ATS Searchlight Unit in Eastbourne 1943-1944

Discussion in 'The Women of WW2' started by Mikeo, Jan 2, 2019.

  1. Mikeo

    Mikeo Member

    From December 1943 to August 1944, F Company of Sussex Group ATS (a searchlight unit) was based in Denton Road Eastbourne. The company moved to Seaford in August 1944. There were seven other companies: A, B, C, D, E, G and H, the total complement being in the order of 1400 women, but these other locations are not known.

    a) Could someone pse suggest pointers as to the relevant files at TNA?

    b) How widely distributed would the other companies have been? Is it likely that they were all in Eastbourne? Could they have been positioned in different towns?

    c) Did such searchlight units operate only in conjunction with heavy AA or might they have also worked with Bofors?

    d) Can someone pse suggest a book dealing with ATS searchlights in general?

    Thanks in advance for comments.

  2. hutt

    hutt Member

    On the assumption that 65th and 27th AA Brigades were still covering this area then the following diaries may list these units.

    It might be worth trying WO166/11202, WO166/14643 or WO166/11237 as a starting point but AA divisions were substantially reorganized after the period for which I hold some of the diaries.

    See also, this entry
    3rd Anti-Aircraft Division (United Kingdom) - Wikipedia

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Jan 2, 2019
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  3. KevinBattle

    KevinBattle Senior Member

    This website may produce further leads and as it refers to V1's and V2's "being too fast to track" indicates they must have been in the South East of England....
    Hope that helps, be good to know more about what these ATS did during WW2....
    hutt likes this.
  4. Mikeo

    Mikeo Member

    Very many thanks indeed for the helpful replies.
    I'll follow up the leads suggested and will certainly report my findings on this forum.
  5. Tricky Dicky

    Tricky Dicky Don'tre member

    Might be worth contacting some of the local history groups etc, they generlly have some details

  6. KevinBattle

    KevinBattle Senior Member

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  7. hutt

    hutt Member

    I have the diary for 70th Searchlight Regiment up to December 41 who covered sites in West Sussex and Solent / Hampshire.

    If you can find the exact regiment for your companies and if the detail is in any way similar you will have the answers you seek. 70th diary has grid references for individual sites, operational orders, moves, maintenance instructions, training instructions, even instructions to read gas and electricity meters (bet the leccy was a bit steep!) (joke, they used generators), what to do if an invasion was imminent and more.

    For a general background on AA generally but with sections on Searchlights, I would recommend a copy of AA Command, Britain's Anti-Aircraft Defences of the Second World War, Colin Dobinson, English Heritage, Methuen 2001, ISBN 0 413 76540 7
  8. Mikeo

    Mikeo Member

    Very many thanks for the recent replies. The information came to Eastbourne LHS via a relative of one of the ATS personnel. I have a particular interest in the presence of the services in the town during WW2 and am therefore fielding this inquiry.

    As far as women's units are concerned there were WRNS at the shore establishment, HMS Marlborough, and WAAFs at the radar station at Beachy Head but this is the first time that I have come across an ATS unit.

    Regarding the ATS at Feltham, I'm guessing that the ATS had various "F Companies" (?) but I'll see whether the newspaper in question can provide any leads. Unfortunately we don't know which regiment it was: the only information is "F Company, Sussex Group, ATS".

    When I get the time, I'll see what I can find via the war diaries at Kew. The website ( has a 1945 location statement (WO/33/1717 – Location Index Section C Auxiliary Territorial Service). However, when I enter the above into TNA, I don't see anything relating to the ATS.

    I'll try to get hold of a copy of the book by Colin Dobinson. However, in the meantime if anyone has a copy and can pick out details that would help us to identify the regiment, this would be greatly appreciated.

