Royal Marines in the Indian Ocean

No.1 Landing Company, Royal Marines

Landing Company, Landing and Maintenance Group, 1st R.M. Group, M.N.B.D.O.

The Landing Company, Royal Marines was formed as part of the Landing and Maintenance Group; itself formed in February 1940 as part of the M.N.B.D.O. (later known as M.N.B.D.O. I).  It seems that the Landing Company was not organised until later in 1940 and does not appear in the Navy List until 18th November 1940.  The Commanding Officer was Major M. Archdall, R.M.[1]

The Marines of the Landing and Maintenance Group began moving to Glasgow for overseas deployment on 1st February 1941, as part of the overall transfer of M.N.B.D.O. I to the Middle East.  The Landing Company arrived in Glasgow on 5th February and boarded the transport, H.M.T. Bergensfjord, joining other Marines already on board.  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.  After a short stay there, the Group continued to Egypt.  It was during this time, and by 1st April, that the Group was re-titled to become the Landing and Maintenance Unit.[2] 

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

The ships carrying the Landing and Maintenance Unit began arriving at Port Tewfik, Suez on 19th April 1941.  The Bergensfjord arrived on 19th April, but the Unit Headquarters and Landing Company did not disembark until three days later when they went to El Quassassin before moving to El Tahag Camp, where they arrived on 23rd April.  On 1st May, the Landing and Maintenance 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.  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.  The ship sailed for Crete on 6th May and, after arriving at Suda Bay on 9th May, the Landing and Maintenance Unit disembarked and moved to the R.A.F. Transit Camp.  The Landing Company remained at Suda Bay between 10th and 14th May to unload the City of CanterburyThe 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 subsequently 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 taken to Egypt.[3]

The evacuees from Crete reached Alexandria on 1st June 1941 and went to Sidi Bishr for re‑equipment and rest before moving to El Tahag on 5th June.  During July, Chatham Camp was built at Ataka and the Headquarters, Landing and Maintenance Unit moved to Chatham Camp on 3rd August and was joined by the remainder of the Landing Company the following day. [4]

Landing Company, Force ‘Shortcut’

During September 1941, M.N.B.D.O. I in Egypt formed two detachments to be sent to destinations in the Indian Ocean where they were to construct defended bases for refuelling ships of the Royal Navy.  In command of Force ‘Piledriver’ was Lt. Colonel W.B.F. Lukis, R.M. and Lt. Colonel L.O. Jones commanded Force ‘Shortcut’, each intended to undertake one of the two operations planned.  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.[5]

The ships carrying the Royal Marines entered the lagoon at Addu Atoll on the morning of 30th September 1941.  The next day, the Landing Company began unloading cargo.  A detachment operated M.L.C.s to assist a demolition party in the task of deepening the channel leading to Gan Island.  The Marines of the Landing Company were kept busy unloading and ferrying stores, equipment and personnel up until late November.  On 24th November, most of the Company joined other Marines on board the Clan Forbes before the ship departed from Addu Atoll for Diego Garcia on 26th November.

The Clan Forbes arrived at Diego Garcia on 28th November 1941 and the unloading of stores and equipment began the next day.  The Royal Marines had been charged with installing several coast defence guns and searchlights and the work was largely completed by early December.  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 were left on the Laomedon to continue unloading.  (It is thought that these men later returned to Ceylon on board the Laomedon which arrived at Colombo on11th December 1941.)  At 1900 that evening, the Clan Forbes sailed for Colombo, making a brief stop at Addu Atoll on 6th December, before the ship reached Colombo on 8th December.  The next day, Royal Marines personnel disembarked and went to the Royal Navy Rest Camp, Diyatalawa.[6] 

The Marines of Force ‘Shortcut’ returned to Diego Garcia, leaving Colombo on 2nd January 1942 and arriving at the island on 15th January, having taken a detour to transfer equipment to Addu Atoll.  The unloading of guns and equipment began the next day.  The Marines of the Landing and Maintenance Unit remained on Diego Garcia until 13th March when once again they boarded ship to return to Colombo.  After having arrived at Colombo on 18th March, Force ‘Shortcut’ was disbanded two days later.  The Marines of the Landing and Maintenance Unit went to the Royal Navy Rest Camp at Diyatalawa.[7]

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

The Landing Company worked under the command of the 1st R.M. A.A. Brigade from April 1942 to build anti-aircraft positions.  Following the Japanese air raids on Ceylon on 5th and 9th April, the Landing Company continued to work on anti-aircraft gun positions.  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 raids.  Between 29th May and 6th June, the Landing Company concentrated on loading the Clan Forbes which was now ordered to carry a detachment of Marines to the Seychelles.  When the ship sailed on 6th June, it carried ‘Kent’ Battery, R.M. and personnel of the Landing and Maintenance Unit.  Having helped to install ‘Kent’ Battery on the island of Mahe in the Seychelles, all but a handful of Landing and Maintenance personnel left the island on 14th August, reaching Ceylon on 1st September. [8]

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 Landing and Maintenance Unit embarked at Colombo on 28th September and the ship sailed later that day for Addu Atoll once again.[9] 

