Royal Marines in the Indian Ocean

1st Coast Artillery Brigade/1st Coast Regiment, Royal Marines

1st Coast Artillery Brigade, R.M.

United Kingdom, Norway and Iceland: February 1940 – February 1941

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

The Regiment was formed as the 1st Coast Artillery Brigade, Royal Marines at Eastney Barracks, Portsmouth on 15th February 1940.  The Brigade formed part of Royal Marine Group, Marine Naval Base Defence Organisation I (M.N.B.D.O. I) and the commanding officer was Lt. Colonel W.B.F. Lukis.  For training purposes, the Brigade was organised into four companies – ‘B’, ‘C’, ‘G’ and ‘K’.[1]

Following a short period of basic training, between 28th and 30th March 1940, the Brigade formed six batteries:

- ‘Kent’ and ‘Devon’ Batteries with 3 X 6-inch guns each,
- ‘X’, ‘Y’ and ‘Z’ Batteries with 2 X 4-inch guns each,
- Anti-Motor Torpedo Boat (A.M.T.B.) Battery with 4 X 2-pounder pom-pom guns.[2]

Gunnery, searchlight and repository training began at Fort Cumberland, Portsmouth on 1st April 1940.  On 19th April 1940, a number of officers and men transferred for special service to the 3.7-inch Howitzer Battery which subsequently saw service under Captain G.W. Wilson at Namsos in Norway.  Most of the men came from ‘Devon’ Battery which was temporarily disbanded on 26th April 1940 but was soon reconstituted on 16th May 1940, following the return of the 3.7-inch Howitzer Battery from Norway.[3]

On 20th April 1940, Lt. Colonel W.L. Lukis formed the 2nd R.M. Special Coast Artillery Brigade for service in Norway.  The unit comprised: Headquarters; one 6-inch coast battery; two 4-inch coast batteries; one anti-motor torpedo battery; signals; one company of the Land Defence Force and Landing and Maintenance Unit.  The life of the 2nd Brigade was short-lived, however, and it was disbanded on 30th April without having been despatched, it seems, upon the evacuation of Norway.[4]

In the meantime, on 6th May 1940, the ‘Y’ and A.M.T.B. Batteries left Eastney with Force ‘Sturges’ for Iceland.  Four days later, on 14th May, ‘Kent’ Battery under Major Stewart arrived at Lowestoft.  ‘Z’ Battery, under Captain W.A. Priddy, left Portsmouth for Harwich on 14th May and both 4-inch guns were complete in their pits on 16th May.  ‘X’ Battery went to Stallingborough, near Immingham, and ‘Devon’ Battery to South Shields on 20th May.  A new battery was formed on 7th June 1940 – ‘Hants’ Battery, equipped with two 6-inch guns and commanded by Captain B. Baseby, D.S.C. from ‘Devon’ Battery.  This new battery left for Sheringham on 14th June.  The Headquarters, 1st Coast Artillery Brigade, R.M. remained at Fort Cumberland.[5]

Returning from Iceland, the A.M.T.B. Battery arrived at Eastney on 24th August 1940.[6]  Two days later, Fort Cumberland was bombed heavily, and a number of Royal Marines were killed but the only casualties suffered by the 1st C.A. Brigade, R.M. was one marine wounded in the leg.  The ‘Hants’ Battery was relieved at Sheringham by the 352nd Heavy Battery, R.A. and returned to Eastney on 4th September 1940.  This battery was disbanded seven days later on 11th September.  The ‘Kent’ Battery moved to Dungeness from Lowestoft on 9th September.  On 19th September, the A.M.T.B. Battery went to Plymouth on special duty.[7]

The Brigade is described as being under the command of the “1st R.M. Group, M.N.B.D.O.” from January 1941. [The title given to the Royal Marines element of M.N.B.D.O. I] [8]

The first information of a possible move of the M.N.B.D.O. to the Mediterranean was received on 8th November 1940.  At a meeting of the War Cabinet on 18th November, it was decided that the M.N.B.D.O. should be fully equipped and brought up to strength for overseas service by 7th January 1941.  Amongst the preparations, two 6-inch coast defence batteries were to be packed ready to sail by 15th December 1940, these were identified as ‘Devon’ and ‘Kent’ Batteries.  A warning order for units to prepare for overseas service was issued on 25th November.  That day, the ‘X’ Battery at Sunk Island and the ‘Z’ Battery at Harwich reverted to R.M. control.  Preparations for the move overseas continued throughout December.[9]

