No. 111 R.A.F. Beach Section was formed in Italy, originally as No. 83 Brick. and took part in the assault landings in the South of France.
No. 83 Brick
No. 83 Brick was formed in November 1943 as one of three Bricks in a new R.A.F. Beach Group for the Central Mediterranean Force. At the beginning of December 1943 the newly formed No. 83 Brick was at 236 Calata, Capodichino.
On 6th December, a garage was installed at their billet, F/Lt W.C. Trevitt was appointed Officer i/c M.T. and a complete overhaul of all the R.A.F. Beach Group’s vehicles was begun.
F/O F. Clark left for the U.K on 15th December having been granted 28 days compassionate leave. On 16th December F/Lt N. Ovington was appointed Officer i/c M.T. in place of F/Lt Trevitt who was going on leave.
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.
No. 111 R.A.F. Beach Section
At the end of January 1944, No. 83 Brick was renamed No. 111 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. 111 Beach Section was located at 236 Calata, Capodichino, on the outskirts of Naples.
On 4th February, F/Lt Searle went with F/Lt Ovington of 109 Beach Section to Bari to trace kit belonging to Beach Unit personnel.
The Section moved from Capodichino and took over No. 109 Beach Section’s billet at the “Villa Maria”, Bellavista on 15th February. This was located close to the Headquarters of No. 5 R.A.F. Beach Unit in the Bellavista area of Portici, near to Naples.
While Nos. 109 and 110 Beach Sections were loaned out to work on behalf of other R.A.F. units, No.111 Beach Section remained with No. 5 R.A.F. Beach Unit. However there is no record of the Section’s activities for most of February and March 1944.
Following a road accident in which an airman from No. 109 Beach Section was killed. F/Lt Searle was appointed President of the Court of Inquiry into the incident and on 19th March officers and men of the Section attended the funeral of the airman (LAC Salvidge) in Naples.
On 24th March orders were received for the Section to prepare to move. They were going to Corsica to work with the U.S. 12th Air Service Command. On 28th March 1944 “Villa Maria”, Bellavista was vacated by the Section and handed over to No. 3 R.A.F. Base Area. The Section personnel travelled the short distance to the nearby No. 5 R.A.F. Beach Unit Headquarters. Their vehicles (two 3 tonners and a jeep) were loaded with more equipment and they moved off in the late afternoon, together with No. 110 Beach Section and embarked on L.S.T. A18 in the Port of Naples. The vessel sailed the next morning and they disembarked at Ajaccio, Corsica on 30th March 1944.
At Ajaccio, Nos. 110 and 111 Beach Sections were accommodated in a staging area. On 3rd April, No. 111 Beach Section moved from the staging area to a permanent camping site at Ajaccio. It had been decided that the Section would be working at the port there.
On 16th April F/Lt Searle assumed command of No. 5 R.A.F. Beach Unit due to S/Ldr Robertson being hospitalised with malaria and on 24th April, F/Lt Pollard replaced F/Lt Searle as officer in charge of No. 111 Beach Section.
During May 1944 No.111 R.A.F. Beach Section was employed in the docks at Ajaccio dealing with American Air Corps stores and personnel. The Section’s activities for that month were recorded as follows:
|1st May||Section engaged on general routine work on Docks.|
|2nd May||Section engaged on general routine work on Docks.|
|3rd May||S.S. “Pillsbury” arrived.|
|6th May||Section engaged on clearance of Air Corps supplies from Docks|
|7th May||Section engaged on clearance of Air Corps stores from Docks|
|12th May||“John Sargent” and “J.K. Brown” arrived and discharging..|
|13th May||S.S. “Cora” loaded with stores for Bastia.|
|14th May||S.S. “J.C. Harris” completed discharging.|
|15th May||Section engaged on clearance of stores from Docks.|
|16th May||Section engaged on clearance of stores from Docks.|
|17th May||Section engaged on clearance of stores from Docks.|
|18th May||“Isolina”, “Croce” and “Orkla” loaded with stores for Bastia.|
|19th May||Section engaged on clearance of stores from Docks.|
|21st May||S.S. “James Rumsey” commenced discharging.|
|23rd May||S.S. “Citta D’Allessandria” discharging.|
|26th May||Section engaged on clearance of stores from Docks.|
|27th May||S.S. “Noah Webster” discharging.|
|28th May||S.S. “Cora” loaded with Air Corps supplies.|
S.S. “Sam Shreeve” and S.S. “Ingretre” commenced discharging.
|31st May||Section engaged on clearance of stores from Docks.|
On 19th May, F/Lt Searle came to Ajaccio to inspect the Section, returning to Bastia on 22nd.May. F/Lt N.A. Ovington arrived to take over command of the Section from F/Lt H. Pollard who left on 24th May to work as Adjutant at No. 5 R.A.F. Beach Unit Headquarters.
No. 111 R.A.F. Beach Section continued with Embarkation duties at Ajaccio throughout the month of June 1944 and then, on 6th July 1944, No. 111 Beach Section joined the rest of No. 5 R.A.F. Beach Unit assembling at Porto Vecchio. The Unit was leaving Corsica and returning to Italy.
No. 5 R.A.F. Beach Unit disembarked at Civetevecchio at 09.00hrs on 8th July 1944 and travelled to Rome. No. 111 Beach section bivouacked with No. 109 Beach Section on the outskirts of Rome. At 9 a.m. the next morning, No. 5 R.A.F. Beach Unit left Rome to go to Naples. Unit Headquarters and No. 111 Beach Section travelled on Highway No. 7 and arrived at No. 3 B.P.D., Naples at approximately 21.00hrs. They camped on a site alongside the Autostrada. F/Lt H.J. Searle was admitted to the Sick Quarters.
