Royal Marines in the Indian Ocean

Landing and Maintenance Group/Unit, 1st R.M. Group, M.N.B.D.O. I

Landing and Maintenance Group

United Kingdom: February 1940 – February 1941

R.M. Group, M.N.B.D.O. I

The Landing and Maintenance Group for what was then known as the Mobile Naval Base Defence Organisation was formed in February 1940 but naval ratings and certain Royal Marine specialists did not join the Group until late in 1940.[1]  It seems that the Group was formed with:

- Headquarters, Landing and Maintenance Group
- Landing Company (from November 1940),
- Transport Company (from November 1940,
- Workshop Company (from January 1941,
- Boat Unit (manned by naval personnel; from January 1941).

Some alterations and additions were made to the Group in May 1940, when the Group was located at Eastney, near Portsmouth, possibly to finalise the formation of the sub-units.  At this time, the Group was commanded by acting Major C. La R. Salter, R.M.  On 23rd May, two gun mounting parties were formed by the Group to mount 6-inch naval guns at prepared sites around Great Britain.  These parties left Portsmouth on 27th May to begin their mission, with ‘A’ Special Gun Mounting Detachment going to Deal, Kent and ‘B’ Detachment going to South Shields.  These detachments were also referred to simply as ‘A’ Party and ‘B’ Party.  Between 27th May and 12th June, the remaining personnel were involved in building defence works at Fort Cumberland and Eastney.  From 13th June, these personnel were then used upon ‘.. Repository and Tubular erections.’.  ‘B’ Detachment returned to Portsmouth on 24th June, followed two days later by ‘A’ Detachment.  Work continued on constructing defences at Fort Cumberland and Eastney into July.  During August, the Group undertook training in technical aspects and in small arms.  In September, a detachment went to a training camp at Petersfield to practice the construction of piers in non-tidal waters.  ‘A’ and ‘B’ Gun Mounting Parties left Portsmouth on 11th September, to Dymchurch and Rye in Kent respectively.  A third such party, ‘C’, was formed by the Royal Marine Fortress Unit (R.M.F.U.).  ‘A’ Party returned on 23rd September; ‘B’ Party did not return until 7th October, although some men went to Deal.  Lt. Colonel C.T. Brown assumed command of the Group from Major Salter on 28th September.  Petersfield Camp was closed on 25th October and all men returned to Portsmouth.  Further construction training and trials continued throughout this period.  A party went to Inveraray on 11th November to assist with pier construction and returned on 12th December.[2]

The New Year, 1941, saw a continuation of training at Portsmouth.  There was a heavy air raid on Plymouth during the night of 10th/11th January 1941 and while there was no damage to Fort Cumberland, two Marines from the Landing and Maintenance Group were pronounced missing, believed dead.[3]

On 25th January 1941, Lt. Colonel L.O. Jones assumed command of the Group.  The Group began moving to Glasgow for overseas deployment on 1st February as part of the overall transfer of M.N.B.D.O. I to the Middle East.  The next day, the first party arrived at Glasgow with the heavy baggage and embarked upon the H.M.T. Bergensfjord.  The Boat Unit and the Workshop Company left Portsmouth on 3rd February and upon arrival at Glasgow embarked upon the transport H.12., Almanzora.  Next to leave was the Headquarters, L & M Group which departed Portsmouth on 4th February and arrived at Glasgow the next day where it embarked upon transport H1 – the Bergensfjord.   The Transport Company also arrived in Glasgow on 5th February and boarded transport H6., the M.V. Rangitata, the same day as the Landing Company which boarded the Bergensfjord.  On the afternoon of 6th February, the Bergensfjord left the dock for Greenock to join Convoy WS 6A.  The convoy sailed from Oversay on 9th February and arrived in South Africa towards the end of March.  The Transport Company disembarked at Durban on 26th March and went to Clairwood Transit Camp before embarking on board the Costa Rica on 29th March.  While at sea between Cape Town and Durban, on 24th March it was announced that the Group was to be re-titled to become the Landing and Maintenance Unit, with effect from 1st April.  The Boat Unit (now rettiled as ‘Boat Company’) and the Workshop Company transferred to the Dilwara.  The convoy left Durban on 1st April, bound for Egypt via Aden.[4]

Landing and Maintenance Unit

Egypt and Crete: April – September 1941

1st R.M. Group, M.N.B.D.O. I

The ships carrying the L&M Unit began arriving at Port Tewfik, Suez on 19th April.  The Bergensfjord arrived on 19th April but the Headquarters and Landing Company did not disembark until three days later when they went to El Quassassin before moving to El Tahag Camp, arriving on 23rd April.  The ships carrying the Transport, Boat and Workshop Companies – the Dilwara and the Costa Rica – arrived on 20th April but then went on to Port Said, where the men disembarked on 21st April.  This party went to El Tahag Camp where they arrived on 22nd April.  Elements of mainly the Transport Company, mainly stores parties, left for Haifa on 24th April.[5]

