No. 5 R.A.F. Beach Unit was originally formed under the title “R.A.F. Beach Group”. Its three constituent “Bricks” seem to have been formed at the beginning of November 1943 but the unit’s Operations Record Book does not begin until the arrival of the R.A.F. Beach Group’s newly appointed Commanding Officer.
R.A.F. Beach Group, Central Mediterranean Force
At 1pm on 21st November 1943, S/Ldr T.G. Robertson arrived in Naples to take command of the new R.A.F. Beach Group. S/Ldr Robertson had travelled from Catania in Sicily, where he had been the Commanding Officer of the R.A.F. Component of No. 31 Beach Brick. He made a temporary Headquarters with the R.A.F. Component of No. 35 Beach Brick at No. 236 Calata, Capodichino.
The new R.A.F. Beach Group comprised of a small Headquarters and Nos. 81, 82 and 83 Bricks. It was under the administrative and operational control of Northwest African Tactical Air Force (N.A.T.A.F.). The three Bricks in the new R.A.F. Beach Group were formed from some of the personnel who had been members of the R.A.F. beach units from the Middle East and North Africa that were now disbanding. These units were the R.A.F Components of Nos. 31, 32, 33, 34 and 35 Beach Bricks, Nos. 81 & 82 R.A.F. Auxiliary Embarkation Units and No. 83 R.A.F. Embarkation Unit. Some personnel also came from Nos. 68 & 69 R.A.F. Beach Units that had come from and were returning to, the U.K.
The morning after his arrival, S/Ldr Robertson met the officers of the three Bricks and “discussed the advisability of having an Officers Mess. It was agreed that H.Q. and Officers Mess should be together.” In the afternoon, F/Lt Holdaway (ex No. 69 R.A.F. Beach Unit) was asked if his villa, “Villino Citivanova” at Bellavista (a locality of Portici) could be used and he agreed.
S/Ldr Robertson had to go to Bari on 23rd November to visit Tactical Air Force Headquarters. While he was away, F/Lt Trevitt and F/O Clark moved from Capodichino to “Villino Citivanova”, Bellavista and established the H.Q. and Officers Mess.
The personnel of No. 81 Brick were billeted at “Villa Maria”, Bellavista, No. 83 Brick was at 236 Calata, Capodichino and No. 82 Brick was attached to No. 67 Embarkation Unit at Brindisi.
On 26th November, “Villino Cantini” at 21 Via Giuseppe Semmola in Resina (now Ercolano) was requisitioned for use as a Sergeants Mess. In the afternoon S/Ldr Robertson returned from Bari where he had visited W/Cdr R.D. George at Tactical Air Force Headquarters. They had discussed questions about a formation order, leave, training etc. They agreed that F/Lt Walsh, F/Lt Vaughan and the Other Ranks of No. 82 Brick should be transferred to Naples.
Naples, December 1943
No. 82 Brick arrived at the R.A.F. Beach Group H.Q., Bellavista at 2pm on 4th December, having travelled from Brindisi. The Brick’s officers, F/Lt Walsh and F/Lt Vaughan, moved in to the Officers Mess in the H.Q. Building and the Other Ranks of the Brick went to Villa Marca, Bellavista to be billeted with the men of No. 81 Brick.
On 6th December, a garage was installed at the No. 83 Brick billet at Capodichino, F/Lt Trevitt was appointed as Officer in charge of Mechanical Transport and a complete overhaul of all the R.A.F. Beach Group’s vehicles was begun.
On 9th December F/Lt H. Pollard was appointed Security Officer. A signal was received at 3pm from N.A.T.A.F. Headquarters – MOV.820 dated 8/12/43 authorised the grant of fourteen days leave to R.A.F. Beach Group personnel, at the discretion of the Commanding Officer.
On the 12th December the unit acquired an Alfa Romeo car. This was requisitioned, with the authority of No. 3 Base Area, for the use of the R.A.F. Beach Group “in order to conserve the serviceability of Group transport.”
F/O F. Clark of No. 83 Brick left for the U.K on 15th December having been granted 28 days compassionate leave. He was given a covering letter quoting the relevant authority because a copy of the authorising signal was not received.
On 16th December it was noted that, “A great time is elapsing between the date signals are despatched and date of arrival.” F/Lt Ovington was appointed Officer i/c M.T. in place of F/Lt Trevitt who was going on leave.
Next day, S/Ldr Robertson issued an internal memorandum to the officers Commanding Nos. 81, 82 and 83 Bricks instructing them to “ensure that all personnel are kept in a state of physical fitness to enable them to take part in Operations of a strenuous character, also that N.C.O’s and men be given ample opportunity to become acquainted, with a view to obtaining that team spirit which is so essential in Beach Group operations.”
Authority was received on the 18th December, for personnel to wear the ribbon of the 1939/43 Star or Africa Star if they were definitely entitled to do so. R.A.F. Beach Group personnel were invited to submit designs for a unit sign. A design by Cpl. Stanfield (Fitter, Mechanical Transport) was chosen. His design depicted “the Nazi Swastika smashed into small fragments by a brick”. The sign was to be stencilled on the R.A.F. Beach Group’s M.T. vehicles but it was decided at the end of the month that the design was unsuitable for stencilling.
On 20th December, F/Lt Vaughan, two N.C.O.s and twenty men of No. 82 Brick were loaned to No.114 Maintenance Unit, together with a 3 ton vehicle, to help with the distribution of equipment.
Christmas Day 1943 was celebrated by the men of the R.A.F. Beach Group in their billets. The Officers and Senior N.C.O.s served the airmen’s meal “which was of good quality. Pork was served in ample quantity and turkey (tinned) and Xmas Pudding obtained from N.A.A.F.I. sources”.
The R.A.F. Beach Group was not required for Operation “SHINGLE”, the assault landings at Anzio (D-Day 22nd January 1944). The Anzio beach-head was within reasonable range of existing bases for fighter aircraft. Advanced landing grounds were not required there and therefore R.A.F. beach units were not needed.
On 1st January 1944 F/Lt W.C. Trevitt was posted to H.Q. M.A.A.F. (Rear) and left the unit. F/Lt H.J. Searle M.B.E arrived on posting to the R.A.F. Beach Brick and replaced F/Lt Trevitt as Officer i/c No. 83 Brick.
S/Ldr Robertson went on seven days leave beginning 5th January and F/Lt J.J. Walsh assumed command of the Beach Group in his absence. On 8th January, F/Lt Searle was “put under instruction for driving in accordance with policy.”
A letter was received from No. 3 Base Area on 18th January, requesting that the buildings occupied by R.A.F. Beach Group H.Q., No 81 Brick and the Sergeants Mess be vacated by 25th January.
On 19th January S/Ldr Robertson went to H.Q. No. 3 R.A.F. Base Area and was interviewed by Group Captain Cullery (the Officer Commanding No. 3 Base Area). G/Capt. Cullery had decided to appoint him as the Commanding Officer of a proposed Ground Crew Rest Camp at Sorrento. Rest camps for air crew were already established and it was a nice idea to set up a rest camp for ground crew. However, S/Ldr Robertson didn’t agree that his unit should be put in charge of running it. The R.A.F. Beach Group was a Combined Operations unit and was meant to be in readiness for a future assault landing operation. Nevertheless, he said he would visit the site and give G/Capt Cullery a report on the suitability of the house as a rest camp.
