|5th Anti-Aircraft Division|
Anti-Aircraft Command (1938–40)|
I AA Corps (1940–42)
Battle of Britain|
The 5th Anti-Aircraft Division (5 AA Division) was an air defence formation of Britain's Territorial Army, created in the period of tension before the outbreak of World War II. It defended Southern England during the Battle of Britain and the Blitz.
Increasing concern during the 1930s about the threat of air attack led to large numbers of units of the part-time Territorial Army (TA) being converted to anti-aircraft (AA) gun and searchlight roles in the Royal Artillery (RA) and Royal Engineers (RE), and higher formations became necessary to control them. One such formation was 5 AA Division, raised on 1 September 1938 at Reading, Berkshire, to command all the TA AA units in the South, South West and South Midlands of England and South Wales. Its area was roughly aligned with that of No 10 Group of RAF Fighter Command under whose orders Anti-Aircraft Command operated. The formation's first General Officer Commanding (GOC) was Major-General Alan Cunningham.
The divisional badge was a falling black aircraft silhouette trailing red flames, on a khaki background.
The deterioration in international relations during 1939 led to a partial mobilisation of the TA in June, after which a proportion of TA AA units manned their war stations under a rotation system known as 'Couverture'. Full mobilisation of AA Command came in August 1939, ahead of the declaration of war on 3 September 1939.
Order of Battle
- 35th Anti-Aircraft Brigade
- 56th (Cornwall) Anti-Aircraft Regiment, RA – Heavy Anti-Aircraft (HAA) unit converted from medium artillery in 1932
- 57th (Wessex) Anti-Aircraft Regiment, RA – HAA unit converted from field artillery in 1932
- 72nd (Hampshire) Anti-Aircraft Regiment, RA – HAA unit converted from field artillery (originally Yeomanry cavalry) in 1938
- 48th (Hampshire) Anti-Aircraft Battalion, RE – Searchlight unit converted from fortress engineers in 1937
- 35th AA Bde Company, Royal Army Service Corps (RASC)
- 45th Anti-Aircraft Brigade
- 77th (Welsh) Anti-Aircraft Regiment, RA – HAA unit converted from field artillery in 1938
- 6th (Glamorgan) Battalion, Welch Regiment (67th Searchlight Regiment) – infantry battalion converted in 1938
- 1st (Rifle) Battalion, Monmouthshire Regiment (68th Searchlight Regiment) – infantry battalion converted in 1938
- 45th AA Bde Company, RASC
- 46th Anti-Aircraft Brigade
- 76th (Gloucestershire) Anti-Aircraft Regiment, RA – HAA unit converted from field artillery in 1938
- 98th Anti-Aircraft Regiment, RA – new HAA unit formed in 1939
- 4th (City of Bristol) Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment (66th Searchlight Regiment) – infantry battalion converted in 1938
- 46th AA Bde Company, RASC
- 47th Anti-Aircraft Brigade
- 80th (Berkshire) Anti-Aircraft Regiment, RA – HAA unit converted from field artillery in 1938
- 30th (Surrey) Anti-Aircraft Battalion, RE – searchlight battalion formed in 1924
- 35th (First Surrey Rifles) Anti-Aircraft Battalion, RE – infantry battalion converted in 1935
- 4th Battalion Queen's Royal Regiment (West Surrey) (63rd Searchlight Regiment) – infantry battalion converted in 1938
- 72nd (Middlesex) Searchlight Regiment, RA – new unit formed in 1938
- 47th AA Bde Company, RASC
- 55th Light Anti-Aircraft Brigade
- 23rd Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, RA – new unit formed in 1938
- 24th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, RA – new unit formed in 1938
- 34th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, RA – new unit formed in 1939
- 35th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, RA – new unit formed in 1939
- 36th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, RA – new unit formed in 1939
- 55th AA Bde Company, RASC
- 5th AA Divisional Signals, Royal Corps of Signals (RCS) – formed at Reading in 1939
- 5th AA Divisional Workshops, Royal Army Ordnance Corps
On mobilisation in August 1939, 5 AA Division had the following equipment:
- Heavy AA guns: 106
- Light AA guns
- Searchlights: 466
The HAA guns were deployed as follows in September 1939:
- Bristol (Docks and Bristol Aeroplane Company): 14 + 4 out of action
- Plymouth (Royal Naval Dockyard): 14
- Portland, Dorset (Royal Naval Dockyard): 2 + 2 out of action
- Portsmouth (Royal Naval Dockyard): 29
- Southampton (Docks and Supermarine Aviation Works): 30
- Holton Heath, Dorset (Royal Navy Cordite Factory): 4
- Bramley, Hampshire (Ordnance Depot): 7
The process of training and equipping the newer AA units had hardly begun when they were mobilised, but the delay in active operations during the autumn and winter of 1939–40 (the Phoney War) gave the AA formations time to address the worst deficiencies. Modern guns remained scarce, however.