A new Combined Operation was planned and No. 111 R.A.F. Beach Section was to be part of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Division Beach Group. The U.S. Army’s 36th Engineer Combat Regiment was the principal unit in the 3rd Infantry Division Beach Group and, on 15th July, No. 111 Beach Section joined the Regiment at Pozzuli.
On 17th July, the Section received a Thorneycroft lorry (RAF19285) transferred from No. 110 Beach Section. One of the Section’s 3 ton vehicles left for waterproofing and loading on 18th July and F/Lt Ovington assumed command of the Section in the absence of F/Lt Searle who was in hospital. However, F/Lt Searle was discharged from hospital on 22nd July and resumed command of the Section from that date.
On 24th July 1944 the 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 short while later, the Section were involved 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”). Personnel were taken on board ships at Naples on the afternoon of 29th July 1944.
The vessels taking part in the Exercise moved to the outer harbour and anchored for the night. At about 04.00hrs on 30th July they sailed north for Formia. The initial bombardment of the Formia beaches by naval forces began at about 05.30hrs on 31st July. The practice assault began at 08.00 hours and No. 111 R.A.F. Beach Section landed at 09.00hrs. They made for the Beach Control Point where Major Crawford, the Officer i/c Air Force Beach Section with 36th Engineer Combat Regiment, directed personnel to the Assembly Area to await the clearing of the areas allotted to Ammunition and P.O.L. dumps. “The Officer Commanding 3rd Division U.S. Army commented on the exercise and expressed complete satisfaction.”
On 2nd August, F/Lt Searle attended a meeting of all 3rd U.S. Division officers that was addressed by Major General Truscott, Officer Commanding 6th U.S. Corps.
Major Crawford, the Officer i/c Air Force Beach Section, gave a lecture to personnel of No. 111 R.A.F. Beach Section concerning duties on the beach and N.C.O’s were briefed for the coming operation. On instructions from Headquarters 214 Group, the Section’s two unserviceable vehicles were delivered to the M.T.L.R.U.
Embarkation of No. 111 R.A.F. Beach Section took place at Salem, Naples, as follows:
- 7th August
L.S.T. 8 Sergeant Carney and Aircraftman Watts.
L.S.T. 11 Corporal Taylor and Leading Aircraftman Cotterill.
- 8th August
S.S. “Theodore Foster” AC1 Marsden with Bedford vehicle.
L.S.T. 210 Sgt. Smith, Sgt. Burnett, Cpl Evans, LAC Preedy, LAC Simpson, AC1 Collins.
L.S.T. 202 F/Sgt Elton, Cpl Sharp, LAC Basham.
L.S.T. 216 Sgt Dannatt, LAC Ives, LAC Yare.
- 9th August
L.C.T. 334 F/Lt H.J. Searle MBE.
L.C.I. 325 Sgt. Todhunter and LAC Hicks.
The convoy carrying the Section sailed on 10th August.
“D” Day, 15th August 1944
The personnel of No. 111 R.A.F. Beach Section landed on the ALPHA beaches and reported to 36th Engineers Command Post. The Section C.O.,F/Lt Searle and Major Crawford, officer i/c U.S. Beach Party carried out a reconnaissance of the Assembly Area. They took charge of 23 prisoners of war who surrendered themselves and handed them over to the P.O.W. Enclosure. The Section set up camp and was ready to operate at 17.00hrs.
D + 1, 16th August 1944
No. 111 Beach Section, working the ALPHA beaches, experienced slight confusion owing to lack of transportation, units (and parts of units) landing contrary to schedule and units proceeding direct to their destinations without first reporting to Assembly Areas.
The Section was instructed by 36th Engineers Command Post to move Section Headquarters to a site nearer to the landing beaches. A site was chosen and the Section Headquarters moved there.
321 personnel and 23 vehicles were received over the ALPHA beaches, but no supplies.
D + 2, 17th August 1944
ALPHA Yellow Beach closed down and the Beach Section personnel from there were absorbed into the staff on ALPHA Red Beach.
D + 3, 18th August 1944
S/Ldr Robertson’s Jeep came ashore and was despatched to Unit Headquarters. This meant that the Section could have their Jeep back, which S/Ldr Robertson had been using.
D + 4, 19th August 1944
S/Ldr Robertson visited the ALPHA beach area and found the organisation working smoothly.
On 1st September, 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.
On 4th September five men from No. 111 Beach Section were attached to No. 110 Beach Section for duty at St. Tropez.
F/Lt Searle M.B.E. was admitted to U.S. 638th Clearing Station on 5th September 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.
ALPHA beach closed down on 17th September and Major Crawford left with an advance party of U.S. Air Corps personnel, leaving a rear party to clear the remaining Air Corps supplies from the dumps. The next day, No. 111 R.A.F. Beach Section left the ALPHA sector, moving to St. Tropez where they occupied the Hotel Coste. S/Ldr Robertson visited them there.
All three Sections of No. 5 R.A.F. Beach Unit were preparing to leave France. F/Lt Ovington went to Salon de Provence to find a camping site within the concentration area there. No. 109 Beach Section set up camp in the concentration area on 26th September and F/Lt Ovington joined them with No.111 Beach Section on 27th September.
This was the last month in the twelve month history of No. 111 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.
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