“The Twelve Mile Snipers”
The 8th (Belfast) Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery (Supplementary Reserve), was founded in the wake of the Munich crisis, and recruited mainly in the spring of 1939 from young men of the City and District of Belfast. The regiment was mobilised and at action stations, manning its guns in readiness to defend Belfast, before war was declared on September 3, 1939.
In October, the regiment left for practice camp in Cornwall, and thence to France where it joined the BEF before Christmas, in a middle of a bitterly cold winter. Following the German invasion of the Low Countries on May 10, 1940, all units were soon in action, but the fortunes of war resulted in evacuation from Dunkirk, Cherbourg, St. Malo and other ports during late May and early June. One troop successfully brought back four of its 3.7 AA guns and some vital gunnery instruments despite having received orders to blow them up. Back in England, the regiment was soon in action again during the Battle of Britain and the ‘Blitz,’ first in London and then on Teesside.
In the spring of 1942, the regiment embarked for the Far East in the Belfast-built liner RMS “Britannic,” and after a long voyage finally reached Bombay. The guns and equipment disembarked at Karachi and both elements assembled at Lahore before driving some 2,000 miles in convoy down the Grand Turk Road to Calcutta. Action stations were taken up there, and later in East Bengal, before moving south to join XV Corps in Burma.
For two and a half years the regiment took part in the Arakan campaigns, firing effectively against the Japanese Air Force and even more extensively against ground targets when their accuracy at long range earned them the nickname “The Twelve Mile Snipers.” Some elements took part in the famous battle of the “Admin Box” at Ngakyedouk (“Okeydoke”) Pass, and several officers and men received awards for gallantry following this heroic stand which proved to be the turning point in the Arakan. At Easter 1945 a Tablet to the memory of members of the regiment who died in the Arakan was unveiled in St. Mark’s Church, Akyab. This little battle-torn church was one of the first in all Burma to be retaken, and men of the regiment assisted in restoring the fabric of the building.
When the war ended the regiment was fortunate to embark at Madras as a unit, instead of being dispersed in age groups as was the common practice, and returned home to Ulster in another Belfast-built ship, RMS “Stirling Castle.”