4 Beach Balloon Detachment

Operations Record


23rd May. 1943
Unit was formed from personnel of 977 Squadron with establishment of 1 Flying Officer, 1 Sergeant, 6 Corporals, and 12 Aircraftman, all Balloon Operators, total 1 officer 19 Other Ranks. Equipment 12 Mark VI balloons, 1 Dodge 15 cwt. Van fitted with Mark VI Wickham (mechanical) winch. F/O J.R.C, Durham (6383 of 977 Squadron was posted to command w.e.f. 28th May 1943.

24th May.
Equipment assembled together from 977 Squadron.

25th May.
Assembly and making up of equipment (wire strops cables etc).

26th May
Loading of 10 3-ton vehicles supplied by No. 7 S. & T.C.

On Convoy

27th May.
0600     Convoy of one 15 cwt. Dodge and ten 3-ton vehicles left Benghazi containing all personnel of Unit, 120 hydrogen cylinders, balloons, and equipment. Convoy reached Magrin and staged for the night. Good water here so all drums filled. Day’s run 50 miles, no defect in M.T.

28th May.
0800     Convoy moved off and reached Marble Arch when Unit staged for the night. Tyre of 15 cwt. Dodge became U/S. No other defect with M.T. Mileage 175.

29th May.
0800     Unit again on road and reached staging .7 miles East of Buerat. Road very rough. No defect in M.T. Mileage 185.

30th May.
0800     Homs reached without trouble. Progress delayed without, by demolition of bridges and culverts. F/O Durham proceeded ahead to Tripoli to arrange for reception of unit. Good water at Misurata.

31st May.
0900     F/O Durham reported to 214 and 210 Group for instructions.
1100     Unit met and escorted to 36 A.S.P. 6 kilos West of Zavia. Equipment offloaded. Personnel housed in tents and rationed with 36 A.S.P. who made unit very welcome. The 10 vehicles of No. 7 S.&T.C. left to report to Tripoli depot.
1600     F/O Durham returned to Tripoli to contact 976 Squadron. Mileage of convoy, 58.


1st June 1943
976 Squadron contacted, as parachutes, 3000 ft. K131, 36 shackles, and 10 gas keys were required to complete equipment. Only four parachutes available.

2nd June
15cwt. Dodge serviced. Personnel employed in overhauling equipment and work for 36 A.S.P.
Kit inspection of all ranks.

3rd June
Work continues as above, 4 parachutes obtained from 976 Squadron.

4th June
114 M.U. contacted, unable to supply equipment required. Signal sent to Delta asking for immediate delivery by air. Bathing parade in evening.

5th June
F/O Durham has interview with S/Ldr. E. Garland at “B” Flight, Tripoli. Further instructions and scale of equipment required given to him.

6th June
114 M.U. contacted regarding equipment. 600s to be raised.

7th June
Surplus equipment returned to 976 Squadron.

8 June
Following equipment received from 976 Squadron: 36 shackles, two gas keys, one pressure gauge. F/O Durham injured by fall (10 days light duty)

9th June
Enquiries at Group re waterproofing of 15 cwt. Dodge. All hydrogen cylinders tested for pressure. Packing and marking of equipment continues.

10th June
Personnel drawing personal equipment from 114 M.U. after kit inspection.

11th June
Packing and marking of equipment continues.
Cables reeved on Cardington winches.

12th June
Hydrogen cylinders and balloon stores loaded on eight 3-ton lorries supplied by 36 A.S.P.
Left Zavia at 1200 hours for embarkation in accordance with instructions received from Group Captain Iliffe. 843506 Cpl. Pragnall proceeded with equipment as escort.

13th June
Personnel paraded in full equipment and inspected. Voluntary church parade.

14th June
Personnel paraded and inspected by F/O Durham who read S.R.O. from 977 Squadron stating that 925704 Cpl. Driver R.G. had been mentioned in dispatches.
Waterproofing of 15 cwt. Dodge nearly completed.

16th June
Dodge 15 cwt. proceeded to marshalling point with Cpl. Watkin.

Dodge D15 GS (Van) (Photo IWM)
The Detachment’s long-suffering Dodge 15 cwt was the unit’s only transport from the Detachment’s formation at Benghazi in May 1943 until it was exchanged for a larger vehicle in Sicily, in August 1943

17th June
F/O Durham proceeded to marshalling point with main body.