Following the evacuation of British and ANZAC troops from Greece to Crete, there was an urgent need to bolster the defences of the island given it was likely to be the next target of the victorious Germans.  Among the reinforcements sent to Crete at the beginning of May 1941, were elements of the M.N.B.D.O. I, including the Landing and Maintenance Unit.  On 1st May, the Unit commander, Lt. Colonel L.O. Jones, the Landing Company, most of the Transport Company and detachments from both the Workshop and Boat Companies left El Tahag Camp for Port Said.  The Unit Headquarters and the balance of the Transport, Workshop and Boat Companies remained behind.  At Port Said, Lt. Colonel Jones and his men joined other Royal Marines units on board the City of Canterbury where they remained for several days.  On 3rd May the Workshop Company disembarked and returned to El Tahag.  The ship sailed for Crete three days later.  After arriving at Suda Bay on 9th May, the L&M Unit disembarked and moved to the R.A.F. Transit Camp.  The Landing Company worked to unload the City of Canterbury between 10th and 14th May.  The Transport Company moved to Cremartia Camp on 15th May while the Landing Company switched to unloading the Dalesman and to tidying up the harbour and surrounding area.  German air attacks became increasingly heavy from 16th May and the Landing Company had to endure heavy bombing on gun positions around the harbour at Suda Bay.  German airborne troops began landing on 20th May and after a fierce struggle eventually gained the upper hand.  The Landing and Transport Companies received orders to withdraw to Sphakia.  The Landing Company, less No. 1 Platoon, and the Transport Company embarked at Sphakia during the night of 31st May and were successfully evacuated to Egypt.  The Boat Company detachment, meanwhile, had embarked three days earlier at Suda.  Later casualty reports for the L&M Unit in Crete listed three Marines killed and 82 wounded and missing, believed prisoner, of whom two were thought to have drowned during the evacuation from the beaches at Sphakia.[6]

In Egypt during this period, the balance of the L&M Unit remained at El Tahag, with the Transport Company Stores Party in Haifa.  On 17th May, Unit Headquarters went to Haifa.  The balance of the Boat Company went to the Naval Camp at Kabrit on 23rd May for work on the Bitter Lakes and on 28th May, elements of the Workshop Company went to Alexandria.  The evacuees from Crete reached Alexandria on 1st June and went to Sidi Bishr for re-equipment and rest before moving to El Tahag on 5th June.  Personnel at Haifa moved to Ataka Camp, Port Suez on 25th June.  During July, more men were sent to Ataka where a camp known as Chatham Camp was constructed.  A jetty was built at El Shatt.  Elements of the Workshop Company worked in the Alexandria dockyards.  The Boat Company continued to train on the Bitter Lakes.  The Headquarters, L&M Unit moved to Chatham Camp on 3rd August and was joined by the remainder of the Landing Company the following day.  The Headquarters of the Transport Company with elements of the Workshop Company also moved to Chatham Camp, arriving on 28th August.[7]

During September 1941, M.N.B.D.O. I in Egypt formed two detachments to embark for destinations in the Indian Ocean where they were to construct defended bases to be used for refuelling by the Royal Navy.  Two of the bases were known as Port ‘T’, the codename for Addu Atoll, and Port ‘W’, the codename for an anchorage at Nancowry Island in the Nicobars.  Coast defence guns were also to be installed at a third island, Diego Garcia.  In command of Force ‘Piledriver’ was Lt. Colonel W.B.F. Lukis, R.M. and whose main objective was to construct the defences and other facilities at Port ‘T’.  Force ‘Piledriver’ would be assisted by Force ‘Shortcut’, commanded by Lt. Colonel L.O. Jones, which would later be detached to construct Port ‘W’.  The personnel for Force ‘Shortcut’ were selected from Landing and Maintenance Unit, R.M., commanded by Lt. Colonel Jones, together with details from the 1st Coast Regiment, R.M. with four 4-inch guns and ancillary troops.  The structure of the Force was:

H.Q. Landing and Maintenance Unit,

- 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.

