6 June 1944 - 25 July 1944


The policy for the employment of labour was to retain as great a proportion as possible on a pool basis. The only exceptions to this rule were fixed allotments of :— 

• Ten companies to airfield construction
• Fourteen companies to Tn
• Four companies to Smoke Control
• Four companies for pipeline construction.

On D-day thirteen pioneer companies landed on the beaches on the first tide and ten more on the second. By the end of D+2, the finish of the initial assault, three Pioneer Group HQs and forty-two companies had landed and by D+5 the total had increased to ten groups and sixty-three companies.

The role of one assault company is typical of the rest. The men were divided into serials each with a particular task and on separate landing craft. The first serial was made up of one officer and seventeen men who landed at H+20 minutes to clear mines and to dig the command post in readiness for the beach group commander and his staff.

Eight serials, each with one corporal and 6 men landed with REs at H+45 minutes to establish eight exits from the beaches to a lateral road by laying down Sommerfeld track. Three serials, each commanded by an officer, landed at H+100 minutes to reconnoitre two miles inland for a place to establish and dig in the beach sub area HQ.

Other companies which landed later on D-day, unloaded and assembled bridging equipment and assisted in the preparation of bridge approaches. Some felled timber to construct corduroy roads while others demolished road blocks. Three companies specially trained in first aid and stretcher bearing were allotted to the beach sub areas and other companies off-loaded assault craft and began the build-up of beach stores depots.

All anticipated commitments for the initial stages had been covered in the plan but the ways in which labour would have to be used in the first few days could not be entirely foreseen and therefore an Assistant Director of Labour was appointed to each of the two corps to act as labour adviser and to coordinate the work of Group HQ.

As these were phased in they quickly took over operational command of their companies and brought back into the general labour pool those which had been married to a particular service for the assault.

By 25 July all but ten companies of the entire Pioneer Corps Order of Battle comprising thirty-five groups, two hundred and fifteen companies and twenty Administrative Units (Civil Labour) totalling 63,000 officers and men, had been phased into the bridgehead.

During the build-up ten companies were employed on making tactical air landing strips and one group and four companies were used on constructing the landward extension of PLUTO.

Casualty Clearing Stations and hospitals received an allotment of Pioneers for general duty work and stretcher bearing. Four companies were used initially for unloading ships at MULBERRY B and others were employed unloading ammunition, petrol and supplies in the transshipment area, the army roadheads and corps FMCs.

At one time twenty companies were employed repairing roads in the beach-head and constructing new by-passes.

Other companies were attached to divisional REs for forward road work and bridging, and REME employed sections for repairing and salvaging landing craft and tanks.

When First Canadian Army arrived in the bridgehead it assumed command of all pioneer companies employed with Canadian Army formations and roadheads.

For the assault seven groups and thirty-seven companies out of L of C pioneer resources were placed under command of Second Army, all of which were to be returned when control of the RMA became a L of C responsibility. Some of these units, however, had been necessarily committed to tasks of a forward operational nature. Thus, when L of C installations were phased in they had in some cases to employ units which were unaccustomed to their particular stores, habits and organisation.

It had always been the plan to supplement military labour by some form of civil labour and for this purpose AUCLs were formed and were responsible for employing and paying all available civil labour required by the employing Services in liberated territory.

As NORMANDY was largely agricultural with a small population, only 756 civilians were employed by D+30 but also working within the bridgehead at the same time were two mobile labour groups employing 500 civilians recruited from those who had been bombed out or who were ready to leave their homes.

During this phase the multiplicity of commitments which could not be foreseen in planning and which the Labour Directorate was called on to fulfil at short notice, was met by phasing forward units from UK before the L of C installations they had been planned to work with were required in the beach-head.



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