- Administrative picture
- Moves of higher HQ
- Stage I
- Stage II
- Stage III
- Maintenance problems
- Administrative picture
- Moves of higher HQ
- Stage I
- Stage II
- Stage III
- Maintenance problems
Although the operational aspect of this phase divided itself into four distinct parts, two of these, the operations of Second Army up to BRUSSELS and ANTWERP and of First Canadian Army along the Channel coast, were taking place concurrently, the division was made more for the convenience of the reader than for the sake of necessity.
The administrative side of the picture can more conveniently be described by dividing the history of this phase into three stages:-
The break-out from the NORMANDY bridgehead to the line of the SEINE.
The crossings of the SEINE up to the capture of BRUSSELS and ANTWERP on 3 and 4 September respectively.
The operations to exploit EAST and NORTH terminating in operation MARKET GARDEN (airborne landings).
In order that a better background may be given with which to study the separate activities of the various Services, it is proposed to give a brief description of the salient features during these three stages that together form Phase II.
Moves of Higher HQ
Now that the feat of landing large assault forces together with all the administrative support necessary for the retention of the bridgehead on a heavily defended coast had been successfully achieved, the “A” and “Q” staffs of HQ 21 Army Group addressed themselves to the next main task of developing an administrative organisation on the Continent that would enable the C-in-C to carry out any operations that might be required.
Rear HQ 21 Army Group moved over to the Continent in August and opened at VAUCELLES on 11 August.
Until that time the base installations in NORMANDY had been controlled through the medium of an advance section of HQ 21 Army Group stationed with HQ L of C.
Later in August the forward element of SHAEF containing the administrative staff also moved across and set up at JULOUVILLE near GRANVILLE preparatory to assuming overall command of 21 Army Group and 12 US Army Group on their split into two separate forces which was scheduled for 1 September.
As soon as BRUSSELS and ANTWERP were captured in September preparations were immediately made for the transfer of HQ 21 Army Group from NORMANDY to BRUSSELS where it could be established in a position to take executive control of the build-up of the advance base which would now be in the area of those two cities.
This move actually took place on 23 September, only nineteen days from the first entry of our troops into BRUSSELS.
At about the same date SHAEF Forward moved to VERSAILLES where it was shortly joined by the large element still remaining in UK and was redesignated SHAEF Main.
PLANS FOR WINTER IN BRIDGEHEAD
The policy of drawing the bulk of the GERMAN forces towards the BRITISH sector, thus paving the way for the AMERICAN advance round the right flank, was proving successful, but as a result our progress had not kept pace with the planning estimates.
At the end of July there seemed little hope of an early capture of the SEINE ports and the BRITISH forces would probably have to rely on maintenance through the RMA for some time yet to come. In fact, at this period, GERMAN resistance was proving stubborn, little sign of a crack was appearing and the possibility of having to spend the whole winter SOUTH of the SEINE had to be faced.
Stocking of the RMA continued therefore in order to cater for this eventuality and for all the breaks in day-to-day maintenance that winter conditions would impose on the unloading programme, but at the same time in the full knowledge that the stores discharged would be required to support the advance if a break-through was achieved.
Work had been proceeding on the development of the ports of CAEN and OUISTREHAM and as soon as the operational situation would permit, the CAEN—OUISTREHAM canal was to be opened.
In addition to this MULBERRY B was improved and extended and preparations for its winterisation put in hand with the object of extending its life beyond the planned date of 1 October until at least the end of the following January, as a further insurance against winter weather.
The narrow confines of the bridgehead limited the number of administrative units that could be accepted in the area and so only those units urgently required at the time were moved over to the Continent at this stage.
SUPPORTING THE BREAK-OUT
At the same time, however, preparations had to be made for any possible sudden break in the enemy’s resistance which could be rapidly exploited. Should operations become more fluid the necessary mobility to support the armies in their advances could only be found by the presence of sufficient administrative, and particularly transport, units.
