~ RAF SERVICING COMMANDOS
1942 - 1946
The RAF Servicing Commando maintained and repaired Allied aircraft often close
to the front line. In addition to the normal engineering skills they had to be
capable of defending themselves if attacked.
This is a brief account of a Commando group whose wartime work is, perhaps, less
well known than their Army, Marine and Navy counterparts. They were recruited from
the service personnel of RAF Squadrons as notices posted at RAF
Stations testify... 'Volunteers wanted in all trades for units to be formed to
service aircraft under hazardous conditions.'
Click on the links below or scroll down the screen to read the story.
Planners saw a need to provide forward aircraft servicing support as the Allies
advanced through enemy held territory. It would take time for squadron ground crews to reach
forward positions so small self contained mobile servicing units were required
to fill the gap. They had to be capable of setting up operations, under fire if
necessary, including fuel, spare parts and ammunition for the servicing of
engines, guns and air-frames... and all from tools and equipment carried through
an assault landing. They also had to assist during assault landings as
To set this up a memorandum from the War Cabinet
Annex in Whitehall to the M.O.D. dated 27/1/42 recommended the formation of
R.A.F. Servicing Commando Force. The memo was signed Lord Louis Mountbatten,
Commodore of Combined Operations.
In practice fifteen such units were formed each commanded by an engineering
officer and usually with an armament officer and an adjutant. Each unit
comprised about 150 men organised into four flights similar to army platoons.
There was a flight sergeant with corporals as section leaders. A sergeant was
responsible for each trade such as engine, airframe and armourers.
Fifteen 3-ton trucks held each unit's equipment and personnel when on the move.
There was also 15 cwt (3/4 of a ton) vehicle and a jeep for the Commanding
Officer and a motorcycle for the unit despatch rider. Airmen were armed with
Sten guns or rifles and each flight had a Bren gun.
All ranks had to undergo military training supervised by Army Officers seconded
for the purpose. They were taught to drive and, because they would be involved
in amphibious landings, swimming training was given. After this initial
'toughening up' training, two weeks was spent at the Combined Training Centre
(CTC) at Inveraray
CTC Inveraray specialised in all aspects
of amphibious training in the use of minor landing craft. Here the volunteers
underwent rigorous practical training including embarking on landing craft of
the Royal Navy. Some of the more strenuous activity involved the use of
scrambling nets to board landing craft. Assault exercises
in the surrounding countryside followed the landings. After completion of this
training the coveted Combined Operations badge was issued.
During the next few months, and prior to deployment, the units moved from
airfield to airfield gaining wide experience of
servicing different aircraft
such as Spitfires, Typhoons,
Mustangs and Mosquitoes.
Each unit had one mobile workshop which came ashore in the early stages of a
landing while the other vehicles, including fuel tankers, usually landed later on D date.
The general deployment over the years 1942 to 1945 looked like this.
3201, 02, 03 and 04 took part in operations in North Africa, Sicily and
Italy. In addition 3230, 31 and 32
trained in Palestine
and served in Sicily and Italy.
3205, 07, 09 and 10 embarked at Gosport early on the morning
of 6th June 1944. The personnel were in groups on an American Landing
Ship Tank (L.S.T.) and also smaller Landing Craft Tank (L.C.T.). One of the
latter was torpedoed and set on fire on the way across the English Channel to
Normandy. Two airmen were injured and they and the others were rescued and returned to
England by naval craft.
South East Asia. After
withdrawal from Normandy the four units (3205, 07, 09 and 10) embarked for
passage to South East Asia. However the operational life of the units against
enemy forces was to come to an abrupt end with the unexpected surrender of Japan
on 2/9/45. Operation Zipper, the invasion of Malaya, in which they would have
been involved, was cancelled with the ending of the war.
Commando Unit 3201 trained in the UK and landed in North Africa on D-Day at about H + 60
minutes and reached Maison Blanche airfield at 9.10 hrs. When not involved in
assault landings they worked alongside aircraft recovery units. They were in
Sicily in 1943 and Corsica in January 1944. Their CO throughout the 2.5 years
was Flt. Lt. H Webster who made this critical comment...
the unit was misused
after Sicily, no one on the staff knew its capabilities. More information
Commando Unit 3202
trained in the UK and served in North Africa and Italy. It was disbanded in
December 1943 at Taranto Italy.
Commando Unit 3203
trained in the UK and served in North Africa,
Sicily and at Salerno in Italy where they serviced any fighter aircraft that
came their way. They were
disbanded at Portici, Italy in February 1944.
Commando Unit 3204
landed in Sicily in July 1943 and disbanded at Catania
[Photo; LAC Henry John Clifford Elcome, 'Cliff' to his friends,
taken sometime in 1943/44.]
Commando Unit 3205
embarked at Gosport early on the morning of 6/6/44.
