Fueling Up for D-Day
D-Day for the French invasion was just another busy day in the life of the Quartermasters who ran the Petrol, Oil and Lubricants (POL) dumps in England. Ever since the beginning of March (1944) they'd been operating 24 hours a day, fueling vehicles by the tens of thousand. Troops and rolling equipment arrived at the dumps, filled up, went to beaches, boarded ships, rode around in the water, drove to the beaches again, and then repeated the whole training process. No one knew whether each embarkation was going to be another rehearsal or the real Mc-Coy.
On that day early in June, the trucks and men did the same thing. The only difference was that then they didn't land in England. They just kept right on going across the Channel.
PREPARE FOR "MANEUVERS"
Preparation for June 6 dated back to the previous winter when orders came telling QM's to make fueling arrangements for an "unusually large number of vehicles" for maneuvers in Southern England. The plans that were worked out to accomplish this were based partially on the system used in the North African campaign.
Just in serving the 25,000 troops in these preliminary maneuvers, the fuel handlers got a fair dose of what they were to face. Then came the word for the day when bigger maneuvers would start, some time about March 1. Estimates were made as to the number of men and vehicles that would be involved and how much oil and gasoline they might consume.
ED. NOTE: This story is based on an article by Warren C. Platt in the 30 Aug 44 issue of "National Petroleum News."
1,250 MEN TRAINED
QM's divided the job into two sections, one for the southern coast and one for the western coast. The big job was the south. Special training in handling cans and carrying out the fuel routine was given to 1,250 men. One thousand went south, and 250 to the west.
Four main operational POL dumps were established in the southern sector of the main roads leading to the Channel. Two were located near the west coast for use in the maneuvers. All six dumps were placed about 10 miles back from the ports where vehicles would have plenty of roadway and ground over which to spread out. These main dumps were some 75 to 100 miles apart, depending on the distance between ports. Mobile reserves were available at each dump to meet the inflow of rolling equipment.
A MILLION GALLONS ON HAND
Each of the four southern dumps consisted of a main storage area and eight roadside dispensing points. Stocks of gasoline, oil and grease was kept at about 1,000,000 gallons. A system of perpetual inventory showed that this figure was maintained, even though each of the four dumps put out upwards of 100,000 gallons per day.
Five-gallon cans were used exclusively. Fueling with gasoline vending pumps from bulk storage was not done because of the continual movement of so many vehicles and the wide area they covered.
MAINTAINING SUPPLY OF DUMPS
The supply of the dumps was maintained by:
1. Trucks from inland points with filled cans, and
2. Trucks that hauled empty cans to nearby rail sidings where they were filled from tank cars and brought back.
Delivery to using vehicles was made form each dump in two ways:
1. From small stacks of cans scattered along the roadside. and
2. From special trucks that took cans to side roads or across fields to vehicles that did not use the main road.
"SERVICE STATION" SYSTEM
The main POL dumps were established in advance. The dumps' roadside delivery points were strung about 100 feet apart along the road, or roads. This permitted each delivery point to serve three vehicles easily, with the vehicles still keeping standard convoy distance apart. Eight points would serve a standard convoy of 21 to 26 vehicles.
Convoys were kept 15 minutes apart. The men running the points had to serve the convoy and then get their can-stack renewed with filled cans within that 15 minutes. This was a tight schedule, but the fuel handlers were trained to meet it. They serviced a convoy in from eight to ten minutes, thus allowing five to seven minutes to rearrange their can-stacks for the next convoy.
ONE GRADE OF GASOLINE
At each dump's eight delivery points, there was kept a stack of 500 filled cans of gasoline and a proportionate number of five-gallon cans of lube oil, oil measures, and cans of grease. Only one grade of gasoline was dispensed--eighty--octane. There were two grades of lube oil: 30 HD for cars and trucks and 50 HD for motorcycles and medium tanks. There was also some diesel oil.
When a convoy came to a stop at a group of eight delivery points, each driver jumped out and checked his oil. The assistant driver hustled to the can dump and started emptying cans into the gasoline tank. When the driver found out how much oil he needed, he was handed a five-gallon can of oil with the top off and a funnel in the can.
The net result was that three men were servicing each vehicle.When the convoy moved on, supply trucks picked up the empties and left full cans. They took the empties to a nearby point for refill from tank cars at railroad sidings.
About 250 men operated each dump and the necessary supply trucks. Operations ran straight through the 24 hours with little let-up from the start of the maneuvers until long after D-Day.
Night work was carried on without lights, not even flashlights. Trucks, carrying cans to convoys parked along the smaller roads and back in the country hand to find their way quickly through the black-out. To achieve this, the men at the dumps were encourages to use their time off to explore the country-side by day and by night. They became familiar with every road and gully near the scene of their "filling stations."
THE FINAL TEST
Then came the afternoon when the vehicles received their last fill. At the short this time the assistant drivers were handed cans to compensate for gasoline used to drive from the dumps to the water's edge. Even though there was room for only a gallon or two, each tank had to be filled to the brim before embarking. This was to make sure that each vehicle could go a maximum distance when it landed, and then, by using extra fuel carried in cans, to go additional miles without resupply. After this "topping off" was accomplished, all fill caps were waterproofed.
That afternoon saw the vast flotilla sail out of harbors for the far shore, but the work of these filling stations was not over. As fast as troops in France opened up more territory, new forces moved across the channel--and those forces had to be fueled, too.
This article originally appeared on qmfound