Updated: 30 Jan 2017

"Through the mud and the blood to the green fields beyond"

1 - The Origins of the Tank

The person who can actually claim to have been responsible for the introduction of the Tank is open to some doubt.  Winston Churchill, in 1915 The First Sea Lord of the Admiralty, had been responsible for introducing armoured cars to patrol the channel coast.  Encouraged by the success of these he was enthusiastic about the adaptation of them to break the stalemate in the trenches and he diverted naval funds to create the first experimental landships.  Sir Ernest Swinton, who in 1914, was the official British correspondent with the British Forces in France, originally suggested the concept and specification of the first tank.  (He was serving with the Forces in the Boer War in 1900. On 13th June 1900 he visualised the "tank" as a means of negating machine gun fire.) He engineered their acceptance and created the original tactics.  Despite all the opposition from the non - techs and in competition with the other demands of the munitions industry, the first fighting version of the tank was demonstrated on February 2 1916.  This first tank was nicknamed "Big Willie"; being an abbreviation of the designers name and a contemptuous name for the Kaiser's son and has gone down in history as "Mother".  The present 2 Royal Tank Regiments are the direct descendants of the Armd car engineers of 1914, the Naval Brigade and the RNAS Sqn which augmented the British Expeditionary Force for the defence of Antwerp in August of that year.

The Tank

The name "tank" was really a codeword. To preserve the secret of the invention for as long as possible.  "Landship" was the original term, but the shape of the vehicle under tarpaulins led to suggestions of containers and cisterns.  Eventually, the word Tank was chosen.  This tank also had turrets, a box and a stern, and was armed with naval 2 pounder guns.  It was actually intended that members from the Royal Navy would man the first tanks but the pay for serving with the Army was less; therefore volunteers were hard to come by.  Initially the first tanks were manned by a newly formed branch of the Heavy Machine Gun Corps, each man given an arm badge depicting the Mother Tank.

Battle of the Somme

"A" Company, the forerunner of the First Royal Tank Regiment. was formed under the command of Major C M Tippetts, South Wales Borderers, at Elvedon in Norfolk.  They moved to France in October 1916.  They were just too late to take part in the first tank action on September 15 on the Somme.  Despite bad terrain, mechanical problems and the dispersion of tanks into small groups, the arrival of a handful of these monsters on enemy positions struck terror into the Germans.  Although no great success was achieved in this particular action, since so few tanks reached the front line, it did prove that the Allies had a valuable new weapon of great tactical potential.

The Tank Corps

In July 1917, after many months of heavy fighting, further reorganisation of the Heavy Branch was given when it was established as a separate Tank Corps.  Colonel Elles, later to be Sir Hugh Elles, was appointed its commander together with a staff to organise the training and "A" Company was renamed "A" Battalion.  By early 1917, it was planned to launch a major offensive incorporating the entire Tank Corps of 3 Brigades (378 Tanks) backed by six infantry divisions and 1000 guns.  The attack was original in concept because the Tank Corps was allowed to select the most suitable terrain over which to advance; though not the strategy of the battle.  The aim of the offensive was to smash through the Hindenburg Line, a very strongly defended trench system backed by 2 canals.  Nine miles behind that line lay the small town of Cambrai.   At first light on November 20 1917, Brigadier General Elles led the first line of tanks forward from his own tank "Hilda".  From his tank he flew the very first flag of the Tank Corps.  Bands of brown red and green silk colours which came to symbolise the passage of the tanks "from mud, through blood to the green fields beyond".  All 9 battalions of the Tank Corps took part in the attack and were organised in three waves.  The first wave of tanks carried fascines which were dropped into the trenches to allow the tanks to cross. They had the job of breaking through the wires and trenches of the Hindenburg Line.  The second wave was to secure the crossing of the St Quentin canal.  The third wave was to exploit the breakthrough and cause havoc in the enemy's rear.

On the 24th of January 1917 a snow fight between B and C Companies of A Battalion was organised. B Company was to attack the village of Eclimeux and a lorry was used for this purpose.  This lorry arrived in Eclimeux and the men inside immediately leapt out and captured C Company’s Orderly Room.  While they were engaged in this pleasant pastime a bold representative of the latter Company crept from cover and turned off the petrol on the lorry.  The result was that, when hard pressed by superior numbers, B Company attempted a retreat when it was found that the lorry would not start.  It was quickly captured and its unfortunate occupants had the doubtful pleasure of having their noses rubbed in the snow. Thank Gareth Davies for that.

Tank Tracks near Anneux
By midday, the tanks had broken through the defences to a depth of 4 miles and by early afternoon, 2 of "A" battalion's company commanders had even reconnoitered as far as Cambrai itself.  By the 22nd more ground had been won than in any comparable period of the war.  But this brilliant demonstration of the value of tanks was marred by the abject, pathetic failure of the Staff, Infantry and Cavalry to seize the opportunity to exploit the breach and a German counter offensive more than restored the original lines!

My thanks to Pete Corrigan for the following article:

Daily Mirror - November 22nd 1917

Great British Victory - Over 8,000 Prisoners
'Important Progress' - German Reinforcements Driven from Villages

Counter-attacks Against Our New Positions Smashed - Tanks Again Give Great Assistance in the Push

Our Great Victory
The surprise attack on the Hindenburg Line, delivered by General Sir Julian Byng, has been crowned with magnificent success. British troops, aided by the fine work of the tanks, have penetrated German defences to a depth of five miles, captured many villages and strong points, and taken over 8,000 prisoners. Our cavalry are also reported in action and are pouring through the Hindenburg Line.

