In June 1944, 6 Airborne Division was tasked with: capturing the bridges at Benouville and Ranville, the destruction or neutralisation of the Merville Battery, and the destruction of bridges over the River Dives at Varaville, Robehomme, Bures and Troarn. There were insufficient resources to deliver the Division in a single airlift, so in the first lift, 6 Air Landing Brigade were to take the bridges and 3 Parachute Brigade, the Merville Battery. 5 Parachute Brigade and 6 Airborne Armoured Reconnaissance Regiment were to arrive on the second lift.

The REME task was to ensure the kit remained operational. At the basic level this would have included repairing personal weapons, but also included repairing the heavy machine guns and anti-tank weapons carried by the Paras (soldiers of the Parachute Regiment). Op Tonga – the glider operation against the Merville Battery, Caen Canal and River Orne – delivered 44 Jeeps, 55 motor cycles, a bulldozer, fifteen 6 pounder and two 17 pounder guns. Fitters were on hand with basic tools to fix any problems that arose.

According to 6 Airborne Armoured Reconnaissance Regiment’s war diary:

“Regiment emplaned from airfields as above on Operation OVERLORD, B and Headquarters Squadrons at 1900 hrs, A Squadron and Regimental Headquarters at 1925 hrs. One Horsa [glider] with Second-in-Command forced to cast off and made successful landing area Winchester. No further episodes in flight. Hamilcars and Horsas arrived over D.Z. area Ranville 1173, 2100-2130 hrs. All Horsas landed without incident, one Hamilcar in landing crashed into Tank unloading from another causing both to become Z casualties. Some Mortar fire on D.Z. during landing, one Hamilcar hit. Rendezvous in harbour at 123734.

A ‘Z’ casualty is equipment which is deemed by REME to be unrepairable.

A map of Normandy with markings of units.

Map of 6 Airborne Division in Normandy, June – August 1944 from ‘History of the Second World War 1939-1945: Army, Airborne Forces.’ War Office, 1951. © Crown, OGL.

The competition for shipping space resulted in Divisional REME units (and RAOC/RASC units) arriving at a minimum scale. Workshop (Wksp) facilities would be available from D+1 from 27 Armoured Brigade Workshop, 1 Corps Troops Workshop (CTW) and the sea-borne element of 6 Airborne Division Workshop.

We have a transcript of 6 Airborne Division’s War Diary, which records unit locations and a summary of the day’s activities. We do not include the full diary here but notable extracts:


6 June – Sussex

All personnel of HQ have been allocated to one craft - R20; these personnel together with 44 from 1 Corps make a total craft load of 79. Personnel briefed in the operation generally all are extremely keen to get on with the job, and disappointed that they were unable to go to war by air.

7 June – Sussex

Left Camp J2 at 15.00 hrs… for port of embarkation. Arrived Newhaven 18.00 hrs… Craft sailed from land at once & laid up off Newhaven to await forming up of convoy. Left Newhaven 23.00 hrs. Accommodation for the troops is very cramped as landing craft are not designed to accommodate 79 men. Most men are sleeping on the vehicles. The ships company are very helpful & do all they can to make the troops comfortable.

8 June – At sea

Voyage uneventful. Sea calm. Beached NAN Sector 19.45 hrs. Craft beached in depth of 3ft water, about 500 yds from shore. Depth of water varied on account of bomb craters, and men of small stature had to swim for the shore. Two very short men had to remain on craft & land with vehicles (NOTE: Unit landed day early).

9 June – On shore

Morning spent in drying off clothing by building wood fires. No sign of a move yet as the proposed location 1 Corps at DOUVRES 8001 is still in enemy hands.

10 June – Courseulles-Sur-Mer

Left at 06.30 hrs to march to new location west of LA DELIVERANDE 021815.  Arrived 08.15, all personnel feeling very tired after two sleepless nights… The A.W.D. (Advanced Workshop Detachment) are well dug in and in good spirits, they have not had a great deal of work to do, but have justified their existence. CREME visited Wksp and gave detailed account of the Airborne Div battle.

11 - 12 June – La Deliverande

AWD Element HQ Wksps joined 27 Armd Bde Wksp at 16.00 hrs.

It is now known that 7 of the Workshop parachutists are missing. It is hoped that some may have been taken prisoner.


Regrettably, we do not have a list of the seven missing personnel. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) website names one member of the workshop presumed lost on D-Day and a second REME soldier killed on 10 June.

5837460 Craftsman Alfred George JACOBS

Small extract of a typed document.

Jacobs’ memorial registration from the CWGC website. ©CWGC.

Cfn Jacobs’s tracer card in the Archives records his joining the Workshop on September 1943. He emplaned on 5 June and went missing on D-Day. No body was found. He was presumed ‘killed in action’ and is remembered on the Bayeux Memorial.

14504926 Craftsman Thomas Alfred THOUMINE

A white marbled stone headstone with engraving and a small wooden poppy cross in front.

Cfn Thoumine’s headstone at Ranville War Cemetery.

Cfn Thoumine also joined the Workshop at the end of September 1943. Our tracer card states that he embarked from the UK on 5 June 1944 and ‘died of wounds’ on 10 June 1944.

