R.A.F. Units in D-Day landings on Omaha Beach

Discussion in 'NW Europe' started by DoctorD, Mar 21, 2009.

  1. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    Looks like .docx files weren't supported by the forum, and Noel's conversion to .doc introduced formatting errors.
    Hopefully fixed:
    View attachment 85 Group GCI.docx

    Cheers to Noel for the heads up.

    Also attaching as a plain text file:
    View attachment 85 Group GCI.txt

    (Note about Word docs.
    When cut & pasted into the forum itself, they will bring usually invisible formatting marks that show up as characters in the forum's plain text editor.
    To cut & paste from a Word doc, first 'save as' a copy of the document as a .txt file with your word processor, and cut & paste from that.)
  2. DoctorD

    DoctorD WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Sorry chaps (and chapesses) for not being around for some time, during which I note a few additions to the thread that require my comment. There have been a few domestic mishaps in the household recently that have left me solely capable of undertaking shopping, cooking, serving and general housekeeping commitments that have fully occupied my time and will continue to do so for a while. But I hope to be able to respond shortly, when I shall be obliged to rest up a bit after my own prospective minor surgery. Meanwhile, Season's Greetings to you all.
    chick42-46 likes this.
  3. Glenn's daughter

    Glenn's daughter Junior Member

    I am going to france to Omaha Beach and would like to find out more information on my father's unit, but he is deceased and I have limited information. I know he came with the 496 medical collecting company and all the information I find has this information. I know he landed at omaha beach and have his helmet with this written on it. My fathers unit was attached to the 44th infantry division and assigned to escort the 253rd infantry regiment but this appears that it was done in 1945 I am just curious, if this was a large unit and that perhaps If I can find more information regarding my father's medical unit and who they landed with. Any ideas on government agencies to contact to locate this information? Thanks.
  4. chick42-46

    chick42-46 Senior Member

    Doctor D

    Thanks for this thread, a great tribute to an often overlooked arm of the services.

    I noticed the mention, in the memoirs of a F/Sgt. from 15082 GCI (post #73), of F/Lt. Hitchcock. He is also mentioned in post #74, the story as told by S/Ldr. Best.

    I have the following account by Hitchcock himself from RADAR: a Wartime Miracle, Latham & Stobbs, pgs. 141 to 147. I’m not sure if you have this book or not but thought it might be of interest.

    “Flight-Lieutenant E.H. (‘Ned’) Hitchcock, Electrical Engineer Officer, Royal New Zealand Air Force:

    Ned Hitchcock.jpg

    RAF Radar on Omaha Beach

    Not many people know that an RAF radar unit landed on D-Day, in the midst of bloody Omaha Beach! This US Navy photograph with the caption ‘Underwater Obstacles on Omaha Beach’ shows a beach studded with heavy timber tri-poles. On the horizon there is a dense mass of shipping. The sea between is empty. To the left appears a grounded LST, to the right a tank deep in the sand. In the foreground is the heavy barbed-wire defence.

    omaha beach.jpg

    A military historian studying this photograph might be puzzled by the presence, centre stage, of British vehicles. Two burnt-out wrecks are Thorneycroft three-tonners, and immediately behind is the shape, so familiar to radar staff, of an Austin three-tonner housing a 20kVA diesel generator. Why should such vehicles be in the midst of ‘Bloody Omaha’ on D-Day itself – the beach where so many American soldiers gave their lives storming Fortress Europe?

    About five o’clock on the afternoon of that day I had rather similar thoughts. The beginning of the wet landing had been easy. Truck after truck of our radar convoy had plunged down the ramp from our LST and roared shoreward. But alas, the water, instead of shallowing, steadily grew deeper. About the time it reached our waists, the truck in front stalled. Ours immediately followed suit, engine noise ceased, and all around pounded the relentless sea, already tearing at the canvas sides that protected the diesel generator.

    Far in the grey distance lay the beach. We could see the occasional shellburst. There seemed to be very little American activity; it all seemed to be suspended – and little promise of welcome. We could see no other vehicles rushing ashore. It was all rather isolated and lonely.

    [Passages follow about how Hitchcock’s arrival in Liverpool from New Zealand in 1940 until shortly before D-Day.]

    We Join the Offensive

    Late in May 1944, I was working at Group one morning when a colleague put his head round the door.
    ‘Want to go in with the invasion, Hitch?’
    ‘Sure,’ said I.
    Next day: ‘Get your kit - we’re going!’
    We learned that two mobile radar units had been assigned to go in with the invasion, and that a number of specialists in various aspects were to be attached, for the initial period, to assist with setting up complex technical equipment in battle conditions. Norman Best was to be GCI specialist, and I was to be electrical engineer specialist. And fate decreed that we were to join the unit allotted to the Americans and scheduled to land on what was to be known as the infamous Omaha Beach.