Next day S/Ldr Robertson and F/Lt Searle went to Sorrento to visit the location of the proposed No. 3 Base Area Ground Crew Rest Camp. S/Ldr Robertson’s opinion was that, “The building was definitely lovely but somewhat cheerless and lacked water. Other disadvantages were bad roads and lack of cooking facilities.”
S/Ldr Robertson went to Mediterranean Allied Tactical Air Force (M.A.T.A.F.) Headquarters at Caserta on 21st January and spoke first of all to, S/Ldr Cook and then to the Group Captain (Admin.). He discussed with them the request that the Beach Group vacate some of the buildings they occupied and his appointment as Commanding Officer of the proposed Rest Camp. He was told not to vacate the buildings until instructed to do so by M.A.T.A.F. Headquarters and he was told that one Brick might be loaned to No. 3 Base Area but it would still come under the administration of the Commanding Officer of the R.A.F. Beach Group. Following this, S/Ldr Robertson issued Operations Order No. 1 to the R.A.F. Beach Group and the next day, all the officers of the Beach Group visited the Rest Camp villa which was “Villa Angelina” at Massa Lubrense, four miles west of Sorrento.
G/Capt Cullery, Officer Commanding No. 3 Base Area was not available on 23rd January (his return was awaited from a trip to North Africa) but on 24th January, S/Ldr Clayton of No. 3 Base Area agreed that the request to vacate buildings occupied by the R.A.F. Beach Group in the Portici area was cancelled.
On 27th January S/Ldr Robertson went to H.Q. No. 3 Base Area to see G/Capt Cullery who said he would use a Brick for the Rest Camp if it were voluntary. F/Lt Walsh and F/Lt Pollard left for Bari. They were going to No. 67 R.A.F. Embarkation Unit and were aiming to collect kit belonging to the R.A.F. Beach Group’s airmen using one of the Beach Group’s 3 ton vehicles that had set off the day before.
On 28th January 1944, S/Ldr Robertson and F/Lt Searle went to visit Tactical Air Force H.Q. at Caserta. During a meeting with S/Ldr Cook, S/Ldr Robertson was informed that the R.A.F. Beach Group was now to be known as No. 5 R.A.F. Beach Unit and that Nos. 81, 82 and 83 Bricks were to be known as Nos. 109, 110 and 111 Beach Sections. S/Ldr Cook also gave written authority to cover the verbal authority of W/Cdr R.D. George for the unit to keep the Alfa Romeo passenger car. He also agreed that the 15cwt vehicle could be retained and that no more transport need be loaned to No. 61 Embarkation Unit.
In the afternoon, F/Lt Walsh and F/Lt Pollard returned from Bari where they had successfully located the airmen’s kit and arranged for it to be brought back by the 3 tonner. The Unit’s officers were asked if any of them would take a Brick (or Beach Section as they were now to be known) to Sorrento. The general opinion was that the house was unsuitable in that the cooking facilities were inadequate, there was no water and the place was miles from anywhere. The C.O. agreed and did not feel that it was right to “put operational personnel out of reach of all entertainment”. The next day, S/Ldr Robertson saw G/Capt Culley and arranged that F/Lt Walsh would go to Sorrento and meet Air Vice Marshal Robb, who wanted the Rest Camp scheme to go ahead.
No. 5 R.A.F. Beach Unit
At the end of January 1944, the R.A.F. Beach Group of the Central Mediterranean Force, which consisted of a Headquarters and Nos. 81, 82 and 83 Bricks, was renamed No. 5 R.A.F. Beach Unit. Nos. 81, 82 and 83 Bricks became Nos. 109, 110 and 111 Beach Sections. The Unit was located in the Naples area, mostly at Bellavista, Portici and it was not, at that time, required for a beach landing operation.
On 2nd February 1944 F/Lt J. Walsh and F/Lt C.S. Vaughan, the officers of No. 110 R.A.F. Beach Section, went to Sorrento to prepare a scheme to set up the No. 3 Base Area Rest Camp that the Unit had been asked to run. The next day S/Ldr Robertson, Commanding Officer of No. 5 R.A.F. Beach Unit, visited Group Captain Hanson-Abbott of M.A.A.F. Movements at No. 61 R.A.F. Embarkation Unit, Naples. There was no new policy regarding the Beach Unit personnel and it was suggested that the Beach Unit help the Embarkation Unit. S/Ldr Robertson agreed. G/Capt Hanson-Abbott stated that, under no circumstances were personnel of the Beach Unit to be employed in the No. 3 Base Area Rest Camp at Sorrento.
On 4th February another visit to Bari was made to trace kit belonging to Beach Unit personnel. This time F/Lt N. Ovington of 109 Beach Section and F/Lt H.J. Searle M.B.E. of 111 Beach Section were the officers who made the trip. No. 5 R.A.F. Beach Unit Headquarters was inspected by Group Captain Hanson-Abbott.
S/Ldr Robertson spoke to S/Ldr Cook of M.A.T.A.F. on the telephone on 4th February. He was seeking confirmation that No. 5 Beach Unit would not be required to start the Rest Camp at Sorrento. F/Lt Walsh was told that he would not be required to go to Sorrento the following Monday.
On 8th February S/Ldr Robertson visited Headquarters M.A.T.A.F. and spoke to G/Capt Read about the employment of the Beach Sections. The next day, a letter was received from M.A.T.A.F. containing instructions for the detachment of two Beach Sections. One Section was to be loaned to No. 61 Embarkation Unit for embarkation duties and one Section to No. 3 Base Area for duties in connection with the R.A.F. Rest Camp at Sorrento. These sections were to remain under the operational and administrative control of No. 5 R.A.F. Beach Unit Headquarters. Accordingly, S/Ldr Robertson issued Operation Order No. 2 the next day.
On 10th February 1944, F/Lt J. Walsh with No. 110 R.A.F. Beach Section went to operate the Rest Camp at “Villa Angelina”, Massa Lubrense.
On 12th February, F/Lt H. Pollard with No. 109 R.A.F. Beach Section went to Castellammare to undertake embarkation duties for No. 61 R.A.F. Embarkation Unit at the ports of Torre Annunziata and Castellammare.
S/Ldr Robertson made visits to M.A.T.A.F. Headquarters on 13th and 27th February and on 4th March M.A.T.A.F. approved a Demand for the issue of eight Bren Guns to No. 5 R.A.F. Beach Unit for defence whilst on operations.
On 10th March 1944, No. 110 R.A.F. Beach Section moved out of the No. 3 Base Area Ground Crew Rest Camp at “Villa Angelina” and went to No. 2 Air Crew Rest Camp at Sorrento. The reason for this is unclear. It was understood to be a temporary move but no information about it was received by No. 5 R.A.F. Beach Unit Headquarters.
On 15th March S/Ldr Robertson visited the “P” Staff at M.A.T.A.F. Headquarters to discuss personnel problems.
On 17th March 1944 Vesuvius was in eruption, “but position not serious at the moment.” F/Lt Pollard, Officer Commanding No. 109 Beach Section and No.546876 LAC Salvidge were driving from Castellamare to No. 5 Beach Unit Headquarters at Portici in a Jeep when they were involved in an accident on the Autostrada at Torre del Greco. LAC Salvidge was killed and F/Lt Pollard was admitted to No. 1 General Hospital with multiple head injuries.