The two forces left Egypt for the Indian Ocean on 20th September 1941 leaving behind the Transport Company and elements of the Workshop Company.[8]

Force ‘Shortcut’

Addu Atoll and Diego Garcia: October 1941 – November 1941

The personnel of the main body of Force ‘Shortcut’, after considerable delay owing to the unfinished facilities on board ship, embarked upon H.M.T. Clan Forbes at Suez on the afternoon of 20th September 1941.  The ship sailed at 1700 for the Indian Ocean and arrived at Port ‘T’ – Addu Atoll – on the morning of 30th September.  The Clan Forbes entered the lagoon, behind the naval escort, H.M.S. Cornwall and ahead of the transport H.M.S. Glenroy.[9]

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 Boat Company, aided by a party from H.M.S. Cornwall and the M.L.C.s of the Landing Company from H.M.T. Clan Forbes, 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.[10]  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 Unit, remained in command of Force ‘Shortcut’ for administrative and disciplinary purposes.[11]

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 company started clearing a channel through the reef from Heratera Island.[12]

Clan Forbes

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

(, accessed September 2020)

Lt. Colonel Jones was appointed Camp Commandant of the Transit Camp on 7th October as work continued elsewhere.  A number of sick cases were transferred to H.M.S. Corfu.  The ‘Kent’ Battery began preparing a camp site on Hitaddu.  On 8th October, all personnel of the Landing and Maintenance Unit, 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.  Advance parties from Force ‘Piledriver from the ‘Kent’ and ‘Devon’ Batteries, disembarked from H.M.S. Glenroy and went to Hitaddu and Midu respectively where work to establish camps began the next day.  The gunners of Force ‘Shortcut’ – ‘Z’ and A.M.T.B. Batteries – disembarked from the Clan Forbes and moved in to Transit Camp on 11th October.  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.[13]

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.  From 18th October a large work party was landed daily 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 into Cumberland Camp.  With the discharge of cargo complete, the Clan Forbes sailed for Colombo and Calcutta on 20th October, carrying several Marine and Naval officers and a ship’s loading section from the Landing Company.  The ship was to load additional stores and have improvements made to the accommodations to be used by the Royal Marines.  The personnel of Force ‘Shortcut’ continued to assist with unloading of the Laomedon, maintenance of Cumberland Camp and road building.[14]

'<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)

Throughout October the number of men reporting sick, some with dengue fever, continued to rise.  This was of such concern that on 8th November 1941, the Naval C-in-C East Indies wrote to propose that the Royal Marines of Force ‘Shortcut’ should be given a period of rest before undertaking construction of the planned base at Nancowry.  The Clan Forbes was due to carry Force ‘Shortcut’ to land guns and stores at Diego Garcia on or around 30th November.  It was now proposed that after this task was accomplished, the Marines involved should then be given fourteen days leave in Ceylon.  Suitably rested, the men were to then sail for Nancowry in the Clan Forbes at around 19th December.  It seems this new schedule was agreed, and Force ‘Shortcut’ began preparations to leave Addu Atoll.[15]

Early in November, unloading of the Laomedon was completed and the sorting and servicing of stores for Port ‘W’ – Nancowry - was undertaken by Force ‘Shortcut’.  The last personnel on board the Laomedon disembarked on 4th November and the ship sailed the next day.  Additional stores arrived on board the Singu and were landed between 5th and 6th November.  On 7th November, stores for Force ‘Shortcut’ were prepared for embarkation on board the Clan Forbes when the ship returned.  On 9th November, all Force ‘Shortcut’ personnel on detached duty on Hitaddu and Midu were recalled to Cumberland Camp and relieved by personnel of Force ‘Piledriver’.  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.  While at Calcutta, the ship had been completely transformed and was now better equipped to accommodate a Marine landing party.  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.  The hospital ship H.M.H.S. Vita arrived on 20th November and the sick were transferred to this ship.  On 23rd November, embarkation of Force ‘Shortcut’ personnel on board the Clan Forbes began with the Headquarters, Signal Company, A.M.T.B. Battery (less camp guard) and the Boat Company.  The following day, personnel boarding continued with the Senior Medical Officer and staff, the Landing Company, ‘Z’ Battery, details of the Signal Company and N.A.A.F.I. staff.  Further stores were loaded on 25th and 26th November on which day embarkation was complete and the M.L.C.s hoisted on board.  A number of M.L.C.s were left at Addu Atoll together with Boat Company personnel to man them.  The Clan Forbes departed late afternoon of 26th November and as she left, she passed the H.M.S. Prince of Wales as the battleship entered the anchorage.  Force ‘Shortcut’ had arrived at Addu Atoll with 424 officers and men and left with 360.  Seventy-three men were left behind on the hospital ship Vita.[16]

Royal Marines workshop on Gan island, Addu Atoll.

A Royal Marines workshop on Gan island, Addu Atoll.