- 3-inch: 28
- 40 mm Bofors: 4
- Single Vickers guns: 18
- LMGs: 386
- 150 cm: 46
- 90 cm: 535
Major-General Cunningham was transferred to the command of an infantry division on 10 January 1940 and was replaced as GOC by Maj-Gen Robert Allen, brought in from the command of the artillery of an infantry division, but who was a former commander of 48th AA Brigade. (Cunningham went on to command a succession of infantry divisions before becoming GOC East Africa Command and commanding the campaign against the Italians, and then GOC Eighth Army in Operation Crusader.)
The Royal Artillery's AA regiments were redesignated Heavy AA (HAA) in 1940 to distinguish them from the new Light AA (LAA) units being formed. Also the RE and infantry AA (searchlight) battalions were transferred to the RA in August 1940.
- 85th (Tees) HAA Regiment, RA – from 43rd AA Bde, 7 AA Division
- 88th HAA Regiment, RA – from 27th (Home Counties) Bde, 1 AA Division
- 37th (Tyne Electrical Engineers) Searchlight Regiment, RA – from BEF
- 68th Searchlight Regiment, RA – from 45th AA Bde
- An additional LAA regiment to be formed from the northern part of 35th LAA Regiment (55th LAA Bde)
Meanwhile, 46th AA Bde at Bristol was now to consist of:
- 76th (Gloucestershire) HAA Regiment, RA
- 23 LAA – from 50th LAA Bde
- 15th (Isle of Man) LAA Regiment, RA– from 53rd LAA Bde, 4 AA Division
- 66th (Gloucesters) Searchlight Regiment, RA
Battle of Britain
On 11 July 1940, at the start of the Battle, 5 AA Division's guns were deployed as follows:
- Cardiff (Docks and industry): 12
- Newport, Wales (Docks and industry) 4
- Brockworth, Gloucestershire (Gloster Aircraft Factory): 36
- Bristol: 36
- Falmouth, Cornwall (Docks): 8
- Plymouth: 18
- Portland: 6
- Holton Heath: 8
- Southampton: 43
- Portsmouth: 44
- Bramley: 8
- Airfields: 20
- Vital points: 136
The Battle of Britain opened with the Luftwaffe attacking shipping and coastal towns by day and bombing ports and industrial cities by night, which involved all of AA Command's divisions. In July the Luftwaffe switched to day raids in strength against ports and Midlands industry. Portland and Portsmouth were regularly raided. On 4 July, Portland was attacked by a continuous flow of Ju 87s and Ju 88s, lasting two and a half hours, yet none was shot down. But AA Command's shooting and techniques improved with experience. In attacks on Portsmouth on 12 August, six Bf 109s were shot down and a searchlight detachment on the Isle of Wight shot down another with its LMG.
After these preliminary skirmishes, the battle intensified from 13 August with bombing raids primarily directed against Fighter Command's airfields. Some of the greatest battles were fought on 15 August, from South Wales to the Yorkshire Coast, when 5 AA Division was hotly engaged, being credited with several 'kills'. Another peak day came on 24 August, when the gunners were in action at Swansea, Cardiff, Bristol, Portland and Bramley, with the Swansea gunners claiming hits. Then on 6 September the Luftwaffe switched its attacks from airfields to London.
The climax of the battle was on 15 September, when massed raids attacked London and suffered severe casualties from the fighters and guns. On the same day there were attacks against Portland and Southampton, and with all available fighters engaged elsewhere, 5 AA Division had to defend against these on its own.
After its crushing losses in day raids, the Luftwaffe switched to night bombing of London and the industrial cities ('The Blitz'), with Southampton, Cardiff and Swansea being among the targets attacked using Knickebein navigation aids. During the Portsmouth Blitz, two bombs dropped directly on a position of 35th AA Bde, killing an officer and 10 men, wrecking the command post and one gun. Two of the remaining guns continued to fire by improvised methods.
