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Royal Air Force Beach Units

No. 101 Beach Flight

This unit began as No. 70 R.A.F. Beach Unit and then became 101 Beach Section before finally being renamed as 101 Beach Flight . No. 101 R.A.F. Beach Flight was part of No. 1 R.A.F. Beach Squadron.

No. 70 R.A.F. Beach Unit

No. 70 R.A.F. Beach Unit was formed at R.A.F. Station, West Kirby on the 3rd May 1943 under the command of F/Lt G. E. Firken. The unit was formed to provide technical assistance and specialised R.A.F. knowledge to No. 5 Army Beach Group. Along with No. 71 R.A.F. Beach Unit, the Unit was under the control of the R.A.F. Liaison Officer at No. 101 Beach Sub Area, Wing Commander L. S. N. B. Faulkner.

The Unit had an establishment of 5 Officers, 8 Senior N.C.O.s and 28 Other Ranks, though, in fact 5 Officers, 9 Senior N.C.O.s and 30 Other Ranks reported to R.A.F. West Kirby on posting and were “kitted out to Home Scale Standards with Khaki Battle Dress, Arms etc.”

(One of the airmen joining No. 70 R.A.F Beach Unit in May 1943 was LAC Clary Adams, a Coppersmith and Sheet Metal Worker who joined the M.T. Section of the Unit.)

On 12th May 1943 the Unit left West Kirby and travelled to Ayr to join No. 5 Army Beach Group. They were accommodated by the Army at Doonfoot Camp. From this time, in the main, each section of 70 Beach Unit was to function with its Army counterpart.

On 14th May, the Unit were spectators when No. 5 Beach Group carried out a beach exercise at Doonfoot Camp (Exercise “RANGE”).

On the 20th May, the Unit moved into new quarters at Dam Park Camp, Ayr, together with the Army detachments of No. 5 Beach Group.

All the Unit (excepting the M.T. Section) took part in a Beach Group exercise (Exercise “REALITY”) over two days, 25th to 26th May. After this, on 28th May, full unit leave was granted except for a small “rear guard” that was left behind.

The whole of the month of June 1943 was devoted to general routine and hardening training, including route marches, P.T., firing, swimming etc. and during this period the sections of the Unit worked as far as possible with their counterparts in the Army and did similar training.

In the first week of July 1943, the Unit was involved in various preliminary exercises in connection with the forthcoming Exercise “JANTZEN” and arrangements were completed for the kitting of the men and storage of surplus kit at R.A.F. Station, Heathfield, Ayr.

On 9th July, No. 70 Beach Unit lost its Commanding Officer, F/Lt Firkin, who was posted to R.A.F. West Kirby. He was replaced by F/Lt. J. L. Keith O.B.E. who assumed command on 10th July.

At 09.50hrs on 11th July 1943 No. 70 Beach Unit, consisting of 3 Officers and 35 Other Ranks with only their Field Service Marching Order (F.S.M.O.) kit, entrained at Ayr railway station. They departed at 10.34hrs and arrived at Llanybyther next morning at 08.30 in fine weather. This was their Concentration Area for Exercise "JANTZEN". "Satisfactory accommodation and feeding" were arranged for the men and the officers were accommodated at No. 5 Beach Group Headquarters.

The two week Exercise "JANTZEN" began on 22nd July. A full account of the Exercise from No. 70 Beach Unit's point of view is given in the Unit's Operations Record Book. A separate extract of that has been made and can be read here.

On 6th August 1943, the day after Exercise “JANTZEN” had finished, the weather was still bad in the morning. No. 70 R.A.F. Beach Unit were waiting for movement orders at Marros. There was a conference at No. 101 Beach Sub Area and at 20.00 hours orders were received for a road convoy to move at 07.00 hours next morning. The road convoy was to be under the command of F/Lt Cattaway, the M.T. Officer of No. 71 R.A.F. Beach Unit. These instructions were passed to F/Lt Baker at 22.30 hours. At 23.00 hours orders were received to move the balance of the Unit by rail from Saundersfoot station at 17.10 next day.