French Push

Our Allies have also struck a blow in the Craonne sector, advancing a quarter of a mile on a front of 1,100 yards south of Juvincourt.

Byng's Drive Through Hindenburg Line

Splendid Successes West and Southwest of Cambrai
British Official)
General Headquarters, Wednesday 10.30pm
Important progress has again been made today west and southwest of Cambrai, though rain has fallen continuously. The reinforcements which the enemy has hurried up to the battlefield to oppose our advance have been driven out of a further series of villages and other fortified positions, and many additional prisoners have been taken.  Tanks have again given great assistance to the advance. On our right we have made progress in the direction of Crevecoeur-sur-L'Escourt. Northeast of Mannières we have captured the enemy's double line of trenches on the east bank of the Canal de L'Escourt (the Scheldt Canal).  Sharp fighting has taken place in this neighbourhood and hostile counter-attacks have been driven off. North of Marcoing, the village of Noyelle de L'Escourt was captured early in the morning. Here also heavy fighting has taken place, and hostile counter-attacks have been successfully repulsed.  During the morning Scottish troops moving northeast from Flesquieres captured the German defensive lines southwest of Cantaing and the village itself, together with 500 prisoners.  Later in the day they contained their advance and have established themselves in positions more than five miles behind the former German front line.  North of Annex West Riding battalions have been engaged with the enemy south and southwest of Bourlon Wood.  Further west Ulster regiments have crossed the Bapaume-Cambrai road and have entered Moeuvres.  During the day strong hostile counter-attacks against our new positions in the neighbourhood of Bullecourt have been defeated.   The number of prisoners which have passed through our collecting stations exceeds 8,000 including 180 officers.  The number of guns captured has not yet been ascertained.
Led By Tanks
(British Official)
Germany, Headquarters, Wednesday 12.15pm
Yesterday morning the Third Army, under the command of General the Hon. Sir Julian Byng, delivered a number of attacks between St Quentin and the River Scarpe. These attacks were carried out without previous artillery preparation and in each case the enemy was completely surprised. Our troops have broken into the enemy's positions to a depth of between four and five miles on a wide front, and have captured several thousand prisoners and a number of guns. Our operations are continuing.  At the hour of the assault on the principal front of the attack, a large number of tanks moved forward in advance of the infantry and broke through the successive belts of German wire which were of great depth and strength.
Second for System Taker
Following through the gaps made by the tanks, English, Scottish and Irish regiments swept over the enemy's outposts and stormed the first defensive system of the Hindenburg Line on the whole front. Our infantry and tanks then pressed on in accordance with programme and captured the German second system of defence more than a mile beyond. The latter is known as the Hindenburg Support Line. In the course of this advance East County troops took the hamlet of Besavia and Lateau Wood after stiff fighting.  English rifle regiments and light infantry captured La Vacquerie and formidable defences of the spur known as Welsh Ridge. Other English county troops stormed the village of Ribecourt and fought their way through Costelet Wood.
 Rapid Progress
Highland Territorial battalions crossed the Grand Ravine and entered Flesquieres, where fierce fighting took place. West Riding Territorials captured Havriacourt and the German trench system north of the village, while Ulster battalions covering the latter's left flank moved northwards up the west bank of the Canal du Nord. Later in the morning our advance was continued and rapid progress was made at all points. English, Scottish, Irish and Welsh battalions secured the crossings of the canal at Mannieres and captured Marcoing and Neuf Wood. The West Riding troops, who had taken Havriacourt, made remarkable progress east of the Canal du Nord, storming the villages of Graincourt and Annex and, with the Ulster troops operating west of the canal, carried the whole of the German line northwards to the Bapaume-Cambrai road.
Territorials' Fine Work
West Lancashire Territorials broke into the enemy's positions east of Epehy and Irish troops have captured important sections of the Hindenburg Line between Bullecourt and Fontaine-les-Croisilles. The number of prisoners, guns and material captured cannot yet be estimated. The spell of fine dull weather which favoured our preparations for our attacks broke early yesterday. Heavy rain fell during the night and the weather is now stormy. (Reuters' correspondent, British Army) France, Wednesday It is believed that during yesterday's operations over 5,000 prisoners were captured.
The Air Ministry
Mr Bonar Law, in answer to a question, told the House of Commons yesterday that Lord Cowdray's resignation as Air Minister had been accepted. A successor had not yet been appointed
Berlin Hiding the Truth of Haig's Surprise
Foe Say British Attack Was Heralded by 'Strong Artillery'
(French Official) To the west of the Miette, about 3.00pm today, we attacked a salient in the German line to the south of Juvincourt on a front of about 1,100 yards and an average depth of 440 yards. Our troops reaching all their objectives captured the strong defences of the enemy. In the course of this operation we took 175 prisoners. Between the Miette and the Aisne our patrols brought back about forty prisoners. The artillery fighting was lively throughout this region. (German Official) Wednesday night. In the afternoon strong French advances were commenced on the front from Craonne to Berry au Bac.  (The distance from Craonne to Berry au Bac is about six miles. Craonne on the Chemia des Dames, is about 12 miles southeast of Laon. The Hindenburg Line runs: Douai-Cambrai-La Cateau to St Quentin-La Fère-Laon.)
Our Cavalry Pour Through the Gap
Horsemen Take Batteries And Cut Down Gunners
(From a Special Correspondent) War Correspondent's Camp, Wednesday. We have torn to shreds the Hindenburg Line. At its strongest points the cavalry are pouring through. Early yesterday afternoon all the trustworthy news pointed to a glorious success.  The cavalry were moving up to cross the German lines in the direction of Cambrai many hours, indeed before them, and there was a sense of open fighting as opposed to years of underground warfare which exhilarated the whole Army.  But great progress has been made since then and today one passed along numerous lines of horsemen moving in the right direction. Two bodies of them charged enemy batteries, cut down the gunners and captured the guns - in our case three, in the other, I think, seven guns.
Byng's Secret
Rarely has a more dramatic stroke been delivered in war than we dealt the Germans yesterday, says Reuter's special correspondent at the Correspondent's Headquarters, France. We have penetrated into the great impregnable Hindenburg Line at numerous points in a wide thrust, and it was primarily the tanks that did it. The attack seems to have come upon the Germans as a complete surprise. Care had been taken to render it a surprise, the greatest secrecy being offered in regard to our plans. A fleet of tanks had to be brought up close to the line.  The ground, except for certain narrow areas is dry and well covered with thick grass, the withered growth of last summer making excellent going for tanks or men.
Airmen Give Foe No Rest
(British Air Official)
10.30pm On November 20 our aeroplanes attempted to work throughout the day in conjunction with our operations between St Quentin and the River Scarpe. Low clouds and mist and a strong westerly wind, with drizzle and occasional rain through out the day, made it necessary for our pilots to fly at 50 feet from the ground. Even at that height they were at times quickly lost in the mist.  Continual attempts were made to regain contact with our advancing troops, but this was rendered almost impossible by the weather conditions. Many bombs were dropped on the enemy's batteries, lorries, aeroplanes, transports and railways.  Batteries and small groups of infantry were attacked with machine-gun fire.  Valuable  information was gained despite the very difficult conditions. Only five hostile machines were seen all day on the battlefront. Eleven of our machines are missing, their loss being due to the mist and the exceptionally low height at which they were compelled to fly.

