Air of Authority - A History of RAF Organisation

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The RAF Maintenance Plan for Operation Overlord

The following details are based on Chapter 19 of AP3397 (originally issued in 1954 as CD1131)

Background to RAF Maintenance Plans for operations in North-West Europe

Unlike operations carried out from the UK much of the Maintenance function would need to be mobile and based over on the continent although until that could be set up and established the main base for the operation was to be in the United Kingdom.  Following the invasion it would be necessary to get the Base Group (No 85 Group) in a position to be able to administer the Maintenance effort as soon as possible but in the meantime a supply and maintenance system would be needed to ensure the units in the field were able to function satisfactorily.  It was therefore decided to create a number of units whose functions would cease when the base administrative units took over.

At this stage it was thought that the temporary system of delivering supplies across the beaches would continue to at least D+30.  Although it was anticipated that the first port would be opened by D+17, this wasn't expected to make much difference to the position, as the bulk of its capacity was to be allocated to the Americans.  Therefore in order to ensure the proper handling, unloading, storage, entraining, etc., of RAF equipment and supplies arriving via the beaches, a beach organisation was accordingly formed to carry out this work until the opening of the British 'Mulberry' artificial port, and the capture of other existing ports, diverted the bulk of the traffic to more normal channels. Other units with a purely temporary function would also need to be formed to carry out 'running repairs' to aircraft and MT, until the permanent replacement and repair system could come into operation.  Once a firm foothold had been secured on the Continent quite different systems of supply and maintenance would need to be employed from those which would be employed in the later phases of the operation.

Following the initial assault the immediate and overriding task of the RAF administrative organisation would be to maintain in fighting condition as many aircraft as the operational plan required.  It was vital to ensure that no hitch occurred through a breakdown in the chain of supply and maintenance.  The actual construction of airfields was mainly an Army responsibility, since the Royal Engineers were better equipped to do the job, but the RAF would need to undertake practically all other services necessary to administer the finished product.  Having said that it was planned that assistance would be provided by the RAF Airfield Construction Wings but the RE would be the 'Main' contractor.  In order to achieve and maintain air superiority it would be necessary to plan administratively for a higher rate of construction than could be foreseen before the assault took place, so that any unexpected advantages would not be wasted.

The RAF Administrative Plan envisaged a development up to D+40 as indicated below.

Date British Sector
D-Day 1 Emergency Landing Strip
D+3-4 2 Refuelling and Rearming Strips
D+8 5 Advanced Landing Grounds
D+14 10 Airfields
D+24 15 Airfields
D+40 25 Airfields


The Functions of the Base Group

During the initial stages of the assault responsibility for RAF administration was vested in AOC, 2nd TAF, until such time as TAF units vacated the base area (i.e. by D+30-40) and units of No. 85 (Base) Group moved in to take over the administration of the rear.  2nd TAF was composed of two Composite Groups (Nos 83 and 84), No 2 Group and No. 34 Reconnaissance Wing.   Each of the composite groups had a number of attached units such as mobile aircraft and MT and signals maintenance units which were to become part of the RAF forward maintenance organisation in due course.  These units carried the full weight of maintenance and servicing during the difficult 'emergency' period before the long-term organisation could become operative.  On the Continent the gradual build-up of the base group units was the task of AOC, 2nd TAF, who was also responsible for the control of such units landed very early in the assault phase

The first elements of No. 85 Group to cross the Channel were not the administrative ones, but the Static Fighter Defence organisation for the protection of the base area.  Gradually administrative units moved across during the post assault and build up stages until it they were responsible for the whole base.  Therefore No 85 Group had two roles, one administrative and one operational but by the far the most important was the administrative role, which was to provide the permanent administrative base for the RAF Component of AEAF.  In addition to his responsibility for the Command and administration of all units assigned to the Group, AOC, No 85 Group, also had to carry out the local administration of other RAF units operating in or passing through the base area.  He was also responsible for the administration and care of all RAF detachments and personnel temporarily in the base and Lines of Communication (L of C) area which were not under the control of another HQ.  He was responsible for ensuring that stocks of equipment were kept at the levels laid down by HQ, AEAF and in conjunction with the appropriate Army authorities, HQ, AEAF and HQ, 2nd TAF, he was to work out the plans for the move of the base group to the Continent.

The general control and development of the rear maintenance area was the responsibility of HQ, 21st Army Group, in co-operation with Second Army and 2nd TAF.  Stores and supply depots in the base areas were to be controlled by the Army commanders and AOC, 2nd TAF, with RAF requirements of stores being included in Second Army Bids.

There was to be only one RAF base maintenance organisation, and it was to be capable of moving in echelons, in case the capture of further ports should make possible the shortening of the L of C as a whole. Where there was no RAF base organisation near to a port, RAF stores were to be handled by RAF embarkation staff. Two RAF embarkation units were authorised to form on 1 January 1944 and these were to be allotted to the first two British-operated ports to be opened. A third embarkation unit was to be formed to deal with RAF stores passing through the British' Mulberry,' and at one time it was proposed to have a similar unit operating at the American 'Mulberry.' It was later decided, however, that owing to a reduction in capacity of the American artificial port, there was no need for an RAF embarkation unit there: this unit was accordingly cancelled on 29 June 1944.

