FORMATION OF THE ADVANCE BASE
To implement the decision made early in September that the new advance base for the BRITISH forces would be established in the area of ANTWERP and BRUSSELS reconnaissances were carried out and plans initiated long before the port of ANTWERP was opened.
The selection of this area for the advance base was made because it was suitably located both for stocking from the ports and for delivery to the fighting troops. In addition it was well served by road, rail and canal communications, contained much suitable accommodation and had readily available a good supply of labour.
The depots, however, could not be fully stocked until the port of ANTWERP was open. In the meantime commodities were delivered to the depots under HQ 21 Army Group control by road and rail through the Channel ports and from the RMA.
The development and exploitation of the system of canals provided an additional means of transport but road and rail transport remained the priority systems for getting initial stocks on the ground particularly in the forward areas. Barge transport along these canals was of great assistance in the subsequent build-up.
In addition to the necessity for guaranteeing a constant intake of all commodities to meet daily maintenance requirements it was estimated that prior to launching any major advance 20,000 tons of supplies, 40,000 tons of POL and a similar tonnage of ammunition in addition to large quantities of ordnance, RE and medical stores would be required in the advance base.
The policy was that the advance base should remain outside GERMANY even when operations progressed into that country. Should HAMBURG or a similar port be captured it would be used solely as a transit port to supplement the existing L of C.
By late September the administrative difficulties created by the sweep across FRANCE and BELGIUM were being overcome and the L of C presented a more organised aspect. It became evident, however, that the long administrative tail should be shortened as soon as practicable.
The military population in the RMA alone was approximately 100,000 and the tonnage of stocks there amounted to between 300,000 and 400,000 tons. It was decided, therefore, that once the port of ANTWERP was opened the RMA should begin to close down and that after all the stocks required by 21 Army Group had been forwarded to the new advance base the remainder would be handed over to the War Office for disposal.
With the opening of ANTWERP it also became possible to close certain Channel ports in order to release key personnel and transportation resources for essential Work in the advance base.
Stocking of the advance base presented a difficult movement problem with the import of stores from UK having to be co-ordinated with the moving of the stocks from the RMA. In particular the available transporter and rail lift for heavy “A” vehicles was severely limited.
In the middle of October there were still some eight hundred heavy “A” vehicles to be moved and the last of them was not cleared until the end of December. “B” vehicles could be driven under their own power but the acute shortage of drivers slowed up this clearance.
At the beginning of November Canadian Military HQ in ENGLAND loaned a vehicle company from its depot in UK for “ferry” work between BAYEUX and BRUSSELS. Close control had to be kept of all this movement so that a proportion of all the different makes and types of “B” vehicles was constantly available in the new advance base.
Until the opening of ANTWERP when a reserve at last began to accumulate, no sooner did “B” vehicles arrive in the advance base than they had to be re-issued to the armies and to L of C’ so great was the urgency for them.
Excellent accommodation for advance base workshops was easily found in the area, generally in factories. Difficulty was experienced, however, in finding suitable sites nearby for returned vehicle parks as, owing to the low-lying nature of the country, vehicles left in the open were liable to sink into the muddy soil.
The most suitable areas were aerodromes and double carriage-way roads but all aerodromes were being used to capacity and to take up much of the road space would have seriously interfered with the clearance of ANTWERP.
At first, even after its approaches had been cleared of enemy, ANTWERP could not be used as the river was heavily mined and the lock gates were damaged. The planned working tonnage of the port exclusive of bulk POL was 40,000 tons per day of which 17,550 tons was allotted to the BRITISH and 22,500 tons to the US forces.
The capacity of the bulk POL installations of the port was ample to meet all BRITISH and US requirements. The BRITISH and US authorities had joint access to common user facilities and installations.
Movement of AMERICAN stores was directed from quayside to their advance depots and any storage accommodation Within the port area was utilised for transit purposes only. Small installations were required for the local maintenance of the US forces and arrangements for these were concluded between HQ 21 Army Group and the Channel Base Section of Com Z.
MAINTENANCE ON THE FORCE
Early in October 21 Army Group took over Second Army No. 6 Roadhead at DIEST as a cushion for holding stocks for the forward area. Second Army commenced stocking No. 8 Roadhead in the area of BOURG LEOPOLD on 4 October. To effect this eight railheads were opened and controlled by an organisation known as “Q” Administrative Post set up within HQ Second Army.