The End of World War 1

On 18 August 1918, the greatest concentration of tanks ever in WW1 moved into the attack at Amiens.  Over 600 tanks of all types were involved in this massive attack which broke through up to 20 miles in depth in some areas and the shock of its success did more than anything to hasten the German's premonition that the end of the war could not be delayed for very much longer.  It was a victory in its own right and one in which tanks, artillery, aircraft and infantry cooperated to the fulfill a plan in which surprise and concentration of effort played a most notable part.

Between the Wars

With the Armistice, the 1st Battalion was moved back to England to form the 1st (Depot) Battalion at Bovington, Dorset and later formed the Tank Corps Depot.  Then, despite the fact that the Corps was engaged in operations in Ireland, India, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Palestine, Russia and China, the reaction against the wartime success of the tanks set in.  With the somewhat unlikely ally of a bankrupt Treasury, the horses lobby ( remember that these were old fashioned "fuddy duddy" officers who refused to enter the 20th century) set out to prove that the Cavalry was still a war winning weapon, despite the recent evidence to the contrary.  The granting by King George V of the pre-fix "Royal" to the Corps only relieved the gloom for a time as Tank men fought for recognition in their own country while Germany and Russia set training manuals to prepare their countries for expanding armoured forces for war.  At last, in 1934, the Royal Tank Corps was allowed to expand a little and the 1st was reformed as the 1st Battalion at Tidworth.  But even the very limited development of our Armoured Forces had to de disrupted when the Italians invaded Abyssinia and posed a threat to Egypt.

modern day Bovington Camp

Anchor Line SS California  carrying 1 RTR to Egypt
The First was hastily embarked to reinforce the small garrison and form part of the Mobile Division.  This Mobile Division was later to be renamed 7th Armoured Division - the First were founder members of the legendary "Desert Rats".

The First Royal Tank Regiment

By 1939, the Cavalry Regiments of the British Army lost their horses and became mechanised.  It was now necessary for all armoured forces to be brought into one organisation and the Royal Armoured Corps was formed. To avoid having a Corps within a Corps, the Royal Tank Corps was renamed the Royal Tank Regiment on 4th April 1939 and inherited the dress and customs of the Tank Corps. Amongst these customs were the wearing of black berets by all ranks and the carrying of ash plants by officers.  The black beret came about because it was impossible, when wearing a peaked cap, to see through the visor of the tank as it lurched across the battlefield.  General Elles therefore introduced a beret similar to that worn by the French 70th Chasseurs Alpins, black being considered the most practical colour.  To avoid getting their tanks bogged down in the mud of the western front, the officers of the Tank Corps developed the practice of walking in front of their tanks and tested the fitness of the ground with sticks cut from ash trees. Hence the adoption of the ash plant, carried even today by officers of the Royal Tank Regiments.  In addition the Royal Tank Regiment is the only Regiment entitled to wear black overalls and to bear the tank arm badge as a sign of tank crew proficiency.  

