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Royal Air Force Beach Units

No. 102 Beach Flight

This unit began as No. 71 R.A.F. Beach Unit and then became 102 Beach Section before finally being renamed as 102 Beach Flight . No. 102 R.A.F. Beach Flight was part of No. 1 R.A.F. Beach Squadron.

No. 71 R.A.F. Beach Unit

No. 71 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. Robey. The unit was formed to provide technical assistance to No. 6 Army Beach Group. Along with No. 70 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 and, except for two Other Ranks, a full complement of personnel reported to R.A.F. West Kirby on posting and were “kitted to Home Scale Standards with Heavy Duty Dress and appropriate accoutrements” during the first few days.

The five officers had responsibilities as follows:

F/Lt. G. E. Robey

Landing Officer 

F/Lt. A. Gardner

Petrol and Oil

F/Lt. F. Haynes

Equipment  

F/Lt. W. N. L. Beste

Explosives  

F/Lt. J.E. Cattaway

Mechanical Transport Recovery and Repair

On 12th May 1943 the Unit left West Kirby and travelled to Ayr to join No. 6 Army Beach Group which was under the command of Lt/Col. R. D. R. Sale, T.D. On arrival at  Ayr the men were accommodated in the stables of Ayr Racecourse.

The different sections of No. 71 R.A.F. Beach Unit were attached to the appropriate Beach Group sub units so that they could train with their Army counterparts. The R.A.F. men began technical training, military tactics and arms training and physical hardening, sometimes as a Unit and sometimes in sections with the Army sub units.

On 14th May, all the officers and N.C.O.s of No. 71 R.A.F. Beach Unit went to Doonfoot Camp to watch No. 5 Beach Group carry out a beach exercise (Exercise “RANGE”). A few days later, on the 18th and 19th May, the Unit went as onlookers with No. 6 Beach Group on Exercise “REALITY” at Monkton.

Back at Ayr, on 21st May, Major Redburn, the Military Landing officer (M.L.O.) of No. 6 Beach Group, lectured the Unit on Beach Group Organisation. The next day, No. 71 R.A.F. Beach Unit’s officers watched Exercise “WETSHOD” carried out by Nos. 3 and 4 Beach Groups at the Combined Training Centre (C.T.C.) Dundonald. From 24th to 26th May, at No. 6 Beach Group H.Q. in Ayr, the Unit attended further lectures by the M.L.O. on the subject of Beach Group Organisation.

Early in June 1943, No. 71 R.A.F. Beach Unit lost their Commanding Officer, F/Lt Robey, who was posted to No. 69 Beach Unit (about to sail for the invasion of Sicily with No. 4 Beach Group). He was replaced by F/Lt.  J. F. Cann (111798) who assumed command on 10th June.

The M.T. Light Repair section, with their officer, F/Lt. Cattaway went off to R.A.F. Station, Weeton (near Blackpool) to attend an M.T. Waterproofing Course lasting from 15th to 21st June and F/Lt. Cann and F/Lt. Haynes attended No. 24 C.T.C. Beach Organisation Course at the Marine Hotel, Troon from 19th to 28th June.

There were more changes among the officers in late June 1943. F/Lt. A. Stahel arrived to replace F/Lt. Gardner who was posted to R.A.F. West Kirby and, with effect from 30th June, F/Lt. W. D. Ingram replaced F/Lt. Haynes who was posted to sister unit, No. 70 Beach Unit. Section responsibilities were now, therefore as follows:

F/Lt. J. F. Cann

Landing Officer 

F/Lt. A. Stahel

Petrol and Oil

F/Lt. W. D. Ingram

Equipment  

F/Lt. W. N. L. Beste

Explosives  

F/Lt. J.E. Cattaway

Mechanical Transport Recovery and Repair

F/Lt. Beste with two Sergeants and three Aircraftmen went to Abbey Craig Park, Stirling for a R.A.O.C. Battle Course from 26th June to 3rd July. It was reported afterwards that these men had shown great keenness and attained a very high standard.

