1st Royal Tank Regiment Historical & Interest Notes
Of A More Topical Nature Than The Official History
Started: 28th September 2005 - Page 3 Update: 19 Sep 2012
|1.||RAC March Through Whitehall|
|2.||1 RTR Capture German Gun|
|3.||WW1 Tank - Deborah - Cambrai|
|4.||Pass Out Parade JLR 1971|
|5.||Belleek - News of the World Report|
|6.||Aussies In Cambrai|
|8.||The Capture of Tiger 131 By 48 RTR|
|9.||Traditions of the Regiment printed in 1955. Incl 'Lippe Detmold'|
|10.||1 RTR Handbook Printed in 1955|
1. Royal Armoured Corps on parade in Whitehall 1945
Caption reads: In their familiar black berets, the RAC contingent, in foreground, have passed the Horse guards Parade (right) and are nearing the end of flag bedecked Whitehall on either side of which spectators cluster fourteen deep. White and stately in the distance is the Cenotaph, joint symbol of rememberance for the dead of two wars, and one of the two points along the processional route at which compliments were paid; the other being the saluting base in the Mall.
2. Captured German Gun
Members of 1 RTR with a captured German 7.5cm Anti Tank gun in Echt during Op Blackcock. There is no truth in the rumour that it was seen at a car boot sale in Toxteth several weeks later!!
3. Deborah - Cambrai
From Paul Robinson. Nov 18th 2006. Mike, this picture is just to remind us of Cambrai, ironically it was fully uncovered on the 20th Nov 1998 in a field just outside Flesquieres, on Nov 23rd the lifting of the tank was overseen by members of RTR and to its final resting place in a barn nearby. Phillipe Gorcynski personally showed me his find in 2000, I was amazed that its exhaust system was still intact after all those buried years, it has been more or less left as found apart from general cleaning (still has barbed wire around its tracks). The tank is named Deborah 51 (D51),this is well worth a visit for those going to Cambrai. The tank commander was 2LT Frank Gustave Heap. (From Mike - the exhaust obviously wasn't fitted by Kwik Fit!!)
4. Passing Out Parade at Junior Leaders Regiment Bovington in Dec 1971
These were sent to me by Mike "Dinger" Bell - Feb 07
6. Aussies in Cambrai
7. Churchill 7
8. The Capture of Tiger 131 By 48 RTR
It was 21 April 1943 when 48th Royal Tank Regiment newly arrived in Tunisia from Britain went into action against the Germans for the first time. Alongside an infantry battalion, they attacked German positions in the hills at Medjez-aI-Bab. Lt. Peter Gudgin, who commanded one of two troops of Churchill tanks leading the attack, was among them. He was soon to experience the destructive force of the Tiger.
"As we advanced towards our objectives we could see no sign of the enemy," Peter told The Tank Museum. "But suddenly my fellow troop leader's tank erupted in an enormous explosion.Before l had chance to locate the source of this shot, my tank was hit by a shot which passed through the from plate, through the fighting Compartment and into the engine, settrng it ablaze."
Lt. Gudgin and his crew bailed out under heavy machine gun fire and were fortunate to escape with minor injuries; the crew of the other tank were all killed. "The next day We took the opportunity to examine our burnt out tank. It had been cleanly penetrated by an 88mm shell which had been fired by a Tiger tank that had been found abandoned on our objective." The abandoned tank was Tiger 131.
British tank crews first encountered Tigers in January 1943. German crews had been thorough in carrying out their orders to completely destroy abandoned Tigers in order to prevent them falling into enemy hands. As a result little was known about this formidable new opponent, so the capture of a complete Tiger was a prize of enormous importance which would yield valuable information.
This makes the capture of Tiger 131 as significant as it was enigmatic. The fate of the crew remains a mystery but the fact that the tank was abandoned seems to have been considered dishonourable. The unit's war diary simply states; "Crew members of Tiger 131 panic and abandon the tank after two harmless hits from a Churchill." The evidence shows that the tank was subject to several direct hits which were far from harmless.
The most important strike, which is clearly visible today, saw a 6-pounder round scrape the underside of the Tiger's 88mm gun, before hitting the gun mantlet and lodging itself in the turret ring. This jammed the turret and effectively prevented the Tiger from fighting. It also split the weld on the top plate and, according to a contemporary report, shattered the radio. It was surmised that this shot could have "incapacitated the driver and front gunner'
Evidence of a second 8pdr strike can also be seen on the right hand turret lifting stud, but a third 6 pdr hit the open loader's hatch, smashing it and deflecting the round to hit the hatch rim, again potentially injuring crew members inside. Whatever happened, the evidence shows that Tiger 131 was literally fought to a standstill by 48 RTR’s Churchill tanks.
The damage caused by their 8pdr’s indicates an incredibly high standard of gunnery as they were almost certainly firing on the move. The fact the tank was captured at all proves that, despite its clear but often overstated strengths, the Tiger was not invincible.
