5th Anti-Aircraft Division (United Kingdom)

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5th Anti-Aircraft Division
Active 1938–1942
Country  United Kingdom
Branch Flag of the British Army.svg Territorial Army
Type Anti-Aircraft Division
Role Air Defence
Part of Anti-Aircraft Command (1938–40)
I AA Corps (1940–42)
Garrison/HQ Reading, Berkshire
Engagements Battle of Britain
The Blitz

The 5th Anti-Aircraft Division (5 AA Division) was an air defence formation of Britain's Territorial Army, created in the period of tension before the outbreak of World War II. It defended Southern England during the Battle of Britain and the Blitz.


Increasing concern during the 1930s about the threat of air attack led to large numbers of units of the part-time Territorial Army (TA) being converted to anti-aircraft (AA) gun and searchlight roles in the Royal Artillery (RA) and Royal Engineers (RE), and higher formations became necessary to control them. One such formation was 5 AA Division, raised on 1 September 1938 at Reading, Berkshire, to command all the TA AA units in the South, South West and South Midlands of England and South Wales. Its area was roughly aligned with that of No 10 Group of RAF Fighter Command under whose orders Anti-Aircraft Command operated.[1][2][3] The formation's first General Officer Commanding (GOC) was Major-General Alan Cunningham.[1][4][5]

The divisional badge was a falling black aircraft silhouette trailing red flames, on a khaki background.[6]


The deterioration in international relations during 1939 led to a partial mobilisation of the TA in June, after which a proportion of TA AA units manned their war stations under a rotation system known as 'Couverture'. Full mobilisation of AA Command came in August 1939, ahead of the declaration of war on 3 September 1939.[7]

Order of Battle

The division's composition on mobilisation in August 1939 was as follows:[3][8]


On mobilisation in August 1939, 5 AA Division had the following equipment:[10]

The HAA guns were deployed as follows in September 1939:[11]

Phoney War

The process of training and equipping the newer AA units had hardly begun when they were mobilised, but the delay in active operations during the autumn and winter of 1939–40 (the Phoney War) gave the AA formations time to address the worst deficiencies. Modern guns remained scarce, however.[12]


By 5 June 1940, just before the start of the Battle of Britain, 5 AA Division's armament state was:[13]


Major-General Cunningham was transferred to the command of an infantry division on 10 January 1940 and was replaced as GOC by Maj-Gen Robert Allen, brought in from the command of the artillery of an infantry division, but who was a former commander of 48th AA Brigade.[1][4][14] (Cunningham went on to command a succession of infantry divisions before becoming GOC East Africa Command and commanding the campaign against the Italians, and then GOC Eighth Army in Operation Crusader.)

The Royal Artillery's AA regiments were redesignated Heavy AA (HAA) in 1940 to distinguish them from the new Light AA (LAA) units being formed. Also the RE and infantry AA (searchlight) battalions were transferred to the RA in August 1940.[15][16]

In July 1940, after the British Expeditionary Force had been evacuated from Dunkirk, the Regular 5th AA Bde was reformed in the Gloucester area under 5 AA Division. It was to consist of:[17]

Meanwhile, 46th AA Bde at Bristol was now to consist of:[17]

Battle of Britain

On 11 July 1940, at the start of the Battle, 5 AA Division's guns were deployed as follows:[18]

The Battle of Britain opened with the Luftwaffe attacking shipping and coastal towns by day and bombing ports and industrial cities by night, which involved all of AA Command's divisions. In July the Luftwaffe switched to day raids in strength against ports and Midlands industry. Portland and Portsmouth were regularly raided. On 4 July, Portland was attacked by a continuous flow of Ju 87s and Ju 88s, lasting two and a half hours, yet none was shot down. But AA Command's shooting and techniques improved with experience. In attacks on Portsmouth on 12 August, six Bf 109s were shot down and a searchlight detachment on the Isle of Wight shot down another with its LMG.[19]

After these preliminary skirmishes, the battle intensified from 13 August with bombing raids primarily directed against Fighter Command's airfields. Some of the greatest battles were fought on 15 August, from South Wales to the Yorkshire Coast, when 5 AA Division was hotly engaged, being credited with several 'kills'. Another peak day came on 24 August, when the gunners were in action at Swansea, Cardiff, Bristol, Portland and Bramley, with the Swansea gunners claiming hits. Then on 6 September the Luftwaffe switched its attacks from airfields to London.[20]

The climax of the battle was on 15 September, when massed raids attacked London and suffered severe casualties from the fighters and guns. On the same day there were attacks against Portland and Southampton, and with all available fighters engaged elsewhere, 5 AA Division had to defend against these on its own.[21]


