31st (North Midland) Anti-Aircraft Brigade

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31st (North Midland) Anti-Aircraft Brigade
Active 1936–1948
Country  United Kingdom
Branch Flag of the British Army.svg Territorial Army
Type Anti-Aircraft Brigade
Role Air Defence
Part of 2nd AA Division
7th AA Division
10th AA Division
5 AA Group
21st Army Group
Garrison/HQ Retford
York
Tadcaster
Immingham
Engagements The Blitz
North West Europe campaign

The 31st (North Midland) Anti-Aircraft Brigade (31 AA Bde) was an air defence formation of Britain's Territorial Army from 1936 until 1948. During World War II it defended West Yorkshire and later participated in the North West Europe campaign.

Origins[edit]

The formation was raised as 31st (North Midland) Anti-Aircraft Group on 1 November 1936 at Retford forming part of 2nd Anti-Aircraft Division. Its initial order of battle was as follows:[1]

In 1938 the RA replaced its traditional unit designation 'Brigade' by the modern 'Regiment', which allowed the 'AA Groups' to take the more usual formation title of 'Brigades'. Anti-Aircraft Command was formed in April 1939 to control all the TA's AA units and formations. 31st AA Bde transferred to the new 7th Anti-Aircraft Division when that was formed in Newcastle in June 1939.[2][3] As AA Command continued to expand, existing units moved to other brigades and were replaced by newly formed units.

World War II[edit]

Mobilisation[edit]

On the outbreak of war 31 AA Bde was based at York and was mobilised to defend West Yorkshire, with the following order of battle:[2][4][5]

During the Phoney War period, AA Command was desperate for men and equipment to meet its huge commitments. When the War Office released the first intakes of Militiamen to the Command in early 1940, most were found to be in low physical categories and without training. 31 AA Bde reported that out of 1000 recruits sent for duty, '50 had to be discharged immediately because of serious medical defects, another 20 were judged to be mentally deficient and a further 18 were unfit to do any manual labour such as lifting ammunition'.[7] Fitness and training was greatly improved by the time Britain's AA defences were seriously tested during the Battle of Britain and Blitz.

In 1940, RA regiments equipped with 3-inch or 3.7-inch AA guns were designated Heavy Anti-Aircraft (HAA) to distinguish them from the new Light Anti-Aircraft (LAA) regiments, and RE AA battalions were transferred to the RA and designated Searchlight regiments.

Battle of Britain and Blitz[edit]

During The Blitz, 31 AA Bde remained responsible for AA defence of the West Yorkshire towns and cities, and was transferred to a new 10th AA Division (covering Yorkshire and Humberside) on 1 November 1940. At this period it was composed of LAA and S/L units:[8][9][10][11]

On 30 September 1942 the AA Divisions and Corps were dissolved and a new 5th AA Group assumed responsibility for North-East England, including 31 AA Bde.[8][16]

North West Europe[edit]

Early in 1944, 31 AA Bde under the command of Brigadier E. Coley was earmarked for overseas service with 21st Army Group in Operation Overlord. At the time the brigade was headquartered at Tadcaster, later at nearby Newton Kyme, in North Yorkshire as part of 5 AA Group with the following searchlight units under command:[17]

The regiments re-equipped their AA LMG sections with twin Browning machine guns and carried out 'Bullseye' exercises over North East England with the Night fighters of No. 264 Squadron RAF. On 15 April, 41 S/L Rgt received orders to mobilise for overseas service, followed on 1 June by 31 Bde HQ and 42 and 58 S/L Rgts. 31 Brigade HQ moved to its concentration area at Addlestone in Surrey and came under the orders of 21st Army Group on 21 June (D + 15).[18][19][20] However, embarkation would not follow for several months, during which the HQ staff had to undergo three weeks of Battle Training at Perranporth in Cornwall, and then run S/L training in Wiltshire.[21]

No. 85 Group RAF was responsible for night-fighter cover of the beachhead and bases in Normandy, and was keen to have searchlight assistance in the same way as Fighter Command had in the UK. A detailed plan was made in advance to have a belt of S/L positions deployed from Caen to the Cherbourg peninsula. This required nine S/L batteries of 24 lights, spaced at 6000 yard intervals, six rows deep. Each battery area was to have an orbit beacon, around which up to four fighters would be positioned at varying heights. These would be allocated by fighter controllers, and the S/Ls would assist by illuminating targets and indicating raid approaches, while area boundaries would be marked by vertical S/Ls. Six S/L regiments were specially trained for this work under 31 and 50 AA Bdes. In practice, most of this was never implemented, liaison with the US Army units around Cherbourg having proved problematical. In the end, only 41 S/L Regt and the Royal Corps of Signals section of 42 S/L Rgt deployed along the western part of the layout planned by 85 Group, and came under US command. Later they deployed along the River Seine[22][23]

The Brigade HQ finally landed at Arromanches on 2 October, and was not allocated an operational role.[24][25] The brigade proceeded to Brussels, where it was given the task of setting up a practice camp for training operators on the new Mk VIII centimentric Searchlight Control (SLC or 'Elsie') radar. It was also ordered to begin trials on SLC radar for tracking enemy mortar fire.[24][26][27] 41 S/L regiment had been detached from the brigade and was employed in the 'Anti-Diver' role against V-1 flying bombs heading towards Antwerp, while 42 S/L Rgt was under US command in Antwerp itself, and 54 S/L Rgt was still training in England. This meant that apart from its Signals and Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers sections, the only troops under the brigade's command were a detachment of 41 S/L Rgt personnel attached for the counter-mortar trials. On 18 November a premature explosion while firing a captured German 81 mm mortar killed 5 men (including 3 from 41 S/L) and wounded four men of 41 S/L. Lieutenant Gilbert Rabbetts of 41 S/L 'acted with great gallantry, rapidly removing wounded to hospital, though himself badly wounded' and was later awarded the MBE.[24][28]