On 6th July  R.A.F. Station, Ayr became the parent station of the Unit in place of R.A.F. Station, West Kirby.

On 11th July 1943, No. 71 R.A.F. Beach Unit left Ayr with No. 6 Beach Group to take part in Exercise “JANTZEN” at Saundersfoot in South Wales. The Unit entrained at Ayr and departed at 10.30 hours for Haverfordwest. They arrived at Haverfordwest at 07.15 hours on the 12th July and were then conveyed to Picton Park Concentration Area.

The two week Exercise began on 22nd July. According to the Operations Record Book of 71 Beach Unit:

    “The purpose of the exercise was to test the capabilities of the Beach group for landing and supplying assault and follow-up troops, from the assault stage up to the establishment of a Force Maintenance Area. In Planning the exercise very little consideration had been given to the R.A.F. aspect in the assault stage and only small quantities of stores were landed. The following shows the landings during the exercise:-

      26th

      July

      - 21 Tons  P.O.L.

      27th

      - 21      “        “

      28th

      - 14  “    Ammn.

      29th

      - 21     “    P.O.L.

      - 28 “    P.O.L.

      -   7 “    Ammn.

      30th

      -   7 “    Ammn.

    The experience was however, used as a guide for gauging the requirements of the R.A.F. Beach Units in personnel and unit equipment.”

A more detailed account of Exercise “JANTZEN”, from the point of view of No. 70 R.A.F. Beach Unit, is given in that Unit’s Operations Record Book and can be read here.

With the Exercise over, F/Lt Cattaway led a road convoy back to Ayr, leaving on the morning of 7th August and the rest of the personnel  returned by train from Saundersfoot station. They arrived at R.A.F. Station, Ayr on the 8th August for rest, re-kitting and leave.

On 31st  August 1943 the unit was disbanded and reformed as No. 102 R.A.F. Beach Section under the control of No. 1 R.A.F. Beach Unit.

No. 102 R.A.F. Beach Section

No. 102 R.A.F. Beach Section was formed at the beginning of September 1943 from the disbanded No. 71 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.

On formation, a commanding officer for No. 102 Beach Section had not been appointed, however, on 15th September 1943, Squadron Leader H.G. Rae (87603) was posted to No. 1 R.A.F. Beach Unit and appointed Officer Commanding No. 102 Beach Section.

On 22nd September, No. 102 Beach Section went to join No. 6 Army Beach Group at Ayr Racecourse. The Section would be training with the Army and participating in joint exercises.

The M.T. sub section of No. 102 Beach Section went off  to No. 8 School of Technical Training at R.A.F. Weeton on 30th November, for a 21 day course on Diesel Engines.

On 4th December, the "X" sub section, along with the "X" sub section of No. 101 Beach Section and their Army counterparts went to No. 94 M.U. at Barnham for an Explosives Refresher Course.

From 25th December until the end of the month, the C.O., S/Ldr Rae was away in London attending a "Q" Joint Planning Course. No. 102 R.A.F. Beach Section were preparing for Exercise "SMASH" to take place in the Moray area. However, due to bad weather conditions, the Exercise was cancelled on 2nd January 1944.

On 6th January No. 102 R.A.F. Beach Section were inspected at Strathpeffer, by Major General T.G. Rennie D.S.O. M.B.E., Commander of the 3rd British Infantry Division and then, from 9th to 11th January, the Section deployed with No. 6 Beach Group to participate in Exercise "GRAB".

No. 53 R.A.F. Beach Balloon Unit arrived on 22nd January to also work with No. 6 Beach Group. F/Lt W.H.J. Wilkie was in command and there was one other officer and 60 Other Ranks. All were accommodated at Tulloch Castle Camp, Dingwall.

