Harman Patil (Editor)

1st Hampshire Engineers

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Active  1 April 1891 – 1967
Branch  Territorial Army
Country  United Kingdom
1st Hampshire Engineers
Type  Fortress Engineers Field Engineers Searchlights Heavy Anti-Aircraft artillery
Role  Coast Defence Field Engineering Air Defence
Engagements  Second Boer War World War I: Salonika World War II: The Blitz North Africa El Alamein Sicily Italy North West Europe

The 1st Hampshire Engineer Volunteer Corps was first formed in 1862 and then reformed in 1891 with special responsibility for the port defences of the South Coast of England. It carried out this role during World War I, and formed an air defence regiment and field engineer companies during World War II before disbanding in 1967.


Early history

The enthusiasm for the Volunteer movement following an invasion scare in 1859 saw the creation of many local Rifle, Artillery and Engineer Volunteer units composed of part-time soldiers eager to supplement the Regular British Army in time of need. One of these was the 1st Hampshire Engineer Volunteer Corps (1st Hants EVC) based at Southampton. The first officers' commissions for the unit were issued on 25 January 1862. As a small, single company corps, it was attached for convenience to the 2nd Hampshire Rifle Volunteer Corps (RVC) in 1863, and both came under the 4th Administrative Battalion of Hampshire Rifle Volunteers in 1865.

In 1870 the unit was attached to the 2nd Tower Hamlets EVC in London rather than the local rifle units. Under the mobilisation scheme in force in 1880 the 1st Hants EVC formed part of the Garrison Army, assigned to defence of the important naval base of Portsmouth, along with detachments from EVCs as far away as Yorkshire, Lancashire and Northamptonshire. However the 1st Hants EVC was disbanded in 1881 and the volunteers absorbed by the 2nd Hampshire RVC.

Reformed unit

A new 1st Hampshire Engineer Volunteers was formed at Portsmouth on 1 April 1891. This was a much larger unit, 481 men (mainly from Portsmouth Dockyard) volunteering for a unit with an official establishment of two companies totaling 100. The new unit included a cadet company at Weymouth until 1902, and the 1st Sussex Engineer Volunteers was attached to it for administrative purposes in 1892–95. The new corps rented and renovated the old drill hall of the 3rd Hampshire RVC, laid a parade ground, and practised digging field fortifications on Southsea Common. Non-Commissioned Officers from the corps took special courses on fortress engineering at the Royal Engineers' depot at Chatham.

The 1st Hampshire Royal Engineers (Volunteers) (as the unit was officially titled from 1896) sent a detachment of one officer and 25 other ranks to assist the regular REs during the Second Boer War in 1900, and a second section the following year.

Territorial Force

When the Volunteer Force was subsumed into the new Territorial Force (TF) under the Haldane Reforms in 1908, the 1st Hampshire RE (V) became the Hampshire (Fortresss) RE (TF), forming part of Southern Coast Defences. By the outbreak of war in August 1914, the unit had the following organisation:

  • HQ at Portsmouth
  • No 1 Works Company at Commercial Road, Portsmouth
  • No 2 Works Company at Hampshire Terrace, Portsmouth
  • No 3 Works Company at Eastleigh
  • No 4 Electric Light Company at Hampshire Terrace, Portsmouth
  • No 5 Electric Light Company at Freshwater, Isle of Wight
  • No 6 Electric Light Company at Gosport
  • Together with the Regular No 4 Company, RE, at Haslar Barracks in Gosport, the unit was responsible for the coastal defence searchlights in the Portsmouth area, including the Isle of Wight and the three sea forts at Spithead (Spitbank Fort, No Man's Land Fort and Horse Sand Fort).

    Coast and Anti-Aircraft defence

    On the outbreak of war, the Hampshire (Fortress) RE had a serious deficiency of personnel, and on 5 August it was supplemented by No 4 Company of the Tyne Electrical Engineers (TEE), which took over several of the coast defence searchlight stations around Portsmouth. Two other companies of the TEE moved into Haslar Barracks in Gosport and later took over from No 4 Co RE the running of the electric light training school. As the war progressed, the requirement for anti-aircraft (AA) searchlights as well as coast defence lights became vital, and the school at Haslar trained a large number of AA detachments for Home Defence and for service on the Western Front and other theatres of the war.