On 1st January 1941, the nucleus of the 2nd Coast Artillery Brigade, Royal Marines, was established at Richmond House, South Hayling on Hayling Island.  The ‘Y’ Battery, then serving in Iceland, was included as part of the new unit.  On 22nd March, ‘Y’ Battery, under Captain Petley, R.M. arrived from Iceland and the officers and men were absorbed into the Headquarters, 2nd Coast Artillery Brigade.[10]

During January 1941, the units of the Brigade prepared themselves for transfer to Egypt.  On 1st January 1941, ‘X’ Battery and the A.M.T.B. Battery ceased to be operational at Sunk Island, Hull and Plymouth respectively.  Kent’ Battery arrived from Dungeness on 5th January.  On 4th February 1941, the Headquarters, 1st Coast Artillery Brigade, R.M. left Portsmouth for Glasgow where the next day the men boarded H.M.T. Bergensfjord.  They were joined on board by ‘X’ Battery and by ‘Devon’ Battery which had arrived that morning from South Shields.  .  Kent’ Battery sailed on board H.T. Rangitata and ‘Z’ and A.M.T.B. Batteries on board H.T. Almanzora.  The ship sailed from Glasgow on 6th February and anchored off Greenock and formed up off Oversay on 9th February as part of convoy WS 6AHaving left South Africa, where the men had been able to enjoy shore leave, on 1st April 1941, the convoy proceeded to Port Suez, via Aden.  Before leaving South Africa, ‘Kent’ Battery was embarked on H.M.T. Costa Rica and the ‘Z’ and A.M.T.B. Batteries transferred to the H.M.T. Dilwara for the final leg of the journey to Egypt.  While Bergensfjord began disembarkation at Port Tewfik, Suez on 21st April, Dilwara, Costa Rica and the remaining ships entered the Suez Canal for Port Said, where they disembarked later that night.  The Royal Marines, having disembarked in Egypt, went to El Tahag where they went into camp.[11]

Egypt and Crete: April – May 1941

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

Elements of the Brigade were sent to Crete with other elements of the M.N.B.D.O. I.  On 10th May, ‘X’ and ‘Z’ Batteries disembarked each with two 4-inch guns.  ‘X’ Battery was sent to Georgeoupolis and ‘Z’ Battery with one gun each to Maleme (near Canea) and the Suda Bay sector.[12]  The survivors returned to El Tahag Camp on 4th June and were formed into a single unit known as ‘X’ and ‘Z’ Details.  ‘X’ Battery was not reformed until 14th June 1942.[13]

Royal Marine Striking Force

Egypt: May – June 1941

In response to intelligence reports of the imminent threat of an airborne attack on the Suez Canal, and as part of the defence plan made in response to this, the Royal Marines in Egypt were ordered to form an infantry battalion to defend the R.A.F. Station at Abu Sueir, to the west of Ismailia.  A battalion of five companies was formed on the evening of 27th May 1941 and the Commanding Officer of the 1st Coast Artillery Brigade, Lt. Colonel Lukis, was appointed its commander.  The H.Q. was provided by the Brigade and men drawn from the coast batteries of the Brigade made up three of the companies of what was designated Royal Marine Striking Force, which at first was organised as follows:

- Headquarters                                                                                       Lt. Colonel W.B.F. Lukis,
- No.1 Company (‘Devon’ Battery, R.M.)                                                 Major D. Johnston,
- No.2 Company  (‘Kent’ Battery, R.M.)                                                    Major J. Maxfield,
- No.3 Company  (A.M.T.B. Bty & H.Q. 1st Coast Artillery Brigade, R.M.)   Captain A.D. Layzell,
- No.4 Company  (22nd L.A.A. Battery, R.M., less one troop in Crete)        Major M. Pound,
- No.5 Company  (H.Q. Air Defence Brigade, R.M.)                                  Lt. J.E. Sutcliffe, R.N.V.R.

In the event, No.4 Company was not formed under orders of G.H.Q. Middle East Forces.  No.s 1 and 2 Companies left El Tahag Camp for Abu Sueir in the early afternoon of 28th May 1941, followed by No.s 3 and 5 Companies that evening.  Later the following day, No. 3 Company was detached to defend the Ferry Post across the Canal at Ismailia.  As a result of this move, and the decision not to form No.4 Company, the R.M. Striking Force was re-organised and the companies re-designated, as follows:

- Headquarters                                                                                       Lt. Colonel W.B.F. Lukis,
- No.1 Company (‘Devon’ Battery, R.M.)                                                 Major D. Johnston,
- No.2 Company  (‘Kent’ Battery, R.M.)                                                    Major J. Maxfield,
- No.3 Company  (H.Q. Air Defence Brigade, R.M.)                                  Lt. J.E. Sutcliffe, R.N.V.R.[14]

