Purpose & Organisation

In September 1942, the position on R.A.F. involvement in landing operations was set out in Combined Operations Pamphlet No. 2 “Beach Organisation and Maintenance”

The disembarkation of R.A.F. personnel, M.T. and stores is carried out by the Army.
Where necessary, Royal Air Force Landing Officers (R.A.F.L.O.) will be appointed to assist in the landing and clearance of R.A.F. personnel and material.

These instructions also stated, that an ”R.A.F. Stores Detachment” could be attached to a Beach Group if required. This would be: ”One detachment of approximately one officer and three O.R.s provided when necessary per brigade front.

Following the North African landings in November 1942 (Operation “TORCH”) it was thought that the landing of R.A.F. personnel and material would benefit from greater R.A.F. involvement in the beach organisation. Early In 1943 it was decided that new R.A.F. units should be formed specifically for that purpose, and the first were formed in May 1943.

Under the auspices of Combined Operations new beach groups were being established in the Middle East, the U.K and elsewhere.

In the Middle East the new beach groups were named ‘Beach Brick’ and the R.A.F. unit formed to work with a Beach Brick was known as a ‘Beach Brick, R.A.F. Component’.

In the U.K. the new beach groups were named ‘Beach Group’ and the R.A.F. unit attached was designated as an ‘R.A.F. Beach Unit’.

Additionally, R.A.F. beach units were formed in North Africa for attachment to the U.S. Combat Engineer units that were used in U.S. beach organisation. The North African R.A.F. beach units were named ‘Auxiliary Embarkation Units’.

Meanwhile, in India, R.A.F. Beach Parties were formed and were soon reconstituted as small Beach Units.

By the summer of 1943, the plan was that R.A.F. Beach Unit organisation in the U.K. should match that of the Army’s beach organisation and a document was issued that set out the thinking on the purpose and new organisation of R.A.F. Beach Units.[1]

The Purpose of R.A.F. Beach Units

R.A.F. Beach Units were intended to provide a Royal Air Force element in the Army Beach Sub-Area organisation for service in overseas operations which involved the landing of R.A.F. personnel, equipment and stores over beaches.

The Army organisation in a Beach Sub-Area was devised primarily for the following functions:-

  • To control the landing of personnel, vehicles and stores, their assembly on shore and despatch to forward areas.
  • To establish small dumps of supplies and stores.
  • To provide labour, traffic control and provost services.
  • To salvage and repair ‘drowned vehicles.

These services were provided by the Army for both Army and R.A.F. personnel and stores but it was now agreed that an R.A.F. element in each of the relevant sections was necessary to:-

  • Supply the specialised technical knowledge not possessed by Army personnel concerning R.A.F. equipment and stores.
  • Ensure the expeditious sorting, assembly and forwarding of equipment, stores and vehicles peculiar to the R.A.F.

The work of the R.A.F. Beach Units was, therefore, to supplement the work of the appropriate Army sections.

The R.A.F. Beach Units were to be formed in parallel with the formation of Army Beach Sub Area H.Qs. and Beach Groups. They were to train with and be despatched overseas with the Beach Groups to which they were attached.

The Organisation and Equipment of R.A.F. Beach Units

After August 1943 an R.A.F. Beach Unit in the U.K. was to consist of one Beach Unit H.Q. and two Beach Sections. The R.A.F. Beach Unit was to be under the command of the R.A.F. Officer Commanding the Beach Unit for discipline and administration but the Unit was to be under the operational command of the Army Commander of the Beach Sub-Area.

The personnel of the Beach Units were to be provided as far as possible from volunteers and because of the arduous duties of the Beach Unit they had to be of a strong physique and meet the standards of fitness required for all R.A.F. units undergoing combined training.

70% of the personnel of a Beach Unit were to be armed with sub-machine guns and 30% with rifles. Their weapons were to be of the same type as used by the Army. They received their training with the Army Beach Groups of which they were to be a part and were kitted out for training by the Army Unit which was to carry out the special training. The Units were to receive additional training in the recognition and neutralisation of mines and booby-traps.

From August 1943, the establishment of an R.A.F. Beach Unit in the U.K. was expected to be 11 officers and 75 airmen; the Unit H.Q. consisting of 1 officer and 3 airmen and each Beach Section having 5 officers and 36 airmen. In each Beach Section there was to be a H.Q. of 1 officer and 3 airmen and then 1 officer and 3 airmen responsible for petrol, 1 officer and 7 airmen for equipment, 1 officer and 3 airmen for explosives, 1 officer and 17 airmen for vehicle repair, and 3 R.A.F. policemen.

When No. 1 R.A.F. Beach Unit was formed on 1st September 1943 its establishment was officially set at 14 Officers and 84 Other Ranks. The organisation of the Beach Sections was more or less settled now but the Beach Unit Headquarters was to be given more personnel.

In January 1944 Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Air Force came up with a plan for Beach Unit communications. Each Beach Unit would have one Collins 18Q radio for communication between Beach Units and with R.A.F. H.Q.s in the U.K. and ashore, and a number of Army Type 46 waterproof, one man R/T sets for internal communications within the Beach Unit. The Beach Unit Headquarters would have the following signals personnel added:

1 Flying Officer (Signals Officer)
3 Sergeants (Admin. Codes & Cyphers)
1 Corporal & 1 Aircraftman (Wireless Operators) for traffic duties
3 Aircraftmen (Wireless Operators)
1 Flight Sergeant (Wireless Operator/Mechanic)
1 Aircraftman (Wireless Operator/Mechanic)
1 Aircraftman (Aircrafthand General Duties)

In practice, the Corporal and one Aircraftman for traffic duties were not included and later, a fourth Code & Cypher Sergeant was added.

In addition to the signals section of 10 men, another 4 airmen and one Corporal Clerk/Pay Accounting were added to the Beach Unit Headquarters complement.

The final establishment for each Beach Unit in 2nd Tactical Air Force was therefore, 114 men. There were 15 officers and 99 other ranks. Beach Unit Headquarters had 3 officers and 21 other ranks. Each Beach Section had 6 officers and 39 other ranks.

Closer to D-Day in Normandy, the Beach Units were renamed Beach Squadrons and their Beach Sections were renamed Beach Flights. However, due to most of the planning already having been completed, much of the paperwork, including the landing tables, still identified them as RAF Beach Units and RAF Beach Sections.

[1] Appendix “A” to L.M. 1164/A.D.O.1. dated 17th August 1943, found in ALLIED EXPEDITIONARY AIR FORCE: R.A.F. Beach units: administration and organisation, Ref. AIR 37/99, at The National Archives.