Formation of No 85 Group

The formation of a base maintenance group had been under consideration for many months before definite proposals for the creation of No 85 Group were submitted to the Air Ministry. In December 1943, however, HQ, AEAF put forward a scheme for the setting up of one base air defence wing, certain signals units, and a nucleus of the Air Staff for the Group HQ.  On 8 January 1944 the HQ of No 85 Group was authorised to form in full, and from that time on the various units which were to constitute the base group were gradually transferred to the new headquarters. Many of the base administrative units had already been formed, or were in process of formation, by January, but a vast amount of training lay ahead, and further units were still to be created. The principal types of administrative unit in No 85 (Base) Group were the following :-

Administration and Maintenance In the United Kingdom

Responsibility for the administration of all units of the RAF Component, while based in the United Kingdom, rested with the respective commanders. All units of No 85 Group which were to operate under 2nd TAF in the early stages on the Continent were, however, to be transferred to the command of 2nd TAF before leaving their tactical dispositions in the United Kingdom. The object of this decision was to facilitate administration generally, and in particular to avoid any duplication of orders relating to embarkation. It was hoped that all units of the air forces would have arrived at their tactical locations by 1 February 1944. There were, however, the following exceptions: first, those required to fulfil the Cover Plan, secondly, certain American units reaching the United Kingdom after that date, and lastly, units which would be operating towards 'D' Day from ALGs, and would have to be accommodated on permanent aerodromes while the winter lasted. It was accordingly essential that the supply system from main depots to air stores parks and repair and salvage units should remain as flexible as possible.

Results of the Concentration of Tactical Air Forces in S. England

The concentration of the British and American tactical air forces in southern England was bound to have a marked effect on the existing organisation of Maintenance Command and US Air Service Command in that area. One urgent requirement was the immediate formation of the RSUs and ASPs needed to complete Nos 83 and 84 Composite Groups. Another important task was the selection of specific repair and equipment depots to serve each of the two TAFs; this action involved the possibility of adjustments of stocks and equipment at the depots concerned, as they would have to continue to serve the units permanently in the United Kingdom which they had served hitherto, while giving priority to the maintenance of the AEAF units. Such depots would, moreover, have to be organised in a way that would permit them to throw off an advanced element for use on the Continent at a fairly early stage in the operation. Approval for the setting up of a nucleus of these advanced depots for the Royal Air Force had already been given before the end of 1943, but a great deal remained to be done. The problem of creating a supply system which would be fully efficient, and yet not impair the mobility of airfield HQs, ASPs, and RSUs, was one which required very special attention. Accordingly, a constant review was made of all the items consumed and held by units, in order that reasonably reliable establishment figures could be laid down for each type of maintenance unit. The information obtained in this way was used in determining the composition of the maintenance 'pack' for the ASPs and for the advanced equipment depot.

Pre-Stocking of Airfields

Since many of the airfields to be used for Overlord were in what were to be the Army concentration and assembly areas, where roads would inevitably be congested from about D minus 15 until the end of the first stage of the transition to the Continent, it was necessary to arrange for these airfields to hold special stocks of equipment and supplies. This measure was known as the Pre-Stocking of Airfields.  Its aim was to ensure the efficient operation of units during the period of intensive air operations based in the United Kingdom and to make it possible at the conclusion of that period for units to cross to the Continent with their correct establishment of stores. By the method of pre-stocking these ends could be achieved without unwelcome demands on road space at a time when transport had to be cut to the minimum if dislocation was to be avoided.

Maintenance Problems during Squadron Moves'

A rather more formidable problem for the maintenance organisation in the United Kingdom was that of providing service for squadrons after the airfield HQs and supporting ancillary units had left for their Continental locations. It was estimated that about seven days would elapse between the packing up of the HQs and the date when their squadrons would have arrived and be ready to operate from the new airfields overseas; and this at a time when the squadrons concerned were required to operate from the United Kingdom at a particularly intensive rate of effort.  It was proposed to meet this situation by the setting up of a duplicate airfield and maintenance organisation, to function during the period of the move and while the airfields on the Continent were being prepared for the reception of the squadrons. The plan was to locate the squadrons temporarily at static stations, which would receive an adequate stock of maintenance requirements for the seven days or so that the transition involved.  A number of vital personnel from each Airfield HQ would be retained, and the necessary balance drawn from the Static Station HQs and from other sources.  With regard to salvage, supply, repair and replacement of equipment, the assistance of Maintenance Command would be available.