Despite seemingly being removed from the R.M. Striking Force order of battle, the composite company formed by the A.M.T.B. Battery and H.Q. 1st Coast Artillery Brigade, R.M. continued in being at the Ferry Post near Ismailia, possibly being referred to as the Composite Company.  Throughout the first two weeks of June 1941, the Marines continued to develop their positions around the Abu Sueir Camp.  On 13th June, the balance of personnel from the Marine sub-units making up the R.M. Striking Force who had remained behind at El Tahag Camp moved to Abu Sueir and were posted to the infantry companies.  On 27th June, the men of ‘X’ and ‘Z’ Batteries who had returned from Crete also moved from El Tahag to Abu Suier.  Thus by late June 1941, the 1st Coast Artillery Brigade, R.M. was complete at Abu Sueir, with the exception of the A.M.T.B. Battery at Ismailia.[15]

1st Coast Regiment, R.M.

Egypt: August – September 1941

On 1st August, the Brigade was re-titled as the 1st Coast Regiment, Royal Marines.  The Regimental Headquarters moved to Kitchener Lines, Moascar Barracks on 3rd September 1941.  The ‘Hants’ Battery appears to have been reformed on or around 17th September 1941.  At around about the middle of September the Marines of M.N.B.D.O. I in Egypt began preparing for a secret mission.  Two forces were drawn from the Royal Marines Group – at first they were referred to ‘T’ and ‘W’ Groups.  These left Moascar for Port Tewfik on 18th September.  Stores and men began boarding two ships at Port Tewfik: the Clan Forbes and the Glenroy.  The main body of each party left Moascar the following day, 19th September.  After parading at the docks, both parties began boarding and completed embarkation on 20th September.  The ships sailed later that day for a destination which was not disclosed until after departure.  The Headquarters with ‘Devon’, ‘Kent’ and‘Hants’ Batteries travelled on the Glenroy.  The ‘Z’ and A.M.T.B. Batteries sailed on board the Clan Forbes.[16]

Force ‘Piledriver’

Addu Atoll: October 1941 – January 1942

The two Groups were soon revealed to have been codenamed Force ‘Shortcut’ and Force ‘Piledriver’.  The objective of each force was to build a defended base on islands in the Indian Ocean to be used by the Royal Navy for refuelling.  Force ‘Shortcut’ was formed from the Headquarters and units of the Landing and Maintenance Unit, together with personnel from ‘Z’ and A.M.T.B. Batteries of the 1st Coast Regiment.  Force ‘Piledriver’ was formed from the Headquarters of the 1st Coast Regiment and three of its batteries.  In command of Force ‘Piledriver’ was Lt. Colonel W.B.F. Lukis, R.M. and Lt. Colonel L.O. Jones commanded Force ‘Shortcut’.  Force ‘Piledriver’ would construct facilities and defences at Addu Atoll, codenamed Port ‘T’, assisted by Force ‘Shortcut’.  The latter force was otherwise to be prepared for despatch to Port ‘W’ (Nancowry in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands) at an as yet unspecified date.  The combined strength of the two forces was 60 officers and 949 Other Ranks.[17]

The allocation of units and sub-units to the two forces was:

Force ‘Piledriver’

- H.Q. 1st Coast Regiment, R.M.,
- ‘Devon’ Battery, R.M.
- ‘Hants’ Battery, R.M.
- ‘Kent’ Battery, R.M.

Force ‘Shortcut’:

- H.Q. Landing and Maintenance Group,
- Landing Company, R.M.
- detachment Workshop Company, R.M., less details in Egypt
- Boat Company,
- ‘Z’ Battery, R.M.
- A.M.T.B. Battery, R.M.,
- a signals section,
- No.1 Tented Hospital, R.N.

In addition to shore facilities, it was intended to install coast defences on the islands of Addu Atoll as follows:

- Gan                - one two gun, 6-inch gun battery,
- Midu               - one two gun, 6-inch gun battery,
- Hitadu             - one two gun, 6-inch gun battery,
- Willingili          - one 4-inch gun.[18] [19]

The plan for the defences of Addu Atoll called for the guns to be mounted in six weeks, and in almost six weeks to the day the batteries fired their final proof round – but not before the ‘Devon’ and ‘Kent‘ Batteries of the 1st Coast Regiment working on Hitadu and Midu had been reduced by sickness to less than 50 men apiece.[20]   

The ships involved in carrying the Marines from Egypt and supporting them after arrival were the landing ship H.M.S. Glenroy[21] and the transport, Clan Forbes. Also involved were the cruiser, H.M.S. Cornwall, the armed merchant cruiser, H.M.S. Corfu (arrived around 10th October) and the store ship, H.M.S. Laomedon (arrived around 3rd October).[22] 

H.M.S. Glenroy

The landing ship, H.M.S.Glenroy.

