Major John Couch Adams Roseveare
Unit : Headquarters, 3rd Parachute Squadron, RE.
Army No. : 102034
Awards : Distinguished Service Order
"Tim" Roseveare was born in 1914 and was educated at Hurstpierpoint College and London University, where he studied river engineering and waterworks. He was commissioned into the Royal Engineers in 1939, and from 1941 to 1942 was an Instructor with 141 Officer Cadet Training Unit E. He joined the Airborne Forces in 1943 and was given command of the 3rd Parachute Squadron.
In Normandy, the Squadron was charged with the destruction of the five bridges across the River Dives. Roseveare was to have landed on DZ-K alongside the 8th Parachute Battalion, from where he would proceed to demolish the bridge at Troarn, however the pathfinders who were to have marked the zone were dropped at Ranville by mistake, and this led to Roseveare and many others who were bound for DZ-K dropping on DZ-N instead, three miles to the North. By 02:30, Roseveare had gathered forty-seven of his men and a party from the 8th Battalion, and he also had two trollies loaded with 45 General Wade demolition charges and 500lb of plastic explosive. He had no vehicles, however, and so the journey on foot was a painfully slow affair, made easier by their fortune in not encountering any enemy in the Herouvillette-Escoville area.
At 04:00, the group came across more men from the 8th Battalion, and included in their party was a Jeep laden with medical supplies bound for the dressing station which was to be established at Le Mesnil. As the destruction of the bridges had priority, the supplies were unloaded and the driver, Lance-Corporal Young of the Royal Army Medical Corps, later brought them to their destination, assisted by several German prisoners of war mounted on bicycles. Roseveare commandeered the Jeep and set off for Troarn with explosives and a small group of sappers. Roseveare describes their journey:
"We had set off down the road at a moderate pace with everyone ready with a Bren gun or one of our several Sten guns for any trouble. Just before the level crossing we ran slap into a barbed wire knife-rest road block. One boche fired a shot and then went off. It took twenty minutes hard work with wire cutters before the jeep was freed. We then proceeded on, leaving behind, it transpired later, Sapper Moon; two scouts were sent ahead to the next crossroads." At the following crossroads, on the edge of Troarn, the two scouts found a lone German sentry with a rifle. "On being dragged from his bicycle he protested volubly and we made the mistake of silencing him with a Sten gun instead of a knife. The town was now getting roused so we lost no time and everyone jumped aboard while I tried to make the best speed possible. As the total load was 3000lbs we only made about 35mph. At the corner the fun started. There seemed to be a boche in every doorway shooting like mad. However, the boys got to work with their Sten guns and Sapper Peachey did very good work as rear gunner with the Bren gun. What saved the day was the steep hill down the main street. As the speed rose rapidly and we careered from side to side of the road, as the heavy trailer was swinging violently, we were chased out of the town by a German machine gun which fired tracer just over our heads."
Shortly after the Jeep was halted beside the unguarded Troarn bridge, where it was found that Sapper Peachey was missing from the trailer; he had been taken prisoner after being thrown out as they had descended the hill at speed. Whilst the remainder of the group unloaded the General Wades and prepared the bridge for demolition, Lieutenant Breese and Lance-Sergeant Henderson took up positions to the west of the bridge in case a patrol was sent out from Troarn in pursuit. Five minutes later, at 05:00, the bridge was blown and a gap of nearly twenty feet was created in the central span. Not realising that the bridge had been demolished, Captain Juckes of No.2 Troop arrived a few hours later and laid further charges to widen the gap.
Roseveare considered that it would be most unwise to head back in the direction of Troarn, and so he proceeded north along a farm track towards Bures. The track proved to be a dead-end, and so the group abandoned the Jeep and proceeded on foot. Believing there to be Germans present in Bures, they gave the village a wide berth and headed for Le Mesnil, where Squadron Headquarters was to be established. Having swam several streams and using the cover of the Bois de Bavent woodland, they arrived safely at 13:00. For his actions on this night, Major Roseveare was awarded the Distinguished Service Order:
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. On the night of the 5th/6th June 1944, Major J. C. A. Roseveare was given the task of blowing up an important bridge at Troarn. He was dropped some five miles from his covering force, but he immediately gathered together a small force of Royal Engineers and some transport and made for his objective. Troarn was held by the enemy but showing total disregard for his own safety and magnificent leadership he pushed his way through under heavy enemy fire and captured the bridge which he then successfully blew.