    Camp D2

    We joined Radar Unit 15082 – already ensconced among some thousands of American troops. Strict discipline – no short cuts across the open grass, everything camouflaged. The Americans were friendly, helpful and efficient. More deadly serious equipment was issued – an American assault respirator, worn on the chest in a waterproof bag (destined to be a lifesaver!); supplies to make us completely independent for forty-eight hours (including three condoms!), and maps of the landing area showing fortifications and machine-gun sites. Our briefing explained that we were to land at H-Hour plus five (about full tide) on Sector Dog-Red, entering by a cleared lane, and that a beachmaster would direct us to our exit.

    We set sail twice

    In the late afternoon of 4 June we set sail for France from Portland. Our slow fleet would take all night to cross the Channel and arrive at dawn on 5 June. But next morning I awoke to find land close on our right – we must have turned back! What could have happened? Was it all off?

    We spent the day pottering about in a borrowed dinghy, rowing around among the ships. Later, of course, we learned of the critical decision to postpone the landings for a day to minimise the effect of expected bad weather. That afternoon, we set off again, and woke to grey skies and a barely visible French coast.

    We Go in to Land

    At about 0900 hours our LST suddenly set off from the middle of the invasion fleet – straight in – ours leading, the other four following. The recce party was third. A patrol craft tossing about in the rough seas came close by: ‘What wave are you?’ I didn’t hear the reply, but the patrol seemed satisfied: ‘In you go!’

    As we neared the beach we could see clearly that it was not yet captured. The men ashore were taking cover from enemy fire; there was a vehicle burning; as we watched, an explosion blew a figure high in the air.

    Aboard our vessel was a US observer, who had experience at Pantellaria. He, we heard, had assessed the situation and concluded that the last thing needed ashore at this stage was a collection of technicians armed with radar aerials. Rather relieved, we turned seaward, presuming we could land next day.

    We stood off while naval guns pounded the shore. We saw the Vierville clock tower destroyed (we later learned it was suspected of housing German artillery observers). Mercifully, we knew nothing of the desperate battle by the American infantry to gain a foothold (this was the sector eastward of us, where the Americans had been carried by strong tidal currents). Nor did we know of General Bradley’s debating whether the Omaha landing should be abandoned.

    About four o’clock in the afternoon we were concluding that it would be useless to land now – no chance of working that night. Then, suddenly, in we went! It was now low tide, so we could be landed below the beach obstacles which the Army engineers had not yet been able to clear, because of enemy fire. Then followed the debacle.

    The Debacle

    The unplanned landing at low tide instead of high tide had disastrous results. Some vehicles were landed on sandbars and stalled as they drove into deeper water. Others sank in patches of soft sand on the long run up the beach and were immersed as the tide rose. Those reaching the shoreline found that the wire and earth barriers had not yet been breached and there was no way off the exposed beach. They became sitting targets for enemy shellfire, and shrapnel-punctured diesel oil drums fed the flames.

    On our LCT [sic], the ramp splashed down as the vessel grounded; the vehicles roared down the ramp; the water rose steadily around our waists; the engine gave up; and we sat – thinking the thoughts with which I began this tale.

    Suddenly, past us there surged a Thorneycroft – great bow wave, cab high above water – and leaning out, a grinning face under a tin hat, hand-signalling to us what might have been charitably interpreted as a V-sign. Just the irrepressible humour needed to jerk us back to practicality!

    I waded ashore to where our rescue Diamond-T crane waited, and managed to drag a cable back and grope under water to hook up. By the time it became clear that the surging sea had embedded the wheels too deep for retrieval to be possible, the water had risen to cab-top level. There was no way ashore except a swim in full kit, made possible by two factors – nightly keep-fit runs back at 60 Group, and that assault respirator, giving buoyancy!

    The crane crew had already one man wounded, and after I staggered exhausted up the beach between two obstacles, I could see nothing and no one – no beachmaster, no medics – just dead and wounded, and abandoned vehicles.

    After a brief rest, leaning against one of the vehicles, it seemed to me best to get busy; the urgent task was to save what equipment we could. Flames threatened an undamaged truck. I managed to pull out a wounded GI from his doubtful shelter underneath it, and drove my first ever heavy transport clear of the flames.

    Then a bulldozer suddenly appeared and cleared away the barriers, and there was a way off the beach, and our group seemed to come together again, rescuing what vehicles could be driven up to a field in the narrow valley and collecting wounded for evacuation. We had suffered heavy casualties – ten dead and forty wounded. The Americans had suffered horrific casualties, and the beaches were strewn with their dead.

    In the midst of all this, some of us found a place to sleep, under a hedge in the grounds of a seaside villa. I managed to borrow a blanket, and I don’t recall discomfort from wet clothes. There was a wry compensation in that the only air attack on our location came from a lone JU88 flying very low to avoid the hail of fire from the assembled shipping. (This uncontrolled ack-ack fire was to make the nightfighter task more difficult.)

