Fairlop: A safe harbour?

A Landing Craft Tank similar to that used by No. 93 Embarkation Unit in 1944. Photo: US National Arc

A Landing Craft Tank similar to that used by No. 93 Embarkation Unit in 1944. Photo: US National Archives - Credit: US National Archives

The operational function of No. 93 Embarkation Unit, which was based at RAF Station Fairlop, from July 31 to August 29 1944, was to deal with RAF personnel, stores and equipment through a special port in Operation Overlord, codename for the invasion of German-occupied Normandy on June 6, 1944 – better known as D-Day.

Their oddly circuitous route to Fairlop went via Leytonstone in order to avoid Ilford and Barkingside and to keep the move secret.

Their transport consisted of a number of three tonne tenders, vans, cars and motorcycles, but no boats. Also, as Fairlop is miles from the sea, it is difficult to appreciate how this could be achieved.

On arrival, their first consignment was 18 cases of aeroplane engines received for 142 Wing. Trade tests were held for embarkation assistants, at the same time as PT drill, route marches and camp routine.

The embarkation unit consisted of 50 airmen, clerks, drivers, cooks, fitters, motorcyclists and one code and cypher clerk.

Two airmen were permitted to draw pay as trumpeters, because they were under canvas.

During their stay at Fairlop in August 1944 the unit were busy.

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They handled: 2,909 cases in, and 1,623 cases out, with a shipping weight of 820 tonnes in, 476 tonnes out. The unit then moved to Knepp Castle near Horsham, Sussex.

On September 5, the unit embarked on landing craft tank (LCT) 767 with an assortment of vehicles, all waterproofed, to make a dry landing at Dieppe.

LCT 767 was 153ft (48m) long, 29ft (8.8m) wide and could travel, at its fastest, at eight knots (9mph) when carrying 250 tonnes, armed solely with a two pounder pompom gun.

In September their traffic was 4,681 tons of RAF petroleum, oil and lubricants for use by their mechanics, 1,789 tonnes of ammunition to resupply units on the frontline, 160 tonnes of general supplies, 31 vehicles and 281 assorted personnel to continue the war effort.

On the return leg the LCTs would return to England with the remains of crashed aircraft.

By hosting the embarkation unit, albeit briefly, Fairlop, although 57 miles from the English Channel, played its vital role in Operation Overlord and the retaking of Nazi-occupied Europe.