Royal Marines in the Indian Ocean

3rd Coast Regiment, Royal Marines

Ceylon: August 1943 – February 1944

3 Mobile Naval Base Brigade

The 3rd Coast Regiment, Royal Marines was formed on 1st August 1943 at Katukurunda when the 1st Coast Regiment, R.M. was divided into two, forming the 1st and 3rd Regiments.[1]  It was commanded by Major J.F. Maxfield and in addition to the Regimental Headquarters it was formed of three batteries:

-  Kent’ Battery – a 6-inch coast battery,
- ‘X’ Battery – a coast battery equipped with 4-inch guns,
- Portsmouth’ Battery – an anti-motor torpedo boat unit equipped with Bofors guns.[2]

Kent’ Battery was transferred from the 1st Coast Regiment, R.M. and Major H. Alexander, R.M assumed command of the Battery the same day.  Portsmouth’ Battery was formed from the Anti-Motor Torpedo Boat Battery (A.M.T.B.), R.M. and was commanded by Major M.L. Richardson, R.M.  The new battery continued in the A.M.T.B role.  The Regiment came under the command of 3 Mobile Naval Base 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.  The remaining batteries were engaged in the construction of a new camp, Philston Camp.  They were also involved in guard duty and training for jungle warfare when not busy with this task.[3]

A number of 6-inch guns were transferred on 20th September by ‘Kent’ Battery from Rifle Green Camp to the naval dockyard at Colombo.  The Regiment moved to Paiyagala Camp on 16th September.  Major Alexander assumed command of the Regiment on 26th September.  The ‘X’ Battery remained on Sober Island and late in September began moving the two 4-inch guns and on 7th October rejoined the Regiment at Katukurunda.  The ‘Kent’ Battery had left Lumsden Camp, Katukurunda on 5th October to begin training in the operation of heavy anti-aircraft guns.  This was to take place at the Royal Marine Base Depot, Chatham Camp, Katukurunda.   The ‘Portsmouth’ Battery undertook practice firing at Galle Face Green, Colombo.  A number of reinforcements arrived: 90 from the R.M.B.D. on 16th October; others from the 1st Landing Company, R.M. seven days later.  Kent’ Battery, 3rd Coast Regiment, moved to Chatham Camp, Katukurunda for training on 5th November 1943.  The Battery returned to Lumsden Camp on 8th December 1943.  Its place at R.M.B.D. was taken two days later by ‘X’ Battery which moved there also for heavy-antiaircraft training.  Kent’ Battery undertook an initial practice firing on 22nd December with 3.7-inch guns operated by ‘A’ Battery, 2nd A.A. Regiment, R.M.  The ‘Portsmouth’ Battery continued practice firing with Bofors guns at Galle Face Green and Lumsden Camp.  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, having been disbanded on 31st December 1943, 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.][4]

For some time, it had been intended that ‘Kent’ Battery would man a 4-inch gun site in Colombo upon completing training in the heavy anti-aircraft role.  However, this was abandoned at the beginning of December due to there being neither a suitable site nor equipment.  The future of the Royal Marines coast batteries within M.N.B.D.O. I was now also uncertain since the Admiralty had rejected the adoption of the dual purpose 4.5-inch gun.  The Battery therefore returned to Lumsden Camp, as noted above, to continue training under the 3rd Coast Regiment.  It was hoped that by the time that ‘X’ Battery completed training at Chatham Camp, set for 15th January 1944, a decision would have been made as to whether the two batteries would amalgamate into a single eight-gun heavy anti-aircraft battery.[5]

However, the new year brought major change and together with other units of 3 M.N.B. Brigade, the men were addressed by Brigadier Tollemache on 4th January 1944 on the future of M.N.B.D.O. I.  On 17th January 1944, the 3 M.N.B Brigade was relieved of operational responsibilities as it began preparations for the return to the United Kingdom.  ‘X’ Battery returned to Lumsden Camp the same day.  The Regiment began handing in stores and equipment and on 19th February 1944 embarked at Colombo.[6]

United Kingdom: March – May 1944

The 3rd Coast Regiment disembarked at Gourock on 16th March 1944 and moved into accommodation at Paisley, with all three batteries under command.  Two days later, the 2nd A.A. Regiment, the 3rd Coast Regiment, 24th Battalion and ‘S’ Searchlight Battery were all placed under command of 3 Mobile Naval Base Brigade.  The ‘Devon´ Battery was taken on strength of the Regiment on 18th March [It is not certain if this implies that ‘Devon’ Battery was disbanded at this time.]  A large number of men volunteered for ‘special service overseas’ and on 27th March went on leave.  During April 1944, drafts of men were posted way from the Regiment, and on 5th May the 3rd Coast Regiment reverted to the direct command of M.N.B.D.O. I.  Between 1st and 22nd May, the Regiment was commanded by Major C.R. Blount.  Many remaining men were now posted for landing craft training or to other Royal Marines units.  On 13th May, seven other ranks were posted to Helmesley Camp, Havant to Royal Marine Detachment 385 for special duty in the Far East.  In June, these men with others of the Detachment embarked in the aircraft carrier H.M.S. Indomitable and arrived back in Ceylon at the start of July 1944.  The final postings were completed by the 22nd May 1944 and on this date the 3rd Coast Regiment, R.M. was disbanded.[7]

02 July 2022

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

[2] War diary 3rd Coast Regiment, R.M., ADM 202/192

[3] ADM 202/192

[4] War diary 3 Mobile Base Naval Brigade, ADM 202/190; ADM 202/192; ADM 202/167

[5] ADM 202/190

[6] ADM 202/192

[7] ADM 202/190; ADM 202/192; ‘Behind Japanese Lines, The Untold Story of Royal Marine Detachment 385’, Oakley D., Royal Marines Historical Society (1996)