Isle of Wight Rifles
|Princess Beatrice's Isle of Wight Rifles|
|Role||Infantry (1860–1937; 1967–2006)
Coast Artillery (1937–1949)
Air Defence (1949–1967)
|Garrison/HQ||Albany Barracks, Newport, Isle of Wight|
The 8th (Isle of Wight Rifles, Princess Beatrice's) Battalion, The Hampshire Regiment, known informally as the 'Isle of Wight Rifles' or by the nickname 'The Isle of Wight Gurkhas' was formed to defend the Isle of Wight after a 19th Century invasion scare. The unit served as infantry during World War I, and as coastal defence artillery during World War II. Postwar it converted to the air defence role.
The Isle of Wight had long been fortified against invasion, due to its strategic position. It had also had numerous troops billeted in the Napoleonic Wars. In 1859, Artillery and infantry Rifle Volunteer Corps were raised in response to an invasion scare following the perceived resurgence of French naval power under Louis Napoleon III. On the Isle of Wight there was a major programme of fortification, including Forts Victoria, Albert, Golden Hill, and Culver Fort and batteries at Sandown, Puckpool, Bouldnor and the Needles. Infantry support was provided by eight RVCs formed at various locations around the island (dates given are those of first officers' commissions):
- 1st (Ryde) Isle of Wight Rifle Volunteers – 25 January 1860
- 2nd (Newport) Isle of Wight Rifle Volunteers – 27 August 1860
- 3rd (2nd Ryde) Isle of Wight Rifle Volunteers – 7 December 1860; disbanded
- 4th (Nunwell) Isle of Wight Rifle Volunteers – 17 July 1860
- 5th (Ventnor) Isle of Wight Rifle Volunteers – 22 October 1860
- 6th (Sandown) Isle of Wight Rifle Volunteers – 31 March 1860; disbanded 1862
- 7th (Cowes and Osborne) Isle of Wight Rifle Volunteers – 27 April 1860
- 8th (Freshwater) Isle of Wight Rifle Volunteers – 6 July 1860; disbanded 1869
Those who served in the Corps paid for their own kit and expense; Newtown ranges were set aside for their training. They were soon 3,000 strong. With another 4,000 troops from the mainland, soldiers comprised 1 in 4 of the local population. By this time Queen Victoria had moved to the Isle of Wight at Osborne House.
The separate RVCs were brought under the umbrella of the 1st Administrative Battalion of Isle of Wight Rifle Volunteers, formed on 5 July 1860 with headquarters at Newport, under Colonel Dunsmore formerly of the 42nd Highlanders. In 1880 the Administrative Battalion was consolidated as the 1st Isle of Wight Rifle Volunteers, organised as follows:
- A & B Companies at Ryde – formerly 1st RVC
- C & D Companies at Newport – formerly 2nd RVC
- E Company at Nunwell – formerly4th RVC
- F & G Companies at Ventnor – formerly 5th RVC
- H Company at Cowes – formerly 7th RVC
In September 1885 the unit became the 5th (Isle of Wight 'Princess Beatrice's) Volunteer Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment, Princess Beatrice being Queen Victoria's youngest daughter, married to Prince Henry of Battenberg, who was appointed Honorary Colonel of the battalion.
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When volunteers were asked for in 1899 for South Africa only twenty riflemen were accepted as the "1st Active Service Section of the Isle of Wight Rifles". They served with other Hampshire volunteers in a support capacity and distinguished themselves by marching thirty-five miles in twelve hours to cover the withdrawal of a detachment under fire near Mafeking. In 1901, despite many volunteering, only ten were accepted and only three passed the medical. Even so, the unit was awarded the Battle Honour 'South Africa 1900-01'.
When the Territorial Force was formed under the Haldane Reforms, the five volunteer battalions of the Hampshire Regiment were numbered in sequence following the Regular and Special Reserve, so that the unit became the 8th Battalion. The volunteers were now paid an annual bounty of £5 and the weekend and annual two-week camps, for which wages were received, were very popular socially. In 1913, Lieutenant Colonel John Rhodes took command. He offered a £1 bounty for joining and as a result a number of men from the mainland joined up in preference to other units.
