37R 3.7AA Remote Installation Detachment, REME

Tonight we have an interesting photograph of a group of NCOs and the officer for 37R 3.7AA Remote Control Installation Detachment, REME:SKMBT_C36415022308160_0001c37R Installation Detachment was a specialist unit involved in developing remote controlled firing systems to take on the V1 rocket. Luckily a couple of interesting accounts have been left by those involved in the programme. John Marsden remembers:

 I was commissioned in 1943 and attended the Military College of Science for 6 months, relieved to be back engineering after months of Infantry training. I specialized in pieces of ordnance — guns and heavy anti aircraft (AA) guns and was introduced to the R37, a radar controlled remote firing system. It was TOP SECRET and very effective against flying bombs, delivering 30 rounds a minute with great accuracy. There were only 20 of us qualified to install and maintain the R37 equipment being installed on the East Coast which was under enemy attack so I was not allowed to leave the UK until after VE day, despite being drafted to go on 3 separate occasions.

 Whilst Tom Ashmore gives further details:

 The 3.7 inch calibre anti-aircraft gun was made in two forms, one mobile on its own undercarriage and the other static (Heavy), for use on prepared foundations on “permanent” gun sites. Initially, both types were aimed manually, one man turning a crank to elevate or lower the barrel, another to rotate the gun left or right. On static sites a tracking device (eventually, radar) measured the position and speed of the target aircraft and predictor equipment calculated the elevation and bearing to which the gun should be moved for its shell to hit the target. Each gun-layer had to turn his crank so that on the instrument in front of him he kept the pointer showing his elevation or bearing in line with a pointer set by the predictor.

As aircraft speeds increased, accurate manual gun-laying became more difficult and eventually a mechanised system was designed and equipment developed which could be added to existing guns in the field. In the 1940’s this equipment was regarded as technically advanced and sophisticated, even secret. Highly skilled and experienced tradesmen would be needed and the work would require men of different traditional trades.

The 37R Installation Detachment was created to carry out this work (I do not know when). It was an independent REME unit within AA Command and outside the existing REME AA Workshop structure. Its O i/c was a Captain who answered direct to the senior REME officer, a Lieutenant Colonel, at Command HQ. He had two Lieutenants each responsible for a number of mobile parties each with five men. People with suitable skill and experience had often achieved promotion and the result was the formation of a unit nearly “all Chiefs and no Indians”. Of a total complement of 65, 3 were officers about 36 were staff sergeants or sergeants and only 6 were without a stripe.

The unit HQ was at Golders Green, London NW11 and attached to No1 AA Workshop Company REME, its resident staff being the officers, a Cpl clerk and driver(s) for the Austin utility(ies). They arranged the deployment of the parties (and presumably, the 37R equipment) to the designated gun sites. Each party had its own 3-ton GMC truck, an enormous kit of tools and a good deal of independence. They were provided with accommodation and the facilities of the Royal Artillery unit whilst on site.

At the time that I joined 37R, its role was changing from wholly to partly mobile. Six of the parties had been concentrated in a permanent AA workshop, No 6, at Wainscot near Rochester, to which the guns were brought (on transporters) from their sites and returned after conversion. This new way of working was more efficient and more comfortable. But it meant that the parties had to adapt to a loss of independence. For me at age 21, fresh from six months technical training, the presence of so much experience, so many arms-full of chevrons and crowns and such seniority of years, it was an eye-opener. To be joining them as their boss it was daunting!

After several months the whole unit was brought together when we occupied part of the site of No 11 AA workshop at Wednesfield near Wolverhampton. As the war came to an end our numbers declined but the conversion of guns continued: they came in from sites but went out to storage areas — ready for the next war!! This activity continued until the unit was disbanded, I believe, in May 1946. During the last 5 or 6 months of its existence, the unit occupied a large workshop at Egington near Uttoxeter, vacated when an American Army Engineer unit was repatriated.

 Looking at the photograph we can observe that the sitters are NCOs and SNCOs with a captain sat at the centre:SKMBT_C36415022308160_0001bThe rear of the photograph identifies him as a Captain Scott. There are also two ATS sergeants, presumably part of the administrative staff. It is interesting to see that one of them has a REME pin badge attached to her uniform above the left hand breast pocket:SKMBT_C36415022308160_0001The picture is dated June 1945 and all the soldiers are wearing GS caps, however there is a mix of brass and plastic cap badges:SKMBT_C36415022308160_0001aThere appears to be around an equal mix of the two types of badge and this again is consistent with the late war period. This photograph shows how a simples inscription penned on the back can take you off into an interesting corner of wartime history, without it the photograph is merely another shot of a group of soldiers.

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