The Late Additions
BDS 21 Unit Structure – The Late Additions
One of the most curious and unexplained aspects of the composition of the first Echelon of 21 BDS is why the powers-that-be felt at the last minute the need to add a number of specialists to join the group.
Evidence suggests that the broad structure of the group had been meticulously and carefully thought through from August 1943 onwards, and the role and tasks that the mobile radar units were to undertake was clearly calculated and understood for many months before D-Day. The training that the GCI units, as well as the MSUs and MSSUs, undertook was comprehensive, professionally organised and rigorously implemented, so that when the men landed on the beaches they were as best prepared as possible to meet the dangers which lay ahead of them.
As has been described in other sections relating to training, their combined operations induction was geared specifically to allow them to become as self-sufficient and resilient as possible, not only that they could cope with the beach landings, but also be able to manage independently of external support for up to ten days. It is a mystery who or what prompted a variety of specialists to be deemed necessary to join the first Echelon of both BDS groups that landed, but it is especially curious for those landing at Omaha why and what prompted the need for additional resources to be drafted in at the last minute.
So far, I have identified six men who were added to the compliment, and there may be others. The six late additions were:
From 60 Group
Squadron Leader Norman Best
Flight Lieutenant Ned Hitchcock
From RAF Medical Squadron
Flight Lieutenant Richard Rycroft
From RAF Chaplaincy
The Reverend Geoffrey Clarence Harding
By the very nature of the fact these men were added between 23rd and 25th May 1944, only two weeks before the invasion actually took place, meant that these men had none of the elaborate and detailed training that the bulk of the first Echelon 21 BDS had. This must have been a negative impact to the morale and professionalism that the other men felt following their exhaustive training that they would have to “carry” latecomers to their group. However, the corresponding positive would have been the additional skills that these late additions would bring to the overall skill sets of the unit.
It is easy to see why it would be useful to have a doctor with the team, as up until such time that Flight Lieutenant Rycroft was drafted into the unit, the responsibility of medical welfare of up to 170 men fell on the shoulders of a medical orderly. And it is possible that the authorities felt that maybe the RAF unit would get involved in a defended landing and feared that casualties would be higher than at first envisaged. Similarly, a case could be made for the technical boffins from 60 Group that were added as an insurance policy in case of malfunction of the GCI radar, which was the core of the unit’s equipment. But it is very curious to wonder why at such a late stage, the presence of a padre should have been deemed expedient over and above the need to have fully trained and prepared men.
For whatever reason, or reasons, that these late additions were added, three of them had a profound effect on the survival of the group as a whole, with Padre Harding, Flight Lieutenant Rycroft and Squadron Leader Norman Best winning Military Crosses for their bravery and courage on Omaha Beach. See the section entitled “Men and their experiences” to learn of what these men achieved.