18th June
F/O Durham handed over command to F/O Peachey (67734).

F/O Peachey continues with the record…

Left 38 P.T.C. proceeded to docks for embarkation at 1600 hours with one 15 cwt. and 18 personnel distributed among the vehicles in convoy.

19th June
Sailed a.m.


21st June
Docked at Malta 1200 hours. Landed and proceeded to 983 Squadron.

22nd June
Commenced checking equipment and making necessary flying strops. Cpl. Garrod taken to 90th G.H. and admitted.

23rd June
Balloons taken to 983 Squadron B.R.S. to be air inflated and inspected. One case of equipment found to be missing. All possible places visited but no trace found. Medical orderly indented for anti-malaria tablets which we were unable to obtain before leaving.

24th June
Forms 600 raised to 983 Squadron for deficiencies in equipment. Power winch drums all correctly reeved. MO at 90th G.H. on enquiry, thinks that Cpl. Garrard will be in hospital for at least 14 days. Arranged with F/Lt. Rankin for replacement, should it be necessary.

25th June
Six Cardington winches reeved correctly.

26th June

Hot showers arranged for the men once a week. All balloon inspection and cable reeving completed.

27th June
Bathing parade.

28th June
Stabilisers examined and repaired where necessary.
Cpl. Watkins admitted to sickbay for observation.

29th June
Cpl. Garrard discharged from hospital and returned to duty.
Commenced packing equipment.

30th June
48 hours Compo and 48 hours mess tin rations, together with emergency ration, drawn.
2900 rounds of Sten ammo drawn.

1st July 1943
Wickham winch refitted to Dodge 15 cwt and truck loaded with winch drums in preparations for move to V.M.P.
Cpl. Watkins discharged from sick bay with two days light duty.

2nd July
All equipment marked with the word “FUSTIAN” according to instructions. Packing of cases completed.

3rd July
Cpl. Driver admitted to station S.Q. suspected sand fly fever.

4th July
Voluntary church parade during morning. Bathing parade in afternoon.

5th July
Six men loaned to 983 Squadron during morning for inflations. S/Ldr. McNeil and F/Lt. Searle attached for travelling and rations.

6th July
Three corporals and eight men working and preparing balloon beds for 983 Squadron.
Obtained anti-malarial tablets from P.M.O. who instructed that they should be taken on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday regularly starting as from today.
1152977 LAC Clements reported sick with feet trouble.

First private mail for five weeks arrived this afternoon.

7th July
Visit from Air Commodore Whitford. Cpl. Driver discharged from sick quarters.

8th July
Pay parade. All detachment inoculated for T.A.B., 1cc.

9th July
Conference and briefing by A.O.A..
PMO telephoned saying that Clements would have to go before a board and would be unable to go with unit.

10th July
Arranged with F/Lt. Rankin, 983 squadron for replacement for Clements. L.A.C. Rush of 983 Squadron sent to unit.

11th July
Bathing parade.

12 July
Men collecting gas bottles for the Squadron.

14th July
Bathing parade.

15th July
All M.U.s and dumps visited but no trace of missing case.

16th July
Field Cashier changed money for B.M.A. Confined all men to camp awaiting movement instructions.

17th July
Eight men assisting at V.M.P.
Half detachment allowed out.

18th July
Six men assisting at V.M.P.
Bathing parade.

19th July
Six men assisting at V.M.P.
S/Ldr. Bestwell inspected equipment to be moved and made necessary arrangement for transport.

20th July
Transport provided, and gas tubes moved to Hard ready for loading. Personnel moved at 2230 and enshipped. Sailed at 2330 hours.


21st July
Arrived at Syracuse, Sicily at 1030 hours. Contacted Embarkation Officer and No. 1 Port Balloon Detachment. Billet arranged and men moved in. Commenced using mess tin rations for lunch. Equipment and gas tubes unloaded from ship and dumped at Embarkation Quay Office compound. Air raid at night.

22nd July
Contacted 322 Wing at Lentini and reported to S/Ldr. Marshall. Particulars given to Adjutant, F/Lt. Porter. Indented for 1 officer and 19 other ranks. Rations to be collected by No. 1 Beach Balloon Detachment. Rations delivered. Air raid at night.

23rd July
Endeavoured to contact Embarkation Officer for Catania or nearby beach. No success, believed to be located at Augusta. Nobody appears to have any knowledge of future operations of beach parties on the island.
A senior liaison officer would be a great help. R.A.F. post office located, and mail collected. Indented for rations for 20.