    D-Day Plus One

    Up at dawn, some sodden biscuits, and off to rescue our Type 14 transmitter, caught in soft sand and then by the tide. A dead American leaned against the wheel, seaweed draped over all. We requested help from a bulldozer which was busy rescuing other bulldozers. Shelling started, and the engineers removing the beach obstacles took cover. The LST was shelled. The bulldozer arrived, extracted the Type 14 like a cork from a bottle, and towed it, still sinking into sand, past the LST wreck. Then came sniper fire from the bluffs, and the driver prudently abandoned the tow: he was too good a target. (We soon learned that walking briskly from cover to cover baffled the snipers – don’t stand still!)

    It appeared that further landings had been abandoned. Had it all been a failure? Were we just a few stranded on an enemy shore? Then came relief – American tanks advancing from the next sector (misnamed ‘Easy Beach’). Then a little later came one of those indelible moments in the memory – a group of men crowded around a radio vehicle listening to the BBC news – to be told that the invasion had been successful and that men and materials were pouring ashore at the other beaches.

    We carried on collecting our battered remnants and started the task of putting together what we could to become operational. Later, we moved to camp a site nearby.

    D-Day Plus Two and Later

    The American commander said that we’d better get out that RAF blue – it was too much like German field grey, and he couldn’t guarantee that his men might not mistake us for the enemy! And miraculously – in the middle of an invasion – our American allies produced from nowhere a miscellany of assorted khaki and we were instantly transformed into Americans – gum-chewing and all!

    A suitable operational site having been selected and tested for mines by careful backing of the Crossleys, some replacement gear arrived and we were on the air! On the night of D-Day plus one, 1 and a half enemy aircraft were shot down – the first GCI-controlled interception from the American beachhead.

    Within a week, we were hitching a return lift on an American LST from Utah Beach back to Portland.”

    I notice from post #74 that S/Ldr. Best’s account says that Hitchcock was later killed. Do you have any information about when that might have been? The book by Latham and Stobbs gives no indication of when his account was written or what became of him.

  5. chick42-46

    chick42-46 Senior Member


    Post #83 - covers the arrival of 15082 in Paris on 25 August 1944. That is also covered by Chapter 11 of “Canadians on Radar: Royal Canadian Air Force 1940 – 1945” by George K. Grande, Sheila M. Linden, & Horace R. Macaulay on www.rquick.com (link posted by Noel Burgess, post #94).

    My understanding is that it was usual for a unit like yours to have been escorted by RAF Regiment units. Kingsley Oliver’s book, “The RAF Regiment at War”, pg. 107 mentions that:

    “2798 Armoured Car Squadron, which had landed on Omaha Beach under American command shortly after D-Day, advanced with General Patton’s 3rd US Army from Rennes and was tasked with selecting and securing a radar site on Longchamps racecourse in the Bois de Boulogne. Entering Paris with the leading American and French troops on 25 August, 2798 Squadron became the first British unit to enter the city.”

    It seems that everyone wants to claim that they were the first unit to liberate Paris, cross the Rhine etc.!

    I certainly don't doubt 15082's claim to be first there. But do you recall if 15082 GCI had a RAF Regiment escort when entering Paris?

  6. DoctorD

    DoctorD WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Hi Ian

    Sorry for the delay in responding, but I've been distracted by a series of family crises of increasing severity of late; besides which my laptop seems to be being denied access to www.ww2talk.com for some unaccountable reason, and I'm starting to wonder if there has been a change of Server during my extended absence. Perhaps one of the Moderators could help. I just receive a Whoops! error from Google saying the server doesn't respond or, otherwise, has timed out. I've even tried direct access via and with equal lack of success. I've tried via Google, Yahoo, Explorer 9, Firefox and Safari - ZILCH!

    However, I can get access via my iPad, and younger generations of my family have no problem either. In fact, this is my third attempt at a reply in the past 12 hours but iPads are so touch sensitive that at the final Submit stage I lose everything, and get accused of just submitting a one-character reply! So I'm finally drafting this on my laptop, to copy onto my iPad and transmit it (hopefully) that way. (I bet I'm in danger of exceeding the permissible word count!)

    I note your interest in RAF White Caps. I never saw any during my time in the American Sector, but I was on an isolated unit manned by around twenty Radar/Wireless Mechanics as technical back-up for GCI's and their attendent mobile communications units. So I put your query to the surviving 96(?) yr old Canadian ex-Flight Sergeant (Chiefy) Radar Mechanic of 15082 GCI, with whom I am in touch. A copy of his emailed reply from Vancouver is appended.

    I have a typed copy of Ned Hitchcock's testimony, which is the same as you posted. I was under the mistaken impression that I had already posted it on this thread (it was certainly my intention); but I wasn't aware that it had been published. So thanks.

