NORMANDY, 1944, FROM THE ANGLE OF D.P.M, ARMY
BY COLONEL F. C. DRAKE, O.B.E., M.C.
SECOND ARMY H.Q. was formed in May, 1943, and moved in very skelton form to Cowley Barracks, Oxford. here, with no troops and no transport, and very little staff, we slowly sorted out and built up. This H.Q. was formed to make the invasion “Out”of England to some point on the main seaboard of Europe. At that stage we did not know where and, within reason, we did not know how. Other landings had been made and would be made, but nothing could compare with this final air, land and sea attack to break the main west wall, build up in very enclosed populated enemy-occupied country, and then break out to chase him home and destroy him. There could be no failure, but to succeed needed the closest attention to detail. All the combatant troops in the world wouldn’t succeed without maintenance troops and suppliers. Too many supplies, vehicles, and not enough fighting troops might bring disaster at the outset. Our Chief of Staff, therefore decided that we should occupy ourselves during this early period in “planning how to plan.”
After general discussion and outline, services and branches made their own plans and later, large map exercises were held at which the commanders and their staffs flogged out their points. About this time, General Anderson, lately back from First Army in North Africa, was appointed to command an there were some changes in method and personnel. There followed exercises such as “Jantzen,” which practised the beach and beach-head drill, and “Harlequin,” which at a number of places along the south coast practised in detail the assembly, break-down, marshalling into craft loads, and embarkation of troops. None of these were carried out by the Army, by our staff and services attended and, like many spectators, saw most of the game and were not valueless in suggestion and criticism.
During the autumn, Army troops began to come under command, and the Arm Provost Staff, which by now was complete, began a series of exercises of our own to ensure that the newly issued and long-awaited doctrine was indeed common and that Army C.M.P. companies, Provost T.C. and V.P., had a complete knowledge of, and training for, the tasks that would be imposed upon them. These continued throughout the winter and my A.P.M.s. Provost or T.C. and/or myself directed them and inspected equipment and transport and personnel to ensure that these companies should be equal and interchangeable as far as was reasonable and their characteristics known to us.
At last we were told to select a small staff to go to London and commence the actual plan. In London we split into two groups in different buildings, some officers and clerks “sworn” and some not. After a short while in a small staff such as Provost, this became chaotic and we were all permitted to join forces in our locked and guarded flat in the block of buildings taken over by Army. I had to attend a conference that night. On arrival I was checked by CMP on loan from London District and sent to a certain room. The door was shut and I knocked, to be admitted by one of “G” staff. The thick black curtains on the windows were all drawn, the fog in the room was thick and everyone talked in low voices. I felt like a conspirator. At the end of the room was a wall covered with curtains and lit with special lights. The Chief of Staff came in and told us what would be the drill and the detailed security orders for the planning period. Finally he drew the curtains disclosing the map of the landing beaches, ours and American, and briefly outlined the idea. All very simple but nevertheless one had acquired a little something that others hadn’t got and it was formidable knowledge to carry around.. We had one upheaval. Almost immediately general Dempsey replaced General Anderson to command Second Army and there followed the consequent reshuffle of staff and our adaption to new masters.
I do not intend to go into the detail of planning, which has already been outlined from the Corps angle. Suffice it to say that it was very intelligent, very complicated and altogether beyond my capacity. Luckily my APMs. Provost lieut-Col. keighley, and Traffic Maj. Buist, and our Chief Clerk Sgt Maj. Tough ploughed successfully through endless shipping and landing serials. Living near us were the \corps and Divisional landing staffs, into whose priorities we had to phase Army and L od C units, who would land and work with them in the early days; but stay behind as they went forward.. For the same reason we had to co-ordinate with 21st Army Group, of which the HQ would not be coming in until some two weeks after us, to take in with us troops and installations to help us and later revert back to them. At last paper planning came to an end and Army main and rear HQ moved physically to the command posts from which they would control embarkation, the early stages of the battle, and the build up as the frontline went forward. We took over two forts on Portsdown, and at last I began to have some actual responsibility for for our own affairs, including the security at HQ during the briefing period, and the traffic in their immediate vicinity.