The next morning, 7th August, there was difficulty in arranging road transport due to the late receipt of the movement instructions. At 11.30 hours the possibility of moving at 14.52 hours was brought up by No. 101 Beach Sub Area and a movement order was received at 12.00 hours for a departure at 13.00 hours. The rail party entrained at 14.52 hours at Saundersfoot Station.

The route was changed at Crewe so that the party returned via Glasgow. The men were fed at the Personnel Transit Centre, Glasgow and arrived at R.A.F. Station, Ayr at 12.00 hours on 8th August, where suitable accommodation was arranged for officers and other ranks.

On 9th August, office accommodation was arranged, there was a Free From Infection inspection and a Pay Parade. On 10th August there was an officers conference in the morning, with W/Comdr. Faulkner, about the function and organisation of the Unit.

Leave was arranged for the majority of the Unit on the 11th August and, otherwise, there was general routine until the end of the month.

Officers were receiving three days Motor Cycle instruction form 11th to 13th August.

Overnight from 19.00 hours on 16th August until 06.00 hours the next morning, the Unit combined with No. 71 Beach Unit to take part in an exercise to defend the Station against Parachutist attack.

Certain N.C.O’s and Airmen were sent on an eight day Tabloid Course on 23rd August and some personnel were assisting with work at R.A.F. Station, Heathfield on 24th August.

On 31st August 1943 the unit was disbanded and reformed as No. 101 R.A.F. Beach Section under the control of No. 1 R.A.F. Beach Unit.

No. 101 R.A.F. Beach Section

No. 101 R.A.F. Beach Section was formed at the beginning of September 1943 from the disbanded No. 70 R.A.F. Beach Unit and was one of two Sections in the newly formed No. 1 R.A.F. Beach Unit. Personnel were accommodated at R.A.F. Station, Ayr for R.A.F. technical training.

Flight Lieutenant J.B. Keith O.B.E. who had been the Commanding Officer of No. 70 R.A.F. Beach Unit, assumed command of No. 101 R.A.F. Beach Section and was promoted to the rank of Acting Squadron Leader.

On 20th September, No. 101 Beach Section went to join No. 5 Army Beach Group at Doonfoot Camp and Dam Park. The Section would be training with the Army and participating in joint exercises.

The M.T. sub section of No. 101 Beach Section re-joined at Dam Park on 30th September, after an attachment to No. 6 M.T. Unit at Glasgow for training.

At the end of November 1943, one Sergeant and five Other Ranks from the Section went to the R.A.F. Regiment Depot, Grantham for the two week Battle Course. They had been left out when most of No. 1 R.A.F. Beach Unit had done the course at the beginning of October.

The "X" sub section, along with the "X" sub section of No. 102 Beach Section and their Army counterparts went to No. 94 M.U. at Barnham for an Explosives Refresher Course.

Beginning on 15th December, No. 101 R.A.F. Beach Section took part in Exercise "ROUNDABOUT I" at Gullane. The object of the Exercise was to practice the landing and deployment of one Beach Group, the handling of the volume of stores which was expected to pass through the beaches between D-Day and D+7 inclusive by one Beach Group and the working of dumps by a Beach Group. From 20th December they were joined by No. 50 R.A.F. Beach Balloon Unit, which had just arrived to work with No. 5 Beach Group.

On 24th December the M.T. sub section of No. 101 Beach Section had to be withdrawn from the Exercise so that they could go to No. 8 School of Technical Training at R.A.F. Weeton for a 21 day Diesel Engine Course. Exercise "ROUNDABOUT I" ended on 28th December.

On 3rd January 1944 No. 101 R.A.F. Beach Section moved to the Moray area to continue training with No. 5 Beach Group and throughout the month were engaged on sectional training with their respective Army counterparts.