Early in August it became apparent that the pendulum of the battle was gradually swinging in the allied favour. Immediate steps were taken therefore to phase in extra transport units, an example of this being on 1 August when a decision was made that six further general transport companies could be accepted in the theatre as soon as they could be shipped across.
It was decided also to begin to cut down the import of stores and reserves through the RMA in order to release transport from port and beach clearance duties and thus make it available for mobile operations.
This decision was supported by the fact that the stocks in the RMA had now reached satisfactory levels as approximately fourteen days reserves plus fourteen days working margins or equivalent stocks of all commodities were now held in its depots.
ROADS AND ROADHEADS
Both armies and all the corps had been ordered to develop all the roads that they required but the eventual main maintenance routes for the force starting from the RMA were to be developed, numbered, controlled and maintained by HQ 21 Army Group.
No attempt was made at this stage to sign any other than the main routes.
As the armies moved forward to the line of the SEINE two roadheads were established, No. 3 in the area of LISIEUX for First Canadian Army which opened on 24 August and No. 4 for Second Army near L'AIGLE which opened on 26 August, although No. 1 Cushion had been previously formed by the latter at FALAISE five days earlier.
Later No. 3A Roadhead, which was an advance portion of the Canadian Army roadhead, was opened at ELBEUF on 2 September. It had been decided that all First Canadian Army roadheads should be designated with odd numbers while Second Army roadheads would have even numbers for their nomenclature.
When the break-through occurred “Q” branch HQ 21 Army Group who controlled the allocation of all road transport saw to it that every available lorry was mobilised and given to the armies with the exception of a bare minimum of general transport companies that had to be retained for port and beach clearance.
In order further to help the transport situation practically all L of C units were grounded and their transport diverted to support the advance.
PLANNED ADVANCE BASE
It had been considered certain that the enemy, even though he might be pushed back from the line of the SEINE, would impose a delay on our advance at that point and would inevitably turn and fight again on the line of the River SOMME and other obstacles throughout NORTH FRANCE and BELGIUM.
It had been planned, therefore, that the area in a rough triangle DIEPPE—ROUEN—LE HAVRE should be laid out as an advance base although even at that time it was appreciated that operations might progress with such speed that the full development of this advance base would never become necessary.
LENGTHENING OF L or C
During this stage the rapidity with which the advance was carried out meant not only that the BRITISH L of C lengthened to an alarming extent, but also that all question of the establishment of an advance base in the area of ROUEN as originally planned could be abandoned.
The entries into BRUSSELS and ANTWERP on 3 and 4 September respectively increased the length of the L of C by approximately three hundred miles but at the same time gave the opportunity of establishing the advance base in central BELGIUM with a first-class port in good condition through which the supplies could be landed as soon as the approaches could be cleared of all hostile elements.
For the moment, however, this huge advance in little more than a week produced administrative problems of no ordinary size. Such a complete disintegration of the GERMAN army had not been envisaged.
It had always been expected that somewhere a certain delay would be imposed which would have afforded an opportunity for the build-up of essential stores. This check however, never occurred.
Our dumps remained back in the RMA and the problem of supplying two corps advancing at an average rate of over forty miles per day had to be faced. It was obviously vitally necessary to exploit to the full the disorganisation and retreat of the enemy.
8 Corps, therefore, was grounded and all its second line transport, as well as fifty percent of its first line transport was temporarily removed from it in order to supply the two corps who were racing forward in the advance.
The opposition that they were meeting was not of great account but even so contact had to be continuously maintained and the momentum of the pursuit kept up so that the enemy would have no opportunity of again taking up a defensive position.
RESTRICTION OF IMPORTS
On 30 August a weighty decision had to be taken to rely on the early capture of a Channel port such as DIEPPE or BOULOGNE and to cease bringing in large quantities of stores and vehicles through the RMA.
Stores that it had formerly been considered essential to bring over from the UK were now phased back until such time as a port or ports nearer the battle area became available for their reception.