Behind the myth and hyperbole with which it is often associated, Tiger 131 tells an important story about the human element in tank warfare; the role of the crew. We may speculate that the inexperience or poor morale of its crew led to the surrender of a tank famed for its strength; but what of the men who had to face the fearsome Tiger in machines they considered inferior?
When Lt. Gudgin and his men arrived in Tunisia, they were confronted by the spectacle of stacked Churchill tank hulks. Large holes had been punched through even their thickest armour. It must have been a most discouraging sight. They knew that their comparatively under—gunned Churchills would be no match for the Tigers when they eventually met. But this did not deter them from conducting their duty with almost casual, daily acts of considerable personal courage.
It is with great
sadness we report that on 14 September 2011, Peter Gudgin passed away. He was
88. Peter remained in the Army until 1969 when he retired as a Major But it was
his encounter with Tiger 131 that, in many respects, defined his career.
Following the injury he sustained at its hands, Peter was shipped back to
Britain and seconded to the staff of the School of Tank Technology at Chobham.
Tiger 131 arrived at the school for evaluation in October 1943 and by
coincidence Peter was tasked to write an evaluation report on it. The irony of
working closely with a vehicle that nearly ended his life was not lost. "|
After the war, he worked within the defence intelligence world in both the MOD and in Washington, before returning to Bovington as a senior tank technology instructor. His duties included a supervisory role in the management of The Tank Museum, where Tiger 131 had recently been deposited. ln the 1960's he attempted to get the tank refurbished but found there was no money available to do so. Peter also pursued a writing career that included eight books on tank design and With Churchills To War a history of 48 RTR between 1939-45. He most recently provided the Foreword to the Tiger Tank Owners Workshop Manual published by Haynes, but also featured in a number of documentaries on the tank, which has become the museum's most famous exhibit. His assistance to The Tank Museum was of immense value and earned him huge respect here and in the wider museum community. To his wife and family, The Tank Museum offers its most sincere condolences.
As published in the Tank Times Feb 2012 by Tank Museum Bovington Dorset.
9. TRADITIONS AND FACTS ABOUT THE REGIMENT - PRINTED IN 1955
ABBREVIATIONS. The official
abbreviation of the Regiment is " 1 R Tks”
10. 1955 1 RTR HANDBOOK
This pamphlet has been prepared so that all members of the 1st Royal Tank Regiment can learn, in an easily digestible and readable narrative, the History and Traditions which the Regiment has built up since its foundation in 1916.
Also included in the pamphlet is some information on pay, leave, terms of service, etc., which are thought to be of interest to serving soldiers.
EVOLUTION OE THE BRITISH TANK AND WORLD WAR I
Although the concept of an armoured vehicle is not a new one the Tank, as we know it was born in the 1st World War. Its purpose was to break the deadlock on the Western Front which since the end
of 1914 consisted of continuous trench systems protected by barbed wire, in which the machine gun played a major role in the defence. Several people claim to be the original inventor of the Tank (so
called originally for security reasons), but undoubtedly Sir Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, Sir William Tritten, General Sir Ernest Swinton (for many years our Colonel Commandant) and Major W. G. Wilson, the actual designer of the first tank to be used in action, were principally responsible for its introduction and use by the British Army.
By August, 1916, the expeditionary forces had received 150 tanks. These were manned by a newly formed force called the Heavy Section (later " Branch ") of the Machine Gun Corps (again for security reasons). The Corps was divided into 6 Companies (A to F) of 25 tanks each "A" Company being commanded by Major C. M. Tippetts (South Wales Borderers). There were two types of tanks — Male and Female. The " Male " tank was fitted with two six pounder guns which fired H.E. and was designed for the task of destroying enemy machine guns. The " Female " tank was fitted with four machine guns and its task was to kill enemy infantry. These tanks were cumbersome, unreliable and had a maximum speed of 3 miles per hour.
They were first used in the Battle of the Somme in September, 1916. In spite of the appalling going, mechanical breakdown and the scepticism evinced by the majority of the army, the few which reached the German trenches struck terror in the hearts of their opponents—as one airman radioed "A tank is walking up the High Street of Flers with the whole British Army cheering behind."
No great success was achieved in this battle since so few tanks reached the front line and the "going " was impossible, but the few that did, proved that we had a new and valuable weapon. By November, 1917, we had 500 tanks in France. These were divided into 9 tank Battalions—the force having been given the name of " The Tank Corps " and each Battalion was designated by a letter and given a colour or combination of colours for easy recognition.
" A " Battalion being the original name of the 1st Royal Tank Regiment and having the colour of RED.
Battle of Cambrai, 1917
The lessons of the Somme in 1916 had been learnt, and for the offensive in 1917 the Tank Corps were allowed to select the most suitable ground over which to advance. This ground contained the small village of Cambrai. The British aim was to break through the Hindenburg Line, a very strongly defended trench system backed by two canals.