Emergency Replacement Pools

Another problem of administration in the United Kingdom prior to and during the early phases of the assault, was to arrange for the provision of swift replacements for personnel, vehicle and equipment wastage occurring before the normal procedure for replacement could be fully operative - i.e. during the move to the marshalling areas, the actual embarkation and crossing, and the preliminary period of establishment on the Continent.  To cope with this demand HQ, AEAF was to arrange for the setting up of special reserve pools in southern England. One pool, containing personnel and vehicles, was to be established near the concentration area, and was to provide replacements for casualties arising during the move of units from their tactical locations to the marshalling areas.  In addition, an emergency pool of vital personnel vehicles and equipment was to be set up in the vicinity of the RAF marshalling areas to afford swift replacement of wastage occurring during embarkation, crossing, and the early build-up period.

The responsibility for carrying out the salvage and repair of aircraft and MT in the area to be vacated by 2nd TAF and No 85 Group was to be assigned to No 43 Group, which would gradually take over control as the RSUs and MTLRUs belonging to 2nd TAF began to move to their Continental 1ocations.

The Organisation and Control of Movement

One of the most complex aspects of the administration of the air forces in Overlord prior to the actual assault was the organisation and control of movement.  As has been mentioned already, the effect of amassing in southern England the enormous forces required for the assault was likely to mean serious confusion on the roads leading to the embarkation points, unless a very rigid and detailed control of the movement of units was exercised.  During the mounting of the operation the supreme authority for RAF movement lay with the Director of Movements, Air Ministry, working with the DQMG, War Office, and the Chief of Transportation, ETOUSA. This central control was to be effective until units had embarked.  During the development of the operation the procedure for movement was based on the provisions of a pamphlet prepared under the direction of the QMG and AMSO for issue to all units. The title of the paper was 'Overseas Movement - Instructions for Commanding Officers (Combined Operations - Short Sea Voyage).'  In most cases the movement of RAF units was arranged by RAF Movement Control, but where no representatives of the latter were available, unit commanders took their orders from the Army movement authority.

The overall control of movement to the Continent during the initial build-up of the expeditionary forces, when a day-to-day supervision of the phasing in of units was essential, was vested in the Build-Up Control Organisation (BUCO).  This body was composed of representatives of the Commanders-in-Chief of the Allied Naval Expeditionary Force, 21st Army Group, and AEAF, and was located at Combined HQ, Portsmouth.  Its function was to control the build-up and to make bulk allocations of ships and craft to the various users, basing its decisions on the information supplied by Turn-Round Control Organisation (TURCO), the Naval body concerned with the turn-round of ships and craft.  Once the build-up priorities had been decided by the representatives of the Force Commanders in BUCO, the task of preparing the actual movement programme embodying these policy decisions fell to Movement Control Organisation (MOVCO), a subordinate branch of the Build-Up Control Organisation, which then forwarded the programme to Movement Control, Southern Command.  The latter were responsible for issuing the appropriate Movement Instructions to units regarding transfer to concentration areas and then to marshalling areas.  Such instructions carried the authority of Force Commanders and could not be amended by COs of units.

As BUCO was in control of the ground movement of all RAF and USAAF units its machinery had considerable ramifications and utilised a large number of bodies, including a concentration area camp staffed by ADGB, a replacement pool administered by HQ, AEAF, and a static movements staff responsible to the Air Ministry.  One of the main tasks of the AEAF representative on BUCO was, of course, to secure adequate sea lift for the air forces.  From the Air Force point of view the BUCO procedure worked very well; as compared with the normal methods of controlling movement overseas - i.e. through the Admiralty and War Office - the BUCO organisation was capable of a much swifter response to the unpredictable requirements which air warfare is liable to involve.

Accordingly, when it was suggested in July and August 1944 that BUCO might be closed down, a protest came from Main HQ, 2nd TAF, asking that no such action be taken until No 2 Group and the outstanding units of No 85 Group had been phased in, which it was expected would have happened by the middle of October. The views of 21st Army Group on this matter concurred with those of TAF, and in a memo dated 9 October the former stated that BUCO would continue to function for an indefinite period.

Movement Prior to Embarkation'

In order to get units from the UK to the Continent required three major phases of movement, in chronological order these were :-

(a) from tactical locations to the concentration area;

(b) from the concentration area to the marshalling area; and

(c) from the marshalling area to the embarkation area.

In the normal sense of the word, units were concentrated on reaching their tactical dispositions, but in order to carry out efficiently the first stage of waterproofing, in readiness for the sea crossing, it was desirable that all RAF units should pass through one point on their journey to the embarkation areas.  The point selected for this purpose was the RAF station at Old Sarum, which was therefore the concentration area as far as the Royal Air Force were concerned. The job of waterproofing was an enormous and complicated one, for until ports became available, and vehicles could be unloaded directly on to dry land, all had to be waterproofed for wading to a depth of 3 ft 9 in.  It was anticipated that this would apply to all vehicles disembarked up to D+42.  Responsibility for carrying out or supervising waterproofing was vested in the Air Ministry, which provided special personnel for the task.  Arrangements for waterproofing the contents of vehicles were to be made by HQ, 2nd TAF and HQ, 85 Group. There were three stages in the process; Stage 'A' was to be performed in the concentration area, Stage 'B' in the marshalling areas, and Stage 'C' in the embarkation areas. Completion of each stage was to be indicated on the vehicle by a coloured paint mark, and no vehicle was allowed to embark unless it bore all three marks.

