1st Royal Tank Regiment Historical & Interest Notes
Of A More Topical Nature Than The Official History

Started: 28th September 2005 - Page 4 Update: 19 Sep 2012


1. 1 RTR Sports 1955
2. Evolution of 1 RTR
3. Service Notes
4. The Mediterranean Theatre of 1 RTR
5. History of 1 RTR up to 1955
6. The Black Beret
7. The Battle of Tofrek
8. 30s Tank
9. Detmold 1952


1. Sports and 1 RTR
The Regiment has always been proud of its sporting record. After being reformed in 1934 th Regiment from 1935 until 1945 was seldom in one place long enough to train up to championship standard. When Lieut Col. Sleeman took command in 1945 he devoted a great deal of energy to sports. Under his command the Regiment excelled in particular at Athletics, and subsquently maintained its standards during the periods when Lieut-Cols. Gough, Sturdee and Hopkinson were in command. In 1948 we were Rhine Army runners up at Athletics. In 1949 we were again Rhine Army Runners up. In 1950 the Regiment was placed 3rd in the Rhine Army championships after winning the 7th Armoured Divisional championships before again becoming runners up in Rhine Army in 1951. In 1952 after a very successful year in which we were again runners up in Rhine Army championships, we were Third in the British Army championships held at Aldershot. The record time set up by the Regimental 220 yards relay team in Germany has yet to be beaten. The Regiment was represented in the Rhine Army swimming finals for four consecutive years ending in 1952. We were also either hrst or second during this period in the 7th and 11th Armoured Divisional championships.
The Football Eleven won the Southern BAOR Units League (ZECO League) for three years running as well as the 7th Armoured championships in 1950. In the 1948~49 season the Rugby Fifteen reached the Rhine Army finals being beaten by an Airborne Sapper Unit. The ‘Seven a Side team also reached the Rhine Army finals in 1951 but they were also beaten. The Regimental Squash team reached the BAOR semi-finals in 1952. A Rhine Army championship was won by the Water Polo team in 1951 and this same team became semi finalists in the Army championships held later that year in England. The Regiment also entered a team for the Army Pentathlon for the three years prior to Korea and competed favourably with teams from England.

Individuals who have received Army colours in recent years are:

Lieut. Farmer - Army Champion 440 yards. .
Sgt. M.cLaughlin - Army Light Weight Champion,
Sgt. Keetch - 220 yards sprint.
Cpl. Hemm represented England in the 1952 Olympics.
Sgt. Prowting - Army ]avelin.
Lieut. Vickers - Army (Egypt) Squash Champion, 1954.

Among the many who have recently received Rhine Army colours for various sports are:

Major Maunsell
AQMS. Meakin
Captain Kingsford
Sgt. Hunter
Lieut. Cockman
Sgt. Prowting
Lieut. Davies
Sgt. Upiohn
Lieut. Sinnatt
Sgt. Lines
Lieut. Bennett
Tpr. Pearson
Lieut. Vickers
Tpr. Brown
Lieut. Farmer
Tpr. Butler

From 1948-52 the Regiment was very fortunate in having as its QMSI, A. Y. Slater (APTC) who with Herr Christman (a German ex-Olympic Trainer) was largely responsible for the very high standard attained by several of the Athletes.

2. Evolution of 1 RTR

3. Service Notes

4. The Mediterranean Theatre of 1 RTR


5. History of the 1st Royal Tank Regiment
as published in June 1955 in a Regimental Handbook
(thanks to Claude Kent for lending me the booklet)


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.


June, 1955


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.


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.

Italian prisoners at Beda Fomm

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 reformed 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 8th 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 Resistance in 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.

February - 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."

Korean War

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 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. This was scanned using a text recognition OCR software, but it can be easily fooled by text. I have endeavoured to correct as much as I can but could easily have missed some. If you find an error, feel free to let me know.

