Royal Marines in the Indian Ocean

11th Battalion, Royal Marines

The nucleus of the headquarters of what was then referred to as the Land Defence Force, M.N.B.D.O., was formed on 29th January 1940, with Major G.W.M. Grover, R.M., in command.  In conjunction with the first intake of Royal Marines into M.N.B.D.O. I on 15th February, several units of the formation were formed.  Amongst these was the Land Defence Force which immediately began training at Browndown, Gosport in Hampshire.  There is a note in the war diary of the M.N.B.D.O. to the effect that the formation of the Land Defence Force would be deferred to 1st March 1940, however cadres for the rifle companies were formed by 19th February, at which point they began training at Fort Cumberland.[1]

From February 1940, the Battalion appears to have referred to itself as XI. R.M. Battalion (Land Defence Force), M.N.B.D.O.  On 24th April, Captain H. McFarland was appointed the Commanding Officer of ‘E’ Company, formed provisionally to protect the Coast Artillery Brigade, R.M. in the Portsmouth area.  ‘E’ Company went to Eastney Barracks.  Orders for the Battalion to move to Exmouth were cancelled in May and it was accommodated in Hayling.  Sufficient Other Ranks joined the Battalion to form two rifle companies, ‘A’-‘B’, the cadre of one spare company and ‘D’ (Machine Gun Company).  On 24th May 1940, the Royal Marines Quick Firing Regiment was formed under Lt. Colonel G.W.M. Grover, two officers and 111 Other Ranks from ‘A’ and ‘E’ Companies.  It was formed of two batteries – the 41st and the 42nd – each equipped with twelve 12-pounder guns mounted on lorries.  Major E.B. Dun assumed command of the 11th Battalion.[2] 

On 5th June, the Battalion arrived at Deal where it formed part of the local defence (Sub-Area A6 of the Home Command).  The Battalion came under the operational orders of Brigadier A.P. Dawson, R.M., Commandant of the Royal Marine depot, Deal.  The orders issued for this move also stated that the Battalion should be referred to as ‘6 R.M. Battalion’, however this reference has not been found in use elsewhere in the war diary.  The day after arrival, ‘C’ Company went to the Worth area, ‘D’ (Machine Gun) Company moved to posts along the Deal seafront while the Headquarters and the reserve platoon went to Hacklinge.  ‘B’ Company remained in reserve at the Depot.  The Battalion Headquarters, with the H.Q. and ‘B’ Companies, moved to Warden House, Upper Deal, on 7th June.  No. 10 Platoon, ‘B’ Company, occupied the top floor of Sandilands at Sandwich on 9th June.  There were further moves in and around the Sandwich-Deal area throughout the month.  Lt. Colonel Grover returned to command the Battalion on 17th June, the disbandment of the R.M. Quick Firing Regiment being imminent.  ‘A’ Company arrived at Deal from Hayling Island on 27th June and went to Walmer.  During this time, the Battalion appears to have been under the command of the 1st London Division, the commander of which inspected the Battalion area on 27th June.  By the end of the month, the Battalion had prepared and occupied anti-invasion defences.  There was much aerial activity over the area in July as the Germans conducted their Kanalkampf operations over the English Channel, the opening phase of the Battle of Britain.  On 8th July, the R.A.F. brought down a German fighter plane.  The pilot escaped from his plane by parachute and upon landing, was captured by Major H. McFarland.  Following initial interrogation, the pilot was transferred to R.A.F. Manston.  A seaplane of the German Seenotdienst (sea rescue service) was brought down off Deal lifeboat station on 9th July and the aircraft was towed inshore and guarded by the Battalion.[3] [4]

