591 History Part 5 : compiled by  Major Allan Jack dated 20 Dec 1945

Note: Additional notes to Major Jack's History of the Squadron are in blue italics


A Swimming Feat

A few weeks before the Division started their great advance to the Seine, a bedraggled unshaven parachutist arrived at Divisional Headquarters, announced that he had just swum from Franceville to Ouistreham, and asked to be directed to 591 Parachute Squadron. It was Driver Jacklin, one of the ten who had jumped with Major Wood from the ill-fated Headquarters plane on D-day. Failing to join up with any of the others, he lived for a month in the country around Franceville, sheltered from time to time by French peasants, and making repeated attempts by night to make his way back through the German positions. He had no success for they were thickly held and every yard of ground was covered. Finally he decided to make his way to the coast and swim to the British held beaches across the mouth of the Orne. To reach the sea he had to work his way through a deep minefield, a task it took him three nights to accomplish, making his progress on the "one man land" at the end of each night to lay up nearby during daylight. Reaching the sea, he was fortunate in finding that the current was not against him but even so, swimming strongly, it took him five hours to cover the 2.5 miles to Ouistreham beach. The garrison of Ouistreham, their minds full of rumours of German "swimming saboteurs" would not be convinced by his story and he was sent under escort to the Airborne area. (Click here to read some of Jacklin's interviews after his evasion)


The Collapse of the Wehrmacht
Early in August Montgomery's tremendous "left hook" through the Divisional area striking east of Caen began to develop, with Falaise as its objective. The Germans to the south were in wild retreat eastwards through the rapidly narrowing Falaise gap and it was obvious that the German formations facing the 6th Airborne Division to the north must soon pull out or be hemmed in on the coast. On the night of the 16th August they began to retreat and the Division immediately gave chase, pushing them down to the River Dives along the whole length of the front. Withdrawing over the river the enemy had blown all the bridges behind them. The Divisional area was chosen as the main road leading east from Troarn, and here three bridges had been demolished immediately beyond Troarn. Of these, the main one over the River Dives was that blown so spectacularly by a party of 3rd Parachute Squadron in the early hours of D day. Repaired by the Germans, it had now been even more thoroughly demolished and presented a gap of 100 feet.

591 Squadron were called forward to Troarn together with a column of F.B.E. [Folding Boat Equipment] and work was started on the bridging of the three gaps. The first of these, tackled by a party from 2 Troop, presented little difficulty and 20 feet of FBE decking was laid across between the stone abutments of the demolished bridge, after a certain amount of excavation.
Three hundred yards down the road at a larger gap over a tributary of the Dives an FBE trestle was erected by another party under Lieutenant Thomas in the centre of the river bed, and 40 feet of FBE decking laid from abutment to abutment of the demolished bridge.
It was then possible to start work in earnest on the major task of bridging the Dives. The site chosen for the FBE was 100 yards downstream of the demolished bridge.

A Bridging Disaster
100 feet of bridge was required to span the gap and at about 2100 hours building of the first raft was started. Meanwhile Somerfield track and chase packing had been laid for the approaches to the bridge and a party under Lieutenant Mitchley with fifteen tipper lorries were loading rubble from the ruins of Troarn church and pouring it into the river immediately upstream of the demolished bridge behind a small dam. A most effective ford was erected but it was to have a disastrous effect on the FBE bridge downstream. Built of necessity at the extreme limits of articulation it was completed at about 0430 hours the following morning. On the immediate run off from the bridge on the far side was a large crater to fill which the officer in charge of the building sent a lorry load of rubble, followed by a D4 bulldozer. Due to the building of the ford, the water level had dropped slightly, though in the dark this was not noticed. Half way across the bridge suddenly broke under the weight of the D4 which sank to the bottom of the river.

Only a few minutes before, word had been sent back to the CRE [Commander Royal Engineers]that the bridge was open and the reactions of the impatient Divisional and Brigade Commanders when they later found that it was still impossible to push forward can be well imagined. Bren carriers and a few tanks were put across by the ford but all wheeled traffic was still held up the wrong side of the Dives. Meanwhile, further equipment was rushed down to the site, the bulldozer was towed ashore and work started on another bridge. The bankseats were lowered considerably to allow more play and by 1100 hours the bridge was open.

The Division Sweeps On
From then on, traffic poured across the bridge and the Division again took up the chase. The delay had been unfortunate but by no means disastrous and what little advantage it had given the enemy was quickly dissipated as the assault of the Division gathered momentum. At Putot-en-Auge and Dozule attempts were made to stand and fight before small river barriers but these were soon crossed, the enemy outflanked and again swept back. Not till the line of the river Touques was any effective stand to be made. Here, around the town of Pont-L'Eveque the Germans, considerably reinforced, imposed bitter fighting on 5th Parachute Brigade before heavy casualties forced them to continue their retreat.

North of the town, 3 Troop under Captain Beaumont assisted the crossing of the Touques by constructing a class 9 bridge using German pontoon equipment located at a German engineer dump in the neighbourhood. The "mechanics" of the equipment were soon mastered by the sappers and no difficulties at all were experienced in the construction.

Earlier, a party of 2 Troop under Lieutenant Lockey and Lance Sergeant Campbell who had been on a roving commission with the leading infantry for some days, built an improvised foot bridge to assist the Royal Ulster Rifles across a tributary of the river. This was probably the first time in the history of military engineering that a dead horse has been used as a trestle bent.

Two days after the breaking of the enemy resistance at Pont-L'Eveque, Airborne troops entered
Pont-Audemer, twenty miles further on near the estuary of the Seine. During their final lightning push the Squadron completed its last task of the campaign when a party under Captain Hinshelwood with the aid of two TX 18 bulldozers successfully opened the main route through a mountain of debris from the demolitions of a large railway bridge spanning the road at a height of 100 feet.

Pont-Audemer captured, the Division dropped from the chase to settle down for 10 glorious days among the people they had so spectacularly liberated. Many were to find Gallic hospitality almost as exhausting as the 50 mile advance, and every bit as exhilarating. Exactly six months after D day on the 6th September, the Division embarked for Southampton. The ranks of the Division were sadly thinned, not least those of 591 Squadron, many of whose finest officers and men had given their lives or were eating their hearts out in some German prison camp, but the tasks set the Division had been accomplished, their battle honours won.




ALL images and content on this website are copyright - DO NOT copy or use without permission via e-mail.               
Contact website
          [page last updated 14 May 2015]