1st Anti-Aircraft Brigade (United Kingdom)

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1st Anti-Aircraft Brigade
Active 1920–1955
Country  United Kingdom
Branch Flag of the British Army.svg British Army
Type Anti-Aircraft Brigade
Role Air Defence
Part of Aldershot Command
GHQ troops, BEF
11th AA Division
Eighth Army
1 AA Group
Garrison/HQ Aldershot Garrison
Engagements Battle of France
Dunkirk evacuation
The Blitz
North African Campaign

1st Anti-Aircraft Brigade (1st AA Bde) was an Air Defence formation of the British Army in World War II that served in the Battle of France and The Blitz. It then transferred in the Middle East, where it defended Eighth Army's lines of communication in the final phases of the North African Campaign.


The brigade was created on 8 December 1920 at Blackdown Barracks, near Aldershot in Hampshire, when its first commander, Colonel Edward Ashmore was appointed. At first it was designated 1st Air Defence Brigade, then (because of confusion with the regimental-size artillery 'brigades') 1st Anti-Aircraft Group. It formed part of Aldershot Command and had the following composition:[1]

The Royal Garrison Artillery was merged into the Royal Artillery (RA) in 1923, and the RA adopted the designation 'regiment' instead of 'brigade' for its units in 1938, allowing the title of brigade to be used solely at the more usual formation level. 1st AA Group therefore became 1st AA Brigade.[1]


On the outbreak of war on 3 September 1939, 1st AA Bde had the following composition:[2]

  • 6th Anti-Aircraft Regiment, RA
    • 3rd, 12th and 15th AA Batteries
  • 1st Light Anti-Aircraft Battery, RA
  • 1st Anti-Aircraft Battalion, RE
    • A and B Anti-Aircraft Companies (searchlights)
  • 1st and 2nd Anti-Aircraft Brigade Signals, RCS

Battle of France

3-inch AA guns of 2nd AA Battery, 1st AA Brigade, near BEF HQ at Wanquelin, France, 19 October 1939.

The brigade proceeded to France with the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). The two AA regiments were each equipped with 16 obsolescent 3-inch guns and eight of the newer 3.7-inch heavy AA (HAA) guns. 54th (Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders) Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, RA (a Territorial Army (TA) unit) joined by November 1939 (less one of its batteries). It was equipped with 12 x 40 mm Bofors Guns and 12 x Vickers 2-pounders, but left to become a Corps unit before the end of the Phoney War.[3][4] In January 1940, 1st AA Battalion was transferred from the Royal Engineers to the Royal Artillery as 1st Searchlight Regiment and joined 5th Searchlight Brigade.[5] Lieutenant-Colonel E.D. Milligan was promoted from 6th AA Regiment to command the brigade.[6]

When the Battle of France opened on 10 May 1940, 1st AA Bde was attached to General Headquarters BEF, with the following composition:[7][8][9][10]

Commander: Brigadier E.D. Milligan

  • 1st Anti-Aircraft Regiment, RA[11]
    • 15th, 16th and 17th Batteries
  • 6th Anti-Aircraft Regiment, RA[12]
    • 2nd, 12th and 18th Batteries
  • 85th (Tees) Anti-Aircraft Regiment, RA[13][14]crossed to France 5 April 1940 with 24 x 3.7-inch guns
    • 174th (North Riding), 175th (North Riding) and 220th (County of Durham) Batteries

1st AA Brigade's role was to cover corps assembly areas and the routes used by the BEF to advance into Belgium. When the German Army broke through, forcing the BEF to begin withdrawing again, the AA batteries gave cover leap-frog fashion. Soon they were sucked into the ground battle, split into sub-units to join rearguard actions or moved back from one key point to another. The brigade commander and his staff had no radio net and could only keep in touch by motor vehicle, and all the roads were choked with refugees. When the BEF reached Dunkirk and began its evacuation, the Major-General AA, Hugh Martin, set out from De Panne by road on 28 May to make contact with the retreating AA units and organise air defences. By now, 1st AA Brigade was down to 20 out of its original 72 HAA guns. Martin ordered 11 of these to be sent to Bray beach and the remainder to be disabled. 52nd (East Lancashire) Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, RA (TA) (154th, 155th and 156th LAA Batteries) had started the campaign attached to I Corps and had been heavily engaged during the retreat. Now it joined 1st AA Bde on the Dunkirk beaches. The AA units attempted to cover the shrinking Dunkirk 'pocket' against air attack until it was their turn to destroy their equipment and join the queues of men waiting to be taken aboard small boats back to England.[15][16]

The Blitz

AA units returning from France were rapidly reinforced, re-equipped where possible, and redeployed for integration into Anti-Aircraft Command's existing defence plans for the United Kingdom.[17] AA regiments were now designated either Heavy (HAA) or Light (LAA). 1st AA Brigade HQ and 1st HAA Regiment were sent to Crewe to reform. By November 1940 they had joined a new 11th AA Division, which took over responsibility for the West Midlands; the brigade's specific responsibility was to cover the industrial areas round Crewe and Staffordshire, and to provide LAA air defences for airfields and other Vulnerable Points. The brigade now had the following composition:[18][19][20][21] [22]

At this time The Blitz was in full swing, with frequent night air raids on the industrial cities. The role of the S/L units was to track and illuminate raiders for the HAA guns of the Gun Defence Areas (GDAs) and for the few available Royal Air Force Night fighters. New tactics included grouping the S/Ls in clusters, and later in 'killer belts' for the fighters and 'indicator belts' for the guns as the raiders approached the GDAs. In April and May 1941, Merseyside and the North Midlands were particularly badly bombed (the Liverpool Blitz).[31]