During August 1940, the German air force began attacking R.A.F. stations and other facilities in and around the 11th Battalion’s area of operations.  The German Adlertag (Eagle Day), launching the next stage in the Battle of Britain, began on 111th August.  On several days throughout August, large numbers of German aircraft passed over the Battalion’s positions to drop their bombs inland.  Stray bombs did fall on or near the Battalion positions, but no casualties were suffered.  On the morning of 26th August, sections of ‘A’ and ‘D’ (M.G.) Companies engaged a German bomber at a height of about 600 feet and the aircraft was seen to crash into the sea.  The machine gun post on Deal pier claimed to have shot down a Messerschmitt on 31st August.  On 18th September, many aircraft passed westwards over the Battalion area.  A Messerschmitt machine gunned a ‘B’ Company post in the Worth area and. despite being under heavy fire, Marine K.C. Parker engaged the aircraft with his Bren gun.  The German plane was then seen to veer off and crash into the Lydden Valley Marshes.[5]  The next day, a German bomber was engaged by the posts at Seagirt and Deal Pier before crashing into the sea about a mile from shore.  On 27th September, a Spitfire and a Messerschmitt were seen to come down in the Northbourne area.  The wounded German pilot was captured and later visited by the R.A.F. interrogation officer from R.A.F. Manston.[6] [7]

Lt. Colonel R.A.R. Neville assumed command of the Battalion on 12th October but relinquished command fourteen days later, on his appointment as Assistant Director of Naval Intelligence.  He was succeeded by Lt. Colonel E.B. Dun.  German aerial activity reduced in October but on 29th October, bombs fell near the Officers’ Mess and Captain W.H. Foulkes was wounded.  ‘C’ Company took over the Sandwich area on 9th November.  During November, the 1st London Division was relieved on the Kent coast by the 43rd (Wessex) Division and infantry battalions of the new division prepared to relieve the Royal Marines of the 11th Battalion.  From 19th December, the Battalion moved into the R.M. Depot, Deal, having been relieved by the 1/5th Battalion, Essex Regiment.  Later that month, preparations began for a move overseas and ‘A’, ‘C’ and half of the H.Q. Company were sent on seven days’ embarkation leave from 27th December.  The following day, ‘D’ (M.G.) Company was relieved by the 9th Battalion, Green Howards and joined the other Marines at the R.M. Depot.  ‘B’ and ‘D’ (M.G.) companies were sent on embarkation leave in early January 1941.[8]

On 8th January 1941, Lt. Colonel Dun left the Battalion to take command of the 12th R.M. Battalion, R.M., which formed part of the 2nd R.M. Group, M.N.B.D.O. II.  He was succeeded by Lt. Colonel R.A.G. Stewart.  The Battalion began leaving Deal for Glasgow, with ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’ Companies departing on the evening of 3rd February 1941.  The Headquarters and ‘D’ (M.G.) Companies left the next day.  At Glasgow, the Battalion embarked upon ships for the journey to Egypt.  The H.Q., H.Q. and ‘D’ (M.G.) Companies embarked upon the Bergensfjord; ‘A’ Company upon the Rangitata; ‘B’ and ‘C’ Companies on board the Almanzora.  These ships left Glasgow on 6th February to join up with convoy WS 6, which left off of Oversay on 9th February.  While anchored at Freetown, on 4th March, approval was given for the 11th Battalion (Land Defence Force), 1st R.M. Group, M.N.B.D.O. I, to retain its title of the 11th Battalion, R.M.[9]  At Capetown, reached on 21st March, about one third of the Battalion was granted a few hours shore leave.  The ships left for Durban the next day, arriving there on 26th March.  ‘A’ Company disembarked from the Rangitata and went to Clairwood Transit Camp.  On 28th March, ‘B’ Company transferred from the Almanzora to Llanstephan Castle; ‘A’ Company embarked upon the Costa Rica; ‘C’ Company transferred to the Dilwara.  The convoy left for Egypt on 1st April, and the H.Q. and ‘D’ (M.G.) Company disembarked at Port Tewfik on 22nd April.  The Marines travelling on the Costa Rica and Dilwara passed through the Suez Canal to disembark at Suez on 21st/22nd April.[10] 