(Imperial War Museum)

Clan Forbes

The Clan Forbes used as an accomodation and stores ship by the Royal Marines in the Indian Ocean.

(, accessed September 2020)

Having left Egypt on 20th September 1941, the Royal Marines of M.N.B.D.O. I caught their first sight of Addu Atoll on the morning of 30th September.  At a conference held that day on board H.M.S. Cornwall, Lt. Colonel W.B.F. Lukis, commanding officer of the 1st Coast Regiment, R.M., was appointed Defence Commander Port ‘T’.  A demolition party went by boat to a selected landing place and began to deepen the entrance by blasting.  On 1st October 1941 the work to prepare Port ‘T’ and its defences began in earnest.  The island of Gan was to hold many of the facilities to be constructed and was the focus of initial work.  The R.M. Boat Company, aided by a party from H.M.S. Cornwall and the Landing Company, began deepening the channel leading to Gan island by blasting.  The Landing Company began unloading cargo from the landing ship H.M.S. Glenroy while work parties formed from personnel of the coast batteries began unloading stores from the Glenroy and the Clan Forbes.  The un-acclimatised Marines at first could only work short shifts.  The ‘Hants’ Battery began making a road to the site selected for the installation of the 6-inch gun battery.  Later that evening, a signal was received from Colonel C.T. Brown, R.M. placing Lt. Colonel W.B.F. Lukis in operational command of all M.N.B.D.O. personnel employed for the operations to build both Port ‘T’ and Port ‘W’ – organised into Force ‘Piledriver’ and Force ‘Shortcut’ respectively.  Lt. Colonel L.O. Jones, commanding officer of the Landing and Maintenance Group, remained in command of Force ‘Shortcut’ for administrative and disciplinary purposes.[23]

Work continued the next day and a reconnaissance of the island of Hitaddu was undertaken.  Clearing of the channel was completed on 3rd October while the ‘Hants’ Battery began clearing a site for the main camp and for the gun site.  The ‘Z’ and A.M.T.B. Batteries – the main components of Force ‘Shortcut’ and accommodated on the Clan Forbes – began clearing a site for the Transit Camp about 150 yards from the main landing place.  That morning, H.M.S. Laomedon arrived and the island of Midu was reconnoitred.  The following day the unloading of cargo from H.M.S. Glenroy at Gan was completed and work began to unload H.M.S. Laomedon. On 5th October, the Boat Company demolition party started clearing a channel through the reef from Heratera island.[24]

'<em>Hants</em>' Battery and HQ camp at Gan

A view of the 'Hants' Battery and Headquarters Camp on Gan Island, Addu Atoll.

(Imperial War Museum)

Lt. Colonel Jones was appointed Camp Commandant of the Transit Camp on 7th October as work continued elsewhere.  Sickness was a huge problem, in particular septic sores or ulcers which would not respond to treatment.  Malaria and scrub typhus were also problematic.  A number of sick cases were transferred to H.M.S. Corfu.  The ‘Kent’ Battery began preparing a camp site on Hitaddu.  All personnel of the Landing and Maintenance Group, less Boat Company, the Signal Section, the Tented Hospital and the N.A.A.F.I. disembarked from H.M.S. Glenroy and moved into Transit Camp.  The ‘Kent’ and ‘Devon’ Battery personnel disembarked from H.M.S. Glenroy and went to Hitaddu and Midu respectively where work to establish camps began the next day.  The ‘Hants’ Battery mounted the holdfast (plinth) for gun No.1 on 10th October.  The next day, the personnel of Force ‘Shortcut’ – ‘Z’ and A.M.T.B. Batteries – disembarked from the Clan Forbes and moved into Transit Camp.  The Clan Forbes then moved to an anchorage off Midu where it began unloading stores and vehicles.  Some delay to the works was experienced due to high water caused by the neap tides.[25]

When on shore, all personnel were advised to treat the local inhabitants with respect.  Local men provided casual labour in support of the work but the Marines were, in the interests of maintain harmony, ordered not to fraternise with the local women.  It was also pointed out that there was a high incidence of venereal disease on the islands.[26]

One of the big coastal defence guns arriving on the gun site at Addu Atoll

One of the big coastal defence guns arriving at a gun site on Gan Island, Addu Atoll. The plinth for the gun has already been installed. The gun is being moved to the site aboard a trailer pushed by an A.E.C. Matador gun tractor.