On 19th March the Commanding Officer, and officers and men of the Beach Sections attended the funeral of LAC Salvidge at the British Military cemetery at No 92 General Hospital, Naples. Six wreaths of flowers from officers and men of the Unit were laid at his grave (No. 18, Row ‘N’).
On 20th March, at Unit H.Q. in Portici, a Court of Enquiry was convened to inquire into the cause and circumstances of the accident that resulted in the death of LAC Salvidge and injuries to F/Lt Pollard. F/Lt Searle M.B.E. (of No. 111 Beach Section) was President of the Court of Inquiry, with F/Lt Walsh and F/Lt Vaughan (both of No. 110 Beach Section) as the other members.
S/Ldr Robertson visited M.A.T.A.F. Headquarters and also visited F/Lt Pollard in hospital. The eruption of Vesuvius had become more serious and No. 5 R.A.F. Beach Unit notified the D.A.P.M. that the Unit would provide help to evacuate villages, if needed. A Jeep was loaned to the D.A.P.M. to help with the extra work involved with the eruption.
On 21st March F/Lt C.S. Vaughan was appointed Officer Commanding No. 109 Beach Section, taking the place of F/Lt Pollard who was in hospital. Due to the eruption of Vesuvius, a Fire Guard was mounted to safeguard property and Unit equipment. A letter was received from No. 3 Base Area next day, setting out a scheme for fire fighting if fires were caused by the fall of ash and lava from Vesuvius.
S/Ldr Robertson was summoned to go to M.A.T.A.F. Headquarters for a meeting with G/Capt Read. At the meeting on 24th March 1944, S/Ldr Robertson received instructions about a new task for No. 5 Beach Unit that he subsequently set out in Operation Order No.3. The Unit was to move to Corsica to undertake embarkation and disembarkation duties under the direction of XII Air Service Command, U.S.A.A.C. He returned again to M.A.T.A.F. Headquarters the next morning and in the afternoon he visited No. 214 Group, R.A.F. and also XII Air Service Command where arrangements were discussed regarding the move of No. 5 R.A.F. Beach Unit.
S/Ldr Robertson was back at M.A.T.A.F. Headquarters in the morning of 26th March and was told by G/Capt Read that all shipping arrangements in connection with the movements of No. 5 R.A.F. Beach Unit would be made by XII A.S.C. S/Ldr Robertson saw Colonel Anderson at XII A.S.C. in the afternoon and shipping details for Unit personnel were arranged. It was decided that Nos 110 and 111 Beach Sections would be called forward to go to Corsica within the next three to five days and that No. 109 Beach Section would continue to assist No. 61 R.A.F. Embarkation Unit at Castellamare and Torre Annunciata and then follow on in about ten days time. S/Ldr Robertson was informed that whilst in Corsica he would receive instructions from Colonel Stinson and that the R.A.F. Beach Sections would probably be working in the ports of Ajaccio, Calvi and Bastia. No. 5 R.A.F. Beach Unit’s equipment was assembled at Unit Headquarters in accordance with Operation Order No. 3 and was divided into three equal amounts to be taken by the three Beach Sections. On 27th March S/Ldr Robertson issued Operation order No.4.
On 28th March 1944 “Villa Maria”, Bellavista was vacated by No. 111 Beach Section and handed over to No. 3 Base Area. S/Ldr Robertson visited F/Lt Pollard in No. 65 general Hospital. The personnel of Nos. 110 and 111 Beach Sections arrived at No. 5 R.A.F. Beach Unit Headquarters in Portici. Their vehicles were loaded with equipment and by midday they were ready to move off. At 3pm instructions were received from No. 61 Embarkation Unit for the personnel and vehicles of Nos. 110 and 111 Beach Sections to proceed for embarkation. By 8pm Nos. 110 and 111 Beach Sections were aboard L.S.T. A18 in the Port of Naples. Next morning S/Ldr Robertson joined Nos. 110 and 111 Beach Sections aboard L.S.T. A18 and the vessel sailed for Corsica.
F/Lt Pollard was discharged from No. 63 General Hospital on 29th March and was collected by car sent from No. 5 Beach Unit Headquarters.
On 30th March 1944, S/Ldr Robertson and Nos. 110 & 111 Beach Sections disembarked at Ajaccio, Corsica. Next day, S/Ldr Robertson went by road to Bastia and reported to W/Cdr Brocklesly of No.1 R.A.F. Base Area.
April 1944 – Taking Up Duties in Corsica
In Corsica, on the 1st April 1944, the Commanding Officer of No. 5 R.A.F. Beach Unit, S/Ldr Robertson, reported to Colonel Stinson of Corsica Air Sub Area (C.A.S.A) and discussed with him the use of the R.A.F. Beach Sections. It was agreed that they would work separately from the R.A.F. and, to begin with, Nos. 110 and 111 Beach Sections would work two ports.
The Headquarters of No. 5 R.A.F. Beach Unit would be in Bastia, to be near the Air Sub-Area Headquarters and S/Ldr Robertson would be co-operating with Major Robbins to run a movements, embarkation and disembarkation system in the island. No. 110 Beach Section would work at Bastia, No. 111 Beach Section would work at Ajaccio, and No. 109 Beach Section would be brought across from Italy within about ten days and would work at Calvi and Porto Vecchio.
S/Ldr Robertson returned to Ajaccio by the short route across the island and arrived there in the evening. He saw F/Lt Marks and arranged air passage for himself to Naples. F/Lt Searle M.B.E. would be left in charge of the advanced Sections of the Beach Unit. On 2nd April S/Ldr Robertson left Ajaccio at 10am and was in Sardinia for lunch. He travelled on to Naples, arriving at 16.45 and was collected by a car sent from No. 5 Beach Unit H.Q.
At Ajaccio, Nos. 110 and 111 Beach Sections were accommodated in a staging area. On 5th April, F/Lt Walsh with No. 110 Beach Section moved to Bastia for embarkation duties in the port there and F/Lt Searle M.B.E. with No. 111 Beach Section moved from the staging area to a permanent camping site in Ajaccio.
On 9th April, F/Lt Ovington with No. 109 Beach Section handed over their duties at Torre Annunciata and Castellammare to No. 61 R.A.F. Embarkation Unit and arrived at Unit Headquarters at Portici, Naples. Next day, all the remaining Unit equipment was sorted out ready for loading on to vehicles. F/Lt Vaughan, the officer commanding No. 109 Beach Section, visited XII Air Service Command and was informed that Unit Headquarters and No. 109 Beach Section would not be called forward for embarkation for a few days.
On 13th April, S/Ldr Robertson became ill and was confined to his bed. Three days later, after a visit from a Medical Officer, he was admitted to No. 1 General Hospital suffering from malaria. F/Lt Searle M.B.E. assumed command of No, 5 R.A.F. Beach Unit in his absence.
F/Lt Vaughan visited XII Air Service Command and No. 61 Embarkation Unit in the afternoon of 16th April. The next afternoon, go ahead for the move was received and loading of equipment onto vehicles was completed by 7pm. At 6am the next morning, the Unit Headquarters building “Villino Civitanova” was handed over to No. 3 Base Area and F/Lt Vaughan, F/Lt Ovington and F/Lt Pollard with Headquarters and No. 109 Beach Section went to the Transit Staging Area at Nissida, Naples. They were embarked on L.S.T. 141 at 11pm and at 5.30am on 19th April 1944, L.S.T. 141 sailed for Corsica.
