Saturday, 16 November 2019

Curiosity’s Discovery of Unexpected Oxygen Events on Mars and Implications for Life

Curiosity’s Discovery of Unexpected Oxygen Events on Mars and Implications for Life

There is new paper out, with some interesting news about the Martian atmosphere, based on data taken by the Curiosity probe (Seasonal Variations in atmospheric composition as measured in Gale Crater, Mars.  Trainer, et al.  Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets).  The title is descriptive of the work, but under-emphasises what I think most people find exciting, which is unexpected and unexplained variations in the proportion of oxygen in the Martian atmosphere found by Curiosity, over about a 4 year period.

Background on Martian Seasons and the Martian Atmosphere

To help understand what is going on, we need to first look at some other graphs in the paper and talk about the seasons on Mars.

The graph above (Figure 1 in the paper) shows how atmospheric pressure changed during the Martian years for which Curiosity took readings.  You can see that it had peaks and troughs.  The biggest troughs were in Northern Summer/Southern Winter, when the pressure falls to about 7 millibars.  There were other troughs in Northern Winter/Southern Summer.
In both cases, the minima are caused by carbon dioxide (CO2) freezing into the polar ice cap in one or the other hemisphere.  The Northern Summer/Southern Winter minimum is lower because the Southern Polar Ice Cap is much larger than the Northern Polar icecap, indicating that more CO2 is absorbed at this time.  Basically, the southern winter is colder than the northern winter, due to the eccentricity of Mars’ orbit having it farther than the sun at that time than during the northern winter (the seasons are mostly caused by the planet’s axial tilt, of course).  Conversely, the maximum pressure is during the spring/fall periods, when the least amount of CO2 is locked up in the two icecaps.

The fact that it is CO2 that is being absorbed at the poles is indicated by the graph above (Figure 5 in the paper), which shows the percentage of the Martian atmosphere that is accounted for by CO2 during the various times of the year, as well as the pressure.  It is evident that when the pressure is lowest, the CO2 percentage is also lowest, indicating that it is CO2 that is being absorbed and emitted seasonally, which reduces the atmospheric pressure.  That’s because the other gases in the atmosphere don’t freeze out at Martian temperatures (Nitrogen, Argon, Oxygen) and are mainly inert (Nitrogen, Argon), so they are conserved throughout the year (except for oxygen, apparently).  By the way, these measurements come from SAM (Sample Analysis at Mars), which is based on mass spectrometry.

Of course, as the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere changes, and the amount of the other gases remains the same, their percentages will vary, being highest when the amount of CO2 is lowest, and lowest when the amount of CO2 is highest.  You can see that by comparing the above graphs (Figure 5 and Figure 7).

The Unexpected Variation of Oxygen Levels in the Martian Atmosphere

For me, the most interesting result of the paper is in the graph below (Figure 10 in the paper), which shows the percentage of Oxygen to Argon found in the atmosphere at Gale Crater, over four Martian years.  As you can see, during the first part of the year (0 to 180 degrees, corresponding to Northern Spring-Summer and Southern Fall-Winter), the proportion of Oxygen as compared to Argon is increasing - after that it falls off again.  This pattern appears in multiple years, though not at exactly the same levels.

Argon is an inert gas, and it remains a gas at Martian temperatures, so there is a steady stock of argon in the Martian atmosphere which is neither created, destroyed or absorbed.  Oxygen is obviously not inert (though it is expected to have a mean atmospheric lifetime of about ten years on Mars), and it also remains a gas at Martian temperatures.  So, clearly the amount of oxygen in the Martian atmosphere (at least at Gale Crater) varies over the year, in a quasi-periodic way, since the ratio of oxygen to argon is changing.  That implies that there is a source and sink for the oxygen, which cycles oxygen into and out of the atmosphere in a way that varies with the seasons on Mars.

To quote the paper:

“The SAM measurements of O2 in Gale crater do not show the annual stability or seasonal patterns that would be predicted based on the known sources and sinks in the atmosphere. As mentioned in §3.2.2, based on known sources and sinks O2 should show the same seasonal patterns and annual repeatability as Ar.”

