Movement problems June-September 1944


Movement Problems

A considerable amount of the work achieved by Q(Mov) HQ 21 Army Group during this phase is contained in this chapter while the work of the Transportation Service is described in a other article

When the army rear boundary was established on 23 July a clearer division of the Movements staff became possible. In addition to the Movements staffs at the various HQ concerned, Movement Control staffs were allocated to army roadheads to act as the equivalent of RTOs in the depot areas and to the RMA where they performed similar functions in the base.

There were also Movement Control staffs in the various beach sub areas, transshipment areas and transit camps. Traffic offices were established at both army roadheads and at HQ L of C.

MOVES or staffs

Towards the end of August it was clear that Rear HQ 21 Army Group would not be able to move for some considerable time and therefore control of the L of C would be very difficult if it became greatly extended. An advanced echelon of Q(Mov) was therefore planned to move to the ROUEN area and at the same time preparations Were made for RTO staffs for forward railheads and for a party for PARIS, should traffic be diverted that way.

The advanced echelon was established in ROUEN on 31 August but during the first week in September it moved to AMIENS with a tentacle at LILLE to help in the handover from the FRENCH to the BELGIAN railway operating authorities.

When 11 L of C Area HQ with its movement staff was brought up to AMIENS this advanced echelon moved on to BRUSSELS.

Thus, in mid-September movement in the area SOUTH of the SEINE was controlled by 12 L of C Area up to the railheads in the area NORTH of the SEINE within FRANCE it was controlled by 11 L of C Area in conjunction with the FRENCH railway officials at AMIENS, while in the area in BELGIUM it was controlled by 21 Army Group Movements staff in BRUSSELS in conjunction with the SNCB.

11 L of C Area was also made responsible for rail movement out of DIEPPE.

Port Executive Committees for LE HAVRE, DIEPPE and the Channel ports were set up before the advance and the necessary naval and sea transport personnel and reconnaissance parties mobilised.

They went forward with the armies to enter each port as soon as possible. These port parties were made available by the fact that, with the reduction in stores import, it was possible to start considering the closing of the beaches and thereby reduce the staffs at ARROMANCHES and CAEN.

One Transport Airfield Detachment RAF moved forward with each army complete with a Movements staff. With the establishment of a transport airfield at AMIENS a chain of transport airfields ran from the RMA to BRUSSELS.

The first MFO Port Depot was established at ARROMANCHES in the beginning of this phase and early in August a MFO depot was opened in the RMA.

On 2 September special MFO detachments were stationed at army and corps HQs and in mid-September the MFO main depot was moved to DIEPPE.


Control of the beach and port areas was re-organised. The PMLO for JUNO now controlled the port of COURSEULLES and the bulk of the beaches while the port commandant at ARROMANCHES controlled MULBERRY B, PORT EN BESSIN, and a portion of the GOLD beaches at the eastern end of MULBERRY.

No development of the beaches took place and work was confined to their maintenance. Enemy activity particularly against the JUNO area continued from long range guns until the capture of LISIEUX by First Canadian Army.

The transshipment areas were re-organised and transportation officers placed in charge of the actual transshipment and handling of labour while RASC officers were responsible for the handling of transport, the whole area being controlled under the port superintendent, by Transportation with Movements assistance.


Work on minesweeping began at OUISTREHAM on 21 August but the development of the installations in the port of CAEN had started about a fortnight earlier.It was assumed that CAEN would be a major bulk coal port (up to 1,500 tons a day) and would handle up to 5,000 tons of dry cargo in addition. It soon became clear,however, that this full scale development of CAEN would be unnecessary so personnel and equipment were released for the development of ports further NORTH. The CAEN-OUISTREHAM canal was cleared on 3 September and two colliers began to discharge in CAEN on the same day.


On 30 August the first LSI was berthed at the LST pier at ARROMANCHES and a trial was later successfully carried out to see whether a hospital carrier could berth alongside this pier.

