The British Army had not done much to mechanize the Infantry during the inter-War years. Field Service Regulations Vol II (1935) notes that the transport to be used to move troops forward to engage hostile forces whose location is not known with certainty was by passenger-carrying coaches requisitioned from civilian use. Battalions would have had mechanized transport in the form of lorries to transport supplies, ammunition, baggage and HQ staff (the War Establishment strength, May 1940, was four 15 cwt. trucks for each company – one for each platoon) but these were not to be used to transport troops except in cases of emergency otherwise the administration would be disrupted. Much of this motor transport was destroyed or abandoned by the BEF in France. Most of the remaining transport was largely retained for the GHQ mobile reserve, by reducing the allocation to Beach Divisions.
However troops still needed to be moved around the country in routine deployments and reliefs and mobility was needed for Corps reserves. A solution to this problem in 1940 was to form Motor Coach Companies. The raising of No. 14 Motor Coach Company was probably a typical example.
The Company was formed on Jun 23rd at Malvern with personnel from 3 G.H.Q (Artillery) Company RASC (B.E.F). It was War Established on Jun 25th with five sections (A, B, C, Work Shop and H.Q). On Jun 28th the Company received its first vehicles. During its time at Malvern a piquet was formed to assist the LDV’s in the observation of enemy paratroops that may be dropped in the Malvern Hills.
On Jul 6th the Company moved to Rougham Park, Suffolk, attached to 55th Div RASC. The Company was subsequently attached for accommodation / rations to:
- A Section – 2nd Battalion Liverpool Scottish, Bosmere Hall
- B Section – 1 sub-section each 147 Field Regt (RA), Weatheringset and 2nd Royal Kensington Regt, Codenham and 50 Holding Battalion Suffolk Regt.
- C section – 7 Battalion York & Lancs, Glevering Hall
- HQ Section – Old Rectory, Drinkstone
- Work shop Section – Bury St Edmunds
Civilian drivers and coaches were attached to A,B and C sections for the purpose of driving instruction. The Company continued to receive coaches (mostly Albion and Bedford’s 32-seater coaches) throughout July and August and was up to strength by the end of August.
Right: 1940 Albion Coach
During Nov 10th and 11th, No. 14 Motor Coach Company (total of 60 coaches) along with 29 coaches from No. 35 Motor coach Company was to move the 165th Infantry Brigade Group from Suffolk to the Cotswold’s. Staffs from 11 and 2 Corps were to piquet the route but traffic control was to be under the co-ordination of 6 Prov. Section at various T.C.P’s (Traffic Control Points). The convoys were to be protected against low flying aircraft by light machine guns mounted in trucks. To ensure no coaches were put out of action by cold weather, water was to be drained from radiator blocks at arrival in the Cotswold’s. During overnight stops at Stageing camps, radiators were not to be drained, but engines started at intervals under the order of Officer Commanding Camp.
Although this personnel account from Percy Smith is from No 22 Motor Coach Company, based in Scotland, it probably reflects the situation in the raising of most Motor Coach Companies:
“One morning we were taken down there to find a whole fleet of motor coaches, which had been obtained from various Scottish corporations, and in various conditions, but all in their civilian colours. We had become No. 22 Motor Coach Company R.A.S.C. The idea was that if there was an invasion in our area, we could rush troops to wherever they were needed. There were more similar units around the East Coast of Scotland.
There was no end to the work that was needed on these vehicles. Apart from the mechanical defects, a load of metal sheets arrived and windows were taken out and replaced with metal with portholes, exactly as Cpl. Jones’s van in Dad’s Army. These coaches also had to be painted in the usual army camouflage paint. If some of these coaches were mechanically doubtful they certainly had drivers to match, there was no passing tests — just get in and drive”
Motor Coach Companies would come under the command of reserve formations on ‘Stand To’. In 1941 42nd Div (125, 126 and 127 Brigades) had moved from the ‘Front line’ in Suffolk and was in 11 Corps reserve tasked with either counter attacking in 11 Corps area or moving to north Kent. D.D.S.T 11 Corps Operational Instruction No 7 (21st May 1941) notes that the following action was to be taken by 18, 24, 36 and 38 Motor Coach Companies on ‘Stand To’:
- 18 Company to come under command of 127 Brigade
- 24 Company to remain under command of D.D.S.T
- 36 Company to come under command of 125 Brigade
- 38 Company to come under command of 126 Brigade
No. 18, 36 and 28 Motor Coach Company transport would be augmented by collecting an additional two civilian drivers and coaches from Vehicle Parks. Civilian vehicles and drivers would report to Vehicle parks under arrangements made by The Ministry of Transport. In 11 Corps area these were at Nowton Court, Hatfield Broad Oak and Anstey. On ‘Stand To’ civilian coaches were to be provided with camouflage nets and paint and brushes in order to disrupt with camouflage paint. Coaches that needed to be dispatched immediately were not to be painted but paint sent with them so they could be painted when time permitted.
A number of proposals were received by the War Office to increase the War Establishment of Motor Coach Companies in order to allow sections to become administartively independent. The War Office had to point out that it was never intended that Motor Coach Companies should be used for the tactical moves of sub-units of battalions. Although The War Office recognised that this may be desirable, due to shortages of manpower and vehicles such proposals could not be considered.
Some notes on embussing and debussing are given in Field Service Regulations Vol II. A straight section of road was ideal for embussing and debussing. At the point of debussing a turning circuit would be required by the vehicles and a good forming up point for troops. The 1942 Instructors’ Handbook on Field Craft and Battle Drill has a drill for platoon movement by bus. The platoon commander was to detail two men with a Bren gun to ride on the roof of the bus if possible to provide AA fire or in the case of ambush. The three sub-machine guns of the platoon should be manned and sighted through the windows for all-round offence (it was noted Bren guns were unsuitable for this as the protruding barrels would be dangerous to oncoming traffic!)
11 Corps papers, TNA
42 Div papers, TNA
Instructors Handbook on Fieldcraft and Battle Drill, C.I.C Home Forces, 1942
14 Motor Coach Company papers, TNA
Field Service Regulations Vol I 1930 with 1939 Amendments, WO, 1939
Field Service Regulations Vol II, WO, 1935
The Infantry (Rifle) Battalion, MTP No. 39, WO, 1940
BBC – WW2 Peoples War