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Formation of 117th Infantry Brigade Royal Marines

Unit/ Formation: Royal Marines

Location: UK

Period/ Conflict: World War II

Year: 1945

Date/s: 15th January - July 1945

The 117th Infantry Brigade Royal Marines was an infantry brigade formation of the Royal Marines created in the final stages of World War II.

Between July and September 1943 the Royal Marines Division was broken up to provide six new Commandos, the remainder of the personnel going to provide crews for minor landing craft flotillas. At the same time the two Mobile Naval Base Defence Organizations were recalled and also broken up to swell the numbers. Following the June 1944 landings in Normandy many of the Marine personnel employed as landing craft flotilla crews were withdrawn for training in a similar role in the Far East.

The design [of the formation badge] is based on the Royal Marines cap badge as used in the period circa 1770-1775, the yellow representing the brass and the red the traditional infantry colour.

However, as a consequence of the severe manpower shortage in 21st Army Group, they were re-mustered at the beginning of 1945 as infantry.

They formed the 116th and 117th Infantry Brigades, Royal Marines, (1 and 15 January 1945 respectively), organised as standard Army Brigades. 116th Brigade was ready first and went to Europe at the beginning of February 1945.

117th was stationed in England until after the German surrender when it was moved forward to occupy the naval port of Kiel as part of VIII Corps, releasing 46th Highland Brigade for occupation duties elsewhere.

33rd Battalion of 117th Brigade was flown out to Germany in advance of the rest of the Brigade and worked with 28th Battalion of 116th Brigade in organizing the surrender of German Naval personnel in Kiel.

On May 3rd 1945, Germany’s leaders declared Kiel an open city: it would not be defended.

The German Navy began to scuttle or sabotage its vessels to prevent them falling into British hands.

German destroyers each packed with 1700 German army prisoners, arriving in Kiel harbour. They fly the White Ensign. © IWM A 28598

The heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper was sabotaged in dry dock. The already-damaged light cruiser Emden was destroyed by her crew out in her bay, while any unseaworthy U-boat was towed out to sea and scuttled. Kiel Bay and environs became the largest naval graveyard in the world: 350 craft were sunk or disabled.

German prisoners leaving the German destroyer which brought them to Kiel. © IWM A 28599

The balance of 117th Brigade arrived in North West Europe on 14 May and deployed to Kiel under command Flag Officer Commanding.

Royal Marine officers going on board one of the German merchant ships in Kiel © IWM A 29249

The Brigade was tasked with guarding naval installations and overseeing the capitulation of German naval ships and personnel. It also had to deal with the arrival of ships carrying troops returning from the Eastern front, and also civilian refugees from Soviet-occupied Germany.

Major A E Chilcot, RM, of Southsea (left) and Lieut J A C Kennedy RM, of Chelsea inspecting a German 105 mm flak gun. © IWM A 29085

On one particularly busy night this involved taking command of 21 destroyers and removing 14,000 soldiers from shipping.

The Brigade returned to the UK in July 1945 to be disbanded.

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