(Imperial War Museum)

The ship carried Force ‘Shortcut’ to Diego Garcia in the Chagos Archipelago.  The garrison up until this point had been provided by a small detachment of a Mauritius Garrison company. The goal was to install and undertake the initial manning of coastal artillery and searchlights on the island to protect the land-locked anchorage there.  It had originally been intended to install two 4-inch guns but at some point, the decision was made to install 6-inch guns.  The Clan Forbes arrived at 0800 on 28th November 1941 to find H.M.S. Laomedon and H.M.I.S. Clive already at anchor.  A reconnaissance of the channel and landing place was conducted later that day.  The following day, unloading of stores and equipment began.  The accompanying section of the 15th Artizan Works Company, I.E. began construction of a camp.  On 30th November, the first of two pedestals was unloaded from the Clan Forbes and taken to the gun site at Eclipse Point.  Work also began to establish a water supply as quickly as possible.  On 1st December, the second gun pedestal was unloaded and taken to the gun site.  The first of the 6-inch guns was unloaded the next day, followed by the second on 3rd December.  Stores were reloaded on board the Clan Forbes while the Laomedon continued to unload.  The personnel re-embarked on board the Clan Forbes on 4th December except for one section of the Landing Company, two M.L.C. crews and men from the Workshop Company who embarked upon the Laomedon to continue unloading.  (It is thought that these men later returned to Ceylon on board the Laomedon which arrived at Colombo on 11th December 1941.)  At 1900 that evening, the Clan Forbes sailed for Colombo, making a brief stop at Addu Atoll on 6th December.  A number of the sick on board H.M.S. Vita were transferred to the Clan Forbes before the ship continued on to Ceylon.  It will be recalled that higher command intended to give these men fourteen days rest in Ceylon before sending them on to Nancowry in the Nicobar Islands.[17] 

Ceylon: December 1941

The ship arrived at Colombo on the morning of 8th December and all ranks were given shore leave while an advance party went to the Royal Navy Rest Camp, Diyatalawa.  The next day all personnel left Colombo by train for Diyatalawa, arriving the next morning and for the rest of December, the troops enjoyed rest with good food and exercise.  With the entry into the war of Japan, the Admiralty once again revised its plans for the development of new bases in the Indian Ocean.  A signal sent on 14th December 1941 instructed that the installation of defences at Nancowry would not now go ahead.  The Marines earmarked for this task, Force ‘Shortcut’, were to be retained ready to install further defences and facilities elsewhere in the Indian Ocean.  At the end of December, it had been decided that they would return to Diego Garcia.[18]

Diego Garcia: January - March 1942

On 30th December 1941, the advance party left by train for Colombo and boarded the Clan Forbes the next day.  The main body arrived and boarded on 2nd January 1942 and the ship left on 5th January, escorted by H.M.S. Glasgow.  On the afternoon of 6th January, the ship arrived at Male, the capital of the Maldives.  Lt. Colonel Jones and the captain of H.M.S. Glasgow went ashore with several other officers to present a decoration to the Sultan of the Maldives.  Two hours later, the Clan Forbes sailed for Addu Atoll and arrived the following afternoon.  The next two days were spent loading stores, equipment and ammunition and the ship sailed again on 10th January, headed for Male and escorted by H.M.S. Ranchi.  The reason for the call at Male was to collect a coral dredger and this was loaded after arrival on 11th January.  The ship sailed later that day and arrived once again at Addu Atoll where Force ‘Piledriver’ had been relieved by an Indian force and had embarked in the S.S. Talma.  The coral dredger was unloaded and the Clan Forbes sailed for Diego Garcia the next day, this time escorted by H.M.I.S. Clive.[19] 

One of two 6-inch guns installed by the Royal Marines on Diego Garcia.

One of two 6-inch coast defence guns installed by the Royal Marines on Diego Garcia. The guns were installed on the east of the island at Eclipse Point, known today as Cannon Point. This image is a still taken from a video posted to YouTube in 2007.

(Cannon Point, Diego Garcia) via YouTube, accessed February 2021

Diego Garcia was reached on the morning of 15th January 1942 and unloading began that same day.  Equipment for mounting guns was unloaded the following day and one gun and cradle, landed previously in late November-early December 1941, was transported to the gun site at Eclipse Point.  This gun was mounted on 18th January and the second the following morning.  Meanwhile construction of a camp and other facilities continued.  On 21st January, the personnel of the A.M.T.B. Battery, R.M. were landed to man the battery at Eclipse Point [interestingly, the war diary sometimes refers to the A.M.T.B. Battery as ‘P’ Battery.  This is assumed to be an abbreviation for ‘Portsmouth’ Battery – one of only two references found to date which refer to the A.M.T.B. Battery by this designation].  The first proof rounds were fired the next day and 50 rounds of ammunition were landed and stored in temporary magazines at the gun site.  On 27th January H.M.S. Carthage and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Changte arrived carrying the permanent battery personnel and their stores.  On board the Carthage were the Royal Artillery and Mauritius Territorial Force personnel to man the guns installed by the Royal Marines and were made up of the “X” Mauritius Coast Battery and a Mauritius Garrison Company.  These disembarked upon arrival and the personnel of the A.M.T.B. Battery re-embarked upon the Clan Forbes and the Carthage sailed that same day.  Unloading and construction work continued, including the establishment of a tented hospital and other facilities.  H.M.I.S. Clive and R.F.A. Changte sailed late afternoon of the 30th January.[20]  (In September 1942, the Mauritian troops were themselves relieved by 12th Indian Coast Battery and a company of the 25th Garrison Battalion, 4th Bombay Grenadiers.[21]

