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Royal Air Force Beach Units

RAF Beach Balloon Units

R.A.F. Beach Balloon Units were separate from the R.A.F. Beach Units, stemming from a different branch of the R.A.F. and having a different role to perform. However, they too were part of the Combined Operations organisation for assault landings, their role being to help protect landing operations from low level air attack.

In the Normandy invasion (Operation “OVERLORD”), Beach Balloon Squadrons operated shoulder to shoulder with the R.A.F. Beach Squadrons on the Normandy invasion beaches and their history parallels, indeed is interwoven with, that of the Beach Squadrons.

Although they were a separate element added to the combined services beach organisation and not part of R.A.F. Beach Squadron establishment, the Balloon Squadrons had a natural, and official, association with their R.A.F. kinsmen in the Beach Squadrons. Operationally, a Beach Balloon Squadron came under the control of the Army’s anti-aircraft defence commander but for administrative purposes was attached to an R.A.F. Beach Squadron and came under the command of the R.A.F. Beach Squadron commander, who was the senior R.A.F. officer (C.R.A.F.) in a Beach Sub-Area.

Information here comes from references to Beach Balloon units in the Operations Record Books of the R.A.F. Beach Squadrons and files about the administration of R.A.F. Beach Units. There is one key document that explains how the beach balloon units were reorganised into Beach Balloon Squadrons for Operation “OVERLORD” and their special relationship with the Beach Squadrons.

A letter, dated 14 April 1944 and signed by Wing Commander R C Longsdon on behalf of the Air Commander-in Chief, Allied Expeditionary Air Force was sent to the Air Ministry requesting authority for the re-organisation and formation of Balloon Units in the R.A.F. Component of the A.E.A.F. This letter detailed the changes required and indicated the reasons for the changes as follows.

“As a result of Exercise “GOLDBRAID” and the experience gained, it has been decided that it will be necessary to re-organise the “B” Balloon Units on the following basis:-





Nos 50 and 53 Balloon Units

Form a Squadron to the present establishment of Nos 50 and 53 Balloon Units with the addition of 1 Squadron Leader in Command.


Nos 51 and 52 Balloon Units

As in (1) above.


Nos 54 and 55 Balloon Units

As in (1) above.

Each Squadron to form to an establishment of 60IE Mark VI Type Balloon.





Nos 56 and 57 Balloon Units

Form a Squadron Headquarters to administer these two flights

The necessity for the provision of a Headquarters as referred to in (4) above arises through Nos 56 and 57 “B” Balloon Units being detached for special duty from the appropriate RAF Beach Squadron.

The formation of 3 Squadrons and a Headquarters to administer Nos 56 and 57 “B” Balloon Units will require the establishment of a Squadron Leader in command of each Squadron and the Headquarters in order that the Squadron Commander and the Headquarters Commander can exercise the necessary control over his respective Squadron and Headquarters. By his status he will be able to attend on the appropriate level at Beach Sub-Area Conferences, a duty which it is considered essential that he should perform.

The Officer Commanding each of the three Squadrons will be located at the Headquarters of the RAF Beach Squadron in which the Balloon Squadron is incorporated, where he will co-ordinate the two Balloon Units under his command.”

Thus the R.A.F. Beach Balloon Squadrons evolved in much the same way that the R.A.F. Beach Squadrons had. The R.A.F. Beach Balloon Units that had been attached to the Army Beach Groups were re-formed. The two Beach Balloon Units associated with each Army Beach Sub Area were renamed Beach Balloon Flights and with the addition of a Squadron Leader in command, formed a Beach Balloon Squadron. Soon after this re-organisation, control of the Beach Balloon Squadrons passed from R.A.F. Balloon Command to 2nd T.A.F.

The Beach Balloon Squadrons landing in Normandy were:

    • No. 976 R.A.F. Beach Balloon Squadron consisting of 50 and 53 Beach Balloon Flights, attached to No 1 R.A.F. Beach Squadron in 101 Beach Sub Area (SWORD).
    • No. 974 R.A.F. Beach Balloon Squadron consisting of 51 and 52 Beach Balloon Flights, attached to No 2 R.A.F. Beach Squadron in 102 Beach Sub Area (JUNO).
    • No. 980 R.A.F. Beach Balloon Squadron consisting of 54 and 55 Beach Balloon Flights, attached to No 4 R.A.F. Beach Squadron in 104 Beach Sub Area (GOLD).
    • No. 991 R.A.F. Beach Balloon Squadron consisting of 56 and 57 Beach Balloon Flights, detached with its own Headquarters, operating at Arromanches Mulberry B.

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