24th July
Contacted Embarkation Office for Catania at Augusta. They understand “FUSTIAN” will be used. Several other Beach detachments have joined up intending to move when opportunity offers. Shall carry out “recce” as soon as area has fallen. Rations for 20 men. Air raid at night ship hit.

25th July
Equipment checked. Endeavoured to obtain transport to move equipment nearer to ultimate destination. Possibilities found to be very slight for the near future so decided to move as much as possible by the 15cwt truck and any other truck we may. be able to borrow from Port or Beach party.

26th July
Transported seven men and small amount of equipment to a small park at Carlentini about 12 miles from destination.

27th July
Fetched remaining personnel to new camp.


28th July
Moved 20 bottles by transport loaned by No.1 Port Detachment and transported balloons by 15 cwt.

29th July

Borrowed No.1 Port Detachment’s 3-tonner and moved 20 more tubes.
No. 3 Beach Balloon Detachment truck coming in this direction loaded with more equipment. Unit 15 cwt carried remainder of small equipment. 52 tubes, all balloons, one hand winch, and all cases now transported giving sufficient equipment to fly 10 balloons.

30th July
Pay parade.
No. 3 Beach Balloon Detachment has completed its job and is returning, endeavoured to obtain their 3-ton truck, the Air Commodore having told them to hand this equipment over to other balloon units. Unfortunately, they had passed it over to 40 A.S.P. who are not at all anxious to lose it. Lack of co-operation among certain balloon units has been most apparent and point conclusively to the need of an officer with the authority to co-ordinate all units.
Managed to obtain small amount of soap from 40 A.S.P.
Commenced drawing “dry” rations instead of “Compo”.

1st August 1943
Contacted C.O. of 40 A.S.P. prepared to release truck tomorrow.
Difficulty with rations. A.A.H.Q. appear to have overlooked informing D.I.D.
L.A.C. Rooney reported sick, has to attend once a day for treatment to his ear.

2nd August
Collected 3-tonner from 40 A.S.P. and continued to fetch equipment from Syracuse.

3rd August
Cpl. Driver reported sick with a strained groin and was admitted to 30 M.F.H.

4th August
Another load of bottles from Syracuse. Handed over 3-tonner to “L” Port Unit on instructions from A.A.H.Q. who also ordered us to use “F” and “K” unit’s transport. This obviously makes a quick operation impossible meaning only one truck to transport two units equipment. Collected goods from N.A.A.F.I at Augusta. Catania has fallen.

5th August
Carried out “recce” at Catania, arrived there at 0850 hours. “FUSTIAN” beach heavily wired and impossible to obtain any information.

6th August
Further “recce” managed to contact N.O.I.C. who informed me that he had no intention of using “FUSTIAN”. Arranged with “K” Beach Balloon Detachment and “L” Port Balloon Detachment to stay at Carlentini and load their equipment.

7th August
Reported to S/Ldr. Tellworthy, A.A.H.Q. position at Catania. Instructed by him to retain complete equipment and await future orders.
Cpl. Pragnell admitted to 30 MFH pm.

11th August
Completed the loading of “F” and “K” units equipment.

14th August
15 cwt carried last box of parachutes to Catania for “K” unit.

15th August
Borrowed “K” unit’s 3-tonner and collected last remaining equipment from Syracuse.
Complete equipment now with unit at Carlentini.

16th August
Visit from W/Cdr. Usher. Instructed that a 3-tonner be collected from 975 Squadron and L.A.C. replacement for Corporal Pragnell from 972 Squadron.

17th August
Decarbonisation of 15 cwt completed.

18th August
Conference at A.A.H.Q. with A.O.C. Instructed to do all possible preparation. Exchanged 15 cwt truck for 3-tonner from 975 Squadron. LAC Veellner posted from 972 Squadron to replace Cpl. Pragnell.

19th August
Received instructions to move into Catania main airfield.

20th August
Moved all men and equipment to Catania with trucks from 121 M.U.


21st August
Reported move complete to R.H.Q. D.A.F.
S/Ldr. Tellworthy informed equipment officer to make necessary alteration of D.I.D.
Collected preliminary instructions from A.A.H.Q.

22nd August
Commenced clearing airfield and hangars.

23rd August
Continued clearing airfield and hangars.

