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50th Light Anti-Aircraft Brigade (United Kingdom)
Country Flag of the United Kingdom.svg United Kingdom
Branch Flag of the British Army Territorial Army
Service history
Active 24 August 1939–14 November 1950
Role Air Defence
Part of 2 AA Division
5 AA Group
21st Army Group
Battles Battle of Britain
The Blitz
Defence of Brussels
Commanders
Insignia

50th Light Anti-Aircraft Brigade was an air defence formation of Britain's Territorial Army (TA) during World War II. It defended the North Midlands of England during The Blitz and later helped to protect Brussels from V-1 flying bombs during the Campaign in North West Europe.

MobilisationEdit

50th Light Anti-Aircraft Brigade was created just before the outbreak of war by Anti-Aircraft Command as part of the expanding anti-aircraft (AA) defences of the TA. It officially came into existence on 24 August 1939 when AA Command mobilised ahead of the official declaration of war on 3 September.[1]

Brigade headquarters was formed at RAF Hucknall, near Nottingham, which was the HQ of 2nd AA Division. At first the only unit under the brigade's command was 26th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery (26th LAA Rgt RA), at Derby. This consisted of 114, 115 and 116 LAA Batteries and was designated as a mobile reserve.[1][2][3][4] The brigade was given responsibility for AA defence of Derby, Nottingham, and the East Midlands.[5]

Order of BattleEdit

During the winter of 1939–40 the new brigade took over a number of Royal Artillery (RA) and Royal Engineers (RE) units from other brigades in 2nd AA Division. By May 1940, its composition was as follows:[6]

50th AA Brigade

Home DefenceEdit

In July 1940, at the height of invasion fears after the Dunkirk evacuation, AA Brigades were required to form mobile columns available to combat enemy paratroopers. 50th LAA Bde's column called 'Macduff' consisted of one HAA battery and one S/L company to operate directly under 2 AA Division. In addition, Brigade HQ ordered all AA units to cooperate with field forces or the Local Defence Volunteers (LDVs, later called the Home Guard) by providing fighting patrols and guards when they could not perform their primary AA role (S/L units in daylight, for example). S/L detachments were routinely provided with Lewis guns for self-defence against air attack, which would be useful in a ground defence role, and they were ordered to prepare Molotov cocktails.[11][12][13]

The brigade's area (Sector L in I Corps) was divided into four belts of resistance based on the widely-spread S/L sites:[6]

  • Coastal Belt: 1st Infantry Division formed the active defence outside the S/L defended localities
  • Central Belt: artillery units from I Corps were forming mobile columns based at S/L Company HQs
  • Rear Belt: other I Corps troops were forming mobile columns based at S/L Company HQs
  • Remaining S/L areas: Company areas would be reinforced by the LDVs

Battle of Britain and BlitzEdit

On 1 August 1940 all the RE AA Battalions and companies were transferred to the RA and designated Searchlight regiments and batteries, and during the year the AA regiments equipped with 3-inch or 3.7-inch guns were designated Heavy Anti-Aircraft (HAA) to distinguish them from the new Light Anti-Aircraft (LAA) regiments equipped with Bofors 40 mm guns or Light machine guns (LMGs).[14][15][16] The Midlands were barely affected during the Battle of Britain, though the Derby Barrage fired for the first time on 19 August 1940,[14] and a series of night raids on Liverpool late in the month passed overhead.[17]

The North and East Midlands had escaped the worst of the bombing during the early part of the Blitz, but both Nottingham and Derby were heavily attacked on the night of 8/9 May 1941 (the Nottingham Blitz).[18][19][20]

Order of BattleEdit

During The Blitz from autumn 1940 to May 1941, the brigade had the following composition:[5][21][22][23]

113 HAA Rgt's gun sites were initially split between 50th AA Bde protecting Nottingham and Derby, and 32nd (Midland) AA Bde guarding the East Midlands.[22][23]

Mid-WarEdit

In the Spring of 1941, 50th LAA Bde was split up, keeping the S/L regiments and LAA (and thus reverting to being a 'Light' AA brigade) while a new 66th AA Bde took over the HAA guns and rockets:[33]

AA Command redeployed its S/L units during the summer of 1941 into 'Indicator Belts' of radar-controlled S/L clusters covering approaches to the RAF's Night-fighter sectors, repeated by similar belts covering GDAs. Inside each belt was a 20-mile deep 'Killer Belt' of single S/Ls cooperating with night-fighters patrolling defined 'boxes'. The pattern was designed to ensure that raids penetrating deeply towards the Midlands GDAs would cross more than one belt, and the GDAs had more S/Ls at close spacing. The number of LAA units to protect Vital Points such as airfields was growing, albeit slowly.[34]

Order of Battle 1941–42Edit

Over next year the brigade's composition changed as follows:[33][35][36]

