No. 109 R.A.F. Beach Section was formed in Italy, originally as No. 81 Brick. and took part in the assault landings in the South of France.
No. 81 Brick
No. 81 Brick was formed in November 1943 as one of three Bricks in a new R.A.F. Beach Group for the Central Mediterranean Force. The personnel of No. 81 Brick were billeted at “Villa Maria”, Bellavista, (in the Portici area just south of Naples).
The Commanding Officer of No. 81 Brick, F/Lt H. Pollard and the other officer of the Brick, F/Lt N.A. Ovington had been officers of Nos. 81 and 82 Auxiliary Embarkation Units. On 9th December F/Lt Pollard was also appointed Security Officer for the R.A.F. Beach Group.
No. 109 R.A.F. Beach Section
At the end of January 1944, No. 81 Brick was renamed No. 109 R.A.F. Beach Section and its parent unit, which had been known as the R.A.F. Beach Group, was renamed No. 5 R.A.F. Beach Unit. No. 109 R.A.F. Beach Section was still located at “Villa Maria”, Bellavista, in the Portici area near Naples.
On 12th February No. 109 R.A.F. Beach Section moved to Castellammare to undertake embarkation duties for No. 61 R.A.F. Embarkation Unit at the ports of Torre Annunziata and Castellammare. At this time the Section consisted of F/Lt H. Pollard (Officer Commanding), F/Lt N.A. Ovington, 5 Senior N.C.O.s and 16 Other Ranks.
During February and March 1944, No. 109 Beach Section was involved in the unloading of R.A.F. Stores from ships as follows:
|14th to 16th February||S.S. “Gezina”||240 tons bombs & ammunition|
|16th February||S.S. “Empire Grebe”||16 tons ‘X’ stores|
|18th to 28th February||S.S. “Von Honthurst”||16 tons ‘X’ stores|
|21st to 29th February||S.S. “Merse”||17 tons of general stores|
|4th March (completed)||S.S. “Orpheus”||unspecified quantity of R.A.F. Stores|
|9th to 15th March||S.S. “Taudia”||unspecified quantity of R.A.F. Stores|
|21st March (begun)||S.S. “Empire Brook”||unspecified quantity of R.A.F. Stores|
|29th March||S.S. “Lido”||unspecified quantity of R.A.F. Stores|
|22nd Feb to 8th March||S.S. “Empire Ballad”||97 tons of R.A.F. stores|
|4th March (completed)||S.S. “Temple Inn”||unspecified quantity of R.A.F. Stores|
|15th to 17th March||S.S. “Astra”||unspecified quantity of R.A.F. Stores|
|20th to 23rd March||S.S. “Newant”||(reported as left only partially discharged)|
At Torre Annunziata work on the docks was almost brought to a standstill by storms and gales on 27th February. Vesuvius erupted in March depositing large amounts of ash over a wide area but there is no record of the effect this had on the work of No. 109 R.A.F. Beach Section at Torre Annunziata and Castellammare.
On a trip to visit No. 5 R.A.F. Beach Unit Headquarters at Portici on 17th March, F/Lt Pollard and No.546876 LAC Salvidge left Castellamare in a jeep and headed North along the Autostrada to Portici. At Torre del Greco they were involved in an accident and LAC Salvidge was killed. F/Lt Pollard sustained “multiple head injuries” and was admitted to No. 1 General Hospital.
The funeral of LAC Salvidge was held at the British Military Cemetery at No 92 General Hospital, Naples on 19th March. Six wreaths of flowers from the officers and men of No. 5 R.A.F. Beach Unit were laid at his grave (No. 18, Row ‘N’). A Court of Enquiry was convened to inquire into the cause and circumstances of the accident that resulted in his death.
F/Lt C.S. Vaughan was appointed Officer Commanding No. 109 Beach Section on 21st March, taking the place of F/Lt Pollard who was in hospital.
On 29th March F/Lt Downs of No. 61 Embarkation Unit arrived with a detachment from Salerno. F/Lt Pollard was discharged from No. 63 General Hospital that day and was collected by car. F/Lt Pollard took up duties at No. 5 Beach Unit Headquarters (the C.O., S/Ldr Robertson having gone to Corsica with Nos. 110 and 111 Beach Sections) and F/Lt Vaughan remained C.O. of No. 109 Beach Section.
On 9th April, No. 109 Beach Section handed over their duties at Torre Annunziata and Castellammare to No. 61 R.A.F. Embarkation Unit and went to No. 5 Beach Unit Headquarters at Portici.
Next day, they were sorting out Unit equipment ready for loading on to vehicles. No.109 Beach Section and Unit Headquarters were going to join the rest of No. 5 Beach Unit in Corsica, working for XII Air Service Command, U.S.A.A.C. F/Lt Vaughan visited XII Air Service Command and was informed that No. 5 Beach Unit Headquarters and No. 109 Beach Section would not be called forward for embarkation for a few days.
