Royal Marines in the Indian Ocean

Royal Marine Engineers in the Indian Ocean

A force of Royal Marine Engineers served during World War One and was then disbanded.  An order dated 19th March 1940 saw the Royal Marine Engineers formed once again.[1]

In November 1940, the Officer Commanding, Royal Marine Group, M.N.B.D.O., confirmed that his requirements for additional troops to accompany the M.N.B.D.O. were:

- a company headquarters and two platoons (approx. 250 men), Royal Marine Engineers,
- a company of the Royal Marine Auxiliary Battalion (about 125 men).[2]

Later that month, it was confirmed that a unit of R.M. Engineers and a company from the R.M. Auxiliary Battalion should be added to the strength of the M.N.B.D.O. when the formation proceeded overseas.  The Landing and Maintenance Group which formed part of the M.N.B.D.O. was intended only to land the M.N.B.D.O. and to support the formation after landing.  Where additional large-scale construction was required, it was thought that such work would require the additional R.M. Engineers and the men of the R.M. Auxiliary Company.  The work envisaged included the construction of dumps for ammunition and stores, roads, parking areas, surface drainage, reservoirs and piping for water supplies, camp facilities, huts and landing piers.[3]

A note from December 1940, discusses the fact that a R.M. Engineer Battalion and a R.M. Auxiliary Battalion had been raised to do work at the Fleet Base at Scapa Flow of a similar nature to that required by the M.N.B.D.O.  A request was therefore made for a R.M. Engineer unit and a R.M. Auxiliary Company to be raised and trained for service with the M.N.B.D.O.  A second engineer company was formed to support M.N.B.D.O. II.  In readiness for posting overseas, the companies were employed on special works in the United Kingdom.[4]

‘Q’ Company, Royal Marine Engineers was allocated to the M.N.B.D.O. and ‘P’ Company was similarly allocated to M.N.B.D.O. II.  The two companies were later separated from their respective M.N.B.D.O. and sent overseas independently in early 1942.  For overseas service, ‘P’ Company appears to have identified as Detachment 350 and ‘Q’ Company as Detachment 320.  In a signal dated 20th August 1942, it was noted that ‘Q’ Company was ‘understood to be arriving in India shortly, and will be sent to Addu Atoll immediately it arrives.  It is not known if the Company arrived at Addu Atoll via India, from Ceylon or via India and then Ceylon.  The Company was present at Addu Atoll by 6th October 1942 and possibly as early as August 1942.[5]

‘P’ Company appears to have gone directly to Ceylon, where in August 1942 it is reported to have been at Trincomalee undertaking works under the command of the Naval Officer-in-Command, Trincomalee.  By now, this Company formed part of the 1st R.M. Group, M.N.B.D.O. I, at least for administration.  When the R.M. Group was reorganised in Ceylon in July 1943, ‘P’ Company, together with a newly formed Beach Park Company, came under a Commander Royal Engineers (C.R.E.), under the direct command of the 1st R.M. Group.[6]

At Addu Atoll, ‘Q’ Company, joined elements of the M.N.B.D.O. (by then re-titled as M.N.B.D.O. I after the raising of the second such formation).  ‘Q’ Company worked on the construction of the airfield on the island of Gan.  In January 1943, it had been decided that when the units of M.N.B.D.O. I at Addu Atoll eventually left for India, they were to take all their equipment with them.  Additional equipment for Addu Atoll had to be found.  During February 1943, it was discussed as to whether ‘Q’ Company, R.M.E. was required to leave Addu Atoll to join M.N.B.D.O. I which had been earmarked for transfer to India for training.  It seems that ‘P’ Company was selected, leaving ‘Q’ Company at Addu Atoll.  By April 1943, ‘P’ Company was at Trincomalee in Ceylon where it was expected to remain until August 1943.  Back in February 1943, it was anticipated that ‘Q’ Company would remain on Addu Atoll for a further nine months.  ‘Q’ Company was indeed present in May 1943.[7]

Numbers of Royal Marine Engineers began leaving Addu Atoll during October 1943.  Around 95 officers and men boarded the Wing Sang in early October, bound for Ceylon.  A further 45 men embarked upon the City of London on 15th October 1943 and sailed for Bombay.  Ten men left on board the Wingsang on 16th November 1943.  Another ten men left Addu Atoll on board the Shenking for Colombo on 20th November 1943.  This latter party may well have been the last men of ‘Q’ Company, R.M.E. to leave Addu Atoll.  It seems that ‘Q’ Company went to Ceylon where it joined ‘P’ Company in port construction work.[8]

On 1st December 1943, a large detachment from No.1 Landing Company, R.M. went to Trincomalee where it took over the construction of a pier and berth from ‘P’ Company, Royal Marine Engineers.[9] 

On 15th December 1943, the H.Q. R.M. Group, M.N.B.D.O. I in Ceylon, received notification 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 to the United Kingdom and to disband them to meet urgent manpower requirements.  It was, however, proposed that ‘P’ and ‘Q’ Companies, R.M. Engineers should remain in Ceylon for port construction work.  When the R.M. Group, M.N.B.D.O. I, left Ceylon on 18th February 1944, ‘P’ and ‘Q’ Companies remained in Ceylon, under command of the C-in-C Eastern Fleet for port construction work at Trincomalee, as proposed in December 1943.[10]

It seems that the men of ‘P’ and ‘Q’ Companies returned to the United Kingdom in late 1944 or early 1945.  Upon return to the United Kingdom, at least some of the men were reallocated to other units.  ‘P’ Company appears to have remained in existence into 1946.[11]

Meanwhile, other units of the Royal Marine Engineers had undertaken works in the United Kingdom, Tunisia, Italy and Northwest Europe.  By early 1945, the personnel were being gathered together as part of a major reorganisation prior to transfer to the Far East.  Of those transferred, the major units involved were three newly created battalions, each of 1,500 men organised into companies and with a battalion headquarters.  Two companies of the 3rd Battalion built camps at Akyab and Rangoon before being withdrawn in about June 1945.  Over the next year or so, other camps, accommodation and facilities were built in India, Ceylon, Malay, Singapore, Addu Atoll and Hong Kong.  Two battalions of R.M. Engineers were sent to Australia in early 1945 to construct a British base on Manus in the Admiralty Islands.  The base would have supported the British part in the Allied advance to Japan.  However, after only a few men had reached the island, the war with Japan ended and the development of the base was quickly abandoned.  Instead, the men undertook a number of works in Australia before ‘C’ Company went to Hong Kong, arriving on 12th October 1945.  Early in 1946, other detachments went from Australia to Singapore, joining detachments which had been gathered there since the first unit had landed with the reoccupation forces at the beginning of September 1945.  The Royal Marine Engineers left Singapore in April 1946.[12]

06 May 2022

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

[2] Royal Marine Engineers, WO 106/5306

[3] WO 106/5306

[4] WO 106/5306; ‘A History of the Royal Marine Engineers, 1939-1946’, transcript prepared by George Gelder published in  ‘The Sheet Anchor’ 2022 No.1, R.M. Historical Society (2022)

[5] Addu Atoll, WO 106/3786; WO 33/17523; War diary M.N.B.D.O. I, ADM 202/134; History of the R.M.E.

[6] ADM 202/134; War diary M.N.B.D.O. I, ADM 202/135

[7] WO 106/5306; Ladd; War diary Fortress H.Q. Addu Atoll, WO 172/3798

[8] WO 172/3798; War diary M.N.B.D.O. I, ADM 202/136

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

[10] ADM 202/136

[11] History of the R.M.E.

[12] History of the R.M.E.