The 317 Supply & Transport Column began its life at R.A.F. Old Sarum, on the Salisbury Plain, in September of 1944. It consisted of eight sections, each of which comprised forty drivers, plus dispatch riders, ancillary and administration staff. There was also an H.Q. together with it's own administration staff. It was one of a number of Supply & Transport Columns formed to supply and equip the Allied Forces as they fought their way through Europe. The first Commanding Officer was Squadron Leader Shilcock, and the unit itself was placed under the auspices of 84 Group operating under the direct control of the 2nd Allied Tactical Air Force. Within a week of the unit being formed a wag had named it 'Shilcock's Traveling Circus.' It was a name that was not particularly appreciated by the C/O, but it stuck. During the conflict 317 built itself an enviable reputation as a unit that was capable of performing the most arduous of tasks, with the unit having vehicles supplying the forces within less than 3 miles of the front.
Following the defeat of Germany, 317 S&TC was to perform many tasks including convoys to Warsaw, via Berlin, and also to Prague and Moscow. By July of 1946 the unit H.Q. was at Harburg, on the outskirts of Hamburg. There were detachments in Paris, Brussels, Soltau, Bielefeld, Celle, Louvain and Sulbeck. The detachment at Louvain was involved in transporting ammunition.
In the winter of 1947, the unit was involved in one of its many humanitarian tasks, that of 'Operation 'Woodpecker', also referred to as. 'Harvest'. 'Woodpecker/'Harvest' involved the cutting, haulage and distribution of timber and peat to the civilian population of Northern Germany during one of the coldest winters that Europe has ever known. The state of Germany at that time was such that much of the civilian population was unable to fend for itself in regard to the provision of winter fuel. It was also at this time that 317 S&TC was involved in transporting returning P.O.W. and displaced persons to their former homes.
January 1948 found the unit at Uetersen with detachments at Gutersloh and Sundern. The unit was tasked with hauling equipment from and to the Hamburg Docks, and, with the instigation of the Russian blockade of the autobahn route into Berlin, the Berlin Airlift, or to give it its correct name, Operation 'Plain Fare,' was brought into action. Drivers were transported from Uetersen to the 431 Equipment Depot at Altona, where every available heavy vehicle in stock was commandeered, and the transportation of supplies began to designated airfields. This task was eventually taken over by private haulage companies and 317 returned exclusively to the task of supplying and equipping the R.A.F. Stations within occupied Europe.
In 1950, in the review of the Royal Air Force, the 317 S&TC was referred to as the 'Carter Paterson' of the Autobahns, and they were praised for their work and their high standard of driving. This did not go down very well with the personnel of 51 M.T. Company who were at that time based in Al Hamra, in the Canal Zone, as they felt they were a more deserving unit.
By 1953, 317 had a detachment in operation at Eindhoven, hauling freight from the docks at Antwerp and delivering to stations throughout Germany. In March 1954 the unit, in line with other M.T. units, including No. 2 M.T. Company, was restyled as a Mechanical Transport Squadron and moved from Uetersen to Brüggen in June of the same year and set up home next to the M.T.S.U. and the General Equipment Park. A flight had been detached to Alhorn and their task was to collect and deliver equipment from and to the Docks at Bremen. Night trunks were undertaken from Brüggen, to Sundern and
In 1958 the squadron was tasked to deliver freight to and from Abingdon, near Oxford, in England. This task took place weekly until the autumn of 1961 when it ceased in line with the start of the draw down of front line units in Germany.
The winter of 1961/62 was to see a repeat of the humanitarian role for 317 M.T. Squadron, when a convoy of fuel tankers was driven to the Rotterdam oil refineries for heating fuel. The fuel was to be distributed to civilian hospitals throughout Germany. This humanitarian task was undertaken because the canal system, in both Holland and Germany, was frozen over. The Squadron was to remain at Brüggen until it amalgamated with the G.E.P. in October 1962 and was to become part of the 431 Maintenance Unit a year later.
The 431 Equipment Park was formed within 85 Group at Brussels on August 10th 1945, under the command of the British Air Forces of Occupation, (B.A.F.O.) They also took over the responsibility of 317 S&TC, but it was soon to revert back to the cover of 84 Group. On April 26th 1946, 431 Equipment Park, 432 Equipment Disposal Depot, 433 Motor Transport Disposal Unit, and the 313 S&TC which were all at Altona, were amalgamated and reformed as the 431 Equipment Depot. July 1st 1950 saw the 431 Equipment Depot disbanded and from within its resources two Stores Units were formed. These were the 401 and the 402 Air Stores Parks, which were based at Eindhoven and Wildenrath respectively.
