Royal Marines in the Indian Ocean

Royal Marine Group, Mobile Naval Base Defence Organisation (M.N.B.D.O.)

A Self-Contained Defence Force

As the British saw it, an advanced naval base was a defended port from which military operations might be supported.  In a strictly naval context, the advanced base allowed warships to operate with greatly reduced lines of communication, often at a distance far from a main base.  An example from the First World War is the port of Mudros, on the Greek island of Lemnos, which supported operations in the Dardanelles.  Where an army has been landed and a beachhead established or a port seized, an advanced base allowed for the landing of supplies and reinforcements to sustain the Army as it progressed into enemy-held territory.  In strategic terms, notably the British plan to reinforce the Far East in war time by sending naval reinforcements from the United Kingdom across the Indian Ocean to Singapore, advanced bases were required where ships could take on fuel and water while in transit.  Whatever the type of operation being supported, the base would need to be defended from attack by sea, air or land.  It was with this purpose in mind, that in the years leading up to World War Two, the Royal Marines and the Royal Navy developed the concept of the Mobile Naval Base Defence Organisation (M.N.B.D.O.).  The major part of the Organisation was the Royal Marines Group – a self-contained force which could put itself ashore and establish coast and anti-aircraft artillery defences.  These would in turn, be protected by the Group’s own infantry force.[1]

During World War Two, two such organisations were formed and deployed overseas.  The first saw service in Crete and Egypt before deploying by stages to Indian Ocean Bases, Ceylon and India.  Originally known simply as the Royal Marine Group, M.N.B.D.O., after the formation of a second such formation, it became 1st Royal Marine Group, M.N.B.D.O. I.  The 2nd R.M. Group, M.N.B.D.O. II, saw service in Egypt and Sicily.  In May 1941, the 1st R.M. Group sent coast and anti-aircraft artillery detachments from Egypt to Crete and many Marines were lost when the island fell, mainly as prisoners of war.  In an operation more in keeping with the envisaged role of the M.N.B.D.O., in September 1941, two detachments of Marines were sent to the Indian Ocean to construct defences for the anchorage at Addu Atoll.   Detachments later built coast defences at Diego Suarez and Mauritius.  In February 1942, an Anti-Aircraft Brigade Group was sent from Egypt to reinforce the anti-aircraft defences at Ceylon.  In April 1942, Royal Marine anti-aircraft gunners were in action against Japanese naval aviators who attacked the island from aircraft carriers operating in the Bay of Bengal.  In June 1943, these were joined in Ceylon by the balance of the M.N.B.D.O. I.  Reunited for the first time since September 1941, the 1st R.M. Group was re-organised to provide two Mobile Naval Base Brigades, each with its own anti‑aircraft and coast artillery, infantry battalion, landing company and supporting elements.  One of these, based on the 1st R.M. A.A. Brigade, trained in India in the role of beachhead and port defence as part of projected amphibious operations in Southeast Asia. However, in early 1944 the 1st R.M. Group, together with the 2nd R.M. Group by then operating in Sicily, were recalled to the United Kingdom where they were redeployed in support of the forthcoming Allied invasion of Europe.  These Royal Marines went on to see service from D-Day as R.M. Commandos, as landing craft crews and, later, as anti-aircraft gunners in Belgium, coming into action against the V1 flying bomb.

For its envisaged role, the Royal Marine Group was to have been carried by specially equipped merchant ships.  The Group needed to get itself ashore, install the coast and anti-aircraft guns and to operate them.  The Royal Marines operated motor landing craft and other boats, supported by a Royal Navy boat company.  These needed local defence from an infantry component and a headquarters, supported by transport, workshop, signals, survey, supply and training detachments.  Much of the latter came to be attached directly to the Headquarters, as was the infantry of the Land Defence Force, provided by the 11th Battalion, R.M.  The elements involved in landing the guns, vehicles, equipment and supplies, were organised together with the workshop and transport detachments to form the Landing and Maintenance (L&M) Group.  Anti-aircraft defence was the responsibility of the Air Defence Brigade, which was formed of two anti-aircraft regiments, with both heavy and light anti-aircraft guns, and a searchlight regiment.  The coast defence artillery was formed into a Coast Artillery Brigade (later ‘Regiment’).  For this there were: three 6-inch coast batteries, with the role of counter bombardment against major enemy warships; two 4-inch coast batteries for close-in defence; an anti-motor torpedo battery with 2-pdr Pom-Poms which could also operate in the anti-aircraft role.  This organisation and its means of operation were developed from experiments conducted during the 1920s and 30s.


In the aftermath of the First World War, there were questions as to the future role of the Royal Marines.  Having undertaken a review, in 1924 the Madden Committee made several recommendations.  In addition to duties with the Fleet, it was suggested that in wartime, the Royal Marines could provide a strike force to assist the Army in amphibious landings and to seize advanced bases.  The Government of the time chose not to finance the strike force but did allow experiments in the landing of heavy guns, defence troops and technical specialists to occupy and defend an advanced base.  The idea for the Mobile Naval Defence Organisation had been developed by the Admiralty in 1920 and from 1924, the Royal Marines organised an experimental unit known as ‘X’ Unit with the purpose of working out how heavy guns might be landed to defend advanced bases.  Several exercises were held in the years that followed.[2] 

By 1935, the unit was called the M.N.B.D.O. Nucleus, commanded by a Royal Navy Captain and with a Royal Marines Lt. Colonel commanding three batteries of coast defence guns and a searchlight battery. The Nucleus also included a Royal Marines Landing, Transport and Workshop Company and a signals section.  Together with the artillery and searchlights, these formed the Royal Marines element, known as the Royal Marines Group.  There was also a Royal Navy element which included units for the operation of sea booms, mines and patrols.  In September 1935, the Nucleus was sent to Egypt to build coast defences there and in Palestine.  The work was completed by mid-October and the M.N.B.D.O. Nucleus returned to the United Kingdom in July 1936.  The Nucleus was expanded, receiving more funds, and began to develop an anti-aircraft capability.  The Organisation helped build defences at Scapa Flow.  There now followed an outflow of personnel as Fleet detachments were brought up to war establishment.  The Nucleus was then re-organised to form eight anti-aircraft batteries to defend Portsmouth.  From 14th August 1939, Royal Marines of the 1st Anti-Aircraft Battery, R.M. were manning Army anti-aircraft guns in Alexandria until these were handed over to the Army on 29th December, after which the Battery returned to the United Kingdom to be absorbed by the Nucleus.[3]

In September 1939, there were elements at Fort Cumberland, Portsmouth to form an air defence brigade headquarters, a signals company, fire control for 6-inch coast batteries and a Landing, Transport and Workshop Company.  There was little or no equipment and, possibly, no guns.  In the early summer of 1939, men from the Nucleus were posted to the Fortress Unit.  The Unit was formed of a Headquarters and five companies: Landing Company; Ship Unloading Company; Gun-Mounting Company; Boat Company; Transport Company.  In effect, it was a forerunner of the Landing and Maintenance Groups, which it became regarded as subsequently.  Elements under Colonel C.T. Brown, R.M., sailed for Scapa Flow on board the S.S. Theseus in July 1939 where they built defences.  In Liverpool, the Unit modified the S.S. Mashobra as a landing ship.  The Mashobra, her fitting out having been completed at Portsmouth, spent some time on the Clyde from October 1939.  The ship’s anti-aircraft guns were in action there and several practice landings were made.  The Unit sailed for Norway on the Mashobra, becoming independent of the M.N.B.D.O.  The Unit worked to unload ships delivering supplies to the Army in Norway and on 23rd May 1940, the Mashobra was bombed and had to be beached.  The ship was saved, however, and returned to the United Kingdom, arriving on 5th June.  The Unit then sailed for Iceland to land at Reykjavik on 12th July 1940.  Here, guns were unloaded and transported, gun sites were prepared and the guns installed.  The Unit returned to the United Kingdom at the end of October where it was then disbanded and the personnel absorbed into M.N.B.D.O. II in early January 1941.[4]

