Merchant ships

Jim L'Esperance 011

I can’t make out the signature.

Another unsung hero.

You can contact me if you have more information about that badge.

Merchant ships ASA

History note

A donor of one of these Maritime AA badges, who may have had some connection with the Maritime AA Artillery, states in a covering letter that the badges were ‘worn on the arm, and the pagri of a Wolseley helmet, by the Maritime Regts RA from formation until summer of 1943. A similar transfer was applied to the steel helmet.’ This badge was superseded in summer 1943 by a similar design with the letters ‘RA’ replacing ‘AA’. Presumably this was as a result of the redesignation of the force from ‘Maritime Anti-Aircraft Regiments’ to ‘Maritime Regiments Royal Artillery’. Prior to the beginning of the Second World War it was decided that merchant ships would be equipped with defensive armaments. Initially, crews were found by the Admiralty from Naval and Royal Marine reservists and by the end of the war some 24,000 such men had been trained together with a further 150,000 Merchant Seamen. These troops wore naval insignia, typically the gun barrel, star and legend ‘DEMS’ (Defensively Equipped Merchant Shipping). However, additional anti-aircraft provision was required and in 1940 the War Office responded to requests for assistance by deploying men trained on machine guns. This was implemented initially through co-operation between the Admiralty Trade Division and Anti-Aircraft Command. These troops came under Admiralty control, and total manpower topped 14,000 by 1944. This organisation was originally formed under the titles of ‘AA Defence of Merchant Shipping’ and ‘AA Light Machine Gun Troops’. The ‘AA’ version of the badge appears to date from this time. What was intended to be a stop-gap measure over a few months proved so successful that in May 1941 the force was reorganized as four Maritime Anti-Aircraft Regiments, Royal Artillery, three of which were armed with anti-aircraft light machine guns and one with Bofors. There was a further reorganisation at the end of 1942/beginning of 1943, when the regiments were split up into independent batteries and troops and the whole force re-named Maritime Royal Artillery (MRA). The ‘RA’ version of the badge was adopted shortly after this time. The force stayed essentially in this form into the post-war period. Key bases where both MRA and naval gun crews were deployed included Liverpool, London, Glasgow, Leith, Newcastle, Cardiff, Cape Town, Alexandria, Halifax (Nova Scotia), Madras, Bombay, Colombo and other naval stations around the globe. Crews were allocated as required to DEMS (Defensively Equipped Merchant Shipping).

Physical description

badge A red ‘fouled anchor’ with white rope and white letters ‘AA’ either side of anchor, on a black square.

Source: badge, unit, Maritime Royal Artillery & Maritime Anti-Aircraft Regiments RA

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