 The authors calculate that the “unexpected seasonal increase” of oxygen amounts to about 400 parts per million or 10 to the 14th power oxygen molecules per cubic centimeter.  They reject the possibility that the oxygen is coming from breakdown of H2O or CO2 in the atmosphere, as the processes involved would be too slow (CO2) and/or there just isn’t enough of the required material (H2O).  Similarly, there don’t seem to be good candidates for atmospheric destruction  or sequestration of the surplus oxygen during the low seasonal periods.

That leads to speculations about some sort of surface processes, whereby oxygen is stored and released from a reservoir.  Superoxides, hydrogen peroxide (H2O2), ozone (O3), and perchlorates are some suggestions.  Again, though, the time scales for these processes seem far too long to be candidates for seasonal variation.  Also, surface temperatures on Mars are too low for these processes and the other reaction products that would be expected have not been seen.  So, it is a mystery.

There are some similarities between the seasonal oxygen variations and seasonal methane variations, but the correlations are not all that tight.  As they state: “with respect to O2 and CH4 on Mars, the observations to date are inconclusive as to whether there is a definitive correlation between the them.”
They also look at some other possible environmental correlations.  It does appear that there may be an inverse correlation between dust opacity and oxygen release.  Similarly for UV absorption and oxygen variations.

The paper sums it up thusly:

“Thus the observed O2 variability remains a mystery until further measurements, models, or experiments are able to identify likely mechanisms through which the O2 can vary on short timescales. It is hoped that hypotheses that may be testable with further in situ measurements by Curiosity arise while the mission is still operating in Gale Crater.”

Speculations on the Implications for Life

These are just some educated speculations:

  • Curiosity has also found unexpected releases of methane (plumes), which could be a product of living things (e.g. bacteria in the soil).
  • The Viking Labelled Release Experiment had results that could be explained by metabolic processes of living things (e.g. bacteria in the soil).
  • There appears to have been a combustion event during one of the other Curiosity experiments, while examining an ancient mudstone, so there appears to be some complicated organic chemistry compounds in the soil (kerogen like).
  • Now we have seen unexpected oxygen variation, which could be the product of life (e.g. photosynthesis on Earth releases oxygen).

It is interesting that a lot of findings are accumulating that we would be inclined to attribute to living things on the Earth.  The question becomes, at what point would the accumulated evidence on Mars tip the scales to favour the explanation for these findings as being the products of living things.  Just how much extraordinary evidence is needed to support an extraordinary hypothesis?  ?  I don’t claim to know, but it does make you wonder.


·       Nasa probes oxygen mystery on Mars
·       (Seasonal Variations in atmospheric composition as measured in Gale Crater, Mars.  Trainer, et al.  Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets). 
·       Independent confirmation of a methane spike on Mars and a source region east of Gale Crater, Nature Geoscience, Marco Giuranna, et al.  April 2019
·       Life on Mars?  American Scientist, March-April 2006

Some Related Blogs

Humanity Lights a Fire on Mars and the Implications for Life on Mars
Life on Mars, Hawaiian style

Curiosity’s New Discovery of Methane on Mars and Implications for Life


If you want to see an area that is remarkably evocative of the landscape of Mars, here on Earth, try Newfoundland’s Table Lands, as described in the book below (along with plenty of other interesting features of Newfoundland):

A Drive Across Newfoundland

Newfoundland, Canada’s most easterly province, is a region that is both fascinating in its unique culture and amazing in its vistas of stark beauty. The weather is often wild, with coastal regions known for steep cliffs and crashing waves (though tranquil beaches exist too). The inland areas are primarily Precambrian shield, dominated by forests, rivers, rock formations, and abundant wildlife. The province also features some of the Earth’s most remarkable geology, notably The Tablelands, where the mantle rocks of the Earth’s interior have been exposed at the surface, permitting one to explore an almost alien landscape, an opportunity available on only a few scattered regions of the planet.

The city of St. John’s is one of Canada’s most unique urban areas, with a population that maintains many old traditions and cultural aspects of the British Isles. That’s true of the rest of the province, as well, where the people are friendly and inclined to chat amiably with visitors. Plus, they talk with amusing accents and party hard, so what’s not to like?

