29th (Kent) Searchlight Regiment, Royal Artillery

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29th (Kent) Searchlight Regiment
Active 1935–1955
Country  United Kingdom
Branch Flag of the British Army.svg Territorial Army
Type Searchlight Regiment
Role Air Defence
Size Regiment
Engagements The Blitz

The 29th (Kent) Searchlight Regiment was a volunteer air defence unit of Britain's Territorial Army (TA) from 1935 until 1955, at first as part of the Royal Engineers, later in the Royal Artillery. It served during The Blitz.

Origin[edit]

The regiment had its origins in a group of Independent Air Defence Companies of the Royal Engineers formed in the Home counties by the Territorial Army during 1924.[1]

Kent & Middlesex Group Anti-Aircraft Searchlight Companies:

  • HQ at Marine School, Chatham
  • 313 (Kent) AA Company at Marine School, Chatham
  • 314 (Kent) AA Company at Southborough, later Tonbridge
  • 317 (Middlesex) AA Company at Hendon

John (later Sir John) Perring (1870–1948), a businessman and prominent member of the London County Council and Middlesex Territorial Association was appointed Honorary Colonel of the Group in 1931.[1][2][3]

In 1935 the Kent Group became 29th Anti-Aircraft Battalion, Royal Engineers (TA), while 317 Company was separated to form the 36th (Middlesex) Anti-Aircraft Battalion, Royal Engineers (TA) with Sir John Perring as its Honorary Colonel. Two further companies were added to the 29th Bn: [1][4]

Shortly afterwards the battalion was subordinated to the newly formed 28th (Thames & Medway) Anti-Aircraft Group (later termed a Brigade), also based at Chatham, and forming part of 1st Anti-Aircraft Division.[4] In the years before World War II, British anti-aircraft defences continued to expand, with new regiments and formations, the whole coming under Anti-Aircraft Command. In April 1939 the 322nd and 347th Companies were transferred to help form the new 74th (Kent Fortress) Bn RE, and had been replaced by a newly-raised 468th Company at Dover.[5]

World War II[edit]

By the outbreak of war 29th AA Battalion had come under the command of 29th (East Anglian) AA Bde in 6th AA Division,[5][6] but shortly afterwards it moved to a new 56 AA Bde within 6 Division.[7] In common with other RE searchlight battalions, the unit was transferred to Royal Artillery in August 1940, becoming 29th (Kent) Searchlight Regiment RA (TA), and the companies were termed batteries.[8][9] At this time AA Command was heavily engaged in the Battle of Britain, and 56 AA Bde was responsible for guarding the airfields of South East England. This was soon followed by the night-bombing campaign of The Blitz, in which searchlights were a key element in the defences.[7][8][10]

By the end of 1944, however, the German Luftwaffe was suffering from such shortages of pilots, aircraft and fuel that serious aerial attacks on the United Kingdom could be discounted. At the same time 21st Army Group fighting in North West Europe was suffering a severe manpower shortage, particularly among the infantry.[11] In January 1945 the War Office began to reorganise surplus anti-aircraft and coastal artillery regiments in the UK into infantry battalions, primarily for line of communication and occupation duties, thereby releasing trained infantry for frontline service.[12][13] 29th Searchlight Regiment was one of the units selected for conversion, and was redesignated 631st (Kent) Infantry Regiment RA. It was attached to 59 AA Bde, which became 307th Infantry Brigade on 22 January 1945.[9][8][7][14][15]

314 Battery remained in East Anglia as an independent unit, operating a line of radar-controlled searchlights from Clacton to Lowestoft engaging 'Divers' (the code name for V-1 flying bombs.[16]

After infantry training, 631 Regiment was sent to North West Europe in April 1945 to work under 21st Army Group and HQ SHAEF.[9][14][15]

Postwar[edit]

On 1 January 1947 the regiment was reconstituted in the TA as 564 Searchlight Regiment, RA (Kent). Its HQ was at Gillingham, Kent, and once again it formed part of the Thames & Medway AA Bde, now renumbered 54 AA Bde. Two years later the regiment's role was partly changed and it was redesignated 564th (Mixed) Light Anti-Aircraft/Searchlight Regiment, 'Mixed' indicating that some of the personnel were from the Women's Royal Army Corps.[9][17][18]

When AA Command was disbanded in 1955, the regiment amalgamated with a number of other Kent AA units to form 458th (Kent) Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, becoming 'Q' and 'R Batteries' in the merged regiment. In 1961 a further amalgamation saw 458 Regiment becoming P (Kent) Battery in 265 Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment and its successor the London and Kent Regiment. This remaining battery was disbanded in 1969.[9][19][20][21]

Successor units still occupy Grove Park and Bexleyheath drill-halls, as 265 (Home Counties) Battery, 106th (Yeomanry) Regiment, Royal Artillery and 265 (Kent and County of London Yeomanry) Support Squadron, Royal Corps of Signals. Both units strive to continue and maintain the traditions and history of their predecessor Regiments.

Regimental silver is displayed within The Army Reserve Centre, Baring Road, Grove Park, London SE12 0BH. These can be viewed at by prior appointment.[22]

Notes[edit]

References[edit]

  • Major L.F. Ellis, History of the Second World War, United Kingdom Military Series: Victory in the West, Vol II: The Defeat of Germany, London: HM Stationery Office, 1968/Uckfield: Naval & Military, 2004, ISBN 1-845740-59-9.
  • Lt-Col H.F. Joslen, Orders of Battle, United Kingdom and Colonial Formations and Units in the Second World War, 1939–1945, London: HM Stationery Office, 1960/Uckfield: Naval & Military Press, 2003, ISBN 1843424746.
  • Norman E.H. Litchfield, The Territorial Artillery 1908–1988 (Their Lineage, Uniforms and Badges), Nottingham: Sherwood Press, 1992, ISBN 0-9508205-2-0.

External sources[edit]