This organisation was modelled on the lines of TRANCO but its responsibilities were confined to railhead clearance, supervision of the layout of the roadhead, and co-ordination of all movement within it.
Early in December corps railheads were established for supplies and POL to reduce the transport commitment and the risk of delay which might be caused by the break-up of roads during thaw conditions. The operations of First Canadian Army for clearing the SCHELDT estuary were first maintained from N 0. 7 Army Roadhead in the LENS area and later from No. 9 Roadhead which opened near TERMONDE on 5 October.
On 3 November No. ll Army Roadhead opened in the area of TURNHOUT. The GERMAN offensive in the ARDENNES presented no administrative problem for Second Army as 8 and I2 Corps continued to draw supplies and POL from their corps railheads and ammunition from N o. 8 Army Roadhead. 30 Corps, however, after its rapid move SOUTH to defend the line of the MEUSE, was mainly based on GHQ depots.
It was planned that once the port of ANTWERP was open all troops SOUTH of the SEINE should be maintained from stocks left in the RMA and through the port of CAEN. All other BRITISH troops in FRANCE were to be maintained in supplies and POL through the Channel ports whilst the armies and all BRITISH troops in BELGIUM would be maintained from the advance base.
With the approach of winter and the likelihood of 21 Army Group continuing operations in northern HOLLAND and Western WESTPHALIA the provision of accommodation both for forward and L of C troops became a major problem. In the case of the latter extensive requisitioning was carried out of buildings previously occupied by the GERMANS and a large hutting programme for AA deployment in the advance base was completed at short notice.
Orders for the provision of this hutting were placed with BELGIAN contractors. Accommodation was found for two divisional rest areas, one in the area of DIXMUDE, ROULERS and YPRES and the other in the area of GHENT.
Subsequently a brigade rest area was located SOUTH of BRUSSELS. In addition much accommodation was reserved in FRANCE and in BELGIUM for Civil Affairs to cater for the possibility of large scale evacuation of BELGIAN cities as a result of heavy enemy air attack and also for the arrival of refugees and displaced persons.
For the forward troops hutting accommodation was impracticable and transport limitations prevented much tentage from being brought forward.
The policy therefore, was to resort to extensive requisitioning, the occupation of any camps formerly utilised by the GERMAN army and, except in GERMANY where it was prohibited, to billeting on the local population.
A mutual agreement was arranged between the Governments of GREAT BRITAIN and BELGIUM enabling the military to obtain stores and services from local resources in BELGIUM. This relieved the problem of supplying stores which were already in short supply in UK and in addition saved valuable shipping space.
To implement this agreement the BELGIAN Government formed a department called the Office of Mutual Aid (OMA).
This organisation delegated powers to burgomasters which enabled the military to obtain all their requirements with the exception of the major transactions which were processed through the OMA.
All contracts involving the production and payment for goods and services including notably those for civilian labour, were arranged through the OMA. Similar mutual aid agreements were concluded with FRANCE and the NETHERLANDS.
All these agreements were concluded on a lease lend basis. Mention will be found elsewhere of the contracts placed locally for the supply of fresh fruit and vegetables to the troops and also for the production of large quantities of hutting. But one of the most important contracts was for the manufacture of bridging material for the construction of the bridges that would be thrown across the RHINE.
Some 1,500 tons of the total of 25,000 tons necessary were produced locally by BELGIAN contractors but in addition to this all the sixty-foot timber piles were cut down and manufactured near BRUSSELS.
Another example of operational importance was the local manufacture of 350,000 extended end connectors which are steel shoes, weighing approximately five pounds, which when fitted to the outside of tank tracks enable them to travel better over soft ground and in snow.
They proved of considerable operational importance early in the New Year and in the battles between the MAAS and the RHINE. Speed of manufacture was in many cases greater in BELGIUM than in ENGLAND where any new project had to be placed on a priority list. For instance, at the end of September it was decided that in view of our air superiority an increased amount of light could be used by vehicles at night in the rear areas.
