World War 2 Service of William Trevor Gibbs

William Trevor Gibbs enlisted in the British Army on 28 May 1942 at the age of 34. Here is his attestation card.

From this I identified that he was assigned to the Royal Artillery and located his Royal Artillery Tracer Card which at first glance, and indeed second glance looks like hieroglyphics. But there are some very helpful people on the interweb and a chap on a WW2 forum translated it for me.

So it translates as:

28/5/1942. 206 Heavy (Mixed) Anti-Aircraft Training Regiment
6/10/1942. 573 Battery, 172 (Mixed) Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment
18/12/1944. 608 Battery, 183 (Mixed) Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment
9/6/1945. 232 Army Troops Company Royal Engineers 21st Army Group.
X(vii) List X(vii) was the standard code for “Officers and Men Seconded”

5/6/1946. Class ‘A’ Release Y/7 List (Y7 was the code for a “Standard Release” after service)

That enabled me to start tracking down the unit histories to come up with a more or less complete story for William’s service.

On enlisting, William was assigned to a training unit, of Anti-Aircraft Command, namely the 206th Heavy (Mixed) Anti-Aircraft (HAA) Training Regiment.

As a side note, the “Mixed” designation refers to units that integrated women of the Auxiliary Territorial Service into the unit’s personnel. I suppose it’s quite comical now, but while ATS personnel operated searchlights, range finders and sound detectors and even aimed the anti-aircraft guns, army rules meant that only men were allowed to fire them! Bless…

ATS women operating a height and range finder on an HAA gun site

The “heavy” designation also referred to the type of guns employed by the unit. The units in which William served used the Vickers Quick-Firing 3.7-inch anti-aircraft gun that had a crew of seven to operate it and could fire its 13kg shell to 30,000 feet.

Following his training period he was assigned to his first operational unit…

573 Battery, 172 (Mixed) Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment

This unit was formed at Woodthorpe House, Nottingham in August 1942 from Territorial Army troops and female ATS personnel. William joined on 6th October 1942. It served in and around Nottingham as anti-aircraft defence through until being disbanded in 1945.

However, William was transferred before that to…

608 Battery, 183 (Mixed) Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment

183rd (Mixed) Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment was an air defence unit of which two-thirds of its personnel were women from the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS). The regiment was heavily engaged in Operation Diver, defending England against V-1 flying bombs in 1944.

Following D-Day, once 21st Army Group had captured Brussels and Antwerp, these cities became targets for V-1s launched from within Germany, and anti-Diver or ‘X’ defences had to be established around those cities.

Anti-Aircraft Command’s experience had shown that specialist equipment to augment the guns was required to deal effectively with V-1s, but 21st Army Group’s mobile HAA units did not have experience with this equipment. Hence, in December 1944 the first overseas deployment of Mixed HAA units began, and 183rd (Mixed) HAA Regiment was one of those selected.

It was at this point that William Gibbs was transferred to the unit, 18 Dec 1944.

The regiment arrived at Antwerp in January 1945, taking over Mk IIC 3.7-inch guns in bitter weather and were immediately in action against the onslaught of V-1s.

The Antwerp ‘X’ defences under 80 Anti-Aircraft Brigade to which William’s unit was attached, involved an outer line of Wireless Observer Units sited 40 miles (64 km) to 50 miles (80 km) in front of the guns to give 8 minutes’ warning, then Local Warning (LW) stations positioned half way, equipped with radar to begin plotting individual missiles. Finally there was an inner belt of Observation Posts (OPs), about 20,000 yards (18,000 m) in front of the guns to give visual confirmation that the tracked target was a missile. The LW stations and OPs were operated by teams from the Anti-Aircraft regiments, usually ATS personnel. Radar-controlled searchlights were deployed to assist in identification and engagement of missiles at night. The success rate of the X defences had been low at first, but after the arrival of Mk IIC guns and experienced crews from AA Command the results improved rapidly, with best results in February and March 1945. The number of missiles launched at Antwerp peaked at 623 a week in February and in the last week of action the AA defences destroyed 97.5 per cent of those reaching the defence belt.

The war in Europe ended on VE Day, 8 May 1945. 183rd (Mixed) Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment, was disbanded on 25 May.

232 Army Troops Company Royal Engineers 21st Army Group

At this point, on 9 Jun 1945, William Gibbs was transferred out of the Royal Artillery and into a specialist unit of the Royal Engineers, readying to ship out to South East Asia where the war against the Japanese was still on-going.

This unit specialised in the capture of river crossings and making them safe from traps, mines and bombs. However, before the unit sailed, the war ended with the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan and so William remained in Europe.

William was discharged from the army on 5th June the following year.

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