A part history of
14 Field Survey Company
Royal Engineers

14 Field Survey Company in World War 2


As part of the preparations for the Second World War in which the mobilisation scheme for the Royal Engineer Survey Service was put into effect, the Company was reformed in the autumn of 1939 as 14(Corps) Field Survey Company RE.

The move to France of the main body of the British Expeditionary Force, commencing on September 10 th , 1939 , saw the Company as part of that Force, being specifically a unit of 2 Corps. The Force, which was under French command, occupied a sector on the Belgian frontier, flanked by French and Belgian Armies.

The Company at that time consisted of a Headquarters, two topographical sections, a small drawing section and two printing sections each of which was equipped with one double-demy, hand-fed press, mounted in a trailer. It is of note to record that the print trailers were pulled by Royal Artillery Scammel tractors and that the availability of the tractors and drivers was purely dependant on whether they could be spared by their own unit when movement was necessary. Although the equipment was modified in detail during subsequent years including the addition of a photographic section and substitution of demy presses in specially designed lorries instead of trailers, the Company retained this profile throughout the war.

When the German offensive started on May 10 th , 1940 , the British and French Armies marched into Belgium , with the British reaching the River Dyle on the line from Wavre to Louvain , there to establish a defensive position. The Company moved with 2 Corps to carry out its technical requirements and were soon involved in and around the River Dyle area. However, such was the German thrust directed against the French position that by May 16 th , the enemy had penetrated some 40 miles and whereas the British line had held, the threat now to its flank and rear was such that a withdrawal to a line of the River Escaut was ordered. The Company completed it task of the survey on the River Dyle position around Louvain and then retired to the River Escaut line where, in conjunction with the Royal Artillery, it completed surveys for Artillery Fixation Points at the northern end of the river line. The development of the situation however, led to the withdrawal of the British Expeditionary Force to Dunkirk and subsequent evacuation to England in late May, early June 1940.

During the retreat the Company were able to carry out surveys in the areas of Bailleul, Kemmel, Messines and Ploegsteert. Due to Map Depots having been cut off by the German thrusts the only maps available to the Corps were the 1:25,000 sheets already issued or the ones the Company were able to print as they moved back through Belgium and except whilst on the road, the machines hardly stopped turning day and night in an effort to keep pace with rapidly changing situations. Their work was undoubtedly of great value and did not end until they were forced to destroy and abandon their printing vehicles just outside Dunkirk . By June 3 rd , 1940 , all the forces on the Dunkirk beaches had been embarked for England with the Company having had cause to lose all of its equipment except for a few theodolites carried over by hand.

By the middle of June 1940, all members of the Company had found their way back to Fort Southwick and new arms, personal equipment and clothing were issued. In July 1940, the Company took up station in Harrison 's Printing Works of Hayes, Middlesex, as part of the Home Forces of Eastern Command.

With the threat of an impending German invasion the Company was soon heavily involved in Home Defence work on fixations of coastal defence artillery and radar installations which were then being constructed. Printing of map stocks of vital areas and training grounds in Great Britain was a full commitment and this was carried out by using the equipment of the printing works. Shift work was a necessity and with air raids in progress most nights those off duty slept in the shelters in the grounds of the works. The raids were heavy on most nights as was normal for the London area but work only stopped when aircraft were overhead and apart from one or two near misses the unit suffered no damage.

It was during this stay at Hayes that a Photographic Section was first attached to the Company.

In May of 1941 the Company moved to Dunstable to set up its Headquarters in a local brewery. There is reliable information that the brewery had been emptied of its beer but such ‘information' comes from Company members at that time. If the Squadron as it is today were to move into a brewery we would doubtless supply the same answer! There was no printing equipment there however and the stay was short.

In August of 1941, the Company moved to Ampthill, being accommodated in half of Ampthill House, the property of the Duke of Bedford's sisters. The grounds of the park in which the house lay were extensive and the Comp[any was able to set up and carry out all types of military field training. New printing vehicles were received and the Company became fully committed once more, not only on local surveys in the Command and the printing of maps of Great Britain but also with revising and printing maps of France, Holland and Germany.

The grounds of Ampthill Park were full of game but shooting and trapping were strictly forbidden. However, the Sergeants Mess were to dine on pheasant or rabbit once or twice a week and the poachers were never caught by the keepers. Such is Sergeants Mess life!

In June of 1943, the Company was again to move, this time to Mold in North Wales , setting up its accommodation in what had been a nursing home approximately one mile from the town. Being completely equipped and self-contained they were able to continue their survey, revision and printing tasks without delay.

