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1936: Manoeuvres - temporary bridge

The US army builds a Bailey Bridge in the spring of 1966.

The pleasant war in the Sussex manoeuvres area, in which the combatants are being killed or wounded by word of mouth, went forward at a great pace from the scheduled hour for the commencement of hostilities.

Throughout the night the Second Division troops, under the command of Major-General AP Wavell, felt their way in the direction of the Province of Manovaria, and for several hours after dawn the advance continued before a rest was permitted. It was just as well that thunder flashes and smoke generators were used instead of real ammunition, because otherwise the roads not so very far from Billingshurst would have been blocked with casualties.

To facilitate the advance, dozens of green buses, normally used for the conveyance of civilians on various routes in Sussex, were pressed into military service, and Eastlands infantry was rushed in them to forward positions. As a result the narrow roads were congested, the Westland commander wisely having caused the bridges over Arun and Rother to be demolished. The commanding position, actually observed one brigade of infantry get out of their conveyances.

Heavy bombardment

A message was sent back by wireless, and this produced such heavy shelling from Westland's artillery, on to the target indicated, that in actual warfare serious damage would have been inevitable.

One of the main objects in the mind of General Sir J Francis Gathorne Hardy, General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Alder-shot Command, in provoking a make-believe war between two imaginary States, was to study the employment of troop-carrying mechanised transport. In this respect special attention was to be paid to the extent to which power of manoeuvre was increased. and how far the increase was likely to permit of dispensing with increased offensive power. especially tanks.

Two or three disabled buses in a narrow road would be quite sufficient to dislocate a forward movement, and it is fairly certain that the fact will be emphasised by the Commander-in-Chief at the conference following the conclusion of the exercises. The freedom allowed the rival commanders on this occasion was in marked contrast to the Aldershot Command exercises of twelve months ago, when, for specific reasons, individual action was strictly controlled.

Major-General Wavell took the initiative very forcefully. in order. if possible, to gain possession of Manovaria from the outset, and Brigadier PJ Mackesy, in charge of the other side, took full advantage of his liberty to manoeuvre the Westland forces in accordance with his own plans.

Doubts about withdrawal

As to whether it was quite a wise move to withdraw the Westland cavalry and infantry

to a position so far in the rear, at such an early part of the proceedings and without engaging the enemy, remains to be seen. It certainly gave General Wavell's men an opportunity to press forward with greater ease than they could have done had they met with opposition.

Before noon their medium artillery was able to. gain a position from which their 60-pounders could drop shells into Worthing. Time was all-important factor. The Westland commander had to beat off the Eastlanders from Manovarian territory long enough for reinforcements to be landed-matter of several days. On the other hand, Major General Wavell's idea was to secure Manovaria soon enough to close the ports, so essential for the landing of Westland reinforcements.

With this intention he advanced on a three-brigade front, his Fifth Infantry Brigade being on the right. In this were the King's Own. the East Yorkshires, the Royal Scots Fusiliers. and the Worcesters, The Worcesters found the bridge at Billingshurst non-existent, but discovered another over which they were able to advance,

Scots ford river

The Royal Scots Fusiliers were not so fortunate. Both bridges had been destroyed at Lee Place. and it was necessary to requisition bridging material. While waiting for the material to arrive, however, a number of Scotsmen risked a wetting and waded through the river to establish communication with the Worcesters on the other side.

At a later stage the Worcesters and the Royal Scots Fusiliers were given a brief rest and the East Yorkshires and the King's Own took charge in the forward area.

In the early hours of the morning the Sixth Infantry Brigade (the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry, the South Staffordshire Regiment, and the Durham Light Infantry) made very good headway, and the Durham Light Infantry, in particular, were sufficiently progressive as to be near West Chiltington in excellent time.

Eastland's Fourth Guards Brigade, consisting of the First and Second Coldstreams, the First Grenadiers, and the First Welsh, were held up more than any of the others by bridge destructions, but eventually managed to overcome their difficulties In order to draw into line with other brigades of Eastland's Second Division. By nightfall the Fifth Infantry Brigade had reached the line of the River Rother, Worcesters the having actually pushed over to the other side.

The Royal Engineers are hurrying forward the construction of a medium bridge to carry mechanised transport. In the centre the Sixth Brigade were making valiant efforts to get footing on the Downs, the first defended a position of Westland, while, on the flank. the Fourth Guards had actually obtained a footing for some advanced troops, and were within easy reach of the enemy.

The Scotsman 19 August 1936

Photo Wikimedia public domain image.. A Company 9th Engineer Battalion, US Army, builds a Bailey Bridge during a training exercise near Aschaffenburg, Germany in the spring of 1966.

Contributed by Malcolm Davison.



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