On 25th January, No. 102 R.A.F. Beach Section (with the exception of the M.T. sub section) left for Gosford Camp, Longniddry, East Lothian to take part in Exercise "ROUNDABOUT IV" . The Exercise began on 29th January with H-Hour at 1100 hours Beach Balloon Unit recce parties, headed by the two officers, were fed in wetshod. The sub sections of No. 102 Beach Section deployed as usual with their Army opposite numbers. The anticipated daily landing of R.A.F. Stores was: General Stores 3 tons, Bombs 12 tons, Ammunition 18 tons, P.O.L. 45 tons and Oxygen 2 tons. The weather was not too favourable throughout the Exercise but the Stores Landing Programmes were carried out as far as possible over the period 29th January to 1st February, inclusive. After that, the Exercise was cancelled due to the continuing unfavourable weather conditions and the units returned to the Assembly Area at Gosford Camp. The quantities of R.A.F. Stores that were handled during the Exercise were: General Stores 15 tons, Ammunition 19 tons and P.O.L. 121 tons.

The M.T. sub section had stayed behind at Strathpeffer while the rest of the Section was away on Exercise "ROUNDABOUT IV" . They were occupied in fitting out vehicles as workshops and some of the men were attached to the R.E.M.E. Workshops at Dingwell, to assist the Army. The main party of No. 102 Beach Section returned from the Exercise to Strathpeffer on 5th February. There followed a programme of attachments to 2nd Tactical Air Force units for technical training.

The Stores sub 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 Croyden. The Landing sub section returned to Leith for rear party duties in connection with Exercise "ROUNDABOUT IV" .

On 14th February there was a meeting between the Officers of No. 53 R.A.F. Beach Balloon Unit and the Commander of No. 103 H.A.A. Regiment R.A. to discuss liaison between the Beach Balloon Unit and the Regiment when on deployment with No. 6 Beach Group.

The C.O. of No. 102 Beach Section, S/Ldr Rae went to London on 22nd February for a conference with the Unit C.O., W/Cdr Faulkner. F/Lt A.M. Dobson (86892) arrived from No. 3 M.U. as a relief for F/Lt J.E. Cattaway (107311), the M.T. Officer of the Section, who was being released from service for three months on compassionate grounds.

The Landing sub section took part in the No.6 Beach Group "Command Post" exercise on 25th February.

On 3rd March 1944 S/Ldr. H.G. Rae, Officer Commanding No. 102 R.A.F. Beach Section and F/Lt. J.F. Cann went to the Advanced Headquarters of 3rd British Infantry Division for Exercise “BARON”.

On 5th March, F/Lt J.E. Cattaway, officer in charge of the M.T. Light Repair sub section of 102 Beach Section was released from service for a period of three months on compassionate grounds.

On 14th March, the Provost sub section of 102 Beach Section went to the Provost and Security Unit at Bletchley, Surrey for a period of training.

From the 27th March to 1st April 1944, both Sections of No. 1 R.A.F. Beach Unit participated in Exercise “LEAPYEAR” held in the Burghead area.

On 2nd April S/Ldr Rae, Officer Commanding No. 102 Beach Section went to the Air Ministry in London for a conference.

On 3rd April, No. 102 Beach Section’s advance party set off for a new location in the South of England. The road party of No. 102 Beach Section left Ayr for the new location on 11th April.

No. 102 R.A.F. Beach Flight

On 17th April 1944, the 2nd Tactical Air Force beach units were officially renamed; so that No. 102 R.A.F. Beach Section became No. 102 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.

On the 19th April the main party of No.102 Beach Flight  departed from Inverness by train for their new location in the South of England,

F/Lt W.D. Ingram, Equipment Section officer of No. 102 Beach Flight returned from an attachment at R.A.F. Chigwell on 23rd April.

No. 102 R.A.F. Beach Flight  was attached to No. 6 Beach Group for the coming operation (Operation “OVERLORD”). Owing to the 3rd Infantry Division landings being planned on a single brigade front, only one Beach Group was required in the initial assault in the SWORD area. That  was to be No. 5 Beach Group with No. 101 R.A.F. Beach Flight attached. No. 6 Beach Group, with No. 102 Beach Flight attached was the reserve Beach Group, following up later.