Exercise "CROWN" was held in the Moray area, beginning on 9th February. The object of the Exercise was to practise with the Royal Navy and No. 5 Beach Group in carrying out an assault landing, to practise the rapid consolidation of the appropriate proportion of a Divisional Bridgehead and to practise with No. 6 Beach Group the rapid recce and preparation of the Beach Maintenance Area. S/Ldr Rae (O.C. No. 102 Beach Section) attended to act as Umpire for No. 101 R.A.F. Beach Section but No. 101 Beach Section were withdrawn from the Exercise in order to proceed on detachment to 2nd T.A.F. formations as part of a technical training programme planned for the R.A.F. Beach Units. No. 50 Beach Balloon Unit continued to participate in the Exercise which concluded the next day.

The Stores sub section of No. 101 Beach Section went to "B" Maintenance Unit at Stapleford Tawney. The P.O.L. and "X" sub sections went to No. 407 Air Ammunition Park at Groombridge. The M.T. sub section went to No. 70 Mechanical Transport Light Repair Unit at Croydon. The Landing sub section went to No. 3 Embarkation Unit at Liverpool (not a 2nd T.A.F. formation).

The Headquarters of No. 101 R.A.F. Beach Section moved location to Loch na Bo, Lhanbryd on 13th February. Next day No. 50 Beach Balloon Unit went off to R.A.F. Station, Cardington for technical training and from 19th to 23rd February, the Provost sub section of No. 101 R.A.F. Beach Section were taking part in Exercise "ANCHOR".

On 6th March F/Lt. H.E.R. Bishop (Equip. Emb.), who was the Landing Officer of No. 101 R.A.F. Beach Section, was posted to No. 3 R.A.F. Embarkation Unit, Liverpool. Arriving to replace him was F/O G. McBride (Equip. Emb.) who was posted from No. 2 R.A.F. Embarkation Unit, Southampton. Glen McBride was promoted to Acting Flight Lieutenant.

Also joining that day was F/Lt. J.N. Dobbin M.C. (A. & S.D.), who had been posted from No. 4 R.A.F. Beach Unit. He went straight off to join S/Ldr Rae and F/Lt Cann on detachment at 3rd British Infantry Division Headquarters.

On 14th March, No. 50 Beach Balloon Unit returned from R.A.F. Station, Cardington.

With effect from 18th March 1944, S/Ldr Keith was posted to No. 6 R.A.F. Embarkation Unit and F/Lt Dobbin was given command of No. 101 R.A.F. Beach Section. Three days later, F/Lt Dobbin returned from 3rd British Infantry Division Headquarters on completion of Exercise “BARON”. He was promoted to the rank of Acting Squadron Leader.

No. 101 R.A.F. Beach Section took part in Exercise “LEAPYEAR” held in the Burghead area, from 7th March to 1st April 1944.

On return from the Exercise, the Unit prepared to move to the South of England. An advance party from 101 Beach Section set off on 1st April.

On 3rd April, No. 50 Beach Balloon Unit were detached to No. 6 Balloon Centre, Wythall for two weeks of training.

The Officer Commanding No. 101 Beach Section, S/Ldr John Dobbin, went to the Headquarters of No. 1 Corps for a conference with W/Cdr L.S.N.B. Faulkner on 4th April.

The rail party of 101 Beach section arrived at the new location on 15th April and their road party arrived the next day.

No. 101 R.A.F. Beach Flight

On 17th April 1944, the 2nd Tactical Air Force beach units were officially renamed; so that No. 101 R.A.F. Beach Section became No. 101 R.A.F. Beach Flight and its parent unit was now named No. 1 R.A.F. Beach Squadron . This was a change of name only and made no practical difference.

No. 101 R.A.F. Beach Flight was attached to No. 5 Beach Group for the coming operation (Operation “OVERLORD”) and was scheduled to land with the 3rd Infantry Division in the initial assault in the QUEEN sector.

No. 101 Beach Flight had completed its move from Scotland to the South of England and now, together with No. 50 Beach Balloon Flight, which was also attached to No. 5 Beach Group, was located at Camp A.7, Waterlooville, Hampshire.