They landed on the Normandy beaches on D+1. One vehicle hit a mine on leaving
the landing craft resulting in 2 fatalities. The unit serviced Spitfires during
June. They sailed for India on 2/11/44 with 07 arriving in Chittagong, India on 5/12/44.
In January they landed at Akyab in January 1945 from Landing Craft Mechanised
(LCM). They subsequently operated on the Arakan
In early September 1945, a few weeks after the
Atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki bringing the war to an end
on the 2nd of September, they were on board ship bound for Morib in Malaya. What
they knew of the Japanese surrender while at sea, is unknown. As planned they
landed at Morib on or around September 9th, unopposed, before moving on to Kelanang. Lord Louis Mountbatten
was rumoured to be in Malaya at the time. Later, the 3205 unit was posted to Batavia, now Jakarta, in Java
by way of Singapore. They were disbanded on February 28th 1946.
Commando Unit 3206
landed in Normandy on D + 10 and operated through
France to Belgium. They were disbanded in April 1945.
Commando Unit 3207 arrived in India in December 1944 in Burma spending Xmas 1944 at Imphal where,
together with No 3 R&SU, they engaged in recovery and salvage work. In February they moved by road to Monywa
where part of the unit was later flown
into Meiktila in Burma. Here they occupied a landing strip inside a defensive
box and were joined by the RAF Regiment who assisted in the defence of the box.
During this period both Sgt. Brown and Nobby Coxhall, who was in Normandy with 3209, earned the Military
Medal. The part unit was withdrawn from Meiktila on 29/4/45.
After the fall of Mandalay the unit left for Mingladon which by then was
securely in Allied hands and
then onwards to Rangoon. Here they took part in a victory parade and then
sailed to Singapore arriving there on September 5th. Prior to being
disbanded (possibly at Kallang) on 31stMarch 1946 3207 serviced planes used to repatriate ex POWs
(prisoners of war).
Commando Unit 3208 landed in Normandy on D + 10. where they were engaged
in servicing Mustangs and other aircraft. They moved to forward airfields with
the advancing Allied troops and serviced Mosquitoes covering the Rhine crossing.
They were disbanded in March 1945.
Commando Unit 3209. Most of 3209 sailed
from Gosport on an American LST with the remainder of the unit on an LCT
together with all the unit's cooking equipment. Unfortunately the LCT was sunk
by enemy action and two airmen were killed and others injured. Most were picked
up by naval craft and returned to England but one member was deposited on his
designated landing beach in Normandy ahead of the main body of men. On their
arrival, he greeted them with the words “Where have you lot been?” while
resplendent in a naval jersey given to him by one of the sailors!
the unit had lost all its cooking equipment, for the next several weeks the men
fended for themselves using canned compo rations
(delivered in the form of a crate containing food for 14 men for one day). Empty motor transport fuel
cans were cut in half, filled with earth and soaked in petrol. They provided the
heat required for cooking and heating water. When replacement cooking
equipment arrived the unit cooks took over again.
The units operated mostly on the B2 and B3 landing grounds in Normandy returning
to England at the beginning of August. They were given leave before sailing for
the Far East at the end of the year. (Photo; Servicing Commandos watching a
bulldozer clearing ground for the first new landing strip in Normandy).
On landing in Bombay in January
1945, 3209 spent some time in a transit camp possibly called Worli. From there
across India to Singabeel in the state of Assam; to Calcutta, for a short stay
on the Midan; back across India to a Seaplane base at Korangi Creek on the coast
not for from Karachi. Here they underwent some training on landing craft but
spent most of the time swimming! Once more across India to Bobbilli on the coast
north of Madras, where we waited for the delivery of some Bedford trucks, then
down to Madras and aboard a TLC to Rangoon.
They were scheduled to take
part in Operation Dracula... the seaborne assault on Rangoon but this was
cancelled upon the surrender of the Japanese in early September 1945. 3209 was
then split up and never came together again.
A Squadron (1 and 2 flights) sailed to Rangoon from Madras and were then
transported to Bangkok by landing craft. Here they established a staging post
where they serviced visiting aircraft. B Squadron (3 and 4 flights) sailed
from Rangoon to Saigon on board the troop ship 'Silesia.' It was not altogether
a safe environment since the following transport was fired on by Nationalists as
it sailed up the Saigon River.
They established the No. 2 staging post for aircraft en-route to Japan and also
took part in airfield defence against insurgents seeking to prevent the return of the
French. The squadron also carried out sweeps of the countryside looking for
terrorists and arms. They provided a guard of honour for Lord Louis Mountbatten on his
arrival in Saigon and received a pep talk from him. 3209 was disbanded on 22nd
November 1945 and the members were posted to R.A.F. units throughout South East
Asia. (Photo; Armourers making up rockets for Typhoons).