In November 1940, as the Blitz was getting under way, there was a major reorganisation of AA Command. 5 AA Division's responsibilities were split, with 8 AA Division created to cover South West England, and 9 AA Division to cover the South Midlands and South Wales. Thereafter, 5 AA Division's remit was to concentrate on Southern England. All three divisions came under the command of a newly formed I AA Corps. There were other consequential reorganisations: 5th AA Divisional Signals divided to form 8th AA Divisional Signals at Bristol, for example. Major-General Allen moved to command 8 AA Division and was replaced as GOC by Acting Maj-Gen Robert Pargiter from 7 AA Division.
Order of Battle
- 27th (Home Counties) AA Bde at Portsmouth – from 6 AA Division
- 35th AA Bde at Portsmouth
- 72nd (Hampshire) HAA Regt
- 80th (Berkshire) HAA Regt
- 118th HAA Regt – new unit formed December 1940
- 48th (Hampshire) Searchlight Regt
- 47th AA Bde at Southampton
- 27th (London Electrical Engineers) Searchlight Regt
- 30th (Surrey) Searchlight Regt
- 63rd (Queen's) Searchlight Regt
- 65th AA Bde at Southampton – new formation
- 57th (Wessex) HAA Regt
- 24th LAA Regt
- 43rd LAA Regt – new unit formed November 1939
- 58th (Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders) LAA Regt – from BEF
- 5th Anti-Aircraft Z Regiment, Royal Artillery – formed by 5 AA Division in September 1940, equipped with Z Battery rocket projectiles/
- 5th AA Divisional Signals, RCS
Fringe and Baedeker raids
The Blitz ended in May 1941 when German attention switched to Russia, the Balkans and North Africa. A new Luftwaffe campaign against the mainland UK opened in March 1942, with a series of low-level fighter-bomber attacks against coastal towns, many in 5 AA Division's area, which had few LAA guns available for defence. HAA and LAA guns were moved from all over England to reinforce the naval bases and create new Gun Defended Areas (GDAs) including Winchester and Brighton. As well as these 'Fringe Targets', the Luftwaffe switched night bombers from target to target in what were dubbed 'Baedeker' raids.
AA Command was reorganised again in October 1942, when the AA Corps and Divisions were disbanded and replaced by a single-tier 'Group' structure, with each group corresponding to a Group of Fighter Command. 5 AA Division's role was subsumed into 2 AA Group. 5 AA Divisional Signals re-amalgamated with 8 AA Divisional Signals at Bristol, and formed 3 AA Group Signals.
- Robert Palmer, A Concise History of Anti-Aircraft Command (History and Personnel) at British Military History.
- AA Command 1940 at British Military History.
- 5 AA Division 1939 at British Military History.
- Farndale, Annex J, pp. 292–306.
- Cunningham at Generals of World War II.
- 5 AA Division 1940 at Royal Artillery 1939–45.
- Routledge, pp. 65–6.
- Routledge, Table LX, p. 378.
- Lord & Watson, p. 170.
- Routledge, Table LVIII, p. 376.
- Routledge, Table LIX, p. 377.
- Routledge, p. 371.
- Routledge, Table LXI, p. 379.
- Allen at Generals of World War II.
- Litchfield p. 5.
- Routledge, p. 60.
- 37th (TEE) S/L Regt RA, War Diary 15 May–16 June 1940, The National Archives (TNA), Kew file WO 166/679.
- Farndale, p. 106.
- Routledge, p. 383.
- Farndale, p. 108.
- Routledge, p. 386.
- Routledge, p. 391.
- Routledge, p. 395.
- Pargiter at Generals of World War II.
- 5 AA Division 1940 at British Military History.
- Routledge, Table LXV, p. 396.
- Farndale, Annex D, p. 257.
- 5 AA Z Regt at RA 1939–45.
- Routledge, pp. 401–4.
- Routledge, pp. 81, 401, Map 36.
- 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.
- Norman E.H. Litchfield, The Territorial Artillery 1908–1988 (Their Lineage, Uniforms and Badges), Nottingham: Sherwood Press, 1992, ISBN 0-9508205-2-0.
- Cliff Lord & Graham Watson, Royal Corps of Signals: Unit Histories of the Corps (1920–2001) and its Antecedents, Solihull: Helion, 2003, ISBN 1-874622-92-2.
- 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.
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