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28th (Thames & Medway) AA Brigade
54 (Thames & Medway) AA Brigade
Active 1925–September 1948
Country  United Kingdom
Branch Flag of the British Army.svg Territorial Army
Type Anti-Aircraft Brigade
Role Air Defence
Part of 1st AA Division
6th AA Division
1 AA Group
9 AA Group
Garrison/HQ Medway Towns
Engagements Battle of Britain
The Blitz
Baby Blitz
Operation Diver

28th (Thames and Medway) Anti-Aircraft Brigade was an air defence formation of Britain's Territorial Army created in 1925 to command anti-aircraft units in Kent and around the militarily important Medway Towns, which it defended during the Battle of Britain and The Blitz.

Static 3.7-inch gun of 127th HAA Rgt on a 'Pile Platform' at Southwold, Essex, 9 October 1944.

Origin[edit | edit source]

German air raids by Zeppelin airships and Gotha bombers on London and other British cities during World War I had shown the need for strong anti-aircraft (AA) defences in any future war. When the Territorial Army (TA) was reformed in the 1920s it included a number of dedicated AA units of the Royal Artillery (RA) and Royal Engineers (RE). At first these were concentrated in London under 26th and 27th Air Defence Brigades, but in 1925 55th (Kent) Anti-Aircraft Brigade, RA was formed to defend the Medway Towns of North Kent. 28th Air Defence Brigade (ADB) was then formed at Tunbridge Wells. to command the AA defences in the area, even though it only had 55th AA Bde under its command, and that in turn consisted only of 163rd (Kent) AA Battery at Tunbridge Wells. (There were also 313 and 314 independent AA searchlight companies of the RE (TA) in Kent, but these were not formally subordinated to 28 ADB at this time.)[1][2][3][4]

At first, 28th ADB was subordinate to the Home Counties Area of Eastern Command, but as Britain's AA defences expanded during the 1930s, higher formations became necessary. 1st AA Division was formed to cover London and the Home Counties in 1935.[5] The 28th AD Bde was reorganised as 28th (Thames & Medway) Anti-Aircraft Group, based at Kitchener Barracks, Chatham, and commanding all the gun and searchlight units in the area.[3][6][7]

Order of Battle 1935[edit | edit source]

The composition of 28 AA Group in December 1935 was as follows:[3]

  • 55th (Kent) Anti-Aircraft Brigade, RA (TA)
    • HQ at Fort Clarence, Rochester
    • 163rd (Kent) Anti-Aircraft Battery at Tunbridge Wells
    • 166th (City of Rochester) Anti-Aircraft Battery at Fort Clarence, Rochester
    • 205th (Chatham and Faversham) Anti-Aircraft Battery at Chatham
  • 58th (Kent) Anti-Aircraft Brigade, RA (TA) HAA gun unit formed in 1935 by conversion of 52nd (Kent) Medium Brigade, Royal Artillery
    • HQ at Erith
    • 206th (Erith) Anti-Aircraft Battery at Erith
    • 207th (Erith) Anti-Aircraft Battery at Erith
    • 208th (Bromley) Anti-Aircraft Battery at Penge
  • 61st (Finsbury Rifles) Anti-Aircraft Brigade, RA (TA). AA unit formed in 1935 by conversion of 11th London Regiment (Finsbury Rifles), affiliated to the Middlesex Regiment:[8]
    • HQ at Pentonville
    • 170th Anti-Aircraft Machine Gun Battery at Finchley
    • 171st Anti-Aircraft Machine Gun Battery at Pentonville
    • 195th Anti-Aircraft Machine Gun Battery at Finchley
    • 272nd Anti-Aircraft Battery added later at Southgate
  • 29th (Kent) Anti-Aircraft Battalion, RE (TA). Formed in 1935 from the Kent and Middlesex Group Anti-Aircraft Searchlight Companies, Royal Engineers:[8]
    • HQ at Marine School, Chatham
    • 313rd (Kent) Anti-Aircraft Company at Chatham
    • 314th (Kent) Anti-Aircraft Company at Tonbridge
    • 322nd Anti-Aircraft Company at Greenhithe
    • 347th (Kent) Anti-Aircraft Company at Sidcup
  • 32nd (7th City of London) Anti-Aircraft Battalion, RE (TA). Searchlight unit formed in 1935 by conversion of 7th London Regiment (Post Office Rifles) affiliated to the Middlesex Regiment
    • HQ at Finsbury Square
    • 328th Anti-Aircraft Company at Finsbury Square
    • 329th Anti-Aircraft Company at Grove Park, Lewisham
    • 330th Anti-Aircraft Company at Grove Park
    • 331st Anti-Aircraft Company at Bexleyheath

28th and other Anti-Aircraft Groups adopted the more normal formation title of 'Brigades' after the Royal Artillery redesignated its Brigades as 'Regiments' in 1938.

