A Pier at La Panne

Bray Dunes improvised pier 2

I have been rather remiss in not writing anything about Dunkirk but with so much great material out there it is hard to produce anything that is interesting.

On Twitter earlier someone highlighted an aspect of the Dunkirk landings I had never heard of.

It obviously piqued my interest!

Three were built, one at Bray Dunes and two at la Panne, using trucks and any expedient materials they could find.

From the BBC’s Peoples War website;

A makeshift pier

After the first day or so we began to receive motorised units in La Panne, after which a new evacuation stratagem was devised. At low tide, the highest vehicles were to be driven out to a given point, and a pier formed by driving out and parking up more trucks alongside. From these, the troops would be able to clamber into the boats that were now able to come alongside.

The hard part was the organisation of the assembly of the pier between bouts of shelling, low-level bombing and machine gunning from enemy aircraft. Once it was done, though, this procedure was a most welcome break for us. It made filling the boats so much easier. There was no more brute force required to push out the boats and get wet through in the process.

Using enormous physical and mental resources

I know that none of the RN personnel realised just how much energy was required for the sleepless hours and days that the evacuation entailed. By the time the army had reached the beach, it was virtually drained. We of the RN landing party had arrived fresh, so the frequent 24 hours we spent servicing boats did nothing to diminish our enthusiasm for the job. Enthusiasm, however, did not entirely compensate for exhaustion.

We were thankful, therefore, for the labour-saving piers that we helped to build. So improved was the evacuation by this, that troops were now able to embark with fewer directives from us, sometimes just under the orders of a senior army officer.

‘Anymore for the Skylark?’

We could now spend more time with our own group and discuss the future. HQ staff at La Panne, plus General Gort (Lord Gort), would at some time soon have to be evacuated. We had also to make provision for our own escape.

It was at one of these get-togethers, involving a foray into the Bofors-gun crew’s rations, that a direct hit was made on one of our piers by a German bomber. Reading about such an occurrence is one thing, but experiencing the frustration that it caused is something else. The lads waiting on the pier, next in line to be taken off for their journey home, had been so close. We no longer joked, ‘Anymore for the Skylark?’, and the gap in our pier was never filled.

The piers were built by various Royal Engineer units including 246 Field Company RE, 59 Field Company, 38 Field Company and divisional elements from 1 and 4 Division, read more here.  I have also read that members of the Corps of Military Police took part, especially in driving the lorries onto the beach at low tide.

I suppose the reality of the situation was that anyone and everyone was involved to some degree although there are conflicting reports of whose idea it was, the balance of evidence seems to point to a Royal Navy Sub Lieutenant requesting a pier be built be who came up with the idea of using 3 ton trucks, I guess that is lost to history.

Bray Dunes improvised pier 1

Bray Dunes improvised pier 2

Bray Dunes improvised pier 3

Bray Dunes improvised pier 4

Bray Dunes improvised pier 5

La Panne improvised pier 2

La Panne improvised pier 3

La Panne improvised pier 4

The piers enabled several thousand personnel to escape to fight another day.





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5 Responses

  1. Very ingenious, and in hind sight blindly simple use of what was available , lorries etc which was also needed to bee useless to the enemy. I to had never heard of this and definitely one for ‘ the book of how to when the s**t hits the fan’.

  2. @ TD/Monkey

    Obviously you never read Battle Comic when you were younger!

    In the Classic Storyline Charley’s War, the WW2 Dunkirk storyline actually have the construction and use of the Lorry Piers as part of the plot!

  3. Brilliant stuff! Lorries can be replaced, experienced soldiers cannot.

    I’d like to put in a word for the second evacuation the average man on the street hasn’t heard about, Operation Ariel.

    190,000 more allied soldiers rescued from other Channel and Atlantic ports between the 15th and 25th of June.

    Fair enough, they weren’t under fire and scrabbling over an improvised lorry bridge or wading through the sea but the Royal Navy retrieved over half the number taken from Dunkirk with great professionalism and after suffering so many ships lost or badly damaged during Dynamo.

    Over half a million men rescued from a dozen locations over several weeks, impressive feat.

  4. I had heard of the lorry piers but had never seen detailed pictures, until now,

  5. Of course there is St Valery – not a success the whole of the 51 st taken by Rommel. My dad turned left instead of right and ended up on beach there instead of Calais.

    Bofors had one up spout and one down muzzle and long lanyard , trucks run with radiators draining,

    Spent all war in East Prussia until brought out by Patton’s supply column (Red ball express)
    my first memory of him when I was 7.

    He was demobbed as a WO3! Troop Sergeant Major.

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