Upon arrival in Egypt, all personnel of the 11th Battalion moved to El Tahag Camp.  Although warned for transfer to Crete, only an advance party led by Lt. Colonel Stewart moved to Port Said on 1st May 1941 for embarkation.  However, the orders were cancelled, and the advance party disembarked from the City of Canterbury and returned to El Tahag on 3rd May.  The Battalion came under command of the H.Q. British Troops Egypt on 12th May, being placed under Commander, Canal Area.  On 21st May, the Battalion began moving to the Canal North Sub-Area, going into camp at Geneifa.  Here, responsibility was assumed for guarding prisoners of war and internees.  There now followed a period of confusion as to the role of the Battalion.  At this time, there was a fear that the Germans would launch airborne attacks on British bases in Egypt.  At one stage, it seemed that the Battalion was to be retained as a mobile reserve for the Canal Zone, under Canal South Sub-Area, despite there being no motor transport available.  On 29th May, an M.G. Platoon was sent to form the guard at Kasfariat aerodrome, while ‘B’ Company sent half its strength to take up the same role at R.A.F. Ismailia.  Later that day, the remainder of the Battalion was confirmed as being under Canal South Sub-Area for the protection of that Area’s North Sector.  It remained at Geneifa and during June, established defence posts throughout the designated area of operations.  The location statement for July 1941 identifies these:

- Battalion H.Q. and H.Q. Company                Camp 22, Geneifa
- ‘A’ Company                                                   Camp 22, Geneifa
- ‘B’ Company                                                   2 Plns, R.A.F. Ismailia,
                                                                          1 Pln, Camp 22, Geneifa
- ‘C’ Company                                                   2 Plns, R.A.F. Fayid,
                                                                          remainder M.E.S., Port Tewfik
- 'D' (M.G.) Company                                        2 Plns, Camp 22, Geneifa,
                                                                          1 Pln, R.A.F. Kasfariat.

On 4th August 1941, ‘A’ and ‘B’ Companies swapped duties at R.A.F. Ismailia and the men of ‘B’ Company returned to Geneifa.  The Battalion was occupied with garrison duties and several detachments were delegated to provide prisoner of war escorts at different times during the month.  On 19th September, the Battalion left Geneifa to relieve the 1st Coast Regiment, R.M. garrison guard at Moascar (the 1st Coast Regiment left Egypt as part of the Royal Marines force sent to the Indian Ocean).  ‘A’ Company sent a platoon from Ismailia to El Firdan and the M.G. platoon at Kasfariat moved to Shandur.  Major P.H. Nicholson took command of the Battalion from 21st August and remained in command throughout September, in the absence of Lt. Colonel Stewart.  Nicholson was promoted to Lt. Colonel on 1st October.  The ‘A’ Company detachment at El Firdan moved to Moascar on 4th October, having been relieved by a detachment of the Libyan Arab Force.  The remaining detachments at Shandur and Fayid were withdrawn to Moascar on 16th October.  The Battalion continued to provide detachments for various duties in the Canal Zone.  The location statement for October 1941 shows the bulk of the Battalion at Moascar, with detachments at Camp Geneifa (guard duties), Abu Zenima, Ras Ghemsa, Port Said (Navy House), and M.E.S. Port Tewfik.  The M.G. Company sent a detachment to take over the guard duties at the prisoner of war satellite camp at El Ballah on 23rd December.  Lt. Colonel E.H.M. Unwin, took over command of the 11th Battalion on 31st December, Lt. Colonel Nicholson reverting to Major and reassuming the appointment as Second-in-Command.[11]

In December 1941, preliminary arrangements were made for the 11th Battalion to leave the command of H.Q., British Troops Egypt, and to revert to the command of the 1st R.M. Group, M.N.B.D.O. I.  It was to be placed under the operational command of C-in-C Mediterranean in the role of a Naval Commando Battalion.  The Battalion received orders to this effect on 3rd January 1942 , reverting to the 1st R.M. Group from 10th January and to concentrate at Camp 42, Geneifa.  In the event, the Battalion went to Camp 50 at Geneifa, the move being completed on 10th January.  The Battalion now underwent a period of eight weeks’ intensive training.  A number of assault boats were received on 16th January for use in the training of small boat handling.  Additional small boats were obtained in early February.  On 24th February, the 11th Battalion completed a move to a Forward Area Camp at Burg-el-Arab, near Alexandria, from where it would undertake training in landing from destroyers.  ‘B’ and ‘C’ Companies boarded H.M. destroyers Jaguar and Kelvin at Alexandria on 27th February, for practice with ship’s boats.  ‘A’ and ‘D’ Companies took their turn the next day.  Several raids were proposed by C-in-C Mediterranean and operation instructions were prepared by the Commanding Officer of the Battalion, in conjunction with the H.Q., 1st R.M. Group, M.N.B.D.O. I.[12]