This account focusses on a two-week road trip in October 2007, from St. John’s in the southeast, to L’Anse aux Meadows in the far northwest, the only known Viking settlement in North America. It also features a day hike visit to The Tablelands, a remarkable and majestic geological feature. Even those who don’t normally consider themselves very interested in geology will find themselves awe-struck by these other-worldly landscapes.


And now that you have read about some real cutting-edge science, you should think about reading some Science Fiction (because all work and no play can make you a dull person, or so they say). 

The Witches' Stones, Book 1 - Rescue from the Planet of the Amartos

Young Earth woman and spaceship mechanic, Sarah Mackenzie, has unwittingly triggered a vast source of energy, the Witches' Stones, via her psychic abilities, of which she was unaware. She becomes the focal point of a desperate contest between the authoritarian galactic power, known as The Organization, and the democratic Earth-based galactic power, known as The Terran Confederation. The Organization wants to capture her, and utilize her powers to create a super-weapon; the Terra Confederation wants to prevent that at all costs. The mysterious psychic aliens, the Witches of Kordea also become involved, as they see her as a possible threat, or a possible ally, for the safety of their own world.

A small but fast scout-ship, with its pilot and an agent of the Terra Confederation, Coryn Leigh, are sent to rescue her from a distant planet at the very edge of the galaxy, near space claimed by The Organization.  Battles, physical and mental, whirl around the young woman, as the agent and pilot strive at all costs to keep her from the clutches of the Organization.

Saturday, 9 November 2019

12th Field Company Royal Canadian Engineers (RCE) History, Nov 1943 vs Nov 1944

12th Field Company Royal Canadian Engineers (RCE) History, Nov 1943 vs Nov 1944
Copyright Dale Olausen and Dodecahedron Books, October 2019

What follows is a snapshot of the activities of the 12th Field Company, Royal Canadian Engineers, a unit in which my father served as a sapper during the Italian phase of World War 2.  The focus, for Remembrance Day, are the months of November 1943 and 1944.  The former is the month that the unit first went into the Mediterranean Theatre of War, while the latter is near the end of that phase for the Canadian army.

The contrast between the War Diaries of these two months is quite indicative of the progress of the war itself, as seen by many soldiers of the Allied armies.  For the troops of 1 Canadian Corps, November 1943 was a fairly quiet time, as it involved the entry, by convoy (some ships were sunk, though their troopship wasn’t hit), of these troops into the shooting war, though it wasn’t until December that they got to the front.  During November, 12th Fld Coy RCE “settled in” on the island of Sicily, and was mainly involved in routine road and bridge work (though landmines were always a danger).

By November 1944, 12 Fld Coy was in northern Italy, acting for part of that month as assault engineers for British and Canadian armoured units, in the thick of fighting, providing river crossing and mine clearance, taking as well as giving fire while undertaking these tasks.  During that mission, they fought alongside some storied units from the desert war (Popski’s Private Army).

Note that this blog is part of a larger work, that follows the unit during its entire stay in Italy, and includes much more detail about the life and activities of the sappers of 12th Field Company, and about the war in general.

November 1943


During November, the 12th Fld Coy sailed south to the Strait of Gibraltar, then into the Mediterranean to disembark in Sicily.  Some of the ships in the convoy were hit by enemy action, but most made it through unscathed.

They then moved to Syracuse, settled into billets, performed various training exercises and construction jobs, and awaited developments, such as going to the mainland of Italy, to reinforce troops (and sappers) that were already there.

However, there was still work to be done in Sicily, as it had not been under allied possession for long and it was an important location for administration, hospitals, supplies and other logistics needed to prosecute the war in Italy.  It also had important airfields that the Allies wanted to use to further prosecute the air war against the Axis.

Besides that, there was a lot of confusion as to what motor transport and other equipment the Canadians would use, as the operation plan assumed that they would use British equipment already in the middle east and that the Canadian equipment in the U.K. would stay there, to be used in the invasion of France in due course.