6. The Black Beret

The Black Beret
& The Black Overalls; The Ash Plant; Tank Badge; Regimental Colours
Updated: 18 Jan 04


After each war the British Army has made a habit of adopting some headdress belonging to its allies or enemy.     The bearskin of the Guards came from Napoleon's Imperial Guard; The Lancer's Cap was adopted in 1815, and came from the Poles.   It had previously been adopted by the French (in 1811) and also by some German Kingdoms at various times between 1809 and 1813: the top heavy shako adopted for the Infantry after the Napoleonic Wars was then in vogue among Britain's Continental Allies; the new style shako adopted in 1855 was similar to that of our French allies in the Crimean War; the flat type shako adopted in 1860 was similar to the one worn by the soldiers in the American Civil War; the spiked helmet adopted in the 1870's (persisted for the next two (2) generations) was copied from the German victors of the 1870 War.   The Beret was no exception. Originally, Tank drivers and gunners were supplied with a primitive brown leather helmet, which was soon discarded.   They were also issued with tin helmets with a chain mail visor to protect their eyes against splash - they were seldom worn.  In may 1918 General Elles and Colonel Fuller, when dining together at Bermicourt, discussed the future of the Tank Corps and its uniform.   The 70th Chasseurs Alpines were billeted in the area at this time and General Elles tried on one of their Beret.   Of the various proposals put forward he strongly favoured the Black Beret.   He was influenced by the presence of the Chasseurs Alpines, many of whom were training at British Tank Schools, and who had a particularly close liaison with the Tank Corp Units.

Black was selected because it was least likely to show oil stains.   When bending over the engines inside a Tank (and they needed a great deal of tending) it was almost impossible to avoid getting oily.   No change to the uniform was possible during the war.   Later when advocating that the Black Beret should be accepted officially, General Elles, in addition to explaining its advantages inside a Tank, added that, both in war and on manoeuvres, it was very convenient to sleep in.   After a prolonged argument with the War Office, the Black Beret was approved by HM the King on 5 March 1924. The Black Beret remained the exclusive distinctive headdress of the Royal Tank Corps until its practical value was recognised by others and its use was extended to the whole of the Royal Armoured Corps in 1940.   After WW11, on the introduction of the blue beret, the Royal Tank Regiment reclaimed their right to the exclusive use of the Black Beret, which may not be worn by any other regiment or corps with the exception of the Westminster Dragoons. The initial clothing issue to the 1st Tank Section in 1930 was the usual khaki jacket, trousers and Digger hat.   In July 1944 LTCOL T. E. Williams then GSOI Armoured Corps at AHQ proposed that Armoured Corps personnel be issued Black Berets instead of the khaki which had been worn since the Corps was first formed in 1941.   This was approved by CGS LTGEN J. Northcott on 3 August 1944.


Black Overalls. The wearing of black overalls is a custom reserved to the Regiment by Material Regulations for the Army, volume 3, Pamphlet No 4 (Code 13251). It stems from the Royal Review held at Aldershot in the presence of King George V on 13 July 1935 on which occasion black overalls were worn on parade by all ranks of the Royal Tanks Corps. The practice lapsed during World War II but was re-introduced in the 1950s.


Tank Badge. The ordinary Machine Gun Corps' cap badge was the first official badge of the Heavy Branch. It was not universally popular and many of its members retained the badges of their original Regiment or Corps. By 1917 the new Branch was seeking its own distinctive badge, but as this was a matter for which Royal approval was required and would take time, the War Office agreed that a worsted arm badge would be introduced until the cap badge was approved. The Army Order authorising the badge (79 of 6 February 1917) decreed that it should be worn on the right arm three inches below the point of the shoulder. It also states that 'It is to be worn by all ranks'. This would appear to dispel the popular myth, perpetuated by the Regimental History, that it was only awarded to trained tank crewmen. Certainly for many years all members of the RTC/RTR have worn it on service and battle dress. A silver embroidered version was worn on the other ranks pre-war blue patrols and the Band had a gold embroidered one for their full dress. In 1996 the RTR Council directed that the gold embroidered badge was to be worn on both Officers' and Warrants Officers' and Sergeants' Mess Dress. They do wear a silver embroidered version on No 1 Dress and No 3 Dress (tropical white equivalent of No 1 Dress) although a brass badge has been worn instead on No 3 Dress (Fourth in Malaya 1964). This brass badge was also worn by officers and men on khaki drill and olive green tropical dress. The arm badge is not worn on combat dress, it is however worn on parade black denims.