Mobilisation[edit | edit source]

Order of Battle 1939[edit | edit source]

By 3 Sep 1939 the London and searchlight units had left 28th AA Brigade, which was now entirely composed of Heavy AA artillery regiments drawn from Kent. It was serving in 6 AA Division, which was formed in 1939 to take responsibility for air defence of the Thames Estuary, Essex and Kent.[7][9][10]

  • 55th (Kent) Anti-Aircraft Regiment, RA[11]
    • New 307th Battery formed at Tunbridge Wells
    • 205th Battery transferred to 89th HAA Regiment
  • 58th (Kent) Anti-Aircraft Regiment, RA[12]
    • New 264th Battery formed at Dartford
  • 75th (Home Counties) (Cinque Ports) Anti-Aircraft Regiment, RA (TA). HAA Regiment converted from field artillery in 1938.
    • HQ at Dover
    • 223rd (Cinque Ports) Battery at Folkestone
    • 233rd (Kent) Battery at Dover
    • 306th Battery at Ashford, Kent
  • 89th (Cinque Ports) Anti-Aircraft Regiment, RA (TA). HAA Regiment raised as duplicate of 75th AA Rgt in April 1939[13]
    • HQ at Sittingbourne
    • 205th (Kent) Battery at Sittingbourne (from 55th (Kent) AA Regiment)
    • 234th (Kent) Battery at Deal
    • 235th (Kent) Battery at Margate

Phoney War[edit | edit source]

Opportunities for action were rare during the Phoney War, but on the night of 22/23 November 1939 the HAA guns of 28 AA Bde ('Thames South') combined with those of 37 AA Bde on the other bank of the river ('Thames North') to engage at least two enemy mine-laying aircraft that had strayed into the mouth of the Estuary. One wrecked aircraft was found on the marshes and credited to 206 Bty of 58th HAA Rgt at Allhallows, Kent.[14]

In 1940, AA units equipped with 3.7-inch and similar guns were redesignated 'Heavy Anti-Aircraft' (HAA), while units equipped with guns like the Bofors 40 mm gun were designated 'Light Anti-Aircraft' (LAA).

In the summer of 1940, the brigade was joined by 53rd (City of London) HAA Regiment, which had been evacuated (without guns) from Marseille after the Fall of France.[15]

28 AA Bde was responsible for the defences on the south side of the Thames Estuary (Thames South) including the Royal Naval Dockyard at Chatham, as well as the Port of Dover.[16][17] By 11 July 1940, the Thames South AA layout operated by 28 AA Bde had a total of 70 HAA guns (3.7-inch and 4.5-inch).[18]

Battle of Britain[edit | edit source]

3.7-inch guns of 75th HAA Regiment at Dover, 1940.

The Luftwaffe began its bombing offensive against the British mainland with small-scale raids on coastal targets, then in July 1940 began heavy daylight raids against south coast ports and shipping: the guns at Dover were in action virtually every day. Lieutenant-Colonel N.V. Sadler of 75th HAA Rgt developed an effective system of HAA barrages over individual points in Dover Harbour and the shipping channels, underpinned by LAA fire. In one day the regiment shot down seven Junkers Ju 87 'Stukas' together with two Messerschmitt Bf 109s and a Dornier Do 215.[19][20]

The brigade was heavily engaged throughout the Battle of Britain. On 18 August, for example, German air raids appeared over RAF airfields at West Malling, Manston, Kenley, Biggin Hill, Gravesend and the town of Sevenoaks, all within four and a half hours in the afternoon. The guns of 28 AA Bde and its neighbours were in action and accounted for 23 enemy aircraft. Four days later a mass raid flew up the Thames Estuary to attack RAF Hornchurch on the Essex shore: the raid was broken up by 28 and 37 AA Bdes, and then the fighters of No. 11 Group RAF attacked. Follow-up raids were marked for the fighters by 'pointer' rounds of HAA fire. On 1 September over 200 aircraft attacked Maidstone, Biggin Hill, Kenley and Chatham: in joint action with the fighters, the guns broke up the formations and shot down four aircraft, but the airfields at Biggin Hill and Kenley were badly hit. Next day a mass raid arrived over the Medway and flew up the Thames towards Hornchurch. They came under heavy fire from the 3.7s and 4.5s of 28 and 37 AA Bdes and 15 were shot down before the fighters took over. On 7 September heavy raids up the estuary attacked oil wharves at Thameshaven, Tilbury Docks and Woolwich Arsenal: a total of 25 aircraft were destroyed by AA guns and fighters.[21][22]