No. 102 Beach Flight, together with No. 53 Beach Balloon Flight, which was also attached to No. 6 Beach Group, were now located at Brownings Camp, Petworth, Sussex.

Beginning on 28th April, 102 Beach Flight were preparing to participate in Exercise “FABIUS” with the rest of No. 1 Beach Squadron. However, when the Exercise began at the beginning of May, No. 102 Beach Flight  did not take part, presumably because they were the reserve R.A.F. Beach Flight and this “dress-rehearsal” didn’t extend to the landing of the follow-up units.

On 11th May F/Lt J. Pinder (44951) A. & S.D. joined No. 102 Beach Flight as officer in charge of the M.T. Light Repair Section.

On 13th May, F/Lt Beste and a small party of Other Ranks from No. 102 Beach Flight were inspected by the Supreme Allied Commander at No. 6 Beach Group Headquarters.

On the 18th May, No. 102 R.A.F. Beach Flight and the M.T. detachments of Nos. 50 and 53 Beach Balloon Flights moved to Camp T.7, London Area in preparation for embarkation in the London Sector (Third Tide personnel and vehicles). A rear party of No. 102 Beach Flight consisting of F/Lt Ingram and four Other Ranks stayed behind at Petworth for a while. The main party of No. 53 R.A.F. Beach Balloon Flight remained at Petworth as they were landing First Tide.

Camp T.7 was situated on Wanstead Flats which was “a vast common, now covered with tents”.[1] On Friday 26th May the camp was sealed and that weekend (Whit weekend 1944), the Commanding Officer of 102 Beach Flight, Squadron Leader Rae, who had earlier attended the Beach Sub Area Commander’s briefing and a briefing by No. 1 R.A.F. Beach Squadron’s Commanding Officer, briefed the personnel of No. 102 Beach Flight about the Operation that was about to commence.

No. 102 R.A.F. Beach Flight in Operation “OVERLORD”

On 2nd June, No. 102 R.A.F. Beach Flight and the M.T. elements of Nos. 50 and 53 R.A.F. Beach Balloon Flights embarked at the Port of London on three different ships: S.S. Lancashire, S.S. Sambut and S.S. Empire Nutfield.

The main body of No. 102 R.A.F. Beach Flight, a party of 40 men, were in Serial 3209, carried on the S.S. Lancashire. Classed as a Landing Ship Personnel (L.S.P.), the S.S. Lancashire was a 9,542 ton passenger ship built in Belfast in 1914. Due to arrive at H+23 in the NAN Sector, the men would be brought ashore by the ferry service.

With the same scheduled destination and arrival time were 9 men of 102 Beach Flight on board the S.S. Sambut, a Liberty ship built in the U.S.A. in 1943 and designated as a Mechanised Transport Ship (M.T.S.). They were bringing half of the Beach Flight’s transport - one jeep, one 3 ton lorry fitted with a winch and 3 motorcycles (with a further two motorcycles loaded in the lorry). Also on board the S.S. Sambut was a Bedford 3 ton GS lorry with two men from No. 50 Beach Balloon Flight and a Bedford 3 ton GS lorry with two men from No. 53 Beach Balloon Flight. This was the ill-fated Serial 3211.

A further 9 men of 102 Beach Flight were in Serial 3212 on board the S.S. Empire Nutfield. This was a 1,561 ton vessel built in Vancouver in 1919 and designated as a Mechanical Transport Coaster (M.T.C.). The Empire Nutfield was carrying the rest of the Beach Flight’s transport: two jeeps and one Bedford 3 ton GS lorry with two motorcycles loaded inside.