    As you see the Chiefy mentions Ned Hitchcock and also hints that Stan Mallet's premature excursion into the suburbs of Paris was 'unofficial' (I suspect an AWOL cover-up). You should bear in mind that the shared trauma of Omaha resulted in rather more than normal comradery between the survivors. 15082 GCI were certainly set up on the Longuechamps racecourse!

    I've just put together some material for posting the testimony of a further survivor that I'd overlooked. This one from a DMT that I couldn't have missed bumping into at some time or other, considering I paid Service visits to his Unit at various locations during the Normandy campaign. I've also collected a few pictures of the strange vehicles that equipped our mobile units at that time, although I'm not sure if this is the appropriate thread.

    Here's Chiefie's reply:

    "Now to the questions asked in recent 21 Base Defence Sector WW2TALK.

    1. Stan Mallett’s caper sounds as if it might have been later unless he had taken advantage of every bottle of wine being handed up from the streets on our way through. For some reason or other we had a new CO and one never knows how to deal with a new one so there was much official paper that didn’t quite make the Orderly Room until later when things quieted down. Some 60 years later, one Bill Firby asked me what had happened to his Charge Sheet.

    2, Ned Hitchcock was alive a few years ago and living the life of a retired academic in New Zealand. We kept in touch for awhile. I heard three or four years ago that he was quite frail.

    3. The RAF Regiment did not provide security. In the early days this was thought about but a decision to train ALL HANDS as Combined Operations people was made instead.

    (Principal Ghost)

    With kind regards, Ian,

  7. Noel Burgess

    Noel Burgess Senior Member

    Very good to hear from you again DoctorD

    Looking forward to further posts, especially the pictures, feel sure that everyone will be hapy for them to be posted on this thread as they relate to your memories

    Best wishes
  8. DoctorD

    DoctorD WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Hi Ian and Noel

    re Post 106 I've just received a note from the Canadian "Chiefy" to the effect that he has given further thought to RAF Regiment involvement with 15082GCI, as follows:

    "... and noted in a recent note to you that I had been quite emphatic about any association we may have had with the RAF Regiment.

    In a long and often bewildered life I have learned that one is seldom positive about anything and further to a previous comment re the above, there may have been an occasion when, on the move from one site to another, the RAF Regiment was involved, but they never provided security on any permanent basis. Certainly, I never received any briefing about it and never saw any of them while attached to the Americans. We developed plans for and maintained our own security, sometimes with the help of nearby army units. However, a few days after the fall of Paris, the previously mentioned Bill Firby (by then armed with a legal 48 hour pass) was found to be “improperly dressed” when wearing a somewhat bizarre mixture of American and British uniforms – a ”must” early in the campaign when Americans kept mistaking Air Force blues for German grey, as you probably remember, so the RAF Regiment was around."

    Personally, I never saw any in the American Sector; but that's because my MSSU was detached, independent and comprised only twenty or so bods. So we were expected to cover site security and guard duties ourselves. But that's not to say they didn't have a presence there; which they quite obviously did, since they sustained casualties there! I think there's sometimes a tendency to confuse RAF Regt with RAF Police, I certainly have done so on occasions - ending up in the Guardroom.


  9. DoctorD

    DoctorD WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    In “2nd TAF" Vol 4 Ch 17 I refer to a Wireless Operator who, during the course of my service visit to his Mobile Signals Unit, at St Pièrre Église, graphically described events on Omaha Beach on D-day. It transpires that the MT Driver on this unit was a survivor of a Special Tactical Company who had consequently been seconded to this MSU, whose communications antenna I had repaired.

    It's likely that 85 Group’s initial cross-Channel HF transmissions to SHAEF through this MSU were relayed via RAF seaborne Tenders, located mid-English Channel, until the higher powered SWAB-8 transmitter units were set up in anticipation of the re-location of SHAEF to France. From information that has since come into my possession this MSU’s route from Omaha Beach to finally arrive at St Pièrre Église, corresponds exactly with that followed by my own unit from St Père du Mont; this being Carentan, Ste Mère Église, Volognes etc. The unit also seems to have been associated with the one I serviced later at St Lô, and to the unit that subsequently returned to us in Brussels from the Ardennes, around Christmas 1945, having escaped the Battle of the Bulge.

    This evidence leads me to believe this MSU’s driver was Archie Ratcliffe, extracts from whose testimony, a draft of which recently came my way, are included below:

    “ Earlier, in March 1944, eight of us were told to report to the Adjutant; we were informed that we were to travel to Inverury, in Scotland. We wondered why just eight of us were sent there. On arriving at the said establishment, we found to our surprise, that it was a training camp for Commando units. We were to be given intensive assault training and, believe me they really gave us the works. I never realised just how unfit I was and I was glad when it was finished. There, a month was long time. We then moved to Troon in Ayrshire where we did Ianding, for 2 weeks arriving off and on L.C.T,’s in various depths of water. It was then we realised that we had training with Sten guns and hand grenades. We were practising for the invasion, which gave much discussion and food for thought.
    We then returned to Gerrards Cross to do a few jobs. One particularly interesting job was at the Denham Film Studios who were into camouflage in a big way, with various and amazing items as well as very ingenious models.