In the afternoon of 16th April, F/Lt Vaughan visited XII Air Service Command again and also visited No. 61 Embarkation Unit. Go ahead for the move was received the next afternoon. Loading of equipment onto vehicles was completed by 7pm and, at 6am the next morning, F/Lt Vaughan, F/Lt Ovington and No. 109 Beach Section together with F/Lt Pollard and No. 5 Beach Unit Headquarters went to the Transit Staging Area, 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. 109 Beach Section and No. 5 R.A.F. Beach Unit Headquarters 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 went to Ajaccio to report to F/Lt Searle and obtain instructions. (F/Lt Searle was acting as No. 5 Beach Unit’s Commanding Officer because S/Ldr Robertson was sick and in hospital.)
F/Lt Vaughan stayed at Ajaccio for three days because F/Lt Searle went to Bastia to attend a conference. F/Lt Vaughan returned to Porto Vecchio on 23rd April and 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 Port Vecchio.
On 30th April 1944, F/Lt Vaughan went to No. 5 R.A.F. Beach Unit Headquarters in Bastia for a conference with F/Lt Searle and returned to Porto Vecchio the next day.
Porto Vecchio, Corsica
During May 1944 No.109 Beach Section was employed in the docks at Porto Vecchio dealing with American Air Corps stores and personnel. For the first two days of the month the Section personnel were employed on the clearing of Air Corps stores from the dock area. During the rest of the month the unloading and loading activities were as follows:
|3rd May||S.S. “Corcrest”, S.S. “Star”, L.S.T. 33, L.S.T. 35, L.C.T. 364, L.C.T. 556 and L.C.T. 594 commenced discharging.|
|4th May||Coasters “Maria B” and “Espero” commenced discharging. L.S.T. 33 embarked personnel and vehicles.|
|5th May||Coasters “Maria B” and “Espero” completed discharging. L.C.T. 222, L.C.T. 559, L.C.T. 558 and L.C.T. 216 arrived and discharged.|
|6th May||Coaster “Assunta” arrived and discharged. No. 109 Section visited by Colonel Stinson of Corsica Air Sub-Area on courtesy visit.|
|7th May||L.C.T. 339 docked at 14.00hrs from Naples and discharged.|
Coaster “Francesco Madre” docked at 18.30hrs and commenced discharging.
|9th May||Coaster “Cora” docked from Ajaccio and discharged.|
|10th May||S.S. “Empire Dace” docked at 08.45hrs and commenced discharging. S.S. “Francesco Madre” completed discharging.|
Coaster “Cora” completed discharging. S.S. “Empire Dace” completed discharging.
|14th May||Coaster “San Andre” arrived and discharged.|
|15th May||Tanker “Conasuga” cleared.|
|16th May||L.C.T. 559, Coasters “Assunta” and “Duo Serrelle” arrived and discharged.|
|17th May||L.C.T. 702 arrived and discharged.|
|19th May||Tanker “Conasuga” arrived and discharged.|
|20th May||L.C.T. 614, L.C.T. 307, L.C.T. 542 and L.C.T. 421 arrived and discharged.|
|21st May||L.S.T. “Thruster” docked.|
|22nd May||L.S.T. “Thruster” cleared. Personnel embarked on L.S.T. “Thruster” and L.S.T. 549 for Naples.|
|25th May||L.C.T. 307 loaded with repairable equipment for Naples.|
|26th May||L.C.T.s 542, 549, 614, 538, 702, 582, 559 and 307 loaded With Air Corps stores for Naples.|
L.S.T. “Thruster” docked and cleared.
|27th May||Tanker “Syncline” discharged. S.S. “Crackshot” commenced discharging by L.C.T.s in mid bay.|
|30th May||L.S.T. “Thruster” arrived and cleared.|
|31st May||S.S. “Portsea” arrived and cleared.|
F/Lt Ovington left No.109 Beach Section on 22nd May to take over command of No. 111 Beach Section from F/Lt Pollard who was going to work as Adjutant at No. 5 R.A.F. Beach Unit Headquarters.
Throughout the following month, June 1944, No. 109 R.A.F. Beach Section continued with embarkation duties at Porto Vecchio.
The Commanding Officer of No. 5 R.A.F. Beach Unit, S/Ldr Robinson returned to duty on 17th June. As a result F/Lt Searle resumed command of No. 111 Beach Section and F/Lt Ovington returned to duty with No. 109 Beach Section in Porto Vecchio on 21st June.
The whole of No. 5 R.A.F. Beach Unit was recalled to Italy early in July 1944. They assembled at No. 109 Beach Section’s location at Porto Vecchio on 6th July and the whole Unit left Porto Vecchio aboard L.S.T. 1010 on 7th July.