On the 19th April, No. 101 Beach Flight began a programme of “Toughening Training”. The officers of 101 Beach Flight were given the following additional responsibilities:

F/Lt Haynes

Security

F/Lt Slater

Imprest Officer

F/Lt Sandwith (Equipment Officer)

Adjutant

F/Lt Baker (M.T. Officer)

Welfare

F/Lt McBride (Landing Officer)

Training Officer

 

No. 101 Beach Flight started preparing for Exercise “FABIUS” from 28th April. This Exercise was the last full rehearsal before the ‘real thing’, though the men did not know it at the time. No. 101 Beach Flight took part with the Squadron Headquarters Signals Section, and Nos. 50 and 53 Beach Balloon Flights and returned from the Exercise on 5th May.

 

101 RAF Beach Flight
Officers and men of No. 101 R.A.F. Beach Flight
(Photograph probably taken in late April or May, 1944)

Back Row: Sgt. R. Smith is 4th from right
2nd Row: F/Lt McBride is 4th from left; S/Ldr Dobbin is 6th from left; F/Sgt Fry is 3rd from right
Front Row: LAC Adams is first on the left

 

S/Ldr Dobbin attending a briefing conference at 21st Army Group on 13th May, convened by W/Cdr Fearne. The Equipment, Provost and attached T.A.F. police sections of No. 101 Beach Flight took part in Exercise “STADIUM” on 14th May and then S/Ldr Dobbin went to a General Conference at 2nd T.A.F. on 15th May, returning on 18th May.

F/Lt H. Palmer was posted to No. 101 Beach Flight as Equipment Officer on 15th May. He was to replace F/Lt Sandwith who left the Squadron on 18th May having been posted to No. 3 R.A.F. Beach Squadron on compassionate grounds. As a result of this F/Lt Haynes became the Adjutant and Second In Command of the Flight.

No. 101 Beach Flight and No. 50 Beach Balloon Flight were inspected by the general Officer Commanding, 3rd British Division on 18th May and were inspected by H.M. King George VI on 22nd May.

F/Lt Palmer was detached from 101 Beach Flight to 102 Beach Flight to be briefed in P.O.L. routine on 22nd May.

On 26th May 1944 the camps were sealed and at 08.30, briefing and final checking of plans began for Operation “OVERLORD”. The Squadron and Flight Commanding Officers attended a Sub Area Commander’s briefing. The next day, the Squadron Commanding Officer briefed all officers for the Operation, 101 Beach Flight was briefed by the Flight Commander and Marshalling commenced.

No. 101 Beach Flight and Nos. 50 and 53 Beach Balloon Flights were distributed over various marshalling camps in the Portsmouth and Newhaven sectors, for embarkation in accordance with their serials.

Various elements of No. 101 Beach Flight and Nos. 50 and 53 Beach Balloon Flights embarked in the Portsmouth and Newhaven sectors on 3rd June, 4th June and 5th June.

Their voyage to Normandy was uneventful and they began to land on Queen Red Beach, La Breche, SWORD assault area early in the morning of D-Day, 6th June 1944

No. 101 R.A.F. Beach Flight in Normandy

Carried in a U.S. manned L.C.I.(L.), the Landing Officer of No. 101 R.A.F. Beach Flight, F/Lt G. McBride (287435), R.A.A.F. and a party of 8 airmen in Serial 580, touched down at 10.55am (H plus 210 minutes) on QUEEN RED beach. S/Ldr J.N. Dobbin M.C. with another 8 men in Serial 540, touched down 20 minutes later on QUEEN WHITE beach. Their L.C.I.(L.) was hit just below the water-line as it touched down on the beach but there were no R.A.F. casualties.

“The beach situation at this time was very fluid, being under all types of enemy fire. Vehicles were piling up on the beaches pointing in all directions, exits were few and being jammed frequently by either blitzed and damaged vehicles or saturation of traffic. As it was near high water the lack of depth of beach was a serious handicap.”

