Author: Celia Cassingham, Museum Archivist 

In previous issues, we looked at Vehicle Mechanics ‘A’ and VMs ‘B’ and now it is the turn of VMs ‘C’. I refer you to the previous articles as an aide memoire to the history of the VM Trade as a whole. It is worth noting that as part of the re-organisation of the mechanical trade structure in 1963, Vehicle Mechanic ‘C’ became Vehicle Mechanic ‘B’ (Trained in C Vehicles). In 1968 it was recommended that there should be three categories of vehicle mechanic, namely ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’ and by March 1990 the single trade of Vehicle Mechanic was formed.

The material we have in our archives shows that ‘C’ Vehicles also played their part during the Second World War and it therefore followed that REME, of course, played its part in the repair and maintenance of these vehicles, as well as other engineering equipment.

A sepia photograph of several vehicles and equipment in a large outdoor vehicle park, buildings in the background.

Vehicle Park of 30 Corps Troops Workshop REME, including engineering equipment, during the static workshop phase of the unit’s history, after having gone all the way through North-West Europe. From the History of 30 Corps Troops Workshop. A:1961.0409.05.

The REME Middle East War Report (Part IV) includes a section describing Royal Engineers equipment received in Base Workshops, which is indicative of the variety and complexity of equipment worked on. Examples include: “Tractors (Tracked) and Accessories. Tractor Caterpillar D2 D4 D6 D7 D8”; earth moving equipment other than tractors, such as excavators (Byers, Bucyrus), dumpers, graders and scrapers.

A document with a typed list.

REME War Report, Middle East, Volume IV. A: 1958.0104.03.100.

Another of the unit histories relevant to the North-West Europe Campaign in our archives is that of the 2nd Army Troops Report compiled by Lt Col Franklin, Commander REME 2 Army Troops, June 1943 – June 1945.

A brown paper document cover with title History of REME.

Front cover of History of 2nd Army Troops. E:08.0202.20.

The report includes a section dealing with the repair of Royal Engineers and Mechanical Equipment. He writes:

“Little was known on this subject at the commencement of the campaign. The workshops were placed with the Mechanical Equipment Park and the Workshop and Park Company. It is considered that in an Army where bulldozers are required for operations urgently the workshop must sit on the Mechanical Equipment Park.

The relevant REME workshops at the time were 4 and 5 Engineer Equipment Workshops.

The organisation that was undertaken to set up the Engineer Equipment Workshops, REME is recorded in REME Notes, Issue No 1, August 1943 which was created as a “monthly publication by DME (Director of Mechanical Engineering) containing items of general information and interest affecting the Directorate and REME.” Paragraph 28 records the policy of central workshops in the UK undertaking repairs to RE Machinery, plant and equipment. Paragraphs 32 and 33 describe the establishment of Engineer Equipment Workshops Types A and B, REME. Consequent upon the formation of REME and in accordance with ACI 1605, 1942, agreement in principle was obtained to transfer the workshop elements of the Workshop and Park Coy, RE and the whole of the workshop section of the Mechanical Equipment Workshop and Park Coy RE to REME. Both types of workshops were to be semi-mobile field force units to undertake 3rd line repairs to engineer equipment.

A hand drawn graph.

4 Engineer Equipment Workshop weekly output figures. E:08.0202.20.

The Second Army Troops report, includes a chart showing the weekly output figures for 4 Engineer Equipment Workshop, REME, BLA (British Liberation Army), for bulldozers and RE Equipment, which shows how the new policy worked out in the field.

The official War Office History of REME, Volume II – Technical describes an example of REME ingenuity with regard to ‘C’ Vehicles. Often when people think of the North West Europe campaign, the Normandy landings, recovery and the Caterpillar D8s come to mind. This example of REME ingenuity was a modification to the D8 Caterpillar tractors of American origin capable of unditching heavy AFVs. The Caterpillar D8 was in the very early stages of the war ordered on a considerable scale for RE services, e.g. bulldozer and bridge work and it was appreciated that as a cross-country tractor it would be invaluable. A “very satisfactory” (in the words of the author) spade type earth anchor permanently attached to the tractor was designed by the REME recovery experimental sections which enabled maximum winch pulls to be achieved (p. 113).   

A black and white photograph of a tracked tractor front end.

D8 Tractors with spade earth anchors. From the album AFVs General Recovery and Repair Book B. A:1975.1364.007 and A:1975.1364.008.

The history and development of the ‘C’ vehicle trade in the 1960s is recorded in the series of Liaison Letters of the Director of Electrical and Mechanical Engineering (Army), DEME (A) held in our archives, which follow on from REME Notes and are an example of the type of official records that we hold.

DEME’s Liaison Letter No 57 of February 1966, records the investigation into the provision of tradesmen for the repair of ‘C’ vehicles and to ensure that all requirements for Vehicle Mechanics B (trained on ‘C’ vehicles) or other specialist tradesmen for ‘C’ vehicle or plant repair were to be reflected in unit establishments. 