At first light on the 20th November, 1917, the late Brigadier-General Elles (later Sir Hugh Elles) led the first wave of tanks in his tank "Hilda." All nine Battalions·" A " to " I " took part and were organised in three gigantic waves. The first wave of tanks carried fascines (huge bundles of faggots which could be dropped into the trenches and so enable the tanks to cross) and had the task of breaking through the wire and trenches of the Hindenburg Line. The second wave was to secure the crossing of the St. Quentin’s Canal. The third wave was to exploit the break—through and cause havoc in the enemy’s rear. The first and second waves admirably carried out their tasks and " by 4 pm. on the 20th one of the most astonishing battles in all history had been won and, as far as the Tank Corps was concerned, tactically finished, for, no reserves existing it was not possible to do more than rally the now very weary and exhausted crews, select the fittest and patch up composite companies to continue the attack."
By the 22nd more ground had been won than in any comparable period of the war, but tragically, due to the unforeseen successes of the Tanks, cavalry and infantry were too far behind to exploit the victory and the Germans had time to stop the gap. Captain Wain of " A " Battalion was awarded the Victoria Cross during the Battle of Cambrai. Two flags flown by the Battalion in the battle are now encased in the Officers’ Mess. One of these was carried by the Commanding Officer and the other by " C " Company Commander.
The success of the tanks at Cambrai was so great that they were used in increasing numbers in France, and even saw action in Palestine at Gaza under General Allenby. In fact, by the end of the war there were 22 Battalions.
In January, 1918, Battalion letters of designation were replaced by numbers-" A " Battalion becoming the 1st Battalion, The Tank Corps. April saw the first Tank Versus Tank action when a male tank of the 1st Battalion engaged three German tanks, knocking out one and putting the other two to flight. The knocked out German tank " Elfriede " now rests in the Imperial War Museum.
INTER WAR YEARS
The Armistice 1918-1939
With the Armistice the 1st Battalion moved to Bovington and formed the Tank Corps Depot being called the 1st (Depot) Battalion The Tank Corps. In 1923, His Late Majesty King George V honoured the Corp by granting it the prefix " Royal." In spite of the successes achieved from 1916-1918, conventional military thought after the war foresaw little future in the tank ant the disbandment of the Corps was suggested. It was largely due to the devoted efforts of many officers, amongst whom Generals Sir Hugh Elles and Sir Ernest Swinton were prominent that the Corp which had been reduced from 8 to 4 active Battalions (apart from the Armoured Car Companies in India) remained in being.
1st Battalion reformed 1934
In 1930 an experimental Brigade of two battalions was formed and in 1931 it was augmented to three battalions. But in 1934 2 permanent formation was created (the forerunner of the present Armoured Brigades) ; it was called " 'The Tank Brigade," and consisted of the 1st (Light) Battalion and the 2nd, 3rd and 5th Battalion of the R.T.C.
Brigadier Hobart (later Major—General Sir Percy Hobart, K.B.E. C.B., D.S.O., MJC.) took a prominent part in the organisation and training of this and subsequent experimental formations. The " First " had been temporarily formed in 1933 but were reformed on a permanent basis in 1934 by incorporating the Light Tank Companies of the 2nd, 3rd and 5th Battalions. The " First " were equipped with Vickers Mk. II and Mk. III tanks and Carden Lloyd carriers. 'The issue of Mk. V’s followed in 1935 and Mk. VI’s in 1937.
With Italy’s invasion of Abyssinia in 1935 the 1st Battalion was moved to Egypt. It returned to the UK in November, 1936. Its stay at home was shortened by the Munich Crisis in 1938 when it again embarked for Egypt where it became one of the founder Battalions of the famous 7th Armoured Division (The Desert Rats) which was formed by General Hobart in 1939.
1939 " R.T.R. ":
By 1939 the Cavalry Regiments of the British Army lost their horses and became mechanised, and they with the Tank Battalions became part of the Royal Armoured Corps. To prevent the anomalous situation of having a Corps within a Corps the RTC was re-designated the Royal Tank Regiment and " Privates " became " Troopers ".
World War 2
The Desert Campaign
After an uneasy period of tension on the Libyan Frontier, fighting started with Italy’s invasion of France. Britain at this time was at her weakest.
June, 1940. General Wavell’s first task as C. in C. was to gain enough time to build up his strength. To this end he embarked upon a series of small frontier raids designed to harass the Italians and mislead them as to our numbers. The " First " were " blooded " in these actions which took place largely in the area of Fort Capuzzo.
August, 1940. In August the Italians crossed the Egyptian Frontier and advanced to Sidi Barrani, halting there to build a base for further operations. December, 1940. By December General Wavell had available for a limited offensive two Divisions, some 40,000 men, and with these he planned to drive 250,000 Italians from Egypt. The " First " equipped with A 9’s as well as light tanks, took part from the start in this audacious offensive. 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 two Divisions advanced to Bardia, where many more prisoners were captured, and on to Tobruk (a heavily defended supply port), Derna and Mechili.