    By November 1915, the Hampshire unit's strength had grown to 39 officers and 604 other ranks, and it took back responsibility for the three sea forts, and then in May 1916 took over from the TEE two new searchlight stations Egypt Point and Stone Point at the entrance to the Solent. On 25 September 1916 the only air attack on Portsmouth during World War I occurred when Kapitänleutnant Heinrich Mathy commanding the Zeppelin L31 hovered over the harbour in the searchlight beams, without actually dropping any bombs. Shortly after this raid the Hampshire (Fortress) RE took over all the AA searchlights in Portsmouth Garrison, forming No 48 AA Company. In May 1918, the Portsmouth AA defences were included in the London Air Defence Area.

    Salonika campaign

    The Hampshire (Fortress) RE also formed a field company for overseas service. 1/7th Hampshire Field Company, RE, (later numbered 506th), arrived in France from the UK on 20 October 1915 and joined the 28th Division on 25 October, while the division was embarking at Marseilles. The division arrived in Egypt by 22 November, and then re-embarked for the Macedonian Front, completing disembarkation at Salonika by 4 January 1916.

    Among the first tasks the newly arrived division had to carry out was construction of fieldworks across rough country, in winter, against the possibility of immediate Bulgarian attack: 'In the face of rain, snow, and the biting wind the infantry and engineers stuck to their task'. Offensive operations were rare on the Macedonian front, but work to improve defences and roads was continuous, and the 28th Division in the Struma Valley suffered badly from malaria. The largest operation in the Struma Valley was the capture by 28th Division of Karajakoi Bala, Karajakoi Zir and Yenikoi in October 1916. Defences of these villages then had to be consolidated. The outpost line consisted of a chain of these villages, trenched and wired, and garrisoned by infantry, machine gun teams and RE detachments.

    28th Division took part in two further offensive operations in May and October 1917. Eventually, it participated in the Second Battle of Doiran beginning on 18 September 1918, which failed to break through the Bulgarian lines. However, The Bulgarians had been defetaed elsewhere, and some days later the British realised that the entrenchments in front of them were empty. 28th Division then took part in the pursuit to the Strumica Valley (22–28 September).

    After the Armistice with Bulgaria came into effect on 30 September, British forces including 28th Division advanced across the country towards Turkey. With no troops to defend Constantinople from this direction, the Ottoman Empire also signed an Armistice on 30 October. 28th Division was sent to occupy the Dardanelles Forts. 506th (Hampshire) Field Company was still in Turkey in April 1919, but after that the TF units were progressively replaced by Regular and Indian Army units and the Territorials were demobilised and returned home.


    After the war, the Hampshire (Fortress) RE reformed in the Territorial Army (TA). Once again it was assigned to defence of the South Coast of England, in 43rd Divisional Area, with the following organisation:

  • No 1 (Works) Company
  • No 2 (Lights) Company
  • No 3 (Lights) Company
  • No 4 (Lights) Company
  • In 1937, three companies were converted into a searchlight unit, 48th (Hampshire) Anti-Aircraft Battalion, RE (TA), with the following organisation:

  • HQ at Portsmouth
  • 391st Anti-Aircraft Company at Portsmouth
  • 392nd Anti-Aircraft Company at East Cowes, Isle of Wight
  • 393rd Anti-Aircraft Company at Gosport
  • 394th Anti-Aircraft Company at Southampton
  • The following year the battalion came under the command of 35th AA Brigade, based at Fareham, which formed part of 5th AA Division.

    The remainder of the Hampshire Fortress RE continued as a single Electric Light and Works company in the Portsmouth Coast Defences. In 1938 it was joined by 206th (Hampshire) Field Company from 43rd (Wessex) Divisional Engineers, which became No 2 (206th) (Electric Light and Works) Company.

    Hampshire Fortress Engineers

    By September 1940 Hampshire Fortress RE had formed Hampshire Corps Troops RE (CTRE), with the following organisation:

  • 576th Corps Field Park Company
  • 577th Army Field Company
  • 578th Army Field Company
  • 579th Army Field Company (formed from the Cinque Ports Fortress Royal Engineers based at Dover.
  • By the end of 1940, Hampshire CTRE had been redesignated as IV CTRE, assigned to IV Corps. The Corps sailed for the Middle East in November 1941 and was established in Iraq by 1 February 1942. 579th Company was left behind to join VII CTRE. On arrival in Iraq, IV CTRE was detached from Corps HQ and sent to Egypt to join Eighth Army (IV Corps later went on to India).