There followed two months of tidying up, endless chasing of GS1098, transport and special equipment, and final agreement of the Provost plan with Provost Officer, of leading corps, of build-up corps, L of C and Army Group. I, with a skeleton staff was phased to land with advanced Army HQ on D2, and the remaining Provost staff and Provost units by D5, when Army assumed control behind corps’ rear boundaries. Altogether there were five corps with L of C troops, whose Provost strength totalled between 4 - 5,000 other ranks and 80 officers. Responsibility for these, either in command or by coordination with their own formation, rested with Army until the arrival of Army Group some two weeks later. Originally we had been told to be ready by 1st May, then 1st June. There was still one thing we did not know, and that was D-Day. As we got nearer to June, speculation became more concise, the tides, the moon and then there was a dedication service on the first Sunday in June. I was made responsible for the security of this service, to which the commanders of the Army and Army Group were coming. It was an impressive and inspiring service, based on the vigil and dedication of a knight, and including, to my satisfaction Sir francis Drake’s prayer. Almost immediately and top secret the day was named: 5th June - the weather was very rough and there was a delay ordered of twenty-four hours. Once the machine was set in motion any major delay was impossible, as the men were in the craft, and could not stay there indefinitely. There was however some improvement and on 6th June they went in. There was nothing we could do now but listen, and listen we did. We listened to every sit. rep. that came in, to the wireless and to every latrine rumour. It all seemed pretty good and in due course I got into my jeep with my driver, an enormous man whom I felt would drown any wretched little waterproofed jeep immediately. We had been harassed by fairly severe bombing during planning in London and intermittently here at Portsmouth, but the doodlebugs which were later to be such a nuisance, had not yet started and we moved slowly through the streets to our embarkation points in peace. We got onto our L.S.T. about midnight and as there appeared to be no activity I got out my fleabag and went to sleep. We sailed about dawn, passing other vessels coming back with wounded and prisoners and fetched up off the coast during the morning. I shall never forget the sight. As far as the eyes could see, in both directions were ships and masts. It looked like a wood. Royal Navy support ships were firing, but otherwise everything appeared very peaceful. It had originally been intended to transfer us to Rhinos to ferry us ashore, but the Rhinos had not proved all the success they might have, and things were getting behind schedule. The Navy had not been keen to let L.S.T. ashore to dry out in the early stages because they did not know how they would come off at the next tide.
However, someone had to decide now and it was arranged to run us on shore to dry out. We were one of the first, if not the first to do so, and as the tide was going out by the time it was my turn, I walked off on my two dry feet, with my jeep trailing after. On our left was the little village of Courselles, looking fairly, but not very, battered and, looking for the signs, as per drill in England, left the beach by the vehicle track and exit from the vehicle transit area to do our first de-waterproofing and find our location of Advance Army HQ. We were to short-circuit assembly areas and go directly to HQ, which we did without difficulty, and it seemed very peaceful to see old faces again, including “Cam “ who allotted my patch of orchard to raise my tent.
That was the last bit of peace we had for weeks. Two things had happened, one was that Caen had not fallen and the eastern beaches were still under fire; and the other was we had taken Bayeux completely undamaged with literally not a bottle broken which meant that our beachhead was considerably restricted and we had at its western end a town full of attraction and enough drink to float a battleship. In theory I had three day to put myself in the picture before I took over. In fact I had three hours. There was a conference that night it started right away. There was not enough signs there was indiscipline in Bayeux as there was not room in front as per plan, stores depots would have to be in Bayeux; local inhabitants complained of looting by troops; it wouldn’t be possible to go on using Ouistreham beaches for maintenance because of shelling; and over all the traffic was growing, congestion was appalling and jams frequent.
I went off to see the A.P.Ms Corps to ensure that they were reasonably happy and satisfied and get their advice from experience already gained. Luckily for me, I found in them old campaigners whom nothing ruffled and always willing to help. until I could get some C.M.P. in the D5 there was little I could do but prepare to take over and make my mind up how I was going to do it. The restricted numbers of Divisional and Corps Police were, and remained, engaged almost entirely on traffic and had little time for other tasks. It was rightly left to Army to tidy up as the battle moved forward. As my traffic companies came in, so I took over more and more of the maintenance routes behind corps and building the Army roadhead in and around Bayeux, which was to become a vast base depots of the L. of C. when we in our turn moved on. One must imagine this very small patch of country some ten miles deep and by twenty miles wide, criss-crossed with second-class country roads, pave to carry one line of farm carts, with dirt on either side; plus a small medieval city with narrow tortuous streets, into and around which we were proposing to dump the immense stores and depots of the Army. The only first-class road ran from Bayeux to Caen and was too far