This unit began as No. 76 R.A.F. Beach Unit and then became 103 Beach Section before finally being renamed as 103 Beach Flight . No. 103 R.A.F. Beach Flight was part of No. 2 R.A.F. Beach Squadron and landed the JUNO assault area in Operation “OVERLORD”
No. 76 R.A.F. Beach Unit
No. 76 R.A.F. Beach Unit was formed, along with No. 77 R.A.F. Beach Unit on 26th May 1943 at R.A.F. West Kirby (not far from Liverpool). Members of the unit were granted 14 days Embarkation Leave on 4th June. This suggests that they were soon expected to go overseas. Perhaps it was thought they would follow Nos. 68 and 69 R.A.F. Beach Units to the Mediterranean. (Nos. 68 and 69 R.A.F. Beach Units left the UK in June, sailing with the 1st Canadian Division to take part in the invasion of Sicily.)
No. 76 R.A.F. Beach Unit was to be located with No. 7 Army Beach Group and No. 77 R.A.F. Beach Unit was to be located with No. 8 Army Beach Group, all part of No. 102 Army Beach Sub-Area.
On the 5th July No. 76 R.A.F. Beach Unit moved from West Kirby to Gailes Camp adjacent to Dundonald Camp and was attached to No. 7 Beach Group for training.
On 20th July the Headquarters, Landing, Equipment and Explosives Sections of No. 76 R.A.F. Beach Unit moved to Monkton Camp, near Prestwick, Ayr.
On 17th August 1943, No. 76 R.A.F. Beach Unit became No. 103 R.A.F. Beach Section.
No. 103 R.A.F. Beach Section
No. 103 R.A.F. Beach Section was created from No. 76 R.A.F. Beach Unit on 17th August 1943. At the same time No. 77 R.A.F. Beach Unit became No. 104 R.A.F. Beach Section. With a headquarters added, these units were joined to form No. 2 R.A.F. Beach Unit. On the same date that this re-naming and re-organisation took place, No. 103 R.A.F. Beach Section moved with No. 7 Beach Group from Monkton Camp to Johnstone Camp, near Paisley, Glasgow.
On 30th August the Landing Section of No. 103 Beach Section was attached to No. 8 R.A.F. Embarkation Unit (Glasgow) for specialised training and then, on 30th September No. 103 Beach Section moved to Bushfield Camp, near Winchester.
Flight Lieutenant R. A. Sandison, Officer Commanding No. 103 Beach Section was appointed Acting Squadron Leader on 15th September.
In October 1943, the whole of No. 2 R.A.F. Beach Unit took part in Exercise “PIRATE”, for which practice landings were carried out at Studland Bay, and at the end of October No. 103 Beach Section moved from Bushfield Camp to Wimborne.
On 2nd December 1943, No. 103 R.A.F. Beach Section went to No. 1 R.A.F. Regiment Depot at Grantham for a Battle Inoculation Course, returning to Wimborne on 15th December.
On 28th December, No. 103 R.A.F. Beach Section went to Beach Group Practice Camp at Gullane for Exercise “ROUNDABOUT”. They were joined by No. 51 R.A.F. Beach Balloon Unit on 4th January 1944. Both units returned from this exercise on 12th January and No. 51 Beach Balloon Unit was now located with No. 103 R.A.F. Beach Section for training.
On 14th January No. 103 R.A.F. Beach Section moved to the Highcliffe Hotel, Bournemouth.
No. 51 Beach Balloon Unit went off to No. 12 Balloon Centre, Titchfield on 31st January for training in beach duties.
The M.T. section was attached, for training, to No. 70 M.T.L.R.U. at Croydon on 2nd February. The Explosives Section was attached to No. 407 Air Ammunition Park at Burrswood on 6th February, and on 7th February, the Equipment Dumps personnel were attached to 2nd T.A.F Forward Equipment Unit at Bicester for training, finishing on 1st March. Also on 7th February, the Landing Section was attached to No. 3 R.A.F. Embarkation Unit (Liverpool) for further training. This lasted until 4th March, and the Landing Section was then attached to the F.E.U. at Bicester for further training.
On 6th March 1944, the C.O. of No. 103 R.A.F. Beach Section, Squadron Leader R. A. Sandison went to take part in Exercise “PRANK” in which he was to act as Army Beach Group Senior Umpire. He returned to Bournemouth on 11th March and on that day No. 103 R.A.F. Beach Section moved with No. 7 Beach Group to West Walk Camp, Portsmouth.
The personnel were now living under canvas, except for those who were away training with other units. The M.T. Section and the Landing Section returned on 21st March. The Explosives Section which had moved from 407 A.A.P. at Burrswood to R.A.F. Heston on 14th March, rejoined No. 103 R.A.F. Beach Section on 22nd March.
Squadron Leader Sandison had visited H.M.S. VECTIS at Cowes, Isle of Wight on 16th March. There, ‘He made bids and obtained phasing for No. 103 Beach Section personnel and M.T. vehicles for OPERATION “OVERLORD”‘
After taking part in Exercise ”GOLDBRAID” from 26th March to 31st March, No. 103 R.A.F. Beach Section moved from West Walks (North) Camp to Hiltingbury “A” Camp, near Winchester on 4th April 1944 – still under canvas.