Early in 1945, in preparation for the forthcoming offensive in the Klever Reichswald (Operation Veritable), 31 AA Bde carried out experiments in Belgium to optimise 'artificial moonlight' techniques whereby S/L units provided lighting for night movement of ground troops, for floodlighting their objectives and for dazzling the defenders.[29]

HQ 31 AA Bde remained with Second Army until the end of the war in Europe.[30] In April 1945 it was commanding the occupation troops and coast defences of the Friesland area, with 64 (Northumbrian) HAA Regt (recently returned from supporting operations on the Yugoslav coast) under command as infantry.[31]

Postwar[edit]

When the TA was reformed in 1947, 31 AA Bde was renumbered as 57 AA Bde, with its HQ at Immingham, and the following order of battle:[32][33]

However, the brigade was disbanded by 27 September 1948.

AA Command was disbanded and the air defence of the UK was reorganised in 1955. A new 31 AA Bde was formed as a TA HQ from the Regular Army's 8 AA Bde, based at Gosforth. It was disbanded in 1961.[32]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ 2nd AA Division at British Military History
  2. ^ a b 7 AA Division 1940 at British Military History
  3. ^ Routledge, Table LVIII, p. 376.
  4. ^ AA Command 3 September 1939 at Patriot Files
  5. ^ Routledge, Table LX, p. 378.
  6. ^ 66 HAA Rgt at RA 39–45 Archived 2011-02-18 at the Wayback Machine.
  7. ^ Routledge, p. 374.
  8. ^ a b 10 AA Division 1940 at British Military History
  9. ^ 10 AA Div at RA 39–45 Archived 2013-12-24 at the Wayback Machine.
  10. ^ Routledge, Table LXV, p. 396.
  11. ^ Farndale, Annex D, p. 260.
  12. ^ 71 LAA at RA 39–45
  13. ^ 43 SL Rgt at RA 39–45 Archived 2016-03-04 at the Wayback Machine.
  14. ^ 49 SL Rgt at RA 39–45 Archived 2016-03-04 at the Wayback Machine.
  15. ^ 54 SL Rgt at RA 39–45 Archived 2016-03-04 at the Wayback Machine.
  16. ^ AA Command 1940 at British Military History
  17. ^ 31 AA Bde War Diary, February 1944, The National Archives (TNA), Kew file WO 171/1080.
  18. ^ 31 AA Bde War Diary, February–June 1944, TNA file WO 171/1080.
  19. ^ 41 S/L Rgt War Diary, April 1944, TNA file WO 166/14873.
  20. ^ Routledge, Table XLIX, p 319.
  21. ^ 31 AA Bde War Diary, April–October 1944, TNA file WO 171/1080.
  22. ^ Routledge, pp. 304, 316.
  23. ^ 41 S/L Rgt War Diary, September–October 1944, TNA file WO 171/1203.
  24. ^ a b c 31 AA Bde War Diary, October 1944, TNA file WO 171/1080.
  25. ^ Routledge, p. 337.
  26. ^ Sayer, pp. 88–90.
  27. ^ Ellis, Vol I, Appendix IV Part VI.
  28. ^ London Gazette, 20 April 1945.
  29. ^ Routledge, p. 350.
  30. ^ Ellis, Vol II, Appendix IV.
  31. ^ Routledge, pp. 288–90; Table LVII, p. 366.
  32. ^ a b AA Bdes 30–66 at British Army units 1945 on.
  33. ^ Territorial Army 1947 at Orbat.com Archived March 3, 2016, at the Wayback Machine.
  34. ^ 444–473 Regiments at British Army units 1945 on.
  35. ^ 474–519 Regiments at British Army units 1945 on.
  36. ^ 564–591 Regiments at British Army units 1945 on. Archived 2016-01-10 at the Wayback Machine.
  37. ^ a b 520–563 Regiments at British Army units 1945 on.

References[edit]

  • Major L. F. Ellis, History of the Second World War, United Kingdom Military Series: Victory in the West, Vol I: The Battle of Normandy, London: HM Stationery Office, 1962/Uckfield: Naval & Military, 2004, ISBN 1-84574-058-0.
  • 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 1-84574-059-9.
  • Gen Sir Martin Farndale, History of the Royal Regiment of Artillery: The Years of Defeat: Europe and North Africa, 1939–1941, Woolwich: Royal Artillery Institution, 1988/London: Brasseys, 1996, ISBN 1-85753-080-2.
  • 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 1-84342-474-6.
  • Norman E. H. Litchfield, The Territorial Artillery 1908–1988 (Their Lineage, Uniforms and Badges), Nottingham: Sherwood Press, 1992, ISBN 0-9508205-2-0.
  • Brig N. W. Routledge, History of the Royal Regiment of Artillery: Anti-Aircraft Artillery 1914–55, London: Royal Artillery Institution/Brassey's, 1994, ISBN 978-1-85753-099-5.
  • Brig A. P. Sayer, Army Radar, London: War Office, 1950.

External sources[edit]