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The Echelon-Unsung Heroes

As the title suggests and as will be the case in these blogs the tendency of any narrative on military operations is to focus on the fighting troops, (The F echelon) as these are the forces that combat the enemy and seize or hold ground. However as important and perhaps more so are the troops comprising the “Echelon” for without their tireless and resolute efforts to constantly resupply the fighting troops with everything from water to tanks the advance would quickly come to a grinding halt. Military logistics is a complicated subject and many factors and precise calculations must be considered to ensure a fighting unit has what it needs where and when it is needed. These functions are carried out by the admin troop within the Regimental Headquarters Squadron. The dedicated troops of the echelon worked extremely hard day in and day out under all conditions at physically demanding jobs. They typically travelled in unarmoured trucks and certainly the forward components were frequently within range of enemy artillery. This was certainly true on the night of June 6 and for the first weeks in the beachhead. In addition, the admin troop maintained a small number of technicians and craftsmen along with supplies required to complete minor repairs to the Regiment’s vehicles and equipment. Further the Regiment had attached to it # 54 Light Aid Detachment (54 LAD). This was a small group of craftsmen from the Royal Canadian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (RCEME) under the command of Captain Proctor Neil of whom we shall hear more about later.

When operating in the field and even more so during combat an armoured regiment consumed an enormous amount of supplies each day. The average basic load for a Sherman tank amounted to approximately 100 rounds of main gun ammunition weighing about 18 pounds apiece and 175 gallons of fuel transported in 5-gallon “Jerry cans” weighing more than 40 pounds each. Added to this would be smaller calibre ammunition and other materials required to maintain the vehicle as well as food and water for the crew. Before firing a single round in combat or driving a single mile the 61 vehicles of the fighting component of an armoured regiment would require in excess of 100 tons of supplies. In addition to this are all the supplies required by the men and vehicles of the echelon itself. This vast amount of material was in most cases moved by hand and had to be collected each day from depots several miles in the rear. To accomplish this herculean task the admin troop mustered approximately 80 troopers under the best of conditions, however, they were very often understaffed as experienced crewmen were transferred to replace casualties among the tank crews.

The first elements of the Regiment’s echelon commanded by Captain H.R. Herbert landed on the Mike beaches only 4 hours behind the assault troops. They consisted of 1 Jeep, 1 Motorcycle, one scout car, and five trucks loaded with fuel and ammunition. The scene before them was one of congestion and chaos with hundreds of vehicles of all types trying to negotiate the two narrow gaps and get inland. To add to the situation the beach was being subjected to considerable enemy artillery fire. As quickly as they could they made their way through the massive congestion and confusion inland looking for the regiment. By 16:00 a second group under Major Harding was ashore and by nightfall the echelon had established itself in the town of Banville and, under German air attack set out to Pierrepont bringing much needed supplies to the regimental harbour.

At 14:30 Captain Neil and the first contingent of the Light Aid Detachment Landed. This consisted of one recovery tank, (incidentally the first of its kind to land on Juno Beach), one supply truck, and one light 15cwt welding truck. They immediately began examining all of the unit's Duplex Drive vehicles that were on the beaches but found them to be unrecoverable due to immersion of the engines and electronics in sea water. As it grew dark they were joined by one of their large Mac "Breakdown" 6 ton recovery trucks the and they moved inland to an assembly area. They spent a rather uncomfortable and nervous night on the side of the road amid all of the confusion and noise of vehicles and soldiers moving hither and yon accompanied by sounds of artillery and air strikes. In the morning they rather sheepishly observed a group of about 75 German prisoners being herded down the road by several very calm infantry soldiers. Apparently they had been captured about 50 yards from the LAD position during the night. On the morning of the 7th the Lad entered the Regimental harbour at Pierrepont and immediately set to work rendering assistance to the tank crews. On the 8th the LAD recovered their first tank under intense machine gun, artillery, and mortar fire. they then proceeded to work all night in order to return it to action the next morning. On the 9th and 10th the recovery crews succeeded in recovering and returning to action 7 more badly needed tanks. Once again they worked in full view of and under heavy fire from the enemy. On the night of the 9th the LAD team dropped their tools to assist the regimental echelon in arduous task of answering an urgent request for fuel and ammunition from the F echelon.

Although there will be only sporadic mention of the Echelon in the coming posts it should be clear from this that they were essential members of the Regimental team. The fighting echelon could not do its job without their unstinting daily support. On more than one occasion recovering and returning to action downed tanks from a battlefield still under fire kept the Regiment viable

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