A series of practice raids were planned, involving mock attacks on beaches on Cyprus.  ‘B’ and ‘C’ Companies attempted one of these raids on the night of 5th/6th March but were unable to land.  A second attempt was made the following night, but one whaler overturned, and Marine A.C. Knowlson was drowned.  Further practice raids were postponed.  ‘D’ Company returned to Camp 50, Geneifa on 12th March.  The Company was followed by the Battalion H.Q. and H.Q. Company on 16th March, and by ‘B’ Company the next day.  A raid by ‘C’ Company on the German garrison of Gavdos Island, Greece, was postponed on 27th March.  ‘B’ Company returned to Burg-el-Arab on 30th March, went back to Geneifa on 7th April, then returned to Alexandria on 14th April where it embarked on H.M.S. Kelvin to carry out a raid on the German-held island of Kupho Nisi, near Crete.  One hundred all ranks of ‘B’ Company raided the island on 15th/16th April, destroying German installations.  On 21st April, the Battalion left Geneifa for Haifa, arriving the next day.  ‘A’ Company returned to Egypt on 22nd April, to Dhekelia, to guard the nearby aerodrome.[13]

The 11th Battalion remained at Haifa, training and conducting landing exercises.  The Battalion moved to Kabrit on 29th July 1942 to rehearse an upcoming operation.  ‘A’ Company re-joined the Battalion there later that day.  The Battalion left Kabrit on 4th August, arriving back in Haifa the next day.  The envisaged operation, presumed to be on a Greek island, was postponed on 10th August and a new operation, a raid on Tobruk, was briefed on 19th August.  The Battalion began training for the new operation, embarking on destroyers H.M.S. Sikh and H.M.S. Zulu on 28th August.  A practice beach landing from these ships was carried out on the evening of 29th August.  Exercises and rehearsals continued until 11th September, when the Battalion, embarked upon Sikh and Zulu and left Haifa for Alexandria the next day.  The Battalion H.Q., ‘B’ Company, the H.Q. Machine Gun Platoon and attached Royal Artillery and Royal Engineers were on board Sikh.  Embarked on Zulu were ‘A’ and ‘C’ Companies, two machine gun sections and attached Royal Artillery and Royal Engineers.  The destroyers left Alexandria in the early hours of 13th September for the journey to Tobruk.[14]

The Royal Marines of the 11th Battalion formed Force ‘A’ as part of Operation ‘Agreement’.  The objective of the operation was to constrain Axis operations in North Africa by destroying airfields, harbour facilities, supply ships, vehicles and oil stores.  Force ‘A’ was intended to land to the north of Tobruk, while the Army troops of Force ‘C’ landed to the east of Tobruk.  Force ‘B’, a column of the Special Air Service, approached from landward with the aim of capturing coastal artillery defending Tobruk.  The attacks began on the night of 13th/14th September.  The first wave of Royal Marines was landed on the wrong beach.  As the second wave prepared to follow, the Royal Navy destroyers came under fire from coastal batteries and Sikh was quickly disabled.  Those Marines who had landed were engaged by the Axis defenders.  Zulu went to take Sikh under tow but having also been hit, Zulu was ordered to return to Alexandria.  Shortly thereafter, Sikh sank and many of the surviving crew were picked up by the boats used to land the Royal Marines.  All were eventually taken prisoner.  Zulu met up with the naval escort formed by the cruiser H.M.S. Coventry and several Hunt class destroyers.  This flotilla was attacked almost continuously by German bombers and Coventry was so badly hit that she had to be abandoned and was scuttled by Zulu.  Zulu was herself hit and taken under tow, the crew and Royal Marines transferring to the remaining escorts.  On the evening of 14th September, at about 100 miles from Alexandria, Zulu sank.  The surviving ships entered Alexandria early the next morning.  The Royal Marines counted ten men killed and eighteen Officers and 279 Other Ranks missing, many of whom had been taken prisoner.  The survivors, two Officers and 66 Other Ranks, disembarked and went to H.M.S. Nile, the Royal Navy base in Alexandria.  On 19th September, these men returned to Haifa.  From a strength of around 470 prior to Operation ‘Agreement’, the Battalion had been reduced to 167 personnel, all ranks.  With Lt. Colonel Unwin being listed amongst the missing, the Battalion was now commanded by Major R.W. Sankey. (Unwin was later confirmed to be a prisoner of war.)[15]