February, 1941. The Italians had received such heavy losses that they decided to evacuate Benghazi before the British approached too closely. The RAF reported signs of this evacuation and accordingly 7th Armoured Division was sent the one hundred miles across the desert from Mechili to Beda Fomm to cut off the Italians. The " First " with ten cruiser and nineteen light tanks had more runners than the other Regiments and so they were kept in reserve whilst the 3rd, 7th, 11th Hussars and 2 RTR threw a cordon round the enemy. As had been hoped the Italians tried to break out of the cordon in the 3rd Hussars sector. The " First " were called to support and in true " Western " style were first seen speeding across the horizon pursuing twenty Italian tanks. Half an hour later the " First " were reported seen in the distance chasing another thirty Italian tanks in the opposite direction, The Battle of Beda Fomm lasted another 24 hours and at the end 20,000 Italian soldiers had been captured (bringing the total to 134,000) together with six Generals and 112 tanks.
After advancing for 800 miles against an enemy using five times as many tanks, the " First " were returned to Cairo to re-fit with Matildas, A l0’s and A 13’s whilst the remaining British forces advanced a further 80 miles to El Agheila. The great problem of supply and very necessary withdrawal of troops for the Greek, Abyssinian and Somaliland campaigns halted our advance. At this critical period the German Afrika Corps landed at Tripoli, joined the decimated Italian army and launched a counter offensive.
April, 1941. The First were hastily moved back to the forward areas. " B " and " C " Squadrons together with "A " Squadron of 7 RTR just managed to motor into Tobruk before the Germans encircled the town and continued their advance to the Egyptian frontier. Meanwhile “ A " Squadron joined 7 RTR and fought with them in and around Capuzzo. As soon as the German offensive was halted the two " A " Squadrons were exchanged, a destroyer making the trip to Tobruk one night. The Regiment remained in Tobruk for the whole siege, an episode of which they are very proud, especially as they were the only Regiment of Armour or Infantry to do so. The Australians, who provided the main body of the defenders, were relieved just before the siege was raised.
November, 1941. The Tobruk garrison broke out of the perimeter in November to meet General Auchinlech’s autumn offensive. A junction with the 8th Army was achieved after much heavy fighting at El Duda and very shortly afterwards a B vehicle route linking the two forces was opened. .
December, 1941. During December, 1941 the Regiment was so ill equipped, having at this time a few A 9’s, A 10’s and Mark VI Vickers Light Tanks that it was withdrawn to Alexandria. Soon after this the Germans were able to take advantage of the British 1000 mile supply line and counter attacked General Auchinlech’s 8th Army which had penetrated as far west as El Aghelia. The Afrika Corps forced back the 8th Army to a position running between Gazala on the coast and Bir Hakiem, where the front was stabilized, as both sides were so exhausted that a long break was needed to refit.
March, 1942. The Regiment was moved down to a canvas camp at Mena near the Pyramids and became part of the 1st Armoured Brigade. Here they were re—equipped with General Grant and Stuart (also called " Honey ") tanks; "B" and "C" Squadron receiving the former and "A " Squadron the latter. An intensive training programme with these new machines commenced and it was expected that the Regiment would be moved up to the Desert again about the middle of June.
May, 1942. However, by the end of May, General Rommel had re--built his forces and was able to launch a heavy attack on our positions at Gazala. Immediately there was heavy fighting and the armour on both sides sustained casualties. At midnight on the 28th of May, 1942, an order was given for the Regiment to proceed to the Western Desert at 0700 hours the next morning. The rest of the night was spent in feverish preparations for this totally unexpected move and if it had not been for a full moon, the difficulties would have been insuperable. However, at 8 o’clock, only one hour after H hour, the wheeled party set out on the long drive up to the front, and the tanks were loaded on rail flats. 36 hours later the Regiment was concentrated at Fort Capuzzo and from there the tanks moved up to El Duda by night on transporters. German aircraft attacked the column and a few lorries were burnt out. From El Duda they moved to just south of the Knightsbridge Box and joined 4th Armoured Brigade in 7th Armoured Division to replace a Regiment that had been withdrawn owing to severe casualties.
June, 1942. At this time the Battle of the Cauldron was in full swing. The Afrika Corps managed to consolidate their gains in spite of all our efforts. For the next week the Regiment was in action daily but received relatively few casualties. However, on June the 10th while acting as left flank guard to the remainder of the Brigade, the Regiment ran into a line of anti-tank guns at Bir Harmat and in a few minutes more than a dozen Grants were blazing furiously, besides 2 or 3 " Honeys " that had also been knocked out. Next day, after a night withdrawal, during which the leaguer was attacked by an enemy column, a further engagement was fought against tanks of I5 and 21 Panzer Divisions, as they came up from the direction of Bir Hakiem. The Regiment then withdrew northwards towards the coast. The battles at Gazala and Knightsbridge had been lost and with them most of the British tank strength. In these Battles the Germans had used to very great effect their new 88 mm. gun which outranged our weapons by a thousand yards. After a withdrawal through the Tobruk minefield by night that was fraught with hazards since the lanes were no longer marked, the remains of the Regiment re—formed on the East side in the area of the old battlefield of Sidi Rezegh. While the Tobruk Fortress was being invested further engagements were fought in this area.