Meanwhile, 6 Airborne Division Workshop struggled to get sufficient spares and when 1 Corps Troops Workshop was moved forward, suffered through the lack of heavy machinery.

Light Aid Detachments operated within brigades and units as far as possible but the lack of a Brigade Electrical and Mechanical Engineer was acutely felt and affected adversely the repair of equipment.

 


13 June

2nd Party under Captain M.H. Bland arrived at Wksp location 1000 hrs having landed the previous evening & spent night in Assembly Area. This party is 48 hrs late in arriving.

14 June

Machinery and 2 trailers received from AWD for use at HQ Wksp. Jeeps for towing are now urgently required, and it is hoped that the two from 11-12 LADs will arrive shortly.

17 June

Set up Wksps independently of 1 Corps Tps Wksps. Cfn Inwood (welder) evacuated to UK with knee injury (accidental).

19 June

Visited by DDME and CREME. Cfn Stasulevich was killed on active service whilst with No 1 AWD, by enemy shellfire. Next of kin informed by letter.

20 June

Cfn Stasulevich buried at graveyard S.E. of Ranville Church. Service by R.C. Padre, attended by 2 Officers (Offrs) & 5 Other Ranks (OR’s). A Quiet Room for NCO's & men established within Workshop compound, top floor of house of local inhabitants kindly offered to Unit.

Cpl Hall (Vehicle Mechanic) was killed on active service by enemy shellfire at 15.30 hrs. He was buried on South side of quarry on 20 June 44. Next of kin also informed.


Craftsmen Stasulevich and Corporal Hall are listed on the CWGC Website.

5960988 Craftsman George Edward STASULEVICH

A white marbled stone headstone with engraving and a small wooden poppy cross in front.

Cfn Stasulevich’s headstone at Ranville War Cemetery.

Craftsman Stasulevich also joined the workshop in September, a few days before Cfn Thoumine and Cfn Jacobs.

He embarked on 3 June 1944 and was ‘killed by enemy action’ on 19 June 1944.

The war diary for Headquarters (HQ) REME 6 Airborne Division places the Advanced Workshop Detachment (AWD) in the Divisional Maintenance Area (DMA) from 05:00am on 8 June 1944.

Cfn Stasulevich was killed during shelling.

 

 

791957 Corporal Henry Charles HALL

A white marbled stone headstone with engraving and a small wooden poppy cross in front.

Cpl Hall’s headstone at Ranville War Cemetery.

Corporal Hall joined the Workshop on 5 October 1943.

He was ‘killed in action’ on 20 June 1944.

The Divisional REME War Diary includes an entry outlining that Cpl Hall, attached 286 Field Park Company Royal Engineers (RE) was killed and 3 Other Ranks of 10 Air Landing LAD were wounded in a quarry 1/4 of a mile away.

286 Field Park Company’s diary also states “unit location under shell-fire”, recording fatal casualties as Drivers Cutting and Aldous, and Cpl Hall REME attached. Others from the LAD were evacuated.

 


21 June

Two boilers have been obtained, these have been put to use, for bathing purposes.

26 June

Lieutenant A E Sharman (No 1 AWD) proceeded on 10 days compassionate leave to UK, to take effect from time of arrival in UK. Mother, Father, Wife & sister killed in air raid at Putney on 18 June.

27 June

1 Corps arranged free show for troops - "Stars in Battledress".

30 June

All personnel in Unit medically inspected by Medical Officer. All personnel "free from infection".

The Workshop suffered one further casualty in August.

12 August

1 CTW REME moved from this location at 08.00 hrs to new site at Caen.

L/Cpl Cochrane (AWD) died at approx 17.00 hrs whilst attending AWD's bathing parade at Luc-sur-Mer. Death believed due to some sort of seizure.

13 August

LCpl Cochrane buried at Ranville Cemetery at 20.00 hrs. CREME, OC attended.


3318126 Lance Corporal Robert Victor COCHRANE

A white marbled stone headstone with engraving and a small wooden poppy cross in front.

The headstone of LCpl Cochrane at Ranville Cemetery.

LCpl Cochrane was another who joined the Workshop in September 1944. He embarked on 14 June and arrived in Normandy the following day.

The Workshop remained at La Deliverande until 18 August until it moved to La Plein and finally Reux on 25 August. It returned via Arromanches (main) and Courseilles (vehicles) to Winterborne Dauntsey on 2 – 5 September.

Five members of 6 Airborne Division Workshop died in the early days of the Normandy Campaign.

Images of the gravestones of 6 Airborne Division Workshop REME were taken in June 2023 by Lt Col (Retd) Steve Colling.

Find out more

Our War Graves Project continues to gather the images and stories of REME soldiers who died in service, but we still need your help. All images and information will be gratefully received and is always acknowledged.

Find out more about D-Day, with articles and events commemorating the 80th anniversary this year.

Find out more about REME units and their movements during the North-West Europe campaign of 1944-45 in our D-Day to VE Day Campaign. Follow along on Facebook or Twitter.