RAF at Omaha

RAF on Omaha Beach

Military Cross
Croix De Geurre
WWII Omaha Beach, Operation OVERLORD, D-Day,1944
GCI-15082, 1st Echelon
RAF Fighter Control Radar at Oamaha Beach, D-Day
GCI 15082, Omaha beach, D-Day
AMES Type 15 mobile GCI station.
US forces, Omaha beach, June 10th 1944

 In addition to the British beaches, RAF units also landed with their American allies on OMAHA beach on D-Day. Although the American 9th Air Force was providing tactical air support in the American sector, it was the job of 85 Group, 2nd Tactical Air Force to provide the radar facilities for directing RAF night fighters in defence of the beachheads. an undertaking that was specifically commended by Dwight D. Eisenhower, of the supreme allied command.


As the need for radar coverage was vital to air superiority on D-Day, 60 Royal Air Force personnel, together with their attached, signals units, were scheduled to land on OMAHA beach at 11:00hrs, during high tide, immediately after the first waves of American assault troops had secured the beach and their engineers had made it safe.


Although, the American troops were not in full control of OMAHA beach, due to heavy resistance by German forces, the decision was taken to land the air control capability, with the mandate to provide air superiority.


It had been planned for the GCI 15082 (21 Base Defence Sector), to land on the beach codenamed “Easy Red” near to the St Laurent exit from the beach. Unfortunately, although American forces had secured ‘Easy Red’, GCI was incorrectly landed on “Dog Red” section of Omaha beach near to the exit to the hamlet of Les Moulins.


With the German defences, both artillery and mortars, together with machine gun nests and snipers, providing stiff resistance to the remnants of the American 116th Infantry division on the beach head.  The Unit was unable to land until 17.00, by which time the tide had went out, exposing far more of the beach to be negotiated, thus causing further obstacles for the landings.


Having lost numerous vehicles during the landing, the remaining 15082 vehicles were then targeted by 88mm German artillery.


Following concerted efforts and heavy losses by American forces, a path was eventually cleared off the beach head using a bulldozer. After which the remnants of 15082 made their way to the hamlet of Les Moulins, where they sheltered, having come under sustained  small arms and artillery fire. 


In contrast to the RAF radar and signals units that landed on D-Day at JUNO and SWORD beaches, GCI 15082, suffered 47 casualties, 11 were killed in action, and 27 vehicles were lost to gunfire or “drowning”.


As with other Joint Operations, the intention was for all British troops to wear khaki battledress, but late in the planning stages it was decided that the RAF should retain their blue/grey uniforms.


Unfortunately, by the time the RAF had managed to get ashore through sea water, sand and other forms of dirt, their anti-gas sprayed blue/grey uniforms looked very similar at a distance to the field grey of the Wehrmacht. Thus, creating a ‘Blue on Blue’ situation, to the credit of the American commanders, this was quickly recognised, and they provided GI uniforms onto which the RAF personnel sewed their insignia and badges of rank, thus eliminating the risk of friendly fire.


Despite these setbacks and suffering, the Unit was quickly supplied with replacement equipment and personnel, and was able to re-organise, set up its equipment and be operational (“on air”) on the night of 10th June at Grandcamps.


The determination of GCI 15082 and its personnel eventually enabled air superiority across OMAHA beach, enabling the securing of the beachhead and troops to move inland. This success can be ratified by the number of successful interceptions the Mosquito Night Fighter crews achieved, “Destroying”, “Probably Destroying” or “Damaging” at least 87 enemy aircraft.



The meritorious way GCI 15082 recovered from its ‘contested’ landing and then went on to help provide air superiority is illustrated by the awards received for their actions on D-Day, four Military Crosses, two Military Medals and the award of a Croix de Guerre.

