Royal Marines in the Indian Ocean

No.11/11th Searchlight Regiment, R.M.

United Kingdom: February 1940 – January 1941

Royal Marines Group, M.N.B.D.O.

No.11 Searchlight Regiment, R.M. was formed in February 1940 at Portsmouth as part of the Royal Marines Group, Mobile Naval Base Defence Organisation (M.N.B.D.O. I).  The Regiment formed two searchlight batteries, ‘R’ and ‘S’.  At Yeovil, on 12th February, the nucleus of the Regimental Headquarters and ‘S’ Battery arrived at Houndstone Camp for training under the 220th Searchlight Training Regiment, R.A.  ‘R’ Battery went to Taunton between 12th and 15th February to join the 222nd Searchlight Training Regiment, R.A.  The Commanding Officer of the new Regiment was Lt. Colonel M.H. Webb-Bowen.  On 15th May, the Regiment, less ‘R’ Battery, moved to the Royal Marines Reserve Depot at Exton, Hampshire.  The ‘R’ Battery relieved the 48th Searchlight Battalion, R.E. in the Stokes Bay area of Hampshire and at Ashley Down, Isle of Wight, on 25th May.  At Exton, on 18th June, the Headquarters and ‘S’ Battery were reorganised as an infantry unit, known as ‘S’ Battalion.  The purpose of the unit was to counter an airborne landing by German troops – a threat which was perceived as very likely at the time.  The ‘S’ Battalion was organised as battalion Headquarters with two companies each of four platoons.  It was at first responsible for the R.A.F. Station at Clyst Honiton which today is Exeter Airport.  The Battalion moved to the Deal area on 26th June.[1]

[The war diary for July 1940 – January 1941 is missing.]

At Deal, on 20th September 1940, the Battalion reformed as Headquarters, No.11 Searchlight Regiment and ‘S’ Battery, R.M.  The ‘S’ Battery left for Collingbourne Dulcis, near Andover on 20th September and Regimental Headquarters left Deal for Alverstoke on 30th September.  The ‘S’ Battery moved to an area north of Plymouth on 9th October and later, having ceased to be operational, moved to Southend, arriving on 3rd January 1941.[2]

At Sea: January – April 1941

1 Royal Marines Group, M.N.B.D.O. I

In January 1941, the ‘R’ Battery was at Havant.  By 3rd February 1941, the Regimental Headquarters was located at Alverstoke, Gosport near Portsmouth when it entrained for Glasgow.  Upon reaching Glasgow that evening, the Regiment and ‘R’ Battery boarded the H.M.T. Almanzora (H.M.T. 12) while the ‘S’ Battery travelled from Southend to embark upon the M.V. Rangitata (H.6).  The ships sailed for Egypt in convoy WS 6A with other units of the Royal Marine Group, M.N.B.D.O. I, departing from off Oversay on 9th February.  While at Durban, No.11 Regiment and the ‘R’ Battery transferred to the Dilwara on 26th March.  The ‘S’ Battery disembarked on 26th March and re-embarked on the Costa Rica three days later.  The convoy left for Egypt on1st April and the Dilwara and the Costa Rica arrived at Port Said on 21st April.  The Regiment disembarked the next day and went to El Tahag Camp.  Upon arrival, the Regiment began a training programme.[3]

Egypt and Crete: April 1941 – June 1943

1 Royal Marines Group, M.N.B.D.O. I

The Regimental Headquarters and ‘S’ Battery went to Alexandria on 9th May 1941 where they boarded the ship Nieuw Zealand which left for Crete on 11th May.  The Marines disembarked at Suda Bay on 13th May and by 15th May the Headquarters had formed at Canea.  The ‘S’ Battery remained at Suda.  On 20th May, the day of the German airborne assault, the Headquarters was re-organised to act as an infantry platoon as was the ‘S’ Battery which moved to the Monastery Ammunition Dump and then to Canea on 23rd May.  Two days later, the Marines joined the withdrawal to Sphakia where the remnants were evacuated to Egypt on the night of 30th May.  The survivors went to the Naval Camp at Sidi Bishr on 1st June but on 4th June moved back to El Tahag.[4] 

