The Burma Campaign

Indian Anti-Aircraft/Anti-Tank Regiments

In the war against Japan being fought by the British in India and Burma, one of the interesting developments in organisation and equipment was the development of multi-purpose or multi-role artillery regiments.  The new artillery regiment organisations (or “war establishments”) were designed to provide economy of resources, mobility in difficult terrain and tactical flexibility.  One such development was the anti-aircraft/anti-tank regiment.

In 1943, staff planners at G.H.Q. India considered revisions to the organisation and equipment of British and Indian infantry divisions, taking into account: battle experience to date; the nature of the terrain in the area of probable future operations (the Arakan; the Indo-Burmese border area and Burma itself); the threat posed by the enemy to ground troops, notably from the air and from tanks.  Among the changes decided upon was to replace the divisional light anti-aircraft and anti-tank regiments with a single anti-aircraft/anti-tank regiment for those infantry divisions organised with mixed “Animal and Motor Transport”.  On 11th June 1943, the details of this reorganisation were communicated to the War Office in London by cipher telegram.[1] 

The intention was to form new A.A./Atk regiments, organised in a similar way to those forming part of the establishment of Indian Light Divisions[2] [3], composed of two anti-tank batteries equipped with 6-pdr anti-tank guns and two anti-aircraft batteries.  At first, the anti-aircraft batteries were to be equipped with twelve Bofors 40mm light anti-aircraft guns, the eventual intention was to replace these with 18 20mm guns (Hispano) when these became available.[4]

Four new British A.A./Atk regiments were formed, in addition to 24th and 82nd L.A.A./Atk Regiments which were already in service with the light divisions.  The new regiments were formed by the interchange of batteries between the 55th L.A.A. and the 56th Anti-Tank Regiments, R.A and the 33rd L.A.A. and the 69th Anti-Tank Regiments, R.A.  A number of additional A.A./Atk regiments were also required and these were to be formed from existing Indian units.

The new British regiments were formed on 9th August 1943 and were:

33rd L.A.A./Atk Regiment, R.A.: converted from the 33rd L.A.A. Regiment, exchanging the 132nd and 525th Batteries for the 274th and 275th Atk Batteries of the 69th Anti-Tank Regiment (subsequently served with the 19th Indian Infantry Division),

55th L.A.A./Atk Regiment, R.A.: converted from the 55th L.A.A. Regiment, exchanging the 163rd and 164th Batteries for the 203rd and 290th Atk Batteries of the 56th Anti-Tank Regiment (served with the 20th Indian Infantry Division),

56th L.A.A./Atk Regiment, R.A.: converted from the 56th Anti-Tank Regiment, exchanging batteries with the 55th L.A.A. Regiment (served with the 5th Indian Infantry Division),

69th L.A.A./Atk Regiment, R.A.: converted from the 69th Anti-Tank Regiment, exchanging batteries with the 33rd Anti-Tank Regiment (under command of the British 70th Infantry Division, was disbanded on 30th September 1943 to form an infantry group in the "Chindits").[5]

The creation of Indian A.A./Atk regiments, however, proceeded both more slowly and more erratically.  By August 1943, it seems that three Indian anti-tank regiments had been selected for conversion.  Whilst some initial preparatory training was begun, actual conversion of batteries did not occur until around March 1944.  This may have been in part due to a shortage of 20mm Hispano guns, certainly the single battery of the 2nd Anti-Tank Regiment to be converted, the 8th Battery, was issued with 40mm Bofors guns in March 1944.  For the Indian regiments concerned, the new organisation was short lived.   In August 1944, it was decided to reorganise the divisional anti-tank regiments once again.  The new organisation had the regiments composed of three anti-tank batteries only, each equipped with twelve 6-pounder anti-tank guns and twelve 3-inch mortars, the deployment of weapon by each battery to depend on the tactical situation at any given time.[6] 

The Indian anti-tank regiments (so far!) known to have converted or partially converted to the A.A./Atk role were:

1st A.A./Atk Regiment, I.A.: the Regiment was notified on 15th August 1943 that it had been earmarked for conversion.  Whilst some preparatory training was undertaken, no guns had been received by December 1943. The Regiment served with the 26th Indian Infantry Division at this time. Converted to become an anti-tank/mortar regiment, probably from August 1944, with the 1st, 2nd and 30th Anti-Tank Batteries,[7]