It was therefore necessary to design a method by which vehicles could use more light in the rear areas but could conform to operational requirements when in the forward areas. 200,000 headlamp modification sets, each consisting of sixteen different items, were designed and supplied within four weeks, whereas a minimum of three months for the task had been estimated by the Ministry of Supply in UK. Lastly the considerable tyre repair capacity available in BELGIUM was utilised by REME to the full.
For the first two months of the invasion there was little demand for solid fuel. It was only when military railways began to operate that competing demands became so serious that a solution to the problem had to be found.
Priorities were established by the Solid Fuels Section at SHAEF so that coal used for military railways would have first precedence.
Second priority was given to coal for other military purposes, such as military hospitals, laundries, cooking and space heating for troops. The next priority included essential civilian requirements, such as fuel for electric power, gas and essential industries.
During the latter part of October a new problem arose—namely that of coal supply for the industries working under army contract. The principle adopted for supplying solid fuel to these industries was determined in accordance with the priority level of the products to be manufactured.
In October 21 Army Group and Communications Zone established agencies in the coal mining areas, while SHAEF appointed a Solid Fuels Sub-section for each liberated country.
Physical possession of coal for military purposes was taken over by the former agencies and coal was distributed to the various military consumers. Distribution for essential civilian purposes was left in the hands of the several national governments concerned.
In the early part of December, however, it became apparent that the distribution of coal in BELGIUM was not being carried out by the civil agency in accordance with the allocations made by the BELGIAN Working Party (which reviewed all solid fuel requirements in respect of availability).
Therefore, a joint 21 Army Group and Communications Zone organisation called Coal Distribution Section (BELGIUM) (CODISEC B) was set up. This section, consisting of a headquarters in BRUSSELS and ’ive sub-sections each in a BELGIAN mining area, checked the despatches of coal in accordance with the priority of allocations.
By means of guards on the mines and on the trains the arrival of the coal at its correct destination was ensured and pilfering reduced.
Military Movement Control offices at the principal BELGIAN railway junctions also prevented the diversion or the re-consignment of coal in transit.
The mining of coal depends on a constant supply of pitwood. At the time of the liberation of BELGIUM about 60,000 cubic metres of pitwood were in stock but it was so unequally distributed between the mines that in some places there was only three days supply while others had sufficient for three weeks normal production.
On the assumption that one ton of pitwood is required to produce approximately thirty tons of coal, SHAEF had set 21 Army Group the task of furnishing 2,000 tons of pitwood per day from indigenous sources. In actual fact it was found in practice that the planning figure was too pessimistic and that one ton of pitwood produced over forty gross tons of coal.
A daily supply of 1,400 tons of pit- wood, therefore, proved sufficient not only for the production of the essential requirements of coal but also for a reserve gradually to be accumulated.
The difficulty in the rail liftfrom the source of cutting to the mines was the chief bottleneck to the attainment of this tonnage but, on an average, it was successfully maintained until the GERMAN offensive in the ARDENNES robbed the military authorities of the resources of the ARDENNES forest which was the chief source of pitwood in BELGIUM.
21 Army Group then attempted to provide pitwood from other indigenous sources but met with little success.
It was found necessary to import pitwood from the UK but supplies did not arrive until the latter part of January and then only in very small quantities. When the operational situation was restored and work could again be resumed in the ARDENNES the target of 2,000 tons of pitwood per day was not only reached but was soon exceeded.
During the autumn a further extension of the PLUTO scheme for pumping petroleum across the Channel from UK to the Continent was put in hand. The original pipeline which had its continental terminal near CHERBOURG had not proved successful although some petroleum had been pumped through.
It was decided, therefore, to develop a short crossing entitled DUMBO from DUNGENESS. The first plan was to bring the cross-channel pipes to AMBLETEUSE but as this beach was found to be heavily infested with mines it was decided to change the continental terminal to BOULOGNE.
Clearance from BOULOGNE, however, presented considerable difficulties and work was put in hand to extend the pipeline to CALAIS Where rail facilities were very much better. This extension was completed in November, the first pipeline having begun to operate at the end of October.
By the end of the year DUMBO was giving an average discharge of 1,300 tons per day. The saving in tanker shipping that this project effected was very great as the cargo of a tanker discharging into the system at LIVERPOOL was pumped across ENGLAND and under the Channel and finally emerged on the Continent.