The Desert Campaign

In June 1940, as part of General Wavell's plan to confuse the Italians, the First went into action in a number of small raids across the frontier in the area of Fort Capuzzo. Following the Italians' invasion of Egypt, the First, still serving in the 7th Armoured Division and equipped with A9s as well as light tanks, took part in the successful advance on Sidi Barrani and the resultant full scale attack on Tobruk, Derna and Nechile. The Regiment was also involved in the attempted break-out by the Italian Forces at Beda Fomm and this action, which lasted for 24 hours, resulted in the capture of 20,000 Italian soldiers and 112 tanks. After these actions, the First returned to Cairo to re-equip with Matildas, A10s and A13s.

By December 1940, General Wavell had amassed 40,000 men for a limited offensive with which he planned to drive the 250,000 Italian Force from Egypt.  The First Royal Tank Regiment, equipped with A9s as well as light tanks, took part from the start in this.  Advancing on Sidi Barrani, the 7th Armoured Division broke through an undefended gap resulting in the capture of 20,000 Italians.  General Wavell quickly seized the chance of turning this limited offensive into a full scale attack and the 2 divisions advanced  to Bardia, where many more Italian prisoners were captured and onwards to Tobruk.

(At the first siege of Tobruk the 1st Royal Tank Regiment used 16 Mk VI light tanks to deceive the enemy into thinking there were more tanks in the garrison).. By the end of the campaign, 130,000 Italian soldiers had been captured, together with 6 generals and 112 tanks.  After advancing for 800 miles against an enemy using 5 times as many tanks, 1 RTR returned to Cairo to refit with Matilda's, whilst the remaining British Forces advanced a further 80 miles.  The problem of supply halted the advance. It was at this critical period that the German Afrika Corps, landed at Tripoli, joined up with the retreating Italians and launched a counter offensive.

1 RTR advance at Tobruk
In April 1941, 1 RTR was hastily moved to the forward areas. B Sqn and C Sqn, together with A Squadron 7 RTR arrived at Tobruk just before the Germans encircled the town in their advance towards the Egyptian border.  Meanwhile A Squadron 1 RTR joined with 7 RTR and fought with them.  As soon as the German offensive was halted, the 2 A Sqns were exchanged, a destroyer making the return trip in one night.  The Regiment remained in Tobruk for the whole of the siege, an episode of which it is very proud, especially as it was the only Regiment of armour or infantry to do so. B and C Sqns were re-equipped with General Grant Tanks and A Sqn with Stuart or Honey Tanks.  But by the end of May 1942, Rommel had rebuilt his forces and was able to launch a heavy attack.  In June 1942, the Battle of the Cauldron was now in full swing and the Afrika Corps managed to consolidate their gains in spite of all our efforts. The battles at Gazala and Knightsbridge were lost and with them most of the British Tank strength.  In these battles the Germans used to great effect the 88mm (image right) which outranged our weapons by 1000 yards.  after a night withdrawal through the Tobruk minefields that was fraught with hazards since the lanes were no longer marked, the remains of the Regiment reformed on the east side and were hurriedly re-equipped with Honey and a few General Lee tanks.  By this time Tobruk had fallen and the Afrika Corps had crossed the wire on the Egyptian border.  The remains of the Regiment were now formed into a column together with some motor infantry, some 25 pounder guns and a few anti tank guns with the task of covering the withdrawal of the 8th Army.  German pressure continued and gradually the column fell back towards the El Alamein Line which was being hastily prepared.  The First was one of the last units to reach the line and the supply of petrol was so critical that several tanks had completely run out and were being towed.
88mm and below Honey Tank
October 1942.  After 2 months of building up supplies, the 8th Army was ready for the offensive.  1 RTR was now re-equipped, A Squadron had Crusaders (right) and B and C Sqns with Grants and Sherman's.

The Battle of El Alamein started at last light on the 23rd October 1942.  After 10 days of intensive fighting, when casualties on both sides were extremely heavy, 2 corridors had been punched into the German defences to the north.  The Regiment moved up with 7th Armoured Division to exploit the breakthrough. It pushed through the gap and decimated the remnants of the German and Italian Forces.  The way was now open for a rapid advance and in the next 15 days the "Desert Rats" advanced 800 miles.  As the "Rats" approached the Mareth Line, Rommel seized upon the opportunity to try and destroy them. To meet the threat the Division set firm on the commanding ground at Medinine whilst reserves were rushed up.  They arrived just before the German attack, which was broken with a loss of 52 German tanks - to which NONE of ours were lost.

Whilst the 8th Army was advancing through Libya, the 1st Army and the Americans had landed to the west of Tunisia at Algiers a race ensued to Tunis between the 1sy Army and the 8th.  During May 1943, after the capture of Sfax, the 7th Armoured Division were suddenly transferred from the 8th Army, after a well concealed march of 130 miles, joined the 1st Army.  The Division, with the 11th Hussars, 1 RTR and 5 RTR in the lead, were the first to reach Tunis.  In such a large city it is impossible to substantiate claims, but a Gunner Officer, attached to 1 RTR, well remembers being shot at from BEHIND by another Regiment claiming to be the first!  Thus the African Campaign drew to a close. The Regiment was not required during the Sicily Campaign and was able to rest and refit before preparing for the landings in Italy.

