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Royal Air Force Beach Units

No. 104 Beach Flight

This unit began as No. 77 R.A.F. Beach Unit and then became 104 Beach Section before finally being renamed as 104 Beach Flight . No. 104 R.A.F. Beach Flight was part of No. 2 R.A.F. Beach Squadron and Landed in the JUNO assault area in Operation "OVERLORD".

No. 77 R.A.F. Beach Unit

No. 77 R.A.F. Beach Unit was formed, along with No. 76 R.A.F. Beach Unit on 26th May 1943 at R.A.F. West Kirby (not far from Liverpool). Members of the unit were granted 14 days Embarkation Leave on 4th June. This suggests that they were soon expected to go overseas. Perhaps it was thought they would follow Nos. 68 and 69 R.A.F. Beach Units to the Mediterranean. (Nos. 68 and 69 R.A.F. Beach Units left the UK in June, sailing with the 1st Canadian Division to take part in the invasion of Sicily.)

In June the Unit received some weapon and field training from R.A.F. Regiment and Army N.C.O.s.

No. 77 R.A.F. Beach Unit was to be attached to the Army’s No. 8 Beach Group and No. 76 R.A.F. Beach Unit was to be attached to No. 7 Beach Group, all part of No. 102 Beach Sub-Area.

On 3rd August No. 77 R.A.F. Beach Unit moved from No. 1 P.D.C. West Kirby to Gailes Camp in Scotland for training with No. 8 Beach Group. The infantry battalion that formed the core of No. 8 Beach Group was 5th Battalion Royal Berkshire Regiment.

On 17th August 1943, No. 77 R.A.F. Beach Unit became No. 104 R.A.F. Beach Section.

No. 104 R.A.F. Beach Section

No. 104 R.A.F. Beach Section was created from No. 77 R.A.F. Beach Unit on 17th August 1943. At the same time No. 76 R.A.F. Beach Unit became No. 103 R.A.F. Beach Section. With a headquarters added, these units were joined to form No. 2 R.A.F. Beach Unit.

The M.T. and Provost sub-sections of No. 104 Beach Section  moved from Gailes Camp to Stewarton Camp, near Kilmarnock on 19th August, for training with R.E.M.E. and Army Provost (C.M.P.)

On 6th September No. 104 Beach Section moved with No. 8 Beach Group from its locations in Scotland to Bournemouth.

Squadron Leader E. Towers (31297) took over command of No. 104 Beach Section on 15th September. S/Ldr Towers, an officer in the Equipment Branch, was posted to the unit from Air Ministry (Movements).

In October 1943, the whole of No. 2 R.A.F. Beach Unit took part in Exercise “PIRATE”, for which practice landings were carried out at Studland Bay.

No. 104 Beach Section went to No. 1 R.A.F. Regiment Depot at Grantham on 16th November, for a Battle Inoculation Course, returning on 30th November.

The M.T. sub section was attached to No. 70 Mechanical Transport Light Repair Unit (M.T.L.R.U.) at Croydon on 8th December, for training. They returned on 5th January.

On 9th January 1944 No. 104 R.A.F. Beach Section went to the Beach Group Practice Camp at Gullane for training and landings, with No. 8 Beach Group, in Exercise “ROUNDABOUT”.

No. 52 R.A.F. Beach Balloon Unit was attached to work with the Beach Group. They arrived from No. 958 Balloon Squadron and went to Gullane on 14th January to participate in Exercise “ROUNDABOUT”.

On completion of Exercise “ROUNDABOUT” on 26th January, No. 104 Beach Section returned to Bournemouth from the Beach Group Practice Camp, Gullane. However, the Landing sub section stayed behind at Leith for further training in Embarkation duties and did not return until 8th February.

No. 52 Beach Balloon Unit also returned from Exercise “ROUNDABOUT” on 26th January and were located with No. 104 Beach Section for training.

From 1st February 1944 the whole of No. 2 R.A.F. Beach Unit came under the control of 2nd Tactical Air Force and a programme of technical training was commenced for the various sub sections. The M.T. sub section went again to No. 70 M.T.L.R.U. at Croydon, the Explosives sub section were attached to No. 407 Air Ammunition Park at Burrswood, The Equipment Dumps personnel were attached to 2nd T.A.F.’s Forward Equipment Unit. at Bicester, the Landing sub section was attached to No. 3 R.A.F. Embarkation Unit at Liverpool and No. 52 Beach Balloon Unit went for further training to No. 12 Balloon Centre at Titchfield.