(Imperial War Museum)

From 12th October, the Transit Camp on Gan became known as Cumberland Camp.  Work to install the 6-inch guns at the ‘Hants’ Battery site on Gan progressed well and on 13th October the holdfast for gun No. 2 was installed.  The Clan Forbes moved from Midu to an anchorage off Hitaddu the following day and began unloading.  Gun components for the site on Gan site were landed from H.M.S. Laomedon between 13th and 15th October as work continued on Midu and Hitaddu.  Work was again delayed on 15th October due to heavy rain which seriously damaged the road on Gan.  The road was restored using coral sand by ‘Z’ and A.M.T.B. Batteries.  The Clan Forbes returned to the anchorage off Gan on the afternoon of 16th October.[27]

One of the big coastal defence guns being mounted at Addu Atoll

The gun has been lifted from the trailer and is being mounted on it plinth at the gun site.

(Imperial War Museum)

One of the big coastal defence guns being mounted at Addu Atoll

Work continues to mount the gun.

(Imperial War Museum)

The first gun, No. 1 Gun, was mounted at the ‘Hants’ Battery site on Gan on 18th October and a large work party was landed on Wilingili island, the site of the sole 4-inch gun.  The following day, all M.N.B.D.O. personnel remaining on board the Clan Forbes disembarked and moved in to Cumberland Camp.  With the discharge of cargo complete, the Clan Forbes sailed for Colombo on 20th October, carrying several Marine and Naval officers and a ship’s loading section from the Landing Company.  The ‘Hants’ Battery mounted No.2 Gun that same day while work to finish the gun site continued.  At other sites, work to install key port facilities, including searchlights, engines to generate power for the searchlights (D.E.L.s) and the port war signal stations (P.W.S.S.).  The first proof rounds to test the guns were fired by the ‘Hants’ Battery on 28th October.  The next day, No.1 Gun at Midu was mounted by ‘Devon’ Battery and the second gun followed on 31st October.[28]

A proof round being fired from a coastal gun installed at Addu Atoll

Having been installed and checked, the final task is to fire a proof round from the gun.

(Imperial War Museum)

Work continued throughout November.  The channel at Gan was blasted once more in order to increase the period during which cargo could be landed on each tide.  H.M.S. Teviot Bank arrived on 6th November and discharged the single 4-inch gun.  The gun was then loaded onto H.M.S. Corfu for transport to Willingili.  On Hitaddu that day, the No.1 Gun was mounted by ‘Kent’ Battery and the second two days later.  The guns on Hitadu were sited on an open beach and a dummy village was built on top of the battery by way of camouflage.  Proof rounds were fired by the two 6-inch guns of ‘Devon’ Battery on Midu on 8th November.  This meant that all six 6-inch guns were now installed.  The Clan Forbes returned to Gan from Colombo on the afternoon of 14th November bringing 350 tons of stores and elements of the 15th Artizan Company, Indian Engineers.  Unloading began the next day and the Indian Engineers pitched their camp before all their comrades disembarked on 16th-17th November.  At the gun sites, construction work to complete the installations continued.  By 21st November, the reloading of stores for Force ‘Shortcut’ on board the Clan Forbes had begun.[29] 

By 2nd November, the rising sick list was becoming a concern and was discussed in a preliminary medical report.  The most common of the ailments was ‘septic abrasion, most commonly due to coral or scratched insect bites’.  Treatment was difficult due to infection thought to be encouraged by the damp, warm climate.  The first cases were also noted of what was later identified as scrub typhus.  The presence of large numbers of mosquitoes at certain sites was also noted.  The hospital ship H.M.H.S. Vita was despatched to assist and upon arrival the sick were transferred to this ship.  Meanwhile, as the loading of the Clan Forbes continued, the personnel for Force ‘Shortcut’ began to embark upon the ship.  Lieutenant R.V. Bennet, R.M. and twenty-two Other Ranks went to Willingili on 24th November to man the 4-inch gun.  The loading of the Clan Forbes was completed on 26th November and the ship sailed that evening carrying Force ‘Shortcut’ to Diego Garcia.  Towards the end of November, H.M.S. Prince of Wales arrived, on the voyage which was fated to be her last.[30]

By the beginning of December 1941, the work was nearing completion as the final touches were made.  The Clan Forbes returned in the late afternoon of 6th December carrying Force ‘Shortcut’.  When the news of Japan’s entry into the war was received on 8th December, anti-aircraft measures were immediately put into place, with anti-aircraft light machine guns being drawn from stores and air raid precaution measures being put into place.  By 20th December, preparations for the Christmas welfare of the Marines were complete and the H.M.H.S. Vita sailed for Colombo.  On Christmas Eve the temperature soared to 96 degrees but the next day the Marines celebrated Christmas with turkey and plum pudding.  On Boxing Day, a scheme for the relief of the M.N.B.D.O. force on Addu Atoll was planned, in anticipation of the arrival of the Indian garrison.  The Indian troops were expected to arrive in the H.T. Talma on the morning of 28th December but the ship did not arrived and the following day a signal was received advising that the Talma would not arrive until 2nd January 1942.[31]