    Another possibility might be for the relative to obtain the service records of the individual concerned. I presume this would provide the necessary information

  9. GeoffMNZ

    GeoffMNZ Well-Known Member

    My mother was in the ATS and was stationed at Hastings ( 20 Km away) in Aug 44 with 469 (M) H.A.A. Battery and talked about "doodle-bugs" V2? rockets. I have not had time to research her service details, but I recall she was initially in Scotland then around London and elsewhere on the south coast. I also recall she had some photographs of her unit in action and think there were searchlights in them. I will try to track down the photos.

  10. KevinBattle

    KevinBattle Senior Member

    There's a possibility that there were ATS Sections all along the South Coast in 1944 to counter the V1 doodle bug menace (although with a fiery ramjet exhaust, not much need for additional illumination!).
    As always, the best recommendation is to obtain her Service Records. Once you have them, there are many people able to help decipher them!
    My mother was also ATS - in the Chain Stores - which took me a long time tot realise meant the SUPPLY chain - not lots of steel links for the Navy!
  11. vac

    vac Member

    My mother was in the ATS, based on the south coast somewhere between Hastings and Brighton -- time off time was usually spent in Brighton apparently. As ever I never asked enough questions when she was around to answer them! However from what she did tell me I think she was a predictor -- using information about incoming aircraft she did all the calculations, set the gun up for a man to do the actual firing! I know at some point she was based in London -- possibly Feltham as she had a lifelong friend she met during he war who lived in Feltham.

    An amusing anecdote she told -- in the winter the gun mounts froze at night and couldn't be moved until defrosted -- a bit of a problem. She offered a solution which was to make a "kind of tea cosy thing" to cover them up when not in use. "What do you mean gel - a tea cosy?!" some senior male officer enquired. Providing a brief description of how this could be achieved she was presented with some sacking, straw and needles and told to make one. This proved to be a success in preventing frost bitten guns so she was then presented with a roomful of sacking and straw and told to make more - Rumpelstiltsken comes to mind. Moral -- not always a good idea to offer up good ideas!!
  12. hutt

    hutt Member

    As I have an interest in the London and SE England AA defences I have a list of future AA Brigade diaries to copy and I made an effort to photograph that of the 27th AA Brigade for 1943 on Saturday.

    Towards the end is an Operational Order from December 43 'to strengthen the layout of the Biggin Hill sector' and I suspect that it is in the following sheets that you will find the details of which Regiments and Batteries were operating near Eastbourne at the start of 1944 (and which will have been manned by ATS units). I assume that the ATS headquarters may have been in Eastbourne as all the SL battery locations tend to be further inland.

    I wonder if the move was part of early preparations for the anticipated flying bombs.

    Once you work out which locations are most likely to be of interest, I would assume perhaps that the SL Regiment diaries would say which ATS units were manning them.

    I would be happy to share the whole diary.

    The diary was just under 550 pages and even from a skip through is interesting reading and a lot of the searchlights work seems to have been in assisting ground controlled interceptions of enemy aircraft by RAF fighters. As fro any books, to be honest, I suspect there may be more information to be gleaned in a diary like this than any book on Searchlights.

    Incidentally the location at top of the second file below (one of the location appendix sheets), Coombe Place, Offham, was where my father had been briefly stationed in 1942 as part of 11th LAA Regiment RASC Platoon.

    If I have time I'll see if I can find the SL regiment and battery diaries in the Discovery search engine (I can see one for 61 SL Regiment). It may also be worth looking at WO166/14643 for the 27th AA Brigade for 1944

    Attached Files:

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  13. Mikeo

    Mikeo Member

    Thanks very much 'hutt' for your reply and kind offer. Apologies for the delay in responding but I'm still awaiting more information from the USA. I greatly welcome your interest. Unfortunately I've not been able to get to TNA. The flying bomb idea is very likely. I've got copies of the daily orders from 24/12/43 - 24/8/44 and these end with note that the unit will be posted to Seaford in August 44. Unfortunately there are no operational orders. It is a possibility that the women were bussed to locations in the surrounding area - Eastbourne was ideally suited as a base on account of the many large houses that were vacant; also the premises of private schools that had been evacuated and hotels that had no guests in wartime. Any further help would be greatly appreciated.

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