Crossing the Seine.

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

  1. Trux

    Trux 21 AG Patron

    More than ten years ago I wrote about Crossing the Seine at Vernon. This would have appeared on the old Trux website but that was closed before I could post it.

    A quick search shows nothing about this action on the forum. If I am mistaken please let me know but if this is indeed the case I will tidy up my effort and post it as time allows.

    Mike
     
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  2. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    I did some then & Nows back in 2007.
    Seine Crossing, Vernon. 1944 & 2007. | WW2Talk
    (edit. I see you posted on that thread)
    Also went to Les Andelys , posted some pics from there too.

    Look forward to whatever you can post on it Mike.
     
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  3. Trux

    Trux 21 AG Patron

    Thank you.

    I do not know why Owens thread did not appear when I used the search facility. It is usually very good.

    I will spend the dreary winter months improving my earlier efforts and post the results here. Owen has helpfully already povided a link to his thread. (I must one day learn how to do that. I remember Owen telling me how to do it but......)

    Mike.
     
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  4. Trux

    Trux 21 AG Patron

    CROSSING THE SEINE.
    Confusingly given the codename Neptune, the codename for the naval part in the D Day landings.

    On 25 July the breakout of Allied forces from the Normandy bridgehead began. US forces attacked in the east between Perriers and St Lo, 2 Canadian Corps attacked in the west between Caen and Falaise and British 12 Corps attacked in the centre. By 30 July the US forces were advancing west into Brittany and British 2 Army began to drive south and east towards the River Orne. By 19 August the British and Canadians were between Putanges and Falaise and 3 US Army had turned north and moved to join up with the Canadians and thus close the Falaise pocket, trapping the German Army. British 2 Army advanced into the pocket to clear it up while 1 US Army moved north to capture Elbeuf on the River Seine.

    With the German Army in Normandy all but destroyed at Falaise it was vital that 21 Army Group should advance as rapidly as possible to the Seine in order to cut off any enemy that had escaped, and then to cross the river and advance before the enemy could reform. This was in fact the beginning of a series of dramatic advances across Northern France and into Belgium and Holland. Planning started on 20th August, the Seine was crossed on the 25th August, Brussels was reached on 3rd September and Antwerp was reached on 4th September. Plans were rapidly made to maintain the momentum of the advance by attempting to cross the Maas and Rhine in Operation Market Garden on September 17th. The advance finally halted on September 26th with the final bridge, at Arnhem, remaining in enemy hands.

    Vernon 1.jpg

    Map 1.

    Immediately following the Falaise battle the Americans advanced rapidly to the Seine in pursuit of the retreating Germans. By 20 August they had established a bridgehead across the Seine at Mantes Gassincourt, between Vernon and Paris. Elements of US 5 Armoured Division advanced along the west bank of the river to Elbeuf. In doing so they cut across what was logically the British area of operation but the British forces were heavily engaged at Falaise.

    30 Corps was on the right of 2 Army’s advance and was tasked with crossing the Seine at Vernon.

    On the evening of 22 August 30 Corps assigned 43 Division to the task and gave verbal orders as follows:
    To enforce the crossing of the River Seine at Vernon on or about August 25th.
    To cover the construction of a Class 9 Bridge (FBE) and a Class 40 Bridge (Bailey).
    To form a bridgehead of sufficient depth to allow the passage through of the remainder of the Corps.
    To ensure the protection of the left flank of the Corps axis between the River Eure and the River Seine.

    50 Division was to be prepared to follow 43 Division.

    11 Armoured Division was to protect the north west flank of the Corps and be prepared to move east along the Corps routes.

    The Chief Engineer of 30 Corps was placed in support of 43 Division and was to be responsible for building a Class 9 bridge before first light on D+1 and a Class 40 bridge before last light on D+2.

    At this time it was uncertain where the US forces were but it was believed that US 5 Armoured Division had patrols between the River Eure and the River Seine and had patrols in Vernon. In fact there were no US troops in Vernon. They had sent patrols which had found the town in the hands of the FFI. They left a liaison officer with the FFI so that they could be informed of any enemy activity.

    The FFI, Forces Francaises de l’Interieur, had a considerable presence in Vernon and the surrounding area. The road and rail bridges at Vernon had been attacked in May by USAAF Thunderbolt fighter bombers as part of the effort to isolate Normandy and prevent German reinforcements crossing the Seine. The rail bridge was destroyed but the road bridge was only damaged. In August the road bridge again became a target to prevent German troops escaping over it. On 18 August the FFI decided to help by gathering all the available plastic explosive and placing it under the bridge. They succeeded in badly damaging the bridge but it remained just possible to cross it on foot. On 19 August US troops were reported in the area and the FFI mobilised and occupied key points in the town, attacked German troops and vehicles and then held the town. On 22 August the FFI dismissed the Town Council and declared the town to be free.


    VERNON.
    Vernon was an ancient town which had prospered, as had many river side towns, because of its situation on major transport routes. A bridge had been built here because it offered a good site on a north south land route and the river, plus roads alongside it, running from Paris to the inland port of Rouen and then on to the sea. Later it offered similar routes for the railway.

    In the preparations for D Day the Seine bridges had been destroyed in order to prevent enemy reinforcements and supplies reaching Normandy. Vernon had a steel girder road bridge which had been built by the Germans to replace one destroyed earlier. This used the remaining stone piers of the old bridge and connected Vernon to the settlement of Vernonnet on the opposite bank. This bridge had been destroyed. 800 yards downstream there was a steel girder railway bridge which had also been destroyed.

    The River Seine below Paris was wide and slow moving. The flow was less than two miles an hour and was controlled by dams which could hold back water to provide sufficient depth for barges. The slow flow led to braiding, the river having several channels and in effect creating islands. The slow flow also meant that silt was deposited to form low islands, some covered in trees and other vegetation, some under water at most times. Both of these existed at Vernon and were to cause difficulties. At Vernon the river was some 650 feet wide.

    Vernon itself was situated on the lower slopes of high valley sides. The upper slopes were forested. The forest and town gave a good covered approach to the river. On the opposite bank Vernonnet was situated on a narrow strip of flat ground beyond which was a steep escarpment, the upper slopes of which were forested.

    It was not known what enemy forces might be encountered en route to Vernon, in Vernon or on the far bank. The situation was very fluid. In general the German defence had collapsed, their forces on the near side of the Seine were being outflanked and were withdrawing to the river. Since the bridges were destroyed the only means of crossing was by ferry. German units on the far side of the river were reported to be moving along the right bank of the Seine towards Vernon on their way to defend Paris. It was possible that there might be enemy forces still cut off on the near bank and enemy forces moving along the far bank. On the other hand there might be no opposition at all.

    Vernon 3A.jpg
    Vernon from across the river.

    Vernon 3.jpg

    Vernon from the high ground above the town.

    Mike
     
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  5. Trux

    Trux 21 AG Patron

    43 Division’s move to Vernon.

    An early problem was simply that of reaching Vernon with the men, equipment and supplies that were required. The units involved would have to travel 80 to 90 miles from their initial dispositions to Vernon. This was a considerable distance to be covered by the armies of the day. Although most vehicles were in theory capable of 30 miles per hour they seldom exceeded 20 mph and for a long journey 12 to 15 miles in an hour was usual. Added to this was the need to maintain convoy spacing. In this case 50 feet between vehicles was planned although this was dangerously close if air attacks were expected. It could not be known until the last minute if the various bridges along the route were still intact or if the enemy had blown them. In the latter case they would have to be replaced with Bailey bridging carried by the bridging platoons of engineer units.

    The movement of equipment and supplies posed further problems since the distance they would have to travel would be even greater. Bridging equipment and supplies would come from the maintenance areas near the Normandy beaches, a further 40 miles away.

    The map below shows the concentration areas for the units involved and the first part of the route. This was reasonably straight forward.

    Vernon map 2.jpg
    Map 2.

    The second stage of the journey posed more problems. After the encirclement of the German Army at Falaise the US XV and XIX Corps had kept moving in order to pursue the retreating enemy and attempt to stop them reaching the ferry points along the Seine. US XV Corps had swung to the north along the west bank of the Seine and it was not known exactly where its units would be. XIX Corps had cut the corner and headed north to reach the Seine further down the Seine at Elbeuf. Thus the British units would have to pass through the rear of the US Corps and cross the roads being used by them. All movement east of Breteuil would have to be carefully coordinated. It was agreed between 2 Army and 1 US Army that the British could use the roads only for the following periods of time:

    0800 to 1200 hours on 24 August.
    1400 to 1800 hours on 25 August.
    0001 to 0600 hours on 26 August.

    The map below shows the routes that would be taken by the British units, divided into three groups to match the time slots.

    Vernon Map 3.jpg
    Map 3.

    The following March Tables are given in full as they are a good example of the detailed planning necessary to move formations.

    No 1 Group contained the assault units. These had furthest to travel and needed to arrive first so the road as far as Breteuil was cleared for them and all units were ready to move from their concentration areas in the correct sequence. They would wait in a staging area just west of Breteuil overnight 24/25 August and be ready to move off again at 0600 25 August. A second staging area was earmarked in case of need just before Pacy sur Eure. 129 Brigade provided the bulk of the assault troops, augmented by 1 Worcestershire Regiment from 214 Brigade. They had the longest journey because:
    1. They were selected for the assault role because they were not engaged at the time whereas the other brigades of 43 Division were engaged. Thus the brigade was behind the rest of the division.
    2. They had to arrive at Vernon first and be as far forward as practicable to be ready for the assault.

    It was emphasised that all serials must maintain speed and if necessary reduce spacing in order to clear the US area within the allotted time. Traffic Control within the US area was in the hands of US Army Provosts.


    March and Movement Tables.
    The following tables are given in full as they are a good example of the detailed planning necessary to move formations.

    No 1 Group contained the assault units. These had furthest to travel and needed to arrive first so the road as far as Breteuil was cleared for them and all units were ready to move from their concentration areas in the correct sequence. They would wait in a staging area just west of Breteuil overnight 24/25 August and be ready to move off again at 0600 25 August. A second staging area was earmarked in case of need just before Pacy sur Eure. 129 Brigade provided the bulk of the assault troops, augmented by 1 Worcestershire Regiment from 214 Brigade. They had the longest journey because:
    1. They were selected for the assault role because they were not engaged at the time whereas the other brigades of 43 Division were engaged. Thus the brigade was behind the rest of the division.
    2. They had to arrive at Vernon first and be as far forward as practicable to be ready for the assault.

