3rd Anti-Aircraft Division (United Kingdom)

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3rd Anti-Aircraft Division
Active 1 September 1939 – 30 September 1942
Country  United Kingdom
Branch Flag of the British Army.svg Territorial Army
Type Anti-Aircraft Division
Role Air Defence
Part of Anti-Aircraft Command (1939–40)
III AA Corps (1940–42)
Engagements The Blitz

The 3rd Anti-Aircraft Division was an air defence formation of the Territorial Army, part of the British Army, created in the period of tension before the outbreak of World War II. It defended Scotland and Northern Ireland during the early part of the war.


Large numbers of Territorial Army (TA) units were converted to anti-aircraft (AA) and searchlight roles in the Royal Artillery (RA) and Royal Engineers (RE) during the 1930s, and higher formations were required to control them. 3rd AA Division was the first division-level headquarters created de novo (earlier ones being converted infantry divisions). It was formed at Edinburgh on 1 September 1938 within Scottish Command, transferring to Anti-Aircraft Command when that formation was created on 1 April 1939. It was responsible for the AA defences of Scotland, including Northern Ireland and the Orkney and Shetland Defences (OSDEF). It operated with No 13 Group of RAF Fighter Command, covering Scotland and the North of England.[1]

Order of Battle

The composition of 3 AA Division on the outbreak of war was as follows:[1][2]


Mobilisation in the last week of August 1939 was difficult for 3 AA Division, which had the task of moving troops, guns and stores by road and by sea to remote and inaccessible sites in Orkney to defend the fleet anchorage at Scapa Flow, which had high priority.[32]

At this point the division had a strength of 111 HAA guns, while in the LAA role there were 18 3-inch, 5 2-pounder 'pom-pom' and 40 mm Bofors guns, and 340 light machine guns (LMGs), together with 159 searchlights.[33] The HAA guns were deployed in the defended areas as follows:[34]

Shortly afterwards, Tyneside and Teesside became the responsibility of a new 7 AA Division, and 3 AA Division was able to concentrate on defending Scotland.[33]

Phoney War

Unlike most of Britain's defence forces, 3 AA Division was frequently in action during the so-called Phoney War that lasted from September 1939 to May 1940. The first action occurred unexpectedly on 16 October 1939, when nine enemy aircraft suddenly appeared out of cloud and dived on warships off Rosyth Dockyard, close to the Forth Bridge. No warning had been given, but gun positions of 71 HAA Rgt hastily loaded for a 'crash' action under individual gun control, normal prediction being impossible against diving and turning targets. A total of 104 rounds were fired and one aircraft had its tail shot off (fighters accounted for another two). HMS Southampton was damaged. The following day, 14 hostile aircraft in three waves attacked warships lying in Scapa Flow. The Chain Home early-warning radar system did not yet cover Scapa, but 226 Bty of 101 HAA Rgt was able to engage and claimed one shot down. Among the vessels damaged in this raid was the Jutland veteran HMS Iron Duke, acting as a base ship and floating AA battery.[35]

These attacks led to calls for strengthened AA defence for the naval bases at Scapa Flow, Invergordon, Rosyth and the Clyde anchorage, and 3 AA Division was given priority for new guns. Starting in January 1940, the division was to receive 64 3.7-inch and 32 4.5-inch HAA guns and an increase to 100 searchlights, but only 10 Bofors and some Naval 2-pounders were available for LAA defence. 3 AA Division had many problems at Scapa, where a chain of rugged islands enclose an extensive area of water, which stretched beyond the reach of HAA fire from the islands. Installing gun positions on the islands required an immense amount of labour. A new Luftwaffe attack on 16 March 1940 caught the defences half-prepared: only 52 out of 64 HAA guns were fit for action, and 30 out of 108 SLs. About 15 Junkers Ju 88s approached at low level in the dusk: half dived on the warships and the rest attacked the airfield. 44 HAA guns of 42 AA Bde engaged, but their predictors were defeated by erratic curses and low height. 17 LAA guns also engaged, but the Gun layers were blinded by gun-flashes in the half light. No enemy aircraft were brought down. A subsequent inquiry concluded that the low level attack had evaded radar, the gun lay-out still left gaps in the perimeter, and guns were out of action awaitong spare parts.[36]