Units to be landed on D-Day and D+ I might not pass through Old Sarum but through a military concentration area. Their target date for arrival there was about eight days prior to the assault.  Units to be landed after D+1 were to move into the concentration area about five days before they were due to land on the other side.

Control of movement in the concentration area was to be held by RAF Movement Control, Southern Command, working closely with the representatives of Director of Movements, Air Ministry, at Combined HQ

Units would not normally spend more than 48 hours in the concentration area, and during this time administration would be carried out under arrangements made by the Air Ministry, all domestic services being provided.

In the marshalling areas, the principal activity was the breaking down of units into unit parties, and the formation of these into craft or shiploads in readiness for embarkation.  Road movement into the marshalling areas was normally by day, and vehicle parties were grouped in convoys of a convenient size. The commander of each convoy sent ahead an officer, accompanied by unit representatives, to report full details of the convoy at the marshalling area regulating post, one hour before the convoy was due to arrive.  Once in the marshalling areas, the composition of the parties commenced, and an officer or NCO put in charge of each.  In addition, an OC Troops was appointed in the marshalling areas for each craft or ship, and he remained in command until arriving on the Continent. Units were normally in the marshalling areas from 18-36 hours.  During this time their administration was carried out under War Office arrangements, with RAF Movement Control Officers to assist in last-minute preparations. A permanent Admin Staff provided all domestic services.

Embarkation was to take place at hards or ports, and craftloads, whether of vehicles or personnel, were to be called forward from the marshalling area to the embarkation points by movement control.  In order to minimise the losses which might occur during the crossing as a result of enemy action, the principle of 'balanced loads' for ships and craft was adopted.  This meant that each shipload was composed in such a way that on arrival on the other side all its equipment and personnel could go into action without being dependent for their efficiency on the safe arrival of any other shipload.  For instance, guns would not be shipped in one craft, and their ammunition in another, thus eliminating the possibility of having large quantities of the one item arriving and none of the other.  The value of this system was enormous, for as the tonnage of equipment which could be shipped in the early days of the assault was severely restricted, it was vital that no items should be frozen while awaiting the arrival of other items necessary to their use.

The Assault, Beach Organisation

It was anticipated that the first major port to be captured on the Continent would not be working to full capacity until D+17 at the earliest, and it was therefore necessary to arrange for the entire maintenance of the assault and follow-up forces to be carried out over the beaches.  Moreover, as it had been decided that the American forces should have chief claim on the first major port, supplies for the British forces would continue to be unloaded on the beaches as late, probably, as D+30.  This circumstance involved the setting up of an elaborate organisation to administer the beach areas concerned, and special units were formed in AEAF to deal with the requirements of the Royal Air Force. The functions of this beach organisation would, of course, cease whenever sufficient ports were available, and the permanent base organisation could be established in their vicinity.

Responsibility for the development of the British beach maintenance areas, or the L of C terminal, was vested in Second Army.  Attached to the Army beach groups and beach sub-areas were RAF beach squadrons and beach flights.  Each RAF beach squadron had the control of up to three RAF beach flights. The commander of a beach squadron (normally a wing commander) was responsible for liaison with the Army sub-area commanders, and for the implementation of orders issued by RAF HQ ashore concerning the disembarking of personnel and supplies.  In addition he was responsible for the administration of beach balloon flights, about which a word or two is relevant here.

The beach balloon barrage was required to operate as soon as possible after the beach organisation had landed.  There were, however, difficulties; first, if, in order to save shipping space, the balloons were brought over inflated on LCTs there was a danger of interference with radar, even if the balloons were on short haul.  On the other hand, the amount of space which would be used in shipping hydrogen cylinders, etc, would possibly make it preferable to phase back the establishment of the beach barrage for a while.  Responsibility for maintaining the barrage in full strength once it had been set up was to be shared by HQ, Balloon Command and HQ, 2nd TAF.  When shipping lift became less restricted it was intended to bring over some packed balloons, with the requisite hydrogen cylinders.

As far as possible, RAF beach squadron commanders were briefed before leaving the United Kingdom with the daily landing programme of RAF units and stores. This information was supplemented at later stages by RAF HQ ashore.  The RAF beach flights were divided into sections, each dealing with the RAF aspect of the work that the beach organisation was designed to perform. The following diagram illustrates the composition of a beach flight: -

As was stated earlier, the beach maintenance areas were organised on a purely ad hoc basis, and as soon as the rear maintenance area was opened, and brought under the control of HQ, 21st Army Group, the beach areas were to shut down, except in so far as they continued to be used as stores transit areas.  Similarly, once the RAF base group was established, all RAF units in the base sub-area would be transferred from the control of 2nd TAF to that of AOC, No 85 (Base) Group. The date at which this would take place would depend, of course, on the tactical situation, but when the boundary of Second Army was forward of the rear maintenance area, HQ, 21st Army Group was to take over the rear, and the four beach sub-areas and the one base sub-area would come under its command.