Sign commemorating the guns installed by the Royal Marines at Cannon Point, Diego Garcia.

Sign commemorating the guns installed by the Royal Marines at Eclipse Point, Diego Garcia, known today as Cannon Point. This image is a still taken from a video posted to YouTube in 2007.

(Cannon Point, Diego Garcia) via YouTube, accessed February 2021

Construction work continued into the first weeks of February 1942.  The Clan Forbes provided the accommodation for the Royal Marines throughout their stay at Diego Garcia.  As the ship prepared to sail once again, a small detachment disembarked on 18th February to continue the work and the Clan Forbes sailed the next day for Addu Atoll.  The ship arrived on 21st February and began loading stores from several ships which also arrived that day.  Leaving Addu Atoll on 24th February, the ship arrived once again at Diego Garcia on 26th February and immediately began to unload the stores.  Additional Royal Marines disembarked to help speed up the final construction of the water supply system.  Working with the Indian Artizan Company, construction work continued until all Force ‘Shortcut’ personnel and equipment re-embarked on the Clan Forbes between the afternoon of 12th March and the afternoon of 13th March.  The ship sailed that afternoon and arrived at Addu Atoll on 15th March where, after a stop of only some hours, she departed that afternoon for Colombo.  Upon arrival there on 18th March, the personnel were granted shore leave and ‘Z’ Battery and the A.M.T.B. Battery (or ‘P’ Battery) disembarked the next day and re-joined the 1st Coast Regiment, R.M. at Boosa Camp.  The following day, 20th March, Lt. Colonel Jones proceeded on detached duty and Force ‘Shortcut’ was disbanded from this date.  The Marines of the Landing and Maintenance Unit went to the Royal Navy Rest Camp at Diyatalawa.[22]

Landing and Maintenance Unit

Ceylon: February – June 1942

1st R.M. Group, M.N.B.D.O. I.

When Force ‘Shortcut’ left Addu Atoll at the end of November 1941, a number of officers and men of the L&M Unit remained behind with Force ‘Piledriver’.  Around 60 of these were from the Boat Company and around 80 from the Landing and Workshop Companies, many of whom had fallen sick.  These men went to Ceylon when Force ‘Piledriver’ left Addu Atoll in January 1942.  In early February, the Landing and Workshop Company men were posted to the 1st R.M.A.A. Brigade.  The Boat Company men remained attached to the 1st Coast Regiment, R.M. until 20th April when they re-joined the L&M Unit.[23] 

By the start of April, elements of the Unit were deployed in Colombo; the Landing Company worked under the command of the 1st R.M. A.A. Brigade (acting as Headquarters, Anti-Aircraft Command Ceylon) to build anti-aircraft positions.  Preparations for the construction of a gun battery and other facilities in the Seychelles began on 3rd April when an advance party of the Boat Company left Colombo on board H.M.S. Atreus headed for Port ‘T’.  Since 12th March, a party had been working to refit and re-equip the S.S. Malda for use as an accommodation and stores ship to replace the Clan Forbes which had been found wanting in this regard during operations at Addu Atoll and Diego Garcia. Unfortunately, following the Japanese air raid on Colombo on 5th April, the ship was sunk by Japanese warships on 6th April while sailing independently in the Bay of Biscay.  A party of the L&M Unit was on board at the time – Captain D.M. Borland, R.M., O.C. Landing Company; Lt. Commander W.N. Callard, R.N.V.R., O.C. Workshop Company; and 11 Royal Marines – was on board at the time but all escaped to reach the Indian coast after two days aboard lifeboats.  This party returned to Colombo on 9th April.[24]