Preparations were immediately made to use this means of casualty evacuation whenever possible.


The enemy’s plans for demolishing DIEPPE went awry and it was possible to open the port within five days of its capture. The first coasters arrived on 7 September and the daily capacity of the port reached between six and seven thousand tons by the end of the month.


As already stated, this was captured on 12 September and almost immediately allotted to the US Army by SHAEF. As had been anticipated, the port was badly demolished and it was never necessary for the BRITISH to use it. The port parties scheduled for LE HAVRE had already been switched to ANTWERP.


This port was captured partly demolished on 9 September but was expected to be open within three weeks, after a certain amount of mine clearance and the removal of a block of sunken shipping at the entrance to its harbour.

As stated in para 6 (a) of this chapter, BOULOGNE and CALAIS were not opened during this phase.


Train ferry terminals for rail-fitted LST and “Zeebrugge” and “Twickenham” type ferries were constructed at CHERBOURG by 4 August. The programme for supply of locomotives and wagons had been worked out in advance and the War Office allotted the ferries according to it.

The use of LST for wagon ferrying meant a reduction in the shuttle service and in the facilities available for evacuation.

Evacuation of casualties, however, was now proceeding smoothly by hospital carrier and air and the evacuation of PW was reduced when the decision to use them for labour in the base area was taken.

By 17 August rail lines from CAEN to BAYEUX and CAEN to COURSEULLES were opened after the bridge at CAEN over the River ORNE had been constructed.

By 1 September a single line had been opened from CAEN to ARGENTAN via MEZIDON.

After the capture of BRUSSELS a through rail route from just EAST of ROUEN to the area of BRUSSELS was found nearly intact, although it included a long single line stretch from AMIENS to ARRAS via DOULLENS.

Work was immediately started by the FRENCH, assisted by transportation troops, on a bridge over the SOMME at AMIENS the lack of which was the cause of the break in the double line.

The line from DIEPPE to the main route through AMIENS was ready by 6 September which was the day before the first coaster discharged in that port. It was decided to construct a train ferry terminal for “Zeebrugge” type ferries at DIEPPE in order to avoid having to import locomotives from the area WEST of the SEINE rail break.

A new single line low-level bridge across the SEINE at LE MANOIR was completed by 22 September.

Both FRENCH and BELGIAN railway men were anxious to help in every way possible. The BELGIAN railways were in better condition and their central control in BRUSSELS was in full operation as except for the eastern portion of BELGIUM, the GERMANS were clear of the country.

The stock of locomotives was very meagre, however, and a number of captured locomotives and wagons were inaccessible due to rail cuts. It was agreed that the area SOUTH of the SEINE should be operated by the military owing to the poor condition of the track and signalling apparatus while the area NORTH of the SEINE should be operated by the local railway authorities.

With the increase in length of the BRITISH rail operated L of C the priority hitherto given to the US for imported locos and rail stock had to be reversed as the BRITISH had insufficient locos SOUTH of the SEINE to maintain the L of C from the RMA. A transfer of locomotives from US to BRITISH control was arranged.


Until the cut in imports was ordered the average discharge of stores of all kinds varied between thirteen thousand and nineteen thousand tons per day, depending on the weather, the availability of coasters and the handling of ferry craft.

On 14 August the millionth ton of stores was landed of which just under one third had been discharged at the artificial port.

Up to this time in view of the urgency for delivery there had been little attempt to record the movement of stores once they had been landed. It was now decided that convoy notes for lorry drivers would be instituted which enabled the turnround of the lorries and the general flow of stores to be checked.

Details of the loads were in broad terms except for pilferable cargoes which in addition to the details on the convoy notes, were on occasions specially guarded.


As soon as the armies reached BELGIUM there was an immediate request for information on the canal systems. Due to a shortage of staff the reconnaissance of the canals took a considerable time but it was clear that IWT would shortly become a major factor in the clearance of stores and that an increase of both Movements and Transportation staffs would be required for this purpose.




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