In the end, the Talma did not arrive until Saturday 3rd January, a troop convoy of five ships escorted by H.M.S. Emerald, comprising convoy DM 1, arriving just ahead of her.  The Indian garrison was comprised as follows:

- H.Q. 1st Heavy Regiment, I.A.             for Gan
            7th Heavy Battery, I.A.               for Gan and the 4-inch gun on Wilingili
            8th Heavy Battery, I.A.               for Midu and Heratera
            9th Heavy Battery, I.A.               for Hitaddu
- 32nd Indian Garrison Company            for Gan.

The 15 Artizan Works Company, Indian Engineers landed on the islands in mid-November 1941.

First to disembark was around half the personnel of the 32nd Garrison Company and a number of R.I.A.S.C., all of whom were accommodated in Cumberland Camp.  The following morning, the loading of M.N.B.D.O. stores on board the Talma began with the bulk of the Indian troops still on board.  The 7th Heavy Battery, I.A. disembarked on 6th January and went to Cumberland Camp.  The following day, this battery, less the detachment for Wilingili, moved to relieve the ‘Hants’ Battery on Gan and the Royal Marines began embarking upon the Talma that same day.  The 8th Heavy Battery disembarked on 8th January and went to Midu and Heratera, relieving the ‘Devon’ Battery at the 6-inch battery on Midu.  The 9th Heavy Battery disembarked on 9th January and relieved ‘Kent’ Battery on Hitaddu.  That same day, the Wilingili detachment of the 7th Heavy Battery left Gan for the island, relieving ‘Hants´ Battery of this responsibility.  The Talma completed unloading all the cargo necessary for the Indian garrison on 10th January.  The loading of the M.N.B.D.O. stores was completed the following day.  However, despite being fully loaded with personnel and stores, the Talma did not sail until the morning of 14th January.  The ship arrived at Colombo two days later.[32]

The day after the Talma arrived at Colombo, all stores and personnel were disembarked.  The personnel went by special train to the Royal Navy Rest Camp at Diyatalawa, arriving the following morning, 18th January.  On 31st January 1942, the strength return of the 1st Coast Regiment, R.M. listed: 29 Officers and 477 men with Force ‘Piledriver; details of ‘Z’ and the A.M.T.B. Batteries not serving with Force ‘Shortcut’ (or the ‘W’ Party as it was referred to) amounting to two officers and 73 men.  It seems that Force ‘Piledriver’ was formally disbanded early in February, the Headquarters reverting to its permanent title – 1st Coast Regiment, R.M.  The personnel of ‘Z’ and A.M.T.B. Batteries detached to Force ‘Shortcut’ remained with that force, not returning to re-join the Regiment until mid-March.[33]

1st Coast Regiment, R.M.

Ceylon: February 1942 – December 1943

Almost immediately upon arrival at Ceylon, as early as 4th February, 1942, the Regiment formed a new detachment -  a ‘Special Volunteer Force’ to “…act as Commandos with H.M. Ships”.  The Volunteer Force was under the command of Major D. Johnston and subsequently it arrived in Burma where it manned river launches on the Irrawaddy River under the name Force ‘Viper’. 

Meanwhile, at Diyatalawa under command of the 1st Coast Regiment were:

- ‘Kent’, ‘Devon’ and ‘Hants’ Batteries,
- detached personnel of the Landing, Workshop and Boat Companies, Landing and Maintenance Unit (the majority of whom were shortly posted to the 1st R.M. A.A. Brigade).

The balance of the Regiment - the A.M.T.B. and ‘Z’ Batteries - remained as part of Force ‘Shortcut’, which was by this time constructing a defended base at Diego Garcia.[34]