About this time the few remaining tanks were handed over to the 6th Royal Tanks and the Regiment was withdrawn to Mersa Matruh. Here it was hurriedly re-equipped with “ Honey " tanks and a few General Lees and reinforcements were also collected. By this time Tobruk had fallen and the Afrika Corps had crossed the wire on the Egyptian Frontier. While they were attacking Mersa Matruh the Regiment had re-joined what was left of 4th Armoured Brigade and an action was fought near Minqar Qaim to the South. The enemy however captured Mersa Matruh and the retreat continued. The remains of the Regiment was now formed into a column together with some motor infantry, 25 pounders and a few anti tank guns with the task of covering the withdrawal of 8th Army. German pressure continued and gradually the column fell back towards the El Alamein Line which was being hastily prepared. We were one of the last Units to reach this line and the supply of petrol was so critical that several tanks had run out completely and were on tow. The El Alamein Line, as it was so called, extended for 40 miles from the Mediterranean to the Quattara Depression, an impassable area of salt marsh, and covered the approaches to Alexandria. In the centre of the Line were two dominating ridges, Ruweisat and Alam Halfa. A part of the Line had been dug some months before but for most of its length it was merely a line on the map. Here the 8th Army finally checked the German advance; both sides were completely exhausted and though the Afrika Corps had been able to supply itself from our captured dumps at Tobruk and elsewhere, it had out-run its supply line. In the early days on the Alamein Line furious fighting took place before the enemy advance could be finally checked and in these days the Regiment played its part nobly. However, the Germans were held and the Middle East was saved.
July, 1942. By the middle of July the Regiment had again lost most of its tanks and it was decided to pull it out to Amiriya just outside Alexandria for a short re-fit. This breathing space lasted no more than a month and in August the Regiment was again at the Southern end of the El Alamein Line.
August, 1942. General Montgomery assumed command of the 8th Army in August, 1942, and confronted Rommel when he made his big effort to break the Alamein Line, and attacked the Alam Halfa ridge. In this battle Rommel’s forces were held up at the ridge whilst attacks were made by the 7th Armoured Division on his exposed com munications. Rommel later admitted that his attack was destroyed by his inability to support his forward troops. The Regiment’s part in the battle was therefore both important and successful. October, 1942. After two months building up supplies the 8th Army was ready for the offensive. The Regiment was now equipped with Crusaders in the " light " Squadron (A), and with Grants or Shermans in " B" and " C " Squadrons. The battle of El Alamein started at " last light " on the 23rd October, 1942 In the first phase of the battle the Regiment participated in a feint attack to the south designed to draw the German Armour, and was then with the remainder of 22nd Armd Brigade switched to the Northern Flank. During this move the tanks were disguised to look like 10 ton Lorries. A strong attack was then launched from the north. After ten days of intense fighting, when casualties on both sides were extremely heavy, two corridors had been punched in the German defence to the north. " First Tanks " moved up with 7th Armoured Division and were told to exploit the breakthrough. They met the remnants of the German and Italian armour after pushing through the gap and further decimated it between Alamein and Fuka. The way was now open for a rapid advance and in the next 15 days the 8th Army advanced 8OO miles.
December, 1942, The Germans made little effort to halt the advance until El Agheila where they had previously been so successful. Realising that the Germans would try and repeat their manoeuvres, Montgomery outflanked their positions at the same time attacking frontally with the 7th Armoured Division. Rather than risk being cut off the Germans hastily abandoned their defences and withdrew to the Buerat Line.
March, 1943. Only one Division could be adequately supplied until the Port of Tripoli was opened. Therefore the advance was continued with only the 7th Armoured Division. As the " Desert Rats " approached the Mareth Line Rommel seized an opportunity of destroying them. To meet the threat the Division sat firm on the commanding ground at Medenine whilst reserves were rushed up. They arrived just before the German attack which was broken with a loss of 52 German tanks, none of ours were lost. Rommel then withdrew on the Mareth Line. Again Montgomery found a method of turning the position when two Divisions found an undefended pass in the hills to the west. Whilst these Divisions worked round the flank a moonlight frontal attack was launched. The First were on the northern flank during the battle which lasted for two days before the Germans broke contact and withdrew towards Sfax in Tunisia.
While the Sth Army were advancing through Libya, the 1st Army and Americans had landed to the West of Tunis at Algiers, and a race now developed between the 1st and 8th Armies for Tunis. May, 1943. After the capture of Sfax the 7th Armoured Division was suddenly transferred from 8th Army. and after a well concealed march of 130 miles joined 1st Army. The Division with the 11th Hussars and 1st and 5th RTR in the lead was the first to enter Tunis. Each Regiment claimed to be " first in." In such a large city it is impossible- to substantiate the various claims but a Gunner Officer, attached at that time to the " First " well remembers nearly being shot up from behind by another Regiment that also claimed that distinction.
The German Army was slowly annihilated and so the Africa campaign closed. The Regiment was not required during the Sicily campaign and was therefore able to rest and reiit before preparing for the landing in Italy.