    It was emphasised that all serials must maintain speed and if necessary reduce spacing in order to clear the US area within the allotted time. Traffic Control within the US area was in the hands of US Army Provosts.


    March Table, No 1 Group (Assault). 24 August.

    Route.
    Argentan-Sillyen Gouffern-Le Bourg St Leonard-Exmes-Gace-St Evroult-Laigle-Rugles-Breteuil-Damville-St Andre L’Eure-Pacy sur L’Eure-Vernon.

    (No1 Group would break its journey just before Breteuil. It made its preliminary move from 0800 24 August and went into a staging area until 0600 25 August.)

    Speed: Normal.
    Density: Normal.
    Halts: Nil.

    Serial 1. Pass Starting Point: Head 0800. Tail 0830.
    43 Reconnaissance Regiment (less one squadron).
    Reconnaissance party from 94 Field Regiment RA.
    Reconnaissance parties from 230 Field Company for near bank.
    Ten vehicles carrying stormboats.
    Total 105 vehicles.

    Serial 2. Pass Starting Point: Head 0833. Tail 0905.
    4 Wiltshire Regiment.
    Section 129 Field Ambulance.
    Squadron 15/19 Hussars. 11 Armoured Division Reconnaissance Regiment with Cromwells.
    Reconnaissance party 260 Field Company RE for route to Vernon
    Two platoons 260 Field Company RE for work on the near bank.
    20 X 3ton lorry
    4 X bulldozer
    2 X tipper
    Detachment divisional provost company
    Detachment REME.
    Total 130 vehicles.

    Serial 3. Joining column en route at junction map reference 546476.
    One Battery 94 Field Regiment.
    Total 35 vehicles.

    Serial 4. Joining the column in the concentration area.
    15/19 Hussars, less one squadron with Serial 2. Plus ‘A’ echelon.
    No details of vehicles

    Serial 5. Passing Starting Pint: Head 0920. Tail 0930. Not to pass junction map reference 546476 until Serial 3 is clear.
    234 Self Propelled Anti Tank Battery RA.
    Total 35 vehicles.

    Serial 6. Passing Starting Point: Head 0932. Tail 0935.
    Tactical Headquarters 129 Brigade. Including:
    Commander 94 Field Regiment RA.
    Commander 43 Reconnaissance Regiment.
    Commander ‘D’ Company (4.2” mortars) 8 Middlesex Regiment MMG.
    Commander ‘A’ Company (MMG) 8 Middlesex Regiment MMG.
    Total 12 vehicles.

    Serial 7. Joining the column en route at junction map reference 546476.
    94 Field Regiment RA, less one battery at Serial 3.
    Self Propelled troop from 361 LAA Battery RA.
    Reconnaissance parties from Divisional Artillery.
    Total 100 vehicles.

    Serial 8. Passing Starting Pint: Head 1008. Tail 1018. Not to pass junction map reference 546476 until Serial 7 is clear.
    ‘A’ Company (MMG) 8 Middlesex Regiment MMG.
    Total 40 vehicles.

    Serial 9. Passing Starting Point: Head 1020. Tail 1033.
    ‘D’ Company (4.2” mortar) 8 Middlesex Regiment MMG.
    Divisional REME.
    Total 45 vehicles.

    Serial 10. Passing Starting Point: Head 1035. Tail 1040.
    260 Field Company less three platoons.
    5 X tipper.
    Close Support Raft.
    Total 15 vehicles.

    Serial 11. Passing Starting Point: Head 1042. Tail 1112.
    4 Somerset Light Infantry. In 28 X DUKW.
    Section 129 Field Ambulance.
    17 pdr troop 235 Anti Tank Battery RA.
    30 X DUKWs. Two to be available for 260 Field Company RE.
    8 X 3ton carrying stormboats.
    Detachment REME
    Reconnaissance party 260 Field Company RE for far bank. In 2 X DUKW.
    Two sections 260 Field Company RE.
    Close Support Raft.
    Two sections 583 Field Company RE for crews.
    One platoon 582 Field Company RE
    Total 90 vehicles.

    Serial 12. Passing Starting Point: Head 1115. Tail 1123.
    Main Headquarters 129 Brigade.
    Headquarters DUKW Company.
    Self Propelled troop 360 LAA Battery RA.
    Detachment Civil Affairs.
    Total 45 vehicles.

    Serial 13. Passing Starting Point: Head 1125. Tail 1145.
    Tactical Headquarters 43 Division.
    Headquarters 8 Armoured Brigade.
    Chief Engineer 30 Corps.
    Total 60 vehicles.

    Serial 14. Passing Starting Point: Head 1147. Tail 1152.
    ‘A’ Company 129 Field Ambulance.
    Total 15 vehicles.

    Serial 15. Passing Starting Point: Head 1153. Tail 1155.
    Headquarters 360 LAA Battery RA.
    Headquarters 235 AT Battery RA.
    Total 10 vehicles.

    Serial 16. Passing Starting Point: Head 1158. Tail 1228.
    5 Wiltshire Regiment. In 28 X DUKW.
    Section 129 Field Ambulance.
    17 pdr troop 235 Anti Tank Battery RA.
    30 X DUKWs. Two to be available for 260 Field Company RE.
    Detachment REME.
    Reconnaissance party 260 Field Company for far bank.
    Two sections 260 Field Company RE.
    8 X 3ton carrying stormboats.
    Reconnaissance party 260 Field Company RE for far bank. In 2 X DUKW.
    Two sections 260 Field Company RE.
    Close Support Raft.
    Two sections 583 Field Company RE for crews.
    One platoon 582 Field Company RE
    Total 90 vehicles.

    Serial 17. Passing Starting Point: Head1240. Tail 1300.
    1 Worcestershire Regiment. In DUKW.
    Section 213 Field Ambulance.
    17 pdr troop 235 Anti Tank Battery RA.
    30 X DUKWs.
    Detachment REME.
    Two sections 260 Field Company RE.
    Total 90 vehicles.

    Serial 18. Passing Starting Point: Head 1305. Tail 1315.
    129 Field Ambulance less one company.
    Total 20 vehicles.

    Serial 19. Passing Starting Point: Head 1320. Tail 1430.
    CREs Group including:
    204 Field Company RE.
    553 Field Company RE.
    28 vehicles Divisional Bridging Platoon carrying Bailey bridge. Under command 553 Field Company.
    51 vehicles carrying Class 9 FBE Bridge.
    16 vehicles, mechanical equipment section. Includes 6 bulldozers
    30 vehicles, tippers and track stores.
    Stores Platoon, 207 Field Park Company.
    Part Workshop Platoon, 207 Field Park Company.
    Searchlights.
    Total 210 vehicles.

    Serial 20. Passing Starting Point: Head 1440. Tail 1550.
    Brigade ‘A’ echelon including 100 vehicles from Divisional RASC.
    LAD.
    Total 230 vehicles.

    RASC load carrying vehicles from Brigade ‘A’ Echelon and Divisional RASC included:
    12 for Compo ration packs. The distance from the Maintenance area and the confused situation on the roads meant that far more rations than normal were carried.
    56 for Petrol and lubricants.
    20 for Artillery ammunition.
    5 for 4.2” mortar ammunition.
    28 for Small Arms Ammunition.
    24 domestic vehicles for RASC 43 Division
    25 domestic vehicles for DUKW company
    16 domestic vehicles for Troop Carrying Company.

    Mike.
     
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  6. harkness

    harkness Well-Known Member

    Vernon_01.jpg



    Vernon_02.jpg


    Vernon_03.jpg
     
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  7. Trux

    Trux 21 AG Patron

    24 August.

    Movement Order – Nos 2 and 3 Groups.

    1. Nos 2 and 3 Groups will move as per the March Tables attached to the wooded area North East of Pacy sur Eure, where they will curl up.

    No unit will move North of 69 Grid Line until it receives further orders to do so.

    2. Those parts of the groups which are not yet in the Brigade areas will move up to them into concentration areas in accordance with Appendix ‘I’. Movement forward from Brigade areas will be carried out in accordance with Appendix II and Appendix III.

    3. Much depends on road discipline and traffic control during the move of 2 and 3 Groups. At least 50 yards between vehicles after preliminary concentration area, and precedence must be given to US Army cross traffic.

    Lieutenant Colonel,
    GS 43 Division.
    0915 hours.


    Movement Table, No2 Group (Follow Up). 24 August.
    This group moved to its preliminary concentration area on the night of 24th/25th August.

    Route: Argentan-Le Bourg St Leonard.
    Speed: Normal.
    Density: Normal.
    Halts: None.
    Lights: Headlights if required.
    Harbour parties will proceed independently in their own time.
    Serials will liaise with the serial preceding them to ensure smooth running to the Starting Point.


    24 August.

    Serial 1. Passing Starting Point at 1630. Proceed direct.
    ‘A’ Squadron 43 Reconnaissance Regiment.
    Total 54 vehicles.

    Serial 2. Passing Starting Point: Head 1645. Tail 1800.
    71 LAA Regiment.
    Total 241 vehicles.

    Serial 3. Passing Starting Point: Head 1805. Tail 1835.
    Main Divisional Headquarters including two sections Provosts.
    Total 100 vehicles.

    Serial 4. Passing Starting Point: Head 1840. Tail 1945.
    2 Group RASC.
    Total 220 vehicles.

    Serial 5. Passing Starting Point: Head 1945. Tail 2215.
    2 Group RE including one set of Bailey Bridging.
    7 Army Troops Company Tippers.
    Total 444 vehicles.



    Movement Table, No3 Group. 25 August.

    Serial 6. Passing Starting Point: Head 0600. Tail 0615.
    Rear Divisional Headquarters including
    Two sections Provosts
    Headquarters 8 Middlesex Regiment (MMG).
    LAD.
    Total 40 vehicles.

    Serial 7. Passing Starting Point: Head 0617. Tail 0640.
    59 Anti Tank Regiment less two batteries.
    Total 84 vehicles.

    Serial 8. Passing Starting Point: Head 0645. Tail 0700.
    110 LAA Regiment less self propelled troops.
    Total 50 vehicles.

