53rd Welsh

A World War II Living History Group

116  Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment (Royal Welch)

116 LAA Regiment (Royal Welch) was formed out of the 12th Battalion, RWF - a war raised Battalion of men who were too old for normal infantry service and were grouped as a 'Home Defence' Battalion. When the Battalion was reformed as a Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, it was placed in 53rd Welsh Division to offer protection from German aircraft.

When they reached Normandy the Regiment soon distinguished itself in a manner which had not been considered prior to its arrival in the devastated bocage of Normandy. The Luftwaffe rarely flew sorties near the front, and the Regiment soon took on a counter-mortar role, using guns to destroy mortar emplacements and with self-propelled guns took the Germans on with close 40mm gun support.

The Regiment consisted of three Batteries, each containing three troops with four guns under each Battery. A grand total of 36 x 40mm Bofors anti-aircraft guns, able to engage both ground and air targets.

The finest hour of the Regiment was at s’Hertogenbosch when the self-propelled Bofors of Captain Lever’s D Troop succeeded in capturing several hundred Germans, several bridges and saving the lives of many infantrymen, in an epic action that sadly cost Captain Donald Lever his life.

With December, orders came for the Regiment to be disbanded to create re-enforcements for the infantry. It did so and was replaced by the 25 LAA Regiment. Despite having a short history, it was distinguished conduct and the men served with great pride in their very ‘Royal Welch’ Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment!

116  Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment (Royal Welch)in WW2

The 116th LAA Regiment has a fascinating history. The Regiment began as 12th (Home Defence) Battalion RWF and was formed on the 4th July 1940 as part of 215th Infantry Brigade. Only the founding CO, and Quartermaster, were the only regular Officers and became the backbone of the unit. All of the men in the unit were between 27-28 years of age - and were all new recruits. It was, consequently, hardly the youngest, fittest, or most experienced unit suitable for combat!

September 1940 saw the unit receive its first set of heavier equipment, ranging from mortars to several carriers - this marked the start of 'proper' training in improvised firing ranges and defence positions. This continued until December 1942 when a telegram was received announcing that the unit would be converted to Light Anti-Air Regiment - after this the men of the former 12th Bn decided to carry on their newfound traditions as 'Royal Welchmen' ranging from retaining the Fusiliers Flash on Officers, to the full Regimental badges. This dedicated respect for their Battalions' parenthood would remain throughout the 116th LAA's journey through Europe.

For the next few years the Regiment was transformed from Fusiliers to Gunners. The new Regiment now stood as a Regimental Headquarters and three Batteries. The Regiment trained in the use of 40mm Bofors anti-aircraft guns and requested to join the 53rd (Welsh) Division, this was granted and the Regiment assumed the title 'Royal Welch' in addition to its 116 number. Becoming the 116th Light Anti Aircraft Regiment (Royal Welch).

116th LAA Regiment (RW) Orbat Normandy 1944
Headquarters - Lieutenant-Colonel HDT Morris

2/IC - Major Gilliam

380 Battery - Major FH Hill (A, B + C Troops)

381 Battery - Major ANB Sugden (D, E + F Troops)

382 Battery - Major FHG Eggleton (G, H + I Troops)

Even before setting foot in Normandy, 116 LAA had fired in anger at the increasing number of V1's flying over Maidstone. When they boarded for Normandy, on the 20th June, the men of 116 LAA who were stationed abroad SS Samarovsk flew the 'Y Ddraig Goch' as they sailed, arriving on the 23rd June. The first elements of the 116th (382 Battery) landing at Arromanches, immediately moved and deployed to protect the 53rd Welsh Division's main concentration areas, firing in action in France for the first time.