Balloons carried by many of the landing vessels were meant to be brought ashore by men of the R.A.F. Beach Balloon Flights to help protect the beaches against low-level air attack. However it seemed that the enemy was using the balloons as markers to set the range of its artillery. For this reason, the Army Commander ordered at midday that all balloons should be cut adrift.

In spite of all this the landings of No. 101 Beach Flight and Nos. 50 and 53 Beach Balloon Flights proceeded according to plan. No. 101 R.A.F. Beach Flight set up their first Headquarters in a German-built decontamination shelter on the edge of the beach at La Breche and did everything they could to assist the Army.

“The M.T. Repair Section ‘A’ Echelon under No. 364056 W/O T Hughes established an emergency Drowned Vehicle Park almost immediately and rendered great assistance to the Army Recovery Section of REME.

The Landing Section under F/Lt G. McBride RAAF was fully occupied in assisting to restore order on the beaches and assisting the Army Beach Companies in clearing the beaches. F/Lt G. McBride and No. 64472 A/F/Sgt Fry H.C. being examples to all.

The RAF Police Section under No. 510810 Sgt Frost F.J. took up traffic control duties immediately on the beach and road laterals, rendering invaluable service. No. 1007284 Cpl Thorman N.L. displaying great devotion to duty during this period.”

The greater part of No. 101 R.A.F. Beach Flight arrived Second Tide, in the evening of D-Day.

Nine men in Serial 602 were scheduled to land from an L.C.I.(L.) on QUEEN WHITE beach at H+11, while another nine men in Serial 605 landed from an L.C.I.(L.) on QUEEN RED beach at the same time.

Another four serials were scheduled to arrive at H+11 in L.S.T.(2)s. They were to be landed on QUEEN WHITE beach by Rhino Ferry, a procedure which would have taken some time. Serial 611 brought three men in a jeep loaded with two motorcycles. Serial 612 brought three men with a jeep and two motorcycles carried individually. Serial 615 brought three men and two motorcycles and Serial 618 brought four men with a Bedford 3 ton G.S. lorry loaded with two motorcycles.

Five hours later (just before midnight) Serial 627 was scheduled to land on QUEEN RED beach from an L.S.T.(2). This serial included two men of No. 101 Beach Flight with a 3 ton lorry. The lorry was a type fitted with a winch and had two motorcycles as part of its load. The landing of Serial 627 was delayed and they did not get ashore until the evening of D+1.

 IWM (CL 227)
                                                                                                                     © IWM (CL 227)

R.A.F. Police of 101 Beach Flight in the German bunker that was their headquarters

Corporal Norman Thorman of Manchester (who was Mentioned in Despatches for his actions on D-Day) is standing and Corporal Dan Deighton of Gateshead is using the field telephone.

 

No. 4 R.A.F. Assembly Area was established at 2am on D+2, with F/Lt F.J.P. Haynes (74603) in charge. (Three weeks later, on 29th June F/Lt Haynes, who was also the Adjutant and second in command of No. 101 R.A.F. Beach Flight, was admitted to hospital with suspected appendicitis).

When the Sector Stores Dump near the beach was bombed by a German aircraft on 8th June, F/Lt E.S. Archbold (105720), Ammunition Dump officer, and LAC J. Seal (1108405) from the P.O.L. Dump “displayed great devotion to duty in assisting in beating out several fires in spite of the danger from flying debris from exploding shells and petrol cans.”

On the same day, No. 101 R.A.F. Beach Flight began mounting a guard on abandoned gliders in the landing area near St. Aubin d’Arquenay and beginning on 10th June they started salvaging instruments from the gliders and recovering parachute equipment used in the airborne landings.

Although the guarding of the glider landing ground was handed over to an R.A.F. Provost Unit on 13th June, the recovery of aircraft instruments and parachute equipment became a major occupation of the Flight and large quantities of salvaged equipment was returned to the U.K. Virtually no R.A.F. personnel and vehicles were landed in the SWORD area, so the R.A.F. Assembly Area wasn’t very busy but R.AF. Ammunition , P.O.L. and Equipment Dumps were also operated and considerable quantities of ammunition, P.O.L. and general stores for the R.A.F. were landed.

