Chemical Warfare Coys, R.E. post-Dunkirk 1940

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Re: Chemical Warfare Coys, R.E. post-Dunkirk 1940

Post by MarkN » 16 Jan 2015 17:04

Knouterer wrote:Hello MarkN,
Here's the relevant page of the WD of the 8th RTR, which is WO 166/1408. I'm not going to scan dozens of pages of documents now because frankly I don't find the question that fascinating; but I can say that the available sources seem to agree that C Sqn had Mk IIs exclusively from the end of August. When I wrote "as of 18 Sept." I did not mean to imply that the situation before was any different, perhaps I should have expressed myself more precisely.
One thing everybody in Great Britain agreed on at the time was that in case of enemy landings by air or sea counterattacks should be made as rapidly as possible. It therefore made sense to organise this tank battalion in such a way that one squadron could move faster, instead of limiting all three to the very slow speed of the Mk I - even before Milforce was formed and C squadron was attached to it.
Marvelous Knouterer!

Thank you very much.

What you have done is enough. Although I would be most pleased to have a read of subsequent pages, I appreciate you have better things to do than satisfy my curiosity.

Most people, when trying to understand the internal workings/equipment holdings of a unit are determined to place the newest/best equipment in A sqn/coy first, trickling into B and C is left hold the potty. All very disorganised and asymetrical. There is both merit in this belief, and much evidence, when considering disorganised, last minute and hurried inflows of random equipment. See the units and formations of 1 Armd Div on arrival in France 1940.

However, I have contended, that intended 'mixed' establishments have logic and symetry. Why have a hodge podge when there is enough to go around and time to organise?

The order to 'task organise' with an entirety of a single type confirms that, under normal circumstances, they were mixed. Thus lending huge credibility to the internal distribution that I presented above. Notice the entry of 23 August (context is everything!!!) where it mentiones the "new role for I tanks". New role/task, new task organisation.

Thank you.
:)


PS.
Given that 9 out of 10 troops of A and C sqn/coys are now A.11, despite the imprecision of the wording, I have no problem accepting that one of the sqns must be mixed - as well as the examples sitting in sqn/coy HQs. I wonder where the 6 (2 x A.12, 4 x LT) tanks of 8RTR Regimental HQ sat in the MILFORCE/NZ EF orbat. They don't appear on the snippets of MILFORCE instructions quoted in this thread. But that's just one of the interesting conundrums that will have to be locked away as 'unknown' as it's really beyond my true interest.

Also tangental to my interest, but for the benefit of Rich, that's 27 A.11s in total accounted for post-BEF losses just within 8RTR. The Newbold PhD thesis based upon other official records has a further 8 examples listed on 10 June. Other documents (copies thereof), show production still hadn't concluded at that point: 3 in June and 1 in July. At the very least, we have 35 remaining after Dunkirk, perhaps 38. This doesn't in any way prove the total produced must be 139, but it would certainly disprove that it was only 127.

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Re: Chemcal Warfare Coys, R.E. post-Dunkirk 1940

Post by phylo_roadking » 16 Jan 2015 17:06

Rather than going over old ground couple of new things, maybe.
From 45th Div. defence scheme
1. Intention
The tasks alloted to 45 Div. and attached tps, including Home Guard, in the Div. area are:

(b) as regards action from the air - to defeat
any enemy air borne tps and parachutists
landing in the Div. area.
That's as good a way of not bothering to look at any maps and changing the subject as any, I suppose :roll:
From Operation Order No.13 5th SLI
7. All Coys will be responsible for dealing with parachutists
landing in their area.
And where was that battalion area?
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Re: Chemical Warfare Coys, R.E. post-Dunkirk 1940

Post by phylo_roadking » 16 Jan 2015 17:13

Knouterer.....Kew doesn't appear to list WO 166/1408. Is that number correct?

EDIT: Kew's search engine puts up filters by default :( Got it.