The First Shoots

With the mundane task of defending the concentration area against the occasional FW190. However the 28th was more interesting, as the men searched nearby areas, finding a few letters, range tables for Flak 35 (light anti-aircraft gun), finally finding a Flak 35 which was found by F Troop, 381 Battery. It was moved to Regimental HQ to be used for defending the position, however despite REME managing to get it to work, whilst testing it the Flak 35 broke down and was useless. With two FW190s and a ME109 to shoot at kept things interesting, and with 23 seats allocated at the ENSA concert at Bayeux, it ensured that the men's spirits were kept high.


Two days later G Troop claimed a probable destruction on a ME109 after several good fuselage and tail hits. Their first 'confirmed' good shoot of the campaign.

The first fatality was Gunner HT Wynne, from B troop, 380 Battery on the 1st July during shelling. 382 Battery moved protecting the Field Regiments as and when necessary from enemy aircraft. From the 4-5th July, 380 and 382 Batteries claimed five kills, despite  Lieutenant FRD Byng being killed by shelling.

Captain FHG Eggleton took command of 382 Battery on the 7th July, in the midst of the major German air activity. On the 10th July, the Regiment saw the first issue of bread since their arrival in Normandy, Lieutenant Yates from 381 Battery was then moved to 53rd Division HQ as the Liaison officer between 116 LAA and the rest of the Division. Followed by H Troop of 383 Battery downing a FW190.

Birth of the Counter-Mortar Organisation

During this time, the low level of anti-aircraft activity saw G Troop from 382 Battery and C Troop 380 Battery assisting in counter-mortar trials, which would lead to the Regiment assuming an unofficial role that of 'Counter-Mortar Organisation' for the entire Division, this was continued throughout the campaign and acquired an excellent reputation.

The first heavy casualties which were inflicted on 116 LAA was four killed and one wounded from G Troop, 382 Battery during shelling. Two of the self-propelled Bofors were damaged. Three of those who died were killed in a slit trench which took a direct hit from a German shell. However despite this, 382 Battery claimed a ME109.

The 14th of July bought a mix of 8 claims, coming to a total of 6x ME109s, and 2 x FW190s. However from the 15th, in an attempt to prevent friendly fire, light anti-aircraft fire was banned at night. The next few days bought increased use of the Bofors for the Counter-Mortar Organisation, and on the 18th, night firing was allowed once more - albeit with some restrictions. To the end of July, most tasks were taken up by the new CMO role as enemy air activity ebbed away.

Falaise Looms

On the 8th August, after several days of little note, a Flying Fortress was seen dropping bombs near British positions, and crashed about 2 miles away. In the evening, American Thunderbolts were machine gunning and dive bombing friendly positions, but were deterred by C and J Troops.

The first major disagreement with mines occurred on the 11th August, when an self-propelled Bofors gun hit a mine. Killing Gunner LW Heard outright, and Gunner Tasker from wounds, wounding four others. A day later the Regiment crossed the Orne.

Command of 116 LAA shuffled on the 13th August as follows:

 Headquarters - Lieutenant-Colonel HDT Morris

2/IC - Major FH Hill

Adjutant -  Captain RP Coombs

380 Battery - Captain (acting) Major FH Hill (A, B + C Troops)

381 Battery - Captain (acting) Major ANB Sugden (D, E + F Troops)

382 Battery - Captain (acting) Major FHG Eggleton(G, H + I Troops)

On the same day, Lieutenant Harraway took the Regiment's first prisoner, with 6 more coming in on the 15th. Sadly Lieutenant Harraway was in a jeep conducting a recce with Lieutenant Skinner when they ran over a mine and were sent to 147 Field Ambulance.

A Morris tractor (used to tow the Bofors guns) hit a mine on the 18th - and was totally wrecked. Killing three men, of which two were attached Royal Engineers, one man, Gunner Beech, was wounded and sent to 147 Field Ambulance. Gunner Hemsley bought in two more German prisoners, adding to the already modest selection being bought in.