The Royal Marine Group, M.N.B.D.O. is Formed

Within days of the start of World War Two, on 12th September 1939, the formation of the M.N.B.D.O. was approved.  The war establishment was set at 78 Officers and 2,150 Other Ranks.  Some training began but equipment was scarce.  A skeleton Royal Marine Group Headquarters was formed on 29th January 1940 at Fort Cumberland, Portsmouth.  Also formed were the nuclei of the Headquarters, Air Defence Group, Instructor of Fire Control, Quartermaster and Land Defence Force.  Work began on the revision of war establishments, war equipment tables and arrangements for the intake and training of personnel.  By 1st February, an establishment of 202 Officers and 4,089 Other Ranks had been defined.  A Home Based Ledger was created at the Portsmouth Division to administer the pay of all personnel posted to the M.N.B.D.O.[5] 

On 15th February 1940, the Coast Defence Group was formed with Major L.O. Jones as Instructor of Gunnery.  That day, 2,010 Royal Marines personnel joined the Group.  Also formed were: 1st R.M. Anti-Aircraft Regiment (nucleus formed on 5th February [6]); No.11 Searchlight Regiment (nucleus formed on 12th February); 1st Coast Defence Brigade (15th February 1940); and the Land Defence Force (later the 11th Battalion, R.M.).  The 1st A.A. Regiment began training at Arborfield, Carlisle and Blandford; No.11 S.L. Regiment began training at Taunton and Yeovil; the Coast Artillery Brigade at Fort Cumberland; the Land Defence Force at Browndown, near Gosport.[7]

Brigadier E.C. Weston assumed command of the Royal Marine Group on 1st March 1940.  By 1st April, the strength of the Group had reached 160 Officers and 3,224 Other Ranks.  The 1st A.A. Regiment, R.M. moved to practice camps at Penhale, Cleeve and Towyn on 15th April.  The 2nd A.A. Regiment, R.M., was formed at Arborfield, Blandford and Carlisle on 15th April.  The Group was organised thus:[8]

Royal Marine Group, M.N.B.D.O.:
            - Group Headquarters,
            - Headquarters Wing,
            - Signal Company,
            - Survey Section,
            - 1st A.A. Regiment R.M.,
            - 2nd A.A. Regiment, R.M.,
            - No.11 Searchlight Regiment, R.M.,
            - Coast Artillery Brigade, R.M.,
            - Landing and Maintenance Group,
            - Land Defence Force,
            - Base Depot.

Following the German invasion of Norway in April 1940, British forces were sent to aid the Norwegians.  On 18th April, a 3.7-inch howitzer battery was formed under Captain G.W. Wilson and sent on ‘special services’ to Norway.  Two days later, on 20th April, the 2nd R.M. Special Coast Artillery Brigade was formed under Lt. Colonel W.L. Lukis.  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 with the decision by the British and French near the end of April to withdraw from southern and central Norway, the Brigade was disbanded on 30th April without having been despatched.[9]

The 31st R.M. Howitzer Battery was ‘reconstructed’ on 14th May 1940 and ‘A’ Section of the Battery under Lieutenant S.V. Peskett left Portsmouth on 17th May 1940 for special service at Lerwick in the Shetland Islands.  The Battery moved to Dover on 25th May.  It was at Manorbier in Pembrokeshire in when on 10th September it left there for the R.M. Camp at South Hayling.[10]

On 24th May 1940, the Royal Marines Quick Firing Regiment was formed under Lt. Colonel G.W.M. Grover.  It was formed of two batteries – the 41st and the 42nd – each equipped with twelve 12-pounder guns mounted on lorries.  The following day, the Regimental Headquarters and the 41st Battery sailed from Southampton for Dunkirk the following day.  However, the R.H.Q. and the 41st Battery did not land and returned to Portsmouth on 28th May.  During July, the three Batteries were disbanded: the 42nd at Portsmouth on 12th July; the 41st Battery at Portsmouth on 20th July; the 43rd Battery at Plymouth on 31st July.[11]

Five special Coast Defence Batteries were formed on 25th May 1940, each with two 6-inch naval guns.  The batteries at Littlehampton, Deal and Ramsgate were manned by personnel from Portsmouth Division.  The two batteries at Folkstone were manned by men of the Plymouth Division.  The Regiment was reorganised on 30th May to be formed of three batteries each of eight 12-pounder guns – numbers 41-43 Batteries.  On 2nd June, the Batteries went on active service with the Army: the 41st Battery went to the 15th Infantry Division at Dunmow, Essex; the 42nd Battery to the 5th Loyal Regiment at Crowborough, Sussex; the 43rd Battery to the 18th Infantry Division at Norwich.[12]

By 1st July 1940, the strength of the R.M. Group, M.N.B.D.O. was 205 Officers and 4,350 Other Ranks.  On 3rd July, a party of fourteen Officers and 300 Other Ranks was provided to take over vessels of the French Navy in Portsmouth Dockyard.  There were no casualties.  A Siege Battery was formed on 6th July to man a siege gun on the southeast coast.[13]

On 11th July 1940, the Luftwaffe raided Portsmouth, but no damage was done to the M.N.B.D.O. and there were no casualties.  The next day, a German bomber was driven over Fort Cumberland by Royal Air Force fighters and shot down over Portsdown Hill.  Fort Cumberland was heavily bombed on 26th August.  Much damage was inflicted and the M.N.B.D.O. suffered four Officers three Other Ranks killed; one Officer died of injuries; two Officers and twelve men injured.[14]

R.M. Group, M.N.B.D.O. - Location Statement for 1st November 1940

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The first information of a 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.  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.  Anti-Aircraft Command was notified by Home Forces on 21st November that all Royal Marines anti-aircraft batteries were being placed at seven days’ notice to revert to Royal Marines control.  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.[15]

On 1st January 1941, ‘X’ Battery and the A.M.T.B. Battery ceased to be operational at Sunk Island, Hull and Plymouth respectively.  The Royal Marines Air Defence Brigade was formed to bring the two Royal Marines Anti-Aircraft Regiments and No.11 Searchlight Regiment under a single command.  The 2nd A.A. Regiment, R.M. ceased to be operational in the Nottingham and Derby areas on 4th January and went into billets in the Derby area.  ‘S’ Battery, No/.11 Searchlight Regiment, ceased to be operational in the Plymouth area on 12th January and moved into billets in the Southend area.[16]

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.[17]

By Sea to Egypt

The loading of unit stores for transport by rail to the port of embarkation began at Portsmouth on 19th January 1941.  Meanwhile, movement orders were issued throughout the month.  By 1st February 1941, the strength of the 1st R.M. Group, M.N.B.D.O. I was 267 Officers and 4,909 Other Ranks.  The Group H.Q. closed at Fort Cumberland Portsmouth on 4th February as the personnel made their way to Glasgow for embarkation.  At King George V Dock, Glasgow, the personnel embarked upon three troopships, with the Group H.Q. on board H.1 – H.T. Bergensfjord.  The personnel embarked for service in the Middle East were 244 Officers and 4,878 Other Ranks.  The Group provided anti-aircraft detachments for each of the three troopships and for three other ships, known only by their ‘R’ designation: R.91; R.99; R.100.  Embarkation appears to have been completed on 5th February and the ships sailed on 8th February to meet other elements of the convoy off Oversay on 9th February.[18]

Personnel of 1st R.M. Group embarked in ships of Convoy WS 6

H.1 – H.T. Bergensfjord

H.6 – H.T. Rangitata

H.12 – H.T. Almanzora

Group H.Q.
H.Q. Wing
Air Defence Brigade H.Q.
H.Q. 2nd A.A. Regiment
‘C’ Battery, less det.
23rd L.A.A. Bty, less det.
H.Q. Coast Artillery Brigade
Devon’ Battery
‘X’ Battery
H.Q. L&M Group
Landing Company
H.Q. & H.Q. Coy, 11th Bn, RM
‘D’ M.G. Coy, 11th Bn, R.M.