The matter of having inferior equipment would plague the Canadians for some time.  The British equipment had literally been through the wars in North Africa, so much of it was not in very good shape.  On the other hand, the Canadian equipment that they had left behind was in excellent condition, so it was sorely missed.

12 Field Company War Diary, November 1943

Following is a condensation of the War Diary notes for November 1943. 

Nov 1 to 4 – Convoy to Sicily

The day was “lovely and calm and it almost seemed warm enough to jump in for a swim”.  But at about 2:00 a.m. there was an alert, and not a practice run.  Apparently, there was a reading on an Asdic (a sonar device named after the Anti-Submarine Detection Investigation Committee) that was interpreted as a U-boat, though later it was determined to be a false alarm.  Nonetheless, the men on the ship donned their full equipment, in preparation to abandon ship if necessary.  Even after determining that it was probably a false alarm, the men slept in their clothes, to be ready in case a further signal was picked up by Asdic.

The next day there was some small arms practice, as well as gunnery practice for the ship’s guns.  The weather was warming up as they sailed south, so the men were allowed to go to shirt sleeves.

The following day, the weather continued to be pleasant, but the day ended with an alarm at about 8:00 p.m., along with the sound of depth charges exploding.  However, no U-boat attacks were recorded.  The men were also inoculated against typhus.

On November 4th, land was seen at about 1:00 p.m., which was a welcome sight.  The ship went through the Strait of Gibraltar during sunset, which presented “a beautiful picture” according to the writer of the war diary. 

Nov 5 to 7 – Convoy to Sicily

On the 5th, the North African coast was in view all day.  At about 2:00 p.m., there was an alert, though it only lasted a short time, with no enemy action reported.  The same day, the men were told that their destination was Sicily.

During the night, the convoy was joined by 3 other ships, 2 of which included landing barges.  Barrage balloons were raised and there was a practice alert at about 11:00 p.m..

The convoy was now receiving aircraft protection, as planes could sometimes be seen circling the ships.  It was noted that this was “a rather comforting thought”.  However, planes weren’t always comforting; they could be deadly too, as an actual air raid occurred at about 6:00 p.m. that lasted half an hour, in which hit three ships, though not the troopship E.B. Alexander. 

Three planes were also shot down during this action.  At this time, nobody knew just how badly the ships were hit.  The ship remained in the ready state, expecting another air raid during the night, but none came.

On the 7th, a number of ships were seen leaving the convoy.  There was another air raid alert, but it was a false alarm.

Nov 8 to 11 – Syracuse, Sicily

On the 8th, Sicily was finally sighted and the ship made it into the harbour at Augusta at about noon.  Since Sicily had been liberated some months earlier, the landing was unopposed.  It took most of the day for the company to disembark, though an advance party of officers (Capt.  Tremouth and Lieut. Lukes) and 15 Other Ranks went ashore before the remainder of the company to head for Syracuse, and billets there.  This was to be there base of operations for some weeks.

But first, on the nights of the 8th and 9th,  they were billeted at a place called STAR CAMP, then later at a hotel (Hotel Miramare) at a town called Brucoli.  The War Diary notes that “a real dump it is with dirt everywhere and very poor plumbing facilities”.  They would see much worse before too long.

Finally, on the 10th they were billeted in Syracuse, Sicily, arriving there via train. They were met by the advance group of officers, located their billets, and explored the town until curfew, before retiring for the night.  The next day was occupied by settling into the new area, cleaning and improving their billets (e.g. setting up latrines and ablution tables), to the extent possible.

Nov 12 to 15 – Syracuse, Sicily

On the 12th, the men’s baggage arrived at their billet, so they had a chance to inspect their kit.  With no orders yet, they occupied themselves in further cleaning and improving the billets for the rest of the day.

On the 13th, the Paymaster handed out some currency that could be spent locally, in exchange for British currency that had been collected on the ship.  The unit also received some limited truck transport, namely a couple of 3-ton trucks (referred to as 60 cwt), 3 1.5 ton trucks (15 cwt) and 2 M.C.s. (it’s not clear what this stood for).  They vehicles were pretty clapped out though (“seven very old and dilapidated vehicles”).  In the evening, the boys “made whoopee on the local vino or goof”, with their newfound money.