SHIPMENT OF REPLACEMENT VEHICLES
The period between the cessation of imports into the RMA and the opening of ANTWERP was a critical one for the shipment of replacement vehicles as the movement of stores was taking up almost all the capacity of the Channel ports. The heavy “A” vehicle situation was also becoming serious as many tanks had either been damaged during the advance or left behind through mechanical breakdown and stocks in the RMA and Armoured Replacement Group were almost exhausted.
On 27 September as a result of no shipments having arrived for three Weeks the force had approximately only seventy per cent of the unit entitlement (UE) of the main gun tanks and only fifteen per cent and five per cent were remaining in the ARC and base stocks respectively.
A large number of repairable gun tanks lay between ROUEN and BRUSSELS but, owing to the strain on recovery facilities and the capacity of Workshops being greatly reduced by frequent moves, it was estimated that a considerable time would elapse before they could be made available again to the fighting formations.
It was arranged, therefore, that forty tanks per day should be shipped into BOULOGNE during October.
Early in November LSTs began to arrive in OSTEND and from then until the opening of ANTWERP thirty heavy “A” vehicles a day were received through OSTEND and twenty through BOULOGNE.
Clearance from these ports presented great difficulty as there were no rail facilities from BOULOGNE and tank transporters, already fully employed, had to be used. In the case of OSTEND owing to there being no class 70 route, rail clearance had to be used and this was hampered by the constant shortage of engines and Warfiats.
The closest touch was maintained with War Office and BUCO to regulate the flow of tank imports and to ensure that types of tanks not movable by rail went to BOULOGNE and the remainder to OSTEND. This shipment of tanks absorbed the whole of the MT shipping lift to forward ports.
Shipment of “B” vehicles, therefore, had to be continued through the RMA and from 27 September they came in at the rate of approximately 250 per day.
With the advent of Winter it became clear that conditions in the RMA were going to be bad and the “B” vehicles there would become mudbound owing to lack of sufficient drivers to bring them up to the new advance base. All shipments of replacement “B” vehicles were therefore discontinued at the beginning of November until the opening of ANTWERP.
Once this port became available shipments came through it at an average rate of between 40 and 50 heavy “A” vehicles and between 250 and 300 “B” vehicles per day.
RE-ORGANISATION OF THE SYSTEM FOR HOLDING, SERVICING AND ISSUING TANKS
It was found that two AFV servicing units were insufficient for dealing with the number of replacement tanks to be issued as Well as the complete re-equipment or reorganisation of tank units. On the break-up of 27 Armd Bde, therefore, the bde workshop was allotted to the Army Delivery Squadron of Second Army to service tanks there. On 12 December the following system for servicing and issuing tanks was adopted :—
- 27 Armoured Brigade Workshop continued with the army delivery squadron servicing tanks issued from GHQ parks. N o. 3 AFV Servicing Unit was placed under command of First Canadian Army, No. 2 AFV Servicing Unit remained under GHQ control to service 79 Armoured Division and to deal with any re-equipment and re-organisation programmes for either army.
- An Armoured Stores Company for the holding of tank kits was formed and placed under GHQ control while RAOC kitting sections were allotted to delivery squadrons with armies and 79 Armoured Division.
- RAC reinforcements formerly employed by Second Army Delivery Squadron for servicing were divided equally between the two armies.
- HQ 21 Army Group remained responsible for delivering tanks, after inspection by the AFV Inspectorate, to army and 79 Armoured Division’s delivery squadrons.
NEW TYPE VEHICLES
The following new equipments began to operate during this phase ;
- LVT (Landing Vehicle Tracked). These are light armoured tracked amphibious vehicles capable of carrying a section of infantry or one jeep, scout car or 6-pr anti-tank gun. They were issued to 5 Assault Regiment RE in September, and played an important part in the operations for clearing the SCHELDT and WALCHEREN island.
- COMET. The Comet was the latest BRITISH cruiser tank and carried a 7 7-mm gun. 29 Armoured Brigade was to be equipped with these in December but before the change from Shermans to Comets was completed the ARDENNES offensive began. The Brigade was re-issued with its Shermans and proceeded immediately to hold the MEUSE crossings between NAMUR and DINANT. In consequence the Comet tank did not see action until after the crossing of the RHINE.