    Just a few days into May, once again, I was called into the adjutant’s office where we were told to go to a depot, somewhere near London, but I forget where. We were loaded with a variety of items; some were loaded with radio equipment, some with very Iong drums of heavy cable, which must have weighed 3 tonnes apiece. I was loaded with line poles from floor to roof apart from a bed space, of which all vehicles of the Unit were allocated by the C.O. Group Captain McQueen. We had to report to the Armoury to collect our Sten Guns and 'Ammo‘ and nine magazines. We journeyed to ‘Old Sarum’ to have our vehicules waterproofed. That’s when we realised it wouldn’t be long before the invasion. We were then encamped somewhere in the New Forest for 2 weeks. You couldn’t write any letters or get out of this so-called camp.

    On the evening of June 4th, we were told to move out of the camp. I guessed that the time must have been about 21.30 – 22.30 Hrs. We picked up an army chap of the 16th Air Formation Signals who was a King's Corporal, with a Military Medal, who was to travel with me, Bill Pilling and his oppo another Signals bod. Embarked as light was fading. I could just make out the Isle of Wight on our left. It was very wet and rainy and blowing like the devil. Once on the Channel it was getting very rough and very stormy. Vehicles shifting about - it made some of the lads seasick, including the sailors. Suddenly we were told we were returning back to the land: I think it was Gosport. We sailed about the same time on the evening of June 5th, 1944. Still rough and stormy. L.C.T. really thumping about. I haven't mentioned the names of the others. I shall have to rely upon my memory. Bill Pilling, two Sandersons, Dad Sanderson from Blackburn, Curly Sanderson rom Manchester, A Sullivan from Brighton, Tubby Rowberry George Forshaw. Sea running very rough; tried to sleep on top of the load, but did this unsuccessfully. I managed to get a little inthe cab. A lot of apprehensive talk, some silly jokes from Dad Sanderson, but very funny all the same. Underneath all the joking was a lot of serious thinking, nerves, apprehension, not to say some of what would lie ahead.

    The Commander of the L.C.T. called us together and told us that we go to a beach under the name of OMAHA, and that we would be landing in the American sector at H2 hours. Had a couple of scares that there were some E--boats about and possibly a submarine The sea was till running high and some of the lads were still feeling seasick, and would be gad to be ashore. As it turned out, there would be a change of mind later. We had been at sea for 9 hours or so. As it was getting towards dawn we could hear lots of aircraft again, having previously heard a large number during the night. An hour later, we could hear a lot of either bombing or heavy gun fire. As it got lighter, we couls see nothing but ships and boats of all sizes; battleships, destroyers, LST's, LCT's, LCI's, and hundreds of them. What an incredible sight.

    As we came in sight cf Omaha beach, the noise was tremendous. We could see the American lads in LCI’s and LCTS going ashore. The scene was terrible. We could see there must have been a lot of trouble on the beach. There was heavy shelling and mortar fire, plus very heavy machine gun firing.

    The Commander of our LCT told us that we were to delay going ashore as there was quite some trouble for us getting ashore with the Yanky infantry through Jerry shelling and mortar fire, very heavily at all sea craft that were trying to get in. Now everybody aboard our own LCT were getting more than a little anxious now. We had had several new misses already as we had been under fire for a few hours. We had been very close to an American battleship for most of the time, I think it was the noise of its guns that was so deafening. Also, there was a couple of LCR’s (Rocket ships) close by that kept up an unholy noise.

    I think the time was getting on for about 11.00-11.30 (probably later). We had been hanging about for several hours now, when we were told that we had to go now, or we would miss the tide and have to be dropped too far out. I happened to be the first one in line that was to go ashore. As we got nearer to the beach, we could see the mayhem. There were bodies everywhere in the sea, in burning LCT’s and LCIS. We were dropped about 100 yards from the shore.

    As I came off the LCT the sea filled my cab almost to the top of the steering wheel. The Corporal CPL with me said "Don’t you dare take your ‘so and so’ foot off that ‘so and so’ accelerator." My mind was in quite a whirl during the run in. The mortaring and shelling was getting heavy again. The Corporal CPL said he could see and hear shrapnel and bullets hitting all around. With my load of line poles, I was concerned that we might lose traction, and float, so being a sitting duck. Eventually, we arrived on the beach at last. The beach master was going potty signalling to come on, so I did through a large lake of water that was on the beach, which was either an old shell hole or a hole left by a mine as there was a lot of debris and bodies scattered about. My 2 front wheels of the lorry went in and stopped very abrupty. As I was trying to get out, an ambulance came in front of me he unfortunately hit a mine and blew up, also taking some others at the same time. I never realised just how deep the beach was. I reckon ii must have have been between 400-600 yards deep.