In July 2007, I  had an email stating that 1 RTR, at this time, were equipped thus: At Alamein, the RHQ and 'A' Squadron were equipped with Stuart tanks, and 'B' and 'C' Squadrons were equipped with Grant tanks. The regiment received its first Sherman tanks after Alamein. Writers source is the 1RTR War Diary (WO169/4504), which has a detailed daily tank state. (Verification please, if possible?).


The Italian Campaign

In September 1943, the Regiment took part in the Salerno landings and were involved in a series of battles around Mount Vesuvius which guarded the approaches to Naples.  The 1st RTR handed over their tanks to the Canadians, went on leave to various parts of Italy and Capri then returned to England, landing at Glasgow early in the New Year of 1944. Preparation and training then started for the landings in France during which time 1 RTR were re-equipped with Cromwell Tanks.

The Campaign in North West Europe

On 7 June 1944, D Day + 1, 1 RTR landed at Arromanches with other units of 22 Armd Bde,7th Armoured Division, 3 days later, was in action south of Bayeux.  The job of the British Army was to provide a firm hinge by which the Americans, to the right, could break out and outflank the Germans.  The enemy used 8 armoured divisions in the Normandy battle and during the whole period of these operations more than 6 of these were kept engaged on the British sector.  Consequently there was heavy fighting in the difficult "Bocage" area of Normandy where there were small fields interlaced with 3 foot high banks on which grew hedges 6 to 10 feet high.  In these battles tanks frequently engaged each other at less than 50 yards range and crews confined to turrets all day due to concealed snipers in hedges and barns.  On 1 July 1944, the Desert Rats were pulled out to rest and refit.  on 17 July they concentrated north of Caen and took part, on the left flank, of the breakout from the city.  This was against extremely heavy opposition, leading to 8 tanks in C Sqn being knocked out in a 3 hour battle.

August 1944, after 1o days of heavy fighting south of Caen, the Division moved back to the Villers Bacage region.  To the right of the British, the Americans had broken German resistance and were sweeping round in a gigantic hook.  British Forces immediately attacked to cut off the Germans in what became known as the Falaise Pocket.  The Allied advance turned north across the River Seine and destroyed the remainder of the German Army in France.  1 RTR was in the vanguard of these operations but was later called back to clear up large pockets of Germans that had been bypassed. The First, in particular C Squadron, was instrumental in capturing Lisieux during the Falaise Pocket engagement and, subsequently, the Regiment was in the van of the advance to the River Seine. The Regiment then moved north to protect the left flank of the Guards Armoured and 43 Infantry Division, who were advancing to relieve Arnhem and during this operation one troop of A Sqn 1 RTR captured in half an hour, a group of enemy anti tank guns and infantry that had held up another Regiment for 24 hours. From October to December 1944, the Regiment, as part of the 7th Armoured Division, took part in the capture of Undenhaut, Oosterhaut and the River Meuse. It was whilst defending the line of the River Meuse that two squadrons of the Regiment dismounted and acted as infantry.

December 1944.  Just before Xmas, the Regiment moved onto German soil and became one of the few Regiments to spend Xmas 1944 on German soil.  Allied offensive operations were halted at this period whilst Hitler's Ardennes offensive was defeated.  With this defeat, more mopping up operations were needed in which 1 RTR was engaged, until February.  This was undertaken in deep snow and bitter cold.  The tanks were whitewashed and many of the crews acquired white capes, usually made from sheets taken from local houses. On the icy, cambered, roads, tanks became difficult to steer and in one or two instances roads became blocked by tanks which found it easier to move sideways than forwards!

In March 1945, after a pause to regroup, the Regiment was used in the breakout from the Rhine bridgehead. Pockets of German resistance were encountered armed with tanks, SP guns and bazookas.  The need for speed was paramount in order to ensure that the war did not last a day longer than necessary.  Opposition was bypassed, high casualties accepted.  When the Division was held up in thickly wooded country, the Regiment advanced 10 miles, by night, through German positions.  As a result, bazooka men and anti tank guns were overrun and Germans sitting safely in the rear were surprised by the appearance of 30 Cromwell Tanks thundering down the road in the darkness of the early hours!

From this area the Regiment moved eastwards, crossing the Weser at Neinburg and advanced on Hamburg.  Resistance (still mostly bazookas) was constantly set but advances of 40 - 50 miles a day were common.  In April 1945, 1 RTR halted just outside Hanburg, a suburb of Hamburg, on the south back of the Elbe.  This occurred just before the German Armies capitulated.

May 1945.  With peace, the Regiment concentrated in Gluckstadt, in July moving to Belgium, to Moll, to refit with Comet Tanks.The Regiment then moved to Schleswig before moving on to Berlin.  Here, in August 1945, the Regiment, commanded by Lt Col Hobart motored into Berlin on its tracks to join 11 Hussars and the non-armoured parts of 7th Armoured Division.  From the aerial of the Commanding Officers tank flew the flag that had been made by Lady Elles for General Elles to fly from his tank when he entered Berlin in 1919.  In March 1946 the Regiment returned to Schleswig Holstein. 


The Regiment moved to Detmold in July 1946, where it remained for 6 years.  In September 1950, the Regiment had joined the reformed 11th Armoured Division, thus severing a connection with the Desert Rats, which had lasted, apart from a few months, since the Division was formed in 1939.  During this period it was the first Regiment to be equipped with the new Mk3 Centurion. (image right) The First were also the first Regiment to receive National Servicemen.  In September 1952, the Regiment moved to Tidworth where it prepared for embarkation to Korea. The Regiment was put on 8 hours notice to move and remained in this state of readiness until sailing for Korea, from Liverpool, on 27 October about the Empire Halladale.  



