Branch Territorial Army
Role Air Defence
|Country United Kingdom|
Type Searchlight Regiment
The 71st (East Lancashire) Searchlight Regiment, Royal Artillery was an air defence unit of Britain's Territorial Army (TA), which was raised just before the outbreak of World War II and served as part of Anti-Aircraft Command during and after the war.
As the international situation deteriorated in the late 1930s, the threat of air raids on the UK led to the rapid expansion in the number of anti-aircraft (AA) units manned by members of the part-time TA. Formed in November 1938, the unit was one of the first three TA searchlight regiments raised by the Royal Artillery (previous TA S/L units had all been part of the Royal Engineers and/or converted from infantry battalions). It consisted of HQ and Nos 462–464 Companies (later Batteries) based in Failsworth, near Manchester. It was equipped with the new '90 cm Projector Anti-Aircraft', a smaller and lighter piece of equipment than previous searchlights, with a more powerful high current density arc lamp with automatic carbon feed.
World War II
Anti-Aircraft Command mobilised in August 1939, ahead of the declaration of war on 3 September, and the regiment took its place in the 44th AA Brigade, part of the 4th AA Division tasked with defending the North West and North Midlands of England. As a new regiment, it received instructors from the neighbouring 39th AA Battalion, Royal Engineers.
In 1940, the regiment transferred to 53 Light AA Bde, covering the North Midlands. The industrial cities of the North Midlands were targets for night bombing by the German Luftwaffe during the winter of 1940–41, the Nottingham Blitz on 8/9 May 1941 being a notable example. In 1941, the searchlight layout over the Midlands was reorganised, so that any hostile raid approaching the Gun Defended Areas (GDA) around the towns must cross more than one searchlight belt, and then within the GDAs the concentration of lights was increased.
As the threat from the Luftwaffe waned, AA Command was forced to release men for other duties, and the number of active units was reduced in 1943, with the 71st S/L Rgt being reduced to a cadre. The following March, it was placed in 'suspended animation' and disappeared altogether.
When the TA was reconstituted in 1947, the 71st S/L Rgt was reformed at Rusholme, Manchester, as the 606th (Mixed) Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment, RA (East Lancashire), ('Mixed' denoting that members of the Women's Royal Army Corps were integrated into the unit). It formed part of 70 AA Bde (reformed from the former 44 AA Bde).
However, AA Command was disbanded in April 1955 and there was a major reduction in the number of TA AA units. 606 HAA Rgt was amalgamated with other Manchester-based units to form 314 HAA Rgt, with 606th providing part of P (Manchester) Bty.
On 1 January 1949, an oak clergy desk was unveiled in St John's Church, Failsworth, bearing the inscription: 'PRESENTED BY THE OFFICERS AND OTHER RANKS OF 71ST (E.L.) SEARCHLIGHT REGIMENT, ROYAL ARTILLERY T.A. TO COMMEMORATE THE FORMATION OF THE REGIMENT AND TO PERPETUATE ITS MEMORY 1938–1943'. The memorial is now lost.