But removing them still doesn't find a "MILFORCE" war dairy, what's the file number for that?
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Re: Chemcal Warfare Coys, R.E. post-Dunkirk 1940

Post by Gooner1 » 16 Jan 2015 17:22

phylo_roadking wrote:
That's as good a way of not bothering to look at any maps and changing the subject as any, I suppose :roll:
What maps? The mickey-mouse ones supposedly marking the German drop zones? As I said its about a 10 kilometre spread for four weak battalions in an area thick with British troops.
And where was that battalion area?
Because you cling to the hope that that wasn't a standard instruction? :roll:

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Re: Chemcal Warfare Coys, R.E. post-Dunkirk 1940

Post by phylo_roadking » 16 Jan 2015 17:27

Gooner1 wrote:What maps? The mickey-mouse ones supposedly marking the German drop zones? As I said its about a 10 kilometre spread for four weak battalions in an area thick with British troops.
The relief/topographical maps of that area of Kent I've been recommending you look at for three pages now.

Thick? Have you actually plotted the positions of any British troops north of the escarpment along the RMC?
And where was that battalion area?
Because you cling to the hope that that wasn't a standard instruction? :roll:
No - because you quoted it for 5 SLI. And where was 5 SLI?
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Re: Chemcal Warfare Coys, R.E. post-Dunkirk 1940

Post by Gooner1 » 16 Jan 2015 17:53

phylo_roadking wrote: The relief/topographical maps of that area of Kent I've been recommending you look at for three pages now.
I doubt you even care any more about what infinitesimally small importance that may hold.
Thick? Have you actually plotted the positions of any British troops north of the escarpment along the RMC?
So if nobody plots the exact locations of all the British troops and Home Guard in the area, you can pretend they don't exist?

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Re: Chemcal Warfare Coys, R.E. post-Dunkirk 1940

Post by phylo_roadking » 16 Jan 2015 19:18

I doubt you even care any more about what infinitesimally small importance that may hold.
Oh I do. And so, from the point of view of all these discussions, should you. You're missing a VERY big "big picture"...
So if nobody plots the exact locations of all the British troops and Home Guard in the area, you can pretend they don't exist?
No - the abundance of troops in that area is what matters. And what their regular duties were. As I noted above - are you really going to say that the Commandos protecting the Super heavy batteries are going to dash off after reports of paratroopers and leave the guns unprotected? :o

Especially with German paratroopers reported to be roaming about?
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Re: Chemical Warfare Coys, R.E. post-Dunkirk 1940

Post by Knouterer » 02 Feb 2015 16:08

Just in case anybody is still interested, in the meantime I had another look at the WD of the 1st Chemical Warfare Group (WO 166/3430), which as noted was the only one in the invasion zone in Kent/Sussex in Sept. 1940.
In case I didn't mention it before, CW companies were organized in such a way that they could be converted to a "standard" Field Company R.E. with minimal additional training and re-equipment.

As noted, setting up the projectors took a lot of time and later on they were replaced by 5in chemical rockets, which could be brought into action a lot quicker. IWM Photo H 24999 shows such rockets, the caption says “Rocket apparatus rehearsal and demonstration near Ballyclare, Co Antrim, given by the 82nd Chemical Warfare Company, 6th Chemical Warfare Group, Royal Engineers. Royal Engineers erect the rocket apparatus for the demonstration.” No date given, but the WD of No. 1 CW Group refers to troop trials of “U.P. bombs” in August, suggesting that these rockets belonged to the same family as the 3in anti-aircraft "Unrotated Projectiles" which indeed seems to be case.
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Re: Chemical Warfare Coys, R.E. post-Dunkirk 1940

Post by Knouterer » 02 Feb 2015 16:11

On 18 Aug. Lt. Col. Maclaren, commander of No. 1 CW Group, reported on the state of readiness of his unit:
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Re: Chemical Warfare Coys, R.E. post-Dunkirk 1940

Post by Knouterer » 02 Feb 2015 19:49

Around this time, Maclaren, probably inspired by the experiments of 58th Coy, submitted a proposal for a new type of unit: an A/T Section, R.E. (63 men with 1 x 8 cwt truck, 11 x 15 cwt trucks, 11 motorcycles). In his words:

“1. An A/T Section R.E. will be a small mobile unit. It will be highly trained to carry out a standard operation very quickly (say, half an hour).
2. The task of the section will be to stop enemy A.F.V. columns in defiles and to destroy a proportion of the enemy vehicles. They would best be operated by Inf. Bde. Groups.
3. The standard operation will consist of:
a) To bring the leading enemy tanks to a halt at a chosen place in a defile by means of a mine field, flame devices, bangalore torpedoes, or obstacles.
b) To isolate the leading enemy tanks in the defile by blowing a crater behind them.
c) To destroy the isolated tanks by high explosive charges fired from projectors.”

The flame device, according to Maclaren, could be a flame fougasse “of a small portable type”. Each of the three sub-sections (17 men) could, in his vision, carry out such an operation on its own; one truck would carry cratering equipment, one five projectors, and the third the flame device plus Dannert wire. For personal armament for the section, he foresaw 3 LMGs, 8 “Squirt guns” (Thompsons, presumably) and 63 revolvers. 100 A/T mines would also be carried.
After consultation with superior officers, the proposal was adapted in the sense that the C.W. Group would consist of two companies with “H.E devices” and one with “flame devices”.

The obvious problem with all this was the same as with projectors firing gas, namely, that it depended on a certain amount of cooperation by the enemy, who a) would have to indicate clearly that he intended to pass through a certain suitable defile, and then b) would have to wait politely for the Royal Engineers to set up - which in Maclaren's estimate might take half an hour.
On 8.9.1940, orders were received that the Group (less two sections of 58 Coy) would move into Eastern Command and become part of XII Corps.
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Re: Chemical Warfare Coys, R.E. post-Dunkirk 1940

Post by phylo_roadking » 02 Feb 2015 20:08

“1. An A/T Section R.E. will be a small mobile unit. It will be highly trained to carry out a standard operation very quickly (say, half an hour).
2. The task of the section will be to stop enemy A.F.V. columns in defiles and to destroy a proportion of the enemy vehicles. They would best be operated by Inf. Bde. Groups.
3. The standard operation will consist of:
a) To bring the leading enemy tanks to a halt at a chosen place in a defile by means of a mine field, flame devices, bangalore torpedoes, or obstacles.
b) To isolate the leading enemy tanks in the defile by blowing a crater behind them.
c) To destroy the isolated tanks by high explosive charges fired from projectors.”

The flame device, according to Maclaren, could be a flame fougasse “of a small portable type”. Each of the three sub-sections (17 men) could, in his vision, carry out such an operation on its own; one truck would carry cratering equipment, one five projectors, and the third the flame device plus Dannert wire. For personal armament for the section, he foresaw 3 LMGs, 8 “Squirt guns” (Thompsons, presumably) and 63 revolvers. 100 A/T mines would also be carried.
After consultation with superior officers, the proposal was adapted in the sense that the C.W. Group would consist of two companies with “H.E devices” and one with “flame devices”.

The obvious problem with all this was the same as with projectors firing gas, namely, that it depended on a certain amount of cooperation by the enemy, who a) would have to indicate clearly that he intended to pass through a certain suitable defile, and then b) would have to wait politely for the Royal Engineers to set up - which in Maclaren's estimate might take half an hour.
There's an equally, or perhaps more obvious problem than that...
...2. The task of the section will be to stop enemy A.F.V. columns in defiles and to destroy a proportion of the enemy vehicles. They would best be operated by Inf. Bde. Groups.
3. The standard operation will consist of:
a) To bring the leading enemy tanks to a halt at a chosen place in a defile by means of a mine field, flame devices, bangalore torpedoes, or obstacles.
b) To isolate the leading enemy tanks in the defile by blowing a crater behind them.
c) To destroy the isolated tanks by high explosive charges fired from projectors....
....in that the Germans too tended to use light reconnaissance forces - especially probing ahead of large columns.
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Re: Chemical Warfare Coys, R.E. post-Dunkirk 1940