The 14th was a day off, so the men explored the town.  The men that hadn’t blown all of their money on wine the previous night purchased boxes of oranges, lemons and nuts that were then in season, and sent them on to Canada or England.

The 15th saw some small arms training for those not engaged in cleaning the billets.  Some of the officers were sent for additional training with 8th Army, while others were sent to recee (reconnoiter) jobs that the company was likely  to be assigned to, over the coming weeks.  

Nov 16 to 19 – Syracuse, Sicily

The company was now getting into the swing of things, though the scope of their tasks was still limited due to the shortage of equipment.

Activities over the next few days included route marches, some general road work, repair of damaged retaining walls, and collecting of Somerfelt track (generally used for landing strips). There were classes in the Italian language and a dental officer and two technicians came for a visit, to work on the men’s dental health, which was sorely needed by now.

Some of the officers and sergeants received training in R/T (radio telephony) from a Sgt of the R.C.D. (Royal Canadian Dragoons), which was well received (a little radio humour there). 

As a side note, it would turn out that the company would eventually provide assault engineering support for the R.C.D., though that was about a year in the future.
Regular training continued as per the training syllabus.

Nov 20 to 22 – Syracuse, Sicily

On the 20th, Lieut. Philpot and 3 Platoon returned from the Somerfelt track job (material for an airfield runway).   Lieut. Pierce and 2 Platoon reported that this platoon had a lot of trouble with mud, mosquitos and other bugs, but the retaining wall repair and road job was well in progress.  1 Platoon went on a road resurfacing job, near the town station.

On the 22nd, Lieut. Philpot was put on a Board of Inquiry for an accident, which had killed 2 officers and several other ranks of the Royal Canadian Dragoons, at a gun site in Italy.  More were in hospital and might yet die.  That kept him busy until the 25th.

Nov 23 to 25 – Syracuse, Sicily

3 Platoon left on the 23rd for a hospital job, where they were needed to build several additional Nissen huts (a sort of half cylinder corrugated sheet metal hut, similar to the American Quonset hut, though somewhat smaller).

On the 24th word came that the company was to work on an improvised bridge, near the town of Enna.  A recee party composed mainly of officers left on the 25th to check out the job.

One of the other officers (Lieut. Place) had the opportunity to visit a different bridge that the Royal Engineers were working on at Ragusa, to observe charges being removed from the structure. As well as returning with important knowledge, he also returned with a bag of oranges and tangerines.

Nov 26 to 29 – Syracuse, Sicily

1 Platoon continuing on road work and the other two platoons kept on with their construction jobs.  The lack of proper tools, equipment and transport was an ongoing problem, though.
There was a small fire in the camp on the night of the 25-26th, that destroyed some tents and equipment; fortunately no men were hurt.

Italian lessons were offered on the 26th, which were very popular, though they had to compete with other activities, as the company was paid that morning and the War Diarist writes “vino and blood will probably run freely tonight”.

The 27th saw Major Wade return with information on the upcoming Adrano bridge job.  It was expected to require at least 2 platoons (1 and 2), as well as some help from H.Q. platoon.  3 Platoon would stay behind to finish up the hospital job and some road work.

Nov 30 – Syracuse, Sicily

1 and 2 platoons left for Adrano bridge job, under Lieut. Pierce. They travelled mostly by train to the site, which was some distance away.  Some abandoned farm buildings near the Simeto River crossing were used as an H.Q..

November 1944


During much of the month of November, the bulk of 1 Canadian Corps was in reserve, after seeing a lot of action in October.  There was a sense that they might be shifted to the northwestern Europe theatre, but that was not to be, at least for a few more months.  During this period, leaves were granted and training carried on.  River crossing was a major aspect of training, as was getting acquainted with some new equipment (notably, the crocodile flame-throwing tank) and tactics (e.g. “artificial moonlight” created by reflecting searchlights off of low lying clouds).