On 13th April 1942, the L&M Unit which had previously comprised Force ‘Shortcut’ returned to Colombo from Diyatalawa and went to Rifle Green Camp.  The Landing Company continued to work on anti-aircraft gun positions and the unit’s Ship’s Loading Sections worked on board various ships in the harbour in place of the local labour which was unavailable following the air raid.  Command of the Unit was now in the hands of Lt. Colonel W.B.F. Lukis.  Between 7th and 14th May, the personnel attached to the 1st Coast Regiment, R.M. and the 1st R.M. A.A. Brigade returned to the L&M Unit at Rifle Green.  Work began to assemble stores for the forthcoming Seychelles operation, for which the Clan Forbes was due to replace the Malda and was loading stores in Bombay.  Meanwhile, the Malda detachment, now recovered, returned to duty at Diyatalawa.  The Clan Forbes left Bombay on 24th May and reached Colombo on 29th May.  The Landing Company quickly finalised all construction work so as to concentrate on loading the ship.  The ship sailed from Colombo on 6th June with the L&M Unit and ‘Kent’ Battery, R.M. on board.[25]

The Seychelles: June – August 1942

The Clan Forbes anchored in Port Victoria harbour on the island of Mahe, the Seychelles, on the morning of 12th June 1942.  Work began immediately to unload the landing craft of the Boat Company and soon vehicles were being off-loaded and taken to the jetty.  Work began to build a site for coast guns but on 21st June all work on Mahe was stopped temporarily and the L&M Unit and ‘Kent’ Battery began work on a new site on St. Anne’s Island. Work resumed on Mahe on 25th June and continued into July, by which time a camp had been built and the men were able to leave the Clan Forbes.  Positions for both 4-inch and 6-inch guns were built.  On 23rd July, a case of diphtheria was confirmed on board the Clan Forbes and St. Anne’s Island was placed in quarantine although work to finish the gun battery continued.  Brigadier W.B.F. Lukis departed the Seychelles on 3rd August, command of the L&M Unit being assumed by Major D.M. Borland, R.M.  By early August, the work was nearly complete and on 13th August all L&M Unit personnel boarded the Clan Forbes.  The ship left the next day, leaving ‘Kent’ Battery behind to man the 4-inch battery at North East Point, Mahe.  The ship arrived at Diego Garcia on 17th August and after a brief stop left two days later.  The next stop was Addu Atoll which was reached on 21st August.  A number of L&M Unit personnel and stores were left here before the Clan Forbes departed on 30th August and reached Colombo on 1st September.  The Unit disembarked the next day.[26] 

Ceylon: September 1942

While some men rested, others completed the unloading of the Clan Forbes before the ship sailed for Bombay on 7th September 1942.  The ship was followed on 21st September by a Ship’s Loading Section of the Landing Company which went to Bombay to load the ship.  Loading of the Clan Forbes continued when the ship returned to Colombo on 23rd September.  The L&M Unit embarked at Colombo on 28th September and the ship sailed for Addu Atoll later that day.[27] 

Addu Atoll and Diego Garcia: October 1942 – August 1943

Addu Atoll was reached on 1st October 1942 and the Unit began unloading the Clan Forbes and other ships present.  The Workshop Company undertook urgent repairs on the large number of unusable craft at the atoll and within two days seven L.C.M.s and two L.C.A.s were operational.  Improvements were made to the atoll’s water supply, the Gan channel and landing beach.  On 28th October, the first draft of reinforcements for the L&M Unit arrived and the men were posted to the Landing Company.  During this month, a reorganisation within M.N.B.D.O. I had established two landing companies as being required for the L&M Unit.  No.2 Landing Company was formed in Egypt during October by a re-designation and reorganisation of ‘W’ Company, R.M. Auxiliary Battalion.  As a result, the original landing company was now officially designated as No.1 Landing Company.  Unloading of the Clan Forbes continued throughout November and other ships continued to arrive and be unloaded throughout this period.  On 27th November, the R.F.A. Matiana arrived at Addu Atoll.  Reinforcements carried by this ship transferred to the Clan Forbes before the Matiana left two days later for Diego Garcia, carrying a number of the Unit’s experienced construction personnel.[28]

[One other Royal Marines unit was present at Addu Atoll at this time; ‘Q’ Company, Royal Marine Engineers.  The Company was involved in the construction of the naval air station on Gan and although a part of M.N.B.D.O. I, it does not appear to have been under the command of the L&M Unit at any time.  During its stay at Addu Atoll, from around September 1942 to October 1943, the Company was under the command of the Fortress H.Q.]