    Serial 9. Passing Starting Point: Head 0702. Tail 0707.
    15 Field Dressing Station.
    Field Hygiene Section.
    Total 16 vehicles.

    Serial 10. Passing Starting Point: Head 0708. Tail 0852.
    3 Group RASC.
    Total 250 vehicles.

    Serial 11. Passing Starting Point: Head 0855. Tail 0910.
    3 Group RE.
    Total 187 vehicles.


    Movement Table, No2 Group (Follow Up). 25 August.
    This group moved to its preliminary concentration area on the night of 24th/25th August.

    Serial 1. Passing Starting Point: 1030.
    RA reconnaissance parties.
    Total 90 vehicles.

    Serial 1a. Passing Starting Point at 1100.
    ‘A’ Squadron 43 Reconnaissance Regiment.
    Total 90 vehicles.

    Serial 2. Passing Starting point at 1115.
    Reconnaissance party 71 LAA Regiment.
    Total 7 vehicles.

    Serial 3. Passing Starting Point at 1120.
    121 Medium Regiment RA.
    Total 119 vehicles.

    Serial 4. Passing Starting Point at 1141.
    179 Field Regiment RA.
    Total 100 vehicles.

    Serial 5. Passing Starting Point at 1201.
    112 Field Regiment RA.
    Total 100 vehicles.

    Serial 6. Passing Starting Point at 1223.
    71 LAA group.
    Total 43 vehicles.

    Serial 7. Joining the column between Laigle and Rougles.
    Squadron 4/7 Dragoon Guards.
    Total 25 vehicles.

    Serial 8. Passing Starting Point at 1245.
    One battalion group from 214 Brigade.
    Total 90 vehicles.

    Serial 9. Joining the column between Laigle and Rougles.
    Squadron 4/7 Dragoon Guards.
    Total 25 vehicles.

    Serial 10. Passing Starting Point at 1325.
    One battalion group from 214 Brigade.
    Total 90 vehicles.

    Serial 11. Passing Starting Point at 1346.
    ‘B’ (MMG) Company, 8 Middlesex Regiment.
    Total 34 vehicles.

    Serial 12. Passing Starting Point at 1402.
    333 AT Battery.
    Total 40 vehicles.

    Serial 13. Passing Starting Point at 1420.
    214 Brigade Headquarters.
    Total 40 vehicles.

    Serial 14. Passing Starting Point at 1437.
    Advanced Workshop Detachment.
    Total 11 vehicles.

    Serial 15. Passing Starting Point at 1443.
    Main Headquarters 43 Division.
    Total 80 vehicles.

    Serial 16. Joining the column between Laigle and Rougles.
    4/7 Dragoon Guards, less two squadrons..
    Total 50 vehicles.

    Serial 17. Passing Starting Point at 1530.
    Self Propelled troop 71 LAA Regiment.
    Total 10 vehicles.

    Serial 18. Passing Starting Point at 1533.
    71 LAA Regiment. Guns and Searchlights.
    Total 191 vehicles.

    Serial 19. Passing Starting Point at 1622.
    7 Army Troops Engineers RE including
    71 Field Company RE.
    72 Field Company RE.
    73 Field Company RE.
    Bailey Pontoon Class 40 bridge. 140 vehicles.
    40 vehicles for bulldozers, stores and tippers.
    Total 444 vehicles.

    Serial 20. Passing Starting Point at 1810.
    213 Field Ambulance RAMC.
    Total 30 vehicles.

    Serial 21. Passing Starting Point at 1815.
    No 2 Group RASC.
    Total 220 vehicles.

    RASC load carrying vehicles included:
    28 for Compo ration packs.
    38 for Petrol and lubricants.
    40 for Artillery ammunition.
    16 for Small Arms Ammunition.
    25 domestic vehicles for RASC 43 Division

    These timings proved to be too ambitious and serials 19, 20 and 21 failed to leave the starting point on time and had to wait. The US Provosts filtered them through as the situation allowed and all arrived at the concentration areas in good time, although well behind schedule.


    Movement Table, No3 Group (Reserve).
    It was not known at what time this group would start to move so times are given as X hour +.

    Serial 1. Passing Starting Point at X Hour.
    130 Brigade Group including
    ‘C’ (MMG) Company 8 Middlesex Regiment.
    130 Field Ambulance.
    Total 320 vehicles.

    Serial 2. Passing Starting Point at X + 1½ Hours.
    Rear Headquarters 43 Division including
    Headquarters 8 Middlesex Regiment.
    Field Hygiene Section.
    Total 60 vehicles.

    Serial 3. Passing Starting Point at X + 2 Hours.
    59 AT Battery less two batteries.
    Total 84 vehicles.

    Serial 4. Passing Starting Point at X + 2½ Hours.
    110 LAA Regiment less SP troops.
    Total 50 vehicles.

    Serial 5. Passing Starting Point at X + 2¾ Hours.
    No 3 Group RASC.
    Total 250 vehicles.
    RASC load carrying vehicles included:
    31 for Compo ration packs.
    26 for Small Arms Ammunition.
    29 for REME stores.
    24 domestic vehicles for RASC 43 Division.

    Serial 6. Passing Starting Point at X + 3½ Hours.
    15 GHQ Troops Engineers RE.
    582 Field Company RE, less two platoons.
    583 Field Company RE, less one platoon.
    584 Field Company RE.
    Spare RE stores and equipment vehicles.
    Total 187 vehicles.

    There remained a fourth group which contained all those vehicles which for various reasons were not included in the above three groups. These were non priority vehicles and would follow when time and roads allowed.


    Communications.
    In case changes to the marching order were necessary en route additional HP 12 wireless sets were provided so that communications could be maintained between the three groups and Headquarters XXX Corps. Group 1 contained the Divisional Tactical net. Groups 3 and 4 had communications to control the move. The additional High Power sets enabled the Tactical Headquarters in Group 1 to call forward any unit in other groups that might be required. It also enabled commanders of supporting arms and heads of services to contact their units in other groups.

    The artillery nets in Groups 1 and 2 operated on the same frequency and they were amalgamated into one net as soon as they were in range.

    A separate administrative communications net was provided for the control of services and supplies for the assault. Control was exercised by the Deputy Assistant Quartermaster General and Second in Command RASC.

    Chief Engineer XXX Corps had his own command set and a separate RE net was established to provide communications to all engineer units and formations taking part in the operation.


    Maintenance.
    The supply dumps were still in the Rear Maintenance Area around Bayeaux, near the Normandy beaches. This was some 160 miles away from Vernon. Rations, petrol and ammunition would have to be carried forward with the groups themselves for several reasons. The method of advancing in groups with gaps in between imposed by the timetable for the use of roads in the US area meant that each group would have to be self sufficient. The restrictions on road movement outside the agreed hours meant that the normal daily movement of supplies could not be arranged and empty vehicles could not return for more loads.

    It was decided that each group would carry its own reserves of rations, petrol and ammunition as follows.
    Composite rations for eight days in addition to the two days normally carried
    Petrol for 250 miles in addition to the normal holding of 75 miles.
    In addition to the normal ammunition holdings each group would carry two refills of 25pdr ammunition and three refills of 4.2” mortar refills.

    In order to carry all the above supplies each group was allocated 200 RASC vehicles. Not all of them were required in the event. Group 1 effected some savings in vehicles by having assault troops carried on DUKWs in addition to a load of supplies. Since the number of troops carried would weigh a considerable amount the load of supplies per DUKW was reduced from 3 tons to 2½ tons.

    Traffic Control.
    Traffic Control was essential to a move of this nature where a large number of vehicles had to move a long distance within strict time limits.

    All movement came under the control of the Traffic Office, 30 Corps. This office had at its disposal ten Traffic Control Posts each consisting of an officer with a wireless set, plus operators. These were to report when a serial had passed their post, and report any delays or incidents affecting the flow of traffic. To assist in this each serial should have a green flag on the last vehicle. Control Posts could also receive instruction from the Traffic Office. Officers for Traffic Control Posts were provided by:
    43 Division. 1.
    50 Division. 1.
    CCRA 30 Corps. 2. (Corps Commander Royal Artillery.)
    11 Armoured Division. 3.
    Inns of Court Regiment. 2. (30 Corps Armoured Car Regiment).
    DA&QMG 30 Corps. 1. (Deputy Adjutant and Quarter Master General).

    All routes were marked by provost units under the control of Assistant Provost Marshal 30 Corps. Forward of the Starting Points there were two routes. ‘Club’ route was the one taken by Group 1 from Breteuil-Damville-St Andre de l’Eure- Pacy sur Eure-Vernon and its signs had the club emblem on them. ‘Diamond Route’ was the one taken by Group 3 from Couches-Evreux-Gaillon and its signs had the diamond emblem.

    All crossroads had signposts and military police to point out the correct route. Where the British route crossed one used by the US Army there were also US military police.

    As was usual practice all subaltern rode motorcycles and patrolled their allotted serial.

    Comment.
    That is a lot of vehicles, about 6,000, and a lot of organisation. Considering the numbers of vehicles, number of units and the distances involved it all worked very well.

    Mike.
     
  8. Trux

    Trux 21 AG Patron

    The movement forward.

    All went smoothly. The US Army kept clear of the routes to be taken by 43 Division. Serials set off on schedule except for the last three serials of Group 2. These were not urgently needed and were passed through the US area as soon as possible. It had been anticipated that there could be problems crossing the River Eure at Pacy sur Eure so plans were made to deal with them.

    On 24 August 129 Brigade Group moved into its staging area on the road between Bourth and Breteuil. The assault and follow up battalions were carried in DUKWs in order to save on vehicles and road space. At this time there was little information available about the bridge over the River Eure at Pacy sur Eure. Since this was a key bridge on the route the Commander Royal Engineers sent an engineer officer from his headquarters together with a despatch rider to carry out a reconnaissance. They left in the early hours of the 24 August and at 1600 hours a report was received at headquarters. The situation was:
    At St. Acquilin de Pacy there were craters and a road block of burnt out German vehicles, possibly mined.
    The bridge over the River Eure at Pacy was demolished.
    The bridge over the railway on the Vernon road out of Pacy was also demolished.
    No troops were encountered except one US military policeman.

    The CRE ordered a platoon of 260 Field Company to fill the craters and clear the road block, and 553 Field Company with the divisional bridging platoon to deal with the bridges at Pacy. Since 553 Field Company was required the next day to build the Class 9 bridge at Vernon a company from XXX Corps Troops Engineers was ordered to move to Pacy as quickly as possible to relieve them.