Bearing in mind the satisfactory levels of supplies of all natures in the RMA, it was decided to cut down imports from an average of some sixteen thousand tons per day to only seven thousand tons per day.
With the co-operation of the War Office this decision became effective in seven days. It proved invaluable as much transport was released for the direct support of the armies whereas had the original stores programmes been carried out they would have been occupied on clearing them from the beaches and ports into the depots of the RMA.
This freeing of transport enabled the advance to be continually supported and contributed in no small measure to the early consolidation of our hold on the area which was eventually to become the advance base.
Napoleon said that an army marches on its stomach but ‘the prime necessity at this moment was not supplies but petrol. Three armoured divisions were taking part in this hunt and petrol was being consumed in enormous quantities.
Away on the right, also, General PATTON, commanding the Third US Army, was crying that his men could eat their belts but he must have “gas”.
The transportation of POL was a matter of the utmost urgency and the vast majority of the transport available was used for this purpose.
Fortunately, however, it remains a truism that the expenditure of ammunition is almost always in inverse ratio to that of petrol and the demands for transport of ammunition did not often conflict with those of petrol.
CONTROL OF ROADS AND TRANSPORT
Most careful control of the roads was essential if big hold-ups on the improvised bridges over the SEINE and the numerous other rivers were not to occur.
Tank transporters, formerly only allowed on the roads for a few hours at night, now had to travel in large numbers by day and urgent convoys of essential ammunition and ordnance stores had to be personally shepherded along agreed routes by personnel of the military police.
To achieve the necessary flexibility all third line transport was pooled and placed directly under army control and the tasks of all supply columns had to be extended. first line transport collected from the FMCS, second line transport from the army roadheads, and third line army transport and GHQ transport brought supplies from the RMA to the army roadhead.
The RASC columns concerned sometimes covered two hundred miles a day during this period. In order to augment the L of C lift, it was decided on 1 September to issue certain L of C units temporarily with reserve three-ton vehicles to enable them to carry out the long moves forward without having to jeopardise maintenance lifts by calling on GT companies for help.
The whole of the GHQ, reserve was absorbed in this way, and some 1,700 three-ton vehicles were issued for this purpose. One of the greatest difficulties in this ever-lengthening L of C was the lack of communications, as no lines were available and distances soon became too great for ireless. This meant the despatch rider had to be frequently used and this is a slow and not too reliable method over so many miles.
This lack of communications also affected the flexibility of supply as it was impossible to switch suddenly from petrol to ammunition had the tactical situation demanded it.
No. 4 Roadhead was so far behind the front line that cushions had to be formed before the next roadhead was made. These cushions are normally the dumped requirements of corps brought forward on third line transport to a position in front of the main roadhead, sited in relation to and in the direction of the next roadhead to be formed further ahead.
In this advance they were established near BEAUVAIS on 1 September (No. 2 Cushion) and near DOULLENS on 2 September (No. 3 Cushion) until finally No. 6 Roadhead was opened on 6 September SOUTH-WEST of BRUSSELS.
This last roadhead was sited with a view to being served by rail as well as road. First Canadian Army established No. 5 Roadhead between DIEPPE and ABBEVILLE on 3 September and this was served by a road L of C through DIEPPE.
The final roadhead established by the CANADIANS during the whole of this phase was No. 7 Roadhead which opened in the area of BETHUNE on 15 September.
It might have been expected that in such a lengthy advance the armies could have relied to a certain extent on getting supplies from a number of enemy dumps. Probably largely due to the accuracy of the air forces in bombing the railways, roads, bridges and known enemy supply dumps this expectation was largely not fulfilled.
21 Army Group had therefore to rely entirely on its own resources, initiative and improvisations.
The decisions taken earlier on, firstly to out down imports and phase back all but the most essential stores, and secondly to ground certain fighting formations, ensured the continued support of the pursuit.