What follows is Major Roseveare's report on the D-Day actions, as recorded in the Royal Engineer Journal, Vol CVIII-CIX, April-Dec 94-95.
The long awaited invasion of Normandy began on the night of 5/6 June 1944.
Three airborne divisions: two American on the right flank and one British on the left, were dropped during the night about six hours before the seaborne divisions started to disembark. The vital task of the invasion was entrusted to Major General Richard Gale's 6th Airborne Division. To do this it had to deny access to the high ground between the Caen Canal and River Orne, and the River Dives, some 8 km east.
To achieve the objective the main tasks of the division were:
To capture intact the bridges over the Orne and the canal, for the survival of the Division.
To capture and destroy the Merville Battery who guns enfiladed the beaches.
To destroy the fives bridges over the River Dives between Varaville and Troarn, to cut the main routes from Caen towards Le Havre.
There were insufficient aircraft available to lift more than two brigades in the initial phase of the operation. The 6th Airlanding Brigade with supporting arms would not arrive until the evening.
For the operation 3 Parachute Squadron RE was under the command of 3rd Parachute Brigade and 591 Parachute Squadron under 5 Parachute Brigade. The drop zones (DZ) were "N" north of Ranville for 5 Parachute Brigade, "V" north of Varaville for 9 Parachute Battalion and 1 Canadian Parachute Battalion and "K" near Touffreville for 8 Parachute Battalion.
Because of the diversity of a Sapper tasks both parachute squadrons were divided on two drop zones: 591 Squadron less 2 Troop on DZ "N" had to clear the landing zone of Rommel's "Asparagus". 2 Troop dropped on DZ "V" with 9 Parachute Battalion and also provided six sappers to go with the three Horsa gliders allocated to the Merville Battery. 3 Troop of 3 Parachute Squadron was also on DZ "V" to destroy the bridges near Varaville and Robehomme. 8 Parachute Battalion with 3 Parachute Squadron less 3 Troop were on DZ "K" to attack two bridges at Bures and the main road bridge beyond Troarn at St. Samson.
The best plans of men... What a shambles! Only the 5 Parachute Brigade was respectable and it was able to move quickly to re-enforce the coup de main glider party of 2nd Oxford and Buckinghamshires who had captured the bridges on the Orne River and Canal earlier. No demolition charges had been laid by the Germans and this was probably a disappointment to the Sappers in the party. The glider landing strips were successfully cleared by members of 591 Squadron who found that some of the poles were not as firmly embedded as the Germans might have hoped. No doubt this was a deliberate action on the part of French forced labour. However the gliders arrived from all directions and some managed to put down in quite unexpected places.
The troops on DZ "V" were scattered far and wide. It seems likely that the navigators mistook the River Dives for the Orne in the low lying mist. Many were dropped in the flooded river marshes and weighed down by heavy kitbags, some were drowned. The Sapper demolition party never arrived at Merville Battery. 3 Squadron Troop was luckier and the Troop Commander was able to collect sufficient men and stores to carry out demolition of the Varaville bridge. Sergeant Poole, in civilian life a southern railway engine driver found himself almost near Robehomme with a few Canadian paratroopers. He collected all explosives from their Gammon grenades, and, single-handed, cut the single span lattice girders of the bridge, dropping the span into the River Dives. Later on, more Canadian paratroopers and sappers arrived in the Robehomme area and the bridge abutments were attacked, increasing the destruction. These troops were then attacked by lorry-borne German infantry from the Dives-sur-Mer area and beat a fighting retreat on D+1 to the Le Mesnil area about 7km away, where 3rd Parachute Brigade was dug in.
On DZ "K", following the two pathfinder aircraft, 3rd Parachute Squadron was to drop first followed by 8th Parachute Battalion. After take off I was rather surprised to see that all the planes had their navigation lights on. No doubt the dangers due to collision were greater than the possibility of attack by enemy night fighters. The flight was uneventful until we reached the French coast where flak was quite heavy; evasive action by the pilot nearly tipped me out - I was standing in the doorway ready to drop as number one of the leading plane.
Very soon the red light came on. I thought it was too soon and shouted to the troops that we might be dropping on the wrong DZ. Then came the green and I snapped the container release switches and jumped. As soon as the chute opened I set about getting rid of the 60lb kitbag packed with demolition equipment, tools etc. To my fury the release mechanism did not work and I landed with the bag still attached to my ankle instead of hanging on a 15ft rope. I expected a broken ankle but luck was with me.