H.Q. 1st A.A. Regiment
‘A’ Battery, less det.
22nd L.A.A. Battery
‘S’ Searchlight Battery, less det
Kent’ Battery
Transport Company
‘A’ Coy, 11th Bn, R.M.

‘B’ Battery, less det.
‘D’ Battery
H.Q. 11th S/L Regiment
‘R’ Searchlight Bty, less det.
‘Z’ Battery
A.M.T.B. Battery
Workshop Company
Boat Company
‘B’ & ‘C’ Coys, 11th Bn, R.M.

Total Personnel:  1,914

Total Personnel:  1,498

Total Personnel:  1,654

R.M. Anti-Aircraft Detachments – Convoy WS 6

H.1 – H.T. Bergensfjord

H.6 – H.T. Rangitata

H.12 – H.T. Almanzora

C’ Battery, 2nd A.A. Regiment

S’ Battery, 11th S/L/ Regiment

R’ Battery, 11th S/L Regiment




23rd L.A.A. Bty, 2nd A.A. Regt.

‘A’ Battery, 1st A.A. Regiment

‘B’ Battery, 1st A.A. Regiment

Convoy WS 6 arrived off Freetown on 1st March 1941 where it was joined by other ships (Convoy WS 6B).  The convoy set sail again on 8th March and as it approached South Africa, it was divided between the destinations of Cape Town and Durban in what was by now the usual fashion of the eastbound convoys.  On 21st March, Bergensfjord and Almanzora, together with other ships, were detached as a fast section to Cape Town to take on water.  These ships left the next day for Durban, where they arrived on 26th March.  Rangitata arrived at Durban that same day where both it and Almanzora disembarked the personnel being carried and detached from the convoy.  The Royal Marines were transferred to other ships for the onward journey to Egypt, most notably Costa Rica and Dilwara.[19]

Personnel of 1st R.M. Group embarked in ships of Convoy WS 6 from South Africa

H.T. Bergensfjord

J.8 - H.T. Costa Rica

H.T. Dilwara

Group H.Q.
H.Q. Wing
Air Defence Brigade H.Q.
H.Q. 2nd A.A. Regiment
‘C’ Battery
23rd L.A.A. Bty
H.Q. Coast Artillery Brigade
Devon’ Battery
‘X’ Battery
H.Q. L&M Group
Landing Company
H.Q. & H.Q. Coy, 11th Bn, RM
‘D’ M.G. Coy, 11th Bn, R.M.


H.Q. 1st A.A. Regiment
‘S’ Searchlight Battery
Kent’ Battery
Transport Company
‘A’ Coy, 11th Bn, R.M.

‘B’ Battery
‘D’ Battery
H.Q. 11th S/L Regiment
‘R’ Searchlight Bty
‘Z’ Battery
A.M.T.B. Battery
Workshop Company
Boat Company
‘C’ Coy, 11th Bn, R.M.

H.15-H.T. Llanstephan Castle

J.9 – possibly H.T. Dilwara??


‘B’ Coy, 11th Bn, R.M.

‘A’ Battery
22nd L.A.A. Battery


The ‘A’ and 22nd L.A.A. Batteries remained at Clairwood Camp, Durban until 1st April 1941 when 22nd L.A.A. Battery boarded H.M.T. J.9. for Egypt.[20]

While at sea en route to Durban, on 24th March 1941, it was announced that the designation of three units would change from 1st April:

Old Title

New Title

Landing & Maintenance Group

Landing & Maintenance Unit

Boat Unit

Boat Company

G.L. Unit

G.L. Section


The convoy left Durban on 1st April 1941.  The ships began arriving at Suez on 20th April at a time when there was a great need for personnel ships to evacuate Allied troops from Greece.  Seven ships of the convoy were allocated to this task even before they had disembarked.  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 next day, these ships sailed for Alexandria to be ready to sail to Greece.  The Royal Marines, having disembarked in Egypt, went to El Tahag where they went into camp.[21]

Egypt and Crete

Within the days, the evacuation of troops from Greece was underway.  Previously, Major-General Weston and two other officers of M.N.B.D.O. I, having arrived in Alexandria from Durban on 29th March, left on 6th April on board H.M.S. Mohawk to review the defences of Crete.  Having completed their reconnaissance, these officers flew back to Egypt on 15th April.  Within days, they were back, arriving on 22nd April, whereupon Major-General Weston assumed the appointment of General Officer Commanding, British Troops in Crete.  His first task was to make arrangements to receive the troops evacuated from Greece.  Colonel C.T. Brown assumed command of the 1st R.M. Group, M.N.B.D.O. in Egypt in Weston’s absence.  On 30th April, General Weston relinquished command of the troops in Crete to the New Zealand Major-General B.C. Freyberg, just arrived from Greece.  General Weston then assumed command of Suda Area.[22]

In Egypt, the Royal Marines now prepared to send detachments to reinforce the defences at Crete.  An Advance Party left El Tahag on 1st May 1941 and upon reaching Port Said, boarded the H.T. City of Canterbury, awaiting departure to Crete.  The next day, confirmation was received that elements of the 1st R.M. Group were to deploy to the Suda Bay area, Crete.  The next day, confirmation was received that elements of the 1st R.M. Group were to deploy to the Suda Bay area, Crete.  The H.Q., 1st A.A. Regiment, ‘B’ Battery and the 22nd L.A.A. Battery were put on four hours’ notice to go to Crete but in the end these units remained in Egypt.   Between 1st and 4th May, the H.Q., 2nd A.A. Regiment, R.M. with gunners from ‘A’ Battery, 1st A.A. Regiment, R.M. and from ‘C’ Battery, 2nd A.A. Regiment, R.M., embarked upon the City of Canterbury, joining men from the Landing and Maintenance Unit (from the Landing and Transport Companies) who had boarded on 1st May.  Some personnel, including the Workshop Company, disembarked on 3rd and 4th May to remain in Egypt.  Also on board were the men and guns of ‘X’ and ‘Z’ Coast Batteries.  On 6th May the ship sailed for Crete.  That evening, the ship broke down, but the engines were repaired in the early hours of the following morning and the ship sailed on to meet its escort of destroyers.  On 8th May, the convoy was attacked by Italian torpedo bombers and the stores ship Rawnsley was damaged.  The convoy continued and the following day disembarked at Suda Bay.   A second detachment of Royal Marines left Egypt on 11th May, consisting of the 23rd L.A.A. and ‘S’ Searchlight Batteries, R.M.  These men disembarked at Suda Bay on 14th May.  The German invasion of Crete began on 20th May and after precarious initial operations, the Germans gained the upper hand.  Allied troops withdrew to Sphakia where many were picked up and evacuated to Egypt.  By 1st June, those Royal Marines fortunate enough to have been picked up from the beaches had arrived in Alexandria.  Many of their comrades went into German captivity.  From a force of around two thousand two hundred, Royal Marines losses on Crete were: 114 killed; 30 wounded; 1,035 prisoners of war.  Major-General Weston was evacuated by Sunderland flying boat.  On 13th June, word was received of the arrival at Mersa Matruh of Major R. Garret and 184 men who had escaped from Crete by M.L.C.  Having left Sphakia on 1st June, the landing craft reached Mersa Matruh on the night of 8th/9th June.  The party on board included Major Garret, two other R.M. Officers and 46 R.M. Other Ranks.  Sadly, Marine Bradford, one of these men, was killed in an air raid on Mersa Matruh on the night of 10th/11th June.[23]