The Ash Plant. During World War I walking sticks were often carried by officers. Such sticks came to have a new and greater use with the introduction of tanks which often became 'bogged' on battlefields, particularly in Flanders. Officers of the Tank Corps used these sticks to probe the ground in front of their tanks testing for firmness as they went forward. Often the commanders led their tanks into action on foot. To commemorate this, officers of the Regiment carry Ash Plant Sticks instead of the short cane customary to other Arms.


The Colours. The Regimental Colours are Brown, Red and Green. When it was first formed, the Tank Corps had no distinctive colours. Nothing was done about it until just before the Battle of Cambrai in 1917 when General Elles, wanting some distinguishing mark for his tank, went into a shop to buy material for a flag. Although stocks were small, the General bought some lengths of silk-brown, red and green. The silk was sewn together and was flown from his tank 'Hilda' in which he led the Tank Corps into battle. The colours typified the struggle of the Corps - 'From mud, through blood to the green fields beyond'. This most apt interpretation of the colours was suggested by Colonel Fuller. The flag is flown with the green uppermost.


7. The Battle of Tofrek

The Battle of Tofrek 22 March 1885
Created 7 May 2003. Modified 06 Oct 17

1st Royal Tank Regiment was located in Tofrek Barracks Hildesheim from 1984 - 1993. This is how the name came about.

In 1879 the wild extravagance of Ismail Pasha, who then ruled Egypt, had brought the country to the verge of complete financial collapse. This was a serious matter for Great Britain, whose government was naturally deeply concerned for the safety of the new Suez Canal, and it was decided that it was necessary to take over the complete administration of the country. The French, who were also involved initially, soon pulled out (what a surprise, a bit like modern times I think) leaving the British to put things right, and at first things went well. A rather half hearted rising by the Egyptian Army under a fervent nationalist, Colonel Arabi Pasha, was soon put down in 1882, but it then became clear that much more serious trouble was brewing further south. The Sudan, which was then a Province of Egypt, had been hideously misgoverned for years, and this eventually led to a large scale rising under a fanatical Muslim leader known as the Mahdi. The situation was soon out of hand, the Egyptian troops, many of whom were little more than bandits, were progressively destroyed, and the British, reluctant to involve themselves too deeply in a remote and largely barren area, decided to abandon the whole Province to its inhabitants. In 1884, Major General Gordon, who had had much experience there as the agent of the Egyptian government, was therefore despatched to arrange the rapid and orderly withdrawal of the Egyptian garrisons. However, Gordon had no great regard for orders when they clashed with his own opinions, and appears to have had ideas that the Sudan might yet have been saved by his personal exertions. He was soon besieged by the rebels in Khartoum, which he defended gallantly with a somewhat scratch garrison, but the British government was still reluctant to get involved until public opinion, which had begun to regard Gordon as a wronged hero, compelled the despatch of a large and costly expedition under Sir Garnett Wolseley. It left too late, and in spite of gallant efforts under fearful conditions, Khartoum fell on 26 January 1885, Gordon being killed by the Mahdi's forces.

The situation regarding relief had been made worse by an new outbreak in the Eastern Sudan, led by one of the Mahdi's Lieutenants, an erstwhile slave trader named Osman Digna, and as the Red Sea formed a vital part of Britain's communications with her Far East possessions, action became necessary there. In 1884 an expedition had done something to suppress an earlier rising, but in the next year trouble flared again. The Suakin Field Force was therefore reconstituted under its original Commander, Lt Gen Sir G Graham, VC, KCB, and sent back to Suakin, one of its units being the 1st Bn The Berkshire Regiment which, until 1881, had been the 49th Foot. The first requirement was to re-establish a proper base at Suakin, from which the Force could be administered and supplied. The surrounding country was mostly stony desert, considerable areas of which were covered with dense thorn and mimosa, and as it was almost waterless the need for a regular supply of that vital commodity necessarily dominated the whole planning of operations. The actual provision of it was solved by the large scale condensing of sea water, but the real difficulty came in distributing it. The transport available consisted almost entirely of baggage camels, mainly under civilian drivers, and the problems of controlling and protecting the large and unwieldy convoys was never really overcome.

