COMPOSITION. DEPLOYMENT AND DUTIES OF A BEACH GROUP
BASED ON EXTRACTS FROM THE REGIMENTAL WAR CHRONICLES OF THE OXFORDSHIRE & BUCKINGHAMSHIRE LIGHT INFANTRY VOL 3
1942-1944 1 1. TASKS (i) To land men, vehicles and stores over open beaches in the early stages of a seaborne invasion of enemy territory before the capture or construction of sufficient ports. (ii) To protect the beaches from enemy counter-attack by land, sea or air.
2. PARENT FORMATION Beach sub-area, comprising beach sub-area headquarters, beach sub-area troops and two beach groups.
3. APPROXIMATE CAPABILITY OF BEACH SUB-AREA To land two divisions in the first forty-eight hours and maintain them. Thereafter to land men and vehicles as shipping allowed and up to 4,000 tons of stores per day.
4. COMMAND Commanding officer of infantry battalion with a normal battalion staff and an increment of military landing officer (major), assistant military landing officers (two captains), staff captain, camouflage officer (captain), R.A.S.C. officer (captain), B.O.W.O. (warrant officer class II), clerk, R.A.S.C.(corporal), and armourer (serjeant). 5. INCREMENT OF STORES Stores divided into a general pool to be used at group commander’s discretion and an increment of unit stores.
6. TRANSPORT As a very limited quantity of transport could be landed in the early stages a general issue of handcarts (airborne) was made to enable essential stores of the group to be landed from craft.
7. DRESS AND PERSONAL EQUIPMENT As the deployment drill for the group necessitated all men being self-supporting for forty-eight hours from the time of landing, each man landed with normal fighting order, but with a blanket and a set of denim overalls wrapped in a groundsheet tied round his haversack, and carried two twenty-four-hour ration packs, a tommy cooker, a tin of refills, a box of sterilising tablets, and a lifebelt (known as “Mae West”).
8. MARKS OF RECOGNITION Flash.—Red anchor on pale-blue background, worn on sleeve of battledress and on all vehicles.
Helmet.—White band painted around steel helmet midway between crown and rim.
9.WATERPROOFING As most beach groups had to be landed from craft into deep water and some were due to continue working in the sea after landing, all vehicles, stores and equipment had to be waterproofed. Stores were packed in waterproof covers and wireless sets in rubber bags. Vital parts of motor transport were treated and petrol tanks sealed. This waterproofing had to be stripped soon after landing.
10. SIGNALS Ship to Shore.—The responsibility of Royal Navy signallers by wireless and/or lamp.
Shore Signals.—Established and maintained by beach sub-area signals and signal platoon of the infantry battalion, first by wireless, later by line.
11. DUTIES OF BEACH GROUP It was the duty of a beach group to mark the limits of the beach immediately the assault troops had landed;
Construct exits and entrances from and to the beach suitable for use by troops, wheeled vehicles and tracked vehicles; signal to craft indicating suitable landing places;
Provide transit areas for troops and vehicles;
Mark traffic circuits and control all movement within its area;
Rescue“drowned” vehicles (both tracked and wheeled) and repair them;
Establish dumps for ammunition, Ordnance stores, petrol, supplies, sapper stores, unaccompanied G1098 stores, and man them;
Provide beach and field dressing stations, the latter to be capable of undertaking surgical operations and blood transfusions;
Unload all stores from ships to dukw or craft and then to lorry;
Provide transport (dukw or lorry) to move stores to dumps;
Provide cranes for unloading from craft to lorry at water’s edge and from dukw or lorry at dumps;
Lift mines and undertake engineering work in its area, such as improving roads, laying beach roadway and bridging obstacles;
Co-operate with the Royal Navy and arrange suitable berthing times for incoming shipping;
Re-equip men who had lost equipment during passage;
and be prepared at all times to mop up enemy resistance or resist counterattack.
12. DEPLOYMENT DRILL First parties to land were detachments of Royal Navy commando and beach companies, which marked beaches with beach limit signs and chose suitable places for exits from beaches;
Sappers (field company and mechanical equipment section) then bulldozed exits and, helped by pioneers, laid a beach roadway (Somerfield track) to the nearest main lateral road;
Field dressing stations established beach dressing stations for early treatment of wounded;
Beach recovery section began operations in pulling out of the sea any vehicles drowned and removing them to a Drowned Vehicle Park (D.V.P.) for treatment;
Beach companies established headquarters overlooking the beach;
Provost erected traffic signs;
Advanced parties landed and assembled at predetermined position;
A reconnaissance group, consisting of the group commander, military landing officer, commanders of field company and provost company, and intelligence officer, were carrying out a reconnaissance of the whole area;
On completion of reconnaissance the group commander in-formed the 0 group whether the plan (known as first key plan) made before embarkation, from maps and air photographs, for deployment of the group was suitable—if not, he announced alterations;
Advanced parties then left to reconnoitre areas for which they were responsible, calling forward main bodies and transport which had landed and waited in transit areas:
Those employed on the beach (such as beach companies, beach recovery section, and Royal Navy commando) moved straight to areas allotted on first key plan. and did not pass through transit areas;
Main bodies then developed areas, and began work for which they were responsible;
Transport of general transport company moved to beach transport park in rear of the beaches, but maintained a “cushion” of transport near an entrance to the beach;
A DUKW control post was established near the main entrance to the beach with the responsibility of calling forward transport as required at sea, and checking loaded transport en route for dumps;
Area of the dumps was known as beach maintenance area (B.M.A.);
Dumps were manned by technical staff (R.E., R.A.O.C. or R.A.S.C., as the case might be) and labour was provided by infantry and pioneers (normal allotment of labour was: Ammunition and ordnance, one rifle company; Supplies, carrier platoon; Unaccompanied G1098 equipment, mortar platoon; Petrol and R.E. stores, pioneers; Reserve working company, one rifle company; Balance of labour required by sappers and dumps, pioneers; Beach companies, two rifle companies);
Stores were unloaded by gangs of the docks operating company, R.E., from ship to dukw or craft, DUKW direct to dump, or craft to beach;
Stores were transhipped from craft to lorry, unloaded at dump and stacked by dump parties, the empty transport then returning to beach transport park;
Incoming transport from fighting troops was routed to dumps, where the dump parties loaded it with the stores required.