forward, and for much of the way under enemy observation and shell fire, to be usable. On to these in the first month we hurled 115,000 vehicles, some of them the most modern monstrosities of the war, which stuck between the housed in the little streets, let alone let any other traffic pass. I had a census taken at certain points and on one day 18,836 vehicles passed one point. This is equal to one vehicle every four seconds throughout the day and night. It only needed one vehicle to break down or some thoughtless person to halt to start a jam stretching for miles. It was not realised that Provost were at that time having to accept any vehicle on any road ay any time in any direction and get it to its destination - if it knew it! No control of movement was in force at all. To contend with this, I managed to persuade the staff to initiate movement control. Our census showed that movement on the roads was confined almost entirely to the hours of daylight, Orders were given, therefore, that operational moves would be at night; tank tracks were introduced to relieve the traffic and save the deterioration on the roads. These tracks military police reconnoitered, signed and lit by night with minefield lamps. Vehicles were not permitted to leave assembly areas before 22.00hrs. at night. We also commenced to number and sign our roads. Hitherto the principle of the desert axis signs had been in vogue, but in enclosed, restricted country, this had proved completely ineffective. Signing by G.10978 equipment was also quite inadequate to the task. D.D.L. (Deputy Director of Labour) made available pioneer carpenters and painters, and a sign factory was started at Army Provost H.Q. and each Company H.Q. These accompanied us for the rest of the campaign and it is conservatively estimated that 50,000 signs were painted and erected by Army police before the end. Continuous patrols by Provost officers and military police were maintained to reach the cause of a jam and try to clear it before it could become jammed tight. Army orders were issued forbidding halting and double banking, and generally tightening road discipline. information posts were set up at suitable places, with vehicle parks to get the casual stopper for information off the road. it was a “give and take “ service. The police gave their information and got the latest from the seeker, keeping up to date in this way. A thousand questions a day were answered at these posts, with a peak day of 1,800. In this way the staff, through Q. (M), responsible for movement control and Provost responsible for traffic control built up an understanding which was to prove so successful throughout early days when we were still wrestling with hour-to-hour problems. I had become involved in a classic jam on our main lateral road, not far from main H.Q. and General Montgomery’s Tactical H.Q. A bulldozer on a transporter had become jammed between some houses completely corking any passage. By dint of diversions we manage to recommence some slow trickle, and I had left the bulldozer clearing the houses and our road largely by aid of itself! On my way back I saw Provost Company R.S.M. and some lance-corporals come to the Provost lines to say that the General was on his way to the beaches to fetch the King, whom he was taking to his H.Q., and would be returning at three, and would we please “clear the roads.” The D.A.P.M. had turned out the stand-by section, plus the R.S.M. plus anybody he could lay hands on. Knowing what I knew was behind me, I decided that nothing more could physically be done and to resort to prayer. Actually the open car carrying the King and General Montgomery left the beaches and proceeded uninterruptedly, sometimes at only walking pace, but without a halt. Which only goes to show the power of prayer. There had been no pre-arrangement of any kind and it was a sight to see the faces of soldiers when they looked up and saw the King and the C in C smiling at them.
During the planning we had been to H.Q. Combined Operations, to hear a talk and see the models of the Mulberry Harbour, and the Admiral had said, “ There is only one thing that can beat us and that is a strong off the sea North wind to pile all the vessels, standing off on to the beaches, but this only happens once in every twenty years.” Well, it happened that year. For several days no vehicle or stores of any kind could land. The beach looked like a jumble sale, with every kind of craft piled up on shore. When it was over bulldozers were used to clear lanes to let the landing vehicles through once more. But it is an ill wind that blows no good. Nothing landed, the assembly areas were empty, no stores could be moved to the road-head, and we had several days of comparative traffic peace, which gave us a moment to sort out and reshuffle, which was to us a godsend. And lastly when the build up was complete, when virtually everything was in, but also when we and Q.(M) Beachhead were functioning satisfactorily, we got orders to move from west to east, right across the beachhead, crossing every road and maintenance route, four Armoured Divisions, one one Tank Brigade, and A.G.R.A. and Corps troops, totalling about 16,500 vehicles on two routes in thirty-six hours, two nights and a day. It was very impressive. Lord Wavell wrote “ The more I have seen of war, the more I realise how it all depends on administration and transportation. It takes little skill to see where you would like your Army to be and when, it takes much more knowledge and hard work to where you can place your forces and whether you can maintain them there.”
For this reason the skill and efficiency of the Provost Staff and military place play today a large part in the success or failure of every operation. But where the traffic problem probably comprises 80 of police duties in war, there remain the discipline, security and other police duties to be carried on as well.
