans and orders in 21 Army Group. I managed the advance to the Seine crossings and the advance of XXX Corps in Market Garden but gave up with Goldflake. Too big, too complicated and over too long a period for my poor brain.

    Fascinating stuff and somewhat neglected.

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  6. Temujin

    Temujin Member

    It is Mike……..I was looking at it in detail while looking for details on “tanks census numbers” for each of the Cdn Armoured Regiments that moved from Italy to NW Europe……and of course then saw the paperwork details of this massive move and started looking at it in detail.

    And the info I read doesn’t even include Operation Penknife, the deception operations to keep the Germans from knowing the Canadians had “left” Italy and were now in NW Europe.

    Myself, I was involved in only 1 Division size move during my time in the Canadian Army, and I knew how much planning that just my “little unit” took (I was with a Combat Engineer Regiment) so when I saw this, and the detail on the move in Italy to Leghorn and Naples, all the ship movements, road and rail movement, the movement camps, hospitals along the route, fuel etc etc etc to move the 60 to 70,000 men, equipment etc….. I was amazed……of course it was a “small move’ when considering other Operations and Landings but seeing all the details on paper is “fascinating” as you said

  7. Dave55

    Dave55 Atlanta, USA

    The American 2.5 ton GMCs could barely break 40 MPH under ideal conditions. 6.66/1 final drive ratio.
    The Redball Express tried to go as fast as they could around the clock in France. One driver sleeping in the cab while the other drove and they still only averaged 15 MPH
    Last edited: Sep 19, 2021
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  8. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    I've come to regard the production of movement orders/tables as a singular skill. The amount of detail/planning is awesome. Once tried to tentatively follow a GAD move I'd found buried in some Appendix, and my brain almost did somersaults. (Of course, whether they actually went according to plan is another matter.)

    A Battalion level example for c. 170 vehicles on a 10hr trip: 6GG, Libya, 1943. (Sorry, not UK)
    6GG Move.JPG
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  9. Ewen Scott

    Ewen Scott Well-Known Member

    Some details on speeds in a thread over on the Maple Leaf Up site from a couple of years ago.
    Speed limits during WWII in Australia. - MLU FORUM

    I suppose it is easy to forget in today’s world of high tech vehicles just what it was like driving anything back then.

    No power steering - makes turning even the lightest vehicles better than a work out in the gym! And to make it manageable in turning the accuracy of steering systems around the centre often left a lot to be desired.

    Drum brakes - much longer stopping distances (look at the Highway Code figures!). And in the wet it could often be a question of hoping you would stop!

    Unsprung loads being towed - limbers and guns, with danger of jack knifing or overturning.

    Much poorer quality roads, with tighter bends. No motorways or dual carriageways in the U.K. in WW2.

    And all vehicles needed constant servicing. None of this once a year or 20,000 miles business. Grease guns were standard equipment back then, to pack out multiple points needing regular lubrication.

    I seem to remember vehicle spacing was supposed to be about 150 yards where there was an air threat.
    Last edited: Sep 19, 2021
  10. 51highland

    51highland Very Senior Member

    Most of various Divisional, brigade and battalion war diaries all seem to have detailed info in operation and movement orders. They all tend to give Vehicles per mile, Miles in an hour and how long halts will be, e.g. 10 minutes every even hour. Depending on where they were travelled, i.e. open country side, Urban/built up areas, speeds etc were set to the domain.
  11. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter 1940 Obsessive

    Not completely true. There were dual carriageway by-passes and arterial roads constructed in the 1930s...This particular road which was once unrestricted and then 'National Speed limit' (70 mph) has now been painted down to a single carriageway and restricted to 50 mph as modern drivers with traction control and ABS can't safely drive it faster with their phones in one hand.

    IMG_3562 (2).JPG
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  12. tmac

    tmac Senior Member

    Thanks for all the interesting answers so far. Convoy travel must have been tedious, to say the least. It's almost unimaginable to us today to be trundling along at 15mph or so - except, of course, in London traffic. The planning that was involved is remarkable.
  13. Osborne2

    Osborne2 Well-Known Member

    A British example July 1941. Whether it was in accordance with any set rules, I don't know, but it was on public roads. The text is straight from something I have written:

    The start line for the full column was north of Chester, travelling to Leominster via Welshpool. This would be overall, a test of the brigade’s ability to move efficiently to its concentration area in the event of a German attack in South Wales. From Leominster they would drive to Droitwich. This part of the exercise was undertaken over a 150 mile route on 8 August. There were eventually 520 vehicles scheduled to be in the column, after all the brigade units from their various locations between Macclesfield and Chester had successively joined the growing procession. The total included 90 from each infantry battalion. Each unit had to remain together to maintain unit functionality, command and control. Therefore the timing to join the column and discipline of units in staying together and not get in each other’s way, or interpose themselves was critical. They were expected to move at a traffic density of 15 vehicles a mile and at a speed of no more than 20 mph. This could have made the column 35 miles long, but some vehicles were excused the circuitous route via Welshpool, especially the cooks lorries.

    Information taken from TNA WO 166/961 53 Brigade, except the 35 miles calculation. Any other other opinions from a more credible mathematician than me accepted.
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  14. Dave55

    Dave55 Atlanta, USA

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