  • 144 (Mixed) HAA Rgtjoined from 66th AA Bde August 1942
    • 497, 498, 503, 504 HAA Btys
  • 20 LAA Rgtjoined August 1942
  • 28 LAA Rgt – left for India autumn 1941[10][37]
    • 106, 112 Btys
    • 53 Bty – left in early June 1941
    • 250 Bty – joined summer 1941
  • 111 LAA Rgtnew unit formed from 7th Bn Dorset Regiment December 1941; left July 1942[25][38]
    • 348, 349, 350, 363 LAA Btys
  • 139 LAA Rgtnew unit formed July 1942 from existing batteries; left September 1942[25][39]
    • 94, 177, 230 LAA Btys
  • 42 (Robin Hoods, Sherwood Foresters) S/L Rgt– as above
  • 50 (Northamptonshire Regiment) S/L Rgt – left spring 1942
  • 15 AA 'Z' Rgt – rocket regiment joined from 66th AA Bde August 1942

'Mixed' units were those where women of the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) were integrated into the unit. 'Z' Regiments were equipped with Z Battery rocket launchers.

ReorganisationEdit

2 AA Division, like the other AA Corps and Divisions, was disbanded and replaced on 1 October 1942 by a new AA Group structure. The Midlands and East Anglia were covered by 5 AA Group, headquartered at Hucknall and coinciding with No. 12 Group RAF.[40][41]

Order of Battle 1942–44Edit

Following this reorganisation the brigade's composition changed as follows:[42][43][44][45]

Overlord planningEdit

In the planning for Operation Overlord (the Allied invasion of Normandy), No. 85 Group RAF was to be responsible for Night-fighter cover of the beachhead and bases in Normandy after D-Day, and was keen to have searchlight assistance in the same way as Fighter Command had in the UK. Two AA brigade HQs experienced in commanding searchlights, 31st (North Midland) and 50th (now often referred to as 50 S/L Bde), were to be withdrawn from AA Command to join 21st Army Group's GHQ AA Troops for this purpose. A detailed plan was drawn up for 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, with 50th S/L Bde's share to be as follows:[51]

In practice, most of this plan was never implemented, liaison with the US Army units around Cherbourg having proved problematical once they were on the ground. 50th S/L Bde therefore remained in AA Command, waiting to cross to Normandy until long after D-Day.[52] In the event, 43 and 49 S/L Rgts did not deploy to North West Europe in the AA role, but were instead converted to garrison regiments for line of communication duties in October 1944.[25][53][54]

North West EuropeEdit

50th Searchlight Brigade HQ left 5 AA Group in AA Command in September 1944.[45] 2 Searchlight Regiment was serving in the AA role with 21st Army Group (with its batteries under other brigade HQs) in late 1944,[55] and 50 S/L Bde HQ was finally employed in early March 1945 when it relieved 101st AA Bde at Brussels.[56][57]

Brussels had been under bombardment by V-1 flying bombs (codenamed 'Divers') since October. To deal with this menace, an integrated system ('Brussels X' ) had been developed with warning stations and observation posts, supported by radar and searchlights. The system had been under the operational command of 101st AA Brigade while 80th AA Bde was responsible for all early warning and tracking for Brussels and Antwerp. The Brussels X operational units were as follows:[58]

Antwerp V1

V-1 in flight over Antwerp

The HAA units were using the new No 10 Predictor (the Bell Labs AAA Computer) and No 3 Radar combination. The Mixed units arrived from England with static Mark IIC 3.7-inch guns equipped for powered gunlaying, loading and fuze-setting, all operated remotely from the No 10 predictor. This fire-control system provided complete automation of the process of engagement, apart from ammunition supply, and had proved very successful against V-1s in Air Defence of Great Britain's Operation Diver.[59][60]

Antwerp V-1-2

Captured V-1 displayed at Antwerp at the end of World War II.

50th Searchlight Brigade took over units in the Brussels 'X' Defences under GHQ AA Troops in March 1945, but by the end of the month there was no serious threat remaining to the city, and the brigade began to withdraw the AA units. In April the brigade closed up to the Scheldt defences, where torpedo boats, midget submarines and aircraft dropping Parachute mines in the approaches to Antwerp Docks and the Ghent canal were still a problem.[61] At the end of the month, just before hostilities ended on VE Day, 50th AA Bde's composition was as follows:[62]

On 12 May all AA positions in 21st Army Group were ordered to stand down, but this did not at first apply to those in coastal positions such as the Scheldt, because of uncertainty about the intentions of German naval units still at sea when the surrender was signed.[64]

PostwarEdit

When the TA was reconstituted in 1947, 50th AA Bde was reformed as 76 Anti-Aircraft Brigade, which had no connection with the wartime 76th AA Bde. The reformed brigade had its HQ at Leicester and formed part of 5 AA Group once more. It had the following units subordinated to it:[65][66][67]

In 1950, some of these units underwent amalgamations, and the Brigade HQ was disbanded, completing on 14 November.[65]

InsigniaEdit

In July 1940, 50 AA Bde adopted as its sign 'a full moon', painted on vehicles along with the 2nd AA Divisional sign of 'a witch on a broomstick'.[12]