No. 5 R.A.F. Beach Unit Headquarters and No. 109 Beach Section disembarked from L.S.T. 141 at Porto Vecchio, Corsica at around 11am on 20th April 1944 and were temporarily accommodated at the Transit Staging Area. F/Lt Vaughan, the officer commanding No. 109 Beach Section, went to Ajaccio to report to the No. 5 Beach Unit’s Commanding Officer, F/Lt H.J. Searle M.B.E. and obtain instructions.
F/Lt Vaughan stayed at Ajaccio for three days because F/Lt Searle went to Bastia to attend a conference at C.A.S.A. Headquarters. After his return on 23rd April, F/Lt Vaughan went back to Porto Vecchio. On 24th April, No. 5 R.A.F. Beach Unit Headquarters moved to Bastia and were accommodated with No. 110 Beach Section. F/Lt Pollard went to Ajaccio to take command of No. 111 Beach Section.
On 25th April No. 109 Beach Section moved from the Transit Staging Area to a permanent camping site on the main Bastia road approximately 2½ miles outside Porto Vecchio. F/Lt Searle travelled from Ajaccio to Bastia and, on 26th April, reported to Major Robbins at C.A.S.A. He arranged office accommodation in C.A.S.A. Headquarters for No. 5 R.A.F. Beach Unit Headquarters and began work the same day.
On the last day of April 1944, F/Lt Vaughan, officer commanding No. 109 R.A.F. Beach Section arrived at No. 5 R.A.F. Beach Unit Headquarters in Bastia, for a conference with the F/Lt Searle and returned to Porto Vecchio the next day
May and June 1944 – Embarkation Duties in Corsica
During the months of May and June 1944, the three Sections of No. 5 R.A.F. Beach Unit were engaged on embarkation duties in the Corsican ports, dealing with American Air Corps stores and personnel. No. 109 R.A.F. Beach Section was working at Porto Vecchio, No. 110 R.A.F. Beach Section was working at Bastia and No. 111 R.A.F. Beach Section was working at Ajaccio.
On 19th May, F/Lt Searle M.B.E., acting C.O. of No. 5 R.A.F. Beach Unit, visited Ajaccio to inspect No. 111 Beach Section, returning to Bastia on 22nd.May. Following his visit F/Lt. Ovington, who had been with No.109 Beach Section in Porto Vecchio, went to Ajaccio to take over command of No. 111 Beach Section from F/Lt H. Pollard. F/Lt Pollard was appointed to work as Adjutant at No. 5 R.A.F. Beach Unit Headquarters in Bastia, where he arrived on 24th May.
F/Lt Searle visited Porto Vecchio to inspect No.109 Beach Section on 31st May.
On 10th June, the Commanding Officer, S/Ldr T.G. Robinson was discharged from No. 25 M.F.H. and began seven days sick leave. He returned to duty on 17th June. As a result, F/Lt Searle resumed his position as officer i/c No. 111 R.A.F. Beach Section and F/Lt Ovington returned to duty with No. 109 Beach Section on 21st June.
July 1944 – Return to Italy – Preparing for an Operation
A signal was received from Mediterranean Allied Tactical Air Force (M.A.T.A.F.) on 27th June, instructing S/Ldr Robertson to go to M.A.T.A.F. Headquarters. He flew to Naples on the last day of June. S/Ldr Robertson, who was accompanied by LAC Handley, left Naples on 1st July and arrived in Rome at about 16.00hrs. He went to the R.A.F. Movements Office and they told him that M.A.T.A.F. Headquarters was at Bolsana. It was too far to go that night so S/Ldr Robertson rang up M.A.T.A.F. Headquarters and spoke to Group Captain Read.
Arriving at Bolsana at 11.30hrs on 2nd July, S/Ldr Robertson reported to Group Captain Read at M.A.T.A.F. Headquarters. S/Ldr Cook (Movements, M.A.T.A.F.) told him that an operation was being considered and gave him the details. S/Ldr Robertson was told that No. 5 R.A.F. Beach Unit would move to Naples at short notice, that a signal had been sent to the Unit and Corsica Air Sub Area to this effect, and that the Unit was to prepare for the three Beach Sections to work with the U.S. Army’s 40th Engineer Combat Regiment, 36th Engineer Combat Regiment and 540th Engineer Combat Regiment.
S/Ldr Robertson also learned that he would be working in liaison with a Major Ramsey at Beach Control Group Headquarters. As the Operation was primarily American, Major Ramsey would be in charge for operational purposes. S/Ldr Robertson would have to contact Major Ramsey in Naples.
S/Ldr Robertson obtained a movement order authorising him to return to Corsica to arrange the move of his Unit and he left Bolsana for Rome at 16.30hrs. Travelling on to Naples by road, he stayed the night at No. 3 B.P.D. and then was at Capodichino Airport, Naples at 9 o’clock the next morning to fly back to Corsica.
He landed at Borgo Airfield, near Bastia and arrived at No. 5 R.A.F. Beach Unit Headquarters in Bastia at 14.30hrs on 5th July. On arrival he found that F/Lt Pollard (the Adjutant) had already prepared the Unit to move and the Unit was to be at Porto Vecchio by midday on 6th July. S/Ldr Robertson told F/Lt Pollard that the Unit was to land at Civetevecchio and was to “proceed independently by Section.”
On 6th July 1944, at 07.00hrs, S/Ldr Robertson left Bastia with No. 110 Beach Section and went down the road to Port Vecchio. The C.O. was dropped off at Borgo Airfield where he caught a plane for Naples. Headquarters and Nos. 110 and 111 Beach sections joined No. 109 Beach Section at Porto Vecchio.
In Naples on 7th July, S/Ldr Robertson arranged that S/Ldr Penny, the Officer Commanding No. 3 B.P.D. would accept the arrival of No. 5 R.A.F. Beach Unit on or about the 11th July. At 10 a.m. he visited the Headquarters of XII Air Force Service Command in Naples but was unable to contact Major Ramsey. Back in Corsica, No. 5 R.A.F. Beach Unit embarked on L.S.T. 1010 at 13.00 hrs and sailed at 21.00hrs.
No. 5 R.A.F. Beach Unit disembarked at Civetevecchio at 09.00hrs on 8th July 1944 and travelled to Rome. Nos. 109 and 111 Beach sections bivouacked on the outskirts of Rome. Headquarters and No. 110 Beach Section obtained accommodation at No. 2 R.A.F. Base Area, Rome.
In Naples at 10 a.m., S/Ldr Robertson again went to XII A.F.S.C. He spoke to a Lieutenant Colonel of A4 Section who told him that Major Ramsey had been in earlier. An appointment was arranged and the next day, 9th July, S/Ldr Robertson was able to go to XII A.F.S.C. and make contact with Major Ramsey. Major Ramsey had called a meeting of all the American officers commanding sections and they were introduced to S/Ldr Robertson. General matters were discussed and the Sections of No. 5 R.A.F. Beach Unit were allocated as follows:
At 9 a.m. that morning, No. 5 R.A.F. Beach Unit Headquarters and the three Beach Sections had left Rome to go to Naples. Unit Headquarters travelled on Highway No. 7 and arrived at No. 3 B.P.D., Naples at approximately 21.00hrs. When F/Lt Searle arrived with No. 111 Beach Section, he was admitted to the Sick Quarters at No. 3 B.P.D. By Midday the next day all sections of the Unit were camped on a site alongside the Autostrada at Bellavista. F/Lt Pollard contacted Major Ramsey at Naples to find out where the Unit Headquarters office was to be located.