The numerous advances made, coupled with the capture of DIEPPE and OSTEND made it clear that is was no longer necessary to develop CAEN to its full capacity as it was situated too far away from the scene of operations.
The plan for the development of this port therefore, was scaled down and its imports restricted chiefly to coal.
DIEPPE was opened on 5 September and the first coaster arrived two days later.
The port was used for bringing in stores that were essential for either army but as the majority of the transport had already been allotted to Second Army a proportion of these imports was relied on for the maintenance of First Canadian Army.
The capacity of the port increased rapidly until it reached a daily figure of between six thousand and seven thousand tons by the end of the month. When the army rear boundary moved forward, HQ 21 Army Group took over control of the port.
LE HAVRE was captured on 12 September but was almost immediately allotted by SHAEF to the AMERICANS. This decision was not unwelcome as it was now very little nearer to the scene of operations than the RMA had been and therefore, it would not have been worth while for the BRITISH to develop it.
ANTWERP was in our hands but unfortunately it could not yet be developed as the GERMANS controlled the approaches to it.
BOULOGNE and CALAIS were not captured until 22 September and 30 September respectively and so could not be opened during this phase. OSTEND, however, captured on 9 September was first opened on 28th of the same month.
CONTROL OF TRANSPORT
The BRITISH L of C was now approximately four hundred miles long.
In order that some of the grounded formations of Second Army could be lifted up before the next advance took place, a short breathing space occurred in which maintenance supplies were also brought up.
Meanwhile, plans were being laid for further advances eastwards in BELGIUM and northwards across the MAAS and the RHINE in conjunction with an airborne operation. It was immediately realised that this would place an even greater strain on the greatly extended L of C and road transport.
The main depots from which the armies were being maintained were still in the RMA and there were virtually no stocks on the ground between them and the holdings in corps FMCS in forward areas.
The support of this advance and airborne operation was an administrative risk as it would absorb all the reserves in the pipeline.
On the other hand, if it failed or was not entirely successful there would of necessity be a long pause while the L of C was re-organised and reserves built up.
The closest supervision and control in order that the best use should be made of every means of transport was therefore necessary, but Second Army had got too far ahead and it was impossible to have adequate control from a HQ at either of the two ends of the L of C.
About 10 September therefore it was decided to establish an organisation to be called TRANCO,which would co-ordinate all means of transport from the RMA to the army roadheads. It consisted of an integrated “Q” and “Q”
Movements staff with Services representatives from RASC and Labour to assist, and was set up at AMIENS in time to take control on 19 September.
AMIENS was selected for its location as being approximately half way along the L of C, a big rail centre and possessed of good communications. The establishment of TRANCO meant that a radical change in the road transport policy of 21 Army Group must occur.
All GHQ transport would be withdrawn from armies and would operate under the direct control of HQ 21 Army Group both at the ports and on the L of C, leaving to the armies only sufficient for the traffic forward from the army roadheads.
TRANCO directed and coordinated with other agencies movement of personnel, stores and transport for stocking army roadheads. It was also responsible for the transhipment of stores from railheads SOUTH of the SEINE to railtails NORTH of the SEINE.
Armies submitted estimates of their daily maintenance requirements by commodities for five day periods five days in advance.
TRANCO then issued an outline rail and road programme and by judicious use of the railtails NORTH of the SEINE and of the transport that was running through from the RMA, was able to adjust demands in accordance with ruling priorities.
The flow of supplies for the two armies which had been gradually decreasing up to that period began to increase again and although the levels of all commodities and stores inevitably fell to a low ebb in the forward areas just after the airborne operation, the supply situation generally continued to improve.
This particular subject does not lend itself readily to discussion in each of the three phases but is described here as it was during Stage III that its importance became paramount. The first army freight was flown into the theatre on 26 June but up to the end of August the tonnage of stores imported by this method never exceeded 200 tons in any single week. On 7 August for instance, the air freight lift for 21 Army Group was increased from 12 to 25 tons per day.