From when they arrived at Addu Atoll on 1st October 1942, the Marines were kept busy unloading stores and equipment and in constructing and maintaining shore-based facilities.  It was at around this time, that the Company may have been re-titled as No.1 Landing Company.  This would have been to differentiate it from No.2 Company, R.M.; previously ‘W’ Company, R.M., detached from the R.M. Auxiliary Battalion.  While in Egypt, on 1st October 1942, this unit had been re-titled upon formal assignment to the Landing and Maintenance Unit.   On 28th October, the first draft of reinforcements for the Landing and Maintenance Unit arrived and were posted to the Landing Company.  On 29th November, a detachment of mainly Landing Company personnel on board the Matiana left Addu Atoll for Diego Garcia.  There, 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 several improvements to existing facilities.  The work complete, the Matiana returned to Addu Atoll on 12th December 1942.  The normal routine of unloading and construction continued.  Sickness had been a prevailing problem at Addu Atoll and by 1st March 1943, only 41% of the No.1 Landing Company was completely fit.  In March, several of the sick, together with a small leave party, were fortunate enough to be taken to Ceylon for treatment and rest.  The personnel of the Landing and Maintenance Unit left Addu Atoll eventually on 13th July 1943.  Upon arrival at Colombo on 16th July 1943, the personnel travelled by rail that night to the Royal Navy Rest Camp, Diyatalawa where the men began three weeks leave.  In August 1943, No.1 Landing Company sent a party to Wilson’s Plains to prepare a camp for the rest of the company.[10] 

No. 1 Landing Company, 1st R.M. Group, M.N.B.D.O. I

Orders for a new organisation for the R.M. Group, M.N.B.D.O. I, were issued on 19th July 1943.  The new organisation was designed to meet envisaged future operations for which two new brigade groups would be the main formations.  Those units not allocated to the new brigade groups were to come under the direct command of the R.M. Group which would allocate them for training and operations as required.  To achieve the new organisation within the existing war establishment, it was necessary to reduce the size of some units and to disband others.  Amongst the changes ordered, was the eventual disbandment of the H.Q. Landing & Maintenance, with the two landing companies being assigned one to each brigade group.  The changes took some time to implement and were not fully implemented as originally intended.[11]

The Headquarters L&M Unit was subsequently disbanded with effect from 6th November 1943.  The Commanding Officer, Major D.M. Borland, is listed as the C.O. until 30th November 1943.  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,
- Workshop Company,
- Beach Park Company (formed 20th September 1943).

The No.1 Landing Company, commanded by Major C.R. Borland, R.M., moved to Wilson’s Plains on 8th and 9th August 1943 and established a camp.  A training programme commenced and on 12th August orders were received from the Brigade Major ‘1st R.M. Bde.’ to move to Boralanda where five camps were to be constructed to accommodate a brigade of 3,000 men.  (The brigade in question may have been the 1st R.M./1st Marine Naval Base Brigade, which it appears was intended to form in Ceylon in August 1943.  The 3rd M.N.B. Brigade was formed at this time, but the 1st Brigade was never formed, its responsibilities seemingly taken up by the 1st R.M. A.A. Brigade, by then in India.  An indication of the change in plans is suggested by the fact that the number of camps to be built at Boralanda was reduced from five to one later in August.)  The entire Company moved to Boralanda on 17th and 18th August and work began on Camp No.1.  On 24th August, the Royal Marine Group Headquarters signaled that Camp No.2 should not be built.  The No.1 Landing Company remained occupied with construction of the camp and with training.  On 1st December 1943, a large detachment went to Trincomalee where it took over the construction of a pier and berth from ‘P’ Company, Royal Marine Engineers.  The detachment was joined by the Headquarters, No.1 Landing Company on 23rd December.  During the last week of January 1944, the unit concentrated at the R.A.S.C. Training Camp, Nugegoda, Colombo, with all ranks at Trincomalee and Boralanda moving to the new location.  Warning was given of likely embarkation and preparations were made.  On 18th February 1944, the Company embarked at Colombo upon H.M.T. C.85 for the United Kingdom, transport to the jetty being provided by East African units.[12]

During the journey to the United Kingdom, the men of No.1 Landing Company underwent medical examination for suitability for training as Commandos.  On 16th March 1944, the Company disembarked at Gourock and went by rail to Strathaven.  The greater part of the Company was granted foreign service leave on 27th March.  The remainder of the Company remained at Strathaven during April 1944.  On 26th April, Captain W.H. Prior, R.M. assumed command from Major C.R. Borland.[13]

[The war diary ends on 30th April 1944.] 

The Company was disbanded on 14th June 1944, the personnel having been re-mustered for landing craft, Commando and other duties.[14]

02 July 2022

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

[2] ADM 202/177

[3] ADM 202/177

[4] ADM 202/177

[5] ADM 202/177

[6] ADM 202/177

[7] War diary Force ‘Shortcut’, ADM 202/138; War diary 1st C.A. Brigade/1st Coast Regiment R.M., ADM 202/167; ADM 202/177

[8] ADM 202/177

[9] ADM 202/177

[10] ‘W’ Company, R.M. Auxiliary Battalion – No.2 Landing Company, R.M., ADM 202/178; ADM 202/177

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

[12] ADM 202/177

[13] ADM 202/177

[14] ADM 202/177; War diary M.N.B.D.O. I, ADM 202/136