On 11th July, S/Ldr Robertson left Naples by road for M.A.T.A.F. Headquarters to see about the replacement of four almost unserviceable vehicles and to discuss ‘P’ matters with Group Captain Read. No.5 R.A.F. Beach Unit Headquarters moved into office accommodation with Beach Control Group in Naples. S/Ldr Robertson issued Operation Order No. 5 to the Unit.
On 12th July, F/Lt Walsh, the officer i/c No. 110 Beach Section, went to find the 40th Engineer Combat Regiment at their campsite on the Plain of Salerno, about ten kilometres from Battapaglia, and report to Major Hardison. Arrangements were made for the Section to join the Regiment there the next day.
No. 109 Beach Section would be joining the 540th Engineer Combat Regiment which was also located somewhere in “The Invasion Training Centre” area near Salerno. F/Lt Ovington would be reporting to Captain Herbert.
When S/Ldr Robertson arrived at M.A.T.A.F. Headquarters he found that Group Captain Read was away. However, arrangements were made by Equipment Branch, in direct contact with S.B.U. No. 214 Group, to replace the unserviceable vehicles. Telephone sets were considered and it was decided that they would be approved for issue if S/Ldr Cook (Plans) agreed.
On 13th July, Nos. 109 and 110 Beach Sections went to join 540th and 40th Engineer Combat Regiments. They were “soon comfortably accommodated and became familiar with their American comrades.” It was reported that, “All personnel were impressed by the hygienic conveniences and good food.”
S/Ldr Robertson returned to Bellavista from M.A.T.A.F. Headquarters on 14th July. On the 15th July, No. 111 Beach Section joined the 36th Engineer Combat Regiment at Pozzuli and No. 5 R.A.F. Beach Unit Headquarters personnel moved into Naples to live near Headquarters.
On 17th July a Thorneycroft vehicle (RAF 19285) was transferred from No. 110 Beach Section to No. 111 Beach Section and F/Lt Walsh and two drivers went to Headquarters to collect new vehicles allotted to No. 110 Beach Section. (These were Bedford 3 ton vehicles Nos. RAF 6608 and RAF 19086.)
On 18th July F/Lt N.A. Ovington assumed command of No. 111 Beach Section in the absence of F/Lt H.J. Searle who was in hospital. Nos. 109 and 110 Beach Sections moved the next day, with Nos. 540th and 40th Engineer Combat Regiments, to an assembly area approximately five miles north of Qualiano.
S/Ldr Robertson went to M.A.A.F. Headquarters on 20th July to see the P.2 Staff Officer about the posting of officers to complete the Unit establishment and to amend the establishment to include a Flying Officer, Admin. He was unable to see the P.2 but he was able to obtain the agreement of Establishments on the latter point.
On 21st July, “An instruction to cover the handling and procedure of personnel over the beaches was considered and a pro-forma prepared.”
F/Lt Searle was discharged from hospital on 22nd July and resumed command of No. 111 Beach Section. F/Lt Ovington returned to No. 109 Beach Section. S/Ldr Robertson went back to M.A.A.F. and this time was able to see the P.2 Staff Officer, who promised the officer replacements.
S/Ldr Robertson called a conference of all the R.A.F. Officers on 23rd July, to discuss the question of handling personnel and the use of the pro-forma. The proposed system was agreed. Other, general, Unit matters were considered. Major Ramsey had been invited but did not arrive.
On 24th July 1944 No. 111 R.A.F. Beach Section took part in a Beach landing Exercise with the 3rd U.S. Infantry Division. This was reported as follows: “The object of the exercise was to prepare personnel for their individual work in the landing preparation of beaches, assembly areas and stores dumps. The exercise was carried out on dry land, troops being assembled in squads to represent L.C.T’s and L.C.I’s. Explosive signals were used to mark the commencement of the exercise. It was noticed that only the R.A.F. Beach Section personnel moved over and off the beaches in ‘Double Time’. This was remarked upon by the senior officers carrying out the duties of Umpires. The exercise was considered to be satisfactory.”
A draft of the instructions relating to the prepared pro-forma and the handling of personnel was handed to Major Ramsey for inclusion in his Operational Instructions to Air Force Beach section Commanders on 25th July.
On 27th July, the telephone sets arrived and Sergeant Barlow was instructed to become acquainted with their use. Major Ramsey mentioned to S/Ldr Robertson that he wished to issue all orders to sections himself. S/Ldr Robertson, “pointed out to Major Ramsey that he was still Commanding Officer of No. 5 Beach Unit and that Major Ramsey had only operational control.” The draft of Instructions as to the Landing of Personnel and Mechanical Transport was handed to Major Ramsey for inclusion in his Administrative Orders.
On 28th July, S/Ldr Harbrecht was asked about the return required by the Director of Movements and Supplies in respect of Air Force Stores landing. It was decided to close the Unit office at midday on 30th July, except for immediate needs. Administrative Instruction No. 5 was issued in respect of Unit matters on the forthcoming operation and F/O J.R.H. Wilson arrived on posting from No. 16 Supply and Transport Column to fill a vacancy in No. 110 Beach Section.
The Unit Headquarters office was preparing to close on 30th July. LAC Handley was told to pack the Headquarters Jeep because it was required for waterproofing at ‘Dallas’ No. 4 Assembly Area by 08.15hrs on 31st July from where it would be loaded aboard ship. The office machinery was packed and the office closed. There was concern about the difficulty the Unit was having in obtaining authority for the promotion of Corporals to fill vacancies for Sergeants. Permission was requested for Unit personnel to wear the Combined Operations Badge.
The Beach Group Control Adjutant advised that the loading of the Jeep had been put back 24 hours. It was loaded by 19.00 hours on 31st July and the driver, LAC Handley, was briefed.
No. 111 Beach Section joined in Exercise “SHAMROCK” with the 3rd U.S. Division. The Exercise lasted three days. Beaches had been prepared at Formia (between Naples and Rome), to represent, as near as possible, the ALPHA assault beaches in the planned Operation “ANVIL” (soon to be renamed Operation “DRAGOON”). “The Officer Commanding 3rd Division U.S. Army commented on the exercise and expressed complete satisfaction.”
August 1944 – The Invasion of Southern France
As the month of August 1944 began No. 5 R.A.F. Beach Unit was continuing with preparations for the coming operation.
On 2nd August, F/Lt H.J. Searle M.B.E., the Officer i/c No. 111 Beach Section, attended a meeting of all 3rd U.S. Division officers that was addressed by Major General Truscott, Officer Commanding 6th U.S. Corps.
On the morning of the 4th August the Unit headquarters 15cwt van and wireless van were loaded up and taken by drivers, LAC McMillan and AC Brown to Company A, 84th Camouflage Battalion, ready for embarkation. Two days later, Headquarters staff, Sergeant Drinkwater, Sergeant Barlow and Aircraftman Wilson followed them.
On 5th August the Adjutant, F/Lt Pollard visited each of the Beach Sections to see if they had any problems with which Unit Headquarters could help. The officers in charge of the Beach Sections were all satisfied that everything was running smoothly.