24th August
Continued clearing airfield and hangars.

25th August
Instructions to stand by on 12 hours’ notice.

26th August
Received movement order to commence tomorrow.

27th August
Endeavoured to move to marshalling point but found difficulty in getting information. Contacted 5th Division, 17 Brigade, and 13th Corps.

28th August
Saw W/Cdr. Fearne and received full instructions. Contacted Embarkation Unit and arranged shipping. Truck moved to marshalling yard.

29th August
Conference with A.O.A.
Equipment and personnel moved to docks and embarked on L.C.T.
Truck commenced waterproofing.
Movement of equipment once more difficult through lack of transport. Assistance obtained from 2906 and 2904 R.A.F.R.

30th August
Waterproofing completed and truck moved to marshalling area.

31st August
Marshalling yard.

1st September 1943
Marshalling yard.

2nd September
Transport moved on board L.C.T.

Reggio di Calabria

3rd September, D-Day for Operation “BAYTOWN”
Transport landed on Italy 0630 hours. Six balloons flying from L.S.T. commenced to arrive at approximately 0730 hours. 6 by 1130 hours. One L.C.T. with equipment and eight men arrived 1830 hours. S/Ldr. Shepherd visited 1330 hours. Landing difficulty caused with M.T. through soft sand. Second L.C.T. with equipment and nine men arrived 1900 hours.

4th September
Inflated 5 balloons and had beach covered with 11 balloons at 1200 hours.

5th September
Contacted Lt. Col. Harrison 51st H.A.A. instructed “K4” Beach Unit should come into being immediately.
Cover possibly required for Reggio harbour tonight. Two balloons lost through lightning .

Reggio, 3 September 1943 (Operation Baytown):
The White Ensign flies over Reggio harbour. Copyright: © IWM (NA 6239) .
Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205194400

6th September
“FOX” beach, being covered by “K” Unit, closed. Colonel Harris asked for cover for harbour so “K” Unit’s balloons were walked along railway. Harbour covered by 6 balloons.

7th September
“K4″ Balloon Detachment came into being. H.Q. set up at No. 8 Via Francesco Barraca, Reggio.

8th September
Personnel moved into new billets. Six men left at “HOW” beach to attend balloons and equipment.

9th September
All personnel, with the exception of three men left at “HOW” beach, of both “K” and No. 4 Detachments now installed in H.Q.

10th September
Inventory of all furniture completed and sent to Town Major. One balloon walked from “GEORGE” beach to harbour.

11th September

General servicing. One balloon over harbour was deflated through loss of gas caused by shrapnel. D.E.M.S Lieutenant Commander asked for assistance in topping up when necessary. Agreed.

12th September
One balloon on “HOW” beach broke away through inertia link firing. Two balloons walked from “GEORGE” beach which closed today, to Reggio harbour. One balloon over harbour burst and another was immediately inflated. Eight balloons now covering Reggio harbour and seven “HOW” beach. F/Lt. Sutherland from 972 Squadron arrived with intention of raising barrage over harbour. Position explained, which information he has taken back to S/Ldr. Rigby at Messina. Major Philip 97 H.A.A. visited to make contact.

13th September
S/Ldr. Rigby of No. 972 Squadron visited and informed us of attachment of the unit to his Squadron. Instructed both detachments to re-equip to scale so that either or both could move immediately if necessary. Meanwhile unit to continue flying balloons over harbour and “GEORGE” beach. List of various equipment given which may be made-up from the Squadron.

14th September
Cables being re-reeved and inspected. Leading Seaman Lines i/c D.E.M.S. called, arranged with him to collect all available gas tubes from any ships that may have any on board. “K4” personnel would assist in topping up or inflations if required.

15th September
Re equipping continued.

16th September
F/O Cahill came from Messina and was supplied with seven Drums (two cables reeved on each with all necessary attachments for flying). two 3-way fillers, one single-way, three gas keys and ten K.B. 85 strops. No. 972 Squadron supplied with three Drums (two cables on each) and two Drums empty. Received from No. 972 Squadron, 1 power Wickham winch and two Wickham hand winches. one box cartridges for Inertia Link Mk II. Cook arrived from the Squadron.

17th September
F/O D.H. Byrne left for Messina.

18th September
General routine. LAC Cassells returned from hospital in Sicily.