1st R.M. Group, M.N.B.D.O. I - Location Statement for 20th May 1941

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In Egypt, meanwhile, in response to the possibility of an airborne attack on the Suez Canal, elements of the 1st Coast Artillery Brigade and the Headquarters, Air Defence Brigade, were hastily organised into an infantry battalion to defend the R.A.F. Station, Abu Suier.  This was known as the Royal Marines Striking Force and it remained in being in modified form until September 1941.[24]

The survivors of ‘X’ and ‘Z’ Batteries who returned from Crete were formed into a single unit at El Tahag Camp.  The unit was known as ‘X’ and ‘Z’ Details and was placed under the command of the senior officer remaining, Captain C.R. Blount, R.M., who was one of several officers and men who escaped from Crete in a marine landing craft.  The detachment was organised into infantry platoons which joined the R.M. Striking Force on 1st July.  ‘Z’ Battery was reformed in August and subsequently joined Force ‘Shortcut’.  ‘X’ Battery was not reformed until 4th June 1942.[25]

Major-General Weston re-assumed command of the 1st R.M. Group on 15th June.  Colonel Brown assumed command of the Air Defence Brigade.  A detachment of Royal Marines, Force ‘B.O.4’, equipped with two G.L. radar sets, was sent to Cyprus on 26th June.[26] 

Reorganisation and Deployment to the Indian Ocean

Orders for the reconstitution of units after the losses in Crete were issued on 17th June.  The major units affected were: the 1st and 2nd A.A. Regiments; the two light anti-aircraft batteries, 22nd and 23rd; the 11th Searchlight Regiment; the 1st Coast Artillery Brigade.  At this time, the 1st A.A. Regiment was serving under H.Q. British Troops Egypt.

A.A. Regiments:  each regiment was to have been reconstructed in an identical manner, forming two skeleton heavy anti-aircraft batteries and one skeleton light battery.  As reinforcements arrived, the batteries were to have been brought up to war establishment.  Within the 1st A.A. Regiment, ‘B’ Battery was to be split, with the odd-numbered sections forming a new ‘A’ Battery.  Within the 2nd A.A. Regiment, ‘D’ Battery undertook the same action to form a new ‘C’ Battery.  The 22nd L.A.A. Battery transferred its No.2 Troop to the 2nd A.A. Regiment, to which were added the evacuees from Crete of the 23rd L.A.A. Battery.

11th Searchlight Regiment:   the personnel of ‘S’ Battery who were evacuated from Crete returned to the Regiment after receiving new kit and were sent on leave.  ‘R’ Battery was to have been split to form two new batteries, ‘R’ and ‘S’.

1st Coast Artillery Brigade:   proposals for the re-organisation of the Brigade were deferred until it became known what replacement armament was to have been provided.[27]

On 15th July 1941, Major A.E. Ebsworth left by air for the United Kingdom to arrange for the re-equipping and replacement personnel of the 1st Royal Marine Group, M.N.B.D.O. I.  Two days later, authorisation was given to form the 1st R.M. Group Reinforcement Depot.  Formed at Geneifa, the Depot’s main responsibilities were: the processing of reinforcements; holding of details awaiting draft; conducting training classes.[28]

Colonel C.T. Brown assumed command of the 1st R.M. Group, M.N.B.D.O. I, on 16th July 1941.[29]

1st R.M. Group, M.N.B.D.O. I - Location Statement for 1st July 1941

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On 1st September 1941, warning orders were issued for ‘Operations at Ports “T” and “W”’, which were to lead to the construction of defended naval bases in the Indian Ocean.  Port “T” was Addu Atoll; Port “W” was to be at Nancowry in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.  Two days later, Colonel C.T. Brown and Major G.A. Newling left Cairo to conduct reconnaissance of the two island sites.  Further orders in anticipation of these operations were issued on 5th September, including one for reinforcements to the 1st Coast Regiment.  This unit was to be a major component of the forthcoming operations and was re-organised in the expectation of providing two ‘Fire Commands’:

Fire Command ‘T’ (Addu Atoll)
            Fire Command H.Q.,
            three, two-gun 6-inch coast defence batteries,
            a one-gun 4-inch coast defence battery.

Fire Command ‘W’ (Nancowry)
            Fire Command H.Q.,
            two, two-gun 4-inch coast defence batteries.

The second major component of these operations was provided by the Landing and Maintenance Unit.  The various sub-units were allocated as follows:

L&M Unit H.Q.; Landing Company:  these were to embark complete and to be prepared to support the installation of both Fire Commands.  Port ‘T’ was the first priority.

Transport Company:  given the nature of the islands, there was a very limited requirement for the Transport Company.  The H.Q. Transport Company was to remain in Egypt with the balance of the unit.

Boat Company:  This company was also delegated to support the two Force Commands, operating M.L.C.s, power boats and skiffs.  Those elements not accompanying the troops to the Indian Ocean were to remain in Egypt at Kabrit.

Workshop Company:  A small detachment was provided to maintain the guns, transport and boats at each island location.  The balance of the Company remained in Egypt.[30]

Unit Loading on Landing Ships for Addu Atoll - September 1941

The distribution of units and personnel on the landing ships for Addu Atoll - September 1941.

(War diary M.N.B.D.O. I, ADM 202/132)

Preparations complete, the detachment for the Indian Ocean, organised into Force ‘Shortcut’ and Force ‘Piledriver’ moved to Suez on 19th September and sailed the next day, under the overall command of Colonel Brown.  He was succeeded as commander of the 1st R.M. Group by Lt. Colonel M.H.W. Webb-Bowen, R.M.  Colonel Brown resumed command of the 1st R.M. Group on 18th October.[31]

The Indian Ocean Bases

The Marines were carried to Addu Atoll by the landing ship, H.M.S. Glenroy and the transport, Clan Forbes – Force ‘Piledriver’, with elements of the L&M Unit, travelled on the former, the L&M Unit with ‘Z’ Battery and the A.M.T.B. battery on the latter.  The ships arrived at the islands on 30th September 1941.  In support 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).  The plan for the defence 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.  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.  By 2nd November, the rising sick list was becoming a concern.  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 presence of large numbers of mosquitoes at certain sites was also noted.  The hospital ship H.M.H.S. Vita was sent to the islands and upon arrival the sick were transferred to this ship.[32]   

1st R.M. Group, M.N.B.D.O. I - Location Statement for 1st October 1941

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By the beginning of December 1941, the work at Addu Atoll was nearing completion.  The relieving Indian Garrison arrived on 3rd January 1942 and the Royal Marines of Force ‘Piledriver’ left on 14th January and arrived at Colombo two days later.  Almost immediately upon arrival, on 4th February 1942, the Regiment formed a new detachment -  a ‘Special Volunteer Force’ to “…act as Commandos with H.M. Ships”.  The Volunteer Force, under the command of Major D. Johnston was in fact sent to Burma where it manned river launches on the Irrawaddy River under the name Force ‘Viper’.[33] 