Commando Unit 3210 landed in India on 14/1/45 and after training at Worli
moved to Calcutta. Flights were employed at various stations until the orders came
through to prepare for Operation Zipper. However, as with other units in the far
east the surrender of the Japanese on 5/9/45 changed all plans and expectations. In September they were bound for Malaya
on board the SS Dunera. On the 17th they transferred to landing craft
off Morib beach having to wade through four feet of water and march nine miles
to their assembly area!
this subject reader
writes; The SS Dunera arrived off Morib Beach
on the 9th according to the log of my father's RAF squadron - the 89th Squadron.
They also transferred to LCIs and then another transfer to smaller landing craft
before wading ashore on the afternoon of the 9th. They set off on a 10 mile
march to a transit camp at Telok Datok, same one as the 3210 I expect. But it
was too late in the day and so they were ordered to
It was so dark they couldn't see where they were setting up their tents.
Unfortunately, some erected their tents on a dry river bed which, unbeknown to
them, was subject to flash flooding. They woke up during the night in several
inches of water! Overnight monsoon rains thoroughly soaked them and all their
kit. When they arrived at Telok Datok, which was no more than a collection of
huts, it took two days to dry out!
were to prepare airstrips at Port Swettenham or Port Dickson, ready for
operational duties by the 15th September when new mosquitoes were due to arrive.
This was also what, I expect, 3210 were going to do, under fire if
opposed. However, all that had changed of course, with the end of the war. With
war plans abandoned the 89th Echelon received new orders on the 23rd of
September to "Make your way to Seletar, Singapore".
42651 personnel and 3968
vehicles were landed on Morib beach according to a monument erected there by the
46th Indian Beach Group.
Aircraft were serviced at airfields in Port Swettenham and Kuala Lumpur's Kelanang
airfield. On the 21st of September they were advised of a move to Batavia in Java
and shortly thereafter they sailed from Port Dickson to Batavia, with their vehicles, aboard four LCTs.
They took over airfield defence from an army detachment and serviced incoming
aircraft and initially two squadrons of Thunderbolts. With little notice the
unit was disbanded on 31 October 1945.
Commando Unit 3225 was formed in the UK in July 1943 and served in Egypt
around the end of 1943.
Commando Unit 3226 was formed in July 1942. They served in Sicily and
Salerno, Italy where, despite the airstrip coming under enemy fire, petrol was
brought up from the beachhead area. After further service the unit was disbanded
in January 1944.
Commando Units 3230 and 3231
were formed in
Palestine (Egypt?) in the Spring of 1943.
They were deployed to Sicily and the toe of Italy before being disbanded in
November 1943 and January 1944 respectively.
Gordon Taylor was a member of 3209 on D-Day and recorded these
thoughts on 24th July 1944. His early involvement in the war was seriously
interrupted by a German torpedo!
June 1944 - Old Sarum, Salisbury. Hanging around all day. Received £ 1.00
for changing into 'foreign currency.'
June - left Salisbury at 13.00 hrs and arrived in Portsmouth area after
travelling all day. Loads of work. Collected 24 hour ration packs and changed
money into francs, £2 and received 400 francs. Bed about midnight tired out.
6 June - up at 02.45 hours and away by 05.00. With only a few of my mates
(unit split up). On landing craft by 10.00 hrs. Moved off at 14.00 hrs. to join
the rest of the convoy at about 22.00hrs. Bed down in lorries to sleep.
Wednesday 7 June - at about 02.00 hrs gunfire heard, all boys reached for
tin hats. Suddenly there was a terrific crash and a tremendous yellow flame lit
the whole place up. In a few seconds there was a large fire going. All I
remember was that I found myself wandering about the deck. Most of the boys had,
by now, got over the first shock, and were standing well to the front as the
fire was spreading and had reached ammunition which was exploding. I went to the
front and found that we were not sinking so I decided to stay on a little
longer. Two chaps, Canadians, dived overboard. I don't think that they were
picked up or seen again.
The fire was well
alight and we could see chaps trying to get out. I don't think they did. We
could not get down the other end because of the fire and the damage to the side
of the ship. The front half was now rocking about badly as its back was breaking
leaving the top plates holding the two halves together.
Suddenly a motor launch came out of the blue
telling us to jump into the water. Not a bad idea but some of the boys' life
belts were punctured by the blast. It then came closer so that we could jump
aboard. It took about ten chaps - two fell into the water but were picked up. We
did not think that it was corning back again but it did a few minutes later and
I was last but one.
At the other end of the boat they were trying to
put the fire out but no water came through the fire hoses. On the rescue boat I
went below after feeling a pain in the head from which blood was flowing. The
boat was crowded with chaps who were badly burned. All of us were sick in the
I went on deck after my head was bandaged and all
I could see were hundreds of craft of all sizes. The French Coast stood out very
clearly in the background. The boat went up and down the coast looking for a
hospital ship but when we made contact it was full. We were then transferred to
an LCT, which had another in tow. We stayed with this until we were again
transferred to an American LST on its way back to England. Those of us not
too good were put to bed and given anti tetanus injections. Had some lovely
coffee and tea. Tried to sleep but there was lots of noise.