    553 Field Company sent a bridge reconnaissance party to Pacy. They found a party of US engineers, under a serjeant, which had approached Pacy from the other side of the river and was preparing to erect a timber trestle bridge. It was agreed that the British would build a Bailey bridge over the Eure while the US party would make a diversion round the damaged bridge over the railway. The gap in the bridge over the Eure was 40 foot and within the capacity of the divisional bridging platoon. The work was actually done by 11 Field Company from XXX Corps engineers. All the work was carried out overnight and was to be passable for reconnaissance parties at 0700 and for the main body by 1000. Protection was provided by two troops from 43 Reconnaissance Regiment.

    At 6000 hours on the 25th the CRE 43 Division arrived and decided that the Bailey Bridge should be extended to take the load off a second bridge arch which was cracked. Reconnaissance parties were allowed to cross as planned and then some rapid work had the bridge complete by 1015.

    If there had been delays a provisional staging area had been selected. If necessary serials could wait there and resume their journey when the route was clear. The staging area was just before the forward route crossed one of the main US routes and thus avoided the danger of causing delays.

    The Divisional Bridging Platoon.
    This platoon was intended to give a division the material to construct a Bailey Bridge without having to wait for material from a corps bridging column. All the material was carried in 3ton 4 X 4 lorries. Unloading the material and constructing the bridge was the task of a divisional Field Company RE.
    1 X Jeep for subaltern.
    2 X motorcycle with motorcycle orderly.
    15cwt GS with 12 reconnaissance boats. (Rubber dinghy).
    5 X 3ton 4 X 4 GS each carrying 12 Bailey panels.
    4 X 3ton 4 X 4 GS each carrying a decking load of 4 transoms, 10 stringers, 26 road chesses, 4 ribands and 4 footwalks.
    2 X 3ton 4 X 4 GS each carrying 2 X 10 foot ramps and ramp transoms.
    1 X 3ton 4 X 4 GS carrying accessories – end posts, bearings, jacks, rollers and tackles.
    1 X 3ton 4 X 4 GS carrying 4 rolls of Sommerfeld track and timber for grillage.


    On arrival at the Concentration Areas between the Rivers Eure and Seine the various units moved into the areas allotted to them.

    Group 1 moved on to the areas nearest to Vernon as they would be the first to move into the town. Groups 2 and 3 had areas further back and the RASC columns remained to the west of the River Eure. All the Concentration Areas had good forward routes.

    Vernon mao 4.jpg
    Map 4.

    Mike.
     
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  9. Trux

    Trux 21 AG Patron

    The Engineer Plan.

    Selecting assault crossing and bridging sites.

    Planning had to be based on maps and a single air photograph. No reconnaissance would be possible until immediately before the assault.

    It was necessary to first select the sites for the bridges. It was important that work on the bridges should start as soon as possible. A commander’s worst fear was that some act of nature or the enemy would leave half his force on the far bank while the other half was on the near bank. Such a divided force is the worst scenario imaginable. It was important that the assault crossing places were separate from the bridging sites so that the latter remained clear.

    The Seine has many bends and at these there are steep banks and cliffs on the outer bank and long low approaches on the inner bank. These are not suitable for bridging so bridge sites are limited to the straight stretches between bends. In general these sites already had bridges on them, although they were all destroyed. The only practicable bridge sites were likely to be alongside these existing bridges.

    At some 600 foot wide the Seine at Vernon was wider than many rivers but it was relatively shallow at 10 foot and relatively slow moving at 2mph. Dams along the river maintained the river level and controlled the flow. The banks on both sides were clear of buildings and were some 10 to 15 foot high, steep and mostly of earth covered with grass although there were some masonry walls.

    Assault crossing sites were similarly limited. The high, steep banks would need levelling before DUKWs could use them and rafts would need low and level loading and unloading points. There were several islands in the river which limited the choice of crossing place. There was also a submerged island which was situated in the middle of the river by the best landing place on the far bank. The depth of water here was not known.

    It was necessary to take into consideration that the dams which controlled the flow of he river could be blown by the enemy. Depending on which, and how many, dams were blown this could lead to flooding, a dangerous surge or dried out river beds. It could even lead to all three in rapid succession.


    Provisional plans were made as follows:

    - The site for the Class 40 bridge was governed by the availability of approaches and exits on both banks. The best site appeared to be below the existing but destroyed road bridge.

    - The site for the Class 9 bridge also needed good approaches and exits but was more flexible than the Class 40 bridge. The site selected for this was above the existing road bridge.

    - The sites for the assault crossings were selected to avoid interference with bridge work and to avoid landing troops in the built up area near the bridge since this area was most likely to be defended by the enemy. Below the bridge it appeared from the maps and single air photograph that the best crossing point would take troops to a point where there appeared to be a dry and narrow watercourse. Other crossing points on this stretch of river would involve landing on an island. Above the bridge the best crossing place appeared to be above the visible island. It was known that there was a submerged island here but the depth of water was not known.

    Originally it was planned that the initial assault would be by DUKWs but the height of the banks prevented this. It was therefor decided that the initial wave would cross by stormboat. Bulldozers would then make ramps for the DUKWs carrying the subsequent waves, and for Close Support Rafts.


    Personnel and equipment.
    It was obvious that at some time wide rivers would have to be crossed. The techniques for this had been studied and engineer units trained in their use. New equipment such as stormboats powered by outboard motors and Close Support Rafts powered by propulsion units had been developed.

    The equipment for the Seine crossings began to arrive in the Rear Maintenance Area from the UK in early August and training in its use was carried out on the Caen Canal.

    2 Army prepared two identical bridge columns, one each for XII Corps and XXX Corps. Each column consisted of:
    - 20 Stormboats
    - 90 Assault boats
    - 12 Close Support Rafts
    - 850 foot of Class 9 FBE bridge.
    - 850 foot of Class 40 Bailey Pontoon bridge. This could be used also for Class 40 rafts.
    - Track stores for constructing approaches.

    The columns were complete by 22 August.

    30 Corps had the following engineer units placed under command.
    7 Army Troops Engineers. This unit prepared, loaded and checed the column and would be responsible for constructing the Class 40 Bailey Pontoon Bridge.
    15 GHQ Troops Engineers. Initially to operate stormboats and Close Support Rafts.
    16 Airfield Construction Group. To clear routes to the Starting Point.

    In general the tasks concerned with the assault and the support of the assaulting battalions were carried out by 43 Division engineers while other tasks were performed by units attached from higher formations. However the handling of stormboats and the building and operating of Close Support Rafts required specialist training which the divisional engineers did not have and did not have time to acquire. These tasks were given to 15 GHQ Troops Engineers who had been so trained.

    The detailed allocation of resources was as follows.
    - Stormboats. Twenty stormboats were allocated, ten to each assaulting battalion. This was later reduced to eight per battalion. They would carry the leading assault company and then ferry jeeps and 6pdr anti tank guns.
    - DUKWs. Ninety DUKWs were allocated. Each assaulting battalion had twenty eight and the reserve battalion had thirty. The remaining four were for a platoon of 260 Field Company RE. Three of these were to be loaded with track stores for use on the far bank.
    - Bulldozers. Ten bulldozers were allocated. One armoured D7 for making initial DUKW ramps on each battalion front. Three unarmoured D8s for each battalion to make additional ramps. One D4 per battalion to be rafted across for work on the far bank.
    - Close Support Rafts. One was allotted to each battalion for ferrying carriers, artillery OPs, D4 dozer and 17 pounder AT guns. One reserve raft was also provided.

    - One platoon 583 Field Company RE from 15 GHQ Troops Engineers provided crews for the stormboats.
    - Two platoons of 582 Field Company RE from 15 GHQ Troops Engineers provided personnel to assemble and operate Close Support Rafts.

    More detailed planning would have to wait until the reconnaissance parties arrived around midday on 25 August. This was the day on which the assault crossing was to take place, in the late evening.

    Mike.
     
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  10. Trux

    Trux 21 AG Patron

    The forward routes and assembly areas.

    Vernon map 5.jpg
    Map 5.

    The move from transit areas to rafting sites or bridges needed careful route planning which in turn needed control and communications. The existing provost units were to be supplemented by Headquarters 8 Middlesex Regiment (MMG) which was to establish a Regulating Headquarters some two and a half miles from the river on the main forward route. Forward of the Regulating Headquarters there were to be two Control Posts which regulated the movement of vehicles from the Marshalling Areas across the bridges. Traffic Posts were to be established by provost units at ach end of each bridge and in each marshalling area. An additional Traffic Post was to stand by in case it was needed for a Class 40 Raft site.

    When crossing commenced a representative from each unit was to report to the Regulating Headquarters to obtain the route and the time of move from the concentration area to a particular marshalling area. When the unit column arrived at the marshalling area a unit representative would report to the Control Post with a wireless set. In due course he would receive the order for the unit to move up to the bridge or raft site.

    Communication between the Regulating Headquarters, Traffic Control Posts and Marshalling Areas was to be by both line and wireless. The Regulating Headquarters was also linked to Divisional Headquarters so that any change made to the order of march for tactical reasons could be rapidly implemented.

    There were three forward routes. Shilling and Penny were for forward movement only. Crown was a two way route and was initially reserved for bridging vehicles, which needed to return empty for reloading, and other essential down traffic, especially ambulances.

    Before the completion of the Class 9 bridge Route Penny and Marshalling Area Dollar would be used by 5 Wiltshire Regiment and Route Shilling and Marshalling Area Sixpence would be used by 4 Somerset Light Infantry. Only Jeeps and 6pdr anti tank guns were to be taken forward and would be called forward to the raft site by Royal Engineers as required.

    After the completion of the Class 9 bridge the ‘F’ Echelon transport for the three assault battalions would move to Marshalling Area Florin when ordered. 4 Wiltshire Regiment and its ‘F’ Echelon would concentrate in Marshalling Area Guinea when ordered. The priority for crossing the Class 9 bridge was:

    5 Wiltshire Regiment ‘F’ Echelon vehicles.
    4 Somerset Light Infantry ‘F’ Echelon vehicles.
    1 Worcestershire Regiment ‘F’ Echelon vehicles.
    4 Wiltshire Regiment and its ‘F’ Echelon vehicles.
    One squadron 43 Reconnaissance Regiment.
    ‘D’ Company 8 Middlesex Regiment.

