North African Units

The R.A.F. beach units that were formed In North Africa

In preparation for the invasion of Sicily (Operation HUSKY), R.A.F. beach units were formed in the United Kingdom, the Middle East and in North Africa.

The R.A.F. beach units formed in North Africa were named Auxiliary Embarkation Units. They were organised as three units, plus a headquarters of one Squadron Leader and a small staff. Each unit had 2 officers and 24 other ranks.

The three units were Nos. 1 and 2 Auxiliary Embarkation Units formed at Arzew, near Oran, Algeria at the start of June 1943 and No. 3 Auxiliary Embarkation Unit formed at Algiers, Algeria at the end of May 1943.

Nos. 1 and 2 Auxiliary Embarkation Units moved to Tunis, Tunisia on 1 July 1943 and landed at Scoglitti, Sicily on D-Day, 10 July 1943 with the 45th U.S. Division (CENT assault area). Their purpose was to facilitate the landing of R.A.F. units and stores in support of No. 324 Wing, R.A.F. that was to fly in and operate from Comiso airfield. Nos. 1 & 2 A.E.U.s moved inland to Vittoria,(nearer to Comiso) on 17 July 1943 and then to Gela on 30 July 1943. In August 1943 they returned to North Africa and were renamed Nos. 81 and 82 Auxiliary Embarkation Units. They landed at Salerno, Italy, in Operation AVALANCHE, on D-Day, 9 September 1943. For this operation, Nos. 81 and 82 A.E.U.s were attached to the British Army’s 21 Beach Group, landing with the British 56th Division on SUGAR Beach.

No. 3 Auxiliary Embarkation Unit moved to Oran on 3 June 1943 and then moved to Tunis on 7 July 1943. For Operation HUSKY they landed at Gela, Sicily on D-Day, 10 July 1943 with 1st U.S. Division (DIME assault area). At Gela, the unit came under heavy fire during a counter attack by the Hermann Goring Division on D+1, when German tanks came within 2,000 yards of the beaches and fired on the dumps and landing craft before being driven off. No. 3 A.E.U. was renamed 83 Embarkation Unit in August 1943 and moved to Milazzo, in the north-east of Sicily on 30 August 1943.

In November 1943 all the R.A.F. beach units in the Mediterranean theatre were reorganised and a new R.A.F. Beach Group was formed for the Central Mediterranean Force consisting of Nos. 81, 82 and 83 Bricks. Some personnel from the North African beach units were posted to this unit, and some returned to the U.K with Nos. 68 and 69 Beach Units and ended up in No. 4 R.A.F. Beach Unit. The new Mediterranean R.A.F. Beach Group was renamed No. 5 R.A.F. Beach Unit in January 1944.

Sources used for this page:

Catalogue entries for Auxiliary Embarkation Units at The National Archives under, ‘Air Ministry and Ministry of Defence: Operations Record Books, Miscellaneous Units’ AIR 29/438.

“Royal Air Force 1939 – 1945, Volume II, The Fight Avails”, Denis Richards and Hilary St. G. Saunders, H.M.S.O., London, 1954