First World War
While the four mainland TF battalions of the Hampshires formed the Hampshire Brigade of the Wessex Division, the 8th remained unattached under the orders of Southern Command and when war broke out in 1914, the Rifles were mobilised to man local fortifications. The Territorials were asked to volunteer for overseas service, forming second battalions of home service men and recruits. Whereas the Wessex Division sailed to relieve Regular troops in India, the 1/8th Battalion was left training at Parkhurst. However, on 19 April 1915 the battalion was assigned to 163rd (Norfolk and Suffolk) Brigade in 54th (East Anglian) Division to replace the 1/4th Battalion, Suffolk Regiment that had already gone overseas. The 54th Division had been employed on coast defence, but now it was preparing to go overseas, completing its training at Bury St. Edmunds and Watford. On 30 July 1915 the Isle of Wight Rifles sailed from Liverpool aboard the Aquitania (some wood of which now forms a bar in Sandown Broadway). They were travelling to join the fighting at Gallipoli.
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An Allied force under Lieutenant General Frederick Stopford had landed at Suvla Bay on 7 and 8 August 1915. The beach led to a plain overlooked by a range of hills. Stopford (who set up his command post in a sloop - HMS Juno- anchored offshore) took the beaches but waited whilst stores were landed before occupying the empty hills. By the time he decided to move upon them the Turks had filled them full of artillery and infantry. The 163rd Brigade, consisting of the 1/5th Suffolk 4th & 5th Norfolk, & 1/8 Hampshires (I.W.Rifles) were landed on 10 August 1915 in order to attack the Turkish positions on Anafurta Ridge. Stopford delayed the attack wishing to make good losses in his lines until pressured by the overall commander, General Hamilton, to order the attack thus giving the Turks full warning of the impending attack.
On 12 August 1915 the attack was ordered across terrain varying from thick scrub to abandoned fields, all cut with dried watercourses. The purpose of the advance was to clear the area of snipers prior to a Divisional attack on Anafarta Ridge the next day. Muddle and confusion hampered the planning with the individual Battalions not receiving the warning orders that the advance was to take place and no clear objective was indicated. Eventually at 16:45 the order to advance was sounded. The start line that had been doglegged around a small hill was then subject to a muddled order that changed the direction of the Norfolks at the moment of advance. Rather than straightening the line, the bend was amplified and as the Norfolks charged a gap that opened up between them and the 8th Hants and the rest of 163 Brigade. Advancing 1,500 yards across the more favourable terrain, the Norfolks took nearly forty percent casualties. The Norfolks' Company, including men from the Royal Estate of Sandringham, were able to advance the furthest but were cut off. Mystery and fantasy has dogged this action ever since. The Brigade held a temporary line formed along a road edge for 48 hours until relieved by the 161st (Essex) Brigade. From the Rifles, 3 brothers from the Urry family together with their brother-in-law were killed, whilst among the officers two brothers, Clayton and Donald Ratsey of the legendary sailmaking firm Ratsey & Lapthorn, both Captains, were killed. Losses in each of the Battalions involved were counted in the high 300's including missing and wounded. The Rifles lost 89 men killed in action once the missing men were reclassified "presumed killed in action". In September 1915 they were moved back to Anzac Cove and evacuated in November.