The preparatory work went well, although it was constantly interrupted by night raids. Many of Osman Digna's men were Hadendowas, who were brave and fanatical beyond belief, and their constant attacks soon had an adverse effect on the efficiency of the troops who worked hard by day and needed rest at night. Finally a reconnaissance in force attacked their base at Hashin, after which the situation improved. Information was then obtained that the bulk of Osman Digna's forces were some 15 miles to the south west of Suakin, and Graham decided to launch a strong attack with the hopes of crushing them by a single stroke. Inevitably, of course, local conditions made it necessary first to establish an intermediate post where large supplies of water and other stores could be pre-positioned under adequate protection, and early on March 22nd 1885 a considerable force left Suakin to carry out this preliminary operation. It was commanded by Maj Gen Sir J McNeill, VC, KCB, KCMG and consisted of the Berkshire Regiment, a composite battalion of Marines from the Red Sea Fleet, 3 battalions of Indian Infantry, and a small force of Cavalry, together with a detachment of the Royal Engineers and various supporting troops, and a vast convoy of some 1500 animals, mainly camels. One comparatively modern invention was the presence of a Telegraph Detachment, which was to lay a wire from Suakin so that Graham could keep in touch with developments.

The whole affair soon became something of a shambles, the 2 British units, marching in advance in loose hollow square, had no real problem but the unfortunate Indian Brigade, to whom fell the task of escorting the convoy, were soon in trouble. Neither drivers nor camels had had any training and the loads, often badly put on, were frequently dragged off by the thorn bushes. Straggling became worse and worse, and after 6 miles, which had taken 6 hours to cover, McNeill decided to halt and establish the post some 2 miles short of the point originally selected. The intention was that once the place was established the baggage animals should be escorted back to Suakin by the Indians, and it was clearly vital that this operation should be completed before dark, which fell early. The location finally chosen was a small clearing in otherwise thick shrub, it appears to have been a fairly regular staging post for local caravans, and was known as Tofrek. The enemy had few firearms so that their only method of fighting was to charge to close quarters with swords and spears, which they did with an almost total disregard for casualties. As long fields of fire were hard to find in the shrub, some sort of defensive obstacles were essential, their object being to check the impetus of an attack until modern firepower could take effect, this being particularly important at night. The usual method was to make a broad barrier of cut thorn bush about 4 foot high, such defences being known locally as "zaribas". It should be said here that McNeill's firepower was considerable, the British troops had the comparatively new, purpose built breech loading rifle known as the Martini-Henry, which although a single loader, was still capable of a fairly high rate of fire, while the Indians had the Snider. This was a breech loading conversion of the original Enfield percussion rifle, and although technically obsolete, was an arm of great power and accuracy. The Force had no artillery, but was accompanied by 4 Gardner guns, an early type of hand cranked machine gun, these being manned by the sailors from the Fleet.

The plan, on this occasion, was to make one large zariba, 120 yards square, for the stores and admin troops, with 2 smaller flanking ones, each 65 yards square at the south west and north east corners. They were to be held by the Berkshires and Marines respectively, each with 2 Gardner guns, and were so sited they could bring down flanking fire onto all four sides of the main zariba. The line of the works was soon marked out by the Engineers and construction began immediately, while simultaneously the Commissariat troops began unloading the water and other stores. Once the animals had their loads removed they were sent to a collecting area just to the east of the main zariba in preparation for their return to Suakin. The Royal Marines dispersed to cut thorn bush for their zariba, and did the right flank of the Berkshires, while the left remained to protect the baggage animals and act as reserve. The main zariba was to be built by parties from the 3 Indian battalions, the remainder of which provided local protection to the north, west and south. This, in general, consisted of the units of the line with piquet's in front of them. In addition, the Cavalry furnished a line of vedette posts on the southern side, but as their pennants could be seen above the shrub by an observer 5' 8" high it is clear that they were not very far in advance of the main line. The general disposition of the Force is shown on the map on the top of the page.