At Diego Garcia, the two officers and 59 Other Ranks of the Landing Company, equipped with an M.L.C. and supported by a small detachment from the Workshop Company added a number of improvements to existing facilities.  The work complete, the Matiana returned to Addu Atoll on 12th December 1942.  At Addu Atoll, unloading and light construction work continued.  The personnel of the L&M Unit were transferred from the Clan Forbes to the Matiana at the end of December.  The discharging of the Clan Forbes was completed by the afternoon of 2nd January 1943 and stores belonging to the Unit were transferred to the Matiana.  The Clan Forbes then sailed for Colombo.  Construction and improvement work continued as well as the unloading of recently arrived ships.  Sickness was a prevailing problem at Addu Atoll and by 1st March 1943, only 41% of the No.1 Landing Company was completely fit.  The sick were accommodated on hospital ships and for the first time since arriving on 1st October 1942, a convalescent party was embarked upon the S.S. Santhia, together with a small leave party of men who had remained at Addu Atoll prior to 1st October 1942, and the ship sailed for Colombo on the evening of 15th March.  Upon arrival at Colombo, four days later, the men went to the R.N. Rest Camp at Diyatalawa.  The Santhia had brought with it the first anti-aircraft unit to be deployed to Addu Atoll, the 9th H.A.A. Battery, I.A. with two troops of the 11th L.A.A. Battery, I.A. under command.  These disembarked at Addu Atoll on 10th March 1943 and of the heavy anti-aircraft guns, one section of two 3.7-inch guns was carried by L.C.M. to Wilingili.[29]

The L&M Unit remained at Addu Atoll, busy with construction work, the discharging of ships and the transfer of stores between the islands making up the atoll.  On 3rd June 1943, 25 Other Ranks returned from convalescence or leave in Ceylon and the following day, one officer and 26 Marines left for Diego Garcia.  Most of the personnel of the L&M Unit left Addu Atoll on 13th July on board the S.S. Wing Sang for three weeks leave at the R.N. Rest Camp, Diyatalawa, Ceylon.  The Unit arrived at Ceylon on 16th July.  A small party including elements of the Workshop Company was left behind to assist with various roles together with the Boat Company whose work was being taken up by an Indian boat company trained by the sailors and Marines of the L&M Unit.  The Boat Company embarked upon the Matiana on 2nd September and sailed for Ceylon, stopping at Male in the Seychelles between 4th and 9th September before arriving at Colombo on 11th September.[30] 

Transport Company and L&M Details

Egypt: September 1941 – June 1943

Left behind in Egypt by the L&M Unit when it sailed as Force ‘Shortcut’ for Addu Atoll in September 1941 was the Transport Company and other personnel.  The latter came mainly from Workshop Company and these men were sometimes referred to as L&M Details.  All the L&M Unit personnel in Egypt now came under the command of Major P.R. Matters, R.M.  and formed the Landing and Maintenance Detachment, Middle East Force.  The Detachment returned to El Tahag on 28th September, turning over the former Chatham Camp at Ataka to the control of the H.Q. Suez Sub-Area.  Throughout the remainder of 1941, the Detachment stayed at El Tahag, giving support to the Royal Marine anti-aircraft units in Egypt.  In January 1942, the Detachment transported the 1st R.M. A.A. Brigade to the embarkation port at Suez, this work being complete when the Brigade sailed for Ceylon on 16th January.  It seems that on 1st January 1942, the Transport Company was re-titled to become the 1st R.M. Group Transport Company and was no longer considered to form part of the L&M Unit.  The Company remained in Egypt operating in its normal role.  The balance of personnel of the Landing and Maintenance Unit remaining in Egypt, referred to as ‘L&M Details’, were remained under the orders of the Transport Company until they could re-join the Landing and Maintenance Unit.[31]

Also present in Egypt with M.N.B.D.O. I was ‘W’ Company, R.M. Auxiliary Battalion.  On 1st October 1942, this company ceased to have any affiliation with the R.M. Auxiliary Battalion and became part of the Landing and Maintenance Unit, R.M. as No. 2 Company but, while in Egypt, came under the direct command of the 1st R.M. Group.  During November and December 1942, No. 1 Platoon unloaded mustard gas containers from ships at Fanara, to the south of Abu Sultan.  In June 1943, preparations were made to embark No. 2 Company for service in Ceylon.  Loading and embarkation on board H.M.T. V.V 1042, the S.S. Dominion Monarch, was completed by 16th June and the ship sailed later that day.  The ship’s anti-aircraft guns were manned Marines of No. 2 Company.  Upon arrival at Colombo on 26th June, the men disembarked and went to Richard’s Rest Camp.[32]

From 1st January 1943, the Workshop Company of the Landing & Maintenance Unit ceased to be a sub-unit of the unit and operated as an independent unit within the 1st R.M. Group.  This was deemed necessary due to the large amount of equipment held by the Group outside of the Landing & Maintenance Unit and the benefits of a more central approach.  It was also required due to the creation of an Inspection Staff.  It was intended that those personnel of the Company then serving in Ceylon, would be posted to the Workshop Company at such point in time that the 1st R.M. Group was reunited as whole.[33] 

Ceylon: July – November 1943

Upon arrival at Colombo on 16th July 1943, the L&M Unit travelled by rail that night to the Royal Navy Rest Camp, Diyatalawa where the men began three weeks leave. 