While we were wrestling with the traffic on the roads, we also had another problem in Bayeux. this was captured intact and in the full swing of its normal life. It offered the only relaxation to the strenuous or dangerous life of the troops within our close perimeter . They swarmed into the city and troops brought up on English beer were no match for the strong liquor of the local estaminets, with disastrous results. There was also at that early stage a misguided idea in soldiers’ minds that to appear tough and battle worthy one needed to be dirty and dishevelled and wear a funny scarf. There were numerous complaints from civilians of looting by our troops. Our troops were blamed for most troubles, as a point of principle - compensation was more likely to be forthcoming from us than from the enemy. So the S.I. sections were kept busy investigating, and it was found advisable to have detachments with the leading troops, were more accurate statements could be obtained than later, when imagination had had time to develop. There were cases of alleged murder and rape, and also crimes committed by the enemy, such as shooting of prisoners of war, as well as the everlasting pilfering of War Department stores by civilians. All these were investigated and dealt with. Prisoner-of -war camps were administered by military police in the early stages, but later the demand for police could not afford this drain and “A” Branch organised detachments of other troops, who relieved us of this task in Army Area.
Numbers of searches and checks were held in conjunction with the civil police and the RAF police, and in this way some absentees and a number of undesirable civilians were caught, and a large amount of War Department property recovered.
All military police headquarters and detachments were clearly marked, and those in trouble on their lawful occasions, looked to us for shelter, food and assistance, and they did not look in vain.
I like to think, and I am sure in fact, that it was so, that in those early days in the beachhead, our men, by their patience, example and service, won the confidence of the troops. This was to last and grow throughout the campaign and throughout all ranks, so that if they were in trouble they would “Ask a policeman”.
Brief picture of L. of C. in the early stages.
BRIGADIER J. N. CHENEY, O.B.E.. D.L., D.P.M., L. OF C.
Though it is almost exactly eight years ago since we landed on the beaches in Normandy in 1944 (and one forgets some of the smaller details), the general plan and principles which governed the landing and the subsequent operations are as clear to me today as they were then.
The general plan was that the British Forces were to be reinforced, supplied and maintained in every way over beaches, until sufficient ports were captured and developed. It assumed that beach maintenance would cease on the opening of the Seine ports. Special organizations were created for operating out of beaches; they were (in rising order of importance) Beach Bricks, Beach Groups and Beach Sub-areas. Each organization contained detachments of various arms and services, including the military police - in this all individual beaches were maintained, and worked by self-contained units.
It was planned to maintain Second Army, who carried out the first assault, for the first days from beach maintenance areas and subsequently from two army road-heads, which was ultimately to be handed over to the First Canadian Army when that army became operative.
The maintenance area from which the whole force would be supplied wa to be closed as soon as conditions permitted. Because of the damage caused by our bombing, it was considered necessary to be independent of the railways for the first three months, the lines of communications were therefore, entirely road-operated for this period.
Marshal Montgomery in his book “Normandy to the Baltic “, says that the outstanding administrative problems were created by 1) unfavourable weather conditions, which resulted in the tonnage of stores landed over the beaches being 25% less than had been expected; 2) from the difficulties of expanding the major maintenance installations from the beaches into the confined area of the bridgehead; and 3) from the traffic congestion within the bridgehead and from the sudden change from short-range opus to the fast moving battle up to the Seine and beyond.
On this plan, the Armies were initially supplied from hastily stacked dumps on beaches, but within fifty days the vast and complicated organization of the rear maintenance area had been brought into being. The degree of expansion use of the bridgehead is reflected in the fact that in the British Section alone( roughly the size of the Isle of Wight) by D + 50, when the break-out was commencing, 631,000 men, 53,000 vehicles and 639,000 tons of stores had been landed in the bridgehead ?,000 tons of bulk petrol, oil and lubricant.
The storms of 19-22nd June caused grave dislocation on the beaches; some 800 craft damaged and driven ashore, and the “mulberries” or artificial harbours were badly damaged.
Congestion of transport was to be seen to be believed - at one time 8,836 vehicles passed in one day, giving an hourly average of 755 vehicles, or one every four seconds throughout the twenty-four hours, road repairs, traffic control and the construction of diversions became major commitment.
??? the early stages, was the focal point for traffic congestion, several main roads converged on it and, with the existing road system, it could not be by-passed. Its own streets were narrow, angular and ???. Bayeux is a small market town just smaller ?CHECK ORIGINAL PAGES
two hours to get through the town and this was not an uncommon occurrence - a most worrying situation when was in a hurry. Strenuous efforts had to be made, otherwise these difficulties would have paralysed all movement.
In the first place every military policeman who could be spared from disciplinary duties was turned onto traffic control. Compulsory car parks were organized; there were policemen in abundance; and patrols were constantly moving around.
Traffic posts were set up in a number of key positions, and were connected by direct telephone to the headquarters of D.A.P.M., Bayeux, who was always supplied with the latest information regarding the traffic, and could give orders for handling traffic problems to the military police without any delay.