A day later Lieutenant McMillian conducted a recce and with the men found ten exhausted Germans who claimed they had not drunk for four days, and accepted that the war was over for them. Whilst 382 Battery fired 1,015 rounds hitting ground targets. On the 20th August, Gunner RB Lacey had an unfortunate motorcycle accident and was missing until found at the Field Ambulance.

The Regiment finally received rest on the 22nd August, in order to prepare them for the coming advance, conduct necessary maintenance and conduct vehicle inspections. The next day great news was received telling the men that Paris had been liberated. The rest of August continued without note asides constant moves to follow the advance.

Liberation

The 1st September proved to be a most unexpected day, when the local French resistance made contact, handing over six American and British airmen who were dressed as French civilians and had been protected from between three and fourteen month by the Resistance.

The Somme was crossed on the 3rd at 2130 hours, and 15 more prisoners were taken. With long supply lines, the Division's RASC was nearly overstretched. As a result the Regiment would create an RASC Company to assist the 'real' RASC, and an infantry company (placed under Major FC Hill) - titled 'Mobile Defence Company' was created to defend Division HQ - commencing the 5th September.

The 'RASC' Company was formally titled '116 LAA Transport Company' - under command of the Regiments' CO, Major FC Hill (now OC of the Mobile Defence Company) was shot by a sniper at midnight on the 6th September, but luckily survived. The following day, the Transport Company assisted in moving German PoWs to the rear lines.

Holland

The next couple of weeks saw the relentless supply drive, movements of the stores and workshops around Antwerp. The crossing of the Escaut canal was conducted by some of the workshops, two platoons and Regimental HQ on the 20th September, as they did so - they entered Holland. Self-propelled guns were detached at a number of two per Brigade. On the 22nd, the SPs attached to 2 Mons engaged a German HQ located at a farm, firing 145 rounds, they set fire to the farm and forced the enemy to withdraw leaving 31 wounded. More days of intense ground shoots, supporting 53rd Welsh Division's flank attack during Market Garden, was crowned by the vast airborne armada for Market Garden tearing overhead.

The days that followed slipped into mundane recce patrols, moves and occasional heavy shelling. The 12th October saw the first engagement against a ME262, air observation posts were used to direct the Bofors ground fire more accurately and Gunner Nicholls was wounded by shelling. This close co-operation with the infantry continued with fires on German communications, woods and generally engaging in harassing fire.

Den Bosch

Supporting the infantry in both direct fire, light anti-air and counter-mortar roles, the Regiment played an important role in restricting German tactical flexibility. Especially with shoots on bridges and ferries to restrict the movement of enemy re-enforcements. What followed was Captain Lever's remarkable action outlined below in the streets of s'Hertogenbosch.

Captain Lever's Great Action

The 27th October saw Captain Lever of D Troop was ordered to assist 6th Battalion RWF, engaging enemy who refused to be dislodged. He bought up a self-propelled Bofors gun and proceeded to fire on the enemy. He then convinced some Germans to surrender who were dug in in a factory and to do so the Germans had to find a boat and cross a canal! Finally he went over himself, taking more prisoners and a machine gun.

6 Bn RWF occupied the factory the next day and several more blocks of buildings between the canal and docks, Lever crossed the canal with six detachment commanders and a Bofors for support and captured six German Marines who were swimming the canal. They then came under ferocious mortar and machine gun fire - and withdrew using the Bofors to cover their retreat. Shortly afterwards they followed this up, engaging a German company headquarters and caused several more enemy casualties. Lever did not stop here, however, and took yet more prisoners down the railway line.

By the 29th, the 6 Bn RWF had cleared the main factory buildings but they were still heavily opposed, Captain Lever then volunteered to deal with these posts. An initial bombardment of 80 Bofors rounds covered Lever, TSM Affleck, Lance-Bombardier Kendall and Gunner Williams advance in a Jeep where they took nine prisoners, then on the return they noticed around 40 Germans falling back to buildings further behind. With Kendall escorting the prisoners back, Lever and Affleck began attacking the enemy with intense Bren gun fire whilst Williams kept passing them ammunition.

