Introduction and signposting of this website
This website is dedicated to the 160 or so men of the Royal Air Force 1st Echelon of 21 BDS (Base Defence Sector) who landed at about 5.00pm on D-Day, 6 June 1944, on Omaha Beach, Normandy, France.
The inspiration for this website came from the discovery of a diary that my father, Squadron Leader Norman Best, had written during the short time he was seconded to 21 BDS. I only discovered the diary following the death of my mother in 2004 whilst clearing her effects.
Like many men who serve their country, those who fought in World War 2 did not like to talk about their experiences. This was certainly the case for my father who, despite winning the Military Cross in Normandy, never gave his family any narrative as to how he had won it.
The popular view of Omaha Beach was that it was an exclusively American beach landing. Not so. But it was certainly the place where the heaviest casualties occurred during that momentous day all those years ago. No wonder it has been dubbed “Bloody Omaha”.
Any brief summary of what happened on Omaha Beach would not have space to record the tiny but significant contribution that the RAF made to the ultimate success of that landing. Indeed, even the most authoritative book on the subject, by historian Joseph Balkoski, does not find space to recount the misfortunes which the small RAF Radar and Signals Team encountered. However, this website and the excellent Mark Felton YouTube film seek to redress this.
On p.340 of Mr Balkoski’s book “Omaha Beach D-Day June 6, 1944” (paperback, 2006 edition, published by Stackpole Books) you will find a photograph of the aftermath of D-Day on June 7, D+1. It shows the wreckage of a US Sherman tank and a collection of burnt-out trucks. The trucks shown in the photograph were some of the RAF Radar vehicles which were destroyed by mortar and gunfire as the RAF men arrived.
It is also the main photograph above the Introduction to this website and is such a poignant memorial to the eleven men who died and the thirty-seven who were injured when they came ashore at D-Day.
And yet, the story of the team known as 15082 GCI, and the other RAF and Army units who landed with them, is important historically and needs telling.
This website, together with the Memorial located at Vierville-sur-Mer, which was organised by D-Day veteran Les Dobinson and produced by a Franco-Dutch Group called “Deep Respect” with the help of the Vierville townspeople, is a lasting memorial to all of those who landed with the RAF on Omaha Beach.
Our research has led to us to contact many experts and other men who were actually on Omaha Beach either on 6 June or subsequently. It has been a wonderful and moving experience too, to meet the wives, sons and daughters of those veterans who have passed away.
With their help, and particularly the assistance given to me by David Heathcote and Ron Muggleton, this website seeks to explain why they were there and what became of them during D-Day and beyond. It is not a complete story and I hope that it will continue to expand as more information becomes available.
This website contains much content and background material which takes the reader deeper into the full story. For those who would prefer the “executive summary”, we would like to commend to you the key stories of some remarkably brave men.
Firstly, there were 4 Military Crosses won and 2 Military Medals, plus one Croix de Guerre. We are fortunate that there survive 4 detailed stories. Follow these links to read them:
- Muir Adair – Croix de Guerre: Chapter 4 D-Day and Muir Adair’s story: Chapter 5 D-Day+1
- Norman Best – Military Cross: Excerpt from the June 1945 RADAR Group Bulletin and excerpt from the July 1945 RADAR Group Bulletin
- Padre Geoffrey Harding – Military Cross: Padre Harding’s reminiscences
- Dr Richard Rycroft – Military Cross: MO’s report
Additionally, one of best and most succinct accounts of 21 BDS on D-Day was written by Eric Heathcote, which can be read at Eric Heathcote – a handwritten account of D-Day.
Another interesting link is provided by 21 BDS veteran, Les Dobinson: The D-Day story that never made the headlines.
Other revealing accounts are:
- Memories of D-Day by John Cubitt, written in 1984 for the fortieth anniversary.
- Ned Hitchcock’s account of the RAF Radar on Omaha Beach.
- The story of an airman who was wounded and is penned by Arnold Palin – information provided by his friend, Mr P Kirkland of Haslington.
- Finally, another poignant story comes from Archie Ratcliffe – his account of D-Day (transcribed)
There are other aspects of the story that are also worth singling out, including Uniforms (why the Americans shot at us) and Where they landed (what a difference a tide makes).
I would earnestly welcome correspondence with anyone who feels they can add even tiny snippets of information – you may have a vital piece that completes another part of this heroic jigsaw.
I hope this site will be a lasting and fitting memorial to the Royal Air Force at Omaha Beach. May all these gallant gentlemen Rest In Peace.
Tetbury, Gloucestershire, England – firstname.lastname@example.org
The author is a science graduate, who has set up and run several successful engineering component manufacturing and distribution companies in the UK and USA. He also owns several full-sized steam locomotives! One of these is an American-built wartime engine S 160 class 2253. It was built in 1943 and served with the London and North Eastern Railway operating from Leeds Neville Hill shed. In September 1944, it was exported to France and continued with the Allies until the end of the War. It was then sold to Polish State Railways and became PKP TR-203-288. It was withdrawn in 1988 and saved for preservation by the author. The locomotive was overhauled in Poland before returning to the North Yorkshire Moors Railway. Following a further overhaul completed in 2019, 2253 was repainted in Burrell Plum and named “Omaha” in memory of 21 BDS and the men who did not come back. It is currently operating on the Dartmouth Steam Railway and Riverboat Company‘s line running between Paignton and Kingswear in Devon, England. See Omaha the Locomotive.