Although operating within AA Command during the Blitz, 1st AA Bde HQ together with 1st HAA Rgt remained part of the War Office Reserve, available for service in the field. By mid-May 1941 it had handed over its units and responsibilities to a new 68th AA Bde and left AA Command.[22][32][33]

North Africa

1st AA Brigade HQ left the UK by October 1941,[34] and by the end of the year was in the Middle East. In January 1942 the brigade took over responsibility for the GDAs in Palestine under the command of Ninth Army. It was relieved in August 1942, and moved to Egypt to join Eighth Army in the North African Campaign.[35]

After Eighth Army broke through the Axis positions at the Second Battle of El Alamein and began its pursuit across Libya, the AA units were leap-frogged forwards to cover the important objectives as they were taken. 1st AA Brigade moved up from Egypt to relieve 2nd AA Bde at Tobruk, then was in turn relieved by 17th AA Bde and moved on to Benghazi. As well as these ports, it was also involved in the defence of airfields for the supporting fighters and bombers of the Desert Air Force.[36]

By January 1943, 1st AA Bde was deployed around Benghazi and Agedabia and at nearby landing grounds, with the following order of battle:[37]

When the North African Campaign ended in May 1943 with the Axis surrender in Tunisia, AA defence in the rear areas was under new headquarters. 1st AA Brigade – still at Benghazi and landing grounds – now came under AA Defence Area Cyrenaica, under No. 212 Group RAF. The brigade had the following composition:[38][39]

As the war moved further away from North Africa, 1st AA Bde was redeployed back to the eastern end of the Mediterranean, so that by 1 January 1944 it was responsible for the Levant area, including Haifa, Homs and Baalbek, with the following composition:[40]

In June 1944 it was still in the Levant area, and had added Cyprus to its responsibilities, with the following composition:[40]


By 1947, 1 AA Bde had been reformed in 1 AA Group, which covered London and South East England.[41] After Anti-Aircraft Command was disbanded on 10 March 1955, HQ 1 AA Bde was converted into a Territorial Army formation based at Edenbridge, Kent, and renumbered 30 AA Bde. That formation in turn was disbanded in 1961.[42]


  1. ^ a b Monthly Army Lists
  2. ^ AA Command 3 September 1939 at Patriot Files
  3. ^ Farndale, pp. 12–3.
  4. ^ Routledge, p. 116; Table XVII, p. 125.
  5. ^ 1 S/L Rgt at RA 39–45 Archived 7 January 2009 at the Wayback Machine.
  6. ^ Farndale, pp. 13, 63.
  7. ^ GHQ at RA 39–45 Archived 2013-12-04 at the Wayback Machine.
  8. ^ Ellis, Appendix I
  9. ^ Farndale, p. 13; Annex A, p. 237.
  10. ^ Routledge, Table XVIII, p. 126.
  11. ^ "1 HAA Rgt at RA 39–45". Archived from the original on 18 February 2011. Retrieved 18 February 2011.
  12. ^ 6 HAA at RA 39–45
  13. ^ Litchfield, p.253.
  14. ^ 85 HAA at RA 39–45
  15. ^ Farndale, p. 63.
  16. ^ Routledge, pp. 117–8.
  17. ^ Farndale, p. 98.
  18. ^ 11th AA Division 1940 at British Military History.
  19. ^ Routledge, Table LXV, p. 396.
  20. ^ Farndale, Annex D, p. 260.
  21. ^ 11 AA Division at RA 39–45.
  22. ^ a b Order of Battle of Non-Field Force Units in the United Kingdom, Part 27: AA Command, 12 May 1941, with amendments, The National Archives (TNA), Kew, file WO 212/79.
  23. ^ a b c d e f Farndale, Annex M.
  24. ^ "106 HAA Rgt at RA 39–45". Archived from the original on 18 February 2011. Retrieved 18 February 2011.
  25. ^ 45 LAA at RA 39–45
  26. ^ 63 LAA Rgt at RA 39–45.
  27. ^ Litchfield, pp. 132–3.
  28. ^ 61 SL Rgt at RA 39–45
  29. ^ 78 S/L Rgt at RA 39–45
  30. ^ 83 S/L Rgt at RA 39–45
  31. ^ Routledge, pp. 389–99.
  32. ^ 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.
  33. ^ Order of Battle of Non-Field Force Units in the United Kingdom, Part 27: AA Command, 12 May 1941, TNA file WO 212/79.
  34. ^ Order of Battle of the Field Force in the United Kingdom, Part 3: Royal Artillery (Non-Divisional units), 22 October 1941, TNA files WO 212/6 and WO 33/1883.
  35. ^ Routledge, p. 198.
  36. ^ Routledge, pp. 156–7.
  37. ^ Routledge, Table XXIV, p. 162,
  38. ^ Routledge, p. 158; Table XXV, p. 164.
  39. ^ Playfair, Vol IV, p. 221; Appendix I.
  40. ^ a b Routledge, Table XXVI, p 165.
  41. ^ AA Groups at British Army units from 1945 on
  42. ^ AA Brigades 30–65 at British Army units from 1945 on


  • Major L.F. Ellis, History of the Second World War, United Kingdom Military Series: The War in France and Flanders 1939–1940, London: HM Stationery Office, 1954/Uckfield, Naval & Military Press, 2004.
  • 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.
  • Maj-Gen I.S.O. Playfair & Brig C.J.C. Molony, "History of the Second World War, United Kingdom Military Series: The Mediterranean and Middle East, Vol IV: The Destruction of the Axis forces in Africa, London: HMSO, 1966/Uckfield, Naval & Military Press, 2004, ISBN 1-845740-68-8
  • 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 sources

  • British Military History
  • Patriot Files
  • Royal Artillery 1939–1945 (archive site)
  • British Army units from 1945 on

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