13. CONTROL OF GROUP The main difficulties were likely to arise from the dispersal of the group into small craft loads, necessitated by the danger of loading any considerable portion of one unit in a craft liable to be sunk, with the consequent loss of control through the disruption of the normal chain of command; from the fact that parties, once so dispersed, were unable to feed themselves except from rations carried on the man; from the dependence of the group for its successful deployment on the assaulting troops carrying their first objectives; from the difficulty in allotting slender labour resources economically when the arrival of stores was interrupted by uncertain arrival of ships and unpredictable demands by forward troops; from the dependence of the whole organisation on fine weather (loading from ship to dukw became dangerous and often impossible in any seaway); from the probability of the beaches being shelled and bombarded from the air; and from the necessity for unloading by night as well as by day.
14. AMMUNITION As a result of experience gained in exercises it became apparent that forward troops might run short of ammunition before the ammunition dump was established and stocked.
To meet this danger it was decided, in 1944, to land 800 tons of ammunition early and to stack it in a number of small dumps at the rear of the beaches. These dumps were known as sector stores dumps and were to be consumed before drawing began on the main ammunition dump.
15.DEFENCE The immediate area of the beaches, and all dumps and installations were organised as defended localities. Anti-tank defence was provided by the 6-pounder guns of the infantry battalion, anti-aircraft guns in alternative role and Piat mortars. Air defence was provided by a specially constituted anti-aircraft regiment landed with assault and supporting troops. This composite regiment was equipped with 3.7-inch Bofors and triple Oerilkon guns, and was in support but not under command of the group. All Brens of the infantry battalion were also to be available for anti-aircraft defence.
16. MILITARY LANDING OFFICER The duties of the military landing officer and staff were to advise the group commander on all questions of movement of men, vehicles and stores; to prepare staff tables for embarkation of the group; and to maintain statistics of all quantities of stores landed.
The duties of the Royal Navy commando were to mark and erect beach limit signs, to signal suitable landing places to incoming craft, and to mark wrecked craft; the Royal Navy signals were to provide communication from shore to ship;
The field company, R.E., were to construct beach exits and entrances, to improve roads, to provide all engineering work required in the Beach Maintenance Area, to dispose of bombs, and to provide water-supply points;
The mechanical equipment section, R.E., were to bulldoze entrances and exits from the beach, and provide and operate cranes;
The stores section, R.E., were to control R.E. stores dump;
The docks operating company, R.E., were to unload ships;
The R.A.M.C. were to establish two beach dressing stations, two field dressing stations with surgical facilities and blood transfusion, to collect wounded, and to supervise hygiene in the group area.
Within the infantry battalion, duties were: H.Q. Company, signal platoon to provide land signals by wireless and line, and pioneer platoon to clear mines from group headquarters area and to construct office pits.
S Company: anti-tank platoon to defend group area; mortar platoon to establish and work in unaccompanied G1098 dump, and carrier platoons to provide labour in supplies camp.
Rifle companies: to organise beaches, provide labour to unload craft and working parties in ammunition and Ordnance dump, and to help in handling transport, to be prepared to mop up enemy pockets of resistance, and to defend beachhead if required.
Ordnance beach detachment, R.A.O.C.: to establish ammunition and Ordnance dumps and operate them.
General transport company, R.A.S.C.: to provide, operate and maintain dukws.
Detailed issue depot, R.A.S.C.: to establish and operate supply dumps and postal services.
Petrol depot, R.A.S.C.: to establish and operate petrol depot.
Beach recovery section, R.E.M.E.: to beach and repair drowned vehicles (both tracked and wheeled).
Two pioneer companies, Pioneer Corps: to provide labour and help beach companies to unload craft.
Provost company, Corps of Military Police: to sign routes and mark by lamp at night, to control traffic, to maintain discipline, and to control transit areas both for men and vehicles.
R.A.F. beach section: to supervise unloading and issue of R.A.F. stores.
18. CO-ORDINATING CONFERENCE A co-ordinating conference was held daily to decide method of discharge of each ship berthing, detailed allotment of ferry craft to ships, allotment of labour to beaches and dumps, allotment of dukws and lorries to beaches, and allotment of cranes.
1. The Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry Chronicle, Vol 3: July 1942 - May 1944 Pages 93-100