In 3 Squadron we always prided ourselves on being very quick out of the plane and, sure enough, my squadron Sergeant Major Bob Barr who had been last out of my plane, soon arrived and gave me a smart salute which did my morale a lot of good as I had just managed to cut myself with my fighting knife trying to disentangle parachute and kitbag.
By a splendid piece of navigation Squadron Leader Miller had put me down 50yds from the Rebecca Eureka homing beacon laid by the pathfinders half an hour earlier. Unfortunately, it was the right beacon but on the wrong DZ. It did not take long to establish that we were on DZ "N" with the bulk of 5 Parachute Brigade. There was even a signpost at a crossroads at the edge of the DZ to confirm it. It was obvious from the noise that a battle was developing in Ranville but there was not a great deal of firing in our direction, and it was none of our business.
Our task was to collect the troops and find the containers. These had been fitted with a delayed action device which ensured that they landed in about the middle of the "stick". They were also fitted with lights on a triangulated arrangement which opened up on landing to hold a light above standing crops.
Troops from every formation in the division were milling around trying to locate their rendezvous. Gliders were a hazard as they came in with a swish and thump. A Sterling bomber ablaze went over in an easterly direction. It transpired that this was one of 591's missing planes. Miraculously, some survived the crash and were taken prisoner.
The loading of the folding trolleys went well. We were particularly concerned to get the General Wade shaped charges which were needed for the masonry arch bridge at Troarn. As more sappers and 8th Battalion soldiers arrived at our makeshift rendezvous, we now had about five officers, thirty Sappers and about twenty 8th Battalion soldiers. I judged that we had sufficient explosives and other equipment to carry out the attack on the three bridges, if we could reach them. There was no sign of the two gliders which had been laden with further charges for the five spans of Troarn bridge. We heard later that they had arrived on the correct DZ, about 6km away.
Heavily laden we set off on the long march to our objectives. As we went a jeep and trailer appeared out of the murk; it belonged to 224 Parachute Field Ambulance. I had no compunction in commandeering it - the lack of a jeep and trailer might make all the difference between success and failure. We passed through Herouvillette and Escoville without incident. If there were Germans there they must have pulled the bed clothes a little higher - we had no wish to disturb them.
The long pull up to the Bois de Bavent was punishing. Some of the troops had injuries from the drop, which did not help matters. At a crossroads at the edge of the woods I called a halt and we reorganised. All the medical stores were unloaded and replaced by the general Wade charges. I ordered the 8th Battalion and medical contingents to dig in and await events. I sent Tim Juckes with the bulk of the Sappers, through the Bois to destroy the two Bridges at Bures. Their march was unopposed and they reached the bridges in about an hour. There was no sign of the enemy but there was a Horsa glider with a jeep and six pounder antitank gun half submerged in the river. The glider pilot was conscious but had broken legs. Without some heavy lifting gear it was impossible to recover the jeep and gun. Both bridges were prepared and successfully blown by about 0900hrs. There remained the Troarn bridge. Without the 8 Battalion to fight us through the town it was evident that only a coup de main operation was likely to succeed. It was thought the recce regiment of the 21st Panzer Division was in occupation.
I took the wheel and we set off. On board were Lieutenant David Breeze and No. 1 Section of 1 Troop with eight NCOs and Sappers and a half ton of explosives. It was still rather dark and gloomy on the edge of Bois and before I could stop I ran into a barbed-wire roadblock. By the Grace of God, Lance Sergeant Irving had "borrowed" a pair of wire cutters from 8th Battalion to deal with telephone wires during our march. Without them we should have got no further. Disentangling and cutting the wire seemed to take an age and we were very apprehensive. However, there was no sign of the enemy and we were able to continue our journey.
We were now entering the town and stopped just short of the crossroads. Dave Breeze and Sergeant Irving went forward to have a look. They were peering round the corner to the left when I spotted a German with a rifle, riding towards us from the right on a bicycle. I had to shout "Look the other way" - if he had let go of his rifle and stopped shouting that German might be alive today. Now it was a matter of jumping aboard and making the best speed possible through the town as it was obvious that surprise was lost.
I doubt if we were making more than 30mph due to the limited power of the jeep and heavy load. As we came round quite a sharp bend - there were the Germans and a gunfight started. One German tried to set up an MG34 but we were too quick for him and he dashed back into a building and out again as we passed: then a stream of tracer bullets passed over our heads as we got the benefit of the steep gradient down the hill.