The advance into BELGIUM made the need for tank transporters acute. By the first week of October all nine companies in the 21 Army Group Order of Battle had arrived. One was allotted to First Canadian Army, three to Second Army and five were under GHQ control. Among the tasks performed by the tank transporter companies under GHQ control were :-
- Operational lifts of armoured formations.
- Clearance of reserve tanks from the RMA.
- Moving RE equipment, cranes and other heavy loads incapable of movement by rail.
- Clearance of replacement tanks from BOULOGNE.
- Delivery of reserve tanks to the army delivery squadrons.
- Back-loading of tanks to ports for repair in UK.
- Lifting back repairable tanks from army areas to the advance base.
- Carriage of certain naval craft over land.
Q(AE) was the branch of HQ 21 Army Group which co-ordinated all transporter requirements submitted by other branches and services. In the‘ ten months during which the five tank transporter companies under GHQ control were operating on the Continent they covered 2,490,000 miles laden and 2,067,222 miles unladen.
The average daily mileage of each ‘transporter worked out at 68 miles per day. A shortage of heavy tyres for tank transporters became acute in December and four of the GI-IQ tank transporter companies had to be taken off the road and were only used in emergencies. After that date therefore, the majority of tank moves had to be carried out either by rail or on their tracks.
HOLDINGS OF SHERMAN TANKS
A chart showing the theatre position for holdings of Sherman '75-mm gun tanks.
These were the main gun tanks of the force and the supply position for them is representative of most other types. The chart is based on the percentage of the unit entitlement of the force and shows the percentage held by units throughout the campaign, the cumulative percentage held by units and in ARG, and the total percentage of UE available with units, in ARG and in base vehicle parks.
The ideal theatre position was for units to be at 100 per cent with a further twenty-five per cent behind them in the ARG and another twenty-five per cent behind that in base vehicle parks. The chart does not show those tanks under repair behind second line or awaiting repair for which there was a theatre entitlement of twenty-five per cent which was seldom exceeded.
Any sudden change in the unit entitlement results in a large jump in the percentage holdings through the theatre. These occurred in particular during December when the UE of the force was changed to two 17-pr tanks and one 75-mm tank per troop instead of two 7 5-mm and one 17-pr per troop. Again in January the UE of Sherman 7 5-mm was reduced by the conversion of 29 Armoured Brigade to Comets.
It will be seen from the chart that up to the end of August no appreciable base stocks had been built up. No sooner had tanks arrived in the theatre than they were issued to ARG and from there to units. In the latter half of August these issues to the ARG continued but the ARG stock was built up considerably owing to their difficulty in getting tanks forward to the units advancing across the SEINE.
A peak in holdings was reached on 5 September, on which day shipping was turned off until 25 September. Thereafter throughout September the losses by units could not be wholly replaced. The stocks in the ARG were running down and the base stocks were becoming rapidly exhausted until at the end of September there was only ninety per cent of the UE in the theatre.
Once shipping started on 26 September at the rate of forty tanks a day through OSTEND and BOULOGNE the theatre position improved rapidly so far as units were concerned, but the stocks in ARG and base vehicle parks did not increase until mid-October.
Thereafter the situation remained normal until the heavy issues to the AMERICANS at the end of December (mentioned in the next para) which affected the total theatre position by a reduction of twenty-five per cent of UE being deducted from the total holdings.
The effect of the conversion of a brigade to Comets was to produce surplus theatre holdings behind units until mid-March when the position settled down and until the end of the campaign approximated throughout to target holdings.
HANDOVER OF SHERMAN TANKS TO THE US FORCES
On 26 December a personal emergency ops signal was received by the MGA from Commanding General Communications Zone asking for the immediate loan of as many medium tanks up to 500 as could be made available.
By 1800 hours the same afternoon vehicle parks had been warned to be ready to make substantial issues and special REME teams from advance base workshops were sent to assist. The same evening a signal was sent releasing a total of 351 Shermans.
The next day was utilised for preparing the tanks for issue and assembling transporters and warflat trains. Train programmes for the maintenance of the armies were interrupted in order to allow the assembly of the trains.
The preparations included a re-adjustment of the Wireless layout of each tank to conform to US practice. The extreme cold and bad weather conditions much hampered the work but three pre-heaters for warming up the engines were obtained on loan from the RAF and proved of great assistance.