All vehicles and equipment of No. 109 Beach Section was sent forward for loading on 6th August and the airmen were confined to camp awaiting orders for embarkation.
On 7th August, S/Ldr Robertson and F/Lt Pollard attended a conference of Beach Control Group officers at 7th Army Headquarters. Colonel Eller, Officer Commanding Beach Control Group gave information on the special duties assigned to various senior officers on disembarkation.
In the afternoon, S/Ldr Robertson visited the Beach Sections and found that Nos.109 and 111 Beach sections “had neglected the firing of arms.” He arranged for the officers in charge of the Beach Sections to forward a return on R.A.F. ammunition direct to M.A.A.F Headquarters and 202 Group for the first three days after landing “and then onwards to Headquarters, No. 5 Beach Unit as directed by 7th Army.”
Embarkation of No. 111 R.A.F. Beach Section took place at Salem, Naples over three days from 7th to 9th August.
Headquarters personnel of No. 5 R.A.F. Beach Unit embarked on S.S. “Dunera” on 8th August. Sgt. Drinkwater, Sgt. Barlow and AC Wilson boarded at 3pm. S/Ldr Robertson and F/Lt Pollard went to the Senior Officers Club in Naples at 9pm. From there, transport took all the officers to the docks where they embarked on S.S. “Dunera”.
“Quarters were comfortable, the food was good and everyone settled down to a few days rest prior to the task in hand.”
There had been no reply from M.A.T.A.F. Headquarters about the N.C.O. promotions prior to embarkation.
On 9th August, S.S. “Dunera” moved to a point off Castellamare and there was a lifeboat drill.
No. 109 Beach Section moved to the Dallas concentration area early on 10th August, to await embarkation. At 10am the Section moved to Nisida Beach, Naples and they embarked on L.S.T. 1012 at 10pm, in darkness. Next day, the L.S.T. moved to Castellamare and at 3.15 in the afternoon of 12th August it sailed off in a convoy of about thirty L.S.T’s.
Also on 12th August, personnel of No. 110 Beach Section embarked on S.S. “Dilwara”.
No. 111 Beach Section was already en route at this time having been at sea since 10th August.
A meeting of Beach Control Group officers was held on 13th August, on board S.S. “Dunera”. This was to “acquaint all officers with details of disembarkation.” A disembarkation drill was carried out in the afternoon and then the S.S. “Dunera” sailed in convoy. The next morning, S/Ldr Robertson, Major Ramsey (the Air Corps Liaison Officer) and F/Lt Pollard met to discuss the details of the work returns that were required and general organisation. There was another disembarkation drill at 10am. The coast of Corsica was visible throughout the day and the journey was uneventful. There was no enemy action and no aircraft were seen.
D-Day, 15th August 1944
No. 5 R.A.F. Beach Unit Headquarters were unable to land on D-Day
“The dawn was cloudy and at daybreak the decks were crowded with troops awaiting the bombardment which was to herald the invasion of Southern France. Although rumblings could be heard in the distance the haze over the coast prevented any view from being successful.
Aboard S.S. “Dunera” preparations were made for disembarkation at short notice, but we stood off ashore all day awaiting orders. As darkness fell all hope of landing on “D” Day was given up. “
However, No. 109 R.A.F. Beach Section, No. 110 R.A.F. Beach Section and No. 111 R.A.F. Beach Section successfully made their landings, respectively, in the CAMEL, DELTA and ALPHA beach areas
D + 1, 16th August 1944
The personnel of No. 5 R.A.F. Beach Unit Headquarters from S.S. “Dunera” were landed by assault craft over ALPHA Yellow Beach. There was no enemy interference and no casualties. They went to the Assembly Area to wait for transport to St. Maxime where Beach Control Group Headquarters were to establish themselves.
F/Lt Pollard went to ALPHA Red Beach to find F/Lt Searle of No. 111 Beach Section, because the officers of No. 324 R.A.F. Wing were having difficulty obtaining information and rations. It was found that the transport of No. 111 Beach Section, though not due to be landed until D + 10, had already arrived over ALPHA Yellow Beach, together with a Jeep belonging to No. 110 Beach Section. In spite of the need for transport, the American Officer there was doing nothing about it. S/Ldr Robertson took possession of No. 110 Beach Section’s Jeep.
At 6pm, S/Ldr Robertson, F/Lt Pollard and S/Ldr Swale of No. 125 A.A.P., who had just joined Headquarters, went to the airstrip at Ramatuelle and they were assured that it would be ready by midday on D + 3. They then went to ALPHA Red Beach to make sure that arrangements were made for P.O.L. and ammunition to be handled quickly upon arrival. None had been unloaded so far. The three officers stayed the night at the Command Post on Yellow Beach, as the journey back had been interrupted by an air raid and the smoke screen laid by naval craft made travelling unsafe.
D + 2, 17th August 1944
S/Ldr Robertson and F/Lt Pollard went to the Beach Control Group Headquarters, near St. Maxime, visiting F/Lt Walsh at No. 110 Beach Section on the way. The Unit Headquarters staff moved to the Beach Control Group Headquarters and set up office there.
S/Ldr Robertson and S/Ldr Swale of No. 125 A.A.P. made a reconnaissance to select a site for S/Ldr Swale’s unit.
S/Ldr Robertson visited No. 109 R.A.F. Beach Section but was delayed on the way by a blown bridge which had a blown-up 15cwt vehicle nearby.
D + 3, 18th August 1944
The Commanding Officer’s Jeep came ashore and was despatched to Unit Headquarters. Having, earlier, returned F/Lt Walsh’s Jeep, S/Ldr Robertson was at that time using No. 111 Beach Section’s Jeep.
S/Ldr Waller of 135 A.S.P. and S/Ldr Moffatt of M.A.T.A.F visited S/Ldr Robertson and S/Ldr Swale of No. 125 A.A.P. left No. 5 Beach Unit Headquarters to set up camp near Ramatuelle.
More beaches were opened at 262 South and the port of St. Tropez. A sub-section of No. 110 Beach Section was established at St. Tropez to work on the new beaches.
The disembarkation of Air Force units was proceeding but Headquarters were not receiving disembarkation lists.
D + 4, 19th August 1944
S/Ldr Robertson visited the ALPHA beach area and found the organisation working smoothly. In the evening, a meeting of Beach Control Group Officers was held to discuss the day’s happenings. This meeting was to become a daily occurrence.
Maps placed on the office wall at No. 109 Beach Section Headquarters provided invaluable information for the units landing.
A private telephone line was laid to No. 135 A.S.P. and No. 110 Beach Section by Beach Unit personnel.
Units were disembarking in small parties and scattered over various beaches. Contrary to instructions, units with known destinations were going directly to them.
D + 5, 20th August 1944
S/Ldr Robertson and F/Lt Pollard visited the CAMEL beach area. They met W/Cdr Dale of 202 Group, who complained about not being met on the beach. This was due to the fact that, officially, that beach was closed. S/Ldr Robertson mentioned the unsatisfactory situation regarding promotions within the Unit and W/Cdr Dale promised to take action.
The Unit received information that 324 Wing would be using Spitfires that required .50 ammunition.
D + 6, 21st August 1944
The wireless van and 15cwt vehicle of Unit Headquarters arrived.
CAMEL Red Beach (No. 109 Beach Section area) was now fully open and working at full strength although many mines were still being encountered in the vicinity.