Egypt and Palestine
The 1st Battalion sailed to Alexandria and to an acclimatisation camp at Sidi Bish, then to Mena Camp by the Pyramids of Giza. They moved into deployment at the Bitter Lakes on the Suez Canal. In January 1917 they marched to Mazar and in February marched across the Sinai Desert 145 miles in 12 days to El Arish. On the night of 17 April 1917 the offensive against the Turkish line at Gaza began, supported by tanks. The first phase of the Rifles operation to capture the Sheik Abbas ridge went well but one of the tanks a MkI male Sir Archibald was destroyed by artillery. On the morning of the 19th the attack against the Sihan Redoubt commenced with Rifles in support of the 4th & 5th Norfolks. As the two leading battalions melted away the Rifles found themselves leading the attack. Eventually the redoubt was captured following a last charge by the other supporting tank, a MkI femal Nutty. Sihan or Tank redoubt was briefly held by a handful of Norfolks Rifles, and Australians until forced to retire through lack of ammunition and water. The Rifles sustained major casualties during the days attack. Two hundred were kept in reserve but out of 800 who went into action only two officers and ninety men answered roll call the following evening, some being taken prisoner and subsequently transferred to Austria. A trench raid against the Turks at Beach Post was regarded as a model of its kind, and earned the Battalion high praise, as they captured a machine gun and two Lewis guns, as well as demolishing several dug-outs. The attack had been carried out at the point of the bayonet. One Sgt accounting for 13 Turks alone.General Allenby took overall command of the Palestine Campaign in August 1917 and his final successful assault against the Gaza-Beersheba Line, saw the Rifles attacking the trenches to the south of Gaza. Carrying out this task cost the Battalion 2 officers and 51 O.R.'s killed. The Rifles then fought their way into Palestine, fighting in the Judaean Hills as Allenby entered Jerusalem. They remained in Palestine until the final defeat of the Turks in September 1918 when they sailed from Beirut to Alexandria and were demobbed in Cairo. When rioting broke out a cadre joined the Army of Occupation in the Sudan, eventually returning to the Isle of Wight in 1920.
In August 1916 the 2/8th Battalion, manning the forts on the Isle of Wight, was absorbed by the 4th (Reserve) Battalion of the Hampshires at Romsey. In September a draft of 250 men was shipped to India. From here they were landed at Basra with the Indian Army. They fought no major battles but were involved in constant skirmishing through Amarah, Kut, Ctesiphon, Persia, Turkestan, Constantinople, Salonika, Italy and France, returning home in 1919.
The Territorial Force disbanded after the war but was later reformed as the Territorial Army. The Rifles were stood down, but were not disbanded due to Princess Beatrice's (Governess of the IOW) intervention. They were mobilised at Albany Barracks during a coal-strike in 1921. In 1923 the battalion was transferred to the 128th (Hampshire) Infantry Brigade, part of 43rd (Wessex) Infantry Division, alongside the 4th, 5th/7th and 6th battalions, Hampshire Regiment. They were transferred to the Royal Artillery in 1937 as The Princess Beatrice's Isle of Wight Rifles Heavy Regiment, with 189 Battery at Cowes and 190 Battery at Ryde. The regiment was retitled 530th (The Princess Beatrice's Isle of Wight Rifles) Coast Regiment, Royal Artillery in 1940.
Second World War
530 Coast Regiment was mobilised on 25 August 1939, with four batteries:
- A Battery (later 126 battery) at Cliff End
- B Battery (later transferred to 17th Coast Regiment, Royal Artillery)
- C Battery (later 127 Battery) at Fort Albert
- D Battery (later 128 Battery) at Hurst Castle
Although it was employed manning the extensive coastal defences many personnel were drafted to service in other units. A contingent sailed to Alexandria on the Empress of Canada in 1941 and sent to reinforce Tobruk, aboard HMAS Voyager. There they were formed into 17 Coast Regiment – a number being captured when it fell to Rommel on 21 June 1942. Another contingent was sent to Gibraltar aboard the SS Aquila to prepare defences against Franco's Spain. Another battery served with General Alexander in Burma.