All personnel of No. 104 R.A.F. Beach Section attended a large parade in Bournemouth inspected by General Sir Bernard Montgomery, G.O.C. in C. No. 21 Army Group. This followed a rehearsal the day before that was inspected by General Keller, G.O.C., 3rd Canadian Division.

From 1st to 5th March, No. 104 Beach Section took part in Exercise “CROPPER V” with No. 8 Beach Group.

The Landing section, which had been on attachment at No. 3 E.U. at Liverpool were attached to the F.E.U. at Bicester on 4th March, for further training.

On 10th March No. 104 Beach Section moved from Bournemouth to Creech Walk and the personnel were now living under canvas.

On 13th March, the M.T. sub section, which had been on attachment at 70 M.T.L.R.U., Croydon, moved to R.A.F. Station Heston for further training and the Explosives sub section joined them the next day, moving directly there from their attachment at No. 407 A.A.P.

All the sub sections had returned from their training attachments by 24th March when some inter-change of personnel took place between No. 103 Beach Section and No. 104 Beach Section to meet the new requirement that No. 104 Beach Section would be responsible for all R.A.F. Stores and Equipment being landed in 102 Beach Sub-Area while No. 103 Beach Section would be responsible for the R.A.F. personnel and M.T. vehicles.

From 26th to 31st March 1944 No. 104 Beach Section took part, with all of No. 2 R.A.F. Beach Unit, in Exercise “GOLDBRAID”. This was a full scale exercise with 3rd Canadian Division at Bracklesham Bay, near Chichester.

On 5th April No. 104 Beach Section moved from Creech Walk to Camp C.2., Moor Hill, near Portsmouth where they were again, living under canvas.

No. 104 R.A.F. Beach Flight

In April 1944, Rear H.Q. 2nd Tactical Air Force changed the titles of their beach units so that No. 104 R.A.F. Beach Section became No. 104 R.A.F. Beach Flight and its parent unit, No. 2 R.A.F. Beach Unit became No. 2 R.A.F. Beach Squadron.

Also that month, No. 104 Beach Flight participated in Exercise “TROUSERS” and an inspection of the 3rd Canadian Division, 102 Beach Sub-Area and Nos. 7 and 8 Beach Groups by His Majesty The King.

On 26th April No. 52 Beach Balloon Unit, now renamed No. 52 Beach Balloon Flight and part of No. 974 R.A.F. Beach Balloon Squadron, rejoined No. 104 R.A.F. Beach Flight, attached to No. 7 Army Beach Group.

The M.T. section of No. 104 Beach Flight was attached to No. 71 M.T.L.R.U. at Croydon on 27th April.

The Flight was involved in Exercise “FABIUS III” from 28th April until 4th May 1944.

On 13th May, No. 104 R.A.F. Beach Flight was present at an inspection of the Beach Groups by General D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander, at Hiltingbury “A” Camp.

On 30th May marshalling for Operation “OVERLORD” began and on 5th June 1944 most of No. 104 Beach Flight set sail for France.

No. 104 Beach Flight in Operation “Overlord”

No 104 R.A.F. Beach Flight were with No. 8 Beach Group and the 8th Canadian Brigade, landing on NAN Beach in the JUNO assault area. Most of the Flight landed on 6th June, with personnel divided between various Serials landing at 0845, 1015, 1400 and 1800 hours on D-Day.

“When the R.A.F.L.O. and Landing Section of No 104 Beach Flight landed, fighting was still going on around strongpoints on the Beach and in the village of BERNIERES and near surroundings. A Landing Section Headquarters was established as soon as possible. On landing the L.C.I. carrying Sgt Sherlow and LAC Hey hit a submerged “element C” and the explosion damaged one of the gangways, but no personnel were injured.

The P.O.L. Section of No 104 Beach Flight made only very progress through BERNIERES as enemy sniping was encountered both on the Beach and through the village. There was a hold-up South of the village due to an enemy strongpoint and the fact that the enemy was still in possession of the proposed P.O.L area. Soon after 1400 hours, the P.O.L. area was recced and found to be inside a signed enemy mine-field. Flails or mine detectors were not available and on the assumption that enemy mines were most likely to be Anti-Tank mines and would probably not explode under the weight of a man and it was decided to open up one side of the area.