One of the lessons of the Battle of Britain was that day bombers needed to fly in tight formation for mutual protection against fighters, but in doing so they were vulnerable to AA fire. On 8 September a formation of 15 Dornier Do17s flew along the Thames at 15,000 feet. The opening salvo from a troop of four 3.7-inch guns of 28 AA Bde brought down the three leading aircraft and scattered the others in disorder, jettisoning their bombs as they escaped.[23] On 15 September, remembered as the zenith of the battle, the guns of 28 AA Bde were in prolonged combat, especially with aircraft over Chatham in the morning, and again in the afternoon.[21][24]

The Blitz[edit | edit source]

4.5 inch anti-aircraft gun and crew of 207 Battery, 58th HAA Regiment, near Sittingbourne, Kent, January 1941

After 15 September the intensity of Luftwaffe day raids declined rapidly, and it began a prolonged night bombing campaign over London and industrial towns (The Blitz). This meant that 28 Bde was in action night after night as the bomber streams approached the London Inner Artillery Zone, but even with the assistance of searchlights, the effectiveness of HAA fire and fighters was greatly diminished in the darkness. By now Thames South had a planned layout of 25 HAA sites (of which only 16 were occupied). It ran from Dartford to Chatham, where there was a strongly defended area containing the naval dockyards at Chatham and Sheerness and the aircraft factory at Rochester. This was controlled from a Gun Operations Room (GOR) at Chatham. 28 AA Bde was so stretched that 6 AA Division gave responsibility for LAA cover for Vulnerable Points (VPs) at Crayford, Northfleet, Rochester and the Isle of Grain to 56 LAA Bde. The searchlight layout in Thames South had the dual role of assisting guns or night fighters. The whole was under the operational control of No 11 Group RAF.[25][26]

Operational research[edit | edit source]

One of the operational sites in Thames South, TS21, was taken over by AA Command's Operational Research Group under Patrick Blackett ('Blackett's Circus') to combat-test and develop the new technologies coming forward such as Gun-Laying (GL) Radar and Searchlight Control (SLC) Radar. Improved GL Mark I E/F sets began to appear in November 1940, replacing sound-location for HAA sites, and the number of rounds that required to be fired for each 'kill' began to fall. The GL radar was also effective in providing target heights for fighters, and the SL batteries were able to pass these to the night fighter controllers at RAF Kenley.[24][27]

Order of Battle, Winter 1940–41[edit | edit source]

On 15 September 1940, 89th HAA Rgt was relieved of operational duties and ordered to prepare to move overseas. It sailed on 15 December for Egypt; its batteries later fought in the Battle of Crete and Siege of Tobruk.[28] On 24 November 1940, 75th HAA Regiment was transferred to 62 AA Bde to defend the North Midlands,[7] but 28 AA Bde was strengthened by 90th HAA and 4th LAA regiments:

In February 1941, 53 (City of London) HAA Regiment moved to Croydon and transferred to the command of 48 AA Bde.[15]

Mid-War[edit | edit source]

During 1942 more of the brigade's experienced units were transferred to War Office (WO) control, trained and equipped for mobile warfare, and then sent to active theatres overseas, particularly for Operation Torch in North Africa. Sometimes they returned temporarily to AA Command while awaiting embarkation. Increasingly, the replacement HAA and support units were 'Mixed', indicating that the operational personnel included women of the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS).

A reorganisation of AA Command in October 1942 saw the AA divisions disbanded and replaced by a smaller number of AA Groups more closely aligned with the organisation of RAF Fighter Command. 28 AA Brigade came under a new 1 AA Group covering London and the Thames Estuary.[31][32]

Order of Battle 1941–43[edit | edit source]

During this period the brigade was composed as follows (temporary attachments omitted):[31][33][34][35][36][37]

After this rapid turnover, the brigade only had three units under command by the end of 1943:[37][70]

  • 148th (M) HAA Rgt
    • 624, 629, 631, 633 (M) HAA Btys
  • 169th (M) HAA Rgt
    • 566, 571, 576, 578 (M) HAA Btys
  • 132nd LAA Rgt
    • 436, 437, 438 LAA Btys

By March 1944 AA Command was being forced to release manpower for the planned Allied invasion of continental Europe and 90th HAA and 4th LAA Regiments joined Second Army to prepare for the Normandy Landings (Operation Overlord).[30][56][71] Although many regiments were reduced by one or more batteries, there were few other changes to the brigade's order of battle in the early part of 1944:[70]

By October 1944, the brigade's HQ establishment was 9 officers, 8 male other ranks and 24 members of the ATS, together with a small number of attached drivers, cooks and mess orderlies (male and female). In addition, the brigade had a Mixed Signal Office Section of 1 officer, 5 male other ranks and 19 ATS, which was formally part of the Group signal unit.[74]

V-1 falling over London, 1944.