The Korean War


The Regiment landed in Korea on 6 December 1952, within 24 hours of arrival had taken over in the line from the 5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards.  A Sqn was on the right of the Commonwealth Division Front and B Sqn on the centre sector. C Sqn was held in reserve in Gloster Valley, previously the site of the Glosters epic stand.  Due to the nature of the war, tanks were in dug out pits to protect their suspensions and lower parts.


Their main role was to dominate "no mans land". This they did by engaging enemy movement, observation posts, and occupied trenches and by firing in support of out own patrols.  They could bring down fire more quickly and with more accuracy than the artillery and so were more useful in supporting patrols and in sniping work. Among the many precedents the Regiment claims to have set in Korea was a unique liaison with American Tanks.  A Squadron was the first to establish this liaison when they arranged for American tanks to direct shoots for them.  This also worked very successfully in reverse when A Sqn directed American tanks on to targets they were unable to see.  It is thought that this is the first time where international fire orders have been employed!

In the six months that the Regiment was in the front line they fired nearly 26,000 rounds of High Explosive as well as thousands of boxes of BESA, and some AP and smoke. No mean feat for the echelons operating in a climate ranging from 40 degrees below in winter to roads knee deep in mud in the wet summer months.  The Commonwealth Division did not yield any ground in spite of the most determined efforts of the enemy. This feat was not without its cost, infantry battalions sustaining heavy casualties.  The Regiment was fortunate in having only 1 killed and some 20 wounded, although several tanks were damaged.  One of the soldiers who joined the Regiment at this time was a young lad called "Nobby Clarke".  (He later went on to be the Regimental Sergeant Major, when I was with the Regiment, and later he became Lt Col Clarke at Bovington Camp. We all love him dearly and were distraught when we heard that his wife, Edna, had been killed on a road, by a tank, operated by a learner driver, which hit her car.)

9c - The Canal Zone


The Regiment sailed back to Shandur in the Suez Canal Zone in 1954. Its role in Shandur was to provide protection to British interests in the Canal Zone, with the added threat of another outbreak of fighting between the Arab Nations and the State of Israel.  With the signing of the agreement to evacuate Egypt, the Regiment finally embarked at Port Said in August 1955.  The Regiment then moved to Tidworth, but was then mobilised for the Suez Crisis. Tanks were repainted sand colour and were moved to a small TA Unit near Weymouth in Dorset, not far from Bovington.  In late October, when the decision to attack Suez had been made, 1 RTR sailed in LSTs with RHQ and the Squadrons, leaving the echelons to follow in a fast troop ship timed to arrive together at Port Said.  However, on 11 November, they were signalled into Malta and told to disembark as the Campaign had been halted.  The Regiment returned to Tidworth in the New Year of 1957, to be posted to Hong Kong.

Hong Kong

Here the Regiment had the distinction of being the last regular unit of the British Army to be equipped with the Comet Tank. Re-equipped with Centurions in 1960, the Regiment sailed for Germany where it was stationed in Hohne, once again reunited with 7th Armoured Division.



Aden to Ulster 1965 - 1973

The Regiment left Hohne for the Middle East in November 1965.  B Squadron became the independent squadron in Hong Kong.  The rest of the Regiment took over in Little Aden in December 1965, being rejoined by C Squadron in January 1966, from Bahrain.  During the 12 month tour the Regiment was engaged in internal security operations in Aden.  The Regiment had 4 Chieftains in Aden on desert trials. They had to carry loads of spare bulbs as the lights kept blowing. Sand induced breakdowns were frequent. *** During the year the Centurions were back loaded and the Regiment gradually undertook light armoured patrols in groups consisting of Ferret Scout Cars; Saracens; Stalwarts; Saladins; 432s and armoured Land Rovers and 3 Tonners.  An Air element, equipped with Sioux Helicopters, was included in a newly created Reconnaissance Squadron. In December 1966, the Regiment paraded as the last Armoured Regiment east of Suez, the salute was taken by the Commander in Chief Middle East Command who said, "I'm proud of the Tigers in my Tanks".  Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, B Squadron sent detachments to join units in action in Malaysia, as well as being involved in internal security duties.

In January 1967, the Regiment moved to Catterick, North Yorkshire to take over as the RAC Training Regiment; less A Squadron who went to Berlin.  For the next two years 1 RTR was responsible for the training of recruits in the Royal Armoured Corps.  An operational troop of Chieftain Tanks was also maintained.

In January 1969, the Regiment took over as the Armoured Regiment in Osnabruck, West Germany. A Sqn rejoined the Regiment from Berlin and the Regiment was together for the first time since September 1965.  In early 1971 1 RTR became the third Regiment to be equipped with Swingfire Anti Tank weapons. In August 1971 I joined the Regiment from training at Catterick and Camberley.  In 1971, 1 RTR was the last of the Armoured Regiments to be re-equipped with the Chieftain Tank.

