New Zealand Engineers, Middle East
Appendix IV — EXTRACT FROM ROYAL ENGINEERS TRAINING MEMORANDUM — Section 43.—NEW ZEALAND ENGINEERS IN ITALY
EXTRACT FROM ROYAL ENGINEERS TRAINING MEMORANDUM
Section 43.—NEW ZEALAND ENGINEERS IN ITALY
1. Before the assault of the R Senio and during the subsequent operations, NZE consisted of the following:
Three field companies of normal British War Establishment.
Assault squadron, NZE, consisting of two troops each equipped as follows:
Mechanical Equipment Company, NZE, consisting of two platoons each equipped as follows:
The field companies were allotted to infantry brigades in the normal way while the assault squadron and mechanical equipment company were under command of the CRE, and allotted by him to forward units as required.
Local bridging method
2. 2 New Zealand Division developed their own methods for providing assault tank crossings of R Senio, Santerno and Sillaro—narrow beds with high floodbanks—which they used almost exclusively instead of relying on the Ark as did other divisions. 8 Indian Division also used this method on several occasions.page 735
3. 2 New Zealand Division's methods relied on securing the near floodbank at dusk, the far bank being carried by infantry assault after dark. As soon as the latter operation was accomplished all material for the crossing which had been dumped under the near bank was carried over the levee by hand. The bridge itself was a 50-ft SS Bailey, spanning the water gap a few feet above water level. It was erected as separate single girders on an FBE raft, the end panels having their bottom pins out. When complete the girders were lifted bodily to the horizontal by man power and the bottom pins inserted. Transoms were then positioned and the bridge decked down. This bridge when over 40 ft long was only class 30, but was sufficient for the Sherman tanks with which the New Zealand Armoured Brigade was equipped.
4. 2 New Zealand Division claimed that their method (35 minutes to one hour) was as quick if not quicker than using Arks since, while the bridge was being built, the blowing or dozing of the near bank was in progress and could be continued right up to the complete bridge. The first vehicle across was an unarmoured dozer to prepare the exit on the far bank.
5. By working almost in the river bed when the water level was low, the sappers were well protected by the high floodbanks and suffered very few casualties, but the same could not be said of the infantry covering parties exposed on the top of the far levee.
6. 8 Indian Division copied 2 New Zealand Division's method, but since they were to be supported by Churchill tanks, construction had to be DS to give the necessary class 40 classification. Furthermore, in order to cut down dozing on the higher flood-banks on their sector, the bridge was built some 8 ft above water using either an FBE trestle or a crib pier on the FBE raft. The resultant bridge was therefore 60 ft to 70 ft long and, being DS, took considerably longer to construct.
Lessons learned as a result of operations in Italy
7. Protection.—A winding river gives ample opportunity for enemy pockets to be by-passed by the attack or to remain in action on the flanks, especially at night. Adequate infantry cover must be provided for the bridge sites to protect the engineer recce and working parties.
8. Attached troops.—If additional Engineer troops are brought under command they must be left for the entire operation, or, failing that, adequate warning must be given of their intended removal. Engineer planning has to look so far ahead that programmes are completely upset if troops are removed at short notice.page 736
9. Sherman dozers.—These did excellent work, well forward and often under fire, with the Assault Engineers, and succeeded in breaching obstacles under conditions where enemy action would have prevented a soft skinned bulldozer from working. Some clutch trouble was experienced and it was felt that a modification is required to produce 100 per cent efficiency.
10. Flexibility.—The first task for the bridges was to get armour forward to the leading infantry; therefore the broad picture of the progress of bridges had to be constantly studied from the point of view of getting tanks forward as quickly as possible. A hold up on any one bridge might necessitate altered timings and the switching of units onto other routes and bridges. It was therefore most important that the complete RE effort should be under the direct control of the CRE, who could best interpret the broad picture in terms of the forward movement of essential vehicles.
The principle followed was to have bridging equipment as far forward as the priorities laid down by division allowed, and the Engineers aimed at holding their Bailey equipment forward of the gunline.
Division accepted the CRE's priorities for Arks, AVsRE and bulldozers.
Corps Bailey bridging dumps were located as far forward as possible. The method of replenishment was simply that a bridging truck, when emptied, went direct to the corps dump and re-filled. This system worked admirably owing to the initiative and efficiency of the drivers.
The use of wireless was most valuable to maintenance parties on forward tracks for reporting on the state of tracks and forecasting future maintenance requirements, and to the Engineer Assault recce parties for briefing and summoning the maintenance parties.
12. Air photographs.—Air photographs and information supplied by interpretation units were of the greatest assistance to the Engineers in the selection of bridge sites and assessment of obstacles. Bridge sites were selected from photographs and their subsequent location never varied by more than a few feet. It was considered that all Engineer staff officers should be trained in the study of air photographs from the Engineer point of view, with special attention to the determining and checking of vertical distances.page 737
|9/10 Apr||Senio||7 Fd Coy||Woodville||30 ft S/S LL||Enemy shelling (work start 2120)||2330||0230|
|9/10 Apr||Senio||6 Fd Coy||Seymour||40 ft S/S LL||Enemy shelling (much bulldozing)||2325||0230|
|9/10 Apr||Senio||8 Fd Coy||Raglan||60 ft S/S LL||Slight shelling 2300||2325||0230|
|9/10 Apr||Senio||28 Asslt Sqn||Seymour||Scissors||Placed 0120, abandoned owing to deep mines at||—||0330|
|9/10 Apr||Senio||7 Fd Coy||Woodville||100 ft D/S||Heavy shelling, casualties||2140||0100|
|9/10 Apr||Senio||8 Fd Coy||Raglan||100 ft D/S||Slight shelling|
|11 April||Lugo Canal||7 Fd Coy||70 ft D/S||Straightforward||1330||1730|
|11 April||Lugo Canal||28 Asslt Sqn||Ark|
|11/12 Apr||Santerno||6 Fd Coy||Spalding||40 ft S/S LL||Enemy interference 1st recce 1740||0140|
|11/12 Apr||Santerno||E Asslt Sqn||Double Ark||1st Ark in at 2030; much dozing 2nd Ark 0050||0253||0445|
|12 Apr||Santerno||7 Fd Coy||(Piers)||120 ft D/S||Some mortaring||0100||1000|
|12 Apr||Santerno||8 Fd Coy||110 ft D/S||Strengthened to Cl 40 by 2000||0800||1430|
|12 Apr||Scolo||8 Fd Coy||60 ft S/S|
|14 Apr||Trattura||8 Fd Coy||50 ft S/S||Road demolition||1120||1220|
|15/16 Apr||Sillaro||6 Fd Coy||Sydney||30 ft S/S LL||Enemy interference, some casualties||2302||0130|
|15/16 Apr||Sillaro||6 Fd Coy||Riverton||30 ft S/S LL||Enemy interference, some casualties||0012||0500|
|15/16 Apr||Sillaro||8 Fd Coy||Wallsend||40 ft S/S LL||Enemy interference, some casualties||2253||0500|
|15/16 Apr||Sillaro||8 Fd Coy||Rosewood||Drum and fill. Some casualties||2245||0210|
Note.—This table does not include all the Arks and Scissors bridges placed by assault squadrons.
LL ? Low level. This table is incomplete in some details, but is included to give an idea of the work done in the time.