Force ‘Shortcut’ left Addu Atoll for Diego Garcia on 26th November 1941.  Arriving two days later, unloading began and by the time the Marines left on 4th December, the sites for two 6-inch guns had been built and the guns unloaded but not installed.  Sailing via Addu Atoll, Force ‘Shortcut’ reached Colombo on 8th December.  Such was the concern about the health of the men, it had been decided the Force ‘Shortcut’ should be given two weeks rest in Ceylon, before sailing to construct the base at Nancowry.  With the entry into the war of Japan, the Admiralty revised plans for the development of new bases in the Indian Ocean, and on 14th December 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.  The Force returned to Diego Garcia on 15th January 1942 to complete the installation of the guns landed previously.  This was done on 18th and 19th January.  Additional construction work followed before Force ‘Shortcut’ returned to Colombo, disembarking on 19th March and was disbanded the next day.[34]

In June 1942, the Clan Forbes carried the L&M Unit and ‘Kent’ Battery of the 1st Coast Regiment to the Seychelles.  Positions for both 6-inch and 4-inch guns were built and on 13th August, the L&M personnel boarded the Clan Forbes and sailed for Ceylon the next day.  The ‘Kent’ Battery remained behind to man the 4-inch battery at North East Point, Mahe.  In October, the Battery was relieved by the 27th Coast Battery, H.K.S.R.A. and returned to Ceylon, disembarking on 26th October.   The L&M Unit returned to Addu Atoll on 1st October, where ‘Q’ Company, Royal Marine Engineers, were building a naval air station.  The L&M Unit was mainly engaged with the unloading of ships and light construction work, and at the end of November sent a detachment to improve the existing facilities at Diego Garcia.  Most of the Unit returned to Ceylon, arriving at Colombo on 16th July, whereupon it went to the R.N. Rest Camp at Diyatalawa for three weeks leave.[35]

Egypt and the Despatch of the Anti-Aircraft Brigade to Ceylon

Those Royal Marines remaining in Egypt were often deployed in support of the Army whilst continuing to train in their normal role.  The H.Q. 1st R.M. Group was in Cairo, co-located with G.H.Q. Middle East Force.  On 5th November 1941, the first orders were issued for a re-organisation of the Air Defence Brigade.  This was followed on 21st November, by orders for the reorganisation and employment of the Transport Company.   The reorganisation of the Air Defence Brigade was driven, at least in the beginning, by the need to overcome the anticipated accommodation difficulties likely to arise when the expected reinforcements arrived from the Reinforcement Depot, thought to be happening in mid-January 1942.  The proposal was to regroup the anti-aircraft batteries:

1st A.A. Regiment:  would consist of ‘B’, ‘D’ and 22nd L.A.A. Batteries and to remain in the Cairo area on Internal Security duties.

2nd A.A. Regiment: to consist of ‘A’, ‘C’ and 23rd L.A.A. Batteries.

The Transport Company was on 1st January 1942, to leave the Landing and Maintenance Unit to become an independent unit under the 1st R.M. Group.  The balance of personnel of the Landing and Maintenance Unit in Egypt, referred to as ‘L&M Details’, were to remain under the orders of the Transport Company until they could re-join the Landing and Maintenance Unit.[36]

The title of the Reinforcement Depot was changed to become R.M. Base Depot, 1st R.M. Group, M.N.B.D.O. I, on 19th November 1941.[37]

On 6th December 1941, Major-General Weston returned to Egypt and re-assumed command of the 1st R.M. Group.  Four days later, orders were issued for a ‘temporary reorganisation’ of the 1st R.M. Group.  The reorganisation was driven by the need to have the Group ready for operations in the near future despite being short of personnel, the necessary reinforcements not being expected for some months to come.  The key points of the changes, intended to be temporary, were:

Anti-Aircraft Units:  the re-grouping of the batteries of the 1st and 2nd Regiments, together with the relocation of the 2nd Regiment from Cairo, was to take place shortly, as proposed by the orders issued on 5th November.  Reinforcements training as anti-aircraft gunners were, in the main, to be used to fill out the war establishment of the 1st A.A. Regiment,

2nd A.A. Regiment:  in addition to employment in the anti-aircraft role when needed and in the absence of the 1st Coast Regiment, R.M., the gunners were to be trained to man the coast defence guns then available - one battery of three 6-inch guns and one battery of four 2-pounder Pom-Poms,

11th Searchlight Regiment:  at some future date, the Regiment was to be prepared to provide a single searchlight battery of 24 lights and two D.E.L. (Defence Electric Light – a coast defence searchlight) sections, each of four detachments with one light each.[38]

On 12th December 1941, an order was issued for the reformation of the Heavy and Light Anti-Aircraft Batteries.  The 22nd L.A.A. Battery was to move to Cairo under the 1st A.A. Regiment, joining ‘D’ and ‘B’ Batteries on internal security duties.  The H.Q. 2nd A.A. Regiment with ‘A’ and ‘C’ Batteries was to move to Moascar; the 23rd L.A.A. Battery was to remain at its then operational sites.  It was thought that equipment for the heavy batteries of the 1st A.A. Regiment, to replace what had been lost in Crete, might arrive during January 1942.  This was followed the next day by an order concerning the posting of reinforcements to the 1st Anti-Aircraft Regiment, R.M.  This order also confirmed the ‘regrouping’ of the 1st A.A. Regiment, which with immediate effect, was to consist of ‘B’ and ‘D’ Heavy Batteries and the 22nd L.A.A. Battery; ‘A’ Battery was transferred to the 2nd A.A. Regiment.[39] 

On 14th December, an order was issued for the formation of an “ant-aircraft brigade group”.  The ‘A.A. Brigade Group’ was to be formed under the command of Colonel C.T. Brown.  It would consist of:

- Brigade Headquarters,
- 1st Heavy A.A. Regiment, R.M.                        ‘B’, ‘C’ and ‘D’ Batteries,
- 22nd L.A.A. Battery, R.M.                                four troops,
- one Gun Operating Room detachment,
- one G.L. (radar) section,
- a signal section.

The Brigade H.Q. would be formed from the existing Air Defence Brigade H.Q. with minor changes to the Brigade Staff.  The three heavy batteries of the 1st H.A.A. Regiment were to be brought up to full strength by reinforcements from the R.M. Base Depot.  In addition, ‘A’ Battery was to be disbanded and all personnel transferred to ‘C’ Battery.  The L.A.A. Battery was formed from the 22nd and 23rd L.A.A. Batteries into a single, four troop battery, and retained the title of the 22nd L.A.A. Battery, R.M.  The following day, 15th December 1941, these orders were amended.  The major amendments were:

1st A.A. Regiment, R.M.:  the headquarters of this regiment would now consist of the H.Q. 2nd A.A. Regiment, R.M., re-titled as the 1st A.A.[?] Regiment, R.M., and commanded by Lt. Colonel C.M. Sergeant.  The Regiment was to be formed of ‘B’, ‘C’ and ‘D’ Batteries.

2nd A.A. Regiment, R.M.:  the headquarters of the regiment would be the H.Q. of the former 1st A.A. Regiment, R.M.