Operation Diver[edit | edit source]

The Luftwaffe began a new bombing campaign against London in early 1944 (the Baby Blitz). By now the night fighter defences, the London Inner Artillery Zone (IAZ) and Thames Estuary defences were well organised and the attackers suffered heavy losses for relatively small results. More significant were the V-1 flying bombs, codenamed 'Divers', which began to be launched against London from Northern France soon after D-Day. These presented AA Command's biggest challenge since the Blitz. Defences had been planned against this new form of attack (Operation Diver), but it presented a severe problem for AA guns, and after two weeks' experience AA Command carried out a major reorganisation, stripping guns from the London IAZ and other parts of the UK and repositioning them along the South Coast to target V-1s coming in over the English Channel, where a 'downed' V-1 would cause no damage. As the launching sites were overrun by 21st Army Group, the Luftwaffe switched to air-launching V-1s over the North Sea, so 1 AA Group had to redeploy again to the east of London.[75]

V-1 slung under the wing of a Heinkel He 111 bomber.

New HAA sites had to be quickly established, with static guns mounted on ingenious 'Pile Platforms' (named after the commander of AA Command, Sir Frederick Pile) and thousands of huts moved and re-erected to shelter the crews as winter approached. AA Command formed a new 9 AA Group to take over the 'Diver' defences in East Anglia and 28 AA Bde moved to this new formation in December 1944, giving up its previous units and taking over fresh ones. At this time, its order of battle was:[70][75]

A Nissen hut being erected at an AA site, November 1944.

9 AA Group was disbanded after VE Day and 28 AA Bde returned to 1 AA Group with 129th and 141st (M) HAA Rgts. With the end of the war in Europe, AA units and formations began to be demobilised, but 28 AA Bde was joined by 130th (Queen's Edinburgh Royal Scots) LAA Rgt (406, 407, 428 LAA Btys) by October 1945, until its disbandment in March 1946. 129th and 141st HAA Regiments were formally disbanded on 1 January 1947.[48][70][80][81]

Postwar[edit | edit source]

When the TA was reconstituted on 1 January 1947, the Thames and Medway AA Brigade was reformed, now numbered as 54 (Thames and Medway) AA Brigade (the TA AA brigades were now numbered 51 and upwards, rather than 26 and upwards as in the 1930s; the wartime 54 AA Bde was renumbered 80). Once again, it had the two Kent HAA regiments under its command, now renumbered 455 and 458 rather than 55 and 58. It also had 564 Searchlight Regiment, the prewar 29 (Kent) Searchlight Regiment. It was based at Gillingham, Kent, and was subordinate to 1 AA Group (AA Command's corps and divisions had been disbanded in 1942 and a group structure introduced; 1 AA Group controlled the air defences of the London region). However, 54 AA Bde was disbanded the following year, completely disappearing in September 1948.[82][83]