The 11th Battalion returned to Egypt in October 1942, with the main body leaving Haifa on 14th October and arriving at Geneifa the next day.  A detachment was sent to Kabrit on 31st October for beach party training.  The Battalion moved to Alexandria for general training on 6th November before returning to Geneifa on 15th November.  It remained at Geneifa into 1943.  On 22nd February 1943, Lt. Colonel F.P.C. Lordon assumed command; Major Sankey becoming Second-in-Command.  The 11th Battalion joined other elements of the M.N.B.D.O. I as the formation left Egypt for Ceylon.  The Battalion left Geneifa on 16th June and embarked on H.M.T. V.V.1042, the S.S. Dominion Monarch, at Port Tewfik, sailing later that day.  Colombo was reached on 26th June and the Battalion disembarked the next day and moved to R.N.A.S. Puttalam.[16]

The Battalion strength on 30th June 1943 was twenty Officers and 263 Other Ranks.  Numbers were brought up towards establishment by the arrival of reinforcements.  On 3rd July 1943, two Officers and 121 Other Ranks were posted to the Battalion from the Base Depot R.M., M.N.B.D.O. I.  The next day, one Officer and 74 Other Ranks were posted to the Battalion from the 1st Coast Regiment, R.M.  By the end of the month, the strength of the Battalion had reached 22 Officers and 447 Other Ranks, increasing during August to become twenty Officers and 595 Other Ranks by the end of that month.  The personnel were organised into three companies, ‘A’-‘C’.  ‘D’ Company was reformed on 8th September.[17]

From 24th July 1943, the Battalion was earmarked to join the new 1 Mobile Naval Base Brigade, formed by redesignation of the 1st R.M. A.A. Brigade.  However, the Brigade remained in Bombay and the 11th Battalion was ordered to stay at Puttalam before moving to Peradeniya on 18th September.  ‘C’ Company moved to Deltota, near Kandy, on 27th September and returned to Peradeniya on 8th October.  The Battalion moved to Colombo on 16th October, and embarked in the H.M.T. Cap Tourane for Bombay.  Leaving Colombo the next day, the Battalion disembarked at Bombay on 23rd October and went to Juhu Beach Camp.  At Juhu, the Battalion trained for amphibious operations as part of the XXXIII Indian Corps., participating in Exercise ‘Swordfish’ between 4th and 9th November.  During the night of 10th/11th November, the Battalion went by train to Poona (Pune) where it moved into accommodation at Dunkirk Lines.  Here it was placed under command of the 36th Indian Infantry Division, which formed part of the Indian Expeditionary Force, successor to the XXXIII Corps and also earmarked for amphibious operations.  By the end of November 1943, the Battalion had 29 Officers and 678 Other Ranks on strength.  Lt. Colonel Lordon left the Battalion on 14th December and was succeeded by Lt. Colonel Sankey.  On 27th December, the Battalion began transferring to Belgaum, with ‘A’ Company the first to leave.  The H.Q. Company and ‘B’ Company followed the next day, with ‘C’ and ‘D Companies joining on 30th December.[18]