Broadly speaking, the main responsibility for the development and control of the beach area and base and L of C facilities was an Army one and the part of the Royal Air Force was to provide essential elements in the Army organisation.  In the base and L of C the Royal Air Force, of course, controlled their own units, and where there was economic justification provided their own facilities.

Clearance of the beaches was the task of the beach groups.  The Royal Air Force were not normally required to provide transport for their requirements between the beaches and the forward areas, except where special RAF vehicles were involved.  During the period D-Day to D+41, Second Army were to be responsible for phasing in daily maintenance requirements and initial stocks required for reserves, and RAF requirements were to be covered by the Second Army programme.  After D+15, HQ, 21st Army Group was to phase in all stores requirements, and the RAF were to submit demands direct to this HQ.  The scale of RAF reserves to be landed was laid down by HQ, AEAF, and conformed generally with the Army scale.  In the initial stages of the operation it was considered unlikely that air lift would be available for the transportation of stores, except in cases of emergency, but every effort was to be made to provide this additional form of transport later on.

With regard to aviation POL, explosives and oxygen, requirements were calculated by HQ, 2nd TAF, and the supply arranged by the Air Ministry through Maintenance Command channels.  The movement of initial stocks from the beaches to the RRSs and ALGs was an Army responsibility, although at a later stage it was considered possible that the Royal Air Force would be able to assist in providing transport for pre-stocking purposes.  During the early days all aviation POL was to be supplied in containers, and a minimum of 14 days' reserve at sustained rates was to be established by D+41.  Bulk supply was to be introduced as soon as possible in order to reduce the tonnage coming over the beaches. This could not be done, however, until adequate storage capacity was available. Bulk storage was to be established at Port-en-Bassin, and the petrol transported to airfields in special lorries.  RAF explosives and ammunition were to be held in RAF air ammunition parks within base ammunition depots, and all labour and transport needed at these parks were to be provided by the Army.

In the period before RAF repair units could be brought to the Continent the provision of adequate repair and recovery services was a major problem of the administration of the beaches.

The Army was responsible in these early days for the salvaging and repair of RAF MT, spares being provided by the Royal Air Force.  The Royal Air Force, however, had to deal with RAF mechanical equipment other than MT and had to supply experienced personnel for the purpose. A certain amount of cannibalisation was unavoidable at first, but such drastic action was not to be permitted except as an emergency measure.

The procedure concerning captured enemy air equipment, including radar equipment, was that it should be reported to the air intelligence sections of TAF, who would dispose of it.  Enemy aircraft in serviceable condition would be guarded until taken over by these sections, and airborne and paratroop equipment would be dealt with by the Army.

The RAF Forward Maintenance Organisation before the Establishment of the Base Group

The operational plan for the initial stages of Overlord aimed at the establishment of a firm bridgehead on the Continent, and the capture of a port or ports, followed by a rapid advance towards the German frontier.  It was an integral part of the plan that air formations should be as mobile as possible, and a highly flexible maintenance organisation was accordingly necessary.  The whole success of the great venture was dependent on the ability to sustain a regular flow of supplies and equipment to the forces which went over during the assault and follow-up phase, but this had to be accomplished with strictly limited shipping capacity.  It was therefore impossible to consider the establishment overseas of a permanent and complete base maintenance organisation until some months after D-Day, and it was accordingly necessary to evolve a system of supply and replacement to tide over the period before No 85 (Base) Group left the United Kingdom.

During this time the main burden of RAF maintenance fell on 2nd TAF.  The two composite groups, comprising day fighters and Army support and reconnaissance squadrons, were the first to operate on the Continent with the night fighters and the light bomber group due to arrive later, in the meantime continuing to operate from the United Kingdom.  As early as possible the base defence units of No 85 Group were to be transferred to the Continent, but not the administrative units, and until these could be phased in 2nd TAF was entirely responsible for all RAF administration on the far side.

The first aircraft servicing units to be put ashore were the servicing commandos.  These units were attached to the composite groups, and their function was to cater for squadrons operating from ALGs.  They were small and very mobile units, trained in amphibious operations, and composed chiefly of technical personnel.  Their duties comprised the servicing of a variety of aircraft up to daily inspection standard, and for this purpose they carried a stock of 14 days' requirements of essential spares.  They were also capable of executing light repair work.  After the arrival of the airfield HQ the primary task of the servicing commandos was finished, and they could then be moved on to a new ALG in the forward area or used to strengthen repair and salvage units or airfield HQs.  Replenishment of the stocks held by servicing commandos was to be obtained in the form of packs direct from the United Kingdom, without demand, for even when the air stores parks had been landed the stocks held by them were not considered adequate to meet such a comprehensive requirement.

Airfield HQs

An airfield HQ was a large unit established on an airfield for the servicing and maintenance of squadrons.  Units of this type were attached to 2nd TAF and to No 85 (Base) Group.  They held 7 days' stock of spares and were equipped to carry out servicing up to, but excluding, major inspection standard.  They were not intended to carry out aircraft repairs requiring more than 48 hours to complete, or MT repairs requiring more than 24 hours to complete.  The first airfield HQs to go across were to be fully mobile, but those phased in later required the assistance of a supply and transport column if they had to move en bloc.  Replenishments of spares and equipment were demanded from air stores parks.