With the crossing of the SEINE airlift became all important and HQ 21 Army Group made a bid for the pre-planned airlift of 1,000 tons per day. During the week ending 9 September 1,600 tons of petrol and 300 tons of supplies were delivered to the AMIENS, VITRY and DOUAI group of airfields.
The next week priority was switched to ammunition and 2,200 tons were delivered together with some 800 tons of POL and 300 tons of supplies.
These airfields were soon found to be too far behind the front line to serve their full purpose and so within two days of the liberation of BRUSSELS three airfields, EVERE, MELSBROEK and GRINDBERGHEN were put into operation even before Second Army had time to establish a roadhead in that area.
Subsequently with the exception of approximately 2,400 tons of bulk petrol delivered by bomber aircraft to the airfield at LILLE the entire lift of stores was brought in through EVERE.
During a period of five weeks at this time, this airfield handled 18,000 tons of freight making an average of between 400 and 500 tons per day, not counting any allowance for non-flying days which occurred two or three times each week.
EFFECT OF OPERATION MARKET GARDEN
Operation MARKET GARDEN had to commence for operational reasons at a time when the administrative resources were barely able to support it.
The estimates of rail and other capacities had proved too optimistic with the result that although it was supported with the major administrative requirements i.e.—rations, petrol and ammunition, this was only achieved at the expense of ordnance and other stores for Second Army and of the build-up for First Canadian Army.
The situation, therefore, was that in spite of the opening of the port of OSTEND and the increase in the capacity of DIEPPE, this operation meant that a considerable back-log of ordnance stores and other items of equipment had to be made up if the formations were to have sufficient reserves to be restored to full fighting efficiency on its conclusion.
Summing Up of Maintenance Problems
From the foregoing it will be seen, therefore, that throughout this second phase there was no anxiety as to the availability of supplies. Decisions were made in fact, temporarily to restrict the "ow of them, into the theatre.
The crucial problem was how to get them up to the fighting formations and to keep pace with the Tremendously rapid rate of advance.
Transport was the big “Q” headache during the months of August and September and all the major decisions such as the restriction of imports, the grounding of formations and the setting up of TRANCO were made with a view to providing the necessary lift to sustain the momentum of the pursuit and to ensure that the BRITISH advance never faltered for lack of any commodity.
During this phase the conversion of the seven 105 mm self-propelled field regiments in 21 Army Group to 25 pr regiments was completed in a re-organisation centre set up in 17 AOD.
Conversion would have taken place in any case as these 105 mm guns were primarily intended for the assault period, but it was made the more necessary because of an acute shortage of 105 mm ammunition provided from AMERICAN sources.
First Canadian Army made good use of the hulls of these vehicles and equipped the first Armoured Personnel Carrier regiment to be formed in EUROPE with these modified hulls within five days, in time to be of great use during the FALAISE battle.
The break-up of 59 Infantry Division threw up a large amount of equipment which was handed into 14 AOD under 59 Division arrangements, “A” and “B” vehicles, guns etc., being put through workshops before being taken into stock.
On 12 August the decision was taken to set up the 21 Army Group Modification Committee, consisting of representatives from (G)SD, Q(AE), Ord, REME, WTSFF, AFV(Tech) and AD(Mech), to assess the relative importance of authorised or proposed modifications to equipment, and to allot priorities, so that the best possible use could be made of workshop facilities in carrying out the necessary work.
The issue of equipment to allied liberated manpower now began in earnest as allied units were much needed for internal security on the L of C and other tasks.
A small advance section of the Q(AE) Statistics branch had arrived in NORMANDY on 8 July but the main body of this branch landed on 13 August and proceeded to VAUCELLES. The mobile Hollerith machinery (see Appendix “Q”) was installed in deep pits protected from air attack.
The weekly AFV return had been functioning efficiently since 29 July and on 22 August the “A” Vehicle Census Record was completely mechanised on the Hollerith.
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