The three ships carrying No. 102 R.A.F. Beach Flight sailed from the Thames estuary in a convoy of transport ships forming part of Force “L”, the Follow-Up force. Hector Buckland was a Royal Engineer in a Port Operating Company. He was aboard S.S. Samvern (M.T. 12), another ship in the same convoy. He wrote:

“Tuesday, 6th June dawned at last and at 7am the anchor was weighed and we sailed from the River Thames at last, our ultimate destination still being a well kept secret. The sun shone and the sea was calm and it was hard to realise that we were en route to force our way into the Fortress of Europe. We hugged the English coast all morning, and I spent nearly the whole day on deck as all this part was new to me and I wanted to see as much of England as possible. The convoy of Liberty ships was now spread out in two long lines with an escort vessel leading and another one “snooping” alongside, how small they looked to protect such a large convoy. Overhead a number of Spitfires and Hurricanes continually passed up and down the convoy and they gave one a comfortable feeling. Between 12 and 1 pm we were opposite the white cliffs of Dover, the convoy now being in a single line, How beautiful the white cliffs looked in the sunlight with the green fields beyond, and the red roofed houses. A more peaceful scene it would be difficult to imagine, when suddenly without any warning there was the sound of explosion. The ship immediately behind had been struck amid ships by a shell from the German cross Channel guns, and a huge column of smoke rose into the sky. The vessel dropped out of the convoy and we never heard what happened to her or the men on board.” [2]

The stricken vessel was the S.S. Sambut, one of the three vessels carrying members of No. 102 R.A.F. Beach Flight. On board were nine members of No. 102 R.A.F. Beach Flight and four men from the R.A.F. Beach Balloon Flights. The Operations Record Book of No. 1 Beach Squadron records:

6th June 1215

S.S.SAMBUT – Serial 3211, London Convoy, hit off DOVER by shell fire from Cross Channel guns. F/Lt W.D. Ingram (31332) seriously wounded.

6th June 1230

Ship hit by further salvo and orders given to abandon ship.

On roll-call F/Lt W.D. Ingram (31332), 862656 LAC Fancourt A.H., and 1562096 McNaught J, (the latter two were last seen in the water alongside the vessel) were missing. Survivors of this serial were eventually landed in the U.K.

At the end of the Operations Record Book entry for 6th June there was a list of casualties during the day. These included:

F/Lt W.D. Ingram (31332) killed,
862656 LAC Fancourt A.H., and 1562096 McNaught J. missing,
935097 Cpl Holt J. landed in England – injured survivor Serial No. 3211

William Douglas Ingram, a 28 year old married man from Essex, was the officer in charge of the Equipment section of No. 102 Beach Flight. Ingram had joined No. 71 R.A.F. Beach Unit in June 1943 to take over this role. Albert Henry Fancourt was a 30 year old married man from Surrey and Joseph McNaught, aged 39, was from Fife and was also married. Their bodies were not recovered.

130 of the troops on board the S.S. Sambut were lost, together with 6 crew members. The ship had a crew of 63 and had been carrying a total of 562 troops from 28 different units along with a large quantity of vehicles, equipment and stores. Abandoned, the blazing ship was racked by further explosions and was eventually sunk by torpedo to stop it being a hazard to other vessels.[3]

At around 6pm on D + 1, No. 102 R.A.F. Beach Flight, minus Serial 3211, landed, as planned, in the NAN Sector, which was the territory of No. 2 R.A.F. Beach Squadron (JUNO assault area). They went to No. 3 R.A.F. Assembly Area and spent the night there. The enemy strongpoint at Lion sur Mer was still holding out and there were pockets of resistance at La Deliverande, so the roads to their parent Squadron in the SWORD area were impassable.

In the evening of 8th June the strongpoint at Lion-sur-Mer was finally cleared of the enemy. After a “hazardous” journey with “many diversions and hold-ups” due to the fighting at Lion-sur-Mer and snipers on route, No. 102 R.A.F. Beach Flight finally managed to join the rest of No. 1 R.A.F. Beach Squadron in the QUEEN Sector.

