Royal Marines in the Indian Ocean

Workshop Company, Royal Marine Group, M.N.B.D.O. I

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

The Landing and Maintenance Group, M.N.B.D.O. I formed the Workshop Company from January 1941.  As part of the L & M Group, the Company went to Glasgow in early February 1941 to embark for Egypt.  The Boat Unit and the Workshop Company left Portsmouth on 3rd February and upon arrival at Glasgow embarked upon the transport H.12.  The convoy carrying the Royal Marines left from off Oversay on 9th February.  At Durban at the end of March, the Workshop Company transferred ship to the Dilwara and the convoy for the final leg to Egypt left South Africa on 1st April.  The ships carrying the Transport, Boat and Workshop Companies – the Dilwara and the Costa Rica – reached Egypt 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.[1]

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 and onwards to join the ill-fated Crete campaign.  The Unit Headquarters and the balance of the Transport, Workshop and Boat Companies remained behind at El Tahag.  The Headquarters, L&M Unit moved to the newly constructed Chatham Camp at Ataka on 3rd August.  The H.Q. was joined by the remainder of the Landing Company the following day.  The Headquarters of the Transport Company with elements of the Workshop Company joined them later, arriving on 28th August.[2]  

A detachment of the Workshop Company formed part of Force ‘Shortcut’, which was based on the Landing & Maintenance Unit.  This Force left Egypt for the Indian Ocean on 20th September 1941.  This detachment remained with Force ‘Shortcut’ and subsequently came to be under the command of the Landing & Maintenance Unit, R.M. when the Force was disbanded on 20th March 1942.[3]

When the L&M Unit sailed as Force ‘Shortcut’ for Addu Atoll in September 1941, the Transport Company, the balance of personnel of the Workshop Company and additional men were left behind in Egypt.  These were sometimes referred to as L&M Details.  All the L&M Unit personnel in Egypt now came under the command of Major P.R. Matters, R.M.  and formed the Landing and Maintenance Detachment, Middle East Force.  The Detachment returned to El Tahag on 28th September, turning over the former Chatham Camp at Ataka to the control of the H.Q. Suez Sub-Area.  Throughout the remainder of 1941, the Detachment stayed at El Tahag, giving support to the Royal Marine anti-aircraft units in Egypt.  In January 1942, the Detachment transported the 1st R.M. A.A. Brigade to the embarkation port at Suez, this work being complete when the Brigade sailed for Ceylon on 16th January.  It seems that during January 1942, the Transport Company was re-titled to become the 1st R.M. Group Transport Company and was no longer considered to form part of the L&M Unit.[4] 

In January 1942, a further detachment of the Workshop Company left Egypt, accompanying the 1st R.M. A.A. Brigade to Ceylon.  The units forming the Brigade, referred to under the codename of Force ‘Scrumhalf’, left Suez on 16th January 1942 and arrived at Colombo on 1st February.  It is thought that the Workshop Company detachment was headquartered at Colombo and is assumed to have moved to Trincomalee with the Brigade in September.[5]

The Workshop Company retained its identity within the L&M Detachment, M.E. until April 1942, when at the end of that month it seems to have become known as the Workshop Company, Middle East (Workshop Company, M.E.), at least as far as bookkeeping was concerned.  In June 1942 it began to be listed as a separate unit on the Group location statement.  The Company remained based at El Tahag, providing maintenance services for the Royal Marine units in Egypt.[6]

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

From 1st January 1943, the Workshop Company of the Landing & Maintenance Unit ceased to be a sub-unit of the unit and operated as an independent unit within the 1st R.M. Group.  This was deemed necessary due to the large amount of equipment held by the Group outside of the Landing & Maintenance Unit and the benefits of a more central approach.  It was also required due to the creation of an Inspection Staff.  It was intended that those personnel of the Company then serving in Ceylon, would be posted to the Workshop Company at such point in time that the 1st R.M. Group was reunited as whole.  At such a time, the Workshop Company drop the sub-title “M.E.”   The organisation of the Workshop Company from this time is shown below.[7]

Organisation - Workshop Company, R.M. Group, M.N.B.D.O. I 1943.

Organisation of the Workshop Company, R.M. Group, M.N.B.D.O. I - January 1943.