Between January and June 1972 the Regiment provided two rifle squadrons in northern Ireland. Based at the Internment Camp at Long Kesh, the two squadrons, myself included, were employed under the umbrella of the 13/18th Royal Hussars Group, performing internal security duties, which included the guarding of the Internment Camp.  Small arms and explosives were used against the group and the Regiment were again lucky in sustaining only 2 serious casualties.  By July 1972, the Regiment was reunited in Osnabruck.  But then conversion training began almost immediately to serve us for the next move, to Omagh County Tyrone as an Armoured Recce Regiment.

(1) On Soltau August 1972. Ferret (2) With Sgt Tildesley; John Patterson (rear); Billy Jevons; Myself and Brian Johnson and in (3) Billy Prescott

In May 1973 the Regiment assumed responsibility for the counties of Fermanagh and Tyrone in Ulster.  Based at Lisanelly Camp, Omagh, for an 18 month tour.  (It was during this phase that I left the Regiment for the first time, in Sept 74, to return to Civvy Street. November 1974), 1 RTR handed over control of the Tyrone & Fermanagh operational  area to 15/19H and moved to Tidworth (RHQ, HQ Sqn, A Sqn) and Hong Kong (C Sqn) and conversion to CVR (T) Scorpion and the Swingfire missile equipped Mk 5 Ferret (GW Troop). B Sqn  went  to Cyprus as the Sovereign Base armoured car Sqn for 6 months and then moved to Tidworth to take delivery of the very first CVR(W) Fox armoured cars issued to the army. From Tidworth 1 RTR group (2 x Coys of 1 DWR under command) completed a 6 month UN tour in Cyprus and for a short period of time the entire regiment less C Sqn was in Cyprus wearing either a black or light blue beret. Due to the phased run down of forces 'east of Suez'  C Sqn were not replaced in Hong Kong and have the distinction of being the last RAC unit ever to be posted to the crown colony. The Regiment then prepared to hand over once again to 15/19H and the move back to BAOR. **
St Angelo Enniskillen

St Angelo Enniskiilen


In April 1976 1 RTR came together once more in Germany as the Armoured Recce Regiment in 2 Armoured Division, based at Herford.  It was here the Regiment was equipped with Scorpion and then Scimitar.  I rejoined the Regiment here, with my new family, in 1981.

During the regiments 6 and a half years in Herford it completed 2 tours of Northern Ireland. The entire regt less A Sqn did a 4 month tour of Londonderry & A Sqn did a Prison Guard Force Tour at the Maze Prison.  During the Herford years 1 RTR became the first regiment in the entire British Army to be equipped with the Clansman radio system. We were also the first Regiment to be equipped with new members of the CVR/T family of vehicles as they came on line. 1 RTR got the first production Sultan's (Command Vehicles) Spartan's ( APC for Assault/Surveillance Troop) Samaritan (Ambulance) & Samson the REME CVR/T. Due to the temporary transfer of Anti Tank (Swingfire) responsibility to the Royal Artillery, 1 RTR never received the Striker variant of CVR/T and the FV712 (Ferret Mk5) was not replaced in regimental service when it was withdrawn. Scorpion was completely replaced in regimental service by Scimitar during this period of time. The regiment was replaced in Herford by 13th/18th  Royal Hussars and returned to the UK in a move to Bovington and assume the role of RAC Centre Regiment. A contribution from AG Hart - Jan 03.

In late 1982, the Regiment moved to Bovington Camp, assuming the role of the RAC Centre Regiment.  It was here that the Regiment successfully converted to Chieftain MBT well within the time scale required; C Squadron went to Cyprus.  The Regiment returned to Germany in November 1984, to Hildesheim. Here 1 RTR became the only Armoured Regiment to occupy these barracks, being part of 22 Armd Bde; 1 Armd Div. The move to Hildesheim was an arms plot move with a difference, 1 RTR replaced 5th Heavy Regiment RA and effectively increased the number of armoured regiments in BAOR. The Chieftain tanks used to equip 1 RTR were in the main  surplus vehicles released by the  newly converted "Challenger" regiments. Needless to say SOXMIS (Soviet mission in West Germany, based in Bunde) were rather interested in our Regiment.

Tofrek Barracks Hildesheim (Thanks to Ade Sutcliffe for the image)

In September 1993 the Regiment moved to Tidworth as part of 1 Mech Brigade.

October 1993. Amalgamated at Tidworth with 4th Royal Tank Regiment without change of title, and squadrons redesignated as A, D, G, H (HQ), commemorating original Heavy Branch Machine Gun Coys, and successor to 1st RTR, 4th RTR , 7th RTR and 8th RTR.

In August 1996 the Regiment moved to Paderborn, Germany, as part of 20 Armd Bde.

April 1999 - G Squadron disbanded; D Sqn and H Sqn amalgamated as G Squadron, Joint Nuclear Biological and Chemical Regiment

April 1999 - A Squadron went to Warminster at Combined Arms Training Centre.

2000 - Paderborn? No information on this period.

2001 - The 1st Royal Tank Regiment is based at RAF Honington in Suffolk with A Squadron being posted to Warminster. The Honington based soldiers form the Joint Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Reconnaissance Regiment. Equipped with Fuchs Reconnaissance Vehicles and specialist vehicles mounted NBC detection equipment, they are trained and prepared to move at short notice to any potential trouble spot. Currently they have soldiers permanently located in Kuwait. Soldiers from A Squadron are equipped with Challenger 2 and form part of the Combined Arms Training Centre.

