To the Rescue – All Vehicles, All Terrains, All Weathers

Recovery in REME has been practised since 1942, initially by tradesmen known as Driver-Mechanics (Recovery). During the Second World War the repair and recovery organisation included LADs, Army Recovery Companies, as well as recovery elements of all the other workshop types. Recovery Companies, REME, consisted of Heavy Recovery Sections (for recovery and evacuation of armour) and Light Recovery Sections for dealing with other equipment. The Standard War Establishments include Driver-Mechanics (Recovery) for all workshop types (Official War Office History of REME, 1951, Volume I – Organization and Operations pp. 14-15; 27-71; 194-195).

The Scammell Pioneer became famous as one of the significant recovery vehicles of the British Army, serving from the Second World War and on into the post-War era for many years. The following image from a small individual collection depicting service in North Africa, Italy and Greece, shows a Scammell Pioneer recovery vehicle. It includes two of the recovery crew, but the exact location has not been identified.

Sepia photograph of two men in overalls and berets stood in front of a large heavy vehicle with " recovery " on front.

Scammell Recovery Vehicle North Africa, Italy or Greece. A:1960.0252.228.

Of course, the Museum has its very own Scammell Pioneer on display, ‘Swampy’, the last Scammell Pioneer to remain in operational use in the British Army in Belize into the 1980s.

A document in our archives entitled Army Tradesmen. Regulations and Trade Tests 1943 includes the trade of Driver Mechanic (Recovery) as a C Trade. Ten qualifications were required to qualify as a Class II, including: “practical knowledge of all the mechanics of recovery; weights and construction of vehicles; estimates of approximate pull required; proficiency in the detection and clearance of mines; recovery of vehicles under all service conditions by day and night”. The trade test was to include a recovery operation incorporating the majority of the aforementioned requirements.

In 1951, with the Phase II Formation of REME, Recovery Mechanic became a trade in its own right. (History of REME Trade Changes since its Formation in 1942, REME Journal, 2011, pp 26-27 by Malcolm Heppolette).

A group photograph from an album depicting the Army Emergency Reserve REME shows 56 Armoured Troops Recovery Unit, Bovington in 1951.

Black and white group photograph of soldiers in rows, standing and sitting.

56 Armoured Troops Recovery Unit, Bovington in 1952. A:1972.1171.077.

Our archives holds a wealth of material of all types depicting the history of recovery mechanics. Due to space constraints it was decided to focus on the Second World War and the Korean Campaign since it will be the 70th Anniversary since the signing of the Korean armistice on 27 July this year.

Recovery in the Second World War

A report on recovery work carried out by 1st Armoured Division Workshops at El Alamein includes the congratulations of Major Rowcroft on the magnificent work done under “appalling conditions of dust, bombs and shells” … “all this whilst a terrific battle was raging …” during Operations LIGHTFOOT and SUPERCHARGE, which details the recovery of 172 tanks, 103 “armoured cars, etc.” and 236 ‘B’ Vehicles.

Documents, typed. One is a letter, one is a report with table.

Report on Recovery by 1st Armoured Division Workshops, El Alamein, 1942. E:08.0278.12.

The REME 21 Army Group War Report, Part I, includes a list of the arrival of REME units in Normandy, which documents the landings of Beach Recovery Sections 20, 21, 22, 23 and 24 on D-Day, each section consisting of 80 personnel and 21 vehicles. 49 Light Recovery Section, which was due to land on D-Day, landed on D+1.

Typed document table depicting numbers of REME units arriving in Normandy on DDay.

Arrival of REME Units in Normandy, Paragraph: D-Day. A:1961.0438.019.

The report also includes the organisation and layout of a typical Beach Recovery Section for the invasion of Normandy, as illustrated. This document describes the composition of the recovery sections.

Document depicting a diagram of the beach in Normandy with typed details of units and personnel.

Beach Recovery Section Organisation and Layout. A:1964.0644.101.

The BARV (Beach Armoured Recovery Vehicle) needs no introduction and has been well documented. An assessment of its performance is included in the 21 Army Group REME War Report, Part III, REME Equipment and Technique reports on the use and performance of the recovery equipment in the North West Europe Campaign.

Typed document extract explaining the strengths and required improvements of the BARV.

21 Army Group REME War Report, Part III, REME Equipment and Technique. A:1964.0644.02.025.

REME Recovery Operations in Korea

The following photographs are from personal collections depicting REME operations in Korea.

Black and white photograph of a vehicle being pulled out of a river bed. A soldier stands to the side directing.

Recovery of 15-cwt truck, Korea, 1950-1963, 1st Battalion Argyle & Sutherland Highlanders LAD. E:00.0110.11.

Vehicle driving along a dry river bed with another vehicle in tow, with hills flanking either side.

LAD on a dry river bed, Scammell Pioneer towing, with jeeps in the background, Korea, 1951-1952. E:06.0290.06.

Black and white photograph of a vehicle towing another vehicle along a snowy landscape.

Scammell towing a casualty in the snow, from a collection of 16 Infantry Workshop (BRITCOM), Korea, winter of 1951-1952. E:06.0347.04.

Black and white photograph of a trapped vehicle being pulled out of mud by a tracked vehicle on higher ground.

Recovery of a stuck fast Caterpillar Tractor by a Centurion Mk 1 Armoured Recovery Vehicle, 1st Royal Tank Regiment LAD. From the album of a Captain attached to 1st RTR, November 1952 – Dec 1953. E:06.0706.61.

Celia Cassingham, Museum Archivist. Published in The Craftsman, June 2023.