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A Short History of the 71st Field Company R.E. in the North Western European Campaign 1944 - 1945

by cornwallcsv

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Archive List > World > France

Contributed by 
cornwallcsv
People in story: 
Jack Burleigh
Location of story: 
Holland and Germany
Background to story: 
Army
Article ID: 
A7810607
Contributed on: 
16 December 2005

This story was entered onto this web site by Rod Sutton on behalf of Dave Burleigh, the author, who fully understands and accepts the sites terms and conditions.

In May 1944, 71st Field Company R.E. left its previous formation, 7 Army Troop Engineers, and was placed under command 3 (BR) Division for the initial stages of the invasion of the continent. After taking part in full scale exercise “Fabius” in the south of England the company proceeded to the marshalling area and was accommodated in sealed camps. Whilst there troops were reviewed by H.M. King George VI and by the Supreme Commander General of the Army Eisenhower.

The company was formed into twelve parties as under:

a) Officer Commanding, two Driver Operators, one Reconnaissance Lance Sergeant, one Batman, in a 15cwt 4x4 car.
b) Officer Commanding No1 Platoon with similar party as a) but having two No 19 wireless sets in his truck and one motorcycle strapped on.
c) R.O.2 with part as for party a).
d) *Second-in-Command and forty-four other ranks.
e) *Officer Commanding No3 platoon and forty four other ranks.
f) *Officer Commanding No2 platoon and forty four other ranks.
g) *C.S.M. and forty three other ranks.
h) R.O.1 with thirty one other ranks with eleven vehicles.
i) C.Q.M.S. and M.T. Sergeant and nine other ranks with eleven vehicles.
j) M.T. Lance Sergeant and seven other ranks with seven vehicles.
k) H.Q. Corporal and seven other ranks with seven vehicles.
l) M.T. Corporal, No3 Platoon and three other ranks with two reconnaissance cars.
* No Vehicles, men marching with assault scale of equipment.

Parties a) to g) all landed between 0945 hrs and 1030 hrs 6 June 1944 on Queen Beach at Oisterham, Normandy, having traveled in case of parties a) to c) on L.C.Ts and d) to g) on L.C.Is. The landing varied from dry shod in the case of two parties to a submarine operation for some of the shorter members of one party. All parties doubled or drove off the beaches and proceeded without incident to the crossroads at Benouville which was the company rally point and made contact with the 6th Airborne Division who had captured the bridges intact over the Caen Canal and River Orne and were holding a small bridgehead on the east bank. The officer commanding No1 Platoon, who was an ea-commando, was by now exploring the village of Benouville with a view to company harbour area. His progress through the village could be followed by loud bangs, falling glass and other noises of battle. He soon returned and reported that there were a number of Boche in the village. He hen threw an 82 grenade through an adjoining house window and flushed nine Huns to add weight to his report. These were our first prisoners and they were marched back to the beach by a disgruntled sapper. By now we were becoming quite a formidable force having been joined by three tanks and various lost machine gunners and members of other units. The village of Benouville was cleared late in the evening by the Royal Warwickshire Regiment and 71st Field Company R.E. dug-in around the Mairie. A reconnaissance for projected bridges over the Caen Canal and River Orne were commenced.

The following day bridging equipment commenced to arrive and work commenced on the canal bridge and the company moved into a wood and orchards in the northern outskirts of Benouville. We were joined during the night 7/8th by R.O.1 and his party who were welcomed mainly due to the rations they were carrying. The canal bridge was completed 8th June and the river bridge on 10th June. On 11th June part i) joined the company. Until the 11th July the company remained in Benouville employed on bridge maintenance, road making and construction of the Escarde Bailey Pontoon Bridge. Despite a considerable amount of enemy activity casualties were extremely light.

On 11th July the company returned to the fold of 7 Army Troop Engineers and until 21st July were employed on maintenance of Bayeux temporary bypass bivouacking at St Loup Hors, then followed a period of road maintenance, the company being situated as follows:

Ducy St Margaret 21st July-2nd August (by now all rear echelons had joined)

Anctoville 2nd August-9th August

Monceaux 9th August-16th August

Then on 17th August the company was ordered to Vassy to help form up bridging column for assault on the River Seine. This was done on 23rd August. The company in column with other companies in the formation and what seemed like every bridging vehicle in the world set of up the road to Vernon via Argenton and Gace arriving by night of 26th August and parking and sleeping in the streets. The bridge was duly built on 27/28th August and a phenomenal amount of armour passed over consolidating our approach road in fine style.

On 31st August it was up sticks and away again.
Gisors 1st September — Frossy 1st and 2nd September Corbie 2nd September — Bearnais 2nd and 3rd September — Tournal 3rd to 4th September and then Anderlecht (Brussels) on the 4th September. Three days followed which will never be forgotten by anyone who was present and on the 7th September the company dull-eyed but happy took to the road once more — Diest 8th September — Westerloo 8th to 13th September under command 50 (Northumbrian) Division where close support rafting and bridging was carried out on the Albert Canal. Pael 13th to 16th September and Beeringen 17th September employed on road and bridge maintenance.

The Company then moved to Bourg Leopold and stayed from 18th to 21st September preparing for the drive northwards to Arnhem.

Then once more on the road 21st — 22nd — 23rd September arriving at Grave after a slow tortuous journey. We stayed at Grave until 30th September being employed on local defense and a day of Class9 and Class 40 ferrying at Nijmegan. The company then moved back to Moll, staying one night at Eindhoven arriving 1st October and staying till 21st October, employment was road maintenance and construction of the Stockroyl Bridge. Then followed a period of road maintenance with an occasional bridge to build. The company was stationed as follows:

Bree 21st October — 4th November
Eisden 4th November — 11th November
Zon 11th November — 4th December
Smeermaas 4th December — 16th December
Venraij 16th December — 11th February

During this period the Smeermaas Bridge was built which is probably the best Bailey Bridge of its kind ever built with dead-level ramps and paved approach. In February came the great thaw and the roads became a mass of mud and ruts, in no small measure was the traffic kept moving day and night work on the part of the company. On the 11th February the company moved to St Agatha for bridging the river Mass at Gennep, little did we know we were about to take part in the building of the longest Bailey Bridge in the world - 4,008 feet.

Then back to Venrau on 1st March for another bridge over the River Mass at Well. On the 7th March we moved Venlo and helped to construct Class 70 Bailey Pontoon ridge on our old enemy the Maas which was opened by General Sir Miles Dempsey C-in-C Second Army who said that it was over this bridge that the heavy weapons for the battle of Germany would flow.

On 21st March we moved to Sonsbeck to await the Rhine crossing and on 24th March the day we had been waiting for dawned and we commenced bridging at Xanton, completing the bridge on 25th March.

On 28th March we moved to Gut Grint and carried out road maintenance and collection of miscellaneous bridging stores. Then to Winterswuck 6th April to 10th April. Then to Recke 10th April to 13th April where we assisted 72nd Field Company R.E. in the construction of the thousandth Bailey Bridge in this theatre of operations. This bridge was opened by C—IN-C Army Group Field Marshal Sir Bernard L Montgomery K.C.B. D.S.O.

Then to Oldenzaal 13th April then Nordhorn 14th to 23rd April constructing Class 70 bridges from Oldenzal to Nordhorn then to Celle 23rd April, Sharnbeck 24th April for the River Elbe bridging operations.

Then Artlenberg 29th April to 5th May maintenance of the Artlenberg Bridge. Then Bad Schwartau 5th to 9th May resting.

War ended 2400 hours 8th May 1945

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