To facilitate the D.A.P.M.’s over-all control, he always had in his office a responsible representative from each Provost Traffic Control or V.P. company deployed under his command. But in spite of all these measures the military police were often physically unable to keep traffic moving, so great was the weight of traffic and so inadequate the road capacity. Indeed, some people often used to get out of their cars and do some shopping, knowing full well that their care would be there on their return.
Throughout the bridgehead - apart altogether from Bayeux, traffic was nearly always moving head to tail, and woe betide anyone who decided to overtake or double bank; then a hold-up was bound to occur, but this so often happened. How lucky it was that we had air superiority in those days, as if Bayeux had been persistently attacked from the air it could only have resulted in appalling chaos.
From early days, Provost, 21 Army Group, had pressed for the construction of a bypass around Bayeux. First of all, one was made on dirt track principles, across fields and open ground, laying airfield construction netting on the surface. This had a short life.
Then the Chief Engineer of 21st Army Group decided to build a more solid bypass, using the existing exterior roads where possible, and adding new sectors of cindered track to complete the circuit. This was a good idea, but if you wanted to go into Bayeux from outside, or you wanted to leave the town and go outside, you had to keep your wits about you, because to avoid cross streams of traffic, the orders were that you had to enter the traffic stream in the by-pass - which was only one way - by the road before the one you intended to leave it, and, therefore, if you took the directly intersecting road, you could not cross straight over, and round the whole bypass you had to go again! This may sound crazy, but work it out and you will see that it is sound sense!
The local administration of the dumps and maintenance areas in the bridgehead was taken over in D+5 from Second Army by H.Q., Lines of Communications, area and in mid-July H.Q., Lines of Communications assumed responsibility for coordination and administration of the rear areas.
Meanwhile the development of the grid system, which proved so successful, was gradually carried out as follows. Main routes for all forward and lateral movement were selected by the staff; these routes were immediately signed by Divisional Provost, then by Corps Provost and then by ourselves, the Liners of Communication Provost. We took over all existing signs from the Army, re-sited and remade them, and added to them where necessary.
In the early bridgehead days in a conference called by Provost, 21st Army Group, the size, layout and colouring of all Provost road signs was laid down and standardized. This complete co-ordination immensely simplified the handing over of road control from one formation to another; and was of great assistance to drivers, who found the same system everywhere . The main Lines of Communications commitment in the bridgehead was that of seeing any large movements through the Lines of Communications safely and without hitch. This involved the policing and manning of all points in the towns and signing of all routes both in and out of depots, but not the individual circuits within the actual
depots, which was the depots own task. It involved a terrific amount of signing. In Bayeux alone 9,000 signs were erected. From June 1944 = March 1945, exclusive of going into Germany, we had signposted 4,000 miles of route and erected approximately 141,800 signs, and put electric light on signs in 35 towns - an amazing feat.
So great was the demand for signs that each Provost, Traffic Control and Vulnerable Points Company had its own sign factory, often with civilian sign writers taken on to the establishment.
The competition to buy, borrow or loot a circular saw was the topic of the day and, rightly or wrongly, when I inspected a company, I used to judge its efficiency largely by whether it possessed a buzz-saw.
All military police signs were made by the C.M.P. themselves, not by the sappers. Each sign was now of standard sizes, either 4ft x 4ft or 6ft x 6ft, made of black boards with white lettering. No one else in this world was allowed to make or erect a similar sign; it was an offence if they did so, and in our eyes a serious one. Drivers could therefore pick out at once and at a big distance, the official military police black signs upon which they relied to find their way.
The “tee-up” between Army and Lines of Communication was maintained by personal contact with the D.P.M. Army, or one of his A.P.M.s. I found that this made the whole difference.
We always found it advisable with D.P.M.’s Army, consent, to take over an area slightly in advance of the rear Army boundary. The idea was, in my opinion, the most important one of all, as when the Army went forward at a moment’s notice, and it always did, we were actually on the ground that we had to take over and were always in position to say “Yes” or “No” to any demands. Without this material cooperation it would have been impossible to avoid frequent gaps in traffic control along the rapidly expanding main routes. Army always wanted to move their men early, quite naturally, in order to go forward and it was up to me to take over the responsibilities in the quickest possible time. No Traffic Control Company was ever withdrawn by Second Army before we had arrived. The D.P.M. of the Canadian Army who was a very fine D.P.M. always liked to be independent. He sometimes worked rather more to the letter than to the spirit of the law! Therefore when possible, a Lines of Communication section was doubled up with one of the canadian Army’s rear sections so as to get to know the area to be taken over, well in advance. After the break-out this was not always possible, of course, but the route was never left unmanned. The system of traffic control in the depot areas was a very big problem. The official system standardised at the conferences I have already mentioned - was to mark the way to each depot by a sign painted in the distinctive colour of the commodity, e.g. red for ammunition, blue for P.O.L. etc, and indicating by legend to drivers the different colour for each commodity on a large board at the entrance to each maintenance area. This saved a lot of sign making, and made it simpler for the drivers, who just followed the colour of the commodity to its conclusion.
