Isle of Wight Rifles
|Princess Beatrice's Isle of Wight Rifles|
Infantry (1860–1937; 1967–2006)
Coast Artillery (1937–1949)
Air Defence (1949–1967)
|Garrison/HQ||Drill Hall Road Army Reserve Centre|
The 8th Battalion, The Hampshire Regiment, Princess Beatrice's Isle of Wight Rifles, known informally as the "Isle of Wight Rifles" was formed to defend the Isle of Wight after a 19th-century invasion scare. The unit served as infantry during World War I, and as coastal defence artillery during World War II. Postwar it converted to the air defence role.
The Isle of Wight had long been fortified against invasion, due to its strategic position. It had also had numerous troops billeted in the Napoleonic Wars. In 1859, Artillery and infantry Rifle Volunteer Corps were raised in response to an invasion scare following the perceived resurgence of French naval power under Louis Napoleon III. On the Isle of Wight there was a major programme of fortification, including Forts Victoria, Albert, Golden Hill, and Culver Fort and batteries at Sandown, Puckpool, Bouldnor and the Needles. Infantry support was provided by eight RVCs formed at various locations around the island (dates given are those of first officers' commissions):
- 1st (Ryde) Isle of Wight Rifle Volunteers – 25 January 1860
- 2nd (Newport) Isle of Wight Rifle Volunteers – 27 August 1860
- 3rd (2nd Ryde) Isle of Wight Rifle Volunteers – 7 December 1860; disbanded
- 4th (Nunwell) Isle of Wight Rifle Volunteers – 17 July 1860
- 5th (Ventnor) Isle of Wight Rifle Volunteers – 22 October 1860
- 6th (Sandown) Isle of Wight Rifle Volunteers – 31 March 1860; disbanded 1862
- 7th (Cowes and Osborne) Isle of Wight Rifle Volunteers – 27 April 1860
- 8th (Freshwater) Isle of Wight Rifle Volunteers – 6 July 1860; disbanded 1869
Those who served in the Corps paid for their own kit and expense; Newtown ranges were set aside for their training. They were soon 3,000 strong. With another 4,000 troops from the mainland, soldiers comprised 1 in 4 of the local population. By this time Queen Victoria had moved to the Isle of Wight at Osborne House.
The separate RVCs were brought under the umbrella of the 1st Administrative Battalion of Isle of Wight Rifle Volunteers, formed on 5 July 1860 with headquarters at Newport, under Colonel Dunsmore formerly of the 42nd Highlanders. In 1880 the Administrative Battalion was consolidated as the 1st Isle of Wight Rifle Volunteers, organised as follows:
- A & B Companies at Ryde – formerly 1st RVC
- C & D Companies at Newport – formerly 2nd RVC
- E Company at Nunwell – formerly4th RVC
- F & G Companies at Ventnor – formerly 5th RVC
- H Company at Cowes – formerly 7th RVC
In September 1885 the unit became the 5th (Isle of Wight 'Princess Beatrice's) Volunteer Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment, Princess Beatrice being Queen Victoria's youngest daughter, married to Prince Henry of Battenberg, who was appointed Honorary Colonel of the battalion.
When volunteers were asked for in 1899 for South Africa only twenty riflemen were accepted as the "1st Active Service Section of the Isle of Wight Rifles". They served with other Hampshire volunteers in a support capacity and distinguished themselves by marching thirty-five miles in twelve hours to cover the withdrawal of a detachment under fire near Mafeking. In 1901, despite many volunteering, only ten were accepted and only three passed the medical. Even so, the unit was awarded the Battle Honour 'South Africa 1900-01'.
When the Territorial Force was formed under the Haldane Reforms, the five volunteer battalions of the Hampshire Regiment were numbered in sequence following the Regular and Special Reserve, so that the unit became the 8th Battalion. The volunteers were now paid an annual bounty of £5 and the weekend and annual two-week camps, for which wages were received, were very popular socially. In 1913, Lieutenant Colonel John Rhodes took command. He offered a £1 bounty for joining and as a result a number of men from the mainland joined up in preference to other units.