Meanwhile in Egypt, on 13th May 1941, the ‘R’ Battery had been reorganised as an infantry unit known as ‘R’ Battalion and undertook guard and security duties in the Suez Canal zone.  By 30th June, the Regimental Headquarters had been completely re-armed and re-equipped.  The Regimental Headquarters and ‘S’ Battery moved to Moascar on 1st July; the ‘R’ Battery was at Ismailia at this time.  The ‘S’ Battery was also reorganised for the infantry role and on 1st July came under the operational control of the ‘R’ Battalion.  Both Batteries formed searchlight detachments which were deployed at airfields at Abu Sueir and Geneifa.  Following German air raids on the Ismailia area in July and August, the Regimental Headquarters moved to El Firdan on 11th September.  The ‘R’ Battery Headquarters remained at R.A.F. Spinney Wood between May 1941 and April 1942.  The ‘S’ Battery redeployed to an area south of Ismailia on 11th September 1941 and had deployed to searchlight sites by 28th September.[5]

The ‘R’ and ‘S’ Searchlight Batteries were re-deployed in the Canal Zone in March-May 1942 with ‘R’ Battery moving to Kabrit on 28th April 1942.  On 23rd April the batteries were re-organised into a battery headquarters and four troops each, with each troop consisting of six searchlights.  The Regimental Headquarters moved to Geneifa on 4th May 1942.  During this time, the Regiment was serving under the command of H.Q. British Troops Egypt.  A large detachment from ‘S’ Battery was sent to Alexandria on 30th October 1942.  The ‘S’ Battery moved to Geneifa on 1st May 1943 followed by the ‘R’ Battery on 13th May 1943.  The Regiment remained at Geneifa until 16th June when it went to Suez to embark with other units of M.N.B.D.O. I for Ceylon.[6]

Ceylon: June – July 1943

1 Royal Marines Group, M.N.B.D.O. I

Having been carried by the troopship Dominion Monarch, the Royal Marines arrived at Colombo on 26th June 1943.  The next day No.11 Regiment, R.M. disembarked and went to H.M.S. Ukussa, Royal Naval Air Station, Katukurunda.  However, as part of a major reorganisation of Royal Marines formations and units in Ceylon and India, the Regimental Headquarters was dissolved on 31st July 1943.  The number of searchlights in each of ‘R’ and ‘S’ Batteries was reduced from 24 to twelve.  One Battery was assigned to each Brigade Group then being formed.  Surplus personnel thus released were posted to the new infantry battalion being formed, 24th Battalion, R.M.  The ‘S’ Battery joined the newly formed 3 Mobile Naval Base Brigade on 24th July 1943.  The ‘R’ Battery was earmarked to join 1 M.N.B. Brigade but the role of this formation came to be fulfilled by the 1st R.M. A.A. Brigade, by then in India.  The ‘R’ Battery remained in Ceylon, moving to Peradeniya during September, until 5th November 1943, when it left to join the 1st R.M. A.A. Brigade at Gulunche.[7]

02 July 2022

[1] War diary 11 Searchlight Regiment, ADM 202/162; War diary M.N.B.D.O. I, ADM 202/131

[2] War diary ‘S’ Battery, R.M., ADM 202/166; War diary M.N.B.D.O. I, ADM 202/132

[3] ADM 202/162; War Diary ‘R’ Battery, R.M., ADM 202/164; ADM 202/166

[4] ADM 202/162; ADM 202/166

[5] ADM 202/162; ADM 202/164; ADM 202/166

[6] ADM 202/162; ADM 202/164; War diary M.N.B.D.O. I, ADM 202/133

[7] ADM 202/162; ADM 202/164; ADM 202/135