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. Litchfield, pp. 112–3.
  2. Monthly Army List 1925–35.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 1 AA Division 1936–39 at British Military History
  4. Titles and Designations 1927.
  5. Routledge, p. 59.
  6. Monthly Army List January 1936.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 6 AA Division 1939 at British Military History
  8. 8.0 8.1 Monthly Army List January 1939.
  9. AA Command at Patriot Files
  10. Routledge, Table LVIII, p. 376.
  11. 11.0 11.1 55 HAA Rgt at RA 39–45.
  12. 12.0 12.1 58 HAA Rgt at RA 39–45.
  13. 89 HAA Rgt at RA 39–45.
  14. Routledge, pp. 374–5.
  15. 15.0 15.1 53 HAA Regt War Diary 1940–41, The National Archives, Kew (TNA) file WO 166/2343.
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 6 AA Division 1940 at British Military History
  17. 6 AA Division at RA 39-45 Archived 2016-03-04 at the Wayback Machine.
  18. Farndale, p. 106.
  19. Collier Appendix XXIII
  20. Routledge, pp. 381–6.
  21. 21.0 21.1 Routledge, pp. 385–6.
  22. Farndale, p. 109.
  23. Farndale, p. 107.
  24. 24.0 24.1 Farndale, p. 110.
  25. Routledge, pp. 387–9.
  26. Farndale, Annex D, p. 333.
  27. Routledge, pp. 392–4.
  28. 89 HAA Rgt War Diary, 1939–40,TNA file WO 166/2380.
  29. Litchfield, p. 177.
  30. 30.0 30.1 30.2 90 HAA Rgt at RA 39–45.
  31. 31.0 31.1 Order of Battle of Non-Field Force Units in the United Kingdom, Part 27: AA Command, 1 October 1942, with amendments, TNA file WO 212/82.
  32. Routledge, pp. 400–1.
  33. Order of Battle of Non-Field Force Units in the United Kingdom, Part 27: AA Command, 12 May 1941, with amendments, TNA file WO 212/79.
  34. Order of Battle of Non-Field Force Units in the United Kingdom, Part 27: AA Command, 2 December 1941, with amendments, TNA file WO 212/80.
  35. Order of Battle of Non-Field Force Units in the United Kingdom, Part 27: AA Command, 14 May 1942, with amendments, TNA file WO 212/81.
  36. Order of Battle of Non-Field Force Units in the United Kingdom, Part 27: AA Command, 13 March 1943, with amendments, TNA file WO 212/83.
  37. 37.0 37.1 Order of Battle of AA Command, 1 August 1943, with amendments, TNA file WO 212/84.
  38. 38.0 38.1 38.2 Order of Battle of the Field Force in the United Kingdom, Part 3: Royal Artillery (Non-Divisional units), 2 April 1942, TNA file WO 212/515.
  39. Joslen p. 488.
  40. Joslen, p. 490.
  41. 59 HAA Rgt at RA 39–45.
  42. 60 HAA Rgt at RA 39–45.
  43. 72 HAA Rgt at RA 39–45.
  44. 44.0 44.1 44.2 Joslen, p. 465.
  45. 45.0 45.1 45.2 Routledge, Tables XXX–XXXII, pp. 188–90.
  46. 76 HAA Rgt at RA 39–45.
  47. 85 HAA Rgt at RA 39–45.
  48. 48.0 48.1 48.2 48.3 48.4 48.5 Farndale, Annex M.
  49. 127 HAA Rgt at RA 39–45.
  50. Joslen, p 491.
  51. 128 HAA Rgt at RA 39–45.
  52. 148 HAA Rgt at RA 39–45.
  53. 159 HAA Rgt at RA 39–45.
  54. 169 HAA Rgt at RA 39–45.
  55. 3 S/L Rgt at RA 39–45.
  56. 56.0 56.1 4 LAA Rgt at RA 39–45.
  57. Keith Brigstock 'Royal Artillery Searchlights', presentation to Royal Artillery Historical Society at Larkhill, 17 January 2007.
  58. Joslen, p. 485.
  59. Order of Battle of the Field Force in the United Kingdom, Part 3: Royal Artillery (Non-Divisional units), 25 March 1941, with amendments, TNA file WO 212/5.
  60. 16 LAA Rgt at RA 39–45.
  61. Joslen, p. 523.
  62. 43 LAA Rgt at RA 39–45.
  63. Jislen, p. 101.
  64. 49 LAA Rgt at RA 39–45.
  65. 69 LAA Rgt at RA 39–45.
  66. 129 LAA Rgt at RA 39–45.
  67. 132 LAA Rgt at RA 39–45.
  68. 143 LAA Rgt at RA 39–45.
  69. 12 AA 'Z' Rgt at RA 39–45.
  70. 70.0 70.1 70.2 70.3 Order of Battle of AA Command, 27 April 1944, with amendments, TNA file WO 212/85.
  71. Joslen, p. 463.
  72. 97 LAA Rgt at RA 39–45.
  73. 144 LAA Rgt at RA 39–45.
  74. AA Command Organisation Table, October–November 1944, TNA file WO 212/148.
  75. 75.0 75.1 Routledge pp. 408–21.
  76. 129 HAA Rgt at RA 39–45.
  77. 138 HAA Rgt at RA 39–45.
  78. 141 HAA Rgt at RA 39–45.
  79. 131 LAA Rgt at RA 39–45.
  80. Order of Battle of AA Command, 15 November 1945, TNA file WO 212/86.
  81. 130 LAA Rgt at RA 39–45.
  82. Graham Watson, The Territorial Army 1947 at Orbat.com Archived March 3, 2016, at the Wayback Machine.
  83. AA Brigades 30–66 at British Army Units 1945 on

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