    Vehicles would be ordered forward by serials at a rate of 70 vehicles an hour.

    Mike.
     
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  11. Trux

    Trux 21 AG Patron

    The Assault Plan.

    The assault brigade was to be 129 Brigade, plus such other units and sub units as were assigned to it. Its tasks were clearly stated as:
    - To secure a bridgehead across the River Seine at Vernon to cover the construction of a Class 9 bridge and later a Class 40 bridge.
    - To secure the north (left) flank of the divisional axis against enemy interference.

    It was planned that the left flank would be protected by having one squadron of 43 Reconnaissance Squadron reconnoitre the roads between the Rivers Eure and Seine as far as Gaillon. The squadron would then remain in observation on a line between the two rivers. A stop line was to be established halfway between the observation line and Vernon. This would be established by 15/19 Hussars with 234 Anti Tank Battery under command. Initially 15/19 Hussars would have only two squadrons, the third being deployed in Vernon.

    This is a classic deployment for a flank guard or advanced guard such as Napoleon would have recognised. A screen of light reconnaissance troops gives warning of enemy activity, reports on any enemy advance and then withdraws slowly while delaying the enemy as far a possible. Acting on information from the reconnaissance units the units in the stopline will act to stop or delay an enemy advance until more units arrive.

    Vernon was to be occupied and controlled by an advanced force. The town was reported as being clear of the enemy. One squadron of 43 Reconnaissance Regiment was to advance into the town. If necessary it was to set up a block on the road to Goulet to the north, otherwise the squadron would remain concentrated in order to later cross the river and patrol the far bank. Reconnaissance parties of all units concerned in the assault would accompany the reconnaissance squadron. One squadron of 15/19th Hussars would provide support and then rejoin the regiment. 4 Wiltshire Regiment and its supporting group were to occupy the town and prepare its defence.


    It was thought that US troops were in Vernon and indeed some small parties had been there. In order to achieve surprise it was ordered that no British uniforms or helmets should be visible to the enemy. Reconnaissance parties were to borrow US helmets when carrying out their detailed reconnaissance.

    For the advance to and initial control of Vernon the grouping was:
    One Squadron 43 Reconnaissance Regiment.
    Reconnaissance parties from
    5 Wiltshire Regiment
    4 Somerset Light Infantry
    1 Worcestershire Regiment (under command from 214 Brigade)
    ‘D’ ( Mortar) Company 8 Middlesex Regiment
    ‘A’ (Machine Gun Company) 8 Middlesex Regiment
    94 Field Regiment RA
    260 Field Company RE
    4 Wiltshire Regiment
    One Squadron 15/19 Hussars
    Reconnaissance party and two troops 260 Field Company
    One section 129 Field Ambulance.
    Provost Detachment.

    The assault was to be carried out by two battalions, 5 Wiltshire Regiment and 4 Somerset Light Infantry. Initially it was planned that the assault would be by DUKWs however it seemed likely that some preparatory work would need to be done on the near bank to allow DUKWs to enter the water and this would prejudice the element of surprise. It was decided that the leading company of each assault battalion would cross in stormboats. Work on DUKW ramps would then start immediately and follow up companies would cross in DUKWs.

    5 Wiltshire Regiment was to cross on the right. The ideal place seemed to be just upstream of the island but it was known that there was a submerged island at that point and there was no way of telling the depth of water over the island until a reconnaissance had been carried out and local inhabitants questioned. If the depth of water was insufficient a crossing would have to be made further upstream.

    4 Somerset Light Infantry was to cross on the left. It was planned that the crossing would be just above the railway bridge. However this meant landing on an island, although one that was separated from the shore by a narrow and shallow channel. It was thought that infantry could cross this obstacle but until a reconnaissance was carried out and more information was available this was uncertain. There did not appear to be a viable alternative.

    The follow up battalion, 1 Worcestershire Regiment, was to cross on the right as soon as possible after 5 Wiltshire Regiment was across.

    5 Wiltshire battalion group consisted of:
    5 Wiltshire Regiment
    30 DUKWs including two for RE.
    17 pdr troop 235 Anti Tank Battery
    Reconnaissance party and two sections 260 Field Company
    Two sections 583 Field Company to man stormboats
    One section 129 Field Ambulance
    Provost detachment

    4 Somerset Light Infantry battalion group consisted of:
    4 Somerset Light Infantry
    30 DUKWs including two for RE.
    17 pdr troop 235 Anti Tank Battery
    Reconnaissance party and two sections 260 Field Company
    Two sections 583 Field Company to man stormboats
    One section 129 Field Ambulance

    1 Worcestershire battalion group consisted of:
    1 Worcestershire Regiment
    30 DUKWs
    17 pdr troop 235 Anti Tank Battery
    One section 213 Field Ambulance

    Fire plan.
    At H-15 minutes a heavy concentration of fire was to be put down on all known and suspected enemy positions. These positions would be identified by reconnaissance parties. Involved in the concentration would be:
    94 Field regiment with its 25pdr field guns.
    ‘A’ Company 8 Middlesex Regiment with machine guns.
    ‘D’ Company 8 Middlesex Regiment with 4.2” mortars.
    One squadron 15/19 Hussars with 75mm tank guns and Besa machine guns. These would as far as possible engage known or suspected enemy positions with direct aimed fire. Positions for the Cromwell tanks would be selected and occupied as secretly as possible.

    At H hour the Field Artillery and 4.2” mortars would put down a smoke screen on the far bank and the hills beyond.

    (In the event the local police force tried to join in with a captured German machine gun which they fired across the river. Other police personnel joined in with fire from handguns. The military had to persuade them to stop because:
    The fire was ineffective.
    The fire was dangerous to own troops trying to cross the river.
    The FFI and anyone else with a weapon wanted to join in.)

    After a short pause to allow enemy machine guns to reveal themselves and their fixed fire lines of fire the assault companies were to move up to the river bank with the stormboats and crews, board the boats and set off into the smoke screen. With secrecy no longer possible 260 Field Company was to start work on the DUKW ramps to allow the follow up companies in DUKWs to cross as soon as possible.

    The stormboats were to be delivered to a point some distance from the river banks and kept under cover until H Hour. Follow up companies were to provide carrying parties to move the boats to the bank and launch them. I the event they proved to be much heavier than expected and should have been delivered to a point nearer to the river.

    Follow up companies would board DUKWs some distance back from the bank and thus avoid waiting and loading in view of the enemy.

    An armoured D7 dozer was provided for each DUKW ramp to do the initial work when enemy fire might be expected. Other, unarmoured, dozers would assist later.

    Mike.
     
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  12. Trux

    Trux 21 AG Patron

    Reconnaissance.
    At first light on 25 August reconnaissance parties of all units left Breteuil for Vernon. These parties first went to the assigned assemble areas on the high ground above Vernon and when 43 Reconnaissance Regiment patrols declared the town to be safe and free of the enemy reconnaissance parties from assault units and engineer units concerned with bridging followed.

    The town itself provided good cover and the parties were able to reach the river without being noticed by the enemy on the far bank. Much information was provided by the enthusiastic FFI and many other townspeople. They were able to say that Vernonnet on the far bank of the river was held by about 250 Germans. A similar number of Germans were in the town of Giverny some two miles upstream. (Giverny is famous for being the home of the artist Monet who painted many pictures of his garden, in particular his water lilies). German reserves were held round the city of Beauvais, some distance to the north. Of great value was the detailed information that was given about the positions of German slit trenches, fortified houses, machine guns and 20mm guns.

    Information about the projected crossing points was less accurate. The FFI and local townspeople reported that:
    1. The proposed landing point by the railway bridge was suitable. Maps and photographs showed that there was a narrow branch of the river which went under the railway bridge and rejoined the main river further downstream. The information given was that there was no water in this channel at the moment. Strictly speaking this was true but it was full of liquid mud which made it impassable to troops.
    2. The submerged island upstream of the road bridge, which could be identified by thick weeds which were visible on the surface, did not hinder the passage of boats. Perhaps it did not hinder the river fishermen’s skiffs but loaded stormboats failed to cross it.

    Engineer reconnaissance on the ground was generally successful. A party from 553 Field Company, 43 Division, arrived to carry out a reconnaissance of the proposed site for the Class 9 FBE, codename ‘David’. This was 80 yards upstream of the demolished road bridge and there was no real alternative. The site had been selected from air photographs. The orders were for them to enter Vernon as soon as possible after the leading troops and gather as much information as possible. The reconnaissance party entered a building on the river bank and from a second floor window it was possible to get a good view of the far bank, looking through venetian blinds. It was not possible to see the near bank bridge site without putting ones head out of the window, which was unwise. The Commanding Officer of 553 Field Company arrived and decided to get as near to the bridge site as possible. A Frenchwoman pointed out the German positions on the far bank but when the party left cover they were fired on, one man was wounded and the party withdrew.

    It was discovered that that a great deal of bulldozing would be necessary on the near bank before a FBE trestle could be erected. However local townspeople were certain that no mines had been laid on the near bank. The party then went to examine the site selected for the raft building sites and marshalling areas. These were found to be suitable.

    The Commanding Officer of 7 Army Troops Engineers reached Vernon about midday on the 25 August to reconnoitre a site for the first Class 40 Bailey Bridge code named ‘Goliath’. The site selected from air photographs was immediately downstream of the destroyed road bridge. The reconnaissance party went to a tower which had a good view of the proposed site. They then managed to get a closer look from the upper floors of a hotel near the bridge. It was found that the river level was low and the current negligible but the site was far from perfect. Both banks were far too high and steep to allow access without a great deal of work. Also the far end of the bridge would be on the island. It was found that there was a better site upstream of the road bridge, but the downstream site was suitable for launching pontoons and assembling rafts.

    A reconnaissance party from 15 GHQ Troops Engineers arrived in Vernon to carry out a reconnaissance for the proposed site for the second Class 40 Bailey Bridge. The party consisted of the Commanding Officer, a captain, a staff serjeant and a driver in two jeeps. Initially most of the personnel would be engaged in manning the stormboats and assault rafts. The original plan was for a Class 70 bridge, capable of carrying the heaviest military loads which were loaded tank transporters. This was changed to a Class 40 bridge but this information did not reach the Commanding Officer until he arrived at Vernon. In the meantime 15 GHQ Troops Engineers were to assemble Class 40 rafts which could be used as ferries and would then form part of the new bridge.