19th September
General routine. One balloon, Site 6 lost through heavy squall hitting it as it was being hauled in I’m driving it onto a rooftop. Visited P.M.L.O. 33 Brick. He will inform us when beach is closing. Traffic at moment is very spasmodic.

20th September
Balloon on Site 3 lost during night. Lower inertia link had fired, probably due to the very gusty conditions prevailing. F/O D.H. Burn returned from Messina. Letter from No. 972 Squadron at 1930 hours requesting dispatch of 60 bottles on own truck and K4’s truck. K4’s truck to remain at No. 972 Squadron. Both trucks loaded and dispatched by Turkish ferry at 2130 hours.

21st September
Reggio barrage deflated on instructions from S/Ldr. Rigby and “HOW” beach reduced to five balloons. Two truckloads of gas and balloon equipment dispatched according to list supplied by him. This now leaves five balloons flying with only two bottles of gas to top up with and barely sufficient equipment for one beach unit to operate. Letter sent by hand to S/Ldr. Rigby asking that authority for this taking over equipment be furnished this unit. Letter reporting position and asking for further information and instruction sent to balloon staff officer R.A.H.Q. D.A.F.

22nd September
Stack of equipment taken. One balloon on “HOW” beach broke away through gusty wind causing kinked cable.

23rd September
F/Lt. Bailey came over from No. 972 Squadron. At last position is now clarified and from now on 972 Squadron will be looked upon as parent unit. “K” Balloon Unit departed for Squadron.

24th September
One balloon on “HOW” beach bedded down for loss of gas and low purity. Informed Town Major of vacation of four flats of billets. Instructed owners be allowed to re occupy if possible. Agreed this could be done.

25th September
Balloon bedded on “HOW” beach. Deflated as there is not sufficient gas to top up with. This now leaves three flying.

27th September

Instructions received from 972 Squadron to deflate remaining balloons at “HOW” beach and move with all equipment and personnel to H.Q. Messina. Two balloons deflated. One break away through kinked cable snapping. W/O Flynn arrived in evening from Squadron with instructions for the personnel to await further instructions before moving.

28 September

First truck load of equipment to Messina.

29th September

One truck load of equipment and one truck with 23 empty tubes.

30th September

Transport of all equipment completed. Received instructions to complete movement of unit.

1st October 1943

Billet at Reggio closed and handed over to occupier. Town Major informed. Certificates obtained from each tenant stating that he did not wish to claim for any damage or rent and that he was satisfied with the conditions of his premises. The whole unit moved to 972 Squadron H.Q., Messina, thus completing the attachment according to instructions from D.A.F.

11th October

Carried out recce to Augusta. Rain caused road diversion at Catania which made it impossible to reach Augusta that day. Stayed at Ramacca.

12th October

Syracuse being nearer than Augusta called there first. Shore Servicing Unit contacted. No plant available. No. 975 Squadron had left. Continued on to Augusta. No. 975 Squadron detachment had left. All billets and buildings being used by them taken over by R.M. Interviewed N.O.I.C. who had no information to offer and emphasised no craft of any sort available. Advised returning and signalling Unit that it was impossible to operate without necessary equipment.

13th October

Returned to Messina, 972 Squadron.

17th October

Travelled by 15 cwt. to Augusta taking four men to recce for billets. Slept that night in hangar. No bullet obtainable from town major.

18th October

Interviewed N.O.I.C. and obtained permission to use seaplane hangar as store. He also offered billets which were very suitable. Took over billets and installed four men. Organised the ID.

19th October

Returned to Messina.

20th October

Two trucks loaded with equipment and F/O D.H. Burn with 10 men left for Augusta at 0700 hours. Contacted S.& T., Messina and arranged for six trucks to carry equipment and men to Augusta tomorrow a.m. taking all F/O Cahill’s equipment and personnel.

21st October

Trucks loaded and conveyed everybody and equipment with the exception of gas tubes. Arrived at Augusta at 1600 hours.

22nd October 1943

Flight Lieutenant Wood arrived to take over all beach units.

The record, kept by F/O Peachey, of No. 4 Beach Balloon Detachment’s operations ends here.

The above account is a transcript of the Operations Record Book of No. 4 Beach Balloon Detachment (found in, ‘Air Ministry and Ministry of Defence: Operations Record Books, Miscellaneous Units’ AIR 29/58/17 at The National Archives) with some punctuation changes for better readability, and a few added notes and images.