Royal Marines in the Indian Ocean

1 Mobile Naval Base Brigade

During July 1943, the 1st R.M. Group, M.N.B.D.O. I, was reorganised to meet the needs of proposed future operations, presumed to be in support of amphibious landings in Burma and elsewhere in South-East Asia.  Two separate, similar Brigade Groups were to be formed, numbers 1 and 3 Mobile Naval Base Brigades (1 and 3 M.N.B. Brigades).  The remaining units were to come under the direct command of the Group, to be allocated for training and operations as required.  The reorganisation was to be implemented, as far as possible, within the existing war establishments.  To achieve this, it was found necessary to reduce the size of some units, whilst finding the additional staffs for new units formed.  The H.Q. 1st R.M. A.A. Brigade would be disbanded or otherwise reorganised to provide the H.Q. for the 1 M.N.B. Brigade.  The orders implementing these changes were issued on 19th July 1943.  The reorganisation took effect immediately, but it was expected that the change-over would be gradual.  It was hoped to complete the formation of the Brigades in September.  Training was expected to begin in the Autumn.[1]

The composition of 1 M.N.B. Brigade was intended to be:

- H.Q. 1 M.N.B. Brigade
            - Brigade Defence Platoon
- 1st A.A. Regiment, R.M.
            - ‘A’ and ‘C’ H.A.A. Batteries,
            - 22nd L.A.A. Battery,
            - ‘S’ Searchlight Regiment
- 1st Coast Regiment, R.M.
            - ‘Devon’ Battery,                                   (6-inch guns),
            - ‘Z’ Battery,                                          (4-inch guns)
            - ‘Portsmouth’ A.M.T.B. Battery
- 11th Battalion, R.M.
- 1st Brigade Signal Section
- 1st Brigade Workshop.[2]

In the event, the 1st R.M. A.A. Brigade remained designated as such and references to the 1 M.N.B. Brigade were soon dropped.  The 1st R.M. A.A. Brigade remained in Bombay before moving to join the Indian Expeditionary Force at Gulunche in November 1943, to train for amphibious operations.  The 11th Battalion, R.M. had moved to Poona in October where it was to come under the command of the 36th Indian Infantry Division.  It was only later that the Brigade was joined by the coast and searchlight batteries, which left Ceylon on 5th November 1943 and arrived at Gulunche on 11th November.


It seems that at least for a short time it was intended to create two Mobile Naval Base Brigades, the 1st and 3rd.  The 1 M.N.B. Brigade is referenced once in the war diary of the 1st Coast Regiment and also in the war diary for the 1st R.M. A.A. Brigade.  The 1 M.N.B. Brigade was dated as being formed on 22nd July 1943, the same date that the 3 M.N.B. Brigade was formed.  However, whilst the 3rd Brigade continued to exist, there are no further mentions of the 1 M.N.B. Brigade and it is thought that it may not actually have been formed.[3]

The 1 M.N.B. Brigade is referred to once again in the war diary of the 1st R.M.A.A. Brigade, in the minutes of a conference held at the Headquarters, Royal Marines Group, M.N.B.D.O. I on 6th September 1943.  One of the items discussed is the organisation and establishment of the 1st R.M.A.A. Brigade, due shortly to come under the command of the Headquarters, Indian Expeditionary Force.  It was noted that the establishments of the 1st A.A. Brigade were to be ‘within the War Establishment of 1 M.N.B.[4]

When coast artillery units of the 1st Coast Regiment, R.M. were transferred to India to come under the command of the 1st R.M. A.A. Brigade, it appears that this brigade headquarters took on the role of what would otherwise have been performed by the 1 M.N.B. Brigade.  The 1st R.M. A.A. Brigade, with the 1st A.A. Regiment, R.M. under command, came under the H.Q. Indian Expeditionary Force on 15th September 1943 and began training for amphibious operations.  The addition of coast artillery units to the order of battle was made but without the requirement for either a regimental headquarters (the 1st Coast Regiment, R.M. headquarters remained in Ceylon until disbanded in December 1943) nor an additional brigade headquarters.  Instead, the 1st R.M. A.A. Brigade took on the additional responsibilities and its organisation and establishments were amended accordingly.  Ladd refers to this force of Royal Marines as the ‘‘M.N.B. Group’ within XXXIII Corps’ and that the ‘Group’ was disbanded in January 1944 when the proposed amphibious operations were deferred.[5]

The Royal Marines units from M.N.B.D.O. I which went to India from Ceylon to come under the command of the 1st R.M.A.A. Brigade, were:

- Chatham’ Battery (ex 1st Coast Regiment) – arrived 11th November 1943,
- 'Z’ Battery (ex 1st Coast Regiment) – arrived 11th November 1943,
- 11th Battalion, R.M.,
- ‘R’ Searchlight Battery, R.M. [6]

The Headquarters, 1st Coast Regiment, R.M. was disbanded on Ceylon on 31st December 1943.[7] 

The ‘Group’, as it is referred to by Ladd, was commanded at first by Brigadier Thomas, Commanding Officer of the 1st R.M. A.A. Brigade and then by Brigadier J.H.G. Wills, previously commander of the 3 Mobile Naval Base Brigade in Ceylon, who took over command of the Brigade on 11th November 1943.

03 May 2022

[1] War diary M.N.B.D.O. I, ADM 202/135

[2] ADM 202/135

[3] ADM 202/176; War diary 1st R.M. A.A. Brigade, ADM 202/150

[4] ADM 202/150

[5] “The Royal Marines, 1919-1980”, Ladd J.D., Jane’s (1980)

[6] War diary 1st R.M. A.A. Brigade, WO 172/2139 - ADM 202/150

[7] ADM 202/190; ADM 202/192; ADM 202/167