The first REME elements ashore were the beach armoured recovery vehicles of the beach recovery sections which landed immediately after the assault to be closely followed by D-8 crawler tractors and wheeled recovery vehicles. These beach recovery vehicles worked extremely hard under most adverse conditions as in places they were under shell fire and at night recovery work was made even more difficult by the presence of mines and explosive charges secured to under-water obstacles, to say nothing of the nightly visits from enemy aircraft.
“Drowned” vehicle parks were established near the beaches for the repair of drowned tanks, guns and “B” vehicles. In actual fact less than five per cent of the vehicles landed were drowned and even these were due not so much to faulty waterproofing but to a tendency for the craft carrying them to be beached in more than four feet of water. It was conclusively proved that well trained unit drivers are fully capable of waterproofing their own vehicles.
Under command of 1 Corps for the assault were eleven 2nd line workshops and four 3rd line workshops in addition to three beach recovery sections and one recovery company, consisting of three light and one heavy sections.
Armoured brigade workshops were given first priority in the phasing in, followed by corps troops workshops scaled for gun repair work. By D+3 seventy-five per cent of these workshops had landed and on the afternoon of D+1 three complete workshops, on assault scales, were already functioning.
30 Corps controlled units consisting of three beach recovery sections, one light recovery section and two composite workshops which were responsible for all repair and recovery in the BMA leaving the LADs and brigade workshops free to follow up their own units and formations. The composite workshops including attached specialist personnel for dealing with such equipment as AVsRE and flails accompanied by the light recovery sections landed on the first and second tides of D-day.
Between D+2 and D+11 669 vehicles were brought into the workshops of 30 Corps, 509 were repaired and returned to units and 130 classified as beyond local repair, the remainder being written off.
During the relatively static period after the initial assault the build-up of REME continued and the layout of its units in the RMA was planned in detail.
1 Corps were fortunate in that they had a suitable area of hard ground of which they made the best use by forming a “REME 'Workshop Area” which contained the corps troops workshop, two brigade workshops, four 3rd line workshops, a recovery company and a corps back-loading point.
It was found that the constant moves of divisions during this period from one sector to another considerably reduced output as they took their 3rd line workshops with them. It was therefore arranged that as a general rule 3rd line Workshops would not move from one corps to another but that each would have under command two armoured troops workshops and two infantry troops workshops whatever formations happened to be under command.
Due to lack of MT and gun spares it was necessary to cannibalise to a considerable extent and as a result 2nd and 3rd line workshops carried out work in excess of that laid down in permissive repair schedules. However, cannibalisation was essential in view of the urgent necessity of getting fighting equipment back into action and more than justified itself by the results obtained by the LADs of 6 Airborne Division, who, working under heavy shell and mortar fire to the EAST of the River ORNE, got equipment back to the division which could never have been repaired in time had spares been awaited.
The scrap section of 1 Corps’ back-loading point was called a “Help Yourself” park at first and was extremely useful to unit fitters who obtained many spares direct from the park. It was estimated that twenty per cent of all spares used in the early stages were obtained from this source which continued to prove invaluable when properly controlled for the use of REME and RASC only. In the main, however, spares were obtained from BMPs which functioned well except that identification was slow.
AFV Servicing Units whose task it was to service reserve “A” vehicles before being passed forward to the Armoured Replacement Group were not functioning until D+20. They were due to land on D+12 but bad weather conditions and alterations in the build-up delayed their arrival. In consequence a considerable number of reserve tanks awaiting servicing had accumulated and this back-log was never caught up.
The 8 Corps armoured thrust during this period involved about one thousand tanks operating on a narrow front.
There were twelve bridge crossings over the River ORNE and CAEN canal necessitating much recovery work and most of the recovery company was sited near the bridges. During the battle which followed most of the work of this company had to be carried out under very difficult conditions.
21 Advance Base Workshop which landed complete over the beaches on D+40 was working within four days of landing. This unit, although nominally 4th line heavy repair workshops and under normal conditions static, was in fact made fully mobile with all heavy machinery mounted on trailers.
Two special projects undertaken at this time are of interest. The AMERICANS were successfully using heavy fork-like attachments on the front of Sherman tanks for clearing hedgerows and undergrowth from the path of the tanks in the heavily wooded Bocage country. REME were asked to produce twenty-four samples for trial with BRITISH units. These twenty-four were made in three days from steel girders forming part of GERMAN underwater obstacles.
The second unusual task was a demand for the manufacture of one hundred and fifty penicillin sprays. These were made in fourteen days although no drawings were available. A sample sent from UK was used as a guide. Over one hundred more were manufactured at a later date.