The ‘Hants’ Battery was disbanded on 9th February and all personnel, except for those with Volunteer Force, “rejoined their original batteries.  The next day, all personnel of M.N.B.D.O. moved by train to Boosa Camp.  On 3rd March, ‘Kent’ Battery left the camp for Galle Fort where it began to construct emplacements for a battery of two 4-inch guns.  Fifteen men of ‘Devon’ Battery went to Colombo on 17th March for a week’s instruction on Bofors light anti-aircraft guns.  Lt. Colonel Lukis relinquished command of the 1st Coast Regiment on 18th March and was succeeded by Lt. Colonel R.A.G. Stewart.  The following day, ‘Z’ and A.M.T.B. Batteries rejoined the Regiment from detached duty with Force ‘Shortcut’ – the Royal Marine detachment which had installed guns and constructed supporting infrastructure on Diego Garcia.  At the end of the month, on 30th March, ‘Devon’ Light Anti-Aircraft Battery, R.M. was formed from ‘Devon’, ‘Z’ and A.M.T.B. Batteries.  The Headquarters, 1st Coast Regiment moved to Galle by the 1st April.  The new anti-aircraft battery was attached to the 1st R.M. A.A. Brigade for operations on 7th April 1942.[35]

Its work completed at Galle, ‘Kent’ Battery left the site for Colombo on 5th June 1942, taking with it its two 4-inch guns.  At Colombo, under the command of the L&M Unit, it embarked on board the H.M.T. ‘Clan Forbes’ for the Seychelles.[36]  The survivors of the Volunteer Force, now returned from Burma, moved to the Royal Navy Rest Camp at Diyatalawa on 7th June.  The Headquarters 1st Coast Regiment remained at Galle during the months that followed.  On 27th October, ‘Kent’ Battery returned from the Seychelles, disembarked from H.M.T. ‘Varsova’ at Colombo and moved to the Naval Camp at Diyatalawa to re-join the Regiment.  The ‘Devon’ L.A.A. Battery was disbanded at Diyatalawa on 27th November 1942 and the personnel reorganised to reform ‘Devon’, ‘Z’ and A.M.T.B. Batteries.  The Headquarters, 1st Coast Regiment moved from Galle to Echelon Barracks, Colombo on 18th January 1943 and assumed responsibility for the beach defences in the Colombo area.  On 3rd February, ‘Devon’ and ‘Z’ Batteries moved from Rifle Green Camp to Echelon Barracks.  ‘Z’ Battery was detached on 21st May for duty at Trincomalee where the Battery took over the gun sites on Sober Island.  On 1st June, the 1st Coast Regiment, with ‘Devon’ and A.M.T.B Batteries moved to the Royal Naval Air Station at Katukurunda.  Kent’ Battery remained at Echelon Barracks for the time being.  Lt. Colonel Stewart relinquished command of the Regiment on 28th July and was succeeded the next day by Major Johnston.  The ‘X’ Battery had reformed in Egypt on 14th June 1942 and in June 1943, together with other elements of the R.M. Group, it was sent to Ceylon.  These men disembarked at Colombo on 27th June and ‘X’ Battery went by train to the Royal Naval Air Station at Katukurunda where it re-joined the 1st Coast Regiment, R.M.[37]

On 1st August 1943, at Katukurunda, the 1st Coast Regiment, R.M. was divided to form two new regiments – the 1st and 3rd Coast Regiments, R.M.  The ‘Kent’ and ‘X’ Batteries went to the 3rd Coast Regiment, which also included the ‘Portsmouth’ Battery, formed from the A.M.T.B. Battery.  The 1st Coast Regiment now consisted of:

- ‘Devon’ Battery,
- ‘Z’ Battery,
- ‘Chatham’ Battery – formed from the A.M.T.B. Bty,1st August 1943 as an A.M.T.B. battery.[38]

During the Summer of 1943, The Royal Marine Group, M.N.B.D.O. I, was reorganised to create two Mobile Naval Base Brigades, the 1st and 3rd.  The remaining units were assigned to the direct command of the Group.  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.  As a result, the Headquarters of the 1st Coast Regiment, R.M. was disbanded (on 1st August 1943) and the existing batteries organised into two coast regiments, 1st and 3rd.  Each was formed of one 6-inch, one 4-inch and one six-gun Bofors A.M.T.B. batteries.  A small Regimental H.Q. was formed for each regiment.[39]

On 3rd August 1943, the 1st Coast Regiment, R.M. under Major D. Johnston was temporarily placed under command of the 3rd Mobile Base Naval Brigade.  On 11th August, the ‘X’ Battery, commanded by Lieutenant J.P. Tustain, R.M., relieved the ‘Z’ Battery, 1st Coast Regiment, R.M on Sober Island, Trincomalee and took over the 4-inch guns installed there.[40]

The 1st Coast Regiment, with ‘Devon’, ‘Z’ and ‘Chatham’ Batteries moved from Katukurunda to Galle on 18th September 1943.  Instructions were received on 22nd October regarding the move of ‘Chatham’ and 'Z’ Batteries to India, together with ‘R’ Searchlight Battery, R.M., and the store and advance parties of these units left the next day.  The main party of each battery left for India on 5th November 1943 where they came under the command of the 1st R.M. A.A. Brigade upon arrival at Gulunche on 11th November.  Major Johnston left the Regiment on 15th November, being succeeded by Major C.R. Blount.[41]