After its crushing losses in day raids, the Luftwaffe switched to night bombing of London and the industrial cities ('The Blitz'), with Southampton, Cardiff and Swansea being among the targets attacked using Knickebein navigation aids.[22] During the Portsmouth Blitz, two bombs dropped directly on a position of 35th AA Bde, killing an officer and 10 men, wrecking the command post and one gun. Two of the remaining guns continued to fire by improvised methods.[23]


In November 1940, as the Blitz was getting under way, there was a major reorganisation of AA Command. 5 AA Division's responsibilities were split, with 8 AA Division created to cover South West England, and 9 AA Division to cover the South Midlands and South Wales. Thereafter, 5 AA Division's remit was to concentrate on Southern England. All three divisions came under the command of a newly formed I AA Corps.[1] There were other consequential reorganisations: 5th AA Divisional Signals divided to form 8th AA Divisional Signals at Bristol, for example.[9] Major-General Allen moved to command 8 AA Division and was replaced as GOC by Acting Maj-Gen Robert Pargiter from 7 AA Division.[1][4][24]

Order of Battle

After the reorganisation of November 1940, 5 AA Division had the following composition:[6][25][26][27]

Fringe and Baedeker raids

The Blitz ended in May 1941 when German attention switched to Russia, the Balkans and North Africa. A new Luftwaffe campaign against the mainland UK opened in March 1942, with a series of low-level fighter-bomber attacks against coastal towns, many in 5 AA Division's area, which had few LAA guns available for defence. HAA and LAA guns were moved from all over England to reinforce the naval bases and create new Gun Defended Areas (GDAs) including Winchester and Brighton. As well as these 'Fringe Targets', the Luftwaffe switched night bombers from target to target in what were dubbed 'Baedeker' raids.[29]


AA Command was reorganised again in October 1942, when the AA Corps and Divisions were disbanded and replaced by a single-tier 'Group' structure, with each group corresponding to a Group of Fighter Command. 5 AA Division's role was subsumed into 2 AA Group.[1][30] 5 AA Divisional Signals re-amalgamated with 8 AA Divisional Signals at Bristol, and formed 3 AA Group Signals.[9]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Robert Palmer, A Concise History of Anti-Aircraft Command (History and Personnel) at British Military History.
  2. AA Command 1940 at British Military History.
  3. 3.0 3.1 5 AA Division 1939 at British Military History.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Farndale, Annex J, pp. 292–306.
  5. Cunningham at Generals of World War II.
  6. 6.0 6.1 5 AA Division 1940 at Royal Artillery 1939–45.
  7. Routledge, pp. 65–6.
  8. Routledge, Table LX, p. 378.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Lord & Watson, p. 170.
  10. Routledge, Table LVIII, p. 376.
  11. Routledge, Table LIX, p. 377.
  12. Routledge, p. 371.
  13. Routledge, Table LXI, p. 379.
  14. Allen at Generals of World War II.
  15. Litchfield p. 5.
  16. Routledge, p. 60.
  17. 17.0 17.1 37th (TEE) S/L Regt RA, War Diary 15 May–16 June 1940, The National Archives (TNA), Kew file WO 166/679.
  18. Farndale, p. 106.
  19. Routledge, p. 383.
  20. Farndale, p. 108.
  21. Routledge, p. 386.
  22. Routledge, p. 391.
  23. Routledge, p. 395.
  24. Pargiter at Generals of World War II.
  25. 5 AA Division 1940 at British Military History.
  26. Routledge, Table LXV, p. 396.
  27. Farndale, Annex D, p. 257.
  28. 5 AA Z Regt at RA 1939–45.
  29. Routledge, pp. 401–4.
  30. Routledge, pp. 81, 401, Map 36.


  • Gen Sir Martin Farndale, History of the Royal Regiment of Artillery: The Years of Defeat: Europe and North Africa, 1939–1941, Woolwich: Royal Artillery Institution, 1988/London: Brasseys, 1996, ISBN 1-85753-080-2.
  • Norman E.H. Litchfield, The Territorial Artillery 1908–1988 (Their Lineage, Uniforms and Badges), Nottingham: Sherwood Press, 1992, ISBN 0-9508205-2-0.
  • Cliff Lord & Graham Watson, Royal Corps of Signals: Unit Histories of the Corps (1920–2001) and its Antecedents, Solihull: Helion, 2003, ISBN 1-874622-92-2.
  • Brig N.W. Routledge, History of the Royal Regiment of Artillery: Anti-Aircraft Artillery 1914–55, London: Royal Artillery Institution/Brassey's, 1994, ISBN 1-85753-099-3.

External Sources