W/Cdr. Rowland George DSO, OBE

Air Ministry, 26th May, 1944.

The KlNG has been graciously pleased to approve the following award:-

Distinguished Service Order.

Acting Wing Commander Rowland David George, O.B.E. (75777), Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve.

Wing Commander George, the senior movements staff officer, was responsible for the smooth and efficient working of the supply system from the beaches to the airfields during the assault landings at Salerno. He landed with the first assault troops on the beaches in the early morning of 10th September 1943. Thereafter he was under fire, both on the beaches and whilst travelling between the various supply dumps and airfields, until the enemy had been forced to retreat sufficiently to allow the airfields to be occupied by units of the Tactical Air Force. Wing Commander George was wounded when his tented camp was hit by 2 bombs. He did not, however, allow this to interfere with his personal supervision of the work of unloading and distributing the urgently required supplies. Throughout the operation Wing Commander George displayed great gallantry and his example and coolness whilst under fire were an inspiration to those under his command and contributed largely to the success of the operation.

 See London Gazette Issue 36531 at

Strictly speaking, Rowland George was never an R.A.F. beach unit officer but his name appears many times in the records of the beach units in the Mediterranean theatre of operations.

His experience of amphibious assault landings began with Operation TORCH, before R.A.F. beach units were formed. After their formation, his appointment as a Senior Movements Staff Officer meant that he was very much involved with R.A.F. beach units, more so because he was the kind of man who liked to take a very active part in operations.

Before the Second World War, Rowland George had been a successful oarsman and won a gold medal at the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. At the start of the War he was 34 years old and was commissioned in the Equipment branch of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, becoming an Explosives specialist.

In 1942, as an Acting Squadron Leader, he commanded No. 59 R.A.F. Embarkation Unit, sailing to Algeria for Operation TORCH. Landing early on D-Day, 8th November, on the beach near Surcouf, he claimed for his Unit ‘the honour of being the first R.A.F. Embarkation Unit to make an initial landing on enemy occupied territory.’ [1] After working on the beaches for the first day, the Unit moved to Algiers but immediately transferred to Maison Blanche airfield, where the Unit worked for over a week. No. 59 R.A.F. Embarkation Unit then moved to the harbour at Bone where Squadron Leader George continued to command the Unit for four months facing, among other challenges, considerable harassment by the Luftwaffe. Near the end of March 1943, Squadron Leader George was posted to Mediterranean Central Command.

For his achievements as Commanding Officer of No. 59 R.A.F. Embarkation Unit in Operation TORCH and at Bone, Rowland George was appointed O.B.E. (Officer of the Military Division of the Order of the British Empire).

Rowland George was promoted to the rank of Acting Wing Commander and became Movements Officer at Headquarters Northwest Africa Tactical Air Force (N.A.T.A.F.). For the invasion of Sicily (Operation HUSKY) Wing Commander George sailed with the R.A.F. units that were landing with the U.S. assault troops at Scoglitti and was again among the first R.A.F. personnel ashore.

His participation in the Salerno landings (Operation AVALANCHE) is summed up in the citation (above) for the D.S.O. he was awarded.

At the end of 1943 Wing Commander George played a major part in the re-organisation of R.A.F. beach units for the Central Mediterranean Force, interviewing personnel and making recommendations on the organisation and duties of R.A.F. beach units.

In 1944 Rowland George was Mentioned in Despatches twice and was also appointed Officer of the Legion of Merit by the United States of America in recognition of valuable services rendered in connection with the war.

Rowland George was probably the only officer in the Equipment branch of the R.A.F. to have been decorated with the D.S.O. He died in 1997 aged 92. 

[1] Operations Record Book of No. 59 RAF Embarkation Unit – found in, ‘Air Ministry and Ministry of Defence: Operations Record Books, Miscellaneous Units’ AIR 29/18 at The National Archives.

(Some information in this post comes from a copy of Rowland George’s obituary in the Daily Telegraph seen by the author, and further entries in the London Gazette. More biographical information about Rowland George can be seen on Wikepedia)

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