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In 1947 the regiment was reformed as 428 The Princess Beatrice's (Isle of Wight Rifles) Coast Regiment, RA, but in 1949 it was converted as 428 The Princess Beatrice's (Isle of Wight Rifles) (Mixed) Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment, RA, with three batteries based at Ryde, Newport and Cowes with RHQ at Newport. They were armed with 3.7 HAA Guns and associated radars and predictors. The term 'Mixed' in the title indicated that members of the Women's Royal Army Corps were integrated into the unit. They were briefly responsible for the manning of the 5.25 gun sites on the Island. After the demise of Anti-Aircraft Command and the reduction in air defence units in 1955, the Rifles were once again renamed, now becoming P (Princess Beatrice's IoW Rifles) Battery in 457 (Wessex) Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment, RA, equipped with mobile 3.7 guns. When the regiment te-equipped with Thunderbird SAMs the battery became P HQ Bty 457 Heavy Air Defence Regt RA TA (The IoW Rifles) The Hampshire Caribineers Yeomanry. The main element of the battery was the Regimental Surveillance Troop with 4 mk 7 & height finding radars. They had received two Distinguished Service Orders, a Distinguished Conduct Medal, four Military Crosses, seven Military Medals and various mentions in despatches during their wartime service.
In 1967 457 Regiment RA was disbanded and reconstituted as C (Wessex Royal Artillery, Princess Beatrice's) Company, Hampshire and Isle of Wight Territorials in TAVR III before being reduced to cadre in 1969. In 1971 the cadre was reconstituted as 6 Platoon, B Company (Hampshire), 1st Battalion, Wessex Regiment (The Rifle Volunteers) in TAVR II - a mobilisation component of 1 (Guards) Infantry Brigade (the Guards title being dropped during the 1970s). In 1986 the company (including 6 platoon) was moved to the 2nd Battalion and the mobilisation role was changed to home defence in 43 (Wessex) Infantry Brigade.
Under the 1992 drawdown ("Options for Change"), The Queen's Regiment was amalgamated with the Royal Hampshire Regiment to create the Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment (Queen's and Royal Hampshire's). A and B companies of 2 Wessex were amalgamated as C (Duke of Connaught's) Company, 6th/7th Battalion PWRR, and the Isle of Wight Rifles became 9 (Princess Beatrice's) Platoon, awkwardly placing C company in 145 (Home Counties) Brigade district (re-designated 145 (South)Brigade in 1994) whilst the remainder of the battalion (and the sister 5th Battalion) were in 2 (South East) Brigade district. It also gave the unit the distinction of having the longest name of any unit in the British Army of the time and due to the platoon's continued connection to Princess Beatrice its members were nicknamed "The Isle of Wight Rifles" throughout the rest of 6/7PWRR. The 1998 Strategic Defence Review reorganised the TA infantry along brigade lines, and the Isle of Wight Rifles became 9 (Princess Beatrice) Platoon, D Company of a new battalion, 3rd PWRR (The Royal Rifle Volunteers) formed by all the TA infantry in 145 Brigade in 1999. Despite the Royal Rifle Volunteer designation the unit continued to be badged to the Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment.
Under SDR New Chapter the high operating costs of the platoon due to its remote location and Hampshire lineage led to a successful campaign in RHQ PWRR to divest itself of the platoon, although the attempt to reject the rest of the company at Portsmouth failed when the planned formation of a 2 battalion "Royal Wessex Regiment" failed due to objections from the Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment's Colonel led to the battalion being chosen for disbandment over the Green Howards (now 3rd Battalion, Yorkshire Regiment). 17 Port and Maritime Regiment, Royal Logistics Corps had an interest in the Island as they were sponsors of the Army Cadet Force and agreed to take the Island's Territorial unit into their TA counterpart, 165 Port and Maritime Regiment, to maintain the TA Centre.
Due to the continued use of the Isle of Wight Rifles name and that of Princess Beatrice despite many changes in regimental affiliation, all former members of the unit up to this point are entitled to wear the cap badge of the Isle of Wight Rifles (worn officially 1908–1937) if they so wish, though they would have been required to wear the cap badge of their regular parent regiment (RA, Wessex or PWRR) whilst serving within the unit. This entitlement ended when the lineage of Princess Beatrice and the Isle of Wight Rifles was officially discontinued upon the takeover by the RLC in 2006, thus ending one hundred and sixteen years of tradition. The unit's personnel either re-badged as RLC or were absorbed into the other platoons within D Company, 3rd Battalion PWRR at their main unit in Portsmouth.