The Italian Campaign
September, 1943. In September the Regiment landed at Salerno and took part in a series of spirited battles around Mount Vesuvius which guarded the approach to Naples and in the advance to the River Volturno. After crossing this river, the “ First " handed over their tanks to the Canadians, went on leave to various parts of Italy and Capri and returned to England, landing at Glasgow early in the new year.
Preparation and training then started for the landings in France. While stationed in Norfolk, Cromwell tanks were issued. The North·West Europe Campaign On D plus 1, the Regiment landed at Arromanches with other units of 7th Armoured Division and three days later was in action south of Bayeux.
The task of the British Army was to provide a firm left hinge so that 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, from 6 to 7% of these divisions were kept engaged on the British Sector. Consequently, there was extremely heavy fighting in the very difficult "Bocage." The " Bocage " is an area of Normandy where there are very small fields surrounded by 3 feet high banks on which grow thick hedges 6 to 10 feet high. The main British objective was Caen. To help capture this city, the 7th Armoured Division was directed to capture the commanding ground in the area of Villers Bocage.
Between the 10th and 30th of June the Regiment took part in the hard slogging light for Verrieres and Tilly, and, when we failed to capture these villages, in the flanking movement, which for a short period captured Villers Bocage. In these battles tanks frequently engaged each other at less than 50 yards range and crews were confined to their turrets all day due to concealed snipers hidden within a stone’s throw.
July, 1944. On the 1st the Desert Rats were pulled out to rest and refi. On the 17th they concentrated north of Caen and took part on the left flank of the break out from that city. This was against extremely heavy opposition, the sort that on one occasion knocked out 8 tanks in " C " Squadron in a three hour battle. August, 1944. After 10 days heavy fighting south of Caen the Division moved back to the Villers Bocage area. To the right of the British the Americans had broken German resistance and were sweeping round in a gigantic right hook. British forces immediately attacked to cut off the Germans in what was now being called the Falaise Pocket. The " First " at the head of 7th Armoured Division were launched from Caumont and outflanking Villers Bocage led the way past Aunay. Just before the enemy at Falaise were completely surrounded, the " First " were directed eastwards towards Lisieux, to help deal with those Germans that were escaping. The " First " and in particular " C " Squadron were instrumental in capturing this town. After the capture of Lisieux the allied advance turned north to cross the River Seine and then destroy the remainder of the German army in France. The " First" were at first in the van of these operations but were later called back to clear up large pockets of Germans that had been bypassed in the area of Lillers and St. Pol.
Massacre of Lillers
The outskirts of Lillers were held by a fanatical force of some 2000 SS troops and, though the town was occupied with little loss one morning, it was a major task defending it. With the assistance of the French " Maquis," tanks moving amongst buildings and with practically no infantry support managed to hold the enemy off. Unfortunately, in the evening, the Regiment had to be withdrawn to resume the advance into Belgium. As soon as the last tank left the town the SS swarmed in and carried out a cold blooded massacre of the French "Maquis " who had so gallantly assisted us to defend the town.
The clearing of these and other pockets of resistance so delayed the Regiment’s advance into Belgium that it did not rejoin the 7th Armoured Division until the latter had occupied the town of Malines. From Malines, the Regiment moved north to protect part of the left flank of the Guards Armoured and 43 Infantry Division who were advancing to relieve Arnhem.
October, 1944. This task involved a set piece attack to capture the Dutch town of s’Hertogenbosch (with 53 Infantry Division) followed by a rapid advance to clear the Scheldt Estuary. During this advance of some 25 miles in two days along roads (as no cross country movement was possible) the towns of Udenhout and Oosterhout were captured but not without a number of casualties. At Oosterhout, one troop of " A " Squadron captured in half an hour a group of enemy anti—tank guns and infantry that had held up another Regiment for 24 hours. Oosterhout also became the Regimental home for the following month which was the Regiment’s most happy memory of that winter.
November, 1944. Most of the area up to the River Meuse was cleared by November and it was while holding this river line that the ‘ First " had a novel and unusual experience for an Armoured Regiment. The front line was too long for the Infantry to man so " B " and " C " Squadrons were dismounted in the area of Einighausen, on the extreme right of the 2nd Army’s front, and there acted as Infantry. A Squadron acted as a mobile reserve.
`December, 1944. Just before Christmas the Regiment, now again in Tanks, moved on to German soil and became one of the few Regiments who spent Christmas 1944 in Germany. Allied offensive operations were halted at this period whilst Hitler’s wild Ardennes offensive was defeated. With this defeat more mopping up operations started and the " First " were engaged until February in clearing the area known as the Mass - Roer triangle.
This operation 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 the local houses. On the icy cambered roads tanks became very difficult to steer and in one or two instances roads were blocked by tanks which found it easier to move sideways than forwards. Living conditions were extremely hard as there was no protection of any sort from the cold. On the first day of the operation Susteren was captured after heavy fighting. Flame throwing tanks " Crocodiles " were used most effectively in the capture of the next village St. ]uste. At Schilberg some 150 Germans and at least two, possibly, five heavy armoured S.P.’s were dug in in very strong positions. The Regiment attacked with each Squadron advancing from a different direction but was brought to a stand still. During the next two days lhit after hit was obtained on the S.P.’s without apparently any effect each time a S.P. fired we lost another tank, and then, possibly their task accomplished, the Germans mysteriously withdrew.