Porterforce, including 12 Fld Coy R.C.E. made some headway during this same period, as the weather unexpectedly improved.  As noted earlier, Porterforce was an ad-hoc British-Canadian formation, but it also had involvement from “Popski’s Private Army”, a formation of irregulars and partisans that were to harass the German troops greatly, as they had done in North Africa.  Italian partisans also joined this effort to dislodge the Germans from Italy.

However, as Porterforce was never meant to be a “breakthrough” force, the major action by Canadian troops took place late in the month, then stretched into December, with the strangely named “Operation Chuckle”.  It was an effort to attain better positions, including occupation of Ravenna, before the worst of the winter set in.  This was to be the last major engagement by Canadian forces in Italy, though both Eighth Army and Fifth Army carried on, until German capitulation, in May 1945.

In terms of the activities of 12 Fld Coy, the first week or so of November saw them heavily involved with Porterforce.  They had a very intense period of mine-sweeping, bridge-building, route-clearing, as well as close-up support with some light armoured units, notably the British 27 Lancers and Royal Canadian Dragoons.  They took casualties in these actions and also handed out some punishment to the enemy.  This was a bit unusual, as the role of Corps Engineers was often “more shot upon than shooting”, to borrow a phrase from Shakespeare’s King Lear (“more sinned against than sinning”).  For this reason, I will focus a fair bit on 12 Fld Coy’s time with Porterforce.
Following is a condensation of the 12 Fld Coy War Diary notes for November 1944. 

November 1 – M.R.S.567157, Italy

No 1 Platoon, constructed a 50 foot Bailey Bridge, in support of 27 Lancers (a British unit), while under fire.  As the bridge was finished, the Lancers rushed over the bridge in their Staghounds (a U.S. built light armoured car, which was used by British and Commonwealth forces, though not actually used by the Americans), and engaged the enemy, killing 10 and taking an equal number wounded and/or taken prisoners.  Lt. Philpot won a medal for this action (see the "Engineer Gallantry" report).   2 Platoon supported the Royal Canadian Dragoons (RCD), lifting mines.  3 Platoon l also constructed an 80 foot Bailey Bridge, though the war diary doesn't note under what conditions that was accomplished.

November 2 – M.R.S.567157, Italy

1 Platoon continued to support 27 Lancers, while 2 Platoon continued to support the Royal Canadian Dragoons.  The 2nd platoon suffered 4 casualties while in support of the Dragoons, with 2 wounded, and 2 missing.  However, they had a chance to return fire, and a sapper (Sapper Arthur) killed at least one of the enemy.  The War Diary states that this was the first German soldier killed by the unit, though it seems doubtful that anyone could really be sure about such matters.  3 Platoon constructed a 120 foot Class 30 Bailey Bridge, though the specific conditions under which they worked were not noted.

November 3 – M.R.S.567157, Italy

1 Platoon continued to support 27 Lancers, with minesweeping operations, while 2 Platoon continued to support Royal Canadian Dragoons.  3 Platoon were in reserve, but receed a forward lateral, north of the Savio.  On a personal note, my mother once said that my father found these reconnoitering missions to be his favorite job.  They also prepared a bridge site for a later Bailey.  Gunsaps also constructed a bridge and the HQ Platoon repaired a different bridge.  A sapper was killed when an "R" mine exploded while he worked on it (Spr H.C. Smith). 

The War Diary didn't say which platoon he was with at the time. Rigel mines (anti-tank mines) were known to be very dangerous to work with, as they were sensitive to motion as well as being booby-trapped with anti-handling devices.

November 4 – M.R.S.567157, Italy

1 Platoon repaired a culvert, while in support of Lancers.  Sgt Critchley, who had distinguished himself a few days earlier while leading a mine sweeping party under fire, was wounded, while working with a forward detachment of the Lancers. 2 Platoon continued working with RCD, mine sweeping and clearing. 3 Platoon were extremely busy, constructing two 70 foot Bailey bridges, installing a culvert and fixing a "blow' (a crater caused (“blown”) by the retreating enemy to create an obstacle to transport).