Thursday 8 June -
back in England at about 3 o'clock in the afternoon and was taken to Winchester
Hospital. And was soon asleep.
Gordon was transferred to Hospital in Bradford
and was eventually posted to 141 Wing HQ at West Mailing.
RAFSC 3201 - 612453. Sgt Benjamin Pickering RAF. 17 November
1942. Age 22. Dely Ibrahim War Cemetery, Algeria. 3H10.
RAFSC 3201 - 1240138. AC1 George Clarke. RAF(VR). 22 November 1942.
Age 31. Medjez-El-Bab War Cemetery, Tunisia. 6C1
RAFSC 3201 - 1035703. LAC Stanley Arthur Gallagher. RAF (VR). 22
November 1942. Age 22. Medjez-El-Bab War Cemetery, Tunisia. GC2.
RAFSC 3202 - 618375. Sgt Leonard Victor Snape. RAF. 18 January 1944.
Age 23. Bari War Cemetery, Italy. 15D14.
RAFSC 3205 - 1312615. LAC Owen William Swallow. RAF (VR). 30 January
1945. Age 31. Taukkyan War Cemetery, Rangoon, Burma. 5C8.
RAFSC 3206 - 1384610. LAC Leonard Charles Lansdowne. RAF (VR). 12
September 1944. Age 32. Marissel French National Cemetery, France. Grave 324.
RAFSC 3207 - 1678283. LAC Jack Henson Crofts. RAF (VR). 7 June 1944.
Age 20. Runnymede Memorial, Egham, Surrey. Panel 241 (Lost at Sea - Normandy
RAFSC 3209- 1460523. AC1 Edward John Skeggs. RAF (VR). 8 June 1944. Age
23. Runnymede Memorial, Egham, Surrey. Panel 243 (Lost at Sea - Normandy
RAFSC 3209 - 648591. CPL Charles Mervyn Walker. RAF. 10 October 1945.
Age 23. Madras War Cemetery, India. 9E3 (While rejoining unit in Burma - Siam
RAFSC 3225 - 612613. SGT John Edwin Savage. RAF. 22 October 1943. Age
26. Khayat Berach War Cemetery, Israel. DB6
RAFSC 3226 - 1107082. CPL Hugh McCulloch Montgomerie. RAF (VR). 11
August 1943. Age 26. Catania War Cemetery, Sicily. IF 46.
RAFSC 3231 - 1305857. LAC Ernest Nuttall. RAF (VR). 30 Hune 1943. Age
22. Pembroke Military Cemetery, Malta. Plot 5. Row 4. Grave 9.
RAFSC 3231 - 1342823. LAC James Renton Taylor. RAF (VR). 30 June 1943.
Age 22. Pembroke Military Cemetery, Malta. 1117.
RAFSC 3232 - 649555. CPL Harole Moore. RAF.
11 May 1943. Age 27. The
Alamein Memorial, Egypt (Column 272) (Lost at Sea - Givate Olga Beach, Israel)
RAFSC 3232 - 1024016. LAC Horace Hughes. RAF (VR). 11 May 1943. Age 23.
Khayat Beach War Cemetery, Israel. CB16. (Lost at Sea - Givate Olga Beach,
RAFSC 3232 - 1233431. AC1 John William Cannon. RAF (VR). 21 June 1943.
Age 22. Malta (Capucchini) Naval Cemetery, Malta. Prot Sec (Men's) Plot F
Coll. Grave 36.
RAFSC 3232 - 1172764. LAC Reginald James Algred Goodman. RAF (VR). 21
June 1943. Age 24. Malta (Capucchini) Naval Cemetery, Malta. Prot Sec (Men's)
Plot F Coll. Grave 36.
[Information provided by Tony
Stanhope from "A History of the RAF Servicing Commandos" by J P Kellet and J
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Servicing Commando Unit 3201. A light hearted account of hazardous duties
illustrated with cartoon images drawn by the author.
The RAF Servicing Commando and The
Tactical Wing Association In 2006 the RAFSC Association joined forces with
today's Tactical Supply Wing to form a new association representing a common
heritage. New members are welcome.
Servicing Commando website
RAF Beach Units
A History of the RAF Servicing Commandos, by J P Kellett
and J Davies, published by Airlife in 1989.
Spectacles, Testicles, Fags and Matches - the untold story of the RAF
Servicing Commandos in World War Two. Written by Tom Atkinson. Published by
Luath Press Ltd, Edinburgh in 2004. The author was a member of RAFSC Unit
This account of the RAF Servicing Commandos was written by Ed Stevens.