    Mike.
     
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  13. Trux

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    Last Minute Preparations for the Assault.

    At 1600 hours 25 August 129 Brigade held a coordinating ‘O Group’. It was reported by the RE officers that there remained difficulties with sites for DUKW entry and exit from the river and much more work than anticipated would have to be done before DUKWs could be used to carry troops across. Since it was planned that only the leading companies would use stormboats while the remainder of the infantry would use DUKWs this delay would mean considerable replanning. It was decided that stormboats would have to be used as much as possible for the assault battalions. This in turn would delay the crossing of jeeps and 6pdr anti tank guns which would be carried in stormboats according to the original plan. Work would be started on ramps for the DUKW and the DUKWs would be used for carrying troops if and when it became practicable.

    It seems that there had not been sufficient coordination of engineer and infantry reconnaissance and only at the ‘O Group’ did the Commanding Officers of the infantry battalions become aware of the problems and possible need for change to the plans. There was little time left for planning and preparation since H Hour was fixed for 1900 hours. This could not be changed since there would be no moon and 1900 hours was considered the latest possible time.

    The fire plan was decided in detail now that the artillery, mortars and machine guns had information on the known and suspected enemy positions on the far bank. These positions would be engaged from 1845 hours (H-15) to 1900 hours (H Hour). Smoke would then be laid to cover enemy positions on the far bank which overlooked the assault sites. At 1910 hours (H+10) the assault battalions were to start crossing in stormboats at which time concentrations of fire were to be directed at pre selected targets and supporting fire could be given on call.

    Preparations for the assault were carried out at maximum speed. Routes were signposted, assembly areas and forming up places in side streets were marked to avoid confusion and delay. Stormboats were unloaded in side streets and the RE crews, carrying parties and assault troops were married up.

    ‘A’ Company, 8 Middlesex Regiment, established all three of its machine gun platoons in buildings and gardens overlooking the river and with good fields of fire to cover known enemy positions. ‘D’ Company, 8 Middlesex Regiment, established its four 4.2” mortar platoons in positions selected from air photographs, and established three observation posts to control the mortar’s fire.

    Two troops of Cromwell tanks from ‘C’ Squadron, 15/19 Hussars occupied positions in gardens 60 yards from the river bank. They would support the assault with observed fire.

    Eventually the two assault battalions were given a hot meal and then moved to their forming up positions. All was ready just before 1900 hours (H Hour).


    Organisation of 4.2” mortar platoons and machine gun platoons.
    These platoons were capable of delivering a great deal of fire support at short notice, albeit at limited range. The mortars could deliver very rapid fire and had a good fire control system with observation posts, gun position posts, wireless communication and loud speakers.

    The .303" machine gun may not have had a very high rate of fire compared with some German weapons but they were capable of sustained and accurate fire.

    4 X Heavy Mortar platoons each:
    Headquarters
    Carrier
    Subaltern, corporal observation post assistant, 2 X driver operators
    Carries Wireless set No22 and Wireless set No38
    Motorcycle
    orderly
    Carrier
    Subaltern, corporal mortar position officer’s assistant, 2 X driver operator
    Carries Wireless set No22
    Carries a PIAT
    Motorcycle
    orderly
    Motorcycle
    platoon serjeant
    Section 1
    Carrier Loyd 1
    serjeant, batman, corporal driver operator, driver operator
    This is No1 section commander’s carrier
    Carries Wireless set No22 and Telephone loudspeaker No2
    Carries 20 X mortar bombs
    Carries a bren lmg
    Tows a mortar trailer with 44 X mortar bombs
    Carrier Loyd 2
    corporal mortarman, 3 X mortarman, driver mechanic
    Carries 22 X mortar bombs
    Tows a mortar trailer with 4.2” mortar and 24 X mortar bombs.
    Carrier Loyd 3
    corporal mortarman, 3 X mortarman, driver mechanic
    Carries 22 X mortar bombs
    Tows a mortar trailer with 4.2” mortar and 24 X mortar bombs.
    Section 2
    Carrier Loyd 4
    serjeant, batman, corporal driver operator, driver operator
    This is No1 section commander’s carrier
    Carries Wireless set No22 and Telephone loudspeaker No2
    Carries 20 X mortar bombs
    Carries a bren lmg
    Tows a mortar trailer with 44 X mortar bombs
    Carrier Loyd 5
    corporal mortarman, 3 X mortarman, driver mechanic
    Carries 22 X mortar bombs
    Tows a mortar trailer with 4.2” mortar and 24 X mortar bombs.
    Carrier Loyd 6
    corporal mortarman, 3 X mortarman, driver mechanic
    Carries 22 X mortar bombs
    Tows a mortar trailer with 4.2” mortar and 24 X mortar bombs.

    Mortars had a rapid rate of fire so in addition to the apparently generous supply of mortar bombs in the section the company had four 3ton 4 X 4 GS also loaded with mortar bombs.

    Machine gun companies.
    Three companies each with three platoons each with a headquarters and two sections.
    Section 1
    Carrier, Universal 1
    serjeant, rangetaker, driver mechanic
    Carries ammunition and equipment
    Carrier, MMG 1
    corporal MMG number, 2 X MMG number, driver mechanic
    Carries a .303” Medium Machine Gun
    Carries 12 X boxes of ammunition.
    Carrier, MMG 2
    corporal MMG number, 2 X MMG number, driver mechanic
    Carries a .303” Medium Machine Gun
    Carries 12 X boxes of ammunition.
    Section 2
    Carrier, Universal 1
    serjeant, rangetaker, driver mechanic
    Carries ammunition and equipment
    Carrier, MMG 1
    corporal MMG number, 2 X MMG number, driver mechanic
    Carries a .303” Medium Machine Gun
    Carries 12 X boxes of ammunition.
    Carrier, MMG 2
    corporal MMG number, 2 X MMG number, driver mechanic
    Carries a .303” Medium Machine Gun
    Carries 12 X boxes of ammunition.

    Mike.

    I will take a short break now to assimilate new information on the bridges. Thank you.
     
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  14. Trux

    Trux 21 AG Patron

    The Assault.

    Vernon map 6.jpg

    H Hour was set for 1900 hours and the artillery bombardment opened at 1845 hours. At H Hour the smoke screen was started and the assault began at 1910 hours.

    129 Brigade.
    129 Brigade was the assault brigade and consisted of:
    4 Wiltshire Regiment, which remained on the near bank as protection against a possible enemy attack from the left.
    5 Wiltshire Regiment.
    4 Somerset Light Infantry.
    1 Worcestershire Regiment from 214 Brigade.

    5 Wiltshire Regiment.
    ‘A’ Company, the assault company, assembled with their stormboats behind houses some 100 yards from the river bank. ‘B’ Company was detailed to provide carrying parties for the boats. It was found that the boats were heavy and awkward to carry (see photograph 3) The boat weighed 800 pounds without motor or ramps. The motor weighed 180 pounds and the ramps 250 pounds. Ramps were not essential for loading and unloading infantry but were necessary for jeeps and 6 pdr anti tank guns.

    The stormboat had a crew of two men from 15 GHQ Troops Engineers and could carry eighteen fully equipped infantrymen. Thus two stormboats could carry an infantry platoon.

    ‘A’ Company.
    A platoon of ‘A’ Company started to cross the river in two storm boats under cover of a thick smoke screen. Just over half way across both boats grounded on the submerged island and at that moment the wind lifted the smoke. Machine gun fire caused many casualties and the platoon could not reach the far bank. One man, the platoon serjeant did manage to reach the far bank but finding himself alone swam back to the boat and together with the crew swam back to the near shore with it. Other boats attempted to cross and also met heavy enemy fire. Some boats were sunk. Gradually troops did get across and eventually some 60% of the company arrived and established a position across the Vernonnet to Giverney road. Counter attacks were made by the enemy and there was fierce fighting and eventually ‘A’ Company was overrun, having exhausted its ammunition. The stand of ‘A’ Company allowed the remainder of the battalion to firmly establish itself on the far bank.

    ‘C’ Company.
    In the meantime it had been decided that the remaining companies would cross in DUKWs. At 2230 hours four DUKWs carrying ‘C’ Company were launched. Three grounded on the submerged island and were stuck. The remaining DUKW carrying one platoon succeeded in crossing and established a position to the left of ‘A’ Company. It took some time for the remainder of ‘C’ Company to land. Eventually troops from the stranded DUKWs made it to shore but were scattered and took some time to reorganise and gather together the scattered platoons and sections. It was 0300 hours 26 August before the Company Serjeant major had assembled all the scattered troops at the company rendezvous. One platoon crossed in the one remaining DUKW, after ‘D’ Company had crossed. Another half platoon crossed in the one remaining stormboat. Finally engineers managed to get more DUKWs launched after bulldozing a launching ramp. The remaining half platoon and Company Headquarters were then able to cross.

    At around 0300 hours ‘C’ Company started to advance in order to enlarge the bridgehead. The nature of the terrain meant that the only way was up the steep slope of the escarpment. With full equipment this was not an easy climb and it was made more difficult by the dislodged earth and stones which caused feet to slip and shower those following. In addition there was a fence to climb half way up the slope. No opposition was met and the company gained a dominating position.

    ‘D’ Company.
    Meanwhile at 0030 hours ‘D’ Company started to cross and take up position on the left. They were carried on the one remaining DUKW. This was slow but at least the company arrived in good order.

    ‘B’ Company.
    One platoon of ‘B’ Company crossed the river at 0200 and by 0445 all of the company was across and took over the right flank positions originally held by ‘A’ Company. 17 survivors of ‘A’ Company were gathered and formed into a platoon attached to ‘B’ Company.

    A Royal Engineer armoured D7 bulldozer worked during the hours of darkness on providing access to the river for more DUKWs and these joined in the ferry operation.

    Despite all of the problems and difficulties encountered 5 Wiltshire Regiment was the only one to achieve the second important objective, occupying the high ground above Vernonnet. The first objective being establishing a bridgehead on the far bank. The occupation of the high ground, preferably before first light, was important because if it remained in enemy hands they would be able to direct accurate observed fire onto the bridging sites. The building of the bridges was of course the purpose of the operation.