With the Supreme headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force formed in January 1944, the Survey organisation, in preparation for the Overlord invasion assault on the French coast, saw 14 (Corps) Field Survey Company in the Order of Battle as part of the British Second Army. Early stages of planning included overprints of enemy defences, intelligence and goings maps in addition to the large quantities of standard maps required for the operation and it was necessary that the Company worked with all speed and at all hours. All was to be done in addition to their training and preparation for the forthcoming campaign and of course, under conditions of the strictest security.

Overlord was launched on June 6 th , 1944 , and the Company crossed the Channel on D+14, with their vehicles well waterproofed so as to allow them to get ashore from the landing craft and across the beaches. There the Company was established within the Normandy bridgehead, fully occupied on local surveys, fixations and the printing of 1:25,000 maps of the area for all arms. Triangulation data available for Normandy was known to be unreliable and the topographical sections were continuously engaged in the provision of reliable information to the Royal Artillery.

August 1944, saw the Allied breakout from the bridgehead, the overrunning of the Brittany Peninsula and the consequent pursuit of the German Forces through northern France and Belgium . The printing equipment of the Company at that time consisted of two Crabtree demy presses, a photomechanical department and a camera, all lorry mounted and there was a grainer and generator. So great in fact was the amount of 1:25,000 maps to be printed that the allocation of presses to the Company was doubled soon after their arrival in Normandy . That it was of paramount importance for a field survey unit to be able to pack up their equipment and be ready for a quick move was well illustrated here because the Second Army moved no less than six times during the month of September 1944, the longest move being one of 160 miles. The Company moved on five of these occasions and were left behind the Army Headquarters only once and then it was done deliberately in order to avoid disturbing the printing programme on which they were so heavily committed.

October, November and December of 1944 saw a comparative lull in operations and this enabled the printing up of map stocks of German sheets, particularly those required for the planned advance across the Rivers Maas and Rhine. During the winter, additional advantage was taken of static conditions to revise from air photographs the existing large scale city maps of Germany . Despite periods of intense cold, the surveys and printing continued.

The Rhine was crossed during March 1945, followed by deep and rapid advances further into Germany . One particular task of the Company in preparation of the crossing was to cover, by triangulation, a belt about four miles wide along the west bank of the Rhine from Emmerich to Wesel . The object was to check the existing trig data, including points on the east bank, to provide additional control as required by the Royal Artillery and to fix, by intersection, new points on the east side of the river. Methods employed included resection, intersection, new triangulation and traversing.

The rapid advance to the River Elbe saw the Company with the additional task of preparing overprints showing enemy defences and printing of maps ready for the Elbe crossing, the siege of Hamburg and the clearing of the Cuxhaven peninsula.

Following the assault across the River Elbe which commenced in April 1945, Hamburg was to surrender on May 3 rd and negotiations were started for the surrender of the entire German Army Group.

It was quite clear that the total defeat of the German Army had come and the Company had ably played their part.

Officers Commanding 14 (Corps) Field Survey Company during this period were as follows : -


R.P. Wheeler RE

September 1939

December 1939


G.P.H. Boycott RE

December 1939

August 1942


R.P. Steen RE

August 1942

March 1943


W.J. Phillips MM RE

March 1943

June 1943


A.J. Elsey RE

June 1943

July 1945


Following the surrender in 1945, the Company was to remain in Germany as part of the Occupation Force and with the British Second Army dissolving in June of that year, they became part of 8 Corps.

In the period immediately following the surrender, the technical work load was of course reduced to a very great extent and more effort was spent on unravelling the administrative problems that the war had brought and of spending time and effort on much needed equipment and instrument maintenance. At the beginning of this period of peace the Company was located at Moltke Strasse, Bad Salzuflen .

In April of 1945, American troops had entered Bad Oeynhausen, commandeering buildings for use a billets and one of the buildings taken over was a printing works which contained some seven printing presses and associated equipments. This had been taken over from the Americans by a detachment from 15 Map Reproduction Section and early in 1946 it was taken over by the Company and run as a detachment from Bad Salzuflen . This was in fact the very beginning of the Survey production Centre (BAOR) and the detachment was to continue to be operative until late 1951 by which h time, with the steady influx of German technicians over the period from 1946, the detachment ceased and the unit emerged as the Survey production Centre with its own working strength of 140 personnel.

In May 1946, 8 Corps dissolved and the Company became part of 30 Corps. The atmosphere was still very relaxed following the cessation of fighting and although technical tasks were being carried out they were by no means keeping the unit at full working stretch. Reorganisation, maintenance and rehabilitation were the order of the day.

Supplied by Alan Gordon