The Liaison Letters describe in detail the whole history of the development across various issues from August 1966 to August 1967. The August 1966 issue starts off by noting that discussions were taking place regarding the division of repair responsiblility between RE and REME. The August 1967 issue records the decision that a new division of responsibilities between RE and REME for the repair of ‘C’ vehicles and engineer construction plant was accepted. REME became responsible for all repair of ‘C’ vehicles from unit to base. RE was to be responsible for all repair of engineer construction plant from unit to base, excluding the base repair of engines of RAOC provision which remained a REME responsibility. Organisationally it was agreed that each RE unit should have a REME regimental workshop under command, with provision for detachments and attached tradesmen depending on the repair load. 

Implementation of the new organisation was planned to begin during the second half of 1968 and a special training programme began in September 1967 to train Vehicle Mechanics 'B' in 'C' vehicle repair techniques. 

A black and white group photograph of soldiers stood and sitting in two rows.

The first RE/REME Joint training course for ‘C’ Vehicle Mechanics held at the Royal School of Military Engineering, September 1968, Course R 68/36. E:13.1409.

We are now going to change tack slightly and take a look at photographs which tell the story of the ‘C’ vehicle trade around the world. We have a large photographic collection and are spoilt for choice:

The photograph below, depicting a workshop demonstration scene, is from the album of Commander REME of 1 Commonwealth Division during the last year of the Korean War. On the forefront right, is a Caterpillar D7 armoured bulldozer, to its left is a Sheepsfoot roller for flattening roads, next left is a motor grader, next to that is a towed grader, and on the far left is a Scammell tractor and trailer.

An aerial view of equipment, vehicles and soldiers in a formation across a large area.

Workshop demonstration scene, Korea. E:06.0562.216.

REME provided significant support to Operations CROWN, the building of an airfield and POST CROWN, the building of a road in North East Thailand. The airfield was constructed by Royal Engineers over a three year period from late in 1963 to December 1966.

A tracked vehicle and equipment lined up in an outdoor area.

A Caterpillar D8, a compactor and a rotary hoe lined up awaiting repair, from a collection of prints relating to the CRE Workshops, REME, Op CROWN. E:10.0350.

The EME Liaison Letter of August 1967 refers to the decision that “where necessary the repair of ‘C’ vehicles and engineer construction plant may be combined under REME technical control in certain static or semi-static workshops, eg. RE airfield units, operation POST CROWN”.

A black and white group photograph of soldiers lined in two rows in front of a large vehicle, a dog lays in front.

Group photo of Engineer C Vehicle Workshop, Malaysia, on the disbandment of the unit in 1971. From the Album ‘REME in the Far East’. A:1975.1370.301.

The unit history (a most excellent example of the types of unit workshop histories we hold in the archives) of 37 Rhine Workshop, Mönchengladbach, BAOR (British Army of the Rhine) from 1945-1969, includes a layout plan of the workshop. Its role was changed to include base overhaul of C Vehicles and their assemblies upon the disbandment of 4 Base Workshop REME, Bad Oeynhausen.

A map of buildings and roads with handwritten labels.

Layout of 37 Rhine Workshop, REME, including the C Shop with explanatory note. E:06.0564.075.

The following images are from the History of 22 Heavy Workshop, Hamburg, BAOR (A:1960.0248), dated March 1949.

A line of tracked vehicles with cranes on the front.

Various types of tracked plant at 22 Heavy Workshops. A:1960.0248.12.

A tracked vehicle inside a workshop with men working on top of it.

Final vehicle assembly of an excavator at 22 Heavy Workshops. A:1960.0248.089.

The colour prints below are of various types of engineering plant, from a collection relating to 42 District Workshop, Liverpool, which closed in the early 1990s.  

Two vehicles, one smaller than the other, parked next to each other on paved ground.

Thwaites dumper and Alldrive dump truck. E:06.0523.011.

A crane vehicle, folded down, parked outside a building.

Coles Crane. E:06.0523.024.

A tracked vehicle from the back.

Tracked dozer (CAT) partly dismantled. E:06.0523.034.

The images below showing Caterpillar tractors at work in jungle terrain are from an album of photographs taken by a REME officer with the 14th Army in Burma and Malaya at the time, during the last two years of the war, 1944-1945.

A vehicle towing a trailer through deep mud.

Jungle road tanker towed by caterpillar tractor. A:1960.0244.01.

A vehicle towing another vehicle through mud.

D8 Caterpillar Tractor towing tractor unit and 20-ton semi-trailer. A:1960.0244.02.

Finally, we end with Sardinia.

A small vehicle next to a white armoured vehicle, directly in front to the viewer.

A Caterpillar bulldozer standing in front of a Sherman Beach Armoured Recovery Vehicle, both used in exercise FORTHRIGHT, Sardinia, 1956. From the album REME in Gibraltar. A:2007.4858.42.

Last, but not least, it would be remiss of me to close without saying that we also hold a wealth of technical material (albeit not every single thing about every single vehicle) such as: repair policy; service manuals; operators and maintenance instructions; operators guides for Caterpillar D4, D5, D6 tractors; complete equipment schedules; maintenance reports; illustrated parts catalogues and other material.

Published in The Craftsman, July 2024.