    26 August.
    On the morning of 26 August the enemy continued to resist and had several well sited machine guns in the cliff face overlooking the site of the Class 9 FBE Bridge. These guns were interrupting the work on the bridge and the operation of the Close Support Raft, which was trying to get the battalion 6 pounder anti tank guns across. One gun crossed without interference but the second one was fired on by a machine gun, which a tank of ‘C’ Squadron 15/19 Hussars spotted and silenced with one round.

    At 1000 hours a patrol of ‘B’ Company moved up to the top of the cliffs and destroyed a cleverly concealed machine gun post overlooking the crossing place. Another ‘B’ Company patrol identified another machine gun post which was dealt with by the Carrier Platoon, on foot, which was sweeping along the high ground to the south east.

    At 1400 hours the battalion moved forward to positions on the high ground and took about a hundred prisoners. Overnight they left one company on the high ground while the rest of the battalion took up a defensive position on the south east of the village of Vernonnet.


    4 Somerset Light Infantry.
    On the left 4 Somerset Light Infantry had an easier time crossing the river but had difficulty advancing inland. ‘A’ Company started crossing at 1910 and established an initial bridgehead within half an hour. ‘C’ Company followed quickly, accompanied by a RE reconnaissance party. It was then discovered that, despite local information to the contrary, the cut under the railway bridge was 60 foot wide, had steep muddy banks, deep water and deep soft mud. This made it impassable to infantry. Some men managed to cross the debris of the railway bridge but were then pinned down by heavy machine gun fire.

    A Forward Observation Officer RA managed to cross with his jeep and provided assistance by directing shelling on observed enemy positions. The jeep loaded with wireless etc. was ferried across on a stormboat and then a rough but adequate ramp of earth and timber was hastily constructed so it could mount the steep and slippery bank.

    260 Field Company managed to complete a DUKW ramp and it was decided to put ‘B’ Company across the river to a point upstream where there was no obstacle to advancing inland. DUKWs were launched but the second one sank and blocked to ramp. Shortly afterwards the first DUKW was stranded on a mud bank in midstream. The remainder of ‘B’ Company crossed in stormboats and fought its way into the downstream end of Veronnet. At about first light ‘D’ Company crossed in stormboats and started to clear the rest of the village.


    26 August.
    Until midday the Somerset Light Infantry were engaged in clearing the northern part of Vernonnet. ‘C’ Company, which was still stranded on the island near the rail bridge, reembarked on stormboats and were landed in ‘B’ Company’s bridgehead. They were sent to clear the ground on the left flank, their original task for the previous evening. Later ‘A’ Company was also moved from the island by stormboat.

    ‘D’ Company, having cleared the northern part of the village moved up the valley to the north east and then climbed onto the high ground to attack the enemy from the rear. They destroyed four 20mm guns which had been causing trouble for the raft and bridge sites. On completion of this task they were relieved by ‘A’ Company.

    The whole battalion then dug in along the spur of high ground while the newly arrived 214 Brigade passed through.


    1 Worcestershire Regiment. (From 214 Brigade.)
    It was originally intended that 1 Worcestershire Regiment would cross on the right after the 5 Wiltshire Regiment. Owing to the slow progress of 5 Wiltshire Regiment it was decided that 1 Worcestershire Regiment should attempt to cross the river using the ruins of the demolished road bridge. They dismounted from their DUKWs and deployed around the bridge site. As darkness fell ‘A’ Company attempted to cross but found booby traps on the bridge and machine guns firing on fixed lines straight down the bridge. Attempts were made to neutralise the machine guns using a 6pdr anti tank gun and illumination provided by flares from 2” mortars. Later a M10 self propelled anti tank gun appeared and also fired several rounds. The bridge was about to be rushed again when orders came to wait for 5 Wiltshire regiment to clear the bridge from the other end.

    At about 0400 hours a patrol from ‘A’ Company crossed the bridge. The rest of the battalion followed at about 0500 under an artillery smoke screen.

    26 August.
    By 0800 hours the whole battalion had crossed the bridge. The battalion orders were to deploy through Vernonnet and capture the high ground immediately to the north east and overlooking the bridge. ‘B’ Company advanced on the right, ‘A’ Company in the centre and ‘C’ Company on the left. ‘A’ and ‘C’ Companies reached their objectives with little difficulty, dealing with two machine guns and taking a few prisoners, but ‘B’ Company encountered considerable opposition from a machine gun sited in thick scrub on the hill to the left of the road.

    During the afternoon 4 Wiltshire Regiment arrived and relieved ‘B’ Company which was then able to continue its advance to the north east. By 1600 hours the battalion was firmly in position along the spur and on the road to Gisors.

    At 2200 hours 1 Worcestershire Regiment reverted to its parent 214 Brigade.


    4 Wiltshire Regiment.
    4 Wiltshire Regiment had been retained on the near side of the river in order to protect the left flank against possible enemy attack. Since the threat now seemed negligible the battalion was ordered to cross the river, using the road bridge, during the afternoon. They then took over positions from 5 Wiltshire Regiment. No great opposition was encountered but the thick wooded country made it difficult to clear the enemy. There were machine guns, snipers and two self propelled guns but these were dealt with and a steady advance was maintained. By last light they were some 1,700 yards south east of Vernonnet.


    It had been hoped that by dawn the three battalions would have crossed the river, established a bridgehead and moved forward to occupy the high ground which overlooked the river and bridging sites. The confusion and delays caused by the difficulty in launching DUKWs meant that insufficient troops were on the far bank to achieve this. The few available DUKWs and stormboats were worked hard but the constant changes in the planned crossing made far bank operations difficult to plan, organise and implement.


    214 Brigade crossed the river on the 26 August and consisted of:
    5 Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry.
    7 Somerset Light Infantry.
    1 Worcestershire Regiment. Loaned to 129 Brigade.

    5 Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry.
    5 Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry was ordered to cross the river first and advance to Pressagny l’Orgueilleux, some two moles downstream. The ‘Scout Platoon’ was sent forward to cross the river and work forward as a battle patrol to make contact with the enemy. At about1315 hours the battalion moved down into Vernon and waited in the streets waiting for orders to cross the river. The ‘Scout Platoon’ had taken a route up the slope and through Vernon Forest and reported that they had met no opposition and were taking a track leading to the northern end of the forest. Orders were given for the battalion to cross the river using the destroyed road bridge and then head straight for Pressagny l’Orgueilleux. The battalion vehicles were to follow when the Class 9 FBE bridge was open. The only obstacle proved to be the French population who were in festive mood and pressed cider and wine on the troops. ‘B’ Company was sent up onto the high ground while the remainder of the battalion went straight along the road which followed the river. It was decided to halt before reaching the village in case the villagers insisted on celebrating. ‘B’ Company took up a position to the left of the road with ‘A’ on the right and ‘D’ Company five hundred yards back.

    7 Somerset Light Infantry.
    7 Somerset Light Infantry crossed the river at about 1900 hours, again using the destroyed road bridge. They were to occupy a position in Vernon Forest which had been declared clear of the enemy by the ‘Scout Platoon’ of 5 Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry. They marched to the position without meeting any opposition and reported that the track that they had followed was clear and dry so that the battalion vehicles were able to use it and join the battalion when they could cross the Class 9 FBE bridge.

    Vernon map 7.jpg

    First light 26th August.
    Green = Positions at last light 25th August.
    Brown = Positions at first light 26th August.
    Red = Crossing points.

    The three assault battalions are established on the far bank and occupied Vernonnet. Troops are preparing to move up the slopes to clear the enemy from the high ground overlooking the crossing sites but this would not be complete until 1400.



    The position at last light on the 26 August was that Vernonnet was clear of the enemy and was well defended. The high ground overlooking the bridging and crossing sites was cleared and occupied. The approach to Vernonnet from the north was well defended.

    During the day 15/19 Hussars, less one squadron which remained in Vernon to give covering fire to troops crossing the river, carried out an offensive sweep between the River Eure and the River Seine. There had been rumours that enemy troops were in that area to the north of Vernon. ‘C’ Squadron 43 Reconnaissance Regiment and 234 self propelled anti tank battery accompanied the sweep. No enemy were found and the regiment reported that it had had an excellent days training in perfect weather.

    In order to create doubt as to the exact location of the main thrust and thus pin down enemy troops, artillery carried out ostentatious registration by firing both HE and smoke shells across the river at various locations upstream and downstream of Vernon. A small party consisting of one 25 pdr field gun, one 3” mortar and one carrier section was sent by 214 Brigade to simulate a threat opposite Gaillon.

    Photographs follow in the next post.

    Mike.
     
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  15. Trux

    Trux 21 AG Patron

    Photographs of the assault phase.

    Understandably these are few in number. Most of the initial assault took place in the dark and no photographer could cross to photograph the action on the far bank. The IWM has a considerable number of photographs showing he bridges and vehicles moving through the town. A selection will be posted later.

    vernon 4.jpg

    Storm boats waiting to be moved to the water. A Cromwell tank from ‘C’ Squadron 15/19 Hussars is covering the operation. 15/19 Hussars were the armoured reconnaissance regiment of 11 Armoured Division and were placed under command of 43 Division to act as flank guard. ‘C’ Squadron was detached to Vernon where it gave fire support to the assault before rejoining the regiment.

    The river is 100 yards to the right. The sun is setting in the west. The church of Notre Dame in the distance.

    The assault company troops, carrying parties and RE boat crews will meet here.

    vernon 5.jpg

    ‘B’ Company 5 Wiltshire Regiment carrying a stormboat down to the river. The outboard motor is stowed in the boat. (Not to be taken too seriously. There are twice as many men as needed and they will get in each others way.)

    Stormboats were positioned some 100 yards from the river and one infantry company was assigned to carry them. The weight of the boats came as a surprise. The stormboat was a sturdy construction compared with the canvas assault boat. It was constructed with an oak frame and plywood sides and bottom.

