The Maritime RA had its beginnings in the early part of the war when the Admiralty requested
the Regiment to provide 500, 2 man Light Machine Gun teams for embarking on merchant coasters. Taking with them either Lewis or Bren guns, they were to provide Anti-Aircraft defence for the vessels.
With the increase in severity of attacks on shipping, the Maritime Anti-Aircraft Regiment RA was formed in 1941.
Maritime Anti-Aircraft Regiment Royal Artillery
There were initially 3 Light Machine Gun Regiments each with 2 Batteries and 1 Regiment of a battery of Bofors 40mm. Port detachments were formed to find pools of trained Light Machine Gun gunners who could be embarked as required. The light machine gun’s were supplemented with Hotchkiss guns and eventually mostly replaced by Oerlikon’s and Bofors.
There was no higher formation, each Commanding Officer reporting direct to RA6 at the War Office.
In September 1942 a gunner Brigadier was appointed as commander. By the end of the year batteries and troops were operating independently and in January 1943 the regiment was re-titled Maritime Royal Artillery.
Maritime Royal Artillery
In March 1943 numbers were increased and the regiment organised into 6 regiments and 24 port detachments in the UK. There were also 4 overseas batteries at New York, Port Said, Bombay and South Africa and 4 independent troops at Freetown, Sydney, Algiers and Haifa. A fifth troop was added later at Naples.
Most of the principal ports throughout the world that were visited by allied shipping also had small detachments. Sometimes these could be as small as a single NCO.
At this time the strength of the regiment was 170 officers and 14,000+ other ranks.
Operationally the regiment came under the Royal Navy and they worked in close cooperation with the DEMS Branch (Defensively Equipped Merchant Ships).
In August 1945 the regiment was re-organised into 1st, 4th & 5th Regiments each with an RHQ, Training Battery and Holding Battery. There was also 2nd Regiment in India but this was not fully formed.
The 6 regimental HQ’s in the UK were located so as to serve the 6 main shipping areas:
Clyde, Forth, Tyne & Tees, Mersey, Thames and Bristol Channel.
Each RHQ was responsible for administrating and training its personnel. For training purposes they had at least one of each gun in use and a dome trainer. They also had use of the naval gunnery schools and firing ranges in their area.
Port detachments allocated men to ships, arranged leave and refresher training for disembarking crews, made up any kit deficiencies and dealt with their pay and any welfare matters.
The numbers on board any individual ship varied from up to 30 on the large vessels down to 2 men in a small coaster. The average detachment on a Liberty ship was 7.
The gun crews could be a mix of Maritime RA, Royal Navy or Royal Marine personnel but the Bofors guns were always a solely Maritime RA responsibility.
As the number of men on any one ship was small they all had to be capable of handling every weapon on board. This could range from a 6 inch Naval Anti-Aircraft gun down to balloons and rockets. Many Maritime RA NCO’s proudly wore the Naval Gun Layers badge qualifying them to take charge of a detachment at sea along with all naval stores on board.
Along with their normal service equipment, men were issued with naval sea kit, tropical kit, a set of civilian clothes for use in neutral ports and special arctic kit for ships on the North Russia convoys. When embarked the men came under the provisions of the Merchant Shipping Act as well as the Army Act.
For gallantry and service at sea personnel were awarded Naval decorations and the Maritime RA got a good share of these. Many of course lost their lives at sea. Despite the risks, service in the Maritime RA was popular even though they were doing it for less pay than their Royal Navy counterparts who, in turn, were getting considerably less than the merchant seamen.