No. 103 R.A.F. Beach Flight
In April 1944, Rear H.Q. 2nd Tactical Air Force changed the titles of their beach units so that No. 103 R.A.F. Beach Section became No. 103 R.A.F. Beach Flight and its parent unit, No. 2 R.A.F. Beach Unit became No. 2 R.A.F. Beach Squadron.
Also that month, No. 103 Beach Flight participated in Exercise “TROUSERS” and an inspection of the 3rd Canadian Division, 102 Beach Sub-Area and Nos. 7 and 8 Beach Groups by His Majesty The King.
On 26th April No. 51 Beach Balloon Unit, now renamed No. 51 Beach Balloon Flight and part of No. 974 R.A.F. Beach Balloon Squadron, rejoined No. 103 R.A.F. Beach Flight, attached to No. 7 Army Beach Group.
Exercise “FABIUS III” took place at the beginning of May 1944. No. 51 Beach Balloon Flight suffered 50% balloon casualties (15 balloons) owing to adverse weather conditions and, on 13th May, No. 103 R.A.F. Beach Flight was present at an inspection of the Beach Groups by General D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander, at Hiltingbury “A” Camp.
On 30th May marshalling for Operation “OVERLORD” began and personnel of No. 103 R.A.F. Beach Flight moved to Area C8 (Hiltingbury Area). On 5th June 1944 the Flight set sail for France.
103 Beach Flight in Operation “OVERLORD”
No 103 R.A.F. Beach Flight were with No. 7 Beach Group and the 7th Canadian Brigade, landing on MIKE Beach in the JUNO assault area. Headquarters No 103 Beach Flight arrived off the coast at 1030 hours, the first Serials landing at 1500 hours and the rest of the Flight personnel landing at later times on D-Day. Serial 1153, landing at 2200 hours, completed the Flight.
S/Ldr R.A. Sandison, O.C. 103 Beach Flight landed with his Flight and set up Flight Headquarters. The Flight Headquarters and the Drowned Vehicle Park (operated by the M.T. Light Repair Section of the Flight) were established at the exit of the MIKE Green Beach.
The Operations Record Book of No. 2 Beach Squadron records that on D-Day:
“The situation was that as a whole, No 7 Beach Group was confined to the Beaches, owing to extensive enemy mining in the immediate hinterland. Only one Beach Exit was open and the route out was not shown to be clear.
The R.A.F. vehicles which commenced to arrive at about 1515 hours were being parked on the extremity of MIKE Green Beach and the beginning of LOVE Sector, causing intense congestion.
The area was being sniped from the wood around the chateaux at VAUX (1/25000 sheet 37/18 S.E. ref 9485), where there was one 3 inch mortar and one 88mm gun.
As no information could be obtained as to the state of the proposed R.A.F. Assembly Area, except that the R.A.F. D Day site was untenable, Flight Lieutenant P.M. Butler (Officer i/c Assembly Area), who landed early, carried out a single-handed recce on foot and found an area on the main route off the Beach, which the local French citizens told him to be clear of mines. Under arrangements made by S/Ldr Sandison, the remainder of the T.A.F. personnel and vehicles landing, together with those already on the Beach, were moved to this area. There they remained as no information could be obtained as to the state of their destinations. Part of them were due to move across LOVE to the JIG/KING Area and it was confirmed with the Army that no route was opened.”
At 0800 hours on 7th June there was an enemy dive bombing attack. One bomb landed in the 7 Beach Group Bivouac Area, about 25 yards from No 103 Beach Flight Headquarters, causing about 20 casualties, none R.A.F. At 1200 hours, No 103 Beach Flight Headquarters moved to join Army Assembly Area Headquarters in an orchard on the main exit route from the Beach at Graye-sur-mer (1/25000 37/18 S.E. ref 955848). The area allotted for No 3 R.A.F. Assembly Area was found to be unsuitable and recces were carried out in other areas. Around 4pm, notification was received that the route Graye-sur-Mer – St.Croix-sur-Mer – Crépon was free from snipers and the JIG/KING R.A.F. personnel and vehicles went forward.
On 9th June, a site for No 3 R.A.F. Assembly Area was allotted, near Tiercville, at 1/25000, 37/18 S.E. ref 928821. At 0900 hours on 10th June, an advance party from the Flight moved to this new site, to be followed by the main party at 1600 hours.
After six weeks of hard work in the beach-head, No. 103 Beach Flight was disbanded as a Flight on the 17th July 1944. Squadron Leader R.A. Sandison who had commanded the Flight was put in charge of No. 2 Beach Squadron’s Operations Room, dealing with all matters appertaining to Shipping, Operational Returns, Loadings, Landings, returns of Personnel, M.T. and Stores, and return of Personnel to the U.K. The Sections that were previously administered by 103 Beach Flight H.Q. now came under the direct control of Squadron Headquarters.
The M.T. Light Recovery Section moved location from the MIKE Sector to the LOVE Sector on 15th August.
By 6th September 1944, all personnel had received new postings and the disbandment of the whole Squadron was finally completed.
[See also the extracts from letters written by John Alcock who was the Landing Officer of 103 Beach Flight]
The main source of information on this page is:
The Operations Record Book of No. 2 Beach Unit (Later) No. 2 R.A.F. Beach Squadron including Nos. 76 and 77 Beach Units, May 1943 – Set 1944 – found in, ‘Air Ministry and Ministry of Defence: Operations Record Books, Miscellaneous Units’ AIR 29/438 at The National Archives.