The Battalion returned to Poona on 13th January 1944, coming under the command of the 1st R.M. A.A. Brigade the next day.  The stay at Poona was short lived and on 27th January, the Battalion entrained at Poona for Bombay.  Later that day, it embarked upon H.M.T. U5 for return to the United Kingdom.  The ship sailed on 29th January, reaching Suez on 7th February.  The Battalion disembarked the next day and went to number 157 Transit Camp.  During its short stay in Egypt, the Battalion provided detachments on a number of occasions to assist with maintaining civil order.  The Battalion embarked again, on H.M.T. G4 at Suez on 24th February, reaching Port Said on 27th February.  Despite a delay at Gibraltar for repairs to the ship, and being quarantined due to a smallpox outbreak, the 11th Battalion finally disembarked at Greenock on 24th March 1944 and moved into billets at West Kilbride.  On 30th March, almost all personnel left on Foreign Service Leave.  Lt. Colonel Sankey relinquished command on 19th April.  During May, Officers and Other Ranks began to be posted away, many for training as crew for landing craft.[19]

The Battalion reverted to the command of the R.M. Group, M.N.B.D.O. I on 16th/17th May 1944 and was disbanded at West Kilbride on 12th June 1944.[20]

08 July 2022

[1] War diary M.N.B.D.O. I, ADM 202/131; War diary 11th Battalion R.M., ADM 202/180

[2] ADM 202/180

[3] Another Luftwaffe raid was mounted and Park who had moved three squadrons to RAF Manston, was positioned to intercept. The German raid reached the North Foreland around 15:50, 65 Squadron engaged the formation and shot down one Bf 109 from II./JG 51, the pilot posted missing. 17 Squadron Hurricanes reached the area and shot down a Kampfgeschwader 53 (KG 53) He 111, with the crew killed. Kesselring ordered Seenotflugkommando 1 with Heinkel He 59 float planes to rescue survivors, covered by a Staffel of Bf 109s. A He 59 found itself above a convoy and was attacked by 54 Squadron Spitfires, led by Al Deere. The He 59 was forced down on the Goodwin Sands and its crew was captured ( accessed July 2022).


A white-painted He 59 operating near Deal, Kent was shot down [on 9th July 1940] and the crew taken captive because it was sharing the air with twelve Bf 109 fighters and because the British were wary of Luftwaffe aircraft dropping spies and saboteurs.  The German pilot's log showed that he had noted the position and direction of British convoys—British officials determined that this constituted military reconnaissance, not rescue work ( accessed July 1940).

[4] ADM 202/180; ADM 202/131

[5] This may have been the same aircraft claimed shot down by the R.A.F. in the same area.  Bf 109E-1 (2674) 1+ of 9/JG27 shot down by Flying Officer W.A.A. Read of 603 Squadron during combat over Canterbury at 13.10.  Aircraft force landed on Royal St George's Golf Links at Willow Farm, Sandwich, Gefr W. Glockner was captured  ( accessed July 2022).

[6] The German aircraft may have been Bf 109E-1 (3442) of 4/JG52 12+- shot down by Squadron Leader G.L. Denholm and Pilot Officer R. Berry of 603 Squadron during combat over Thanet at 15.50. Aircraft crashed at Northbourne Park, Sandwich, Gefr E. Bosch was captured wounded( accessed July 2022).

[7] ADM 202/180

[8] ADM 202/180; ADM 202/131; “The Black Cats at War, The Story of the 56th (London) Division T.A, 1939-1945”, Williams D., IWM reprint (1995)

[9] War diary M.N.B.D.O. I, ADM 202/132

[10] ADM 202/180

[11] ADM 202/180

[12] ADM 202/180; War diary M.N.B.D.O. I, ADM 202/133

[13] ADM 202/180; ADM 202/133

[14] ADM 202/180

[15] ADM 202/180;, accessed July 2022.

[16] ADM 202/180

[17] ADM 202/180

[18] ADM 202/180, War diary M.N.B.D.O. I, ADM 202/135

[19] ADM 202/180, ADM 202/135; War diary 1st R.M. A.A. Brigade, WO 172/2139  [1808]

[20] War diary M.N.B.D.O. I, ADM 202/136