At approximately 1400 hrs the Arabs, who had been concentrating in the shrub to the south and west, decided to attack. It seemed likely that they had prior warning of the original plans and had concentrated initially near the point originally selected for the Post, only to find that they had to move a couple of miles eastwards to find the new position. The attack, when it came, was sudden and violent, the cavalry vedettes were completely surprised and galloped back in confusion, yelling the Arabs were coming, and the whole force stood to. The initial rush seems to have come from the west and came close to destroying the right half of the Berkshires who were cutting thorn bush in the area, they were completely unarmed, having left their rifles piled up in the unfinished zariba, and all they could do was run back as fast as they could. Fortunately the Sikh outposts kept their heads and retired steadily, and in good order, which just gave the Berkshires time to reach their rifles. Even so a few of the slower ones would have been overtaken, had not a very gallant Subedar turned back single handed and killed several of their pursuers with his sword.

The Indian Battalion on the south face had been thrown into confusion by the cavalry vedettes which galloped back through its lines and were quite unable to face the Arabs. It fired one desperate volley then broke and ran, its CO being killed as he tried to rally it. The Berkshires had, in the meantime, reached their rifles and flung themselves into rallying squares just in time to see hundreds of Hadendowas come swarming over the unfinished south and west walls of the zariba. The Gardner guns, which were just being got into position at the south west angle were over run and their detachments killed or wounded in a brief struggle, then the yelling mass flung themselves upon the 4 isolated companies. The next 20 minutes were a period of fearful confusion that it was almost impossible to give a coherent account of the battle which followed. The whole area was covered in a great pall of dust churned up by thousands of running feet and was made a great deal worse by the clouds of acrid black powder smoke from the rifles. Firing was continuous and initially quite uncontrolled as the troops blazed away at the enemy only a few yards from them. Presently the worst pressure slackened and the officers were then able to revert to more disciplined volley firing. The Arabs were so close that many casualties were inflicted by sword and spear, yet in spite of their almost superhuman efforts they never succeeded in breaking in. After a while even they became sick of the slaughter and veered off eastwards to make for the stores zariba, and it was here that Lt Ford, the Battalion Quartermaster, had a narrow escape. Seeing what was coming, and being quite alone, he sensibly made for the Marine zariba with a number of Arabs in pursuit. The Marines, rifles levelled, were unable to fire in case they hit him, and watched anxiously as his pursuers rapidly overhauled him, and when, very fortunately, he stumbled and fell flat on his face,  they fired a volley over him and killed every one of the Arabs behind him. The location of 2 of the 4 companies of the left half battalion is still open to doubt after more than a hundred years. It is certain that E and H were together, roughly as shown on the sketch map above, but F and G are more difficult to place. F Company had been in support close behind the 17th Native Infantry on the south face, but had been relieved just before the battle started and were actually queuing at the water cart when the attack started. There are indications that they were located as shown but by no means is it certain.

When the battle started they formed rallying squares and may have been joined by a detachment of Engineers which fought with them. E and H Companies were fallen out and having their midday meal when the attack came, they seized their rifles and formed a single rallying square round the 2IC, who in true drill book fashion, stood with sword raised to indicate his position. At first they were in a mass so that only a portion of the men could fire, but after the first confusion they shook into lines and began firing volleys. G Company was probably somewhere between them and the Marine zariba and probably close to the latter since the Company Commander later recorded that he could hear their volleys coming from his left flank. In general the attack on the left battalion was less severe than the one on the right, their main danger was from the hundreds of stampeding animals, many wounded and crazed with fear, as they fled north east in the general direction of Suakin, the Arabs amongst them, hacking and stabbing furiously. The Companies only saved themselves from being trampled down by firing volleys into them which scattered them left and right. The position of the Commanding Officer, Lt Col Huyshe, is by no means clear. The Regimental History puts him with the left battalion, but the Second in Command was clearly in command of E and H Companies and neither of the other companies mention him. It is probable that he was riding from one half battalion to the other when battle started and at least one account states that he was attacked whilst on his own by several Hadendowas, all of whom he killed with his revolver.