After the break-out the staff selected four main operational and maintenance routes leading from Normandy across the Seine, and the north of france, and into and through Belgium. These routes, - numbered 200, 210, 230, and 240 - with a number of important lateral roads, had to be organised as traffic routes and controlled through their length by the military police on the grid system. Lines of Communication were responsible for signing and policing them from the Normandy beaches, the R.M.A. and liberated ports to just beyond Brussels.
We were also responsible for the R.M.A. itself, from which supplies went to various maintenance areas set up by Army on their advance. All these supplies needed maintenance routes, all manned by traffic control either Provost or Traffic Control. At one time Traffic Control on the Lines of Communication were responsible for a length of route equal to Land’s End to John O’ Groats and back.
At focal points along the main routes, in big towns, and adjacent to large depot areas, we set up a complete and interlocking system of information posts manned by military police. These posts purveyed information as to locations, installations, petrol points, medical, road information, shopping facilities, car parks, amusements etc, and in fact everything just like a Cook’s Tourist Agency. We had about 400 of these and often had from 800 to 2000 inquiries a day.
Prisoners of war were another problem. They had to be escorted, guarded, fed, housed and clothed, and their numbers were overwhelming.
Special companies of Blue Caps were detailed for prisoners of war alone in the early stages, and it was thanks to their initiative and efficiency that we were able to cope at all.. Another problem was absentees, of whom a large number were notified to the military police.. They stole War Department food, clothing, petrol etc and lived comfortably on the proceeds, either with French and Belgian families or in the woods. The whole Provost Service in 21st Army Group carried out a carefully organised round-up for forty-eight hours one weekend. Everyone was confined to barracks for the period and all local leave was stopped. The military police then carried out an intensive check-up and a series of raids. In Lines of Communication alone we picked up 423 deserters.
One interesting case was of nine deserters who were badly needed for armed hold-ups and larceny over a long period. They formed a gang run on very well-organised lines. One of them was dressed as an officer and the gang had its own C.S.M., C.Q.M.S. and N.C.Os. Transport was stolen and used in the execution of their crimes, false numbers were fitted to their stolen vehicles, and one with military police signs. These men all carried their own pay books and made up to date. In fact one man was stripped by his own gang for not carrying his pay book.
Time and space does not permit me to tell of many experiences. One day going up the Caen - Bayeux road, I saw a typical Frenchman ploughing - this was all right, but his plough was being pulled by a new Bren Carrier. On being questioned he said that only the night before he had purchased it from a soldier for £100. I was sorry for him and took the Bren carrier off him, but let him go.
Taking all things into consideration, everything went surprisingly smoothly. This I put down to two reasons : on the one hand the wonderful team spirit and cheerfulness of the officers and men of all branches of the military police; and, on the other, the co-operation, co-ordination and helpfulness between Divisions, Corps and Armies, the Lines of Communication and the Lines of Communication areas.
NORMANDY, 1944, FROM THE ANGLE OF A.P.M. 1 CORPS
BY COLONEL P. GODFREY-FAUSSETT, OBE
PART 1 - PLANNING THE ASSAULT
(Part II - “The Landing and the Development of the Beachhead” will be published in the next issue)
All through 1943, H.Q. 1 Corps had been in Scotland, mainly in Ayrshire, concentrating on Combined Operations. The object was to absorb the lessons of the beach landings in North Africa, Sicily and Italy and to produce a Combined Operations drill for use - one day - somewhere in North-West Europe. The result was that when the wind, but we knew no details advanced H.Q. went up to London to join H.Q. Second Army in Ashley Gardens for the detailed planning of Operation “Overlord”, we all felt, rightly or wrongly! - that we were the experts.