The plan had been that No. 102 R.A.F. Beach Flight would take over the running of the R.A.F dumps in the MOON B.M.A. but, under arrangements agreed by Headquarters No. 83 Group the Landing, P.O.L. and Ammunition Sections of No. 102 R.A.F. Beach Flight were sent next day to help No. 2 R.A.F. Beach Squadron in the STAR B.M.A. (JUNO Area) – the area they had just come from!

The M.T. Section was detached as planned to No. 39 G.T. Coy. R.A.S.C. to assist with the maintenance of DUKWs and other transport vehicles, while the Provost Section was attached to No. 101 R.A.F. Beach Flight to work, as required, in the SWORD Beach Area and in No. 4 R.A.F. Assembly Area – also according to the original plan.

After two days working with No. 2 R.A.F. Beach Squadron, F/Lt J.F. Cann and the Landing Section of No. 102 R.A.F. Beach Flight were sent to Port en Bessin for R.A.F. embarkation duties there.

On 15th June the P.O.L. and Ammunition Sections of No. 102 R.A.F. Beach Flight ceased their attachment to No. 2 R.A.F. Beach Squadron in the STAR B.M.A. and rejoined No. 1 R.A.F. Beach Squadron in the MOON B.M.A. (SWORD Area). (See No. 1 R.A.F. Beach Squadron in Normandy for an outline of daily events during this period.)

On 16th June the survivors of Serial 3211 under F/Lt J. Pinder (44951), together with F/Lt D.J.A. Garratt and other casualty replacements arrived from the U.K.. F/Lt Pinder, who was the M.T. Section officer of No. 102 R.A.F. Beach Flight, joined his Section which had been working with No. 39 G.T. Coy. R.A.S.C. for the last week, and took over the control and organization of the R.A.S.C. workshops, taking the place of the Workshops Officer, Captain Davies who had been killed by enemy action on 12th June.

F/Lt Cann and the Landing Section (the detachment that had been working at Port en Bessin) returned to No. 1 R.A.F. Beach Squadron on 17th June. After a couple of days they were on the move again. This time they were sent to the Port of Ouistreham in preparation for the opening of the port. However, the decision to open the port was held in abeyance owing to the close proximity of the enemy (about 1800 yards away). A Port Executive Committee was formed and S/Ldr H.C. Rae, Commanding Officer of No. 102 R.A.F. Beach Flight was nominated as the R.A.F. representative. After an uncomfortable week in Ouistreham, F/Lt Cann and the Landing Section were withdrawn because the decision to open the port had still not been made.

Following the capture of Caen, the C.O., S/Ldr Rae accompanied by F/Lt Cann and Sgt H.G. West (910588) made a recce of the city on 12th July, “examining approachable docks and choosing and making bids for accommodation”. The next day, an advanced party from No. 102 R.A.F. Beach Flight, consisting of F/Lt Cann, Sgt West and LAC Upton, went to take up quarters in Caen. This party, along with its Army counterpart was evacuated two days later in accordance with orders from the Commander of No. 101 Beach Sub Area. “The enemy had become very active there with shelling, mortar fire and air raids, and it was decided that only essential personnel should remain.”

In the afternoon of 27th July when things were a bit quieter in Caen, a Port Executive Committee conference was held there. This was attended by S/Ldr H.G. Rae, C.O. of No. 102 R.A.F. Beach Flight who was still the R.A.F. representative on that Committee, and next day S/Ldr Rae himself, accompanied by one sergeant and two aircraftmen went to take up quarters in Caen.

At this stage, No. 102 R.A.F. Beach Flight was no longer operating as a beach unit 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] Diary of Hector Buckland (Part 1), WW2 People's War

[2] Diary of Hector Buckland (Part 2), WW2 People's War

[3] An account of the incident as it concerned 92nd LAA Regiment, Royal Artillery is given on the True Loyals website (Chapter 8). This quotes from the book, “Liberty, The Ships That Won The War” by Peter Elphick (Chatham Publishing, London, 2001) which provides considerable detail about this unfortunate event.

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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