Air Stores Parks (ASPs)

Responsibility for the administration, both technical and operational of ASPs lay with 2nd TAF, although Maintenance Command acted in an advisory capacity in dealing with certain special tasks.  The ASPs were be landed at the same time as airfield HQs and were designed to meet the requirements of two airfield HQs and one repair and salvage unit.  They were mobile units and held a month's stock of spares, equipment and technical and domestic stores.  In addition they held the bulk of the spares required by MT light repair units and mobile signals servicing units, except for certain special radio items needed by the latter, which were obtained from the base Signals unit.  Replenishment for ASPs was demanded direct from the forward equipment unit and despatch of stores was to be arranged by sea or air, according to the degree of priority and the air lift available.

Repair and Salvage Units (RSUs)

During the period when there were only the servicing commandos on the Continent, very little repair and salvage could be undertaken, but it was planned to put ashore advance salvage sections of RSUs as early as possible so that landing strips could be kept free of damaged aircraft.  The complete RSUs were to come over with, or immediately after, the airfield HQs. and from then on more comprehensive repairs were practicable.  Control of RSUs was exercised by 2nd TAF.  They had two principal functions: -

(a) Close technical support of the airfields for which they were responsible

(b) Collection and disposal of salvage within specified areas.

They were established on a scale of one per six squadrons and were located as near as possible to the airfields which they served.  Repairs requiring longer than 7 days to complete were not within the scope of the RSUs, and aircraft in this category were, if possible, to be returned to the United Kingdom until such time as the forward repair unit was brought over and could deal with them on the Continent. During this interim period cannibalisation might be necessary, but was not to be allowed except as an emergency measure, since the stripping of usable parts from a damaged aircraft meant that its eventual repair, if practicable at all, would be a far longer job than if it had been left untouched.

MT Light Repair Units (MTLRUs)

Two MTLRUs were attached to each of the composite groups in TAF.  They performed services for MT similar to those performed by the RSUs for aircraft.  Their function was to hold a small pool of replacement vehicles and to carry out repair and salvage and major inspection of all MT.  They held a stock of 7 days' requirements of 'quick turnover' items, and obtained replenishments from ASPs.  Complete overhauls, and repairs taking longer than three days, were outside their province and were to be undertaken by the forward repair unit.

Mobile Signals Servicing Units (MSSUs)

These units were established on the basis of one for each composite group and one for No 85 Group. Their functions were to repair ground wireless and radar equipment 'on site,' and to hold an operational reserve of complete signals units to replace casualties.  They were to hold in addition 7 days' stock of 'quick turnover' items, replacements for which were to be demanded on ASPs (specialist radio items excepted).  Repairs beyond the capacity of an MSSU were to be returned to the base signals unit.

Supply and Transport Columns (S and T Columns)

Each composite group had an S and T column, divided into six sections, each consisting of 48 vehicles.  The function of the column was to provide a central pool of load-carrying vehicles for the purpose of transporting aviation POL, SAA, and bombs from the air ammunition parks to airfields, and for assisting in the movement of non-mobile units.  The delivery of all RAF requirements of packed POL, ammunition, stores and supplies to agreed points within a distance of 40 miles from RAF units was an Army responsibility. Bulk POL was to be delivered direct to airfields by the Army.  The RAF, however, were responsible for distribution from the agreed points to units. Further, RAF representation was provided at all levels in the Army supply organisation.

RAF Base Maintenance Organisation

In planning the maintenance organisation for the RAF for the build-up phase and subsequent stages of Overlord it was decided that only one base would be necessary.  It was, however, desirable that the units of the RAF base group should be organised in a way that enabled them to move in echelons, thus facilitating any change in the location of the base area resulting from the capture of further ports.  In the early days of the assault the base area had to be accessible, by road or rail, from the beaches and from the first captured port, but if and when further ports became available, it was conceivable that the L of C as a whole might be shortened if the base area were transferred to the vicinity of these ports. Accordingly, the initial base maintenance organisation was to be set up on a purely temporary footing, and in matters such as accommodation only a minimum protection was to be provided.

The policy control of the RAF base maintenance units was exercised by HQ, AEAF, but the base group HQ was responsible for the local administration of the maintenance units in the base area, and also for the control, both operational and administrative, of the static fighter defence organisation.

The staff of AEAF were to take an active part in planning the layout of the base area, and were responsible for representing RAF requirements to the Army who dealt with the requisitioning and hiring of land and buildings.  The negotiations were to be carried out by Group Captain (Quartering) under the supervision of Air Commodore (Admin. Plans). Among the units to be established in the base area were the Forward Equipment Unit, the Forward Repair Unit, the Base Hospital, Base Signals Centre, Personnel Transit Centres, Mobile Signals Servicing Units, Supply and Transport Column, Aircraft Reception Unit, and Embarkation Units.