The following info is taken from the 1st Royal Tank Regiment Official Site, as are the images:

22nd March 2003 The Jt NBC Regt deployed across the Kuwaiti/Iraqi border.The war had started. The Jt NBC Regt was acting in support of a number of organisations both British and American. The units supported included 1 UK (Armd) Div, 3 Commando Bde, 16 Air Assault Bde, JFLogC, 1 MEF and the Exploitation Task Force to name a few. Within days of crossing the border UK forces were knocking at the doors of Basrah.

1st April 2003. From the Al Faw Peninsular, Az Zubar, Basrah and Um Qasr up to the Saddam Canal at the north of the oil fields Jt NBC Regt Troops were fighting hard to support all deployed UK forces. The land war was drawing to a close and the painful steps of moving into the Peace Enforcement Role were looming. 

12th May 2003. The troops of the Jt NBC Regt were now fulfilling the role of Peace Enforcement in the area north west of Basrah in and around the town of Al Qurnah. Al Qurnah and its surrounds consisted of 90000 people living in urban and rural areas. There was the enduring commitment of the search teams north of Baghdad and the Special Monitoring Team (SMT) in Basrah.

6th June 2003. The second month for the Regiment fulfilling Internal Security duties in Al Qurnah and its surrounds. The area is known as the Garden of Eden, the area where life on the planet was meant to have come from. The soldiers have now experienced the truth about this area and have grown amongst themselves to become more rounded and effective soldiers. The soldiers attached to the Exploitation Forces in Baghdad were beginning to draw down, at the end of June the majority of the regimental troops had returned to the UK.

5th July 2003: The SMT is now based out of Basrah International Airport. They are being employed mainly in the TIH and TIC role making sure that the deployed forces are safe within their surroundings in a difficult and dangerous situation. The remainder of the regiment enjoyed its return from the desert and promptly went on leave to celebrate and reflect with their families. 20th Sept 2003. With a fresh line of troops joining the regiment, a new Squadron has been formed. With the aim of training the recruits to be of a fully rounded and professional standard to serve in both the Sabre and Monitoring Squadrons.

18 Dec 2003. The first Integrated Biological Detection Systems (IBDS) delivered to the Regiment. We have now started the move to Full Operating Capability (FOC) proper and in December we saw the arrival at the Regiment of the first 6 Integrated Biological Detection Systems (IBDS). These are currently undergoing acceptance trials with 27 Squadron. IBDS will eventually replace PBDS although the new systems will be trialed alongside existing equipments until sufficient IBDS have come on-line.

26th Feb 2004:  The Jt NBC Regt is still engaged in operations in Iraq. The past few months has seen a much needed period of leave for the bulk of the Regiment as they have returned from Iraq. The Regiment continued to support the Iraq Survey Group in Baghdad. This was a unique opportunity for those involved and they flew the flag well for the Regiment. We continue to provide a 12 man CBRN team in Basrah in support of the British led multinational division. Our role enables us to develop our capabilities alongside that of other nations, the team in Basrah is engaged on operations alongside US, Norwegian, Dutch and Italian organisations. The team supports the Biological Warfare detection matrix, conducts deliberate recce and survey operations and maintains a Quick Reaction Force able to respond to a wide range of hazards. They have been doing some excellent work and continue to provide the commander with the confidence to operate when faced with an uncertain and hazardous environment.

2004 - During the past 5 years the Regiment has been involved in military operations in Afghanistan, Kuwait, Iraq, Qatar, Cyprus, UAE, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, in support of the UK foot & mouth bovine epidemic and a Fire strike. It has trained and exercised in Egypt, Canada, Scotland, Bahrain, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, France, USA and the Czech Republic. When the Regiment reaches full operational capacity it will peak at a strength of 532. As the only NBC Regiment in the British Army its future is secure, for the foreseeable future that is, but with the knowledge that, in the event of major conflicts anywhere in the world involving UK Forces, the lads of 1 RTR will almost certainly be there, at the front!

2009 - Regiment still at Honnington, change of name? No longer affiliated with RAF Sqn. A Sqn still in Warminster.

1 Royal Tank Regiment March Past - Cenotaph Whitehall, date unknown
2010 - D Squadron parade at St Georges Hall, Liverpool on Armed Forces Day
In August 2014, 1st Royal Tank Regiment ceased to exist due to yet more amalgamations by cost cutting Governments which reduced our royal Tank Regiments to just one.  The First, the Finest has past into history

Here endeth 1 RTR
http://www.regiments.org/milhist/wars/20thcent/69ulster.htm http://www.army.mod.uk/armcorps/firsttan/index.html

*Thanks to Piers Clitherow for getting me some dates relating to Detmold  pre - Korea. (Sep 2002)
**Thanks to Tiny Hart for details update in '74
*** Info on Aden Chieftains from Alex McLaren

Customs of the Army 1964 Officer Cadets Pamphlet

http://home-3.tiscali.nl/~hgmkuip/blerick/index.html - 49 RTR

http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/games/western_front/index.shtml - Excellent animation of WW1 Movements/Battles.

http://myweb.tiscali.co.uk/desertrats/ - Les Dinning's Desert Rats Site

http://www.britisharmedforces.org/i_regiments/roytank_index.htm - History Site













If possible, I would be grateful if any old "tankies" out there could provide me with a detailed
history of the 1st Royal Tank Regiment from leaving Hildesheim, to date?