Beach groups

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During the Second World War the allies realised the need for the landing zone of an amphibious assault to be organised for the efficient passage of follow on forces. The British formed such units from all three services Navy (Commandos), Army and Air Force, with the Army component comprising Infantry, Engineers, Ordnance, Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, Medical and Service Corps. The equivalent U.S. units were called Beach Battalions.

Formation[edit]

After the Operation Torch landings the need for a beach organisation became apparent for the larger planned operations. In the UK Beach Groups were formed and began to train in Scotland. In the Mediterranean the equivalent organisations were called Beach Bricks and were formed in Egypt and trained at Kabrit. The Chief of Combined Operations Lord Louis Mountbatten described the functions of a beach group in late 1942:-[1]

  • Arrange and control the movement of all personnel and vehicles from the landing craft to inland assembly areas.
  • Move stores from ships' holds and craft to dumps in the beach maintenance areas.
  • Develop and organise the beaches and beach maintenance area in regard to defence, movement and administration, including the evacuation of all casualties and recovery of vehicles.
  • Provide the beach signal organisation.
  • The removal to the UK of casualties, prisoners of war and salvaged equipment.
  • The creation of dumps to hold petrol ammunition and rations that were being landed.
  • Assembly areas for the arriving personnel and their vehicles.

For this a tri-service formation was created around an infantry battalion, added to this were smaller units from the Royal Engineers, Royal Army Medical Corps, Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, Royal Army Ordnance Corps, Pioneer corps, Royal Army Service Corps and the Corps of Military Police. The Navy provided royal Navy Beach Commandos and a signal unit, and the Royal Air Force provided for beach anti-aircraft defence. The complement of a Beach group or brick was up to 3000 men.[2]

The beach commandos were composed of 76 officers and men, led by the one Principal Beach Master and three Beach Masters, who would land with the assaulting troops and have the following duties:-[3]

  • Marking the limits of the beachhead
  • Set up a protected area for the beach commander to operate from
  • Calling in landing craft to the beach via radio, signal lamp or loud-hailer.
  • Unloading landing craft according to priority.
  • Providing salvage parties to recover damaged landing craft, stores and equipment.
  • Providing fire fighting parties, using modified DUKWs
  • Ensuring personnel and equipment could move through the beachhead as quickly as possible
  • Mooring landing craft correctly

Each commando was to control the landing area for a brigade, they were subdivided into a headquarters and three sub units each controlling a battalion landing area.[3] They wore army battledress with navy headgear.

The Royal Navy Beach Signals units were to provide communications between the beach and the offshore forces. Included in the units were men from the army and R.A.F.

The infantry component was intended to be a fighting force if any pockets of resistance remained on the beach immediately after the landings.[4] After the beach was secured the battalion was to provide manpower for any other tasks, for example 6th Battalion Border Regiment was split up as follows,[5]

  • A and D Companies - beach companies
  • B Company - a labour unit of the ammunition section of the beach ordnance detachment
  • C Company - reserve
  • S Company - (the carrier, mortar and anti-tank platoons), to provide labour for the petrol depot.

As well as the treatment and dispatch of casualties back to Britain, the Medical Corps was also tasked with the provision of drinking water for the troops.[6]

The Military Police (MPs) were to be used to control the flow of traffic on the beach and to guard and document the prisoners of war collected in the initial stages and brought back to the beach. These units also included R.A.F. MPs.[7]

The pioneer companies were called on to perform many duties, construction of roads air-fields and stores, mine clearance, collection and evacuation of wounded, collection and burial of the dead, transport, guarding POWs and where necessary fight.[8][9]

The RASC was responsible for the transport and distribution of the supplies needed by the troops.

The REME was tasked with keeping the beaches clear of disabled vehicles, including removal of stranded landing craft. Repairable vehicles were repaired in place or at a vehicle park. They used normal and specialised recovery vehicles for the task such as the BARV.[10]

The precise mix and number of units depended of the perceived need of each location.

Training[edit]

Beach Groups[edit]

No. 3 Beach Group[edit]

Formed in the UK, it sailed to Sicily with the 1st Canadian Infantry Division, landing on 10 July 1943. It contained the 68th RAF Beach Unit.[11] Utilised again for the Salerno landings, and attached to the British 56th Infantry Division, landing on Rodger beach on 9 September 1943, for this operation it contained the 68th and 69th RAF Beach Units.[12]

No.4 Beach Group[edit]

This unit also sailed with the 1st Canadian Infantry Division from Britain and landed with them during the invasion of Sicily. It contained the 69th RAF Beach Unit.[13] It was the reserve Beach group for Juno Beach.

No.5 Beach Group[edit]

Supported the 3rd Infantry Division on Sword Beach, Queen sector.

