Uniforms

When planning the invasion of France the RAF was conscious that they needed to equip their radar, signals and beach defence teams with suitable equipment that would allow them to become self-sufficient and self-reliant for up to ten days before re-stocking.  Traditional RAF uniforms that airmen wore were deemed not to be suitable for this task and a new battle tunic was designed and developed for the task.  This tunic came about after the RAF personnel had undergone combined operations training and had viewed the battle tunics which Commandos wore and it was this basic design that was adopted by the RAF for the task of invasion.

By all accounts this was a very smart and practical battle dress but to prove their individuality the RAF chose their dark blue serge colours for this kit.  One of the best photographs to illustrate the design and composition can be seen in the Men and their Experiences Section in Norman Best’s index with a photograph called Norman Best Photo: Preparing for D-Day.  In this photograph it shows two of the seconded members of 21 BDS with Norman Best drinking half a pint of beer second from the left, and Ned Hitchcock sitting on the floor cross-legged.  They are wearing their officer’s battle tunics and it shows the WAAF officers altering the tunics to make their officers’ insignias removable as they were advised the Germans would shoot the officers first.

All of the members of the unit had their tunics sprayed with a chemical which was deemed to reduce the effect of any potential gas attacks that the Germans may use.  And the accounts indicate that it was this together with the fact that most RAF personnel had to swim ashore that caused a major extra difficulty for the RAF men.  Apparently the mixture of salt water, the chemical which had been used to lessen the effects of gas attacks, caused the RAF blue to become more of a bluey-grey and this colour was far too similar to the German military battledress such as to make the men at a distance indistinguishable from their German foes.  Sadly within the reports from Corporal Heathcote and others that they were subjected to friendly fire from the Americans and also tragically two of the RAF team were actually arrested by Americans and subjected to being held as prisoner of war for two hours until sense prevailed.

This tragic consequence of using the RAF battledress was quickly appreciated by both the Americans and RAF team and within a matter of a day or so the Americans had equipped the RAF with sufficient of their own uniforms to make the RAF team much more obvious that they were on the allied side and prevented any further tragic confusion.  To illustrate this point a photograph which appears in Men and their Experiences, Norman Best Index, Norman Best Photo: The Warriors Return shows Ned Hitchcock and Norman Best returning to their Home 60 Group Headquarters with their amalgam of British and US service gear.

There is also a very interesting confirmation of this story recalled by the son of Arthur Greenleaf.

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