After about 20 minutes, the enemy withdrew, the wind clearing the dust and smoke, and they were at last able to see the battlefield, which was a fearful sight. 21 men of the right half battalion were dead and as many wounded, mostly by sword and spear, although in the quite literal fog of battle it was inevitable that some had been hit by wild firing from their own side. The entire area, about 25 acres in extent, was littered, and in places, heaped with dead and dying Arabs, some British and Indian, sailors and camp follower casualties intermixed amongst them. There were hundreds of dead and wounded animals, some shot by the Berkshires, others hamstrung or stabbed by the Arabs, who knew their value. The horror of the scene was not lessened by the arrival of flocks of Vultures and Kites which had been quickly attracted to the area and were gorging themselves on the bodies.

The first need was to clear the battlefield, for a wounded Hadendowa, seeking only Paradise for killing an infidel, was a very dangerous customer. Lt Swinton died as the result of a spear thrust by a wounded, dying Arab. This task was soon completed by the Berkshires and the Marines, while the Forces own casualties were collected and dealt with. General Graham, who had heard the firing at Suakin, was preparing a Relief Force, but was informed by telephone that all was well, and postponed his move until the next day. The reorganisation was largely completed by dusk, when the Force settled down for the night. The Berkshires together in its zariba for the first time. Although exhausted, it is probable that few slept well. There were a few false alarms and one occasion a loose mule gave rise to wild firing which was stopped only with difficulty. The Company Commander chiefly concerned was the recipient of some harsh words from his Commanding Officer next morning, which understandably, hurt his feelings. Work continued throughout the following day, the main task being the removal to leeward of the hundreds of dead men and animals who were already becoming offensive, a task which proved so arduous that it was soon decided that it would be easier to rebuild the zariba a suitable distance upwind. A rough count revealed some 1600 dead Arabs, which allowing for those who crawled or were dragged away indicates a probable death toll of some 2000, a fearful loss which seems to have discouraged even the most fanatically brave of the survivors and imposed an uncharacteristic caution on them thereafter. Most of them were reported as being men in the prime of life, with only a few boys and old men amongst them, and one noticeable feature was that they had all shaved their hair, having been assured by Osman Dinga that this was an infallible charm against bullets. Surprisingly, there were a number of women too, who had apparently fought with the same courage as the men. The British lost 78 men and the Indians 63. Inevitably a fair number of the casualties fell amongst the Commissariat and Engineers, who by virtue of their work, tended to be spread about. The suddenness of the transition from calm to bloody war was well illustrated by an officer of F Company, who later related that a minute to two before the attack two mounted officers of the Royal Engineers had stopped by his post to enquire the way to Bn HQ, where they had been invited to lunch. After the battle, their bodies were found only a few yards from his position.

General Graham arrived with a British Brigade early on 23rd March. The track which he had followed was littered with dead animals and not a few dead soldiers, and showed all the apparent signs of a disaster which did not please him. He was at best an irascible officer and used some harsh words in public to McNeill when they met. He was perhaps justified, for although Gen McNeill had behaved with great gallantry during the battle, there does seem to have been a somewhat lax attitude in the Force as a whole before the attack. The position chosen was in thick shrub, which while it certainly facilitated the building of the zariba's, also made it easy for Digna's forces to approach unseen and achieve virtual complete surprise. It so happened that the Berkshires were in a position where it received the full force of the attack and it was only their desperate resistance which saved the day. Had they broken lines, the Sikhs, attacked in line from front and flank, must have broken too, good soldiers though they were, and although the Marines would have fought to the end they would have been annihilated by the fire of the hundreds of rifles that would have fallen into the Arabs hands. As it was, a disaster on the scale is Isandlwana or Maiwand (then both of recent occurrence) was narrowly averted. The battle was originally known as "McNeill's Zariba" but was soon changed to Tofrek, the title by which it has been known ever since. The part played by the Berkshires was recognised by their appointment as a "Royal" Regiment.