Post by Knouterer » 02 Feb 2015 20:32

I believe most if not all readers of this forum, including me, are well aware of that. It's not a "more obvious problem"; it's part and parcel of the same problem.
Obviously.
Apart from that, in hilly and wooded country teeming with enemy troops, with rifle and MG fire coming from all directions, the "light reconnaissance forces" might well be forced to fall back and let the tanks lead the way.
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Re: Chemical Warfare Coys, R.E. post-Dunkirk 1940

Post by phylo_roadking » 02 Feb 2015 20:48

Knouterer wrote: It's not a "more obvious problem"; it's part and parcel of the same problem.
Obviously.
Actually - not quite...
2. The task of the section will be to stop enemy A.F.V. columns in defiles and to destroy a proportion of the enemy vehicles. They would best be operated by Inf. Bde. Groups.
3. The standard operation will consist of:
a) To bring the leading enemy tanks to a halt at a chosen place in a defile by means of a mine field, flame devices, bangalore torpedoes, or obstacles.
b) To isolate the leading enemy tanks in the defile by blowing a crater behind them.
c) To destroy the isolated tanks by high explosive charges fired from projectors.”
...in that, yes the "A/T Sections R.E." might thus trap and eliminate said light recce forces instead of the main column - your two previous caveats notwithstanding...

But I'm thinking more of the spectacle presented by...
...bring the leading enemy tanks to a halt at a chosen place in a defile by means of a mine field, flame devices, bangalore torpedoes, or obstacles.
....to the rather bemused motorcycle combination riders or SdKfz 222/234 or PzII crews of the forward recce elements sitting watching them at work...after they've reported what's happening;

Or who - having passed through the prepared trap intended for the main column - turn round at the first panicked call on the radio after the first mine or cratering charge goes off...and make rather short work of the 63 men with 1 x 8 cwt truck, 11 x 15 cwt trucks, and 11 motorcycles.

It's not really a force likely to survive contact with the enemy.
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Re: Chemical Warfare Coys, R.E. post-Dunkirk 1940

Post by Knouterer » 02 Feb 2015 20:54

A few more general remarks about chemical warfare in between:
Both the army and the RAF could have used chemical weapons in case of invasion. Since Britain had obliged itself by international treaties not to use gas unless an adversary used it first, the decision to use it regardless would have to be taken at a fairly high (political) level. As regards the army’s chemical weapons, it’s possible that Brooke might have taken that responsibility upon himself, but certainly not a lowly battalion or company commander. That would limit the operational flexibility of the CW units at the start of the invasion, unless they had already received orders that all restrictions were lifted, but there does not seem to be any trace of that. Brooke notes in his diary that he had “every intention” of using gas, if necessary, but he does not say that he had taken any steps in that sense.

Mark Rowe, Don’t Panic – Britain prepares for invasion, 1940, mentions (p. 88) a meeting at the Air Ministry on 14 September at which “ … the RAF Chemical Warfare Committee, chaired by Air Vice Marshal Douglas, admitted that it (still) did not know the political position on the operational use of gas.”. According to the same author, the RAF reported in August that it had five Lysander squadrons that could be used for spraying mustard gas, and enough gas for two sorties, after which the containers would have to be sent back to the factory to be refilled. In addition, there were 7,000+ gas bombs, but only a small proportion ready filled, apparently.

Gas spraying: IWM Photo HU 102406. Caption: “A Fleet Air Arm Fairey Albacore I aircraft L7142 (possibly attached to No 815 Naval Air Squadron) from RNAS Worthy Down sprays a mustard gas simulant during trials over the Porton Ranges, June 1940. The aircraft is spraying the chemical from its Smoke Curtain Installation (SCI). The SCI was designed to disseminate smoke or chemical warfare agents and was one of the major British chemical weapons of the Second World War.
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Re: Chemical Warfare Coys, R.E. post-Dunkirk 1940

Post by phylo_roadking » 02 Feb 2015 21:22

Knouterer wrote:A few more general remarks about chemical warfare in between:
Both the army and the RAF could have used chemical weapons in case of invasion. Since Britain had obliged itself by international treaties not to use gas unless an adversary used it first, the decision to use it regardless would have to be taken at a fairly high (political) level. As regards the army’s chemical weapons, it’s possible that Brooke might have taken that responsibility upon himself, but certainly not a lowly battalion or company commander. That would limit the operational flexibility of the CW units at the start of the invasion, unless they had already received orders that all restrictions were lifted, but there does not seem to be any trace of that. Brooke notes in his diary that he had “every intention” of using gas, if necessary, but he does not say that he had taken any steps in that sense.
It does however show that he at least thought he had the authority to use it in such an event.