First World War
While the four mainland TF battalions of the Hampshires formed the Hampshire Brigade of the Wessex Division, the 8th remained unattached under the orders of Southern Command and when war broke out in 1914, the Rifles were mobilised to man local fortifications. The Territorials were asked to volunteer for overseas service, forming second battalions of home service men and recruits. Whereas the Wessex Division sailed to relieve Regular troops in India, the 1/8th Battalion was left training at Parkhurst. However, on 19 April 1915 the battalion was assigned to 163rd (Norfolk and Suffolk) Brigade in 54th (East Anglian) Division to replace the 1/4th Battalion, Suffolk Regiment that had already gone overseas. The 54th Division had been employed on coast defence, but now it was preparing to go overseas, completing its training at Bury St. Edmunds and Watford. On 30 July 1915 the Isle of Wight Rifles sailed from Liverpool aboard the RMS Aquitania (some wood of which now forms a bar in Sandown Broadway), to join the fighting at Gallipoli.
An Allied force under Lieutenant General Frederick Stopford had landed at Suvla Bay on 7 and 8 August 1915. The beach led to a plain overlooked by a range of hills. Stopford (who set up his command post in a sloop – HMS Jonquil – anchored offshore) took the beaches but waited whilst stores were landed before occupying the empty hills. By the time he decided to move upon them the Turks had filled them full of artillery and infantry. The 163rd Brigade, consisting of the 1/5th Suffolk 4th & 5th Norfolk, & 1/8 Hampshires (I.W.Rifles) were landed on 10 August 1915 in order to attack the Turkish positions on Anafurta Ridge. Stopford delayed the attack wishing to make good losses in his lines until pressured by the overall commander, General Hamilton, to order the attack thus giving the Turks full warning of the impending attack.
On 12 August 1915 the attack was ordered across terrain varying from thick scrub to abandoned fields, all cut with dried watercourses. The purpose of the advance was to clear the area of snipers prior to a Divisional attack on Anafarta Ridge the next day. Muddle and confusion hampered the planning with the individual Battalions not receiving the warning orders that the advance was to take place and no clear objective was indicated. Eventually at 16:45 the order to advance was sounded. The start line that had been doglegged around a small hill was then subject to a muddled order that changed the direction of the Norfolks at the moment of advance. Rather than straightening the line, the bend was amplified and as the Norfolks charged a gap that opened up between them and the 8th Hants and the rest of 163 Brigade. Advancing 1,500 yards across the more favourable terrain, the Norfolks took nearly forty percent casualties. The Norfolks' Company, including men from the Royal Estate of Sandringham, were able to advance the furthest but were cut off. Mystery and fantasy has dogged this action ever since. The Brigade held a temporary line formed along a road edge for 48 hours until relieved by the 161st (Essex) Brigade. From the Rifles, 3 brothers from the Urry family together with their brother-in-law were killed, whilst among the officers two brothers, Clayton and Donald Ratsey of the legendary sailmaking firm Ratsey & Lapthorn, both Captains, were killed. Losses in each of the Battalions involved were counted in the high 300's including missing and wounded. The Rifles lost 89 men killed in action once the missing men were reclassified "presumed killed in action". In September 1915 they were moved back to Anzac Cove and evacuated in November.
Egypt and Palestine
The 1st Battalion sailed to Alexandria and to an acclimatisation camp at Sidi Bish, then to Mena Camp by the Pyramids of Giza. They moved into deployment at the Bitter Lakes on the Suez Canal. In January 1917 they marched to Mazar and in February marched across the Sinai Desert 145 miles in 12 days to El Arish. On the night of 17 April 1917 the offensive against the Turkish line at Gaza began, supported by tanks. The first phase of the Rifles operation to capture the Sheik Abbas ridge went well, but one of the tanks, a Mark I male, "Sir Archibald", was destroyed by artillery. On the morning of the 19th the attack against the Sihan Redoubt commenced with the Rifles in support of the 4th & 5th Norfolks. As the two leading battalions melted away the Rifles found themselves leading the attack. Eventually the redoubt was captured following a last charge by the other supporting tank, a Mark I female, "Nutty". Sihan or Tank redoubt was briefly held by a handful of Norfolks, Rifles and Australians, until they were forced to retire through lack of ammunition and water. The Rifles sustained major casualties during the days attack. Two hundred were kept in reserve but out of 800 who went into action only two officers and ninety men answered roll call the following evening, some being taken prisoner and subsequently transferred to Austria. A trench raid against the Turks at Beach Post was regarded as a model of its kind, and earned the Battalion high praise, as they captured a machine gun and two Lewis guns, as well as demolishing several dug-outs. The attack had been carried out at the point of the bayonet, one sergeant accounting for 13 Turks alone. General Allenby took overall command of the Palestine Campaign in August 1917 and his final successful assault against the Gaza-Beersheba Line saw the Rifles attacking the trenches to the south of Gaza. Carrying out this task cost the Battalion 2 officers and 51 other ranks killed. The Rifles then fought their way into Palestine, fighting in the Judaean Hills as Allenby entered Jerusalem. They remained in Palestine until the final defeat of the Turks in September 1918 when they sailed from Beirut to Alexandria and were demobbed in Cairo. When rioting broke out a cadre joined the Army of Occupation in the Sudan, eventually returning to the Isle of Wight in 1920.