There were three more attacks on Scapa Flow the following month. On 4 April, a formation estimated at 12 Ju 88s carried out a series of medium- and low-level runs, dropping bombs and machine-gunning AA positions, and escaped without loss. Four days later, 12 Heinkel He 111s spent 2 hours over the anchorage carrying out individual attacks, but four were shot down. On 10 April about 20 hostile aircraft made a night raid; some were successfully illuminated and three shot down. The Scapa defences were clearly improved, and close concentrations of fire over warships, supplemented by naval AA fire, could no hold off dive-bombing attacks. The Luftwaffe now turned its attention to the campaigns in Norway and France and the Low Countries[37]

In November 1939, 3 AA Bde HQ and some of its units had gone to France with the British Expeditionary Force, defending the lines of communication.[38][39][40] 3 AA Brigade HQ returned to Northern Ireland after the Dunkirk evacuation.[41][42]

Battle of Britain

On 11 July 1940, at the start of the Battle of Britain, the guns of 3 AA Division under the command of Maj-Gen Leslie Hill were deployed as follows:[43]

3 AA Division was now cooperating with Fighter Command's No 14 Group, recently reformed to cover Scotland.

In 1940, the Royal Artillery's AA regiments were designated 'Heavy AA' (HAA) to distinguish them from the newer Light AA (LAA) units. (Prior to that, some of the Regular Army and Supplementary Reserve regiments had included both HAA and LAA batteries.) Also during 1940, all the searchlight units, whether AA battalions of the RE or still forming part of their parent infantry regiments, were transferred to the RA. The units of 52 AA Bde were therefore redesignated as follows:

  • 51st (Highland) Searchlight Regiment, RA – from January 1940[44][45]
  • 52nd (Queen's Edinburgh, Royal Scots) Searchlight Regiment, RA – from August 1940[46][47]
  • 56th (Cameronians) Searchlight Regiment, RA – from August 1940[18][48]
  • 57th (Glasgow) Searchlight Regiment, RA – from August 1940[20][49]

In September 1940, 3 AA Division formed 3 AA Z Regiment, equipped with Z Battery rocket projectiles.[50]

In November 1940, at the height of The Blitz, a new 12 AA Division was formed to take over responsibility for western Scotland and Northern Ireland, while 3 AA Division retained responsibility for eastern Scotland. 3 and 42 AA Bdes were transferred from 3 AA Division to the new formation,[41][42] and 12 AA Divisional Signals was formed by expanding the Glasgow company of 3 AA Divisional Signals.[31] Both 3 and 12 AA Divisions, together with OSDEF and 7 AA Division covering northern England, formed part of a newly created III AA Corps,[51] and 3 AA Division's commander, Maj-Gen Hugh Martin, was promoted to command the new higher formation.[1]


From November 1940, therefore, 3 AA Division's order of battle was as follows:[52][53]

  • 36 AA Bde Edinburgh & Forth
    • 71 HAA Rgt – as above
    • 114 HAA Rgtformed November 1940[54]
    • 31 LAA Rgt – as above
    • 32 LAA Rgt – as above
  • 51 AA Bde NE Scotland
  • 52 AA Bde Searchlights
    • 51 S/L Rgt – as above; became 124 (Highland) LAA Regiment in February 1942[45][59]
    • 52 S/L Rgt – as above; became 130 (Queen's Edinburgh, Royal Scots) LAA Regiment in March 1942[47][60]
    • 56 S/L Rgt – as above; became 125th (Cameronians) LAA Regiment in February 1942[18][61]
  • 3 AA Z Rgt
  • 3 AA Divisional Signals


At the end of September 1942, AA Command disbanded the AA Corps and Divisions and replaced them with new AA Groups, whose areas of responsibility coincided with the Groups of RAF Fighter Command. 3 AA Division's responsibilities were taken over by 6 AA Group, which coincided with No. 14 Group RAF.[52][62] In October 1942, 3 and 12 AA Divisional Signals re-merged to form 6 AA Group Signals.[31]