From a Provost point of view that training experience in Britain was of the greatest interest. In addition to the Corps, Provost Company and a varying number of Divisional Provost Companies (usually three), the A.P.M. had under direct Provost command no fewer than six small Beach Provost Companies of four sections each, and was responsible for the formation and detailed training of them all. All this had been well begun early in 1943 under Major Fred Stanley, but when I took over from him in June 1944 there was still a great deal to be done. In August he Corps Provost Company and all the Beach Provost Companies (then still only four) took part in a Combined Operations Exercise “Jantzen” on the coast of Wales near Tenby; and all through the autumn and winter the Beach Companies, either alone or in pairs, took part in a series of smaller exercises, mostly on the east coast of Scotland. Gradually the beach “drill” was perfected, and each company became highly skilled and “battleworthy”, and by early 1944, when two beach companies left us to go under command of 30 Corps, we felt they were ready for all eventualities.
The detailed planning of “Overlord” was again of consuming interest. Our Provost corner was a very small one, but one had to have fingers in all sorts of pies. I shall never forget the thrill, when at the end of January 1944 the Corps Heads of Services received their first briefing for “Overlord”, the operation for which many of us had been waiting for four years. We had, of course, known for some time that an invasion of some kind was in the wind, but we knew no details at all and hardly dared to talk even of the possibility.
Then, in half an hour and on our very first day at Planning H.Q. virtually all the beans were spilt! We then knew where the landings were to be, what formations were taking part and where indeed, all the broad outlines of the plan except the actual date. Such white-hot knowledge so suddenly gained seemed a terribly big load of responsibility!
Then followed nearly three months of very intensive work. Aerial photos, including “obliques” of the landing beaches, and the higher-level instructions had to be studied. The Corps Provost plan had to be roughed out and tied up with Army and 30 Corps on our right, and the consequent size of the commitment had to be assessed. Bids had then to be made, supported and fought for, for the Provost force needed to carry out the commitment.. And finally when those bids had been accepted, came the long process of bidding for shipping space and landing priorities.
This was an incredibly complicated business, and its success reflected the greatest credit on the skill, hard work and above all patience of the G.(S.D.) Staff. There were innumerable ships and landing craft concerned; their availability was - probably unavoidably - always being changed by the Royal Navy, and their capacity had to be assessed literally to the last square foot by Q.(Movement) and R.E.(Transportation). Landings were subdivided by tides - first, second, third and fourth for D Day and D Day +1 - and after that by days. Even for 1 Corps alone some ten beaches were being used; and in order to achieve - anyway theoretically - correct landing priorities and times for all troops, each Provost Company and even section had to be split up and placed in different craft-loads. Every time craft-loads seemed to be firming up, the availability of some craft would be cancelled, and it all had to be changed.
Working up to midnight and even later was quite normal, and when one stole an occasional day or two off, to go up by night mail to Scotland, see a strenuous beach exercise all day and return by next night mail, it seemed like a rest cure! Nights were livened, too, by one of the major bombing periods over London.
The 1 Corps plan was for 3 Canadian Division to assault on the right over two beach sectors known as “Mike” and “Nan”, while 3 British Division assaulted on the left over sectors “Peter”,
CHECK LAST 2 LINES AND TOP 2 LINES OF PAGES 7 & 8 IN ORIGINALS
By the end of April plans were virtually complete, and for 1 Corps Provost, they worked like this
Provost Units under Command :
One Corps Provost Company (H.Q. and 9 Sections ).
Four Divisional Provost Companies (each H.Q. and 6 Sections).
Four Beach Provost Companies (each H.Q. and 4 Sections ).
One T.C. Company ((H.Q. and 4 Sections ).
One V.P. Company (H.Q. and 6 Sections ).
Altogether eleven Companies aggregating 59 Sections - a nice little command for one A.P.M.! Omitting the four Divisional Provost Companies (two in the assault and two follow-up), for whose detailed landings I did not have to plan, the remaining seven H.Q.s and thirty-five Sections were split up into no fewer than forty-six “craft-serials”, some of which would be as large as three sections and some as small as a couple of drivers bringing in low-priority vehicles about D+12.
TRAFFIC TRACE FOR 1 CORPS LANDINGS
The units and their planned priorities and roles were as follows :
3 Canadian Div Pro Coy. / D Day. Traffic Duties with Assault and follow up Bdes
3 British Div Pro Coy. and Div HQ.
242 Beach Pro Coy. D Day. Beach and Transit Areas TC on MIKE and
routes to STAR Assembly Areas.
244 Beach Pro Coy. D Day. Beach and Transit Areas on NAN and laying
out STAR Beach Maint. Area.
241 Beach Pro Coy. D Day. Beach and Transit Areas on QUEEN and
routes to MOON Assembly Area.
245 Beach Pro Coy. D Day. Laying and control of MOON Beach
6 Airborne Div Pro Coy. D Day. TC with Para and Glider Bdes East of ORNE
Div follow-up vehicles on NAN.