The Forward Equipment Unit (FEU)

Since it was essential that the air stores parks attached to the composite groups should be fully mobile, the amount of stock that they could carry was strictly limited, and although they were to start with a month's reserve of requirements it was very probable that this stock level would be depleted more quickly than it could be replenished.  If it had been practicable to provide a regular air supply service from the United Kingdom during the early days, the ASPs would have been able to fulfil their functions without recourse to any intermediary supplier, but as this was impossible, and as transport by sea was altogether too slow for the purpose, the problem had to be solved in another way.  Accordingly it was decided that a large unit should be set up as part of the permanent base organisation with a stock of one month's requirements for all RAF units in the theatre.  Its range was to include all RAF stores equipment and spares, including items common to both the Army and Royal Air Force, but not POL, ammunition and bombs. All demands from ASPs were to be submitted to the FEU and the latter was to obtain its replenishments from a specially allocated maintenance wing in the United Kingdom.  At a later stage, 'common user' items were to be demanded from Army depots in the base area, and not direct from the United Kingdom.  The FEU was also to be responsible for the collection and delivery of RAF stores from/to port or railhead.  It was to be a transportable, but not a mobile, unit and to consist of an Admin HQ and six stores groups, a case-making section and provision office.  Responsibility for the formation and build-up of the FEU rested with Fighter Command, the technical control being exercised by Maintenance Command, who also gave advice on specific matters.  The nucleus for the FEU was approved as early as 16 September 1943. For formation and disbandment details click here.

The Forward Repair Unit (FRU)

The FRU was the technical link between the repair and salvage units and MT light repair units, and the aircraft repair organisation in the United Kingdom.  It was not intended to undertake work which could without difficulty be returned to the United Kingdom, and it was to be provided with full depot facilities.  The FRU was to be a transportable unit, and so organised as to be capable of movement by stages.  In addition to its services to the air forces established on the Continent, the FRU was to be responsible for the salvage and repair on site of Transport Command aircraft, and of aircraft of No 38 Group.  It was further intended to carry out a certain amount of salvage and repair work on Bomber Command aircraft.  (This was eventually formed as No 511 Forward Repair Unit)

The Base Signals Unit (BSU)

The Base Signals Unit was the main ground wireless and radar equipment repair organisation in the theatre.  Its functions included the execution of repairs beyond the capacity of the mobile signals servicing units, the holding of a reserve of complete signals units and vehicles, and the installation of fixed wireless and radar stations in the base area and along the lines of communication.

An illustration of the way in which the chain of RAF technical maintenance units operated in Overlord may be given in connection with the demand for the No 40 Group range of equipment in stock for TAF.  In the period before the Forward Equipment Unit moved to the Continent the procedure was that units in the field demanded on the ASPs, the ASPs then demanded on the FEU located in the United Kingdom and the FEU drew supplies from the various units of the United Kingdom Maintenance Organisation. Once the FEU was located on the Continent the chain of demand was as before, except that the FEU itself obtained its replenishments from No 3 Maintenance Unit, which acted as a collection point for demands in the way that the FEU had served hitherto.

MT Replacement

A reserve of MT vehicles was held in the MTLRUs attached to 2nd TAF, and this reserve was maintained at the agreed level by demands on the FEU.  Before, however, the MTLRUs could be established on the Continent units made direct demands, by the most expeditious method, on the RAF station at Old Sarum. The MT reserve for No 85 (Base) Group was held at the Forward Repair Unit.

Aircraft Replacement

A rather bigger problem was that of arranging for swift replacement for aircraft casualties.  Each wing held a small pool of replacement aircraft at the aircraft reception flight in the repair and salvage unit.  New and repaired replacement aircraft from the United Kingdom were flown to the aircraft reception flight where they were brought up to operational standard.  The rate at which aircraft wastage on the Continent could be made good was dependent not only on output of new machines, but on the efficiency of the United Kingdom repair organisation.  As it was highly probable that in the normal course of transfer from the Continent to the United Kingdom a damaged aircraft would sustain additional injury - for instance, in the loading on to and removal from a salvage vehicle - a special LCT shuttle service was instituted which enabled salvage trailers, 'Queen Marys,' to be transported complete with their freight from the collection point on the Continent to the repair depot in the United Kingdom.  Salvage trailers withdrawn in this way from the Continent were replaced by incoming trailers bearing loads of equipment.  A unit known as the Base Salvage Centre was set up to control this traffic movement.  Responsibility for the loading of vehicles on to LCTs lay with the appropriate beach unit, and the beach squadron commander had the task of calling forward the vehicles from the beach salvage centre.

Division of Responsibility between the Army and the Royal Air Force

It has always been an accepted principle that services of common usage in the Army and the Royal Air Force should be provided by one Service for the benefit of both.  The factor determining which Service was to have responsibility in a particular case was economy, and the Service which was more able, by reason of resources of man-power, equipment, organisation and experience to perform a service efficiently, was assigned responsibility for it.  This principle was adhered to in the main in the planning for Overlord, but it was inevitable that certain modifications should be necessary to meet the conditions of specific theatres and types of operation. In the detailed application of the principle it was found that two important requirements would have to be met :-

(a) The provision of RAF elements in certain Army units which were to provide services for common usage.

