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249 Field Company (Airborne) Royal Engineers  
  6th Airborne Division  


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6th Airborne Division:

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As part of the 6th Air landing Brigade, the Field Company traveled by Horsa glider.  It comprised of a company headquarters and three platoons and was organized in a “duplication” system.  The platoons were broken down between two gliders so that in the event of one aircraft not reaching its target, the other half of the platoon could still carry out its allotted tasks.

The structure of 249 Fd Coy was as follows:

Company Commander:               Major Sandy Rutherford

Second-in-Command:                 Captain Mike Clive


No.1 Platoon:                            Captain Hirst

No.2 Platoon:                            Captain Jock Neilson 

No.3 Platoon:                            Captain Smeardon

Operation OVERLORD

For Op. OVERLORD it was decided that a small detachment of No. 2 Platoon would be attached to D Company, 2nd Ox. & Bucks Light Infantry, under Maj. John Howard DSO, whilst the remainder of No. 2 platoon would arrive by glider a little later, and the rest of the company in the sea-borne tail some hours later.

Thirty men of No. 2 platoon under the command of Capt. Jock Neilson, with Lt. Bence as his second in command, were given the task of checking, and removing were necessary all explosives and wiring that may have been attached to the bridges over the Caen Canal and River Orne.

In view of the importance of the two bridges it was certain that they would have been prepared for demolition. To this end detailed models of the bridges were made from available information and the likely placing of demolition charges assessed.  It should also be known that the detailed models, described by Maj. Howard as “the finest model [he] had ever seen”, were also built by Royal Engineers (a Sapper by the name of Shoolbred and two brothers from Ipswich).  Here it is interesting to note that the best information on the canal bridge was a copy of a pre-war picture postcard supplied by a member of the public in response to a general appeal in the United Kingdom for information on occupied Europe.


Maj. Howard divided the platoon equally between the six gliders that were being used for the coup-de-main operation, each group of five sappers (1 officer or NCO and 4 sappers) having been carefully briefed as to the searching of the bridges.  Their equipment comprised scaling ladders, hand axes, small crowbars, torches and pliers as well as a folding canvas assault boat and an inflatable reconnaissance boat.

As soon as the three gliders landed at the Caen Canal bridge, the sappers went to it searching for the demolition charges on the bridge.  To their surprise they found none.  At the River Orne bridge, only one of the gliders had reached anywhere near the bridge.  Capt. Neilson, on receiving word of this, took his detachment and went to search the bridge.  By the time they had cleared the charges, Lt. Bence and his sappers had arrived.  The third glider assigned to the Ranville bridge landed quite some distance away in the marshes near the coast and the party did not arrive until the evening of D+1 (7 June).

Having completed their assigned tasks, the sappers took up defensive positions to assist in the repelling of the counter attacks for the rest of D-Day and the following day.

The remainder of No. 2 platoon landed by glider a number of hours later, bringing with it the rafting equipment for the 6-pound anti-tank guns for the 4th Air landing Anti-tank battery that had arrived with it.  The equipment was stockpiled nearby in the event that the bridges were somehow destroyed and the remainder of the platoon took up defensive positions with those that had arrived earlier.

Sometime after first light on the 6th June 1944 the Frenchman responsible for working the lifting bridge at Benouville arrived and the Royal Engineer party learned from him the rudiments of the mechanism before he beat a hasty retreat.


The rest of the Field Company arrived by sea at 0915 on 6th June 1944.  However because the assembly area was still in the hands of the enemy, they were not able to reach 6th Airborne Divisions assembly area until D+2 after the area had been cleared.  By D+3 the company was setting up water points in Ranville and Le Bas de Ranville.

Below is a group shot of 249 Field Company, RE (Airborne)

249 Fd Coy - Group Shot

NOTE: The above picture is rather large so you'll have to scroll around your screen!!


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