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 26 June 1935 at Blackdown, near Aldershot. At first it was designated 1st Air Defence Brigade, then 1st Anti-Aircraft Group before the 1st AA Bde title was settled upon. 1st Anti-Aircraft Brigade formed part of Aldershot Command and on the outbreak of war on 3 September 1939 it had the following composition:6th Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery
3rd, 12th and 15th AA Batteries
1st Light Anti-Aircraft Battery, RA
1st Anti-Aircraft Battalion, Royal Engineers
A and B Anti-Aircraft Companies (searchlights)
1st and 2nd Anti-Aircraft Brigade Signals, Royal Corps of Signals
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. 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. Lieutenant-Colonel E.D. Milligan was promoted from 6th AA Regiment to command the brigade.
When the Battle of France opened on 10 May 1940, 1st AA Bde was attached to General Headquarters BEF, with the following composition:
Commander: Brigadier E.D. Milligan1st Anti-Aircraft Regiment, RA15th, 16th and 17th Batteries
6th Anti-Aircraft Regiment, RA2nd, 12th and 18th Batteries
85th (Tees) Anti-Aircraft Regiment, RA, (TA) – crossed to France 5 April 1940
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.
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. 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: 1st HAA Regiment (left to join Eighth Army in Sicily, July 1943)15th, 16th and 17th Batteries
106th HAA Regiment, RA (TA) (raised in August 1940, left to join Allied Forces HQ in North Africa, June 1943)
45th LAA Regiment, RA (TA) (raised in July 1940, left to join Allied Forces HQ, North Africa, November 1942)
63rd LAA Regiment, RA (TA) (raised in October 1940, left to join Allied Forces HQ, North Africa, November 1942)
61st (South Lancashire) Searchlight Regiment, RA (TA) (converted from 5th Battalion South Lancashire Regiment August 1940, became 61st Garrison Regiment, Royal Artillery February 1942)432nd, 433rd and 434th S/L Batteries
78th Searchlight Regiment, RA (TA) (raised August 1940, disbanded September 1943)
83rd Searchlight Regiment, RA (TA) (raised January 1941 at Crewe, disbanded December 1944)
1st Anti-Aircraft Brigade was disbanded on 30 April 1945.
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).
Although operating within AA Command during the Blitz, 1st AA Bde HQ 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.
1st AA Brigade HQ left the UK by October 1941, 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.
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.
By January 1943, 1st AA Bde was deployed around Benghazi and Agedabia and at nearby landing grounds, with the following order of battle:51st (London) HAA Regiment
152nd, 153rd, 242nd HAA Batteries – 24 x 3.7-inch guns
69th (Royal Warwickshire Regiment) HAA Regiment
192nd, 199th, 200th HAA Batteries – 24 x 3.7-inch guns
135th Z Battery – 16 x rocket projectors
89th HAA Regiment– moving up to relieve 51st HAA Rgt – 24 x 3.7-inch guns
2nd LAA Regiment
6th, 155th LAA Batteries – 24 x Bofors guns
171 Battery from 57th LAA Rgt – 12 x Bofors guns
390th S/L Battery – 12 x S/Ls
37th (Tyne Electrical Engineers) LAA Regiment
123rd, 124th, 222nd LAA Btys – 36 x Bofors guns
57th (King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry) LAA Regiment – on loan from 4th Indian Division
169th, 170th LAA Batteries – 24 x Bofors guns
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:89th HAA Regiment
28th HAA Bty, 9th HAA Regiment
One Troop, 135th 'Z' Battery
13th LAA Regiment
96th LAA Regiment
390th S/L Battery, detached from 27th London Electrical Engineers S/L Regiment
Two AA Operations Rooms
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:74th (City of Glasgow) HAA Regiment
102nd HAA Regiment
16th LAA Regiment
37th LAA Regiment
80th LAA Regiment
390th S/L Battery
In June 1944 it was still in the Levant area, and had added Cyprus to its responsibilities, with the following composition:2nd HAA Regiment
1st HAA Regiment, Hong Kong–Singapore Royal Artillery
181st HAA Battery, 65th HAA Regiment
257th HAA Battery, 83rd HAA Regiment
37th LAA Regiment
243rd Bty, 46th LAA Regiment
1st Palestinian Independent LAA Battery
219th Independent LAA Battery
390th S/L Battery
By 1947, 1 AA Bde had been reformed in 1 AA Group, which covered London and South East England. 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.