No. 980 R.A.F. Beach Balloon Squadron consisting of Nos. 54 and 55 Beach Balloon Flights, helped to protect the beaches in the GOLD area during Operation NEPTUNE, the assault landings in Normandy, France – D-Day, 6th June 1944.
In a previous incarnation, No. 980 (Barrage Balloon) Squadron had left the UK in March 1942 and gone to the Middle East. The Squadron served in Iran at RAF Abadan, and then at El Firdan, Egypt. At the end of 1943, they were handing over to the Royal Egyptian Air Force at El Firdan and must then have been disbanded.
When Nos. 54 and 55 Beach Balloon Flights were to be formed into a squadron in April 1944, an existing but, at that time, unused identification number was used for the new squadron. Thus No. 980 Squadron was reincarnated as a Beach Balloon Squadron.
There is no Operations Record Book (ORB) for No. 980 Squadron for the period January 1944 to September 1944. When No. 980 Beach Balloon Squadron was formed in April 1944, no Operations Record Book was kept. Administratively the Squadron was incorporated with No. 4 Beach Squadron, but the ORB of that unit is minimal and includes no mention of No. 980 Beach Balloon Squadron or Nos. 54 and 55 Beach Balloon Flights As a result we don’t have much information about No. 980 Beach Balloon Squadron and Nos. 54 and 55 Beach Balloon Flights. Here is what we know.
At the beginning of February 1944, when No. 3 R.A.F. Beach Unit became part of 2nd Tactical Air Force, Beach Balloon Units were attached to each of its Sections. No. 54 R.A.F. Beach Balloon Unit was attached to 105 Beach Section to work with the Army’s No. 9 Beach Group and No 55 R.A.F. Beach Balloon Unit was attached to 106 Beach Section to work with No. 10 Beach Group.
No. 54 Beach Balloon Unit took part in Exercise ROUNDABOUT in February, with 9 Beach Group, but when 10 Beach Group went to Gullane for their turn at Exercise ROUNDABOUT later that month, No. 55 Beach Balloon Unit did not take part. Instead the Unit went to R.A.F. Wythall on 25th February, to do some training and at the same time No. 54 R.A.F. Beach Balloon Unit went for training at R.A.F. Cardington.
On 20th March 1944, No. 3 R.A.F. Beach Unit was replaced by No. 4 R.A.F. Beach Unit, so Nos. 54 and 55 Beach Balloon Units, though still with the same Army Beach Groups, were now associated with Nos. 107 and 108 R.A.F. Beach Sections.
In April 1944, Nos. 54 and 55 Beach Balloon Units were renamed Beach Balloon Flights and with the addition of a Squadron Leader in command, formed into No. 980 Beach Balloon Squadron. Squadron Leader Armitage was appointed Commanding Officer of the newly formed Beach Balloon Squadron.
Around the same time No. 4 R.A.F. Beach Unit was renamed No. 4 R.A.F. Beach Squadron and its Beach Sections were renamed Beach Flights. For administrative purposes No. 980 Beach Balloon Squadron was incorporated into No. 4 Beach Squadron.
No. 980 Beach Balloon Squadron took part in Exercise FABIUS II at the beginning of May 1944 and then in Operation OVERLORD, landed in the GOLD assault area in Normandy and operated there along with No. 4 Beach Squadron.
We have no written account of their activities, but there are these photographs.
At the end of September 1944, No. 980 RAF Beach Balloon Squadron was withdrawn to R.A.F. Wythall in the UK and was due to disband with effect from 10th October. However, on 27th October instructions were received that the unit was to reform as a Port Balloon Squadron with two Port Balloon Flights and a headquarters. The new 980 Squadron was still waiting for movement instructions at Christmas 1944 but would, soon after, join the other Squadrons of No. 159 Balloon Wing in Belgium.