6th June marks the anniversary of D-Day and the start of the fight to liberate Western Europe during the Second World War. The invasion and subsequent campaign meant the mobilisation of thousands of British, Commonwealth and American troops in the weeks preceding the event and the actual planning for an invasion in Europe had begun the previous year. But before the invasion could take place, troops were moved to sealed concentration areas to keep the approaching invasion a secret. Three of the antecedents of the Adjutant General’s Corps were heavily involved in the support of the troops and the subsequent fight on the beaches and the Normandy Campaign. The campaign would last until 25th August 1944.
Plans in Place
The Paymaster in Chief and the Deputy Paymaster in Chief created the plans for the paying of troops once in France, and for paying the local population for goods and services. The United States printed invasion currency, and it was up to the heads of the Army pay services to negotiate the share for Great Britain.
The Army Educational Corps was to help provide morale boosting activities and to spread information among the troops. Some of this had been tested in North Africa, and the AEC teams sent with the formations would produce newssheets. This was tested during operational training in the months before the landings. They also taught French and German to the Military Police.
There would be a significant number of Military Police involved in the landings, with plans for the CMP to have beach duties, work within assault divisions, Corps headquarters, reserve units, working with POWs and acting as reconnaissance units. Two companies were to take part in the landings.
Before the invasion, plans were in place to mobilise one military prison and five Field Punishment Centres. The Auxiliary Territorial Service, while not initially involved in the invasion and the campaign made non-staling bread for the invasion crafts, making 60,000 loaves in the days before D-Day.
Sealed Concentration Areas
At the sealed concentration areas the Royal Army Pay Corps (RAPC) sorted out the financial issues in units before deploying and had a pay parade where each officer and soldier were given 200 French Francs in invasion currency. They also collected any Sterling and credited the accounts of the soldiers.
In the ten weeks leading up to D-Day the Army Educational Corps (AEC) entered the sealed marshalling areas to help with welfare and to keep the morale high among the troops. This included arranging recreation rooms, recreational activities, talks and colloquial language classes. They also helped to find and supply beer and to organise baths for the men. Before the invasion, each man was given a Penguin book to go in his haversack, light enough that it wouldn’t upset the load balance of their kit.
The Corps of Military Police took part in the movement of 21 Army Group to the embarkation points, with their principle responsibility of traffic control during the campaign tested before the invasion took place.
The Corps of Military Police (CMP) were the first antecedents to take part in D-Day, dropping with the 6th Airborne Division and landing on the beaches. 6th Airborne Division Provost Company dropped at 0330 and erected traffic control posts over the River Orne and the Caen Canal. By 0810 all the 3rd Division Provost Company were ashore on Sword Beach, and within the first thirty minutes 242 Provost Company were on Juno Beach. The CMP units signed and controlled the movement of the Divisions off the beaches and along the roads to the crossings held by the 6th Airborne Division.
By the end of the day, they were also rounding up prisoners, organising mine detection and wire clearing details and carrying the wounded. Congestion issues the day after the landings meant that the provost section needed on the beaches were still at sea, leading to the overwork of those already on land.
D+: After the Initial Assault
The first pay units arrived in France on D+2. The 21 Army Group Area Cash Office (ACO) landed in Normandy at 1700 on D+4 (10th June) close to enemy positions with an 8-mile march to the assembly point. There was a German counterattack expected in the area overnight, so the ACO took up defensive positions with the 51st Highland Division. They carried on marching the next day and reached the assembly point at 0830 on D+5.
The first AEC teams landed in the days after the assault. Any unwanted Penguin books were collected to be part of the unit libraries within study centres, and soon the AEC teams attached to formations produced newssheets.
The first was the Triangle for 3rd Division, produced on D+3. Each formation had a bivouac tent and a truck lit by pressure lamps with a radio, a typewriter and a duplicator. Printing took place between 2am and 4am, and in the early morning the paper rounds took place. The AEC had 170 men as part of the invasion group.
The Normandy Campaign
Within the first two weeks of the campaign, there were eleven Field Cash Offices and one Area Cash Office. There was a temporary cash vault in the basement of the Chateau de Courcelles, and they later used the underground passages of a radar station at Douvres without a single franc lost. Within the first month of the campaign over 65 ½ tons of currency crossed the Normandy beaches.
For the entire campaign each formation had a daily sheet, with the only breaks during operational moves. The AEC could also be found in reinforcement holding units, with study centres concealed in the woods or half-wrecked German camps. Each study centre started with a 500-volume library and from Army Group reserves there were enough to allow four Corps or Divisions in the forward area to have mobile libraries on tour in converted German lorries.
By 25th July the build up to the Provost units were nearly complete. The CMP sometimes worked under fire, with their work centring on traffic control. They also dealt with deserters, manned straggler posts, helped to unload stores, act as escorts, and made road signs.
While the ATS were involved in most aspects of the war, they did not land in Normandy until the 28th July 1944, nearly the end of the campaign. They landed at Coursuelles-sur-Mer to be part of the Rear Section of 21st Army Group. Their accommodations were tents in the adjacent fields. They later expanded to include three companies of cooks, drivers and clerks a few weeks later. By the end of the campaign there were 781 ATS in France and Belgium.