The Ammunition Section were held up for a short time on arrival at their area by a battle for a strongpoint held by the enemy. When the position was taken, they established their Site although it was under mortar and shell fire during the afternoon and evening.

No 104 Beach Flight Headquarters was established at Map Reference 997853 and contact was made with the Sections. In view of the small quantity of R.A.F. Stores expected, it was decided to site the R.A.F. Stores Dump within the Ammunition Area. S/Ldr E. Towers, O.C. 104 Beach Flight landed and set up Flight Headquarters.”

During the night of 7th June, No 104 Beach Flight was turned out and manned weapon slits on a report that enemy paratroops were landing nearby. Many shots were fired from all directions and it was difficult to locate any enemy fire. A loaded ammunition vehicle was hit by a bomb and several other vehicles caught fire.

In the morning of 8th June further personnel of No 104 Beach Flight landed. This party was originally phased to land D-Day H + 9 but were kept on board.

On 10th June the NAN Beaches were reorganised so that NAN Green Beach was dedicated to the landing of Personnel and Vehicles and NAN White Beach was to be used for Stores.

The enemy shelled the Ammunition Area without causing damage or casualties.

On 12th June, R.A.F. Jeep No 154780 allotted to No 104 Beach Flight Landing Officer disappeared from the Beach, apparently stolen.

A shell mine was discovered on P.O.L. Site No. 3. The device did not detonate because the percussion cap was not properly in place. The Royal Engineers were called in and further mines were discovered on the same site, behind stacked fuel. P.O.L. Site No. 3 was temporarily closed but, the next day a D.U.K.W. was blown up by a mine on the same site and a soldier was killed.

Around 8pm on the 13th June, the enemy shelled the Ammunition Area and the P.O.L. Area but did not cause much damage or casualties and there was enemy air activity that night directed against the Beaches and shipping.

On 14th June Royal Engineers began mine clearance on the P.O.L. Site. They eventually found the pattern of the minefield and started to remove the many mines discovered.

On 17th June, Sgt H. Sherlow (1017863), Equipment Assistant, injured his back whilst on board a Coaster supervising R.A.F. Stores. He was admitted to the Field Dressing Station and evacuated to the U.K.

On 19th June the enemy fired nine shells into the 8 Beach Group area. They were believed to be 120 lb shells from a 17 cm gun and killed one Army Other Rank and wounded three others. The bodies of two German airmen were washed up on NAN beach on the 26th June. They were buried by the the Army Beach Group Chaplain and their effects were forwarded to the Intelligence Office, No. 83 Group (Main).

 Acting F/Lt Woollacott and ten Other Ranks from No. 104 Beach Flight were attached to No. 89 Embarkation Unit on 2nd July.

On 10th July, after the C.O. of the Flight, Squadron Leader E. Towers had done a recce, one Sergeant, one Corporal and one Aircraftman from the Flight formed a Landing Section to take over beach duties from No. 101 Beach Flight of No. 1 Beach Squadron at Petit Enfer.

14th July was Bastille Day and No. 104 Beach Flight and No. 52 Balloon Flight attended a church service and procession organised by the Mayor of St-Aubin-sur-Mer. A parade of 50 airmen from the two Flights laid a wreath at the Military Cemetery. This was said to be a very good turn-out which favourably impressed the civilians.

At 21.45 on 17th July a pilot, 1390541 Sgt. Standish, baled out from his aircraft into the sea at map ref. 010855. After medical attention he was billeted with No. 104 Beach Flight until evacuation to the U.K.

Each afternoon and evening from 26th to 29th July there was shelling at Petit Enfer. There were 19 casualties at the Beach there and in the Transhipment Area but none of them were R.A.F.

In the early hours of 15th August there were enemy air attacks and heavy shelling. The M.T. Light Recovery Section of 104 Beach Flight lost two 3 tonners and two 160 lb tents but there were no casualties.

From the next day, 16th August, No. 2 Beach Squadron was disbanding and the C.O. of 104 Beach Flight, S/Ldr E. Towers was one of the officers who returned to the U.K on 26th August when the remaining personnel received their posting instructions.

 

The main source of information on this page is:

The Operations Record Book of No. 2 Beach Unit (Later) No. 2 R.A.F. Beach Squadron including Nos. 76 and 77 Beach Units, May 1943 - Set 1944 - found in, ‘Air Ministry and Ministry of Defence: Operations Record Books, Miscellaneous Units’ AIR 29/438 at The National Archives.

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Copyright  © J.M.Fenton, 2007-2016

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