    There was utter carnage all around. I didn’t know where the other lads were; I didn’t know if they’d even got off the LCT. The noise was terrible, very smoky and smelly. The Corporal said he could see a large Yanky recce vehicle up near the bluffs to his left and suggested we make for it. I can’t remember having said anything all the time from leaving the LCT. We managed to get to the recce vehicle but he said I was swearing and shouting all the time, and that none of the Germans had no mothers and fathers…. We dug in, in between the recce vehicle and my Crossiey. Somebody must have been looking out for us as we all survived the landings. Bill Pilling was dug in about 30 yards away. We were at various parts of the beach, but had managed to get up under the bluffs. Most had lost their vehicles during the mortar fire and shelling as the morning went on. Only mine and Bill’s were serviceable, but both had received plenty of shrapnel attention. Several times during that morning we went out to get the wounded under these bluffs for attention by the medics.

    Things had quietened down for a while, but there was still plenty of activity about. It seemed to be bad a bit further along the beach, about 690 yaxds or so. We could see more LCT‘s trying to get ashore. They were getting a hell of a beating. We could see that they were in battle dress, so we knew that it was the RAF Special Signals Unit that we were to join at the same map reference that we were given. It was 15082 GCI Unit. We had been with them for a couple of days before we sailed, so we knew all of them. There was nothing we could do to help them. We could see them trying to get off the beach with their vehicles, but were getting heavily mortared and machine gunned. We knew they were getting casualties and losing vehicles; that’s how it went on for most of the day. Grateful that our lads had survived without any really serious injuries or wounds. Most of us had a few cuts and bruises. I had something stuck in my lmce, a cut on my arm plus a bloody nose and very sore eyes. Most had very similar cuts etc. 15082 were not so fortunate.

    They lost 8 killed and several wounded, some seriously. I think most of 313 STC lads were resigned that we wouldn’t survive the day. We were mostly in a state of shock during the first few hours. We didn’t get off the beach until about 10:00 hours when the Padre got ps off to a concentration area on top of the beach. That is where the American Cemetery is now, at St.Laurent sur Mer. Having got to the concentration area, we found we only had 3 of our vehicles than were able to get there.

    We were constantly under attack (this relates to D-day itself) for most of the day, but the Americans were much worse than we were. For the majority of them, there was nowhere to go. We were under the bluffs, with some sort of protection, apart from the threat of Jerry lobbing down his Potato Mashers (Grenades) at us. The Americans were getting slaughtered by the hundreds, possibly thousands. I suppose it is one thing that will remain with me for the rest of my life. The shouts for the medics that seemed to go on forever, the wounded screaming, bodies everywhere, limbs scattered all around us, total and utter carnage. Jerry was having a field day. The first half of the day he had complete control of Omaha Beach, from his position on top of the bluffs, and from his bunkers. They must’ve been firing from open sights; he could hardly miss. We heard later if they couldn’t get Jerry off his perch by that evening, they wouldn’t be sending in any more troops. What a thought! But with tremendous courage and a lot of sacrifice, here we are. We have such a lot to thank the Americans for, I salute them all.

    During all that was happening during the day, the RAF Padre was walking about the whole of the time, comforting the wounded and giving the last rites to the wounded and the dead, to both RAF and Americans. I heard later that he had received the Military Cross (the Padre). Also our own Medic received the Military Medal.

    We had settled down for the night, RAF personnel and the Americans altogether. The Americans had managed to get a few half tracks and tanks ashore. They were all very concentrated; blokes with vehicles were sleeping under their wagons, others were lying beside the half tracks or in hastily dug slit trenches. I don’t know what time it was, but sometime in the very early hours, Jerry decided to give us a call by way of the Luftwaffe who started bombing and straffing. The noise was incredible, not only from Jerry but from all the half tracks, machine guns and anti-aircraft guns that the Yanks had got ashore. All the boats at sea were joining in as well. The amount of shrapnel that was falling was unbelievable. It just showered down. Some spectacle after crawling out from under my lorry, Dick Sullivan called me to the back of my truck to show me that a cannon shell was embedded in the iron stay of my tailboard.