The Headquarters, 1st Coast Regiment, R.M. was disbanded on 31st December 1943.  On 1st January 1944, one officer, one warrant officer and 23 Other Ranks from the 1st Coast Regiment were transferred to the 3rd Coast Regiment.  The R.H.Q. of the 1st Coast Regiment closed at Galle on 10th January and moved to Lumsden Camp on 11th January where its personnel and stores were taken on by the 3rd Coast Regiment.  By this date, it appears that the only unit remaining under the command of the 1st Coast Regiment was the ‘Devon’ Battery.[42]

02 July 2022

[1] War diary 1st C.A. Brigade/1st Coast Regiment R.M., ADM 202/167

[2] ADM 202/167; War diary M.N.B.D.O. I, ADM 202/131

[3] ADM 202/167

[4] ADM 202/131

[5] ADM 202/167; War diary ‘Z’ Battery, R.M., ADM 202/176

[6] The ‘Y’ Battery did not return from Iceland until March 1941 by which time the 1st C.A. Brigade, R.M. had sailed for Egypt. (“The Royal Marines, 1919-1980”, Ladd J.D., Jane’s (1980))

[7] ADM 202/167; War diary ‘Kent’ Battery, ADM 202/168

[8] ADM 202/167

[9] War diary M.N.B.D.O. I, ADM 202/131

[10] War diary 2nd Coast Regiment, R.M., ADM 202/260

[11] ADM 202/167; ADM 202/168; Ladd  [p393]; War diary ‘Devon’ Battery, R.M., ADM 202/172; “The Winston Specials, Troopships via the Cape, 1940-1943”, Munro A., Maritime Books (2006); ADM 202/132

[12] “Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War, Crete”, Davin D.M., Battery Press (reprint) (1997)

[13] ADM 202/167; Ladd  [p393]; War diary ‘X’ Battery, R.M., ADM 202/173

[14] War diary R.M. Striking Force, ADM 202/139

[15] ADM 202/139

[16] ADM 202/167; Ladd  [p393]

[17] ADM 202/167; Reconnaissance of Port ‘T’, Addu Atoll and war diaries of Colonel C.T. Brown and Force ‘Shortcut’, ADM 202/453

[18] The 6-inch guns were shipped from Ceylon (four) and India (two), all on board the Laemedon.

[19] ADM 202/453  [8005]

[20] Now It Can Be Told! - How Royal Marines Hacked a Base From Jungle”,The War Illustrated, Volume 9, No. 214, Page 268-269, August 31, 1945.

[21] The Glenroy was one of a class of four fast passenger and cargo liners intended for the Far East trade route.  The Admiralty acquired the four Glens shortly after their launchings, and converted them into fast supply ships. By June 1940, Glengyle, Glenearn, and Glenroy were under conversion to LSI(L)s  (Landing Ship Infantry, Large).  During April and June 1940, the Glens underwent further conversion into LSIs capable of transporting an embarked force of up to 34 officers and 663 other ranks and carrying twelve LCAs on Welin-McLachan davits and one LCM(1) stored in chocks on deck and launched by 30-ton derricks.

[22] ADM 202/453

[23] War diary Force ‘Piledriver’, ADM 202/137

[24] ADM 202/137

[25] ADM 202/137

[26] ADM 202/453

[27] ADM 202/453

[28] ADM 202/137

[29] ADM 202/137

[30] ADM 202/137

[31] ADM 202/137

[32] ADM 202/137

[33] ADM 202/137; ADM 202/167

[34] ADM 202/167; War diary Force ‘Shortcut’, ADM 202/138

[35] ADM 202/167; ADM 202/138

[36] ADM 202/168

[37] ADM 202/167; War diary ‘Chatham’ Battery, R.M.,ADM 202/169; War diary ‘X’ Battery, R.M., ADM 202/174

[38] ADM 202/167; War diary 3 Mobile Base Naval Brigade, ADM 202/190; War diary 3rd Coast Regiment, R.M., ADM 202/192; War diary 1st R.M. A.A. Brigade, ADM 202/150 [6856]; War diary ‘Chatham’ Battery, R.M., ADM 202/169

[39] ADM 202/176; War diary 1st R.M. A.A. Brigade, ADM 202/150; War diary M.N.B.D.O. I, ADM 202/135

[40] ADM 202/190; ADM 202/192

[41] ADM 202/167; ADM 202/169

[42] ADM 202/190; ADM 202/192; ADM 202/167; War diary ‘Devon’ Battery, ADM 202/72