On 20th December 1941, it was confirmed that Royal Marines personnel on guard duties in Cairo would be relieved by men of the 7th Armoured Brigade.  The A.A. Brigade Group was to complete concentration at Tahag and was, from this date, effectively removed from the operational control of H.Q. B.T.E.  The code word ‘Scrumhalf’ was allocated to the move of the Brigade Group overseas and the Brigade was for some time referred to as Force ‘Scrumhalf’.  The title of the 1st A.A. Regiment was amended on 27th December to become the 1st Heavy A.A. Regiment, R.M, it no longer having a light anti-aircraft component.  The Commander of the Air Defence Brigade, Colonel C.T. Brown, assumed command of the A.A. Brigade Group with effect from 29th December 1941.[40]

The intended destination for the A.A. Brigade Group was Ceylon (today Sri Lanka), where the major ports and naval bases of Colombo and Trincomalee were in desperate need of anti-aircraft defences.  As part of the preparations, on 3rd January 1942 orders were issued that two of the three heavy batteries of the 1st A.A. Regiment, R.M., were to be organised to provide one four-gun section and two, two-gun sections each.[41] 

With the 1st R.M. Group being split across several theatres, on 5th January 1942 details were published by the Headquarters for the imminent re-organisation of the Group.  The details were:

The 1st R.M. A.A. Brigade Group:  was to remain under the operational and administrative control of the G.O.C. India (at that time responsible for the defence of Ceylon) until such time as the Brigade Group was reunited with the 1st R.M. Group in the Middle East,

Force ‘Piledriver’:  the personnel of the 1st Coast Regiment, R.M. were expected to return to the Middle East for re-equipping; detachments from the Landing and Maintenance Unit and R.M. medical personnel were to remain in Ceylon, awaiting the arrival of Force ‘Shortcut’,

Force ‘Shortcut’:  personnel of the 1st Coast Regiment were to return to the Middle East at the earliest opportunity; personnel of the Landing and Maintenance Unit were to join with those from Force ‘Piledriver’ in Ceylon and the unit re-constituted and brought up to full strength, and to remain in Ceylon prepared for further improvement work to Indian Ocean bases. [42]

As these orders were being issued, the personnel of Force ‘Piledriver’ at Addu Atoll, having been relieved by incoming Indian troops, were embarking on board ship for transfer to Ceylon.  Those of Force ‘Shortcut’, after a period of rest in Ceylon, were about to leave for Diego Garcia.  As often happened, the intentions summarised above did not come to be and the personnel of both the 1st Coast Regiment and the L&M Unit subsequently did not return to the Middle East, remaining in Ceylon following completion of their construction work on the islands.[43]

The 1st R.M. Anti-Aircraft Brigade Group embarked at Suez in ships W.W. 1178 (H.T. City of Paris) and W.W. 522 on 15th January 1942.  The convoy sailed for Ceylon the next day and disembarked at Colombo on 1st February.  Upon arrival in Ceylon, the Commanding Officer of the Brigade, Colonel C.T. Brown, R.M. assumed command of all anti-aircraft defences in Ceylon and became known as the Commander Anti-Aircraft, Ceylon.  The Brigade Headquarters became designated as Headquarters, Anti-Aircraft Command Ceylon and was under the control of G.H.Q. India.  Once in Ceylon, a small administrative headquarters was opened, known as the Headquarters, R.M. Base Depot, East Indies.  All correspondence of a purely Royal Marines administrative nature, until then referred to the H.Q., 1st R.M. Group, would be sent to the new headquarters in Ceylon for onward transmission to: 1st R.M. A.A. Brigade Group; Forces ‘Piledriver’ and ‘Shortcut’; and the Landing and Maintenance Unit.[44]

1st R.M. Group, M.N.B.D.O. I - Location Statement for 2nd February 1942

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The Defence of Egypt

In June 1942, with Axis forces now threatening the British base in Egypt, the Royal Marines were reorganised to respond to this threat.  The ‘X’ Battery was reformed on 14th June 1942.  The 2nd A.A. Regiment, R.M. was placed under the command of H.Q. B.T.E. during June 1942.  The ‘A’ Battery appears to have come under the command of the 1st A.A. Brigade in the Suez area from 28th June.  The 23rd L.A.A. Battery came under the command of H.Q. B.T.E. from 30th June 1942.  At the end of June, twelve Royal Marines were assigned to man motor launches of a newly organised Nile River Flotilla.  The role of the flotilla was to prevent possible infiltration by enemy troops across the Nile from the west bank.  The launches were operated by Royal Navy personnel.  Other contingency preparations were made whereby R.M. units and detachments not already attached to higher formations were to take their orders from the Area Commander in whose Area they were accommodated.[45]

In July, as part of a deception scheme designed to mislead Axis intelligence as to the order of battle of the British Forces in the Middle East, the 1st R.M. Group became known as the ‘23rd Division’.  This title was to be used in all communications for which detailed instructions were issued under the codename, ‘Deception Scheme “CASCADE”’.[46]

In October 1942, ‘W’ Company was re-titled as No.2 Company (later, it became No.2 Landing Company) and incorporated as part of the Landing & Maintenance Unit, 1st R.M. Group.  No.2 Company did not immediately join the Landing & Maintenance Unit in Ceylon, and for the time being remained in Egypt under the direct command of the 1st R.M. Group.[47]

On 5th November 1942, as part of Operation ‘Sneeze’, an R.M. Emergency Battalion was formed under Lt. Colonel J.T. Hall.  The operation appears to have been planned to take place in the Suez Canal Zone.  It was cancelled, however, on 16th November and the Emergency Battalion returned to Geneifa.[48]

From 1st January 1943, the Workshop Company of the Landing & Maintenance Unit ceased to be a sub-unit of the unit and instead operated as an independent unit within the 1st R.M. Group.  This was deemed necessary given 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 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.  The amended organisation of the 1st R.M. Group, M.N.B.D.O. I was issued (albeit dated 19th December 1942):

H.Q. 1st R.M. Group
            Signals Company
            Transport Company
            Workshop Company
            Survey and Meteorological Section
            Air Defence Brigade
                        1st A.A. Regiment, R.M.
                        2nd A.A. Regiment, R.M.
                        11th Searchlight Regiment, R.M.
            1st Coast Regiment, R.M.
                        2 X 3-gun 6-inch batteries
                        2 X 2-gun 4-inch batteries
                        1 X 4-gun A.M.T.B. battery        
            Landing & Maintenance Unit
                        No.s 1 and 2 Landing Companies
                        Boat Company (R.N.)
            Company, R.M.E.
            11th Battalion, R.M.
            R.M. Base Depot.[49]

1st R.M. Group, M.N.B.D.O. I - Location Statement for 1st January 1943

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On 26th January 1943, instructions were issued for an Emergency Brigade to be formed by units of the 1st R.M. Group, should the need arise.  The Brigade was to consist of a headquarters and three R.M. infantry battalions: the 11th, 50th and 51st Battalions.  The latter two battalions were to be formed by units of the Group to act in the infantry role.  It seems that no emergency arose to initiate the actual formation and deployment of the Emergency Brigade.[50]

At Geneifa, a detachment sized sub-unit of the A.M.T.B. Battery was formed on 17th February 1943 from a nucleus of personnel remaining in Egypt, supplemented by a draft of 22 Other Ranks from the 11th Battalion, R.M.  It is thought that this detachment later travelled to Ceylon with the R.M. Group in June 1943.[51]

On 3rd April 1943, the H.Q., 1st R.M. Group closed in Cairo and reopened at the G.H.Q. Southern Camp at Maadi later that day.  Major-General E.C. Weston relinquished command of the Group on 15th April and was succeeded by Major-General W.B.F. Lukis.  By now, the M.N.B.D.O. II had arrived in the Middle East and on 18th April a conference was held between the respective command staff of the two formations.  The object of the conference was to agree the transfer of coast defence equipment to the M.N.B.D.O. II and to replace equipment lost to enemy action while that formation was travelling from the United Kingdom.  It was agreed to transfer two 6-inch and one 4-inch batteries.[52]

Relocation to Ceylon and India – Preparations for Amphibious Operations in South East Asia