    The first thing in the morning was to bury our dead. Not a very pleasant job. The worst of the wounded had been taken to the casualty clearing station. The rest of that day was spent trying to sort things out. Our unit had lost six out of eight vehicles. 15082 GCI had only one signals van and one recce vehicle. News had reached us that two of our lads had been taken prisoner by the Americans because, like us, they were wearing gas impregnated Air Force blue, plus all the muck and dust that the uniforms had picked up during the fighting on the beach. They were thought to be Germans infiltrating. One was Tubby Dyer and the other was Titch ? - I forget his surname. Apparently they were sent back to England. After that episode the eight of us with other members of 15082 were sent to the Yanky H.Q. where we were kitted out with American uniforms i.e. shirts, vests, jackets, pigskin boots and blankets. We were also supplied with full cases of their compacts, cigarettes, chocolate, etc. They were very generous towards us, especially when they knew what our job was, that the unit was calling in airstrikes to cover their infantry.

    The shelling was still a problem, but no way near on the same scale as it had been. Progress was quite slow in our Sector. Jerry had now brought in his Panzers, and was giving the Yanks a hard time of it, until our (Typhoon Fighter Bombers) got to work. By now both units were kept very busy, in fact there didn’t seem to be enough hours in the day. I was detailed to a Signals Officer, a certain Flying Officer Pine. I was to be his personal driver. Where he went, I went. We worked with the forward American infantry, calling in the Typhoons, Spitfires and sometimes American Thunderbolt Fighter Bombers to bomb and rocket the German Armour where you could see the Panzers and Tiger Tanks no more than 300-400 metres away. It was quite an experience, especially when the Typhoons got to work. They were absolutely devastating. That is how things went for us during that episode most days of the campaign, once we got through Isigney, Carantan. St.Lô was a problem for the Yanks in that sector, but we pushed on up through Caratan and over the Mederat. The floods through Ste Mère Église, Monterberg, Valognes, then on to St Pièrre Eglise. That was our main base. [A mile or so from 309MSSU. (Dr. D)] That was where we operated from until Cherbourg was taken. We then moved to Touqeville, where our headquarters were situated in the local Chateau. That was only the second time we could have a bath, as water had been strictly rationed, whereas we could use the American mobile baths unit. That episode of the war with the Americans ended after the breakthrough from St Lô.

    I was later to be associated with them later during the European campaign, such as the Ardennes campaign. The Normandy campaign was some initiation for Lads that had never seen action before. To be thrown in the deep end. I suppose there were many more incidents that happened during those months with the Yanks, but are too numerous to put down now. One thing I will say is how well the Americans looked after us. They were absolutely great, generous to a fault.”

    Please note that I am not aware whether, or where, this draft was ever published; and my editing of the extracts prior to OCR scanning has been confined to changing the order of the paragraphs for sequential clarity, but the text is otherwise untouched. My thanks, albeit indirectly, to Archie Ratcliffe or his surviving relatives, whom I would hope not to have denied me the opportunity of seeing his narrative receive the wider recognition it deserves.
  10. nofnet

    nofnet Junior Member

    Another very affecting story and further testimony to the involvement of the RAF in the Normandy assault landings. Thanks once again Doctor D for the work you are doing to collect this information and make it more widely known.
  11. pauldawn

    pauldawn Senior Member

    As a past RAF man myself i read this thread about RAF at Omaha landings with intrest. Not only because im ex raf though. My wifes grandfather landed at Sword D-Day +3. He was a RAF LAC and attached to a mobile radar unit. He spent a while at Caen before moving to a field a couple of miles outside the city from there he followed the rear of the allies bringing in allied air atacks all the way into holland.

    before his Normandy adventure he was at RAF Wittering and RAF White Waltham employed on Radar. His basic training was undertaken at RAF Hednesford and/or Warrington.

    Unfortunately this is more or less all we know. Would you have any idea what unit he was serving with in Normandy and anything about them?

    There is only one other name that we have. a friend of my wifes grandad, he was called Paul Birch. They served throughout the war together.

    My wifes grandads name was LAC Lewis Maybray 1044280 (Known as "Loo") He was called up in 1940 aged 32.

    Regards and thanks for a brilliant post!!

    Paul Seymour
  12. DoctorD

    DoctorD WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Hi Paul

    Welcome to the club. Glad you found the thread interesting.

    Since you know granddad-in-law's service number it should be quite easy for his nearest of kin to apply for his RAF service record which will show the units he served on. However, service with a Mobile Radar Unit presents a bit of a problem as far as follow up is concerned, for information relating to their activities and movements was regarded as ultra-sensitive in those days, so it's unlikely you'd find an Operational Record Book for his unit archived at PRO Kew. That for my own unit certainly isn't there, although this could possibly be due to us swanning around within the American Sector for the first few months. If somebody in the family has his Release book, this will show the dates of his overseas service.

    I hope this helps to start you on a fruitful journey; but don't hesitate to ask for further help, as there are an astonishing number of very bright guys (and gals) in this forum.

    Best of luck
  13. pauldawn

    pauldawn Senior Member

    hi les, thanks for this.