There is little to be said about the campaign, which had really collapsed with Gordon's death. There had been a somewhat ambitious scheme to re-establish new routes to the Nile by building a railway across the desert from Suakin but with the threat of trouble over in Afghanistan this caused the British government to (thankfully) abandon Sudan to its misery until Kitchener finally sorted it out 13 years later.

General Gordon, lauded by the population back home, was the villain of the whole scenario; if he had followed orders from London/Cairo to the letter, many hundreds of lives would have undoubtedly have been saved and the Sudan, later abandoned, then retaken, would not have seen such bloody fanatical battles such as Tofrek.

Other peripheral information


Royal Engineers

Tanner served as a Lieutenant, Royal Engineers during operations in the Sudan in 1885. He was initially assigned to the Indian Labour Corps at Suakin. Following the Battle of Tofrek he was assigned to "F" Company, Madras Sappers and Miners as a replacement for an officer killed at the Battle of Tofrek on the 22nd of March 1885. He subsequently served in Waziristan in 1881 with the 6th Company, Bengal Sappers and Miners.

During the Great War Colonel Tanner went to France in September of 1915 as the Commander Royal Engineers (C.R.E.) of the 22nd Division. Later that year he was promoted to Brigadier General and posted as the Chief Engineer (C.E.) of the British VII Corps in the Third Army. He served in this capacity during the Somme offensive in July of 1916 and during the Battle of Arras in 1917. Brigadier General Tanner died on the 23rd of July 1917 at the age of 58

In August 1897, the Samana was garrisoned by 5 companies of the 36th Sikhs. The commanding officer was acting Lieutenant-Colonel John Haughton, aged 45 at the time. He survived this action but was killed at Shinkamar the following year. There were 5 other British officers, only one of whom had seen action before. He was the adjutant, Lieutenant George Munn who, as an officer in the Derbyshire Regiment had served with the Hazara Field Force in 1891 and as a member of the Indian Staff Corps, had been with the Chitral Relief Force in 1895. The 7 Indian officers had seen active service while serving with other regiments as rank and file. Amongst them was Subadar Diwan Singh who had been in Afghanistan in 1878/9 including the capture of Ali Musjid, and Jemadar Jwala Singh who had served on the Suakin expedition in 1885 and the battle of Tofrek. Both these officers were posted at Fort Gulistan under the command of Major Des Voeux, while Colonel Haughton and Lt. Munn were with the HQ at Fort Lockhart. Taken from the link below:


[ Books ] Galloway (Wm.) - The Battle of Tofrek, London, W.H.Allen, 1887,4to, original cloth (somewhat stained), Limited To 500 Copies, Presentation Copy To H.M. Stanley with full-page inscription from the author E100-150 - In auction Dec 2002


8. Can You Identify These 1930s (?) Tanks?

Pete Hayward found these photo's in his Dad's collection and would appreciate some background info if possible. These are images of 3 RTR.

Jul 09: Everything comes to he who waits - well, Derek Fletcher has a book of tanks from day one - here is his assessment of the above:

The first picture i think you will find is a mark V light tank ent service 1935 crew 2 arm 1x77mm &1x12.7mm0.5in vickers, eng meadows 6cylinder speed 51kph / 32mph.range 125miles.  second pic Mark II Light tank ent serv 1931 crew 2 arm 7.7 /303 vickers eng rolls royce 5cyln speed 48.3kph / 30 mph. Last pic Mark !! medium tank , ent serv 1925, crew 5 arm 3pdr gun 3x7.7mm /0.303 vickers 1x co-ax replacing 3x hotchkiss.  Powerplant siddley 8cyl petrol speed 24kph /17mph.

Corps Week June 1952

9. Hobart Barracks Detmold 1952