Composition[14]

Service Arm of Service (Army only) Unit
Royal Navy Beach Commando Unit F
13th Beach Signals
Army Infantry 5th Battalion The King's Regiment (Liverpool)
R.A.M.C. 20th, 21st, 30th, 39th Field Dressing Stations
1st Field Sanitary Section
39th, 40th, 55th Field Surgery Units
21st, 29th Field Transfusion Units
16th Gas Clearing Station
R.A.O.C. 44th Ordnance Ammunition Company
11th Ordnance Beach Detachment
Pioneer Corps 53rd, 102nd, 129th, 267th, 292nd, 303rd Pioneer Companies
R.E.M.E. 20th Beach Recovery Section
R.A.S.C. 96th Detail Issue Depot
H.Q. 21st Transport Column R.A.S.C.
39th, 101st, 635th General Transport Companies
257th Petrol Depot
Royal Engineers 84th Field Company
18th G.H.Q. Troop Engineers
940th Inland Waterway Transport
8th Stores Section
20th port detachment
Military Police 241st Provost Company
Royal Air Force 101st RAF Beach Flight

No.6 Beach Group[edit]

Reserve for Sword Beach.

Composition[15]

Service Arm of Service (Army only) Unit
Royal Navy Beach Commando Unit R
18th Beach Signals
Army Infantry 1st (Buckinghamshire) Battalion Ox & Bucks Light Infantry
R.A.M.C. 9th, 12th, Field Dressing Stations
2nd Detachment Field Sanitary Section
37th, 38th Field Surgery Units
R.A.O.C. 12th Ordnance Beach Detachment
Pioneer Corps 85th, 149th Pioneer Companies
R.E.M.E. 21st Beach Recovery Section
R.A.S.C. 138th Detail Issue Depot
299th General Transport Company
238th Petrol Depot.
Royal Engineers 91st Field Company
50th Detachment Mechanical Equipment Platoon
1028th Port Operating Company
Military Police 245th HQ Provost Company
Royal Air Force 102nd RAF Beach Section

No.7 Beach Group[edit]

Supported the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division landed on Juno Beach, Mike sector.

Composition[16]

Service Arm of Service (Army only) Unit
Royal Navy Beach Commando Units L, P & S
Army Infantry 8th (Irish) Battalion The King's Regiment
R.A.M.C. 1st, 2nd Field Dressing Stations
3rd Field Sanitary Section
39th, 40th, 55th Field Surgery Units
13th, 14th Field Transfusion Units
R.A.O.C. 45th Ordnance Ammunition Company
7th, 14th Ordnance Beach Depots
Pioneer Corps 190th, 225th, 243rd, 293rd Pioneer Companies
R.E.M.E. 20th Beach Recovery Section
R.A.S.C. 139th Detail Issue Depot
282nd General Transport Company
240th Petrol Detachment
Royal Engineers 72nd, 85th Field Companies
11th Port Operating Group
19th Stores Section
Military Police 242nd Provost Company
Royal Air Force 107th RAF Beach Section

No.8 Beach Group[edit]

Landed on Juno Beach, Nan sector.

Composition[17]

Service Arm of Service (Army only) Unit
Royal Navy Beach Commando Unit P
19th Beach Signals Section
Army Infantry 5th Battalion Royal Berkshire Regiment
R.A.M.C. 32nd, 34th Field Dressing Stations
32nd Casualty Clearing Station
R.A.O.C. 45th Ordnance Ammunition Company
Pioneer Corps 115th, 144th, 170th Pioneer Companies
R.E.M.E. 23rd Beach Recovery Section
R.A.S.C. 140th Detail Issue Depot
30th Transport Company HQ
199th General Transport Company
242nd Petrol Company
Royal Engineers 20th Field Company
1034th Port Operating Company
20th Stores Section
59th Mechanised Equipment Section
966th Inland Water Transport
Military Police 242nd Provost Company
Royal Air Force 974th RAF Beach Flight

No.9 Beach Group[edit]

Supported the 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division landing on Gold Beach, King sector.

Composition[18]

Service Arm of Service (Army only) Unit
Royal Navy Beach Commando Units J, G & T
B10 Beach Signal Section
Army Infantry 2nd Battalion Hertfordshire Regiment
Royal Artillery Heavy Anti-Aircraft Detachments
Light Anti-Aircraft Detachments
R.A.M.C. 3rd, 32nd, 35th Field Dressing Stations
47th, 48th Field Sanitary Units
3rd, 10th Casualty Clearing Stations
24th, 30th Field Transfusion Units
R.A.O.C. 7th, 36th Ordnance Beach Detachment
Pioneer Corps 75th, 208th, 209th Pioneer Companies
R.E.M.E. 24th Beach Recovery Section
R.A.S.C. 2nd Detail Issue Depot
305th General Transport Companies
247th Petrol Depot
Royal Engineers 69th, 89th, 183rd Field Company
74th Mechanised Equipment Section
961st Inland Waterway Transport
1043rd Port operating Company
22nd Port Detachment
Military Police 243rd Provost Company
Royal Air Force 54th RAF Beach Flight
98th Balloon Squadron

No.10 Beach Group[edit]

Landed on Gold Beach, Jig sector.