Fabruary - March, 1945. There was no pause after the clearing of the Mass Roer triangle for the Regiment was continually employed in front line patrols which not only kept the initiative on our side but kept morale high.
March, 1945. In March after a pause for re-grouping the Regiment was used in the breakout from the River Rhine bridgehead. Pockets of German resistance were encountered, which were mainly fanatical SS troops, armed with tanks, SP guns and Bazookas. The need for speed was however paramount in order to ensure that the war did not last a day longer than necessary. It was the duty of the Armoured Divisions now advancing into Germany to implement this policy. Opposition was by-passed, high casualties accepted " A" Squadron had 27 casualties between the Rhine and Hamburg), and, when as at Ahaus, the whole Division was held up in a thickly wooded country, the Regiment advanced by night 10 miles through the German positions. As a result Bazookamen and
Anti tank guns were over-run and Germans sitting safely in the back areas surprised by the appearance of 30 Cromwell tanks thundering down the roads in the still and intense darkness of the early hours. From this area the Regiment moved Eastwards, crossed the River Weser at Neinburg and advanced on Hamburg. Resistance, still mostly Bazookas) was continually met but advances of 40 to 50 miles in a day were common. Fierce resistance was met at Soltau, which was bypassed, at Wintermoor, and in the Forest of Langelohl area. In the latter " A " Squadron was trapped, its front and rear tanks having been Bazooka’d. It was only extricated after a considerable delay and suffered many casualties.
April, 1945. The " First " halted just outside Harburg, a suburb of Hamburg, situated on the South bank of the River Elbe. An attack on Hamburg was not necessary as the town was surrendered and the Regiment led the move in. This occurred just before the German Armies capitulated.
May, 1945. With peace the Regiment concentrated in Gluckstadt and then in July moved to Moll in Belguim to refit with Comet tanks. After that the " First " moved back to Schleswig before moving to Berlin.
In August 1945 the Regiment motored into Berlin on its tracks to join the 11th Hussars and the non armoured parts of the 7th Armoured Division. From the aerial of the Commanding Officer’s tank flew the flag that had been made by Lady Elles for General Elles to fly from his tank when he was to enter Berlin in 1919. Twenty-six years later it was specially flown out to the " First " so that it could at last be put to its original use. We were one of the only two British Tank Regiments in Berlin. Field Marshal the Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, KG., G.C.B., D.S.O. inspected the Regiment there on the occasion of his becoming Colonel Commandant.
In March 1946 the Regiment returned to Schleswig Holstein.
The Regiment moved to Hobart Barracks, Detmold in July, 1946 and stayed there until embarking for Korea in 1952. After " Exercise Broadside " in October 1950 the Regiment joined the reformed 11th Armoured Division thus severing a connection with the Desert Rats which had lasted, except for a few months during the Desert campaign, since the Division was formed in 1939.
In Detmold the Regiment twice became the home of the RTR Corps Week (winning the Athletic Competition on both occasions). It took part in every important exercise held in Germany, building for itself an exceptionally high reputation for tactical efficiency and tank maintenance. It won too, a rosette from both 7th and 33rd Armoured Brigades for being the Regiment most consistently " on net."
During this period it was the first Regiment to be equipped with the Mark III Centurion. The Regiment in Detmold determined to excel at Sports as it had in the battlefield during the war. A brief summary of its various sporting achievements will be found in the Sports section.
National Service Men
We were the first Regiment to receive National Service Men, the first draft going to "C" Squadron and the second to "B" Besides employing the drafts as normal tank crewmen, the Regiment undertook the task of training them in their second trade. To this end " A " Squadron became responsible for instructing GMT, D & M, Wireless and Gunnery.
With the increased danger of Russian aggression in 1951, " A " Squadron ceased training and became again a Fighting Squadron. At the same time the Regiment was put at 8 hours notice to move and remained in this state of readiness until leaving Detmold on the 1st of September, 1952. The Regiment in England was stationed at Tidworth, whilst all ranks went on leave and were " kitted out " before sailing from Liverpool on the 27th October aboard the " Empire Halladale."
The Regiment landed in Korea on the 6th December, 1952 and within 24 hours of arrival at the front had taken over in the line from the 5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards. “A" Squadron was on the right of the Commonwealth Division front in support of 28 British Commonwealth Infantry Brigade, and " B " Squadron on the central sector in support of 29 British Infantry Brigade. The 25th Canadian Infantry Brigade on the left was supported by one of their own armoured squadrons of Lord Strathcona’s Horse. "C" Squadron was in reserve in Gloster Valley, previously the site of the Glosters epic stand. Because of the static nature of the War all the tanks were dug-in in pits to protect their suspension and lower parts. Tanks were continuously manned, which necessitated all crews doing a watch it also meant that all drivers had to be able to fire the gun, gunners operate the wireless and so on.