No. 5 R.A.F. Beach Unit disembarked at Civetevecchio at 09.00hrs on 8th July 1944 and travelled to Rome. No. 109 Beach Section bivouacked with No. 111 Beach Section on the outskirts of Rome. Next morning all Sections of No. 5 R.A.F. Beach Unit left Rome to go to Naples, with each Section travelling independently. When they arrived, they set up camp alongside the Autostrada at No. 3 B.P.D.
A new assault landing operation was planned and No. 109 R.A.F. Beach Section was to work as part of the 36th U.S. Infantry Division Beach Group. The U.S. Army’s 540th Engineer Combat Regiment was the principal unit in the 36th Infantry Division Beach Group and, on 13th July, No. 109 Beach Section joined the Regiment somewhere in “The Invasion Training Centre” area near Salerno. F/Lt Vaughan, the Section C.O., was to liaise with Captain Herbert of the U.S. Army Air Corps. The Section began settling in with their American hosts.
On 18th July, the personnel of No. 109 Beach Section were preparing their kit for a move the next day. However, F/Lt Ovington had to leave them to go and take command of No. 111 Beach Section in the absence of F/Lt Searle, who was in hospital. No. 109 Beach Section moved with 540th Engineer Combat Regiment the following day, to an assembly area approximately five miles north of Qualiano.
F/Lt Ovington returned to the Section on 22nd July, F/Lt Searle having been discharged from hospital.
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.
The 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, 11th August, the Section had a boat drill on L.S.T. 1012 and the L.S.T. moved to Castellamare. At 3.15 in the afternoon of 12th August it sailed off in a convoy of about thirty L.S.T’s. This was Operation “DRAGOON”.
L.S.T. 1012 arrived off Dramont, Southern France, CAMEL beach area at 06.00hrs on D-Day, 15th August 1944.
After lying off shore all day personnel of the Section prepared to land at 19.50 hrs. “At this moment four enemy aircraft bombed ships lying off, and one L.S.T. was hit amidships by a radio controlled rocket bomb. The ships beached safely through a smoke screen and after disembarking personnel formed up in a temporary bivouac area for the night near Green Beach.”
As the towns of St. Raphael and Frejus (situated west of Dramont) were not taken, the personnel of No. 109 Beach Section waited until late on D+1 before proceeding and then moved into billets in St. Raphael. The officers, F/Lt Vaughan and F/Lt Ovington, were billeted with the 540th Engineers at the Grand Hotel, and the airmen were billeted at the “Hotel Mediterranee”. There was no water or lights in these billets so water bottles and C and K rations were used.
On D+2 (17th August) F/Lt Vaughan and Captain Herbert of the Air Corps, went to the CAMEL Red Beach area just outside the town of Frejus, to make a reconnaissance of the provisional Air Corps and R.A.F. Assembly Area. The area was found to be heavily mined, so a spot was located on a corner of the civilian airfield where no flying was planned. The chosen area was cleared of mines by midday, a telephone was installed and it was ready to receive personnel and vehicles from Red Beach (Map Ref. 563346) at eight o’clock in the evening.
There had been no casualties in No. 109 Beach Section during the landing and after, but they were rather late getting organised due to the extensive minefields that had to be cleared.
S/Ldr Robertson visited the Section and it was noted that maps placed on the office wall at No. 109 Beach Section Headquarters provided invaluable information for the units landing.
By D+6, CAMEL Red Beach was fully open and working at full strength although many mines were still being encountered in the vicinity.
On D+7, F/Lt Vaughan went to CAMEL Green Beach, met W/Cdr. Tipper of No. 90 Embarkation Unit and S/Ldr. Marshall, R.A.F. Provost and their parties, and brought them in to the Assembly Area.
S/Ldr Robertson visited the CAMEL beach area on 23rd August (D+8) 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 came again three days later and had further discussion with F/Lt Vaughan about beach signs.
The U.S. 540th Engineers stopped work on CAMEL beach on 10th September 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.
However, by 13th September all the beaches had become very quiet and the whole of No. 5 R.A.F. Beach Unit was involved only in routine matters. On 26th September, their work finished, No. 109 Beach Section moved to Salon de Provence to set up camp in the concentration area there. No. 5 R.A.F. Beach Unit was to be withdrawn from France.
The month of October 1944 is the last month in the twelve month history of No. 109 R.A.F. Beach Section and No. 5 R.A.F. Beach Unit. Details of that final month for the whole Unit can be read on the No. 5 R.A.F. Beach Unit page.
 Harry Walker, who was in the Royal Army Service Corps, wrote “At that time I was stationed in the coastal town of Castellamare, about halfway between Naples and Salerno. We were billeted in the buildings of a vinery. Hot ash from the volcanic eruption was heavy and far reaching, and I knew it to reach Salerno, some thirty miles away from the Mount. The Engineers were called in with bulldozers to clear streets and roadways, and I well remember having to wear caps and capes continually to protect us from the dust.” (Harry Walker, WW2 People’s War)
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.