They also mine swept a lateral, leading to Highway 16, the major route in this part of Italy.  The Gunsaps helped them with the bridges. Again on a personal note, after the war my father would have driven Highway 16 in Canada frequently.  I wonder what he thought about that.

November 5 – M.R.S.567157, Italy

1 Platoon built a 50 foot Bailey and mine-swept a proposed route.  2 Platoon mine swept another route, finding more of the dangerous R mines including some that were booby trapped.  3 Platoon worked on some bridging, culverts, as well as mine-sweeping up to Hwy 16.  The Gunsaps worked on upgrading an existing bridge.

November 6 – M.R.S.567157, Italy

1 Platoon repaired and maintained bridges and continued with mine sweeping.  2 Platoon once more supported the Dragoons, primarily sweeping for mines. 3 Platoon maintained bridges, culverts, and continued mine-sweeping another lateral up to Hwy 16.  The Gunsaps worked on some culverts.  Arrangements were made to trade tasks with 264 Fld Coy RCE, on the following day.

November 7 – M.R.S.567157, Italy

After a busy week or so, the company was released from Porterforce, trading tasks with 264 Field Company R.E., who now moved forward.  Lt-Col Porter visited each platoon in turn, to thank them for their hard and dangerous work.  The company moved back to some positions further in the rear, after their active and dangerous week at the front.

November 8 – M.R.S.567157, Italy

All companies engaged in platoon maintenance, after their strenuous and casualty-filled week with Porterforce.  Platoon maintenance would include repairing company and personal kit, maintenance of billets and matters of that sort. Some people were to be given leave over the next few weeks, as well. The Gunsaps worked on some laterals.

November 9 to 13 – M.R.S.567157, Italy

This period consisted of some more days of resting, platoon maintenance and inspections, followed by route maintenance.  1 and 2 Platoons were in reserve, while 3 Platoon went to work on HAT route as well as some laterals.  The 1st and 2nd Platoons had taken some casualties in the previous week, while it wasn’t clear whether or not that was the case for 3rd Platoon, so I suppose that might account for those platoons receiving the lighter duties.

November 14 to 16 – M.R.S.567157, Italy

Things had settled down now, with the company in reserve.  1 Platoon worked on route maintenance, while 2 Platoon was sent to Cesanatico Harbour, to lift some sunken boats, in the harbour and canals.  3 Platoon worked on repairing/constructing the Forward Post Office in that same town.  3 Platoon also held some gas chamber tests (for testing gas masks, etc.).  Lt. Milhausen, who had been on leave in Rome, returned to the unit.

November 17 – M.R.S.567157, Italy

1 Platoon experimented with mounting a Bailey Bridge on a tank, for use in assaults.  As I understand it, the tank could drive up to or into a crossing, “drop” the bridge there, and drive back out.  That would speed up the process and provide cover if the job had to be undertaken under fire.

2 Platoon worked with the Navy, lifting sunken boats in the harbour and canals.  3 Platoon continued with the Post Office repairs and construction. Gunsaps worked on laterals.  Lt. Milhausen was transferred to 4th Fld Coy, RCE.  Captain Eldridge went on leave, to Florence.

November 18 – M.R.S.567157, Italy

1 Platoon carried on with "assault bridge on a tank" experiments, and a section of that platoon recceed a new camp site from which the company was to build a 150 foot Bailey Bridge. 2 and 3 Platoons carried on with their earlier tasks.  Lt Anderson and Sgt Bucholz went on a recee, to check out a bridge location and decided to move the proposed location to a better one, based on what they observed.

November 19 – M.R.S.567157, Italy

1 Platoon concluded the assault bridge experiment and the attached tank personnel returned to their unit.  3 Platoon now joined 2 Platoon on the sunken boats recovery job, at the Cesanatico Harbour, which sounds like an interesting job.

November 20 – M.R.S.567157, Italy

Each platoon move to a new areas then carried on with various tasks.  Much of that was preparatory work for a new bridge (3 Platoon), then unloading bridge supplies at that location.  They also did more mine sweeping on the route, and around the new bridge area.  The War Diary includes a cryptic reference: “C.S.M. Brown collected a bountiful supply of E.F.I. supplies which were distributed to the platoons”.  This might refer to Expeditionary Forces Institute or Exploding Foil Initiator.