Orders issued on 19th July 1943, described the new organisation of the Group, designed to meet envisaged future operations.  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.  As a result of these changes, it seems that No.1 Landing Company was to be attached to 1 M.N.B. Brigade and No.2 Landing Company to 3 M.N.B. Brigade. [34] 

In August 1943, No.1 Landing Company at Ceylon sent a party to Welimada, near Wilson’s Plains (to prepare a camp for the rest of the company.[35]  It seems that the Company moved to this camp later that month.[36]  The 2nd Landing Company, was placed under the command of the 3 Mobile Naval Base Brigade on 23rd August 1943.  Upon arrival back from Addu Atoll on 11th September, the Boat Company and the accompanying elements of the Workshop Company were given three weeks’ leave at Diyatalawa.  Upon completion of the leave, they were struck off strength of the L&M Unit and the Boat Company disbanded on 15th October 1943, having been split into two platoons, one platoon being attached to each of the Landing Companies.  The personnel were posted to the shore base, H.M.S. Lanka.[37] 

The Group Motor Transport Company moved from Colombo to Ratmalana by September 1943. [38]

The Headquarters L&M Unit was disbanded with effect from 6th November 1943.  The Commanding Officer, Major D.M. Borland, is listed as the C.O. until 30th November 1943.  Thereafter, individual units continued in being under the direct command of the Royal Marine Group, M.N.B.D.O. I and include:

- No.1 Landing Company,
- No.2 Landing Company,
- Group Motor Transport Company,        (under command of the 3 M.N.B. Brigade)
- Workshop Company,
- Beach Park Company                          (formed 20th September 1943).

The 2nd Landing Company, which had been temporarily placed under the command of the 3 Mobile Naval Base Brigade in August 1943, came under the direct command of the H.Q. 1st R.M. Group with effect from 13th December 1943.[40]

During January 1944, No.1 Landing Company was located at the R.A.S.C. Training Depot, Nugecoda, Colombo and No.2 Landing Company at Chatham Camp.[41]

24 March 2023

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

[2] War diary L&M Group/L&M Unit, M.N.B.D.O. I, ADM 202/177

[3] ADM 202/132

[4] ADM 202/177; War diary M.N.B.D.O. I, ADM 202/132

[5] ADM 202/177

[6] ADM 202/177; War diary ‘X’ Battery, R.M., ADM 202/173

[7] ADM 202/177

[8] ADM 202/177

[9] War diary Force ‘Shortcut’, ADM 202/138

[10] 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.

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

[12] ADM 202/138

[13] ADM 202/138

[14] ADM 202/453; ADM 202/138

[15] Indian Ocean Bases: Addu Atoll, WO 106/3786

[16] ADM 202/453; ADM 202/138; ADM 202/137

[17] ADM 202/138; War diary 1st C.A. Brigade/1st Coast Regiment R.M., ADM 202/167; Diego Garcia, WO 106/3781; WO 106/3786

[18] ADM 202/138; WO 106/3786

[19] ADM 202/138

[20] ADM 202/138

[21] Orders of Battle, Indian Ocean Bases, WO 33/17523

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

[23] ADM 202/167

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

[25] ADM 202/177; War diary ‘Kent’ Battery, R.M., ADM 202/168

[26] ADM 202/177

[27] ADM 202/177

[28] ADM 202/177

[29] ADM 202/177

[30] ADM 202/177

[31] Reconnaissance of Port ‘T’, Addu Atoll and war diaries of Colonel C.T. Brown and Force ‘Shortcut’, ADM 202/453; War diary Force ‘Shortcut’, ADM 202/138; War diary of the 1st Royal Marine A.A. Brigade, WO 172/3788 – ADM 202/149; War diary M.N.B.D.O. I, ADM 202/132

[32] ADM 202/177; ‘W’ Company, R.M. Auxiliary Battalion – No.2 Landing Company, R.M., ADM 202/178; Royal Marine Auxiliary Battalion – 19 Battalion, R.M., ADM 202/181

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

[34] ADM 202/135

[35] ADM 202/177

[36] ADM 202/135

[37] The officers and personnel of the Boat Company were posted to H.M.S. Lanka on 15th October 1943.  The Boat Company was disbanded with effect from this date (ADM 202/135).  The Navy List continues to list the Boat Company under the command of M.N.B.D.O. I until at least April 1944 and by September 1944, even though the majority of officers listed had been posted on 15th October 1943  (ADM 202/177).

[38] ADM 202/135

[39] ADM 202/135

[40] ADM 202/192; ADM 202/135

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