In the evening of 10th June, LAC John Laytham (1521861) accidentally shot himself “whilst on anti-sniper patrol and point duty at No. 4 R.A.F. Assembly Area”. John, a 21 year old from Blackpool, Lancashire, died of his wounds. His grave can be found in Hermanville War Cemetery.

After enduring two weeks of shelling in the QUEEN Sector, No. 101 R.A.F. Beach Flight moved its Headquarters to Lion sur Mer on 20th June. Glen McBride names the location as “Villa Falaise “.[1] A villa with this exact name has not been identified but “Villa Les Petites Falaises” matches his description and is likely to have been the one. The old Flight Headquarters site by the beach at La Breche continued to be used as an R.A.F. Command Post but was taken over by No. 101 Beach Sub Area on 30th June for the control of seaward traffic.

On 29th June, at the request of No. 101 Beach Sub Area Commander, No. 101 R.A.F. Beach Flight established and manned a Civilian Internees Camp at Lion-sur-Mer.

On the night of 29th/30th June there was shelling as well as an air raid. One bomb exploded 400 yards from No. 101 R.A.F. Beach Flight Headquarters in Lion-sur-Mer and two heavy shells dropped immediately outside. The shells “badly damaged the gate leading from the house to the street, part of the wall of the house, and the wall of the house opposite.” [2] Two nights later, two sea mines descended close to the Flight Headquarters villa. The detonations blew out the building’s remaining windows and blew off the door of the cellar where around 25 members of No. 101 R.A.F. Beach Flight and some French families were sleeping. One of the mines “had fallen on a five storey house a hundred yards away, killing the mayor, the doctor and thirteen other people”. [3]

Following this, No. 101 R.A.F. Beach Flight took over five heavily damaged bungalows to use as sleeping quarters and kept the villa for daytime use. The row of bungalows were about a quarter of a mile away, with no other habitation nearby. The men moved in during the afternoon of 30th June and then “discovered mines of a new improvised type in one of the gardens. On examination they proved to be 88mm shells with a release switch nose detonator operated by a wooden platform”. When a detachment of Royal Engineers with mine detectors was summoned the next morning, they removed 92 of these shell mines from the overgrown garden. Luckily, the men had kept to the footpath!

At the beginning of July all unloading in the SWORD Area, except for PETER GREEN beach, was stopped due to the continued shelling. No. 4 R.A.F. Assembly Area was disbanded on the 3rd July and the personnel moved to No. 101 R.A.F. Beach Flight Headquarters at Hermanville-sur-Mer. On 10th July responsibility for PETER GREEN beach was handed over to No. 2 R.A.F. Beach Squadron but the R.A.F. P.O.L. and Ammunition Dumps were still operated by No. 1 R.A.F. Beach Squadron on behalf of No. 2 R.A.F. Beach Squadron.

The M.T. Repair Section of No. 101 R.A.F. Beach Flight which had been attached to No. 101 General Transport Company, R.A.S.C. for most of their time in Normandy, was detached to work with No. 70 R.A.F. M.T.L.R.U. on 13th July.

The R.A.F. Ammunition Dump was closed on 15th July and when it finished operating the P.O.L. Dump on 23rd July, No. 101 R.A.F. Beach Flight had no more beach unit duties and, with the rest of No. 1 R.A.F. Beach Squadron was disbanded and returned to the U.K. in late August 1944.

 

[1] D-DAY on Queen's Beach Red, Glen McBride, Prof. G McBride Jr., Brisbane, 1994. p127

[2] Ibid, p140

[3] Ibid

Main source used for this page:
Operations Record Book of No. 1 RAF Beach Unit (later) Squadron including No 70 & 71 Beach Units - found in, ‘Air Ministry and Ministry of Defence: Operations Record Books, Miscellaneous Units’ AIR 29/438 at The National Archives.

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