F/Lt Walsh, officer i/c No. 110 Beach Section, wasn’t happy with the cooperation he was receiving from Major Hardison of U.S. Army Air Corps.
Priority was being given to the disembarkation of French troops, vehicles and stores.
D + 7, 22nd August 1944
S/Ldr Robertson visited 202 Group for a discussion with W/Cdr Dale, “who appeared to consider the Beach Section at fault in that they failed to check in all units”. S/Ldr Robertson pointed out to W/Cdr Dale that No. 5 Beach Unit was working under the operational command of A.A.F. Officers and that, although they made every effort to ensure all R.A.F. units were properly looked after, he agreed that, owing to lack of accurate information from American Officers concerned with individual beaches, certain units had been missed. W/Cdr Dale also made a criticism about lack of signposting. This was thought to be due to the A.A.F. signs being “A.C. Ass. Area” etc. – “A.C.” being the abbreviation for Air Corps. Action was taken immediately to have the signs changed.
S/Ldr Robertson then went from 202 Group to 324 Wing. He wanted to locate the A.P.O. that W/Cdr Dale had reported was moved from 322 Wing at Frejus but he was unsuccessful. He then went to the ALPHA beaches.
The Unit received information from 202 Group that 125 A.A.F. would be landing that day and that urgently needed long range tanks would be coming in on the 23rd or 24th August.
S/Ldr Robertson spoke to Major Ramsey about his concern that Major Ramsey was not giving him the necessary information. As an example, he had received from other sources the information that all ships and craft from Corsica were landing at the CAMEL beaches.
To add to the problems, it was found that DUKWs were being loaded with some Air Corps supplies which were then overlaid with other supplies so that Air Corps supplies were finding their way to other dumps.
23rd to 30th of August 1944 (D+8 to D+15)
S/Ldr Robertson visited the CAMEL beach area on 23rd August and spoke to F/Lt Vaughan. He pointed out the necessity of checking all the beaches, difficult as it was, due to the lack of information or wrong information being received from naval sources. They also discussed the question of providing full signposting with uniformity of colour. S/Ldr Robertson also visited the ALPHA beaches.
On 24th August, DELTA Yellow and DELTA Blue beaches were in the process of being closed. S/Ldr Cook (T.A.F. Movements) arrived and reported to Headquarters at Beach Control Group. S/Ldr Robertson visited 202 Group.
General Thomas of XII A.F.S.C. visited Beach Control Group and congratulated No. 5 R.A.F. Beach Unit on its “splendid” work in Corsica. [A Commendation for No. 5 R.A.F. Beach Unit was received a few days later from Corsica Air Sub Area (XII A.F.S.C.)]
S/Ldr Robertson and Major Ramsey visited airfields at Le Luc and Cuers on 25th August.
On 26th August, S/Ldr Robertson visited the CAMEL area and had further discussion with F/Lt Vaughan, officer i/c No. 109 Beach Section, about beach signs.
Now there were more Air Force personnel arriving than previously. Beach Unit vehicles were getting a lot of punctures due to debris and shrapnel on the ground.
Group Captain F.C. Read, Commanding Officer 202 Group disembarked in the DELTA beach area on 27th August and was met by S/Ldr Robertson and F/Lt Pollard.
On 28th August, S/Ldr Robertson visited 109 Beach Section in the CAMEL beach area. Later, he arranged for the air passage to Italy of two airmen from No. 5 Beach Unit. Notice had been received that 650076 LAC Bell and 1178847 LAC Crook were posted to No. 3 B.P.D pending return to the U.K. because their overseas tour had expired. The two men flew out that evening.
As the end of the August came, the Unit mail was arriving in good time, much to everyone’s satisfaction and there was a noticeable slackening of beach work, “due no doubt to the fact that most of the personnel and supplies have arrived.”
September 1944 – Winding Down
On 1st September, the three Beach sections of No. 5 R.A.F. Beach Unit were working on their respective beaches. Two 3 ton vehicles belonging to No. 111 Beach Section were used to carry petrol and oil from the dump to airfields at Ramatuelle and Le Luc.
© IWM (CL 997)
Operation DRAGOON: the Allied invasion of southern France
Supermarine Spitfire Mark VIIIs and IXs of No. 43 Squadron RAF parked at dispersal points on Ramatuelle landing ground.
(Picture by RAF official photographer F/O L H Abbott)
S/Ldr Robertson visited No. 202 Group for a conversation with W/Cdr Dale on general matters. He went back to 202 Group HQ again on 4th September to see Group Captain Read but he was not there. S/Ldr Harbrecht told him that the D.A.O.C., M.A.A.F. would be visiting 202 Group on 5th September. An appointment was made for S/Ldr Robertson to see G/Capt. Read on 7th September “with a view to ascertaining the future policy with regard to No. 5 Beach Unit upon completion of the Operation in France.”
Five men from No. 111 Beach Section were attached to No. 110 Beach Section for duty at St. Tropez.
On 5th September, two 3 ton vehicles with drivers were loaned to No. 135 A.S.P. for carrying stores to Marseilles at the request of the C.O. of that unit, S/Ldr. Waller.
F/Lt Searle M.B.E. was admitted to U.S. 638th Clearing Station and then transferred to No. 25 M.F.H. F/Lt Ovington from No. 109 Beach Section took over command of No. 111 Beach Section in his absence.
On 6th September, W/Cdr Dale of 202 Group spoke to S/Ldr Robertson about the loan of three 3 ton vehicles for the collection of rations for Marseilles from D.I.D. and then S/Ldr Symes of 202 Group phoned to ask S/Ldr Robertson if he would arrange with 7th Army to have L.S.T.s from Corsica diverted from the CAMEL beaches to Marseilles. S/Ldr Robertson agreed to assist and arranged to have a watch kept for the L.S.T.s.
7th September was the date arranged for S/Ldr Robertson’s meeting with G/Capt. Read. S/Ldr Robertson spoke to G/Capt Read on the telephone. The Group Captain told him he had no news and suggested that S/Ldr Robertson visited 202 Group HQ in a few days time.
At the CAMEL beaches priority was given to loading forward supplies by train. Group Captain Read asked for two despatch riders and 1245165 LAC Wilson and 1796096 AC1 Abernethy were sent (on 135 A.S.P. transport). S/Ldr Robertson phoned W/Cdr Dale about the loan of the three 3 ton vehicles for D.I.D. ration collection and agreed to provide the vehicles on 9th September if the two loaned to 135 A.S.P. were back from Marseilles.
On 8th September, Major Ramsey informed the Unit that the L.S.T. with the belly tanks was at the CAMEL beaches and arrangements were made with Major McConnell of Beach Control Group for the L.S.T. to be diverted to Port Le Bon. The next day, S/Ldr Robertson visited 202 Group. G/Capt Read was not there but W/Cdr Dale said there was no further news about No. 5 Beach Unit’s future. S/Ldr Simpson said that only two Corporals could be promoted to fill vacancies for Sergeants in the Unit establishment. S/Ldr Symes (S.E.O.) requested that every endeavour be made to ship the Spitfire belly tanks and ammunition to Marseilles directly, to conserve transport.
The two 3 ton vehicles loaned to 135 A.S.P. returned that day and next day, 10th September, the three 3 tonners promised were loaned to the British Increment at the ration dump in St. Raphael and went off to carry rations to Lyons. The two 3 tonners of No. 110 Beach Section that were scheduled to arrive on D+ 5 finally turned up. (It was now D+25!).