In all 217 tanks were moved by transporter and 134 by rail. By 1 January. all of the 351 tanks had been issued but the exceptionally severe Weather conditions delayed the arrival of some of the tanks on transporters. Amongst other material loaned to the AMERICANS about this time were 106 25-pr guns, 78 arty trailers, 30 6-pr guns and various types of ammunition.
CLOTHING AND EQUIPMENT
The provision of additional clothing for the winter assumed importance during this phase and certain increases in the scales of protective clothing were agreed to by the War Office in November. Owing to the shortage of all types of army clothing the ‘Nar Office was unable to agree to 21 Army Group adopting Scale I of War Clothing Regulations instead of Scale III.
It was, however, found possible to authorise each man to hold two sets of battle dress provided that only one set was new and the other part-worn. A kit bag and a fourth blanket were issued to every man in the force.
Local production of clothing was implemented and 10,500 rabbit skin fur coats were made and issued to armies in December. At the end of December the War Office released snow camouflage and winter warfare equipment which was shipped to the theatre in January and issued to formations in accordance with scales laid down by G(SD). This equipment proved invaluable during the heavy falls which occurred during January.
It was agreed with the War Office that certain units formed from allied liberated man power should be equipped to equivalent BRITISH scales so that they could replace BRITISH units in the Order of Battle, thereby releasing BRITISH manpower.
Large issues of clothing, equipment, AFG1098 stores and vehicles were made, particularly to the BELGIANS, although issues to complete authorised programmes continued concurrently both to FRENCH and NETHERLANDS units.
On 12 October an Inspectorate of Army Equipment was formed at HQ 21 Army Group to assist units where necessary in identifying captured equipment and to ensure the return of excess holdings of equipment and vehicles. By the end of the year there were four inspectorates, one each working in BRUSSELS, 11 and 12 L of C Areas and with First Canadian Army.
During December these inspectorates were successful in finding and recovering 436 vehicles and trailers surplus to WE and also a very large quantity of clothing and surplus equipment. In one base sub area alone over 20,000 items were recovered in three days.
Owing to the need for building up reserves of artillery ammunition for future offensives G(SD) limited expenditure of certain natures and allotted specific quantities for each operation. As a result of experience gained during the campaign amendments became necessary to “21 Army Group Ammunition Rates”. The revised rates published on 7 November compared with the original rates are shown at Appendix “P”.
The re-equipment of infantry division A tk regiments was commenced in December and a re-organisation centre was established near BOURG LEOPOLD to assist Second Army in re-equipping their units while First Canadian Army undertook to carry out the work in corps areas.
On completion of the change-over, each A tk regiment consisted of four btys each of one tp of 17 -pr Valentines (3 guns), one tp of 17 -pr towed (3 guns) and one tp of 6-pr towed (4 guns).
Before the end of December it was found possible in response to a recommendation received from 1 Corps to make available and distribute sufficient four-wheeled drive 3-ton lorries to convert all second line RASC companies and platoons to a fifty per cent four- wheeled drive basis. This was of great assistance in the winter conditions.
Captured enemy equipment assumed increasing importance during November and a new section of Q(AE) branch was formed, designated Q(AE)4, with the task of controlling all
captured enemy equipment in conjunction with G(SD), and also to undertake planning for the disarmament of GERMANY.
PREPARATION OF STATISTICS
Q(AE) Statistics prepared the first weekly wastage report of “A” vehicles by WD number on the Hollerith machines and forwarded it to War Office on 25 October.
Various calculations relating to leave eligibility and also a paper on the suggested statistical organisation considered necessary in connection with demobilisation of the GERMAN armed forces were prepared at the request of “A”. Subsequently the branch undertook to prepare statistics for the Medical services.
As a result of the adoption by War Office of the consolidated figures prepared from unit returns on AFsG3200 as the basis for future maintenance demands Q(AE) Stats assumed responsibility for the preparation of the monthly “B” vehicle maintenance demands previously prepared by Ordnance. The branch designed and produced a new form, 21 Army Group Form 100 which was taken into use for the first time on 31 December as AF.Gl000 (Monthly Return of War Office Controlled Stores) had become out of date.
On 15 November a census of office machinery was taken and the branch agreed to maintain it at the request of P & SS.