The 1st R.M. A.A. Brigade left Ceylon for Bombay in April 1943.  On 9th April 1943, the Brigade H.Q. and the 22nd L.A.A. Battery, R.M. entrained for Bombay.  They were followed the next day by the R.H.Q., ‘C’ and ‘D’ Batteries, 1st H.A.A. Regiment, R.M.  The Brigade Headquarters arrived at Bombay on 15th April 1943 and assumed command of the air defence of Bombay two days later.  ‘C’ and ‘D’ Batteries arrived the next day.  ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘D’ Troops, 22nd L.A.A. Battery, R.M. relieved the 12th L.A.A. Battery, I.A. and took over their twelve guns.  ‘C’ Troop took over the duties as Naval Patrol.  ‘B’ Battery, 1st H.A.A. Regiment, R.M. remained in Ceylon, moving from Colombo to Trincomalee on 21st April 1943 and coming under the command of the 24th A.A. Brigade the next day.[53]

1st R.M. Group, M.N.B.D.O. I - Location Statement for 1st April 1943

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Coincidental with this move, in April 1943, the ongoing discussion as to the eventual concentration of the 1st R.M. Group appeared to settle on the 1st R.M. A.A. Brigade remaining in Bombay while the rest of the Group moved to Ceylon, to be reunited with other elements there.  This was confirmed by May and during that month the necessary movement orders were issued.  On 16th June 1943, the personnel of the Group embarked at Suez in H.M.T. V.V.1042, the S.S. Dominion Monarch, bound for Colombo.  Following the arrival of the ship, the personnel disembarked at Colombo on 26th June and the next day, the H.Q., 1st R.M. Group opened at the Old Provost Barracks, Galle Face.  The 2nd A.A. Regiment, R.M., took ‘B’ Battery under command.  The Battery had remained in Ceylon when the 1st H.A.A. Regiment, R.M., left for Bombay.  The 2nd Regiment was now formed of two H.A.A. and one L.A.A. batteries.[54]

The deception title “23rd Division” used by the formation ceased to be used from 6th July 1943.[55]

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.  The main changes were:

11th Searchlight Regiment, R.M.:  The Regimental H.Q. was disbanded.  The number of searchlights in each of ‘R’ and ‘S’ Batteries was reduced from 24 to twelve. One Battery was assigned to each Brigade Group.  Surplus personnel thus released were posted to the new infantry battalion being formed, 24th Battalion, R.M.

1st Coast Regiment, R.M.:  The existing Regimental H.Q. was disbanded 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.

1st and 2nd A.A. Regiments, R.M.:  The 1st A.A. Regiment was to form part of 1 M.N.B. Brigade and the 2nd Regiment was assigned to 3 M.N.B. Brigade.

Infantry Battalions:  A new Battalion, the 24th, the nucleus of which was formed from surplus personnel from the 11th Searchlight Regiment, R.M.  The 11th Battalion, R.M. was retained.  One Battalion was assigned to each of the Brigade Groups.

Landing & Maintenance Unit:  The existing unit ceased to exist.  The two Landing Companies were assigned, one to each Brigade.  Together with a new Beach Park Company, ‘P’ Company, R.M. Engineers, were all placed under a Commander Royal Engineers (C.R.E.), under the direct command of the 1st R.M. Group.  The Boat Company was reorganised into two platoons, one of each being assigned to each of the Landing Companies.

Workshop Company:  The existing Company was re-organised to provide two brigade group workshops, together with a Light Aid Detachment under command of the Group H.Q.

The reorganisation took effect immediately, but it was expected that the change-over would be gradual.  It was hoped to complete the formation of the Brigades in September.  Training was expected to begin in the Autumn.[56]

Proposed new organisation for M.N.B.D.O. I - July 1943

The proposed new organisation for the 1st R.M. Group, M.N.B.D.O. I - Ceylon, July 1943.

(War diary M.N.B.D.O. I, ADM 202/135)

Proposed nomenclature for new organisation for M.N.B.D.O. I - July 1943

The proposed nomenclature for the new organisation for the 1st R.M. Group, M.N.B.D.O. I - Ceylon, July 1943.

Two balanced Mobile Naval Base Brigades were to be formed. The L&M Unit Headquarters was to be disbanded and the units attached to Group Headquarters.

(War diary M.N.B.D.O. I, ADM 202/135)

In fact, the Headquarters, 3 M.N.B. Brigade opened at Old Provost Barracks, Colombo on 24th July 1943.  On 17th August 1943, the Brigade moved to Philston Camp, Katukurunda, south of Colombo.  It was anticipated that the 1 M.N.B. Brigade, to be formed from the Headquarters, 1st R.M. A.A. Brigade, would move from Bombay to Ceylon, where it would complete the re-organisation at Peradeniya.  The 1st A.A. Regiment, R.M. was with the 1st A.A. Brigade in Bombay. The 2nd A.A. Regiment, R.M. was under command of the 3 M.N.B. Brigade for administration but remained under the command of the 24th A.A. Brigade for operations.  The 1st Coast Regiment, R.M. disbanded to form the new 1st and 3rd Coast Regiments on 1st August.  The ‘S’ Searchlight Battery joined the 3 M.N.B. Brigade on 24th July.  The H.Q. 11th Searchlight Regiment disbanded on 31st July and the 1st Coast Regiment, ‘R’ Searchlight Battery and the 11th Battalion, R.M., assigned to the 1 M.N.B. Brigade, remained in Ceylon, expecting to join up with 1 M.N.B. Brigade when that formation arrived in Ceylon from Bombay.  The 24th Battalion, R.M., formed with effect from 22nd July (possibly on 24th July) and joined the 3 M.N.B. Brigade.[57]   On 24th July, the Base Depot, R.M. Group, recently arrived from the Middle East, took over the commitments of the R.M. Base Depot, East Indies previously operating in Ceylon, the latter ceasing to operate from this date.[58]

1st R.M. Group, M.N.B.D.O. I - Location Statement for 1st August 1943

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The Boat Company, having been split into two platoons with one attached to each of the Landing Companies, was disbanded with effect from 15th October 1943.[59]

In the event, the 1st R.M. A.A. Brigade remained designated as such and references to the 1 M.N.B. Brigade were soon dropped.  The moved of the Brigade to Ceylon was cancelled in August 1943 and it remained in Bombay, where it was only later that it was joined by the coast and searchlight batteries, which left Ceylon on 5th November 1943 and joined the Brigade at Gulunche on 11th November.[60]

With the decline in the threat of Japanese air attack, the British and Indian anti-aircraft units in Ceylon began to be withdrawn to India.  Given also that the likelihood of attack by Japanese naval craft against the defended ports and bases had similarly reduced, a change in the role of the coast artillery units was considered.  As far as the Royal Marines were concerned, some thought was given to re-equipping the 6-inch and 4-inch batteries of the coast regiments with mobile dual-purpose guns (guns capable of operating in both the coast and anti-aircraft defence roles).  The 4.5-inch, high angle/low angle gun was considered to have been the most suitable however the idea was rejected by the Admiralty.  Instead, it was decided that the R.M. coast regiments were to be re-equipped with the 3.7-inch heavy anti-aircraft gun, which had already been used successfully in the ground role by the Army.  With this in mind, in October 1943, the ‘Kent’ Battery, a 6-inch gun battery, was sent to the Royal Marine Base Depot in Ceylon for training in the use of the dual-purpose weapon.  It was intended that ‘X’ Battery, a 4-inch battery, should follow them the following month.  Then, in January 1944, the two batteries would be merged to form a single 3.7-inch heavy anti-aircraft battery.  However, the merger did not occur, for in early 1944, the Royal Marines in Ceylon began to prepare to return to the United Kingdom.[61]