    Over the weekend i was able to do a bit more research, mainly online but also by chatting to my wifes dad, the sone of the LAC in question. nyway, it turns out that he was part of 83 group, 2nd TAF. It seems he was working in one of the TCC's ground to air comms, so the mobile radar may have been a bit of a red herring. it turns out he was trained in both comms and radar. he was there for the duration of the invasion finding himself in france, holland and belgium and ultimately being de-mobbed from Schlezwig Holstein (if thats how its spelled) at the end of the war. He followed a few miles behind the front lines, talking to the air crews calling in air attacks.

    im still wanting to get hold of his Service Record, but after several requests to my father-in-law, this hasnt happened yet ;-)

    once again thanks for the help.


  14. Trux

    Trux 21 AG Patron

    AMES Type 15000.

    It could be a Forward Direction Post (Air Ministry Experimental Station Type 15000) you are looking for. AMES 15054 landed on Sword. There is a book called 'Off to War with 054' by John Kemp. This is an account of the adventures of the unit from the UK to the Baltic.

    Some details can be found on the Trux website. Use the search facility on this forum site and enter 2 TAF.

  15. ted angus

    ted angus Senior Member

    Paul By C/T I presume he was a Chief Technician by rank ?? The rank was introduced in the 1950 restructuring of the RAF so when did the chap in question leave the Service ???

  16. pauldawn

    pauldawn Senior Member

    Paul By C/T I presume he was a Chief Technician by rank ?? The rank was introduced in the 1950 restructuring of the RAF so when did the chap in question leave the Service ???


    hi ted

    i cant thank you enough for that! i dont know why but ive always been lead to believe he was a chief tech, after reading your comment i have check with my father-in-law (his son) who tells me he was actually an LAC. many thanks for bringing this to my attention. ive now changed each ref to his rank in previous posts. He was demobbed from germany, so im assuming it was 1945 / 46, we are awaiting his Service Record.

  17. ted angus

    ted angus Senior Member

    Thanks Paul, you had me head scratching !! looking forward to reading more about the gentlman
  18. DoctorD

    DoctorD WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Hi guys,

    I also found it strange to find a Chief Technician (in modern parlance) on the strength of a lowly Mobile Signals Unit which, at best, would generally have had a Corporal i/c.
    Such MSU's were attached to GCI's to provide ground/air communications for Controllers to direct Fighters to targets. But there were many differing types of MSU's to cover varying operational requirements.

    I recall being called upon to fit airborne type VHF transmitter/receivers, just prior to the Rhine crossing, into some tanks of the 51st Highland Div for the commanders to communicate directly with strike aircraft.

    Whilst I'm here, for those still interested, I thought I'd post, as promised, the first of the many types of strange vehicles with which GCI's and Mobile Signals Units of 2nd TAF were equipped with for us to operate or work in, quite often to sleep in, and sometime to sleep under!

    In fact the 15cwt "Box" Bedford Workshop vehicle shown here is the actual one that I drove quite often; one memorable occasion being when I slept on its roof. The potential breakdown required one Wireless Mechanic (me, the only driver) and two Radar Mechanics, each of whom took turns to sit on the battery box between the driver and co-drivers seats on the journey from Brussels.

    With an overcast sky, we had taken shelter for the night by parking on the riverside road beneath the fly-over exit road of the destroyed river bridge close to badly damaged Cologne Cathedral. This type of servicing workshop van had a bench (complete with Vice) on each side upon which, as a last resort, we could sleep. But, with an extra man to accommodate, I drew the short straw to sleep on the roof.

    Awaking in some discomfort, not due to perspiration, but from rain having percolated through my bed roll, I was puzzled to see stars shining from a clearing sky through the shell hole in the road directly above our parking spot. (Who said we needed a jokes thread?) I spent the rest of the night uncomfortably seated on the fuel tank of the petrol-electric motor-generator set we carried between the two benches. I drew some wicked comfort from keeping the other two awake from the heat of the primus stove I had lit to dry myself out. (Elf ‘n’ safety be blowed!)

    Always remember the good times;)

    15cwt Bedford Servicing Wkshop that I drove.jpg

    50cm Radar.jpg


    Height finder.jpg
  19. pauldawn

    pauldawn Senior Member

    what a brilliant account Les, fascinating stuff. my wifes grandfather seemed to have spent his time in a Bedford QLR radio truck. He told my wifes dad how under an air attack he and his "mate" took shelter only to find after the attack that they had actually taken shelter under a fuel tanker!! I can think of better places to hide lol

  20. ted angus

    ted angus Senior Member

    Les fantastic pictures !! Can I presume the unit marking 309 MSSU is 309 Mobile Signals Servicing Unit ??
    ps the 1950 trade restructure introduced a 2 parallel rank structure system for many trades; individuals could elect which path they followed. C/T was initially Flt Sgts who elected the tech promotion route. In the 1964 restructure C/T became the rank in tech trades between Sgt and Flt Sgt. All a bit too far off topic for me to go into great detail on this thread.

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