On November 6th 1952, it was decided to reform 431 E.D. and remove it to R.A.F. Grove, in Oxfordshire. The move commenced on July 1st 1953, and was completed by October 18th 1953, from which date, R.A.F. Grove was renamed the 431 Equipment Depot, and remained responsible for equipping the 2nd T.A.F. On December 1st 1955, the 431 Equipment Depot was disbanded and some of its stores were transferred to the General Equipment Park, (G.E.P.) at R.A.F. Brüggen.
On October 1st 1960, the G.E.P. at Brüggen, was renamed the 431 Maintenance Unit. In October of 1962, the 317 M.T. Squadron was absorbed into the unit, and in January 1967, it also absorbed the Forward Repair Unit at Butzweilerhof and the 420 Maintenance Unit, a Repair and Salvage unit, from R.A.F. Laarbruch. As a result of these various absorptions 431 M.U. comprised two engineering Squadrons, a Supply Squadron, and a Headquarters Flight.
The Ground Engineering Squadron, which included the Motor Transport Flight, undertook the road freight distribution for what was now R.A.F. Germany, maintaining a large fleet of heavy vehicles that was assembled for the task.
With the implementation of the Options for Change policy in 1992, the draw down of units in R.A.F. Germany, and its front line Squadrons, closure became inevitable and the unit closed down yet again on March 31st 1993. As of that date a proportion of the Mechanical Transport Flight was transferred to the Station
In February 1994 the founder decided he would seek out old friends from the 317 M.T. Squadron. His first step was to write to the R.A.F. News and ask if there was an association of 317 personnel and if they had ever been granted the crest that had so often been promised, but never seemed to arrive! The first reply came from Sgt Ken Marriott B.E.M., now deceased, who told him that 317 had been amalgamated with the G.E.P. and a number of other units, to become the 431 M.U. The founder already knew of this, and when he enquired after the crest, he was told it did not exist. After much thought, and from what he had learned from various sources, he decided to call the association the 317 S&TC & Kindred Spirits. A campaign of advertising was initiated through Service Pals on Channel 4 Teletext, page 462, (now page 172) a number of magazines, local newspapers, and local radio stations, and a newsletter was started that is published quarterly. The following year the first reunion was held at the Post House, at Coventry, where 70 guests were entertained. Since then reunions have been held annually with the numbers fluctuating between 68 and 91, the most ever.
Since the very beginning everything appertaining to the administration of the 317 S&TC & Kindred Spirits was undertaken by the founder. That is, the organisation of the reunions, the advertising and the general secretarial work. At the 6th reunion, in the year 2000, everyone present was informed that the organisation could not continue by voluntary contribution alone. Not only was the cost of producing the Newsletter increasing in line with the numbers, the main source of income came from collections made at the reunions. In tandem with this situation a further situation arose, that was the question of an association badge. The founder had written to H.M. The Queen asking permission to use the Royal Crown Insignia on the device the Squadron had displayed at the entrance to the section at Brüggen. This was a winged wheel with the motto 'ANY LOAD, ANYWHERE, ANY TIME.' A proud boast that was never found wanting!
To cut a long story short, after a long drawn out process a badge was granted by the Garter Principal King of Arms under a Royal Warrant issued in 1967, but it was required to carry the word 'Association'. The reason for this being, Operational Unit Crests are never issued in retrospect, irrespective of the merits of the case. Therefore, at the 7th reunion in 2001 a meeting was held at which a minimum of officers were elected to run the organisation and the name was changed to conform with the words on the badge, i.e. '317 Mechanical Transport Squadron Association.' A resolution from the floor was voted on and it was agreed that the joining fee of £5 be scrapped, along with the £5 annual subscription, and an annual fee of £10 be substituted in their place from the 1st of April 2002. WWII veterans were exempted from paying a subscription
The association boasts members who were there on Salisbury Plain where it all began and served in WWII, and also one who was there when they pulled the plug on 431 M.U. yet again, in 1993.
'NOT COUNTING JEEPS'
M.T. petrol has been used daily by 84 Group since 'D' Day to supply 3,750 small car owners with their basic ration for a month, 15,000 gallons a day. The Groups aircraft used in addition 7,500 gallons of high octane spirit daily, from the Normandy landings until the German capitulation.
The organising headache in keeping up supplies to the front line airfields can be judged by the fact that for every sortie flown by a Typhoon Squadron, loaded with 1,000lb bombs, five heavy lorries had to be on the road for six days to bring up the supplies.
During the peak of the offensives six hundred three tonners were constantly on the move loaded with Jerry Cans and rockets, machine gun bullets and bombs. Giving support to the 1st Canadian Army, 84's "Tiffies"* fired 73,700 rockets at enemy targets, and with the Groups 'Spits' and Tempests they shot off 4,476,472 cannon shells and more than 3,000,000 bullets.
Extract from a report from 84 Group H.Q. to H.Q. 2nd Allied Tactical Air Force
Information supplied by H. B. McAuley Ex 317 S&TC.