(ADM 202/135)

Meanwhile, in the Indian Ocean, the initial construction work at Addu Atoll had been completed and in late November the detachment of the Workshop Company accompanied Force ‘Shortcut’ to Diego Garcia.  These Royal Marine elements left for Ceylon in early December, and it is thought that the Workshop company detachment arrived in Ceylon on 11th December 1941.  Force ‘Shortcut’ returned to Diego Garcia in January 1942 before returning to Ceylon on 18th March.  Force ‘Shortcut’ was disbanded on 20th March and the Workshop Company detachment came under the command of the H.Q. Landing & Maintenance Unit.[8]

When Force ‘Shortcut’ left Addu Atoll at the end of November 1941, a number of officers and men of the L&M Unit remained behind with Force ‘Piledriver’.  Around 60 of these were from the Boat Company and around 80 from the Landing and Workshop Companies, many of whom had fallen sick.  These men went to Ceylon when Force ‘Piledriver’ left Addu Atoll in January 1942.  In early February, the Landing and Workshop Company men were posted to the 1st R.M.A.A. Brigade.  In May 1942, these men were returned to the L&M Unit at Rifle Green Camp, Colombo, in preparation for the Unit’s departure to the Seychelles.  The L&M Unit arrived at the Seychelles on 12th June 1942 and remained until August before returning to Ceylon, disembarking at Colombo on 2nd September.  On 28th September, the L&M Unit with its detachment of the Workshop Company left for Addu Atoll.  Most of the personnel of the L&M Unit left Addu Atoll on 13th July 1943 on board the S.S. Wing Sang for three weeks leave at the R.N. Rest Camp, Diyatalawa, Ceylon.  The Unit arrived at Ceylon on 16th July.  A small party including elements of the Workshop Company was left behind to assist with various roles together with the Boat Company whose work was being taken up by an Indian boat company trained by the sailors and Marines of the L&M Unit.  The Boat Company and the accompanying elements of the Workshop Company returned to Ceylon from Addu Atoll on 11th September 1943 and were given three weeks’ leave at Diyatalawa.  Upon completion of the leave, they were struck off strength of the L&M Unit and the Boat Company disbanded on 15th October 1943.  The personnel were posted to the shore base, H.M.S. Lanka.[9] 

The balance of the Royal Marine Group, M.N.B.D.O. I was sent from Egypt to Ceylon in June 1943, disembarking at Colombo on 26th June.  Upon arrival, the Workshop Company went to Samandrigiri in the Colombo area.  The Royal Marine Group was re-organised during July 1943 and as part of this, the Workshop Company was to be divided to provide two brigade group workshops (numbers 1 and 3) and a Light Aid Detachment under the direct command of the Group H.Q.   By September 1943, a Brigade Workshop had been formed for the 3 M.N.B. Brigade and by 2nd October 1943, the Workshop Company was being referred to as the Group Workshop Company.  It was based at Mount Lavinia, Colombo.  A detachment was in India, supporting the 1st R.M. A.A. Brigade.  By October, the workshop unit under command of the 3 M.N.B. Brigade had been designated a Workshop Section and was located with the Brigade at Philston Camp, Katukurunda.  In addition to the existing Group Workshop Company, the Group H.Q. Light Aid Detachment was formed at Mount Lavinia, with effect from 1st November 1943.  It seems that the L.A.D. was formed in addition to the Workshop Company, rather than replacing it.  By the end of November 1943, the workshop units now forming part of the R.M. Group, M.N.B.D.O. I were:[10]

- Group Workshop Company      at Mount Lavinina                      u/c R.M. Group
- Group L.A.D.                          at Mount Lavinina                      u/c R.M. Group
- 1 Brigade Workshop Section    at Gulunche, Poona, India          u/c 1st R.M. A.A. Brigade
- 3 Brigade Workshop Section    at Katukurunda                          u/c 3 M.N.B. Brigade.

The Group L.A.D. was disbanded in Ceylon with effect from 10th December 1943.  The Group Workshop Company, however, remained in being.[11]

[Further details to be added from the Workshop Company war diary, ADM 202/179 - 1st October 1943 – 31st January 1944.]

After arrival in Scotland, on 19th April 1944 the 1st R.M. A.A. Brigade Workshop Company came under the command of the Group Workshop Company, with effect from 24th March 1944.  The Group Workshop Company was disbanded on 17th June 1944, 77 Other Ranks being posted to the 2nd A.A. Regiment, R.M. at Largs.[12]

09 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; ADM 202/167; ADM 202/138

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

[5] ADM 202/149

[6] ADM 202/133

[7] ADM 202/135

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

[9] ADM 202/177

[10] ADM 202/135

[11] ADM 202/135

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