As there was no further opposition we were soon at the bridge unloading the general Wade charges. Unfortunately Sapper Peachey and our only Bren gun were missing, which made us feel very vulnerable. Demolition was the simplest thing possible; the charges were laid contiguously across the crown of the arch from parapet to parapet connected to cordtex detonating cable and an igniter. The whole job took less than five minutes.
To return through Troarn would have been suicidal and as we had no means of carrying out further damage to the bridge and only Sten guns for our protection, we set out along a track beside the river; ditched the jeep and swam several water courses before taking to the woods of the Bois de Bures. We came across an elderly Frenchman milking a cow. When I informed him that he was being liberated he was not impressed. Perhaps he did not understand my accent. We arrived at 3rd Parachute Brigade Headquarters about mid-day, a very bedraggled and exhausted party, having been shot at by the Germans, bombed by the RAF, shelled by the Navy and unappreciated by the French.
The arrival from the Touffreville DZ of troops from both 8th Battalion and 3rd Squadron, with a jeep and trailer loaded with General Wade charges, gave the opportunity to make another attack on Troarn bridge, 8th Battalion fought their way into the lower part of the town and covered the Sappers in their jeep and trailer down the main road to the bridge. Another span and one of the bridge piers were destroyed by Lieutenant Tony Wade and his Sappers from No 1 Troop by 1400 hrs. They then withdrew to 8th Battalion which was established at its crossroads rendezvous in the Bois de Bavent.
In the weeks that followed 8th Battalion, with Sapper assistance, completely dominated the area with aggressive fighting patrols and no threat to the bridgehead materialised from this quarter.
In the Le Mesnil area a fierce defensive battle to hold our lines now began. 9th Parachute Battalion hardly existed as a battalion and the Canadians had also suffered heavy casualties. 3rd Squadron played a vital role in holding back determined attacks which the enemy mounted with tanks and self propelled guns in the Le Mesnil/Chateau St Come area during the next six days. We were very relieved when it became known that elements of 51 Highland Division were expected in our bridgehead. Unfortunately their attack on 11th June in the St Come area was repulsed with very heavy casualties. The critical situation was not relieved until a very gallant assault by 12th Devonshire, 12th Parachute Battalion and 13/18 Hussars on Breville finally established a solid defensive position in the area. The Sappers fought with great gallantry: three officers were awarded the Military Cross and two NCOs received the Military Medal.
When they could be spared from the front line, there were plenty of the usual Sapper tasks of minelaying and clearance, road cratering and laying boobytraps. More domestic matters were water supply and building of bunkers for headquarters and field ambulance. The poles from the DZ were excellent for providing overhead cover against the continual mortar attacks.
The operational strength of each parachute squadron was 18 officers and 127 other ranks. A total of 94 casualties were suffered by the two parachute squadrons:
Killed 3 officers and 19 soldiers
Wounded 5 officers and 45 soldiers
Missing 5 officers and 17 soldiers
The defensive battle continued until mid-August when, on 17th, the great advance began. 6th Airborne Division led on the left flank and the mobile warfare made a pleasant change from the trench warfare of the past weeks. The river Dives, Touques and Risle provided plenty of Sappers tasks. We reached the Seine at the end of August and then withdrew. After enjoying the wonderful hospitality of the Normans, we returned to England on 5th September to refit and retrain for the battles ahead - the Ardennes and the Rhine crossing. VE Day found us in Wismar on the Baltic - we were among the first British troops to meet the Russians.
Major Roseveare continued to command the 3rd Parachute Squadron throughout the Normandy campaign, and went on to lead them in the Ardennes and Germany. Demobilised in 1946, he joined Binnie and Partners and worked on several major civil engineering projects, including the Tai Lam Chung Dam in Hong Kong. In 1957, he joined Freeman Fox and Partners and was Project Engineer at the Ffestiniog hydroelectric power station. Roseveare was made a partner in 1970, became a Member of Panel I Reservoirs (Safety Provisions) Act 1930, and was awarded the prestigious James Watt Gold Medal of the Institution of Civil Engineers. Amongst the major projects on which he worked were the Cross-Harbour Tunnel in Hong Kong, the Kotri Bridge in Pakistan, and the foundations of the Bosphorus Bridge. He retired in 1982 and settled near Bath.
See also: L/Sgt Irving (letter).
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