November 21 – M.R.S.567157, Italy

All platoons work on 150 foot bridge, now, with only a couple of sections sent to work on potholes and other route maintenance.  The bridge was 80% complete by dark and finished the next day.  C.S.M. Brown and a sapper went to Cesanatico to arrange for a Sapper’s Dance, to be held on Friday, Nov 24.

November 22 to 23 – M.R.S.567157, Italy

1 Platoon fixed up the approaches to the bridge and 2 Platoon worked on skin decking (a wooden or metal roadbed for the bridge) and anchoring the bridge.  3 Platoon poured cement around the foot of the bridge tower and drained the site.  The company's commanding officer, Major Wade, was promoted to 1 Corps H.Q. and a new commander, Major Evers took over.

November 24 to 25 – M.R.S.567157, Italy

Work continued on all aspects of the 150 foot long bridge.  That included erecting timber barricades, securing base plates and completing anchorages.  3 Platoon also worked on routes and barrel culverts.  All the officers from RCE 1 Corps had a party at the Grand Hotel in Cesanatico.  This sounds like the “Sapper’s Dance” mentioned a few days earlier, though it seems like “Sappers’ Officer’s Dance” would have been a more accurate designation.

November 26 to 27 – M.R.S.567157, Italy

2nd and 3rd Platoons worked on bridge completion, route work, and culverts. 1st Platoon was held in reserve, but participated in gas chamber (gas mask) tests in the afternoon.  I doubt that anyone liked these tests, but they were necessary due to the threat of gas being used (though it never actually was used in WW2).  Eventually "gas chamber tests" would take on a much more sinister tone - at this point in the war, to most people this phrase just referred to testing the gas masks of the troops, in case of a gas attack. Captain Eldridge and Lt York returned from leave.

November 28 – M.R.S.567157, Italy

1 and 3 Platoons worked on bridge and route maintenance, extending BOTTLE route, repairing bridge approaches and skin decking a bridge.  2 Platoon built a new 50 foot Bailey Bridge.  The Gunsaps assisted 2 Platoon in their work.

November 29 to 30 – M.R.S.567157, Italy

All platoons continued with various aspects of bridge maintenance and route work.  They also assisted the TUNNELING COMPANY on a bridge.  Gunsaps helped with road maintenance. 

If you are interested in history and adventure (and you must be if you read this far), you may also be interested in reading about other aspects of adventure and travel, whether by foot, bike, truck or car.  So, why not consider reading a travel book, for only 99 cents on Amazon:

A Ride on the Kettle Valley Rail Trail

The Kettle Valley Rail Trail is one of the longest and most scenic biking and hiking trails in Canada. It covers a good stretch of the south-central interior of British Columbia, about 600 kilometers of scenic countryside. British Columbia is one of the most beautiful areas of Canada, which is itself a beautiful country, ideal for those who appreciate natural splendour and achievable adventure in the great outdoors.

The trail passes through a great variety of geographical and geological regions, from mountains to valleys, along scenic lakes and rivers, to dry near-desert condition grasslands. It often features towering canyons, spanned by a combination of high trestle bridges and long tunnels, as it passes through wild, unpopulated country. At other times, it remains quite low, in populated valleys, alongside spectacular water features such as beautiful Lake Okanagan, an area that is home to hundreds of vineyards, as well as other civilized comforts.

The trail is a nice test of one’s physical fitness, as well as one’s wits and adaptability, as much of it does travel through true wilderness. The views are spectacular, the wildlife is plentiful and the people are friendly. What more could one ask for?
What follows is a journal of two summers of adventure, biking most of the trail in the late 1990s. It is about 33,000 words in length (2 to 3 hours reading), and contains numerous photographs of the trail. There are also sections containing a brief history of the trail, geology, flora and fauna, and associated information.

After reading this account, you should have a good sense of whether the trail is right for you. If you do decide to ride the trail, it will be an experience you will never forget.