Colonel Peters of XII A.F.S.C. asked for 500 gallons SAE 30, 500 gallons SAE 90 and 10,000 gallons diesel oil to be moved from ALPHA beach to St. Raphael airfield and S/Ldr Robertson arranged for two Unit vehicles to run a shuttle service. W/Cdr Cowlrick of M.A.A.F. Field Intelligence Unit wanted three 3 tonners to move captured German equipment to Marseilles for shipment to the U.K. S/Ldr Robertson promised to contact the shipping authorities with a view to arranging shipment from the beaches.
The U.S. 540th Engineers stopped work on CAMEL beach and handed over to the 6th Port Battalion. CAMEL beach was still being worked because the D+25 convoy arrived at CAMEL instead of Marseilles.
On 11th September, S/Ldr Robertson spoke to Major McConnell of Beach Control Group about W/Cdr Cowlrick’s captured German equipment and it was loaded over DELTA beach on 12th September.
By 13th September the beaches had become very quiet and No. 5 R.A.F. Beach Unit was involved only in routine matters. The vehicles and drivers loaned to the British Increment at the St. Raphael ration dump returned to the Unit on 14th September.
On 17th September S/Ldr Robertson visited No. 111 R.A.F. Beach Section at the Hotel Coste, St. Tropez. They had just moved there following the closure of ALPHA beach.
On 20th September information was received from 202 Group that, as soon as all R.A.F. supplies had been cleared from the various beach dumps, No. 5 R.A.F. Beach Unit was to proceed to a concentration area at Salon de Provence to await withdrawal from France.
S/Ldr Robertson visited 202 Group on 23rd September. F/Lt Pollard attended a meeting of special staff of Beach Control Group. Beach Control Group was going to move to St. Raphael but No. 5 R.A.F. Beach Unit had now finished work on the beaches and were free to go. Major Ramsey, the Air Liaison officer with whom H.Q. No. 5 Beach Unit had been working, left that day. S/Ldr Robertson issued Operation Order No. 7 to the Unit.
The Headquarters staff of No. 5 Beach Unit moved in with No. 110 Beach Section at their billet in St. Maxime on 24th September. All the Beach Sections inspected their tentage and equipment in preparation for camping in the concentration area and F/Lt Ovington went to Salon de Provence to find a camping site within the concentration area. F/Lt Vaughan, with No. 109 Beach Section, set up camp in the concentration area on 26th September and F/Lt Ovington, with No.111 Beach Section, joined them on 27th September.
S/Ldr Robertson visited 202 Group and was told there was a possibility of some Unit personnel remaining in France to look after houses for M.A.A.F. A considerable number of escaped prisoners of war, both Army and R.A.F. were reporting to No. 5 Beach Unit Headquarters in St. Maxime. They were directed to the Repatriation Centre.
On 29th September, four 10 ton vehicles from 125 M.U. reported at St. Maxime to clear stores from beach dumps and on the last day of the month, a Commendation was received from Headquarters, XII A.F.S.C. for the work done by No. 5 R.A.F. Beach Unit in the Invasion of Southern France
October 1944 – Return to Italy - Disbandment
On the morning of 4th October, F/Lt Walsh and F/O Wilson, with No. 110 Beach Section joined Nos. 109 and 111 Beach Sections at the concentration area camping site. S/Ldr Robertson went to 202 Group and was told to move to Marseilles the next day. He also received instructions from W/Cdr Dale that No. 5 Beach Unit would be returning to Italy, except for some personnel who could be further employed and who would be attached to No. 90 Embarkation Unit pending posting. There was some confusion over the move to Marseilles because a message was received from W/Cdr Tipper, C.O. of No. 90 Embarkation Unit on 5th October, saying that the move was to take place on 6th October. At 5pm on 6th October, No. 5 Beach Unit Headquarters moved into a house in Marseilles. An hour later No. 110 Beach Section arrived at the house and moved in. The C.O. and F/Lt Pollard visited W/Cdr Tipper at the Embarkation Unit and were given a list of requirements for personnel to stay for duty in Marseilles. F/Lt Pollard, F/O Wilson and 28 airmen were required.
The weather during this period was very bad with rain almost every day. S/Ldr Robertson saw G/Capt Read of 202 Group on 7th October and was told that the party returning to Italy could go that day. Nos. 109 and 111 Beach Sections were just moving in to the house already occupied by HQ and No. 110 Beach Section. S/Ldr Robertson, together with the officers and men returning to Italy then moved out into another house a short distance away.
The next day, all equipment was sorted and vehicles loaded for the personnel returning to Italy. Tentage, guns and a minimum of domestic equipment was loaded for the return to Italy. The remainder of Unit equipment, together with two 3 ton vehicles, one 15cwt vehicle and two motor cycles was left with F/Lt Pollard.
On 9th October, S/Ldr Robertson and the personnel returning to Italy went to the Marseilles docks and embarked on L.S.T. 461 bound for Naples. They sailed, in convoy, the next day. The weather was good and, after a pleasant voyage they docked at Leghorn at 5pm on 13th October. On 14th October they sailed in convoy down the coast of Italy to Naples. At 3pm on 15th October they disembarked at Nisida beach and went to the R.A.F. area at Bellavista. S/Ldr Robertson and F/Lt Vaughan left before the convoy of vehicles and went to 214 Group and then to No. 3 B.P.D., making arrangements for the Unit to camp on a site alongside the Autostrada.
When they arrived at Bellavista, F/Lt Searle M.B.E. was waiting to rejoin the Unit, having been evacuated from 25 M.F.H. in France to No. 1 R.A.F. General Hospital and then discharged the day before the Unit’s arrival. At about 6.30pm the vehicles were offloaded and tents erected.
Next day, 16th October, S/Ldr Robertson went to 214 Group and spoke with S/Ldr Pescallo, S/Ldr Melvile, S/Ldr Henry and W/Cdr Pratt about the disbandment of No. 5 Beach Unit. He contacted M.A.A.F. on 17th October and spoke to S/Ldr Molloy about the Unit officers, then at B.P.O. he spoke to F/Lt Clarke about the airmen’s postings. After some difficulty he located 202 Group on 18th October and obtained G/Capt Read’s sanction to camping alongside the Autostrada. Finally, on 19th October, he spoke to S/Ldr Molloy on the telephone. No further information was available but he was told to ring up at intervals for information.
On 20th October, the Unit found an old cooking range in a field near to the camp site. This was made serviceable and greatly improved the Unit’s difficulties with cooking.
The C.O. visited 202 Group on 21st October and spoke to G/Capt Read. Later, he spoke to S/Ldr Molloy again and was told that F/Lt Searle M.B.E. was posted and that instructions were on the way.
The weather was bad, with continual rain and “all tents on the camp were entrenched to prevent flooding.”
S/Ldr Robertson kept in touch with S/Ldr Molloy by telephone and normal routine matters were dealt with prior to final disbandment of the No. 5 R.A.F. Beach Unit at the end of October 1944.
Main source used for this page:
Operations Record Book of No. 5 RAF Beach Unit - found in, ‘Air Ministry and Ministry of Defence: Operations Record Books, Miscellaneous Units’ AIR 29/438 at The National Archives.
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