In August 1916 the 2/8th Battalion, manning the forts on the Isle of Wight, was absorbed by the 4th (Reserve) Battalion of the Hampshires at Romsey. In September a draft of 250 men was shipped to India. From here they were landed at Basra with the Indian Army. They fought no major battles but were involved in constant skirmishing through Amarah, Kut, Ctesiphon, Persia, Turkestan, Constantinople, Salonika, Italy and France, returning home in 1919.
The Territorial Force disbanded after the war but was later reformed as the Territorial Army. The Rifles were stood down, but were not disbanded due to Princess Beatrice's (Governess of the IOW) intervention. They were mobilised at Albany Barracks during a coal-strike in 1921. In 1923 the battalion was transferred to the 128th (Hampshire) Infantry Brigade, part of 43rd (Wessex) Infantry Division, alongside the 4th, 5th/7th and 6th battalions, Hampshire Regiment. They were transferred to the Royal Artillery in 1937 as The Princess Beatrice's Isle of Wight Rifles Heavy Regiment, with 189 Battery at Cowes and 190 Battery at Ryde. The regiment was retitled 530th (The Princess Beatrice's Isle of Wight Rifles) Coast Regiment, Royal Artillery in 1940.
Second World War
The regiment was mobilised on 25 August 1939, with four batteries:
- A Battery (later 126 battery) at Cliff End
- B Battery (later transferred to 17th Coast Regiment, Royal Artillery)
- C Battery (later 127 Battery) at Fort Albert
- D Battery (later 128 Battery) at Hurst Castle
Although it was employed manning the extensive coastal defences many personnel were drafted to service in other units. A contingent sailed to Alexandria on the Empress of Canada in 1941 and sent to reinforce Tobruk, aboard HMAS Voyager. There they were formed into 17 Coast Regiment – a number being captured when it fell to Rommel on 21 June 1942. Another contingent was sent to Gibraltar aboard the SS Aquila to prepare defences against Franco's Spain. Another battery served with General Alexander in Burma.
In 1947 the regiment was reformed as 428 The Princess Beatrice's (Isle of Wight Rifles) Coast Regiment, RA, but in 1949 it was converted as 428 The Princess Beatrice's (Isle of Wight Rifles) (Mixed) Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment, RA, with three batteries based at Ryde, Newport and Cowes with RHQ at Newport. They were armed with 3.7 HAA Guns and associated radars and predictors. The term 'Mixed' in the title indicated that members of the Women's Royal Army Corps were integrated into the unit. They were briefly responsible for the manning of the 5.25 gun sites on the Island. After the demise of Anti-Aircraft Command and the reduction in air defence units in 1955, the Rifles were once again renamed, now becoming P (Princess Beatrice's IoW Rifles) Battery in 457 (Wessex) Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment, RA, equipped with mobile 3.7 guns. When the regiment te-equipped with Thunderbird SAMs the battery became P HQ Bty 457 Heavy Air Defence Regt RA TA (The IoW Rifles) The Hampshire Caribineers Yeomanry. The main element of the battery was the Regimental Surveillance Troop with 4 mk 7 & height finding radars. They had received two Distinguished Service Orders, a Distinguished Conduct Medal, four Military Crosses, seven Military Medals and various mentions in despatches during their wartime service.