Omaha Beach RAF Recognition Plinth

Air Control and Direction Finders on D-Day

Prior to D-Day, the formation of the Inter-Service Planning Staff in London in May 1942 signaled the start of planning for the invasion of mainland Europe. Following the success of the ‘Chain Home’ (CH) radar stations during the Battle of Britain, AOC Fighter Command looked to determine the role that radar should play in the planned invasion of mainland Europe. Later in the planning phase HQ Allied Expeditionary Air Force (AEAF) was set up to ensure the co-ordination of American and British radar. In the end AEAF decided that RAF mobile radar would provide Ground Control Intercept (GCI) and Early Warning (EW) of day and night fighters.
HMS 216 ‘Fighter-Direction Tender’ 1944

Due to the cover required, it was therefore essential to locate effective radar and communications close to the Normandy beaches during the critical days from D-Day until mobile land-based radar and communication units could take over – a period of around 3 weeks.

Two other kinds of radar units were involved in the D-Day landings: Base Defence Radar Units which, in the British sector, came under the command of No.85 Group and were responsible for providing radar cover for bridgehead beaches, dumps and ports; and Mobile Radar Units under the 2nd Tactical Air Force in No. 83 and No. 84 Composite Group. They would move ashore and by planned stages take over from of the FDTs.

In May 1943 trials of sea-borne radar were conducted off the south coast of England using the converted Landing Ship Tank (LST) 301. In July LSTs 305, 407 & 430, fitted with Ground Control Interception (GCI) radar, were tested in operational conditions off the beaches of Sicily and Anzio.

In preparation for the manning of the FDTs and associated HQ ships, RAF personnel were trained according to need but common to most was training at the Combined Operations School (HMS Dundonald 2) near Troon, and a short practical course in survival at sea and amphibious landings. 

In late February RAF engineers help install radar, wireless and communications equipment. Amongst these was the Type 11 radar operating on German frequencies. The development of this radar was most likely assisted by the information gathered from the successful Bruneval Raid.

Below deck there were various rooms to receive, interpret and communicate data including a radar room, a control room and a filter room. This was in effect a very sophisticated command and control centre.

The three ships took up their positions on June 6 1944 – FDT 217 about 5 miles off the Sword, Juno and Gold beaches, FDT 216 off Omaha & Utah beaches and FDT 13 in the main shipping channels about 40 miles off Gold Beach. Full radar operations started at 07.25 hours.

Continuous daytime low level air cover over the five assault beaches was provided on a rolling basis with wave after wave of sorties – 15 minutes for the outward journey from bases in the south of England, 15 minutes patrolling over the beaches, 15 minutes for the return journey and 15 minutes for re-fueling and where necessary rearmament. To keep one squadron of Spitfires over the beaches at any time, at least 4 squadrons totaling 48 planes were needed. Similar arrangements were in place for the American high-level cover. Added to this were 100’s of bombers and other aircraft with unconnected missions. During the hours of darkness precise numbers of night fighters were difficult to estimate but they could be heard patrolling the area. The activity of Navy gunners often provided colourful displays as tracer bullets lit up the night sky.

Enemy air activity was described as minimal during the first day of the landings, probably due to spoofing and concealment activities on the part of the Allies. However, during the landings the ships remained on duty and were attacked  by Junkers 88s, Messerschmitt Me 90s and Focke Wulf 190s . A total of 76 enemy aircraft were destroyed as a result of the activities of the three FDTs. More difficult to quantify was the vital work of the intelligence and EW sections on board who listened in to German radio transmissions and helped interpret their significance.

The three HQ ships (Headquarters Landing Ships or HQLS) were concerned with the management, control and monitoring of the landings and landing craft in their particular beach areas. The ships had mixed Combined Operations crews drawn from the Royal Navy and the RAF. Effective communications between the HQ ships, the beaches, landing craft, the FDTs and other HQs aimed to ensure that operational decisions were based on reliable and up-to-date information… all within the constraints of the usual chaos of war. On June 23, after 17 days of continuous operation and with the SCU and Tactical Air Force landed and operational, the FDT left the Normandy beaches.


Video: RAF at Omaha