Composition[19]

Service Arm of Service (Army only) Unit
Royal Navy Beach Commando Unit Q
7th Beach Signal Section
Army Infantry 6th Battalion Border Regiment
Royal Artillery Anti-Aircraft Detachments
R.A.M.C. 25th, 31st Field Dressing Stations
30th, 41st, 42nd Field Sanitary Units
24th, 30th Field Transfusion Units
R.A.O.C. 12th Ordnance Beach Depot
Pioneer Corps 73rd, 112th, 120th, 173rd, 243rd Pioneer Companies
R.E.M.E. 25th Beach Recovery Section
R.A.S.C. 5th Detail Issue Depot
356th, 705th General Transport Companies
244th Petrol Depot[20]
Royal Engineers 90th Field Company
51st Mechanised Equipment Section
23rd, 1035th Port Operating Companies
23rd Stores Section
Military Police 240th Provost Company
Royal Air Force 108th RAF Beach Flight
55th Balloon Squadron

No. 20 Beach Group[edit]

This unit landed with the 51st (Highland) Infantry Division on Sicily on 10 July 1943.[21]

No. 21 Beach Group[edit]

This unit also landed with the 51st (Highland) Infantry Division on Sicily on 10 July 1943. [22] The unit was used again and landed at Salerno on Sugar beach, supporting the 56th Infantry Division. It contained the RAF 81st and 82nd Auxiliary Embarkation Units. [23]

No.31 Beach Brick[edit]

Formed on 13 April 1943 at Kabrit in Egypt, around the 7th Battalion Royal Marines. This unit was charged with training itself and then other units that were to form other Beach Bricks.[24] It landed on Sicily supporting the 231st Infantry Brigade at Marzamemi.[25]

No.32 Beach Brick[edit]

Formed around the 2nd Battalion Highland Light Infantry, the Brick supported the 5th Infantry Division during the Sicily landings at Cassibile (beaches Nos. 45 and 46) south of Syracuse. The Brick again supported 5th Division (13th Infantry Brigade) in the landings at Calabria on 3 September 1943 on George beach.[26]

No.33 Beach Brick[edit]

Formed on 1 April 1943 around 1st Battalion Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, the Brick supported the 17th Infantry Brigade of the 5th Infantry Division at George beach (beach No. 44). On 27 July the Highlanders were sent to the front line and the 1st Battalion Welch Regiment took their place from No. 34 Beach Brick. The Brick was reassembled with the Highlanders for the landings at Calabria, again with 17th Brigade, on How beach north of Torrente. The Brick was disbanded in November 1943.[27]

No.34 Beach Brick[edit]

Formed on 1 June 1943 at Kabrit Egypt around the 1st Battalion Welch Regiment, the Brick supported the 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division during the Sicily Landings at Avola. For the landings at Calabria the Brick supported the 3rd Canadian Infantry Brigade on Fox beach north of Reggio de Calabria.[28]

No.35 Beach Brick[edit]

Formed around the 18th Battalion Durham Light Infantry at Kabrit it transferred to Algeria in July for training and then to Tunisia for more training with the 46th Infantry Division, and supported them in the landings at Salerno on Uncle beach.[29]

No.36 Beach Brick[edit]

Formed on 20 July 1943 at Kabrit in Egypt around the dismounted men of 8th Royal Tank Regiment. The brick was sent to Palestine in August, around plans for capture of Rhodes in late 1943. This was cancelled and the Brick transferred to UK early 1944. by this time 8th Royal Tank Regiment had left the Brick and been re-equipped with tanks, with 18th Durham Light Infantry taking their place.[30] For the Normandy landings the Brick was in reserve for Gold Beach.

Composition[31]

Service Arm of Service (Army only) Unit
Army Infantry 18th Battalion Durham Light Infantry
Royal Artillery HQ 100th Heavy Anti Aircraft Regiment
305th Heavy Anti Aircraft Battery
328th Light Anti Aircraft Battery
R.A.M.C. Detachments
R.A.O.C. Detachments
R.E.M.E. Detachments
R.A.S.C. Detail Issue Depot
Royal Engineers 503rd Field Company
Mechanised Equipment Company
Military Police Provost Detachment
Royal Air Force 15th RAF Beach Flight (?)

Awards[edit]

Men of the Beach Groups and Bricks received the following awards during their service.