(b) The provision by the Army, in certain circumstances, of services for the Royal Air Force in areas where these services are not required by the Army.

In the majority of cases it is more economical for the Army to provide services of common usage, partly because Army requirements were on a far bigger scale than those of the RAF, and partly because the Army is often better equipped for the purpose.

The prime consideration in administrative planning for Overlord was, however, to cut the transport commitment in the early stages to the bare minimum, and it was therefore necessary to aim at the utmost pooling of resources by the Royal Air Force and the Army, even at the cost of administrative convenience.

It was on this basis that the detailed policy for the division of administrative responsibility between the two Services was worked out.  One of the most important matters covered by this policy was responsibility for movement control.  In principle, movement control is a joint service, but the Army, as main user, had the main responsibility.  The general policy and organisation was formulated by the Army in conjunction with the RAF Movements Service, and RAF Movements officers were established wherever necessary.  Group Captain (Movements) was responsible both to the Deputy Quartermaster-General, who controlled movement and transport in the whole of the British theatre, and to the AOC regarding the movement of RAF personnel and material. At ports handling RAF requirements, RAF embarkation units were provided, who received their instructions from the port commandant.  Apart from this provision of specialist personnel, the RAF had no responsibility for the transport organisation at ports and docks, the only exception being the provision of MT for conveying certain large aircraft parts.

With regard to road transport, the Army had the task of delivering all RAF stores, supplies, ammunition and bombs to agreed points within 40 miles of RAF units.  The RAF was responsible for collection of goods from these points, and for subsequent distribution to units.  The carriage of loads necessitating special RAF vehicles, such as' Queen Marys,' was an additional RAF responsibility.  It was at all times essential for the RAF to give adequate notice to the Army authorities of their road transport requirements, for otherwise the greater speed at which the air forces could concentrate might have involved a time lag in the provision of the requisite supplies.

In the matter of providing labour, the Royal Air Force was responsible for meeting the requirements of all RAF units, except for the supply of unskilled military labour and the enrolment of labour in occupied territory.  All engineer works services were, however, provided by the Army, the only Royal Air Force responsibility being the notification of requirements and the provision of portable hangars, and items made to special RAF specifications, such as fittings for airfield lighting.

The acquisition and allotment of accommodation for both Services was an Army task, and the Army was further responsible for all the administrative arrangements connected with the hiring and purchase of land and buildings.  Payment of billets for RAF personnel was, however, the responsibility of the Royal Air Force.

The reception and disposal of salvage was also arranged by the Army, RAF advice being sought with regard to aircraft and other air technical matters.  The Royal Air Force was in charge of the delivery of salvage to the appropriate Army depots or dumps, except in the case of aircraft damaged beyond repair, which were collected by the Army after all serviceable spares had been removed by RAF personnel.

The division of duties with regard to aviation POL was rather more complex.  In the case of bulk POL the Royal Air Force was responsible for provision at the source of origin, and for allocation between the various theatres of war.  They also controlled the quality of bulk POL and provided all facilities for handling it at airfields, apart from airfield tankage, which was erected and maintained by the Army.  The Army was also responsible for control of storage in the base and L of C, and for bulk delivery to airfields.  RAF personnel, acting in an advisory capacity, made recommendations to the Army as to RAF reserves, and supervised the inward and outward movement of stocks.  The arrangements for packed aviation POL were broadly the same as for bulk, except that the Army did not deliver it from 'door to door,' but only to agreed points within 40 miles of the RAF consumer unit, where it was collected by the Royal Air Force.  Empty containers were returned by the Royal Air Force to dumps, where they were picked up by the Army.

The provision of MT POL from the source of origin was an Army responsibility, and the latter was also responsible for delivery to agreed points within the usual 40-mile radius, and for control of qualities and grades.  The Royal Air Force provided transport for subsequent collections, and were under the obligation of notifying the appropriate military HQ as to impending changes in RAF dispositions which might affect RAF requirements.

The Royal Air Force was the agreed provider of all stores and equipment peculiar to the RAF (excluding MT), and of the appropriate types and quantities of RAF explosives, bombs, SAA and pyrotechnics. The Army took charge of storage for the latter in the base and L of C, provided the necessary labour for handling, and transport up to agreed points. Provision of supplies such as hospital comforts, fuel and disinfectants was entirely an Army job, the one exception being emergency flying rations.

All repairs to RAF MT, and the provision of spares for this purpose, were tasks generally undertaken by the Royal Air Force. However, during the interim period between the establishment of an airfield and the arrival of the MTLRU, 1st and 2nd echelon repairs to RAF MT were undertaken by the Army, spares being obtained from the Royal Air Force.


POL = Petrol, Oil and Lubricants

SAA = Small Arms Ammunition


This page was last updated on 26/05/17 using FrontPage 2003

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