51(H) Div Pro Coy. D to D+4. TC duties with follow up Div.
102 Corps Pro Coy. D Day. Two Secs under command Assault Divs.
“ Three Secs for Corps HQ(1) & Pro Reserve
D + 1 One Sec for Corps HQ(2).
D + 2 Three Secs on Corps Roads & Pro Reserve
73 CMP(TC) Coy. D Day Three Secs TC in Assembly Area STAR.
“ One Sec TC in Assembly Area MOON.
601 CMP(VP) Coy. D Day Two Secs Recce and est of PW Cage in
“ Two Secs Recce and est of PW Cage in
D + 2 Two Secs ESt Central PW Cage if required.
BY BRIGADIER BASSET WILSON O.B.E., M.C. (LATE 21ST ARMY GROUP)
The FOUR articles on normandy which have appeared in previous issues deal with the short but vital phase of the war: the assault on Normandy beaches and the subsequent development of the bridgehead.
Nobody can appreciate an isolated slice of history without understanding its “setting”; I mean what lead up to it and what it led to. Very briefly, therefore let me touch upon the earlier years of the war, and also one or two post VE Day events, in the light of which I shall stick out my chin and try to draw a few lessons.
But let me say at once that what I write is based on no inside knowledge of post-war developments or plans; it is merely the personal views of a retired provost officer.
Work in progress
This article appeared in the RMP Journal, 3rd Quarter, 1960.
MINISTRY OF INFORMATION
NEWS BULLETIN No. 1032
“RED CAPS” HAVE BECOME PLANE “COPPERS TO
TOMMY - AND IT’S A TRIBUTE
BY AN OFFICER OBSERVER
As a Private and as an Officer, I had, like almost everyone in the British Army, a wholesome respect and cordial dislike of the “Red Cap.” I have avoided him at railway stations and resented his suspicious and sometimes supercilious glances. Since landing in France, all that has changed. I seek him out, listen to what he says, take his advice and in general regard him with wholehearted admiration.
Operationally, which means out here in France or anywhere where there is fighting going on - The Corps of Military Police functions calmly and efficiently, maintaining order and precept rather than threat.
Only since this war began has the Corps been used operationally, It came into its own in the Western Desert. Its first real job of work was marking the gap in minefield at El Alamein. This meant being well forward and under incessant fire. That they got an armoured formation through the sixteen-mile gap in one night shows how well the job was done. Remember those endless convoys you have seen wending along the good British roads in daylight? Imagine them strung together easing their way over a rough track at dead of night, and even then the magnitude of the task is only hinted at.
For this work the Red cap has won the admiration of every soldier in Normandy, North Africa and Italy.
The job often begins by following the leading armoured brigade into battle to post with signs the route forward for on coming troops of the division. When the thrust over the Odon was made, the Red Caps had the route signposted in a matter of minutes.
When an important divisional move was mad at midnight on one front. A few days ago. The Military police had an hour’s notice. Yet by the time the convoy moved off without lights across field tracks it was guided all the way by discreetly illuminated signs and by patient Red Caps on point duty.
The men who do traffic control have to keep a wary eye open for both important personages and for snipers!
Though some of the Red Caps are policemen from “civvy Street” or were road scouts, the majority had no pre-war experience of police and traffic duties.
Major “Ronnie” Cashen who has just taken over the post of Assistant Provost Marshal to an armoured division in France, had with him in North Africa four schoolmasters with university degrees, a blacksmith, a steeplejack and a salesman.
All are volunteers - the only corps, except the Paratroops, so formed. They take part in every Army operation. They drop with Paratroops, land with Commandos, touch-down with gliders and wade ashore with infantry.
Every man is an expert motorcyclist, many having ridden in T.T. races and trials. They have to be first class map readers, able to memorize from a map four miles of route ahead. If that sounds trivial let the motorist try is along an new stretch of road. If he can manage half a mile he will do well. Multiply the by eight, replace familiarity English names for outlandish ones like “Bretteville L’Orgueilleuse.” mix well by adding new roads made by the sappers, and get new tracks made by tanks, subtract by-ways disguised by well placed shells and one gets an idea of the difficulties of the Red Cap.
Here are some of the jobs the Corps was called upon to do in one day:- Provide outriders for a General; handle harassed refugees; bury a dead donkey; man slit trenches in defence of a brigade headquarters; and read the Burial Service when no padre was available.
The British soldier has changed his mode of address, when referring to the Corps, from “those illegitimate Red Cap so-and-so’s” to plain “Copper” This, too is a tribute.