During the Salerno landings the Distinguished Service Order was awarded to Wing Commander Rowland George O.B.E., and the Military Cross awarded to Major Cameron (18th Durham Light Infantry) and Flight Lieutenant John Dobbin who organised the beaches and cleared vehicle congestion while under fire.[32][30]

During the Normandy Landings the following Beach Commandos of Nos 5 and 6 Beach Groups received Awards[33]

Award Commando
Distinguished Service Order (D.S.O.) Lt Cdr Edward F. Gueritz RN
Sub Lt James H Speed RNVR
Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) Sub Lt William Pittendrig RNVR
Sub Lt S.E. Willis RNVR
Sub Lt P.D. Anderton RNVR
Distinguished Service Medal (DSM) AB Sidney Compston
AB William D Crook
LS Albert Charles Davy
AB Charles William Day
AB Donald Emery
LS Thomas William Gooding
AB Thomas Hunt
PO Frederick Raymond Smith
PO George Colin Richards
AB Edward George Saunders
PO George Graham Tapley
Croix de guerre Sub Lt Richard H Dongar RNVR
AB Alan Watersworth

Members of the Royal Navy beach signals sections won the following.[34]

Award Recipient
DSC Lt Robert Billington RNVR
DSM Telegraphist Ronald Arthur Bateson
Coder Geoffrey Harris
Telegraphist Harry Monks
Telegraphist William George Quinn
Telegraphist Abraham Acton Parr
Telegraphist Kennet Eifon Penny
Acting Telegraphist Edwin William Sutton
Croix de Guerre Coder Willian B Leggate

On 8 June a German fighter plane dropped a bomb on the petrol and ammunition depot on Sword Beach, with the ensuing fire threatening to destroy large quantities of supplies. Men of 5 and 6 Beach Groups worked to save the supplies, and seven were awarded the George Medal.[35]

  • Lt.Col. R D R Sale (1 Bucks)
  • Maj. L Pepper (RAOC)
  • Lt. E Fairbrother (RE)
  • Sgt H Grant (Pioneers)
  • Sgt J S MacGowen (RAOC)
  • Sgt A G Wakeford (RASC)
  • Pte A Catley (Pioneers)

References[edit]

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ Rogers p14
  2. ^ Rogers p19
  3. ^ a b Rogers pp31-3
  4. ^ Rogers p20
  5. ^ Rogers p167
  6. ^ Rogers p134
  7. ^ Rogers p131
  8. ^ Forty p137
  9. ^ Rogers p67-8
  10. ^ Rogers p58-9
  11. ^ Fenton, Mike. "R.A.F. Beach Units". Retrieved 21 June 2014. 
  12. ^ Fenton, Mike. "R.A.F. Beach Units". Retrieved 21 June 2014. 
  13. ^ Fenton, Mike. "R.A.F. Beach Units". Retrieved 22 June 2014. 
  14. ^ Rogers p99-100
  15. ^ Rogers p115
  16. ^ Rogers pp127-8
  17. ^ Rogers pp138-9
  18. ^ Rogers p156-7
  19. ^ Rogers p166-7
  20. ^ Latham, H.B. (1958). "The Assault Landings in Normandy: Order of Battle, Second British Army". 
  21. ^ Fenton, Mike. "R.A.F. Beach Units". Retrieved 24 June 2014. 
  22. ^ Fenton, Mike. "R.A.F. Beach Units". Retrieved 24 June 2014. 
  23. ^ Fenton, Mike. "R.A.F. Beach Units". Retrieved 24 June 2014. 
  24. ^ "Royal Marines Museum". Retrieved 24 June 2014. 
  25. ^ Fenton, Mike. "R.A.F. Beach Units". Retrieved 24 June 2014. 
  26. ^ Fenton, Mike. "R.A.F. Beach Units". Retrieved 24 June 2014. 
  27. ^ Fenton, Mike. "R.A.F. Beach Units". Retrieved 24 June 2014. 
  28. ^ Fenton, Mike. "R.A.F. Beach Units". Retrieved 24 June 2014. 
  29. ^ Fenton, Mike. "R.A.F. Beach Units". Retrieved 24 June 2014. 
  30. ^ a b Fenton, Mike. "R.A.F. Beach Units". Retrieved 24 June 2014. 
  31. ^ Rogers p21
  32. ^ Fenton, Mike. "R.A.F. Beach units". Retrieved 24 June 2014. 
  33. ^ Rogers pps110, 117
  34. ^ Rogers p63
  35. ^ Rogers p96

Bibliography[edit]

Forty, George (1998). Companion to the British Army 1939–1945 (3 ed.). Stroud: The History Press. ISBN 978 0 7524 5240 1. 

Rogers, Joseph and David (2012). D-Day Beach Force: The Men who Turned Chaos into Order (1 ed.). Stroud: The History Press. ISBN 978 0 7524 6330 8. 

http://www.rafbeachunits.info/