In 1967 457 Regiment RA was disbanded and reconstituted as C (Wessex Royal Artillery, Princess Beatrice's) Company, Hampshire and Isle of Wight Territorials in TAVR III before being reduced to cadre in 1969. In 1971 the cadre was reconstituted as 6 Platoon, B Company (Hampshire), 1st Battalion, Wessex Regiment (The Rifle Volunteers) in TAVR II - a mobilisation component of 1 (Guards) Infantry Brigade (the Guards title being dropped during the 1970s). In 1986 the company (including 6 platoon) was moved to the 2nd Battalion and the mobilisation role was changed to home defence in 43 (Wessex) Infantry Brigade.
Under the 1992 drawdown ("Options for Change"), The Queen's Regiment was amalgamated with the Royal Hampshire Regiment to create the Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment (Queen's and Royal Hampshire's). A and B companies of 2 Wessex were amalgamated as C (Duke of Connaught's) Company, 6th/7th Battalion PWRR, and the Isle of Wight Rifles became 9 (Princess Beatrice's) Platoon, awkwardly placing C company in 145 (Home Counties) Brigade district (re-designated 145 (South) Brigade in 1994) whilst the remainder of the battalion (and the sister 5th Battalion) were in 2 (South East) Brigade district. It also gave the unit the distinction of having the longest name of any unit in the British Army of the time and due to the platoon's continued connection to Princess Beatrice its members were nicknamed "The Isle of Wight Rifles" throughout the rest of 6/7PWRR. The 1998 Strategic Defence Review reorganised the TA infantry along brigade lines, and the Isle of Wight Rifles became 9 (Princess Beatrice) Platoon, D Company of a new battalion, 3rd PWRR (The Royal Rifle Volunteers) formed by all the TA infantry in 145 Brigade in 1999. Despite the Royal Rifle Volunteer designation the unit continued to be badged to the Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment.
Under the Strategic Defence Review New Chapter 17 Port and Maritime Regiment, Royal Logistic Corps agreed to take the Island's Territorial unit into their TA counterpart, 165 Port and Maritime Regiment, to maintain the TA Centre.
The following served as Honorary Colonel of the regiment:
- HRH Prince Henry of Battenberg appointed September 1885
- HRH The Duke of York appointed 1896; later Colonel-in-Chief as King George V
- HRH Princess Beatrice appointed 1937
- Earl Mountbatten of Burma appointed 1950 (nephew of Prince Henry and great-nephew of Princess Beatrice)
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- Beckett, Appendix VII.
- Westlake, pp. 113–4.
- IoW Rifles at Regiments.org, accessed 28 August 2014
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- Becke, Pt 2a, pp. 43–8.
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- "Inter War". Wooton Bridge. Archived from the original on 8 March 2013. Retrieved 7 March 2013.
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- Named Heavy Rgts at RA 39–45 accessed 14 December 2016
- Litchfield, pp. 96–7.
- 17 Coast Rgt at RA 39–45, accessed 14 December 2016
- "Second World War". Wooton Bridge. Archived from the original on 8 March 2013. Retrieved 3 September 2017.
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- "Post War". Wooton Bridge. Archived from the original on 8 March 2013. Retrieved 3 September 2017.
- "Local Army Directory: South East". Ministry of Defence. Retrieved 3 September 2017.
- Maj A.F. Becke, History of the Great War: Order of Battle of Divisions, Part 2a: The Territorial Force Mounted Divisions and the 1st-Line Territorial Force Divisions (42–56), London: HM Stationery Office, 1935/Uckfield: Naval & Military Press, 2007, ISBN 1-847347-39-8.
- Ian F.W. Beckett, Riflemen Form: A study of the Rifle Volunteer Movement 1859–1908, Aldershot: Ogilby Trusts, 1982, ISBN 0 85936 271 X.
- Norman E.H. Litchfield, The Territorial Artillery 1908–1988 (Their Lineage, Uniforms and Badges), Nottingham: Sherwood Press, 1992, ISBN 0-9508205-2-0.
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- Gareth and Valerie Sprack At The Trail, the Isle of Wight Rifles 1908–1920, including a list of names of the battalion, Cross Publishing, 2014, ISBN 978-1-87329-553-3.
- Ray Westlake, Tracing the Rifle Volunteers, Barnsley: Pen and Sword, 2010, ISBN 978 1 84884 211 3.