    In Egypt, the unit became XIII CTRE, assigned to XIII Corps. It served through the North African Campaign, including the Battle of Alamein, when 577th Company was temporarily attached to 44th (Home Counties) Division.

    For the Allied invasion of Sicily beginning in July 1943, XIII CTRE was joined by 56th Field Company, a Regular RE unit that had been serving with Tenth Army in Palestine.

    After the Allied invasion of Italy (Operation Baytown), XIII CTRE served through the Italian Campaign from September 1943 until the end of the war in Europe. It was disbanded after September 1945.

    48th (Hampshire) Searchlight Regiment

    The TA's AA units were mobilised on 23 September 1938 during the Munich Crisis, with units manning their emergency positions within 24 hours, even though many did not yet have their full complement of men or equipment. The emergency lasted three weeks, and they were stood down on 13 October. In February 1939 the existing AA defences came under the control of a new Anti-Aircraft Command. In June a partial mobilisation of TA units was begun in a process known as 'couverture', whereby each AA unit did a month's tour of duty in rotation to man selected AA and searchlight positions. On 24 August, ahead of the declaration of war, AA Command was fully mobilised at its war stations.

    The AA Battalions of the RE were transferred to the Royal Artillery (RA) on 1 August 1940, so the unit was redesignated 48th (Hampshire) Searchlight Regiment, RA,(TA).

    During the Portsmouth Blitz of 1940–41, 35 AA Bde was responsible for the AA defence of the city and dockyards.

    By the end of 1944, however, the German Luftwaffe was suffering from such shortages of pilots, aircraft and fuel that serious aerial attacks on the United Kingdom could be discounted. At the same time 21st Army Group fighting in North West Europe was suffering a severe manpower shortage, particularly among the infantry. In January 1945 the War Office began to reorganise surplus anti-aircraft and coastal artillery regiments in the UK into infantry battalions, primarily for line of communication and occupation duties, thereby releasing trained infantry for frontline service. In January 1945, 48th S/L Regiment became 636 (Hampshire) Infantry Regiment, RA, under command of 306 Infantry Brigade (formerly 55 AA Bde). After infantry training, the battalion landed on the Continent on 7 May 1945 (the day before VE Day, and was assigned to Line of Communication duties with 21st Army Group.

    115 Construction Regiment

    When the TA was reconstituted in 1947, the Hampshire Fortress RE was reformed as 115 Construction Regiment, RE, with its HQ at Fareham and the following organisation:

  • 127 Construction Squadron
  • 576 Park Squadron
  • 577 Construction Squadron
  • 578 Construction Squadron
  • 581 Construction Squadron (formed 1956)
  • In 1961 the regiment was reorganised as 115 (Hampshire Fortress) Corps Engineer Regiment, when 577, 578 and 581 Squadrons became field squadrons, 576 Corps Field Park Squadron became independent, and 127 Squadron was disbanded.

    The regiment was disbanded when the TA was reformed as the TAVR in 1967, but its personnel became D Company (Hampshire Fortress Royal Engineers) in the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Territorials until that unit was reduced to cadre in 1969.

    583 Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment

    636 Regiment was placed in suspended animation in 1946, and reformed in the TA in 1947 as 583 (Hampshire) (Mixed) Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment, RA (TA) (the 'Mixed' indicating that members of the Women's Royal Army Corps were integrated into the unit). Now equipped with Heavy Anti-Aircraft (HAA) guns, the regiment formed part of 73 AA Brigade (the former 47 AA Bde), based at Reading, Berkshire, though this brigade was disbanded in 1948.

    With the reconstitution of the TA in 1947, there was a proposal to reform the 69th (Duke of Connaught's Hampshire) Anti-Tank Regiment as 393 HAA Regiment, but a change of plan saw a completely new Hampshire unit raised with the number 393, soon changed to 675th (Hampshire) (Mixed) Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment, RA (TA), with its HQ at Southampton and forming part of 61 AA Brigade (the former 35 AA Bde at Fareham). However, the 1950s saw the rapid reduction in AA units, and 675 HAA was absorbed by 583 HAA in 1954. A year later, AA Command itself was disbanded, and 583 (Hampshire) HAA Regiment was disbanded at the same time.


    1st Hampshire Engineers Wikipedia

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