NotesEdit

  1. 1.0 1.1 2 AA Division 1939 at British Military History.
  2. AA Command 3 September 1939 at Patriot Files.
  3. Routledge, Table LVIII, p. 376; Table LX, p. 378.
  4. Litchfield, p. 40.
  5. 5.0 5.1 2 AA Division 1940 at British Military History.
  6. 6.0 6.1 50 AA Bde Operation Instruction No 1 of 29 June 1940 in 41 (5NSR) AA Bn War Diary 1939–40, The National Archives (TNA), Kew, file WO 166/3059.
  7. 7.0 7.1 41 (5NSR) AA Bn Operation Instruction No 8 of 18 November 1939 in 41 (5NSR) AA Bn War Diary 1939–40, TNA file WO 166/3059.
  8. 68 HAA Rgt at RA 1939–45.
  9. Litchfield, p. 199.
  10. 10.0 10.1 28 LAA Rgt at RA 1939–45.
  11. 50 AA Bde Operation Instruction No 13 of 16 June 1940 in 41 (5NSR) AA Bn War Diary 1939–40 TNA file WO 166/3059.
  12. 12.0 12.1 365 AA Coy (41 AA Bn) War Diary July 1940, TNA file WO 166/3208.
  13. Routledge, p. 382.
  14. 14.0 14.1 41 (5NSR) AA Bn War Diary 1940, TNA file WO 166/3059.
  15. Routledge, p. 78.
  16. Litchfield, p. 5 and individual entries.
  17. Collier, Appendix XV.
  18. Nottingham Post, 19 July 2012.
  19. Nottingham Post, 7 September 2015.
  20. Collier, p. 280; Appendices XXX & XXXI.
  21. 2 AA Div at RA 39–45.
  22. 22.0 22.1 Routledge, Table LXV, p. 396.
  23. 23.0 23.1 Farndale, Annex D.
  24. 67 HAA Rgt at RA 1939–45.
  25. 25.00 25.01 25.02 25.03 25.04 25.05 25.06 25.07 25.08 25.09 25.10 25.11 25.12 Farndale, Annex M.
  26. 113 HAA Rgt at RA 1939–45.
  27. 113 HAA Rgt War Diary 1940-41,TNA file WO 166/2403.
  28. 38 LAA Rgt at RA 1939–45.
  29. 64 LAA Rgt at RA 1939–45.
  30. 38 S/L Rgt at RA 1939–45.
  31. 42 S/L Rgt at RA 1939–45.
  32. 50 S/L Rgt at RA 1939–45.
  33. 33.0 33.1 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. Routledge, pp. 398–400.
  35. 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.
  36. 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.
  37. Joslen, p. 522.
  38. 111 LAA Rgt at RA 1939–45.
  39. 139 LAA Rgt at RA 1939–45.
  40. Sir Frederick Pile's despatch: "The Anti-Aircraft Defence of the United Kingdom from 28th July 1939, to 15th April 1945" London Gazette 16 October 1947
  41. Routledge, pp. 400–1, Map 36.
  42. 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.
  43. 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.
  44. Order of Battle of AA Command, 1 August 1943, with amendments, TNA file WO 212/84.
  45. 45.0 45.1 Order of Battle of AA Command, 27 April 1944, with amendments, TNA file WO 212/85.
  46. 147 HAA Rgt at RA 1939–45.
  47. 172 HAA Rgt at RA 1939–45.
  48. 62 S/L Rgt at RA 1939–45.
  49. 65 S/L Rgt at RA 1939–45.
  50. 84 S/L Rgt at RA 1939–45.
  51. Routledge, p. 304, Table XLIX, p. 319.
  52. Routledge, p. 316.
  53. 43 S/L Rgt at RA 1939–45.
  54. 49 S/L Rgt at RA 1939–45.
  55. Routledge, pp. 346, 350, 354, 356, 359, 362, Table LVI, p. 365.
  56. Routledge, pp. 339, 341, 348.
  57. Ellis, Appendix IV.
  58. Routledge, p. 338; Table LIII, p. 342.
  59. Routledge, pp. 322, 333–4.
  60. Ellis, pp. 149–50.
  61. Routledge, p. 326, 335–8, 361.
  62. Routledge, Table LVII, p. 366.
  63. Routledge, p. 338.
  64. Routledge, p. 363.
  65. 65.0 65.1 67–106 AA Bdes at British Army 1945 onwards.
  66. Litchfield, Appendix 5.
  67. Watson, TA 1947.
  68. 68.0 68.1 520–563 Rgts RA at British Army 1945 onwards.
  69. Litchfield, p. 241.
  70. Litchfield, p. 141.
  71. 71.0 71.1 564–591 Rgts RA at British Army 1945 onwards.
  72. Litchfield, p. 139.
  73. Litchfield, p. 189.

ReferencesEdit

  • 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.
  • 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 1-843424-74-6.
  • 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 1-85753-099-3.

External sourcesEdit

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