Royal Marines in the Indian Ocean

Transport Company, Royal Marines

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

The Transport 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 Transport 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 P.R. Matters, R.M.[1]

The 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 Transport Company arrived in Glasgow on 5th February and boarded transport H6., the M.V. RangitataThe Transport Company disembarked at Durban on 26th March and went to Clairwood Transit Camp before embarking for Egypt on board the Costa Rica on 29th March.[2] 

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

While at sea en route to Durban, on 24th March 1941, it was announced that the designation of the L&M Group would change to become the Landing and Maintenance Unit from 1st April.  The ships carrying the Landing and Maintenance 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, mostly stores parties, left for Haifa on 24th April.[3]

Among the reinforcements sent to Crete at the beginning of May 1941, were elements of the M.N.B.D.O. I which included 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 Landing and Maintenance Unit disembarked and moved to the R.A.F. Transit Camp.  Between 10th and 14th May, the Landing Company worked to unload the City of Canterbury.  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 German airborne troops began landing on 20th May.  During the heavy fighting which ensued, the Transport Company maintained ammunition supplies to the forward batteries and front-line troops.  Vehicles were successfully maintained, often under heavy fire and many vehicles were destroyed or abandoned.  After a fierce struggle, the German Fallschirmjäger eventually gained the upper hand.  The Landing and Transport Companies received orders to withdraw to Sphakia.  During the withdrawal, on 27th May, while sheltering in olive groves, the Transport Company convoy was bombed and machine gunned, one man was killed and several wounded as well as several vehicles being destroyed.  Having then helped transport the rear guard to positions around Sphakia, the Transport Company finally reached Sphakia on 30th May.  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.[4]

In Egypt during this period, the balance of the Transport Company remained at El Tahag with other elements of the Landing and Maintenance Unit.  The Transport Company Stores Party remained in Haifa from where transport was sent to Egypt, allowing the Transport Company to work in its intended role.  Those returning from Crete on 1st June arrived at Alexandria, where around half the men went to the Royal Navy Camp at Sidi Bishr and the remainder to an Army camp.  On 5th June, the Transport Company went by train to Quassassin and thence to Camp 20 at El Tahag.  Those not on leave moved to Camp 25 on 9th June.  Thereafter, the Company continued with its normal duties despite a shortage of vehicles.  The Stores party returned from Haifa on 22nd August.  The Headquarters of the Transport Company, together with elements of the Workshop Company, moved to Chatham Camp, arriving on 28th August.[5]

Transport Company, L & M Detachment, 1st R.M. Group, M.N.B.D.O. I

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.  These were known as Force ‘Piledriver’ and Force ‘Shortcut’.  The two forces left Egypt for the Indian Ocean on 20th September 1941.  Given the nature of the terrain of the islands, there was a very limited requirement for the Transport Company and the unit H.Q. and the majority of the unit remained in Egypt.  All the Landing and Maintenance 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 control of the former Chatham Camp at Ataka to 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, the work being completed when the Brigade sailed for Ceylon on 16th January.[6]

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

The Transport Company, on 1st January 1942, ceased to be a part of the Landing and Maintenance Unit and became an independent unit under the 1st R.M. Group.  The balance of personnel of the Landing and Maintenance Unit remaining in Egypt, referred to as ‘L&M Details’, remained under the orders of the Transport Company.[7]

The Company remained in Egypt operating in its normal role.  On 24th July, command of the Transport Company passed from Major Matters to Major A.B. Cadman, R.M.  During October, the Company moved the 11th Battalion, R.M. from Haifa to Geneifa and the ‘X’ Battery from Alexandria to Geneifa.  On 15th October, the ‘R’ Searchlight Battery was moved from the Suez area to new locations at Kabrit.  In late November-early December 1942, a detachment transported two 6-inch coast guns from Abbassia via Tobruk to Benghazi. [8]

On 2nd January 1943, the Transport Company and other units moved from Camp 25 at El Tahag to Geneifa.  During the month, the Company was re-organised into platoons and sections.  Demands upon the Company varied and after a quiet period, in March 1943 the Company was busy once again.  Between 25 and 30 drivers were sent to work with the 2nd Royal Marine Group, M.N.B.D.O. II.[9]

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

The title of the Company appears to have been modified during March 1943 and by 1st April it was being referred to as the Transport Company, 1st R.M. Group.  On 21st May 1943, Major D.H.W. Sanders, R.M. took command of the Company.  The ‘R’ Searchlight Battery, R.M. was moved from Suez to Camp 41 at El Tahag on 13th May.  During June, the Company prepared to leave Egypt and on 16th June embarked at Suez on board the H.M.T. Dominion Monarch.  The ship then sailed for Ceylon, arriving on 26th June whereupon the Transport Company personnel disembarked and were accommodated at the E.1 gun site at Wellawatee. [10]

The offloading of vehicles began on 4th July 1943.  On 18th July, the Company was ordered to send all vehicles to join the 24th Battalion, R.M. and to send surplus drivers to act as defence troops in the Colombo area.  Details of the re-organisation of the 1st R.M. Group, M.N.B.D.O. I were received on 19th July.  On 2nd August, the Company moved eight 3.7-inch anti-aircraft guns from Dambulla to the Trincomalee area.  The Company remained busy throughout the months that followed, mainly in the movement of stores.  Vehicle maintenance was a regular feature as was the training of new reinforcements, many of whom had no previous driving experience.  On 16th August, Major F.G.E.W. Camp, R.M. assumed command of the Company.  The Company appears to have been based at Ratmalana, in the Colombo area, by September 1943.[11]

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

The Company was again re-titled and by 1st October 1943 was being referred to as the Group Motor Transport Company, 1st R.M. Group, M.N.B.D.O. I.  In all other respects, the normal work of the Company continued until January and February 1944 when the Company began disposing of its vehicle fleet prior to leaving Ceylon for the United Kingdom.  The personnel embarked at Colombo on 18th February 1944 and sailed that day.  The Company disembarked from R.M.S. Scythia at Gourock on 16th March 1944 and went to Braeside Camp, Port Glasgow.  By early April 1944, there were very few personnel in camp, with many men on leave.   Captain A.T. Bamber, R.M took command of the Company on 21st April.  From 30th April, personnel were posted away from the Company until on 31st May 1944, the Company was disbanded and remaining personnel posted to the H.Q. Wing, Royal Marines.[12]

02 July 2022

[1] “The Royal Marines, 1919-1980”, Ladd J.D., Jane’s (1980); The Navy List, December 1940

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

[3] ADM 202/177

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

[5] ADM 202/177

[6] ADM 202/177; 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

[7] ADM 202/132

[8] Transport Company, R.M.; ADM 202/142

[9] ADM 202/142

[10] ADM 202/142

[11] ADM 202/142; War diary M.N.B.D.O. I, ADM 202/135

[12] ADM 202/142