The Landing and Maintenance Unit disbanded with effect from 6th November 1943.  The 2nd Landing Company, which had been temporarily placed under the command of the 3 Mobile Naval Base Brigade on 23rd August 1943, came under the direct command of the H.Q. 1st R.M. Group with effect from 13th December 1943.[62]

Return to the United Kingdom and Disbandment

On 15th December 1943, notification was received from The Admiralty of the final decision to withdraw M.N.B.D.O. I and M.N.B.D.O. II from their current theatres of operation (Ceylon/India and Sicily respectively) and for them to return to the United Kingdom.  Once there, the formations would be disbanded to meet urgent manpower requirements of units being allocated to the invasion of Northwest Europe.  Many men were subsequently transferred to the Commandos or posted as crew for landing craft.[63] 

1st R.M. Group, M.N.B.D.O. I - Location Statement for 1st January 1944

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On 3rd January 1944, the C-in-C Eastern Fleet proposed that ‘Devon’ Battery should remain in India to provide crews for two ‘Z’ craft converted to Landing Craft Flak (Light).  It was also proposed that ‘P’ and ‘Q’ Companies, R.M. Engineers should remain in Ceylon for port construction work.[64]

When the M.N.B.D.O. I left Ceylon, it was to hand in all equipment, stores and transport to the Army before departure.  Units returning to the United Kingdom were to take only personal equipment and accompanying baggage.[65]

An Advance H.Q., consisting mainly of personnel from the 1st R.M. A.A. Brigade in India, was flown to the United Kingdom to prepare for the reception of the main body of the R.M. Group.  The Advance H.Q. was established by Lt. Colonel A.C. Powell at Hamilton Barracks, Hamilton, Lanarkshire on 10th February 1944.  It was attached to the Headquarters, R.M. Group, M.N.B.D.O. II.[66]

The personnel of the H.Q., R.M. Group, M.N.B.D.O. I, embarked at Colombo on 18th February 1944, on board H.M.T. C.85, bound for the United Kingdom.  ‘P’ and ‘Q’ Companies, R.M. Engineers remained in Ceylon for port construction work at Trincomalee, under command of the C-in-C Eastern Fleet.  Also left behind was the Beach Park Company, R.M., which did not leave Ceylon until 11th March 1944.[67]  After a month’s journey from Ceylon, the men of the Headquarters, R.M. Group disembarked at Gourock, Renfrewshire on 17th March 1944.  The H.Q. re-opened later that day at Craig House, Thornton Lake, Gatehead, near Kilmarnock.[68]

On 27th March, the 1st H.A.A. and 2nd A.A. Regiments, R.M. were transferred to the 5th R.M. A.A. Brigade.  Many of the Officers and men of ‘A’ Battery were transferred to the 1st H.A.A. Regiment, R.M., which reformed ‘A’ Battery under its command.  Personnel from the 23rd L.A.A. Battery went to the 4th L.A.A. Regiment, R.M. during April 1944.  Whilst the 1st H.A.A. Regiment went on to serve in Northwest Europe with the 5th Brigade, the remainder of the 2nd Regiment was disbanded on 18th July 1944.[69]

Despite having given up the two anti-aircraft regiments in March 1944, the M.N.B.D.O. I retained considerable numbers of Royal Marines, serving with the landing companies, the coast defence artillery, the searchlight batteries and the two infantry battalions, numbers 11 and 24.  Two brigade headquarters also remained - the 1st R.M. A.A. Brigade and the H.Q., 3 M.N.B. Brigade.  During the next two months, most of the personnel of these units were posted way for retraining in other roles, primarily as Commandos and as landing craft crews.  During May and June 1944, nearly all the units were disbanded.  Last to go was the Headquarters, 2nd A.A. Regiment on 18th July.[70]

The Rear Headquarters of the R.M. Group, M.N.B.D.O. I closed at Kilmalcolm on 12th September 1944 and the Group finally disbanded on 25th September 1944.

[1] ‘Advanced Base’, a Naval instructional film describing the activities of the Royal Marines in establishing an advanced base in cooperation with the Royal Navy and other services; IWM ADM 165 (available to view at, accessed July 2022).

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

[3] Ladd; “The Marines Were There”, Bruce Lockhart R.H., Putnam (1950)

[4] Ladd

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

[6] War diary 1st R.M. A.A. Brigade, ADM 202/149

[7] ADM 202/131

[8] ADM 202/131

[9] ADM 202/131

[10] ADM 202/131

[11] ADM 202/131; Ladd

[12] ADM 202/131

[13] ADM 202/131

[14] ADM 202/131

[15] ADM 202/131

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

[17] ADM 202/132

[18] ADM 202/132

[19] ADM 202/132

[20] War diary 22nd L.A.A. Battery, R.M., ADM 202/156

[21] “The Winston Specials, Troopships via the Cape, 1940-1943”, Munro A., Maritime Books (2006); ADM 202/132

[22] ADM 202/132

[23] ADM 202/132; “The Mediterranean and Middle East”, Vol II, Playfair I.S.O., H.M.S.O. (1956)

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

[25] War diary 1st C.A. Brigade/1st Coast Regiment R.M., ADM 202/167; War diary ‘X’ Battery, R.M., ADM 202/173; War diary ‘Z’ Battery, R.M., ADM 202/176

[26] ADM 202/132

[27] ADM 202/132

[28] ADM 202/132

[29] ADM 202/132

[30] ADM 202/132

[31] ADM 202/132

[32] 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; War diary Force ‘Piledriver’, ADM 202/137; War diary Force ‘Shortcut’, ADM 202/138; War diary 1st C.A. Brigade/1st Coast Regiment R.M., ADM 202/167

[33] ADM 202/167

[34] ADM 202/138; War diary L&M Group/L&M Unit, M.N.B.D.O. I, ADM 202/177

[35] ADM 202/138; War diary ‘Kent’ Battery, R.M., ADM 202/168

[36] ADM 202/132

[37] ADM 202/132

[38] ADM 202/132

[39] ADM 202/132

[40] ADM 202/132

[41] ADM 202/133

[42] ADM 202/133

[43] ADM 202/133

[44] ADM 202/133; ADM 202/149

[45] ADM 202/133

[46] War diary M.N.B.D.O. I, ADM 202/134

[47] ADM 202/134

[48] ADM 202/134

[49] ADM 202/134

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

[51] War diary M.N.B.D.O. I, ADM 202/135; War diary 11th Battalion, R.M., ADM 202/180

[52] ADM 202/135

[53] ADM 202/135

[54] ADM 202/135; War diary 2nd A.A. Regiment, R.M.; ADM 202/157

[55] ADM 202/135

[56] ADM 202/135

[57] ADM 202/135; War diary 3rd Coast Regiment, R.M., ADM 202/192; War diary 3 Mobile Naval Base Brigade, ADM 202/190

[58] War diary R.M. Base Depot, ADM 202/185

[59] ADM 202/135

[60] War diary 1st Royal Marine A.A. Brigade, WO 172/2139

[61] ADM 202/135; War diary 3rd Coast Regiment, R.M., ADM 202/192; War diary 3 Mobile Naval Base Brigade, ADM 202/190

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

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

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

[65] ADM 202/136

[66] ADM 202/136

[67] War diary Beach Park Company, R.M., ADM 202/141

[68] ADM 202/136

[69] ADM 202/136; War diary 2nd A.A. Regiment, R.M., ADM 202/157

[70] ADM 202/136; War diary 2nd A.A. Regiment, R.M., ADM 202/157