2nd A.A./Atk Regiment, I.A.: during July 1943, the Regiment was notified that the 5th and 8th Batteries were to convert to the light anti-aircraft in the near future, equipped first with 40mm Bofors guns and eventually 20mm Hispano guns for both anti-aircraft and ground work.  In the event only the 8th Battery was converted in March 1944, receiving twelve Bofors guns.  The Regiment was re-titled on 1st April 1944.  The Regiment was under the command of the 23rd Indian Infantry Division throughout this period.  The 8th Battery was renumbered to be the 208th Battery shortly after conversion.  During August 1944, the 208th was disbanded as part of the reorganisation of the Regiment to become an anti-tank/mortar regiment.  A further reorganisation occurred in October 1944 when the 29th Battery joined the 5th and 6th Batteries and the 7th Battery was disbanded,[8]

7th A.A./Atk Regiment, I.A.: the Regiment served with the 25th Indian Infantry Division up until March 1944 went it went to Madras where by 1st April 1944 it was converting to be an A.A./Atk regiment.  Probably in August 1944, it was reorganised as an anti-tank/mortar regiment.  By the time it left Madras in late 1944 for the Arakan to rejoin the 25th Indian Infantry Division, it was composed of the 9th, 25th and 26th Anti-Tank Batteries, equipped with both 6-pounder anti-tank guns and 3-inch mortars.[9]

Secondary sources also identify the 5th and 15th Anti-Tank Regiments, I.A. as converting to the A.A./Atk organisation (Sawyer; Hughes et al Vol. 10).[10]  The war diary of the 5th Anti-Tank Regiment confirms that the Regiment did not convert.[11]  The orders of battle maintained by India Command also show that the 15th Anti-Tank Regiment may not have converted to the A.A./Atk role either (the war diary for the regiment for 1943-1944 covers September 1943 only).[12]  This is assumed to be correct given that both units were allocated as corps troops, the conversion to the A.A./Atk role being applied only to divisional units of mixed "Animal and Motor Transport" divisions.[13]

20 October 2023

[1] Cipher Telegram, C-in-C India to The War Office, 11th June 1943, WO 106/4562

[2] There had been two such “Light” divisions, each composed of only two infantry brigades instead of the more usual three.  These were the 17th Indian Light Division and the 39th Indian Light Division.  The L.A.A./Atk regiments serving with these formations were: 82nd L.A.A./Atk Regiment, R.A. with the 17th Division; the 24th L.A.A./Atk Regiment, R.A. serving with the 39th Light Division. The anti-aircraft batteries of these regiments were equipped with twelve 40mm Bofors light anti-aircraft guns.

[3] “The War Against Japan”, Vol. II, Woodburn Kirby, HMSO (1958), p242.

[4] It seems that there may have been a shortage of these weapons in India and supplies may not have started arriving from the United Kingdom until 1994, “The RAF Regiment at War, 1942-1945”, Oliver K.M., Leo Cooper (2002).

[5] Joslen; “Lineage Book of British Forces, 1660-1978”, Frederick J.B.M., Microform (1984).

[6] “History of The Regiment of Artillery, Indian Army”, Palit D.K., Leo Cooper (1972).

[7] War diary 1st Anti-Tank Regiment, I.A., WO 172/2403, WO 172/4755.

[8] War diary 2nd Anti-Tank Regiment, I.A., WO 172/2404, WO 172/4756.

[9] War diary 7th Anti-Tank Regiment, I.A., WO /4758.

[10] “The Anti-Aircraft Branch of the Indian Artillery, 1940 to 1947”, Sawyer H.V, unpublished, NAM 1983-09-47;”The British Armies in World War Two, An Organisational History”, Vol 10, Hughes, Ryan, Rothwell, Nafziger (2008).

[11] War diary 5th Anti-Tank Regiment, I.A., WO 172/2406, WO 172/4757.

[12] War diary 15th Anti-Tank Regiment, I.A., WO 172/2407.

[13] India Command Order of Battle, WO 33 series.