Their main role was to dominate " No Man’s Land." This they did by engaging any enemy movement, observation posts and occupied trenches that they saw, firing pre-registered DFs by night and firing in support of our own patrols. They could bring down fire quicker and with more accuracy than the gunners, and so were particularly useful in supporting patrols and in sniping work. The more interesting operations and events in which the Regiment was engaged are as follows: During the night of December the 11th "A" Squadron was engaged in the Regiment’s first non routine action. A full company raid by the 1st Battalion The Royal Australian Regiment on to enemy hills to capture prisoners and destroy mortar positions was supported from Point 355 Right by a troop which fired 86 rounds in close support. That this action could take place only 3 nights after the Regiment had taken over and have such a successful result speaks well for the very high standard of training the Regiment had reached.
On January 6th a night raid by the Duke of Wellington Regiment to capture a prisoner was supported by two tanks of “B" Squadron, which fired between them 211 rounds. At the end of January a troop of " C" Squadron (which had taken over from "B" Squadron) fired 250 rounds in support of another raid of the Dukes this time in daylight, to destroy enemy tunnels. The Division then moved into reserve from February through March until early April.
Among the many precedents that the Regiment claims to have set whilst in Korea was a unique liason with American tanks. "A" Squadron was the first to establish this liason when they got American tanks to direct shoots for them. This also worked very successfully in reverse when " A " Squadron directed American tanks on to targets that they were unable to see. It is thought that this is the hrst occasion where unilateral fire orders have been employed. On returning to the line " C " Squadron now in the Hook area, created another precedent with an interesting technique for killing Chinamen at night. The Infantry using Infra Red observed enemy at certain pre registered points and informed the tanks who then engaged these points.
A Korean Division was supported in a raid by a troop of " B " Squadron in the area of hill 355, which engaged enemy machine gun posts and their communication trenches to prevent the arrival of enemy reinforcements, whilst the raid was taking place. Later, during an enemy night attack on the Canadian Brigade, another troop of " B " Squadron which had been engaging enemy gun flashes and communication trenches received heavy concentrations of enemy fire in return. That the enemy never embarked upon an operation without engaging our tanks was to a certain degree flattering if uncomfortable.
" A" Squadron took over from " B " Squadron in the " Little Gibraltar " area in June and supported operations by the 1st Battalions Durham Light Infantry and Royal Fusiliers and the 2nd and 3rd Battalions, Royal Australian Regiment. As a result of slight Chinese gains to the left of the Division, the heaviest fighting occurred in the area of the Hook, where after a week of heavy artillery preparation, the enemy were repulsed in their attempt to capture the Hill. During the battle " C " Squadron tanks fired 540 rounds of HE, and scores of belts of Besa. Later, in a Company raid by the Kings, " C " Squadron sent a troop of tanks out to give them flank protection and to help them regain their base. Three weeks before the end of the War " B" Squadron took over from " C" Squadron and were engaged in the Chinese “ last fling " attack on American held positions just to the left of the Hook.
The Chinese had frequently got very close to our tanks in all sections of the front. On this occasion the 2 inch Bomb Throwers were used on them, and in one case when trying to shelter from friendly artillery under the belly of a tank, two Chinamen were shot. A truce was declared 36 hours after this battle and the Regiment concentrated in Gloster Valley.
In the six months that the Regiment had been in the line they had fired nearly 26,000 rounds of HE 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 zero in winter to roads knee deep in mud in the wet summer periods. The Commonwealth Division did not yield any ground in spite of the most determined efforts by the enemy. This feat was not without its cost, the Infantry Battalions having very heavy casualties. The Regiment was fortunate in only having one killed and some twenty wounded, although several tanks were damaged. Serving with the Regiment were many Australian and South African Officers and New Zealand Officers and NCO’s. They were fully integrated in Squadrons and there is not one of them that didn’t help weld closer Commonwealth ties and increase the respect with which their Countries were held.
In Gloster Valley the Regiment set about building itself a camp and defence works. It then prepared, among other things, for the handover to the 5th Royal Tanks. We were not idle in the sports field whilst in Korea, winning the Corps cross country and the Divisional athletics, swimming and basketball championships. At cricket and football, although not quite so successful, we established a reputation that we were not ashamed of. A series of England - Australia Test Matches were organized, the first match being played on the 1st Tanks " Oval," a very presentable cricket field hewn out of the lower slopes of Gloster Hill. The Regiment also organized a successful sailing regatta in Japan, but had to yield pride of place to the two Australian Battalions who were first and second. The Regiment sailed from Korea on the 15th December 1953.
THE CANAL ZONE
The Regiment arrived at Shandur in the Suez Canal Zone aboard HMT Empire Orwell on 5th January 1954. Once again they took over from the 5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards. As part of 25 Armoured Brigade their role in Shandur was to provide protection to British interests in the Canal Zone. With the signing of the agreement in Egypt the Regiment moved . In December 1954 to Genifa further North in the Canal Zone. This was part of the plan for the gradual run down of British Forces.
Published in June 1955