    They were designed specifically for opposed crossings of wide, fast flowing rivers but this was their first operational use and they had problems. Firstly they were unloaded too far from the river and there was then a long, hard carry. In some cases there was difficulty in starting the engines. This was a problem with all two stroke outboard motors, especially those with a pull cord starter. They started better when warm but if they were started and warmed in advance the noise compromised surprise. Of course the problem of grounding on the submerged island was not the fault of the boats.

    vernon 6.jpg

    Troops from ‘A’ Company 5 Wiltshire Regiment boarding storm boats under a smoke screen laid by 25pdr field guns and 4.2” mortars. Time 1910 hours. It can be seen that the river is well below its normal level, which is where the vegetation begins. Fortunately the river flow was slow. The boat is moored with a line to the shore and men are having no difficulty boarding over the bows.

    vernon 7.jpg

    Some troops were able to cross the river using the wrecked road bridge. This was not possible, or not wise, until the far bank had been secured and cleared of snipers. The superstructure is that of a German bridge built over the stone piers of the original road bridge destroyed by Allied bombing. This replacement bridge was itself destroyed.

    This picture is clearly taken after the assault phase. By this time engineers have improved access and fitted hand rails.

    Mike.
     
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  16. Trux

    Trux 21 AG Patron

    Close Support Rafts.

    Three Close Support Rafts were assigned to 43 Division, one for each assault battalion and one in reserve. They were intended to carry carriers, including artillery observation posts, D4 bulldozers and 17 pdr anti tank guns. They were Class 9 and could therefor carry all vehicles in an infantry battalion but it was planned that the Class 9 FBE bridge would be available before other vehicles were required to cross the river. It was planned that jeeps and 6pdr anti tank guns would cross on stormboats but losses were such that very few vehicles actually crossed on them.

    The Close Support Raft was developed to carry vehicle across water obstacles in the early stages of an assault river crossing. It was designed specifically as a raft and was not intended for use as a bridge. Its features were:
    Light road way bearers which were easy to manhandle.
    Rapid construction using few personnel.
    Ease of operation with a small crew.
    Shore loading in that it had adjustable ramps and did not require landing stages or prepared landing sites.
    Free ranging in that it could be powered by propulsion units and was not limited to one crossing point.

    The above were not always apparent in this their first operation but that was largely due to the inexperience of the crews and engineer personnel who assembled them. They took four hours to construct. Although they did not require landing stages vehicles found it difficult to load and unload without some preparation of the sites.

    The Close Support Raft used MkV or MkV* pontoons with a specially designed saddle. Four road bearers were each assembled from two sections and fitted to the pontoons. Ramps were fitted at each end. The ramps were connected by cables so that when one ramp was lowered the other was raised.

    Rafts were powered by standard propulsion units fitted to the pontoons. These consisted of a petrol engine which drove a propeller unit through a flexible drive. Steering was by turning the propeller unit using a hand wheel. Since the raft had two propulsion units steering required careful coordination since each unit was manned separately.

    The first rafts across the river carried a far bank party of engineers plus tools and logs to make a simple landing point. It might also be necessary to make or improve a track for vehicles from the landing point to an assembly point.

    Transport was by 3ton 6X4 pontoon bridging lorry from the RASC Corps Bridging Company. These were unloaded in the bridge assembly area before being moved forward on their sledges.

    It was the first operation for the Close Support Rafts and they took some time to build. In the event this was not to be a problem since the infantry had not managed to clear a sufficiently large and secure bridgehead to allow the rafts to operate. Two rafts were to be built, both by 583 Field Company from 15 GHQ Troops Engineers.

    The raft on the right, intended for use by 5 Wiltshire Regiment, was commenced about 2030 hours on 25 August and was completed by 0230 hours on 26 August. Owing to the confused situation on the far bank it did not start operating for some time. It started to operate about 0930 hours and ferried three carriers and three 6pdr anti tank guns before enemy fire caused it to close down for three hours.

    On the left the raft for 4 Somerset Light Infantry was started at 2300 hours on 25 August and was complete by 0330 hours on 26 August. It ferried some vehicles across and landed them on the same island as the infantry. Since they were unable to move inland from the chosen landing site, because of the channel which was reported as being passable turned out not be so, operations ceased until a new far bank landing site could be chosen. The new site chosen on the far bank was also under fire and the raft did not start operating until 1430 hours.

    In the afternoon both rafts were operating but although there were no further interruptions due to enemy fire they were never used to capacity. This was largely because the crews operating them and the vehicle crews using them were all unused to them since they were newly introduced into service. They ferried tracked vehicles but some armoured cars from 43 Reconnaissance Regiment were also ferried in order to give some armoured support for the infantry until tanks could be ferried across. As the sites had been chosen and prepared for tracked vehicles, the intention being that only tracked carriers and jeeps would cross in the first hours, the armoured cars tended to get bogged down in heavy mud at the loading sites and cause delays.

    The rafts ceased operating once the Class 9 FBE bridge was open although they remained on stand by in case of need. On 27 August the Class 9 FBE bridge was put out of action for 1¾ hours by enemy shelling and the Close Support Rafts were brought into use again for that period of time.

    vernon 8.jpg

    Assault Raft and DUKWs. This is just downstream of the wrecked road bridge and this photo was taken from it. While it seems less than ideal to have to manoeuvre round the island this site has the advantage of easy access to the water and an area of calm water with little current at the shore. The landing on the near bank was some way downstream.

    A stormboat can be seen next to the raft.

    Note the Old Mill, a medieval water mill which has now been restored.

    Vernon 9.jpg

    The Assault Raft and its far bank landing site. Careful navigation was required to pass between the bridge and the island. The raft has already come some way from its loading point which is 500 yards downstream on the opposite bank. It is clear in this photo that the water level has fallen and this means that the raft is in danger of grounding before its ramps can reach the raised bank. The raft is carrying a D4 bulldozer to help prepare the landing site. The pioneers on the bank will be pleased as until the dozer arrives they work with pick and shovel.

    Mike
     
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  17. Trux

    Trux 21 AG Patron

    Class 40 Raft.

    At midday on 26 August the infantry had had only limited success in enlarging the bridgehead to the point where no direct fire could be brought to bear on the bridging and rafting sites. Armoured support was needed but this could not be taken over the river until the bridges were built. As an interim measure the divisional commander ordered a number of armoured cars from the reconnaissance regiment to be ferried across on the Close Support Rafts. This was done, although the raft sites had been prepared with tracked vehicles in mind rather than wheeled vehicles and the cars had some difficulty on the far bank.

    It was decided that a Class 40 Raft should be constructed as soon as possible in order to ferry tanks across. The material for the raft was to be taken from the spare equipment brought up for the Class 40 bridge, the components being identical. The equipment was available in the concentration area but there were no engineers available to construct the raft, all being fully employed or waiting to start work on the Class 40 bridge:

    - The field companies of 43 Division were fully engaged in constructing the Class 9 FBE bridge and its approaches.

    - The two platoons from 582 Field Company were required to operate the Close Support Rafts.

    - The platoon from 583 Field Company had suffered so many casualties operating stormboats that they could not find sufficient personnel.

    - The three field companies from 7 Army Troops were waiting to start work on the Class 40 bridge and could not be diverted as this would cause an unacceptable delay in completing the Class 40 bridge. The Class 40 bridge and its ability to pass large numbers of vehicles, including tanks, across the river was the point of the operation.

    - 15 GHQ Troops Engineers had not yet arrived. They had been forced to travel near the rear of Group 3. Because of congestion their start had been delayed and they failed to pass the Starting Point before the route was closed.

    - 11 Field Company from XXX Corps Troops Engineers had been working on clearing road blocks on the route and building bridges at Pacy. This work had taken two days and nights and they were not considered fit to undertake the task.


    It was decided to try and rush a part of 584 Field Company of 15 GHQ Troops Engineers across the US routes and until they arrived personnel from 43 Divisions Field Park Company would start the task.

    The next problem was to find a suitable site. Just upstream of the Class 9 Bridge seemed suitable, with good access on both banks. However at about 1400 hours the enemy destroyed a dam downstream and the water level fell some four foot. This made the site impracticable. Another site was found some distance downstream but the landing site on the far bank was outside the bridgehead.

    5 Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry was sent to cover the rafting operation and extend the left flank. At 1600 hours an officer from 584 Field Company arrived to reconnoitre the site and then set off to bring up his party as soon as possible. A party from 207 Field Park Company started off loading and laying out the pontoons and bridge material at the raft site. About 2100 hours one and a half platoons of 584 Field Company arrived and immediately started work. It was found that the proposed far bank landing site was difficult and there was an island in the way. An alternative site was found downstream and although this would mean a longer diagonal crossing it was acceptable.

    Work continued all night on the raft, the landing stages and approaches. Work on the landing stages in particular was hampered by torrential rain, mud and darkness. Eventually it was decided to risk using vehicle headlights, which attracted some shelling but no damage was done.

    The first vehicle, a bulldozer, crossed on the raft at 0600 hours on 27 August but became stuck on the far bank. It was decided to move the far bank landing site further downstream so that the first tank did not cross until 0800 hours. This also got stuck but was cleared and by 1000 hours ferrying was going steadily but the oblique crossing was now half a mile long and therefor slow.

    Later in the day both landing sites were moved again but without interrupting the ferry work. Sites were found even further down stream which allowed a straight run across the river. This speeded up the operation and by 1400 hours twelve tanks had crossed.

    At 2030 hours the ferry closed since the Class 40 bridge was now open. Thirty two tanks had crossed, the operational troops of two squadrons, one from 15/19 Hussars and one from 4/7 Dragoon Guards.

    The Class 40 Raft was essentially a standard raft section of a Class 40 Bailey Bridge. The roadway was the standard forty foot length of bridging and it was carried on two tripartite pontoons. Ramps at each end were again standard lengths of Bailey bridging They could be raised or lowered to match the hight of the river bank and used a standard raft connecting post to join the ramp to the raft while allowing the ramp to be raised.

    There are no photos of the Class 40 raft at Vernon, unless you know differently.

    Mike.
     
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  18. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    Great read on an aspect of the "break out" from Normandy I have never seen described in my reading. I know two friends in the USA, who might enjoy the planning and logistics so clearly described.
     
  19. Trux

    Trux 21 AG Patron

    Thank you for your kind comments David.

    I like to look into obscure units and neglected actions. Vernon is not s well known as many other actions and the staff work certainly is always neglected. I suppose any clarity in my writing comes from my days, more than thirty years ago when I was a teacher.

    Mike
     
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  20. CL1

    CL1 116th LAA and 92nd (Loyals) LAA,Royal Artillery Patron

    Indeed Mike thank you for posting also learnt somethine about the combat helmets re the chaps climbing up the bridge.

    regards
    Clive
     

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