Regarding "Since Britain had obliged itself by international treaties not to use gas unless an adversary used it first, the decision to use it regardless would have to be taken at a fairly high (political) level" - hadn't that "high level political decision" already been taken in June on the last weekend in the month....the one where Churchill had dinner with Andrew Thorne and others at Chequers after inspecting 1st Cdn.? The dinner/evening discussion where, after the inspections of the day, Churchill was at last fully aware of the reality of the UK's weakness in defence and ordered ICL to resume fullscale production of Mustard? (ICL had IIRC either built then mothballed a number of Mustard ppants, or had WWI ones mothballed, can't remember offhand which)

Operations through the summer would indicate the intention to a pre-emptive....or at least slightly pre-emptive use of gas - preparations such as the positioning of the R.E. CW Sections with their sprayer trucks and converted tar sprayer trucks to spray beaches and roads leading off said beaches just before the Germans arrived? This activity - and there are Summer 1940 lists of the potential invasion beaches to be sprayed thus still in existence - would by definition HAVE to be carried out before the Germans landed.
Mark Rowe, Don’t Panic – Britain prepares for invasion, 1940, mentions (p. 88) a meeting at the Air Ministry on 14 September at which “ … the RAF Chemical Warfare Committee, chaired by Air Vice Marshal Douglas, admitted that it (still) did not know the political position on the operational use of gas.”. According to the same author, the RAF reported in August that it had five Lysander squadrons that could be used for spraying mustard gas, and enough gas for two sorties, after which the containers would have to be sent back to the factory to be refilled. In addition, there were 7,000+ gas bombs, but only a small proportion ready filled, apparently.
Knouterer - if you search there are a number of threads on AHF discussing the preparations for the use of gas in the event of invasion. On at least two of these there were period documents posted up detailing the numbers of gas-filled bombs of various types available, and the numbers of unfilled rounds, at the beginning of the summer. If there were 7,000 "gas bombs" available by 14/9/40...then one or more of the following must have occured during the summer;

1/ a rushed manufacturing of gas bombs;
2/ conventional "iron" bombs converted in some way (which I'd have thought would be a large enough operation to have left a paper trail...); or
3/ that "7,000" gas bombs is a generous counting of RAF gas bombs of ALL sizes including the little 20- and 40-lbers.

At the beginning of the summer, the stocks of filled and unfilled bombs was down in the hundreds IIRC....not the thousands - for quite a stock of both had been sent to France with the BEF for RAF operations if needed...but had been lost there.

Andy H will remember the thread(s) in question, it was he turned up the documentation. Especially in respect of Op BANQUET.

On the issue of the Lysander squadrons available for this - a count of Lysander squadrons would be as useful here as Blenheim squadrons elsewhere....for they were at that point in time ALSO the RAF's only "task dedicated" Army Co-op aircraft for light tactical support. Does the above thus hint at an intention to take Lysanders away from tactical support in the event of invasion...?
Gas spraying: IWM Photo HU 102406. Caption: “A Fleet Air Arm Fairey Albacore I aircraft L7142 (possibly attached to No 815 Naval Air Squadron) from RNAS Worthy Down sprays a mustard gas simulant during trials over the Porton Ranges, June 1940. The aircraft is spraying the chemical from its Smoke Curtain Installation (SCI). The SCI was designed to disseminate smoke or chemical warfare agents and was one of the major British chemical weapons of the Second World War.
There was indeed also a specific FAA element paralleling the RAF's Op BANQUET. You'll find that discussed when you locate the thread(s) mentioned above.
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