In 2013 the Territorial Army underwent further re-organisation with the government's decision to reduce regular army strength, but increase reserve strength. During this process, the title Territorial Army was quietly dropped in favour of Army Reserve. As part of this, due to its small size the island's unit was threatened with disbandment, but after much debate managed to survive. The unit, still attached to 165 Port Support Sqn RLC, received the new designation E (Isle of Wight Rifles) Troop, thus restoring the history of the Island's Territorials into the title once again.
The Isle of Wight Rifles are the subject of a "living history group" on the Isle of Wight. The Isle of Wight Rifles Living History Group was formed to present the WWI uniform and equipment of the IWR to local shows and interested organisations. They have also instigated two remembrance services each year. The first held on the Sunday closest to 25 April at Hero's Corner, Mountjoy remembers the Islands contribution to the Gallipoli campaign. The August service held at the Chapel of Saint Nicholas in Castro, Carisbrooke Castle held on the Sunday closest to 12 August commemorates the Isle of Wight Rifles' first action at Suvla Bay 1915.
The following served as Honorary Colonel of the regiment:
- HRH Prince Henry of Battenberg appointed September 1885
- HRH The Duke of York appointed 1896; later Colonel-in-Chief as King George V
- HRH Princess Beatrice appointed 1937
- Earl Mountbatten of Burma appointed 1950 (nephew of Prince Henry and great-nephew of Princess beatrice)
- Due to a similarity in Rifles uniform and drill, and possibly because they tended to be shorter than the average height of the time.
- "Isle of Wight Rifles". http://woottonbridgeiow.org. Retrieved 7 March 2013.
- Beckett, Appendix VII.
- Westlake, pp. 113–4.
- IoW Rifles at Regiments.org, accessed 28 August 2014
- "First World War". http://woottonbridgeiow.org.uk. Retrieved 7 March 2013.
- Becke, Pt 2a, pp. 125–31.
- Becke, Pt 2a, pp. 43–8.
- Hampshire Rgt at Long, Long Trail, accessed 28 August 2014
- "Inter War". http://woottonbridgeiow.org.uk. Retrieved 7 March 2013.
- Heavy Regiments at RA 39–45, accessed 28 August 2014
- 530 Coast Rgt at RA 39–45, accessed 28 August 2014
- 17 Coast Rgt at RA 39–45, accessed 28 August 2014
- 414–443 Rgts at British Army 1945 on, accessed 28 August 2014
- Maj A.F. Becke,History of the Great War: Order of Battle of Divisions, Part 2a: The Territorial Force Mounted Divisions and the 1st-Line Territorial Force Divisions (42–56), London: HM Stationery Office, 1935/Uckfield: Naval & Military Press, 2007, ISBN 1-847347-39-8.
- Ian F.W. Beckett, Riflemen Form: A study of the Rifle Volunteer Movement 1859–1908, Aldershot: Ogilby Trusts, 1982, ISBN 0 85936 271 X.
- Ray Westlake, Tracing the Rifle Volunteers, Barnsley: Pen and Sword, 2010, ISBN 978 1 84884 211 3.
- British Army units from 1945 on
- Land Forces of Britain, the Empire and Commonwealth (Regiments.org)
- The Long, Long Trail
- The Royal Artillery 1939–45
Isle of Wight Rifles Living History Society http://www.iwight.com/living here/voluntary/vol.org.detail.asp?orgID=1270
There was a regiment raised in the American Civil War from Isle of Wight County, Virginia called the "Isle of Wight Avengers" (F Company, 7th Battalion, 61st Virginia Infantry) who fought for the Confederacy.