General Officers Commanding

The commanders of 3 AA Division were as follows:[1]

  • Major-General Lancelot Hickes, from formation until 24 September 1939
  • Major-General Leslie Hill, 24 September 1939 – 14 August 1940[63]
  • Major-General Hugh Martin, 14 August–November 1940 (promoted to command III AA Corps)[64]
  • Major-General John Younger, November 1940 (from 4 AA Division) to 7 January 1942 (posted to Washington)[65]
  • Major-General William Wyndham Green, DSO, MC*, 7 January 1942 until disbandment (posted to 5 AA Group)[66]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 3 AA Division 1939 at British Military History.
  2. AA Command 3 September 1939 at Patriot Files.
  3. 3 S/L Rgt at RA 39–45.
  4. Litchfield, p. 310.
  5. 8 HAA Rgt at RA 39–45.
  6. Litchfield, p. 311.
  7. 9 HAA Rgt at RA 39–45.
  8. Litchfield, p. 312.
  9. 102 HAA Rgt at RA 39–45.
  10. Litchfield, p. 313.
  11. 71 HAA Rgt at RA 39–45.
  12. Litchfield, p. 283.
  13. 94 HAA Rgt at RA 39–45.
  14. 14.0 14.1 Litchfield, p. 300.
  15. 101 HAA Rgt at RA 39–45.
  16. 16.0 16.1 Litchfield, p. 293.
  17. 74 HAA Rgt at RA 39–45.
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 Litchfield, p. 290.
  19. 83 HAA Rgt at RA 39–45.
  20. 20.0 20.1 Litchfield, p. 291.
  21. 100 HAA Rgt at RA 39–45.
  22. 14 LAA Rgt at RA 39–45.
  23. Litchfield, p. 299.
  24. 18 LAA Rgt at RA 39–45.
  25. Litchfield, p. 292.
  26. 19 LAA Rgt at RA 39–45.
  27. 31 LAA Rgt at RA 39–45.
  28. Litchfield, p. 302.
  29. 32 LAA Rgt at RA 39–45.
  30. Litchfield, p. 309.
  31. 31.0 31.1 31.2 Lord & Watson, p. 172.
  32. Routledge, p. 371.
  33. 33.0 33.1 Routledge, Table LVIII, p. 376.
  34. Routledge, Table LIX p. 377.
  35. Routledge, p. 374.
  36. Routledge, p. 375.
  37. Routledge, p. 376.
  38. BEF at British Military History.
  39. BEF GHQ at RA 39–45.
  40. Ellis, Appendix I.
  41. 41.0 41.1 12 AA Division at British Military History.
  42. 42.0 42.1 12 AA Division at RA 39–45.
  43. Farndale, pp. 105–6.
  44. 51 S/L Rgt at RA 39–45.
  45. 45.0 45.1 Litchfield, p. 274.
  46. 52 S/L Rgt at RA 39–45.
  47. 47.0 47.1 Litchfield, p. 298.
  48. 56 S/L Rgt at RA 39–45.
  49. 57 S/L Rgt at RA 39–45.
  50. 3 AA Z Rgt at RA 39–45.
  51. III AA Corps at RA 39–45.
  52. 52.0 52.1 3 AA Division 1940 at British Military History.
  53. 3 AA Division at RA 39–45.
  54. 114 HAA Rgt at RA 39–45.
  55. 108 Rgt at RA 39–45.
  56. 40 LAA Rgt at RA 39–45.
  57. Joslen, p. 83.
  58. 67 LAA Rgt at RA 39–45.
  59. 124 LAA Rgt at RA 39–45.
  60. 130 LAA Rgt at RA 39–45.
  61. 125 LAA Rgt at RA 39–45.
  62. AA Command 1940 at British Military History.
  63. Hill at Generals.dk.
  64. Martin at Generals.dk.
  65. Younger at Generals.dk.
  66. Green at Generals.dk.


External sources