The Bofors chimed in and stormed 50 rounds at the Germans new defensive position. Carriers moved out to seize these buildings, but the enemy made a good withdrawal, putting the Carriers in a dangerous position. They ran into crisscrossing German machine gun fire and were pinned down. Lever identified the machine gun, used the Bofors to suppress the position whilst the carriers withdrew. Later that day he noticed entrenched German positions and engaged them once more with the Bofors scoring 39 heavy hits on a bunker. Lever then went forward and searched the enemy positions, returning with an assortment of weapons, whilst six more Germans surrendered with more weapons from nearby positions.

That night the Germans reinforced their crumbling positions, and Lever planned another heavy assault involving three Bofors, three Carriers and an infantry platoon from 6 Bn RWF. The attack went well and they took the first group of buildings relatively easily. Their advance was only stopped when the Germans destroyed a small bridge, denying passage over the dyke to vehicles. Lever found a plank and crossed it himself followed by three infantrymen who fired whilst he took on enemy pits with his Bren. He took seven prisoners but was hit in the back by a burst of enemy fire, but one of the infantrymen started to carry him back.

By now, one of the Bofors was out of action, and they sent the Jeep to get am additional Bofors, during this the prisoners crowded onto the small plank and broke it. Affleck desperately searched for another plank and found it, trying to put it into position the men on the other side found it impossible to get it back safely - as he dashed back for another plank he too was hit in the back and went down.

Artillery was called in and deployed a smoke screen, during which they withdrew one of the guns, Affleck was loaded into the jeep and driven back to the Regimental Aid Post. These men found a ladder, returned to the battle and crossed the demolished bridge bringing back Captain Lever, loading him onto the Jeep and under the cover of the final gun dashed him to hospital, the final gun then withdrew.

Tragically after these heroic acts, Captian Lever and TSM Affleck died of their wounds shortly afterwards. Williams received the DCM and Cousins the MM. Captain Lever was recommended for the VC and Afflect was mentioned posthumously in dispatches.

After s'Hertogenbosch

On the 31st October, Captain JR Potter was given command of D Troop after Captain Lever was killed.

November saw more ground shoots with the use of more aerial observation posts, woods and enemy headquarters. Major FH Hill returned to command 380 Battery on the 8th November. J Troop engaged Germans using a windmill as an observation post with assistance from air observation point to ensure that the shoot - at 4,500 yards ended with the object of destroying the OP attained.

381 Battery supported Operation Mallard - using F Troop and with 2 guns from D Troop - giving directional fire for the tanks, firing five rounds of HE rapidly every five minutes, for one hour, from fifteen minutes prior to the start of the operation. After this they fired one round every fifteen minutes until dawn. 

Orders came on the 17th November for the Regiment to assist in its first firing directly into Germany for the first time. On the same day the Regiment forwarded its recommendation for Captain Levers posthumous VC to Divisional Royal Artillery HQ (sadly this was not awarded.)

A Troop continued close infantry support on the 18th November, destroying several houses leading to the enemy infantry to vacate them running like 'scalded cats' according to the Ox and Bucks infantry conducting the attack. Days of shoots on farms, barns and haystacks follows as the Regiment gave substantial close heavier fire directly onto enemy positions, digging them out far more effectively and accurately than conventional artillery could manage.

The End


In December 1944, a letter arrived from Eisenhower stating with the Luftwaffe in tatters there was little need for light anti-aircraft units. Those units who had previous infantry experience would be broken up and reshuffled. 220 men were returned to infantry, most of them now veteran soldiers, and most were retained within 53rd Welsh Division.

The disbandment of 116th LAA RA (RWF) was felt sadly by those who served within it as a most unconventional and distinguished unit during its short but most definitely distinguished life, continuing the traditions of its parent Regiment against all odds.