5th Anti-Aircraft Division (United Kingdom)
The 5th Anti-Aircraft Division (5th AA Division) was an air defence formation of Britain's Territorial Army, created in the period of tension before the outbreak of the Second World War. It defended Southern England during the Battle of Britain and the Blitz.
|5th Anti-Aircraft Division|
Formation sign of the 5th Anti-Aircraft division.
|Active||1 September 1938–30 September 1942|
|Part of||Anti-Aircraft Command (1938–40)|
I AA Corps (1940–42)
|Engagements||Battle of Britain|
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 the 5th 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.
On mobilisation in August 1939, the 5th AA Division had the following equipment:
- Heavy AA guns: 106
- Light AA guns
- 3-inch: 27
- 40 mm Bofors guns and 2-pounder 'pom-pom': 22
- Light machine guns (LMGs, mainly Lewis guns) :1186
- 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.
By 5 June 1940, just before the start of the Battle of Britain, the 5th AA Division's armament state was:
- 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 the 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.
In July 1940, after the British Expeditionary Force had been evacuated from Dunkirk, the Regular 5th AA Brigade was reformed in the Gloucester area under the 5th AA Division. It was to consist of:
- 85th (Tees) HAA Regiment, RA – from the 43rd AA Brigade, 7th AA Division
- 88th HAA Regiment, RA – from the 27th (Home Counties) Brigade, 1st AA Division
- 37th (Tyne Electrical Engineers) Searchlight Regiment, RA – from BEF
- 68th Searchlight Regiment, RA – from the 45th AA Brigade
- An additional LAA regiment to be formed from the northern part of the 35th LAA Regiment (55th LAA Brigade)
Meanwhile, the 46th AA Brigade at Bristol was now to consist of:
- 76th (Gloucestershire) HAA Regiment, RA
- 23rd LAA – from the 50th LAA Brigade
- 15th (Isle of Man) LAA Regiment, RA– from the 53rd LAA Brigade, 4th AA Division
- 66th (Gloucesters) Searchlight Regiment, RA
Battle of Britain
On 11 July 1940, at the start of the Battle, the 5th 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 87 Stukas 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 the 5th AA Division was hotly engaged. On that day Lehrgeschwader 1 (LG 1) made a heavy raid of 70–80 bombers escorted by single- and twin-engined fighters against the South Coast. No. 10 Group scrambled five fighter squadrons and action began at 17.20 over Portland Bill. The Stukas of IV.(St)/LG 1 and escorting Bf 110 Zerstörers of V.(Z)/LG 1 heading for RNAS Worthy Down were attacked out of the sun, dropped a few bombs at Portland and withdrew with heavy losses. The rest of the raid (II.(St)/LG 1) flew on to attack RAF Middle Wallop, causing some damage, but suffering further casualties. Between the fighters and the AA guns at Portsmouth and Southampton, the Geschwader lost 8 bombers, 4 Stukas and 13 Bf 110s, as well as many others damaged. The one-sided action was highly satisfactory for Fighter Command and the 5th AA Division.
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, the 5th 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 the 35th AA Brigade, 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. The 5th AA Division's responsibilities were split, with the 8th AA Division created to cover South West England, and the 9th AA Division to cover the South Midlands and South Wales. Thereafter, the 5th 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: the 5th AA Divisional Signals divided to form the 8th AA Divisional Signals at Bristol, for example. Major-General Allen moved to command the 8th AA Division and was replaced as GOC by Acting Maj-Gen Robert Pargiter from the 7th AA Division.
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 the 5th AA Division's area, which had few LAA guns available for defence. Both 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. Newly-formed AA units joined the division, the HAA units increasingly being 'mixed' ones into which women of the Auxiliary Territorial Service were integrated. At the same time, experienced units were posted away for service overseas. This led to a continual turnover of units, which accelerated in 1942 with the preparations for Operation Torch and the need to transfer AA units from North West England to counter the Baedeker raids and the Luftwaffe's hit-and-run attacks against South Coast towns. The increased sophistication of Operations Rooms and communications was reflected in the growth in support units by May 1942. In August 1942, the 27th and 47th AA Brigades were transferred to the 3rd AA Division, a HQ brought down from Scotland to handle the increased workload of combating the 'hit and run' 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. The 5th AA Division's role was subsumed into the 3rd AA Group.
The 5th AA Divisional Signals re-amalgamated with the 8th AA Divisional Signals at Bristol, and formed the 3rd AA Group Signals. Postwar the unit became the 57th (City and County of Bristol) Signals Squadron, today part of the 39th (Skinners) Signal Regiment.
General Officer Commanding
The following officers commanded the 5th AA Division:
- Major-General Alan Cunningham (1 September 1938 – 9 January 1940)
- Major-General Robert Allen (10 January–10 November 1940)
- Major-General Robert Pargiter (11 November 1940 – 30 September 1942)
Order of battle
|5th Anti-Aircraft Division (August 1939)|
|5th Anti-Aircraft Division (November 1940)|
|5th Anti-Aircraft Division (1941–42, temporary attachments omitted)|
|5th Anti-Aircraft Division (May 1942), temporary attachments omitted)|
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- Frederick, p. 1047.
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